Sunday, February 14, 2016

Searching for an Explanation for Bernie's Rising? Look No further than Classrooms

During a recent family gathering, I casually inquired of my 14-year-old niece, a freshman who attends a public high school in California, about her grades from last semester.  I was shocked to learn that she got a "B" in math.  Since our family normally considers an "A-" to be an equivalent of an "F," and she is usually pretty good in math, I had to probe her for an explanation.

She told me that before every math test began, her math teacher would divide the class into groups. All students would still take the same test. But within the group, they had to "communicate" with one another on their individual approach to solve each problem without actually showing their test paper to one another. At the end of the test, the teacher would "randomly" pick one student's test paper from each group and grade it. The score of one student from each group would become the score for everyone within the group.  The math teacher claimed that this approach would encourage students to be better communicators and facilitate a team spirit.  For some unknown reason, my niece's test paper wasn't selected once in the entire semester. So her grade, a "B", was not representative of how well she grasped the math knowledge she should have learned in ninth grade. Rather it was a representation of her "weak" communication skill, aka failure to convince her fellow students to adopt her answers.

Needless to say that I found the math teacher's objective and approach very troubling. First, the objective of math teaching is not to help kids improve communication skills. No doubt that communication skills are important. That's why schools have already provided children with many other ways to improve their communication skills: through subject learning such as English literature and activities such as debates. But we teach children math so they can develop other important skills, such as problem solving skills and analytical skills by using logic and reasoning. How well they can master these skills, not necessarily the number crunching itself, will not only impact whether they will lead a successful life in the future, but also shapes what kind of citizen they will be: are they going to think and analyze politicians' ideas and proposals before casting a vote, or be easily wooed by a smooth talking politician whose ideas lack substance and would vanish in the presence of logic and thought? 

Second, assigning one student's score to everyone in the same group, by forcing everyone within the group to have the same outcome, diminishes personal responsibility, dis-incentivizes learning and encourages group thinking. What the math teacher was doing is a classic redistribution scheme long advocated by the founder of Communism, "from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs" (Karl Marx). Children who grew up with this kind of education, or really, political indoctrination, learned that there's no need to be better than the rest of the group. They learned to reject the American tradition of rugged individualism and self-reliance. They learned to say these magic words from a young age, "it's not my fault."  They learned not to be responsible for their behavior and outcomes. They learned to blame anyone else except themselves for their own misfortune in lives. To them, equality can only mean everyone having the same result, even if it means everyone is equally miserable. So it's acceptable to hold back whoever is better and redistribute their talent or wealth.

This kind of so called progressive education has long existed on US college campuses and churned out voters who voted for Obama twice, and today enthusiastically embrace a self-proclaimed socialist like Bernie Sanders, who promises free college, free healthcare and a political revolution to finally make the rich pay. Unfortunately, this kind of education is no longer limited within the boundaries of college campuses. It has trickled down to K-12 education. Americans are getting politically indoctrinated younger and younger. Is it any wonder that Democrats are advocating for universal pre-K education?

While it is rightly so that most Americans are focused on the presidential election at this moment, the real battle ground to fight for America's future is in the classrooms. If we want to make America great again, we need to pay attention to what's being taught to our youth, how they are being taught and push back against the progressive indoctrination.


UC Berkeley running $150 million deficit

Leftists don't make good businessmen

The University of California, Berkeley, is running a $150 million deficit this year and must undertake a top-to-bottom review of expenses if it hopes to sustain its national standing as a premier public institution, the school’s chancellor warned Wednesday.

The university faces difficult decisions as it works to preserve its long-term financial footing, Chancellor Nicholas Dirks said. Consolidating academic departments, evaluating spending on athletics, shedding staff and admitting fewer doctoral students are some of the changes that will be considered, he said.

"We are fighting to maintain our excellence against those who might equate ‘public’ with mediocrity," Dirks wrote in a letter to the campus. "What we are engaged in here is a fundamental defense of the concept of the public university, a concept that we must reinvent in order to preserve."

Inadequate state funding and other factors have created "a substantial and growing structural deficit" at UC Berkeley, Dirks said. To address it, the chancellor said he was initiating a restructuring process aimed at cutting costs, increasing revenue and preserving the strongest programs.

A budget review prepared by Berkeley administrators blames the deficit, which represents 6 percent of the campus’ $2.7 billion operating budget, on reduced state funding for instruction and construction, increased pension costs and five years without in-state tuition increases.

