Category Archives: UNL / Adolescent Psychology

Perspectives and Peers 8, Interview with Mark Safranski

Note: This is a selection from Perspectives and Peers, part of tdaxp‘s SummerBlog ’06

Mark Safranski is a trained historian, mentioned in Blueprint for Action and other books. He’s also a close blogfriend of tdaxp, running the phenominal ZenPundit. On top of all of that he is a professional educator, and agreed to be interviewed for this project.

Thanks Mark!


The interview was conducted through electronic mail in three waves. Pay special attention to his comments on multiple perspectives and peer interactions, which are the questions that form the backbone of this paper. For ease of reading, my words are in bold and the subject’s are in italics

Wave 1

Background: I work with 13-15 year olds from a generally economically advantaged area in the wealthiest county in Illinois. While the students fall all along the traditional Bell Curve the aggregate mean I.Q. would be closer to 110 than 100 and approximately 20 % would have I.Q.’s in at least the superior range. As for myself, I have years of experience administering programs for At-Risk as well as Gifted students and have worked as a consultant and presenter on matters of curriculum and teaching methodology

To what degree to adolescents you interact with possess formal operations?
Probably less than 10 % of my students begin the year in the stage of formal operations in the sense of solid, regular and frequent demonstration of logical thinking and abstract conceptualization. Another 25-30 % can demonstrate these abilities intermittently but without any real consistency but can make relatively quick mental leaps from single concrete examples in a structured, teacher-modeled format to a generalized abstract principle. The numerical majority are concrete thinkers and a minority on the low end of mental ability and or emotional maturity show sporadic signs of preoperational stage thought.

To what degree do you witness the emergence of formal operations in adolescents?
To a considerable degree over the course of a year – with the caveat here that I am regularly, intentionally and systematically trying to elicit these behaviors with cognitive exercises to an extent that is most likely atypical.

Roughly, in an average year, I would guess that my top two cognitive categories increase by about half to as much as double. The concrete thinkers as a group decreases though the very lowest group probably changes very little, if at all.

Is flow (being “lost” in work) or metacognition (being aware of one’s thoughts) more common when students are practicing rationality?
In my experience, I would say that metacognition is an activity that has to be taught formally to this age group as a form of self-monitoring awareness so “ rationality” as I understand you to be using the term is something that would be practiced here. At least initially, as I have also observed that students who understand the concept of “metacognition” and have tried conscious monitoring will then almost immediately recognize or relate to intuitive metacognitive experiences like “ fingertip feeling” or “ tip of the tongue” feeling.

“ Flow” is another matter and it relates to the critical issue of attention. Adolescents put in any kind of a sizable group are very vulnerable to distraction – both extrinsically and intrinsically – which is an obstacle to having meaningful cognitive experiences that we like to describe as “ learning”. The absorbed, almost zen-like state of “ flow” is something that most adolescents drift into unintentionally unless they are quite practiced at some activity like playing a musical instrument and have honed their powers of concentration.

In general, do adolescents attain formal operations and rationality faster in peer-to-peer or “mentoring” style situations?
For the majority of students in this age group I would say “mentoring” is far and away more efficient – with the proviso that the “ mentoring” involves meaningful, focused, interaction and not an adult talking at a room of disconnected adolescents.

Emotional and social concerns and insecurities are such primal drivers here as to make peer-to-peer situations counterproductive unless they have been highly structured with objectives that are both understood by the students and for which they are motivated to accomplish. If that is the case then peer to peer is a useful learning technique and method of positive reinforcement.

A minority of students, usually the most able but not always, who are intrinsically driven by intellectual curiosity can, if grouped together, have some very productive experiences without (or because of the lack of) a formal structure as they make their way to a common goal.

Do formal operations seem to kick in faster, slower, or at about the same time as rationality in adolescents you interact with?
As you have defined rationality that would, on average, be faster than fully entering the stage of formal operations.

Formal operations is more complex and it lumps together some activities that take place in different regions of the brain (granting the emphasis in the prefrontal cortex) and with aggregate mean differences between genders. If you have ever watched middle school students struggle with algebraic formulas or analyzing scenarios using Kohlberg’s Stages of Moral Development you see that multiple variables, sequential causation and like aspects of complex problem solving are something that most of them succeed in doing in short bursts.

Wave 2

Are those fractions (less than 10%, and 25-30%) typical of the student population where you are at?
Past years (5-10 years ago) were better. As the population has expanded we have seen regression toward the mean in action in terms of IQ as well as a culturally based decline in reading skills, study skills, positive parental involvement and so on. Abilities can be latent but if not tapped they look the same as if they didn’t exist – hard to disentangle these factors from anecdotal observation alone and truly well done longitudinal studies are rare.

