Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Technology in the classroom: the subliminal effects of snazzy presentations

Every time my students present their end-of-semester projects, I'm confronted with the growing discrepancy between my rather bare bones Power Points and their much snazzier slides. My slides mainly organize content into a linear hierarchy of bullet points. Some of them also include illustrative pictures or diagrams, or links to videos and websites. But that's it. I use a simple black font on a white background, without special formatting, fades, or other effects, and no recurring icons like that doodling marker that accompanies so many K12 education presentations--including those of my students.

I eschew these special effects and formats not just because I can't be bothered to learn them, but because I find, at best, that they add little to the educational value of presentations, and, at worst, that they actually distract viewers away from content. As Dan Willingham has pointed out in Why Students Don't Like School, stuff that's intended to be attention-getting is often distracting instead.

One thought that distracted me as I viewed my students' presentations was whether these ever snazzier effects are subliminally affecting how engaging students think a presentation is--and how much educational value they think they've gotten out of it. Perhaps a presentation that is in fact more educationally engaging precisely because it lacks distracting special effects still comes across as less so.

This raises two profound philosophical questions.

1. Is actually learning more a good thing if the learners think they learned less?

2. What does this entail for (my) teaching ratings?

The conflation of exciting content and exciting presentation style is pervasive in education. Posters must be glittery and colorful, presenters must be dynamic and interactive, and classrooms must maximize the latest technology. The latest presentation technology--which many of my students were required to learn use this year in other education classes--is Prezi.

As Prezi's publicity explains:

With slides, your audience is forced to think inside the box, losing the big picture of your presentation. Prezi changes all that by giving you the ability to create zooming presentations, zooming out to see the big picture of how your ideas are related, and zooming into the details.
Prezi is also dizzying in all those zooms, as well as aggressively non-linear in its layout. Viewers can easily forget where they are in the linear or hierarchic progression of ideas (assuming there even is one).

People forget that the best presentation style is that which enhances rather than distracts away from content. Sometimes mastering content (and even being creative with it) means thinking inside the box. And a lot of content is chronologically or logically linear, doesn't translate into visual representations, and is best expressed in words or symbols arranged linearly on a simple, static, black on white background.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Videos in the classroom, revisited

Movies in English class; videogames in math class; there are all sorts of educationally wasteful ways in which today's preference for visual over verbal dynamics has overtaken K12 schools. But what about that most visual of all the core academic subjects? I'm thinking, of course, of science. Geology, biology, chemistry, physics, and astronomy: all of these are infused with complex systems of motion that defy easy verbal description. In science, of all subjects, videos could speak a thousand useful words, accelerating learning considerably.

Tracking down good videos is still tricky, but consider:

phases of the moon
plate tectonics
continental drift
the most recent ice age
glacial erosion
glacial deposits
the evolution of a river's course
electric motors and generators
basic chemical reactions
mitosis
and even (sort of) photosynthesis (here, here and here)

The possibilities are endless. What I've found on Youtube represents a tiny fraction of what could be. But as for K12 science classes, their learning materials, oddly, still mostly seem mired in static diagrams and tedious and unenlightening verbal explanations. Let's stop showing movies of Shakespeare plays in college prep English, and instead show lots of animations of cellular processes in college prep biology.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Math problems of the week: 4th grade Everyday Math vs. Singapore Math

Two ways to lead 4th graders to the formula for the volume of cuboids.

I. Everyday Math (Student Math Journal Volume 2, pp. 316-317) [click to enlarge]:



II. Singapore Math (Primary Mathematics 4B Workbook, p. 151) [click to enlarge]:

III. Extra Credit
Does it help the Everyday Math "discovery process" that "the tallest stack" in Box 6 is shorter than the box's height?

Monday, July 22, 2013

Icky stuff for dummies

From Portuguese Phrases for Dummies, Chapter 2 "Grammar on a Diet: Just the Basics:"

Ick. Grammar. Remember that word from high school? The way grammar is usually taught, you feel like you're doing math problems, not exploring fun cultural stuff.
It doesn't seem to occur to education types and book sellers that there are other sorts of people out there-- math types, linguist types, engineering types, etc., etc.-- who have very different tastes from they consider "popular."

Math problems are fun. Grammar is fun, too. And "exploring fun cultural stuff"--if it's all travel brochures and skits and tissue boxes--can be downright icky.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Making math fun

Plenty of the math exercises that are necessary for math mastery aren't much fun for anyone: namely, all those repetitive calculations that students go through in order to gain fluency in basic arithmetic. But once you've attained this, fun starts to emerge. Who (among those who have truly mastered basic arithmetic) hasn't enjoyed simplifying a messy sequence of fractions, reducing numerators and denominators and canceling things out? Who (among those who have truly mastered arithmetic and the beginnings of algebra) hasn't enjoyed simplifying a messy algebraic expression, combining like terms and grouping terms to fit abstract patterns like the difference of squares?

Some math problems, indeed, are appealing in exactly the same way the popular puzzles are. Consider, for example, KENKEN:


KENKEN, as the official directions explain, involves "filling in the grid with no repeats in any row or column using numbers from 1 to grid size" such that "the number in each heavily outlined set of squares must combine to produce the target number in the top corner using the mathematical operation indicated." For example, in this one, in row 1, you need to find two numbers between 1 and 5 that produce 2 when one is subtracted from the other and two other numbers between 1 and 5 that produce 2 when one is divided into the other, and then pick yet another number between 1 and 5 that will be one of three addends that sum to 9, etc., all the while ensuring that there are no repeats in any row or column.

This satisfaction of multiple operational constraints is just like what's involved in factoring a polynomial expression. Consider, say, 9x2 – 6x – 8: here you must find four numbers such that the product of two of them is 9, the product of the other two is eight, and when the product of one of the first pair and one of the second pair is added to the product of the other of the first pair and the other of the second pair the result is 8.

Then there are algebraic word problems, some of which are just like the verbal logic puzzles that plenty of people choose to do for fun. Here's one from the beginning of Wentworth's New School Algebra, published in 1898:
A man’s is four times as old as his won; in 20 years he will be only twice as old. Find the age of each.
Many Singapore Math bar modeling problems have a similar appeal, and they're similarly fun.

It seems to me that the best way to make math fun is not to have students dally around doing "playground math," but to help them master the rote aspects of arithmetic as quickly and efficiently as possible so they can move on to stuff like this. 

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Math problems of the week: 4th grade Everyday Math vs. Singapore Math

I. The final decimals problem set in the 4th grade Everyday Math Student Math Journal "Decimals and Their Uses" chapter [click to enlarge]:


II. The final decimals problem set in the 4th grade Singapore Math Primary Mathematics Workbook "The Four Operations of Decimals Chapter" [click to enlarge]:



III. Extra Credit:

What higher-level thinking opportunities do Singapore Math students lose out on by not being prompted to reflect on their feelings about decimals?

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Making "math" "fun"

Education experts around the country are convinced that students are turned off to math because it isn't sufficiently fun. And most of them think that the more you shift away from pen and paper exercises towards hands-on, group activities, the more fun math becomes.

That's certainly the thinking behind much of Reform Math; now some museums are getting in on the game as well. Look how much fun these students are having:



According to a recent article in Education Week, they're dancing on the light-activated Math Square at the Museum of Mathematics in New York, which opened on 12/12/12.

As the article explains:
Math has a bit of an image problem. It's often seen as hard, abstract—even pointless.
The creators of the National Museum of Mathematics in New York City are all about turning that image around and convincing young people that mathematics is cool. 
"Changing perceptions is our goal," said Cindy Lawrence, the co-executive director of MoMath, as it's quickly become known. "From the minute people walk in the door, we try to highlight the creative side of math: that it's colorful, it's beautiful, it's exploratory, fun and engaging. None of these are words people typically associate with math."
...
They [the curators] want people to see that it's about thinking and discovery, rather than rote memorization. And far from irrelevant, math is everywhere—from highway design to musical composition to roller coaster construction.
...
"This country has a national, cultural problem with its view and attitude toward mathematics and the role it plays in our culture, so we needed a national, cultural institution to face that head-on," Mr. Whitney [former hedge-fund analyst and now the president and co-executive director] said. 
Math educators are eager to join in the effort. The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics is working with MoMath on a public-image campaign designed to excite older elementary and middle school students about math, said Linda Gojak, the president of the NCTM. "We want them to see the importance of math and its connection to their future opportunities."
Specific MoMath activities include:

-- "dancing in front of screens that illustrate fractals and riding an oversize tricycle with square wheels on a bumpy track.
-- "trying to fit various shapes into the smallest boundary"
-- "putting together a large, colorful foam tetraxis geometric structure."
-- learning about cryptography and knot theory in 45-minute sessions taught by "Mo-Math educators."

