View 764 Friday, March 01, 2013
SEQUESTRATION FRIDAY IS HERE
Doom Doom Doom Doom Doom
RE: African-Americans and Education (Feb. 26)
Dear Mr. Pournelle,
I couldn’t agree more with your statements about the importance of literacy. I’m currently a student teacher for mathematics at a predominantly African-American vocational high school in Chicago, and I’ve spent every day of the past month in the same two Sophomore Geometry classes (appx. 18 students per class; about 10 in each have never shown up). For the most part, the kids are intelligent enough to grasp the concepts, and some are quite bright in terms of their calculating abilities and the questions they ask. But they all continue to drastically underperform because they cannot–or will not–interpret and employ precise language. They don’t readily recognize distinctions among different terms; they don’t retain the proper vocabulary and phrasings; they don’t process conditional statements and causal relationships; and they don’t generally display the kind of sustained organized thought that comes primarily from training in literate interpretation and expression. You practically have to squeeze it out of them, but then they go back out into the hallway and receive tons of negative reinforcement. In other words, their own linguistic "culture" is severely handicapping them in all fields.
On a similar note, I’d wager that the "culture" of boy-girl interactions that I’ve seen and had described to me, is also keeping these kids down. My co-operating teacher said he’s seen boys hit and choke girls, and they all treat it like it’s normal. I can’t imagine but that this has significant ramifications for individuals’ sense of self-worth and notions of constructive interpersonal communication.
Of course, no one can come out and say all this without being called a vile racist. Still, even while I don’t want to discount possible bases in physiology/nature, from what I’ve seen of the enormous gap between these kids’ basic intellectual capacity (as determined through several weeks of close conversation and inspection of their work) and their ability to express themselves coherently, I find myself coming down heavily on the side of nurture.
The President has said that preschool is the answer to the nation’s education problems. If so, the District of Columbia is the ideal place to experiment. The Congress has complete authority over the District, granted in the Constitution, and can set up any schools it likes with any rules it likes. Let the Department of Education propose experimental schools, including pre-schools. Let one pre-school concentrate on two factors: learning to read, and instilling some cultural factors involving discipline and learning. Most experiments (including my wife’s years as the reading teacher of last resort in the Los Angeles County Juvenile Justice System) have shown that leaning to read it is fact rewarding, and tends to produce discipline within the class. “Cool it man, we learning something here!” But use whatever system of rewards one like. Try different systems with different schools. The Congress is sovereign in the District and can try any school system it likes, or several of them. Let ten flowers bloom and see which produces results.
Of course that won’t happen.
But if pre-school is to be the answer to the current educational miasma, let it teach reading and try to do something about cultural discipline factors at an early enough age that it can make some changes. Of course that assumes that there is an “American Way” that we are all proud of, and that all children can be assimilated into the Melting Pot.
Note that it isn’t African Americans who should be the target of teaching reading and the American Culture. It should be all kids of whatever origin. The American system of education at one time was the wonder of the world. It could be again. Begin with teaching them to read in pre-school. That can be done for the vast majority of the children. Select teachers who can and will do it, and don’t continue employment of teachers who can’t do the job. That will produce long term benefits for the nation at a pretty efficient cost, even if you end up having to pay the successful teachers a hundred grand a year. Just don’t pay that to those who can’t do the job. And if it can’t be done, then end the project and try another; but we have examples to show that it can be done.
In order to soften the pain of the dreaded sequester monster which will cut 70 billion out of a 35 thousand billion dollar budget this year thus sending kids home from school, closing parks, releasing prisoners, and laying off first responders, the Congress proposed allowing the President to allocate the cuts in any way he deemed desirable. Years ago Mr. Obama said he would go through the budget with laser like precision, removing spending requests for frivolous items. This would be his chance to do it, although the story appears to be that he has rejected the power.
So we will lay off first responders and close Head Start programs while continuing to pay the Bunny Inspectors. For those who don’t know, there exist Department of Agriculture Inspectors whose job it is to attend stage magician performances to see if any pet rabbits are used in the performance; and if there are to inspect the Federal License required for keeping pet rabbits for public display. (Note that if the rabbit is killed in the act no Federal license is required; it applies only to rabbits kept as pets but displayed publicly.) Another task for the Bunny Inspectors is to see that anyone in the US keeping rabbits as pets has a Federal License if any of those rabbits are sold. The penalties for keeping rabbits for sale without a Federal License is quite severe. You can raise them for food and kill and eat them, and if you sell rabbits for food the matter is of state or local concern; it’s only the sale of pet rabbits that has to have a Federal License issued by the Department of Agriculture.
There are other activities of the Federal Government which may or may not be desirable, but surely are less urgent or valuable than some of the activities which are now to be closed by the Dread Sequester; it is not clear why the President does not want the authority to use his laser inspection to find and eradicate those expenditures.
Bunny Inspectors on Public Radio’s "The Takeaway"
FYI, I just heard a commercial for the Public Radio program "The Takeaway" stating that they will be using Federal "Bunny Inspectors" as an example of Federal spending.
Apparently others are beginning to wonder about the priorities of the activities to be ended by sequestration.
There may be other ways to save money.
‘But the GAO review found the jets were used only used about 40 percent of the time for counterterrorism since 2007, with their primary function becoming executive travel.’
It would seem to me that the sequester would be a splendid opportunity to end some practices that were perhaps desirable during boom times, but which are now a bit expensive and no longer quite so vital?
Once that is done we can discuss the priorities of FBI agents vs. Head Start teachers.
The march of technology:
Pretty amazing aircraft
A liquid-hydrogen-powered unmanned spy plane from Boeing’s Phantom Works had a very successful test flight earlier this week, climbing a mile and a half into the sky.
We are approaching a time when keeping up with technology through X projects is more important than inventory. The “R&D Deterrent” is an important factor in the Strategy of Technology. It is probably time for me to do a new Preface to Strategy of Technology and get the book into Kindle format. It was a Cold War book, but the principles remain true and important; perhaps more so now than when it was written in the 1960’s.