The Great Connections Seminar

The Great Connections Seminar
Discussing ethics

Monday, December 21, 2009

Can Videogames Teach Kids?

 Here's a good, short article from Parade Magazine on how schools are using videogames for education. Not surprisingly, there are many creative applications of games, and these seem like a huge step up from the traditional way students are taught.

Games are especially wonderful for creating whole worlds in which people can learn, i.e. how to navigate, strategize, learn finance, see photos of far-off places - heck, I can't begin to summarize the numbers of things you can learn through games.

But young children and adolescents - well, even adults - need sensory and physical experience to adequately develop their minds. Virtual reality just isn't the same.

Since students don't get a lot of sensory and physical experience in the way knowledge is taught in traditional schools, games may not be worse than all the paper-and-pencil learning, in this respect. But there are far better ways to convey knowledge through sensory-motor and real-world experiences, such as the materials and experiences used in the Montessori Method.

In fact, at our school, Council Oak Montessori, we're seeing so many children who hardly get to play outside anymore. Their parents are too busy or worried about danger. This deprives them of essential experiences with nature and physical reality.  What we do through the Montessori Method, then, is more important than ever.

Consequently, I'd like to see the use of games - but judiciously.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Reading and the Brain

"Information, Please: Our species ancestors didn't have to follow recipes or digest 'Catcher in the Rye.' So how did the brain learn to read?" from the Wall Street Journal reviews neuroscientist Stanislas Dehaene's new book Reading in the Brain. Looks like an excellent read - I've ordered it already.

One element I liked: the research on reading tests the commonly-held view that the brain functions "modularly" with little interaction between different modules. That theory has always flown in the face of human experience but it hasn't stopped it's advocates, who seem to argue that the experience of wholeness is an "illusion."

Monday, December 14, 2009

The Answer to Future Shock

John Davis sent me a link to this fascinating video on the exponential changes happening right now, due to technology. It can leave a person with the feeling: how can I keep up with all this change and information?

As usual, that genius, Maria Montessori, had the answer - decades ago:

"It is not the accumulation of a direct knowledge of things which forms
the man of letters, the scientist, and the connoisseur; it is the
prepared order established in the mind which is to receive such
knowledge. On the other hand, the uncultivated person has only the
direct knowledge of objects; such a person may be a lady who spends a
great part of the night reading books, or a gardener who spends his
life making material distinctions between the plants in his garden.

"The knowledge of such uncultured minds is not only disorderly, but it
is confined to the objects with which it comes into direct contact,
whereas the knowledge of the scientist is infinite, because,
possessing the power of classifying the attributes of things, he can
recognize them all, and determine now the class, now the
relationships, now the origins of each; facts much more profound than
the actual things could of themselves reveal." Maria Montessori, The Advanced Montessori Method, 1917

Hat tip to Rachel Davison for the Montessori quote

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Liberating Montessori Ideas on Social Skills

Maria Montessori's thinking and work presents some of the most liberating ideas about education to be found on the planet. 

Here's her answer to a question about how the set-up of her classrooms advances excellent social skills which prepare the child for a life of productive work, trade, collaboration, and individual expression. It's from the Association Montessori Internationale website, in the section under Montessori's articles and letters.
"This article was first published in the Call of Education Vol, 1. No. 1, 1924.

"If the children in a Montessori school work individually rather than collectively how will the be able to prepare themselves for social life?
"Social life does not consist of a group of individuals remaining close together, side by side, nor in their advancing en masse under the command of a captain like a regiment on the march, nor like an ordinary class of school children.

"The social life of man is founded upon work, harmoniously organised and upon social virtues - and these are the attitudes which develop to an exceptional degree amongst our children. Constancy in their work, patience when having to wait, the power of adapting themselves to the innumerable circumstances which present themselves in their daily contact with each other, reciprocal helpfulness and so on, are all exercises which represent a real and practical social life and which we see, for the first time, being organised amongst the children in a school. In fact, whereas schools used to be equipped only so as to accommodate children, seated passively side by side, who were expected to receive from the teacher (we might almost say in a parasitic manner), our schools, on the contrary, have an equipment which is adapted to all those forms of work which are necessary in an active and independent little community.

"The individual work in which the child is able to isolate himself and to concentrate, serves to perfect his individuality and the nearer man gets to perfection, the better is he able to associate harmoniously with others. A strong social movement cannot exist without prepared individuals, just as the members of an orchestra cannot play together harmoniously unless each individual has been thoroughly trained by repeated exercise when alone."

An advocate of individualism down to the root.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The War on Kids

My friend and Marketing Advisor, Don Hauptman, highly recommends this new documentary. He described it as: "a scathing attack on American education—on everything from curricula and teaching methodology to draconian security measures to psychotropic drugging that turns normal children into zombies."

Currently playing only at the Quad Cinema in Greenwich Village, you can see a trailer at their website. I'm planning to get the DVD!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Does College Add to Human Capital?

George Leef of the John W. Pope Center for Higher Education Policy questions whether a college education adds to human capital in his article "College: Investment or Vacation?" and asks if many students need to go to college to achieve a good life. Well worth the read.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

National Education Association Loves Rules for Radicals

If anyone has any doubt where the principles of the NEA lie, they've got to see the NEA website page which not only recommends, but sells Saul Alinsky's Rules for Radicals.
Here's a few excerpts from their webpage:

"Alinsky spends a lot of time critiquing the idea that "The end does not justify the means." What end? What means? He feels that there are circumstances where one can and should use means that in other circumstances would be unethical. "

Nice!  And the NEA is recommending this book!! These are the people teaching your children! What can they justify doing to them? What have they justified doing to them? If you have any doubt that some of these people are willing to sacrifice the interests of children to further their desire for power and their collectivist ends...whether it be indoctrination, censorship, totalitarian control, or brutality, the following will straightened you out.

The NEA website goes on, reveling in Alinsky's New Left ideology at it's most strident. They comment, and then quote from Alinksy:

"Alinsky, the master political agitator, tactical planner and social organizer didn't mince words...
"'Liberals in their meetings utter bold works; they strut, grimace belligerently, and then issue a weasel-worded statement 'which has tremendous implications, if read between the lines.' They sit calmly, dispassionately, studying the issue; judging both sides; they sit and still sit.'

"'The Radical does not sit frozen by cold objectivity. '"

Ah, here's the window where Alinsky throws objectivity out. That means throwing out facts, reason, logic, and rational argument. Then he continues:

"'He sees injustice and strikes at it with hot passion. He is a man of decision and action. There is a saying that the Liberal is one who walks out of the room when the argument turns into a fight.

"Society has good reason to fear the Radical. Every shaking advance of mankind toward equality and justice has come from the Radical. He hits, he hurts, he is dangerous. "

Such as the radicals of the American Revolution? No, they were paragons of restraint, care for the individual, prudence, and the Enlightenment striving for objectivity.  Alinsky is not thinking of them, he is thinking of the millions  brutalized and slaughtered under totalitarian communist regimes when he says:

"'Conservative interests know that while Liberals are most adept at breaking their own necks with their tongues, Radicals are most adept at breaking the necks of Conservatives."

Remember, since the ends justify the means, a "Conservative" could be anyone the Leftist Radical wants out of the way. That's how it has worked in every communist regime across the globe - it wouldn't be any different here.

"'Radicals precipitate the social crisis by action - by using power. Liberals may then timidly follow along or else, as in most cases, be swept forward along the course set by Radicals, but all because of forces unloosed by Radical action. They are forced to positive action only in spite of their desires ...'"

Celebrating and recommending Alinsky, the NEA has laid the gauntlet down - they will stop at nothing. Is there any wonder that in so many places, American education is not educating students, but indoctrinating them, straight-jacketing their minds with political correctness and destroying their ability to reason?

Once that's done, the Radical doesn't risk as much danger from resistance, as the sheep go to the slaughter.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Accreditation Catch-22

See this informative article "A False Seal of Approval" by George Leef of the John H. Pope Center for Higher Education about the boondoggle of college accreditation. You might be surprised to learn that accreditation often has little to do with school quality, and mostly to do with government money.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Monday, November 9, 2009

Monday, November 2, 2009

Schiff on ridiculous college costs

Peter Schiff succinctly summarizes why college costs have gone up astronomically in the last 30 years.
(This is not an endorsement of Peter Schiff for Senate.)

Hat tip to Cloud Downey.

Ignorant and Free

In the process of researching this quote:

"If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be." by Thomas Jefferson, I came across this entry about the abyssmal ignorance of Oklahoma high school students on the "Leftagenda" blog:

The author criticizes "No Child Left Behind," which is a failed, statist, top-down program for raising school standards implemented by the Bush presidency. In addition to Medicare Part D, I think it is one of the worst programs implemented by the Republicans - with good intentions. My teacher friends call it "No Child Left Standing."

However, what struck me was Leftagenda's apparent failure to undertstand that the causes of our students' abyssmal ignorance reach much farther back than the Bush administration - back to the leftist university-implemented teaching programs which emphasize "social justice" over reasoning and knowledge, and egalitarian ideas of "self-esteem" over achievement.

Too bad Leftagenda is ignorant about that.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Friday, October 23, 2009

The Neurology of the Montessori Method

In the Montessori Method, we attempt to convey learning through as many senses and physical motions as possible, for more effective learning. Montessori captured this idea in her saying "The hand is the instrument of the mind." It's the basic reason we have so many materials for the children to work on.

I just discovered this blog with lots of information on the Montessori Method - and this informative post on neurological research which explains the basis of these principles.

And this article from the Dana Foundation "What dance can teach us about learning" summarizes research that's also relevant to this issue.

(Hat tip to Cynthia Gillis)

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

"The Uneducated American"

Wonderful letter by Don Boudreaux in the New York Times about yet another article claiming the government doesn't spend enough on higher ed. As if!

"9 October 2009

Editor, The New York Times
620 Eighth Avenue
New York, NY 10018

To the Editor:

Ever-loyal to leftist dogma, Paul Krugman believes that there is no domestic
problem (be it fact or fantasy) whose solution does not require more
government spending. And so it is with the alleged poor shape of American
higher education
("The Uneducated American," Oct. 9).

But how is it that wide swathes of our lives work so well without such
spending? Grocery retailing, for example, receives no handouts from
government and yet serves customers with extraordinary efficiency and
creativity. Ditto for restaurants, hardware stores, the press,
language-learning software suppliers, and myriad other industries not
suckling at the state's tit.

Why, then, can education - a service that yields enormous benefits to those
who purchase it AND one, like churches (another successful industry!), that
is largely tax-exempt - thrive only as a charity case?

Donald J. Boudreaux
Professor of Economics
George Mason University
Fairfax, VA 22030"

(Hat tip to Don Hauptman)

Sunday, October 4, 2009

And we wonder why we're in this mess...

Mises 1956 book The Anti-Capitalistic Mentality: ""The essential charge brought by the progressives against capitalism is that the recurrence of crisis and depressions and mass unemployment are its inherent features. The demonstration that these phenomena are, on the contrary, the result of the interventionist attempts to regulate capitalism and to improve the conditions of the common man give the progressive ideology the finishing stroke. As the progressives are not in a position to advance any tenable objectiions to the teachings of the economists, they try to conceal them from the people and especially also from the intellectuals and the university students. Any mentioning of these heresies is strictly forbidden. Their authors are called names, and the studnets are dissuaded from reading their "crazy stuff."" (emphasis mine)

Friday, October 2, 2009

Monday, September 28, 2009

What the public thinks of public schools

Paul E. Peterson's chock-full-of-disturbing-facts article from the Wall Street Journal about the public's fairly accurate assessment of what's going on in the public schools.

A few highlights:

- High school graduation rates are lower today than they were in 1970.
- Our 15 year olds rate 24th in the world for math.
- Schools spend an average of $10,000 per pupil.
- Average teacher salaries are $47,000.
- $100 billion of the stimulus package went to K-12 education, doubling the federal contribution.

"No less than 25% of those polled by Education Next gave the schools either an F or a D. (In 2005, only 20% gave schools such low marks.)" Gee, I wonder why!

I applaud the US public for learning so fast - and all those commentators who have been bringing the sorry news to them.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Urban Prep Model Charter School

While I'm not a fan of government schools, period, I must admit that charter schools in Chicago, at least, are offering innovations we haven't seen otherwise - and they're good for the students.

Here's a story through the Illinois Policy Institute about a strict charter prep school, Urban Prep, in one of Chicago's roughest neighborhoods, Englewood.

Englewood's one of those neighborhoods that has an accidental murder because of gang wars almost every week or so! (As my husband, John Enright says, the city should give the gang members shooting lessons so they stop accidentally murdering some innocent little girl washing her dog and the like.)

I'm so glad to hear that at least some of the kids in that area are getting an opportunity to break out of the failure mode.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Dead Salmon Thinking

"Scanning Dead Salmon" from Wired reveals a dead salmon who appears to be thinking, according to the interpretation of fMRI scanning.

Conclusion: be careful of the research results you accept!

Hat tip to Jimmy Wales.

Friday, September 11, 2009

"Failure Factories"

One hundred and forty public universities graduate NO African-American students within six years of enrollment. There are 150 from which no Hispanic or Asian student graduates within six years. Only 33 percent of freshmen who enroll in the University of Massachusetts graduate in six years. These are some of the shocking figures from "The Costs of Failure Factories in American Higher Education" by economist Mark Schneider of the American Enterprise Institute.

A new book, Crossing the Finish Line, by economists William Bowen and Michael McPherson, reviewed in the New York Times, tries to analyze the reasons for this abyssmal failure and argues that universities should be made accountable.

The authors think that a large part of the problem is what they call "undermatching" - of student to institution.

"About half of low-income students with a high school grade-point average of at least 3.5 and an SAT score of at least 1,200 do not attend the best college they could have. Many don’t even apply. Some apply but don’t enroll. “I was really astonished by the degree to which presumptively well-qualified students from poor families under-matched,” Mr. Bowen told me.""

The operative word there is "presumptively." Are these students truly "well-qualified" for college? Grade inflation, non-objective grading, inconsistent grading from one school to another, changes in the SAT standards, affirmative action: these all make it hard to know. Maybe many students are caught in a web of educational lies: that they've learned enough to function at a college level, that they have the self-organizational skills to do college work, and that they have the practical knowledge to function on their own.

Of course, the issue of accountability would be moot except that students use federal money to stay enrolled so long.

Millions of federal loan dollars. If students had to come up with their own hard-earned money in real time, not take-forever-to-pay-back student loan time, would they linger in school so long? I doubt it.

Universities make big bucks enrolling huge freshmen lecture classes. No matter if they graduate, the universities still get paid through the feds. If students were paying with money they valued, I doubt that universities could get away with this. X-box would never stay in business if it functioned this way.

Hat tip to Don Hauptman.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

"Challenged at an Unprecedented Level"

When you read this report on our Great Connections seminar, you can get an idea of how students respond to education that is crafted to help them be independent.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Khan Academy - a fantastic educational resource

Thanks to Deb Ross for info on Khan Academy, a remarkable online resource for math study, all uploaded to YouTube.

Students comment on how well they learned from this instruction.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

"Second City Ruse"

"When President Obama chose Arne Duncan to lead the Education Department, he cited Mr. Duncan's success as head of Chicago's public school system from 2001 to 2008, " says Saturday's Wall Street Journal article "Second City Ruse."

Obama lauded Duncan for improving Chicago's test scores so that 67% of students meet state standards, instead of just 38%. Despite the fact that a majority of Chicago public school students still drop out or fail to graduate.

