Tuesday, January 24, 2012

State of the Union and Compulsory Education

I watched the president’s state of the union speech tonight. Overall it was a good speech. I disagree with him about a comment he made about education. 

What would happen if the compulsory education age was raised to 18 years of age?

In the inner city today every teacher knows the secret that most bad students in the urban areas of our country drop out. They do not want to be in school, and the teachers do not want them there either. They disrupt learning, and seasoned high school teachers long to get posts above the 10th grade. By then most of the trouble makers drop out of school. Teachers who hang in there are rewarded with students who want to learn.

Compulsory education is not the answer to our education crisis. Students are not motivated by forcing them to stay in school when they do not want to be there. The father of American education, John Dewey, would say this is a bad policy. Students are motivated by connecting meaning with learning in the classroom. Teachers who are good at doing that should be rewarded. However, if the system is set up with accountability measures that stifle creativity, then good teachers must operate under cover to introduce innovation and real world problem solving into the classroom. Good teachers are no longer the sage on the stage. They need to be a guide on the side. Teachers across the nation are learning to coach and mentor student directed learning. This is difficult to do. It is much easier to take out a work sheet, and keep the pencils moving and the students mouths shut.

The lesson of education from Finland is a simple one. If you want to fix the education system, then honor the profession of education. Pay teachers well. This will accomplish two purposes. Student will aspire to be teachers. The teaching profession will then attract the best and the brightest.

Compulsory education has never been the answer. School choice has proven that. School choice is injecting systemic meaning into the educational system. Home schooling brought education back into the home where our values can be better connected to our values. Neither of these strategies depends upon compulsory education. More of this systemic change is needed. Solving the educational crisis in our country has never been to teach to the test with high stakes testing. This strategy just places a lid on achievement. In attempting to raise the bottom we cap the top. Teachers know that every student can contribute in a classroom that emphasizes teamwork in problem solving. These creative teaching opportunities do not happen where lesson plans are dictated by the results of high stakes tests. The negative reinforcement measure of compulsory education stirs rebellion instead of embracing meaning in education.  

Monday, January 16, 2012

Anybody but Ron Paul

Jon Huntsman announced his withdrawal from the Republican race for the presidential nomination today. He was the one candidate that I could get excited about. I like Jon Huntsman for the following reasons...
  • He was not flashy. I think that a candidate that has less charisma will tend to be more systematic about problem solving on behalf of our country. He will work on meaningful things that are boring, but make a large impact on our lives. Huntsman prioritizing of simplifying the tax code is a good example of this.
  • Huntsman was the son of a manufacturer. I believe that one of the best ways to get our economy back is to focus on manufacturing again. Manufacturing is positioned to make a huge come back in the United States with the advancement of robotics. We must have a leader who is forward thinking enough to see this and make room for this change. 
  • Huntsman was a member of the Obama administration. This shows that he could  he could put partisan bickering aside to get the business of America done. He was a moderate who adapted to change, instead of extreme ideological views that alienate middle America from both sides of the process. 
  • Huntsman was familiar with our main competitor in bringing back manufacturing to the US. He was the ambassador to China. The strategy to "keep your friends close and your enemies closer" by Sun-tzu, a Chinese general & military strategist (~400 BC), is great advice for our relationship with China.  
  • Huntsman's strategy to keep banks from getting too big to fail is excellent. The banks are the most likely capitalists to expand our economy into the world bank. These are dangerous and unexplored waters. The European Union fortunately, went out ahead of us, and is suffering the consequences.
  • The shrinking middle class is a bi-product of this global monopolization of markets.
    Just as our country was able to regulate capitalism in the past. I have faith that the right leader can regulate greed in such a way that incentive is maximized, and the wealth is spread around. 
  • The moral issues of our day is the last reason on this list. It is not last because it is least important. It is last because this point forms the springboard for the rest of this post. Problems like abortion, and the flip side Euthanasia, marriage and cohabitation, runaway government spending and Keynesian economics are threatening to un-glue our institutions. When we redefine institutions too rapidly this short term selfishness can un-moor our vales in ways that wreck many peoples lives.
I am alarmed at the growth of libertarian ideology in our country. The philosophy of Ayan Rand is one that is both selfish and short sighted. There have always been people who would jump at ideas like get rid of the IRS, and to interpret Social Darwinism as the guiding principal of our country. It is bait that will cause many of us to squirm in the long term. It is what Joaquin Posada likes to call Marshmallow thinking. People who jump at short term gains do not wait for the long term benefits. They fall subject to fickle market pressures. The market does not always make sense. To base our governing principals on the fickle nature of the stock market is like eating your desert before your dinner. There may be a momentary satisfaction, but in the end the result is a stomach ache. Over a prolonged period of time this behavior could even lead to more serious stomach bypass surgery.

Ron Paul is the candidate who best defines this ideology. Dr. Paul's prescription of libertarian ideology may provide short term benefits to the younger population of our country for a short time. However, like most medicine what makes it effective is that it is a poison. The poison of libertarian philosophy will kill our babies and seniors, inebriate our youth, and make us irresponsible citizens who will not come to the aid of our neighbor. Is the priority of getting our fiscal house in order worth all the baggage that is likely to accompany it?

I think that it is possible to act fiscally responsible within our current democracy. We must back common sense bipartisan approaches like Simpson Bowles. We must choose to cut our deficit and welcome the Austrian school of economics. John Maynard Keynes has seen his day. It is time for the pendulum to swing back toward fiscal conservation. Libertarian philosophy is not the answer. It opens up far too many questions in the long term that none of us would find acceptable.