The Education Conundrum

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Published on The Doomstead Diner on August 21, 2016


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A few weeks ago we saw a NEW Collapse Problem crop up, which is that apparently we have a GLUT of Lawyers! (this article has been on ice for a while due to other pressing collapse issues needing attentinon at Sunday Brunch) Similar to Chinese over-capacity in Steel production, here in the FSoA we graduate too many Lawyers!  These folks are graduating with upwards of $200K in Goobermint Insured Debt, and at least half the time they can't find a job as a Lawyer and end up pitching Cappucinos at Starbucks after graduation.  Even with a $15/hr Minimum Wage, you're not going to pay off a $200K debt in any reasonable period of time.

The NYT wrote about this problem, focusing down on one particular mid-level Law Skule which has been trying to survive over the last decade or so, though sadly for them the number of suckers applying for spots in their classes has been steadily decreasing here.

“People are not being helped by going to these schools,” Kyle McEntee, executive director of the advocacy group Law School Transparency, said of Valparaiso and other low-tier law schools. “The debt is really high, bar passage rates are horrendous, employment is horrendous.”

Bad Newz of course for a lot of folks currently graduating from Law Skule, and Charles Hugh Smith over on Of Two Minds covered this problem with a GREAT SOLUTION!  Shut down more Law Skules and get rid of the over-supply of Lawyers!

The only solution for the surplus of workers with law degrees is a massive, permanent reduction in the issuance of new law graduates.

CHS further informs us in this article that it's not just too many Lawyers we are graduating, we also are graduating too many Ph.D.s, M.D.s, D.D.S.s etc.  We just don't have enough well paying JOBS for all these well educated people, so CLEARLY in CHS's Humble Opinion, the only solution for this is to shut down these schools and get rid of the glut!

Except…wait a minute…

Education-FAILING REPORT CARD-2Just about everyone in the MSM and the Blogosphere too says that our big problem is how our Education system has failed and how we can't compete with the Chinese because we don't have enough Smart and Well Trained people who can fill jobs in the High Tech world!

Which one is it here?  Do we have TOO MANY well educated people or TOO FEW educated people?

You can quite obviously drop this down a level to the Baccalaureate Degree.  Why are we graduating so many people with a BA when they don't need it for any jobs that are available for them to take?  I mean really, you don't need a degree in Petroleum Engineering to concoct a Frappucino at Starbucks, right?  You don't need an IT degree to flip burgers at Mickey's Ds either!  These however are the GROWING employment “opportunities” in the society, while those nice high paying jobs as Corporate Lawyers and Energy Industry Shills are ever decreasing here.  So by Charles Hugh Smith logic, obviously what we need to do here is shut down more Colleges also! But why stop there?  Face it, you don't need a High School diploma either to Wash Cars or Cut Lawns or serve the tables at Red Robin or Fridays or stock the shelves at Walmart.  Hell, you don't even need to know how to add or subtract!  The POS terminal does that for you!  About all you really need to know is how to read and how to sign your W-2 form for the IRS.  Otherwise you basically fulfill a Robotic Function in the society, which of course is ALSO replaceable by actual ROBOTS!

So now with the cost of Minimum Wage workers rising, of course the SOLUTION to this one is to substitute real Robots for the low skill set workers, which of course further depletes the number of jobs available even for Elementary School Graduates!  Why bother going to Skule AT ALL?  Just fuck it, it is clearly a WASTE OF TIME!

Not just a waste of time, but a waste of money too! WTF are we all paying HUGE TAXES to keep these fucking Elementary, Middle and High Skules open?  The WASTE is incredible!  Bloated Administrations, massive Pension obligations, this is just a total MONEY SINK!  The damn Teachers and their Unions allow sub-standard teachers to keep teaching also!

So quite obviously here under the Charles Hugh Smith Memorial Economic Recovery Program, what we need to do is get rid of all the schools and all the teachers!  Shrink it down, let the Supply match the Demand! LOL.  The “Free Market” should determine who gets an education and who does not!

Of course, I am stretching this one out to its logical conclusion and doing some exaggeration, and even a dimwit Capitalista Libertarian like CHS would unlikely be in favor of eliminating all schools down through HS level.  Although not sure on that one, perhaps he would support that idea, as long as for pay Private Schools were made available for those who could afford them.

This IS though the fundamental argument that is being pitched out.  We have too many schools graduating too many people with advanced degrees, and we don't NEED them!  So therefore, we should eliminate the schools in order to reduce the number of graduates in order to meet the actual demand for such graduates.  Just like the Chinese should shutter over capacity in Steel and Coal Mining.

