Education “Reform”: Destroy Education, Replace It With Job Training

Gabriel AranaEven though my background and training are in the sciences, most of my friends are more humanities kinds of people. That’s probably because science for me is just one interest. It is not dominant. If I had to choose science or literature, I’d probably pick literature. But it bugs me that pretty much no college graduate I know took calculus in college. The reason is because calculus is college level math. But because our educational system is so very bad at teaching math, that the whole system has been adjusted so that people get out of college taking just a semester of algebra or statistics. And that’s sad because math is as varied and wondrous as English literature. These students lose out.

So I am actually a big believer is education standards. At the same time, I’m totally against Common Core. The reason is that it gets education backwards. It starts with the test and moves back to the education. Education shouldn’t be a second thought. When it is, it becomes a distorted simulacrum of real education. And I think this is one of the primary reasons why mathematics education is so bad. Things like multiplication tables are very easy to test for. Long division is very easy to test for. Equation solving is very easy to test for. There’s just one problem: none of those things have much to do with math.

What the proponents of Common Core, and education “reform” generally, want to do is to make all forms of learning systematized the same way math has been. This is why schools are pushing children to forego reading stories and instead read nonfiction. Education isn’t supposed to be fun; it is supposed to be for turning our children into adults who will be able to get good jobs. I come back again and again to this quote by Jonathan Kozol[1]:

The best reason to give a child a good school… is so that child will have a happy childhood, and not so that it will help IBM in competing with Sony… There is something ethically embarrassing about resting a national agenda on the basis of sheer greed.

Back in September of last year, Gabriel Arana wrote, Common Core’s Political Fiasco: How It United the Left and Right Against It. It’s actually kind of disturbing because the only reason that conservatives are against Common Core is because Obama is the president. If it were Mitt Romney or John McCain in the White House, they would have no problem with it. Liberals are against it because they are against standardized tests. (Or if you asked Jonathan Chait, they are against it because they care about teachers unions more than the kids. He knows because his wife told him so.) The fact that there isn’t much actual policy behind what conservatives want is not surprising, but it makes me worry about the future.

What I found most interesting about the article is the makeup of the group that created the Common Core standards:

[T]he 27-member committee that wrote the standards had few actual teachers on it, but plenty of representatives from the testing industry. Because it is illegal for the US Department of Education to exert influence over state curriculums, the Bill Gates foundation stepped in and funded most of the effort.

So it was developed by a billionaire businessman and some millionaire businessmen. In other words, it was just what Jonathan Kozol was talking about, helping “IBM in competing with Sony.” These are not honest actors. These are people with a very clear ax to grind. Yet most of the reporting on it (typically by upper-middle and upper class journalists like Chait) portrays these people as just looking out for the kids while those awful teachers only care about their salaries.

At best, the Common Core ends with educated cogs going into the modern assembly lines that I discussed this morning. And the result of that will be adults who hate and fear both math and reading. And after coming home from their soul crushing jobs, they won’t be capable of doing more than plopping down on the couch and watching the new season of Dancing With the Stars. I have seen the future of the human race: a boot stamping on a televised dance floor — forever.

[1] This is a quote from an interview in The Progressive, 1 December 1991. The complete quote is not online for free. I am searching for the full quote. All I have is, “The best reason to give a child a good school with a teacher who is confident…”

H/T: Diane Ravitch

Israel as Proxy in US Middle East Control

David MiznerTo examine American policy in the Middle East is to reveal the rationality of US support for Israel. A proxy state, Israel aids America’s longstanding effort to control the world by controlling oil.

A 1945 State Department memo pointed out that Saudi “oil resources constitute a stupendous source of strategic power, and one of the great material prizes in world history.” That same year, President Roosevelt — who had established a close bond with Saudi Arabia — wrote to King Ibn Saud, assuring him that the US would take no hostile action against Arab nations and would not back the formation of a Jewish state without first consulting him.

Roosevelt died a week later, and his replacement, Harry Truman, was also reluctant to side squarely with the Zionist cause. But in 1947 — here it seems AIPAC’s forbearers had an impact — Truman supported a UN partition plan that called for the creation of a majority Jewish state covering 56.47% of “Mandatory Palestinian.” Truman faced dissent from the State Department, which feared that such a stance would threaten the country’s core interests…

So the American interest in controlling the Middle East’s economic resources — and preventing other countries from doing so — was clear; unclear was whether American support for a Jewish state served that interest.

Resistance to Zionism in the US political establishment began to melt away with Israel’s victory — and land grab — in 1948. Its strength impressed officials like Air Force Chief of Staff Hoyt Vandenberg, who wrote in a memo that “the power balance in the Near and Middle East has been radically altered,” and that Israel “has demonstrated by force of arms its right to be considered the military power next after Turkey.” He concluded that “as the result of its support to Israel, the United States might now gain strategic advantages from the new political situation.”

Still, US government support was relatively tempered — it gave its ally virtually no military assistance in the fifties — until Israel’s next big military victory, in 1967. Arab nationalism — particularly in the form of Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser — threatened American hegemony in the region, as did the Soviet Union, which backed Egypt and Syria in the war. By defeating a coalition led by Egypt, Israel performed a valuable service for the United States (and for Saudi Arabia, which was fighting a proxy war against Egypt in Yemen.)

