Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

College tuition and the anti-radical backlash

May 5, 2022

Will Bunch, a writer for the Philadelphia Inquirer, links the high cost of college education today to the conservative backlash against the student protesters of the 1960s.  Here is his argument.

The 1944 G.I. Bill signed by Franklin Roosevelt included a free college benefit almost as an afterthought, since academic and political leaders thought that most returning troops wouldn’t be “college material,” in an era when only 5% of Americans earned bachelor’s degrees and a majority didn’t finish high school.  Instead, the mostly working-class G.I. Bill recipients stunned the nation both in their large numbers and their devotion to taking classes. It was the start of a virtuous cycle that flowed into the unprecedented prosperity of the 1950s and the booming birth rate. By 1960, the rate of American youth heading off to college had skyrocketed six-fold to 31%

Kent State shooting

Yet this new American ideal of college wasn’t just a numbers racket. In the mid-20th century, the nation had emerged from a Great Depression, two world wars, and the arrival of the atomic bomb.  Thought leaders wondered if the concept of liberal education — geared toward developing critical thinking and not just rote career training — could steer America away from fascism, communism, and nuclear war.

Young Americans in the 1950s and ‘60s embraced this idea. Enrollment in the humanities and social sciences soared. In one 1969 survey of freshmen, 82% said what mattered about college wasn’t career training but “developing a meaningful philosophy of life.”  But for America’s so-called Establishment, the problem was what CIA agents would later label “blowback.”  Young people trained to venerate democracy and employ critical thinking turned their focus to America’s own hypocrisy — its senseless militarism in Vietnam, and racial apartheid in the Deep South, among other issues.

Top officials seemed less worried about the uproar at elite campuses like Columbia and more concerned about radicalism at the massive state universities —Berkeley or New York State’s university at Buffalo — that had exploded with working-class kids taking advantage of low (or free) tuition. They also nervously eyed rising enrollment and protests at HBCUs like Mississippi’s Jackson State University, where cops would murder two Black students on May 15, 1970.

Kent State skyrocketed from 5,000 students in 1954 to 21,000 by 1966, many of them kids of factory workers whose idealism had been forged in the New Deal-era union activism. By 1970, students exhausted by watching their neighbors return from Vietnam in body bags gravitated toward radical groups like Students for a Democratic Society, or SDS. The final trigger was then-President Nixon sending U.S. troops into Cambodia, which led to Kent State protesters burning down the ROTC building, which caused Ohio’s governor to call up the National Guard.

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The false hope of “college for all”

March 9, 2022

Hat tip to Bill Harvey.

Freddie deBoer, author of The Cult of Smart, is a Marxist.  Oren Cass, executive director of American Compass and author of The Once and Future Worker: A Vision for the Renewal of Work in Americais a conservative.  Neither one of them believes in “college for all.”

People with college educations on average make more money that people whose education stopped in high school..But that doesn’t mean everybody will be better off if more people go to college.

The more college graduates there are, the less a college degree will be worth.  That is the law of supply and demand.

Some jobs, such as engineer or physician, require college training.  But once there are enough college graduates to fill the available positions, you just create a zero-sum game, you just raise the bar for getting a job.  You wind up with a lot of people in low-wage jobs with huge student debt.

There are just so many jobs you need college training to be able to do.  Any number of college graduates beyond that are surplus, in terms of the job market.  Employers can begin to ask for college degrees for jobs that high school graduates could fill just as well.

When I started out as a newspaper reporter, you didn’t have to have a college degree to get a job and, in fact, there was some skepticism about journalism schools.  I had a bachelor’s degree with a major in American history.

When I retired back in 1998, there were young men and women with law degrees and MBA degrees applying for jobs that were equivalent to the one I had.

DeBoer and Cass pointed out that college instruction isn’t for everyone.  Many people are better suited for skilled trades, such as electrician or auto mechanic, and often can earn as much money.  

High school guidance counselors are wrong when they try to push all their students into college, or treat those who don’t attend or complete college as failures.  They’d be better off in apprenticeship programs to be plumbers or carpenters.

A lawyer friend of mine told me his son is working for a local grocery chain and hopes to be a butcher.

Skilled trades aren’t a complete answer, either.  There is a need for only so many of the different skilled trade specialties.

DeBoer and Cass say vocational and professional education should be tied in to the needs of employers, so that when you complete job training, you have a good chance of getting a job with a specific employer.

But whatever happens, the supposedly unskilled jobs will outnumber the jobs that require college or apprenticeship training.  DeBoer and Cass say waiters, janitors, day care workers, package deliverers and others in the service economy deserve just as much respect as everybody else.

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Should CRT be taught in public schools?

December 29, 2021

 

Instruction about race and racism should be like all other instruction.

