Monthly Archives: March 2012

Interest and Pleasure: Beside the Point or THE Point?

Since I didn’t say much in class today (I think I was kind of using the discussion to reflect more on Illich’s ideas) there are a few ideas I found relevant to the topic of curriculum learning.  When I say curriculum learning, I do not mean education.  I mean the formal learning process, that is centralized and tackled in a “one size fits all” manner.

At first I thought Illich’s Learning Webs was kind radical and somewhat absurd but it’s not necessarily the ideas that were so out there, just the solution.  Or maybe it was just his urgent tone…which made me feel like the world was ending or something.  I think his term “deschooling” is a little hard to swallow upon first read.  I think a better term would be “decentralizing.”  I think this term epitomizes everything Illich is trying to put into words but it doesn’t have such an aggressive feel about it.  It does however sound kind of generic so maybe it would just be best to think of his proposal in a decentralized instead of deschooled way.  A way that doesn’t halt development through the forming of little black boxes of knowledge.  A way that encourages questions and doesn’t instill the learner with a fear of sounding “stupid.”  Similar to what Jake said, I fear if we cannot establish a more interactive means to learning in schools, it is truly questionable what the future holds for us.  I can’t help but think back to when I was very young, pre- and early-elementary years, I never stopped asking questions.  It didn’t matter if they were naive or silly because I was truly interested in the answer and I once I got it, I could go along my merry way, continuing my quest for knowledge in a way that made sense to me.  Before I was conditioned to curriculum learning, I made connections all by myself, without the teacher’s help and I felt genuinely satisfied (again, Nelson).

So is interest and pleasure beside the point?  Absolutely not.  Interest and pleasure is the point.  We need to stop striving for “productive members of society” and start thinking about ourselves a little more.  As cliche as it may sound, it is strikingly similar to the idea of being happy with yourself instead of worrying what others think about you.  If your education is not stimulating to you then the “benchmark,” the “A” doesn’t really matter or mean anything.  Now if only there were a more sensible way to achieve this idealistic goal…

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Deschooling: Liberating the Mind

The first thought that came to my mind while reading “Learning Webs,” from Ivan Illich’s Deschooling Society was anger.  I had not been aware of how weak my past education was until coming to college and this realization is highlighted a good bit in this class, especially in Nelson’s “Computer Lib / Dream Machines” but even more so in this reading.  Why am I angry?  I feel betrayed by what I thought was a good thing, by an education system that never taught me to delve deeper into how I was learning, not necessarily what I was learning.  I believe more interest in topics would have been generated if the way in which I learned them was more appealing, more stimulating, and more diverse.   After all, the medium is the message right?

It’s not that I am calling myself stupid or uneducated by any means but I do feel somewhat irritated at the inadequacies our current education system has produced in me.  This idea of monopolizing knowledge, only those who have the appropriate title or classification are permitted access to particular tools and opportunities in education and in the working world.  I know that I am not the only one who feels this way.  Even with this class, I at first felt inadequate.  It’s kind of a paradox because even though it caused me to feel inferior to others’ ideas, at the same time it made me be appreciative and proud of my own ideas.

Furthermore, this class is a form of deschooling itself if you ask me.  Granted, it’s not nearly as radical as Illich’s proposed system but it does away with the concrete curriculum and skills testing.  It is not “a demagoguery calling for more of the same” like so many other classes.  I have said it before and I will say it again, student/reader participation takes precedence over predetermined right and wrong answers.

If Dr. C’s class provides a mere glimpse into the prospect of deschooling, than I will resound a major theme in Illich’s work: liberation.  The idea of letting your own mind do the work is liberating.  It provides a sense of self-worth that no A+ on a final can ever do.

When we start seeing more classes like this one, classes that encourage one’s own imagination instead of the easy alternative of yielding to a predetermined curriculum, then I think deschooling will be taking place on a larger scale.  When people start experiencing what it feels like to actually learn, it will be positively impossible to stop deschooling.  Illich agrees:

“The disestablishment of schools will inevitably happenand it will happen surprisingly fast. It cannot be retarded very much longer, and it is hardly necessary to promote it vigorously, for this is being done now. What is worthwhile is to try to orient it in a hopeful direction…”

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Educational Reform or a Whole New World?

For tomorrow’s class we read Chapter 6 “Learning Webs” out of Deschooling Society by Ivan Illich. This reading was probably one of our most intriguing readings for me. Not because I liked what he was saying however. I think that what he is trying to say is very interesting; but, unrealistic. I’d like to just take out a couple segments and reflect on what I thought about them.

The first nugget I highlighted was “…it shapes the consumer who values institutional commodities above the nonprofessional ministration of a neighbor.” In this passage, he discusses how schools are the same across the globe even though every other aspect of cultures and the way we organize our business systems are different. School systems have the same structure no matter where you go. He then comes to the conclusion that this system makes people value “institutional commodities above the nonprofessional ministration of a neighbor.” As a business student, I don’t understand why this is wrong. Although I guess I do to a certain point. On one hand, you don’t want children to grow up to only listen to commercials and media for their source of information. But, on the other hand, there is a reason people are professionals and there is a reason things are mass produced as well as institutionalized. It’s more efficient. It’s more productive. It gives you a sense of trust for the people you are learning from and the product you are purchasing. However, I suppose that I should take a step back and realize that I am a product of this school system that is breading commercialized individuals. Therefore, maybe the question is NOT what is most productive. What Illich is getting at is that our focus needs to take a shift towards what he considers to be more important, which is allowing everyone equal opportunity to learn at their passion and free will.

The next part I highlighted was just below that, which illustrates what I just said above even more- “Everywhere this same curriculum instills the pupil the myth that increased production will provide a better life.” So, I suppose I am one of those pupils. But, I don’t want to leave it at that. I don’t want to say, well he’s right, I’m a product of the school system and the way things are now is incorrect. Although my opinion may be exactly what he’s talking about, I truly believe that the way our society values professionalism and the way our society values mass production can help. Without mass production, products would be much more expensive and much more time consuming to make. Throughout this entire piece he talks about using computers to help people connect with shared interests; but, how are they going to be made? He says that people should be able to learn how to fix things on their own. I cannot imagine the inefficiency of this. There is a reason that some people train to do task A and some people train to do task B. It just doesn’t make sense to have everyone being able to do everything.

I did like his three main points on what a good educational system should have.  I’m going to reflect on each purpose separately. The first one is, “…it should provide all who want to learn with access to available resources at any time in their lives…” When I heard that, I thought man this guy really does want Utopia. How in the world can we make every person have the same availability? I like the idea, because I’m all about being fair. But, I don’t see how it is feasible. Perhaps I’m too close minded to macro changes such as these. From the way I see it, I feel any society grows to have classes, whether they be educational or socioeconomic-they are going to happen. Just because you give everyone equal resources does not mean they are going to be used equally. In conclusion, I love the idea and I think it’s worth a shot. But, it is hard to implement in today’s society. The second purpose was, “…empower all who want to share what they know to find those who want to learn it from them…” Now this was interesting to me. It did not say empower all those who want to learn to find those who want to share, it was the opposite. How do we get people who have skills or knowledge to want to pass it along to others and are willing to exert the effort to find those who are interested? I think this ties in to his idea of peer networking. Just because you are not of the same level of intellectual experience does not mean that colleagues cannot learn from each other. If there was an integration of the peer network and those who were searching for learners, it would be ideal. The third purpose is, “…furnish all who want to present an issue to the public with the opportunity to make their challenge known.” I thought this was kind of misplaced in an educational setting. I like it in tha sense that I think everyone should feel comfortable expressing their opinions or what needs to be changed, but I don’t understand where it fits in with the educational context UNLESS you’re talking about research.

Which brings me to my connection with that Matt brought up several weeks ago-peer reviewed papers. It seems that making your way through the research world is becoming increasingly difficult due to “peer”-reviewed papers. When Illich talks about how giving professionals too much credit, I can understand that in this context. During the discussion with Matt, the question of whether or not radical research studies are getting shot down due to the fact that the ones reviewing them are not as radical was brought up. I don’t ever think this should be an issue. If the question proposed has a valid research plan and is carried out thoughtfully (and has good implications on society) it should be considered, no matter whether the person reviewing it agrees or not. They’re professionals, but they’re supposed to be unbiased right?

