One-Sided Contention

And while we are on the subject of science and measurement, i ran across this cartoon [Link] shortly after the previous:

The quote was new to me but the sentiment was not. Learning maths requires not just sucking in information, it requires doing exercises. I recall how difficult it was for me in maths courses where the only thing done was proving theorems and no problems were assigned. No one ever told me to make up my own problems in maths and it wasn’t until years later that the idea occurred to me.

Not so in science courses. Yes, less so in biology, but in physics and chemistry there are problems aplenty to be done, so I never had any problem having problems to do and even setting my own problems. Apparently it is easier to question reality than purity?

I have often wondered if the same holds for other courses and disciplines. I recall in philosophy and anthropology courses that there were no problems, only readings. I felt unchallenged and though I got acceptable grades due to a good memory, unfulfilled. How do the students of these disciplines contend and learn? Or do they?

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Hubris and Nemesis in Academia

Entering the third day of captivity. Were it not for the inherent perverseness, from our human perspective, of Nature, that captivity would have ended today but instead, yesterday’s meltings were converted to hard frozen overnight reducing the roads once more to the domain of bumper cars.

Both my aft porch electronic thermometer and ForecastFox agree that the exterior temperature is approximately -7 degC, 20 degF for the bogs. Somehow 20 sounds warmer than -7 but physically both are the same. Perhaps I should think of it as 266 degK which makes me want to break out the sun screen and turn up the air conditioning.

Some of the punditry has been about how this mess is a consequence of climate change aka global warming. I cannot agree or disagree with confidence. I did examine the historical record and it seems that we have winter storms like this in Nawth Alibam with a mean of about 25 years and a standard deviation of about 4 years. So this storm is statistically consistent with what the order statistics would predict based on the two previous storms. At issue, as always, is whether all variable have been properly considered – the answer is a resounding NO! – and if the data aggregation is righteous – the answer is a resounding HUH?

The outside world is still there, and despite what the news readers would have us believe, not all of the planet is stormed under or rapt in mystic mumblage over political assassination. Human existence continues and mostly at a level orthogonal to the advertising of manufactured stercus by people who say the stupidest things in some adult version of Art Linkletter.

One of the currents in the articles that have been coming in has been about college students, which seems a bit displaced. Should this not be occurring at the end of summer? But happily it is anticlimactic. The first piece is about some work at Ohio State U. Researchers there advance that their sample of college students exhibited a greater affinity for self-esteem than food, ethanol, or gratuitous reproductive activity.[Link]

I fear this one falls into the ‘ain’t no surprise’ pile although given that it is academic research we might expect the perfessers to be oblivious to the reality short of getting publication credits. Point is, most college students have very low self-esteem for some very good mechanical reasons. This was the situation in my day and it is more so now.

Let’s start by considering these students when they graduated high shul. When I graduated the message was that we had learned some but there was a lot more to be learned in college, for those of us fortunate enough to go to college, which unlike today was not everyone since there were no Yankee government guaranteed student loans. Nowadays, students are told all through primary and secondary shul that they are wonderful just by being there and regardless of whether they learn anything or not.

Then you got to college. In my day we had been told we had a lot to learn and we discovered that part of our education was accurate. Freshman year started with us being overwhelmed with our ignorance – except, of course, for the jocks who came to college to get paid and the debs who came to college to get husbands – and continued throughout. And it kept heaping as each semester we got told in first class by some new perfesser (to us) that the baby stuff was over and we had to bust our organs to learn the ‘real stuff’ in his course. After a couple of these you figured out the ‘real stuff’ was infinitely regressive. Then,  just when we thought maybe we had gotten to a plateau starting our Senior year, we found out about graduate shul. And then in graduate shul we found out about being self-teaching and lifetime learning.

Needless to say, the general state of the student psyche in this environment was of some Greek tragedy myth of eternally pushing a rock up an infinitely upwards slope. Self-esteem was rarer than hen’s dentition in the dorm cafeteria. In fact, the only real sources of self-esteem were how good was the food, how well did you hold your ethanol, and how recently had you engaged in reproductive activity. Ayeh, good grades helped but they were transitory and ultimately meaningless. Because as soon as you aced one course one semester there was another course in another semester.

But as bad as this was for we “Children of Containment”, as one of my colleagues, Magnetic Inductance Force, refers to us, it is much more pronounced for the current crop of helicopter parented, Every-Child-Left-Behind students. They have been told that they are marvelous because thy metabolize, and intellectual activity is irrelevant. We were told before we got to college we were ignorant; these kids haven’t and they are lower than coprolites. So it is no wonderment that some Yankee academics would find out that these kids prize self-esteem, because it’s something that is in very short supply.

I shall refrain from any blame throwing for this. But I will invoke a second article[Link] that tells us that college students deep into undergraduate majors are incompetent. It seems that while the students may have memorized enough to pass exams, they haven’t learned the thoughts of their majors. And they are still thinking like pond scum.

The authors lay this at the feet of the perfessers. After all, these kids have been dumbed down by the educationalists all of their lives so there should be no obligation now for them to understand anything, much less learn and internalize. So when the perfessers assume the students have grasped what was taught in previous courses, they are in error. And that error is their fault.

Sorry, I don’t purchase this.Back when I was a student there were things in every course that I didn’t get right away. Heck, there was one course in math methods at U Illinois that took me 30 years to grok. But we learned enough that we weren’t lost next semester when the pile got higher. Evidently one of the characteristics of contemporary students is that having been told by the educationalists for twelve years that they don’t need to learn anything to be wonderful, they now don’t or can’t learn at all. Yes, they can memorize but that is a long way from learning.

And I shan’t even remark on the contemporary custom of never retaining any textbook from previous courses.

Now I’m going to bind up my feet in MalWart galoshes and do something productive – feeding the critters.  

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Ah, a Sundae that is rather a Sundae! Sol is barely visible now and the vista – the physical one out my house windows, not the MegaHard travesty – is one of snow covered ground except where the evergreens, pines mostly, have shielded the ground. The weather beavers admit their calculations were in error by as much as a factor of three. And the temperature was at least five degF below the phase change and will not ecxeed that temperature today so unless we get considerable insolation, the vanillaness will persist and imperil motorized travel.

We sit hoping the Arab Electric Cooperative will not blow their success thus far. The hope is brittle and thin.

So now I may engage to consider the article that have accumulated in abs this season. I start with a polemic [Link] on how young female humans – girls, if I may use that term without being discriminatory in the modern dementia that is society – are not being engaged in shul to study science and maths. The author specially wrings hands pitifully over the maths part.

I feel the ice creeping across the core of my mind. Public shul, perhaps all primary and secondary shul, is antithetical to the learning of science and maths. It motivates not. This is not just a result of Every Child Left Behind, although that is a firm and effective contributor to the general rot, because shul was a tar pit of dead and dying interests even back when I was a student, back in the days when television was not only monochrome but antennaed, and the descendants of dinosaurs wandered many back yards.

I reflect that I had, in general, good science teachers, none of them educationalists. I cannot speak to their certification credentials but I can say with the confidence of personal checking that they had real majors in their subjects. Admittedly the whole senior physics thing [1] was a near debacle going from one ineffective physics teacher to another over the scant months, a sad foretelling of the state of the contemporary high shul.

But when it came to maths teachers the population density was near zero. Yes, there were teachers and they taught maths but they knew not the maths beyond what was in their syllabus. Only the senior maths teacher for college bound students – that was not a unity but a minority in those days – had a degree in maths, and by then his efforts and abilities were either wasted or irrelevant; if students had not maths by then, they would not get them in that penultimate year of mediocrity in education.

