Teacher Tom & Transformation

…without pain, without struggle, without anguish, discomfort and fear, transformation is impossible…Real learning, which is to say, transformation from a state of ignorance to one of enlightenment, is in reality more of a lurching, spiraling, ebb and flow, full of peaks and valleys, and yes, pain and suffering. Those of us in the world of play-based learning, myself included, tend to become fixated on the joy, but in reality, we know the much of the greatest learning comes through falls, disappointments, and failure, because we are not in the business of schooling, but rather transformation…

…Genuine growth and transformation most often come through pain and struggle. We must lose aspects of our old self, our old life, as we become new, and that is always at least uncomfortable. I’ve taught myself a mantra to recall, even as I’m tending to the physical and psychological bumps and bruises of young children: when someone is crying, someone is learning. Perhaps not in that moment of acute pain, of course, but in the struggle of transformation that inevitably comes on the other side, even if it’s only the conclusion, Well, I won’t do that again.”

-Teacher Tom, “Struggle Is Essential To Transformation.” teachertomsblog.blogspot.com. October 16, 2022.

I have just learned of this lovely blog. Teacher Tom is an elementary school teacher and his writing is wonderful. I figured it was worth noting and recommending for those who, like me, hadn’t heard of him before this week.

Daniel Mendelsohn on the Odyssey

“…I always resist the “classics is impractical” line that people love to come up with when they are critical of the higher study of these fields. You can study accounting. It’s authentically practical in one way. But when your father dies, your accounting degree is not going to help you at all to process that experience. Homer will help you. The Odyssey will help you. Great literature will help you think about mortality and losing loved ones. That seems very practical to me.

A broad education in which you’re deeply read in literature, and history, and philosophy, and mathematics, and science: this teaches us how to be human beings and it teaches us also how to be citizens. I know that sounds very idealistic, but if the current social and political situation in this country is in any way a marker of what a generation spent focusing on STEM does, then I think clearly we need a different answer. The crude preoccupation with moneymaking as the only goal of a college education is giving us a citizenry that is extremely degraded, as far as I’m concerned. I think it’s only the crudest and least interesting practicality that has no time for the humanities.”

Daniel Mendelsohn, “Daniel Mendelsohn on the Odyssey.” The Octavian Report. August 12, 2022

Of course, an important question is which Odyssey do you read, Emily Wilson’s, Richmond Lattimore’s or someone else’s? Another think that I found interesting is how they talked about life being tragedy and comedy modes of viewing the world mentioned a few days ago.

Schools of Virtue

“Marion Turner, professor of English literature at Oxford University, put it frankly: “I’m not trained to teach students how to be good people, and that’s not my job.”

It’s a fair point. It is very pleasant to make a list of intellectual virtues, but why should we believe that academics can teach students courage, humility or any othe r virtue? Yet if not academics, then who? Parents? Primary schoolteachers? Newspaper columnists? Perhaps we should just hope that people acquire these virtues for themselves? I am really not sure.

Barry Schwartz is on to something, that is clear. Facts, logic, quantitative tools and analytical clarity are all very well, but the art of thinking well requires virtues as well as skills. And if we don’t know who will teach those virtues, or how to teach them, that explains a lot about the world in which we now live.”

-Tim Harford, “Learning to think well involves hearts as well as minds.” Financial Times. July 7, 2022

It’s an interesting point. If it is not the job of our universities, colleges and/or grade schools to teach people to be good, whose job is it? Where are our schools of virtue?

It seems the most likely answer: we don’t have them.

Reduce Your Death Anxiety

“The one thing all human beings have in common, is the fact that one day, our lives will end in death.

What does the idea of death mean to you? How does it make you feel?

Chances are the thought of death triggers fear or anxiety in you. You might not feel totally comfortable with the idea of dying and your life coming to an end.

Research shows that in our modern-day Western society death denial is a common attitude. Which is very contradictory in itself when you think about it, as death is ultimately the one thing we can not avoid from happening.

Ignoring death often leads to more death anxiety which can have a huge impact on your mental health and your day-to-day life, while contemplating death will give you the benefits of going through life more aware and with greater purpose.

With my online video course I will give you the tools to explore your relationship with mortality, and reduce your death anxiety.

https://acourseindying.com/get-ahead-of-death-online-video-course-on-mortality/

My father-in-law recently died after several years of illness. Talking about the possibility of dying is fraught with people engaged in magical thinking, as if broaching the subject is causal. It’s simply a reality people must face, and when they put it off, it is invariably worse. For €79, it’s probably a useful exercise, but the reality is the people that really need it won’t be the one’s buying this course.

