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Posts Tagged ‘education

“Never let your sense of morals get in the way of doing what’s right”*…

 

People disagree about morality. They disagree about what morality prohibits, permits and requires. And they disagree about why morality prohibits, permits and requires these things. Moreover, at least some of the disagreement on these matters is reasonable. It is not readily attributable to woolly thinking or ignorance or inattention to relevant considerations. Sensible and sincere people armed with similar life experiences and acquainted with roughly the same facts come to strikingly different conclusions about the content and justification of morality.

For examples of disagreement about content, think of the standards ‘vote in democratic elections’, ‘do not smack your children’, and ‘do not eat meat’. Some reasonable people recognise a moral duty to vote, or a moral prohibition on smacking or meat-eating; others do not. To see the depth of disagreement about justification, consider the variety of reasons advanced for the widely accepted moral standard ‘do not lie’. Should we refrain from lying because God commands it, because it promotes the greatest happiness of the greatest number, because in deceiving others we treat them as mere means to our ends, or because the virtue of honesty is a necessary condition of our own flourishing? Each of these reasons is persuasive to some and quite unpersuasive to others.

Reasonable disagreement about morality presents educators with a problem. It is hard to see how we can bring it about that children subscribe to moral standards, and believe them to be justified, except by giving them some form of moral education. But it is also hard to see how moral educators can legitimately cultivate these attitudes in the face of reasonable disagreement about the content and justification of morality. It looks as though any attempt to persuade children of the authority of a particular moral code will be tantamount to indoctrination…

Michael Hand asks– and suggests an answer to– a desperately-important question: “If we disagree about morality, how can we teach it?

* Isaac Asimov

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As we struggle to teach our children well, we might send fabulous birthday greetings to Publius Ovidius Naso; he was born on this date in 43 BCE.  Known in the English-speaking world as Ovid, he was a Roman poet who lived during the reign of Augustus.  He was a contemporary of the older Virgil and Horace, with whom he is often ranked as one of the three canonical poets of Latin literature.  Ovid is today best known for the Metamorphoses, a 15-book continuous mythological narrative written in the meter of epic, and for works in elegiac couplets such as Ars Amatoria (“The Art of Love”) and Fasti.  His poetry was much imitated during Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, and greatly influenced Western art and literature; he was, for instance a favorite– and favorite source– of Shakespeare.  And the Metamorphoses remains one of the most important sources of classical mythology.

Ovid enjoyed enormous popularity in his time; but, in one of the great mysteries of literary history, was sent by Augustus into exile in a remote province on the Black Sea, where he remained until his death.  Ovid himself attributes his exile to carmen et error, “a poem and a mistake”; but his discretion in discussing the causes has resulted in much speculation among scholars.

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“A few scribbles on a blackboard… can change the course of human affairs”*…

 

What’s the most transformative piece of technology in U.S. classrooms? Smart boards? Laptops? In a 2000 paper on computers in education, Steven D. Krause argues that it’s one that’s been around for nearly two centuries: the blackboard. And he suggests that if we want to understand how teachers adopt technology, we might want to study its history.

To understand the impact of blackboards, Krause writes, we need to consider what schools were like before them. Around 1800, most U.S. schools were one-room log buildings with a fireplace at one end and a single window at the other. “Writing lessons” generally meant students working on their own, whittling goose-quill pens and copying out texts.

When the idea of chalkboards first arrived in the early nineteenth century, they came as a revelation to teachers and education experts. In 1841, one educator declared that the blackboard’s unknown inventor “deserves to be ranked among the best contributors to learning and science, if not among the greatest benefactors of mankind.” Around the same time, another writer praised blackboards for “reflecting the workings, character and quality of the individual mind.”

It’s important to remember that school budgets and student-teacher ratios in the early nineteenth century would seem ludicrous to a modern school district. One teacher might be responsible for hundreds of students, with very little funding for supplies.

Krause writes that one prominent way of using the blackboard to improve education under these circumstances was known as the Lancasterian method, after British educator John Lancaster. Lancaster prescribed particular ways of physically arranging the classroom so that a teacher could work with a large group all at once…

The whole dusty story at “How blackboards transformed American education.”  Read Krause’s paper, “‘Among the Greatest Benefactors of Mankind’: What the Success of Chalkboards Tells Us about the Future of Computers in the Classroom,” here.

