Category Archives: Uncategorized

Danville mayoral campaign being waged this week through letters to the editor

It seems that the Danville mayoral campaign is being waged this week through letters to the editor in the Advocate-Messenger’s opinion section:

http://www.centralkynews.com/amnews/opinion/

Of particular interest is the letter by outgoing Mayor Hunstad endorsing Mike Perros over fellow commissioner Paige Stevens:

http://www.centralkynews.com/amnews/opinion/hunstad-likes-mike-for-danville-mayor/article_4490847e-3fe9-5280-ac0f-347be56cbd86.html

Excerpts from John Stuart Mill on the freedom of thought and expression

The following are excerpts from Chapter 2 of John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty (1859). I think that these principles deserve careful consideration not only in our political and civic communities, but in our private and religious communities as well.

EXCERPTS FROM “ON LIBERTY” CHAPTER 2 BY JOHN STUART MILL (1859)

If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind.

But the peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is, that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error.

First: the opinion which it is attempted to suppress by authority may possibly be true. Those who desire to suppress it, of course deny its truth; but they are not infallible. They have no authority to decide the question for all mankind, and exclude every other person from the means of judging. To refuse a hearing to an opinion, because they are sure that it is false, is to assume that their certainty is the same thing as absolute certainty. All silencing of discussion is an assumption of infallibility.

Yet it is as evident in itself, as any amount of argument can make it, that ages are no more infallible than individuals; every age having held many opinions which subsequent ages have deemed not only false but absurd; and it is as certain that many opinions, now general, will be rejected by future ages, as it is that many, once general, are rejected by the present.

Because he has felt, that the only way in which a human being can make some approach to knowing the whole of a subject, is by hearing what can be said about it by persons of every variety of opinion, and studying all modes in which it can be looked at by every character of mind. No wise man ever acquired his wisdom in any mode but this; nor is it in the nature of human intellect to become wise in any other manner.

Strange that they should imagine that they are not assuming infallibility, when they acknowledge that there should be free discussion on all subjects which can possibly be doubtful, but think that some particular principle or doctrine should be forbidden to be questioned because it is so certain, that is, because they are certain that it is certain. To call any proposition certain, while there is any one who would deny its certainty if permitted, but who is not permitted, is to assume that we ourselves, and those who agree with us, are the judges of certainty, and judges without hearing the other side.

Orthodox Christians who are tempted to think that those who stoned to death the first martyrs must have been worse men than they themselves are, ought to remember that one of those persecutors was Saint Paul.

For it is this—it is the opinions men entertain, and the feelings they cherish, respecting those who disown the beliefs they deem important, which makes this country not a place of mental freedom. For a long time past, the chief mischief of the legal penalties is that they strengthen the social stigma. It is that stigma which is really effective, and so effective is it, that the profession of opinions which are under the ban of society is much less common in England, than is, in many other countries, the avowal of those which incur risk of judicial punishment.

A state of things in which a large portion of the most active and inquiring intellects find it advisable to keep the general principles and grounds of their convictions within their own breasts, and attempt, in what they address to the public, to fit as much as they can of their own conclusions to premises which they have internally renounced, cannot send forth the open, fearless characters, and logical, consistent intellects who once adorned the thinking world. The sort of men who can be looked for under it, are either mere conformers to commonplace, or time-servers for truth, whose arguments on all great subjects are meant for their hearers, and are not those which have convinced themselves. Those who avoid this alternative, do so by narrowing their thoughts and interest to things which can be spoken of without venturing within the region of principles, that is, to small practical matters, which would come right of themselves, if but the minds of mankind were strengthened and enlarged, and which will never be made effectually right until then: while that which would strengthen and enlarge men’s minds, free and daring speculation on the highest subjects, is abandoned.

But it is not the minds of heretics that are deteriorated most, by the ban placed on all inquiry which does not end in the orthodox conclusions. The greatest harm done is to those who are not heretics, and whose whole mental development is cramped, and their reason cowed, by the fear of heresy. Who can compute what the world loses in the multitude of promising intellects combined with timid characters, who dare not follow out any bold, vigorous, independent train of thought, lest it should land them in something which would admit of being considered irreligious or immoral?

