October 23, 2016

Engaging with “challenging subjects”

Filed under: Health, History — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

In the Guardian, Frank Furedi talks about the challenges faced by university instructors when they need to expose their students to “challenging materials”:

Students studying the archaeology of modern conflict at University College, London, have been told they are permitted to leave class if they find the discussion of historical events “disturbing” or traumatising. This does not surprise me. Shielding students from topics deemed sensitive is fast gaining influence in academic life.

My colleague at another university showed a picture of an emaciated Hungarian Jewish woman liberated from a death camp. A student, yelled out, “stop showing this, I did not come here to be traumatised”, disrupting his lecture on the Hungarian Holocaust. After the student complained of distress, caused by the disturbing image, my colleague was told by an administrator to be more careful when discussing such a sensitive subject. “How can I teach the Holocaust without unsettling my students?” asked my friend. Academics who now feel they have to mind their words are increasingly posing such questions.

Throughout the Anglo-American world universities have drawn up protocols warning of exposing students to “sensitive subjects”. Astonishingly, the university is now subject to practices that demand levels of conformism historically associated with narrow-minded, illiberal institutions. The terms “sensitive subject” or “challenging subject” are used by administrators to designate a class of topics portrayed as a risk to students’ wellbeing.


It is difficult to think of any powerful literary text that does not disturb a reader’s sensibility. Consequently virtually any classic text could incite a demand for a trigger warning. A Durham University student complained that his class was “expected to sit through lectures and tutorials discussing Lavinia’s rape in Titus Andronicus”, though he was delighted that “we did get a trigger warning about bestiality with regard to part of the lecture on A Midsummer Night’s Dream”.

It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that, once sensitivity becomes a commanding value in academic teaching, the range of topics deemed sensitive will expand. This has far-reaching implications for academic teaching. Once the teaching of an academic topic becomes subordinated to a criterion that is external to it – such as the value of sensitivity – it risks losing touch with the integrity of its subject matter. At the very least, academics have to become wary of teaching topics in accordance with their own inclination as to what is the right way of communicating their subject.

Sadly, far too many academics have responded to the pressure to protect students from disturbing ideas by censoring themselves.

September 30, 2016

QotD: Why is high school so deadly dull?

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

All teaching takes a toll on what’s taught, but high school is wondrously efficient at making interesting things dull. So why are kids forced to go? Well, one reason has to do with child-­labor laws. In the middle of the 19th century, kids in most states could stop going to school after eighth grade, once they had learned to read and do a little arithmetic, and they got jobs. They worked on farms or in dark satanic mills, and one by one the states made laws (or began to enforce existing laws) that said that young people had to stay in school so their morals wouldn’t be corrupted and they wouldn’t languish in ignorance and be roped into a life of labor from dawn to dusk and die of consumption before they reached 30. So the government built high schools, lots of them, and the number of kids in high school burgeoned, and blossomed, and ballooned. By 1940, there were five times as many high-school graduates as there were before the labor-­law reforms. It was a huge change all over the country, and it required discipline. Squads of truant officers would go sniffing around finding kids who were evading high school, and they threatened parents with fines or even jail time and got them to comply.

What happens if you suddenly have millions of kids in high school who would have been working under the old laws? You have to hire more teachers, and you have to figure out what they’re going to teach. You then get endless debates about cultural literacy — about what subjects should be required. Should everyone in high school learn Greek? What about Latin? What about sewing? Or needlepoint? Cursive? And the schools became bigger. The local schoolhouse went away, and the gigantic brick edifice on the edge of town took its place. James Conant, a president of Harvard, decided in the 1960s that the ideal high school should have at least 750 students. That’s a lot of students — it’s a battalion of students, in fact — and that’s perhaps where it all began to go wrong. The regional schools became meatpacking plants, or Play-Doh fun factories, squeezing out supposedly educated human beings, marching them around from class to class — bells bonging, punishments escalating, homework being loaded on. And yet the human beings who were marching from class to class weren’t being paid. “Review the elements of transcendentalism listed on Page 369.” Oh, and do it for free.

