Hard News by Russell Brown

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Hard News: Limping Onwards

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  • Jolisa, in reply to Megan Wegan,

    It’s also, from a media perspective, a pretty short list.

    Was hoping for some collective help compiling the list, hence the ellipses...

    Auckland, NZ • Since Nov 2006 • 1472 posts Report Reply

  • Danyl Mclauchlan,

    I'll tell my friend the oncologist that you think he should have skipped the BA in English & Psych. He'll enjoy that. And I know an astrophysicist with most of a BA in philosophy who is currently chortling at your argument.

    What are you talking about?

    @Ben:

    So you think that science should drop "General Studies" altogether? Or should science students pay extra for that because it's that selfish, publicly worthless thing called a general education that you shouldn't be paying for? I'm led to believe that other faculties also have similar requirements, that students be "well rounded".

    We certainly don't require our science students to be well rounded. Looking at Auckland and Otago, neither do they. I find most of them are though, because if someone is intellectually curious they'll read books of their own volition rather than pay a humanities lecturer to tell them what to read.

    I think the most obvious reason that what you're saying is total bunk, Danyl, is from the end result perspective. None of the "practical" studies even need ongoing funding. Lawyers and Doctors and Scientists and Architects and Engineers etc, all get jobs fast, typically with very high incomes. Why the hell should I be paying for those people to enrich themselves?

    At the risk of stating the obvious, it's the social contract. If training for these disciplines is subsidised then there's broader equality of opportunity. They then pay back the subsidies through their tax and that funds the education for the next generation. That's the basic socialised education model.

    Your solution is simply to kill the Arts, or make it the sole domain of the very wealthy. You're advocating a highly classist access to the intellectual life of the country, which will couple with the highly classist access that already exists to the technical life that you think is so much more important.

    I think the intellectual life of the country is already pretty class-based. I'm going to make a huge judgement call and moot that the proportion of people from low-income backgrounds that decide to go to university and study Foucault and Gramsci is tiny compared to all the children from privileged middle and upper-class backgrounds. A strong focus on arts in secondary school and access to public libraries is going to do a lot more for the intellectual dynamism of the whole country across classes than subsidising the children of the privileged to study Roland Barthes.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 927 posts Report Reply

  • recordari, in reply to Jolisa,

    What I mean is, we can benefit from any given intellectual conversation (science, arts, whatever) without knowing the names or carrying all the footnotes in our head all the time.

    Does EndNote have an iPhone app? We could at least carry it in our pocket then.

    We will certainly not have many, if any, live philosophers of note if we stop them from studying it at all. That's like intellectual eugenics. Too dumb to truck.

    AUCKLAND • Since Dec 2009 • 2607 posts Report Reply

  • recordari, in reply to Danyl Mclauchlan,

    A strong focus on arts in secondary school and access to public libraries is going to do a lot more for the intellectual dynamism of the whole country across classes than subsidising the children of the privileged to study Roland Barthes.

    Are you sure you're not just baiting now?

    AUCKLAND • Since Dec 2009 • 2607 posts Report Reply

  • Jolisa, in reply to Danyl Mclauchlan,

    What are you talking about?

    What I am talking about is that you seem to be arguing that "training doctors, engineers, research scientists" consists of teaching them nothing but medicine, engineering, and research science.

    And that's a bit stupid, to put it bluntly.

    Auckland, NZ • Since Nov 2006 • 1472 posts Report Reply

  • Craig Ranapia, in reply to Megan Wegan,

    Why on earth would one want that?

    Well, I find it weirdly endearing that Murray Gell-Mann came up with the spelling of the commonly accepted name for the subatomic particle independently proposed by him and George Zweig in 1964 while browsing through James Joyce. He also had at least a passing knowledge of the Buddhist concept of the āryāṣṭāṅgamārga.

    Not bad for a squint.

    North Shore, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 12370 posts Report Reply

  • Rich of Observationz, in reply to Craig Ranapia,

    That is all very well if one is either very wealthy or very clever, and has no real need to get out there and earn money anytime soon.

    US first degrees are typically full of that "well rounded education" stuff. The result is that if you want to be, for instance, an engineer or lawyer, you need to do a further three years postgrad study before being in any way employable.

    Personally, I'd rather have 3-4 years student loan rather than six.

    (I guess for arts degrees and careers that demand a generally educated person, it doesn't matter. But it does for the poor old working slob who just wants to get to the stage of earning a crust).

