A Monologue: What I Have Learned About Education from þe Plague Years, &
BRIEFLY NOTED: For 2022-05-22 Su
FIRST: A Monologue: What I Have Learned About Education from the Plague Years
What have I learned about education from the plague years?
First, an action item: I think I’m going to keep my office hours remote and on zoom—make them mandatory for students I think I need to see. Calling people into the office if they aren’t showing up for office hours—that seems a little heavy-handed to me. Phone calls with people you do not already know—that is not terribly effective. But zoom! It is much better than a phone call, and does not (or does not any longer) seem too heavy-handed.
The other innovation I want to adopt is for courses in which each week is a book. Having the group “discuss” the book for an hour, and then call up the author on zoom—that seems to me to be a very good innovation. It is Barry Eichengreen’s. It is a wonderful thing. It should become the rule rather than the exception in the future.
But for classes in general? I think we learned from the two plague years that we cannot do online education well enough—at least not yet.
Look: Online classes work for me. But reading books works for me. For example, my wife says I spend more time talking to, say, Barry Eichengreen in the shower than I do in person. And his office is just down the hall.
And, you know, indeed: <madeline_kahn_voice>it’s twue, it’s twue</madeline_kahn_voice>.
I read one of Barry’s books. I look at black squiggles on a white page. And from them, I then spin-up something. What is it? As best as I can describe it, it is a sub-Turing instantiation of Barry’s mind. I then run that sub-Turing instantiation on a partition in my wetware. And I argue with it—him—whatever.
I am not strange. (OK. I am not that strange.) Consider the words of Machiavelli’s “Letter to Vettori”, in which he describes his evenings in his library:
I return to my house and enter my study; and at the door I take off the day’s clothing, covered with mud and dust, and put on garments regal and courtly; and reclothed appropriately, I enter the ancient courts of ancient men, where, received by them with affection, I feed on that food which only is mine and which I was born for, where I am not ashamed to speak with them and to ask them the reason for their actions; and they in their kindness answer me; and for four hours of time I do not feel boredom, I forget every trouble, I do not dread poverty, I am not frightened by death; entirely I give myself over to them…
But that’s not how most of our students experience reading, or experience attending an online class. For them, the experience is captured not by Machiavelli, but by Sokrates here:
Writing is unfortunately like painting…. You would imagine that they had intelligence, but if you want to know anything and put a question to one of them… they are tumbled about… and know not to whom they should reply, to whom not: and, if they are maltreated or abused, they… cannot protect or defend themselves…. [Writing] give[s] not truth, but only the semblance of truth… hear[ing] of many things and… learn[ing] nothing… tiresome company… the show of wisdom without the reality…
From the Machiavellian point of view, why go to university? From the Sokratic point of view, the purpose of the entire educational establishment can only be to create opportunities for the Dialectic to manifest itself—and question and answered dialogue between teacher and student, between student and student, and between student and figment of the student’s imagination. Good educational systems maximize those opportunities. Bad educational systems do not.
As Chad Orzel puts it:
It’s absolutely possible for a smart and highly motivated individual to learn the skills they need on their own time, without the formal structure of academia. Many people have done it over the years, and most of them are happy to tell you about it at tedious length. The fundamental problem here is that the number of people who think they’re the right sort of highly motivated autodidact to bypass academia is at least one and probably more like two orders of magnitude larger than the number of people who really are…. The whole elaborate edifice of lectures and homework sets and exams and grades is there to provide the extrinsic motivation necessary to get a typical student to put in the work…. The motivation to work out all the end-of-chapter problems in the textbook without peeking at the solutions online…
For a physicist, the Dialectic manifests itself in the doing of problems (and in discussion the doing-of-problems with others: I was struck back in 1981 by the fact that the best score on the General Relativity exam was 3/6 (I got 1/6), but that in the aftermath of the exam it turned out that the class as an anthology intelligence could solve all 6 of the problems). In other disciplines, it manifests itself in other ways. They are not the same Dialectic. But they are close cousins. And the point is to trigger their manifestation.
Niccolo Machiavelli: Letter to Francesco Vettori <https://courses.washington.edu/hsteu401/Letter%20%20to%20Vettori.pdf>
Chad Orzel: Imminent Death of the Academy Predicted
Plato: Phædrus: ‘About The Myth of Thoth… <https://hygeia-turkey.com/socrates-about-the-myth-of-thoth/>
Ricrdo Reis: Inflation Risks <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sIHorfqTYDE>:
Very Briefly Noted:
Angela Huyue Zhang: China’s Golden Tech Grab: ‘The authorities’ effort to discipline Chinese tech firms over the last 18 months has been clumsy and highly costly, featuring a raft of opaque and unpredictable regulations. But the approach the government seems poised to replace it with is not much better… <https://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/china-regulatory-crackdown-tech-firms-golden-share-ownership-stake-by-angela-huyue-zhang-2022-05>
*Wikipedia_*: List of Tyrants of Syracuse <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_tyrants_of_Syracuse>
Osita Nwanevu: What Is Political Writing For?: ‘Morsels of rage and misery don’t have much effect, but they do feed an online writing economy… https://www.cjr.org/special_report/political_writing_future_internet.php>
Gianni Giacomelli: Superminds Bridging The Innovation Chasm: ‘Sociobiologist Edward O. Wilson once said that the real problem of humanity is [that] we have palaeolithic emotions, medieval institutions, and God-like technology. A positive exponential future will depend on how effectively that trio handles society… <https://www.exponentialview.co/superminds-bridging-the-innovation-chasm-373/>
Ricardo Reis: The People versus the Markets: A Parsimonious Model of Inflation Expectations <https://ideas.repec.org/p/cpr/ceprdp/15624.html>
Dominic Lieven: The End of Tsarist Russia: The March to World War I & Revolution: ‘n the two generations before 1914, European society as a whole had been transformed more fundamentally than in centuries of earlier history… <https://archive.org/details/endoftsaristruss0000liev>
Twitter & ‘Stack:
Nellie Bowles: TGIF: Conspiracy Theories and Hard Realities: ‘George W: Our former president was giving a speech…. We can now rewrite the phrase Freudian slip: “The decision of one man to launch a wholly unjustified and brutal invasion of Iraq… I mean of Ukraine,” he said, But it’s what he mumbled under his breath afterward that struck me. Pausing, catching himself, laughing, then saying softly, “Iraq too.” It’s remarkable footage…
Paul Cohen: ’It’s kind of stunning to realize that Eric Williams’ classic Capitalism and Slavery isn’t mentioned anywhere…. The broader questions the NYT is asking aren’t quite as novel as the paper would like to suggest…
Michael Kofman: ’Circling back to Russia’s problem with manpower…
Duncan Weldon: That ’70s Show: ‘2022 is going to be a painful year. But learning the wrong lessons would make it even more so…