Friday, April 22, 2016

The vast majority of voters don't vote in the primaries and we don't know what they are thinking.

The following is from the latest column by Timothy Egan.

Almost two-thirds of voters — Democratic and Republican majorities — agreed with the statement that “The old way of doing things no longer works and we need radical change,” when asked in a recent Quinnipiac University poll. This is not a frustrated fringe.

I like Egan and enjoy reading his pieces.   But he is making an error here.  And I believe it is an error that is propagated over and over again, election after election, though it matters more so here because of the sort of inference that Egan makes. The error is based on WYSIATI (what you see is all there is) a cognitive bias we as humans are inclined to make, as discussed in his book Thinking Fast and Slow.

In this case the issue is whether people who respond to being polled, as a group, are similar to those who would not respond even if they were polled.  WYSIATI then encourages us to look at poll results and make inferences about the entire population, including those who would never respond to a poll.  This is okay when the two populations are essentially the same in their preferences.  It produces a biased conclusion, however, when the two populations are quite different.

Under 35% of the electorate in New York participated in the recent primary.  This is especially noteworthy because it was reported that participation was high.  (The measure is relative to participation rates in previous primaries.)   Presidential elections have been running at somewhere between 50% and 60% in voter participation.   Are those who don't vote in the primaries but do in the general election different from those who do?  One might guess that the former group has many more independents.  Does that matter?

Another issue is how preferences are elicited in a survey.  What are the alternative possible responses?  Do those alternatives allow us to discern voter preference well?   Here let's observe that what Egan presented is a conjunction of two distinct thoughts: (1) the old way of doing things is not working, and (2) we need radical change to fix the problem.  Were people asked about the possible alternative conjunction where (2) is replaced by: (2') I don't know how to fix the problem and I'm frightened that others will try things in an attempt to fix the problem but actually make things worse.
Again I'm guessing here without data, but my supposition is that the voters, even those who wouldn't participate in the poll, would agree with (1) in great numbers.  As to how they'd split between (2) and (2') if offered those alternatives, let me just say here that it is this question where I suspect being an independent matters, a lot.  My supposition is that among the independents there are a lot who'd agree with (2').  But I'm quite willing to admit that is just a guess.

Let me conclude with a brief consideration of the upwards of 40% of the electorate that won't even participate in the election this November.  Do their preferences matter and, if so, how should they be accounted for?  It is necessary to include this group to make the title of my post accurate, if for no other reason. 

Elections in our country have turned into very nasty affairs of smear and disinformation.  I watched this panel on the Charlie Rose show discussing the election.  One of the panelists was Ed Rollins, a Republican consultant, and he predicted that the coming campaign is likely to be much worse on this score than anything we've seen previously.  Nobody else on then panel challenged Rollins on this point.  Such a dirty campaign is a turnoff to many.  Yet it seems to be the old way of doing things, now on steroids.  And it seems to be inevitable.  Even the race for the nomination within the Democratic party, which started out in a fairly collegial manner - Americans are sick of hearing about Hillary Clinton's damn emails - has gotten much nastier as of late.  What economists would call a revealed preference argument as applied to the campaign itself, suggests there might be some creativity in how one candidate can be nasty to opponents, but on using the campaign to actually educate the public there is no change at all.

The non-participants aren't seeing anything that would change their minds on that score.  And, frankly, neither are the rest of us. 

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Getting passed the laundry list of issues approach to candidate debates

I confess to having watched not more than a few minutes of all the debates, in total.  Watching the little bit that my still sense of social obligation imposes on me, I readily get uncomfortable and feel the awkwardness of the situation getting the better of me.  I want to run away.  So I do.  I do spend more time reading the post mortems as seen by various pundits, but even there I find the discussion not very enlightening - the same point gets made over and over again - and lacking the perception that I wish were there.  Here is Amy Davidson writing in the New Yorker yesterday, perhaps one of the the better pieces that I've read, but still guided by this issue by issue approach to the debate. And here is a New York Times commentary on the front page, not the opinion section, which again has this issue by issue structure in breaking down the debate.

