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Current Topic: Education

Life's Little Ups and Downs
Topic: Education 11:31 am EST, Feb 17, 2013

Nathan Heller:

Average college debt, adjusted for inflation, has tripled since the late nineteen-eighties.

(It's still growing.)

Nicola Clark:

Nearly 40 percent of French 15-year-olds have repeated at least one grade.

Clay Shirky:

Tuition and fees at public four-year colleges went up 72% last decade, even as the market value of a bachelor's degree fell by 15%.

Nathan Heller:

Nielsen data indicate that the most enthusiastic audience for HBO's "Girls" is middle-aged men.

Gretchen Reynolds:

Every single hour of television watched after the age of 25 reduces the viewer's life expectancy by 21.8 minutes.

Arif Hasan:

According to 2006 figures, fully 72 percent of the University of Karachi student body is today female. Among medical students, 87 percent are women, and the figure for architecture and planning is as high as 92 percent.

"Emma Gertlowitz", 11-year-old fan of Nate Silver:

Statisticians are the new sexy vampires, only even more pasty.

The Only Winning Move Was Not To Play
Topic: Education 8:10 am EST, Feb  1, 2013

David Brooks, via Tyler Cowen:

Our system of higher education is like a giant vacuum cleaner that sucks up some of the smartest people from across the country and concentrates them in a few privileged places.

The highly educated cluster around a few small nodes. The magnet places have positive ecologies that multiply innovation, creativity and wealth. The abandoned places have negative ecologies and fall further behind.

This sorting is self-reinforcing, and it seems to grow more unforgiving every year. ... Half of the jobs in university political science programs went to graduates of the top 11 schools. That is to say, if you have a Ph.D. from Harvard, Stanford, Princeton and so on, your odds of getting a job are very good. If you earned your degree from one of the other 100 degree-granting universities, your odds are not. These other 100 schools don't even want to hire the sort of graduates they themselves produce. They want the elite credential.

Marge Simpson:

Bart, don't make fun of grad students! They just made a terrible life choice.


Life is too short to spend 2300 hours a year working on someone else's idea of what the right problems are.

James Suroweicki:

The only way to win the game is simply not to play.

Alan Kay:

If the children are being instructed in the pink plane, can we teach them to think in the blue plane and live in a pink-plane society?

What is to become of those of us past schooling, who are aware of these planes? Are we to dredge on with pink shades over our blue eyes? What other choice do we have, become hermits and form our own seceded blue colony?

The Widening Chasm
Topic: Education 7:38 am EST, Nov 27, 2010

Dan Berrett:

The revelation that hundreds of University of Central Florida students in a senior-level business class received an advance version of a mid-term exam has exposed the widening chasm in what different generations expect of each other -- and what they perceive cheating to be.

The incident has sparked debate and soul-searching far beyond Florida, with some seeing the case as a classic example of the philosophical divide between many students and faculty members about just what constitutes cheating -- and how it can be prevented. Further, it shows just how difficult it can be to stamp out and respond to large-scale incidents of academic dishonesty.

What has been most disturbing to some -- and perhaps the real engine driving the continuing national interest in the case -- is the response and defense mounted by the students. To some observers, the incident has amplified fears about the moral character of the generation that is now coming of age.

The even larger problem is the social dynamic put in place by this larger permissiveness, she said. "When people get the idea that everyone cheats, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy," she said. Among individuals, cheating can become habitual. As the attitude that it is common grows more widespread, so does the toll it exacts.

Garrison Keillor:

I dropped in to a broadcasting school last fall and saw kids being trained for radio careers as if radio were a branch of computer processing. They had no conception of the possibility of talking into a microphone to an audience that wants to hear what you have to say. I tried to suggest what a cheat this was, but the instructor was standing next to me.

Douglas Haddow:

We are a lost generation, desperately clinging to anything that feels real, but too afraid to become it ourselves. We are a defeated generation, resigned to the hypocrisy of those before us, who once sang songs of rebellion and now sell them back to us. We are the last generation, a culmination of all previous things, destroyed by the vapidity that surrounds us.

