See, while it might surprise most of you out there reading this, very little political science actually talks about politics. This is particularly true in the subfield of “American” politics (the one that people like Coburn care about). That is, if you were to pick up a political science journal — especially but not exclusively the APSA’s American Political Science Review, the alleged leading journal in the field — it would be incomprehensible to you. You would see row after row of calculus equations arrayed in models that purport to analyze some political phenomenon or another. You wouldn’t think of it as analyzing politics at all.
In which Politicalprof succinctly explains why most outside observers don’t think we are worth funding. Read the whole post. It’s part of the angst many in my profession are currently feeling after the government decided to end public funding (or at least subject it to an “American interests” litmus test) of political science.
The problem is that we (political scientists) have clearly done a terrible job of convincing the public at large—and probably most of our own students—of the public utility and value of a political science education.
In fact, last year a colleague and I did a survey of all the 100-level political science courses (over 1,300 students that semester in intro American, Comparative, and IR courses). We measured student attitudes on a variety of indicators, and also asked them a battery of demographic questions. We found that individual student political efficacy actually dropped, even when controlling for race, gender, social class, age, etc. And even when controlling for median class GPA and teacher evaluation averages (we wanted to control for teacher effects). The findings were fairly robust. It was depressing: Taking a course in political science was likely to reduce a student’s internal and external political efficacy (that is, the belief that he/she can understand and effectively participate in, politics).
Oh, we also asked them about their interest in political science. Their interest dropped between the first and last weeks of the semester. Depressing. Which is why I haven’t yet pulled the paper back out and sent it to any journal. Though perhaps I should.
Where do I begin? I spent the last thirty minutes listening to a group of arrogant and condescending non educators disrespect my colleagues and profession. I listened to a group of disingenuous people whose own self-interests guide their policies rather than the interests of children. I listened to a cabal of people who sit on national education committees that will have a profound impact on classroom teaching practices. And I heard nothing of value.
“I’m thinking about the current health care debate, “I said. “And I am wondering if I will be asked to sit on a national committee charged with the task of creating a core curriculum of medical procedures to be used in hospital emergency rooms.”
The strange little man cocks his head and, suddenly, the fly on the wall has everyone’s attention.
“I realize that most people would think I am unqualified to sit on such a committee because I am not a doctor, I have never worked in an emergency room, and I have never treated a single patient. So what? Today I have listened to people who are not teachers, have never worked in a classroom, and have never taught a single student tell me how to teach.”
“I think that from very early ages we [in America] see struggle as an indicator that you’re just not very smart,” Stigler says. “It’s a sign of low ability — people who are smart don’t struggle, they just naturally get it, that’s our folk theory. Whereas in Asian cultures they tend to see struggle more as an opportunity.”
In Eastern cultures, Stigler says, it’s just assumed that struggle is a predictable part of the learning process. Everyone is expected to struggle in the process of learning, and so struggling becomes a chance to show that you, the student, have what it takes emotionally to resolve the problem by persisting through that struggle.
A lot of interesting stuff in this report. Although I don’t think the idea of struggle as a path to learning is just an “Eastern” concept. It’s at the heart of George Lopez’s comedy about growing up Latino.