Gongol.com Archives: July 2023

Brian Gongol

July 25, 2023

News Legacy admissions

The news that the US Department of Education is opening an investigation into the practice of legacy admissions at Harvard is only one among an ongoing series of events that have focused attention on the practices of college admissions, particularly at brand-name universities. People have gone to prison over some of the unsavory behaviors the process has engendered. ■ For as much discussion as gets devoted to the admissions process, the news really should be an invitation to examine what actually makes a great education. For as much as the presence of widely-known professors contributes to the notoriety of a college or university, what makes for a well-known academic isn't necessarily the same as what makes for a great educator. ■ In fact, those things are often at odds. It is often the result of little more than a happy coincidence when a great researcher is also a great instructor. Content knowledge is merely one part of what matters in a classroom setting, and it's often not the most important aspect. Outside of those circumstances where a class is actually devoted to the cutting edge of research in a field, students would probably benefit more from the teaching of those with great pedagogical skill than those who know more about a subject than anyone else. ■ All other things being equal, the student in a well-established academic discipline would gain more utility from the instruction of someone with great teaching skill than anything else. If the tuition dollars are buying access to Accounting 101, Chemistry 201, or "Practices in Contemporary Modern English", then the student benefits most from how well they acquire and retain the fundamentals, rather than how close they can approach the outer limits of competency. ■ Access to elite institutions will always have some pull; whether it's the Ivy League or Oxbridge or the grandes ecoles of France, history suggests that people will always place a value on having an attractive pedigree. Yet history also lays plain that the vast majority of people benefit a great deal from the effective transmission of knowledge. Whether the investigation will uncover symptoms of a true scandal is yet to be seen, but it would certainly be a shame if we let talk of education's brand names overshadow a necessary examination of what higher education's rising costs actually buy.

News Things have gotten strange in China

The foreign minister has gone missing. Crackdowns are everywhere. The economy isn't growing like it used to. Party and personality alone are not enough to sustain a modern state.

Humor and Good News A fight to the death

Who, exactly, put the restaurants "La Vie" and "Mi Vida" next door to one another at the Wharf in Washington, DC?

Humor and Good News A human torpedo

Take just a step back to respect that 15'26" would be a brisk walking pace to cover 1500 meters, where a person's only resistance is air. Katie Ledecky just did that pace, but swimming in the water, crushing her nearest competitors by 17 seconds and sealing her status as a five-time world titleist in two different events. She's like a human torpedo.

Weather and Disasters 10 million people at risk

A big "enhanced risk" bubble has been drawn around large parts of Michigan, Indiana, and Ohio for severe weather hazards

Recent radio podcasts