meep (meep) wrote,

Thinking about stuff

So I was talking with a couple co-workers yesterday, about this and that, and we get around to what we'd be doing in 20 years time (one wanted to retire by then, the other expected to have to be hacking away at job to pay for lifestyle choice (renovations), I said I could see myself opening a restaurant). And this morning I was reading Paul Graham's Essay "The Power of the Marginal". Of course, Graham is coming from the techie point of view, which does change a lot faster than most businesses, but it's still pertinent elsewhere.

Thing is, for the longest time, I've wanted to start my own school. Originally I was thinking on the order of K-12, at another point I was thinking higher ed, but now I'm thinking any ages, as long as they can hack it, with classical liberal arts education as the center. The problem with education, though, is that the "tests" for schools are corrupt, in Graham's terminology. Much of what's involved in schools is politics and status. Many people just want certification, and have no real interest in learning; they just care of the prestige of the school they're considering going to. And when people are interested in learning, it's in stuff that's "vocational", i.e., direct job skills training like dealing with Excel. I have nothing against vocational training; indeed, I think it's more useful for most people compared to college. But that's a different story.

I've mentioned this before, but I've got a sideline teaching an actuarial seminar at The Infinite Actuary. I got involved because I was taking a different seminar for the last exam I passed, and I really loved the delivery of education: I could watch the lectures at 4am; I could email the teacher if I got confused (I didn't, but the possibility was there); I could watch the lectures multiple times. It was perfect for what I needed. It has the problem that I had to be sitting at home in front of my computer, but I could live with that (especially as that last month, Stu & the kids were in the house and I was in the apartment).

So now I'm on the teaching side of TIA and enjoying it. One of the best teaching jobs I've ever had (okay, second to Mathcamp) because I don't have to grade anything. That was always the worst part. From the student's point of view, it's good, too in that there's an objective test as to whether you learned the stuff: the actuarial exam. I don't set it, I don't grade it -- the proof is in the pudding. It's hard to gauge whether you actually learned something worthwhile when the person doing the teaching is also setting the test. They're just going to tailor it to what they taught; as opposed to the preferable method of having some sort of standard and external test, and the teacher figures out how to get that info to you.

So I'm thinking of another Graham essay How to do what you love. And I love to teach math. I'm trying to morph the two routes Graham describes here -- I do like my actuarial job, but I like having the two jobs, too. But I'm trying to grow them both organically. I'm not terribly interested in building a "school" (whatever it is) de novo, but I'd rather build up my concept from something small, and cheap, to figure out something that will scale the way I want it to. Perhaps it will be through TIA, perhaps through my wiki, perhaps through something that does not yet exist. I've decided I need to do it in a way different from what's out there already due to the monopoly power of institutions (why replicate what there's thousands of?), in hope of finding something that will be more effective by attacking it from a different angle.

FWIW, TIA got started because one of the founders had noticed how a Photoshop training site was set up, and saw how that could be transferred to actuarial seminars. I'm trying to think through how these things can transfer to teaching math. My next move, I'm thinking, is videos on YouTube. I've got some ideas I will be trying out in November, and I'll probably be asking y'all to look at some of them and commenting on them.

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