Class Warfare Blog

February 2, 2018

Do You Buy This Argument?

Clearly our educational system is failing, heck it has failed. In the last 100 years, the average IQ of Americans has been stuck at 100 and if we are going to solve the problems of the future, we need to get smarter!

Is this a valid argument?

Do you accept it?

You should not.

IQ tests are “re-normed” every year, that is the average IQ test score, whatever it is, is defined to be a score of 100. Studies have shown that actual IQ scores are 10% higher now than they were 100 years ago, which means that a tester with a score of 100 (aka “average”) now would have had scores 110 back then or a tester back then who scored a 100 would score a 90 now.

So, this “complaint” about “the system” is taking what is actually a positive result and making it sound negative. This is not a new practice. People have been cherry-picking evidence since the dawn of making arguments. Often this is exacerbated by ignorance but possibly as often this is done with full knowledge of such distortions. The unfortunate thing for us is this practice is becoming acceptable to large swaths of the American people.

We see it in politics and we see in religion. For example, Christian apologists keep trotting out arguments that were disproved centuries ago as if they were new. I can’t believe all of them are ignorant to the facts, so some of this is done deliberately. What happens to an apologist who is caught out, basically telling an “untruth”? The answer: nothing. Similarly, in politics, politicians who lie and are shown to have known the truth ahead of the lie suffer no ill effects. We used to have a joke from many, many years ago that went: Q: How can you tell a politician is lying?, A: His lips are moving. This was considered funny and was based partially upon the fact that politicians are not allowed to tell the truth in many cases due to security issues (it is illegal to release “top secret” info) or they have been ordered by political superiors to not tell the truth yet (timing issues), etc. Now, lying is so commonplace that politicians don’t even bother responding to journalists who catch them lying. It is almost as if they are saying “Of course I was lying … didn’t you see my lips move, fool!”

If we are to save our democracy, we need to become better participants as citizens. We need to make sure there is a penalty for lying. To do this we need to stop trying to be universal experts in every political issue that comes up as that is a Herculean task and we are not demigods. Pick a topic (climate change, dark money, gerrymandering, whatever) and set out to become educated about that topic. Heck pick two topics, but whatever topics you pick, learn about the nuances. Then fire away.

In the absence of an educated citizenry, we will fall victim to arguments that sound valid, such as the one above, created by those wanting to manipulate the process and do not care for the truth, the people as a whole, or democracy in particular. We are many, they are few. No matter how many of us chose to become “experts” in a particular topic, we will still be many and they will still be few. But if we continue to flounder and, watching the “news,” bounce from topic to topic we really know nothing about, we will fail. We are many and they are few … and it is easier to organize a few than many.

Oh, and the answers you seek are not available on the “news.” In fact, I am not sure there is anything of value any more in the “news,” so if you think you are keeping up on current events because you watch “the news” on TV, you are being duped. I never watch TV “news” and when I stopped, I became much better informed on the issues I care about.


January 19, 2018

Bollocks, A Steaming Load In Fact

Filed under: Economics,Education — Steve Ruis @ 1:06 pm
Tags: , ,

Maryville University, of St. Louis, Missouri, USA, has been running a television commercial touting its services. Up front they say “Maryville University has been disrupting Higher Education by putting students first.” Whoa, this must be some place.

I wonder when this began. Maybe it was in 1921 when it converted from a secondary school to a junior college. Or maybe in 1923 when it became a four year college. Huh, two years of experience as a college of only freshmen and sophomores and they learned how to serve juniors and seniors as well. Now, that’s creative disruption.

But then maybe it was in 1961 when it became a liberal arts college, or 1968 when it became co-ed. No, it was 1991 when it became a university, surely that’s when it began.

This university could not have a more mundane history, jumping through hoops, moving up the academic hierarchy, playing by all of the rules.

The commercial says that “the higher education system is broken.” Really? Maybe it is due to all of that creative disruption on Maryville’s part.

I have been a vocal critic of higher education for at least the last 50 years, but the system is far from broken. Most of the countries around the world would die to have such a system in their country (China foremost on the list). But, costs to students have been spiraling out of control for quite some time and I do not see anything, including market forces, doing anything to curb these. Maryville is a private university that has tuition, I am sure. Let’s see … “Tuition for Maryville University of Saint Louis is $25,558 for the 2015/2016 academic year. This is 5% cheaper than the national average private non-profit four year college tuition of $26,851. The cost is 57% more expensive than the average Missouri tuition of $16,299 for 4 year colleges (my emphases).” Gee, I wonder if this is what they mean by “putting students first?”

Really, what does “putting students first” mean? First in line at the cafeteria? Certainly first in line at the Bursar’s Office to pay their tuition (57% higher than the average Missouri tuition).

And the whole idea of “creative disruption” was bogus from the get go. No such phenomenon seems to exist except in the minds of business consultants.

So, this TV advert is just another load of bollocks to get people to pony up four times $25,558 (that’s $102,232 … if you can finish in four years (most cannot)) for a four-year education. We can only hope it was written by an intern in one of their communications programs.

Listen, I was either a student or a professor in colleges from 1964-2006, that’s … 42 years … yeah, that’s right, and I never even heard of a college or university that didn’t believe that their primary mission was to serve … society … by serving students. Students do not come first, but they were and are the focus of everything done. Students do not set the standards, they do not determine the curriculum, they certainly don’t determine times, dates, places, costs, etc.

But they are the main focus of everything done.

Please do not misunderstand me. I had colleagues more interested in their careers than their students. They do exist! (They are … out there!) But they are not the norm, nowhere near it. Most teachers are good hearted people who want to do a better job than they did before. The staff and administrators were very much the same. The Boards of Trustees were focussed on students, too, even though they were about as removed from the process as you can be and still be a part of it.

But students are the main focus of everything done … everywhere in U.S. Higher Ed.

Well, except when it comes to big-time college athletics … allow me to … <grumble, grumble, grumble …>


November 28, 2017

Proving the World is Flat

Filed under: Education,Religion,Science — Steve Ruis @ 8:54 am
Tags: , ,

It is somehow a newsworthy item that a gentleman wants to launch himself into the upper atmosphere to prove the Earth is flat. Why this is newsworthy is beyond me. There are crazy people everywhere.

If you are a person who believes the world is flat (it looks flat, doesn’t it), there are a number of simple things you can do in lieu of shooting oneself into the upper atmosphere. Here are a few.

  1. At 2 or 3 o’clock in the afternoon, telephone someone half way around the world. They will be mightily pissed to you for waking them up, it being deep into the night where they are (2 or 3 o’clock in the morning)! If the Earth were flat, the sun would rise and set at the same time (roughly, ignoring refraction effects) everywhere.
  2. Go outside at night and observe the Southern Cross in the “heavens.” Unless you live in the Southern hemisphere (below the equator) the Southern Cross is a constellation that cannot be seen. This is because “straight” up points in quite different directions around the globe.
  3. Try to sell winter clothing right now in Australia. The Australians will ignore you because it is late spring there right now and summer is coming. If the Earth were flat it would be the same season everywhere simultaneously.
  4. Set a camera up to take a photo in the direction of the sun once a week at the same time. Overlay the results and what you will get is shown in the photo (the white stripes are made by leaving the lens open for a time and showing the path of the Sun in the Sky on three occasions, the angle is an indicator of your latitude on the globe). If the Sun were orbiting a flat earth, you would not get this pattern. The pattern you would get depends on whether the flat disk Earth is rotating but you wouldn’t get this pattern. This pattern stems from the fact that the Earth’s rotational axis tilts 23.5 degrees relative the plane it revolves around the sun. As the Earth nods to the Sun then away, the angle the Sun appears in the sky changes.
  5. Go to an observatory and ask to be shown the planets. All of them, including the Sun, rotate on an axis. (Galileo used one of the first telescopes to show the moons of Jupiter actually move around Jupiter.) You might want to ask why it is that Earth is the only one that does not, but don’t ask the astronomers as they will have trouble recovering from laughing their asses off.

You do not need a rocket to show the Earth is flat or round, you just need the ability to communicate. The Greeks did this about 2300 years ago. They measured the shadows of a stick stuck straight into the ground at quite different locations and found that the stick cast a different length shadow at roughly the same time (being determined when the sun is highest in the sky, aka local “noon”). If the Earth were flat, the shadow would be the same length at the same time everywhere. The Greeks used the differences in the lengths of the shadow to calculate the size of the Earth and came quite close to the modern value.

Maybe this doesn’t appeal to people who believe the Earth is flat because, well: math. It is hard and makes them tremble with fear. The other thing that seems to be the case of these people is that they cannot get up off of their fat assess and research the proofs. It only requires an Internet search … and some thought.

November 24, 2017

Students as Slaves (to Debt)

I have been writing a great deal about coerced labor recently. Here is a new manifestation of it. In a “reform” of the bankruptcy laws (ca 2005, I think), it became all but impossible for students to discharge their student loans in a bankruptcy. The argument was that way too may students, especially those with lucrative incomes in their futures (doctors, lawyers, etc.), were discharging their debts through bankruptcy while they were still destitute, before their careers took off.

Well, a the Philadelphia Fed decided that claim was worth a look and so they did. Here is what they found:

Philadelphia Fed Study Debunks Main Argument for Student Debt Slavery

Basically no such pattern of such behavior can be found. So, why should such a bullshit argument be advanced in the first place?

Hello? The entire purpose of this legislation was to enslave students. Remember back in the 1970’s when students were marching in the streets against the War in Vietnam. Students! Showing no respect for their elders. And, besides they were just liberal voters in waiting. By making student loans almost impossible to discharge in bankruptcy, a sizable number of students were taught the lesson to “sit down, shut up, and do as you were told.” The elites know how to run the country better than you do, including lying and cheating to achieve their ends.

You may have also noticed absolutely no hue and cry regarding how colleges have gotten so very much more expensive coming from conservatives. Being a conservative means you do not want the riffraff elevated, disturbing the natural order of things. They need to learn their place in a stable society. The larger the student debt, the longer the period of debt slavery.

Must reading on the Naked Capitalism site: Capitalism: Not With a Bang But With a (Prolonged) Whimper

If you want to see what we are in for, read this article. I just ordered the book mentioned.

September 29, 2017

Major College Basketball Scandal Adds to Previous One

There is currently an ongoing FBI investigation into payola in college basketball which is going to result in a number of firings (already begun) and people going to jail (coming soon). In the FBI’s investigation, a shoe company and sports agents illegally funneled money to athletes and athlete’s families in the hopes of reaping a reward later.

Asked to comment, Hall of Fame NBA player and now commenter, Charles Barkley said amongst other things “the value of a free college education has been undervalued” as part of his criticism of the players involved. I happen to like “Sir Charles” because you never have to wonder what he is thinking; he will tell you. In this specific case, though, I disagree. You see the college education he speaks of isn’t “free.”

Basketball players receive “scholarships,” with the NCAA (one of the college sports governing bodies in the U.S.) limiting the number of scholarships to 13 in Division 1 teams (the most competitive). The scholarships often cover tuition, and room and board, and a miniscule per deum, which is what Charles thinks is undervalued by the athletes who took money on top of that. The “scholarship” is really in exchange for the athlete’s services. I had friends who were in college on scholarship, who then had an accident and couldn’t play and voila, they no longer had a scholarship. The scholarship is contingent on the performance. Get cut from the squad and often there goes your scholarship. So, it is not free, in fact it is quite expensive. I played Division II basketball in college at a school which did not offer scholarships. During the season (roughly half the year) I spent three to four hours a day practicing. (Today that is minimal as there are weight and flexibility programs and team meetings, etc. added in.) This is equivalent to working a full-time job for about four months. So, an “opportunity cost” is that one cannot use that time to otherwise gain wages. (Over four years that is a years wages, plus.)

Consider the University of Kentucky basketball program, which in 2014 grossed $40 million and made a $24 million “profit.” (This is just the most obvious program I could find numbers for. Smaller programs don’t make anywhere near this much money, but …) NBA teams pay out half of their gross as salaries to players. UK pays none of this as salaries. I don’t know whether the program reimburses the university for the tuition of the players, I think “not” but it doesn’t matter, as the $24 million in “profits” goes into the university coffers. If, as in the NBA, UK were to pay its players half of what the program grossed, they would be paying the 13 players $20 million dollars in total or $1,538,000 each (note they could afford that).

If one estimates tuition at UK at $25,000 per annum and living expenses at another $25,000, then the cost of the college educations for the entire team would be $1,300,000 or $238,000 less than each player made for the university that year! Each player made enough to fund the entire team’s college educations!

This is why generalities like “the value of a free college education has been undervalued” are not helpful, because the players aren’t spending $50,000 for their education, they are spending $1,538,000 each for their educations. How is that undervaluing the cost of their educations?

Note that the program still had $16,000,000 to cover expenses, including grotesque overpayment for the coach, and would have had a $4,000,000 profit anyway were they to have done this.

Now, some of you will surely say, but Steve, those “profits” go to support the university’s other teams, the ones, unlike football and basketball, which do not make a profit. So, you are saying that exploiting the football and basketball players is acceptable because it supports minor sports? Is that what you are saying?

I mentioned I played NCAA Division II basketball. One of my years, the team made it to what was then called the Small College “Final Four,” so it had some success. We played our home games in a gym that would house about 800 spectators and students got in for free with an ID card. We often only drew 300 for a game. None of the college’s sports offered scholarships and none of the sports made a profit. None of the games were shown on TV (the source of the bulk of the monies made by college programs). The college offered these programs as part of its educational programs (plus it was good marketing as it placed the college’s name in the newspapers). The uniforms were the same one’s the team used last year. The shoes we bought ourselves. The coach taught the team as part (not all) of his teaching load with a bit extra for the extra hours involved. When we traveled we had team blazers to wear in public, the same ones that had been worn for decades. I am not saying this to show the nobility of the effort, I learned a lot and had a great deal of fun while sweating a lot and bleeding a little. The only reason the “major” colleges spend so much on their programs is because of the TV money. They are competing for the TV money because it is so lucrative. The money “earned” off of the players sweat can be used to support all of the other programs, thereby relieving the university from having to pay for them. The way I played was the way it was in the early days of college athletics. Now, TV money has made universities greedy, to the point that the highest paid public employee in every state of the U.S. is now likely to be a major college football coach. The coaches cash in, but the players, well, they shouldn’t be corrupted into thinking their participation is a job, even though other students toil away on campus, doing jobs that need doing and they get paid. And the difference is?

Hey, if the program can’t afford it, then it can’t afford it, but for the major college programs which can, well this is the big scandal. If those kids, often Black kids from very poor families, got paid a small fraction of what they made for their schools, then there would be no incentive to take payola from shoe companies and shady sports agencies.

They work. They make money for their employer (virtually the definition of economic work) and they are woefully underpaid. Pay them.


September 25, 2017

The Problem with Averages in Education

A recent article on state and local government funding says: “With a GDP of $19 trillion, America is the richest country in the world. However, the IMD World Competitiveness Center recently ranked our education system as 24th out of 61 countries, and the American Society of Civil Engineers recently rated our infrastructure – the roads, bridges, and water systems that were once the envy of the world—as a D+.

Leaving aside the infrastructure issue, let’s look at the education issue. If one uses “business thinking,” and likens the education complex of this country to a factory, clearly that factory needs an overhaul. It is not functioning as we would wish. This is what the current crop of self-proclaimed education reformers claim: “Our public education system is broken, we need to reform it!”

