Archive for the 'Education' Category

Last Word on the Millionth Word

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On Wednesday, a Texas-based media consulting firm announced the birth of the millionth English word, which arrived on June 10, 2009, at 10:22 a.m., Stratford-on-Avon time.

The lucky lexeme? “Web 2.0,” which edged out “slumdog,” “octomom” and “N00b,” a disparaging term for video game newbies.

Language experts, when asked for comment, found themselves reaching for other words, some of them unprintable.

“It’s bushwa, fraud, hokum,” said Geoffrey Nunberg, a linguist at the School of Information at the University of California at Berkeley.

Grant Barrett, a lexicographer and co-founder of the online dictionary Wordnik.com, said: “It’s a sham. It’s a hoax. It’s fake. It’s not real.”

Indeed, it’s hard to find scholars who react with anything less than blunt outrage at the headline-garnering “Million-Word March,” which was begun in 2003 by Paul JJ Payack, the president and chief word analyst of Global Language Monitor. They point to the frequently revised predictions of the fateful word’s arrival, perhaps to coincide with the publication of his book about the project. They question the validity of the algorithm used to pinpoint when a word crossed the threshold of 25,000 geographically scattered uses — something they say even Google could not come up with.

Mr. Payack defended himself, conceding that the announcement of the millionth word was just an “estimate.” But he insisted it was still significant.

“English has an amazing ability to accept new words, generated from every corner of the world, and that’s a fascinating concept that should be acknowledged,” he said.

True enough, say linguists, who with all the computer firepower they use these days are hardly word mavens trying to keep techie barbarians out of the sacred precincts of Dr. Johnson. The question of how to count words — and just why English-speakers love to hear about their unusually weird and variegated lexicon — opens up fundamental issues about just what English, and a word, is.

English is definitely big. The Oxford English Dictionary lists about 600,000 words (mostly drawn from written sources), with more than 1,000 added annually. Merriam-Webster’s estimates that there are about a million words in English, give or take a quarter-million — far more than the 500,000-plus claimed by the runner-up, Mandarin Chinese, and the 100,000-odd words of French.

But the idea of an “English word” is inherently fuzzy. How do you count compound words like “hot dog” or infinitely expandable ones like “great-great-great-great-aunt?” What about foreign loan words? Terms for chemical compounds (roughly 84 million) or insect species (roughly one million)? The slang terms that wink in and out of existence without ever making it into print?

Our fascination with the vastness of English, Mr. Nunberg said, springs from a kind of linguistic imperialism — a feeling that “our dictionaries are bigger than their dictionaries.” But this doesn’t really make us any richer linguistically, he contended.

“It’s not like the French are impoverished because they have fewer fish names than we do,” he said.

Indeed, some linguists argue that our obsession with the odd profusion of English misses what is really distinctive about the language: its grammar.

Lots of languages have a mixed-up lexicon, but few have English’s hybrid structure, said John McWhorter, a linguist at the Manhattan Institute. English grammar “has been bastardized by Celtic and then beaten up by Vikings, who made it simpler than it would otherwise be,” he said. “We are speaking a bastard and beaten tongue with a very unusual grammatical history.”

But try getting anyone interested in a story about that.

from the New York Times

Actually, the Dowbrigade is fascinated by the history of the English Language, having taught it at the Peruvian National University. It is worth remembering that before the aforementioned linguistic assault and battery, English was a hard-luck refugee dialect of low German surrounded and mutated by Celtic and Latin, and that afterward it was raped and pillaged by French, which kept it in idiomatic surfdom for 400 years.

Scary scary costumes

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Can you spot the real Dowbrigade? On Halloween (which would have been game 7 of the World Series that wasn’t) we were confronted, at the ungodly hour of 9 AM, by an apparition that would curdle the hair of any sane teacher – a dozen Dowbrigades! Luckily the Dowbrigade has little of either hair or sanity these days….

Here’s the on-line album of photos by Koji

Kos Cutting Class

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Markos Moulitsas (LAW'99) talks with Maureen O'Rourke, dean of the School of Law, at the conference New Media and the Marketplace of Ideas. Photo by Vernon DoucetteMarkos Moulitsas (LAW’99) talks with Maureen O’Rourke, dean of the School of Law, at the conference New Media and the Marketplace of Ideas. Photo by Vernon Doucette

[From an interesting interview with Markos Moulitsas of the Daily Kos published today in the BU newspaper web site]

Do you think the Republicans will eventually pick up on the Internet as a fundraising and campaigning tool?

They never really needed it before. They’ve been very good at getting small donations in the past via direct mail. Now direct mail has become obsolete. The people who fill out a check are old and dying off, and my generation — well, I can’t imagine being caught dead writing a check.

Watch Out, MIT

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Frankel.Ferrofluid.jpg

A photograph of a 3 cm drop of ferrofluid, a suspension of magnetite in oil.

Harvard University today unveiled a brand-new website, HarvardScience, devoted to all matters related to science at the various schools, departments, institutes, and hospitals of Harvard University.Now, although Harvard is not as scientifically astute or as storied as its geeky neighbor MIT, it has indeed been the scene of numerous momentous moments in the history of science.

In 1689, for example, Godswabber Hackenthorne, a Calvinist predicator and Isaac Newton Professor of Alchemy, scientifically established once and for all that witches’ specific gravity is not necessarily greater than that of water in all cases, as anecdotal evidence had suggested for years.

Later, in 1875, pioneering psychologist and philosopher William James discovered the mind-clarifying effects of Nitrous Oxide, and began a scientific tradition of “huffing” between classes that continues to this day.

In the 1960′s iconic neural scientist Dr. Timothy Leary blazed a trail by turning Harvard Yard into a revolutionary “acid test”, engendering a psychedelic movement which transformed the American consciousness. For a while, he was actually paying undergraduates $20 to drop acid, in the name of science.

Then, in 1976, the Dowbrigade himself participated in a seminal investigation into the effects of cocaine and mescaline applied simultaeously to the nasal membranes, one to the right side and the other to the left, affecting opposing brain hemispheres.

Somehow, we doubt that any of these achievements will appear on the HarvardScience web site. We were born too late, and now is no time to rehash the past. However, now there is a place for milestones like these which occur in the future. Ladies and Gentlemen, start your computers.

Gaming the System

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olpcoxWhat will millions of poor children do with cheap laptop computers? Play games, of course. But not just any games.

The vaunted “$100 laptop” already being distributed in some countries by MIT professor Nicholas Negroponte’s One Laptop Per Child program lacks the horsepower to run flashy 3-D games like Grand Theft Auto or World of Warcraft. Besides, the idea of the nonprofit is to educate as well as entertain.

Game jam coordinator Mel Chua said it’s just the first of several such gatherings to produce useful software and content for the XO laptop. “We’re hoping to have music jams, movie jams, curriculum jams,” Chua said.

The software jams won’t be confined to the United States. SJ Klein One Laptop Per Child’s director of content, hopes the Needham game jam will serve as a model for software developers around the world. “We’re trying to formalize this as an idea that anybody else can easily run,” said Klein.

from the Boston Globe

If we know SJ, he’s going to make sure that these babies come loaded with the capacity to allow a group of 12-year-olds, transported to a virgin planet with nothing but natural resources, to completely recreate modern civilization, only better, and to have a blast doing it.

We are particularly encouraged by the fleeting mention of “Curriculum Jams”. All over the world, every day, creative tech-savvy teachers are creating content, on line and off, which they would be more than willing to share, given a channel and a chance to contribute.

We will be on the lookout for further updates.

English Rules

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magic_english_logo.jpgSINGAPORE — Riding the crest of globalization and technology, English dominates the world as no language ever has, and some linguists now say it may never be dethroned as the king of languages.

Whoa, a bit grandiose, that King stuff. Didn’t we found this country to get away from that? And who says English is masculine? Why not the “Queen” of languages? Isn’t it the Mother Tongue? These tendencies, toward heirarchial patriarchy and ethnocentric domination, are built into the language and the way Americans use it.

John McWhorter, a linguist at the Manhattan Institute, a research group in New York, and the author of a history of language called “The Power of Babel” was more unequivocal.

“English is dominant in a way that no language has ever been before,” he said. “It is vastly unclear to me what actual mechanism could uproot English given conditions as they are.”

As a new millennium begins, scholars say that about one-fourth of the world’s population can communicate to some degree in English.

And another one-fourth are Chinese.

It is the common language in almost every endeavor, from science to air traffic control to the global jihad, where it is apparently the means of communication between speakers of Arabic and other languages.

It has consolidated its dominance as the language of the Internet, where 80 percent of the world’s electronically stored information is in English, according to David Graddol, a linguist and researcher.

There may be more native speakers of Chinese, Spanish, or Hindi, but it is English they speak when they talk across cultures, and English they teach their children to help them become citizens of an increasingly intertwined world.

This much is true. The revolution in communication technology and the worldwide reach of commercial networks have driven the need for a common tongue, and English is it, by default if not by election or pedigree. Of course, English does have outstanding characteristics which make it well-suited as a world language. It is direct and economical to the point of terseness. It is flexible and absorbent. If another language can say something English can’t – no sweat, we just incorporate the word or expression into English, giving it a broad midlands mispronunciation.

English is the great robber language. We have taken words and expressions from EVERY OTHER LANGUAGE SPOKEN ON THE FACE OF THE EARTH, from Latin to Lativian, from Esperanto to Quechua to Klingon. 40% of our words were stolen directly from French!

If we want to say something that doesn’t Exist in English or any other language, then we just make up a word. Words move into and out of English like clients in a half-hour hotel, and there is no one to tell them they don’t belong. There is no “Royal Academy of English” ruling on acceptability new words and the purity of the language itself. William Safire and Nathanial Webster are the closest we get to official language authorities.

On the other hand, English has its downside as a universal language; fiendishly complicated grammar, the only rule being that every rule has an exception, and a system of spelling seeming designed to reduce phonetically oriented learners to gibbering idiots. Furthermore, linguistic factors alone cannot explain the emergence of English as the dominant world language – American military, economic and cultural hegemongy may have something to do with it as well…..

But unlike Latin and other former common languages, most scholars say English seems to be too widespread and too deeply entrenched to die out. Instead, it will probably survive in some simplified international form — sometimes called Globish or World Standard Spoken English — side by side with its offspring.

Global English already exists in today’s world, and is starting to be studied both as a reaction to and a defense against American domination of globalization. As noted earlier, every language carries coded within itself the priorities, prejustices and power relationships of the culture which developed it. According to the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis the structure of the language a person speaks determines how they perceive and order the reality around them. In other words, speaking English forces people into an English way of conceptualizing the world and relating to it.

This bothers a lot of people, especially those who don’t see eye to eye with George Bush or American foreign policy. Back in the 1980′s the Dowbrigade was a professor at the National University of Peru during the first Allan Garcia government, a corrupt center-left coalition locked in a death-struggle with a rabid Maoist insurrection. Most of the students majoring in English were young women from conservative, right-wing families. No self-respecting progressive would major in the language of the neo-colonial oppressors. And yet, even the fervent communists realized they needed the language itself.

As a result, Global English is being studied, and could be modified, to minimize the American cultural influence and make it more value neutral. It will be interesting, in this light, to see what dialect of English evolves and emerges as dominant in the New China rising in Asia.

The teaching of English has become a multibillion-dollar industry, and according to Graddol, nearly one-third of the world’s population will soon be studying English.

So that’s why we are enmeshed in the field, for the big bucks. We are lying in wait for our share of those billions, ready to lend our talent, experience and polished Ivy resume to any well-laid scheme to get a piece of that pie.

artocle from the International Herald Tribune

Slaving in the Salt Mines of Academia

ø

December 12, 2006

More than half the faculty at Boston University, Northeastern, Tufts, and Harvard are part-time or are not on the tenure track, according to a report released yesterday.

These prominent institutions performed poorly compared with their peers around the country, according to the study by the American Association of University Professors, a union organization.

Professors and advocates for students have raised concerns for years that colleges are increasingly turning to less expensive, temporary labor and eroding the tenure system, to the detriment of students and scholars alike. The study, based on fall 2005 data from the US Education Department, heightens such concern.

At private research universities nationally, 55 percent of academic staff are part-timers, known as adjuncts, or full-timers who do not have an opportunity to earn tenure, the AAUP reported.

At well-known Boston-area universities, the proportions are even higher: 71 percent at Boston University, 67 percent at Northeastern, 66 percent at Tufts, and 57 percent at Harvard, according to the study.

from the Boston Globe

Just as the nation’s major hospitals rely largely on the overtaxed and underpaid interns and residents serving their time in the trenches of American health care, so our major universities base the brunt of their actual front-line teaching on unprotected grunt laborers, forced to work ridiculous hours for a fraction of the pay of tenured professors and in danger of losing their posts at the slightest misstep, deviation from the department line, or temporary down tick in enrollment.

Count the Dowbrigade among these downtrodden academic Ronin, at the head of the list.

Some of these hired guns are doctoral students, paying their dues in hopes of eventually entering the hallowed ranks of the Doctorati, the first step in the long road to tenure. However, as all academic vets know, that long and winding road to the mythic PhD is littered with the wrecks of promising lives and aborted academic careers.

Others among the professorial underclass had the bad taste to graduate from undistinguished institutions, or who actually prefer more actual teaching to researching and publishing. Most could easily get tenured positions back in their home countries or in the Academic Hinterlands (i.e. the Big Sky Conference, for example), but where’s the fun in that?

In the case of the Dowbrigade, our underclass status is partly due to the fact that the highest degree we hold, an MS in Ed, is considered the "terminal degree" in our chosen field, TESL. Has a lovely ring to it, sort of like cancer. Actually, the Dowbrigade started working on a doctorate in a related field (Educational Media Technology) years ago, but flamed out along that same long and winding road. Unfortunately, the Media Technology they were teaching was about ten years out of date, and worse, the professors felt threatened by cutting edge developments in their own field. Guess they didn’t have tenure, either.

But we didn’t come this far to start whining about our academic failures. The point is, we need more money and more job security. We are currently in the midst of our 15th consecutive one-year contract! What kind of a career is that? Believe it or not, we once had tenure at one of the top universities in the country! Of course, the country was Peru, and the university was the National University of Peru, and 16 years ago, just after we won “Nombramiento” (tenure), the Peruvian inflation rate rose to 100% a month, and the Maoist Sendero Luminoso started to shoot University professors who didn’t support their line, and Gringos just on general principal, so we decided a change of venue was called for.

And thus we ended up in intellectual bondage, here in the higher education capital of America. Someday soon we shall all rise up, the TA’s, the adjuncts, the Senior Lecturers and Resident Advisors, and claim the rights and rewards we so richly deserve. Meanwhile, we hope our bosses bosses don’t read the Dowbrigade News…..

School’s Out for Summers

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CAMBRIDGE, Mass. –In his five-year tenure at Harvard University,
President Lawrence H. Summers frequently found himself in the spotlight
because of rifts with faculty at the Ivy League institution.

Tuesday, facing the second no-confidence vote by faculty members in
a year, Summers announced he would leave June 30, bringing to a close
the briefest tenure of any Harvard president since 1862, when Cornelius
Felton died after two years in office.

from the Boston Globe

Just five years? It seemed like 50! Larry, we hardly knew ye. If there
is a lesson in here somewhere it is that, yes, the President of Harvard
has to be a master politician, and yes, the President of Harvard has
to be a master fund-raiser, but first and foremost, the President of
Harvard has to be smarter than you and me, and smarter than all the other
university presidents in the land. If you try to give the job to a normally
smart political fund raiser, he or she is doomed to fail, if only because there are so many naturally obstreperous world-class intellects in the 02138 zip code.

If the person is smart enough, in an academic sense (which means knowing
more about some obscure subject than anyone else in the world, even if
it is so obscure than hardly anyone else knows or cares about it), nothing
else matters. In order to protect the reputation of the institution,
Harvard has over the centuries had to keep several notable Presidents
under wraps, so to speak, relegated to windowless back rooms in the bowels
of Civil War era architectural behemoths and only brought forth on ceremonial
occasions, bundled in pharmacological blankets and surrounded by stout
Trustees to avoid embarrassing mishaps.

It just wouldn’t look good for Harvard to be changing Presidents as
frequently as, say, an upstart institution like the Federal government.
Why, previous Harvard President Neil Rudenstine had a complete mental
breakdown while in office, reduced to staring out the window of Harvard
Hall while playing with his peas and carrots, and was forced to take
a "Leave of Absence" while they got him back to the point where he could
sign his name again, and he still lasted 10 years.

Given Summer’s recent propensity for stepping into deep doo doo over
topics like innate vs. acquired sex differences and recruiting minorities
for the faculty, it is less shocking that the Harvard brain trust
is showing him the door than is the selection of his successor. Who even
knew that Derek Box was still alive? The man was named President of Harvard
in 1971, the year the Dowbrigade arrived on campus as a freshman. The
guy was ancient before WE even got kicked out the first time! James Michael
Curley was still Mayor of Boston!

We guess we should be happy that the World’s Greatest U has turned
back the clock to the guy we will still always consider "our" Harvard President,
but we may have forfeited our right to criticize.  After all, we
currently work at a Major Boston University which dismissed its President
the day BEFORE he was to be inaugurated,  necessitating a payoff
of several million dollars to just go away.

Actually, the Dowbrigade is thinking of throwing his hat into the ring
on this Harvard job. How long can Bok actually last, after all? And how hard can it be to preside over the World’s Richest School? After
400 years, isn’t it time for something completely different.

from the
Boston Globe

Beer Pong National Campus Rage

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The
bar is packed, the floor is wet, and dozens of glassy-eyed young people
are squeezed around tables trying to lob Ping-Pong balls into cups of
beer.

It is the final round of a beer pong championship, sponsored by a maker
of portable beer pong tables, and all across the bar, as one team scores
points, the other happily guzzles beer.

"It’s awesome," said Chris Shannon, 22, a senior at Drexel University
here. "If you win, you win. If you lose, you drink. There’s no negative."

Ah, for the days when getting sloppy drunk in a
bar full of glassy-eyed young people was "Awesome". Drinking games
are apparently
back on campus big time. From what little we can remember from those
dim, distant days, drinking games were an excuse to get wasted (as though
college students even need an excuse), a social icebreaker (unfortunately,
when the ice breaks one finds oneself soaking in ice water or ones own
urine) and a way to stoke those ever-hungry competitive fires.

This article, from the New
York Times
, chronicles the
current rage for a bar game called "Beer Pong" or, inevitably "Bud Pong",
a simpleminded diversion which has spawned an accessory industry including
official rules, tables, balls and glasses, as well as shirts, shorts
and visors, teams, leagues and championships.

In beer pong, each team stands at the end of a table
in front of a triangle of cups partially filled with beer. Players pitch
the ball into the other team’s cups. When a player sinks the ball, the
other team must chug the beer and remove the cup from the table. When
a side runs out of cups, it loses.

How the scene has changed.  When we were undergrads
the favorite parlor game around Winthrop House was called Mystery Drug.  In
Mystery Drug, each of the players gets a paper cup with a psychotropic
substance, which they consume. sight unseen. They then spend the
next few hours trying to figure out who got the acid, who got the Quaaludes,
who
got
the MDA, reds, mescaline, PCP, etc. Hilarity inevitably ensued.

But those were different times, and games in those days
didn’t need winners or losers, or fancy equipment, or rules, for that matter. Nowadays, we
are sure a good Beer Pong player needs an in-your-face ping pong power
dunk to be successful and mystery drug, for us, consists of trying to guess if that pill we just took was our blood pressure, cholesterol or arthritis medication.

from the New York Times