Category Archives: Education

Quote Of The Day

Marks, Percy, “Under Glass”, Scribner’s Magazine Vol 73, 1923, p 47

The idea is, of course, that men are successful because they have gone to college. No idea was ever more absurd. No man is successful because he has managed to pass a certain number of courses and has received a sheepskin which tells the world in Latin, that neither the world nor the graduate can read, that he has successfully completed the work required. If the man is successful, it is because he has the qualities for success in him; the college “education” has merely, speaking in terms’ of horticulture, forced those qualities and given him certain intellectual tools with which to work-tools which he could have got without going to college, but not nearly so quickly. So far as anything practical is concerned, a college is simply an intellectual hothouse. For four years the mind of the undergraduate is put “under glass,” and a very warm and constant sunshine is poured down upon it. The result is, of course, that his mind blooms earlier than it would in the much cooler intellectual atmosphere of the business world.

A man learns more about business in the first six months after his graduation than he does in his whole four years of college. But-and here is the “practical” result of his college work-he learns far more in those six months than if he had not gone to college. He has been trained to learn, and that, to all intents and purposes, is all the training he has received. To say that he has been trained to think is to say essentially that he has been trained to learn, but remember that it is impossible to teach a man to think. The power to think must be inherently his. All that the teacher can do is help him learn to order his thoughts-such as they are.

Hat Tip: “JKB”, in a comment over at EconLog

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Quote Of The Day

From a commenter over at Kevin Drum’s place. The discussion was about problems with the American educational system:

Yep. And as the posts by Aaron Carroll and Austin Frakt have shown over the last year (link below) the same is true of our health care system. We’ve gone through a 30+ year binge of hypercapitalism, naively believing the free market is a magic bullet for all problems. Health care and education stand as clear counter-examples and unless we get our act together national decline is inevitable.

Yes, the intense reliance on the free market in our education and healthcare systems clearly proves that capitalism doesn’t work. And here I thought that those areas of our economy were dominated by government, not the free market. Silly me!

Wrangling Long-Term Costs

Ezra Klein, on education & health care costs:

I’m not going to end this post with some wan paragraph explaining how to transform these two industries into something closer to their potential. My ideas on health-care reform are available elsewhere on the blog and I don’t know enough about education to say anything worthwhile. But if you asked me to paint an optimistic picture of the American economy over the next three or four decades, the story I’d tell you would mainly be about how we finally figured out how to drag health care and education into the 21st century. And if you asked me to paint you a pessimistic story of the next three or four decades, it’d be about how we failed to do that, and the two sectors continued eating up more and more of our money while delivering less and less value.

Well, good news, Ezra! Those two sectors are increasingly coming under bureaucratic government control, so I’m just sure we’ll figure out the answers to these hard problems! It’s not like Washington has any history of eating up more and more of our money while delivering less and less value

Comment of the Day: “Education” Edition

Re: “Don’t Forget Your Homework…or Your Miranda Card”

Liberalism in the United States has, over the past forty years, been usurped by the socialist agenda. Our public schools are little more than indoctrination camps for the pacification of future generations.

At the same time, conservatism in the United States has been usurped by war-hawks and fundamentalist christians. Our funding for education has been marginalized, contributing to the growth of the socialist mind-set among educators and educational administrators, as well as contributing to the general ignorance of the populace concerning historical precedent for current affairs, and critical analysis of future prospects for avoiding past mistakes.

They simply do not have the funds to broaden educational horizons for students, and due to the changes in both liberalism and conservatism, have instead created lock-down facilities much like concentration camps which institutionally discourage free thought, free discourse and the development of critical thinking skills.

The continuation of this trend will erode what little is left of truly American society, turning us into a nation of frightened chattel animals whose sole purpose will be to provide revenue and labor for a totalitarian state, and predatory industry owned by the wealthy few, whose political machinations are directly contributing to this end.

Comment by Ken — February 25, 2011 @ 8:48 am

While I don’t agree entirely* with Ken’s comment, he does raise some interesting points. There certainly is a collectivist mindset that is pervasive in our culture on the Left and the Right and I think Ken has successfully identified them.

» Read more

There’s More Missing from the Collective Bargaining Debate for Government Workers than Democrat Legislators

In all the coverage I’ve read, listened to, and watched concerning the public sector unions in Wisconsin and elsewhere, there is one term that is usually very much present in the political debate that seems to be conspicuously absent: special interests.

Special interests, we are so often told, have a very corrupting influence on our system of government. Special interest groups send lobbyists to Washington and the state capitals to influence legislation (usually via the tax code) in such a way that if the special interests were not part of the system, elected officials would be more inclined to represent “the people.” People from both the Left and the Right make this argument (though it seems to be made more by those on the Left) and hold up examples of the groups which are opposed to their policies as special interests; special interest groups they agree with are almost never described as such.

So far as I have noticed, proponents of either side in neither government nor in the MSM has called these public sector unions by this term. Why not?

Surely these unions qualify as special interest groups as they pour millions of dollars into the coffers of (mostly) Democrat campaigns? Can anyone argue that these unions, whether one thinks for good or ill*, don’t have a very strong influence on these politicians? Why else would Democrat legislators go AWOL if they were not scared to death of losing their power due to unhappy union leaders? This is not how legislators normally behave. Under normal circumstances, those who disagree with a bill cast their votes against the bill even when they know that they are going to be on the losing end. Under normal circumstances, the losing side doesn’t take their ball and go home.

Why shouldn’t the Democrats be condemned for caving to special interest groups as would be the case if it were Republican legislators who left their state in fear of losing support from their special interest groups?

The truth of the matter is there will always be special interest groups that will try to influence public policy as long as there is a republic. And why shouldn’t there be? Anyone who runs a business that is subject to government regulation would be very foolish not to try to participate in the system (if not, those who would regulate their business would be at an advantage). The only way to reduce the power of these special interests would be for the state and federal governments to restrict their law making and regulations to the confines of their constitutions.

But for the sake of clarity and honesty, let’s not pretend that unions are anything other than what they are: powerful special interest groups that are no more saintly than any other special interest group.

» Read more

It really does get better…

And now it’s time for another post in which I irritate my socially conservative readers…

Watch all the way to the end please, and listen… unless rather serious vulgarity and profanity offend you in which case don’t watch the video, or just skip to the end spoken word bit (yes, this is VERY VERY NSFW):

I’m not gay, and I wasn’t bullied in high school even though I am the worlds biggest geek… But it wasn’t out of the inherent kindness of teenagers. I wasn’t bullied, because I was the biggest and strongest, and sometimes the meanest kid out there. I was the one who taught bullies a lesson… and believe me, I taught a LOT of lessons.

I’m not big on the “anti-bullying” bandwagon currently gathering steam in America. As it is, it seems to be a politically correct hysterical reaction, combined with an unhealthy dose of overprotective parents, liability obsessed administrators, and fame seeking psychobabblers.

But, I still think forcing someone to pay a price for non-conformity, is wrong.

I don’t care whether you disapprove of homosexuality or not; this isn’t really about being gay, it’s about being different. About not conforming to the social conventions and constructs enforced by the institutions we laughingly call educational in this country.

I wont say there isn’t some value to those social conventions and constructs; society operates smoother with them, and when they are generally followed. A society without a commonly agreed upon set of social conventions is a society that quickly collapses in on itself.

The problem becomes when those who choose not to follow those conventions, in essentially harmless ways, are FORCED into doing so; or are actively persecuted, or actively hurt, physically, financially, spiritually, and emotionally, for not doing so.

That, is the very definition of coercive restraint of human liberty; and it is flatly wrong.

You don’t have to support someones choices; but you have no right to enforce your choices upon them.

As people who love liberty, we would not tolerate such behavior from the state; but what is the state but a collection of individuals acting in concert… We should not accept this behavior from individuals, any more than we would from the government.

The message of this video is, if you choose another way, and you are being hurt because of it, it get’s better. And unfortunately, until we can destroy those so called educational institutions and rebuild them into something that supports liberty and freedom and individual rights, giving kids that message is the best we can do.

Remember folks, in our fine institutions, it’s those who love liberty who are the minority. The ones who don’t fit in. We are the threat to the social order.

I don’t see how anyone who says they’re for freedom, liberty, and individual rights can not support this; because supporting freedom, liberty, and individual rights, means doing so for everyone, even if their choices are completely abhorrent to you (so long as their choice is not infringing on your rights).

It’s not about gay or straight, it’s about free or not.

I am a cynically romantic optimistic pessimist. I am neither liberal, nor conservative. I am a (somewhat disgruntled) muscular minarchist… something like a constructive anarchist.

Basically what that means, is that I believe, all things being equal, responsible adults should be able to do whatever the hell they want to do, so long as nobody’s getting hurt, who isn’t paying extra

The Dearth Of Reason

The most dangerous man to any government is the man who is able to think things out… without regard to the prevailing superstitions and taboos. Almost inevitably he comes to the conclusion that the government he lives under is dishonest, insane, intolerable.
-H.L. Mencken

I’ve long been of the opinion that a critical flaw in our society, likely foisted over several generations though I haven’t been alive long enough to see that many, is that we have spent far too much time teaching one what to think, and far too little teaching how. If I were in charge of education, I would make a requirement of high schools that economics and logic were required courses — economics of the behavioral sort and logic courses with a heavy emphasis on logical fallacies.

But I’m not in charge, and in my experience very few students are exposed to either in their formative years. Sadly, a new study suggests that they’re not offered all that much better in college.

An unprecedented study that followed several thousand undergraduates through four years of college found that large numbers didn’t learn the critical thinking, complex reasoning and written communication skills that are widely assumed to be at the core of a college education.

Many of the students graduated without knowing how to sift fact from opinion, make a clear written argument or objectively review conflicting reports of a situation or event, according to New York University sociologist Richard Arum, lead author of the study. The students, for example, couldn’t determine the cause of an increase in neighborhood crime or how best to respond without being swayed by emotional testimony and political spin.

Possibly the best teacher I’ve ever had, my AP US History teacher in high school, started the semester by giving us conflicting accounts of the battle of Lexington & Concord. Our first assignment was to write a paper justifying which side fired the first shot — the “shot heard round the world” — based SOLELY on those accounts. Not all people in the class came to the same conclusion, but the lesson wasn’t about providing us with the correct historical answer. It was about teaching us how to determine the answer based on that evidence. The lesson, one I remember vividly 17 years later, was that one does not “learn” history, one “does” history. Implicit in the lesson is that you cannot accept written, even eyewitness, accounts without evaluating the credibility of the source of those accounts.

To place nothing — nothing — above the verdict of my own mind.
-Dagny Taggart’s rule, Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged

It goes without saying that such a lesson makes one inherently a skeptic. That poor word, too often used pejoratively, denigrates those who are unwilling to take revealed information as fact without self-confirmation. But skepticism is a healthy part of critical thinking. It is what instructs to ask whether a speaker’s own interests might cloud their ability or desire to present an unbiased viewpoint. It is what instructs us to ask whether a political policy’s actual results will in any way resemble its stated objectives. In short, skepticism and critical thinking is man’s only defense against snake oil and bullshit — in other words, the only defense against politics.

Very few people I’ve ever spoken to had such opportunities in their high school curriculum. Most were taught facts, not processes. And thus many come into their collegiate experience without these skills. Sadly, too many also leave after four years without those skills.

Forty-five percent of students made no significant improvement in their critical thinking, reasoning or writing skills during the first two years of college, according to the study. After four years, 36 percent showed no significant gains in these so-called “higher order” thinking skills.

If you’re not going to college to learn, exactly why are you there?

Oh, wait, it’s because you have no clue what you want to do with your life, you’re terrified of actually entering the real world, and because your parents and your previous schooling have prepared you for absolutely nothing other than classwork [this of course discounts those who went to school to obtain their Mrs. degree — not an inconsequential number]. So you do something silly like majoring in “Communications”, which offers no particularly employable skill set.

Students who majored in the traditional liberal arts — including the social sciences, humanities, natural sciences and mathematics — showed significantly greater gains over time than other students in critical thinking, complex reasoning and writing skills.

Students majoring in business, education, social work and communications showed the least gains in learning. However, the authors note that their findings don’t preclude the possibility that such students “are developing subject-specific or occupationally relevant skills.”

While I don’t particularly consider natural sciences or mathematics to be “liberal arts” disciplines, and am surprised by the grouping of business students in the group showing little gains, I think the keys are simple. The natural sciences and mathematics demand rigorous adherence to logical thinking. Even in the social sciences, it is expected that you justify an idea with some sort of argument. It’s no surprise that math students are better at thinking than communications majors — they’ve spent the last four years practicing.

But it’s good to know that denial of reality hasn’t been impacted!

The study used data from the Collegiate Learning Assessment, a 90-minute essay-type test that attempts to measure what liberal arts colleges teach and that more than 400 colleges and universities have used since 2002. The test is voluntary and includes real world problem-solving tasks, such as determining the cause of an airplane crash, that require reading and analyzing documents from newspaper articles to government reports.

Christine Walker, a senior at DePauw who’s also student body president, said the study doesn’t reflect her own experience: She studies upwards of 30 hours a week and is confident she’s learning plenty. Walker said she and her classmates are juggling multiple non-academic demands, including jobs, to help pay for their education and that in today’s economy, top grades aren’t enough.

“If you don’t have a good resume,” Walker said, “the fact that you can say, ‘I wrote this really good paper that helped my critical thinking’ is going to be irrelevant.”

Yeah, those “real world problem-solving” skills are going to be completely useless to an employer.

You wouldn’t be aiming for government work, would you Christine? Oh, “student body president”? Yeah, you’ll fit in well in DC…

James O’Keefe Highlights Alleged Voter Fraud in Jersey City Mayoral Race

Yesterday, we posted some new videos from the controversial self-described citizen journalist James O’Keefe. The videos highlighted racy footage taken at a New Jersey Education Association and the problems associated with teacher tenure.  O’Keefe has just launched a third video dealing with the NJEA, this one alleging voter fraud in a 1997 Jersey City mayoral election. The interview with NJEA Associate Director Wayne Dibofsky, combined with other details presented in the video, seems compelling enough to warrant a bit more investigation.

UPDATE: NJ Governor Chris Christie weighs in:

This is what I’ ve been talking about. This is another exhibit as to what I’ ve been talking about. The arrogance, the greed, the self-interest, the lack of introspection, the lack of standards. And it hurts the great teachers just as much as it hurts the kids.

I think that this video makes the distinction better than I ever could. This is their leadership conference where they’ re in a hotel, having this leadership conference, singing songs together about kicking the governor in his tool box. I wonder what they mean by that? But I can tell you I sense it would hurt.

They talk about the things.. I’ m not even going to say it because we have children in this audience but the things that they would have to do in order to lose tenure. And how exciting the moment is after three years when they get tenure and realize ‘ we can’ t get fired for anything’ .

Gov. Chris Christie comments on 'teachers unions gone wild'

James O’Keefe Taking Aim at NJ Teachers Union

Noted for his role in taking down ACORN, gonzo filmmaker James O’Keefe is at it again. The Daily Caller provides an overview:

O’Keefe, best known as the force behind last year’s ACORN scandal, said the first video was shot at a meeting of the New Jersey Education Association in August. Entitled Teachers Gone Wild, the tape shows people identified as teachers speaking in what appears to be a hotel lounge, as well as in a conference room. O’Keefe says the video was gathered by a “team of videographers,” whom he and his colleagues at Veritas Visuals hooked up with hidden microphones and cameras. O’Keefe says the journalists “weren’t in costumes.”

In one video, Alissa Ploshnick, who is identified as a special educator at Passaic Public Schools, seems to verify the worst suspicions of education reformers. “It’s really hard to fire a tenured teacher,” she says. “It’s really hard – like you seriously have to be in the hallway fucking somebody.”

As an example, Ploshnick said, “we had a teacher that just recently was like – you NIGGER,” adding that the teacher was demoted, but is still teaching.

O’Keefe is organizing an event Monday in front of New Jersey’s statehouse in Trenton to call for that specific teacher’s identification – and dismissal.

“The time has come to put party politics aside and put our children first,” said Darryl M. Brooks, former New Jersey Senate candidate and long time community activist, stated in a release announcing today’s news conference. “I am tired of the pandering we hear every election cycle from our elected officials that we need to improve our education system, while nothing gets done. We continue to fall further and further behind other nations around the world when it comes to education, our schools continue to crumble, and our children, especially in the inner cities are being shortchanged. To add insult to injury must we now endure teachers calling students the N word, while the NJEA stands by and does nothing but protect one of their own.”

“Their office building directly across from the Statehouse in Trenton is called ‘The Kremlin,'” added a political consultant friend of mine who has worked a lot in New Jersey.

Here’s the first video. The Liberty Papers has been informed that additional video will be released soon. Additional information located here.

UPDATE: Here’s the second video:

Cliff Claven Gets It Wrong On The American Workforce

A common lament these days is that America “doesn’t build anything anymore”. John Ratzenberger takes that thought and expands upon it at Big Hollywood, suggesting that not only do we not build anything, we have nobody to do the building. Unfortunately for John, he’s made enough logical errors, irrelevant points, and misdiagnoses of the problem that he’s due for a fisking.

When America gave up its position as the producer-in-chief and became the consumer-in-chief, “essential skilled workers” became dirty words in our lexicon.

Gave up our position? Manufacturing output isn’t declining. As Don Boudreaux points out, it’s 80% higher than 1979 and 351% higher than 1955. Manufacturing employment might be declining, but value produced is rising. This, of course, reflects the fact that true wealth gains come not from output growth, but from productivity growth. America is much more productive relative to its labor needs than it has ever been.

The cultural shift is fast producing an “industrial tsunami” that threatens our economy and way of life. Ironically enough, we’re facing a crisis shortage of skilled workers at a time of dramatically high unemployment.

This may be true. A shortage of skilled workers is undoubtedly a bad thing. However, the free market is notoriously effective at solving shortages. Shortages are reflected by high compensation, and high compensation draws greater supply. If we have a persistent shortage, however, one would have to look at structural impediments to supply.

We must re-connect this disconnect or face the consequences.

Here is where he starts to both assign blame (which is correct) and attempt to generate a solution (which is incorrect) by using the ever-present “we”. It becomes apparent shortly that he is not willing to let the free market solve this problem, he prefers top-down command and control. What he fails to recognize is that top-down command and control got us into this mess in the first place, and thus cannot be trusted long-term to get us out of it.

America works when Americans are working.

Okay, so here’s a mindless platitude. What happened, need to build word count?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than 25 percent of the working population will reach retirement age by 2012, resulting in a potential shortage of nearly 10 million skilled workers. This heightens the price our nation is paying for dismantling so many in-school vocational training programs during the past few decades.

Aha! Dismantling in-school vocational programs. Sounds like we already tried putting the government in charge of supplying the training needed for our workforce, and they followed the current president’s adage that “college is for EVERYONE” rather than understand that different people better fit different work tracks and goals.

The cultural shift he might be speaking about earlier is the shift between those who do physical work with their hands out in the world, and those who do intellectual work with their brains in air-conditioned offices. Those in the latter group often (mistakenly) assume that there’s no brain necessary for those in the former group, while those in the former group often (mistakenly) think those in the latter are mere parasites and produce no “real” wealth. The problem is that we’ve put the air-conditioned-office type in charge of our government, and thus they’ve been trying to keep students from the horrors of tradesmen work for a few decades now.

Is there any wonder that, after decades of denigrating the skilled trades, and dismantling one of the routes into those trades (public school vocational training), it’s getting hard to fill the positions today?

The current shortage already sharply reduces the growth of U.S. gross domestic product, contributing to our overall economic problem. America’s infrastructure is falling apart before our eyes. Municipal water and sewer systems are failing, and more bridges are unsafe to cross. Yet the nationwide shortfall of more than 500,000 welders is causing already-funded repair projects to be canceled or delayed.

Why is infrastructure falling apart before our eyes? Because government has spent decades using transportation funding bills on pork and new infrastructure. Every politician loves to create a new “Robert Byrd Memorial Bridge”, but none of them want to spend the money to perform upkeep on the “Spiro Agnew Drainage Canal”. We’ve neglected infrastructure for too long, and now that we’ve decided to fund some necessary projects, we’re limited by the lag time of new labor supply.

However, there’s a short-term solution! Labor is mobile, and if we REALLY need welders, I’m sure there are at least a few hundred thousand scattered amongst the world’s population of 6 billion that are both qualified and willing to come here and take those jobs. While I think it would be nice to give those jobs to Americans, it’s just not going to happen in the short term. But who stands in the way of allowing skilled immigrants to come here and do work that desperately needs to be done? If you answered government, John, you’re learning!

Essential skilled workers are heroes. Without them, America grinds to a halt. But there are national security implications to this skilled worker gap, too. The ongoing demand for U.S.-manufactured military parts and hardware — from boots to mother boards — require domestic manufacturing operations. Even now, critical manufacturing has been moved off-shore as a stop-gap measure.

We simply can’t “outsource” our national defense!

Oh, lord, did he really just go there? Red flag, folks, when someone’s position is so weak that they must run straight to the “you need to do what I say for NATIONAL SECURITY!”, you know he’s in trouble.

Critical manjufacturing (at least of motherboards) hasn’t been moved offshore as a “stop-gap” measure. It’s been moved offshore as part of the military’s wide push to COTS procurement methods. Everything for the military used to be one-off custom products. They were expensive, because from design to manufacturing, there were no economies of scale to take advantage of. Typically, in the military, the volumes just aren’t there. Vendors of sub-assembly components often aren’t salivating at the thought of getting an order to design and supply custom motherboards for, say, 200 aircraft over 5 years. It’s just not worth it unless the price is astronomical. Thus, for some products, there are already multiple independent vendors producing the needed product in much higher volume for commercial applications, and they can be used in military applications at much lower cost. Standard practice is to have multiple independent sources for every component for which it is physically possible, to lessen the risk of supply chain shocks if — for example — a factory gets bombed.

Perhaps Ratzenberger wants to make the argument that America should go back to one-off custom products for military use, at much higher cost to everyone involved (especially the taxpayer). If he’s making that argument on the grounds that it will put more people to work, he’s right. (So will paying them to dig and fill holes). But if he’s trying to make that argument on economic grounds that it will increase America’s wealth, he’s economically illiterate.

Along with Emmy Award-winning producer Craig Haffner and the Foundation for Fair Civil Justice, I am currently in pre-production with a new documentary, “Industrial Tsunami,” whose purpose is to wake up Americans to the shortage of skilled workers that threatens the existence of companies and entire industries.

I won’t disagree that we may be short on skilled workers. Alerting America to this fact is not a bad idea. I suspect, though, that his prescriptions for a fix will be quite different than mine.

We must develop short- and long-range solutions to this crisis, starting with expanding vocational training opportunities and restoring dignity and pride in America’s skilled workers.

Short-term: Liberalize immigration. We’ve got jobs today, and foreigners today have skills. What’s the problem?

Long-term: Privatize education (whether liberally voucher-based or full privatization). All done. Problem solved!

Okay, need more explanation? First, start with the fact that public education has made a high school diploma nothing more than a certification of breathing and a pulse. We’ve forced a college education to be the “starting point” of life by making it, at the very least, a certification of mild sentience, which is what a high school diploma used to be. Thus, employers have started demanding college degrees for jobs which don’t come close to requiring that someone finished a 4-year major in “Communications”. Break the “college is for EVERYONE” mindset by actually making high school valuable again, which will likely only occur through competition and privatization.

Second, once education is privatized, you cease to let government bureaucrats, who need a Master’s Degree to wipe their butts, to decide what’s important for success in the world. You’ll actually start to see private schools return to offering vocational training, because if there’s truly a market demand for skilled tradesman, they’d be stupid not to offer those programs. Yes, I am making the claim that the reason for the lack of these programs today is stupidity, but given that we put the government in charge of the decision, that should surprise no one.

Once you break the government impediment to seeing the skilled trades as honorable work (furthered by their destruction of a high school diploma’s worth and their active effort to steer EVERY child to a 4-year college degree), the “dignity and pride” of the skilled trades will follow.

We will explore the negative media images of skilled workers, as well as current initiatives at the national and local levels to address this crisis.

Is “getting the hell out of the way” an initiative at any level? No? Didn’t think so.

Equally important, we will promote the concept that essential skilled work is noble, is useful and creates the independent mindset and self-confidence in the individual that has resonated throughout our nation’s history — and can rebuild America with a solid foundation once again.

In this, I can only hope you’re successful. Since you’re opposed by pretty much everyone from the President (a walking college degree who’s never generated value either with his hands or his intellect) to academia (including the vast masses of teachers who went to college to earn an “education” degree rather than become experts in a subject matter and then add some teaching skills) to most of our media (themselves rationalizing wasting 4 years on J-school when they’re being outflanked by pajama-clad bloggers), I’m a bit worried that your methods aren’t going to work out as well as you hope.

Quote Of The Day

The Economist’s Babbage, on computing education:

That, for me, sums up the seductive intellectual core of computers and computer programming: here is a magic black box. You can tell it to do whatever you want, within a certain set of rules, and it will do it; within the confines of the box you are more or less God, your powers limited only by your imagination. But the price of that power is strict discipline: you have to really know what you want, and you have to be able to express it clearly in a formal, structured way that leaves no room for the fuzzy thinking and ambiguity found everywhere else in life. The computer is an invaluably remorseless master: harsh, sometimes to the point of causing you to tear your hair out, but never unfair.

As many bloggers and blog-readers are internet-adept nerds, I suspect that his piece will resonate with you as it did with me. As many of you may know, I’m an electrical engineer. But what many do not know (though it may hardly surprise) is that in college I chose to minor in philosophy. I did this because I’d had some exposure to philosophy in high school, and because I thought it would be a good way, being in the School of Liberal Arts, to meet women. Sadly, philosophy was not quite as blessed with the fairer sex as I’d hoped.

What am I waxing self-referential? Because computers, engineering, mathematics and philosophy are fundamentally similar. All work as systems of basically fixed rules, where you “build” products based upon the inputs and structure of your system. In engineering, it is materials and the laws of nature. In computers and digital electronics, it is all a complex structure for deciding rules for how to make transistors turn on or off. In mathematics, as in philosophy, it is starting with premises (or mathematical axioms) and deriving from those premises and the laws of logic/math a conclusion.

What weaves these disciplines together is not the inputs and structure — it is the mental process of working within the structure. Much of the educational system involves teaching a student what to think. Math and philosophy teach a student HOW to think, and for students less suited to the abstract, subjects like engineering or computer science provide a much more tangible feedback loop than math.

Though I hadn’t realized it in advance, engineering and philosophy are not so unnaturally paired. In fact, I had signed up for one class without realizing I hadn’t completed the prerequisites, and when I spoke to the professor to drop it, he cautioned that often engineers to very well in philosophy, because we’ve already internalized many of the rules. When I later took a class on “Introduction to Logic”, I exactly saw his point: everything we were doing was a slight variant on what I’d covered in digital logic courses 2 years before.

Sadly, I think this is a portion of education that is widely overlooked. These are the very building blocks of reason. These are the skills that can help humans weed the truth from the bullshit. A good grounding in logic and critical thought might help see through corporate marketing campaigns — and of the bread and circuses of American politics. It makes one wonder if there’s a reason these subjects are neglected – it makes us all better subjects.

Another Critique of the ACLU: Social Segmentalization

I did a critique as well as a defense of the ACLU for TLP not too long ago, but another aspect of the ACLU’s approach to defending civil liberties seemed worthy of analysis. Here goes.

