Thursday, May 27, 2010

Metaphors for Learning

We've had a hot spell. A couple of nights ago it was very warm, hardly any wind at all. It was warmer still in the Assembly Hall, where they had the Centennial High School graduation; my older son was one of the not quite 400 graduates to be. My younger son, a member of the band, was part of the show. My wife and I attended, along with a few friends. We were there to mark the milestone that the ceremony represents and to let our son know we support his efforts. What we wanted was to hear his name read aloud, to see him shaking hands with the dignitaries, to watch him walking across the stage before getting ready for his picture to be taken.
In a practice I thought a bit odd, for each graduate they had a PowerPoint slide with the student's name displayed on two big screens, a photo (face only) if that was available, and the college the student would be attending in the fall or the place of work or military service that the student committed to. I didn't know that information was a matter of public record something all in attendance should see. Most of the students will be attending college within the state of Illinois. Many are going to Parkland, the local community college. There were a good chunk going to the U of I, and another dollop to Illinois State, Southern Illinois, and elsewhere such as Illinois Wesleyan and the Art Institute in Chicago. Then there were a bunch headed to neighboring states, Indiana mostly but also Iowa, Kentucky, and Missouri. I don't recall any headed to Wisconsin but some of the schools mentioned I hadn't heard of before so it is possible that I just missed it. There were several headed to Texas, a few to California, and a couple to the Ivy League. I believe the majority who were headed out of state were nonetheless going to public universities though, for example, there were several planning to attend Butler in Indianapolis.
Each student had a moment to be center stage. With so many graduates in total, it took quite a bit of time to get through the entire list of names, read in alphabetical order. Anticipating that it would take a while and owing to the temperature in Hall, one might have guessed that the preliminary part of the program would be abbreviated so as not to try the patience of the audience. That was not the case, however.
There were a variety of musical numbers, a couple with soloists who themselves were graduating seniors. And there were several speeches. The one given by the Senior Class President was charming, with insight into what it's like to mature as a high school student and quite a bit of down to earth humor. My son told us on the drive home that he too thought it well done and he should know since he's been on the speech team the last couple of years. It was a pleasant surprise since the speaker is a jock, a starter in boys' basketball, a team that won the state championship the year before and that did quite well in the tournament this season. The Principal spoke with tenderness about other milestones in the lives of parent and child – the first day the kid was dropped off at primary school, where both cried about the separation – and the one upcoming later in this summer when the kid gets dropped off at the college dorm, where likely it will only be the parent who cries.
Those talks captured the spirit of the moment and should have sufficed. Yet there was more. And here I should add that though this was a joyous event there was an undercurrent of racial tension, based on a history dating back to before the Consent Decree. Seemingly symbolizing the black-white division, there were presentations by both David Tomlinson, President of the School Board, and Arthur Culver, Superintendent of the Unit 4 Schools. Unit 4 consists of the public elementary, middle, and high schools in Champaign. Though their styles were quite different both embraced a paternalistic, advice-for-the- graduate approach in organizing their talks. It is not an approach I'm apt to appreciate in its own right – the kids should figure these things out for themselves – all the more so when I think the underlying points are not well taken.
My wife has been quite active in Band Boosters and the PTSA, an indirect way to show support for our kids and to learn more about the environment they operate in. I've kept my nose out of it, attending their performances but otherwise not involved with the affairs at school. I had never seen Culver talk before and I've seen Tomlinson talk only this spring – after the show Pajama Game and at the Awards Ceremony. His comments at graduation seemed more of the same. I'm not sure he meant it this way but his comments appeared targeted for the white part of the audience. He used movies as a reference point and talked specifically about the Lion King, the part where Rafiki boinked Simba on the head, in order to bring out the old bromide – leave your worries behind, a benign message. Tomlinson's entire talk was mercifully short.
Culver's presentation was edgier and longer. He seemed more than a little taken with himself and his delivery was like a sermon offered up in a church, the motif emphasized all the more because some in the audience sitting near us would should out "that's right" or "amen" after he would make a point. I got irritated during his presentation but it wasn't because of his style. He talked about being a "winner" in school and in life. I think that sports or military analogy is inappropriate for learning and is quite likely pernicious. I hate it when a college coach is interviewed on TV and talks, invariably, about his student-athletes competing in the classroom. Learning is mostly not a competition. Learning is about tinkering, trying out ideas, exploring via new experiences. The emphasis on winning via discipline conjures up the notion of learning as memorization. That is the wrong message to be sending to these students.
Much of Culver's message, as I understood it, was aimed to bolster the student's self-esteem. The goal is laudable. I don't quibble with that. But the approach Culver took is to me just plain wrong. The role model for excellence shouldn't be George Patton or Knute Rockne. It should instead be Abraham Maslow. Self-actualization should be the ideal students chase after. Culver wanted the students to deny their own weakness, overcome that through strength of character. But such denial either creates neuroses or forces the individual to numb himself to many of the sharper realities. Creativity is not found this way and the approach likely promotes unquestioned belief that leads to prejudice. Instead, creativity emerges via the tension between our weakness and the occasional self-loathing that weakness engenders with our inherent need and aspiration to self-actualize. We should give these kids a more mature view of what being an adult means where that tension comes into focus. With that sometimes kids need to give themselves a break rather than always look for the answer via more discipline. Our foibles can be a source of joy for themselves. Do winners have foibles?
I was no fan of No Child Left Behind, the narrowing of the curriculum that it indirectly encouraged as a result of the teach to the test mindset that came from thinking of school performance solely based on standardized test scores. And I'm no fan of the new Race to the Top either. But as I've written elsewhere (for example, this essay on personal learning agendas and this other one that is mainly about Joyce's story in Dubliners called Two Gallants) that the burden shouldn't be entirely on school. People need to be learners in and out of school. Out of school learning is for recreation as self-edification. If we do it well we broaden and deepen our understanding of things. We should be for that. I'm afraid that Culver's approach, perhaps unintentionally, will invariably narrow the student's perspective. If we must talk about winning then I make the following proclamation. Curiosity beats discipline. Let the students learn to satisfy their own curiosity.
* * * * *
I wasn't expecting to get onto a soapbox from attending my son's graduation but I suppose I was primed for it by earlier in the week watching all five of the videos on YouTube of the Edupunk Battle Royale. This is from a session where Gardner Campbell and Jim Groom face off on the term "edupunk" and Gerry Bayne, the moderator from Educause, steps in on occasion to steer the conversation with additional questions. This session was filmed more than a year ago so, not surprising for me, I'm quite a bit behind the times in trying to understand things.
My indirect path for coming to this viewing started with a post on Scott Leslie's blog that posed the question: What is the most "successful" "formal" "OER" project? After commenting on that post myself I thought I had selected to be notified about further comments, but apparently not. So when it occurred to me that I wasn't getting the updates I returned to the post anew a few days later to find quite a thread. Jim Groom's comment immediately followed mine and I found myself agreeing with much of what he said, particularly his instinctive dislike for formalized structures. A bit later Alan Levine chimes in. He and Scott seem to be part of a Jim Groom admiration society.
