Class Warfare Blog

January 15, 2021

Scientific Method Nonsense (Promulgated by Teachers)

Filed under: Education — Steve Ruis @ 1:02 pm

I encountered the following question on Quora today: “What is the correct order of steps in the scientific method?”

I Googled the scientific method and got this in the “People Also Ask” box:
What are the 5 parts of the scientific method?
What are the 4 parts of the scientific method?
What are the 6 stages of the scientific method?
What are the 8 steps of the scientific method?
Each of these contain nonsense such as  “The scientist selects what it is that he wishes to observe.” I never knew! All of those years I spent as a scientist and a teacher of science and no one told me this!

There are no such steps and there is no correct order. (Repeat after me: There are. . . .) Rather the process is quite organic.

The “steps” often described were made up by teachers to have something to teach and test. (Ah, my people, my people! I weep for my people. Note In another life I was a professor of chemistry.)

The simplest form of the so-called scientific method is: conjecture and criticism. One makes a conjecture about how nature works and then one criticizes it. Often enough the criticism results in the conjecture being modified which results in the criticism (aka experiments designed to test the conjecture) being modified and on and on.

I have seen many such lists, most of which are quite comical. One started with #1 Collect Facts, followed by #2 Make Hypothesis, etc. My cartoon mind shows a Larsen-esque cartoon with a scientist (in a white lab coat, of course) standing with his hand on a door knob, the door labeled “Lab,” with the thought balloon “Today I am going to collect some facts!” One just doesn’t collect facts randomly, one becomes curious about some particular aspect of nature and learns as much as one can about that phenomenon. I guess that could be construed as “collecting facts” but that verbiage seems strange.

In order to make a good conjecture, one needs to know a great deal about the phenomenon under scrutiny. Then one asks why this, why that? And then moves onto “maybe such and such is happening.” This is the conjecture. Then one goes on to “if that is happening, how could I test that?” This is the criticism. Obviously one needs to have a conjecture before one can criticize it, but as mentioned before, often one affects the other and vice-versa, so their “order” is somewhat vague at best.

The parts of the process that are more important are: being committed to honesty, following the data wherever they lead, sharing one’s data and processes widely through publication, correcting errors, admitting when one was incorrect, and so on. These are more important than any such list of steps made up by some teacher. Apparently these lists are important because school children ask an unending stream of questions about them . . . what a waste of time and effort.

December 11, 2020

It Is As If We Can’t See What Is Right In Front of Our Eyes

The plutocrats running the US have decided that it would be a good thing if much of the school systems in this country were privatized. They claim, without evidence (as they are religious people), that this would make our schools better. The question, of course, is “Will it?”

We don’t have to guess or pray or wonder as the experiment has been done. The primary example is Sweden (or should be). Sweden had a school system that we wished ours was. Here is what happened when Sweden decided to copy the US’s fledgling efforts.

Per Kornhall: The Great Swedish Child Experiment: A Failure

It is clear that the plutocrats who have gotten both the Republicans and Democrats to chase this folly have no idea what the outcome of our experiment will be. They only want a piece of the action which is all of the money spent by our governments in public schools, a rather tidy sum. It is clear that the plutocrats have dominated all of the other areas of our economy in which big bucks are available: the stock markets, resource extractions (oil, coal, natural gas, etc.) and had run out of sources of big pools of money when they spied public education, which had already acquired a big pool of money . . . yum, yum.

So far, our experiment with privately run “charter schools” is that on average they perform no better than our public schools, but which are also rife with racism and . . . corruption. It seems that there is a charter school scandal announced in the news on a daily basis. If these were public schools, such behavior would be a national scandal.

Gosh, why would something so potentially good go so wrong? (Sarcasm alert! Sarcasm alert!) With no qualifications needed to start a school, and no government oversight, and no regulations (those pesky regulations!), those schools should be thriving, right? They are thriving, as pools of corruption. Millions upon millions of dollars have been lost to sketchy real estate deals, flat out theft by charter operators, and graft. But that’s a small price to pay for non-existent performance increases, right? Right?

The plutocrats do not give a rat’s ass about equality, quality schooling, or any of the things Sweden lost in its experiment. What they do care about is their ideology . . . as long as it makes money for them. It is very clear that they do not care about us, or our children, or anything but getting richer. Us becoming disempowered in the process is not a bug, it is a feature. “Us,” in the form of governments, are the authors of regulations confining what the rich can do with their money, so they have no interest in empowering us, quite the contrary.

Please note, if you do not read the post I linked to, when Sweden had its former system, Finland copied it. But when Sweden went “a privatizing,” Finland didn’t follow. The results on international testing are obvious. Finland is at or near the top . . . and Sweden had the greatest drop in scores of any country being tested. So, should we be on the same path that Sweden is on? Only an idiot would say yes . . . and many of those idiots are in our government houses right now. Did I tell you that it is perfectly legal for charter schools to “lobby” (aka bribe) our state and federal governments (and it is not legal for public schools to do likewise)?

November 11, 2020

Getting It Straight

Filed under: Culture,Education,History — Steve Ruis @ 11:08 am
Tags: , , ,

I am currently making my way through a book “Origins: How the Earth Shaped Human History” which I am finding quite enjoyable. I reached the point in human history at which agriculture had been developed in multiple sites around the world. Here is a snippet of that discussion:

“The development of agriculture offered huge advantages to the societies that adopted it, despite the continuous labor involved in working the land and nourishing the crops. Settled peoples are capable of much faster population growth than hunter-gatherers. Children do not have to be carried long distances and babies can be weaned off of breast milk (and fed with milled grain) much earlier, which means women can give birth more often. And in agricultural societies, more children are an advantage for they can care for more crops and livestock, mind their younger siblings and process food at home. Farmers beget farmers very effectively.

Even with primitive techniques, an area of fertile land can produce ten times more food for humans when under cultivation that when used for foraging and hunting. But agriculture is also a trap. Once a society has adopted cultivation and its numbers have grown, it is impossible to revert to a simpler lifestyle; the larger population becomes entirely dependent upon farming to produce enough food for everyone. There’s no turning back. And there are other consequences, too. High-density, settled populations supported by farming soon develop highly stratified social structures, resulting in reduced equality and a greater disparity of wealth and freedom compared to hunter-gatherers.”

This is the standard patter on this topic and it is all true . . . but, oh, my there are so many carts that have been placed before the horses, so many it is hard to know where to start a critique.

I will start with “Settled peoples are capable of much faster population growth than hunter-gatherers. Children do not have to be carried long distances and babies can be weaned off of breast milk (and fed with milled grain) much earlier, which means women can give birth more often.” Does anyone actually think that early hunter-gatherer human beings thought about population growth beyond their own family? Even within their own family, women continued to nurse their children for quite a while because it did give protection against pregnancy. We know this because one of the actions when one tribe of humans “conquered” another tribe, was that they often killed the children, so that their mothers could become pregnant with their babies sooner.

Plus this “birth control” happened naturally, and “milled cereal grains” was not an effective substitute for mother’s milk. First of all “milled” grain didn’t exist then, only coarse, stone ground cereal did, which was harder to digest, required longer cooking, and was nowhere near as nutritious as breast milk; all of which was easily observed.

So, who benefited from having a larger population? The argument is there would be more hands to do work, but also there would be more mouths to feed. And a larger population guaranteed that all the prey animals in the area would be hunted into oblivion, as would the shellfish, fish, and other contributors to a healthy diet. (Think about what happened to the Lewis and Clark Expedition in Oregon. Hint: they ended up dragging a dead elk for three days back to their encampment to have something at all to eat.)

I do not think there was much of a society to make such decisions. Which brings me to: “The development of agriculture offered huge advantages to the societies that adopted it.” Societies didn’t adopt agriculture; people did. Before there were the first cities, there were many, many, many small villages which supported small populations of humans who mixed in a little agriculture (you had to hang around to tend/protect your crops) with hunting and gathering. Usually these were near a stream or river, which supplied fresh water as well as fish, shellfish, etc. Agriculture happened through the accumulation a small, family level efforts. It was never “adopted by societies.”

Which brings me to “High-density, settled populations supported by farming soon develop highly stratified social structures, resulting in reduced equality and a greater disparity of wealth and freedom compared to hunter-gatherers.” Excuse me but high density populations could not form until extensive agriculture was under way. This means irrigation controls, crop land controls with protections from foraging animals, and all of this over many, many hectares of land. This only happened because of “highly stratified social structures” existing first. Kings, viziers, priests, et. al. were the designers and organizers of “high density populations.” The archaeological evidence for this is overwhelming. Agriculture didn’t cause the stratification, large-scale agriculture was caused by the stratification.

