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Higher Education Bubble Update May 9, 2013

Posted by David Bookstaber in Education.
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ACTA has been fighting against one of the enablers of the higher-education cartel, the Accreditors, for some time:

The six regional agencies that accredit the vast majority of America’s non-profit colleges and universities have miserably failed to ensure educational quality but continue to control access to federal student aid.

Meanwhile the free market continues to provide solutions to our higher education problems. The latest I came across is StraighterLine: A company offering inexpensive online courses guaranteed for credit towards an accredited advanced degree.

Net Human Product and Our Purpose April 25, 2013

Posted by David Bookstaber in Economic Policy, Education, Government, Open Questions.

There is a great Twilight Zone episode, “A Small Talent for War:” An alien emissary appears in the United Nations to announce that humans on Earth have not progressed as fast as they had hoped. We have a small talent for war and have wasted our time bickering over borders with crude weapons, far short of the “better things” for which they bred us. Therefore, they have resolved to terminate the experiment on this planet. The American ambassador pleads the case for humanity. The emissary agrees to give the world 24 hours, though he doubts anything can be done in so short a time. When he returns, the General Assembly proudly presents the emissary with a world peace treaty. He leafs through it and then laughs, explaining that their objective was for us to develop weapons and warriors to fight across the galaxy, not to merely to achieve peace amongst ourselves. The episode ends with alien destroyers descending on Earth.

This essay is a discussion of existential matters: Something that, after adolescence, few people stop to consider in any broad context. Discussion following my post on falling fertility raised the Grand Question: What is our Purpose? In the context of that post a successful human life was one that created positive net production in our global marketplace. That’s a fine measure if our Purpose can be expressed as economic activity. But can it? Is our goal as a species to build the maximum economic power? I.e., to produce the greatest possible value of goods and services, where value is defined by the market of individual human wants and needs? By default, and in actuality, the answer is yes.

But we fancy ourselves an “intelligent” species, and so we should not simply accept the evolved answer to the Grand Question: I.e., to what end should our species devote its resources? If the answer is “to satisfy our instincts” then as a species we seem no more intelligent than any other life form.

Are we intelligent life?

We know the key characteristics of all successful life: survival and reproduction. We are currently an apex predator on our planet. As a species we are the apex predator, so we’ve got that to our credit. But we are surrounded by other species that are more survivable than our own: We know there are planetary catastrophes that would extinguish our species but spare “lower” life-forms that can survive more extreme conditions and extended deprivations. So in terms of survival our species is relatively unremarkable.

We console ourselves with the fact that we are “intelligent.” This does indeed seem to be a rare thing: In our own fertile sphere we are unique in our capacity to invent tools, and to create, store, and transmit information. Furthermore, we have achieved reasonable mastery of electromagnetics, to the point where we can send bursts of information into deep space and scan for other life doing the same. Yet our ability to create and harness energy and matter on a meaningful scale is abysmal. We can only transmute elements in the tiniest quantities, and the total energy our species can unleash, even in an uncontrolled fashion, would barely make the faintest ripple in our local space-time fabric. So by some measures we might be extraordinarily intelligent, while by others we may be pathetic.

The rest of our specie’s activities are no more notable than that of any other locally successful life form. In fact, we know that we are only one unlucky gamma-ray burst or other stellar event away from being wiped from the face of existence. Truly successful life would not be so vulnerable.

Intelligent or not, a successful life form would be one that could project itself across interstellar spaces, in some manner able to reproduce and survive on a vastly larger, less precarious scale. Could we achieve such a thing? Almost certainly not in our corporal forms, which have evolved only to survive and reproduce in the fragile fringe of our home planet. But in theory we could build interstellar seeders: self-replicating, self-healing machines that trawl outer space and seed our form of life anywhere it can take root. Our seed sphere would grow slowly, limited by the speed with which our machines can travel, but still exponentially as frontier seeders transform ambient matter and energy encountered en route to spawn more seeders. Perhaps it is possible to design seed rays: packets of energy that, when they encounter matter of suitable composition, transform it into seeders. Though that sounds vastly more difficult, it would allow our seed sphere to grow at light speed.

