Archive for February, 2012

Star Dust

Posted: February 26, 2012 in Philosophy, Science
Tags: , , ,

Life as star dust

We are all star dust.  If you accept our current scientific understanding about the origin of the universe, then you accept the concept of the Big Bang, that event that took place some 13 plus billion years ago in an enormous creative explosion that began the universe.  During the approximately first 9 billion years, during the great expansion of the universe, some of the matter that was created began to coalesce into stars that burned and whose gravity attracted more matter and more matter so that in some cases, these stars became so big they exploded in great super nova propelling throughout their region of space not just hydrogen and helium, but heavier metals like carbon, nitrogen, iron,  and all the other elements.  As these were constrained by gravity, they too began to coalesce into asteroids and planets and be captured by other stars.  In some cases, as stars coalesced together, they became great “attractors” of other stars whose vectors placed them in great spiral orbits about a central point which became a black hole that did not explode.

The energy that made all this possible in addition to the creative process itself was based on fusion within the stars that created cosmic radiation.  Too close to the central black hole and the radiation was very powerful.  All stars and their planets were bathed with this intense radiation.  Further out, planets that orbited stars were not bombarded by this heavy radiation from the center of the galaxy, but they might be from the star or double star they orbited.  But, if they were the right distance from their star and the galaxy center, the radiation was acceptable and the planet was warmed so that hydrogen and oxygen could combine into a liquid form, water.

In this just right place, the earth was formed about 4 billion years ago.  As it cooled and the oceans formed, another mysterious event took place.  Some of the chemical elements formed together and over time, they acquired a structure that supported a replication of the structure.  Eventually, these replicating chemical structures took on a form we call “life” and eventually “human life” as we understand it today.

This is the chain as we understand it today from the birth of the universe to the evolution of life as we know it on this particular collection of star dust floating just the right distance from a star we call our sun which is just at the right distance from the galaxy center.

So here we are, particles of star dust originally particles from the big bang, products of the creative forces that began with the Big Bang.  From dust we came and back to dust we will go.

So where is “God” in all this?  Next I will address how I have come to understand what that means to me.

See also Differences in Learning Styles — Symbols and Modes of Thinking.

I was consulting with a college teacher in a beginning psychology class.  She was troubled by a particular student who was engaged, participated in class with enthusiasm but was failing all the tests.  After deconstructing how the class was taught, I had a theory about what was wrong.  The instructor’s tests formed the greater part of the grade.  The tests were taken almost exclusively from the textbook while the lectures and discussions were considered as supplementary enrichment. I suggested that the student, who was successful in other college classes might highly prefer to acquire auditory information  like in lectures and discussions as opposed to visual input like reading.  An interview confirmed that in classes where tests were dependent on lecture material, the student did well.  When tests were primarily taken from reading material, the student had more difficulty.  The student did know how to read.  I suggested the student get a tape recorder and as he read the textbook, he record it aloud and then replay it and listen to it.  He tried this.  It worked.  He raised his overall grade from failing to a B.

I had a similar experience with a High School student.  The student came to me from another school with an incomplete in algebra.  The former teacher reported the student had no self discipline, no motivation.  That seemed to contradict their participation in sports and cheer leading.  In a discussion, the student offered to come in every day during their free period to clear up this incomplete.  I asked how the incomplete class was taught.  She reported that the teacher was doing individualized teaching.  He gave the students the assignment, the students were to read the math text book description and then work the assigned exercises.  She constantly needed the teacher to explain the lesson, one on one but there were too many students so that she did not get enough time with the teacher.  Again, I theorized this was a strong preference for auditory learning, that she had difficulty with written instructions.  I found a set of lessons on tape she could use.  She came in every day during her free period, listened to the tapes and then worked the exercises successfully.  It was not a lack of motivation or self discipline.  It was a poorly constructed individualized program that was dependent on students being able to acquire their math through visual (reading) means.  Since she could not get enough time feeding her strong preference for auditory learning, she could not succeed.

If you have read my series on Brain Efficiency you understand my view on how our brains are model builders.   That process develops from birth as the newborn’s brain attempts to make sense out of the world into which it was born.  I don’t know whether the differences in physical wiring in the brain or environmental influences are responsible, but we all develop certain preferences for acquiring information.  For some, it is visual stimulation that is preferred.  For others, it is auditory stimulation that is preferred.  For a lucky few, there is balance so that either or both are preferred depending on the situation or information.  What is your preference?  Would you rather go to a lecture or read the text of the lecture?  If you would prefer to hear the lecture and would never be interested in reading the text of it, you probably prefer auditory over visual input.  In contrast, if you would just as soon read the text as hear the lecture, you may have a preference for visual stimuli.

