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Posts Tagged ‘Education’

Spending Triggers: An Idea

September 14, 2011 1 comment

The best way to inspire consumer spending is to create an online store of government purchased gift cards. Such a store would feature predominantly American companies or multinational corporations whose sales would directly benefit the American economy. Under such a system, the government would create the store and act as middle man between consumer and company. Unlike the earlier stimulus package, which featured checks mailed directly to consumers, this plan would involve each individual being sent a code to order a gift card. Once the card was ordered the site would purchase and mail the card to the consumer. Each card would have an expiration date and if the amount was not used it would return to the bank for another consumer’s use.

This plan would work better than the mailed check format because it denies the consumer the ability to save the money. The online market also has the benefit of being a mini market whereby consumer demand can be maintained. Each gift card recipient has options and can choose which company he or she would like to spend the allotted amount.

100 Posts/ The Limits of Human Interpretation

July 7, 2011 Leave a comment

This being my one hundredth post, its appropriate that I’m thinking on the limits of human interpretation. After watching part one of Larry Lessig’s “Good Soul Corruption” presentation and dealing with the endless barrage of “Trial Coverage”, I’m sensing the huge impact that our limited perspectives have on making decisions and acting rationally. I suppose that this is an obvious point, that the limitations of human abilities are famously denied, but to a certain extent these limitations have a level of “meta” that interests me- paradoxically our limited perspectives play a game of multi-layered denial in which we both accept our limited perspectives but move forward and act with limited awareness of these limitations. In short, our imperfections become distortions in themselves and justify our errors with greater leaps of judgment.

This is, it seems, another venture into the world of absolute truth. One wonders whether the denial of “absolute truth” is neither optimistic or pessimistic, as some would argue, and more a realistic awareness of the futile desire for such certainties to exist. We want rock solid knowledge upon which to hang our reasoning on; though, despite immense power of influence, intelligence and interest we are minor actors in a game beyond our control.

If one accepts the fact that human awareness is inherently limited and subjectivity rules all human function, how do we act. Accepting this there is no objectivity in the world- all human work is tainted with the personal needs and perspectives of those involved. Involved parties will always insert their own perspective. Only raw data exists in the objective state but such data exists in an ethereal place beyond human influence. As soon as the data is gathered, considered or even known to exist by humans it is distorted. There is nothing wrong with this, we need only recognize this state as reality and employ a filter when considering all messages. As some say, “trust, but verify.”

Irrational Metrics: Quanity Over Quality

June 27, 2011 Leave a comment

Graduation rate is the least accurate measure of an institution’s success. Basing one’s evaluation on the count of bodies to pass through a school is equivalent to evaluating a baker on the basis of cookies created- the metrics just don’t make sense. As with the school, our baker will reject notions of quality in order to increase the number of items he or she creates. In situations where quantity is the measure of success, quality is a feature working against the common goal. Likewise, if we evaluate our schools (or any other institution) on the basis of quantity we disregard the only thing that matters: quality of service.

The popularity of measuring on the basis of “number served” likely comes from the ease of data collection. How many students graduated this year? How does this number compare to other years? Other schools? Other states? On the basis of simplicity the simple process of addition and comparison provides a nice collection of talking points. Yes, we do see data with value but when considering this information in relation to the initial goal or, dare we say, purpose of an institution there is nothing of value present.

Measuring on the basis of quality is unpopular because it is difficult to do. How do we measure the value of a degree? How can one consider the value of an education from one school in comparison to another? The common data point is income generated: After graduating from School X how does the income of Student X change? When comparing Student X and Y from School X and Y how do the incomes compare? Comparison is the common game but we are not limited to these dimensions. What do the students think? The best person to evaluate an education is the student who pursued it. Does Student X feel School X prepared him/her for the job acquired upon graduation? Questions like this establish the qualitative level of information to enliven evaluation.

One should not limit data collection to this qualitative level though. This data is the easiest to distort. The best studies extend to large selection of the population and over a long period of time. In order to properly evaluate an institution we must consider both quantitative and qualitative data from a majority of the population for at least thirty years. This is expensive, messy and unfavorable to politicians who aim to use educational statistics as rhetorical fluff.

