Monday, January 2, 2023

ARE MOST AMERICANS EDUCABLE OR MERELY TRAINABLE?

 




Are most Americans educable? Many evidently THINK that they are. They obviously BELIEVE that proper schooling will resolve a daunting array of problems such as: culturally integrating  immigrants, curtailing drug abuse, and smoking, enhancing national competitiveness, reducing racial injustice, and even curtailing sexually transmitted disease.   

No doubt such problems would be eased if Americans were more knowledgable and thought more effectively. But one wonders if their common failure to do so is a consequence of a lack of education. Perhaps the real culprit is a widespread lack of ability. 

For education to be effective a majority of citizens must possess sufficient intelligence, maturity and curiosity to benefit. Suppose they don't. Suppose a great many, perhaps most, Americans are not educable, only trainable. Sound too judgmental?  Consider the durability of P.T. Barnum’s observation that “There’s a sucker born every minute.” (Contemporary evidence suggests far more are born per minute than that.) And ponder the lasting appeal of H.L. Mencken’s dictum that “No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people.” Perhaps these and similar observations remain current because they are rooted in reality. 

I've some experience in this regard. I spent nearly 50 years trying to interest undergraduates in our home planet. I sought to teach them about its origin, its age, its health, its history, its catastrophic events, its weather, its people, and so forth. I used every teaching aid and graphic demonstration I could think of to make these things live. Nevertheless, many "students" responded with open-mouthed indifference. Sometimes the only question at the end of a lesson would be: "Will this be on the test." And remember, the subject at hand was our one and only home. The planet that gave our species birth and sustains our lives. The frequent indifference to these things reminded me of the Chinese proverb: "When a finger points to the stars, the imbecile looks at the finger." 

It's true that "you can't cure dumb." But is dumb the only problem? Not really. Yes, fifty percent of the U.S. population is below average in intelligence. And some of that 50% have infiltrated the average undergraduate class — particularly in these days of low applicant numbers and lax admission standards.  
But let's not give stupidity too much credit. It is not the only cause, not even the primary cause of "student" ineducability. There are other factors. For instance, the course I taught was a required one. And as Plato explains: "Knowledge which is acquired under compulsion obtains no hold on the mind." I think this was at the root of at least some of the open-mouthed indifference I encountered.  A lot of the students might have been saying to themselves, "They can make me attend, but they can't make me care."

What else might contribute to this indifference? How about immaturity? The Bible says, "Strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age." (Hebrews 5:14.) Lots of kids haven't aged enough, nor are they yet selfless enough, to appreciate much of anything that transcends their focus on themselves. Education truly often is "wasted on the young." 

Lack of curiosity is another factor. Curiosity is not measured by IQ tests and some students seem devoid of it. Yet to be educable, as opposed to merely trainable, ya gotta wanna know. Not simply as a means to some other end, but as an end in itself. And it really helps if you're mature enough to have at least begun to appreciate that an intrinsic love of learning marks the difference between living and merely existing. 

Why the missing curiosity? What happens to it?  I can think of a few things. One is just being dumb. But there is also being too consumed by fear, or anger, or emotional hunger to focus on anything else. So can being besotted by drugs. Another is simply a lack of readiness. Curiosity will emerge, just not yet. But, whatever the reason, when curiosity is missing, even the best lesson is wasted. 

Can we remedy  lack of educability? These steps might help: 1. Rethink compulsory education. 2. Enroll more adults. 3. Recognize the difference between training and education. Training only teaches you make a living. Education teaches you how to carefully consider what makes living worthwhile. 






 To examine these issues further, see articles at www.newfoundations.com

Thursday, December 22, 2022

THE DISCOMFORT OF THOUGHT vs THE COMFORT OF CERTAINTY


GALILEO FACES THE INQUISITION

 There is an essential tension between the risks of thought and the comforts of certainty. The comfortably certain sense that the glue that holds their world together is soluble when immersed in inquiry. So, whenever possible, they wipe out that threat by stifling the search and muzzling, even murdering, the thinker.