A Desperate Attempt To Retain Some Consistency
Topic: Education 9:32 am EDT, Jul  5, 2010

Ben Goldacre:

When presented with unwelcome scientific evidence, it seems, in a desperate attempt to retain some consistency in their world view, people would rather conclude that science in general is broken.

This is an interesting finding.

But I'm not sure it makes me very happy.

An exchange:

Frink: "Now that I have your attention, we have some exciting new research from young Lisa Simpson. Let's bring her out and pay attention."

Scientist #1: "She's just a little girl!"

Scientist #2: "Let's not listen!"

Martin Schwartz:

Science makes me feel stupid too.

It's just that I've gotten used to it.

Geoffrey Munro:

The scientific impotence discounting hypothesis predicts that people resist belief-disconfirming scientific evidence by concluding that the topic of study is not amenable to scientific investigation.

Being presented with belief-disconfirming scientific evidence may lead to an erosion of belief in the efficacy of scientific methods.

The Economist's Washington correspondent:

I thought I was unlucky graduating into the tech bust.

I had no idea.

Emmeline Zhao:

Caitlin Johnson, 23 years old and a 2009 graduate of MIT with a BS in computer-science and engineering, said she was unable to land any of the 10 positions she applied for.

So she opted to stay at MIT for her master's in engineering. Having just finished her first year of the two-year program, Ms. Johnson said she might look for a job at the end of the summer to start after she completes the degree next year. But finding graduate school more appealing and facing a job market that remains weak, she said she would most likely go on to earn her Ph.D.

Should Ms. Johnson decide to opt for the job hunt instead of more schooling, she likely will face stiff competition. The number of 20- to 34-year-olds with master's degrees in the labor force in June was 12% higher than it was two years earlier. And first-time grad-school enrollment rose 4.5% in 2008 and 6% in 2009 across the country.

Marge Simpson:

Bart, don't make fun of grad students! They just made a terrible life choice.

Georgia Tech ranks #1 (percentage-wise) among US colleges and universities on Payscale's ROI survey (MIT is #1 in total lifetime return):

With the average cost for college rising, PayScale helps you figure out which school's tuition costs will return the biggest dividends for you after graduation.

A Desperate Attempt To Retain Some Consistency

Near-nonsense that nonetheless seems to say something
Topic: Education 6:50 am EDT, Jun 14, 2010

Justin E.H. Smith:

Palindromes force you up to the boundary of meaninglessness, and so challenge you to find that acceptable level of near-nonsense that nonetheless seems to say something.

Robert McCrum:

In his new book, Through the Language Glass, Guy Deutscher explains why Russian water (a "she") becomes a "he" once you have dipped a teabag into her, and why, in German, a young lady has no sex, though a turnip has.

Jesse Bering:

It occurred to me while writing this article that the social category of straight men that like to socialize with lesbians is astonishingly vacant in our society.

Merlin Mann voice:

Is that really a good use of your time? What did you make today?

Michael Pollan:

The average amount of time spent on cooking, eating and cleaning up a meal is 31 minutes; the average daily non-professional time at a computer two hours, and in front of a television three hours.

You know, we have been drilled to believe that only in the workplace do Americans produce something. But when we cook we are producers too. It's sad that we are supposed to be just consumers.

Roger Ebert:

I like the internet, but I don't want to become its love slave.

Mark Fletcher:

I fear I spend too much time on the Internet as a crutch to avoid thinking about the crushing sameness of each and every day as well as the black hollowness of my soul.

Topic: Education 6:56 am EDT, Mar 15, 2010

Craig Lambert:

Becky Cooper has an omnivorous appetite for learning and experience: new fascinations constantly beckon, and she dives in wholeheartedly. Yet the ceaseless activity leaves little space or time for reflection on who she is or what she wants.

Becky Cooper:

Harvard kids don't want to do 5,000 things at 97 percent; they'd rather do 3,000 things at 150 percent.

Roger Cohen:

Being "always on" is being always off, to something.

Samantha Power:

The French film director Jean Renoir once said, "The foundation of all great civilizations is loitering." But we have all stopped loitering. I don't mean we aren't lazy at times. I mean that no moment goes unoccupied.

