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Bill Gates Has an Idea for a History Class (nytimes.com)
181 points by walterbell on Sept 5, 2014 | hide | past | web | favorite | 119 comments



"To his bafflement and frustration, he has become a remarkably polarizing figure in the education world."

There's kind of a reason for this. If you're going to spend hundreds of millions of dollars promoting a specific academic agenda, one even more focused on the standardized testing that parents, students, and teachers alike tend to loath, and geared towards preparing kids for jobs rather than educating them (look at English in common core where now 70% of what students are supposed to read is not classic literature, plays, poetry, contemporary fiction, but newspaper articles and speeches and the like), he should at least educate his own kids in that way. Instead he seems to defy his own investment by sending his children to a school that emphasies no testing, a big focus on the classics and letting kids do their own thing and become well rounded.

As a student of history this sort of line of thinking looks interesting, though I wouldn't want to replace our entire history curriculum with it. Perhaps as an elective, though at this point Bill attempting to touch education is just asking for trouble...


> in common core where now 70% of what students are supposed to read is not classic literature, plays, poetry, contemporary fiction, but newspaper articles and speeches and the like

A brief clarification: That 70% figure applies across all academic subjects in grades 6-12, not English classes. (It's 50-50 in K-5). If one supposes a student reads 90% informational text in science and math class, and perhaps 60-70% informational in history class, that leaves room for English class to be composed primarily of literature.

This is one of the most misunderstood parts of the CCSS, and I think it's because the authors did not clearly communicate it at all. The introduction discusses the fact that the NAEP framework makes a 70/30 split, but only clarifies the nature of the split in a footnote[1]. It's unfortunate it's been poorly communicated, but the misconception should be corrected. Quoting from said footnote:

"The percentages on the table reflect the sum of student reading, not just reading in ELA settings. Teachers of senior English classes, for example, are not required to devote 70 percent of reading to informational texts. Rather, 70 percent of student reading across the grade should be informational."

[1] http://www.corestandards.org/wp-content/uploads/ELA_Standard...

(Disclaimer: I work at Amplify, an education technology company. This post reflects my own views, not theirs.)


Wow, small world. I just finished writing the code to handle LMC items from Amplify o.o


It is not true that any education solution that works for Bill Gates' family will work at scale across a hugely diverse population. It's possible --- likely, in fact --- that it's impossible to effectively (and cost-effectively) deliver the education Gates' kids get to the entire country.

With that in mind, I'm not sure how Gates' own school selection impacts his ideas about education. It seems rather like it has nothing at all to do with his ideas, in which case the appeal to Gates' own actions is fallacious.

Where do I have this wrong?


I've read interviews previously where Gates has spoke wonders of the benefits of the school allowing kids more freedom for things like coding, of a well-rounded background in things like English as opposed to using the class more for non-fiction purposes, etc. This is in regards to his own education at that same institution. So my point is essentially that his ideas about what helped lead to his own success, and the educational model he likely believes will be good for his own children, differs fairly substantially from what he funds for the majority of the country.

I do agree that a single solution is not the answer, but the issue is that Common Core actually is much more along the lines of creating a one size fits all model, rather than a community focused model. Much of what Common Core focuses on is actually being very well received in some areas, particularly in low-income, 'troubled' schools. However, the problem is that it is being applied, and that it is being preached by Gates and others, to the entire country, where kids with a more stable environment don't benefit as much from the same structure.


Gates' kids are probably exceedingly smart. Giving them freedom is probably a good idea. Giving the average high schooler freedom is definitely /not/ a good idea.


Aren't we talking about giving the average high-schooler freedom to pursue a broader range of educational opportunities - sure, don't let them choose dope smoking per se as a school subject but letting them choose to engineer a bong shouldn't necessarily be frowned on provided they pursue educational aspects (production skills, design skills, engineering aspects, science aspects, etc.) and their parents sign off on it (negotiation skills right there!).

If they want to draw dickbutts then let them, but they have to use blender and do a stop-motion including some entirely virtual elements, or program a laser cutter, or write a paper on what compels adolescents towards such things, the history of dickbutt, interview a famed dickbutt drawer, etc., etc..

Want to shoot hoops in the yard all day, well OK but you have to teach this group of younger kids how to do it; write a paper on the best 3 point scorers in history including what you consider to be the things that made them great, include a review of their career earnings expressed as an expected lifetime per annum gross.

You give them freedom to decide the arena and tools to educate themselves but limit them on the details that ensure it's an educational experience. Problem with this - resources, teachers who know enough to support the particular interests of the child.


What about the unidentified high school kid who will be the next Gates or Jobs? Let's not repeat La Serrata of Venice.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Serrata_del_Maggior_Consiglio

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Council_of_Venice


Perhaps it's already too late --with US inequality having risen up to gilded-age levels, as it has, for over a generation now.


