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What I’m Learning: Day 3/365

Activity IV: Read for one hour

Yesterday’s book: Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling by John Taylor Gotto.

I read for an hour covering chapters 2 & 3 (pages 21-50).

Some favorite excerpts:

In chapter 2, page 30, referencing the educational philosophy of the ruling classes of Europe, Gotto prescribes what he believes to be the cure for the various ailments caused by compulsory schooling:

At the core of this elite system of education is the belief that self-knowledge is the only only basis of true knowledge. Everywhere in this system, at every age, you will find arrangements that work to place the child alone in an unguided setting with a problem to solve. Sometimes the problem is fraught with great risks, such as the problem of galloping a horse or making it jump, but that, of course, is a problem successfully solves by thousands of elite children before the age of ten. Can you imagine anyone who had mastered such a challenge ever lacking confidence in his ability to do anything? Sometimes the problem of mastering solitude, as Thoreau did at Walden Pond, or Einstein did in the Swiss customs house.

Right now we are taking from our children all the time that they need to develop self-knowledge. That has to stop. We have to invent school experiences that give a lot of that time back. We need to trust children from a very early age with independent study, perhaps arranged in school, but which takes place away from the institutional setting. We need to invent curricula where each kid has a chance to develop private uniqueness and self-reliance.

On pages 32 further emphasizing the value of self-knowledge Gatto warns,

We’ve got to give kids independent time right away because that is the key to self-knowledge, and we must reinvolve them with the real world as fast as possible so that their independent time can be spent on something other than abstraction. This is an emergency — it requires drastic action to correct.

To close the chapter, he adds,

Independent study, community service, adventures and experience, large doses of privacy and solitude, a thousand different apprenticeships — the one-day variety or longer — these are all powerful, cheap, and effective ways to start a real reform of schooling.

Activity VII: Read one brainpickings article

Yesterday’s article: Ongoingness: Sarah Manguso on Time, Memory, Beginnings and Endings, and the True Measure of a Life Filled with Aliveness 

Highlights/Personal Reflections:

There were two quotes from Manguso that really stood out to me:

I wrote so I could say I was truly paying attention. Experience in itself wasn’t enough. The diary was my defense against waking up at the end of my life and realizing I’d missed it.

I wanted to comprehend my own position in time so I could use my evolving self as completely and as usefully as possible. I didn’t want to go lurching around, half-awake, unaware of the work I owed the world, work I didn’t want to live without doing.

Although these two quotes seem to reflect Manguso’s thought-patterns more at the beginning of her journey than they do now, I find these sentiments consonant with my own need to write and journal. Over the years, I have been impacted by many books, movies, podcasts, etc. There are many days when I wished I had a record of my adventures in learning. I can remember most of the books I’ve read, but many sources have slipped from memory. The journal for my personal development project meets a need I’ve longed to fulfill for a very long time. Each idea or source of ideas that I interact with leaves me with a distinct feeling or impression. By documenting what I study, I get to preserve and relive these life-changing, thought-shaping moments that are so precious to me. There is something about documenting my reflections and experiences that lends them a degree of solidity, and element of realness that gives a meaning and pleasure to my life beyond what the experience or memory of the experience can offer.

There is much food for thought is this brainpicking’s article and it’s well worth the read. Manguso shares some inspiring and sober reflections regarding the joys and limitations of documenting the moments that matter to us.

Activity VIII: Listen to one EconTalks podcast per day

Yesterday’s episode: Daphne Koller on Education, Coursera, and MOOCs

Episode description (from website): Daphne Koller of Coursera talks with EconTalk host Russ Roberts about online educational website Coursera and the future of education both online and via bricks-and-mortar. Koller, co-founder of Coursera with Andrew Ng, explains how Coursera partners with universities, how they try to create community and interaction, and the likely impact of widespread digital education on universities and those who want to learn. The conversation includes a discussion of why Koller left a chaired position in computer science at Stanford University to run a for-profit start-up in a crowded field.

