The Gift of Sloth

Cartoonists Jerry Scott and Jim Borgman remember high school all too well.

zits december 15 2017


Dilbert on Amusing Ourselves to Death

Dilbert amusing


Like all good humour, the strip is a minor exaggeration of reality.




The strip serves as a segue from my concerns about the continuing relevance of Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death, to my next entry, which will look at Cathy O’Neil’s Weapons of Math Destruction.

As we move more deeply into the connected world, we have no choice but to surrender personal data. As we surrender data, market managers are able to tailor-make a world of consumption for us–whether we want it or not. The upshot is that the world of big data is relentlessly conservative–it makes a model of “you as you are” and works to market at you from that position only. The poor are set up for predatory loans and exploitative “opportunities”, while the affluent are guided toward status-enhancement.

Tighten your seatbelts; things are looking bleak.




A brief entry today. A number of my recent postings have been about brevity (whether anyone has noticed, I’m not sure.) The point I’m trying to make is that understanding is hard work. We can’t just watch a 4 minute video, or visit a few websites, or scan a news item and actually know very much about anything. This is a longstanding educational problem. I’ve pointed out Neil Postman’s arguments about TV culture, and I’ve suggested that internet “knowledge and understanding” are another species of the same problem. I will continue to provide bits and provocations, and will attempt to write  a longer, more coherent position some time in the near future.

The Doonesbury cartoon points to a longstanding problem. People think they can say something about world affairs, while simultaneously knowing very little about the world. The geography of Syria or Crimea are deeply relevant to understanding the ongoing conflicts in those lands. So are their histories, political economies, language, and culture.

Who among us knows enough to keep our politicians honest on these issues?

We can include anything and everything in mandatory education. But surely a deeper knowledge of the physical shape of the earth, and the main political divisions would greatly help to inform political dialogue.

Here’s a question for you. How many current heads of government can you name? (I mean presidents, prime ministers, chancellors, etc. not mayors and governors.) Have you got 20? 10? 5 at least?

While we’re at it, see if you can find Syria and Crimea on an unmarked map.





Cultural Capital

By Jerry Scott and Jim Borgman

Source: March 31, 2016

Ok, the gag is funny. But it lacks bite because it is implausible. Jeremy’s dad is a dentist, and Jeremy really does understand what it takes to succeed. We laugh because it’s silly.

But what about those students who really do not understand the difference between inadequate, barely adequate and successful work? There are some in almost every classroom. It’s not their fault; they simply lack the household resources (i.e. parents who understand academic success and impress this cluster of attitudes and behaviours on their children).

I’ve written before about the importance of establishing clear criteria for success in the classroom. This goes beyond task success. To get into medical school, a student needs to adopt a way of life that supports this goal. The student needs to understand the quantity and level of work required. And the student needs to have a solid strategic grasp of where the greatest rewards for study and assignment effort stand. It is not surprising that success in entering medical school (or any other professional school) runs in families. How else is a student to gain the social capital to establish this kind of success?

Yes, I know. Sometimes a kid comes from the most unlikely of backgrounds to become a mover and shaker in a field. The reason we know these stories is that they are unusual. And the press loves these stories because they fit tidily into our favoured grand narrative–everyone who works hard can be anything they want. But if that were really true, we wouldn’t have systemic gender-, or cultural-, or socio-economic under- and over-representation in the most lucrative fields, would we?

What to do? I don’t have the details for you. But coming clear about the issue is a good start. If you’re a parent or a teacher, take a good look at how your child/student is working. Take a look at those who are succeeding in ways that are important to your child/student (and you). Is there a gap? Is  there something that can or should be done about it?