On my Facebook feed this evening, I found this snibbet:

Every student deserves the opportunity to attend school and learn free of fear; however, this is not the reality for many LGBT young people in schools across the country. Jamie [Nabozny] experienced the kind of antigay verbal and physical abuse in his school in rural Ashland, Wisconsin, in the late 1980s and early 1990s that can only be described as the stuff of nightmares.

I know what you’re thinking. Michael, I thought you were a liberal. Or a libertarian. Are you about to become a conservative and attack the ACLU for supporting gay people?

No, not at all. What I will criticize the ACLU for is its segmenting the problem of school intimidation into being a “gay” thing instead of it becoming a larger social issue. Children have to face bullying in many of America’s schools that goes way beyond the jabbing that adults have to face, often with adults showing little compassion and instead speaking down to them.

I can attest to this myself. During the zenith of Seattle’s race-based quota system, I found my family relocating to the central part of Seattle, after living in northern Seattle. The cultural shock was extreme. While I’ve become far more knowledgeable of urban culture (I hesitate to say “black culture,” because it’s really more of an urban attitude that represents all colors), the bullying is still extreme in retrospect. The incidents were numerous: buying a pair of shoes I saw a cool kid wearing, that cool kid taunting me for copying him and hitting me upside the head with a metal object, causing my head to bleed and being falsely accused of sexual harassment by a girl in one of my classes I didn’t even know or ever talk to.

There was also bullying in the suburban school I had been to before, as there is everywhere. It was just more extreme at the inner city school. With incidents like Columbine and Virginia Tech, bullying really needs to be addressed on a large scale. Schools can’t have teachers on the payroll that could literally abuse a child and still be protected by a union. Teachers also should be made aware from day one that that kid in the back who is silent and sits alone at a lunchtable isn’t an antisocial troublemaker. He’s scared shitless. Chances are that most of the bullying he’s experienced will be summed up in his adult years as little more than childishness, but at the time, that’s certainly not how he feels. Having an arm around him and someone actually listening to him will change his life.

I certainly was that scared little boy, and I’m a straight white male. As long as public schools perpetuate more as prisons and forms of societal control than places of education, alienated young men will be produced. Utopia, being non-existent and likely impossible, is a very long way off but problems will never be solved with the ACLU approach of “school is hell for LGBT youth.” School is hell for youth period. Do something about it.

Quote Of The Day

The NYT has a story today about a student racking up a crushing amount of student debt to earn a degree at NYU, blaming everyone except the student for allowing her to build up that debt.

Of course, I have some serious blame for the lenders too, when I realize exactly what they were investing in.

She recently received a raise and now makes $22 an hour working for a photographer. It’s the highest salary she’s earned since graduating with an interdisciplinary degree in religious and women’s studies.

Even if she eventually can pay off all this debt, all I can say is: what a waste of 4 years and $100K.

Howard Zinn was the Worst the Left has to offer

Howard Zinn passed at the beginning of this year, and I will admit part of me was saddened at his passing. My mother owned his People’s History of the United States, and my fellow students at college seemed to adore his work. My best friend is a Zinn fanatic, bringing him up nearly every time politics comes up.

Now that months have passed since he died, the second-hand positive notions are gone and the real nature of Zinn’s career can be assessed. Reason wrote an appropriate article following his passing, concluding that Zinn was “a master of agitprop, not history.”

The absolute worst of Zinn came on his deplorable misinformation regarding the totalitarian state in Cuba and the rise of political Islam, both of which placed Zinn on the wrong side of history. That Zinn’s nonsense is regularly repeated by fairly intelligent people is sad phenomenon, indeed. From Reason:

Just how poor is Zinn’s history? After hearing of his death, I opened one of his books to a random page (Failure to Quit, p. 118) and was informed that there was “no evidence” that Muammar Qaddafi’s Libya was behind the 1986 bombing of La Belle Discotheque in Berlin. Whatever one thinks of the Reagan administration’s response, it is flat wrong, bordering on dishonest, to argue that the plot wasn’t masterminded in Tripoli. Nor is it correct to write that the American government, which funded the Afghan mujahadeen in the 1980s, “train[ed] Osama bin Laden,” a myth conclusively debunked by Washington Post correspondent Steve Coll in his Pulitzer Prize-winning book Ghost Wars.

Of Cuba, the reader of A People’s History is told that upon taking power, “Castro moved to set up a nationwide system of education, of housing, of land distribution to landless peasants.” Castro’s vast network of gulags and the spasm of “revolutionary justice” that sent thousands to prison or the executioners wall is left unmentioned. This is unsurprising, I suppose, when one considers that Zinn recently told an interviewer “you have to admire Cuba for being undaunted by this colossus of the North and holding fast to its ideals and to Socialism….Cuba is one of those places in the world where we can see hope for the future. With its very meager resources Cuba gives free health care and free education to everybody. Cuba supports culture, supports dance and music and theatre.”

Zinn’s movement leftism never gained nuance, even on his deathbed. His very last interview was with Playboy, in which he talked about America’s economy:

PLAYBOY: So what can the average American do?

ZINN: Not much alone, individually. The only time citizens can do anything is if they organize, if they create a movement, if they act collectively, if they join their strengths. The trade union movement, of course, is an example of that. The trade union movement is weak, and the trade union movement needs to become stronger. Citizens need to organize in such a way that they can present the members of Congress with demands and say, “We are going to vote for you if you listen to us,” or “We’re not going to vote for you if you don’t listen to us.” In other words, people have to organize to create a citizens movement. We have to think about the 1930s as a model; people organized in the face of economic crisis—organized into tenants’ movements and unemployment councils and of course they organized a new trade union movement, the CIO. So we need people to organize. Of course, this is not easy, and it won’t happen overnight. Because it’s not easy the tendency is to throw up your hands and not do anything, but we have to start at some point, and the starting point is people getting together with other people and creating organizations. For instance, people can get together to stop evictions. Neighbors can get together. This is something that can be done at a local level. This was done in the 1930s when neighbors got together to stop the evictions of people who weren’t able to pay their rent and the 1930s were full of such incidents. Tenants’ councils had been formed and when people were evicted from their tenements, their neighbors gathered and put their furniture back in the house.

That sort of nonsense about collective action being the only means of change is just that: nonsense. George Orwell alienated many of his friends on the left, who he made in his criticism of colonialism and fascism, by taking on Stalinism in Animal Farm and 1984. Malcolm X was murdered by his former friends at the Nation of Islam when he revealed the hypocrisy of its leader, Elijah Mohammed, and renounced extremism in favor of racial reconciliation. Oskar Schindler saved 1200 Jews by employing within his own factories. The list goes on, as does the list of those who were manipulated due to their unwavering allegiance to a collective of any kind. Fresh-behind-the-ears college students who take Zinn’s words to be the truth run the risk of becoming exactly what Zinn was: a tool of propaganda.

Stossel On Government Schools

From his blog at Fox Business Network, John Stossel has this on government schools:

It’s absurd that powerful Americans consider it normal that they must move their residence or manipulate politicians to get their kids into a good school No one has do that to buy an iphone, or a good restaurant meal In every business besides education, successful producers expand. When more people started liking McDonalds – there were no lines around the block, because McDonalds expanded to meet demand.

What exactly is Stossel talking about? Yet another corrupt Obama administration official.

While many Chicago parents took formal routes to land their children in the best schools, the well-connected also sought help through a shadowy appeals system created in recent years under former schools chief Arne Duncan.

Whispers have long swirled that some children get spots in the city’s premier schools based on whom their parents know. But a list maintained over several years in Duncan’s office and obtained by the Tribune lends further evidence to those charges. Duncan is now secretary of education under President Barack Obama.

The log is a compilation of politicians and influential business people who interceded on behalf of children during Duncan’s tenure. It includes 25 aldermen, Mayor Richard Daley’s office, House Speaker Michael Madigan, his daughter Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, former White House social secretary Desiree Rogers and former U.S. Sen. Carol Moseley Braun.

Non-connected parents, such as those who sought spots for their special-needs child or who were new to the city, also appear on the log. But the politically connected make up about three-quarters of those making requests in the documents obtained by the Tribune.

The American education system can be best described as “all children are equal but some are more equal than others”. This is because of the way we have structured government schools. While most of these special requests were rejected by Duncan, the fact that Chicago’s ruling elite could even make these special requests is troubling. Expect Chicago-style school admission policies to spread nationwide as Obama completes what his predecessor started when he likely nationalizes the education system this year. America’s health care system will be heading on this track soon.

If we had school choice via vouchers, parents could decide where their children are educated, not government bureaucrats. Good schools will expand to take in more children while bad schools will improve in order to stay in business.

Until your state gets a real school choice program, if you are able to, get your children out of government schools. Put them in a private school or better yet, homeschool them yourself. Ever since government involvement increased in education, students have been dumbed down and our nation has become less free. Teacher’s unions continue to demand pay raises and obscene benefits without being held accountable for student performance.

If our country is to regain its freedom, the government education monopoly must be broken.

I’m one of the original co-founders of The Liberty Papers all the way back in 2005. Since then, I wound up doing this blogging thing professionally. Now I’m running the site now. You can find my other work at IJ Review.com and Rare. You can also find me over at the R Street Institute.

Public Schools and the Public Option

Imagine a private school where students sat in a math class for weeks misbehaving and learning nothing. Imagine that school gets on TV news because the administrators suspended the young lady who blew the whistle by taking a cell phone video and giving it to her mom who confronted them. Do you think that school would have enough students to start the next school year?

Well, this happened at a public high school in the SF Bay Area:

A freshman at Clayton Valley High School in Concord, California says that’s just what she had to endure in algebra as her classmates went wild.

“People smoking marijuana in the classroom. They smoke cigarettes.” Arielle said. “There was one kid who peed in a bottle and threw it across the room.”

Clayton Valley High School is a public high school, and I have no doubt that it will open with just as many students next year as it did this year. When parents pay for an education, they absolutely will not tolerate a school run like Clayton Valley HS. When the state provides an education for free, a vast majority of parents will generally take what they can get and call it good enough. They might picket and protest for improvement, but they won’t take their kids out of the school.

What does this have to do with health care? The public option being created as part of “ObamaCare” is rather similar to public schools, in that it is designed to undercut private health insurance on the basis of price:

The Lewin Group crunched the numbers through their health care model and found that premiums for the public option plan would be 30 to 40 percent lower than private plans.

A price difference of that magnitude would lead employers to throw their employees into the ObamaCare option:

Overall, the Lewin Group estimates that if Medicare reimbursement rates are imposed, the number of Americans with private health insurance would decline by almost 120 million, leaving only 50 million Americans in the private insurance market.

That would leave approximately 15% of the population in non-government health care, just slightly more than the percentage of students that go to private school. At that point, ObamaCare will have similar monopoly power to the public schools. I expect abuses and incompetence similar to that captured by Arielle Moore at Clayton Valley High when the public option achieves its monopoly power. The scary difference is that instead of not learning algebra, the people who have to suffer that abuse and incompetence will be missing out on life-saving medical treatments.

A human life is too important to waste on government health care.

Update: John Calfee compares ObamaCare to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in the WSJ. Yet another sterling example of how we don’t want our health care managed.

Liberty Rock Friday: Another Brick in the Wall, Part II by Pink Floyd

This is one of my all-time favorites. To truly appreciate the message, one needs to see the video (below).

