Reading: 24 February-2 March 2013 (ZiR)

Reading 24 February-2 March 2013 (ZiR)

Fritz Tucker, Zeteo Assistant Editor

[One in an ongoing series of posts. For the full series see Zeteo is Reading.]


27 February 2013

Sugata Mitra has just won the prize for the best TED talk of 2012. I must say that his talk on student-driven education is probably the most inspiring and affirming (of my views on education) video I’ve ever seen. Some quotes from his interview in the New York Times today are as follows:

But I got curious about the fact that the children were teaching themselves a smattering of English. So I started doing a whole range of experiments, and I found that if you left them alone, working in groups, they could learn almost anything once they’ve gotten used to the fact that you can research on the Internet.

At first I thought that the children were learning in spite of the teacher not interfering. But I changed my opinion, and realized this was happening because the teacher was not interfering. At that point, I didn’t become entirely popular with teachers. But I explained to them that the job has changed. You ask the right kind of question, then you stand back and let the learning happen.

In a society in which we worked according to our abilities and consumed according to our needs, the idea that “any job that could be replaced by a computer, should be,” really just means more leisure time for everybody. In a society in which labor is capitalized, and work is occupationalized, any innovation is great for some and disastrous for others, which is really a pity. If only our society could be be more like Wu Tang, and be for the children, and teach the children.

1 March 2013

I’ve been reading Luc Sante’s Low Life: Lures and Snares of Old New York. Like Joseph Heller’s Picture ThisLow Life is filled with historical claims, though warns in the preface that not all of them are true.

This is by no means a work of academic history. In researching it, I was guided more by chance and intuition than by method. I was more interested in legends than in statistics, in rumors than in official reports.

That being said, Sante makes an interesting claim about prohibition. His first claim, that “drinking had stopped being a subculture and become mainstream” (p. 139) seems to be widely acknowledged, and is an example I use of why single-issue movements, especially ones looking to change laws, can backfire and lead to unforeseen consequences. Sante’s next claim, however, adds a further unforeseen consequence, one which seems to make everything alright in the end. “[I]llegality made [partaking in saloon culture] respectable as well as open to women.” But perhaps this was not unforeseen. Perhaps Ladies Night is what those tricky temperance-ettes were after all along.

2 March 2013

It’s so bizarre to be totally captivated by one set of a person’s intellectual endeavors, only to find out that their ideas on other topics are super messed up. I remember reading an essay of Orwell’s recently in which he talks about homosexuality as though it were a pathology. So I’m sad to report that the brilliant mind I referenced in my first post, Sugata Mitra, also wrote this article.

In Hiring Indians, Mitra points out an important and not-well-known fact: that Indians can be very different, depending on their regional and caste background. The article is designed to help sensitize–ostensibly–American and European employers to these regional differences; but not just what foods they eat, or even what languages to assume they’ll speak. The article spews forth a series of stereotypes so comical, it’s hard to take anything this guy says seriously ever again, at least until I go back and watch his amazing work on education. Some of my favorite quotes from the article are:

[Bengalis] are similar to, and often look like, the people of the Far East. They are lazy and have low ambition. However, they are usually highly educated, talented in the arts and are sensitive. They can be very emotional and tend to run away from difficult situations. They eat everything and enjoy eating and drinking very much.

[Northwesterners] are excellent entrepreneurs, have few values other than those connected with money and are mostly street-wise. Many consider education and professions a waste of time. They make excellent con-men and scamsters and can talk their way into most jobs. They are strictly vegetarian and eat all manner of deep fried food.

The women of the south are diminutive, subservient and very polite. These characteristics are mostly put on and these, extremely accomplished, women have made and destroyed empires without as much as moving a muscle.

One more reason why leader-worship is so dangerous. Often the more intelligent people are in one respect, the more ignorant they are in others.

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