As intelligent life shouldn’t such large-scale survivability be one of our goals? One might argue that the absence of such a capability is evidence that we are not “intelligent life.” Intelligence may include the ability to create tools and transmit information, but life that cannot alter its evolved behavior and nature to better pursue its objectives does not sound intelligent. And since survival is the most elementary characteristic of life we, as a species, are clearly coming up short.

This brings us back to the Grand Question: What is our Purpose? Nature has given us an evolved, or “default” answer, and that’s mostly what we’ve accepted: Our default Purpose is to maximize Gross Production and Production Capacity – economic measures that we can sample with reasonable accuracy. These measures have steadily increased throughout history. But they reflect predominantly individual interests, not the reasoned, collective interest of our species. For example, included in Gross Human Production today are such things as:
• The construction and maintenance of coastal cities below sea level
• Gold-plated palaces and jumbo jets for sheikhs to fly their extended family around to the world’s finest resorts
• Manicured golf courses where the wealthy and non-producing (“retired”) try to hit balls with high precision

We have enormous production potential, but what are we producing? If one assembled any group of humans and asked them to vote on worthwhile projects for their – or any other human’s – spare time would any of the above examples be on their list? The sad fact is that we, as a species, have no intelligent Purpose.

Does it take a visit from a xenocidal alien emissary? When faced with a clear and present threat we unite in large groups and concentrate our excess capacity on survival and achievement. Think of the unified action witnessed during the World War II and the Cold War. But no leadership seems capable of marshaling such a response to anything less clear and present. For example, know the consequences and probabilities of a large asteroid impact, but haven’t waged any significant effort to protect ourselves from possible extinction from one. And the threat of a nearby gamma-ray burst is so abstract and challenging that almost nobody addresses it.

I wish we could unite behind one or more “Net Human Products:” Something that humans collectively produce that increases over years and generations, and that our species could hold up and say, “Here is something we did besides just surviving and pursuing our instincts.”

There are, of course, philosophic and religious answers to the Grand Question, but I don’t think they make good measures of Net Human Product. In the most general terms, most measure human success as something like maximizing the number of people who achieve peace with their creator, themselves, and/or their surroundings. But these are human-centric measures: In the end, some number of human beings have lived and died, and some proportion did so in accord with any particular philosophy. That tally may make adherents feel good, and some philosophies may be conducive to higher Net Human Products, but either way they are at best a means, not an end in this discussion.

What do humans produce that endures? Civilization has produced remarkable terrestrial monuments, although over eons our watery planet will eventually erode these all into oblivion. We have managed to sling a few small artifacts out of our heliosphere. Aside from those the substantive human products that have the potential to survive every natural catastrophe and all the assaults of time are our culture and our technology: Everything that can be transformed into data, which can be replicated and beamed to arbitrary recipients at nearly zero cost. We might measure our Net Human Product in terms of the quantity and quality of that data, and the means we have to protect its integrity and longevity.

Maybe if we reconsider our collective objectives we will refocus our resources. For example, instead of spending tens of billions of dollars each year on professional sports, the demand for entertainment and product placement will shift attention towards teams of developers and their efforts to raise our Net Human Product.

Can we spark a “Moon-Shot” program on a global scale to make our species truly “intelligent” by addressing the shortcomings I mentioned earlier? Can we motivate individual human beings to join an urgent struggle to develop fusion energy and interstellar seeders? Can children go to school aspiring to study the STEM subjects that will enable those technologies? Can we go to sleep each night as worried that a gamma ray burst will obliterate us before we succeed, as we did during the Cold War that a nuclear holocaust would destroy everything we know and love?

America’s Fertility Problem February 11, 2013

Posted by David Bookstaber in Economic Policy, Education, Human Markets, Social Politics, Taxation.

America is fortunate to be lagging the demographic collapse that is plaguing Europe and the Orient, so we will have time to observe both the socioeconomic problems that low fertility creates and the means of fixing them.

Already some European countries have adopted extreme measures to stimulate childbearing: From tax credits and grants to increasingly generous time-off and childcare programs.

Jonathan Last, author of What to Expect When No One’s Expecting: American’s Coming Demographic Disaster, summarizes the current state of affairs in America and looks at some potential policies to motivate reproduction.

Indeed, for most Americans it is irrational to choose to have children today. The marginal cost to an educated working couple is staggering: Direct financial costs alone can run well into six figures and, if one pays for the “best” education, can even break seven figures. At least one earner is usually taken out of the workforce for years, incurring substantial opportunity costs in career and earning potential. And we rarely credit parents for the time, stress, and emotional agony of raising a child to maturity. Relatively speaking, life without children is a luxury: a carefree existence flush with money and freedom.

In a selfish world in which women often out-earn men and couples can easily avoid reproducing, who is having babies? Those too incompetent to use birth control, or too ignorant to rationally account for the full costs? Those on the fringes who can actually expect a net positive return on childbearing thanks to welfare systems?

There are many who bear children for religious and altruistic reasons. Indeed, when it comes down to it, modern childbearing is a gift to society as a whole. Children might grow up to honor and support their parents, but government will all but guarantee that as adults they will pay taxes to support their grandparents’ generation.

Until recently children were mostly unavoidable products of adult couplings, but they were also greatly desired because they eventually conferred status and security on their parents. Just as modern contraception has divorced coupling from reproduction, the senior welfare systems of modern government have severed parents from the support they could traditionally expect from their particular children.

Among Jonathan Last’s policy prescriptions for restoring fertility:

  • Recognizing that children are the future tax base, reduce the cost of bearing them by significantly cutting the tax burden on parents. (Or, presumably, wait until we are so far down the demographic cliff that we have to go European and outright pay people to bear children.)
  • Destroy the higher education cartel, which defers marriage, increases the opportunity cost of stepping away from the workforce to bear children, and then exacts a final, enormous toll to get the child out of the nest and into the most desirable jobs.

Is College Cost-Effective? February 7, 2013

Posted by David Bookstaber in Education.
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This blog has long criticized the higher-education cartel and bubble.

Rick Bookstaber has a great analysis of the overt functions of higher education — to Learn, Signal, Network, and Party — and proceeds to point out that each of those functions can now be accomplished much more cheaply and efficiently than in a traditional 4-year-college. (Yes, one commenter even suggests an effective substitute for the Network/Party “feature” of college.)

Yes, I’m bearish on higher education. Unless they want to be academics, I don’t hope my kids go to college. I hope they find a passion, or at least a productive interest, and that they will use the modern tools for learning, signaling, and networking to side-step the debacle of traditional higher-education en route to fulfilling their potential.

School Massacres: When Will We Protect Our Children? December 15, 2012

Posted by David Bookstaber in Education, RKBA.
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Another utterly horrific and completely preventable tragedy unfolded today as a suicidal lunatic managed to kill 26 people, including 20 children, at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. Preventable why? Not because we can detect psychopaths before they act. Nor because we can stop them from acquiring lethal implements. Predictably, many people are obsessing over the particular weapons used in this case: handguns. Indeed, in the United States mass homicides are mostly carried out with firearms. But without access to guns homicidal maniacs turn to other weapons: knives, motor vehicles, or bombs. Indeed, across the world lone psychopaths have carried out massacres of this scale with all of these weapons and more.

What characterizes this and every other massacre in modern American history* (and indeed many more throughout the world) is not the fact that the killer used firearms. After all, many killers, including many bent on mass murder, wield firearms. No, the single most striking characteristic that distinguishes massacres from common murders is that the victims of the former are always defenseless. In the United States rules and laws serve as virtual government guarantees that targets in certain areas will be defenseless. All mass shootings have been in such “unarmed victim zones:” schools, private facilities that ban gun possession, and government installations.

