The Crisis of Competence, or: Adulting Ain’t That Hard

  • by Gitabushi

I go to a geek website daily. It seems like 10% (probably not that high) of the posts are cartoons about anxiety, like this one:

From Amanda Panda Comics

AmandaPandaComics, support her on Patreon if you are so inclined.

The isn’t funny. It isn’t insightful. It *normalizes* fragility.

It normalizes fragility and inability by saying, “See? Your thoughts are normal. Other people feel this way. There’s nothing wrong with you and no reason to change.”

But there *is* something wrong with feeling anxiety.  Normal people should *not* feel anxiety doing normal tasks like making a purchase at the grocery store.

We have a Death of Competence crisis going on the US. I’ve seen it at multiple levels. We’ve developed a system predicated on a complete lack of understanding of how to do stuff.

One example is Hillary Clinton. She never *did* anything. She just rode her husband’s coattails and had a staff make decisions for her that let her take credit for.

I saw it when working at a 3-Letter Agency.  The director was an engineers should know how to do stuff. But she mainly knew how to talk. She isolated herself with layers of staff. No one above a GS-13 would make an independent decision on anything. If you had a proposal, it had to be presented perfectly up through the layers of staff. If anything was wrong (bad grammar, in the wrong color folder), it was kicked back to be redone.

I understand the concept: if your attention to detail is lacking, then it probably extends to the proposal.  But the reverse is not true: just because every i is dotted and every t crossed, it doesn’t mean the proposal is well-thought-out, or a good proposal; it just means the focus is on superficial aspects of appearance, rather than on the salient aspects of a project.

So as assigned projects filtered upward, the higher staff would demand more explanations, and recommendations.  I’m sure there was some thought in signing off on the recommendations, sometimes the higher ranks would use their knowledge and experience to raise the “bullshit flag” and knock it back down.  But in general, the whole process was designed so that if something worked, the decision-makers could take credit for approving it; but if it failed, the blame could be placed on the GS-13s (the highest level just short of an actual leadership position at most Agency HQs) that provided the hard numbers and background information for the proposal, or perhaps the staff that let the proposal through.

This is success in the US right now. We don’t teach anyone how to *lead* organizations to success.  We discourage anyone taking risks. Our leaders insulate themselves from the possibility of being associated with a failure, so they can move up in the ranks of a zero-tolerance system.

And this adversity to risk and fear of making decisions trickles down to the average person, like the one in the comic.

I think this is because the US is rich and successful.  Outside of the military and some engineering projects, there are no life-and-death consequences for failure, so people don’t learn how to do effective risk analysis and then take risks.  All their decisions are career-path based, rather than project success-based.

I mean, I know I’m painting with an overly-wide brush here, but I think this *is* what’s happening.

We are teaching our kids to not think, to not plan, to just follow the life plan set up for them on rails: go to school, get a degree, live in a city, & everything will be perfect.  I understand this, too: you want your kids to have a good life.  There is a way to achieve that, so teach them to follow it.

But the problem is that we tell them to follow it exactly, and promise them that if they do, everything will be fine and there will be no struggle, no problems.

No. You have to think for yourself, try things out, take risks, learn how to manage your life.  I *want* my kids to struggle.  How else can they learn how to avoid mistakes that cause people to struggle with life?

I have no doubt the person in this comic *is* common among young kids right now. But it shouldn’t be. If you are feeling anxious about finances, YOU CAN LEARN TO NOT BE.

Okay, let’s back up a moment, here.

The point of a Character-Driven story is the main character reaches a point where they can no longer continue as they have been. They MUST change. Then they change.

For this cartoon to be actually helpful, rather than cocooning readers in failure, it should have started with the realization that you can’t live being anxious about buying tampons. That you have to make changes so you are never anxious about buying tampons again. Then you walk through the door into adulthood.

 has been collecting tweets from people who are anxious about being adults, who have never lived how to live a bountiful life.  I suggested he put all these quote tweets into one long thread (much like I have done with “Leftists are caught in the grip of incoherent apoplexy” and “Democrats are a criminal organization masquerading as a political party”.

He liked the idea, so he should soon be collecting tweets from these incompetents we’ve created. I hope he never stops adding to it, so it becomes an irresistible weight of motivation for his students (and anyone who reads it) to learn to live a glorious, successful life.

It starts with recognizing that anxiety over a simple purchase is not normal, and unnecessary.

Go, and do.


Some of the Touchstones of my Socio-Political Philosophy

– by Gitabushi
Several years ago, I tried to capture a bunch of philosophical touchstones: things I believe to be true, and use as axioms to reason my way through contemporary socio-political issues and events.
Here’s what I came up with.  I added everything past number 17 this morning. I could probably add another 100, if I really thought about it.
Which do you disagree with? Which do you think need better explanation or more thought?
1)    Choice means influence, not control
2)    All people want the same thing: Love & Security
a.    What differs is strategies & implementation to achieve
3)    Life is result of your choices
a.    Racism/sexism exist, but less impact than individual choices & actions
4)    People respond to incentives
5)    Greater reward requires greater risk
a.    Time
b.    Effort
c.    Money
6)    To have peace, prepare for war
a.    As wealthy information-producing society that consumes luxury goods, US benefits most from ensuring safe, global free-trade.
i.    As such, US benefits most from being the world’s policemen
ii.    All nations benefit, even if they resent US
7)    Freedom is a pure good
a.    If you have ever said, “There oughta be a law (against something I find annoying)”, you are part of the problem
b.    Freedom to choose means freedom to make bad choices
c.    Freedom to choose doesn’t mean govt should suppress information on good/bad choices
8)    Knowledge is always good
a.    Never stop learning
b.    Never stop training for your next job
c.    Trend is to lower standards in education, trend should be to raise standards
i.    Not everyone needs to have liberal arts education
ii.    Liberal Arts graduates favorite entertainment seems to be television, i.e., waste of education
d.    Never stop reading
9)    Taxes are parasitic drag
a.    Some taxes are necessary
b.    Taxes should be lowest possible
c.    Stealth taxes (fees, licenses, penalties) should be strictly limited
d.    Tax revenue should not be fungible: for specific purpose & used only for that specific purpose or returned
e.    Progressive taxes are not moral
f.    Regressive taxes are not immoral
g.    Taxes should be mix of progressive/regressive to provide incentives for effort
10)    US Constitution, when followed, is best govt/society legal controlling document in world history
a.    Not followed
b.    Effective elements of Federalism have been degraded
c.    Govt way outside originally-established bounds
11)    Bureaucracy sucks, but necessary
a.    All bureaucrats are motivated by the Bureaucratic ABCs:
i.     Acquire more resources
ii.    avoid Blame
iii.   increase Credit/Commendations
b.    Bureaucracy exists because it tends to prevent:
i.     Huge disasters, accepting constant low-level failures
ii.    Huge successes, preferring stability to disruptive success
c.    Effective leaders must learn to use bureaucracy to advantage/success of organization
i.    Must actively manage, i.e. lead
d.  Bureaucrats perform to look good
i.   If the organization isn’t getting the results you want, change what you measure and track.
12)    Citizens should strive to be leaders
a.    Should think independently
b.    Should advocate for positions
c.    If you say “there oughta be a law” against a pet peeve of yours, you are part of the problem
13)    Good/Bad choices are knowable
a.    Citizens & govt should advocate for good & smart choices
b.    Good/Bad choices must not be enforced via law
14)    Free speech protects uncomfortable speech
15)    Legality is not license
a.    Power to discourage, or even shame, should always be within the range of acceptable actions
i.    Discouragement must be based on incentives, not legal punishments/enforcements
16)    Strive for maturity
a.    Empathy, understanding
b.    Long-term good
c.    Never ascribe to malice what may be ignorance
17)    Easy way is usually worst way
a.    Corollary: Best way is usually hardest way
18)    Humans are biologically programmed to exploit any system
19)    True wealth is wanting less than you already have
20)    Wealth cannot be redistributed, wealth can only be formed and destroyed
a.    Wealth is formed by creating value.
b.    Money is a marker for created value
c.    Money flows to creators of value
d.    Redistributing money breaks the link between creation of value and accumulation of wealth; as such, it destroys incentive, and thus, destroys wealth
e.    Money for Nothing is corrosive to human spirit
21)    TANSTAAFL always applies
a.    If something seems too good to be true, it probably is
b.    Get Rich Quick schemes are scams because if there were an easy way to create something of value, masses of people will flock to it, increasing competition and driving down the profit
money pink coins pig
Photo by Skitterphoto on

Success and Happiness in Life: Some Reading Suggestions

  • by Gitabushi

I consider myself a philosopher.  Meaning, somewhere along the line, I realized that I was making my way through life (interacting with others in the world) according to a paradigm, and if I was unhappy with the results, I needed to improve my paradigm.

So I’ve done that many times in my life.  And I’m pretty happy.

This sort of came up in a conversation this morning, and I was reminded of a book I received from my best friend’s Mom for Junior High graduation: The University of Hard Knocks.

University of Hard Knocks

I read the book, and thought the lessons were a little too obvious to write a book about. And yet, I found myself thinking back to it in my early 20s, and remembering its lessons more and more.  I think this is partially where I got the idea of swapping out paradigms. It taught me about the occasional need to change the way I think about things.

But there was another book that helped me to understand and improve how I think: The Depression Book.  I don’t care if your depression is diagnosed as chemical, you still need to read this book to help conquer your depression…because anti-depressants eventually stop working, but if you can use the respite they provide to reprogram how you think, you might be able to improve your brain chemistry by establishing a different internal dialogue.

But now I think it might be worthwhile for everyone to read it. Mostly because everyone gets depressed at times, and this book can help you to minimize both those moments, and the damage of those moments.  The book was really helpful to me in understanding how to change the way I think about things.

So now I’m thinking about other helpful books that are Must Reads for increasing your chance to have a successful and happy life.

I’ve heard great recommendations for Rich Dad, Poor Dad. I’ve never read it, but the things people say about it make me think I discovered many of the same lessons on my own from other sources.  Let’s add it to the Must Read list.

I’m going to put in a conditional recommendation for Charles Givens’ “Wealth Without Risk.”  I own it. I’ve never read entirely through it. I found a few ideas in it that I like…I guess the best thing that I can say about it is it definitely contributed to my understanding of how money works, and how we earn money through smart decisions.

I’m not sure how mandatory it is to having a good life, but I’d like to make a recommendation for James Q. Wilson’s Bureaucracy.  I mean, most people end up working in a bureaucracy, and most certainly end up at the mercy of one at some point.  It seems like it might be helpful to know what you are up against. Or what policies to push your politicians to vote for in light of how bureaucracies work.  Or don’t work. Or barely work.

I can’t really think of any other book that provided me useful knowledge I didn’t already pick up from school, life, job training, etc., but there might be some I’m not remembering.

What books do you recommend for a happy, successful life?

A Few Thoughts on Intelligence and Education

  • by Gitabushi
woman in black long sleeved shirt reading a yellow covered book
Photo by Christina Morillo on

Okay, setting aside false modesty for a moment, I’m a smart guy. I qualify for the Triple 9 Society. If there were a Quadruple 9 Society, I might qualify for that as well, but it’s a little more iffy.  I’ve never bothered to join, cuz I can’t think of a worse place to be than hanging out with a bunch of people who place such a high value just on being smart.

What *is* intelligence?  I saw a tweet where someone insisted that some events were occurring according to a person’s plan, and that person must therefore have stratospheric intelligence.  My response, in disregard as to whether things are actually proceeding according to someone’s plan or not, is that a well-laid and well-executed plan doesn’t require stratospheric intelligence, it just takes time and coordination.

Aside #1: One motivation, I think, for claiming that someone else must have stratospheric intelligence to come up with a plan is that the person telling you thins must also be exceedingly smart to be able to recognize the plan and tell you about it. No?

So after many years, I have decided that what intelligence is, is the ability to see connections between different information, and then successfully combine those different elements into valid conclusions…along with the ability to do it quickly.

There is nothing that someone brilliant can think of that someone “stupid” can’t also think of…eventually.

The reason smart people think of things regular people cannot, is that speed element.  Someone smart can notice the connection and draw the valid conclusion within, say, minutes, and then move on to the next problem.  The “stupid” person would need, say, three or four hours of pondering to see those same connections and then another hour or two to reason through to the conclusion.  And who has the kind of time and discipline to think through a problem for half the day?

Well, patent clerks, apparently.

See, I don’t think Albert Einstein was necessarily brilliant.  He clearly wasn’t anything close to stupid, and clearly was more intelligent than average.  But his concepts weren’t that difficult for moderately smart people to understand. The implications are obvious to anyone with scientific training, and many scientists have gone way beyond Einstein in thinking through those implications…to the point of conditionally negating some aspects of Einstein’s theories.

However, if Einstein hadn’t developed his theories, someone else would have.  Einstein was smart, and it is possible he was also truly brilliant.  But he is

famous because he did the *work* of thinking, and considering, and testing his thoughts, until he came up with a theory that answered all the issues he could connect.

Now, that’s just a broad definition of intelligence.

Aside #2: Back in High School, a girl that I liked and respected claimed she wasn’t smart enough to keep up with me.  At that time, I knew I was good in school and testing, but my struggles to understand people, and my subconscious sense that I lacked necessary knowledge for a successful life, led me to insist that I wasn’t too smart for her.  In a flash of insight, I pointed out that there are plenty of types of intelligence, and came up with seven off the top of my head.  Let’s see if I can recreate them:

  1. Deductive Intelligence: the ability to see all the facts, and come to the correct conclusion
  2. Inductive Intelligence: the ability to see the way things are, and be able to deduce the elements that led to it.
  3. Communicative Intelligence: the ability to explain and teach what you understand to others.  Some people are just brilliant orators, and I think you can’t be stupid to do that.
  4. Creative Intelligence: the ability to write music, draw beautiful art, etc.
  5. Physical Intelligence: the ability to do something physically without much thought. Some people can pick up a basketball and dribble and shoot fluidly almost immediately. I had to think my way through it, and took triple or more the time to just gain a modicum of fluidity.
  6. Humor: It’s really difficult for dumb people to be funny.  Aside #3: Humor is the ability to see an unexpected connection, and laughter is the surprise when you see that connection the first time.  That’s why jokes you’ve heard before aren’t funny. That’s why running gags can be funny: putting that old gag into a new situation can be an unexpected connection.
  7. Memory: Being able to recall the answer rapidly, to answer the teacher’s question or provide the correct answer on a test.

Okay, I almost forgot #7.  The point I made to the girl was that all I really had was #7, and it made everyone think I was smart.  I was good at tests, but feared I wasn’t good at anything else.  Except that even at the time, I was proud of my music ability (creative & communicative intelligence), and coming up with the list was an act of Inductive Intelligence. I probably would choose a different way to organize and explain different intelligences today.

But the key point of all these is just: being able to grasp connections and (where applicable) draw valid conclusions more quickly.

One other way to grasp connections and draw valid conclusions more quickly?  Crowdsource a problem with like-minded individuals that have a minimum of differing agendas.

That’s how we got the US Constitution.  It wasn’t brilliance, it was just normal smart people working together on a common problem: how to craft a government structure that works to prevent the assembly/collection of power in one person, or even one institution.  When followed, it works wonderfully.

How this fits with education: I’ve noticed that education in the US has been pushing more and more math and science into the curriculum.  Part of this is simply that I went to small-town schools, whereas my children attended big city schools. They took algebra in Junior High, and had the opportunity to take Calculus II in high school, if they went math heavy.  Both of them were able to take AP Physics, AP Chemistry, and AP Calculus, which culminates in a test that gives college credit.

Nothing like that was available to me. Of course, the small school issue.  30 years ago, my class was one of the first allowed to take pre-Algebra in Junior High.  Before that time, you had to wait until High School.  So if you wanted to reach Calculus, you had to double up on math two years.  Having pre-Algebra in Junior High meant that I could take Algebra my freshman year, Algebra II and Geometry my sophomore year, Trigonometry my junior year, and Calculus as a senior.  Unfortunately, I moved to a small Texas town before my senior year, and the highest class they had was Trigonometry, so I spent the year teaching my fellow students Trig, because the teacher wasn’t very good.

So we’ve pushed more education on our kids.  Are kids smarter than before?

Maybe not.  Some people point to studies showing that IQ is rising over the years (the Flynn effect).  I’m not sure that’s true.  Some possible explanations here. My own view is that IQ was never that scientific to begin with, and once people began valuing it, they began gaming the system.  It’s difficult to judge how quickly someone consistently sees less-obvious connections and draws valid conclusions, and do it consistently, and then compare it to others. IQ testing is inherently cultural in nature, and the test-makers will skew it towards what they think measures the ability to think well. And while they try to minimize the impact of education, the simple fact is that you must be exposed to specific cultural knowledge to score well on IQ tests.  Do not put much faith in people trying to make arguments based on IQ scores.

That we can push more math and science on kids by accelerating the pace is simply because we can make people work harder.  They might be covering more ground in the lesson text, but are they learning more?

“Scores flat” is an evergreen headline. In response to declining SAT scores, they “recentered” the scoring system.

And when I was a military instructor, I heard them discussing revamping a course to make it easier.  Nothing was changed in the course, but the testing changed. Here’s how it works:

The easiest test is T/F.  Yeah, you can make T/F tests incredibly difficult if you use gray-area questions, but that’s not how the military works.  There are rules to avoid ambiguity. Slightly harder is Multiple Choice. Harder still is fill in the blank, then short answer, then long answer. The hardest would be an essay test.

I’m convinced that in school, the testing has been watered down to easier testing processes.  Kids are covering more ground, but learning it to a less-rigorous testing level. A smart kid will still learn beyond what the test can evaluate, but humans being humans, most will study to the test, and not demand greater depth of learning of themselves.

The reason this is an issue is Competence is dying in the US.  But that’s a topic for another day.

And now, the Big Conclusion that Wraps Everything Up Neatly:

I don’t have one.  I just wanted to make some points about intelligence and education to provide some baseline knowledge.  Your kids are probably not smarter than you.  They may end up more credentialed than you, but if they achieve more, it is likely because the threshold for achievement was lowered.

I used to feel confident my kids would eat the typical millennial’s lunch in the employment world, but I’ve come to realize even my kids haven’t been challenged by school to a level of attention to detail or diligence in work that they will need to truly succeed.  And Lectures from Dad can only go so far.  Hopefully, the seeds are planted, so that when watered with adversity, the plants of experience grow rapidly and bear lush fruits of success.

I hope you found something useful in this for raising your own kids, or for helping them understand themselves better if they are already grown.

Good luck.


Recommended SF&F Author: C. S. Friedman

  • by Gitabushi

I consider myself fairly well-read, at least when it comes to Science Fiction and Fantasy of the 60s, 70s, and 80s.

This is because I was a voracious reader living in a small town, and I read every SF&F book the town and school libraries had.  Being a small town, they didn’t have much that was new.

But since I read so much, I don’t always know remember who/what I read.  Being young and foolish, I didn’t bother to take the time to check publication dates, or try to fit the books and stories I read into the context of the time in which they were written.

But then in the 80s, I started babysitting, getting a decent allowance from chores, and working part time, and I put the money I earned into books.

I got a sense of who the main authors were, and explored most of them.  Sometimes I encountered a story I didn’t like, and if I encountered two from the same author, that would burn the author in my estimation, and I’d rarely give them a second chance.

But there were often strange gaps. Jack Vance and Damon Knight were both considered Grandmasters, but none of the libraries I had access to had any of their books, and so I never read either one, until PCBushi recommended Vance to me.

Because I was both a voracious and precocious reader, I started young, with The Lord of the Rings at age 9, Robert A. Heinlein at age 10, Herbert’s Dune at age 13.  Some books I just really didn’t understand.  I tried the Lord of the Rings at age 9 after a teacher read The Hobbit to us, but not knowing what I was doing, I grabbed and started with The Two Towers.  I finished it, but I had no idea what was going on.  I picked it up again at age 14 and read it in order, and loved it.  I tried C. J. Cherryh a few times at age 17 or 19, and just didn’t like her.  When she came out with Lions….  In…..Space…. when I was about 20 (the Chanur series), I gave it a try and liked it.  But it wasn’t until I turned 26 that I actually really understood her writing, and she became my favorite.

Looking back, there was one author I tried in my early 20s: C. S. Friedman.  Not sure why she felt the need to hide her female name, because there were plenty of famous female authors by 1986, when her first novel was published.

But her stories were complex and perhaps a little beyond me at the time, like Cherryh.

I started with the Coldfire Trilogy.  I enjoyed it, but my girlfriend loved it.  She fell in love with the main character, who I thought was cool, but not especially lovable.  But trying to understand what she loved about the main character helped me understand a little better what women want from/like in men.  The trilogy is a fascinating construction of a Catholic-like religion battling demon-like aliens.  The main character is absolutely a Knight Templar type, or could be seen as a D&D-style Paladin.

Look at this picture.  Isn’t this guy a bad-ass? Don’t you want to read this book now?

As I recall, this cover is *exactly* why I picked up the book

It’s been so long, I barely remember the story. What I remember is the heartbreaking love story, where the main character falls in love with a woman, and she loves him back…then her memories are stripped.  He goes to extreme lengths to try to accomplish the return of her memories, but without her memories of their time together, she no longer loves him and falls for someone else.  It was well done, as I recall.

I enjoyed the books enough to purchase and read In Conquest Born.  It, too, was a complex book.  It has a little twist to it, though, not mentioned in the wikipedia page, that I don’t want to spoil for you, if you ever find it and read it.

I never found any of her other books, and had pretty much forgotten about her, until seeing C. L. Moore mentioned a few times in the past year stimulated my memory to the point where I had to figure out who C. S. Friedman was.  I even went so far as to write a tweet asking my SF&F peeps if they knew who the author was when I remembered “Friedman” and was able to do a quick search.

[Man, you younger kids have no idea what life was like before the internet, when it was difficult to find a song you heard on the radio, or a book you once read, or even the back catalog of your favorite band.]

Glancing through the books she’s written since, she is still writing complex stories with some pathos, although she is nowhere near as prolific as many of her contemporaries.

Have any of you heard of her or read her?  Honestly, the Coldfire Trilogy and In Conquest Born were good enough, I’m really surprised she isn’t mentioned more often as one of the greats.

I think I’m going to have to purchase and re-read her books (further delaying my slow-motion rampage through Edgar Rice Burroughs back-catalog).  I think with the added maturity of 20+ years, I should appreciate her books more.  Or perhaps discover that they aren’t anywhere near as good as I remember.


Education Problems in the United States

  • by Gitabushi
Education paths in the United States via Wikipedia user

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.


Writing Topic: Foreshadowing, or Why Does Stuff Happen in a Story?

  • by Gitabushi

A few weeks ago I wrote “Economies of Scale”, a fairy tale.  One thing I wanted to do in that story was make the main character encounter a series of obstacles, overcome them in his path to achieving his goal, and even have some of those obstacles actually contribute to achieving that goal.  Meaning, the main character wouldn’t have succeeded if something that seemed bad at the time didn’t turn out to help.

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So the story was partly an exercise in trying to make a coherent, believable narrative.

I cheated, perhaps, by making it a fairy tale, which relaxes some of the rules of realism.

It didn’t work for everyone.  One critique I got was that it just seemed like things happened because the author wanted them to happen.  I disagreed: I thought I set up fairly realistic obstacles, had the character make fairly realistic responses to the obstacles, and the outcomes were also fairly realistic.  I just figured he wasn’t the audience for the story (which was a big breakthrough for me in writing confidence).

However, after thinking about it for a few days, I realized that what it meant was I didn’t set up the foreshadowing adequately.

[As is my wont, now is the moment when I suddenly make a sharp turn into a different topic that seems like a digression until I bring it back to the main point]

In music, there is no impossible collection of notes.  Anything can be musical.  You can walk up to a piano and slam your fists down randomly on the keyboard and still make it sound like music, if you are skilled.  The trick, the key element, is resolution.  Each note must be carefully resolved toward consonance. If one step isn’t enough, two or three probably are.  In fact, the best music is often that which hits what would be a very discordant, unmusical sound (if heard in isolation) that, nonetheless, is beautiful and even moving when properly resolved to a consonant chord.  You can make it even better if you approach it carefully and properly.

The same is true, albeit in reverse, in writing fiction.

You can have the most incredible, unbelievable, unrealistic event or character action/decision…if, and only if, you set it up correctly.

Chekov said that if a gun is on the mantel in the 2nd Act, it must be fired by the 3rd Act. Or something like that. A quick search returned so many different versions, I’m just going to stick with my gist.

The corollary of this is that if you want to have a gun go off in the 3rd Act, you should have it innocuously appear in an earlier act.  It can’t be just pulled out of nowhere. Even worse if you take the time to set up a conflict that looks completely unresolvable with the current tools and options open to the main character, and then resolve the problem by having them pull out a tool the audience didn’t know they had, like a pistol.  This is how I understand the weakness of a Deus Ex Machina ending.

So one way of understanding why my friend didn’t like the plot development is I didn’t set up each obstacle resolution properly, with enough foreshadowing.

One technique I tried to use was something I don’t know the name of: if the character is going to find or use something that helps, it must also be used to hurt the main character.  The reverse is true, as well: if the antagonist can use something to harm or block the protagonist, then it is fair game for the protagonist to use it in return.

Go read the story again to see if you can spot the times I tried that. Let me know if you thought it too clumsy, or what I could have done to do it better.  I say “could have done” because for better or worse, the story is done.  I like it. It has weaknesses, but I think it works as is, so as is it shall stay.

Later, in a discussion with my friend, he pointed out that another thing that would have helped make the story better is if the main character has a better feeling of agency, meaning that all the actions taken by the characters seem, um, in character with the personality/person I’ve established.

I admit, that one’s harder than me. I have a difficult time thinking in characters. I fear that everything I write is going to end up sounding like “me, as a space pirate”, “me, as a dragon hunter”, “me, as an assassin”.  I hope not.  My characters do seem different from each other to me, but they’ve grown on the page, rather than me choosing a specific voice, or specific attributes.  This is one I really need to work on.