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The official website of Gint Aras, Finalist 2016 CWA Book Award


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Luck vs. Intelligence, part II

Having reviewed the mid-term essays written by my English 102 sections, I’ve discovered more curious assumptions to add to the previous post. These do modulate from the luck vs. intelligence question. However, they reveal quite a bit about why some students just can’t learn at the college level, in a community college or elsewhere.

(continuing from previous post)

6.) You’re lucky if you make a decision to improve your life. If you choose not to improve your life, it’s because you’re unlucky.

7.) People learn things when you teach them.

8) It is impossible to look at the world from any point of view other than your own.

9) Environments generally adapt to an individual’s needs.

10 [to expand] An individual has no need to adapt to an enviroment and, therefore, should not worry about changing bad habits. People will accept you.

11 No one believes that learning is fun.

12) I am an acceptable representation of most people.

13) I can ignore evidence when it does not fit my beliefs.

14) You should only be taught things you already know (because that makes you more comfortable and improves your grade).

15) It’s always ineffective to teach someone something in a way that makes them uncomfortable and confused.

16) I should not have to search for information on my own. It should be presetned to me so that I could use it to solve a problem.

17) Most employers give you a clear list of instructions and explanations, and there’s always someone at work who knows that the answer is.

The most baffling one for me is #8. There’s evidence everywhere that this is simply absurd, and I’ve been consistently providing the students with data that contradicts that point wildly. Number 9 is a very common belief among students who make no habit of reading. I’d explain #14 by drawing our attention to virtually any politician; however, these students pay virtually no attention to the political process. Those political behaviors, if it isn’t obvious, just reflect our culture.


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Luck vs. Intelligence

I had a curious experience this week at the college. It illuminates assumptions my students have about learning.

I’ve assigned The Big Short to my sections of English 102 (it’s an intro to research class). Most of the students who refused to read it have either dropped the class or no longer attend. The rest, about 60% of the originally registered, fall somewhere between the few students who are able to engage a decent discussion of the material to the rest who find the book impenetrable. That second group really offered me interesting items in recent essays.

I asked a question regarding luck vs. intelligence. Two of the figures in the book (Ledley and Mai), young men who shorted the CDO market in the middle of the last decade, describe themselves as lucky even though they do very intelligent things. They research the markets. They seek the help of folks (whom they perceive to be) more knowledgable than themselves. They actively seek out people who might offer them an opposite point of view to their own and, when they are unable to find any, conclude that they must be right about what they have learned.

Most students considered them to be primarily lucky. They ignored their actions and focussed on their descriptions of themselves. After all, these men must be self-aware. They’re rich!

Students also revealed striking assumptions about how one acquired knowledge. Some of them:

1.) There are two groups of people. One group knows things. The other group does not. If you exist in the second, you cannot move to the first. (This despite all the evidence in the book to the contrary!)

2.) You’re lucky if you know things and unlucky if you don’t.

3.) If you have someone who can help you, you’re lucky. If you ask them for help, you’re even more lucky.

4.) It’s not fraud if it takes someone time to figure out they’ve been tricked. Fraud only occurs when the person who’s been tricked figures it out right away.

5.)It’s normal to get tricked. Therefore, it’s not fraud.

6.) You’re lucky if you make a decision to improve your life. If you choose not to improve your life, it’s because you’re unlucky.

There are others but they’re complicated and would require me to deal too deeply with the reading material here. The ones I’ve listed, I think, are already shocking. While they help me understand why some percentage of my community college students look at learning as a hopeless endeavor, they don’t help me understand how these lessons have been formed. You’d assume students understand that they once did not know how to drive but eventually learned. It had something to do with luck, I suppose—you must, for example, have access to cars and education. But you must still start from a position of ignorance. You were not born knowing how to drive.

The assumption that you’re supposed to have already understood everything when you begin the lesson must come—I’m guessing—from the drill and repeat and review structure of their high school classes. If this is not true, I’m at a total loss. It really pains me to think that students believe they should already know how to do the things their college classes are teaching them and how horrible it must feel when they realize how unlucky they are.