Education Problems in the United States

  • by Gitabushi
527px-Education_in_the_United_States.svg
Education paths in the United States via Wikipedia user https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Harej

Lately, I’ve had cause to mention a few times that students in the US, in general, aren’t just poorly educated, they are mal-educated.

I’m sure you are familiar with many of the complaints I’m about to list.  This article won’t be anything new to anyone.  I’m writing it as an attempt to put a bunch of thoughts in one place, and somewhat organized, and in some overall context.

First and foremost, I think schools do not prepare children for life. But that’s the parents’ job, you say? I disagree.

It is the parents’ job to teach their children their values: what children should think about religion, politics, the environment, taxes, etc.

The *sole* purpose of schools is to prepare kids for life.

There are skills and knowledge common to a successful life, regardless of your IQ, career path, marital status, sex, etc.

These are the things schools should be teaching.  Instead, schools seem to be more than happy to teach your kids their values, and to prepare them to do well on standardized tests that may help them get into college if their other abilities, academic record, and financial situation are appropriate for that option.

But what about those who don’t or can’t go to college?

I really think that school was a colossal waste of money and effort for the vast majority of students, and our education system has failed them.

Here are some of the skills and knowledge schools should teach:

  • Logic, reasoning, and how to think
  • Civics, including the structure of govt at all levels, the US Constitution, and other founding documents (like the Federalist Papers)
  • household finance basics, to include credit card interest, mortgage/car loans, how credit ratings work, tax rates, how insurance works, and the dangers of predatory lending like pawnshops and payday loans; there is no reason that people should freak out about payroll taxes when they get their first paycheck: they should be freaked out about how much they earn gets taken by taxes just from Finance Math at school
  • How to run a small business, like being a plumber or opening a restaurant; perhaps few kids will become entrepreneurs like this (and yes, a plumber *is* an entrepreneur), but they should understand the costs and risks businesses face, so there would be less of the financial illiteracy blaming corporations for charging for the goods/services
  • Emotional resilience. But, wait! Isn’t that dangerously close to teaching values?  I don’t think so. I think you can talk to kids about how to deal with problems, or how to cope when things don’t go the way you want them to.  Basically, this is the opposite of “everyone gets a trophy”, eliminating the stigma of letter grades, and grade inflation trends.  So, in a sense, this is *already* happening, but in a negative way: schools are teaching emotional fragility.
  • The path to a good life: get an education, get a job, get married, have kids, don’t get divorced, and do it in that order.  Again, people might object to this as teaching values, but it really isn’t.  The govt has no problems teaching the false and ruinous Food Pyramid, and is eager to tell us to conserve resources and recycle, so why can’t they teach the concept that overwhelmingly lifts people from the cycle of poverty?  Sure, there are some concerns that some people will not be able to marry, or stay married, or will still have children outside of marriage (deliberately or not), and that some stigma will be attached to these actions.  But nothing is perfect, and if kids are taught emotional resilience in school, they will be better able to cope with potential stigma if their life doesn’t go as planned.
  • Career choice. This is such a simple one, I can’t believe it isn’t a cornerstone of education.  I’m not sure when we should start, but I seem to remember being asked in school what I want to be when I grow up from as early as age 5. I understand that is an attempt to inspire kids to chase their dreams, but no attempt really seems to be made to give them the skills to achieve those dreams.  Kids need to be told: most jobs aren’t fun.  Even the exciting jobs like firefighter and police have moments of drudgery, and the exciting moments aren’t fun when you are doing them.  Not all scientists find the cure for cancer. Celebrity comes with loss of privacy and the need to satisfy a fickle audience. Maybe there should be less focus on career at all, and rather, lead kids to think about what kind of life they want: big city vs small town, north vs west (climate/temperature), coastal vs interior (population density), etc.  It would be a great way to teach kids about how people in other areas live…it might even reduce the disdain the North and the South has for each other (east of the Appalachians), or the big cities and rural areas have for each other.  Make it part of social studies?

There are probably some other things that should be taught.

Instead, children are taught many unnecessary things.  They are taught math, but despite some attempts to add context, I think math is taught simply as math.  How often does algebra come up in daily life?  Geometry comes up some…perhaps more if you are a carpenter than if you are in HR.  Certainly no trigonometry or calculus, unless you are specifically going into STEM, and even then, only some STEM.

I understand that math is taught because it is supposed to also teach logic.  That is perhaps what I still use most from Geometry: how to think about things, how to prove similar things are actually similar, etc.  But that was a case of me applying the logic to life on my own, there was no attempt to teach that connection in school; based on my twitter interactions, few have made that same connection I did. The connection of math to logical thinking needs to be made more explicit.

I had a civics class in Junior High, if I remember correctly, focused on Montana. We had to identify the major passes, major rivers, the State govt structure, and the history.  In my senior year, I had another civics class, but focused on the national level.  All I remember was memorization of the Amendments and general federal structure.  I think a deeper discussion of the purposes and implications of the 1st and 2nd Amendment would have been more helpful than trying to memorize the Amendments.  Then again, that was a decade before the internet, so maybe making us memorize them had some use, since at that time, there was no expectation we would soon have that information as a reference at our fingertips anywhere we have cellular or Wi-Fi connections.

One handicap I have in discussing this topic is the fact that my kids have lived with my ex- for the last decade. I don’t see their homework. I talk with them about school, but I am not fully familiar with their curriculum, beyond a general idea of what classes they are taking.  So maybe I’m making some incorrect assumptions.

Moreover, every state has different standards, and there can be a huge difference between what is taught in big city schools, magnet schools, small town schools, inner city schools, charter schools, private schools, etc.

So maybe I’m wrong in everything I’ve said.

However, the proof, as they say, is in the pudding.

You don’t have to look very far to see educated professionals demonstrating a complete lack of understanding of the function and reason for the Electoral College.  Recently, someone who can be assumed to have a college degree made a claim that Californians are the least-represented when it comes to Senators.  In the past, people have complained that Wyoming has more influence than it should in both the House and Senate, due to their lower population.

The continued existence of predatory lending institutions prove whatever effort is made to teach financial literacy is insufficient.

My kids attended a magnet school in Spokane, and then a top high school in Silicon Valley, but were taught nothing about how insurance works or how to make a monthly budget.  Before my divorce, I remember my son bringing home materials regarding recycling, global warming, and environmental protection that bordered on religious tracts.  The paeons of praise in school to Obama when he was President are well-documented.  I realize those represented a minuscule of a fraction of schools…but along with all the other Leftist ideology taught in schools, I’m sure the general level of partisan approval for Obama and his policies permeated most schools with a miasma of Progressivism.

Heck, at the very least, schools should teach the failure of Socialism everywhere it has been tried, as an introduction to the dichotomy between theory and practice, due to the perversity of human nature.

I’d like to see math taught in the context of personal finances.  Perhaps one semester is Household Math, with the later years being focused on running a business, and one semester of Pure Math.

I’d like to see Civics being a yearly requirement, just like English and Math.  There is so much that can be taught regarding civics, including the fact that Socialism never works, and how International Socialists specifically exploit liberty to gain power with the intent of dismantling freedoms once they gain power.  Of course, this is just a pipe dream: there are too many Progressives who believe in Socialism as their most cherished religion for this to happen.  We need to start shifting *that* Overton Window now; we should have done this decades ago.

Break break.

Another problem I have with education in the US is the lowering of standards and grade inflation.  It isn’t uncommon now to hear of a school graduating 17 Valedictorians, all with perfect grade point averages, to include 5.0 grades from Advanced Placement classes.

This should not be possible.  If even one person gets all As, then grading is too lenient.

This ties into emotional resilience and life preparation. Grade inflation is the result of parents refusing to accept their child didn’t deserve an A, combined with parental panic that anything less than an A will harm their child’s competitiveness to get into a good college, or to get a scholarship that make school (slightly) less unaffordable.

It’s wrong, though. And it not only doesn’t prepare kids for life, it actively teaches them attitudes and expectations that will cause them to fail at life.

