Category Archives: Human Development

School vs. Society in America’s Failing Schools

We grow accustomed to easy explanations for the difficulties encountered in U.S. Schools.  Educational Researchers offer perspectives that challenge widely held assumptions.  Here is an article that provides an alternative point of view worth considering!    — Ed Prof

School vs. Society

Eduardo Porter
Published online November 3, 2015 in the New York Times —

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New York Times Website


The Heart Grows Smarter

In “The Heart Grows Smarter,” David Brooks describes  the Grant Study — a longitudinal study begun in 1938 at Harvard that followed participants for decades.  George Vaillant’s recent Trimphs of Experience tells the story of this impressive scholarly achievement.  Lifespan development research in action!

The Heart Grows Smarter –

Further Reading

Vaillant, George (2012) Triumphs of Experience: The Men of the Harvard Grant Study.  Belknap Press of Harvard.

Formal-Operational vs. Post-Formal Thinking: Brains Grow Up

Here is a reblogged essay from the Classroom as Microcosm Blog written by irrepressible and indomitable college teacher, “Siobhan Curious.”   It explores one aspect of early adult development: the growth of postformal thought.

Formal-Operational vs. Post-Formal Thinking: Brains Grow Up « Classroom as Microcosm.

I have written about emerging adulthood (and academic versus authentic writing) in another post.  If you are looking for additional reading on this topic, scroll down to references at the end of my first “Diary of an Ed Prof” essay.   — Ed Prof

The Psychological Contract

In 1952, Rutgers University Professor Selman Waksman won the Nobel Prize for developing Streptomycin, a powerful antibiotic that cured tuberculosis.  His 23-year old graduate student, Albert Schatz, claimed to have been the first to isolate the bacterium that produced this drug in August, 1943.  Schatz and Waksman applied for a patent, but the royalties all went to Waksman.  Schatz sued and won a share of the royalties, but Waksman never acknowledged the part he played in the discovery.   Waksman had a distinguished career until his death in 1973.  Twenty years later, and fifty years after the discovery of Streptoymycin, Schatz published the second of two articles describing his role in the discovery (Schatz, 1993). This year, Schatz’ claim was confirmed by the discovery of his detailed 1943 lab notes in a box of Waksman’s papers (Pringle, 2012). The notes show that Schatz was the first to isolate the bacterium.

From a professional studies point of view, this story provides rich terrain for analysis.   It is a reminder that professional communities, while said to be self-policing, are not always or perhaps ever what novices imagine them to be. The disparity between students’ idealism and reality constitutes  a violation of the psychological contract implicit in the relationship between student and mentor as it is enacted within the structure of the research university.  When institutions violate the psychological contract, those who work within them experience adverse psychological effects.  This is not by any means limited to universities and science laboratories, but a more general phenomenon experienced by teachers, physicians, nurses, social workers, professors, and others who find themselves grappling with shifting institutional priorities, ominous new power structures, and heartbreaking barriers to best practice.  What this suggests to me is that those who train professionals need to try to understand students’ images of professional life and conceptions about the field as a whole.  They also need to be reflexive — able to model honest self-appraisal, self-criticism, awareness of the field’s potentially problematic effects, weaknesses and shortcomings, as well as its achievements and technical demands.  There is a vital role for the humanities and the social sciences in this enterprise.

To return to the case at hand, the “system” (and the individual scientists working within it) produced a great societal benefit, yet also permitted, and may have promoted, inequity and injustice.  And it is noteworthy that all this contention emerged concurrent with what one journalist described as “the birth of big Pharma.”  Today, scientific discoveries are made by large, complex groups of people, yet when we teach about science, we still employ a curriculum that spotlights the work of “heroic” individual scientists who are the stars of the scientific show — immortal symbols of the quest for understanding.  The media promote public conceptions of the solitary, successful, charismatic scientist (and teacher, and physician…) that no longer align well with professional life as most of us ordinary beings experience it.

Recognition remains the gold standard in the political economy of academic life — publications, citations,  grants, prizes, awards, tweets, followers!  Schatz never gave up his quest for recognition.  And as the “op ed” letter below suggests, Wacksman was a well regarded teacher and scientist who attended to the needs of the next generation (Erikson, 1950).  With respect to human lifespan development, I think this story demonstrates how scholarly priorities can change through the life course. In particular, the interests of senior scholars may move away from concerted efforts to acquire yet more intellectual knowledge toward articulation and reinterpretation of one’s life and its meaning.

Sources and Further Reading

Conway, N. & Briner, R. (2006). Understanding Psychological Contracts at Work: A Critical Evaluation of Theory and Research. Oxford University.

Erikson, E. (1950). Eight Stages of Man (Chapter 7), Childhood and Society, New York: W.W. Norton.

Forbes, P.  (2012).Experiment Eleven: Deceit and Betrayal in the Discovery of the Cure for Tuberculosis by Peter Pringle – review . The Guardian, June 29.

Pringle, P. (2012). Notebooks Shed Light on and Antibiotic’s Contested Discovery. New York Times, June 11.

