Don's Diary

June 15, 2001

Saturday

In Minneapolis for a conference on child development. Some sessions are stimulating but am disheartened by the lack of interest in life outside the United States, other than a few Asian exceptions. We academics find that we are sharing our vast convention centre with a girl's volleyball championship. Both enterprises have several thousand participants and there are concerns that the athletes are slowly taking over. Delighted to see my work on display at the book exhibition. Horrified to find one text heavily discounted.

Sunday

Watch some of the volleyball, which is hotting up. Drift back to the conference but become irritated by the decontextualised analyses that offer so little to our understanding of life in classrooms. Wonder whether psychology's obsession to be accepted as a science really needs to take us this way. Keep being asked where Sunderland is. Reference to Billy Elliott usually helps.

Monday

Fly to Yale University. Find myself cramped in middle seat. Pilot apologises for the delayed take-off and urges us to "lie back and enjoy the flight". Reassess my earlier understanding about American absence of irony.

Tuesday

Drive to Cornell to spend a day with Urie Bronfenbrenner, one of the greats in the study of human development. Now 85, he has studied at Cornell since 1938 and still researches and publishes prolifically. Regaled with stories from his life, in particular his experiences as a young Russian immigrant after the revolution and his studies of childhood socialisation in the Soviet Union of the 1960s. He is delighted and fascinated to learn that our own research in Russian schools 40 years later reveals striking parallels and continuities.

Wednesday

Return to Yale. Become frustrated by the 55mph limit. Stop in a burger bar: food is fast and driving is slow. Read in university newspaper that our host's research team has received $7 million in grants. In shock. Lecture on educational motivation to the psychology department and am puzzled that no one bristles when I am critical of US high schools. Learn that much of the audience attended school outside the US. Have dinner with expert on the nature of human intelligence. Walk past the Bush Centre for Social Policy. Is there an oxymoron in there somewhere?

Thursday

Brown University. Deliver colloquium lecture, which goes well. Discover that student numbers for teacher training are low but with student fees of $25,000 per year, who needs large numbers? Drive to Boston steakhouse with Harvard colleagues. Over dinner am asked whether the stories about low academic salaries in England are true. I petulantly point out that at least our salaries are better than Russian wages.

Friday

Fly home. Reflect enviously upon the opportunities available to US researchers. Wonder whether my strategically placed business cards have been found.

Julian Elliott is professor of educational psychology, University of Sunderland.

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