The Great Connections Seminar

The Great Connections Seminar
Discussing ethics

Thursday, June 6, 2013

"All your kids are belong to us"

If you doubt my writings about the progressive attempts to instill collectivism in children through education, read this thoughtful piece by Freeman Editor of Content, Max Borders. He examines a direct call to the idea that "We have to break through our kind of private idea that kids belong to their parents or kids belong to their families and recognize that kids belong to whole communities."

(And if you wonder what the goofy title of this post refers to, go here.)

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Bureaucracy Trumps Brilliance

A Wyoming teen, Conrad Farnsworth, built a working fusion reactor in his garage for science fair competitions. He was disqualified - for entering too many competitions.

Education today.

Hattip Mark Sulkowski.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Dedicated teacher's commentary on current policies - and resignation

This teacher, from wealthy Highland Park, IL, hits the nail on the head with current educational practices. "Even hatching chicks in kindergarten is prohibited," so that money can be spent on standardized testing.

Individual students, their real learning and needs, don't matter. Hear her explain why.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

How does a professor connect with 100,000 students?

The Wall Street Journal's article "Web Courses Woo Professors" reports on the game-changing developments going on in higher education, especially as a result of MOOC's: Massive Open Online Courses. 

These are being offered by a multiplicity of schools, including MIT, Harvard, and the University of Illinois, as well as new organizations such as Coursera and Udacity.

The good part of these developments is the inexpensive delivery of massive amounts of knowledge to millions, and the opportunity for classroom teachers to assign lectures - hopefully with the best lecturers - to be watched at a student's leisure, while classroom time is left open for discussion and team problem-solving. 

It's not surprising that college education is going this way: between the ridiculous prices and the lack of individual attention at many, many schools, it's just logical to use these new resources.

But what about the MOOC's themselves, as courses? As one student said "It's hard enough for one professor to connect with 200 students in their own classroom. I'd be worried that one professor trying to connect with 100,000 students would be impossible."

Human beings are complex creatures that need a lot of help growing up. Students want and need more than a knowledge transfer; they want mentoring, guidance, and the kind of detailed interaction possible with in-person learning. These are important elements to becoming free and independent, and successful persons. I only hope these facts don't get lost in the education re-shuffling.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Real Learning

Creativity and learning expert Ken Robinson outlines the conditions necessary for real learning and human flourishing in this talk.

He seems to recognize these features in the Montessori Method, especially insofar as he has spoken at the Alternative Education Resource Organization and sometimes mentions Montessori and has visited at least one Montessori school. He says: "Imagination is the source of every human achievement."

"But what all the high-performing systems in the world do is currently what is not evident, sadly, across the systems in America -- I mean, as a whole. One is this: They individualize teaching and learning. They recognize that it's students who are learning and the system has to engage them, their curiosity, their individuality, and their creativity. That's how you get them to learn."

That's authentic Montessori to a "T"!

Maria Montessori: "Human consciousness comes into the world as a flaming ball of imagination.  Everything invented by man, physical and or mental, is the fruit of someone’s imagination....Our aim is not merely to make a child understand and still less to force him to memorize, but so to touch his imagination and enthuse him to the core. We do not want complacent pupils, but eager ones.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

More textbook bias

Economist James Gwartney explains in "The Public Choice Revolution in the Textbooks" how, once again, crucial ideas are kept out of university textbooks - and public discourse.

In 1986, economist James Buchanan won a Nobel prize in economics for his "groundbreaking work in the development of public choice analysis." Yet he never held a position at an elite school,

Buchanan and co-author Gordon Tullock first explained public choice theory in their 1962 book, The Calculus of Consent. Public choice theory identifies how our democratic political process is affected by political structures and collective decision-making rules. It analyzes how the operation of market processes affect political processes and vice versa.

After many years in the development of this sector of economics, Gwartney found no textbooks on it, so he wrote his own, Economics: Private and Public Choice.  He explained to students: "Economic tools can illustrate why 'good politics' sometimes conflicts with 'good economics' (that is, economic efficiency)." Public choice theory demonstrates that, no matter how good one's intentions, central economic planning does not work. Gwartney's work remains one of the only textbooks on Public Choice Theory.

