The dilemma of dilettantes

I will probably have to retire next year & I am looking for things to do. Among other things, I am considering part-time teaching. This would be a way to share some of my education and experience with the next generation. They call this a generative aspiration because it is meant to be helpful and useful. But it is also a bit of a problem in today’s labor market.

f you look at the plight of adjunct faculty, it is not a good place to be. Adjunct faculty is paid not very much and they often have to cobble together several jobs to make ends meet. Enter former diplomats or former executives or former anything. We are looking for something interesting and useful to do, but we are not very much concerned with earning money or improving working conditions. For us it is just fun. We provide competition for people who want to make a career in the field and it is tough competition because we are willing to work for peanuts. So the generative, generous and selfless endeavor starts looking less benign.

I was talking to a taxi driver a few days ago about Uber, that service that lets individuals essentially become part time taxi drivers when they got nothing else to do. It is part of the sharing economy, where people share (usually for a price) things that they aren't using to full extent. Like my adjunct professor idea, this looks good. You are expanding the universe of providers, improving the use of resources and lowering prices. But we have the dilettante problem again.

My taxi driving informant complained that the Uber folks skim off the best customers. This is more than grumbling. He has a point. It is easy and profitable to be a taxi driver if you only have to take the best customers at the best times. The professionals have also to pick up the bad cases and take them to the bad places. It is like the sales manager who steps in at busy times and books so many more sales per-hour than his subordinates who have to work through thick and thin.

I hate to say this, but there are times when you want to build in some market inefficiencies, when you really want to make people pay more for products and services than that market would naturally demand. Of course, this can easily get out of hand too. Taxi services are a good example. In some places, the numbers are kept so artificially low that prices are way too high and service too slow. It is something in perpetual dynamic tension, but maybe the end goal is not what would appear most efficient.

I ride my bike to work and have been riding the same way since 1997. I know the road and the traffic lights. You would think that I would be most happy when all the lights go my way, but that would be mistaken. Sometimes when I turn onto a familiar street and see the green light way ahead, I am happy because I know that I cannot possible reach it in time. By the time I get there, even at Lance Armstrong steroid pace, it will be red. That means I can relax and time it at a leisurely pace to cross when it turns green again. It takes me around an hour and fifteen minutes to get to work. I can make it in less than an hour and have done it, but it is hard and probably a little dangerous. Maybe a few stops built into the system are good.

Posted by Christine & John at September 18, 2014 9:09 AM
Comment #383509

A commendable plan, C&J. I’ve blogged aplenti about schools using retired professionals in the class room on a part time basis.

One of the saddest and craziest things is that so many young folks truddle off to college with no idea of what they want to study or pursue. Most are pushed into some career study or just by default. I think only about 20% of grads stick with their degree field for a career.

Wouldn’t it be great if some high school kid could make some good decisions about his college plans based on experiences/teachings in the school system?

BUT, then there’s this ‘best laid plans’ thing to deal with. You may have to relate your work/personal experience to your students wrapped up in a civil rights course or spousal abuse training or some such - - -

An aside: I think Va schools don’t teach cursive writing anymore. They teach the kids to print and they are on their own to learn cursive. I keep working on a ten year old grand kid to stop holding his pencil like a dagger to print.

So, I dunno, C&J. You could think about starting up a new 3rd party, but then again, maybe not.

You could get a gov’t grant to teach peace and love to the Middle East but, right now, foreign travel is not recommended.

I am highly pleased that you recognize that striving for higher efficiency is not always a desirable goal. While this globalised economy supposedly makes trade more efficient it comes at a price. If one can’t walk down the street without worrying about losing your head, I say it’s not worth it, and so on - - -

I’m thinking, C&J, the best plan for you might be to cut down all your trees, hire lobbyist to get weed approved in Va. and plant a high tech variety of weed. That way you could still ride your bike, between the rows, be pretty much independent/part timer, and put your learned skills at growing, harvesting and marketing to good use.

