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  • Archive for the 'Education' Category

    Thoughts from a (Brief) Teaching Experience

    Posted by Carl from Chicago on 16th November 2013 (All posts by )

    Recently there was an interesting article in the NY Times called “How I Helped Teachers Cheat” about an academic ghostwriter.  While I have no experience with ghostwriting, I found the following quote from his article interesting, which I will get back to later in the story:

    In 2004 it was revealed that more than 500 students in a Birmingham, Alabama high school had been urged by teachers or principals to drop out of school before the test, for fear they would bring the school’s test scores down.

    I was a teaching assistant (TA) in graduate school.  This was back in the days of chalk blackboards (we didn’t even have dry-erase boards) and we had just gotten rid of mimeograph paper and gone to regular copies for printing.  At that time, grades were kept in a little book, by hand, and that is how results were calculated.  I was the first TA to try to calculate grades on a computer in my field of study.

    I don’t remember a lot about teaching but I remember the first day pretty clearly.  I was teaching an introductory accounting course that was required for graduation by many schools at my university, and it also held a lot of introductory accounting majors that could be described as highly motivated.  Thus when I stood in front of the group it was a mix of fifth year seniors trying to get this course done so they could escape the university and first semester sophomores taking their first accounting class to get started on their profession.  Since I graduated undergraduate early, I was younger than probably half the students in my class (the fifth year seniors).

    While you could use the word “teaching”, it really was just a Friday TA session and the main work was done in giant lecture halls on Monday and Wednesday by a professor.  We were supposed to go through problems and discussion tied with the course curriculum, and go through problems with the students.

    I had no training whatsoever and little preparation.  Oh well.  I just kind of winged it.  Unlike regular classrooms you don’t have discipline problems or any of that when you are teaching accounting… this wasn’t some sort of “hard knocks” episode.

    There were a few major tests and a project required to calculate the grade.  After the first exam, I looked at my section against the 25 or so other sections (this is a big university) and noticed that the average score of my section was near the bottom.

    Even though there wasn’t any pressure on me to be a good teacher or even to help my students get better, my competitive streak kicked in and I was not happy that my section was low on the list.  So I sat down and looked at the types of students that I really had in my group:

    • first semester accounting sophomores – these students aced everything and were great. Frankly many of them likely knew a lot more about the details of the material than me
    • fifth year general majors, particularly agriculture – these students were a mix but generally on the low end.  They were just trying to get through this class and get out of the university
    • Students who were clearly failing, not attending class, and not trying
    Based on these three groups of students, I devised a strategy to try to improve my section score and move up the rankings.
    • Sophomores – Ignore them.  They were doing well anyways.  They always asked the hardest questions, for example problem #55 (out of 1-55), where all the assumptions were reversed because it was a corner case.  But it turned out that when I answered THEIR hard questions, the rest of the class was completely lost because they didn’t even understand questions 1-10 (the easy ones). Those kids even asked me for more comments on the homework I graded.  If I had enough sophomores like this, I’d cruise to the top of the rankings anyways because they were all self-motivated 
    • Fifth year seniors – Teach them.  The fifth year seniors were people that I saw at the bars around campus and actually could learn if you talked to them.  So I would call on them in class and basically humiliate them a bit.  “Do you understand this problem?”  A few seconds would prove that they didn’t.  Then I would say “Why don’t you ask a question?”  and after a few sessions of this they would mostly perk up and put a little bit of effort into this.  No one wants to be humiliated by being asked direct questions in front of a class and then heckled
    • Failing students – Get them out.  At the time in order to get funds to stay in school you had to go past the “drop date” and then you’d get your state money.  Apparently it didn’t matter if you were failing or not because they’d just take my class and not drop and be failing.  Whenever we had exams (which apparently they had to sit for?) I would say hello to them loudly in front of the section and ask where they had been in class and everybody laughed because I would start class by calling attendance only on the students that never attended, so people recognized their names.  I don’t know if I succeeded in getting them to drop faster but it was all I could do since they didn’t come to class and apparently didn’t care about failing.  The last power I had left was to call them out

    Based on these (primitive) tactics, my section moved up against all the other sections and by the end of the year we were above average, which is all I ever could have accomplished when you match up 5th year seniors in the agricultural college from actual accounting majors in the prime of their motivation.  That felt good.

    But I could sympathize with the teachers who were trying to get students to drop who weren’t even trying.  I’m sure that there is some book or process somewhere about how everyone can learn and you can reach them through superhuman methods but when you are up there teaching and trying and they aren’t even showing up, that’s frustrating too.  In no way was my tiny TA stipend at risk through poor teaching or poor results, it was just my own competitive nature that was pushing me to actually try to improve the net results of my team.  And that’s the end of my brief (formal) teaching experience.
    Cross posted at LITGM

    Posted in Education | 22 Comments »

    A Critical Insight.

    Posted by Michael Kennedy on 1st November 2013 (All posts by )

    Today, Belmont club has a post, with a link to another blog post, that I think explain a lot of the Obamacare fiasco.

    Fernandez begins with a discussion of Obama’s technique with favored columnists.

    get him in an off-the-record setting with a small group of opinion columnists — the David Brooks and E.J. Dionne types — and he’ll talk for hours. …

    “It’s not an accident who he invites: He reads the people that he thinks matter, and he really likes engaging those people,” said one reporter with knowledge of the meetings. “He reads people carefully — he has a columnist mentality — and he wants to win columnists over,” said another. …

    These people are, like him, unsophisticated in technology. They are lawyers or journalists and the numbers of math and science courses represented in the room are few.

    The other blog post is titled “Government is magic.”

    Our technocracy is detached from competence. It’s not the technocracy of engineers, but of “thinkers” who read Malcolm Gladwell and Thomas Friedman and watch TED talks and savor the flavor of competence, without ever imbibing its substance.

    These are the people who love Freakonomics, who enjoy all sorts of mental puzzles, who like to see an idea turned on its head, but who couldn’t fix a toaster.

    This strikes me as a huge insight into why this administration doesn’t understand the trouble it is in.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Big Government, Chicagoania, Education, Health Care, Human Behavior, Management, Politics, The Press | 14 Comments »

    Six Hundred Million Years in K-12

    Posted by David Foster on 30th August 2013 (All posts by )

    (This rerun is in honor of the beginning of the new school year…indeed, many kids have now already been in school for 3 weeks or even more.)

    Peter Orszag, who was Obama’s budget director and is now a vice chairman at Citigroup, thinks it would be a good idea to cut back on summer school vacations for kids, arguing that this would both improve academics and reduce obesity.

    I’m with Jeremy LottBut to look at the vast wasteland that is American public education — the poor teaching, the awful curriculum, the low standards, the anemic achievement, the institutional resistance to needed reform — and say that the real problem is summer vacation takes a special sort of mind.

