Monday, June 14, 2010

From Sierra College to Tea Party - here's why students need education, not just training

The warmup speaker at Saturday's Tea Party Town Hall (Report#1 here) was a Sierra College student in Communications. He's young; at his age he's entitled to screw up, as we older codgers all have. And he did; but IMO the person at fault was the one who, having heard (of?) the student's class speech, invited him to deliver it at a public gathering.

The poor fellow knew a boatload of things that just aren't so, and confidently shared them; starting with an assertion, delivered with both certainty and incredulity, that "these people [progressives, environmentalists, presumably also climate scientists] really believe that carbon dioxide, which is a naturally occurring molecule in our everyday life, is ruining the ozone layer."

(Note to lay readers: global climate destabilization and stratospheric ozone depletion are two separate problems; and our coming together to solve the latter is indeed something to be proud of.)

The speech continued with a similar level of adherence to reality.

But just as Paris Hilton's TV show made an eloquent argument for the estate tax, this fellow's speech exemplified why a higher education needs to provide education, not just training. If Sierra College is only training students to communicate their views, and not educating them to develop well-informed ones, then our tax dollars are being missspent. Publicly supported colleges need to build citizens, not just workers.

And the college needs to select faculty who are qualified to educate. I've heard two stories in the last month, about local educational institutions spurning offers of skilled assistance; which makes me wonder if this turf-protection might be more common than not.

Confidential to Student: take it from me, the best lessons are those that sting. If you do want to learn - it's up to you, nobody can make you - you might pick up Jonah Lehrer's book How We Decide*, and also read young climate blogger Kate's early post on The Credibility Spectrum.
(and Kate, we are going to be so proud that we knew you back when...)


Peter said...

Basically all you did was whine and complain telling us that he's "misinformed," yet gave only one meager explanation to support your belief. hmmm..

Ron said... follow up what Peter said: you claimed in your blog that he was incorrect for saying that high concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere causes warming of the Planet, BUT yet you have a link to a website that says, and i quote,
"Global warming is mainly the result of CO2 levels rising in the Earth’s atmosphere... Carbon dioxide (CO2) is the chief greenhouse gas that results from human activities and causes global warming and climate change."

hmm... hypocrisy much? i was at the Tea Party on Saturday, and thought his speech was delivered quite well, and factually on point. how about, you listen to what he has to say, and refute his FACTS/arguments INSTEAD of trying to make him look stupid and uneducated because he doesn't believe the same thing you believe.

Shay said...

If anything you just added fuel to his fire. So, good job to the speaker for encouraging and enlightening others to think outside of their boxes. Although, it seems as if some are still a little slow...they'll catch up someday...let's hope.

Anna Haynes said...

Ron, you might want to reread the quote - he said (and was shocked that) environmentalists believed CO2 was destroying the *ozone* layer. I think he's conflating stratospheric ozone depletion with global climate destabilization.

Fellows, pretty much everything he said about climate change was incorrect - if I tried to rebut it all, I'd be here all night. A better idea - you could visit the Arguments page, which takes care of the debunkings much more efficiently than I can.

Ryan said...

Ok I may not totally agree with "this young fellow" on the topic of global climate change, (which we have established personally) however this lady whoever she not only doesn't make sense but doesn't give any facts herself to back her own self up. All she does is bicker, and does not have a well informed response for her to be able to attack in the ways she did. EXACTLY the epitome of why our system is broken, people bicker and not come out with reasonable compromise or rebuttal. Sounds to me like she is part of the baby boomer generation, it seams like thats all they know how to do, (hence the word baby).

Anna Haynes said...'s Arguments page may give you the facts you're looking for, Ryan. Take a look.

Don Pelton said...

Hey Anna:

Nice post -- and a reasonable one -- about the quality of our educational system.

You seem to be under siege for making the point that interested you and not the ones some readers would prefer!

It's your blog and your place to explore the ideas that interest you.

Keep up the good work, I say.

Anna Haynes said...

Thanks Don.

I should probably also note that the speech urged more offshore drilling.
(which, in view of the BP gulf disaster, might have been a good part to excise)

Ryan said...

I looked at the facts you posted and I probably agree with you a lot in global climate change, but criticism, bickering, and hacks at our climate and education system doesn't fix the problem, we all need to work together both parties to come up with an ultimate compromise that will ultimately better the planet and the human species. I do believe our education system is in some need of serious reform, Saying that, coming from a full time college student myself. When we work together all of us people, humans, we can achieve great things. But using the most powerful brains on the planet (humans) to fight against each other is a recipe for disaster. That said, what are some good ideas for improvements and compromises if necessary (we gotta start somewhere) even if we don't get all we want, a start is better than nothing and a step in the right direction.

gzaller said...

I understand the idea of this blog's title that critical thinking should be taught over repetition thinking, but it does not say it. Schools should be "training" students to think critically. They are instead "educating" them to answer questions with the "correct" answers. "Authorities" make the determination about what the "right" answers are and teachers reward or punish the students into compliance. Out of the box thinking is actively discouraged. It is very Orwellian and begins in the earliest grades and continues through college. I believe changing this is the remedy to the many problems our society has created for life on the planet as well as with global warming. To survive humans must work together to invent a new world where there are no authorities to exploit knowledge for power. Change schools and save the world.

Anna Haynes said...

Thanks, Ryan. And thank you Greg.
(great photo, BTW! made me smile too.)

Greg, I agree that critical thinking's very important; but I'd reframe it as applied epistemology, since part of being an informed citizen involves assessing credibility of sources. We can't build our knowledge base from scratch (or if we did, we wouldn't get very far). "Standing on the shoulders of giants" is the way to go, for most of it, if we can (competently) assess which giants are the competent ones.

On education vs training, the distinction I've always seen is that education is broad, and training is narrow. Education teaches you to think (and assess) for yourself; training equips you with the skills to do a job.

Max Norton said...

Don't sweat the naysayers on this particular post, Anna -- by making the same mix-up of climate and ozone layer issues that you cited in the first place, they demonstrate they didn't read or didn't pay much attention when they read your post. You state your argument clearly, no bickering involved. Seems like they are driven more out of loyalty to TP ideology than any logic-based rebuttal of your point. Greg's more thoughtful constructive criticism obviously excluded.

Anna Haynes said...

Max's "Seems like they are driven more out of loyalty to TP ideology..." made me realize that the student's talk epitomized Paul Graham's observation, in his (excellent) essay "What You Can't Say", that:
"as a result, a well brought-up teenage kid's brain is a more or less complete collection of all our taboos-- and in mint condition, because they're untainted by experience..."

("our" and "well brought up" being from the TPP folks' perspective)

Anna Haynes said...

Something to keep your eye out for - which I had in spades, at the student's age - is that some people aren't comfortable with uncertainty, and so they feel they *have* to stake out a position and then proceed to defend it, come what may.

It's a great relief to let go of that - to be a navigator, not a warrior.
(a distinction that's kind of akin to the Berlin&Tetlock fox vs hedgehog )

But it's harder to do so when you're young, because you haven't internalized enough yet, and (speaking from my own experience) you find *everyone* (older than you) sounds convincing, which'd mean turning like a pancake, depending on who you'd heard last.

That phase will pass.

Anna Haynes said...

To continue relating my college-era educational insecurities -
another (related) one I had, was feeling like a complete dunce relative to older people who seemed to know so much more. And it isn't fun to feel that way, so it was tempting to avoid such situations; so that's largely what I did.

And *that* was dumb, since a better way to frame "feeling like a dunce" is "learning something new"; and for students, the more you can do this, the better. That's your job, right now; do it as well as you can.