Class Warfare Blog

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.

April 11, 2017

If You Want to Understand Why American Education is Fucked Up—Read This

Filed under: Education,Politics — Steve Ruis @ 12:42 pm
Tags: , , , ,

(Hint: Follow the Money)

https://gadflyonthewallblog.wordpress.com/2017/04/08/standardized-testing-creates-captive-markets/

March 31, 2017

Finding Jesus … Holy Shit: Follow-up

CNN blurb for the series: Finding Jesus discovers fascinating new insights into the historical Jesus, utilizing the latest scientific techniques and archaeological research.

I recently posted regarding watching an episode of a CNN series called “Finding Jesus: Faith, Fact, Forgery.” In this episode (S1, E9) the title of which is “The Childhood Home of Jesus” we were led to consider whether said home had actually been found. The sole line of evidence for this “discovery” was a reference in a 7th C. document about Nazareth which referred to two churches, one of which was still in existence, the other was lost. The other was reputedly built upon the ruins of Jesus’ family home!

An archeologist, Ken Dark, had been invited to view the ruins beneath the Sisters of Nazareth Convent which was in a building “said to be built upon the ruins of a church.” The examination of the catacombs under that building did indicate a former church being there but also there were “walls” within the walls indicating that the church might have been built upon the ruins of a house!

So the question got asked for the first time: “Was this the childhood home of Jesus of Nazareth?”

The motivation for the asking of this question is clear right off of the bat as a Jesuit cleric admits that if it were that house, then Jesus was not a fictional character, that “He led a real life.”

Whoa, quite a bit of validation there, I would say.

Let’s stop to consider if such an identification is possible. What they managed to prove so far is that a 7th C. document about Nazareth claimed a church was built upon what were claimed to be the ruins of Jesus’ family home. The authenticity of that document wasn’t claimed to have been corroborated, nor was any other documentation provided. But, what if a chain of documents leading back to the appropriate time were found, that could be authenticated, identified the site as that home, the home of an artisan named Joseph. Since that name was quite common, how could one verify one had the right one? Documents would not have included the names of spouses and children surely. There could have been two people with the same name, ten years apart, or twenty, or thirty that occupied the house. How would you know which was which?

If they found a message carved into the stone of the house’s original foundation that said : “This is the home of Yahushua bar Joseph.” Would that prove anything? The answer is always “no” because of the perfidy of human beings. If someone built a church on the foundation left of a house and that church got into financial trouble, could you not imagine someone carving that message into the stone, weathering it a bit, and then announcing the miracle of miracles, the discovery of Jesus’ childhood home, and reap a large number of new members to support that church.

Could you honestly say that a chain of documents could not be forged? (Such a chain is useless in any case as such documents were not made, let alone kept.)

My point is that the entire question is dishonest.

There is no possibility of identifying any common building from that long ago. Large, ornate public buildings might be identified from written descriptions. Other buildings might be identified from their structures as being a forge or a stable for horses or barracks for soldiers, but the home of a fairly ordinary person? Zero chance.

So, you have to ask yourself what the purpose of such a TV show is. What possible “new insights into the historical Jesus, utilizing the latest scientific techniques and archaeological research” could be had from such a bogus search? Apparently the purpose of the show is to make money off of gullible consumers of such shows. There is no scientific purpose, nor is there an historical, or archaeological, purpose for such a speculation.

It is the equivalent of going to the possible site of Goliath and David’s epic possible individual combat and picking up a stone asking: “Is this the stone that David used to slay the warrior Goliath?” Or could it have been ancient aliens?

March 6, 2017

All Kids Need to Learn is Great Teacher … Right?

Filed under: Education,Morality,Politics,Science — Steve Ruis @ 9:14 am
Tags:

I strongly recommend you read the article this post is based on (here). It was published in The Guardian (U.K.), translated from a Dutch source.

We have been told by conservatives and Neoliberals that the only thing kids need to learn is a great teacher, well that and a charter school, or a voucher system. All of these claims are not only bogus but they mask their true purpose and that is to extract private profits out of public coffers and, secondarily, to disenfranchise teachers unions and teachers, who tend to be and vote liberal.