As a hypothetical, let me suggest an alternative structure.  In considering this it might help to envision yourself as moderator.   But here consider talking with one candidate first and then the other candidate entirely separately.  Indeed, consider the discussion akin to a job interview, which in some sense is what the debates are a proxy for.   I've had a fair amount of experience over the years with job interviews and what I say below is based in part on that.  Another part is based on what we know of the Presidency since President Obama assumed office.  How candidates view the recent past might be quite informative of what they will actually do if they were to attain the Presidency, much more so than simply arguing through an issues lists.  So consider the following.

In a piece from a few days ago entitled By Opposing Obama, the Republicans Created Trump, Steven Rattner does us a service by listing the many pieces of legislation that the Obama administration put forward and that would have benefited the White blue collar types who support Donald Trump (and the nation as a whole) but were blocked by Congress.  It's a good piece to read just to have in mind all this possible legislation.  Now let's juxtapose this with the observation that the President faced Republican obstruction from the get go, but that this obstruction got worse over time.  In 2009, the Democrats had majorities in both houses of Congress.  In 2011, the House was controlled by the Republicans, many of whom were Tea Party candidates.  Then in 2015, both houses of Congress had Republican majorities.

If you assume that those majorities could not be influenced by a sitting President, then you might ask whether (a) the most important legislation got passed in those first two years when the Democrats had a majority in both houses or if some of the legislation that is mentioned by Rattner should have taken a priority over legislation that did make it  through, or (b) whether that Congress might have gotten even more throughput than it actually did in those 2 years.  I, for one, bemoan the fact that we still don't have a National Infrastructure Bank.   I want to note that infrastructure is on each candidate's list of issues, but where on the list does it appear?  It is the prioritization of the issue that is more important then exactly where the candidate stands on it.  But we learn nothing about prioritization from the debates.

Another question is whether it is possible to maintain control of Congress by doing an effective job when one does have the majority.  If so, might that imperative impact priorities on the issues?  How does one serve the American people and attempt to remain popular with the public at the same time?  FDR clearly did that.  What would it take to do that same thing now?

A next set of questions would entail what seems now the likely structure for the next Congress, with the Republicans still in control of the House but the Democrats taking back the Senate, though lacking a filibuster-proof majority (60 or more).   Would the candidate forecast gridlock as the primary outcome, so the President would need to rely on Executive Orders?  Or would the candidate participate in an effective sausage-being-made exercise, where legislation got through but with bits and pieces that both parties wanted?  This is a different sort of prioritization exercise, but it's not just about what the candidate prefers.  It is also about what the candidate can and cannot stomach that is currently being advanced by the other party.  And then there is whether this sort of thing should be made public in advance or if the candidate needs to hold their cards tightly on this until the situation arises.    So it would be good to inquire about how the candidate sees this possibility, without necessarily getting into specifics.

Here is a third set of questions.  It regards the relative importance of symbolic issues versus substantive actions (legislation and executive orders) and how the candidates view those two roles.   The current tone among the electorate seems one of anger fed by grievance.  In turn, the candidates themselves have embraced this tone.  (On the Republican side, clearly Trump and Cruz both have fanned the flames, while on the Democratic side, it seems the candidates have taken on this tone only as of late and then because the electorate wants them to do that and because the campaign is too long and brutal so the candidates are grouchy.)

So much for first campaigning in poetry and then governing in prose.  But if the campaign itself is now some juvenile form of prose, what about the tone when governing?  During the 2008 campaign before he became President, Barack Obama made his famous speech on race, a very mature talk that elevated the discussion on the issues.  But since he assumed office there haven't been further addresses of that type and he has taken a notably low key approach on the symbolic front.    There are obviously quite a few hot button issues now.  What philosophy will inform how the candidate would go about addressing those?