    I wrote about the war on summer vacation back in 2006, after stopping at a store in Georgia on the first day of August and discovering that this was the first day of school for the local children. In this post, I said:

    The truth is, most public K-12 schools make very poor use of the time of their students. They waste huge proportions of the millions of hours which have been entrusted to them–waste them through the mindless implementation of fads and theories, waste them through inappropriate teacher-credentialing processes, waste them through refusal to maintain high standards of performance and behavior.

    When an organization or institution proves itself to be a poor steward of the resources that have been entrusted to it, the right answer is not to give it more resources to waste.

    Orszag and similar thinkers seem to have no concept that good things can happen to children’s development outside of an institutional setting. Plenty of kids develop and pursue interests in science, literature, art, music…plus, there is plenty to be learned simply by interacting with friends in an unstructured environment.

    Would the world be better off if Steve Wozniak and Jeri Ellsworth..to name only two of many, many examples..had their noses held constantly to the school grindstone rather than having time to develop their interests in electronics?

    Lewis E Lawes, who was warden of Sing Sing prison from 1915 to 1941, wrote an interesting book titled Twenty Thousand Years in Sing Sing. The title refers to the aggregate lengths of the sentences of the men in the prison at a typical particular point in time.

    Lawes:

    Twenty-five hundred men saddled with an aggregate of twenty thousand years! Within such cycles worlds are born, die, and are reborn. That span has witnessed the evolution of the intelligence of mortal man. And we know that twenty thousand years have seen nations run their courses, perish, and give way to their successors. Twenty thousand years in my keeping. What will they evolve?

    Following the same approach, the aggregate length of the terms to be spent in K-12 schools by their current students is more than 600,000,000 years. What proportion of this time is actually used productively?

    And how many of the officials who supervise and run the public schools, and the ed-school professors who influence their policies, think about this 600,000,000 years in the same serious and reflective way that Lawes thought about the 20,000 years under his supervision? Some do, of course, but a disturbing percentage of them seem to be simply going through the bureaucratic motions.

    And the politicians and officials of the Democratic Party are the last people in the world who are ever going to call them on it.

    Posted in Crime and Punishment, Education, Politics, USA | 7 Comments »

    “Two American Families” – and their Legacy

    Posted by Carl from Chicago on 15th July 2013 (All posts by )

    I recently watched the excellent “Frontline” documentary “Two American Families” which followed two families from 1992 onward in Milwaukee as they struggled to stay middle class. The movie started with the main breadwinners in each family losing solid middle class union jobs and then starting an odyssey of lower wage jobs with no benefits, often during non-standard hours (the night shift).

    While the families struggled, I actually was more interested in their children than the parents who were ostensibly the “stars” of the film. As the parents worked (both parents had to join the work force to make up for the lost wages) the children (three from one family, five from the second family) had to look after themselves since they were often left home alone after school.

    While in New York City on the subway I came across these billboards which warned (potential?) single mothers very directly that if they had a child out of wedlock they faced a high chance of being a single mother and in poverty. The sign I saw had the quote:

    If you finish high school, get a job, and get married before having children, you have a 98 percent chance of not being in poverty

    From the results of the documentary, one of the children finished a four year college, and he appeared to be the most successful of the 8 kids they followed up on. Earlier in the documentary they showed him (his name was Keith) in college, struggling to get by and pay tuition bills on a credit card. Keith was not married and did not have children and in interviews stated pretty flatly that he didn’t want to get married and have a child until he was ready to support them. A second child went into the navy and was there for many years, before leaving and then re-enlisting as a private contractor in Afghanistan since he couldn’t find work in Milwaukee. A third kid (a woman) got an associates degree and (miraculously) did not get pregnant, and she was doing OK as a medical biller at a hospital in Milwaukee.

    The other children didn’t seem to graduate high school or did and then didn’t go to college. Many of them had multiple children themselves (without getting married) from a variety of different partners. One of them was married (the girl who got an associates’ degree) but she was married to a guy who was out of work.

    Each of these children, who were the real legacy of the troubles cited in the documentary, fell right into that concept that if you finish high school, get a job, and get married, you won’t live in poverty. One slight “tweak” to this rule might be to marry a spouse who works themselves or has some capacity to be a positive parent; some of the partners were obviously sulking or already disgruntled at an early age. Nowhere in the documentary did they directly point this out, although it was the central lesson from the film.

    Cross posted at LITGM

    Posted in Economics & Finance, Education, Morality and Philosphy, The Press | 9 Comments »

    Teaching in a black majority high school

    Posted by Michael Kennedy on 6th July 2013 (All posts by )

    This essay has been around for a while but I saw it for the first time today. It is powerful but depressing. I wonder how applicable it is to the Chicago school system? I have a nephew who has a step daughter in a public school that is about half black. Her mother has to go to the school about once a week to complain about bullying. Catholic schools’ tuition is far higher than it was when I lived there.

    Here it is.

    A few excerpts: Until recently I taught at a predominantly black high school in a southeastern state.

    The mainstream press gives a hint of what conditions are like in black schools, but only a hint. Expressions journalists use like “chaotic” or “poor learning environment” or “lack of discipline” do not capture what really happens. There is nothing like the day-to-day experience of teaching black children and that is what I will try to convey.

    Most whites simply do not know what black people are like in large numbers, and the first encounter can be a shock.

    One of the most immediately striking things about my students was that they were loud. They had little conception of ordinary decorum. It was not unusual for five blacks to be screaming at me at once. Instead of calming down and waiting for a lull in the din to make their point — something that occurs to even the dimmest white students — blacks just tried to yell over each other.

    This must be an impossible place to try to teach. Are there any kids who want to learn?

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Academia, Civil Society, Education, Human Behavior, Politics, Society | 77 Comments »

    Just Unbelievable

    Posted by David Foster on 28th June 2013 (All posts by )

    Michael Skapinker, writing in yesterday’s Financial Times:

    A few weeks ago I received an email from a US professor whose dean had reprimanded him for trying to teach his students how to write. The professor, who has been teaching business and law students at some of America’s top universities for 50 years, told an MBA class that clear writing would be essential in their careers.

    Each week, the professor assigned the students to compose a one-page memo, which he would read and mark. The objective was to improve their skills at conveying information clearly and concisely.

    The students complained vigorously to the dean, and the dean urged the professor to discontinue the memo-writing exercise. He (the dean) supported the view of the students that in business today, they did not need to know how to write…that with emails and tweets as the medium of exchange, the constant back-and-forth would provide an opportunity to correct misunderstandings caused by unclear writing. Ultimately, the dean insisted that the writing exercise be made voluntary, with the result that by the end of the term only one student (a non-native English speaker) was submitting the assignments.