Rousseau, Denise M. (1996). Psychological Contracts in Organizations: Understanding Written and Unwritten Agreements. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.

Schatz, A. (1993). The true story of the discovery of Streptomycin.  Actinomycetes, Vol. IV, Part 2: 27-39

Diary of an Ed Prof

Academic BookshelfOne of the tasks of educating professionals involves inculcating the ability to concentrate intensely for long periods of time on whatever one’s job requires.  My job requires a good deal of writing, and reading, and learning — and I would not have it any other way.  But I may be happiest when I go into random mind mode (RAMM!) — which I do more often than perhaps I ought. One of the benefits of RAMM, however, involves happening on new ways of thinking about things.  Reading a few of 27 year old Mary’s posts — beginning with Fifteen Things White Girls Love to Do on Facebook — got me thinking again about how much the idea of “authenticity” in academic writing has changed in the past 2 or 3 decades, and how advanced information technologies (especially blogs and online journals and newsletters, but also spelling and grammar checkers) have changed our notions of what it means to write, and to read the work of others.

Academic writing in the professions is put through so many layers of critique and often endures so much editorial meddling that it loses whatever creative energy it might once have possessed.  There is an odd gauntlet through which a writing project must pass if it is, indeed, to “count” for much in the academy.  At least in my fields (education, anthropology and psychology), the goal is not simply to share ideas and research findings, but to do so with the benediction of peer-reviewers who presumably provide an “objective” and informed evaluation of quality of the work. [I have written about this in the “Political Economy of Academic Writing (PDF)” in the Journal of Thought.] Those who write  journal articles on their own must compete with those who work in teams and with others who receive varying amounts of help from amateur (student) or professional editors and ghost writers.  By the time it makes its way through the gauntlet of critique, academic writing  may no longer reflect either the intellect or the communication skills of the author(s).  As a result, it can be difficult to gauge the authenticity of the persona manifested in academic writing projects. Blogs might be another story, or so it seems to me.

Mary lived in New Orleans a few months ago and was working on a nursing degree in a community college.  Her “Fifteen Things” entry garnered a lot of attention when it was spotlighted on the Word Press “Freshly Pressed” page — a great site for anyone looking for RAMM opportunities!  In prior posts, she had bemoaned her inability to study for an important “A and P” (anatomy and physiology) exam. Instead of studying, she  blogged.  Blogging is seductive because it provides a readily available venue for self-expression and exploring alternative possible futures.

I thought Mary’s subsequent post on “The Pros and Cons of Being 27 and Living with your Parents”  provided an imaginative, humorous and insightful glimpse into what developmental scientists call emerging or early adulthood – the period in the lifespan from about 18 years of age to the late twenties  (Arnett, 2000).  Mary has better reason than many to still be relying on parental support, but the truth is that “growing up is harder to do” today than in the past (Furstenberg, et al, 2008; Marantz Henig, 2010).  The situation is a product of the social and economic context rather than individual deficiency (of either young adult children or their parents).  On January 4, Mary wrote a thoughtful commentary about sibling relationships (“Brothers and Sisters“). And early in February, she announced her decision to (re)turn her attention to writing, setting aside her aspiration to become a nurse, at least for now (“Community College Drop Out“).  Given how her readers have responded to her work as a blog author, she wonders whether she might have become a kind of “internet nurse” — helping to relieve human suffering or at least, making some of her readers feel less alone.

As a teacher, I am reminded of how hard we sometimes work to help students overcome barriers in order to stay in school and finish their degree programs.  It sounds as though Mary’s community college professors did what they could to help, but there is only so much one can do.  Things don’t always work out as planned. In any case, I am struck by the way that Mary seems to embody her prose.  Here is how she describes the role writing plays in her life:

I think more than any physical place, my notebooks have been my home. Writing often reveals to me what is true and real before my own mind can recognize it in the world. I know that writing is a way for me to find truth and tell the truth. It might be why I get anxiety just before I sit down to write, but after I finish, I feel better. Lighter. And if I’ve written correctly, I always walk away with more clarity, more light in the room than before. So I won’t concern myself too much with what house I call mine for now. Maybe home is more an internal thing than anything else. For the time being, home is on paper, and deep within. (2/28/12)

 Blogging affords opportunities for writing as an “authentic” form of self-expression to real and imaginary audiences.  Through writing, we create, recreate and comfort ourselves. This is a new and noteworthy phenomenon and I suspect it is worthy of more scholarly attention than it has received.    Ed Prof

References and Further Reading

Arnett, J. J. (2000). Emerging adulthood: A theory of development from the late teens through the twenties. American Psychologist, 55 (5):469-480.   doi: 10.1037/0003-066X.55.5.469

Furstenberg, jr., F., et. Al. (2004). Growing up is harder to do. Contexts, 3, 33-41.

Marantz Henig, Robin (August 18, 2010). “What Is It About 20-Somethings?”. The New York Times.

Munsey, C. (2006). Emerging adults: The in-between age. APA Monitor, 37 (6):68.

Web Pages

Emerging Adulthood (Wikipedia Entry).

Jeffrey Jensen Arnett’s Home Page: