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  • Archive for the 'Education' Category

    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 »

    Dangers of Monoculture in Banking

    Posted by David Foster on 24th July 2012 (All posts by )

    A banking equity analyst at a major bank talks about the growing uniformity in banks:

    In the old days you got people who had applied in their last year at university or who had other careers, in the industry or in trade papers. These days you get people who have started working at getting that job from the first year of university. The recruitment process has been industrialised and professionalised, it’s become so difficult to get in.

    “The result is paradoxical. Diversity has increased, with far more women and ethnic minorities than before. On the other hand it’s become a terribly homogenous bunch of people. You don’t get graduates who did not at 18 want to work at a bank. You only get people who spent their summers in internships at banks, who went straight from college into the bank. Their biggest exposure to the world outside is… business school.

    “This homogenous bunch deals quite badly with paradigm shifts. Quarter to quarter they are really, really good at cleaning out a bank’s books, digging up the one-offs, accounting tricks. What they’re missing is the big picture.

    “Also, they are not sufficiently cynical. Quite a lot of regrettable stuff was written in the last years of Lehman Brothers. This was in part because the young people writing it were unable to take a step back, psychologically, and ask themselves if they were being lied to, flat out.

    The whole interview is interesting.

    Posted in Economics & Finance, Education | 4 Comments »

    Six Hundred Million Years in K-12

    Posted by David Foster on 23rd July 2012 (All posts by )

    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 Lott: But 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 | 17 Comments »

    Jousting with a Phantom

    Posted by David Foster on 19th July 2012 (All posts by )

    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’t really 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.

    Posted in Academia, Civil Society, Education, Political Philosophy, USA | 12 Comments »

    Taylor 1: Liberal Arts Purpose to Leave Our Selves Behind

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

    Delbanco’s The Real American Dream argues American culture/literature narrows focus from God to Nation to Self. Paradoxically, such movement also universalizes – God seen as a 17th century Puritan did; Nation as an Enlightened American did; but the self – ah, going far inward, externals blur. Emerson’s “Self-Reliance” or its opposite, Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, are accessible whatever a student’s religious background. Understanding that “Self”, though, is also deepened by understanding the vestiges of history buried in our culture, affecting writers newly come to this continent as well as those who self-consciously reject much of that heritage (as do both Emerson and Hawthorne). So the first fourth of the first half of a chronological survey requires us to enter another world in another time with other beliefs – to appreciate what they considered important, fought wars over, faced a wilderness to express.

    Some heritage is general: Puritans brought with them an obsession with the word – written, memorized, analyzed – and a pared down, intense relationship with their God in which little church hierarchy intervenes. Translation of the Bible into the vernacular had powerful consequences. And church governance as they defined it seems to inevitably lead to government of, by and for the people. Of course, the communal remains important. The warmth of the Mayflower contract and agreements on the Arbella led to the great “ur” documents. Separatists like Williams were then, and are likely always to be, a minority. But individualism & self-conscious self-inspection are central to the 19th century. That tendency pulled American culture farther toward individualism as value and libertarianism as policy. To this day, our outlier position is characterized by individualism – a position most cherish, welcoming challenge.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Academia, Arts & Letters, Education, Lit Crit | Comments Off

    Skipping Science Class, Yet Again

    Posted by David Foster on 25th June 2012 (All posts by )

    In 2005, I posted skipping science class, about some disturbing trends in UK science education, and in 2008, I posted an update under the title skipping science class, continued.

    Concerns about the state of science education are not limited to the UK. Today, Stuart Schneiderman cites a DOE study on science education in America. He cites Forbes writer Maureen Henderson, who comments on the study:

    For example, 75% of high school seniors could successfully use test strips to test water samples for the levels of four pollutants, record the data and interpret whether the results exceeded EPA standards, but only 25% of students were able to design and conduct an investigation using a simulated calorimeter and related patterns in temperature changes in two different metals to determine which metal has the higher specific heat capacity. Results were the same at the lower grade levels, where only 24% and 35% of eighth and fourth graders respectively were able to handle the more difficult experiments. Students also had difficulty in explaining how they arrived at a correct conclusion, with only 27% of twelfth graders able to both select a correct answer and explain why they did so in one section of the test. And in another section, only 11% were able to make a final recommendation that was supported by the data they had worked with in the experiment.