Truth gains more even by the errors of one who, with due study and preparation, thinks for himself, than by the true opinions of those who only hold them because they do not suffer themselves to think.

There is a class of persons (happily not quite so numerous as formerly) who think it enough if a person assents undoubtingly to what they think true, though he has no knowledge whatever of the grounds of the opinion, and could not make a tenable defence of it against the most superficial objections. Such persons, if they can once get their creed taught from authority, naturally think that no good, and some harm, comes of its being allowed to be questioned.

Whatever people believe, on subjects on which it is of the first importance to believe rightly, they ought to be able to defend against at least the common objections.

But much more of the meaning even of these would have been understood, and what was understood would have been far more deeply impressed on the mind, if the man had been accustomed to hear it argued pro and con by people who did understand it. The fatal tendency of mankind to leave off thinking about a thing when it is no longer doubtful, is the cause of half their errors. A contemporary author has well spoken of “the deep slumber of a decided opinion.”

Popular opinions, on subjects not palpable to sense, are often true, but seldom or never the whole truth. They are a part of the truth; sometimes a greater, sometimes a smaller part, but exaggerated, distorted, and disjoined from the truths by which they ought to be accompanied and limited. Heretical opinions, on the other hand, are generally some of these suppressed and neglected truths, bursting the bonds which kept them down, and either seeking reconciliation with the truth contained in the common opinion, or fronting it as enemies, and setting themselves up, with similar exclusiveness, as the whole truth. … Such being the partial character of prevailing opinions, even when resting on a true foundation, every opinion which embodies somewhat of the portion of truth which the common opinion omits, ought to be considered precious, with whatever amount of error and confusion that truth may be blended.

[SUMMARY]

We have now recognised the necessity to the mental well-being of mankind (on which all their other well-being depends) of freedom of opinion, and freedom of the expression of opinion, on four distinct grounds; which we will now briefly recapitulate.

First, if any opinion is compelled to silence, that opinion may, for aught we can certainly know, be true. To deny this is to assume our own infallibility.

Secondly, though the silenced opinion be an error, it may, and very commonly does, contain a portion of truth; and since the general or prevailing opinion on any subject is rarely or never the whole truth, it is only by the collision of adverse opinions that the remainder of the truth has any chance of being supplied.

Thirdly, even if the received opinion be not only true, but the whole truth; unless it is suffered to be, and actually is, vigorously and earnestly contested, it will, by most of those who receive it, be held in the manner of a prejudice, with little comprehension or feeling of its rational grounds. And not only this, but, fourthly, the meaning of the doctrine itself will be in danger of being lost, or enfeebled, and deprived of its vital effect on the character and conduct: the dogma becoming a mere formal profession, inefficacious for good, but cumbering the ground, and preventing the growth of any real and heartfelt conviction, from reason or personal experience.

Three cheers for epistemic humility

In response to today’s conflicting jobs reports, David Leonhardt explains:

Any one jobs report contains a fair bit of statistical noise, as Neil Irwin and Kevin Quealy have explained. It’s a mistake to pretend otherwise. The best approach is to take all the evidence — both the household and business survey, as well as multiple months of data — and use it all to tell the most sensible story we can, based on the evidence. [emphasis added]

Right now, that story looks something like this: The labor market appears to be gaining strength. But there are enough conflicting signals that we will need more months of data before we can be sure.

I’m a big fan of epistemic humility, especially in today’s world that values certainty and absolutes. One of my guiding philosophical approaches to life is that since all human sources of knowledge are fallible, the closest any of us can get to Ultimate Truth is obtainable only through taking as wide a sample as possible of as many different perspectives as possible on a particular question or topic, then taking a weighted average of them all to try to come to a tentative (although never final) personal conclusion or belief in some truth, whether empirical or otherwise.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Benjamin Knoll:

Another annual re-post of my St. Patrick’s Day blog post:

Originally posted on Information Knoll:

The following is a re-post from last year’s St. Patrick’s Day post:

Granted, I’m only 15% Irish. The rest of me is German-Russian (35%) and English (50%). But unfortunately, there just aren’t that many German or English heritage holidays to celebrate. So it’s to St. Patrick’s Day that a turn to celebrate my ethnic heritage.

