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America is Regressing into a Developing Nation for Most People

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Lynn Parramore writes at the Institute for New Economic Thinking:

You’ve probably heard the news that the celebrated post-WW II beating heart of America known as the middle class has gone from “burdened,” to “squeezed” to “dying.”  But you might have heard less about what exactly is emerging in its place.

In a new book, The Vanishing Middle Class: Prejudice and Power in a Dual Economy, Peter Temin, Professor Emeritus of Economics at MIT, draws a portrait of the new reality in a way that is frighteningly, indelibly clear:  America is not one country anymore. It is becoming two, each with vastly different resources, expectations, and fates.

Two roads diverged

In one of these countries live members of what Temin calls the “FTE sector” (named for finance, technology, and electronics, the industries which largely support its growth). These are the 20 percent of Americans who enjoy college educations, have good jobs, and sleep soundly knowing that they have not only enough money to meet life’s challenges, but also social networks to bolster their success. They grow up with parents who read books to them, tutors to help with homework, and plenty of stimulating things to do and places to go. They travel in planes and drive new cars. The citizens of this country see economic growth all around them and exciting possibilities for the future. They make plans, influence policies, and count themselves as lucky to be Americans.

The FTE citizens rarely visit the country where the other 80 percent of Americans live: the low-wage sector. Here, the world of possibility is shrinking, often dramatically. People are burdened with debt and anxious about their insecure jobs if they have a job at all. Many of them are getting sicker and dying younger than they used to. They get around by crumbling public transport and cars they have trouble paying for. Family life is uncertain here; people often don’t partner for the long-term even when they have children. If they go to college, they finance it by going heavily into debt. They are not thinking about the future; they are focused on surviving the present. The world in which they reside is very different from the one they were taught to believe in. While members of the first country act, these people are acted upon.

The two sectors, notes Temin, have entirely distinct financial systems, residential situations, and educational opportunities. Quite different things happen when they get sick, or when they interact with the law. They move independently of each other. Only one path exists by which the citizens of the low-wage country can enter the affluent one, and that path is fraught with obstacles. Most have no way out.

The richest large economy in the world, says Temin, is coming to have an economic and political structure more like a developing nation. We have entered a phase of regression, and one of the easiest ways to see it is in our infrastructure: our roads and bridges look more like those in Thailand or Venezuela than the Netherlands or Japan. But it goes far deeper than that, which is why Temin uses a famous economic model created to understand developing nations to describe how far inequality has progressed in the United States. The model is the work of West Indian economist W. Arthur Lewis, the only person of African descent to win a Nobel Prize in economics. For the first time, this model is applied with systematic precision to the U.S.

The result is profoundly disturbing.

In the Lewis model of a dual economy, much of the low-wage sector has little influence over public policy. Check. The high-income sector will keep wages down in the other sector to provide cheap labor for its businesses. Check. Social control is used to keep the low-wage sector from challenging the policies favored by the high-income sector. Mass incarceration – check. The primary goal of the richest members of the high-income sector is to lower taxes. Check. Social and economic mobility is low. Check.

In the developing countries Lewis studied, people try to move from the low-wage sector to the affluent sector by transplanting from rural areas to the city to get a job. Occasionally it works; often it doesn’t. Temin says that today in the U.S., the ticket out is education, which is difficult for two reasons: you have to spend money over a long period of time, and the FTE sector is making those expenditures more and more costly by defunding public schools and making policies that increase student debt burdens.

Getting a good education, Temin observes, isn’t just about a college degree. It has to begin in early childhood, and you need parents who can afford to spend time and resources all along the long journey. If you aspire to college and your family can’t make transfers of money to you on the way, well, good luck to you. Even with a diploma, you will likely find that high-paying jobs come from networks of peers and relatives. Social capital, as well as economic capital, is critical, but because of America’s long history of racism and the obstacles it has created for accumulating both kinds of capital, black graduates often can only find jobs in education, social work, and government instead of higher-paying professional jobs like technology or finance— something most white people are not really aware of. Women are also held back by a long history of sexism and the burdens — made increasingly heavy — of making greater contributions to the unpaid care economy and lack of access to crucial healthcare.

How did we get this way?

What happened to America’s middle class, which rose triumphantly in the post-World War II years, buoyed by the GI bill, the victories of labor unions, and programs that gave the great mass of workers and their families health and pension benefits that provided security?

The dual economy didn’t happen overnight, says Temin. The story started just a couple of years after the ’67 Summer of Love. Around 1970, the productivity of workers began to get divided from their wages. Corporate attorney and later Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell galvanized the business community to lobby vigorously for its interests. Johnson’s War on Poverty was replaced by Nixon’s War on Drugs, which sectioned off many members of the low-wage sector, disproportionately black, into prisons. Politicians increasingly influenced by the FTE sector turned from public-spirited universalism to free-market individualism. As money-driven politics accelerated (a phenomenon explained by the Investment Theory of Politics, as Temin explains), leaders of the FTE sector became increasingly emboldened to ignore the needs of members of the low-wage sector, or even to actively work against them.

America’s underlying racism has a continuing distorting impact. A majority of the low-wage sector is white, with blacks and Latinos making up the other part, but politicians learned to talk as if the low-wage sector is mostly black because it allowed them to appeal to racial prejudice, which is useful in maintaining support for the structure of the dual economy — and hurting everyone in the low-wage sector.  Temin notes that “the desire to preserve the inferior status of blacks has motivated policies against all members of the low-wage sector.”

Temin points out that the presidential race of 2016 both revealed and amplified the anger of the low-wage sector at this increasing imbalance. Low-wage whites who had been largely invisible in public policy until recently came out of their quiet despair to be heard. Unfortunately, present trends are not only continuing, but also accelerating their problems, freezing the dual economy into place.

What can we do?

We’ve been digging ourselves into a hole for over forty years, but Temin says that we know how to stop digging. If we . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

3 May 2017 at 12:55 pm

Bosses believe your work skills will soon be useless. (Theirs will be fine, thanks.)

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Danielle Pacquette reports in the Washington Post:

Nearly a third of business leaders and technology analysts express “no confidence” that education and job training in the United States will evolve rapidly enough to match the next decade’s labor market demands, a new report from the Pew Research Center finds.

About 30 percent of the executives, hiring managers, college professors and automation researchers who responded to the Pew survey felt future prospects looked bleak, anticipating that firms would encounter more trouble finding workers with their desired skill sets over the next decade.

“Barring a neuroscience advance that enables us to embed knowledge and skills directly into brain tissue and muscle formation, there will be no quantum leap in our ability to ‘up-skill’ people,” wrote Andrew Walls, managing vice president at Gartner, an IT consulting firm.

“Seriously? You’re asking about the workforce of the future?” added another respondent, a science editor who asked to stay anonymous. “As if there’s going to be one?”

Lee Rainie, Pew’s director of Internet, science and technology research, the study’s co-author, helped canvass, reaching out to 8,000 decision makers in Pew’s database. About 1,400 responded, and many of those told the researchers they were bracing for machines to transform the ways humans work — sometimes in unpredictable ways.

“People are wrestling with this basic metaphysical question: What are humans good for?” he said. “It’s important to figure that out because this blended world of machines and humans is already upon us and it’s going to accelerate.”

Most of the business and technology professionals expected new training programs to emerge, both at schools and on the private market, to better prepare the future labor force. But 30 percent of the 1,408 respondents doubted such a quick transformation could take place. They felt, according to the report, that “adaptation in teaching environments will not be sufficient to prepare workers for future jobs.”

Jerry Michalski, the founder at REX, a technology think tank in Portland, Ore., feared public schools and universities aren’t keeping up with changes in the economy.

“They take too long to teach impractical skills,” he wrote, “and knowledge not connected to the real world.”

“I’m skeptical that educational and training programs can keep pace with technology,” added Thomas Claburn, editor-at-large at Information Week, a news site. . . .

Continue reading.

I’m quite interested in what Jerry Michalski considers to be “impractical skills and knowledge not connected to the real world.” I imagine Esperanto is in there (even though Esperanto is totally practical as a propaedeutic foreign language (the language you learn first so that the next language is learned better and more easily). I fear he is throwing out the liberal arts and focusing solely on vocational education. That may work to produce docile workers, but one of the requirements in a democracy is that people be educated for their role as citizens, and that goes beyond vocational and occupational knowledge. If you don’t see that citizens are educated for their civic duty, you end up with a government run by people such as Donald Trump.

This problem—the mass destruction of jobs due to automation (as we bring autonomous vehicles and AI on-line)—reminds me of climate change: it’s going to be a true disaster, but it won’t hit really hard for a few years, so it seems as though too many (citizens, government officials, businesses, schools and colleges, churches, and so on) are thinking (somehow) that we’ll cross that bridge when we get to do and are doing absolutely nothing to get ready for this.

I imagine the same mindset was seen at the onset of the Industrial Revolution. It’s as though people cannot face a situation until it smashes into their face.

Update: See also:

Apple-Picking Robot Prepares to Compete for Farm Jobs

Where Automation Poses the Biggest Threat to American Jobs

From the second:

The authors estimate that almost all large American metropolitan areas may lose more than 55 percent of their current jobs because of automation in the next two decades. “We felt it was really stunning, since we are underestimating the probability of automation,” said Johannes Moenius, the director of the Institute for Spatial Economic Analysis at the University of Redlands, which prepared the report. . . .

Moenius and colleagues used a widely cited 2013 study from Oxford University predicting which of roughly 700 common jobs are most susceptible to automation, and then mapped out which metropolitan areas have a high share of those jobs. That study, by the economists Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael A. Osborne, suggested that 47 percent of total U.S. employment is at risk of automation over the next decade or two; they found that telemarketers, insurance underwriters and appraisers, tax preparers, and cashiers were some of the most likely to see their jobs threatened by automation, while the livelihoods of mental-health and substance-abuse social workers, oral surgeons, choreographers, and physicians were more protected.

So what is the plan for those whose jobs are lost and their families? We’re going to wait until it happens and then try to figure out what to do?

Written by LeisureGuy

3 May 2017 at 12:24 pm

Climate denial in schools: Diseducating the young

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Emmalina Glinskis reports in Vice News:

Legislation proposed across the country since Donald Trump’s election threatens to bring climate change denial into the classroom under the guise of “academic freedom.”

Currently, six states have legislative measures pending or already on the books that would allow anti-science rhetoric, including the rejection of global warming, to seep its way into schools’ curricula. While these types of proposals have become fairly routine in certain states, some of the most recent crop have advanced farther than in the past.

Senate Bill 393 in Oklahoma, for example, would permit teachers to paint established science on both evolution and climate change as “controversial.” The “controversy,” however, doesn’t really exist — more than 97 percent of actively publishing, accredited climate scientists agree that global warming trends over the past century are directly attributable to human activity. And some teachers might already be misleading students.

Since its initial proposal in early February, the bill passed out of the Senate and into the House, where it circumvented the House Education Committee and now heads for a full House vote.

“It’s important to note that this exact bill in Oklahoma has been proposed in the past seven times, and it’s only this year, at a time when there’s federal policy that’s egregiously anti-science, that the bill made it so far,” said Lisa Hoyos, the director of Climate Parents, a Sierra Club–affiliated organization that supports climate change education. In fact, the bill’s sponsor, Republican Sen. Josh Brecheen, has introduced similar legislation every year since 2011. He’s said he wants “every publicly funded Oklahoma school to teach the debate of creation vs. evolution.”

A bill similar to Oklahoma’s is currently working its way through the Texas Legislature. And Florida has two bills pending aimed at letting local residents object to the use of certain instructional materials, such as textbooks that teach human-induced climate change, in public schools.

Some states are passing resolutions, which have a less direct influence but send strong signals about where the state Legislature stands on climate change. In February, Indiana successfully passed its Senate resolutionsupporting teachers “who choose to teach a diverse curriculum,” giving climate denial and creationism the chance to enter classrooms. A similar “academic freedom” resolution has already made its way through the Alabama House. Finally, Idaho locked in a legally binding Senate resolution in March that deletes material about climate change and human impact on the environment from the state’s science standards.