It should be accurate. It should be balanced. And it should be age-appropriate.

Education should give the students the skills they need to function as adults (reading and numeracy at a minimum) and the knowledge they need to understand the world they live in.

What they learn in the classroom should not contradict what they see and experience in the world outside.

Teachers should determine the curriculum with the advice, consent and, ideally, support of parents. They should never shut out parents or go behind the backs of parents.

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The problem with talking about critical race theory is that there is no clear definition of what critical race theory is.  Very few people with opinions about CRT have read books or articles by academic critical race theorists.

One of my friends says that critical race theory is simply facing up to the reality of the history of race and racism in the United States.  Very good!  Nobody could object to that.  But what exactly is that reality?

The version I was taught in high school in the 1940s and college in the 1950s fell short of that reality.  When I. studied the Civil War, I was taught about Abraham Lincoln and U.S. Grant, I was taught about Jefferson David and Robert E. Lee, but I was not taught much of anything about Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman.  It’s good that a more complete version is being taught today.

The New York Times has published a new interpretation of American history, The 1619 Project, which says that slavery and white supremacy, and not ideals of freedom and democracy, are the foundations of American history.  

The Times is promoting its 1619 Project articles as the basis of a high school curriculum.  But many respected historians question various aspects of the Times interpretation.

When respected authorities on a topic disagree,  students should learn both sides of the argument.  I think the 1619 Project belongs in high school libraries, along with alternative interpretations.  

No student who’s curious about it should be discouraged from learning about it.  But it should not be used as a textbook.  If it is, it shouldn’t be the only textbook. 

Another of my friends says that critical race theory is looking at the world through the lens of race.  That is, you should look at everything in terms of how it affects people of different races, both directly and indirectly, and how the way things work in American society is a result of racism, past and present.

I agree that if you look at things that way, you may see things you would otherwise overlook.  But why look at things through only one lens.  It is like looking at things through a microscope with only one setting of magnification.

You can understand a lot of things in society if you look at them through the lens of money.  There is a racial angle on many things, but there is a money angle on almost everything.  Or look at things through the lens of historic American ideals of freedom and democracy.

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Matt Taibbi on the Loudoun County culture war

December 23, 2021

AThe school board in Loudon County, Va., which is on the outskirts of Washington, D.C., has been in the headlines over its handling of race and gender issues.

Matt Taibbi has written an excellent series of articles about what’s really going on there, and how it has been misreported. I didn’t know the half of it until I read his pieces.

A proposal to end selective examinations to enter “gifted” programs was called an anti-racism program. But the group that the proposal hurts the most consists of dark-skinned immigrants from south India.

A role-playing exercise that well-meaning people put on to teach students about the Underground Railroad and the evils of slavery was attacked as an exercise in racism.

Self-described advocates of critical race theory went to absurd lengths to silence and marginalize their opponents.  Respectable citizens with legitimate concerns were treated as if they were potentially violent white nationalist zealots.

A highly-publicized incident, in which a 14-year-old girl was forcibly sodomized in a girl’s restroom by a boy wearing a dress, was reported as a transgender rights issue.

All this affected the 2021 elections in Virginia and is likely to have a big impact on the 2022 mid-term elections and beyond.

Most of my liberal friends and acquaintances think that the new “woke-ness” or critical race theory or whatever you want to call it is an extension of the civil rights movement they’ve advocated for all their lives. It is actually—at least in this case—a rejection of the old-time liberal ideal of equal rights and equal treatment for all.

If you care at all about this stuff, I recommend you bookmark this page and read Taibbi’s articles at your leisure.

LINKS

Loudon County, Virginia: A Culture War in Four Acts by Matt Taibbi for TK News.

A furious controversy in the richest county in America was about race, all right, but not in the way national media presented it.

A Culture War in Four Acts.  Loudoun County, Virginia.  Part Two.  “The Incident” by Matt Taibbi for TK News.

An Underground Railroad simulation at an elementary school brings a long-simmering dispute out into the open, triggering a bizarre series of unfortunate events.

The Holy War of Loudoun County, Virginia by Matt Taibbi for TK News.

An opposition galvanized by revelations of bizarre school policies finds itself on an enemies list.

Loudoun County Epilogue: A Worsening Culture War and the False Hope of ‘Decorum’. by Matt Taibbi for TK News.

As the wealthiest county in America found out, difficult political problems can’t just be swept under the rug, or into a parking lot.

The mess in American higher education

December 20, 2021

To get a job teaching in American public schools, you have to take college courses in education, then do practice teaching under the supervision of an experienced teacher.  

You may or may not be pleased with the result, but the point is that school authorities don’t expect just anyone to be able to step into a classroom and teach.

Jonathan Zimmerman, a professor of the history of education at the University of Pennsylvania, pointed out that college teaching is the exact opposite.

