Archive for the 'Education' Category

Ethnostatism Fails

The movement of “ethnic studies” curricula from colleges to public schools, is something that troubles many of us who have experienced such classes in modern times. Ethnic studies programs are often called “multiculturalist,” but since they tend to be monoethnic and extremely political rather than cultural, I prefer the term “ethnostatism.”

In defense of the migration, the claim is often made that improving student self-esteem by submerging them in intensely ideological and highly sectarian programs, benefits overall student academic performance. For opponents the claim is a non sequitur, similar to excusing the political dimension of education in a fascist country, by claiming the students there had good math scores. Ideological indoctrination isn’t validated as worthwhile, even if it did help students do trigonometry somehow.


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Concealed Carry School

A small Texas School district approved a plan to allow teachers to carry concealed handguns on school grounds last October and will see its first school year open later this month with that plan in effect. As far as I know, and as anyone in the article knows this is the first experiment of its kind and thus it will be interesting to see the result. However it will be a long term result no doubt, and we probably won’t hear much of this district again, which is a good thing.

The reasoning sited was,

“When the federal government started making schools gun-free zones, that’s when all of these shootings started. Why would you put it out there that a group of people can’t defend themselves? That’s like saying ’sic ‘em’ to a dog,” Thweatt said in Friday’s online edition of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

But I think I’ve found the real need for this measure.

The 110-student district is 150 miles northwest of Fort Worth on the eastern end of Wilbarger County, near the Oklahoma border.

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Freedom of Choice

Why do so many deny parents the ability to chose a superior education for their child?

The straight talk on education.

“Parents ask only for schools that are safe, teachers who are competent, and diplomas that open doors of opportunity,” he said. “When a public system fails, repeatedly, to meet these minimal objectives, parents ask only for a choice in the education of their children. Some parents may choose a better public school. Some may choose a private school.

“Many will choose a charter school.  No entrenched bureaucracy or union should deny parents that choice and children that opportunity.”

If Democratic congressmen choose private schools for their kids – shouldn’t those with less financial resources have some choice, too?

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Middle Class Burdens

Thanks to Don Boudreaux, I found this “Inconvenient Truth” about the struggles of the middle class. As readers here know, I have long been a bear on housing, but as always those who want their hands on our wallet can take any crisis or problem as a license to take from us. Todd Zywicki writes to the Washington Post:

In his April 27 op-ed, “Don’t Blame All Borrowers,” Robert H. Frank argued that the quest for better schools for their children has led many parents to overspend on housing. He cited “The Two-Income Trap,” a book by Elizabeth Warren and Amelia Warren Tyagi, to make this argument.

But Ms. Warren and Ms. Tyagi’s own data do not support Mr. Frank’s claim. In fact, from the 1973 to 2000, the percentage of household income dedicated to mortgage payments actually declined. So where did all the money go? To taxes — which, all told, rose a whopping 140 percent in constant dollars.

In some part, this is a result of “the two income-tax trap”: When a spouse enters the workforce, he or she is immediately taxed at a higher marginal rate than one worker would be alone. But it is also because of increases in myriad state and local taxes, notably property taxes, which have risen along with real estate prices.

If Mr. Frank is concerned about the financial plight of the middle class, the answer seems clear: He should be arguing for a reduction in the tax burden, not about some chimerical “bidding war” for homes near good schools.


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Teach Your Children Well

From a Wall Street Journal reader:College

“The courageous thing for Congress to do would be to get rid of student-loan subsidies entirely. Then watch tuitions tumble towards ‘the affordable’ as academe realizes nobody’s throwing money at it any more.”

– John K. Lunde

Why is it so difficult for so many to miss this simple truth? If the enormous maw of federal spending were not available to pump up tuition prices at schools, then they would of necessity fall to levels where real people could pay them.

And if our schools taught courses highlighting this sort of reasoning, we’d all be far better served, too!

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8 year old suspended for sniffing marker

The story.

Eathan shyly shook his head “no” when a reporter asked if he knew about “huffing.”

He does now.

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Teaching violence…

Last night I was wiping blood off my 15 year old daughter’s face.    It ran from her nose down over her mouth and chin and I hoped that I wasn’t too rough and hurting her while I did it, but I had to hurry.

I had to get back down the steps and be ready to grab the stool out of the ring and sit on it when the bell rang.    You have to sit, her coach told me.   You have to sit on the stool, you can’t get up until the round is over if you’re going to work the corner.

It was my daughter’s first amateur boxing match.    Her first entry in her “book.”

We were at a middle school in Albuquerque… a part of town where most of the students are Hispanic and most of the business signs are in Vietnamese.    I suppose there are worse neighborhoods but this was far from the best.    South of Central and tucked up against the Air Force base in a “you can’t get there from here” sort of way.

When the fights began the announcer said something rather interesting.   The principal of the school had had to fight to keep boxing going, and this particular event on, against disapproval from APS.   They gave her an award and everyone clapped and cheered.

It seems that someone decided that boxing is violent.

It is.

It’s sort of shocking, actually, everyone cheering on two kids beating the snot out of each other.   The blood.   The hugging.

Oh, wait.   Yeah, the hugging.    The “here, let me help you with your ribbon”-”no no, let me hand you your trophy” expectation of good sportsmanship.   The respect for any kid who steps in the ring, just for the bravery of stepping in the ring.

The higher up mucky-mucks at APS (one of those urban mega-districts that are, quite frankly, an offense against nature itself) might not think teaching violence is appropriate.   The principal of this middle school in a not-so-good part of town knows it is.    Her club is going gang-busters.

At least, judging by the number of people last night wearing club t-shirts.

I don’t know what all is going on with the politics.   I’m not sure I even want to.    But it’s a sad thing that so many don’t seem to recognize that *violence* isn’t bad.    Viewing violence itself as the problem is simplistic and wrong.   Fixing the problem of violence isn’t going to fix much when violence isn’t the problem.

The announcer last night often talked of warriors.

Warriors are as far as possible from criminals.   And it doesn’t really matter that the call to be warriors is symbolic and not actual.    The difference is… do you learn violence to be a protector or do you learn violence to be a predator?   A warrior learns violence to be a protector.

Being able to fight is a good thing.   Being able to face it, to step up to it and do it, is a good thing.    Boxing may appeal to the same young people who might find other blood-sport appealing… particularly those macho young men, but girls too.    I don’t think that I’ll ever watch boxing for fun.    I don’t find it entertaining.   Watching.    Maybe when I know more I’ll enjoy watching for the technical aspects.   I’ve trained in karate long enough to go “oh, look what he just did” when watching certain types of fights.    But I don’t think I’ll ever find this sort of sport entertaining.

So what.

I can say that it won’t bother me at all to work the corner for my daughter if I’m asked to do it again.    I’ll wash the blood out of her mouth guard and the blood and snot off her face, give her water and hold the spit bucket.    Then I’ll wisk the stool out of the ring and sit.

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Competition plays a large role in much of my life. As a tournament bridge player, competition is the name of the game. The better you do, the more you rate to win. The more you do to learn, improve your game and secure superior partners and teammates, the higher you climb.

As a Realtor, it’s much the same. If I deliver top-notch products and services to my clients, then I rate to prosper with my business. If I fail to improve, connect and listen to the needs of my clients, then I am unlikely to do as well as the next guy.

Competition is great. Most people enjoy doing well – but you cannot unless you work hard and try your best. Learning, improving, growing …. All of us should strive to include this in our lives.

Why, then, is it that so many Democrats seem to spurn competition?

The Democratic Party has become the anti-competition party.

It’s true in education where Democrats, with their slavish devotion to teachers unions, oppose vouchers even for constituencies they pretend to champion such as minorities and the disadvantaged. Vouchers would force public schools into competition.

It’s true with immigration, where many Democrats advance the phony argument that illegal immigrants displace U.S. workers by lowering wages. For low-skilled workers who refuse to get more skills or learn a new trade, illegal immigrants amount to competition.

And it’s certainly true in the area of trade, where Democrats do the bidding of organized labor by fighting trade agreements and advocating protectionism. Trade, by its very nature, encourages competition by opening up markets across borders and seas.

This rejection of competition I believe relates to the Democrats’ embracing of equality. Don’t get me wrong; I am someone who strongly believes in equality. But – equality should be a matter of equal opportunities, and equal justice before the law. What each of use chooses to do with those opportunities can vary widely among us – just as our abilities, talents, strengths and weaknesses vary dramatically.

Total equality is a fiction. It is impossible to make the human condition the same for everyone, irrespective of what steps are taken.

Nor, as explained above, should we really want to do so. It is competition and variance that causes us to improve and yearn for something better.

When President Clinton worked to get the passage of NAFTA, I applauded him. More free trade was a win-win situation for the world.

Why do the Democrats of today – and in particular, President Clinton’s wife – reject it today?

Why do they not wish to compete and search for new heights and achieve new goals?

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Tragic News for Leftists

Due to free markets, capitalism and freedom in general, the world is getting wealthier.

The last quarter century has witnessed remarkable progress of mankind. The world’s per capita inflation-adjusted income rose from $5400 in 1980 to $8500 in 2005.Schooling and life expectancy grew rapidly, while infant mortality and poverty fell just asfast. Compared to 1980, many more countries in the world are democratic today.

The last quarter century also saw wide acceptance of free market policies in both rich and poor countries: from private ownership, to free trade, to responsible budgets, to lower taxes. Three important events mark the beginning of this period. In 1979, Deng Xiao Ping started market reforms in China, which over the quarter century lifted hundreds of millions of people out of poverty. In the same year, Margaret Thatcher was elected Prime Minister in Britain, and initiated her radical reforms and a long period of growth. A year later, Ronald Reagan was elected President of the United States, and also embraced free market policies. All three of these leaders professed inspiration from the work of Milton Friedman. It is natural, then, to refer to the last quarter century as the Age of Milton Friedman.

Oh!  The agony of it all!

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The Sickening

Cuban medical facility
A Cuban medical office with a sign reading “No prescriptions available.” Photo by: Dr. Darsi Ferrer [via The Real Cuba].

News of Fidel Castro’s retirement has elicited some interesting responses. Chris Bertram’s has to be one of the most arrogant and least informed:

So let’s hear it for universal literacy and decent standards of health care. Let’s hear it for the Cubans who help defeat the South Africans and their allies in Angola and thereby prepared the end of apartheid. Let’s hear it for the middle-aged Cuban construction workers who held off the US forces for a while on Grenada. Let’s hear it for Elian Gonzalez. Let’s hear it for 49 years of defiance in the face of the US blockade. Hasta la victoria siempre!

Bertram is being purposefully provocative with his post, which is what makes it so arrogant, but he’s doing so based on leftist myths, which is why it so misinformed.

The wonderful Cuban health careCuban hospital and education systems are shibboleths of Castro apologists everywhere. For example, film provocateur Michael Moore used the health care myth to agitate for socialized medicine in his propaganda piece entitled Sicko. However, as is the case with propaganda, reality begs to differ:

One of the greatest fallacies about the so called ‘Cuban Revolution’ has to do with healthcare.

Foreigners who visit Cuba, are fed the official line from Castro’s propaganda machine: “All Cubans are now able to receive excellent healthcare, which is also free.” But the truth is very different. Castro has built excellent health facilities for the use of foreigners, who pay with hard currency for those services.

Argentinean soccer star Maradona, for example, has traveled several times to Cuba to receive treatment to combat his drug addiction. But Cubans are not even allowed to visit those facilities. Cubans who require medical attention must go to other hospitals, that lack the most minimum requirements needed to take care of their patients.

In addition, most of these facilities are filthy and patients have to bring their own towels, bed sheets, pillows, or they would have to lay down on dirty bare mattresses stained with blood and other body fluids.

The facilities available to most Cubans are nothing like the ones featured in Sicko, and the “free health care” is not really worth much. [See what real Cuban health care looks like after the jump] (more…)

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Am I anti-Intellectual or…

…am I just not impressed by YOU?

Jules Crittenden responds to a column by Susan Jacoby The Dumbing of America. She concludes…

It is past time for a serious national discussion about whether, as a nation, we truly value intellect and rationality.

The short answer is… yes, we truly value intellect and rationality.

It just doesn’t look like what you want it to look like. In fact, I’m tempted to start quoting The Princess Bride… “This word? I do not think it means what you think it means.”


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Freedom can’t exist without trusting the untrustworthy

This is an extension of the commentary from this post from MichaelW.

Have you heard the truism that a person is smart, but people are dumb?

On the one hand it’s profoundly true. On the other hand we fail to understand that the opposite is also profoundly true. A person is dumb, but people are smart.

Dumb people, making sub-optimal individual decisions, somehow manage to combine in aggregate into communities that most often are remarkably robust and remarkably effective.

It works with a market, where individuals make poor decisions about what to produce and what to buy. Somehow, with all those individual mistakes the result is highly effective and highly responsive. Compare that flawed mish-mash of poor decisions to what happens when there is directed organization and decision making, usually by experts, and the unwashed masses directing their own lives come out on top. Waaaay on top.

It would also work in education, given a chance.

Do I trust my fundie neighbor to do the best possible job teaching her children? Do I trust the secular unschooler down the street? Do I trust the Muslim who recently immigrated and would rather not have his child in public school? Do I trust the Amish who don’t (I’m told) educate past 8th grade? Do I trust the polyamorist wiccan coven who wants to start a day school?

Not only no, but hell no.

But do I trust them in aggregate? Do I trust the robust nature of the way all of our various choices work together to optimize the end result? Do I trust the flexibility and diversity of knowledge and ideas to mesh into a whole that is by far the most desirable and effective totality of education to advance our country and perhaps our world into an unknowable future?

Yes, I do.

I trust people.

