The Great Connections Seminar

The Great Connections Seminar
Discussing ethics

Monday, January 26, 2009

Are you controlled by irrational behavior?

See a fascinating lecture by behavioral economist Daniel Ariely from Duke University, on "irrational" behavior. (He means, irrational in the sense of economic self-interest maximizing; I know this a popular meaning among economists, but I'm not happy with it, which is why I've put it in quotes.)

To me, it's one long argument for teaching people how to have a higher level of awareness and thinking about everything they do.Check your premises!

(Hat tip to Anja Hartleb-Parson.)

Friday, January 23, 2009

A Method Rooted in Independence

Encouraging a child's independence is deeply rooted in the Montessori Method - one of the reasons I love it.

Beginning with the very young children (3-6 year olds), students work individually on materials which develop their senses and motor abilities and their independent powers of observation, analysis, and integration - the essence of reasoning. Group work is not encouraged for the very young, who are just forming their minds, as it is in Progressive schools. However, children can work together if they want to.

Furthermore, well-trained Montessori directresses are very respectful of individuals, their styles of learning and living, their interests, and their ideas.

(We call Montessori teachers "directresses" or "directors" because they more guide the children than instruct them, the materials do the instruction).

Group work become a bigger component of the curriculum as the children get close to adolescence; as students develop, they need to learn how to work with other people to prepare them for adult life.

However, the children are encouraged to work at their individual best: not compete with each other. Human beings are naturally competitive, but it is very distracting to develop self-motivated learning habits when competition is emphasized, especially for the very young.

The ugly head of social pressure rears up to tear the young mind and heart away from the inherent joy of learning.

All these elements serve to encourage even the most timid child to be independent in their thoughts and actions, a welcome respite from the kind of social pressure I talked about in my previous post.

That's not to say that Montessori schools are immune to social pressure - I've seen plenty of teachers promoting their scientifically unsubstantiated or unexamined views on the environment and nutrition, among other topics, through special projects and lessons.

Fortunately, the many aspects of Montessori which encourage factual observation and reasoning mitigate against this.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Los Comprachicos - Parents Indoctrinating Children

My friend, Donald, received this disturbing story from a friend of his:

"On Monday 01/19/09 my daughter baby sat at the neighbors', right next door…

It was an Obama victory party for children. All the participants live nearby.

As reported:

Daughter had to help the kids decorate Obama cookies and muffins.

There were "find Obama" games (?!!!) and, quizzes with questions like:

What is: Obama favorite food?, Favorite music? .......

Then a photo sessions with a full size cutoff of the "ONE". Everyone took turns posing, hugging and kissing the cardboard likeness.

They gathered all the children in the living room and sang some previously rehearsed Obama praising tunes, such as:

I've a crush on Obama....

Then the adults took turn for the children.

It seems that they did not perform, this song.

Finally, a joyous Obama conga line through the house.

A just off-the-plane Italian au pair stood by beffudled. Muttering "we not do that in my country!".

[My daughter] came back shaking her head.

She mused about similar events with McCain or Bush songs.

Interestingly, [she] wondered why she was needed as she mostly stood watching around along with the au pair. She concluded that the "mom" just wanted to give her some "business." ...

...Quote of the day:

The American people will never knowingly adopt socialism. But under the name of Liberalism, they will adopt every fragment of the socialist program until one day America will be a socialist nation without knowing how it happened.”

- Norman Thomas, Socialist Party presidential candidate, 1940, 1944 and 1948 explaining why he quit running for president. "

That's the end of Donald's friend's commentary.

It seems that parents and teachers all over the country were organizing children to participate in Obama adulation. It puts me in mind of an article by Ayn Rand called "The Comprachicos."

"Los Comprachicos" were evil people who monstrously disfigured children to become performers and beggars - as in the recent movie "Slum Dog Millionaire." In the article, she compares what the Comprachicos did to the social pressure to conform put on toddlers and very young children in Progressive school classrooms.

She argues that such pressure is cognitively maiming, making it difficult for all but the strongest to maintain their independence. Unlike the original Comprachicos, however, the scars from this "operation" are invisible, all on the inside.

Today, this "operation" goes on at all levels of education. The videos of organized presidential adulation are a testament to what's happening.

"To preserve one's mind intact through a modern college education is a test of courage and endurance, but the battle is worth it and the stakes are the highest possible to man: the survival of reason," Ayn Rand.

(Hat tip to Donald and his friend.)

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Intolerance on Inauguration Day

At Mason district schools near Dayton, Ohio, criticisms and caricatures of the incoming or outgoing Presidents will not be allowed today, based on whether they make others feel “unwelcome or uncomfortable,” reports the Dayton Daily News.

So much for free speech in the public schools. Political correctness deep-sixes tolerance once again. (Hat tip to John Welsh.)

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Text Book Bias

Fox News interviews Larry Schweikart from the University of Dayton on bias in textbooks, with some hairy examples! Enlightening info on the building of American railroads.

'Virtual Drug Testing' versus Education

Bob Sechler in today's Wall Street Journal reports that GE Global Research, Simcyp Ltd. and Pfizer, among others, have "developed software that simulates the complex chemistry of living organisms" in order to run virtual tests of new drugs.

