Class Warfare Blog

April 28, 2017

Evangelical Logic

Filed under: Religion — Steve Ruis @ 10:17 am
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My friend, John Zande, has subscribed to a doctrine: “I am a creationist; I believe man created the gods.”

I agree with almost all Zandeisms but that one started me thinking. Evangelicals are often selling a “life in Christ” or “living a Christ-led life.” The goal, of course, is to be “saved.” And I wondered, as just a thought experiment mind you, what evangelicals would respond with if someone actually lead a life just like Jesus Christ, would then they be saved? I suspect that some of the hardcore might dogmatically say, well, you would still have to believe in Jesus as your Lord and Savior, no matter how you lived. Then I also suspect that many would be afraid that to adopt the life of Jesus and then be refused salvation by a bunch of punk ass religionists might not go down well with the crew in the pew. So, for them, salvation could come, should come, by living your life as Christ did.

Evangelicals, of course, also believe that Jesus is god, so … I decided this is what I am doing. I create my own universe and live by my own rules. I do not feel I have to be consistent in my actions or ideas. No matter what I have said before, what I am saying now is correct.

If I was created in God’s image, then God clearly wanted me to behave like Him, like Jesus, like me. Zande was right!


(Stick with me Zande, I’m gonna make you famous!)

American Mythology (Con’t.)

Filed under: History — Steve Ruis @ 9:48 am
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As a school child I was told the tale of “Johnny Appleseed” who wandered around early America planting apple seeds, bringing apples to much land that didn’t have any before. He was characterized as a kind of goofy guy, an eighteenth century hippie environmentalist, who ended up giving away apple orchards. (Modern conservatives would now brand him as a socialist.)

What my teachers didn’t tell me was that apples planted from seed are small and sour, basically inedible. (One nickname for such apples was “spitters” because as soon as you bit into one, you spat it out.)


So, what were such apples actually good for? They were good for making hard cider, alcoholic cider (roughly 20 proof, half the proof of whiskey, twice the proof of beer). Such ciders are a tad sweet to the taste from the enzymes of the yeast breaking down the starch into sugars which are then fermented, but only up to a point. When the alcohol content rises up to a point that it deactivates the yeast, there is still sugar left over. In colonial days, sugar was very expensive and honey was rare, so cider was one of a few tastes that would provide any sweetness in one’s diet at all. And after a couple of tankards of “cider” you kinda didn’t care.

One of the other things that our school teachers didn’t share was that early Americans had an almost constant buzz on. Workers were granted “cider breaks” and were provided with a substantial amount to drink. Work just buzzed along!

Since barley was a crop hard to grow in the colonies, almost all of the beer was made from imported barley (the ingredients for beer are: water, barley, and yeast). Other grains were tried, not at all successfully and so whiskey became the most common alcoholic beverage. But it was unseemly for women and children to drink whiskey, so there was still a wide market for hard cider.

Also, some enterprising “upeaster” found that if you left apple cider exposed to very cold air in the winter, ice formed in it. That ice was almost entirely water, with almost no alcohol in it, so if you plucked out the ice and tossed it, you were left with a far more alcoholic beverage, called applejack. (Whee!) Much easier than setting up a still.

It is not unusual to “simplify” stories for children in school, but it is disingenuous to not tell then “the rest of the story” later in school. Alas, too much of the America we now “know” consists of these doctored, sanitized stories; just ask any American Congressman (it is all they know). Does fake history lead to a taste for fake news; it seems to.

April 27, 2017

Good and Evil? Meh.

I find the ideas of good and evil puzzling. In a world of almost infinite variation, these two absolutes continue to exist in people’s minds, often as an unnecessary dichotomy. Of course, there are organizations dedicated to their continued existence but, really, they are not useful terms, at least not to us. Mostly they show a lack of imagination or a desire to manipulate.

We are always trying to quantify things; that is normal for us. But we also tend to play one-upmanship in contests for status. There is a PGA commercial running now with famous golfers talking about how early they get to the practice range. The times quoted get earlier and earlier in response to what the others claimed until they are completely ridiculous. It was designed to show how competitive the golfers are and serves that purpose. It works, of course, because we have all played the game. (And please do not respond that this is a hyper-competitive, male-only game. Just listen to a group of mothers talking about their children and you will see the same process.)

So, when someone asks you “how bad was it?” There is a tendency to exaggerate. (I thought I was dying. Excruciating—worst hangnail I have ever had. etc.)

But like most things, these are just gradations on a scale. There is, for example, no “tall” or “short” or a clean dividing line between them. (I am tall enough to be in the top 3% of Americans in height, but when I played center in basketball in college, I was a puny shrimp.) Similarly, where are the dividing lines between “bad” and “evil” or between “good” and “bad?” These do not exist, for good reason. There are gradations of good and bad like there are of tall and short, but no absolutes.

What happens when we use absolutes, though, is we fall down a rabbit hole out of ordinary discourse. These absolutes do not acknowledge that there is a bit of everything in each of us. For example, by all accounts, Hitler was good to his mother.

By labeling things as “good” or “evil” we create categories based upon similarities that are not close to being exact. For example, do Adolph Hitler and Jeffrey Dahmer belong in the same box?. Certainly not based upon their body counts. But both are simply labeled “evil.” Remember the “Evil Axis” of G.W. Bush? Such characterizations set people up for overly simplistic “solutions” to problems. As examples: We must oppose evil (because we are the good guys). We must oppose ISIS, it is evil. And, the ultimate: we must make war on terrorism! WTF? This makes no sense at all.

The terms good and evil exist as manipulators of human emotions and for no other reason. They are vague and unhelpful terms designed to be vague and helpful to those using them, to manipulate their hearers into doing their bidding.

When you next hear the term “all-good” or “ultimate evil,” think “all tall” or “ultimate short.” Those are about as useful as descriptors as the former.

April 26, 2017

Dishonesty About Taxes

The Current Administration wants to cut business taxes. They say the current rate, 35%, is too high and a 15% rate would be better for one and all.

Ah, please cut the crap.

When you add up all of the corporate taxes and income for 2016, it turns out that corporations paid about 14% as an effective tax rate. Individuals paid an effective rate of about 13.5%.

The reason these actual tax rates are much lower than the statutory marginal tax rate, is the rate most often stated is the maximum rate which doesn’t kick in until you have made a shitload of money. Even the 28% personal marginal rate doesn’t even begin until you make just under $92,000 dollars in any particular year. On the first bit you pay 10%, the next bit, you pay 15%, after that you pay a 25% on the amount above that amount up to about $91,000, as mentioned. Everybody pays this way. The only way someone can pay close to the maximum rate is to make a shitload of money … and have no deductions.

“‘In each year from 2006 to 2012, at ‘least two-thirds of all active corporations had no federal income tax liability.’ So much for corporations paying their fair share.”

The US Tax Code is a bloated document, not because of statutes that address personal income but because of the myriad tax breaks that sometimes only single companies get. This is why businesses spend money lobbying Congress, it really pays off in tax perks. Somebody recently calculated that for each $1 a company spent in lobbying Washington, it got a return of $28. That is one hell of an investment! According to the GAO “In each year from 2006 to 2012, at least two-thirds of all active corporations had no federal income tax liability.” So much for corporations paying their fair share.

There used to be a tax principle that said that people who make money by investing money (the “you know who”) should pay more in taxes than people who made money by the sweat of their brow. This has been reversed so that if you work for a living, you pay more in taxes than those who simply move money around (proportionately, not absolutely). Another tax dishonesty: “The rich pay more in taxes that you!” yeah, 10% of 100 million dollars is a lot more money than 10% of $50,000 but it is still 10%.

It used to be the case that companies paid more tax than individuals. That was back before the companies realized that they could buy the government and stack the deck in their favor.

These are same people who back the claim that corporations are people. Now they want to establish that corporations are better than people. (They worship them and want us to also.)

April 25, 2017

International Test Scores … and Other Meaningless Drivers of Policy

In yet another piece by a think tank on education [(Brown Center Chalkboard) “What International Test Scores Reveal About American Education” by Louis Serino, April 7, 2017] we are treated to a fairly typical display of data showing “some progress” but still typically mediocre results. (We are America, for Christ’s sake; shouldn’t we be #1!)

At the end of the article comes the important segment, which many will not read far enough to partake of:

“Why Do These Scores Matter?

Rankings based on international assessments are simple to understand—but they can also mislead. While researchers often shy away from using rankings in serious statistical analyses of test scores, they can have a substantial impact on political rhetoric, and consequently, education policy. Media outlets often take these lists and use them in headlines or sound bites, providing little context and furthering educational policy discussion that can often be misleading. To get the most value from U.S. participation in PISA and TIMSS, policymakers—and the public—should closely analyze the trends on both tests with caution and context.”

What almost all of these pieces leave out is a simple question: are we comparing apples to hand grenades? “Apples to oranges” is the usual forn of this cliché but that form instills some similarity in that the comparison is at least fruit to fruit, which is too close of a match for what these articles do.

To compare “fruit to fruit” we might ask “Has the U.S. ever done well in these international tests?” The answer is No! We have never, ever, ever done really well on those tests. There are many reasons for this but let me point out that our school children scored fairly mediocre in international math testing one year, the same year in which our school children won the prestigious and highly competitive Math Olympics. Also, since about the 1960’s we have had these “mediocre international test scores” but still had a university system the envy of the world, and innovation that was the envy of the world, an economy … well, you know.

In comparing “fruit to fruit” why should we compare how we did with how well Singapore or Shanghai did? Are they countries of similar population? (Hint: They aren’t even countries!) We break up high school football championships into myriad categories by size of the schools, but we compare a 300 million population country (us) with Singapore (pop. 5 million)? We are also compared negatively with Finland, an actual country, but one which has a population the same as Singapore’s. Sheesh!

And, what about breakouts? When we separate out some U.S. states, we can’t help but notice that Massachusetts does as well as any country on the list, all by itself. That is not often noted because you can’t claim that “public education is an abject failure” when there are examples galore of it kicking ass. Now there would be policy recommendations you could get from that one breakout factoid, maybe “Massachusetts seems to be able to make public education work for American students, lets all do it like Massachusetts.” That would be a viable policy recommendation if … if what Massachusetts does didn’t counter the narratives of some of the current crop of education reformers.

Would the automobile industry accept all of the input from think tanks, political groups, privately-funded reform groups, were they to insert themselves into the business of making cars? I think those entities would be more or less politely told to go suck eggs.

I think it is time for the education reformers to be told to go suck eggs. They do not know what they are doing. They do not know how to really analyze the data. And they have no special perspective you couldn’t get from a hired bean counter. They need to just go away and return education to the people closest to it.



Wrestling the Unconscious (and Losing)

Filed under: Science — Steve Ruis @ 10:44 am
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In a review of an author’s first nonfiction piece (Cormac McCarthy Explains the Unconscious by Nick Romeo, April 22, 2017) in The New Yorker magazine, we are treated to a review of a serious attempt to address the unconscious mind by someone immersed in language, Cormac McCarthy.

I have yet to read the original article (I will) but a number of comments by the reviewer struck me and I will comment on them. here are three paragraphs snatched from that review:

“His title references a famous eureka moment in the history of science: after years of thought and research, the nineteenth-century German chemist August Kekulé claimed that he hit upon the ring-like structure of the benzene molecule after he dreamed of a snake eating its own tail. McCarthy calls this ‘the Kekulé Problem’ because it’s unclear why the unconscious supplied a non-linguistic solution to the puzzle of the molecule’s configuration. Since the unconscious would have to understand language to grasp the problem in the first place, why wouldn’t it furnish a solution in the same medium? McCarthy generalizes the quandary, asking, ‘Why is the unconscious so loathe to speak to us? Why the images, metaphors, pictures? Why the dreams, for that matter.’

“His answer—which, he says, appeared in a sort of Kekulé moment of its own, as a sudden epiphany while he was emptying the trash one morning—is that the unconscious is ‘just not used to giving verbal instructions and is not happy doing so. Habits of two million years duration are hard to break.’ The description of the unconscious as ‘not happy’ with language—as, in fact, ‘loathe to speak to us’—is not an isolated lapse into intentional language: throughout the essay, McCarthy personifies the unconscious as an ancient and inscrutable agent with its own desires and talents.

“McCarthy knows that some of this might sound eccentric. After declaring that the unconscious labors ‘under a moral compulsion to educate us,’ he inserts a parenthetical anticipating a dubious reader. ‘(Moral compulsion? Is he serious?).’ McCarthy doesn’t think the unconscious is interested in micromanaging our affairs, but he does seem to seriously believe that it has a broad interest in our wellbeing. The unconscious, he writes, ‘wants to give guidance to your life in general, but it doesn’t care what toothpaste you use.’”

I tend to agree that the subconscious abilities of our brains eschew the use of words and numbers. But studies do show that there is some understanding of things expressed in words and numbers by our unconscious.

McCarthy’s fixation on “Since the unconscious would have to understand language to grasp the problem in the first place, why wouldn’t it furnish a solution in the same medium?” is misplaced, however. For one Kekulé was investigating the behavior of the chemical compound benzene specifically with regard to the shape of its molecules. So, his problem was geometric and not verbal. (We can forgive McCarthy this misunderstanding as its logic is probably of interest only to chemists.) So, basically the subconscious offered up a spatial option for a spatial problem.

Next, the image of a snake biting its tail is an archetype one can find embedded in cultures all over the world. Actually believing that snakes bite their tales and then roll around as a form of locomotion was taking things a bit too far, but this image is common enough that we have a term for it: ouroboros (see image).

May the circle be unbroken, by and …

And what McCarthy and more scientific researchers seem to ignore, possibly because it may be an insoluble problem, is how many times this image comes up in our dreams (day or night) and which then is rapidly forgotten. In my callow youth I kept a dream log. I learned a few things from it, namely that dreams are mostly rubbish, outtakes from a cornucopia of images we have stored, but also that they take almost no time to deliver. One time I remember falling asleep looking at a bedside clock and then having this very long, convoluted dream that switched locales so fast as to be breath taking. I then woke up with a start to see than only about five minutes of real time had elapsed. These dream episodes happen several times a night and the only ones we seem to remember are the last ones, which fade rapidly unless some effort is made to reinforce them. I no longer reinforce them, so I remember dreams 1-2 times per year at most.

So, consider the thousands of dreams I have had over the last year that have been forgotten. Since they seem to be snippets of images already stored in memory, I suppose they haven’t been forgotten, but there was nothing “new” about them as they were mishmashes of old images. Kekulé was struggling mightily with a problem involving the shape of a molecule and in the ongoing slideshow that was his dreams, an ouroboros pops up and this is latched onto by his conscious mind. He takes that and runs with it.

Did his subconscious really “solve” his problem for him? Is our conscious mind “under a moral compulsion to educate us?” Or is it just throwing up a slide show of images because your conscious mind has been engrossed in that topic? Or does the conscious mind filter out all of the rubbish and sift out the images because we are interested in something like at the moment?

The answers are: we do not know, we do not know (but highly doubt our subconscious has a morality), we do not know, and we do not know. The speculations of philosophers, authors, neuroscientists and the like are all grist for the mill but we still do not know the answers to those questions and their like. We are just beginning to find out. We now know that the subconscious processes of our brains use the same circuitry for the same purposes as do our conscious minds (the visual cortex for processing and storing images, the auditory cortex for processing and storing sounds, etc.). That seemed logical to assume, but now we know.

Since so much of our lives is governed by subconscious mental processing (a majority I believe) it is high time we learned more about it.

They Are Just Better Than Us … and Getting Betterer

Filed under: Economics,Morality — Steve Ruis @ 10:40 am
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Notes on How the Class War is Going (Hint: You Are Losing Worse, Much Worse.)

According to an article in Bloomberg News: “… the poorest fifth of 50-year-old American men can now expect to live just past 76, six months shy of the previous generation. The richest 50-year-olds should make it almost to 89, seven years longer than their parents’ generation.

The richest people in the U.S. aren’t just getting several years of extra life, they’re also reaping a financial reward for their longevity – courtesy of the U.S. taxpayer. These trends will be crucial as the new administration and Congress consider any changes to Social Security, Medicare, and other programs. Even tweaks to these programs, from the retirement age to benefit formulas, could affect the rich and poor very differently.

Three decades ago, the richest and poorest retirees could expect about the same amount of benefits out of government programs. The richest generally got larger Social Security payouts, both by qualifying for higher checks and by living longer. The poorest got more out of other programs, such as Medicaid and Social Security disability insurance. Medicare offered about the same benefits to rich and poor.

If you believe that “things just keep getting better,” as I used to, I think you have to expand your thinking to see for whom they are getting better and for whom they are getting betterer, much betterer.

And if you think this is happening by accident, think again. Consider just the attempt to raise the retirement age of Social Security to the age of 70. This would reduce the average number of years of payout for that lower cohort to six years (zero if you are Black) but wouldn’t negatively affect the richer cohort much at all. But it would forestall the most commonsense argument: removing the cap on Social Security wages, currently at $127K and change. So, if you make millions of dollars, you pay SS tax on the first $127K and then nothing on the rest. Removing that cap would dip significantly into the pockets of the rich, something making foregoing five years of SS income pale in comparison. This is why the rich want that solution (age 70 for benefits) rather than the cap removal. So, now you know why such a poor solution to any SS problem gets so much ink. (They own the news media, too, don’t you know.)

If you don’t believe there is a class war going on, it doesn’t matter, you are still losing.

April 23, 2017

A Vision of Rational Decision Making Denied

In a comment on another site, I stated that I had an overarching goal for my teaching “career,” which was the promotion of rational decision making and that I retired from that profession a defeated man. In my last post I commented that “Currently scientists are seeing that we tend to think better in groups, that no individual has all of the puzzle pieces but in communication with others, clusters of puzzle pieces get formed, and then clusters combine to make larger clusters.” We are social animals; we work better in groups. Now we find that we even think better in groups.

My work on rational decision making lead me to this same conclusion. You see, we invested in “interest-based decision making.” This came about as an investigation of less confrontational collective bargaining processes, but we realized it applied to all collective decisions.

I will not bore you with regard to the details of this process but I will point out two of the keystones. The first is that at the beginning of every decision-making process was a complete investigation of “the problem.” Before a problem could be addressed, everyone needed to know what it was and understand it, so this took up much of the “decision-making time.” It also paid immediate benefits. Groups did come together to “address an issue” only to find out that when they tried to clarify it, all involved decided it was not a problem. In one case labor and management came together to solve a problem only to find out that for management, there was no problem, that the problem that labor had to resolve. Management offered support but felt it was not a “stakeholder” in the issue, so should not be making any decisions about it. Labor concurred.

The second keystone was before solutions to identified problems were explored, the “interests” of all of the people involved had to be shared. These were the conditions and reasons that any solution had to satisfy to be viable. Typically, all solutions had to be affordable, had to not break laws, etc. But when exploring the interests of a group, interests like “being seen to be playing fair” arose, as did “fulfilling fiduciary responsibilities,” and “displaying competence.” This part of the process was called “putting the why before the what.” This was especially important for people just “wanting to have a seat at the table,” to be involved. Many people want to be involved, but if the do not have any interests a solution needs to satisfy, they aren’t a stakeholder and do not need to be involved.

This process seems, from the outside, to be cumbersome and it can be but is actually very efficient over time. Over time, the interests of groups become clear and known. People show up to interactions having clarified their idea and have brought any data they think pertinent (usually sharing it ahead of time) as to what problems are so that phase can be addressed rapidly. The big plus is that the solutions that come out of this process are just better. they are more accepted by the decision-making group, who share their acceptance widely and that gets people on board and buying in more rapidly. And better solutions need less tweaking and last longer, a definite bonus. Plus, it was easier to recognize good solutions, because to get that label, an idea had to solve the problem and meet all of the interests of the parties involved.

One example of such a solution is that my last employer, a $150 million a year enterprise, never negotiated salaries with labor. The reason? Each labor segment of the enterprise received a percentage of the income of the business. If revenue went up, everyone got raises. If revenue went down, salaries could go down, but in reality, people were motivated to find cost savings so that did not happen but the process was in place if it had to. As a labor negotiator, I was shocked that labor gave up negotiating salary because that was our “big hammer.” We would always save salaries until last and negotiate working conditions, et. al., first. If we were denied any progress in the early stages, the wage demands would get larger and firmer. This was Negotiating 101. But here I saw management and labor jointly trying to solve problems without the “big hammer” hanging over their heads, because they honestly wanted to be good partners and be part of the solutions, not part of the problems. Go figure.

Contrast this situation with the way we “solve problems” politically. We start with a solution. This is often a proposal or a bill. Then we “score the bill,” that is try to figure out what the costs associated with the “solution” are. Then we assess the political viability of the bill. Will there be enough votes to pass it? Will the President sign it? Is a veto override possible?

At no point is there any effort made in sharing the problem or clarifying it for a wider audience. Instead, some simple homily is offered. Often the titles of the bills are telling, “The American Patriot Act” and “The Affordable Car Act,” or “No Child Left Behind.” And that is it. A great deal of scurrying around to get “support” from this group or that is done, but next a vote is taken (or not).

This is amazingly obfuscatory. Historically, communication was poor, so we assumed that our legislators had our best interests at heart and that they understood what the problem and the solution were and would do the right thing. Right. We quickly saw that political deal making and pandering and profiteering held more sway than some “having our best interests at heart.” But we still go about this in the same fashion even though mass communication is firmly embedded in our society.

Imagine that for any problem that legislation might be offered to solve, there were a period in which the problem had to be clarified and explained clearly and publicly. Plus the interests of all parties involved would have to be stated. If some private group, like the AMA wanted to chime in, it would have to state its interests. If that list did not include some obvious interests we know they held, then it would be clear to one and all that that group had “hidden agendas.” Those issues could then enter the public debate. (Anyone who thinks that the AMA does not have an agenda to protect the employment rights of certified doctors and prevent any doctor not so certified from working, needs to think again. All professional societies have these interests.) Then after these two phases have occurred a work group would be constituted to write the legislation. (We think better together than apart.) We would not have dueling bills, we would have one. That no one party would get all that they desire is probably the norm. That better solutions would be had than just taking the ideas of one or two people and ramming them through, would also be the norm.

Part of the listing of interests, of course, would be a listing of the “campaign contributions” from all parties affected by the legislation to the legislators.

I guess you can see why I feel defeated. I have participated in both processes. One builds relationships, increases job satisfaction amongst decision makers, and creates better solutions that last longer. The other … doesn’t. It is not as if we do not know how.

There is No Real Anti-Science Movement

There was a March for Science across this country yesterday. It did not draw huge crowds but the participants were enthusiastic. Unfortunately, many of the participants seem to be close to declaring that there is a war on science or some other foolishness. There is not.

To show you this, consider the staunchest climate change denier. If they went to the doctor and were diagnosed with a serious disease and were offered a treatment produced by the finest medical science in the world, do you honestly think they would say “Science? I want none of that. Send for an exorcist.”?

A climate change denying businessman looking to upgrade his IT infrastructure looks at the proposals and decides “We want none of this ‘high tech nonsense,’ we want biblically-inspired computers.” Whadya think?

Photo by Jessica Kourkounis/Getty Images

The opposition to climate change is there because of economic interests that fear that taking it seriously will crimp their ability to make money. All of those politicians who say “the jury is not yet in on climate change” have no idea whether it is or it isn’t, but they are being paid to say it is not. The order President Trump made to have NASA stop studying the climate is not fueled by some “science is a waste of time and money” attitude on the part of the President. His party is being paid to do this.

Similarly, there is no scientific controversy over the Theory of Evolution. It is an established scientific paradigm. The religious have no problem with the theory (actually very few of them seem to even understand the basics); they have a problem with its findings. If the theory of evolution is true, then any creation story that contradicts it is false and, if you are from a religion that paints the Bible as being ultimate truth, you have a problem. The same thing goes for those religiously-minded who claim the earth is only 6000-8000 years old. To believe the scientific findings (the Earth is over 4,000,000,000 years old) is to toss one’s religion’s creation stories in the trash can and the beginning of “if the Bible got that wrong, what else does it get wrong?”

Science is all about living with doubt. Politics and religion are all about being absolutely sure you are right. Hence the conflict.

But do realize, it is the scientific results these people have a problem with, very specific results. On one hand, unborn children’s lives are sacred and on the other the Mother of All Bombs is a really cool outcome of war science. It is not “science” they question, only when science tells a narrative counter to one they cherish that they “oppose the science.” And since they can’t be bothered to learn the science to try to counter it (probably a futile effort anyway), they disparage it emotionally (I ain’t no kin to no monkey!) and politically (it is too expensive to invest a huge amount of money in uncertain science).

Targeted opposition to specific scientific findings is, however, feeding an anti-science attitude among those who do not want to get involved enough to see for themselves. I can’t see how this is helpful.

But, then, these are the same people who promoted an anti-government attitude (The government is tyrannical!) before they decided to run the government for their own benefit. I do not think they even bother thinking about the long term effects of their actions. There is too much money to be made in the short-term.

April 22, 2017

Through a Glass Darkly, Dirty and Distorted, Too

We are treated with a view of education from the privatizing crowd that is bizarre. They see a child sitting in front of a computer, learning their ABC’s and whatnot. They see robotic teachers teaching from scripts and then subjecting their charges to standardized tests. They see, well, profits mostly.

I am not as concerned that these people see this as “a good idea,” but that others, not “on the take” as it were, agree.

What this whole approach misses is that education is a social process. It doesn’t take place in a closet, but in a crowd. We do, though, have societal icons; one is of the lone wolf academic who studies on his/her own and does great things, such as portrayed in the movie “Good Will Hunting.” Because these are themes we enjoy seeing and hearing about (a little like winning the lottery: if it could happen to them, it might happen to me!), we see and hear about them a great deal (the lone scientist, the lone crime investigator, etc. against all odds blah, blah, blah). But they are not the norm.

Currently scientists are seeing that we tend to think better in groups, that no individual has all of the puzzle pieces but in communication with others, clusters of puzzle pieces get formed, and then clusters combine to make larger clusters.

It is not an accident that communication is a cornerstone of the scientific method. No, not the method that you were taught in school, that was a convenient fiction. You have to look between the lines. Just one person doesn’t have access to all of the facts. They also don’t have access to all of the imagination. Who creates the hypotheses, just individuals? And who creates the theories? Creationists seem to think Darwin created the entire theory of evolution. The truth of the matter is Darwin created a structural framework, that literally thousands and thousands of scientists have built, rebuilt and filled in. There are so many fingerprints on the theory of evolution now, that saying “Darwin was wrong” is irrelevant. The portion of the theory of evolution that is Darwin’s is but a small part of the whole now.

Education is not limited to human beings, but it is a social activity. While “students” can go away for a time and in solitude, consult educational technology (the most successful ed-tech so far is something called “books”), they must come back and interact with other human beings to clarify understandings, compare opinions, and justify arguments. Students are learning how to learn and participate and think in groups. They learn to write so other humans, not in their locality in either space and time, will understand them.

The problem with the voucher faddists, the charter school purveyors, and the ed-tech peddlers is that they think education is something that can be analyzed using a spreadsheet, with the most important column being “profit.” If you compare their approach with what is being done in, say, Finland, you will see what is wrong. In Finland, they are working to improve the ability of teachers and students to interact as directly as possible. Their classrooms have almost no “tech” in them. Children get out and play between classes because play is important, it is important to learning how to work with other human beings.

Everybody I know went to school. If they think about it for just a minute, they will recognize what I claim above is true. Which makes it even more shocking that so many of these “reforms” are being supported around the country. Are we that venal? Or are we that distracted (Oh, Facebook!)?

I do not know about you, but I have just deleted my Facebook account. The reason? No social ROI, just distraction, distraction, distraction.

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