Sunday, April 20, 2008

Education & critical thinking

The Philippines does not rank highly in maths in primary & secondary school. Rizal Raoul Reyes thinks its because of the Filipinos lack of critical thinking skills. I agree with Dr Fidel Nemenzo, a professor in Maths, that partly the problem is the compartmentalised way in which maths is taught. People don’t see its relevance. But maybe the more important issue is that people realised a long time ago that knowing maths is not going to help them use the computer. The problem is that teachers don’t take maths beyond the standard problem-solving drills, they don’t apply the maths to the problems that people confront in reality.

Dr Fidel Nemenzo thinks Filipinos would be better in maths if it was taught in their language. He argues that maths in Vietnam is taught in Vietnamese, anf yet they get great scores in maths. What poor logic is that? He argues that part of the problem developing the Filipino language is the ‘colonial mentality’ of the country’s leaders. Really? Might his nationalism be more problematic. The English capability in the Philippines is earning the country $5bil a year in export revenues. I’d have though the language in which maths is taught would mean very little. The notion of reducing English training goes against the international trend, including what Vietnam is doing. He makes the case of Japan too, which teachers Maths in Japanese. Some do, some don’t. Is it an issue?

He argues that in the classroom Filipinos use Engish, and then Tagalog with friends. “There is a disconnection between the language of the heart and the language of the mind”. This sounds like religious moralism, raising the notion of a dichotomy between the mind and our emotions. In fact there need be no conflict between our minds and emotions. Moreover Filipinos use Tagalog among their friends because there is an expectancy that they should. Is it necessary for Filipinos to learn English? No. But they gain a great deal out of it. If one wanted to destroy the call centre industry and prevent Filipinos going abroad – it would be a good policy. It might also be a good way to solve the country’s problems because protagonists could no longer go overseas, they would have to fight for change from hear, or more likely go overseas for lesser-paying jobs because they cant speak English anymore.

Dr Fidel Nemenzo also neglects the fact that most western nations offer support for foreigners in their country. He also laments the lack of sponsorship support for maths. Might that ‘people skills’ that Filipinos have explain the low quality of their maths logic. Might this also be evident in the quality of the teaching – because I see little logic in his argument.

Andrew Sheldon

Monday, February 18, 2008

Exploring the English Language

A friend sent me this. Apart from the humoress side of it, its interesting to look at the structure of the English language and reflect on the extent to which it:
1. Reflects how English-speakers speak
2. Impacts on the way English-speakers speak.

As will be apparent the English language is very illogical. It borrows words from everywhere, and there is no logic at all for the arrangement, no consideration of whether the terminology will be easy or hard to learn. I think if I was Asian president I would attempt to create a new 'logic' based language that is easier to learn, and solicit the support of other countries. Clearly people need to be united by communication. Why not make it easier. Sure starting afresh would make it initially hard, particularly because there is no one to practice on.

I personally think it would be easier to modify an existing language than start afresh. I dont know many languages, but Japanese strikes me as a very easy language to learn because words consistently sound as they spell. There is a great deal of logic to the language. The problem with Japanese is that its characters are anti-conceptual, but that is easily overcome by shifting to a romanised interpretation.

The problem with language is that people always attempt to change it, I guess in an attempt to be different, to convey style. But at the end of the day I think they want to be understood. Will society accept a codified language? Can you have enforcement of a language, or is language always destined to be corrupted? The Japanese seem to maintain the integrity of their language. They are a very disciplined culture, but it has more to do with compliance than belief in the system. Is that a price worth paying to retain a consistent language - I think not!

I dont know what the Chinese language is like. I dont like the way it sounds, though it does not sound so bad from the mouths of educated people. I guess its like Japanese, and could similarly be romanised. There is the clear benefit that Chinese people represent 1.3 billion of the world's 4.7 billion people. And might the Chinese government want to integrate its people under one language? This seems like the place to start.

I wonder if poetry would sound the same?

Can you read these right the first time?

1) The bandage was wound around the wound.

2) The farm was used to produce produce.

3) The dump was so full that it had to refuse more refuse.

4) We must polish the Polish furniture.

5) He could lead if he would get the lead out.

6) The soldier decided to desert his dessert in the desert.

7) Since there is no time like the present, he thought it was time to

present the present .

8) A bass was painted on the head of the bass drum.

9) When shot at, the dove dove into the bushes.

10) I did not object to the object.

11) The insurance was invalid for the invalid.

12) There was a row among the oarsmen about how to row .

13) They were too close to the door to close it.

14) The buck does funny things when the does are present.

15) A seamstress and a sewer fell down into a sewer line.

16) To help with planting, the farmer taught his sow to sow.

17) The wind was too strong to wind the sail.

18) Upon seeing the tear in the painting I shed a tear.

19) I had to subject the subject to a series of tests.

20) How can I intimate this to my most intimate friend?

Let's face it - English is a crazy language. There is no egg in eggplant, nor ham in hamburger. Neither apple nor pine in pineapple. English muffins weren't invented in England or French fries in France. Sweetmeats are candies while sweetbreads, which aren't sweet, are meat. We take English for granted. But if we explore its paradoxes, we find that quicksand can work slowly, boxing rings are square and a guinea pig is neither from Guinea, nor is it a pig.

Moreover, why is it that writers write; but fingers don't fing; grocers don't groce; and hammers don't ham? If the plural of tooth is teeth, why isn't the plural of booth, beeth? One goose, two geese. So one moose, two meese! One index, two indices? Doesn't it seem crazy that you can make amends, but not one amend? If you have a bunch of odds and ends and get rid of all but one of them, what do you call it?

If teachers taught, why didn't preachers praught? If a vegetarian eats vegetables, what does a humanitarian eat? Sometimes, I think all the English speakers should be committed to an asylum for the verbally insane. In what language do people recite at a play and play at a recital? Ship by truck and send cargo by ship? Have noses that run and feet that smell?

How can a slim chance and a fat chance be the same, while a wise man and a wise guy are opposites? You have to marvel at the unique lunacy of a language in which your house can burn up as it burns down, in which you fill in a form by filling it out and in which, an alarm goes off by going on.

English was invented by people, not computers, and it reflects the creativity of the human race, which, of course, is not a race at all! That is why, when the stars are out, they are visible, but when the lights are out, they are invisible.

PS. - Why doesn't "Buick" rhyme with "quick?"

You lovers of the English language might enjoy this.
There is a two-letter word that perhaps has more meanings than any other two-letter word, and that is "UP."

It's easy to understand UP, meaning toward the sky or at the top of the list, but when we awaken in the morning, why do we wake UP ? At a meeting, why does a topic come UP? Why do we speak UP , and why are the officers UP for election, and why is it UP to the secretary to write UP a report ?

We call UP our friends. Moreover, we use it to brighten UP a room, polish UP the silver; we warm UP the leftovers and clean UP the kitchen. We lock UP the house, and some guys fix UP the old car. At other times, the little word has real special meaning. People stir UP trouble, line UP for tickets, work UP an appetite, and think UP excuses. To be dressed is one thing, but to be dressed UP is special.

And this UP is confusing: A drain must be opened UP because it is stopped UP . We open UP a store in the morning, but we close it UP at night.

We seem to be pretty mixed UP about UP ! To be knowledgeable about the proper uses of UP , look the word UP in the dictionary. In a desk-sized dictionary, it takes UP almost 1/4th of the page and can add UP to about 30 definitions. If you are UP to it, you might try building UP a list of the many ways UP is used. It will take UP a lot of your time, but if you don't give UP, you may wind UP with a hundred or more. When it threatens to rain, we say, it is clouding UP. When the sun comes out, we say it is clearing UP.

When it rains, it wets the earth and often messes things UP.

When it doesn't rain for awhile, things dry UP .

One could go on and on, but I'll wrap it UP , for now my time is UP , so… Time to shut UP !

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Journalist Thinking

I consider one of the most important jobs in the world being a journalist, and its probably one of the most interesting, or at least it could be. Though I think for any intellectual it is no longer that. The value proposition for intellectuals has disappeared for intellectuals. Why? Because investigating journalism is no longer appreciated. Why?
1. Investigations take time. Why spend time gathering evidence when there is plenty of syndicated information to fill the tabloids.
2. Investigations cost money: For the cost of having some journalist trying to get an interview, or chasing traffic, or constructing a story, its easier to get a journalist to copy & paste some syndicated feed from AAP. You might ask where does the AAP get its feed from. I believe it comes from newspapers that merely report what people say, with little analysis.
3. Investigations piss people off: People have no sense of reality. If they hear something said could potentially undermine their self-value or standing, they alienate the source of the problem, rather than deal with the issue honestly. Why? Because that is the way they were raised. That is what was framed as practical growing up. As a journalist you might expect not to get any interviews if you take that posture. Maybe in the Philippines you might even be the object of death threats.
I have explored this issue more in another blog.
Andrew Sheldon

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Scientific Thinking

You could be forgiven for thinking that scientists would count among our best thinkers given that they are champions of the 'scientific method'. But actually I would make the assertion that scientific thinking is actually often dubious at best and sometimes even poor.
The problem with the way scientists think is that:
1. Empiricism: They tend to recognise only empirical evidence as a basis for determining the scientific veracity of a hypothesis. They totally disregard deduction as a means of testing hypotheses. This leads to the unsavioury attitude that a hypothesis is wrong or of no merit because it has not been tested. The implication is that any idea that breaks with conventional wisdom is thus rejected out of hand. This is not simply conservatism in the face of peripheral knowledge. This book has been in the market more than 10 years. I see it as scientists undermining the standing of deductive thinking.
2. Rationalism: There is a tendency for people without critical thinking skills to rationalise. Ignorance is of course another basis for rationalisation, whether from deduction or induction. This is particularly more likely in specialised fields of scientific inquiry. Critical thinking is closely associated with deductive reasoning, but I would suggest that it also requires a 'healthy scepticism.

By 'healthy skepticism' I dont mean doubt as to the veracity of scientific conclusions, but rather a thinking process that imposes on new ideas a counter argument. Within my character is a tendency to question everything I think about. That is a basis of several things:
1. Contingencies - what things could happen - forecasting insights, things that could go wrong
2. Testing hypotheses - are there any contradictions
3. Alternative routes - Is there a better way of doing it

To a lot of people that makes me a 'negative' person to be around. But the implications are stark. I solve problems better than anyone I know. Been able to do that since a very young age. I get so many ideas, and I am sorry too few make it to my blog at

An example of the way that science has disparaged good ideas is the example of Dr Peter J. D'Adamao. Read about his observation here. Deductively I would suggest there is alot of merit in his scientific work, though I would accept that more work is required.
Andrew Sheldon

Friday, January 25, 2008

Legal vs Ethical arguments

I would like to address this issue in terms of a practical example. I went for a bike ride through an air base last week in the Philippines. I was reproached by a Captain at the base. I was riding with my Filipino GF along the road – a path I have been taking for about a year now between 1-3 times a day. This air base is one of the most scenic places in Batangas province, but just as importantly its also safe and in close proximity to the city proper. I think if I was not able to go riding in the base I would probably not live in the Philippines. In fact I think the air base has far greater strategic value as a public park than as a air base. Why? The air base is just a preliminary training facility for pilots, a few of whom will go onto fly jets at another base. The plans they fly have the technological sophistication of a crop-duster, so do not pose a security risk.

Now the argument of the Captain for me not being on the base seems reasonable enough. He said that Foreigners are not permitted on the base. Now I could leave it at that, but I would hate to leave my girlfriend before time – that is before I am dead. Anyway, he is a person of rank (authority), so I have to give his argument some consideration. I canvassed a number of motives that he might hold:

Possible Motives

I considered what possible motive the Captain might have for refusing my entry onto the base:

  1. Racial: Did he have a personal collective dislike of westerners? Does he think they don’t justify the attention or reverence that most Filipinos seem to hold of Americans in particular?
  2. Fear: Does he think I pose a threat to the air base or his personal security.
  3. Victim: Does he want to be a victim, and is making me the cause of his ills. Is he just having a bad day, and just wants somebody to take his anger out upon. Eg. Did he just break up with his GF or did his father die. That context I don’t know – only his friends and family would. I can only consider what I know.
  4. Ignorance: Is he making a judgement on too little information? I was not present when the conversation was held between his and my GF.
  5. Reason: Was his judgement based on valid reasoning? The only argument I heard made was that I was a foreigner and the air base was a restricted area. Other than that I don’t know the law, nor the arguments she made.

My motives for rejecting his thinking

I decided to reject his thinking for a number of reasons:

  1. Practicality: There is very little I can do. I really need to go through the base to get from my place to my GFs.
  2. Imminence: I did not see a problem in the short term so I had time to seek a 2nd opinion.
  3. Downside: I have nothing to loose from attempting to re-enter the base since I am disallowed anyway. They aren’t going to shoot me.
  4. Contradiction: I could see little downside in rejecting his judgement. The Captain might have disallowed my presence on the base, but a colonel (my GF’s father) and the gate guards have sanctioned it. The colonel argued that I am not passing in the vicinity of the aircraft hangers, I am entering private quarters. I am staying on the road. He also made the point that the law is that no persons except military personal & related family members are allowed on the base.
  5. Breach of duty: The Captain has argued that the gate guards should not have granted me entry into the base because I am a foreigner. Whilst he accuses them of this breach, he thought so little of the issue not to reproach their lax security judgement. His thus has a lax or contradictory position which should diminish his position if the issue escalates.

My reasons for thinking I am right

  1. Legal position: A lot of people don’t do things because they are against the law. In these cases the (military) police has the discretion to enhere are a great many enforce the law or disregard it. The implication of this is that application of the law becomes somewhat subjective. The law might be that foreigners are not allowed on the base, but neither are 20% of the other people on the base who are their for work, sport, education.
  2. Historical context: The law that prohibits foreigners really belongs to a different political era, when President Marcos was presiding over a dictatorship. The law is not applied by security because it seems irrelevant when the greater threat is likely to be Muslim Filipinos with a conflict with the government. In that nationalist context, maybe foreigners could be considered a threat. But at it stands the air base has been downgraded as a military installation to basic training.
  3. Modern context: Foreigners are not a blanket threat to the Philippines. All foreigners are not alike. There are allies and enemies. The Australian government is an ally of the Philippines. In fact the Australian government has just given the Philippines government a lot of F111s, so that should be clear enough.
  4. Personal context: The personal context is that I am trusted enough to be staying at the residence of a colonel in the military – for more than a year now, and I think his regard for security would be more pressing than the Philippines governments.

I personally think the evidence suggests the Captain imposed his personal values upon me rather than acting in the best interests of the Philippines. I will tell him so next time, and my blog address so he can remedy his thinking. I wonder whether the soldier is aware of his flawed thinking. You would expect a soldier to enforce the rules of the base. They are not trained to question orders right? But at some level you need to because there will be no one higher. The problem with military thinking will be the subject of my next posting.

Andrew Sheldon