We must liberate Political Science from the Barbarians.
Political scientists rarely apply the tools of political science to the problem of teaching political science. Instead, our poor field is oppressed by interlopers from psychology or economics. Students are naturally curious, the psychologists tell us, and so we should merely facilitate their natural desire to learn the materials. Or the Economists trot out their Rational Man, and tell us that our students are his clones: the student’s must be forced to study by altering the utility function by punishing behaviors we dislike and rewarding the behaviors we enjoy. Everywhere these foreigner followers of the SSSM god teach us to ignore our ancient traditions and follow their strange ways.
No more! It is time for the colonized to become the colonizers! Our hammer and sickles and evolutionary analysis and wary cooperation theory. Let us rise up and seize the commanding heights our own field’s future!
Political science is the study of social conflict and interpersonal interaction. Current research into genetic factors imply that certain traits are in-born, and I propose that these can be exploited for pedagogical ends. Humans are loss-avoiding, in-group-supporting, out-group-competing, cheater-punishing machines, and it is time we apply these facts to education. (I realize that the direction of this paper is separate from the week’s focus on international relations and comparative politics, but I believe it is no less useful.)
Loss avoidance, for instance, can be a powerful tool for an educator. As Jervis (165) notes, “losses inflict psychological harm to a greater degree than gains gratify.” Yet traditional education ignores this, with students beginning with zero points in a class and slowly earning their way to the minimum amount of points needed for a score they desire. This “framing effect” — different response to the same substantive stimuli depending on how it is described — has been shown to me important (Jervis 172) even among highly educated populations, such as surgeons. An evolutionarily-informed classroom would start students with the maximum numbers of points, and be deducted through the assignments to the final grade.
Disengaged students are the fear of every instructor, and from the perspective of an plural classrooms, these could be thought of as outbreaks of peace (a cessation of student competition). Peace between groups “is the normal human condition” (18) but hope can be found in systems. Systems may be the cause of the “intergroup alliances” (24) that prevent group tournaments, and systems can also serve to prolong hostilities (23). Thus the wise instructor will have to devise the classroom such that conditions that further intergroup tournaments — such as power asymmetries as well as not overly “punishing” groups for original solutions to problems (23) — in order to improve education. Likewise, safe predictable levels may , (Jervis 168) along with too much “tension-reducing reconciliation” (Sapolsky) such as â€œcheating,â€ arise, and these need to be countered as well. Similarly, the emergence of groups in which all of the work is done either by women in “female farming systems” (Harpending and Cochran 11-12) or entirely by males in raiding parties (Wrangham 22) would be something to watch out for.
By being closer to human nature, a method of political science education focused on coalitionary aggression and loss aversion will be more inclusive. Some mental phenotypes “are adaptive yet… are irritating or undesirable (Harpending and Cochran 10) and can lead to labels such as Hyper-Active (Ding et al 314). However, group tournaments would allow a division of labor that allow different personality types to contribute in different ways. This is superior to the current, atomist, model of education which attempts to use a common delivery to directly teach every student.
Student motivation is always a question, which is not surprising as minimal competition (â€œpeaceâ€) is the normal human condition (Wrangham 18). Fortunately, as educators we can create intergroup competition through manipulating system-level rules (24). Breaking students into groups, say, and not deducting points from the winning group, should be enough to encourage individual competition, especially if we trust in man’s capacity as a wary cooperator and allow further deductions based on negative, if costly, reviews from fellow students (say, a student can deduct one point from himself to deduct a point from a cheater).
This model makes precise predictions. It argues that classes which give the students all of their points immediately but then deduct for wrong answer, rather than classes that begin students with zero points and reward for correct answers, should produce higher-achieving students. Likewise, it argues that classes where group work is done with the purpose of triumphing over another groups should be more effective than either classroom where the purpose is intergroup cooperation, individual cooperation, or individual competition. An experiment to demonstrate this for one-shot classes should be straight-forward to conduct, and a comparative, semester-long study involving recitations is not beyond the realm of possibility.
These experiments would integrate well with existing programs. Games that focus on cheater-detection and cheater-punishment, for example, can easily be applied to seeing if students will detect and punish academic cheaters — especially if those cheaters’ actions cause the victim to lose points.