As long as parents and teachers are free to invest their resources into one vision over another, it's never too late to measure competing visions of measurement.


Assuming we can meaningfully measure competing visions of measurement.

The turtles, all the way down, they burn!


And who decides which kids are smart and deserve the Gates-style education? Should schools start segregating kids' education according to measured intelligence levels, perhaps?


Well, you could let their parents decide, as is the norm in many countries. I'm not saying that's good, though. What I'm saying is that even freedom is not a one-size-fits-all.


Given the scaling issues you mention I wouldn't say that Gates' school selection is definitive, but I'd also say it's far from irrelevant. The fact that his revealed preferences differ from his expressed ones seems like a fairly relevant data point. The level of influence he's attempting to have on education given that he has (quite deliberately) no skin in the game is at least somewhat troubling.


Can you see why people would be frustrated by Gates spending so much money to mandate a form of education for the commoners while providing his own children with something that he presumably considers to be much better? Consider especially that the Common Core is regarded by many as contrived and stifling while a more "free" curriculum allows children to put more of their efforts towards things they care about and have talents for.

I'm not trying to present a qualified opinion on why one approach is better than the other or even to describe them in much accuracy-- just trying to provide the perspective of those who are upset.


Commons sense has been brainwashed out of people by popular culture and marketing. You know "I'm not only the hair club for men's President, I'm also a customer" or a car company CEO driving their own cars (no matter what those cars are and no matter what their income is).

Obviously there is a difference I mean the exec's at McDonalds are most likely not eating McDonalds all the time or perhaps not even part of the time (no citations obviously, just common sense).

Look, people weren't even able to accept that Potus would not send their kids to DC public schools. Everybody is equal and all of that.

It's not surprising that people feel this way. It's actually more surprising how simple minded some people are to believe that there isn't a difference and buying into some idea that all people are equal.


(look at English in common core where now 70% of what students are supposed to read is not classic literature, plays, poetry, contemporary fiction, but newspaper articles and speeches and the like)

Maybe I'm misunderstanding, but are you implying that this is a bad thing? Don't get me wrong; I'm a voracious reader and I love the classics, Shakespeare, poetry, and all the like. They should certainly be taught in English classes, however you seemed to imply that the other things listed don't have a place in English class.

I think that newspaper articles can give great insight into how to read and interpret news and information, how to be aware of biases in journalism, and how to write journalistically. As for speeches, I think rhetoric is also a fantastic skill to learn. People should know how to listen to a speech, understand a politician, and learn to speak publicly. Public speaking skills provide a whole slew of benefits both in the workforce and in life, with confidence being a big one.

Yes, perhaps rhetoric, public speaking, debate, argumentation, journalism, and the like shouldn't have heavy focus in a common-core, freshman English class, but I think they should certainly be touched on. There are some very important life and work skills in there, and it would be a shame not to give everyone a little taste of them.


Your last paragraph pretty much sums it up. They should be touched on and are of course very important. Sheltgor is saying they are going far beyond this at the expense of literature.


Exactly this. From what I recall, and from what I hear from several relatives and acquantances who have been teaching for years, is that traditionally the ratio was roughly 70-30 'fiction'-'non-fiction; the latter being novels, poems, plays, etc. ranging from classical to contemporary sources, the former being speeches, news articles, think pieces, analysis of literary or rhetorical techniques, etc. Common core essentially reverses this, putting a much higher emphasis on what the group of reformers behind if feel are more practical, and importantly which contribute more to test scores, whereas many teachers vigorously oppose the notion that the latter sources should be given precedence. At least in my own readings on the matter, and from speaking with individuals who are involved with the movement in the Seattle School District to block implementation of a lot of the new measures, educators tend to feel that the older ratio contributes better to a well-rounded individual, and has a better impact on long-term educational development.


I think that what constitutes being well-rounded is somewhat subjective. It would certainly be lovely to have a society full of people that can appreciate poetry, can quote and enjoy Shakespeare, etc, but there is a point to be made about teaching kids how to be successful. Part of success is being able to make enough of a living to be comfortable. Yes, part of it is also being happy and understanding the world, which reading the classics contributes to, but I don't know if I agree with that 70/30 ratio.

One criticism of some schools with very classical education is their lack of preparation for the "real world". Many schools didn't bother teaching computer skills until years after the rest of the world had started, despite having the means (i.e. money) to do so. Learning the classics, learning Latin, and learning poetry can make someone an excellent guest at a dinner party, and that's great, but I think the average person would be better off with a little more practicality.

Einstein said, "Education is what is left after you've forgotten everything you've learned." Isn't it all about teaching a sort of... meta-skill? Teaching people to learn how to learn? When they no longer remember what Lord of the Flies was about or not being able to recite The Raven, they should still be able to retain the skills required to go back, look at the writing, and figure it out again. I would argue that it should be the same for things like rhetoric. When you're 26 and you have to give a speech at work for the first time in ten years, you should remember some stuff from high school. You may forget the lame topic you were assigned to give a speech on, and you may forget what sources you used, but the skills of doing that research, preparing that speech, and talking in front of others all helped you. Not only do they help with that speech at work, but also in normal, everyday conversation. I really think there's a good case here for teaching some more practicality, despite my love of all the things I learned in my English classes.

Of course, it should be noted that I am not in the educational field and I am a complete layman on this topic.


Education should be useful though a lifetime, and the classics seem to become more important as we get older. Perhaps there should be more time devoted overall to English, so that it can all be covered- both practical English, as well as literature. I'm not sure how many hours of English American students take, but when I was in high school, we had time for Shakespeare, poetry and novels. We also did lots of speeches, debating, plays, formal writing and language (grammar). The school I attended in the 90's was quite average for its time (but by modern abysmal South African education standards, it would probably have been considered excellent).

Until I turned 30 I never understood the point of learning poetry in school. My mother got ill, and I recalled the poem "Do not go gentle into that good night" by Dylan Thomas, and it helped me make sense of my feelings. When politicians equivocate, I am reminded of a core theme in Macbeth. I have never discussed Macbeth at dinner, but it helped me understand an important aspect of the world. My English teachers helped give me a framework for understanding as an adult, though their analysis of the literature we studied. I taught myself computers at home, and studied CS at university, but I am glad that we did an intensive study of the English language in high school. School is the last opportunity for many people, particularly those who are technically inclined, like me, to be exposed to the humanities, and without it, we are at risk of being stunted as adult citizens. (Incidentally, it has been pointed out that many modern terrorists have engineering backgrounds- perhaps it is even more important for us to be exposed to the classics to help make sense of the world.)


I'm relatively young, so perhaps I'm just incapable of fully understanding the impact of the classics throughout the course of a lifetime as you describe it. I like poetry and Shakespeare and whatnot, and they have impacted me in some profound ways (Do Not Stand at My Grave and Weep when my grandma passed away) as well as things that taught me how read, write, and interpret things better. I'm also in a technical field, and at times I do find myself a bit envious of those in the humanities. I do supplement with books and poetry and whatnot, and I'm very proud to have a skill set which is valuable and a field which fulfills me, but the humanities have always felt like a hobby. A hobby I love, mind you, but still just a hobby. I don't know how things will play out, but I hope I'll wind up well-rounded, with plenty of soft skills, technical skills, entertainment, and things to ponder.


At age 10, I would have liked to know that poetry, cryptography, geometry, music, art and architecture were related. We need more transdisciplinary research and role models like Charles Peirce, http://peirce.org/

"Who is the most original and the most versatile intellect that the Americas have so far produced? The answer "Charles S. Peirce" is uncontested, because any second would be so far behind as not to be worth nominating. [He was] mathematician, astronomer, chemist, geodesist, surveyor, cartographer, metrologist, spectroscopist, engineer, inventor; psychologist, philologist, lexicographer, historian of science, mathematical economist, lifelong student of medicine; book reviewer, dramatist, actor, short story writer; phenomenologist, semiotician, logician, rhetorician and metaphysician.

He was, for a few examples, the first modern experimental psychologist in the Americas, the first metrologist to use a wave-length of light as a unit of measure, the inventor of the quincuncial projection of the sphere, the first known conceiver of the design and theory of an electric switching-circuit computer, and the founder of "the economy of research." He is the only system-building philosopher in the Americas who has been both competent and productive in logic, in mathematics, and in a wide range of sciences. If he has had any equals in that respect in the entire history of philosophy, they do not number more than two."


Who gets to decide which news sources the kids are exposed to? Should they get one with a liberal slant? Conservative? Libertarian?

Also, teaching kids to read the news somehow implies that an adult needs the news.

Many (not all) of the intellectuals I've run into in the valley, Berkeley and the city are now unplugging from the news specifically because they've lost faith in it as an information source. Stated directly, "freedom of the press" is the theory yet corporate controlled media is the implementation. It's the distribution channels that are highly controlled.

And yes, exposing children to the news is a horrible idea.


In general, exposing children to the world is a horrible idea. But what are we going to do, shelter them forever?

Sheltering children from news media because they are "corporate controlled" would go about as well as sheltering them from sex, I fear. Sooner or later they will find out the wild outside world exists.


It's the difference between teaching someone how to work around contemporary limits in programming framework du jour, vs. teaching them about timeless algorithm design and data structures.

Great literature is timeless and says more about our wild world than any "non-fiction" permitted by incumbent power structures du jour.


No, I have no objections to Great literature, but let's not pretend that Shakespeare can say more about our world than this week's TIME, for instance.

Understanding today's news is a vital skill for survival. You could complain all about "incumbent power structure" controlling our media (which is rather strange... how come _you_ have no problem saying these things? Are you somehow outside the influence of the power structure?), but our everyday life (from finding out upcoming road closures to deciding whether California should reduce water usage) depends on knowing what's happening around us.

Sure, it's very important to view the information critically, but you can't criticize what you don't know. Get rid of the mainstream information source, and you frequently end up with worse source of information, like moon landing hoaxers, antivaxxers, and 9/11 conspiracy theorists. (Well, these people also think the mainstream news is beyond redemption and only they know the truth. Shoving CNN through their throats may be actually doing them some favor.)


Nobody is arguing that reading the news critically isn't an important skill and that it shouldn't be taught in school. But when you declare that it's unambiguously more important than Shakespeare, you're moving onto thin ice. The reason we're reading and loving Shakespeare rather than whatever 17th century equivalent of Time magazine we might be able to get our hands on, is that the former teaches us deep, profound and timeless lessons on human nature, especially the dark sides. Few things will teach you more about reading the news than Macbeth, but reading the news alone won't even begin to do the opposite.


That, and calling Time "the news" is yet another variety of thin ice.


> let's not pretend that Shakespeare can say more about our world than this week's TIME, for instance.

And let's not pretend that reading astute commentaries on the fundamentals of human nature will say any less about our world than would a publication that needs to keep advertising dollars coming in while remaining harmonious with present political echo chambers.


When deciding how much credence to grant one journalistic outlet over another, it is useful to benchmark with an event where you have first-hand experience of the reported event.

Those who can compare their first-hand observations with the reported news are often surprised. If you've not had this personal experience, an alternative would be to read classic books by Edward Bernays (father of PR) or Ryan Holiday (2012), http://www.huffingtonpost.com/thomas-church/ryan-holiday-tru...


A child needs to learn fundamentals that they can later build upon to develop their own thoughts, ideas, and conclusions.

I strongly believe that the point of education is to provide children with the thinking ability to come to their own conclusions.

The ability to think, to solve problems, to find solutions is what will enable them to build the future.

In terms of the news specifically it spoon feeds conclusions and is largely biased. The bias part is largely agreed to. The debate is which way the bias leans.


So the intellectuals that are following the news have moved out of the Valley?


I'd say newspaper articles and speeches would tend to be US centric but classical books and literature would expose student to views from outside the US.


True, but only because the US is to young to have classics. Our idea of classics is still heavily European; although diversity through time is still diversity.


As I understand it, the basis for the Gates Foundation position on education is that education produces measurable outcomes, so communities should actually measure those outcomes, and then use that data to improve education.

I think that point of view should be right at home here on HN. I bet most of us believe that measurement, testing, and iterative development are helpful in producing a good product or service. However, most of the U.S. education does not work that way, and parts of it (teachers' unions) are actively hostile to it.

Some schools produce outcomes that are so good that they are "visible to the naked eye". You don't need sophisticated testing regimes to know that Phillips Andover or Bronx Science produce strong graduates. It's no surprise that the richest man in the world has picked one of those schools for his children. You probably would too, if you could.

But, most people can't--they rely on public education. And in the U.S., most school districts produce outcomes that are not obviously good, or in some cases are obviously bad. In those situations, a clear set of standards and measurements seem to me like something worth trying.

Many teachers don't like it because it puts their jobs at risk, potentially based on outcomes that they have little control over (educational outcomes appear to depend heavily on outside factors). They are also worry that the curriculum will be developed by administrators who don't actually know anything about teaching.

Parents don't like it because new currulica don't match what they learned in school as kids. Forgive my bluntness, but I think that is stupid. If there is a better way to do things, we should change.

Students, many of them, don't like changes that make them work harder in school. Personally, I'm not very sympathetic to that either.


> I think that point of view should be right at home here on HN. I bet most of us believe that measurement, testing, and iterative development are helpful in producing a good product or service

Yeah, until we start trying to measure programmer output and then it's all on about how impossible special snowflakes are to measure.


Actually that seems like a very insightful analogy to me.


One of the big issues with the testing argument is that, the way common core is implemented at least, it produces no real meaningful change from past failed testing initiatives like NCLB.

An increased emphasis on tests sadly tends to lead to teaching to the test. I experienced this in the early days of NCLB even in a gifted and talented program where several weeks leading up to the test ate up time outside of normal class in order to prepare for the battery of standardized tests that had little relevancy to much of what went on in the classroom. In schools where instruction is already poor, it tends to take even more focus away and devote it towards this specific niche.

The other big issue is more one with common core's implementation itself where Pearson has ultimate control over the incredibly lucrative market, and the various contractors they are working with tend to do a fairly shoddy job of it. Test question writing has devolved to such a poor point, due to endless cheapening and outsourcing in order to lower costs, that a question on a major test may net the writer a few dozen dollars. Forgive the anectodal evidence, but my mother worked for a long period as a freelance writer, and when she considered going back to it recently she discovered that many of the questions, ones that have an enormous impact on education, are going for a pittance. Further, in her current occupation teaching adult basic ed and GED prep (they have to work towards common core too), much of the official testing materials and prep questions for educators have been so poorly designed that neither the students nor the teachers can understand them.

So yes, quantitative measurements can certainly be a good thing in order to help support improvement, but the current testing model is horrendously broken and moving further towards it is not really the right way to go.


Common Core actually does not stipulate any particular implementation in terms of curriculum or testing. It is simply a set of standards for educational achievement that the states have agreed upon. So for example it would say that a high school graduate should be capable of solving a particular equation. It is up to each state (or district) to figure out how to teach that knowledge, and how to measure it.

Most states have not even really started to do that yet. What we have now are a few commercial companies who are rushing shit products out the door with a "Common Core" sticker slapped on them, and the world is judging the entire concept based on these crappy products. See for example:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/ed/2014/06/03/318228023/the-common-...

> An increased emphasis on tests sadly tends to lead to teaching to the test.

This is not a dependent relationship; it is a choice. It is up to administrators and teachers to decide how curricula are designed and teachers teach.

The idea that setting standards automatically results in worse performance would not make sense in any other context; yet it's taken as a given in education.


I think my biggest issue is that standardized testing is loved so much because it appears to work.

UK has significantly higher graduation rates for both High school and for college than the US, and the UK just loves its standardized testing (it's where I grew up).

It's great in that those who would be under-performers are held to a higher standard than they otherwise would be. There's no getting a free pass for playing sports. The year I graduated high school, my school ranked as one of the top 5 in the UK public school system (it was also the only one that the examiners made no mention of ways to improve, meaning it was likely the top school in the country) and I didn't even know we had a football (soccer) team that competed against other schools. In fact, the only competition I was aware my school entered for sports was the cross country marathon because one of our class members (son of two Kenyan immigrants, no one was surprised as he used to lap us in track and field) won the competition.

However, it's bad in that the over-performers are held to no standard whatsoever. I was an over-performer. I got one of the highest grades in class and did nothing, didn't hand in homework because anything that was to the standardized test I aced. One of my elementary school teachers thought I was slow and wanted me to get tested for dyslexia or other learning disorders and said I would fail the Key Stage 1 tests. I was 3rd in my class. The bar was so low that me and my "nerdy" friends in high school barely worked in classes. My chemistry class we would be finished our work within 20 minutes and spend the rest of the class talking with the teacher.

There was no drive to excel. There was no "this kid's smart, lets focus on him more". I passed so they didn't give a fuck, it meant they could spend more time on the dumb kids and subsequently boost their budgets.


Of course. Testing always appears to work, if there is no reliable way to measure the measurements. It's not specific to testing students.

If you benchmark on your bug count, it will go down, but there is no reason to believe quality will improve.

Regarding the over-performers in school, I've always had this idea that they should help teach in some way. It can give meaning to bored children in a way that few other things can.


This may even work when "teaching" an avatar, http://ideas.time.com/2011/11/30/the-protege-effect/

"how can children, still learning themselves, teach others? One answer: They can tutor younger kids. The benefits of this practice were indicated by a pair of articles published in 2007 in the journals Science and Intelligence. The studies concluded that first-born children are more intelligent than their later-born brothers and sisters and suggested that their higher IQs result from the time they spend showing their younger siblings the ropes."


I'm sorry - that doesn't sound like an inherent problem with the standard assessment system, it sounds like a failure in the school leadership team to inculcate a drive for excellence. At the end of Key stage 2 at primary school, you should have been entered for Level 6 tests in addition to the normal papers which max out at grade 5.

I'm surprised if your secondary school was examined by Ofsted, and found to be faultless - they are normally very hot on schools being able to engage talented and gifted. Although, as an independent, was it inspected?


Yes it was inspected, but funnily enough (thinking back over a decade here) I can't think of anyone being engaged to get them into anything to keep them advancing.

I think it could have gotten anomalously high because the next time it got tested it dropped drastically, although there was an exodus of the better teachers.

The whole thing had a startup getting its IPO feel. Once it got that report it took maybe two years for the best teachers to be gone and moved on to being department heads elsewhere.


This makes no sense. Most kids won't inherit millions of dollars with an incredible network of influentials.

If Gates pushed what was best for his kids to others we would have an uproar about the fact that most kids can't go from interest to interest with no concern for income at all.


I wish I could, as the son of two public school teachers, the husband of a public school teacher, and the father of a 1 month old who is already trying to figure out how to keep my kid out of public schools and away from the Common Core, upvote this 1000 times.


