venerdì 26 ottobre 2007

Musicophilia by Oliver Sachs

It is one of the tales published in Oliver Sachs' new book concerning the power of music

domenica 7 ottobre 2007

OpenEd: Week5

Week 5: Example Open Education Projects

Open University (UK) Open Content Initiative

Rice Connexions

Carnegie Mellon Open Learning Initiative

UNESCO Open Training Platform


National Repository of Online Courses

QUESTIONS: What do these representative open education projects have in common? What differentiates them? In the context of open education projects, what does "quality" mean?

- the general idea of offering knowledge for free (it's not always "sharing" but sometimes it looks like a sort of "philantropy" as demonstrated by the fact that some materials are copyrighted);
- the support from an external organization (Hewlett Foundation in the majority of cases, exept for the UNESCO)
- contents destined to higher education (high school/college or adulte learning)
- focus on content rather than on communication / interaction
- dedicated website (or repository) except one (OpenLearn) which is based on Moodle (one could expect 'open' initiatives to be more connected with open software... but it isn't so)

- some websites require registration, some others no;
- some contents are issued under CC licence, some are copyrighted;
- some websites are just a collection of links to external resources (not always free!)
- not all are equipped with online tutors and it's not always possible to personalize the content

As Antonio observes, quality is connected with reliability, accuracy, instructional design
For reliability and accuracy reasons, some initiatives (OCW) don't allow external contributions
[to be continued]

martedì 2 ottobre 2007


What do these overviews of the field have in common?
Though different in structure, perspectives and aims (see table 1), the three reports focus on the value of OER (Open Educational Resources) as a tool to guarantee “the right to education” for everybody.
One point that these overviews have in common is word “resources”, that refers not only to contents, as
Emanuela Zibordi points out, but to many other items ranging from text books, streaming videos and audios, modules etc. up to full courses. One more similarity is the attempt to find an exhaustive definition of OER.

Giving Knowledge for Free: The Emergence of Open Educational Resources (OECD)
p. 30 The definition of OER now most often used is: “open educational resources are digitalized materials offered freely and openly for educators, students and self-learners to use and reuse for teaching, learning and research”. To clarify further, OER is said to include:
- Learning content: Full courses, courseware, content modules, learning objects, collections and journals.
- Tools: Software to support the development, use, reuse and delivery of learning content, including searching and organization of content, content and learning management systems, content development tools, and online learning communities.
Implementation resources: Intellectual property licenses to promote open publishing of materials, design principles of best practice and localize content.

Open Educational Practices and Resources: OLCOS Roadmap 2012 (OLCOS)
OLCOS has gathered expert opinions and suggestions on open digital educational content but does not attempt to provide its own fully-fledged definition of Open Educational Resources. Interesting that all the three reports are somehow connected with William and Flora Hewlett Foundation: the first just mentions it among the acknowledgement (“The work was supported by a grant from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation”) , while the other one explicitly refers to the Foundation.
Report [2] mentions the Foundation reporting its definition of OER: “At the heart of the movement toward Open Educational Resources is the simple and powerful idea that the world’s knowledge is a public good and that technology in general and the Worldwide Web in particular provide an extraordinary opportunity for everyone to share, use, and re-use knowledge. OER are the parts of that knowledge that comprise the fundamental components of education – content and tools for teaching, learning and research.”

A Review of the Open Educational Resources (OER) Movement: Achievements, Challenges, and New Opportunities (Atkins, Brown, and Hammond)
OER are teaching, learning, and research resources that reside in the public domain or have been released under an intellectual property license that permits their free use or re-purposing by others.
This report gives an overview of OER movement, focusing on the achievements, remaining challenges, and enablers. It does not only describe the abstract concepts, but also gives an overview Hewlett funded projects.

What do they emphasize differently?
Andreas observes, there is a sort of “progression”: “on open education resources the first, extended to open education practices the second, looking forward to a new learning culture the last one”.
Document [1] focus is on the necessity of open sharing of intellectual property, but more at an institutional level. It highlights "the risk of doing nothing in a rapidly changing environment" (p. 63) as a central motivator for many institutions to participate in open education initiatives. The title “Giving knowledge for free” emphasize – almost ironically – the paradox of giving something important like knowledge “for free”. In a world based on economical mechanism, the word free looks quite strange.
Document [2] is concerned with the outcomes of the Open Education movement - in other words - what are the major shifts that need to take place in the educational infrastructure to make it possible for people to use open educational resources, get credentials and end up with an education that has value for them in the end
Document [3] especially talks about the challenge in developing countries which have not been mentioned in the other two reports.

What are the aims of the authors of each report?
The aim of the authors of Report [1] is to describe “why this is happening, who is involved and what the most important implications are” (p. 9)
According to OLCOS Roadmap "open" culture is opposed to the "canned" content of the "industrial" school. The aim of the report is to demonstrate that OER can make a difference in teaching and learning.
The Hewlett Foundation Open Educational Resources Initiative (third report) seeks to use information technology to help equalize access to knowledge and educational opportunities across the world. The initiative targets educators, students, and self-learners worldwide.

Do you see a bias toward or against any ideas, organizations, or approaches in any of the reports?
The second report is strongly constructivist, but I don’t think that this could be a ‘bias’. The approach of the first one is more ‘institutional’ (government forum), while the overview of third report is substantially – and voluntarily – limited to Hewlett Foundation’s perspective.

Which report spoke the most clearly to you, and why do you think it did?
The first one, because I thing that a systematic review of institutional efforts and a comparison among different countries could open the way to a general adoption of the model, rather than just celebrating good practices.

Based on where the field is now, and these initial ideas about where it might go, what part of the open education movement is most interesting to you? Why?
One problem that particularly has struck me is that of sustainability, which could be assumed as a fil rouge among the different perspectives of the reports. As
Karen points out “each report discussed these issues and concluded that they are ‘tricky’.”

Sustainability has different implications:
- for educators, appropriate mechanisms for reward and recognition must be determined;
- for learners, attention must be paid to the outcomes: ensuring that open education resources are useful, contributed to by learners and that the result of an "open education" is of value (so that open learners are not marginalized);
for institutions, sustained infrastructural support for grassroots projects - recognition as innovators.
Karen observes that “capitalism and open resources are not mutually exclusive” but I agree with Elisa that “…if a course is free of charge from the students, their final achievements are worse than when they have to pay for some fees. Only if a learner is highly motivated by a possible reward in terms of professional career or future financial gains will he be motivated even if he has nothing to pay for the course he wants to attend”

domenica 2 settembre 2007

OpenEd: Week1

In your opinion, is the "right to education" a basic human right?
Why or why not?
In your opinion, is open *access* to free, high-quality educational opportunity sufficient, or is it necessary to *mandate* education through a certain age or level?

Short summary
Analysis: 1. the Italian paradox; 2. virtue and emancipation; 3. the pursuit of happiness: emic vs etic perspective; 4. memorizing (Feynman on Brazil's education)

It seems quite obvious that all the people should have the right to education, but what is not universally agreed upon is if this right could also be a duty and to what extent (in terms of age, quantity and quality) education must be compulsory.
Besides the right of education, the question is on the capacity to exercise it. In many countries where education is free poor children don't go to school because they have to work. Furthermore, in some countries, girls can’t be 'educated' since this diminishes their value once they are to get married. So the problem of education interwaves with women position in society and perhaps the two issues are sometimes - not always - strictly connected.
As a matter of fact, the right to education has a fundamental correlation to several other important human rights such as the right to vote, to health care, to be free...
Ignorance - not only the lack of money - sometimes prevent people from exercising their rights. Making high quality educational resources freely available could be a solution for some developing countries but some problems still exist.
One more question is if education is ‘universal’ or must be ‘locally’ addressed?
Of course answers can be different depending on the perspective we look from: "emic" or "etic"? Finally: the right to education has connection with the “pursuit of happiness” or can ignorance be "happier"? :)

The three texts we read this week (Tomaseski's Primer 1 and 2, Wiley's Report 2006) , and the discussions they have forstered, focus on some basic dicotomies (or apparent dicotomies) opposing concepts that might have different meanings according to the cultures they are referred to.
Consequently it is necessary to make some differences or to specify some issues both in a syncronical (geographical or social) or in a diacronical (historical) perspective: what is 'good' for a nation, it's not for another; what was taught and the way it was taught some years ago, it's no more effective (as Wiley shows). Before presenting the dicotomies and specifications, I will sum up the different positions.