If you accept this idea as TRUE, then just how exactly is it that there is any social mobility whatsoever left in the society?  If you shut down Law Schools and Med Schools and Dental Schools in order to reduce the number of graduates from these institutions, then HTF do people enter those professions, since they are Gate-Kept and require a degree from such an institution to practice? In addition, if there is truly a “glut” of such folks, then WTF are their salaries so high?  My lawyer billed out at something like $400/hr for his work on my WC case, which thankfully I did not have to pay but the losing Insurance Company had to pay, which also of course was very gratifying for me and profitable for my lawyer. LOL.  My Neurosurgeon charged something like $1000 every time I stepped through his office door, whether I saw him or not, and with the exception of one time for about 10 minutes in the office I never did.  He only showed up for a reasonable period of time of like 3 hours when he carved up my neck during the surgery, although I didn't see him then either since the Anaesthesiologist had me knocked out cold.  I did not see him ever afterward either, just Nurses and apprentice Doctors on the neurosurgical ward. For this 3 hour period, I got charged around $150K, or $50K/hr.  Even accounting for the Neurosurgeon, his Assistant, the Anaesthesiologist, 2 Nurses & 2 Technicians, HTF do you come up with a bill like that for 3 hours on the table?  Somebody is padding the bill, that is how.

If there truly were too many people graduating Med Skule with Neurosurgery degrees, Neurosurgeons would not be able to charge anywhere near such outrageous fees.  If there truly were too many people graduating from Dental Skules, dentists couldn't charge their outrageous fees either.

Unlike the Lawyers though, the Dentists caught on to this trend a lot earlier and began shutting down Dental Skules in the 90s, at least according to CHS.  So an artificial scarcity is maintained in order to keep the salaries up.  Unfortunately for the Dentists though, fewer people all the time can afford their charges, and so more people like me head for Mexico to get Dental Work done, at about 20 cents on the dollar there. lol.  In Alaska, a Dentist will charge $300 to yank a tooth out of your mouth.  Down in Mexico, an equally well trained Dentist will do the same thing for $25.  This is a good deal less than 20 cents on the dollar, but for stuff like implants it is higher so I averaged it out. lol.

The Doctors are not doing much better here, their internship system is in complete dissaray, and Ph.Ds even in the science and tech fields are not doing too good.  So why do people continue to go into these programs and work up huge debt bills they are unlikely to ever be able to pay off, until 25 years down the line the debt supposedly will be “forgiven”?

Two main reasons.

First off the myth still exists that Education is the ticket out from a low paid job and into the Upper Middle Class or even the Upper Class of the society.  Although your chances are SLIM these days of landing one of these high paying jobs even with the education, without the education the chances are NONE.  So you essentially roll the dice with a $200K gamble that you will be one of the lucky few who gets one of the few plum jobs still left out there. Practically speaking however, those jobs are going only to graduates from Top Tier Universities like Harvard, Yale, MIT, Princeton, Columbia etc.  If you went to Indiana State University, you are pretty much SOL unless you were Valedictorian, and there can be only one of those in a graduating class.  The cost for those top tier universities also have gone through the roof, so you don't even have to go to grad skule to work up a $200K bill.  Tuition, Room & Board at Harvard is now over $60K.  That's $240K for a 4 year undergraduate degree.  You really want one of those top Wall Street jobs, it's another $159K for a 2 year MBA, ringing up a Grand Total of right around $400K.  You better land a job at Goldman pretty quick here!  I'm not even sure you can do this entirely on loans, I think you are capped at $200K.  So this Career Path is pretty much only for kids from already rich parents who can pay the freight out of pocket.  Say good-by Social Mobility!

The second main reason the Students are taking out these loans is because it delays going out into a workforce where there aren't even decent full time jobs, and the loans provide them money to live on during the 4 years they are studying….something.  I'm sure by now many of them realize that when they finally do walk out the University Door their Sheepskin won't do a damn thing to help their job chances, but at least they get 4 years to learn something or party or both.

So, clearly here the model is failing, and the process of shutting down professional schools is beginning, and smaller private colleges are also shutting down.  The Public Universities are still getting funded by taxation, but even their Tuitions have ratcheted up so you'll walk out of one of them with a decent size debt also.  Bernie Sanders promised a FREE College Education for everyone, but precisely how he would have funded this is an open question.  Bernie is not getting elected anyhow, so it's doubtful we see this solution anytime too soon.

With public universities themselves requiring students take on a lot of debt, more of them will decide to forgo college, resulting in smaller numbers of students, further stressing the University budgets.  More professors will be laid off to close the budget gap, and fewer spots for newly graduated Ph.D.s will be available, leading to a still larger glut of the “over-educated” on the unemployment lines.  This is a typical Deflationary Spiral.

