On being taught what you already know

There’s an interesting article in this month’s ISSA journal about awareness by Gordie Stewart..  I think it can be generalized to all of education, not just adult education in technology.

The mainstream approach of teaching topics regardless of what audiences
already know or perceive seems an extraordinarily wasteful approach of
people’s time — both ours and our audiences. Lance Spitzner from the SANS
Securing the Human Program makes an interesting point about humans being
just another operating system (OS). I think we could take his analogy even
further. If we were asked to secure a Windows operating system,
we’d inspect it to see what security controls were missing.
To suggest that we just fire patches at it blindly without
knowing what was already installed would be ludicrous. But that’s
exactly what we do with human operating systems. Where’s
the awareness equivalent of the Microsoft Baseline Analyser?

and later …

Rick Wash did a fantastic piece of re-search on security mental models and
clearly demonstrated the value of understanding audience perspectives.
Wash found that there was a common perspective held by American home
computer users that the Internet threat was mostly mischievous hackers.
This fundamental misunderstanding then infuenced people’s attitudes
toward security behaviors such as patching and antivirus. The
audience had heard the advice about patching and antivirus, but
their belief about the nature of the threat overrode the recommendations
they had heard from the experts. The mistaken perception about the threat
prevented them from acting on good advice. Reiterating general advice
about patching and antivirus is unlikely to help this audience.
However, with a greater understanding of their perceptions in regards
to the nature of the threat, the approach for this audience is now obvious.


Great New Word

Ineptocracy (in-ep-toc’-ra-cy) – a system of government where
the least capable to lead are elected by the least capable of
achieving, and where the members of society least likely to
succeed are abundantly rewarded with goods and services paid for
by the confiscated wealth of a diminishing number of producers.

Economic theory suggests an excessive minimum ...

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Dumbing Us Down

There is a maxim attributed to the Jesuits that goes: “Give me a child until he is seven, and I will give you the man”, meaning that the childhood years are formative. More ancient philosophies going back to to the Greeks and Chinese voice a similar outlook. Modern psychology, thanks in large part to Freud, supports this outlook.

I want to show how the bad stuff we learn at school harms us as individuals, in our relationships, in the workplace and how it damages society as a whole.

So its frightening when that principle is used for subversive ends. We feel horrified when we hear of children being recruited by rebels and terrorists in Africa and the Middle East, being armed with automatic weapons or being used as involuntary human bombs. What frightens us most, perhaps, is that their minds and outlook are being perverted, just as in another age children living in totalitarian societies were encouraged to “report” the “subversive” activities of their parents and other adults.

We, especially in the contemporary West, value our children and their innocence. We take the view that crimes against children, exploiting them or abusing them is particularly pernicious.

Why then, asks John Taylor Gatto, do we do so systematically, and have this deeply embedded in our culture and educational system? Gatto has written books and essays on this subject. The essay you can read on-line, the book is worth reading in its own right. Continue reading Dumbing Us Down

Cosmic Emergence

When explaining emergence
I sometimes say, half jokingly that:

The English language is an Emergent Property of the Hydrogen Bond

We usually talk of emergent properties of complex systems in the contemporary world, things like bio-systems and ecology, complex social systems and of course consciousness and “intelligence”.

Emergent properties are usually the result of complex interactions.  Simple, first level interactions such as sodium and chlorine, neither of which are crystalline or salty, combine to make salt – which has properties that are not inherent in either of them.  However basic chemistry does tell us that such chemicals can make “salts”.  Water, however, has complex physical properties that are unique in chemistry and cannot be predicted from knowledge of how similar elements combine.  Merely saying that:

“An emergent is a higher-level property, which cannot be deduced from or explained by the properties of the lower-level entities.”

is inadequate.  It may be simply that we don’t have the detailed knowledge.  Non-chemists, for example, will not be aware of the chemistry of “salts”.  There are no shortage of stories based on having such a superior knowledge to “impress the natives”.  Or be a stage magician.  See, for example, Penn and Teller explaining how they do their “magic” tricks.   Continue reading Cosmic Emergence

Dumbing Down Science Education

The BBC is not normally a hotbed of high standards, but it offers this report on the dumbing down of science education in the UK: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/education/6038638.stm

The new GCSE science curriculum has been branded “sound bite science” which takes a back-to-front approach.
Sir Richard Sykes, rector of Imperial College London, is among the scientists to attack the core qualification, in which pupils discuss topical issues. Sir Richard told BBC News: “If you wish to have a dumbed-down syllabus for the general population that’s fine.

The article goes on to quote Ethicist Baroness Mary Warnock:

“What counts as an issue to be debated in class is largely, as David Perks points out, dictated by the press.
Far too much teaching at school has already degenerated into this kind of debate, more suitable for the pub than the school room.”

So it would seem that in the UK science is being discarded as Latin and Greek and the grammatical analysis and critical thinking that went along with them is being discarded. Continue reading Dumbing Down Science Education

Are you a Dummy or an Idiot?

There are a few axioms in business, sales and marketing.
Up there at the top is something of the order of “treat your customers with respect.
For many, this starts at “hang up the phone before you start swearing at them”, but the principle is more universal. Its a variation of the idea of “The customer is always right” that one famous department store owner – or other – brought into the vernacular.

Along with such truisms goes the idea in marking that something new and dramatic will grab the customer’s attention.

Which has led to an interesting paradox. There is a line of books that is predicated on the assumption that telling the reader — the customer — that they are ignorant. Continue reading Are you a Dummy or an Idiot?