April 23, 2013

The one world school house by Salman Khan

The one world school house by Salman Khan

[The founder of Khan academy, Sal Khan narrates today’s education system and his initial days of struggle; followed by investment from Bill Gates foundation and Google for his free academic tutoring - https://www.khanacademy.org/. There are more viewers to Khan Academy site for learning than MIT’s opencourseware program (quoting Wikipedia)

Many college courses in the humanities focus on discussion over lecture. Students read course material ahead of time and have a discussion in class. Harvard Business School took this to the extreme by pioneering case-based learning more than 100 years ago and many business schools have followed suit. Students are more engaged than in any traditional classroom I’ve ever been part of. Most importantly, the ideas that you and your peers collectively generate stick.

Human beings are also hardwired to focus on faces. We are constantly scanning the facial expression of those around us to get information about the emotional state of those around us to get information about the emotional state of the room and our place in it. We seem to be hardwired to meet each other’s gazes, to read lips even as we are listening.

In a traditional academic model, the time allotted to learn something is fixed, while the comprehension of the concept is variable. Washburn was advocating the opposite. What should be fixed in a high level of comprehension and what should be variable is the amount of time students have to understand a concept.

The Nobel Prize-winning neuroscientist Eric R, Kandel, in his seminal book ‘In Search of Memory, argues that learning is in fact neither more nor less than a series of changes that takes place in fact individual cells of which our brains are composed. When a given cell is involved in learning, it literally grows. The process is not exactly analogues to what happens when one exercise a muscle, but it is pretty close. The more neurons recruited into the learning process, the more vivid and lasting the memory.

It is easier to understand and remember something if we can relate it to something else we already know. This is why it is easier to memories a poem than a series of non-sense syllables of equal length. In a poem, each word relates to images in our minds; there are rules of rhythm and connection that we understand, even if subliminally, the poem must follow. Rather than memorizing individual bits of information, we are dealing with patterns and strands of logic that allow us to come closer to seeing something whole. The most effective way to teach would be to emphasize the flow of a subject, the chain of associations that relates one concept to the next and across subjects. Unfortunately the standard approach to classroom teaching does just the opposite.

This is mostly obviously seemed in the artificial separation of traditional subjects. Genetics is taught in biology while probability is taught in math, even though one is really an application of the other. Physics is a separate one from algebra and calculus despite its being a direct application of them. Chemistry is partitioned off from physics even though they study many of ht same phenomena at different levels.

Among the nations whose students ranked near the top of international test results, some like South Korea, and Taiwan did in fact assign a lot of homework, but other qualifying countries, - Denmark and Japan - assigned very little then there were some very homework heavy nations - Greece, Thailand, and Iran- whose students tested poorly. In short, amount of homework given is not a good indicator for grading a school system.


April 21, 2013

Power Systems by Noam Chomsky

Power Systems by Noam Chomsky
Conversations on global democratic uprisings and the new challenges to US Empire. Interview with David Barsamian.

If you study international relations (IR) theory, there is what is called ‘realist’ IR theory which says there is an anarchic world of states and states pursue their ‘national interest’ It is in large part mythology. There are a few common interests, like we don’t want to be destroyed. Adam Smith said that England the people who own the society make policy. The people who own the place are the merchants and manufactures. They are the ‘the principal architects’ of policy and they carry out in their own interests, no matter how harmful the effects on the people of England which is not their business. Today, the power is no longer in the hands of the merchants and manufacturers, but of financial institutions and multinationals, but the result is the same.

China is largely an assembly plant. Like Japan, Singapore, South Korea, send parts and components to China, where people assemble and export the final products. Within the doctrinal framework, these are called Chinese exports, but they are regional exports in many instances and in other instances it is actually a case of the US exporting to itself.

Even in the poorest country in the world, say Haiti - white, Europeans, multinationals that lives in tremendous wealth and luxury. You find the same structure in India. Even though India has couple of million people now have cars & homes, the consumption of food on average has actually declined during this period of growth.

There is a reason why everybody has been invading Afghanistan since Alexander the Great. The country is in a highly strategic position relative to central Asia and the Middle East.  There are specific reasons to do with pipeline project in the background. Since 1990s the US has been trying hard to establish the Trans-Afghanistan Pipeline (TAPI) from Turkmenistan, which has a larger amount of natural gas to India. It has to go through Kandahar and so, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan & Pakistan and India are all involved. US want the pipeline for two reasons. One reason is to try to prevent Russia from having control of natural gas. The other reasons have to with isolating Iran. The natural way to get energy from Iran to Pakistan to India. US want to block this from happening.  TAPI pipeline would be a good weapon to try to undercut that.

