Mad Men and the Futility of Wanting

it is not difficult to discern the final thread of meaning from the series finale. What all of those people had in common all along, throughout the entire run of the series, was unspecified desire. They all wanted without knowing precisely what they wanted. Some of them had a better grasp of this than others, and there is perhaps hidden somewhere in the show a character that depicts the “right” relationship to wanting. Maybe it is the final version of Don, who seemingly renounces the material world and now embraces chanting and meditation. Maybe it is his ex-wife, who now goes coolly into death and maybe understands wanting in a way that most of us cannot. Or maybe it is the plucky but uncertain Peggy who now has love in her life. 

Any of them might qualify, perhaps, but the point seems much simpler to me: our lives are structured by wanting. Whether we reject it or embrace it, whether we fulfill our wants or not, we are caught in the ebb and flow of striving and failing. Trying to deny this only leads to more wanting and failing, just as does the embracing of it. 

There is in all of this a sense of great waste: all that time for such a simple message? Years of a television show just to tell us what anyone who examines life ought to see? 

Well, yes. The show communicates The message about as efficiently as life itself communicates it. Don took 40 years to figure it out, but his insight won’t save him from the lesson. Chanting in front of a beach won’t take away the basic dynamic of life. Those of us who are mere viewers are no worse or better off, for we have learned nothing useful here. As Don goes, so go all of us. And what else could a “mere” show be expected to accomplish?


Filed under: Humanities, Philosophy, , , , ,

Comments on free community college

From assorted blogs:

An author named Zoobee writes:

Of course Obama knows the numbers. He does not care. His programs are designed for one thing: bigger federal government and more control. He will funnel as many students into community colleges as possible for “free” so that they are dependent on the federal government completely for their education, while attempting to end 529 plan benefits, rate private universities on the very standards that community colleges would fail if applied to them and then reduce student aid based on those very numbers that don’t accurately reflect “success”, end lifetime learning credits, and limit loan forgiveness to the undergraduate aggregate. He already ended subsidized loans for graduates, enacted overburdensome arbitrary rules like state authorization and gainful employment, limited Pell to 12 full time equivalent semesters, enacted the 150% direct subsidized rule, made satisfactory academic progress more complex, ended Year Round Pell, made PLUS borrowing easier (putting more students in deeper debt), and ended lender choice while handing the servicing contracts to the exact lenders he said were corrupt.

When you add up what he’s done with what he wants to do, the result is obvious: Students with or without degrees who owe the federal government for life.

Statistics show that poor and minority students are 4x more likely to graduate if they start at a 4 year school instead of a community college.

What Obama calls “success” is applying the standards in the article only to universities that are not controlled by the government. Whether or not the student is successful is merely a possible byproduct.

What Obama calls “success” is forcing states with already stretched budgets to foot 25% of the bill for his so-called “free” community college plan, which only requires the feds to cover 75%, making states even more dependent on federal grants.

I have a different definition of success.


And here is Education2011:

There is a very simple way to substantially improve ‘graduation rates’ immediately! And now is the time to do it on the cusp of having taxpayers go from funding the majority of CC costs to funding nearly all of the cost.

Stop enrolling persons in academic programs until they are ready, PERIOD. While students are taking high school (and below) courses, DON’T enroll them in collegiate programs, which is only done to access what is, at community colleges only, a vast welfare program that incentivizes enrollment for the assistance, not academic or career pursuit. Let’s not put the entire cost on taxpayers, then turn around and still hand out $6000 in grants and $10,000 in loans on top of that, per year. The longer you spend in college, the more money you walk away with. We are already way overfunding these students for a K-12 education.
At the very least, fund no more than their very direct costs for remediation. Put the incentive out there to successfully complete remediation and be accepted into a collegiate level program by proving you are now ready.

if we don’t do this, and we cover even more of the direct costs (which for needy students is already being funded at close to 300% of the cost, and with ‘free’ CC that will go to funding 500% of the direct cost), graduation rates will plummet even more!

