Sunday, October 30, 2005

Empathy for the poor?

A recent thread in the maling list of "FEUI lecturers" discussed about how to create students' empathy for the poor. A senior professor talked about his initiative to bring his students on 'Development Economic' course to Bantar Gebang, Jakarta's garbage dumspter which is also a resident of some poor family with a very miserable living standard. He talked about how his students spend some hours there, played with the kids, and watched the people live from garbage. Some fellow lecturers thought about institutionalizing such initiative and integrating it into the curricula.

While I applauded the senior professor's initiative, I have some reserves on the idea of regular student 'field trip' to Bantar Gebang or any other student area. OK, they spend some hours there, play with the kids, watching the people eat from garbage, and what after that? OK, perhaps go home with some empathy after that. But what about the benefit for the poor?

Surely, an image of UI students regularly visiting Bantar Gebang (or any other slum areas) each year makes me a bit worried rather than proud. The poor will at best get some 'empathy.' But will empathy lift them up from poverty? Moreover, does somone consider the possibility that they would get sick of having students visiting for their field trip purpose?

Meaiwhule the students get their grade for that, which they will use it to compete in the job market. Getting relatively high salary and opportunity -- talking about education creating inequality?

Monday, October 24, 2005

Grading the Government

To my understanding you give grades to your students who take your class or exams. Or else, you grade if you are asked by a committee of something to evaluate some people -- and that committe asks you because you are an expert. Another thing that you might play a "grader" is in reviewing something completely on subjective ground. Think about movies, books, hotels, restaurants, etc. But bear in mind that when it comes to taste, nobody can dictate what's good or bad for you. Such reviews, while might be useful for some people, they are not objective indicators. Even if Ebert says that Lord of the Rings is fantastic, I still don't like it. Does it give me a "fail"? As for the "gradee" side, it's true that there are powerful reviewers (or, "grader" for that matter) -- so powerful, the "target" can loose his/her job. I've heard some Hollywood rookies gave up their careers because Ebert "failed" them. But hey, that's their problem. I've heard many economics titans actually got C in their micro. Or, some seminal papers got rejected first and later on got published somewhere else with flying colors -- some even got Nobel prize!

So, I have no interest in this business of grading the government top officials on their one year anniversary in the administration. They are not my students. And I am no expert in whatever they are doing. Nor do I have experience as a cabinet member.

Criticizing is different thing. When you don't think the government is doing something correct, you speak up your mind. And, better yet, offer alternative way out. But giving letter grades A-B-C or numeral grades 5-7-8 etc is too much of sophomoric act. Some local newspapers, pundits, and a group of economists seem to disagree with me.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Welcome to Cafe Salemba

Welcome to the Cafe. We serve food for thoughts: from Marshallian Pie to Equilibrium Croissant. Don't forget our finest coffee blend, Keynes Liberated. On weekends, we have life music by Monetary Swing and Separating Hyperplane. Enjoy.

Your hosts are: Aco (Jakarta, Indonesia), Ujang (New Haven, CT), Sjamsu (Washington, DC), and Ape (Cambridge, MA).