Here's one of thousands of examples: In 1615 “His Holiness and the Most Eminent Lords, Cardinals of this Supreme and Universal Inquisition” declared that Galileo has “rendered (himself) vehemently suspected by this Holy Office of heresy.” We command him “to abjure, curse and detest the said error and heresies in our presence.” 

 Galileo's 'crimes' were:
 
 1. “Making the proposition that the sun is in the center of the world and immovable from its place is absurd, philosophically false, and formally heretical; because it is expressly contrary to Holy Scriptures.”

 2. “Making the proposition that the earth is not the center of the world, nor immovable, but that it moves, and also with a diurnal action, is also absurd, philosophically false, and, theologically considered, at least erroneous of faith.” 

 Wielding the authority of their offices, the Pope and the Lords of the Inquisition determined that when Galileo abandoned the scriptures and heeded his own observations he strayed from truth into error, from virtue into vice, and from morality into immorality. Hence the Holy Inquisition determined that Galileo’s thought and resultant findings were “unlawful” as well as “disordered and immoderate.” 

Galileo's findings were neither "disordered" nor "immoderate." He was 100% right when he "abandoned the scriptures and heeded his own observation." But it took the Roman Catholic Church 359 years to admit that. That's quite a while.

 This is no isolated instance. History is crammed with example after example of established authority declaring that the results of thought and evidence were “disordered and immoderate. It happened whenever it discomforted them or threatened their interests. 

Consider, for instance, a few of the many vital medical discoveries that were initially regarded as disordered and immoderate by the established authorities of the day:
 
• Dissecting and studying the structures and functions of the human body 
 • Inoculation 
 • Vaccination 
 • The germ theory of disease 
 • Anesthesia 

In thousands of similar instances the prevailing authorities tried their very best to wipe out unwelcome thoughts and resultant conclusions. In short anything that disturbed contemporary ignorance and threatened established authority. 

We still have that today. Only nowadays it includes not only right wingers by leftist so-called professors. Disagree with these academic thought police, disturb their self-righteousness, and you are immediately branded a racist, fascist, male chauvinist pig, ad nauseam. Your arguments and facts might be totally accurate. Nevertheless, an academic inquisition, composed of right-thinking 'scholars' and their administrative bedfellows (Uniformly desperate to keep the tuition flowing.) will likely find you guilty as charged.  

What will become of American democracy should these contemporary thought police, composed both of dogmatists on the right and the left, actually succeed in stifling, even banning, thought? George Orwell describes it this way. "A nation of warriors and fanatics, marching forward in perfect unity, all thinking the same thoughts and shouting the same slogans, perpetually working, fighting, triumphing, persecuting — three hundred million people all with the same face." 

Is that what we want? 

 For similar considerations see www.newfoundations.com 

Monday, December 19, 2022

HOW MULTICULTURAL SHOULD OUR SCHOOLS BE?


ABOUT TO BE KILLED FOR "CRIMES AGAINST GOD"

Immigrant children are flowing into our schools from all over the globe. And they bring with them a bewildering, often conflicting, variety of cultural beliefs and practices. Teachers have to deal with a new, multi-cultural America that is struggling to life in their classrooms generating multiple problems and unique opportunities. 

What help do front-line teachers receive in the face of this? Often little more than warm, fuzzy slogans issued by administrators who are safe in the rear. These rear echelon commandos generate simple-minded slogans in which conflicted polyglot schools are magically transformed into multicultural rainbows where “You can be you and I can be me.” Would that it were that simple. 

Why can’t our public schools be happy multicultural rainbows? For one thing, because the cultural values brought into the schoolhouse often are at odds with one another. For another, they are often incompatible with core American values. Take, for crucial instance, the very tolerance that makes multiculturalism possible. It can be totally at odds with many cultures of origin. 