Every job interview that I have participated in has had a few minutes at the end where the candidate gets to ask questions about the job.  That probably doesn't make sense here, but an alternative might.  The alternative would be for readers to put themselves now in the role of the candidates and ask how they'd like the candidates to answer these questions. 

Most of the people I know who post about the election already have a preferred candidate.  Given that, perhaps they wouldn't want to think through these matters.  But if they could imagine going back in time perhaps 6 months or a year, before they had made up their minds, wouldn't they then agree that the sort of questions brought up here would be more useful to know than merely where candidates stand on the issues?

Let me make one more point and then close.  It regards how campaign promises influence what the new President does once in office.  As we all know, the situation is fluid and events can shape where the President focuses attention, as much or even more than prior disposition.  President Obama assumed office during a full crisis.   The first stimulus package that was passed was far from perfect legislation.  Nevertheless, it was necessary that some large package be put together quickly.   The American economy didn't suffer nearly as badly as the European economy as a consequence.   This legislation plus TARP (which happened under Bush II) created an enormous backlash, some of which was apparent immediately.   If something similar were to happen for the next President, it would then be human nature, after seeming to attend to the crisis, to return to planned legislation that had been promoted during the campaign.  The issue is whether further crisis management actually is warranted and indeed if that should have a higher priority than the previously planned legislation, in spite of mounting criticism.  How does the candidate determine that?

These are the sort of questions we should be asking.  Alas, these aren't the questions that we are getting.  The laundry list of issues approach falls far short of what we need to understand how the candidates would behave in office. 

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Measurement Without A Cause

One of the arts in social science modeling is to distinguish endogenous variables, the values of which are determined by the model, from the exogenous parameters that get set outside the model.  Typically we write the variables on the left hand side of the equation with the parameters on the right hand side.  Causality runs from right to left, at least when the model is well specified.  So, for example, with a model that was popular at around the time I left graduate school, sunspots cause the business cycle (perhaps) but the business cycle does not cause sunspots (definitely true).  As I said, this distinction between endogenous and exogenous is something of an art and depends on the nature of the study at hand.  In a model of consumer expenditure, income is often treated as exogenous, which is what we do when we teach intermediate microeconomics.  On the other hand, the model can be readily extended to make income endogenous, via decisions about labor supply, how much to save, and how to hold one's financial portfolio.

Increasingly we seem to have social science analysis performed by pundits who write Op-Ed columns and in the case of the New York Times this happens more when the columnist is a known Conservative than otherwise.  My conjecture on why this happens follows.  Most of the Times readership is Liberal.  It is a challenge to write for an audience of doubters.  One way to address that challenge is to wrapper the argument in a layer of social science analysis, presumably objective and therefore not itself subject to reasonable critique.  The Liberal columnists don't need to provide such a wrapper to get the readership to accept the arguments, so quite often they don't.

But there are are some occupational hazards with this approach.  One stems from a desire to moralize in these pieces, to correct the readers in their misguided views and set them on the straight and narrow path.  Why else would a tried and true Conservative agree to write such a column on a regular basis?   However, it is a mistake for this motivation to find its way into the columns.  As a reader, I don't want to be moralized to.  I'm okay on reading opinion that runs contrary to my own, but please, spare me the moralizing. Several years ago I wrote a post, Taking a Sabbatical from David Brooks, with that as the reason.  I went cold turkey on his columns for quite a long time.  Now I will look at them and decide on a case by case basis whether to read through a piece or not.

A second hazard is to argue one side only and not bring up counterarguments.  Liberal columnists might do likewise, but then they have a different writing task in persuading their readers about their arguments.  Without bringing up counterarguments, the reader can't tell whether the Conservative columnist is aware of them or not and even if they are aware whether they've thought them through.

A third hazard is cherry picking - both on the published research used to support the argument and on the model the author comes up with to make the case.  And here let me return to the exogenous/endogenous issue.  That really needs to be reconsidered when making a persuasive argument to people of a different political persuasion.  Treating what might sensibly be taken as endogenous as if it were exogenous will raise the hackles of readers like me with a reasonably strong social science background.  It looks too much like the author is trying to pull a fast one.  If there is a hidden agenda and that ultimately comes out, the author is doomed.  At that point the audience is permanently lost.  So a better approach is to lay one's cards on the table and then make the best hand from that in clear view of the reader.  If the hand is weak, saying otherwise is not helpful.  Credibility is found by telling it like it is.

With this as background, let's consider the piece by Arthur C. Brooks from the Week in Review called Bipartisanship Isn't For Wimps, After All.  Brooks begins this piece talking about polarization, that it is worse now than it was 20 years ago, and this is happening both at the individual level and the political party level.  For Brooks polarization has inexorably intensified in that time period and he is quite comfortable treating polarization as his exogenous parameter, itself not requiring any explanation.  One consequence of this approach is to argue symmetrically about both the hard right and the hard left, not entertaining at all that it is quite possible for polarization to increase with one endpoint remaining entirely fixed as along as the other endpoint moves further in its own direction.

There actually seems to be a cottage industry of books on this score.  I was previously aware of Mann and Ornstein's It Is Even Worse Than It Looks, having seen Ornstein on the NewsHour discussing some of its findings.  (Maybe that was on Charlie Rose, I don't really remember.)  It now seems that every time I Google a book title and look it up at, that title or something similar shows up in my Facebook feed.  (I wonder how that happens - smirk, smirk.)  In this case I got a promo for a book called The Party Is Over by Mike Lofgren, which is notable to me mainly because Lofgren was a Republican insider, yet his conclusions seem largely the same as those of Mann and Ornstein.  It is one thing for E.J. Dionne to make these sort of arguments.  It is quite different to hear it from other authors who are not of the Liberal persuasion.  The upshot is that the right has moved a lot more to the right.  One might ask why, but Brooks doesn't do that.

I am willing to accept that there are multiple causes for this rightward shift beyond the Reagan Revolution.  One clear cause is the Koch Brothers, whom I first became aware of in this piece from summer 2010, Covert Operations.   While the focus of that piece is how the Koch brothers laid the foundation for the Tea Party, it makes clear that they have been funding substantial think tank operations that favor their anti-government Libertarian views and have been doing so for the preceding 20 years or more.   Fox News is probably a separate distinct cause.  Rush Limbaugh is still another.  Somebody else who pays attention to right wing media can probably supply quite a few more members to this list, if they care to do so.

Instead, let me ask a different sort of question.  Just because the media offers inflammatory stuff, that doesn't mean I will change my point of view.  Indeed, and in spite of what Brooks argues, while I'm Moderate to Liberal I don't think I've drifted leftward much at all.  So if that is not happening, what is actually going on, because even if polarization is endogenous and somewhat one-sided, surely it is happening.  That much of what Brooks reports is real.

Let me offer two different hypotheses that can explain the polarization.  The first I'll call politics-makes-me-nauseated, which is how I feel, increasingly often, when I watch the news.   Why get upset if you don't have to?  This is a recipe for tuning out, which it seems an increasing fraction of the electorate is doing.  If centrists tune out more than those at the extremes, you get polarization of those who are likely to continue to participate.  This particular hypothesis favors a symmetric view of the polarization.

They other hypothesis I'll call politics-as-sports-substitute, which it seems to me is the style of the overheated version of reporting and analysis that is now fairly common today but simply didn't exist when I was a kid and we only had TV via over the air networks.  The networks have figured out that tone matters, as does content.  More viewers would prefer gossipy stuff to real news; the latter is often boring and detailed, while the former appeals to the more prurient interests.  Sex and violence sells, at least for some potential viewers.  This one correlates inversely with education, and is therefore not symmetric with respect to audience.  Fox News has a much larger audience than MSNBC.

From polarization Brooks moves onto contempt.  Readers of Malcolm Gladwell's book Blink will recall that contempt is discussed in the very first chapter, where the work of the psychologist John Gottman is taken up and his ability to predict from quick observation of a couple whether their marriage is in trouble or not. The telltale sign occurs when one of them rolls their eyeballs.  It is a sure giveaway that the relationship is doomed.  Once a level of contempt has been reached, there is no coming back from the dead.  So on the one hand, I think Brooks is right here that if bipartisanship is ever to be restored that there needs to be tolerance for alternative views.  Indeed, if you take a look at my recent post, Might it be possible to restore majority rule in Congress?, which was about getting rid of the Hastert rule and restoring a bipartisan majority in the House, with collegiality restored as the mode of discourse to support that, I am certainly on the side of promoting tolerance as a search to finding where the center is.

Now we are getting closer to the real issue, which is exemplified by the Republican leadership in the Senate and their refusal to hold hearings on the Merrick Garland nomination.  I am a fairly regular reader of Jeffrey Toobin's writing in the New Yorker, and he is clearly contemptuous for how this nomination is being filibustered.  So am I.  I have read The Prince and I believe I can adequately apply Game Theory to analyze a strategic situation.   If there were some clear strategic advantage to be applied from blocking this nomination, I might grudgingly respect the decisions of Messrs.  McConnell and Grassley, even if I otherwise didn't agree with it.  As it is now, none of that is evident.  This seems to be about ego only, nothing more.  McConnell is filibustering because he can.  There is no other reason.

Does McConnell's behavior regarding the Garland nomination deserve contempt as a response?  If so, then Brooks' argument clearly needs some modification.  There may be some behaviors by Conservatives that merit contempt from Liberals, while other behaviors merit a collegial response.   Let's say for now that is true.  How then should a Liberal respond to a Conservative, who is himself not contemptuous of other Conservatives in their behavior that is sufficiently offensive to warrant that sort of response?  For example, while there is now a burgeoning 'Stop Trump' movement among Conservatives, there doesn't seem to be anything analogous regarding a 'Stop McConnell' movement.

Yet I am aware of one Conservative who has expressed his disgust at the McConnell filibuster.  See this open letter to Senators Hatch and Lee written by Jon Mott.  (Mott lives in Utah so it is appropriate that he express his views to his own Senators.)  Mott is a learning technologist, as I was before I retired.  I learned of this piece via my people network from then that remains partially intact in Facebook.  And I knew Mott a little bit back then.  He had an essay from spring 2010 in Educause Review that cites and quotes from a column I had written.  I saw him present on this piece at the Educause Learning Initiative conference around that time and had a brief face to face conversation with him as I was chatting with Gardner Campbell there.  I then had a subsequent email thread with him about an online grade book.  That ultimately went nowhere, but that's because we didn't have our act together on the Illinois end.

Mott was perfectly collegial in all of those interactions.  Indeed, he is a model of the behavior that Brooks would actually like to see.  Yet Mott was able to forcefully critique members of his own party.  Where is Brooks on that?  Nowhere, as far as I can tell.  Instead, he quotes the Dalai Lama.  Under other circumstances, that sort of argument might work.  But in the present circumstance, the obstruction of Congress either must become an object for Conservative pundits to critique or they have lost their Liberal potential audience.

How could it be otherwise?  Do they really expect the following argument to work.  Readers, you and I know that Congress is being unreasonable, but I will lose standing within my own party if I say so, so I'm asking you to be tolerant on this score so that progress might eventually be made when things do settle down, without directly taking on the current leadership now.  Don't ask don't tell was the policy in the military for quite some time, until we were ready for a more realistic approach.  That's where we are now on bipartisanship.  Please see it that way.

Brooks, in fact, doesn't even make this argument.  It is an argument that requires a lot of patience.  But at the moment the electorate seems to be taking its mantra from Marat/Sade - We want our  So Arthur C. Brooks, if you feel lonely as a Conservative columnist at the NY Times, this explains why.

Monday, April 11, 2016

The Deer In The Headlights Look

I suspect that most of my friends who are involved in learning technology are not big golf fans.  So they probably missed The Masters golf tournament that was completed yesterday and especially the complete meltdown of Jordan Spieth, who had a one stroke lead going into the play on Sunday, built that lead up to 5 strokes with 4 consecutive birdies on the front nine, and then completely blew it after that, though he tried to rebound and partly made up the lost ground.

There are several things about this incident that are noteworthy for us in learning technology.  First, Spieth is 22 years old, the age of many college seniors, the bulk of whom are on the job market now.  When you learn about Spieth's meltdown, think of them.  Might something similar happen to some of them?  Second, he really is incredibly talented, especially with the putter, and he knows how good he is.  Third, he has become something of a marketing machine.  They kept running one commercial with him, his team, his family, Tony Romo of the Cowboys and a delivery guy who mispronounced Spieth.  So it's not been just the golf with him.

Then there was that his recent performance going into the Masters may not have been up to the high standards he had previously set for himself, so some doubt must have been creeping into his mind.  This showed up on Saturday with some errant play on the last two holes.  The final part of this is that he seemed completely oblivious to the possibility of a full meltdown ahead of time, so he likely inadvertently put added pressure on himself by doing all these TV interviews rather than protect himself by limiting the scope of activities during the tournament.

We don't talk enough about how to manage performance anxiety and what to do after the fact when we have failed, very badly, in a highly visible way.  My view of the latter is to treat it like a traumatic event we have been involved with, whether we were the cause of the trauma or not. When such trauma happens in a military setting, we have language to consider what happens and talk about PTSD.  We don't have analogous language to talk about trauma in other settings.  We need that.   Ten years ago this September I had a horrendous fall.  I recovered from that but there were psychological issues that followed.  The following March I wrote a post called The Damage That Scars Do to talk about post trauma consequences.  Healing takes quite a while.   In the process other issues that seem unrelated to the trauma tend to emerge.  The balance found after the healing has happened likely will be different in a substantial way from the purported balance ahead of time, which may have been out of whack in significant ways, but where the imbalance wasn't reckoned with ahead of time.

Trying to bring this discussion from the Jordan Spieth level back down to the ordinary college student circumstance, I believe the "right lesson" is in making small failures an integral part of learning and then letting experience serve as a teacher to make things better the next time around.  Our current system, with the heavy emphasis on grades, really doesn't do this and I believe makes the students more brittle, unwilling to take even small risks.  We seem to either get self-protection from all eventualities or cluelessness about real possible trauma risks.  Neither extreme is good.  How the sensible middle might be found is what we should be talking about. 

Wednesday, April 06, 2016

What of the mindset of a college kid today who has been sharply influenced by the current Presidential campaign?

When I used to teach intermediate microeconomics, which I last taught in spring 2011, I really didn't care at all about where students were in their politics - conservative or liberal or what not.  It didn't matter for understanding the subject which begins with economic rationality, an abstract concept, then mainly focuses on price theory from the perspective of the consumer and the firm, and has a bit about markets, mostly idealized perfect competition, then pure monopoly, and a touch of game theory for handling the oligopoly case.  Prior political disposition might ultimately matter for considering which of these models best fits a given real world situation, but we don't do that in the course.  The models themselves are pretty cut and dry.  Being comfortable with algebra and analytic geometry surely helps, so engineering students tend to do better than business students for that reason.  But political orientation matters not.

I now teach an upper level course on the economics of organizations.  It is inherently interdisciplinary.  Sociology matters in organizations.  So does psychology.  For example, those disciplines inform how one considers the relationship between peers in the workplace as well as the relationship between those peers and their supervisor.  Students have attitudes about these things before taking my class.  Those attitudes, in turn, are influenced by the prior political disposition of the students.

Many of the students whom I've had in this class over the last 4 or 5 years come from the northern and western suburbs of Chicago.  For the most part, they are from upper middle class families.   In my own personal stereotype, I'd call them country club Republicans.  Twenty plus years ago when I played a fair amount of golf, I shared some of their values, though even then my attitude about country clubs was heavily informed by the famous Goucho Marx quip.

