Posts Tagged ‘Self-awareness’

According to Politicians and Pundits, the Road to Riches is the Road to Fulfillment

May 23, 2019 Leave a comment

Yesterday’s NYTimes featured an Upshot article by Kevin Carey titled “Can Data Ward Off College Debt? New Strategy Focuses on Results”. Unsurprisingly given the avariciousness of the current POTUS, the pro-privatization tilt of his Secretary of State, the GOP, and the neoliberal wing of the Democratic Party, and the unfailing faith in Capitalism on the part of many voters, the EARNINGS are the “results” the “new strategy” intends to measure. Need evidence of this assertion? Here are two paragraphs from Mr. Carey’s essay, describing the “new accountability system” proposed by Senator Lamar Alexander:

Mr. Alexander proposed a “new accountability system” based on loan repayment rates for individual programs within colleges. This, said Mr. Alexander, “should provide colleges with an incentive to lower tuition and help their students finish their degrees and find jobs so they can repay their loans.”

Both Mr. Trump and Mr. Alexander, despite their strong criticism of President Obama on education, are following in the footsteps of his regulatory crackdown on for-profit colleges and short-term certificate programs. Rather than evaluate sprawling educational conglomerates based on the average results of hundreds of programs, the Obama rules disqualified specific programs whose graduates didn’t earn enough money to pay back their loans.

In earlier blog posts I railed against President Obama’s metrics because, like those of Mr. Alexander and the POTUS, they assumed that the purpose of college was to land a job that pays enough to allow the student to pay back loans for college. In effect, college exists to make certain banks collect enough interest to remain profitable.

Mr. Trump and Ms. DeVos know the facts about debt… and presumably Mr. Carey does as well. While only 6% of college students in NYS attended for-profit schools, 41% of those who defaulted came from those schools. Discussions that link earnings to majors sidestep this issue. The founder of Trump University, his Secretary of Education, and the many legislators who receive donations from profiteers who want less regulation are banding together to divert our collective attention away from the real problem and, at the same time, reinforcing the idea that college is about getting a high paying job and not “guiding people toward more enlightened, fulfilling lives.”

And here’s the bottom line: the policies promulgated by our legislators and pundits, assume our lives can only be fulfilled if we make a lot of money… and the more we earn the more we will be fulfilled.


Another Assault on Free Speech: Banning Books on Injustice in Prisons

May 22, 2019 Leave a comment

AP writer Terry Tang recently reported that the ACLU is appealing a decision by the AZ Department of Corrections to ban the book “Chokehold: Policing Black Men.” Written by Paul Butler, a former federal prosecutor, Ms. Tang describes the book as one that “…examines law enforcement and mass incarceration through its treatment of African American men.” And she indicates that the author is at a loss to understand why his book is being banned:

Butler, a criminal law professor at Georgetown University, said his publisher was notified by email in March that his book had “unauthorized content.” The notice did not specify what led to the decision but warned that some aspect of the 2017 book was “detrimental to the safe, secure, and orderly operation of the facility.”

Butler said he is mystified as to what raised alarm bells. He uses the title, which is a maneuver police have used to restrain a suspect by the neck, throughout the book as a metaphor for how society and law subjugate black men. Nowhere does Butler advocate violent or retaliatory behavior.

“I disavow violence because first, I think it’s immoral, and second, because it wouldn’t work,” Butler said. “I’ve received letters from several inmates who have read ‘Chokehold’ while they are serving time. No one has indicated that reading ‘Chokehold’ has caused any problems in prison.”

I find it hard to believe that a book that the author states does not advocate “violent or retaliatory behavior” could be “detrimental to the safe, secure, and orderly operation of the facility.” But I DO understand how a book dealing with the treatment of African American men might provoke some unsettling questions in prisons that currently house them in disproportionate numbers.

It strikes me that one of the major purposes of schooling is to raise unsettling questions and promote open-minded dialogue. In prison, though, I have the sense that compliance and conformity in behavior and thinking are more important. I would like to believe that outside of prison things are different… but as long as students are being trained to pass examinations with one-right-answer I might be deluded.

Bible Bills Proliferate… Can Bills Mandating Christianity as a State Religion Be Far Behind?

May 21, 2019 Leave a comment

Washington Post writer Julie Zausmer reports that several states are considering laws that would mandate that high schools offer courses on the Bible, using a law recently passed by Kentucky as the model. From Ms. Zausner’s article it is evident that “Project Blitz”, a nationwide effort by “activists on the religious right” is using an ALEC-like model to promote these bills.