Dr. Von is running one in several Evanston Il. School districts through Northwestern U. that is in ( I believe) its fifth year but the data won’t be in until the test group graduates High school ( he started with – if I recall) impoverished, at-Risk, 3rd graders).

“Do adolescents you interact with practice, on purpose, formal operations, or that style of thinking?
Autonomously, without prompting from me ? Yes, but more rarely. Generally a high level of motivation the factor in triggering it – either deep interest in figuring something out or competitiveness with a peer to prove them wrong.

Could a student by “flowing” and metacognitive simultaneously?
While I can think of past or current students who I suspect are or were capable of doing so I am not able to provide an example ( hard to discern spontaneous metacognition from visual observation alone. That would have to flow from a verbal interaction which time constraints and peer pressure will frequently inhibit).

Regarding the attainment of formal operations, does presentation of more different perspectives (that would provoke more disagreement) or more similar perspectives (that would allow more refined disagreement) seem to help more? Does the same hold true for the attainment of formal operations?
If you wish to inculcate critical thinking and dismantle egocentricity in young adolescents in relatively short periods of time, forcing them to utilize multiple perspectives is invaluable. There are many ways to do this – scenarios from Kohlberg’s Stages of Moral Development, Counterfactuals, exercises from Edward De Bono, Socratic Method, Optical Illusions – since novelty is a key a key “ hook” with adolescents you are best off not overusing one particular method.

In my humble opinion, multiple perspectives should be the cornerstone of secondary teaching methodology and should definitely be used as part of the Arts ( Art, Music, PE, Drama) in intermediate elementary education because the tangible, hands-on, participatory, kinesthetic aspect is an accessible bridge to higher levels of thinking for younger children who may not have developed their verbal reasoning sufficiently.

Wave 3

Do you ever witness movement form formal operations to pre-formal operations?
In the sense of regression, a student who has attained the formal operations stage and then moving backwards, no. Students in transition and showing behavior in both concrete and formal operations stages as they move to formal operations, yes, all the time.

In general, do students who attain the same level of formal operations seem to have practiced the same amount? In the same way?
No, individual differences seem to rule and there are often disparities even between the capacity for logical reasoning and comprehension of abstractions in the same student. I’d say that of the two, logical reasoning is more readily attainable and also ” teachable” for young adolescents.


Perspectives and Peers, a tdaxp series:
Perspectives and Peers 1. Introduction
Perspectives and Peers 2. Books Assigned in Class
Perspectives and Peers 3. Articles Assigned in Class
Perspectives and Peers 4. Other Articles
Perspectives and Peers 5. Interview with the Subject
Perspectives and Peers 6. Conclusion
Perspectives and Peers 7. Bibliography
Perspectives and Peers 8. Interview with Mark Safranski

Perspectives and Peers 7, Bibliography

Note: This is a selection from Perspectives and Peers, part of tdaxp‘s SummerBlog ’06

Below is the reference list of works cited in this series.


Allen, J.P., Porter, M.R., McFarland, F.C., Marsh, P., McElhaney, K.B. (2005). The Two Faces of Adolescents’ Success with Peers: Adolescent Popularity, Social Adaption, and Deviant Behavior. Child Development 76, 747-760.

Driver, R., Asoko, H., Leach, H., Mortimer, E., & Scott, P. (1994). Constructing Scientific Knowledge in the Classroom. Educational Researcher 23, 5-12.

Elkind, David. (1998). All Grown Up and No Place to Go: Teenagers in Crisis (revised ed.).Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.

Frank, W., Schülert, J., & Nicholas, H. (1992). Interdisciplinary Learning as Social Learning and General Education. European Journal of Education 27, 223-237.

Hursh, B. A. & Borzak, L. (1979). Toward Cognitive Development through Field Studies. The Journal of Higher Education 50, 63-78.

M.S., Personal Communication, March 28-30, 2006.

Maalouf, Amin. (2003). In the Name of Identity: Violence and the Need to Belong (reprint edition). New York, NY: Penguin Group.

Moshman, David. (2005). Adolescent Psychological Development (2nd ed.). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Schwartz, Daniel L. (1995). The Emergence of Abstract Representations in Dyad Problem Solving. The Journal of the Learning Sciences 4, 321-354.

Schulman, L.S., & Carey, N.B. (1984). Psychology and the Limitations of Individual Rationality: Implications for the Study of Reasoning and Civility. Review of Education Research 54, 501-524.

Steinberg, L., & Morris, A.S. (2001). Adolescent Development. Annual Review of Psychology: 2001 52, 83-110.
von Glasersfeld, E. (1995). A Constructivist Approach to Teaching. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.