So what is the Model for the future here?

Well, if Politicians would admit the current model is failing, we might have a chance here, but of course they will not admit that.  The myth that a College Education is the ticket to a high paying career needs to be maintained.  Besides that the Banks also need students to keep taking out loans so they stay afloat, with the assumption here that Da Goobermint will eventually Bail Out all the delinquent loans.  So they'll keep feeding the Zombie as long as they can.

In reality, the entire education system past Elementary School should be scrapped.  Once they have learned the 3Rs, students should be given Internships, beginning with learning how to grow food with permaculture, hydroponics and aquaculture. Then an internship in building shelters from avilable materials and scavenging and repurposing old equipment.  Then an internship in food handling and preservation and butchering animals. Then an internship in Stone Tool Knapping for the future when all the old metal tools have rusted away. After that they can do an internship in Medicinal Herbs and basic First Aid including setting broken bones and treating gunshot wounds, which there are bound to be a lot of until the ammo runs out.  Then they can do an internship in basic dentistry, how to do tooth extractions and how to mend broken teeth and make appliances like bridges and dentures.

Each of these internships could be 1-2 years in length, working under the tutelage of a current expert in the various fields, or as close to an expert as you can find anyhow.  So if you start at Age 13 after graduating from the 6th Grade, here is your SUN☼ Foundation Internship Education Plan: 1- Food Production- 2 years- Age 13-15
2- Shelter Building- 1 Year- Age 15-16
3- Scavenging and Mechanics- 1 year- Age 16-17
4- Food Handling & Preservation- 1 year Age 17-18
5- Stone Tool Knapping- 1 year Age 18-19
6- Medicinal Herbs and Basic Medicine: 2 years Age 19-21
7- Basic Dentistry: 2 years Age 21-23

Upon completing all the Apprenticeships, everyone will have basic training in all necessary tasks for the society.  Obviously, not everyone is equal in ability and some will be stronger in some areas than others, and they may specialize in an area over time if they happen to be good at it, moving upward to Journeyman and Master.  However, everyone is taught the basics and the final Graduation around Age 23 is a good age to then start a Family of your own to continue the cycle.

Apprenticeships are all Unpaid, you just get your Room & Board.  All the Masters are also Unpaid by the Students, training new practitioners for all specialty areas is a requirement in order to practice.  Ideally this would run under a Potlatch Gift Economy with no money in the society at all, but it could also be run using a LETS currency system.

Because this is a practical solution which addresses the actual needs we will have moving into the future, you can be sure it will not be implemented until after the current economic and education models completely crash.

However, we will be Waiting in the Wings at SUN☼ with this model ready to implement when the time comes to Build a Better Tomorrow.



What is Learning?

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Published on Question Everything on August 21, 2015

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High Anxiety over Education

education_race_to_nowhereJudging by the number of comments that education blogs seem to get, relative to other subjects, and the number of e-mails I receive after posting something on the topic, it seems that there is a high level of interest in the area. And, judging by some of the things people tell me in those e-mails, there is a fair amount of anxiety accompanying the topic as well. My blog post of Aug. 12, 2014, a little over a year ago, titled What is Teaching? just officially became my most read of all of my posts. It still gets about ten to fifteen hits a day, even after one year. Most of them come from search engine results, people searching for an answer. Indeed, a Google search on that title (exact phrase) has my blog as the number three item! [I shouldn’t brag but a search for “Question Everything” brings me up in the number one slot!]

In that post I had a lot of not-so-good things to say about the No Child Left Behind law and the explosion of high stakes standardized testing regime that has effectively gutted our public school system of any real learning of how to think. I lamented the fact that my classes are increasingly filled with students who have been so conditioned by this regime that they are distraught by the encounter with the teaching I offer which definitely does not include teaching to the test.

Subsequently I have received over a hundred e-mails from disgruntled current and former K-12 teachers who pretty much expressed the same basic sentiments. They were either ready to get out of the profession, or had already done so, or were just hanging on till they could retire. But all of them told me the same basic story. Teaching has become a worthless profession in the public schools and they are no longer inspired to work at this faux-education process that the schools have become. How utterly sad. And how completely damning it is for the United States of America's future. Just imagine what the citizens will be like in ten to twenty years from now. Its bad enough now with a citizenry that elects an idiot like George W. Bush into the highest office in the land, but also fills the Congress with more idiots that thought that law was a great idea.

