Later On

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Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

Sphere of control vs. Sphere of concern

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Stephen Covey mentions in 7 Habits how one should focus most closely on his or her sphere of control and not spend excess energy on things outside your sphere of control. A useful reminder in times like these. I was just struck by a series of titles offered on discount Kindle books (bookbub and Kindle deals) how many titles are about having to save the galaxy, or save the planet, or save the country—BIG things, history-altering things.

And all of that is so much outside our own personal sphere of control. It’s a strange dynamic: immersing oneself in a fictional world in which the protagonist can take such actions—would that make one more apt to do things and focus attention on his sphere of control? I would say not. By getting across the message, “If you can’t solve the most enormous problems facing our world, then you might as well do nothing,” the reader stops acting even when s/he can—to take the obvious example, s/he doesn’t vote. (I’m not trying to blame the victims, and God knows the GOP is deliberately and openly doing everything it can to prevent marginalized groups from being able to vote, but I’m interested in what makes the GOP effort successful. And I think it’s because so many feel that if they cannot save the world, what’s the point? And the point, of course, is to do what you can in your sphere of control.

Covey has several good examples of the far-reaching effects from those who actually did that. The name Gandhi was mentioned, for example. He focused on what he himself could do: thus the salt march.

Written by LeisureGuy

8 September 2014 at 4:11 pm

Posted in Books, Daily life, Education

The ‘Feynman Lectures on Physics’ Are Now Online

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Pretty cool. Here’s the report on the effort, and here are the three volumes of lectures in a very nice browser-read edition..

Written by LeisureGuy

4 September 2014 at 1:16 pm

Posted in Education, Science

Stanford Will Teach You All About Mass Surveillance, on the Deep Web, for Free

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Interesting for those interested in this sort of thing. D.J. Pangburn reports:

If you’ve been following United States and international surveillance law in any capacity since former security contractor  Edward Snowden leaked a trove of National Security Agency documents, you know that feelings of bafflement, astonishment, and anger have become nothing if not routine.

Jonathan Mayer, a Stanford Law School instructor, wants to change all that. His idea is a simple one: teach surveillance law online, for free. On the deep web, if you want.

Mayer told me the  Stanford surveillance law course is designed for two audiences. If a student would like to understand the big picture of government surveillance, there will be online readings, quizzes, and a forum designed for that ambition. But, if they would prefer a quick background on a particular issue—say, Ronald Reagan’sExecutive Order 12333, which authorized the NSA’s mass data collection—then students can “pop in” for just that lecture. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 September 2014 at 8:56 am

Posted in Education, NSA, Technology

Be careful what you write

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UPDATE: There was more than the novels. Here’s a follow-up.

A teacher wrote a science-fiction novel set in the far future (2902), and in the novel are two school shootings (a topic I imagine most school teachers think about from time to time, given their responsibilities).

Apparently authorship is now considered some sort of crime. Robby Soave posts at Reason.com:

A Dorchester County, Maryland, teacher was taken in for an “emergency medical evaluation,” suspended from his job, and barred from setting foot on another public school. Authorities searched his school, Mace’s Lane Middle School in Cambridge, for weapons. As classes resumed, parents worried that their children were in danger, so police decided to remain on the premises to watch over them.

What happened? The teacher, Patrick McLaw, published a fiction novel. Under a pen name. About a made-up school shooting. Set in the year 2902.

If you’re having trouble figuring out which part of that was criminal, or negligent, or even inappropriate, you’re not alone. From WBOC:

Early last week the school board was alerted that one of its eighth grade language arts teachers at Mace’s Lane Middle School had several aliases.  Police said that under those names, he wrote two fictional books about the largest school shooting in the country’s history set in the future.  Now, Patrick McLaw is placed on leave.

