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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.

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