Sunday, January 23, 2011


So I suppose a few people might be curious about how school is going for me now that I'm back in the saddle?

Overall, not bad.  They've been keeping me busy but not to the point of instant life crisis mode that GWC always was trying to put me in.  The teachers simply show up expecting us to learn, I expect them to teach, so far this is going pretty well.  I haven't made up my mind on trying to go to the school to officially get notice or accommodation for AS, but the option is still there.  I keep worrying I'll have another one of those days where I regress my ability to track the structure of group conversations and will accidentally be disruptive to class or something.  That has actually happened to me once before when I was at GWC and it was quite memorable, I think my teacher wanted to kill me.

So far I haven't had any problems with switching between teachers.  That used to be a big problem at GWC.  You spent practically all your time with one teacher and at transition points during the semester, guest lectures or any situation in which I switched who was leading my class discussion and I'd struggle to switch between which set of nonverbal and verbal cues were used to run and organize class interactions.  I've had so much trouble with that in the past that on the first days of class with a new teacher I'll take notes on how they run their class along with whatever they are actually talking about.

My individual classes are each going well.  ENG 1010 is half boring me to death and half very interesting.  The textbook and methodology they are using to teach writing is very good and I'm sure I can improve lots using it.  However, the textbook and class are also aimed at an audience of people who are terrified of writing.  I'm not terrified of writing.  I broke my fears years ago with a lot of writing I did for my own use and haven't turned back since.  A few genres I still struggle with, such as creative short story, but this is a academic prose class, I don't expect to have to write fictional adventures.

Wild 2000 has only met once so far because its a once a week class and it was canceled last week.  So far I like the teacher and feel I will enjoy his class.  It's an advising class so I won't say I'm learning a ton of information about the environment, but I will say I'm learning a lot about the university and how things work inside the major.  Everything so far seems to suggest I did my research really well when I picked what I wanted to major in.

Stat 2000 is boring but promises to get un-boring quickly.  There's only so much you can learn about bar charts, histograms and time plots.  I now know more about them then I did before, but nothing note worthy.  The lecture material points to us moving beyond my field of knowledge pretty quickly, so I expect to hash out a good amount of real progress in this class.

I attended a trip with the Audubon Society recently to get credit towards my wildlands class.  Very fun.  Don't think I've ever spotted so many birds of prey in such a short period of time before.  And having a barn owl fly right over your head is amazing.  Those are beautiful birds.  No pictures, sorry forgot to bring the camera.  Owl's website is still without an owl.

Monday, January 10, 2011

GWC, a review. Version 2

I finally need to make a statement about GWC.  I know they are technically GWU now, but  I can’t bring myself to call them that because playing house in a hotel does not a university make.  They’re still simply a college, with perhaps some extension courses taught elsewhere.  Anything I say about GWC may only really apply to the semester I was there or to the specific teacher I had at the time.  One important thing to realize about them is that the curriculum and the methodology isn’t stable.  One moment they might be crowing about how they have discovered the holy grail of how to teach a certain subject, only to change how they do it next semester.  So if something I say seems overcritical to you with your experience of the school, keep in mind I’m only reviewing my experience.  I don’t know much about what is happening at the school these days, it hasn’t been worth my time to keep up on them.  They had their decade of my life to get accredited, and since they failed to deliver on that promise I’m not looking back very often to see what happens next.

The first question that a skeptic of GWC seems to always bring up is that it might be a diploma mill. states that a diploma mill is “an organization claiming to be an institution of higher learning but existing for profit only and granting degrees without demanding proper qualifications of the recipients. “

Diploma mills often conjure up images of paying a small or large fee to have some idiot somewhere print a nice looking certificate off their computer and mail it to you.  Though GWC has been such an organization in specific well publicized incidents, overall this doesn’t characterize what happens there.  Any typical GWC graduate has had to work their guts out to get their degree.  The interesting part of this question is how the people who aren't doing the work get handled by the system.  In a normal school, you start getting consistent bad grades which drag down your GPA till finally you are thrown out of the school.  GWC handled it by making the requests for you to work so insane that if you don't really want to do the work you'll eventually just drop out.  If you don't feel like dropping out they give you very small amounts of credit for your work so that the graduation process would take extremely long.  The variable credit system has been dropped due to pressure from the accreditation process, so their system of getting rid of poor students may have changed as well.  I've seen a lot of students drop out, so I'm not saying the system didn’t work, but its questionable.  I've seen students come to an oral final and not know the answers to any of the questions and openly state they don't think they are learning anything.  The professor would then say that based on his personal observations of the student, that he believed the student was learning and passed the student anyways.  The testing situation was designed to motivate further learning, not measure whether learning was happening.  And like it or not, part of what a school is supposed to do is measure whether learning is happening and provide certification for when it happens.  On that basis I’d say the academic rigor was poor while I was there, resembling a diploma mill.  Almost all students had almost perfect GPA’s because almost all classes were graded as A’s, just for variable amounts of credit.

There is another aspect to the academic rigor of the school, that being the academic strength of the professors who teach there.  Now, professors at GWC are often very inspiring and insightful men.  They often know more about the subject than you do, but are not necessarily masters of the subjects they teach.  The language instructors may not speak the language and may only be a chapter or two ahead of you in learning it.  The economics teacher might not understand anything except the one school of economics.  The history teacher may have gone through Durrant's Story of Civilization of few times where as you are doing it for the first time.  They are all generalists, not specialists, so some of this is to be expected.

However, within any given branch of study, you can never quite trust that the research and opinions of the professors have the same quality of academic review and rigor you'd expect.  So anything that a GWC teacher says you just have to take with a grain of salt.  It might be true, or it might not.  When we would ask Dr. DeMille for citations or sources for his more surprising claims he would always say that he just learned it from a book somewhere and if pressed he would explain that he had speed read or skimmed his way through the entire local university library and therefore couldn’t tell you which of the thousands of books he had looked at there that his fact came from.

But it was worse than that.  There are some subjects where the adherents of a viewpoint traditionally claim one thing, but all modern scholarship has proved something else.  Dr. DeMille would be just as likely to tell you the traditional version of the story as truth without telling you that there was a well known gap between the tradition and the truth on the subject.  If you hung out long enough you might get to know both sides of the story, but not necessarily from him.  Certain mystic religious texts, for instance, he would tell you were written in biblical times when modern scholarship has proved they were from the medieval time period.  Granted, he was trying to give what he was talking about more weight in the students eye’s and give room for claims that even though the text may have been from a later time period the system of thought may have been older, but in a school where you study facts you expect to learn all of that up front, not by stumbling across it by accident later. Other professors would do similar stunts with their personal interpretations of Aristotle and other things.  Essentially, it wasn't world class and you couldn't trust a teacher to really know what they were talking about on any given subject, though there was a good chance they did.

So onto specific subjects that were taught.  This will be a little disjointed, but again I’m not going to take a ton of time on this when I’ve got to be awake tomorrow, so here goes.

Language instruction-

If the language is living the method is short term Immersion if they have someone handy who can speak it, self study group if they don’t.  You get a real thrill of learning a ton in a short period, but nobody really learns much that they won’t forget by the time the next study block for the subject comes around.

If the language is dead (ie Biblical Hebrew, classical Greek, Latin) the method is to give you a short term hernia. Your teacher is almost guaranteed not to speak the language, to make a lot of noise about how they speak a ton of dead languages, but when pressed it will come out they have only studied a couple more chapters in the book than you have, so the entire thing is one big self study group where everyone agrees to go insane for short periods of time after which nobody will be able to recall anything but the basics of what was discussed.  You learn a lot in a short period of time, but their claims to be superior to other schools in the methodology are laughable.  I once heard Dr. DeMille state he didn’t care about whether we learned the languages, he just wanted us to get the extra brain synapses that studying the language would cause, because he read somewhere that that would make you smarter.  Since the school didn’t prioritize learning the subject, we didn’t, end of story.

Economics-  We were trained that without a doubt the Austrian school was the true economics.  I didn’t learn what the differences were between the Austrian school and the Chicago school were until I looked in up in an encyclopedia for my graduation exams.  Learning the Austrian school in the GWC method consisted of reading some Bastiat and then memorizing an inane list of principles that Dr. DeMille came up with when he studied an important book by an important Austrian economist.  Yay study the classics, but nevermind just read your school president’s study notes.  The teacher at best might have taken some time to study the opinions of the physiocrats, but would probably be unable to understand the statistical and mathematical methods used by actual economists today.  These methods were downplayed as econometrics that had sadly turned off millions of intelligent people from studying the principles of economics that were supposedly still accessible if you learned them from the Austrian school.

Science- The curriculum was completely unstable even while I was there. The science teacher spent half the time going over random scientific facts and the other giving his presentation on the "deep doctrines" of LDS doctrine. Proposed to tell the true meaning of the Endowment ceremony, synthesize big bang theory with the book of genesis, and find some way to insinuate that his teachings were already vetted for accuracy by a relevant church authority or that somehow church authorities came to him for information on scientific subjects. These two presentations alternated from year to year with little change except the course number kept changing to keep you taking it year after year.  I dropped the class out of boredom and disgust after the first round of it, never looked back.

Math- The teacher was an engineer who was fascinated with the possibilities of alternative fringe theory physics and number theory, which put him on good terms with the school president who also liked these subjects.  He had lots of information to share, but no structure in which to share it.  Like all mid school year side subjects, the teacher could assign no homework and give no assignments to keep him from interfering with the main classes.  Also, there were no minimum standards or remedial classes available to ensure the students were prepared for meaningful material.  The teacher responded to this by dumbing down his presentation to the point that by the time I stopped attending his classes they were fit for elementary school students.  We watched comedy education videos re enacting the lives of Copernicus, for instance.  Again, the material didn't change much from year to year and they kept changing the course numbers to keep you attending year after year.  The professors were always emphasizing to not be concerned with your transcript or with working the system for an education and I unfortunatetly took them literally.  I wasn't learning anything in these math and science classes and therefore stopped taking them.   I made up for it a little bit working with professors on my own, which is when I read Darwin, Hawking, Greene, and Kuhn.  But, in large place it took me so long to graduate because I stopped taking the official math and science classes and focused on my main classes.

The exception to this horrible scheme was psychology.  GWC likes to emphasize psychology for a variety of reasons, only some of which are valid.  But when you go to talk about psychology with them you discover pretty fast that they are more interested in how Frued impacted modernism than in how psychology exists in the world today.

As soon as I stopped attending on campus classes, they changed the entire structure of the math and science classes.  They brought in someone more articulate and focused on actual science/math and gave the section its own block so that the teacher could assign homework.

History Method integrated.  Course material, Durant.  You get out of it what you bring in.  Very rewarding.  Some of my best experiences were in history.  Its where I got to take a fresh look at all the theory I had been taught about the world and see if it actually held up against how the world actually worked.  Its where most of the prejudices I came into the school with disappeared because they had to face reality.

Simulations.  I can't say enough about how good these simulations were for me.  A great deal of the learning I did of theory came together in these simulations.  Also, I grew personally a lot because I learned to sense the structure of a conversation through practical application of Roberts Rule's of Order.  I know that sounds dumb, but with the Asperger Syndrome that was really important for me.  Unfortunately, many students never get a chance to really learn how to work in a formal meeting because the school professors emphasized that important decisions were made outside of formal meetings so if we wanted to get anything done we were encouraged to spend as little time as possible debating in a formal rules of order, preferring to break out into committees to debate or decide anything useful at all.

Political philosphy: Primary catcechism: Skousen.  Skousen isn't a bad place to start learning your basic government if you don’t mind having to relearn most of it later but if you stop there you are in a world of hurt.  I don't think everybody gets past there.  When I first read Skousen I worshiped him.  When I relearned him for my final exam I couldn't stand him.  That being said, the school in many ways managed to get past this starting point to discuss life and the world in a much more thrilling sense than you'd get just by reading Skousen.

Current events: Method: read political journals.  Quality, awesome.  Can't say enough for actually reading political journals from opposing sides.  My understanding of the world blossomed.

Law: Method, read a popular constitutional law textbook.  Quality, could be better but was an amazing eye opening experience.  For instance, I'll never see the separation of church and state issue the same after reading original case law on the subject as opposed to the rhetoric that is thrown around like so much poop.

Religion:  You probably didn’t know it, but GWC has or at least while I was there had a quasi official religion.  And it wasn’t LDS.  It is Christian Kabballah.  If you think I’m joking you should have attended the seminars where we discussed the sepheroit found in the book of Revelation, the amount of time we spent studying the mystic meaning of each Hebrew letter, the time we spent being brow beaten by Dr. DeMille that somehow there were only two possible ways of looking at scripture, absolute literalism and Kaballah.  You should have been there when Dr. DeMille gave a lecture talking about how the course of freedom through the world could be traced to follow the pattern of cultures bringing mystic studies of letters and syllables into their thought, how he proposed a education bill of right to allow private and public schools anywhere who would join him in studying Kaballah along with their algebra, how he proposed that we should rewrite number theory based on the equation that 1=600 because that was the equation he discovered by mystic mashing the phrase I am Alpha and Omega.  Oh, and that we would achieve universal field theory faster by doing such a number theory rewrite than we would by allowing scientists to do their thing on their own.

Why did we spend so much time on 13th century Jewish mystic thought?  Well, because Dr. DeMille said that he eventually got to the point in studying government that in order to understand it more he had to apply insights he learned from studying Kaballah.  So he wanted all of us to be able to share in his mystic insights by learning Kaballah like he had done.  I recall his wife dreaming about how one day students would spend their first few years of language instruction at the school learning Biblical Hebrew, and their last two years of language instruction in group study of medieval mystic texts in their original Hebrew.  Dr. DeMille claimed that the continued freedom in the US depended on successfully spreading the widespread study of such subjects and claimed a continuity of freedom between Hebrew and Druidic traditions to back himself up.  Don't ask his sources on that, I don't know and if you asked him I'm sure he would say he found it in a book somewhere in the SUU library but he couldn't tell you which.  I never found out what exactly it was he learned while studying a gematria of the Constitution or whatever it was he was studying at the time, but apparently he thought it was vital enough to try to get us all to study it and to advocate it to us as truth.  He felt to the extent Kaballah wasn’t true was because it was a dead system of thought that needed revitalization and to the extent that it involved what most would call magic the important thing was to learn the difference between black and white magic.

It may seem I have beaten that last point to death and I have.  I’m upset about it because one if I knew that I was attending a school from somebody who claimed to have gained important insights about freedom by messing with the letters in important documents, I would have run the other way faster than I could have blinked.  As it was, by the time we were talking about this in class and I had learned enough on my own to know what it was we were talking about it was an annoyance that I knew if I ignored long enough I could get past it to talk about the stuff that really interested me like public policy and things like that.  Also, I spent a long time with my graduation delayed because of not having met instructors satisfaction in my Hebrew studies, so I spent a longer time than I wanted to rehashing this stuff just so I could get a degree from GWC.  Whatever I do in life from now on, I’m never going to write another poem about Zohar just because I have teachers that fanaticize about it.

I have no idea whether GWC is still strongly affiliated with Kabbalic thought.  The DeMille’s were the main ones who talked about it or were at all interested, and they are kind of in the background now.  So, the school may have shed this past already, but its part of the school’s history.

All in all, I’m a better person for having attended and I don’t regret the personal development I achieved while there, but I don’t recommend that anyone take a degree in personal life enrichment studies unless they know that is exactly what they are getting.

I think the last point is whether they are teaching statesmanship like they claim.  Before trying to answer that, I think I should review a couple of statements I heard the school or the school's administrators make regarding the subject.

First off, Dr. DeMille stated at least at one point in time that the bachelors degree was only capable of preparing you to perform statesmanship at the local/community level.  Or in other words you could get a degree in being an exceptionally civic minded local nice guy who might some day get elected to mayor.  In order to be prepared to operate at the national level, he believed you would need to get their Phd.  Very few people have ever been awarded their Phd, mostly it has been school professors awarding it to themselves.  So if you think that your undergraduate studies are going to help you change the world in some way bigger than being a good local citizen, you need to re evaluate the life time commitment you are going to have to make to bank on the promise.  With no student aid available from traditional sources I can almost guarantee you getting a Phd from GWC is going to take you a long time.

Secondly, I also heard Dr. DeMille claim that as a result of a good conversation he had with someone about the school once, they decided that the school shouldn't be trying to produce people who could enter the current political elite establishments, but who would be ready to enter the next wave of political elite once the passage of time somehow removed the current establishment.  I also heard him once say that the school was interested in accredidation so it could take international students.  They didn't want to take international students because that would make the student body more diverse and therefore more stimulating.  They wanted international students because they felt that people with the sort of training provided at GWC were needed world wide.

To explain why he said this will take some explaining.  GWC takes as its model of history a book entitled "The Fourth Turning."  Very interesting book, definitely worth the time I spent reading it.  Essentially, the book argues that cyclically ango american culture has followed a pattern of breakdown and reformulation.  We're not talking necessarily about revolution or insurrection, but shifts in which the meaning of what it means to be in the society and how the mechanics of the society operate fundamentally change.  I know that sounds like a violent upheaval, but that's not what the authors describe by it.  Think more things like the difference of the US before and after the world wars.  The workforce is different, the international system is different, culture is fundamentally different.  The authors of that book proclaim that we are historically poised for another significant shift in social structure.  The authors only applied this discussion to British and American culture, and do not make claims that this model applies elsewhere, though they draw support for their arguments from cycles that happen in society as different elite groups age and pass out of social importance.

