Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Stably wasteful: Why new tech won’t gut higher education

If the human capital model of education were true, educators should be worried. Modern information technology makes it possible to teach skills for a fraction of the traditional cost. If imparting skills were the main function of schooling, higher education will soon, as Arnold suggests, go the way of Borders.

Unfortunately for the world, but fortunately for me, the human capital model is greatly overrated. Education is not primarily about teaching concrete skills. It's a stably wasteful way to sort people according to their intelligence, conscientiousness, conformity, etc.

So what happens when an innovator claims to have a cheaper, easier substitute for traditional education? The lazy and the weird gravitate to Cheap Easy U like moths to the flame. As a result, employers correctly infer that graduates of Cheap Easy U are sub-par - and Cheap Easy U captures, at best, a niche market. A sustainable business model, perhaps - but no real threat to the Expensive Painful Universities that blanket the land.

If our education system is going to improve, our salvation won't be low-cost alternatives to what we've got. Our salvation will be education budgets so austere that middle class kids can no longer afford to finish four-year degrees - and therefore no longer need four-year degrees to convince employers to give them a chance.

P.S. Two years ago Alex Tabarrok expressed similar hopes/fears about the ability of technology to gut higher education. I replied:

"If [you] were right, then videotape would have put college professors out of business thirty years ago!"

Then I offered Alex a bet:

"I bet at even odds that 10 years from now, the fraction of American 18-24 year-olds enrolled in traditional four-year colleges will be no more than 10% (not 10 percentage-points!) lower than it is today."

As far as I remember, Alex didn't take the bait. How about you, Arnold?


The Media and 'Bullying'

Thomas Sowell

Back in the 1920s, the intelligentsia on both sides of the Atlantic were loudly protesting the execution of political radicals Sacco and Vanzetti, after what they claimed was an unfair trial. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote to his young leftist friend Harold Laski, pointing out that there were "a thousand-fold worse cases" involving black defendants, "but the world does not worry over them."

Holmes said: "I cannot but ask myself why this so much greater interest in red than black."

To put it bluntly, it was a question of whose ox was gored. That is, what groups were in vogue at the moment among the intelligentsia. Blacks clearly were not.

The current media and political crusade against "bullying" in schools seems likewise to be based on what groups are in vogue at the moment. For years, there have been local newspaper stories about black kids in schools in New York and Philadelphia beating up Asian classmates, some beaten so badly as to require medical treatment.

But the national media hear no evil, see no evil and speak no evil. Asian Americans are not in vogue today, just as blacks were not in vogue in the 1920s.

Meanwhile, the media are focused on bullying directed against youngsters who are homosexual. Gays are in vogue.

Most of the stories about the bullying of gays in schools are about words directed against them, not about their suffering the violence that has long been directed against Asian youngsters or about the failure of the authorities to do anything serious to stop black kids from beating up Asian kids.

Where youngsters are victims of violence, whether for being gay or whatever, that is where the authorities need to step in. No decent person wants to see kids hounded, whether by words or deeds, and whether the kids are gay, Asian or whatever.

But there is still a difference between words and deeds -- and it is a difference we do not need to let ourselves be stampeded into ignoring. The First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States guarantees freedom of speech -- and, like any other freedom, it can be abused.

If we are going to take away every Constitutional right that has been abused by somebody, we are going to end up with no Constitutional rights.

Already, on too many college campuses, there are vaguely worded speech codes that can punish students for words that may hurt somebody's feelings -- but only the feelings of groups that are in vogue.

Women can say anything they want to men, or blacks to whites, with impunity. But strong words in the other direction can bring down on students the wrath of the campus thought police -- as well as punishments that can extend to suspension or expulsion.

Is this what we want in our public schools?

The school authorities can ignore the beating up of Asian kids but homosexual organizations have enough political clout that they cannot be ignored. Moreover, there are enough avowed homosexuals among journalists that they have their own National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association -- so continuing media publicity will ensure that the authorities will have to "do something."

But political pressures to "do something" have been behind many counterproductive and even dangerous policies.

A grand jury report about bullying in the schools of San Mateo County, California, brought all sorts of expressions of concern from school authorities -- but no definition of "bullying" nor any specifics about just what they plan to do about it.

Meanwhile, a law has been passed in California that mandates teaching about the achievements of gays in the public schools. Whether this will do anything to stop either verbal or physical abuse of gay kids is very doubtful.

But it will advance the agenda of homosexual organizations and can turn homosexuality into yet another of the subjects on which words on only one side are permitted. Our schools are already too lacking in the basics of education to squander even more time on propaganda for politically correct causes that are in vogue. We do not need to create special privileges in the name of equal rights.


Australia: Teaching in schools with a criminal record

TEACHERS are being allowed to work despite being found guilty of assault, drink driving and drug possession.

The information, obtained through a Freedom of Information request from Family First MLC Robert Brokenshire, also showed two approved applicants were dismissed following allegations of unprofessional conduct.

The Teachers Registration Board response revealed that between August 12, 2010, and September 5, 2011, 42 applicants made a declaration relating to questions about fitness and propriety.

The teacher with the longest list of charges was found guilty of property offences and minor drug offences in the late 1970s and early 1980s, followed by social security fraud/overpayment (1997), minor possession of cannabis (1998) and theft (2004).

Mr Brokenshire said the Government had to ensure "very careful analysis" of teachers to ensure high standards.

"There especially needs to be proper scrutiny and analysis when they come from interstate because if they have had a problem that could be the reason for the move," he said.

Teachers Registration Board of South Australia registrar Wendy Hastings said when an applicant indicated they had to make a declaration about fitness and propriety further inquiries were conducted.

"We're not talking about major robberies, serious assault or sexual abuse and in some cases they happened five, 10, 15 or 20 years ago," she said.

The information provided by the board stated one applicant was dismissed following allegations of unprofessional conduct and that with another teacher "regulatory authority is currently assessing the matter".

Ms Hastings said at the time of lodgement, the applicant was registered in another state.

"Appropriate checks were made ... with that state, which responded indicating there were no matters currently before the regulatory authority," she said.

In the other case, the applicant had successfully appealed his dismissal and was reinstated by his employer. After reinstatement the board granted provisional registration and a serious reprimand was issued. [A serious reprimand! Wow! That must have hurt!]


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