Perspectives and Peers, a tdaxp series:
Perspectives and Peers 1. Introduction
Perspectives and Peers 2. Books Assigned in Class
Perspectives and Peers 3. Articles Assigned in Class
Perspectives and Peers 4. Other Articles
Perspectives and Peers 5. Interview with the Subject
Perspectives and Peers 6. Conclusion
Perspectives and Peers 7. Bibliography
Perspectives and Peers 8. Interview with Mark Safranski

Perspectives and Peers 6, Conclusion

Note: This is a selection from Perspectives and Peers, part of tdaxp‘s SummerBlog ’06

Multiple Perspectives Peer Interaction
Books
Elkind Mixed Mixed
Moshman Yes Mixed
Maalouf Mixed Mixed
In-Class Papers
Steinberg and Morris Mixed Mixed
Allen et al Yes Mixed
von Glasersfeld Yes Yes
Out-of-Class Papers
Driver Yes Mixed
Frank Yes Both
Hursh Yes Mixed
Schulman Yes Yes
Schwartz Yes Yes
Interview
Subject Yes Mixed


From the above table, one can easily see the strong field support for multiple perspectives but the mixed field support in peer interaction in constructing rationality.

The readings clearly support the value of multiple perspectives. Only three readings do not: David Elkin, Amin Maalouf, and Steinberg and Morris. However, each of these three can be explained as due to particularities of the author or study. David Elkind’s reaction was not explicit and against multiple perspectives as such, but rather implicit in his criticisms of the economic viability of life in the United States. Amin Maalouf’s skepticism towards both is explained by the fact tha the is looking at general populations, not individuals. It is well known that large crowds, and even countries, can act significantly less rational than their constituent members. Likewise, the mixed reading Steinberg and Morris is only possible if one assumes that multiple perspectives are needed to sustain rationality, not just create it. That may be too great of an assumption. Otherwise, every reading argues in support of multiple perspectives. As do the statements of the interview subject.

No such conclusion can be reached about the value of peer interaction. Not only are Elkind and Maalouf still skeptical, but even Moshman qualifies his support The assigned reading in class is generally mixed, and the out-of-class material can contradict each other. Opinions range from peer interaction is needed, to peer interaction and non-peer interaction, to warnings about the “counterproductive” effects of peer interaction from the interview subject.

Given this, multiple perspectives can be seen as the vital element in building rationality and rational behavior. Further research must be done for peer interaction, though, to see what place it has to play.


Perspectives and Peers, a tdaxp series:
Perspectives and Peers 1. Introduction
Perspectives and Peers 2. Books Assigned in Class
Perspectives and Peers 3. Articles Assigned in Class
Perspectives and Peers 4. Other Articles
Perspectives and Peers 5. Interview with the Subject
Perspectives and Peers 6. Conclusion
Perspectives and Peers 7. Bibliography
Perspectives and Peers 8. Interview with Mark Safranski

Perspectives and Peers 5, Interview with the Subject

Note: This is a selection from Perspectives and Peers, part of tdaxp‘s SummerBlog ’06

While the interview subject, a teacher of adolescents, strongly agreed with our course’s view on multiple perspectives, peer interaction was a different matter. The original focus of the interview was the overlapping roles of rationality and metacognition. However, his words on peer interaction and multiple perspectives were so interesting that those topics become the focus of this paper. This study is especially lucky in this regard, because the interview subject’s responses may be considered more spontaneous than if the interview had been structured to elicit them. For the rest of the interview, see the appendix at the end of this study.


The subject’s absolute agreement with the importance of multiple perspectives is best said in his own words. The emphasis is his:

If you wish to inculcate critical thinking and dismantle egocentricity in young adolescents in relatively short periods of time, forcing them to utilize multiple perspectives is invaluable. There are many ways to do this – scenarios from Kohlberg’s Stages of Moral Development, Counterfactuals, exercises from Edward De Bono, Socratic Method, Optical Illusions – since novelty is a key a key “ hook” with adolescents you are best off not overusing one particular method.

In my humble opinion, multiple perspectives should be the cornerstone of secondary teaching methodology and should definitely be used as part of the Arts ( Art, Music, PE, Drama) in intermediate elementary education because the tangible, hands-on, participatory, kinesthetic aspect is an accessible bridge to higher levels of thinking for younger children who may not have developed their verbal reasoning sufficiently.

