Friday, March 28, 2014

Filling the Swiss Cheese Holes

A major problem with our current one-size-fits-all education is the gaps that occur in learning. Thirty or forty kids are presented with material at one time. They may work on some problems or research one topic, but then the instructor moves on. Those who don’t get it fall behind. Even those who do get most of the material, move on with what Salman Khan calls Swiss-cheese-like holes in their learning.

Khan has the solution for filling the holes. It is a technological solution, as many before him have promoted, but this one may stick in certain subjects.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Plagiarism—Beyond a Reasonable Doubt

Plagiarism is the unacknowledged, intentionally deceptive use of another’s words or ideas. It is not easy to prove.

Those who seek to punish guilty parties—teachers, in particular—need to be aware of the difficulties of proof, lest they become guilty of committing injustices to their students.

The mere fact that a paper “looks better than it should be,” considering the student who wrote it, or “looks like it was copied from someone else’s paper” does not provide prima facie proof of wrongdoing.

Friday, January 24, 2014

How the Government Kills Industries

Growing up in a small midwestern town in the 1950’s, I had two fantasies: traveling the country someday as member of the saxophone section of a big band and traveling to far away places on sleek, swift passenger trains. At some point in my adolescence I came to the considerably disappointing realization that both industries were dying, if not already halfway in the ground. As a result, I felt compelled to switch interests to other areas.

The government played no small part in destroying both the big bands and railroads, especially the passenger trains.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Parents: Be Your Children’s Friend—Give Them the Easy Life

“It's not our job to be our children's friend and make life easy for them,” so states a mom blogger recently. She is apparently responding to the modern disease known as “helicoptering,” the parental behavior of hovering over one’s children to make sure they suffer no pain in life.

Many issues are raised in the above false dichotomy. Let me focus on friendship and the easy life.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Evita: Why We Love That Musical about a Dictator

Facts don’t matter . . . in art.

I recently attended a touring performance of the musical Evita by Andrew Lloyd Weber and Tim Rice. The production debuted in London’s West End in 1978 and on Broadway in 1979. The show loosely chronicles the rise and short political life of Eva Peron, wife of Argentinian dictator Juan Peron. It is an operatic rags-to-riches love story that ends with cathartic tragedy when the heroine dies of cancer at age 33. The production comes complete with Greek chorus in the form of the character, narrator-critic Che.

Heroine? Therein lies the debate. Can the wife of a dictator be admired, and therefore her artistic portrayal enjoyed, while a talented, professional cast sings and dances to beautiful music in her name?

Monday, October 14, 2013

Return of the Blackshirts?

The attire of armed paramilitary squads in Mussolini’s Italy were known as Blackshirts (1, 2). Their wardrobe and behavior were later adopted by other militant fascists, especially the German Schutzstaffel (SS).

These groups of young men were known for gleefully shooting innocent victims first and asking questions later.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Facts Don’t Matter, Or: The Art of BS

On numerous occasions in the very political world of academic bureaucracy I have been known to express dismay over less than accurate statements made by my colleagues. On almost just as many occasions one colleague and dear friend has promptly looked me straight in the eye and said, “Facts don’t matter!”

The word “politics,” when used in “academic politics” or “company politics” or the real-thing “political politics,” means maneuvering for advantage without regard for merit or ability. It means one-upping others through connections or favors to get what the politician wants. It means acquiring unearned power over others.* With merit or ability removed from the equation, it means that facts don’t matter.

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

In Praise of Quitters and Failures

“What are you? A quitter??”

These warm words of support, heard by many children, adolescents, and even adults who have dared to vacate an activity, speak volumes about the speaker, not the quitter or failure. The activity left behind may have been the Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts, a sport, a college, or a job.

Quitting and failing is a natural part of life. Bill Gates quit; so did Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg, to mention three notable quitters. And entrepreneurs are notorious failures, failing many times at ventures before, during, and after their successes.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Virulent Absolutism in an Age of Relativism

In today’s world of ethical relativism we seem confronted with the incongruity of a militant and unapologetic self-righteousness.

This should come as no surprise. Relativism argues that there are no objective or universal moral values, because values are dependent on, and therefore relative to, such things as culture, social class, race, gender, ethnic group, or time period. Nothing is absolute and anything goes.

Monday, June 24, 2013

The Sovietization of Federal Law

“Show me the man and I’ll find you the crime.”

That paean to non-objective law is attributed to Lavrenti Beria, Joseph Stalin’s chief of secret police. It is cited by Harvard Law School professor Alan Dershowitz in his foreword to Three Felonies a Day: How the Feds Target the Innocent, by Harvey Silverglate (p. xxxvi).

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