Dr. K.S. Voltaer is better known by some in Dorchester County as Patrick McLaw, or even Patrick Beale.  Not only was he a teacher at Mace’s Lane Middle School in Cambridge, but according to Dorchester Sheriff James Phillips, McLaw is also the author of two books: “The Insurrectionist” and its sequel, “Lillith’s Heir.”

Those books are what caught the attention of police and school board officials in Dorchester County.  “The Insurrectionist” is about two school shootings set in the future, the largest in the country’s history.

Phillips said McLaw was taken in for an emergency medical evaluation. The sheriff would not disclose where McLaw is now, but he did say that he is not on the Eastern Shore. The same day that McLaw was taken in for an evaluation, police swept Mace’s Lane Middle School for bombs and guns, coming up empty.

But coming up empty did not stop the authorities from punishing McLaw: . . .

Continue reading.

And here’s a follow-up story by Soave.

Surely there must be some other reason, right? Surely.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 September 2014 at 8:36 am

One amazing study of the impact of cultural memes: Baltimore kids growing up

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Quite an amazing article in the Washington Post by Emily Badger:

BALTIMORE — In the beginning, when they knew just where to find everyone, they pulled the children out of their classrooms.

They sat in any quiet corner of the schools they could claim: the sociologists from Johns Hopkins and, one at a time, the excitable first-graders. Monica Jaundoo, whose parents never made it past the eighth grade. Danté Washington, a boy with a temper and a dad who drank too much. Ed Klein, who came from a poor white part of town where his mother sold cocaine.

They talked with the sociologists about teachers and report cards, about growing up to become rock stars or police officers. For many of the children, this seldom happened in raucous classrooms or overwhelmed homes: a quiet, one-on-one conversation with an adult eager to hear just about them. “I have this special friend,” Jaundoo thought as a 6-year-old, “who’s only talking to me.”

Later, as the children grew and dispersed, some falling out of the school system and others leaving the city behind, the conversations took place in McDonald’s, in public libraries, in living rooms or lock-ups. The children — 790 of them, representative of the Baltimore public school system’s first-grade class in 1982 — grew harder to track as the patterns among them became clearer.

Over time, their lives were constrained — or cushioned — by the circumstances they were born into, by the employment and education prospects of their parents, by the addictions or job contacts that would become their economic inheritance. Johns Hopkins researchers Karl Alexander and Doris Entwisle watched as less than half of the group graduated high school on time. Before they turned 18, 40 percent of the black girls from low-income homes had given birth to their own babies. At the time of the final interviews, when the children were now adults of 28, more than 10 percent of the black men in the study were incarcerated. Twenty-six of the children, among those they could find at last count, were no longer living.

A mere 4 percent of the first-graders Alexander and Entwisle had classified as the “urban disadvantaged” had by the end of the study completed the college degree that’s become more valuable than ever in the modern economy. A related reality: Just 33 of 314 had left the low-income socioeconomic status of their parents for the middle class by age 28.

Today, the “kids” — as Alexander still calls them — are 37 or 38. Alexander, now 68, retired from Johns Hopkins this summer just as the final, encompassing book from the 25-year study was published. . .

Continue reading.

And by all means, read the whole thing: it’s not just about these kids, it’s about the cultural landscape of the city: who lives on the good cultural clusters, who on the marginal, and the devastating effects of a bad cultural cluster.

But of course it can be interrupted in a generation were there the will. But those who occupied privileged niches will be loath to change.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 August 2014 at 2:05 pm

Does It Help to Know History?

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Adam Gopnik poses and then answers the question in the New Yorker:

About a year ago, I wrote about some attempts to explain why anyone would, or ought to, study English in college. The point, I thought, was not that studying English gives anyone some practical advantage on non-English majors, but that it enables us to enter, as equals, into a long existing, ongoing conversation. It isn’t productive in a tangible sense; it’s productive in a human sense. The action, whether rewarded or not, really is its own reward. The activity is the answer.