Every day something like 16 million high-school students get up at the crack of dawn, slurp some oat clusters while barely conscious, hop on a bus, bounce around the county, show up and sit in a chair, zoned out, waiting for the first bell. If they’re late, they are written up. Even if they don’t do much academic work, they are physically present. Their attendance is a valuable commodity, because if students don’t attend, teachers and guidance counselors and principals and textbook makers and designers of educational software have no jobs. A huge lucrative industry is built around them, and the students get nothing out of it but a G.P.A. They deserve not to have their time wasted.

And it is wasted, as everyone knows. Teachers spend half their time shouting themselves hoarse, and young adults are infantilized. Their lives are absurdly regimented. Every minute is accounted for. They sit in one hot room after another and wait for each class to end. Time thickens. It becomes like saltwater taffy — it becomes viscous and sticky, and it stretches out and it folds back on itself through endless repetition. Tuesday is just like Wednesday, except the schedule is shuffled. Day after day of work sheets. By the time they graduate, they’ve done 13 years of work sheets. When they need to go to the bathroom, they have to write their name on a piece of paper by the door. If they hide in the bathroom, they’re in trouble. Whole hierarchies of punishment for scofflaws arise — school-­supplied iPads are restricted, parents are called on the phone, in-school suspensions are meted out.

What makes all this almost tolerable is the kids themselves. They find ways to make it entertaining. They discover friends and co-­conspirators. They rebel. They interrupt one another constantly in search of some tiny juicy Jolly Rancher of surprise. They subvert the system. They learn to lie convincingly to avoid work. The teacher’s aide (sometimes it was me) says, “Are you all caught up?” Kid: “Yep.” Aide: “Did you do that BrainPOP about the flipflap of the doodlesquat?” Kid: “Yep, handed that in yesterday.” One young man I ­talked to seemed unusually intelligent but downcast. I asked him how he survived his days. He pulled out his earbud, and he said one word: “music.”

Nicholson Baker, “Fortress of Tedium: What I Learned as a Substitute Teacher”, New York Times Magazine, 2016-09-07.

September 22, 2016

QotD: The plight of the substitute teacher

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Quotations, USA — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 01:00

I taught all ages, from kindergarten to high school; I taught remedial classes and honors students. One day we factored polynomials, another day we made Popsicle-stick bird feeders for Mother’s Day, another day it was the Holocaust. Sometimes I substituted for an “ed tech” — a teacher’s aide whose job was to shadow kids with A.D.H.D. or dyslexia, or kids who simply refused to do any work at all. I was a bungling substitute most of the time; I embarrassed myself a hundred different ways, and got my feelings hurt, and complained, and shouted, and ate espresso chocolate to stay awake. It was shattering, but I loved it. After a while, I stopped being so keen on developing my grand treatise on educational theory, and instead I found that I enjoyed trying to keep a class going and watching it fall apart. I liked listening to students talk — even when they were driving themselves, and me, bonkers. The result of my 28 hellish, joyous days of paid work (I made $70 a day) was a book, more chronicle than meditation, called “Substitute: Going to School With a Thousand Kids.”

The teachers left me daily assignments called “sub plans” to follow — which I clutched throughout the day until they became as finely crumpled as old dollar bills — and mostly what the sub plans wanted me to do was pass out work sheets. I passed them out by the thousands. Of all the work sheets I passed out, the ones in high school were the worst. In my experience, every high-school subject, no matter how worthy and jazzy and thought-­provoking it may have seemed to an earnest Common Corer, is stuffed into the curricular Veg-­O-­Matic, and out comes a nasty packet with grading rubrics on the back. On the first page, usually, there are numbered “learning targets,” and inside, inevitably, a list of specialized vocabulary words to master. In English it’s unreliable narrator, or ethos, or metonymy, or thesis sentence. This is all fluff knowledge, meta-­knowledge. In math, kids must memorize words like apothem and Cartesian coordinate; in science they chant domain! kingdom! phylum! class! etc., etc., and meiosis and allele and daughter cell and third-class lever and the whole Tinkertoy edifice of terms that acts to draw people away from the freshness and surprise and fantastic interfused complexity of the world and darkens our brains with shadowy taxonomic abstractions. The instantly forgettable gnat-swarm of word lists is useful in big-box high schools because it’s easier to test kids on whether they can temporarily define a set of terms than it is to talk to them and find out whether they have learned anything real and thrilling about what’s out there.

Nicholson Baker, “Fortress of Tedium: What I Learned as a Substitute Teacher”, New York Times Magazine, 2016-09-07.

