George Carlin On Education

In accordance with the last post about standardized testing, here is George Carlin on education:

Then people wonder why 17 other countries graduate more scientist than we do. Education – politicians use that word, they use it on you. Politicians have traditionally hidden behind 3 things: the flag, the bible, and children – no child left behind, no child left behind.

Oh, really it wasn’t to long you were talking about giving children a head start. Head start – left behind, someone’s losing fucking ground here, but there’s a reason. There’s a reason for this. There’s a reason education sucks, and it’s the same reason it’ll never ever be fixed – it’s never going to get any better, don’t look for it, be happy with what you got, because the owners of this country don’t want that. I’m talking about the real owners now. The wealthy big business interests that controls things, and makes all the important decisions.

John Oliver On Standardized Testing

The always brilliant John Oliver on Standardized Testing in America.  Any teacher that I have ever talked to, and I know a lot, my Mom having been a teacher for her whole career, talks about what a waste of time this testing is.  It eats away at things that could be more beneficial to students, while giving a skewered look as to what is really going on in our schools.  There is huge difference between intelligence, learning, and just memorizing.

Mass Death, Critical Thinking, and Media Distortion

There is a digital sign, very close to where I live, that lets the passerby know that 457 people have been killed on Texas roads this year.  That is 457 people killed on the roads in the state of Texas only, in just over three months of one year.  There were 2,877 victims during 911.  So roughly one sixth of all of the people that were killed as the result of 911 have been killed through traffic accidents in the state of Texas this year from January 1st to March 24th.

Yet, no one is particularly troubled by this, unless of course they have been some how touched by one of these accidents in a personal way.  Meanwhile when 911 happened we lost our collective shit, resulting in the invasion of a country that in no way was related to 911.  That invasion led to far more death and destruction than 911 did.  I am not saying 911 was not a horrible event.  I am not saying that no response was necessary.  I am only saying that if you compare the results of 911 to the results of what happen all the time, it didn’t warrant the kind of response that it created.  We did not need to change every law in the land, drop bombs on other people, etc.  We should have gone after the people directly responsible, mourned the dead in the way that we should mourn all people that have fallen before their time, and gotten back to business as usual.

I would imagine that most people would agree with this now, especially in concern with our ill advised adventure into Iraq.  So why am I bringing this up?  (And I’m even bringing it up again as I have touched upon this idea before.  I am constantly reminded of this idea from the sign that I see every time I leave my house to go out into greater Austin.)  Today over at Huffington Post the headline is about a plane crash in the Alps where right now 150 are feared dead.  This number is less than a third of all the people that have been killed in Texas highways this year, and it is far away, so the chance of us knowing someone that died is even less.  Yet, this is the HEADLINE at Huffington Post.  I can only imagine what cable news is going to do with a story like this.  I assume, and hopefully I’m wrong, but I doubt that I am, that cable news is going to have a fucking field day with it!

We live in a democracy.  To have a democracy that functions efficiently, it is important that the citizens of the democracy can assess what’s going on and make educated choices concerning problems.  Yet here in America, a sort of tabloid lizard brain runs the show in determining what is important to focus on.  That is if you take the view that things aren’t being actively manipulated to keep us afraid and in the dark.

When horrible events occur, which with news cameras in almost every part of the globe, they are going on consistently in some form or fashion on a daily basis, we must try to maintain some kind of perspective on things.  As citizens of the United States and as citizens of the greater world, what actually concerns us?  What is a tragedy and what is a threat?  Given that we as humans only have so much time in a day to devote to understanding the world around us, what is really important for us to know and what is not?  When is something blown out of proportion to where it actually prevents us from making wise decisions?  This does not meant that we should be callous to suffering.  It only means that we should not let suffering blind us into creating other suffering in the world.

The way that our news media operates actually causes us to be less informed, as we are overloaded with the horrific and the sensational.  Anytime a news story comes on one should ask, “Does this affect me and my life in anyway?  Does this increase the likelihood that I am going to make better decisions about the world?  If it does not, can I acknowledge that I am watching this for mere entertainment or escapism?”

I would prefer that all Americans quit watching TV news.  If they can’t, I would at least prefer that they limited the amount of time they spent viewing it.  TV news, even though I mentioned Huffington Post up above, is the worst at pumping up false threats, while ignoring real events that we should be learning about.  However, if one is not going to stop watching TV news, I think people should at least take the right set of tools with them, as they try to sort through the insanity of the day.

Critical thinking is more important than ever.  In a world full of information, it is those that understand how to interpret information that are going to stand the best of thriving in this world.  Unfortunately our schools are moving more towards standardized testing, more towards rewarding the unthinking worker bee.  These are the exact opposite of the skills that are truly needed in the modern world.

The Fear of Education

The Right’s Fear of Education

The above article is by a former military man and right winger on why there is a dislike of education by some on the right.  (Most recently put in the news by Scott Walker and his people in Wisconsin.)  I don’t think that all on the right dislike education.  However, there does seem to be a strain of modern conservatism that is doing its best to strip it of anything but the ability to provide people with the skills to be a worker bee.  I think this writer has a plausible theory at least.  Discuss…

Anti-Science America and More On Experts

Gap Between Scientists and General Public

President Tells Parents to Vaccinate Their Children

The first article is about the gap between the opinions of the general public and the second is about how the President had to remind people that it was safe to get vaccines.  One of my last blogs (I will link it at the end.) was about how our society relies too heavily on experts, especially the kind on TV that are used to shape public opinion on moral and political issues.  However, where experts are really valuable is on technical issues, which Howard Zinn, in the excerpt I published, eludes to, although perhaps not strongly enough.  Scientists can’t teach you morality, but scientists can give you the technical facts on which to base morality on.  Scientists are not experts at complex ethical questions regarding manmade climate change, but they can in fact tell you that man is contributing to climate change.  Scientists should not be the ones laying out the reason why it is ethical to vaccinate your children, but they should be the ones that tell you if vaccines are safe or not.  Yet on climate change, vaccinations, and other topics of the day, we have a large percentage of the population that ignores the cold hard evidence on such issues.  What does it mean when a President has to waste his time telling people that it is safe to get vaccinations when the overwhelming scientific evidence is that it is indeed safe?

Again the only way a democracy can work is if the general population actively tries to stay informed.  We have too many people that believe in nonsensical unsupported gibberish.  There is a great deal of senselessness on the internet, but at the same time it is actually pretty easy to get the correct information if you diligently search for it.  A democracy is supposed to put leadership in the hands of people, but people, in order to deserve that leadership, must also assume the burdens of that leadership.  That means spending at least part of your life trying to stay informed as to what is actually going on.

Why are we spending so much of our time arguing over things that are settled science?  I think it is because of the corrupting influence that the god of money has on our society.  There scores of think-tanks that have been created, often by corporate money, to try to influence public debate and public policy.  There are a great deal of political “leaders” that are often shills for different industries.  Many of the so-called “experts” on TV have been bought and paid for by different industries.  People like the Koch brothers are purposely trying to dismantle education, particularly science education, but really education that gets people to think critically.  In an age when we are bombarded with information, it is more important that people can think critically than ever before.  People need the ability to actually tell the difference between respected technical experts of certain fields and bought and paid for talking heads, which I admit can be hard to do if you don’t actually have the time to read up on stuff.  The media, especially the mainstream corporate media, does not do its duty in telling its audiences who is receiving checks from where.

There is so much to discuss on this topic, but for the time being I will leave it to you to explore on your own.  Try to teach yourself about the role of think-tanks in our society.  Also, google Barry McCaffrey, who was a military expert often brought on TV shows in the lead up to the Iraq War.  Then spend some time googling where he gets his various paychecks from.  He is a great example to understand how money corrodes public debate.

My previous post on experts here:

The Problem With Experts

Hat tip to my friend Peter for the second article.

Ideas of Value and Worshipping at Decaying Alters

I once read part of Niall Ferguson’s The War of the World.  Although I don’t agree with Ferguson on most current political issues and he can often be pompous and arrogant, there were parts of this book that were really interesting and one part in particular that stuck with me.  This was the idea that technology cannot only spread progress and enlightenment, but can also spread bad ideas just as quickly.  In the book he talks about the implementation of rail.  Rail allowed certain regions to progress economically and culturally.  Goods and technology that had not reached parts of the world were now more easily available and allowed civilization to advance.  Different people that had never been in much contact were able to come together, become more familiar with each other, and share worthwhile ideas.  However, things like racism and anti-semitism, that might not have been prevalent in certain areas, were able to spread as well.

We can see in modern times how the internet allows both good and bad ideas to spread more easily.  Not only can the internet be a place where democratic ideas can be shared, but fundamentalists and fascist corporatists are able to spread their message through the internet as well.

Earlier tonight as I drove home from a gig I was listening to Chuck D’s album The Black in Man.  On one of the songs Chuck D raps that,”There’s a difference between censorship and senseless shit.”  I’m against censorship of any kind, the banning of ideas.  However, this does not mean that ideas have equal value and should be regarded as such.  There is not enough critical thinking and bullshit detecting going on in our society.   Whether it is the right’s fear of intellectualism, because facts are often not in their favor, or the left’s fear of things being deemed intolerant, too many of the conversations we have end up being about how people respond to something and not the actual value an idea itself.

Making scientific decisions is better when science is the metric for a decision and not economics.  A culture that treats women equally is flat out better than a culture that tries to keep them subservient.  These, and others, are simple conclusions that can be reached easily when reason and critical thinking are involved.  Now more than ever, in this information age, we need people that can critique our culture in a meaningful way and that aren’t afraid to stand up and be counted.  At the same time we need these same kind of people to be unafraid to change their opinions when facts add up to something different than what we previously thought.   Utilitarianism, what benefits the most amount of people, should be a force in that debate, even if that idea in and of itself isn’t enough.  (No matter how many benefit from something, it should not be at the expense of suffering of the minority.  There needs to be clear ethical lines as safeguards to that utilitarianism.)  What gives the people the best chance to be free of fear, want, and oppression?  How do we as a society prosper and live lives of meaning without creating suffering in others?  What brings long term meaning to life?  What kinds of short term satiation of our desires makes life less meaningful in the long run?

We have all of the information of the world at our fingertips, but kids are taught less and less how to actually parse that information and decide what has value.  People on the right and the left sense their is something sick in our culture, even if they can’t agree on what it is.

In my opinion, although there is still a lot of ill in our culture due to petty tribal and religious differences, our main problem is that we have allowed money to become the thing we worship above all else.  Whatever sells wins, even if in the long run it will lead to our destruction.

As I read the news today I couldn’t help but notice all of the false gods that we worship on a daily basis.  We too often worship the god of the tribe, while allowing money and power to have their way while we are distracted at decaying alters.

I already know, before even reading over what I wrote, that it is somewhat rambling, that it possibly touches on too many different ideas.  But I can’t help but feel these are the kinds of things we should be thinking about, that these are the kinds of questions that we should be asking.

Corporate Education

Chomsky On the Big Business and Universities

I will shamefully admit to having never read anything by Chomsky other than the above article.  I know that he is a polarizing figure.  I think the above article is very interesting and insightful.  It is about how the universities are being run more and more like corporations and how that is adversely affecting education in this country for the worst.

Key quote:  That ought to be the purpose of education. It’s not to pour information into somebody’s head which will then leak out but to enable them to become creative, independent people who can find excitement in discovery and creation and creativity at whatever level or in whatever domain their interests carry them.

When I went back to school over a year ago I remember feeling deeply disappointed in the education I was receiving, despite the fact that I was technically going to a better school than the one where I got my first degree.  It seemed much more worker bee oriented.  The first time I went to school, in the late 90’s, I was young and naive and didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life.  I did not make the most of my education.  This time around I thought it would be different because I have developed a true love of reading and learning.  I expected heady discussions and challenging ideas.  For the most part I found group work, silly projects, and peer to peer learning, instead of being pushed to think and question things by professors. This is not true across the board, but it seemed to be more the case than not.  I spoke a lot with my girlfriend about having a similar experience in the same timeframe.  My mom was a grade school teacher and my Dad is a college professor.  We constantly talk about how education is moving further and further away from critical thinking.  Critical thinking seems to be low in this country in general.  In a democracy having a population that can critically think is the most important thing to having a government that works on behalf of the populace and not just for those in power.  If you feel troubled by the events unfolding in the world, but can’t quite put your finger on it, my first response would be to start going to the library.