Plus Plus

In the introductory Computer Science courses at Tufts, we learn the C++ programming language. One of the most common gripes about these fairly challenging (from a newbie perspective) classes is that we learn a language that is not “useful”. If we learned Javascript or Python, for instance, we could immediately apply it to web programming, which is the most flashy and exciting form of programming that Millenials encounter. We can build a website! We can sell something interesting! I’m gonna be the next Mark Zuckerberg!

There is something to be said for learning a language that is used in a high-level context or for more complex computational problems than the previously mentioned languages. C++ is certainly used in the Tech industry, although maybe not in the domains that have the most glamour and glitz. We are learning something robust, something with depth; a language which will allow for increased complexity and be able to handle it with ease.

c++

A comparison can be made to the more natural language for many of us– English. There is a form of English that we can text with, that we write emails with or take notes with, but this can be considered the everyday, common language. If we tried to take on the challenges of critical analysis with this same level and variety of language, it would certainly be a difficult task. In the same way, there is utility, especially in higher education, to start with something fairly opaque and allow students to explore surrounding topics of interest once the intimidation factor has receded.

Posted in STEM

Changing the Meaning of “Design”

Why do we associate the word “Design” with artistic endeavors, perhaps with overtones of impracticality and frivolousness? Anyone who is curious about Design soon realizes that the most important factor in the design of an object, interface, or visualization is not the aesthetic appeal, but the usefulness of the item. Design is about creating solutions to problems in a way that meshes utility, robustness, and beauty. What is it about our society that gets distracted by the beauty and forgets everything else?

chairs

Everything we use in our life was designed by someone. This is a fact that is easy to forget when objects and tools are working well, but it is something that makes us wonder when they work badly–how could someone possibly create an item to work like this? What was the designer thinking?! Just as there are “bad” politicians, lawyers, doctors, and engineers, is it clear that there are bad designers. But when a tool fails us, the consequences are often greater than we would suspect.

Things like furniture, office tools, and technology have magnified negative effects on our physical selves if they are designed poorly. A badly-designed computer mouse could easily give people wrist and arm injuries. A badly-designed chair can give someone a back injury that will take years to change.

And yet, if bad design has such great consequences, why don’t we value design more? It seems that, with the rise of the internet and the emergence of a vast global economy, we are now beginning to change our attitude towards Design. The market will speak to us, and those objects which have the greatest utility and beauty will sell better than those that do not. Hopefully this cycle can continue as good design is perpetuated and bad design is relegated to the clearance bin.

Posted in Design

The Real Way to Figure Out the “Best” Educational System

I would assume this was obvious, but apparently it is not. So I’m dedicating a post to the fact that Education Reformers are standing in the way of their own progress when they evaluate new educational systems with old educational paradigms.

Let’s take a look at some non-traditional educational methods that exist in the USA. Waldorf schools. Montessori schools. Uncollege. Homeschooling. Project-Based Learning. How are those systems along with many other “alternative” school systems being measured against our current system? By standardized tests. Isn’t the whole purpose of them to teach different material in a different manner than the most widespread teaching methodology? How can we measure a different system by the same yardstick?

waldorfschool

I think if we were honest with ourselves and had a little more patience, we would recognize that the only real way to determine the “best” educational system is to see how much children who had gone through those systems emerged as happy, successful, fulfilled adults. If society doesn’t care about that, what’s the point of public education?

Before we all get riled up about how Finland’s education system is amazing and they scored so high on the PISA without drilling rote exercises into students’ heads like they do in Singapore, how about we take a minute and think about the results of that “equality over excellence” educational system. When was the last time you heard of a great company, scientific discovery, or prolific artist who came from Finland and reached International success? Not to say that there isn’t anyone, but I would argue that proportionally America has more “excellent” achievers in adult life…probably because we care about “excellent” achievers in educational life. It’s great that they could master algebra and write a properly formatted essay, but as many people try to remind us, that’s not really the purpose of education. If we are trying to foster great minds of the future, we need to take a look at what happens after the exams and diplomas.

Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,
Posted in Education Revolution

The Future of Humanities: Part I: Get Rid of Them!