This paper was huge, and I would love to discuss every chunk I highlighted but I am hoping that Melissa will talk about most of that tomorrow! Therefore, I’d like to end with one of the more significant quotes from this Chapter. “Technology is available to develop either independence and learning or bureaucracy and teaching.” This is such an all-encompassing statement that it seems overwhelming even to read! I can just picture Dr. C getting us to reread it several times to really get the meaning. I am extremely eager to hear what you all think about this quote! Can’t wait to hear some thoughts…

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What we learn

How can we depend on self motivated learning instead of employing teachers to bribe the student to fid the time and will to learn?

In “Deschooling Society” Illich talks about how if we change the style of leadership education can change. He says a good educational system should have three purposes: “provide all who want to learn with access to available resources at any time in their lives; empower all who want to share what they know to find those who want to learn it from them; and finally furnish all who want to present an issue to the public with the opportunity to make their challenge known.”

Why do so many schools require things? Why isn’t it up to the teacher to determine what to teach? I grew up with the SOLs – the Standards of Learning assessment tests that the curriculum of kindergarten through twelfth grade revolves around. Since the main goal was to make our counties schools seem wonderful, teachers followed the strict curriculum and always reminded us that “This might be on the SOL at the end of the year!” Not once did they have the chance to teach what they wanted to teach. Not once did they seem interested in the material we were covering only for the SOL.

I think that this is an important issue in education today. Students are expected to learn certain things, which is understandable, but when teachers no longer love what they teach because they have to follow guidelines, students start to suffer. I never took a test that wasn’t multiple choice until high school. I never got constructive criticism. I never had to think critically – I just had to circle the little letters beside the correct answer. I never found a subject that I was truly passionate about because the teachers didn’t seem to enjoy teaching me the material. Why would I like something if the teacher doesn’t even like it?!

Why can’t the student figure out what they want to learn about instead of following the guidelines of society? As Illich says, there are four approaches that allow the student to gain access to educational resources that will help her achieve her own goals. I think that if we work to focus on the students, education could be transformed. Children wouldn’t dread going to school. People would find inspiration and creativity that they can’t find currently. Do you think students should have more of a say in what they are learning?

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It appears I am far too indoctrinated

VTCLIS12ers, I am in San Diego CA for a conference, so I’m currently  in Pacific time. Did you guys know that there’s only one time zone for the entire country of China? Totalitarianism FTW.

I would like to spend some time to talk about Ivan Illich’s book chapter “Deschooling Society: Learning Webs”. This composition was written in the 70s, which make it quite prophetic in its description about the internet. The overall theme of the book chapter however, concerns the total replacement of the school systems with its proposed new system. The feeling I got when reading this is a sense of confusion. Perhaps I am too blind and indoctrinated by the school system, but I didn’t know the school system was as bad as Illich described. In fact, Illich proposed the “inverse” of school.

Illich does raised an interesting point of how all schools are fundamentally the same (in the 70s). I don’t pretend to know everything school system that exists on the world, but those that I have experienced (Chinese and American) do seem to have some fundamental similarities. One thing I do want to point out is that Illich did referenced China’s Cultural Revolution. I know the revolution was actually happening when Illich was writing the book chapter, so I will give him the benefit of the doubt citing the revolution as a possible “successful” attempt at dechooling the society. The Cultural Revolution was responsible for hundreds of thousands of death; people were murdered BECAUSE they were educated. Millions were relocated and forced to abandon their profession to work in farms. Because of the Cultural Revolution, China had lost generations of educated people, and to this day, the moral standards of the Chinese society still have not recovered. This is a heart-breaking subject that is also fascinated to read about, so I do encourage everyone to at least start at the Wikipedia article. If something akin to the Cultural Revolution is needed to “deschool” society, then I will not wish it upon anyone.

