Archive for the ‘useless’ Category

To the ones who plan to crack / hack / ace the SATs and other tests

An excerpt from a comment in my Bulgarian  blog:


в университета, в който преподавах, имах студентка от беден, западащ град. Благодарение на собствените й амбиции и тези на майка й, беше завършила училище с висок успех и беше изкарала добри резултати на SАТ, озовавайки се в съответния университет. Проблемът обаче беше, че момичето, макар да беше хванало цаката на въпросните тестове, нямаше никакви реални познания и умения за анализ и въпреки огромното си трудолюбие отпадна поради многото изпити, които не са в тестов формат.
Ако това работливо и умно момиче, някой ден завърши дните си в Уолмарт, причината ще бъде именно, че системата никога не й е дала шанс да се развие.


Justice with Michael Sandel

You thought you may never have the chance to take a seat in a Harvard lecture hall? Well, I took a front row seat tonight; no, I comfortably lay in my front row bed to watch Michael Sandel, one of the most famous Harvard professors, lecture and lead a discussion about what the morally right thing to do is.

This is the first course Harvard has ever made available to everyone. You are even invited to take part in the dicussions online. You are also offered further reading. You can even write some papers on the series … I’ll read them 🙂 You can start a discussion in our forum or in your own blog.

How is that useful?

First, it is useful to improve your listening skills.

Second, it is useful to take a look at a university lecture hall and experience one of the university teaching formats.

Third, it is useful to practice thinking about tough questions.

Fourth, it is useful to get an idea of political philosophy and law.

Fifth, it is useful to be able to tell colleges that you have already attended a good number of lectures to explore the field you claim to be interested in.

The website of the project

All episodes on YouTube

Plamena’s adventures after Roosevelt Academy

За работата с професорката… това беше един доста амбициозен проект с които тя се занимава и аз и помагах за няколко месеца.
Правеше grant proposal за longitudinal research (мисля 5-10 години) с деца с ADHD, като се опитва да отговори на фундаменталния въпрос дали ADHD е генетично заложена \”болест\” или е по-скоро effect от media/television (тук пък ако започна да си казвам мнението относно ADHD и как за мен това е болест на Запада ахахах ще стане още по-дълъг този е-мейл така че се въздържам 😀 😀 😀 ).

М/у тая професорка много ми напомни на теб, и по-точно ми припомни нещо, което ти казваше едно време в подкрепа на liberal arts…че въпроса не е дали си добър в някои предмет, а дали си мислещ човек…, защото тогава можеш да се справиш с всяка една наука и във всяка област…

Та напомни ми за теб, защото тя е професор по Media&Entertainment i от 30 години се занимавас television effects on children. А сега за генетичната част от проекта, беше започнала да чете някакви академични трудове от журнали по генетика, с някакви луди формули и странни рисунки…и когато я попитах как така разбира какво чете след като не е доктор или професор по bio science, тя само се засмя и каза че първите 20-30 труда които е прочела са и били доста странни, но с четене свикнала на начина на изказ в тия среди и сега вече няма проблем да пише и да обсъжда хормони, гени, връзки etc… много й се възхитих.

Substance vs. Shadow

How many of your classmates would bother to read a several-page lesson if they knew the teacher would ask them to reproduce a number of facts written in a summary after the main text? How many of your classmates would not only read the whole text, but also search for more information on the Internet / in the library and try to learn as much as they can?

Who would learn more – the summary reader or the Internet explorer? Who would get a better grade – the one who has memorized the required list of facts or the one who has read a lot but failed to remember some of the facts on the list?

Students coming from different educational cultures might give exacty the opposite answers as they might have adopted different ideas about the value of education.

In my country most teachers praise the students who memorize and reproduce a list of facts. They rarely care about students’ level of understanding or depth and scope of interest. In fact, some really curious and deep thinking students are often scolded for asking questions on relevant issues not explicitly mentioned in the textbook. These students’ efforts to research further are neither validated not encouraged, and some of them might be punished through low grades for “wasting” their time on “extraneous” research rather than focusing on memorizing the syllabus lesson.