Here, as an index, I will present some of these dicotomies and some of the specifications that have been illustrated both in the assigned readings and in my collegues' blogs.

Some dicotomies:
Right / Violation
Right / Duty
Empirical / Normative
Indoctrination / Education
Promise / Performance
Free-Open / Mandatory
Universal / Local
Public / Private
Free for adults / Compulsory for children
(plus all the dicotomies presented by Wiley in Table 1. Changes Occurring in the Business, Science, and the World)

Differences /Specifications
- Education is not Good Education per se (Andreas Formiconi)
- Schooling is not Education (see reference to Illich’s Deschooling Society also mentioned by Stian)
- The right to education has a fundamental correlation to several other important rights such as, to vote, to health care, to human rights, to a democratic society (Rreo)
- It would be better to replace the expression "right to education" with "right to learning and communicating" (Elisa)
- Is education to be considered a new way of colonization? (Antonio)
- Global economical issues also interfere in local realities (Cati)
- There is a tension between offering of aid and the idea of “partnership” with local people (Karen)?
- People living in poor countries need more than food and medicine (Mario)
- Openness is the gateway to connectedness, personalization, and participation (Wiley 2006)
- Open Ed exposes teaching to the quality-increasing pressures of peer review (Wiley 2006)

I will not go trough all these items but I'll try to reflect only on some of them.
Some are connected. For example, let's take the first three:
Right / Violation -- Right / Duty -- Empirical / Normative

Tomaseski opens her first report with this consciousness
"…exposing and opposing the abyss between the normative and empirical worlds" (Tomasevski 2001, Primer 1, page 8).
What she argues in both Primer 1 and Primer 2 is that although the right to education is included in some Constitutional Charts and a lot has been 'declared' in both Jomitien and Dakar's Final documents, practically there are still many "obstacles on the way of the right of education" and she points out the "rights versus capacity question" (as Wiley synthesize, commenting Karen's blog).
In Primer 2 (p. 18, Table 3) Tomasesvki presents a Table concerning the
Constitutional guarantees of free and compulsory education for all children
This table is interesting and can be connected with a similar one in her website ( Table Countries without free public primary education available to all school age children by region and we can observe that the list is still very long
Later on she put the question in terms of real accessibility of poor children (or poor girls, depending on the context) to primary school, which should be guaranteed to every child.

In Italy the right to education is guaranteed by the articles 33 ("Art and science are free and their teaching must be free) and 34 of Constitution ("School is open to everybody.... Education, mandatory for 8 years, is free and compulsory"...).

One thing which has always puzzled me is that until the end of last century (my Italian collegues can confirm?) due to unemployment, people coming from the South of Italy were 'forced' to go to university in the hope that, once graduated, they could get a job. Instead, in the North, where there were industries and it was much easier to get a job after compulsory education, only a few people coming from rich families or very gifted students would go to University. Isn't this a paradox? Which are the consequences?

Tomasevski in Primer 1 (p. 34) presents a box concerning Uganda:
Box 13 Pitfalls of reductionism: The price parents pay for having schooled their daughters
In Uganda girls can’t be 'educated' since this diminishes their value once they are to get married: "Myth has it that education turns them into prostitutes", writes Tomasevski.
It reminds me of one work I did on German women diaries and the education of burgeois girls in the 19th century. The general idea at that time was that women had to be educated - since this contributed to their "virtue" (the nobility of soul opposed to the nobility of heritage/state) - but not too much: they had to be well acquanted with all the subjects 'useful' to have a conversation in society or with their husband.
This situation (similar to that of Italian women up to the 20th century) was frustrating, since women were 'educated' enough to be conscious of the limits imposed to them. One of the diaries uses the expression "Scheuklappen" to describe this condition (i.e. the things put on the eyes of horses and used to prevent them from looking at the sides of the street).
In different periods and in different part of the world, women education is always related to the position of women in that context and sometimes education isn't a medium to get freedom for women as Tomasevski point out in Box 10. Bolivia: The toll of being a woman, indigenous and a teacher (p. 29).

Following Tomasevski's statement, "People living in poor countries need more than food and medicine", Mario asks an interesting question:
"Is it really possible to establish, at a centralized level, what skills and knowledge are needed to be successful (and happy) in every context (geographical, social, familiar, productive)?"