I usually try to avoid “slippery slope” arguments, but the recent abortion laws adopted by at least eight states make me think that “Project Blitz” is an effort to slip the nose of the camel under a tent, and the camel in this case is an effort to make Christianity a State religion. It is noteworthy that only BIBLE instruction is mandated, in effect ensuring that public schools offer only Bible instruction in the same way madrases in the Middle East offer exclusive instruction in the Koran.

I found Ms. Zauzmer’s report chilling. I was unsettled to reading about students who analogized Bible reading to shooting hoops in the gym, who read the Bible from cover to cover, who believe that the Bible is “…more important than any other book I could be reading”, and who feel comforted that the schools are offering the creation story as opposed to “evolution and the big bang”. I recall that when I was a teenager in the early 1960s our teachers— and even our minister— encouraged us to question things for by questioning we would expand our knowledge and shore up our understanding.

The wall between church and state is a mental construct, one that can be erased by zealous legislators or legislators who fear being displaced by candidates whose beliefs and convictions are stronger and more passionate. We need to keep that figurative wall in place if we hope to retain our democracy.

Billionaires Invest in Advertising Campaign to Save High Stakes Testing in NYC

May 7, 2019 Comments off

As noted in several posts in this blog, New York City’s insistence on equating high scores on a single test with “merit” is foolish and counterproductive and contributes to the current admissions dis-equilibrium dilemma whereby black and Hispanic students are underrepresented and Asian and white students are over-represented. Fortunately NYC’s current mayor, Bill DeBlasio, sees the absurdity in using a single test as the determinant to enter the “elite” schools in the city and is proposing a fairer method for selecting students, one that might result in a student population at the “elite” schools that mirrors that in the city as a whole.

But some in the city favor the retention of the current test: the parents of those children who test well, the parents who can afford to spend thousands for “test prep” courses, and now billionaires who sincerely believe that “merit” and “high scores on a single test” are equivalent. As reported in a NYTimes article late last month by Eliza Shapiro, two billionaires, Ronald S. Lauder, the billionaire cosmetics heir, and Richard D. Parsons, the former chairman of Citigroup, are spending millions on a PR campaign to save the tests used to screen students for “elite” high schools. Why? From what I can tell both men are invested in maintaining the political status quo that is reflected in the status quo of public education:

They (Mr. Lauder and Mr. Parsons) are championing a range of educational ideas that include more gifted and talented programs, more test preparation, better middle schools and more elite high schools. Mr. de Blasio’s administration, on the other hand, is skeptical of high-stakes testing and academic tracking in the school system.

Mr. de Blasio is seeking to replace the test for the eight so-called specialized schools with an approach where top performers from each middle school would be offered spots.

Ms. Shapiro’s article indicates that this is yet another battle between the proponents of Terman and those of Dewey. In the early 20th century a there was a battle between two schools of thought regarding tests. One one side were those like Edward Thorndyke and Lewis Terman who believed tests measured an absolute “intelligence” that was largely unchangeable. On the other side were those like John Dewey who saw the social environment on the activity of mind and behavior as more crucial than innate intelligence. Indeed, Mr. Dewey and his acolytes were dismissive of public education as a means of sorting and selecting and transmitting a fixed set of facts, which was implicit in the views of Thorndyke, Terman, et al. Rather, Mr. Dewey saw the purpose of education as “…the realization of one’s full potential and the ability to use those skills for the greater good.”

In NYC, it appears that Mr. Lauder and Mr. Parsons are supporting Thorndyke and Terman while Mr. deBlasio is supporting Dewey. At the macro level, Thorndyke and Terman prevailed and their legacy is the reliance on testing as the main means of sorting and selecting children, teachers, and now, thanks to NCLB and it’s successors, schools. Mr. deBlasio is countering that movement. Here’s hoping he succeeds.

YouTube, the Protestant Work Ethic, Meritocracy, and Public Schools

May 3, 2019 Comments off

JSTOR Daily issues a weekly compendium of articles on history that often includes fascinating articles that describe the history of our existing paradigms… and Livia Gershon’s recent essay, “How YouTube is  Shaping the Future of Work“, is a good example of the kind of sweeping overview writers often provide in the on-line magazine. The essay asserts that our existing construct that equates hard work with high status-high compensation work is a construct that only emerged since the industrial revolution and is now being toppled by the advent of technology like YouTube that implicitly suggests that creativity– not hard work– should be linked with compensation and even more startlingly– a rewarding life– not the accumulation of wealth— should be the ultimate goal of those in the workforce.