Yet, despite the Nobel prize and its many applications, Public Choice theory has been neglected by elite schools like the Ivies, The University of California, or Berkeley. Buchanan never held a position at one, and out of 296 public choice scholars at the 2012 international meeting of the Public Choice Society, only 5 presenters were from these elite schools, with only 1 from the economics department!

Monday, May 6, 2013

Bubbles Bursting All Over

The Wall Street Journal reported this morning that 45% of students at private colleges are now getting significant financial aid, as enrollments have dropped 10-20%. And here's a useful graphic about how schools compare in terms of return on investment.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Business Becomes More Personal as Education Becomes Less So

I found it ironically interesting to read "The Science of Serendipity in the Workplace" in the Wall Street Journal this morning; it recounts how high tech companies like Google and Salesforce are working hard to engineer more incidental personal encounters between employees. They're redesigning buildings, rooms, and floor plans.


Because remarkably innovative developments result from these chance encounters. Like Gmail and Streetview on Google Maps. "'The most productive relationships are difficult to engineer,' says Jason Owen-Smith, a University of Michigan sociologist who studies employee collaboration."

Why is it ironic? While these tech leaders, whose employees are connected six ways to Monday via electronic tools and the Internet, are carefully engineering in-person interactions, education is moving faster and faster towards online learning and classes.

I don't want to downplay the extraordinary educational value to be had from the Internet and technological tools - the sheer amount of information and skill instruction available is mind-boggling. Here's a link to 700 free courses online!

But maybe one of the reasons education is moving more and more online is that in-person instruction is often so dismal. Many classes don't involve real interactions, as students sit and listen to lectures or professors explaining stuff. Are students getting the benefit of learning from other people? Of learning to work with others?

It's something to wonder about.

Soviet-Style Education in the U.S.

Did the Soviets win the Cold War?

Considering the rampant support these days for Collectivist doctrine and policy here in the U.S., it's almost as if they did. And the Collectivists have an even more dangerous attempt at thought control in the works.

It's called the Common Core Standards. 

"Common Core proponents advocate a single set of standards--and inevitably a single curriculum--implemented throughout the nation and controlled by experts in Washington," says Jane Robbins of the National Association of Scholars (NAS).

Just what you want for your children, no? A single curriculum imposed by government bureaucrats, under the guise of "higher standards." Yes, the Soviets had that too, and look what it did for them.

"Common Core Standards" might sound like a return to real, classic education, but the Deweyian Progressives behind the program have made sure that any classics are studied only in bits.

No complete literary works are read. Rather than real knowledge, the focus is on "critical thinking," a Deweyian concept meant to replace reasoning skills.

The Feds have incentivized states to adopt the Common Core system and 45 states have already signed on to this frighteningly dangerous program.  

Why? The Feds are offering waivers from No Child Left Behind (NCLB) requirements (what my teacher friends call No Child Left Standing).  NCLB demands constant testing, which has turned schools into testing mills as adminstrations try to maintain their Federal funding. The opportunities for real learning are minimal. Any wonder so many students are arriving at college utterly unprepared?

Remember: who pays the Piper, calls the tune. Do we want to hear the Internationale or the Star Spangled Banner?

How can you fight against collectivist brain-washing?

If you ever wonder why the U.S. is in the fight for its life against Collectivism, wonder no further: collectivist control of education is the key.

How has the Progressive Left influenced our youth from grade school to graduate school? Read Jane Robbins article, referenced above, for the concise details.

You are key in this fight against Collectivism. How? Send a student to The Great Connections Seminar, where we study classic works of world-changing import crucial to defending and advancing liberty, and students learn how to reason well. You can see complete details, including a link to the week's schedule, here.

If you don't know a worthy student to send, there's still a way you can help. Right now, students are applying from around the nation and world (including Brazil, Argentina, Guatemala, and Ethiopia). You can enable them to attend our transformational program by contributing to our scholarship fund at this link, by calling us at 773-677-6418, or by sending a check to the RIF Institute, 9400 S. Damen Avenue, Chicago, IL 60643.

Thank you.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

"Liberating Education"

Christopher Nelson, president of St. John's College in Annapolis, the all-Great Books program, expands on what a liberal arts education means.

After describing an experience his son had fixing a car, he said:

""You have now had an experience in liberal education," I suggested...Why do I call this experience liberating? Because my son had to make do without the manual or the expert. He was led to find for himself the answer by a series of questions alone."