It’s widely accepted that the Six-Day War birthed the special relationship between Israel and the United States. No less significant, however, was Black September — the 1970–71 civil war in Jordan, which became another proxy battle in the Cold War. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger would call it “a test of our capacity to control events in the region.”

—David Mizner
It’s Not Just the Lobby

The Nature of California’s Water Problems

Michael HiltzikI was out in the front yard earlier today pulling weeds. Really, the place is starting to look like an abandoned house. And given how often I leave the house, there is something to that. Never leaving is not much different from never coming. But it is remarkable that there is so much growth going on when there is so little water. I’m been worried about the water situation here in California since I was in seventh grade when we had a big drought. Not that I minded it at the time — it meant that I didn’t have to get naked in front of a bunch of boys to shower after PE. But ever since then, I’ve seen California is always on the verge of turning into a desert.

My concern only got worse when I went to graduate school and shared an office with another student who was doing work that showed in a warmer world, California was going to get much drier. And now California is experiencing its worst doubt on record. It used to be that in my hometown of Santa Rosa, the average annual rainfall was about 30 inches, but the new normal seems to be around 20 inches. In the 2013 calendar year, we got less than 5 inches of rain. This season (which is effectively over), we’ve gotten 21 inches — and that’s only because of a deluge of almost 13 inches we got in the middle of December. Historically, we got almost 6 inches of rain in January — this year, we got 0.02 inches. We should get over 5 inches in February, we got under 3. March should bring three and a half inches, we got 0.13. It’s very bad.

So what are we going to do about it? The first thing we need to recognize is that our current drought is not due to misbehavior by California farms and residents. This, my friends, is global warming. According to a recent Pew Research poll, only 37% of Republicans even think there is solid evidence that the earth is warming. That’s not “human caused warming” — that’s any warming at all. And only 25% of them think it is a major threat to the United States. This is with almost 27% of the country living in California, Texas, and Florida. But the numbers are not much better overall. Less than half of all Americans (48%) think that global warming is a problem.

I imagine someone with a cut on her leg. It’s not a big deal — she ignores it. But it gets red and somewhat inflamed. It’s a problem, but it isn’t notably worse than it was the day before. Soon, it is clearly festering — but only slightly more than the day before. And so on and so on until no one can stand the smell of it. She goes to the hospital and they have to amputate her leg. Global warming is like that. It isn’t going to be suddenly hotter one day. And as a result, charlatans like Fred Singer can go around saying global warming isn’t real, just as he said that second hand smoke didn’t cause cancer.

Last week, the always insightful and generally brilliant Michael Hiltzik wrote, The Wrong Way to Think About California Water. He noted an amazing statistic: here in California, we use 38 billion gallons of water every day. So any time you hear about millions of gallons of water being wasted, bear that in mind. He also countered a common claim, “It takes four gallons of water to grow one almond.” That’s true, but that’s also over the course of four years. And almonds are actually not that water intensive a crop. If we are concerned about agriculture, we should think about meat.

Kyle Kim, Jon Schleuss and Priya Krishnakumar put together an amazing interacting info-graphic that shows how much water it takes to put food on your plate. A half pound of oranges takes 20 gallons of water. A half pound of rice takes a 130 gallons of water. (Note: rice is farmed very efficiently!) A half pound of potatoes takes just 124 gallons of water. But chicken? That’s 133 gallons. Pork? That’s 330 gallons. Beef? That’s a staggering 850 gallons of water!

Living in wine country, I’ve long thought that the vineyards used a lot of water. But that’s not true. An 8 ounce glass of wine requires only 28 gallons of water. Compare that to an 8 ounce glass of milk, which requires 44 gallons. In fact, wine is more efficient than apple, orange , pineapple juice. It is also slightly more efficient than a pint of beer. But the news is not all good: chickpeas (which I’ve been going crazy with in my recent obsession with falafel and hummus) require almost 610 gallons for every 8 ounces.

Hiltzik’s article is based upon work by Ellen Hanak at the Public Policy Institute of California. And it is focused on ways to improve the water market here in California — so that water is used in the most efficient way. This is classic free market environmentalism. And it is something I very much believe in. We are never going to fix our environmental problems by whining at people to act responsibly. So you would think that these kinds of ideas would appeal to conservatives. But they generally don’t. The truth is that existing businesses like things to stay the way that they are. And the conservative movement is only interested in maintaining the status quo. They will do nothing long past the point of no return. But hopefully, California will continue to make necessary reforms and accelerate them.

Learning the Wrong Lessons from Modern Times

Dan PontefractLeave it to a business “guru” to ruin and totally misunderstand a great movie. Yesterday, while doing a Google search to go along with my article for Charlie Chaplin’s birthday, I came upon an article by Dan Pontefract, What CIOs Can Learn From Charlie Chaplin’s Film Modern Times. And really, I don’t want to rag on guy too much. He seems nice enough. I mean, he’s trying to use one of my favorite films to teach IT professionals how to do their jobs better. That’s preferable to telling them to read, Think and Grow Rich. But it is nonetheless true that he doesn’t understand the film.

