Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

What is Real (Analysis) is Real (Analysis) in its Consequences

December 10, 2008

It has been seven months since my last post, and much has changed but I will only update readers on these matters in the context of this blog’s stated purpose.  Some details are in the recently updated biographical post on the right hand side of this page.

As of last night, I have completed my first graduate level course in any topic.  On the advice of many an economics PhD or PhD candidate, both at my job and on the various and sundry related internet forums, I enrolled in a course in real analysis at American University.  For those who don’t know, real analysis is essentially one long, rigorous proof of everything you ever learned in Calculus I and II. 

It was also, by far, the most humbling academic experience I’ve ever had.  Ultimately, my grade will be more or less acceptable (I’m expecting a B+ or better), but this was only after putting in an unbelievable amount of hard work and long study sessions.  I can not describe to the uninitiated what a real analysis course is like, but I would like to point out three things I’ve learned as byproduct of this experience.

1) Working full time and going to school is exceptionally difficult.  This is all the more true when the class is graduate level, but I have a new and more visceral respect for adults who pursue degrees in any field while working to support themselves and their family.

2) I’m not as smart as I thought, but I can still hold my own.  I’ve done proofs before in other upper level math courses at Mary Washington, and these I could usually complete in a sitting.  Not so in real analysis.  After working two hours on a single problem, I would often have to go for long walks and wait for inspiration to come to me.  Nonetheless, the answer did eventually come, and consequently I often did very well on homework assignments and take home tests.  However, I did very poorly on timed assignments such as exams.  Lesson:  I can figure just about anything out if given the time to do so.  This is a personal trait ripe for a careful optimization analysis at a later time.

3) Economics is “real.” There was a bright if awkward senior in my class who often opined that “economics isn’t real”.  I found this to be a frustrating and pseudo-intellectual comment, but I also found it difficult to immediately respond when he said it.  Eventually, I settled upon a good retort that I planned to unleash the next time it came up:  “Economics purports to be the study of human choice under the conditions of scarcity and uncertainty.  By all accounts, it succeeds in being  just that, regardless of whether one agrees with its methods or conclusions.” 

I never actually had the chance to say this, but last night after I finished my final exam, I was walking to my car when a different thought occurred to me: 

Economics is real, because it is real in its consequences.  (A slightly modified take on the Thomas Theorem).   Economics may or may not make undue assumptions about humanity; its conclusions may or may not be patently, objectively false.  Nonetheless, those conclusions inform policy that has real effects on the quality of life for billions of people.  The point is not to preach some particular and unchanging view of the human condition, but to constantly tweak and present new and innovative means to understand and, yes, manipulate that condition.  Even if it isn’t objectively ‘real,’ it tells a very compelling story, of which I would like to be a co-author.

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First job out of college: Tutor?

March 3, 2008

A couple weeks ago, the need for money began to outweigh the desire to do nothing but either be lazy or work on my resume.  After a lot of thought, however, I was quite positive I did not want some run-of-the-mill clerk or retail position at the local big box store or Starbucks.  What’s a poor graduate to do?

Craig’s List offered an answer: Tutoring.  The pay level was quite enticing (base of $30/hr), which meant I could work 4 or 5 hours a week and make the equivalent of a part time position with, say, Best Buy.  I submitted my information and received a call back a week later from a woman who runs a local service.  Would I be interested in tutoring mathematics? Sure! 

I show up to my first session with a junior at a local high school who has had trouble in her Algebra II/Trig class.  “Algebra II/Trig?” I thought, “No problem!”  When she pulls out the book and shows me her old tests, my stomach hit the floor.  “I don’t remember any of this,” I thought to myself.  I managed to make it through the first session without letting on that she probably knew what she was doing better than I did, and I have since spent approximately 10 hours over the past two weeks teaching myself Algebra II/Trig out of a textbook I got at the local public library.  Divide $45, the amount I make over a week’s time with her, by the number of hours I’ve spent studying for our sessions (about five a week).  Now I’m down to $9/hr.  Not as impressive.

Now I’ve been asked to start working with a middle aged, Hispanic man who wants to get his GED.  He’s a pretty successful, experienced mechanic but he wants to get out of the industry, and the first step on that road is to get his GED.  But while he speaks English fluently (he’s been in the country for at least 25 years), and while he can read technical manuals with little trouble, any other sort of expository writing or reading flusters him.  And of course, he must also learn basic history, science, and social studies.  How do you teach someone all that they were supposed to learn in high school?

I really want to do well; I want my students to do well.  But this is different than the tutoring I did in the basement of Monroe the night before the big macro or development exam.  I was willing to spend as long as my friends and acquaitances needed in clarifying material, but if they didn’t do well I never felt like there was any skin off my back.  Now I find myself anxiously waiting to hear from my Algebra student how she performed on her various quizzes  and tests on logarithms and exponential functions.  Not just for my sake (for clearly I must produce results to keep my job), but also for her sake (because I want her to do well, regardless). 

Lacking the training and the organization that I would think qualifies someone as a tutor, I’m beginning to wonder if this is such a good idea.  These people are counting on me to help them in some way.  What if I can’t? What if I don’t know how?  And even if I was willing to put in the 15 or 20 hours a week that would be required to find new methods of teaching these people that meets their style, doesn’t it cease to be worth it at some point?  I mean, that’s like $6/hr, at most. 

I have to decide soon.  If I stay in this, I’ve got to commit to the middle of June and, just like in college, I’ll have to go balls to the wall and do everything I can to perform well in the capacity for which I’ve been hired.  I don’t know how to half ass something like this, and I wouldn’t want to even if I did. 

If anyone has any advice or bits of wisdom, I’d love to hear it.

“Has it hit you yet?”

January 24, 2008

I get asked this question once or twice a week now that I’ve graduated. 

I’m not sure which is the most correct answer:  No, Not Yet, or I Don’t Think It Ever Will

I’m a lifelong learner.  Even as I look for jobs, I’m far more interested in what I will learn in my new position than how I can advance the goals of whatever organization eventually employs me.  That’s one of the reason why I’m even considering applying to the Heritage Foundation, even though I rarely agree with what comes out of it.  I find it fascinating to be surrounded by people with different perspectives and experiences than mine.

See, I wanted to finish college, but I didn’t want to finish attending classes; I’m even participating for no credit in the advanced macroeconomics seminar that Steve is teaching.  (You can find my blog for that class, including a great discussion between myself and another philosophy/economics major on the idea of neoclassical economics, here.)  I was just sick of the bureaucracy, and a few other little things, as I discussed in a previous post

I am enjoying the time off, however.  I’m spending perhaps a little too much time playing World of Warcraft with my brother, who will be leaving for Austria for the semester on February 22nd.  I can’t justify it – it is a monumental waste of time and it probably take me away from more important matters (like getting a job) – but it is relaxing and fun and, believe it or not, probably restored my relationship with my younger brother.  But the family, and my brother in particular, is low on cash right now, so he and I have decided to do some temp labor.  For those of you have had the displeasure of taking that route to get some money, you know that there really is nothing else quite like getting up at 4:30am to go sit in a cold warehouse with some of the most disenfranchised members of our society in the hopes that you will get work for maybe $7.25/hr. 

Guess I should start working a little harder to find a job. 

The Job of Student – A continuation

November 9, 2007

A week ago, I attended the second lecture in the Liberales Artes series here at the University of Mary Washington.  The speaker was Christopher Nelson, the President of St. John’s College in Annapolis, MD, the so-called “Great Books school.”  I found Mr. Nelson’s talk refreshing, especially in light of my comments about the previous speaker, Dr. Mary Taylor Huber. 

Mr. Nelson’s speech focused in general on the relevance of a liberal arts education in the 21st century and onward.  He suggested that a liberal arts education is one that, literally, liberates one from the low-browed monotone discourse of the masses, providing a person with the means – and the desire – to question the status quo and provide alternatives to it.  If this strikes a reader as a little arrogant, or even as a little classist, I would have to agree with you.  Neither does my one-sentence summary, for all its artistic melodrama, misrepresent Mr. Nelson, who was happy to invoke Plato and T.S. Elliot whereever he could.  My far-left tendencies gave me pause during his speech to consider that some people are perfectly happy fixing cars and running computer networks all their lives, and far be it from me to tell them they’re missing out.  Well-funded technical schools are at least as important to society as liberal arts college. 