But this is an incorrect analogy. The education system isn’t a single factory, it is a conglomerate of factories. Some of these factories are at the very highest level of performance seen in the world. So, the problem is not one of “we don’t know how to do this task,” we know how to do public education, we are just not doing it consistently and the low performers are “dragging the average down.” This can be seen in the simple expedient of breaking out scores on international tests by state. Massachusetts regular scores at the very top of the list when compared to the highest scoring countries. If our schools are “broken,” how come Massachusetts can perform so well?

So, the question to start with isn’t “how should we remake all of our schools?” but “why are some of our schools way below average and some way above average?” Having schools be “above average” and “below average” would be normal, but our problem is the spread in performances is much too broad.

In business practices, it is commonplace to study the underperformers and figure out how to make their performance greater, thus raising the average performance. Often leaders of higher performing units are tasked with raising the performance of lower performing units, for example.

Interestingly, these studies have been done and the roots of low performance have been found. In a number of experiments, students have been taken out of low performing schools and placed in higher performing schools and their performance went up. (In some cases, there was so much culture shock associated with the switch that the effect was delayed.) From this, some conclude that the problem is with the teachers. This conclusion would be wrong. A careful analysis of student performances shows that teachers account for about 14% of performance. This conclusion runs counter to the personal experience of most of us who went through public schools. There were certain teachers we felt inspired us and we liked them. But this didn’t mean we performed better in their class as compared to having another teacher, or that if we did perform better that the performance improvement was large.

Bigger than the effect of the teachers was the student’s home environment. If the student came from poverty and had an unstable home environment, there was a large negative correlation with school performance. Student’s who show up at school hungry, learn poorly. We have even learned that childhood hunger can lead to a lowered ability to learn in toto.

To explore these effects, experiments could be done to try to ameliorate these effects. Schools could provide breakfast and lunch to hungry students to see if there was an effect. This, too, has been done. While this doesn’t solve an unstable home environment, it does affect school performance in that children not thinking about food constantly do learn better.

If we want to address our problems in public education, we need to address the real problems, because addressing fictional problems rarely leads to effective solutions. Currently, with billionaires funding the research and privatization monies being lavished upon law makers, this is exactly the opposite of what needs to be done. In business terms, we are letting our competitors and know nothings manipulate our actions and that is something no business wants to have happen.

We have taken a bludgeoning approach to education reform, my whole life. I wonder when we are going to take it seriously? We have the research. We have the case studies. We know what works. Heck, high performing public schools systems in Europe are using our research to shape their systems! Why are we mired in mediocrity politically? I suspect that it is because we are getting the best government we deserve. If we can’t stand up to the monied interests attacking our schools, including the ones that work extraordinarily well, we are getting just what we deserve. And the children caught in the cross fire? Collateral damage.

September 19, 2017

Drowning in a Sea of Bullshit

William Mathis is Vice-Chairman of the Vermont Board of Education and Managing Director of the National Education Policy Center. He recently wrote “Losing our Purpose, Measuring the Wrong Things.” Here are a couple of quotes from that document:

Having high test scores was falsely linked to national economic performance. In hyperbolic overdrive, the 1983 Nation at Risk report thundered, ‘the educational foundations of our society are presently being eroded by a rising tide of mediocrity that threatens our very future as a nation and a people.’

After 35 years of this same Chicken Little jeremiad, the nation is still the premier economy of the world, leads the world in patents, registers record high stock prices, and is second in international manufacturing. (For the nation as a whole, the independent Bureau of Labor Statistics demonstrates that we do not have a math and science shortage).

By declaring schools ‘failures,’ public monies were increasingly diverted to private corporations. Yet, after a half-century of trials, there is no body of evidence that shows privatized schools are better or less expensive. Large-scale voucher programs actually show substantial score declines. The plain fact is that privatization, even at its best, does not have sufficient power to close the achievement gap—but it segregates. It imperils the unity of schools and society. This proposed solution works against the very democratic and equity principles for which public systems were formed.