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An Argument Against Public Education

Via Glenn Reynolds, Wired posts an article describing the fight to include evolution in the science curriculum for students in Florida and Texas:

Charles Darwin was born 199 years ago Tuesday, but the debate he ignited about the origins of species rages on. Florida’s department of education will vote next week on a new science curriculum that could be in jeopardy, because some conservative counties oppose it.

Nine of Florida’s 64 counties have passed resolutions over the last two months condemning the new curriculum that explicitly calls for teaching evolution. The resolutions, passed in heavily Christian counties in the state’s northern reaches, demand that evolution be “balanced” with alternative theories, mainly creationist…

Watchdogs say the stakes are high in the pending vote. If Florida backpedals from evolution, Texas may follow suit. Texas is scheduled to update its own science standards this year. In November, an education official was fired for mentioning a pro-evolution lecture. Along with California, Florida and Texas are the largest purchasers of textbooks in the nation.

“Texas buys about 10 percent of all K-12 textbooks, and Florida buys another 8 percent,” said Lawrence Lerner, a science-curriculum expert at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, an education watchdog. “If they want creationism in their textbooks, Wyoming may not have a choice.”

I still have a hard time swallowing this argument. Is the publishing world so archaic and backwards technologically that they can’t churn out different versions of textbooks for 18% of their customers, while delivering what the other 82% really want? Diane Ravitch made the same case in The Language Police (an excellent book; I highly recommend it), but I didn’t really buy it then either.

Nevertheless, the reason its even an issue is because the state mandates what the curriculum will be for each and every school.

Florida’s current science standards, which tell teachers what their students must learn, don’t mention evolution by name. In 2005, a prominent education think tank gave Florida a failing grade in science teaching, prompting education officials to overhaul the curriculum. The new standards, drafted last October, explicitly called evolution “the fundamental concept underlying all biology.”

But nine counties — Baker, Clay, Hamilton, Holmes, Jackson, Madison, St. Johns, Taylor and Washington — have passed resolutions officially calling for the teaching of evolution to be balanced with alternative explanations of life’s origins, almost certainly religious.

The resolutions have been patterned after the one from St. Johns County, which calls for “teaching the scientific strengths and weaknesses of the theory rather than teaching evolution as dogmatic fact.”

Critics say the resolutions’ language is thinly veiled creationism — either in the strictly biblical sense, or the more-modern take of “intelligent design,” which purports to use scientific methodology to prove divine intervention.

We’re concerned that we not impose state standards that prevent an open dialogue concerning other theories,” said David Buckles, superintendent of schools in Putnam County, which is also considering opposing the new curriculum. “Did life begin in ice? Or was it the Genesis version? Or intelligent design? We want the pros and cons of all of it.”

Looking just at the bolded portions, isn’t that where the problem lies? Does this issue ever come to a head if there weren’t some state regulators “imposing” rules on the schools? Or am I just some crazy libertarian nutter who doesn’t appreciate the value of a public education (yeah, some value)?

In fact, I do see the value in having an educated public, but over the past 30 years or so I don’t see governments actually accomplishing that task. Instead, we get propagandized curriculum that has little to no bearing on the real world. Classrooms are used as social science labs, and students are treated as the guinea pigs. Whether its the idiots trying to shove PC, multi-culti, white-people-are-racists nonsense down our kids throats, or bible-thumpers filling their heads with religion dressed up as science, I don’t see an educated populace being created. I see a bunch of poorly equipped kids being fed ridiculously antiquated and/or downright false ideas. And to top it all off, we are treated to nanny-staters of all types duking it out in a game of moral oneupmanship for our political amusement. How does any of that add to the value of public education?

I’m one of the lucky ones who can send my kids to private school (barely), but what about all those parents who don’t have that choice? Their kids are left to suffer at the hands of petty bureaucrats and teachers unions, each with their own agenda that’s applied in a “one size fits all” manner, regardless of what might be truly best for the child. And heaven forbid that a teacher develop his or her own method of educating. If that were allowed, then how would the bureaucrats maintain control? Next thing you know, they’ll want merit pay.

For so long as the state is in charge of education, these sorts of problems will only get worse. Are vouchers the answer? I think they would help by putting choice back into the hands of parents. But that wouldn’t do anything about abominations like No Child Left Behind, and the ridiculous wrangling over evolution that comes up again every couple of years. In my opinion, the best thing to do would be to get the state out of the business of education entirely.

By that I don’t mean pulling out all tax dollars. Even though my children don’t actually benefit from it, I don’t have a problem with helping kids get an education. I just have a problem with the government being the one to control and deliver it. Instead, I’d say let all schools be private, and let the government funds used for education now be set aside for use by parents, without any strings attached. They could apply the money towards the school of their choice. And let the schools decide what and how they will teach. If one school doesn’t prepare kids for the future as well as another, then it will see a loss of income. It will be forced to give parents what they want, or go out of business. And for every school that is successful, thus earning a greater share of the tuition, another one will spring up to grab some of that lucrative pie. In the end, we would have schools that are responsive to the needs of children and their parents, and not beholden to local, state or national politics.

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Just Imagine

Churchill(Cross posted at Whatif?)

George Santayana told us:  “Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”

What on earth do you do, though, with those who never learned any history in the first place?

A fifth of British teenagers believe Sir Winston Churchill was a fictional character, while many think Sherlock Holmes, King Arthur and Eleanor Rigby were real, a survey shows.

The canvass of 3,000 under-twenties uncovered an extraordinary paucity of basic historical knowledge that older generations take for granted.

Despite his celebrated military reputation, 47 per cent of respondents dismissed the 12th-century crusading English king Richard the Lionheart as fictional.

More than a quarter (27 per cent) thought Florence Nightingale, the pioneering nurse who coaxed injured soldiers back to health in the Crimean War, was a mythical figure.

In contrast, a series of fictitious characters that have featured in British films and literature over the past few centuries were awarded real-life status.

King Arthur is the mythical figure most commonly mistaken for fact – almost two thirds of teens (65 per cent) believe that he existed and led a round table of knights at Camelot.

Sherlock Holmes, the detective, was so convincingly brought to life in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s novels, their film versions and television series, that 58 per cent of respondents believe that the sleuth really lived at 221B Baker Street.

Fifty-one per cent of respondents believed that Robin Hood lived in Sherwood Forest, robbing the rich to give to the poor, while 47 per cent believed Eleanor Rigby was a real person rather than a creation of The Beatles.

If such a high percentage of today’s youth imagine a fictional history instead of what is reality – what would poor Santayana have to say about that!?

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Harming Poor Kids


(Cross Posted at Whatif?)

The next time one of your liberal associates begins to rail about how conservatives are selfish and don’t care about the less fortunate among us – you show them this.

Chicago is gearing up for another round of tumult from the closing of possibly more than a half dozen failing schools. Whatever the Chicago Public Schools administration does to solve this problem, the parents of students have no choice but to cope.

Middle-class families exercise school choice by loading up a moving van and relocating to a suburb with good schools. The rich can afford private schools. Only the poor — often minorities in inner cities with under-performing schools — are stuck with little or no choice.

