[Humanist] 26.250 brave new world & its institutions

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Sun Aug 26 08:20:02 CEST 2012

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 26, No. 250.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

        Date: Sat, 25 Aug 2012 21:21:20 -0700
        From: Jascha Kessler <urim1 at verizon.net>
        Subject: Re: [Humanist] 26.247 brave new world & its institutions
        In-Reply-To: <20120825082608.6771E288ABD at woodward.joyent.us>

I do appreciate the earnestness revealed in Prof. Prescott's comments.  I
do think he rather misses what is the point of the present discussions.  He
concentrates on "learning." Viz., *"** As a schoolchild myself in the 1960s,
I was always struck and enthused by the willingness at that time of many
educational bodies to try and break down the obsession with exams and
measurement and try new methods of learning..."*

*Methods of learning? * What does that mean, exactly?  I was a schoolchild
in the 1930s-40s.  I dont think there was or is a method of learning,
unless it is taught somehow.  By digitized instructors?  Kids learn, Homo
sapiens learns as it learns, sans "method" or methodologies concocted
by...whom?  A robot might learn by implantation of code.  Okay, we stick
silicon chips in newborn heads?  But then the chips learn, and what does
each unique individual brain make of it all internally?   There may be
methods to teach say violin technique, but they are applied and tested one
on one: teacher and pupil. Results vary by talents.  Apart from all that,
what I questioned in my letter to the FT was the costs of teachers vs.
internet teaching. The learning part requires foot soldiers, future
teachers in higher Ed, what schools have been and been about since Sumeria, 
to test what has been learned,  grade and tutor or instruct it.
When the Univ of California at Santa Cruz was inaugurated, Prof C Page
Smith [in my letter] went up to organize it.  It was all Pass/Fail...no
grades.  Assuming perhaps Humanists and Historians and Lit and the rest
reviewed the written work, not multiple choice Xses, of students.  It took
but a few years until the scientists rebelled at the lack of grading for
qualifications in hard subjects, not philosophical or literary chatter. And
grading was back, and how, even for a largely pothead and hippy university
student body in the 70s and 80s and perhaps beyond, up in the Redwoods

Even with an Open University scheme, Lenin's question remains: *WHO, WHOM?*
All may enter and study... but what has been learned by each individual?
That costs, and doing away with the absurdity of OxBridge doesn't solve the
question of judgments by individuals, referees.  You cannot get away with
anything in competitive sports.  Some are better than others, as in horse
and dog racing, and judging there is easy: whoever finishes first second
third, etc.  Not including Lance Armstrong, et alia, as it turns out.
Then, too, we are advised:  "It would make great
sense if in the UK we scrapped absurd anachronisms like Oxford and
Cambridge Universities, and created *a more integrated and strategic**
**service based around* the OU."  What, it may be asked, is meant by that
phrase in italics?  More integration of what?  Service meaning...teachers?
Who, Whom? what qualifies?  Integrated whos? Serviced by Whoms? * O,
Orwell, thou shouldst be living at this hour!*

I take Prescott to be serious, but the questions I raised about Humanities
and the Internet remain.  It is *not* a matter of tv lectures.  When the
few expert lecturers have retired, who takes their place?  Who has learned
what from the medium?  I like documentary films, How it is made, where the
penguins walk? but then all that may be teaching me what is out there.
Still, what goes on, how and why, stanza by stanza in the Divine Comedy?
Who will learn or teach what the Divine is, the Commedia means?  Or even
says?  E=MC2 says what it means, and means what it says, and a digitized
quiz can locate my grasp of those letters.

However,  and for example, I offer an Honors Seminar for Frosh, first year
students, pass/fail, just show up, and select one assignment.  I provide
100 pages of poems; I lay out the fundamental 3 modes of poems written from
history. I require each to pick a poem, read it aloud and deliver orally 1 written 
page that tells the rest what the poem says.  I forbid students
to say what anything, lines, stanzas, whatever *means*.  *Meanings are
idiosyncratic and arbitrary.  If anyone imagines  contemporary student of
19-20 can write one double-spaced page of sentences stating what the poem
says, lines say, that one is mistaken.  These University of California
youth are admitted as of the top 17-19% of high school graduates. We have 2
dozen State Universities for the lower tiers; and many community, 2 year
colleges for all the rest who want something after high school and need a
lot for work and life and career.  A sort of Open system a la UK.
But...there is hardly any system to integrate persons tomorrow who have
not studied and learned and been graded.  Quality is quality.

Finally re my Honors Seminar: I attach Plato's Symposium, and tell them to
read that short work.  As all will recall, each principal vocation speaks
in turn all that night, and each man speaks only of what he knows from his
craft or profession.  Not a one is able to tell the group what it is that
the god Eros does to discipline or inspire or create their work[s].  They
are all good and educated senior Athenians.  But as for understanding the
matter of daily life and work's structures and statements, let alone
meaning...*nada, nada e pues nada.  *In the end, Socrates overturns the
evening, although what he has to say remains a mystery, clearly presented.
And he got it all from some old Sybil in the mountains. The SYMPOSIUM, in
short, remains exemplary regarding this problem.  The scientists and
technologists are crystal clear about what things say, not what they [might
or could] mean; they measure, and measure has always been, or measuring,
the foundation effort of civilization: Tekne, the Greeks called it. But I
am sure it was known to the painters of Paleolithic caves. That is clear
enough, or should be.  As for *meaning?* Alas, that is the burden of
would be Humanists, digital, digitized, or whatever.

Jascha Kessler
On Sat, Aug 25, 2012 at 1:26 AM, Humanist Discussion Group <
willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk> wrote:

> As a schoolchild myself in the 1960s,
> I was always struck and enthused by the willingness at that time of many
> educational bodies to try and break down the obsession with exams and
> measurement and try new methods of learning

Jascha Kessler
Professor of English & Modern Literature, UCLA
Telephone/Facsimile: 310.393.4648

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