Having said that, I still agree with Mr. Nelson that a society will benefit when a large number of its citizens have been exposed to multiple perspectives by way of a liberal arts education.  I was also happy to hear him say that students need to be accountable for their learning, as I believe this statement and his expansion on it were sorely missing from Dr. Huber’s talk.  Learning is a two-way street, to use a cliche, and while teachers can make certain resources and class time available to students to help them learn, it is the student’s responsibility to desire to learn.  Bingo! Students might be going to college just to get a job or to just get away from mom and dad, but I agree strongly with Mr. Nelson’s assessment that a necessary condition for admission to a liberal arts college should be “a demonstrated desire to learn.” Academic success surely follows when the latter is combined with a thoughtfully structured classroom environment.

I think any future syllabus for a class of my design might read something like this:  “Your grade will reflect not only the knowledge you acquire in this course, but also the knowledge you create and instill in your classmates through class discussion, presentations, etc.  In sum, to even think about receiving so much as a C in this course, you must show me that you are actively engaged in the learning process.” 

I think I would give students a variety of means to satisfy this requirement.  Having ample office hours, reserving class time for discussion, and requiring regular and thoughtful blogging or wiki development are all methods I have seen my professors use.  I would, however, raise the stakes for the student a bit more. 

On Racism

November 8, 2007

Steve posted a reply to my previous entry, and I think it merits a second entry:

…[I]f the Bullet article and quotations were correct, the students involved were stupid, insensitive and rude, which is probably not unique among first year students.  The question I’m asking is absent the offensive poster, would we be accusing the students of racism, or just poor judgment?

Short of the offensive poster, no I don’t think we would.  However, if we define an action as right or wrong (or, more to the point, racist or not racist) by whether or not anyone was aware of said action, then I think we undermine the idea of any absolute morality (take that as you will).  If the poster was racist – and I think it was, regardless of intention – then the apparent lack of an outcry prior to public exposure of the matter is of great concern to me, because it means either that no one was aware of its racist qualities, or that people tacitly agreed with the racist message that was implied.

Certainly first year students will make significant errors of judgment – I know that from first hand experience.  But then, the only people I hurt by my errors in that year were myself and, arguably, my family.  Regardless of who one hurts, however, I think that we can agree that a settling of accounts is necessary. 

Unfortunately these errors of judgment are now public and were particularly painful for  others.  Ignorance may be bliss, but that does not negate the racist nature of the material, nor the apparent lack of a negative response prior to the cleaning staff’s discovery.  The men involved are learning a hard but deserved lesson, and I don’t think any of them are exempt from criticism insofar as they tolerated the poster.

Ultimately it will come down to the following questions:  If the pain is unintentional, is the person who commits the action that causes the pain thereby not responsible?  For instance, are laws against involuntary manslaughter justifiable?  This is a broader question which I will leave you to decide.  However, I do believe there is room for the men involved – as well as the entire campus– to learn a very important lesson.  Racism is not merely an irregular and heinous act in our society, despite what we often think.  My reading, research, and personal exploration has led me to the conclusion that racism is deeply seated in most facets of life.  Blacks are not to be robbed of agency by this explantion, but a fair assessment must conclude that opportunities are both overtly and surreptitiously denied to blacks on a regular basis because of their skin color, and that the same can not be said of white people.

So no, we would not be accusing them of racism if the poster was unknown. Actually, we probably we wouldn’t even be calling them rude and prone to errors of judgment if the staff had not found the poster.  But it is known, and that is a good thing since it exposes the actions to public scrutiny, and I am hopeful it will create a constructive dialogue about issues of race that is made all the more desirable by the utter homogeneity of the student population. 