Bill Gates eats Salmon everyday, but his African food assistance programs don't provide Salmon everyday to everyone in Africa. Hypocrite!


Sci-Fi author L. Sprague de Camp's 1963 book, "The Ancient Engineers", is also worth a look, from early Egyptian engineering up to Galileo. From an Amazon review: “History, technology, culture, finance, and sociology intersect here. It’s not history from the top (kings and such, which some say is dry), nor history from the bottom (average people, which is necessarily endless and perhaps not very revealing). It’s history from the nuts-and-bolts middle–how structures were built, how materials were transported, how wars were fought. When you know this sort of foundational information, everything else becomes more real.”

Review: https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/l-sprague-de-camp...

Preview: http://www.amazon.com/Ancient-Engineers-L-Sprague-Camp/dp/03...

Excerpt: "Everybody has heard of Julius Caesar - but who knows about his contemporary Sergius Orata, the Roman building contractor who invented central indirect house heating? Yet Orata has affected our daily lives far more than Caesar ever did." (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sergius_Orata)


Here's the thing. History flatters who's in charge. In the age of emperors, kings, and noblemen, history was all about them. In the age of universal suffrage, history is about the common man. Recently, with the push of political correctness, there has been a push to focus historical research and teaching on women and minorities.

When will it be the turn of engineers and entrepreneurs -- the individuals who have in actuality moved mankind out of the caves and into skyscrapers? To our great shame, I can't say when that day will come. And I'm not holding my breath for it.


It's odd that you admit that history is generally biased towards the people who run things (mainly white males for pretty much all of European history), and then in the same breath decry attempts to move towards a more balanced portrayal. Do you think that women and minorities are now "in charge"?


I think that we should forget about "balanced portrayals" and instead laud the achievements of the human race: meaning, the inventions, innovations, and organizations that have moved mankind forward. And if some demographics are largely absent from this past, that's worth mentioning -- but not focusing on. Time is too valuable for that.


> if some demographics are largely absent from this past

Are they absent from the engineering past or only the recorded history? For example, much of modern technology involves mobility. Would it be useful to study the technology of mobile nomadic tribes? What was the historical equivalent of http://bulletjournal.com?

Or, Mayan civilization where Europeans destroyed all books, https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=8113410 "Unfortunately only 3 of these Mayan codices have survived (imagine inferring 1,000 years of Western civilization from a comic book, an almanac and a prayer book). Here are some of the codices which contain very accurate astronomical forecasts on Venus, Mars, eclipses and the sun"

In this map of 1492, http://press.princeton.edu/chapters/haywood/s4_9519.pdf, we see that http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tenochtitlan was the largest city-state in pre-Columbian Americas and the fifth-largest city in the world. Look at the size of the Aztec, Inca and Mayan civilizations. What could we learn from their science and engineering accomplishments?

We need more projects like Joseph Needham's Science and Technology in China, started in the 1950s and still ongoing, http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Science_and_Civilisation_in_C....


There are no constraints on history other than that it happened in the past. If a story hasn't been adequately told, it should be.


We need more media that compares competing histories. John Haywood's New Atlas of World History (10 pdf samples: http://press.princeton.edu/titles/9519.html) experimented with color-coded timelines & maps, e.g. history of global writing systems up to 1492, http://press.princeton.edu/chapters/haywood/s4c_9519.pdf


I disagree slightly. An additional constraint I would put is that there is enough time past for the historians to have a good view of the events (and their consequences). There is a lot of debate among historians (according to a historian friend of mine) about the legitimacy of historians specializing on "recent" history, because of the lack of distance and the inherent subjectivity (not that the distant past is any less subjective).


> enough time past for the historians to have a good view of the events (and their consequences).

One example is http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bury_My_Heart_at_Wounded_Knee


It seems like in high school you're more likely to miss out on recent history than have too much. Recent history is at the very end of the textbook/class and you're lucky if it doesn't get cut.


Considering David Christian's history for my own uses, I know little about the quality of his work besides his endorsement by Gates (who is very smart but not an expert in these fields). Before I spend a lot of time on Big History, does anyone know:

1) What is David Christian's professional reputation among his peers?

2) What do professional historians see as the strengths and weaknesses of Big History?

3) Does he really know enough about all these subjects to provide expert knowledge and analysis? Wouldn't it be better to have the evolution section taught by an evolutionary biologist?

If these questions are answered in the article, please forgive me. I skimmed it, but it's 12 pages (converted to PDF).


I personally took his Introduction to Big History course last semester and had him as a tutor so my experiences may be useful to you!

1) While I don't know a lot about academic circles from what I gathered his method of teaching history is seen as different but not at all bad, he has connections in other fields who seem to love what he's doing.

2) Can't really answer that unfortunately.

3) David Christian is interesting as he'll readily admit if he doesn't know something in a lot of detail. That said, I found his knowledge to be quite good across all of the history we covered and he answered student questions well, pulling on others with more knowledge if he was unable to fully explain something or was unclear. He does in fact enlist the support of other professors for teaching certain topics, the lecture of the formation of the Earth was given by a Geologist and Evolution was in part covered by Dr Greg Downey, an anthropologist.

I actually really enjoyed the course as, coming from an IT background, it was quite a bit more engaging and interesting and the group discussions in tutorials were very interesting with many good discussions had.


Any such broad overview will necessarily apply subjective filters & analysis. E.g. compare these two diagrams from 1931 and 2014:

4000 year histomap: http://www.slate.com/blogs/the_vault/2013/08/12/the_1931_his...

5000 year timeline: http://www.usefulcharts.com/history/timeline-of-world-histor...


Well, given limited time it is impossible to go both broad and deep, and he certainly seems to go broad. I don't think he needs to be an expert in anything, just a generalist.


This seems a lot like Burke's "Connections" series (which is very good).


Connections is a thought-provoking series, but I don't think it acknowledges how speculative it is, and by extension how speculative almost all historical explanations are.


Loved the series. To your point, Burke apparently has a pretty amazing track record:

https://audioboo.fm/boos/1574606-james-burke-predicted-the-f... (WARNING: webpage auto-plays an audio track of Burke)


I thought the same thing while reading the description of the lecture series. I loved Connections!



This approach reminds me of a course I took on Coursera a while ago called "A Brief History of Humankind": https://www.coursera.org/course/humankind

It is the best enrichment course I had ever taken. I wonder if the lecturer (Yuval Harrari) was influenced by this "Big History", or he arrived at this teaching method independently.


Isaac Asimov's nonfiction often took the historical, chronological approach to explaining any topic, from chemistry to Shakespeare. It becomes a story, and people are really good at understanding (and remembering) stories.

Maybe it shouldn't be framed as a "history class" though. It's really not "history, expanded." It's more like "The Big Picture, of Everything You're Learning."


it's always interesting to me that we (north americans in particular) seem to think that just because a person is rich, that they therefore:

- are interesting people

- are smart

- have opinions that are well founded and worth listening to

- are good leaders

- are role models

... moreso than people who are not rich


I think north Americans are looking for the secrets about how to be rich.


Reminds me of Carl Sagan's quote "To bake an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe"


It sounds more as if a history professor has an idea for a history class.

But Bill Gates has a lot of money, which means (apparently) that he's more worth paying attention to, regardless of the topic.


I took this unit last semester (at Macquarie University, with David Christian as my lecturer and tutor) and am happy to answer any questions you might have on teaching style or such. Personally I really enjoyed it and found it very thought provoking and interesting (history usually doesn't capture my attention as I like to see a broader view).


David Christian's concept, especially the "thresholds", reminds me of an excellent course[0]/book[1]/website[2] written/taught by the wonderful astrophysicist Eric Chaisson[3]. Not exactly focused on "history" in the traditional sense, but on the history of the universe, focusing on different "epochs", from the big bang, to present day and beyond. I highly recommend the readings (and the course for those who are monetarily and geographically able to do so [Boston area]).

[0] http://www.extension.harvard.edu/courses/cosmic-evolution-or... [1] http://www.amazon.com/Cosmic-Evolution-Rise-Complexity-Natur... [2] https://www.cfa.harvard.edu/~ejchaisson/cosmic_evolution/doc... [3] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eric_Chaisson


I've listened to Christian's audio classes. It is darn cool! You travel through all realms of knowledge. It celebrates evidence, reasoning and science. A simple audiobook is more intellectually stimulating than the excellent Cosmos Series. Man, if I had billions of dollars these would be the kind of things I'd love to spend my money on.


Well, I'm thoroughly convinced. I want to take this class!




The audio edition is cheaper through audible.com :

http://www.amazon.com/Big-History-Bang-Earth-Humanity/dp/B00...


Also available on the iTunes store


I took David Christian's unit last semester at university and had him as a tutor, it was probably one of the most interesting and thought provoking units I've taken! Feel free to ask any questions!


Isn't this how Steiner education works?


Is it possible for mods to make title less linkbaity? Even if the target's title is.


Every time someone complains on HN about "linkbait" I wonder if said article would have been discovered if a more pedestrian title had been used.

"How dare the author pique my interest with his verbal chicanery! A pox on thee!"


Could you suggest an alternate from the body of the article? How about this:

Article text: "$10 million that he has personally invested in the Big History Project" -> "Bill Gates personally invests $10 million in Big History Project"

Article text: "Barr allowed the Big History Project to replace World History, which is known as Global Studies in New York, as a required course." -> "Big History replaces World History in Brooklyn high school"


Why does it matter?


I'm not who you're responding to, but in general I think it's a good thing when the article title gives you an idea of its content.


I poke fun at the OP in my comment (as of right now) above, but to more seriously discuss what I brought up (would literal titles render quality content less discovered) but I have seen title changes on HN that made me glad I read the article before the title had been changed otherwise I would have missed it.

Edit: to further expand, there have also been articles I click through to with "linkbait" titles, that ended up being poorly written or not what I thought they were going to be about. I close them after a couple of paragraphs (and don't feel cheated or tricked). Were I on another community I might be more wary of links to crap but since HN tends to skew more towards quality stuff I'd rather let the "linkbait" if enough of the community thought it was good enough to get it to the front page. I get suitably more discriminating when browsing the New section.


Toss education into the private sector, problem solved. The market will sort out what education formats perform best - what else you guys want to talk about?


"The market" prioritizes short-term gains, and stratifies the wealthy and the impoverished. Allowing the market to work on products that amplify that stratification is inherently unstable.


I suggest the other top HN article today, https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=8274677 where the market is clearly rewarding the long term strategy of Amazon.

This applies to any stock with a high P/E ratio.

Also, anyone with a spare $100 can get started investing in securities.


The point of the article is that investment in Amazon is growing because Amazon has a business model built on stable infrastructure and expansion modeled as a large conglomerate of essentially separate business groups which distributes risk, and is thus better able to weather negative environments (see e.g. the stock's behavior during recent economic crises). It's being used as a hedge against volatility... in the short term. Because that's how markets operate. If you believed that you could make more money in the same amount of time elsewhere you would put your money there instead.

anyone with a spare $100

Being impoverished doesn't just mean that you're unlikely to have a spare $100 at any given time, it means that any negative life event is that much more likely to wipe out any savings you may have been able to accumulate, including an investment in securities.


Don't all people have an equal right to education?


You'd have to consult an attorney for a thorough answer, but my understanding is that US federal law requires public school districts (K-12) to provide an education for every eligible child. The ADA applies to children with disabilities, and districts must provide their special educational needs as much as can be done (there are limits of course but expectations are high).

Schools often don't look for kids who need beyond average services, and may defer, even resist doing so unless parents make a point of pushing the issue. I've known parents who have taken schools to court to get cooperation. Too bad that's necessary, schools invariably relent. It is the law.


Basic education is a right, and you have the freedom to pursue advanced education, often subsidized by the government.


Do you feel like you have a right to the same education as the best-educated person? I don't.


Why should they?


Education isn't a right. It is a choice.


Education is a human right. http://www.un.org/en/documents/udhr/index.shtml#a26

Of all of the countries that are top performing (as rated by NCEE), which have privatized school systems?

http://www.ncee.org/programs-affiliates/center-on-internatio...


I can tell with certainty that my kids do not have all that much choice when it comes to education. By the time they will be old enough to get that choice, their education will be mostly done thing.


>Education isn't a right. It is a choice.

That's a poorly thought out platitude. Plenty of rights are also choices such as the right to vote, to remain silent, to bear arms, to a trial by jury.


I just said its not a right. So to equate it to other rights doesn't make sense.


You said "Education isn't a right. It is a choice." By the pragmatics of English, this is reasonably interpreted as "Education isn't a right [because] it is a choice". Pointing out that other rights are choices refutes that. If it wasn't what you were trying to say, you should clarify.


No, it's your duty. Society suffers, in general, when people are not educated. We really should insist on requiring more of people.


You can say the same thing about public sanitation.


It's funny how the people who believe that the Invisible Hand of the Market will fix everything forever generally claim to be opposed to faith-based ideology.


Dunno, how's high school treating you?


This is what I've learned from this article:

* Dave Christian has Bill Gates' email address

* Dave Christian lectured at San Diego State University

After a minute of Google searching, I discovered that http://advancement.sdsu.edu/marcomm/experts/department/al_hi... lists d-------@mail.sdsu.edu as his email address.

This means that the sysadmins of mail.sdsu.edu have Bill Gates' personal email address. So if any of their IIS machines go down, they have the rare opportunity to complain directly to the man who started it. ;D


I know you can find it on Google and all, but I don't think it's appropriate to call out Dave's contact info publicly like this...


> I don't think it's appropriate to call out Dave's contact info publicly like this...

I do think it's appropriate to call out Dave's contact info publicly like this...

We have reached an impasse.


Is Bill Gates' email address secret? I just imagined he had a secretary go through it.


I dunno. It's probably something lame like bgates@microsoft.com :)


His current address is probably at his foundation.


Yes, I was using bgates@micrososft as an extreme example of predictable lameness.


Having a predictable email address is normally a good thing, I think.


Steve Jobs was steve@apple.com, right?


Possibly. Maybe I'll fire off a friendly email and start a conversation? :]


You'll need to route it via the Wayback Machine to get a response.




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