After a series of increases during the recession, tuition and fees for undergraduate students from California has remained $12,291 since the 2011-12 academic year. It is not expected to rise until 2017-18 under a deal UC President Janet Napolitano struck with Gov. Jerry Brown.

In response to a public outcry, Napolitano, who is a former U.S. secretary of Homeland Security and Arizona governor, also capped the percentage of higher-paying students from outside the state that Berkeley and UCLA could enroll.

Dirks’ letter did not include many details on how the scope of Berkeley’s academic and extracurricular offerings might change. On the academic side, the chancellor said some programs would be beefed up, while others would be given a narrower focus or rearranged to "ensure sufficient scale."

"We are committed to maintaining affordable access to an excellent education. But in order to do these things we recognize we must become not only more financial sustainable but self-reliant," he told reporters during a conference call Wednesday.

The campus will get input on the planning from faculty, staff, students and alumni, with some changes coming as soon as the summer and others requiring several years to implement, the chancellor said.

Along with looking at how the university spends money, the review Dirks has ordered also will appraise opportunities for the campus to bring in more revenue through licensing, donor-supported athletic scholarships and online courses, he said.

Even though revenues from Cal’s athletic program are not keeping pace with its costs, cutting sports teams is not among the options under review. "It turns out that wouldn’t be very helpful," Dirks said.

The administration expects to take five years to eliminate the deficit, Vice Provost Andrew Szeri said. Sixty percent would come from cost-savings and 40 percent from additional income, he said.


The campus court of Versailles

Fashionable ideas are killing UK university life

Universities were once places where ideas were put forward and tested in an intelligent environment that nursed independent thinking. More recently, rather than being citadels of free thought, campuses have come to resemble the decadent court of Versailles.

Debates on abortion are cancelled because having two people without uteruses discuss the issue is apparently harmful to students’ ‘mental safety’. Trashy pop songs like ‘Blurred Lines’ have been banned for similar reasons. And, more recently, there was an attempt to bar Germaine Greer from speaking at Cardiff University. Groupthink and censorship are the order of the day.

Like spineless Bourbon courtiers, student bureaucrats are enveloped in their own bubble. They’re deeply disconnected from the realities of the world as they all vie for popularity and moral superiority through an almost mindless conformity to fashionable ideas.

When students do dissent, the response is positively medieval. Like the four horsemen of the censorious apocalypse, ‘democratic’ students’ unions, vacuous campus rags, self-righteous activists and the student lynch mob rain hellfire on those with the audacity to speak their minds.

I know all this not only from weekly headlines on the madness of campus censorship, but because I have recently been on the receiving end of it. I wrote an article last year for the Warwick Tab criticising compulsory consent classes. And it didn’t go down well. That’s fine – disagreement and debate drive progress. However, I was also shouted down, threatened and driven away by my peers.

It was like being tarred and feathered – the aim was not only to punish me for airing a dissenting opinion but also to set an example to others, deterring anyone who might want to speak their mind from doing so. As the opinion editor for the Warwick Tab, I had to drop a follow-up piece about students’ opinions on consent workshops because students feared the repercussions of speaking against campus orthodoxy. It’s almost like a new totalitarian religion – those of us who are open heretics are burnt at the stake, while everybody else is forced to conform in quiet submission.

Like the courtiers at Versailles, campus politicos think the world beyond their own demense is uniquely backward and ugly. You’ll never hear them say it, but there is a condescending disdain among campus censors for the opinions of the great unwashed – a la ‘let them eat cake’. Despite being completely cut off from the world, they take the ignorance of the masses as gospel, while peddling their own arcane and bizarre theories in the campus echo chamber. It’s a kind of self-assured, ‘enlightened’ bigotry.

This censorious attitude highlights the divide between universities and the outside world. Those demanding my silence were disproportionately students, whereas the people I gratefully received messages of support from, and who defended my right to say what I did, were good, ordinary people from every walk of life.

These are the sort of people these students would never come into contact with in the real world. These people are sick of their money being spent on coddling students and hiding them from ‘harmful ideas’. These people don’t deserve to be looked down on by arrogant students whose only experience of the real world comes from accidentally venturing into the indigenous supermarket.

We owe it to our children to pass on a thoughtful and tolerant world. This task used to fall to students – the future architects of society. But it’s now up to those not corrupted by the decadence of modern university life to pass on the torch.

The university was once a place where young people grew up and found their voices. Now it has become a place where young people go to hide from the real world. Students are no longer exposed to the magnificent range of ideas the human race has produced. Instead of producing free-thinking and open-minded individuals, universities are churning out graduates starved of the intelligence and understanding our world so desperately needs.


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