Olivia Goldhill:

People are going nonstop, and there are a lot of negative implications. You don't have time to dedicate to your friends or to yourself--or to thoughts that you haven't been taught to think.

David Lazarus:

To be sure, time marches on.

Yet for many Californians, the looming demise of the "time lady," as she's come to be known, marks the end of a more genteel era, when we all had time to share.

Judith H. Kidd:

There was a time when children came home from school and just played randomly with their friends. Or hung around and got bored, and eventually that would lead you on to something. Kids don't get to do that now.

Michael Chabon:

The thing that strikes me now when I think about the Wilderness of Childhood is the incredible degree of freedom my parents gave me to adventure there. A very grave, very significant shift in our idea of childhood has occurred since then. The Wilderness of Childhood is gone; the days of adventure are past.


Pecking order
Topic: Education 8:03 am EST, Feb 16, 2010

Peter Lennox:

Economic and management theorists subscribing to the view that unbridled competition offers the greatest efficiency should be made to watch chickens. If one actually lives with chickens, it's a lot harder to treat them as mere objects.

A flock can manage without a cockerel, but a cockerel without a flock is nothing.

Dean Keith Simonton, via John Cloud:

Deliberate practice is a necessary but not sufficient condition for creating genius. For one thing, you need to be smart enough for practice to teach you something.

Kara Hansen:

Like sea lions snacking on Columbia River salmon, it's not the entire bear species causing problems. Bark-peeling is a learned behavior, Higgins said, pointing to research by Wildlife Services in Olympia, Wash.

"One bear will teach another bear, and then that bear will do it," he said. "There are bears that peel and bears that don't peel. We target peeling bears."

Richard Holbrooke:

Only with hindsight can one look back and see that the smartest course may not have been the right one.

Pecking order

The Future of Thinking
Topic: Education 7:55 am EST, Jan 25, 2010

Cathy N. Davidson and David Theo Goldberg, with Zoe Marie Jones:

Over the past two decades, the way we learn has changed dramatically. We have new sources of information and new ways to exchange and to interact with information. But our schools and the way we teach have remained largely the same for years, even centuries. What happens to traditional educational institutions when learning also takes place on a vast range of Internet sites, from Pokemon Web pages to Wikipedia? This report investigates how traditional learning institutions can become as innovative, flexible, robust, and collaborative as the best social networking sites. The authors propose an alternative definition of "institution" as a "mobilizing network" -- emphasizing its flexibility, the permeability of its boundaries, its interactive productivity, and its potential as a catalyst for change -- and explore the implications for higher education.

Nicholas Carr:

Over the past few years I've had an uncomfortable sense that someone, or something, has been tinkering with my brain, remapping the neural circuitry, reprogramming the memory. My mind isn't going -- so far as I can tell -- but it's changing. I'm not thinking the way I used to think.

John Seely-Brown:

The best way to predict the future is not to look ahead, but to look around.

Bill Buxton:

Any technology that is going to have significant impact over the next 10 years is already at least 10 years old.

John Schwartz:

The critical issue is no longer getting information, but getting the right information to the right people at the right time. And that turns out to be one of the hardest tasks around.

Junot Diaz:

Ideas are wonderful things, but unless they're couched in a good story they can do nothing.

Louis Kahn:

A good idea that doesn't happen is no idea at all.

The Future of Thinking

Mother Tongue: a moving account of interlingual farrago from a mother who wants smart children
Topic: Education 6:05 pm EST, Nov  8, 2009

Judith Hertog, in Exquisite Corpse:

Childhood language acquisition experts claim that multilingual children develop more versatile brains than monolingual children: once children learn how to switch back and forth between languages, they also develop talents for other kinds of mental gymnastics. So I thought I was raising cosmopolitan, multilingual, superior children who'd be at home anywhere in the world and who'd nimbly slink between languages, cultures, and realities. But it didn't really worked out as I envisioned. Instead, we are raising a confused American toddler, and a daughter who, according to her school's assessment, is falling between the language cracks.