The article quotes co-executive director Cindy Lawrence, who earlier directed a program for gifted math students:
The museum was designed to spark an interest in learning, but not necessarily to directly raise test scores, added Ms. Lawrence. 
"Just the fact that a kid might come into a place that says math on the front door and have fun, in my mind, that's score one," she said. "There is now an association with math and something fun."
Also supportive is senior scientist Andee Rubin of TERC, which has brought us such wonders as Investigations Math:
"In general, the math that kids encounter in school is often restrictive and, for many kids, it turns out to be a less-than-positive experience," Ms. Rubin said. Informal encounters with math at museums provide an opportunity to turn those negative feelings around, she said.
Not that there hasn't been some criticism--more from actual visitors and classroom teachers than from "experts" from TERC and NCTM. Says one 7th grade teacher about his students: "They are interested, but I'm not sure they understand what everything is for."
The museum is responding to feedback from visitors who have said, "Wow, this is wonderful, but I don't see how this is math," said Ms. Lawrence.
Instead of exploring how the museum is addressing this concern, the article enthusiastically moves on to other museums. There's the Geometry Playground at the Exploratorium in San Francisco:
It has giant mathematical structures designed for students ages 7 to 12 to climb on and gain a deeper understanding of spatial reasoning. 
"The thrust of the exhibit was to create a whole-body, immersive experience where people are navigating through space," said Josh Gutwill, the director of visitor research and evaluation at the science museum. 
Visitors use 12-sided figures to build structures and try to play hopscotch in front of a curved mirror. While most people think of math as a "cerebral domain," Mr. Gutwill said students can better understand it through physical, interactive experiences.
Then there's the Design Zone at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, with "25 exhibits to engage 10- to 14-year-olds in algebraic thinking":
Design Zone creators consulted with disc jockeys, who used math to put together music tracks, as well as video-game designers and others to create real-life examples of math at work. The museum staff looked closely at math standards in algebra developed by the NCTM and incorporated reasoning about patterns and relationships.
And, finally, there's the The Math Moves exhibit at the St. Paul museum:
It opened last year with activities focusing on ratio and proportion experiences in math through physical movement. 
In an exhibit with a bright light shining on a 12-by-12 wall with grids, people can make shadows and measure themselves. Another exhibit involves three chairs, and visitors use tape measures and wooden sticks to compare sizes and volume. 
"The idea is that you don't just learn with your mind and by reading words, but with movement and gestures your body makes," said J. Shipley Newell, the director of physical sciences, engineering, and math at the museum.
Of course, nothing's complete these days without a reference to the Common Core, pedagogically neutral though everyone claims it is:
As higher math standards roll out as part of the Common Core State Standards, educators are eager for creative ways to deepen students' understanding of math.
But what about actual math problems--as opposed to combining shapes, measuring shadows, playing around with (apparently non-mathematical) patterns, dancing on math squares, climbing on geometric structures, playing hopscotch in front of curved mirrors, putting together music tracks, and attending mini-lessons in peripheral topics? How does actual math measure up in terms of fun?

Stay tuned for a follow-up post entitled Making math fun.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Camouflaging the "kick me" sign to emerge from the Uncanny Valley


However much more accepting we as a society have become towards people who have obvious special needs and obvious differences--at least in our superficial behavior towards them--we continue to shun and bully those who are "merely" odd looking or oddly behaved. This comparative aversion to the "almost normal," this Uncanny Valley of ours, seems to reflect something deep about human psychology.



I think of this often as J begins to approach "almost normal," and as his remaining oddities in carriage and comportment, paradoxically, become increasingly egregious. His shoulders, often hunched over; his arms, often bent up; his hands, often scratching his privates; his mouth, often slack-jawed. His excessively loud speaking voice. And the more these signs strike me as potentially saying "kick me", the more I feel that, politically incorrect though this might seem, it's my job to help him take them down:

"Stop talking so loudly."
"Stand up straight."
"Keep your arms down while you're walking."
"Get your hands off your crotch."
"Breathe with your mouth closed."

It's easy to remind him that the dentist has said that nose-breathing will improve dental hygiene (he's had a number of cavities). But as to the rest, the best way to get a child who pays so little attention to how others carry themselves, and who cares so little about what they think of him, to alter his comportment is to be extremely direct.

And here's where I'm surely not only "politically incorrect," but "psychologically incorrect" as well:

"Look around at how other people are walking. They all have their arms down."
"If you scratch your crotch in public, people will think you're really weird and won't answer your fan questions."
And, of course, "Stop talking so loudly. Look at all those people staring at you because of how loud you were."

With a more sensitive child, all this would be trickier. But J's self-esteem, healthy and impervious to the world around him, isn't at stake. What's at stake, rather, is personal safety, social acceptance, and, down the line, or so we all hope, employability and self-sufficiency.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Math problems of the week: 4th grade Everyday Math vs. Singapore Math

A continuation of last week's problems: the third batch of 4th grade decimals assignments:

I. From the Everday Math Student Math Journal [click to enlarge]:


II. From the Singapore Math Primary Mathematics Workbook [click to enlarge]:

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Autism Diaries: Hell is other people, II

J's just had two big moments celebrating the new heights of maturity to which he occasionally ascends. One was getting an iPhone for his 17th birthday--whereupon he let off a scream of joy the like of which I'd never heard him make. The other was riding public transportation to school all by himself on his last day of 10th grade, equipped with that very same iPhone.

Later that day, thankfully safe and sound at home, he reported that after he switched from the Blue Line to the Orange Line he figured out from the empty platform that he'd just missed the Northbound local, and so immediately crossed over to adjacent platform from which he took the next Northbound express to the stop where he knew it would have caught up with his usual train. Who'd have thunk that the relentlessly inattentive and out-of-control toddler we could barely handle in public in the late 1990s could have turned into such a resourceful and self-possessed teenager by the early 2010s?

But there's a rub. I'm nowhere near ready to let him go to school by himself on a regular basis. This isn't because I don't trust him; it's because I don't trust others.

I've said before that often the hardest thing about having an autistic child isn't the child him or herself, but how other people react. As many families with autism can attest, these others can include friends and members of the extended family who stop inviting you over because they don't want to risk having your autistic child in their house, or who resist making relatively small accommodations that might substantially ease the stress of family reunions and holiday gatherings.

But, on a much more regular basis, "hell is other people" is about perfect strangers. The people who stare or mutter amongst themselves. The people who react histrionically whenever your child bumps against them or charges past them or cuts them off or passes gas or makes weird noises or says something socially inappropriate. The people who zealously scold you or your child even when he's clearly manifesting as "different," and even after you explain he's autistic.

These people, like everyone else, surely talk the talk about how important it is to fully include and show kindness towards people with disabilities. But they would prefer that we families of autism keep our difficult children far away from their personal spaces.

My preferences are different. What I prefer to do is to react histrionically in return--at the same time that I make it a "teachable moment" for J.

"Look at all those people staring at you," I'll say, using lots of expression and making sure everyone concerned can hear me. "You were so loud that they've all turned around to look at you." Or: "Look how angry you made that woman. You need to be really careful not to accidentally touch people. They get really angry when you do that." My words are very much for his benefit: he needs to learn. But so do others.

Sometimes I'm more direct. The other day at the science museum I heard someone scolding him as he exited the Giant Heart.

"You can't cut in front of people like that," she was yelling.

"You shouldn't hold hands and block the way if you're going to walk slowly," J retorted before starting to bolt.

"I'm sorry, he's autistic," I explained. "Let me make him apologize." I grabbed him, steered him back, and made him say he was sorry.

"You shouldn't hold hands if you're going to walk slowly."

"No, say you're sorry."

"I'm sorry."

"Never mind," she kept saying.

But my position was, if you're going to make a big public deal of my son's behavior, I'm going to show up and make a big public deal of an apology. You can't just yell at my son and then march off on a self-righteous high.

The most hellish sort of other person, however, isn't the merely insensitive or intolerant or self-righteous, but the bully who preys on weirdness. And it's that kind of person who makes me not want J go to school by himself on a regular basis. Even though now he rarely even grazes people and only occasionally charges past them, he walks funny, he squirms funny, his posture is often funny. He radiates weirdness. In the eyes of certain types of people--particularly his same-aged peers--he has "kick me" written all over him. Given enough time, one of those groups of school kids who congregate on narrow train platform will notice that he's regularly unaccompanied. And I shudder to think of what they might collectively rally up the gall to do to him--even if he behaves himself perfectly.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Autism Diaries XLX: A spectrum of speech

I’ve just finished teaching my autism class, and in the course of reviewing in-class videos of a range of individuals on the autistic spectrum, it has struck me that one dimension of variability is in how “canned” or prepackaged a person’s speech is. Truly spontaneous speech involves in-the-moment integration of information from multiple sources: long-term memory, the immediate circumstances, and the intended audience—a complex information processing task of the sort that those on the spectrum often find particularly challenging. Truly spontaneous speech also involves social challenges: tailoring tone and content to different conversational partners and adjusting what you say depending on their responses.

For those with difficulties in social reasoning and complex information processing, it’s easiest to default to pre-packaged discourse retrieved from long-term memory. That seems to be what Temple Grandin does. Listen to a few lectures and q and a sessions, and you quickly start hearing the same sentences and paragraphs over and over again. You may also hear some more spontaneous, and much more hesitant, speech in response to a question that may be totally new to her, but then she quickly stumbles into what sounds like a canned response originally constructed in an off-line situation detached from time pressure and all the other pressures of in-the-moment social dynamics.

I first noticed this behavior in a couple of professors of mine who may or may not have been on the autistic spectrum. In both cases, especially when you spoke with them one-on-one during office hours, there was this sense that they weren’t really talking to you. You could have been anyone, or no one, and they would have delivered the exact same speech. When I spoke back to them, I had the feeling my words were simply pushing buttons that mechanically opened files whose contents were then automatically outputted wholesale-- in precisely the form in which they were previously saved.

There’s surely a spectrum here that extends into the neurotypical population. People vary in how spontaneous and interactive their speech is and how much they adjust to different audiences—and it seems to be the more social people who show the greatest flexibility.

But the degree of pre-packaging may also be an area of subtle difference within the autistic spectrum. The Little Professor who carries on about his or her favorite topic via prepackaged lectures and canned responses in a pedantic tone that seems eerily uncommunicative: that kind of rigidity is the stereotype of Asperger’s. But there are some kids who are considered more severely autistic, because they are more language impaired, who nonetheless show greater flexibility. J, for instance, except for his repetitive questions, generally speaks spontaneously and flexibly—if often ungrammatically. He adjusts his responses contingently, noticing, to some extent, when he’s been misunderstood—adding such phrases as “I didn’t say that” or other clarifications. In all his life, he’s never delivered a single lecture. His preferred role is to ask questions—including real questions generated by actual curiosity rather than perseverative obsessions.

His most strikingly spontaneous, socially-contingent question occurred the other day, when he was grilling a friend of ours on why she had gotten divorced. Years ago, as the divorce was still underway, she told him that her husband had failed to fix the broken ceiling fans, and J left it at that. But last week he wanted more.

“Well, D wasn’t nice to me. He didn’t treat me well.”

“How wasn’t he nice to you?”

B elaborated a bit—keeping it simple and discreet, but compelling. After she finished, J, using a phrase I’d never heard him use before, asked:

“Then why did you marry him in the first place?”

Friday, July 5, 2013

Math problems of the week: 4th grade Everyday Math vs. Singapore Math

A continuation of last week's problems: the second batch of 4th grade decimals assignments:

I. From the Everday Math Student Math Journal [click to enlarge]:




II. From the Singapore Math Primary Mathematics Workbook [click to enlarge]:



III. Extra Credit:

What are Singapore Math students missing out on by not having to do Math-to-World Constructed Response questions?

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

What's killing the humanities: addendum

Any discussion of what's killing the humanities should really begin with what's killing the humanities in K12 education. Here the culprits aren't Postmodernism, but Constructivism (everything from "balanced literacy" to "text-to-self" references to "multiple literacies"); not concerns about future employment, but the insistence on college for all (making everyone, regardless of reading level, take the same college prep English classes); and not the Tenure Treadmill, but the Common Core.