One thing I learned a while back is that the proof of what you learned can also be watered down.

The exact same course, taught with the exact same information, presented exactly the same way, is much tougher if you give only essay tests, vs T/F tests.

You can often guess your way to passing on a T/F test just by how the questions are worded.  Just understanding the military mindset, I was able to guess my way to a 70% on all my Professional Military Education tests, and so only had to study enough to get that extra 10% or so for a passing grade.

You can do that, to an extent, even on SAT tests. I don’t think I’ve taken a test that I didn’t learn something from, meaning, at least 2-3 questions that I got right just from knowing how tests are written.

There is a skill to taking multiple choice tests that can be learned.

So the easiest grading is T/F, then multiple choice, then fill in the blank, then short answer, then long answer, then essay.  Perhaps there are a few other options, but as you can see, standardized tests are basically just short of being the easiest test to take.  This is because multiple choice is also the easiest to grade, which is necessary when you have to grade thousands of students to an objective standard.  Even “fill in the blank” requires some subjective judgment from the grader, which it comes to handwriting and spelling disparities.

This is one of the ways I think education has been watered down.  I think that as the assumption that college is necessary and good for all students has become more prevalent, the pressure for grade inflation, grading objectivity, and preparation for standardized achievement testing has caused all schooling to move away from actual education to merely enhanced daycare, where kids are watched during the day, given a chance to socialize, and cold-bloodedly allowed to sink or swim for college and/or future career.

That pushes all the actual preparation for life back on the parents.

I think this is wrong, because if school doesn’t prepare for life, then why do we pay so much in property taxes (and federal taxes for the DoEd) for it?

Civilization is based on the advantages of specialization.

I don’t have to know how to make shoes. I don’t have to know how to build a house. I don’t have to know how to repair my car. I don’t have to know how to deal with a neighbor being noisy. I don’t have to know how to deal with someone who drives recklessly. I don’t have to know how to force people to contribute to national defense, or resolve conflicts.  I could go on and on and on, but the point is we all specialize in our different roles, and then use money to exchange goods and services.

Schools are supposed to prepare our children for life, so that we don’t have to stop working to teach them (unless we home school).

That schools only teach kids how to pass standardized tests means schools are a complete failure at their primary mission.

Who is to blame for this?

  1. The Department of Education.  Anything with bureaucrats drifts Leftward. Bureaucrats also water things down, so they can still claim success even as performance declines.
  2. School administration, for the same reasons as the DoEd.
  3. School boards, because they make all sorts of decisions in disregard of parental opinion, and at times, even try to do things on the sly so parents don’t hear and object.
  4. Parents, for expecting schools to be merely enhanced daycare, for not teaching their children to behave in school or value their education, and for pushing for the benefit of their own child to the exclusion of other children.
  5. Teachers, in that they overestimate the difficulty of their jobs in comparison to other jobs, and in that they support teachers unions that, like bureaucrats, make things worse by pushing for the interests of teachers to the exclusion of the interests of students.

Okay, come at me and tell me where I’m wrong.

 

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Disruption

  • by Gitabushi

In my last post, I mentioned Disruption.

This is a theme I’m still pondering. I haven’t come to any solid, final conclusions yet.  When I do, it will likely become another stakeholder/touchpoint in my personal socio-political Philosophy of Everything.

Right now, what I’ve mostly decided is that disruption is neither good nor bad.  It is Chaos, which is the dissolution of Order.  Order is generally good, but tends to calcify, becoming unyielding and stifling to the dynamics of human life.  In contrast, of course, Chaos tends to feed on itself, dissolving order and keeping humans in a constant state of stress and crisis, which pressures individuals into poor decisions that expand the Chaos.

This is kind of a big deal for my philosophy, because I’ve been a pretty consistent advocate of Order.

How I came to embrace the good points of Chaos was simply mulling on the best way to deal with the growing oligarchy of Silicon Valley, crony capitalism, Too Big to Fail corporations, and the unholy alliance between Government and Big Business.