I've had some interaction with Gardner Campbell in the past, via our respective blogs, through Educause meetings, and within the Frye listserv. I knew Gardner and Jim were colleagues when Gardner was at the University of Mary Washington, though I don't know the details of the relationship they had with each other. And when a friend at Educause asked me to write a column for Educause Quarterly, which ultimately became a column called Framing Questions, I became aware that the solicitation was partially motivated to offer an alternative to edupunk, one that might appeal to administrative types who are Educause's core membership. I steered clear of doing that mostly because I didn't know enough about what edupunk was and also because I saw a different need emerging as we started in on early discussions about repositioning IT on campus, that goes under the banner IT@Illinois. Thinking other campuses were doing something similar, I could see a series of pieces that made sense to me on the topic. So I put any curiosity about edupunk to the side.
The comments on Scott's post rekindled that curiosity. I did a Google search on Gardner and Jim and the Battle Royale popped up on the first page. Now I have a better idea of what the issues are. Being unfair to both of them, I will summarize tersely as follows.
Jim's position is that creativity needs to be as unfettered as possible. Technology can help. In Jim's world Blackboard plays the role of Darth Vader while Wordpress is Luke Skywalker. Since the force is in all of us, just let it be. Cultural elements matter here to creativity since we all make connections with what we learn and the culture in which we are already immersed. Punk music must have been very important to Jim and perhaps still is. So the notion came easily to him.
Gardner and Jim are pretty much in a agreement on the creativity part, but Gardner doesn't like the punk metaphor because punk was ultimately non-generative. Gardner would like us to be more thoughtful about the entire path and not just have us live in the creative moment, oblivious to the long term consequences.
Each of these seem to have some justification but here is some pushback for which I hope somebody will scratch their head and come up with a response. Potentially generative alternatives might fail. If we're trying something new it might go places, then again it might fail. Assuring it is generative a priori is a very stern requirement, perhaps putting too much bias on the status quo, when it otherwise doesn't deserve the support. Let me again turn to race relations as an example because we now have the fullness of time to consider the issue with that example.
We now regard Martin Luther King Jr. as a martyr, perhaps even as a saint. The Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s is now generally viewed as an extremely important struggle that helped the country heal and live up to its ideals. Yet we are clearly not all the way home. What if a more radical approach than King advocated had prevailed in the late 1960s. Black power ultimately was non-generative. But that needn't have been the case, especially if one views it as a way to set a bargaining position in an ongoing negotiation. Why must it be the courts that redress the racial injustice? Couldn't progress have been faster if cooler heads saw progress as the way out of an impasse? Read (or listen to) this speech by Stokely Carmichael on Black Power. I'm sure it was a frightening speech to many when it was delivered in 1966. But from the perspective of now it is quite reasonable. At least I found it so. Might all of us have benefitted from more Stokely, not less of him? I don't know the answer to that question, but I believe it is worth pondering. That is the question for Gardner.
The pushback at Jim is his making it too easy by identifying the external enemy, Blackboard. What happens if the enemy is closer to home, like his university, and it is imposing restrictions on his creativity, perhaps to respect Federal or State regulations or simply because some of the alumni are none too happy with some of Jim's work, what then? Or what if the enemy is even closer to home than that? It is really our inner demons with which we must continually wrestle. Do we self-filter our creative outbursts because we're aware of in the past regretting some of what we've produced, the harm greatly outweighing the benefit? And if that has happened in the past, should we nonetheless trust only internal filters or require others that are at an institutional level? By that line of thought, might Blackboard be resurrected as the embodiment of the institutional restrictions we need for our own protection? I don't know the answer to these questions either.
As I teacher who wishes to experiment with the technology and the pedagogy, I do feel incredibly encumbered by the restrictions that my institutions seems to want to respect. So I have this desire to go outside the institution with the tools I use to support learning. But I know that completely ignoring the restrictions is a mistake as well. I'd like to set a a different balance than what we have but I've got insufficient principles to guide me to how that balance should be attained.
I wonder if we'll make progress on this one.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