President Bush tossed out an idea Monday to open up choice for poor kids but, as usual, it was rejected out of hand by Democrats and teacher unions. The $300 million Pell Grants for Kids proposed by the president in his State of the Union message is modeled on the popular Pell Grant program that helps poor kids go to college. Basically, the Bush plan would turn over tax dollars to parents to send their children to private schools.

In other words, vouchers.

Bush’s proposal was shouted down by Democratic lawmakers and unions with the usual complaint that vouchers pull resources away from urban schools.


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Education and Socialization

All four of my children have been homeschooled, and one of the complaints about homeschooling that irritates me the most, is that it is socially damaging.

My children have various social strengths and weaknesses, just as kids I knew in school, and adults I know now. For the life of me the worst argument for public school is the socialization assertion. My children certainly are not less comfortable in society at large, and I think those of you who know them will say they in general are more comfortable with themselves and their place in it than most children their age. At minimum they are doing better than many of my friends did at the same age. Possibly however my children are an exception, but my experience tells me no, homeschoolers are in general doing just fine relative to their institutionalized peers.

Anyway, Wulf over at Atlas Blogged, a teacher himself, explains very well why this complaint is invalid:

As a teacher, this is the aspect of schools that frustrates me the most – parents and students somehow assume that school prepares children for the “real world”, but school is not the “real world” and we go to great lengths as a society to ensure that. In the real world, you don’t have to take gym class if you’re fat or scrawny or just don’t like it. You don’t automatically get promoted when you show minimum competence. You don’t get detention for chewing gum, and you don’t just get two weeks off work if you beat somebody up at the office. You choose which interests to pursue, and when to choose them, and your level of success and happiness is dependent on those choices. I have no idea why people think the artificial society that exists in fifth grade would in some way prepare children for the “real world”. It can be a rewarding, enriching, wonderfully educational experience, but it certainly isn’t automatically these things, nor is it at all clear that public schools are the best way to have these things.

This is in response to this comment from Mom is Teaching that describes a large part of what attracted me to homeschooling:

I feel that the best place to prepare them for college and for life as an adult is by letting them be a part of the real world. Where they have to get to class on time of their own accord and not because of some distant bell ringing or adult lecturing, where they must manage themselves, and where they can direct their own educational futures… [Bryan]’s right. It takes a village. The baker, the farmer, the police, all the people in the real world who haven’t set foot in a classroom since they graduated. Luckily homeschoolers don’t spend 8 hours a day stuck in a brick bubble…they get to be a part of the real world every day.

My children missed some things by not being in “regular” school. However, they had a wider, more open, social experience with people of a much larger range of ages and backgrounds. Everybody else missed all of that. They wouldn’t change it I promise you. Go ahead and read the whole thing, but I’ll make one more observation.

I had a great High School experience, at a very special place. I went to an awful Junior High, and a pretty good elementary school. All public schools.

What struck me as an adult, though, is who came up with the idea that the healthiest way to raise our children was to have me in an environment where the predominant influence on my life was hundreds of other 13 year olds and  a few outnumbered adults trying to ride herd on us. Exactly what about that is expected to necessarily produce a healthy, mature outlook on life? It is a surreal environment in reality.

I think it says a lot for many of the teachers and students that such an unreal environment produces so many productive adults. We ask children to work in ways at age 8 that as adults the most prominent companies in the world know would shut them down. Can you imagine a work environment where your behavior was so circumscribed? Could you get any work done? Sitting in rows in little desks. No leaning back in your chair, no waste basket basketball, getting up and pacing, whatever are your work patterns. That is fine for only the most repetitive and automatic of tasks.

Anyway, as I said, read the whole thing.

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Valdosta State Follow-Up

Following up on my first post here on A Secondhand Conjecture, I’m happy to say that the troubles T. Hayden Barnes had seem to have come to a happy conclusion. The student, who was once a “clear and present danger” is now not so much, and has been allowed to return to his classes. All credit goes to F.I.R.E. and the attorney they directed the student to.

“I would be remiss if I didn’t chalk this one up to professional representation,” said William Creeley, a senior program officer at FIRE. “I think when it was just Hayden presenting his case to the Board of Regents … the board had absolutely no incentive to take him seriously and really evaluate the case on the merits. When lawyers are involved and some media attention is garnered,” he said, it becomes a “different equation.”

(H/T insta)

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A political education

“Your sister thinks Huckabee is great.”

“Mom,” I told the phone, exasperated, “He’s not even Republican!”

My first participation in politics was a proudly worn “I (heart) DRNBGR” button that some son-of-a-Democrat defaced at a high school speech competition. (What gave him the right to wreck my property?) I went with my Mom as an alternate delegate to our local Republican party convention when I was 17. Later that fall I volunteered to work phones to get the vote out.

But even then I recognized that I got my party affiliation from my parents. I recognized that I didn’t know enough to decide between parties. And I couldn’t get answers to simple questions such as, “What’s the difference between Democrats and Republicans?”

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First Bureaucratic Victim of Post VirginiaTech Environment

A sophomore at Valdosta State University was expelled after criticizing his university’s plan to build two new parking garages with student fees.

In a letter apparently slipped under his dorm room door, Ronald Zaccari, the university’s president, wrote that he “present[ed] a clear and present danger to this campus” and referred to the “attached threatening document,” a printout of an image from an album on Barnes’s Facebook profile. The collage featured a picture of a parking garage, a photo of Zaccari, a bulldozer, the words “No Blood for Oil” and the title “S.A.V.E.-Zaccari Memorial Parking Garage,” a reference to a campus environmental group and Barnes’s contention that the president sought to make the structures part of his legacy at the university.

Cited as additional evidence was “a link he posted to his Facebook profile whose accompanying graphic read: “Shoot it. Upload it. Get famous. Project Spotlight is searching for the next big thing. Are you it?”” Which seems obvious to anyone I should think to be referring to filming, and not guns.

Now it seems obvious that the university overreacted here, however, were they even justified at all? Can calling the garage the “Zaccari Memorial Parking Garage” be considered an underhanded threat? Buildings are named for living people all the time, (just ask Robert Byrd), but I think the Memorial part is always used posthumously. Rather than investigate further, the university decided to simply expel the troublesome student. Couple that with their seemingly illiterate reading of the other “evidence”, and it seems obvious that the zero tolerance policies have struck again.

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“Apparently, in France, demand curves do not slope downwards”

Megan McArdle comments on a piece in The Economist regarding the appalling state of economics education in France and Germany:

When the 35 hour work week was proposed, I was talking to someone in the French consulate who did economics and trade. “Aren’t you worried that this will raise employer’s costs and lead to business failures or higher unemployment?” I asked.

“That’s just Anglo-saxon economics” was his rather stunning reply.

Text books

The Economist article quotes (but mis-links) another article by Stefan Theil in Foreign Policy, which examined how French and German children are being misinformed:

Millions of children are being raised on prejudice and disinformation. Educated in schools that teach a skewed ideology, they are exposed to a dogma that runs counter to core beliefs shared by many other Western countries. They study from textbooks filled with a doctrine of dissent, which they learn to recite as they prepare to attend many of the better universities in the world. Extracting these children from the jaws of bias could mean the difference between world prosperity and menacing global rifts. And doing so will not be easy. But not because these children are found in the madrasas of Pakistan or the state-controlled schools of Saudi Arabia. They are not. Rather, they live in two of the world’s great democracies—France and Germany….

Just as schools teach a historical narrative, they also pass on “truths” about capitalism, the welfare state, and other economic principles that a society considers self-evident. In both France and Germany, for instance, schools have helped ingrain a serious aversion to capitalism. In one 2005 poll, just 36 percent of French citizens said they supported the free-enterprise system, the only one of 22 countries polled that showed minority support for this cornerstone of global commerce. In Germany, meanwhile, support for socialist ideals is running at all-time highs—47 percent in 2007 versus 36 percent in 1991.

Theil goes on to quote some German and French textbooks that contain jaw-dropping in accuracies and propaganda, such as the following from a French economics text:

“Economic growth imposes a hectic form of life, producing overwork, stress, nervous depression, cardiovascular disease and, according to some, even the development of cancer,” asserts the three-volume Histoire du XXe siècle, a set of texts memorized by countless French high school students as they prepare for entrance exams to Sciences Po and other prestigious French universities. The past 20 years have “doubled wealth, doubled unemployment, poverty, and exclusion, whose ill effects constitute the background for a profound social malaise,” the text continues. Because the 21st century begins with “an awareness of the limits to growth and the risks posed to humanity [by economic growth],” any future prosperity “depends on the regulation of capitalism on a planetary scale.” Capitalism itself is described at various points in the text as “brutal,” “savage,” “neoliberal,” and “American.” This agitprop was published in 2005, not in 1972….

Only one third of the course is about companies and markets, and even those bits include extensive sections on unions, government economic policy, the limits of markets, and the dangers of growth. The overall message is that economic activity has countless undesirable effects from which citizens must be protected.

No wonder, then, that the French default attitude is to be suspicious of market forces and private entrepreneurship, not to mention any policies that would strengthen them. Start-ups, Histoire du XXe siècle tells its students, are “audacious enterprises” with “ill-defined prospects.” Then it links entrepreneurs with the tech bubble, the Nasdaq crash, and mass layoffs across the economy. (Think “creative destruction” without the “creative.”)

Indeed, it shouldn’t be any wonder. If all one ever hears about “the market” and “privatisation” is that they are malevolent forces from which people need protection, how is it possible to comprehend the concept that people working to better their own lives, and incidentally the lives of those around them, comprise “the market”? Ideas such as the invisible hand in wealth creation providing opportunity and benefit for all must surely come across as about as realistic as the Tooth Fairy leaving money for your used teeth sounds to a twelve year old.

Germany’s students are not faring any better with their economics education:

Germans teach their young people a similar economic narrative, with a slightly different emphasis. The focus is on instilling the corporatist and collectivist traditions of the German system. Although each of Germany’s 16 states sets its own education requirements, nearly all teach through the lens of workplace conflict between employer and employee, the central battle being over wages and work rules. If there’s one unifying characteristic of German textbooks, it’s the tremendous emphasis on group interests, the traditional social-democratic division of the universe into capital and labor, employer and employee, boss and worker. Textbooks teach the minutiae of employer-employee relations, workplace conflict, collective bargaining, unions, strikes, and worker protection. Even a cursory look at the country’s textbooks shows that many are written from the perspective of a future employee with a union contract. Bosses and company owners show up in caricatures and illustrations as idle, cigar-smoking plutocrats, sometimes linked to child labor, Internet fraud, cell-phone addiction, alcoholism, and, of course, undeserved layoffs. The successful, modern entrepreneur is virtually nowhere to be found.

German students will be well-versed in many subjects upon graduation; one topic they will know particularly well is their rights as welfare recipients. One 10th-grade social studies text titled FAKT has a chapter on “What to do against unemployment.” Instead of describing how companies might create jobs, the section explains how those without jobs can organize into self-help groups and join weekly anti-reform protests “in the tradition of the East German Monday demonstrations” (which in 1989 helped topple the communist dictatorship). The not-so-subtle subtext? Jobs are a right to be demanded from the government. The same chapter also details various welfare programs, explains how employers use the threat of layoffs as a tactic to cut pay, and concludes with a long excerpt from the platform of the German Union Federation, including the 30-hour work week, retirement at age 60, and redistribution of the work pie by splitting full-time into part-time jobs. No market alternative is taught. When fakt presents the reasons for unemployment, it blames computers and robots. In fact, this is a recurring theme in German textbooks—the Internet will turn workers into “anonymous code” and kill off interpersonal communication.

In short, it sounds as if Germany is teaching its students how to negotiate its sclerotic bureaucracy rather than anything of historic or scientific value. As The Economist comments:

We rightly deplore the politicisation of the curriculum when it comes to “intelligent design” crackpottery. We should deplore politicised psuedoscience all the more when it so directly threatens the material well-being of a country’s people. If this is all as Mr Theil says it is, then the Germans and French really ought to be ashamed by the failure of their educational system to teach anything remotely approximating decent social science. These texts sounds so profoundly ignorant that, again, I truly hope that Mr Theil is overselling their importance.

Indeed. RTWT.

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Some Economic Perspective

Hat tip: Greg Mankiw

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The Ultimate Resource Returns

ur logo

Starting this Friday, November 2nd, Free to Choose Media is continuing the work of its inspiration, Milton Friedman, of bringing the benefits of freedom to the people of this world, including its most remote corners. A new documentary, “The Ultimate Resource” which aired last Spring on HDNet is now coming to a wider audience through PBS.

I previewed the DVD and it is an extraordinary piece of work. The stories are inspiring, and an antidote to much of the pessimism inspired by the lack of effectiveness of traditional foreign aid programs, bypassing corrupt governments and putting tools in the hands of the people who need it.

You can check to see if your local station will be carrying it (and feel free to contact them and encourage them to do so if they are not) and then check your local listings for the time and date in your market.

If you have your own blog or know bloggers who might be interested in this, let them know. Send them a link to me, or directly to the Free to Choose Media website.

In short, they travel to China, Bangladesh, Estonia, Ghana, and Peru and show examples of how people (thank you Julian Simon) – when given the incentives and the tools – are proving they can apply their free choice, intelligence, imagination and spirit to dramatically advance their well-being and that of their families and communities. The program features 2006 Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus, Hernando de Soto, James Tooley and Johan Norberg.

Here is the introduction to the program.

They have also provided us with the entire segment on Ghana which discusses education, specifically school choice.

You can view more excerpts and other information here. Teachers can get the video (and lots of other resources) for free at


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Yet More Indoctrination

I know the left takes its For The ChildrenTM rhetoric seriously. However, I was not aware just how pervasively their anti-capitalism, anti-Bush, anti-war, and anti-military agenda was being pushed on our kids. Nickelodeon is the latest indoctrination arena where a “news” program hosted by Linda Ellerby offers stories such those found at this link. Watch the whole video.

Army Wife provides this rundown of the program:

Pay particular attention to the second and fourth [Ed. - she actually means the fifth] stories.

This Nickelodeon “news program”, is not a news program. It is a leftist primer on how to be a “left-wing radical REBEL”.


Ms. Ellerby uses leftist propaganda buzz words like “taking on the establishment”.

She shows a group of “tweenagers” walking around in orange jumpsuits, hooded and yelling from a bullhorn. “We are not ok, with people being tortured by American soldiers!” “Are cooperation’s priority over human lives?”

There is also a call for the impeachment of the President in the second segment of the video, “democracy is at stake because of the President violating the Constitution”.

The fourth [Ed. - fifth] segment of video shows another tweenager, who has put together a video of wounded Iraqi children, with the song Jesus Loves Me playing over it. This teenager blames America, the military, for what is happening in Iraq. This young girl says “she finds, videos and facts on the Internet” to show what is REALLY happening in Iraq. I am guessing she is getting these images from Al Jazeera.

The foolish and ill-informed children featured in these stories are held up as examples for Nickelodeon’s viewers. Never once is their strident activism examined in any critical fashion, nor their lock-step views challenged. Corporations are bad and exploit people. Soldiers are torturing prisoners. Pres. Bush is violating the Constitution. Standardized tests are (yet another) form of institutionalized racism. America and her military are solely to blame for the death, maiming and misery of Iraqi children. These are the unquestioned ideals promoted by Ellerby’s program. That is brain-washing pure and simple, and I find it disturbing at best.

Just to be clear, I don’t have a problem with kids being presented with these sorts of issues. They’re much quicker on the uptake than a lot of people realize. It is the uncritical presentation of the leftist agenda that I resent. Feeding kids these ideas in manner that implies there are no reasonable arguments against the stated positions renders the Nickelodeon program nothing more than propaganda.

And it makes no difference here that the children featured in the stories are deemed “rebels”; in fact it makes the problem worse. Ellerby seems to suggest that radical leftist activism is the only way to make the world better. The implication is that corporations, capitalism, the military, and of course George Bush are all part of the problem for which these rebel kids are offering rational solutions. There is not even a whiff of a suggestion that the kids might be relying on false premises or poor data. Instead, they are shown accomplishing wonderful changes in their worlds, by encouraging adults to adopt their ideas. The result is the unescapable conclusion that those ideas are not only reasonable, but desirable. That’s not a recipe for critical thinking. It’s a method of indoctrination.

I know one channel my kids will never watch.

[HT: Newsbusters]

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Closed Minded Bigots

I found this post very apt to a situation we’ve highlighted here on this blog. I’ve noticed this time and time again, and have shut off even trying to change minds when I encounter this behavior. Best to point it out, and move on. You know, really move on, not moving on by banging my head against the wall about dissatisfaction over something that happened years ago.

This coincides with my own experience, not in the university, but in my personal encounters with liberals and those on the Left. Their misconceptions about the Right are rife, and include the very bunch of attributes Prager lists as visions the Left has of virtually everyone on the Right: “mean-spirited, war-loving, greedy, bigoted, racist, xenophobic, Islamophobic, homophobic, sexist, intolerant and oblivious to human suffering.”

The fact that I don’t seem to demonstrate these characteristics and yet I’m on the other side of many arguments tends to throw my listeners into a sort of turmoil that leads them to yell a bit and then close the conversation down, perhaps because it is just too threatening (some of them have actually said as much). The sort of cognitive dissonance that Prager describes is a very unpleasant sensation, one that most people will avoid like the plague.

And I, likewise, have come to shy away from such conversations these days, not because of cognitive dissonance or the idea that my mind will be changed—the arguments I encounter on the Left are hardly new to me—but because I’ve learned that these exchanges almost never lead to anything constructive. Perhaps this is because those with whom I tend to engage are usually quite a bit older than the average college student, whose ideas are still in flux—in fact, they are usually more or less my contemporaries. By that age, the vast majority of people have political beliefs that are set in stone.

And the only cognitive dissonance I experience when talking to them is one I’ve finally adjusted to, although it shocked me at the outset: the fact that liberals/Leftists, for all their vaunted open-mindedness and tolerance of different attitudes and opinions, are every bit as closed-minded as they presume the Right to be, if not more.

You would think that people who were open minded and confident about both their ideas, and their ability to defend their ideas would welcome people they disagree with in their forum. But, I guess, unless they can shout and make a spectacle of themselves, they aren’t that interested in reasoned debate.

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Little Rock Central: 50 Years Later — Indoctrination

I hadn’t ever seen this series before, but I have to admit that I find this stuff pretty damn scary:

That’s just a snippet of what is apparently being taught to our kids of high school age. Not only are white kids being denigrated as being overprivileged and unappreciative of “what they have”, as the Principal puts it, but black kids are being enouraged to think that the deck is officially stacked against them:

That was a public high school teacher promoting the idea of segregation. Is this what we really want? Is this the progeny of the Civil Rights Movement? Somehow I think that Dr. King would disagree.

Honestly, when I see these sorts of things, I worry about how they legitmize the White Power movements among other racist organizations. If the goal is to categorize everyone according to race, and dole out government privileges according to such standards, then how is it possible that racism will ever die? The totally predictable result is that, like in prison, people line up in fealty to their skin color. If we teach our children that this is the optimal result, what advancement is even possible? The only realistic result is a race war. Is that what we want? More concretely, is that what we’re teaching our children? If “Little Rock: 50 Years Later” is any indication, then the answer is: “Yes. Yes we are.”

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Shift Happens

Sometimes information like this makes me sit back and think “whoa” (sounding to much like neo in the matrix.) Not only is this a small world (which we often forget,) but it is becoming an exponentially complex and interconnected one.

glumbert – Shift Happens

The Singularity is Near.

Heck, I read sci-fi, and try to keep up with advances in computers and software, and I am often left open mouthed at some of “magic” happening now. One of my favorite course in college had us OO programming in a language I’ve lone forgotten (SMALLTALK I think.) My project was making a virtual robot move around a virtual world, responding to simple typed commands. Now, you can get a LEGO kit to attempt the same.

H/T to my favorite strategic thinker for pointing this out…

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Bill Gates: Economic Piker

In inflation adjusted terms Bill Gates isn’t close to the wealthiest American ever. In fact, he comes in 13th(small pdf) and only about 1/6th as wealthy as numero uno. Don’t let your kids read the next fact:

The average net worth in 2006 of Forbes 400 members without a college degree was $5.96 billion; those with a degree averaged $3.14 billion.  Four of the five richest Americans — Bill Gates, casino owner Sheldon Adelson, Oracle’s Larry Ellison, and Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen…– are college dropouts.

