Archive for category teaching + learning

The truth about (American) colleges

Gary North writes regularly for the libertarian, free-market economics website LewRockwell.com. I’ve been impressed by his no-nonsense, fact-filled, humour-laced style (a combination of honest businessman and high-powered professor).

Links in these articles led me to Dr North’s own website. Here, there’s free stuff and a subscribers-only area. The free stuff includes sections on college finances and study habits, both of which I found fascinating. The latter especially I found of potential practical use, especially the sections on note-taking and on writing book reports.

Somewhere amongst the numerous articles and reports, I found a reference to this Forbes article Is College Worth It?, and this New York Times 2006  one on Brand U. This article included the following, which caught my eyes as discussions about changing names (of the department, of the faculty) pop up fairly regularly in formal meetings where I work in Japan.

I RECENTLY did some research for a satirical novel set at a university. The idea was to have a bunch of gags about how colleges prostitute themselves to improve their U.S. News & World Report rankings and keep up a healthy supply of tuition-paying students, while wrapping their craven commercialism in high-minded-sounding academic blather.

I would keep coming up with what I thought were pretty outrageous burlesques of this stuff and then run them by one of my professor friends and he’d say, Oh, yeah, we’re doing that.

One of my best bits, or so I thought, was about how the fictional university in my novel had hired a branding consultant to come up with a new name with the hip, possibility-rich freshness needed to appeal to today’s students. Two weeks later, a friend called to say it was on the front page of The Times: “To Woo Students, Colleges Choose Names That Sell.” Exhibit A was Beaver College, which had changed its name to Arcadia University. Applications doubled.

There was a Japanese newspaper article on specific cases of this type in Japan just a couple of months ago which my wife pointed out to me. I’ll post the link later.

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Bad dependence

James Atherton is a retired teacher and teacher-trainer. He has an extensive website which I’ve referred to before on this blog. I came across this article of his on dependence while looking for something else. It strikes a chord with me because I teach in Japan, where people generally strongly believe that “the dependent leader is supposed to care and not to allow anyone to fall by the wayside.”

Basic Assumption Dependence (baD) occurs when the group behaves as if it has met in order to depend on someone or something.When a class meets, this is true. Students have indeed met in order to depend on, or receive something from, the teacher. This shared assumption is necessary for them to pay respectful attention to what the teacher is trying to teach.

Indeed, the traditional layout of the classroom is often designed to cultivate a degree of Dependence: the teacher may be on a dais, perhaps standing while the students sit and “look up” to her. Even the common-sense notion that they all have to be able to see her and the board supports the Dependence assumption.

The problem arises when it goes beyond appropriate or mature Dependence, and students act as if the teacher were the Fount of all Wisdom, and merely by being in her presence they will be filled with this wisdom. They do not have to do anything (except perhaps take down every word — and I use the word advisedly — “religiously”). In particular they do not have to think.

Before you respond, “chance would be a fine thing!” consider that it does happen — and the rapt attention on the faces of the students is very seductive for the teacher. She responds to their emotional demands and occasional sycophantic questions by lecturing and giving more and more, both in and out of class.

The problem is that the students are not really learning: certainly not at the level of developing their critical faculties, and although the teacher may be buoyed up by their dependence, she may also be drained by it.

Eventually the bubble may burst: the fantasy of the omniscient teacher can no longer be sustained, and the fall can be very destructive and very rapid. Once the Basic Assumption has switched, the teacher’s credibility is compromised and the students’ trust is lost, and it is difficult to re-establish a relationship of realistic dependence.

Assessment is one of the factors which can lead to the collapse of dependence. baD cannot cope with casualties: the dependent leader is supposed to care and not to allow anyone to fall by the wayside. This is not compatible with the judgement inherent in assessment, particularly when the students will seek to show their devotion by parroting their teacher’s words back at her. (Is surface learning one manifestation of excessive and unrealistic dependence?)

Teachers do have to be dependable and trustworthy, but not to the extent of leading students to deny their own capabilities and become utterly dependent. Although it happens less than it did, (as a reflection of the declining status of teachers in our society) managing dependence can be tricky.

                                                             Did I eventually find what I was looking for? Thanks for asking! Yes, <a target="_blank" href="http://www.doceo.co.uk/rbl/stirrup2.htm">I did</a>. I wanted the graphic of the medieval monk lecturing because I want to give my students some tips on being more successful students. <br /><br /><br />

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Something is destroying British education, says former Chief Inspector of Schools

Henry Hazlitt
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Chris Woodhead, a man many teachers loved to hate when he was Chief Inspector of Schools under the Conservative and then Labour governments, 1994-2000, has written a book in which he expresses his views about British education. An excerpt was published in the Times (online), May 10, 2009.

Fifty years ago the novelist and philosopher Iris Murdoch asked whether we could maintain educational standards while making education more “democratic”. The experience of the past 12 years has taught us we cannot.

John Holt, in Freedom and Beyond (1972), wrote about a fallacy of universal education: the idea that if everybody was equally educated, everyone would have a better job. (I don’t have the book, and could only find online this excerpt, which is not quite what I was looking for, but close).

Woodhead, in this excerpt, does not closely examine this fallacy, or delve too deeply into the possible meanings of “democratic”. He refers to Murdoch writing 50 years ago, which certainly predates Holt by about 25 years.

Woodhead goes a little deeper into what he means by freedom:

By freedom I mean an appreciation of what the greatest human beings achieved; a sense of what other people in other ages knew to be important and possible; a liberation from the tyranny of the majority view; a release from the monotony of the quotidian. I want every child, every “disadvantaged” child in particular, to walk as far as they can down that road to freedom.

Why “every disadvantaged child in particular“, and would this mean that disadvantaged children would be given preference (in an ideal, Woodhead world) to others? It’s impossible to tell from this excerpt alone, but leaving that aside, this concept of freedom seems rather threadbare: there is no suggestion, for instance, of the freedom to create new, exciting realities, only a typically conservative reliance on the past – “what the greatest human beings achieved… what people in other ages knew…” Nor is there any awareness of any form of tyranny other than “the majority view”. What about the tyranny of ruling elites, or of the state?

Woodhead goes on for a couple of pages which could easily have been expressed in a single word: egalitarianism.

I am reading a fascinating biography of Murray Rothbard, which mentions an essay of his on egalitarianism (pdf warning). Rothbard is an exciting thinker to read: highly knowledgeable, and with a flowing, readable style which leavens the erudition with a mordant wit. I am looking forward to reading Rothbard’s essay: I expect to learn much about the history of the egalitarian concept, as well as a barrage of solid arguments against it. Another great thinker whose essays and books are available on the Mises Institute website is Henry Hazlitt. In The Science of Thinking, Hazlitt makes this suggestion for choosing what books to read:

you should endeavor to get, in as short a time as possible, the greatest number of important facts and the main outlines of the best that has been thought. So if you sincerely intend to master any subject, the best way to begin is by the selection of the most comprehensive and authoritative work you can secure. … If you take up the most thorough book first you need merely glance through the smaller books, for the chances are that they will contain little that is new to you, unless they happen to be more recent.

I recommend Hazlitt, and Rothbard. If you want to learn about freedom and egalitarianism, reading Rothbard will be more profitable than reading Woodhead.

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More on education

Ludwig von Mises
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I wrote earlier about whether universities have a future, a subject I’m obviously interested in as a I work in one. After writing that entry, I came across these quotes from the Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises on the subject of education and schooling:

It is often asserted that the poor man’s failure in the competition of the market is caused by his lack of education. Equality of opportunity, it is said, could be provided only by making education at every level accessible to all. There prevails today the tendency to reduce all differences among various peoples to their education and to deny the existence of inborn inequalities in intellect, will power, and character. It is not generally realized that education can never be more than indoctrination with theories and ideas already developed. Education, whatever benefits it may confer, is transmission of traditional doctrines and valuations; it is by necessity conservative. It produces imitation and routine, not improvement and progress. Innovators and creative geniuses cannot be reared in schools. They are precisely the men who defy what the school has taught them.

In order to succeed in business a man does not need a degree from a school of business administration. These schools train the subalterns for routine jobs. They certainly do not train entrepreneurs. An entrepreneur cannot be trained. A man becomes an entrepreneur in seizing an opportunity and filling the gap. No special education is required for such a display of keen judgment, foresight, and energy. The most successful businessmen were often uneducated when measured by the scholastic standards of the teaching profession. But they were equal [p. 315] to their social function of adjusting production to the most urgent demand. Because of these merits the consumers chose them for business leadership.
– Human Action, Chapter XV The Market

and

The emphasis laid by sociologists upon mass phenomena and their idolization of the common man are an offshoot of the myth that all men are biologically equal. Whatever differences exist between individuals are caused, it is maintained, by postnatal circumstances. If all people equally enjoyed the benefits of a good education, such differences would never appear. The supporters of this doctrine are at a loss to explain the differences among graduates of the same school and the fact that many who are self-taught far excel the doctors, masters, and bachelors of the most renowned universities. They fail to see that education cannot convey to pupils more than the knowledge of their teachers. Education rears disciples, imitators, and routinists, not pioneers of new ideas and creative geniuses. The schools are not nurseries of progress and improvement but conservatories of tradition and unvarying modes of thought. The mark of the creative mind is that it defies a part of what it has learned or, at least, adds something new to it. One utterly misconstrues the feats of the pioneer in reducing them to the instruction he got from his teachers. No matter how efficient school training may be, it would only produce stagnation, orthodoxy, and rigid pedantry if there were no uncommon men pushing forward beyond the wisdom of their tutors.

It is hardly possible to mistake more thoroughly the meaning of history and the evolution of civilization than by concentrating one’s attention upon mass phenomena and neglecting individual men and their exploits. No mass phenomenon can be adequately treated without analyzing the ideas implied. And no new ideas spring from the mythical mind of the masses.

  • Theory and History, Chapter 11.
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The end of universities

An Oxford degree ceremony — the Pro-Vice-Chanc...
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Been finding a few articles on the end of universities recently.

1) Universities will be “irrelevant” by 2020, says professor. This doesn’t say much that is new (“institutions that do not adapt will will out to those that do”), and I’m still waiting for all these universities to go belly-up and for students to take courses by iPod.

2) Seeing things as they really are. A Forbes article on Peter Drucker and his predictions:

“Thirty years from now the big university campuses will be relics. Universities won’t survive. It’s as large a change as when we first got the printed book. “Do you realize that the cost of higher education has risen as fast as the cost of health care? And for the middle-class family, college education for their children is as much of a necessity as is medical care—without it the kids have no future. “Such totally uncontrollable expenditures, without any visible improvement in either the content or the quality of education, means that the system is rapidly becoming untenable. Higher education is in deep crisis.” Crisis means that things will get either much better or much worse. Things will get much different, Drucker says.

3) Donald Trump vs. The Mandarins. Gary North, a libertarian and Austrian economist, compares the great Chinese bureaucracy with the present-day American educational system, focusing on the MBAs. Apparently, like the expensive running shoes, you don’t necessarily get your money’s worth.

4) The Scourge of University Socialism. THE website for Austrian economics, Mises.org, has an angry blog post about Obama’s wish for government to assume direct responsbility for making student loans. One commenter believes,

The truth is that this has nothing to do with education. This is a method of paying the Teacher’s Union directly from the government. There is always a hidden agenda in anything Obama does because his people know that if he says or does it directly the political backlash will be overwhelming.

3) Will the University Survive? by Tim Swanson. A well-researched article that has, erm, maybe too many hyperlinks, and footnotes. A thorough roundup of the key issues, obviously biased towards the free-market point of view.

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Teaching in Japan: the Way of the Dragon

Cover of the first volume of Dragon Zakura manga
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The scene: a highschool gym which also serves as assembly hall. The hall is filled with rowdy students.  A stranger takes the podium. No-one pays him the slightest attention. He stands there gazing around at the chattering students. “Why don’t you say something?” asks a girl at the front, “you peed in your pants?” “Teachers are teachers, students are students. Pay attention to what I have to say, damn you!” he shouts. The crowd goes silent.

“You all look really stupid. You are going to be losers all your life! I mean, you will be cheated and tricked. Society is run by clever people: they make the rules so that they come out winners and you come out losers.  They create complex systems that are deliberately hard to understand, like taxes, insurance, pay scales, especially for idiots like you for whom thinking is just too much trouble! You end up paying your hard-earned money to the clever folk; they will always be taking you for a ride. If you don’t want that; if you don’t want to spend the rest of your life on the losing side, then there is just one way out: STUDY!!! And I’ll tell you one simple way: go to Todai!”

So begins “Dragon Zakura“, the 2005 TBS drama (based on a manga by Mita Norifusa) of a man who dreams up a scheme to save his lawyer business by turning around a failing high school that he is assigned to close down, and sending 5 of its students every year to the most prestigious university in the country – Tokyo University (Todai).

The series gives an interesting insight into the realities of high school life in Japan, as well as common attitudes towards education and society. I found Sakuragi’s attitudes and values refreshing: he hates the word “gambare”; he refuses to run after tearful students who run out of the classroom; he frequently makes bets with others about student outcomes; rather than supporting students with “encouraging” words, he prefers them to face reality as quickly and directly as possible; he believes, and tells students, that society is run by the clever, who make the rules and exploit the others; if students want to change this, they have only one choice: educate themselves.

The strongly individualist and rational lawyer Sakuragi Kenji himself takes on the job of teaching the “special class” (those going to Todai) , as no-one else in the school will take the responsbility. In the process, he comes up against a lot of opposition: from the other teachers, the students themselves, the chair of the board of governors, and the students’ parents. Each of these people or groups of people represent different philosophical positions; they act as philosophical “foils” for the lawyer Sakuragi, and help to clarify the principles his values are based on.

Here are a few points of opposition. The interesting thing about these is that they are mostly drawn from “mainstream thinking”; they represent the “norm”, the majority opinion, the accepted wisdom of today.

  • “Adults should always praise students/children”. Sakuragi’s communications with his students are frequently shouted and often contain the word “idiot!” (In a scene with the students’ parents, he challenges them on their ways of raising their children.)
  • “Teachers should devote themselves to students and do whatever is necessary to help them learn”. This is a recurring theme, and a sentiment frequently repeated by Sakuragi’s unwilling assistant (or slave), Ms Ino. Sakuragi has occasion to throw back at her her own phrase “my beloved students” in a manner which makes clear his contempt for people who use such expressions. At one point he asks, “how long are you going to go on helping them? After they’ve graduated, even?”
  • “An attractive school (i.e. a “good” one)  is one which respects students’ individuality and develops their humanity, empathy and kindness”. This sentiment is expressed in similar language in just about every school’s prospectus around the country. Sakuragi pointedly asks the teacher who proposes this kind of educational philosoph what her particular value as an educator is – her individuality? Her humanity? As she stumbles for an answer, Sakuragi dismisses her proposal as vague and such thinking as partly responsible for bringing about the school’s ruin. She demands to know what HE thinks would make the school attractive to prospective students, and he replies “getting 100 graduates into Todai.” Education is a business, he states, and figures prove competitiveness.
  • “Adults should not raise false hopes in students but should keep their ambitions realistic”. Sakuragi – people underestimate students and then they can’t see their unlimited possibilities.
  • “Heart is more important than the head.” There’s  a scene where the students get emotional and angry and confront Sakuragi. His response: “that’s right – let yourself be ruled by your emotions. That’s the way to stay stupid and exploited like you have been up to now!” This is unusual for a Japanese drama, in my limited experience: most of them rely on sentiment to attract viewers and create the dramatic highlights (when this series was on telly 4 years ago, I ignored it, thinking it was another one of those sentimental school stories filled with the usual platitudes about “sentiment is more than skill” or “heart is more important than academic knowledge”.  (Tangential point: a commenter to a review of a book about problem-solving for Japanese teenagers pointed out some revealing sentences in the foreword to the Japanese version; the sentences reveal a common Japanese attitude towards logical thinking).
  • “Sympathy, empathy, supporting each other (i.e. the group) is more important than personal desires or ambition.” In one episode, the students rally round to help out one of their number whose single mother is hospitalized. Ms Ino, predictably, thinks it’s a noble gesture. Sakuragi is not impressed and worries they will merely waste time that could be more profitably spent studying. Contrary to his nature, he is strongly tempted to intervene, but decides against it, well aware of the risk. The arguments pro and con are discussed in two separate conversations Sakuragi has with a couple of teachers.
  • And of course, almost everyone in the drama is intimidated by Todai’s reputation. Sakuragi knows differently. First, Todai these days is not that hard to get into (Sakuragi has done his homework and has the numbers memorized). Secondly, he has little respect for those who are intimidated by reputation: “Most people in Japan suffer from ‘Todai disease!'” he sneers.

The bulk of the series describes the various scientific methods, tricks and tips that Sakuragi and his cohort of eccentrics lay out as a year-long plan of study for 5 (later 6) students who, for various reasons, decide to take up Sakuragi’s challenge (although acceptance of his plan is conditional on getting at least 5 students, he does not make it easy for any of them and lays out their choices with sometimes brutal frankness). The series developed a cult following, and the Mita, author of the original manga, came out with several follow-up books on how to study effectively. The TBS drama starred the 6′ 5″ model and actor Hiroshi Abe as the charismatic Sakuragi.

The DVDs on sale in Japan only have Japanese subtitles (of course), but someone has kindly created English subtitles and gokuesen2gokusen kindly uploaded some (first 3 of the 9) episodes to YouTube. Click the link below.

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What is the value of schooling?

2nd half of 14th century
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I have been visiting the Mises.org website daily since I discovered it a few months ago.

Today, I came across this blog entry by Tim Swanson, Is there a future for b-schools? (= business schools) which led me to this article Did Joseph Wharton Cause the US Financial Meltdown?(Oct. 21, 2008). I don’t have any kind of opinion about business schools, and all I know about the Wharton School is that that is where Catherine Austin Fitts graduated from, but a couple of paragraphs in the article caught my attention, because they refer to a theme I’ve been thinking about a great deal over the last few years: what is the point of going to school?

It is worth noting that among the most highly regarded presidents of the 19th century, only one, Thomas Jefferson, attended college or university. Abraham Lincoln, Andrew Jackson, and Grover Cleveland were all self-educated. These three are generally recognized as more original and independent than most of their executive peers.

and

Andrew Carnegie was a telegrapher and then worked his way up in the Pennsylvania Railroad; his book learning was extensive, but he acquired it from the library, not a blackboard.

I like to tell the story about a good friend of mine, highly educated and intelligent, who graduated from a British university without attending any lectures: being smart, he quickly figured out that the lecturers were all spouting information which was already available in the library, so that was where he spent most of his time (he no doubt had seminars and other small classes which he had to attend).

So, if you can acquire an education without going to school, just by making judicious use of a good library, then what is the point of going to school/university?

Or to ask the question a different way: what (if any) value can a school/university add that a good library can not?

One thing books cannot do is talk back. A book cannot question or challenge the understanding which the reader takes from it; to some extent, a real live teacher can. A teacher can challenge a student’s understanding by asking questions, by requiring the student to express his/her opinions with supporting arguments, a teacher can challenge a student’s reasoning; a book can do none of these things.

This post will be tagged “the bleeding obvious”.

The rest of the article takes a long time to make a fairly simple point: that business schools taught their graduates they could ignore reality, or create their own, and that this led to the financial meltdown. It contains some nuggets, but I’ll blog about them separately. I’m surprised the article made no mention of David X. Li and his mathematical formulae.

A year ago, it was hardly unthinkable that a math wizard like David X. Li migh someday earn a Nobel Prize. After all, financial economists—even Wall Street quants—have received the Nobel in economics before, and Li’s work on measuring risk has had more impact, more quickly, than previous Nobel Prize-winning contributions to the field. Today, though, as dazed bankers, politicians, regulators, and investors survey the wreckage of the biggest financial meltdown since the Great Depression, Li is probably thankful he still has a job in finance at all. Not that his achievement should be dismissed. He took a notoriously tough nut—determining correlation, or how seemingly disparate events are related—and cracked it wide open with a simple and elegant mathematical formula, one that would become ubiquitous in finance worldwide.

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Digital pens and intrusive pedagogy (or good and bad advertising)

penRecently I attended a demonstration of a digital pen by Hitachi (sorry, Japanese-language only) at my university. The plan is to distribute 100 of these digital pens to various teachers and students and see what they come up with in terms of evaluations of its usefulness or new ideas for exploiting this technology. Altho the technology is impressive, I was left rather cold about the possible applications that were outlined by the presenter.
The presentation was given to teachers and staff, and there was much time spent on how having STUDENTS use this could be useful for TEACHERS. The Hitachi digital pen, unlike the the little smartpen from livescribe that Prof. Wesche describes, has no audio-recording facility: it just records what you write. You can send the data either as a jpg or a txt file by email to your computer or cell-phone.
The Hitachi pen records not only what you write, but also how much time you spend writing, how long the pen is (and is not) touching the paper. This data, the presenter told us, could later be analyzed by the teacher to investigate exactly where or at what point students have difficulty in understanding a subject. That put me off right there. Next, we’ll be having students plugged directly into electrodes to “study” (i.e. normalize) how they are (or are not) studying; and giving them electric shocks to keep them concentrating, perhaps.

A further example given was this: a lecturer could analyze the notes taken by students to count the frequency of the lecture’s keywords: did students take accurate notes?
The presentation was of course in Japanese, but I took notes of it mostly in English: had my notes been analyzed in this way, NO keywords would have been found. Or, suppose a note-taker, instead of using the lecturer’s keywords, translated or substituted their own, preferred, terms or expressions? Again, the “keyword analysis” would show very few or no keywords, but this would not necessarily mean that the note-taker had not understood or been delinquent in note-taking.
When I pointed this out, I was told that, in Japan, most university students just take verbatim notes, so this kind of simple analysis was perfectly valid.
On reading Prof. Wesche’s enthusiastic blog entry about the “smartpen“, and watching livescribe’s product demo videos, I find the smartpen more attractive than Hitachi’s digital pen. Is this partly because the Hitachi presentation was pitched to teachers as supervisors of other people (students) using the pen, rather than as direct users of the pen themselves? Perhaps. In any event, I found that emphasis was on the data that can be collected by the pen, rather than on the practical usefulness of the pen as a consumer product. In addition, rather than nurturing student autonomy and independence, collecting and using such data to “help” students seems to me to re-inforce a false belief that is already unfortunately all too prevalent and seems to be gaining rather than losing ground: namely that “education” comes only from licensed and authorized experts who have the learners’ best interests at heart and are therefore justified in almost limitless intrusion into learners’ personal behaviour. Counting how many minutes or seconds a person’s pen is touching the paper, using that information to draw conclusions about that person’s cognitive abilities, then from those conclusions giving guidance or instruction to that person, strikes me as overly authoritarian, if that’s the word I’m looking for. Lines from a song float into my mind: “You raise the blade, you make the change, you re-arrange me till I’m sane”.

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When is a dangerous drug not a dangerous drug?

Judging from this BBC report about the possible downgrading of the drug ‘ecstasy’, the answer would appear to be “when the British government puts it in the ‘dangerous’ category”.

Over the past few months in Japan, there have been a number of cases of young people arrested for possession of marijuana (which name has an interesting etymology) , including university students, which naturally has created a panic mentality amongst university administrators. When an advisory announcement was made by my university, requesting that seminar teachers bring students’ attention to the criminality of drug use. In Japan, cannabis is illegal and possession is a criminal offence.

The advisory notice warned that drug use is illegal, a criminal offence, can lead to addiction, crime and in the worst case, death. The advisory notice made no distinction between “hard” and “soft” drugs (this Wikipedia entry has a very clear and useful Venn diagram which I wish I’d discovered sooner), and lumped cannabis together with glue/thinner, and all manner of depressants and stimulants.

The advisory notice asked full-time teachers, especially seminar teachers, to bring the facts to the attention of students. Although I technically do not have a seminar, I teach a group of 16 students 6 times a week. I took the opportunity to introduce my EFL/cross-cultural classes to the legality of cannabis in different countries, particularly  the UK. It was educational, for me as well as for the students.

Students found it interesting to learn that the penalties for cannabis use vary widely around the world, being less strict in the UK (compared to Japan) and rather more strict in China. In the UK, the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs had advised (since 1979!) that cannabis be classified as Grade C, which it eventually was in 2004. However, the council’s recommendation was overruled and it was reclassified as a Class B in January, 2009.

And today the BBC writes about another drug which the government is trying to reclassify, once more against the advice of its scientific advisory panel. Not only that, but one of panel is forced to apologize after remarking that ecstasy is less dangerous than horse-riding. Yes! What a ridiculous notion! Typical egg-head nonsense!

Horse-riding deaths: 100/year. Ecstasy deaths: 30/year.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: My recommendations above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive a commission. Your cost will be the same as if you order directly. I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. This disclosure is in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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HAPPY NEW YEAR 2009!!


HAPPY NEW YEAR 2009!!

Originally uploaded by amayzu

Best wishes for the new year.

Here’s a roundup of blogs and websites I’ve been visiting over the break.

The winter break here in Japan starts Jan 1 and this year lasted until today, Sunday 4th. Most schools and businesses restart Monday 5th. If you’d like to read a long-term non-Japanese resident of Japan’s thoughts on what Christmas and New Year are like in Japan, as well as read some in-depth analysis about Japanese society and culture, I recommend Ampontan. I subscribe to just 6 English blogs and news sources for news about Japan, including Ampontan and view them in iGoogle, which allows me to see the 3 latest headlines at a glance and decide whether or not I want to read them (click on the image below to see a larger version):

I watch just 3 sites for UK/World news:

I notice from the BBC UK site that Gordon Brown is “to create 100,000 new jobs”. Homework assignment: compare that item of news with this May 1988 analysis by libertarian economist Walter Block on How the market creates jobs and the government destroys them – in particular, read these two opening paragraphs, then give your opinion:

If the media tell us that “the opening of XYZ mill has created 1,000 new Jobs,” we give a cheer. When the ABC company closes and 500 jobs are lost, we’re sad. The politician who can provide a subsidy to save ABC is almost assured of wide-spread public-support for his work in preserving jobs.

But jobs in and of themselves do not guarantee well-being. Suppose that the employment is to dig huge holes and filll them up again? What if the workers manufacture goods and services that no one wants to purchase? In the Soviet Union, which boasted of giving every worker a job, many jobs were just this unproductive. Production is everything, and jobs are nothing but a means toward that end.

I subscribe to 6 blogs; all are about teaching and learning, and all are in my iGoogle which gives me the headlines and lets me read the content if I hover my mouse over the headline. Very neat: do I want to click and read more, or not? I can make the judgement in the a second.

  • Digital Ethnography – blog by Michael Wesch, Prof. of Anthropology at Kansas State U and author of a few hugely successful viral videos on YouTube (e.g. The Machine is Us/using Us and A Vision of Students Today), a tool he uses for his research and teaching; Wesch does not blog here very often, but when he does, it’s usually worth reading. Here’s his latest: Participatory Media Literacy – why it matters Money quote: ” We use social media in the classroom not because our students use it, but because we are afraid that social media might be using them – that they are using social media blindly, without recognition of the new challenges and opportunities they might create.”
  • dougbelshaw.com – blog of a history teacher in the UK who is tech-savvy and using Internet technology in his classes, while working on his Ed.D on media literacy. A highly creative dude, and he’s only 28. I see he’s used his winter break to create a cool new flash page for his site.
  • elearnr – Doug’s “other” website, a staff development blog. Less active than his main blog, but I follow it because it tells me (the non-geek) about new technology for teachers in words of one-syllable or less.
  • It Shouldn’t Happen to a Teacher – a young math teacher in the UK. Hilarious.
  • Recent Reflection – James Atherton’s blog, a (retired?) teacher and teacher-trainer. Blogs about once a week. Always thoughtful and thought-provoking, usually with links to a book or news article that caught his eye. Check out his two main blogs, Doceo and learningandteaching, packed with fascinating essays on teaching and learning, including his sometimes contrarian views on “learning styles” etc.
  • Schoolgate – (London) Times journalist Sarah Ebner’s blog about what teachers and parents are talking about. The comments are almost always interesting and well-informed. The blog includes links to UK educational news and commentary.

So, three main categories, and a max of 6 blogs in each. That seems to be about what I can handle. Every month or so, I add and delete some blogs or resources, but usually end up with about the same number as before.

Through the writings of Ayn Rand (first the fiction, then the non-fiction), I discovered Austrian economist Friedrich Hayek and eventually the Mises Institute, which is a treasure-trove of essays, blog-posts, and resources on Austrian economics and libertarianism. Although I don’t count myself a convert, I found almost everything on this site to make fascinating, thought-provoking and topical reading. I hadn’t realized economics was so closely allied to ethics and philosophy, nor that all those three fields could be so fascinating. It helps that many of the writers have a strong sense of humour.


I recommend the following digital products: WP GDPR Fix, a WordPress plugin that quickly and easily helps you make your WP blog GDPR compliant. Brett Kelly's "Evernote Essentials", Dan Gold's $5 guides to Getting Everything Done with Evernote and Springpad, and DocumentSnap Solutions' Paperless Document Organization Guides. Be sure to try DocumentSnap's free email course on going paperless first before buying his products. Sign up for it on his homepage.
Disclosure of Material Connection: My recommendations above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive a commission. Your cost will be the same as if you order directly. I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. This disclosure is in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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