Consider Iran, for instance. Their theocracy lives and breaths intolerance. It publicly hangs citizens for "crimes against God." (That essentially means discomforting the clerical establishment.) They also mercilessly persecute the entire LBTG community. Then there's the Afghan Taliban who just banned females from any schooling beyond the 6th grade. Does any of this dovetail with schools that are multicultural rainbows? Does any of this fit the fabric of American democracy?

Remember too, some cultures define themselves in terms of animosity or distain for others. The antagonism between Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs, Afghanistan's Hazzara and Pashtun, or Catholics and Protestants in Ulster comes to mind. Or how about Hindus who regard some of their fellow Indians as so repulsive as to be literally untouchable.  How does any of this fit in a cultural rainbow?  

Apparently, the most enthusiastic advocates of multicultural education have rarely thought about such things. In fact, they don't seem to think very much at all. For them, multiculturalism is a topic for emoting, not thinking. 

 No doubt aspects of an immigrant's native culture can, often do, make a valuable contribution to American culture. Our way of life has been enriched in that way many times over. But the fact remains that some foreign cultural practices are totally at odds with a tolerance and a,democratic way of life. If, for example, we value free and unfettered expression, or if we think that women’s rights should equal those of men, the native cultures of many immigrants stand in stern opposition. 

Remember too, lots of immigrant children do not want to be defined by their parent’s native culture. They long to escape those confines and join mainstream America. Should educators help that happen? Or should they join forces with their parents to keep these kids in the old-world fold?   

 The core reality of all of this is that multicultural education is much more problematic than its evangelists would have us believe. Any careful consideration of multi-culturalism inevitably turns from simple-minded tolerance to thoughtful reflection. That, not the current pablum about multicultural rainbows, must guide educational practice and school policy. Otherwise frontline teachers are left twisting slowly in the wind.

 To further examine this and similar educational issues, see articles at www.newfoundations.com 

Monday, November 28, 2022

TRASHING THE VALUE OF ACADEMIC CREDENTIALS


Politicians typically push for an increase in the high school graduation rate. They also urge an increase in  college degrees. But when these things happen, who benefits and who loses? 

The law of supply and demand makes it clear that as the percentage of students receiving diplomas increases, the value of those diplomas decreases. In short, their value depends on their scarcity. Should nearly everyone have one, the credential offers little competitive advantage. Then the only value is defensive, because not having one would then be a devastating handicap. 

Suppose high schools really do produce even more graduates. What will happen? Youngsters who do not, perhaps cannot, go to college will be hardest hit. That's because they depend on their high school diploma to open doors for them. But an increase in the graduation rate will further devalue their diploma and more doors will be shut to them. In short it will become even more useless than it is now. 

You might think if we do produce more graduates, at least more kids will be educated. But that's not necessarily so. The easiest way to increase the number of high school graduates is to discreetly reduce requirements for graduation. Many inner city and rural poverty schools already have adopted such a policy. Essentially it now is: "Come to school most of the time, generally behave yourself and we will give you a diploma."  This then often degenerates to: "Come to school at least some of the time, don't create major disruptions and we will still give you a diploma." And yet folks wonder why so many contemporary high school graduates can barely read.

These degenerate dynamics are not confined to basic education. They are active in higher education — big time. Encouraged by political correctness, professors and administrators who maintain high standards have become unwelcome. Encouraged, even required, by the administration the professor is now urged to cox, cajole, coddle and "be their friend." And this is precisely how we now are getting college graduates who, as the time honored saying goes, can't tell shit from Shinola.

It isn't only political correctness that feeds this cancer. In fact that is often merely a cover for a more basic motivation. It is financial pressure. Administrators ultimately have to pay the bills or shut up shop; and college applicants are much scarcer these days. That's precisely shat underlies the politically correct rhetoric. That's ultimately why they pressure professors to not discomfort or discourage students. "The customer is always right."

Professors too have an ulterior motive for being politically correct. Keeping a sufficient numbers of students in their classes. That is how it has come to pass that political correctness is murdering the intellectual rigor that higher education non-negotiably requires.

