The video is meant to show natural inconsistencies in our thinking. In it, students are asked to support a measure to redistribute grade points from good students to not-so-good students.
The typical reaction was no.
Why not? It’s just like income redistribution, was the response.
But, they would say, GPA and income are different.
I used this same analogy with folks years ago and got similar reactions to those in the video. Though, not-so-good students were a little more open to the idea.
But, for me that’s not the interesting point.
The interesting point was how well everyone I spoke with understood how a grade redistribution system would hurt overall learning.
They told me that the best students would not have as much incentive to work as hard to earn top grades since some of their efforts would be taken away. C students also would slack off a little more since they were going to get some grade welfare. So, overall there would be less learning.
Yet these same people could not even entertain the idea that this same dynamic could occur with income and tax rates. They were emotionally skeptical of the idea that income redistribution would have any incentive effects on the efforts of high and low income earners. Sometimes they believed the opposite of the grade redistribution dynamic would occur. I typically heard the following statements.
- Rich people won’t ease off on earning just because we take some more of their income. They want more money. They might even work harder.
- Low income folks won’t be less motivated if they receive some help. Who wants to be on welfare? That’s not enough to live on. They might even work harder to avoid the social stigma.
And I continue to hear these in discussions on topics like unemployment benefits or tax rates.
What really gets me is how unwilling these folks are to consider that they could learn something if they were to spend a few minutes thinking about it. Instead of going into learning mode, they go into defensive mode. They dismiss outright what they don’t believe.
How did we get to the point where we are so sure of ourselves that we don’t even consider the opposing arguments, even in areas where we really haven’t put that much thought and research into?
I think of get-out-the-vote campaigns that strongly urge folks to express their opinions, but do not encourage them to keep an open mind to test their opinions against facts, logic and opposing arguments.
That’s why I wrote the Discussion Tips page on this site. I’ve found these to be useful ways to hold productive, and less emotionally charged, discussions with folks who disagree with you. Please read them over and let me know if you have any tips to add. I think when we shut others out and stop learning from each other, bad things happen.