Rebooting Berkeley

This email was circulated at Berkeley earlier this week, according to an acquaintance of mine:

 “Dear Students, Faculty and Staff,
This fall, the issue of free speech will once more engage our community in powerful and complex ways. Events in Charlottesville, with their racism, bigotry, violence and mayhem, make the issue of free speech even more tense. The law is very clear; public institutions like UC Berkeley must permit speakers invited in accordance with campus policies to speak, without discrimination in regard to point of view. The United States has the strongest free speech protections of any liberal democracy; the First Amendment protects even speech that most of us would find hateful, abhorrent and odious, and the courts have consistently upheld these protections.
But the most powerful argument for free speech is not one of legal constraint—that we’re required to allow it—but of value. The public expression of many sharply divergent points of view is fundamental both to our democracy and to our mission as a university. The philosophical justification underlying free speech, most powerfully articulated by John Stuart Mill in his book On Liberty, rests on two basic assumptions. The first is that truth is of such power that it will always ultimately prevail; any abridgement of argument therefore compromises the opportunity of exchanging error for truth. The second is an extreme skepticism about the right of any authority to determine which opinions are noxious or abhorrent. Once you embark on the path to censorship, you make your own speech vulnerable to it.
Berkeley, as you know, is the home of the Free Speech Movement, where students on the right and students on the left united to fight for the right to advocate political views on campus. Particularly now, it is critical that the Berkeley community come together once again to protect this right. It is who we are.
Nonetheless, defending the right of free speech for those whose ideas we find offensive is not easy. It often conflicts with the values we hold as a community—tolerance, inclusion, reason and diversity. Some constitutionally-protected speech attacks the very identity of particular groups of individuals in ways that are deeply hurtful. However, the right response is not the heckler’s veto, or what some call platform denial. Call toxic speech out for what it is, don’t shout it down, for in shouting it down, you collude in the narrative that universities are not open to all speech. Respond to hate speech with more speech.
We all desire safe space, where we can be ourselves and find support for our identities. You have the right at Berkeley to expect the university to keep you physically safe. But we would be providing students with a less valuable education, preparing them less well for the world after graduation, if we tried to shelter them from ideas that many find wrong, even dangerous. We must show that we can choose what to listen to, that we can cultivate our own arguments and that we can develop inner resilience, which is the surest form of safe space. These are not easy tasks, and we will offer support services for those who desire them.
This September, Ben Shapiro and Milo Yiannopoulos have both been invited by student groups to speak at Berkeley. The university has the responsibility to provide safety and security for its community and guests, and we will invest the necessary resources to achieve that goal. If you choose to protest, do so peacefully. That is your right, and we will defend it with vigor. We will not tolerate violence, and we will hold anyone accountable who engages in it.
We will have many opportunities this year to come together as a Berkeley community over the issue of free speech; it will be a free speech year. We have already planned a student panel, a faculty panel and several book talks. Bridge USA and the Center for New Media will hold a day-long conference on October 5; PEN, the international writers’ organization, will hold a free speech convening in Berkeley on October 23. We are planning a series in which people with sharply divergent points of view will meet for a moderated discussion. Free speech is our legacy, and we have the power once more to shape this narrative.
Sincerely,
Carol Christ
Chancellor”
In between the lines, it looks like the Chancellor is trying to reboot Berkeley’s policy to disallow violent suppression of dissenting opinions.  This is a marked contrast from the University’s behavior over the winter.
Of course, the real bellwether would be “how do the campus’s tiny conservative minority fare in day to day interactions”.   That’s the part I’m most intrested in.
But it’ll be interesting to see if this announcement is followed up with effective execution – and if any other schools follow suit.

Social Inflation

Joe Doakes from Como Park emails:

This article says America is great because we had high school for everybody, which gave us the educated workforce required to succeed during the growth of businesses as banking, retail and manufacturing.

Wait, what?  Everybody had to go to high school so they could work as bankers and shop clerks?  Those activities have been around for millennia.  Christ drove the money-lenders from the temple.  His Dad, Joseph, was in manufacturing.  His Disciples bought bread and wine for the Last Supper from retail merchants.  None of them had a high school degree. What does Algebra II have to do with working in business?

The article points out that eventually, employers required new employees to have high school diplomas.  Yes, but was that because typewriters were so complex to operate that only the fully educated could manipulate them?  Or was it because there were so many high school graduates available, the employer might as well demand a diploma?  My son is a Senior Financial Analyst but can’t even apply for a promotion until he completes his MBA – not because the job duties require secret training only available in the MBA program, but because there are so many credentialed applicants available, the company can get away with demanding one.

Did demand for diplomas drive high schools to supply them, or did an excess of applicants supplied with diplomas drive demand for them?

It’s a critical question when we consider that Bernie and Hillary both demanded free college degrees, using the same tired justification.  Has it ever been true?

If a mediocre high school student dropped out of high school at age 14 to apprentice himself to an electrician, how would his economic prospects compare at age 24 to those of a mediocre student with a Liberal Arts degree?

Joe Doakes

At this rate, you’ll need a PhD in “retail kinesology” to run a checkout at Cub Foods.

The Machine Lives On Forever

A friend of this blog writes…:

“We’re for wealth sharing and against white supremacy – But only on our terms. Followed this link from Minnpost.

How many tales of woe started with those five words?

But I digress:

 The biggest 2 complaints from this blogger seems to be that wealthy people are sharing their wealth to help the less wealthy and that parents of color are choosing to ignore what white elected people think is best for their families. I see nothing wrong with that. And I thought getting the wealthy to share their wealth and to have people of color reject white supremacy were liberal goals. So, every one should agree, right?

I checked out the link – and as I live and breathe, it’s our old friend Ed Levine.   Apparently he’s got some anti-charter school group – I’d guess some teachers’ union spinoff – to fund him, and I’d guess fund him pretty well; that’s a pretty slick website.

Since my kids finished high school, I have to confess – I’ve been a little lax in my coverage of the war on charter schools – but the DFL push to torpedo the lifeboats and push those kids and their families back onto the Titanic continues apac

Anyway, Ed – I know, right?  The nerve of those inner-city parents.  Who are they going to believe – the Teachers Union, or their own lying eyes?

Killing In The Crib

Teachers unions hate charter schools, and are trying (via their wholly-owned Democrat legislative caucuses) to strangle them in the crib, using absurd, pointillistic regulation to try to do what the market won’t – for example, denying funding to schools that don’t hit racial, income, and special ed goals. It’s called “anti-creaming” – as in “charter schools skim the cream off the top of the studen pool” – and it ignores two things:

  1. Have they actually looked at the stats?  I don’t know about the entire country, but in Minneapolis and Saint Paul, charters already get more than their share of poor, second-language and behavioral-issue kids.
  2. That said, charters do skim the cream off the top – where “cream” equals “parents that give a crap”, a demographic that crosses ethnic, income and pretty much every other line.

Beyond that, though?  The fact that so many teachers, beholden to their unions, oppose charters is a tragic lost opportunity, for students and (good) teachers:

The hostility between many teacher unions and the charter school and voucher movement is a tragedy of modern American life. What we really need is a proliferation of teacher-owned, teacher-managed cooperative educational ventures—operating either in public school buildings or in churches or in other community spaces. These coops should receive favorable regulatory and tax treatment, and give teachers the latitude to teach in an environment they control. Different coops would cater to different kinds of students, or different age groups, or offer different educational philosophies. Parents would be able to chose among many alternative programs, and teacher assessment could be something that the community would do in a much richer and holistic way—good coops would get good word of mouth

As they already do in places like the Twin Cities, with charter markets that are thriving despite the unions and DFL’s (ptr) best efforts.

PS:  Who says public, union schools don’t look out for kids’ interests better?

A Modest Question

Joe Doakes from Como Park emails:

Everyone wants our children to be educated so they can achieve The American Dream.  But even in school districts run by Black administrators, Black students do poorly on reading and math tests.

According to the article, that’s because Black students lack White Privilege which consists of parental supervision, respect for teachers, education is valued, correctly spoken English at home, homework done and checked for errors, security from violence at home and teachers who have high expectations.