How can any professor do their job when they fail to challenge students to consider discomforting ideas? How can they dodge that duty without also failing to encourage thought and growth? Serious thoughts about important things are, by their very nature, discomforting and disconcerting. And serious thought about important things is precisely what higher education must be all about. It must not just become a glorified trade school where one only learns to do things like more effectively sell people stuff don't need, count corporate dollars, or use one's knowledge of chemistry to create napalm that sticks more readily to children. No, as Malcom Forbes says, real education replaces an empty mind with an open one.

Remember too, college degrees are subject to the very same law of supply and demand that applies to high school diplomas. The more plentiful they are, the less value they have. That's why it is now often necessary to get an advanced degree to gain the same competitive advantage that a bachelor's degree used to confer.

So how can we get out of this mess? Toughen graduation requirements at every level. Reduce the number of high school and college diploma recipients. This will increase the diploma’s value and offer a boost to those who must depend on them for competitive advantage. It will also reduce the number of "students" who trouble classrooms by disrupting other's learning and having no interest in reducing their own ignorance. At best these drones just want that piece of paper.

This is a drastic solution to a drastic problem. It means fewer students, fewer school administrators, fewer professors, and fewer institutions of higher education. Many jobs will disappear. Unemployment roles will swell with youngsters who are currently engaged in pretending to be students. Will this prove politically and practically unacceptable? Yes, it will. That's why it won't happen. But that doesn't mean it shouldn't happen.  -GKC 

 For a more detailed examination of this and related issues See Dissecting School Benefits" 

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

HIGHLY QUALIFIED TEACHERS? you've got to be kidding

 




If you enjoy comedy, you might like to savor this situation. It represents the very bottom in ineffectual teacher entrance requirements. Some states, Arizona comes to mind, have eliminated the college-degree requirement; and are importing teachers from the Philippines. Yes, they're staffing their schools with non college graduates and green card holders from the Philippines! Why would they do that? Because far too many well-educated Americans have come to regard teaching as strictly for losers. And because too many Arizonans don't really care what happens to other people's children.

One hopes these foreign teachers are at least able to communicate and speak some semblance of American English. (Though such a requirement might be too stringent, given the present urgent need for teaching cannon fodder.)  

The history of hiring under-qualified, excessively servile people to teach in our public schools dates back to their very beginning. But then we could rely on bright, hard-working women to teach our kids because they had few other opportunities. Secretary, nurse, teacher, housewife, that was it. Although the decision making ranks remained overwhelmingly male.

When females were presented with new opportunities there ensued a crises that has never been remedied. Although there has been a whole lot of hot air directed at the problem. Remember when former President Obama's Secretary of Education and basketball buddy, an utterly unqualified guy named Arne Duncan, toured the country publicly wringing his hands about the urgent need to improve teacher preparation. He, himself, lacked even rudimentary training or experience in education. But he still was distressed to find that many teacher aspirants were as poorly prepared for their job, as he was for his.

Was Secretary Duncan worried about a Bush-era ruling falsely classifying thousands upon thousands of would-be teachers still in training as "highly qualified?"  ("Highly qualified" teachers were required by the federal No Child Left Behind law.) No, no, no!. Arne wasn't worried about that at all. In fact, under his 'leadership,' the Education Department continued to apply the Bush administration's ridiculously weak standards. And when a federal judge ruled that this anemic policy clearly violated the No Child Left Behind "highly qualified" requirement, President Obama quickly signed a bill lowering that NCLB standard to the equivalent of breathing. This, predictably, the issue of a man with an elite private school education. 

Just what was "highly qualified" supposed to mean before Obama completely castrated it? The law stipulated that if you wanted to teach math, science, social studies, the arts, reading and languages you must have obtained a long-term license; and demonstrated your subject matter knowledge by either obtaining a college major in the subject, by passing a test in the subject taught; OR (and here's the kicker)" by some other means established by the state." 

That's right; every state was allowed the escape valve of deciding what "highly qualified" meant for them. This was necessary to protect state's where teaching has long been is so underpaid, under-respected and under-appreciated that the only qualification they can realistically impose is the ability to pee a hole in snow. This "by some other means" wording, in effect, rendered all the preceding requirements meaningless.

Only in the lala land of public school policy could such a weak-kneed, ill-defined requirement be taken as too tough. Yet, both the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations thought it necessary to further weaken this already eviscerated requirement.

For all practical purposes this' half-cocked, weak-kneed approach is still extant. In fact, things have actually gotten worse since the far right began systematically undermining faith in our teachers and public education while the far left tries to impose it's brand of political indoctrination. 

Abandon hope if you favor the tough, high quality teacher preparation our schools desperately need. Thanks to both democrats and republicans, that dream has metamorphosed into either a nightmare or an obscene joke. Take your pick.


For more such considerations please visit Highly Qualified Teachers: misgivings

-- GKC

Monday, October 31, 2022

PARENTS DECIDING WHAT SCHOOLS TEACH: really?





Remember when Democrat Terry McAuliffe was competing with Republican Glenn Youngkin in the tightly contested Virginia gubernatorial race? They were facing off in a final televised debate, and were discussing school curricula and library books related to race, gender identity and sexuality when Youngkin charged that school systems were “refusing to engage with parents.” That's when McAuliffe made the mistake of countering “I don’t think parents should be telling schools what they should teach.” That might well have cost her the election.   

Should parents be "telling schools what to teach?" That certainly depends on whether parents can be relied upon to make wise pedagogical decisions. So let's recollect what it takes to become a parent. The qualifications are, to be charitable, very minimal. And this lax selection process leads to a goodly number of parents who are unqualified to decide much of anything. There are an abundance of ignorant, stupid, closed minded, fanatical, bigoted, dogmatic, and just plain incompetent parents. So it's pure fantasy to expect these kinds of parents to make reasonable, or responsible, decisions concerning what their kids are taught. 

Moreover, from a practical point of view, when such parents make a decision, let's say it's to rule out the teaching of evolution in biology class, their choice won't just limit what is taught to their children, but to every child in the class. Why? Because it is a practical impossibility to individualize each child's instruction in the factory-like setting that is our public schools.

Let's also ask if we should entrust individuals who can barely read with deciding what schools teach? Is that relevant? A Gallup analysis of data from the U.S. Department of Education reveals that about 130 million adults in the U. S. have low literacy skills. More than half of Americans between the ages of 16 and 74 (54%) read below the equivalent of a sixth-grade level. Many parents actually are borderline illiterate. Shall we entrust such individuals with deciding what is taught in school? That seems hard to defend.

Let's also remember that for children from dysfunctional families school is often a refuge. And the very last thing these children want or need is to give their deplorable parents a bigger role in the life of the school. What these particular kids actually need is for their biological parents to have less of a role in their life. That's why every two minutes in the United States, a child is removed from their family and placed in foster care. 

Besides, parents already do have a significant say regarding what schools teach. That's because our public schools are the most democratically and locally controlled arm of government there is - bar none. The vast majority of our 13,000 plus school districts are run by locally elected boards. So every parent has some say at the most local level. They can even run for school board should they so choose. (Though let's nor forget that a lot of parents don't even bother to show up on meet the teacher nights.)

Public schools are governed in this hyper democratic way to try to balance a myriad different, often competing, parental priorities, try to balance various non-parental concerns, and also shelter educational policy from the most irresponsible extremism. With all it's faults, this system works pretty well. And one reason it does so is that parents have always been included, though not allowed to totally dominate, the process.

After all, public schooling has never had a direct parental controlling intent to begin with. From it's inception, public education has always been about ameliorating parental upbringing in order to insure each youngster's socialization is not only parentally acceptable, but acceptable to the rest of us. If, for example, Mom and Dad are Qanon wack jobs, that's their business. But if their kids can only view the world through Qanon eyes, that's our business. After all, the rest of us have to live with the consequences of such distorted vision. 

I can't imagine any candidate being unaware of the practical impossibility of every parent setting their individual youngster's school curriculum, readings, and so forth. And, unless they are a complete jackass, every politician also knows parents shouldn't have the only say. But promising to achieve what's impossible still might get them elected. It certainly helped Glenn Youngkin.

Enough said.

  -- GKC ------

See also, "Merit Pay for Teachers?" 

Sunday, October 16, 2022

MULTICULTURALISM: probing the limits



Much obeisance is paid to the need for "multiculturalism" in the school curriculum. How else, ask earnest disciples, can educators promote a sense of empowerment and worth in all Americans? How else can they truly engage the many communities they serve? How else can they run schools that are strong and accountable community institutions? 

All that is true enough. But this comprehension and valuing will not change the fact that groups, be they clans, tribes or nations, compete for limited resources. And to the extent that these resources are limited, they do so at one another's expense. For instance, geographic territory is limited; and the demand for it exceeds the supply. It's a zero sum game. Consider the nearly three quarters of a century struggle between Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs over land. Think the Palestinians are going multicultural and recognize Jewish holidays anytime soon? Or how about Russia's invasion of Ukraine? Far from honoring Ukraine's culture, Putin alleges it doesn't even exist. Are the Ukrainians going to go for that kind of multiculturalism?

This competition for limited resources is one thing that strictly defines multiculturalism's limits. Why? Because it is difficult to even tolerate, much less honor, another group when that group's gain has been your group's loss. Competition for resources, be they jobs, desirable territory, natural resources, and so forth, has existed for all of recorded history. And, be assured, that this competition will continue, "... for as long as grass should grow and water flow.

Now, in polyglot nations like the U. S., Canada or Australia, token recognition of the other guy's culture is de rigueur. For example, despite the vitriolic distrust and outright rejection that greeted Irish immigrants when they first arrived in the U. S., lots and lots of folks now wear green on St. Patrick's Day, perhaps eat a couple of those horrid confections, Irish Potatoes, or watch the parade. But that's only because the Irish have been so absorbed and intermarried that their presence is no longer the threat it once was seen to be. They now are a part of us.  And social science reveals that it is expressions of difference that result in negative appraisals.

Here is another strict limit on multiculturalism. Often one culture's values are diametrically opposed to those of another. Thus, they are utterly incompatible. And that leads us to the biggest problem of them all. The very tolerance required for a group to be multicultural is not only absent, but utterly rejected in many other cultures. Consider Saudi Arabia, for instance. They are so sure they are right about all sorts of things, religion for example, that they make no accommodations for difference whatsoever. Yet this fundamental incompatibility of multicultural tolerance for an intolerant culture is seldom, if ever, recognized by right thinking multicultural advocates. 

Sure, if another group's culture has been thoroughly adulterated by elements of the polyglot host culture, modest tolerance toward that other group's culture is likely. But even a long-resident group will still catch a world of crap if they remain sufficiently different. For instance, recent unprovoked assaults on Asian appearing citizens demonstrate that these Americans are sometimes punched in the face, beaten up, sometimes even killed, just for looking different. And if a group who wants to enter is really different, say, Middle Eastern Muslims, one quickly sees how minimally "multi-cultural" the rest of us are prepared to be. Remember Trump's attempted muslim ban? What kind of multiculturalism did that amount to? Then there is his border wall welcoming "the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to be free."

Can one group's culture be enriched by welcoming another group and adopting, or at least respecting, aspects of their culture? Sure, it happens all the time. Nevertheless, due to the dynamics just described, this adoption will often be limited to the dominant group gingerly granting mere token recognition. For instance, deciding that their vittles are tasty.

So, to be realistic, advocates of multiculturalism, in education or out, must limit their ambitions and recognize the limitations. Too frequently that's not happening because of virtue signaling and imbalanced zealotry. Yet this is far too important an issue to address so thoughtlessly. The very growth, enrichment, coherence and stability of our society are at stake. 

For a more detailed treatment of this subject see: http://newfoundations.net/?page_id=303