If one aims to make drastic changes to the educational system one needs extensive data to prepare and justify alterations. It is easy to make accusations on the basis of “bad data.” Limited information yields limited perspectives. In order to make major changes our society must drastically expand institutional studies that take into consideration the inherent distortion and influence of all involved.

The Utility of Gossip

May 20, 2011 Leave a comment

An interesting story on NPR discusses an evolutionary bias in the human brain that favors gossip. It’s an interesting story but I would argue further that such a bias is more suggestive of a human awareness of deceit and the related need to seek truth and reality. Each individual is keenly aware of the multiple roles that humans must present to the world: at times we are a professional version of ourselves while at other times we are social, laid-back or simply indifferent to our lives. In many cases these varied roles contradict each other and may in fact mock the alternative roles.

Gossip is composed of the secret details that compose the gaps between these different roles. All humans seek truth and reality and gossip possesses powerful contents connecting our varied roles. Who is the true human being? When we interact with someone it is often this question at work. Can we actually know the answer to this question? Is it possible to crack the thick mask that human beings wear? I argue that it is not. I feel it is impossible to know the individual at the core level. Even in those who we know intimately there is a deeper level at which that individual holds details too personal to share. In short, we will never know an individual in full. The human being is too complex an animal and our need for certainty and the truth is merely a desire arising from our awareness of these complexities.

Contextual Benefits

March 11, 2011 Leave a comment

Context provides us with the ability to see relations between situations. Distinction comes in the form of “this versus that”, or the relations that exist between a situation in immediate relation and a different single or series of related events. Take for consideration the late-Winter snow storm which hit Northeastern Ohio last evening. Taken out of context this is a big story- news reports showcased power outages, car accidents and a collection of human misfortunes as a result of this event.This is out of context, removed from the other stories of the day that recalibrate our considerations of importance.

Place the Ohio snowstorm in context of the other news of the day. Upon hearing of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, the Ohio snowstorm quickly becomes minor. When we see a big event in relation to a bigger event a new distinction is created. Our brains have an uncanny ability to qualify experiences and react accordingly.

How will an expanded awareness of the world affect this ability to contextualize? Certainly an expanded knowledge of the world at large will create a situation where major events take hold of the global consciousness. With expanded awareness, reaching indeed to a global level, we will see an greater focus on the problems of the world. Technology again removes fragmented realities and clusters those with technology into an amalgamation of concern.

There are benefits here- unified responses and the pooling of resources can bring the entire planet to assistance. Beyond this immediate function there are benefits to an increase in awareness. Though more simple, just the ability to be aware and share information creates a community that can innovate and create systems of prevention.

Pitfalls exist as well- a reduction of fragmentation leads to a dismissal of certain smaller issues. The snow storm of Ohio was certainly a big story to those who were injured or hurt as a result. As we contextualize we filter and disregard big stories that should receive response. We are too limited to respond to the plethora of issues in our world.

The Constitution as Wiki, a thought experiment

January 26, 2011 Leave a comment

As a thought experiment, imagine a situation in which the American constitution has been converted to a Wiki. In this simulation the document is now posted online as an editable document that all citizens can edit. Assume that all citizens have an equal access to the network and a personal terminal to make edits. Just as with Wikipedia, the community can remove edits deemed inappropriate or not reflective of the group’s collective opinion.

In this situation all citizens have access to the country’s governing document. All citizens can create legislation and pursue an active role in the development of the nation’s laws. Simple polls could dictate whether the country goes to war, increases the tax rate or even updates its national symbols. All details of the country would exist online and would be edited 24/7.

What are the benefits of such a system? What are the pitfalls?

Assumed occurences

As part of this simulation one must assume certain behaviors by the public. There are opinion based but crucial to predicting how the system will function. Here are my assumptions:

  • Popularity of the system would be high. A significant portion of the population would engage in editing the document.
  • A security system would exist so that only US citizens could make edits. All changes would be traceable.
  • Changes would be constant and laws would change quickly
  • Interactions occur on the individual level. A citizen edits as a single citizen, not as a corporation. (This directly disregards the Citizens United decision)

Dangers

Of course this system is a dangerous one. Among the many possible dangers is a system where editing is too rapid for public knowledge. Rapid changes might create a system where the community could not keep up. In such a system the enforcement of old laws or a failure to enforce new laws could be common.

Are there others?