August 9, 2016

Growing up White Trash in the modern university

Filed under: USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Holly Genovese on the difficulties of an academic career when you come from a “White Trash” background:

I bought The Professor Is In by Karen Kelsky, a terrifying book full of blunt (and much needed advice) about navigating the academic job market. While the author gives outspoken advice about the struggles of the job market, particularly for women, she also implicitly argues for the importance of hiding one’s class. She wrote about clothing and makeup and speaking patterns in women. Around the time I read this book, I realized that I, for a lack of a better term, code “white trash.” I have bad teeth, frequently say “ya’ll” and “how come,” and have a habit of running around South Philadelphia in a Dale Earnhardt Jr. t-shirt. It is one thing to have your hometown judged by your peers, but it is quite another to realize that qualities you possess, habits born of a lifetime that you don’t even realize you have, make you read as unqualified or unfit for your chosen profession.

But you can’t go home either, as they say. The more formal education I acquired, the larger the gap between my family and I became. My parents are incredibly proud of me and have never been anything other than supportive. But everyone from cousins to former employers have insinuated that I am arrogant because I left my small town for the city and enrolled in a Ph.D program. Why couldn’t I get a real job in the Harley Factory? What could you even do with a history Ph.D anyway? And most common of all, was I ever coming home? Slowly I realized the answer to that question had to be no.

Coming home still feels like a relief, a break from a life of pretending. But very gradually, my life has become very different from that of my family and old friends. We no longer watch the same TV or drink the same beer or read the same books. It takes a good week to get acclimated to the Folgers coffee my mom still buys. And many of my friends have no frame of reference for my chosen career, having never gone to college or even finished high school themselves. And sometimes my liberal and quasi-socialist opinions run up against those of the people in my hometown. How can I contest their sometimes racist, homophobic, or anti-intellectual opinions without confirming their stereotypes about who I have become, an elitist snob from the city?

H/T to Rick McGinnis for the link. “Except for the use of the voguish word “microaggression,” this resonates strongly with what I’ve seen (and lived.) That in-between feeling, of never quite fitting in where you’ve come from or where you are now. Class is a powerful thing, and in my experience Americans have a hard time talking about it. (And Canadians only marginally less so.)”

August 8, 2016

The legacy of the Loeb Classical Library editions

Filed under: Books, Europe, History — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

While I sometimes feel old enough to have construed Latin in school, it departed the curriculum a few years before I reached high school. As a result, while I was vaguely aware of the Loeb Classical Library, I never had a need to obtain or depend on them for my academic career (thank goodness). Back in 2011, John Talbot described them as the “bright ghosts of antiquity” for New Criterion:

The gist of an old joke — it has a dozen local iterations — is that the Loeb Classical Library translations are so baffling that you have to consult the original Greek or Latin on the left-hand page to decipher the English translation on the right.

Funny or not, the wisecrack catches the condescension long directed at the Loebs, that venerable series of Greek and Latin classics in uniform volumes with facing English translations. Professors of classics in particular used to frown upon them. Until recently, merely to be seen on campus with a Loeb was to court scandal. There were gradations of disgrace. Those Loeb editions of Boethius, Bede, and Augustine I saw on the shelves of the professor who taught me Anglo-Saxon: those were permissible for an English scholar. But I, as a classics major, was to eschew the very same volumes. Even as an undergraduate, though I prized my Loeb edition of The Republic, edited and imaginatively annotated by Paul Shorey, I knew better than bring it to my seminar on Plato. That same tact — that same hypocrisy — accounts for the care I took, as a graduate student, to avoid detection as I sifted the used bookshops of Cambridge for second-hand Loebs. For many of us, the pleasure we took in the Loebs was tinged with guilt.

But attitudes are changing. Once treated as evidence of the decline of Western civilization, the Loeb Classical Library is now, in its centennial year, more often regarded as, if not quite a pillar of our culture, at least one of its more enduring and useful props. The centenary invites consideration of how the Loebs have both reflected and, increasingly, shaped our literary culture.

