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Tag Archive: Public Schooling

College as a way to babysit 18-year-olds is not very efficient for anyone involved

Posted: Sunday, June 5, 2011 (7:36 pm), by John W Gillis


Quote of the Day for Sunday, June 5th, 2011:

Naomi Schaefer Riley, writing in the June 3rd Washington Post, on the value of a modern college education, and the disconnect exposed by PayPal’s Peter Thiel when he recently thumbed his nose at the university system:

Executives at U.S. companies routinely complain about the lack of reading, writing and math skills in the recent graduates they hire. Maybe they too will get tired of using higher education as a credentialing system. Maybe it will be easier to recruit if they don’t have to be concerned about the overwhelming student debt of their new employees.

Employers may decide that there are better ways to get high school students ready for careers. What if they returned to the idea of apprenticeship, not just for shoemakers and plumbers but for white-collar jobs? College as a sorting process for talent or a way to babysit 18-year-olds is not very efficient for anyone involved. Would students rather show their SAT scores to companies and then apply for training positions where they can learn the skills they need to be successful? Maybe the companies could throw in some liberal arts courses along the way. At least they would pick the most important ones and require that students put in some serious effort. Even a 40-hour workweek would be a step up from what many students are asked to do now.

If tuition continues to rise faster than inflation, and colleges cannot provide a compelling mission for undergraduate education, we may move further away from Obama’s vision of education and closer to Peter Thiel’s.

It seems to me there are few areas of public life more dysfunctional than the la-la land of higher education (well, maybe the K-12 public school system…). The “Obama vision” referenced here is the widespread vision, shared among the cultural elite (especially the professorial class), of universal higher education, which, like most every “progressive” idea, sounds wonderful – if you are naïve enough to believe the utopian hype without bothering to think through the nuts & bolts of the details, and understand their consequences.

The reality is that as the reach of “higher education” spreads deeper into society, both the relative and objective values of higher education plummet toward irrelevance – much to the detriment of most of us, but especially of the least capable in society, who find more and more vocational possibilities being pushed out of reach in the credentialing game, and yet much to the benefit of – surprise, surprise – the professorial class, who find themselves with ever increasing power in the marketplace, and the liberal governing class, who see higher education as the next frontier for state domination over the intellectual/spiritual/religious formation of its subjects, having already accomplished a virtual monopoly over the formation of youth from near toddlerhood through adolescence.

No Child Left Unbooted in Natick

Posted: Wednesday, March 30, 2011 (11:49 pm), by John W Gillis


Natick, MA Superintendent of Schools Dr. Peter Sanchioni, putting a whole lot of clever lipstick earlier this month on a “looky what I found!” decision to raid a high school construction project’s (borrowed) contingency fund to underwrite – with tax dollars – a newly discovered necessity for educating teenagers: personal laptops for everyone:

"What we feel, and the case we’re going to make to the MSBA, is that they’ve totally underestimated what a technology budget should be in a 21st century school," Sanchioni said. "We don’t just want a model school in construction, we want a model school in instruction."

The plan, as laid out in this MetroWest Daily News article, calls for raiding the contingency fund of the new Natick High School building project to the tune of $2M, to provide personal laptops for every student in the 9-12 school by the time the new building opens in 2012 (the staff is already provided for). Essentially, that means borrowing this money for 20 years, but I’ll get to that.

This is wrong on so many levels, it’s hard to know where to start – and I’ve delayed posting this for days out of fear I’ll end up getting sucked into writing a long criticism.

To begin with, there’s the presumption that teens need computers to learn in the 21st century, or something like that. Well, I guess I don’t know how anyone else ever managed back in the Dark Ages of pen and paper, but I do know that kids primarily use computers for social networking, role playing, and procuring entertainments that span the gamut from the ditzy to the despicable, and I’m not seeing how saddling their notoriously undisciplined selves with such dubious tools during the school day is going to help their intellectual growth. I’ll put the primitively delivered education my two young daughters receive up against the iEducation of the tweeting teens any day.

Even if we incorrectly surmise that there is a real benefit to having classrooms full of laptop-carrying teens, there’s another poor assumption being put forth here that this makes for a proper expenditure of public funds. To the extent that computers are useful tools for producing work, it makes sense to make them publically available for use, both in schools and in public libraries that can be used outside of school hours, as has in fact been the case for years.