    For those who think bad writing is okay because it can be clarified and corrected by emails and tweets, try sending a really badly-written sales proposal to a potential customer. You are likely to find that the sales opportunity has been blown in a way that will not allow for all those endless back-and-forth emails and tweets. Or, if your actual and apparent authority within the corporation are sufficiently high, you may find that you have unintentionally made a legally binding and potentially very expensive offer on behalf of your company.

    The consequences of bad writing within a company can also be quite malign. If your proposal for an improvement to the Gerbilator product line is sufficiently confusing, it’s likely nobody is going to bother investing the time needed for all that back-and-forth to understand what you are actually trying to say. More likely, they will choose to devote their attention to someone else’s crystal-clear and well-reasoned proposal to spend the engineering and marketing efforts on something else entirely.

    Skapinker notes that it is very odd that in an era when parents are seeking all possible advantages for their children (“exposing them to Paul Klee at the age of four…and teaching them to sing ‘Heads, shoulders, knees, and toes’ in Mandarin”) these parents do not pay serious attention to developing and improving the writing skills of the kids.

     

    Both clear writing and effective speaking (with or without PowerPoint) are tremendous advantages in business, and surely in other types of organizations as well. Anyone who graduates from a university without developing these skills has been cheated…or (more accurately in most cases) has cheated himself with the university’s collusion.

    Posted in Academia, Business, Education, Just Unbelievable | 22 Comments »

    The elephant in the room.

    Posted by Michael Kennedy on 19th June 2013 (All posts by )

    The Chicago Teachers Union president is lashing out at the villains in the school mess.

    “When are we going to address the elephant in the room?

    Say What ???

    “When will we address the fact that rich, white people, think they know what’s in the best interest of children of African Americans and Latinos—no matter what the parent’s income or education level,” she said, according to SubstanceNews.net.

    Oh. That elephant !!!

    How about this one ?

    What is it with these union bosses ?

    Posted in Big Government, Chicagoania, Education, Humor, Unions | 18 Comments »

    Aerodynamics, Art History, and the Assignment of Names

    Posted by David Foster on 19th June 2013 (All posts by )

    Several years ago, I was having lunch on the restaurant deck at my local airport. At the table next to me was a couple with a young girl, maybe about 4 years old.

    “What makes the airplane fly?” asked the mother.

    “Buh..buh,” said the little girl.

    “That’s right,” the beaming mother completed the phrase, “Bernoulli’s principle!”

    Now, I give this couple credit for taking the kid to the airport and trying to encourage cause-and-effect thinking about why things happen. But I really don’t think that teaching a 4-year-old to parrot “Bernoulli’s Principle” is the right way to do it. Far better, IMO, to say something like “When the airplane goes fast, that makes a wind under the wings, and that holds the airplane up.” This explanation would not pass muster with an aerodynamicist, but is far more useful, in terms of actual understanding, than giving the girl a keyword as explanation. To tell someone that Bernoulli’s Principle makes airplanes fly, when they don’t know what Bernoulli’s Principle IS,  is no more useful than telling them that lift is generated by friendly invisible fairies under the wings. (And the fairies are much more charming.)

    I was reminded of this little incident by a story in the Nov/Dec 2011 issue of Scientific American MIND. The headline says that “the trend in early education is to move from a play-based curriculum to a more school-like environment of directed learning.” An excerpt from the story:

    On a perfect Southern California morning not long ago, a gaggle of children gathered in the backyard of a million-dollar home in an upscale Los Angeles neighborhood to celebrate the birthday of twin four-year-old girls…Most of the kids at the party attend the same preschool. The father of one child enrolled there, where tuition is $14,300 a year for half a day, was asked what he likes about it.

    “I like that my daughter can tell me what kind of whale it is we see in a movie,” said the man, sporting a seersucker jacket. “They seem to be teaching things that other schools don’t.”

    “You ask them what they did in school today,” chimed in another day, “and they’re like, ‘Oh, today we learned about pointillism.’ There’s a whole series on Picasso, a four-month project on Klimt.”

    I submit that, for a four-year-old, it would be much, much more valuable to spend time doing their own painting and drawing than on learning to categorize well-known works according to the accepted categorization scheme. Having them also view the works of great artists is also fine, but should be done with an emphasis on seeing, not on name and category recognition.

    Forty years ago, in The Age of Discontinuity, Peter Drucker commented on the role of the arts in education:

    Today music appreciation is a respected academic discipline (even though it tends to be a deadly bore for the kids who have to memorize a lot of names when they have never heard the music). Playing an instrument or composing are considered, however, amateurish or “trade school.” This is not very bright, even if school is considered vocational preparation for the scribe. When school becomes general education for everyone, it is lunacy.

    The art program in the preschool described above sounds a lot like the kind of music appreciation courses that Drucker was criticizing.

    I’m afraid that American society is increasingly dominated by a kind of faux intellectualism that values “smartness” very highly (Smart cars! Smart diplomacy! Smart power!) but defines such smartness largely in terms of being able to fit everything in the world into approved categories.

    Moliere, in The Imaginary Invalid, mocked a group of physicians whose “explanation” of the effects of opium was that the drug induced sleep because it contained “dormative powers.”  There is still plenty of this kind of “thinking” going on today.

    Posted in Arts & Letters, Aviation, Education, Human Behavior, Philosophy | 12 Comments »

    3-D Printing a Jet Engine Component

    Posted by David Foster on 5th June 2013 (All posts by )

    General Electric posted a cool video of  jet engine fuel nozzles being fabricated–in one piece–with a 3-D printing process. Extensive data collection during the process is done for quality control purposes (they use the term “big data,” of which I am not overly fond.)

    GE says:

    Welders have monitored weld pools for centuries with shaded glasses, listening to the “bacon sizzle” of the molten metal, and later using infrared sensors, cameras, and pyrometers. GE is collecting all this data, as well as information from sensors checking the mechanical stability of the 3-D printing machines and the laser beams, and feeding it into algorithms that reduce terabytes of raw data to megabytes of useful information.

    It seems that certain skills, such as understanding what is happening to molten metal via direct sensory perception, are becoming less important in this manufacturing process…other skills, surely, are becoming more important. It would be both interesting and worthwhile for someone to perform a multi-decade analysis of the actual skill mix required to produce a particular product.  For example, how does the set of skills that built the J-47 jet engine in the early 1950s compare with the set of skills for building the engines being produced today? Millions of words and trillions of pixels have been devoted..by academics, journalists, consultants, educators, and even the occasional practitioner…to talking about “jobs of the future,” but a high proportion of this writing and talking is of the hand-waving variety. It would be nice to see some serious historical (and quantitative) comparative research.

    More on 3-D printing in today’s WSJ. Note that the Ford and Mattel examples are for 3-D printing of prototypes, not of actual customer products.