Who benefits when “Farmers beget farmers very effectively.” It is not the farmers so much as it is the elites who are confiscating the “excess grain” to support them and their lifestyles. Grain is at the heart of most of these high-density populations because it can be dried and stored and so protect the community from the vagaries of weather and climate, infestations, and diseases. Since it can be dried and stored, it can also be taxed, that is confiscated. All of this requires a stratified society. The elites started in charge and they have stayed in charge, by hook or crook.

What was left out of the “standard patter” above is slavery. The elites took advantage of their confiscation of the “excess labor” (nice euphemism, that) of the masses to expand the number of elites (people who did not grow food or hunt for a living) in the form of “soldiers’ who raided nearby villages for slaves. Slaves did not need to be paid, just fed and only minimally at that and well, slaves beget slaves very effectively. The development of large scale agriculture also lead to the development of a large scale slavery.

Only the elites benefited from the growth of this “society.” The elites got lives of physical ease and even wealth and all the farmers and slaves got was . . . trapped. (It is a well-known fact that when agriculture became widespread, human beings became shorter, lighter, and more disease ridden. It is presumed this was due to the switch from a rich, varied diet to a vastly more narrow one.)

It is much easier on our egos to say “look at what agriculture did to us” as opposed to admitting that the greed of elites drove the whole process.

* * *

I do not blame the author for this lack of precision, there is only so much one person can know. I am, as I said, enjoying this book, and will report on the whole thing later.

November 6, 2020

Ever Want to Write a Fantasy or Science Fiction Novel?

Filed under: Art,Education — Steve Ruis @ 12:43 pm
Tags: , , ,

I have been engaging in the Q&A site Quora for quite some time and lo and behold, two Grand Dames of fantasy and science fiction, Mercedes Lackey and C.S. Friedman are dispensing fabulous advice to writers on Quora. Check them out of this interests you. I consider some of their advice to be priceless, and they are founts of wisdom on other issues as well. Ms. Lackey is an expert on birds, for example.

October 14, 2020

Some Misunderstandings About Education

Filed under: Education — Steve Ruis @ 12:46 pm

First, the current understanding of what an education is, here in the U.S., is derived from a factory model. The raw materials/feedstock, our children, are fed into one end of the system and the output is, supposedly, educated citizens coming out the other. In this viewpoint, education is something done to children. And, if we want improvements in our school systems, we look at the buildings, the teachers, the curriculum, that is we look at the factory, because it determines the output.

Instead, I suggest that education should be something we do with children. It is clear that there are children who embrace the process and get a maximal benefit from it. This is often done at first to please parents but usually turns into a self-centered love of the process, including efforts to tailor the process to the needs of the student. At the other end of the spectrum are students who feel that education is a process aimed against them, by people pretending to be their friends. They often reject their teachings and teachers and, if this is prolonged, can result in such students being relegated to an educational wasteland we call “alternative schools.” Often these are people who end up dropping out of the system, whether in attendance or not.

Clearly, the children have enough power to shape this system and should be a significant focus and source of wisdom when considering how to improve the system. But we eschew this approach because, well, they are students, what do they know?

Education is a social system and ignoring most of the participants as non-stakeholders is foolish. Expecting a similar outcome from a process when engaging such a variety of starting points is also foolish.

* * *

Second, education is a social process in which people are taught how to think (not what to think) and how to act and how to work with others. You cannot teach people how to work with one another by replacing the other students and/or teacher with a computer. To only teach kids via computer is to doom them with a vastly inferior education. Those students on Star Trek learning lessons via their tablets have an artificial intelligence at the other end, not a piece of educational software. And that process is only to supplement their face-to-face educations. (Imagine learning to interact with aliens with no aliens to interact with.)

So, the “factory model” thinkers who are looking for more cost effective ways to teach kids are doomed to failure before they even start.

I will tell you what a really expensive education is: one that fails to educate students. It is much cheaper to spend more money on getting kids into high quality educational settings than anything else. Students who find self worth in such a system are less likely to be law-breakers, drug addicts, etc. and much more likely to be productive citizens in a society such as ours. The old line about car mechanics telling you “you can pay me now or pay me (more) later” really applies here.