However, the subject’s view of peer interaction (compared to interaction within a hierarchical environment) is more mixed. Indeed, when peer interaction is successfully used it is when the students are attempting to create a hierarchy For instance, when asked about spontaneous use of formal operations, the subject answered, “a high level of motivation [is] the factor in triggering it – either deep interest in figuring something out or competitiveness with a peer to prove them wrong.” Ultimately the subject places emphasis on mentoring rationality. While I had noted this in previous question sets, no class readings had taken the view that the subject seems to:

For the majority of students in this age group I would say “mentoring” is far and away more efficient – with the proviso that the “ mentoring” involves meaningful, focused, interaction and not an adult talking at a room of disconnected adolescents.

Emotional and social concerns and insecurities are such primal drivers here as to make peer-to-peer situations counterproductive unless they have been highly structured with objectives that are both understood by the students and for which they are motivated to accomplish. If that is the case then peer to peer is a useful learning technique and method of positive reinforcement.

A minority of students, usually the most able but not always, who are intrinsically driven by intellectual curiosity can, if grouped together, have some very productive experiences without (or because of the lack of) a formal structure as they make their way to a common goal.


Perspectives and Peers, a tdaxp series:
Perspectives and Peers 1. Introduction
Perspectives and Peers 2. Books Assigned in Class
Perspectives and Peers 3. Articles Assigned in Class
Perspectives and Peers 4. Other Articles
Perspectives and Peers 5. Interview with the Subject
Perspectives and Peers 6. Conclusion
Perspectives and Peers 7. Bibliography
Perspectives and Peers 8. Interview with Mark Safranski

Perspectives and Peers 4, Other Articles

Note: This is a selection from Perspectives and Peers, part of tdaxp‘s SummerBlog ’06

The trend toward more emphasis on multiple perspectives continued with the articles found elsewhere. While only one of three books was supportive of the idea, and only two of three articles downloaded off blackboard were, every relevant peer reviewed article unqualifiedly supported the value of multiple perspectives in constructing rationality. On peer interaction the out-of-class reading split down the middle, with half completely for and half somewhat against.


Unsurprisingly, articles supporting the importance of peer interaction in rationality can be easily found. Under the heading of “Man as Collectively Rational,” Shulman note that “it is precisely the opportunities provided to amplify and elaborate individual human reason through collective deliberation and action that constitute the least appreciated vehicles for overcoming the bounding of rationality, whether for learners, teachers, or researchers” (515-516). The authors use markets and theaters as examples of environments that encourage rationality because of the multiple perspectives inherent in those domains.

Both theaters and markets possess both more and less powerful “peers,” so it is not surprising that other articles also support non-peer or unequal peer interaction as scaffolding to rationality. Before retelling case studies that involve the creation of”a new way of explaining” (that is, a more rational epistemology), Driver et al (1994) note that they have used “dialogic interactions between the teacher and individuals, or small groups of students. In these interactions, the adult (or a more competent peer) provides…. ‘scaffolding’ for the students’ learning as they construct new meaning for themselves” (10). In a situation such as this, multiple perspectives are generated by peer interaction is much less important than the non-peer interaction in constructing rationality. This same view is baked up by Hursh and Borzak (1972), who talk about cognitive development and learning multiple perspectives, which they call “decentering” (70), during actual internship experiences.

At the other extreme, some research has looked only at equal peer interaction and found it valuable. For instance, comparing student performance in two-student dyads as opposed to individual work, Schwartz (2005) found that “dyads constructed abstractions well above the rate would expect given a ‘most competent member’ model of group performance” by negotiating “a common representation that could serve as a touchstone for coordinating the members’ different perspectives on the problem” (321). Instead of looking at the world in right-and-wrong terms, students acted and thought more rationally because they had to deal with others at their same power level.

A compromise may be found page in Frank et al. (1992). Unlike the previous writers, Frank and her co-authors do not dismiss interaction between equal peers as such. Instead, they argue that peer interaction as well as student-teacher interaction is important. In their work, different natures “of the students and the relationship between students and teachers contribute to the acquisition of multiple perspectives…” (230). Here, peer interaction seems just as important as non-peer interaction.


Perspectives and Peers, a tdaxp series:
Perspectives and Peers 1. Introduction
Perspectives and Peers 2. Books Assigned in Class
Perspectives and Peers 3. Articles Assigned in Class
Perspectives and Peers 4. Other Articles
Perspectives and Peers 5. Interview with the Subject
Perspectives and Peers 6. Conclusion
Perspectives and Peers 7. Bibliography
Perspectives and Peers 8. Interview with Mark Safranski

Perspectives and Peers 3, Articles Assigned in Class

Note: This is a selection from Perspectives and Peers, part of tdaxp‘s SummerBlog ’06

As with the assigned books, the assigned articles were more mixed than initially expected. Unlike the books – which were generally mixed on the value of peer interaction – at least one article was strongly supportive. Another trends is that while most of the books were mixed on the value of multiple perspectives, only one of the articles was likewise qualified. The other two were strongly supportive.