For some people, strong kinesthetic learning is powerful in learning.  Before a child learns the formal rules of mathematics, it is helpful for many to have kenesthetic experiences first, so there are manipulatives that allow learners to carry out physical activities, work with counting items and arrays of unit cubes, etc.  Notice that children frequently learn counting using their fingers.

The point seems to be that a teacher who is focused on learning pays attention to preferences, notes who has what kinds of preferences for acquiring information and helps them learn.  In addition, at an early age, where there is a strong negative preference for visual or auditory learning, attempts to help develop the missing skill.  A good teacher realizes that in a class, there are likely some students that are effectively blind and some effectively deaf and that has to be taken in consideration in planning and preparing learning experiences.

See also Differences in Learning Styles — Symbols and Preferences.

Not only do many students have preferred sensory modes for acquiring information, they also have preferred well or poorly developed modes of making inferences, of thinking about new material.  We all build models in our brains as a way of constructing an understanding the external universe, but we don’t necessarily do it in the same manner.  Dr. Joseph Hill developed an area called The Educational Sciences a number of years ago, but before he could convey this knowledge to a broad audience, he passed away.

In a training that he conducted in the late 1960’s I learned and then applied concepts about several aspects of his learning model with great success.  I have outlined some of the basic concepts in three blogs dealing with Differences in Learning Styles,  Symbols, Preferences and this one Modes of Inference.

There are three predominant modes of assessing and acquiring new information.  Dr. Hill modeled these after the three primary ways that statisticians interact with statistical problems.  I will contrast the three modes  Magnitude, Difference, Relational.    I will explain why I tend to be an appraiser and what that means, but here I want to share my approach to teaching that was very successful although I did not understand why until I learned about The Educational Sciences.  It helps explain the various modes with a teaching example.  My general approach in the high school math classes I taught was as follows:

  1. Check the previous day’s assignment  answering students questions.
  2. Put today’s homework assignment on the board
  3. Describe the new content relevant to the homework assignment
  4. Describe how the new concept was different from previous work we had done
  5. Begin to actually work out the homework problems on the board
  6. Work with students individually that needed additional help or had additional

Now let me explain the modes of interference and then explain why this approach was successful for virtually all of my students.

Magnitude:  A person who predominantly utilizes the magnitude mode does this by organizing incoming information into a categorical structure.  When one is presented with new information, the tendency of a “magnitude preferential” learner is to build a new “pigeon hole” in which to put the information or to store the information within an existing categorical structure.  It is an emphasis on WHAT THE INFORMATION IS, how to classify it or do it.

Difference:  A person who predominantly utilizes the difference mode does this by building contrasts with what they already know.  They learn what something is by knowing WHAT A THING IS NOT.  To do this, they may have to build multiple contrasts until, having exhausted ways to see what something is not, they say, “Oh, now I understand” and if you ask they what they understand, they will tell you all the things it is not.

Relational: A person who predominantly utilizes the relational mode does this by building ASSOCIATIONS WITH LIKE THINGS.  They understand by building relationships between the new and the old.  (Contrast this with Difference where the relationship is with things that ARE NOT LIKE the current new information or thing.)

As it turns out, for reasons I don’t know enough about to describe, various people tend to have preference for one or more modes of inference, or decision making.  In the even a person normally applies all of these modes in learning every time, we can call that comprehensive mode the APPRAISER mode.  One characteristic of the appraiser mode is the built in delay in decision making or information acquisition.  In a situation in which rapid decision making is required, being an appraiser can be a handicap.  We probably prefer that our generals are magnitude thinkers, quick to determine what the new information means and able to make a decision rapidly.

I have noticed that the difference mode is characteristic and probably a necessary mode for a visual artist.  An artist has a way of seeing what is different from what other people see and being able to relate to that and express it.  I have noticed that strong magnitude students with weak relational modes can do well in Algebra that depends on a rule oriented structure, but poorly in geometry which is dependent heavily on seeing relationships, constructing proofs out of a long list of related theorems.  I have found it is frequently the case that strong magnitude thinkers equally preferred  algebra and English grammar and disliked literature while strong relational preference students preferred geometry and literature which was dependent on relationships, discovering the plot from disparate clues for example.