Firearms may be effective tools of mass murder, but they are even more effective tools of defense. Lone gunmen do not succeed in massacring people where citizens are routinely permitted to carry firearms. This is not for lack of trying, either. Armed citizens have stopped so many attempted homicides that the unspoken outrage is that we continue to send our children to schools that are painstakingly stripped of defensive arms.

This is the outrage: Armed citizens are the only common defense against massacres. Whether it’s a maniac wielding guns or knives, or steering a vehicle or bomb past a barrier into a crowd, a bystander with a gun is the only practical and reliable means of putting the massacre to an end. Yet we round up our children every day and put them in the care of a few adults who are forbidden to carry guns.

We should be demanding exactly the opposite: Those who we trust to care for our children should be required to provide for their defense. We will never know when or how the next lunatic will embark on a homicidal rampage, but we do know that the only thing that will reliably stop his diabolic plans will be an armed target or bystander drawing a gun and shooting him until he stops.

How much of Higher Education is Content? April 20, 2012

Posted by David Bookstaber in Education.

Because if there’s one thing the information age has taught us it’s that content wants to be free.

Lectures look to me as much like content as movies and music. Five years ago I wondered why we weren’t simply recording and distributing the best lectures by the best lecturers, instead of charging students to attend small performances of lower quality in person.

Since then we have seen an explosion in “open-source” courses offered by universities. The Khan Academy led a proliferation of excellent, free, online teaching for K-12 students, and is no longer alone.

Now here comes Silicon Valley with the for-profit tech ventures that aim to provide free online education and, somehow, make money on the side. Since what they’re doing is providing content presumably the initial business strategies will mimic all other profitable content providers: upselling and advertising.

And eventually they should find a way to undermine the old-fashioned higher-education cartel. I’m kind of surprised it has taken so long.

Higher Education Bubble Update January 31, 2012

Posted by David Bookstaber in Education.

The higher education industry’s credential cartel is under financial threat, … legal threat, [and] cultural threat.

That’s the latest from James Taranto, who has been one of the more eloquent heralds of the higher education bubble. He elaborates on the credential-writing nature of the cartel:

The industry has exploded over the past few decades based on a business model that focuses more on selling the college degree as a credential–an “investment” that yields an increase in one’s own “human capital”–than on persuading young adults that education is intrinsically valuable.

If someone could offer a less expensive job-hunting license–one that assessed an entry-level job-seeker’s worth to a prospective employer at least as accurately as a college degree does–then the demand for college would plummet, as young adults could realize the same gains from a much smaller investment.

Last year I proposed a facetious alternative.

Charles Murray is another scourge of higher education I have cited frequently. His latest commentary on the subject is buried in a withering attack on the Department of Education:

The bachelor of arts degree as it has evolved over the last half-century has become the work of the devil. It is now a substantively meaningless piece of paper—genuinely meaningless, if you don’t know where the degree was obtained and what courses were taken. It is expensive, too…. And yet the B.A. has become the minimum requirement for getting a job interview for millions of jobs, a cost-free way for employers to screen for a certain amount of IQ and perseverance. Employers seldom even bother to check grades or courses, being able to tell enough about a graduate just by knowing the institution that he or she got into as an 18-year-old.

So what happens when a paper credential is essential for securing a job interview, but that credential can be obtained by taking the easiest courses and doing the minimum amount of work? The result is hundreds of thousands of college students who go to college not to get an education, but to get a piece of paper. When the dean of one East Coast college is asked how many students are in his institution, he likes to answer, “Oh, maybe six or seven.” The situation at his college is not unusual. The degradation of American college education is not a matter of a few parents horrified at stories of silly courses, trivial study requirements, and campus binge drinking. It has been documented in detail, affects a large proportion of the students in colleges, and is a disgrace.

