Entries Tagged 'Media Reviews' ↓

A.I. in our future

Our New Promethean Moment, (New York Times, March 21, 2023)

In his commentary about the future of Artificial Intelligence and its potential effects on humanity, Thomas Friedman wrote, 

We are going to need to develop what I call “complex adaptive coalitions” — where business, government, social entrepreneurs, educators, competing superpowers and moral philosophers all come together to define how we get the best and cushion the worst of A.I. No one player in this coalition can fix the problem alone. It requires a very different governing model from traditional left-right politics. And we will have to transition to it amid the worst great-power tensions since the end of the Cold War and culture wars breaking out inside virtually every democracy.

We already have the six-virtue definition of the educated person for “how we get the best and cushion the worst of A.I.” If schools based their curricula on the six-virtues, we would begin to see how to use A.I. in constructive, not destructive ways. Of course, that means educators would have to shift their improvement paradigm from a social scientific one — being more effective at teaching the answers to multiple choice questions; to an aesthetic one — bringing more beauty into their classrooms and the lives of their students. 

Which of the national great powers will lead the way to a brighter future with A.I.?

Hate and the 1st Amendment

Our side is corrupt, but the other side is more corrupt.

Yesterday tech company executives were once again grilled by members of Congress. Evidently, we can no longer find the line between yelling fire in a crowded theater and protecting free speech. The internet has changed everything.

Today’s NYT had an article about Google podcasts promoting violence and spewing misinformation and hate (https://nyti.ms/3ffm4Fi). As I read, I thought, “We should just let podcasters have their say. It is only ignorant, unimaginative, weak, truth-fearing, proud and selfish people, who would listen to them. Everybody else knows those programs damage our lives. So, why would anybody listen?”

Then I thought, “Oh–I forgot. Thirty years ago, public schools started focusing on improving test scores. Now we have a whole bunch of adults who are ignorant, unimaginative, weak, truth-fearing, proud and selfish.”

You gotta love those annual school goals of having students correctly answer two more multiple choice questions. Way to go, educators. I know–you were just doing what politicians told you to do. If you had an alternative definition of the educated person, however, you could have argued against the stupidest idea that ever became the goal of education.

Turn off Trump

Our side is corrupt, but the other side is more corrupt.

Some media types say Donald will influence American politics into the 2024 election. They are wrong. Any channels that cover anything he does will be turned off. How about you?

Frank Bruni’s NYT (11/22/2020) editorial reflects on this, too.

Another aced intelligence test

Our side is corrupt, but the other side is more corrupt.

The president recently aced his second intelligence test at Walter Reed Medical Center, and this time we have videotape proof. He wore a mask as he walked down the hallway.

Straw men lie in the weeds of muddled language

Our side is corrupt, but the other side is more corrupt.

Bret Stephens’ critique of liberal thinking (Reading Orwell for the Fourth, 7/4/2020) doubles as an example of a “straw man argument:”

The more serious problem today comes from the left: from liberal elites who, when tested, lack the courage of their liberal convictions; from so-called progressives whose core convictions were never liberal to begin with; from administrative types at nonprofits and corporations who, with only vague convictions of their own, don’t want to be on the wrong side of a P.R. headache.

This has been the great cultural story of the last few years. It is typified by incidents such as The New Yorker’s David Remnick thinking it would be a good idea to interview Steve Bannon for the magazine’s annual festival — until a Twitter mob and some members of his own staff decided otherwise. Or by The Washington Post devoting 3,000 words to destroying the life of a private person of no particular note because in 2018 she wore blackface, with ironic intent, at a Halloween party. Or by big corporations pulling ads from Facebook while demanding the company do more to censor forms of speech they deem impermissible.

These stories matter because an idea is at risk. That’s the idea that people who cannot speak freely will not be able to think clearly, and that no society can long flourish when contrarians are treated as heretics.

That idea, old as Socrates, formerly had powerful institutional defenders, especially in the form of universities, news media, book publishers, free-speech groups and major philanthropies.

But those defenders are, on account of one excuse or another, capitulating to people who claim free speech for themselves (but not for others), who believe all the old patriarchal hierarchies must go (so that new “intersectional” hierarchies may arise), who are in a perpetual fervor to rewrite the past (all the better to control the future), and who demand cringing public apologies from those who have sinned against an ever-more radical ideological standard (while those apologies won’t save them from being fired)

The last paragraph is where the straw man is plain to see because the language is so tortured. (I love irony.) The first four paragraphs describe liberal elites’ arguments in such general terms that a reader can think: “Yes—I see that. It makes sense to see things that way.” Thus, without analyzing the clarity of the language and images used in Paragraph 5, where Stephens knocks down the straw man he erected, readers might agree with his negative depictions of liberal ideas.

If you are still not clear about this straw man technique, read Paragraph 5 again. Then compare it’s clarity of language and images with the clarity of Natasha Trethewey’s first three paragraphs (My Life Under Mississippi’s Racist Flag, 7/04/2020), which was the editorial directly following Stephens’ piece on July Fourth, 2020.

As my mother made her way to the hospital, hundreds of Confederate flags lined the streets. It was Confederate Memorial Day, 1966, exactly 100 years since the holiday was first celebrated, and the celebrations that day were particularly fervent in the aftermath of recent advances in the civil rights movement: the passage of the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts of 1964 and 1965. The laws were changing, but the iconic symbol of white supremacy and Black oppression could still be enlisted to send a message.

And the messages were everywhere. The landscape of my childhood was overwritten with monuments to and symbols of the Confederacy: They were in the names of roads, bridges, buildings, schools, parks, other public works and counties. And the state flag of Mississippi, incorporating the Confederate battle flag in its top inner corner, was among the most conspicuous.

Its message was a kind of synecdoche, a part standing in for the whole: The South may have lost the Civil War — a war fought to maintain slavery and white supremacy — but Mississippi would not be inclusive of all her citizens except in the continuing narrative of white dominion over Black subjects. The inclusion of the battle flag within the state flag served as a visual reminder of white Mississippians’ allegiance to that white supremacist heritage and was indicative of the new ways the state would find to maintain the second-class status of Black Americans. It waved to us again and again: Know your place.

The editors of the NYT, not Bret Stephens, were channeling Orwell.  

Or, if that is too complicated, Charles Blow’s NYT editorial, ‘Tell the Truth and Shame The Devil’ (July 6, 2020) provides a simple example:

. . . Trump stood at the base of Mount Rushmore and said, “Seventeen seventy-six represented the culmination of thousands of years of Western civilization and the triumph not only of spirit, but of wisdom, philosophy and reason.” He continued later, “Our nation is witnessing a merciless campaign to wipe out our history, defame our heroes, erase our values and indoctrinate our children.”

To be clear, the “our” in that passage is white people, specifically white men. Trump is telling white men that they are their ancestors, and that they’re now being attacked for that which they should be thanked.

Although Trump did not specifically say that “our” was a reference to white people, Blow’s second paragraph drew that conclusion. This is the most common form of straw man—drawing a conclusion based on what you believe the speaker meant, not on what he actually said.

So, yes–Blow erected a straw man. Then he artfully knocked it down with facts about the oppression of black people by “our heroes”–Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and T. Roosevelt.

What do you call it when a writer puts a conclusion in a speaker’s mouth (erects a straw man) and then knocks it down with facts that support the writer’s conclusion instead of the one argued by the speaker?

I guess it is irony. Thanks Charles Blow. I love irony.  

Straw Man update:

Here is another one from Bret Stephens (NYT, 8/18/2020):

Economically, the conservative idea is that free markets foster personal enterprise, frugality, creativity, industry and other components of moral character. The populist idea is that free markets make you filthy rich.

No, Bret–the populist ideal is a question:

Where do we have free markets?

Oh–I forgot. There is one place where we have a free market. Legislators from both parties get purchased by the highest bidders. Clearly, we are the greatest nation in the world (sarcasm).

Waiting for an audiobook?

Having posted two blogs on the reason we write: “Why do we write?” and “George Orwell on writing,” I was intrigued by CBS Sunday Morning’s (5/31/2020) segment on audiobooks. At first, I clung to my premise that the reason we write is to have our ideas studied. And I was ready to denigrate the idea of audiobooks because they distort the purpose of a book. Listeners do not experience a book because they do not interact with the written word.  

The segment interviewees, who are the voices of the audiobooks, explained that they bring the author’s story to the listener. Then I thought to myself, “Ease up. There is nothing wrong with that.”

I will not stop here–to argue that the whole purpose of our best-loved fiction, as well as non-fiction, is to study an author’s ideas about the human condition. I will set that aside because I am currently writing a second book, which could become a fine audiobook.

My first book is a philosophy of education. After almost nobody bought or read that book, I realized: “Nobody wants to read philosophy. They want to read stories. If I write a second book, it should tell stories because that is what people want to read.”

So, my second book tells teachers’ stories about how they improved their connection to the academic efforts of their students. After the written version is published, the stories should be turned into an audiobook. And the audiobook voices should be those of the teachers.

Culture War

Our side is corrupt, but the other side is more corrupt.

According to the New York Times:

Mr. Alexander (Republican Senator Lamar Alexander) said Friday during an interview in his Capitol office. “For the Senate to tear up the ballots in this election and say President Trump couldn’t be on it, the country probably wouldn’t accept that. It would just pour gasoline on cultural fires that are burning out there.”

Earlier in the morning, I was reflecting on the “cultural fires that are burning out there.” As I wrote in my book, American public schools teach three virtues (understanding, strong character, and generosity), and three vices:

  1. lack of imagination (Sit down, shut up, and don’t ask too many questions.)
  2. fear of truth (Democracy is the best form of government.)
  3. pride (Be proud of yourself, your country, your state, and your school.)

When I go to the polls next November, I will remember that we are engaged in a culture war. What is that about democracy being the best form of government? Does it apply to countries in which voters are taught to be unimaginative, fearful of truth, and proud?

Next November’s results will be a verdict on public schooling in America. And I won’t need to know a thing about students’ test scores.

The Divide

Here is John Dewey’s description of what Americans are taught to believe about democracy:

We have been taught not only in the schools but by the press, the pulpit, the platform, and our laws and law-making bodies, that democracy is the best of all social institutions. We may have so assimilated this idea from our surroundings that it has become an habitual part of our mental and moral make-up.

Dewey, J. (1938). Experience and Education. New York: Macmillan, p. 34.

More than 80 years have passed since Dewey described this quintessential American belief. The fact that we have rarely (if ever) challenged that belief is proof that it has become “part of our mental and moral make-up.”

And that belief relates to my suggestion for addressing our current political divide. Everyone, who writes about the divide, or who defends one viewpoint against the other, must start with one of the following sentences:

  1. “My side is not corrupt, but the other side is.”
  2. “My side is corrupt, but the other side is more corrupt.”
  3. “Both sides are equally corrupt.”
  4. “My side’s corruption is a good thing; the other side’s corruption is a bad thing.”

By starting with one of those sentences, writers/commentators put their argument in the context of what is true–that our system is corrupt in various ways; instead of what we cannot know to be true–that “democracy is the best of all social institutions.”

For more than 200 years we have failed to live up to the ideal of a fair, democratic system of governance. One reason is that we are in denial about systemic corruption. If we start by recognizing that every system of governance is corrupt (even American democracy), we could start building a more fair and just system of the people, by the people, and for the people.

If we don’t, our divide will grow as powerful actors continue to enrich themselves at the expense of those with less power, which is the definition of corruption.

In the spirit of following my own command, I choose sentence #2.

Improving education starts with understanding teaching

Chapter 8 of my book argues that education won’t improve until our improvement paradigm coincides with the essence of teaching. The social science improvement paradigm assumes teachers improve their craft by applying techniques and strategies that educational research has found to be effective. The aesthetic improvement paradigm assumes that teachers improve their craft by looking inside themselves and finding new and better ways to deliver their content and relate to their students?

Unknowingly, Malcolm Gladwell weighed in on this question in Blink: The power of thinking without thinking (2005, p. 52):

Our world requires that decisions be sourced and footnoted, and if we say how we feel, we must also be prepared to elaborate on why we feel that way . . . I think that approach is a mistake, and if we are to learn to improve the quality of the decisions we make, we need to accept the mysterious nature of our snap judgments. We need to respect the fact that it is possible to know without knowing why we know and accept that — sometimes — we’re better off that way.

I hope someday school leaders, administrators, and policy makers will understand that this is how all good teachers teach.

It’s social science, not science

The internet headline reads:

Science says parents of successful kids have these 11 things in common

Let’s go over this one more time:

  1. “Science says” does not mean a study found cause and effect. It means a social scientific study found correlations.
  2. “successful kids” means what the study says it means – nothing more, nothing less. Therefore, the findings (11 things) depend 100% on the study’s definition of “successful.” We don’t know how much they pertain to your personal definition of “successful.”
  3. “these 11 things in common” – If you have worldly experience, you don’t need to read them. If you have no worldly experience, you don’t need to read them either. You need to get some worldly experience.


In case the point about social science research is not obvious, here is the first paragraph from Does Your Child’s Name Influence Whether They Grow Up to Be Smart?

Want to give your baby a head start on becoming a genius? You might want to consider nixing those unique, hipster baby names from your list. Genealogy research website MooseRoots compiled the names of nearly 15,000 philosophers, writers, mathematicians, scientists, inventors, artists, composers, Nobel laureates and MacArthur fellows to make up a list of the most common names of geniuses — and none were the kind of trendy names celeb babies have been given recently.
Of course the answer to the headline question is, “No.” As I finished reading, however, the real purpose of this “research” was clear. The last paragraph has links to websites (which I removed).
If these names don’t exactly appeal to your sensibilities, you could always look at new baby-naming trends, most popular baby names around the world, most popular baby names by decade or baby names inspired by global cities for more ideas!
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Just follow the money.