The Great Connections Seminar

The Great Connections Seminar
Discussing ethics

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.