First, to deal with that joke: Are the Loeb translations really so convoluted? They are not. What is true, though not true enough to justify the slur, is that some of the translations, especially those of the Library’s first few decades, do make hard going for the reader, not because they are incomprehensible but because they are written in one of two different varieties of translationese. About the first kind, the Times Literary Supplement reviewer got it right when he complained that the 1913 Loeb Catullus was translated not into English exactly, but that other dialect, “the construing lingo beloved of schoolboys, but abhorred by man and gods.” He had in mind such clunking touches as “remains to be slept the sleep of one unbroken night” for Catullus’ suave nox est perpetua una dormienda, a solution which confirms, as though to satisfy a schoolteacher, the translator’s grasp of the future perfect passive, whatever the cost to English idiom.

H/T to Never Yet Melted for the link.

August 5, 2016

QotD: Slavery as an American invention

Filed under: History, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

I started giving quizzes to my juniors and seniors. I gave them a ten-question American history test… just to see where they are. The vast majority of my students – I’m talking nine out of ten, in every single class, for seven consecutive years – they have no idea that slavery existed anywhere in the world before the United States. Moses, Pharaoh, they know none of it. They’re 100% convinced that slavery is a uniquely American invention… How do you give an adequate view of history and culture to kids when that’s what they think of their own country – that America invented slavery? That’s all they know.

Dr. Duke Pesta, in conversation with Stefan Molyneux, transcribed by David Thompson, 2016-07-27.

July 31, 2016

QotD: The Finnish language

Filed under: Europe, History, Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Russians did not realize how much establishing the Finnish language to be the priority language of the Finnish people and govt (and the jaegers/military officers — very important) became a strength to allow a seemingly meek and poor people to sever themselves from the regime. Of course, it was a bloody civil war, but not knowing Finnish was a blow to the Russians. And, they had the same problem in 1939 again. Side story: Russian soldiers easily surrendered so they could get into the Finnish prisons since they were starving and didn’t have proper clothes … some never went back home after WW2. I was told by a relative: “to win a war, you need food (supply lines) and lots of money, that’s really it.”

To this day, Finnish is one of the hardest languages to learn. There are 13 cases and no regular verbs … words change meaning by just adding a few other words to it — some as long as 24 letters! I did meet a Brooklyn guy who is a professor in Helsinki (married to a Finn) who speaks fluent Finnish with a Brooklyn accent!

Finns don’t really care if people don’t want to learn their language (not related to Germanic or Latin languages whatsoever) but they are eager (and required in school) to learn other languages. By the time I was 8, I added English (learned by watching a lot of American TV) to Finnish and Swedish. French and Spanish I learned around 12, and, I have tried to start another language for fun. Side issue: This is also, my own opinion why Finnish kids do so well on the Pisa test (although not as good these last 2 years) every year … the fact that it is normal to know 2-4 languages by age 14.

Although there are some words in Finnish that are similar to Swedish/English, it is still so few for anyone to see a connection — Icelandic, weirdly, has more similarities as far as words. And, despite that it is called a Finno-Ugric language, I don’t see the connection with Hungarian. And, on top of that, half my family (Swedish & ethnic Finnish) are Karelian, so there were words or dialect introduced in addition to mainstream Finnish — enough to confuse a kid even today.

Although, I marvel at the few children of immigrants from Asia or Africa who are fluent in Finnish today, it is still a country of mostly Finns. There are immigrants, but Finland presciently, did not allow the development of ghetto-like housing in the outskirts of cities — immigrants are scattered across metropolitan areas. Needless to say, Finland, because of the climate, and the difficult language, is not a favorite to emigrate to. You can get by with English, but you will not be in the inner circle unless your spouse is Finnish speaking, or you make a concerted effort to learn the language. And, the overwhelming reticence (and need for privacy) of the Finnish people can make for a lonely existence there … summers are nice.

Lagertha“, commenting on Steve Sailer’s “Freeman Dyson on Human Biological and Cultural Diversity” at The Unz Review, 2015-02-05.

June 18, 2016

The full story of the Pop-Tart kid suddenly makes more sense

Filed under: Media, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

I admit, I’ve occasionally referred to the Pop-Tart incident as a prime example of bone-headed application of so-called “zero tolerance” rules, but given the full story, I’ll have to stop doing that:

Remember the Pop-Tart gun kid? He was 7 years old when he was suspended for chewing his breakfast (not actually a Pop-Tart, as it turned out) into the shape of a weapon and pretending to fire it at his classmates. Now he’s 11, and Anne Arundel County Circuit Court Judge Ronald A. Silkworth just upheld his suspension.