Of course, those are precisely the behaviors that constitute Acting White and which no self-respecting authentic Black youth would be caught dead doing, lest he be ridiculed as an Uncle Tom by peers and in the media.

Worse, the tests measure knowledge that might have been essential to success in 19th Century Prussia, on which our educational system was based.  But is it knowledge essential to success as a 21st Century American? What is “success?”  The Amish don’t define “success” the same as the Clintons and President Obama’s vision of being an American seems nothing like Ronald Reagan’s vision.  Do Blacks define “success” the same as Whites or Asians or recent Central American immigrants or African refugees?   What should schools teach when it’s obvious that students do not share the same definition of “success” and how can different measures of “success” constitute one American Dream?

Why should all students take the White Success tests? Maybe there should be a different tests to measure Black success?  I’m not talking about racist joke tests like “Jasper steals three watermelons . . .” but a serious inquiry into what constitutes “success” for modern Black Americans and what knowledge, skills and abilities are essential to achieve that success?

I’m asking for a serious inquiry:  what is The American Dream?

Joe Doakes

As we’ve discussed in this space before, “class” privilege is every bit as big an issue as “white privilege” – which is why BLM is protesting so furiously about the white variety.

But “class privilege” is exactly behind our current school system’s definition of “success”.

Un-Abeler To Compute

I rarely if ever endorse candidates, per se.  I figure it’s not my job – who am I, after all?   I inform; you decide.

But I live in Saint Paul.  The Fourth Congressional District; Senate District 65; House 65A.  I’m “represented” by Betty McCollum, Sandy Pappas and Rena Moran.   And while I do my best to get involved in politics in my own neighborhood, let’s be honest; I probably have a greater  impact elsewhere.

Of course, Andy Aplikowski is a longtime friend of this blog.  And of mine, for that matter.  One of the co-founders of True North, one of the smartest political numbers guys I know, half of one of the genuinely nicest couples I know.  Andy’s running to replace Brandon Petersen in the Senate.  And I hope he wins.

Andy’s got the endorsement of the SD35 party apparatus.  But he’s gotta get through a primary against long-time former rep. Jim Abeler.

Now, I’ve interviewed Abeler a few times.  He’s a great guy; there are those who choose to demonize those they disagree with, and neither Abeler nor I are them.  And in his interviews, Abeler makes a solid case for some of the votes he’s taken.  Not solid enough to convince me, but nothing to brush aside, either.

But one vote that concerned me, as someone who’s gone around and around with the public school system, is a vote he took that ended up denying vouchers to students in Minneapolis and Saint Paul schools. Did Abeler have his reasons?  I’m sure he did – but they pale against the opportunity that arises when you allow the free market, personified by giving the parents the fiscal clout to say “no” to the district system, to have its effect.

So while I’m not sure what Abeler’s policy reasons are, I know that the vote did earn him some powerful friends. No, I mean some very powerful friends, friends with deep pockets and heavy-duty outsized clout in Minnesota politics.

Anyway – if you’re in SD35, or have friends there, by all means let ’em know where the School Choice vote goes.

Royalty Doesn’t Need Feedback

The Saint Paul Public Schools are discontinuing TV broadcasts of the “public feedback” segment of school board meetings.

Let’s make sure we’re clear on what we’re talking about here; the public feedback part of the meeting is about half an hour, starting at 5:30 (which is a brutally difficult time to make, for people who have day jobs), during which the School Board deigns to allow commoners to address it, in slices of three minutes, while they converse amongst themselves or pretty visibly try to fight nodding off.  I did it a few years ago; you could tell that most of the board would rather have been getting a root canal.

But people watched those session via cable -and occasionally they drew blood:

…a May 2014 appearance before the St. Paul school board by five district teachers pushing for greater expectations of students and consequences for those who misbehave is credited with sparking a Caucus for Change movement dedicated to unseating board incumbents….

Board Member Anne Carroll [Who else? – Ed] argued that the change is part of a series of moves related to the collection of public comments that should give citizens a greater voice. She cited a new policy of taking online submissions that will be documented in the same way as in-person comments.

