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social science

Recovery is the same all over

The Youth for Christ Center in Myanmar provides food, shelter, safety, rest, Bible study and singing, free of charge, for 40 days to a maximum of three months.

Via Reuters, Photos of the Week: Faith healing for addicts6 July 2013:

Myanmar is the world’s second-largest producer of opium. Heroin abuse is widespread. The center’s popularity is a testament both to the severity of Myanmar’s drug problem and the lack of options in a poor country where modern treatment programs are rare. It offers prayer, Bible study and devotional singing, with football and weightlifting for those strong enough.

The text, above, accompanies an expressive, compassionately photographed gallery of ten images featured in Reuters Online, “Photos of the Week”.  Subjects were portrayed honestly and sensitively.

Categories
social science

Public school education

Not an autodidact

My only education-related experience has been passive, as a recipient. From kindergarten through 12th grade, I attended public schools in Las Cruces, New Mexico. I loved learning algebra, calculus, chemistry, English literature, French, U.S. history, physics, drafting, home economics, and orchestra. I find it difficult to learn from self-instructional materials. Learning by doing is effective, but requires some guidance.

K-12 education

I perceive betrayal of public interest throughout the U.S.A., due to federal government educational policy. New York City is especially troubled. Exceptionally wealthy individuals with ZERO experience or training in education have decided that they know what is best for America’s children.

The 0.1% of the 0.1%

The Brookings Institute describes them as the 0.1% of 0.1% in assets. Assets held is a robust metric for gauging wealth. It is important to distinguish between wealth and income. Income fluctuates from year to year, even for the wealthy. Causes vary. Some have profound impact, such as significant reversals of fortune. Some are merely transitory, e.g. accounting losses reported in order to minimize impact of tax law changes. These 0.1% of 0.1% individuals choose to actively direct the projects that are beneficiaries of their philanthropy.

Philanthropy, education reform and charter schools

Most education reform activists, or perhaps investors, have no knowledge, nor experience in public school education. Rather, they are exceptionally capable leaders of global software conglomerates. Others have great prowess as hedge fund managers, venture capitalists or real-estate moguls. Several are Wal-Mart family scions. Education reformers who have children educate them at private schools like Philips Andover or Choate, yet they claim that charter school operators provide a superior education, compared to public schools in the U.S.A.

Charter schools are similar to private schools, yet they are financed by public, i.e. taxpayer funds. They are not fiscally accountable, unlike public schools. Charter schools do not resemble Exeter or Choate-Rosemary Hall as far as quality of instruction or facilities, not at all! An increasing body of empirical evidence and peer-reviewed research indicates that charter schools are inferior to public school education. (Education reform is a euphemism: Consider agenda-driven Teach for America and Common Core Standards.)

Anti-Schumpeter

Schumpeter wrote about creative destruction. I think that the current education reform movement is better described as destructive disruption.

Unfortunately, the media tows the line of those who claim that teaching must be disrupted. This is because those who are wealthy are influential, and LOUD. They like to say that teaching must be disrupted, in order to keep pace with the inexorable path of scientific progress.

Why the need for disruption? Answer: We live in an era of technology! Existing pedagogy is allegedly archaic, resembling that which was used for the past 1000 years. Silicon Valley is especially fond of saying that. In fact, 20th century teaching methods were similar to those used for the past 1,000 years, and for good reason: Our brains haven’t changed in the past 10,000 years! Our cognitive processing and synthesis of information into knowledge has not evolved over such a short time span. Technology is great, but technocrats who want to replace teachers with robots and mobile phone apps will do great damage. That isn’t how THEY (the technocrats) learned math, reading or anything else! Yet most websites where programmers, PhD educated mathematicians or physicists gather, cannot say enough bad things about how repressive, stifling, corrupt and inadequate our public education system is. Where did most or all get their educations? Surprise: K-12 public schools, often followed by land grant universities! Most excel in their careers, in STEM fields.

We are now said, as a nation, to be grossly deficient in STEM skills, although IEEE has evidence to the contrary. Trans-humanists such as Sugata Mitra are given $10 million grants to form schools without teachers, only the internet. And then there is the recent fascination with grit

Root-cause medley of societal malaise

So, just maybe, status quo pedagogical methods, as applied before 1990 (and Common Core), were exceptionally effective! And the problem, now, is not teacher inadequacy and the lack of iPad’s from kindergarten on. Instead, there are profound societal inefficiencies due to a decade or three of so-called Democrats, who are neither Democrat nor GOP nor libertarian. They are crony capitalists, neo-liberals, oligarchs in the wings. What’s happening now is a logical consequence of:

  • a Byzantine tax code full of loopholes
  • inconsistently applied, sometimes adversarial regulation
  • no protectionism or support of American products in global markets
  • anti-union federal government policy under the Obama Administration
  • dismantled immigration policy
  • never-ending wars, yet not calling it war, but rather “conflict”
  • anti-intellectual wisdom of the crowds and the sharing economy, euphemisms for exploitation of foreign workers/U.S. underemployed youth and feasting off The Commons, respectively
  • anti-intellectual arrogance, that is, too much Thomas Kuhn, not enough Thorsten Veblen!
  • “questioning everything” including mainstream scientific thought, while blindly following life coaches, anti-vaccination celebrities and pseudo-religious demagogues
  • dissolution of local community, partly due to unfair competition from huge e-commerce retailers; note that small e-commerce is hurt by this too!
  • ridicule and intolerance of religion, of any sort
  • failure to value the independent 3rd party press, e.g. “news is a commodity, distributed freely by the internet”
  • failure to distinguish between intellectual property laws that oppress innovation e.g. nutty software patents, NPE’s a.k.a. trolls versus copyright as a basic human right, that is, the right to be paid for one’s original work

I’ll stop now.

Disclaimer

In the style of Seeking Alpha investment analyses, I disavow any agenda, nor will I benefit in any way from this post. My passive experience with public education, that I mentioned earlier, is based on observations made by my mother and two aunts, each of whom has 20 years experience as public school teachers. Also, I have tutored college students who had trouble with calculus. I do that at my kitchen table, free, yet many can’t make time in their busy schedules, until failing out and retaking the class.

Categories
social science

Online Collective Hazards

I grew up in New Mexico near Jaron Lanier. His father was my teacher at Sunday school. I had different attitudes than Jaron. He seemed strange, somewhat of a 1960’s anachronism. He was slightly older than me, by at least 10 years. His mother was gone, somewhat of a mystery.

Growing up with goats

Mr. Lanier (Ellery maybe), and Jaron lived in a geodesic dome house. Mr. Lanier raised goats. They drank goat’s milk. Lots of it. Say what you will about food not causing acne. I know that certain high fat foods give me acne, even now. Drinking only goat’s milk gave Mr. Lanier, and Jaron, terrible acne. Mr. Lanier told me that Jaron’s acne got a lot better when he left home. Mr. Lanier could see that I was also afflicted, with or without goat’s milk.

Jaron took music theory and other classes at New Mexico State University. His father was so proud of him. Mr. Lanier was a very decent single parent. My mother was a junior high school teacher. She told me that Jaron was well cared for (despite the acne).

Mr. Lanier was a good Hebrew school teacher. I think he may have been a patient of my father’s, but I’m not certain.

A different sort of crowd-sourced experience

I saw Jaron at the farmer’s market on Saturday mornings a few times. I was too shy to ever speak to him.

This was the time I remember best. Jaron was with a group. All were teenagers or early 20’s. There were a few girls wearing black clothes. I was watching while they talked. Obviously, they got quite a bit of attention, although the farmer’s market was crowded and noisy, held outside, downtown, in a long shaded area in front of local stores that have now been replaced by The Mall. Jaron squeezed the butt of one of the all black-clothed girls. I was watching as he got ready and did it. She shrieked. I was scared Jaron would get in trouble. She turned, saw it was Jaron, smiled, looked happy. He laughed. He had a deep voice, which I hadn’t expected. The crowd got in the way of my view, and they were gone. That was the last time I saw Jaron Lanier.