For months and perhaps years, there has been an ongoing debate about getting rid of or changing the face of Humanities majors in Higher Education, largely spawned by the volatile job market for recent graduates. One post on Thought Catalog sparked the debate amongst my college-aged peers more than Forbes or WSJ articles ever could. In a world where newly minted college graduates are becoming Starbucks baristas, the stereotype of “debt-slaves and baristas that can recite Emmanuel Kant’s passages from memory” is increasingly common.

In this post, I will explain how I agree with the author of this article, and which points I think are weaker. Generally, this post will be analyzing the anti-Humanities argument and the next will be looking at the pro-Humanities argument made by a few response articles.

books

First of all, as many of the response articles have stated, the author of this post uses “Liberal Arts” but probably meant to say “Humanities” instead, since he does not seem to be saying that Physics or Computer Science degrees should be abolished by any means.

Second, I wholeheartedly agree that the vast majority of students currently in college probably should not be there and don’t need to be there. Higher education used to be a luxury; four years to discuss ideas and read great books with distinguished professors in their big ivory tower. Does that sound like something a common person would have the ability to take part in? No. Why would they spend those four years discussing famous figures of the Western world when they could work at their parent’s farm or shop instead? Some time in the past century it shifted over to something that was seen as a rite of passage for America’s youth. The problem is not that lots of young people are going to college, it’s that college has not changed to fit this demographic shift.

Third, I do think there is something to be said for the idea that if someone can’t handle a STEM major they shouldn’t be in college, but only if the opposite is also considered. If you took all the STEM majors in a college and all the humanities majors and forced them to switch places for a semester or two, who would do better on average? I think that the STEM majors would do better in Humanities classes, not because they are smarter on average (though…that is a possibility) but because K-12 education has ensured that we all know how to read and write before getting to college, but has done a much worse job of making sure we can all handle fast-paced, complex math and science courses. I think this is where the issue lies; a STEM major can write a good cover letter for a job more easily than a Humanities major can calculate compound interest on their bank account. Both are simple, but I would say one is valued more than the other. Our society gives people permission to say, as an adult, “Oh my god I suck at math haha! I need my cell phone calculator, or can you just do it for me?” but doesn’t really tolerate them saying “Oh my god I’m so bad at reading! What does this sentence mean?”

Finally, the question of access to unlimited information. The internet gives you access to a lot of educational resources and so do libraries. If you want to learn the basics of any subject you can just go ahead and do it–universities are not necessary. It is much easier to self-educate in the Humanities than STEM subjects! Reading magazines, newspapers, literature, and non-fiction can teach you many things. It’s much harder to crack open a Mathematics textbook and have the tools to work through it on your own. I definitely agree that it’s much harder to gain access to expensive, rare lab materials found in University STEM departments than it is to look at a rare book or historical artifact (museums, anyone?). This is why the idea of a “research university” is important. To do research in STEM subjects, you need materials that help you make discoveries and create inventions. To do research in the Humanities, you may need to talk to many people or read many books, or even travel, but I think this research should be treated the way people treat arts projects now. It is a pet project, a personal obsession, an object of fascination that may not help advance our society (do we need another book analyzing Jane Austen or Plato?) but will add to the intellectual conversations among humans.

Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,
Posted in Education Revolution, Project-Based Learning, STEM

Learning How to Think

A common misconception is that the purpose of school is to learn concepts. Learn lots of facts, figures, equations, dates…memorize famous people’s names, faces and accomplishments…master your times tables and grammatical structure. The real value of an education is in learning processes; learning how to learn, how to construct an argument, how to break a problem into its component parts and solve it in pieces. Think about “scientific thinking”, “computational thinking”, and “design thinking”. Why are these phrases rarely used in K-12 learning? Why isn’t more attention devoted to how to learn, if that’s really the main takeaway?

leftrightbrain

I would argue it’s because educators aren’t aware that this is the most important aspect of school, and even if they are they aren’t sure how exactly to go about teaching things like the scientific method and design thinking. It is also worth noting that the vast majority of parents and students don’t think this is what school is for, even if educators are aware of it, so they stuck in the fact-crunching mentality and can’t see the forest for the trees. The student is at odds if their teacher encourages them to make mistakes and experiment, learning how to learn, but their parents is worried that they have not learned all of their state capitals and presidents’ names.

