EDCP 562: Additional readings for Class #8 (March 27)

In addition to Apple reading in The Curriculum Studies Reader, please read:

Smith, D. G. (2003). Curriculum and teaching face globalization. In W. F. Pinar (Ed.), International handbook of curriculum research (pp. 35-51). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Ross, E. W., & Vinson, K. D. (2013) Resisting Neoliberal Education Reform: Insurrectionist Pedagogies and the Pursuit of Dangerous Citizenship. Cultural Logic, 2013, 17-45. Retrieved from http://clogic.eserver.org/2013/Ross_Vinson.pdf

EDCP 562: Additional reading for Class #5 (Feb 6)

Here’s the short chapter on the history of testing and curriculum reform that is one of the readings for next class (a PDF you can download):

Mathison, S. (2004). A short history of educational assessment and the standards-reform educational movement. In S. Mathison & E. W. Ross (Eds.), Defending public schools: The nature and limits of standards-based reform and assesssment. Westport, CT: Praeger.

EDCP 562: Readings on Liberal Arts Education

After reading about and discussing Adler’s Paideia approach to education, take a look at these two recent newspaper columns, which seem to share many of the same values as Adler’s Paideia.

(1) Heather Mallick (Toronto Star) – Liberal arts degrees teach synthesis, the skill that lasts

Here’s a grenade: a liberal education will be more useful to you and your employer than a job-targeted degree.

British columnist and economist John Kay, writing in the Financial Times of London— which people read to learn how to study money, make money and spend money — makes a good case that students need to be trained in synthesis more than anything else.

For what is the biggest change in our lifetime? Every piece of knowledge ever known to man is at hand on a screen near you. So the problem isn’t finding information, it’s knowing how to link different bits of knowledge, to “make connections between disparate sources of information,” as Kay writes.

He applies this to many jobs: running businesses, managing assets, advising legal clients, and, yes, writing newspaper columns. All the information you need is online, but a good trained logical mind will be able to pluck here and there for original insights and approaches.

Much as I deplore the public’s ignorance about mathematics and science — this is my shame as well — I know that a liberal arts degree has let me range widely, which has proved useful. I am also creepily aware that every advance in technology eventually sours like milk past its Best Before date and is replaced.

Job-specific skills are wonderful up to a point. But who can predict which industries will be exported to China or vanish entirely? Only recently, we thought Japan would run the world. Japan thought that too, it overextended itself and is a shadow now. Although admittedly, Nikkei just bought the Financial Times.

When you choose your degree, you’re placing a bet that the degree obtained will still be germane 25 years later, or five, who knows.

I placed my bet on people being forever able to speak English. I studied EngLit plus a minor mishmash of philosophy, film history and French. What I learned was how little I knew — this is fantastically useful — and so I started soaking it up over a lifetime.

Post-university, a journalism diploma — anything over a year is a waste of time — taught me how to organize writing in any manner that was asked for and crucially, how to summarize.

Think of literature as a pyramid, my professor used to say. If you’re a writer, you sit on the peak of everything that has ever been written and must come up with something new. There’s something terrifically discouraging about this but it’s also why good novelists are enthusiastic readers of everything. Their knowledge emits sparks, which you can use to serve creativity.

If you are specifically a digital person, it’s hugely enjoyable to toss out old skills while learning new ones. You swoop like a hawk on a new creature, but the rest of us just keep stolidly building up the pyramid brick by brick.

I took a lot of survey courses at university, they’re the polymath’s box of chocolates, full of bits, cheap and random — you love them, you hate them — and they’re always there. Here are four things I learned in survey courses that keep on giving.

1. In Psycho, when Norman Bates tries to sink Marion Crane’s car in the river after killing her, you feel sorry for him. Why? The scene is filmed from his point of view. POV is crucial. If ISIS knew this, some of their execution videos might arouse a little less sneering.

2. How much land does a man need? It’s the title of a short story by Tolstoy. If you’re money-hungry to the point of exhaustion, read it.

3. Memorize poetry in bits. It comes in useful in bad situations. “I planted him in this country like a flag.” “Margaret, are you grieving over Goldengrove unleaving?” “Then all smiles stopped together.” “The expensive delicate ship.” “Nine bean rows.” “Fear no more the heat o’ the sun nor the furious winter’s rages.” “And greasy Joan doth keel the pot.” (Yes, you win points for identifying these.)

