Sending out the signal

I am a product of ‘modern’ education and the university-economic complex.  I’ve spent over five years learning in a variety of fields, including literature, history, architecture, language, archeology, science, sociology, education, and math.  What does this qualify me for in the working world?  Possibly teaching.  So I’m going back to school, hopefully to gain experience in the field of law while in class.

But as I’ve spent over six years in the working world before re-entering academia, I have a slightly different perspective from some of my peers,  Debt is not the same superfluous concept that it was to me in undergrad.  Spending on my professors salaries, their textbooks, and indirectly, their research, no longer seems as necessary to me.  In fact, as a teacher of some experience myself, I find I’m less likely to full-heartedly embrace the requirements of others.  DO law school professors have something to teach me?  Absolutely.  could the knowledge be imparted at a lesser price?  More than likely.

That’s why I wanted to jump up and cheer after my Intellectual Property meeting today.  The teachers who are in charge of the intro to that class have taken the available technology and run with it – digital books under their own company for a fraction of the price of most law books.  True, these same professors still endorse buying (and keeping) the books for other classes, but they’ve made a concerted effort to make such books more affordable.  Ultimately, it’s efforts like this that lead me to the school I’m at – genuine efforts to teach, to share, and to listen to students.  As one professor remarked to me recently, “you are our customers, but not only customers”.  What would higher education look like if everyone had this outlook?  I’m not sure, but I hope to spread the trend.

And can I spread this trend myself?  Should I be sending out my WriMo work to the general public for free?  It’s an idea worth considering, especially if I can do it in a way that does not detrimentally affect my own work.

A Long Memory on Butcher Paper.

There was an article in the news recently about one Frank Calloway: artist, 112 year-old man, and schizophrenic.  While it’s interesting to hear about this man and his history, and to hear the praise of his art, there are other sides of the story that are more important to me.  These do not relate to the nature of his character, which by all accounts is lovely, or to the accuracy and length of his memory, which is substantial and easily seen in his art which exemplifies turn-of-the-century rural life in the south.  More, I wondered what these pictures (obviously serious to this man) on huge sheets of butcher paper might look like.  Here are a few examples that I could find quickly of both the man and his work.

The art itself I’m not sure I would actually qualify as art.  Sure, this guy was entirely self-taught.  Sure, his subject matter is the simple objects and scenes of a bygone age.  There is true worth in that.  Still, I hesitate to cal it ‘art’.  It doesn’t do anything for me.  If it is art, I feel like it’s art that’s not trying – it doesn’t accurately portray a scene, it doesn’t relate to mankind in some way, or convey emotion or an idea.  it doesn’t have a message and doesn’t try to break conventions or perceptions.  To my eyes, it isn’t even attractive.

What does this mean?  Does this mean what this guy is doing is not art?  Is it just a type of art I don’t personally relate to?  Is it just something this guy does that has merit for other reasons?  And who am I, really to judge?  If these works have aesthetic value for any person on earth, does that make them art?

Can we say, study visa?

Sometimes the world hits you, and there’s no real way to hit back.  That’s what’s happened to 17 year old Arthur Mkoyan, who planned to go to college in California this coming fall.  He’s Armenian and has been living in the US since he was two while legal proceedings were underway to determine if he and his family would be allowed to stay in the US.  Now, after 15 years of waiting and becoming the valedictorian of his high school, he’s going to be deported.

It sucks.  He doesn’t speak Armenian and doesn’t remember the country at all.  He probably thought his achievements in school would give him at least a little security in the country.  But legally, he has no right to be here.  Legally, he could be allowed to stay if a private bill is passed, but that seems unlikely at this point.  Legally he’s Armenian, even if he doesn’t know how to act like one.

For his parents it would be easier.  They know the language, they lived and worked in Armenia before, they could do so again.  But how would it be for the younger brother who is a US citizen?  Would he be allowed to stay in the US without his parents?  Would he be allowed into Armenia?  What kind of mish-mash of an education would he get now by transferring between the countries?

To my mind, the solution has to come from the university Arthur was planning to enroll in.  They could easily get him a visa as an international student.  Since he’s already been accepted to the school, there shouldn’t be any problem other than paperwork.  Even if it means Arthur living in Armenia with his parents for a few months, it’s a solution.  After college, who knows?  Possibly a work visa and eventually a green card.  He’s obviously smart enough to be a valuable resource here.  And once he turns 18, he could also potentially have legal responsibility for his younger brother.

Bleak as the system may seem for this boy, there are still perfectly legal means and options for him that would secure what he wants from life.  It’s going to be hard, especially on the family, but it is possible.

I’m a nerd.

Today MIT highlighted its ‘Professional Education Program’ on its website.  The PEP is basically MIT’s continuing education module, made for people who are pursuing careers (or possibly changing careers) in the sciences.  While some of its offerings aim to be flexible with continuing a full time job, offering online options or one-week intensive programs, most of them are not.  Because as a professional, you can afford to just up and quit your job and spend thousands of dollars on classes at MIT.