* * *

Third, private education is not inherently better or even inherently different from public education. There is the perception in this country that “private” is better than “public.” There is nothing to support this attitude. When widely available test scores are compared and corrected for the socioeconomic standing of the students, students in public schools do as well as students in private schools. What the private schools do, though, is to exclude the poor from their pool of students and so raise, on average, their student performances. Their curricula are not superior. Their teachers are not superior. Their facilities are not superior, they just exclude poor students by the simple expedient of charging a lot of money. A private grammar school next door to our first condo when we moved to Chicago, charges $24,000 per year to attend. Poor students had access to this school . . . they just could afford to go. Just like their parent’s have access to health care, they just can’t afford to take advantage of it.

* * *

Fourth, poverty is the enemy of educational improvement. Eliminating poverty is not a job schools can tackle but there are things that can be done to offset it. For one, all public schools should offer free breakfasts and lunches to all students. The cost of this is far less than a recent major fighter jet system that was ordered but will never be used. If we do this, then no kid can use hunger as an excuse as to why they can’t pay attention, because they won’t be hungry.

Similarly there should be common health screenings and treatments for all school kids. This would be far cheaper than the diseases spread by children when they get infected through lack of care and exposure to disease. The current pandemic is teaching us this . . . again.

Schools should work to eliminate the stigma of being poor, something promoted only by the wealthy class.

October 8, 2020

The Limits of School Choice

Filed under: Education,Politics — Steve Ruis @ 12:28 pm
Tags: , ,

I have written before about the “school choice movement,” a thinly disguised privatizing campaign seeking to suck up some of those public dollars being spent on public education. Basically, once “financiers” had ravaged all of the private economic segments, they decided that the vast untapped market of “education” was the last frontier for their rapaciousness.

Lets look at the idea from a cost benefit basis.

Suppose you live in a smallish town which supports a number of grade schools, maybe a middle school or two and a single high school. Your community does it best to create good schools with the highest community standards they can muster but, of course, there are limitations. This high school cannot offer every possible course that might serve a small cluster of students, so they focus on offering courses that will serve the majority.

So, is having a second school even an option for such a community? The answer is clearly no. Dividing the communities funds into two pools to offer the same curriculum doesn’t make any sense at all. This would involve and increase in infrastructure costs with no increase in capacity. So, could not each of the two schools focus their efforts, such as one being an arts magnet school and the other a science magnet school (just for example)? Again, this is problematic. What if the two clusters are of unequal size with the arts school having twice the number of students as the science school? And why spread them out? Why not have schools within the original school, so that classes in both areas could be available to all students? Why deprive the science students of the art classes being taught at the other school? (Scientists are often drawn to music; one of my chemistry professors was a performing cellist.)

Okay we now move up a notch. Our community is now large enough to support two high schools. Should competition between these two play a role in the running of these two schools? For example, let’s say that one school is clearly superior to the other, and you decide to let the parent’s choose which school to place their kids in. (I have seen this happen in public schools through the simple expedient of parent’s lying about where they lived, using an aunt’s address for example to get their kid into a desirable school.) In this case, knowledgeable parents will sign their kids up to the “good” school and desert the “bad” school. The “good” school will suffer from overloading issues (large class sizes, teacher burnout from trying to interact with too many students, wear and tear on facilities, etc.) and the “bad” school will suffer from small class sizes (limiting student interactions), inability to field sports teams, inability to offer classes in advanced topics due to low enrollment, etc.

Plus, you have to ask how it is that parents determine which school is good and which is bad. If we take how well they are informed when it comes to voting as an example, their education “decisions” won’t be as informed as we all might wish them to be.

Currently, schools are set up, mostly, to serve geographic communities. This does have some advantages for racists, of course, with the whole school busing movement testifies to, But there are legitimate reasons for this also. Would you want your child taking a one-hour bus ride, each way, every day for school? Would you want to drive them to school and back this way (four hours per day driving for you)? Such schools also can be more community oriented. Schools in farming regions can teach agriculture courses, for example. (I lived in a rural community in which the high school had a gunsmithing course.) Schools near technology centers can teach more tech classes, etc. That is these schools can teach topics that lead to employment in their community, which helps keep communities together, instead of kids drifting away from the community to find work. Community colleges exemplify these goals.