I cling to Dutch because I'm afraid that if I speak English to my children, they are hearing a translation of me instead of my real self. And I hope that by making my children speak Dutch, I can reconnect them to my own childhood. But in the middle of every slow laborious sentence, I consider the futility of my attempt and ask myself: Why do I hold on to this irrational nostalgia?

But when I listen to my voice in English, I hear not myself, but a pathetic, phony woman with a Dutch accent trying to sound like an American "mom." With every sentence an existential crisis, I often prefer silence. And in the silence I feel my children slip away from me.

I find other people's errors very reassuring. It makes me feel better about my own deficiencies. I'm always on the lookout for mistakes, and when someone who's supposed to know better slips up, my heart does a little victory jiggle.

... I feel the victory rush comfortably spreading through my body. I can't help smiling. This is all I've wanted her to acknowledge. She's an imposter, a swindler, just like me. And now that we are both exposed, my anger dissipates. For a few moments we are silent in mutual understanding: neither of us will ever feel completely comfortable in English, but we will have to keep up the impossible pretense that we are enough at home in it to teach it to others. For a moment I imagine Mrs. Schwab becoming my friend. We will talk about what it's like to always keep up a facade, to always feel incompetent. With each other we'll be able to let our guards down.

Birgit Mampe, Angela D. Friederici, Anne Christophe, and Kathleen Wermke:

Human fetuses are able to memorize auditory stimuli from the external world by the last trimester of pregnancy, with a particular sensitivity to melody contour in both music and language. Newborns prefer their mother's voice over other voices and perceive the emotional content of messages conveyed via intonation contours in maternal speech ("motherese"). Their perceptual preference for the surrounding language and their ability to distinguish between prosodically different languages and pitch changes are based on prosodic information, primarily melody. Adult-like processing of pitch intervals allows newborns to appreciate musical melodies and emotional and linguistic prosody. Although prenatal exposure to native-language prosody influences newborns' perception, the surrounding language affects sound production apparently much later. Here, we analyzed the crying patterns of 30 French and 30 German newborns with respect to their melody and intensity contours. The French group preferentially produced cries with a rising melody contour, whereas the German group preferentially produced falling contours. The data show an influence of the surrounding speech prosody on newborns' cry melody, possibly via vocal learning based on biological predispositions.

Mother Tongue: a moving account of interlingual farrago from a mother who wants smart children

The Ph.D. Problem
Topic: Education 7:32 am EST, Nov  2, 2009

Marge Simpson:

Bart, don't make fun of grad students! They just made a terrible life choice.

Louis Menand:

Students continue to check into the doctoral motel, and they don't seem terribly eager to check out.

There is a sense in which the system is now designed to produce ABDs -- graduate students who have completed all but their dissertations.

Between 1989 and 1996, the supply curve completely lost touch with the demand curve in American academic life.

From the archive, Louis Menand:

Getting a Ph.D. today means spending your 20's in graduate school, plunging into debt, writing a dissertation no one will read -- and becoming more narrow and more bitter each step of the way.

Winston Churchill:

Are we animals? Are we taking this too far?

Malcolm Gladwell:

Free is just another price ...


Life is too short to spend 2300 hours a year working on someone else's idea of what the right problems are.

Matt Knox:

It's hard to get people to do something bad all in one big jump, but if you can cut it up into small enough pieces, you can get people to do almost anything.

Jonathan Pfeiffer:

Some of the most capable people in the post-graduate ranks feel uninspired or disempowered. They may enter graduate school full of creativity and find that after about a year, the light within them no longer burns as brightly as it once did.

Knowing exactly why this happens is difficult, but one cannot help but suspect that it has something to do with academic culture.

Richard Sennett:

The evidence suggests that from an executive perspective, the most desirable employees may no longer necessarily be those with proven ability and judgment, but those who can be counted on to follow orders and be good "team players."

Christopher J. Ferguson:

Many people like to think that any child, with the proper nurturance, can blossom into some kind of academic oak tree, tall and proud. It's just not so.

Menand's new book asks:

Has American higher education become a dinosaur?

George Friedman:

That is what happened at the CIA: A culture of process destroyed a culture of excellence.

The Ph.D. Problem

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