In the end, the case hinged on whether the pastry incident was, in fact, the last straw in a long line of disciplinary problems. The Maryland school says yes; the parents say at the time of the suspension they were told that the two day suspension was a direct result of the deployment of food weaponry and that no other incidents were mentioned.


The records strongly suggest that this kid was trouble, but also that he was troubled. He was new to the school and joined the class late. In addition to the incidents of aggression, records contain multiple reports of the boy banging his own head on his desk and walls.

So why did the breakfast gun make the teachers go nuclear? On the day of the incident, before anyone at the school realized this would be a national story, the administration went straight to DEFCON 1, sending a letter home with every child in the school [PDF] which read, in part, “If your children express that they are troubled by today’s incident, please talk with them and help them share their feelings. Our school counselor is available to meet with any students who have the need to do so next week. In general, please remind them of the importance of making good choices.”

But the documentation makes equally clear that pointing chewed up breakfast food at his classmates wasn’t the most worrisome thing the kid got up to. The records say that over the span of a few months he left the school grounds during the instructional day, threw a chair, and punched a child in the nose.

If the school had suspended the child over that violent incident, I doubt anyone outside the local area would ever have heard of the situation. The media’s focus on the gun-shaped pastry part of the story ended up giving many people (including me) a very distorted picture of what was really the issue.

June 9, 2016

“Let people do what they want with their own bodies and property”: Q&A with Todd Seavey

Filed under: Books, Liberty, Politics, USA — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 7 Jun 2016

“The experience of having everybody around me on campus say the left is the way to go and then…seeing communism collapse made me think maybe the libertarians have a better handle on how these things work,” says Todd Seavey, author of the new book Libertarianism for Beginners. “While the Soviet Union existed, the Marxists on campus were rooting for the Soviet Union.”

A New York-baseed comic-book writer, one-time producer for TV’s own John Stossel, and a contributor to Splice Today, Seavey found his way toward libertarianism while attending Brown University in the late 1980s.

His new graphic book, Libertarianism for Beginners, argues that the core message of libertarians is to “keep the government small and let people do what they want with their own bodies and property.”

May 31, 2016

“Illegal” British schools – “If this whole fuss were any more of a smear you could use it to test for cervical cancer”

Filed under: Britain, Bureaucracy, Media, Religion — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Natalie Solent uses up some past-the-use-by-date outrage over a report of “illegal” schools in Britain:

Here is a BBC story from a couple of weeks ago: Thousands of children taught in ‘illegal schools’. Similar pieces appeared in the Times, the Guardian, and other newspapers. When this story came out I listened on the radio to an interview on the subject with some Ofsted guy, either the Sir Michael Wilshaw quoted by the BBC or one of his minions. Whoever it was, he came across as so evasive on one particular point that by comparison even the BBC interviewer was plain-spoken. From the way Ofsted Guy spoke of these illegal schools as places where only “religion” was taught you’d think clicking on the BBC Bitesize GCSE Religious Studies page makes a red light flash in GCHQ, and from the way he spoke of “radicalisation” you’d think that all roots resulted in the same flower. Oh, and from the way he spoke of these schools being “illegal” you would think that they had been convicted in a court of being illegal. The BBC interviewer pressed him and eventually got him to admit that the alleged illegality was merely his opinion, not having been tested in court, and that “some” of these schools were Islamic.

That’s progress of a sort. The Guardian article linked to above does not mention Islam at all but has a quote from a disgruntled former pupil at a Charedi school. We should all be very grateful to the Charedim and the Belzers. When one simply must have someone other than the Muslims to point to, they are there. They ought to start an agency and charge for their services: “Jews in Hats: the safe option for all your denunciation needs.”

The Times says the unauthorized schools are “predominantly Islamic”.

So far this post has almost written itself. The usual pathetic fear of naming Islam from the establishment, the usual pushback from angry commenters, the usual opportunity for bloggers like me to use up old out-of-code packets of sarcasm from the bottom of the freezer. But now things get a little odd and diffuse and unsatisfactory.

I would like to offer a few scattered thoughts regarding three points. (1) Not for the first time, the efforts of the media to conceal that some minority are disproportionately involved in some disfavoured activity has resulted in the public overestimating the involvement of that minority; (2) this whole effort on the part of the so-called Office for Standards in Education has all the characteristics of a power-grab and a smear; and (3) there is no evidence that these little informal schools, including the Muslim ones, do any worse than the state schools at either education or terrorism-prevention. There is some reason to suppose they might do better in some circumstances despite worse facilities. Many children turn to these schools having suffered bullying at normal schools. The low number of people involved means that everyone, teachers and pupils, knows everyone else; no one can “slip through the cracks”. Another benefit is that the presence of an affordable alternative helps keep more traditional types of schools on their toes.

May 25, 2016

Teaching girls versus teaching boys in the modern school

Filed under: USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Sarah Hoyt explains why your school-age sons may not be getting as much (if anything) from their education compared to your daughters:

… most of [my sons’] generation PARTICULARLY THE GIRLS are coddled and protected within an inch of their lives and treated as prodigies. And don’t argue with me on the girl thing. If you don’t have kids in school — particularly sons — you don’t know how skewed it is. Most of the work is geared to “a woman’s way of learning”, things are demanded at appropriate ages FOR GIRLS who develop faster than boys (for instance to deliver work on time with no demands. Teen boys can’t do that till about 16, but it’s demanded at 11. If your male middle schooler is floundering, you know why. Add to that that most teachers are women, and women of a certain generation, who feel they are “sticking it to the patriarchy” by “encouraging” girls more and what you have is a recipe for disaster, particularly for girls.

Let’s right now admit men and women are different, with different capacities. If I ever persuade my brain-researcher friend to give you a post on how hormones influence brain development, we’ll have a biological base to build on. But still, statistically across all the various cultures of the world, men and women are different in raw capabilities. Men prefer spacial and mathematical reasoning (well, abstract, where mathematical is iffy) and enjoy danger more. Women are linguistically inclined and able to multitask or work in an “Interrupted environment” better.

Now these are all statistical capabilities, which applied to real life mean very little, and applied to real humans are not predictive. I mean, you’d expect to see more male engineers and more female linguists — and you do — but it means nothing as to whether your own very special male or female apple blossom should be one or the other.


I’ll add here that I don’t understand the NEED of the cognoscenti in our society to fight natural inclination and make male nurses and female engineers. It seems to me they’re working out some bur under their own psychological saddle, so to speak, by playing with the lives of others.

On the other hand if women want to be engineers and are willing to work hard enough they should stand the same chance as any man. And yet, we have classes that start out with equal numbers of male and female, in engineering, but by the end it is, as younger son puts it “a sausage fest” most women having deserted to Business or Art or Art of Business or Business of Art or whatever.

A lot of these were probably never that interested, and were pushed by parents/teachers. But those that were were handicapped.

Any number of boys quits too. Fewer than the girls, because they weren’t as handicapped.

These kids are handicapped by making their lives too easy. If the school goes out of their way to value “a woman’s way of learning” a woman will never learn to stretch her wings. If even boys are taught “you’re special and unique” and every thing they toss out with little thought is praised, they don’t learn what their blind spots are or to compensate for them.

What this means is that sooner or later they’ll come up against things they’re bad at — the best “rounded” person has things they suck at — and they don’t know what reserves they have, nor how to fill in the holes in natural talent with work.

May 21, 2016

QotD: Teaching Shakespeare

Filed under: Britain, History, Media, Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

I have the grimmest memories of being taught Shakespeare. It happened in a high school in Ontario in the ’sixties. I’m sure that my teacher meant well. It was on the curriculum, and what could she do? It started with Romeo and Juliet, in connexion with which we were taken to see a movie. This was also called “Romeo and Juliet,” directed by Franco Zeffirelli, and starring Leonard Whiting and Olivia Hussey. Tell the truth, I fell in love with the actress — for hours; days maybe. But then I’ve always been a fool for women. We were taught not the play, but the movie; then as we moved on to The Merchant of Venice (I think it was, I wasn’t paying much attention) we were taught not the play, but “what it all means.” I can only bear that when the teacher has some notion of what it all might mean, herself.

My interest focused curiously enough not on Romeo, nor Juliet, nor any of the powers at play in Verona, but on Friar Laurence, and his charitable if somewhat naive efforts to prevent bad things from happening. Shakespeare here and elsewhere had the nerve to present Catholic monks and nuns in a good light, after they’d been scoured from the English landscape. Pay attention, and know anything at all about his times, and one will see that he has consistently reversed the “stereotypes” promoted in Elizabethan England. There, as here today, the traditional practitioners of religion were satirized for corruption and hypocrisy. In Shakespeare, instead, the monks and nuns scramble about trying to fix one mess or another that the worldlings have created for themselves, and somehow reconcile them with Our Lord. We see plainly who the real Christians are, and who are not. And if we want real hypocrisy and corruption — we find for instance Angelo, in Measure for Measure, with his parade of fake asceticism, and lines to echo those of contemporary “reformers.”

I mention that play as extremely topical, in light of recent events at Rome. Also, because it was once taught to me as an exposé of religious life, when it is — shriekingly — the opposite.

But by that point in my life (age fourteen) I was already a Shakespeare votary, and no high school teacher could kill my enthusiasm for him, much as she might (unwittingly) kill it in everyone else, by making a drudgery of the subject. The basic clew was missing among the pedagogues, as it still is: that this subject teaches itself. It needs only a stage, only to be pronounced, for the “music” in verse and prose to begin explaining all the words. The less prepared a student is to resist Shakespeare, the faster he will succumb to the charm. This has been tested: even before audiences in India with little knowledge of English in any dialect; or in Germany a long time ago, where English strolling players took Shakespeare when London theatres had been closed. The story of Shakespeare’s conquests, in English and a hundred other languages, is one the English themselves have hardly understood, and exhibits to my mind the truth of Kipling’s: “What do they know of England, who only England know?”

David Warren, “Teaching Shakespeare”, Essays in Idleness, 2015-01-19.

May 18, 2016

Human Capital and Signaling

Filed under: Economics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on 7 Apr 2015

Wages in America differ greatly among workers. Why is that? One reason includes differences in human capital — tools of the mind. Education is one of the biggest investments people make to increase their human capital. Which college majors offer the greatest returns? And are all returns on education due to human capital? A college degree can “signal” other factors as well, and we discuss what is commonly known as the “sheepskin effect.” In this video, we also discuss how globalization has affected wages in the U.S.

May 4, 2016

Econ Duel: Is Education Signaling or Skill Building?

Filed under: Economics — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Published on 8 Mar 2016

What’s the point of education?

Do you learn about things, because the learning itself matters, or is education all about the signal you — and your degree — send out to the world? Is education really about building skills, or does it serve only to transmit intangible traits, like your level of talent or your persistence?

These are the questions we’ll be tackling in this new Econ Duel debate from Marginal Revolution University.

And since we believe that nothing beats a good friend-vs-friend duel, we’ve picked two friends, whom you’re probably familiar with. For this debate on education as signaling vs. skill building, we’ve got Tyler Cowen and Alex Tabarrok, ready to go head-to-head.

You’ll see them argue about nearly everything—from peacocks, to private markets, to street sweepers, to Scandinavian education laws, and even the real value of Harvard University. In the end, you’ll see them duke things out, in a quest to determine education’s effect on our lives and well-being.

The video also asks:

-Why do students tend to rejoice when their professor cancels class?

-When we’re talking education, what really counts? Is it the soft skills, or the hard facts?

-If evolution still can’t sort out good vs. bad, can we really expect the market to do any better?

-Can the things you learn today still matter 20 years down the line?

-Why do peacocks still sport huge, colorful tails, despite the fact that evolution should’ve come up with a better signaling device by now?

Once you reach the end of the video, we have one specific request. It’s hugely important.

Ask yourself: “Is education only about signaling, or is it really about skill building?”

Think it through and then let us know by voting at the end of the video!

BTW, Alex is right in this debate.

April 28, 2016

QotD: That’s why they call it “Sex Education”

Filed under: Health, Humour, Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

I’m on the road in Thailand, speaking at a U.N. conference on sustainable A development in the Third World. Earlier today I listened to a presentation on the effects of sex education for women. The presentation mentioned some cultural value conflicts about sex education, but it occurred to me that it didn’t touch the biggest one. To wit: worldwide, the teachers want the kids to learn abstinence, but what the kids [want] to learn is technique.

Eric S. Raymond, “That’s Why They Call It ‘Sex Education'”, Armed and Dangerous, 2002-05-20.

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