My g-g-g-g-g-g-grandfather, Michael, was born around 1775 in Ireland. He married Marianne and they had a daughter named Mary around 1799. She married Dennis Rogers (b. 1796) and they had a daughter named Margery. They all came to the United States in the 1840s, along with almost two million of their compatriots, to escape the Great Potato Famine. Margery married Michael Murphy in New York City. They moved Wisconsin where they had seven children. One of these children, Alexander Rogers Murphy, was born in 1854. Alexander married Mary Ellen O’Brien in 1884 in Minnesota. Mary…

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Thoughts on “Good to Great” by Jim Collins

I recently read Good to Great by Jim Collins. Actually, I’m a busy person so I read Good to Great Summarized for Busy People by Wilson Publishers.

Here are some of the highlights that I thought were interesting:

  • Successful businesses have leaders who “combine extreme personal humility with intense professional will.”
  • What do successful leaders do?
    • Set up successors who will continue to do great after they leave.
    • They are compellingly modest and share the attention instead of seeking it for themselves.
    • They have unwavering resolve toward a goal.
    • “First Who… Then What” – they pick the best people for the team FIRST then with the team pick the goal. “If you have the right people … the problem of how to motivate and manage people largely goes away.”
    • They’re not afraid to say “I don’t know.” Instead, they get the best people and hash out the question to find the answer.
    • They hire the best people (self-disciplined people who don’t need to be managed) then give them freedom and autonomy within a framework.
    • “Good to great companies tend to have rigorous cultures, cultures in which leadership consistently applies exacting standards at all time and at all levels, especially upper management.”
    • “The moment you feel you need to tightly manage someone, you’ve made a hiring mistake.”
    • The world changes. Successful businesses change and adapt or they die off.
    • Great companies encourage debate and dialogue and genuinely take advantage of it. “It is used to engage people in the search for the best answers.”
    • Hedgehogs and Foxes: Foxes “pursue many ends at the same time and see the world in all its complexity” whereas Hedgehogs “simplify a complex world into a single idea or principle that unifies and guides everything.” In terms of successful businesses, Hedgehogs win and Foxes do not.
    • Find out what you’re best at and focus on that strength. Don’t expend energy trying to become something that you’re not going to be best at.
    • Slow and steady gains are more important than infrequent but flashy gains. The slow and steady gains will speak for themselves and motivate the organization to continue to excel. “Spend little energy trying to motivate or align people; the momentum of the flywheel is infectious.”

Here are some of my thoughts and ruminations on these ideas, specifically in regards to how these principles might apply in the context of higher education:

  • Higher education has an embarrassment of riches in terms of self-disciplined, motivated people to have in an organization. There’s a strong self-selection effect at work: most people become professional academics because they’re self-disciplined and motivated and they would not survive graduate school if they weren’t. In my limited experience, finding the “right people” is not often difficult in higher education settings.
  • Higher education contexts do not do well at encouraging Hedgehog leadership over Fox leadership. By their very nature, academics approach the world like Foxes: they see everything in terms of nuance and complexity and often have multiple goals and frameworks that they perceive the world through. They’re also asked to juggle fifty things at once between their various teaching, service, and research obligations. Expecting a group of academics to “simplify a complex world into a single idea or principle that unifies and guides everything” is borderline insanity.
  • The incentives of the higher education context do not often reward leaders who are “compellingly modest.” Oftentimes, the career success for academics depends a great deal on self-promotion and justifying one’s continued existence (i.e. the tenure and promotion system). Often, the more “headlines” an academic receives, the better his or her career prospects and opportunities for advancement. This seems to be in conflict with the goal of seeking out leaders that are “compellingly humble.”
  • I tend to agree with the “adapt or die” idea promoted in this book. I see many examples of that in higher education. College faculty sometimes seem to be especially resistant to change (or even the idea of change) in a world where change can often be the price required to avoid irrelevancy. 