Some of my students had one interesting experience last year in Peru. Some Medicine and Nursing students went there for a workcamp focused on "education to health" (hygiene and prevention of illness).
When they came back, they told me that people preferred spending money to buy a new tv or a satellite antenna (to watch football or soap operas) rather than spending a few dollars for the vaccination of their children or to pay the bus travel to school for them (sometimes school are very far and children are forced to walk kilometers to get there).
The "priorities" are different.
Rreo writes: “if there is one thing that I learned as an Anthropologist it’s that this strategy will likely NOT apply to all countries / cultures the same".
As for strategy I agree completely: for example, in this case, perhaps, producing video on "education to health" my students would have caught better the attention of the Peruvian parents.
But, for contents, the question is if we have to teach Peruvian parents to take care of children's health and education and how we can do it without interferring too much with their way of life.

Karen writes "There is a tension between offering of aid and the idea of “partnership” with local people. On the one hand, many say that the local people must drive the process of reform. On the other, donors are making judgments about what is “right” and “wrong.” I worry about outsiders making these decisions without always regarding local cultural values."

This reminds me the distinction that antropologists make between etic and emic (From:
The terms “emic” and “etic,” which were derived from an analogy with the terms “phonemic” and “phonetic,” were coined by the linguistic anthropologist Kenneth Pike (1954). He suggests that there are two perspectives that can be employed in the study of a society’s cultural system, just as there are two perspectives that can be used in the study of a language’s sound system. In both cases, it is possible to take the point of view of either the insider or the outsider.

As 'outsiders' we would argue that some values are more important than others; but altough this is etic (and even "ethic"!!!) it is important to take into account also the 'insider' perspective (emic). As Karen observes commenting on Antonio's Blog "Are we sure that Lesotho herders should continue to be herders?”… perhaps it should their choice not ours? Of course, that implies them having a voice in the decision, which may imply some basic level of information if not education"
One more question is: "Are Lesotho herderes happier than they would be if they were 'educated'?"
Is ignorance happier than consciuouness?
Viewing the same point from another 'angle':
has the right to education connections with " the pursuit of happiness" (so central in US Constitution)?
"The pursuit of happiness" is the title of recent movie directed by Gabriele Muccino, based on a true history. Chris Gardner is a struggling salesman who attends an unpaid stockbroker internship where one in twenty has a chance of a lucrative full time career.
Of course here the accent is more on the possibility to get a wealthier position, but there are also some hints on the value of education as a form of personal and familiar fulfillment.

Tomasevski (Primer 1, p. 34), quoting Frank Dall, observes how detrimental "the classroom-centred model designed to service a pre-industrial European society” has been and points out that "one visible feature of this model are square schools, even if all huts around them are round".
This image seems to me very near to the picture painted by Wiley (p. 1): "A typical experience in a higher education classroom might be characterized as follows..."
where the stress is on
tethered to a place / printed materials / the experience is closed / each student is isolated though surrounded by peers / the information presented is generic / students are consumers.

Although referred to higher education these elements are very similar to the Agonies of 13-year old schoolboy (Tomasevski Primer 1, p. 36).
One paragraph is particularly striking me, since I had the same 'experience':
I am facing the classroom being quizzed on Europe in the middle of XIX century. Panicking about the grade, I am trying to remember the year when the war between France and Prussia broke out. In another sequence, I am in the midst of writing a mathematics test to discover that I cannot cope with a single question. I am mixing up Pythagorean theorem with Archimedes’s law, the capitals of Zimbabwe, Burkina Faso and Ethiopia are intertwined with the names of animals living in Mediterranean rocks,...

This is the way many subjects are often (exceptions are very rare) taught in Italy as in many other countries.
I read recently an excerpt from a book of the Nobel Prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman concerning Brazilian science education. See previous post. Of course what he says might be referred to many other countries, not only to Brazil.
As Wiley observes "higher education has fallen out of step with business, science, and everyday life". Is openness the solution?
I will be able to answer this question only going further with this course.

One reason Wileys points out is that "openness takes teaching directly into the heart of the scholarly world for the first time – it exposes teaching to the quality-increasing pressures of peer review"
Furthermore it will forster realignment of education with "changes in society and in its student base".
Bu all this implies that the way we are teaching and learning must be totally rethought.... and even the architectonic structure of educational institutions has to be changed.

"Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!"

