A colleague of mine has a good post up at his blog critiquing a local newspaper editorial calling for the elimination of tenure in schools. Rich’s point is simple: if ideas matter at all in a quality education, then tenure matters. Of course, given our accelerating momentum towards becoming a culture that thinks of education solely as vocational skill training, ideas might not be so important anymore. If so: the future of tenure is bleak, not just for teachers, but for students as well. A good read – take a look!
Archive for March, 2011
I often find myself in tension with the NYT’s David Brooks, especially when he writes about education or about the importance of the humanities. It’s not because I typically disagree with the spirit of what he’s saying (he tends to argue that both are essential), but because sometimes in writing about them he takes detours into technical Humanities and science topics to help support or express his (often well-meaning) points. The unfortunate thing is that this is done somewhat superficially, and the end result is that at times he winds up endorsing some point or position that actually works against his larger views. For instance, in a recent column, Brooks remarks about how Steven Pinker of Harvard asked members of different fields to mention what they took to be a central scientific concept to improve a cognitive toolkit. Well, that’s a good question.
This semester I’m teaching philosophy of mind, and I’m exclusively using David Chalmers’ The Conscious Mind. It’s a difficult book for undergraduates to read (the emphasis on Kripke early on really beats them down) and so it’s been a real challenge, but I think overall it’s been a huge success and I’ll use it again (the students love the book, even as they struggle with it). Personally, I’m on the fence between Chalmers’ non-reductive view and Dennett’s more reductive functionalism or (when he hasn’t had his morning coffee) his eliminativism.
I’ll talk about the experience teaching the book (or my straddling of the two positions) in more detail another time. Right now I wanted to highlight an argument that Chalmers gives that I can’t get my head around. It could be that I’m misreading something, or misunderstanding something. I’m not sure which, but something doesn’t seem right. It regards Chalmers’ opening volleys against arguments from self-knowledge that claim to show that non-reductive anit-materialist positions such as his are false.
Mengzi engages in argument with Gaozi in Book 6 of the Mengzi, mostly arguing about human nature. Mengzi thinks human nature is good and so has an incipient inclination towards goodness; Gaozi thinks it is neutral, having no real predisposition one way or the other. In 6A2, Gaozi uses a metaphor to explain his position, saying:
Human nature is like swirling water. Make an opening for it on the eastern side, and it flows east. Make an opening on the western side, and it flows west. Human nature not distinguishing between good and not good is like water not distinguishing between eastern and western.
Mengzi’s reply to this, and my subsequent question, below.
I’m not listing this one as a “mission” because I already made the base version of this recipe, which uses blueberries, and blogged about it here. What I did this time was tweak the recipe to use cherries instead of blueberries.
Since I actually made both types this time (for a party), I got to make some real-time comparisons. Immediately apparent was the fact that cherry version was far drier and more cake-like, whereas the blueberry version is extremely moist. Partly this is no doubt because I used far fewer cherries than I did blueberries (half as many). I wasn’t expecting the difference, but I liked it – not “better” than the blueberry texture, but just different and worth repeating, if that’s the outcome you are looking for. Given the drier texture, the cherry version also had a very clearly defined top (which is the ricotta mix) and bottom (which is mostly flour, and thus the cake part) layer. In the blueberry version, the two layers merge to a large degree in the baking, so this ability to distinguish the two layers adds a bit of sophistication to the cherry version. Definitely worth repeating – a good party dessert, and very easy to make (just follow the blueberry directions, but substitute out for cherry).
I’m sure many of you have already read this story about Hideaki Akaiwa, the Japanese hero, but if you haven’t, you should. And if you have read it, then read it again. Even in a tragedy, one can find an uplifting – even humorous - story.
Finally, after two challenges that I had little interest in (the Cornbread and Cranberry-Walnut Bread challenges) I was definitely psyched up to do this one. Why? Well, two quick reasons off of the top of my head: first, I am a serious lover of the English Muffin. Second, this challenge had a odd component that broke things up nicely – you have to use a griddle. After weeks of just using the oven to bake the bread in a conventional fashion, I found this a nice needed twist on the process a well needed break from standard operating procedure.
As I’ll discuss below, English Muffins are actually suprisingly simple to make. I thought it would be more difficult, but it wasn’t. So that was a big plus. On the other hand, although I liked the product, I was a little disppointed - I was hoping they would come out a lot lighter and airier than they turned out to be. (As always, as my fellow BBAers stream in, such as Joanne and Nancy, Coz and Jim, I’ll quick link to their products here).