Of course when students used to bring up Bill Gates as an example of why college wasn’t important I always pointed out they had a better opportunity before they left school. From All the Money in the World — How the Forbes 400 Make — And Spend — Their Fortunes, by Peter W. Bernstein and Annalyn Swan. More at Marginal Revolution.

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The steady march to totalitarianism

Chavez begins bending another set of private institutions to his will.

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UC Irvine law school fires him for being too liberal?

About a week ago, Erwin Chemerinsky, the well-known constitutional law scholar at Duke, signed a contract to be the inaugural Dean of the new law school at the University of California at Irvine.

Yesterday, the Chancellor of the University of Cailfornia at Irvine flew to Durham and fired Chemerinsky, saying that he had not been aware of how Chemerinsky’s political views would make him a target for criticism from conservatives.

Chemerinsky isn’t some starry eyed radical, and one of the most prominent legal scholars in the country. One week and you cave to conservatives in California? Truly puzzling. Hat tip: Instapundit.

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My stupid state

I love Louisiana, but I can only argue about degree (not that I should) when it comes to what JR Ball has to say in the Baton Rouge Business Report (a truly wonderful publication, one of the nations best):

Of all the alarming stats and reports regularly published about the economic future of our state, none is more sobering than the assessment by public school czar Paul Pastorek, who told a Rotary Club of Baton Rouge audience last week that Louisiana’s public school system is an abysmal failure.

What else can you conclude when Pastorek says the state’s four best performing districts—including top-rated Zachary—are no better than average. As for the rest? They’re either dismal (a D rating) or a failure (an F). It should come as little surprise that East Baton Rouge schools are firmly in the failure category.

Never in the 25 years I’ve now lived here have I heard a more blunt and depressing view of the state we’re in.

Seriously, it’s scary when the state’s new superintendent of education admits our government is absolutely pathetic at its most important obligation—providing a quality public education for its residents.

Four mediocre districts and 64 others that stink? That’s what we get for a $31 billion budget? Are you kidding me?

Of course there is a bright side:

I can hear you—a 50-something C-level executive with a trophy wife and two kids—saying, “Well, that’s pretty bad, but my kids go to (insert name of private school) and they’re on a fast track for college.” (You’re not alone; Louisiana has the nation’s highest rate of private school attendance.) [ed. My emphasis]

True, and we have a pretty good private school system, so our population as a whole isn’t as bad off as the statistics say. However, that bright side has a pretty low impact because:

Well, enjoy your kids while they’re here because yet another study shows Louisiana is one of the top 15 states at producing college graduates only to see them bolt for professional careers any place other than here. As for importing college-educated talent, no state is worse than ours.

In summary, our best and brightest leave and those failed by our state stay here forever.

He isn’t just griping and complaining, or calling for empty solutions such as more money, more “support” or any of the other things which haven’t made a difference. JR is a convert:

Against that backdrop, how can anyone, especially members of the East Baton Rouge Parish School Board and teacher unions, offer any reasonable argument against vouchers, charter schools and other forms of choice? Why do school board members keep telling us that it’s getting better when it’s only getting worse?

They lie because they know we don’t care.

If only our states leadership – and I am including civic organizations, non profits and major media outlets- were so blunt and clear headed. Start over root and branch.

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Is Income Inequality such a bad thing?

Gary Becker and Kevin Murphy:

Income inequality in China substantially wid­ened, particularly between households in the city and the countryside, after China began its rapid rate of economic development around 1980. The aver­age urban resident now makes 3.2 times as much as the average rural resident, and among city dwellers alone, the top 10 percent makes 9.2 times as much as the bottom 10 percent.[1] But at the same time that inequality rose, the number of Chinese who live in poverty fell—from 260 million in 1978 to 42 mil­lion in 1998.[2] Despite the widening gap in incomes, rapid economic development dra­matically improved the lives of China’s poor.


This brings us to our punch line. Should an increase in earnings inequality due primarily to higher rates of return on education and other skills be considered a favorable rather than an unfavor­able development? We think so. Higher rates of return on capital are a sign of greater productivity in the economy, and that inference is fully applica­ble to human capital as well as to physical capital. The initial impact of higher returns to human cap­ital is wider inequality in earnings (the same as the initial effect of higher returns on physical capital), but that impact becomes more muted and may be reversed over time as young men and women invest more in their human capital.

Read the whole thing.

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“The Ultimate Resource” Debut’s Tonight

For more on this television event at 10PM EST on HDNet you can go here and also see another excerpt on video here. This clip introduces you to James Tooley, Hernando De Soto and Muhammad Yunus whose work this show covers and explains. Milton Friedman’s legacy continues at Free to Chose Media.

Spread the word.

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“… is this what we want …?”

Nicholas Winset is a professor at Emmanuel College in Boston, Mass. Or, at least, he was until a few days ago:

A professor at Emmanuel College has been fired for his in-class re-enactment of the Virginia Tech shootings.

Nicholas Winset was terminated and permanently barred from the Boston campus after a lecture he gave on Wednesday showed the gunman could have been stopped if another student was carrying a gun, according to a Boston Herald report.

According to Winset, he used a magic marker as a gun in his re-enactment of the Va. Tech shootings during a discussion on gun control. The college fired him soon thereafter. The ex-professor explains himself in a series of YouTube videos which you can fin below the jump.

Some might reasonably question what gun control has to do with the financial accounting class Winset was teaching, and in fact I’m wondering that myself. Winset claims that the gun control topic came up in the context of the ethics issues and a general discussion of non-violent philosophies that are often made a part of his lectures (and to which he says that he ascribes). Since he teaches taught at a Jesuit school it is not terribly unusual to have such moral issues raised even in a financial accounting class. However, while the school has thusfar declined comment, it seems pretty clear that he was fired not for having off-topic discussions in class (indeed, the semester ends in just few weeks), but because of the content of those discussions.

Now, for all I know, Winset is a horrible teacher and a jackass to boot. If so, then the school should have gotten rid of him well before this. To fire him for taking a postion opposed to gun control, encouraging his students to stand up for themselves in the face of violence and to refuse to live in fear, seems petty and unhelpful to the students.

To be sure, Emmanuel College did not infringe on Mr. Winset’s First Amendment rights since it is a private institution. Depending on his contract (he was an adjunct professor) and state law, I assume they could fire him for any reason or no reason at all. According to Winset, he was fired for promoting something contrary to the Catholic teachings upon which the school is based (although, if you know anything about Jesuits, I’m hard pressed to comprehend what those teachings are). The Catholic Church teaches that life is a precious gift from God, thus abortion and capital punishment are forbidden. It would seem to follow from that, therefore, that life is worth protecting, even if a gun is necessary to do so. Whatever the reason, the college had the right to get rid of Winset.

The more important issue is, as the title of this post asks, is that what we want? Do we really want professors fired for taking controversial views? How does that help the students? College students should be learning how to think critically and they can’t learn to do that unless they are exposed to a variety of views, most of which should be controversial. Otherwise college is nothing more than an indoctrination center.