So much rhetoric is spent on improving community colleges success rates, and every initiative that involves giving students more money will accomplish just the opposite, no question about it. Not to mention the real ways to improve success, dramatically increased student engagement, will not happen at a community college. But there are other colleges out there ready to turn these failures into success for which the community college wants credit.

Filed under: Uncategorized

A Notetaking Tool for Plato’s Republic

It is a surprising fact that one of the greatest works of western literature has little in the way of pedagogical aids to assist instructors who teach the text, but that is in fact the situation with regard to Plato’s Republic. Sure, there are commentaries galore; and yes, there are the occasional summaries and even a decent treasure trove of related images (there’s good stuff on the Allegory of the Cave, the Divided Line, and not-so-good imagery on The Myth of Er).

Still, with all of the accumulated commentary of two millennia and the subsequent rise of the web in the last two decades, we should have more. We need good processes for studying the text and for teaching it, and these are unfortunately lacking.

This document is an attempt at a partial remedy: Notetaking Tool for Platos Republic.Its objective is not to summarize the text, or to depict it visually, or to comment upon it (at least this is not the principal aim), but to assist the student and instructor who determine to read it (either in its entirety or partially).

The document does not attempt to promote a particular interpretation, although one probably emerges out of it. Its chief purpose is to ask questions that are relevant to each of the sections (roughly carved up in the same way as in Desmond Lee’s translation and Penguin Books publication).

It’s my hope that it will prove useful to those who seek to study it, but I am also under no illusion of perfection. I have undoubtedly missed many questions and relevant issues, and there is no doubt that my lack of Greek hampers my understanding.

Critical comments are most welcome.

Filed under: Philosophy, Political Philosophy, , , , , ,

The Meaning of Openness in Open Educational Resources

An analysis of openness in the area of open educational resources shows us that there is just no such thing as a truly open educational resource.

The colloquial definition of “open” varies according to the available resources. I would argue that JSTOR is an “open” resource at Erie Community College just by virtue of the fact that we purchase it. This definition is contrary to the spirit of the OER movement, which instead looks for resources that are truly “free” in some sense. However, I believe this just goes to show that there is some conceptual ambiguity in the concept of openness to begin with (and the frequent conflation with “free of charge to the end user”): the cost of JSTOR is not transparently being passed down to me or my students, so as far as an uninformed observer is concerned JSTOR is in the commons just as much as Wikipedia is in the commons.

Some will point to the obvious: that the distinction between JSTOR and Wikipedia is that one has to pay for JSTOR access. My point, however, is that the distinction means nothing to someone that has never paid for JSTOR or any other library database. Furthermore, the point can be extended to any other educational resource that an instructor might attempt to use in the classroom: there is a cost to the copies I’ll make for an OER/public domain text, and there is a cost to the instructional design of the class that will house the OER/PD text. This means that “openness” is really about externalizing the cost of publication and distribution to someone other than the institution and student. An OER in Merlot, for example, might have cost one million dollars to create, but that cost is not mine to bear. It’s therefore “open,” but only by virtue of someone else’s generosity.

Filed under: Higher Education Policy, , , , ,

Barbie as Computer Engineer

But is not that the problem? There are also women that don’t code for whatever reason, and isn’t it possible that Barbie is one of them? There are sexist and nonsexist men, also, and it is possible for Ken to be either. The world is diverse.

The root of the problem is the assumption that depictions in art and fiction are always making a claim to normativity. If we don’t make that mistake then we can have ditzy women, sexist males, and effeminate homosexuals without making the silly mistake of thinking that the creation of any such depictions is an endorsement of the same. In this case you defended the Ken character by noting that he might exist. Good – exactly right. Now admit the same for the dumb blondes and other unpalatable characters of the world and you’ve accepted reality without endorsing it.

Filed under: Uncategorized

Resources: Study Skills Assessments in Colleges and Universities

Study Skills Assessments in Higher Ed
1. Columbia Basin College: http://www.columbiabasin.edu/counselingadvising/study_skills_assessment.asp
2. Learning Styles Assessment at NC State: http://www.engr.ncsu.edu/learningstyles/ilsweb.html
3. The VARK Learning Styles Questionnaire: http://www.vark-learn.com/english/page.asp?p=questionnaire
4. LASSI (Learning and Study Strategies Inventory) – $3.50/4.00 per administration: http://www.hhpublishing.com/_assessments/lassi
5. Univ. Central Florida Study Skills Inventory: http://sarc.sdes.ucf.edu/form-studyskills
6. Redlands University – Multiple Intelligences Inventory: http://www.redlands.edu/docs/StudentLife/MULTIPLE_INTELLIGENCES_INVENTORY.pdf
7. Education Planner (.org) Self-Assessments:
a. What kind of student are you? http://www.educationplanner.org/students/self-assessments/kind-of-student.shtml
b. What’s your learning style? http://www.educationplanner.org/students/self-assessments/learning-styles.shtml
c. Which study habits can you improve? http://www.educationplanner.org/students/self-assessments/improving-study-habits.shtml
d. How strong is your character? http://www.educationplanner.org/students/self-assessments/character.shtml
8. Indiana U – South Bend Study Skills Assessment: https://www.iusb.edu/tutoring/studyskills.php
9. University of Houston – Clear Lake: http://prtl.uhcl.edu/portal/page/portal/COS/Self_Help_and_Handouts/Files_and_Documents/Study%20Skills%20Assessment.pdf
10. Mercer U: http://departments.mercer.edu/arc/documents/Study_Skills_Assessment.pdf

Studying Resources for Students

1. http://www.howtostudy.org/
2. http://www.studygs.net/index.htm
3. Dartmouth Study Skills Videos: http://www.dartmouth.edu/~acskills/videos/index.html
4. Dartmouth “How to Study” Overview: http://www.dartmouth.edu/~acskills/success/study.html
5. Penn State: http://dus.psu.edu/academicsuccess/studyskills.html

Study Skills Seminars and Courses at Colleges and Universities

1. Cal Poly San Luis Obispo – FA14 Schedule: http://sas.calpoly.edu/asc/sss.html
2. BYU Idaho:
a. Courses: http://www.byui.edu/academic-support-centers/study-skills/study-skills-courses
b. Workshops: http://www.byui.edu/academic-support-centers/study-skills/study-skills-workshops
3. NC State (Designed for K-12 Students): http://psychology.chass.ncsu.edu/pss/facilities/clinic/studyskills/
4. Long Beach City College: http://www.lbcc.edu/LAR/learningskills.cfm
5. UT Knoxville’s Learning Skills textbook, presumably in support of a class. Very nice resource focused on Adult Education: http://resources.clee.utk.edu/print/learning-skills.pdf.
6. University of Florida Flex Learning Course (Online): http://flexible.dce.ufl.edu/study-skills-courses-online.aspx
7. Virginia Tech: http://www.ucc.vt.edu/academic_support_students/online_study_skills_workshops/
8. Liberty U: http://www.liberty.edu/academics/general/bruckner/?PID=112
9. Santa Fe CC: http://www.sfcc.edu/departments/developmental_studies/courses/study_skills

Resources for Faculty and Staff

1. Michigan State: http://fod.msu.edu/oir/teaching-students-study-skillshow-learn
2. Cengage Study Skills Text: http://college.cengage.com/collegesuccess/0495897434_downing/

Filed under: Higher Education Policy

Technology in Education

A Chronicle commenter writes:

disqus1994 • 5 days ago
I have been at several different universities in my career. At each one, tens of millions were invested in technology (thinks like ERPs, BI, etc.). But it’s wasn’t sold to the campuses as that. Rather, it was sold as “business process re-engineering” or “communications overhaul.” Hundreds of people were hired, 100K consultants brought in. But what have been the results?

– I’m still communicating the same way I have since the 90’s: phone, email, and in person.

– I still make decisions the same way I always have: getting data from spreadsheets, writing a report, and sitting down at a table and talking about it with my team. I pull data off our info. system, but the only difference is that instead of off a mainframe it’s off a browser – did that really cost tens of millions to change? It’s certainly not faster and it’s debatable whether it’s better.

– Technology has not improved business process. In fact, it’s almost always got in the way. Besides, nearly everyone I know designs and implements business process and strategy in their own area – why did we pay someone millions to re-engineer something we do anyway?

– Ultimately, technology has not improved our core missions: Research, teaching, and service. The people on the front lines have improved it, not the tech consultants brought on (I once had an IT person, or rather business process expert, tell me he was going to improve our grant writing process and program strategic plan – Really? An IT guy? I don’t tell my ISP how to do their job, so why would I look to a tech company or person to tell me how to do mine?)

Sure, some things have improved. The internet seems faster, and Microsoft office applications seem better. I can now get my phone messages on email. It seems like students can do more online, which I suppose makes it more convenient for them (no more standing in line to register). But convenience is not our core mission – learning is. Besides, I got faster internet at home, installed Microsoft, and got better phone service at home, and did this all on my own. And year after year, all I hear from the IT department is that they need more money, more people, and more time, and because administration buys into the promises, they give it to them. (I don’t know why they keep asking. Budget increases for higher ed IT have vastly outpaced every other area in higher ed). Unless I can be convinced otherwise, I’m beginning to think all of this is scam to enrich technology companies – I just can’t think of another reasonable explanation.

It is too easy to simply dismiss the role and impact of technology in higher education. As the commenter notes, our business is learning and all of the interventions mentioned here – and others – should aim at that core mission. So it is important to determine if learning has in fact improved as a result of these improvements. A few points are in order along these lines:

  1. The poster might be communicating the same way he did in the 90s, but he is not communicating the same way he did in the 80s. In addition, social networks are just now beginning to be felt at the staff level and provide the opportunity for some changes in the way that higher Ed staff communicate with each other.
  2. The reference to ERPs (Enterprise Resource Planning software) is odd since such systems are the info-tech foundation of all educational institutions. Having said that, the main point here is that such purchases are sometimes ill-advised and do not add value to an enterprise. This is certainly true, and many institutions make such purchases without fixing inefficiencies in the business processes themselves.
  3. The point about decision-making seems convincing and helpful to me. Leaders and managers should make IT purchases with an eye to whether they will assist decision-making. This again is about management efficiency and business process optimization.
  4. Sometimes IT staff can show us fresh ways to eliminate busy work, thus allowing us more time to do reflective or conceptual work. So I find the point about the grant writing process to be weak: it is often people who know nothing about the substance of the work that we do who can show us a better process for doing it. We should not be surprised by this given that research itself often works the same way.
  5. I wouldn’t call the relationship a scam, but there is room for legitimate criticism when consultants are chosen without a robust evaluation process and without a sober analysis of the business processes themselves.
  6. Much of the above could be addressed if accreditors paid more attention to the external relations of the institutions they regulate. Self-studies should be required to include assessments of all consulting contracts with an eye toward their relationship to the academic mission of the institution.

Filed under: Higher Education Policy,

The Case of Mary Northern

An interview on the case – includes video and transcript: http://www.kosmosonline.org/2011/01/18/podcast-conditional-preferences-and-refusal-of-treatment-or-the-strange-case-of-mary-northern/.

Filed under: Bioethics, Philosophy, , ,

A “radical new teaching method”

I can’t really see a new method here, but these sorts of weepy stories often have their shred of truth behind them. In this case it is that curiosity certainly “works.” What this lacks in rigor, however, is rather obvious: how to properly direct curiosity so that learning objectives are met rather than skirted. We can all understand how self-motivation improves learning, but who among us has managed to turn that insight into a replicable, scalable, and adaptable pedagogy?


Filed under: Higher Education Policy,

Existential neuroscience? Really?

Really: Quirin M, Loktyushin A, Arndt J, Küstermann E, Lo YY, Kuhl J, & Eggert L (2012). Existential neuroscience: a functional magnetic resonance imaging investigation of neural responses to reminders of one’s mortality. Social cognitive and affective neuroscience, 7 (2), 193-8. PMID: 21266462

Filed under: Existentialism,