Archive for the ‘Education’ Category
Teachers are leaving the profession in droves and fewer are selecting teaching as a career because teachers are jerked around by city and state governments, get very little respect, and are paid poorly—who needs that? So the US education system is not on a good track, though by God some states have had great success in busting up teacher’s unions so they can cut teacher salaries and remove protections—like they can now fire teachers who teach evolution as a fact of biological science.
And another aspect of how the US views education:
The GOP has a tortured relationship with education that teaches about reality.
I do understand that some of my readers are Republicans, and they perhaps disagree with what their party is doing. I get that: I disagree with things the Democratic party does (I’m more a progressive, or Social Democrat)—for example, I have posted many times about poor decisions embraced by Democrats. But I think they will recognize that the GOP as a whole has entered new territory and the party as a whole is fiercely anti-education and anti-intellectual and anti-science, as seen by the way the GOP treats candidates who embrace moderate positions. The GOP is not what it was in Dwight Eisenhower’s day.
A very interesting Salon article on how a conservative ex-military guy gradually became a liberal as he became more educated—doubtless an indication of why the GOP hates education. But the details of his transition are worth reading.
The whole article reminded me of this comment to an earlier blog post on italic handwriting. Italic handwriting is occasionally taught in schools as the standard cursive handwriting (italic is also known as “chancery cursive”), and Kate Gladstone commented on one view of education. From the comment:
In my experience and observation, when a school discontinues italic after a thoroughgoing adoption, this happens because the originally trained cohort of teachers has neglected to train successors, and/or because the school administrators have stopped requiring new teachers to learn and use the school’s handwriting program as a condition of their employment. In at least some cases, teachers’ or administrators’ softening in this regard has been traced to parents who had felt embarrassed that their own handwriting looked bad next to that of their children.
One irate mother said to me, after hiring me to work with her son on handwriting:
The problem with italic is precisely that it looks so legible, so confident and competent, If you put my eight-year-old’s handwriting nowadays next to mine, anyone looking at both of our writings would imagine that he is the adult and that I am the child. It is disrespectful to parents, teachers, and other adults to turn out children who write better than most adults, and who know it. It is wrong to have put me in a situation where my son may be tempted to ‘look down’ in any way on my handwriting. The fact that his handwriting is, objectively, actually better than mine cannot be a justification for this to have been allowed. The adults in a family or community — NOT the children — need to be the ones who can be ‘looked up to’ in every way: handwriting included. It is particularly obnoxious that his handwriting is not only better than real [sic] handwriting, it is better at faster speeds. This makes it impossible for him to go along with the important cultural truth that, in our culture, cursive is agreed to be the fastest handwriting. Whether italic is good or bad, italic is bad because it is against the culturally accepted truth and it changes that truth.
Very down to earth advice with good book recommendations. Studying and learning on your own does require some self-discipline, but that can be acquired with practice. (Carol Dweck’s book Mindset is useful in this connection.)
Paul Krugman writes in the NY Times:
Regular readers know that I sometimes mock “very serious people” — politicians and pundits who solemnly repeat conventional wisdom that sounds tough-minded and realistic. The trouble is that sounding serious and being serious are by no means the same thing, and some of those seemingly tough-minded positions are actually ways to dodge the truly hard issues.
The prime example of recent years was, of course, Bowles-Simpsonism — the diversion of elite discourse away from the ongoing tragedy of high unemployment and into the supposedly crucial issue of how, exactly, we will pay for social insurance programs a couple of decades from now. That particular obsession, I’m happy to say, seems to be on the wane. But my sense is that there’s a new form of issue-dodging packaged as seriousness on the rise. This time, the evasion involves trying to divert our national discourse about inequality into a discussion of alleged problems with education.
And the reason this is an evasion is that whatever serious people may want to believe, soaring inequality isn’t about education; it’s about power.
Just to be clear: I’m in favor of better education. Education is a friend of mine. And it should be available and affordable for all. But what I keep seeing is people insisting that educational failings are at the root of still-weak job creation, stagnating wages and rising inequality. This sounds serious and thoughtful. But it’s actually a view very much at odds with the evidence, not to mention a way to hide from the real, unavoidably partisan debate.
The education-centric story of our problems runs like this: We live in a period of unprecedented technological change, and too many American workers lack the skills to cope with that change. This “skills gap” is holding back growth, because businesses can’t find the workers they need. It also feeds inequality, as wages soar for workers with the right skills but stagnate or decline for the less educated. So what we need is more and better education.