This is an excerpt from the book mentioned above and concerning science education in Brazil
(from )

In regard to education in Brazil, I had a very interesting experience. I was teaching a group of students who would ultimately become teachers, since at that time there were not many opportunities in Brazil for a highly trained person in science. These students had already had many courses, and this was to be their most advanced course in electricity and magnetism -- Maxwell's equations, and so on.
The university was located in various office buildings throughout the city, and the course I taught met in a building which overlooked the bay. I discovered a very strange phenomenon: I could ask a question, which the students would answer immediately. But the next time I would ask the question -- the same subject, and the same question, as far as I could tell -- they couldn't answer it at all! For instance, one time I was talking about polarized light, and I gave them all some strips of polaroid. Polaroid passes only light whose electric vector is in a certain direction, so I explained how you could tell which way the light is polarized from whether the polaroid is dark or light. We first took two strips of polaroid and rotated them until they let the most light through. From doing that we could tell that the two strips were now admitting light polarized in the same direction -- what passed through one piece of polaroid could also pass through the other. But then I asked them how one could tell the absolute direction of polarization, for a single piece of polaroid.
They hadn't any idea.
I knew this took a certain amount of ingenuity, so I gave them a hint: "Look at the light reflected from the bay outside."
Nobody said anything.
Then I said, "Have you ever heard of Brewster's Angle?"
"Yes, sir! Brewster's Angle is the angle at which light reflected from a medium with an index of refraction is completely polarized." "And which way is the light polarized when it's reflected?" "The light is polarized perpendicular to the plane of reflection, sir."
Even now, I have to think about it; they knew it cold! They even knew the tangent of the angle equals the index!
I said, "Well?"
Still nothing. They had just told me that light reflected from a medium with an index, such as the bay outside, was polarized; they had even told me which way it was polarized.
I said, "Look at the bay outside, through the polaroid. Now turn the polaroid."
"Ooh, it's polarized!" they said.
After a lot of investigation, I finally figured out that the students had memorized everything, but they didn't know what anything meant. When they heard "light that is reflected from a medium with an index," they didn't know that it meant a material such as water. They didn't know that the "direction of the light" is the direction in which you see something when you're looking at it, and so on. Everything was entirely memorized, yet nothing had been translated into meaningful words. So if I asked, "What is Brewster's Angle?" I'm going into the computer with the right keywords. But if I say, "Look at the water," nothing happens -- they don't have anything under "Look at the water"!

