Category Archives: Education

The School of Misdirection

* Masquerade *

“If you have knowledge, let others light their candles in it.”
– Margaret Fuller

“Misinformation works.”
– Rand Paul

Before I became a computer programmer I was a student at a tech school. It was a fast-paced track that promised to teach employable programming skills in under a year.

On the first day the students in my class were also promised that many of us would drop out. That is what had always happened on this tough track.

But it didn’t happen to us.

The stereotype of introverted computer geeks hadn’t taken hold in the culture yet. Sociability was fairly high in the class and many of us hung out together, had lunch together, or had drinks together after class. We studied together. This group was very open, no one was excluded.

Along with a few others I was getting straight A’s and would help anyone who asked, answer anyone’s questions, keep trying to explain for as long as needed. We learned very quickly that doing this helped us to learn the material better. Things become clearer when you think them through and make them simpler.

Helping other students definitely helped me to improve.

And talking about the material made everything more interesting and studying was actually fun.

At graduation time they told us that we were the biggest class to make it through the course and we had the highest class GPA. We had a record number of students finish with an A average and few or no dropouts.

My class had gelled around a sense of mutual support.

Recently I’ve been told that some educational tracks are cut-throat. The students compete with each other for grades and ranking and the tactics can be vicious. A few weeks ago a United States Senator advised medical students to sabotage each other with bad information. Apparently within some fields of study knowledge is a zero-sum game and the incentives reward hoarding it for oneself and trying to prevent others from accessing it.

A few years after graduation I was looking for a better job. One of the students from my programming class spotted my resume on her boss’s desk. She told him that she remembered me from that class and that I’d helped her with the coursework.

I got the job.

In my career since then I’ve always tried to share whatever knowledge I have and tried to help and answer questions and offer ideas. In my spare time I became involved with a local technical group dedicated to spreading know-how and networking, and I served on the board of directors. Sharing has always enriched my life and I love it when I can make something clear enough that I can actually see the light in another person’s face as connections are clicking together.

Occasionally I’ve also encountered people who hoard knowledge or even are outright saboteurs, intentionally giving bad information in an attempt to cause the other person to fail.

I’ve found that people remember the ones who helped them and learn to distrust saboteurs.

As the use of social media rises, employers are catching on to the value of teamwork and sharing. Knowledge hoarders will find that they must learn to share or they won’t fit in.

And saboteurs? Saboteurs will find that misinformation will follow them.

Image:
Masquerade * by pareeerica, on Flickr

Connecting Across Spaces

Construction

We spin out our webs, weaving a structure for others to cross between or after us, if they happen to chance upon them.

There must be tracks to span the spaces between worlds, between my world and yours and anyone else’s. How else can we reach?

When structures fail us, that’s when we fall. That’s when the homeless find themselves huddled on an uncaring street. That’s when the suicide grasps at the blade as if flailing for a line, because solid structure can’t be found; if it exists it’s unseen, unfelt, tragically unknown. The strand that was followed ends here, the trail fades out, drops off.

The tracks our lives leave are what matters. Our lives are short but the tracks we leave behind may support scores after us.

Without them our lives are written on the wind.

Image source :
http://www.flickr.com/photos/34439637@N08/3199422889/” title=”Construction by ook.com.sa, on Flickr”

Stop Teaching Girls that Science is Only For Boys.

(clockwise from left): Agnes J. Quirk, Helen Morgenthau Fox (1884-1974), and Florence Hedges (1878-1956)

I spent some time on Sunday helping some high schools girls revise their physics papers. Other than catching the standard misspelled words and clunky sentence structures, an interesting theme appeared in common in the papers; the girls kept writing in masculine references.

Humans have long gazed at the stars in wonder but in one paper it was specifically “man” gazing and wondering. Another paper referred to some scientists as “these men” as if gender had some kind of relevance that needed to be specifically pointed out. The papers weren’t about the lives and biographies of scientists but rather were about science in general. The scientists were men it is true, but it wasn’t necessary to emphasize that, any more than one might say that they were white or British or Greek or young or old, rich or poor, graduates of some exclusive university, or rugby fans. What did gender matter? The papers were speaking of discoveries.

But gender specific references crept into each paper multiple times.

The girls were subtly telling me that they thought science is for men. They were exposing the boundaries of the culture box that they live in, where men are glorified for wondering at stars by children raised to see them as superhuman and out of reach.

It was as if these scientists sprang fully formed and erect from the head of the father of all geniuses, historic discoveries clenched firmly in their fists, ready to enlighten the earth. Any child learning about science would be daunted.

That is a myth more romantic than the reality, which is that these men didn’t work alone and certainly weren’t born with breathtaking discoveries in hand. They worked for years, building their knowledge, sharing data, taught by parents and teachers, supported by assistants, students, and domestic help, promoted by mentors and sponsors, nurtured by loved ones, engaged by peers.

Not one of them could produce a single thought without sufficient food and water and warmth and they each created a human standard waste disposal problem.