Yes, it’s true I am a little bitter about not being in school right now.  I love education, I love learning new things, and being at what seems like a continual turning point in my career only increases the feeling that this love in my life is currently being wasted.  But at the same time, i know it’s something that’s not going to go away.  In even looking at the programs offered, I became intrigued.  I mean, look at this description:  “Project-based introduction to the contemporary city as a complex system within a context of limited resources and competing interests. Learn to assess scenarios for the purpose of formulating social, economic and design strategies that provide optimized solutions that are humane and sustainable. Group projects develop and advocate visions for housing, urban planning, regeneration of natural ecologies and other sectors of the city. During spring break the class visits New Orleans, the focus of Cityscope in 2007.”  How awesome is that?  Or what about this one: “An introduction to bargaining and negotiation in public, business, and legal settings. Combines a “hands-on” skill-building orientation with a look at pertinent social theory. Strategy, communications, ethics, and institutional influences are examined as they influence the ability of actors to analyze problems, negotiate agreements, and resolve disputes in social, organizational, and political circumstances characterized by interdependent interests.”  Or this:  “Examines the evolving structure of cities, the dynamic processes that shape them, and the significance of a city’s history for its future development. Develops the ability to read urban form as an interplay of natural processes and human purposes over time. Field assignments in Boston provide the opportunity to use, develop, and refine these concepts.”   Wow.  How do I get in on that action?  Better yet, how do I make a career out of any of them?

For the moment, I’ll just have to sigh and pine for more education.  But someday, hopefully soon, I’ll be learning my little brain out.

And I would’ve gotten away with it too, if it hadn’t been for you pesky kids!

I was puzzled recently by this supposedly shortened headline on the main CNN health page:  Virus in China kills 28 children in China.  Well.  Thanks for the redundancy there.  I thought the virus in China only killed kids in Hong Kong.  Or maybe Taiwan.  Or maybe all the kids who get sick are shipped to Japan as part of an international disease exchange program.  Thank God the actual headline of the article was non-repetitive.  But it brings up a familiar question: how much information do we think we need?  And, in association, is this determination of our knowledge needs valid?

In a world where information and records are increasingly transparent, a large body of information is available to the public.  For those willing to search for it, you can find and learn about just about anything.  And yet, specialization runs rampant.  College admissions boards are seeing more and more applicants focused in one area of expertise.  Schools are focusing less and less on a broad-ranging liberal arts curriculum.  And yet in the working world, people are changing jobs and even careers more and more frequently.

What does this say for my own education and skill set?  How do I choose what might be most advantageous?  True, most skills are applicable across a wide range of jobs, but how do I determine even which job is applicable to my interests?  And how much can such generalism really help my life and growth?  How does education translate into skills and experience, and at what point does the body of knowledge I possess become useless junk that I cannot apply to my present life?  Does the thirst for knowledge still have validity, if the possession of that knowledge can easily be recreated by a simple internet search?

Ancient Americans Followed Giant Frog Across Land Bridge

Recently discovered are the bones of this 10-pound frog.  Interesting as the animal is as yet another example of current species as smaller than ancient ones, it comes with additional questions.  For example, the skeleton was found in Madagascar.  Though there are giant frogs in Africa, these particular bones are not related to those frogs – instead, they are related to much smaller South American varieties.  Quoi?  Scientist are hypothesizing that a) theories of continental shift and how closely the continents were at that time may be incorrect and/or that b) the froggies crossed from Africa to the Americas on a land bridge, possibly via Antarctica.

Some of you may be familiar with another land bridge theory from your elementary days involving Native Americans crossing via the Arctic from Asia.  It may surprise you that this theory has been partially debunked, though not thrown out in its entirety (yet).  In case you’ve forgotten, let me refresh your memory a bit.  The Bering Land Bridge model, or Beringia model, claims that land in the Arctic was uncovered during several ice ages (when the sea shrunk) and allowed for different species to travel and mix between the Asian and American continents.  Fair enough – there is adequate fossil and evolutionary evidence to authenticate this claim for a variety of species going in either direction.  The second part of the theory is what’s more contested.  It supposes that people crossed the land bridge from Asia around 12,000 BC, discovered and explored the only path between two giant glaciers that led to more fertile land at the south (sometimes only 10 meters in width), and spread Clovis culture throughout the Americas, all the way down to the southernmost tip of South America, all within a 1,000 year period.  It is a bit unlikely, but for a long time it was the most reasonable theory.

There was some questionable evidence of earlier colonization from archaeological sites, but no one really took it seriously until Mesa Verde was analyzed by a whole team of archeologists from different countries.  This site showed evidence of human habitation about 1,000 years earlier than the earliest Clovis settlement up in North America.  If the Clovis land bridge people handn’t even gotten to South America yet, who were these earlier inhabitants, where did they come form, and what happened to them?   Theories blossomed – they came across following the Bering Land Bridge in boats and then  followed the coastline of the Americas south much more quickly than the land travelers.  They came from Australia in boats via Antarctic islands.  Some of them came across the Atlantic.  Of course, some of these theories were more reasonable than others, but for various reasons, they all lacked one thing – evidence.

And that’s what we lack for Mr. Frog now.   Who knows?  His bones may teach us to rethink everything we know about geologic drift, or everything we think we know about the population of the Americas.  But especially in relation to younger children who soak up information like sponges, it should teach us at least one thing – give tehm wisdom rather than knowledge.  The specific details of history and science are not really relevant, and, given the current rate of new discoveries and refinements, will change in their lifetimes.  But a method of analyzing, questioning, and researching specific data for themselves – that will serve them well indefinitely.