Thursday, December 19, 2013

Cause & Effect: essential belief, misapprehension, moral hazard?

updated 071322
The brain is a construction of the brain. -- Nietzsche
There Must Be a Better Way! (The proctological principle?) I was waiting in a doctor’s office to arrange an examination, when a nurse answered a phone call. The irate voice on the other end of the line resounded throughout the small room: “I’m getting a colonoscopic exam tomorrow and I’m told I have to flush my system out by drinking a gallon of some insipid water concoction over the next twenty-four hours.” “That’s correct,” replied the nurse. “That’s absolutely ridiculous!” retorted the caller. “In this day and age there must be a better way to do it!” “No, sir. There is not,” responded the nurse.

A stream of expletives gushed from the telephone receiver. I thought to suggest to the nurse that she advise the patient to use a plumber’s snake instead of the prescribed water solution. But I kept my silence.

Practically Necessary Beliefs. Our way of life depends on a certain system of beliefs handed down through the centuries, although substantially modified in the process. Our notions of self-control, insanity, responsibility, criminality, and justice rest ultimately on the belief that some events relate to one another as cause and effect.

Daily we debate about who has done what; or, who can do what -- pretending all along that these “practical” questions have little to do with what “ivory-tower types” would call “philosophy.” In the debate we presume our investigations rest on a firm foundation: not merely the “belief,” but the “reality” of cause and effect. The operative train of thought here seems to ride on the Proctological Principle: if we (think we) need it, it must, in this day and age, be “a reality.”

Are Cause and Effect Illusions? Bertrand Russell recounts in his memoirs how, as a young man, he woke up in his bed one morning and came to a frightening understanding as to what David Hume meant by his theory of causation. All we ever observe, Hume had written, are correlations; regular sequences of event. Cause is our interpretation, our belief, more commonly, an assumption that normally observed regularities of precedence and propinquity will continue into the future.

Russell feared to step out of his bed onto the floor. It might, if Hume were right, suddenly open up beneath him, since there was nothing more than assumption to guarantee the persistence of its support. Thus, he would fall into an abyss of … nothingness (?).

(Russell’s reasoning here is somewhat inconsistent: If he could not trust that the floor, though sound and normal, would continue to support him, how could he come to any conclusion about what might happen next? Maybe he might float over the abyss!)

Being ultimately a pragmatist, as we all tend to be, Russell got past this fear and out of his bed and on with his life. Possibly he came to the realization that his bed, too, -- or the foundation of his house, or England in its entirety -- could just as likely open up to swallow him as he imagined the floor might.

Ultimately, perhaps, Russell, being a philosopher, might have come to concede (he did so, later) that there is more involved in identifying cause-and-effect relations than what our perceptions give us. Even today we warn our students, friends, associates, and acquaintances, perhaps, -- often futilely -- that mere “correlation” neither indicates nor denies “cause.” Little matter; if they are gamblers, day-traders, newspaper columnists, or political incumbents, they tend to ignore us.

Cause = Perceptions + Assumptions. Russell’s, and our, ability to act in this world rests heavily on structures of trust in generally unproven (and purely empirically unprovable) regularities of persistence. We construct edifices of trust with bricks of hope and desire cemented together with no more than the mortar of our assumptions. (See Varieties of Explanation & Cause.)

Immanuel Kant, some decades after Hume, presented a counter to Hume’s apparent empirical skepticism by denying that the human mind could go beyond experience, even such experience as augmented with scientific apparatus, to settle questions such as the “nature” of causation or objectivity. Our knowledge, Kant says, such as it is, is limited to phenomena.

Phenomena are constructed within the framework of human categories of understanding, which constitute the structure of the human mind, although interacting in someway with entities -- or entity -- of the extra-phenomenal world. Number, unity or plenty, says Kant, is a category of human understanding; not necessarily to be expected to parallel extra-phenomenal “reality.” (Check out the notion of quantum entanglement to appreciate how Kant's distinctions still retain relevance; although, he seems not to have considered how developing technologies and theories might interact to substantially expand human experience.)

It is amazing how many people in so many walks of life just hate this kind of theory: the theory that in culling out the true from the false, the wishful or delusional from the real, we ultimately invoke items of belief that themselves can only be judged, ad infinitum, by invoking other items of belief. (See Getting Down to Facts: can we avoid making assumptions?)

Is there a Bedrock of Knowledge? So what if claims of knowledge are always risky, resting on a potentially infinite chain of assumptions? Why the panic? Or more likely, the dismissive disdain? (Much more polite, if more condescending.)

I suppose it’s frightening. What? No absolute bedrock of The Known upon which to build our temples of Value, Prestige, Justice and Faith? Must everything be at risk? Can we, no matter how high our IQ or repute, how vast our wealth or influence, never be free from the risk of mistake?

Excepting formal linguistically constructed systems, i.e. knowledge by definition or stipulation, never, it would seem.

But does it really matter whether we occasionally stumble through life, rather than exhibiting perfection in all our decisions? Apparently to some people it does. Many who would reject the idea that knowledge may be essentially tentative are not inclined to even bother to present counter-argument or -evidence. Their basic concern, one might suspect, is more to preserve their incumbency in privileged positions; or, their right to importune others less empowered, i.e. to be in a condition of permanent moral hazard.

For references and to examine these issues further, See Buffering: Enhancing Moral Hazard in Decision-Making?

See also Varieties of Explanation. & Cause

--- EGR

**Consider the similarities also in
Isaiah 45:7 (KJV) "I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord do all these things."

And, also, the conversation between Faust and Mephistopheles (1335-1337 and 1345-1358 Original German edition, my translation -- EGR) wherein Faust's question as to who Mephisto is is answered "I am a part of that power that always pursues Evil yet always yields Good."

Faust counters, "How can you be a part of something when you present yourself to me as a whole?", Mephisto replies,"... Although (you) a human, from that a tiny world of fools, may consider yourself a whole, I am a part of a part that once was Everything, the Darkness that gave birth to Light."

Friday, November 8, 2013

The Costs and Risks of Education: exempting the traditional.

updated 11/21/18
“We are double-edged blades, and every time we whet our virtue the return stroke straps our vice” -- Henry David Thoreau
Scalpels. If you were to give scalpels to toddlers, you wouldn’t be surprised if they cut themselves. But you wouldn’t -- you shouldn’t, at least -- jump to the conclusion that every person with a scalpel is a toddler.

Toddlers lack foresight and are ignorant of many a cause-and-effect-connection. So, what would you do with toddlers and scalpels; especially, if apparent grown-ups had the minds and emotional development of toddlers?

For example, some people claim to be advocates concerned about “what’s good for the environment” and they feel it necessary to, at least, remonstrate with gardeners or farmers who use weed control compounds, even such as Roundup, which leave no toxic residues in the soil. (But see How Toxic is the World’s Most Popular Herbicide Roundup?)

Toddler-minded dilletantes with weed-killers can create substantial collateral damage. But carefully applied they can help gardeners and farmers reduce otherwise unnecessary weed-control costs.

Gun Control. In the USA an issue paralleling that of our scalpels' example is gun control. With a major difference. Scalpels are not as readily available or as sought with as intense avidness as are guns (or weedkillers).

Toddlers, or toddler-minded people would be, indeed, are, dangerous with guns. But not everyone who has a gun need be a toddler, or toddler-minded, or dangerous. This is simple logic. Partisan fussing and fuming over the controversy does not change that. For stentorian voices to invoke “liberty” or “2nd Amendment Rights” does not practically address the issue of the high rate of death or injury facilitated by easy access to guns.

But neither does the suggestion that laws be passed and enforced to reduce or prevent access to guns: short time gains here may well generate longer term ills. Also, we have to consider the immediate costs of training personnel to enforce such laws and prosecute their offenders. And who is ready to exacerbate our already overgrown penal crowding situations by adding to the prison population? (And see THE COST OF ARMING SCHOOLS: The Price of Stopping a Bad Guy with a Gun)

The pass-and-enforce-laws-and-prosecute-offenders proposal comes up in this context, too, with opponents apparently willing to disregard real damage as inconsequential, e.g. merely a cost of having a “free market.”

