Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Good Schools Aren’t the Secret to Israel’s High-Tech Boom

I am often asked how a country the size of New Jersey, with fewer residents than New York City, became a global high-tech force. In a dynamic world, where innovation and adaptation are crucial, everyone wants to know Israel’s secret educational ingredient.

Despite its small size, Israel lists 93 companies on the Nasdaq—more than India, Japan and South Korea combined. In 2016 investors sank $6 billion into Israel’s more than 6,000 startups.  All have research-and-development centers located here.

Many people look to the Israeli education system to explain this success. During my two years as minister of education I have come to understand that although Israel’s schools are good, our secret weapon is a parallel education system that operates alongside the formal one. This is where our children learn to become entrepreneurs.

Israel’s shadow education system has three components. The first is our heritage of debate—it’s in the Jewish DNA. For generations Jews have studied the Talmud, our legal codex, in a way vastly different from what goes on in a standard classroom. Instead of listening to a lecture, the meaning of complex texts is debated by students in hevruta—pairs—with a teacher offering occasional guidance.

Unlike quiet Western libraries, the Jewish beit midrash—house of study—is a buzzing beehive of learning. Since the Talmud is one of the most complex legal codes ever gathered, the idea of a verdict is almost irrelevant to those studying. Students engage in debate for the sake of debate. They analyze issues from all directions, finding different solutions. Multiple answers to a single question are common. Like the Talmud itself—which isn’t the written law but a gathering of protocols—the learning process, not the result, is valued.

The second component of our shadow education system is the peer-teaches-peer model of Jewish youth organizations, membership-based groups that we call “movements.” Teenagers work closely with younger children; they lead groups on excursions and hikes, develop informal curricula, and are responsible for those in their care. As an 11th-grade student, I took fifth-graders on an overnight hike in the mountains. Being given responsibilities at a young age helped shape me into who I am today.

The third component is the army. Because we are constantly defending ourselves from Islamic terror, 18-year-old boys and girls are drafted into the military for stints of two or three years. Young Israeli adults must literally make life-or-death decisions every day. As a 23-year-old officer in 1995, I led 70 soldiers behind enemy lines. The covert mission required me to prepare my troops, mobilize people and equipment, build contingency plans, and function under immense physical and mental pressure. These situations teach a person how to execute plans—or adapt and improvise.

Consider a hypothetical 19-year-old soldier in the intelligence corps, analyzing aerial photographs or intercepted communications. She must decide if the material in front of her indicates an impending attack or not. This isn’t a rare occurrence. Thousands of Israeli soldiers experience it daily.

 Good teachers in vibrant classrooms are necessary for children—and nations—to succeed. Schools provide a base of literacy, mathematics and social interaction. But Israel’s extracurricular system goes further. Peer-led debate and intellectual dialogue enhances learning. Actual responsibilities, like caring for younger children, nurture growth and maturity. Real-life tasks show young adults how much they are capable of achieving.

These are the principles that anyone wishing to replicate Israel’s success should emulate. Two qualities are needed to change the world: innovation, to think of new ideas, and entrepreneurship, to turn those ideas into reality. That is the essence of today’s economy.

The way to create citizens steeped in the ethos of both is to give children, at a young age, the room to try. 


If we’re repealing Obamacare, Congress might as well bring back private student loans, too

As high school seniors make their decision of which college to go to next fall, Congress has been working on its Obamacare decision; but what the American people might be missing, is that these two issues are extremely closely related.

As student loan interest payments fund the Obamacare subsidies, students are being forced further into debt while their tuition climbs.

The Obamacare legislation worked to cut banks like Sallie Mae out as the middle-man between lenders and borrowers, this sent 69 percent of student loan profits, roughly $8.7 billion a year, to pay for Obamacare programs.

The need to fund these programs has caused the federal government to spike interest rates on loans significantly.

The Hill’s Dick Morris explains that the federal government borrows the funds for student loan programs at 2.8 percent, and then lends it to students at roughly 6.8 percent; accounting for a 4 percent mark up in interest rates just to fund liberal health policy.

By hurting private sector job creation, Obamacare has in part made loan repayment even more difficult. The Consumer Federation of America in a study from early March found that a total of $137.4 billion in balances were in default in 2016, an increase of 14 percent from 2015. The report continues to explain that for the last 3 years, each year the federal government has increased the amount of loans owned or guaranteed by the government by approximately $80 billion.

By expanding the student loan program but not creating enough jobs for college graduates, Obama helped to increase student debt to a point where it is nearly impossible to pay them back.

Perhaps the largest concern, is that aside from costing students more on loan payments, these loans also spike the cost of college. The Wall Street Journal in July 2015 revealed that as student loan access and college aid increased from the federal government, cost of college has increased as well. The Journal notes, “for every new dollar a college receives in Direct Subsidized Loans, a school raises its price by 65 cents. For every dollar in Pell Grants, a college raises tuition by 55 cents. This is one reason tuition has outpaced inflation every year for decades, while the average borrower now finishes college owing more than $28,000.”

As the Hill’s Morris explained, “The nexus between the student loan program and Obamacare is purely opportunistic…The 16 million American students who now have student loans are paying for Obamacare out of their meagre incomes just at the point when they graduate from college and need funds to start their lives, buy their first homes and begin a family.”

Now, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau estimates that there is about $1.3 trillion in outstanding student loan debt, with more than 8 million Americans in default on more than $110 billion in balances.

Then-U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) fought against this practice in 2014, claiming that Obamacare had “nationalized the student loan industry.” As a first-time congressman, Cotton attacked the legislation for taking money from students to pay for programs that only generated more costs.

Cotton, now a senator since 2015, was absolutely right. Just like in our healthcare system, the student loan crisis can only be solved through returning choice to consumers and utilizing the private sector.

Forbes.com contributor Preston Cooper argued in 2016 that student loans could be secured within the private sector through income based collateral. He offered a system in which lenders receive loans in exchange for portions of future income, verified from the IRS the same way mortgage lenders do.

By removing the government from the loan process, the private sector can set realistic rates and force universities to lower prices to an attainable place for students. Granting loans on the basis of a likelihood to be repaid, the traditional standard, will also direct capital to those majors that actually produce jobs.

However, currently, universities are encouraged to promote federal loan options to students first, so the private sector doesn’t even have a chance.

As long as the federal government squeezes the private sector out of the student loan process, the legacy of the Obama Administration will be that of higher prices and reduced opportunity. While students should be focusing on beginning their college education, Congress should be focused on removing Obamacare and reining in their influence over the student loan process.


Counteroffensive on the Western Front

As the West's liberal democracies are undermined from within by academia's cultural Marxism, they are also threatened by Islamic fundamentalism -- twin perils that make the establishment of a foundation to champion Western civilisation not merely timely but absolutely vital

There’s no doubt that Western liberal democracies such as Australia, the UK, France, Germany and the United States are under attack.  In Melbourne and Sydney Islamic extremists have killed innocents, and the Islamization of the UK and Europe is leading to ethnic ghettos and home-grown terrorism.

Given such threats the recent decision to establish a foundation to champion Western civilisation, funded by a bequest from the late entrepreneur Paul Ramsay and chaired by John Howard, is significant and timely.

As I argue in The Culture of Freedom whether it is the enemy within, preaching political correctness, identity politics and victimhood, or the enemy without, represented by Islamic terrorism, our way of life is facing an existential threat.

The traditional academic curriculum has been replaced by a rainbow alliance of radical Neo-Marxist, postmodern and gender theories in which Cardinal Newman’s ideal of a education championing “freedom, equitableness, calmness, moderation, and wisdom” is condemned as elitist, inequitable and obsolete,

As noted by the American academic Christopher Lasch, universities are no longer committed to independent critical inquiry “as it is no longer necessary to argue with opponents on intellectual grounds or to enter into their point of view.  It is enough to dismiss them as Eurocentric, racist, sexist, homophobic – in other words as politically suspect”.

Only this month American students at Middlebury College in Vermont violently disrupted a speech by Charles Murray, an academic who argues that genetics play a powerful role in academic performance, chanting “Racist, sexist, anti-gay, Charles Murray go away!”

In England a report by the Adam Smith Institute based on the fact that “50% of the general public supports right-wing or conservative parties compared to 12% of academics” concludes “individuals with left-wing and liberal views are overrepresented in British academia”.

Australian universities, with the occasional exception, are not immune.  In his 1996 Boyer Lecture the ANU academic Pierre Ryckmans bemoaned how universities had also been captured by the cultural-left. After noting one incident where a young academic attacked a speaker, describing him as elitist and bourgeois for daring to make judgements of relative value and worth, Ryckmans concludes “to deny the existence of objective values is to deprive the university of its spiritual means of operation”.

More recently, John Carroll from LaTrobe University details how the cultural-left uses “neo-Marxist categories of exploitation and oppression to find ‘victims’ of their own country’s mendacity – so Australia becomes racist, cruel to refugees, misogynist, homophobic and increasingly riven by inequality.  The tropes endure, with Islam the current exploited and oppressed repository of virtue”.

The school curriculum has also been captured and is being used to promote identity politics and cultural relativism.  Students are told they must embrace diversity and difference and that all cultures must be equally acknowledged and celebrated. Except when it comes to Asian and Indigenous cultures that are given priority at the expense of Western civilisation — especially Judeo-Christianity, where in subjects like history, literature, art and music its treatment is scanty and superficial. As noted by the literary expert Barry Spurr the result is that while students get to study the contribution of Indigenous Australians there is little, if any, recognition of the central importance of the Western literary canon. Greg Melleuish, from the University of Wollongong, is also critical when he argues that the history curriculum does not give enough “importance to the place of Western civilisation in world history, especially over the past two hundred years”.

At the very time Western, liberal democracies are being undermined from within they are also being threatened by Islamic fundamentalism, currently best represented by Islamic State.  Extreme interpretations of the Koran, as detailed by Ayaan Hirsi Ali in The Heretic, are committed to destroying Western nations by establishing an Islamic caliphate and sponsoring acts of terrorism. Incidents like 9/11, the Bali bombings, the attack on the office of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, the subsequent 2015 attacks in Paris and the genocide against Coptic Christians in Egypt represent a concerted campaign to destroy what the Koran describes as “the unbelievers”.

While the overwhelming majority of Muslims are peaceful and law abiding it is also true that there are elements of the Koran that are hostile to our way of life.  Fundamentalist Islam denies women the freedoms and liberties we take for granted and there is no division between church and state.

Unlike Western civilisation, where Christianity and historical movements such as the Reformation and the Enlightenment have led to the freedoms and liberties we now take for granted, Islam is not as accommodating.

Proven by Islamic terrorism and the cultural-left’s political correctness movement there is much to be done to strengthen and defend Western civilisation against enemies foreign and domestic and the establishment of the Ramsay Foundation provides a beacon of hope.


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