A couple of people responded to my previous post about education and the need for three pillars: liberal arts + STEM + vocational training. They point out that a movement exists to expand STEM to STEAM—to integrate arts education into STEM education.

I disagree with this idea. I’m convinced that liberal arts and STEM education need to be allowed to flourish each on their own and to interact with each other as equals. I feel that STEAM initiatives intrinsically subordinate the arts aspect to the larger STEM aspect.

But my concern about STEAM speaks to something deeper. At their cores, both liberal arts and STEM educations seek to teach strong critical thinking skills. They use very different methodologies to do so, and are based on different structures of reasoning, logic, discourse, etc.

I know many people for whom STEM education doesn’t work. Their minds simply don’t respond to that teaching methodology, to those structures of knowledge. Likewise, I know many people for whom liberal arts education doesn’t work and for the same reasons.

If the goal is to promote critical thinking skills, it’s obvious to me that we need to maintain multiple avenues for people to get there.

Intentionally conflating different educational methodologies and pathways is a mistake. Cramming them together narrows the options available for people to learn the critical thinking skills they need in ways that are best suited to them.

I believe that this can only reduce the efficacy of education overall.

Public Libraries: STEM, Maker Spaces & the State of Modern Education

Please read this article. He makes an important point. The headline, as always, is composed to be divisive—his argument is more nuanced than the headline lets on.

Why America’s obsession with STEM education is dangerous by Fareed Zakaria (posted by The Washington Post on March 26, 2015)

Let me start with this: STEM education is important. Despite the headline, this article doesn’t try to argue that it isn’t important.

Looking back at the history of education in this country, it seems to me that we were at our best, our strongest and most successful, when we had a balance across three arenas of study: liberal arts + STEM + vocational training. We need all three, equally. Liberal arts, in particular, is what stood us apart from much of the rest of the world during the 20th century. We also had far-and-away the most robust and most affordable vocational training in the world during the middle section of the century.

Liberal arts tracks have been under attack for pretty much my entire life, and prior. Vocational training in this country has been utterly gutted over the past decades. STEM education is important but I also worry that we emphasize it at the expense of reestablishing this three-pillared balance.

Continue reading “Public Libraries: STEM, Maker Spaces & the State of Modern Education”

Book Review: Seveneves by Neal Stephenson

Seveneves by Neal Stephenson
Seveneves by Neal Stephenson
Advance Reader’s Edition, HarperCollins, 2015

Recently, I was lucky enough to get my hands on an Advance Reader’s Edition of Neal Stephenson’s upcoming novel, Seveneves.

There are certain people—artists, writers, performers, musicians—who are so breathtakingly good, such absolute masters of their craft, that I can only stand in awe of their work and think:

It’s not fair. No one has the right to be this talented.

This is especially true every time I read a novel from Mr. Stephenson. Seveneves proves once again that he possesses an imagination of staggering inventiveness and scope. For him, an event that most of us would find unthinkable is where he starts the story.

Continue reading “Book Review: Seveneves by Neal Stephenson”

Farewell, Sir Terry

The passing of Sir Terry Pratchett hurts.

It’s not normal for me to get caught up in the passing of a celebrity. I might take part in conversations about issues surrounding them (as I did with Robin Williams and depression) but Sir Terry is different. His death hits me personally.

Reading his work left you with the sense that you now had a personal connection with him. His words were so open and forthright, you felt that he was sharing his soul with you in a way that is rare. His characters found homes inside each of us, they became a part of us, on a level more intimate than any other author I know of.

To everyone who read and treasured his work, he wasn’t just a favorite author—he felt like a friend.

None of what I’ve written here is sufficient to express how important his novels are to me. As author Ellie Di Julio puts it:

Sir Terry taught me about being human.

I’m glad that he has been freed from his suffering. But I’ll truly miss his words. The world has lost a great man and wondrous soul.

The best way to honor this great man is to donate to The Research Institute for the Care of Older People.

Public Domain Matters

I recently reviewed Cory Doctorow’s book, Information Doesn’t Want to Be Free. Copyright is a passion of mine and I think this is a good opportunity to summarize my position on the matter.

For me, the single most important aspect of copyright is the public domain.

Most of the major copyright reforms over the past half century have made it a priority to prevent creative works from entering the public domain for as long as possible. On the other hand, there are many creative workers and educators of all stripes who depend on public domain materials to do their jobs—people who can’t afford to pay for usage rights to copyrighted stuff. This is one of the central conflicts of our copyright system.

When I was first taught about copyright, I was told that there were two equally important purposes that it was designed to serve:

Continue reading “Public Domain Matters”

Book Review: Information Doesn’t Want to Be Free: Laws for the Internet Age by Cory Doctorow

Information Doesn't Want to Be Free - book cover
Information Doesn’t Want to Be Free: Laws for the Internet Age by Cory Doctorow
McSweeney’s Books, 2014
Information Doesn’t Want to Be Free by Cory Doctorow is, as one would expect, an incisive and lively exploration of the issues surrounding copyright and enforcement in the Internet Age.

Dr. Doctorow is established as an outspoken critic of the various methods that media corporations use to try and enforce their interpretation of copyright laws on the Internet: digital locks, DRM efforts, automated “Notice and Takedown” practices, etc. He takes on each of these methods and explains clearly what they’re intended to accomplish, why they fail, and the damage they do to creative workers and Internet users in general.

Some of these methods involve pretty esoteric computer science and Dr. Doctorow is the best in the business at translating the argot of technology into terms anyone can understand. Continue reading “Book Review: Information Doesn’t Want to Be Free: Laws for the Internet Age by Cory Doctorow”