There is no meaningful professional preparation to be a college teacher.  There is no meaningful professional evaluation of college teaching.  Student evaluations don’t help.  All they’ve led to is grade inflation and easier assignments.

The majority of college teachers are adjunct faculty or temporary contractors, the lowest-paid, least secure and least prestigious in the college pecking order.

If universities were truly concerned about social justice, he wrote, there wouldn’t be so many college teachers who lack a living wage, health insurance or even a desk of their own to work at.

He said that undergraduates, because they have no standard of comparison, don’t understand how bad their teaching is.  Some of them rightly revolt against having to pay top dollar  for on-line instruction.  Others are more concerned with alleged thought-crimes of the right and left.

Zimmerman’s solution is a tuition strike.  He is disappointed that so few students are interested in this.  

I find it hard to blame the students.  So long as a college diploma is considered the only ticket to a middle class income, the college administrations will have the upper hand.

LINKS

The Quiet Scandal of College Teaching by Jonathan Zimmerman for Liberties.

Why the Fuck Do You Trust Harvard? by Freddie deBoer.  College admissions are another mess.

Taibbi on culture wars in Loudon County, Va.

December 17, 2021

Loudoun County, Va., on the outskirts of Washington, D.C., is the nation’s richest county. Recently it has been trending Democratic in national elections; Joe Biden got 61 percent of its vote in 2020.  

But last November, along with Virginia as a whole, it rejected Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe and supported Republican Glenn Youngkin.  The swing to Republicans in Loudoun was 15 percentage points.

The county’s school system is the battleground of arguments about critical race theory, transgenderism and a sexual assault case on school property.  The great investigative reporter, Matt Taibbi, says almost all these issues have been mis-reported by the national news media.

He is working on a four-part series of articles about Loudon, and has published the first one.   I had originally planned to wait until he finished the series, and link to them, but his first one is interesting and important/.  I don’t know how long he is going to take to publish the others and whether they will be behind a pay wall.  So here goes.

The first article is about the drive to abolish or restructure programs for “gifted” children because such programs supposedly benefit whites more than blacks.  

This isn’t so.  Anything nowadays that’s based on competitive examinations primarily benefits the super-studious children of immigrants from the Indian subcontinent and Eastern Asia, just as, a century ago, success in competitive examinations was dominated by the super-studious children of Jewish immigrants.

Loudoun County had a program for gifted children called Academies of Loudoun, and also pays tuition for selected students to attend Thomas Jefferson High School of Science and Technology, the top-rated high school in the nation, in neighboring Fairfax County.  Any graduate of TJ High is practically guaranteed admission to top universities.

Such programs made Loudoun County a magnet for Asian immigrants who worked in high tech industry and were academically ambitious for their children.  A large fraction were dark-skinned people with roots in South India, whose families had been held back by color prejudice in their homelands.

Asians are about 20 percent of the populations of both Loudoun and Fairfax counties.   In 2018, they made up more than half the applicants to TJ High and two-thirds of those accepted.  In contrast, whites were fewer than a third of the applicants and fewer than a quarter of those accepted.  Blacks and Hispanics were fewer than 10 percent of applicants or those accepted.

Taibbi reported that Loudoun County in 2018 changed the criteria for gifted programs to make them more holistic and less dependent on competitive examinations.  The change primarily benefitted whites, not blacks, and at the expense of a particular minority group.  

ThIs is a common pattern where high schools with selective admissions are under attack.

Taibbi thinks there was a swing of Asian-American voters against the Democrats in the recent Virginia elections, and probably nation-wide.

Until now, most Asian-Americans have regarded Democrats as the party of education.  That can change, and it would be politically important.

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Public schools can be petri dishes for coronavirus

August 25, 2021

Back during the George W. Bush administration, Carter Mecher was head of a White House task force charged with making a plan to prevent pandemics.  He was contacted by Robert Glass, a scientist at Sandia National Laboratories, who’d been running computer simulations of pandemics.

Glass’s models indicated that kindergartens and schools were potential petri dishes for the spread of contagious disease.  I don’t think this would have been surprising to most parents and teachers.

At that time, there were more than 100,000 K-12 schools in the U.S., with 50 million children in them.  There were 500,000 school buses in operation, compared to 70,000 in the regular U.S. transportation system.  On an average day, school buses carried twice as many passengers as the entire public transportation system.

Michael Lewis, author of The Premonition, told what happened next.  Becher decided to visit schools. He found school classrooms were more crowded than any other public space.  Chlldren sat, on average, three and a half feet apart; they could touch each other.

In hallways and at bus stops, young children crowded together.  They lacked the adult idea of personal space.  School bus seats were on average 40 inches wide, just wide enough for three children close packed together.