Reading Critically – A comment

November 8, 2007

A recent incident involving a tasteless, many are saying racist, poster found in a freshman residence hall has created quite a stir on the UMW campus.  This week’s edition of the University of Mary Washington school newspaper, The Bullett, included a letter from one of the residents of the building, whose associates were quoted extensively in the above-linked story, questioning the veracity of the article and the journalistic quality of the paper in general.

My biggest problem with this argument is that it assumes that people would not be angry if they new “the real story.”  It is true that most people would  like to know the real story, but that signifies that students, faculty, staff, and administrators here are reading the school newspaper with a critical eye, seeking facts and filtering out bias whereever they believe it is present.  There are likely those who take what they read at face value, and I will grant that this is an enormous mistake on their part.

Still, anyone reading a second- or third-hand account of anything in any journalistic piece should always keep their guard up.  Bias is everpresent, and whether you are reading The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, your local school newspaper, or my blog, you should only take at face value that which you can verify.  I will grant that at least one advantage of a well-established newspaper over a college newspaper is that much bias can be inferred directly by regularly reading the Op-Ed page.  Perhaps the unfortunate weakness of The Bullett is that its editorials rarely give us an eye onto the latent biases of the editorial staff, only comments on irrelevant matters of dubious value.  This does not, however, negate the truth of the basic facts of the case.  Mr. Bloom’s letter to the editor, while perhaps justified in some respects, does not deny that students printed out and posted a piece of paper in public with a smiling white man embracing a sobbing black man with the caption “Slavery Reinstated:  Get yourself a strong one,” and neither does it deny that the people responsible for the poster and their peers demonstrated a complete disregard for those who were understandably offended by it. 

Mr. Bloom, after critically reading the original story, your response, and the comments you and your peers have posted publicly online, it is still clear to me that the actions and comments of your friends were stupid, irresponsible, and latently racist in nature. 

“Dating” College – Time to Break Up?

October 23, 2007

In this second entry, I want to continue with the theme of reflecting on my education by examining the conflicting influences I feel both to stay at college for another semester…. and to get as far away as possible as soon as possible. 

First, why stay?  In a word, academics.  I enjoy learning, and I’m coming to realize that I thrive in a more structured learning envrionment (I will broach this topic in another entry).  What’s more, there are some really fascinating classes that will be offered next semester, one of which promises to be an extremely unique experience.  There will be an advanced macroeconomics seminar taugh by my academic advisor and friend, Steve Greenlaw.  I denied myself the opportunity to learn in such a setting under him last semester in the belief that I would enjoy another class better, but I regret that choice now. 

Also next semester the anthropology department will be offering its economic anthropology course, a class that I have been hoping they would offer every semester for two years. 

Saving the best for last, my thesis adviser and developmental economist Shawn Humphrey is offering a hands-on policy development and implementation class in conjunction with a local development NGO… all under the guise of a seminar.  This would be a highly unique experience and I am sorely disappointed that I will be missing this class, most of all. 

To restate then, the only thing that is pushing me to stay here is my desire to learn just a little bit more in an environment of my own choosing.  Next semester would promise a very fascinating and, possibly, eye-opening experience.

So why leave? 

Because I’m 26.

Because my girlfriend and I really want to start out lives together.

Because just about everything about this place besides my professors bothers me, and even they drive me nuts from time to time. 

This last point deserves some expansion.  I think that I can split up my grievances into three categories: frustration with the administration, frustration with the student culture, and frustration with the strictures on my education due to an unwillingness or inability to teach certain topics.

With respect to the administration of my college, I find it to be altogether a lumbering and stupid giant of red tape and beauracracy. This is not to slander any one person; rather, the administration lacks a visionary at its vanguard, especially after our former president’s run-in with the law last semester.  I could register a multitude of complaints about the problems this creates, but they are all the typical enormous-glob-of-an-organization grievances.  In general, however, I think the poor administration leads to a disaffected student body, a demoralized teaching staff, and a generally poorer education and overall experience here.

I am also fairly unhappy with the student culture.  I find students to generally be one-dimensional both in their academics and their personal lives, and it does not help that the typical student comes from a fairly narrow cross-section of life experience (white, upper middle-class, usually from northern virginia and or the north-central eastern seaboard).  I want to be careful how judgmental I am, because I am older and and I have had more experience in the “real world.”  Nonetheless, I get the sense that this student body is lacking more than its typical counterpart on other campuses.

