Monday, July 8, 2013


Density matters.  If you are H2O, you are a fluid or a gas or solid at different densities.  It matters in language, also.  If I say "How much for your car?", that is fairly direct language.  If I go into a long spiel about how much I admire your car but how poor I am, I may be stuffing my message with some words, tones and speeds that I hope will get you to accept a sale of the car to me at a lower price.

As a teacher and professor, I have been interested in condensing educational experiences, maybe to a greater density but smaller overall file size. The usual college course meets maybe three times a week for close to an hour, for 10 to 15 weeks.  There is not a lot of research backing those numbers.  In the really old days, higher educationally speaking, students had no or little writing material.  Paper, iPads, pens, voice recorders were non-existent or preciously expensive.  There was no text copy for each student.  The professor  talked and the students listened. They tried to make a few notes, possibly on a waxed tablet which would be recoated when full, erasing previous notes.

Such a situation, a somewhat introverted expert, bookish and talking about his beloved subject to young people who are rather attentive, is an invitation to go on and on.  One can insert parenthetical remarks inside parenthetical remarks.  One can explain and cite sources, adding which sources are most respected and why, not to mention the dates of each and the situation that existed at that time.  Since there is little or no test of the value of the information, there can be a strong tendency to add additional explanation and related material that might, someday, somehow prove interesting, valuable, applicable or stimulating.

There are many possible considerations in making education shorter, maybe denser, but as close to the same value or better.  But in general, time lapsed between the beginning of the semester or year or work toward a degree and its end, is a natural target for possible change.  Why change?  Education beyond high school has been showing itself to be valuable, both in terms of life satisfaction and in terms of income and wealth.  Demand, in the economic sense of interest, is rising.  There are many types of efforts to make education more cost-effective, more productive.

Most educational standards need to be put through some sort of analysis to see if they make sense.  The oldest one most people know about is probably the idea that an educated person needs to be able to read, write and calculate.  Many teachers would add to those 3 R's of readin, writin' and 'rithmetic, the steady habit of what is usually called thinking critically.  But of course, there is a great deal to know about the world, science, health, history, art, music, literature, economics and tons of other possible studies.

Various calls to shorten high school, improve readiness for college, shorten college are being heard but I hope somebody does some good work on the extent to which valuable books, treatises, theories, explanations and understandings can be conveyed as well or better in fewer words, fewer pages, fewer hours.

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