School bus aisles were narrower than aisles of regular buses. Paramedics used special stretchers for school buses because regular stretchers wouldn’t fit.

Becher made videos of homes where the ratio of children to floor space was the same as in public schools.  They looked like refugee prisons, Lewis wrote.

Glass had concluded that closing schools and reducing contacts among children were the key to controlling pandemics.

That doesn’t necessarily apply to the present situation, because teachers and children over 12 can get vaccinated.  Many schools try to practice social distancing, although this doesn’t protect from an airborne virus in an enclosed space.  Glass’s model assumed no vaccines and no treatments.

But vaccines don’t eliminate the danger.  They suppress the symptoms of the disease, but they don’t necessarily kill the virus.  Vaccinated people can still be spreaders of the disease.  And vaccines may not be 100 percent effective.

I don’t know what I’d do if I were a parent, except listen to the teachers rather than the politicians or the CDC.

Children in families with a lot of books in the home, who watch educational programs on TV and talk about current events and books around the supper table—the education of these children would not suffer all that much from school lockdowns.

But children in families without books in the home, children with parents who work multiple jobs and don’t have time for suppertime conversations, children who depend on school lunches for their main nourishing meal of the day—these children would be hurt a lot by long-term school closing.

Wearing masks can help some.  Good ventilation can help a lot.  Vaccine mandates for teachers and staff might help, but regular tests for the virus would help more.

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Student debt may be dischargeable in bankrupcy

July 22, 2021

‘The Trillion-Dollar Lie by Matt Taibbi for TK News.  “Universities built palaces and financiers made fortunes in part through a lie: that student loans can’t be discharged in bankruptcy.  But a series of court cases is helping unravel the scam.”

For years, it was believed that .. [the Bankruptcy Act of 2005] absolutely closed the door on bankruptcy for whole classes of borrowers, and one in particular: students.  Nearly fifteen years after the bill’s passage, journalists were still using language like, “The bill made it completely impossible to discharge student loan debt.”

Even I did this, writing multiple features about student loans stressing their absolute non-dischargeability, which is one of the reasons to write this now — I got this one wrong.

In 2017, I interviewed a 68 year-old named Veronica Martish who filed for personal bankruptcy — as I put it, “not to get free of student loans, of course, since bankruptcy protection isn’t available for students” — and described her being chased by collectors to her deathbed. “By the time I die, I will probably pay over $200,000 toward an $8,000 loan,” she said. “They chase you until you’re old, like me. They never stop. Ever.”

In fact, the bankruptcy situation was murky.  Beginning in the 2010s, judges all over the U.S. began handing down decisions …. that revealed lenders had essentially tricked the public into not asking basic questions, like: What is a “student loan”?  Is it anything a lender calls a student loan?  Is a school anything a lender calls a school?  Is a student anyone who takes a class?  Can lenders loan as much as they want, or can they only lend as much as school actually costs?  And so on.

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Pandemic recession and higher education

May 3, 2021

‘Break up the Ivy League cartel’

April 26, 2021

One encouraging thing is the growing bipartisan sentiment for breaking up giant corporations such as Amazon, Facebook, Google and Walmart.

Matt Stoller’s BIG Substack blog is good source of information on business monopoly and the anti-monopoly movement. 

A guest poster, Sam Haselby, pointed out the other that the Ivy League universities are very like monopoly businesses. 

They have positioned themselves the gatekeepers to the affluent life.  Like the big retail chains and tech companies, they are able to thrive because of their financial strength, while their smaller competitors, with smaller margins of survival, go under.

Here are some highlights of his post:

Since the pandemic began, 650,000 jobs have disappeared in American academic institutions. More than 75% of college faculty in the U.S. are contingent workers or non tenure-track.

Meanwhile, as of 2020, the aggregate value of the endowments of the richest 20 U.S. schools rose to over $311 billion, all of which are subsidized by taxpayers through the tax-free treatment we offer nonprofit educational institutions.

The common joke, that Harvard is a hedge fund with an educational arm, is not so far off.

[snip]

In 1940, the acceptance rate at Harvard was eighty-five percent. In 1970, it was twenty percent. This year, for the class of 2025, it was 3.4 percent.

On the surface, a far more selective Ivy League seems to support the notion of meritocracy as something approximating what Jefferson characterized as the purpose of (unrealized plans for) free public schooling in 18th century Virginia: “the best geniuses will be raked from the rubbish annually.”

In practice though American meritocracy has become skewed to elite reproduction.

The economist Raj Chetty has found that nearly 40 of the country’s elite colleges and universities, including five in the Ivy League, accept more students from families in the top 1% of income earners than from the bottom 60%.

Computer scientist Alison Morgan recently released a study examining 7,218 professors in PhD granting departments in the United States across the arts and sciences.  She found that the faculty come from families almost 34% richer than average and are twenty-five times more likely than average to have a parent with a PhD.  Faculty at prestigious universities are fifty times more likely than average person to have a parent with a PhD.

American meritocracy has become a complex, inefficient, and rigged system conferring a series of “merits” on ambitious children of highly educated and prosperous families.

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Education and the mirage of equal opportunity

March 22, 2021

It’s common to hear people say that they don’t believe in economic equality, but they do believe in equality of opportunity.

But one of the points of getting a lot of money and a high social position is to give your children advantages over other people’s children.

One of the ways of doing that is to enroll your children in elite private schools. I read an article by Caitlin Flanagan in The Atlantic about how students who attend the top private schools get a head start in life that’s almost impossible, or at least very, very difficult, for anybody else to overtake—even students in highly selective public schools.

In a just society, there wouldn’t be a need for these expensive schools, or for private wealth to subsidize something as fundamental as an education.  We wouldn’t give rich kids and a tiny number of lottery winners an outstanding education while so many poor kids attend failing schools.

In a just society, an education wouldn’t be a luxury item.  We have become a country with vanishingly few paths out of poverty, or even out of the working class.  We’ve allowed the majority of our public schools to founder, while expensive private schools play an outsize role in determining who gets to claim a coveted spot in the winners’ circle.

Many schools for the richest American kids have gates and security guards; the message is you are precious to us.  Many schools for the poorest kids have metal detectors and police officers; the message is you are a threat to us.

Public-school education—the specific force that has helped generations of Americans transcend the circumstances of their birth—is profoundly, perhaps irreparably, broken. In my own state of California, only half of public-school students are at grade level in reading, and even fewer are in math. When a crisis goes on long enough, it no longer seems like a crisis. It is merely a fact.

Source: The Atlantic

The Chronicle of Higher Education meanwhile reported on how colleges are doubling down on efforts to keep black students from failing and dropping out. 

This could be good.  I think many affirmative action programs push young black people into positions where they’re over their heads, then leave them to flounder and blame them for their failure.

More mentoring, and more attention to the individual and less to improving numbers, would help. 

But what may very well happen is that colleges will increase recruitment, retention and graduation numbers for African American students while doing little to improve their actual education, and while also ignoring disadvantaged students who are white or in other non-black racial categories.

In the long run, expecting less of African-American students won’t help them.  It will devalue their degrees and send them into the world not knowing how poorly-prepared they are.

I’m reminded of Goodhart’s Law – “when a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure” – because people will figure out how to game the system. Or, as W. Edwards Deming put it, “Give a manager a numerical target, and he’ll meet it, even if he has to destroy the company to do so.”

LINKS

Private Schools Are Indefensible by Caitlin Flanagan for The Atlantic.  “Elite schools breed entitlement, entrench inequality—and then pretend to be engines of social change.”

The Antiracist College by Tom Bartlett for the Chronicle of Higher Education.  “This may be a watershed moment in the history of higher education and race.”

Matt Taibbi on the student loan trap

February 26, 2021

Student Loan Horror: When You Think You Quality for Debt Relief, Check Again – And Again by Matt Taibbi for TK News. “A pair of science teachers were sure they qualified for student debt forgiveness. They discovered what many borrowers learned in the 2010s: not qualifying for aid is the norm.”

Forgiving student debt is not enough

January 28, 2021

Forgiving student debt won’t solve the student debt problem.

Young people today are told they have no future unless they get college degrees, preferably from prestigious universities.

Colleges and universities jack up tuition rates, much of which go to pay for construction projects and administrators’ salaries, not instruction.

Few young people can afford to pay high tuition rates, but they can get student loans. 

The reason they can easily get student loans is because student loans are not dischargeable in bankruptcy.  Some people are retiring with their student loans unpaid.

Debt relief would be a good thing, but it does not fix the underlying problem.

The first step in breaking this up is to get rid of the idea that a college degree is necessary to obtain a good job.  There should be other ways, such as apprenticeships or demonstrations of skill, to show you are qualified.

Tuition at state universities should be free or affordable to all who are capable of doing college work, as it was when I went to college.  Community colleges should offer remedial education and vocational training at free or affordable rates.

Student loans should be dischargeable in bankruptcy, the same as other loans.  I’ve written about this before, but Matt Taibbi defined the situation very well.

LINK

Forgiving Student Debt Alone Won’t Fix the Crisis by Matt Taibbi for Rolling Stone.

The twilight of the American university

December 11, 2020

When I think of the wonderful experience I had attending a university in the 1950s and the great teachers I had, I grieve for that this experience is rarely if ever available today, except for a few pockets where scholars stubbornly value learning for its own sake.

The faculty and administrators of the University of Wisconsin stood up for the right to tell the truth as they saw it, and not just for the rights of tenured faculty, in the era of Joe McCarthy.

Now college professors are under pressure from two directions—pressure to refrain from scholarship that is threatening to business interests, and pressure to maintain an ideological orthodoxy regarding race, gender, etc. These two pressures are not incompatible.

When I was a newspaper reporter, from roughly 60 years ago to roughly 20 years ago, there were only three categories of people I could interview who would speak their minds without fear—owners of successful businesses, members of strong labor unions and tenured college professors. Add to that civil servants talking about their areas of expertise.

The fear factor was much greater when I retired than when I started out. I am pretty sure it is not less today.

Universities are part of the institutional memory of civilizations. Their decline is one reason for the historical amnesia that exists today.

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The twilight of academic freedom

December 10, 2020

R.I.P. The University, b. 1088, d. 2020, of Covid by “Lambert Strether” for Naked Capitalism.

An alternative to call-out culture

November 19, 2020

What if, Instead of Calling People Out, We Called Them In? by Jessica Bennett for The New York Times. A report on how Professor Loretta J. Ross is combating call-out culture with a popular course at Smith College.  [Hat tip to Steve from Texas]

Teaching racial justice isn’t racial justice

November 19, 2020

Teaching Racial Justice Isn’t Racial Justice by Benjamin Y. Fong for The New York Times. There is a place for education in the fight against racism, Fong wrote, but we shouldn’t confuse it with the fight itself. [Hat tip to Steve from Texas]

Thomas Piketty on inequality in education

June 5, 2020

In the present-day USA, young people are told they have no economic future unless they have college educations.  Unless their parents are relatively affluent, the only way they can afford tuition is to go into debt—debt that literally can follow them all their lives.

Many of the top jobs in management, academia and government are only open to graduates of prestigious colleges.  So the educational system reinforces inequality.

Thomas Piketty

Thomas Piketty, in his new book Capital and Ideology, shows that this pattern exists across the Western world, including his native France.

It wasn’t always this way, he noted.  During the decades following the Second World War, the progressive and socialist political parties opened up higher education to working people in a way that hadn’t been done before.

Many of the beneficiaries of these programs became leaders of the moderately progressive and socialist parties.  They became what Piketty called the Brahmin Left, an educational elite, which, according to him, lost touch with the wage earners without college degrees.  He said in an interview:

If you look at education policies, in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, there was a relatively egalitarian platform of investing in primary and secondary education for all and bringing everyone to the end of secondary school. Gradually, in the 1980s and 1990s there was the rise of higher education, but this egalitarian platform has been abandoned in some cases.

There is a lot of hypocrisy in terms of access to universities. I show in the book that if you look at a country like the United States, there is data now available on the relationship between parental income and access to education that shows if your parents are poor, you still have a 25% chance to enter higher education, but when your parents are rich, you have a 95% chance.

Actually, this is understating the impact on equality of opportunity because of course the universities that those with rich parents have access to are not the same as the universities that those with poor parents have access to.

If you look at the amount of education investment, you find that even in a supposedly more egalitarian public system like France, the picture is unequal.

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How educated liberals alienate working people

December 31, 2019

Here’s a little thought experiment: What would happen if, by a snap of the fingers, white racism in America were to disappear?

It might be that the black and Latino working class would be voting for Trump, too. Then we Democrats would have no chance in 2020.

We often tell ourselves: “Oh, we lost the white working class because of race.”  But maybe the truth is something closer to this: “It’s only because of race that we have any part of the working class turning out for us at all.”

This is the beginning of an article by Chicago labor lawyer Thomas Geoghegan in The New Republic. His point is that that leaders of the Democratic Party and also the Washington press corps are college graduates who have little or nothing to do with mere high school graduates, even though they are the majority of Americans.

The liberal solution to economic inequality in the USA is college education for everybody.  In other words, the message of the liberal elite is: Imitate us.

This is insulting and is felt as an insult, Geoghegan said.  It also tells the majority of Americans over 30 that they are doomed.

And even if college education were universal, it wouldn’t end poverty, raise wages or cure economic inequality.  It would simply be a higher bar you have to reach in order to have any kind of economic future at all.

Geoghegan said that’s why the most astute thing that Donald Trump ever said was, “I love the uneducated.”

It wasn’t always this way.  I am old enough to remember a time when a majority of Senators and Congresspeople, not to mention President Harry Truman, had no education beyond high school.

 I was one of only two college graduates employed by the first newspaper I worked for, in 1959.  The other was the city editor, who had a degree in chemistry.

That era was certainly no utopia, but politicians lived in the same neighborhoods as their constituents and journalists lived in the same neighborhoods as their readers.

Not that education, or liberal education, is useless.  It is just that it is not a solution to problems caused by concentration and abuse of economic and political power.

By the way, exit polls showed that Donald Trump got 8 percent of the African-American vote and 29 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2016.

LINK

Educated Fools: Why Democrats still misunderstand the politics of social class by Thomas Geoghegan for The New Republic.

Is the U.S. educational system failing?

December 11, 2019

My friend James in Texas e-mailed a link to a New York Times article on the latest results of the Program for International Assessment tests, which compare proficiency of students in 79 school systems around the world.

Overall the U.S. results didn’t seem to be that bad.  American children are in the middle of the pack of advanced nations in reading, somewhat below in math, but better overall than in the previous round of tests.  However, as the Times writer pointed out, there are disparities within the averages.

About a fifth of American 15-year-olds scored so low on the PISA test that it appeared they had not mastered reading skills expected of a 10-year-old, according to Andreas Schleicher, director of education and skills at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which administers the exam.

Those students, he said, face “pretty grim prospects” on the job market.

James is an architect.  He worked as a substitute school teacher in the 1980s, taught design and algebra in community colleges in the 2000s and is now working on a certificate to teach in high school.  These are his observations from two decades.

1. Detracking – all kids dumped into same classroom, no honors or remedial grouping, no separate special ed class, teacher now must do 5 or 6 different lessons simultaneously instead of one. Advanced kids are bored and essentially teaching themselves, while slower kids are perpetually lost and have stopped even pretending to care.

2. No enforceable conduct standards – no consequences for anything, 2/3 of kids are basically feral, kids know teachers are powerless, with no administrative support, teachers given all responsibility for “classroom management” with zero actual authority, too busy being social workers and ringleaders instead of teaching.

3. Time theft – minimal lunchtime, no recess, obsessively timing every activity to the minute, weeks stolen for state testing, teachers’ weekends stolen for useless seminars and endless meetings. Kids can’t sustain attention enough to think deeply about anything, and teachers don’t have time to breathe, let alone teach.

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An elite that dare not call themselves elite

August 12, 2019

Natalia Dashan attended Yale University on a scholarship.  She was one of the 2 percent of Yale undergraduates whose parents are in the bottom fifth of American income earners.

She recently wrote an essay about something that struck her about some of her well-to-do classmates..

They lived and acted as if they in fact were poor.   They looked for reasons to think of themselves as oppressed.  They were in a near-constant state of rebellion.

Yale University Shield

But the rebellions were not over anybody’s material interests.  They were over whether how things were named or what someone said was appropriate—for example, whether “master” was an appropriate job title for the head of a college or whether a faculty member was out-of-line for scoffing at worries about racial stereotyping in Hallowe’en costumes.

Dashing also was struck by how quickly the faculty and administrators caved in to student protests, no matter how foolish their demands might have seemed to someone outside the academic environment and even in the absence of evidence that the protestors represented anybody but themselves.

The historic role of Yale, Harvard and other Ivy League universities has been to educate upper-class Americans to take on the responsibility of leadership—that is, for being a member of a ruling class.

Dashan concluded that the elite—defining the elite as those who grow up with the expectation that they and their children will attend Yale, Harvard or the equivalent—no longer want to assume the responsibility of leading and ruling.

So young people born to wealth and power look for ways to define themselves as oppressed, and older people, who should be their mentors, fear to appear in the role of oppressor.

The problem is that it is largely a performance—what I like to call psychodrama, but which more accurately could be called live-action role-playing.  It is tolerated because it is no threat to anybody, except the unlucky individuals who get caught in the crossfire.

Why this loss of confidence?  Dashan thinks it is fear of responsibility.  I think that is a large part of it.  But I think the more important part is a decline in belief in the values that gave confidence to earlier generations of elite Americans.

When I read Edmund Morris’s The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt, I was struck by how different the Harvard he attended was from the Harvard of today.

The goal of Harvard University in the 1870s was not only to provide an intellectual education, but to shape students’ character based on ideals of patriotism, Protestantism and manliness.

Young men were expected to participate in footfall and other contact sports to toughen them up, but also to teach ideals of sportsmanship—doing your best, but obeying the rules and not whining if you lose.  Attendance at morning prayers at Appleton Chapel was compulsory.

It is true that these ideals excluded a lot of people—Catholics, Jews, freethinkers and women, not to mention un-athletic men.  I would have felt this morality very restrictive if I had lived then.  Evidently many others over the years felt the same.

The unanswered question was:  What do you put in the place of these ideals?  Young people need to believe in something.

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Another experiment in educational reform

December 26, 2018


Source: Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal.

Hat tip to Physicist at Large.

10 things teachers didn’t face 10 years ago

April 18, 2018

A California high school teacher named Jeremy S. Adams listed 10 things that teachers face now that they didn’t have to face 10 years ago:

#1: The Inability to Punish Students: This is a story in modern education that is big and is about to get much bigger. A hodge-podge of policies and euphemisms—restorative justice, social-emotional learning, banning punitive actions for defiant and vulgar students—has resulted in a toxic situation where many teachers feel they are no longer in control of their own classrooms and schools.  While many of these policies are instituted with just and well-meaning motivations such as trying to end the tragedy of the school-to-prison pipeline phenomenon and ensuring poor students are not disproportionately disciplined, as is often the case, the consequence has been a loss of control on many campuses across the country.  While suspension and expulsion should never be the first or even second option for discipline, there absolutely must be consequences to destructive student behaviors if for no better reason than to protect the vast majority of students who are well-behaved and want to learn.

#2: Cell Phone Addiction: The constant need for “dopamine baths,” to quote Andrew Sullivan, has produced a generation of endorphin junkies populating the modern American classroom.  The statistics are jarring by any account: teens are on their phones, on average, for nine hours a day and the heaviest cell phone addicts swipe, touch, or use their phones up to 5,427 times a day.  The correlation between cell phone addiction and youth levels of depression, isolation, anxiety and low academic performance is beyond question.

#3: Online Bullying: When I was a child, weekends and nighttime served as reprieves from the school bully and the general drama of school itself.  Nowadays there is no escape and the effects are daunting.  One in three children have been threatened online and most distressing of all, half of all children who are bullied fail to tell any adults about it.  It is not hyperbole or embellishment to state that young people live much of their lives in a cyberspace unregulated by adults.  We would never let our children play and wander in unfamiliar parts of town and yet that is precisely what they do when they engage in a cyberspace that is foreign to their own parents.  We cannot protect children if we do not know where they are being harmed.

#4: Pep Rallies for Standardized Testing: The era of high-stakes testing has done very little to improve student performance.  It has spawned cuts in the arts, less recess time for elementary school children, more rote memorization, and perpetuated the illusion that test-taking prowess is synonymous with academic achievement, not to mention the long-term effect of discouraging the brightest and most ambitious young people from entering the education profession.  On a deeper level, schools are told they must be held accountable, which requires analysis of student performance, which perpetuates an endless stream of gimmicks, cynical incentives, and activities to motivate students to do well on standardized tests.  Schools who do pep rallies are not at fault—the policies that make such activities necessary and even beneficial are the culprits of this new feature of the teaching landscape.

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The heroic teachers’ strike in West Virginia

March 7, 2018

The USA in many ways has reverted to the Gilded Age of the 1890s, in which the economic and political systems are operated for the benefit of big business and a tiny group of rich people.

The striking West Virginia teachers are in the same boat as workers in the 1890s.  Their strike is illegal.  They are outside the protection of the National Labor Relations Act.   Anytime they strike, their whole futures are at risk

All they have going for them are their own solidarity and courage, and the support of public opinion and other workers.   But they have forced the Governor of West Virginia to agree to their 5 percent pay raise.   They still haven’t won a rollback in health insurance increases.

There is a lot to be learned in the way the West Virginia teachers organized their movement.   They organized all the public school employees, not just the teaching staff.   They reached out to parents and students, to make sure no student would go hungry for lack of a school lunch.

I have long believed that things in the USA cannot go on as they are forever, and I have long looked for signs of change—the Wisconsin public employees’ demonstrations, the Occupy Wall Street movement, the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign.

All these movements, in their different ways, represented working people striving for something better.  All were beaten back.   Is the West Virginia teachers’ strike the breakthrough?  We’ll see.

LINKS

The Lesson From West Virginia Teachers: If You Want to Win, Go on Strike by Miles Kampf-Lassin for In These Times.

 Notes on the West Virginia Teachers’ Strike of 2018 by Lambert Strether for naked capitalism.

Lessons, Successes, Failures of the West Virginia Teachers Strike by Bruce A. Dixon for Black Agenda Report [Added 3/8/2018]

Why do things cost so much?

February 17, 2017

cost_putoff

Scott Alexander, a physician in the Midwest, points out on his blog that during the past 50 years—

  • U.S. housing costs have increased about 50 percent.
  • U.S. education costs have increased 100 percent
  • U.S. college costs have increased 400 percent.
  • U.S. subway fares have increased 400 percent or more.

All of this is adjusted for inflation.

  • Health care in the United States costs about four times as much as equivalent health care in other First World countries
  • U.S. subways costs about eight times as much as equivalent subways on other First World countries.

The wages and salaries of public school teachers, college professors, nurses and physicians has meanwhile remained relatively flat.

As Alexander points out, this is strange.

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