There seems to be a lot of claims in the book chapter about schools that I don’t know if I agree with. For example, Illich claimed that “schools are designed on the assumption that there is a secret to everything in life”. I’m not sure that this is true, at least not all the time. Most knowledge taught in school is readily available elsewhere, and I don’t think I’ve ever been to a class where the teacher claimed that the way he/she teaches is the ONLY way for us to learn. (There may be misguided radical teachers that would say that, but I would hazard to say that they are in the minority). He also claimed that the public is “indoctrinated to believe that skills are valuable and reliable only if they are result of formal schooling”. I also don’t think that is completely true. I believe the public DO value skills and knowledge that did not stemmed from formal education, however, I would tend to agree that there may not be enough appreciation for it. But Illich seems to imply that the entire schooling system is a conspiracy to keep knowledge and skill scarce to general profit. That is a rather cynical outlook that is entirely possible, but I don’t think is true. I don’t think people are as sinister as we like them to be.

There are some very good ideas here, I especially like the uplifting of games (as described by Illich) in the educational setting. Like many other methods described by Illich, this relies heavily on the self-motivation of the learners. In fact, the entire system Illich described only works under the assumption that people WANTED to be learners. I would love to believe that is true, but I am dubious. However, I agree that in an ideal society where all social elements encourages the population to emerge as learners (which is not what we have right now), this is possible. Another idea that Illich proposed (one that even he agreed was radical) was a “bank” for skill exchange. This is a truly fascinating idea, but seems monumental in its implementation. Essentially, we would be creating a whole new economy that is based on the exchange of skill. Like any economy, there will be ways where it can be abused and manipulated. Illich freely admitted that such a system would “promote an elit of those who earned their education by sharing it”. I’m not entirely sure that’s a good thing.

The entire discussion about the short-coming of sequential education is familiar to me. We have had heated discussions about the fallacy of such a system. I am very conflicted on this subject. On one hand, I can see the amazing appeal of non-linear education, a system where the learners to see the big picture and work their way to the nitty-gritty details of knowledge and skills they wanted to learn. On the other hand, coming from a STEM background, I don’t know how this can be realistically accomplished. Some knowledge in STEM makes the most sense in a sequential manner. It would be a difficult for a learner to appreciate calculus before he/she has a good understanding of algebra. Illich envisioned a system where learners would be able to specify specifically what they want to learn. This seems great, but very idealistic, and again hinges on the assumption that all participants are motivated learners.

The peer-matching network Illich described is very interesting, as it is essentially a more narrow, focused form of the internet we have today. Illich described in this manner, we “abolish the power of one person to oblige another person to attend a meeting”. Googling/wiki-ing is the same way; I am not obligated to provide and/or obtain knowledge and skills from the internet, yet I maintain the agency to do so, and I DO choose to do so with a clear motivation.

Illich vision of a deschooled society have some very appealing aspects to me, yet the entire system just seem way too radical for me. Illich predicts “the disestablishment of schools will inevitably happen–and it will happen surprisingly fast”. It’s been 30 years and it hasn’t happened yet. I supposed then I am part of the problem, as it appears I am far too indoctrinated to believe Illich. They say “Who dares, wins”. Well, I guess I’m a loser then.



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Are we learning or schooling?

I always find pieces on education and the learning system particularly interesting and this was no exception. As I have stated before in previous posts, I tend to worry if our educational system isn’t off focus and if we aren’t striving to get the wrong things out of education. I really liked learning webs because it stated opinions I feel to be true, but also added new ideas for me to ponder.

The nugget about how most of the knowledge necessary for life is not learned in school, but outside of it was the first that caught my attention. It is true, at least for me that I feel that most of the things of true value I have learned were from experience. Growing up playing with friends, watching TV and observe how the world worked around me taught me what life is really about. Even if I were to talk in a more academic setting, I feel that this year in my field study working at The Child Study Center here at Tech I have learned far more about my major and how to apply knowledge to real life than any of the other years of schooling combined. Being able to experience and see first hand how psychologists and clinician actually work has taught me so much about psychology. Yes, my previous classes did give me background knowledge, but seeing it in real life made it click with me and has inspired me to go into the field of child psychology. So I couldn’t agree more with the advantages of apprenticeship or shadowing. The piece talked about how an alternative to dependence on schools is not the use of public resources for some new devise which makes people learn, but a new style of educational relationship between man and his environment. I believe that it is the when we make connections with or relationships with the world around us is when we learn, so I think this is an idea on the right track. The question though is how do we get there.

Another thought is how do we get students to participate in self-motivated learning instead of forcing students in to strict constraints of what we call education. How could we get students to learn on their own time, in their own way and driven by their own interests, but still have enough structure in that they learn? How can we get students to meaningfully link what they want to and are learning to the world around them in a productive and way. The piece describes this as the difference from schooling and learning. These can often be confused as synonyms, but when you look closely it is interesting to observe the differences.

Another piece I really liked was that school is structured on the assumption that there is a secret to everything to life and you need to know this secret. The only way to get this secret is to go through school and follow under the direction of the all-knowing teacher. How do we break apart from this and let students break into the real world earlier and start understanding the secrets of life as they learn and grow. Who says that a teacher has to know all or even more than his/her students? The piece talked about resources to learning being things, models, peers and elders. Couldn’t and shouldn’t students be considered a resource for the teachers as well? Fresh new minds, with new ideas, only limited by the limits of the child’s imagination helping to further the depth of knowledge of seasoned scholars.

So when writing these I thought I was writing about all different nuggets, but I see now they are all very closely linked and related. I think what the education system needs is a combination of all of these things. Of real world experience, based on self-motivation, having students makes their own links on what they think is important and then using that to help further the knowledge of both their peers and teachers. Maybe school shouldn’t have such a rigid curriculum, where you go in knowing exactly what is on the agenda. Maybe classes shouldn’t just be focused on what educational institutions think is important, but what the people coming into these classes think is important.

Along with my other posts on education, I have a long rambling of thoughts and questions. I feel like there is something missing from our education system, but I don’t necessarily have a good solution. I don’t know if it is really possible to get away with the idea of schooling, and I don’t think that is necessary either. I think revisions need to be made, but the question is which ones and how. How can you change something like education, something so big and ingrained in not only our society and culture, but world wide. It’s a hard question to answer.

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Deschooling…throwing the baby out with the bathwater

For Dr. Campbell’s class, Memex to YouTube, we read Learning Webs by Ivan Illich’s Deschooling Society. I found this to be a fairly radical, provocative essay on education.

I can’t say that I directly disagree with many of the suggestions that Illich makes throughout his essay. However, I am unable to completely agree that we should completely deschool our society, I think a more moderate approach is in order. Some of the different points that he made caught my eye about the optimistic and elitist assumptions he made about society.

First and foremost he seems to make an assumption about the basically good nature of the models that a children has access to (Learning Webs, “…child grows up in a world of things, surrounded by people who serve as models…”). There are children who do not have positive role models available to them outside of school. We can accurately make a judgement of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ role models in most of these cases. The difference is demonstrable and cultural relativism is not a responsible philosophy in this case. What do we do for the child that is in a bad environment in Illich’s case, what about one where education is not seen as a terribly important thing? This may decrease the social mobility of different socio-economic groups.

Another assumption that he makes is that education is not for everyone and we should shed compulsory education of everyone (Irrational Consistencies, “…compulsory education of its young now reveals itself to be as futile as…”). I contend that there is a basic set of skills that is needed to exist in our society. An argument may be that we need these skills because of our bureaucracy, I would counter this argument with the presumably heightened need for bureaucracy if our society did not have a basic, common intellectual tool set due to the requirement for more protections. Perhaps the degree of specialization that is required by school is not ideal, but to shed compulsory education seems a bit extreme. Clearly, a more educated populace is a better, less manipulated one.

Some of the points that I liked from Illich’s writing came from the Irrational Consistencies chapter, and caused me to challenge things about education that I had not before. Questions like: What are we molding our youth into? Which taxonomies and conceptual frameworks hold value for everyone? What values are we implicitly indoctrinating society with because of this? I do not have good answers for these, but keeping these in mind as we educate and learn would prove fruitful.

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A Life Without Schooling, Not Possible.

It is generally accepted that the schooling system we have today is corrupt.  The purpose of schooling is no longer centered around gaining knowledge.  With such widespread dissatisfaction, one would think that something could be done.  However, it is hard to imagine what this something could be.  Ivan Illich’s “Learning Webs” from Deschooling Society helps to outline what he thinks this something could be.  More importantly, it outlines some of the major problems with schooling in our society.

Ivan Illich states that “a good educational system should have three purposes: it should provide all who want to learn with access to available resources at any time in their lives; empower all who want to share what they know to find those who want to learn it from them; and, finally, furnish all who want to present an issue to the public with the opportunity to make their challenge known.” He says that “what are needed are new networks, readily available to the public and designed to spread equal opportunity for learning and teaching.”

Though I think approach is a great idea, I feel that it is extremely unrealistic.  Even if students had access to all of these networks, society has conditioned students to do the least amount work possible for the best grade possible.  In theory, “someone who wants to learn knows that he needs both information and critical response to its use from somebody else.”  This condition is idea.  Unfortunately, this is not the case. Currently our  condition would be extremely hard to reverse.  In order to reverse it, the generation undergoing the deschooling could not be exposed to the behavior of the generation before them.  With this said, I believe Ivan Illich’s theory is great in theory but impossible to attain.


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Compiling history farther back than I thought

It took awhile for me to really understand what this essay was saying, but with the passage about the fashion designer in New York made sense about what Viola was saying. Being able to call upon certain things from the past without having to spend hours and hours searching for them has made life so much easier for everyone. I couldn’t imagine not being able to find facts within documents, or certain sentences without everything being in reach of just one click of a mouse. It’s interesting to see how technology, not even the Internet, has changed in so little time. Storage and organization of computer files have expanded tremendously, and now instead of having to own multiple portable hard-drives, they can usually get by with not even one. I really don’t know how to comprehend this essay just because for as short as it was, I didn’t feel there was enough to really make me say “wow!”. I thought it was interesting in the way it explained data storage, but it was stuff I already knew about and I felt like there could have been something more to make it just a little more mind boggling.


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Are We the Condominiums in Data Space?

What exactly is Viola referring to when he asks the reader “Will There Be Condominiums in Data Space?”  By that question I mean, what does a condominium have to do with data space?  After over-analyzing numerous definitions of the term, I discovered a few reoccurring words that must relate to what Viola is asking.  A condominium is “a large property complex” that is “divided into individual units.”  Now I’m wondering if the large property complex part refers to this idea of “Data space” – “a conceptual geometry, theoretically infinite, within which various forms may be created, manipulated, extended and destroyed.”  Are we going to divide up the data space like a condominium or are we going to navigate around this data space as a whole?

If you can follow me here, then Viola’s three structures to describe patterns of information will make sense.  You can take the most popular structure called “branching” wherein the navigator takes the top to bottom approach.  This makes most sense to me because it is linear and the exact path to follow is quite obvious.  Viola also highlights the fact that this system is utilized in our education system; it’s very predetermined and definitely easier than the alternatives…but easier is almost never better if you ask me.  A new diagram called the “matrix” structure is an alternative way of viewing information, wherein the viewer can enter at any point, move in any direction, at any speed.  Unlike branching, this structure is not linear because the navigator can take any path through the information however it maintains the idea of parameters.  This idea is not sustained in the last structure called the “schizo” or “spaghetti” model which gives way to the concept that “all directions are equal but all are not equal.  Everything is irrelevant and significant at the same time.”  It’s easy to get lost in the randomness of this structure, it’s actually impossible not to.  I can relate this structure to a lot of the readings we had, especially “medium is the message” and the big question in McCloud’s Time Frames, is linear progression really necessary?

I don’t think Viola is emphasizing holistic over parts or vice versa, I think he is focusing on this idea that you can’t understand what you’re looking at unless you know what you’re NOT looking at.  In other words, when analyzing a piece of information, keep in mind what you are NOT analyzing because often times, what is missing could play a big part in understanding.

So many of the readings we have done emphasize viewer participation.  The uniqueness of each individuals’ thought process is essential to holistic and thorough learning, to the greater good of society.  Does that make each and everyone of us the “condominiums of data space”?  I think so. and I don’t think that is a bad thing at all.  Viewing information in a linear, parts-focused, condominium-like manner is not helpful but viewing information in our unique way, without a set of predetermined steps IS helpful.  I think that is what a lot of these writers are trying to get at with their essays and I think that is what Dr. C is attempting here with this class.

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