4. Memorize comedy catchphrases, which are handy if you’re kidnapped and need a quote to reassure your family. “Whores will have their trinkets.” “We said we wouldn’t talk about Canada.” “I Hate Myself and Want to Die.” “I do sell a lot of wank, don’t I?” “I feel … unusual.”

Don’t drop your survey courses this week. Treasure them. They’re old gold.

(2) John Kay (Financial Post) – A liberal education is now more useful than job-specific skills

It is hard to imagine life without digital search and the internet. This is as true for me as for anyone else: the greater ease of obtaining and checking relevant facts and data has transformed the life of the columnist. Pulling books from library shelves and turning their pages was never an efficient search technique, even if sometimes an entertaining and instructive one. But exercises that once required hours in a library, and were often unproductive, can now usually be accomplished with a few mouse clicks.

This change, which has taken place in the 20 years since I first wrote a column for the Financial Times, highlights wider shifts in the nature of knowledge and corresponding methods of education. Today it is less important to know, and more important to know what is known. The options trader need not be familiar with Black-Scholes equations, though he must know that they exist, and that others give them weight: the lawyer need not recall the judge’s reasoning in Bloggs v Bloggs, but must still have the higher-level knowledge that guides her search for relevant cases.

At the frontiers of knowledge, the finance academic who seeks to find a more advanced option pricing model, or the judge who must determine the case to which Bloggs v Bloggs applies, must still acquire personal mastery of all relevant information. But writing newspaper columns, running businesses, managing assets and advising clients in legal disputes are activities whose primary demand is synthesis. The ability to make connections between disparate sources of information is more critical than detailed familiarity with any specific source. This is the task that modern technology has made so much easier.

That is why the widespread belief that education should be focused more on the acquisition of job-specific knowledge is especially misconceived in the 21st century. Those who argue that more resources should be devoted to teaching Stem subjects (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) have a point, but not the point they generally make. It is beyond scandalous that so many people in positions of influence, especially in Britain and the US, are not only functionally innumerate, but do not feel embarrassed by that innumeracy. But this is because education is excessively specialist, not because it is insufficiently vocational. In England it is possible, and common, to abandon the study of any scientific subject at the age of 15, and the knowledge that they can opt out of any quantitative discipline allows young people to avoid applying themselves to these subjects at an earlier age.

Fareed Zakaria’s book this year defending liberal education — a tradition that introduces undergraduates to a wide range of subjects and approaches to knowledge — is very much to the point. And so is his refutation of philistine Republican governors (just Google Rick Scott, Rick Perry, or Patrick McCrory), who draw cheap laughs at the expense of philosophy and anthropology. A little capacity for reflection might reveal that morality is not simply a matter of common sense or reading a sacred text, and that an understanding of other cultures — or simply an acknowledgment that there are other cultures — might have led to better outcomes in, for example, Iraq.

It is a mistake to focus basic education on job-specific skills that a changing world will render redundant in a few years. The objective should be to equip students to enjoy rewarding employment and fulfilling lives in a future environment whose demands we can neither anticipate nor predict. In 20 years, we will probably not be using the Black Scholes model, or referring to the case of Bloggs v Bloggs. But the capacities to think critically, judge numbers, compose prose and observe carefully — the capacities that education can and should develop — will be as useful then as they are today.

EDCP 562 – Additional reading for Class #4 (Jan 30)

“Anthropology as Subversive Art: A Review of Through These Eyes” by Jay Ruby: Download file

Also, please take at least a quick look at some of the materials on Man: A Course of Study, which is the subject of the film “Through These Eyes,” which we will watch next week. You can find MACOS materials online in the course archives as well as in the course image galleries and research links at: http://www.macosonline.org/

I suggest you read the short introductory MACOS pamphlet, which gives a concise overview of the course and also examine some of the materials from the Netsilik Inuit sections of the course, Part V (Netsilik Eskimos at the Inland Camp) and Part VI (Netsilik Eskimos on the Sea Ice), click here and scroll down for these sections.

You can stream a number of the short documentary films from the Netsilik film series on the National Film Board website, see: https://www.nfb.ca/explore-all-directors/quentin-brown/