8 thoughts on “Breaking News: Psychologist Dan Willingham Has A Pain Fetish

  1. Robert Pondiscio

    Why? Remember what Samuel Johnson said about second marriages: it’s the triumph of hope over experience. Only by calling BS on Alfie Kohn can hope that people will wise up. If Dan’s piece makes Kohn’s phone ring one or two fewer times from reporters or conference planners, that’s reason enough to take him on.

  2. Dan Willingham

    This is actually a serious issue. I have called researchers whose work is misrepresented or misinterpreted in the education popular press, asking them to write a letter to the editor. They are usually very reluctant to do so, exactly because they figure they will get a lot of hostile emails and because there is no incentive for them to spend the time on it. They figure it’s a battle they can’t win because people are going to say what they are going to say. Most of the education reporters I have talked to are pretty careful, but some professional outlets (Kappan and Educational Leadership) are not, and professional development is a free-for-all. What is the point of spending millions of tax dollars on research, some of it quite good, if it’s going to get lost in a tidal wave of junk?

  3. john thompson

    Were I to categorize myself, I’d still probably call myself an educational progressive. But that’s mostly because I come out of that tradition. I sure don’t hold to all the principles that were espoused in 1910.

    Kohn bothers me because he never teaches me anything. And to repudiate the importance of self-discipline?

    I often challenge accountability supporters to distance themselves from their most extreme true believers and extreme faith in their own ideology. Progressives need the same rigor in rejecting half-baked ideas on our side. I’ve had plenty of my own half-baked ideas, and its sorta fun to make fun of those youthful indiscretions. I often joke that if a person has actually taught in public schools, and remains a liberal then that raises questions about his sanity or it is a reminder of something enduring about liberalism. The values endure even if we crazy liberals don’t do everything we can to wreck them.

    There is another serious point here. I’m convinced that accountability became the favored locomotive of educational reform not because of evidence for that position or evidence against progressivism. Fundamentally, I think that people were turned off by the mushi-headedness of so many progressive dogmas.

    I’ll admit that I used to enjoy Kohn and he reinforced my predispositions/prejudices, but what was it that Lincoln said about the easy dogmas of the past?

  4. john thompson

    ooops, almost forgot. I can’t see the comparison between Kappan, a serious journal where both sides are argued in a serious way, and Educational Leadership which I read as a readers digest of the power of posititive thinking.

    Comparing Kappan in quality with the academic journals that I’ve always read in my field, it comes across as embodying the same (normative) level of excellence. And it always teaches me a lot. To me, Kappan has the same excellence as The American Educator, the Ed Sector, the CEP, etc., in their genre. If Kohn has a certain amount of weight as a public figure, and for better and worse he does, then he merits a certain amount of prime space.

    To me, Educational Leadership is like a parody of a journal. It takes those same simplistic power points that consultants use to sell a quick fix to schools, and gives a nice compilation of the “best” in simplistic answers to complex issues. When I changed fields from History to Education, I just figured it was a pretend journal for grad students to get some practice in getting published before writing something real.

  5. Dan Willingham

    John
    Comparing Kappan with journals in my field, it doesn’t measure up. It’s not close. As one example, an editor considering Kohn’s piece for publication would surely have sent it to one of the four researchers who Kohn cited extensively–Duckworth, Mischel, Baumeister, or Seligman–so that they could comment on the accuracy of the piece. None of them saw it before publication.
    This month’s issue features a piece on “reading styles” by Marie Carbo.
    Don’t get me wrong, some of what they publish is quite good. . .but you never know what you’re going to get.

  6. john thompson

    I guess I’m coming at it from a social science perspective where the referees wouldn’t need as much assistance in interpreting the evidence and not recognizing the effect of hard science (and I guess math). I guess cognitive science is going to make us rethink procedures even more.

  7. Barry Garelick

    “Don’t get me wrong, some of what they publish is quite good. . .but you never know what you’re going to get.”

    Right. Like this classic about math education, called
    Parrot Math.

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