     

    Posted in Business, Education, Tech | 4 Comments »

    Worthwhile Reading & Viewing

    Posted by David Foster on 22nd May 2013 (All posts by )

    Former FDCI head Sheila Bair says that low interest rates are hurting, not helping, the economy

    Boring, narrow, think-alike apparatchiks.

    Educational credentialism and the landed aristocracy.

    The irreversible decline of Sears

    Rita King is not impressed with Marissa Mayer’s ban on remote work at Yahoo

    How volatility boosts career resilience

    Seven characteristics of creative people

    Stephen Hawking’s warped moral calculus

    19 emotions for which English has no words

    AT&T predicted the future in these 1993 ads…but how many of these possibilities-turned-actualities was it really able to convert into sources of revenue and profit?

    The CEO of Siemens USA thinks young people should seriously consider careers in manufacturing. (When he talks about high-level executives at Siemens who started as apprentices on the shop floor, I have to wonder how many of these success stories are in Siemens USA versus Siemens in Germany)

    Some vintage air travel photos

    The 22 most beautifully secluded places in the world

    Posted in Aviation, Business, Economics & Finance, Education, Human Behavior, Management | 17 Comments »

    “College Grads: It’s a Different Economy”

    Posted by Jonathan on 10th May 2013 (All posts by )

    This is very good:

    There are opportunities, but they require a deep understanding of risk and security. A livelihood with day-to-day low-level insecurity and volatility is actually far more stable and secure than the cartel-state one that claims to be guaranteed.
     
    The burdens of Fed manipulation and the cartel-state rentier arrangements will come home to roost between 2015-2017. Those who are willing to seek livelihoods in the non-cartel economy will likely have more security and satisfaction than those who believed that joining a rentier arrangement was a secure career.
     
    There is a price to joining a parasitic rentier arrangement, a loss of integrity, agency and independence. Complicity in an unsustainable neofeudal society has a cost.

    Read the whole thing.

    (Via Lex and ZeroHedge.)

    Posted in America 3.0, Big Government, Economics & Finance, Education, Political Philosophy, Predictions, Public Finance, Society, USA | 9 Comments »

    A Misleading Presentation

    Posted by David Foster on 8th May 2013 (All posts by )

    Back in 2004, one of the Ben & Jerry’s cofounders put up an animation using stacks of cookies to demonstrate that the US spends way too little on education relative to its spending on defense. The page showed $35 billion worth of cookies for K-12 education as opposed to $400 billion for defense.

    Actually, the US in that year was spending almost $500 billion in government money for K-12 education. The $35 billion looks about right –for Federal government spending only. Most educational funding in the US occurs, of course, at the county, state, and municpal levels.  The phrase “Federal budget” does occur somewhere in the presentation. But the manner in which the numbers are presented–in the form of a single bar graph–implied that the $35B for education was directly comparable to the $400B for defense. The casual or not-very-knowledgeable reader would be likely to look at this page and draw very incorrect conclusions about the relative levels of defense and educational spending in the United States.

    I was reminded of this misleading presentation of data by another bad infographic, this one appearing in the United Airlines in-flight magazine. The piece, titled “Geek Tragedy,” shows the U.S. having a rank of 27th among developed nations in proportion of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) bachelor’s degrees, asserted that the US economy would benefit by $75 trillion (over the next 80 years) if we could match Canada’s math proficiency level…and went on to compare “Annual US Federal Investment in STEM Education Programs” ($3 billion) with “Amount Americans Spent on Beer in 2011″ ($96 billion.)

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Education, Tech | 5 Comments »

    Immigration

    Posted by Michael Kennedy on 24th April 2013 (All posts by )

    UPDATE: Mickey Kaus now has a column called Gang of 8 Fraud of the Day. Today’s is “Back Taxes.”

    Negotiators had to choose between a hard-line approach favored by Republicans, like Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), that would have required immigrants and employers to painstakingly piece together a tax history so the government could collect what is owed and a less burdensome option of focusing on people who already have a past-due bill with the Internal Revenue Service.

    Yup. No tax audits. Only if they already have an assessment is it pursued.

    Rubio’s published materials now often carefully say to-be-legalized immigrants would have to merely ”pay taxes” as opposed to pay “back taxes.” That hasn’t stopped the bogus “back tax” meme from being propagated during Rubio’s current round the clock Con-the-Cons tour.

    The Senate has served up another in Harry Reid’s menu of “Unanimous Consent” bills with no hearings and no amendments except those he approves. This is not how the Senate is supposed to work and is a large part of the reason that Congress has produced such bad legislation since 2008. Now, we have another massive bill which is being presented with minimal hearings and debate.

    The “Gang of Eight” has written this bill and it is supposed to be fast tracked with no argument. Marco Rubio has been pressing for approval and now Paul Ryan is aboard.

    In an interview last week with the Catholic television network EWTN, Ryan recalled his history at Kemp’s side and how they worked together to fight Proposition 187, a California ballot initiative that prevented non-citizens from using the state’s social services.

    One reason why immigration worked in this country for 150 years was the fact that immigrants were here to work and support themselves. There was no welfare for them. Prop 187 in California was passed with 60% of the vote and even had majorities in heavily Hispanic districts. It was ruled “unconstitutional” by the California Supreme Court and the decline of the “Golden State” has followed. His reasoning at the time ?

    “I actually campaigned with Jack Kemp against a thing called Prop 187,” Ryan told host Raymond Arroyo. He said they both worried that the proposal would burn Republicans within the immigrant community, and “make it so that Latino voters would not hear the other messages of empowerment.”

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Anti-Americanism, Britain, Business, Civil Society, Conservatism, Education, Human Behavior, Islam, Middle East, Politics, Religion, Terrorism | 10 Comments »

    Some Observations on Gay Marriage

    Posted by Michael Kennedy on 30th March 2013 (All posts by )

    I have been kind of neutral on the whole gay marriage issue. I think it began as an artifact of the AIDS epidemic and an attempt to curb the promiscuity of male gay life. In the early days of the epidemic, I had to inform a very nice nuclear engineer that he was HIV positive. This was well before treatment had developed and it was a death sentence. He told me it was impossible because he had been in a monogamous relationship with his partner for ten years. What could I say ? I once had to inform a nice lady who was a Christian Scientist that she had breast cancer. Her response was that she was losing her breast and her religion at the same time.

    It has been taken over by activists who are determined to validate their life style and to force conventional society to accept it as equivalent to heterosexual family life, which it is not. It is surprising the success they have had with the young who seem to accept the argument that it is a “civil rights” issue, which is, of course, nonsense. Mark Steyn usually has something worthwhile to say on most subjects and this time is no exception.

    Gays will now be as drearily suburban as the rest of us. A couple of years back, I saw a picture in the paper of two chubby old queens tying the knot at City Hall in Vancouver, and the thought occurred that Western liberalism had finally succeeded in boring all the fun out of homosexuality.