What he didn't mention was the way state standards had been dumbed down by the creation of a new state test for the No Child Left Behind act.

An easier test - it miraculously improved Chicago public school students' scores by 29%!!

"On the 2007 state test, for example, 71% of Chicago's 8th graders met or exceeded state standards in math, up from 32% in 2005. But results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress exam, a federal standardized test sponsored by the Department of Education, show that only 13% of the city's 8th graders were proficient in math in 2007."

We natives are not surprised at Chicago shenanigans, but sad for the students.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Why aren't Arizona high school students teaching civics?

"Just in time to celebrate Independence Day, the Goldwater Institute will release its new report, "Freedom from Responsibility: A Survey of Civic Knowledge Among Arizona High School Students," which reveals only 3.5 percent of Arizona high school students have learned the basic history, government and geography necessary to pass the U.S. Citizenship test."


Note that 92.4% of citizen applicants (i.e. immigrants) passed on the first try.

Read the whole story here at the Goldwater Institute.

(Hat tip to Stephen Hicks.)

Monday, June 29, 2009

Personality Test on the GRE

Larry Gordon in the Chicago Tribune, Sunday, June 28, 2009, reports:

"Because nearly half of all students who start doctorate programs don't finish, educators have long wondered how best to judge applicants to graduate schools and reduce that attrition rate.

Now, the Educational Testing Service says it has just the thing. The ETS, which runs the Graduate Record Examinations, will soon offer a supplemental assessment of graduate-school applicants on those personal characteristics that could help students tackle advanced studies."

He quotes an ETS official "Every faculty member can tell you about students with very high GRE Scores who never finish their degree and some who get barely admitted based on their scores and go on to become academic stars..."

They're going to use The Personal Potential index - which sounds like it has some affinities with Positive Psychology research.

I'll be curious to see the results.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Tenure and Academic Freedom

In the Wall Street Journal, June 23rd, Naomi Schaefer Riley reported that Denver District judge Norman D. Haglund overturned a state district court ruling, allowing the trustees of Metro College to lay off tenured faculty.

He said "the public interest is advanced more by tenure systems that favor academic freedom over tenure systems that favor flexibility in hiring or firing."

Hah - I guess he hasn't been to a college campus lately.

And wouldn't you know that Progressive John Dewey was behind the 1915 push for tenure? He said "if education is the cornerstone of the structure of society and progress in scientific knowledge is essential to civilization, few things can be more important than to enhance the dignity of the scholar's profession."

Double hah! Now we find out why we need tenure - to enhance the "dignity," i.e. self-image, of the scholar.

Riley comments: "The truth is that tenure has served as an instrument of conformity since tenure votes are often glorified popularity contests. The fact that university professors donated to President Obama's campaign over John McCain's by a margin of eight to one is only the tip of the iceberg. Those professors who want tenure and disagree with the prevailing trends in their field - or the political fashions outside of it - know that they must keep their mouths shut for at least the first seven years of their careers."

Today, Harvard Law Prof. Mark Ramseyer's letter in response to her article said:

"A friend told him that "Tenure wasn't about protecting our faculty jobs, he said. Instead it was about forcing us to take at least one hard look at our recent hires. In other words, if we didn't have tenure, it's not that underperforming faculty would be pruned from time to time. If we didn't have tenure, every faculty member ever hired would have a job for life. What tenure does is to force senior colleagues to look hard at the junior appointments they've made - at least once in each professor's life.""

Ramseyer continues: "...we faculty are easygoing, go-along, get-along folks."

I'd love to hear from other faculty members as to whether this fits their experience.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Fabulous example of human achievement

Hat tip to Richard Latimer for this video about VW's newest factory in Dresden. AMAZING!

Some awesome thinking went into this place.

A pedagogy of humility?

Jeff Sandefer of Acton MBA has a wonderful post on how to fix the ineffective teaching at business schools here.

My only disagreement is in his call for a "pedagogy of humility." Here's my comments:

His analysis is pertinent to all levels of school, if we are to prepare students for successful lives. Each person must be the entrepreneur of his or her own life, figuring out what will achieve a happy and productive path by using objective analysis.

I have a small disagreement with him: I would say that teachers need a pedagogy of objectivity, not humility. Here's why: what's important is whether one's judgment fits the facts. Sometimes, it is actually incorrect to be humble, if one is right - then one needs to use one's evidence and rational arguments to persuade others.

Like Feynman about the O-ring problem. Or Galileo about the orbit of the planets.

But I don't think he and I are very far in our conceptions, in fact. Objectivity requires that one subordinate one's desires, tendencies, self-image, and passions to the facts.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Fear of Objectivity

I discovered comments on this blog about the seminar we're running this summer for high school and college students.

The seminar description says "Explore the application of the concept of objectivity to art and decide whether something can be judged a work of art - or not."

What is the implication of that statement?

And what is the inference the blogger and his commentators made?

I think there's a clear difference.

Thursday, June 11, 2009


I just read about this new book from a researcher in the Positive Psychology movement, Todd Kashdan, called Curious? Here's how they're describing it:

"Key ideas include:

• Focusing on happiness can actually hinder our ability to have a fulfilling life.
• The central ingredient to creating a fulfilling life is curiosity
• All the good press has gone to such strengths as optimism, hope, kindness, generosity, love, and spirituality, But Todd
argues that no quality is more strongly related to happiness, meaning in life, pleasurable and engaging moments and satisfaction at work than curiosity
• You and your clients can transform boring, mundane, and routine moments to be more interesting and engaging.
• There are brief techniques for increasing curiosity that can have profound effects on your life.

In his book (and, if asked, in our interview), Todd can talk about how we can:

• Discover techniques for sparking interest and creating more interesting social interactions
• Discover how to maintain passion and excitement in long-term relationships
• Learn how being curious is an effective strategy for managing anxiety , fears, and stress.
• Discover how to invigorate your work, your parenting, and your daily life.
• Discover how you find a purpose or calling in life."

When Aristotle said: "All men, by nature, desire to know," it seems he was, in fact, giving a prescription for happiness. In Montessori schools, we aim to stoke the natural curiousity of young children, so they will never lose it.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Professors Teach Little, Students Learn Less

Check out this article by George Leef at the John W. Pope Center for Higher Education Policy about the unwritten pact between slacker professor-teachers and students.

Students Need Mental Ammunition

My new article on The Atlasphere reviews why I've been concerned about education since I was a child - and some of the ideological sources of the problems, such as the source of the phrase "critical thinking" which has replaced "reasoning" and "objectivity" in academic parlance. 

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Re-thinking Charity

Interesting ethical and economic issues to consider regarding charities in this post by Dan Pallotta. Pallotta is a very successful entrepreneur for non-profit fundraising, and author of Uncharitable: How restraints on non-profits undermind their potential.

Especially interesting to think of how these issues relate to colleges and universities, which are halfway between full-blown charities and for-profit businesses.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Parallels of Fire

"Education is not the filling of a bucket, but the lighting of a fire."

          William Butler Yeats

 “The secret of good teaching is to regard the child's intelligence as a  fertile field in which seeds may be  sown, to grow under the heat of flaming  imagination.  Our aim is not only to  make the child understand, and still  less to force him to memorize, but so  to touch his imagination as to enthuse  him to his innermost core. We do not  want complacent pupils, but eager ones.  We seek to sow life in children, rather than theories, to help them in their intellectual, emotional, and physical growth, and for that we must offer  them grand and lofty ideas to explore.”

             Maria Montessori

More political correctness

June 1st: "A professor at Florida Atlantic University says she may end her 40-year membership in a professional association, Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages, because it requires people who seek to present papers at its annual meeting to sign a disclaimer promising not to “insult the rightful dignity and social equity of any individual or group.”"

From a Robin Wilson article at the Chronicles of Higher Education.

Yet, again, forcing "social justice" down everyone's throat.

Hat tip to Sara Pentz.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Mystery of Faculty Priorities

New scientific study of the trend towards more faculty who view their primary job as research.
Some interesting attempts at conclusions from the research. From Inside Higher Ed.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Lost in the Meritocracy

There's a new book out by writer Walter Kirn, Lost in the Meritocracy: the undereducation of an overachiever, based on this searing article about his experience.

(Hat tip to John Enright.)

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

An 8th Grade Education in 1895

Emails with a test from 1895 Salina, KS 8th grade have been floating around the Internet for some years, as an example of the decline in education. Here's a bit about these emails, and the US History questions from the Kansas test:

"What it took to get an 8th grade education in 1895...

 "Remember when grandparents and great-grandparents stated that they only had an 8th grade education? Well, check this out. Could any of us have passed the 8th grade in 1895? 

"This is the eighth-grade final exam from 1895 in  Salina ,  Kansas ,  USA . It was taken from the original document on file at the Smokey Valley Genealogical Society and Library in  Salina , and reprinted by the Salina Journal.   

"U.S. History (Time, 45 minutes)
1. Give the epochs into which U.S. History is divided
2. Give an account of the discovery of  America by  Columbus  
3. Relate the causes and results of the Revolutionary War.
4. Show the territorial growth of the  United States  
5. Tell what you can of the history of  Kansas  
6. Describe three of the most prominent battles of the Rebellion. 
7. Who were the following: Morse, Whitney,  Fulton ,  Bell ,  Lincoln , Penn, and Howe?
8. Name events connected with the following dates: 1607, 1620, 1800, 1849, 1865."

The urban legends' site,, comments about it here with more details. Snopes argues that the email poses a misleading question to try to show that education has declined - "could you (the reader) pass this test." Snopes argues instead that those of us long out of school would not remember enough to answer all the test's questions correctly.

What Snopes fails to recognize is the implication that this is the level and type of knowledge which 8th graders were expected to know.  According to the results of a test commissioned recently by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, college seniors at top schools know very little of US history. I highly suspect most current 8th graders are not expected to know most of this information. 

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Building a Better Engineering Education

Great article in the Wall Street Journal on Friday, April 24th about robot-building competitions and how they're exciting students into engineering careers. Dean Kamen, inventor of the Segway, is behind some of the best programs.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Collegiate Way

A fabulous resource for students, parents, and educators, The Collegiate Way is the brainchild of Dr. Robert J. O'Hara. It details the factors and the means that make residential college life a superior educational experience. 

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Charter School Funding Problems

As with vouchers, many pundits tout charter schools as the fix for public education. With vouchers, I worry that private schools will be homogenized and leveled to a public school standard, in the long run, because of government oversight and consequent regulation.

Charter schools can always face that problem, too, but they face a more imminent one with public funding. Read about it in Kevin Ferris's article in the Wall Street Journal reporting on the financial tenuousness of charter schools.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

How Wikipedia Fosters Reason and Objectivity

Last Wednesday, April 1st, I was the guest of Jimmy Wales at a MacArthur Foundation monthly President's Luncheon. This foundation, which gives out $1 million "genius awards," often to unsuspecting recipients, had invited Jimmy to tell them about Wikipedia.

As a result of that luncheon speech, I believe Wikipedia is the largest project in the world to foster rationality and objectivity, indirectly teaching people everywhere how to think better.

My friendship with Jimmy goes back to the '90's when he lived here in Chicago and belonged to my discussion club, the New Intellectual Forum. Money he earned on the Chicago options and futures exchanges enabled him to start Wikipedia.

Before the luncheon, MacArthur President Jonathan Fanton commented that it was the most well-attended President's luncheon he'd ever held - just about every staff member of MacArthur wanted to hear what Jimmy had to say. And it's not hard to understand why since just about everyone with a computer uses Wikipedia. Founded a mere 8 years ago, it is now the largest encyclopedia in history. According to a Nature study, it has a very high rate of accuracy.

Jimmy explained how Wikipedia works as a world-wide collaborative project, which can be edited by anybody able to access the Internet. Wikipedia's enormous reach so far includes over 2.8 million content pages in 253 languages. It's administered by a small paid staff of 25 people, and a large group of self-organized volunteers. You can read more about it here.

The organization's goal is to bring the sum of all human knowledge to every person on the planet with Internet access.

The results of this worldwide collaboration are astonishing and fascinating. For example:
  • Slum children in Delhi learn from it to pass their 11th grade exams.
  • The Dutch, a relatively small language group, have a high number of pages. Jimmy commented that he thinks it's because the Dutch love to argue - and that's why they have to be so tolerant!
  • Rather than reduce the need for travel, Jimmy has to go all over the world to understand Wikipedia's collaborators and their contexts. And they love meeting each other in person.
Wikipedia's writers are encouraged to be exact and factual. When opposing sides edit the pages of a contentious issue, the result tends to be an objective account of the subject, not wild opinion or flaming commentary.

That's because of the structure which Jimmy and his executive collaborators incorporated into the system. He said "There could have been a different outcome if I hadn't insisted on a certain structure of reasonable, fact-based, civil interchange instead of anything goes."

He'd seen plenty of "anything goes" in the early days of the Internet on Usenet groups. Flaming arguers tended to take over discussions, pushing the reasonable people out. For some years, he hosted the Moderated Discussion of Objectivist Philosophy, precisely to encourage civil interchange.

These experiences seem to have informed his judgment in developing Wikipedia. The result now is engagement of millions of people across the planet in rational and objective discourse. Through Wikipedia, Jimmy is spreading the habits of Enlightenment thinking to people and places which may never of heard of Aristotle's logic.

In addition, Wikipedia empowers the individual rather than authority, and encourages peaceful collaboration and trade (of information). The requirements of their engagement with Wikipedia is guiding millions to habits of mind and interaction which are the bedrock foundation of civil, free societies.

What a way to go Jimmy!

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Hyper-Empirical Language and Thinking

Linguistics researcher Daniel Everett talks about the Amazon Basin's Pirahã people's hyper-empirical language. Their grammar would likely be cumbersome when trying to express something complex, but, surely, it would reduce any tendency to think in floating abstractions!

Monday, March 30, 2009

Shaky finances catch up with colleges

"In Shifting Era of Admissions, Colleges Struggle," writes the New York Times.

After decades of rising admissions made possible by the free flow of federal money, shaky U.S. financials finally catch up with colleges.

(Hat tip to Don Hauptman)

Friday, March 27, 2009

How education can foster creativity

We cannot change what nature gives students in terms of basic intelligence. However, we can use methods of education that nurture the abilities and habits of mind known to foster creativity and productivity such as:

- Objective reasoning skills, not just in science and math, but all domains of knowledge, including such areas as art, history, and literature.

- Connecting information and ideas from one domain of knowledge to another (the way highly creative people do) by:

  • Studying works that are cross-domain, such as Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations, a work of moral philosophy that founded the study of economics
  • Raising awareness of cross-disciplinary connections by pointing out the relationships between material from different domains, for example, how the development of banking influenced the development of art during the Renaissance in Florence.

- Modeling careful observation of the facts and encouraging student's careful, first-hand observations 

- Modeling enthusiasm and curiosity in what is being studied and encouraging student's questions

- Modeling the search for the relationship of any idea to the facts on which it rests, for example in discussing climate change, ask students to think about questions such as "is climate change bad or good? On what facts and ideas are you determining that it is good or bad?" 

- Studying works infused with deep questions about meaning and purpose, which connects knowledge to living by:

  • Always asking what any given fact or idea means to human life
  • Asking of any knowledge: to whom is this information valuable and how will it be used?

- Presenting a broad array of information, ancient and modern, as Matthew Arnold put it, "the best that has been thought or said," in the works of the classics and extraordinary works of contemporary times. 

Through these works, students wrestle with timeless ideas, useful in any era or place. They engage their minds with those of the best thinkers in civilization, and with ideas that are extremely influential even today. The classics include works from philosophy to economics, mathematics to literature, history to science and are often cross-disciplinary within themselves. Simultaneously, the skill of their authors serves as examples of the highest in creative thinking.

Properly schooled to think deeply about these works, a person economically recognizes the patterns, trends, and influences of these ideas everywhere in our culture, from art to business, from job trends to medical discoveries. 

Studying the classics, students can come to an appreciation for the creative individuals who made our great civilization possible. Further, reflecting on concepts that we take for granted will raise students’ analytic thinking skills. 

One small example: Did you know that there was a time when people were confused about how something could be one thing now and another thing in the future? How could something be an acorn now and yet the very same thing is an oak tree later? They could not figure out how that worked. I’m sure you all take for granted the idea that something can actually be one thing yet potentially another—like a baby is potentially an adult human.

However, it took the genius of ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle to resolve this problem with the identification of the concepts of “actual” and “potential.” Try to imagine our world without these ideas—it would be hard enough to think about the growth of a plant, how could we think about science and technology or civilizations? 


Monday, March 23, 2009

College reading ability and comprehension

"But people with average reading ability do not understand much of the text in the assigned readings. They take away a mishmash of half-understood information and outright misunderstandings that probably leave them under the illusion they know something they do not."

The consequence of which I think we see every day.

From Charles Murray's latest book Real Education, a book filled, by turns, with excellent insights and questionable reasoning.

Innovation in Education

Socratic Practice master, Michael Strong, on innovation in education. (See his video link on this blog, for a wonderful discussion of Socratic Practice).

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Characteristics of Creativity

Here, I posted creativity researcher Ken Robinson's views on traditional school and creativity, and here, I linked to a video about a remarkable artist who overcame bad schooling.

What kind of mind enables the creative? 

Integration of knowledge across broad ranges of subjects is a characteristic of creativity - and versatility.  Research consistently finds that highly creative people tend to have very broad, as well as deep, interests and knowledge.  They apply unconventional information and ideas to problems, integrating information in unusual ways across conventional subject areas.

Famed physicist Richard Feynman and his simple demonstration of the space shuttle Challenger's O-Ring disaster is a case in point. By dropping an O-ring into an ordinary glass of ice water, he simply and directly proved it could not stand up to low temperatures. His demonstration integrated an esoteric, bedeviling engineering problem with the mundane.

Feynman was famous for his wide-ranging interests, which included samba bands and experiments on ants. He put no limits on his curiosity about the world. 

His measured IQ was in the high range - 124 - but not what IQ test-makers consider genius (135+). Contrary to traditional thought, but consistent with research findings, most people recognized as geniuses through their work do not have IQ's in the 135+ range. No one knows how past geniuses such as DaVinci or Newton would have scored on the IQ test. Given the current findings on IQ creativity, we might be surprised! Research findings show that geniuses need an IQ of at least 116 or better, but after that, all bets are off. (see the research of Csikszentmihalyi on creativity).

Unfortunately, these tests - and most tests - cannot measure working creativity and intelligence. In other words, they don't adequately measure how intelligence is put into life's service by creatively solving problems.

The number of highly creative and successful business people who score average to low on SAT tests, for example, in indicative of the test's inadequacy in measuring working intelligence.

Besides IQ and natural interest across domains, other conditions seem to be equally important to the development of creativity, conditions which we can create in educational settings, thereby enabling education to make a significant difference.

For example, the tendency to amass information from close, first-hand observation is very important. Michael Faraday, pictured at left, exhibited this tendency par excellence. As a young man, he had no formal education and kne only arithmetic, but discovered the laws of electromagnetism through fascinated observation of and experiments on nature.

In a future post, I'll examine how schools can nurture this, and other characteristics of creativity.


Thursday, March 12, 2009

The Great Books Online

Inside Higher Ed's article "The Information Super-Library" looks at an online Great Books program at Monterey Peninsula Community College, which got its start due to student enthusiasm.

"I just keep running into students who are hungry for something they feel is substantial," says program coordinator David Clemens.

The article discusses the pros and cons of teaching the Great Books online as well as their value for gaining employment.

(Hat tip to RJO)

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Why ban the classics?

The British upper class kept the knowledge of the Classics from the lower classes, to control them.

American slave owners banned slave education, especially in reading, to control them.

Many contemporary professors, under the guise of modern, multi-culturalist and feminist ideology, keep the Classics out of university control their students? 

Proof that the classics speak to everyone

RJO's comment reminded me about this article, "Proof That the Classics Speak to Everyone." 

"In the 1500s, English law barred common people from reading even the Bible. England's rigid class system was grounded in the conviction that commoners were incompetent to think for themselves. The upper classes maintained a closely guarded monopoly on the knowledge required to interpret law, politics and religion for the lower orders...But as literacy grew, many working people began to yearn for intellectual independence. To guide their quest, they chose the very books that the elite had appropriated as their own: Homer, Virgil, Plutarch and Bacon.

"In the 1800s, weavers often read Shakespeare as they worked at their looms...shepherds "maintained a kind of circulating library, leaving books they had read in designated crannies in boundary walls." In mines and factory towns, informal discussion groups sprang up....

"What did England's common people find in the classics? ...the tools they needed to begin to's most basic question: "What is it that's going on here?"

"Less-than-great books can't perform this function. Ordinary works of fiction, for example, tend to follow stereotyped formulas that limit their value. But the classics... "offer a hundred ways of understanding the world, and a hundred plans for changing it." Over time, British workers who read Milton and Locke began to grasp that they deserved educational and political equality. Eventually, they demanded -- and got -- both. "

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Professionalization and the Liberal Arts

I frequently listen to Chicago classical music station WFMT. And frequently I hear ads for the Masters of Liberal Arts at the University of Chicago. It must make them beaucoup bucks - especially because these classes are filled with wealthy, retired or professional people.

The rush to professionalize in college leaves many wealthy, but dissatisfied at middle age. Others quit their profession in disgust, distraught that they had wasted so many years on work they disliked.  

Instead - why not take the time to learn about your possibilities when young, with your whole life ahead of you, and no debt or responsibilities? Study the liberal arts in college!

The End of the Humanities?

On March 1st, I commented on Stanley Fish's review of The Last Professor. In his review, Fish remarked that philosophy, literature, art and the other subjects of the humanities are not generally perceived as having practical use. Fish and others argue that they shouldn't.

But I think the view that study of the humanities is uplifting, but impractical, contains a false dichotomy between the spiritual and the practical.

Most students are not wealthy enough to go to college without a concern for a consequent career. This has been true in the U.S. since its inception. Before the G.I. bill and more recent, massive federal loans and grants, in the main, only the wealthy could afford to spend four adult years studying and not working.

Consequently, most college students need to learn knowledge and skills that will enable them to find lucrative work. They need to learn knowledge and skills that are immediately applicable in the workforce. 

But they also need to learn knowledge and skills (cognitive, emotional and social) that will enable them to make effective and excellent professional and personal decisions.

What those who push quick professionalization in college miss is the power of the humanities to affect professional life. 

Philosophy and art, to take two of the humanities, are of immense importance in human life -every life. Everyone lives with some kind of philosophy, whether they've identified it to themselves or not. And art, through literature, music, and the visual arts, embodies many different ways of approaching life. As such, art can be a powerful influence in shaping a person's approach. As Aristotle argued, music can teach the young the habit of how to feel.  The visual arts can embody ways of carrying oneself, and of looking at the world. Literature can show ways of living, and what men of different characters do.

An education including these studies makes the student more aware and knowledgeable about what choices and values are open to them. It provides a much higher level of consciousness about oneself, one's culture, and human possibilities.  It empowers the student to make better decisions in the long run. Better personal and professional decisions.

Thus, the spiritual and the practical integrate.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

"A Week of Revelation"

Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson hits the nail on the head about the Obama agenda:

"But governments do not "invest," they spend. Such spending can be justified or unjustified. It is wealthy individuals, however, who actually invest their capital in job creation. Most have much less capital than they used to. Under the Obama budget, they would have less still. This does not seem to matter in the economic worldview of the Obama budget. Equality is the goal instead of opportunity or economic mobility. And government, in this approach, is more capable of investing national wealth than America's discredited plutocrats -- meaning successful two-income families, entrepreneurs and professionals.

"This is not merely the rejection of "trickle-down economics," it is a weaening of the theoretical basis for capitalism -- that free individuals are generally more rational and efficient in making investment decisions than are government planners." (Emphasis added)

The putsch of egalitarianism.
Hat tip to John Enright.)

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Eliminating Political Science

Scott Jaschik of Inside Higher Ed reports that Wisconsin Lutheran College is eliminating political science as a major due to budgetary constraints. Wisconsin Lutheran has been ranked a top liberal arts college by U.S. News & World Reports for six years.

A spokeswoman says: "the college determined it wasn't necessary to its liberal arts mission to offer political science. 'We have interdisciplinary majors and other majors that can get you where you are going with your career aspirations...""

Richard Ekman, president of the Council of Independent Colleges remarked that "programs based on a core curriculum or interdisciplinary offerings designed to cover various disciplines require careful planning. 'If this period of cutting is going to continue for a while, there will need to be fresh thought on how to do that...'"

Great Books program, which is naturally interdisciplinary, can educate students extensively and intensively in political science without requiring a separate department.  And studying the Great Books can be a breath of fresh air, given the often-slanted and politicized approach in academe today.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

The Last Professor

Stanley Fish, brash post-modernist and self-proclaimed "anti-foundationalist," now dean at Florida International University, recently wrote in his NY Times blog about the death of the humanities. 

The blog entry was a partial review of a new book, The Last Professor, by one of his former students, Frank Donoghue.

Fish and Donoghue, like so many, claim the humanities' downfall is a function of the free market. They argue that with increased pressure to produce students who can graduate into a profession - be "useful" - and financial difficulties, universities are pulling resources from the humanities.

Never mind that:
1. In recent years universities have been "under increasing financial pressure" due to their competition for the large number of college students available as a result of the massive federal grant and loan programs.
2. Most humanities departments - e.g. philosophy, literature, art - have made themselves increasingly irrelevant to students' personal, long-term goals and of expanding the reaches of the mind, by politicizing most everything they teach.

The problem is the free market?