So, now let’s look at large school districts, having multiple high schools. Is competition between any of them at all good (outside of between student athletic or academic teams)?

To engage in competition that is considered healthy and which leads to superior “products” you have to ask whether or not the “competitors” are equipped to compete. In the major metropolitan area I now live in (Chicago), the athletic teams are segregated by school population. The really large schools don’t compete against tiny schools. The large schools have all of the advantages and would just crush the smaller school teams. The same issues apply to school academic issues. Large schools have thousands of candidates for any sport or academic team (e.g. debate, Math Olympiad, etc.). The really small schools may have only dozens. This is why they make sport movies, e.g. Hoosiers, about a small school team beating a large school team for a championship. Just through sheer numbers, the larger schools have great advantages.

So, let’s say that schools do compete. Do they have control over the tools of competition? Control over things like budget, coaching, teacher quality, etc? Largely they do not. In wealthier areas, there are alumni support groups who donate funds to support athletic teams. In poor areas, the parents cannot afford such things. In rich areas, the tax base is greater and financial support is better. In rich areas, teachers have better living conditions. School districts, no matter how much they recruit, do not determine who applies for teaching jobs at their schools, the teachers make those decisions.

Once teachers are hired, is there an infrastructure in place to determine which are really good, which are adequate and which are so poor as to deserve being fired? The answer is kinda sorta, unfortunately. Unlike in business, there are no production or sales parameters that can be used to determine which people are pulling their own weight. (My own experience is that the vast majority of teachers are “competent.” Very few are brilliant or exemplary and also very few are so bad as to need their contracts terminated.

Now, are their any examples of what competition does for the schools? It turns out there is. A recent survey determined the highest paid “state employee” of each state of the US. Who do you think it turned out to be highest paid state employee most frequently? The governors? The presidents of university systems? The heads of public healthcare networks or public utilities? In most states, the highest paid state employee . . . drum roll, please . . . was one of the state’s university’s football coaches. This is what competition gets you . . . vastly overpaid employees . . . which always have vastly underpaid employees elsewhere as a compensation. In a university system where Nobel-prize winning academics can only hope for a salary as high as $200,000 annually, football coaches make five, six, seven million dollars for the same term.

So, we must be very careful in determining who reaps the benefits of competition as it isn’t always the people being served.

I cannot fathom a scenario in which school competition benefits the students most. We have seen charter school after charter school close business, some do this before they have officially opened. In business this is acceptable, but in educating the youths of our community, this is unacceptable. Those students are required, by law, to be educated. The money spent to educate those students at the closing charter schools is gone. But those students will be lined up for admission at the public schools the very next day and they cannot be turned away . . . no “Sorry, you have already spent your allocation of public education money, you will have to wait until next year to continue your education.” Imagine having been sold a lemon of a car and then dumping that and lining up at a government office for free public transportation. Is that happening anywhere? Does anyone actually want that kind of “education insurance”?

The charter school movement is sucking the funds out of our public schools systems. They are enabled in this effort by supportive politicians which make up supportive laws just for them . . . and these politicians receive “campaign donations,” aka bribes, from the charter operators to do this, often using public funds they were given for other purposes. (Any public school system doing that would result in people in jail.) The charter operators claim to offer “school choice” . . . but do they? Testing shows that charter schools are little different from public schools in educational outcomes. They differ solely in their ability to go out of business, which they do at alarming rates. So, what kind of choice is this? It is a bogus choice. It is like a restaurant making extravagant claims about the quality of their food, so you go and find out that their food is awful. The restaurant doesn’t care because they already have your money and they aren’t dependent upon repeat business. This is the Achilles heel of the “competition” argument. Modern marketing allows people to be hoodwinked into buying what they are selling. When they don’t deliver, you have no recourse. And, they are not dependent upon you being a repeat customer.

There is a word for this kind of business, several actually: scam, con, Ponzi scheme, etc.

Now, I do not deny that there are some reputable charter schools, who serve students adequately. But are these really a “choice” that makes anything better? Imagine a community that has a dozen different car dealerships. Then someone opens up a second, say, Chevrolet dealership which offers the same models at the same prices as the one already there. Do you really have any additional choice or are you and the other car buyers just spreading your car buying money around into more hands?