For many years educational researchers have been arguing that the real cause of the bulk of the performance gap between groups of students is poverty. That if you were to fix poverty, then the education system would work for all (and it is working well, maybe not as well as we would like, but well).

This Guardian article brought up some new information that applies to this “argument.” (I hesitate to use the word argument to an issue in which one side is simply taking stances with little to no evidence to back them up, maybe disagreement is better.)

Here is a sample of that article:

“It all started when I accidently stumbled on a paper by a few American psychologists. They had travelled 8,000 miles, to India, to carry out an experiment with sugar cane farmers. These farmers collect about 60% of their annual income all at once, right after the harvest. This means they are relatively poor one part of the year and rich the other. The researchers asked the farmers to do an IQ test before and after the harvest. What they discovered blew my mind. The farmers scored much worse on the tests before the harvest. The effects of living in poverty, it turns out, correspond to losing 14 points of IQ. That’s comparable to losing a night’s sleep, or the effects of alcoholism.”

The effects of poverty are substantial and show up quickly. These are not some effects that take decades of poverty to occur.

“A few months later I discussed the theory with Eldar Shafir, a professor of behavioural science and public policy at Princeton University and one of the authors of this study. The reason, put simply: it’s the context, stupid. People behave differently when they perceive a thing to be scarce. What that thing is doesn’t much matter; whether it’s time, money or food, it all contributes to a ‘scarcity mentality’. This narrows your focus to your immediate deficiency. The long-term perspective goes out of the window. Poor people aren’t making dumb decisions because they are dumb, but because they’re living in a context in which anyone would make dumb decisions.”

So, the drop in IQ stems from an evolutionary principle: if you want to survive, you must focus your attention on what you need to do so. If you are very, very thirsty, you can only think about finding water, etc. (Maybe this is another reason conservatives are against these findings; because evolution?)

So, what if people didn’t have the option of being poor by providing a universal basic income? Neoliberals respond to this idea with the claim that the poor will still make stupid decisions; they will fritter away any money we give them, so it is a waste of money. But, what if this had been tried? What really happened? Well it has been tried  … on people just like us up in Canada. (And is being repeated in Scandinavian experiments right now.)

“The experiment had started in Dauphin, a town north-west of Winnipeg, in 1974. Everybody was guaranteed a basic income ensuring that no one fell below the poverty line. And for four years, all went well. But then a conservative government was voted into power. The new Canadian cabinet saw little point in the expensive experiment. So when it became clear there was no money left for an analysis of the results, the researchers decided to pack their files away. In 2,000 boxes.

“When Forget (a researcher) found them, 30 years later, no one knew what, if anything, the experiment had demonstrated. For three years she subjected the data to all manner of statistical analysis. And no matter what she tried, the results were the same every time. The experiment – the longest and best of its kind – had been a resounding success.

Forget discovered that the people in Dauphin had not only become richer, but also smarter and healthier. The school performance of children improved substantially. The hospitalisation rate decreased by as much as 8.5%. Domestic violence was also down, as were mental health complaints. And people didn’t quit their jobs – the only ones who worked a little less were new mothers and students, who stayed in school longer.”

Wow! Just because a universal income worked there doesn’t mean it will work everywhere but it seems to address the problems effectively and is “feasible.” The author concluded with this:

“The costs of child poverty in the US are estimated at $500bn (£410bn) each year, in terms of higher healthcare spending, less education and more crime. It’s an incredible waste of potential. It would cost just $175bn, a quarter of the country’s current military budget, to do what Dauphin did long ago: eradicate poverty.”

I might add that the scales are never loaded correctly in these arguments. The Neoliberals are always loading the costs on one side of the balance and then decrying “We can’t afford it!” These are the same people who talk about the costs of environment regulations but never look at the benefits.