My final, and quite tertiary, complaint is that there are limits on how far my education can proceed here. Part of this is self-imposed because of time constraints of my own device.  The other part, however, is a frustration with the ways in which my education in economics has been limited, I feel, by the unwillingness or inability of my economics professors to put a little mathematics into their courses.  I am not the only person to complain about this – there are two other seniors currently doing/planning theses that are equally frustrated with the department in this respect.  We are all three of us potential graduate students in economics, and we are concerned that we are unduly prepared for the mathematical challenges of that environment, despite taking several courses in math independently. These are skills that are going largely unused in the context of our actual specialty, and we find this to be frustrating.  Nonetheless, this is a highly particularistic complaint; the quality of education that the professors do offer is the only thing keeping me here, as discussed above. 

All this makes me wonder if going to college is a little like dating someone.  In some cases, the infatuation can last a long time, several months or even a couple years, before the little things about the person really start to bother you and you have to ask yourself: “Is it worth ending the relationship just because of annoying habit X?”  If so, then better to end it before you start to fight and argue. 

Well, literally, I am starting to fight and argue with almost all aspects of this school.  Conclusion: It’s time to move on. 

Currently Reading – Greenspan’s “The Age of Turbulence”

October 14, 2007

I am not quite halfway through Alan Greenspan’s “The Age of Turbulence,” the central banking legend’s part memoir, part treatise, which was published just a few weeks ago.

It really is a fascinating book.  I am reading it not as someone who is of a particular political mindset, nor as someone who would feign to have the highly developed skill set that would be necessary to target the man with either criticism or approbation for his term as the chairman of the Federal Reserve.  Instead, I am reading it as a student of economics, and I am finding Greenspan to be a surprisingly lucid writer with a dry wit, a reasonably humble personality, a keen intellect, and a single-minded fascination with all that his field of study has to offer.  Whether or not he paints a rosy picture of himself, his techniques, or his attention to detail, at the very least I find his portrayal of a man devoted to uncovering the driving forces in markets to be both inspirational and educational. 

I am inclined to recommend this book as assigned reading in a classroom.  I think his methods are exemplary, and in that sense, certain chapters would give students a sense of the importance, limits, and possibilities for collecting and interpreting data.  At the same time, he has been on the front line of most economic booms and busts for the past 50 years, and as such much of the first half of his book would be an excellent supplement to more in-depth analyses and/or class discussions.  The latter half of his book (though I have not finished it yet, but I will be sure to comment on it later), provides a normative assessment of the world around him and the present and future of the global economy.  It is, as such, an excellent conversation starter for any class discussion on economic issues or policy for students at any level in the field.

I would not mind hearing the opinions of others on their take of this book, but regardless of how one feels about the man’s policies, he strikes me as a prolific thinker and an astute observer, and his thoughts are worth the trip to the library or the bookstore.   

Reflecting on Education: The Job of Student

October 1, 2007

This is the first of a few entries which I will devote to discussing my educational experience, and how it has aligned (or not) with my expectations.   

Last Thursday, I attended the first of what is to be a series of lectures at my college on teaching in higher education.  This particular presentation was given by Dr. Mary Huber, and focuses primarily on the ways in which professors interested in improving their quality as educators have sought to accomplish this goal.  She concluded that professors must form a community across and within disciplines, seeking advice from one another and sharing successes and failures, all as part of a larger process of discovering better ways to best serve in their role as educator.  The archaic scholasticism that seems to pervade the higher educational system was downplayed.  At the same time, Dr. Huber suggested that more hands-on activities utilizing modern communications technologies (blogs, wikis, etc.) and demonstrations of theory in practice is a fertile ground since it plays to the skills and expectations of the modern student. 

Noticeably lacking from the presentation was any mention of the role of students in the educational process.  I tried to bring light to this fact during the Q&A session by asking, in so many words, whether there was any room for students in this reform of higher education.  Her response, again in so many words, was “Yes.”  Apparently, my question was simply not blunt enough. 