Summary of “College (Un)Bound: The Future of Higher Education and What it Means for Our Students” by Jeffrey J. Selingo

I recently read College (Un)Bound: The Future of Higher Education and What it Means for Our Students by Jeffrey J. Selingo who is the Editor-at-Large for the Chronicle of Higher Education. All in all this was a very interesting book and provided a number of interesting questions about the way that college is delivered and experienced by today’s Millennial generation.

What follows is a chapter-by-chapter summary of the book that highlights the parts that I thought were important or interesting. Thus, this summary reflects my personal biases and interests.

Introduction

  • Only about half of students who start college actually finish. (ix)
  • A college education is still the best ticket to “get ahead” in today’s world, especially for disadvantaged students. (ix)
    • That being said, college is increasingly expensive, leading to an ever-widening gap between the rich and poor in the U.S. as the rich get college degrees and the poor do not. (xv, 17)
    • The higher education “industry” is can be very resistant to change. (xii)

Ch 1: The great credential race

  • “Colleges now view students as customers and market their degree programs as products.” (5)
  • The BA has become the new high school diploma, the MA has become the new BA, and the PhD the new MA. Getting degrees is highly valued in today’s economy. (8)
  • Students want to customize their college experience as they have learned to expect customization in other aspects of their life (= technology). (10)

Ch 2: The customer is always right

  • “Colleges are turning into businesses where customers –in this case, students—expect to be satisfied.” (20) “… course evaluations now look eerily similar to customer satisfaction surveys” (21)
  • Students expect their professors to be like performers. They “want to be engaged, persuaded, and entertained.” (21)
  • Grade inflation is occurring and will continue to occur. Students now tend to think that they “deserve an A because they did all of their assignments.” (24)
  • Why does college cost so much? One big reason: “state governments slashing budgets to higher education” (27)
  • Many college campuses are trying to appear like resorts and hotels to become more appealing to students. (30-34)

Ch 3: The trillion-dollar problemC

  • This chapter discusses the finances of tuition and financial aid.

Ch 4: The five disruptive forces that will change higher education forever

  • 1: “A sea of red ink” – college budgets were hit hard with the economic crisis of 2008 (58)
  • 2: “The disappearing state in public higher education” – state legislatures had no money either and so no money to pass along to universities (61)
  • 3: “The well of full-paying students is running dry” – this is one reason that colleges like to recruit internationally. International students can often pay full tuition. (64)
  • 4: “Unbundled alternatives are improving” – “unbundling” refers to the classes, degrees, credentials that up until recently came “bundled” with a college education. Now it’s getting easier to learn a skill in one place, take a class at another place, pick up a certificate from one institution, transfer credits to another, etc. The experience is getting more fragmented and customizable. (67)
  • 5: “The growing value gap” – the widening rich/poor gap is only being exacerbated by college affordability issues (70)

Ch 5: A personalized education

  • “Flipped classrooms” = students watch online lectures outside of class on a topic and then use class time to do projects or work through problems together. This becoming increasingly popular. (77)
  • “Big Data” is being used increasingly to predict student success and to recommend which classes/majors a student should sign up for (78-86). This is to help improve chances of graduation.

Ch 6: The online revolution

  • While technology has changed drastically over the last several years, professors today “teach exactly the same way they taught a thousand years ago” (89).
  • Many courses are now being putting online and content available for free through open course software and websites. This content is customizable, portable, and cheap.
  • Research has shown that students usually learn “just as much in the hybrid [online + face to face] format as they would have in the traditional course” (101).

Ch 7: The student swirl

  • Students are increasingly moving from institution to institution throughout their higher education experience. Transfers are becoming more common.
  • Students earn credit for each “credit hour” they take, which is defined by the government as “one hour of directly faculty instruction and two hours of work outside of the class during each week of the semester” (112).
  • As instruction becomes more customizable and technology makes education more portable and fragmented, what if we tried some different ideas? Example: what if degrees were granted based on skills/knowledge demonstrated instead of time spent in classrooms? (113)

Ch 8: Degrees of value

  • How do we measure the value of a college education?
  • We often measure this based on the average earnings of graduates. (124) Is this the best way to measure the “value” of an education? No, but it’s harder to quantify intangibles that we might prefer.
  • Do college majors matter? (130) He argues “no, not really” but instead critical thinking skills and competencies matter more. Although, STEM fields still earn more than humanities and social science majors on average.
  • Does the institution matter? He argues “more or less, yes” (131). Those who go to more selective schools tend to make more than those who go to less selective schools. Also, being a “B” student at a better school is better than being an “A” student at a poorer school in terms of post-graduate opportunities. (132-133)

Ch 9: The skills of the future

  • Double-majoring is on the rise because students are demanding it, not because educators think it’s a good idea (143).
  • Again, critical thinking skills, ability to solve problems, ability to be self-motivated, ability to get along with others, effective written/oral communication skills, etc. is more important that specific content or skills (145-147).
  • What should a student do in college to be successful afterwards? (149)
    • “Seek passionate faculty mentors” to take classes from and work with.
    • “Dive deep into a research project” – do undergraduate research projects.
    • “Go on a transformative learning experience” by studying abroad.
    • “Be creative, take risks, learn  how to fail”

Ch 10: Why college?

  • College prices are going up, in part, because of the demand for services from staff to “help students mature” (= student life, counseling, career services, etc.) “In many parts of the world, the maturing experience is provided before college by a mandatory national or military service.” (165)
  • As education and income are highly correlated and the economic gap is widening, we’re also geographically self-sorting and concentrating the best-educated into urban and metro areas of the country. (167)
  • Ultimately, college graduates are better able to “make sense of the world around them” (170).

Conclusion

  • Five ways higher education will change in the future
    • A personalized education (175): education will become increasingly personalized and customizable for each individual student, including course content, major requirements, semester start/stop schedules, etc.
    • Hybrid classes (177): online courses will continue play a more prominent role in our education.
    • Unbundling the degree (178): colleges will be forced to start unbundling their products (courses, certificates, skills, experiences, content, etc.) so that students can mix and match in more diverse ways.
    • Fluid timelines (179): why must college be a four-year experience? Why not let students go at their own pace, either faster or slower?
    • College moneywise (180): encourage saving for college and making it more affordable.

Finally, here are some of my personal ruminations on this book’s content:

  • I like that the four recommendations that the author makes to students are four of the things that Centre College does very well: 1) hires passionate faculty, 2) promotes undergraduate research, 3) promotes study abroad, and 4) provides opportunities for creativity.
  • I’m more interested in looking into ways that I could possibly incorporate more online content for my courses in an effective manner.
  • Personalization and “unbundling” of products sounds great from the students’ perspective, but I wonder how this would look from the instructor perspective. How in the world would a professor be able to create 30 different syllabi for 30 different students who all want a personalized education experience with their own customizable content, assignments, deadlines, etc.? This is an extreme form of the concept, admittedly, but I wonder how practical this would be in terms of implementation.
  • It seems that doing something to address the widening gap between the educated and un-educated should be made a much higher priority on the part of lawmakers and policymakers.
  • I’m part of the camp that is leery about measuring the value of a college experience based on potential post-graduate earnings. To me, the most valuable part of my seven years of higher education was learning the cognitive skills to be able to critically analyze the world around me and be able to make better judgments and decisions about how I interact with others and what I want to prioritize in my life. It’s hard to put a price tag on that.

Economic stability needed to promote family stability

Simply improving the job market for young adults, especially men, would do wonders to stabilize families — particularly those just starting out, Cherlin said. Experts have been surprised by the real drop in divorce among the college-educated, who still can get good jobs. He said young people need more job training opportunities and apprenticeships, especially if they’re not college-bound. Making sure tax policy doesn’t discourage marriage and providing a modest earned income tax credit for disadvantaged childless young adults would also encourage formation of stable relationships, he added.

Full article available here: http://www.deseretnews.com/article/865597043/The-father-factor-What-happens-when-dad-is-nowhere-to-be-found.html?pg=all