Class Warfare Blog

September 23, 2020

We Are Oh-So-Kind . . . to Ourselves

I was reading an article about some Native American archaeology and came to this statement “In the 1800’s, European settlers drove ancestral Wichita people from their native lands, leading to the destruction of their villages and communal traditions.”

I have made this point before but am still struck by the terminology.

If someone invaded your community and forcefully ejected you from your homes and farms, killing many of you in the process, would you refer to them as settlers . . . or invaders? Was not this land already “settled?” In this instance they are talking about a “city” of possibly 40,000 Native American inhabitants.

But European “settlers” “drove” the people off. It sounds like they are referring to cattle or buffalo which could be “driven” to another location.

By what right were these things done? Oh, God told them it was okay for the Europeans to make war on the indigenous peoples they encountered, in order to bring Christianity to the natives. Gee, you’d think this was an educational mission instead of a land grab.

At the time, Europe had recovered from the repeated decimation of the population of Europe due to the Black Plague and other plagues and was overpopulated. The “European settlers” were searching for land, land that could be tilled, land that could be mined, land that could make them rich. They came as soldier-farmers. They didn’t work in their fields without their guns nearby, because the people they stole the land from wanted it back.

These were not settlers. They were an army of invaders. And we are descended from them.

And President Trump wants our schools to teach that we did nothing wrong. Sure we took their land, but we gave them the Bible. From Mr. Trump’s perspective, this was a great deal, and American deal, an exceptional deal.

And the winners of the deal get to write and re-write the history any way they want. Mr. Trump’s way is what we will get if he is re-elected.

 

 

August 19, 2020

Preparing Students for the Jobs of Tomorrow and Other Bogus Marketing Claims

Filed under: Education — Steve Ruis @ 9:27 am
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On Quora I got the following question directed my way and I thought to share it and my answer with you to see if you agree. Here’s the question:

Some people say: “Schools are not teaching students the skills they need for their future.” Do you agree?

Schools have never taught what students needed for the future. They have always been designed to teach what was needed for the recent past.

The reason for this is not some conspiracy of teachers’ unions or other nonsense. The reason for this is we are absolutely and pathetically awful at anticipating the skills needed for “the future.”

Think about the impact that personal computers have made upon our lives, everything from desktop computers to smartphones. Who predicted that happening? Who knew with any certainty that that would happen? The answer is “nobody.”

So, an education is designed to do just a few things. To transfer a few practical skills (although we do less and less of this, high schools used to teach woodworking, metal working, automotive mechanics, typing/keyboarding, etc.; some community colleges still do), teach people how to think (not what how), and teach people how to work together.

From that skill set, people are prepared to adapt to the future as it unrolls.

Anyone who claims to “prepare students for the jobs of tomorrow” is delivering a marketing message that has nothing to do with reality, as no one actually knows how to do this … no one!

 

 

June 10, 2020

Is “Learn at Your Own Pace” Even a Real Thing?

Filed under: Education — Steve Ruis @ 11:07 am
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In one of the many newsletters I get, there was an ad for “Online Courses” with the subtitle “Learn at Your Own Pace.” Is this a real selling point? Do we all have our own learning pace?

I was a classroom teacher for going on 40 years and I did some major experiments with “self-paced learning” and came to the conclusion that “self-paced” means “slow.” That is slow by any definition you want.

Now teaching in a school or college is a special case: students presumably are “learning” as a full-time or at least major part-time job. “Reformers” of education, i.e. people with ideas to sell or people who didn’t navigate the current system at all well and blame the system, often point to the strengths of educations and declare them to be weaknesses. No one seems to take a step back and look at the whole picture in a cost-benefit type of analysis.

Since I was a college teacher, I will frame my comments in that context. Others who taught elsewhere can comment on their situation.

In colleges there is a workload system in place, it is generally referred to as the unit load system or some such similar name. Most commonly the Carnegie system is used where a unit of load is equal to . . . on average . . . three hours of work per week, both in and out of the classroom. So, a typical load of 15 units of credit, taken over four years of study results in a bachelor’s degree (if the correct courses are taken and passed, of course). At the 3:1 ratio, a full-time student has a 45 hour per week “job” he/she is undertaking.

Now, the step back. The college/university is providing: a classroom with chairs, wall boards, AV equipment, computers, etc. at a particular time or times during the week and a qualified instructor/professor to guide the learning. The student only has to show up at the time and place to take advantage. Of course, specialized classrooms also abound: theatres, photography labs, chemistry labs, swimming pools, gymnasiums, etc. So, a great deal of infrastructure has been built and is being made available, in most cases for fairly little cost.

The economies of scale are large. The rooms get utilized well, the teaching faculty get utilized well, the specialized equipment gets utilized, and the student’s time is organized well.

Imagine the chaos if at the beginning of every term, each group of students and their teacher has to run around trying to claim some space to meet and the equipment needed to do the work.

A number of universities collect the course requests of their students, then assign professors and classrooms based upon demand, and send out class schedules to one and all. But the same economies of scale exist.

But . . . learning at your own pace?

What if you find you can’t keep up? What if everyone else in the class you are in seem to be racing away and you are falling father and farther behind? Surely you are a candidate for converting the entire system to self-paced instruction. Ah . . . no.

So as to not throw the baby out with the bathwater (the baby being an education system that was and is world-class), your first option is to work harder. The 3:1 ratio of workload to units of courses, is an average. Some people will need to invest more time, others less. Students will need more time in some subjects and less in others (nobody ever confused the workload of a three unit PE course with a 3 unit Chemistry course), so there are some trade-offs and the additional time doesn’t have to come on top of the 45 hour weekly work plan. It can be shifted around. But if more time is needed beyond the normal, a 50 hour or 60 hour workload is available to you (been there, done that, done more).

If, somehow, your other responsibilities prevent you from exceeding your 45 hour (or whatever) commitment, there are other alternatives. One is to withdraw from one of your courses and use the time committed to that subject to make the time needed to catch up in the problematic one (been there, done that . . . once).

Bottom Line
Education is a social process. It is not the acquisition of knowledge as so many seem to think. Getting an education involves learning how to learn from others (teachers, classmates, etc.) and learning how to work with others, and most specially learning how to learn and learning how to think (how not what). This requires other people to be involved, to communicate with, to work with. I, like many other students, found study groups to be invaluable. You meet somewhere (library, empty classroom, somebody’s apartment, etc.) and work together. Sometimes this was simply sitting in silence doing homework exercises. Just having someone else in the room in the same boat, as it were, whom you could ask questions of is reassuring. Having a classmate say “I don’t understand that either” somehow makes it more normal to not understand something and empowers one to ask questions when one is back in class. (In one of these sessions I learned how to use slips of paper (this was before Post-It Notes) in my textbook, so if the professor asked “Are there any questions, I could raise my hand and turn to a slip and start “On page xyz, the book says “ . . ..” and ask my question. If he/she continued to solicit questions, I had additional slips.)

Online courses can be good, to a point. But if you want an education, it requires a village. And it requires time. The general progress of any class as a whole is a social force, a force that says “Keep up!” In the absence of that push we get in the process, we all (and I do mean all) tend to slow down. Slowing down from a pace one could have met means that either less will be learned or fewer courses will be completed or one’s school years will be extended.

Keep up, Grasshopper, keep up.

And, if you cannot, there are adjustments you can make so you will have the time you need and it does not mean changing the whole system into one in which you are the only one at the spot in the process you are in. If you keep up you will have fellow travelers.

When we get out of school, not keeping up is not an option in any case. If you are slow to weed and feed your garden, you may find more weeds than anything else in it. If you do not pay your taxes on time, there are penalties. If you dawdle and not express your true feelings to a loved one, they may move on to someone else. If you don’t meet deadlines or quotas at your work, you will be looking for another line of work.

Keep up, Grasshopper, keep up.

Postscript As a purveyor of online instruction, the main selling points we see are: that you can do the course when you want, even 2 AM, dressed as you want, even in your pajamas, and you don’t have to wait for the course to be offered (it is a one day course in person), travel to that place taking time off of work, using time to travel, eating on the road, etc. No one . . . ever . . . mentions: “I really liked being able to learn at my own pace.”

An especially useful point is that if you missed the one and only face-to-face class being offered this year, you still have the opportunity to qualify for a job, etc. (I thought it was next Tuesday! I missed the training! When can I take the class?) So, such courses do have their reasons, but a need for “self-paced learning” doesn’t seem to be one or if it is, it is a small one.

June 4, 2020

Why Science Hasn’t Stamped Out Religion

Filed under: Culture,Reason,Religion,Science — Steve Ruis @ 8:42 am
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I was reading a piece on the Vridar blog site and Neil Godfrey wrote this (in 2013): “Religion has not gone away since the end of the Europe’s religious wars and the ensuing Age of Enlightenment. Indeed, scientific advances and the rise of secularism may even be largely responsible for religious revivals.”

One part of the reasoning behind this statement jumped out at me. As opposed to science, religion puts no intellectual demands on its proponents. Scientists are asked to explain themselves, and argue, and think . . . really, really hard. Religionists, to the contrary, are given warm “There, theres” and are not asked to think. They are not expected to answer or ask questions. They do not have a final arbiter of what is right and wrong as natural scientists have in nature.