Benefits

A major benefit of this system is increased engagement. The population with the ability to function directly with government could inspire unseen levels of civic interest and involvement.

The community as a whole would create laws that represented the collective population. Unlike our current system where power is distributed unequally; usually, on the basis of money, this system would give all citizens one vote. Here we have a connection to the Citizens United decision- there will be no votes for corporations in this wiki system. Only citizens can make edits.

Are there others?

Avoiding Enemies: The Perfect v. The Good

January 23, 2011 Leave a comment

In La B├ęgueule. Voltaire reminds us that “the perfect is the enemy of the good.”

Human perfectionism is a dangerous bog of creative quick sand. For many a task is an expression of personal identity, an activity whose completion suggests who we are, what we stand for and what we capable of doing. Profound conclusions can be drawn from the most minor of details but from such striving leaps of judgment we risk more than what we gain.

Human creativity spawns less from perfection and more from absent-minded stumbling. In his TED Talk, Tim Brown urges the audience to utilize “rapid prototyping” when creating. Brown suggests that in order to innovate a creator must step beyond the intellectual procedures of creation and simply let the process take place. Many artists mention to process of “getting out of the way” of the muse or creative drive. I would argue that a creative driving force exists, and though abstract and impossible to truly identify, the real suggestion we can conclude on is that ultimately the human mind creates in a wild form beyond our rational procedures. In short we are better served in creating with our child-like behaviors and greeting the creative act as less a rational act and more as an irrational journey of potential. We’ll never know how far we’ll get but pausing to consider such questions do nothing to assist progress.

Progress is the core concept in Voltaire’s quotation. He is urging his reader to recognize the importance of forward progress. We may crave a perfect work but if such demands eliminate any progress than we are only self-defeating. The craving for perfection is understandable when one considers the great conclusions we draw from our creations. As mentioned earlier we often see creations as expressions of the creator. This is dangerous and lethal for human progress. We must recall our human faults and pitfalls. Create with wild abandon and let whatever comes forward be at very least a draft. If our progress depends on perfection we have little to hope for. Only constant prototyping and pursuit of the “good” will help us reach perfection.

Tuition Reimagined

January 19, 2011 Leave a comment

First, some background: The current system of tuition billing charges students on the basis of credit hours. Cost of each hour will vary based on difficulty with, as an example, a credit hour of graduate study costing $500 versus an undergraduate credit hour costing $250. A student’s bill is calculated by totaling the number of credit hours with some discounts for bulk.

College tuition is billed on the basis of credit hours; a student’s bill is tabulated on the basis of credit hours taken.

Products of College Tuition

What does a student purchase with college tuition? There are multiple items here: expanded knowledge, social engagement, expanded experiences, etc… These are the abstract provisions provided by a college environment. In some sense “the academy” is an exclusive club that provides access to interesting ideas and people. In this sense tuition is the cost of membership or the ticket price for access to the resource.

The college degree is the concrete product provided by a college. A symbol representing an assurance that a student is knowledgeable, the single piece of paper acts as proof or documentation that the individual whose name appears on that document has been verified to possess the skills listed on the document.

A New Model of Tuition

A better format for charging tuition is on the basis of the concrete product of tuition: the degree. Imagine the following model:

Tuition is assessed only when a degree has been earned. For example, a student enrolls in a school and begins taking classes. The student is unsure of which degree to pursue and bounces from discipline to discipline, exploring different classes and pursuing areas of intellectual interest. There is no charge here- the only tuition assessed comes only when a degree has been earned. Simply stated: the student pays only for the degree that has been earned and only when the degree has been earned. All other classes that are not listed on the required list of classes for the degree earned are not billed: these classes are taken without charge.

Why is this system better? The current system of billing for every credit hour inhibits student exploration. Students tasked with pursuing a degree with limited funds are better served by picking a program and sticking to it. It is too expensive to explore classes that do not relate to the selected major. A student with limited funds is best to disregard these side interests and focus instead on the list of classes needed to earn the degree. Anything that does not contribute to the major are best to discarded as expensive explorations.

Absurdly, the current tuition system in higher education severs a student from his or her intellect and disregards the wealth of possibility on the campus. A student enrolled in a college has access to a vast variety of disciplines and knowledge but is constrained by financial limitations to self-censor personal curiosity and disregard the potential benefits of a broad exploration of the resources available.

