Tag Archives: teaching

The National and Homeland Security Amendment

The class that abolished a parliamentary republic to embrace direct democracy still has that form of government. There’s a notable drop in participation, which is typical of classes that undergo such a constitutional shift. Students — and I think I can generalize this to most human beings — dislike participation and deliberation, and go out of their way to avoid it.

The Tyranny of the People?

Nonetheless, after my suggestion the now leaderless class agreed to discuss the following potential amendment to the US Constitution:

(i) No person who, through religions doctrine, belief, or sympathy owes loyalty, fealty, or obedience to any foreign state or foreign network or any sort, shall serve as an Officer or Representative of the United States or of any State.

(ii) The Congress of the United States, and the Legislatures of the several States, shall have the power to enforce this law.

By the end of the initial discussion, the class was largely split between people who opposed the amendment outright and others who opposed “loopholes in it” (such as the implied persecution of the Catholic Church).

I then altered the assignment, so that students were told that this amendment was guaranteed to pass, but they had the power to alter it to make it less offensive. While still vocally opposed by a healthy minority, the following revision removed most of the opposition

(i) No person who, through religious doctrine, belief, or sympathy may impede the national or homeland security of the United States shall serve as an Officer of the United States or of any State.

(ii) The Congress of the United States, and the Legislatures of the several States, shall have the power to enforce this law.

What changed? (Additions in italics, subtractions struck-through):

(i) No person who, through religions doctrine, belief, or sympathy owes loyalty, fealty, or obedience to any foreign state or foreign network or any sort, may impede the national or homeland security of the United States shall serve as an Officer or Representative of the United States or of any State.

(ii) The Congress of the United States, and the Legislatures of the several States, shall have the power to enforce this law.

While the changes “narrowed” the amendment by moving away from foreign-control to actualy theats, the alterations “expanded” the amendment by including threats to homeland security, and not just national security. Two religious groups were openly discussed by the class: the Roman Catholic Church and the Ku Klux Klan. The RCC is apparently disestablished by the original amendment, while the Klan is apparently persecuted by the revised one.

The Death of a Republic

“Congratulations on the abolition of the Parliamentary Republic and on the establishment of Direct Democracy!” Thus I ended my class today.

The People Are The Powerful

My Classes are Democracies and hold elections every week. I run my classrooms on a variant of the Iraqi model, with a proportionally-elected Assembly, a President chosen with 2/3rds of the Assembly, and a Prime Minister named by the President approved by half of the Assembly. I’ve played around with modifications of the design, but I enjoy starting off classes with the Assembly / President / Premier model of government.

The constitution can be modified by the Prime Minister presenting a proposal to the assembly, whereupon it must be approved by a 2/3rds vote. If so legislated, it must pass with a 2/3rds plurality in a plebiscite. The Constitution has been radically restructured before, and every time the variation has left the old infrastructure intact while some portion of it was changed. Once, a Supreme Court was established that could overrule the elected government at will, creating a Judicial Supremacist state. Another time, a Lebanese system of “confessions” was eneacted to parcel out different posts to different cliques. Thirdly, the Assembly was replaced with an “Assembly-of-the-Whole,” with every student having one vote. And just last semester, an openly corrupt Prime Minister oversaw a series of fraudulent elections which created a very Medici feel to teaching.

But today, for the first time, the Republic itself passed into the world of memories and dreams.

The elections had produced an odd outcome, the Assembly divided between three students. They had unanimously named a President, though her initial course of Prime Minister was rejected unanimously. A second choice of Prime Minister barely passed. The Prime Minister then decreed a discussion question and organized the room, and I left (as I do) to allow conversation to be unimpeded by my presence.

When I returned the Prime Minister announced that he believed that weekly elections were time consuming, and that a Rule of 5 (a body to be composed of two of the three Assemblymen, the President, the failed Prmie Minister, and the serving Prime Minister) be established to run the class by majority vote. The Offices of President and Prime Minister would be filled by a majority vote of the Rule of 5.

