Sana Saeed (The Islamic Monthly writes about "The Shaykh and the F Word." It's a response to the Internet backlash "over sexist comments made by UK-based Shaykh Abu Eesa Niamatullah, affiliated with the Al Maghrib Institute." (His response to the backlash is here.) She writes

Instead of taking this opportunity to get in line and bash the Shaykh- who I do respect otherwise and who actually has done great work in his community – I want to take this opportunity to navigate the underlying, insidious problem that makes it okay for Niamatullah to get away with saying what he said about Feminists.

She writes a balanced critique of the situation, worth reading, and her conclusion is on target:

We have a real problem of sexism and misogyny within and outside our communities – social media chants can be cathartic (and I do love them) and yes we have a right to be angry, but we have an even greater responsibility to be productive in finding the solutions to our ailments.

And to our Shayukh – especially those who have lessened the seriousness of the impact of Shaykh Niamatullah’s ‘jokes’: you have a responsibility to promote that which is good and forbid that which is evil. When you have a segment of your community, of this Ummah, which is constantly under a barrage of hatred and suspicion, constantly have their bodies used as cultural warfare fronts – those jokes that you may see as misunderstood playful banter become daggers in the back.

UPDATE (March 12):

Since yesterday, I've read more posts, and Abu Eesa has issued a clear apology. Reactions are still raging, going from outrage to unconditional support, with a few, very few that are balanced and thoughtful. It reminds me of Doris Lessing's comment,

for every woman or man who is quietly and sensibly using the idea to look carefully at our assumptions, there are twenty rabble-rousers whose real motive is a desire for power.

The "idea" was that of feminism, but can be applied to any idea. Comparing "political correctness" to "progressive thinking" and "communism," Doris Lessing talked about "attitudes of mind" in an interview with Dwight Garner, in which people have

A need to oversimplify. To control. And an enormous distrust of the innovative, of new ideas. All political movements are like this — we are in the right, everyone else is in the wrong. The people on our own side who disagree with us are heretics, and they start becoming enemies. With it comes an absolute conviction of your own moral superiority. There’s oversimplification in everything, and a terror of flexibility. This characterizes political correctness.

Political correctness, feminist correctness, religious correctness, .... Nothing is new.

UPDATE (March 14)

As I've continued to read articles on this topic, I've moved the ones I had previously mentioned above to here so I can continue to add without needing to update this post.

Scientific American reports on how Equations Are Art Inside a Mathematician’s Brain.

When mathematicians describe equations as beautiful, they are not lying. Brain scans show that their minds respond to beautiful equations in the same way other people respond to great paintings or masterful music.

And more than that, most mathematicians agree on which equations are ugly and which are beautiful. The most beautiful was Euler's identity:

Why is it the most beautiful?

"Here are these three fundamental numbers, e, pi and i," Adams says, "all defined independently and all critically important in their own way, and suddenly you have this relationship between them encompassed in this equation that has a grand total of seven symbols in it? It is dumbfounding."

2014 Slwis Event by cpn

Weizhong Zhang gives ten practical rules about "about the principles and attitude that can help guide the process of writing in particular and research in general" (see the paper for the explanation of the rules):

  1. Make It a Driving Force
  2. Less Is More
  3. Pick the Right Audience
  4. Be Logical
  5. Be Thorough and Make It Complete
  6. Be Concise
  7. Be Artistic
  8. Be Your Own Judge
  9. Test the Water in Your Own Backyard
  10. Build a Virtual Team of Collaborators

Perception and memory are shaped by what people want to believe. Idries Shah (Seekers After Truth, page 117) wrote about a spoof documentary in 1969:

The BBC 2 television man Tony Bilbow hoaxed viewers by saying that he had obtained film clips of 'The Great Pismo' and showed forgeries of the film. Then:

'Everybody began to remember The Great Pismo when he made his television debut. Letters piled into the BBC praising the 1920's comedian.

'A woman wrote enthusiastically: "My aunt was a great fan of the Great Pismo - she saw him at a show in Hastings." She added: "What a pity he was not recognized on television before she died in 1957." One man even sent in photographs of The Great Pismo's father.' (Daily Sketch, June 26, 1969, page 9.)

Click to go to the documentary on YouTube.

The Daily Kos has published the "Testimony of Pete Seeger before the House Un-American Activities Committee, August 18, 1955." Below are a few excerpts:

I am not going to answer any questions as to my association, my philosophical or religious beliefs or my political beliefs, or how I voted in any election, or any of these private affairs. I think these are very improper questions for any American to be asked, especially under such compulsion as this. I would be very glad to tell you my life if you want to hear of it.

I feel that in my whole life I have never done anything of any conspiratorial nature and I resent very much and very deeply the implication of being called before this Committee that in some way because my opinions may be different from yours, or yours, Mr. Willis, or yours, Mr. Scherer, that I am any less of an American than anybody else. I love my country very deeply, sir.

I feel these questions are improper, sir, and I feel they are immoral to ask any American this kind of question.

I have sung for Americans of every political persuasion, and I am proud that I never refuse to sing to an audience, no matter what religion or color of their skin, or situation in life. I have sung in hobo jungles, and I have sung for the Rockefellers, and I am proud that I have never refused to sing for anybody. That is the only answer I can give along that line.

I decline to discuss, under compulsion, where I have sung, and who has sung my songs, and who else has sung with me, and the people I have known. I love my country very dearly, and I greatly resent this implication that some of the places that I have sung and some of the people that I have known, and some of my opinions, whether they are religious or philosophical, or I might be a vegetarian, make me any less of an American. I will tell you about my songs, but I am not interested in telling you who wrote them, and I will tell you about my songs, and I am not interested in who listened to them. . . .

Just reviewing my notes of more than a few years ago in which Gary Stager commented on the "meaningless euphemisms" by Web 2.0 enthusiasts. As he noted,

a very small percentage of knowledge is constructed by talking. Much is not. ... With all due respect, talking about math or science is not the same as being a scientist or mathematician.

I sense that we have gone beyond the tipping point of what Seymour Papert calls "verbal inflation." We are terribly excited about so very little.

As I noted about one of Will Richardson's posts, Networks, Not Tools, although he spoke at length how he was connected via RSS, blogs, Twitter, and more, he never did say what it was that he learned from his networked conversation.

Again that's not to say that networks aren't important in learning, as noted in Dean Shareski's comment on Stager's post:

The social networking and collaboration to me is about personalizing learning. Even in your Papert driven thinking about using computers to create and design, there still comes a point where you need people. Traditionally you were limited to the people in the room. ... I don't think it's one or the other.

Shareski takes an appropriate and balanced perspective. Social networks and relationships motivate and engage learners; they expand and individual's knowledge and skills, and technology can expand those networks even more. Yet, we need to keep in mind that it is the individual that must move past talking about ideas and integrate those ideas into his/her practice to become "a scientist or mathematician" or any thing else.

Quite some time ago, Nancy McKeand responded to a comment of mine about the role of facts in learning::

It is obvious that you have to know the facts before you can think critically about them.  What I should have said is that we don’t make the facts the important part of the lesson.  Teach them the facts.  (Although I think we have to be careful about what we call facts when we are teaching.  But that is another issue, I think.) But that isn’t what they should be held responsible for.  They should be help responsible for what they can do with the facts.

This makes a lot of sense to me. The ability to use information shows a deeper understanding of that item than simple recitation of information about the item. But I do think we need to carefully think about the types of doing we have students do. For instance, Nancy gives this example:

I started life (or at least it was so long ago it seems like I did!) as a history teacher.  Let me use that field and give you an example.  If I am teaching about the Civil War, I could have them memorize the facts: generals, battles, victories, etc.  I could give them a test on which they have to give me that information back.  I am teaching them the facts of the Civil War – as it was taught to me and many of the rest of us, I imagine.  The other option is that I could resent material about the Civil War (including those facts) and then have them do something with the information.  This fall when I do that, one thing my students are going to do is write a letter as a soldier from one side or the other.  It will require them to refer to those facts, but the facts are not the goal.  The goal is to have them understand what life might have been like for a soldier in the civil war, what he might have been thinking and feeling.  They will be free to look up as many of the facts as they need to when they write their letters.  I think that this will be more beneficial to them in terms of learning about that period of US history than having a multiple choice test on the facts in isolation.

I wonder about this letter exercise. Can they really understand the life of a soldier just by thinking about information? Wouldn’t that be like trying to understand what an apple tastes like without eating it? This doing can build imagination, but I'm not sure that it helps to understand how a soldier was "thinking and feeling."

In addition, it seems to me that the study of history should be to develop the skills of a historian, just as studying biology should develop biologist skills, and so on. (Of course, the expectations for students are adjusted according to their level of experience.) Historian skills focus on using sources: analyzing them critically for bias and motive, considering counterevidence, and so on. None of those skills seem to be applied in the writing of this type of letter.

So, although doing is important for learning, the type of doing needs to be carefully thought out.

McKeand continues,

Taking that example a step further, this could be a totally independent research project, actually.  I would not have to teach them any facts.  They could look the facts up themselves and then bring that knowledge to class to incorporate into class discussions and other activities.  This goes back to a discussion Charles and I had a long time ago: What is the role of the teacher — facilitator or expert?  I fall squarely on the facilitator side of that question.  Even if we learn facts, I don’t need to be the one to dispense them.

On the research project, I've never quite understood why many educators oppose their own dispensing of "facts." Why is it better for students to get the facts from someone else than from themselves?

Or, Why is it better for students to look up the facts themselves? Does it lead to better learning? Do people need to research on their own how nuts and bolts are used? Or can they just be told/shown and then apply that knowledge?

In a previous post on Learning with Examples, I cited Anderson and Schunn in their article "The implications of the ACT-R learning theory: no magic bullets" (pdf):

There are no magical properties conveyed upon a knowledge structure just because it was self-generated. If all things were equal it would be preferable to have children learn by generating the knowledge (due to the redundant encoding). However, because of difficulties of generation and dangers of misgeneration, things are not always equal and it can be preferable to tell the knowledge.


Thus, ACT-R's theory of procedural learning claims that procedural skills are acquired by making references to past problem solutions while actively trying to solve new problems. Thus, it is both a theory of learning by doing and a theory of learning by example.

Note that the reason that it might be preferable for students to acquire facts via their own research is due to "redundant encoding" of the facts they come across, but this advantage is offset by their possible misunderstanding the "facts." What is preferable is that learning be tied to "actively trying to solve new problems," applying “facts” to new contexts. As finding information takes time, instructors need to consider what level of facts are given, what level should students research, and what activities can help students learn to apply those "facts" in normal and novel contexts. Again, the doing that we ask students to perform needs to be thought out instead of assuming that all doing is equal.

Others have written in more depth on this topic. Check out Anderson and Schunn's article mentioned above (along with other articles at that site) and read Stephen Downes' An operating system for the mind and Facts versus Skills.

Paul Ford briefly reviews a variety of new online writing and outlining tools:

(Two academic collaborative tools not mentioned but worth checking out are Fidus Writer and Authorea.)

He notes that these platforms are a return to "reflective thought":

What all these new tools for thought must prove is that there are enough people willing to give up the quick pleasures of the tweet or Facebook post and return to the hard business of writing whole paragraphs that are themselves part of a larger structure of argument.

I'm not so sure that it's a "hard business," but it is time-consuming. I suppose some can just rattle off in good prose whatever comes to their mind and at the same time say something worth reading. For myself, however, it takes time to think through what I've read and even more time to build upon it something, if not new, at least different enough from the original post to be worthwhile for others' consideration. Perhaps the amount of time it takes does indicate in some way that it's hard. Lack of time is the main reason my posting has almost stopped in the last few years.

As Ford notes at the end (citing Engelbart), the right tool can "augment human intellect." I would add that even if not "augmenting," the right tool can certainly save time. Unlike a pen, word processors allow us to edit freely. Bibliographic managers write our reference sections for us in a click or two.

A tool I use is Tinderbox. I use it for keeping notes, writing this blog, analyzing research, and making adjunct assignments (in the fall semester assigning around 100 adjuncts to about 200 courses). With respect to adjunct assignments, for example, the combination of attributes, agents, and badges let me see visually who can teach what at which time and who has two, one, or zero assignments. Every semester, it saves me hours of remembering who can do what when and hours of double-checking to eliminate mistakes. (I'm looking forward to seeing the features Tinderbox 6 will bring.) It's an expensive tool, but it more than repays itself with the time it saves me. Thank you, Mark.

So, yes, these tools can help us do better writing and perhaps even better thinking.