* Stanislaw Ulam

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As we clean the erasers, we might send repetitive-but-instructive birthday greetings to Edwin Ray Guthrie; he was born on this date in 1886.  A philosopher and mathematician by training, he became a leading behavioral psychologist, specializing in the psychology of learning and more specifically, in the role association plays in acquiring skills.  He’s probably best remembered for his belief that all learning is based on a stimulus- response association, instantiated in his Law of Contiguity, which held that “a combination of stimuli which has accompanied a movement, will on its recurrence tend to be followed by that movement.”  Movements are, he argued, small stimulus- response combinations; these movements make up an act.  Thus, a learned behavior– an act that is consolidated by the learner so that it can be repeated– is, at its root, a series of movements.  Guthrie believed that what is learned are the movements (of which the behaviors are simply a result).

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“Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all”*…

 

You are on an asteroid careening through the cosmos. Aboard the asteroid with you are nine hundred highly-skilled physicians, who have been working on developing a revolutionary medication that will cure every disease in the known universe. The asteroid’s current trajectory is taking it straight toward the Planet of Orphans, where all intergalactic civilizations have dumped their unwanted offspring, of which there are now 100 trillion, all living, breathing, and mewling. If you detonate the asteroid, all of the doctors will die, along with the hope for curing every disease in the universe. If you do not detonate the asteroid, the doctors will have time to develop the cure and send it hurtling toward the Healing Planet before you crash into and destroy the Planet of Orphans. Thus you face the crucial question: how useful is this hypothetical for illuminating moral truths?

The “Trolley Problem” is a staple of undergraduate moral philosophy. It is a gruesome hypothetical supposedly designed to test our moral intuitions and introduce the differences between Kantian and consequentialist reasoning. For the lucky few who have thus far managed to avoid exposure to the Trolley Problem, here it is: a runaway trolley is hurtling down the track. In the trolley’s path are five workers, who will inevitably be smushed to a gory paste if it continues along its present course. But you, you have the power to change things: you happen to be standing by a switch. If you give the switch a yank, the trolley will veer onto a different track. On this track, there is only one worker. Do you pull the switch and doom the unsuspecting proletarian, or do you refrain from acting and allow five others to die?…

How a staple of moral education “turns us into horrible people, and discourages us from examining the structural factors that determine our choices”: “The Trolley Problem Will Tell You Nothing Useful About Morality.”

[TotH to the ever-illuminating 3 Quarks Daily]

* Aristotle

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As we carefully consider the questions that deserve our response, we might spare a thought for German Idealist philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel; he died on this date in 1831.  While his ideas have been divisive, they have been hugely influential (e.g., here).  Karl Barth described Hegel as a “Protestant Aquinas,” while Maurice Merleau-Ponty wrote that “all the great philosophical ideas of the past century—the philosophies of Marx and Nietzsche, phenomenology, German existentialism, and psychoanalysis—had their beginnings in Hegel.”

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Written by LW

November 14, 2017 at 1:01 am

“We are healthy only to the extent that our ideas are humane”*…

 

For three days, thousands of uninsured Americans converge on the Wise County [Virginia] Fairgrounds for the largest pop-up clinic in the country. Most are poor, many are in pain, but all have faith in a level of care that neither the government nor private industry can provide…

A story both heart-warming and horrifying: “Tent Revival.”

* Kurt Vonnegut, Breakfast of Champions

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As we tend to the needy, we might send instructive birthday greetings to William Sanford “Bill” Nye; he was born on this date in 1955.  A mechanical engineer turned actor, science educator, and television presenter, he is best known as the host of the PBS children’s science show Bill Nye the Science Guy (1993–1998), and for his many subsequent appearances in popular media.

Nye was greatly influenced by Carl Sagan, with whom he studied astronomy at Cornell University. He began his career with Boeing, in Seattle, designing hydraulic systems, from the early to mid 1980s. From 1986-91, he created and developed the Science Guy persona for local radio and TV, while eking out a spartan existence as a stand-up comedian.  But in 1992. he made a pilot program for the local PBS station, attracted underwriters, and launched what became a five-year national PBS series, Bill Nye the Science Guy.  Since then he has appeared in other TV science programs and as a guest expert on TV shows, continuing his quest to make science accessible to the public.  He currently serves as CEO of The Planetary Society.