I’m not a full-on Libertarian for a number of reasons, but I do have a Libertarian distrust of turning to Government to fix problems..  The problem with having Government fix problems is they tend to see all problems as opportunities for graft or gaining additional control over the every day life of citizens, they rarely do a good job of fixing things, and they are probably more responsive to other citizens who have a different notion of what “fixed” looks like than I do.

I am a firm believer in Liberty, however, and absolutely believe that the most effective solutions involve *increasing* options for individuals, rather than decreasing them.

This is intrinsically related to what I see as the role of Government: do the things citizens can’t do individually or even effectively in private groups, like National Defense and determining and acting on National Interest; resolve problems between equals (equal persons, lower levels of government, corporations, corporations and citizens, etc.); and working to ensure a level playing field.  To a certain extent, these are all just different aspects of the same thing: private citizen groups *could* engage in foreign policy and military action, but it would conflict with the rights and interests of other citizens, so it would almost immediately create a conflict that would need government to resolve, so just have the government do it in the first place, and ensuring a level playing field *is* resolving conflicts between citizens or between citizens and corporations.

So what I’m getting around to saying is that I think the best way to stop Big Corps from running and ruining our lives, or from putting their quest for Profit above the best interests of their workers and customers, is to encourage competition.

The best way to stop Google and Facebook from monitoring us 24/7 is to make it easier for other companies to make money disrupting Google’s and Facebook’s business model. The Silicon Valley Oligarchs are huge fans of regulation right now, the same issue they were huge opponents of when they (and the internet) was in its infancy.  That’s because regulation creates barriers to competition.  The difficult part is how easy it is to demagogue regulation.

Here’s a great example: It was discovered that some toys from China had lead paint.  This is bad. From there, it is very easy to demand that *all* toys imported from China be tested for lead paint.  Since that is logistically impossible, the logical step is to have random testing of imported toys, and demand that the toy importers pay for it. Guess who can afford to pay for random testing because they benefit from economies of scale?  Mattel, Fisher Price, Hasbro, et al.  Guess who supported the new regulation for random testing paid for by the importer?  Mattel, Fisher Price, Hasbro, et al. The regulation represented an additional barrier to small, upstart toy importers that could cut into their market share.  But if you oppose the regulation, China will have no incentive to stop exporting toys with lead paint, and US children will be harmed.

Look, some regulation is good. But encouraging disruption is also good.

There is no reason that a large company must stay a large company. There is no reason that just because they’ve been making a number of sales for a certain profit margin, that they should be able to continue doing so forever. Humans must compete and work to improve themselves to maintain their station in life, so corporations should also.  And they comprehend that, because they are always fighting to increase their market share, drive out competition, etc.  There’s just no reason our government should help them in reducing competition.

But I also can’t say disruption is always a good tool.  The Left has done a great job of disrupting things they don’t like: Christianity, the traditional family, integrity, free speech, the right to self-defense (via the Second Amendment right to bear arms). LBJ’s Great Society was extremely disruptive to the black community and to many of the traditions that had made the US strong.  Medicare merely added to the misconception created by Social Security that individuals should not be responsible for their own lives, sustenance, and comfort.  I cannot describe to you the sense of frustration and despair I felt when I found out that the Health Care for Life that I earned by sacrificing 20 years of my life to the military reverts to Medicare when I turn 65.  Not that the military’s TRICARE is all that good.  But everything I’ve seen convinces me that Medicare is worse.  But I digress.

The simple truth is that disruption is merely a tool that helps us improve the order in our lives.  But tools can be used badly, and tools can be used on the wrong target, or for the wrong reasons.

I haven’t developed any pithy truisms regarding disruption. I don’t even have a metric for when or how to encourage creative disruption yet.  Let’s have a discussion about it in the comment section.

Science Fiction/Fantasy Story Ideas

  • by Gitabushi

I might never get my act together and write consistently.

