Category Archives: Education

We Are Drowning in Information, While Starving for Wisdom

alex atkins bookshelf quotationsWe are drowning in information, while starving for wisdom. The world henceforth will be run by synthesizers, people able to put together the right information at the right time, think critically about it, and make important choices wisely.

From Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge by Edward Osborne Wilson, Pulitzer Prize winning author, biologist, and naturalist. He is considered “the father of sociobiology”, “the father of biodiversity”, as well as the leading authority on ants. The Ants, co-written with Bert Holldobler, is considered the definitive scientific study of ant behavior; it won a Pulitzer Prize in 1991. He taught at Harvard from 1956 to 1996.

Advertisements

The History of the World According to Student Bloopers

alex atkins bookshelf educationRichard Lederer, a life-long word lover and prolific author (more than 30 books on the English language), has been collecting unique and fascinating words for decades. He also enjoys collecting verbal bloopers and malapropisms, the innocent goofs and gaffes that most people make in their daily speech and writing, unaware that they are mangling the English language, as well as important facts. Lederer writes “One of the fringe benefits of being an English or History teacher is receiving the occasional jewel of a student blooper in an essay. I have pasted together the following history of the world from certifiably genuine student bloopers collected by teachers throughout the United States, from eighth grade through college level.” This history of the world according to student bloopers will elicit either a hearty laugh or utter shock (these students actually graduated?), depending on your perspective:

“The inhabitants of ancient Egypt were called mummies. They lived in the Sarah Dessert and traveled by Camelot. The climate of the Sarah is such that the inhabitants have to live elsewhere, so certain areas of the dessert are cultivated by irritation. The Egyptians built the Pyramids in the shape of a huge triangular cube. The Pramids are a range of mountains between France and Spain.

The Bible is full of interesting caricatures. In the first book of the Bible, Guinesses, Adam and Eve were created from an apple tree. One of their children, Cain, once asked, “Am I my brother’s son?” God asked Abraham to sacrifice Isaac on Mount Montezuma. Jacob, son of Isaac, stole his brother’s birth mark. Jacob was a patriarch who brought up his twelve sons to be patriarchs, but they did not take to it. One of Jacob’s sons, Joseph, gave refuse to the Israelites.

Pharaoh forced the Hebrew slaves to make bread without straw. Moses led them to the Red Sea, where they made unleavened bread, which is bread made without any ingredients. Afterwards, Moses went up on Mount Cyanide to get the ten commandments. David was a Hebrew king skilled at playing the liar. He fought with the Philatelists, a race of people who lived in Biblical times. Solomon, one of David’s sons, had 500 wives and 500 porcupines.

Without the Greeks we wouldn’t have history. The Greeks invented three kinds of columns–Corinthian, Doric, and Ironic. They also had myths. A myth is a female moth. One myth says that the mother of Achilles dipped him in the River Stynx until he became intolerable. Achilles appears in The Iliad, by Homer. Homer also wrote The Oddity, in which Penelope was the last hardship that Ulysses endured on his journey. Actually, Homer was not written by Homer but by another man of that name.

Socrates was a famous Greek teacher who went around giving people advice. They killed him. Socrates died from an overdose of wedlock.

The Renaissance was an age in which more individuals felt the value of their human being. Martin Luther was nailed to the church door at Wittenberg for selling papal indulgences. He died a horrible death, being excommunicated by a bull. It was the painter Donatello’s interest in the female nude that made him the father of the Renaissance. It was an age of great inventions and discoveries. Gutenberg invented the Bible. SirWalter Raleigh is a historical figure because he invented cigarettes. Another important invention was the circulation of blood. Sir Francis Drake circumcised the world with a 100-foot clipper.

Then came the Middle Ages. King Alfred conquered the Danes, King Arthur lived in the Age of Shivery, King Harold mustarded his troups before the Battle of Hastings, Joan of Arc was cannonized by Bernard Shaw, and victims of the Black Death grew boobs on their necks. Finally, Magna Carta provided that no free man should be hanged twice for the same offense.

During the RenaissanceAmerica began. Christo-pher Columbus was a great navigator who discovered America while cursing about the Atlantic. His ships were called the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Fe. Later, the Pilgrims crossed the Ocean, and this was known as Pilgrims Progress.

George Washington married Martha Curtis and in due time became the Father of Our Country.Then the Constitution of the United States was adopted to secure domestic hostility. Under the Constitution the people enjoyed the right to keep bare arms.

Abraham Lincoln became America’s greatest Prec-edent. Lincoln’s mother died in infancy, and he was born in a log cabin which he built with his own hands. When Lincoln was President, he wore only a tall silk hat. He said, “In onion there is strength.” Abraham Lincoln wrote the Gettysburg Address while traveling from Washington to Gettysburg on the back of an envelope. On the night of April 14, 1865, Lincoln went to the theater and got shot in his seat by one of the actors in a moving picture show. The believed assinator was John Wilkes Booth, a supposingly insane actor. This ruined Booth’s career.

The sun never set on the British Empire because the British Empire is in the East and the sun sets in the West. Queen Victoria was the longest queen. She sat on a thorn for 63 years. Her reclining years and finally the end of her life were exemplatory of a great personality. Her death was the final event which ended her reign.

The nineteenth century was a time of many great inventions and thoughts. The invention of the steam boat caused a network of rivers to spring up. Cyrus McCormick invented the McCormick raper, which did the work of a hundred men. Samuel Morse invented a code of telepathy. Louis Pasteur invented a cure for rabbis. Charles Darwin was a naturalist who wrote the Organ of Species. Madman Curie discovered radium. And Karl Marx became one of the Marx brothers.

The First World War, caused by the assignation of the Arch-Duck by a surf, ushered in a new error in the anals of human history.”

Even if you enjoyed this historical narrative, don’t expect to see it on the History Channel or a Ken Burns documentary.

Read related posts: Bloopers in English: Excuse Notes Written to Teachers
Fowl Language
The Best of Puns, the Worst of Puns

For further reading: Verbatim by Erin McKean


An Eloquent Defense of a Liberal Arts Education

alex atkins bookshelf educationIt’s bad enough we live in the Age of Google when we are awash with too much information to process. Tidal waves of information wash up on our shores every day. To complicate matters, that information is now tainted by the Trumpian twisted notion of truth — each day the water is polluted with alternative facts, fake news, and spinglish (the deceptive language used by professional spin doctors). In short, the Truth is under assault — and as many pundits point out, we’re in really deep shit. So what can we do?

Enter Clayton S. Rose, a former professor at Harvard Business School and the 15th president of Bowdoin College (established in 1794 in Brunswick, Maine), to don a suit of armor and take arms against a sea of deception and distortion. In an essay for Time magazine titled “Why We Need the Liberal Arts Now More Than Ever,” Rose fiercely and eloquently defends a liberal arts education and the obligation to serve the common good:

“I couldn’t help pondering where we are today in the worlds of politics, of government and of the media — imperfect but essential institutions for a healthy democracy. We have evolved to a most distressing place — to a place in our society and world where intellectual engagement is too often mocked.

Facts are willfully ignored or conveniently dismissed. Data is curated or manipulated for short-term gain rather than to test or illuminate aspects of the truth. Hypocrisy runs rampant and character appears to no longer be a requirement for leadership. Instant gratification and personal aggrandizement are celebrated as virtues over the work of tackling hard problems that ultimately serve the public interest and common good.

This is decidedly a nonpartisan problem. We have evolved to this place over a long period, and there is more than enough blame to go around to all sides. Whatever one’s political and world views, we should all be alarmed. A system where skill, expertise, data, judgement, discourse, respect and character are in short supply is a system in trouble.

A liberal arts education can play an important role in correcting this problem. [A liberal arts curriculum should] create an environment where students can be intellectually fearless, where they can consider ideas and material that challenge their points of view, may run counter to deeply held beliefs, unsettles them or may make them uncomfortable. We do this to prepare our graduates to effectively tackle.. issues that polarize us today.