I noticed the students who expressed a mostly difference orientation because of the frequent question they had that had the form of “why is the way I worked the problem not correct?”   Once I noticed that was the operative mode, I would take their approach and work out how it led to contradictions and frequently got an “Ah Ha” response.  I noticed that these were frequently the same students who challenged rules and who in other classes were considered problem students.  They frustrated teachers, were frequently told “because I said so” type answers and frequently got in trouble — not because they were trouble makers, but because teachers were not tuned in to their preferred mode of understanding.  I also noticed these same students tending to wear contrasting colors.  They were budding artists, creative, wanting to learn as much as other students, just not well understood.

The magnitude mode students tended to take off on the assignment immediately after the assignment was listed or right after an explanation of the new method.  They seldom created problems, provided the homework assignment was long enough.  I gave long assignments, but I also gave a lot of class time to work on it.  The difference mode students hung in till their “how is this different” questions were answered.  And then, there were the students with strong preferences for relational learning.

For relational mode students, it did not help to repeat the “here is what is new” explanation.  It did not help either to repeat the “here is what is different” explanation.  What did help was working out homework assignment problems on the board.  And, that meant not trying to do too much explanation other than verbalizing what I was doing at each step.  If after one or two examples they still did not seem to understand, I would do another assignment problem which they would copy.  It was always amazing to watch these relational students one by one have their own “Ah Ha” experiences, not be cause I was explaining how or drawing contrasts, but by following example after example.  I admit this was the most mysterious case, but somehow, they seemed to understand by seeing lots of examples.  Of course, they had also seen the initial explanation and had heard the questions by the difference mode students, but still, it was only after a number of examples they had their epiphany.

I found some self disclosing questions I could ask people to suggest their style in test taking and shopping.  I asked “When you take a multiple choice test, which is your preferred method of selecting the correct answer:  read the question stem and then A.  read the choices until you find one that is correct, likely not reading the rest of the choices that followed your choice (magnitude)   B. Read choice 1 and 2 and eliminate the least likely, comparing and throwing out possibilities pairwise (difference)  C. Read all the choices, not making any decision until all were read, then picking the most likely answer (relational).  Or in the case of shopping, when you determine you need something do you   A. Research or know before you go exactly what you want and as soon as you find it buy it (magnitude)   B. Have not necessarily determined before you go what you want, but as you find items, compare them, one against the other, eliminating ones that you do not want. (difference)  or  C.  Have a general idea of what you want, but keep an open mind until you have found several items that are possible and then select one (relational) or D. End up doing all three and taking forever to make a decision (appraiser).  Although not perfect, these two questions have tended to help identify a person’s modes.

Of course, some people are just naturals, being able to use all three methods selectively as the situation dictates but not feeling compelled to use any particular method.  They are considered adaptable, competent, and talented people on the whole more so than the rest of us.

CONCLUSION:  Teaching is complicated.  If a teacher is focused on methods of presentation as though a particular method is evaluated on its merits without reference to the preferences of the learner, they won’t be effective teachers.  In contrast, if they are focused on the learner and the various styles and preferences they have for acquiring information, they will need a highly adaptable approach themselves and are best served by having abilities in all three modes of acquiring information so as to be able to relate to what ever mode the learner needs.  I for one wish more teachers were trained to recognize differences that mattered in learning and less attentive to differences of race, economic status, or advantages in life.

While I was a teacher, I had the opportunity to learn about “The Educational Sciences” as formulated by Joesph Hill in Bloomfield Michigan. (long time ago.)  It changed the way I thought.  Instead of thinking more about teaching, I began to think how students learned and how that should determine how I helped them learn. Simple you say, but I dare say, it is a lot more complex once you think about learning instead of teaching.  In this essay I want to discuss one aspect; the nature of SYMBOLS and how they impact learning.