Grok the Modern Vision of Blockchains

“…this course will focus on the fundamental principles of blockchain design and analysis, such as they are in 2021 (it’s still early days. . . ). The goal is to equip you with the tools and concepts to evaluate and compare existing technologies (cutting through the rampant marketing crap), understand fundamental trade-offs between the goals one would want from a protocol or application, and perhaps even create something new and important in the near future (because it’s early days, you can have a tremendous impact on the area’s future trajectory).

It’s worth recognizing that we’re currently in a particular moment in time, witnessing a new area of computer science blossom before our eyes in real time. It draws on well-established parts of computer science (e.g., cryptography and distributed systems) and other fields (e.g., game theory and finance), but is developing into a fundamental and interdisciplinary area of science and engineering its own right. Future generations of computer scientists will be jealous of your opportunity to get in on the ground floor of this new area—analogous to getting into the Internet and the Web in the early 1990s. I cannot overstate the opportunities available to someone who masters the material covered in this course—current demand is much, much bigger than supply.

And perhaps this course will also serve as a partial corrective to the misguided coverage and discussion of blockchains in a typical mainstream media article or water cooler conversation, which seems bizarrely stuck in 2013 (focused almost entirely on Bitcoin, its environmental impact, the use case of payments, Silk Road, etc.). An enormous number of people, including a majority of computer science researchers and academics, have yet to grok the modern vision of blockchains: a new computing paradigm that will enable the next incarnation of the Internet and the Web, along with an entirely new generation of applications.”

-Tim Roughgarden, “Lecture 1.” COMS 6998-006: Foundations of Blockchains. github.com. September 15, 2021.

h/t Alex Taborrak in Marginal Revolution.

The first lesson is fairly easy to understand. Looking forward to reading more.

Grayson’s Art Club

“Grayson Perry, one of Britain’s leading artists, brings the nation together through art, making new works and hosting masterclasses set to unleash our collective creativity during lockdown.”

Grayson’s Art Club

Annoying DRM on mobile, but bookmarking for when I’m on a more DRM friendly platform.

Meritocracy, Intelligence & Education

“…we need to dismantle meritocracy.

DeBoer is skeptical of “equality of opportunity”. Even if you solve racism, sexism, poverty, and many other things that DeBoer repeatedly reminds us have not been solved, you’ll just get people succeeding or failing based on natural talent…

…One one level, the titular Cult Of Smart is just the belief that enough education can solve any problem. But more fundamentally it’s also the troubling belief that after we jettison unfair theories of superiority based on skin color, sex, and whatever else, we’re finally left with what really determines your value as a human being – how smart you are. DeBoer recalls hearing an immigrant mother proudly describe her older kid’s achievements in math, science, etc, “and then her younger son ran by, and she said, offhand, ‘This one, he is maybe not so smart.'” DeBoer was originally shocked to hear someone describe her own son that way, then realized that he wouldn’t have thought twice if she’d dismissed him as unathletic, or bad at music. Intelligence is considered such a basic measure of human worth that to dismiss someone as unintelligent seems like consigning them into the outer darkness. So DeBoer describes how early readers of his book were scandalized by the insistence on genetic differences in intelligence – isn’t this denying the equality of Man, declaring some people inherently superior to others? Only if you conflate intelligence with worth, which DeBoer argues our society does constantly. 

-Scott Alexander, “Book Review: The Cult Of Smart
Summary and commentary on The Cult Of Smart by Fredrik DeBoer
.” Astral Codex Ten. February 17, 2021.

There’s a lot going on in this review. I’d highlight that Fredrik’s DeBoer’s blog has an RSS feed, which you can add to your RSS reader. I’m looking forward to reading more of his commentary.

Open Question: Is education an unqualified good?

I recently had an online discussion with someone who, in broad strokes, seems to agree with the above position, i.e., if we only had enough education, we would solve much of society’s problems. I think this is a standard U.S. liberal stance, which positions educational attainment as the means for advancement into the middle class.

Education is the great lie of U.S. liberal politics. Lest you think I’m a conservative trying to own the libs, let me first talk about the great lie of U.S. conservative politics in order to draw parallels.

The great lie of U.S. conservative politics is that you can have a global war-fighting capability and small government. The U.S. conservative lie is easy to grasp. There’s obviously a tension between government size and the ability to fight any war, much less a capability that involves nearly a thousand foreign military bases and nearly a trillion dollars of military spending every year, more if we include the debt servicing for past wars.

But, how is education like war? Isn’t education an unqualified good? The similarity is that just as small government caps one’s ability to fight wars, there is a demand limit on education. Most education is vocational instruction. People go to school in order to get a credential that gives them a better chance of getting a job. The education is, in large part, a secondary effect to the real demand for better employment opportunities.