On Martin Luther King Day, he is greatly celebrated for what he did in the early 1960s when he was saying “I have a dream” and “let’s get rid of racist sheriffs in Alabama”. But that was okay. But by 1965 he was getting to be dangerous figure. For one thing, he was turning against the war in Vietnam pretty strongly. For another, he was working to be at the head of a developing poor people’s movement. He was assassinated when he was taking part in a strike of sanitation workers and he was on his way to Washington for a poor people’s convention. He was going beyond racist sheriffs in Alabama to northern racism which is much more deeply-seated and class-based.  The civil rights movement was partly destroyed by force and partly filtered away at that stage. It never really made it past the point where you get into class issues.

Regarding Indian PM Man Mohan Singh’s comment “if left-wing extremism (Maoists) continues to flourish in important parts of our country which have tremendous natural resources of minerals and other precious things, that will certainly affect the climate for investment”:  There are foreign investors and Indian investors who want to get into the resource-rich areas, even if that means, getting rid of the tribal people, destroying their way of life. India has been war internally ever since it’s founding; in fact, it goes back way before, to the British in earlier periods. The relations with the US and Israel are very close. Indian forces attacking the tribal areas are apparently using Israeli technology.

It is very clear and articulated recognition that people had gained so many rights that it was hard to suppress them by force. So you had to try to control their attitudes and beliefs or divert them somehow. As the economist Paul Nystrom argued, you have to try to fabricate consumers and create wants so people will be trapped. It is a common method. It was used by salve owners. In UK, when official slavery gone, what would stop a former slave from going up into the hills, where there was plenty of land and just living happily there?  They hit on the same method that everyone hits on: try to capture them with consumer goods. So they offered teasers - easy terms, gifts. And then people got trapped into wanting consumer goods, and started getting into debt at company stores, pretty soon you had a restoration of something similar to slavery, from the plantation owner’s point of view.

Bahrain hosts the US 5th Fleet which is by far the most powerful military force in the region and it is right off the coast of eastern Saudi Arabia. Eastern Saudi Arabia is where the most of the country’s oil is. Like Bahrain, it is also largely Shiite, while the Saudi Arabian government is Sunni. By some weird accident of history and geography, the concentration of the world’s energy resources is in the northern Gulf region, which is mostly Shiite and in a largely Sunni world. it is long been a nightmare for Western planners to consider the possibility that there might be some kind of tacit Shiite alliance, beyond Western control, that could take control of most of the core of the world’s energy supplies. So there was barely a tap on the wrist when Saudi Arabia led a military force into neighboring Bahrain to violently crush the protests there. In Libya where there is plenty of oil, but Gadhafi is very unreliable and it makes sense from an imperial point of view to see if you can replace him with someone more pliable and more trustworthy who will do what you want him to do. Therefore you react differently in Libya. The Clinton doctrine was that the US is entitled to resort to unilateral forces to ensure, “uninhibited access to key markets, energy supplies and strategic resources:

The US Federal Reserve, at least in principle, has a dual mandate: one of them is to control inflation; the other is to maintain employment. The European Central bank (ECB) has only one objective, to control inflation. It is banker’s bank, nothing to do with the population. They have an inflation target of 2% and you are not allowed to threaten that. They insist on not carrying out any stimulus or anything like quantitative easing or other measures that might increase growth.

The effect is that weaker countries in the European Union are never going to be able to get out of their debt under these policies. In fact, debt levels are getting worse. As you cut down growth, you cut down the possibility of debt repayment. Hence they sink deeper into misery. The effect of these polices is to weaken welfare-state measures and to reduce the power of labor. That is class war and it is fine for the banks, for financial institutions, but terrible for the population.

Pashtun population which crosses the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan has never accepted the Durand Line the British imposed boundary that cuts through their territory.

When people wanted enough freedom that they couldn’t be enslaved or killed or repressed, new modes of control naturally developed to try to impose forms of mental slavery so they would accept a framework of indoctrination and would not raise any questions. If you can trap people into not noticing, let alone questioning, crucial doctrines, they are enslaved. They will essentially follow orders as if there was a gun pointed to them.