    He does have a sense of humor amid reflections on a dying culture.

    In the upper echelons of society, our elites practice what they don’t preach. Scrupulously nonjudgmental about everything except traditional Christian morality, they nevertheless lead lives in which, as Charles Murray documents in his book Coming Apart, marriage is still expected to be a lifelong commitment. It is easy to see moneyed gay newlyweds moving into such enclaves, and making a go of it. As the Most Reverend Justin Welby, the new Archbishop of Canterbury and head of the worldwide Anglican Communion, said just before his enthronement the other day, “You see gay relationships that are just stunning in the quality of the relationship.” “Stunning”: What a fabulous endorsement! But, amongst the type of gay couple that gets to dine with the Archbishop of Canterbury, he’s probably right.

    The problem, as pointed out years ago by Vice President Dan Quayle, is that the elites set the pattern for those whose lives cannot succeed without the structures of traditional society. They set the pattern, unfortunately, by what they say, not what they do.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Academia, Book Notes, Civil Society, Education, Human Behavior, Morality and Philosphy, Politics | 15 Comments »

    RERUN–Jousting with a Phantom

    Posted by David Foster on 30th January 2013 (All posts by )

    (I originally posted this in July of last year. I thought it might be appropriate for a rerun given that so many otherwise-intelligent commentators are currently falling for the idea  that the Obamaites  truly and naively believe in “equality of outcomes.”  In reality they believe in no such thing, but are conducting horizontal class warfare with the intent of  collapsing the multiple ladders of success that have traditionally existed in American society into a single ladder, with access tightly controlled by people like themselves.)

    Those people who call themselves “progressives” are talking a lot about equality and inequality these days. And conservatives/libertarians, in response, attempt to explain why “equality of outcomes” is infeasible and unwise.

    To a substantial degree, though, they/we are jousting with a phantom. Because leading “progressives” don’treally believe in anything resembling equality—indeed, quite the contrary.

    Consider, for example: Many people in “progressive” leadership positions are graduates of the Harvard Law School. Do you think these people want to see a society in which the career, status, and income prospects for an HLS grad are no better than those for a graduate of a lesser-known, lower-status (but still very good) law school? C’mon.

    Quite a few “progressive” leaders are members of prominent families. Do you think Teddy Kennedy would have liked to see an environment in which he and certain other members of his family would have had to answer for their actions in the criminal courts in the same way that ordinary individuals would, without benefit from connections, media influence, and expensive lawyers?

    The prevalence of “progressivism” among tenured professors is quite high. How many of these professors would be eager to agree to employment conditions in which their job security and employee benefits were no better than those enjoyed by average Americans? How many of them would take a salary cut in order to provide higher incomes for the poorly-paid adjunct professors at their universities? How many would like to see PhD requirements eliminated so that a wider pool of talented and knowledgeable individuals can participate in university teaching?

    There are a lot of “progressives” among the graduates of Ivy League universities. How many of them would be in favor of legally eliminating alumni preferences and the influence of “contributions” and have their children considered for admission–or not–on the same basis as everyone else’s kids? Yet an alumni preference is an intergenerational asset in the same way that a small businessman’s store or factory is.

    The reality is that “progressivism” is not in any way about equality, it is rather about shifting the distribution of power and wealth in a way that benefits those with certain kinds of educational credentials and certain kinds of connections. And remember, power and connections are always transmutable into wealth. Sometimes that wealth is directly dollar-denominated, as in the millions of dollars that former president Bill Clinton was paid in speaking fees last year, or the money made by a former government official who leverages his contacts into an executive job with a “green” energy company–even though he may have minimal knowledge of either energy or business. And sometimes the wealth takes the form of in-kind benefits, like a university president’s mansion. (Those who lived in the old Soviet Union and Eastern Europe can tell you all about in-kind benefits for nominally low-paid officials.) And, almost always, today’s “progressivism” is about the transfer of power from individuals to credentialed “experts” who will coerce or “nudge” people to do with those experts have decided would be best.

    To a very substantial extent, the talk about “equality” is a smokescreen, conscious or unconscious, behind which “progressives” pursue their own economic, status, and ego agendas.

    Writing in 1969, Peter Drucker–who was born in Austria and had lived in several European countries–wrote about what he saw as a key American economic advantage: the much less-dominant role played by “elite” educational institutions:

    One thing it (modern society) cannot afford in education is the “elite institution” which has a monopoly on social standing, on prestige, and on the command positions in society and economy. Oxford and Cambridge are important reasons for the English brain drain. A main reason for the technology gap is the Grande Ecole such as the Ecole Polytechnique or the Ecole Normale. These elite institutions may do a magnificent job of education, but only their graduates normally get into the command positions. Only their faculties “matter.” This restricts and impoverishes the whole society…The Harvard Law School might like to be a Grande Ecole and to claim for its graduates a preferential position. But American society has never been willing to accept this claim…
It is almost impossible to explain to a European that the strength of American higher education lies in this absence of schools for leaders and schools for followers.

    The “unwillingness of American society to accept this claim”…the claim of elite education as the primary gateway to power and wealth…has been greatly undercut since Drucker wrote. And “progressives” have been among the main under-cutters and the leading advocates for further movement in that direction.

    Related: Paying higher taxes can be very profitable.

    Original CB discussion thread here.

    Posted in Academia, Civil Society, Education, Political Philosophy, USA | 5 Comments »

    Happy New Year

    Posted by Michael Kennedy on 1st January 2013 (All posts by )

    I wish I were more enthusiastic but I still wish everyone a good year. The “fiscal cliff” talks have ended about as I expected. The Republicans have pretty much rolled over. The House has yet to vote and I wonder how that will go. If they all grew a spine (or some other anatomical parts) they would vote “present” and let the Democrats pass the bill by themselves. Drudge has a link to the Breitbart story.

    According to the Congressional Budget Office, the last-minute fiscal cliff deal reached by congressional leaders and President Barack Obama cuts only $15 billion in spending while increasing tax revenues by $620 billion—a 41:1 ratio of tax increases to spending cuts.

    When Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush increased taxes in return for spending cuts—cuts that never ultimately came—they did so at ratios of 1:3 and 1:2.

    “In 1982, President Reagan was promised $3 in spending cuts for every $1 in tax hikes,” Americans for Tax Reform says of those two incidents. “The tax hikes went through, but the spending cuts did not materialize. President Reagan later said that signing onto this deal was the biggest mistake of his presidency.

    “In 1990, President George H.W. Bush agreed to $2 in spending cuts for every $1 in tax hikes. The tax hikes went through, and we are still paying them today. Not a single penny of the promised spending cuts actually happened.”

    This will be another such fake compromise. However, The Gods of the Copybook Headings are coming.

