mcgillianaire: (Scale of Justice)
I've just handed in the following essay as part of my Academic Writing course at Harvard's Extension School. It culminates a six week process of cumulative work, that began with three assigned readings on aspects of education. We had to pick one of the three readings and build our exercises around it. The essay below is my final product. I hope you enjoy it. I think it can form the basis of a longer essay in the future, and there is certainly room for improvement, but I am fairly pleased with the way my writing has developed, particularly in regards to structure and transitions that have been a longstanding weakness of mine. I would love to receive feedback from you guys too! Thanks for taking the time to read it. The essays in the footnotes are worth a read too!



Intelligence does not have to be schooled and education takes multiple forms. What we need as a society is a recalibration of the assumptions we make about knowledge acquisition. In "Blue-Collar Brilliance", Mike Rose, a research professor at the Graduate School of Education and Information Studies at UCLA, challenges the widely-held notion that intelligence can only be measured by the amount of formal education a person has acquired, while offering an alternative viewpoint that emphasizes the extent to which blue and pink-collared workers harness their intellect.1 He is right to challenge the status-quo, but even his well-reasoned argument falls short of extending the thesis to society at large, regardless of whether someone is employed or not. And that is crucial, because for many people intelligence is still a synonym for formal education, and the more letters you have after your name, the more likely you are perceived to be of superior intelligence. By simply extending the cognitive-franchise to blue and pink-collared workers, we ignore and deny the cerebral contributions of millions of stay-at-home parents and other less academically qualified thinkers around the world.

The assumptions we make about knowledge and intelligence acquisition have a direct impact on the way our entire economy is structured. Just look at the salary and wage differentials between those generally classified as white and blue-collared workers. According to Bureau of Labor Statistics data from May 2014, the mean annual wage for lawyers, airline pilots and financial managers was roughly $130,000. But for electricians and plumbers it was $54,000, and $42,000 for truck drivers. While for other blue and pink-collared workers such as janitors, grounds maintenance workers, auto mechanics and waitresses, they earned median hourly wages ranging from just $9.01 per hour to $17.84 per hour.2 Under the present system, wages do not reflect the amount of a worker’s thought and effort. The perfect example at the other extreme is that of a stay-at-home parent who does not earn any wage at all, but you would be hard-pressed to find one who does not stop thinking about their work (i.e. their children/partner) all day long. And despite the wide gap in mean wages between white and blue-collared workers, both groups of people toil a similar number of hours at their respective workplaces. If anything, blue and pink-collared employees work longer hours than their more formally educated counterparts, sometimes fitting in two or more jobs in order to make ends meet. And no doubt their experiences are as taxing on the mind as it is on the body.

But are the best and the brightest truly more intelligent? And have they acquired more knowledge? I do not believe so. Take for instance my octogenarian paternal grandmother. Denied formal schooling beyond fourth grade, she has remained a stay-at-home mom her entire life. Married before sixteen, five kids by her mid-twenties (including losing two in infancy), forced to accommodate six orphaned children from her in-law’s family soon after, and widowed at fifty, she has been compelled by circumstance to constantly adapt to a changing environment. Without a degree in home economics, she learnt how to ration a fixed supply of meager financial and food resources for the enlarged household. Religion helped provide direction in her life and she imparted the wisdom gained from its parables to her children. Even today when I visit her in my father’s hometown in southern India, it never ceases to amaze me how everybody who knows her, irrespective of age, solicits her advice to deal with life. Indeed she is the epitome of someone schooled in life. Despite lacking a formal education, she has cultivated her intelligence by acquiring knowledge through daily experience and put it to use without ever receiving a penny. And yet the society we live in would dismiss her rich contribution to it.

Our assumptions about intelligence, work and social class affect the way we treat even our fellow workers. Consider the example of a nurse in my father’s hospital who assists with surgeries. Various surgeons, including my father work with him, and through many years of experience and observation, the nurse has gained sufficient knowledge to offer useful suggestions to my father during a surgery, particularly in the middle of a tricky procedure or sticky situation. More often than not, the nurse’s insight has proven significant. But when my father recommended the nurse’s input to a fellow surgeon friend, the latter was not immediately convinced. It took several further surgeries before he acknowledged the nurse’s potential and contribution. Had the nurse completed the academic qualification to perform surgeries himself and offer suggestions, there would not have been any hesitation on the other surgeon’s part to accept my father’s advice. Rose posits that “generalizations about intelligence, work, and social class deeply affect our assumptions about ourselves and each other, guiding the ways we use our minds to learn, build knowledge, solve problems, and make our way through the world” and he is absolutely right.

Rose offers several compelling reasons as to why we need to redress the imbalance in the assumptions we make about intelligence and knowledge acquisition, by outlining how blue-collar workers’ “use of tools requires the studied refinement of stance, grip, balance, and fine-motor skills” while specifying how “carpenters have an eye for length, line, and angle; mechanics troubleshoot by listening, [and] hair stylists are attuned to shape, texture, and motion”. It is high time we added to this list the millions of lifelong homemakers who also tap into their intellect on a daily basis by rearing children and keeping families together.

With all this in mind, you may wonder how we might recalibrate the assumptions we make about intelligence and knowledge acquisition? For that we need to identify why it is calibrated wrong in the first place. Rose argues that “our culture – in Cartesian fashion – separates the body from the mind, so that, for example, we assume that the use of a tool does not involve abstraction. We reinforce this notion by defining intelligence solely on grades in school and numbers on IQ tests”. William Deresiewicz, an award-winning essayist and literary critic, builds on this by describing how “being at an elite college, and going on from an elite college – all involve numerical rankings. You learn to think of yourself in terms of those numbers”, while adding that “one of the great errors of an elite education, then, is that it teaches you to think that measures of intelligence and academic achievement are measures of value in some moral or metaphysical sense. But they’re not”.3 And they are both right.

Even so, Deresiewicz concedes that “the advantages of an elite education are indeed undeniable”. Yet, however incredible these elite institutions are, and however substantial the contribution they make to society, they also own a share of the responsibility for reinforcing divisions of people by class, occupation and intelligence. Deresiewicz hits the nail on the head when he says that “the problem begins when students are encouraged to forget this truth, when academic excellence becomes excellence in some absolute sense, when ‘better at X’ becomes simply ‘better’”. And that is the entrenched reality we need to overcome in order to redress the imbalance perpetuated by the prevailing system. One possible solution is to acknowledge, honor or even compensate those forms of intelligence that are not directly linked to formal education.

Yet attempting to change the way most people think is potentially a fool’s errand. But if we do not make any effort at all to change even slightly the way people make assumptions about intelligence, class and occupation, then life will carry on as it is and we will continue devaluing and degrading the contributions of millions – perhaps even billions – around the world. The onus is on us to make a difference, however small it may be. After all, as the sixth century B.C. Chinese philosopher Laozi pointed out, even “a journey of a thousand [miles] begins with a single step”.4 We already know that there are different ways to acquire knowledge and intelligence. So the journey we need to embark on does not involve uncharted territory. It simply requires a reorientation and retracing of steps to a fairer and more balanced society. Is that too much to ask?

1. https://theamericanscholar.org/blue-collar-brilliance/
2. http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_nat.htm
3. https://theamericanscholar.org/the-disadvantages-of-an-elite-education/
4. https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Laozi#Tao_Te_Ching
  • You should also read this thought-provoking essay on education by Louis Menand - another of the three assigned to us.
  • mcgillianaire: (South Park Me)


    "Lottery commercials are incredibly seductive and they're also everywhere. States spend half a billion on them every year and the reason they do that, is [that] the lottery is a massive moneymaker for them. Last year alone, lottery sales totalled about $68 billion. That's more than Americans spent last year on movie tickets, music, porn, the NFL, Major League Baseball, and video games, combined. Which means Americans spend more on the lottery than they spent on America." (Gorra love John Oliver.)
    mcgillianaire: (Scale of Justice)
    "The campaign to set up the International Criminal Court to prosecute crimes against humanity involved NGOs’ organising international conferences and meetings, supporting Southern CSOs and State participation in the process through funding and information dissemination, and lobbying throughout many countries, including lobbying US Congress and the EU Parliament. The result was the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court of 17 July 1998, ratified by 120 states and finally coming into force on 1 July 2002. The international system would not have been sufficiently equipped to bring to justice those, such as Slobodan Milosevic, responsible for human atrocities, without this success on the part of NGOs." [LINK]
    mcgillianaire: (Royal Coat of Arms)
    Tuition fees are making law conversion courses less attractive by Alex Alridge | The Guardian [18 August 2011]
    From a selfish perspective this is good news because I could do with less competition in the race to securing a training contract, but generally speaking it would be a sad state of affairs if it were at all true.

    It is David Cameron who is 'twisting and misrepresenting' human rights by Benjamin Ward | The Guardian [17 August 2011]
    The UK already has a British Bill of Rights. It's called the Human Rights Act. Like seriously, end of.

    Who are the real looters – rioters or MPs? by John Harris | The Guardian [18 August 2011]
    I made a similar argument a few days ago. The author provides better examples and finishes it off with a fantastic suggestion from a letter to the editor. Worth a read for that alone.

    India's Selective Rage Over Corruption by Manu Joseph | The New York Times [18 August 2011]
    The odd thing about corruption in India is that everybody takes part in it (not always by choice) yet there is no dearth of moral posturing from its worst offenders. For many, some forms of corruption are worse than others.

    Kaushik Basu Says Make Bribe Giving Legal (in India) by Subhadip Sircar | The Wall Street Journal [30 March 2011]
    A fascinating proposal from the government's chief economic advisor. At present the law punishes the bribe giver and bribe taker, but he argues that for "harassment bribes", only the bribe taker should be punished.
    mcgillianaire: (BBC Logo)
    WIKILEAKS:
    16 DEC - The rights and wrongs of hacktivism (Economist)
    16 DEC - Art imitating life: Funky new ad puts a spin on personal hygiene and politics (The Express Tribune, Pakistan)
    14 DEC - Why I'm Posting Bail Money for Julian Assange: Michael Moore (Huffington Post)
    10 DEC - Ron Paul’s Passionate Defense Of Julian Assange And WikiLeaks On House Floor (MEDIAite)
    09 DEC - Pakistani media publish fake WikiLeaks cables attacking India (Guardian)

    LAW:
    16 DEC - Top judge complains about 'sex with corpses' rules (Daily Telegraph)
    16 DEC - Court backs tourist ban for Dutch cannabis coffee shops (BBC News)
    15 DEC - Tweeting in court: why reporters must be given guidelines (Guardian)
    14 DEC - Qatar: A centre for 'quality' international dispute resolution? (Guardian)

    TUITION FEE PROTESTS:
    14 DEC - Let’s get London’s riots into the right perspective: Simon Jenkins (London Evening Standard)
    14 DEC - An attack on the royal carriage by angry protesters. Sound familiar? (Guardian)

    UK:
    14 DEC - 'We the people' deserve something better than a high-class villain's charter (Guardian)
    13 DEC - Toby Ord: Why I'm giving £1 million to charity (BBC News)
    06 DEC - Medieval Britons were richer than modern poor people, study finds (Guardian)
    03 DEC - Woman dials 999 to report snowman theft in Kent (BBC News)
    03 DEC - Christmas with a German accent – the PR ploy taking Britain's towns by storm (Guardian)

    INDIA:
    03 DEC - India's third richest man gives £1.27bn to children's education charity (Guardian)
    19 OCT - Indian man of 100 goes back to university for PhD (BBC News)

    OTHER:
    12 DEC - German man castrates teenage daughter's 57-year-old boyfriend (Daily Telegraph)

    SPORT:
    18 DEC - Liverpool fans outraged after Paul Konchesky's mum launches Facebook blast (Daily Mail)
    16 DEC - India enter Formula One limelight (ESPNstar.com)
    09 DEC - The top 10 worst misses in football history: your votes are in (Guardian: Sports Blog)
    17 SEP - Blackburn's Sam Allardyce 'more suited to Inter or Real Madrid' (Guardian)
    mcgillianaire: (Muscat (Sultan's Palace))
    Nicholas D. Kristof thinks education can solve the world's problems. He's only partially right but it's still worth a read. (via my sister)
    mcgillianaire: (India Flag)
    Isn't it ironic how many Indian parents are willing to invest almost anything on their children's education, yet our government's record on the same front is among the world's worst? Just goes to show, the people with the right priorities aren't public servants. They're working hard.
    mcgillianaire: (iPhone)
    The Guardian is my favourite iPhone app. I had tried sharing my favourite articles before but I found myself wasting too much time writing details about each one, so I've decided to just leave a list of my favourite ones. I'm not sure whether I'll update these every week, fortnight or monthly, but for now here's a selection of my favourite articles between April and July. The next edition will begin with August articles.

    HEALTH/DIET/ENVIRONMENT:
    Reality check: Is the UK's cancer death rate worse than Bulgaria's? (16 Apr 2010) - Denis Campbell
    Is veganism safe for kids? (20 Apr 2010) - Joanna Moorhead
    The ethics of veggie cats and dogs (24 May 2010) - Dan Welch

    EDUCATION:
    Black students trail white classmates in achieving first-class degrees (15 Jun 2010) - Jessica Shepherd
    Paris stages 'festival of errors' to teach French schoolchildren how to think (21 Jul 2010) - Lizzy Davies
    Born too late: age ruins GCSE results for 10,000 pupils a year (29 Jul 2010) - Jessica Shepherd

    ECONOMY:
    London's richest people worth 273 times more than the poorest (20 Apr 2010) - Randeep Ramesh
    Can Malaysia's Islamic gold dinar thwart capitalism? (17 Jul 2010) - Nazry Bahrawi

    TRANSPORT:
    UK military aircraft involved in 832 near misses in five years (22 Jun 2010) - Polly Curtis, Dan Milmo
    Police quell Ryanair mutiny with chocolate (25 Jun 2010) - Severin Carrell

    SPORT:
    The World Cup defeat that lost an election (20 Apr 2010) - Frank Keating
    mcgillianaire: (Default)
    A major study by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (Hefce) has found that black students are more than 3-times less likely to be awarded a 1st-class university degree than white students. Can somebody please hide its contents from Nick Griffin and his ilk!

    Britain's oldest cinema, the 100-year-old Phoenix in North London is getting a £1 million makeover and will reopen in September.

    Sticking with London, the UK-based chain Selfridges has been named the world's best department store, fighting off competition from NYC's Bloomingdales and Hong Kong's Lane Crawford, by the International Group of Department Stores and the International Association of Department Stores. Less known is that it was founded by a Wisconsin-born American-magnate unimpressed with British stores in 1909!

    Sources close to Inayat Bunglawala, the founder and chair of Muslims4UK (a group to celebrate the UK's democratic traditions and promote active Muslim engagement), tell him that the Home Office is considering issuing two exclusion orders; one against Jamaican-born Muslim preacher Abu Ameenah Bilal Philips and the other against Mumbai-based Zakir Naik. Bunglawala argues that if we really care about freedom of speech, we should let these Muslim speakers in and let the law take its course. He includes a good quote from a spokesman for Nick Clegg from a couple years ago over the controversial proposed visit of Qatar-based Islamic scholar Yusuf al-Qaradawi:
      "Many of Yusuf al-Qaradawi's views are repugnant; the job of a truly liberal society is to defeat such abhorrent ideas by arguing forcefully and persuasively against them. Giving al-Qaradawi the publicity that a ban would create would ultimately serve only to legitimise his views in the eyes of extremists. If he is allowed into this country he is of course subject to our laws; and if he were to break the law in any way including inciting or glorifying terrorism he should obviously be prosecuted."
    I couldn't have put it better myself. I hope the Lib Dems put their foot down on this issue and ensure the two men are not excluded.

    Meanwhile viewing figures from both sides of the Atlantic during last weekend's World Cup fixture between England and USA appear fairly similar. 17 million people watched the game in American homes, more than the number who watched the first four games of the NBA Finals! It's all the more impressive given that the NBA viewing figures itself were up on previous years. Game 5 of the NBA Finals drew in an audience of 18.2 million. And though we don't know what the total viewing figures were because of those who watched it in pubs and bars, it's worth pointing out that over 100 million Americans watched this year's Super Bowl. Closer to home, it appears a similar number of people watched it on the telly. There was a maximum of nearly 20 million as full-time approached, but the real talking point was felt by the 1.5 million watching it on HD, who missed Gerrard's goal as ITV broke into an ad-break. Plebs like myself who were watching it on Freeview were not affected. ITVs coverage of the World Cup has generally been poor and this major blunder has not won them any friends. And from what I gather about their coverage of Formula One events in the past, this isn't entirely surprising either! Thank goodness for the BBC!!

    Finally, Jeffrey Archer has been approached by Bollywood producers intent on making blockbusters of his short stories. Not a rupee more...

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