The American way and so on - - -

Posted by: roy ellis at September 18, 2014 4:49 PM
Comment #383539

Roy Ellis-
The main reason kids once learned cursive was that cursive was a quick way to write by hand. Technology affords kids an even faster alternative nowadays, and one in fonts that the teach can most certainly read more easily than most kids’ penmanship.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at September 19, 2014 2:10 PM
Comment #383550


“Technology affords kids an even faster alternative nowadays, and one in fonts that the teach can most certainly read more easily than most kids’ penmanship.”

In a technologically impersonal world being able to actually write is about as personal as it gets.

When cursive goes the way of the dodo the world will become a much sadder place.


Posted by: Rocky Marks at September 19, 2014 6:34 PM
Comment #383552

I think one’s penmanship is an excellent measure of character, personality, and so on - - -

If I were a recruiter I wouldn’t want to hire until I could see something of a persons writing ability. These days its easy to goggle up something and cut and paste it to make one look sane/rational/smart and so on - - -

Cursive ability leads to self confidence, pride in the way you present yourself and so on - - -

Bill was on minutes ago saying that this digital stuff will lead to a ‘me, me me’ generation, folks overloaded with narcissism and lacking in interpersonal skills and so on - - -

If the teach has a hard time reading the kids penmanship then the teach has a problem, IMO.

I highly agree with Bill and Rocky.

Maybe that’s it, C&J. Maybe teaching high school kids to write mixed in with some career experiences could be your retirement job??

Wonder what the sleuths will do when they no longer have hand written letters/notes to compare with written signatures, etc?

And, C&J, we are back to this efficiency thing. Way more efficient to type a letter than to write a letter, and so on - - -

Otherwise - - -

Posted by: roy ellis at September 19, 2014 8:53 PM
Comment #383553

Let’s see, we throw out cursive, grammer, civics and school prayer for what? Learning to keyboard? Be some interesting kids come out of that. Do some cut and paste on their resume, Word will fix yer grammiticals. Abort the kids or just don’t have any as that’s way more efficient to get where you want to be. Maybe do a little Jihad for your thesis and so on - - -

Posted by: roy ellis at September 19, 2014 9:08 PM
Comment #383555

Cursive writing can be beautiful. It can also be unreadable. Did you ever wonder how pharmacists avoided screwing up half of the scripts written by physicians in the past?

Digital typing is faster, easier to correct and certainly clearer. Better to spend the time learning cursive on something that might actually be useful in the future.

Posted by: Rich at September 19, 2014 9:41 PM
Comment #383557

Whenever I start a new job my training is mostly learning to do it the hard way. When you learn the hard way you learn more of the details and the fundamentals that make up the job. When you know what you’re doing and why you’re doing it it makes learning the faster, more efficient way easier. Once you have the basics down then you can move onto the easier way to do things.

My mother had beautiful handwriting. She was proud of it. I enjoyed watching her write. She had many pen pals and she wrote to them constantly, using cursive. She could type, but I think she just loved to write.

What would a child in these days do if they didn’t have a keyboard to do their writing for them? How would a person without a keyboard communicate using the written language if they never learned to write the good ol’ fashioned way?

Much is the same with math skills. I never understood why the schools let students use calculators. How would a person who never learned to do math in their head be able to do math if they didn’t have a calculator? Have you ever noticed young people giving change at a cash register? Wait until they’ve rung up your order and give them the money. They will type in the amount you gave them. Then give them the change to make a whole dollar and see what they do. I’ve seen many go into overload.

All that technology will make great boat anchors when the next big solar flare knocks out the power grid. It won’t do a poorly educated person any good at all. If you teach that person the basics, teach them to do it the hard way, they may not appreciate it at the moment, they may never have the opportunity to appreciate it, but if they do and they can complete the task when others can’t, they will appreciate it and they will appreciate the person who took the time to teach them.

I’m with Roy Ellis when he suggests teaching children. I would go a step further and suggest creating your own class, your own lesson plan, your own tests, your own time line. And if you can do it outside the school system, go for it. Insist on overall control of what and how you teach.

Remember when it was the three r’s? Readin’ Ritin’ and ‘Rithmatic. I can do math in my head. I can read and enjoy a good book. I can write notes to my co-workers that are concise and legible. I can do it when the power goes out, and I never have a phone in my hand. I agree with Rocky Marks and Roy Ellis. Learning to write can build distinct character in a person. It shouldn’t be left to go the way of the dodo. It should be a fundamental building block.

Posted by: Weary Willie at September 20, 2014 12:08 AM
Comment #383564
Much is the same with math skills. I never understood why the schools let students use calculators. How would a person who never learned to do math in their head be able to do math if they didn’t have a calculator? Have you ever noticed young people giving change at a cash register? Wait until they’ve rung up your order and give them the money. They will type in the amount you gave them. Then give them the change to make a whole dollar and see what they do. I’ve seen many go into overload.

There’s far more to math than just arithmetic. Memorizing algorithms in order to compute products and sums mentally usually doesn’t yield a better understanding of algebra or calculus.

Posted by: Warren Porter at September 20, 2014 1:12 AM
Comment #383572

Could you do algebra and caculus if you can’t do basic arithmatic?

Posted by: Weary Willie at September 20, 2014 10:39 AM
Comment #383573

For the most part, Algebra and Calculus only requires familiarity with arithmetic with single digit numbers. Use of algorithms to find sums or products of numbers with 3 digits or more is very rare when doing calculus or algebra.

Posted by: Warren Porter at September 20, 2014 11:31 AM
Comment #383574

So, third graders should be able to do calculus and algebra!

Wow! Our schools do suck!

Posted by: Weary Willie at September 20, 2014 11:37 AM
Comment #383575

Let me put it this way: all the mental arithmetic in the world is useless if one is trying to find the roots of the function y=7x^2-3x+8 or integrating the cosine function from x = 1 to x =2. The former requires one to compute the square root of -279 and the latter requires one to know the sine of 2 and the sine of 1. None of these problems are feasible without the aid of a calculator/slide rule/trigonometric lookup table. While I do happen to be quite skilled with mental arithmetic, (I just computed 3^2-4*7*8 in my head), there is little practical use for this in either my current job or graduate level physics courses.

I will grant the caveat that my comfortability with mental arithmetic at a young age probably served me well for psychological reasons. Ever since I was in elementary school, I always thought of myself as “good at math” and that notion definitely helped boost me when my confidence was low: (such as when I earned a D in calculus during my senior year of high school or when I earned an F in differential equations my sophomore year at Stony Brook University). However, here it is the relative skill with arithmetic rather than absolute skill that counts.

Posted by: Warren Porter at September 20, 2014 11:48 AM
Comment #383576
So, third graders should be able to do calculus and algebra!

This is actually one of the greatest unsolved problems within primary school education. The third graders that will be cashiers in 20 years will not have much need for calculus or algebra, but mastery of mental arithmetic will be very important. On the other hand, the ones that will grow up to be scientists and engineers will not need to rely on arithmetic too much, but knowing algebra and calculus certainly will be. How do we prepare both groups without impairing the other? This is a difficult question.

Posted by: Warren Porter at September 20, 2014 11:55 AM
Comment #383578

IMO, all should be honed with the basics in readin, riten and rithmetic to enable them to recognize their God given abilities. I don’t see how one would know their mental prowess until they’ve learned the basics.

In this age of globalisation there are a good many STEM’s relegated to jobs requiring mostly arithmetic, and so on - - -

Likewise, one should know the pledge of allegiance, ‘who shot John’ in US history, a couple of patriotic songs, and so on - - -

So, what’s it gonna be, C&J? Maybe your too chicken to retiree.

Posted by: roy ellis at September 20, 2014 4:47 PM
Comment #383595

Graphoanalysis can reveal a lot.

Posted by: D.a.n at September 20, 2014 11:44 PM
Comment #383596

My experience working in factories has taught me the workplace has Alzheimer’s. If one person changes a procedure and then trains their replacement with that procedure, the old procedure is lost. That is why the workplace has Alzheimer’s.

Society has Alzheimer’s also. “Those who forget their past are doomed to repeat it.”

