Week in Review – gao kao, google books, and more!

This week’s Week in Review explores Google’s Book Search, China’s gao kao (“high test”), a call for papers on mentoring, and an article about linguistics and dying languages. If you’d like to contribute to next week’s Review, add your link(s) in the comments, or send them to Tom or Mike directly.

From Tom

Adam Smith: What’s Next for Google Book Search? (Chronicle of Higher Education, 06/12/09):  Do you use Google Books to take a preview and/or search materials?  Is your institution partnering with Google Book Search?  Does Smith address your concerns regarding access, fair use, and privacy?  What are your thoughts on orphan works?  How do you define orphan works?

Google has scanned millions of books and made snippets available online through its ambitious Book Search program. The project has taken heat from authors and publishers, but Adam Smith, Google’s director of product management, says it’s a good thing for academe. (Audio interview, 9:36)

[Mike notes: there are at least two groups not happy with Google’s digital books program: the Department of Justice and Amazon.com.  It will be interesting to see how this plays out.]

China’s College Entry Test Is an Obsession (NY Times, 06/13/09):  Who is familiar with China’s gao kao, i.e., high test?  Would a boost of similar seriousness about education be helpful in the United States or would it increase competitive commercialization of higher education?  How does one encourage the pursuit and wise application of knowledge through vocation in the wider society?

The Chinese test is in some ways like the American SAT, except that it lasts more than twice as long. The nine-hour test is offered just once a year and is the sole determinant for admission to virtually all Chinese colleges and universities. About three in five students make the cut.

Families pull out all the stops to optimize their children’s scores.

From Mike

Mentoring: Call for Papers – The University of New Mexico Mentoring Institute is seeking proposals about effective mentoring for their Second Mentoring Conference. I went last year and was favorably impressed. While the institute and conference are hosted by a public university, there were a number of Christian academics involved last year (from both secular and Christian universities), and issues related to religious faith were openly discussed. For example, several of the mentoring presentations addressed spiritual components of mentoring, two of the plenary speakers (Brad Johnson and Lewis Schlosser) spoke briefly about their different religious views in the context of their mentor-mentee and collegial relationship, and several speakers spoke to questions about how to relate to a mentor or protege with very different religious, political, or personal beliefs from your own. Deadline for submissions is July 31.

Languages on Life Support – From the Chronicle, a survey of the state of dying languages in the world today, and the efforts (or lack thereof) of academic linguists to preserve them.

Of the estimated 6,000 to 7,000 languages in the world — about one-half of the number used 10,000 years ago — at least one-half will almost certainly be dead by midcentury, while another 40 percent will most likely become too diminished to survive much beyond 2100. The causes are largely agreed upon: colonization and other demographic shifts, government neglect or outright suppression of regional and indigenous languages, the influence of mass media.

The article explores the question of whether Noam Chomsky’s theory of a “universal grammar” eliminates the urgency to record details of specific languages.  Chomsky himself says no, but others aren’t so sure.  Personally, I was struck by the complete absence of any mention whatsoever of groups like Wycliffe Bible Translators or SIL, which are doing serious work around the world preserving languages.   (For more on linguistics, see my previous post about Dan Everett.)

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Tom Grosh IV

Enjoys daily conversations regarding living out the Biblical Story with his wife Theresa, four girls, around the block, at Elizabethtown Brethren in Christ Church (where he hosts the Christian Scholar Series), on campus as part of InterVarsity Graduate & Faculty Ministry (serving fellowships such as the Christian Medical Society/CMDA at Penn State College of Medicine), online as the Associate Director of the Emerging Scholars Network, in the culture at large, and in God's creation.

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