Learning Gas Pains

Across the boundary into week out, with all the nasty baggage that implies. The heat content is increasing, which is not unwelcome but also not completely desired. But then, when it comes to weather or life, we have no control nor any honoring of desire or need. In that regard, it is comforting that we still have to exist as a component of nature rtaher than some adiabatic individual.

But the matter of individuality has come to mind since yesterday. Earlier this week I came across an article [Link] about how young – eight to ten years post delivery – children can statistically have maths learning (?) enhanced by small groups using computational surface tables. This is billed as the ‘Star Trek’ classroom.

I fear I am rather negative on all of this. Maths at that age are little more than memorization, and memorization is individual. It is a matter of knowledge, which is not only truly individual but only indirectly observable. Yes, one may test for the basic memorizations: addition and multiplication tables; but that is conditional on the ability and comfort of the individual with testing, making every test a Bayesian sample.

But what strikes me as even more negative is the egregious extrovertism of the whole thing. By enhancing the learning process for extroverts, the learning of introverts will be reduced. This may be excused on the basis that introverts statistically are better at maths than extroverts, but can even today’s craven educationalists get away with such an immoral activity? Besides, it rather smacks of another way to advance jocks and cheerleaders and suppress nerds.

I have been told that the most important component of shule, at least at the primary and secondary levels, is the social. My response has always been that this is indeed the most important since the social aspect is the primary barrier to learning for introverts. Not only do extroverts do well at socialization naturally, but they band together to bully and harass and suppress the introverts. And the educationalists act to encourage this situation. Recess, for introverts, is a time of evasion of bullying; not of play. Class time is the only time of minimum relaxation of vigilance and this scheme proposes to abolish even that. What positive is left in the shule environment for the introvert?

Then yesterday I read a blot [Link] by a young colleague, Chad Orzel, “Uncertain Principles”, who addressed his personal and professional outlook on college admission quoiting. I was however, struck by one of his statements, albeit in a different direction,

“Now, on some level even talking about college decisions that are more than a decade away feels kind of farcical, given the nearly constant stream of articles about how the higher education landscape is being utterly transformed by technology.”

The direction I was struck was that the education (and educationalist) environment is neither constant nor static. Much of the experimentation on group learning has been done in the college environment.

As I have said before, this participative model, (e.g.,) ‘clickers’, rather leaves me cold and alienated. Yes, it is not fundamentally different from the mode of lecturers asking questions and maybe getting one or two timid responses writ large. I have been there and done that on both sides of the demonstration desk. And I know just how discouraging it is for a lecturer. And how frightening for the students: for the introverts terror of being spotlit; for the extroverts fear of demonstration of ignorance and stupidity. And given that I am a bit ambivalent over the effectiveness of these devices. They seem rather too much a “deus ex machina“.

But I do recognize that the nature of college instruction has changed. Not to the better in my opinion. Some of the time spent writing on board was spent by students learning the material by looking and writing. Now with the advent of PowerPoint  slideism, that writing learning has gone and with it a significant fraction of the student’s learning domain.

Which leads me to the hypothesis that my college time was very nearly the best of times for me to have gone to college. The combination of small classes taught by teaching assistants (TAs) and lecture presentations by professors was highly effective in me learning nerd material. Happily I had few of the other type of classes where one reads before and talks in class, biased implicitly towards extroverts, and managed to get through them with mediocre marks and no deep scars. But I pretty much hated all of them and thoroughly liked the other type, even with antisocial, also sociopathic, professors and the occasional inept mumbling TA.

Nowadays, this has changed. As indicated the board writing process has been lost and TAs have almost disappeared except as lab monitors. I do not think, even with the adaptability and resilience of youth, that I could do well in this new environment. It scares me, much as the on-line prospects of the future are orthogonal to my attention span. And somehow I am glad, for I would hate to think that I would have greater opportunity if I had been born recently and had college to experience in a different form.

But by that same token, I am unsure of how this impacts the present age cohort. Are the contemporary introverts really worse off than they were in my day? Certainly the bullying seems greater and the administration less inclined and able to prevent or ameliorate such. Given the extrovertism rampant I suspect that the administration is enjoying the bullying, or, at least, not having to worry about it. I hope that is not so. But I still fear it is.

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