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What Unites People? The Real Moderate Agenda

By   Shlomo Maital

   It has been a long while since I wrote a blog about New York Times columnist David Brooks. Today’s NYT (Feb. 27) has a wonderful column, worth summarizing. The subject: What glues people together? And, based on this – what would a ‘moderate’ political agenda look like, neither extreme right nor extreme left?   In these days of vitriolic polarized toxic politics — moderate agendas seem either bland or non-existent.

   Here are Brooks’ four key elements of a moderate agenda – policies that bring us together.   The four super-glue elements that bind us together are: our children, our work, our communities, and our shared humanity.

  • Our children:   “Make sure children are educated by webs of warm relationships”
  • Our work: “Help people find vocations in which they can serve their communities”.
  • Our communities: “devolve power out of Washington (or your country’s capital city) to the local level”. All politics is local, it is said. But it is not. We can make it so.
  • Our shared humanity:   Let’s care about the elderly, the disabled, migrants, the ill, minorities…. People are basically good. Reject those who think and act otherwise. Reject politicians who seek power by appealing to base motives. Look for those who espouse good.

 

Can ‘left’ and ‘right’ unite under these ideas? Can this ‘center’ bring us together?

   It’s worth a try.

 

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Should We Teach Kids to Break the Rules?

By Shlomo  Maital     

              Library Lion

Library Lion

    In Michelle Knudsen’s book for children, “Library Lion”, 2006, illustrated by Kevin Hawkes,  the head librarian Miss Merriweather and Mr. McBee  kick Library Lion out of the library, because he roared.   And in the library, the rule is, you have to keep silent.  They come to realize that by sticking to the formal rules, McBee and Merriweather have made a mistake.  

  Sometimes, to do a good thing, you have to break the rules.  An Israeli theater group has now made a musical out of this story. 

    Here is a short passage:  One day a lion came to the library. He walked right past the circulation desk and up into the stacks.  Mr. McBee ran down the hall to the head librarian’s office.  “Miss Merriweather!” he called.  “No running”, said Miss Merriweather, without looking up.  “But there’s a lion!” said Mr. McBee. “In the library!”    “Is he breaking any rules?” asked Miss Merriweather. She was very particular about rule breaking.  “Well, no,” said Mr. McBee. “Not really”.   “Then leave him be.”

      As parents and teachers, we teach our kids to become ‘socialized’, which means, to learn the rules of civilized behavior in society.  Every society socializes its kids.  Without that, we would have a crumbling society of sociopaths. 

    The question is,   if creativity and innovation are about breaking the rules, can we teach kids to follow some rules and break others?  And can they learn to know the difference?    Can we raise good kids, well behaved, who at the same time rebel against rules, unwritten ones, and create wonderful new inventions?   Can you be totally socialized, and extremely creative? 

     Perhaps “Library Lion” is a wonderful start at grappling with these tough questions.  It is clear that doing so is long overdue.   A lot of parenting, and a great deal of schooling, are one-sidedly focused on teaching the rules, and not on when they might be, and should be, broken.   

The Second Machine Age: What It Means for You and Me and Our Kids

By Shlomo   Maital   

    smart machine

  Tom Friedman’s Global New York Times column, Jan. 13, is titled “If I Had a Hammer”.  It’s not about the folk singers Peter, Paul & Mary.  It’s about the Second Machine Age, and about the chess grandmaster Donner who was asked how to prepare for a chess match against a machine, like IBM’s Deep Blue computer. “I would bring a hammer,” he said. 

   Friedman reviews a new book by MIT Professors Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee,  The Second Machine Age.  According to them,  in the First Machine Age, 1700-1950,  each new invention made human control and human labor more important.  In the Second Machine Age, we are automating cognitive tasks.   Result:  humans, and software-driven machines, may be substitutes (i.e. enemies), not complements.  Machines are becoming exponentially smarter.  “Our generation will have more power to improve (or destroy) the world than any before, relying on fewer people and more technology”, Friedman concludes.

    What does this mean?  For one,  “we need to reinvent education so more people can ‘race with machines’, not race against them”. 

    This implies, I believe, that we must totally rethink how we teach kids.  The only advantage humans have over smart machines is in their imaginations. So teaching and fostering creativity will be a crucial component of how we educate our children in future.  It’s the only competitive advantage we have over machines.  The only think smart machines lack, and will always lack, is the human brain’s ability to imagine things that do not exist.   No machine yet has a ‘visual cortex’.    

Blog entries written by Prof. Shlomo Maital

Shlomo Maital
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