Small World Research

Could It Be A Big World After All?    The "Six Degrees of Separation" Myth
The idea that people are connected through just "six degrees of separation," based on Stanley Milgram's "small world study," has become part of the intellectual furniture of educated people. New evidence discovered in the Milgram papers in the Yale archives, together with a review of the literature on the "small world problem," reveals that this widely-accepted idea rests on scanty evidence. Indeed, the empirical evidence suggests that we actually live in a world deeply divided by social barriers such as race and class. An explosion of interest is occurring in the small world problem because mathematicians have developed computer models of how the small world phenomenon could logically work. But mathematical modeling is not a substitute for empirical evidence. At the core of the small world problem are fascinating psychological mysteries

Six Degrees of Separation: An Urban Myth?
The idea that people are connected through just "six degrees of separation," based on Stanley Milgram's'small world study' has become part of the intellectual furniture of educated people. New evidence discovered in the Milgram papers in the Yale archives, together with a review of the literature on the 'small world problem,' reveals that this widely-accepted idea rests on scanty evidence.

Gender Issues Research

The Morella Bill, My Daughter Rachel, and the Advancement of Women in Science
The advancement of women in science and mathematics has become something of a cottage industry fueled by federal dollars. The Morella Bill, passed in the fall of 1998 by the 105th Congress, is the latest effort. This bill established yet another commission to figure out why women are underrepresented in scientific and technical fields. The commission, in turn, is apt to recommend more of the same science programs for young women that we already have. Many of these special programs, as a practical matter, are closed to boys. Leaving aside the questions of the ethics and the legality of such sex-segregated federal programs, let us ask if these kinds of programs are even in the interests of women themselves? My own experience in trying to get my daughter Rachel interested in mathematics and science suggests the risks of such social engineering.

Student performance: males versus females
Women's advocacy groups have waged an intense media campaign to promote the idea that "schools shortchange girls." Their goal has been to convince the public that women are "victims" of an unfair educational system and that they deserve special treatment, extra funding, and heightened policy attention. Their sophisticated public-relations campaign has succeeded. The idea that girls are shortchanged by schools has become the common wisdom-what people take for granted, without a thought concerning whether or not it is true.

What's the Point?
Few Women Do Reach the Top in the Natural Sciences: Why Publish a Report That Does Not Advance the Interests of Women in the Sciences? Acceptance Speech for Women's Freedom Network Gender Equity Award

The State of American Boyhood
The existence of a "boy crisis" in the United States is a topic of educational policy debate. While the problems of girls in schools have been addressed for many years, should boys now become the forcus of educational reform? To clarify this issue, this study reviews national statistics on the well-being of American boys and young men, examining not only the usual school indicators but also such issues as mental health, premature deaths, juvenile delinquency and arrest rates. Boys are in trouble in many areas: low rates of literacy, low grades and engagement in school, high dropout rates, placement in special education, especially in the more subjective areas of emotional disturbance and learning disabilities, more suspension and expulsions form school, and lower rates of postsecondary entrance and completion.

'No Map To Manhood
This study explores the basis of the gender gap in postsecondary enrollment through qualitative interviews with 99 high school seniors who are making decisions about college. While individual differences occurred, female high school seniors were far more apt to have well-developed plans to attend college based on their views that education is a vital educational investment, that the occupations they seek require a college education, and that they want to make a difference to society. Male high school students evidenced two different mindsets. Those from families whose parents had graduated from college saw higher education just as the expected path. Those from working class families had little knowledge of the labor market, the likelihood of obtaining "dream jobs," and the income they would need to live comfortable adult lives.

Cross-Cultural Research

Learning Styles and Culture
The notion that people from different cultural backgrounds have different styles of learning seems so reasonable, so intuitively sensible, that it is hard to believe that it is just not true. But after more than 25 years of research on cultural differences in learning styles, psychologists have been unable to show that one method of teaching works better for children of one cultural group while a different method of teaching works better for children of a different cultural group.

Alaska's Small Rural High Schools: Are They Working?
In 1976, Alaska chose an approach to providing secondary education in remote rural villages that was at once very unusual and very conventional. Rather than sending students, mostly Eskimo and Indian, to boarding programs far from their homes, the state agreed to provide a high school in every village that wanted one. Today, nearly a decade later, many people in the state are asking: Are the students in these small and expensive high schools receiving a high quality education? Do the advantages that these schools offer‹proximity to family and community, tutorials, travel and other special programs‹constitute a triumph for rural education? Or do the disadvantages‹limited variety in teachers and courses, lack of teachers with specialized subject-matter knowledge, isolation, inadequate vocational or college preparation‹condemn rural students to second-rate schooling?

Visual Memory in Village Eskimo and Urban Caucasian Children
ABSTRACT. The hypothesis that the ecological and cultural characteristics of Eskimo society lead to village Eskimo children having greater ability in visual memory than urban Caucasian children has been studied. A test of visual memory was given to 501 urban Caucasian and 125 village Eskimo children. Village Eskimo children demonstrated significantly higher levels of visual memory. Visual memory was also found to increase significantly with age. A follow-up questionnaire study indicated that about 65 per cent of teachers in Eskimo villages noted the unusually high ability of Eskimo students in recalling visual detail or mentioned their high performance in tasks depending partly upon this ability.


Latest column
Judith Kleinfeld writes columns on psychology and education for the Anchorage Daily News and Fairbanks Daily News Miner. The most recent column can be found here.

Column archives
The Anchorage Daily News maintains an archive of Judith Kleinfeld's columns, availalbe here.