It is at this point in the public argument that proposed restrictions are modified to suggest that education can play a role. Just as scalpels are generally restricted to those whose education has prepared them to put them to proper use, so, it is suggested, could guns be made available to those whose education in the proper use of guns has qualified them to be trusted with them. (See Gun Fun or Safe Kids? Must we make trade-offs?)

Overlooked Pachyderms. One elephant in the room is cost. How much would it cost to “educate” all those who want guns, or any potentially dangerous item, to use them carefully? This would obviously be a major expenditure. Would anyone want to have their taxes raised to provide it? And how likely is it that enough people would want to forego using these “scalpels?”

The second bigger and consequently even less talked about elephant in the room is that the possible harms risked to life and limb are, to judge by the behavior of our population, of lower priority than the convenience of maintaining ready “scalpels.”

At this point, usually, some people, holier, in their own opinion, than others, stand up and start wagging their fingers at gun-owners, particularly. Or, they may indulge in berating gas-powered lawn-mower users or loggers or fishermen for despoiling the environment; or, for being unwilling to “reduce their carbon footprint.” (Surely, it is the practice of lemmings to reduce their carbon footprint to the absolute minimum.)

But are these same people willing to give up highways, bridges, sewers and electric lines, automobiles, airplanes, inoculations and police protections to forestall the injuries and loss of lives which are typically, although inadvertently, consequent to their construction and maintenance? (See Schools are spending billions on high-tech security. But are students any safer?)

An easy example is that of a highway on which occurs a certain number of deadly accidents a year. No doubt this number could be reduced using additional safety devices and surveillance methods. But as the cost per life that might be saved goes up substantially, the interest in raising taxes to pay for it does not. This explains the common practice of many a township’s avoiding installing traffic lights demanded by worried parents until and unless some critical carnage occurs at the intersection.

Similarly, it has been the practice in some public school districts, if students show persistent high rankings on SAT’s, to try to induce new teachers to leave -- usually by burdening them with extra duties or less attractive facilities -- before they get tenure and merit substantial salary increases. Who need pay for experienced teachers if the kids do just as well with greenhorns? (See Do We Really Need Better Teachers? What For?)

On the other hand, in schools, “scalpels” frowned on by outspoken community members are often categorized as instruments of “violence.” And “violence,” it is preached, has no place in schools! So, for example, karate or riflery classes, as well as certain kinds of shop classes are unlikely to be found even in high schools. Can’t trust those teen-age tots with such “scalpels!”

But traditionally esteemed activities, as risky as they may be, are OK! Just think football, basketball, wrestling, hockey, lacrosse and even rugby and fencing. Such sports are not even readily characterized by their enthusiasts as violent. After all, they are traditional, school-approved activities! They can’t be violent! (See Permissible School Violence)

Nonetheless, it remains a feeble moral position, indeed, hypocrisy, even, to complain about the collateral damage brought about by the practices of other people while disregarding the risks of one’s own collateral inflictions.

To examine these issues further, see Pursuing Educational Targets: 
What is the Collateral Damage?

Also, see Buffering: Enhancing Moral Hazard in Decision-Making? .

--- EGR

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Is It Really a Test? Or Just Another Task?

revised 1/25/19
Per aspera ad astra. Through difficulties, to the stars.

From a test-taker's point of view every test is a task. But not every task is actually a test, even if it looks like one. What is it that makes a task a test? This is a question of great practicality. State governments allocate funds to school districts on the basis of efficiency. This efficiency is determined by tasks-activities provided by state departments of education and imposed on local school districts. But what is necessary if this procedure, this task-activity, is to be anything more than a charade?

To avoid overlooking assumptions built into a widely accepted notion of testing, let's use a substitute concept: rank-task. We begin our investigation by talking about "rank-tasks" rather than about "tests." A rank-task is a type of activity some outcomes of which can be ranked, as, for example, better, the same, or worse. Think of a rank-task as any procedure which assigns someone a number. This can be interpreted as a rank to compare that person to others involved with the procedure.

Cinderella's Prince, looking to fit the glass slipper, would be undertaking such a rank-task. Some feet are too small; others, too large; only Cinderella's, just right. But trying to sort football players by the numbers on their jerseys is not a rank-task because there is generally no significance to the comparison of any two numbers other than that they indicate a different wearer.

Tests are, at the minimum, rank-tasks. They can be performed with more or less skill. But the skill demonstrated may not be what it is we wish to measure. For instance, Students take SAT preparation courses to learn test-taking skills, not the information the tests are designed to measure. Often these test-taking skills can be as crucial to a good score as actually knowing the material covered in the test.

For example, The Princeton Review has for many years provided materials and training in simple test taking procedures which seem to be able to raise SAT scores significantly. The SAT's are intended to measure scholastic aptitude. But the effectiveness of the Princeton Review's materials suggests that the SAT's are also measuring something else, namely the ability to take standardized tests of this type. This observation illustrates the very practical nature of our seemingly theoretical observations about testing. (See "Rationales for Intervention: From Test to Treatment to Policy: a forensic theory of warrants & rebuttals")

Among the readers of this article are certain to be individuals who did not get a scholarship, or who failed to get in to the college or university of their choice because of the score they received on the SAT. And there is a fair chance that the reason they did not get a higher score was not because they lacked scholastic aptitude, but because they lacked certain test-taking skills.

To consider other things that make a rank-task a test, see Justice Through Testing

--- EGR

Saturday, November 2, 2013

More School Reform Follies

Well, it has happened again. Would-be “reformers” have just made public schooling even more reliant on high stakes testing. Pennsylvania policy makers have decided that before granting high schoolers a diploma, they must pass a quota of standardized tests supposedly measuring, “the skills crucial for the work force and college”.

A total of 10 state-designed exams will be administered as students complete corresponding high school courses in: algebra I, biology, literature, composition, algebra II, geometry, U.S. history, chemistry, civics and world history. To receive a diploma, students must pass at least 6. (Pennsylvania officials decided not to wait until graduation to do the testing. Perhaps they fear students will forget the “vital” skills they are supposed to have “learned”?)

One wonders why knowledge of these particular subjects is so “crucial for the work force and college.” Why, for instance, is chemistry more crucial than physics, geometry more crucial than statistics or world history more crucial than world geography? All three of these options are included in the standard high school core curriculum required for college. Perhaps state officials just resorted to eenie meenie miney moe.

Then there is the matter of goal priorities. Why do “work force and college related skills” trump everything else? Other goals might be more worthy. For instance, they could have emphasized strengthening democracy. It sure could use a shot in the arm. How about skills related to being a happier person, fostering greater compassion, aiding self-fulfillment, encouraging clearer thought, making better decisions, or even learning how to detect insincerity false piety and general bull shit? These goals seem far more worthy than fulfilling the imagined needs of some overpaid corporate executive or taking courses that college officials have decided you must take because of status concerns and faculty politics.

Of course, when school “reformers” glibly emphasize making “America” more competitive, they studiously avoid specifying which Americans will actually benefit and which will pay the costs. All boats will just float higher.

There is another difficulty that troubles all school “reform.” Often, one reform goals cannot be realized without relinquishing another. In fact, the pursuit of one goal can actually undermine another. Pursuing international competitiveness, for instance could actually undermine democracy, sabotage compassion and/or chip away at individual self-fulfillment. Yet “reformers” never address these, or any other, possible goal conflicts. Perhaps they actually believe we can have it all. Perhaps they just want us to believe that.

The truth is this high stakes test based “reform” business — and it truly is a multi-billion dollar business — has gotten completely out of hand. It is distorting instruction, intimidating and demoralizing teachers, disempowering school administrators, placing ridiculous burdens on special needs youngsters, demanding miracles from kids who are just learning English, putting private corporations in charge of public policy, boring bright kids and both dehumanizing and devitalizing the entire educational process. Despite all these negatives, though, it still is growing like crabgrass.

