Archive for the ‘education’ Category

A good rule of thumb when educating yourself about the current financial situation is to avoid sources that use terms like “free market fundamentalism” and “socialism.” Usually these words are used as nothing more than pejoratives, and one suspects that many of the people who use them couldn’t even provide a good definition of either concept.

Such as here, for instance:

Sarah Palin derided Barack Obama’s and Joe Biden’s tax policies yesterday, telling a rally in New Mexico, “Friends, now is no time to experiment with socialism.” Note: Sarah Palin is the governor of a state that practices collective ownership of oil and other natural resources, and equally distributes the state’s cut of the revenues to every citizen.

Good write-ups on free markets and socialism can be found here and here, respectively. Ironically, I think socialism is a lot easier to define than is a free market.

Read Full Post »

What, Fisticuffs?

In perhaps the most unintuitive graphic I’ve ever displayed, it appears Belgian schoolchildren (of the French variety, moreover) are wont to throw down, while Americans and Germans are as docile as can be:

My primary and secondary education did not expose me to too many fights, either as observer or participant. This may be because that portion of my education was at a private religious school with strict codes of conduct, or it may be that in order to honor my name’s etymology, I felt compelled continually to broker the peace.

Read Full Post »

Incentives Matter

I just noticed today’s WSJ has an article about the tighter job market in the US and this accompanying graph listing the best-paid jobs. Economics does better than most while philosophy ranks below elementary education:

The question is, does the relative valuation of the professions tell us anything about the relative value of the graduates themselves?

Read Full Post »

A Central Problem

Suppose for a moment that the federal government of some rich, free Western democracy called Upper Slobovia recently instituted a policy that drastically altered the way its citizens received news. Instead of private broadcasters, the main source of news would now come directly from the Upper Slobovian News Service, a department of the government. The anchors of this news service would receive their broadcast scripts directly from a committee of news experts within the department, and very few changes to the script would be tolerated. The private news broadcasts would still be available, but they would cost substantially more to view and would not be available at all in some areas of the country. Consequently, the vast majority of Upper Slobovians would now receive only the news as approved by the government.

What would your reaction be to Upper Slobovia’s policy? Even if Upper Slobovia were a liberal democracy with very little corruption, you’d still have doubts about the policy, wouldn’t you?

Now suppose instead that Upper Slobovia’s policy was about the provision of education and not news. Curricula would be set by a committee in the Upper Slobovian Department of Education, even down to individual lesson plans. Teachers would receive these plans and have little freedom to customize them. Because private schools become costly and are not universally available, the only realistic choice for most students is to receive only the education as approved by the government.

How do you feel about that?

I was reminded of this little thought experiment as I watched a news story on the German educational system a night or two ago. In one part, a teacher explained her frustration in not being able to alter the content in her lesson plans–no matter how irrelevant she thought the information was–because the law required her to teach it. Perhaps worse, she was not able to teach other things that she did think relevant because what the law required took up all of her time.

My point here is not to call for the end of public education, but rather to show one of the costs that centralization inevitably brings. The reason things are so strict in Germany is partly because of the “PISA-Schock” in 2001, when Germany placed in the bottom third of international countries in both math and science. As a result, German policymakers have been trying relentlessly to push Germany up in the rankings. There’s arguably nothing wrong with this goal, but since it has become the goal of German bureaucrats, it has necessarily become the goal of every teacher and student within the system–no matter what they might otherwise prefer.

Currently, Germany is suffering from what The Economist calls “the worst of both centralisation and devolution.” Individual Germans states have a broad prerogative in terms of education policy, but changes must be unanimously approved by a national body. Reform is thus understandably difficult as entrenched interests that benefit from the status-quo fight tenaciously to keep it, with ostensibly nary a thought as to what would actually benefit students.

Some cringe at the thought of education as a private for-profit enterprise, but I wonder how much they reflect on the disdainfulness of education as a political enterprise.

Read Full Post »

A Negative Relationship

As identified by The Economist:

[A]cross the world, the less students know about science, the more optimistic they are about the chances of solving the planet’s environmental problems.

This is, of course, a key explanation behind Americans’ bubbling idealism.

Read Full Post »

From kindergarten to high school, I attended a private Christian school where Bible was a mandatory class every semester and chapel a mandatory activity every day. Though I’ve since become a heretic, I still enjoy furthering my knowledge of the Good Book in order to keep my religious friends on their toes and to increase my literacy.

It is for both these reasons that I recently began How to Read the Bible by James Kugel, a former professor of Hebrew literature at Harvard. In it, Kugel seeks, inter alia, to educate readers on the great gap separating ancient and modern scholarship and the crucial role of ancient interpreters in shaping the Bible’s message. Indeed, one of the first points in the book is how assumptions about the nature of Bible, rather than anything explicit in the text itself, have shaped religious beliefs for millennia.

I was thus surprised to catch Kugel repeating a common mistake concerning Elijah in the very first chapter. Here’s what Kugel writes:

But what exactly did Scripture mean? Was it always to be taken at face value…? What about when it seemed to conflict with modern science or common sense–saying, for example, that…Elijah had ascended into heaven on a chariot of fire?

Here is what God (as approved by the good King James) said happened:

And it came to pass, as they still went on, and talked, that, behold, there appeared a chariot of fire, and horses of fire, and parted them both asunder; and Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven. (2 Kings 2:11)

It wasn’t a chariot of fire that carried Elijah into heaven–it was a whirlwind! I mean, come on–a chariot of fire? That’d be preposterous!

Read Full Post »

From the Sunday Herald:

Muslim extremists famously believe that suicide bombers will be rewarded in paradise with 72 virgins, although Christoph Luxenberg’s contentious recent assertion that the original language of the Koran was Syriac, rather than Arabic, has given rise to an alternative translation – holy martyrs may in fact have been promised luscious “raisins”, rather than “virgins”.

Despite it being a gem, the above quotation belies the subject of the article it is contained in, which is actually concerned with modern attitudes towards virginity and not religious fanaticism. One of the central ideas it proffers forth is that while virginity is discussed a great deal, no one seems to know what it means. As for myself, I concluded long ago that virginity is far more of a psychological phenomenon than a physical one.

I was busy pondering this, of course, while everyone else was presumably committing wanton carnality with their own luscious raisins.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »