Wednesday, January 06, 2010

As the Status Quo Implodes: What's the Point of Education?

Our discussion of teacher pay--that perhaps just getting a Masters Degree does not make one a better teacher or improve education, though it certainly boosts pay--leads to a broader discussion of what happens to education after the status quo collapses in insolvency.

The entire debate about teachers pay scales is about to be rendered moot by the en masse insolvency of local and state governments. Yes, the entire status quo will collapse in a heap, so we better start thinking about what will replace it.

That is the point of the Survival+ critique--a critique which aims for an understanding of The Great Transformation just ahead.

Longtime correspondent Steve R. (familiar to those of you who have enjoyedReaders Journal essays) uses Survival+ as a springboard for the "big questions" about education. Few believe the status quo is doomed right now, but its financial collapse is already baked in. So it behooves us to ask these big questions now so we can assemble some idea of what will be sustainable--and better--in the future.

Here is Steve's commentary.

I want to chime in on the analysis of teaching offered by Joe H. in your blog of 1-5-2010. Much of his critique rings true. In a time of budgetary chaos it is right that teachers salaries hew to the available funding. Similarly, there must be institutional pullback from the bureaucratic over-reach into the realm of education exemplified by the over-reliance of curricula upon the ambiguous objectives and results of standardized testing.

As you and others have pointed out, it is the whole concept and purpose of public education that must be re-examined. We need to put more vocation back into schools. We should also approach education with the purpose of encouraging all citizens to continue learning their whole lives; to learn not just to increase their wage earning potential, but to increase their understanding of themselves, and of history, of what it means to be a human living in society.

But much of Joe H.’s analysis seemed rendered for ideological purpose not well-suited to the subject of teaching. As I was reading his essay, numerous questions that it seemed he was trying to answer, that I had hoped he would answer, remained in my mind.

1. Who benefits from the tendency of Humans to form societies?
2. What is wrong with society?
3. What is the purpose of Public Education?
4. What is wrong with Public Education?
5. What is the purpose of Standardized testing?
6. What is wrong with standardized testing?
7. What is the purpose of Unions?
8. What is wrong with Teachers Unions?
9. What is the purpose of paying teachers?
10. What is wrong with Teacher pay?
11. What makes a good Teacher?
12. Why do children of teachers become teachers?
13. What is wrong with teachers?
14. What was wrong with Mrs. Hatley my fifth grade teacher?
15. What is really bothering people who do not like teachers?
16. What is wrong with Steve R that he feels he must answer critiques of public education and the teaching profession?

Only a fool would think to answer these questions in summary form. Of course Joe H was wise enough to avoid most of these. This list of questions, as I organized it, is a drill down from most general to most specific. Thus formatted the list suggests a dialogue complete with answers in and of it self. Some might see in this implicit script the makings of a Socratic dialogue. One may also see the trap of circular reasoning it sets. The list is really sort of an endless causal loop. By the time you get to the bottom you realize you are really back at the top.

I have been reading Survival+ for the last several days. I am enjoying your new work immensely. I have to say I was not prepared for the philosophical treatment you have given the subject of survival. The logic of your analysis is impeccable and the structure makes it easy to follow what would otherwise be pretty abstruse concepts and complex interactions of socio-economic factors leading up to the Great Transformation. I love that label for what we face in the coming decades. It really takes the edge of wind out of deniers who might otherwise interpret your perspective as schadenfruede or another auguring of the great collapse. Too, I thought the content would be more like what is in your columns.

At any rate, Survival+ has inspired me, despite my initial reservations, to respond in a way to the OTM post of 1-5-2010. For the sake of self deprecation, and as a lesson in futility, I feel compelled to provide summary answers to the above questions. I hope it will be taken in the proper spirit of ironclad befuddlement and Socratic incomprehension.

1. Who benefits from the tendency of Humans to form societies?
Those who learn to participate in society benefit from affinity humans have for one another’s company. Of course there are free riders. A full spectrum of competency in group functioning obtains as well. Corruption and decadence, distinct but in some ways similar attributes, rise and fall with scales of efficiency approaching a limit related to an entropic constant that burdens all human systems.

2. What is wrong with society?
Stable societies are efficient in that their metabolism tends to reinforce stability. Efficiency attracts free riders. Free riders generate social turbulence or instability. The metabolism of unstable societies is characterized by flight or fight types of activity and corrupt interactions. Objective efficiency may be greater or less in unstable societies compared with stable ones; but the efficiencies of unstable societies induce forces opposed to liberty and human rights.

3. What is the purpose of Public Education?
The purpose of public education is to prepare citizens to participate in society. No, scratch that. The purpose of Education is to babysit your kids while you are off “working”. Ever go to work whistling a happy tune because you knew you would be free of the ambient level of strife that comes along with raising kids? I know I have…Go back to question 1.

4. What is wrong with Public Education?
Public education tries to teach all children secular humanist pagan values. Children raised in the public classroom lack a moral compass. Schools are products of the cultures predominate locally and in society at large. Children from the lower rungs of society learn to be free riders unlike the rest of us who learn to be normal upstanding citizens like investment bankers.

The problems with public education are endemic to the concept of publicly administered education and are unsolvable. Private and profit based education is more efficient because it lowers teachers wages. Teachers at private schools therefore have more incentive to make sure all children become more normal as per standardized testing. Class sizes are too big.

If we believe education to be a human right of sorts, as the modern theories of education assert, then to make teaching more effective for the various types of learners and ability levels class sizes must be reduced. If all teachers were volunteers, I guarantee you that you would have only the best and most qualified persons, capable of differentiating the material for all the ability levels and learning types, holding teaching positions.

Unfortunately, you would only have enough teachers to educate a slim fraction of the society. And every single one of those pupils would be from the most wealthy or corrupt families. This is not to say that there would be no well qualified teachers left for private schools that could afford to recruit the best teachers. But because the prospects for the profession generally would be much bleaker, talent would stratify along economic lines.

Education of the masses would progressively deteriorate. It is bad enough that under the current regime education is just considered the motions we go through in order to survive puberty and join the “workforce”. Education need never stop, even though that is the attitude of most “survivors”. That is the real problem with education: most people either never learn or make a conscious decision not to learn after they reach some stage of affirmation of personal conceits. How else can you explain “real estate always goes up” and financial derivatives? Go back to Questions 1 and 2.

5. What is the purpose of Standardized testing?
In order to participate in society, children must learn. But all children learn at different speeds and by different means. Some are visual learners. Some kids are kinetic learners. Some child intellects are scary sharp, quickly grasping abstract concepts and memorizing facts. (Only 65 % of these “gifted learners” actually ever get to a college or university.

It a true fact backed up by IQ testing performed independent of the standardized scholastic achievement testing! Granted we may produce more degrees than needed in society. But what does this fact tell you about education and testing?) Standardized testing creates jobs for test and curricula creators and constrains the real job of teachers which is to find a way to inspire the love of learning in all children. Thus constrained teachers are therefore less effective and less deserving of higher salaries which makes the whole system more efficient and unstable. Go back to Questions 2 and 4.

6. What is wrong with standardized testing?
Testing per se is not a bad practice, though as a means of grouping and sorting, somehow related to abilities, it is imperfect. For example, testing cannot measure the learning that occurs as a result of the test- which in my case is actually where all the learning takes place! One can only discover learning from the test itself by administering the Post-test test, and so on.

There has always been standardized testing. It has opened doors for some and slammed them shut for others, not always on the most objective bases. The problem is with the current fixation on testing. Most of us are aware that society in general, as may be exemplified by academic performance, is in a decadent phase at the moment. We don’t need the results standardized test to tell us this.

Few people point out how these tests are manipulated or even compromised in order to get the results the districts need. Its already way worse than we think. Standardized testing provides data that says nothing about the value of education or good educators.

In the same way that a bad teacher can ruin your whole attitude towards public education, one good teacher can turn you on to learning and thereby unleash all of the potential you have for benefiting yourself and society. What can a standardized test tell us about the next Edison (home schooled by the way) in some classroom right now? Zip!

Standardized testing tells us even less about teachers. That’s what the whole "no child left behind" fiasco was supposed to do: Standardize teaching! It worked, if you count dumbing down the average as a success. Sure we need to drum out the incompetents and free riders, but all the standardized curricula did was restrict and waste the talents of the best.

The standards had no impact on a districts ability to reform the corrupt or fire the incompetent. To expect such a result is like trying to remove a sliver by eating a pair of tweezers. By the way, unlike in public schools, private schools are not required to teach curricula that have been forced through the standardized testing sausage maker.

7. What is the purpose of Unions?
Unions are collective bargaining arrangements whereby persons offering their resources (time and energy) to enterprises organized for public or strictly private benefit have a means to arbitrate as great a rate of benefit as the market for such service of their time and energy will bear. The problem arises when the recipients of labor (enterprises) also claim to be providing a public benefit by virtue of their privatized profit.

Public benefits of private enterprise are held by some to be incidental and in proportion to the degree of stability and efficiency provided by the tendency of humans to form societies. In fact, without consideration of such incidental character, it might be argued that society owes a net debt to private enterprise.

Conversely the argument can be made that private enterprise is utterly dependent upon social structure. In this view, private enterprise benefits from an inherent “free ride” component. If the opportunity cost of an extant stable society is held to zero while the incidental public benefits from private enterprise are assigned positive value, institutional labor arbitrage can be made to appear a useless drag upon the system or a corruption of the system.

But more objectively it might be stated that Unions exert by social induction a force in the opposite direction as that induced by monetization of resources (profits). In a stable society the magnitude of these forces is approximately equal. See Questions 1 and 2

8. What is wrong with Teachers Unions?
Teachers Unions arbitrate as great a rate of benefit for the members of their profession as the market for such service of their time and energy will bear. Unfortunately the profession cannot compete for talent with investment banking and other largely male dominated professions. Thus, as expected form a non-normal distribution, talent in the pool for teachers is more dilute than if the gender bias was not in effect. Women generally will work for a lower wage and are excluded from a number of other trades. Men do teach the upper grades, but getting the kids out of dads’ hair is one of the main functions of education. (Full disclosure: I am a man and I am not a teacher, though I profess to love children)

9. What is the purpose of paying teachers?
This question has been answered collectively by all the other questions and is at the center of the circular reasoning that renders this project an insubstantial and futile exercise. Go to Question 10.

10. What is wrong with Teacher pay?
Teaching is not a mere profession, it is a calling. If being a landlord or a homebuilder was a calling, we could pay teachers a lot less. Otherwise, it's hard to get by on apples alone. It was sure a lot simpler when most kids didn’t go to school and women worked for free as homemakers. In ancient Greece all the teachers were men and the students were expected to have sex with them. Man, those were the days!

11. What makes a good Teacher?
I have known many teachers and my wife, a teacher, has known many as well. I have to admit that I cannot imagine how someone who has never had children can possibly be a good teacher, or even be the best teacher they can be without an up close and personal experience of the privilege that raising a child is. On the other hand I know far too many parents that do not understand the solemn obligation of parenting a child. And I know many teachers without children that are far more understanding and accommodating of children that I ever was before becoming a father. True, all the money in the world, and standardized testing to boot, cannot make a bad teacher into a good one. Neither is teaching “in the genes”. More than likely, the capacity for teaching is passed through the class room, from one inspired teacher to a student in sore need of an understanding adult, bypassing bloodlines entirely.

12. Why do children of teachers become teachers?
I am so glad you asked. Why do children of doctors become doctors? Some trades are so demanding, so inconceivably difficult or mysterious that those of us unfamiliar with the craft have a hard time imagining how to survive in those roles. Part of our lack of imagination is that we never see how the doctor comes home and picks up the paper after ten hours of blood bone and gristle and gets on with the other half of life.

The process of living with the grim reality, and the exultant moments too, of a doctors life are a mystery to those of us not exposed to medical practice. How the hell can one cope with responsibility for thirty screaming and sniffling elementary school kids, preparing their lessons, keeping them safe, making nice with their parents, many of whom suspect them of unspeakable atrocities? What about middle school with the raging hormones and attitudes.

If you ask me the real reason for high teacher pay is to recruit enough personality types in order to provide a pool of takers that can be hoodwinked into teaching middle school. I’m not saying these are the best and brightest teachers either. Some people believe that kids should not even go to school between the ages of 12 and 14! Well if you saw your parents were teachers and you saw them survive all this (and yes, enjoy long vacations, though the summer vacation is rarer these days) you might consider enduring the bad for the good and follow in their footsteps.

13. What is wrong with teachers?
Exactly! Who in their right mind would do this job?

14. What was wrong with Mrs. Hatley my fifth grade teacher?
Not her real name. She made my life hell. She did not have kids. Fortunately, my sixth grade teacher made up for the lost year of fifth grade. Or maybe he (yes that rare elementary school teacher that was a male) seemed better by juxtaposition alone. My sixth grade teacher was a quirky Buddhist who awakened my love of learning. I left the sixth grade with just enough stamina to get through the rest of high school, despite the fact that many other teachers did their best to humiliate me or anesthetize my gusto for academic endeavor. In sum, I basically hated my first twelve years of school. But I will defend every other student’s right to have the same imperfect experience that I did. After all, how can we possibly expect a homogenized scholastic experience for students to be a net improvement? Who in their right mind would even attempt to do such a thing?

15. What is really bothering people who do not like teachers?
Did you have a Mrs. Hatley too?

16. What is wrong with Steve R. that he feels he must answer critiques of public education and the teaching profession? Go to question 1.

Thank you, Steve R., for kicking off The Great Debate about education which we all need to engage before the staus quo collapses in a heap. All these issues will become much more pressing by 2011 and 2012, when the bogus financial "fixes" being deployed today trigger runaway feedback loops which can no longer be contained by Federal (and Fed) manipulation.

"Follow the money"--when there isn't enough to fund the status quo, then The Great Transformation begins.


NOTE ON THE SURVIVAL+ BOOK: I am reformatting the interior for improved readability, so your order will not ship for a few days. Your patience will be rewarded with a new cover and more readable text.

Order Survival+: Structuring Prosperity for Yourself and the Nation from your local bookseller or from amazon.com or in ebook and Kindle formats. A 20% discount is available from the publisher.

Expanded free eBook now available (85,300 words, 136 pages):
in HTML: Survival+ in PDF: Survival+

NOTE: the Kindle reader for PCs is now available for free which means you canread the Kindle version of Survival+ on your PC.

Of Two Minds is now available via Kindle: Of Two Minds blog-Kindle

Thank you, John Y. ($30), for your exceedingly generous contribution to this site. I am greatly honored by your support and readership. Thank you, David H. ($25), for your wonderfully generous contribution to this site. I am greatly honored by your support and readership.

Terms of Service

All content on this blog is provided by Trewe LLC for informational purposes only. The owner of this blog makes no representations as to the accuracy or completeness of any information on this site or found by following any link on this site. The owner will not be liable for any errors or omissions in this information nor for the availability of this information. The owner will not be liable for any losses, injuries, or damages from the display or use of this information. These terms and conditions of use are subject to change at anytime and without notice.


Our Privacy Policy:
Correspondents' email is strictly confidential. The third-party advertising placed by Adsense, Investing Channel and/or other ad networks may collect information for ad targeting. Links for commercial sites are paid advertisements. Blog links on the site are posted at my discretion.


Our Commission Policy:
Though I earn a small commission on Amazon.com books and gift certificates purchased via links on my site, I receive no fees or compensation for any other non-advertising links or content posted on my site.

  © Blogger templates Newspaper III by Ourblogtemplates.com 2008

Back to TOP