Tag Archives: Education

Never too Old to Learn

Bertie Gladwin, aged 90, has just been awarded his MA in Intelligence History from the University of Buckingham. Writing in the Guardian, he says:

Indeed, I was not really looking forward to attending my first seminar, worried about what to expect, but I needn’t have been – my fellow students (about 20 of them) immediately put me at ease. Two nice young ladies moved apart and offered me a chair between them. What a relief. The camaraderie between students is well known, and it was very much in evidence here. I made many friends among them, and they seemed to treat me no differently than any other, except for one big Kenyan lad who insisted on calling me “sir”. Their average age was in the mid-20s, and I am still in touch with some of them. The University of Buckingham attracts more than its share of students from all over the world – there were Americans, Chinese, Nigerians – and meeting them and enjoying their company was an unexpected bonus.

The most memorable thoughts I have of the university experience (which I sorely miss), were the wonderful seminars, especially when my old-fashioned, non-PC views would sometimes cause a friendly uproar among the students. I did enjoy that.

I Graduated Aged 90 – You’re Never too Old to Learn   [theGuardian]


Perfect Attendance

An impressive story about how much some people value education:

Tan, seven, has cerebral palsy and can’t walk, so every morning for the last three years, her granny has carried her the five kilometres to school, waited for her, and carried her home across southwest China’s Chongqing Municipality… Incredibly though, the two have never been late for school, even though the walk takes around two hours on a good day. It is estimated Xiang has carried Tan, now seven, over 10,000 km.


Sir Ken Robinson on Schools

Sir Ken Robinson on the problems with the way education is structured and what must be done to fix it.

[Thanks, Ben!]

This is Water

One of my favourite essays is David Foster Wallace’s ‘This is Water’, which was originally a commencement speech he gave at Kenyon College.

Of course the main requirement of speeches like this is that I’m supposed to talk about your liberal arts education’s meaning, to try to explain why the degree you are about to receive has actual human value instead of just a material payoff. So let’s talk about the single most pervasive cliché in the commencement speech genre, which is that a liberal arts education is not so much about filling you up with knowledge as it is about “teaching you how to think”. If you’re like me as a student, you’ve never liked hearing this, and you tend to feel a bit insulted by the claim that you needed anybody to teach you how to think, since the fact that you even got admitted to a college this good seems like proof that you already know how to think. But I’m going to posit to you that the liberal arts cliché turns out not to be insulting at all, because the really significant education in thinking that we’re supposed to get in a place like this isn’t really about the capacity to think, but rather about the choice of what to think about. If your total freedom of choice regarding what to think about seems too obvious to waste time discussing, I’d ask you to think about fish and water, and to bracket for just a few minutes your scepticism about the value of the totally obvious.

Here’s another didactic little story. There are these two guys sitting together in a bar in the remote Alaskan wilderness. One of the guys is religious, the other is an atheist, and the two are arguing about the existence of God with that special intensity that comes after about the fourth beer. And the atheist says: “Look, it’s not like I don’t have actual reasons for not believing in God. It’s not like I haven’t ever experimented with the whole God and prayer thing. Just last month I got caught away from the camp in that terrible blizzard, and I was totally lost and I couldn’t see a thing, and it was 50 below, and so I tried it: I fell to my knees in the snow and cried out ‘Oh, God, if there is a God, I’m lost in this blizzard, and I’m gonna die if you don’t help me.'” And now, in the bar, the religious guy looks at the atheist all puzzled. “Well then you must believe now,” he says, “After all, here you are, alive.” The atheist just rolls his eyes. “No, man, all that was was a couple Eskimos happened to come wandering by and showed me the way back to camp.”

It’s easy to run this story through kind of a standard liberal arts analysis: the exact same experience can mean two totally different things to two different people, given those people’s two different belief templates and two different ways of constructing meaning from experience. Because we prize tolerance and diversity of belief, nowhere in our liberal arts analysis do we want to claim that one guy’s interpretation is true and the other guy’s is false or bad. Which is fine, except we also never end up talking about just where these individual templates and beliefs come from. Meaning, where they come from INSIDE the two guys. As if a person’s most basic orientation toward the world, and the meaning of his experience were somehow just hard-wired, like height or shoe-size; or automatically absorbed from the culture, like language. As if how we construct meaning were not actually a matter of personal, intentional choice. Plus, there’s the whole matter of arrogance. The nonreligious guy is so totally certain in his dismissal of the possibility that the passing Eskimos had anything to do with his prayer for help. True, there are plenty of religious people who seem arrogant and certain of their own interpretations, too. They’re probably even more repulsive than atheists, at least to most of us. But religious dogmatists’ problem is exactly the same as the story’s unbeliever: blind certainty, a close-mindedness that amounts to an imprisonment so total that the prisoner doesn’t even know he’s locked up.