Excerpt from Beware The Online Collective, by Jaron Lanier (27 Dec 2006) via Edge Conversations

There are a lot of recent examples of collectivity online. There’s the Wikipedia, which has absorbed a lot of the energy that used to go into individual, expressive websites, into one bland, master description of reality.

Yet another, which deserves special attention, is the unfortunate design feature in most blog software that practically encourages spontaneous pseudonym creation. That has led to the global flood of anonymous mob-like commentary.

I remember the first time I noticed myself becoming mean when I left an anonymous comment on a blog. What is it about that situation that seems to bring out the worst in people so often? It’s a shame, because the benefits of blogs (such as that citizen journalists can pool resources to do research that otherwise might not get done) get cancelled out. Blogs often lead to such divisiveness that people end up caring more about clan membership than truth after a while.

The Web 2.0 notion is that an entrepreneur comes up with some scheme that attracts huge numbers of people to participate in an activity online — then you can “monetize” at an astronomical level by offering a way to bring ads or online purchasing to people… What is amazing about this idea is that the people are the value and they also pay for the value they provide instead of being paid for it. The whole cycle is remarkably efficient and concentrates giant fortunes faster than any other business scheme in history. 

I guess Jaron Lanier IS a visionary. He was saw this trend six, seven years ago. It hadn’t even crossed my mind until recently, hasn’t occurred to some even now.

The essay continues, looking now toward possibilities for the future, some of which have come to pass already, but with yet unknown consequences:

Instead of asking people to create videos or avatars, which require creativity and commitment, just watch their clicks, have them take surveys, have them tweak collective works, add anonymous, unconsidered remarks, etc. This trend… encourages people to lose themselves into group think.

What’s to stop an online mass of anonymous but connected people from suddenly turning into a mean mob, just like masses of people have time and time again in the history of every human culture?

In all instances, emphasis mine.

I find myself thinking along similar lines. Jaron has expressed these and other ideas in his infrequent essays of the past ten years. I am happy that he found a home for himself with Microsoft Research. I wish I could have an opportunity to talk with him again, ask about his father, tell him that I agree with much of what he writes about.

Some additional essays, including one of the best of the lot, Digital Maoism, accompanies Jaron Lanier’s biographical page on the Edge website.

Categories
social science

Sheering Time Approaches: Let’s Go Hyper-local Arizona

t’s that time of year again. Navajo sheep herders will be coming down from the hills north of The Valley of the Sun, no doubt psychologically well-prepared for all the sordid news of the city:

  • A broken dam due to burst bladders at Tempe Town Lake,
  • The $1,000,000 price on the head of Maricopa County’s Sheriff Joe by volatile Mexican drug lords, and 
  • The ever popular AZ Senate Bill 1070 a.k.a. Arizona Immigration Reform.

To commemorate sheep-shearing season, I’m presenting an extravaganza of gentle sheep-y imagery, from a variety of sources. Well, I admit, from two sources: Zazzle merchants, and Amazon.com. The images are so nice, I thought you might enjoy looking at them too.

I need to find a better illustration source than advertisements, at some point. Until such time should arrive, well, if you’d be so kind and not breathe a word of this.

Categories
social science

Performance Improvement in Government Healthcare

I noticed a job listing the other day, as “Director, Performance Improvement”. It would likely be an intellectually satisfying and ethically fulfilling employment opportunity. The job is a full-time, direct hire position with Health Services Advisory Group Inc. (which goes by the unfortunate acronym, HSAG and pronounced as ay-ch SAG), in Phoenix, Arizona.

Categories
social science

Arizona Immigration Law

As you can see in the sidebar, my Annex is located in Arizona. I am part of the majority of the people of the State of Arizona in favor of our recently passed immigration law.

I am also a Jewish woman, and know the difference between the Nazi modus operandi of World War II versus the intent of Arizona Senate Bill 1070. Apparently, the current general manager of the Phoenix Suns, our local NBA basketball team, does not know the difference. Yesterday, he compared Arizona law to Nazi Germany. It bothered me, a lot.