Archive for November, 2015

postheadericon Is value-free knowledge such a bad thing?

I get what Parker Palmer means when he argues we in education need to “uproot the myth of value-free knowledge.” Palmer argues cold, calculated, emotionally divorced students become cold, calculated, emotionally divorced graduates, emotionally divorced citizens, professionals, etc., and he argues this is not a good thing. Vulcans, Spock, logic over emotion, “needs of the many,” all that. Not taking into consideration the effects of knowledge, or the seeking of knowledge, on society, on humans, on others, carries with it the potential to marginalize humanity, to head down a pretty dark road, he argues. Palmer invokes Hitler and Nazi scientists – then again, what Internet argument doesn’t, eventually? Godwin’s Law – as an, or THE, example of objective, cold, detached researchers, educated individuals whose educations should have influenced them to take a stand against, or at least not willingly participate in, unethical (to say the least) scientific and medical experiments on humans tantamount to torture and summary execution. Education, and the responsibility to understand, well, the responsibility that comes with, again, well, responsibility, should have prevented that particular ethical supernova from collapsing in on itself into a black hole.

Essentially his point boils down to this: “If higher education is to serve humane purposes, we who educate must insist that knowing is not enough, that we are not fully human until we recognize what we know and take responsibility for it.”



Hard sells….

Good luck cutting through this one, people. Skim and comment, probably for the best. Sort of have the focus of a late-nite, caffeine-deprived grad student, straddling a saddle-bred pineapple, waving a bourbon bottle and shouting maddeningly into the midnight November rain. Somehow that made sense in my head, and I refuse to delete it.

As a journalist, as a social science researcher, as a seeker of knowledge, I am conditioned for objectivity, or, at least, to present the facade of objectivity, in my work. Objectivity and emotional detachment – points Palmer decries. Attaching personal values to a story or piece of research negatively perceived, those in the field argue personal bias taints, skews, misrepresents, does all kinds of undesirable things to study results and findings, or interviews and story sourcing, whether the ultimate results be a news story or feature, or a piece of social science research on violent rhetoric and hate speech spewed through a wireless microphone into the virtual world of a massive multiplayer online first-person shooter aimed at denigrating another player perceived to be from a different ethnic, cultural, educational, or religious background. Objectivity is an ideal, an ideal many like to claim, and an ideal that many who claim it fail horribly, inexorably. The reality is we are emotional, value-laden individuals, and complete, sociopathic emotional exorcism on the Nazi medical and scientific level is kind of a rare thing. Palmer’s got a point, but he’s using extreme examples to make it.

Following the Nazi example, Palmer delves into the medical field, arguing doctors frequently practice on the line, or blur the line, between ethical practice and Hippocratic violation.  He points to a case study where a patient, a healthy male that donated part of his liver to his ailing brother, died as a result of poor post-op care. The report commissioned on the death placed blame on an overburdened system and, according to Palmer, did not point fingers or place blame on any responsible party. The report on the organ donor’s death was just as impersonal and detached as the post-op care that killed him.

After a brief explanation of “woulda, coulda, shoulda,” Palmer argues large, complex corporations and organizations are increasingly dispassionate toward people and unresponsive to external social pressure. He also argues for educational professionals that do not embody this dispassionate, unresponsive attitude.

While this is certainly a valid argument, it is also an ideal. While using education responsibly and being emotionally, socially aware of those we affect through our actions as educated professionals is contextually important, being aware of everybody’s emotional needs at any given time in any given context and acting upon that awareness at all given times and contexts is unrealistic, debilitating, impractical. This goes back to an earlier argument put forth in a previous reading (I do not remember which, exactly) on the state of education and inclusive learning, and the notion that teachers, educators, need be acutely aware of each student’s individual needs at all times and cater each lesson to those needs in order to facilitate learning. In the case of the underexperienced, overworked, undersupervised medical resident responsible for the death of the organ donor, the ideal that may have prevented the organ donor’s death may be the hiring of more medical residents with overlapping schedules, aware of each patient’s individual needs and given the time and resources to care for those needs, and enough experienced supervisors aware of each resident’s strengths and weaknesses to provide the care and attention they need as well. While I do agree this is ideal, especially in the medical field, it is, at times, unpredictable, unobtainable. One can never accurately predict when an ICU or ER or inpatient roster will be flush or lean, or when a trained medical resident will become overwhelmed and unable to adequately perform the duties required by the job. People get hurt, people get sick, hospitals fill up, and not always at the most conveniently scheduled times. Perhaps in this, Palmer and I agree – if the system is not adequate to perform the function for which it was created, it needs to be altered, reworked, or even scrapped. But whatever system that replaces the inadequate system must be able to function “on the real,” and not just on the ideal. Perhaps my own opinion and perspective is itself systemic of the problem Palmer addresses – I am indeed a product of American public education and was, as I discussed in the above paragraph on idyllic objectivity. Perhaps this recognition of my own systemic limitation may allow an awareness of emotionally responsible education to take place when I am in the classroom, either as teacher or student. I guess we’ll see.

postheadericon Distractify.

Aptly named.

The readings this week are in line with arguments I have with myself and others fairly regularly.

I’ve already put a lot of this in comments on other posts, so instead of rehashing I’ll summarize.

I’m not an early adopter. I do not want/need the shiny new tech toy the moment it comes out. In the intro to the Thompson article, chess grand master Kasparov’s bout with IBM’s Deep Blue and his comments afterward are not new to me, but have always resonated. “I lost my fighting spirit.” Human intuition, critical thinking, experience, be damned, a blunt object bluntly blunting its way through millions and millions of preprogrammed scenarios leaves anticipatory analysis on the cutting room floor.

Then, Kasparov creatively collaborates with the machine, with interesting results. Chess amateurs with strong computer skills beat grand masters with middling computer skills. Ultimately, Kasparov and the author decide that skillful human/machine collaboration is better than the two elements on their own, in the context of chess. But Kasparov, before he collaborated with the machine, had a lifetime of critical thinking, masterful control of logic and analysis, and experience. The two “amateurs” still had significant (in the world of amateurs, at least) chess ratings on their own, and presumably some sort of critical thinking background. That was 17 years ago. Now everyone with an Internet connection can collaborate with machines, at any age, with any cognitive ability.

Ultimately, the author concludes this collaboration isn’t good or bad, it’s just different. That evolved different is something to which we must all adjust, or be left behind by the ones that do. I do not see machinery itself as good or bad, or Google unuseful in education or any other context. I teach a class where a piece of Googled information will do them no good. I see students collaborating with their devices with the supposition that said collaboration will provide the answer for receiving a good grade. When they use that information in class with negative results, they are dumbfounded, and that, I suppose, is what bothers me.


Oh, and there’s this:

Not the primary source, of course, but a news story on research out of Stanford and University of Washington that discovered online classes do not stack up against traditional classes performance-wise. Clarity: I have not pored through the data, just thought the story interesting/relevant. Take it for what it is.