School Reform, Teacher Tenure, and Instructor Age Distribution

When I first started to get interested in labor economics, in the late 1980s, one of first papers I read was by Ed Lazaer, Why Is There Mandatory Retirement? The argument in the paper is pretty simple. To get incentives write for employees, it is efficient to rear load their compensation - pay them less than their productivity early an and more than their productivity later in their careers. This implicitly "bonds" the employee to the employer and thereby encourages the employee's vigorous participation while reducing the likelihood of the employee's turnover. That is all for the good. And if over the employment lifetime the wages paid equals the employee's productivity, then it all adds up.

However, all good things must come to an end. For most of the worker's tenure, the employee is bonded. However, once the employee is earning more than his productivity, the bond shrinks. As the employee continues to earn more than his productivity, eventually the bond hits zero. This is when Lazear says retirement should be and it should be agreed upon in advance so all parties understand that's the deal. Contracts that provide for employee tenure but that have a mandatory retirement date, say at age 65, then can fit the Lazear solution. However, indefinite tenure contracts that now exist because age discrimination laws have ruled out mandatory retirement create a problem. Under them you can have old farts in the system who have "negative bonds" - they keep drawing in pay more than their productivity. The employer wants to get rid of them, but can't because of the tenure.

I don't know the details of teacher compensation in public schools, so can't even make an eyeball guess as to when in schools that have seniority based compensation, as I take it that most public schools do, is it that the mandatory retirement date a la Lazear should be set. However, I was readily able to find these tables of the experience distribution of teachers on a state by state basis. While we know productivity varies from one teacher to the next (much of the point of the current debate) the Lazear type argument still largely holds. If efficient separation should happen after 30 or more years of experience, these tables suggest tenure is not that big an issue. There are probably less than 5 per cent in this category in most cases and one might hazard a guess that those long timers are actually pretty good teachers. If instead, however, efficient separation should happen at 20 or fewer years of experience, then tenure is a big deal as it would seem there might be 20 per cent or more of all teachers in some states in this category.

Suppose 20 years of teaching and then off to something else is efficient. What would that something else be? That's a thought to scratch your head about.

At present teaching jobs appear to be quite scarce. But ten years ago, when they were not, I believe I was told by a friend who was in the College of Ed here at the time, that the biggest issue with teaching was early burnout. Most teachers didn't last more than a couple of years on the job. If that's the problem you are trying to address with your compensation scheme, then a seniority based compensation is just the ticket. I have seen essentially no press on the issue of early burnout of teachers as of late. All of the press seems to be about those unproductive types who have tenure.

The thing is, if you are really thinking through lifetime compensation schemes, and if teaching is (or should be) a lifetime calling, you don't really want to vary the social contract in response to current labor market conditions, except perhaps at the entry level. However, you do want to vary the contract in response to what was a permanent change in the age discrimination laws, the change that got rid of mandatory retirement. In this case compensation needs to align with productivity for senior workers. Then folding it back earlier in the employee's tenure, compensation needs to align with productivity then, as well. Perhaps there can be a small amount of bonding early on, during a probationary phase. But that needs to be paid off quickly after which productivity and compensation should be equated.

The union leaders need to understand this logic, even while they have to defend the rights of their membership, most of whom cut their teeth on a seniority based model of compensation. There is something about changing the rules in midstream, especially for able if not outstanding teachers, that the reformer types seem to blithely ignore.

There is then the issue of the testing itself as a productivity measure. There is a lot to critique there. But maybe the critique needs to come from elsewhere than from the teacher unions. One variable that doesn't seem to get much discussion, but should in my opinion, is the anxiety level of students, particularly the high achievers. The testing mentality encourages these kids to stress out to the max. And it encourage a certification mindset in all learners that instead of getting into it because it's interesting in its own right, do it for the credential. We seem to be so myopic in our goal setting that we are blind to these sort of consequences, which are well beyond the usual teach to the test critique. Learning to deal with some pressure may be an important life lesson, but if the system itself is too highly cooked, that is a problem, one that doesn't seem to be getting much examination at all.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Grid Question Type in Google Forms

Below is an example of the Grid Question type. In that the designer puts in column headings and row categories and then radio buttons are generated. The person completing the survey is asked to select one button per row. This is the way many paper surveys are designed, so I'm glad to see there is now a simple way to do it online.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

iPad play

I got a new iPad yesterday and have been playing with it. Nice screen and audio. I type with one finger but that is reasonably functional. I downloaded a tv show and that was awesome. It looks great for trips. I also had some of my own screen movies in iTunes and synched them with the iPad. They played fine. But from youtube it was a blur. This whole debate about flash might really come down to resolution and compression.