Add to this the rise of the individual computer and the profession/discipline of simulationist. I have worked with these folks as their presence increased and while they are good folk, as good as any who exercise the Amerikan franchise and can bend the bow back over a cloth yard shaft, or its modern equivalent, but they have a strange, typically Amerikan, prejudice, that maths are irrelevant if one has their skills as simulationist. It follow immediately that if we are teaching simulation in shul, and that fact is assured given the economics of the matter compared to working with actual matter stuffs, and, lest we forget, the natural proclivities of the current young for whom electronics using is akin to tuning and hacking motorcars was in the days between my father and myself, then that prejudice against maths is creeping in to the hearts and minds of the students.

So scant surprise to me that boys or girls are not engaged by maths and sciences. They have no reason to and many reasons not to. And despite their natural rebellion at that age they can still be shaped by educationalists and parents who are equally whacked and ignorant. If collapse is not eminent, slavery and tyranny are.

[1]  Yes, the ordering of science courses was as broken then as it is now. Instead of proceeding physics to chemistry to biology, the reverse maintained even as it does today, and the fundamental reason for this silly stupidity is the maths instruction.

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On to Jerusalem!

Tis Frey’s day and brillig although the toads (toves) aren’t very slithy this morning in the reduced temperature. I am looking at a day of chaos and toil, just because that is what Fridays have evolved into so the articulation and mumblage may be a bit brief today.

In the seething wake of physical obesity in the Yankee republic, the Yankee government has weighed in in a form that may actually do some good. [Link] The Agriculture department is

“giving $2 million to food behavior scientists to find ways to use psychology to improve kids’ use of the federal school lunch program and fight childhood obesity.”

This may work, if the boffins who put things together think like strategists instead of academic, if the administrators who have to implement the ideas don’t think like administrators, and the kids who eat the foods don’t think like kids.

Now that doesn’t mean I think this is a bad idea but I do know from experience that the problem of getting kids to eat how you want is difficult and probably beyond the capacity of the contemporary educationalist instrumentality.

Back when I was a bairn attending the public shuls of Nawth Alibam’s Shining City on the Hill, I wavered between cafeteria lunch and bag lunch. The reasons for this were a bit complex and had very little to do with gaming the system on my part; that simply wasn’t one of my interests although there were ESFJ bogs who were.

The primary reason for switches had to do with food boredom. Both shul cafeteria and bag food had a certain consistency although they were the same. Cafeteria food was sometimes hot, sometimes good, but mostly banal, low in taste, and offensive in odor and form; bag food was never hot, mostly good, but drugingly consistent. Even the store bought cookies and confections could not be discriminated across brand and item, and peanut butter sandwiches on white bread did not seem to matter much which brand of bread or peanut butter was used. So in a large sense the reason to change from one to the other was to relieve ennui.

I should comment that the same situation appertained in college although there one had more control, and, of course, there was always Sundae night when the cafeteria was closed and one was left at loose ends, especially if lacking a motorcar, or friends with one. And money was a more present factor. In primary and secondary shul money never even made it to surreal.

In high shul I went the bag lunch much of the time. I was lugging a large musical instrument case about and a small bag lunch could be fitted in my briefcase. Plus, the only thing the cafeteria offered to drink was milk and I had no desire to have my bowels loosened by that. I am still not sure whether they didn’t know about the inability of (normal) adults to secrete lactase or just didn’t care. Most days the latter theory holds sway.

And that simply put is why I have my doubts about using psychology to combat obesity in shuls. Simply put, I don’t think the folks involved are hard minded and disciplined enough to actually make things happen. In my day the only way you got away with not clearing your tray was to regurgitate back onto it. Waste was a cardinal sin, a hold over of the days of Great Depression and Great Patriotic War.

As with so many things, I would like to offer that part of the solution is parents, but then I would be succumbing to another of the easy modes of diffusing the situation. Yes, parents and their lack of engagement, and own poor food habits, are a significant part of the problem. But for them to be part of the solution there has to be communication between them and the educationalists and there is scant interest in that on either side. So how can communication occur when neither side wants to? It can’t, and we are going to continue to have kids who are physically, and perhaps more damningly, mentally, obese.

A Study in Studying

Alexa Harrington, “Educated Nation”, has a pointer blot this morning on “How to Study”, [Link] that took me back to considering how studying used to be back when I was an undergraduate.

I should comment that back when I was in public shul nobody thought it important to try to teach us how to study. Evidently this was supposed to be innately obvious, or, at worst, our parents were supposed to know this and teach it to us in the privacy of our homes, in lieu of anything about sex other than ‘don’t’ and “carry a condom in your wallet.’ Apparently the existence of separate guides on this are necessary today because (a) there still isn’t universal sex education, (b) parents have no idea of how to study and hence don’t tell us about that either, and (c) public shuls don’t teach students how to study because that isn’t material tested as part of the “Every Child Left Behind” program.

I should also comment that when I went to college they didn’t tell us how to study, but they did tell us we had to. The learning how was left to us, which pretty well put it in the same category as sex education again in that we learned it either from senior classmates, or on our own. That isn’t a good way and so even though I have had to learn how to study to get where I am I have never learned any of the theory of study, other than what I have developed on my own. I am, after all, a physicist, and we do that – develop theory.

I have been exposed to a few pieces of theory of study along the way. Alexa’s blog is a platinum mine of such and I have already blogged about pieces such as Chad Orzel, “Uncertain Principles”, distinction between course you study for before lecture and those you study for after lecture. I have come to the hypothesis that this distinction is pretty strongly along Capellan lines. That is, courses that fall into the traditional Capellan disciplines tend to require studying before lecture while non-Capellan, technical, legal, medical stuff, you study after lecture. At least I know that for technical courses and have been told similar for the others.

But what I want to posit today is that what you need to study in technical courses is a lot easier to figure out than for Capellan courses. I found this out when I was an undergraduate since every non-technical course had different things that you had to know to pass exams and such, but for technical courses it was always the same thing – work problems. You had to have the terms and tools down pat to work the problems and you got the techniques and thoughts from working the problems. So if you worked problems you got it and it didn’t matter whether it was physics or chemistry. Maths were a bit of in between because you never quite knew which proofs you had to memorize but there were problems, at least in the applied courses.

So in this one area nerds have it easier since all they really have to do is work problems. And somehow get through those non-nerd courses they have to have to graduate. And, of course, knowing you have to work problems is easy, working problems usually isn’t, even if it is easier than figuring out what to study for the non-nerd courses.

Academic Food Tyranny?

What is it with the new academic food gestapo? I noted in the feeds this morning an article in [Link] that some Birmingham firm of ambulance chasers attorneys has filed suit against three campuses over rules mandating students procure meal contracts. I also noted that the campus of the Tennessee was conspicuously absent, perhaps because no one in Birmingham really gives a hoot about the nerds in Huntsville? Or

I have to admit that this sounds rather suspiciously like lawyers with reduced cash flow looking for a WPA grant. At a deeper level however it seems to resonate with the question of just how much direction is needed for the humans in the twilight zone of transition from child to adult while attending college?

Now I realize that this situation has degraded – from the standpoint of the forces of academic order – since the days when all college students, except the ones in technical courses of study like engineers, attorneys, physicians, and scientists, took the exact same courses. And I understand that for accreditation to serve its function of assuring the corporate oligarchs and secret masters of society that college graduates really know something utile and employable that some regulation of what courses are taken is necessary in the same sense that fascism and the rule of law are necessary.

But standardization of food? How can this be mandated? I recognize that college administrators, and their attorneys, have some delusion that they have an obligation to maintain the health and well being of their students, to avoid litigation by irate parents if nothing else. But in these days of bank loans for tuition does the banker really care that a sizable fraction of that loan is entailed in petty impositions of lodging and sustenance? I should think no better than null and more likely in the negative.