Let’s start with this description, “Sheep metaphorically make way for humans, as the workers emerge from the subway en route to ‘the factory.'” The sheep don’t “make way” for the humans. The sheep dissolve into the humans. The point is clear: the humans are sheep. The modern world has turned individuals into an unthinking collective. This may be something that is hard for modern people to comprehend. But in 1936, there was still a living memory of a different kind of life. Our Town was written in 1937 and told the story of such a time. One of the biggest problems facing our society today is that no one remembers things being any different. And that is most of all true of Pontefract who doesn’t think about getting rid of the assembly line, but rather tinkering with it so that it works better.

Pontefract also seems confused about the technology in Modern Times. He refers to the “new technology the workers are getting used to.” But this isn’t the case at all. The little tramp — like the other workers — is extremely good at his job. The problems start when he acts like a human to stretch or brush an insect away. The whole point here is that workers have been turned into mere extensions of the business system. Indeed, one of the best moments of this first two reels is when the tramp clocks out to go to the bathroom. And even there — off the clock — he is given no peace.

So what exactly are CIOs supposed to get out of Modern Times? Unfortunately, Pontefract doesn’t write in English; he uses business-speak. For example:

If we look to Charlie Chaplin and Modern Times for inspiration, the CIO ought not to look at their role as a “technology-only” function. A CIO and her team ought to think of themselves as a partner in the behavioral change requirements organizations desperately need to become and remain competitive in tomorrow’s future.

What this seems to mean is companies should encourage their employees to be better sheep and then give them the right technology to be the best sheep that they can be. But the CIO (as Pontefract labels him) in Modern Times would completely agree. The system is perfect! If only the little tramp didn’t take time to yawn! As it is, the CIO dismisses the idea of the feeding machine because it isn’t practical — it doesn’t conform to the needs of the worker.

Modern TimesBut I accept the fundamental point: in the film, humans are forced to conform to technology. But all Pontefract is offering is that we reverse the order of priority on the assembly line. He still sees humans as mere cogs in the business system. And worse, he wants to treat them as automatons that can be tinkered with to increase productivity so organizations can “remain competitive in tomorrow’s future.” This is all that Frederick Winslow Taylor was doing, and he too took into account the abilities and limitations of the human machine.

I think that the sheep metaphor is wrong. The workers filing into the factory at the beginning of Modern Times are not sheep; they are beaten dogs. The true sheep are people like Dan Pontefract and so many other people I’ve worked with over the years. They are eager to follow the lead of other sheep, offering up the newest catch phrases like, “Behavioral change” and “Copy Exactly!” They are not broken. They are eager to follow everyone else into “tomorrow’s future,” which to no worker’s surprise is just like yesterday’s future.

See Also: Unstable Weirdos and Business Success.

Morning Music: Talking Heads

Remain in Light - Talking HeadsWhen I was younger, I was mad about Talking Heads. They put out a fine debut album, Talking Heads 77. They followed it up with three albums, each better than the one before: More Songs About Buildings and Food, Fear of Music, and Remain in Light. When Speaking in Tongues came out, it was so disappointing. How could it not be? Even if it had been as good any of the three previous albums, it would have been disappointing. And it wasn’t nearly as good as any of those albums. And then it just got embarrassing: Little Creatures. It would have been embarrassing coming from Madness.

But it is great that we have those three albums. And recently, I’ve noticed that there is video of Talking Heads during their “Remain in Light” tour. So here is “Crosseyed and Painless” from a performance in Rome. What a great band!

The whole Live in Rome concert is available on YouTube.

Anniversary Post: Daffy Duck

Daffy DuckOn this day in 1937, the first appearance of Daffy Duck was made in the Looney Tunes short, “Porky’s Duck Hunt.” In those early shorts, Daffy is a much more likable character. He’s kind of like Bugs Bunny, but absolutely insane. He’s also a lot more like a real duck. I find him quite charming. And this sets up a long collaboration with Porky Pig. Although in subsequent shorts they are more friends or, as was more true later on, Daffy was often trying to con the trusting Porky. My favorite is “Fool Coverage” where Daffy sells Porky accident insurance that will pay a million dollars, “Provided the accident occurs as the result of a stampede of wild elephants in your own living room, on the Fourth of July — of any year — between the hours of 3:55 and 4:00 pm, during a hailstorm.” Which of course is exactly what happens.

Anyway, here is the short that started it all:

There is a middle period where Daffy is still kind of duck like, and still mostly insane. “Yankee Doodle Daffy” is a good example of it:

Later, the portrayal of Daffy Duck turned very meta — with Daffy constantly jealous of Bugs Bunny. These are still quite good, but I don’t really like the two characters being pitted against each other. It doesn’t show either of them in the best light. My favorite later Daffy Duck cartoon is “Duck Amuck” where he is all alone. Or is he?

Happy birthday Daffy Duck!

See Also

Joe Miller Joke Book
Bugs: Rabbit or Hare? (One of my favorite articles!)