After a “teachable minute” on the Venetian Republic and Oligarchy, a student proposed that a Direct Democracy be established through direct, majority votes on all issues.

An assemblyman counter-proposed that the Rule could be expanded to 6, with a non-present student added to give the governing council the input of normal students.

This created a backlash against Republicanism generally, with a student suggesting an Assembly-of-the-Whole without the unfair implications of proportional representation (this was suggesetd without suggestion from me).

Yet another student suggested a Consular Republic, with two consuls named who would jointly decide all matters. The Consuls would not have to face reelection, and so could concentrate on running the class efficiently.

Another student suggested the establish of a Benign Monarchy, with the teacher declared “King” and ruling as he sees fit.

The Prime Minister, perhaps trying to salvage the declining fortunes of the oligarchy, offered to accept the burden of Dictator-for-Life, which would allow the Assembly, Presidency, and Premiership to keep functioniong, without the wasted time of elections.

On the board, the following options were written

Rule of 5
Direct Democracy
Rule of 6
Direct Assembly (Assembly-of-the-Whole)
Consular Republic
Benign Monarchy
Benign Dictatorship

The failed Prime Ministerial candidate proposed delaying action until next week (perhaps hoping that the anti-Republic backlash would subside by then). The hoi polloi were outraged, and demanded immediate action.

At this point, the oligarchical faction saw the tide of history vote against them. The Prime Minister stated that the abolition of the Republic was a bad idea, but as the majority of the students appeared to be against representation, he would subnmit the establishment of Direct Democracy to popular vote. The assembly followed him in confirming the selection, though each emphasized that they thought the decision was bad.

As the Japanese House of Lords had before it, the Assembly voted itself out of existence.

Now its action had to be confirmed by plebiscite. The majority of the oligarchy here voted against the constitution change. They hoped to show the common studentry that they respected the democratic voice (by allowing it to pass the Assembly) while still defeating it in the election. However, outside the oligarchical faction, all students voted to support the establishment of Direct Democracy. The oligarchs composed less than one-third of the class, and so the change passed with its required 2/3rds popular majority.

“This didn’t go the way I planned” said one of the oligarchs.

“I am sorry for destroying the Republic” said the (now former) Prime Minister.

Shows-of-hands decided all subsequent questions in the class. A republic died. A democracy was born.

Classroom Democracy, Part V: Bibliography

I was going through some papers and posts, preparing for the next installment of The Wary Guerrilla, when I realized I had not posted a bibliography for my Classroom Democracy series. Throughout the series I cite chapters and journal articles but never state where I got them from. Thus, without further ado, my long occulted sources:

Bruning, R. (1995). The College Classroom from the Perspective of Cognitive Psychology. Handbook of College Teaching: Theory and Applications.

Dawson, J.D. (1996) Relations of mutual trust and objects of common interest. In J.K. Roth (Ed.) Inspiring Teaching: Carnegie Professors of the Year Speak. Bolton, MA: Anker Publishing Company, Inc. (pp. 44-53).

Halonen, J.S. (2002). Classroom presence. In S. Davis & W.Buskist (Eds.). The teaching of psychology: Essays in honor of William J. McKeachie and Charles Brewer. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc. (pp. 41-55).

Ley, K. and Young, D. (1998). Self-Regulation Behaviors in Underprepared (Developmental) and Regular Admission College Students. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 1998, Vol. 23, 42-64.

Roth, J.K. (1996). What teaching teaches me: How the Holocaust informs my philosophy of education. In J.K. Roth (Ed.) Inspiring Teaching: Carnegie Professors of the Year Speak. Bolton, MA: Anker Publishing Company, Inc. (pp. 199-210).

Royse, D. (2001). The mental groundwork. In D. Royse (Ed.). Teaching Tips for College and University Instructors: A Practical Guide. Needham Heights, MA.: Allyn & Bacon. (pp. 1-24).

