Tuesday, July 22, 2014

ARR, MoAR!.. on risk-aversion.

from "Don't Send Your Kid to the Ivy League" @NewRepublic:

So extreme are the admission standards now that kids who manage to get into elite colleges have, by definition, never experienced anything but success. The prospect of not being successful terrifies them, disorients them. The cost of falling short, even temporarily, becomes not merely practical, but existential. The result is a violent aversion to risk. You have no margin for error, so you avoid the possibility that you will ever make an error. Once, a student at Pomona told me that she’d love to have a chance to think about the things she’s studying, only she doesn’t have the time. I asked her if she had ever considered not trying to get an A in every class. She looked at me as if I had made an indecent suggestion.

like any news article on education, one should take this report with a reasonable amount of skepticism ..

.. but being a university educator myself, there's some truth in it. generally my students are uncomfortable when i ask them problems in the exam that don't match up with their textbook problems (even though they are usually combinations of the same problems). the risk of a new obstacle, of not having seen something on which they will be evaluated .. it seems to really affect them.

for instance, last semester i think i spooked most of my linear algebra class with one geometry problem on each exam. [1]  at some point several students asked for practice geometry problems.

"everyone's worried about the geometry problem," one of them admitted. i tried to point out that it was only one of at most five problems and that i generally curve the scores ..

.. but (s)he didn't seem convinced.

[1] e.g. "Determine, if it exists, an equation for the sphere passing through the following four points." (i even reminded them what the equation of a 2-sphere in 3-space was!)

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