A friend of mine who teaches sixth grade described to me once how she had taught her students about the American Revolution. A couple of weeks before they got to that assignment, she started acting very harshly, issuing orders and commands, making the kids to do all kinds of things they did not want to do. They got pretty upset and they wanted to do something about it. They started to get together and protest. By the time it got to the right point, she opened the lesson on the American Revolution. She said, “OK, now you can see why people rebel”. And the kids understood why you would. That’s the type of creative teaching.

Florida announced recently that it is cutting back funding for the state university, but increasing funding for sports. I remember going to some college for a talk, but the first thing we drove to was some huge stadium. Right next to the sports stadium was a big building. I asked the students what it was and they said, “That is where the football players lie”. They get special training to enable them to pass the courses so they can keep playing football.

There are two striking images that I think capture the essence of the conflict. One view is that education should be like pouring water into a bucket. As we all know from our own experience, the brain is a pretty leaky bucket so you can study for an exam on some topic in a course you are not interested in, learn enough to pass the exam and a week later you have forgotten what the course was. The water has leaked out. But this approach to education does train you to be obedient and follow orders, even meaningless orders. 

The other type of education was described by one of the great founders of the modern higher education systems, Wilhelm von Humboldt, a leading figure and founder of classical liberalism. He said, education should like to lay out a string that the student follows in his own way. In other words, giving a general structure in which the learner will explore the world in their own creative, individual independent fashion. Developing not only acquiring knowledge, but learning how to learn. In one of the MIT class, students asked their Physical professor Victor Weisskopf what his course would cover, he would say, “It does not matter what it cover. It matters what you discover”. In other words, if you can learn how to discover, then it does not matter what the subject matter is. You will use that talent elsewhere.

Languist is somebody who can speak a lot of languages, and linguist is somebody who is interested in the nature of language.

Capitalism is based on production for profit, not need. It is also based on a requirement of constant growth for profit. That is self-destructive - quite apart from things like the steady process of monopolization, forming more and more oligopolies as well as overproduction and the decline of the rate of profit. These are long-term tendencies that can be delayed, but they are inherit to capitalism.

Books mentioned in this book:
David Montgomery - The fall of the house of labor.
Benjamin Ginsberg - The fall of Faculty

April 14, 2013

To sell is human by Daniel P Pink

To sell is human by Daniel P Pink
The surprising truth about moving others.

The research firm IDC estimates that 30% of American workers now work on their own and that by 2015, the number of nontraditional workers worldwide (freelancers, contractors, consultants, and the like) will reach 1.3 billion. In OECD countries, more than 90% of business now have fewer than 10 employees.

The new ABC of moving others: A- Attunement, B-Buoyancy, C-Clarity.

Research shows that the effective perspective-taking, attuning yourself with others, hinges on three principles.

1. Increase your power by reducing it.
The ability to move people now depends on power’s inverse: understanding another person’s perspective, getting inside his head, and seeing the world through his eyes. And doing that well requires assuming that you are the one with power. Start your encounters with the assumption that you are in a position of lower power. This will help you see the other side’s perspective more accurately which in turn, will help you move them.

2. Use your head as much as your heart.
Traditional sales and non-sales selling often involve what look like competing imperatives - cooperation versus competition, group gain versus individual advantage. As researchers say, ultimately it’s more beneficial to get inside their heads than to have them inside one’s own heart”. Social cartography - drawing that map in your head ensures that you don’t miss a critical player in the process.

3. Mimic strategically.
Successful negotiators recommend that you should mimic the mannerisms of your negotiation partner to get a better deal. It is important that the other person does not notice what you are doing.

Practice strategic mimicry> the three key steps are Watch, Wait & Wane. Watch what the other person is doing, once you observed, doesn’t spring immediately into action; let the situation breathe. If he makes important point, repeat back the main idea verbatim - but a bit later in the conversation (don’t do many times) after you have mimicked, try to be less conscious of what you are doing. AS NYtimes has noted, “And if that kind of flattery does not close a deal, it may just be that the customer isn’t buying”.

The best sales people are not extraverts, not introverts, but ambiverts. Ambiverts can find balance and they know when to speak up and when to shut up. Their wider repertories allow them to achieve harmony with a broader range of people and a more varied set of circumstances.

Discover the best way to start a conversation. Good to great author, Jim Collins, says his favorite opening question is: where are you from?