It might be worth asking similar questions about the value of studying, or at least, reading, history these days, since it is a subject that comes to mind many mornings on the op-ed page. Every writer, of every political flavor, has some neat historical analogy, or mini-lesson, with which to preface an argument for why we ought to bomb these guys or side with those guys against the guys we were bombing before. But the best argument for reading history is not that it will show us the right thing to do in one case or the other, but rather that it will show us why even doing the right thing rarely works out. The advantage of having a historical sense is not that it will lead you to some quarry of instructions, the way that Superman can regularly return to the Fortress of Solitude to get instructions from his dad, but that it will teach you that no such crystal cave exists. What history generally “teaches” is how hard it is for anyone to control it, including the people who think they’re making it.

Roger Cohen, for instance, wrote on Wednesday about all the mistakes that the United States is supposed to have made in the Middle East over the past decade, with the implicit notion that there are two histories: one recent, in which everything that the United States has done has been ill-timed and disastrous; and then some other, superior, alternate history, in which imperial Western powers sagaciously, indeed, surgically, intervened in the region, wisely picking the right sides and thoughtful leaders, promoting militants without aiding fanaticism, and generally aiding the cause of peace and prosperity. This never happened. As the Libyan intervention demonstrates, the best will in the world—and, seemingly, the best candidates for our support—can’t cure broken polities quickly. What “history” shows is that the same forces that led to the Mahdi’s rebellion in Sudan more than a century ago—rage at the presence of a colonial master; a mad turn towards an imaginary past as a means to equal the score—keep coming back and remain just as resistant to management, close up or at a distance, as they did before. ISIS is a horrible group doing horrible things, and there are many factors behind its rise. But they came to be a threat and a power less because of all we didn’t do than because of certain things we did do—foremost among them that massive, forward intervention, the Iraq War. (The historical question to which ISIS is the answer is: What could possibly be worse than Saddam Hussein?)

Another, domestic example of historical blindness is the current cult of the political hypersagacity of Lyndon B. Johnson. L.B.J. was indeed a ruthless political operator and, when he had big majorities, got big bills passed—the Civil Rights Act, for one. He also engineered, and masterfully bullied through Congress, the Vietnam War, a moral and strategic catastrophe that ripped the United States apart and, more important, visited a kind of hell on the Vietnamese. It also led American soldiers to commit war crimes, almost all left unpunished, of a kind that it still shrivels the heart to read about. Johnson did many good things, but to use him as a positive counterexample of leadership to Barack Obama or anyone else is marginally insane.

Johnson’s tragedy was critically tied to the cult of action, of being tough and not just sitting there and watching. But not doing things too disastrously is not some minimal achievement; it is a maximal achievement, rarely managed. Studying history doesn’t argue for nothing-ism, but it makes a very good case for minimalism: for doing the least violent thing possible that might help prevent more violence from happening.

The real sin that the absence of a historical sense encourages is . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

28 August 2014 at 9:30 am

Posted in Daily life, Education

Teaching Is Not a Business

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Trying to fit all experiences or relationships into a single model can lead people seriously astray, though the view of those who attempt such a thing is that they have found The Secret. I recall someone I once worked with who would interject into any discussion the question, “Who’s the customer?”, thinking that this was always clarifying. She insisted that in any relationship or transaction, one party could be identified as “the customer” and that everything would become clear: parent-child, spouses, teacher-student, military commander-subordinates, and so on: just identify the “customer” and you would know what to do.

Now we’re seeing everything viewed through the lens of a profit-making business with competitor. A pastor with a church? It’s a business! Diversify, fight competitors, try loss-leaders, ….  A teacher and a class? It’s a business! etc. A married couple? It’s a business!…

I’ve talked before about the importance of frames. When you choose a particular perspective from which to examine a situation or decision, you have framed it. Frames highlight some aspects (things within the frame) and hide other aspects (things outside the frame). For a thorough (and interesting) discussion of frames, I recommend Winning Decisions, by Russo and Schoemaker. (Inexpensive secondhand copies at the link.)

