Tag Archives | education

Education in our time of turmoil, more important than ever


Smart thoughts by an educator on why, in a time when it is obvious the US empire is crumbling, that education becomes crucially important. (Read these excerpts first, then click through to see who wrote it. You may be surprised  )

David Brooks, the moderate “human face” of the plutocrats and the dangerous fang faction, used his New York Times column to trumpet the need for “a national greatness agenda”

He asserts that “American ‘supremacy’ is a gift to our children and a blessing for the earth.” To Brooks the US Century must continue and the echoes of Rome and London and Berlin and Tokyo—pick your century, pick your conqueror—are unmistakable. The world will be a far, far better place if everyone will accept the obvious fact that the US makes a great ruler and that it should simply be allowed to run the whole show forever.

People around the world can’t possibly agree with Brooks’ assessment, and most never will no matter what the cost. Most people think the US (less than 5% of the world’s population, but capable of acting as if it’s some sort of entitled aristocracy or super-majority) has some noble traditions and hopeful rhetoric but it is also a misguided and menacing cowboy

This is precisely where a focus on education—on reason and evidence and argument—becomes essential. This historic moment, this epoch, could surely be increasingly violent and horrifying or it could be a time of new hope, beauty, and unforeseen possibilities. This is in part up to us: it depends on how we think and how we act. In education, this moment challenges us to reconsider every assumption and to reexamine first and fundamental principles.

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Substandard American education threatens national security

The continued failure of the United States to provide decent education to its citizens threatens national security, says a recent report by the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR.) The study was co-chaired by Joel I. Klein, former head of New York City public schools and Condoleezza Rice, former US Secretary of State.

The report is blunt about the national security threats due to the US continually falling behind in education:

I’m not sure why every problem has to morph into a national security threat, but our education system is indeed falling behind not just the educations offered by other industrialized nations but also behind those of developing nations too.

Plus, the trend towards ever-more expensive colleges will inevitably lead to a nasty two-tiered class system with resultant and utterly predictable political and social unrest.

Look at the chart. When I was in 4th grade I was an Advanced reader and so were most of my classmates. By 8th grade everyone in my classes was at least a Proficient reader. Yet two-thirds of 8th graders now are merely Basic (or Below Basic readers.) If a child has fallen that far behind in something as basic as reading by 8th grade, then chances are they will never catch up and will automatically be excluded from many jobs and much else too.

Reading is the prerequisite for virtually all education. If you aren’t a fluent reader, you really can’t get educated.

How did our education system get so abysmal and what can we do about it?

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Philadelphia School District closes, students screwed

Our educational system continues to disintegrate.

Philadelphia will shut 40 schools next year and 6 per years after that until 2017 due to funding shortfalls and mismanagement. Their school district is shutting down. That’s right, shutting down.

Their Chief Recovery Officer says “There’s a redefinition, and we’ll get to that later.” Apparently the Education Fairy will sprinkle pixie dust upon the everyone. Then magic of the marketplace will allow public and private entities to compete to run schools in “achievement networks.” Yeah right. I am so sure that privatization hedge fund maggots will do just a stellar job at providing education. Their sole focus will be ROI and the lowest bidder will win. Children in public schools in Philadelphia can now forget about getting an education, if they can even find a school that is open.

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Dueling education tax measures for California ballot

You may be startled to learn that California ranks at the very bottom in spending on education as compared to other states. It is 50th in the nation, dead last, in students per teacher and librarian, 49th in students per guidance counselor, and not above 45th is other categories. Clearly, California has been going wrong on education for years. It needs to change.

Gov. Brown is planning a proposition on the November ballot to raise money to close the budget deficit and fund education. He doesn’t want competing measures on the ballot fearing voters will then reject all of them. He probably will not get his wish since two competing measures, The Local Schools and Early Education Act and The Millionaires Tax of 2012 may well also be on the ballot. All three measures share similar goals in wanting to fund education, with different ways and funding methods of achieving that goal.

Gov. Brown’s plan would raise the state sales tax to 7.75% from 7.25% for 4 years and increase tax rates on high earners for 5 years. The tax rate for them would be 1-2% higher, maxing out at 12.3% for those making over $1 million. This increase would raise $6.9 billion, say proponents, and would be used exclusively for primary and secondary schools and community colleges. Yet Sacramento has a long and tired history of vastly overestimating expected revenues. Would this really raise $6.9 billion? We don’t know. Plus, people making over $1 million a year can hire tax lawyers to find legal loopholes and thus lower their taxes. I wonder how many of them actually pay the maximum tax rate now.

The Local Schools and Early Education Act is spearheaded by Molly Munger, daughter of a wealthy business partner of Warren Buffett. She is a decades-long proponent of education and is described as “ferocious” in her advocacy. She has already funded the ballot drive with $800,000 and is prepared to spend whatever it takes to get it on the ballot. Her plan would introduce a sliding scale of tax increases on all except for those with very low incomes. 30% of the money would go to paying off education debt. 60% would be allocated to all public schools including charter schools. 10% is earmarked for pre-school and kindergarten. The money cannot be raided by the state and there are criminal penalties for doing so.

Munger and Brown plan supporters have already sparred on this. Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg says “”Her intentions are good and her goal is pure … but I continue to believe that if there are multiple tax measures on the ballot it hurts all of us. I believe that tie base goes to the runner. All things being equal, deference ought to be given to the elected governor of California.” Munger responds “I don’t think we’d have a very good functioning democracy if we always just did what one person at the top wanted.”

The Millionaires Tax of 2012 raises the tax rate by 3% for those earning more than $1 million and 5% for those over $2 million. 60% would go to education, 25% to children, seniors, and the disables, 10% for public safety, and 5% for road and bridge repair. They provide a convenient chart for comparing the three plans.

None of these measures do much do to reducing the gaping budget deficit. They also mandate that the money can only be spent in a certain way, which is one of the reasons California has budget problems. Too much money is earmarked leaving much less with which to pay other obligations. Yes, the California education system is in dire shape and something needs to be done. But having three similar propositions on the ballot seems more indicative of a broken proposition system that anything else. If you have the money and resources, you can pay people to gather the necessary signatures. This is contrary to the original intent of the proposition process whereby citizens could have a direct impact. I think paid signature gathering should be banned and be done by volunteers only.

Will three competing education measures on the ballot confuse and turn off voters? So far polls show all three measures could pass. But November is a long way from now.

(crossposted from IVN)

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Promoting critical thinking and academic symbiosis in education

One of the characteristics of our educational system has different subjects put into neat separate boxes. Math, reading, art, science. Today, we see much more blurriness and convergence between subjects like science, religion, philosophy.

This “Gnostic syncretism”—the combining of knowledge—is especially apparent when teasing out the details surrounding revolutionary innovations. The inspiration that leads to breakthroughs in technology, science—even cultural breakthroughs—many times involve a bringing together and merging of ideas formally not associated.

Many pivotal inventions, ideas, concepts have been birthed through a sort of revelatory experience breaking down barriers and opening up the mind to new ways of doing things. For example, Nobel Prize winner Charles Hard Townes describes the unconstrained interplay of “how” and “why”—questions that both religion and science seek answers for—as he developed the principles for masers sitting on a park bench in Washington, D.C. in 1951. Masers led to lasers and an amazing plethora of inventions and discoveries in medicine, telecommunications, electronics, and computers in common use throughout the world today. Townes describes the genesis of his idea as an “epiphany”, and “revelation as real as any revelation described in the scriptures.

Are there ways to prepare student’s minds to have revelations such as Townes had?

Read the whole article.

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