Can you imagine your great-grandchildren being told they can no longer do math because they cannot afford a calculator? They can no longer communicate because the internet is off limits?

Using the tool should not replace being taught to do the actual work. You can take away the calculator. You can’t take away experience.

Knowing how to add and subtract is something we ol’ farts can do in our sleep, but if a kid has been taught to use a calculator instead of doing the actual work he is helpless without the calculator.

Learning to read proper english and write legibly with proper spelling opens all the doors to success. Reading and writing are tools used to communicate. When you communicate, you learn.

Teaching and mastering the basics of arithmetic, cursive, and grammar are all that is needed except for one other item. The most important item of all, and one that I feel has been sorely neglected for a very long time.

Creative thinking.

I think it’s being stifled. We’re teaching our children, and ourselves, to wait to see what government does, what the courts say. We’re allowing the federal government to dictate how and what we teach our children! People in power don’t teach the powerless how to get power! Teaching to the test doesn’t teach people how to think. Bigger schools aren’t better schools. Crowded classrooms aren’t safer classrooms.

We’re fooling ourselves if we think what we put our children through, just to teach them how to read and write, is the best we can do. What have we, as a nation, forgot?

Posted by: Weary Willie at September 21, 2014 12:54 AM
Comment #383598

Wow! Handwriting on a piece of paper with a pen or pencil is nothing more than a means of communication, storage and retrieval. If those functions can be done more efficiently and effectively with digital devices, why not? What great skill is acquired learning cursive writing?

We once only had memory and oral presentations to communicate information, history, etc. Then we had handwriting and paper. Then we had the printing press to enlarge the dissemination of information. Now, we have digital devices and electronic communication systems to transfer, process, store and retrieve vast amounts of information.

As communication technology advanced through the ages, the only real human skill that seems to have been degraded is memory. The “ancients” were very capable of storing vast amounts of information in memory and adept at retrieving such information. Their abilities seem like magic tricks today. So, while there may be some trade offs, the net gain for much more efficient processing of information and communication is clearly worth it.

Now, how we use the advances in technology is another question.

Posted by: Rich at September 21, 2014 10:26 AM
Comment #383599
Graphoanalysis can reveal a lot.

No it doesn’t.

I will address your comment later. I have to do a few things this afternoon.

Posted by: Warren Porter at September 21, 2014 11:31 AM
Comment #383601


“Handwriting on a piece of paper with a pen or pencil is nothing more than a means of communication, storage and retrieval.”

Sorry, I don’t agree.

Handwriting is art. Handwriting is a means of personalizing communication.

I learned to write in the 2nd grade, long before there were personal computers or even calculators.
It’s quite obvious the use of computers is the future, and we should strive to educate the youth of this country in the skills they will need going forward.

But…that said we are also striving to de-personalize our children in this country at an alarming rate.

Look around you.

How many people under the age of 25 are actually talking to each other, and how many are using technology as their only means of communication?

I own a cell phone, I have for nearly 15 years, but most times I now look on it as the bane of my existence. I no longer believe I have a responsibility to answer it. The phone is for my convenience, not the callers. I rarely use texting or email, and I think the need to use internet access, or watch movies on a phone is absurd.

By all means, we should teach all available forms of technology to our children, but not at the expence of a means of communication that has existed for thousands of years.


Posted by: Rocky Marks at September 21, 2014 4:11 PM
Comment #383607

My youngest son, now 43, went thru college hand printing all his papers.

I believe that keyboarding is going the way of the doo-doo bird.

Now folks are using a two fangered hunt and peck system.

In five years hunt and peck will be replaced with voice to text translation.

Following that would be brain wave to video xlation.

At that point evolution would start to kick in, shrinking fingers and the mouth hole and so on - - -

Posted by: roy ellis at September 21, 2014 5:00 PM
Comment #383608


“In five years hunt and peck will be replaced with voice to text translation.”

My wife loves to text using the “voice” function on her not so smart phone.

Something is always lost in the translation, and the resulting messages are hysterical.


Posted by: Rocky Marks at September 21, 2014 5:11 PM
Comment #383610

Even worse, ROcky, is the brain wave to video system. For efficiency gained, C&J, in communications people would think their thoughts and video devices would be the medium of communications relay. Thus people would no longer need to talk to each other.

So, where would we be if solar flares knocked out the videos and people could no longer mouth words of speech, and so on - - -

Posted by: roy ellis at September 21, 2014 5:38 PM
Comment #383611

“Handwriting is art. Handwriting is a means of personalizing communication.”


Agree, for personal communication. A note to a friend, etc.

I also learned penmanship in school. My handwriting was excellent. But, I never used it for business or in my professional life. All correspondence was typed from a handwritten draft or from dictation. Upon the advent of personal computers and word processing, the composition and editing of correspondence and other documents became vastly more efficient.

I don’t have any quarrel with those that wish to personalize their correspondence by handwriting such correspondence. But, to claim that it is an important rudimentary skill that should continue to be taught with rigor makes little sense to me.

Posted by: Rich at September 21, 2014 6:43 PM
Comment #383612

Rich, put all your books and magazines on disk, all your letters to and from others on digital format. Make sure every coorispondence you use is in your computer.

Now, turn off your electricity.

Can you hear me now?

Posted by: Weary Willie at September 21, 2014 8:17 PM
Comment #383613


I didn’t say that you shouldn’t have hard copies of important documents. I didn’t say that the new technology will not have problems. I didn’t say that we should completely abandon all prior forms of communication, information, writing, etc.

Personally, I think that the demise of the traditional daily newspaper is a huge loss and has contributed to the dumbing down of America. There is no comprehensive internet alternative.

Posted by: Rich at September 21, 2014 10:18 PM
Comment #383614

I don’t think anyone is suggesting abandoning anything! I am suggesting we not abandon the teaching of fundamentals as a prerequisit to teaching the use of technology. It doesn’t matter how outdated it’s considered, how cumbersome it is compared to the technology, or how unnecessary it is made to appear. The ability to do the work without technology cannot be taken away. Once it’s taught it is available for a lifetime, unlike a technological device that can be rendered useless by simply dropping it.

Posted by: Weary Willie at September 21, 2014 10:49 PM
Comment #383621

Rich, are you in favor of abandoning the card catalog and the knowledge to use it? Should the education of our children start with using a search engine on a computer or phone instead of manually locating a hard copy?

But, to claim that it is an important rudimentary skill that should continue to be taught with rigor makes little sense to me.

What is being discussed here is the distinct possibility of denying our children the fundamental tools necessary to being able to think for themselves.

The idea we can treat the basic building blocks to learning as an inconvenience is very dangerous. The last thing I would want to leave our children is a possibility of imposed illiteracy.

Posted by: Weary Willie at September 22, 2014 2:38 AM
Comment #383628

Picked up an old portable typewriter (still working great) recently. Set it up on my dining room table and nearly all of the grandchildren like to play with it. From 4 to 15 they are all fascinated by the ability to type and see what causes the letter ‘A’ to appear on the paper in front of them. On a computer keyboard that is lost. You type an ‘A’ and through the magic of bits and bytes it appears on the screen. The typewriter provides a much more robust interaction that really allows you to see how that letter becomes apparent. Paper bale, carriage return, tabs, and margins are something they are learning about using this.

I can remember people saying the same thing about cursive writing when typewriters became prevalent. I believe that those who like to write cursive style will develop that themselves, others will do better with computer graphics. The world is changing and will change. We can always be dissatisfied with some of those changes but there will continue to be change.

I have a 10 year old grand daughter who has her own you tube channel. She edits and produces her own video montages that are really quite good. What is interesting is that she is currently trying to document the life and times of her 97 year old Great Grandmother and she likes to use cursive to take notes when they speak and then types out what she compiles on the typewriter.

I don’t think technology has taken anything away and from my experience there are young people coming that use both technology and anything else they have to accomplish what they want. This is amazing.

Posted by: Speak4all at September 22, 2014 10:42 AM
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