Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Black Church

I've been calling for a reevaluation of the impact of the church on Black America for a while. I think there are a lot of good messages out there that talk about being sheep vs actually willing to challenge the principles of your religion and say "I disagree with the Bible" - shocking, I know. But if we accept what Jesus says that the only way NOT to get into heaven is to blaspheme the Holy Ghost, then that may be saying that what we really need to do is what Jesus did and start going into temples and knocking over tables and challenging preachers.

I read King's autobiography and Phillip Gulley's book, "If God is Love", which both really challenged some of the principles I was taught growing up (a main one being that Gandhi went to hell). So much of the church "conversation" is really repeating a few select scriptures (John 3:16), but rarely do I hear people even willing to talk about what they should do when two verses seem to conflict one another (ex, Jesus saying that anyone who follows his command will be called a follower of Christ vs Paul defining Christians to be those who believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ).

Starting a new religion is kinda pointless to me, but I'd love for the church not to try to appoint people (pastors/bishops/popes/priests/etc) as God's "chosen people" as if their word comes straight from God with an ultimate understanding that we mere peasants couldn't think to understand, so we should just accept it.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Hey Democrats, Dumb it Down

A message that is not getting out to the people because many of the smart/educated/elite democrats seem to think that the democratic way is just common sense, and people will just by default choose whats best for them. The fact that Sarah Palin can connect with so many people about this stuff is a testament to it. Part of it is different conspiracy theories about the President, but part of it is just the inept inability of democrats to get our message across. The only person I've seen doing a remotely good job at that (other than Obama on the election scene of 2008) has been Jon Stewart.

What the Democratic party needs right now is more people who can talk in everyday language about this stuff, and what it means. People seem to be underestimating the importance of presentations. You can have a theory that changes the world (ala universal health care), but if you can't convey that message, you're probably not going to convince anybody. I don't know who the PR person for the democratic party is, and progressives in particular, but they seriously need help. All I'm seeing is talking (even a smuggish laughter at certain sites) where people seem to think that because "we're not the Republican party" and "the Tea Party is sooooooo bad", we're going to win in November. Thats about the most foolish thing I've ever heard.

I mean if a student doesn't understand what I'm teaching him in class, then he'll easily put down an answer that'll leave me scratching my head wondering how he got that, (sqrt(2)/2 = sqrt(), for example). But instead of letting it get to that point, its my job as the teacher to ensure that the message gets across. The Democratic party (and MSNBC, which tries to promote so many of the progressive values) seriously needs a revamp in how they're getting these messages across. I'd have thought that a revamp would have come after what happened with health care, but its just not happening. And I'm just left to wonder "are democrats that dense?"

I mean, I've been pretty pissed lately with the Democrats inability to get a message across. Keith Olbermann's show last night was a perfect example. There was a brilliant segment on small businesses, but nobody's going to watch the whole segment. Unless we can summarize this into an elevator speech that gets the point across, its just useless crap. Instead of just complaining though, I decided to do what I could to help out.

Point of this segment: Small business is not well defined, and is being abused by republicans.

How can we get this point across? Here are a few taglines that I thought of to summarize the message:

- Republicans think PriceWaterHouseCoopers is a small business.

- How can you have 30,000 employees and be called a small business?

- What should we be focused on saving - the mom and pop shops, or the big businesses?

- This is the same cycle all over again. Dems care about main street; Republicans care about wall street.

- They say if they can't save the big businesses the old fashioned way, they'll just start calling the big businesses small and try to save them that way.

I'm sure there are several other(better) ways to say it, probably some with examples and stuff, but the point here is that we need to simplify the message we try to convey so that we can get it to reach more people.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Complexity of Education??

I many friends who are getting PhD's in education. Recently, one of my friends made the comment that so much work is being done to come up with new methods for teaching, and questioned why these methods are not being used in the classroom. I thought about this and responded with the question, "how complex is the problem of education?"

I've been thinking about that for a few days now. I mean, at a basic level, it seems that the problem of educating a group of students can be seen as a transshipment problem. There is a single supplier, the teacher, and a set of demands, given by the students. The item being transported, though, is information and information doesn't seem to meet the standard metrics of this problem.

For instance, how do you know if the information has been passed from teacher to student? How do we know if a student knows the information? One way of measuring this is through a test, but tests have their own biases and its very difficult to encapsulate all the information on the test. Plus, how do we know they learned the information vs just memorizing it? A second metric would be some type of a paper/writeup of what they learned. Again, this has its pros and cons, what if the student learned, but isn't a good writer? What if the student enjoys one part of the material more than others, and thus ignores some part of the lesson? Another metric could be based on the set of questions a student asks, but what about shy students or students who don't know they don't understand the material yet? I've also seen Other metrics such as games and having the students teach class posed.

Assuming that we have some 'black box' which will tell us whether or not the student has learned the information, there is still the concept of passing information. Unlike passing materials (like a box), when I pass information to someone, I do not lose that information. In fact the opposite may happen, where I actually have more understanding of the information. So the standard supply and demand constraints of a transshipment problem do not apply. One could get around this by assuming that the teacher has an infinite supply of information, and thus is able to supply any number of students. It then becomes a transshipment problem where the teacher wants to find the a way of presenting the information so that each student learns the material. This also brings up a second question though about the teacher. If the teacher is limited in how much they know about the topic, then they are definitely limited in how much they can say about it, and the number of ways they can teach it.

But this brings up another difference between education and the transshipment problem, time. Generally, classes have some fixed length, say 50 minutes. So teachers need to find a set of ways to pass information to a classroom of, say 27 students, such that each student receives this information that takes no longer than 50 minutes. In today's world, this is relaxed a bit because in addition to office hours, teachers are able to provide teaching methods by way of the internet and email, but this only works for those who are acceptable to those methods of teaching.

So I'm wondering about this problem. Where is it in the polynomial hierarchy? Is it in the polynomial hierarchy? How much relaxations like "we'll use the metric of tests or standardized tests to judge how much a student has learned" help simplify the problem? What is lost in this doing things this way?

These are just some thoughts on the subject. I'm really curious about how well this has been studied in terms of general complexity though. I do see a journal which has sparked my interest. Its called Complicity: An International Journal of Complexity and Education. I think I'll give a few articles a read in my spare time.
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