Education QOTD from Montessori August 17, 2011

Posted by David Bookstaber in Education.
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Traditional American schooling is in constant crisis because it is based on two poor models for children’s learning: the school as a factory and the child as a blank slate.

From Angeline Lillard’s Monetsorri: The Science Behind the Genius.

Law Education Update July 17, 2011

Posted by David Bookstaber in Education, Judiciary.
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Medical students learn from real doctors in a real hospital during their education. In law, we’re learning from a bunch of academics who have deliberately elected not to pursue law as a profession.

From a WSJ article about how some law schools are finally deciding that they had better teach law students how to practice law.

Higher Education Update July 6, 2011

Posted by David Bookstaber in Education.

Let’s Face It: Not All Students Are College Material.” (WSJ letter.)

Is Yale Worth It?

In the debate over whether expensive and highly selective colleges lead to higher salaries, the latest answer is “no”—with a few exceptions.

The exceptions: black and Hispanic students and students whose parents didn’t get past high school. Top schools give such students access to networks otherwise out of reach, the researchers suggested.

One thing elite universities — or at least Harvard and Yale — seem to do exceptionally well is admit and befriend people disposed to give them money:

Yale University raised $3.88 billion amid tough economic times, finishing the largest fund-raising campaign in its history that will help pay for its biggest expansion in decades, extend its international reach and make its school of music tuition free. The campaign exceeded its goal of $3.5 billion. More than 110,000 alumni, parents, friends, corporations and foundations contributed.

QOTD: The Higher Education Bubble May 19, 2011

Posted by David Bookstaber in Education.
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From an article on Peter Thiel:

“Universities are like the General Motors of the 1970s,” said Mr. Thiel, a graduate of Stanford University and Stanford Law School. “They’re incredibly dominant, incredibly arrogant and impervious to change.”

“I don’t think there’s anything controversial about an education bubble,” he said. “Price is up by a factor of 10; quality hasn’t really changed. There’s something really crazy going on here.”

College a Consequence of a Self-Fulfilling Prophecy? March 24, 2011

Posted by David Bookstaber in Education.

Michael Robertson points out a logical flaw inherent in many of the studies and comments on the value of a college education: In a sense college is a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you tell people they have to get a college degree to earn more, then those most motivated to earn more will go to college. That doesn’t necessarily mean that college has contributed to their subsequent performance or production abilities.

For example, imagine a world in which the formal education system ends with high school. Society might tell high school graduates that to get ahead in life they have to spend a year digging a hole by hand and then another year filling it back in. Employers might reasonably conclude that people who perform that ritual have demonstrated a level of diligence, motivation, and responsibility that is not manifest, if not utterly lacking, in those who haven’t spent two years digging a hole. Furthermore, the fact that a person could waste two years in a hole instead of earning money also suggests they come from a supportive and resourceful family, so they are likely to have been natured and nurtured to produce excess wealth. Hole graduates would then justifiably get preference over non-graduates in the job market, marriage market, and any other situation in which their skills and aptitude can’t otherwise be measured or verified.

Yes, I think in too many cases American “higher education” is a waste of time and resources.

Crazy U March 6, 2011

Posted by David Bookstaber in Education.
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Daniel Akst reviews Andrew Ferguson’s new book on admissions at elite colleges, appropriately titled Crazy U.

The most darkly humorous aspect of this often hilarious book is its depiction of an admissions process that corrupts everything it touches. It’s a process that discourages reticence by requiring students to write revealing and disingenuous personal essays; discourages thrift by regarding parental savings as fair game in the financial-aid evaluation; discourages intellectual curiosity by encouraging students to pursue grades rather than knowledge; and discourages honesty by transforming adolescence into a period of cynical calculation.

Akst reiterates arguments I have frequently made against higher education:

Most students (and their parents) have no clear idea why a university is the reflexive next stop after high school, and yet roughly 70% of American high-school graduates go on to college. Are they supposed to marinate themselves in the best that has been thought and written? Is the point to learn how to think? To gain marketable skills? To make social connections? Or merely to signal to potential employers and spouses that here is a person with the patience and cleverness to navigate a great deal of folderol on the way to a degree? Although nobody can quite agree on what college is for, Americans and their leaders have embraced higher education with cult-like devotion—which is one reason the cost of tuition at many institutions has climbed into the stratosphere.

Boys Need a Coming-of-Age Test February 20, 2011

Posted by David Bookstaber in Education.
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Kay Hymowitz, author of Manning Up: How the Rise of Women Has Turned Men Into Boys, notes:

It’s been an almost universal rule of civilization that girls became women simply by reaching physical maturity, but boys had to pass a test. They needed to demonstrate courage, physical prowess or mastery of the necessary skills. The goal was to prove their competence as protectors and providers.

It has been two generations since we fought a war for survival or had large numbers of young men pressed into military service. There is no test or ceremony to mark a boy’s transition into manhood; there is not even a vague social consensus about what “manhood” might entail. I proposed some standards a few years ago, but they haven’t caught on yet….

No Wonder I Hated English Classes January 6, 2011

Posted by David Bookstaber in Education, Language.
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As soon as the study of “English” in school graduated from Reading, Spelling, and Writing to Literature, Grammar, and Composition I began to hate it. At some point after taking an early course from the Yale English department I recognized that my irritation stemmed from the conflation of these three separate subjects by teachers who were themselves only amateur writers. I didn’t realize how bad it really was until I came across this essay by Geoffrey Pullum lambasting the supposed bible of grammar, Strunk & White’s Elements of Style. Yes, even the textbooks are wrong!

No wonder I struggled with grammar at the same time I was acing geometry, algebra, and computer programming: Complete rules of English grammar are too complicated for non-technical teachers, and so for generations they have resorted to oversimplification and then tried to ignore the vast exceptions and holes in their theories. I was baffled by a grammar that “didn’t compute,” but they wrote the tests, so I lost and just moved on. (When I later dabbled in college-level Linguistics, where they don’t take shortcuts, I found it both engaging and facile.)

If I have become a good writer it has not been thanks to any English teacher. Composition should be taught along with Rhetoric — a sister subject that the education establishment left at the side of a road sometime in the twentieth century. Instead English departments have tied composition to literature, perhaps because it doesn’t seem scholastic enough to simply read and discuss great literature. No, a student must then go and carry on a discussion with himself for x number of pages, and his grade is determined by that essay. If he is not inspired to expound upon a particular book it reflects not on the book or the teacher but supposedly on his own writing skills. And here it gets even more confusing: Occasionally classes would undertake an exercise wherein students exchanged papers and I would get to read the final draft of someone else in the class. I don’t remember if I ever got a full “A” in an English class, but I did read papers of students who were getting full “A”s. And they were riddled with grammatical errors. I never did figure out what it takes to get an A on an English paper, but I did learn that English teachers value something that they couldn’t teach me.

Fortunately I discovered sometime in high school that I love to write, and that I do so easily and naturally when I have something to say. I once spent over 20 hours trying to draft an essay on Joyce’s Ulysses, one of half a dozen major works we were covering in one semester of an English class. Finally I went to the teacher with many pages of dense notes and drafts, threw up my hands, and asked how a student could possibly be expected to fully read the book in the few allotted weeks, much less put together a short essay making anything other than banal observations about such a work. The teacher was sympathetic to my pleas, and apparently sufficiently impressed by my effort to give my final thousand-word essay an A-. In contrast, when I took a Spanish Composition course to satisfy my language requirement I was often free to pick my topics, so I could focus on writing instead of contriving. I regularly irked the other students by bringing in essays that were 2-3 times the assigned length and that were frequently excerpted as model examples for the class.

QOTD: Teaching Without Tenure November 21, 2010

Posted by David Bookstaber in Education.
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The Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering attracts 140 applicants for every faculty position.

This is a college that does not offer tenure to its faculty! Apparently this feature results in an institution of higher learning in which the professors care more about educating students, as Naomi Riley describes:

Students are also engaged in a constant process of evaluating their education: They are asked for extensive feedback about each course, and alumni are surveyed routinely. When I asked senior Theresa Edmonds how these policies affect her education, she said her professors are very “responsive” to the concerns of students.

Don’t Waste Toddlers’ Attention November 17, 2010

Posted by David Bookstaber in Education.
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As a baby one of my son’s favorite DVDs was LeapFrog’s Letter Factory.  Thanks to many hours of devotion to this show he was able to recite simple phonics at twelve months.  Before he could form words he was able to communicate using the first phoneme of words — for example he would repeat “tuh” for toothbrush, “cuh” for car or cookie.  Not much, but better than traditional pointing and grunting.

At 16 months he could recognize letters in isolation and recite the single phoneme associated with them in the Letter Factory.  That’s right: Thanks to obsessive watching of a single TV program he had mastered basic fundamental of reading before he could articulate single words.

As a two-year-old he graduated to full words, phrases, and then sentences and songs.  The alphabet song is a favorite, but pretty much everything else he learns is silly.  Why do caregivers delight in teaching nonsense words like “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” when he could be trained to recite real words that may eventually take on real meaning — say, “constitutional federation.”  Nursery rhymes are likewise irritatingly pointless.  I don’t know how many hours he has spent learning and then reciting “Humpty-Dumpty.”

Of course I was also given a steady diet of such drivel as a young child.  It echoes in my head to this day, so it’s not like nursery rhymes are just precognitive exercises that only serve to pass the time until permanent lessons can take root in a young mind.

Toddlers have copious time and attention for rote learning.  So why wait until they are in grade school to begin drumming multiplication tables, historic dates and figures, and other useful items of pure memorization into their little heads?  As an adult I would much rather be able to rattle off the atomic number and series of a given element than some incoherent poem about an imaginary matron named Hubbard.

Another Pension Problem: Portability September 7, 2010

Posted by David Bookstaber in Education, Pensions, Unions.
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Pensions can create enormous employment frictions when they are structured as unvested deferred compensation. This friction is often a bad thing, which is why the private employment sector generally sticks to 401k pensions, which are both fully portable and mostly vested throughout an individual’s employment.

The public sector, on the other hand, has preserved the worst characteristics of old-school pensions. Perhaps the best example comes from the persistently parochial public teacher unions, which bizarrely insist on defined-benefit pensions that do not vest at all for 20-30 years and do not port to any other employers. Bill McGurn expands on this today:

Because their pensions are not portable, teachers lose big if they move to another school system, switch careers, or try to cash out. [A recent report, Better Benefits: Reforming Teacher Pensions for a Changing Work Force,] cites a 2008 survey in which nearly four out of five teachers agreed with the statement that “too many veteran teachers who are burned out stay because they do not want to walk away from the benefits and service time they have accrued.”

QOTD: Teacher Unions Against Teachers July 10, 2010

Posted by David Bookstaber in Education, Unions.

From a review of Teach For America (TFA), a non-profit organization that pays for thousands of top college graduates to teach for two years in poorly-performing public schools:

Oddly, [one] obstacle is finding districts that will take the teachers. Why wouldn’t any superintendent trip over himself to hire young people with these qualifications?

The answer lies in the opposition to TFA by teachers unions and education schools. If TFA corps members can do a better job in two years than many longtime veterans, what do public-school systems need with job protections like tenure? And if they can do it without education school courses, why do we need those institutions?

The Cartel April 26, 2010

Posted by David Bookstaber in Education, Uncategorized, Unions.
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I simply couldn’t believe how in modern America someone would, by the age of 25, be guaranteed a job for life unless they killed someone.

That’s Bob Bowden, writer and director of “The Cartel,” a new documentary on public teacher unions.