Elite schooling is exempt from all of this. One wonders why? Perhaps what suits future sheep is not thought appropriate for future shepherds.

To examine these issues further, see Power Failure: 
Why U.S. School Reform Persistently Misses the Mark

--- Gary K. Clabaugh, Ed. D.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Institutionalizing Wisdom: uses of delay and obfuscation

We appreciate frankness from those who like us. Frankness from others is called insolence. -- Andre Maurois
One of the most popular myths of our democratic culture, The Frankness Rule, is that communication is almost invariably improved in a face-to-face encounter by frank, plain-speaking people. Such "transparency," such direct talk is supposed to avoid misunderstanding and therefore unnecessary conflict.

Given as an example justifying this belief in frankness is the hotline telephone conversation that occurred in October 1962 between President Kennedy and Premier Krushchev that brought about a resolution to the confrontation between US and Russian forces during the very scary Cuban missile crisis.

What was overlooked was by all of us democracy-loving free-society afficionados was that this reconciliation was not presented for review to the general, diverse American public; or, even the Congress of the US. Nor did Kruschev ask the Russian people -- nor, I suspect, the general membership of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union -- for their "input."

(I remember the situation -- the little we knew of it -- well. I was a junior in college at the time and expected, as did most of my classmates, that that our nuclear incineration was imminent. We planned the most amazing good-bye party and were not completely ecstatic, although very relieved, to hear shortly later that the crisis had been resolved.)

What is overlooked by our happy harbingers of frankness is that direct confrontation can just as well exacerbate a deteriorating situation, unless a good deal of wisdom is brought to it.

It is a forlorn hope to expect that, as a commonplace, a good deal of wisdom will be exhibited in everyday life. So it is that organizational shields act to keep separate powerful decision makers from others like them in rival organizations. This not only protects the in-house leaders from exterior aggression, but buffers them from their own inadvertent, or rash missteps.

I was once hired as a headmaster of a private school whose board of directors, although publicly hail-fellows-well-met, were not infrequently in disagreement. This was not very serious, since they seemed to be only peripherally interested in the school; but, it was important enough for them not to publically display mutual animosity: they were mostly all neighbors living in the same community.

Their solution was to try to recruit the headmaster (me, as well as my predecessor) as a go-between or intermediary decision-maker with a bias toward their own individual desires, so as to present the fellow with whom they were in conflict with a winning fait-accompli, as it were.

I announced this perception at a board meeting -- being at the time an adherent of the Frankness Rule --, remarking that they should approach each other directly since I was not going to bear the pressure of trying, at the same time, to surreptitiously prosecute and defend every board member’s personal agenda. I suspect this comment substantially reduced, in their eyes, the expected length of my tenure.

Wise action often requires preparation time for careful thought. This helps avoid rash decision we may well end up regretting. In smaller, intimate contexts, social niceties and etiquette enable us to temporize. We may, for example, at a family party meet relatives we would rather not maintain extensive contact with. So, we say, “It’s been nice talking with you again. We should try to get to see each other more often.” But, disregarding The Frankness Rule, we do not say, “O.K. let’s just say some nice words to keep the rest of the family happy. But we’re really out of here. Don’t call.”

Organizations institutionalize barriers to use of The Frankness Rule by setting up structures that cause delays and obscurities in communication. Personnel, e.g. secretaries, public-relations people, lawyers, are hired to formalize and to assist in what would otherwise be just another social strategem.

The last thing President Obama wants to have is an easily publicized, face-to-face conversation with President Angela Merkel about the NSA tapping of her private phones. Just as the last thing you want to have is a frank conversation with your significant other about a past ephemeral, yet very stupid thing he or she has done.

Being a decision-maker is often hard enough, and risky. Openness and speed of reply to one’s actions does not help persuade one to accept the burdens of such a role.

To examine these issues further, see Buffering: Enhancing Moral Hazard in Decision-Making?

--- EGR

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Whiskey for a Broken Back: State aid to Philadelphia schools

The Philadelphia Inquirer, 10/9/13, p. B5 reports that William R. Hite, Jr., Superintendent of the School District of Philadelphia, has expressed disappointment that so many Philadelphia public schools were judged by the Pennsylvania State Department of Education to be inadequate and subject to possible closure.

More than half of Pennsylvania’s 92 “worst-performing” schools are in Philadelphia. Thirteen of the 47 Philadelphia schools on the DOE’s list have been closed based on low enrollment, maintenance needs, and chronic academic problems. (No specific statistics were mentioned on the relative rankings of these three faults. But mentioning chronic academic problems last in the list tends to draw our attention to it.)

Hite pointed out that it was important to take into account that the school district is the largest in Pennsylvania (11th largest in the US in 2008 at 178,241 pupils according to the USDOE), and it has the most low-income children and students with special needs.

These are important mitigating factors, indeed, one would think, which should forestall a rash condemnation of poor school performance and the consequent penalties, for example, being handed over to charter school operators to be “turned around.”

Do such "handovers" promise improvement? Of the five charter schools operating in Philadelphia, one, Hope, in the Germantown section, agreed to close in June for being a “low performer.” (See Charter School Scandal? Again? You Can Bet On It…)

We might wonder what kind of thinking is going on here when Dr. Hite adds what he seems to think is needed to remediate the situation in Philadelphia:
This is a further call to action around the need to dramatically improve instructional practices in our schools.
(See Killing the Messengers? Disregarding School Reform Critics)

What happened to the issues of the school district’s monstrous size, long known to be an impediment to its effective governance? And even more immediate, what about the extensive poverty mentioned and the great number of special-needs kids? Why would Dr. Hite mention any of these things if he really believes that instructional practices are so primary? (See Destroying Schools to Improve Them?)

Well, if you’ve got a broken back, and no money or access to a doctor, a half-a-bottle of whiskey might offer some short-term relief. Perhaps what Hite is scratching for is help from the Pennsylvania State Department of Education, always abstemious for being underfunded and animadversive to most things Philadelphian. What is pedagogically anti-scientific is often popularly acceptable and politically astute. (See Top School Leadership: fooled or fools?)

Carolyn Dumaresq, states the Inquirer, the Pennsylvania’s acting Secretary of Education, will send DOE representatives, “academic recovery liaisons,” to “work with” principals to help the targeted schools. (See Pathologies of Enthusiasm: cheerleading is not engineering)

Hocus pocus! You’ve got a broken back and the State Health Department sends a liquor salesman to talk with your local pharmacist?! (See Technician, or Magician: Can You Tell the Difference?)

Think for a minute:

1. write down the possible links in a imaginable chain of connections between
A) academic recovery liaisons working with principals and, say,
X) student academics showing improvement.
choosing such intermediate links as will NOT be affected by the size of the school district (thus, of the school and of class sizes),or of the poverty of the students or of their special needs.
2. Find research evidence to support your linkages.
If you have succeeded with 1 and 2 above, you will have the ammunition to lead yet another reform movement in the more than a century-old crusades to “improve” public schools.

If not, you should loudly advertise the failure of your efforts. Otherwise, someone more ruthless and clever will appropriate your results and go ahead, anyhow, like their predecessors, leading their own seventy-six trombones in another open raid on the public coffers.

To examine these issues and related issues further, see The School Failure Mythology

See, also,Politics, Promises and School Improvement

--- EGR

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

The Consistently Successful Educator: A Will-o’-the-Wisp?

... one way of looking at success patterns ... is that that people who are in high positions have never been in one place long enough for their problems to catch up with them. They outrun their mistakes. -- Robert Jackall (1988) Moral Mazes. The world of corporate managers. New York: Oxford. p. 90
As headmaster of a private school and, later, as a professor of education, I was privy to negative comments and rather scandulous informational items about private and parochial schools that I had never heard in my previous 25+ years as a teacher in the School District of Philadelphia.