Board Member John Brodrick, who opposed the move in what was a 5-1 vote, said that having people speak to the board but not to the public via broadcast “betrayed the meaning of public comment.”…

…Currently, the comment period begins at 5:30 p.m., and when finished, gives way to an agenda item recognizing the “good work provided by outstanding district employees.”

Which sounds – I kid you not – like deputies in the old Supreme Soviet of the USSR rising to congratulate one of the collective farms in their district for meeting their five year plan with sufficient socialist fervor.  Seriously; these recognitions sound like competitions to see how many times you can fit the words “Diversity” and “Multiculturalism” into sentences while still maintaining a sentence structure.

Anyway – a school district that already hides out in its Stalineque bunker on Colborne Street, above, beyond and away from its constituents, is trying to become even more so.

 

 

Governor Dayton’s Priorities

Governor Flint-Smith Dayton is threatening to veto the budget deal over the lower level of funding promised for pre-kindergarten.

I’m not sure that our legislature – much less our governor – is smart enough to fight the battle based on something like “what’s best for children”…

…but in case any legislators are focused on that, psychology and even teachers are starting to think that jamming down academics with young children is at best of no value, and at worst counterproductive in the long run:

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/freedom-learn/201505/early-academic-training-produces-long-term-harm (I’ve added emphasis):

A number of well-controlled studies have compared the effects of academically oriented early education classrooms with those of play-based classrooms (some of which are reviewed here, in an article by Nancy Carlsson-Paige, Geralyn McLaughlin,and Joan Almon).[1] The results are quite consistent from study to study: Early academic training somewhat increases children’s immediate scores on the specific tests that the training is aimed at (no surprise), but these initial gains wash out within 1 to 3 years and, at least in some studies, are eventually reversed. Perhaps more tragic than the lack of long-term academic advantage of early academic instruction is evidence that such instruction can produce long-term harm, especially in the realms of social and emotional development.

When you start regimenting kids bright and early, is it a surprise they grow up less able to think for themselves?

For example, in the 1970s, the German government sponsored a large-scale comparison in which the graduates of 50 play-based kindergartens were compared, over time, with the graduates of 50 academic direct-instruction-based kindergartens.[2] Despite the initial academic gains of direct instruction, by grade four the children from the direct-instruction kindergartens performed significantly worse than those from the play-based kindergartens on every measure that was used. In particular, they were less advanced in reading and mathematics and less well adjusted socially and emotionally. At the time of the study, Germany was gradually making a switch from traditional play-based kindergartens to academic ones. At least partly as a result of the study, Germany reversed that trend; they went back to play-based kindergartens. Apparently, German educational authorities, at least at that time, unlike American authorities today, actually paid attention to educational research and used it to inform educational practice.

Of course, universal “free” Pre-K isn’t about educating children, much less making them grow up to be better, happier, smarter people.

It’s about providing more jobs for Governor Flint-Smith’s Dayton’s biggest contributors, and thereby more dues for the DFL.

Universal pre-K may be the best possible advertisement for home schooling.

Psychological Warfare

I got this letter from a left-wing PR group yesterday, asking people to come out to protest against “conversion therapy” – the controversial practice of trying to “convert” gay kids to being straight – and, I suspect, ban the practice:

Dear Rudolph,

OutFront Minnesota’s Lobby Day is this Thursday…Contact your legislators right now and tell them that no child should be subjected to dangerous and discredited conversion therapy…It’s those same conversations with legislators that will make the difference in whether we can protect youth from conversion therapy in Minnesota.

With pride and respect,

Marty Rouse
National Field Director

The thesis is that trying to use therapy to try to undo a key component of a person’s personality and identity can be traumatic, damaging and a bad idea deserving to be banned via the weight of government. Now, if someone voluntarily wants to give conversation therapy a try, I’m not sure where it’s the state’s interest…

…but let’s focus on the basic principle; dabbling in engineering peoples’ identities can cause all sorts of psychological harm.  And psychology/psychiatry have known for decades (or as close as those two deeply inexact sciences ever get to “knowing” anything, anyway) that trying to force people to change their personality causes huge problems.

And just so we’re clear; I agree.   I agree that forcing people to be someone they’re not causes long-lasting, terrible damage to the human psyche.

