A Review of the 42nd Arkansas Governor's School

I attended the 42nd Arkansas Governor's School and came out with a very mixed opinion of the program over all and a very poor opinion of the administration and institution. This was the first year the program was hosted on the Arkansas Tech University campus and was recently moved online due to a Covid-19 outbreak. I missed most of the final, online week due to not having internet at home.

Arkansas Governor's School' Classes

The program is broken up into 3 sections: Area I, Area II, and Area III. Area I is the focus are you have chosen, for me this was Social Sciences. This focus class for those in Social Sciences was rather poorly executed as we did not go into much depth during the time, but rather were given an overview of Psychology, Geography, Sociology, and History. Each student was given a specific rotational order for each subject. The last section (History for me) has yet to happen due to the entire program shifting online, but I highly doubt that most will finish out the last week due to the sudden shift and poor communication on what to do in case we shift online.

Area I is the main area that was chosen to be the focus. We get 2 classes per day in the subject, but only get a cursory overview of the subject at hand. Much of the classes were discussion based and were driven by professor-student interaction. This worked in some areas better than others. Though, generally speaking, the lack of structure usually lead to a 20 to 30 man free-for-alls of schizophrenic discussion and topic-hopping that either stifled depth or only allowed depth in socially controversial topics such as "gender" and sexuality. Despite this though, I will say that much of Area I was of high quality. Though, it wasn't the classroom setting that allowed this. Instead, it was private, one-on-one discussion with professors where no one could strong-arm the entire conversation. These discussions were much more honed and were of great utility in getting the details that were needed to sufficiently understand the subject. Over all, the only complaint I have about this Area is the lack of depth we went into. This isn't much of anyone but the administrations fault as we had only a week to explore an entire subject area. The focus on Area II and Area III could be cut back plenty as to allow the students to refine their skills in a specialized manner.

Area II is the so-called "Conceptual Development" area. It was a poor man's Philosophy of Ethics class with a little bit of Plato sprinkled in. We worked out of work books that mostly consisted of Ethical readings and moral dilemmas. The teaching was sub-par on the count of most professors, especially mine, not having a background in Philosophy or the Philosophy of Ethics. The entire area was extraordinarily scattered as few students had a proper grasp of deductive logic and there were almost no shared values among the group. Most justifications for why someone came to the conclusion for a dilemma started with "I feel" or some other emotional claim. This isn't to any fault of the class attendants and teachers either, few were trained in the Philosophy required to teach or practice in such a class. Though, even if we were taught by well educated men, it would have been disastrous. Ethics is a practical philosophy and requires a very strong base knowledge of logic and the other philosophies to get right. The entire booklet itself barely goes over meta-ethical issues and instead focuses on the normative, something that is completely unproductive if the base definition of right, wrong, and its justifications can't be agreed upon. The lack of depth in other areas also leads to a lack of understanding of the logical nature of the philosophies. This section seems like it was put together by someone who hardly understood Philosophy and its purpose and thus the area was sub-par. A diversification of the focus from Ethics to a more general understanding of Logic, Epistemology, and other more base Philosophies would be much more productive than tossing an entire uneducated student population into the hoops and traps of the Philosophy of Ethics.

Area III is the "Personal and Social Development" area of our schooling and it is by far the worst. It is an unscientific, politically motivated, emotion-focused waste of time. We, similar to Area II, work out of a workbook. This workbook is stuffed with psudo-scientific personality tests, limited "value measurement" assignments, and a reading on white privilege. The table of contents for some strange reason documents someone's personal, anecdotal writings of noticing "white privilege" as the "McIntosh Privilege Exercise". The page itself labels it "White Privilege: Unpacking the InvisableKnapsack". Quite strange to obfuscate this piece as it is the only proper reading in the entire booklet. This behavior may be due to the fear of Arkansas law S.B. 627's restriction on teaching material like this. This sort of aversion of the law makes sense though, the institution may have deemed it necessary to teach future generations about these world views and deemed bending or breaking the law necessary to education. This sort of reasoning would be understandable if this work wasn't presented in such an unethical way. It isn't ethical to parade around the anecdotal opinions and personal observations of one woman without any form of statistical or scientific backing as the absolute truth. The observation that this is being presented as "absolute truth" comes from the lack of contrary points of view or more-than-anecdotal evidence provided. There is no deductive or inductive logic used. Taking this reading seriously would be similar to taking the journal of a pre-pubescent girl's middle school experience as if it were hard science on the behavior of middle schoolers. It makes no sense to put such a reading in here when it makes accusations and empirical statements without a solid and scientific base.

While it may be true that the "White Privilege" piece in here is the most offensive sin in the work booklet, it must be stated that the personality tests and value assessors are multitudes more insidious. The rest of the booklet contains nothing but psychological pseudoscience. Tests like the Myers-Briggers, Enneagram, DiSC Assessment rear their ugly heads despite having little to no predicting power on how a person's behavior may be. What's worse is that in the same booklet lies some outright insane tests that, for some reason, the Area III developers decided would be of utility for the upcoming Elite of Arkansas: Nerdy Personality Attribute Scale, Protestant Work Ethic, What is your Bias? What is your fallacy?, and Knowledge of Hidden Rules of Social Classes. The danger in even including these "lighter" tests is the fact that they're coming from an authoritative, academic source. A summer college funded by tax payer money for the elite youth has given those attending the presumption that everything spoken on this campus from an authoritative figure is the bleeding-edge, undeniable proof. This includes that Nerdy Personality Attribute Scale and other less-than-sound written filth. This is dangerous due to the fact that these tests may be taken seriously on some level despite the lack of evidence proving anything predictive about them.

So why not break down one of these tests? Take "Knowledge of the Hidden Rules of Social Class" for example. It consists of three categories of questions, Surviving in Poverty, Functioning in the Middle Class, Functioning in the Upper Class, and none of the terms in these titles are defined. What is "Poverty"? What is "Upper Class"? What is "Surviving"? What is "Functioning"? Do any of these have any meaning at all? Is "Class" based purely on wealth or is it based on race, sex, or other forms of identity too? None of this is defined, yet it is one of the "serious" tests. The test gets even worse when you look at the options for each "class". Many are outright stereotypes. Strange associations are made between the ability to fight and obtain illegal weaponry and poverty. Similar associations are made between knowledge of repairing items and contacting schools to the middle class. The most absurd yet are the "Upper Class" as it is implied to be the dreaded "1%". Some associates are made between knowing languages and knowledge of corporate financial statements and the upper class. While yes our heuristics would tell us that most of these are "correct", there seems to be little evidence in the matter of proving these statements. Even if these statements could empirically be proven to be linked to class, we'd still need solid definitions of what these "classes" are. The whole exercise is an exercise in making profoundly baseless value statements and pushing them upon the impressionable youth. This sort of work creates confirmation biases and mercilessly tears other worldviews down by reinforcing unfound associations.

To Conclude, Arkansas Governor's School itself had many issues rife in its curriculum, especially with how certain ideas were presented to the students. I urge anyone working on Arkansas Governor's School or capable to influence Arkansas Governor's School to revamp the curriculum as to address many of the problems faced in it.