Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Just remembering

A comment by Curt Bonk about my Legends and Legacies video got me thinking about so many impressive scholars I have had the pleasure of knowing … and I am thinking about one trait they all shared … namely, a willingness to listen and accept the views of others without ever showing an ounce of arrogance or self-importance … I am specifically recalling many meetings with Bob Gagné, Bob Tennyson, Dave Merrill, Charlie Reigeluth, O. K. Bouwsma, Ed Allaire, Stuart Spicker, Walt Davis, Rich Mayer, Bob Kozma, Dick Clark, Paal Davidsen, Norbert Seel, Sanne Dijkstra, Ton de Jong, and so many others whose names escape my aging mind … and then I think about so many others I have met who are into self-promoting and boasting about their accomplishments so much of the time … I am too much like the latter group and too little like the former … so I am now wondering if humility is an indicator of wisdom … and, I should add that two of those luminaries called me stupid in front of others for something I said … of course both Gagné and Spicker were right … I had said something stupid … but their words and guidance helped me through the fog of my arrogance …

Wednesday, October 6, 2021

Shallowness and superficiality are pervasive

I am finally stopping. No more listening to empty-headed news reports. With the exception of Rachel Maddow, the reporters and interviewers seem to be aiming for headlines – some simple-minded thing to put out to the equally mindless public. The obsession with headlines, deadlines, redlines, and battlelines is disturbing … no, meaningless … no, just plain mean … with so little emphasis and analysis given to foodlines and lifelines. Where is the humanity lost in information ... in misinformation ... where is that voice that spoke to Job and asked where Job was when the mountains and rivers were created? Where is the humility?

Friday, September 24, 2021

Thoughts on the value of repetition in learning and instruction

Time changes things. Technologies change. Technologies change what people can do and are doing. Technologies change what people will want to do. And, technologies can also change what people will want to avoid doing. That is one of my mantras. A second on is this: It is not about the technology; it is about learning; it is about the use of technology to support learning; and what counts as learning is a stable and persistent change in what a person knows and can do, as Gagné and others have said on many occasions. Do it again, the coach says. Say it again, the language teacher says. Read it again nearly every teacher says. Watch it again the movie enthusiast says. I omit the things my parents used to tell me for the sake of brevity. Repetition seems to be an important principle of learning (see https://www.researchgate.net/publication/228318502_Repetition_is_the_First_Principle_of_All_Learning ... and https://www.gse.harvard.edu/news/ed/10/01/repetition-repetition-repetition and many more) … but, repetition can lead to boredom … as noted in the first reference … but bringing new eyes and ears to the same activities and resources can deepen one’s understanding … SO … the critical factor may not be the same or different activities and resources but wide eyes and tuned in ears … aka, an open mind … just a passing thought. I think of things I have read multiple times … such as Wittgenstein’s Tractatus and Camus’s Myth of Sisyphus and Gagné’s Conditions of Learning … and each time I stumble across something new or puzzling, such as “We picture facts to ourselves” (Tractatus 2.1) and yet many often picture things that are not facts to themselves … or “One must imagine Sisyphus happy” … why is that when his fate is endless and tiresome labor … or why was Gagné so intent on separating verbal information, intellectual skills, cognitive strategies, motor skills and attitudes when they seem so often interconnected. Gagné and Merrill did write about enterprises which involve interconnected kinds of tasks. Keep reading and keep thinking. Read it again. Discuss it again with a colleague. Insights seem to happen irregularly and at unexpected moments. To understand Tolstoy, one should read A Confession. To understand Wittgenstein, it is important to look into his family life after reading Tractatus 7 … “whereof one cannot speak, whereof one must remain silent” and then he goes on to write extensively about language games. Why? Repetition can lead to boredom but it can also lead to improved memory and performance and occasionally to important insights. What matters? The technology? What matters is the learning. What matters? What one already believes or knows. Learning involves a persistent and stable change in … if no change … then no learning. Children are masterful learners as they do not typically let their beliefs and prior knowledge get in the way of learning something new, and they are generally open to change. As T. S. Eliot notes in “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” There will be time, there will be time To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet; There will be time to murder and create, And time for all the works and days of hands That lift and drop a question on your plate; Time for you and time for me, And time yet for a hundred indecisions, And for a hundred visions and revisions, Before the taking of a toast and tea. … Do I dare Disturb the universe? In a minute there is time For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse. … I should have been a pair of ragged claws Scuttling across the floors of silent seas. … I grow old ... I grow old ... I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled. … That poem is something else I have read perhaps a 100 times or more, and each time I seem to focus on somewhat different parts of that remarkable poem. In the shuffle and scuffle of life, I have learned that I know very little even though I have had the remarkable pleasure of having had amazing teachers and mentors. “Whereof one cannot speak, whereof one must remain silent.” Why is it so hard to remain silent?

Thursday, September 16, 2021

Yom Kippur – 16 September 2021

I have to say this on this day of atonement and forgiveness … I ask forgiveness for my country. I ask forgiveness for the blind ones who want to condemn a general who helped avoid a war with China … General Milley should be praised and not condemned … the world is upside down thanks to #45 who put himself on top of all things and crushed so many of those who did not agree or jump on board the Trump train. For the critics of General Milley, a Princeton graduate with a graduate degree from Columbia University and a distinguished military career … can any of the records of his attackers hold a faint candle to his record? The stone throwers trip over the pebbles of their lives while trying to diminish others. Okay … I have my own shortcomings to admit and seek forgiveness. I have not been such a great parent or spouse or sibling … too many things to mention specifically … I have helped some students but not helped others in need of help … I anger too easily, and I often say what I am thinking without considering better ways to express myself. I make jokes about serious issues to draw attention to things I regard as stupid or wrongheaded. Sometimes my jokes are offensive or in bad taste. Bite my tongue. I have lapses of memory and sometimes forget that I have lapses of memory. The point is that I am a skeptic at heart … a person in search of meaning and truth and admitting to knowing less than I sometimes pretend to know. Endless invention, endless experiment, Brings knowledge of motion, but not of stillness; Knowledge of speech, but not of silence; Knowledge of words, and ignorance of the Word. All our knowledge brings us nearer to our ignorance, All our ignorance brings us nearer to death …. All men are ready to invest their money But most expect dividends. I say to you: Make perfect your will . I say: take no thought of the harvest, But only of proper sowing … The desert is not remote in southern tropics, The desert is not only around the corner, The desert is squeezed in the tube-train next to you, The desert is in the heart of your brother. The good man is the builder, if he build what is good. (from T. S. Eliot’s “Choruses from the Rock”) I have no great words or thoughts of my own … I steal from others who have gone before. Most often from Bob Dylan: "It's never been my duty to remake the world at large, nor is it my intention to sound the battle charge." Before I go I can at least say that I have not killed another person … I have not caused physical harm to another person … I have loved and been loved … mostly by my children and grandchildren … and I have had amazing friends who live in various places across this threatened planet that we can temporarily call home.

Saturday, August 28, 2021

A New Direction for a Troubled Nation: Head North … or escape to Bali

A New Direction for a Troubled Nation: Head North … or escape to Bali Horace advised youth to head West to find a new beginning. Perhaps that can be modified to head North, perhaps to Greeley, Colorado … perhaps to escape Hurricane Ida … or perhaps to escape rabbel rousing rebels and trumplicans seeking to resurrect a lost war, a lost election and return to a time of sedition and slavery. Those were the days, my friend. But then the one road we have traveled since 1619 has shattered and split. There are actually some who are advocating for every American adult to own and carry a gun … as if that will reduce gun deaths in the country with one of the worst gun violence records on the planet – the worst among developed nations. Go NRA. Give me an AR-15 or give me death … be sure to include an unhealthy supply of bullets … preferably at least 1000 rounds of 5.56x45mm M193 NATO certified 55 grain bullets. Head North – take your friends and family – a house divided against itself cannot stand. All those from whom I am fleeing are allegedly followers of Abraham Lincoln and give some recognition to the original Abraham as well, who heard “get thee up and go to a far place” and he went. I want to escape the nonsense, the hatred, the racism, the false patriotic venom, but I stumble on as do most – “Take me on a trip upon your magic swirling ship, My senses have been stripped, My hands can't feel to grip, My toes too numb to step, Wait only for my boot heels to be wandering.” A song to pass the time … a dream to avoid the ugliness … but hurricanes come and go at an increasing and intensifying rate … large scale human tragedies continue unabated … no large scale solution seems on the horizon … education for all? A dream .. critical thinking development for youth … another dream … echoes of the choruses from the rock stick in my mind - “Where is the Life we have lost in living? Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?” What can one small and old person do to improve the human condition … the answer is simple – “When you see your neighbor carrying something, help him with his load, and don’t go mistaking paradise for that home across the road.” Or, according to Spock, played by Leonard Nimoy, a devout Jew, “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few” … the wealthy and privileged few … Or, according to Rabbi Hillel, “if one is not for oneself, then who will be, but then if one is only for oneself [like so many wealthy and privileged people I happen to know] then what is one, and if not now, then when?” And, there is the lesson my father, Rabbi Joseph Spector, left me when I decided not to take a rabbinical fellowship and break the long line of rabbis in my family dating back at least to Rabbi Yitshak Elkahan Spektor – my father’s advice “was to be the voice that encourages, the ear that listens, the eye that reflects the hand that guides, the face that does not turn way … be a teacher.” “With one hand waving free” … “a pair of ragged claws, scuttling across the floors of silent seas” … mike spector

Friday, August 20, 2021

Life as Usual

Life as Usual The advice I keep getting is to ignore what is happening around the world and in this troubled country and just focus on your family and your job. Such advice sounds reasonable, and, if followed, might well lead to reduced stress and less anguish. However, I find such advice impossible to follow. I am living in a state where the governor wants to outlaw mask mandates and punish organizations that impose such mandates. I live in a state of denial. It is not a person’s individual right to endanger others, or so I was taught. Those who knowingly endanger others are acting irresponsibly and if others die as a result of that irresponsibility, then those persons are guilty of murder… in the highest degree and in the court of human kindness and understanding. The defense at the Nuremburg trials that “I was just following orders” did not exonerate anyone. Following orders that result in avoidable and unnecessary death is being an accomplice to murder. How can I ignore such stupidity in my own country? Elsewhere, we seem to be saving our own but putting our allies in Afghanistan at high risk. I used to be an Air Force officer, an intelligence officer who was not especially intelligent about keeping my views to myself, but I think we have obligations to those who have helped us in the past. Is that not what friends and allies do? Pointing fingers at others is no excuse for poor performance. But … why were we there and what were we fighting for? A few of us thought we should have left long ago or should never have gone … but memories and images of 9-11 are hard to ignore. Meanwhile, acts of random violence seem to be increasing. But the acts are not so random. They are aimed at those least able to defend themselves. Minorities continue to be oppressed in this land of the free and home of the brave. Immigrants are no longer welcomed as tired, and poor and huddled masses yearning to breathe free … they are accused without evidence of being criminals and carriers of COVID-19 … while the wealthy white class continues to denigrate the non-wealthy and non-white people who do the daily work and provide the daily bread for us all. Life cannot be as usual for me anymore. I see nonsense and stupidity all around. Mike Spector A disappointed citizen

Monday, August 9, 2021

Meanwhile …

While the earth is on fire … while storms are increasingly ravaging the planet … while seas are rising … while hopes are falling ... while people are starving and dying … Meanwhile, the big lie continues to thrive and Trumplicans are inciting hate and vitriol … meanwhile, we sit back and watch in disbelief as democracy is dying … while people are lying … while people are vying for power and profits … while the real thieves are not wearing masks … meanwhile … In the time it took me to write this short note, about 50 persons in the USA were killed by guns, about half that number died needlessly from COVID-19 in the USA, countless children are starving and separated from their families at the border, meanwhile, we sit back and watch … “it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing” ((https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/56964/speech-tomorrow-and-tomorrow-and-tomorrow)… How could Shakespeare have known?

Sunday, August 8, 2021

Faith or Fate?

Faith or Fate? I am Jewish and was raised to believe that “The lord our G-d is one.” So why is there evil and suffering? Much evil and suffering is recorded in the Five Books of Moses. I asked my father, rest his soul, about this apparent paradox many times growing up in East Tennessee. His answer was a variation of this: It is up to us to make this a better world. That reminds me of T. S. Eliot’s remark that the “good man is the builder if he builds what is good.” Still, I wonder why G-d would create such wondrous creatures as elephants, buffalos, and whales to have them slaughtered for their tusks, skins and oil? Why would G-d create magnificent mountains and forests to have them burned and butchered for lumber and ore. Why would G-d create great rivers to have them polluted by uncaring people? Why would G-d create such diverse people to have them kill each other in senseless combat and hatred. I have wondered about such things for more than 60 years, and I have no better insight than what my father provided. “I should have been a pair of ragged claws, scuttling across the floors of silent seas.” Is it about gathering as much for yourself while those in nearby neighborhoods have no jobs, no food, and little prospects for living and thriving in the promised land? How much is enough? Why do people who profess deep religious faith care so little for others … for the poor and starving … for the planet? How much is enough? How much is too much? Ask the billionaire class. What is good? What good will last from what we do now and in the future? I have no clue. The future is unknown … and it seems particularly dark these days in the midst of a pandemic, pandemic deniers and the big lie that won’t die. There are some … many … who have managed to bring out the worst in people. I imagine that each of us can name a few. My father’s message was simple … your job as a human being is to bring out the best in others. Why did he leave me with such an impossible task?

Saturday, August 7, 2021

Just heard from a friend

I just got an unexpected call from a friend who lives half a world away … in India. He called just to say hello and ask how I was doing. It is hard to estimate how much that call lifted my spirits … in the midst of a pandemic in which his country is not doing well, in the midst of pandemic stupidity in this country, in the midst of so much hate and vitriol, in the midst of so much suffering and so little empathy, in the midst ... of the big lie (fact check - he lost). My advice … call a friend just to say hello … call a friend just to say I care … and then get back to the business of making this a better world for all … not just for those who have it all. Call a friend. It is highly unlikely that the limits of your imagination conform to reality ... nor mine. "I'd rather be a pair of ragged claws scuttling across the floors of silent seas" - from T. E. Eliot's "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" (see https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/45564/the-world-is-too-much-with-us)... and this from William Wordsworth's "The World Is Too Much Us" - "... late and soon, getting andspending, we lay waster our powers ... little we see in nature that is ours" - see https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/45564/the-world-is-too-much-with-us.

Thursday, July 1, 2021

Random Thoughts on the Wisdom and Ethics of my Father

For some reason I find myself thinking about my father and some isolated conversations I seem to recall from the years preceding my bar mitzvah. I think I asked about the stories of so many in the Torah who were flawed or who committed bad acts. It starts of course with Cain but includes Abraham and Moses and so many others. My father said that the point of the records reported in Jewish liturgy is that all of us are flawed. We all have shortcomings, and the point of those stories is to understand that we all fall prey to bad inclinations on occasion but that we can strive to become less flawed. The one character in Jewish liturgy who was the least flawed suffered more than most – Job. As a result, I have long been fascinated with Job and that book. What sticks with me still today is G-d’s questions (or harsh reminders) to Job: “Where were you when I created the earth and set the stars in motion?” Today that seems like G-d asking Steven Hawking what he knew about things prior to the big bang. So I managed to gain two big lessons from my father that have stayed with me all these years. First, I, like everyone else, have flaws … more than I care to admit even to myself. Second, I, like everyone else, have limited knowledge. There are things I do not know, will not know, and can never know. Given those early lessons, I decided I could not follow in my father’s footsteps and become a rabbi … I was always amazed at how well he fulfilled the many duties and obligations of being a rabbi. So, I became a wanderer … drifting from place to place and profession to profession. If one concludes that all people have flaws and limited knowledge, then how should one interact with others and how should one conduct one’s life? Accumulating wealth and words of praise seems like the wrong thing to do especially when one realizes that so many have so little and when so many others have done so many things far more remarkable than anything I can do … where is my place and what can I contribute? I find myself asking but not answering … remembering but not doing … one can be a better person … I still try on occasion to be better … mostly with my children but I have no indications of success. Well, few indications. None of my children have become mass murderers … none have been convicted of criminal behavior … all have graduate degrees … and all have been loved. What more can one ask? To paraphrase Robert Zimmerman, “may they always do for others, and let others do for them.”