I’m excited about this! I actually came here to see if someone had already covered this or if I should ☺️. I’d love to see a teacher walk through this.
Here’s an idea I’d been curious to try out talking or teaching about EA, but haven’t yet. I’d be curious if you’ve tried it or want to (very happy to see someone else take the idea off my hands).
I think we often skim over a key idea too fast—that we each have finite resources and so does humanity. That’s what makes prioritization and willingness to name the trade offs we’re going to make such an important tool. I know I personally nodded along at the idea of finite resources at first, but it’s easy to carry along with the S1 sense that there will be more X somewhere that could solve hard trade-offs we don’t want to make. I wonder if starting the conversation there would work better for many people than e.g. starting with cost-effectiveness.
Common sense examples like having limited hours in the day or a finite family budget and needing to choose between things that are really important to you but don’t all fit is an idea that I think makes sense to many people, and starting with this familiar building block could be a better foundation for understanding or attempting their own EA analysis.
In case you haven’t seen it, here is a guide to talking about EA, which includes a list of approaches various community members like to use, discussions of pitfalls to avoid, and FAQs. It is very open for additions and changes.
Whoa, cool. I did not know about this, thank you.
I just watched this talk, and thought it was really great! Two things came to mind (both of which may already be covered, seeing as cafelow commented here already):
Is there a place where this talk could be linked to from the EA Hub site? I suspect the talk would be useful for other people wanting to learn about communicating about EA.
Danny, are you aware of https://shicschools.org/ ? They’ve got a bunch of cool materials I used last year when I ran an EA-based club at my school (I was a teacher then).
See also the post High School EA Outreach
Thanks, Michael! I would definitely love to have the talk linked from EA Hub. Cafelow, is that a possibility?
I have definitely checked out SHIC and skimmed through their materials. My initial concept for teaching in schools has a notable distinction from them. Before considering the idea of internal vs. external movement building, my concept was to do a single lesson, spark a lightbulb moment with a student or two who might be EA-inclined, give them a copy of “Doing Good Better,” and then move on. Coming back for more lessons with the same class seemed like it would yield diminishing returns. I didn’t think I would convince any additional students to become EA the second go-around.
However, reading back through Catherine’s conclusions in the High School EA Outreach post, it never occurred to me that sustained exposure might be what encourages some would-be EAs who agree with my first lesson to actually adapt EA behavior.
Since the Unconference and my recent interest in the idea of external movement building, I do think I’d like to rethink a set of materials specifically aimed at people who are not EA-inclined, for classroom use, for general use by EAs when talking to non-EAs, and as guidelines for broader public outreach.
From the conclusions of the contributors to the High School EA Outreach post (and from my own findings) it might be hard to get non-EA young people to put in additional resources into doing good. But collectively, young people will still give tons of money to walk-a-thons and fundraisers they see on Facebook. If we can’t increase the quantity of giving, is it possible to improve the quality? It seems like Charity Navigator has been able to become a (nearly) household name and perpetuate certain ideas about giving. This could be a proof of concept that a large subset of the public is open to new ideas about how to do good, and that non-EA charitable funds could theoretically be redirected to more effective charities.
I have some vague thoughts on this sort of thing, but I only ran my EA-based club for about 6 months, and didn’t do any follow-up measurements. So I don’t think any of those thoughts would add much value relative to the High School EA Outreach post, the post SHIC Will Suspend Outreach Operations, and what you’ve already said/thought.
So instead, here’s a grab bag of links that came to mind as potentially relevant and useful, if you hadn’t seen them already. (Though I’d guess that the collection of resources cafelow linked to may be more relevant and useful.)
Only tangentially relevant:
Collection of EA analyses of how social social movements rise, fall, can be influential, etc.
(I’d normally also mention the fidelity model in the context, but your talk suggests you’re already familiar with that.)
Thanks! I’m 100% with you on the idea that real-world examples can help people to understand the importance of EA. Peter Singer does it well, and I start off my presentation for high school/college students by giving them a hypothetical amount of money and working through a decision about where to donate.
Sometimes I use an example of a firefighter in a burning building. Unfortunately, it’s unlikely that the firefighter will be able to save everyone so some tough decisions have to be made in order to save the most people in a finite amount of time.
I think the more people working on good ways to promote EA ideas, the better; I’d love to hear about whatever you work on.
Definitely, I think for many people, the donations example works. And I like the firefighter example too, especially if someone has had first responder experience or has been in an emergency.
I’m curious what happens if one starts with a toy problem that arises from or feels directly applicable to a true conundrum in the listener’s own daily life, to illustrate that prioritization between pressing problems is something we are always doing, because we are finite beings who often have pressing problems! I think when I started learning about EA via donation examples, I made the error of categorizing EA as only useful for special cases, such as when someone has ‘extra’ resources to donate. So, GiveWell sounded like a useful source of the ‘the right answer’ on a narrow problem like finding recommended charities, which gave me a limited view of what EA was for and didn’t grab me much. I came to EA via GiveWell rather than reading any of the philosophy, which probably would have helped me understand the basis for what they were doing better :).
When I was faced with real life trade-offs that I really did not want to make but knew that I must, and someone walked me through an EA analysis of it, EA suddenly seemed much more legible and useful to me.
Have you seen your students pick up on the prioritization ideas right away, or find it useful to use EA analysis on problems in their own life?
I like your idea that the applicability of EA concepts in daily life decision-making can be used to show EA as a powerful tool. I haven’t specifically done that yet but have considered it.
I had expected to get pushback when I first started teaching about prioritizing causes and was careful about how I introduced it. However, students don’t really push back on it, and when we work through examples, they do understand why an EA might prioritize, for example, schistosomiasis charities over cancer ones. That said, based on post-lesson surveys, that doesn’t always translate to a shift in thinking after the lesson (though for some students it has.) I’m still working on bridging the gap between mastery of a theoretical concept and actual application in real life.
Sky and Danny, I’d be very interested to talk to either/both of you and share ideas about this. I’ve done quite a bit of EA outreach in my own school, having been teaching for the best part of a decade (some is discussed in my post history), as well as some outside. Please send a PM if you’re interested and we can set something up.