And that’s true whether you’re trying to “cure” homosexuality…

…or boyhood, which has been turned by our feminized academic establishment into a semi-treatable psychiatric pathology (subject to diagnosis by people with BAs in Education rather than MDs and PhDs) that needs to be wiped out.

So how about it?  Should we treat all assaults against the human psyche as abuse?  Or just the politically-incorrect ones?

The Empire Strikes Back

The educational establishment is calling in its markers with the mainstream media, and beating the drums against charter schools in particular, and school choice in general.

Of course, it’s the same set of out of context factoids they trot out every 2-3 years.

Finances:  Some charter schools have a hard time making a financial go of it.  Of course they do; they can’t run to the taxpayer and crank up the local education mill levy (“for the children!”) whenever they spend their way into a hole, the way the district schools can.

Grades:  Some charter schools, especially schools in urban areas catering to black, Latino, Asian, immigrant and Native American kids. lag the public districts in terms of achievement.  We’ve been through this; back in 2009, after Nick Coleman joined into a previous round of catcalling charters, I ran through the stats.  Some charters – including many urban charters full of minority and immigrant kids – spanked the public districts.  Others lagged.

Paternalism:  The great unstated fact that none of charters’ opponents ever addresses; 80% of urban charter kids are minorities and immigrants.  Every black, Latino, Asian, Native or Somali kid that leaves the public school system is leaving the the reservation that the DFL is counting on to train its future voter base.

But charters in the city – especially the ones catering to older kids – have two handicaps, as I showed in 2009:

  • Burnout:  They take a disproportionate number of kids who’ve been terribly failed by the district schools, and have had their love of learning – something pretty much every child is born with – beaten out of them pretty decisively.  It takes a good charter some time to help a kid back to the point where he or she gives a crap again.  With some, it never works.  With others, it does – but rarely overnight.
  • Cooked Testing Books:  After age 16, the big district schools can shunt their less-enthusiastic students, or the ones with difficulties (criminal records, kids of their own, and on and on) off into the “Alternative Learning Centers”, or ALCs.  There, they’re off the books; their test scores aren’t held against the district.  Charters have no such option; every kid’s score counts.

If someone in the educational-industrial complex ever wanted to get the fact about charter schools versus public schools, they could do two things:

  1. Cut The Umbilical Cord:  Let public schools exist on their per-student allotments and whatever money they could raise themselves.  I know.  It’ll never happen.  If it did, over half of public schools would shut down in a year.
  2. Longitudinal Testing:  Every single current comparison of public and charter school achievement relies on straight-up comparisons on how students are doing right now.  They are the average score of every student in the charter school, versus the average of every kid in the public school that hasn’t been shunted into a diversion program.  But if they did a longitudinal study comparing how individual students did over time – specifically, comparing how students who left public schools with low achievement fared over the rest of their educational career, versus control groups of similar kids who stayed in the public systems – that would be more accurate (and, given the graduation rates for Twin Cities public schools, more damning.

But we’ve been through all this before.

The real question today is, what’s behind this latest round of out-of-context piss-balloon-throwing from the educational-industrial complex?  Why are they attacking charter schools this time?    Why is Big Education’s propaganda machine going to work to slag the hundred labors of love that make up the Minnesota charter school sector?

Why?  Oh, why?

Oh, right.   Minorities getting all uppity.   And as they leave the public districts, that’s a lot of jobs, and funding, for the political class that are harder to justify.

It must be stopped.

And that’s why the left’s useful idiots are attacking charters this year.   And next year.

Background Noise

Opponents of urban charter schools – inevitably white, upper-middle-class, MPR-listening, Subaru-driving people with degrees from Macalester – have developed a habit of sniffing that urban charters are “a return to segregation”, because many charters, especially in the city, are aimed at ethnic groups.

What these lilywhite guardians of “diversity”-for-its-own-sake miss is that these charters – the Twin Cities have schools aimed at black, H’mong, latino and Native American kids, and used to have one serving Muslim students – may be “segregated”, but it’s entirely voluntary; the decision of the parents and families involved.

And why would they do that?