The $175 billion needed to implement this policy in the U.S. is chump change compared to the costs of not doing it. Consider that the U.S. government recently ponied up over 2 trillion dollars to bail out large financial institutions because of their patent malfeasance. We do not have to raid the Defense Department (I am not opposed but Neoliberals are), we can just get the money from the same place that 2 trillion dollars came from. Think about it like this: you get a $500 billion return for only $175 billion. That’s a hell of a discount.

The final point the author makes is “Poverty is not a lack of character. Poverty is a lack of cash.” This is a problem for conservatives because their ideology insists that poverty is a character flaw.

And … just stop with the “all kids need to learn is great teacher” bullshit, please!

January 22, 2017

Fueling the Economic Engine of the U.S. … Not

The U.S. emerged as a major economy in the later 1800’s and then grew from there. A certain source of that economic growth came from having a capable workforce. Consider the following points:

During the mid-nineteenth century, America surpassed the impressive enrollment levels achieved in Germany and took the lead in primary (grammar, elementary, or common) school education (Easterlin 1981). But by the turn of the twentieth century, various European countries had narrowed their educational gap with the United States (Lindert 2004). As the high school movement took root in America, however, the wide educational lead of the United States reappeared and was expanded considerably to mid-century.”

“In the first several decades of the twentieth century, the United States pulled far ahead of all other countries in the education of its youth. It underwent what was then and now termed the “high school movement,” a feat most other western nations would achieve some 30 to 50 years later. We address how the “second transformation” of American education occurred and what aspects of the society, economy, and political structure enabled the United States to lead the world in education for much of the twentieth century.”

“From 1910 to 1940, America underwent a spectacular educational transformation. Just 9 percent of 18-year olds had high school diplomas in 1910, but more than 50 percent did by 1940.

Quotes are from “Why the United States Led in Education: Lessons from Secondary School Expansion, 1910 to 1940” by Claudia Goldin (Harvard University and the NBER) and Lawrence F. Katz (Harvard University and the NBER)

Now, in addition, in the 1960’s in what is certainly a third transformation of American education, the U.S. expanded college attendance hugely at both four-year institutions and in a fast growing population of two-year colleges. We now find in a major report issued last week (available here) that many colleges are engines of moving students out of the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder to higher up that ladder.

Gosh, could American schools be like, you know, a major cause of economic prosperity? If so, what should we do?

According to the neo- and ordinary conservatives, we need to cut education funding. Heck, students don’t vote and all those teachers are pigs at the public trough, locked slavishly to their unions, and mostly vote Democratic, too. So what if we diminish a major driver of economic success, rich people will still be rich and as the majority of Americans get poorer, they’ll look even richer.

January 15, 2017

You Have to Ask “Why?”

Have you ever heard of the High School Movement? I certainly had not, so I looked it up in Wikipedia, which provided the following:

The high school movement is a term used in educational history literature to describe the era from 1910 to 1940 during which secondary schools sprouted across the United States. During this early part of the 20th century, American youth entered high schools at a rapid rate, mainly due to the building of new schools, and acquired skills “for life” rather than “for college.” In 1910 19% of 15- to 18-year-olds were enrolled in a high school; barely 9% of all American 18-year-olds graduated. By 1940, 73% of American youths were enrolled in high school and the median American youth had a high school diploma. The movement began in New England but quickly spread to the western states. According to Claudia Goldin, the states that led in the U.S. high school movement (e.g. Iowa and Nebraska) had a cohesive, homogeneous population and were more affluent, with a broad middle-class group.

“The United States exceeded Europe in mass secondary education. The American system of education was characterized as open to many (mostly white) students, forgiving, lacking universal standards, and academic. On the other hand, the European system was closed, unforgiving, with uniform standards, and academic for some and industrial for others. Secondary schools in America were free and generally accessible, while in most of Europe they were costly and often inaccessible with difficult entrance exams. In the United States, schools were provided by small, local districts. Because decentralized decision making system rose competition among districts for residents in the United States, the U.S. moved quickly in building schools initially. In contrast, schools were provided by the central government as a national decision in Europe. Further, high school was designed to be the terminal degree rather than a pre-college diploma of office or skilled blue-collar workers in the United States. By 1955 80% of United States youth had graduated from an academic high school. In this setting general skills and social mobility were emphasized, not specific training or apprenticeships. Even by the 1930s, America was virtually alone in providing secondary schools that were free and accessible; however, this accessibility was limited to white students. While in Europe the rate of those graduating from academic high schools was only 10%-20%. Most Europeans, 40%-50%, attended full-or part-time vocational training.

“From the viewpoint of economics, this movement led to the increase of women’s labor force from 1930 to 1950 in the United States. Knowledge and skills women gained in high school helped them attain better jobs outside the home.

I didn’t know this. I did know that the transition the country was in from a farming-based economy to one less involved in farming made a great many farmers job’s superfluous. In the late 19th century, 40% of all jobs were in farming; now it is closer to 2-3%. As labor required more expertise to be effective, it became smart to keep kids in school longer. It also kept the kids out of the job market for non-farm related jobs.

So, greater prosperity for all and greater opportunities for women. Wow! But, wait, there’s more!

In the early 1960’s a combination of events lead to a similar expansion, this time in U.S. citizens going to college. In the mid-1800’s there was a tremendous growth in the number of four-year colleges, mostly in the western states. But, still, the number of colleges was relatively small. Also, the entrenched eastern colleges had different ideas regarding the purpose of a college education from the newer western colleges. The western colleges were more pragmatic, teaching subjects like engineering and mining and animal husbandry. The eastern colleges were more traditional, emphasizing philosophy, the arts, as well as the law and medicine. We have remnants of those disputes still today: in many eastern colleges the BA degree is considered superior to the “more pragmatic” BS degree. In the west, it is the reverse.

As few people went to high school as there were in the early 1900’s, the demand for students to take slots in U.S. colleges and universities was still being met. But in the early 1960’s there was a huge explosion in the number of community colleges. These were colleges which only addressed subjects that were addressed in the first two years of a tradition four-year program, hence their label as “two-year colleges.” At one point in California in the early 1960’s, a new community college was opening about one per week. Even though many derided these colleges as “high schools with ash trays” and pointed to programs in cosmetology and welding as being inappropriate topics for colleges, this expansion lead to a number of things: for one it lead to a great many students being able to afford a college education (I was one of those) and it allowed a great many more to attend college due to having one in close proximity. The State of California credits the expansion of the college-educated workforce for a great deal of the expansion of its economy, especial in areas like aerospace, electronics, and high tech (Silicon Valley, etc.).

As a community college professor (later), I remember entertaining delegations of Chinese educators coming to this country to see our colleges and universities and especially they wanted to see our two-year colleges. Nowhere else in the world was attendance in college being offered to so many citizens as was being done in the U.S.

So, since the expansion of education to a greater and greater share of the U.S. population has lead to unprecedented prosperity and well-being, you have to ask why are our public schools currently under attack? “Entrepreneurs” have high jacked the voucher school and charter school movements expanding those offerings substantially by siphoning off funds from public schools to do so. Of course, there was a disinformation campaign involved (a major weapon in the plutocrats arsenal). Our public schools were described as failing, not up to international standards, etc. “Evidence” was cherry-picked to support these false claims. And people have offered almost no resistance to these efforts resulting in the dismantling of our system of public schools and colleges. Why is this being done?

Oh, greed. Well, that explains it. There is money to be made in opening these “schools.” So much money that new stories of mismanagement and malfeasance at charter schools are now a daily occurrence. These schools, being offered as a promise to do better than the “failing public schools” are, of course, not doing better, most are about the same but many are far, far worse and many only do as well as they do by excluding “difficult” students: those “of color” and/or disabled.

This is another example of the Killing the Goose that Laid Golden Eggs Syndrome. You know how the parable goes: a goose is discovered that lays golden eggs. After extensive discussions, the owner of the goose is induced to kill the goose and harvest all of the eggs inside of it. (This is a terrifically stupid story in that anyone ever having lived on a farm knows that fowl take a day or more to create one egg; they aren’t egg dispensers having many eggs inside and just dispensing one a day.) Of course, killing the goose reveals no more eggs and now that the goose is dead, there will be no more eggs.

The Great American Economy was built not on capital and entrepreneurship, but on educating American workers so they became the most productive workers in the entire world. We are now in the process of destroying that educational base. I remember when “public education reform” was something done to make education better, not just more profitable for the rich.

Let me requote the above “The American system of education was characterized as open to many (mostly white) students, forgiving, lacking universal standards, and academic. On the other hand, the European system was closed, unforgiving, with uniform standards, and academic for some and industrial for others.” Why are we trying to take the system that worked so well and transforming it into the one we superseded?

Oh, greed, I forgot for a second.

And, you will notice that we denied this opportunity to people of color, to whole we offered only substandard educations. Why are we continuing this practice, a practice that has worked so poorly and not offered them what worked for white people?

Not with a bang, but with a whimper. Is this how you want to go out?

January 3, 2017

Follow-up on Agriculture-Smagriculture

We have been having a lively interchange in the comments to this recent post (see Agriculture-Smagriculture below) and it occurs to me that many readers may not be aware of how much industry has inserted itself into the public research that affects our health.

The N.Y. Times ran an article that lays out many of the themes involved in this complex story in an article titled “Scientists Loved and Loathed by an Agrochemical Giant” by Danny Hakim. If you read that article, imagine multiplying that situation by a very large number and you will get an idea as to the breadth and scope of this issue.

One of the reasons behind the Republican effort to “shrink government” is that when the government supports scientific research it is in the public interest and has to let the chips fall where they may lack of bias (well, at least a minimum amount; it is not immune to corruption). When corporations sponsor public research it is often on a “if it is good for us, it gets published and if it isn’t, it doesn’t” basis.

Academics are often in a “must publish” situation, also called “publish or perish.” Even tenured professors can undergo a tenure review if they do not show a strong publication record. While that is rare, you are not going to get to full professor without a list of publications longer than your arm. So, corporations include “non-disclosure” clauses in their contracts for research to give them the right to publish or not. Their argument is that it is proprietary research and there is money to be made which they don’t want to just give to their competitors.

There is a movement afoot to have all publicly sponsored research made available to the public. (Hey, we paid for it.) Much of it is behind pay walls at US$35 per article, which I can attest is as good as being hidden. Combine that practice with corporate-funded research that counters a sponsoring corp’s interests getting buried, never to see the light of day, and you can see the public is pretty much kept in the dark.

Do realize also, that this is a selective use of scientists’ and their universities’ public images. Any research a giant corp wants done could be done “in house,” but by having a prominent scientist, working at a prominent university, doing the research, well, that gives the findings an imprimatur they can’t get from their own “findings.” Of course, if the research is damning, those imprimaturs work against them, hence the “contract provisions” giving them the power to publish … or not.

A crippled federal government, a la the one envisioned by the GOP, will not have the funds to sponsor the research we need done by neutral investigators who publish their works in somewhat accessible journals. It is not by accident that “Big Business” favors the party striving toward “smaller government.”

December 17, 2016

The Economy Illusion

Filed under: Economics,Education,Politics — Steve Ruis @ 11:06 am
Tags: , , ,

I am a regular reader of the Naked Capitalism blog and I read very provocative things there. Recently there was an interview with Cahal Moran who is a co-author, with Joe Earle and Zach Ward-Perkins, of the book “The Econocracy: The Perils of Leaving Economics to the Experts.” The quotation below addressed the education of economists.

Economics is definitely a law unto itself. In natural sciences, the culture is very much focused on the empirics: theory has empirical motivations, and you always come back to falsifiable predictions before too long. In other social sciences, the culture is instead focused on debate and the contested nature of knowledge. You learn not to take any of your beliefs for granted. But entering an economics degree feels a bit like being transported to another universe. Students are introduced to a fixed body of knowledge that is presented as if – in the words of one student – it “fell from heaven in an ever-true form”. The focus is very much on learning this body of knowledge by rote, building up the neoclassical world from abstract axioms and solving mathematical problems with at best vague and stylised references to the real world they are supposed to represent. The commonly used phrase ‘thinking like an economist’ really captures the effort to indoctrinate students into this framework.

We did a curriculum review of the final exams and course outlines of 174 modules at 7 Russell Group universities (considered the ‘elite’ of the UK) to look systematically into how economics students are educated. Our main aim was to look for evidence of critical thinking, pluralism and real world application, all of which we would consider vital to educating the experts of the future. The results were deeply worrying: 76% of final exam questions showed no evidence of critical thinking – that is, formulating an independent, reasoned argument. When only compulsory modules (namely micro and macroeconomics) were included, this figure increased to a staggering 92%. Instead, the majority of marks are given for what we call ‘operate a model’ questions: working through a model mathematically without asking questions about its applicability. Of those questions which ask students to operate a model, only 3% even attempted a link to the real world. The remainder of the marks were given for simple description questions (‘what is the Friedman k% rule?’) or multiple choice questions, again neither of which require any critical thinking. All of this is very worrying when you consider the place economic expertise has in society.”

This interview lead me to the following train of thought: stock brokers and others of their ilk refer to the stock market as “The Market” as if it were a real thing, a singular organism that one could study and therefore learn its patterns and behaviors. The stock market is clearly no such thing; it is an organized activity in which some patterns exist for reasons both known and unknown, but it is not a thing in itself. Studies have shown that when it comes to investors in stocks, the more one knows, the less well one does, which hardly supports the idea being pitched to those contracting services to purchase and trade stocks. Those stock market workers have a vested interest in selling their expertise, even if it is hypothetical at best, so they naturally project onto “The Market” the kinds of behavior they wish it possessed and their language betrays that.

“When I was young, people talked about ‘Progress’ and ‘Better Living.’ Such terms are no longer used because ‘The Economy’ has displaced them.”

I believe the same phenomenon exists for “The Economy.” We treat it as if it were a real thing. An article right along side the interview containing the above quote was titled “Investment in Early Childhood Education Yields Substantial Gains for the Economy.” “The Economy” is a construct designed by the plutocrats and oligarchs to displace other terms that might “mislead” the proletariat into thinking that it had something to do with them. When I was young, people talked about “Progress” and “Better Living.” Such terms are no longer used because “The Economy” has displaced them. And apparently what is good for General Motors “The Economy” is good for the U.S./us. In actuality, what is good for “The Economy” is good for the plutocrats. It is no surprise that the financial institution that recovered the fastest after the Great Recession was “The Market” as often “The Market” is used as a prime indicator of the state of “The Economy.” So, the plutocrats could say “See, things are getting better.” In this most recent case, though, the Federal Government, a wholly owned subsidiary of Goldman-Sachs, gave billions and billions of dollars to “failing banks” at 0% interest in the “hope” (there were no actual strings attached, of course) that those banks would loan money to folks and businesses who could use it. The banks, though, looked at billions and billions of dollars at 0% interest and logically concluded that they could make much more by investing in stocks than investing in loans that were going to have quite low interest rates. (Besides, the starved Middle Class didn’t have disposable income to generate any demand, so businesses weren’t expanding and “consumers” weren’t buying like it was 1995.) So, the prices of stocks, mostly owned by plutocrats, were bid up quite nicely as the banks “bought in” and so while the people were mired in a paycheck-to-paycheck existence, “The Market” rose to record highs very rapidly.

You know they really should trademark their definitions of “The Market™” and “The Economy™” so we would know we were talking and reading about their financial scams and nothing actually real.

 

 

December 6, 2016

The Demolishing of Public Schools for Fun and Profit

Well, not for fun, and I have been wrong about it being only for profit. I have argued that since the plutocrats/oligarchs who really run this country have captured almost all of the major wealth producing activities in the U.S., that they have been more and more attracted to the billions of dollars of public funds spent annually on public education, that the “privatization” efforts going on (Charter Schools! Vouchers! Yay!) were fueled by greed for a share of that pile of money. I still believe that is true but that there is another source of fuel for the fire in the bellies of the current crop of education “reformers.” And, no it is not fun, but religion. And, as usual, it was right there, hiding in plain sight, ignored by the “usual news media suspects.”

“Well, not for fun, and I have been wrong
about it being only for profit.”

There is a long history in this country of fundamentalist religiosity, typically Protestant in nature. Currently, in parts of the country you can see extreme pushback at public schools for teaching mainstream science in the form of the theory of evolution and the phenomenon of climate change. This is understandable. If the theory of evolution is right, then the fundamentalist, “young earth” Christian worldview (and hence the promoting religion promoting that view) is wrong. If they lose the fight over evolution, they will lose the grip their religion has over a large segment of the U.S. population.

In surveys of Americans on the topic of evolution, a significant fraction of U.S. citizens do not believe in it, believing in magic instead, and that disbelief is securely linked to certain religious affiliations. You do not observe anything like it anywhere else in the developed world. The folly of “belief” in evolution is actually preached in their churches, not surprisingly as those pastors preaching it will be out of jobs if evolution is accepted.

The religious right in this country wants control over their school systems to be able to teach what they know is true, and it ain’t evolution. This is the other major force in the current education “reform” efforts. Consider the following:

The religious right has long had the goal of eliminating public education. Candidates don’t need to be closet Reconstructionists to be influenced by the work of Reconstructionists, but it’s worth noting that when R.J. Rushdoony wrote the Messianic Character of American Education in 1963 he argued that education is not a proper function of government. ‘Government schools’ were the vehicle for promoting the anti-Christian religion of humanism and should ultimately be abolished. Few outside his small circle took him seriously.” (“The Republican ‘No Schools Left’ Program” by Julie Ingersoll, August 8, 2012)

Few took Rushdoony seriously in 1963 because we had communists to fight, but now that we done whipped the commies, we have turned to fight the real enemy, the atheists that supported commies all of those years, which when they weren’t eatin’ babies, they was promoting God-less, atheist science in the form of evolution. (“We ain’t no kin to no monkeys!”)

While I poke fun at these folks as being untutored, etc. it really is not that anymore. Their attitudes are not due to a lack of schooling but from the general tendency of us to surround ourselves with other people who think and act as we do. The religious right live in communities dominated by the presence of other religious right people. In their churches they reinforce each other’s beliefs. In their schools, they teach the right way (pun intended), schools in which biology teachers are cowed into teaching something other than the theory of evolution, telling themselves they “ran out of time” to cover it. It is immensely fascinating to me that the religious right has gone all in for the GOP which, while they pay lip service to the religious rights “needs” and “family values,” in general worships only the God of Mammon. But, if a horse is going in your direction, you don’t check its worthiness, you just saddle up.

So, charter schools, vouchers, they are all good as far as the religious right is concerned. They can then set up schools that teach the Real Truth™ and use their own tax monies to pay for it. No need to invoke the Constitution or nuthin’ like that.

November 11, 2016

Like a Good Story? (You Shouldn’t)

We are all primed by evolution to enjoy a good story and stories are one of the primary ways we learn. Unfortunately, such stories need not have anything to do with the truth.

For example consider the Christian narrative about the history of Christianity. They refer all of the Bible stories and then basically indicate that the power of the ideas in scripture were so potent, that Christianity grew strongly, even through a period of persecution. Uh, hunh.

It makes a great story but there are a few holes in it. For one Jesus was clearly killed by the Romans occupying Palestine for criminal behavior. The “persecutors” of Christianity then turn out to be … Romans, of course. And then we end up with … wait for it … the Roman Catholic Church by the end of the fourth century. WTF?

The actual history of Christianity is that it didn’t spread like wildfire, in fact it barely survived the first couple of centuries and only did due to immense efforts to create new scriptures to support the movement. Early Christianity also was comprised of many, many sects, none of which agreed over much of anything.

