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Anti-intellectualism and cargo cults - Open Knowledge — LiveJournal

Jun. 14th, 2006

12:22 am - Anti-intellectualism and cargo cults

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Two essays of worth:

Via cjsmith:

Principles of the American Cargo Cult

Why does anti-intellectualism exist?

Comments:

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From:azalynn
Date:June 14th, 2006 04:28 am (UTC)
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Wow, coincidence -- I have been thinking a *lot* lately about these very sorts of issues. Some days I really fear for science. :/ A lot of people don't even seem to really know what science *is* -- rather than a method for evaluating evidence, people seem to see it as some kind of threatening ideology. Which is just sad.
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From:crasch
Date:June 14th, 2006 05:00 am (UTC)
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Yes, sometimes I despair as well. However, I don't think most humans have ever been good at thinking very rationally. Relative to humanities past, I think we're doing much better now on the whole.
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From:azalynn
Date:June 14th, 2006 05:05 am (UTC)
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Agreed on all counts -- I definitely don't believe in any "golden age" of the past, though there was definitely a bit of intellectual backsliding (in my opinion) during the 50s when they decided to start putting "In God We Trust" on money as some sort of weird response to communism.

I read a bunch of different essays on that professor's page you linked to, and though he had a few semi-reasonable points, the more I read the less I liked the guy. For one thing, he seems to think that "most math and science anxiety is actually narcissism" (that is, a student presumably cannot accept the fact that s/he doesn't know something, presumably on a test). I had a few teachers like this in college and found that sort of attitude to be very discouraging. Not everyone can regurgitate things on a test on command, and that does not mean that these people are stupid or incapable, or that being frustrated means you're somehow narcissistic.
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From:smandal
Date:June 14th, 2006 06:23 am (UTC)
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Well, he makes the argument why you're wrong: you're lucky if real life is about regurgitating things on command. Usually, you have to not only do that, but make connections of ideas, work out all the relevant details, and convince others of the correctness of your conclusions.
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From:azalynn
Date:June 14th, 2006 07:02 am (UTC)
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But this doesn't mean that anxiety over not being able to do these things is "narcissistic".

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From:smandal
Date:June 14th, 2006 08:06 am (UTC)
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Ok, so why are you anxious? Anxiety is one of two things: apprehension over an unknowable future; and, an eagerness to prove yourself, even losing sight of greater values.

In this case, the first can be solved by knowing the material inside and out, and applying simple deductive reasoning to exhibit your knowledge. If you aren't willing to do the work, you are narcissistic in denying reality -- wishing is not being.

The second is solved by humility. The point is not to exhibit your knowledge, or get a good grade, but to learn the material -- exams are an unpleasant necessity in order to hold sociopaths (people motivated by status and material gain, and willing to mistrepresent themselves to get it) to the standards they would advertise, and to provide feedback on blindspots in the learning of intellectually honest individuals. If you bristle at being held to account when you are working toward a certification to be presented to the public, or hate having your flaws pointed out even cordially, then you are a narcissist.
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From:azalynn
Date:June 14th, 2006 02:16 pm (UTC)
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Agreed on all counts.

I've always been willing to do all the work necessary to do a particular thing or accomplish a particular goal.

But it's important to remember that not all tests are fair. I did very well on most tests when given a bit of extra time (I have a neurological / autistic spectrum condition) but some teachers refused to acknowledge my disability letter on the basis that "if I couldn't pass the tests in the same time as everyone else, I shouldn't be taking the class". This is like saying that a blind person shouldn't be given, say, an audio version of the SAT on the basis that asking for "special treatment" is "narcissistic". There is a difference.
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From:smandal
Date:June 14th, 2006 05:45 pm (UTC)
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Hmmm, yes, that's a tricky question. Ideally, a university wants to deliver a useful judgment of your ability and skills to whomever will use your transcript -- employers, grad schools, etc. Does this mean accommodating disabled students in a way that offsets their disabilities, or largely ignores them? What is useful in the real the world?

My first thought is that disabled students should get accommodations that exist in the real world, but not any others. For example, a deaf person could have an interpreter at an oral exam because they would probably have one on the job, however someone in your situation shouldn't get extra time because timeliness is a figure of merit in the real world. Or, a blind person could get a Braille reader for a computer, but not for anything else.