At first, I could hardly believed this worked, because the human body is so complex, but, apparently, they're able to use this technology to weed out "sure-fire losers." "...high speed processors and other technological advancements are enabling relatively small-scale simulations--of particular organs, for instance--to be integrated into increasingly complete software-based 'virtual humans'..." It's saving the companies millions and reducing human risk.

What an amazing application of reason and creativity!

But it made me sad to think of the field of education, in contrast, which mainly uses the same methods it did 100 years ago.

Sure, schools continue to adopt new material technologies, like the Internet, web-casting, and white boards, all well and good. Hopefully, the new Prado Museum Google Earth project will be tapped, also. But in terms of method - lectures, tests, memorization of data - are centuries old!

We're just damn lucky that the researchers who graduate from mostly traditional schools are able to develop such a high level of creativity.

(I'm terribly sorry, after 20 minutes of searching on the Journal's website, I was not able to find the article - saw it in hardcopy only.)

First Hand Observation of Prado Museum Details

Today, the Wall Street Journal reports another Google innovation:

"Spain's Prado Museum has teamed up with Google Earth for a project that allows people to zoom in on the gallery's main works, even on details not immediately discernible to the human eye.

[Las Meninas] Getty Images
Diego Velazquez's "Las Meninas.""

What a fabulous new way to learn!! Here's some more info:

"The initiative, announced Tuesday, is the first of its kind involving an art museum. It involves 14 of the Prado's paintings, including Diego Velazquez's "Las Meninas," Francisco de Goya's "Third of May" and Peter Paul Rubens's "The Three Graces."

"There is no better way to pay tribute to the great masters of the history of art than to universalize knowledge of their works using optimum conditions," Prado director Miguel Zugaza said.

Google Spain director Javier Rodriguez Zapatero said the images now available on the Internet were 1,400 times as clear as what would be rendered with a 10-megapixel camera.

"With Google Earth technology it is possible to enjoy these magnificent works in a way never previously possible, obtaining details impossible to appreciate through first-hand observation," he said."

Sunday, January 11, 2009

A New College for Bureaucrats

This New York Times article reports that former teacher Chris Asch is tapping Michelle Obama to build a new college for bureaucrats.

“The Public Service Academy can be Barack Obama’s Peace Corps,” Mr. Asch said. “He needs to take advantage of this moment when people are recognizing the importance of government and build institutions that will last.”

We're starting to sound more and more like France! (Hat tip to Don Hauptman.)

Saturday, January 10, 2009

The Oddity of College Admissions

Imagine you're shopping for a car and you're considering a Toyota or a Ford SUV.

But most of the information you can get about them is:

1. What executives at other car companies think about these vehicles,
2. The average driving skills test score of those who bought them.

You decide on a Toyota, you fill out the paperwork to buy one - but then you have to HOPE that the Toyota company will let you!

Sounds nuts, doesn't it?

That's the apt way that Diane Auer Jones summed up the college admissions process for selective colleges during a speech at at the National Association of Scholars conference yesterday.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Schooling and creativity

Creativity researcher Ken Robinson gives an incisive - and funny - talk about how current education kills creativity, which is crucial in today's world. (Hat tip to Gennady Shenker.)

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

How a Creative Artist Coped with Bad Schooling

You've got to see this video of Willard Wigan and his microscopic sculptures. His comments about schooling are heart-wrenching, but inspiring. (Hat tip to Karen Minto.)

Risk-Averse Parenting and Entrepreneurialism

Interesting post at The Austrian Economists blog. (Hat-tip to Pat Peterson at the Jefferson Club.)

Author Steve Horowitz said:

"How important is it to a classical liberal order that children be raised in ways that encourage entrepreneur-like independence?  Aside from the more narrow questions of policy, can a liberal order function with risk-averse citizens who are less likely to sieze entrepreneurial opportunities?  Is this part of the broader role that the family has in transmitting the rules and values of the Great Society?  What, if anything, can we do if parents are failing in that task?"

To the first question: the history of culture makes it clear that the way children are raised deeply affects their entrepreneurial independence. Tom Sowell makes this case in Ethnic America, tracing the values and practices of Jewish and Chinese immigrants which so often enable their entrepreneurship. 

Further, 100 years of experience with Montessori education demonstrates that children can learn the skills for a creative, independent, and professionally and socially successful life, if they are educated in the right environment. 

Aside from all the individual children I've seen blossom enormously (often, after extremely inauspicious beginnings), it's interesting to note the honor role of unusually creative, independent people who were Montessori students:

Jeff Bezos, Amazon
Sergey Brin and Larry Page, Google
Julia Child, chef, author, and TV personality
Anne Frank, author
Jimmy Wales, Wikipedia
Will Wright, Sim City

These are but a few. 

Writers and thinkers like Daniel Pink, author of A Whole New Mind, are recognizing the superiority of Montessori education to preparing children for today's global economy. (Hat tip to Mark Berger of Corvallis Montessori.)

Now that the holiday whirlwind is over, I'll take up the discussion I left off in my November 21st post, and report more on why that is the case.