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Archive for the ‘education’ Category

A Free 200 MPH Test Drive

Posted by heyrandy on September 14, 2009

Did you ever dream of a full throttle test drive of a race car? It is good that most of us never realize this dream. It would entail the destruction of good machinery if we did. Now you can do more than dream. Massachusetts Institute of Technology has placed on line its entire curriculum. You can now get an MIT level education free. Crash helmet not required.

On line learning is the future. Nothing short of ending the Internet will stop this. This changes everything. Every university will follow MIT’s lead. Time has always been a major consideration in pursuit of education. No longer. Neither is location. With on line learning the classroom is always in session. A computer with Internet access is all that is needed. Attire optional.

The lesser schools are doomed. Most colleges are obscure for a reason: they are mediocre. They all offer the same course material at an inflated price. The schools are filled with prosaic students getting cheap degrees and huge debts. Higher education has been immune from price competition for all of its existence. MIT has forever changed that.

Since its inception in medieval times, the university has been anchored in land and buildings. The Internet has made this obsolete. The ivy covered wall have fallen. Good riddance. Alma Mater U, stand by to change. You will not like it, but you will do it. Or else. You may do it and the else.

The state funded schools are exempt. They are funded by taxpayers. They are politically connected. Here there will be no change. Hangover U is safe. For now.

The Big Sports U’s are not safe. These schools have funnels for the professional teams. This function is not necessary for the professional teams. The teams can hire their players directly from high school. Why not? What sense does it make for a potential star player to risk a career ending injury by playing college sports? The signing bonus will by itself be more money than most people will make in two life times. The kid will sign. I would.

In a sense MIT is behind the curve. Home school families have been for years laughing at professional educators–and out performing them. Now with the Internet the home schooled have even more tools to use.

Education has always been about information. Information has been restricted by the elite to the elite. The Internet has evaded this restriction. The Internet is the greatest aid to information distribution since the invention of movable type. The only thing greater than the Internet is the invention of writing. The elite realize the danger.

The chances are slim of you getting into MIT. You can now see if you can handle the course work. You will also learn something, probably how well you handle  disappointment. If you are unable to do the work at MIT you will find out before you go to the expense, the bother, and the embarrassment of dropping out. Your failure will be your own little secret. (I did not want to go there anyway). It is a lot like the fact that I use spell check a lot. This is the reason that I will never apply to MIT. Why should I pay them money for them to tell me that I am stupid? I was smart enough to learn this long ago by myself. (I did not want to go there anyway.)

But don’t despair if you cannot get into MIT.  You can always set you sights lower and apply at the nearby Harvard University. They are not on line, yet.

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Solve It

Posted by heyrandy on June 10, 2008

How to Solve It, G. Polya. Princeton University Press, Princeton, 1957 (1985).  253pp. footnotes, no index

Troubled by some intractable puzzle?  Mystified by a quandry?  Then this is the book for you.  Polya (1887-1985), Professor of Mathematics at Stanford University, has written a book to help you figure it out.

Do not be afraid of Polya job description.  The mathematically underequipped will not be overwhelmed by a barrage of numbers and symbols.  There are numbers and symbols in the book, but there are also examples of non-mathematical problems such a crossword puzzle clues and the color of bears.

Polya begins the book with a detailed outline of the system he sets forth.  The text of the book is exposition and application of the outline’s details.  Along the way Polya gives some instruction to teachers on how to help the less than bright student.

Polya’s method is spelled out in four steps: Understand the problem, Devise a plan, Carry out the plan, and Test the solution.  These all seem so self-evident that you may wonder why a book had to be written to explain them and why such a book would become a classic.  The answer is that we are all a little dumb and often more than a little lazy.

Even those exceptional people that were born with the brains I lack need to have their minds trained to make maximum use of what God gave them.  The book is a manual for such training.  Work through some of his examples and you may call it a manual for rigorous training.

The book is an example of heuristic thinking.  Heuristic thinking is not as exact as what Polya call rigorous proof, but it is what is often need to get the problem solving process started and what is required step into the more rigorous methods.  Polya states that he wrote this book to revive heuristic thinking.

Polya’s work is not one of profound research; he give few footnotes.  It is a work that will enable you to be equipped to do profound research.  Learning usually does not come easy.  It takes work.  Usually lots of hard work.  Polya gives a method that will make that work effective and effecient.

The book ends with a set of sample problems, along with hints and the solutions.  So you will have some practice using his teachings.  I have worked though some of the samples, and I find them a challenge.  But this is what you get in life, except for the explicit hints and easy answers.

Read this book, and then you can SOLVE IT.

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Don’t like government schools? Too bad

Posted by heyrandy on February 9, 2008

Does your local government run (“public”) school not meet you approval? No? You can go down to the school office and complain. They will give you a tax refund because their service is so bad, and you are so dissatisfied. You know, just like so many other businesses do when confronted with irate customers. You can even take your business elsewhere; there are so many choices.

Ok, time to get real. It is generally agreed that what is misnamed public education is really doing a bad job. But what kind of bad job? Kids who can’t read, can’t spell, or can’t add kind of bad job. I have forgotten how close to the bottom in worldwide rating the US schools are ranked. It doesn’t matter. All that matters to most parents and students is the school they are stuck with. If they don’t like the school they are forced to use, too bad for them.

There is no incentive for schools to change. Ask not “Why don’t they change?” Ask instead “What happens if they don’t change?” Answer: they get more money from the taxpayers. What politician is willing to cut funding from the schools because the schools are doing a poor job? Politicians are not only loathe to cut school funding, they positively trumpet the increases that they get for the schools in their districts. You don’t get reelected by opposing the schools. School change? “Sure, we just need more money to do a better job. Just look at the improvements we made the last time we got more money”, say the schools. Well actually, the schools never say they have justified the increases they received by pointing out improvements in student performance; there is usually little improvement, but there is always more money given to them.

Public school are a government protected monopoly. As with all other monopolies, the quality is poor and the price is high. What is the expendure per student in your district? About what it costs to send someone to a private college? When has the cost gone anywhere but up?

The ever increasing costs of operating the government schools has a hidden benefit for those schools:  it reduces competition.  The tax burden placed on the average family to support government schools goes along way to prevent families from being able to afford an alternative education for their children.  It is hard to pay both taxes to the schools and tuition at a non-government school.
It will be difficult to raise the quality in public schools. Even if there is genuine motivation to do so, the system has been in failure mode for so long that now the leaders of the system are the products of the system: the teachers have been dumbed down.

But why don’t parents want change? Because behind all the noise made about improvement, the fact is that the schools are just about what the average parent wants. They too are products of the system. The system does not encourage dissident thinking. Budget cutting is dissident thinking of the worst sort. A local school budget meeting erupted into actual violence when the idea was broached that extracurricular sports programs be cut back (not eliminated). It shows some of what the reformers face when such a modest proposal is violently suppressed.  Johnny can’t read so well, but just look at his hook shot!

In my own districts both people running for the two open seats on the local school board said nothing about the taxpayers when they gave their reasons for wanting to be elected. I guess our job is to shut up, pay and be grateful that it doesn’t cost us even more. (Just wait, it will.) It is this guaranteed source of endless money that really thwarts reforms. Why change when it does not cost you but rewards you to stay as you are?

The only real chance of change is the home school movement. If enough people withdraw their children from the government thought factories, the system will be betrayed as the expensive fraud that it really is. While the home school movement will continue to grow, it will be a long time before it reaches the critical size to threaten the Monopoly. Home schooling will also have to withstand a legal challenge mounted by its enemies and their unlimited, taxpayer funded legal budget.

So things go on as they have been for a long time: the students do poorly; the schools want more money;  the taxpayers give it.  It’s great work if you can get it.  A lot of people get it.  That is why it never changes.

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