Teaching the Crash Course to Virginia Tech freshmen - Suggestions?

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Mike Pilat
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Teaching the Crash Course to Virginia Tech freshmen - Suggestions?

Hello everyone,

     I've been invited to be a guest lecturer for a sustainability program being taught at Virginia Tech. The program is taught to freshmen ("1st years" where I come from) and focuses on broad aspects of environmental and energy sustainability. I've shamelessly plugged the Crash Course to the professor and I am going to be able to make a few chapters "required viewing" in advance of my presentation. I am attempting to strike a balance of keeping the required amount manageable and as engaging as possible while still including enough of the Crash Course so that the students have a good background. I think I'd shoot for 30-45 minutes of Crash Course material as required viewing in advance of the presentation. The students can be assumed to have a basic understanding of sustainability.

     I want my focus to be on connecting the financial crisis to the energy and resource crisis and demonstrating why our economic, monetary, and financial approaches are verifiably unsustainable and incompatible with scarce resources. This is an angle that is rarely (if ever) taken in academia and I think it's important. I might title the presentation "Exponential, Infinite Money on a Spherical Planet."

     I've already done a few presentations to coworkers, but I find this environent could be a little more challenging for the following reasons:

-     Many (most?) of the students will have had no background whatsoever in economics, finance, business, etc. Those that have had ECON 101, might be a little confused if what I say doesn't mesh with status quo Keynesian economics.

-     I only have about 60 minutes to convince them of some shattering truths. In the past, I've had far more time in multiple sessions.

-     Many of the students will be there on their parents' dollar and might not have a strong interest in money since they don't have to worry about paying taxes or bills.

      The Crash Course laid the foundation for much of my understanding, but the many
debates on this site have greatly solidified it, so it is important to
me that I get some input from people on this site. Any suggestions on
which specific chapters should be required viewing and ideas for
teaching would be very welcome.

Thanks!

Mike

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Re: Teaching the Crash Course to Virginia Tech freshmen - ...

Mike,

A few weeks ago I posted a comment that might be helpful:

http://www.peakprosperity.com/forum/using-problem-solving-discussion-for...

Your one hour contraint makes this really challenging, but I do believe the problem-solving model I presented may be a way to get the point across.

Let me know if I can be of any furthur assistance.

Don

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Re: Teaching the Crash Course to Virginia Tech freshmen - ...

Mike -

I do believe you are trying to weasel into meeting my daughter.

An hour is tough - I think it would be essential to cover CC 5-9, 13 and 16.  Most Econ 101 students can get their heads around that.  Good idea to have that as a pre-req.  Once the students start watching just those chapters, I'll bet that many would have their interest piqued and would go back and watch the whole thing.

The most important piece is tying in resource scarcity and how surplus is needed to enable growth.  Marry that up with our abyssmal economic policies to underscore that we cannot continue on this path.  It would be helpful if there were a lot of faculty in attendance - hopefully you can turn this into a monthly or quarterly (or some frequency) presentation.

Keep me in the loop on how you are assembling info - I would be happy to review and comment on what you are putting together.

Just leave the goofy tie at home.

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Re: Teaching the Crash Course to Virginia Tech freshmen - ...

Dogs: I've already got big plans with my tie, have no worries. I might even have to squeeze in a couple of Jefferson quotes...maybe the students can gobble back at me.

As for chasing after your daughter, I suppose I must have some really good connections if I can just snap my fingers and get myself invited for a presentation there on a week's notice. Either that, or Wahoo expertise is in very high demand...in reality, the seeds were planted for this last September, when I was just discovering this site. I'm glad I waited to give the presentation because I've learned so much more in the meantime.

The "growth" theme is very important, I will need to break down the mindset that growth = prosperity. I figure I could put up some quotes from our "leaders" and ask ourselves if we're really diagnosing the problem correctly here. Is falling home prices the cause or the symptom? Are high energy prices the cause (of the recession) or the symptom (of peak oil)? And are low interest rates by the Fed a symptom (of a dysfunctional economy) or a cause (of confusion and disruption of market signals)?

I will certainly try to get some material out once I get it ready. There's times when I wish I could pursue this full time, like Chris does. And there's times when I wish I had 30 hours a day to work with...

