The first one on statistical literacy. This is a must. We need as a society to do a much better job in teaching people about statistics, how to figure basic ones out, and how they are used and misused. I liked the suggested assignment of comparing a liberal blog versus a conservative blog. This assignment is very good, and it should be something an average, well-informed citizen, “well-informed” being the key concept, should be able to do:
How often are you watching the news, and you get pundits debating back and forth about the latest numbers of such and such from the CBO (that’s the Congressional Budget Office). You think to yourself, “well, the CBO is nonpartisan, so the numbers must be good.” Sure, the numbers are probably fine, but you have to pay attention to how they are actually being used. And then you have figures and polls from all sorts of agencies, think tanks, nonprofit organizations, so on, which often have a bias or a particular agenda. I am not saying that some of those agendas are bad (personally, I think working towards things like social justice are important), but you still have to keep those things in mind. Expanding on that, this is where I would add a good course on information literacy, where you learn to evaluate information, more than just the statistics. So, if it was me, I would do more than just statistical literacy. We need broad ranging information literacy.Daily Kos Versus BigGovernment.com
Find three examples of the same set of numbers presented in entirely different ways on the liberal blog Daily Kos and Andrew Breitbart’s conservative Big Government site. In each case, show which source is using the more aggressive spin and determine which side—if either—is being more honest in its presentation of the facts.
Second, I definitely like the Post-state Diplomacy course. Folks in the U.S. need some serious education on international affairs and how the world works right now. The folks at Wired write:
“Power has always depended on who can provide justice, commerce, and stability. Successful insurgents aren’t just thugs; they offer their members tangible benefits—community, money, education, and a sense of order (even if the rebels are the ones creating disorder in the first place). We must learn how they gain loyalty, even if our goal is to undercut it.”
The rest of the article is worth reading as well. Each skill description does include a “reading list” (I put it in quotes because some of the suggestions may be links to videos or other non-print material) and some questions you may want to consider. Whether you do some of the assignments or not, thinking about them may help you expand your horizons a bit more.