Category Archives: Psychology and Sociology

What did you learn from that?

Children’s education is a big topic. We scrutinise everything they do and look for its educational value. We wonder what they’re learning. If they choose an activity in which we see no learning potential, we disapprove, and show our disapproval in a variety of ways. We may say they are wasting their time. We may try to steer them towards a more “worthy” activity, one that we feel has more learning value. We may also ask them: “So what did you learn from that?”. 

And that’s a rhetorical question of course. We simply won’t be satisfied with any answer they give us, because we’re not really expecting an answer, we just want them to agree with us and feel bad about how they’ve just spent their time.

Reality, of course, is quite different. Of course they’ve learned worthwhile things. However, instead of discussing the list of things worth learning, I want to talk about the hypocrisy of asking such a question. Then I’ll discuss the nature of learning, and the difference between content and context.

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Posted by on August 3, 2014 in Life, Psychology and Sociology


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We value only what we can measure

In all the literature I have read, I know of few statements more profound than the following quote from St Exupery’s Little Prince:

The wise fox

My secret is this. It is very simple. It is only with the heart that one can see rightly. What is essential is invisible to the eye

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The transformation of learning into education

The transformation of learning into education paralyses man’s poetic ability, his power to endow the world with his personal meaning. Man will wither away just as much if he is deprived of nature, of his own work, or of his deep need to learn what he wants and not what others have planned that he should learn. (“Tools for conviviality”, Ivan Illich)

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Made in China

I live in Australia. Today, the 21st of May 2013, I am sitting in bed typing this blog entry on an iPad which I reluctantly purchased for my job (at my employer’s expense mind you!), and which is made in China. I am surrounded by furniture, clothes, books, electronics and perishables that are all made in China or Bengladesh.

No, this is not one of these I-wonder-what-life-would-be-like-without-X type of blog entry. T’is no fantasy, no mere chimeric musing, but a protest, a revolt, a mutiny!

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Keeping up with the world… or creating it?

A typical response to my controversial challenges of ubiquitous elements of our modern lives is that we need these things to keep up with an ever-changing world. I would like to challenge this notion by offering another:

By keeping up with the world in this way, aren’t we contributing to what the world is becoming? We send our kids to school to prepare them for a world that is massively influenced by schooling itself. We buy the latest technological gadget to remain at the forefront of the consumerism that our purchases have unwittingly promoted.

So when people look at what I do and say “wow that’s a bit extreme, isn’t it?”, I like to reflect on what it means to be “extreme” in a world in which the once extreme is increasingly common, and the once common is increasingly extreme!

In other words, I’m trying to be mindful of the ways in which my lifestyle choices influence the world in which my children will grow up. If they are to change the world into something better, they need to be exposed to ideas and experiences that are foreign to what the world currently accepts as conventional wisdom.


The Australian way

Media coverage of natural disasters in Australia tend to focus on people’s willingness to help each other in times of great need, and they call it the Australian way. They say that this solidarity defines the Australian way of life, as if it were unique to our relatively puny population.

In truth, solidarity in times of acute need is a trait of humanity, not just of Australians.

It is troubling to see how much hype is made about it on the news, because it makes me wonder whether kindness and care are only valued and encouraged under these rare circumstances.

Why do we disproportionately hear of random acts of violence, compared to random acts of kindness? Do the news try to inform us, as they would like us to think, or merely to entertain and excite us?

What do you think?


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Faulty reasoning

Although I regularly rant about the poor quality of undergraduate psychology courses, studying mine off-campus has helped me to learn some valuable skills which I still use today. One of these is critical thinking, or the ability to examine and judge the arguments and claims people make before accepting or rejecting them outright.

Faulty reasoning is extremely common, among people of all backgrounds and education. Politicians are adept at it, although they often use it intentionally.

I’d like to discuss a very common type of logical fallacy: false cause, and how it can lead to the development of stereotypes, prejudices, and discrimination.

Children who wear glasses are often labeled as “nerds”, regardless of their academic achievements. Wearing glasses is often associated with superior intelligence but low social skills, and discrimination and bullying ensues.

Where did the association between glasses (a device designed to enhance visual acuity) and intelligence started?

University professors are assumed to be highly intelligent, otherwise they probably wouldn’t have attained professorship. Many of them wear glasses, and many live a fairly solitary lifestyle, making them appear socially awkward at times.

The logical fallacy occurs when we make the causal link between wearing glasses and being intelligent. That they often co-occur amongst university professors isn’t questioned, but does wearing glasses cause high intelligence? Does high intelligence cause the wearing of glasses?

Most people don’t stop to think about another possible explanation: university professors are very often over 50 years old, and visual acuity tends to decline over time. Therefore, it may be their age that leads them to need glasses, not their intelligence.

If this hypothesis is correct, does it make any sense to associate the wearing of glasses with intelligence, especially among young children?

Some readers will probably exclaim that most of the spectacled kids they knew at school were top of their class. This may be an example of another logical fallacy, illusory correlation, or simply the pygmalion effect: children who are labeled as nerds tend to believe the label and act accordingly, strengthening people’s opinions.


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