“Academic freedom bills are the new normal,” said Glenn Branch, deputy director for the National Center for Science Education. According to him, state legislators across the country have filed over 70 academic freedom bills since 2004. That’s when state-level legislation began using vague language to protect teachers’ “academic freedom” by permitting educators to teach about the “strengths and weaknesses” of existing scientific theories. The bill pending in Texas, for example, includes “climate change, biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, and human cloning” among its controversial theories.

“We’re very familiar with this type of language, and it has clearly morphed from the anti-evolution education perspective into the anti-climate change perspective,” said David Evans, executive director of the National Science Teacher Association, which played a key role in shaping the Next Generation Science Standards. The standards, adopted by 18 states and Washington, D.C., since 2015, included the first-ever recommendations for students to learn about human-induced global warming.

These old proposals are being made new again along with a stark ideological switch at the federal level. The president has called climate change a “hoax.” The EPA administrator doesn’t believe carbon dioxide contributes to global warming. And the White House’s continued rollback of environmental regulations reflects those viewpoints. In fact, a series of Pew studies shows 2016 marked the largest gap yet between Republicans and Democrats over belief in human-caused global warming.

“It’s no coincidence when you have an administration banning climate science material from federal websites that science deniers in states would feel emboldened. But at the end of the day, it’s our kids that get shortchanged,” Hoyos said. Her organization, Climate Parents, is circulating a petition — with over 2,250 signatures so far — that urges Republican Gov. Mary Fallin to veto Oklahoma’s bill and stand by the science standards she passed in 2014.  . .

Continue reading.

America seems determined to move from reality to delusion, in this case prompted by the fossil-fuel industry, which sees reality as having an adverse impact on profits. But delusion has its dangers, as our grandchildren will know from bitter experience.

Written by LeisureGuy

1 May 2017 at 11:11 am

Bank robber turned Georgetown law professor is just getting started on his goals

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Susan Svrluga profiles an interesting law professor in the Washington Post:

During a break in a basketball game to raise money for charity, Shon Hopwood told some of his Georgetown law students it felt different than the last time he was on a court: When he played basketball in federal prison, he had to carry a shank in case his team started to lose.

His students laughed. He ran back onto the law-school court — and sank the winning shot.

Hopwood’s new job as a tenure-track faculty member at the Georgetown University Law Center is only the latest improbable twist in a remarkable life: In the last 20 years, he has robbed banks in small towns in Nebraska, spent 11 years in federal prison, written a legal petition for a fellow inmate so incisive that the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear the case, done that again, earned undergraduate and law degrees and extremely competitive clerkships, written a book, married his hometown crush and started a family.

But this could be his most compelling role yet. His time in prison gave him a searing understanding of the impact of sentencing and the dramatic growth in incarceration in the United States, an unusual perspective on the law that allows him to see things other lawyers overlook. And he takes the job at a time when criminal-justice issues have real urgency, from lawmakers to protesters to students.

“It’s one of the big social-justice issues of our time,” he said. The United States has 5 percent of the world’s population but 25 percent of its prisoners. “Between prison, jail, home confinement, probation, parole, combined it’s about 10 million people. It’s a big number.” And almost three-quarters of released prisoners are back in custody five years later. He hopes to change some of that.

“The story’s still writing itself,” he said in his office recently, marveling while students hurried to class outside. “I feel like I’m living someone else’s life quite often these days.”

Shon Hopwood’s life didn’t start out as remarkable. It began with a happy childhood in a town of 2,500 people in Nebraska. His dad managed a cattle feed yard and his parents helped found a church. He was friendly and well-liked, uninterested in school, and best known for his skill on the basketball court.

An athletic scholarship to college ended when he got kicked out for not going to class. After two years in the U.S. Navy, he drifted back to Nebraska, depressed, drinking, doing some drugs, living in his parents’ basement and working 12-hour shifts on a cattle farm, shoveling manure.

One night his best friend turned to him in a bar and suggested that they rob a bank.

In August 1997, Hopwood walked into a bank, sweating, heart racing, dropped a metal toolbox to the floor with a bang and pulled a rifle from his coveralls. With the terrified customers and tellers locked into a vault he sped away with $50,000 of other people’s money and his friend, who knew every bit as well as he did that what they had done was horribly wrong.

His friend suggested sending the money back, with a note. Instead, Hopwood went on to rob four more banks.

At his sentencing, 30 family members stood behind him, most of them crying. He was 23 years old. Judge Richard Kopf thought he was a punk. He had not forgotten Nebraska’s history of violent bank robberies. When Hopwood told him he was going to turn his life around, Kopf said something disdainful like: I guess we’ll see in about 13 years.

His first morning in federal prison, Hopwood got up early to work out and watched as two inmates yanked another one from a pullup bar, knocked him to the ground and stomped on the man with steel-toe boots leaving bits of teeth in pools of blood.

Working in the prison law library sounded like a good idea.

At first, he just checked books out. But in the summer of 2000, a Supreme Court decision caught inmates’ attention: Essentially, Hopwood explained, “things that can increase your sentence need to be proven to a jury, or you need to plead guilty to them.” He had been sentenced based on guidelines for armed robbery, even though he had pleaded guilty to unarmed robbery. A technicality, maybe, but he began dreaming of getting out early. Among all the other reasons to leave, he had begun a friendship, by mail, with a girl from back home.

After two months of research, he mailed off a brief and quickly got a response: He had filed it to the wrong court.

And when he redirected his appeal, Kopf denied it; the new decision did not apply retroactively in his case.

Still, something had clicked. Trying to figure out a solution to the legal puzzle was the first academic thing Hopwood had ever enjoyed. And it came easy. Soon he was sending memos to other inmates’ lawyers, suggesting strategies. Then he was writing briefs.

He was finding errors, often from overworked public defenders, like a young black man sentenced to 16 and a half years for possessing less than a handful of crack cocaine because he had mistakenly been labeled a career offender. With Hopwood’s help, his sentence was reduced by more than 10 years.

The third brief he ever wrote was for a friend whose appeal had been denied. Hopwood spent months learning about the Supreme Court and habeas petitions, and one night he realized how he could frame an argument using the Sixth Amendment rather than the Fifth. After many drafts, honed by conversations with fellow inmates that forced him to distill the legal issues into simple, compelling logic, he typed out a petition for certiorari and mailed it off.

Months later, he was working out early one morning when a prisoner came running toward him, screaming that Hopwood was going to die. He tensed for a fight; he had recently survived a situation in which he fully expected to be stabbed to death by gang members.

But the man was holdng a newspaper, with the story of the Supreme Court accepting a petition from a federal prisoner.

The odds of that happening are maybe one in 10,000, said Seth Waxman, the former solicitor general of the United States who agreed to argue the case for free. He read the petition with amazement. “It was incredibly good. It really identified, in sort of a crystalline form, the questions presented. It explained the conflict, it explained the importance.”

He immediately wanted to talk to the bank robber who could write such a thing, and thus began a friendship that would help change the trajectory of Hopwood’s life.

Now Hopwood was spending his time doing things like reading a 1,650-page textbook on criminal procedure. Twice. And with new sentencing guidelines, he was busy churning out work for other inmates, taking on 10 or more cases at a time. “I was running a law firm in prison,” he said lightly. Because he was now convinced that sentences beyond about five years didn’t make sense for any but the most dangerous criminals, because he was upset by the disparities in sentences, because he saw prison more often hardening people or cutting off their chances for reform than turning their lives around, he enjoyed seeing people packing for home. He had another petition granted by the Supreme Court.

When he walked out of prison in October 2008, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 April 2017 at 11:24 am

Posted in Daily life, Education, Law

PSA: Best summer workshops for aspiring artisans (in various crafts)

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Good article here in Craftsmanship magazine.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 April 2017 at 9:53 pm

Posted in Daily life, Education

The Architecture of Trust

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Michael Erard writes in Craftsmanship magazine:

It is tempting to see the political strife marking America these days as unprecedented, but history shows this country riven by conflict between regions, classes, races, and ideologies for centuries. One might even say that the anger and divides of the current moment are an outgrowth of what’s come before.

Throughout those battles, antidotes to our civic poisons have always run through the American bloodstream too. Americans have continually found ways to neutralize their discord and catalyze diversity, turning them into sources of strength. In a sense, the country has made it this far because its conflicts always have been counteracted by positive sentiments of equal force: shared traditions, and shared ideas about the future.

Some of these traditions, such as the protections of the Bill of Rights, are enshrined in law; others come from less tangible but still commonly held values around core American ideals such as religious tolerance and personal freedom. In the words of the late political writer Molly Ivins, “it is possible to read the history of this country as one long struggle to extend the liberties established in our Constitution to everyone in America.”

Today, these antidotes seem weakened; some remedies might still pack some punch, but few of us know how to employ them anymore. It’s as though we’ve forgotten the basic craft of conversation.

In the midst of this chaos, projects are springing up across the country to connect people across political and racial differences in an effort to strengthen our natural defenses. “After the election, people have been coming at us with their hair on fire,” said Liz Joyner, who is the executive director of a civic engagement project, the Village Square, that was founded 11 years ago in Tallahassee. The project has already built a reputation for tackling controversial topics, such as energy, race, and faith, in public events that attract a socially and politically diverse crowd of followers.

Village Square has its roots in the experiences of three friends who, in 2006, found themselves on different sides of a proposed coal power plant—yet remained friends. “We’d have full cage-match discussions and then go for a run or a beer,” said Bryan Desloge, a county commissioner from Leon County. The plant didn’t go through, but each member of the trio was struck by the fact that their friendships survived the debate. So were their other friends. Liz Joyner, who had worked in election campaigns for Democrats and had a background as a social worker, soon became the group’s executive director and spooled it up. Since that time, Village Square has put on hundreds of events and opened chapters in Sacramento, California; Salt Lake City, Utah; and Fort Lauderdale.

“Break a little bread”

Village Square’s philosophy, not surprisingly, is centered on talking—not just any talking, but across political differences. Its website features a fable-like origin story for American democracy, which (as the story goes) was

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 April 2017 at 6:36 pm

Dutch Kids Aren’t Stressed Out: What Americans Can Learn From How the Netherlands Raises Children

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Alternet has an interesting excerpt from a book:

The following is an adapted excerpt from The Happiest Kids in the World (The Experiment, April 2017) by Rina Mae Acosta and Michele Hutchison.

Two toddlers have just chased each other to the top of a jungle gym while their mothers are lost in conversation on a nearby park bench. A gang of older children in tracksuits comes racing along the bike path, laughing. They overtake a young mom, who is cycling slowly, balancing a baby in a seat on the front of her bike and a toddler on the back. A group of girls is playing monkey-in-the-middle on the grass. Not far away, some boys are perfecting their skateboarding moves. None of the school-age children are accompanied by adults. This is no movie, just a happy scene on a regular Wednesday afternoon in Amsterdam’s Vondelpark.

In 2013, UNICEF rated Dutch children the happiest in the world. According to researchers, Dutch kids are ahead of their peers in well-being when compared with twenty-nine of the world’s richest industrialized countries. The US ranked twenty-sixth, just above Lithuania, Latvia and Romania – the three poorest countries in the survey.

As an American mom and a British mom, both of us married to Dutchmen and raising our kids in the Netherlands, it’s hard not to notice how happy Dutch children are. The scene we described above should give you an idea why: Childhood over here consists of freedom, plenty of play and little academic stress.

When we compare notes with friends back home, we hear horror stories, often to do with draconian selection processes to get into schools, starting at the tender age of three. These days there’s even such a thing as “good” or “bad” birthdays and “red-shirting” to ensure children have a head start over the other children in the class. In America, parenting has evolved into a highly competitive, exhausting business and schooling into a warzone with children drilled like miniature soldiers.