The breakthrough came when a Roman Emperor saw that Christianity was a tool that could support the failing Roman empire, by supplying a narrative of hope for the future that none of the pagan sects did. Christians then began fighting tooth and nail to get as much as they could in the way of perquisites from the Roman administration and at the same time were warring with other sects to see who would have the Emperor’s ear (and bend it they did).

This process went on for decades and through several emperors until the Christian bickering just got to be too much (if you consider false testimony, beatings, murders, and lies bickering) and a bull was issued “Nullis  Haeriticis” (No Heretics). This sounds like something a pope would issue but this was issued in 380 CE by the Roman Emperor. This followed close on the heels of the Emperor defining true Christians as those who believed in the holy trinity, the fact that as many as half of all Christians were Arians not very long prior to this point notwithstanding. Arians believed Jesus to be the son of god and not god himself, just like it said in scripture. So, they had to go. The Roman emperor outlawed all heretics and defined Christian orthodoxy. (I guess the Catholic Church sold naming rights to the empire.)

So what did all of the “good Christians” of the time do … bleated like sheep I guess, because they let their former arch enemy define who they were and what they would believe. I turns out that the biggest persecutors of Christians were other Christians.

Now consider the election ordeal we all just suffered through. Yes, there are false narratives galore, but not the ones you think. The underlying narrative that no one is paying any attention to is the meme that states that the U.S. is a classless society, that we acknowledge no classes. This narrative has never been true and is not true now.

Americans tend to snigger when we are told that Australia was colonized by criminals. We don’t then turn to look at who was “sent” to the American colonies. We are “told” in school, that those people were fleeing religious persecution and came here to be free. Bullshit. The vast majority of the shiploads of English to America were considered, well, today, we refer to them as “white trash.” We were sent England’s “surplus population,” the indigent, the lazy, the criminal, “rubbish” they were called, human refuse. For them they were told the streets were paved with gold kind of things, while the elites were receiving reports of swamps and disease and hardships, the kind of place you want to send your refuse to.

We are told that the first settlers were fleeing religious persecution but they actually came as apart of a corporate effort (yes, there were corporations and all on the Mayflower were signed on to one) designed to exploit the natural bounty of the New World. (Yes, send gold back, please.) That a very large percentage of these “colonists” died from exposure, hunger, disease, etc. was sloughed off back home in England because their lives weren’t all that valuable. For Pete’s sake, look at the skill sets possessed by those on the Mayflower manifest; few had any practical value in surviving in a wilderness. America’s underclasses have been with us ever since.

So, in this day, we have the “deplorable” supporters of Donald Trump. (Jeez, Hillary, where did you learn politics? You just had to come up with your own 47% tag.) Guess who they are? They are the U.S. under classes … and a great many more. Several decades back the Democrats decided they didn’t need “working people” as the core of their constituency and so dumped them. The consequences? After unions helped get President Obama elected, for example, he couldn’t be bothered to help the unions with an effort to restore the old perfectly legal recruitment card system that conservatives in Congress had eliminated to undermine the unions. The GOP hasn’t done anything substantive for any of “those people” for decades and, instead, chose to fling social wedge issues their way as sops (without actually making any “progress on them, mind you) while supporting effort after effort to give huge benefits to the rich.

The Tea Party was unable to jar the GOP out of its rut and the Democrats were clueless at to what was wrong in their camp, and so the result is: a presidential candidate who is neither a Republican nor a Democrat gets elected. The sad thing is Mr. Trump was mistaken for a populist when there was a true populist available, one who had almost no baggage and a flaming passion to help America’s under classes, Bernie Sanders.

If a flaming Molotov Cocktail thrown through your front window doesn’t get your attention, what is going to happen next time if the needs of America’s under classes continue to be not met? (I will take bets at any odds that those needs will be ignored in the mad rush to get more and more benes for rich individuals and corporations over the next four years. Any takers?)

 

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