A fellow student blogger did a fine job some months ago of expressing the frustration some students feel about the lack of interest amongst their classmates, and I have discussed the need for an inclusion of students in the reform process in higher education a long time ago in a comment @ Pedablogy, so I will not restate those ideas here.

I do want to say that ignoring or downplaying the vital importance of students’ desire to learn (or lack thereof) will retard any attempt at reform in higher education; that is to say that I would hypothesize that this desire is a necessary condition for meaningful reform.  To a certain extent, better teaching methods will encourage students who want to learn but have a hard time doing so in the traditional classroom, but Huber’s assumption seems far too optimistic:  All students, on some level, want to learn, and higher educators just have to find ways to connect to those students.  This strikes me as unrealistic.  

To me, an F seems a just reward for failing to show interest in a class.  This may seem harsh, but I don’t think there is anything wrong with feeling like the guy asleep behind me in class is free-riding on my tuition.  He’ll still pass, he’ll still get his 40k/yr job.  Meanwhile, that’s one more person that my professor still has to waste her time on, grading his work, wondering why he isn’t interested, spending time trying to figure out how to engage him.  HE DOESN’T WANT TO BE ENGAGED!!! 

How can my professors better teach me?  By ridding themselves of the distractions personified in other students who don’t give a damn.  With their knowledge, direction, and attention unimpeded by obligations to serve students who could care less, the already high quality of my education would increase to greater heights.  I’m thinking that Dr. Huber and I might be on extreme opposite sides of this debate, and clearly there must be some compromise, but I just want to be sure that students are held accountable for their education, too. 

Is my education sucking my will to revolt?

September 20, 2007

Over the past week or so, I have grown deeply introspective and somewhat self-critical in the aftermath of my visceral response to the actions and words of one person.  First, some history of my own thought is in order.

After dropping out of college in 2000, I found myself caught in a strange holding pattern of the mind, characterized by a mixture of equally strong parts of intelligence, curiosity, moral certitude, and lack of a formal higher education (which brings with it a lack of critical self-appraisal of one’s own ideas).  Upon this mental state was founded multiple philosophical discourses (which I now consider to be important keepsakes of my intellectual past), a propensity to blame capitalism and corporations for society’s ills, and a general frustration with people in positions of authority.  Not long before my ex-wife and I separated,   I had joined a rather innocuous socialist party, whose intellectual grounding was nevertheless attractive to me.  Its membership was comprised of maybe 20 or so very well-read Marxists; it was so small because the party’s exclusionary membership application process (eight in-depth questions covering everything from party politics to religious sentiments) limited its size and scope.  It was, in the end, a place for intellectuals to register their desire for revolutionary change without feeling pressure to really do anything about it.  That was me, in a nutshell. 

My stint as a Marxist led me to an ironical major and career path:  economics.  It was with the intention of raising holy hell about capitalism that I enrolled in a Principles of Macroeconomics class at my local community college, my first time back at school in three years.  Instead of finding reason to be belligerent, I was impressed by the explanatory power, by the grasp of the enormously complex problems that markets create and solve. 

When I finally returned to Mary Washington College a year later, I was still very much on a rebellious streak inspired by anger at the injustice I perceived around me, yet I found myself weaned off of anti-capitalistic sentiments by economics.  I began to look for still more radical, holistic viewpoints of the world, which I found in a campus group of anarchists.  Still, with time, I began to lose my interest in radical politics all together.  I perceived the solution(s) to society’s injustices to be too complicated to be broached by any one political or economic ideological system.  My association with the anarchist group tapered off more and more as my interest in philosophy and economics increased.  In general, I consider my movement from radicalism to quiet observation and critique (both of my own ideas and the ideas of others’) to be a positive change.  However, there are two tendencies of mine that recent events have brought to my attention, both of which make me wonder if I have strayed too far. 

First, the economic way of thinking (as I have constructed it based on my classes) renders me prone to divorce my notions of justice from my notions of practical possibility.  I see “economic growth” as a phenomenon that is disturbed by legislative attempts to redistribute wealth or power, and I have thereby bought into the notion of “trickle-down” economics, as pundits might call it.  Poverty, racism, classism, increasing inequality of wealth, rampant disaffection with the political system – these things no longer affect me as they once did, and no longer inspire me to revolt against the norm.  Though I started off questioning others’ authority, I was eventually persuaded to question my own authority, and now I find myself defending the activities of the wealthy and powerful in society in the hope that this will somehow see the end to all the world’s problems.  I feel as if I’m stuck choosing the lesser of two evils:  support the powerful, or advocate the redistribution of wealth and all the difficulties that presents.  In the end, I have chosen the former. 

Second, and related to the first, I have stopped questioning out loud.  When I first got into economics, as I said, I was astounded by the explanatory power.  Nonetheless, a lot about the field bothered me:  the implicitly normative nature of homo economicus, the ethnocentrism I discovered in neoclassical and even the more tractable members of the heterodox economics, and the arrogance of economists who seemed to suppose that since policy-makers listened to them, their explanations of phenomena were the best.  I eventually found, however, that constantly arguing these points was exhausting and disruptive of class, and I stopped questioning the subject matter out loud.  I took my problems to professors’ offices, or utilized research projects to look for answers to my objections.  I bought in to the analytical frameworks that my professors were laying out, while simultaneously attempting to remain aloof of the dogmatic traps that devotion to any “way of thinking” laid in my path. 

I think I ultimately failed in this endeavor, or have very nearly failed.  The “shut up and listen” approach I took to the classroom was an attempt to learn how to look at social phenomena through the “objective” lens of economics while still hanging on to the notions of justice, or human nature, or whatever, that I held onto in my head.  In the process, however, I have allowed the practical explanatory power of economics to stretch beyond the purely positivistic, to the point where I now use it in a normative way.  The economic perspective has become my perspective, and in the process I have become as myopic as that of which I was once very critical

It is oh-so-tempting to blame systems for the world’s or even one’s own problems – capitalism, the educational system, government, what have you.  What I have learned in college is a few different methods that I can use to analyze phenomena under the conditions and within the constraints that systems set up.  In the process, however, I seem to have forgotten (or worst of all, ceased to care) about whether the system itself is viable for what its proponents and beneficiaries seek.  “Cui bono?” is a question I have failed to ask more and more often. 

What’s more, I feel… cowed by the relatively comfortable lifestyle promised me by my achievements at this institution and those in the future to come.  Like I’m becoming a support beam for a system I don’t really agree with (at least in terms of the spread between its promises and its fruits).  It’s not a feeling I enjoy.  It’s not that I want to be an anarchist again, or a Christian, or a libertarian, or whatever.  I don’t think the answers to my questions are to be found in an ideology.  But neither are they to be found in tacit collusion with authorities, up to and including – sometimes – the professors whom I respect and admire.  The inner push I have felt to beat my professors at their own game has converted me to their perspective, but not with my conscious approval, and that bothers me. 

So while I stand by the words published in today’s school newspaper, I worry that in doing so I am being hypocritical.  There is something to be said for being a pain in your professor’s ass.  There is something to be said for remaining aloof of dogma not only in your head, but also by speaking out in public, because the public will hold you to your word.  They will expect you to differ, and they will look to you for an alternate explanation, whether they (or you!) buy into it or not.  Even if your classmates seem to think you’re an idiot, speaking out keeps you from settling down, and if done respectfully but insistently it keeps those around you from feeling too comfortable with their personal justification for the world around them.  That can only be a good thing. 

You don’t need to be a revolutionary to think critically about what you hear in class; something is wrong if you experience no cognitive dissonance with respect to what your teachers tell you, because that means you’re not learning anymore – you’re just memorizing.  You should learn how experts think, but you should also expect them to think like beginners, you should insist that they be on their toes.  The classroom should be dynamic, and that dynamism can only derive from the conflict that learners can and incite.  Read, discuss, analyze, synthesize, and evaluate everything that you can.  See if the experts are so diligent.  If they are… that’s a teacher whose class you should never miss.