Dr. DeMille claimed that the essential points of the model did apply to basically all world cultures and that for some reason almost all of the world's cultures were synchronizing their cycles of breakdown and reformulation so that the entire world would change together instead all at different times.  I heard him claim that in response to this dramatic synchronization, many world governments perhaps hundreds of governments, would find themselves needing to rewrite their constitutions to match new social realities.  He hoped that GWC, international extensions of GWC, and international students who traveled to the US to attend GWC, would be able to contribute significantly to this reformulation.  I don't think I clarified at the time whether he meant literal rewrites of Constitutions or rather the revolution in thought about what a constitution means as it applies itself to transformed cultures, such as what Bobbit describes in his book "The Shield of Achilles."  The school liked to emphasize that what it talked about wasn't just applicable to political revolutions but applied to the normal passage of political power from one group to another over time.  Say for instance the Republican Party is still with us, but suddenly the Tea Party movement is significantly powerful, so as time passes the political power might shift to a significantly different group.

So, to get back to the point, graduates were not expected to have any significant impact on current affairs.  They were mainly expected to have impact if during the evolution of politics, the current establishment lost control or dissolved and a new group of people stepped up to the plate.  So, you can be fairly assured that as a GWC graduate, you will have no significant impact on the current structure.  You are being trained to build a new structure, not take over the existing one.  Thus the constant talk about needing to know forms and to not just be a constitutional groupie but to be the kind of person who understood the things that the people who wrote the Constitution understood.  That kind of training where you think about building new structures is not the kind of training for when you try to get in the drivers seat for evolving the current structure into something amazing.  It is training betting on a complete breakdown of the current social order, but willing to bide its time if that doesn't actually happen.  So despite always talking down the political revolution slant, the training is aimed at rebuilding from scratch political systems that are destroyed or decaying.  And the school's historical interpretation favored a bet that this was going to happen on a world wide basis.

That's probably why a typical GWC simulation block focuses not on transforming the cultural meaning of an existing institution which has happened over and over again in ango american culture, but on writing new constitutions for a situation where a nuclear war or something has already destroyed the current system.

I'm not much of a gambler.  If they had straight out said the education was for a bet that some terrorist would get a WMD and knock off the entire national government with it leaving the field wide open for outsiders to control the system, I'd have gone somewhere else.  They talk that possibility down because I think its a gamble in their eyes and they want to be ready for it, they just don't know when it will happen.  If you want to ask the question of does GWC train statesman for national impact and you define that national impact as a bet against national political dissolution and reformation, then the answer is a definite yes.  I trained for that scenario over and over again.  If you mean train statesman defining it by taking part in the existing political system, well, they don't want us to be completely ignorant of that sort of thing and we do train on what that might be like from time to time, but the focus is elsewhere.  Your typical graduate is, according to DeMille, probably only ready to be a statesman on the community level and really not prepared to do anything on national politics.  Yay, lets rewrite the city charter, what I always wanted to do with my life.  If your definition of statesmanship is just to prepare people to fulfill "their mission in life" as GWC teachers often put it, then its impossible to answer that question because its a moving target.  If your mission in life was to write a global constitution for a new world government that would be instituted by Christ at His second coming, then only time will tell.  I knew students who felt that might have been their life purpose.  If you feel that your life purpose is to be an exceptionally good dad, well, only time will tell whether the school helped you achieve it.  If you feel your life purpose is to start some non profit somewhere to help feed the hungry, maybe the school helped you by helping you to understand society.  If your life purpose was to have a job that required any professional degree of any sort, GWC completely failed you and you just walked away with a life enrichment degree.  If you wanted to be an entrepreneur who builds all the social systems they lead through, then maybe the school was for you.  The school would claim that a few years in the classics would make you a better scientist, doctor, or whatever.  Probably it would just make you a better civic minded community member while simultaneously being doctor or scientist or something else.

So I can't really answer whether the school makes statesman or not.  In the discussions on the subject outside the school that I've seen, nobody will agree on what it means to be one.  One moment people are defending the school as helping people become good dads, the next they will point to an obscure graduate who was elected mayor of some small town somewhere and say that is statesmanship in action.  The next moment, they might claim that being active in the ultra conservative political movement is all that is necessary to be a statesman.  But, as for whether the school produces people ready to lead and participate in the social and political systems that largely make the decisions for what it will be like to live life in this country and in this world, the answer is no unless a specific historical gamble comes true and leads to an even more unrealistic outcome of a bunch of fringe movement graduates succeeding in getting elected to a new constitutional convention.