Thursday, February 19, 2015

Teacher-Student Relationships Ought to be Master-Apprentice Relationships

The ideal teacher-student relationship would be one in which the students chose their teachers and the teachers in turn chose their students, creating a master-apprentice relationship. This would, I think, lead to the kind of educational relationship suggested in my last post.

If students more properly learn through having a close personal relationship with a mentor, the way we teach today simply cannot teach many people very well. And the flat outcomes more than suggest this to be the case. More, as a substitute teacher, I have been listening to middle school and high school students talking about their teachers. I hear students considering teachers as at best people they generally disrespect and don't care about and at worst antagonists. There is no way you are going to learn anything from someone you don't respect, don't care about, or who you think of as an opponent.

But what if students had some say in who their teachers were? What if students were told they could choose a teacher as a mentor, who would help them and guide them? That would mean the students would be more responsible for who they choose as a teacher. There would be more buy-in from the students, and those students would likely have a closer relationship with their teachers. The teachers would also then have more buy-in, since they would more directly care about their students. And the students would know and understand that.

In other words, students would select teachers. But teachers also need to be able to select students. Teachers ought to be able to reject students. This would make it so students know they have to do what is needed to keep their chosen teachers.

I think this could work as early as middle school. And at the university level, you could even introduce the idea of free lance professors. If we reintroduced mentorship, professors could collect students and rent out classrooms at universities, or be able to make a case for getting hired precisely because the can come in with a group of students, demonstrating they will attract students to the university. I think we would have better university professors under such a system. And I think students would learn a great deal more from their professors.

Indeed, if the principle of education is selection rather than instruction, only someone who knows the student well, as we find in a mentorship situation, could know what to select and when. I also suspect that the use of Gravesean psychology would contribute to more proper selection, since one would select psycho-socially appropriate literature, ideas, etc. for the students when they are ready for them. The teacher would thus guide the student toward greater psychsocial complexity. This would mean a complete revamp of education from K through graduate school. It would imply a very different series of works and the kinds of things we ought to be teaching our students. But that's a post for another day.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Education as Selection, Not Instruction

If this idea on education is right, it has profound implications for what should go on in a classroom and between teachers and students. And regarding passing and failing. Our schools are not engaging in selection, but are trying to make sure that everyone survives. But in doing so, the herd immunity is weakened over time, and the population becomes weaker and weaker and weaker. Less and less learning occurs.

This is an idea that needs fleshing out. I read it and the sudden truth of it hit me like a ton of bricks.

Thursday, February 05, 2015

Left vs. Right vs. Reality

The right is rooted in religiosity and aristocracy. In many cases, the latter is rooted in the former, where it is believed that one's rulers are chosen by God. It is believed by those on the right that humans are essentially sinful, meaning humans are essentially anti-social in nature. This means it is important that there be laws created by those closer to God (those chosen by God) to control people, to keep them from acting on their sinful drives. The beliefs of the political right can be rightly understood if we understand these facts.

The left is rooted in the belief that human beings are atomistic individuals, that our natural state is non-social isolation. However, as our population grew, we were forced together, and social structures had to be developed to make a fundamentally nonsocial being get along with other fundamentally nonsocial beings. Since there are many benefits of being social, it is important that people be made to be social, so laws have to be passed to force people to act in pro-social ways. More, morality is what allows us to live in the social environment; if we are not naturally social, we are therefore not naturally moral. Thus, morals have to be enforced by law. The beliefs of the political left can be rightly understood if we understand these facts.

However, evolutionary biology, evolutionary psychology, and ethology have demonstrated that most mammals -- especially primates, most especially apes, and most, most especially humans -- are social. More, morality is a natural, evolved feature of social animals, and human especially. Thus, it is natural for humans to be social and it is natural for humans to be moral. Why, then, do we see people acting immorally? Nobody said humans were perfect. There are inevitably going to be sociopaths within a given population. Also, institutions matter. We can either have institutions that reward sociopathic and immoral behaviors or we can have institutions that reward virtue and transforms problematic behaviors into social goods.

The left and right are wrong about human nature. And they are thus wrong about human sociality, morality, and governance. We need theories of governance, economics, and civil society that are based on our current understandings of human nature.

Friday, January 30, 2015

The Hierarchy of Innovation

There is an interesting piece that applies Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs to technological innovation. Of particular interest is this chart he created:

I would like to apply this to Clare Graves' model of psychosocial emergence, but it doesn't quite match the pyramid. It is obvious that the Tribal level developed Technologies of Survival. In fact, many of those things would have to be pre-Tribal -- pre-human, in fact, when it comes to things like hunting and defense. But the Tribal level is where these things are most thoroughly developed in a human sense.

I think it is also obvious that it was with the emergence of the earliest Heroic levels that Technologies of Social Organization emerged. Farming, war-making as we now understand it, government as we continue to practice it, architecture, religion, market trade, etc. were all developed at this level.

However, it seems that the Authoritative level mostly only managed to firm up the Technologies of Social Organization -- though certainly some Technologies of Prosperity were founded (and some were also founded earlier, during the Heroic level). But Technologies of Prosperity really took off during the Entrepreneurial level.

Technologies of Leisure can also be seen to have been established earlier, but again, things really take off in the transition from the Entrepreneurial level to the Egalitarian level.

Finally, Technologies of the Self have developed during the Egalitarian period, and are a culmination of their narcissism and decadence.

That takes care of Tier 1. The rapid development of each may be more attributable to Renaissance periods between each, or even the first-flowering of each level, but we also see seeds planted earlier. Of course, Gravesean psychology is itself "messy" -- it doesn't really go through perfectly pure stages. The cosmos is messy, life is messy, and we shouldn't expect perfect delineation in our psychological or social models, no matter how much we would like them to do so.

Still, I would like to see a similar Hierarchy of Innovation developed that could map better on Graves' levels. This is close, but doesn't quite make it.

Also, we would have to deal with Tier 2. Obviously the Technologies of Tier 2 Survival would be quite different from those of Tier 1. What does it mean to be in survival mode for Tier 2? What technologies help with that? And what are/will be the new Technologies of Social Organization? One would expect new institutions to arise.

I would argue that they would all be based on scale-free complexity. Tier 1 developed on the basis of hierarchy. Tier 2 will develop on the basis of scale-free networks.

Monday, January 26, 2015

The Trolley Problem and Political Rhetoric

The results and conclusions surrounding The Trolley Problem are highly suggestive about what arguments may or may not work when one is trying to persuade people about something they consider to be an ethical situation.

In The Trolley Problem, you are faced with the following pair of ethical dilemmas.
  1. There is an out-of-control trolley barreling down the tracks toward five people. You can switch the track, but if you do, you will kill one person on the track. Do you switch the track, allowing five to live, but allowing one to die? Or do you not interfere?
  2. There is an out-of-control trolley barreling down the tracks toward five people. You can push someone onto the track to stop the trolley, but if you do, you will kill that person. Do you push the track, allowing five to live, but allowing one to die? Or do you not interfere?
 Most experiments show people will switch the track, but won't push the person, even though the outcome of one dying so five may live is the same. Why the difference?

People view the death of the one from scenario 1 as a side effect of saving the five, while the death of the one from scenario 2 is an intention. That is. in scenario 2, we are using a human being as a means to an end (something Kant argued we should never do, about which it seems most people agree). This is on the case in scenario 1.

This suggests something about how we ought to make arguments about things like the minimum wage.

Most arguments I read about why we should not have a minimum wage involve the argument that it will result in the unemployment of some even as it increases the wages of others.

How does this relate to the Trolley Problem? Simple. The economist who makes this argument is making the argument that the 1 should not be sacrificed for the 5. They are saying you should neither switch the track nor push the man.

But most people do not accept that. Most people think it is okay for the track to be switched. And people view increasing the minimum wage as switching the track. You don't intend to unemploy people with it; it's just a side effect of helping others.

Economists, if they want to make a strong argument that will persuade people to oppose the minimum wage, will have to frame the argument as the minimum wage pushing someone onto the tracks. That is, that the effect of unemploying some people is not a side effect. We have to frame the argument such that people view it as using some people as a means to help other people. The number of people being used by politicians when they raise the minimum wage is quite large, in fact. Not only are unskilled workers being used by politicians to get votes and to raise the incomes of a handful of people, but employers are being used as well. Politicians who raise the minimum wage are using people as means, not ends. They are treating low skilled workers as means, and they are treating business owners as means.

Politicians are always pushing people onto the tracks, but claiming they only switched the tracks. We need to stop agreeing with the politicians about what it is they are doing.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Imitation or Invention in the Arts?

On his Italian Journey, Goethe attended a meeting of the Academy of the Olympians. It appears to have been something like a large-scale “Socrates CafĂ©” – since there were about 500 people in attendance.

The discussion was one which people have been having about art for a while now, and which is worth continued discussion. I particularly like how Goethe puts it:

“Which has been of greater benefit to the Arts – Invention or Imitation? Not a bad idea, for it one treats the alternatives as exclusive, one can go on debating it for centuries” (Part 1, Sept. 22).

Another way of putting it: should one be a classicist or avant garde?

Goethe makes the observation that “By and large, the advocates of Imitation received the greater applause because they voiced what the common herd thinks.” This may give the false impression among those not familiar with his body of work that Goethe fell on the side of Imitation. However, we must not forget that through most of his writing career Goethe was a neoclassicist. But he most certainly started off as an “invention” writer with The Sorrows of Young Werther.

More, I think Goethe is correct in his observation that the alternatives are not exclusive. The best writers have invented new things precisely as they were imitating. Goethe certainly was one such writer. Shakespeare was another. Frederick Turner is yet another. They all drew on classical forms and ideas while inventing new forms and developing new ideas within those formalist constraints. I try.

The combination requires an understanding that using classical forms is not constraining and that it’s not true that it’s all been done. Postmodern artists believe both – that classical forms are constraining and that it’s all been done. You would think that if you think that it’s all been done that you would just write in traditional forms and be a classicist, but that’s not what happened with the postmodernists. They somehow combined their attitude with a rejection of classicism and form. The result is the muddle mess that is postmodern art.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Goethe, Nobility, and the Average Man

I am reading Goethe’s Italian Journey and I must say that it is a true delight. Goethe is the perfect combination of brilliance and humility. He shows his brilliance constantly, from his observations regarding the geology of the regions through which he travels to his observations on the behaviors of the people he meets. With the former, even though he clearly demonstrates his breadth and depth of learning, you do not feel either lectured or condescended to by him.  With the latter, you get insight and judgments combined with real respect for everyone, from pauper to nobility. He is a refreshing tour guide through Italy.

A good example of this combination comes when he is discussing some buildings designed by the Italian architect Palladio, who was a classicist:

 Looking at the noble buildings created by Palladio in this city, and noting how badly they have been defaced already by the filthy habits of men, how most of his projects were far beyond the means of his patrons, how little these precious monuments, designed by a superior mind, are in accord with the life of the average man, one realizes that it is just the same with everything else. One gets small thanks from people when one tries to improve their moral values, to give them a higher conception of themselves and a sense of the truly noble. But if one flatters the “Birds”* with lies, tells them fairy tales, caters daily to their weaknesses, the one is their man. That is why there is so much bad taste in our age. I do not say this to disparage my friends; I only say – that is what they are like, and one must not be surprised if things are as they are. (Part I, Sept. 19)

 Goethe is as correct now as he was in 1786. And if you read Italian Journey, you trust that Goethe truly is not disparaging anyone. Build a truly great, beautiful building in a city – how long before someone defaces it? And why would they? What is it that compels so many of us to see greatness and to want to bring it down a notch? Is it that beauty and greatness make us feel ashamed that we cannot rise to such beauty and greatness, so we turn around and attack and deface in order to bring the thing causing us shame down to our level?

We seek to tear down anything and anyone that seeks to lift us up, to make us better. And we seek to raise up any demagogue who comes along and tells us the lies we want to hear. This is why politicians are popular and poets are not. But then, the poets have mostly become demagogues themselves. Our postmodern kitsch art is demagoguery run wild. It seeks to tear down all beauty it encounters and flatters us with lies, tells us fairy tales, and caters to our weaknesses. A poem or a building that gave people “a higher conception of themselves and a sense of the truly noble” would be attacked.

And yet, this is simply how people are. And we shouldn’t be surprised.

Does this mean we should give up? I think it’s clear Goethe would say, “No.” We should not give up. We should not surrender. We should, rather, continue to seek to ennoble our fellow human beings. We have given up too soon. People can be ennobled. I see it all the time. I see it happening throughout history. It is a slow, gradual process. Thus, it is ironic that artists and philosophers have given up on ennobling right when it’s working. Well, perhaps not all of them. While many of us may be like Goethe when he went to hear a popular singer, feeling that “As a “Bird” I feel I am a failure” (Part I, Sept. 20), it is often those popular works – pop culture – which manage to bring everyone else along anyway. This is perhaps precisely because pop artists respect the common people.

Goethe seems to balance himself between the popular and higher values. His art was both extremely popular with everyone and extremely respected by artists everywhere. In this he is much like Shakespeare. They both shared a desire to raise people up, penetrating insights into human nature, and respect for people no matter their station in life. This combination makes them the greatest writers of all time. And this combination – or any one of them, quite frankly – is what is missing in postmodern art and literature. Only rarely have I come across it in any human being. 

* "Birds" is a reference to Goethe's play, an adaptation of Aristophanes' "Birds."