Wealthy people never realize how much luck played in their ‘success’

Jason England, former admissions dean at Carnegie Mellon University, has drawn from his own experiences to add to what the recent college admissions scandal tells us about the attitudes of the elites. He provides the other bookend of the view provided by Caitlin Flanagan, a counselor at an elite prep school, where the process begins. He points out what should be obvious to everyone about the ways in which the system operates to provide an immense advantage to the already privileged. It is an are excellent article that is well worth reading in full because it exposes from the inside how the system is so heavily rigged in favor of wealthy white males from private schools. The true genius of the system is that the levers of privilege operate so smoothly and invisibly that they seem natural and neutral in their application.
[Read more…]

The chalk favored by mathematicians

When I started teaching, we used blackboards and chalk. Later, some of the blackboards became green but we still used chalk. The next major change was when the chalkboards were replaced by whiteboards and we needed to use dry erase markers. I had mixed feelings about this change. On the one hand, I used to write on the board a lot and was a messy chalk user. At the end of each class, I would have chalk dust on my hands, hair, and clothes. I would marvel at some of my colleagues who would emerge after a lecture as natty as when they went in. This problem went away with the markers (not an insignificant concern for those with chalk allergies or respiratory issues) but then the problem was that markers would often run dry and the boards would not completely wipe clean without using a special solvent. Also, writing with the markers was not as pleasurable in a tactile sense as with chalk.
[Read more…]

Everything is rigged to favor the wealthy

The latest example of how the wealthy rig the system for their benefit is the story of how they bribe their children into the colleges of their choice by paying people to do standardized tests for them or bribing sports team coaches to certify that the students are top athletes when they are nothing of the sort. This kind of bribery is for those who cannot afford he more traditional kind of bribery of making large ‘donations’, with the Trump and Kushner families being prime examples. The extremely wealthy can do even more, by making even larger donations to colleges for buildings and the like. All this is legal. As has been often pointed out, what is shocking in the US is not what is illegal but what is legal.

Stephen Colbert explains what kind of cheating was done in the cases that were just revealed.

[Read more…]

Is ‘trivial’ trivial?

On a national exam for year 13 students in New Zealand (which is the equivalent of high school seniors in the US) students were asked to write an essay based on this Julius Caesar quote “In war, events of importance are the result of trivial causes.” Some students were upset because they did not know the meaning of the word ‘trivial’ and felt that it was too hard a word to be used on such tests and have signed a petition in protest.
[Read more…]

The strange academic career ladder

In a BBC interview that was brought to my attention by Matt, this year’s co-winner of the Nobel prize in physics Donna Strickland was asked why she was still an associate professor and had not been promoted to full professor, something that I had noted in my earlier post, and she replied that she had never applied for promotion to full professor. Matt asked me to explain the weird academic rank system, so here it is.
[Read more…]

On acknowledging ignorance

In an earlier post, I mentioned how I had the completely wrong idea about what in America is referred to as ‘pickles’. In a comment on that post, Crip Dyke made an interesting point that made me reflect on the question of ignorance.

[W]hen one has a reputation amongst one’s friends for being knowledgeable, one has more to lose by revealing that one has been making such an error … and thus the fear of this may very well be heightened for people who have a reputation amongst their circle as knowledgeable. Thus I sometimes wonder if my fear of making a clueless error is just my vanity in disguise. (though, of course, there do exist independent reasons to want to avoid error)

[Read more…]

Einstein’s letter on education

I came across this letter from Albert Einstein that was published in the New York Times on October 5, 1952 and am reproducing it because it mirrors my own views that those who view education purely because of its utility value are missing something profound about it.

EDUCATION FOR INDEPENDENT THOUGHT

Albert Einstein

It is not enough to teach man a specialty. Through it he may become a kind of useful machine but not a harmoniously developed personality. It is essential that the student acquire an understanding of and a lively feeling for values. He must acquire a vivid sense of the beautiful and of the morally good. Otherwise he – with his specialized knowledge – more closely resembles a well-trained dog than a harmoniously developed person. He must learn to understand the motives of human beings, their illusions, and their sufferings in order to acquire a proper relationship to individual fellow-men and to the community.
[Read more…]

Telling it like it is

Teachers are finally taking action to protest the lack of investment in public education that has led to their low and stagnant salaries, lack of adequate supplies for students, and poorly maintained facilities. To add insult to injury, teachers are constantly vilified by right-wingers as lazy moochers who complain despite having cushy jobs and their summers off. Teachers have long been fed up with this state of affairs but now they are getting angry.
[Read more…]

From evolution wars to climate wars in the classroom

The war over teaching evolution in the classroom, that was such a huge issue in the last century and even prompted me to write a book about it, seems to have subsided after the latest incarnation known as intelligence design getting severely smacked down in a Pennsylvania courtroom in 2005. But Katie Worth writes that now there is a new war in the classroom, this time involving climate change. Wealthy people who oppose any action to combat climate change, like the Koch brothers and the Heartland Institute, are trying to influence teachers in schools by mailing them free packets of misinformation. But once the pro-science community got wind of this move, they fought back with mailings of their own, a project headed by the Paleontological Research Institution (PRI).
[Read more…]

How not to teach

For a term paper in an online course, a student was asked to pick a country and compare some trend between that country and the US. The student chose to compare social media use, with Australia as the other country. But she got the paper back with an F grade, the adjunct professor writing on it that she was failing the student and that Australia is a continent not a country. The student appealed the grade to the professor and the university administration and sent in some evidence that Australia was unique in being both a continent and a country. Her grade was then revised to a B+ and the professor was fired.
[Read more…]