Ruiz, T.F.(1996). Teaching as subversion. In J.K. Roth (Ed.) Inspiring Teaching: Carnegie Professors of the Year Speak. Bolton, MA: Anker Publishing Company, Inc.(pp. 158-165).

Smith, K. (2006). “Representational Altruism: The Wary Cooperator as Authoritative Decision Maker,” American Journal of Political Science, October 2006, Vol. 50 No. 4, pp 1013-1022.

Smith, K. et al. (2004). Evolutionary Theory and Political Leadership: Why Certain People Do Not Trust Decision-Makers. Presented at the 2004 Midwest Political Science Association Conference in Chicago, 2004, 1-42.

Classroom Democracy, a tdaxp series
1. A Parliament of Scholars
2. A Defense of Republics
3. The Life of Constitutions
4. The Evolution of Learning
5. Bibliography

Student Differences and Deliberative Learning

Because of maddening and infuriating problems with my blog hosting service, a comment I wrote to Mark of ZenPundit did not go through. Mark had a question on deliberative learning over at my series, Classrooms Evolved, and as Mark was kind enough to link to those posts, I do not feel good letting him wait until blogspirit gets its act together. (That could, literally, take forever.)

My reply is below:

I’ve tried classroom democracy on community college students, gene. ed students in a survey course, and political science / international studies students in an introductory course. I think all three of these tries went better than a piagetian attempt or lecture-based attempts.

Students differed on motivation. Community college students and major students tended towards mastery orientation, with the major students taking the democracy itself as a system to master while community college students used it to help them master their technical skill. Thus the major students devised and implemented clever alternatives to the sort of democracy I layed out, while the community college students used it as a way to select tutors who would help other students in exchange for reduced assignments.

Gen. ed. students were generally performance oriented. Several times there were “coups” with a President or Prime Minister declaring his term extended — students were focused mostly on grades and so such coups were popular (as they provided more continuity than elections in course structure).

Thus the directional nature of the classroom I describe in this series. I expect that by embedding the democracy within a curriculum you would have a more durable system for gen. ed. students, while still allowing major students the ability to play with the system if they want to.

I plan on handing out an edited version of this philosophy to students on the first day next semester. This system is designed for practical implementation.

Phil’s question over at “Open Thread” is also still hanging, but Catholicgauze and Sean seem to have that covered. (I don’t have the original text of my comment anymore, so I hope it stops being AWOL soon!)

Classroom Democracy, Part IV: The Evolution of Learning

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.

The Classroom: A People-Powered Polis

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 “cheating,” 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 (“peace”) 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.

Classroom Democracy, a tdaxp series
1. A Parliament of Scholars
2. A Defense of Republics
3. The Life of Constitutions
4. The Evolution of Learning
5. Bibliography

Classroom Democracy, Part III: The Life of Constitutions

An agile Constitution can be changed, so that the weaknesses can be fixed and not become avenues for anti-democratic forces. This is as true for the constitutions in Classroom Democracies as the constitutions in Federal Republics. Of my classes last semester, one added a Supreme Court, one established a Lebanon-style division of offices, and one abolished the Assembly.

The Classroom: A People-Powered Polis

1. The Supreme Court

Classroom Democracy builds rational academic behavior by exposing students to multiple perspectives through peer interaction. Different options, such as whether to spend a day watching a movie or studying for an exam, are considered by the students. Regular elections rewards students who have good study skills to share, and allows them to act as mentors for students who are not so knowledgeable. Democracy is very Vygotskian, as it relies on dialog and zones of proximal development.

However, social interaction can be stressful. It requires students to consciously weight alternatives, which is mentally more taxing than trusting an authority figure. When the teacher is dedicated to democracy, the students cannot revert easily to their role of passive receptacles of knowledge. One class, however, succeeded in doing just that…

Under Judges Students Rule?