Nor did I read or hear about such things in the media. Papers, pundits and politicians seemed only to focus on the ills of public schools. Private and parochial schools -- and, more recently, charter schools -- were presumed to be good, despite what investigators might have discovered if only they had bothered to examine them carefully or think about what they were supposed to accomplish. (See, for example, Cookson. & Persell (1985) Preparing for Power. America's Elite Boarding Schools. See also, The Teacher as Technician.)

This narrow focus away from the private and religious sectors of education can probably be understood partly by entrepreneurial interests in diverting to themselves a portion of the vast and seemingly discretionary public school funds. Normally, private and parochial schools have tight budgets. More importantly, however, is that control of public school budgets is accessible by the clientele of papers, pundits and politicians. (See Control in the School: Illusions and Realities)

So it has come to be that “School Reform” in this USofA does not mean making private or parochial schools better. Public schools, as some Americans have been griping for 120 years, are the ones that need reform. So “reformers” even go abroad to look for cures for presumed public school ills, to find that philosopher’s stone that will turn base public metal into private gold. (See School “Success”: hoping for miracles. )

But why go to other countries? Why not just import the practices and methods used in private and parochial schools to transmute the failures of public education into the presumed superiority of private/parochial schools? Why not sacrifice what may be crucial to public education to the holy grail of excellence -- whatever “excellence” is supposed to mean? (See What Works in Schooling: the “Newfanglers” versus the “Oldfashioned.”)

The ideal of the public school, as a kind of factory with clear goals efficiently pursued, by which public schools are judged by a religiously and socio-economically diverse public results in a misperception of public school failure. This is because there is little practical consensus among papers, pundits, politicians and their clientele as to means and ends the public schools should be pursuing.

The ills of public schools, to the extent they are not imaginative fabrications, are not generally school generated. Rather, they are brought about by hasty practical compromises on broad public controversies over culture, law or economy; for example, over sex education, access to sports and the need for arts/music education. However, private and parochial schools are not public business. Thus, if they are mediocre or worse, they are left to their own devices. (See The School Failure Mythology .)

Practitioners and administrators in public education lack sufficient power to determine what is to be put into practice as an effective method, scientific knowledge or no. Political and economic concerns tend to override technical pedagogy.

In private and parochial education consensus issues are generally kept “in house”. But consensus issues are so important in public education that a language of vague slogans that celebrate as they obfuscate, has been invented to control discourse and decision-making. (See Slogans in Education)

Large amounts of public funds are at stake. This is a real power struggle. (See Power in Schooling Practice: 
The Educational Dilemmas)

To examine these issues further, see Increasing Teaching Efficiency


--- EGR

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Educator Self-Lobotomy with Slogans

It's not teaching if there's no learning... Justin Tarte . Blog. Life of an Educator. 9/27/13

Despite my advancing years -- which belie the common belief that with age wisdom increases -- I never cease to be amazed, disturbed, even, by how those who style themselves “educators” insist on benumbing their thought processes with hyperbole: short, catchy, unfortunately memorable slogans. (We ancients can remember such gems as, “I’d walk a mile for a mild, mild Camel “ -- a cigarette, not a beast of burden. Ah… nostalgia!) See Slogans: junkfood, dead-weight or poison?

Can you imagine doctors who would say, “If the patient does not get well, we are not 'really' practicing medicine.”?

Would a physicist declare, “Since our research failed to support our hypothesis, we must have been practicing culinary arts instead of physics!”?

What member of the clergy would concede, “Because our congregation members continue to sin, it must be the case that we are -- intentionally, or not -- servants of Satan.”?

Even those putative educators enamored of snappy, mindless slogans might reconsider their allegiance to exaggerations such as “It's not teaching if there's no learning” were they to be told that their paychecks would be reduced after a year in proportion to the demonstrated depth and breadth of learning of all the pupils in their charge, no excuses accepted.

At this point -- someone, particularly among a group of “reform-minded” educational “theorists” (usually not in-the-trenches public school teachers) -- will jump up and declare, “But it’s time we stopped making excuses for our failures and got something accomplished.” (Likely there will be much hand-clapping to follow and assorted hoots of approval.)

Really? What if they’re not “our” failures? Will our “taking ownership” of them result in our acquiring the power to have an effect on them? And since when does wanting to get something done count as being able to do it? Cheerleaders, and, even, enthusiastic fans, do not win games. Skilled, somewhat lucky players and coaches do.

Don’t underestimate luck: Whitey Herzog, widely recognized by fans as one of the top-ranking field coaches in baseball, once estimated that his skills made a difference in six to eight ball games out of the hundred and fifty or so his team played each season. (See Leadership subsection of Morality & Leadership)

Many people have wondered -- after considering the descrepancies among
a. who is permitted to become a public school teacher,

b. how he or she is trained, and

c. how, finally, our public spokespersons would have him or her evaluated
whether teachers are trained to fail. Are they merely cannonfodder to be expended in deeper conflicts among competing cultural and political interests? (See Cannonfodder)

At the end of the day, of course, we could just, more comfortably, perhaps, adopt the attitude that such slogans as “It's not teaching if there's no learning,” are just harmless pep-talk confected by teacher-trainers to whip up enthusiasm in their clientele.

I would suggest that it is more accurate, wiser even, to recognize such slogans as dysfunctional to the preparation of good teachers. They are not medicine, not even palliative, to the ills of schooling.

To examine these issues further, see Causal Fallacy in Teaching and Learning


--- EGR

Monday, July 22, 2013

Blocking Inquiry

Upon this first, and in one sense this sole, rule of reason, that in order to learn you must desire to learn, and in so desiring not be satisfied with what you already incline to think, there follows one corollary which itself deserves to be inscribed upon every wall of the city of philosophy: Do not block the way of inquiry.
-- C. S. Pierce (1889) The First Rule of Logic
But even in this, our Land of the Free, Of, For and By the People, blocking inquiry is seen as an indispensible technique to proper socialization, called “good citizenship.” And the basic rule of “good citizenship” is “Don’t question either this directive, or those who have (claim?) the authority to tell you what to do.” Little wonder that “critical thinking” is little more than an empty buzzword in the mouths of those who govern American educational institutions.

Of course, much lip service is given to the idea that education should nourish and encourage a child’s curiosity. But unspoken is the reality that such curiosity must be constrained within bounds whose existence is seldom acknowledged, much less subject to inquiry. For the sake of a “peaceful, orderly society.”

In fact, it is not only teachers, but parents, too, who breathe sighs of relief once they perceive that their children have given up on asking “Why?” and, instead, just pay if only very perfunctory obedience when told to do things.

Much money is wasted when people are given a costly education in which they don’t learn to tell when they are being given a runaround. Much of our formal education is flawed in this way. Even most higher education fails to give people a practical introduction to the many words, phrases and modes of speech used to dissuade us from asking potentially embarrassing questions.

So instead of explanations that might give insight and control to those who ask for them, they are offered terms, inquiry blockers, like “human nature,” “mystery,” “intuition,” “faith,” “feelings” and similar obscurities as “explanations” for many of the important problems they encounter. Such education aims not at empowerment and mastery, but obedience and resignation.

Students in higher education are subjected to myriad "introductory" courses that serve up buzzwords, seldom critically examined, like "market," "ecology," "transcendence," "power," "society" that they may sport as knowledge, even though very little if any practical application is acquired with them. (See Masks: words that hide agendas)

Even worse, the semi-literate condition a great number of people end up in after years of formal education cements their belief that any skills requiring careful attention to the fine points of writing or discourse are dispensible for everyday, practical activities, except for, perhaps, those of lawyers or college professors.

The sad irony is that there appears to be no small number of lawyers, college professors and other “professionals” for whom careful, critical use of language is as much a confused exercise as it is for the average guy-on-the-street. Politicians, advertisers and hucksters of salvation know this and rely on it to make their living.

To examine these issues further, see Inquiry Blockers

--- EGR

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Some Beliefs Are Neither True Nor False.

