Amateur Radios Fall from Grace: the discussion in QRZ on licensing and testing
Amateur Radios Fall from Grace:
The discussion in QRZ on licensing and testing
The Great Debate in QRZ
There is a very interesting debate going on in the http://qrz.com open discussion forums about amateur radio licensing and testing.
The discussion was initiated by Charles Young, KY5U. Charles posted a presentation from the Arizona Section of the ARRL concerning a strategy for passing the Amateur Radio exams. Anything out of the ordinary, or unexpected, gets attention. So perhaps this advice from this ARRL section was unexpected:
Study ONLY the CORRECT answers. Don’t try to learn the theory.
MINIMIZE The Things You Need To Learn…………MEMORIZE.
At the time of this writing there are over 600 replies to this posting.
With 600+ responses, I skimmed many of them. I found this exchange interesting.
An Interesting Exchange – Who are these guys?
First, who are the players? This is the public information that these folks have placed in their QRZ profiles.
KB1SF – Keith C Baker – Extra Class
I’m a Past President of AMSAT, The Radio Amateur Satellite Corporation (www.amsat.org). I also served as Executive Vice President of the organization from 1994 to 1998 and was a member of the Board of Directors of AMSAT from 1994 to 2003. Currently, I’m serving as the President of the Lambton County (Ontario, Canada) Radio Club (www.ve3sar.org).
AG3Y – James Stanicek – Extra Class
I was a Professional Broadcaster and held an F.C.C. 1st Class Radio-Telephone license for several years before becoming a Ham. My past jobs have included being the Chief Engineer for a medium market FM station, and Assistant Chief Engineer for a medium market UHF Television station.
My last job was as a Technical Specialist working for a large Satellite Internet and Television program provider. I worked in the R & D Labs as a prototype builder/modifier for the outdoor ground units for the new era in Broadband Services provided by GeoStationary Satellites. I used microscopes and very tiny tools to fabricate circuitry using 0402 and smaller S MD components.
AG3Y – James Stanicek – Extra Class
This posting is fairly clear and to the point.
The N.E.A. [ National Educational Association ] or whoever makes those kinds of decisions, has turned the American education system into a complete “teach by the test” system, and every teacher I have ever had a chance to talk to, either active, or retired, simply HATES it!If you look at the achievement levels at which our youngsters rate, you will see that they have slipped far down the scale from what they used to be several years ago.It seems that the mucky-mucks at the F.C.C. have followed suit and turned the amateur radio testing system into the same sort of disaster. It is well known, and stated repeatedly that the new breed of ham radio license holder has a far lower level of understanding about what the avocation is supposed to be all about. Prior to getting their licenses, many have never even HEARD a signal on the HF bands, and questions about “how do I build a dipole” etc. are posted over and over.This “gotta have it NOW” fixation has got to stop, or we are all going to be seeing a nation full of discouraged, uneducated people trying to do in weeks, what it took us O.T.s YEARS to accomplish!
I am going to take the interpretation as this:
One could say that, testing in a traditional sense, was to validate that the student has mastered some defined set of knowledge – that they have an “understanding”. There was a priority of knowledge – the exam was a tool to test the students mastery of the knowledge. If you could pass the exam then it was an indirect demonstration that you mastered the body of knowledge for which the exam was designed to test.
The point is that mastery of knowledge was primary. The exam was a tool to test that mastery.
The new approach seems to be a focus on the tool – how to manipulate the tool to give an appearance that one has mastered the knowledge. In a sense, the new approach is to “teach the test(exam)” which in effect, subverts the intended purpose of the exam.
That is, teach students how to subvert the tool rather than teach them the body of knowledge for which the exam (tool) was designed to test, verify, or validate. The effort is redirected toward subverting a tool. The effort of “teaching (subvert the exam) ” is now nearly disengaged from teaching the body of knowledge.
It is the “quick fix” that James, AG3Y, writes about. It would go like this. I want to create an appearance that I have mastered a body of knowledge; the exam is to tool to measure mastery of knowledge; if I can find a clever way to subvert the the tool, then I can have the appearance of mastery – without mastery.
Applying the Arizona ARRL Section Strategy
Here’s how this would work.
This is a question from the Technician Test
T9A12 (C) – What is the approximate length, in inches, of a 6-meter 1/2 wavelength wire dipole antenna?
A. 6 inches
B. 50 inches
C. 112 inches
D. 236 inches
Following the advice of the Arizona Section of the ARRL one would read the question and memorize the answer “112 inches”. So, its a matter of question and answer association – this is why the testing strategy is to never read a wrong answer. It’s pattered after a stimulus/response approach.
If you hear “What is the approximate length, in inches, of a 6-meter 1/2 wavelength wire dipole antenna?” you respond “112 inches”. There is no conceptual knowledge necessary other than memorization.
What have you lost? If you could truly answer the question above from a set of concepts you would know the following.
You would know:
- The relationship of frequency, wavelength, and the speed of light
- The velocity of the speed of light
- The concept of velocity factor in a wire
- Conversion of meters, feet, and inches
- Using all the above, derive the formula for the approximate length of a dipole at any frequency
- Use the above formula as a practical matter in numerous situations.
So, rather than investing effort and time in mastery of the concepts above one invests effort in memorizing the answer as stimulus/response – “112 inches” You need not understand anything about dipoles, resonant frequency, the speed of light, velocity factor, or any of it.
It is important to note that mastery of the first four concepts above gives you the practical power of item 5 and 6 – the ability to derive a formula and calculating the approximate length of a 1/2 wave dipole for any frequency. In the memorization model – you are helpless.
This results in what James has pointed out. That is, having memorized only the answers and passed the Amateur exams … “…how do I build a dipole” etc. are posted over and over.”
At the opposite extreme – that of conceptual understanding of underlying principles, theory, and some math – you can go much farther. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dipole_antenna
But once seduced by the path of “memorizing the answer” – you will never get there from here.
KB1SF – Keith C Baker – Extra Class
Keith wrote a very complex response. I have added some commentary along the way
KB1SF – Keith C Baker
As others here have so eloquently noted…according to the ITU, ours was always intended to simply be an “amateur” radio service made up of “amateurs”…not the achievement-based, “No budding RF Engineer Left Behind” radio service that, unfortunately, the FCC turned us into back in the late 1950s.
And, as some of you know, for a number of years now, I’ve been advocating that the content and comprehensiveness of our tests for entry and advancement in our Service should simply match the specific privileges they grant.
Right now, they very clearly don’t.
Indeed, these “incentives” for advancement have all largely been set up to do nothing more than entice people into “higher learning” by stoking their egos…creating a whole series of achievement-based “rewards” that include gaining so-called “exclusive” access to artificially subdivided frequencies and bandwidth. Clearly, this “incentive” nonsense was designed for absolutely no other purpose than to force “education” by stroking people’s egos, thereby separating the “us’es” from the “them’s” in our Service.
Or, to put it more bluntly, for the last 50 years, our entire licensing system (beyond the Technician license) has been based on nothing more than pure, unadulterated snobbery.
I took at look at the definitions of snobbery
A snob is someone who adopts the worldview of snobbery — that some people are inherently inferior to him or her for any one of a variety of reasons, including real or supposed intellect, wealth, education, ancestry, etc…
However, a form of snobbery can be adopted by someone not a part of that group; a pseudo-intellectual, a celebrity worshiper, and a poor person idolizing money and the rich are types of snobs who do not base their snobbery on their personal attributes. Such a snob idolizes and imitates, if possible, the manners, worldview, and lifestyle of a classification of people to which he or she aspires, but does not yet belong, and to which he or she may never belong (wealthy, famous, intellectual, beautiful, etc.).
It is agreed, however, that the word “snob” broke into broad public usage with William Makepeace Thackeray’s Book of Snobs… Thackeray was implying, were the showy things of this world…
Some people may be motivated by “showy things” as in the description above. In the context of amateur radio this could be a vanity title like General class, or Advanced class, or Extra. In the business world, job titles are important to some people. It is sort of a trick of some Human Resource departments to give a person a “promotion” with a vanity job title but very little change in compensation, benefits, or responsibility. A vanity job title costs a company nothing – yet it has value to people..
A person could be a snob by associating themselves with titles and classes of people to which they know they can never belong “Such a snob idolizes and imitates, if possible, the manners, worldview, and lifestyle of a classification of people to which he or she aspires, but does not yet belong, and to which he or she may never belong…”
It could very well be that a person who goes after an Extra according to the Arizona ARRL Section Strategy are just these sort of people that are the snobs. These are the folks that want the [ vanity ] title without the concomitant mastery of knowledge for which the exam was originally designed to test or validate.