    Note that a lot of the test questions, and I’m sure a lot of the topics covered in school “science” courses, have to do with environmental matters.

    Basically, it seems that in the American government schools, as in their British equivalents, all subjects whatsoever tend to get converted into “social studies.”

    Posted in Britain, Education, Tech, USA | 4 Comments »

    A House of Horrors for Autistic Children but Cash for Democratic Pols

    Posted by Zenpundit on 3rd June 2012 (All posts by )

    This may rank among the most bizarre and appalling education stories I have ever heard in twenty years as a professional educator. And I have heard quite a bit.

    You may have caught a blip about the UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights calling in to question practices at some institution in America and read no further. I didn’t. Unfortunately, it turns out, the UN is right. There’s a taxpayer supported independent school in Massachusetts run by a radical B.F. Skinnerian cult called the Judge Rotenberg Center that makes a practice of giving frequent and intense electric shocks to severely autistic children in order to moderate their disruptive or self-isolating behaviors.

    To be clear even under “enhanced interrogation” methods approved by the Bush administration, this could not be done to al Qaida captives.  We would never do it to the most hardened convicts in the Federal prison system. Yet taxpayers are footing the bill to do it to disabled students. Sometimes for hours on end.

    Having worked with such students in my classroom, words fail me.

    Steve Hynd, the progressive blogger at The Agonist and Newshoggers.com did some digging and discovered The Judge Rotenberg Center has deep and exclusive financial ties to a powerful coterie of Massachusetts Democrats:

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Academia, Big Government, Civil Liberties, Civil Society, Education, Politics, Society | 6 Comments »

    I Hope the University of Chicago Never Changes

    Posted by Lexington Green on 9th May 2012 (All posts by )

    Posted in Chicagoania, Education | 34 Comments »

    Barak Obama, Constitutional Scholar

    Posted by Michael Kennedy on 4th April 2012 (All posts by )

    In Barak Obama’s resume was a statement that he taught constitutional law as an “adjunct professor” at U of Chicago Law School. I have never considered this to be a major achievement since adjunct professors are not paid and the subject he taught was more related to his other interests. Constitutional law was not one of them.

    At the school, Mr. Obama taught three courses, ascending to senior lecturer, a title otherwise carried only by a few federal judges. His most traditional course was in the due process and equal protection areas of constitutional law. His voting rights class traced the evolution of election law, from the disenfranchisement of blacks to contemporary debates over districting and campaign finance. Mr. Obama was so interested in the subject that he helped Richard Pildes, a professor at New York University, develop a leading casebook in the field.

    His most original course, a historical and political seminar as much as a legal one, was on racism and law. Mr. Obama improvised his own textbook, including classic cases like Brown v. Board of Education, and essays by Frederick Douglass, W. E. B. Dubois, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X, as well as conservative thinkers like Robert H. Bork.

    Mr. Obama was especially eager for his charges to understand the horrors of the past, students say. He assigned a 1919 catalog of lynching victims, including some who were first raped or stripped of their ears and fingers, others who were pregnant or lynched with their children, and some whose charred bodies were sold off, bone fragment by bone fragment, to gawkers…

    Should we be surprised at his knowledge, or lack of it, on the basics of constitutional law ? Even his attempt to correct his clueless comments about judicial review are incoherent

    Apparently unaware of the most basic principles of constitutional law, going back to Marbury v. Madison in 1803, he said:

    I’m confident that the Supreme Court will not take what would be an unprecedented, extraordinary step of overturning a law that was passed by a strong majority of a democratically elected Congress.

    And I — I’d just remind conservative commentators that for years what we’ve heard is the biggest problem on the bench was judicial activism or a lack of judicial restraint; that, uhhh, an unelected, uhhh, group of — of people would somehow overturn, uhhh, a duly constituted and — and passed, uh, law. Uh, well, uh, uh, is a good example. Uhh, and I’m pretty confident that this, — this court will recognize that, uh, and not take that step.

    The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals responded

    Overturning a law of course would not be unprecedented — since the Supreme Court since 1803 has asserted the power to strike down laws it interprets as unconstitutional. The three-judge appellate court appears to be asking the administration to admit that basic premise — despite the president’s remarks that implied the contrary. The panel ordered the Justice Department to submit a three-page, single-spaced letter by noon Thursday addressing whether the Executive Branch believes courts have such power, the lawyer said.