The point here is that I think this is one part of what teaching me how to think is really supposed to mean. To be just a little less arrogant. To have just a little critical awareness about myself and my certainties. Because a huge percentage of the stuff that I tend to be automatically certain of is, it turns out, totally wrong and deluded. I have learned this the hard way, as I predict you graduates will, too.

David Foster Wallace, In His Own Words [MoreIntelligentLife]

Muslim Population Growing at Catholic Schools in U.S.

The Washington Post has a fascinating article about the growing numbers of Muslim students at Catholic colleges in the United States. The proportion of Muslim students is now higher at Catholic schools than at secular ones. From the article:

Muslim students say they enroll at Catholic schools for many of the same reasons as their classmates: attractive campuses, appealing professors and academic programs that fit their interests. But there is also a spiritual attraction to the values that overlap the two faiths.

“Because it is an overtly religious place, it’s not strange or weird to care about your religion here, to pray and make God a priority,” said Shabnan, a political science major who often covers her head with a pale beige scarf. “They have the same values we do.”

Enrollment of Muslim Students in Growing at Catholic Colleges in U.S. [Washington Post]

Ranking America’s Smartest Cities

The Daily Beast has used a statistical method to rank the smartest – and dumbest – cities in the USA. They developed an index based on the proportion of college grads in the population as well as other indicators like the number of libraries and non-fiction book sales.

This year’s methodology is similar to last year’s inaugural list, with a couple weighting refinements, and one major change: as our civic engagement quotient—a proxy of a city’s willingness, and ability, to invest in intellectual culture—we dropped voter turnout in favor of libraries per capita. Overall, we divided the criteria into two parts: Half for education, and half for intellectual environment. The education half encompassed the percentage of residents over age 25 that had bachelor’s degrees (25 percent weighting) and graduate degrees (25 percent), compared to the overall population over age 25. The intellectual environmental half had three subparts. First, we looked at year-to-date nonfiction book sales (16.7 percent), as tracked by Nielsen BookScan, the nation’s leading provider of accurate point-of-sale data, which tracks roughly 300,000 titles each week. We also measured the ratio of institutions of higher education (16.7 percent), as defined by the federal government—different than just measuring college degrees, this acknowledges that universities as driver of intellectual vigor of cities and rewards cities with college populations. Finally, libraries per capita (16.7 percent) measures how willing and able a city is to educate the general public, as well as the no-cost opportunities for the public to educate itself.

Once we had all these comparable, per-capita figures, we ranked the cities in each category, assigning 10 points to those near the very top, and 0 to the bottom, with scores in between dropped into a broad bell curve. We then added the totals and multiplied by two, which made for a perfect score of 200, a wash-out score of 0, and an average score right at 100—close to the exact parameters of a classic IQ test.

Boston, Hartford and San Francisco rounded out the three smartest. Las Vegas was the dumbest, not surprisingly. The whole list can be found on their site.

Ranking America’s Smartest, and Dumbest, Cities [Daily Beast]

Detroit Schools to Offer Classes in How to Work at Wal-Mart

Four schools in inner-city Detroit (where unemployment is about 50%) are offering classes in how to work at Wal-Mart:

Four inner-city Detroit high schools have decided that employment with Walmart is an opportunity worth training their students to pursue. The schools have teamed up with the giant merchandiser to offer a for-credit class in job-readiness training that also includes entry-level after-school jobs.

According to the Detroit Free Press, the principal at one of the schools optimistically suggested that “the program will allow students an opportunity to earn money and to be exposed to people from different cultures — since all of the stores are in the suburbs.”

Bradley Novicoff at Dangerous Minds had this to say:

It’s hard to read this RawStory article and not think we’ve reached some kind of consumerist event horizon, or that we’re now witnessing some final, absurdist connecting of the dots between education and capitalism.

Also, it reminds me of what Noam Chomsky said about education during the Industrial Revolution:

Mass education was designed to turn independent farmers into docile, passive tools of production. That was its primary purpose. And don’t think people didn’t know it. They knew it and they fought against it. There was a lot of resistance to mass education for exactly that reason. It was also understood by the elites. Emerson once said something about how we’re educating them to keep them from our throats. If you don’t educate them, what we call “education,” they’re going to take control — “they” being what Alexander Hamilton called the “great beast,” namely the people. The anti-democratic thrust of opinion in what are called democratic societies is really ferocious. And for good reason. Because the freer the society gets, the more dangerous the great beast becomes and the more you have to be careful to cage it somehow.

Detroit Schools Offer Class in How to Work at Wal-Mart [RawStory]