*shrug*
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From:azalynn
Date:June 15th, 2006 12:48 am (UTC)
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Regarding the extra time issue - timelines are afigure of merit, certainly. But I've been out of school (graduated with my BSEE in 2002) and working
going on 4 years now, and the work environment does not in any way, shape, or form resemble the classroom or exam environment.

At work, if I don't finish something important during scheduled work hours, I can always stay late to finish up, and still end up meeting the deadline. In school, my extra exam time was just 50% more than the total "standard" allotted test duration.

It's not as if I had, or wanted, unlimited time -- just a little extra to organize my thoughts. I never intended to work (and don't work in, most of the time) in a very fast-paced environment -- I know I don't think well "on my feet", so to speak, so I've deliberately tried to get into areas of engineering that require more detailed and comprehensive analysis (in which it's expected that a person needs to take their time) rather than areas that require a person to grasp the "big picture" quickly.

I know very well that I'm awful at certain things (spontaneous verbal conversation, listening comprehension, social awareness) but you'll never see me trying to claim that I really AM good at these things and complaining when people say I'm not. In fact, I end up having to spend a fair amount of time reminding people of all the things I'm terrible at, to assure that I do NOT get assigned to tasks I would not be able to handle well.

Different people are optimized in different ways, and I would never try to misrepresent myself as being optimized for something that other people are much better at. However, some of us are "atypically optimized" and it is important to make sure that we're not relegated to underemployment when we could actually perform more complex jobs if certain barriers to entry were adjusted.

If you're going to make exact parallels to the "real world", you'd be hard-pressed to come up with an engineering situation wherein you had to solve a design problem in 50 minutes and your boss absolutely forbade you to, say, work 25 minutes of extra unpaid overtime that evening to finish it.

In the real world I always have the option to sacrifice pieces of personal time for the sake of meeting deadlines -- in a school exam, this real-world option is absent. So in that sense, an accomodation of an extra 25 minutes seems highly appropriate.

Sorry for going on at length about this, but I think it's important to break through some of the ignorance that surrounds disability accomodations. The idea is NEVER to get an unfair tactical advantage, but to remove unfair barriers to entering certain professions. It doesn't make sense for the criteria required to get into a certain position to vastly
exceed, or differ from, the most extreme situation a person is likely to encounter when they actually have the position.

If anyone at work thinks I'm not earning my paycheck or that somehow the fact that I had accomodations in college makes my degree invalid, they're welcome to tell me and even fire me, since they make the rules and they know what sort of skill sets they need. If that's the just thing to do, then that is what should happen, because nobody should be paying me if I cannot perform the essential requirements of the job.
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From:smandal
Date:June 15th, 2006 06:40 am (UTC)
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Thanks for your reply.

I am a teacher myself (graduate teaching assistant). The questions in my mind when I have to formulate an exam: does it cover a good chunk of the material with escalating degrees of depth, to really test their knowledge? How do I maintain uniformity given the various thinking styles in the class? In the case of take-home exams, etc., how do I maintain control?

Given the sterile nature of an exam, it's not really a simulation of real life like a project or take-home exam might be. However, it is precise and controlled, which hopefully means some finer grain in dissecting a student's understanding, and some repeatability in the score. To the extent that no one real-life situation is that great a simulation of another, exams are just one more "real-life" instance that we can control easily.

So, accommodations can make sense: the point of the exam is to pick apart a student's learning. Things like time and other assistance, while they might diminish some secondary figure of merit in exam-based testing, are useful since they help in the exam's primary purpose and are not much of a hurdle in the real world.
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From:azalynn
Date:June 14th, 2006 05:12 am (UTC)
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Oh...and I was kind of annoyed by that last item ("Death is unnatural") on the thing about cargo cults. First of all, just because something is natural doesn't mean it's good. Second of all, not wanting to die doesn't have anything to do with thinking one is special -- it's called "human survival instinct" and IMO it's a good thing, otherwise we'd all just kill ourselves and be done with it.

Some of us just have more survival instinct than others, and wanting to survive for as long as we can has absolutely nothing to do with self-perceived specialness. I don't see any fundamental difference between pursuing radical life extension and getting medical procedures performed when you're elderly.

One might as well apply the exact same argument to people who choose to have children -- that they're doing it out of some egotistic desire to propagate their own genetic line -- but you don't see this being used as an argument very often!
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From:polyanarch
Date:June 14th, 2006 05:01 am (UTC)

ha!

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It's a wiffle-bat world...
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