All of these nitty gritty details of life fall away from the pedestals of great “men.” None of it matters, only the note that these were not just scientists, with all of the process and work that involves; no, these were Men. And if the girls are concluding from this that science is distinctly masculine, the boys probably are too.

I frequently see articles and statements made about the need for more women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) related careers.

“Why?” they ask repeatedly. “Why aren’t girls interested?”

Discovery and innovation always benefit from a diversity of perspectives and this is a particularly important need in these industries.

There is no biological requirement of a penis in STEM careers. I’m unaware of any significant discovery that required one as part of the process. We’ve seen successful female scientists so we know it’s possible. That means the restrictions are cultural and that means that we can have an effect if we pay attention to cultural factors, even if they seem small. A factor isn’t small if it’s pervasive. Air molecules are small too.

Narratives and stories are an important part of any culture. Science stories that specifically emphasize masculinity have the accumulated effect of excluding women from the culture of science.

If we really want more women to enter STEM careers and if we want the men in these careers to accept them, and I believe we do, we need teachers in these areas to be careful not to exclude females by using male-only language. Point it out in textbooks and talk about it. Point it out in papers from both genders. Leave it out of lectures.

It is as easy to say “human” as it is to say “man” and as easy to say “scientist” or “mathematician” as it is to say “men.” Words matter because words evoke images and if a girl can’t imagine herself as a scientist or a mathematician, then she’ll never dream of it while wondering at the stars.

Image: “(clockwise from left): Agnes J. Quirk, Helen Morgenthau Fox (1884-1974), and Florence Hedges (1878-1956)” by Smithsonian Institution, on Flickr

12 Ways To Tell If Your College Is An Indoctrination Mill.

Cult directions

Did Your College Indoctrinate You? Share Your Stories!

On Thursday, Rick Santorum warned us that colleges and universities are “indoctrination mills” that turn the faithful into the faithless. He cited a thought reformation rate of 62 percent.

With a rate this high, we must all know at least one person who lost their faith in college! The indoctrination techniques that are being used in this broad-based conspiracy must be serious psychological tactics, the kind of tactics used by cults.

Therefore, I’m looking for anecdotes of college/university indoctrination or attempts at indoctrination. As a helpful guide, I went to HowStuffWorks.com for some insight on what the cults do. If colleges and universities are using these same techniques, I think this could be a good place to find clues that may indicate that you or someone you know were indoctrinated while in college. I’ve adapted the following list from the HowStuffWorks.com article, staying as close to the article’s descriptions as I could.

12 WAYS THAT YOUR COLLEGE/UNIVERSITY MAY HAVE INDOCTRINATED YOU OR SOMEONE YOU KNOW

1. If you (or someone you know) were tricked into going to college and committing to a lifestyle that you didn’t understand, were misled about the true expectations of the college, and had your consciousness altered by the college through meditation, chanting, or drug use, you may have been indoctrinated.

2. If the college cut you off from the outside world or did not allow you to have unsupervised contact with the outside world, kept you from talking to other new recruits, and told you that outsiders are dangerous and wrong, you may have been indoctrinated.

3. If the college demanded absolute, unquestioning devotion, loyalty and submission and systematically destroyed your sense of self, you may have been indoctrinated.

4. If the college controlled every minute of your waking time, allowing you no free time to think or analyze, you may have been indoctrinated.

5. If the college told you what to eat, what to wear, when to sleep and did not allow you to make any decisions, you may have been indoctrinated.

6. If the college devalued and criticized your special talents; if it punished doubts, assertiveness, or remaining ties to the outside world through criticism, guilt, and alienation; if it made you feel evil for asking questions; you may have been indoctrinated.

7. If the college kept you hungry, sleepy, off-balance and confused, you may have been indoctrinated.

8. If the college pressured you to publicly confess sins and then viciously ridiculed you for being evil but accepted you back when you acknowledged devotion to the college as the only path to salvation, you may have been indoctrinated.

9. If you feel like your only family is the college and you have nowhere else to go, you may have been indoctrinated.

10. If you can only access necessities through the college and you are denied food, water, social interaction, a toilet*, and protection from the outside world if you misbehave, you may have been indoctrinated.

11. If you believe you will face eternal damnation if you leave the college, you may have been indoctrinated.

12. If you thought you could leave the college but you never did because college is the only place that feels safe and leaving just feels wrong and you are still experiencing these indoctrinating tactics because indoctrination never ends but you’ve accepted this as normal – it’s too late, you’ve been indoctrinated.

I hope this list is helpful. Personally I have not experienced any of these things but perhaps I somehow escaped it!

If you have an indoctrination story, please share. If we are to save ourselves, our children and our country from indoctrination, we will need to have some idea of what the experience might be like.

*HowStuffWorks.com didn’t mention a toilet. I added that part because any college that would deny necessities like food and water would surely also deny a toilet. I think.

Image: Cult directions by kevin dooley, on Flickr