Archive for December, 2009

Top Education Stories of 2009

December 31, 2009

Here’s an interesting list from the Pope Center.

Religion, Science and Professional Wrestling

December 31, 2009

An interesting and often insightful discussion of the science and religion debate.

Rasslin’ with Religion & Science from Religion Dispatches on Vimeo.

Top 10 religion and science stories?

December 31, 2009

From my left-leaning religious news service, their top 10 religion and science news stories of 2009.

Shelby Steele on our Post-Modern Race Problem

December 31, 2009

Shelby Steele provides yet another insightful discussion of America’s race problem as it stands today. Not an entirely flattering picture of Obama (and even less of those who voted for him to show they were not racist), for sure. But I do think he identifies one of the things that makes our current racial situation so hard to deal with. Here’s an excerpt:

America’s primary race problem today is our new “sophistication” around racial matters. Political correctness is a compendium of sophistications in which we join ourselves to obvious falsehoods (“diversity”) and refuse to see obvious realities (the irrelevance of diversity to minority development). I would argue further that Barack Obama’s election to the presidency of the United States was essentially an American sophistication, a national exercise in seeing what was not there and a refusal to see what was there—all to escape the stigma not of stupidity but of racism.

Religious Intolerance

December 31, 2009

An interesting account of a search for religion unhindered by political considerations. The author, a secular Jew, began to look for a non-political place of worship. Here’s what she found:

Checking out churches online, I found almost none that offered political neutrality. Most heralded their progressive credentials, welcoming the transgendered, but not conservatives.

I was pleased to find an Episcopal church whose website focused on religion, not ObamaCare. I left a message for the priest that I was looking for a church that didn’t press a political agenda because I wasn’t a liberal.

I received an icy reply from the priest, the Reverend Lucy, who said with barely-contained disgust, “I don’t think you should check us out.”

Her response left me shaken and angry. I understand that leftists despise conservatives. I have seen that creepy look of pure hatred when I naïvely told a leftist friend about my political conversion.

But an Episcopal priest rejecting me during the holiest time of year? Isn’t anything or anyone sacred?

The point of the story is the inconsistency of the “tolerant left.” My observation goes a different way – I’ve been in plenty of right-leaning churches that do basically the same thing. Non-Republicans are considered suspect; particular political views are considered equivalent to orthodoxy. Even when I have agreed with the particular, I’m committed to the notion that the church and the gospel transcends these mundane political things. Perhaps this story is a good lesson for all of us.

Update: You can also read a description of her visit to a Catholic church after the Berkeley debacle. It’s much more uplifting.

Why we don’t realize we are wrong

December 30, 2009

A discussion of the neuroscience of why people continue to believe theories when lots of anomalous data appears. It may not be a full explanation. As Thomas Kuhn noted, many of these situations are paradigm dependent. So, models are often held until a new generation of theorists arise who use a different paradigm. Nonetheless, a reminder that we often are wrong without even realizing it.

Moreover, my son observed that “It takes a model to beat a model.” [As an aside, he initially attributed the phrase to Gary Becker. I did a quick search and found it attributed to Tom Sargent and then found a lengthy discussion of the legal aphorism: “it takes a theory to beat a theory.” What a wonderfully productive side quest!] Regardless, the point is that a model held for good reason has lots of traction – some problems don’t necessarily mean abandonment is required.

Back to the article. When encountering an anomaly (an unexpected result), the article suggests four strategies:

1.  Check your assumptions

2. Seek out ignorant people (those unlikely to share your assumptions)

3. Encourage diversity  (make sure you have people involved who don’t have the same assumptions)

4. Be aware of failure-blindness (awareness of the bias may help inhibit it)

Good advice, regardless.

On journalism and new paradigms

December 30, 2009

An interesting discussion of how journalism is not adapting to the changing realities. In the concluding paragraph:

Instead of focusing on inputs, the Times should focus its quality control on outputs: what actually appears in the paper. Drop the absurd ethics guidelines, hire freelancers who know their subjects and how to write about them, and disclose any potential conflicts so readers can make up their own minds. Think about delivering value to the reader rather than ritualistically adhering to journalistic guild customs.

I’m wondering if some of the education world is functioning with similar failure to deal with reality. I’ll have to think about this some more.

On Budget Cuts

December 27, 2009

A good brief discussion on approaches to institutional cuts. While recognizing the simplicity of  across the board cuts, the author argues for making targeted cuts. He states:

The actually-make-choices approach is much riskier in the short term, and it carries a higher risk of imminent disaster. But if you get it right, it opens the possibility of actually strengthening the college over time. Getting it right would involve the standard moves — the SWOT analysis, environmental scan, etc. — but also a serious and sustained public conversation with the college as a whole. When push comes to shove, what does your college really care about? … Will future success require emphasizing a different set of programs, or doubling down on the existing core? What does your college offer that its relevant competitors don’t? Is athletics the route to prosperity, a necessary part of local culture, or an afterthought? (Depending on context, it could be any of those.) Are there some historical holdovers, programs that were created in different times that just never quite worked?

The key thing here is that it isn’t just about finding the right answer. It’s about getting the college to find it with you. Involving more people in the process leading up to the decision will take time and patience, and you’ll have to endure some not-very-much-fun moments. But if it works, you’ll wind up with a better answer, and with one that might actually stick.

Trust and Finances at Colleges

December 27, 2009

An interesting article on the increasing tendency of college communities to question claims of financial problems. To be sure, the article highlights issues that are more common at larger institutions with endowments, dedicated funds and such. Not nearly as much an issue at schools like mine with no endowment or large capital reserves. But the article does note a breakdown in trust:

Forget “Trust, but verify.” A more apt phrase to describe the mood at some colleges today would be “Don’t trust, and challenge.”

Saying they’re unconvinced by bleak financial reports produced by university business chiefs, increasingly skeptical students and faculty are outsourcing number crunching to independent auditors, often with the hope of exposing hidden pots of money in cavernous college coffers.

That breakdown in trust, from all indications I’ve seen in conversations with faculty of several institutions, may be part of a broader trend that is not entirely driven by financial matters. A real challenge for administrators, it seems to me.

For Christmas

December 25, 2009

A favorite passage I saw quoted once that seems relevant to the Christmas season, reflecting on the meaning of the incarnation. From the 1928 Myles Connoly novel Mr. Blue  (h/t Peter Robinson in a 2004 post!; I’ve been using this in class from time to time ever since):

Night had smothered the city, and the city gave up its protest in uncountable millions of bubbles and gasps of light. Below was glittering Manhattan. The east was black. The opaque hilly horizon of the west was razor-edged against a last gleam of cold white light. Destroyers rode the unbridged Hudson; ferries and small craft flecked her with light. The East River lay her dark secretive self, coddling her treasure, Blackwell’s Island, lay a cool, lamp-spotted, many-bridged stream between the sprawling white conflagrations of Brooklyn and Manhattan. It was terrifyingly beautiful up on the roof, four hundred feet above the gaudy streets, four hundred feet up in the cool dark silences, four hundred feet up nearer the stars….

[Blue] put his hands into his trouser pockets and leaned backward, his face toward the heavens, now filling with stars.

“I think,” he whispered half to himself, “my heart would break with all this immensity if I did not know that God Himself once stood beneath it, a young man, as small as I.”

Then, he turned to me slowly.

“Did it ever occur to you that it was Christ Who humanized infinitude, so to speak? When God became man He made you and me and the rest of us pretty important people. He not only redeemed us. He saved us from the terrible burden of infinity.”

Blue rather caught me off my guard. I might have admitted in him a light turn for philosophy. I did not expect any such high-sounding speculation as this. But he was passionately serious. He eyes were glowing in the dark. He threw his hands up toward the stars: “My hands, my feet, my poor little brain, my eyes, my ears, all matter more than the whole sweep of these constellations!” he burst out. “God Himself, the God to Whom this whole universe-specked display is as nothing, God Himself had hands like mine and feet like mine, and eyes, and brain, and ears!….” He looked at me intently. “Without Christ we would be little more than bacteria breeding on a pebble in space, or glints of ideas in a whirling void of abstractions. Because of Him, I can stand here out under this cold immensity and know that my infinitesimal pulse-beats and acts and thoughts are of more importance than this whole show of a universe. Only for Him, I would be crushed beneath the weight of all these worlds. Only for Him, I would tumble dazed into the gaping chasms of space and time. Only for Him, I would be confounded before the awful fertility and intricacy of all life. Only for Him, I would be the merest of animalcules crawling on the merest of motes in a frigid Infinity.” He turned away from me, turned toward the spread of night behind the parapet. “But behold,” he said, his voice rising with exultancy, “behold! God wept and laughed and dined and wined and suffered and died even as you and I. Blah!—for the immensity of space! Blah!—for those who would have me a microcosm in the meaningless tangle of an endless evolution! I’m no microcosm. I, too, am a Son of God!”

He finished his outburst with a great gesture to the stars.