“…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.
“A single, otherwise unremarkable public high school in Florida has won 13 out of the most recent 14 National Math Championships, a staggeringly successful dynasty for an otherwise average school. It’s accomplished this through treating math competition as any other sport, identifying talent as early as elementary school and developing them over the course of several years through a completely redesigned curriculum. An emphasis on speed also is crucial, and the results are pretty inarguable: The margin of victory at the national title over the past 14 years has averaged 315 points, which in 2021 jumped to 920 points.”Walt Hickey, “Lottos, ShotSpotter, Mathletes.” Numlock News. July 15, 2022
The Wall Street Journal article is pretty interesting, I particularly liked this comment:
Will Frazer popped out of his flaming red Corvette as his students were trickling into the classrooms. A bond trader on Wall Street in the 1980s, Mr. Frazer retired young and moved to Florida, where he became a scratch golfer and lived the dream for a decade. Then he got bored.
He took a job at Buchholz coaching golf, switched to teaching math, quickly formed a math team, applied the lessons of his experience in finance and turned a bunch of teenage quants into a fearsome winning machine.
“The difference between what I do now and what I did on Wall Street is that I used to get paid money,” said Mr. Frazer, 63. “Now we get trophies.”-Ben Cohen, “How a Public School in Florida Built America’s Greatest Math Team.” The Wall Street Journal. July 4, 2022
Paying someone to find and develop talent works not only for math, but pretty much everything in life. It makes you wonder why communities do not pay people to do this kind of thing for qualities they want more of. Want more STEM majors? Want more soccer players? Want chess champions? There’s a technique for that.
László Polgár also offers an interesting example because he was not able to select for top talent, he simply helped develop it in his own children. Presumably, if he had interest, there might be genetic factors in play, but I’d guess the bulk of his daughter’s success came from development. No reason this couldn’t be replicated in a million different ways. In the age-old question of Nature vs. Nurture, it would probably lead to a lot better outcomes if we tried a lot more nurture.