Highlights/Personal Reflections:

While media-hype tends to present MOOCs (Massive Open Online Course) as if they are in competition with the traditional university, Koller argues that MOOCs are going to revolutionize education by catalyzing a culture of blending-learning. While universities will still continue to attract many students because of tradition, a longstanding image of credibility, and a social experience where people can interact with fellow learners, they will gradually outsource many aspects of learning and content distribution to technology. She argues that if universities ignore these changes in hopes they will go away, they’ll face a similar fate to many powerhouses in the journalism industry that jumped on the technology train too late.

One interesting comment came as a response to Roberts asking Koller about the possibility that MOOC’s will replace the highly romanticized experience of students reading books while lying around on beautiful campus lawn. Koller pointed out that 85% of college students are people who commute, so most students don’t have such an experience anyway. I haven’t looked into the research behind Koller’s claim here, but I always find these kinds of questions interesting. It seems that those of us who are interested in reforming or revolutionizing education are not only going to have to answer tough questions about coursework, credentialing, pedagogy, and financial concerns, but they’ll also need to offer sophisticated and sympathetic responses to people’s persistent concerns about losing the perceived romantic, sentimental, and aesthetic value of the traditional education experience.

Activity IX: Listen to one Philosophy Bites podcast per day

Yesterday’s episode: Edward Craig on What Is Philosophy?

Episode description (from website): Edward Craig, former Knightbridge Professor of Philosophy at Cambridge University, author of Philosophy: A Very Short Introduction, and editor of the Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, gives an interesting analysis of the nature of philosophy and what makes good philosophy good in this interview.

Highlights/Personal Reflections:

Craig has an intriguing and unique take on how we ought to go about the process of defining philosophy:

 

When people are asked to define philosophy, they will often say something very narrow indeed to, I think, a great detriment of the subject. I think it’s better to think in terms of their being a huge range of interesting questions. Then, along comes various specialized disciplines. For instance, once the investigation of nature requires the experimental method and when, in particular, it requires mathematics, the we start to think of it as natural science. Here’s an idea: Let’s just drop the word philosophical as an adjective that comes before words like “thought” or “question” or “theory.” Let’s just drop it. If a thought’s worth thinking about, then it’s worth thinking about. Whether it’s a philosophical thought or not, then just drops away as irrelevant. The question is: is it worth thinking about?

For Craig, what matters is that we’re asking questions worth asking, contemplating ideas worth considering, and having conversations worth having. Craig contends that we would be much better off if we devoted ourselves to asking challenging questions about the big issues without insisting on other people labeling this process as “philosophy.”

Craig also points out that when philosophers typically define philosophy, many of them define it based on their personal bias regarding what constitutes good philosophy. Using Religion as an example, Craig points out that religion is frequently contrasted with philosophy because of the perception that religious ideas/beliefs are not based on evidence while philosophy is based on reason. This view, however, betrays a bias based on the conviction that the reasons of the religious believer are bad. In other words, rather than say “I think this person is a bad philosopher” or “I disagree with their methods for determining truth,” we say “that’s not philosophy.” Craig thinks we should leave plenty of room for labeling some ideas as “bad philosophy,” but that we should be far more flexible in how we understand the practice of philosophy in general. He sees “bad philosophy” as a set of ideas or claims that are false or fallacious. He sees the practice of philosophy in general as the activity of wrestling with the questions that affect our lives.

In addressing the issue of where philosophers belong, Craig had the following to say:

Which faculty should someone be in if they are a philosopher? Well the answer is certainly not necessary that they should be in a philosophy department. They may very well be in the history department. They may very well be in economics and politics. They might be in classics…You can have attachments all over the place and be a philosopher…It’s not, I think, that there is any one discipline which simply has a monopoly on this kind of thought…one of the things I’m urging is that we should take a very very relaxed and elastic, and flexible, and accommodating view over the expression “this kind of thought.”

I agree with Craig on this point about philosophers not needing to limit themselves to philosophy departments. Some of the best philosophers I know, have degrees outside of that very field. I would build on Craig’s suggestion here by pointing out that philosophers also have a place outside of the academy altogether. Philosophical thinking is also quite useful in business, entrepreneurship, art, and in everyday life. People like Peter Thiel and Ethan Coen provide an example of the ability to ask big questions and tackle unsettling themes outside of classrooms, debates, and research papers.

When asked to give his take on the criticism of those who say philosophy has no value, Craig offered this gem of a response:

I would be quite put out if someone told me my attempts to play the piano had no value because I’m never going to bring them to the level of a polished performance. This is something similar. If you enjoy doing it, it’s got a value. If you don’t enjoy doing it, it’s still got a value because at least you may find out something about the difficulties of coming to a settled and satisfactory view on whatever it is you’re thinking about.

I couldn’t agree more. It’s all too easy to hide behind the wisdom of others when presenting our views. “I’m sure someone proved/disproved that claim already” is a cop-out from doing the hard work of thinking for ourselves and showing why we agree or disagree with something. Philosophy, whatever label we choose to use when referring to it, invites us to not only ask new questions, but it challenges us to constantly upgrade our thinking by seeking out new ways of understanding old beliefs.

Activity X: Educational lecture/talk

Economics in One Lesson: Part 2 | Thomas J. DiLorenzo

Highlights/Personal Reflections:

In this conversation with Jeffrey Tucker, Thomas J. DiLorenzo begins by discussing the Broken Window fallacy and why understanding Bastiat’s idea of What is Seen/What is Unseen is essential for thinking like an economist. He illustrates the distinction between creating opportunity and creating value by pointing out that we could create a large number of employment opportunities if we all took baseball bats and bashed in the car windows in our neighborhood. He points out even though we would create an increased demand for security guards, automobile repairmen, window-makers, etc., we would only do so by destroying a tremendous amount of value. Steve Horwitz makes a similar point in an article for the Freeman called Creating Jobs versus Creating Value:

…politicians from both parties are much too concerned about job creation when they should be concerned about value creation. Creating jobs is easy; it’s creating value that’s hard. We could create millions of jobs quite easily by destroying every piece of machinery on U.S. farms. The question is whether we are actually better off by creating those jobs—and the answer is a definite no. We want labor-saving, job-destroying technology because it creates value by enabling us to produce things at lower cost and thereby free up labor for more urgent uses.

When Tucker asks why such insights are often missed even by economic students, DiLorenzo points out that many economic departments are overly obsessed with mathematics and statistics. Mathematics and statistics, according to DiLorenzo, are only tools for understanding, explaining, and predicting human behavior. If we want to truly think like economists, we have to make sure we don’t lose sight of such fundamentals as human action, the role of incentives, the nature of value, and the reality of opportunity costs.

Activity XI: One episode of Future of Education

Teaching for Self-Driven Learning with Larry Ferlazzo

Highlights/Personal Reflections:

In this conversation, Larry argues that the role of the educator is to facilitate conditions that allow students the freedom to learn through an approach that honors their self-interest. One statement I particularly liked was,

Everyone is interested in something. It just might not be something we’re interested in them being interested in.

According to Ferlazzo, other people’s interest in the key to how they learn. Instead of bribing students with grades or threats, we should strive to understand their goals and then help them create opportunities to master skills and ways of thinking that will move them towards those goals. The question he says educators should be challenging students to ask themselves is, “Is what they’re doing now going to help them get where they want to go?” While their is a time and place for extrinsic motivation, Ferlazzo concedes, students learn most effectively when educators appeal to intrinsic motivation. Educators are like farmers: they create the conditions for growth.

Activity XII: One Paris Review Interview

Aharon Appelfeld, The Art of Fiction No. 224 Interviewed by Alain Elkann

This interview was filled with gems. I wish it would have went on for several more pages. Appelfeld’s story is heart-wrenching and miraculous at the same time. As a little boy, his mother and grandmother were murdered. While attempting to escape the men who killed them, he and his father were captured, separated, and placed into concentration camps. Somehow, Appelfeld managed to escape his prison. Twenty years later, in an improbable turn of events, he was reunited with his father again. He is a man that has lived many years and many lives within those years. There was much food for thought in his stories and answers. Here are some of my favorite excerpts:

Highlights/Personal Reflections:

On the sacredness of everyday life:

APPELFELD

Yes, I was very close to my maternal grandparents. My grandfather taught me a lot. To give you an example, he used to get up in the morning and pray, but before praying he would open the windows. He said to me, There should not be a barrier between us and God. If the windows are closed and the shutters are closed you cannot speak directly to God. This was something I will not forget. I’ll give you another example. He used to touch every object with great care. I am not just speaking about books. Hebrew books he used to kiss before opening and after closing the book, but he had care for everything— glasses and bottles, for instance.