    In the Carboniferous Epoch we were promised abundance for all,
    By robbing selected Peter to pay for collective Paul;
    But, though we had plenty of money, there was nothing our money could buy,
    And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: “If you don’t work you die.”

    Then the Gods of the Market tumbled, and their smooth-tongued wizards withdrew,
    And the hearts of the meanest were humbled and began to believe it was true
    That All is not Gold that Glitters, and Two and Two make Four —
    And the Gods of the Copybook Headings limped up to explain it once more.

    It’s too long to post all of it and, for those who are unsure of the source of the title, copybooks were supplied for all school children in England, when it was still England. The copy books had traditional aphorisms on each page that children were expected to learn.

    Another expression that relates to the books was someone “blotted his copybook.” This meant making an error that was difficult to correct.

    The “copybook headings” to which the title refers were proverbs or maxims, extolling virtues such as honesty or fair dealing that were printed at the top of the pages of 19th-century British students’ special notebook pages, called copybooks. The school-children had to write them by hand repeatedly down the page.

    The work has been described as “beautifully captur[ing] the thinking of Schumpeter and Keynes.”[2] David Gilmour says that while topics of the work are the “usual subjects”, the commentary “sound better in verse”[3] while Alice Ramos says that they are “far removed from Horace’s elegant succinctness” but do “make the same point with some force.”[4]

    I don’t think I would agree that Keynes is an example of the copybook headings’ wisdom although his recommendations have been wildly distorted by politicians.

    We are coming to a period when math will be far more determinant than wishful thinking in terms of our lives.

    As it will be in the future, it was at the birth of Man —
    There are only four things certain since Social Progress began —
    That the Dog returns to his Vomit and the Sow returns to her Mire,
    And the burnt Fool’s bandaged finger goes wabbling back to the Fire —
    And that after this is accomplished, and the brave new world begins
    When all men are paid for existing and no man must pay for his sins
    As surely as Water will wet us, as surely as Fire will burn
    The Gods of the Copybook Headings with terror and slaughter return!

    Hopefully, not this year. Happy New Year.

    Posted in Anglosphere, Civil Society, Economics & Finance, Education, Human Behavior, Leftism, Morality and Philosphy, Poetry, Public Finance | 5 Comments »

    Maturity Makes the Student (and the student debt-free)

    Posted by Ginny on 28th December 2012 (All posts by )

    Heather McDonald discusses the choices in job-rich (& self-reliant fly over) Idaho. My syllabus argues if students find themselves not doing the readings, they should probably rethink taking my class. Our lives are enriched by scholarship at certain ponts – at others, it can be a distraction from living. Perhaps lectures are difficult to follow, I observe, because of dehydration after a night in Northgate’s bars. But I’m serious, offering a couple of anecdotes – like a student whose 48 hours of F’s in their teens were followed by life; he came back in his forties, ending with a Ph.D. Unusual, but not all that rare. Neither those bars nor classes slept through are useful ways to spend years of intensity, energy, growth. And, even at our bargain prices, this wastes money.

    A student this semester said that paragraph may have led to drops. Well, okay, the purpose is to wake them up – so they don’t drift through another class, getting an untransferable grade. I counseled too many students on their fourth semester of such work.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Academia, Arts & Letters, Education | 13 Comments »

    Simulation, Training, and Reality

    Posted by David Foster on 12th December 2012 (All posts by )

    Via Isegoria, here is an interview with James Sterrett, who is deputy chief of simulation/wargaming for the Command & General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth.

    The issue of knowledge transfer between simulations and the real world is important not only in the military, but also in business and aviation..and surely many other areas as well.

    Sterrett notes that in simulations:

    First, we usually have far better knowledge of the situation than is possible for real armies; consider that one of the key pieces of information from ULTRA decrypts was the Axis order of battle in various theaters – simply knowing what units the Axis had was a major intelligence coup, but such information is routinely handed to players. Moreover, the scenario usually tells us what the friendly and enemy win conditions are, while those are often less clear in real life.

    Second, in nearly every game, our forces do exactly what we tell them to do, exactly when we tell them to do it. In the real world, subordinate forces need time to conduct their own planning so they can carry out our orders, and they may not go about the task exactly as we envisioned…

    Third, gamers are usually planning by themselves, which means they have to explain everything only to themselves and to the game. Military staffs deal with more information than one person can process; even a battalion staff is likely to be several dozen people. Getting this many people to pass information among themselves efficiently, and let alone coming up with a coherent plan that everybody understands, requires practice.

    The interview reminds me of a passage in Don Sheppard’s book Bluewater Sailor, which I wrote about several years ago…

    When a decision is made in an organizational context (as opposed to a decision by an entirely autonomous individual), additional layers of complexity and emotion come into play. The person who must make the decision is often not the person who has the information/expertise on which the decision must be based. Indeed, the information and expertise are often distributed across multiple individuals. These individuals may have their own objectives and motivations, which may differ from the objectives and motivations of the formal decision-maker, and which may conflict with each other. And the making of the decision may alter power relationships within the organization, as well as influencing the phenomena about which the decision is ostensibly being made.

    The above factors are illustrated with crystalline clarity in the story of a seemingly very simple decision, which had to be made onboard a U.S. Navy destroyer sometime during the 1950s.

    Don Sheppard was the newly-appointed Engineering Officer of the USS Henshaw, with responsibility for its 60,000-horsepower turbine plant. But his knowledge of propulsion equipment came entirely from study at the navy’s Engineering Officer School. Reporting to Sheppard was the “Chief,” an enlisted man with no theoretical training but with twenty years of experience in the practical operation of naval power plants. When Sheppard assumed his new duties, the Chief’s greeting “bordered on rudeness.” The man clearly believed that engineering officers might come and go, but that he, the Chief, was the one who really ran things, who was the “Prince of the Plant.”

    During maneuvers off the Pacific coast, a bizarre accident resulted in the Henshaw dropping a depth charge which exploded very close to its own stern. The shockwave was enough to knock down men who were standing on deck. Sheppard asked the Chief if he thought the plant might have suffered any damage:

    He furrowed his brow, glaring at me. “Damage, sir? We’d know about any major damage by now if the plant suffered. i don’t think we got any problems, sir,” he answered–patronizingly–in a civil enough tone, but barely so. Who was I, an interloper, to dare question the Prince of the Plant?

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Aviation, Business, Education, Management, Military Affairs, Tech | 5 Comments »

    Dubious Investment Advice and the Conveyor-Belt Approach to Life

    Posted by David Foster on 9th December 2012 (All posts by )

    Over the last couple of years, numerous writers–on blogs and in the media–have been expressing concern about the state of the legal job market and asserting that there is an overproduction of lawyers. Comes now Lawrence Mitchell, who is Dean at Case Western’s law school, with an article titled Law School is Worth the Money. He denounces the “hysteria” of the critics and argues, basically, that those who are interested in going to law school should be encouraged to go ahead and do so.

