the secret about the secret


Like many teachers, perhaps, I have found that one of my least favorite things is one of my favorite things to talk about in class. In this case, The Secret, a trumped up argument for the Law of Attraction (LoA). The foundation of LoA is that you attract good and ill to yourself, by what you radiate out into the world. This hyper-individualized thinking is the opposite of how most serious people look at the social world: Big, social forces like sexism and racism are always at work, somehow. If you are not a sociologist and read this blurb, I’ll say this: The secret of the Secret is that it blinds you to the deep, hidden social structures at work. I find it particularly appalling that an African-American woman like Oprah would offer such full-throated endorsements of LoA. One of the charlatans in this video (the opening ten minutes is available online) claims that a hurricane was diverted because of all the positive vibes pumped out by his local radio listeners. See it here:

What do you have to say to the folks further up the coastline? What of a Glass ceiling? The Secret blames individuals for their failings–Have you been turned away from a job based on your skin color? Perhaps you are to blame!–and offers a battery of books and self-help lectures as the cure. One of the people behind The Secret is back with a #1 best-seller, The Power. Ugh. Kelefa Sanneh reviews it here.

back to school

academica, pedagogy

Every semester, I try to begin a class with a bit of wisdom for the students on the process of learning (I’ve blogged about this before, I suppose). It seems like a modest goal. I talk about note taking (the Cornell Note taking Method), how to be an active reader, how to rehearse knowledge, and what are a few good writing habits that I hope will stick. A New York Times article reviews the research on study habits debunks common wisdom and isolates a few good tips:

[M]any study skills courses insist that students find a specific place, a study room or a quiet corner of the library, to take their work. The research finds just the opposite. In one classic 1978 experiment, psychologists found that college students who studied a list of 40 vocabulary words in two different rooms — one windowless and cluttered, the other modern, with a view on a courtyard — did far better on a test than students who studied the words twice, in the same room.


Varying the type of material studied in a single sitting — alternating, for example, among vocabulary, reading and speaking in a new language — seems to leave a deeper impression on the brain than does concentrating on just one skill at a time.

‘the web is dead, long live the internet’

media, tech

You wake up and check your email on your bedside iPad — that’s one app. During breakfast you browse Facebook, Twitter, and The New York Times — three more apps. On the way to the office, you listen to a podcast on your smartphone. Another app. At work, you scroll through RSS feeds in a reader and have Skype and IM conversations. More apps. At the end of the day, you come home, make dinner while listening to Pandora, play some games on Xbox Live, and watch a movie on Netflix’s streaming service. You’ve spent the day on the Internet — but not on the Web. And you are not alone.