Educators or Salesmen Who Sold Their Souls to the Devil?

Discussion in 'Scientific Statistics Math' started by Richard Ulrich, May 12, 2005.

  1. Richard Ulrich

    BMJ Guest

    I check my statements. Once in a while, I actually find that the
    discrepancy was the bank's fault.
    That may be, but, unless the symptoms are visibily obvious (such as a
    broken limb), the patient provides the initial clues as to what the
    problem actually is.
    BMJ, Jun 20, 2005
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  2. Not at all. Pediatricians don't get this benefit. They're lucky if their
    patients tell them --when-- it hurts. It makes things tougher, but the
    pediatricians still need to do their job. For many students, this is the
    more apt analogy.

    Not every student will tell you when there's a problem. Some students will
    tell you there's a problem when the problem is the student (and we've all
    got too many examples of that), but that's not the point. How many Calc I
    instructors go out of their way to make unsolicited appointments with
    students who blow the first exam badly?? In this case, you know there's
    something wrong, and you know the student hasn't shown up to your office
    hours. Do you still need the student to come to you and tell you he has a

    Of course, you can think "it's the students responsibility to seek help",
    and you'd probably be right. You could also contact the student and ask
    him to come to your office hours, or make a separate appointment for him.

    Scott Seidman, Jun 20, 2005
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  3. Richard Ulrich

    BMJ Guest

    You can lead a horse to water....
    I frequently did that. I would sometimes write a note on a student's
    exercise or exam telling him or her to see me because I believed there
    was a problem. If he or she didn't show up, I could only conclude that
    they didn't think there was one.

    If things went cockeyed afterwards, whose fault would it have been? I'm
    sure that there are some people who would always find a way of blaming
    the instructor, citing an intimdating tone to such a note, or not using
    a warm-and-fuzzy invitation--anything so long as the student is never
    blamed for not getting the lead out.
    BMJ, Jun 20, 2005
  4. It's not a "fault" thing. Of course its the student's responsibility.
    If 90% of the class is understanding, the 10% who don't need to put in
    some more effort.

    One point I was trying to make was that there are certainly ways to see
    that a student isn't getting it before the student asks for help, and now
    you're saying that you see the same types of situations, despite "the
    patient has to tell the physician where it hurts". I'm sure that for
    every three or four students that you asked to see, at least one would
    show up. Four every three or four that show up, maybe one of them has an
    enhanced understanding by the time they leave, or maybe you've helped
    them overcome their embarassment about needing help, or their shyness.

    Of course, there's a line that has to be drawn about how much effort you
    can spare for one student, and every instructor needs to place that line
    where they're comfortable with it, and where it's appropriate.
    Personally, I won't teach any basic skill they should already know from a
    prereq, but I'll tell them what I think their problem is, and how I think
    they should go about fixing it. If I think it's a serious problem, I
    give their advisor a jingle. I also ask them to do all their assigned
    reading, and look into any reserve material that I've made available. I
    don't like pulling time out for students that haven't made every effort
    they can on their own. I tell the students this flat out on the first
    day of class. They can do what they want to the TA's, but if they're
    coming to see me, especially if they make an appointment outside my
    office hours, they need to prepare for it

    One thing I don't buy is that you can't know that a student is having a
    problem unless they come to you first. There's some opportunity to find
    out. Give two midterms, and work one in as early as your curriculum can
    accomodate it. Give more homework. Hell, for small classes of 10 or
    less, it's not even that unreasonable to meet with every student a few
    weeks in for ten minutes or so (though I've never done this, or seen it

    Another thing I don't buy is that student course evaluations are
    meaningless, or that a hard course can't get good evaluations. Plenty of
    difficult courses, where the students really have to work their asses
    off, get fine evaluations. In fact, we have two kinds of evaluations,
    one on the course, and one on the instructor. Even if students
    absolutely hate the course, they generally review the instructor, at the
    very worst, neutrally. If the students get the feeling that the
    instructor works hard on their behalf, the evaluations go that much
    better. It's a little harder if the course is difficult and the students
    don't understand why they need the course material, but all in all,
    repeatedly poor student evaluations should not be ignored.

    Scott Seidman, Jun 21, 2005
  5. Richard Ulrich

    Abe Kohen Guest

    I did not mean to imply that YOU do; but others do.
    The key word was interchangabably, e.g., refer to C-super-i;sub-j and then
    in midstream change it to C-sub-i,j.

    I was very fortunate to have learned tensor notation from Professor Irving
    H. Shames (Mechanics of Deformable Solids). He had the gift (of teaching).
    He also paid me a few quarters for finding typos in some of his other books.
    Abe Kohen, Jun 21, 2005
  6. Richard Ulrich

    Caligula Guest

    Yeah , sure....

    Seek simplicity and mistrust it.
    Alfred North Whitehead

    Who would have thought that there are so many things in the world
    that I do not want?
    Socrates, while strolling through the marketplace in Athens
    Caligula, Jun 21, 2005
  7. Effort for sure, but even there you have to show them the path. And
    yes, the student that instructors mostly compare their students to is
    Actually that is the image most students have today. You must show them
    how it is more like a cafeteria.

    Yes. There is an inevitable momentum behind articulation agreements
    Are you sure. In my experience it happens maybe at the Dean's level or
    between offices that are linked and not at the faculty level.
    Absolute self justification frequently encountered in instructors. Why
    did the student fail? She didn't have what it takes. How do you know
    that? She failed.

    josh halpern
    Joshua Halpern, Jun 22, 2005
  8. Wrong, at least for a sizeable group. You are projecting.
    Good physicians teach their patients to do this. Bad ones bury their

    josh halpern
    Joshua Halpern, Jun 22, 2005
  9. Richard Ulrich

    BMJ Guest

    Joshua Halpern wrote:

    Is there something wrong with that?

    Yes, or don't students uses library books any more?

    Only if the adminstration allowed it.

    Not likely. If students were continually rejected by the uni because of
    where they studied, do you honestly believe that the college would
    continue with business as usual? ("Oh, here's an application from a
    student who went to Podunk College. Well, that one goes into the 'Drop
    Dead' pile....") How long do you think it'll stay in business?
    A few years later, I had some dealings with the upper management of the
    college, so I had some insight as to what went on.

    The student is placed in situations typical of what a practioner of the
    profession in question would encounter. The criterion for passing or
    failing is whether or not the student can deal satisfactorily with them.
    That's why professions have boards of examiners.
    BMJ, Jun 22, 2005
  10. Only if the instructor was an average student or not.
    No. I hardly do either, reading most everything on the net. I am
    giving up a 30 year subscription to JCP this year and I gave up JPC last.
    Mostly they don't look

    josh halpern
    Joshua Halpern, Jun 22, 2005
  11. Richard Ulrich

    Rich Lemert Guest

    Why do you think that's so surprising? With very few exceptions, K-12
    education consists almost exclusively of an authority figure (the
    teacher) giving the students "THE ANSWER", then expecting them to repeat
    THE ANSWER on an exam. A few of the more 'gifted' (or lucky) ones will
    have learned about self-help along the way, but not many.

    You're expecting students to be able to identify a problem and develop
    a solution in the absence of any experience in problem solving. While
    you may have been able to make this leap by yourself (I suspect that you
    actually had some mentoring along the way that you may have forgotten),
    not many students can do so. I certainly couldn't do it as an undergrad.
    Rich Lemert, Jun 22, 2005
  12. Richard Ulrich

    BMJ Guest

    Rich Lemert wrote:

    That's not what I meant. If a student is having a problem in learning
    something or in completing an exercise, he or she is responsible for
    either resolving it or seeking assistance in order to do so.

    In other words, a student starts on something and then reaches a point
    where he or she cannot go any further. If that student is interested in
    completing the task, the first reaction would most likely be "Now what?"
    with the next one being to figure out where one can receive assistance
    in order to get things moving.

    Now does that have to be formally taught? Isn't something like that
    instinctive behaviour?

    BMJ, Jun 22, 2005
  13. Perhaps here is what vexes you. This is a big "if". IMO on some
    abstract level most students would like to complete the task, but
    in practical terms some students don't really want to complete the
    task badly enough to be bothered with the additional hassle of
    figuring out what to do and doing it if they get stuck, even if it
    is just going to the teacher and saying "I don't understand this."
    It is kind of like the way many people deal with dripping faucets.
    On the abstract level they would like to have the faucet not drip,
    but practically it is just more hassle to fix it or find someone
    to fix it than they want to be bothered with. At least that's
    one hypothesis.
    Russell.Martin, Jun 22, 2005
  14. Richard Ulrich

    BMJ Guest


    Actually, you may be right. It's a question about how much value the
    students place on their education.

    I once had a student in one course several years ago who had a lousy
    attitude and frequently skipped my lectures. The course had two lab
    tests that the students had to perform and write reports for. One
    required several calculations, though it was fairly easy because they
    all had sheets which explained what equations they needed and which
    quantities they needed to do them.

    The student in question didn't do a lot of them and was missing a lot of
    the data. He was rather perturbed when I gave him a poor mark, throwing
    a tantrum as a result. He expected that *I* should have asked him why
    he didn't have the missing values and why he did such a lousy job.

    I was glad to be rid of him when the course ended.
    BMJ, Jun 22, 2005
  15. Richard Ulrich

    Herman Rubin Guest

    The educationists have taken that position. Each student is
    to go through at a fixed rate, and learn on a fixed schedule.
    It is not even a cafeteria. It is mainly self-serve, with
    the teachers explaining what is behind the "servings", and
    pointing out what the students need to do to "digest" the
    important parts. The students expect the instructor to use
    magic to put the important information in the students brain,
    together with everything needed to use it.

    There was a TV series, "The Paper Chase", where the instructor
    states at the beginning of each episode, "You will teach yourself
    the law. I will teach you to think like a lawyer." We have to
    take the position that they are to understand the subject, so
    they can use it in situations they have not seen. Machines can
    do the routine.

    The university may well have accepted many of them in the
    hope that there were enough good ones to be able to succeed
    despite the poor tutelage. I have some information on
    situations like this where legislation forced actions,
    which had to be minimized. Also, there may be political
    reasons why, for example, a state university must accept
    students who have performed satisfactorily at a community
    college, no matter what they learned.
    You are quite correct.

    Agreed. But the help should not extend to reducing the level
    of the course. Nor can the instructor teach the prerequisites
    to those who do not have them.

    I agree.
    Regrettably, there are those who do not have what it takes. I have
    been teaching and testing graduate students for a long time, and
    have very reluctantly had to flunk students who really tried, but
    did not have what it takes. In some of these cases, I tutored the
    student personally, outside of class work.
    Herman Rubin, Jun 23, 2005
  16. Richard Ulrich

    Herman Rubin Guest

    It is, for most. But do you think the elementary schools
    encourage it? There was a period of about 20 years when
    the schools explicitly forbade discussing their classwork
    with parents; this only ended with the Sputnik reaction.

    Also, there is "THE way" to teach something. If a child
    does not understand it, repeat it. Now one might get
    something memorized that way, but not understood.

    Herman Rubin, Jun 23, 2005
  17. True, but my point is you can't really distinguish the real negatives
    from the false negatives without some effort. Let me add that there is
    nothing worse than letting someone go on who in the end cannot make it.
    Wasted time on all sides and huge problems.

    josh halpern
    Joshua Halpern, Jun 24, 2005
  18. Richard Ulrich

    Reef Fish Guest

    That's an interesting TV commentary. It applies more to lawyers
    about law than to any other subject. But the main point is that
    one has to learn to THINK -- and teaching student to THINK is the
    most difficult part of teaching, in any subject.

    The reason I said it's particular to a course in law is that much
    of the practice of LAW is to know the actual cases in law books.
    "Rote memory" plays a large part of being a lawyer. In a conversation
    about "photographic memory" in a listserv LIST, one of the discussants
    had this to say,

    RF> George became a lawyer. :)

    Statistics is almost ENTIRELY different. Memorizing ALL the
    formulas and ALL the pages in the textbook will NOT make a good
    statistician (or even pass my course) if he does not COMPREHEND
    the formulas (correlation e.g. <G>) or how they should (or should
    NOT) be applied <that's where we get all those folks who knew
    what the formula is but engage in the malpractice of drawing
    CAUSAL conclusion from correlation).

    George may or may not have done well in ANY of my courses depending
    on how much he COMPREHENDS because all my exams are OPEN BOOK and
    OPEN Notes. "Rote Memory" is worth exactly ZERO.

    In statistics, we not only have to teach the CONCEPTS behind
    formulas (such as the notion of "random intervals" behind
    "confidence intervals" <which is not even taught in many classes>
    and the PARALLEL in the ASYMMETRY between "Reject" and "Accept" in
    Hypothesis Testing and the rendering of a "Guilty" vs "Not Guilty"
    verdict in law in a criminal court <which is ALSO not taught in
    any statistics book I've seen>
    not taught in statistics>

    In today's academic environment, teaching students to THINK is
    such a forgotten concept that is almost too much to hope for,
    even if the professor know how to think himself!
    I agree. Everyone EXPECTS not only to graduate from college for mere
    "attendance", they expect to get "A"s without having learned anything!
    How true. And we are seeing some of the PRODUCT of our educatoinal
    system -- such as an Assistant Professor Psychiatry (with an MS
    degree no less) in these newsgroup, who after 12 years HERE,
    still didn't know anything about regression, claiming that fitting
    a straight line through the origin is an example of a NONLINEAR
    regression, and who TAUGHT (yesterday) his admirers

    RU> There is a basic assumption that B1 *is* different
    RU> from zero in any continuous sample, and what
    RU> is measurable is "how different."

    which prompted to state, on the simple regression example in question,

    RF> If that WERE true, then no one would ever test Ho B1 = 0.

    How do you reconcile that this Richard Ulrich, arguably the most
    prolific and most vocal of the posters in sci.stat.* groups, and
    who is "well respected" and drawing very visible support from
    a non-neglibible-to-large number of posters in his "mutual
    admiration society" within sci.stat.* while he is preaching
    MISINFORMATION about Statistics and Quackery and Malpractice
    in Statistics?

    I have
    For graduate students, that is very rare indeed. I applaud you
    for "holding the line" there as I once gave a "gentleman's F" to
    a Ph.D. student at Harvard who knew even less than Richard Ulrich
    about the subject of regression and data analysis.

    But I have routinely flunked more students in MY sections of the
    first course in statistics than the rest of the department put
    together in the same course, for the fact that they did not meet
    the MINIMAL standards to pass my course whose passing grade is 40%,
    which has to be EARNED, which prompted me to initiate the thread,

    "Educators or Salesmen Who Sold Their Souls to the Devil?"

    from which this thread branched as a subthread, now running to
    285 posts with the participation of 35 authors.

    -- Bob.
    Reef Fish, Jun 24, 2005
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