Yoda causality: Do, or do not. There is no why.

A few weeks ago there was a minor flamewar on Twitter about the alleged abuse of the term causality in various social-science fields, and after the destruction of a small galaxy or two, it ran out of fuel. But this semester I directed an undergraduate honors thesis that used a difference-in-difference approach to a policy question, and I want to put a stake in the ground about the term causality. This is to avoid the future destruction of small galaxies and promote more peaceful gatherings of social scientists.

Here’s the gist: econometric techniques that clearly identify causal relationships target a very specific type of causality, what we might term sufficient-conditions effects in the sense that they identify sufficient causes (if you do X, you will see Y). This sufficient-conditions effects is different from necessary-and-sufficient causes (only doing X will result in Y, and nothing else will budge Y without doing X). But because sufficient-conditions effects is an awful phrase, I propose the following:

Yoda causality: do, or do not. There is no why.

And now the gory details:

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Christina Sommers is not the typical target of attempts to suppress speech on campuses

This morning, New York Magazine columnist Jonathan Chait tried to address the question of political norms on the left in response to several academics and a few journalists who have pushed back against the idea that there is a free speech crisis on college campuses. The headlines of some of the pieces Chait is reponding to:

The common theme of these and other recent articles is that whatever one thinks of individual examples of efforts to deny platforms to external speakers on a campus or harass faculty and students for their views, those individual incidents are swamped by broader trends in favor of free speech, and moreover, that young adults are more tolerant about free speech than older adults.

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How the “industrial era schools” myth is a barrier to helping education today

Betsy DeVos got slammed on Twitter Tuesday after posting a tweet from SXSWEdu that included the following:

Everything about our lives has moved beyond the industrial era. But American education largely hasn’t.

Last time that I checked, that tweet had 629 likes, 194 retweets, and about 5200 replies, most of which read something like the following:

Don’t you know that stock photos aren’t real? How many classrooms have you visited in the past year? Classrooms don’t look like that anymore. Students don’t work like that anymore. I would think that as Sec of Edu you would be celebrating us, not putting us down. #Bye

Ouch. I recommend you scroll through a few dozen responses, because there is no way I can do justice to how a set of classroom teachers are explaining how they work. And how viscerally classroom educators are alienated by DeVos.

At this point, comments by both Audrey Watters and me on the terms factory education and industrial-era education are showing their age, and I wish to make somewhat different points. To put it bluntly, efforts to improve educational practices are not helped by bad history.

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The missing methods section: Origins of the dropout problem

A quarter century ago, the History of Education Quarterly accepted my first article, on when and why people in the United States began to use dropping out as the dominant term for people who left school without a high school diploma. Spoiler: we started using the term not because dropping out was a growing problem in the 1960s but the reverse. When graduation became expected for teenagers, we needed a term for those who violated the new norm.

Like many history articles and books, it had no formal Methods section, and if I had tried to write one, I suspect HEQ editor Bill Reese would have nixed it. So: in the spirit of tech publisher O’Reilly’s The Missing Manuals series, whose motto is “the book that should have been in the box,” I present to you the missing methods section for that article, with a postscript and a personal note.

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When Sherman went to prison

This afternoon my wife, daughter, nephew, and niece toured Taliesin West, the Scottsdale campus of the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture, where Wright set up shop for the winter months in the 1930s through his death. I’ll have some things to say about it in a post I want to write, and it reminded me of another time my family went visiting an historic site, about a decade ago. It wasn’t technically a school but its history had lots of connections with the history of school reform, and I ended up behind bars. So, a re-run of a post from July 2006:

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