I would never die for my beliefs, because I might be wrong. -- Bertrand Russell
This is a strange statement coming from a philosopher, an English Lord, who went to jail because he openly opposed Britain's involvement in World War I. (Conceded, imprisonment is still not a death sentence.) Surely, he knew -- perhaps not at that time -- that there are beliefs that cannot be said to be true or false. They may be judged to be unworthy, precipitous, or unwise, perhaps, but not true or false.
The crucial difference is between "believing that" and "believing in." Believing that is a matter of truth or falsity. Supporting evidence is a relevant consideration

Believing in is a matter of commitment, of faith, or of hope. One may persist in such commitment in the face of strong evidence that it is wrongheaded. We may question the wisdom of such a commitment, but we do not ask for supporting evidence. One can believe in something, without believing that something else relating to it is true or false.

For example, you may insist on believing in your brother's honesty, without believing it is false that he has stolen something. Or, you can believe in being kind to all persons without believing that they personally merit such consideration.

False beliefs are beliefs that something is factually true, when it is not. A judgment that someone's belief is false depends on the authorities one invokes to claim that one knows something to be a fact belying the belief (a belief that) judged to be false.

The most one can say about beliefs in some thing, in some commitment, in some person is that this faith, this commitment, presumes the truth of facts needed to support that faith. To the extent that such facts are lacking, the faith may be at best a forlorn hope.

So it is that one may believe in a god without knowing that a god exists; or one may believe in a way of life, i.e. pacifism, Animal rights, without knowing that such a way of life is ultimately feasible. There is a lot of room between "not knowing that X" and "knowing that not-X" that permits belief in X to retain some credibility, some honor, even.

A religious belief may be foolish, -- many have died or caused others to die for such foolishness. But religious belief in, trust in, commitment to a god is not disestablished by facts based on the authority of empirical science, any more than, say, brain research can inform me that I am mistaken in believing that chocolate I am tasting at the moment tastes good, if I judge the chocolate I am tasting to taste good to me.

To examine these issues further, see Pseudo-Science: the reasonable constraints of Empiricism

--- EGR

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Question the Question: avoiding premature closure on options.

There are disturbing signs that even many individuals and groups who should know better have learned little about the complexities of schools and educational improvements and are comfortable with the old bromides. Simple diagnoses and correspondingly simple solutions abound. --- John Goodlad, A Place Called School (1984)
What are educational problems? Why are there schooling controversies? What conflicts underlie them? How can we deal with them?

Stop. Don’t jump to formulating answers to these questions. Don’t confuse readiness or speed of response with knowledge or wisdom. Such shows of “decisiveness” or “leadership” often work to bias the direction of inquiry, restricting the range of perspectives brought up for consideration. In addition these "answers" may prematurely cement the discussion into forms which serve special interests and unfairly rule out diversity of opinion.

For example, consider this question from a Linkedin educational forum:
Is the American educational system wrecked or it has simply become inadequate since it can’t longer fulfill the essential requirements of the current and future generations? - Linkedin Educational Leadership Group, May 24, 2013.
This “question” is actually a bundle of answers in interrogatory form. It likely promotes agendas dear to the heart of its authors. It’s fairly obvious that
a. the “question” restricts discussion to two options: the American educational system is either “wrecked,” or it has become “inadequate.”

b. It finesses in a diagnosis for the proposed “inadequacy,” i. e. the system can’t fulfill “the essential requirements” …

c. “wrecked” and “inadequacy” are, themselves, evaluative terms requiring specification and justification.

d. It is far from clear what the following terms are being used to refer to: “the American educational system,” “the essential(?) requirements.” Which populations are being referred to by the terms “current and future generations?” (Don’t assume much consensus on these issues. American politics evidence otherwise.)
I responded to the “question” in the online forum with the following:

Would you mind listing "essential requirements of the current and future generations"? It might help draw this discussion down to practical considerations and to define the political environments in which any implementation efforts will need to seek support. (Don't presume any broad consensus on these issues.)

In addition, it might help to bring up some of the many, many other possibilities the forced two-pronged alternatives of your original question has overlooked.
For references and to examine these issues further, see Solving School Problems: a conflict resolution approach

--- EGR

Friday, April 19, 2013

Ineffective Instruction: Through Ignorance? Or Distraction?

An educator never says what he himself thinks, but only that which he thinks it is good for those whom he is educating to hear. ----- Nietzsche The Will to Power
Most people, and those who write TV drama, tend to confuse teaching and preaching. It’s tradition! If your circumstances are right, for example, where you preach “to the choir,” that is, to any highly attentive, motivated, deferent group of people, then preaching can actually be teaching resulting in learning. Otherwise, though you speak with the tongues of men and angels, you are no more than sounding brass or tinkling cymbal.

But many attempts at teaching take place where the intended recipients are deficient in attention or motivation or deference: as in legally compulsory situations, e.g. K-12 schools, public or otherwise; semi-compulsory venues, e.g. required college courses; or even punishment substitution classes, e.g. driving classes for traffic offenders, or drug or alcohol “education” sessions.

Because the words “teaching” and “teacher” have ancient, revered and deep philosophical roots, (See Models of Teaching) modern tastes developing for “21st Century” institutions have pushed to replace the ancient words with “instruction” and “instructor.” Similarly “teacher’s judgment” has become “test results,” and “improved comportment,” has metamorphosed into “positive behavioral change.” (See Student as “Client” ) However, since this linguistic NewSpeak is still in flux, I will not consistently follow the “improvement,” throughout this essay.

But the real achievement with all this semantic hugger-mugger has been to convince an ignorant, or, in any event, only superficially-interested public that having changed, updated, upscaled and respun the vocabulary lists has brought about some substantial change in the realities of schooling: old wine that has been rebottled is new.

Would-be teachers (or instructors) are trained in what is called, often inaccurately and optimistically, classroom or instructional “management techniques.” Thus armed with putative pedagogical or public speaking skills, many enter teaching jobs or occupations (the spoken word is “professions”) expected to entertain, or distract their charges long enough to present them with material to be tested or “experienced” and to forestall their students’ dozing off, walking out or openly challenging institutional rules.

What is frequently characterized as “ineffective” instruction is thought to be a matter of ignorance of methods of effective presentation. Such ignorance is more commonly encountered at colleges and universities -- where exciting lecturers are still a rarity -- than in K-12 schools or in the corporate world. People who enter college teaching are expected to be “scholars.” Teaching effectiveness is a much more distant desideratum, following committee participation, grant-grubbing, and remaining always sensitive to, and ready to clear the decks for “collegially” pursuing the belfry-bats of “administrative intent” or trustee interest.

In many colleges and universities, the secondary expectations leave little time for any substantial scholarly pursuit. And yet, even as grade inflation, plagiarism, cheating (See Cheating Blogs) and hokey research (See many examples at crowd out learning, higher education leaders speak with surprised, tremulous tones of dismay at this predictable sacrifice by students and faculty of their ethics to their rationality. (See Fiscal Policy Effects on Grade Inflation)

In K-12 schools and in the corporate world, whether it is called “education” or “instruction,” it is not so much a dogged pursuit of scholarship that makes teachers or instructors ineffective. (See What Can A Teacher Do? Two Myths of Responsibility) It is actual commitment by many an organization to goals other than vaunted learning outcomes. Knowledge acquisition takes a distant second place to intrusive pursuit of more important priorities: in K-12, obedience training and attitudinal adjustment. (Schooling vs. Education)

In business, the devaluation of technically important instructional activity is shown, for example, in lack of support for customer service activities -- consider botched user manuals or mis-scheduled technical training sessions. Also, training budget may be sacrificed to “leadership” snipe hunts, pursuing newer “opportunities” before older ones have been completed. (Activities typical of persons in “buffered” roles. See Buffering: Enhancing Moral Hazard in Decision-Making.)

In general, instructional effectiveness is hampered by distractions. But these distractions are often unavoidable. Economic reality, financial support for educational activities, is basic. So are the activities of institutional power players. (See Power in Schooling Practice). Training and education take place, nowadays, in complex organizations. Such organizations have basic conflicts that cannot be escaped. (See Basic Internal Conflicts.)

