Sunday, November 25, 2012

Teaching, Learning and all That Stuff

A couple of weeks ago, I tweeted the following:

"There is no teaching, only learning."

Today, at an idle moment, I did a quick search on it. My very own tweet came up fifth on the list. Exciting.

The real reason I had searched it out today was that gnawing feeling that I'd stolen the line. Well, I discovered that it, rather unsurprisingly, had certainly been said before, though I could not find any direct attribution. What surprised me a little bit, though, was that it in its other contexts it was apparently understood in a very, very different way than I had meant it.

In one citation it was attributed to someone's "old law professor", referring specifically to the idea that it is the student who must do the work to actually learn the material, particularly in an environment where there was a whole method of thought to adopt, combined with so much material to absorb. In another, it was a religious thing. Coupled with a New Testament quote it referred to the need for learning to be experiential, that the blind could not be made to see, etc. etc.

All of this was quite different from my own take.

Years ago, there was a quote floating about, almost surely apocryphal, from Serge Lang, a well-known mathematician: "When I don't feel I adequately understand a subject, I teach a course in it. When I feel I still don't understand it well enough, I write a book about it." The punchline was that he wrote lot of books. (Some are better than others, as is necessarily the case. Some were clearly rushed, others verifiably classics.)

For me, the point is that the act of teaching is, by its very nature, an act of learning. It is indistinguishable from learning. It is one and the same. As such, the teacher is benefited as much as the student. Mentoring is not an act of altruism, it is a further honing of whatever skill or discipline is involved.

And learning...what's better than that?

Friday, November 02, 2012

And Now, the Counting...

Well, here we are.

November 2, 2012.

Election Day, the culmination of an effort that seemed to begin about 30 seconds after the polls closed in November of 2008 is nearly upon us.

And now comes the counting.

But first, there are more than a few little issues to be dealt with, a few unknowns to be resolved.

Foremost there's Sandy. Good ol' Sandy. A classic late October Nor'easter. Just one that happened to have been fueled by a hurricane. The level of devastation is really quite remarkable -- hybrid devastation, as it were. Big trees flailing about. Water coming in from the sea and finding its way down to the subway platforms. The swamps of Jersey and the low-lying coastlines of the Islands Staten and Long displaying their inconstancy. Millions without power in a drenching stew of who-knows-what.

What kind of effect will it have on the election? Will people be persuaded by events that, indeed, there are those large things what only government, a dedicated and activist government, can hope to deal with? Will the party of climate change deniers take a hit because, while a single event does not by itself confirm the scientific hypotheses involved, such event does serve as another piece of evidence in their favor?

In more prosaic terms, are there just enough people in just enough segments of the voting populace sufficiently affected to have a direct effect on who wins a Senate seat or two? And what of this electorate? Have the various polling agencies gotten it right? The last decade -- and the last four years in particular -- have seen a great change from land lines to the mobile space; hypotheses concerning what the electorate looks like are well considered, to be sure. They are also untested, for now.

Then comes the really scary stuff. What will the effect of voter ID laws be? Turnout has always been the watchword of electoral politics (with "who does the counting" a close second). Will people be turned away for lack of sacred ID? Will there be a raft of provisional ballots in key states to be fought over?

Well, I certainly don't know. But we'll find out.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

I've been neglecting this thing for quite some time. Perhaps having a two-year-old in the house has some effect; perhaps it's just the case that after a certain number of times around the wheel, all the possible riffs that fit seem familiar. And, dare I say, hackneyed. "X" days out. "We know nothing." "We think we know something, but...." "The problem with the rat race is that the rats have a distinct evolutionary advantage." Of course, as I like to say, I'm busy writing my memoirs (which I kind of am, depending, of course, on the definition of "memoirs" -- what I have been writing on and off deals with a particular moment of my life when huge numbers of things changed and, even more amazingly, an even larger number of things really didn't, which was the most wonderful things of all). All right. I'll just publish. And write something that might have some actual significance later...