Ms. Gershon does not explicitly describe the impact of this shift away from the hard work->high wealth  paradigm, but she does offer this insight to how schools are organized now:

As this new work ethic spread across and within societies over the past two centuries, hard work, virtue, and success became fused into a singular new measure of status, while other sources lost their power. For example, when middle- and upper-class American women increasingly entered paid work in the mid-twentieth century, employment displaced other activities—like keeping an orderly home and volunteering in civic, religious, or charitable activities—as central sources of social esteem for these women.

This shift has had certain undeniable benefits. The meritocratic ideal has driven many elites to support widespread public education and—at least in theory—a level playing field for all children. And blatant contempt for people based on old-fashioned status marker—like social class, race, or gender—has become unfashionable in many circles (though of course our supposedly meritocratic systems still erect barriers to “success” for racial minorities, working-class people of all races, and even privileged white women).

Ms. Gershon doesn’t say so, but the so-called “meritocratic ideal” is based on the industrial age premise that hard work will lead to economic well-being which, in turn, will result in mental well-being. As any observer of our culture today can attest, this notion is fundamentally flawed on many counts. There are too many children in our “meritocratic” system who are born into communities where the underfunded schools cannot provide them with access to the “level-playing field” and there are too many adults who have achieved salaries that would qualify them to be classified as economically well-off but who do not feel fulfilled emotionally or creatively. The YouTube generation that has witnessed the flaws in this supposedly meritocratic system has a new way of thinking about “success”. They are willing to trade hard work for shorter and less stressful employment with the hopes of attaining wealth through their creative talents or through pure luck. And so we have children who are competing in video games instead of little leagues, children who are making their own videos instead of performing in school plays, and children who are writing “music” using electronic apps instead of instruments. The  dream of today’s children is to find a unique niche that can generate enough followers to earn them enough money to allow them to continue their creative “work” and, if need be, work in the gig economy when they need some additional cash. These creative types look like “slackers” to those of us raised on the Protestant Work Ethic and look like “victims” of the new economy to those of us who believe that unregulated free enterprise is spreading misery and diminishing opportunities for meaningful work. Ms. Gershon’s article makes me ask this question: who’s got a better grip on reality?

A Lesson in Economics 101: Teacher Pay Diminishes as Teacher Shortages Increase

April 27, 2019 Comments off

The Economic Policy Institute’s Sylvia Allegretto and Laurence Mishel just issued a report on teacher compensation that indicated the disparity between teacher’s wages and those of other college graduates just hit an all time high and appears to be widening. The result is unsurprising to anyone who took a basic economics course in high school or college:

The deepening teacher wage and compensation penalty over the recovery parallels a growing shortage of teachers. Every state headed into the 2017–2018 school year facing a teacher shortage (Strauss 2017). New research by García and Weiss (2019) indicates the persistence and magnitude of the teacher shortage nationwide:

The teacher shortage is real, large and growing, and worse than we thought. When indicators of teacher quality (certification, relevant training, experience, etc.) are taken into account, the shortage is even more acute than currently estimated, with high-poverty schools suffering the most from the shortage of credentialed teachers. (1)

And, as Ms. Allegretto and Mr. Mishel indicate, the states are not short of money:

Spending cuts over the recovery were not the result of weak state economies. Rather, many state legislatures and governors cut spending in order to finance tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations.

As corporate taxes diminish so do the revenues for public services and, again unsurprisingly, so does the quality of those services. Sadly, for children, education is no exception and so the quality and depth of the teaching pool is diminished.

Providing teachers with a decent middle-class living commensurate with other professionals with similar education is not simply a matter of fairness. Effective teachers are the most important school-based determinant of student educational performance.1 To promote children’s success in school, schools must retain credentialed teachers and ensure that teaching remains an attractive career option for college-bound students. Pay is an important component of retention and recruitment.

The report notes that teachers across the country are uniting and demanding higher pay, particularly in those states where the wage disparity is the highest. The report also examines the benefits teachers receive as compared to other college graduates and acknowledges that there is a favorable gap in that area. But even with that taken into consideration, the total compensation gap is wider now than it has been in any year since 1960!

In their concluding paragraphs, Allegretto and Mishel describe the compensation gap and its consequences, and note that any alternative compensation plans like performance pay will not solve the problem unless total compensation is increased:

It is good news that teachers are able to bargain for a total compensation package—though it seems they may have forgone wage increases for benefits recently: As we’ve documented, teacher wages have been stagnant since the mid-1990s; public school teacher weekly wages have not grown in the 22-year period from 1996 to 2018! This makes the wage penalty, on its own, critically important, as it is only wages that families can put toward making ends meet—only wages can pay for expenses such as rent, food, and student loan payments.

Raising the level of teacher compensation, including wages, is critical to recruiting and retaining teachers who have the qualifications associated with teacher effectiveness in the classroom. Policies that focus solely on changing the composition of current compensation (e.g., merit or pay-for-performance schemes) without actually increasing compensation levels are unlikely to be effective. Simply put, improving public education in this country—by preventing teacher turnover, strengthening retention of credentialed teachers, and attracting young people to the teaching profession—requires eliminating the teacher weekly wage and compensation penalty.

EPI’s research is thorough and even handed… and it’s results prove the laws of supply and demand. If you demean a profession, lower the compensation for that profession, and limit job security in that profession it is difficult to find employees.

Standardized Tests, “Failing Schools” and the Emerging Un-Enlightenment

April 11, 2019 Comments off

I read “Trump’s Most Worrisome Legacy” by economist Joseph Stiglitz’s in yesterday’s Common Dreams and got the chills he hoped to elicit as a result. The legacy that created a knot in Stiglitz’s (and my) stomach is this: President Donald Trump is not interested in seeking the truth.

One section in Mr. Stiglitz’s essay, an overview of impact of the Scottish Enlightenment, was especially thought provoking:

Adam Smith tried to (explain the basis for America’s wealth) in his classic 1776 book The Wealth of Nations. For centuries, Smith noted, standards of living had been stagnant; then, toward the end of the eighteenth century, incomes start to soar. Why?

Smith himself was a leading light of the great intellectual movement known as the Scottish Enlightenment. The questioning of established authority that followed the earlier Reformation in Europe forced society to ask: How do we know the truth? How can we learn about the world around us? And how can and should we organize our society?

From the search for answers to these questions arose a new epistemology, based on the empiricism and skepticism of science, which came to prevail over the forces of religion, tradition, and superstition.Over time, universities and other research institutions were established to help us judge truth and discover the nature of our world. Much of what we take for granted today – from electricity, transistors, and computers to lasers, modern medicine, and smartphones – is the result of this new disposition, undergirded by basic scientific research (most of it financed by government).

The absence of royal or ecclesiastical authority to dictate how society should be organized to ensure that things worked out well, or as well as they could, meant that society had to figure it out for itself. But devising the institutions that would ensure society’s wellbeing was a more complicated matter than discovering the truths of nature.In general, one couldn’t conduct controlled experiments.

Mr. Stiglitz then describes how our country devised institutions that ensured things would work out as well as they could… and described how Mr. Trump has undermined those same institutions by emphasizing the accumulation of wealth over the search for truth. He writes:

But what concerns me most is Trump’s disruption of the institutions that are necessary for the functioning of society. Trump’s “MAGA” (Make America Great Again) agenda is, of course, not about restoring the moral leadership of the United States. It embodies and celebrates unbridled selfishness and self-absorption. MAGA is about economics.

But I have news for Mr. Stiglitz: MAGA’s embrace of “unbridled selfishness and self-absorption” and roots in “economics” reflects of our culture’s perspective on schooling. The purpose of getting an education in America is not to find the answer to questions like “How do we know the truth? How can we learn about the world around us? And how can and should we organize our society?” The purpose of getting an education in America is about scoring well on standardized tests that value convergent thinking; about promoting oneself over others in order to gain entry into a prestigious college; and, ultimately, about earning a lot of money. These are the values we are inculcating in students and have inculcated in them for at least two decades of test-based “reform” that is the basis for NCLB, RTTT, and now ESSA. And while Mr. Trump’s MAGA movement “celebrates unbridled selfishness and self-absorption” and places the accumulation of wealth on a higher pedestal, I believe the MAGA movement has its roots in the message we’ve given to students for decades that the primary purpose of schooling is to earn a lot of money.

It is revealing that several reports indicate that the tech billionaires do not enroll their children in elite private schools or affluent public schools: they enroll them in Waldorf Schools whose goal is “…to inspire life-long learning in all students and to enable them to fully develop their unique capacities.” Standardized tests are not given in Waldorf Schools… and their “success” is not measured by their enrollment in a prestigious college or their lifelong earnings. They are more interested in the questions posed by Adam Smith: “How do we know the truth? How can we learn about the world around us? And how can and should we organize our society?