The concept of peer interaction gets an unexpected clubbing from Steinberg and Morris (2001). On page 92, they appear to take issue with the concept discussed in class that peer interaction should be between equals. However, Steinberg and Morris write that “most adolescents are influenced by peers because they admire them and respect their opinions.” This implies that adolescents who are influenced to think rationally do so under the guidance of adolescents they respect (and so those who have power of them). Likewise, even though we discussed that the correlation of rationality with age is weak, the influence of peers is greatest “in middle adolescence, compared to early and late adolescence.” Interesting, multiple perspectives may become less important with age, because individuals view themselves “less in terms of social comparisons” (91) – that is, from fewer perspectives except their own – as they age.

From Allen, et al. (2005) comes another knock: peer interaction may be a product of rationality, not a cause. To quote from the second page of their article, “the positive and open stance toward social relationships that is likely lead to popularity do not arise de novo, but rather to derive from and be closely associated with positive interactions with the family.” Implicit in this passage is that non-peer social interaction, similar to mentoring, occurs within the familyand this enables the adolescent to use rational reflection and coordinate multiple viewpoints later. The same article mentions that adolescents strongly exposed to multiple exposures from peers – popular ones – make less rational choices earlier in adolescents yet make rational ones later one. Perhaps this is evidence that the rationality benefits of multiple perspectives is cumulative.

A third view, from von Glasersfeld (1995), defends peer interaction and multiple perspectives. He present children nearly as multiple-perspective peer-interaction machines: discussing free play by children, von Glasersfeld notes that the children “have derived all sorts of rules for [moving their bodies, moving objects with balls, driving carts, etc.] … [that] … within the students’ experiential world … are quite viable” (15). Indeed, von Glasersfeld defends this derived rationality from the charge that it is “wrong (“From the physicist’s point of view, these notions and rules are misconceptions”) because to they are viable within the range of perspectives the children have available. The author’s solution for harmonizing these is by adding more multiple perspective (counterexamples that are valid to the children).


Perspectives and Peers, a tdaxp series:
Perspectives and Peers 1. Introduction
Perspectives and Peers 2. Books Assigned in Class
Perspectives and Peers 3. Articles Assigned in Class
Perspectives and Peers 4. Other Articles
Perspectives and Peers 5. Interview with the Subject
Perspectives and Peers 6. Conclusion
Perspectives and Peers 7. Bibliography
Perspectives and Peers 8. Interview with Mark Safranski

Perspectives and Peers 2, Books Assigned in Class

Note: This is a selection from Perspectives and Peers, part of tdaxp‘s SummerBlog ’06

On critical examination, the books assigned in class give a more mixed view on multiple perspectives and peer interaction than the class discussion. David Moshman (2005), as expected, comes out strongly for multiple perspectives in constructing rationality. Indeed, there is no way in his view to achieve rationality without multiple perspectives. Yet even Moshman qualifies his support for the need for equal peer interaction. The other readings, both of which were written for broad audiences, appear to be even less enthusiastic. Amin Maalouf (1993) frets about the irrational nature of peer interaction and the need to suppress multiple perspectives in some instances. Last, David Elkind (1998) sees a world fraught with parallel, where most positive and rational steps appear to be foreclosed.


Interestingly, David Moshman is skeptical of the benefits of peer interaction. Three stages are given in the book for the construction of rationality: reflection, coordination, and peer interaction. Yet the Moshman text presents the third, and the third alone, as optional. Consider the phrasings on page 43: “developing involves a process of reflection” then “development involves a process of coordination” then “development typically occurs in a context of peer interaction.” While Moshman does not dismiss peer interaction, he repeats his omission on pages 44-45 “Unless Nora and Simon reflect on and coordinate their viewpoints and thus construct a metaperspective, they are still functioning at their original level of rationality.” Note that interaction with each other may occur in this scenario, but would not have to. As he later says, “social interaction is a context” (45).

Intertwined with his discussion of peer interaction, Moshman emphasizes the importance of multiple perspectives. The terms “reflection” and “coordination,” touched on above, have no meaning whatsoever except with multiple perspectives. On page 43, Moshman gives “not just learning more about what is in the room but reflection on a perspective she already had” as an example of reflection, and “improving her understanding of the interrelations of multiple perspectives” for “coordination” on the same page.

