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?

  • You should also read this thought-provoking essay on education by Louis Menand - another of the three assigned to us.
  • Five years

    Dec. 3rd, 2014 12:40 am
    mcgillianaire: (Geetopadesham)
    "For what is it to die but to stand naked in
    the wind and to melt into the sun?

    And what is to cease breathing, but to free
    the breath from its restless tides,
    that it may rise and expand and seek God

    - Khalil Gibran, "On Death" The Prophet -
    mcgillianaire: (Ari G)

    Last night's New Year Party theme was Tangerine.

    Lose weight, eat less, get a training contract, date more girls, manage my money better... bloody hell, if I'd not known better I'd say it's just like 2011 all over again. Here's to less of more of the same. Hope you're all well and wish you the very best in 2012!
    mcgillianaire: (Hooka Pipe)

    My sister arrived in Oman a few days ago and is having lots of fun with our puppy. I can't wait to join them at the end of the week!
    mcgillianaire: (Changing Guard London)

    That of course is Bill Nighy, eating dinner with his wife(?) at Charuwan, a Thai restaurant near Archway in North London. I was at a friend's birthday dinner and although we didn't bother him while he was eating, one of us did manage to secure a photo of him with our birthday buddy just before he left. I've read somewhere that he lives in the area and this photo sort-of confirms it. He's one of my favourite actors and he seemed a fairly decent chap in the four words that I heard him speak!
    mcgillianaire: (Royal Coat of Arms)

    A panoramic view of the Laurieston district in the Gorbals area of Glasgow as seen from the north side of the River Clyde. The two delightful bridges of contrasting styles date from the Victorian era. [Taken 29 Jul 2011]

    I've just returned from attending a wedding in Scotland but no it wasn't the Royal one. I spent the weekend in the Scottish Highlands celebrating the nuptials of a close friend who I have LJ to thank for meeting in the first place. She posted as [ profile] 3neonangels but stopped a few years ago. Thanks to her and her new hubby, I got to visit Glasgow and the Isle of Skye for the first time but in a bid to keep expenses to a minimum, found myself travelling by bus for about thirty-five hours in the space of three-and-a-half days. Of course it was worth it. And needless to say thanks to my old camera working again (albeit flash-free) the memorable experience will linger long in the memory. Unfortunately I can't be arsed and am too tired to make a proper pictorial post but I will leave you with a few panoramas to whet your appetite. In the meanwhile, have yerself a wee bonnie night!

    Glasgow Central railway station is the busiest in Scotland and second-busiest UK station outside of London after Birmingham New Street. As you can tell, it has an endearingly Victorian dated look to it. [Taken 29 Jul 2011]

    A panoramic view of the Scottish west coast taken from Armadale on the Isle of Skye, within the grounds of a castle and gardens that once belonged to Clan Donald, one of the largest Scottish clans. [Taken 30 Jul 2011]

    Portree, the largest town in the Isle of Skye. Population: 2500. The scene of a beautiful wedding earlier in the day when the sun was shining, the men were wearing kilts and we were led by a bagpiper. [Taken 30 Jul 2011]
    mcgillianaire: (Lock Stock Still-frame)

    I've recently acquired a taste for Bloody Marys to recover from a night of heaving drinking but I was sober when I had this one. It was on an US Airways flight from Detroit to Washington DC. [26 May 2011]

    20 More Hungry Pics )
    mcgillianaire: (Scale of Justice)

    You can click on the image for a bigger view. [Taken Sat 28 May 2011]

    As taken from Brown University's website:
      "The Baccalaureate Service, with roots in medieval academic tradition, honors the achievements of the candidates for the bachelor’s (“bacca”) degree by presenting them with the laurels (“lauri”) of oration. Brown’s baccalaureate tradition derives from the immense range of religious, ethnic, geographic, linguistic, and musical traditions present within the campus community. The ceremony includes rituals, readings, and prayers from Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, Christianity, Buddhism and animist traditions, as well as choral and instrumental music, the Chinese lion dance, poetry, dance, and Taiko and Senegalese drumming.

      The service is conducted in the Meeting House of the First Baptist Church in America, completed in 1775 “for the Publick Worship of Almighty God, and also for holding Commencement in.” Significant portions of the University’s Commencement ceremonies have been held in the church ever since."

    As family we witnessed the ceremony from College Green on the main campus. It took place at the same time as the European Cup Final between Barcelona & Man United, but I chose to stay until the end of the Baccalaureate address that was delivered by Kenneth Roth, a 1977 Brown graduate and human-rights crusader. He has been the executive director of Human Rights Watch since 1993 and he spoke about "Finding Your Way When There Are No Rules" by "explaining what human rights' work and the Arab Spring say about making one's way in the world." Even though all the goals had been scored by the time I left, the talk was worth it.
    mcgillianaire: (Default)

    I recently shared a link about my sister from Brown's alumni magazine. It's now featured on the university's main page (centre-right) and will remain there for about a week, woohoo!
    mcgillianaire: (Default)
    This article appeared in the latest edition of Brown's Alumni Magazine. It's about my sister and her academic and work experiences at university. She graduated last week and we're very proud of her!
    mcgillianaire: (Royal Coat of Arms)
    As much as I don't want to care about it the fact is I do. I maybe proud to call myself a dyed-in-the-wool Republican, but you can't take away the fact that as nauseating, outdated and wasteful these extravagant occasions are, pageantry is something we Brits do well. It's in our blood, or at least among those in the line of succession. It's part of our cultural heritage, a ceremony dating back centuries and as British as roast beef. When it comes to the Royal Family this lot know how to put on a good show. And tomorrow will be no different. There's even a good chance of rain just for good measure. I wish the newly-weds-to-be all the best in life.

    PS: Just seen an amusing headline in Google News: The best spots to watch the royal wedding in the UAE ... I never realised the view from the Burj Khalifa was that good! (Should've gone to Specsavers)

    PS 2: Dad says he bought his first TV in the UK to coincide with the last major Royal Wedding in July 1981 between Charles and Diana. Dad had just been appointed Registrar at the hospital he was working at (incidentally, the one just down the road from where I'm typing these words) and wanted to splash out. It was no ordinary Sony TV for it was being used till even a couple months ago by our housemaid in Oman! As they say, old is gold.
    mcgillianaire: (Changing Guard London)
    Last night was the deadline to enter the ballot for obtaining tickets at next year's event. My dad, sis and I have applied for tickets to the Opening Ceremony, Badminton Semifinals, Men's 100m Final (includes Men's 100m Semis, Women's Triple Jump Final, Men's Hammer Throw Final, Men's 400m Final, Women's 400m Final and Men's 3000m Steeplechase Final) and the Women's Individual All-Around Artistic Gymnastics Final. I have also made a separate application with a couple mates for tickets to the Men's Football Final at Wembley and a Ground Pass to the Tennis First-Round at Wimbledon. I doubt we'll get it all but I'll take anything! I just can't wait for it! :)
    mcgillianaire: (Ari G)

    Ignore the date on the picture. I grew up thinking it was the 24th but it's actually the 21st.
    mcgillianaire: (Default)

    You know you live in this country when the station master announces the passing through of a steam train. I only wish I had a camera to capture the beauty. There were at least two dozen enthusiasts/hobbyist photographers who arrived at the station just to snap a shot. I got chatting with the chap next to me and he said there's at least one special service every month. The carriages reminded me of the ones still used in India and I was surprised how many were sat inside. This particular beast was built in 1937 and had an Art Deco style to it. Nearly four years in this country and the first time I've seen a steam train in service. The only time I've travelled by one is in India, the Nilgiri Mountain Railway, an UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was built by the British in 1908 and is by a long distance the most picturesque railway journey I've ever completed in my life. My dad was lucky because he travelled by it for nearly a decade while at boarding school. The train I saw today was on its way to Edinburgh, a mere eleven hour journey. Apparently there was another one that left Euston earlier in the day for Chester. The chap next to me got a tip off for both. He was surprised there was only one other person at Euston and he was kind enough to point out the optimal vantage point from which to photograph it. And I've looked the site up where all these services are listed and turns out they're a lot more frequent than I expected. There's several travelling every week. Needless to say, the bucket list just got bigger!
    mcgillianaire: (Default)
    Have any of you read the Matthew Shardlake Series by British historian/solicitor C J Sansom set in Tudor London? A friend of mine got the middle three books for Christmas (I think) and lent me one of them. Absolutely loving it but I decided to buy the first book titled Dissolution so that I could read them in order. I haven't read a novel in years but I'm confident of breaking the rut with this lot. And hopefully it'll inspire me enough to read others too.
    mcgillianaire: (Default)

    Dad sent this picture from his recent trip to Kuala Lumpur. Lord Muruga is the most important Hindu God for Tamils, who make up a sizeable minority of the Malaysian population (roughly 1.4 million or 5% of the total). This statue of Lord Muruga was unveiled in January 2006 and took three years to construct. At 43m (140ft) high it is the world's tallest statue of Lord Muruga and is located outside Batu Caves, thirteen kilometres north of Kuala Lampur (the capital of Malaysia). According to Wiki, the statue "is made of 1550 cubic metres of concrete, 250 tonnes of steel bars and 300 litres of gold paint brought in from neighbouring Thailand." The Batu Caves temple complex consists of three main caves and a few smaller ones. The biggest, referred to as Cathedral Cave or Temple Cave, has a 100 m-high ceiling and features ornate Hindu shrines. To reach it visitors must climb a steep flight of 272 steps. The cave is the focal point of the Hindu festival of Thaipusam in Malaysia that is celebrated mainly by Tamils. The festival falls on the full moon in the Tamil month of Thai (January/February).
    mcgillianaire: (Football player)
    Earlier today Mohamed Bin Hammam (of Qatar) confirmed he would be challenging incumbent FIFA president Sepp Blatter at the scheduled upcoming presidency election on 1 June. He made the announcement in Kuala Lumpur where he was attending the 4th Asian Football Confederation Conference on Science and Football Medicine. As it happens my dad is also attending the conference and just before Bin Hammam made official his bid for the presidency, he delivered a speech at the conference. Dad was quite impressed with the chap's polished performance. The previous conference was held in Oman in 2005 which my dad helped organise, while the first two editions were held in Japan and Malaysia. Dad enjoys these conferences because of the practical application of the issues considered. For instance in 2005 they discussed the effect of fasting during the month of Ramadan on players and the use of MRIs to determine the real age of players before tournaments. This year he took particular interest in the presentation by a large delegation of Swiss and Kiwi sports medicine specialists from a well-known orthopaedic hospital in Qatar on the effect of playing football in an extreme environment. Given that Qatar will be hosting the 2022 FIFA World Cup during the summer when temperatures will regularly exceed 45°C (113°F), it is worth noting that the specialists suggested matches could be called off once temperatures exceeded 33 or 34 degrees itself. Which means one of two things. Either the climate-controlled stadiums HAVE to be developed or the World Cup has to be moved to the winter. There is no alternative. Fills you up with hope, doesn't it? The other interesting presentation was on the contribution of medical science to the development of straight red card offences in football such as the tackle from behind in 1998 and the elbow in the face in 2007. Tomorrow he will be attending an interesting session on stem cell research in football medicine. Other events include hands-on clinical workshops on genetic applications, muscle/cartilage tissue repair, the continuing issue of "age doping" and the role of Platelet Rich Plasma (PRP) Injection Therapy*.

    Surprisingly, this is my dad's first visit to Malaysia since our family trip in 1989! I say that because he has travelled extensively in the region, particularly to Thailand and Hong Kong. The only countries he hasn't visited in the region are Indonesia, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. However he's loving being back in Malaysia, with its rich mix of the local Bahasa people and culture, ancient Sanskrit influences, Tamils, Chinese and moderate Islam. He liked the fact that he could easily buy booze in a local market, even though it's a Muslim-majority nation. The food? Exquisite. And unlike Sri Lanka, their Tamils speak the way we do in India. Malaysia, truly Asia indeed.

    (* Platelet Rich Plasma also known as PRP is a new field in Orthopaedic & Sports Medicine, using your own blood (Autologous) for healing muscle, tendon and ligament injury.)
    mcgillianaire: (Portcullis Logo)
    Before becoming the first Maori Speaker of the New Zealand House of Representatives in 1993, Sir Peter Tapsell (no, not that one) was an orthopaedic surgeon. Along with Jacques Rogge, the current president of the International Olympic Committee, they are the only ortho surgeons that I know of in the higher echelons of power. There is hope and proof yet for my dad to forge a successful political career in sports medicine. Curiously enough, British Tory MP and current Father of the House, Sir Peter Tapsell was born just eleven days after his Kiwi namesake. But he's not a medical practitioner.
    mcgillianaire: (Default)

    It started yesterday in Oman. And a Muslim classmate from high school came home to visit. It was still mid-afternoon. Barely seconds after wishing him a generous month of fasting, I went back into auto-pilot and asked him what he would like to drink. Naturally he refused but he was kind enough to stop me before it became too embarrassing. Not that he minded much. But still. Schoolboy error. And I shouldn't make excuses, but I'm pretty sure this is my first Ramadan in Oman since we were in high school. Though truth be told, he really should've taught me a lesson and played along.

    Posted via

    mcgillianaire: (Default)
    My dad is on a flight to Heathrow. He was a bit worried listening to the Beeb this morning, but from most reports it shouldn't affect London. Several airlines have cancelled blocks of flights across the UK. I don't think we'll see a return to the six days last month when about 95,000 flights were cancelled at a cost to the the airlines of more than $1 billion. In light of this, it's worth thinking about whether there is a limit to the price of safety. Peter Singer, an Australian professor of bioethics at Princeton University has written about this in The Guardian:
      "Indeed, in closing their skies, European governments seem to have given safety absolute priority over everything else. Yet none of them act on that principle in other areas. Some 3,000 people die on the world's roads every day. Cutting speed limits to, say, 10km per hour would prevent most accidents and save many lives. We don't do it, because we give safety a lower priority..."
    It's a very interesting and thought-provoking article. It got me thinking, what price would you put on safety? $1.5 million? $5.8 million?


    mcgillianaire: (Default)

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