Condensed liberal arts program
I went to an engineering school for college -- an Institute of Technology.  The majors they offered were engineering, science, or math.  I took a few mandatory electives, like English literature and whatnot.  I even had a few fun classes on psychology and philosophy, which were a nice little break from calculus and physics.  At the time I viewed college essentially as job training.  Teach me the skills I'll need to get a job in an industry.  And that's what it did.  I remember talking to some friends who went to normal colleges and took esoteric classes on the history of religion and things like that which served no purpose per se, but introduced some far out ideas that were perhaps worth considering.  I thought that sounded dumb. 

Now that I'm a little older, I sometimes find myself wishing I had a broader understanding of general topics of interest that normal people learn in normal colleges.  I sort of wish I could get a condensed liberal arts education in like a week long video course.  Ya know, art history, comparative literature, women's studies.  Things that don't serve an immediate purpose, but are just good things to know at least a little about.  There's value in knowing things, not necessarily monetary value and not necessarily immediate, but still. 

Related:  Economics vs. knowledge #education

Economics vs. knowledge
America has a student loan problem.  The blame is some sort of combination of the following: 
  • students borrowing too much
  • colleges offering worthless majors
  • lenders preying on naive borrowers
  • loans backed by the government
  • colleges charging too much
But I think an even bigger issue is that higher education has become an issue of economics instead of knowledge.  We value degrees that can lead to high-paying jobs, and by association we de-value degrees that have no obvious or prosperous career path.  We tend to look down on things like art history or women's studies because there are few to no jobs in those fields.  And I think that's an issue. 

I think there's value in knowledge.  It's not always obvious right away, and it might not be worth a lot of money.  But I think it's good for a society to know things, and to build up a collective base of knowledge, either because it might benefit someone someday, or just for the sake of being knowledgeable.  And it's not just to win at bar trivia night, or because you might be on Jeopardy.  Knowledge can be something that's important in ways that you can't predict.  It doesn't necessarily create insight, or new ideas, or make lots of money.  But it can, and it's important in its own right. #education

On learning
I think pretty much anyone can learn pretty much anything.  I don't think people are born to be good at math or science or art.  Most skills can be learned by most people.  But a lot of it depends on things like nature, nurture, personal interests, role models, geography, economics, politics, school systems, teachers, and personal learning style.  Most people can learn most things, but do they want to?  Did they live in an area with a decent school system?  Did their family and friends value education?  There are a lot of variables at play. 

Another thing I've noticed is that learning usually involves a combination of desire, ability, and speed.  I had a friend in school who had the desire and the ability, but not the speed.  He tended to score poorly on tests because he couldn't finish on time.  I had another friend who had the ability and the speed, but not the desire.  Neither friend pursued or succeeded in much education after high school. #education

Experts are bad teachers
From the Hidden Brain episode When Things Click
Everyone can think of learning moments when things broke down. One reason for this is that experts often make poor teachers. Once you've mastered a skill, it becomes difficult to remember what it felt like to not know the skill. Once you know how to ride a bike, you might say to a newbie, just push off. Start pedaling. It takes an enormous act of effort, of empathy to go back and remember how it felt when something seemed confusing or impossible. This is sometimes called the curse of expertise. Experts forget how difficult it can be to learn something because they've already mastered it.
Holy crap yes.  This was about 99% of my experience in college.  I've already told the story of my college professor who said, "You should already know that" and then simply moved on.  People who become experts at something are rarely even remotely qualified to teach. #education

Teachers not teaching
I'll never forget the time I failed to learn an important school/job skill:  Interpolation, which is a fairly simple mathematical operation to get a specific value from a table of numbers.  I was in class in college, and the professor said something about using interpolation to find a number.  One of the students raised their hand and asked him to explain.  He responded, "You know what interpolation is.  I'm not going over it."  And that was that.  Several students complained, but the professor just moved on without teaching it.  The concept itself isn't all that complicated, and it can be taught pretty easily, especially to engineering students who are already well-versed in math.  I ended up learning it on my own and still use it today on a very regular basis.  I still can't believe I had the privilege of paying to not learn something. 

It happened again another time in college, when I first encountered the concept of a hyperbolic trigonometric function.  It happened the same way, with the professor casually breezing through a part of a problem that had to do with hyperbolic functions.  I'd heard of them before, but had no real idea how to use them or what they were for, and several people in class agreed with my ignorance.  The professor said something along the lines of, "You should already know that," and simply moved on.  To this day, I still have no idea what a hyperbolic function is or what it can possibly be used for, and not only do I not care, I firmly blame that educator for my lack of knowledge. #education

Good at school, bad at work (1)
I was a good student in school by all objective measures.  At some point I figured out how to beat the system:  You succeed by getting good grades; you get good grades by doing well on tests and homework.  It helps if you can do this in an efficient amount of time so you can devote your waking hours to the things you enjoy.  At no point in this equation did "learning" come into play.  Or I guess you could say learning was kept to a minimum.  I learned just enough to do well on tests and homework so I could get good grades. 

Fast forward to life as an employee, and I'm finding that the way I succeeded in school puts me at a disadvantage at work.  At a job which requires a lot of the knowledge I supposedly learned in school, the fact that I didn't retain much is a little troubling.  I can try to relearn things, but I'm already behind a lot of my co-workers.  It's difficult working with people who did well in school and who also learned and retained the subject material. #education

Teachers and curriculum
I wonder if part of the reason why kids hate school so much is because the curriculum is designed by people who like learning.  Literature curricula include "classics" that seem to be either loved or hated.  Nobody feels moderately about Shakespeare.  The same goes for science and math.  Do you really need to know how to prove a geometry theorem or what the atomic weight of Unobtainium is?  Of course not, unless you're going into a career field that might value that knowledge.  These topics are covered because a bunch of academics got together and decided that's what everyone should know. #education

College purpose
Clark Kerr, former president of the University of California, once stated somewhat sarcastically, "The chancellor's job had come to be defined as providing parking for the faculty, sex for the students, and athletics for the alumni."  (via NPR) #education

Engineering is hard
I could've told you this
Business majors spend less time on course work than other college students, but they devote more hours to nonschool duties, like earning money and caring for family members. In contrast, engineering students spend the most time studying and the least on outside demands.
(via Shoebox) #education

Students and grades
I was talking to a part-time college professor recently who was lamenting the fact that his students only cared about grades.  Since I'm a bit younger than him and therefore less removed from school, he asked me if I knew why this was the case.  I didn't have a very good answer for him at the time (I can't think on the spot), but after thinking about it some more, I came up with something. 

Students are obsessed with getting good grades because everything in life depends on getting good grades.  Good grades gain you praise from your teachers and parents.  Good grades get you accepted into college.  Good grades get you free money in the form of scholarships.  Good grades save you money on car insurance.  Good grades get you job interviews.  I know from more than one employer that the first thing they look at when gauging a potential future employee is Grade Point Average.  It would be cool if GPA measured something other than test scores, such as how quickly you learn or how good you are at applying knowledge, but unfortunately that's not the case.  Good grades won't necessarily get you the job, but without a doubt bad grades will prevent an interview from happening at all. 

So the real answer to why students are obsessed with grades is because that's what they're taught.  Chew on that, teachers. #education

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