Author Topic: We Pretend to Teach, They Pretend to Learn  (Read 3575 times)

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Offline Rapunzel

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We Pretend to Teach, They Pretend to Learn
« on: December 29, 2013, 08:25:53 PM »
http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702303531204579204201833906182

We Pretend to Teach, They Pretend to Learn
At colleges today, all parties are strongly incentivized to maintain low standards.

Geoffrey L. Collier
Dec. 26, 2013 7:24 p.m. ET

The parlous state of American higher education has been widely noted, but the view from the trenches is far more troubling than can be characterized by measured prose. With most students on winter break and colleges largely shut down, the lull presents an opportunity for damage assessment.

The flood of books detailing the problems includes the representative titles "Bad Students, Not Bad Schools" and "The Five Year Party." To list only the principal faults: Students arrive woefully academically unprepared; students study little, party much and lack any semblance of internalized discipline; pride in work is supplanted by expediency; and the whole enterprise is treated as a system to be gamed in which plagiarism and cheating abound.

The problems stem from two attitudes. Social preoccupations trump the academic part of residential education, which occupies precious little of students' time or emotions. Second, students' view of education is strictly instrumental and credentialist. They regard the entire enterprise as a series of hoops they must jump through to obtain their 120 credits, which they blindly view as an automatic licensure for adulthood and a good job, an increasingly problematic belief.

Education thus has degenerated into a game of "trap the rat," whereby the student and instructor view each other as adversaries. Winning or losing is determined by how much the students can be forced to study. This will never be a formula for excellence, which requires intense focus, discipline and diligence that are utterly lacking among our distracted, indifferent students. Such diligence requires emotional engagement. Engagement could be with the material, the professors, or even a competitive goal, but the idea that students can obtain a serious education even with their disengaged, credentialist attitudes is a delusion.

The professoriate plays along because teachers know they have a good racket going. They would rather be refining their research or their backhand than attending to tedious undergraduates. The result is an implicit mutually assured nondestruction pact in which the students and faculty ignore each other to the best of their abilities. This disengagement guarantees poor outcomes, as well as the eventual replacement of the professoriate by technology. When professors don't even know your name, they become remote figures of ridicule and tedium and are viewed as part of a system to be played rather than a useful resource.

To be fair, cadres of indefatigable souls labor tirelessly in thankless ignominy in the bowels of sundry ivory dungeons. Jokers in a deck stacked against them, they are ensnared in a classic reward system from hell.

All parties are strongly incentivized to maintain low standards. It is well known that friendly, entertaining professors make for a pleasant classroom, good reviews and minimal complaints. Contrarily, faculty have no incentives to punish plagiarism and cheating, to flunk students or to write negative letters of reference, to assiduously mark up illiterate prose in lieu of merely adding a grade and a few comments, or to enforce standards generally. Indeed, these acts are rarely rewarded but frequently punished, even litigated. Mass failure, always a temptation, is not an option. Under this regimen, it is a testament to the faculty that any standards remain at all.

As tuition has skyrocketed, education has shifted from being a public good to a private, consumer product. Students are induced into debt because they are repeatedly bludgeoned with news about the average-income increments that accrue to additional education. This is exacerbated by the ready availability of student loans, obligations that cannot be discharged in bankruptcy.

In parallel, successive generations of students have become increasingly consumerist in their attitudes, and all but the most well-heeled institutions readily give the consumers what they want in order to generate tuition revenue. Competition for students forces universities to invest in and promote their recreational value. Perhaps the largest scam is that these institutions have an incentive to retain paying students who have little chance of graduating. This is presented as a kindness under the guise of "student retention." The student, or the taxpayer in the case of default, ends up holding the bag, whereas the institution gets off scot free. Withholding government funding from institutions with low graduation rates would only encourage the further abandonment of standards.

So students get what they want: a "five year party" eventuating in painlessly achieved "Wizard of Oz" diplomas. This creates a classic tragedy of the commons in which individuals overuse a shared resource—in this case the market value of the sheepskin. Students, implicitly following the screening theory that credentials are little more than signals of intelligence and personal qualities, follow a mini-max strategy: minimize the effort, maximize the probability of obtaining a degree. The decrement in the value of the sheepskin inflicted by each student is small, but the cumulative effect is that the resource will become valueless.

The body politic lately has become aware of the cracks in this game. With about half of college graduates under 25 currently unemployed or underemployed, the income advantage of a four-year degree may be on the decline. Employers are justifiably fed up with college graduates lacking basic knowledge, to say nothing of good work habits and intellectual discipline. Yet the perennial impulse toward bureaucratic command-and-control solutions, such as universal standardized testing or standardized grade-point averages, only leads in the direction of more credentialism.

If the body politic desires this, so be it. However, these are essentially supply-side solutions, in that they attempt to staunch the supply of poorly prepared students or increase the supply of well-prepared students. Such approaches are notoriously problematic, as in the classic case of black markets.

Better to address the demand side. To be sure, there is plenty of student demand for credentials, but there is little demand for the rigor that the credentials putatively represent. Rather than more attempts at controlling output quality through standardization, what are needed are input changes provided by creative alternative routes to adulthood that young people find attractive; a "pull" rather than a "push." It would be helpful, too, if faculty started viewing undergraduates less as whining boors and more as lost souls who have been scandalously misguided by a feel-good "everyone's a star" culture.

Dr. Collier is a psychology professor at South Carolina State University in Orangeburg, S.C.
“The time is now near at hand which must probably determine, whether Americans are to be, Freemen, or Slaves.” G Washington July 2, 1776

Offline mountaineer

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Re: We Pretend to Teach, They Pretend to Learn
« Reply #1 on: December 30, 2013, 06:56:37 PM »
There are quite a few broad generalizations in this piece.
Quote
The professoriate plays along because teachers know they have a good racket going. They would rather be refining their research or their backhand than attending to tedious undergraduates.
Maybe the author describes himself, but there certainly are many professors - especially at smaller schools - who truly care about their students and don't consider teaching tedium.

Quote
All parties are strongly incentivized to maintain low standards. It is well known that friendly, entertaining professors make for a pleasant classroom, good reviews and minimal complaints. Contrarily, faculty have no incentives to punish plagiarism and cheating, to flunk students or to write negative letters of reference, to assiduously mark up illiterate prose in lieu of merely adding a grade and a few comments, or to enforce standards generally. Indeed, these acts are rarely rewarded but frequently punished, even litigated. Mass failure, always a temptation, is not an option. Under this regimen, it is a testament to the faculty that any standards remain at all.
If that describes SCSU, then the governing boards should step in. Yes, there are professors at every school who would rather be liked than challenge their students. But that  certainly doesn't describe all of the faculty at the small state university where Mr. M works. Students who don't do the work, who cheat, who don't make the grade certainly do fail at his school. They screw up, they don't graduate. Granted, their helicopter parents usually swoop in at that point to whine that their little baby should be handed a diploma anyway, but it doesn't work that way.

Quote
Employers are justifiably fed up with college graduates lacking basic knowledge, to say nothing of good work habits and intellectual discipline.
I will agree that students are graduating with poor writing skills from colleges far and wide, but work habits and intellectual discipline are things they should have developed K-12. Look at the parents - not the college.
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Offline Rapunzel

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Re: We Pretend to Teach, They Pretend to Learn
« Reply #2 on: December 30, 2013, 07:15:24 PM »

I will agree that students are graduating with poor writing skills from colleges far and wide, but work habits and intellectual discipline are things they should have developed K-12. Look at the parents - not the college.

This is what my friend was saying the other evening.  These kids are graduating from grade to grade without being able to perform the work required of the graduating grade.  We are doing these kids and our society a great disservice by just pushing them forward rather than hold them back to learn the material - and yes, the parents are as much to blame as anyone.
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Offline Rapunzel

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Re: We Pretend to Teach, They Pretend to Learn
« Reply #3 on: December 30, 2013, 07:22:33 PM »
Wilkow is doing the entire hour with Carol Burris - an educator who originally wrote a book in favor of Common Core and is now against CC... she said one thing they did was back into the curriculum starting at the senior year and saying this is where we want students to be and then backed down to Kindergarten from there. As she points out - kids don't grow backward - they grow forward - and this method is pushing the youngest kids to do things they are not developmentally capable of doing.  It is also test, test, test.... and everything has been rushed and is turning out to be unusable and a ton of money has been and is being wasted.
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Re: We Pretend to Teach, They Pretend to Learn
« Reply #4 on: December 30, 2013, 09:14:32 PM »
In theory, education is an easy fix.

Firstly - decouple college teaching from research. Most researchers are terrible teachers. Mountaineer can back me on this - if someone is researching, be it a single year from the 1300's or a metabolic pathway, they are a little on the distracted side when it comes to imparting information. So - create a second level. Teaching professors and research professors. Let the students compete to work with the research professors. Most people love to learn, no matter what their age, but they love to learn new things, not crap that is already in the book.

Which brings me to my second point. You are not going to have engaged college students if you don't respect all three legs of lower education.

Facts: Facts are the core to an education. Yet pumping fact in to a kid, for it to be vomited back up onto an exam paper is not sufficient. Spend more time on the relationship between the facts. Insist on the kids learning to both read and write fluently and grammatically. That is some voodoo magic right there. Insist on basic numeracy.

Critical Thought: Hey, it's in the book it must be true. People here are awake and aware of just how wrong that is, but were you ever actually taught how to think? Not the group think of approved stances we complain about, but actual working from first principles to a conclusion. I'm betting the answer is no for a good 99% of readers and posters here - and in the main, they are people who do that. They had to teach themselves.

Creativity: People are creative. Kids are incredibly creative, since the entire world is magic to them. Use it.
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Offline Rapunzel

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Re: We Pretend to Teach, They Pretend to Learn
« Reply #5 on: December 30, 2013, 09:27:12 PM »
Creativity: People are creative. Kids are incredibly creative, since the entire world is magic to them. Use it.

Common Core is one size fits all..   no room for taking the individual into consideration.
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Re: We Pretend to Teach, They Pretend to Learn
« Reply #6 on: December 30, 2013, 09:46:22 PM »
Common Core is one size fits all..   no room for taking the individual into consideration.

When it really takes hold, like our National Curriculum (very similar) - forget about no room. You will get penalized and downchecked on your assessments for even trying as a teacher.
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Offline massadvj

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Re: We Pretend to Teach, They Pretend to Learn
« Reply #7 on: December 30, 2013, 10:04:37 PM »
As a college professor I'd be remiss if I didn't point out that while I agree with the article, I do know where my bread is buttered.  The students WANT the credentials and they don't want to have to work for them.  The path of least resistance is to lower standards and keep the gravy train rolling.

Virtually every power center in the university -- including the athletic teams, the administration and the students -- push for lower standards and easier grading.  If the faculty gives in (and many do) then there is no one left who cares a twig about academics, except maybe the alumni (at least those not interested in football) and the companies that employ our graduates. 

This is why grade inflation has been trending the way it has, and student performance going the other way.
« Last Edit: December 30, 2013, 10:11:12 PM by massadvj »
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Re: We Pretend to Teach, They Pretend to Learn
« Reply #8 on: December 30, 2013, 10:17:02 PM »
Creativity: People are creative. Kids are incredibly creative, since the entire world is magic to them. Use it.

Common Core is one size fits all..   no room for taking the individual into consideration.

I respectfully disagree.  The common core standards don't dictate how the goals are reached, just the goals that should be reached.  In some of the schools that are adapting to common core they expect the teachers to blend the better parts of the various prepackaged curricula into their own individual curriculum so that the teacher is still teaching to the students, not at the students.

Offline Luis Gonzalez

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Re: We Pretend to Teach, They Pretend to Learn
« Reply #9 on: December 30, 2013, 10:21:38 PM »
As a college professor I'd be remiss if I didn't point out that while I agree with the article, I do know where my bread is buttered.  The students WANT the credentials and they don't want to have to work for them.  The path of least resistance is to lower standards and keep the gravy train rolling.

Virtually every power center in the university -- including the athletic teams, the administration and the students -- push for lower standards and easier grading.  If the faculty gives in (and many do) then there is no one left who cares a twig about academics, except maybe the alumni (at least those not interested in football) and the companies that employ our graduates. 

This is why grade inflation has been trending the way it has, and student performance going the other way.

Are you a fan of SciFi?
“[Euthanasia] is what any State medical service has sooner or later got to face. If you are going to be kept alive in institutions run by and paid for by the State, you must accept the State’s right to economize when necessary …” The Ministry of Fear by Graham Green (New York: Penguin Books [1943] 2005, p. 165).

Offline massadvj

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Re: We Pretend to Teach, They Pretend to Learn
« Reply #10 on: December 31, 2013, 07:39:21 AM »
Are you a fan of SciFi?

I like Star Trek Next Gen, and some other things in the genre.  I enjoyed the book "Ender's Game."  Why do you ask?
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Offline Luis Gonzalez

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Re: We Pretend to Teach, They Pretend to Learn
« Reply #11 on: December 31, 2013, 08:58:38 AM »
I like Star Trek Next Gen, and some other things in the genre.  I enjoyed the book "Ender's Game."  Why do you ask?


Back in 1951, C.M. Kornbluth wrote a SciFi short story called "The Marching Morons" that could be the scariest SciFi story ever written.

In this story, a man wakes up after an unintended long-term period of suspended animation brought about by a freak accident.

The world he wakes up to is quite bizarre.

It it all starts to make sense when he finds out that the average IQ of the general population is about 45, and that one of the side effects of the lower IQ is a propensity for humans to give free rein to physical drives, with procreation being the strongest of all natural urges. As a result of that the human population stands at 5,003,000,000 people, made up of three million “elite” (people with average IQ of 100) and 5,000,000,000 morons. The elite, understanding that the population growth cannot be sustained, breed at a far slower rate than the morons, but because of that they have become veritable slaves, working feverishly trying to keep the morons from destroying the human race.

Asides from everything that they must do to keep things running, they must also spend every spare minute seeking a solution to what they call the Poprob”.

Their problem is simple:

  • The morons must be managed or they will literally cause billions of deaths, and the eventual destruction of the human race.
  • Sterilizing all the morons is impossible since there aren’t enough “elites” to accomplish that task.
  • Propaganda encouraging responsible sexual behavior and small families doesn't work because the morons can’t fight the higher biological drive that calls for them to procreate.

Sound familiar?

Amazingly enough, the resurrected man quickly finds a simple, yet somewhat harsh solution to the problem.

He proposes a plan to the "elite" that would have them advertise free trips to Venus, a place described as a tropical paradise with blanket trees, ham bushes, and soap roots. In a world-wide frenzy, every nation rushes to get as many of their people to Venus as soon as possible so that they can stake their claim to the free land.

Being built and piloted by morons, every spaceship launched blows up en route and trips to Venus become an effective method of population control.

The story becomes scary when you look into the possibility of something like that happening here, and you run across this chart:


P.S. After the overwhelming success of the plan, the "elite" have the resurrected man killed.
“[Euthanasia] is what any State medical service has sooner or later got to face. If you are going to be kept alive in institutions run by and paid for by the State, you must accept the State’s right to economize when necessary …” The Ministry of Fear by Graham Green (New York: Penguin Books [1943] 2005, p. 165).

Offline aligncare

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Re: We Pretend to Teach, They Pretend to Learn
« Reply #12 on: December 31, 2013, 09:06:13 AM »
Yes, there are professors at every school who would rather be liked than challenge their students.

Grabbed by the title, had to come in.

After getting a BA in communications I floundered for a job in that field. Decided to change career path so went to community college for premed classes before transferring. Foothill community college, Los Altos, CA. Wow! Was impressed by the excellent instructors there. Math, chemistry, biology, zoology, geology, anthropology, all top-notch. Made my first year of med school seem simple.

Imagine. Transferred from a "community" college and kept up with Stanford grads! This from someone who went into the sciences all foam, and no beer. I thank my lucky stars for those instructors. Without whose help I probably would have washed out of med school in the first six months.
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Offline massadvj

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Re: We Pretend to Teach, They Pretend to Learn
« Reply #13 on: December 31, 2013, 09:12:59 AM »
Luis, it doesn't sound all that fictitious to me.
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Offline massadvj

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Re: We Pretend to Teach, They Pretend to Learn
« Reply #14 on: December 31, 2013, 09:14:52 AM »
Grabbed by the title, had to come in.

After getting a BA in communications I floundered for a job in that field. Decided to change career path so went to community college for premed classes before transferring. Foothill community college, Los Altos, CA. Wow! Was impressed by the excellent instructors there. Math, chemistry, biology, zoology, geology, anthropology, all top-notch. Made my first year of med school seem simple.

Imagine. Transferred from a "community" college and kept up with Stanford grads! This from someone who went into the sciences all foam, and no beer. I thank my lucky stars for those instructors. Without whose help I probably would have washed out of med school in the first six months.

I agree with you.  I came up through the community college system myself.  Some of the best instructors I've had were community college teachers.
"She only coughs when she lies."

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Re: We Pretend to Teach, They Pretend to Learn
« Reply #15 on: December 31, 2013, 09:22:47 AM »
In theory, education is an easy fix.

Firstly - decouple college teaching from research. Most researchers are terrible teachers. Mountaineer can back me on this - if someone is researching, be it a single year from the 1300's or a metabolic pathway, they are a little on the distracted side when it comes to imparting information. So - create a second level. Teaching professors and research professors. Let the students compete to work with the research professors. Most people love to learn, no matter what their age, but they love to learn new things, not crap that is already in the book.

Which brings me to my second point. You are not going to have engaged college students if you don't respect all three legs of lower education.

Facts: Facts are the core to an education. Yet pumping fact in to a kid, for it to be vomited back up onto an exam paper is not sufficient. Spend more time on the relationship between the facts. Insist on the kids learning to both read and write fluently and grammatically. That is some voodoo magic right there. Insist on basic numeracy.

Critical Thought: Hey, it's in the book it must be true. People here are awake and aware of just how wrong that is, but were you ever actually taught how to think? Not the group think of approved stances we complain about, but actual working from first principles to a conclusion. I'm betting the answer is no for a good 99% of readers and posters here - and in the main, they are people who do that. They had to teach themselves.

Creativity: People are creative. Kids are incredibly creative, since the entire world is magic to them. Use it.

All of the things your comment puts value on are the very things they want no part of and all the things you would get rid of are the very things they value!

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Re: We Pretend to Teach, They Pretend to Learn
« Reply #16 on: December 31, 2013, 09:25:16 AM »
As a college professor I'd be remiss if I didn't point out that while I agree with the article, I do know where my bread is buttered.  The students WANT the credentials and they don't want to have to work for them.  The path of least resistance is to lower standards and keep the gravy train rolling.

Virtually every power center in the university -- including the athletic teams, the administration and the students -- push for lower standards and easier grading.  If the faculty gives in (and many do) then there is no one left who cares a twig about academics, except maybe the alumni (at least those not interested in football) and the companies that employ our graduates. 

This is why grade inflation has been trending the way it has, and student performance going the other way.

Right on Doc! Having spent 22.5 years at one of those august institutions of "higher" learning I can personally attest to every word you said!

Offline aligncare

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Re: We Pretend to Teach, They Pretend to Learn
« Reply #17 on: December 31, 2013, 09:31:32 AM »
Right on Doc! Having spent 22.5 years at one of those august institutions of "higher" learning I can personally attest to every word you said!

Where you at any point graduated? Or did you retire a professional student?

 :silly:
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Re: We Pretend to Teach, They Pretend to Learn
« Reply #18 on: December 31, 2013, 10:08:33 AM »
Back in 1951, C.M. Kornbluth wrote a SciFi short story called "The Marching Morons" that could be the scariest SciFi story ever written.

In this story, a man wakes up after an unintended long-term period of suspended animation brought about by a freak accident.

The world he wakes up to is quite bizarre.

It it all starts to make sense when he finds out that the average IQ of the general population is about 45, and that one of the side effects of the lower IQ is a propensity for humans to give free rein to physical drives, with procreation being the strongest of all natural urges. As a result of that the human population stands at 5,003,000,000 people, made up of three million “elite” (people with average IQ of 100) and 5,000,000,000 morons. The elite, understanding that the population growth cannot be sustained, breed at a far slower rate than the morons, but because of that they have become veritable slaves, working feverishly trying to keep the morons from destroying the human race.

Asides from everything that they must do to keep things running, they must also spend every spare minute seeking a solution to what they call the Poprob”.

Their problem is simple:

  • The morons must be managed or they will literally cause billions of deaths, and the eventual destruction of the human race.
  • Sterilizing all the morons is impossible since there aren’t enough “elites” to accomplish that task.
  • Propaganda encouraging responsible sexual behavior and small families doesn't work because the morons can’t fight the higher biological drive that calls for them to procreate.

Sound familiar?

Amazingly enough, the resurrected man quickly finds a simple, yet somewhat harsh solution to the problem.

He proposes a plan to the "elite" that would have them advertise free trips to Venus, a place described as a tropical paradise with blanket trees, ham bushes, and soap roots. In a world-wide frenzy, every nation rushes to get as many of their people to Venus as soon as possible so that they can stake their claim to the free land.

Being built and piloted by morons, every spaceship launched blows up en route and trips to Venus become an effective method of population control.

The story becomes scary when you look into the possibility of something like that happening here, and you run across this chart:


P.S. After the overwhelming success of the plan, the "elite" have the resurrected man killed.



How come in the chart for the 1950s all of the national averages are in the 80s but the total average is in the 90s?  The chart doesn't make sense to me.

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Re: We Pretend to Teach, They Pretend to Learn
« Reply #19 on: December 31, 2013, 10:14:53 AM »
Where you at any point graduated? Or did you retire a professional student?

 :silly:

Yes but that happened long before I ever went there! I spent the first half of my working life in the private sector and thus had lots of PHUNN later dealing with those who know a lot but, for the most part,  have no idea how to apply any of it!
« Last Edit: December 31, 2013, 10:16:16 AM by Bigun »

Offline Luis Gonzalez

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Re: We Pretend to Teach, They Pretend to Learn
« Reply #20 on: December 31, 2013, 10:58:06 AM »
How come in the chart for the 1950s all of the national averages are in the 80s but the total average is in the 90s?  The chart doesn't make sense to me.

The lines you're looking at are population growth, not IQ.
« Last Edit: December 31, 2013, 10:59:20 AM by Luis Gonzalez »
“[Euthanasia] is what any State medical service has sooner or later got to face. If you are going to be kept alive in institutions run by and paid for by the State, you must accept the State’s right to economize when necessary …” The Ministry of Fear by Graham Green (New York: Penguin Books [1943] 2005, p. 165).

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Re: We Pretend to Teach, They Pretend to Learn
« Reply #21 on: December 31, 2013, 12:04:39 PM »
The lines you're looking at are population growth, not IQ.

Oh, ok.  But why does it say average IQ on the left side?  I'm confused.

Offline Luis Gonzalez

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Re: We Pretend to Teach, They Pretend to Learn
« Reply #22 on: December 31, 2013, 12:55:22 PM »
Oh, ok.  But why does it say average IQ on the left side?  I'm confused.

The blue line indicates IQ, the rest of the lines indicate population growth, so India (yellow line) goes from a population of just under 500 million in the 1940's to just under 2 trillion by 2100.

So the lines other blue, correspond to the population data on the right, but the IQ corresponds to the data on the left.
“[Euthanasia] is what any State medical service has sooner or later got to face. If you are going to be kept alive in institutions run by and paid for by the State, you must accept the State’s right to economize when necessary …” The Ministry of Fear by Graham Green (New York: Penguin Books [1943] 2005, p. 165).

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Re: We Pretend to Teach, They Pretend to Learn
« Reply #23 on: December 31, 2013, 01:00:47 PM »
The blue line indicates IQ, the rest of the lines indicate population growth, so India (yellow line) goes from a population of just under 500 million in the 1940's to just under 2 trillion by 2100.

So the lines other blue, correspond to the population data on the right, but the IQ corresponds to the data on the left.


Ahh, now I see.  But maybe the changes are because the countries growing the fastest are also the countries that have terrible poverty where kids get almost nothing to eat.  If not eating makes kids dumb maybe the solution isn't fewer kids but giving them all enough food.

Offline mountaineer

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Re: We Pretend to Teach, They Pretend to Learn
« Reply #24 on: December 31, 2013, 01:19:56 PM »
. Foothill community college, Los Altos, CA. Wow! Was impressed by the excellent instructors there. Math, chemistry, biology, zoology, geology, anthropology, all top-notch. Made my first year of med school seem simple.

Imagine. Transferred from a "community" college and kept up with Stanford grads! This from someone who went into the sciences all foam, and no beer. I thank my lucky stars for those instructors. Without whose help I probably would have washed out of med school in the first six months.
One of my college roommates went on to earn a Ph.D. and is now a history professor at a community college in TX. She just has been named to create and head up an Honors College at that institution. She's an outstanding teacher who cares deeply about her students and inspires them to want to learn. Any student at a "name" university would be lucky to have her.
Just being unique doesn't make you useful.


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