Amin Maalouf, the Franco-Lebanese intellectual, qualifies the help of peers in building rationality. Indeed, to him peers are destructive to rationality. As he says on page 21, “[t]he emotions of fear or insecurity don’t always obey rational considerations. They may be exaggerated or even paranoid, but once a whole population is afraid, we are dealing with the reality of the fear rather than the reality of the threat.” In other words, emotions become irrational once one’s peers get involved. Perhaps rationality, to Maalouf, is more typical of a traditional student than an interacting peer. The only other use of the word “rational” in the text occurs on page 113, where he wonders what a “rational observer” might make of something (and thus, one who is observing, and not one who is a peer interacting rationally).

Maalouf also has an interesting take on multiple perspectives. Unlike other readings, he appears to see it as the product of rationality, not the building block. On page 5, “if they themselves cannot sustain their multiple allegiances… then all of us have reason to be uneasy about the way the world is going.” Elsewhere in Maalouf’s book, multiple perspectives are seen apart from rationality, as when he notes that if “our contemporaries are not encouraged to accept their multiple affiliations and allegiances; if they cannot reconcile their need for identity with an open and unprejudiced.. then we shall be bringing into being legions of the lost and hordes of bloodthirsty men” (35). Likewise, he displays little patience with multiple perspectives he disagrees with, saying that in at least one “area, we should tend to universality, and even, if necessary, uniformity, …” (106-107).

“Multiple allegiances” are not quite the same thing as multiple perspectives, but the relationship between the concepts is clear. By carrying multiple allegiances, a person has the ability to view subjects from multiple perspectives. Maalouf’s skepticism of view that mutliple allegiances are a consequence of rationality, and not a cause, thus make it valid to read his work as arguing that multiple perspectives to Maalouf are also a consequence or rational thought and not a cause.

In contrast to the other books in this class, David Elkind’s perspective is mostly negative. While Maalouf looks at the material we covered in class from a political or globalized perspective, and Moshman from an academic educational psychological perspective, Elkind sees the world through lenses of decline. Effective teaching with peer interaction and multiple perspectives simply is not an option, here, because teachers “with large classes, burdened with endless bureaucratic busywork, often lose enthusiasm for the subject they love and have little time for mentoring” (17). Parents as well are unable to provide either because (in Elkind’s view) it is no longer possible to support the same lifestyle with the “shorter hours and with a single parent working” (243) as in the past. The only firm conclusion that can be reached is that peer interaction is probably harmful, because peers are correlated with “neediness” (205).


Perspectives and Peers, a tdaxp series:
Perspectives and Peers 1. Introduction
Perspectives and Peers 2. Books Assigned in Class
Perspectives and Peers 3. Articles Assigned in Class
Perspectives and Peers 4. Other Articles
Perspectives and Peers 5. Interview with the Subject
Perspectives and Peers 6. Conclusion
Perspectives and Peers 7. Bibliography
Perspectives and Peers 8. Interview with Mark Safranski

Perspectives and Peers 1, Introduction

Note: This is a selection from Perspectives and Peers, part of tdaxp‘s SummerBlog ’06

Multiple perspectives and peer interaction are two processes that have been mentioned numerous times in class. A review of the literature (assigned books, assigned articles, and non-assigned articles), as well as an interview with a man knowledgeable of both educational psychological theory and adolescents, calls the value of peer interaction into question. The same review strongly supports the value of multiple perspectives.

This paper will discuss the views of assigned books and articles, as well the differing views of other peer reviewed articles, before delving into the interview findings. In each section, both multiple perspectives and peer interaction are discussed. Afterwards, the findings will be summarized, a conclusion will be reached, and reference list and interview question and answer sets shall be attached.


Throughout this series, “multiple perspectives and “peer interaction” will be referred to. Because every author can use terms in slightly different ways, and formal definitions can be difficult to find, the words will be used in the following ways. “Multiple perspectives” refers different interpretations of a concept, a thing, or another person. A shift of perspective can greatly change what something appears to be, in the way that changing one’s position in space can transform a constellation from one shape into another. “Peer interaction” refers to sharing of multiple perspectives with someone else of approximate age, experience, knowledge, and power. Peers can be more or less equal, but should not be significantly unequal.


Perspectives and Peers, a tdaxp series:
Perspectives and Peers 1. Introduction
Perspectives and Peers 2. Books Assigned in Class
Perspectives and Peers 3. Articles Assigned in Class
Perspectives and Peers 4. Other Articles
Perspectives and Peers 5. Interview with the Subject
Perspectives and Peers 6. Conclusion
Perspectives and Peers 7. Bibliography
Perspectives and Peers 8. Interview with Mark Safranski

Final Reaction on David Moshman’s Advanced Psychological Development

This reaction paper, nowhere near as good as my summary of interpretivism for scopes & methods, is a required reaction paper for David Moshman’s Adolescent Psychological Development: Rationality, Morality, and Identity (2nd Edition). It was one of the three books I read for Adolescent Psychology, along with David Elkind’s All Grown Up And No Place To Go and Amin Maalouf’s In the Name of Identity: Violence and the Need to Belong.