But it makes no more sense for the public to pay for privately-used computers for these kids than it would to publically provide for their personal clothing, their personal food, their personal eyeglasses or other medical needs, their personal automobile transportation, or the electricity they need to run their computers at home – and that’s just the beginning of the list of student “needs.” All of these things are, in one way or another, pre-requisite to the ability to use the laptops as intended, and therefore more fundamental. Perhaps in the eyes of the public school establishment, all these things should be publically provided for, either directly by a centralized government or through local soviets, but I trust most people can see both the moral and practical absurdity of it. There is absolutely no moral justification, in example, for taking tax dollars from long-time resident pensioners trying to hang onto their property, and funneling it in the form of “free” laptops to the teenagers of the nomadic dual-income professional families that often occupy the revolving-door McMansions that have become ubiquitous in Natick, as in so many similar towns.

That still doesn’t even touch the specific question of whether it is proper to use building project funds to purchase these laptops, or the even more specific question of whether it is fitting to do so by raiding the project contingency funds. The fact of the matter here is that these computers are being procured on a three-year lease, and being paid for by 20-year bonds. How insane is that? If you follow the link to the article, you can find a verbose Natick School Committee member in the comment boxes trying to rationalize this behavior with a pathetic “everybody does it” argument, but it is downright irresponsible to borrow money for 20 years to pay for expense items that not only have such a limited shelf life, but will surely demand replacement six or seven times over before the initial outlay (plus all the interest, of course) is paid off.

That fact exposes yet another tawdry element to all this: these computers are being procured off-budget today, but this act effectively commits the town to a perpetual budget hit of somewhere in the neighborhood of $800K annually to replace the third part of the computer supply that ages out of the three-year lease cycle each year. Everybody knows that it will be almost impossible politically to roll back the entitlement once it is in place – the entitlement peddlers always count on that.

On top of that, according to a March 7th report from Dennis Roche, the town’s Director of Technology, this proliferation of computers to every school kid (No Child Left Unbooted?) through this new entitlement program will necessitate the growth of an IT department to support them, which appears to be a staff of twelve people under the director, including a full-time support person in each middle school.

How do the middle schools play into this? And how do I come up with an $800K annual refresh cost for a three-year cycle on a $2M initial investment? Well, it turns out that this program has been being piloted in the middle schools’ 8th grade classrooms. The $2M buys laptops for 4 grade levels, but the program actually extends over 5 grade levels, bringing the total inventory cost to $2.5M, refreshed on a 3-year cycle. That’s assuming the 7th grade isn’t next at the feeding trough… And here again, a fact has come to light that exposes even more distinctly the tawdry character of this act.

The superintendent  and school committee began piloting this program in the 8th grade before the high school building project funds were authorized, but certainly after the project planning for the high school job was underway. Then they “found” the funds in building project contingency to saturate the high school level grades with computers procured off-budget, all but guaranteeing themselves a perpetual budget allocation to feed their beast. I don’t think I’d be going too far out on the limb of likelihood to suggest that they perhaps concocted this scheme from the beginning? That they got their way through chicanery can hardly be contested (the linked article calls it “creative ways,” but the point remains the same). And if the school building project runs into trouble and needs the contingency funds being diverted for iEducation?…

The risk plan, laid out plainly enough in the Dr. Sanchioni quote above, is the very embodiment of entitlementism: go back to the MSBA cash cow, and demand more. Now, I don’t know if the MSBA would actually do any such thing – my better self tells me that they would scoff both at the idea of scrapping the agreement they just completed with the town, and at the idea of including almost disposable but costly expense items in the funding for a capital project, and that Sanchioni probably knows that very well, and is just grandstanding to try to deflect taxpayer anger onto a higher level of government (a chronic ruse perpetuated by the less honorable among both the appointed and the elected), but my more cynical self tells me that the MSBA exists to spend taxpayer money, and may yet look favorably on the establishment of a new “essential” entitlement within its sphere of power.

And if that’s what ultimately happens, I can rest soundly, knowing that I will be paying for the laptops out of both my left pocket (state taxes) and my right pocket (municipal taxes), instead of just out of my right pocket. According to the folks like Dr. Sanchioni who sold the slumberous citizens of Natick this project to begin with, that’s like getting it for half price.

Mandating Two More Years of Vapid Futility?

Posted: Sunday, December 12, 2010 (11:46 pm), by John W Gillis


Quote of the Day for Sunday, December 12th, 2010:

Boston Globe staff writer James Vaznis reporting on the latest round of hand-wringing concerning the performance of urban public school districts in the state:

Within Boston, the state identified 40 percent of eighth-graders at risk of not earning a high school diploma with their classmates in 2014. But that estimate may be low, Boston public school officials said. The district’s graduation-tracking system, which, unlike the state’s, examines several years of data and grades, indicated that just 19 percent of this fall’s ninth-graders were on track academically.

The biggest ticket being advanced to address this predicament? Raising the legal drop-out age from 16 to 18! So saith a “special state commission” in a recommendation commissioned last year, and presently under examination by Gov. Patrick’s office and “key legislators.”

Imagine that! Mandating two more years of vapid futility for kids who, according to this report, have by eighth grade been suspended from school as many as 30 times, and who average – average! – a 25% absence rate.

How can any sane person think that requiring indifferent – if not hostile – teenagers to sit in a public school classroom for two additional years is going to be of any “educational” benefits to the kids in question, or especially to the other kids who actually want to be there to learn something? The only ones who’d benefit from something like this are the liberal social engineers whose workloads and paychecks would be beefed up with additional public expenditures: school teachers, case workers, social workers, probation workers, etc.

Of course, it would also give everyone involved the opportunity to throw their hands up in the air and say:”We did everything we could… we have no idea what went wrong!”

Only If Liberty Is Beautiful… Can It Really Be Worth the Courageous Risk of Life

Posted: Monday, December 6, 2010 (8:29 pm), by John W Gillis


Quote of the Day for Monday, December 6th, 2010:

With the Thanksgiving holiday still lingering in the air, I found this excellent article on the continuing value of America’s Puritan forebears over at the always worthwhile First Principles Journal site. Written by Peter Augustine Lawler, it is entitled: Praising the Puritans:

Because the Puritan conception of political freedom wasn’t based on the apolitical, selfish, rights-obsessed, and duty negligent Lockean individual, it both not only demanded virtuous civic participation but also connected political freedom with the creature’s charitable duty to the unfortunate. It set a high or virtuous standard for political competence and incorruptibility, and it didn’t seem to need to rely on institutions with teeth in them to restrain the spirit of faction and boundless ambition of leaders.

Whatever Puritan government was, it was not another name for a band of robbers, just as Puritan freedom could never be confused with another name for nothing less to lose. The Virginians’ view of freedom was finally merely useful or materialistic; it is the liberty of beings with interests and nothing more. The Puritans distinguished themselves by their “beautiful definition of freedom,” “a civil, a moral, a federal liberty,” “a liberty for that only which is just and good.” That’s the liberty for which it makes sense “to stand with the hazard of your very lives.” Only if liberty is beautiful or for the display of the most admirable and virtuous human characteristics can it really be worth the courageous risk of life.

The citizens of New England took care of the poor, maintained the highways, kept careful records and registries, secured law and order, and, most of all, provided public education for everyone—through high school when possible. The justification of universal education was that everyone should be able to read the Bible to know the truth about God and his duties to Him for himself. Nobody should be deceived by having to rely on the word of others; they had the democratic or Cartesian distrust of authority without the paralyzing and disorienting rejection of all authority. That egalitarian religious understanding, of course, was the source of the American popular enlightenment that had so many practical benefits.

readersmIn contrasting the worldviews of two early colonial communities within what would become the United States (Virginia and the New England Puritans), Lawler sketches out a sound defense of the much maligned New Englanders, showing how their characteristic reading of man’s place in the world laid the groundwork for much of what came to be the best of the American genius, and how it could provide an important corrective today to some of the more narcissistic and utilitarian tendencies that threaten to undermine the American community.

HT to Joe Carter over at FirstThings for the link.

One of the Deadliest Enemies to Liberty that Has Ever Been Devised

Posted: Monday, November 22, 2010 (4:30 pm), by John W Gillis


Quote of the Day for Monday, Nov. 22nd, 2010:

A double-quote day.

First, in honor of John F. Kennedy on the 47th anniversary of his assassination:

A nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is a nation that is afraid of its people.

Second, J. Gresham Machen (1881-1937) testifying before the joint Senate Committee on Education and Labor, and House Committee on Education, February 25, 1926, on the proposed establishment of a Department of Education, specifically here addressing the alleged benefits of national educational standardization that would result from such an establishment:

I believe that in the sphere of the mind we should have absolutely unlimited competition. There are certain spheres where competition may have to be checked, but not when it comes to the sphere of the mind; and it seems to me that we ought to have this state of affairs: That every State should be faced by the unlimited competition in this sphere of other States; that each one should try to provide the best for its children that it possibly can; and, above all, that all public education should be kept healthy at every moment by the absolutely free competition of private schools and church schools. A public education that is faced by such competition is a beneficent result of modern life; but a public education that is not faced by such competition of private schools is one of the deadliest enemies to liberty that has ever been devised.

[…]

As I say, I think that when it comes to the training of human beings, you have to be a great deal more careful than you do in other spheres about preservation of the right of individual liberty and the principle of individual responsibility; and I think we ought to be plain about this — that unless we preserve the principles of liberty in this department there is no use in trying to preserve them anywhere else. If you give the bureaucrats the children, you might as well give them everything else as well.

Given the mock horror and contemptuous sneers with which the political & media establishment greeted Sharon Angle’s suggestion during the latest election cycle to dismantle the Department of Education, what do you suppose they would have made of this guy? Of course, he was a New Testament scholar, which probably would have disqualified him from addressing the Congress under 1st Amendment principles in our day. The whole (fairly brief) testimony is worthwhile reading; I’m not sure how stable the link will turn out to be…

The Error of Permitting Religious Practice

Posted: Saturday, September 18, 2010 (11:50 pm), by John W Gillis


A local furor erupted a couple days ago over a Wellesley Middle School class’ visit to an area mosque, a story which has subsequently gone national. This whole story is just so wrong, on so many levels, that it approaches (?) the absurd. It is a microcosm of everything wrong with the deracinated public life that has banished religious faith to the margins, and adopted a functional atheism as public policy (despite the lingering religiosity of much of the unwashed masses).

The 6th grade class found itself at the mosque as part of a social studies unit called “Enduring Beliefs and the World Today.” It’s hard to pass over the name chosen for the program without snickering at the irony of it, for unfolding events would make it clear enough that “enduring” pretty well describes the approach these public sector “leaders” take toward beliefs – at least of a religious nature.

Along with visiting the mosque, the learning unit called for visiting a synagogue, and meeting with “Hindu religious representatives” – whatever that means. Oh, there was also apparently a section on Christianity, which I guess also continues to be a belief endured in the modern world. So what did the “Christian” field trip entail? Attending a “gospel music performance!”

OK, so you might be thinking that perhaps it’s hard to find an actual house of Christian worship in Wellesley – hence the detour to hear Al Green covers, or whatever they ended up listening to. Becca_flyer Alas, though, this school is barely more than a stone’s throw from Saint Paul Catholic Church, with its associated elementary and middle school (where my youngest daughter is enrolled). If the teachers were afraid of catching dogma cooties from entering a real church (where Mass, incidentally, is offered daily at 9:00 AM – perfect timing for a walking-distance morning field trip from the public middle school), they could have taken a trip to at least view the parochial school kids, with their frumpy uniforms, old-fashioned manners, and serious classroom demeanor.

But whatever possessed them to so trivialize the “Christian” component of their program, that’s just so much snarky background for what would transpire with the trip to the mosque. A mother accompanying the class took a cell phone video showing several of the school boys motioning along with the men they were standing near during midday prayer. Well, between the knee-jerk anti-Islamic sentiment and the knee-jerkier sentiment that the children had been exposed to “prayer” without donning proper repellent gear, this has turned into an absolute circus.

First came the accusation from a group apparently aggressively intolerant of Islam, named Americans for Peace and Tolerance (founded by Jewish Advocate columnist Robert Jacobs), who claimed in a YouTube video based on the cell phone capture that the boys had been “asked to participate” in the prayer service – a provocative overstatement – and then they go on to ask: “How did Wellesley public school teachers allow this to happen?”

Now, I’m at a loss to understand how any sane person would think that those teachers should have forbade the youngsters to pray – never mind the likelihood that the boys probably engaged the rite on about the same level they’d engage a Cotton Eye Joe dance at a school social, but the superintendent of schools issued an apology for the “error” that “any students were allowed to [participate],” and assured the parents that “it was not the intent for students to be able to participate in any of the religious practices” [emphases added].

Somehow, we’ve gone from Thomas Jefferson’s conviction that the state should not decide which religious beliefs and practices should be suppressed, to an air-headed bureaucratic conviction that government at any level is in “error” if it permits any kind of religious practices among those unfortunate young charges left in its incompetent care. God forbid [can I say that?] we permit any kid to participate in a “religious practice” on the watch of the overbearing nanny-state! Although I do have to wonder: do you think the kids were permitted to sing along at the gospel concert? Did they have to self-censor certain words? What if all they did was dance, or bounce to the beat? Looks pretty similar to Muslim “prayer acts” if you ask me…

However, not to be out-done by the educators in either inanity or self-importance, the director of the group stirring up this trouble, Dennis Hale, has instead likened the “prayer acts” movements to the hypothetical scenario of the children having been taken to a Catholic church, and given Communion! A journalist friend of the group has called for the firing or suspension of the superintendent and/or the teachers involved! And now another Jewish advocacy group – the American Jewish Committee – is calling for the creation of state guidelines for school visits to religious institutions! Oy vey!

I can tolerate a little Jewish over-reaction to Muslim hostility, real or imagined – the Jews don’t have the luxury to consider appeasement – but leave the public schools out of it; those kids are already getting the shaft.