One e-mail, however, stood out for an interesting insight and I have been thinking about it. From someone named Connie:

… but as much as I am pained by the current situation, I am still somewhat hopeful. There are still a few kids I've seen who seem to be able to call bullshit what it is and get on with their own learning. Whether they do well on the tests or not doesn't seem to matter to them. They are curious and follow their own interests in subjects. More than that, I still think all of these kids still have a basic instinct to learn and will do well once they are out of high school. I just hope the colleges can give them a better learning environment than they got from here.

I think Connie is right to believe that some kids will survive the system in spite of its crushing tendency to kill learning. And I suspect she is right that most kids will eventually figure it out and get on with learning what they need to thrive in whatever world they enter. The reason is very simple. Learning is what we humans do, naturally and without imposed incentives. You can't stop kids or adults from learning because the incentives to do so are built right into our psyches. Our evolution equipped us with the ability and desire to learn whatever we needed to know to thrive in whatever environment we found ourselves in. The big problem with our public education system is that we think it is teaching kids the job skills they need for our current economic system that is what we are supposed to be doing. But schools even fail to do that. Instead, what schools are teaching our kids is how to ignore bullshit and get on with what they care about.


Of course I still lament the fact that schools are not places for learning about how the world works in the large. Nor does it instil a love of learning and intellectual pursuits. But I suppose we must take heart in understanding that learning is still happening, it is just not the learning of subjects we have historically thought were important. The kids today are learning techno-social networking and communications skills on their own and constructing a new kind of culture and attitudes of disconnection from the mainstream culture of the older generation. They know how to text, for example, and there is a huge volume of text messages flying through the Internet as they hone their skills while sitting in class and ignoring the teacher. That is, they ignore her until she has something worthwhile to say, such as, “OK, this is going to be on the test…” at which point they listen and repeat what she says in a text to their friends who skipped class so they would know what was going to be on the test too.


Does the Education System Support Human Learning?

The fact is our education system was never really designed to support the learning of intellectual understanding in the first place. No matter what the rhetoric has been regarding learning critical thinking skills and a substantial body of knowledge about how the world works (e.g. taking biology, history, civics, etc.) the fact is that school has always really been about one basic thing, making good workers out of us. A good worker does what they are told to do and still deeply believe in the myths of individualism and the promise of upward social mobility. That has been the domain of the K-12 system from early in this country's history. Colleges, on the other hand, were reserved for the few who would become elites and needed at least a modicum of intellectual prowess to serve as administrators of the proles or professionals such as doctors and lawyers who specialized to the point of losing perspective of the larger political framework. Only a small handful of elites would get the kind of education that would truly prepare them for grasping the bigger picture of how to run a culture that was already committed to specific values, such as capitalism as the supreme economic system.

An even smaller group of super-elite intellectuals have received an education based on knowing just for the sake of understanding. They have been interested not in the knowledge needed to control a social order (that has fallen mostly to the lawyers who become politicians) but to a grander understanding of how the universe works. These are the scientists and mathematicians who pursue knowledge that may or may not have any practical application. They, by their nature, see such knowledge as intrinsically valuable and there is a long history of pure science producing knowledge that does, eventually, generate practical usage. This is an extremely small group. They are motivated by internal needs to understand and are conscious of the need to eschew ideologically based investigations as well as maintain an honest realization that knowledge itself is provisional, ambiguous, and uncertain. This is the crowd that do the esoteric intellectual work for society. Today we expect everyone to take algebra, one or two natural sciences, and a few social sciences in their schooling. These courses are taught as if the students are intending to become scientists. They are taught about the scientific method and reams of facts and figures from the disciplines as if they need these in order to be productive members of society. And, of course, they don't. Moreover, most students are actually aware of the fact that they will not need to know what a valence electron is and wonder why the ideas are being shoved down their throats — and wasting their time.

Humans evolved brains designed to learn a culture, to adopt the ways of their tribes, and to become functioning members of their societies. They had to learn the way their world worked, the knowledge of how to survive in a wild environment, because that was linked inextricably to how people made a living, and kept living. Our brains are designed by evolution for that purpose. So it is altogether natural that that is exactly what we do now, even in our technological culture. And the simple truth is that most people do not need to really know biology or calculus for the most part. We just need to know how to fill in forms and follow procedures. Only a small number of people actually ever use even algebra in their daily lives. They may use some aspects of algebraic thinking, like knowing how to double a recipe for cooking. But they do not need to use most of what is taught officially in schools to sell insurance or write commercial jingles. Those subjects are “taught” as a front to hide the real purpose of education; students need to be acculturated as efficiently and as quickly as possible.

