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Current Topic: Education

Simple & Direct
Topic: Education 8:54 am EDT, May 20, 2004

Rare is the book that causes one to consider -- ponder? appraise? examine? inspect? contemplate? -- one's every word.

Simple & Direct, a classic text on the craft of writing by the educator Jacques Barzun, does so -- with style.

Bookshelf already full, you say? Pick up your broom, clear away the dust, and consider making that "Harry" disappear.

If the truth is told, the youth can grow
Then learn to survive until they gain control
Nobody says you have to be gangstas, hoes
Read more, learn more, change the globe

Simple & Direct

The Lobotomized Weasel School of Writing
Topic: Education 8:45 am EDT, May 20, 2004

The other day, our 16-year-old son, struggling with his homework, asked his mother this question: "Do you know how many paragraphs an American history essay is supposed to have?"

Writing, which ought to nurture and give shape to thought, is instead being used to pound it into a powder and then reconstitute it into gruel.

The people who create and enforce the templates are, not to put too fine a point on it, people without understanding or imagination, lobotomized weasels for whom any effort of thought exceeds their strength.

In Indiana this year, the junior-year English essay will be graded by computer. If this is knowledge, then truth and beauty reside only in ignorance.

The Lobotomized Weasel School of Writing

World History: An Appraisal
Topic: Education 9:35 am EDT, May 19, 2004

In subjects ranging from Africa to terrorism, world history textbooks provide unreliable, often scanty information and provide poorly constructed activities. Publishers could and should be providing high school teachers and students with cheaper, smaller, more legible volumes, stripping trivia and superfluity from current volumes.

Rooted in a flawed production system and publishers' intransigence, the problems with world history textbooks go deep enough to raise questions about corporate violations of public trust.

World History: An Appraisal

Blanding-Down History
Topic: Education 9:26 am EDT, May 19, 2004

Over the past few days, the language used to describe the Supreme Court's decision to strike down segregated public education has been inspiring. Nevertheless, when I learned that my son's school intended to celebrate the 50th anniversary of that Supreme Court decision this spring, I felt somehow less inspired. The problem was not the principle, but the context.

I hope most American children are given more context, and I'm sure that many are. But if they aren't, that won't be surprising. The larger problem in many schools is an apolitical one: Nowadays, history is too often drained of any meaning, left- or right-wing, whatsoever.

A recent review of grade school textbooks found a huge variety of staggering flaws, from phony attempts at relevance, such as comparisons of Odysseus to Indiana Jones, to bad writing and design. Proliferating cartoons, sidebars and trivia drown out the main narrative.

The issue is the low expectations we now have of our children, whom we too often judge incapable of hearing the truth.

"From Dawn to Decadence" should be required reading for every high school student. And again, I direct your attention to the Edge article on Danny Hillis's Aristotle.

Blanding-Down History

Aristotle, by Danny Hillis | Edge
Topic: Education 8:12 pm EDT, May 16, 2004

Danny Hillis proposes to improve education, and the Reality Club responds. My favorite replies are from Freeman and Esther Dyson, and, intriguingly, Kai Krause, who is apparently sequestered deep inside an old German fortress working on a secret project that will emerge to revolutionize the Internet just when we least expect it.

In principle, the Internet could be done on paper, but the logistics are much better handled with the computer. "I am interested in the step beyond that, where what is going on is not just a passive document, but an active computation, where people are using the Net to think of new things that they couldn't think of as individuals, where the Net thinks of new things that the individuals on the Net couldn't think of."

"In the long run, the Internet will arrive at a much richer infrastructure, in which ideas can potentially evolve outside of human minds. You can imagine something happening on the Internet along evolutionary lines, as in the simulations I run on my parallel computers. It already happens in trivial ways, with viruses, but that's just the beginning. I can imagine nontrivial forms of organization evolving on the Internet. Ideas could evolve on the Internet that are much too complicated to hold in any human mind."

At the same time that a solution is becoming possible, the problem is reaching a crisis point: the amount of knowledge is becoming overwhelming, and the need for it is increasing. There is a widespread conviction that something radical needs to be done about education -- both the education of children and the continuing education of adults. The world is becoming so complicated that schools are no longer able to teach students what they need to know, but industry is not equipped to deal with the problem either. Something needs to change.

Aristotle, by Danny Hillis | Edge

Topic: Education 11:19 am EDT, May  8, 2004

Now, even without visiting Cambridge, you can experience some of the exciting research, teaching, and public addresses making news at Harvard University.

Each of the 41 programs offered on this site contains edited video and multimedia ranging from 45 minutes to 3 hours in length. We hope you enjoy this way of strengthening your connection to the intellectual center of the University.

Lectures include:
    Unlocking the Promise of Stem Cells
    A New American Empire?
    The College Experience
    Magic of Numbers

    E.O. Wilson, on the relation of science and the humanities


MIT World
Topic: Education 10:55 am EDT, May  8, 2004

MIT World is a free and open site that provides on-demand video of significant public events at MIT. The archive contains 180 videos, including:

The Emerging Mediascape; The Militarization of Science and Space; Innovation at the Interface: Technological Fusion at MIT; Challenges of the Past, Present, and Future; The Brain and the Mind; The Electron and the Bit: 100 Years of EECS at MIT; Engineering Human-Machine Relationships; Transforming the Next Century; ME++, The Cyborg Self and the Networked City; Fortune Favors the Bold; Navigating the Future; A New Kind of Science

MIT World

Losing Our Technical Dominance
Topic: Education 9:05 am EDT, May  7, 2004

There are signs that the United States is losing ground to foreign competitors.

Fewer and fewer young Americans seem interested in technical careers.

The administration seems misguided ...

Most important, the decline in the number of Americans training to become scientists and engineers suggests the need to reinvigorate science education in the public schools.

Losing Our Technical Dominance

Simson Garfinkel, on College
Topic: Education 11:10 pm EDT, Apr 12, 2004

Simson Garfinkel has the cover article in the April 2004 issue of MIT's Counterpoint Magazine. It's a short (three page) article, and worth the read.

You can download the full issue in PDF; no subscription is required. Here's a brief description, in his words:

"It's a combination of advice to current undergraduates and reflections about all of the money and time that I wasted in my 20's. Key lessons from the article:

- It turns out that grades matter after all.
- On the other hand, your choice of major doesn't matter much.
- Once you graduate, it's really important to stay in school (i.e.: continuing education)/
- Apply for things.
- Invest for your future (ie: save, save, save --- and don’t gamble with your savings).
- Don't make enemies --- the world is a small place.

I can wholeheartedly endorse all of Simson's lessons. You'll also find at least one of them in Anthony Zinni's "20 Principles."

On Leap Day I posted the lyrics to Pink Floyd's "Time" -- I was thinking about many of the same things Simson brings out in this article, particularly the post-college context.

Simson Garfinkel, on College

A Job or More School? Young Doctors Take On 'The Match'
Topic: Education 9:49 am EDT, Apr  6, 2004

In 2003, the average debt of a medical student was nearly $110,000, double the figure in 1993. Many residents require 30 years to pay off the full amount.

A Job or More School? Young Doctors Take On 'The Match'

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