Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Business brainwashing and vocational education

I'm a huge fan of child labor, also known as "vocational education."  Almost everyone would be better off if students in the bottom half of their class began full-time apprenticeships after elementary school.  If you hate sitting still and you're old enough to work, you should probably leave school and learn a trade.  The current system prepares such kids to do zero jobs; at least my proposal would prepare them to do one job.  In slogan form: 1>0.

David Balan, one of my three favorite liberals, leveled an interesting objection to my proposal, shared with his permission.  David's concern: Expanding vocational education would intensify the already severe problem of business brainwashing.  In his view, the business world is infected by narrow materialism, unquestioning conformism, and outright deception.  Academic education is a vital counterbalance.  School teaches us to question the status quo, to think for ourselves, and appreciate the plurality of values.  David admits that some teens need to learn how to please the customer and respect their supervisors.  But this worker-bee mentality can easily go too far.  Expanding vocational education would make matters even worse than they already are.

My apologies to David if I'm failing his Ideological Turing Test; I'm happy to post any corrections or clarifications he provides.  At least as stated, though, David is proverbially straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel.

1. Due to anti-market bias, most people view business propaganda with deep cynicism.  This doesn't mean that normal people have a Spock-like ability to tune out marketing.  But our default response to business propaganda is a sarcastic inner, "Yea, yea, yeaaa."

2. As a result of people's deep skepticism, businesses know that they have almost no hope of changing anyone's core values.  That's why most businesses appeal to basic human drives, also known as "the lowest common denominator": hedonism, lust, vanity, and greed.  It's easy to blame these traits on capitalism, but evolutionary psychology says otherwise.

3. In any case, the business world suffers from a severe public goods problem.  Business as a whole might benefit if businesses joined forces to inculcate pro-business attitudes.  But each individual business is better off jockeying for market share, even if it hurts the image of their industry or business in general: "Let our competition worry about the health of the capitalist system."

4. Academic education does indeed instill a distinct set values.  But I see near-zero evidence that schools encourage students to "think for themselves."  Even college professors who openly glorify independent thinking rarely welcome it in practice.  So what values do schools really instill?  From what I've seen, American schools - primary, secondary, and tertiary, public and private - push nationalism, blind worship of majority rule, and the Whig theory of history.  Every regulation the U.S. government ever adopted and every war the U.S. fought (except Vietnam and maybe Iraq II) was a Very Good Idea.

5. Academic propaganda is markedly more persuasive than business propaganda because (a) people trust kindly teachers far more than they trust greedy businessmen, and (b) governments are better at overcoming the public goods problems of indoctrination.

6. Academic propaganda is intrinsically more dangerous than business propaganda.  Nationalism, blind worship of majority rule, and the Whig theory of history can and usually do lead to popular self-righteous support for the mistreatment of foreigners and other unpopular out-groups.  Yes, xenophobia, like hedonism, lust, vanity, and greed, is part of human nature.  But xenophobia is much easier to manipulate, and most adults are too lazy to severely mistreat out-groups on their own initiative.

7. Reality check: Almost no one is eager to kill for his employer or favorite corporation.  Millions are eager to kill for their flag and country.  Business propaganda is kind of stupid, but academic propaganda is downright scary.

The main shortcoming of business propaganda, in my view, is that it neglects workers in favor of consumers.  Businesses try a lot harder to shape our buying habits than our work habits.  Vocational education would help correct this imbalance.  If C, D, and F students started apprenticeships right after elementary school, they would spend their teenage years in a peer group where hard work and a can-do attitude are the path to high status.  This would work wonders for underachievers, especially macho teen males, who currently gravitate to idleness and crime.


Now Let’s Try Real Student Aid Reform

The U.S. Senate and House have passed a student loan bill President Obama will almost certainly sign. Bipartisanship lives! But don’t get too excited. Heck, don’t get excited at all: The bill will only deliver minor tweaks to a system that needs elimination, not a screw or two turned a little harder.

The bill, which ties interest rates on federal student loans to 10-year Treasury notes, certainly makes more sense than having Congress arbitrarily set a rate. Student loan rates moving with overall interest rates — not stuck well above or below them — makes sense if you are trying to balance the government’s need for revenue with a desire to furnish loans more cheaply than students would otherwise be able to get them. For supporters of such programs, getting this should have been simple, which is why — despite significant fighting — it ultimately got done.

The big problem is such programs should not be supported. If the evidence shows us anything, it is that federal student aid is largely self-defeating when it comes to prices, and likely hurts low-income people more than anyone else.

The price problem is easy to understand. Give everyone an extra dollar to buy a hot dog, and what will wiener vendors do? Raise their prices! Essentially the same thing has been happening in higher education for decades.

According to data from the College Board, the inflation-adjusted cost of tuition, fees, room, and board at private four-year colleges rose from $16,745 in the 1982-83 school year, to $39,518 in 2012-13, an increase of $22,773. At four-year public institutions, it rose from $7,510 to $17,860, a $10,350 leap.

How about aid? In 1982-83 year, the average full-time equivalent student received $3,802 in federal grants and loans. By 2012 that amount had risen to $13,552, a $9,750 leap that tracks closely with increases in overall prices, especially when considering much greater enrollment in cheaper public institutions. And those figures exclude aid such as work-study and tax credits.

Of course these figures don’t prove that aid fuels rampant inflation, but they certainly track with the basic logic that schools will raise their prices if they can get people to pay them. And there is a growing body of empirical research showing that colleges do, in fact, capture aid.

The true cost of aid, however, goes beyond just skyrocketing prices. Aid also enables massive, wasteful overconsumption of higher education.

First, roughly half of people who enter college will not finish, and many who do not complete will have accumulated substantial debt without having gotten the credential needed to increase their earning ability. A substantial part of the problem is that the Feds hand out money regardless of meaningful evidence of a prospective student’s academic ability. As long as you have a high school diploma or GED — and until recently you didn’t even need one of those — you can get federal aid.

Who does this hurt the most? Ironically, the low-income people the aid is most supposed to help. Indeed, two brand new reports show that sizable disparities in colleges’ graduation rates are driven largely by how many low-income students they enroll. This suggests that low-income students are disproportionately being admitted to colleges without the drive, ability, or both to do college level work. And, alas, the federal government is happy to let them go into debt to do it.

That said, things aren’t hugely better among graduates. About a third of people with bachelor’s degrees are in jobs that don’t require them. On top of that, there is likely serious “credential inflation,” with employers seeing increasingly commonplace degrees simply as signals that job applicants have minimum persistence and self-discipline. Those without degrees are assumed to be hopelessly deficient. That literacy rates for degree-holders dropped significantly on the National Assessment of Adult Literacy between 1992 and 2003 — the last time the assessment was given — supports the conclusion that degrees are indicating appreciably less learning or ability.

So let’s all take a moment to enjoy Washington getting something relatively uncontroversial done. Then let’s start demanding that the Feds do something that will really help: phase out student aid.


School Defends Textbook Calling Muhammad “God’s Messenger”

School officials in Florida are defending a textbook that declares Muhammad as the “Messenger of God” after critics accused an Islamic education group of launching a stealth jihad in American public school classrooms.

The Prentice World History textbook being used in Brevard Public Schools includes a 36-page chapter on Islam but no chapters on Christianity or Judaism.

According to a copy obtained by Fox News, The ninth grade textbook declares that Muhammad is the “Messenger of God” and instructs students that jihad is a duty that Muslims must follow.

“Jihad may be interpreted as a holy war to defend Islam and the Muslim community, much like the Crusades to defend Christianity,” the book states.

The textbook published large passages from the Koran, but failed to include any Scripture from the Bible. And while the book  makes declarations about Muhammad being God’s messenger, it does not make declarations about Jesus being God’s son.

“Some believed he was the messiah,” the textbook noted in an entry about Jesus. The book noted that He was later executed, but failed to mention His resurrection.

Brevard Public Schools defended the textbook and said it provided a balanced view of world religions.

“An analysis of one textbook cannot provide a balanced understanding as to what the students in Brevard Public Schools are learning throughout their academic careers,” spokeswoman Michelle Irwin said in a statement.

She said the Prentice Hall World History textbook incorporated a review of the origin of Christianity and Judaism – subjects covered indepth in sixth grade classrooms.

She also pointed out the book was among those approved by the state of Florida and that parents as well as community members were given the opportunity to review the textbook before it was adopted.

The book has been used in the classroom for the past three years without any complaints – until now.

Susan Aspey, a spokeswoman for the book’s publisher, told Fox News the textbook is balanced.

“Pearson and its authors adhere to the highest editorial standards when creating course materials, which undergo a rigorous review process,” she said. “A review of the book shows there is balanced attention given to the beliefs of Islam, Judaism and Christianity.

William Saxton, the chairman of Citizens For National Security, testified before the Brevard, Fla. School Board, warning them that the book rewrites Islamic history and presents a biased and incorrect version of the Muslim faith.

“They promote Islam at the expense of Christianity and Judaism,” Saxton told Fox News. “It blew my mind to see the kind of propaganda, the pro-Islam information that’s in this book – at the expense of Christianity and Judaism.”

Saxton said he believes the inclusion is deliberate and he placed the blame an organization that was once called Council on Islamic Education. The group works with education officials and publishers to produce chapters on Islam for American textbooks.

But today, the Council on Islamic Education is known as the Institute on Religious and Civic Values. It’s founder, Shabbir Mansuri, is listed as an academic reviewer on the textbook used in Brevard County.

In 2001 the OC Weekly newspaper in California interviewed Mansuri about comments former Second Lady Lynne Cheney made lamenting the amount of time schools were spending teaching cultures that were not American. Mansuri took her comments as a personal attack.

“For the past 11 years, Mansuri has waged what he calls a ‘bloodless’ revolution: promoting an increased emphasis on world cultures and faiths – including Islam – inside American junior high and high school campuses,” the newspaper reported.

Saxton said he is highly suspicious of Mansuri’s organization and questioned why they changed their name.

“These people are dedicated to getting this language into the textbooks,” he said, noting their new name is “benign and does not sound “threatening or Islamic. “But the same people are running it.”

Saxton said they are hearing from concerned parents across the country – and the complaints have generally been the same: public school textbooks that favor Islam over other world religions.

“It’s a form of stealth jihad,” he said. “(Jihad) is not just blowing up buildings. It’s more subtle. I began to understand that one of the ways the bad guys are trying to threaten our way of life is through our children. The Islamists want to get to the hearts and minds of our kids.”

Saxton’s all-volunteer organization launched a nationwide study in 2009 to root out what they believed to be Islamic bias in American school textbooks. He said they found as many as 80 textbooks that overtly promoted Islam.

Last year, the Citizens For National Security was able to get a similar book removed from the classroom in Palm Beach County.

“In short, you are using an Islam-biased, flawed textbook that has neither partially nor fully been corrected,” he told Brevard County school leaders.jihad3

A spokesman for IRCV told Fox News they would agree to an interview but never returned repeated calls.

In 2009 Mansuri found himself facing similar accusations of promoting and glorifying Islam – accusations he strongly denied in an Orange County Register interview.

“IRCV is recognized within the education community for our expertise in teaching about world religions,” he told the newspaper. “This expertise stands from our long-standing interest in religious liberty, religious pluralism and the practice of faith within a civic social framework.”

He blamed the criticism on “children of 9-11,” who were miseducated, the newspaper reported.

Saxton said the Prentice Hall textbook is riddled with errors. He especially took issue with their definition of jihad. The book called it a personal duty for Muslims and a way to defend their faith.

“Violent Islamic groups have used jihad for centuries,” he said. “The 9-11 attacks were an example of jihad as terrorism, not self-defense. Declarations of jihad have been made for purposes of violence against Christians, Jews, Americans, British and fellow Muslims hundreds of times.”

The textbook also alleges that “Muslims consider Jews and Christians to be ‘People of the Book.’”

Saxton said in practice, Jews and Christians have been subjected historically to violence and murder by Muslims.  “Christians and Jews are permitted very few of the rights and freedoms that the Muslim majority is allowed,” he said.

The textbook said under Islamic law women are spiritually equal, although they may have different roles and rights.

“This content is confusing at best and intellectually dishonest at worst,” he said. In Egypt and other Arab countries, women may not be employed in the private sector because they belong in the home. Women are stoned to death under Sharia law in Iran for adultery.”

School Board member Amy Kneessy told Fox News she had a chance to read the textbook and she was especially troubled by the section about how Muslims treat women.

“I was really disheartened,” she said. “To see such a blatant misportrayal of how women are treated in Muslim countries, I found disconcerting.”

Kneessy said there seems to be a double-standard and found evidence of bias in a number of passages – especially when it came to religious wars.

“When wars were involving Jewish people or Christians, some very hard adjectives were used – like ‘massacre,’” she said. “Whereas when it was a Muslim group, it was ‘occupy’ or a very innocuous term.”

She said the school has an obligation to be fair and balanced when teaching history.

“War is never clean and tidy,” she said. “Wars are bloody. People die and bad things happen. The facts need to be reported fairly from all perspectives.”

Kneessy said she plans on asking the entire school board to reevaluate the textbook.

“I am concerned it is more ammunition that continues to water down what this country was founded on,” she said. “This country was founded with Christian values. God was very much a part of our government. When you take the religious context out of it, then you take away the very heart of what this country was founded on.”


No comments: