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May 31, 2024

The Cult of Bad Personality

In recent years, political discourse in both the United States and Russia has become increasingly fixated on individual personalities, rather than the underlying issues and strategic challenges facing each nation. This unhealthy obsession with figures like Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin betrays a lack of deeper thinking and self-reflection among liberals.

American liberals, in particular, have invested an inordinate amount of energy in vilifying Trump, at the expense of understanding why he was able to gain significant support from previously Democratic-leaning constituencies, such as blue-collar workers. The fact that Trump, a billionaire with no prior political experience, was able to present himself as a champion of the working class speaks to a profound failure of messaging and strategy on the part of the Democratic Party.

Rather than grappling with these difficult questions, many liberals have instead chosen to focus on the relatively narrow goal of putting Trump in jail. While holding individuals accountable for their actions is important, this approach fails to address the root causes of Trump's appeal and risks further alienating the very voters that Democrats need to win over.

Similarly, Russian liberals have placed an outsized emphasis on Putin as a person, rather than on building a broad political alliance that could challenge his grip on power. By failing to engage with the country's broad left, Russian liberals have missed an opportunity to create a more united opposition front. In no country can liberals hold power without an alliance with the Left, or Labor, or National  lieration movements, or somone else. Instead, Russian opposition is busy destroying itself over petty differences. 

This cult of personality in reverse is not only strategically myopic but also intellectually lazy. It allows opposition forces to avoid the hard work of introspection and self-criticism, and instead focus their energies on demonizing a single individual. Projecting one's own weaknesses onto an individual arch-enemy is a way to nowhere. 

If liberals in both the United States and Russia hope to effect meaningful change, they must move beyond this obsession with personalities and instead focus on developing a compelling vision for the future that resonates with a broad cross-section of society. This will require a willingness to engage with voters across the political spectrum, to listen to their concerns, and to craft a message that speaks to their hopes and aspirations.

Apr 10, 2024

Becoming a One-Trick Pony

As I settle into my new role as the AI Chief Officer, I find myself reflecting on the stark contrast between this position and my previous one as a dean. The transition has been an eye-opening experience, leading me to explore parts of the campus that I had rarely ventured into before. It is as if I have been handed a new pair of lenses, allowing me to see the interactions between different divisions in a whole new light.

One of the most striking changes I have noticed is the shift in my perspective. When I was a dean, my mind was constantly occupied with a myriad of concerns, ranging from student affairs to faculty development. Now, as the AI Chief Officer, I find myself becoming a one-trick pony, or rather, a hammer that sees everything as a nail. It is an interesting phenomenon, watching how my new position dictates my focus and shapes my thoughts.

I catch myself listening to colleagues, and almost instinctively, my mind jumps to how AI can help address their challenges. It is a reflex that has become increasingly prominent in my daily interactions. However, I must remind myself that not all problems can be solved with AI. It is an illusion that we, as a society, need to overcome. AI is a powerful tool, but it is not a panacea for every issue that arises.

This experience has taught me that every position we hold is both limiting and eye-opening. Our roles shape our perspectives, and sometimes, we may not even realize how narrow our focus has become. That is why I recommend that anyone who has the opportunity to change roles should do so. It is a chance to learn more about the campus you thought you knew everything about. Trust me, no one does.

Those who have had the privilege of changing focus, like myself, have gained a more comprehensive understanding of the intricate workings of our institution. It is a humbling realization, knowing that there is always more to discover and learn.

Many people step out of their comfort zone and explore new roles whenever the opportunity arises. You may be surprised at how much more there is to learn about the campus you thought you knew so well. And who knows, you might just discover a new passion or perspective that you never knew existed.

Jan 23, 2024

Accreditation of teacher preparation in California

I have been asked by researchers from Japan what I think about the accreditation of teacher education programs in California. At the heart of the accreditation process, as practiced in the state, is the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing (CTC). This body mandates a rigorous process that includes a detailed self-study report, aligning courses with specific standards, and a cyclical site visit every seven years. This system, though aimed at ensuring quality, is fraught with tensions and dilemmas.

First, the CTC accreditation is mandatory for institutions; without it, they cannot recommend new teachers for credentials. National accreditation is optional, and in California is often avoided due to its labor-intensive nature. The California system involves dual accreditation: the institution as a whole and each individual program, demanding a significant allocation of resources and time from faculty and staff. This immense investment is seen as a disproportionate response to the benefits received, raising questions about the effectiveness of such a system in truly enhancing educational quality.

The accreditation process, in its current form, seems to serve more as a compliance exercise than a tool for genuine self-improvement. Institutions often focus on presenting their best face rather than exploring areas for improvement, as the process is more about meeting minimum requirements than striving for excellence. This leads to a scenario where the real issues in teacher preparation, such as the quality of instructional methods or relevance of the curriculum, are not necessarily addressed.

Furthermore, the accreditation system appears to be out of sync with the dynamic nature of educational needs and societal changes. It is perceived as a static, bureaucratic process that fails to adapt quickly to new educational challenges or innovations in teaching and learning.

In light of these considerations, my recommendation is not to abolish the system but to refine it. The focus should shift from a labor-intensive compliance exercise to a more dynamic, formative process that encourages continuous improvement and innovation in teacher preparation. Simplifying the process, perhaps by reducing the frequency of site visits or streamlining documentation requirements, could alleviate the burden on institutions. Additionally, integrating more meaningful metrics that reflect the actual quality of teacher preparation, including post-graduation outcomes and the impact on student learning, would make the process more relevant and beneficial. 

While the accreditation system in California serves a critical role in maintaining a baseline quality of teacher education, there is a pressing need for reform. The goal should be a system that not only ensures basic standards but actively fosters excellence and innovation in teacher preparation.