Thanks,

Mike

 

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Re: Teaching the Crash Course to Virginia Tech freshmen - ...
Mike Pilat wrote:

Dogs: I've already got big plans with my tie, have no worries. I might even have to squeeze in a couple of Jefferson quotes...maybe the students can gobble back at me.

<snip>

Thanks,

Mike

Mike,

When you started off I almost thought you were going to say you had big plans with Dogs daughter!  Just thought I'd throw some fuel on the fire!!

Great news on your presentation. I have done many such events and I think the most difficult thing to do is to limit (or focus) your subject matter to a clear objective. The feedback I have gotten is that if I try to cover all of the issues that it becomes too much for people to easily comprehend. 

Another factor is that when you do deliver the message effectively there is a desire by the audience to have you tell them what to do next. I usually try to have some ideas on how to direct people because many will want to get into action on it.

The best to you and your efforts.

Coop

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Re: Teaching the Crash Course to Virginia Tech freshmen - ...

Good luck Mike!  What a great opportunity! 

Don I like the problem solving approach you discussed in the post you linked to.  I find that I also have an affinty towards that kind of an approach; it just seems so intuitive!

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Re: Teaching the Crash Course to Virginia Tech freshmen - ...

I think Dogs has the most fundamental point to make and that is that surplus is required for growth. Also tying in with that is that growth does not equal prosperity.

If I try to make the point that we basically cannot grow, then my goal for this presentation will have to be to prove that our monetary system forces us to grow and that it is impossible to do that. Perhaps all of this is a bit redundant now.

So I guess the question becomes how does the monetary system force us to grow? Off my cuff, there's two things I'd have to point out:

1) As long as we loan money into existence at interest debt will always exceed cash and we are forced to try to grow.

2) I'd have to prove that even 0.00% interest loaned money is unsustainable. I suppose you could point out that there's no incentive to lend out anything if there's no interest on it, but if the Fed or gov is doing the loaning, they don't really need an incentive. Also, I suppose you could argue that any loaned money system could cause people to take excessive risks and potentially default and never repay, but that problem is present now as well.

I guess my questions are: A) is it necessary to make this second point? B) Is 0% loaned money prima facie unsustainable? C) If so, how to prove it?

Thanks for the input, everyone. Coop, I think your advice is exactly what I need to do. Don, I will be checking out your thread a little later tonight!

 Mike

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Re: Teaching the Crash Course to Virginia Tech freshmen - ...
Mike Pilat wrote:

So I guess the question becomes how does the monetary system force us to grow? Off my cuff, there's two things I'd have to point out:

1) As long as we loan money into existence at interest debt will always exceed cash and we are forced to try to grow.

2) I'd have to prove that even 0.00% interest loaned money is unsustainable. I suppose you could point out that there's no incentive to lend out anything if there's no interest on it, but if the Fed or gov is doing the loaning, they don't really need an incentive. Also, I suppose you could argue that any loaned money system could cause people to take excessive risks and potentially default and never repay, but that problem is present now as well.

Mike

Mike,

There is a huge difference here as regards the underlying movtivation to lend. The Fed is a private bank created by the Federal Reserve Act of 1913. Jefferson, Jackson, Lincoln all fought the battle of the central banks and we the people ultimately lost.They are in it for themselves and we let them do it.

If the Gov is doing the "lending"  then it could do so without interest, taxes and the like. Taxes in the US go to pay the interest on the Nat'l Debt.That interest goes to the owners of the Fed tax free. This has been going on for the last 98 years. The seven men who met on Jekyll Island to mastermind the FED owned more than 25% of the wealth of the world in 1910. What do you suppose the balance sheet looks like now. Perhaps i'm preaching to the choir here Mike and I apologise if that is the case. Just wanted to clarify the issues.

If the Gov were "of the people, by the people and for the people" then we would have an entirely different scene. That said, we simply need to abolish the Act, fire the Fed, send the bastards a bill for back taxes due on earned income and wipe the debt slate clean. That is probably a subject best left for another seminar in another town!!!!  We must educate first!You're doing a fantastic job om that. Very Well Done!

May the force be with you. Our country needs more young interested and savy people like yourself.

Coop

 

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Re: Teaching the Crash Course to Virginia Tech freshmen - ...

Coop: Thanks for pointing that out. I do have a pretty good understanding of the Fed, I think, but I have always found that my understanding is not fully tested until I get in front of a bunch of people and attempt to show them that I know what I'm talking about. It's easy enough for me to think about responses on here and take the time to type them out, but I want to make sure that I will have good responses when the questions start coming.

I don't think I can do too much Fed-bashing (though I'm tempted), but I will plant a few seeds in their minds if I can. Maybe some can join me at the next End The Fed rally on April 25!

I know this topic has come up on other forums, but I'm still trying to check it for "bulletproofness." It seems that if the government were to do the lending and were to lend at a rate of 0.00% then it would be (at least theoretically) possible for our basic structure of loaned money to continue. 

And this all raises the question of whether or not this is even a helpful angle to take in the presentation?? I've got a little more thinking to do on all of this.

Thanks,

Mike

 

 

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Re: Teaching the Crash Course to Virginia Tech freshmen - ...

mike, when is the speech scheduled? the reason i ask is that i will have a simliar experience coming up this week and as always when it comes to speaking in public, the intended speech is nothing like the relaity speech, and i could have some post-game analysis for you that might be helpful.

for a shameless plug to my own video's in which i was tackling the same dilemna, 'which route to take?', i took the david walker approach; easy to engage the audience and the summation in part 3 of my video has a very present day impact, the economic stimulus package.

http://www.peakprosperity.com/forum/my-youtbe-videos-awareness-understanding-action/12592

and another thread in which chris k makes an excellent post

http://www.peakprosperity.com/forum/crash-course-presenter-materials/10731

 ... honestly the exponential growth presentation may be an hour in and of itself to present it correctly, taking on more than one subject matter could be a huge folly IMHO. but more than anything else, please take video of either the speech or the layout like i have done, it's very helpful, the criticisms are great and the compliments are inspiring.

steve

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Re: Teaching the Crash Course to Virginia Tech freshmen - ...

Hi Mike,

I just rewatched the CC to get ready for Rowe.  I forgot how powerful bringing the 3 Es together near the end was.  I recommend rewatching that chapter and try to imagine what the minimal amount you need to present of the 3Es is in order to make a conclusion that brings them together in the same powerful way Chris does.  A one hour lecture is not a lot, but with the prework on the CC they will have done and their knowledge or interest in sustainablility then it should be possible.  When I give a lecture I focus on what is exciting to me, as that will get communicated and be the thing that keeps the audience interested.  Leave enough time for questions and be prepared to fill in gaps then.  Bring your presentation to Rowe and I'm sure plenty of us there will be happy to give you feedback.

Good luck

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Re: Teaching the Crash Course to Virginia Tech freshmen - ...

Steve and David:

I certainly wish I would have the presentation in draft form for Rowe, but that is unlikely. I will be presenting on Febraury 19th and any post game analysis is certainly welcome!

As I see it, I will have to prove that our present system enforces growth as a policy but that the biggest voting member (our earth) isn't too thrilled about this. Getting to this objective is what I'm continuing to think about.

Thanks,
Mike

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Re: Teaching the Crash Course to Virginia Tech freshmen - ...

Mike - congrats on this excellent opportunity.

If given the same opportunity, I would seek to plant seeds and little more.  My goal would be to reach perhaps 10% of the people on this first, short pass through the material but to leave 50% of them with their curiosity piqued.

Great teachers don't "deliver material" they tug on people's curiosity.  Information does not equal knowledge.  The way the human brain is wired, what we call "intelligence" or would identify as a "learned individual" is the way that different ideas or facts become related to each other in someone's brain.  And what promotes these connections better than anything else?  Curiosity.

For the PBS shoot I was given 30 minutes in total and I narrowed my talk down to fleshing out a couple of disconnects that I currently see in the hopes that these would prompt the viewers to say, "Hey, yeah, what about that?"

These disconnects were:

  • How will ‘unlocking the credit markets’ help?
  • How is it possible for an insolvent nation to borrow money from an insolvent financial system to bail out insolvent financial institutions?

In the first case I used enough facts to support why that disconnect exits for me, mainly building towards the Debt-to-GDP chart which pretty much makes the case, all on its own, that the credit markets were on a clearly unsustainable trajectory prior to the crisis.  If this is the case, and it's not possible to expand debt faster than the economy forever, then there's a disconnect between our urgent efforts to "unlock the credit markets" and reality.  Isn't that curious?

In the second case I built twards the Treasury department's own assessment that the US has a net present value shortfall of some $53 trillion dollars and coupled that to the assessment that the entire banking system is collectively bankrupt.  Once you accept these as twin possibilities (realities?) then the question I ask above become quite the curious event.

In your case you are given a relatively short time and want to cover a lot of material.  The most powerful thing you could do would be to ignite some curiosity.  Trust me, if you do this, you will be rewarded later on (up to two years later in some cases has been my experience) by someone coming up to you and saying, "What you said stuck with me and so I...."

That's educating.

Metaphorically this is beautifully represented in the Sistine Chapel where, in the dead center, if you crane your neck and look up, DaVinci left the finger of God and man separated by the slightest amount.  It creates both tension and curiosity.  It is a completely different painting if the fingers touch.  Why are they separated?  Who is reaching for the other harder?  What will happen if they touch?  

So feel free to ask some questions for which you purposely do not provide any answers.  In fact, resist the temptation to answer. 

Some possible points of curiosity and tension for your talk:

  •  What will happen when an economy based on expansion hits a physical limit?  Does nature provide any clues?
  • Is it possible for energy efficiency to behave the same way as energy expansion in our economy?
  • If we know that population will level off at some point, how might that happen?
  • The current economic crisis is both understandable and was predicted by many but certainly not most.  What does this tell us?

In each case I cannot think of how to answer any of the questions without actively connecting all sorts of disparate topics.  Politics, policy, economics, science, past observations, etc, all come into play.

That's creating the right environment for sparking intelligence. 

I look forward to discussing this some more with you in person this weekend.

Best,
Chris

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Re: Teaching the Crash Course to Virginia Tech freshmen - ...
Mike Pilat wrote:

Coop: Thanks for pointing that out. I do have a pretty good understanding of the Fed, I think, but I have always found that my understanding is not fully tested until I get in front of a bunch of people and attempt to show them that I know what I'm talking about. It's easy enough for me to think about responses on here and take the time to type them out, but I want to make sure that I will have good responses when the questions start coming.

<snip>

And this all raises the question of whether or not this is even a helpful angle to take in the presentation?? I've got a little more thinking to do on all of this.

Thanks,

Mike

Mike,

Looks like you now have some tools from the master. Can't beat that!

As regards your last Q. I would recommend not. It invariably leads into an opinionated  argumentative breakdown. And in truth it really is not germain to the more pressing issues we are all facing. 

Chris does a wonderful job of arousing interest and that is the real key. If we can all improve our ability to accomplish that then we will shortly have an army of questioning individuals.

Maybe someone will soon ask President Obama   " Why do we need to have the Fed print our money for us?  Seems like we could print it out of thin air just as easily as they do!"

Enjoy the conference and the best to you on your presentation.

Coop

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Re: Teaching the Crash Course to Virginia Tech freshmen - ...

I agree, Coop. I think I initially wanted to accomplish "too much" in this lecture. Chris has made the clear case that less is more, in a sense. I certainly wanted to plant some seeds for the students without giving specific solutions, but Chris has clarified that this should be the prime tactic that I should take. I heartily agree. Pretty much the most important life lessons and information I have gleaned I have taught myself. Likewise, the purpose of this lecture should probably be to inform the students just enough to inspire them and arouse their curiosity.

Chris: You obviously have a great deal of teaching experience and the clarity of your answer shows that. Thanks so much! And when the students wish to thank me, I'll point them back to the source.

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Re: Teaching the Crash Course to Virginia Tech freshmen - ...

Hello everyone,

I just wanted to give a recap on the presentation at Virginia Tech.

Things went well, though I think my agenda was a little too ambitious as I did not plan on having so many questions along the way. But it was greatly encouraging to see a high level of engagement amongst the students and faculty. I think it's safe to say that I presented topics that they (and perhaps the faculty present) had never seen before.