My guess is that this sounds familiar — it’s what you hear from the talking heads on Sunday morning TV, in opinion articles from business leaders like Jamie Dimon of JPMorgan Chase, in “framing papers” from the Brookings Institution’s centrist Hamilton Project. It’s repeated so widely that many people probably assume it’s unquestionably true. But it isn’t.
For one thing, is the pace of technological change really that fast? “We wanted flying cars, instead we got 140 characters,” the venture capitalist Peter Thiel has snarked. Productivity growth, which surged briefly after 1995, seems to have slowed sharply.
Furthermore, there’s no evidence that a skills gap is holding back employment. After all, if businesses were desperate for workers with certain skills, they would presumably be offering premium wages to attract such workers. So where are these fortunate professions? You can find some examples here and there. Interestingly, some of the biggest recent wage gains are for skilled manual labor — sewing machine operators,boilermakers — as some manufacturing production moves back to America. But the notion that highly skilled workers are generally in demand is just false.
Finally, while the education/inequality story may once have seemed plausible, it hasn’t tracked reality for a long time. . .
Doing a study is easy—nothing really needs to change. Solving a problem involves (horror!) changes.
Jerry Markon reports in the Washington Post:
Afflicted with the lowest morale of any large federal agency, the Department of Homeland Security did what comes naturally to many in government.
It decided to study the problem. And then study it some more.
The first study cost about $1 million. When it was finished, it was put in a drawer. The next one cost less but duplicated the first. It also ended up in a drawer.
So last year, still stumped about why the employees charged with safeguarding Americans are so unhappy, the department commissioned two more studies.
Now, with the nation continuing to face threats to the homeland, some officials who have worked inside the agency acknowledge it should spend less time studying its internal problems and more energy trying to fix them.
“There’s really no excuse for the department expending finite resources on multiple studies, some at the same time, to tell the department pretty much what everyone has concluded: that there are four-to-five things that need to be done for morale,” said Chris Cummiskey, who left DHS in November after serving as its third-highest-ranking official. “You don’t need $2 million worth of studies to figure that out.”
Cummiskey added that DHS Secretary Jeh C. Johnson “understands this and is focused on delivering meaningful results for DHS employees.”
Since taking over the department in late 2013, Johnson has focused onraising morale and stemming high turnover, problems that date to the George W. Bush administration. Many DHS employees have said in the annual government “viewpoint” survey of federal employees that their senior leaders are ineffective; that the department discourages innovation, and that promotions and raises are not based on merit. Others have described in interviews how a stifling bureaucracy and relentless congressional criticism makes DHS an exhausting, even infuriating, place to work. . .
Repetitive stupidity is more or less the rule in bureaucracies and other large organizations. There is palpable resistance to understanding, and any progress in fought fiercely and rolled back at the first opportunity. It’s not just government: you see it in large corporations, church organizations, educational institutions: any place that has an entrenched group in power seems to grow stupidity like toadstools in damp forest group. It’s not merely a lack of understanding, it’s an aggressive effort on behalf of misunderstanding. “Against stupidity the gods themselves contend in vain.”
Here’s a wonderful example: Tomatoes are a fruit. But ignore that. Let’s reject knowledge, because being stupid is better. This is doubtless why the human race is doomed: on the whole, it embraces ignorance and stupidity.
From the DHS story above:
“It was not a very good light to shine on any of us, so we just hid it,” said one DHS employee familiar with the report, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of fear of retaliation by supervisors.
Two (very) obvious problems: a) if a report has negative findings, report must be hidden (that in itself precludes improvement), and b) if someone speaks up, s/he fears retaliation by superviors (which reveals that there is ZERO interest in making improvements and empowering employees. So nothing will happen, and the department will become, in effect, a cesspool of broken dreams, with promotions given to those who will keep it that way. I’m beginning to think that it’s hopeless.
Bob Neidorf was a fine tutor, IMO, and also later became a dean. St. John’s College is based on the reading and discussion of the great works of Western civilization (though some non-Western titles may have been added). Classes are small, with a tutor (as faculty are called—not “professors,” since they don’t profess things: their function as guides and coaches) and perhaps 12 students; the seminar (which met in the evening when I was there) was about 20 students with two tutors.
At any rate, Neidorf one year was asked to give the commencement address in Annapolis. It’s short—less than four pages—and you can download the PDF and read it.
This was back during the Vietnam war, to give you some context.