It’s also possible to juice this demand. For example, I know of one university, and I imagine it is a feature of most universities, where jobs that used to employ people straight out of high school now require a university degree. The university, by implementing this requirement, increases demand for its product. But, does being an administrative assistant in the university organization really require this level of training? Does one need a Bachelor’s degree in communication, business, English, etc. in order to answer the telephone, write a Word document or navigate an Excel spreadsheet? Aren’t these skills acquired in the high school curriculum these days (and if not, shouldn’t they be)?

And you can see this happening at a broader scale as university administration has become professionalized. Instead of professors running university business in addition to their teaching, professors teach and the university business has been outsourced to administrators.

And, it’s not just universities. The same phenomena is happening across industries. It’s true of every level of government. It’s true of most industries, but particularly those that are tied closely to government. Look through the top industries by GDP in the United States: healthcare, durable goods manufacturing, food & travel, retail, etc. Almost everywhere you look, advancement implies management.

So, people go to school to learn a vocation. You get in the door, and then, in order to advance, no matter what industry you are in, you need to get into management. Leaving us to wonder, what exactly is vocational education for? Further, how large is the real need for managers, as opposed to front-line workers?

If you think it through, it is obviously a con, no different in its contradictions than talking about small government and global war. Management, by definition, has to be small. So, no amount of education is going to improve the lot of people getting educated to qualify for those relatively few positions. The only way that education works is if there are paths of advancement that actually require an education and aren’t management.

For example, if Dragon Naturally Speaking has taken over all the transcriptionist jobs, if Level 5 artificial intelligence has taken over from the teamsters, if 3D printing technologies have reduced the number of people working at construction sites, if fast food can become a largely automated process, etc., what will become of those people doing those jobs?

The most likely outcome is that there will be a compression of people into low skill jobs, driving down wages for everyone. There will be some people that will move into positions of managing machines. Someone will have to check on the artificial intelligence drivers, to make sure the results are as intended and to intervene when it starts to become very Sorcerer’s apprentice. But, the net is less jobs for people and more jobs for machines.

And, this is where the education argument starts to look plausible. People can be trained and are needed to supervise and inspecting the work of machines. In some ways, we are already preparing for that world, where people in low skill jobs are treated as if they are machines. For example, see some of the discussion about the conditions in Amazon warehouses and how that is breathing new life into the labor movement.

But, in the end, there is limited demand for education. Most people go through the process of getting an education credential for the vocational dividends that pays. But, it is clear that the university model and the push for education doesn’t deliver on its promise. And, when people are sitting on a mountain of debt and cannot find work, are they going to sell the educational dream to their children?

Another detail worth consideration, did the COVID-19 pandemic finally show that the promise of MOOCs are not something that can be delivered using the university model and university price points? At the very least, the focus on education and how it is delivered needs to be completely rethought. And, as DeBoer points to a deeper problem, our society’s focus on intelligence and expanding it through education is a fundamentally flawed project, as bad as small government and global war-fighting.

Brook

“The reality is that societal stigma limits young people’s ability to take control of their sexual health, enjoy healthy relationships and explore their identities.

We are committed to changing attitudes, challenging prejudices and championing equality so that all young people can lead happy, healthy lives.

https://www.brook.org.uk/

Relationship and sex education that seems inspired compared to what is the norm in the United States.

The Last Acceptable Prejudice

“We should focus less on arming people for a meritocratic race and more on making life better for those who lack a diploma but who make important contributions to our society — through the work they do, the families they raise and the communities they serve. This requires renewing the dignity of work and putting it at the center of our politics.

It also requires reconsidering the meaning of success and questioning our meritocratic hubris: Is it my doing that I have the talents that society happens to prize — or is it my good luck?

—Michael J. Sandel, “Disdain for the less educated is the last acceptable prejudice.” The New York Times. September 2, 2020.

Spaced Repetition for Efficient Learning

“Spaced repetition is a centuries-old psychological technique for efficient memorization & practice of skills where instead of attempting to memorize by ‘cramming’, memorization can be done far more efficiently by instead spacing out each review, with increasing durations as one learns the item, with the scheduling done by software. Because of the greater efficiency of its slow but steady approach, spaced repetition can scale to memorizing hundreds of thousands of items (while crammed items are almost immediately forgotten) and is especially useful for foreign languages & medical studies.

I review what this technique is useful for, some of the large research literature on it and the testing effect (up to ~2013, primarily), the available software tools and use patterns, and miscellaneous ideas & observations on it.”

-Gwern Branwen, “Spaced Repetition for Efficient Learning.” Gwern.net. March 11, 2009.

The obvious application for spaced repetition is learning vocabulary.