But to call someone a snob who legitimately masters the knowledge base for Extra class and does not subvert the purpose of the exam would not be right in all cases.
It comes down to motivation. Why does someone get an Extra class? What drives people?
One answer is curiosity. The drive of science is curiosity. Asking questions for which there are not yet answers. In the early 1900′s, at the beginning of the wireless age, I would say that the reason why people learned about radio was simply to learn as much as they could – driven by curiosity. In the early 1900′s, I could imagine one would learn as much as was in the body of knowledge about radio at the time, and then extend that knowledge through theory and experimentation. That is, advance the state-of-the-art.
Now, how could a pursuit of knowledge like this be called snobbery? Such a pursuit of knowledge is in fact achievement-based. You demonstrate your mastery of knowledge by a) what you can do; b) the concepts you understand related to what you can do and what you can imagine; c) your ability to extend the known body of knowledge beyond what it is in a particular point of time in history.
How can “enticing people into higher learning be a bad thing? “… Indeed, these “incentives” for advancement have all largely been set up to do nothing more than entice people into “higher learning” by stoking their egos.” If there were no “higher learning” in Radio, we’d all be using Spark Gap in 2009.
KB1SF – Keith C Baker
And while it IS true that ours has become a licensing system that now allows “wet-behind-the-ears” Technicians, after passing a horrifically simple, 35 question exam, the “privilege” of building and operating, for example, a full KW amplifier (from scratch, no less!) for 2.4 GHz and then aiming the antenna at themselves (or their neighbors) at full tilt, thereby causing irreparable eye damage to both.
But, ours is ALSO licensing system where the content and comprehensiveness of what’s on the General Class examination (and ALL of what’s on the Extra Class exam!) go WELL beyond what is minimally required by the international Radio Regulations to provide a reasonable assurance that such license holders will, in fact, operate their stations in a safe and courteous manner with the added privileges those licenses specifically grant.
It seems that James and Keith are talking past each other… “go WELL beyond what is minimally required by the international Radio Regulations to provide a reasonable assurance that such license holders will, in fact, operate their stations in a safe and courteous manner with the added privileges those licenses specifically grant.”
What are we trying to create when we license amateur radio operators? James, AG3Y, seems to be on the path to creating amateur radio operators as people who can master a sort of abstract body of knowledge as well as practical knowledge – to extend the state-of-the-art of Radio. Keith seems to be on the path to “functional” operators – people who know a set of practices but maybe don’t understand the why or wherefore of those practices. For example, people who can calculate the length of a dipole from a formula, but have little knowledge or understanding of how that formula was derived or the underlying concepts that make the formula a valid approximation of resonance for a dipole.
KB1SF – Keith C Baker
And, as if that weren’t enough, these blatant disconnects in our current licensing system have now made our higher-class exams (particularly the one for the Extra Class license) systemically discriminatory (spelled “illegal”) under a whole plethora of current US federal equal access laws relating to how US Government-administered licenses are to be granted. That’s because our 1950s-era licensing and testing approach (not to mention the content and comprehensiveness of our exams) remain so completely out of touch with the specific, largely ego-based privileges that they grant and, in the case of our Extra Class exam, go well beyond what the International Radio Regulations require for full access to our bands.
Would someone please explain to me what specific additional technical or operational skills (beyond those required to obtain a General Class license) are absolutely required to safely and courteously operate in the so-called “Extra Class” portions of OUR bands?
And, how does mastering all 600-plus pages of the ARRL’s Extra Class License manual (a “hazing ritual” required by all but the most learned BSEEs in our ranks) to successfully PASS that examination DIRECTLY relate in ANY way to the skills required to fill out an application for a so-called “exclusive” call sign?
Wow. Driven by curiosity and a desire to learn toward mastery a body of knowledge, the Extra exam is no “hazing ritual”. Far from it; it is simply more to learn on the path – a very long path at that.
Having taken only 2 courses in electronics in college as part of a degree in physics, I would say that the average 1st or 2nd year engineering major in electronics knows far more than what is on the Extra exam Bottom line, mastery of the Extra class material would allow you to sustain a conversation with a teenager or early 20′s something undergraduate college student majoring in electronics.
