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Harsh lessons learned from years spent in school…The story of a top achiever.

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By Ben Mmari

Initially I wanted to call this note “How education ruined my life” But the thing is education never ruined my life, hell I probably wouldn’t be living in Cape Town, the design capital of 2014, working at a top technology/business consulting company – without my brilliant education. But rather it is the education system that has played a huge negative role in my life. And this is something that I am only noticing now at the tender age of 22.

It was great being the smart child, the intelligent one, the one who always knew what to do and when to do it. The loyal student, always in the top 3, consistent, motivated, hard-working. Thus, at the young age of 18 when one is about to leave high-school (and no one else knows what to do with their life) it is a great feeling to know that your life is mapped out because you are a ‘top achiever’, a high school ‘success’, a fine product of the education system…bwaap bwaap bwaaap. If only I knew back then… if only I knew.

I lived in a bubble, utopia, an ideal world – a world of my own, a world that the education and reward system had helped me fabricate inside my mind. I was getting awards every term, getting book prizes at the end of the year, even made it into the national news paper after my Matric results (its Swaziland so I think everybody makes it into the paper at least once in their life…truth be told). But this constant flush of success, awards, recognition and achievement had led me to think that I was king of the world, that I could do no wrong, that I had it all figured out and that my path was set – but in all honesty it was very very far from this.

What this ‘excellent’ childhood did set me up for was a fantastic reality check.  Read the rest of this entry »

 

The Dangers of Certainty: A Lesson From Auschwitz

 

By Simon Critchley

As a kid in England, I watched a lot of television. There weren’t any books in our house,  not even the Bible. TV was therefore pretty important, omnipresent actually. Of course, most of what it delivered was garbage. But in 1973, the BBC aired an extraordinary documentary series called “The Ascent of Man,” hosted by one Dr. Jacob Bronowski in 13 hour-long episodes. Each episode was what he called an “essay” and involved some exotic and elaborate locations, but the presentation was never flashy and consisted mostly of Dr. Bronowski speaking directly and deliberately to the camera.

Dr. Bronowski (he was always referred to as “Dr.” and I can’t think of him with any other, more familiar, moniker) died 40 years ago this year, at the relatively young age of 66. He was a Polish-born British mathematician who wrote a number of highly-regarded books on science, but who was equally at home in the world of literature. He wrote his own poetry as well as a book on William Blake.

He was a slight, lively, lovely man. Because it was the early ’70s, some of his fashion choices were bewilderingly pastel, especially his socks, though on some occasions he sported a racy leather box jacket. He often smiled as he spoke, not out of conceit or because he lived in California (which, incidentally, he did, working at the Salk Institute in San Diego), but out of a sheer, greedy joy at explaining what he thought was important. But there was a genuine humility in his demeanor that made him utterly likeable.

“The Ascent of Man” (admittedly a little sexist now – great men abound, but there are apparently few great women), deliberately inverted the title of Darwin’s 1871 book. It was not an account of human biological evolution, but cultural evolution — from the origins of human life in the Rift Valley to the shifts from hunter/gatherer societies,  to nomadism and then settlement and civilization, from agriculture and metallurgy to the rise and fall of empires: Assyria, Egypt, Rome.

Bronowski presented everything with great gusto, but with a depth that never sacrificed clarity and which was never condescending. The tone of the programs was rigorous yet permissive, playful yet precise, and always urgent, open and exploratory. I remember in particular the programs on the trial of Galileo, Darwin’s hesitancy about publishing his theory of evolution and the dizzying consequences of Einstein’s theory of relativity. Some of it was difficult for a 13-year-old to understand, but I remember being absolutely riveted.

The ascent of man was secured through scientific creativity. But unlike many of his more glossy and glib contemporary epigones, Dr. Bronowski was never reductive in his commitment to science. Scientific activity was always linked to artistic creation. For Bronowski, science and art were two neighboring mighty rivers that flowed from a common source: the human imagination. Newton and Shakespeare, Darwin and Coleridge, Einstein and Braque: all were interdependent facets of the human mind and constituted what was best and most noble about the human adventure.

For most of the series, Dr. Bronowski’s account of human development was a relentlessly optimistic one. Then, in the 11th episode, called “Knowledge or Certainty,” the mood changed to something more somber. Let me try and recount what has stuck in my memory for all these years.

He began the show with the words, Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on April 23, 2014 in Uncategorized

 
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Abraham Lincoln’s letter to his son’s teacher

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The Second Scramble for Africa – Julius K. Nyerere

Mwl. Julius K. Nyerere

Mwl. Julius K. Nyerere

(From a speech delivered at the opening of a World Assembly of Youth seminar in Dar es Salaam in 1961)

I am a firm advocate of African Unity. I am convinced that, just as unity was necessary for the achievement of independence in Tanganyika, or in any other nation, unity is equally necessary for the whole of Africa to achieve and maintain her independence.