While my brother-in-law who lives in Kansas City and his adult children seem to embrace these values, at a minimum my brother-in-law has questioned the conservative orthodoxy on the economics front since 2008, at least in conversations with me, even though he's a banker.  I really don't know how much my students question the beliefs their parents and extended family gave them.  My sense is that they are quite accepting of those and their own circumstances.

Recalling that I had blogged about conservative beliefs some time ago, but not immediately finding my post with the appropriate reference, I did a Google search on "conservative view that people end up with what they deserve" (but without the quotes).   The first hit is to a piece on the Bill Boyers Web site.   It is a very interesting read.  The piece argues that conservatives have a need for certainty and an intolerance for ambiguity.  The piece cites research by John Hibbing on the issue.  Hibbing initially received quite a bit of flak for his work from mainline conservatives, but eventually his views won out.  In a response to Hibbing by John Jost, written about ten years later and published in Behavioral and Brain Sciences, there is essential agreement with Hibbing's core hypothesis.  The following is an excerpt from Jost's piece:

There is by now evidence from a variety of laboratories around the world using a variety of methodological techniques leading to the virtually inescapable conclusion that the cognitive-motivational styles of leftists and rightists are quite different. This research consistently finds that conservatism is positively associated with heightened epistemic concerns for order, structure, closure, certainty, consistency, simplicity, and familiarity, as well as existential concerns such as perceptions of danger, sensitivity to threat, and death anxiety. [Italics added]

For reasons about myself that I don't completely understand, reading this essay on the Bill Moyers site helped me to find the post I had written on my blog on the subject.  My post is called Pluck* or Luck (*pluck -  definition 12. noun. courage or resolution in the face of difficulties).  Liberals are more inclined to attribute social outcomes to luck whereas conservatives will attribute good outcomes to pluck and bad outcomes to The Just World Theory, meaning the person got what the person deserved.

* * * * *

My guess is that many of the conservative students that I will be teaching this fall will be experiencing a kind of cognitive dissonance that their predecessors never had to go through.   For those who won't yet be 22, the majority of them in all likelihood, this will be their first Presidential election where they are eligible to vote.  On the simple question - whom should they vote for? - they may be facing a choice that is too difficult for them to manage well.

And regarding the Donald Trump candidacy, particularly regarding his main constituency - those many White working class voters who are supporting him, having previously rejected both Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio, these students will find an immediate repudiation to their pluck/just world view of social outcomes.   What does a person do when confronted with massive evidence that their closely held beliefs are simply lacking?  One possibility is complete denial.  Another is angst.  Country club Republicans with angst --- that's a new one, at least to me.

The college years are a good time for a person to do an examination of self, to try to understand what one wants, what makes one tick, what to believe in.   But until now I've always thought that it should be the students who find these issues urgent and thus who seek to find answers on their own.  Here we have something else.  Students who for the most part are very accepting of the world order that has been handed to them must now question that world order because it seems to be crumbling around them.  I wonder if there will be many of these type of  students on campus in the fall.  (Or who are already here now, but since I don't teach in the spring they are currently invisible to me.)

In my class where I have the students write weekly blog posts (supposedly with a 600 word minimum though some students don't deliver on that) and where the students are supposed to tie their personal experiences to course themes in these posts, there is a gradual building of trust between the students and me.  It takes about a month.  At first they are reluctant and suspicious about doing this, mainly because they are very self-conscious.  When they start to relax they find the experience rewarding.  And I give them something which they probably are not getting elsewhere - rather intensive feedback on their own thinking.  In advance they can't know they want that, because they haven't experienced it previously as college students.  If they come to like it there is then a sense that they can be somewhat open with their thinking where they probably were more guarded before.  If in this situation there are some students who also are in the country-club-Republicans-with-angst category some might ask me on the side about how they should modify their world view to reconcile it with current realities.