August 19, 2020

Preparing Students for the Jobs of Tomorrow and Other Bogus Marketing Claims

Filed under: Education — Steve Ruis @ 9:27 am
Tags: , ,

On Quora I got the following question directed my way and I thought to share it and my answer with you to see if you agree. Here’s the question:

Some people say: “Schools are not teaching students the skills they need for their future.” Do you agree?

Schools have never taught what students needed for the future. They have always been designed to teach what was needed for the recent past.

The reason for this is not some conspiracy of teachers’ unions or other nonsense. The reason for this is we are absolutely and pathetically awful at anticipating the skills needed for “the future.”

Think about the impact that personal computers have made upon our lives, everything from desktop computers to smartphones. Who predicted that happening? Who knew with any certainty that that would happen? The answer is “nobody.”

So, an education is designed to do just a few things. To transfer a few practical skills (although we do less and less of this, high schools used to teach woodworking, metal working, automotive mechanics, typing/keyboarding, etc.; some community colleges still do), teach people how to think (not what how), and teach people how to work together.

From that skill set, people are prepared to adapt to the future as it unrolls.

Anyone who claims to “prepare students for the jobs of tomorrow” is delivering a marketing message that has nothing to do with reality, as no one actually knows how to do this … no one!



August 4, 2020


When I read a great deal about a topic, I am always confronted with the “the more you know, the less you know” syndrome. This is actualy “the more you know, the more you discover there is to know” syndrome, but I also begin to wonder how must respect should be paid to those scholars I am reading.

Consider the following quote: “[The Gospel of John] is written in singularly poor Greek with a very limited vocabulary; the peculiarities of the Greek suggest that the writer was at least more at home in Aramaic. Hence it has been argued that, since the writer knows little Greek, he cannot have been influenced by Greek ideas.” (Some Hellenistic Elements in Primitive Christianity by Wilfred L. Knox, 1942)

“John” is the gospel that begins “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.” The Greek word translated as “Word” here is logos, a concept from . . . wait for it . . . Greek philosophy.

Translating the Greek λόγος as “word” is a bit deceiving if not outright obfuscating. “Jesus is the word;” what the heck does that mean outside of Greek philosophy? Especially since logos is not used for a word in the grammatical sense; instead, the term lexis (λέξις, léxis) was used then.

Inside of Greek philosophy, logos was: a principle of order and knowledge, or reason, or wisdom, or explanation, or an argument from reason (Aristotle), or the active reason pervading and animating the Universe, or an intermediary divine being or demiurge (Philo of Alexandria), or the principle of meditation, and I assume, more things.

It seems to be logical that whoever wrote the gospel we call “John” in his execrable Greek, got his “logos” from Philo of Alexandra. Philo (c. 20 B.C.E.—40 C.E.) was a leading figure of the intellectual community surrounding Alexandria in Egypt, a hot spot in the development of Christianity. Philo was a Jew who wrote prodigiously (and note when he was alive) and his primary topic was . . . wait for it . . . wait . . . the harmonization of Hebrew scripture with Greek philosophy.

So, some scholars think that “since the writer (of “John”) knows little Greek, he cannot have been influenced by Greek ideas.” I don’t know how they support their ideas, but . . . understanding Greek aurally, or by reading is easier than knowing it so well that one can write well. It is perfectly possible for the author to have been exposed to ideas from Greek philosophy as the topic had been hot in the Jewish community for decades. Also, should we assume the writer was a lone wolf and had no organizational support behind him? This may be so, in that such support mostly came from the Jerusalem temple before, but the Jerusalem temple is no more at this point. (Plus I don’t know how much support one might have gotten from Jewish scribes when writing about Jesus.) Did the writer of “John” not have a colleague more learned in Greek who could check over his manuscript? What about all of the redactors, aka editors, who twiddled with every other part of the OT and NT? Did they leave his crudeness alone out of respect or were they just being passive-aggressive?

I wonder if the translators who thought the author of “John” had such bad Greek still felt comfortable translating logos as “word.”

Of course, my cartoon mind always gets the last word. What was rumbling in the background of my thoughts as I was finishing this was . . .

