Saturday, April 9, 2011

The ideas that buzz: modern educators, clinicians, and writers

In this day and age, it's increasingly about buzz. The principals, headmasters, and institutional partners of our "best" schools (the ones that get front-page newspaper coverage, celebrity visits, and long waiting lists of eager applicants) are those most adept at public relations. The more buzz, the more applicants; the more applicants, the more cherry-picking of applicants; the more cherry-picked the admitted students, the higher the school's test scores and college admissions rates; the more impressive these statistics, the more buzz, and so the cycle continues, even if the school itself adds less academic value than many other schools that receive much less public attention.

Some of the most sought-after autism clinicians similarly buzz their way to success. The more potential clients you attract, the more you can bias towards those who look likely to undergo spectacular progress regardless of the actual quality of your clinical interventions.

And (as I know from personal experience) nearly all of today's writers must buzz their way to their book deals, where advances, advance publicity, and, ultimately book sales, are determined, not nearly as much as they should be by what you say and how you say it, but increasingly by who you are, who you know, and how many people therefore listen when you buzz out your sales pitch and talking points.

What about scientists? How much do personal connections and buzz determine who gets those big grants that are so essential to research (and tenure)? And what about artists and movie-makers?

Put another way, how many ideas--indeed, how many whole classes of ideas--will never get a public hearing, simply because they are specific to the sort of quiet introvert who doesn't know how, and/or doesn't want to bother, to out-buzz the ever rising din?


gasstationwithoutpumps said...

"Buzz" and faddism have a lot to do with funding of science and are almost the sole determinant of who succeeds as an artist.

In both fields it is difficult sometimes to distinguish the brilliant from the cranks and so the mediocre rule.

Deirdre Mundy said...

I think you'll find that many home-schoolers are also buzz-less education reformers-- we can't change the system, or even find a listening ear.... but we can at least fix the system for OUR OWN KIDS.

In my fantasy education reform, we'd replace 'acdemic' pre-k and K with "montessori for all."

It's not that montessori doesn't TEACH academics.. it just teaches them in an age appropriate manner. It also teaches habits of concentration and calm that many kids today seem to lack.

The thing that I find odd is that, in the US today, Montessori is basically the preserve of wealthy elites, even though it was originally developed for poor tenement children in Italy.

Anyway--homeschoolers actually, as a group, devote a fair amount of time to education and curriculum research. But, as parents, they mostly care about what works.

But when you're a stay-at-home, crunchy-granola-religious-pseudo-hippy, you don't generate buzz---it's more like ANTI-buzz.

Katharine Beals said...

"In both fields it is difficult sometimes to distinguish the brilliant from the cranks and so the mediocre rule."

Well put, GWP!

Are you familiar with the book "13 Things That Don't Make Sense: The Most Baffling Scientific Mysteries of Our Time"? In it, the author champions various scientists who may be brilliant... or who may be cranks. As you say, it's awfully hard to tell the difference.

Katharine Beals said...

@Deirdre Mundy, Yes, Montessori for all would be great! Here in my major metropolis, there is exactly one non-private Montessori school (that I'm aware of), a charter school with such a long waiting list that it's nearly impossible to get into. Imagine how many Montessori schools there'd be if the public schools actually served the public!

Hainish said...

Speaking of ideas that buzz, I think this article is apropos:

Katharine Beals said...

Oh, dear... But thanks, Hainish--I've referenced the link in my latest post.