How do our minds PREFER to acquire information.  In any interaction with an external world, our brains have to interpret stimuli coming in from our senses.  But there are two quite distinct types of stimuli. Lets first consider visual stimuli.  For example, when we visit places like Yellowstone, the views we see represent a qualitative symbol.  By “qualitative symbol” I mean that the visual stimuli presents to our brain the very thing which it is. We might call it an image or a view of nature.   It is still unique to you and to me; we still have different experiences even though we see the same thing because, after all, when the sensory stimulus gets to our brain, it is only a symbolic representation, a set of neural firings and our brains interpret the visual stimuli as a set of neural patterns or symbols in its own unique way.  We see the same visual view, but experience unique neural symbols,  we interpret the view, experience the view differently based on our own unique history.  We call it qualitative because we can not extract it from our brains in such a way that another person can share the experience.  They have to be there, to see it for themselves and even then, their experience will be shared, but different.

In a similar way, viewing a photograph is a qualitative experience.  The pictures in National Geographic present qualitative symbols.  They are symbols in the sense that they are a collection of ink patterns, not the actual view.  They are a visual symbol of the view captured on a camera.  Contrast this with the narrative of the story or picture headings.  While every person, literate or illiterate can “experience” the photographs, only those able to read can “experience” the narrative by visually looking at the words. That is because the words are “Theoretical Symbols.”  The words appear as images on the retina, but they are not the view, just symbols that have to be translated by our brains to some visual or other qualitative experience to which we can relate.  The words represent to our brains something other than what they themselves are.  Seeing a tree and reading the word “tree” are distinct, the first being qualitative and the second being theoretical.  The symbols that make up the word “tree” has to be decoded, translated.  The decoding process calls upon our memory of prior experiences with qualitative symbols to give them meaning.  In National Geographic, this decoding is supplemented by great graphics.  But not all experiences with theoretical symbols are supplemented with good qualitative help. For example a novel with no pictures is just a set of theoretical symbols for which we must supply a mental image.  Our imaginations must provide the “pictures” based on prior experience.

Allow me to offer an example.  What if you see the word “boat?”  Stop a moment and bring up a mental image from all the qualitative experiences you have had of that word, actual boats and pictures of boats you have seen or even drawn.  What I was thinking of was a particular 25 foot sail boat that I used to ride on moonlit nights in Biscayne Bay in Miami.  Unless you have shared that experience, I can almost guarantee that was not your mental image.  So the theoretical symbols that made up the word “boat” evoked different qualitative experiences in each of us.  This should help make the distinction between qualitative and theoretical symbols.

As learners, we show preferences in how we acquire new information.  Think about how you use a visually rich magazine like National Geographic.  Do you prefer the pictures?  Do you tend to look first at the pictures to select what interests you (qualitative symbols)?  Or do you begin with the table of contents(theoretical symbols)?  What about students in a classroom?  Would one approach tend to “speak” equally to all students?  Would it be prudent to think about this distinction when planning a learning exercise?  If you were preparing instructional materials for students that included both styles, they would need to be rich in both types of symbols but not dependent on either one.

This also applies to the brain’s auditory channels.  Hearing the rush of a fast stream is quite different than reading a description of it.  And, unless you had some prior experience with flowing water, you would be hard pressed to conjure up a meaningful interpretation from a description.  This makes the transformation of information most complex.  A lot gets lost in translation.  If you think you are teaching something, you better be aware that the learner’s experiences play a large part in understanding the lesson.

So, how have I done?  Have I accomplished my purpose to get you thinking about the difference between teaching and learning because of the difference between therotical and symbolic symbols. Next blog on this subject I will discuss working with a group of students at one time when some that can see but can’t hear and some that can hear but can’t see. That is what a teacher is faced with each day.

Rise of the Machine Age

Posted: February 12, 2012 in Philosophy, psychology
Tags: , , ,

You can write this off to my enjoyment of science fiction if you like.  The predictive ability of future prognosticators is notoriously poor so you can ignore me on that basis if you like.  But, I think the facts about the direction of our world situation make this scenario plausible if not exactly on target.  They are:
1) There is an ever increasing demand for oil which is a depletable resource.  Known resources are limited.
2)  The population of the world continues to increase and there is a limit to its growth.  The resources of the earth are not infinite.  The larger the population, the faster resources are depleted.
3)  Most people don’t care about what will happen in a 100 years.  Most of us only care what will happen in our lifetime.  This makes the first two facts of little concern to most people.
4) Human caused or natural, the warming of the planet several degrees will not allow humans to sustain their current rate of growth.
5) Information technology, materials engineering, and robotic technology are advancing at an enormous rate.
6) The economic systems and human systems addicted to the concept of growth is unlikely to change without external pressure to do so.  The pressure could come too late to save the human race or at least most of it.

We like to view the human as the pinnacle of evolutionary achievement or the favored creation of God.  It is hard to reconcile this with the statements above.  Is there anything in the works that might save this evolutionary progress?  Possibly.

We are honing in on artificial intelligence.  We are beginning to understand aspects of consciousness.  We are beginning to create machines that can repair other machines.  We are about to harness a world wide network of intelligence that can be tapped electronically.  Machines are not as sensitive to changes in the environment.  If they acquire intelligence, consciousness, they just may be more rational than humans.  So, when the human race dies out, it will be our creation that takes on the next evolutionary step of the universe.  Who knows, machines which can currently read DNA and store it electronically may in fact create a digital replica to integrate with their design.
Now you think I am crazy?  Well only if you have not engaged in thinking that evolution may not yet be finished.  Only if you just assumed humans were as good as it can get.  Only if you don’t want to think about the sad state of affairs we are making, fouling our own nest, the world.  You may think I am being pessimistic about the future.  In fact, it seems to me I am being optimistic thinking that there just might be something in the future that will be better, fairer, more just, smarter, and concerned about consequences than the current model of human.  If an intelligent robot could be repaired indefinitely, its longer view time horizon might make it much more serious about treating the world better.  And, as a machine, it would be in much better condition to explore other worlds. We won’t be around to see if any of this makes sense, but we still have hope the ingenuity of the human species won’t be wasted in a grand global melt down.

 For an excellent video to see why I hold these beliefs, go to

I was fortunate the other day to join a discussion by several workers in the home energy renovation business — the workers, not their bosses or business owners.  It had not occurred to me that because of their level of pay, they were renters.  I have been a home owner for many years, so I guess I never thought deeply about who is not going to be able to own their own home and has to rent.

The house my wife and I bought in Oregon was built in the late 90’s. It has insulation in the floors, walls, and water pipes.  It has several large windows, but they are all double pane and insulate pretty well.  My energy cost, even in cold weather is reasonable.  I think about energy cost when I get my bills for gas and electricity, but not that much between bills.

Landlords who own property to rent generally are expecting to make money on their investment.  They have to keep the property up enough to sustain the level of rent they want to earn.  But one of the hidden costs not included in the rent is the cost to hear and cool an apartment.  If you plan to rent an apartment, you definitely know ahead of time the price of the rent.  However, you don’t know the energy cost.

The energy workers were frustrated.  They were retrofitting peoples homes, but since they had to rent, there was not that much they could do to their own living arrangements.  And, they claimed they were living in high energy cost dwellings.  That’s frustrating.  But, they had an idea.  What if to be listed in the multiple listing service, a rental property had to report not just the rent, but an energy rating so apartments could be compared not only on rent, but the cost of heating and cooling.

I realized that when I have bought and sold homes as I moved, I had asked for that information in the form of the last year’s energy bills.  But it would be better if the multiple listing contained an energy rating.  You know, if that were true, market forces would suddenly come to play in favor of retrofits to save energy.  Instead of ignoring the damage that inefficient use of energy was doing to our environment, people would suddenly see the economic advantage of conservation.

So, how about it.  Do you agree?  Lets start an effort to get energy ratings on rental property and home sales, just like you get Energy Star ratings on appliances!

Let’s consider for a moment the problem presented by introducing a new topic to a class via the lecture or teacher presentation/explanation method. This is not a process like memorizing a script and providing an acting performance. It is more like improvisation for which one is familiar with the topic presented. Of course, one prepares by reviewing the material to be explained or presented, but a teacher seldom writes our a script or has a detailed script to work from. A lesson plan at best outlines topics to be presented. Depending on the teacher, it may also involve interaction with the students for which only a limited anticipation for the kinds of questions raised or comments made by students can be planned for, much less scripted. In cases where the teacher has a great deal of experience in the topic, they may indeed be able to anticipate most of what will be said and what questions will be asked. With experience, the teacher can ad hoc discuss/present considerable detail on their subject at hand.

If a teacher is particularly skilled at constructing a compelling story to go along with the topic, they may in fact provide an engaging presentation or lecture. Consider that some presentations are considered so compelling they have been recorded and are sold for subsequent replay because of their quality. These cases, unfortunately, are few and far between. So, is this description a criticism of the current state of teacher prepared presentations? Yes and No. What is being illustrated is a contrast between teacher led lectures and presentations and something students have access to outside the school setting.