I don’t think an undergrad college student is on some ego-trip in his/her education. They are following their curiosity, mastering a body of knowledge in a certain domain, and hopefully, getting compensation ( a job ) upon graduation. Mastery of knowledge is no ego trip – it’s a means to an end – to earn a living.
If Extra class is less knowledge than a teenage kid in college – what “snobbery” or “elitism” could there be in holding an Extra class Amateur Radio license?
KB1SF – Keith C Baker
Unfortunately, far too many US Hams remain blissfully ignorant of the fact that most governments in the rest of the world steadfastly refrained from buying into the FCC’s ego-stroking, achievement-based, incentive licensing nonsense for their own Amateur Services. In fact, throughout the rest of the world, Amateur licenses are usually regarded as “certificates of safety”, much like the written test one takes to obtain a license to operate a private motor vehicle or to fly a private aircraft.
That is, these other country’s licensing systems are specifically designed to be just comprehensive enough to do NOTHING MORE than provide a reasonable assurance to government regulators that an applicant for a Ham license won’t become a safety hazard or a nuisance to his or her self (or their neighbors) or become a nuisance to others on the bands, or to other services.
I think here one can find Keith’s implicit (if not explicit) definition of Amateur Radio – its “NOTHING MORE” and “just comprehensive enough” to ensure an amateur radio operator is not going to “…become a safety hazard or a nuisance to his or her self (or their neighbors) or become a nuisance to others on the bands, or to other services.”
The Fall from Grace…
In the opinion above, Amateur Radio has taken a very hard deep fall from grace. Far from its historical roots where Amateur Radio was making advances in Radio, now all we are interested in is the assurance that Amateur Radio operators don’t kill themselves or others with their hobby. It sounds like Amateur Radio Operators are now the “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” – those who only know enough to be dangerous.
KB1SF – Keith C Baker
It is an irrefutable fact that our average age is now approaching 60 and the number of Amateur Radio licensees hasn’t grown in the United States since 2003 (or 1999 if you take into account that the license data we’re looking at will always be 10 years out of date). And, sadly, BOTH of these downward trends show absolutely NO sign of reversing themselves anytime soon.
However, based on their regulatory actions in our Service over the last 20 years (including their latest decision to drop all forms of Morse testing), it’s absolutely clear the FCC has (finally!) recognized the horrific, constrictive mess their predecessors made of our licensing and regulatory system when they first hatched their stupid “license-class-and-operating-mode-based” foolishness back in the 1950s.
Is it about numbers or quality?
KB1SF – Keith C Baker
And, as a direct result of that realization, I also firmly believe the FCC (with the ARRL’s behind-the-scenes tacit approval) has now embarked on a long-term plan that will largely de-regulate our Service, allowing it to revert back to the time when our licensing system was aimed primarily at insuring non-interference and the safety of its operators (and their neighbors)…and nothing more.
That is, after assuring applicants are well versed in the critical aspects of what we do, I predict our licensing system in the United States will eventually revert to a simple series of forward-looking “licenses to learn” based solely on safety and non-interference considerations, rather than on a meaningless series of ego-stroking “rewards” tied to an ever-more irrelevant set of backward looking “achievement tests” that have accomplished absolutely NOTHING but to perpetuate an entrenched (and now blatantly illegal) institutionalized snobbery in our Service.
In fact, the FCC appears to now be well along in their plan to completely dismantle the remaining “hazing rituals” in the licensing system for our Service so as to bring it back in line with the (far less achievement-oriented) ITU guidelines. Dropping the Morse test for all classes of licenses was simply the latest chapter in that plan.
However, as nobody in any official capacity is listening to the ever more paranoid rants from the crowd who desperately want to keep all that 1950′s-era ego-stroking snob appeal in place, they and their ever-shrinking minority are now forced to rely more and more heavily on forums like these as their last best hope to stem the tide.
But…fortunately…it would appear they aren’t getting any traction here, either.
Why do people think the way they do
And to remind you of James Stanicek, AG3Y “…I worked in the R & D Labs as a prototype builder/modifier for the outdoor ground units for the new era in Broadband Services provided by GeoStationary Satellites.”
Education vs Training
I just wonder if the differences between James and Keith comes down these two lines.
James, in his posting, makes reference to “education“. On the home page of Keith’s business he makes reference to “training“.
From the posting by James… ( “…the N.E.A. [ National Educational Association ] or whoever makes those kinds of decisions, has turned the American education system into a complete “teach by the test” system.)”