Some will argue that the right screams bloody murder and pitches a fit whenever some lefty professor spouts something controversial, and immediately calls for such professors to be tossed out on their keister, so this is just desserts. To a certain extent they are right. They will point to Ward “Roosting Chickens” Churchill as an example of someone spouting controversial and ridiculous things, or to Kevin Barrett, the University of Wisonsin visiting professor who teaches that 9/11 was an inside job. But Churchill was fired for plagiarism and Barrett wasn’t fired at all. Moreover, the issues staked out by those two were a far cry more controversial than opposing gun control. Nevertheless, when professors are fired simply for expressing a view on a controversial subject, the school sullies its reputation as a learning institution and the students education is severly devalued. In short, universities should be in the business of teaching students how to learn, not what to learn.

Oh, about the title of this post. It’s a quote from aikoaiko posting at … Democratic Underground. When denizens of DU comprehend how ridiculous it is for someone to be fired for arguing that gun control is not such a great idea, you really have to wonder why Emmanuel College can’t figure it out.

Below are Mr. Winset’s video explanations of the incident: (more…)

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Shift Happens: No more boring statistics

(Via: Pajamas) Please watch this. In understanding the world our ignorance is a problem, but greater still are the things which we believe we know about the world that we do not. Luckily for you, this is entertaining. Within minutes you will learn you probably are as well informed as Sweden’s top students and the Nobel Prize committee, but less so than a chimpanzee. I will also first give you a reprise of “Shift Happens.” – Shift Happens

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Computer Language Pioneer John Backus Passes

From the New York Times via Pajamas Media, I learned that John Backus died on Saturday. Now, the name probably doesn’t mean anything to most people. In fact, it didn’t mean anything to me, until I saw the computer language the team he led created. FORTRAN

Now, FORTRAN may be considered ancient history by many computer programmers these days, much like paper tape, and punch cards. But, and I hope I’m not dating myself to much, this was the 2nd or 3rd computer language I learned in college.

Fortran, released in 1957, was “the turning point” in computer software, much as the microprocessor was a giant step forward in hardware, according to J.A.N. Lee, a leading computer historian.

Fortran changed the terms of communication between humans and computers, moving up a level to a language that was more comprehensible by humans. So Fortran, in computing vernacular, is considered the first successful higher-level language.

Mr. Backus and his youthful team, then all in their 20s and 30s, devised a programming language that resembled a combination of English shorthand and algebra. Fortran, short for Formula Translator, was very similar to the algebraic formulas that scientists and engineers used in their daily work. With some training, they were no longer dependent on a programming priesthood to translate their science and engineering problems into a language a computer would understand.

Funny thing about computer programming, it is as much art as science. Translating what a program should do, to how the computer should do it, isn’t always straightforward. Often based on often vague requirements from users who just want things done faster, and better. Many of the people who I’ve seen throughout my career have only had the foggiest notion of how to do this. To me it seemed as if they knew the syntax of a language, but not the grammar needed to make cogent sentences. I have to wonder what exactly they are being taught in their classes.

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Schools & Social Engineering

Podcast Follow-Up:

One of the articles that I mentioned in the podcast (which, looking back on it, was only tangentially related to the topic at hand, and only in the kindest sense of the term “tangential”) involved the Hilltop Children’s Center in Seattle. When discussing how the education industry had over-dosed on boosting kids’ self-esteem, I was reminded of the blatantly anti-capitalist and anti-property social experiment conducted at Hilltop over a bunch of Legos. Maureen Martin described the ordeal at TCS Daily (HT: Ilya Somin):

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“Milton Friedman Day”

California and Chicago both declared today “Milton Friedman Day.” And PBS is going to air his biography, “The Power of Choice” tonight.

Friedman’s impact on history isn’t limited to economic prosperity. Joseph Bast, president of the Heartland Institute, explains Friedman’s legacy: “It was explaining the relationship between economic freedom and all our other civil freedoms. What Milton Friedman taught was that without economic freedom, all the other liberties that we take for granted either cannot exist or are easily swept away.”

H/T Freakonomics Blog

A couple of interesting links I found while researching this post…

Milton Friedman got it right, and Plato got it wrong.

That is the message that I take away from Clifford Winston’s exhaustive survey of the actual results of well-intentioned government policies aimed at correcting market failures. He looks at policies designed to address all of the ills that economists and others have identified with markets — monopoly power, imperfect information, externalities, and so on. Government tends to make things worse, not better.

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Nobody’s Fault But The Blogs

I haven’t weighed in on the Duke rape scandal primarily because it’s been handled quite thoroughly elsewhere. However, today I read (via Insty) what can only be described as a model of supreme self-deception and insipid anlalysis:

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Religion in Academia

From Robin Hanson’s fascinating blog, Overcoming Bias, I found this:

Last November we learned that the US public believes in God more than college professors, who believe more than professors at elite schools:

Almost a third answered “none” when asked their religion — more than twice the percentage found in the general population. Science professors were the least religious. Accounting professors were the most religious. More than half the professors at places other than so-called “elite” universities said they absolutely believed in God. About a third of the professors at elite schools took that position. … About 30 percent of community college professors considered intelligent design as a serious scientific alternative. Fewer than 6 percent of professors at elite universities took that position.

If all we know about a view was that professors held it more, and elite professors even more so, we would be inclined to favor that view. But other considerations can be relevant; if we knew elite professors favored increasing elite research funding, we might attribute that to self-interest bias. So should we favor elite professors’ views on God, or can we identify other relevant considerations?

There were a lot of responses from around the web, and I would love to hear from our readers. One thing I noticed in the responses that was insufficiently debated, the possibility that elite professors and the academic community in general discriminate against the religious. Do academics at elite universities automatically mark down as a negative strong religious belief, especially in the biological sciences? Does that (speculative) bias affect the likelihood of academics to hold to religious belief? This is not an assertion, but a question.

Robin Later added some potential explanations for the correlation:

  1. Information – Elite academics have better information and analysis.
  2. Social pressure – Random variations in local social pressure are a generic explanation for all behavior differences.
  3. Calm – Tyler says the academic neutral tone fits badly with charisma.
  4. Unfeeling – Academics prefer explicit reasoning, and neglect our feelings, which some call our best evidence for God.
  5. Safety – Anders suggests the safe cushy academic world doesn’t inspire fear, which inspires hope in God.
  6. Contrarian – Academics distinguish themselves from others via differing beliefs.
  7. Jealousy – God would be a threat to academics intellectual authority.
  8. Mystery – God is too hard to understand for academics to make progress using him as an explanation for things.

In terms of what these theories suggest about what to believe: 1 favors no God 6,7,8 favor God, 4 is hard to interpret, and the rest seem neutral.

Discuss. Here is the discussion from Marginal Revolution, Stephen Bainbridge, Outside the Beltway and over at Jane Galt’s place.
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From the Department of “No Kidding”

I went to get a copy of my local paper today, and while I was there I glanced over at the cover of USA Today to see what they were reporting, and I saw this headline:

Costs keep students from first-choice colleges


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