Later I attended a lecture at the engineering school.
The lecture went like this, translated into English: "Two bodies... are considered equivalent... if equal torques... will produce... equal acceleration. Two bodies, are considered equivalent, if equal torques, will produce equal acceleration."
The students were all sitting there taking dictation, and when the professor repeated the sentence, they checked it to make sure they wrote it down all right. Then they wrote down the next sentence, and on and on. I was the only one who knew the professor was talking about objects with the same moment of inertia, and it was hard to figure out.
I didn't see how they were going to learn anything from that. Here he was talking about moments of inertia, but there was no discussion about how hard it is to push a door open when you put heavy weights on the outside, compared to when you put them near the hinge -- nothing!
After the lecture, I talked to a student: "You take all those notes -- what do you do with them?"
"Oh, we study them," he says. "We'll have an exam."
"What will the exam be like?"
"Very easy. I can tell you now one of the questions." He looks at his notebook and says, " 'When are two bodies equivalent?' And the answer is,
'Two bodies are considered equivalent if equal torques will produce equal acceleration.' " So, you see, they could pass the examinations, and "learn" all this stuff, and not know anything at all, except what they had memorized.
Then I went to an entrance exam for students coming into the engineering school. It was an oral exam, and I was allowed to listen to it. One of the students was absolutely super: He answered everything nifty! The examiners asked him what diamagnetism was, and he answered it perfectly. Then they asked, "When light comes at an angle through a sheet of material with a certain thickness, and a certain index N, what happens to the light?" "It comes out parallel to itself, sir -- displaced." "And how much is it displaced?" "I don't know, sir, but I can figure it out." So he figured it out. He was very good. But I had, by this time, my suspicions.
After the exam I went up to this bright young man, and explained to him that I was from the United States, and that I wanted to ask him some questions that would not affect the result of his examination in any way.
The first question I ask is, "Can you give me some example of a diamagnetic substance?" "No."
Then I asked, "If this book was made of glass, and I was looking at something on the table through it, what would happen to the image if I tilted the glass?"
"It would be deflected, sir, by twice the angle that you've turned the book." I said, "You haven't got it mixed up with a mirror, have you?"
"No, sir!"
He had just told me in the examination that the light would be displaced, parallel to itself, and therefore the image would move over to one side, but would not be turned by any angle. He had even figured out how much it would be displaced, but he didn't realize that a piece of glass is a material with an index, and that his calculation had applied to my question.
I taught a course at the engineering school on mathematical methods in physics, in which I tried to show how to solve problems by trial and error. It's something that people don't usually learn, so I began with some simple examples of arithmetic to illustrate the method. I was surprised that only about eight out of the eighty or so students turned in the first assignment.
So I gave a strong lecture about having to actually try it, not just sit back and watch me do it. After the lecture some students came up to me in a little delegation, and told me that I didn't understand the backgrounds that they have, that they can study without doing the problems, that they have already learned arithmetic, and that this stuff was beneath them.
So I kept going with the class, and no matter how complicated or obviously advanced the work was becoming, they were never handing a damn thing in. Of course I realized what it was: They couldn't do it!
One other thing I could never get them to do was to ask questions.
Finally, a student explained it to me: "If I ask you a question during the lecture, afterwards everybody will be telling me, 'What are you wasting our time for in the class? We're trying to learn something. And you're stopping him by asking a question'."
It was a kind of one-upmanship, where nobody knows what's going on, and they'd put the other one down as if they did know. They all fake that they know, and if one student admits for a moment that something is confusing by asking a question, the others take a high-handed attitude, acting as if it's not confusing at all, telling him that he's wasting their time.
I explained how useful it was to work together, to discuss the questions, to talk it over, but they wouldn't do that either, because they would be losing face if they had to ask someone else. It was pitiful! All the work they did, intelligent people, but they got themselves into this funny state of mind, this strange kind of self-propagating "education" which is meaningless, utterly meaningless!