As a college professor, I saw a great many students over the years, almost all of whom had selected a major course of study. Since the science courses I taught were not something that other students took to meet a breadth requirement or “for fun,” I tended to see the same types of students. And didn’t encounter students who were majoring in far flung intellectual pursuits. But I did meet and work with colleagues from all over the college. And one could see clear divides in those folk according to their chosen fields of study.

For one, there is a simple dichotomy between scientists and non-scientists that breaks along the lines of, what should I call it . . . social skills (?). Science types, often referred to as “geeks,” often lacked social skills one could observe elsewhere and it is my opinion that science attracts people with poorer social skills because the topic addresses and studies things and not people. (Things can be pinned down, people are inconsistent, variable, and often cantankerous.) Study science and you have fewer people to deal with and more things/facts/etc. (Yes, I know these are broad characterizations. There are many, many exceptions. I myself am a scientist who is suave as hell and comfortable in the company of a wide strata of society. And I need a tongue-in-cheek emoji here.)

Another fault line between scientists and non-scientists is math. To learn math, you must master, to some extent, abstract thinking. This makes a clear line between those who faired well in math (I wasn’t that good, just persistent.) and those who did not.

So, to make an argument or address a problem scientifically, you have to pull non-science types into a realm in which complex arguments, math, and foundational knowledge all are involved in complicated fashions. (Look at how complex environmental issues are often described with simplistic and, at root, misleading explanations. Global atmospheric warming was attributed to the Greenhouse Effect and greenhouses work primarily by not allowing warm gases to escape the house. This is not the mechanism of climate change as we are experiencing it now.)

On the other side of this divide, the religionists are told “There, there . . . all will be well” and other nonsense like “The blood of Christ will protect you in the pandemic.” (The latter led me to wonder where I can get me some of that shit.) It may be nonsense, but it is simple nonsense, making no intellectual demands and offering many reassurances, albeit vacuous ones.

I do not claim that all of this plays out consciously through free will. In general I think most of us drift in the currents of our lives (me, especially). But those unable to accept the complexity of real problems set in a real nature are subject to those more than willing to provide fantasy solutions set in a fantastic nature which are less demanding. All you need is faith and there are no real tests of that any more.

April 12, 2020

The Words We Use to Protect Ourselves, Thus Doing Irreparable Harm

Filed under: History,language — Steve Ruis @ 11:35 am
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I was viewing and reading the other day and came across two rather extraordinary statements. Here they are:

The buffalo hunt was an instrument for opening the west to settlement.”

and

“(referring to the early civilizations on the Nile, Indus, and Yellow rivers) Bountiful agriculture produced grain surpluses to feed these ever more populous settlements, the rulers coordinating the labour of growing workforces to construct impressive civil engineering projects like expansive irrigation systems, roads and canals, to further increase food production and its distribution.

Do you see what they have in common?

Both are descriptions of brutal treatment of the majority of a population for the benefit of someone other than the population itself, using breezy language.

The phrase “opening of the West to settlement,” is fascinating. The “West” referred to is the American West and the entire history of the “settlement” of the American West is rife with Indian troubles. Every time “settlers” started “settling” they were attacked by Indians. Damned savages! If only they had been civilized!

Well, the reason the “settlers” were attacked is that the land they were “settling” was already settled by Native Americans. The Anglos were invaders, in the terms of a subsequent generation, they were squatters on other people’s land. There was no need for “settlement” as that had already taken place. There were already people living on that land and the march west, was nothing more than an invasion that generated a genocide of immense scale.

Settlers, my ass. Of course, as a youth I swallowed this bilge easily. By accepting the term “settlers” I was accepting that the land was not “settled” and so was “open for settlement” by brave god-fearing white folk, like me. I believed the “Indians” attacked because they were savage, war-like people. In college I realized that most of what I “knew” of Native Americans came from the myriad cowboy movies I had viewed. And formal history wasn’t much better because of these words that were chosen to salve our egos, words like settlers, instead of invaders or conquistadors.

And the second quote. Egad, talk about white washing.

“Bountiful agriculture produced grain surpluses” uh, exactly how did this happen? Hunter gatherers got together in a barn one evening and one of them convinced the others that this agriculture was going to be a really good deal for them, so they all switched over? Sedentary agriculture was a disaster for many, many people before it got going and even after. People had a major reduction in variety in their diets because instead of having different harvests of fish, game, fruits, plants, and whatnot with the seasons, they spent all of their time in a much more labor intensive practice: farming. Because they ended up eating mostly what they grew, instead of what Nature provided, their teeth rotted, their children grew up smaller, and their health deteriorated because of the disease pits formed when so many people lived so closely together. A drought, or flood, or poor harvest for any reason mean starvation.

Oh, but, “the rulers coordinating the labour of growing workforces.” I am sure were a great help, providing guards to make sure the workers didn’t run off and in acquiring slaves by capturing the populations of whole villages in the vicinity. The rulers soon found out that forced labor is expensive because of the numbers of guards needed, so they created the concept of god-kings to recruit invisible gods guards who worked for free. It is hard not to do a task a god or god’s emissary says you have to do.

And, oh joy, all of those “impressive civil engineering projects like expansive irrigation systems, roads and canals, to further increase food production and its distribution” were really helpful . . . to the workers? No, I don’t think so. The distribution network was taking the grain they produced elsewhere, to feed people like soldiers, that couldn’t be afforded before the imposition of forced labor agriculture. Thus, agriculture allowed the elites to make war for fun and profit, again not with any benefit to the workers creating the surpluses that fed the elites and their minions.

And, did you notice the phrase, that the grain surpluses were in part “to feed these ever more populous settlements.What was being settled? Empty land? Why? The ever growing populations were created by the grain surpluses and a biological law which says that the population of a species will expand to the limits of its food supply. If you didn’t have the grain surpluses or didn’t make them available to people, the populations would not grow. So, who benefited from this? Not the workers. There never was much of a benefit to the workers at all. Grain was a crop that could be dried and stored. Otherwise food preservation was quite difficult. There is some evidence of mastodon carcasses having been immersed in arctic temperature lakes as a form of preservation, but most food spoiled fast, so it was eaten as soon as it was harvested as a general rule (a whole mastodon being a bit of a challenge). There was no surpluses for hunter-gatherers as a general rule. But because grain can be dried and stored and kinda sorta will keep you alive if you eat it, it was something that the elites could tax . . . by force, mind you, that could be spent (in trade, as food, etc.) later. So, agriculture was by the workers for the grain the elites wanted and the elites didn’t care fuck-all for the workers. Most of them were slaves anyway and treating them well wasn’t necessarily an advantage, certainly not an economic one.

Such breezy truncations of history, like the above, hide the incredible damage done by the elites of the general masses of people under their influence. And what about the poor buffalo which were hunted almost to extinction “to open the West to Settlement.” What a crock of bullshit. The buffalo were hunted to extinction to make a profit, for everyone in line from the frontier buffalo hunters to the wearers of buffalo hide garments in the East. No one hunted out the buffalo to win a “war” against the Native Americans, thus opening up the West to settlement. (See, no Indians here . .  well, left any way.)

By accepting such tripe we salve the wounds we should all feel when thinking back on our history. There is much good and much bad. Both encourage us to do more good in the future. By turning the appallingly bad into a “good” neither informs us of our capabilities or warns us of the dangers of certain paths we might take into the future. Ego protection should never be the watch word of history, but we have allowed it to be so in this country and are still working to massage the past to make us look better. (Look up debates over Texas school books for American history of late for examples.)

February 18, 2020

Stepping Back Once More—Heavenly Condominiums

Filed under: Reason,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 12:40 pm
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Many theists I read on the Internet are claiming to want or to have a relationship with their god and that their future includes going to Heaven and being with their god for all of time remaining. This is somehow linked to their “purpose” in life, which is a strange concept simply because a purpose is a reason for doing something. Having a purpose in one’s life doesn’t give people a reason to live. It gives a reason to live in a particular fashion. I know this because people who do not have a “purpose in their life” do not automatically commit suicide.

As part of my effort to get people to take a step back from their beliefs to be able to address them a little more clearly, what happens if you take a step back from this one?

I can see why a person would want to believe this is so. An afterlife provides additional life and for most people that is a positive. For many of the very elderly life can be tedious and painful and not worth living but, we are told, in the afterlife, all of your fears and pains are wiped away and being in a god’s presence may result in an ordinary human being blissed out. Whether one can stand being in that state for any length of time is debatable but since the conditions of existence in these afterlives is anything but clear, such discussions will bear very little fruit.

But, I can see why a human being might want this state, but step back and ask “Why would a god want to hang out with you and a billion or two of your fellow travelers for ever and ever? What’s in it for the big guy? One of the properties of these gods is that they are complete in and of themselves, meaning that they need nothing and want for nothing, so there is nothing human beings in an afterlife can provide these entities to meet any kind of need, because it has none.

Would the fields of human souls waving in a heavenly breeze give a visage similar to what we take pleasure in looking at like a field of ripened wheat or spring flowers? Would we make a pretty sight? If this god the interior decorator for Heaven? But this god cannot need or want such a sight, no?

More primitive gods had needs, but as human one-upmanship progressed, our gods got less and less humanoid and more and more supernatural. So, gods with sisters and brothers and husbands had needs and this played out in spiritual dramas (consider the story of Osiris). But a monotheistic god has no siblings, parents, etc. and needs nothing from them even if they did exist, so we have kind of painted ourselves into a spiritual corner.

To answer this question with “Our god works in mysterious ways” is to punt on the question. It isn’t an answer any better than “I do not know.” And, if you don’t know, shouldn’t you want more information? People seem to buy into the, for example, Christian Afterlife™ wanting even less information that they would in choosing a retirement or assisted living home. Yes, one could trust your god to do the right thing . . . if it had a track record of doing only that, but still, shouldn’t that information be more available? Apparently it is not readily available as questions about Heaven on Quora range from “Will our pets be in Heaven with us?” to “Do we still have/get to eat?” and “What will we be doing in Heaven?” ‘What will it be like when I go to Heaven?” and “Will there be free will in Heaven?” and “Do people in Heaven hear us?” and “What does Heaven look like?” and “In Heaven is everyone pretty and thin?” and “Will there be money in Heaven?” and “Is there time in Heaven?” and so on. At least the retirement homes have brochures and web sites and contracts.

PS Some claim that you can hear the screams of anguish of those in Hell in Heaven, which would make residence in Heaven very much less pleasant. (Heck, we don’t even like freeway noise, so the screams of people who may be your friends or relatives might be unendurable.) That question should probably be added to the list.

October 25, 2019

How to Study

Filed under: Education — Steve Ruis @ 9:49 am
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A recent article on The Conversation web site (How to avoid distractions while studying, according to science) addressed several studies that showed which things are distractions for studying students and which are not. For example, listening to songs being sung is a distraction, listening to orchestral music is not. Some of these studies were surprisingly simple. In one they took the usual apparatus for monitoring eye movements and monitored students reading while people nearby were speaking to one another (“irrelevant background speech” in science-speak). They found that people reading under these conditions had to go back more frequently to re-read passages . . . because they were distracted.

Most of the things they discovered were not at all surprising to me (no TV, no ear buds in an iPod unless you are listening to classical or jazz music with no words), etc. But as I have argued before, none of this makes any difference unless students want to implement such things.

When I got serious about studying (didn’t happen until in college) I developed a routine. While I did study in the library during lulls between classes, I saved the hard stuff for the evening. Since basketball practice went until 6 pm and then I either had to travel home and eat or go back to the dorm cafeteria and eat, I usually didn’t get to my studies until late. (I was committed to a consistent sleep schedule, so “lights out” was at 11 pm.) My final routine was to turn off all of the lights in the room and turn on my desk lamp (creating a small zone for my attention). There was no music playing, no TV, no food, no drink, as few distractions as I could find. Then I worked my way through assignments until they were completed. (All my study tools were at hand: pencil, pen, slide rule . . . hey, this was before personal computers; heck, it was before handheld calculators.)

As a teacher I encountered more and more students who claimed they could multitask (they can’t, this has been shown to be just an illusion of task-switching), they could study with music playing, the TV playing, etc. This, I think is a consequence, an unintended consequence of “grade inflation.” One could participate with all of those self-imposed handicaps and still get Bs and even As.

I tended to cruise on my native smarts. But over and over I ended up with the highest scoring B in my classes. (this pattern was observable all through high school and into college; observable to anyone who looked . . . I didn’t). I eventually decided that I wanted to do better, which is when I addressed my studying deficiencies. It wasn’t just those which were the causes of my lack of better performances. I was attempting a difficult major and playing a sport, so I had three hours of basketball practice daily for six months out of the nine month school schedule on top of taking class work loads above normal. My program was a four and half year program and after four years, I had only three course left to take . . . and I had run out of basketball eligibility. As luck would have it, of those three courses, two were “Fall term only” and the other was “Spring term only,” so I decided that it wasn’t worth the trouble to try to graduate mid year. I tool a 12 credit hour load in the Fall and nine credit hour load in the Spring (“normal” is 15 hours and I was used to more than that). This year felt like a vacation and my new study habits and the lightened load and no basketball allowed me to get all As save one B.

Now, I am telling you this, not because it is exceptional; it was not, but that this was normal. Each and every serious student has to “personalize” their education so that it suits themselves. This is not something that can be done for them, they have to do it themselves. It starts with “wanting to” and includes “being challenged” and some ability at introspection. This where I think we have been failing our youths to some extent. We keep thinking of an education as something we “do to them” as if it were some industrial process. Feedstock goes in here, then flows through converters A, B, and C and voilà, the finished product comes out there. But this is wrong, just as we do not want our doctors to just work on us as a veterinarian would, we want to be included in the process of maintaining or regaining our health, we feel the same way about our being educated. Teaching is what teachers are responsible for, learning is what students are responsible for. Figuring out how to learn most effectively is the responsibility of students, with teachers being, I hope, helpful.

I saw so many young people being cheated out of a good education by low expectations . . . by teachers, and teachers are at fault here—for giving out above standard grades for below standard learning, students do not end up being pushed to “trying harder.” Students have part-time jobs, study distracted if at all, and are sleep walking intellectually. Do not get me wrong, the best of our students are better than they ever have been, but those students check off all of the boxes (high expectations, high standards, and they “wanna”). I am talking mostly about the mass in the middle.

By the way, as an aside, it is well-known that Asians students perform better than other cohorts in college. Various conjectures have been offered as to why and the one that stood up to scrutiny? It was time on task, nothing else, they work harder, the “work ethic” that supposedly made American great.

I used to ask my classes “If you are taking a course and the teacher says, “Just chill, you’ll get a good grade” what do you think of that class? Most of the comments were along the lines of “Sign me up!” So, I continued “So, you like being cheated? Cheated out of a good education?” I said “I would immediately withdraw from that course and sign into one I could learn something in.” Education was apparently that rare thing that people wanted less of what they already had paid for.

I also went to the trouble (eventually) of clearly specifying what the expectations for the course were. Examination question examples were provided, with answers that would be given max scores, that sort of thing. Some students didn’t twig to the fact that all of these objectives, sample test questions, topic summaries (Chemistry 1A Cliff Notes, they were), etc. were provided until the very end of the course. One student asked in the final exam prep session whether it was worthwhile to read the syllabus I had been referring to all semester, to bewildered looks of the other students. These are things that frustrate teachers, but we all knew that students had to go through making such mistakes . . . and suffering the consequences . . . to wake up and smell the coffee/roses/etc.

So, I applaud the researchers who have identified things that work and things that don’t but the application of these can only be made by students. And I can’t tell you how many times I recommended them to turn off the TV, iTunes, etc. while studying, only to have them look at me as if I were an idiot and say “But I have been all along and getting As. . . .” but it was a great many times. (Students obey the Real Rules™ religiously. These are not the rules claimed to exist by most teachers.)

I must say, however, that when the light came on for a student, it was glorious. I told students that a study observation of mine that was really helpful was that Miller Time™ started on Friday at 6 pm. Since most of the college kids had no classes after, say, noon on Friday, the weekend started at noon. They would go home and watch reruns on TV or . . . whatever. So, I told them that in that Friday 12 Noon to 6 pm slot, their goal should be to get their homework for the weekend done. If they accomplished that, then their weekends would be truly free. There would be no nagging thoughts of “I gotta do that reading” or “I have to start that paper.” They would be done for the weekend and would start every week prepared.

I was coming back to my office one Friday afternoon to find a former student sitting at the table in the hall outside of my office door. He jumped up and shook my hand, smiling, and told me that he remembered what I said about using Friday afternoons and he had taken it to heart (He was doing it right then!) and that his grades were skyrocketing. I was so happy for him and while this wasn’t a frequent occurrence, it happened enough to keep me going and trying.

 

October 30, 2018

Sometimes You Don’t Have to Even Read the Book!

The Amazon posting for the book College Unbound: The Future of Higher Education and What it Means for Students by Jeffrey J. Selingo supplies the blurb below. Reading just the blurb tells me that reading the book is unnecessary as I already know the arguments are, well, mistaken.

* * *

What is the value of a college degree?

The four-year college experience is as American as apple pie. So is the belief that higher education offers a ticket to a better life. But with student-loan debt surpassing the $1 trillion mark and unemployment of college graduates at historic highs, people are beginning to question that value. 

In College (Un)bound, Jeffrey J. Selingo, editor at large of the Chronicle of Higher Education, argues that America’s higher education system is broken. The great credential race has turned universities into big business and fostered an environment where middle-tier colleges can command elite university-level tuition while concealing staggeringly low graduation rates, churning out graduates with few of the skills needed for a rapidly evolving job market.

Selingo not only turns a critical eye on the current state of higher education but also predicts how technology will transform it for the better. Free massive online open courses (MOOCs) and hybrid classes, adaptive learning software, and the unbundling of traditional degree credits will increase access to high-quality education regardless of budget or location and tailor lesson plans to individual needs. One thing is certain—the Class of 2020 will have a radically different college experience than their parents.

Incisive, urgent, and controversial, College (Un)bound is a must-read for prospective students, parents, and anyone concerned with the future of American higher education.

* * *

This book is only five years old but is out-of-date already. The reason it is is not because of advances in technology, but because research has already showing some of the darlings of that time (MOOCs, for instance) are not what we hoped they might become.

The mistake made by all who argue “technology will transform education” is one of perspective. There have been transformative technologies in the past that have had massive impacts on education, for instance the invention of the moveable-type printing press, the prior invention of paper, etc. But if you look at the history of such innovations you will find them littered with mistaken claims for “technological transformations.”

Think about motion pictures and how they have transformed education.

Think about filmed animations and how they have transformed education.

Think about the telephone and how it has transformed education.

Think about television and how it has transformed education.

Think about computers and how they have transformed education.

Think about cell phones and how they have transformed education.

Actually none of these things have transformed education, although all have had some small impact. I currently operate a small business via email and the Internet. That business existed before email and the Internet were invented, but while those inventions make my job a great deal easier, they still result in a product consumed by a bunch of people. I can generate my product more cheaply this way and that has allowed us to stay in business, but we aren’t exactly getting rich. Big impact for us, not a whole lot of change in output.

The same is true for education. Email and programs like Skype allow me to have conversations with people all over the world. If I had needed to do that back in the day of physical mail being my only option, it would have taken far longer, but it still could have been done. Many of these technologies are similar, they speed things, e.g. like communication, up but don’t fundamentally change what is done, e.g. communicated.

Technology will have an impact on education, but there will be nothing particularly earth shaking for the simple reason that education is a social process. The whole reason for bringing people together on a “campus” is to facilitate the social interaction between students and students, students and teachers, and teachers and teachers. Sure, you could do it all using a messaging app, but a great deal would be lost. Communication is a small percentage about just the words, there are many other things to be considered, a more important part being the emotional affect of the communicators. And, yes, I am aware of emojis and their use. But emojis are chosen by the person madly typing away and they may or may not be accurate or may even be flat-out lies. If someone directly in front of you is claiming to be satisfied but is clearly not so, you can tell this. Every one of us has the ability to read the mental state of other people. We suspect when we are being lied to. We can detect uncertainty in the speech of another. We can tell duplicity and myriad other things, like when a conversant is disdainful.

Education is not just about accumulating facts and skills. One is also learning how to communicate with others, to reason effectively, to learn the tools of a trade. Photographers know that learning how to use their cameras and lighting accessories, etc. is fundamentally important but that is not what photographers learn about in most photography courses. They learn about leading lines in compositions, balance, tonality, all kinds of things that can make a photograph into a work of art or a brilliant illustration of a concept. Similarly when people become educated, they are not just learning facts, techniques, and skills. They are developing attitudes, the ability to speak in front of others, even groups, to convince, to describe, etc. To do this requires social interaction and anything that gets between two human beings engaged in this diminishes the communication.

So, if you are waiting for technology to transform education, don’t hold your breath. The critical factors are still social interaction, inspiration of individuals to work hard on a topic and then come together to defend and attack ideas flowing through those communication channels.

And, if you prefer to think of me as a modern day Luddite, a hater/fearer of technology, you couldn’t be more wrong. What I fear is bullshit artists who make claims for tech and people that are misleading and lead young people astray. There is no app for that.

Addendum Oh, btw, there is plenty wrong with higher education, but the use of “ed tech” isn’t a solution for any of those things.

August 14, 2018

More on Social Control of Society

Filed under: Culture — Steve Ruis @ 9:36 am
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I commented recently that “Societies that do not control their own member’s behavior do not survive.” Obviously I am no expert but it is clear that certain memes are fed to us with our mother’s milk that are used as levers later to control what ether happens or can happen.

One of these is tradition. We do things traditionally or because of a tradition. This is basically a brake upon change. A tradition is simply a different way to say “the way we have always done this.” In a culture, this is a way to not forget important things, but how are these traditions created? They are created by people creating them … out of any sort of motivation they want. This is how an annual golf tournament is first staged. How a memorial service is begun (just do it and talk about doing it again next year). Many things are just done in the course of events and become “the way we have always done it.” Coming to my mind are things like harvest festivals and mid-winter fests. As a tradition Christmas, which seems so entrenched now, had a very tough row to hoe (look up the history of Christmas and you will see how many ups and downs it has had).

Another such cultural construct is “honor.” The concept probably stemmed from less experienced hunters being trained by more experienced hunters. It morphed into a code of conduct (actually many such codes) that we applied in militaries, secret societies, etc. In some cultures, honor is prized above many things more real. In a number of countries now there are still honor killings (India?). A young woman gets raped and thus brings dishonor to her family (WTF?) and so her family kills her. Presumably her “reward” will be in whatever afterlife is made available to her.

A third concept is pride. This has both positive and negative connotations. “Have you no pride?” is an admonishment of an underachiever. “You need to take pride in what you have accomplished!” is a compliment. “Pride goeth before a fall” is a warning to not become too prideful. It seems as if there is a pride economy out there in which you can accumulate credits. Could we live without this concept? I suggest, yes, very well.