    Marbury vs Madison is one of the oldest and most basic cases that would be studied by a law student interested in Constitutional Law. The fact that our president does not know this ranks with his comments on speaking “Austrian” in Austria and his estimation of the number of US states.

    Is he really this dim ? Did Harvard turn out this affirmative action dullard and inflict him on the country ?

    Posted in Big Government, Civil Liberties, Education, Law, Leftism, Politics, Predictions | 18 Comments »

    Quote of the Day

    Posted by Jonathan on 28th March 2012 (All posts by )

    From an interview of Ion Mihai Pacepa, the former head of the Romanian intelligence service under Ceausescu, by Madeleine Simon:

    14. Since coming to America, what most positively surprised you about the country, and what has most negatively surprised you?
     
    [...]
     
    What most negatively surprised me? A 2008 Rasmussen poll showing that only 53% of Americans preferred capitalism to socialism. There seems to be a new generation of American young people who have no longer been taught real history in school, who know little if anything about the destructive power of Marxism — a sinister plague that dispossessed a third of the world’s population and killed some 94 million people — and who believe that a socialist utopia would solve everything in the world.

    Posted in Education, Leftism, Quotations | 8 Comments »

    Money, Power, Sex versus Subsistence

    Posted by Ginny on 12th March 2012 (All posts by )

    Brief Note: So, I’m grading intro to lit papers. I don’t mind so much because the class is unusually good this semester and the books they chose are ones that interest me – as well as interest them. One of my students has been, in my opinion, led astray by the famous Achebe essay that simplifies Conrad. He is eating it up – in fact, his conclusion is that the Bible’s message (and I guess Achebe’s and what Conrad’s should have been) is that we should never judge anyone else. But in the midst of the paper is this interesting observation: “As most people would agree, he who has the gold makes the rules, and so wealthier nations are looking at having the correct ideas of culture because they are thriving more than other cultures. I think the line is drawn between people that are in pursuit of money, power, and sex versus people in pursuit of survival.”

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Academia, Christianity, Civil Society, Education, Personal Narrative | 10 Comments »

    Textbook Disasters

    Posted by TM Lutas on 7th March 2012 (All posts by )

    As if we needed something more to raise our concerns about our children’s education comes a blog post from the belly of the beast of math textbook creation.

    Be afraid, be very afraid. It’s like reading reports about Big 3 auto operations right as the Japanese started cleaning their clocks.

    There may be a reason you can’t figure out some of those math problems in your son or daughter’s math text and it might have nothing at all to do with you. That math homework you’re trying to help your child muddle through might include problems with no possible solution. It could be that key information or steps are missing, that the problem involves a concept your child hasn’t yet been introduced to, or that the math problem is structurally unsound for a host of other reasons.

    It’s enough to make you a bit ill about what we’re subjecting our kids to.

    Posted in Big Government, Education | 9 Comments »

    The Insanity of Federalized Teacher Evaluations

    Posted by Bruno Behrend on 22nd February 2012 (All posts by )

    Last Sunday’s New York Times had an article highlighting the implementation of the new teacher evaluation system being put in place in Tennessee. The system is part of the Race-to-the-Top attempt to drive education reform in the states by dangling federal cash for reforms.

    As you read the article, you should begin to realize why “reform” fails and why many people in both the Government Education Complex and Education Transformation* movement find these rules so absurd.

    There simply is no way that a federal bureaucracy (or any bureaucracy, for that matter) can devise a unified system of teacher evaluation. There are too many variables, and teachers are correct to be skeptical of this top-down approach to their craft.

    For example, the first few paragraphs of the article expose the unworkable nature of the evaluation process.

    Steve Ball, executive principal at the East Literature Magnet School in Nashville, arrived at an English class unannounced one day this month and spent 60 minutes taking copious notes as he watched the teacher introduce and explain the concept of irony. “It was a good lesson,” Mr. Ball said.

    But under Tennessee’s new teacher-evaluation system, which is similar to systems being adopted around the country, Mr. Ball said he had to give the teacher a one — the lowest rating on a five-point scale — in one of 12 categories: breaking students into groups.** Even though Mr. Ball had seen the same teacher, a successful veteran he declined to identify, group students effectively on other occasions, he felt that he had no choice but to follow the strict guidelines of the state’s complicated rubric.