Friday, March 15, 2013

"Binge Learning" = "Follow the child"

"Binge Learning Is Online Learning's Killer App"  has a wonderful analysis of the benefits of interest-led learning. Just exactly what we do in authentic Montessori programs.

The author's account of what can happen online reminded me of my childhood, being led from one article to the next in the encyclopedia - actually, this happens to me in Wikipedia and I'm very grateful for all the links for that reason!

Hattip Reena Kapoor

Friday, February 8, 2013

The Practicality of the Liberal Arts

Excellent, well-articulated statement about the immense value of the liberal arts from my friend and co-instructor, Andrew Humphries:

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

The Con of the Common Core Standards

          Good post by veteran teacher R.D. Hughes, "Common Core Standards and the Destruction of Mind and  Freedom."  Now, I'm a big proponent of teaching the classics, because these books are mostly so well-written, with such great examples of thinking, and so influential, that knowing them deeply teaches and informs the reader. Broadly speaking, I think it's a good idea to use these works as central to the curriculum.

On the other hand, I know that each individual learns differently, and has different needs and interests, so that good teaching requires the subtle art of taking this into account while presenting the student with a rich array of important knowledge. This individualism is one of the reasons I'm a major proponent of the Montessori method and have worked to bring that educational philosophy up to higher education.

I've thought for years that the No Child Left Behind program was a Soviet-style, top-down system, which has wreaked havoc on education. Ironically, this program was pushed by conservatives who wanted to correct the frightening mess caused by progressive education, which had no apparent standards (if you've ever read "The Comprachicos," you realize progressives do have "standards" or shall we say goals, but they're not to enlighten and inform.) Unfortunately, as traditionalists, the conservatives didn't seem to understand how to individualize what they wanted to see happen and their program is now dovetailing with this new turn.

So, it's awful to read about how a basically good idea, i.e. that there is a core body of knowledge and skills which are important to learn, is now being used in this Brave New World style. But the details he discusses here! Couldn't agree with him more.

Unfortunately, the bureaucratic nature of centralized education leads even the most well-intentioned to this kind of system. See this post by Michael Strong, an expert on Socratic Practice and individualized education, for a searing story of his attempts to work with the education bureaucracy and an analysis of what's wrong.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Students Don't Need College

Not really a surprise, if you pay attention to who's employed at Starbucks, Whole Foods, Barnes and Noble, Trader Joe's, and myriad small businesses. But the Center for College Affordability and Productivity is now putting a number to how many people don't need college for their jobs: 37%. See their study: Why are recent college graduates underemployed?

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Words, words, words

E.D. Hirsch's article in the latest City Journal offers the evidence that vocabulary alone is a great predictor of upward mobility. Why? Because it's an indicator of the child's knowledge-resources.

"Vocabulary doesn’t just help children do well on verbal exams. Studies have solidly established the correlation between vocabulary and real-world ability."

Implication? An old principle: reading can unlock the world, enabling a child from an impoverished background to travel around the globe, and gain the knowledge to achieve great goals. Abraham Lincoln did it, and Ben Franklin, and today's children have so many more resources at their fingertips.

The statistics Hirsch cites regarding what's happened to vocabulary in the past decades are unfortunately disturbing, but in line with all the rest of the research on educational decline.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The Graduation Rate Myth

Robert Weissburg, professor of Political Science at Cornell, gives a stunning indictment of student irresponsibility in this John W. Pope foundation article, and some of the reasons faculty put up with it.

What he doesn't analyze are the psychological effects of their previous twelve years of schooling. The flaws in lower education are rife; I can't go into them all. But I'd like to examine two which have devastating effects and are directly related to the kind of behavior Weissburg laments:
  • False self-esteem-building practices
  • Test-driven instruction
First, the mis-directed ideas of phony self-esteem dominant in the last 20-30 years has encouraged teachers and parents to praise children regardless of accomplishments or effort. This practice seems to be motivated by at least two beliefs:
  1. Children's egos are so delicate they cannot withstand any negative feedback from others.
  2. Children cannot develop self-esteem without continuous praise from others.
In fact, a large portion of solid self-esteem results from achieved competency as a result of hard work, and from the regular experience of failure.


Because failure will always be a normal part of life and if a child does not learn how to overcome failures and continue to strive for his or her goals, that child will have a very difficult time in adulthood.