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Written by LW

November 27, 2016 at 1:01 am

“I have students who are now in chairs in five continents”*…

 

Cornell University Press, office chair. @Scott_E_Levine

“You think you’re having a hard time in academia, but have you ever thought of the chairs? Will no-one think of the chairs?”

Choose a seat at Sad Chairs of Academia.

* George Steiner

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As we encourage endowment, we might recall that it was on this date in 1773 that the first recorded (Western) Ministry of Education, the Commission of National Education, was formed in the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth.  An important facet of the Polish Enlightenment, it broadened access to education, incorporated Enlightenment thought into tuition (laying the foundation for the prominent Polish scientists and authors of the 19th century), and helped preserve Polish language and culture during the Partitions of Poland – heavy Russification and Germanisation notwithstanding.

Bishop of Vilnius, Ignacy Massalski, the first Chairman of the Commission of National Education 

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“Teaching is not a lost art, but the regard for it is a lost tradition”*…

 

 

school

One quibbles with Jacques Barzun, the author of this post’s title quote, at one’s peril.  Still, as Lapham’s Quarterly points out, disrespect, even disdain for formal education has a long history.  In this season of school’s end, LQ reaches back to the 17th Century for an example: an excerpt from Nicholas Breton’s The Court and Country, in which the then-popular author argues that on-the-job training, in the fields where husbands know their wives and farmers know their cattle, is all the learning anyone needs:

Now for learning, what your neede is thereof I know not, but with us, this is all we goe to schoole for: to read common Prayers at Church and set downe common prices at Markets; write a Letter and make a Bond; set downe the day of our Births, our Marriage Day, and make our Wills when we are sicke for the disposing of our goods when we are dead. These are the chiefe matters that wemeddle with, and we find enough to trouble our heads withal. For if the fathers knowe their owne children, wives their owne husbands from other men, maydens keep their by-your-leaves from subtle batchelors, Farmers know their cattle by the heads, and Sheepheards know their sheepe by the brand, what more learning have we need of but that experience will teach us without booke? We can learne to plough and harrow, sow and reape, plant and prune, thrash and fanne, winnow and grinde, brue and bake, and all without booke; and these are our chiefe businesses in the Country, except we be Jury men to hang a theefe, or speake truth in a man’s right, which conscience & experience will teach us with a little learning. Then what should we study for, except it were to talke with the man in the Moone about the course of the Starres?

* Jacques Barzun

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As we celebrate the onset of summer, we might send back-to-nature birthday greetings to Ralph Waldo Emerson; he was born on this date in 1803.  The essayist (“Nature,” “Self-Reliance,” et al.), lecturer, and poet who led the Transcendentalist movement of the mid-19th century, he was one of the linchpins of the American romantic movement, and friend and mentor to Henry David Thoreau.

220px-Ralph_Waldo_Emerson_ca1857_retouched source

 

Written by LW

May 25, 2016 at 1:01 am

“Different languages, the same thoughts; servant to thoughts and their masters”*…

 

Every year, the US Census Bureau releases data on the languages spoken in American homes. Usually it groups the languages in 39 major categories. Now it has released much more detailed figures, which show that Americans speak not 39, but more than 320 distinct languages.

The bureau collected the data from 2009 to 2013 as part of the American Community Survey, which asks Americans all kinds of questions to create highly granular estimates on various demographic indicators. The new data estimate that more than 60 million Americans speak a language other than English at home…

Learn more– and see the breakdown– at “All 300-plus languages spoken in American homes, and the number of people who speak them.”

* Dejan Stojanovic, The Sun Watches the Sun

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As we choose our words, we might recall that it was on this date in 1969 that Sesame Street premiered on public television in the U.S.  In 2008, it was estimated that 77 million Americans had watched the series as children.  By its 40th anniversary in 2009, Sesame Street was broadcast in over 120 countries, and 20 international versions had been produced. And as of 2014, Sesame Street has won 159 Emmy Awards and 8 Grammy Awards—more than any other children’s show.  The show, which was itself based on mountainous research,  has been the subject of, literally, thousands of studies on its effectiveness as a learning vehicle for children; it has been a keystone of English (and native) language learning in the U.S. and around the world.

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Written by LW

November 10, 2015 at 1:01 am

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