Thursday, December 8, 2016
Abstract: People appear to know very little about politics and government. When asked simple questions on these topics, millions of people give incorrect answers. Others give no answer at all. Observers react to this news in different ways. Some castigate the ignorant. Others seek a more constructive response. Thousands of individuals and organizations work to educate others. They seek to improve literacy. Civics teachers, university professors, journalists, civic leaders and many others are among those who seek to serve others in this way. My research is for, and about, them. I want to help each of these educators achieve more of their aspirations. A common challenge associated with educating others is a misunderstanding about how people learn. Some educators are mistaken about what kinds of information are relevant to others’ decisions. Others are mistaken about the kinds of information to which prospective learners will pay attention. These errors lead many educators to provide information does not improve relevant kinds of knowledge. My work shows that many of these errors are correctable. It does so by clarifying the relationship between information that we can give to other people, the kinds of knowledge that they can acquire from this information, and how such knowledge affects competence at socially-relevant tasks. In practice, I use this research to help civics and science-based organizations develop more effective ways to convey information that matters. If you accept the idea that citizens sometimes lack the knowledge that they need to make competent decisions, that greater knowledge can improve decision making, and that well-meaning information providers are sometimes mistaken about how people think and learn, then a prescription for improving literacy and associated public decisions emerges: we need to educate the educators. That is what this book is about. It seeks to help educators of all kinds convey information that is of more value to more people.