I believe that, left to ourselves, we can achieve unity on the African Continent. But I don’t believe that we are going to be left to ourselves! I believe that the phase from which we are now emerging successfully is the phase of the First Scramble for Africa, and Africa’s reaction to it. We are now entering a new phase – the phase of the Second Scramble for Africa. And just as, in the First Scramble for Africa, one tribe was divided against another tribe to make the division of Africa easier, in the Second Scramble for Africa one nation is going to be divided against another nation to make it easier to control Africa by making her weak and divided against herself.

It is for this reason. Therefore, that before we can talk complacently about ‘African Unity’ we should examine carefully the external ideas which are likely to be imposed upon us – imposed not for the purpose of uniting us, but for the purpose of dividing us.  Read the rest of this entry »

 
 

University rankings a flawed tool

The manipulative game of comparison and quantification turns institutions into players.

By  SEÁN MULLER

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How should we assess the quality and development of higher education ­institutions in South Africa? What is it that these institutions do that is socially valuable enough to justify receiving large sums of public money?

Is it the economic contribution of graduates, the societal importance of the research, other forms of contribution to society – providing a home for “public intellectuals” – or some particular combination of these?

With such considerations in mind, it is interesting to interrogate the increasing popularity of international university rankings as a means of either assessing university progress (“university x has done fantastically well in the past few years, climbing 20 places in the rankings”) or setting a milestone for achievement (“our university mission is to be a top 50-ranked institution”).

Although seductive in their ability to summarise institutional achievement in a single number, the many flaws of this approach suggest that it should, at best, be consigned a peripheral role in our determinations of institutional success.

To illustrate some of the problems, consider the Times Higher Education rankings, perhaps the most prominent of the growing number of published rankings.

This approach constructs a measure of institutional quality based on the two core academic activities of teaching and research. Teaching quality is measured by asking a sample of international academics what their impression is of the teaching quality at a given institution (15% of the overall institution score) and by using institutional information on the number of undergraduates per academic (4.5%), PhD awards per academic (6%) and the ratio of PhD graduates to bachelor degree graduates (2.25%).

Reputation survey
Peer perceptions, from what the Times ranking calls its “reputation survey”, are also used to assess research quality, comprising 18% of the total score of an institution. In addition, a “research influence” measure, counting a whopping 30%, is constructed based on the number of citations the research of academics at the institution has received. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on October 3, 2013 in Africa, Education, Teaching, World

 

Be Kind – A speech to Graduates by George Saunders

Graduates,

Down through the ages, a traditional form has evolved for this type of speech, which is: Some old fart, his best years behind him, who, over the course of his life, has made a series of dreadful mistakes (that would be me), gives heartfelt advice to a group of shining, energetic young people, with all of their best years ahead of them (that would be you).

And I intend to respect that tradition.

Now, one useful thing you can do with an old person, in addition to borrowing money from them, or asking them to do one of their old-time “dances,” so you can watch, while laughing, is ask: “Looking back, what do you regret?” And they’ll tell you. Sometimes, as you know, they’ll tell you even if you haven’t asked. Sometimes, even when you’ve specifically requested they not tell you, they’ll tell you.

So: What do I regret? Being poor from time to time? Not really. Working terrible jobs, like “knuckle-puller in a slaughterhouse?” (And don’t even ASK what that entails.) No. I don’t regret that. Skinny-dipping in a river in Sumatra, a little buzzed, and looking up and seeing like 300 monkeys sitting on a pipeline, pooping down into the river, the river in which I was swimming, with my mouth open, naked? And getting deathly ill afterwards, and staying sick for the next seven months? Not so much. Do I regret the occasional humiliation? Like once, playing hockey in front of a big crowd, including this girl I really liked, I somehow managed, while falling and emitting this weird whooping noise, to score on my own goalie, while also sending my stick flying into the crowd, nearly hitting that girl? No. I don’t even regret that.

But here’s something I do regret:

In seventh grade, this new kid joined our class. In the interest of confidentiality, her Convocation Speech name will be “ELLEN.” ELLEN was small, shy. She wore these blue cat’s-eye glasses that, at the time, only old ladies wore. When nervous, which was pretty much always, she had a habit of taking a strand of hair into her mouth and chewing on it.

So she came to our school and our neighborhood, and was mostly ignored, occasionally teased (“Your hair taste good?” – that sort of thing). I could see this hurt her. I still remember the way she’d look after such an insult: eyes cast down, a little gut-kicked, as if, having just been reminded of her place in things, she was trying, as much as possible, to disappear. After awhile she’d drift away, hair-strand still in her mouth. At home, I imagined, after school, her mother would say, you know: “How was your day, sweetie?” and she’d say, “Oh, fine.” And her mother would say, “Making any friends?” and she’d go, “Sure, lots.”

Sometimes I’d see her hanging around alone in her front yard, as if afraid to leave it.

And then – they moved. That was it. No tragedy, no big final hazing.

One day she was there, next day she wasn’t.

End of story.

Now, why do I regret that? Why, forty-two years later, am I still thinking about it? Relative to most of the other kids, I was actually pretty nice to her. I never said an unkind word to her. In fact, I sometimes even (mildly) defended her.