I’ve previously turned in and posted quest sets of Moshman before, on cognitive development, identity development, and the purpose of education. The paper below focuses mostly on moral and advanced psychological development. For a taste of my take on Moshmanite reasoning, see my comment’s to Mark’s post The Epistemological Battlespace.

As a political science instructor, I commonly see students grapple with moral (what we call “normative”) issues while analyzing situations. From collateral damage to unaverted genocides, and everything in between, the rules of statecraft Therefore Moshman’s section on advanced psychology development, especially rationality and morality, intrigued me. In this reaction paper I will sail closely to the order the book presents issues, but interpret each in light of my experience.

First, Moshman cites Ketternauer’s moral espitemologies (116). These are intuitionist, subjectivist, and transubjectivist. In my experience the vast majority of freshmen at UNL appear to be transsubjectivists. Two weeks ago my recitations help mock trials of Slobodan Milosevic, after learning about the dismemberment of Yugoslavia. In every section, the arbitrarily named defense team put up a well-thought-out and well-reasoned defense. In one, the defense even earned an acquittal from a judge who had previously been selected by the students. Milosevic’s actions were defined as necessary in the context he was operating under, and superior to other options he had. This is the essence of transubjectivism. As my classes are composed of freshmen interested in politics, as opposed to “graduate students with background in moral philosophy” (117), either UNL’s student body is significantly above-par or Krettenauer’s findings need to be rethought.

Second, Moshman’s discussion of moral identity is helpful, because it can help in explaining “idealism” — one of the main perspectives in international relations. An idealist believes that people are motivated by thoughts that drive their action, even if that action is not self-beneificial. Moshman’s definition of a moral agent — “one who acts on teh basis of respect and/or concern for the rights and/or welfare of others” (121) is essentially the definition of an idealist. Using this definition, George Bush, Osama bin Laden, Chang Kai-Shek, and Hitler can all be explained in idealst/moral agents ways. Going back to the previous example with Slobodan Milosevic, one of the defense arguments used was “He had to protect his people.” That is a clear example of reasoning based on moral agency.

Third, Moshman’s constructivism section is useful because the same theory, under the same name, exists in international relations, as well under the term “interpretivism” in political science generally. It can be helpful to explain to students that their reality, and their nation’s reality, both are formed because “individuals play an active role in constructing their own knowledge and reasoning and in generating their own behavior.” (126). With the end of the Cold War and the rise of terrorism, where the fate of nations now hang more on individuals with boxcutters than bureaucracies with bombs, constructivism enables students to apply their own metacognition to the field they study.

Fourth, and here is a failing of Moshman’s, I could use discussion that “we should consider the relationship of differences across individuals to differences within individuals” (132) as an example of fallacious reasoning. Intergroup contests come up constantly in political science, and Moshman’s example of how even an educated author can be misled by statistics will be insightful. For instance, imagine that there are two groups A and B, each of whom as a standard variation (sigma) of 3, and in each of whom the variation with individuals is 6, and that the difference in means (mu) between them across whatever domains is only .1. Moshman would say here the intergroup variation is meaningless, because variance within groups is larger than between groups, and variance within individuals is greater than within a group. Yet this analysis would be deeply misleading, because in any highly-intense competition that strongly selects for some characteristic (say, Senate races), we could except all winners to be from the favored group (because we would be chopping off the normal curve at the very upper tail) even with this comparatively minor intergroup variation.

Fifth, while I disagree with Moshman’s belief that education’s “core purpose should be the promotion of rationality” (it should instead be preparing students for personal happiness and national success, in accordance with the U.S. Constitution), I enjoyed the important features of discussion he mentions (138): “each students has multiple opportunities to present and defend his or her views,” “each student was exposed to a variety of alternative views and justifications,” “students were encouraged to reach agreement on a conclusion they all deemed most justifiable,” and “students were not required to change their views if they remain unconvinced by the critiques and alternatives.” I run all ofy recitations as a democracy with a three stage process: students elect representatives to a Class Assembly through proportional representation, the Class Assembly selects a President through a 2/3ds Majority, and the President names a Prime Minister who has to be approved by more than half of the Class Assembly (actually, because I allow the Class Assembly to change the Constitution with a 2/3rds vote, two of the recitations have altered the process — in my original formulation the Prime Minister has a judicial role, but now one recitation has named a standing Supreme Court, and the other created multiple classes of suffrage as well as an elected, judicial Speaker of the Assembly). Every class begins with this entire process (with the exception of the one with a Supreme Court, whose appointments are for life). Among the many benefits of this approach are that they force students to go through Moshman’s four stages first thing. The election generally takes only five minutes, but even contested elections are valuable, because they force students to practically confront politics in the context of increased rationality.