In a liberal arts setting, intellectual fearlessness is achieved through the development and enhancement of competence, community and character.

Competence comes through a rigorous education — one that builds and sharpens the skills of critical thinking and analysis; the ability to understand the political, social, natural, ethical, cultural and economic aspects of the world we inhabit; the ability to continue to learn; and the disposition to be intellectually nimble, to exercise judgment and to communicate effectively.

We don’t tell students what to think. We strive to teach them how to think, to give them the knowledge and skills to develop the courage to think for themselves and shape their own principles, perspectives, beliefs and solutions to problems.

We also provide students with seemingly endless ways to serve the common good — the notion that we have an obligation to something bigger than ourselves. This serves to strengthen our community and to make our students part of other communities, helping them better understand what binds each of us together.

We want our students to understand and celebrate their wonderfully diverse identities, experiences and backgrounds, while also enjoying and appreciating the deep bonds of being a part of our college community. Being part of a strong and diverse community requires an ability to talk honestly with one another about the real issues. That’s why we push our students to develop skills and an ability to engage in thoughtful and respectful ways with those who have varying perspectives, and with whom they may disagree — sometimes profoundly.

We also seek to promote character — principled lives, work and play that have integrity, an acknowledgment of the gifts we have been given and respect for others and ourselves. Liberal arts colleges are steeped in opportunities to engage intellectually and to reflect deeply across all disciplines about what character means, why it matters and how one might live it. And there are many chances over four years for students to actually engage in challenges that test and develop their character.

At this challenging moment in our society and world, it would be easy to despair. But I do not. I am optimistic because I know the power of competence, community and character. The liberal arts matter now more than ever.”

Amen, brother. Next challenge: can we just make a liberal arts education affordable for every young person in America?

Read related posts: Getting the Most Out of College
How College Can Help You to Live a Good Life
How Many College Grads Have Jobs Related to Their Major?
The College Admissions Mania
The Parable of the Carpenter’s Son
The Best Books for Graduates: 2015
What Makes a Great Mentor?

What Makes a Great Teacher?
What Should you Teach Your kids Before They Leave Home?

Education Reform
Lifelong Learning with The Great Courses

Education or Indoctrination?

For further reading: http://time.com/4920389/bowdoin-college-liberal-arts-education/


Why it is More Important to Have Close Friendships Than to Be Popular in High School

alex atkins bookshelf educationIt is the universal teenage lament: “I want to be popular” or “I want to be one of the cool kids.” How often have we seen this played out hundreds of times in movies, television shows, and songs. And if you are a parent: you have a front row seat of this drama unfolding before your very eyes. But research shows that being popular isn’t worth pursuing — that is, if you value your mental well being and self worth when you are older.

Rachel Narr, a clinical psychologist at the University of Virginia, and her colleagues, recently published the study “Close Friendship Strength and Broader Peer Group Desirability as Differential Predictors of Adult Mental Health” in the journal Child Development. The study analyzed 169 teenagers (15 years old) for a period of ten years. Each year they were assessed about their close friends and issues like social acceptance, self-worth, anxiety, and symptoms of depression. The researchers defined “high-quality friendships” as close friendships with a degree of attachment and support that allowed for intimate exchanges. “Popularity” meant the number of peers in the teenagers’ grade who ranked them as someone they would like to spend time with and was measured using nominations from all the teenagers in that grade.

So what did the study reveal? Joseph Allen, a co-author writes: “Our study affirms that forming strong close friendships is likely one of the most critical pieces of the teenage social experience. Being well-liked by a large group of people cannot take the place of forging deep, supportive friendships. And these experiences stay with us, over and above what happens later. As technology makes it increasingly easy to build a social network of superficial friends, focusing time and attention on cultivating close connections with a few individuals should be a priority.”

Specifically Narr and her team found that teenagers who prioritized close friendships at age 15 had lower social anxiety and symptoms of depression in addition to an increased sense of self-worth by the time they reached age 25 than their peers. Conversely, teens who were popular in high school had higher levels of social anxiety as young adults. Thus, seeking to be popular during high school produces short-term gains, at the expense of a healthy sense of self and mental well-being in young adulthood.

