Wednesday, July 11, 2018

NATO and European Experiences

I had the pleasure of helping to organize two meetings funded by NATO in  the 1990s: a one-week Advanced Research Workshop held in Sitges, Spain, and a two-week Advanced Study Institute held in Grimstad, Norway. the latter had 84 participants from many countries. Both meetings were quite successful and eventually led me to take a position at the University of Bergen (UiB) in Norway.The first PhD student I supervised was at UiB and is now a full professor in Sweden. I had visited UiB previously as a Fulbright research scholar and had been provided a tour of the European Commission, which was also quite impressive. I worked in Europe for about 4 years and found myself in the midst of outstanding scholars and very tolerant people everywhere I went. I was invited to the University of Freiburg as a visiting scholar several times and found students there to be quite advanced and eager to learn. I have been an external evaluator on two large European Commission funded networks of excellence -  one on technology enhanced learning (STELLAR) and one on game-based learning (GaLA). I found both efforts to be quite good with many universities involved. Scholarship in Europe is quite strong. Our friends in Europe must be wondering what is happening in the USA and why the current administration seems intent on abandoning long-standing and very productive relationships. I too wonder.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

The Purpose of Education


I have been thinking about the suggestion to focus on individualized instruction and adaptive learning. I am concerned about how education is being conceptualized by those in power and those with money – it seems that those with either nearly always want more. Anyway, higher education in this country began with the British wanting those in the colonies to be able to perform basic accounting and bookkeeping functions – implies teaching arithmetic, writing and reading. Given my poor historical sense of things, I think of education being aimed at something beyond making those with money and power richer and more powerful.

While my understanding of history is very limited, I have read some things by or about Buddha, Confucius, Socrates, Spinoza and others. I find their thoughts more in line with my own thinking that education is about realizing the uniqueness of being human – being  a self-conscious deliberator struggling with understanding who we are, the world around us, and why we are here. I know … three strikes and I am out. I am not sure who I am (teacher occasionally, writer off and on, father … always on) … I understand very little of the world in which I am living (especially given the unreality show now playing at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue) … and why or how what I regard as a series of accidental choices and arbitrary decisions have led me to where I am now.

I recall Tolstoy’s Confession – especially Chapter IV (involving an Eastern fable; see http://www.classicallibrary.org/tolstoy/confession/4.htm) … and the last sentence in Camus’ Myth of Sisyphus (“one must imagine Sisyphus happy" – I still do not get it) and Nietzsche’s critique of Socrates (see http://www.inp.uw.edu.pl/mdsie/Political_Thought/twilight-of-the-idols-friedrich-neitzsche.pdf - the value of life cannot be estimated by the living as they are an interested party and not by the dead for a different reason).

What to do? Perhaps as my father and others have suggested – do what you can to bring out the best in others – what they regard as their best … not what is best for you but what is best for them by their own estimation.

The purpose of education is not to serve the economic engine of a society. Robots will do that much better that we are able to do anyway. The purpose of education is to become better at being human … becoming more than we have been … not gaining more wealth or power or helping others do that … but gaining more understanding of the changes that make being human an interesting occupation.

Higher education fails when lower minds take control. I thought the 1960s and early 1970s were bad … at least we had the GI bill back then helping to keep the ship of reason afloat.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

A Country Divided


A Country Divided

Inspired by Abraham Lincoln’s 1858 speech at the Illinois State Capital

A country divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure permanently, a few rich and many poor. I do not want the Union to be dissolved nor I do want either political party to disappear. I would like to see more Cooperation, Patience and Respect – CPR for our government is what is needed. More openness, more tolerance, less arrogance, no all or nothing positions, fewer my way or the highway stances, more evidence, quieter deliberation, more thoughtful consideration of alternative perspectives, more virtue, less vitriol … those are things we need in order to preserve this fragile union. The Union seems more fragile, more fragmented, more divided, and more at risk than at any time I can remember, But I am only a young 72.

Mike Spector

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Branding America


Branding America

Huddled masses breathing free
Credulous citizenry on bended knee
Truth and tolerance, spin and venom
Home of the brave, house of cards
One person, one vote
One fortune, sour notes
Free schools, broken rules
Voting rights, civil wrongs
Loving kids, buying guns
Too rich to care, too dumb to dare
Companies with brands, countries too
From sea to shining sea
In pursuit of life and liberty
Still yearning to be free


Mike Spector
Feb 25, 2018

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Thought for a day: Ask an expert

I am thinking about a new aphorism to guide my thoughts and actions. It pertains to seeking ideas and advice from others. 

It goes like this: Ask a novice and you are likely to get one answer that looks like one of these: “I don’t know,” I’m not sure,” or “Maybe X” [I omitted the “I know not what” part for those not familiar with John Locke’s notion of substance].

Ask an expert and you are likely to get at least two answers that look something like these: “It could be X or it could be Y,” and “Research shows different results in different situations” and “In this case Z might be best – give it your best shot.”

Ask a world-class scholar (assuming you can find a living one) and you are likely to get at least three answers which resemble something like the following: “Well, that is an interesting question which deserves some scrutiny; I am familiar with a case somewhat like this in which X was tried with somewhat mixed results; in a different situation Y seemed to work but it may not be appropriate in this case; on the other hand, you might consider Z; what do you think?”