The biggest issue so far is with my left wrist it gets tired from holding the thing at an angle. I ordered a case but it hasn't arrived yet. More later as I get used to it.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Inadvertent Intimidation

Sometimes even the seemingly most innocuous encounters provide revelation. Our new Business Instructional Facility lies between the building where I have my office and the lot where my car is parked. The design, I believe common to many business school buildings, features a huge common area, we call it The Atrium, with vertical space three stories tall from first floor all the way to the roof, with casual seating, a coffee shop on one end, and hallways at each corner extending to classrooms and offices. It's a hang out place and a great location for an informal meeting. I often walk through, to and from my office, surely so in inclement weather or when it is very cold outside, and other times too. On Monday afternoon I was headed to the Post Office to mail some personal letters (Campus Mail handles the work related stuff) and by chance I bump into one of our Assistant Deans for Undergraduate Affairs, a very nice guy who runs the college's Honors Program. He says,

"You economists sure make a simple game complicated."

You see, my dean is an economist and an avid baseball fan. He was an early enthusiast of Bill James, the baseball data guru. Many empirical economists – meaning their research involves the statistical manipulation and analysis of pre-collected numerical data, primarily to test economic hypotheses – who are sports fans as well like to take their work skills and apply them informally in their recreational pursuits. Major League Baseball, in particular, is an attractor because of all the data that is recorded in the normal play of the game. So he shares his hobby with other empirical economists, now scattered around the country, once former colleagues in the Econ department here. We get various emails from my dean, each about some tidbit of curiosity. I'm not an empirical guy. By training and scholarship I was a theorist before turning to learning technology. But I'm a buddy with the rest of them and because this is all pretty casual stuff I can and do chime in from time to time with my own surmisals. My Assistant Dean colleague is also on the list though not an economist. He is an avid baseball fan and a little older than the rest of us, so is capable of providing good anecdotes from when the rest of us were kids.

That morning we got an email from my dean about a table published in ESPN Insider. It had a screen grab of a table which plotted the batting averages for all at bats in Major League Baseball last year conditional on the number of balls and strikes in "the count." Mostly the table was unsurprising. Each additional strike lowered the batting average while each additional ball raised the batting average. There was one exception. The batting average was actually higher when the count was 3-1 than when the count was 3-0. How could that be? After scanning the table to see that mostly it produced what you'd expect for ordering the count by batting average, I puzzled over the anomaly for a few seconds, trying to come to an explanation for it in my mind. It really didn't take more than that.

As a baseball fan, I know that often on 3-0 counts the batter is under instructions to take the pitch, a walk is as good as a hit, or so the saying goes. A walk doesn't count in the batting average at all. When the player is given the "green light" to swing away at 3-0 the player might very well "go for the downs," meaning that he makes a swing hoping it will produce a home run. In more ordinary swings the player may instead focus primarily on making good contact with the ball, hoping to hit a line drive. My conjecture is that the go for the downs swing likely lowers the batting average, but it still can be worth it because a home run is much more valuable than a single. Batting average doesn't discriminate between the type of hits at all. So what I wrote in response to my dean's email:

"It would be great to have such a table with slugging percentage instead of batting average."

Thinking my meaning obvious, I didn't elaborate. I guess whether it is obvious or not depends a great deal on the audience.

None of this would have raised an eyebrow for me had I not been at an appreciation luncheon earlier in the day for faculty who reviewed applications for the Campus Honors Program. During the lunch we learned some facts from the program's director. Admission at the campus level is a bit down. Private schools have been expanding their waiting lists, apparently not knowing what their yields will be in these uncertain times. In those cases where we are the safety school, the student rationally keeps us on hold right till the deadline. The same thing seems to be the case for CHP. We were shown preliminary numbers. They were on the light side of their targets. Students have till this evening to have posted (by snail mail) an acceptance. So the numbers are apt to drift upward. The program has the ability to recruit students after they've arrived on Campus. So they can fill their cohort that way, if necessary. But due to budget cuts, they may want to keep their numbers lower, rather than dilute the quality of their offerings, simply make those offerings available to a smaller number of students.

There is a provider logic to that thinking. Yet there are many more students who are qualified for an honors program than the program can admit. So I found the thought of shrinking the program rather distressing. That thought bothered much of the rest of the day. I'm still bothered by it.