Because they’re racists?

Perhaps.  More likely, I suspect, it’s cultural (the Native American and H’mong schools), and linguistic (the Latino schools).

And I suspect that for more than a few parents, it’s more like this:  while they like the idea of “diversity” – exposing their children to different people, cultures, races and the like – they also know they’ve got one shot with their kids.  America’s racial problems aren’t going to be fixed in 12 years.  If they’re fixed in thirteen years, that’s great – but too late for your first-grader.

And in the meantime, lurking in the background at the worst “diverse” schools, are scenes like this (and save your breath, Volvo-driving ninnies; this sort of tension is endemic at urban schools; my kids went there for years, and while it rarely got that bad, it hovered over the school experience in ways ugly and comical for their entire time in school).  And while I suspect that, like me, a lot of parents would love for their kids to participate in America’s ethnic “conversation”, they also figure that there’s plenty of time for that when they’re adults, and they’d like to spend that first 12 years focusing on them getting an education without all the pointless, mindless tension.

Paper

Joe Doakes from Como Park emails:

Liberals exclaim that Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s lack of a college degree proves he lacks knowledge.

I knew a guy who was frighteningly well educated. He could tell you why it rained, when it was going to rain, what made it rain . . . he just didn’t have enough sense to come in Out of the rain.

Knowledge is not wisdom.

Knowledge is learned in college; wisdom is won in the world.

I wish our current President had more worldly wisdom and not so much college knowledge.

I sincerely hope our next President does.

Joe Doakes

Anyone still talking about where they went to college more than five years after they graduated, unless there in an academic field, probably has nothing to be proud of in their post-college life.

Anyone who barbers about where someone went to college, unless that person is operating on the child or building their bridge, is probably an idiot.

Bubble Talk

I’ve made these two points before, somewhere in the blog’s past 13 or so years – maybe several times.  But I think there’s a fresh-ish point here, so bear with me.

Background: Two of the luckiest breaks of my life were:

  1. In 1980, at the beginning of my senior year of high school, a couple of slickie boys who’d been working in major market radio bought out my first radio station, KEYJ.  They changed the format, ramped up the “slick”, and fired most of the locals (including me).  The lesson?  Loyalty to one’s employer is a sucker bet.
  2. Later, I went to college at an obscure little school in the middle of North Dakota.  My mom worked as a secretary in the nursing department, so I got a huuuuuge tuition break, and I graduated debt-free.  But in those days, nobody but nobody came to Jamestown College to recruit graduates (other than the Air Force, and all they were interested in was nursing majors).  You were on your own.  The lesson:  You’re only as marketable as you make yourself; relying on your “credentials” is a sucker’s bet, too.

Stemming From Misinformation:  We’ve talked a lot about the Higher Ed Bubble in this space over the years; decades of government and government-backed student lending has built up an immense system of higher education institutions that crank out a huge surplus of people with degrees that “aren’t needed” in our society, or for whom at least the markets are very tight; because of the “borrow now, pay later” policies that the government and Big Education have been pushing, these students are not only coming into the workforce with degrees that “didn’t train them” for a career that was viable, much less one that could pay off all that debt.

Now, I’m not sure if there was ever a time when an anthropology or music or history or theatre or Norwegian major could graduate from college and look forward to getting snapped up purely for the skills they learned in college; engineers and nurses and computer programmers, yes, but not English majors (outside the Education track, anyway – and that’s getting dicier too).  I’m not sure if it was the crowd I hung out with, or the place I went to school, or the time I went there, but I don’t recall any non-teaching-track writing or art  or English or theater performance majors getting out of school and expecting a job as an writer or artist or actor; they – we – either…:

  • Hunkered down for a rather straitened near-term life against the hope of finding a niche that paid the bills (and I do have friends who’ve done this)
  • Adapted, and used the marketable meta-skills they’d picked up in college and/or their early work careers to find a career in another field, possibly completely unrelated) (that’d be me), or…
  • Toiled away at their chosen major field with no expectation of making a living at it.

That was then; kids graduating with tens of thousands of dollars in debt in those fields is now.

