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About this Project

The Modern Monetary Macroeconomics resources site has been designed to support the introductory text-book on the same topic being written by Professor William Mitchell (Centre of Full Employment and Equity, University of Newcastle, Australia) and Professor Randy Wray (Department of Economics, University of Missouri, Kansas City, USA). The text-book is due for publication in 2009.

The on-line resources are being developed by Professor William Mitchell, Dr James Juniper and Dr Graham Wrightson (all attached to the Centre of Full Employment and Equity, University of Newcastle, Australia).

Educational and learning philosophy

The development of resources on this website has been informed by research on "interactivity" within on-line environments, which draws especially on Alfred North Whitehead’s (1929) concept of "inert knowledge". These are notions "that are merely received into the mind without being utilized, or tested, or thrown into fresh combination". Inertness results from the passive absorption of "disconnected ideas", without illumination by "sparks of vitality".

For Whitehead, education, in every branch of study and in every lecture, is an art. It is essential to keep in mind, that science and poetry have the same root in human nature. Forgetfulness of this fact will ruin, and is ruining, our education system.

Here are some more intriguing quotes from Whitehead:

  • Experience does not occur in the clothing of verbal phrases. It involves clashes of emotion, and unspoken revelations of the nature of things. Revelation is the primary characterization of the process of knowing. The traditional theory of education is to secure youth and its teachers from revelation. It is dangerous for youth, and confusing for teachers. It upsets the accepted coordinations of doctrine.
  • Revelation is the enlargement of clarity. It is not a deduction, though it may issue from a deduction. The dictionaries are very weak on this point. … The balance is difficult to hold. But it is well known that education as mere imposed order of "things known" is a failure. The initial stages of reading, writing, and arithmetic should be suffused with revelation.
  • This discussion rejects the doctrine that students should first learn passively, and then, having learned, should apply knowledge. It is a psychological error. In the process of learning there should be present, in some sense or other, a subordinate activity of application. In fact, the applications are part of knowledge. For the very meaning of things known is wrapped up in their relationship beyond themselves. Thus unapplied knowledge is knowledge short of its meaning.

Making mistakes, Whitehead observed, is a necessary part of the learning process for new advances in knowledge can only be made by "working within present experimental error".

In his famous essay, The Aims if Education, Whitehead focuses in particular on how we can avoid "inert ideas". He recommends that we, "Do not teach too many subjects" and cautions that "What you teach, teach thoroughly." Inertness obtains when small parts of a large number of subjects are passively absorbed as "disconnected ideas", without illumination by "sparks of vitality", and without being leavened by the "joy of discovery".

He was a firm advocate of practical education arguing that - an evil side of the Platonic culture has been its total neglect of technical education as an ingredient in the complete development of ideal human beings.

Whitehead’s maxim is to avoid small parts of a large number of subjects. He further advises, "What you teach, teach thoroughly." He warns that one thing to avoid is the conception of the mind as an "instrument" that requires "sharpening". The mind is perpetually responsive and receptive, never passive, "you cannot postpone its life until you have sharpened it"!

The apprehension of ideas is a patient process, with no "royal road" to understanding. The issue is less mistaking the wood for the trees than one of making the pupil see the wood by means of the trees.

Whitehead also warned against the dangers in academic over-specialization, specifically complaining that - Each science confines itself to a fragment of the evidence and weaves its theories in terms of notions suggested by that fragment. Such a procedure is necessary by reason of the limitations of human ability. But its dangers should always be kept in mind. For example, the increasing departmentalization of universities over the last hundred years, however necessary for administrative purposes, tends to trivialize the mentality of the teaching profession.

Translating Whitehead’s philosophy into a more modern idiom, Schank et al, (1995: 633) argue that learning is and should be goal directed (that is, motivated by interest), failure driven (that is, enhanced through processes of trial-and-error and mechanisms that reveal gaps in knowledge), case-based (situated in relation to real-world problems), and tied to processes of doing or learning through use and application. Accordingly, learning systems must create engrossing environments, allow students to make mistakes, provide memorable case-based learning situations that allow access to expert opinion, and build rich and realistic simulated environments.

In addition, this website aims to promote a more critical approach to learning by highlighting modelling assumptions and their respective limitations, and by promoting a better understanding of how research is conducted

To this end it will ensure a quality eLearning and teaching infrastructure by drawing on research into the relative effectiveness of interactive graphs or system dynamic modelling incorporating positive and negative feedback loops and logistic constraints (Wheat, 2007; Forrester, 2006).

Simple models will be linked to interactive spreadsheet models (with graphical interfaces) supporting the use of interactive tabs that allow users to change parameters and policy settings, and animated "Flash" interfaces.

An important feature in the construction of the on-line resources will be the use of simple "exploding" diagrams that can gradually be rendered more complex through staged decomposition. For example, a growth in private sector activity can compensate for contractionary fiscal policies (that is, large budget surpluses), but only at the cost of ballooning and potentially unsustainable levels of private sector debt.

References

Forrester J.W. (2006) ‘System dynamics, systems thinking, and soft OR’, System Dynamics Review, 10(2-3),245-256.

Schank, R.C., Korcuska, M., and Jona, M. (1995) ‘Multi-media applications for education and training: Revolution or red herring?’, ACM Computing Surveys, 27(4), 633-35.

Wheat Jr, D. (2007) ‘The Feedback Method: A System Dynamics Approach to Teaching Macroeconomics’, Doctoral Thesis, Bergen University, (accessed 21/3/08) https://bora.uib.no/handle/1956/2239

Whitehead, A.N. (1929) ‘The Aims of Education’ http://www.anthonyflood.com/whiteheadeducation.htm