For the Google Generation, that is so focused on communicating over digital devices, developing close, intimate, and lasting friendships poses a bit of a challenge. In the last decade, many articles have been written by psychologists, educators, and teachers who recognize that teenagers are just not developing the right social skills and being comfortable interacting face to face. Sue Scheff, author of Shame Nation: The Global Epidemic of Online Hate, in an interview with Yahoo! News believes this study is a loud wake-up call for teachers and parents; she elaborates: “It’s a call for more inclusive, caring environments. Kids need more time to learn social skills and get along. Latest studies show 36 percent of girls before 17 will have a major bout with depression [and] anxiety, which is why we need to prioritize and remove the stigma of mental health.” Scheff also notes that the study highlights the different between a real friend and a “online” friend: ““When popularity fades, the so-called friendships with people who were merely there for the party or clique disappear, which can lead to loneliness, as well as depression and social anxiety.”

So what are teachers and parents to do? Scheff echoes the sentiments of many psychologists and educators who have written about this topic: teach teenagers empathy, beginning in elementary school. Scheff adds: “[Teens] today are 40% less empathetic than those of 30 years ago [found in UnSelfie by Michele Borba]. So the most important takeaway for every parent is that empathy is not soft and fluffy. Our kids are actually hard-wired for it, and this study — along with multitudes of overs — confirms that our kids’ mental health needs are in jeopardy. It’s time to rethink our parenting priorities.”

The message to parents, educators, and teenagers is clear: wean teenagers off digital devices and encourage face-to-face interactions, schedule weekly social activities, foster emotional and social intelligence, explore opportunities that foster empathy (including reading and watching films) — and most important of all: develop close, lasting friendships.

Read related posts: The Importance of Reading
Best Commencement Speeches: George Saunders
The Power of Literature
The Wisdom of Parents
The Wisdom of a Grandmother
Too Much Homework is Bad for Students

For further reading: Shame Nation: The Global Epidemic of Online Hate by Sue Scheff
UnSelfie by Michele Borba
http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/cdev.12905/full
https://www.yahoo.com/beauty/high-school-bffs-lowers-anxiety-depression-risk-adulthood-223329537.html?utm_content=buffer97dbf&utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook.com&utm_campaign=buffer


Best Commencement Speeches: George Saunders

atkins-bookshelf-educationGeorge Saunders is an award-winning short-story author and a professor of creative writing at Syracuse University. A few years ago, Saunders delivered the convocation speech to the graduating class of 2013 at Syracuse University. Among the many honors he has received are the National Magazine Award, the O. Henry Award, The Story Prize, the PEN/Malamud Award, and the Folio Prize. Below are excerpts from his speech, titled “Congratulations, by the Way: Some Thoughts on Kindness,” delivered on July 31, 2013:

Down through the ages, a traditional form has evolved for this type of speech, which is: Some old fart, his best years behind him, who, over the course of his life, has made a series of dreadful mistakes (that would be me), gives heartfelt advice to a group of shining, energetic young people, with all of their best years ahead of them (that would be you)… Now, one useful thing you can do with an old person, in addition to borrowing money from them [is] ask: “Looking back, what do you regret?”

What I regret most in my life are failures of kindness.

Those moments when another human being was there, in front of me, suffering, and I responded . . . sensibly. Reservedly. Mildly. Or, to look at it from the other end of the telescope: Who, in your life, do you remember most fondly, with the most undeniable feelings of warmth? Those who were kindest to you, I bet. It’s a little facile, maybe, and certainly hard to implement, but I’d say, as a goal in life, you could do worse than: Try to be kinder.

Now, the million-dollar question: What’s our problem? Why aren’t we kinder?