But still. It bothers me.

So here’s something I know to be true, although it’s a little corny, and I don’t quite know what to do with it:

What I regret most in my life are failures of kindness.

Those moments when another human being was there, in front of me, suffering, and I responded…sensibly. Reservedly. Mildly.

Or, to look at it from the other end of the telescope: Who, in your life, do you remember most fondly, with the most undeniable feelings of warmth?

Those who were kindest to you, I bet.

It’s a little facile, maybe, and certainly hard to implement, but I’d say, as a goal in life, you could do worse than: Try to be kinder.

Kindness Matters

Now, the million-dollar question: What’s our problem? Why aren’t we kinder?

Here’s what I think:  Continue reading…

 
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Posted by on August 5, 2013 in Inspirational, Personal Growth

 

The Surveillance Society

Secrets are so 20th century now that we have the ability to collect and store billions of pieces of data forever

By David Von Drehle

Privacy is mostly an illusion. A useful illusion, no question about it, one that allows us to live without being paralyzed by self-consciousness. The illusion of privacy gives us room to be fully human, sharing intimacies and risking mistakes. But all the while, the line between private and public space is as porous as tissue paper. The adulterous couple sneaking off to a hotel: Is someone following them? The teenagers skipping school to visit the mall: Will they bump into a woman from Mom’s book club? The solitary motorist thrashing an air guitar at a traffic light: Will the driver in the next lane look over? Like children of a certain age who think closing their eyes will make them invisible, we assume that no one sees or hears our private moments, and we’re right—until someone watches or listens.

This was true long before the National Security Agency began collecting our telephone and Internet records from technology and communications companies, and long before the House of Representatives on July 24 gave a fresh thumbs-up to further NSA collections by a narrow 12-vote margin, 217-205. It was true long before a military judge found Private Bradley Manning guilty of espionage for his role in the WikiLeaks case—but acquitted him on the charge of aiding the enemy—on July 30. The illusive quality of privacy is a recurring theme of literature going back to the Hebrew Bible. Consider beautiful Bathsheba, who strips for a bath in the second Book of Samuel, an ancient text, only to come under the lustful gaze of King David, pacing on his palace rooftop. Or Hamlet, whose private conversation with his mother is overheard by Polonius, hiding behind the drapes. The great filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock was fascinated by secrets that would not stay hidden and made a masterpiece, Rear Window, from the premise that entire lives (and deaths) are on display behind the uncovered windows of anonymous cities, just waiting for a watcher to decrypt them.

But the revelation of the NSA’s vast data-collection programs by a crusading contract worker, Edward Snowden, has made it clear that the rise of technology is shattering even the illusion of privacy. Almost overnight, and with too little reflection, the U.S. and other developed nations have stacked the deck in favor of the watchers. A surveillance society is taking root. Video cameras peer constantly from lamp poles and storefronts. Satellites and drones float hawkeyed through the skies. Smartphones relay a dizzying barrage of information about their owners to sentinel towers dotting cities and punctuating pasture-land. License-plate cameras and fast-pass lanes track the movements of cars, which are themselves keeping a detailed record of their speed and location. Meanwhile, on the information superhighway, every stop by every traveler is noted and stored by Internet service providers like Google, Verizon and Comcast. Retailers scan, remember and analyze each purchase by every consumer. Smart TVs know what we’re watching—soon they will have eyes to watch us watching them—and smart meters know if we’ve turned out the lights.

And the few remaining technical barriers to still more surveillance are falling before the awesome force of 1s and 0s, the binary digital magic that is the fuel of revolutionary change. Until recently, there were hard physical limits on the number of pictures that could be developed, videotapes that could be stored, phone–company records that could be typed or photocopied or packed into boxes—let alone analyzed. Now the very idea of limits is melting away. In 1980 (not that long ago; Barack Obama was in college), IBM introduced its Model 3380 disk drive, the first device capable of storing more than a gigabyte of data. It was roughly the size and weight of a refrigerator and cost an inflation adjusted $100,000. Today a flash drive costing one-thousandth as much can store 50 times the data and fit on a key ring. The amount of data that can be stored is nearly infinite. In a prescient series of blog posts several years ago, Princeton computer-science professor Edward Felten explained that this tremendous growth in storage capacity would inevitably spur intelligence agencies to collect all available data—everything—simply because it’s cheaper and easier than trying to figure out what to take and what to ignore. “If storage is free but analysts’ time is costly, then the cost-minimizing strategy is to record everything and sort it out later,” Felten noted.

Obama with Magnifying Lens

That is precisely what has happened. And at the same time, ever more sophisticated computer algorithms make it possible to sift through and analyze larger and larger slices of that data, raising social and ethical dilemmas that cannot be ignored. The future is here. Continue reading..

 
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Posted by on August 2, 2013 in Technology, World

 
 
Politics, Society & Things

We all posses just enough to be our greatest self

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We all posses just enough to be our greatest self