At the end of the academic year, the students asked me to give a talk about my experiences of teaching in Brazil.
At the talk there would be not only students, but professors and government officials, so I made them promise that I could say whatever I wanted.
They said, "Sure. Of course. It's a free country."
So I came in, carrying the elementary physics textbook that they used in the first year of college. They thought this book was especially good because it had different kinds of typeface -- bold black for the most important things to remember, lighter for less important things, and so on.
Right away somebody said, "You're not going to say anything bad about the textbook, are you? The man who wrote it is here, and everybody thinks it's a good textbook."
"You promised I could say whatever I wanted."
The lecture hall was full. I started out by defining science as an understanding of the behavior of nature.
Then I asked, "What is a good reason for teaching science? Of course, no country can consider itself civilized unless... yak, yak, yak." They were all sitting there nodding, because I know that's the way they think.
Then I say, "That, of course, is absurd, because why should we feel we have to keep up with another country? We have to do it for a good reason, a sensible reason; not just because other countries do."
Then I talked about the utility of science, and its contribution to the improvement of the human condition, and all that -- I really teased them a little bit.
Then I say, "The main purpose of my talk is to demonstrate to you that no science is being taught in Brazil!"
I can see them stir, thinking, "What? No science? This is absolutely crazy! We have all these classes."
So I tell them that one of the first things to strike me when I came to Brazil was to see elementary school kids in bookstores, buying physics books.
There are so many kids learning physics in Brazil, beginning much earlier than kids do in the United States, that it's amazing you don't find many physicists in Brazil -- why is that? So many kids are working so hard, and nothing comes of it.
Then I gave the analogy of a Greek scholar who loves the Greek language, who knows that in his own country there aren't many children studying Greek. But he comes to another country, where he is delighted to find everybody studying Greek -- even the smaller kids in the elementary schools.
He goes to the examination of a student who is coming to get his degree in Greek, and asks him, "What were Socrates' ideas on the relationship between Truth and Beauty?" -- and the student can't answer.
Then he asks the student, "What did Socrates say to Plato in the Third Symposium?" the student lights up and goes, "Brrrrrrrrr-up" -- he tells you everything, word for word, that Socrates said, in beautiful Greek.
But what Socrates was talking about in the Third Symposium was the relationship between Truth and Beauty!
What this Greek scholar discovers is, the students in another country learn Greek by first learning to pronounce the letters, then the words, and then sentences and paragraphs. They can recite, word for word, what Socrates said, without realizing that those Greek words actually mean something. To the student they are all artificial sounds. Nobody has ever translated them into words the students can understand.
I said, "That's how it looks to me, when I see you teaching the kids 'science' here in Brazil." (Big blast, right?)
Then I held up the elementary physics textbook they were using. "There are no experimental results mentioned anywhere in this book, except in one place where there is a ball, rolling down an inclined plane, in which it says how far the ball got after one second, two seconds, three seconds, and so on. The numbers have 'errors' in them -- that is, if you look at them, you think you're looking at experimental results, because the numbers are a little above, or a little below, the theoretical values. The book even talks about having to correct the experimental errors -- very fine. The trouble is, when you calculate the value of the acceleration constant from these values, you get the right answer. But a ball rolling down an inclined plane, if it is actually done, has an inertia to get it to turn, and will, if you do the experiment, produce five-sevenths of the right answer, because of the extra energy needed to go into the rotation of the ball. Therefore this single example of experimental 'results' is obtained from a fake experiment. Nobody had rolled such a ball, or they would never have gotten those results!
"I have discovered something else," I continued. "By flipping the pages at random, and putting my finger in and reading the sentences on that page, I can show you what's the matter -- how it's not science, but memorizing, in every circumstance. Therefore I am brave enough to flip through the pages now, in front of this audience, to put my finger in, to read, and to show you."
So I did it. Brrrrrrrup -- I stuck my finger in, and I started to read: "Triboluminescence. Triboluminescence is the light emitted when crystals are crushed..."
I said, "And there, have you got science? No! You have only told what a word means in terms of other words. You haven't told anything about nature -- what crystals produce light when you crush them, why they produce light. Did you see any student go home and try it? He can't. "But if, instead, you were to write, 'When you take a lump of sugar and crush it with a pair of pliers in the dark, you can see a bluish flash. Some other crystals do that too. Nobody knows why. The phenomenon is called "triboluminescence." ' Then someone will go home and try it. Then there's an experience of nature." I used that example to show them, but it didn't make any difference where I would have put my finger in the book; it was like that everywhere.
Finally, I said that I couldn't see how anyone could be educated by this self-propagating system in which people pass exams, and teach others to pass exams, but nobody knows anything.
"However," I said, "I must be wrong. There were two Students in my class who did very well, and one of the physicists I know was educated entirely in Brazil. Thus, it must be possible for some people to work their way through the system, bad as it is."
Well, after I gave the talk, the head of the science education department got up and said, "Mr. Feynman has told us some things that are very hard for us to hear, but it appears to be that he really loves science, and is sincere in his criticism. Therefore, I think we should listen to him. I came here knowing we have some sickness in our system of education; what I have learned is that we have a cancer!" -- and he sat down. That gave other people the freedom to speak out, and there was a big excitement. Everybody was getting up and making suggestions. The students got some committee together to mimeograph the lectures in advance, and they got other committees organized to do this and that.
Then something happened which was totally unexpected for me. One of the students got up and said, "I'm one of the two students whom Mr. Feynman referred to at the end of his talk. I was not educated in Brazil; I was educated in Germany, and I've just come to Brazil this year." The other student who had done well in class had a similar thing to say. And the professor I had mentioned got up and said, "I was educated here in Brazil during the war, when, fortunately, all of the professors had left the university, so I learned everything by reading alone. Therefore I was not really educated under the Brazilian system.
" I didn't expect that. I knew the system was bad, but 100 percent -- it was terrible! Since I had gone to Brazil under a program sponsored by the United States Government, I was asked by the State Department to write a report about my experiences in Brazil, so I wrote out the essentials of the speech I had just given. I found out later through the grapevine that the reaction of somebody in the State Department was, "That shows you how dangerous it is to send somebody to Brazil who is so naive. Foolish fellow; he can only cause trouble. He didn't understand the problems." Quite the contrary! I think this person in the State Department was naive to think that because he saw a university with a list of courses and descriptions, that's what it was.

domenica 29 aprile 2007


non è la prima volta che provo a creare un blog... ma stavolta andrà meglio!
ciao m5