A-well-a ev’rybody’s heard about the bird
B-b-b-bird, b-birdd’s a word
A-well, a bird, bird, bird, bird is a word
A-well, a bird, bird, bird, well-a bird is a word
A-well, a bird, bird, bird, b-bird’s a word
A-well, a bird, bird, bird, well-a bird is a word
A-well, a bird, bird, b-bird is a word
A-well, a bird, bird, bird, b-bird’s a word
A-well, a bird, bird, bird, well-a bird is a word
A-well, a bird, bird, b-bird’s a word
A-well-a don’t you know about the bird?
Well, everybody knows that the bird is a word . . .
(Surfin’ Bird by The Trashmen)

But I was hearing “. . . a bird is the word . . .”

June 10, 2020

Is “Learn at Your Own Pace” Even a Real Thing?

Filed under: Education — Steve Ruis @ 11:07 am
Tags: , , ,

In one of the many newsletters I get, there was an ad for “Online Courses” with the subtitle “Learn at Your Own Pace.” Is this a real selling point? Do we all have our own learning pace?

I was a classroom teacher for going on 40 years and I did some major experiments with “self-paced learning” and came to the conclusion that “self-paced” means “slow.” That is slow by any definition you want.

Now teaching in a school or college is a special case: students presumably are “learning” as a full-time or at least major part-time job. “Reformers” of education, i.e. people with ideas to sell or people who didn’t navigate the current system at all well and blame the system, often point to the strengths of educations and declare them to be weaknesses. No one seems to take a step back and look at the whole picture in a cost-benefit type of analysis.

Since I was a college teacher, I will frame my comments in that context. Others who taught elsewhere can comment on their situation.

In colleges there is a workload system in place, it is generally referred to as the unit load system or some such similar name. Most commonly the Carnegie system is used where a unit of load is equal to . . . on average . . . three hours of work per week, both in and out of the classroom. So, a typical load of 15 units of credit, taken over four years of study results in a bachelor’s degree (if the correct courses are taken and passed, of course). At the 3:1 ratio, a full-time student has a 45 hour per week “job” he/she is undertaking.

Now, the step back. The college/university is providing: a classroom with chairs, wall boards, AV equipment, computers, etc. at a particular time or times during the week and a qualified instructor/professor to guide the learning. The student only has to show up at the time and place to take advantage. Of course, specialized classrooms also abound: theatres, photography labs, chemistry labs, swimming pools, gymnasiums, etc. So, a great deal of infrastructure has been built and is being made available, in most cases for fairly little cost.

The economies of scale are large. The rooms get utilized well, the teaching faculty get utilized well, the specialized equipment gets utilized, and the student’s time is organized well.

Imagine the chaos if at the beginning of every term, each group of students and their teacher has to run around trying to claim some space to meet and the equipment needed to do the work.

A number of universities collect the course requests of their students, then assign professors and classrooms based upon demand, and send out class schedules to one and all. But the same economies of scale exist.

But . . . learning at your own pace?

What if you find you can’t keep up? What if everyone else in the class you are in seem to be racing away and you are falling father and farther behind? Surely you are a candidate for converting the entire system to self-paced instruction. Ah . . . no.

So as to not throw the baby out with the bathwater (the baby being an education system that was and is world-class), your first option is to work harder. The 3:1 ratio of workload to units of courses, is an average. Some people will need to invest more time, others less. Students will need more time in some subjects and less in others (nobody ever confused the workload of a three unit PE course with a 3 unit Chemistry course), so there are some trade-offs and the additional time doesn’t have to come on top of the 45 hour weekly work plan. It can be shifted around. But if more time is needed beyond the normal, a 50 hour or 60 hour workload is available to you (been there, done that, done more).

If, somehow, your other responsibilities prevent you from exceeding your 45 hour (or whatever) commitment, there are other alternatives. One is to withdraw from one of your courses and use the time committed to that subject to make the time needed to catch up in the problematic one (been there, done that . . . once).

Bottom Line
Education is a social process. It is not the acquisition of knowledge as so many seem to think. Getting an education involves learning how to learn from others (teachers, classmates, etc.) and learning how to work with others, and most specially learning how to learn and learning how to think (how not what). This requires other people to be involved, to communicate with, to work with. I, like many other students, found study groups to be invaluable. You meet somewhere (library, empty classroom, somebody’s apartment, etc.) and work together. Sometimes this was simply sitting in silence doing homework exercises. Just having someone else in the room in the same boat, as it were, whom you could ask questions of is reassuring. Having a classmate say “I don’t understand that either” somehow makes it more normal to not understand something and empowers one to ask questions when one is back in class. (In one of these sessions I learned how to use slips of paper (this was before Post-It Notes) in my textbook, so if the professor asked “Are there any questions, I could raise my hand and turn to a slip and start “On page xyz, the book says “ . . ..” and ask my question. If he/she continued to solicit questions, I had additional slips.)