Adopting a system where the degree is the single source of charge drastically improves the system. If a student is free to take any class he or she can explore even the most niche of interests. Knowing that the tuition bill will come only when a degree has been earned, the student can explore and expand personal knowledge according to interest and intellectual evolution.

Bullets and Brains: The Educational Complex

January 17, 2011 Leave a comment

In his farewell address, Dwight D. Eisenhower voiced his concerns about a network of entities with the ability to self-sustain via broad outreach and inherent power. The military-industrial complex was, and continues to be, a powerful testament to “net effects” or the power that results from membership in a popular group. It is not unique though, and it is easy to recognize educational complexes that maintain power and draw significant amounts of funding by virtue of membership. Education, like the military, is seen as a social good whose dynamic levels of support (financial, social, etc…) are considered essential to the health of society.

Unlike some areas of government funding, for example parks and recreation, one would risk irreparable harm if funding for social goods was reduced. Slash funding for education or the military and a vulnerability is born. Fears of this weakness help to keep funding constant and serves as the well-spring of power for the “complexes.”

Should we fear an “educational complex”? Certainly a struggling economy and a political system interested in budget cuts will look to educational funding as an area of consideration. When this assessment takes place what will serve as the evidence of the investment? In the military-industrial complex we can see the hangers of tanks and aircraft, the boxes of ammunition and the raw data on soldiers. These are concrete examples of the investment. Education does not have these concrete examples.

The educational complex functions to create abstract items. The ideas and points of learning that the complex creates occur at variable rate and may or may not have real-world application. Who is to say when learning is applied? Without raw data we have little to offer in terms of evidence. “Where’s the proof?” the funders ask and seeking out a source of evidence turn to test scores. Herein lies the data: numbers and levels, progressions and comparisons: the food for interpretation.

Education suffers as an industry of abstract products. Unlike industries that produce “concrete” examples of efficiency, the education industry can only prove its value in data.

Core Verbs

January 16, 2011 Leave a comment

Human occupations can be simplified to a small group of “core verbs” that define the activities that job undertakes. In law enforcement these verbs might be “preserve” and “punish” and in education one could select “nurture” or “inform.” All human activities have these core verbs- they drill down to the reason the behavior exists in the first place and explain why people are drawn to a life of service in the field. Ask people why they entered an occupation and these verbs will often dot their responses. Core verbs strike at the heart of what a job does and offer a perspective on what we perceive to be the major activities in a field and the reasons we are drawn to certain occupations.

Careers that we select are far more than providers of income; they are reflections of our interpretations of our identity.

Focus on these verbs further and we can narrow down further to a general verb to include all professions. What do all jobs do? Is there a reason why we have jobs in the first place? All occupations seek to “maintain” the way things are. With the recognition of popularity came a sense of power. For example, the speaker who observes an audience paying attention thinks, “Wow, they’re actually listening,” or the possessor of an item that others want thinking, “Hey, they want this thing that I have.” From this awareness comes a sense of power and an instantaneous awareness of the need to maintain.

With awareness of influence comes the instant need to maintain. We know power is fickle: easily gained and easily lost.

Each human being works to maintain a way of life. The preservation of the status quo is a common desire for all human beings and the corporations these humans create to muster power and maintain hegemony. Even the entrepreneur, a luminary of “disruptive thinking” seeks to maintain a personal status-quo of independence. Behavior that is different is power of potential, a kinetic force waiting to be unleashed. One can strive to maintain fresh thinking, working in a way to maintain change, a seemingly paradoxical state but one that occurs in many cases where common behavior differs from personal perspective.

All human actions are focused on maintaining the way things are. Law enforcement seeks to preserve an entities accepted “normal” state and punish those who aim to alter this normalcy. Likewise, a company seeks to preserve dominance and punish those who challenge domination. These are large examples, but narrow down to the individuals functioning inside this large entities and you will find individuals working with identical motivations. Even a worker employed to clean the bathrooms works to maintain employment by striking down challengers. We function in micro-economies of power which connect to larger economies with common goals of power maintenance.

In order to maintain the status-quo we function in formats that choose safety over innovation. Why would one behave in a way that could challenge dominance? Why would a rational entity do something that sacrificed power? This does not happen to groups that act carefully. In order to maintain our power we function with a single goal in mind: stay safe.

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