False Optimism:  The answers, we’re told, are to either focus kids toward:

  • Vocational and technical fields – everything from tool and die manufacturing to personal care.
  • “STEM” – science, technology, engineering and math.

For the former?  I couldn’t agree more.  There is a big chunk of American academia that takes students “settling” for a vo-ed or technical career as a defeat.  It’s just not true – or shouldn’t be.

As to STEM as a panacaea?  It’s a bit of a racket; business is pushing STEM even as wages are stagnant and industry imports “labor” from overseas as fast as they can find it.  Industry is pushing people into STEM to drive down the cost of labor, and it’s working.

Still, there are quite a few jobs in the field, and a kid who’s so inclined can get a decent start in life that way, if they’re so inclined.

What’s Missing Here:  But let’s go back to the two big lessons I learned up front in this post.

Loyalty to one’s employer – in the sense that people who spent 35 years working at the same job and retired with a company or union pension used to feel it – is a thing of the past.  So why do people think that spending ones career tied to a field of study one (usually) chose in ones teens and twenties should have a longer shelf life?

Because one’s working life is more likely than ever to involve adapting, changing, re-learning and starting over than to involve doing the same thing for forty-odd years.

And that’s the part that modern education – high school, liberal arts, STEM or technical – always, always seems to get wrong.  The supreme skill in life is not building a circuit or writing a term paper or analyzing historical political campaigns; it’s knowing how to adapt to the many changes life throws at you, no matter what you major in.

Can that be taught?  Sure.  Not everyone can learn it, no more than I will ever be adept at calculus.

But it’s certainly more useful than 95% of what people are taught these days.

Meet The Old Boss, Same As The New Boss, Same As The Last Boss…

Minneapolis School superintendant Bernardeia Johnson resigned her office yesterday

Johnson was also recently thrust into a dicey position by incendiary news stories and a legislative probe into a questionable $405,000 no-bid contract awarded to Community Standards Initiative (CSI), a politically connected group run by community activists Al Flowers and Clarence Hightower. For months, groups in the African-American community exerted enormous pressure on Johnson to take a side and say whether two Minneapolis DFLers — state Sens. Bobby Joe Champion and Jeff Hayden — strong-armed her into going forward with the CSI contract. Some of the pressure came in the form of a viral social media campaign using the hashtag #JimCrowJr.

An affidavit submitted to lawmakers in her name suggested she strove to protect the district from an untenable situation. A state Senate committee hearing into the matter proved to be more partisan theater than a quest for facts that might have supplied some much-needed context.

By all accounts I’ve read and heard, she was a perfectly capable school administrator. 

Of course, by all accounts, all of the superintendents have been capable administrators, as far as we know – and yet Minneapolis’ school district is a mess (outside some of the elite challenge programs), and the mess has largely resisted any number of bureaucratic initiatives to change the situation.

And Johnson had her share of those:

Perhaps the most symbolic of the problems that dogged her tenure was the teaching corps’ failure to consistently and enthusiastically dive into a program central to her vision, Focused Instruction. Johnson struggled to articulate the merits of the approach, and it’s believed that half or more of the district’s teachers simply ignored the initiative.

Focused Instruction is a form of data-driven teaching that is, on one level, something that works in some districts and, on another, is one of those buzzwords that translates into “one size fits all approach to teaching tens of thousands of individual kids”.  There’s more to it than that, of course – it’s not the dumbest teaching fad to hit the market.

But just as politics is the worst possible way to allocate resources or solve problems, it’s also the worst possible way to education individual children.  School districts are fundamentally political institutions, not educational ones.  Any solution they proffer will first and foremost be, necessarily, a political one, designed to be the most attractive common denominator for the student body as an aggregate (and their teachers, administrators, district stakeholders, etc etc etc).  Nowhere in that aggregation is the idea that kids are unique individuals who aren’t interchangeable cogs on an intellectual assembly line. 

So the next Minneapolis superintendent may be, like Bernardeia Johnson, a good person, a well-respected administrator, and a capable bureaucrat.  Or they might be a complete schnook.  And it probably won’t matter much, because in the end they’re all selling one-size-fits-all education that is designed to serve everyone, and therefore serves nobody.