Apparently Steven Hawkings thinks philosophy is dead - physics (what else, right?) killed it. Just the latest arrogant nonsense dispatched from the ”anything you do can eventually be reduced to what we do” scientistic camp populated by people responsible for the current crisis of the Humanities. Alva Noe (among others, apparently) begs to differ with Hawkings.
On my Twitter feed, I noticed Stephen Law’s post regarding the usefulness of philosophy as an undergraduate major. Law has some interesting graphs showing comparative scores on GREs, both of which I reproduce below the fold with some comments. The graphs show what I think some already know: with respect to writing and verbal scores, philosophy majors far outperform every other major (including English). When it comes to the quantitative portion, philosophy majors score better than all majors in the Humanities, better than quite a few in the sciences, but under the hard sciences generally. Overall, with respect to composite GRE scores, philosophy students are at the top of the field, if not at the top itself. Basically: if you are looking to hire someone with outstanding critical, verbal, and written ability – and someone with strong quantitative ability – hire a philosophy major!
My wonderings about (and wanderings through) the wisdom of Confucius have led me to a number of different fields and thinkers in philosophy. This time up: I’ve been reading Charles Taylor’s Sources of the Self. I must admit, Taylor’s writing is (thick, but) good and his arguments are thought-provoking. Whether Taylor’s claims about selfhood, which seem clearly applicable to many basic and fundamental questions in Confucianimsm, are true or well-grounded I can’t say (yet). At this point I don’t care - what he says is very interesting. Early on (p. 37) he argues:
“I can only learn what anger, love, anxiety the aspiration to wholeness, etc., are through my and others’ experience of these being objects for us, in some common space….Even as the most independent adult, there are moments when I cannot clarify what I feel until I talk about it with certain special partner(s), who know me, or have wisdom, or with whom I have an affinity.”
A very provocative claim, for sure.
I was reading an article the other day at a financial wesbite that focused on the recent emergence of value stocks in Japan (and in index funds tracking the Pacific Rim). Clearly the existencle of value plays, the article was quite clear, is not an accident. The current tragic events occuring in Japan have led to a stock sell-off, one which most financial analysts seem to be suggeting was overdone, resulting in stocks and index funds selling for below what the analysts suggested were their fair values. As I was reading the article, I kept thinking: is “disaster investing” (for want of a better phrase) in some way unethical (I had the same thoughts after 9/11)? No doubt it appears unseemly. No one (well, practically no one) invests in value plays caused by disasters and then brags about it afterward to others. This fact seems to give one pause about the possible ethical questions being raised here. At the same time, investing money into stocks when they are trading at below fair value prices is sound investing, and often times doing so (as in disaster circumstances) comes with an added risk. Any thoughts? Clearly this is one of those cases where free market capitalism and ethics seem to be in some degree of tension.
Truth be told, although I was out of town for a few days and so couldn’t get this done on time, I just wasn’t looking forward to this bread. Maybe partly I’m with Adam on this one – how many more timesare we going to put nuts and fruits in bread? I understand that lots of people like those kinds of bread. It’s just not something I tend to bang the table with my shoe about. Add to that the fact that I don’t really like cranberries, and I’m not much of a walnut fan, and you’ve got a lackluster challenge in store for me with this bread.
It smells good, though! Luckily, my wife is a fan of cranberries and walnuts, so she was ready to attack this loaf as it emerged from the oven like a ravenous animal perched above its prey, just waiting to pounce on its unsuspecting soon-to-be lunch. If you remember my cornbread disaster story from last week, this is all to the good. After that skillet-debacle, the more she is kept happy, the better and more balanced the universe seems to be.
I wrote about this before in an earlier post – teachers and parents are again in an uproar concerning the decision by educational boards in Taiwan to made study of the Four Books (the Doctrine of the Mean (中庸), Great Learning (大學), Confucius’ Analects (論語) and the Mencius (孟子)) required reading in high school. The argument: reading the Four Books can help to guide and develop moral character. The reasons against the proposal range from the understandable – teachers worried about overwhelming workloads (both their own and those of students) — to the not-so-reasonable, namely that (a) “memorizing texts” doesn’t make anyone a better person and that (b) this requirement would mean displacing some other subject matter. In response to (a): discuss them, don’t memorize them; in response to (b): place discussion of the human experience a bit more closer to the center of the educational experience. Honestly, it won’t kill you.