Online courses can be good, to a point. But if you want an education, it requires a village. And it requires time. The general progress of any class as a whole is a social force, a force that says “Keep up!” In the absence of that push we get in the process, we all (and I do mean all) tend to slow down. Slowing down from a pace one could have met means that either less will be learned or fewer courses will be completed or one’s school years will be extended.

Keep up, Grasshopper, keep up.

And, if you cannot, there are adjustments you can make so you will have the time you need and it does not mean changing the whole system into one in which you are the only one at the spot in the process you are in. If you keep up you will have fellow travelers.

When we get out of school, not keeping up is not an option in any case. If you are slow to weed and feed your garden, you may find more weeds than anything else in it. If you do not pay your taxes on time, there are penalties. If you dawdle and not express your true feelings to a loved one, they may move on to someone else. If you don’t meet deadlines or quotas at your work, you will be looking for another line of work.

Keep up, Grasshopper, keep up.

Postscript As a purveyor of online instruction, the main selling points we see are: that you can do the course when you want, even 2 AM, dressed as you want, even in your pajamas, and you don’t have to wait for the course to be offered (it is a one day course in person), travel to that place taking time off of work, using time to travel, eating on the road, etc. No one . . . ever . . . mentions: “I really liked being able to learn at my own pace.”

An especially useful point is that if you missed the one and only face-to-face class being offered this year, you still have the opportunity to qualify for a job, etc. (I thought it was next Tuesday! I missed the training! When can I take the class?) So, such courses do have their reasons, but a need for “self-paced learning” doesn’t seem to be one or if it is, it is a small one.

January 22, 2020

Further Thoughts on Public Funding of Religious Schools

Filed under: Culture,Education,Politics,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 11:11 am

One thing I thought of after my previous post on this topic was our experience with the State Lottery in California. As it was constructed 50% of the proceeds was to go to public education in the state, with the prize money and overhead to come out of the other 50%. Opponents to the lottery law said that “lottery funding will displace state funding and the schools will be back to square one with no net increase in funding.” Well, the law passed and lottery funding for schools was disbursed and . . . guess what happened.

I am also reminded that promises made by politicians mean absolutely nothing. Consider the promises made with regard to the recent Trump tax cuts. Our experience from the past told us that corporations would take the tax money saved and buy back their own stock with it, which would line the pockets of their stockholders and their executives who were being remunerated with stock options (who were responsible, btw, for making the decisions as to what to do with the windfall). The politicians promised instead: capital investment in productive capacity, higher wages, more jobs, better wages. Are you aware of what did happen? yes, it was stock buy-backs and none of those other things.

With regard to funding religious schools, what I hadn’t considered is what displacements would occur. If the funding from the public coffers replaced private tuition and contributions by the established religions, where does that money go that was being provided before? For the religious institutions, it goes back into their budgets so this is not direct support of a religion, but is one small step removed from that. It is a bank shot rather than a direct shot in the corner pocket. And believe you me, the parents who are no longer ponying up tuition to have their students educated at a religious school are going to receive a marketing campaign from their church like no other as to what to do with their “windfall gain” in prosperity.

One really needs to question the motivations of people sending their kids to a religious school when the options are public schools and secular private schools. Why a religious school when those other options are available for the same or even much less money? The quality of schooling might be an issue but that doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. If the local public schools are ramshackle and underfunded, a private option if one can afford it seems reasonable, but why a religious school over a secular private school?

For those who argue that the religious schools aren’t really religious, why would those school not incorporate as secular schools and, what benefit would there be to have the religious label, other than to sucker believers into thinking your school is better when it isn’t or are they just trying to avoid the regulations that come with being a truly public school. (We created those regulations to make sure our kids were safe and receiving a decent education, not some red-tape factory like ALEC.)

So, this is a direct violation of the Constitution because state funds would be taking the place of funds provided by the religions or the religious for religious purposes.

I’m ag’in it.

Next Page »

Create a free website or blog at