After the director's remarks we began a discussion of the teaching experiences some of the instructors were having this semester in their CHP classes. The first couple of faculty reports were glowing. The students are brilliant and they are doing all these wonderful things. Then the tone of the discussion took a marked turn. A history professor, I don't know him but he seems a decent guy and down to earth while some of the others in the room are a bit cantankerous, reported that his class didn't go very well at all. Some of the students hardly participated. They were very quiet. One normally thinks of disruption resulting from a loud outburst. It turns out that sustained silence by a significant number of students can disrupt a class, particularly when the instructor doesn't anticipate the behavior ahead of time.

I nodded my head in assent as the history professor told this story. I reported that my class in the fall had similar issues, as I wrote about in a post called Teaching Quiet Students. A math professor then elaborated the issues along two dimensions. Students drop his CHP course early, when their first impression is that they can't penetrate the material. The irony here is that CHP encourages students to take courses outside the student's comfort zone. This lack of faith in their own ability to make good progress in alien territory acts as an inhibitor in producing the CHP ideal. The other point the instructor made is that very good students in his class end up intimidating the other students, who must feel that they can't imitate the quality of performance the very good student produces as a matter of course. Some of the others who wouldn't be quiet otherwise are driven toward that behavior because they feel they can't measure up and they want to keep that fact to themselves. If we improve by practice, as indeed we do, the gap between the very good student and the rest only widens as a consequence. So this becomes a self-enforcing negative spiral.

Here I start to think that the elitism inherent in CHP is counterproductive. The quiet students need nurture. If that were suitably provided they might delight, as the instructor does, in the high level of performance of the very good student. With adequate protection that performance doesn't make for a threat and they can see it for its creativity and its contribution. Without the requisite protection, however, the other students are on the defensive, of necessity. Their own egos are on the line. Of course, this issue is not new at all. It's been with us certainly since when I was a student, probably since the concept of college came into being. But my sense is that the problem is becoming more aggravated recently and that discussions about quiet students will become more frequent and more pronounced over the next year or two.

* * * * *

I was cooking on these themes after returning to my office from the Post Office. While I had several work related tasks to do, I needed some distraction. Over the weekend I saw that Barbara Ganley started a new blogging venture. I took a quick look at the new site, Open View Gardens, over the weekend and vowed I'd read her first post for real in the next couple of days. So I take to read her post that Monday afternoon. Perhaps when you're cooking everything looks like it belongs in the stew. Quite likely nobody else seeing Barbara's site would recognize any similarity between her topics – natural foods, gardens, and building a community in conversation around these ideas – and my themes. Instinctively, however, I have a gut reaction. If you'll pardon the bad pun, they are two peas in a pod. And since I'm kind of upset with my themes, my initial reaction to her site is negative.

I don't intellectualize this all at once. Initially my thoughts are not of what transpired earlier in the day but rather of a different email my dean had sent a couple of weeks ago, about a new game for the Playstation 3 called MLB 10. It is an extraordinarily realistic game about Major League Baseball, but it is so complex and so difficult to learn for the uninitiated that it will discourage all but the diehard sports gamers. Indeed that is the thrust of the piece. The game is anti-democratic in its design. It's intended for users who have already logged hundreds if not thousands of hours playing similar sports games, implicitly signifying that novices are not welcome. It offers no pathway for novices to develop expertise. The author of the piece finds this off putting. Some of the big multiplayer games, such as World of Warcraft, do recognize the need to bring in new users all the time. It's part of their design. Why isn't it part of the baseball game? Is it just too hard to build in all the detail for those who want it and yet also have a simpler alternative for those who are just getting started?

While I don't explicitly think about this, I have in the back of my mind the piece, Watching TV Makes You Smarter. The core idea being that we humans are learning creatures and TV programming has to be helping viewers learn or they will lose interest. But to do that the programs have had to become more complex over time, so viewers have more to figure out in understanding a show. This move toward complexity appears inexorable. The makers of World of Warcraft can counter this move toward complexity by designing into their environment a path for newcomers. A business organization can make such a decision deliberately. I'm not sure an individual can make a likewise commitment if there is little or no learning for the individual in providing the path for newcomers. Barbara is just about the most democratic person I know and cares deeply about making learning accessible for others. But she cares about her own learning too. Can she, through geniality in character or force of will, keep herself out of this trap? I don't see it, so I'm not happy with her site.

On the other hand, the site is brand spanking new and it takes quite a bit of hubris on my part to make that sort of prediction based on the very little online evidence and no understanding of what is happening on the ground at all. I've been schooled that if you don't have something good to say… Yet when I first encountered Barbara online, it was by challenging her in something she had written. And she had requested comments on the new site. So, without an ideal solution, I did a part serious comment and a part punt – I wrote a little rhyme about my own tuning out.

Not surprisingly, in her response she asked what I really intended. I hadn't thought through the sequence of moves that would ensue from my comment. So that evening I reflected some more on her post and my themes. I thought about something I read not too long ago that different generations have quite different attitudes toward food and nutrition, with some young adults regarding questions of what to eat along ethical lines but baby boomers like me thinking of food as a necessity of life, nothing more. (I wish I could find this reference, which I thought was the New York Times Magazine, but I struck out in trying to pinpoint it.)

My belief is that we've erred in the education of young adults, with too much emphasis on choice and not enough on obligation. The example that sticks in my head is customization achievable at an espresso bar. Everyone can get their own individual choice. Each customer in that way becomes a designer of his or her own drink. In concept the designing function may be fine but in implementation it creates a sense of entitlement. Individual entitlement that is just for ourselves may be ok, but I believe further that thinking it will be just for ourselves creates a focus on the exception rather than the rule. Often one person's entitlement blocks or impedes another's.

Bright and open students should see it as their obligation to offer succor for their classmates. Quiet students should understand that functional groups have all participate. When they don't speak up they are reducing the effectiveness of the group as a whole. Obligation should trump here. But in a world of entitlement, it doesn't. Rightly or wrongly, I associate the ethical stance about which foods to eat with an entitlement approach about choice. In my reflection I see this linkage between what Barbara wants to do and my earlier themes.

Then events conspire to show I'm throwing stones in a glass house. This year we've been ordering the beans for our morning coffee from Peet's, two pounds delivered every two weeks. It's been like clockwork till this past Monday. We didn't get a delivery then. That evening I start to get a bit desperate about what we'll do Tuesday morning. We had some French Roast left though not enough for a pot of coffee and a half a bag of some old rot gut from a local supplier. We could tolerate one morning of mixing the two. But I really want good coffee in the morning. (Fortunately, the shipment was delivered yesterday.) Is it any more than splitting hairs to distinguish what we crave from what we feel we deserve? It serves me right for ignoring my own foibles.

Then I also note that I'm frequently none too sensitive to the novice's need that things won't accelerate beyond comprehension. I don't believe this lack of sensitivity is from deliberate boasting on my part. Rather I think it is that once I get into something, that's where I want to be. It takes a while to get focused and intense. Let the intensity subdue of its own accord. While engaged, however, much else is a blur.

Barbara, in contrast, is much more outgoing and willing to engage with others, seemingly at all times. One of her favorite ideas is the notion of "reciprocal apprenticeships" where all the participants learn together, helping each other as they go, sharing their insights and discoveries with one another.

Is Barbara's topic for her new blog broad enough that she can keep going back to the well for something new, different but not more complex, welcoming all while continuing to pique her own interest? I don't know. What seemed impossible on Monday evening looks like it might be do-able two days later. Thinking it through and identifying the pitfalls, surely there is a challenge here, but that doesn't mean the challenge is insurmountable.

It's funny, with this writing I've not done one whit to resolve the themes that were disturbing me so much on Monday. But I'm not quite as distressed after getting this post out of my system. Perhaps we can overcome those challenges as well.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Statistical anomaly or a new trend?

Once you know their politics, does the religious affiliation of a Supreme Court Justice matter? I do think it is probably a statistical fact that first or second generation immigrant children are more likely the over achievers in school. (Start with the over achievers, then look at their demographic makeup, not vice versa.)

The second half of this piece is about evangelicals. I wonder what fraction of Protestants would describe themselves as evangelical. The piece doesn't say. If one looked more broadly within the judiciary, not just the Supreme Court, would this demographic pattern continue to hold?