From Keith’s business web site… (“Our Approach…. We incorporate your organization’s real work into our project management and other training — not fake academic exercises. We customize our training and consulting approach to fit your organization’s specific needs.”)
Here lies the difference. There are many subtle meanings to these two words – eduction and training. But I would take it that “training” tends more toward being able to perform a set of specific functional tasks – and no more. To me, “education”, is a more encompassing term.
One trains people for a functional, operational role; one would get an education to do R&D and extend the state of the art. In the first case, training for a task assumes the task is well know and can be easily defined. In the latter case, educating for R&D assumes an unknown future. In a sense the future is to be created. Education is not so much a set of facts but how to use existing facts, and a methodology, to get beyond what is known now.
If R&D can create a future then will come training. But there is a primacy of getting to the next future before any “training” can be done. And I would think that it’s “education” that makes a future – not “training”.
We all try to make people in our own image. And the lines of the discussion between Keith and James comes down to this. James, with a focus on “education”, wants to turn Amateur Radio operators into people more like R&D people; Keith wants to “train” people to be functional operations people – no “fake academic exercises.”
Of course there will be no conclusion until there is a clear and concise definition of Amateur Radio in 2009 and beyond. We know what Amateur Radio was in the early 1900′s at the dawn of the wireless age and what it has been since then- but what is it now – at this current state of technology?
The difficulty is that the “sweet spot” for wireless has long passed. Global communication using RF is a taken-for-granted part of reality. There is nothing new or novel about it. There is no curiosity about it on the part of the younger generation that who never knew a time when there was no cell phone, no computer, and no Internet.
The older people are the holdouts on Amateur Radio – as a sort of remembrance of days sitting in front of a shortwave radio or an amateur radio listening to voices from across the globe – and how utterly amazing this was. I was one of those people.
But those days are past. Radio is as mature and as ubiquitous as the automobile. When one tuns the key in the ignition to start a car and drive away how many people think this is a wondrous new invention? None. The same with Radio.
So to address the lack of curiosity of Radio – a technology past the “sweet spot” of innovation – one could venture various program to increasingly entice people to become amateurs. Since people are no longer driven by curiosity to the point where they will expend the effort to master the material then one way to increase the number of Amateurs is to lower the standards of mastery of the knowledge of radio.
My untested assumption is that mastery of the knowledge of Amateur Extra is less knowledge than a second year undergraduate teenager pursuing a degree in Electronics. Mastery of Amateur Extra materials will not even get you into a legitimate conversation of state of the art of anything electronics in 2009.
So, this charge of “elitism” and “snobbery” among the classes of Amateur Radio operators (Tech, General, Extra) may be valid in the singular isolated context of Amateur Radio. But there certainly is no elitism or snobbery when one puts Amateur Extra in the larger context of a college education. That is, Amateur Extra is about the level of a 1st or 2nd year undergrad teenager pursuing a degree in electronics.
If you hold an amateur extra license at the age of 30, 40, or 50 and want stroke your ego or vanity by saying that you are smarter then a teenage kid in college – OK – but that is not going to buy you any “Street Cred” in adult circles.
So really, maybe Keith Baker, KB1SF is right. In the (post) modern age an Amateur Radio education as well as the exam should be designed to provide assurance that you don’t kill yourself or your neighbor – “and nothing more“.
… licensing systems are specifically designed to be just comprehensive enough to do NOTHING MORE than provide a reasonable assurance to government regulators that an applicant for a Ham license won’t become a safety hazard or a nuisance to his or her self (or their neighbors) or become a nuisance to others on the bands, or to other services.
And in this case – Amateur exams as assurance of safety – you certainly don’t want to follow the strategy and approach of test taking advocated by the Arizona ARRL Section – learn to subvert the exam as a tool of competency – memorize only the answers – nothing more. Since in this case, one learns nothing and one could very well be a hazard and a nuisance to both themselves and neighbors.
If the Arizona ARRL section advocates the test taking strategy that they have documented knowing that the exam is to provide “a reasonable assurance to government regulators that an applicant for a Ham license won’t become a safety hazard or a nuisance to his or her self (or their neighbors) or become a nuisance to others on the bands, or to other services.” would they still advocate a strategy that effectively subverts the purpose of the exam to test competency of the material?