Too many people, I suspect, think that they can escape into teaching to avoid having to confront more basic social and economic issues. (See Comparing Teaching to Other Occupations)The image of Socrates lazing about Athens chatting with disciples still delights educators at all levels with its aristocratic overtones of disregard for dealing with day-to-day necessities.

The myths of organizational simplicity and enduring mentorship, yet dear to many beyond education, is reinforced by the still echoed comment of President James Garfield who defined a university as “Mark Hopkins on one end of a log and a student on the other.” Such a university never was, and never likely will be.

As private organizations, businesses, in general, have no educational obligations. Nor very much in the way of public esteem. That they train their employees, or provide instructional aid to their customers is a matter of perceived internal need. Publicity, good will, customer satisfaction are means to ends that the directors of the organization determine. History shows that it is not ethics, nor even, on occasion, rationality -- both insisted on by Adam Smith -- that constrains the social costs inflicted by such organizations. It is either exhaustion, or government intervention.

But educators, professors, particularly, are (in 2013) still treated in many places like secular priests and priestesses. They rank high in public esteem: not only in the Gallup polls; but, as indicated in media reportage of their failings with tones of outrage that the perversions of media stars themselves hardly ever provoke. Parents still treat teachers with deference and businessmen pursue invitations to university faculty clubs (even though they know they’re likely going to be solicited for a donation.)

Educators, teachers or instructors, high priests that they be, tend to believe that the alms they need to live in comfort, the eleemosynary sources they expect, should be freely accessible to them. However the institutions that provide them sanctuary have basic requirements, which, realistically, take priority. Nonetheless, if these institutions are bound by law or contract, that priority exists only so long as it does not appear to undermine their purported educational missions.

For references and to examine these issues further, see Increasing Teaching Efficiency

--- EGR

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Killing the Messengers? Disregarding School Reform Critics

Ignorance is Bliss -- Thomas Gray (1742)
Wealth or celebrity, in our Land of the Free, provides those who enjoy it, special people, both broad opportunity and wide audience to promulgate shallow opinions no matter how deep their ignorance. Non-special people who dare venture critical comment against such self-indulgence risk being punished as proverbial messengers of bad news.

For example, whistle-blowers in government face weakening of the laws that protect them from retaliation. Also, AgGag laws are passed to strangle free speech criticism of selected industry practices.

We can imagine the following dialog in, say, a college lab coffee room:
Harry: Yum! This leftover chocolate pudding I found in the frig tastes pretty good!

Jack: I hate to tell you, but that’s not chocolate pudding you’re eating.

Harry: Dammit, Jack! You’ve ruined my whole day!

When it comes to reforming public schools, heavily endowed opinionators importune the many educators seemingly all too ready to swallow down celebrity offal at face value, if sauced over with sentiment invoking the welfare of children or national competitiveness.

Bullshit, -- oops! (Pardon my Anglo-Saxon.) -- chocolate pudding, abounds providing sustenance (brain-food, no doubt) for myriad “researchers” willing to ride their bandwagons to escape academic and occupational ennui. Even when these reform enthusiasts, failing to extirpate criticism, finally come around to begrudging opposing viewpoints, they can count on their celebrity to finesse any apologies of shame or regret.

As to school reform? No matter! So never mind. Wasted time, money and human resources are just so much past history. And real “pro-active” Go-Getters don’t lose sleep over past history! They stand ever ready with that Tool they wield so effectively, to promote the next social reform that distracts them from ennui.

For references and to examine that Tool further, see BS -- It Really Serves a Purpose

--- EGR

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Inverting Risk: misdescription for the sake of punditry.

The children involved with the Atlanta schools cheating scandal are “the victims of … massive fraud, the helpless pawns of adults who callously overlooked the needs of their charges and focused on preserving their careers.” -- C. Tucker, 4/10/13 Phila Inquirer, A18
Punditry tempts one to great (see) moral hazard. Once you have a newspaper column that guarantees an audience, you can, if you wish, sacrifice fact and logic for the sake of seducing sympathy for your latest enthusiasm. (Besides, getting to ride the high horse of moral superiority is so delightful!)

First, let’s give but short shrift to the likely false assumptions in Tucker’s diatribe:
a. Did any students or their parents, relatives etc. protest against the high scores announced before the “scandal” broke? (Not likely.)

b. Did the adults involved, i.e. school staff, “callously overlook the needs of their charges? (More likely they did so with trepidation and feelings of guilt. Educators are, to my taste, entirely too sensitive to what kids and their parents claim to want or need.)

c. Which “needs” is Tucker talking about? Is there much agreement as to what they are and which among them takes priority? (Disregarding slogans for the consumption of the ill-informed, the answer is NO. See The Need for and Possibilities of Educational Reform)

d. And, horrors! What kind of adults might overlook the “needs” of others (children included) and focus on preserving their careers? Not just teachers and principals and school superintendents; but, also, presidents, popes, preachers, corporate CEO’s, as well as you, me, members of Congress, definitely, and even pundits! (But see The Mea Culpa Culture in Public Education.)

Now that we are fatigued from wagging our fingers, let’s consider a deeper issue: the degradation of our natural sense of logic and experience by the persistent hammering in of emotional confusions.

By the time a normal child is ten years old, he or she has learned through experience the following three rules for survival:
Rule 1: A sure bet is definitely not the same as a distant possibility;

Rule 2: Sure bets are lower, much lower, risks than distant possibilities; from which follows

Rule 3: Avoid betting things you value on distant possibilities, unless the payoffs are proportionately (inversely) unequal, i.e. massive payoffs may be worth an increased risk, even though small or equal ones are not.

As the headmaster of a private, academic school, grades seven through twelve, I attempted to solicit financial support for our programs from corporations around the Philadelphia area. I was never successful in the face of the reasons given by almost every one of those who refused: “High school kids are too distant a prospect for us to bet on. Too much can happen before they get to us. We only contribute to programs for upper-class students in college, because we’ll see them presently.”

No dummies, they! They have retained their childhood knowledge of Rules 1-3 given above. They put their money on the surer bet.

But, in this cruel world we live in, who in their right mind -- unless well-endowed (or a hopelessly optimistic educator) -- makes a bet on the future prospects of a school kid at the much surer risk of destroying their career? That is, discarding a career they have poured much time, sweat and money into, along with the pension they cannot recover through new employment? Tucker seems to think this would have been the reasonable option for the educators involved.

“Reasonable” for educators, but not a newspaper columnist, I am sure.

For references and to examine these issues further, see Illogic and Dissimulation in School Reform

--- EGR

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Bestowing Trust

Those who control how you trust, control you . (See Related Blogs)

There is much ado, both socially and politically, about which aspects of our society our laws should give priority to, for example, “free markets” or “government control.” Many people pick sides, founding fan-clubs of sorts, and spending a lot of time “debating” the “issues.” This is like a bunch of rabbits tuning in on a quarrel between wolves and foxes as to how those predators should arrange their dinner menus.

Of course, the rabbits have a role to play here. They -- in their massive numbers -- have to trust either wolves or foxes in order to facilitate the carnivores’ meal-making (and not flee or resist their needed participation).

There are seldom, if ever, any “free” markets: there are only people free to manipulate the trust of others. But neither are there, however exalted, any “trustworthy” institutions, in and of themselves: it is our bestowal of trust that makes them so. The very common ideas of “need to know,” or “proprietary secrets,” “name-brands” and “Trust me!” attest to this.

Judgment is regularly and openly diverted from a search for information in order to make a comparison to standards, to the well-encouraged short cut of emotional response to advertising. Caveat emptor -- like many another commandment in our “faith-based” society -- is given lip-service, only, and disregarded in practice.

Much of the expatiation on Constitutional rights and liberty, as well as that on community and tolerance is little more than seduction into trust. But it will likely be the thoughtless bestowals of trust by ill-informed, mal-educated, or distracted individuals that pave the road to innovative (!), modern (!) , 21st Century (!) forms of slavery.

To examine these issues further, see PERSONAL LIBERATION THROUGH EDUCATION?