We are social animals. We have controls on individual behavior to benefit the whole group. Gossip is one such … yes, gossip. By “telling” on everyone, no one in the tribe will be unaware of a miscreant’s misdeeds. Of course, too much of a good thing is always possible and always a mistake. Think of the opinion we have of gossips and scolds. The list above shows others.

So, why do we not educate our people as to these controls and how to function well under them? Is great puzzlement.

Postscript I had a student I was mentoring about what he could get from college. He shared some of his poetry with me. It was not even sophomoric (he was as yet a freshman) but was characterized by lacking any capital letters. I asked about this and he told me it was because of E.E. Cummings (or e.e. cummings as many like to award him) a poet who often used no capitalization. Obviously what was being copied was form and not substance. This is a common mistake of the young (I sure did it a lot). So, since copying is a major source of learning, maybe we need to educate all as to how we control anti-social behavior in our culture. We already teach about the rule of law and law enforcement as a societal control, maybe we need to look into the other founts of such control, including religion.

 

 

July 9, 2018

The Truth About Tariffs

Filed under: Economics,Politics — Steve Ruis @ 1:27 pm
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I ran across a Wisconsin cheese maker (Jim Sartori, chief executive of Sartori Cheese) making this comment recently:
“I’m not an expert but I have never found an example where tariffs have been used as an effective trade policy.”

Yep, he is not an expert.

Now, please note at the start, I am not supporting President Trump’s trade tariffs, quite the contrary. Throwing tariffs around like a drunken sailor, imposing them on former enemies, long time allies, and random other countries makes no sense at all. There is no defense for his actions whatsoever. The supposed justification, that we are being played like chumps surrounding trade, is ludicrous on the surface and ludicrous all of the way down. If anything, we have been the trade bullies extraordinaire (in our historical time). Ask Hawaii about being a trade bully. The U.S. government got behind some rapacious pineapple farmers and staged a coup to make their business efforts more successful. Hawaii was a sovereign nation, and then we “annexed” it. (That is government speak for invaded and overthrew the rightful government.)

But “tariffs as an effective trade policy” Holy moly! Tariffs have been the primary positive factor in creating all of the major global economies existent. I can’t think of a country’s economy that got to any size without a strong program of tariffs.

Mainstream economists, you know the deluded kind, have pushed the “law of comparative advantage” for ages. According to this law, an undeveloped country is better off selling a developed country its raw materials and then buying back the goods manufactured by the more developed country, paid for from the receipts from the sale of their natural resources. Everyone sticks to what they are good at. Sounds sensible, doesn’t it? Of course, the economists don’t point out that using their own concepts, the “value added” to the raw materials makes the manufactured goods more expensive than the raw materials and the less developed country cannot afford much of the good stuff. It also means that the less developed countries will never have the capacity to make their own stuff as the other countries are always better at what they need done. This is exactly the way the developed economies want it; no more competition please. All of you undeveloped stay just the way you are, please.

Take, as an example, the Japanese car industry. Japan makes as many cars now as any other country does (save China I believe) and is notorious for their quality. But right after World War 2, they had hardly any industrial capacity at all, because most of what they had had been bombed into dust. If they had taken the economists advice, they never would have gotten their car companies going because other countries made them better and more efficiently than they could right after World War 2. But the Japanese were smart, they realized that all great economies developed from protected roots and they protected their nascent car companies until they could stand on their own feet. Now they are preeminent, all because of the protects of tariffs.

An Aside I have to mention that when the Japanese started making a dent in our car market, we imposed tariffs on them. When we put a tariff on the prices of the cars, they shipped a zillion inexpensive, yet good quality cars in and they sold like hot cakes. Then we imposed a limit on the number of cars they could import here, and they instead started selling luxury cars in large numbers and making huge profits. It is ad it the U.S. didn’t learn anything from the soviets regarding running a controlled economy. End of Aside

Sometimes the Japanese protected native industries like rice growing because they do not want to be dependent upon others for this important staple. Other times their tariffs were to protect growing industries, just like everyone else.

Pay attention, people, every country does this! It is only sensible. It should be standard economic theory, except that the economists and the economics curriculum has been bought and paid for by plutocrats.

Still, what Trump is doing is incoherent, a wailing against the wind, and will be shown to be very ineffective … and then Trump will blame Obama. If he had a better thought out plan, the Wisconsin cheese makers wouldn’t be quaking in their boots right now as the tariffs being imposed upon us are not in the same areas that Trump’s tariffs are: they are in areas very sensitive to Mr. Trump’s base, so mainstream America, brace for the impact of Mr. Trump’s tariffs; they won’t be felt by Mr. Trump but they will be felt by you.

 

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