Each of us is born with a series of built-in confusions that are probably somehow Darwinian. These are: (1) we’re central to the universe (that is, our personal story is the main and most interesting story, the only story, really); (2) we’re separate from the universe (there’s US and then, out there, all that other junk – dogs and swing-sets, and the State of Nebraska and low-hanging clouds and, you know, other people), and (3) we’re permanent (death is real, o.k., sure – for you, but not for me).

Now, we don’t really believe these things – intellectually we know better – but we believe them viscerally, and live by them, and they cause us to prioritize our own needs over the needs of others, even though what we really want, in our hearts, is to be less selfish, more aware of what’s actually happening in the present moment, more open, and more loving.

So, the second million-dollar question: How might we DO this? How might we become more loving, more open, less selfish, more present, less delusional, etc., etc?..

There are ways. You already know that because, in your life, there have been High Kindness periods and Low Kindness periods, and you know what inclined you toward the former and away from the latter. Education is good; immersing ourselves in a work of art: good; prayer is good; meditation’s good; a frank talk with a dear friend; establishing ourselves in some kind of spiritual tradition — recognizing that there have been countless really smart people before us who have asked these same questions and left behind answers for us.

Because kindness, it turns out, is hard — it starts out all rainbows and puppy dogs, and expands to include . . . well, everything.

One thing in our favor: some of this “becoming kinder” happens naturally, with age. It might be a simple matter of attrition: as we get older, we come to see how useless it is to be selfish — how illogical, really. We come to love other people and are thereby counter-instructed in our own centrality. We get our butts kicked by real life, and people come to our defense, and help us, and we learn that we’re not separate, and don’t want to be. We see people near and dear to us dropping away, and are gradually convinced that maybe we too will drop away (someday, a long time from now). Most people, as they age, become less selfish and more loving. I think this is true. The great Syracuse poet, Hayden Carruth, said, in a poem written near the end of his life, that he was “mostly Love, now.”

And so, a prediction, and my heartfelt wish for you: as you get older, your self will diminish and you will grow in love. YOU will gradually be replaced by LOVE. If you have kids, that will be a huge moment in your process of self-diminishment. You really won’t care what happens to YOU, as long as they benefit. That’s one reason your parents are so proud and happy today. One of their fondest dreams has come true: you have accomplished something difficult and tangible that has enlarged you as a person and will make your life better, from here on in, forever…

If we’re going to become kinder, that process has to include taking ourselves seriously — as doers, as accomplishers, as dreamers. We have to do that, to be our best selves.

Still, accomplishment is unreliable. “Succeeding,” whatever that might mean to you, is hard, and the need to do so constantly renews itself (success is like a mountain that keeps growing ahead of you as you hike it), and there’s the very real danger that “succeeding” will take up your whole life, while the big questions go untended…

[Since] your life is going to be a gradual process of becoming kinder and more loving: Hurry up. Speed it along. Start right now. There’s a confusion in each of us, a sickness, really: selfishness. But there’s also a cure. So be a good and proactive and even somewhat desperate patient on your own behalf — seek out the most efficacious anti-selfishness medicines, energetically, for the rest of your life.

Do all the other things, the ambitious things… but as you do, to the extent that you can, err in the direction of kindness. Do those things that incline you toward the big questions, and avoid the things that would reduce you and make you trivial. That luminous part of you that exists beyond personality — your soul, if you will — is as bright and shining as any that has ever been. Bright as Shakespeare’s, bright as Gandhi’s, bright as Mother Teresa’s. Clear away everything that keeps you separate from this secret luminous place. Believe it exists, come to know it better, nurture it, share its fruits tirelessly.

Read related post: Best Commencement Speeches: Khaled Hosseini
Best Commencement Speeches: Ken Burns
Best Commencement Speeches: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Wear Sunscreen Commencement Speech
Best Books for Graduates
Best Books for Graduates 2015
Wisdom of a Grandmother
Wisdom of Tom Shadyac
Wisdom of Morrie Schwartz

For further reading: https://6thfloor.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/07/31/george-saunderss-advice-to-graduates/
Congratulations, by the Way: Some Thoughts on Kindness by George Saunders
Way More Than Luck by the editors of Chronicle Books (2015)


Teachers Should Develop a Sense of Humor

alex atkins bookshelf educationJosef Broder is Assistant Dean for Academic Affairs and a professor at the University of Georgia for more than two decades. He is the winner of several outstanding teacher awards. He is known for his great wit and sense of humor. In an essay titled “Creating and Environment for Teaching and Learning” Broder emphasizes the need to use humor in the classroom. He shares an anecdote about his young son who was asked what he wanted to be when he grew up. His son responded: “Dad, I want to be a professor and a comedian just like you!”