--- EGR

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

METI: Here We Are! Come Eat Us! Our Children Are Especially Tasty!

...the fetish to narrowly define the (SETI, Search for ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence) has resulted in a view of alien life that is as constricted and ironic as it is unsupportable.-- David Brin, Ph.D. [1]
Forget about freedom, the economy, terrorism, disease, obesity, the state of public schools and bad taste. If those who practice METI (sending Messages to ExtraTerrestrial Civilizations -- a subfield of SETI,) have made a bad bet, then none of our trivial local concerns will mean much. (Imagine the movie, Independence Day [2], with an unhappy ending.)

David Brin comments about the METI advocates (METI’s, for short) :
Serenely confident in a “we know best” attitude, they are embarking upon this path in blithe confidence, unwilling to even discuss their plans in an open forum. A path that might have serious consequences to humanity.
(In other contexts, we might say that METI’s exercise Moral Hazard ).)

If this planet’s unhappy history provides any example, all we can expect from the arrival of technologically advanced, interstellar newcomers is conquest and extinction. Why would anyone on this planet want to take the risk?

Here are some possibilities:
A. METI researchers believe that advanced civilization most likely indicates advanced “morality,” -- read here “altruism;”

B. METI’s are exercising their “inviolable right” of free speech.

C. METI’s hope that by inviting ET’s they will ingratiate themselves with the invaders enough to be spared the general harvesting of our bodies and resources;

D. As first “discoverers,” METI’s will enjoy fame and its blandishments if even only for a short period in the likely not much longer history of the human race.

Let’s return to the issue of altruism (-- most likely a case of pathological altruism). Can we bank on the altruism of a technologically superior civilization? Does the development of refined intellectuality and rational, technological skills naturally produce refined, rational moral development that considers the needs and is tolerant of those weaker and different from the stronger?

Consider the last 100 years of this history of this planet. Consider just exactly who it was that inflicted needless death and destruction upon millions of non-combatant inhabitants around the world. Were those inflictors lacking in refined intellectuality or rational, technological skill?

Clearly, neither physical, intellectual or technological development is any guarantee of “moral development.” Status competition, i.e. honor and one-upmanship, alone -- don't even mention resource scarcity -- produces conflicts, which intellect and science are likely brought in to support. That is unless a happy development in technology generates more wealth, of which it is not cost-effective for oligarchies to try to curtail the sharing.

For a longer article with references examining the relationship of cognitive development to moral development, see Moral Education: Indoctrination vs. Cognitive Development?



[1] Brin, David (2008) SHOUTING AT THE COSMOS
…Or How SETI has Taken a Worrisome Turn Into Dangerous Territory by Lifeboat Foundation Scientific Advisory Board member David Brin, Ph.D. A very important article.

[2] See Independence Day

Sunday, February 24, 2013

America 2000: A Notable Educational Charade

To those who want to see real improvement in American education, I say: There will be no renaissance without revolution. ...
We've made a good beginning by setting the nation's sights on six ambitious National Education Goals.
...George H. W. Bush, (April 18,1991)
What were those goals?
By the year 2000

1. All children in America will start school ready to learn.

2. The high school graduation rate will increase to at least 90 percent.

3. American students will leave grades four, eight, and twelve having demonstrated competency in challenging subject matter including English, mathematics, science, history, and geography; and every school in America will ensure that all students learn to use their minds well, so that they may be prepared for responsible citizenship, further learning, and productive employment in our modern economy.

4. U.S. students will be first in the world in science and mathematics achievement.

5. Every adult American will be literate and will possess the knowledge and skills necessary to compete in a global economy and exercise the rights and responsibilities of citizenship.

6. Every school in America will be free of drugs and violence and will offer a disciplined environment conducive to learning.

-- America 2000: an educational strategy (DOE, 1991) p.3,
Seventy-six trombones lead the big parade… to nowhere. Were these targets met by 2000? No. Have they been met by 2013? No.

What were these “educational revolutionaries” thinking? How were decades-, even centuries-old impediments to be identified and addressed? Where was the money for this revolution to come from? Who had which responsibilities? Who would hold their feet to the fire to make sure they came through?

Think of the all planning costs of this debacle: the per-hour payments to discussion participants for attendance, room and travel; the trees sacrificed to recording what was best bound for recycle; the tons of sitzfleisch constrained to aching fallow; and, worst of all, the ultimate disappointment and cynicism provoked in reaction to its failure.

Did anyone in 1991 stand up and rage against the presumption, the hubris, the wishful thinking underlying these “visions?” If they did they were ignored, invisible to our media, our bulwarks of democracy. Not one trombonist, not even one piccolo player wanted to know of anyone trying to piss on their parade.

Does anyone today hang their head in shame, or even offer a vague apology, for having participated in this scam? Why should they? There is an escape clause written right into the document that relieved these planners and prognosticators of their responsibility for failure:
Without a strong commitment and concerted effort on the part of every sector and every citizen to improve dramatically the performance of the nation’s educational system and each and every student, these goals will remain nothing more than a distant, unattainable vision. -- America 2000, p.41

See, folks? It wasn't our marching band or our paraders at fault! The critical word in the previous paragraph is "every." America 2000 failed likely because some kid, somewhere, bugged out of his responsibilities -- probably didn't do his homework -- that brought our parade, our crusade, to a halt. (And wasted all that time, effort and money.)

For references and to examine these issues further, see America 2000: an educational strategy

--- EGR

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Multicultural Education: a solution to problems of immigration?

“This Melting Pot of ours absorbs the second generation over a flame so high that the first is left encrusted on the rim.” -- John Tarkov, American writer
Previously, when American school systems absorbed millions of immigrant children at the early part of the last century, there were only minimal adjustments made to help them along. The result? Tsk, tsk! A vast underclass of non-millionaires, who had to manage day-to-day working at some non-intellectual pursuit, who proudly called themselves Americans, although they could hardly tell a Mayflower from a daisy, or a pate from a fois or a gras. Happily times have changed. Now, we have multicultural education.

Those early immigrants appeared, on the surface, to get along with each other, even intermarrying, but underneath it all, there was dislike, even hatred, as words such a hunkie, polak, spic, etc., demonstrated.

Now we have educators who have been trained to believe that they are capable of various and extensive depth therapies: textbooks tell teachers -- whether or not programs provide training -- they must be prepared to diagnose and handle sexual abuse, Tourette's syndrome, student depression, suicidal impulses, and substantial variations in intelligence, competence and motivation.

Now we have multicultural education. We educators can now expunge those deep hatreds, and make each individual self-actualizing and independent, while at the same time, strengthening ethnic and cultural practices and beliefs.

With our new, revised concept of culture which means ... uh, whatever it means, we will analyze and understand the behavior of students, who even if they look and act normal we know to be different but that's ok 'cause we're all in the salad together. All struggling with each other for the occasional crouton.

To examine this issue further, see Multiculturalism & the Problems of immigration

-- EGR

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

A Leader's Primary Pursuit: Incumbency

Heaven and Earth will disappear,
But our Dear Followership will continue forever.
--- adaptation from Himmel und Erden werden vergehen
Rule #1: Organizations strive for Immortality. Example: Rome’s highly paid and indulged Praetorian Guard, formed in 27 BCE to provide protection for a relatively few individuals, e.g. Augustus Caesar, his retinue and family, eventually came to the point of choosing and disposing of emperors. It lasted until the 4th century when it was dissolved by Constantine.

However, in our reality of rocks and humans and clouds, organizations are not the kinds of entitites that can be said, literally, to strive. They are, in law, merely fictional individuals. It is their their leaders, members and supporters who are the real, flesh and blood, coveting, striving, needful and prideful persons.

Rule #2: Membership involves "sunk" costs, e.g. time, opportunity, prerequisite expenditures, e.g. education or licensing, etc. These may not be costs one can recoup if the organization goes out of existence. Also, because organization members tend to admire and aspire to rank more than accomplishment, members don’t plan for their own occupational demise once the original purpose of the organization is accomplished or no longer viable. There are no "sunset laws" to be obeyed. This is particularly true of those whose basic needs are most dependent on the organizations' continuance. So it was that the Praetorian Guards did not say on August 19, AD 14, “Too bad. Augustus has died. Let’s hike out to the boonies and go back to being regular, underpaid and overdisciplined soldiers.”

Many leaders, particularly, tend to pursue permanent incumbency, having long developed a taste, an addiction, even, to the substantial and psychological rewards of leadership. What the organization was set up to produce, becomes less and less important as leaders participate less and less, operationally, and serve mostly political purposes -- the most important being organizational continuity.

So it is we have corporate-form organizations that outlast their members in the form of churches, industries, armed forces, universities and unions. Along with such corporate organizations we have, over a span of time, successions of so-called “leaders,” less expected to be producers than figureheads, whose often dispensible prerogatives of office are paid for at the cost of those who are compelled to support them.

The upshot of all this is this: it may not matter in the long run what kind of regime installs itself, or what kind government the people elect. It could be communist or fascist, authoritarian or democratic, liberal or conservative, religious or secular. In the long run, unless externally constrained, organizational politics will play themselves out and incumbent dynamics have more to do with who governs and how, than whatever political philosophy is given lip-service to. Only the governed will suffer.

For references and to examine these issues further, see LEADERSHIP AS USURPATION?: the Grand Inquisitor Syndrome and Morality in Rank-Based Organizations



Friday, February 1, 2013

The School Failure Mythology

edited 10/11/20
And so these men of Indostan
Disputed loud and long,
Each in his own opinion
Exceeding stiff and strong,

Though each was partly in the right,

And all were in the wrong!. -- The Blind Men and the Elephant
John Godfrey Saxe (1816 - 1887)

Philadelphia’s new (2012) Superintendent of Public Schools has declared a substantial number of schools to be “failing schools” and has announced that they will be closed down. The newsmedia, which fanfares almost every new superintendent as an educational savior -- and remains strangely quiet when said saviors leave to escape the mess they have enhanced -- is again bubb-bubb-bubbling with delight.

The parents of the children who attend the “failing” schools are vociferously NOT delighted. They want the schools to remain open. The idea of having to pry kids out of bed earlier to be bussed through hostile gang territories to schools out of the neighborhood is clearly not a welcome prospect. And how, many ask, is destroying relationships with teachers and administrators the kids know supposed to help them avoid “failure.”

Also weighing in on (or dodging) the issue are teachers, administrators, and university people. For not too obscure reasons the teachers side with the parents, the administrators have determined silence to be the better part of valor, and the university professors of education tend to side with the superintendent, although there are nay-sayers.

Three basic facts are persistently disregarded:
1. Without a substantial, persistent consensus on what schools should be about, there are no practical standards to determine what counts as success or as failure, no matter what litanies of directives fall from the lips of funding agencies.

2. Just because one party (or a few parties) to the controversy presumes to impose a set of standards, does not automatically bring every interested party into agreement.

3. Ignoring or denying 1 and 2 above does not change their reality.

Many a state legislature in its profound unwisdom has put some phrase into their school code about providing each child with a “thorough and efficient education.” New Jersey did this back in the early 1970s. I was in a Temple University group asked by a New Jersey legislator in 1973 to help define "thorough and efficient education" after the legislation codifying the language had already been passed. Despite our best efforts, he did not manage to get the definition we produced, as “accommodating” (read here, “vague”) as it was, widely accepted when he took it home.

Through the early 2000’s I would ask administrators from New Jersey what had been decided about the meaning of the phrase “thorough and efficient education.” How was it put into practice? The general response was “inconsistently” or “haphazardly,” adding that it was a “mess of a criterion.”

The underlying situation is that our citizens have long entertained a variety of conceptions as to what schools should be doing and what should count as school success. The fact that there are, besides public schools, parochial and private schools in great variety is one proof of this.

Another proof is that, by and large, parents -- and students themselves -- do not see academic knowledge and intellectual skills to be school goals anywhere near as important as those aiming at the students’ emotional and physical well-being.

This was shown years ago in an intensive study reported in John Goodlad’s 1984 book, A Place Called School. In general, he found that intellectual goals in schools far exceed parental preferences; whereas, social goals do not meet levels preferred by students and parents. (Goodlad, pp. 62-69)

Little has changed, except for the increasingly strident hyperbole about “common standards,” and the attempts by governmental and professional educational organizations to impose their own conceptions of educational success on parents too poor or unknowledgeable to escape or resist.

For references and to examine these issues further, see School Image: Expectations & Controversies

--- EGR

Friday, January 18, 2013

What Can You Believe? Whom Can You Trust?

edited 1/14/19
"There's a sucker born every minute" -- a phrase often credited to P. T. Barnum (1810–1891), American showman
Should you believe a person who tells you that the moon landings were faked on a Hollywood production lot? Why or why not?

Can you trust anyone who tells you he talks with the dead? Why or why not?

Honesty and truth are not necessarily connected. Honest people may promote falsehoods, believing them to be true. Dishonest people may, on many an occasion, tell truths -- for various reasons, usually because they have no stake in it. Involved are two different dimensions of judgment, intention vs. facticity.

These are not particularly deep issues; but some careful thought may be needed to sort out those people we can trust or not, from the reliability of the information we get from them.

A whole lot depends on what they present as evidence. How might you evaluate it?

To continue the discussion, see Can Anyone Talk to the Dead? Assessing Evidential Burdens..

-- EGR

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Was Non-Violence Gandhi’s Ultimate Goal?

Between violence and cowardly flight, I can only prefer violence to cowardice.
-- Norman G. Finkelstein What Gandhi Says (2012) OR Books,
Many Americans today, particularly those in the “helping professions,” e.g. educators, clergy, social workers, seem to think that nonviolence is a morally superior response to any action, violent or not, inflicted on a non-provocative victim. Victims of violence are to always “turn the other cheek.” Mohandas K. Gandhi is frequently invoked by these enthusiasts of nonviolence as its exemplary proponent. This is a misunderstanding.

Non-Violence was not Mohandas K. Gandhi’s primary goal. His primary goal was Truth. He believed nonviolence to be, in most circumstances, the most efficient means to Truth, which, of its nature, would change over time along with our understanding of it.

Arun Gandhi, Mohandas Gandhi’s Grandson, was asked by the editors of the book, Pathological Altruism (i.e. Barbara Oakley, et al, 2012, Oxford University Press) whether his grandfather’s philosophy of nonviolence was based on “pathological altruism.”

Pathological altruism is any practice or action, performed for altruistic reasons, that nonetheless tends to produce harmful results, either to its practitioners or to the targets of the altruism. (See Oakely, throughout.)

After consulting with his Gandhian scholar colleagues, Arun Gandhi responded to the question in the negative:
To Gandhi, nonviolence was not an end in itself, it was the means to understand the ultimate Truth, or God. Gandhi would say one must be dogmatic in his or her search for truth but not necessarily in the way one reaches that understanding. Although he swore by nonviolence, he also understood that non-violence can become a pathologically altruistic enterprise; it cannot be dogmatically followed if the greater good of Truth is to be attained. (Arun Gandhi in Oakley, p. 250)

Public schools, in particular, have looked to philosophies of nonviolence to rationalize administrative and governance cowardice in the face of violence of all sorts, from bullying to actual assault to mayhem and carnage. Some consequences have been policies ill-conceived to actually reduce violence, e.g. zero-tolerance, in-school suspension, conflict-resolution training, and the like.

Educators, teachers and administrators, upon reporting violence observed in their schools are often confronted with higher-ups retorting, "What did you do to provoke this violence?" Adding insult to injury, the practitioners and abettors of pathological altruism affect an attitude of moral superiority in the face of complaint from victims, suggesting that the victims, too, should practice a "superior" philosophy of nonviolence and learn to “understand” their abusers.

For references and to examine these issues further, see Permissible School Violence

--- EGR