In conclusion, the Moshman book was valuable. Indeed, I found it to be the best thing in the course. His words on moral epistemologices, moral identity, and constructivism are clearly useful and relevent to me. Even when he falls down, such as in statistical analysis or the purpose of schooling, his book is still valuable. I enjoyed it.

Review of and Questions for "In the Name of Identity" by Amin Maalouf

This weekend I read two books: Neither Shall the Sword: Conflict in the Years Ahead by Chet Richards and In the Name of Identity: Violence and the Need to Belong by Amin Maalouf. The Richards book was for fun, but Maalouf’s work followed Elkind‘s and Moshman‘s in being required for my adolescent psychology class. The book is written by the Paris-based Lebanese author Amin Maalouf.

amin_maalouf_in_the_name_of_identity_md

As an aside in The Lexus and the Olive Tree, Tom Friedman mentioned that French-speaking Arabs are the least equipped to understand globalization. Yup.


Amin Maalouf is concerned with the same “globalization of symbols” that is the focus of French politician Dominque de Villepin . Which means that while Maalouf looks at the role of languages and religions a lot (even stating that freedom of language is more important than freedom of speech), he completely ignores the globalization’s economic implications.

This is like a ranching book which is eloquent on the symbolism of barbed wire, but accidentally leaves out that it stops cows from breaking through fences.

While Maalouf looks at political correctness and identity politics as they impact the middle east, he ignores economic growth. While he mentions the disaster of dictatorial socialism, he neglects socialism. And while he attacks all form of “hegemony” (did I mention he was French?), he never once raises the consequences of economic or security multipolarity.

Ultimately, as may befit a European intellectual, Maalouf approaches ideologies with a hauty unconcern. Ideas and identities effect people who let them, but more thoughtful men don’t. Ideas, in Maalouf’s world, aren’t evolutionarily-fit memes at all, but passive concepts one may pick and choose between at one’s leisure.

If you want a readable, fast, and facile introduction to the globalization, read this book. For a study of the real forces of globalization, try instead The World is Flat or Blueprint for Action.


This concludes the review. However, for class I need to write a “question-set.” So here goes:

On page 16, Maalouf writes “I sometimes find myself ‘examining my identity’ as other people examine their conscience. As you may imagine, my object is not to discover within myself some ‘essential’ allegiance in which I may recognize myself.” Does Amin thus dismiss the primacy of territorially-developed State-allegiances in the modern context?

On page 47, Maalouf asks about the Arab world, “Why those veils, those chadors, those dreary beards, those calls for assassination? Why so many manifestations of conservatism and violence?” Is Maalouf conflating conservatism and fundamentalism? After all, is fundamentalism not a modern reaction against the world, while conservatism is a method of integration into the world?

On page 68, Maalouf writes “between the fifteenth and nineteenth centuries, while the West was making rapid advances, the Arab world marked time.” Would a better formulation be that the Arab world kept advancing, after jumping the rails? In his histories of the Middle East, Bernard Lewis has described the perverse effects of technologies in that context (for instance, telegraphs being used to increase despotism in the Ottoman Empire).

On page 73, Maalouf notes “For example, it wasn’t until the Bolshevik revolution that Russia managed at last to abandon the old Julian calendar. Changing to the Gregorian calendar made people feel that they were accepting the fact that in the almost immemorial war between Orthodoxy and Catholicism, the latter had had the last word.” If we compare this to Mao’s campaigns against traditional Chinese writing, do we see a common theme of destructive radical identities trying to uproot their people even more — to increase the size of potential niche?

Maalouf beings page 101 with a quote from Marc Bloch, “Men are more the sons of their time than of their fathers.” How would this be operationalized within the context of educational psychology? Would the feature Bloch and Maalouf describe be effected by an authoritative parenting style, for example?

On page 122, Maalouf says “I am thinking not only of the danger of hegemony but also of its converse of negative image — the equally grave danger of pique and resentment that may be observed in various parts of the world.” Wouldn’t the opposite of hegemony (from “hegeisthai,” “to lead”) be leaderlessness? Would Maalouf consider this dialectical opposite to be “equally grave” in the avenues of security, culture, economics, etc?

On pages 138-142, Maalouf recommends trilingualism for Europeans. Specifically, he recommends all Europeans learn English, their home language, and a third language that they enjoy. First, doesn’t this assume that the English themselves are not true Europeans. Second, isn’t this “suggestion” already taking place in most of Europe?