The Great Connections Seminar

The Great Connections Seminar
Discussing ethics

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.