I'd be extremely reluctant to be prescriptive as to some alternative.  I don't think that is my job as a teacher nor do I have a real basis for making such a recommendation, particularly if there needs to be a focus not just on the final destination for that world view, but on the path to get from where they are to that endpoint.  I don't know a good path for them.  That needs to be admitted up front.  But my course is steeped in inquiry methods and I am comfortable in posing questions even as I am reluctant to provide answers for the students that would, of necessity, be based on my experiences, not theirs.  Here is a little sketch of how that  inquiry might go. 

At first there are needs to be some opening question to drive the examination.  In this case there is the obvious one.  If the pluck/just world view isn't right - some things happen by serendipity and circumstance - why does that matter to the student?  Of what consequence would this alternative belief have on the student?

Then I would give some guidelines about the inquiry itself.  Do not rush to judgment.  Expect that while the inquiry is going on there is a feeling that might be a bit unsettling, because things are not resolved.  So there is a need to be somewhat gentle with oneself to allow the inquiry to continue in spite of those feelings.  Also, anticipate that other questions will emerge in the process of answering the initial questions.

Here are some fairly obvious follow up questions.  The campus has much diversity with students from all sorts of backgrounds.  What do you know about students who are unlike yourself?  And how do you know this?  Do you tend to hang around people you already knew from high school or people who are similarly situated as you?  What might be done to change that some?

These questions will, in turn, generate yet other questions.  If you are in a group with students unlike you do people remain more arm's length in conversation?  What can be done in that setting so people are more open and less guarded?  Can you trust what you here from somebody else when they you know they are being guarded?

This can continue further, obviously, but I hope the general process is clear.  Then, apart from the questioning per se, we'd take some things specifically from the class.  The inquiry must be tied to experience so part of the issue is to how to generate experiences that inform the inquiry.  This itself produces a bunch of different questions. 

Such a student might not trust himself in thinking all of this through.  So I would offer my services as friend/mentor to listen and comment, much in the same way as I commented on their blog posts for my class.  Indeed,  I might encourage them to keep writing as a way to sustain the inquiry, though unlike in my class I might suggest that the posts be kept private, for fairly obvious reasons.

I have mostly juniors and seniors in my class.  They are looking for internships and jobs.  This sort of inquiry might lessen their enthusiasm for the life-after-school process.  Should they therefore avoid the inquiry because of the possible pernicious consequences?  This question will be present at the outset and it needs to be dealt with in some way.  Let me offer a few thoughts about that and then close.

I would begin here by asking whether the student has tried to repress the angst and proceed as if it never had appeared in the first place.   My anticipation would be that the student had already tried to repress these feelings but couldn't get past the sense of being bothered, which is why the student contacted me to discuss these matters.   Nonetheless, I could ask the student to try this one more time, just to confirm that denial won't offer a satisfactory solution.   This would be slower than simply proceeding with the inquiry, but is consistent with making each step happen with student opt in.   And maybe, if the kid had some entertaining diversion and a good night's sleep, the world won't seem quite as unmanageable as it had previously appeared and the student really can get back to the old approach.

If that doesn't happen, I'd point out that while this kid's type of angst really hasn't yet been written about, there is actually a fair amount out there about the angst of over achiever students, and while it is not exactly the same thing, maybe there are some lessons to be learned by reading about that stuff. At this point I'd provide some references so the kid could read them and then let that influence the inquiry.   I might also talk a little about what I went through in high school, not the details so much, but that there is some upside to having a depression.  It can be liberating to not have to face what were previously felt imperatives and instead to be one's own boss.  So that much commiseration I think I can offer.

Whether in total this suffices I really don't know.  And I will have to point out before too long that if this becomes a matter of mental health then the student should see a counselor on campus.  I will be out of my depths there.  Nonetheless, I don't think this concern about possible adverse mental health should deter the type of conversation I've sketched above.  And maybe it will help the kid be part of constructing something better, as perceived by both the student and me.  Ultimately, that has to be the goal.  But a bit of understanding needs to come first.