Education By Algorithm

John Warner over at Inside Higher Ed had yet another great colum. More States Adopt Robo-Grading. That’s Bananas. It’s regarding more places wanting to use algorithms to assess work. Seriously, go read it.

Grading by algorithm is stupid. Here’s the example of a computer generated paragraph that got perfect marks on the GRE essay algorithm given in the article:

“History by mimic has not, and presumably never will be precipitously but blithely ensconced. Society will always encompass imaginativeness; many of scrutinizations but a few for an amanuensis. The perjured imaginativeness lies in the area of theory of knowledge but also the field of literature. Instead of enthralling the analysis, grounds constitutes both a disparaging quip and a diligent explanation.”

Did that make sense? Nope.

What’s the point of essay writing? No seriously, what’s the point? It’s to train students to explain their point or argument in long form and back it up. From that they learn to tailor their writing to their reader, to structure an argument in a way that makes sense to others, and it helps them understand the purposes of supporting arguments. When you replace the reader with an algorithm that can’t assess the strength of an argument you change that. The reader is no longer a person, so they’re not learning how to write so a human can understand. The purpose of supportiong arguments never comes into it because the algorithm can’t tell the difference between a strong and weak argument, so the only thing they’re learning is how to structure their argument, except the reader is an algorithm, so they’re learning a single structure that “passes” the test.

If this is how they’re going to grade essays then there’s no reason to write essays.

Lets expand this. What’s the point of essay writing? To learn how write so a person will understand. If a person isn’t reading it, what’s the point?

What it does is make it easier to require teaching to a test, or in this case an algorithm. And once you’ve done that you can start removing anything that doesn’t help when being tested by that algorithim. Once that’s happened then there’s no real reason to teach the course at all, since no one learns anything important from it.

Something similar is happening in mathematics. Tests can’t determine if you followed the right procedure, only if you got the final answer right. So why bother teaching multiple methods of getting there? Besides that it helps give you a fuller understanding of mathematics and makes future math lessons easier. And for history why teach anything that won’t be a multiple choice question on the final test? Besides that by doing so you reduce history to a caricature that an unscrupulous rhetorician or politician can hang whatever they want on regardless of what the truth is.

I’m not saying this would lead to the downfall of mass education, but it would definitely contribute to it.

Oh… Canada…

Nobody is perfect. It’s a common saying, but let’s really break it down.

No person, past or present, is perfect. They have all done things that are wrong.

We like to play pretend. Let’s pretend that George Washington or Louis Riel or Abraham Lincoln was a saint. We like to pretend that the founding fathers of Canada cared just as much about diversity as we do, or at least that they didn’t oppose it. We like to put people like Martin Luther King Jr. on a pedestal and pretend that he only did the things we consider ‘good’ and none of the things we disagree with. Or Nelson Mandela, or Mother Teresa, or any other popular figure. But it’s just pretend. They’re all people, and people are flawed.

Groups aren’t amorphous independent entities, they’re made up of people. Those people have good actions, and those people have bad actions, and those people do both at various times. However, humans like to think that any group that they are part of or want to be part of are defined by the best people in that group, while groups that they aren’t in or don’t want to be in are defined by the worst people in that group. So we get groups like Black Lives Matter, the GOP, Greenpeace, the Catholic Church, etc. The people in these groups have both good and bad actions. Sometimes it’s hard to see past our preconceptions of the groups and look at the actual balance of good actions and bad actions rather than looking only at the good actions of some groups and only the bad actions of others.

Here’s the secret. It’s possible to identify both good and bad things in people or groups. It’s possible to celebrate the good while at the same time condemning the bad. It’s possible to be part of a group while knowing that there are problematic aspects to it. It’s possible to celebrate it for what it does while at the same time identifying where it falls short.

Identifying problems doesn’t mean something isn’t, on balance, good. At the same time identifying good things doesn’t mean it isn’t bad. In fact our ability to identify good and bad in something and then make a decision with the full knowledge that it isn’t perfect or evil is an important aspect of our humanity.

Lets talk about Canada.

Fancy Bebamikawe said it well on Twitter today:

It is possible to see both that Canada is pretty awesome and provides great things, like basic health care and education, while also seeing that it’s pretty bad and incarcerates Indigenous people for offences that white people get probation for or a fine, or that they under-fund education on reserves. These two things aren’t mutually exclusive. They’re what make Canada. Canada is both the good and the bad.

You can like how the Prime Minister worked with the people who set the Tipi up on Parliament Hill for ceremony this week as being an example of reconciliation while at the same time understand that his fighting the implementation of Jordan’s principle directly harms Indigenous children (a fight that’s been happening for a decade now). You can like that the Prime Minister is increasing the education funding beyond 2% for the first time in two decades while hate that it was his party who first froze that funding, something that’s affected a generation and a half of Indigenous people.

Look at things with both eyes open. There are very few things that are perfect, and discussing the tarnish on them doesn’t harm those things, but rather puts them in their proper perspective. You can be proud of Canada while at the same time understanding where it has fallen short of it’s ideals. You can be proud of Canada while at the same time understanding that it’s historic ideals were what we’d call racist or regressive now.

You can be proud of Canada while pointing out its flaws.

Oh… Canada… we can be proud and aware at the same time. That doesn’t make us non-patriotic, but rather makes us better humans and better Canadians.

Andrew Scheer and Memes

If you’ve read my writings during the last election I was very very critical of the CPC. That being said I hate it when people are deliberately misleading. I saw a meme today about the new leader of the CPC Andrew Scheer.

It seemed to list things that I had heard the opposite about so I looked each item up. Here’s what I found.

Looked it up. The meme is very wrong on some things but right on others.

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Dobson, Trump, Faith, and Power

The major Evangelical leader Dr. Dobson has put out a release talking about Donald Trump’s faith. Now I was under the impression that there was no “religious test… as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust”. But since Dobson brought it up… in the words of Aaron Burr in Hamilton “Ok, so we’re doin’ this”.

His post on “Culture Watch” is available here.

Let’s break it down:

Only the Lord knows the condition of a person’s heart.  I can only tell you what I’ve heard.  First, Trump appears to be tender to things of the Spirit.

Yes, that’s true. Only the Lord knows. However, the bible says a few other things about the heart:

Luke 12:33-34: Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

Do we want to consider where Trump’s treasure is? We don’t need to ask, he talks about it time and time again.

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