Why Study History?


‘The answer is because we virtually must, to gain access to the laboratory of human experience. When we study it reasonably well, and so acquire some usable habits of mind, as well as some basic data about the forces that affect our own lives, we emerge with relevant skills and an enhanced capacity for informed citizenship, critical thinking, and simple awareness. The uses of history are varied. Studying history can help us develop some literally “salable” skills, but its study must not be pinned down to the narrowest utilitarianism. Some history—that confined to personal recollections about changes and continuities in the immediate environment—is essential to function beyond childhood. Some history depends on personal taste, where one finds beauty, the joy of discovery, or intellectual challenge. Between the inescapable minimum and the pleasure of deep commitment comes the history that, through cumulative skill in interpreting the unfolding human record, provides a real grasp of how the world works.’

– Peter N. Stearns (1998) Why Study History? American Historical Association Continue reading

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Ebbinghaus and Forgetting


When learning foreign language vocabulary, repeated practice is essential for success; as words get established in the long-term memory, learners can move on and focus on new skills.

Two effects are at play in this process: the spacing effect, the finding that short practices spaced out over time is better for learning than cramming; and its related finding, known as the lag effect, which states that learners improve if they gradually increase the spacing between practices.[1]

These ideas go back to 1885, when German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus pioneered the concept of the forgetting curve. He tested his ability to remember a string of words over different periods of time and found a consistent pattern to the decline of his ability to recall these words over time. Immediately after the learning experience, his recall was 100 percent, but memory dropped steeply the first few days. Further, he found that the memory loss was exponential, meaning it increased by the square of the previous number until finally flattening out at around 30 days post-learning.

According to Ebbinghaus’ findings, the way to counter the forgetting curve (i.e. learners are more successful) when they plan short practice sessions and gradually increase the amount of time between each session.


[1] ‘Repeating list items leads to better recall when the repetitions are separated by several unique item than when they are presented successively; the spacing effect refers to improved recall for spaced versus successive repetition (lag > 0 vs. lag = 0); the lag effect refers to improved recall for long lags versus short lags.’

– Kahana. M.J., Howard. M.W. (2005) Spacing and lag effects in free recall of pure lists Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 12 (1), p. 159-164

Kansas Classrooms


I can’t teach you about safe sex because it might encourage you to become promiscuous.

I can’t tell you what airbags do. That information will make you think it’s okay to start crashing into things.

I’m sorry class. We can no longer study Mexico. As you’d all run away to Tijuana if I told you what was there.

If I teach you girls how to rescue a burnt casserole, how can I trust you to follow the teachings of Héloise?

I’m afraid I can’t tell you how Hannibal crossed the Alps. If I did, you crazy kids are likely to conquer the prom with elephants. Oops.

Trigonometry will no longer be taught. You could use that knowledge to calculate the trajectory of eggs thrown at my Geo Metro.

We won’t be using safety glasses this year in shop class. I believe anyone who gets a word chip in their eye have it coming.

Science has been cancelled because your parents prefer to believe in magic.

Big Fat Whale, Brian McFadden 2006

Conversations: The Preposterous


Helena
Clearly, it is time we all learned to meet our emotional needs without embracing the preposterous. We must find ways to invoke the power of ritual and to mark those transitions in every human life that demand profundity—birth, marriage, death—without lying to ourselves about the nature of reality.

Galene
What does that mean in practice?

Sappho
I feel we should recognise that, for instance, the practice of raising children to believe that they are Christian, Muslim, or Jewish should be recognised as the ludicrous obscenity that it is. And only then will we stand a chance of healing the deepest and most dangerous fractures in our world.

Galene
That’s all very well and good, but I have no doubt that the acceptance—so to speak—of Christ coincided with some very positive changes in some people’s lives. Perhaps they now love other people in a way that they never imagined possible. They may even experience feelings of bliss while praying—say. Continue reading

Does a Sponge Think?


Matthew Harrison Brady: We must not abandon faith! Faith is the most important thing!

Henry Drummond: Then why did God plague us with the capacity to think? Mr. Brady, why do you deny the one faculty of man that raises him above the other creatures of the earth? The power of his brain to reason. What other merit have we? The elephant is larger; the horse is swifter and stronger; the butterfly is far more beautiful; the mosquito is more prolific. Even the simple sponge is more durable. But does a sponge think?

Matthew Harrison Brady: I don’t know. I’m a man, not a sponge!

Henry Drummond: But do you think a sponge thinks?

Matthew Harrison Brady: If the Lord wishes a sponge to think, it thinks!

Henry Drummond: Do you think a man should have the same privilege as a sponge?

Matthew Harrison Brady: Of course!

Henry Drummond: Then this man wishes to have the same privilege of a sponge, he wishes to think!

– Kramer. S. (Producer, Director). (1960). Inherit the Wind [Motion Picture]. United States: United Artists

The Laws of Reward


(Part I, Chapter VI)

‘Although we usually call reward and punishment the two hinges upon which all government turns, yet I could never observe this maxim to be put in practice by any nation except that of Lilliput. Whoever can there bring sufficient proof, that he has strictly observed the laws of his country for seventy-three moons, has a claim to certain privileges, according to his quality or condition of life, with a proportionable sum of money out of a fund appropriated for that use: he likewise acquires the title of Snilpall, or legal, which is added to his name, but does not descend to his posterity. And these people thought it a prodigious defect of policy among us, when I told them that our laws were enforced only by penalties, without any mention of reward. It is upon this account that the image of Justice, in their courts of judicature, is formed with six eyes, two before, as many behind, and on each side one, to signify circumspection; with a bag of gold open in her right hand, and a sword sheathed in her left, to show she is more disposed to reward than to punish.’

– Jonathan Swift, Gulliver’s Travels (1726)