Pink Floyd
Another Brick in the Wall, Part II
The Wall (1979)

By Roger Waters

We don’t need no education
We dont need no thought control
No dark sarcasm in the classroom
Teachers leave them kids alone
Hey! Teachers! Leave them kids alone!
All in all it’s just another brick in the wall.
All in all you’re just another brick in the wall.

We don’t need no education
We dont need no thought control
No dark sarcasm in the classroom
Teachers leave them kids alone
Hey! Teachers! Leave them kids alone!
All in all it’s just another brick in the wall.
All in all you’re just another brick in the wall.

“Wrong, Do it again!”
“If you don’t eat yer meat, you can’t have any pudding. How can you
have any pudding if you don’t eat yer meat?”
“You! Yes, you behind the bikesheds, stand still laddy!”

Education Is Not One-Size-Fits-All

Kevin Drum recounts a tale of a specific charter school that has had excellent results. He unwittingly makes a good argument for school choice:

In a nutshell, this story explains pretty well why I like charter schools [snip] So I say: fine. If there are some parents who want their kids to go to schools like this, let ‘em.

It makes sense to try out different kinds of schools for different kinds of kids and different kinds of neighborhoods. With a few obvious caveats, I’m all for it. But let’s not pretend that any particular one of these charters is necessarily the model for everyone else on the basis of 18 cherry-picked graduates. It ain’t so.

Well, given that he was marginally quoting someone else’s strawman, I’ll let his aside about pretending that any one of these is “necessarily the model for everyone else”. As far as I can tell, most libertarians and most advocates of vouchers don’t think that there’s a one-size-fits-all model.

And Kevin Drum, from these comments, doesn’t seem to think that there’s a one-size-fits-all model.

But the education bureaucracy seems to want to put everyone into a one-size-fits-all model.

Most reasonable collectivists I know are honestly more concerned with making education work than making it uniform. To some extent, they view things as charter schools as laboratories to test new educational methods, which can then be integrated into “regular” public schools. But they forget that there’s an enormous entrenched bureaucracy that is adamantly opposed to doing anything outside of what is best for the unions.

I agree with Kevin Drum that it makes sense to try out different kinds of schools for different kinds of kids and different kinds of neighborhoods. But where I suspect we disagree is in the assumption that the educational bureaucracy will EVER allow charter schools to do this in any meaningful way. They have too much stake in controlling the debate, and charter schools allow the debate to slip out of their grasp.

The only way to fix education is to offer real choice. Allow parents the ability to make the choice where to send their kids on a real widespread basis, not limited by geography or a tiny number of charter schools with far too many applicants for slots. And the only realistic way that I can see to achieve real choice, given the landscape as it currently sits, is through vouchers.

Education is not one-size-fits-all. We need to stop pretending that we can make it so*.
» Read more

Boy Scout Training: “Put him on his face and put a knee in his back”

Boy Scouts
From the “Not The Onion” files comes a tale that I can’t even believe, much less figure out how to respond to. Is this really what the Boy Scouts are becoming?

The Explorers program, a coeducational affiliate of the Boy Scouts of America that began 60 years ago, is training thousands of young people in skills used to confront terrorism, illegal immigration and escalating border violence — an intense ratcheting up of one of the group’s longtime missions to prepare youths for more traditional jobs as police officers and firefighters.

“This is about being a true-blooded American guy and girl,” said A. J. Lowenthal, a sheriff’s deputy here in Imperial County, whose life clock, he says, is set around the Explorers events he helps run. “It fits right in with the honor and bravery of the Boy Scouts.”

The training, which leaders say is not intended to be applied outside the simulated Explorer setting, can involve chasing down illegal border crossers as well as more dangerous situations that include facing down terrorists and taking out “active shooters,” like those who bring gunfire and death to college campuses. In a simulation here of a raid on a marijuana field, several Explorers were instructed on how to quiet an obstreperous lookout.

“Put him on his face and put a knee in his back,” a Border Patrol agent explained. “I guarantee that he’ll shut up.”

One participant, Felix Arce, 16, said he liked “the discipline of the program,” which was something he said his life was lacking. “I want to be a lawyer, and this teaches you about how crimes are committed,” he said.

Cathy Noriego, also 16, said she was attracted by the guns. The group uses compressed-air guns — known as airsoft guns, which fire tiny plastic pellets — in the training exercises, and sometimes they shoot real guns on a closed range.

“I like shooting them,” Cathy said. “I like the sound they make. It gets me excited.”

There is so much wrong here that I don’t know where to start. Maybe putting a 15-year-old into a bulletproof vest and running him through a course where his goal is to take down “active shooters” is one problem, since — you know — that’s such a HUGE part of the average cop’s day, would be a problem. Radley Balko, in his excellent work over at The Agitator, regularly points out the problematic aspects of training our police to be excitedly enacting para-military fantasies. There’s a fundamental difference between “to protect and serve” and seeing every person on the street as a potential “active shooter”.

When I was a kid, “troop leader” didn’t involve fatigues and a bulletproof vest.

But hey, this is the Boy Scouts, so it’s still a family-friendly environment:

Just as there are soccer moms, there are Explorers dads, who attend the competitions, man the hamburger grill and donate their land for the simulated marijuana field raids.

So don’t worry, fellas… You can avoid the humdrum days spent in your cubicle as a CPA or marketing nitwit by living vicariously through your kids, as they storm terrorist strongholds in Omaha, stem the illegal alien tide in California, or make the world safe from marijuana. Folks like Kathryn Johnston and Angel Raich are evil and must be stopped, and you need to bring train the next generation to bring the necessary firepower to handle them.

Hat Tip: Radley Balko

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