Before I got underway, I asked if they had viewed the Crash Course chapters that I had assigned (5-10, and 16). It seemed the vast majority of the students had. Then I ventured to ask if anyone would be brave enough to admit they had watched more than was assigned. At least a few had. I praised them for their curiosity and encouraged all to watch the rest of the Crash Course. After seeing who had viewed it, I asked the students for their responses to the Crash Course material: Was anyone shocked? Did anyone disagree with it? Was anyone confused? The consensus seemed to be mild confusion mixed with disbelief regarding the way our monetary system works. This was good, at least they cared about the material.

I basically started by discussing information sources and attempting to break some blind faith in the mainstream. From there I briefly discussed Peak Oil and net energy and their implications for the "real economy." Finally, I discussed the monetary system and emphasized an example using a desert island economy in which money is loaned into existence at interest on a small scale. After spending some time on this example and taking questions, the students seemed to understand. Finally, I asked the students to ponder what actions they would be taking if they were certain there was going to be inflation or deflation coming up. I asked them to ponder what effects high inflation or deflation would have on the real economy.

All of the questions slowed things down, but I had the professor send the students an e mail with resources and a concluding paragraph that I did not have the time to discuss in class:

Conclusion

 "We have strong evidence to show us that all resources - particularly oil
- are becoming harder and harder to find. Not only are the resources
being depleted, but existing resource bases are requiring even more
energy to exploit. Population and demand continue to grow. As we have
seen, our monetary system is one that requires growth in the money
supply in order to function. This perpetual expansion of the monetary
supply drives certain behaviors that affect the real economy and put a
lot of pressure towards growth in the production of more and more goods
and services. The deeply ingrained nature of growth that our monetary
system creates is obvious when we see economists frequently opting to say
"negative growth" as opposed to finding a suitable antonym. As
we continue to face the crisis we are in, we need to evaluate whether or
not perpetual growth is a solution or a problem. We must
also reconcile the conflict between a monetary system that must
grow
with an energy and resource base that can't
grow
."

*****

From what the professor later told me, my presentation resulted in a "buzz" amongst the faculty and students that lasted well after the presentation was complete. This is exactly what I was hoping for. No one had a perfect grasp of the material, but I think all of them had an understanding of the potential consequences of our actions and I think (hope) that this will drive them to seek more information.

At the end, I spoke with an ECON major friend that my sister had invited to the class. She told me she was about ready to read The Creature From Jekyll Island. Best of all, she told me that I explained the monetary system far better than any of her Keynesian professors.

I think it's safe to say that I injected an angle (money / economy) into this "sustainability" program that was largely disregarded before due to either A) a lack of understanding, or B) a perceived lack of pertinence.

I will have to wait to see how many of the students look into this more to judge just how successful this was.

Thanks for all of your input into helping me prepare for this!

Mike

 

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Re: Teaching the Crash Course to Virginia Tech freshmen - ...

Mike,

That's awesome!  Congratulations.  I have a cousin who is a freshman at VT this year.  I wonder if he was in your class?!  

It sounds like if nothing else, you got people to recognize and think about the real problems we face.  That is certainly the first step.

Patrick

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Re: Teaching the Crash Course to Virginia Tech freshmen - ...

Very Well Done Mike!

 Thanks for the very interesting recap to your presentation.  I had sent CC  DVDs  to all of my counties supervisors and city councilmen in January. I had a meeting with one supervisor last Thursday which went well but as it turned out, had not done the CC as yet. I have another meeting on Thursday with another official who has listened to it.

So far my observation is that only a small percentage of persons will actually watch the material unless I have done a serious one on one as regards the relevance of the information. I think time spent by presenting to a group such as you have done will get better results.

Coop 

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Re: Teaching the Crash Course to Virginia Tech freshmen - ...

Coop: Thanks for your efforts. None are wasted unless you have options for a bigger impact somewhere else (think opportunity cost).

I certainly hope that I sparked some interest on the part of students and faculty. There's around 100 people (students + faculty) who viewed part of the Crash Course that might not have otherwise. That much is a plus.

Now if I could only get my own school to bring me back for a presentation...I need to work on that.

 

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