Consider the work that goes into the creation of a modern day hour long television drama. If you look at the list of people given credit for the program, you get the idea that it takes many people and lots of equipment. It takes script writers, usually a team of them. At times, it requires content expertise advice to guide the script. It takes people to screen for appropriate and talented actors to act out the script. It takes rehearsals. It takes stage craft crews. It takes people to secure funding for what is likely to cost many thousands of dollars. Because this show will be viewed by thousands of people, they can interest advertisers in sponsoring it in return for their commercials which themselves cost thousands of dollars to prepare. The commercials also require psychologists to advise on the impact of the ad. The students in a class listening to a teacher is aware, if not consciously at least subconsciously, of the contrast between the low cost presentation by the teacher and the high cost presentation of their favorite TV program.

Generally, the teacher can not compete and is it any wonder that given a choice, a student would select even a low budget TV show over a teachers presentation. Furthermore, consider the level of interaction that a student can expect from a lecture. Little to none. If a teacher has 30 students in a class and 60 minutes in a class session, at most, each student can be given 2 minutes of individual attention. So, when it comes to asking questions and getting answers, students better hope someone asks the questions they need answered because odds are, there will be no time for them to get their own question answered. Either the lecture needs to be so good it anticipates everyone’s questions, or the right students are called on to frame questions for the rest of the class. Compare the mental engagement that instant messages and tweets and other modern means of communication with cell phones provide with sitting quietly trying to listen to a lecture prepared with a very low budget by a teacher that has to prepare presentations virtually daily? There is no comparison.

The idea that one teacher in a self-contained classroom can be successful reaching all their students via presentations and lectures given the current competition for attention and the comparative cost of preparing TV programs is just ludicrous. Television, interactive games, cell phones and the instant transmission and receipt of messages have made the teacher made presentations obsolete and the students get that and are turned off by the current educational methodologies. The world has changed but our way of systematic teaching has not. We are in desperate need for some new way to educate our population. Granted, teacher lecture or presentation is not the only thing that goes on in the educational process, but at least this part of it no longer meets the needs of our society, the schools, or the students we are trying to educate. We are in need of a new model.  I wish, in this case, that I knew the answer.

I have heard the story, and repeated it myself a number of times, about how the position of Superintendent of Schools got started. It makes sense to me. It goes something like this.

Somewhere, sometime in the past, there was a small school that had a single teacher for all the grades, a typical one-room school house. In the winter, in addition to the responsibility to teach, the teacher had to keep the building warm by keeping the fire going in the pot-belly stove. She, and to begin with they were all women, also had the responsibility to keep the place tidy which included sweeping and emptying the trash as needed. Even at this time, a school board was responsible for hiring the teacher, paying her, and mediating issues of underwriting the costs associated with running a school. Somewhere, someplace, one of these boards, being generous and concerned about the welfare of their teacher, decided to hire someone to help with the chores, do the sweeping and clean up, and keep the stove stoked and ready for school before the teacher even arrived. They were called the school superintendent, what today we would call the custodian. Not to be outdone, this practice caught on, easing the burden on the teacher so she could concentrate on teaching.

In some school, the board happened to hire a rather overqualified and talented person, one with initiative and a outgoing personality. Since this person was not tied down to the classroom, he, most likely a he, socialized with members of the board and discussed the issues of the day including the need to enlarge the school or even build a second one. Before long, the board, feeling the stress of needing to grow, sought some help. They decided to hire this janitor for a bigger role. He was not to be just the custodian, but an adviser to the board since he was in and around the school a lot. In this special relationship with the board, he promoted the idea of a bigger job with more pay as their agent in dealing with the issues of the day. Persuasive, they went along this easy path and hired him. Now, instead of being the school superintendent, he became the Superintendent of the School. Using his special access to the board while the teacher was busy in the classroom, his position became important. It became a filter through which the board understood what was going on in the school. His job developed to be the most important position in that district. At this point, he became the arbiter of information, the boss of the teacher, the chief honcho in the school district. As the schools grew, as they began to hire male teachers, the male teachers began to see administrative positions as the logical way to advance, to make more money, to have power to influence the direction of education. And it was not long before programs to train men how to be administrators developed to provide legitimacy to the role of administrator. Now, the building superintendent is supposed to also be an expert in educational theory as well as finance, and public relations.