Consider, courtesy , Standard CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.2. :

Determine two or more themes or central ideas of a text and analyze their development over the course of the text, including how they interact and build on one another to produce a complex account; provide an objective summary of the text. English Language Arts Standards » Reading: Literature » Grade 11-12
Or consider CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.11-12.5:
Analyze how an author’s choices concerning how to structure specific parts of a text (e.g., the choice of where to begin or end a story, the choice to provide a comedic or tragic resolution) contribute to its overall structure and meaning as well as its aesthetic impact.
Talk about taking the joy out of reading. Analyzing the Common Core author's choices, we see all the trappings of choices "by committee." They are hopelessly vague, mind-numbingly boring, poorly written, and out of touch with gritty reality.

While specific incarnations of these goals vis a vis specific works of literature might make for inspiring essay topics for some students, in most incarnations in most classrooms these goals will bore everyone concerned. Much more engaging is what good teachers do already: instead of starting with a Generalized Standard and trying to figure out how to shoehorn it into whatever students are reading, let the Particular Work of Literature drive the possible essay topics.

No one willingly reads in order to "analyze how an author’s choices concerning how to structure specific parts of a text contribute to its aesthetic impact;" nor does being forced to do so make you a better reader or writer. And it certainly doesn't inspire you to continue taking literature courses in college.


Monday, July 1, 2013

The virtues and pitfalls of the humanities

In a recent Times Op-Ed piece entitled The Rise and Fall of the English Major, Verlyn Klinkenborg opens with the following observations:

In the past few years, I’ve taught nonfiction writing to undergraduates and graduate students at Harvard, Yale, Bard, Pomona, Sarah Lawrence and Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism. Each semester I hope, and fear, that I will have nothing to teach my students because they already know how to write. And each semester I discover, again, that they don’t.

They can assemble strings of jargon and generate clots of ventriloquistic syntax. They can meta-metastasize any thematic or ideological notion they happen upon. And they get good grades for doing just that. But as for writing clearly, simply, with attention and openness to their own thoughts and emotions and the world around them — no.
Ironically, this illuminates not just one of the biggest reasons why we need humanities courses, but also one of the biggest reasons why they are in decline.

Humanities courses are, indeed, the best venues for college students to learn how to write, and how, in particular, to express and defend a coherent argument. Fewer and fewer students enter college able to write a decent argument or analysis, and even those who pursue non-humanities fields will need to know how to write grants, prospectuses, reports, or research papers in science and technology--which aren't generally assigned by college-level science classes, focusing as they do the basic content that students need before they can do real research in those fields.

But, as Klinkenborg's observations of student writing make clear, even though Klinkenborg himself does not seem to recognize the problem, fewer and fewer college humanities courses are teaching students how to write. One reason is the tenure treadmill: as the competition for tenure-track jobs has drastically risen, the amount of time non-tenured professors have to spend on teaching as drastically declined. Faced with publishing or perishing, few of them prioritize student writing, and many prefer to teach courses the match the narrow topics of their tenure-focused research. 

Related to this research is another big reason for the decline of the humanities: the rise of Post Modernism. This is the fad that most untenured professors must follow to get tenure. It's also, I'm guessing, is where those "strings of [ventriloquized] jargon" and "meta-metastasis" of  "any thematic or ideological notion they happen upon" that Klinkenborg cites are coming from. Post Modernism provides models for this kind of writing; it doesn't provide models for "writing clearly, simply, with attention and openness."

When people cite reasons for the decline in the humanities, they cite students' worries about future employment, the rise of an anti-intellectual, vocational attitude towards school, and the relentless focus on STEM--all valid reasons. But people don't generally credit humanities departments themselves for the role key they've played.

Learning to write isn't the only reason to take humanities courses. The humanities are also the place to engage with ethical issues, immerse oneself in other times and places, learn about other ways of living and being, and heighten one's sensitivity to fellow-human beings who exist under circumstances that are completely different from one's own. Under Post Modernism, where it's all about the Text and the Meta-Analysis, all this "lower-level," non-meta content falls away.

As Klinkenborg observes, the humanities provide the gifts of "clear thinking, clear writing and a lifelong engagement with literature;" "the ability to distribute their thinking in the kinds of sentences that have a merit, even a literary merit, of their own;" a view of "the endless coastline of human experience."

At least those are the gifts that the humanities used to provide--gifts that, if they truly wish to reverse their decline, they must start bringing back.