INTERVIEWER

Why?

APPELFELD

Because they have something of the holy.

INTERVIEWER

Of the holy?

APPELFELD

Yes. You know, God is everywhere. He is in the human heart. He is in the plants. He is in the animals. Everywhere. You have to be very careful when you speak to human beings because the man who is standing in front of you has something divine in himself. Trees, they have something divine in them. Animals of course. And even objects, they have something of the divine.

On how he became a writer:

INTERVIEWER

How did you start writing?

APPELFELD

I was very alone. No parents, no friends. I asked myself, What do I need? Why am I working in the fields? What will happen to me? Where is my life going? I had nothing. So then one day I made a list. My father, his name, Michael—I wrote that. My mother, Bunia. My grandfather, Meir Joseph. I wrote, I was born in Czernowitz and my mother was killed. This list gave me a ground I understood. I was not alone. I still had my family. They exist in me. I made myself a family on paper. I wrote it down, and they became real.

On the miraculous nature of writing:

INTERVIEWER

When was this, that you decided you were capable of writing?

APPELFELD

I was never capable of writing. Writing is a miracle. A meaningful sentence, a meaningful chapter is a miracle. It was so when I began, and it is so now.

On why his need for meaning and authenticity is greater than his need for comfort and security”

INTERVIEWER

But you built for yourself a very stable life. You have a house, a wife, children.

APPELFELD

Yes, it is true I have a stable life. But this is a questionable stability. In the day, there is an Appelfeld who has children and a wife, but in the night, there is a different Appelfeld. In the night, he is still in the ghetto, in the camps. So, it’s a double life, if you wish.

INTERVIEWER

But if you write about that obsessively, it doesn’t help you to forget.

APPELFELD

I don’t want to cure myself.

INTERVIEWER

Why not?

APPELFELD

Because I don’t want to become a petit bourgeois with a wife and children. I cannot. My life, I call it a nightmare. My nights are a nightmare, quite often, but the nightmares are rich—rich in human behavior, rich in feelings, rich in sensations. I nourish myself by those nights. They nourish me.

On the need to prioritize his own stories and experiences over the practice of trying to write about anything and everything:

APPELFELD

I am not interested in reality. I am not interested in reality at all. I am interested in my inner life.

INTERVIEWER

Isn’t that a little egoistic?

APPELFELD

By “inner life,” I mean all I have absorbed during my life. I treasure all the realities I have absorbed during my life, and they are my food. I am not a man who doesn’t see the current reality, but this reality is not good material for writing.

INTERVIEWER

But think of all that has happened in Israel all these years.

APPELFELD

So this is for journalism.

INTERVIEWER

But there are also human stories here.

APPELFELD

I am not able to write about everything that is happening, that surrounds you. I can only see things I have absorbed deeply and that are very close to me. I am limited. I do not have a pretension to be more than what I am. I am a bit of an invalid. I cannot write about San Francisco—I have been there several times, but I cannot write about it. I have been to New York many times, but if I write about New York, I will take two survivors who are living in a house and I will speak about that. Through their eyes, maybe I will see something of New York.

On the primacy of being consistently rooted in his own priorities:

INTERVIEWER

International success and translation came when you wrote Badenheim 1939. When did you write it?

APPELFELD

In the late sixties. It is my third novel. Actually, it is not a full novel, it is a novella. People in Israel were very critical about the book.

INTERVIEWER

It was not a success?

APPELFELD

Not in Israel. But in America it had great success.

INTERVIEWER

How did it get to America?

APPELFELD

Someone liked it and translated it, and then it was published in America by a small publisher called Godine. And Irving Howe wrote a brilliant review about it in the New York Times—the front page of the New York Times Book Review. This was 1980. I was almost fifty years old in 1980.

INTERVIEWER

And it changed your life?

APPELFELD

No, no. I still have my routine.

To see the spreadsheet documenting all the activities I completed yesterday, click here.

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