It was pure providence that I didn’t like the first two books I started reading for this column. Because I had named this column “Good Reads,” I believed I was obligated to continue my search for books that I could recommend. I finally found Join the Club, How Peer Pressure Can Transform the World, by Tina Rosenberg, which is a compelling and powerful narrative. Join the Club explains how social change can and does happen in the most amazing scenarios and Rosenberg provides deep insights into why certain cultural issues occur. For instance, how could behavioral choices affect African American and Latino achievement in college calculus?
A college in Texas was continuously baffled that their Asian students would succeed in calculus while the African American and Latino students did not. All of the students were of about equal ability at the beginning of the semester –about the same grades, SAT scores, backgrounds, class rankings, etc. All reported studying about the same number of hours. Teachers Assistants (TAs) spent semesters with the groups and learned that at the end of the day, the Asian students would gather to study in groups. Through their exchange of working together, they increased their knowledge base. The TAs began creating study groups for the African American and Latino students and suddenly their success rates began to match those of the Asian students.
In rural India, social change was affected for and by the most alienated who were still suffering from old caste system rules and severe poverty. This, to me, was the most powerful example of how peers can transform change and how the world can be affected by people who are truly thoughtful.
Rosenberg also peppers the book with thought-provoking ideas such as—if you want to improve your personal happiness quotient—join a club, because engaging in community is the one thing most likely to bring you more happiness—more so than additional money.
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