    I’m not very impressed with Dean Mitchell’s reasoning, and there are quite a few other people–many of them lawyers and law professors–who are similarly unimpressed.

    One thing that particularly struck me in Mitchell’s article, and not in a good way, was this:

    What else will these thousands of students who have been discouraged from attending law school do? Where will they find a more fulfilling career? They’re not all going to be doctors or investment bankers, nor should they.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Academia, Education, Law | 12 Comments »

    RERUN–Thanksgiving and Temporal Bigotry

    Posted by David Foster on 22nd November 2012 (All posts by )

    (Originally posted in 2003, and rerun several times since)

    Stuart Buck encountered a teacher who said “Kids learn so much these days. Did you know that today a schoolchild learns more between the freshman and senior years of high school than our grandparents learned in their entire lives?” (“She said this as if she had read it in some authoritative source”, Stuart comments.)

    She probably had read it in some supposedly-authoritative source, but it’s an idiotic statement nevertheless. What, precisely, is this wonderful knowledge that high-school seniors have today and which the 40-year-olds of 1840 or 1900 were lacking?

    The example of knowledge that people usually throw out is “computers.” But the truth is, to be a casual user of computers (I’m not talking about programming and systems design), you don’t need much knowledge. You need “keyboarding skills”–once called “typing.” And you need to know some simple conventions as to how the operating system expects you to interact with it. That’s about it. Not much informational or conceptual depth there.

    Consider the knowledge possessed by by the Captain of a sailing merchant ship, circa 1840. He had to understand celestial navigation: this meant he had to understand trigonometry and logarithms. He had to possess the knowledge–mostly “tacit knowledge,” rather than book-learning–of how to handle his ship in various winds and weathers. He might well be responsible for making deals concerning cargo in various ports, and hence had to have a reasonable understanding of business and of trade conditions. He had to have some knowledge of maritime law.

    Outside of the strictly professional sphere, his knowedge probably depended on his family background. If he came from a family that was reasonably well-off, he probably knew several of Shakespeare’s plays. He probably had a smattering of Latin and even Greek. Of how many high-school (or college) seniors can these statements be made today?

    (In his post, Stuart compares knowledge levels using his grandfather–a farmer–as an example.)

    Today’s “progressives,” particularly those in the educational field, seem to have a deep desire to put down previous generations, and to assume we have nothing to learn from them. It’s a form of temporal bigotry. Indeed, Thanksgiving is a good time to resist temporal bigotry by reflecting on the contributions of earlier generations and on what we can learn from their experiences.

    As C S Lewis said: If you want to destroy an infantry unit, you cut it off from its neighboring units. If you want to destroy a generation, you cut it off from previous generations. (Approximate quote.)

    How better to conduct such destruction than to tell people that previous generations were ignorant and that we have nothing to learn from them?

    11/22/2012: Previous CB discussion thread here. See also related posts by Jonathan and Ginny.

    Thoughts on the lessons of the Plymouth Colony from Jerry Bowyer and Paul Rahe.

    Posted in Education, History, Holidays, USA | 17 Comments »

    Some Views From Overseas

    Posted by David Foster on 14th November 2012 (All posts by )

    …on the US election results.

    Janet Daley, in The Telegraph: “So Europe got the American president it wanted – the one who would present no threat to its own delusions. The United States is now officially one of us: an Old World country complete with class hatred, ethnic Balkanisation, bourgeois guilt and a paternalist ruling elite. And it is locked into the same death spiral of high public spending and self-defeating wealth redistribution as we are. Welcome to the future, and the beginning of what may turn out to be the terminal decline of the West.”

    Melanie Phillips: “The greatest satisfaction today over the re-election of Obama is not being felt in the Democratic Party. It is not being felt among the media…No, the greatest satisfaction is surely being felt in Iran.”

    The Dissident Frogman: “Hear this final prophecy America: only one man can kill the Republic, and it isn’t Barack Obama. The one man who will kill your Republic is the one man who will last give up and renounce it. Don’t you dare be that man.

    Read them all.

    Also, here’s something interesting: Li Keqiang, China’s next premier, has been advising his associates to read Alexis de Tocqueville’s 1856 book The Old Regime and the French Revolution.

    Posted in Britain, China, Civil Society, Education, Europe, France, History, Middle East, USA | 56 Comments »

    Decline is Not Inevitable

    Posted by David Foster on 5th November 2012 (All posts by )

    One of the most depressing things about the last several years is the degree to which many Americans have come to believe that our best years are behind us. Surveys show that a high percentage of people believe their children will live less-well than themselves. The belief is pervasive that our current economic problems are not a mere cyclic downturn, but rather that we have entered an era of sustained decline.

    I assert that American decline is by no means inevitable…and if we do wind up in long-term decline, it will be driven not by any sort of automatic economic process, but rather by our own choices–especially our own political choices.

    We talk a lot, here and elsewhere, about our problems as a society–and properly so–but let’s change focus for a few minutes and think about our assets.

    America has vast energy resources. For oil and gas, fracking really is a game changer. We have vast reserves of coal, and plenty of opportunities to employ nuclear energy safely and responsibly. (Solar and wind can also play a role, but these will be niche sources only for a long time.) And low-cost and widely-available energy greatly improves the economics of many manufacturing businesses, as I’ve pointed out in other posts. European manufacturers, for example, wish their countries had direct access to large supplies of low-cost natural gas.

    America has wide swaths of fine agricultural land, and many excellent farmers. These are not trivial factors in a world which is becoming increasingly wealthy, filled with billions of people who want and need to improve their diets. And agriculture’s impact is not limited to those who are actually on farms–agriculture also drives activity in transportation, in equipment manufacturing, in fertilizer production.

    And speaking of transportation: while there have been many concerns about “America’s decaying infrastructure,” America also has infrastructure elements which are very strong. America’s freight railroads are probably the best in the world, and represent a powerful economic asset. The country is cris-crossed by thousands of miles of pipelines which carry oil, natural gas, jet fuel, ammonia, CO2, and many other commodities, efficiently, silently, and safely. Our airports, air carriers, and air traffic control system combine to enable the transportation of vast numbers of passengers and considerable quantities of freight, reliably and safely. The Internet has emerged, in only 20 years, from being a limited experimental network to being a large-scale enabler of commerce and of new businesses.

    America has millions of people with entrepreneurial spirit–people who want to do new things, to put their personal stamp on the world, to make a contribution in ways that are not necessarily predefined by tradition or edicted by higher authority. Some will start the next Intel or Apple; for some, their scope will be limited to a well-loved local restaurant or to a home-based craft business. All are important.

