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Ed Webb

Liberal Education after the Pandemic | AAUP - 0 views

  • The current massive and unanticipated experiment in online education could transform higher education as we know it. We should begin these difficult conversations about the future of the liberal arts now, in cyberspace, before the new normal takes shape—whenever that may be. Even if we feel trapped in our own homes and beset with anxiety and cabin fever, we also have an opportunity to reconsider the aims of higher education not in the abstract but in this concrete historical moment, with attention to specific institutional needs, public policy proposals, ideological pressures, and the overarching economic crisis.
  • A genuine commitment to ethical, historically aware, egalitarian, or democratic principles can land an individual in a world of trouble. I am thinking, for example, of the basic scientific literacy, historical awareness, and ethical commitment that equip an individual citizen to recognize the expertise of infectious disease specialists and reject the common sense of neighbors or the priorities and demands of an employer—or to spot the bogus claims, fundamental incompetence, or ethical depravity of some elected leaders. Such scientific literacy and basic familiarity with statistical analysis allow nonexperts to understand the arguments of climatologists and reject the sophistry of coworkers or talk show hosts or governors who point out, for example, that “the climate has always been changing.”
  • The reason that individual institutions cannot pitch such potential outcomes under ordinary circumstances is that these intellectual faculties serve the public good but do not necessarily advance the economic interests or career objectives of individual prospective or current students, especially those incurring significant debt. Being a whistleblower, for example, is generally a costly, painful career move—but the public needs to know nonetheless if the US military is shooting civilians in the streets of Baghdad; or the pharmaceutical industry is engineering a profitable opioid epidemic; or the health insurance industry is denying legitimate claims.
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  • just as the current crisis represents an opportunity for the people who have been working hard to privatize everything imaginable, dismantle public education, sink net neutrality, and align higher education with the demands of prospective employers and industry moguls (think here of the interventions of the Koch brothers in higher education, for example), it also represents an opportunity to push for the basic conditions under which a liberal education might properly serve its public functions. We should use these months to advocate for the kinds of public policies, such as tuition-free higher education, that recognize liberal education as a common good. We must articulate the reasons why a liberal education is in fact a common good and why a liberal education is disfigured if it is made to promote the demands of prospective employers.
  • We need a society capable of devising new and more humane social contracts, new political economies, new food and energy grids, and sustainable use of resources—whether or not these projects produce financial dividends for individual graduates or for their employers. An accessible, publicly funded liberal education decoupled from the demands of industry and prospective employers is the best way to prepare people to do these things.
  • we should use these months of confinement to strategize about a long-term case for liberal education and for public investment in an educated citizenry. Now is the time to invest some of our intellectual capital in education advocacy that ultimately makes a difference not only in the lives of students but also for the collective well-being of our nation and the world
Ed Webb

Why hard work and specialising early is not a recipe for success - The Correspondent - 0 views

  • dispelling nonsense is much harder than spreading nonsense.
  • a worldwide cult of the head start – a fetish for precociousness. The intuitive opinion that dedicated, focused specialists are superior to doubting, daydreaming Jacks-of-all-trades is winning
  • astonishing sacrifices made in the quest for efficiency, specialisation and excellence
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  • Most things that people want to learn do not resemble language, golf or chess, but rather a game in which the generalist has an advantage. A hostile learning environment
  • Seemingly inefficient things are productive: expanding your horizons, giving yourself time, switching professions. 
  • early specialisation is a good idea if you want to become successful in certain fields, sports or professions. In fact, in some cases, it’s the only option. Take chess, for example: if you don’t start early, you won’t stand a chance at glory.
  • learning chess is not a good model for learning other things. Epstein explains this using the work of psychologist Robin Hogarth, who makes the distinction between friendly (kind) and unfriendly or hostile (wicked) learning environments.
  • In a friendly learning environment, such as chess, the rules are clear, the information is complete (all pieces are visible on the board), and you can (ultimately) determine the quality of every move. In other words, the feedback loop
  • friendly learning environments are the exception. The world is not as clear-cut as golf or chess. So early specialisation is often a bad idea. 
  • In hostile learning environments without repetitive patterns, mastery is much harder to achieve. The feedback loop is insidious. Unlike chess, experience does not necessarily make you better. You may stick with the wrong approach because you’re convinced it’s the right one. 
  • The better a teacher scored on their own subject (i.e., the higher the grades their students got in that subject), the more mediocre students’ scores were across the complete programme (all modules). The explanation? Those teachers gave their students rigidly defined education, purely focused on passing exams. The students passed their tests with high marks – and rated their teachers highly in surveys – but would fail later on. 
  • In learning environments without repetitive patterns, where cause and effect are not always clear, early specialisation and spending countless hours does not guarantee success. Quite the opposite, Epstein argues. Generalists have the advantage: they have a wider range of experiences and a greater ability to associate and improvise. (The world has more in common with jazz than classical music, Epstein explains in a chapter on music.)
  • Many modern professions aren’t so much about applying specific solutions than they are about recognising the nature of a problem, and only then coming up with an approach. That becomes possible when you learn to see analogies with other fields, according to psychologist Dedre Gentner, who has made this subject her life’s work.
  • Another advantage generalists and late specialists have is more concrete: you are more likely to pick a suitable study, sport or profession if you first orient yourself broadly before you make a choice.
  • Greater enjoyment of the game is one of the benefits associated with late specialisation, along with fewer injuries and more creativity.
  • which child, teenager or person in their 20s knows what they will be doing for the rest of their lives?
  • Persevering along a chosen path can also lead to other problems: frustrations about failure. If practice makes perfect, why am I not a genius? In a critical review,
  • The tricky thing about generalist long-term thinking versus specialist short-term thinking is that the latter produces faster and more visible results.
  • specialising in short-term success gets in the way of long-term success. This also applies to education.
  • (Another example: the on-going worry about whether or not students’ degree choices are "labour market relevant".)
  • Teachers who taught more broadly – who did not teach students readymade "prescribed lessons” but instilled "principles" – were not rated as highly in their own subject, but had the most sustainable effect on learning. However, this was not reflected in the results. These teachers were awarded – logically but tragically – lower ratings by their students.
  • the 10,000 hour gang has considerable power with their message "quitters never win, winners never quit".Epstein’s more wholesome message seems weak and boring in comparison. Some things are simply not meant for everyone, doubt is understandable and even meaningful, you can give up and change your choice of work, sports or hobby, and an early lead can actually be a structural disadvantage. 
  • "Don’t feel behind." Don’t worry if others seem to be moving faster, harder or better. Winners often quit.
Ed Webb

Alan Kay, Systems, and Textbooks « Theatrical Smoke - 2 views

  • I discuss his key idea: that systemic thinking is a liberal art, and I explain a corollary idea, that textbooks suck
  • if you don’t have a category for an idea, it’s very difficult to receive that idea
  • the story of the last few hundred years is that we’ve quickly developed important ideas, which society needs to have to improve and perhaps even to continue to exist, and for which there are no pre-existing, genetically created categories. So there’s an idea-receiving capacity gap.
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  • Education’s job should be, says Kay, to bridge this gap. To help, that is, people form these necessary new idea-receiving categories–teaching them the capacity for ideas–early on in their lives, so that as they grow they are ready to embrace the things we need them to know. Let me say that in a better way: so that as they grow they are ready to know in the ways we need them to know.
  • cultivate the ability to conceive of, work with, create, understand, manipulate, tinker with, disrupt, and, generally, appreciate the beauty of systems
  • a game, or a simulation, thought of as a thing we might create (rather than a thing we only act within), is a visceral example of systems thinking
  • Seeing systems is an epistemology, a way of knowing, a mindset
  • It’s the Flatland story–that we need to train our 2D minds to see in a kind of 3D–and Kay’s genius is that he recognizes we have to bake this ability into the species, through education, as close to birth as possible.
  • Systems thinking is to be conceived of as a platform skill or an increased capacity on top of which we will be able to construct new sorts of ideas and ways of knowing, of more complex natures still. The step beyond seeing a single system is of course the ability to see interacting systems – a kind of meta-systemic thinking – and this is what I think Kay is really interested in, because it’s what he does. At one point he showed a slide of multiple systems–the human body, the environment, the internet, and he said in a kind of aside, “they’re all one system . . .”
  • The point is to be able to see connections between the silos. Says Kay, the liberal arts have done a bad job at “adding in epistemology” among the “smokestacks” (i.e. disciplines)
  • What happens when you’re stuck in a system? You don’t understand the world and yourself and others as existing in constant development, as being in process; you think you are a fixed essence or part within a system (instead of a system influencing systems) and you inadvertently trap yourself in a kind of tautological loop where you can only think about things you’re thinking about and do the things you do and you thus limit yourself to a kind of non-nutritive regurgitation of factoids, or the robotic meaningless actions of an automaton, or what Kay calls living in a pop culture
  • A downside of being epistemologically limited to thinking within a system is that you overemphasize the importance of the content and facts as that system orders them
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