A child who has a false sense of self-worth and efficacy, and little experience with overcoming failure, is extremely vulnerable to depression, drugs, and suicide when faced with the actual problems of life because he or she is, in fact, incompetent. No amount of praise will overshadow those facts.

Optimally, parents and teachers encourage students to work hard at their learning, while modeling and expecting serious achievement, and giving praise for actual accomplishments. Negative feedback should be factual and task-oriented - "Here's where the equation has an error" - not directed at the child - "You should know better than to write the equation like that; here, this is how it should be."

In a Montessori classroom, self-development and self-esteem are achieved by mastering the work. The materials through which learning is accomplished are designed to be just hard enough to be challenging, but not so hard as to be impossible to master. At the same time, they are just the kinds of things children find fascinating to do, given their level of development. All this results in flow experiences for children, making them highly motivated to work.

Here is a video that illustrates how young children (3-6 years old) develop their sense, motor, and observational skills through the materials:

 And here's a video illustrating the mathematics curriculum:

The older a child gets, the more advanced and complicated the materials, until he or she is competently working abstractly, but with a rock-solid foundation in reality through previous work with concrete materials. Here's a video about the elementary level: (embedding wasn't allowed).

and one about the arithmetic of fractions, usually the hardest and least-understood arithmetical operation:

This kind of work develops happy, competent, self-directed individuals who want to learn.

And one of the other elements that makes this possible is the competency-driven curriculum that does NOT center on standardized testing.

Which leads back to Weissburg's complaints: the second major element motivating poor student behavior has been the inordinate emphasis on standardized tests these past 20 years.

Schools, teachers, and students have been rewarded on test scores alone - not actual learning or competent teaching. Students are talked at, not engaged in the learning. Teachers feed information (not understanding) and students learn that all they need to know is what's necessary to score well on tests.

So are we surprised that's all they're interested in? That they just want to "get through" the class and will find any way to do that efficiently and economically? That they don't respect their teachers - that they're not oriented to understanding the material? They have not been encouraged to be invested in learning or in achieving the actual competency of understanding.

I lament the situation with Weissburg, because of the enormous wasted time and potential - and worry whether they will be able to learn enough as adults to overcome these handicaps.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Technology Comes to the Dismal Humanities Market

Technological innovation in the Academic Humanities? It's happening, if we can judge by "Rebooting Graduate Education in the Humanities" from The Chronicles of Higher Education. And just in time--because the job market is dismal yet the graduate students deluded:

"A 2011 Survey of Earned Doctorates shows that 43 percent of doctoral recipients have no employment at the time they receive their degree. But Rogers presented an SCI survey indicating that 74 percent of respondents entered graduate school with the expectation that they would become professors, and 80 percent reported “feeling fairly certain or completely certain” of achieving that outcome. At the same time, only 18 percent were satisfied with the preparation they received for careers besides being a professor."

I can only hope these students, who've invested considerable time and treasure, can find clever new avenues for their knowledge that will benefit us all. 

Sunday, January 6, 2013

The lecture you should have had

What Professor Devlin explains about the relationship of calculus to the real world is the kind of explaining that helps motivates students to learn math. The first 20-30 minutes is especially useful.

Motivation Trumps Intelligence in Learning Math

From the January 5-6, 2013 Wall Street Journal "Week in Ideas" by Dan Akst:

"When it comes to learning math, intelligence counts at the outset. But after that, it's a matter of motivation and study skills.

"That's the result of a German study of 3, 530 students in grades five through 10. Researchers examined six years of data with an eye toward establishing the effect of IQ, motivation and study skills on growth in math achievement.

"Intelligence, it turned out, wasn't a factor in this growth. And rote learning strategies actually did more harm than good. But feelings of control, high motivation and study skills that involved explaining a summarizing math and connecting it to other material did predict greater achievement. What it takes to learn math, the researchers said, isn't just innate; it can be fostered."

Summary of the research from: "Predicting Long-term Growth in Students' Mathematics Achievement: The Unique Contributions of Motivation and Cognitive Strategies," Kou Murayama, Reinhard Pekrun, Rudolf vom Hofe and Stephanie Lichtenfeld, Child Development (Dec. 20)

Notice that explaining and summarizing and connecting the math to other material was very important. To me, that means verbally conceptualizing the math and integrating it with other knowledge about the world - which tends to be motivational because it enables the learning to know how to use the math.