Thursday, December 24, 2015

Do mathematics matter?

Every so often, articles like this one appear, which seem to show that the American education system is, to use the term in the article, mediocre. What the article shows is that regardless of socioeconomic status, American students score below most developed nations in mathematical ability.

The problem with statistics like these is that most people do not need a great deal of mathematical ability to be productive citizens, or to be educated citizens. Mathematical ability is important for scientists and engineers, but people can be productive in sales, marketing, plumbing, auto repair, and really, in most professions without a great deal of mathematical ability. Entrepreneurs, corporate CEOs, and even accounting and finance professionals do not need to be math wizards. Curiosity, creativity, and critical thinking are more important in most settings, even those where math skills are important.

Surely less than ten percent of all jobs require anything beyond just basic math skills, so a better statistic to examine (and one I never see reported) would be how the top ten percent in the US compare with the top ten percent elsewhere. That’s what really counts: the mathematical ability of those who are actually using higher math.

Another test of the quality of American education is the market test. People from all over the world come to the United States to attend college and graduate school. Korea and Japan rank at the top in the article cited above. I see lots of Korean and Japanese students at American universities, but not many people from other countries go to Korea or Japan for a college education. The market test indicates that, at least at the university level, the American educational system is among the best in the world.

It makes little sense to judge the educational system based on the average student’s mathematical ability, because superior math skills are of little use to most people. It makes a lot of sense to do international comparisons by looking at where in the world people actually choose to go to school.


UK: Don’t blame Oxbridge for state schools’ failings

This week, a report by the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission heavily criticised Oxford and Cambridge for the low number of places they grant to pupils from state schools. The report shows that although only seven per cent of British children attend a fee-paying school, the privately educated make up 39 per cent of Cambridge undergraduates and 43 per cent of Oxford undergraduates. Politicians and pundits have insisted that more be done to help state-school pupils gain entry to elite universities.

This is a familiar criticism. Educational and political elites have been obsessed with social mobility over the past decade. However, it appears that equality of opportunity has not prevailed at Oxbridge – access still appears to be restricted to the privileged few.

There are reasons for this. Private schools are better equipped to help children attain a place at an Oxbridge college. More Oxbridge-educated graduates, as well as those with postgraduate qualifications, are attracted to teaching in the independent sector, rather than the state sector. This gives those lucky enough to be privately educated access to a wealth of knowledge that may not be as readily accessible in the state sector.

However, as Julia Hartley-Brewer argued in the Telegraph, there are perfectly valid reasons why Oxbridge recruits far more students from the independent sector. For example, private-school pupils may only account for 15 per cent of all A-levels taken, but they achieve 30 per cent of all A grades and 33 per cent of all AAA grades. This means that while only one in 14 children is privately educated, the independent sector accounts for one in three of the pupils who achieve the grades required to get into Oxbridge.

In addition, applicants from the state sector are more likely to apply for oversubscribed courses, such as politics, philosophy and economics (PPE), medicine and law. They, therefore, have a statistically lower chance of gaining entry.

Beyond this, private schools offer a wider range of social experiences for their pupils. While independent schools might not be as diverse in terms of ethnicity and class, they offer their pupils the opportunity to meet interesting alumni and people of importance. As seen recently on the ITV documentary School Swap, pupils at Warminster School, a £27,000-a-year boarding school, attend formal dinners several times a year at which they engage in intellectual conversations with adults, many of whom attended Oxbridge. This gives privately educated children a major advantage in the interview process, insofar as they have the confidence and knowledge to engage with academics.

It’s easy to sit back and blame Oxford and Cambridge for not expanding their intake of state-educated students. But it’s far more difficult to explain why this is the case. It’s not that there are secret pacts between Oxbridge and private schools. Rather, it’s that the state sector is unable to offer opportunities to bright, ambitious pupils. It’s not Oxbridge that is failing; it’s the state-education system.


The New Left's "Free" College Scam Isn't Smarter Than A Fifth Grader

A friend of mine was recently pulled over for running a red light, it was an honest mistake, just a fluke moment out in the country where he wasn't paying attention. As the police officer pulled him over and asked why he ran the red, my friend could have very easily said, "I thought red means go!" Obviously, it doesn't, but imagine for a moment that a good segment of the population was running red lights and were giving the same excuse, does that mean the red light really means go?

This "red means go" analogy is a simplified way of understanding democratic-socialists' -- the "New Left," as I will call them -- definition of "free." Here is the hard truth, in government nothing is free; there is also no such thing as "government money" either. All money obtained by the state had to be taxed or confiscated from Americans, all Americans including the poorest of the poor to the richest of the rich. Recently an article from the Chronicle of Higher Education published a piece entitled "Nobody Should Have to Pay to Go to College," where they spoke of the issues facing America's college students and the policies proposed by Democrats such as Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. In the article they brought up one major fact:

Student debt has filled the gap between flat household earnings and surging college costs. Total outstanding student-loan obligations now exceed $1 trillion, and the sum continues to rise at an alarming rate. Student debt is the only form of consumer debt to have increased since the recession of 2008, now ranking second only to home mortgages.

Apart from the obvious observation of the current rate of student debt, the rest of the article, along with anyone else that says that college should be free, is intellectually brain dead. The argument is childish and dead in the water not simply for the reason that the New Left has a severely misplaced sense of compassion, but because they fail to identify the true definition of the word "free," and while I'm at it, "labor."

Wise and selectively spoken, President Calvin Coolidge once said, "[C]ollecting more taxes than is absolutely necessary is legalized robbery." In trying to understand the foundations of our fragile republic, what is obvious for conservatives and others inclined to liberty is that the function of government in civil society is to protect your life and your property.

Sadly, from FDR to Johnson and Nixon, all the way to the current Obama administration, our government has exploded out of its constitutional boundaries. The government that was supposed to protect your right to life and your right to private property was now the government offering to coddle you cradle to grave. The biggest offense to the American institution is this idea that higher education can be "free," not because the promise alone is ludicrous, but more so because it's college graduates who actually think the plan is sound. Someone please shred, bury, and set their diplomas on fire, because these "intellectuals" fail to define something a fifth grader understands.

A military phrase for breaking down complex ideas is to "break it down Barney style," and for the "free" college crowd, this may be an appropriate phrase to use to continue further. Nothing in the world is "free," from your food stamps, government housing, public schools, libraries, etc. it all comes at a very real price. The price of your "free" stuff is covered by the American taxpayer, which ultimately means you.

Everyday hard working Americans must work and labor to earn a wage based on their skills in the market. From there, the government comes in and takes a part of your income, along with taking more and more from your wallet as they see fit. The initial argument against the free college fallacy was made in a previous article of mine discussing why there is no such thing as free college. Regarding the New Left's definition of "free," they can learn a thing or two from the Daily Signal's Edwin Feulner:

The problem, to put the matter very plainly, is that there’s no such thing as something for nothing. All money, goods and services — every last dollar of it — must be created through someone’s hard work. Remember, government has no money on its own. It produces nothing, so it earns nothing. Government has only the money it takes from taxpayers or borrows against the payments of future taxpayers. Everything government “gives” to one person or organization must be taken from another person or organization. Every dollar that government redistributes to someone, it must first take from someone else, and then deduct carrying costs before passing it on.

Plain and simple, nothing is free and the cost is very real, the only option left on the table is to decide whether or not you want to accept the false definition of "free" and live with a never ending national debt, or accept reality and fight for the principles of real free markets and limited government.

Bottom line, if you think anything the government gives you is for free, you're not smarter than a fifth grader.


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