Stress-Free Schooling

Of all the parenting decisions we have to make, our child’s education is one of the most fundamental. Education is seen as the route to success and a guarantee of a happy future. No American parent can ever be sure they’ve made the right decision, whether they’ve chosen private or public school. If you don’t get your kid into a good nursery school, they won’t get into a good elementary school. A good elementary school is essential to get your child into a decent middle and then high school. And, of course, a decent high school is essential to get a place at the best university. Many parents will go to great lengths to get their child into the right school – taking out an extra mortgage, or moving to a different town.

But in the Netherlands, childhood is unencumbered with any of these particular concerns. Education has a different purpose: the route to a child’s well-being and their individual development. Schools in highly-populated areas use a lottery process to select students, rather than competitive entrance exams and heart-wrenching interviews. To get into most college programs, all a student needs is to pass high school exams at the right level. As a result, there is no real pressure to get straight A’s. In order to come to grips with the Dutch school system, we had to let go of a lot of things we’d been brought up to believe in and re-examine what education was all about.

In Dutch elementary schools, kids start school at four but don’t start structured, formal learning – reading, writing, arithmetic – until six years old, Year 3. If they show interest in these subjects earlier, they are provided with the materials to explore them. Children may learn to read and write in their first year of school this way, but there is no pressure. Classmates who learn to read later, at six or seven, show no particular disadvantage and soon catch up.

Most schoolchildren don’t get any homework until they leave primary school. It’s unsurprising, a growing body of research suggests that homework for young children is a waste of time and has little or no benefit in enhancing learning or performance. Play, which is also a learning process, and having fun are considered more important here in the Low Countries than getting ahead academically.

According to the American National Institute for Child Health and Human Development, “Reading is the single most important skill necessary for a happy, productive and successful life. A child that is an excellent reader is a confident child and has a high level of self-esteem.” By not forcing children to read too early, reading becomes a pleasure, not a chore.

Joyful Illiterate Preschoolers

Rina’s three-year old Julius attends peuterspeelzaal (playschool) four times a week. At each session there are, at most, sixteen children, supervised by two teachers. Julius is shy and doesn’t talk much around strangers or in big groups, and is getting extra help to develop his language skills – but through play rather than formal instruction.

A typical session at playschool involves play, listening to stories, arts and crafts, and music. There’s no attempt to teach the letters of the alphabet or numbers. Dutch playschool revolves around children doing what they enjoy best – playing, and interacting with other children. Cool, calm Dutch moms seem to love the laid-back approach which the teachers assure them is the best for their kids.

A Dutch friend, Maria, who lives in San Francisco with her husband and six-year-old, muses, “Being an outsider, I’m constantly amazed at how American moms are different from Dutch moms. My mind is blown on a daily basis. There’s this preoccupation with reading at a young age – they believe that the ability for younger kids to learn to read and write and recognize numbers will somehow mean more success later in their academic life.”

Ottilie, another Dutch mom living in San Francisco, says, “Both my kids started reading ‘late’ – when they were almost seven. The school flagged them for reading help at the age of six, but I turned it down. I wanted to wait, since it’s thought normal in Holland that not all kids are ready to read at five or six. Then, when they were turned seven, they both started reading. They advanced super-fast and have since been avid readers, reading at higher levels than is standard for their grade. If they had had specialist help, that program would have received the credit for this. But I’m convinced that kids, as long as they don’t have dyslexia or other learning issues, will simply learn how to read when they are ready.”

“A six is enough”

In the Dutch approach to elementary school education, there is no top of the class to aspire to. The same is true of high schools in which pupils are streamed into different schooling types: vocational/professional/academic. Once you are in a particular stream, you need to score an average of six out of ten to stay at this level. Marks are deducted for mistakes and perfection (ten out of ten) is virtually unattainable. Most students score sixes and sevens. This is sufficient to secure their high school diplomas and a place at a university, college, or technical program after graduation. In a new study, only 18% of Dutch students said they were studying hard with an 8 [A] as their aim, one student quoted said, “I’d rather get a six and have no stress than a seven and have no life.” Only a small percentage make an eight average, and this is considered extremely high. Dutch scores are graded on a curve, so an individual score is relative to what everyone else scored.

In the academic stream, if students have made it through with a passing grade, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 April 2017 at 1:21 pm

Posted in Books, Daily life, Education

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