Here is why it doesn’t come as a surprise to me that my students have difficulty understanding the first part of T. Kaori Kitao’s essay “The Usefulness of Uselessness”, which I use to introduce them to the idea of liberal arts. In a Bulgarian school we don’t need to read a fable; what we need is to memorize what authority believes to be the moral.

edu quality measured

For several years I have been class reading an excerpt from Leon Botstein‘s “Jefferson’s children: education and the promise of American culture”. It says that the quality of college experience should be measured by the extent to which it influences life beyond the classroom: from dining-hall conversations to personal life choices.

It’s an alien idea with most students. I can remember a heated conversation about the labour market and pay rates in Bulgaria, in which I used some statistics on car sales (Capital Auto newspaper) as a proof to the point that there were more Bulgarians earning enough to buy new cars than my students could imagine. Then, one of them shouted: “I have not come here to have my views changed. What I have come here for is to study English to get into college.”

Ironically it’s virtually impossible to get into a good overseas (especially American) college without changing a bit yor perspective on education, i.e. by learning something and integrating it into your everyday life beyond the classroom.

There is so much resistance against learning though. Utilitarian-minded students often demand rational argumentation as to how what I am trying to teach them could be of use, so I need to spend a lot of time on justifying my methods ot the content I have chosen. Still, most students do not seem to internalize anything. Then I try to lure them by appealing to their emotionality.

The funny thing is most young people have grown so skeptical and … cynical that it’s hard to rely on offering them beautiful visions of their future (most of them are incapable ot dreaming about their own lives); what works better is appealing to their fears. How sad.

After all, the quality of education seems to depend so much on the expectations and assumptions students bring from their homes and previous schools. That’s frustrating.

You might be interested also in

За смисъла и играта

I refuse to know

Leon Botstein is the president of my favourite Bard College

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Niki on “liberal arts OR career preparation OR what?”

First of all, get out of the “undecided” zone! You need to have at least some rough idea of what you want to do in order to make wise choices pertaining to the question of this topic. Don’t worry too much though. You pretty much have your first year in college to take that first step if you haven’t already done so.

Now that you have at least the field figured out, find some job posting and read through the position requirements. If those are vague, grab your roommate’s phone, come up with a fake name, and call up the people for clarification. Alternatively, you can ask professors in the respective department what it is all about. Just talk to them, they won’t bite (in most cases at least… fine, send emails instead).

So, now you have some idea of what it takes to do what you want to do. How does it sounds? Below are two examples.

“A successful candidate would have a working knowledge of the OSI networking model, VoIP protocols, including SIP, H323, MGCP, RTP, etc. Familiarity with RADIUS-based authentication and authorization systems utilizing TCL IVR and/or VXML is a plus. …”

“A successful candidate would have excellent time management and communication skills. We are looking for a quick learner. Working knowledge of a foreign language, especially Spanish and Portuguese is a strong plus. …”

Of course, everyone would require you to be able to write a letter that will not cause a reply consisting of “?!?!!!?!?!” (even less “?!!@*^%#$& ^%#$”), but take note of how specific requirements are. If there is something specific, chances are it is based on something else, not as advanced, perhaps, that is also specific. Therefore, you might want to take some specialized courses, hence career preparation track.

KEEP AWAY FROM VOCATIONAL SCHOOLS!!! Those are probably not even close to being heard of outside of the US, but I felt I would mention them anyway. If a school seems to promise you accelerated program that focuses only in a particular field of study, you should put a huge red flag up, or … simply toss out the brouchure as it is complete garbage. If you get into such a school, chances are you are going to be thought by retired industry professionals that are stuck in the past. You will come out with excellent profound knowledge of a technology that is going to be completely forgotten after five years or so. As an added bonus, you were thought so much specifics that you completely failed to see the big picture, hence you’re completely incapable to apply what you’ve just learned to something that is not the same, but is similar.

Ok, maybe you don’t want to go into anything specific and you go with liberal arts. Well, in any case, you will, in due time, come to realize that very different and seemingly unrelated areas can draw inspiration from each other when it comes to ideas. And coming up with ideas is what will give you some chance of getting a decent job and separate you from the mindless robots that are soon going to be replacing all those people that are flipping burgers. Just in case you are not sure about my last sentence, I’ll give an example:

A high school language teacher: mindless robot already starting to be replaced by tapes, DVDs, software, etc.
– PLUS –
The idea of going beyond the ministry-approved curriculum to help students
A high school language teacher who is neither just a teacher, nor in high school, but instead is giving a cool edge to young boys and girls who are realizing that higher education in Bulgaria sucks quite a bit. And as an added bonus the money is a bit better.
(Yes, I am talking about Lydia. Yes, I am very grateful however less I might show it. Yes, you won’t fully realize just how grateful you ought to be probably until you get your bachelor’s degree. Enough said.)

Going back to the point about liberal arts, we can conclude that liberal arts, or in other words knowing a lot about nothing, has the power of increasing your ability to create associations and thus get ideas. Cool, right? And yet, liberal arts is not the holy grail of higher education because if you don’t have at least a little bit of focused knowledge, your ideas would be too vague and thus worthless. You would also waste too much time on ideas that can easily prove ridiculous the moment you go into a little bit of details. Unless, of course, you’re a genius.

There is a lot more to be said, but I am simply too sleepy. And besides, I despise writing essays!

Well, ladies and gentlemen, if you happen to be at such a cross-road, good luck! I’d hate to be in your place. Choose wisely and discuss! Or actually don’t. First discuss and then choose wisely.

DISCLAIMER: Everything written above is purely my opinion and is based on hunch and personal observation rather than a healthy research. That is because I despise doing research as a step to writing essays. I and you rely on your own common sense to interpret what I say and judge whether it makes any sense or not. So do science fiction writers. DANGER: Failing to utilize common sense while reading science fiction may result in the birth of a new, completely ridiculous religion!!!

I refuse to know

(I didn’d know there was a book about Flatland! You can download it by clicking here .)

Some students say that they don’t need to study a subject because it will never serve them in their “real lives”. Others say that they don’t trust a scientific theory because they have not heard of it at school. Still others say that they don’t need to study literature because they are not interested in strangers’ lives.

Some students say they should not study arts because they lack natural talent related to these. Others say they should not study literature because they lack imagination. Still others say they shouldn’t study a science because they have already missed learning its fundamentals.

I have lived much longer, and I know for sure that school exposes students just to some levels of subjects. Furthermore, it exposes them to a limited range of fields, and there are so many issues that you won’t have the opportunity to explore even at college, and so many of these are subtly related to our lives in ways we don’t even suspect.

Some people do reach a level at which they start discerning the patterns which organize our seemingly random lives. At that level you know that every bit of knowledge fits into the big picture.

Of course, a person doesn’t need to know every detail, every bit of information, but in order to make informed choices, both personal and professional, you need to know the fundamentals.

Unfortunately, Bulgarian education sucks students into the swamp of random details that have to be memorized for the sake of GPA. Teachers fail to point out the relations- not just between the broad fields of humanities and science, not just between a school subject and another school subject, but even between two facts in the same paragraph in a textbook, which traditionally exposes students to random facts, at best organized into structures, into which the life of function has rarely been breathed.

Students are never taught how to organize information for themselves. That’s why it remains fragmented and never really makes sense.

I am fully aware of my students’ “academic” experience, so I try to compensate for 8-9-10-11-12 years of poor schooling (I can hardly call it education). However, no matter how hard I try, some of them seem to be shouting at me: “I refuse to know!”

I know I am not the best teacher in the world, but I have succeeded in helping a couple of students open their eyes to organic reality. I will never stop learning; I’ll go through quantum physics and ant behavior to find out how to be a good teacher. Meanwhile too many students will belly-flop into “real life” as cripples. How sad. 😦