Can We Engineer Students to Where They Learn Without Teachers?

I was reading Norman J. LaFave’s Web site, Alterworld: Norman LaFave’s Science Fiction Musings on Writing, Science, Technology, Education, Philosophy, Politics and Policy. 

His current article, The Future of Learning and Education…  tells of his thoughts on the future of education. He’s pretty imaginative, but I don’t think he’s wrong. I have been telling my Criminal Justice students that our ability to modify human genetics, alter human behavior with chemicals and change the structure of our bodies with implants is going to radically change the field. I think they only half believe me but the changes are coming anyway.

I am particularly interested in the experiments with brain chemicals that appear that appear to raise intelligence. The average intelligence in prison measured by IQ is about 70. That’s not much. What if we could raise that intelligence to that of an average citizen? Studies show that criminals suffer from poor judgment. One set of studies show that the process they use to make judgments is only partial the pattern used by law abiding citizens. Could we radically reduce crime by increasing inmate intelligence? We are likely to able to use this kind of technique not in some science fiction future, but probably in five or six years. It will be the first wave in new treatments for criminality not by prison but by altering the way their brains work.

The future may also hold direct transference of data from computers to the human brain. That might make much of college teaching obsolete. I can tell you I’m not looking forward to this, I’m a teacher and I enjoy it. However, I suspect the changes may be just far enough ahead for me to close out my teaching career with some dignity.

Both chemical treatment to raise offender IQ’s and direct transfer of information both present moral problems. However boosting intelligence in prison populations is hard to criticize ethically unless you can make a good case that an increased intelligence is a detriment some way. I think it is more akin to providing exercise facilities to build muscles than a punishment.

Direct transfer of information is going to be much more of an ethical dilemma. Will the machine evade the judgment centers of the forebrain and deliver the information without any moral screening? Will humans simply become skill bundles with only a limited humanity? What exactly are we putting in and how does it affect the whole system? As long as it is theory and their are no facts to work with, questions over what is right or wrong become more numerous the more you think about it.

I think raising intelligence by chemical means will be common in the next thirty years. I do not forsee direct knowledge transfer until minimally fifty or sixty years. But technology is not as predictable as when I was a child in the sixties, so we will have to see.

James Pilant

English: Computer tomography of human brain, f...
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Catherine Crier Attacks Conservative Dogma About Adam Smith

Adam Smith; engraving
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In an article in Huffington Post, Catherine Crier finds the Tea Party and Conservative view of Adam Smith and his doctrines to be ridiculous. In her interpretation (and mine), Adam Smith was at one with the principles of the mixed economy, that is, some regulation and some economic freedom. Here’s two key paragraphs –

Just as Jeffersonian democracy operates best on a small scale, Adam Smith believed his self-correcting free markets were ideal for small businesses in a domestic economy. Integrated in their communities, these businesses would be influenced directly by the needs and demands of consumers, and any dangerous or abusive conduct would rarely affect the broader economy. But Smith treated large, powerful companies very differently. He said big business was led by “an order of men…that generally have an interest to deceive and even to oppress the public”, and he referred to powerful corporations (then known as joint stock companies) as “unaccountable sovereigns” that were as dangerous to free markets as tyrannical governments. Unrestrained, they had the power to shape society and governments for their own purposes, and consumers would pay for “all the extraordinary profits” while suffering from “all the extraordinary waste”, the inherent fraud and abuse, that accompanies such immense economic power.

Smith stated emphatically that a strong government, acting through democratic and legal institutions, was the only entity capable of challenging such corporate power. Smith supported necessary government regulations, labor and human rights, public education, and progressive taxation to ease the economic and social inequities he knew would occur in a capitalist system. Without these “liberal” measures, social and political unrest would threaten a nation’s stability and his free market economy could not survive.

I have often been surprised what conservative say writers mean and what I read when I study the same text. She appears to have had the same experience. Few individuals read the Great Works of the Western World with any focus. The material is difficult and often lengthy as well but the Great Books are worth the effort.

I have long been a fan of Robert Maynard Hutchins and his belief in the importance of books and skilled reading. I have read almost a third of the books he lists at the end of his book, “How to Read a Book.” Let’s have more reading and understanding and less dogma.

James Pilant

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Income Inequality Squeezes the Middle Class [via Beat the Press]

Inflation adjusted percentage increase in mean...
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I couldn’t agree more. There is less of the pie for the poor and middle class. No matter what your talents and your willingness to work, how do you compete with a system that distributes income upward toward those who already have the money? Income inequality continues to squeeze the middle class perhaps eventually into its disappearance.

James Pilant

This brief comment is from a posting on Beat the Press entitled –

If Millennials Do Worse Than Their Parents, It Will Be Because Bill Gates‘ Kids Have All the Money

The Washington Post had a column by a millennial columnist complaining about the lack of opportunity. It is striking that the column never once mentioned income inequality.

There is no doubt that millennials will on average be far wealthier than their parents. Output per hour has roughly doubled over the last three decades, meaning that the real wage could be almost twice as high today as it was in 1980. Insofar as the typical millennial is not seeing the benefits of this productivity growth it is due to the fact that so much income has been redistributed upwards, not the result of any generational dynamics.


Here’s some more from Mother Jones, the New York Times, and Slate.

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Adding Insult to Injury – America’s Debt Ceiling Crisis & Who is responsible for the financial crisis in America? (via Tucson Blonde)

This is a explanation of why the rich are gaining ground and the middle class losing it. It cites statistics on a regular basis. No statistic cited is anything that I have heard contrary data on. So, I think the report was written with considerable research. I would note that there is not just a little passion in the post which is delightful to me but not always to my readers.

This blogger wrote a lengthy, well written and thoughtful article. Please visit the web site and reward those efforts.

James Pilant

Whose side is Congress on? In November 2009 the New York Times published an article about the number of US Senators and House members who were millionaires.[i] At the time two-thirds (66%) of the senate and more than half (55%) of the house were also millionaires. That year recorded an estimate of nearly 7% (ca. 21 million) Americans who were, at least, millionaires. If our “representatives” truly reflected the current state of our great Nation w … Read More

via Tucson Blonde