    “It’s not an accurate reflection of her as a teacher,” Mr. Ball said.

    What a shock. A principal knows his teachers better than the federalized check list. Wonders never cease.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Education, Unions | 18 Comments »

    Hoffer on Scribes and Bureaucrats

    Posted by David Foster on 21st February 2012 (All posts by )

    Nothing is so unsettling to a social order as the presence of a mass of scribes without suitable employment and an acknowledged status…The explosive component in the contemporary scene is not the clamor of the masses but the self-righteous claims of a multitude of graduates from schools and universities. This army of scribes is clamoring for a society in which planning, regulation, and supervision are paramount and the prerogative of the educated. They hanker for the scribe’s golden age, for a return to something like the scribe-dominated societies of ancient Egypt, China, and the Europe of the Middle Ages. There is little doubt that the present trend in the new and renovated countries toward social regimentation stems partly from the need to create adequate employment for a large number of scribes…Obviously, a high ratio between the supervisory and the productive force spells economic inefficiency. Yet where social stability is an overriding need the economic waste involved in providing suitable positions for the educated might be an element of social efficiency.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Academia, Civil Society, Economics & Finance, Education, Political Philosophy | 3 Comments »

    Not-So-Random Thought

    Posted by Jonathan on 10th February 2012 (All posts by )

    Most of the time, the farther Left I look on the continuum of political opinions, the more I see people who do not reason well or are ignorant about history. Maybe I am overgeneralizing from my own experience. Most of the conservatives and libertarians I meet seem to have coherent worldviews even if I don’t always agree with them. A much larger fraction of the leftists I meet seem to have incoherent worldviews in which issues that I see as related exist as unconnected islands, or in which events that I see as consistent with spontaneous order and feedback mechanisms are seen as manifestations of conspiracy.

    Perhaps the “Screwed Generation” would have benefited from better education. Perhaps they will learn from experience.

    Posted in Education, Leftism, Personal Narrative, Political Philosophy | 8 Comments »

    Graphic Novels on Health Care and other items….

    Posted by onparkstreet on 8th February 2012 (All posts by )

    -from SHOTS, NPR’s Health Care Blog:

    Health care reform is no laughing matter, but MIT economist Jonathan Gruber’s new comic book on the subject aims to communicate some pretty complicated policy details in a way that, if not exactly side-splitting, is at least engaging.
     
    In Health Care Reform: What It Is, Why It’s Necessary, How It Works, Gruber steps into the pages of a comic book to guide readers through many of the major elements of the law, including the individual mandate to buy insurance, the health insurance exchanges where people will be able to buy coverage starting in 2014 and how the law tackles controlling health care costs.

    I draw your attention to another graphic novel: The 9/11 Report: A Graphic Adaptation.

    While I was buying a copy of Persepolis from a real-life book store a few years ago, a young woman at the sales counter mentioned that there was a “great” graphic novel about North Korea that I might like. I’m not a graphic novel reader and I think Persepolis is it for me unless I decide to review the health care book, but it interested me that she seemed so enthusiastic about the topic of North Korea and graphic novels. I guess it makes sense given our “information overload” society. I don’t know. Why not look for clarity?

    PS: Linking is not endorsement and all that.

    PPS: What’s the “all that” about? Eh, I’ve been burning the candle at both ends for the past week or so and my blogging has been pretty terrible because of it. I linked the health care graphic novel because it amused me, not because I am simpatico with the message. I think you all knew that already….

    Posted in Arts & Letters, Big Government, Bioethics, Book Notes, Business, Economics & Finance, Education, Media, Medicine, Military Affairs, Miscellaneous, National Security, Politics, Science, Society | Comments Off

    Penalizing Charter-School Teachers

    Posted by David Foster on 6th February 2012 (All posts by )

    The IRS has a proposed new regulation which would prohibit charter-school teachers from participating in state retirement plans. (At present, all of the states which authorize charter schools permit, and in some cases require, the charter-school teachers to participate in these plans.) Furthermore, the new regulation would apparently apply retroactively and would cause the teachers to lose the state contributions to their accounts which have been accrued, and on which they were no doubt relying, unless they give up their employment. More here.

    Today, February 6, is the last day for public comments on this issue under IRS procedures.

    Posted in Education, Politics, Taxes | 16 Comments »