Broder reflects on the importance of humor as a teaching tool in the classroom: “I have always appreciated humor in the classroom, whether coincidental or intentional. However, those who want to introduce humor in their classroom should distinguish between delivering humor and developing a sense of humor. I think a key element of effective teaching is for teachers to develop a sense of humor that goes beyond telling an occasional joke… By a sense of humor, I mean a state of mind that recognizes the limitations of ourselves and our knowledge. Humor is relief from dogma, which students find to be tedious. Humor and irony can be powerful teaching tools when used to challenge, and present, conflicting points of view.” Moreover, Broder believes that teachers who use humor are more believable, more human, and more approachable. Because Broder does have a great sense of humor, shares his top ten list of the most common questions and comments he has heard during his teaching career.

  1. I can’t be in class tomorrow. Will you be talking about anything important?
  2. Is this score on my exam the number wrong or the number right?
  3. I got the exact same answer as my classmate, but she got a higher grade.
  4. I can’t be in class tomorrow. I have to register for classes.
  5. Is this going to be on the test.
  6. I knew the material. I just couldn’t give it back to you on the exam.
  7. Do we have to take the final exam?
  8. Can we drop a grade?
  9. Do you grade on a curve?
  10. Do we have to buy the book?

Read related posts: How to Get the Most Out of College?
Too Much Homework is Bad for Students
Education is the Engine of Personal Development
What Makes a Great Teacher?
The College Admissions Mania
What Makes a Great Mentor?
What Makes a Great Teacher?
What Should you Teach Your kids Before They Leave Home?
Education Reform
Lifelong Learning with The Great Courses
Education or Indoctrination?
I Am What Libraries Have Made Me

For further reading: Extraordinary Teachers: The Essence of Excellent Teaching by Fred Stephenson


What is the Difference Between a College and a University?

alex atkins bookshelf wordsIn the United States, postsecondary institutions call themselves colleges or universities — and sometimes they exist in the same city or state. For example, in Boston, you can attend Boston College or Boston University; in Georgia, you can attend Georgia College or University of Georgia. Both colleges and universities can be public or private. So what’s the difference? Why do some call themselves “college” and others “university”? The short answer is that there is very little difference between the two — the terms can be used interchangeably. Most higher education institutions use the term that simply honors their tradition, which is, of course, sacred ground for academics. Consequently, there is nothing to stop colleges from changing their names to universities or vice versa; for example, in early 2017, Lynchburg College officially changed its name to University of Lynchburg.

Interestingly, in America, the generic term for higher education is “college”; so students go to college. In Great Britain, Canada, and Australia, the generic term is “university”; thus, students go to university. In terms of etymology, both terms are almost identical: university is derived from the Latin universitas, meaning society or community; it is a shortened form of the term universitas magistrorum et scholarium (translated, community of masters and scholars). Similarly, college is based on the Latin collegium meaning “community or society.” 

Read related posts: How to Get the Most Out of College?
Too Much Homework is Bad for Students
Education is the Engine of Personal Development
What Makes a Great Teacher?
The College Admissions Mania
What Makes a Great Mentor?
What Makes a Great Teacher?
What Should you Teach Your kids Before They Leave Home?
Education Reform
Lifelong Learning with The Great Courses
Education or Indoctrination?
I Am What Libraries Have Made Me

For further reading: http://grammarist.com/usage/college-university/
http://college.usatoday.com/2017/03/01/whats-the-difference-between-a-college-and-a-university/
http://www.etymonline.com


%d bloggers like this: