Wednesday, September 28, 2022

TRUANCY: when it's beneficial

Is truancy a major problem? Sure it is; but for whom?  We'll get to that. First, there is this. A ton of school districts have truancy prevention programs. And a major justification for having them is that truancy breeds social problems. It's asserted, for instance, that 95% of juvenile offenders started as truants. We're also told that truants are more likely to:

  • join a gang running the risk of disease, injury or death; 
  • use marijuana, alcohol and hard drugs; 
  • become pregnant and drop out of school; 
  • have low self-esteem, low aspirations, and educational failure; 
  • be illiterate or have serious trouble reading; 
  • engage in violent and criminal activities. 
Every one of these assertions suffers from the same fatal flaw. Just because two things coincide, does NOT mean that the one causes the other. All juvenile offenders start out as babies, for instance. But does starting life as a baby cause a youngster to become a juvenile offender? Of course not. Correlation is NOT causation.

Why assume that gang membership begins with truancy, for instance? Isn't it far more likely that gang membership fosters truancy?  The same applies to marijuana, alcohol and hard drug use. Sure, truants are more likely to engage in these behaviors. But why assume truancy causes them to do it? Are truants more likely to become pregnant and drop out of school? Sure; but is truancy the cause? As for low self-esteem, low aspirations, and educational failure, isn't it likely that these things provoke truancy, not cause it?  The same applies to illiteracy and serious difficulties reading. Kids with these problems might well be truant out of frustration and shame. As for kids that engage in violence and criminal activities, don't blame truancy, blame poverty, broken homes, violent neighborhoods, the vast economic opportunities created by making certain intoxicants illegal, etc..

This humbuggery about truancy diverts our attention from centrally important questions. First, given the serious problems that unmotivated, hostile, disruptive kids create in school, might it not be better if these troubled kids weren't there? 

In fact, might it be wiser to give up on compelling kids to go to school in the first place? Clearly, for many youngsters, it doesn't work.No matter how skillful they are, educators cannot successfully force-feed knowledge to unmotivated, uncooperative, often hostile youngsters. They've gotta wanna1 

Deprived of the ability to impose meaningful sanctions, teachers can't even get them to behave properly, much less try to learn. Consequently, such kid's disrupt everyone's learning, threaten everyone's safety, and cause us to waste huge amounts of public money futilely trying to force feed them something they promptly spit out. 

Surprisingly, though, we've grown used to kids spitting on expensive educational opportunities that you and I provide. And, as a bonus, destroying these opportunities for others. This is so commonplace in some schools that the whole enterprise has become a tragic farce. Let's put this in broader perspective. The average cost of educating the average child in U.S. public schools currently totals $163,000.00. Now imagine giving a child a gift costing that much, having them spit on it in contempt, often ruin other's gift as well, and keep on buying that gift for them anyway. That, in effect, is what we're doing. Is that wise? Should we keep doing it, or consider alternatives?

Some folks worry that if we abandon compulsory education, dangerous kids will be roaming the streets and threatening the peace. That's probably true. Although a lot of disruptive and potentially dangerous kids aren't in school to begin with — especially when the weather is nice. But here's the central question: Since when is it the school's job to conduct part-time incarceration in order to protect the community from potentially disruptive, even dangerous, youngsters? Isn't it a school's job to educate, not incarcerate? And when are we going to realize that when educators are forced to try to do both, they often fail to do either?

Let's take a fresh look at this situation and ask why we continue to spend billions of dollars every year struggling to force-feed knowledge to kids who not only resist and resent it, but also prevent classmates from learning. Do such children present a problem? Of course they do, both for themselves and the rest of us. But after years and years of obvious futility, shouldn't we at least ask ourselves if such youngsters are properly the public school's problem? 

Oh, and by the way, while we're at it, we might also ask what is it about America that creates so many angry, resentful, uncooperative, depressed and dangerous children to begin with? 

Tuesday, September 6, 2022

AFFIRMATIVE ACTION: why, in balance, it's wrong

Some Americans benefit from affirmative actions that are intended to make up for past wrongs, promote diversity and insure fairer shares. That seems laudable, provided it's both wise and fair. But it isn't.

First off, with respect to it being wise, anyone with moderate intelligence should recognize that affirmative actions create unfortunate blowback and byproducts. For instance, they obscure our mutual humanity by emphasizing differences based on race, gender and ethnicity. They also introduce doubts about whether a hire or promotion is based on merit. And they can and do sometimes result in hiring or promoting lesser talents and the less diligent. 

The above explains why affirmative action can undermine organizational effectiveness. Consider this example: 70% of present-day NFL players are African-American. That group constitutes just 12.7% of the general population. Why not adopt affirmative action to add more white players? Clearly things are racially out of balance. You know why it's not done? Not even talked about? Because WINNING is the goal in assembling any NFL team.

Difficulties with affirmative action are obvious in any endeavor where performance is paramount. Although in many fields, where performance is critical, the selection of physicians for instance, that issue is sometimes relegated to second place. 

Here is another difficulty affirmative action poses. Present day attempts to establish greater fairness totally ignore a host of obviously disadvantaged people. Many, perhaps most, people suffering from truly limiting handicaps receive no affirmative action whatsoever. Which, by the way, means they are being discriminated against. How so? If one gives special favor to some, everyone else is put at a special disadvantage. 

Here are a few of many examples of handicapped people who are ignored re affirmative action:

Physical Unattractiveness
If you're ugly, you are disadvantaged. Need proof? In a study entitled "What Is Beautiful Is Good," researchers from the American Psychological Association showed photographs of attractive, average, and unattractive people to university undergraduates. The students were asked to rate the people in the photos on various personality traits and behavioral tendencies, based solely on their appearance. These same students rated good lookers as: confident, strong, assertive, candid, warm, honest, kind, outgoing, sensitive, poised, sociable, exciting, and nurturing.  

The physical-attractiveness stereotype has been replicated using numerous experimental paradigms. It holds true in every case. Aristotle got it right when he noted, "Personal beauty is a greater recommendation than any letter of introduction." So, if we're really interested in fairness, how about affirmative action for the unattractive? No chance, right? 

Obesity results in unequal treatment. Research decisively demonstrates that obese Americans are often perceived to be: lazy, unintelligent, slovenly, and unattractive. Negative attitudes toward obese individuals also contribute to discrimination in the work place. Obese people are not hired as often as people of normal weight; are less likely to be promoted; and often report being discriminated against by managers and peers. 

How big of a problem is this? The  National Center for Health Statistics most up to date statistics show that 42.4% of U.S. adults were obese as of 2017–2018 (43% for men and 41.9% for women). And the same questions that asked about unattractiveness apply here. Where's the fairness?

Short Stature
Short stature, particularly in men, is another physical attribute associated with negative stereotypes and discrimination. A 1992 study by researchers from Michigan State University, for instance, demonstrated that short men are often judged inferior to tall men in several personal attributes. People tend to judge taller men as more socially attractive, higher in professional status, more masculine, more athletically inclined, and more physically attractive than short men. 

Other studies have found that short men experience discrimination in professional settings. For example, short job applicants are not hired as often as taller applicants; short employees earn less, on average, than taller employees; and short political candidates lose elections more often than taller candidates.Again, the same questions apply. Where's the concern for fairness? What about affirmative action for shorties?

Some Other Limiting Factors
Research also shows that people, again especially men, who have red hair are often stereotyped as "clownish" and "weird." Negative stereotyping based on language and dialect (i.e., Southern accents, ebonics) also is common. Negative stereotyping even extends to clothing. Children who wear brand-name clothing and shoes are judged "popular," "wealthy," and able to "fit in with their peers." Children who don't wear them are unpopular, or at least less popular. 

Negative stereotypes also limit the opportunities of East and Southeast Asians, blondes,  women with STEM ambitions, homosexuals, Jews, Italian-Americans, native Americans, and so forth and so on. A person can also actually be too smart, too pretty, too hard working, and so forth. In short, there is a long, long list of unfair limitations imposed on people because of one or another characteristic. All of them are rooted in a fact, and well-known to social psychologists. The bottom line is this: difference attracts negative appraisal.

Consider too that when we appraise people we combine multiple individual differences. 
That can really mess up affirmative actions.  Think about it this way. Which would you rather be, a tall, slim, financially secure, intelligent, good looking black guy or a short, fat, poor, unintelligent, unattractive white guy? All we are doing here is going beyond just one criteria, race, and asking you to extend your judgement into the complex real world where multiplef things matter.     

When we add all this up the sum total is: So many people are handicapped by such a wide variety of differences combined in complex ways that establishing fair affirmative action is literally impossible. And we haven't even considered that many profound handicaps are hard to even identify, much less accommodate. Are we not agreed, for instance, that a loveless, abused childhood is horribly damaging? But how shall we even identify, much less take affirmative action, to even things out for individuals laboring under this burden?  

What does any of this have to do with today's affirmative action? Everything. All kinds of people, probably most people, experience discrimination of one kind or another. And many, many of us labor under hidden handicaps that are hard to even identify much less accommodate. Yet presently folks qualify for affirmative action (positive discrimination) based on only one characteristic. In no sense is that right, proper or sensible. 

Instead of focusing on any single characteristic, we must focus with razor sharp precision on each individual person's character, ability, accomplishments, and effort. That must happen for fairness to reign? Our "woke" era fixation on race, sexual persuasions, or some other single categorization, makes this impossible. We're doing wrong things for the right reason — namely trying to use single category affirmative actions to establish a fairer world. It's way past time to focus, instead, on appraising individuals. That won't be easy. But it will be a helluva lot fairer and less divisive than what we're doing now. 

Monday, September 5, 2022

TEACHER MERIT PAY: rewarding bootlickers?


When I consider teacher merit pay I’m reminded of a situation I endured while teaching seventh grade. Our school’s meager instructional resources were “stored” in the classroom of the principal’s favorite teacher. The practical consequence was that his needs were always met. And, no, his classroom was not better suited for storage.

How did this fellow become the principal’s favorite? Simple, he was the school's most proficient bootlicker. Unimpeded by a sense of honor, he groveled and stroked the principal's ego with astonishing alacrity. In consequence this fellow got first access. For the same reason he got the choicest students.What does any of this have to do with teacher merit pay? Well, had it then existed, Mr. Bootlicker would have had first dibs on that too. 

Originally, student high stakes test scores were supposed to be the chief criteria for assigning merit pay. That preference has been softening of late as faith in those scores has declined. Principals now are envisioned to play a bigger role. So sucking up to them will convey even bigger advantages — assuming they're susceptible.

Of course if the principal has decided to hide in his or her office most of the day, bootlicking the key secretary will do. I know of a situation where an elementary school secretary allowed a teacher who toadied up to her to pick kids for her class. Since she lived in the neighborhood, she chose well. The other grade-level teachers got what was left. (Think of what this would mean should test scores remained the first criteria.

One in Thirty Occupations

A key conception behind merit pay is that teacher productivity will increase because they will try harder. Another idea is that since the most-skilled teachers will make more money they will stick with the profession. The least-capable teachers will make less money and tend to opt out. That's the plan. The more likely outcome is that a majority of teachers will be reduced to competing only at teaching for the standardized tests and bootlicking.

Yes, research tells us that merit pay really does increase job performance in all kinds of jobs. BUT only when that performance can be clearly measured.[1] The trouble with that is for many jobs accurate measurement is not possible.That’s why only one in thirty occupations feature straightforward performance contracts.[2] 

Teaching has never been one of the thirty. That’s because the full scope of a teacher’s job performance is notoriously opaque. How would a school administrator know, for example, which teachers are actually improving the quality of a child's life? Yet what could be more important?

Most of what happens in school happens when the classroom door is closed. That's why administrators can’t really tell which teachers routinely extend a helping hand or comfort the afflicted. They can’t tell which teachers protect the weak from bullies. Hell, they can’t even tell which teachers model the kind of behavior we hope the kids will adopt. Yet all of these things are far more important than standardized test scores, much less a teacher's bootlicking skills   How, then, will merit pay be fairly distributed? The answer to that is:  it won't.

Suppose, for example, a youngster comes to class with a sadly deficient self-concept. But due to the patience, skill, and caring of her teacher, she leaves with a new sense of self-worth. Surely such a result is very meritorious even if the child’s test scores remain unchanged. But can this sort of thing be well enough measured to be rewarded?

Merit pay proponents tell us not to worry; they’re working on more subtle ways to measure merit. That’s humbug. It’s just is not possible to accurately measure the many subtle but crucial aspects of a teacher’s job. It is possible, however, to identify and reward the best bootlickers.

Saturday, September 3, 2022

HOME-SCHOOLING: when it goes haywire

Ever wonder what sort of things parents teach their home-schooled children in the privacy that method provides?  There's little limit on the kind of screwball ideas that can, and are, inflicted.  After all, as one of my reader's notes: "any bigot, batterer, or bully can reproduce." Theoretically, parents must meet state home-schooling standards. But effective control is impossible. How can the authorities possibly check?

Then there's the obvious problem posed by the complexity of secondary education. Teaching at that level requires specialized subject matter knowledge. Sure, packages of home-schooling materials are supposed to limit the damage. But if the parents basically are subject matter illiterate regarding technical subjects such as physics, chemistry or trigonometry, difficulty still remains. 

However, parental lack of qualifications isn't the prime trouble with home-schooling. The chief objection is that parents too frequently engage in mindless indoctrination. That's primarily because inculcating religious belief is a chief motive for home-schooling. Sometimes that's okay. But many of the same parents who keep their kids out of school for religious reasons, also urge their kids to develop a Christian zeal that matches the fanaticism of the Taliban. Zealotry is dangerous regardless of the brand. 

Then there's parental understanding of American history. Their grasp of it is frequently limited to superficial Columbus discovered America catechetics. And that often get's all tangled up with a profound conviction that yesterday's America was profoundly better than today's. Such parental 'history' lessons are a virtual banquet of ignorance.

Many parents also choose to teach their kids "facts" that are absurd from a scientific point of view. Their belief in the literal inerrancy of the Holy Scriptures is behind it. For instance they teach that: 
  • evolution is bunk, 
  • Noah's ark and the accompanying world-wide flood actually happened. 
  • dinosaurs were included on the ark.
  • the earth is a mere 6,000 years old. 
Textbooks exist that back these claims up. And such true-believing parents assure their kids that non-believers, those who deny these literal "truths" from God's word, are irrevocably damned. And they warn their children that, should they too be seduced by man's word, they also will forever roast in incredible agony in the white hot fires of hell. That's one comforting bed-time story.

That's not the limit of parental foolishness either. Some parents teach their children to be white supremists. These hate besotted mom's and dad's earnestly teach their kids that the 'white race' created civilization itself. The also assure them that all non-white humans are contemptible "mud people." They even tell their kids that Jews are "mud people" who cleverly appear to be white.  These parent' history lessons consist of far-fetched tales of ancient Nordic superiority, praise for the unalloyed benefits of European imperialism, and glowing descriptions of the white race-saving efforts of Nazi Germany. And, to top it off, they assure their children that there is a coming race war in which whites will win rightful mastery over all the world.

This is a limited sampler of the buncombe sometimes taught at home. It raises doubts about the wisdom of allowing home-schooling. It doesn't follow, however, that home-schooling should be outlawed. First off, it isn't always nutty. And just because some parents bath their children in ignorance and intolerance, doesn't mean they will actually become so. One of the best cures for fanaticism is to have it force-fed to you when you're young. 

Don't be surprised, though, if some home-schooled true believer blows up a synagogue, chains a "mud-person" to the back of his pick-up and drags him to death, or kills a U. S. President he or she deems a "race traitor." When fanaticism is smeared on you when you're young, especially when applied by your parents with permission of the state, it can stick to your soul like super-glue.

Sure, there are plenty of parents who, despite a lack of necessary knowledge, try hard to do a responsible job. And home-schooling does allow some kids to escape the truly hellish conditions that prevail in the worst public schools. Still, the outrageous ignorance, dogmatism and intolerance that sometimes passes for home-schooling is a hidden menace that requires exposure.

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