David Kirp, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, and the author of Improbable Scholars: The Rebirth of a Great American School System and a Strategy for America’s Schools,” explains in the NY Times ways in which teaching differs from a business:

TODAY’S education reformers believe that schools are broken and that business can supply the remedy. Some place their faith in the idea of competition. Others embrace disruptive innovation, mainly through online learning. Both camps share the belief that the solution resides in the impersonal, whether it’s the invisible hand of the market or the transformative power of technology.

Neither strategy has lived up to its hype, and with good reason. It’s impossible to improve education by doing an end run around inherently complicated and messy human relationships. All youngsters need to believe that they have a stake in the future, a goal worth striving for, if they’re going to make it in school. They need a champion, someone who believes in them, and that’s where teachers enter the picture. The most effective approaches foster bonds of caring between teachers and their students.

Marketplace mantras dominate policy discussions. High-stakes reading and math tests are treated as the single metric of success, the counterpart to the business bottom line. Teachers whose students do poorly on those tests get pink slips, while those whose students excel receive merit pay, much as businesses pay bonuses to their star performers and fire the laggards. Just as companies shut stores that aren’t meeting their sales quotas, opening new ones in more promising territory, failing schools are closed and so-called turnaround model schools, with new teachers and administrators, take their place.

This approach might sound plausible in a think tank, but in practice it has been a flop. Firing teachers, rather than giving them the coaching they need, undermines morale. In some cases it may well discourage undergraduates from pursuing careers in teaching, and with a looming teacher shortage as baby boomers retire, that’s a recipe for disaster. Merit pay invites rivalries among teachers, when what’s needed is collaboration. Closing schools treats everyone there as guilty of causing low test scores, ignoring the difficult lives of the children in these schools — “no excuses,” say the reformers, as if poverty were an excuse.

Charter schools have been promoted as improving education by creating competition. But charter students do about the same, over all, as their public school counterparts, and the worst charters, like the online K-12 schools that have proliferated in several states, don’t deserve to be called schools. Vouchers are also supposed to increase competition by giving parents direct say over the schools their children attend, but the students haven’t benefited. For the past generation, Milwaukee has run a voucher experiment, with much-debated outcomes that to me show no real academic improvement.

While these reformers talk a lot about markets and competition, the essence of a good education — bringing together talented teachers, engaged students and a challenging curriculum — goes undiscussed.

Business does have something to teach educators, but it’s neither the saving power of competition nor flashy ideas like disruptive innovation. Instead, what works are time-tested strategies.

“Improve constantly and forever the system of production and service”: That’s the gospel the management guru W. Edwards Deming preached for half a century. After World War II, Japanese firms embraced the “plan, do, check, act” approach, and many Fortune 500 companies profited from paying attention. Meanwhile, the Harvard Business School historian and Pulitzer Prize-winner Alfred D. Chandler Jr. demonstrated that firms prospered by developing “organizational capabilities,” putting effective systems in place and encouraging learning inside the organization. Building such a culture took time, Chandler emphasized, and could be derailed by executives seduced by faddishness.

Every successful educational initiative of which I’m aware aims at strengthening personal bonds by building strong systems of support in the schools. The best preschools create intimate worlds where students become explorers and attentive adults are close at hand.

In the Success for All model . . .

Continue reading.

UPDATE: Another inappropriate frame that’s in common use: a war. The War on Drugs made us view drug users as “the enemy,” so drug addiction (except for alcoholism) was treated as a crime rather than as a medical condition. The War on Poverty seems to have transformed itself into a War on the Poor, who of course are where poverty is found. The War on Christmas views non-Christians—and insufficiently enthusiastic Christians—as the enemy. With “war” as the dominant frame, many effective approaches are never exampled.

Yeah, do take a look at Winning Decisions. Very useful book.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 August 2014 at 6:51 am

Posted in Business, Education

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