Have a conversation with a time traveler (e.g. think of item that somebody from 300 years ago would not recognize). Play mirror (see each other first; turn around and change something- put glasses, removed watch etc. then see face-to-face and ask what has changed
Discussion map. In your next meeting, cut through the clutter of comments with a map that can help reveal the group’s social cartography. Draw a diagram of where each person in the meeting is sitting. When a session begins, note who speaks first by marking X next to that person’s name. Then each time someone speaks add an X next to that name. If someone directs her/his comments to a particular person, draw a line from the speaker to that person. When the meeting is done, you will get a visual representation of who is talking the most, who is sitting out, and who is the target of people’s criticism or blandishments.

Napoleon Hill (author of Think and grow rich), wrote that the first step in salesmanship was autosuggestion, the principle through which the salesman saturates his own mind with belief in his own ability to sell. You need to believe in yourself first that you can do it (or you can sell it).

Barbara Fredrickson of UNC is the leading researcher on positivity - her catchall term for a basket of emotions including amusement, appreciation, joy, interest, gratitude, and inspiration. The positive emotions broadness people’s ideas about possible actions, opening our awareness to a wider range of thoughts and making... us more receptive and more creative, she writes. Healthy positive ratios as a calibration between two competing pulls: levity and gravity. Levity is that unseen force that lifts you skyward whereas gravity is the opposite force that pulls you earthward. Unchecked levity leaves you flighty, ungrounded and unreal. Unchecked gravity leaves you collapsed in a heap of misery. Yet, when properly combines, these two opposing forces leave you buoyant.  

positiveratio.com has her positivity self test and her book, Positivity Top notch research reveals the 3 to 1 ration that will change your life is an excellent popular intro to her academic work.

Martin Seligman’s book Learned optimism: How to change your mind and your life and his web site: www.authentichappiness.sas.upenn.edu/Default.aspx He says, negative events has an enormous effect on us. Try to de0catastrophize, ask yourself - what are the overall consequences and why are those consequences not nearly as calamitous as they seem on the surface. One way to remain buoyant is to acquire a more realistic sense of what can actually sink you. You can do that by counting your rejections and then celebrating them - enumerate and embrace.

Motivational interviewing. On a scale of 1 to 10 with 1 is the least, how ready are you to study? After the answer, ask the second question - why didn’t you pick a lower number?

Putting content curation into practice is part art form, part science, but mostly about daily practice, writes Kanter. When you prepared to ask question, prepare a list of questions, improve your questions and prioritize your questions.

Practice six pitches:
1. One word pitch. Write 50 word pitches and reduce to one word
2. The question pitch: use this technique, if your arguments are strong and if they are weak, make a statement.
3. The Rhyming pitch: Find the rhyming words from www.rhymezone.com
4. Subject line pitch: create subject line that create curiosity
5. Twitter pitch. Make your point sweet, short & simple
6. Pixar pitch; http://bit,ly/jlVWrG

The Pixar pitch: All of Pixar stories have following common thread. Once upon a time --- everyday,----- one day------. Because of that,-----. Because of that....---------. Until finally ---------------. Try to bring your story into this well known style to catch everyone’s observation.

Answer three key questions.
What do you want them to know, to feel & do?
Collect others pitch and record your own.
Add a visual
Pay attention to sequence and numbers (go first if you are incumbent, last if are the challenger. Granular numbers are more credible than coarse numbers)
Experiment with pecha-kucha.Such presentation contains 20 slides, each of them appear for 20 seconds. Presenters make their pitch in 6inutes 40 seconds of perfectly timed words and images. The format promotes clarity through constraints and because he slides advance automatically presenters must convey their message with both elegance and speed.
Ask people to describe your invisible pitch in three words.

Instead of saying, “yes, but...” to someone’s idea, say, “yes and ...Instead of swirling downward into frustration with Yes, but, “Yes and ‘spirals upward toward possibility. When you stop, you have got a set of options not a sense of futility.

Recommended Books:
Influence: Science and practice by Robert Cialdini (persuasion)
Made to stick: why some ideas survive and others die by Chip Heath and Dan heath
Switch by Chip Heath and Dan Heath
Mindless eating: why we eat more than we think by Brian Wansink
Nudge: Improving Decisions About health, wealth and happiness by Richard H. Thaler and Cass R. Sunstein.
Impro: Improvisation and the theater by Keith Johnstone
Creating conversation: Improvisation in everyday discourse by R. Keith Sawyer
The creative power of collaboration by R. Keith Sawyer
Improve Wisdom: Don’t prepare, just show up by Patricia Ryan Madosn
The second City Almanac of Improvisation by Anne Libera.