Ah, screw the long-winded introduction. Let’s just get right into it:

Here are some story ideas I’ve started and abandoned. If you like any of them, use them. Whatever you would do with them would be so different than what I would do with them, most people wouldn’t even be able to tell they came from the same idea seed.  And that’s if I ever wrote any more on these stories, which I probably won’t, so if you use any of these, you won’t even owe me a mention on your acknowledgement page.

  1. Science Fiction story: a spy ship is on a mission to collect intelligence from an enemy world. Detected, it flees. But a traitor within prevents it from escaping, and the crew is captured. Basically, the point was a Science Fiction remix of the capture of the USS Pueblo and the Collision of the Chinese Fighter with the EP-3, with my thoughts on leadership and responsibility thrown in.  Does the pilot/commander have the responsibility to sacrifice his people for mission secrecy?  Or, at what point do military secrets matter less than a handful of lives? Does it matter if those lives are volunteers who accepted their lives might be forfeit the moment they stepped on the craft? And how do you lead your people to resist mind-games while in captivity?
  2. Fantasy story: Magic in this world is placed into twigs via ritual. Breaking the twig releases the magic. It can do things like increase strength, increase distance vision, permit levitation, etc. But each use of magic draws upon the normal powers or energy of the user. So, for example, if you use the vision enhancement twig, your vision is weakened for a few hours after the spell runs out.  If you use several magic twigs to boost the effect or delay the cost, then you risk permanent disability. Placed in the context of war, the intent was to explore the sacrifices soldiers make to complete the mission.
  3. Private Eye Noir story: man wakes up to find a red-haired woman wearing bright green pointing a gun at him.  She asks him a few inexplicable questions, then pistol whips him into unconsciousness.  I have no idea what I was going to do with this, I just thought it was a good start.  One possibility was when he goes out looking for the girl, he finds a red-haired girl in bright green has been murdered…but is it a frame?  Is it even the same girl?
  4. Science Fiction story: Due to an unknown development (but likely a microbe unexpectedly brought back from Mars), children are born without the ability to heal wounds. This should cause them to die before passing on their genes, but one rich family spares no expense to let their son live a full life: protective equipment when young, ballet and martial arts teachers from before they can walk to have the grace/balance to avoid damage. This method spreads to the point that there are hundreds of millions of people afflicted with unhealing, but someone uses fear of the unhealing to stir up hatred, and a war breaks out.  The superior grace, balance, and fighting ability of the unhealing results in them eradicating the genetic line of the healing, and civilization collapses, and all modern knowledge is lost within 40-50 years. But a moon colony has been watching this, developed a cure for affliction, and now wants to come back and re-introduce civilization, but as masters.  So the healing serum is offered to a young fighter to seduce him into being their general. Being able to heal, he can be more reckless in individual duels to ascend to tribal champion, then unite the various tribes by conquest.  Except maybe he has plans of his own. Intent was to show that some of the arguments about evolution are garbage (“See the giraffe? The long neck helped them survive by reaching the tops of trees when other animals starved! That proves evolution!”), but also the nature of using hate to build political power, and the desire of people to be rulers/masters.
  5. Epic Science Fiction universe: An asteroid barely misses the earth, inspiring a wealthy entrepreneur to fund a generation ship to another solar system. Inhabitants go through a trial to make it on the ship. The ship launches. A few weeks later, a mission to terraform Mars is launched.  Then an asteroid hits the earth, destroying most of life. This allows all sorts of science fiction stories: how are people selected to be crew on the generation ship?  You don’t want only intellectual scientists and engineers…do you? Apocalypse stories. Maintaining civilization on a ship stories. Moon colony stories. Mars terraforming stories.  Rebuilding civilization stories.  Could maybe even through in a zombie apocalypse, or magic re-emerging on earth in the wake of the asteroid apocalypse.  Epic.
  6. Science Fiction story: FTL needs pilots. Humans go insane from brain damage if they remain awake during FTL travel. Computers also fail if left on during FTL travel.  An accidental discovery indicates that children that have passed into the Pre-Operational stage (ages 2-7) can pilot ships without brain damage; obviously, a two year old couldn’t follow the steps correctly, but their brain development stage allows them to experience the FTL environment without damage. In the Concrete Operational stage (age 7-11), brain damage begins to occur; however, the damage doesn’t actually impact the mental activity until they achieve Formal Operational (around age 11). The government needs pilots. Age 2-7 is too short a time period for useful mission operation to be worth the training, so the government allows kids to keep piloting until they actually go insane. However, few parents would agree to this, so the pilots are all orphans. After they go insane, they are allowed to mingle, have sexual intercourse, and birth children…who are, of course, Wards of the State and eligible to be pilots.  To justify this virtual slavery, the pilots are given a good salary and the ability to buy out their contract. Most, being kids, just buy toys and candy.  One child, however, actually enjoys the idea of investing and manages to buy out his contract before experiencing any brain damage.  He gets out and goes into business and becomes wealthy, due to his ability to plan for the future, work hard, and delay gratification.  Then one day, a gray man comes to him and says, “Your little brother is still in, but will reach the damaging stage some time within the next year. Join me.”  This idea was conceived in reaction to Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game, in which children think and act like adults.  It pissed me off. Plus, I wanted to write an epic Star Wars like space opera romp, of a ragtag crew fighting against an all-powerful, and banally-evil govt. I always like stories where the govt is the bad guy, but not from Rule the World evil as much as People Are Liabilities and Must be Told What to Do and How to Live sort of evil.