Besides, what happened to academic freedom? Does it not apply to students? Are they to be reduced to the culinary servitude normally reserved for members of the Yankee republic’s military services. Will next week’s lunch be MREs? And while we are on this, what lessons are being learned by students from this dietary regime that would not be better imparted by actual military service, and with cash flow in the right direction?

Rather, it seems the question comes down to whether this is all about money sucking college administrators, or money sucking attorneys, if not both?

Chemical College

Earlier this week I ran across an article [Link] entitled “Surviving College Without Caffeine”. As expected the article, centered in Utah amidst a dominant population of Mormons for whom coffee[1] and tea are verboten, taboo, traif, but beer is dandy regardless of age, is about college students avoiding coffee, tea, and coke, the latter appellation taken to mean any other beverage than the first two laced with caffeine.

My first thought is that there are beneficial effects from coffee but these are unmindful to the young. To those of us trying to put frictionals on the slide of seniority, balancing such matters.

But I was taken back to my days as a college student. Simply put, I did not consume a lot of caffeine. I knew of it. My paternal grandfather would ply me with a couple of cups, suitably milked, on those Saturdays when I accompanied him on his rounds, which included collecting mailers of urine samples at the post office. (He was a senior manager at the home office of a small insurance company and being entrusted with the key to the postal box had to collect the mail on Saturday – an unremarked strangeness of the organizational culture.)

But when I entered college at the campus of the Black Warrior, I regularly drank neither coffee nor cola. In the early years of dorm residence and dorm cafeteria eating, I mostly drank iced (? cooled rather) tea, even for breakfast, and little of that. This was the Sowth after all, and while I loved sweet tea, it was not my mother’s brewage and hence not right so I curtailed my drinking. Coffee, I suppose, was available but not appealing, just as milk was available but not drunk to avoid diarrhea. In latter years after moving out of dorm and into apartments, shared with roommates in the main, I drank either instant iced (cooled?) tea or canned/bottled cola. Pepsi was preferable to Coke to allay the depredations of roommates who drank more than I swiping my rations.

When I transitioned to graduate shul at the campus of the Boneyard, seminar attendance ramped up as did faculty-graduate student mixer coffees. So my coffee consumption went up, partly for social reasons – everyone drank and carried a cup – and partly to stay awake – some of those seminars were not very exciting. But my consumption of cola bottomed out except at meals when tea was unavailable. I still drank cooled instant tea on my own dime, which was about all I had living on a teaching assistant’s stipend.

Moving on to the campus of the Tennessee was a major change. I was now a full time employed nerd as well as a full time graduate student – and a less than full time sleeper/social liver. Those were years where my only social experiences were those mandated by work or shul. Sexual gratification either sublimed into problem solution or went unreconciled. But the increase in earnings meant that I ate prepared food more, usually from fast food purveyors that only had carbonated beverages and thus one wither drank caffeine or did without liquid. And work was an environment where coffee was a social mandate. And of course there were still seminars, and nights were spent alternating runs at the computer (mainframe) center or cracking problem sets. So life was more complicated than in undergraduate days and hence there was caffeine.

But the foibles of the Starbucks (as inn coffee restaurant, not the Melville character) generation of college students is alien to me, as is their tension. For my companions in undergraduate school, classwork was not that stressful. Social interactions with either fraternity bogs (and yes, I know that’s redundant, at least in those days,) or women were. But then we had ethanol based beverages, usually reagent grade diluted with fruit punch or Kool Aid, to relieve that tension. And such were rare, maybe once a month. In a good month. My classmates and I were not social animals partying more evening than pounding books – like those fraternity bogs, and apparently, like most at the campus of the Black Warrior these days where partying has inundated (and drowned?) academics.

So one more reason to not understand the young, one more reason to be glad I am not young and attending college. Or even teaching.


[1]  As a matter of convention, coffee herein is used to refer to the beverage brewed from the roasted, ground fruit of the coffee plant.