In 2012, Wikipedia celebrated a milestone achieved by a shy, frugal Indiana man named Justin Knapp: he had edited parts of Wikipedia one million times (in only seven years). For his extensive, competent efforts, he had earned … zero dollars. "Editing these projects is relaxing and rewarding," he explained.
Wikipedia is 60 times larger than the next largest encyclopedia (according to Wikipedia). The English version has between 4 and 5 million articles. Printed out, the English version would be contained in almost 2,000 Britannica-sized books.
It is the largest source of knowledge in human history, and it is almost entirely created by volunteers.
Wikipedia is the product of a collaboration between Jimmy Wales (pictured) and Larry Sanger, a philosophy professor. Both had loved Fredrick Hayek's Use of Knowledge in Society, which argued that knowledge is decentralized. While working on a for-profit encyclopedia, they were introduced to some of the concepts of "extreme" programming, particularly the idea of open source collaboration through software called "wikis."
The extreme programmers divided the world into two models. The first, the "Cathedral," are projects that are created by an exclusive group (a company, university professors). The second, and to them, far superior, is the "Bazaar," which are projects that are open-source. Oceans of optimistic ink have been spilled about the open source movement, and there have been some successes: wikipedia, reddit, and Linux are examples. There have also been many failures, often not discussed.
Why do some open source projects succeed while others fail? A forum like "Ask Historians" on reddit - where professional historians continually respond to any question with well-written, detailed explanations and cited sources, all for free - hints at the difference: there is a deep human desire to teach.
Twenty years ago this month, the president of Rwanda's airplane was shot down. Within hours, or even minutes, of his death, a shadowy group of "Hutu Power" extremists carried out the beginnings of a well-orchestrated plan. Roadblocks were set up around the capital and moderate Hutu leaders were murdered. The radio began rousing people to kill the "cockroaches" - the Hutu extremists' term for Tutsis.
Three months later, close to a million Tutsis were murdered, most with machetes. Half a million women were raped. Horribly, close to a million participated actively in the genocide.
The international community, famously, was either useless or shockingly complicit (French military forces aided the Hutu government). Great stories of heroism have emerged: a hotel manager, memorialized by Hollywood in "Hotel Rwanda," sheltered over a thousand Tutsis. An officer from Senegal, Mbaye Diagne (memorialized, unfortunately, by almost no one) a member of the UN's horribly underfunded peacekeeping force, saved hundreds of lives through trickery and sheer bravery.
While those stories are important and inspiring, it is equally important to tell the story of the leaders involved in the genocide, both heroes and villains.
Paul Kagame (pictured) commanded a rebel army, the RPF, which at the time was stationed in Uganda. It was horribly equipped and without a permanent home. Kagame transformed it into a highly disciplined, highly motivated, highly educated force. His focus on educating his troops was unusual. The army was a paragon of law and order wherever it was stationed.
His invasion of Rwanda was tactically brilliant. He faced a well-financed military twice the size of his army, (and included a French contingent!) and still won handily. His battles are apparently studied at West Point.
He has made the difficult transition from rebel to ruler: he is currently the President of Rwanda. But his reign has been controversial. Many praise him for helping the economy of "an impossible country" grow to be one of the strongest in Africa. Others fault him for human rights restrictions and for his invasion of the Congo.
Nevertheless, Kagame has received a fair amount of international attention for his work. What is shocking is that the mastermind of the genocide is almost completely unknown. All the other atrocities of the twentieth century have perpetrators that are household names: Adolf Hitler, Pol Pot, Slobodan Milosevic. But Theoneste Bagosora, who planned and executed the evil massacres of 1994, rots in prison, uncomprehended.
picture credit: ITU/J.Ohle
Sports psychology had its origins about 100 years ago in Germany and the United States. Its growth in both countries was in fits and starts. The early discoveries are so well known that they are ho-hum: competition makes people work harder, reaction times and reflexes matter, and (from an ornithologist!) the pattern of habit formation and skill development follows a similar pattern, for all skills.
It was the Cold War and the Olympic rivalry between the US and the Soviet Union that made the discipline grow in the 1960s and 70s. Here, the discoveries seemed ripped out of popular education literature from the last ten years.
The writing on mental toughness and self-efficacy is suspiciously similar to all the recent talk about "grit." Much of the sports psychologists' research into team dynamics and coaching sounds a whole lot like modern organizational psychology.
What is interesting is that sports psychology had a chilly initial reception in the academy. It was not "scientific." (How do you replicate the pressure of the Olympic 100 meter final in a lab?) A sports psychologist retorted that most "scientific" psychology has validity that only extends to the antiseptic climate of other laboratories. Confining psychology to experimental conditions robs it of vast, interesting and important aspects of the human experience. A motto of sports psychologists became, "No research without action, and no action without research."
As long as education is taking insights from sports psychology, a few recommendations for other, common techniques employed by practitioners:
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