Book and game money

I’ve never really made a lot of money, but I’ve also never had to worry about living on the street or being unable to afford food or medicine. I’m blessed in that regard. Still, with my first kid due to make his entrance soon and my wife poised to quit her job, I worry about spending money now.

Luckily, there are plenty of games and books to be had on the cheap these days. If you’re willing to buy used or you can be content playing some indie titles instead of the latest and greatest AAA stuff, there’s a lot of entertainment to be had on a small budget.

Similarly, if you need to generate some pocket change to support such hobbies, there are ways. Some of you may be familiar with /r/Beermoney, a meeting place for all those netizens looking for ways to make a few spare bucks, mostly in their free time or as passive income.

There are services, such as, Perk, Swagbucks, and EarnHoney, that let you “watch” videos and ads to earn pennies, which add up over time and can be redeemed for cash or various gift cards (Amazon is my favorite). I run these from time to time, but they tend to be spotty and dependent on advertiser demand. They’ve also gotten fussier with their rules.

For example, many Swagbucks videos used to let you just keep a browser up on the side, unattended. Now most offers require you to either keep your mouse cursor over the browser (meaning you can’t be doing anything else with your computer) or else require periodic clicking to bring up new videos, which gets tedious fast if you’re trying to play a game or devote your attention to something else.

Lately, I’ve been leaning heavily on studies and surveys. Now, you’ve got to be careful if you decide to take this approach to Beermoneying. Services like Swagbucks will let you take surveys, but whether or not you actually get any payout is a crap shoot. Often the advertisers will trick you into answering 50 questions and then tell you that you didn’t qualify for the survey. “Sorry you spent 15 minutes answering our questions – why not try again?” F you.

My favorite service, at the moment, is Prolific.ac (if you decide to sign up, feel free to use my referral link, or not!). Prolific lets you sign up and answer screening questions to see which studies you qualify for. There are several neat things about these studies:

1. They’re academic studies, so you’re helping students and researchers out.

2. If you’re a particularly benevolent soul, you can donate your reward money to charity.

3. The dashboard is useful and study descriptions are more adequate than others I’ve seen. You basically get the study name, the total amount of participant slots and how many are left, the max allowed time, the average time to complete, and payout information.

4. Because they’re designed by different people and systems, you’ll get a fair amount of variety between studies. Sometimes they’re kinda interesting, actually.

There aren’t always a lot of studies available, but I’ve found it really depends on the day. Sometimes you’ll hit the jackpot; this morning I banged out 3 surveys, about 10-15 minutes of my time total, for about $2.50. Not too bad!

Once you hit a certain threshold, you can cash out. Those $5 used books and $10 Steam games are within your grasp!

Capture

-Bushi

bushi