    Our venture capital industry is an important enabler of high-growth new businesses, and our private equity industry plays a key role as well. “Crony capitalism,” while it has grown unhealthily, has not reached the levels it has in many other countries, and badly-managed or ill-thought-out enterprises can still go broke and be restructured (or disappear) without being bailed out by political pals, leaving the field clear for the new and better–and for talented people who are not among society’s “insiders.”

    Credentialism in the U.S. has indeed reached unhealthy levels, but it is still quite possible for people to succeed–and succeed in a big way–without the imprimatur of an “elite” college or an accent indicating an “appropriate” class position.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Academia, Big Government, Business, Civil Society, Economics & Finance, Education, Elections, Energy & Power Generation, Entrepreneurship, Political Philosophy, USA | 18 Comments »

    RERUN–An Academic Bubble?

    Posted by David Foster on 14th August 2012 (All posts by )

    (Originally posted 5/2/2003. Nine years have passed since the original post, and I think we can safely remove the question mark from the phrase “An Academic bubble?”)

    Over at Critical Mass, there’s recently been much discussion of Brooklyn College. This is the institution at which English professor Frederick Lang was removed from the classroom–evidently in large part due to his hard-nosed grading policies and his unpopular habit of writing honest comments on student papers.

    The devaluation of standards in academia has been going on for a long time. Eric, a commenter at Critical Mass, reports on a conversation that took place at SUNY–Stony Brook when he was a professor there. Faculty members were discussing the math final grades:

    “What should the minimum D be?”

    “180 out of 420.”

    “No, we’d fail too many people.”

    They eventually decided on 140 out of 420. At this point, Eric asked:

    “Bernie, would you trust someone who got 140 out of 420 to do your taxes?”

    “Eric, that’s not the point.”

    “Would you trust him to be your doctor?”

    “Eric, that’s not the point.”

    “Would you trust him to build a bridge for you?”

    “Eric, that’s not the point.”

    So what is the point?

    Of course, we all know what the point really is. The point is for students to obtain a piece of paper–a diploma–which is viewed as a passport to economic success. Increasingly, the perceived value of this diploma is decoupled from any knowledge or accomplishment that it actually represents. It is valued for the circular reason that–it is valued.

    This situation is reminiscent of other pieces of paper–stock certificates in certain dot.com companies. At the height of the boom, people were acquiring these certificates without much consideration of the current or potential business results of the companies they represented. (“I don’t know what it does,” said one investor of a stock, “but I know it’s moving.”) The hope was simply that a popular stock would become more popular and hence increase in price–that is, these certificates were valued because they were valued.

    A bubble is not infinitely sustainable. In the market, stocks will eventually collapse if there are no earnings to support their price levels. And, in academia, degrees will not be valued indefinitely unless they represent genuine knowledge and accomplishment. The collapse may not be as immediately dramatic as a market collapse–but it seems inevitable that it will eventually happen.

    8/14/2012: Glenn Reynolds recently published a book titled The Higher Education Bubble. It’s available via Kindle for $1.99, which I believe is a temporary price…I haven’t read it yet, but I’ve downloaded it, and will be reading it soon.

    Posted in Academia, Education, Markets and Trading, USA | 4 Comments »

    RERUN–Two School Systems–and Two Foundries

    Posted by David Foster on 4th August 2012 (All posts by )

    Originally posted 2/24/2007

    This post compares two school systems–Oakland, in northern California, and Compton, in southern California. Both have been trying to improve their performance–Compton has tried to reduce class size, boost teachers’ credentials, adopt a tougher curriculum, etc. Oakland has taken an approach based on competition and parental choice:

    (In Oakland), kids are not required to attend their neighborhood school, especially if it is failing. Rather, they can pick any regular public or charter school in their district and take their education dollars with them; more students therefore means more revenues for schools. Furthermore, as the name suggests, the revenues are “weighted” based on the difficulty of educating each student, with low-income and special-needs kids commanding more money than smart, well-to-do ones. Schools have to compete for funding, but the upside is that they have total control over it.

    Based on the statistics cited in the linked article, it appears that the kids in Oakland are doing better than those in Compton.

    As regular readers of this blog know, just about everything reminds me of something else. And this post reminded me of something Peter Drucker wrote many years ago (in The Practice of Management, IIRC.)

    Drucker compared two foundries, both of which were components of large manufacturing companies. In company A, the foundry was a purely internal operation–it made castings only for use in the company’s own manufacturing operations. In company B, the foundry made castings for internal use, but was also allowed to sell its services on the open market.

    Over the years, Drucker observed, the company “A” foundry did a workmanlike job, but nothing spectacular. The same guy ran the place for well over a decade. The company “B” foundry, on the other hand, was continually at the forefront of innovation–and several of the foundry managers had been promoted to other parts of the business.

    For both the school systems and the foundries, competition made the difference. When an organization deals only with those who arerequired to use its services, whether these be students in a school district or users of castings in a corpoation, there will be less dynamism than in an organization that must submit its services to the free choice of outsiders.

    Posted in Education, Management | 8 Comments »

    Skills, Schools, Technology, and Politicians

    Posted by David Foster on 1st August 2012 (All posts by )

    Just about every week, there are news stories about businesses that–despite the high unemployment rate–can’t find people to hire with the needed skills…these skills often being of a pretty basic nature. For example, the WSJ mentions an alarm-installation company that currently has two unfilled job openings—for fire-alarm and burglar-alarm technician–that have been open for nearly 18 months. The firm’s head says that he has provided about 10 prospective hires with a low-level alarm manual and asked them to come back and show they could operate the alarm panel. “None have come back,” he says.

    Note that he’s not testing for people who can understand a circuit diagram or diagnose a complex failure condition, just for people who can read a detailed document and take appropriate actions based on what it says.

    North American Tool Corporation has two openings in northwest Illinois. But…”I’ll write a few numbers down, mostly numbers with decimal points, because that’s what we use in manufacturing, and have them add them or subtract them, or divide by two,” says North American’s Jim Hoyt. He finds that applicants often can’t do this simple math.

    Journalists and academics often blame the missing-skills problem on what they claim to be the higher skill levels required by today’s technology, but I think this aspect of the situation is overstated. I doubt that a present-day manual for an alarm system is really a more complex document than, say, a maintenance manual for a piston-powered airliner circa 1950. And while a modern CNC machine tool does require (at least) a knowledge of decimal arithmetic to program or probably even to set up, a true machinist on traditional equipment also needed this knowledge. It is possible that the average mix of verbal and mathematical literacy requirements for jobs has shifted somewhat upwards as a result of advancing technology and increased management focus on worker involvement, but I think the main problem is not that the skill requirements have become dramatically higher but rather the skill levels of the prospective workers coming out of the schools have gotten lower.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Academia, Business, Education, Politics, Tech | 18 Comments »