Saturday, July 20, 2013

A Lesson from Abigail Adams

I'm reading David McCullough's fine John Adams (2001), a biography of our second President.  In it, he describes when Adams was sent to Paris during the Revolution to help negotiate peace.  Adams invited his son, John Quincy Adams, to go with him.  John Quincy was reluctant, wanting instead to prepare for his entry into college.  However, Abigail Adams encouraged him to go, likening his travels to, as McCullough reports it, "a river that increases its volume the farther it flows from its source." (p. 226).  She goes on to tell her son:
These are the times in which a genius would wish to live.  It is not in the still calm of life, or the repose of a pacific station, that great characters are formed.  The habits of a vigorous mind are formed in contending with difficulties.  Great necessities call out great virtues.  When a mind is raised, and animated by scenes that engage the heart, then those qualities which would otherwise lay dormant, wake into life and form the character of the hero and the statesman." (ibid.)
 Of course, John Quincy Adams went on to become President himself.

Abigail Adams' advice suggests education itself should actively engage the learner in problems that give the learner experience in "contending with difficulties."  The large, passive lecture--be it in a campus lecture hall or a MOOC--does little to give students the opportunity to experience knowledge directly as a solution to a problem.  Both on campus and online we should encourage a problem-centered, inquiry-oriented approach to instruction that actively engages the student in confronting problems, seeking out information to inform action, and then applying knowledge to solve the problem, in the process identifying principles that can be generalized from the specific problem.

Technology gives us the means to offer this kind of learning at the scale we need in order to properly meet the needs of our students and the society in which they live.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Boomer Music

The other day, I was driving home from the grocery store when the local radio station--which specializes in hits from the 60s, 70s, and 80s--announced "Baby, I Need Your Lovin'" by the Four Tops, noting that it dated from 1964.

As I listened to this great oldie ("Baby, I need your lovin', GOT to have all your lovin'") it occurred to me, not for the first time, that I have been listening to the same music for the past half century.   I have some newer favorites--Jason Mraz, Jack Johnson, and others who have hit the scene at various mileposts along that 50-year highway--the music from my youth is still just as fresh and full of life as it was when I first heard it.  Maybe more so.

Why, though, is it still being played regularly on the radio?  When I was a boy in the 60s, my mother occasionally listened to old records (she had a good collection of 78s) from the thirties and forties, but I had no recollection of her regularly listening to music from 1915 or even 1925.  I heard a lot of old 1940s swing (Vaughn Monroe was one of her favorites) and the Ink Spots and Eddie Arnold, but nothing as old to her as I hear today on the radio.  I have to think that today's focus on the real oldies is a cultural phenomenon

So, why is there still a mass market for music a half-century old?  One factor, certainly, is that we Baby Boomers are a big generation.  We have market clout, even as we begin to retire.  Is there more than that?  Is the music somehow indicative of a cultural shift that started in the 1960s and gathered steam in the 1970s?  There may be something to that. 

Regardless, I am glad to still be able to hear "my" music out there in public.  Keeps one young and tapping one's toe, glad for car air conditioning so I can keep the windows up and the radio loud.