This is how I have heard that the building superintendent became the most important person in a school district, a position paying several times what a teacher is paid as though the corporate model was the most appropriate model for education.  An administrator doesn’t have to grade papers or prepare for tomorrows classes.  An administrator can participate in civil sector activities during the day without having to arrange for a substitute.  An administrator doesn’t have to evaluate and grade students although he might have to evaluate teachers.  It is easy to forget what it is like to be a teacher, to prepare for a class knowing that the night before their students probably watched at least one TV show that costs thousands of dollars to produce.

Education would be more effective it administrators taught classes they had to prepare for and teachers would be more effective if part of their time was in participation with the administrative aspects of education.  As described above, we somehow got things mixed up.

Survivors Mess Up

Posted: February 10, 2012 in psychology
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In a previous blog series, I outline my take on the Brain as a Model Builder.  It outlines how the brain contains models based on our experiences fed by sensory input.  It also shows how these models support illusions about the external world.  Survival is a key purpose of this model building.

Have you ever built a toy model?  Sometimes the directions are not all that clear and the result is less than satisfactory.  Have you ever tried to build one from parts but without any pictures of what the result should look like and without any directions?  If not, you can certainly imagine that you would make a few mistakes along the way.  But, is this not a lot like life?  As we try to build our brain models, frequently we have no picture or directions of what the outcome should look like.  And guess what?  We screw up.

We all mess up because we are in survival mode most of the time.  It it is not our physical survival, like eating or sleeping, then its in our social survival, like building relationships.  Building relationships is trying to create in the other person’s brain the development of a favorable model of ourselves.  But what “favorable model” means depends on our own model of just what a reasonable outcome looks like and this can vary substantially from person to person.

In my model world, I make all kinds of allowances for other people to screw up, even screw up over and over.  That’s just me.  My model world tells me it is hard to build good models of the external reality around us and that models interacting with models gets really complicated, even with the best of intentions.  I don’t think the word “forgiveness” quite fits how I think about other peoples modeling failures.  It is more an “allowance” for the complexity of surviving all sorts of model building and maintaining efforts.  I also allow that my own model may be flawed in any number of unobserved-by-me ways.

My challenge to you is to consider your own brain built or  modeling building experience and become more conscious of its built in flaws.  The brain has this one very interesting characteristic, the ability to think about itself — we call introspection.  As I have blogged in my first blog, “There is only ONE thing I KNOW for sure and it is that I don’t KNOW anything else for sure.”  To enhance the quality of life, it is good to think about ones own survival models.

Its not what you know that counts.  It is what you know you don’t know.

Imagine for a moment a petri dish with agar.  That is one of those round clear dishes with a jelly like material that bacteria can use for food.  If you put a couple bacteria in the dish it will multiply until eventually it consumes all the agar.  Then, it dies and the dish can no longer support any bacteria at all.  This is not unlike a cancer that grows until it consumes its host.

The world is like that round petri dish.  The agar is like all its natural resources.  Humans are like the bacteria.  Eventually, if we don’t find a way to limit population and even reduce it, we will consume all its natural resources and like a cancer, both our host and the human race will die off.

Is this so hard to understand?  The world has a cancer and it is us.
How long will it take to either stop the cancer or be the end of Humans?  Maybe the host, earth, will solve the problem with dramatic climate change.  Maybe it will vomit out a super volcano and solve the problem.  Maybe humans will become sane and intervene before it is too late.  Today I would not bet on that solution.

Our culture is based on GROWTH. How much will the stock market grow?  How much can I own?  How can we grow our business?  How can we increase our memberships in our organizations; grow our budgets; pay bigger salaries to ourselves?  How can we grow up?  How much can we consume, eat, wear, etc.  Without growth, so our current “religion of capitalism” dictates, the world stagnates; our standard of living declines; the future is bleak.  We live in a culture where the blind lead the blind.

Since each of us is a short-timer in the history of this planet, we probably won’t suffer any catastrophic cataclysm.  So, we can just continue to ignore any responsibility we might have for the situation and leave it to some future generation to suffer the consequences of our lack of concern or action.  Like I say, “Its all about me.”  Its all about me, right now, who cares about the future that we won’t be around to see?