    Back in Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 5550 posts Report Reply

  • richard,

    I teach at a private university in the United States – although many students US subsidize their studies with loans and grants from the Federal Government, so the “public good” issues still apply here.

    Like many places in the US, undergraduates face “distribution requirements”: everyone takes a language, everyone has to take some classes in the humanities, and everyone has to take a couple of genuinely quantitative courses. There are soft options (“gut” classes in the local parlance), but I have seen English majors in my first years physics class, and when I made a reference to Anna Karenina to illustrate a point in a cosmology lecture today, several of the students knew what I was talking about…

    For my part, I enrolled in a BA conjointly with my New Zealand BSc because I was feeling a bit stifled on a diet that consisted purely of physics and maths. But the funny thing is that the philosophy papers I took made me a better scientist, and the English papers I took made me a better writer (and if you think that scientists don’t need to write, think again – my “collected works” make for a decent stack when printed out). Consequently, it always strikes me that when people want to draw a distinction between the “useful” and the “useless” subjects, they always have a remarkably narrow view of what it takes to be really good at the topics they deem to be “useful”.

    But I read Middlemarch for fun.

    Not looking for New Engla… • Since Nov 2006 • 268 posts Report Reply

  • Jolisa,

    blah blah subsidising the children of the privileged to study Roland Barthes etc etc

    I would love to see Danyl's undergrad transcript about now.

    Auckland, NZ • Since Nov 2006 • 1472 posts Report Reply

  • Danyl Mclauchlan,

    I would love to see Danyl's undergrad transcript about now

    Well there you have me. The most incriminating entry would be a second year religious studies paper called 'Primal Religious Experience'. In my defence, it means I speak with some authority.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 927 posts Report Reply

  • Jolisa, in reply to Danyl Mclauchlan,

    In my defence, it means I speak with some authority.

    In the same way that I can speak with authority about physics & geography, yes it does.

    Auckland, NZ • Since Nov 2006 • 1472 posts Report Reply

  • Jolisa,

    ... which is to say, I wouldn't dare be so presumptuous.

    Auckland, NZ • Since Nov 2006 • 1472 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha, in reply to Danyl Mclauchlan,

    In my defence, it means I speak with some authority.

    Only if you have developed some expertise in how your particular experience relates to those of others. Academic study is only one way to do that, but it's a pretty efficient one.

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 19688 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to Jolisa,

    … Te Rangi Hîroa, Elsie Locke, Ranginui Walker, Marilyn Waring, Denis Dutton, Michael King, Jane Kelsey …

    Just been driving around thinking of more names. Thought of Marilyn -- and also of Roger Horrocks, whose dabblings I have found of great use.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22756 posts Report Reply

  • Danyl Mclauchlan,

    when I made a reference to Anna Karenina to illustrate a point in a cosmology lecture today, several of the students knew what I was talking about…

    I'm struggling to imagine this. Levin and Kitty are Hadrons, Anna and Count whatshisname are Bosons?

    Anyway, my basic point is that you don't need to spend money - particularly other peoples money - to read Tolstoy. In my case all you needed was a job with a long commute.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 927 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Danyl Mclauchlan,

    We certainly don't require our science students to be well rounded. Looking at Auckland and Otago, neither do they.

    The last time I looked at Auckland's Science Degree requirements, which was last week, there is a requirement that at least 3 different science department's subjects must be studied included in the degree, and between 2 and 4 courses taken from outside of the sciences altogether.

    I find most of them are though, because if someone is intellectually curious they'll read books of their own volition rather than pay a humanities lecturer to tell them what to read.

    I find they aren't. Where does that leave us?

    At the risk of stating the obvious, it's the social contract. If training for these disciplines is subsidised then there's broader equality of opportunity

    Yup, so why doesn't that apply to access to the Arts?

    I think the intellectual life of the country is already pretty class-based

    I'd agree, but the cause of this has 2 possibilities. Either the very existence of paid study in Arts has caused this, or it hasn't. Considering that society was more class based when all education was private, I'd have to say that the first possibility seems like bullshit.

    I'm going to make a huge judgement call and moot that the proportion of people from low-income backgrounds that decide to go to university and study Foucault and Gramsci is tiny compared to all the children from privileged middle and upper-class backgrounds.

    Feel free to go ahead and prove that. Perhaps also check out the level of privileged and middle-upper class kids studying Law and Medicine. Compare and contrast. Just for laughs, ask me how many Maori were in my computer science classes, compared to Philosophy classes.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10641 posts Report Reply

  • Danyl Mclauchlan,

    Only if you have developed some expertise in how your particular experience relates to those of others.

    And some expertise in realising when someone makes fun of himself.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 927 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to giovanni tiso,

    I had less use for offerings that endlessly cited Foucault and Gramsci,

    Shit, if I was allowed to only ever cite two people, those would be my two. Have you been through my drawers again?

    Fair enough. I actually had to go back and look up the book, Speaking Truth to Power: Public Intellectuals Rethink New Zealand.

    Three authors dwelt on Derrida's 1999 visit to Auckland, which I found about as helpful as an examination of New Zealand music via the Beatles' tour.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22756 posts Report Reply

  • linger, in reply to richard,

    I enrolled in a BA conjointly with my New Zealand BSc because I was feeling a bit stifled on a diet that consisted purely of physics and maths. But the funny thing is that the philosophy papers I took made me a better scientist

    Snap.
    At VUW, the Philosophy of Science course was offered by the Biology Department. It was also the first university course I took that required extended essay answers (by contrast, lab reports have a fairly mechanical structure that actually needs no explicit logic), which helped when I took up philosophy and linguistics.
    But beyond that, I found that the science courses I took gave me a different perspective on studying language, which turned out to be ideally suited to the quantitative, distributional, and above-all-else empirical field of corpus linguistics.

    Tokyo • Since Apr 2007 • 1889 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Rich of Observationz,

    Personally, I'd rather have 3-4 years student loan rather than six.

    Personally I'd rather have no student loan. Then I could study what I'm interested in, and therefore good at.

    Anyway, my basic point is that you don't need to spend money - particularly other peoples money - to read Tolstoy. In my case all you needed was a job with a long commute.

    You also don't need it to read Law and Medicine books. Why aren't our buses full of people poring over those things, then just slipping in to ace the exams at the end? Because actually when you study things with rigor you need help. That's why schools exist, why the country doesn't just cheap out and get everyone to home school kids once they've learned to read.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10641 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha, in reply to Danyl Mclauchlan,

    realising when someone makes fun of himself

    You're not seriously expecting the spotting of sarcasm amidst this melee? :)

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 19688 posts Report Reply

  • richard, in reply to Danyl Mclauchlan,

    I’m struggling to imagine this. Levin and Kitty are Hadrons, Anna and Count whatshisname are Bosons?

    That’ll cost you. I did say it was a private university. But it’s a reference to the opening paragraph, and I have heard a number of other scientists repeat the line (some without attribution, so it is possibly even a micromeme at this point), so it clearly helps make my point stick.

    [Actually, I am writing a paper but if I get time later, I might post it gratis, as a public service.]

    Anyway, my basic point is that you don’t need to spend money – particularly other peoples money – to read Tolstoy. In my case all you needed was a job with a long commute.

    There is a huge difference between reading a book on the train and taking a class for credit. Anna Karenina is perhaps a trivial example, but I am a much better scientist for having taken a few philosophy classes for credit, when I had to express (and occasionally defend) my opinions in tutorials and essays.

    Not looking for New Engla… • Since Nov 2006 • 268 posts Report Reply

  • linger, in reply to Danyl Mclauchlan,

    I can almost guarantee that the Karenina reference must have been something like “Stars all pretty much behave the same way during their time on the main sequence, but different star types each go wrong in their own way”.

    [And Richard's followup confirms this.]

    Tokyo • Since Apr 2007 • 1889 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha,

    Kiwipolitico's discussion about NZ public intellectuals from a couple o years ago - many reflections and links in the comments.

    One thing that is striking about the tone of contemporary public policy debates in NZ is the absence of intellectuals. Although various academics are trotted out by the media to give sound bites and opinion based on their supposed “expertise” in given subject areas, they otherwise do not loom large in the national conversation on issues of policy. Likewise, activists and partisans of various stripes make their views known on a number of fronts, but their contributions are notable more for their zeal than their intellectual weight. So, what happened to NZ’s public intellectuals, or perhaps better said, has there ever been a real tradition of public intellectuals in Aotearoa?

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 19688 posts Report Reply

  • Rich of Observationz,

    Free education would be an ideal, but not one we have here.

    Why aren’t our buses full of people poring over those things, then just slipping in to ace the exams at the end?

    There are people whose learning styles would allow them to do that (in law at any rate, possibly not medicine as you need live victims to practice on).

    But the universities put up barriers to this in order to retain a monopoly on recognition of learning.

    Back in Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 5550 posts Report Reply

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