While maintaining the mechanisms of Assembly, President, and Government, one class changed their constitution to create a Supreme Court of eight Justices. The Justices were appointed for life, and could not easily be impeached (both a 2/3rds majority of the Assembly and a majority of the Supreme Court would be needed to remove a justice). The Supreme Court “oversaw” the actions of the Prime Minister, such that the Prime Minister’s sole responsibility became merely asking the Supreme Court how to decide issues.

The students on the Supreme Court were solid students and achievement-oriented. They ran the class is a solid fashion. However, the lack of democratic dialog was notable. The individual perspectives of the Students no longer mattered, as decisions were decided for them by the Supreme Court.

2. Confessionalism

In one class, a small faction of extroverted and smart students quickly established dominance. They noted that students were more likely to vote for a name proposed than for students not yet nominated. Therefore, they purposefully nominated each one of their Party immediately. They were typically able to acquire a 2/3rds vote in the Assembly just among their faction, which let them run the class as they saw fit.

Apartheid Classroom Democracy?

A month or so into the semester, a student privately informed me that he had formed another faction and they would try to change the direction of the class. The mimicked the tactics of the ruling faction, and were able to achieve slightly more than a 1/3rd vote of the Assembly.

Electing a President requires a 2/3rds majority, and neither faction was going to allow a member for the other to be President. Assembly after Assembly was dissolved, unable to create a government. It was a great teachable moment when I discussed how Iraq suffered similar problems under a similar constitution.

The leaders of the factions approached me after class, asking me what would happen because no time was left for teaching after a day full of parliamentary maneuvers. I mentioned I did not know, because I believed in Classroom Democracy.

Their solution was clever. Their amendment would separate the class into three groups, or “Confessions.” Each of the original factions would form one Confession, and the rest of the students would move to a third Confession. They established that the President would always come from one of the original Confessions, the Prime Minister would always come from the other, and a new ceremonial position, the Speaker of the Assembly, would be reserved for the third Confession.

The Confessionalist government, which was styled after Lebanon’s Constitution, ended the factional strife and allowed governments to be rapidly formed. However, as with the Class that established a Supreme Court, it did diminish meaningful discussion about how classes should be run.

3. The Abolition of the Assembly

The third class went in an opposite direction. While the Jurist and Confessionalist classes decided to reduce the amount of discussion by adding to the Constitution, this Class desired more conversation. After considerable in-class and out-of-class discussion, they amended the Constitution to dramatically restructure the Assembly.

A Democracy of the Academy

According to the Constitution, the Assembly is elected through Proportional Parliamentary Representation. However, this class decided that the Class itself would be the Assembly, creating an “Assembly-of-the-Whole” which was not elected because every student would receive one vote. This had the advantage of giving every student direct say over who would be the President, and direct input on Confidence votes for the Prime Minister. This change was made too late in the semester to observe its long term effects, but I was impressed by the contemplation that went into the alteration.

Classroom Democracy, a tdaxp series
1. A Parliament of Scholars
2. A Defense of Republics
3. The Life of Constitutions
4. The Evolution of Learning
5. Bibliography

Classroom Democracy, Part II: A Defense of Republics

One reason Classroom Democracy succeeds is the powerful human drive for socialization. “Students have a more enjoyable and profitable learning experience when they feel connected to each other,” (Royse 6), and hands-on role-playing (11) such as classroom democracy enable this. Classroom democracy succeeds because it is founded on social interaction, and “the most successful programs for developing critical thought have been those involving social interaction” (Bruning 4).

The Classroom: A People-Powered Polis

The innovative nature of classroom democracy makes this doubly true, as its unusual processes challenge “established orthodoxies” (Ruiz 159) and force students to be aware of how they learn and how they want to learn. Socialization encourages students to develop “self-regulation [to] use personal (self) processes to strategically monitor and control his or her behavior and the environment” (Lee and Young 32). Whatever we would wish, many college students do not develop study skills because they are never given any control of their learning in a classroom environment. Classroom democracy allows students to develop self-regulation in a Vygostkian, zones-of-proximal-development, style by working with more established learners in deciding how to learn.

