Shoot Your Shot

post by evelynciara · 2020-02-18T06:39:22.964Z · score: 7 (4 votes) · EA · GW · 6 comments

Yesterday, I decided to try promoting effective altruism.

I've been a teacher for Splash at Cornell in the past, and this semester, I signed up to teach a class introducing the basic concepts of EA. The target audience is middle and high school students. I'm trying to make the class interactive and talk about EA in a gentle, open-minded way.

I've also talked to the House Council at my dorm about running EA-themed events, possibly with the EA club at Cornell.

My issue is that I'm overly anxious about how other students perceive EA, and by extension, how they'll perceive me if they know I'm an effective altruist. Most of my friends have neutral or positive opinions of EA, but one of my friends told me she thinks that EA ignores justice. Also, just yesterday, one of the folks I talked to about EA hadn't heard of it at all. I'm curious about how well-known EA is relative to its detractors. But also, most of the articles bashing EA are quite old and quite bad.

I don't know how well any of this will be received, but as they say around Valentine's Day, you gotta shoot your shot.

6 comments

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comment by Julia_Wise · 2020-02-18T17:34:02.238Z · score: 8 (5 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

I try to keep this list of EA syllabi [EA · GW] up to date. Please do check out the materials from other classes, and let me know if you have a reading list or similar you'd like me to add!

comment by KathrynMecrow · 2020-02-19T21:49:10.088Z · score: 6 (2 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Hi there! My name is Kathryn and I work with The Life You Can Save, specifically managing the Giving Games Project. I frequently run Giving Games and semi-frequently skype into classroom settings to answer questions. I've also worked with some schools to develop events activities. I can likely help. My contact information is <kathryn.mecrow@thelifeyoucansave.org>.

comment by Aaron Gertler (aarongertler) · 2020-02-20T02:25:21.866Z · score: 4 (2 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Having taught a couple of Splash classes, and having read through SHIC's suspension post [EA · GW] (which discusses their struggles in doing impactful work with pre-college students), I wouldn't expect the class to lead to much impact. However, it sounds like an opportunity to practice discussing EA in front of a forgiving audience, and might inspire a couple of students down the line; good luck!

While effective altruism (just like every social movement ever) has critics, it's a relatively safe thing to advocate for; almost every mainstream article/video/etc. published about it nowadays is positive, and in my experience, people almost always think it's a good idea when I present it as "trying to do things that will really help people, rather than ignoring their needs in favor of what we think will help". 

You might be interested in CEA's list of common objections to EA and how we respond to them [? · GW]. It's a bit out-of-date, but I still hear all these objections on Twitter, so I imagine you could hear them as well.

comment by evelynciara · 2020-02-20T03:46:30.434Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thank you—this is really helpful feedback!

What tactics do you think could be more effective at promoting effective altruism? I've been thinking about promoting EA practices in a public interest tech context, but I'd be flying blind because I have no idea what's effective and relatively little experience in PIT overall. One possibility would be to deliver an EA talk at a tech conference such as GHC.

"trying to do things that will really help people, rather than ignoring their needs in favor of what we think will help"

is uncontroversial; I think cause prioritization would be more controversial, though. I wouldn't be surprised if people working on one cause objected to being told that they'd have more impact working on a different one.

In past Splash courses I've taught, I've noticed that some students were already familiar with the topic; for example, during my introductory machine learning class, one student asked about a type of neural network that I had heard of but was unfamiliar with. Do you think I'd be mostly preaching to converts?

comment by Aaron Gertler (aarongertler) · 2020-02-20T22:42:16.976Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Don't worry about "preaching to converts" in your Splash class; I very much doubt many of your students will have any familiarity with EA beyond a passing mention somewhere.

Discussing effective tactics for promoting EA would take a long time. If you want to learn about some things other folks have done, check out the EA Hub's list of resources or the top community posts on the Forum [? · GW] (not everything at that link will be about promotion, but if you skip around you'll find some relevant articles).

With cause prioritization (and other topics), you'll probably be fine as long as you avoid negativity. My framing is never "don't work on X"; instead, it's (to paraphrase): "what are you hoping to get by working on X? Does it seem to be working? What led you to working on X rather than other things in the same general area?" My overall message is "everyone sees the world a little differently, but for any way you see the world, there will be some strategies for helping that are likely to work out better than others. Cause prioritization is about figuring out the best thing you can be doing, according to your values."

Prioritization isn't exclusive to EA: Other entities do it all the time based on their own values (e.g. environmental agencies trying to weigh policies by how they affect the lives of citizens, but not necessarily people in other countries). EA just has fewer limits on the sorts of ideas it considers, and on which beings we care about helping.

(This is a very rough perspective, and belongs to me rather than my employer, but the point of "work with people's values, don't tell them to value other things" stands.)

comment by alexrjl · 2020-02-18T08:50:11.104Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

I currently do high school outreach also (in fact, in a context which selects for mathematical talent and enthusiasm, so not miles away from splash) feel free to PM me if you'd like to discuss ideas and/or have some help with session planning. I'd also recommend getting in touch with @cafelow on the forum.