I think one of the quickest and easiest things we can do to change this is ask teachers to explain to students why they are learning the things they are in the way they are learning it, and what they expect students to take away from the experience. Students usually only hear this at the end of their K-12 education, if at all. By that time they have passed through their idealistic elementary years, conflicted middle school years, and apathetic high school years. Educators need to communicate from the very beginning (you would be surprised at what an 8-year-old understands if you explain something to them clearly and patiently) that you are trying to instill in them learning techniques, curiosity, and the desire to explore more. If this message is communicated clearly and consistently, and the lessons are in keeping with this philosophy, there will be far fewer cries of “why are we learning this?” heard anywhere.

Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,
Posted in Education Revolution

Evaluation of Merit in the 21st Century

Faced with an impossible task — ranking and comparing the potential and/or performance of students — that may not even be worthwhile to evaluate, our educational system has developed practices that are inaccurate at best and downright dangerous at worst. Because the people developing these systems are administrators who are adults removed from the experiences of their students, their evaluation systems are stuck in old frames of thought that are hard to break out of.

What would our ideal evaluation of students look like? Would we judge them on their ability to complete exams in a prescribed way by spitting out specific facts, year after year, but then when they enter the workforce expect them to look things up rather than know them, and come up with unique creative ideas instead of regurgitated information? This is pretty much what we are doing now. Our systems of evaluation are clearly outdated, the hard task is coming up with a better alternative.

success

If we get to the root of the question, perhaps it is not even accurate to measure students’ performance, but instead intrinsic character traits and talents which may be more reliable predictors of potential. This would help with the issue of diversity because student performance would correlate less with the snazzy toys and tutors purchased by parents and more with key personality traits. Take a look at Paul Tough‘s list:

  • Grit
  • Curiosity
  • Self-control
  • Social intelligence
  • Zest
  • Optimism
  • Gratitude

Why have some wildly successful geniuses and entrepreneurs fallen through the cracks of our educational system before going on to rise to the top of adult society? Does school performance actually predict success as much as our society assumes it to? It is time to accept that our evaluation systems are all wrong, and to actively try to create better ones.

Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Posted in Education Revolution

Risk-Taking and Feminism: The Limited Entrepreneurial Education of Girls

risk-taking1

I stumbled on this article about slut-shaming fatigue and a particular point stood out to me and sparked some other ideas.

Create the Same Mistake-Friendly Culture for Girls that Boys Already Enjoy.
In our culture boys — who are represented as both more obtuse and more resilient — get encouragement to make mistakes; repeated failures are the seeds of masculine success. Girls, on the other hand, get reminded that one mistakewill likely ruin their lives. “One of the biggest problems is that we imagine that for teen girls, sex is some kind of cataclysmic event that can never be recovered from,” says Ford. We make the mistake of assuming that giving girls the freedom to fuck up is really just giving them the freedom to be exploited. As Ford puts it, that’s “not exactly a flattering view of girls’ emotional intelligence.” (Jezebel)

I would venture to argue that the same culture that warns girls not to take sexual risks (lose their virginity, date or have sexual contact with a boy who may be “risky” or “unsafe”, or have “too much” sexual contact) also dissuades them from taking risks in general. Female students who are go-getters will likely start a charity or club, while boys will start a business or tech venture. This is veering into the issue of gender imbalance in STEM, but I suspect that the entrepreneurship gap is directly related to the fact that girls is discouraged from taking risks in general. Boys are rewarded for being bold and non-conformist; dropping out of school or selling illegal copies of books, burned CDs…anything they can get their hands on. Girls are constantly told not to break rules or upset the status quo; if you want to do something great you can do it within the confines of what the school and your parents tell you to do.

I think this is stifling the creativity and ingenuity of girls and preventing fruitful learning experiences from taking place. We need to cultivate a culture that tells girls to take risks just as much as it tells boys to, and reinforces the idea that a failed business or underground activity in their young years will not turn into a scary mark on their permanent record or a trip to juvie. Many of the entrepreneurs that the Western world worships (George Foreman, Walt Disney, Henry Ford, Richard Branson, Simon Cowell to name a few) were rebellious risk-takers in their young years. They were also all male. The women who are prominent entrepreneurs and self-made millionaires/billionaires went through more traditional paths.

Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Posted in Class/Gender/Race
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,904 other followers