Further, the benefits of social cognition are intertwined with motivation. The reason that recent pedagogical models “include not only purely cognitive processes but also motivational ones” (Bruning 5) is that students are moved by group processes. It is not correct, for example, to say that students ask themselves “how well can I do by working and learning as little as possible” (Ruiz 160), but it probably is true that students have “a preference for cooperation, a modest level of mistrust, an ability to persuade others of one’s own good faith, and an ability to detect lack of good faith in others” (Smith 1014) and that instead of utility maximization, what drives the behavior of wary cooperators is ‘sucker aversion'” (1015). Students will contribute and try to help until they believe they are being cheated. The ability for even a small amount of students — holding just one-third of the assembly — to prevent the re-election of an Administration they dislike — means that the “type” of student who is most concerned with unfair play (Smith et al 12) will have the power to act on the behalf of the group. Further, the deliberative, inclusive manner of the elections are likely to correlate with student happiness, because folks “do not necessarily need to receive more resources to be happy, but they do need decisions to be made by decision makers who are not selfishly motivated and who are not driven by ambition” (24). I suggest that “apathy and disengagement” are less the result of “dialogical instruction” and debate (Reiter 302) than the process of the debate.

The processes I use also fit the various learning styles of students better than a series of lectures. Classroom democracy allows both dynamic and static matching for personalities. Learners express “appreciation for teachers who make a point to appeal to a broad range of learning styles” (Holonen 49), yet the ratios of students who thrive in discussion sections, or review sections, or other sections changes from class to class. All teachers are familiar with the glazed-over eyes students can quickly acquire during lectures, and the difficulty in reading students minds. Again, the deliberative and minority-sensitive nature of classroom democracy comes through. Because of the two-thirds majority, “all learning” really does become “collaborative learning” (Dawson 47) because students collaborate even in setting the process criteria. “Students need to write” (Roth 207) and study in different ways, and the inherent “community-process criteria” (Bruning 19) allows for that range. Additionally, the pre-defined ministers allow the thriving of personalities who may simply be shy. Information Ministers may be tasked to provide detailed notes, say, and Interior Ministers to think and write critically on the assignment, and this provides social interaction for students who might otherwise keep their heads down and only show their work on predetermined quizzes.

Classroom Democracy, a tdaxp series
1. A Parliament of Scholars
2. A Defense of Republics
3. The Life of Constitutions
4. The Evolution of Learning
5. Bibliography

The Vanity Post

Blog Spirit is a great service. The interface is very easy to use, the pages look professional, and the community features are great. Its French origin delights the europhile in me, which has been dormant these last few years. If you don’t mind the aggregated results, the traffic page is pretty much. When tech support gets around to it, they are quite helpful. But some things really grate on you

  1. Unless I monkey with timestamps, posts show up seven hours after I publish. But they are linked to automatically on the community pages.
  2. The template system is nice, but it keeps resetting. Yesterday I wondered why my humble traffic fell like a stone. Answer? The sitemeter tool was reset from the right hand column.

Again, I love BlogSpirit. The “community” features aren’t just a gimmick, but increase readership and promote cross-site dialog. But it can be annoying.

In other vanity news

  1. I love my job. Teaching (community) college is a blast.
  2. To my surprise and delight, I love figure skating. It’s a great spectator sport.
  3. I hate this awful evil cold I have. It saps any energy I have and it prevents me from sleeping.
  4. The Good Earth may be the happiest and saddest book I have ever read. Imagine taking Aztec and combining it with A Painted House. I can’t believe I waited almost a year from when I bought it to begin reading it. The first page begins weakly, but once you get to number two you hate to put it down.
  5. When down with the cold and reading The Good Earth, you can’t go wrong with Coca-Cola and 1 Mile North.