Pat Gunn (dachte) wrote,
Pat Gunn

Panache Rambler

Last night I fell asleep not long after making it home, slept about 12 hours, and am still exhausted now. Bleh.

Rambly: I've been thinking about difficulties in the education system in the United States - I suspect a very motivated student could get a lot out of a mediocre curriculum, while an unmotivated student wouldn't get much from even the best curriculum (assuming for the moment that student motivation and curriculi are independent).. In middle and high school I wasn't very motivated for some of the classes I was taking - math, music, and biology were fun, the other subjects considerably less so. Eventually, even the interesting topics began to feel like a chore. At some point, things changed for me on the latter front - my father and I used to go to O'Reilly's yearly OpenSource conventions, and I began to find myself nodding off in one of those after percieving it to be a chore. Being reminded that the opportunity to be there was fleeting and that I chose the class because I was interested in it, I changed how I thought about university classes a bit too.. It might not've affected my grades beyond a certain level because I never cared much about them, but it made it easier to remember that in theory I should be getting something out of most of my classes and seminars/etc that I attend.

Taking this a bit more broadly, I wonder what inspires motivation for people in school (and maybe more broadly, in other areas they might apply themselves).. for some people, it's greed - I knew a handful of people whose parents managed to inspire them to perform well in school (and presumably afterwards) purely out of love for money. For others, I'm sure somewhat nobler variants of that are the norm - desire to be able to support a family, not live in a slum, etc. For academes, presumably more common is some form of intellectual curiosity/passion for science, notions of the public good, or similar. We also might imagine people for whom motivation for work helps distract them from inner difficulties (I've known a few people who have some variant on "If I stop to introspect, I'll see things that make me miserable" as their working motto), and perhaps people for whom a dedication to activity is simply a strong enough habit that they don't need motivation (as we know it) to continue. I imagine people might move from one type to another over the years..

If we were to take lack of motivation as a problem, what could be done? For adults, for most jobs outside of academia, presumably identification with society's welfare at large plus supporting the family (the threatened wage-slave idea) gives a reasonable amount. If the latter part could be avoided, that'd be ideal, both presumably for broader-scale productivity and happiness. For students/classes, maybe teaching styles, efforts to shape cultural views on education, heavy tracking, breaking up of groups of students that become a problem, etc can be tailored. Would nearly universal use of socratic teaching methods help? In a recent phone conversation, I speculated that in the soft sciences, law, philosophy, and fields near there, socratic teaching is more natural because, being less convergent, they aim to build a more fluid type of "knowledge" than in fields that are concrete. Having lawyers and philosophers argue builds in them habits of discourse that they'll use for their entire career, while presumably in the harder sciences people will more often design further experiments (although arguing about the statistics and other subtleties might be necessary in some fields).. On the other hand, I've seen socratic teaching work rather well in math. It had a very different flavour than seeing it in philosophy.. I wonder if it would be similarly different in other fields.

I've also been chewing on an answer my dad gave me when I commented on a generalisation I made when I was really young that a number multiplied by itself was always one greater than the number minus one multiplied by the number plus one - he said that it was trivially provable in algebra, showed me the equation, and said that I'd eventually be able to see why it must be true. I asked him to explain algebra to me, and he tried to compare it to programming. It was probably the best tack to take given what I understood at the time, but wasn't successful - I've occasionally returned to the challenge of trying to find a way to describe the basic idea behind algebra to my self of then - while I think programming knowledge on some level doesn't imply grasping algebra (most languages are a bit too concrete - maybe programming in mathematica is different) and grasping algebra doesn't imply having the basics of programming (ignoring all the higher-order concerns like elegance, debugging, etc), they are at some level helpful for each other... I think part of the issue is that before algebra, one only has one operator on an equation - "do it" (which is either possible or not), and so the shift to thinking about them as entities to manipulate on a higher level takes some finsse (I sometimes think surpressing that urge for the first few times felt like heresy) - seeing the equals sign having things on both sides of it rather than being something patiently waiting for my answer was something that took some getting used to. Only in a few programming languages (Mathematica and other symbolic math packages) does the expression system feel like it's "post-algebra"..

A bit more newsish stuff:

  • Religious party in Morocco hopes for gains, again because it stands against corruption. I wonder if there's another way for the people to find suitable statesmen who are "above politics" (meaning unlikely to allow personal interests to sway their activities as a representative, and possibly in addition unwilling to do vote trading and some other political acts) than having religious people run. Philosophical orders? Academes?
  • Al Jazeera put together a quick set of video primers on youtube discussing the various military/political groups active in Iraq. I disagree with their conclusion that Al Qaeda is particularly prominent in fueling the Shi'ia/Sunni conflicts in Iraq, but I think it's worth watching. The videos have appeared every few days - as of right now the fifth part isn't present, but it may be soon.
  • Just like some countries in Oceania, the fad of giving kids silly names has reached Venezuela, with two people of voting age having the first name of "Superman".
  • Encyclopediæ are not Everything2, but .. this might be interesting to a few people. Amusingly, reading Wikipedia's article on Everything2 ... the description of their project halfway describes Wikipedia-as-practiced. :)
  • Having visited E2 again recently, I have a suspicion that it's running on the same software as PerlMonks.. Semi-related, sometimes the worst nodes collection there is really funny.

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