Spot on. How many truth tellers will it take to get people off of the current set of false narratives? I cannot answer that question, except to say “more.”

June 24, 2017

Call Them Scum and See them Flock to Your State!

Who said “ye shall reap what ye sow?” (That particular phrase is not in the Bible, but equivalent phrases are, many times.)

Republicans have been beating on teachers for years, calling them “pigs at the public trough,” and undermining their collective bargaining rights, as well as blaming them for all of the ills of our public schools. (The last complaint is like blaming auto workers for the bad designs of General Motors cars in the late twentieth century.)

The law of unintended consequences applies, though, and Nevada, a leading Republican bastion, is facing a 22% shortage (!), that’s one in five, in qualified teachers in their schools (see here). Who needs ‘em, you ask? Ask the kids in classes that have one of the bodies plugged into place in their stead. The qualifications for teachers were not established by teachers, they were established by democratically-elected school boards and democratically-elect law makers to set minimum standards of competence for teachers. What does it say when your schools boast of having one of five teachers not up to minimum standards?

But then, many in the GOP are in favor of doing away with democratically-elected school boards anyway. Replace them with corporate boards. They are much more responsible to their communities needs.

Missing in all of this is the reason the GOP and their conservative backers have gone after unions: basically teachers tend to vote democratic and had the temerity to form unions which not only work for better benefits and rights for teachers, but also advocate for students. Them students should learn to sit down and shut up and be happy with whatever paycheck they end up with.

Too much democracy is not a good thing. This is also why GOP state governments are disempowered local jurisdictions (cities, counties, etc.) wholesale.

This is not “alt-right” stuff but alternate universe stuff. Sheesh!

We Don’ Need No Regyoolayshuns … Education Edition

Check out “Multi-state investigation alleges Akron-area charter school founder bilked millions from parents, students, taxpayers” (Akron Beacon Journal/

The “pro choice” education lobby seems to be more of a “pro-corruption” advocacy group as more and more of these scams are popping up. Politicians, paid for by the scammers, insist no public oversight is needed. After all it is just money we are giving them, and the responsibility to teach our children. Nothing to see here, move along.

May 22, 2017

High School Graduation Rates Going Up? Maybe . . .

Filed under: Education — Steve Ruis @ 7:49 am
Tags: , , ,

The Brookings Institution published a piece on high school graduation rates. According to that piece, studies show high school graduation rates had been higher in the 1970s, for example, but from 1990 to 2007 they had been “stable” in the 71%–75% range, but since then have crept up to 82%. Their point was that the statistics, while being soft, were also unexplained; we don’t know why they declined and we don’t know why they have increased lately.

I don’t know either, but I’d be willing to bet a dollar that the cause is that high school students aren’t leaving high school because they got a good job as much as they used to. The years 2007-2008 were pivotal. That is when the Great Recession began. Since then young people have witnessed the impact of the shitty job market and the wage suppression efforts of the plutocrats’ effects on their parents. The economic uncertainty of those parents trickled down to their children, no matter how hard they tried to shield them from it. So, the pressure to “stay in school” was higher and the opportunities to take a “good job” in lieu of graduating were many fewer. Both could increase the high school graduation rate.

Congratulations economy destroying capitalists!

I graduated high school in 1964 and at that time, not everyone went to college. You didn’t even consider it unless you had B average grades. Many of my classmates went off into the world of work right away. It was “normal.” Now, it seems that the only path forward recommended to high school students is college. Trade apprentice programs, the military, technical schools, all of the alternatives available when I was young seem to be no longer in favor. Granted, community colleges offer certificates in cosmetology and welding and auto mechanics, filling the “trade school” gap somewhat, but children are actively discouraged from going into trades for the most part.

So, apparently my generation has effed up the economy of this country sufficiently that while we were unable to use the “scared straight” approach to stop drug use, we apparently have done a good job of scaring youths straight to high school graduation.

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