Schooling through high school solves another major problem for society, namely the fact that since we decided children should not be factory laborers, and the majority of families are no longer involved in farming, we have to have something seemingly productive for our children to do while parents work at the office. Schools have become a way to corral the young, sequester them for a significant portion of the day, and keep them largely out of trouble. At least that was part of the motivation and the early belief. If kids were engaged in learning about the world in a controlled environment they would not be getting into trouble. And if the subjects were important, they would end up with a wealth of knowledge they would use in their work lives. As with so many of our social engineering ideas that look good on paper, this one has been a miserable failure as well.

There is a horrible mismatch between the way human beings learn and the way schools are designed and operate. There is a terrible myth about what children should be taught in order to become worthy members of society. The latter is largely the result of deep ignorance of the actual nature of the various subjects that are dictated to be taught by the very politicians and corporate overlords who determine what we are all supposed to believe about school curriculum. Most politicians know no more about physics or biology than they themselves were taught in high school. And in most cases they have forgotten how bored they were themselves, and how much of the subject they have actually forgotten. All they know is that they were taught those subjects when they went to school so assume they must be important and so, by god, every student needs to learn them. This, more than anything, provides stark evidence that no one is learning critical thinking in school. If they had (and this applies to all members of society since they buy the story and reinforce the politicians) they would be able to examine their own experience and realize that they did not really learn anything useful in those courses. They would then be willing to question why we force all of our children to take courses that will never help them live meaningful lives.

Instead they invent new myths such as if we don't “train” our students in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, & Math) subjects, the country (the US) will lose its leadership role in technology and its global competitive advantage. Actually the US, while having been an economic engine supporting innovation in the past, has always depended on a very few brilliant people (the super elite intellects mentioned above), many of whom came from abroad, and received their formal educations elsewhere. In fact, if you look at the educational histories of many of our brilliant scientists and mathematicians you will discover the role of self-education in their lives. Today the innovation still comes from a remarkably few people. Even the claim that the workers of today need to be highly educated (meaning having BS degrees or better in some STEM subjects) is a myth. The Googles and Microsofts of the world need a few really creative and knowledgeable people to come up with the innovations. But the army of programmers and engineers that produce the resulting products are really not much more than technicians who know how to push the right menu selections on an array of “tools” and let the computer do the hard work. Programming languages like Java, for instance, have evolved to a point where the programmer need only know a menu of options and design patterns. In their day-to-day work they do not need to know computer science at all! The students are smart enough to realize this and literally rebel at our efforts to teach them computer science as an intellectual topic.

School curricula, including, increasingly, higher education, are based on a fundamental fallacy. Society believes that everyone needs to know STEM subjects (as well as US history and a few other subjects that are difficult to connect to everyday living) and students know that these subjects are largely irrelevant to their lives. The whole accountability philosophy applied to K-12 and looming large over higher education institutions as well, is the result of the mistaken beliefs we harbor about what is important for students to learn. And those beliefs are retained even in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Indeed as the damage caused by teaching to the test, an outcome of No Child Left Behind and high stakes standardized testing, takes hold on student learning outcomes, instead of diagnosing the problem correctly, society doubles down on more accountability based on metrics that people terribly ignorant of human learning invent. It is a positive feedback loop that is taking the American education system down.

How Humans Learn

The key to getting out of this conundrum is to grasp the way in which human beings learn. That way was evolved over millions of years of hominid evolution and deeply refined during the cognitive explosion that turned the Homo predecessor into Homo sapiens. All animal learning is based on constructing neural circuits that correspond to perceived systems in the world and how they work. These circuits are the conceptual models that the brain encodes and uses to anticipate the future. In the case of humans we can build incredibly complex conceptual models that also allow us to anticipate far futures. But all such concept construction is based on associations with a priori meaningful concepts or physiological mandates. Ultimately all learning is for the support of living in the world (the extant environment). This is natural learning. We do it without really trying, without hard mental effort, because it is important for our survival and the overall fitness of the species.

Human children are endowed with extraordinary curiosity. They want to know and understand everything because evolution programmed them to learn about their world. We are not born with a lot of knowledge pre-programmed by our genes. We need to build those mental models that allow us to succeed as adults in our complex social and physical world. Parents and caregivers are able to channel where children focus their attention mostly by providing role models and occasional explanations. Children in the Pleistocene, and up to today, learn extremely quickly when an adult produces something useful and then shows the child how it is done. The adult need not lecture the child. They merely have to provide some guidance when the child gets off course. All of the motivation for learning comes from within.

At first, when a child is young, this involves fundamental things that are characterized as “play.” Building towers with blocks is fun, but it is also preparing the child to build real structures with real materials for real purposes. As children age their attentions naturally turn to more practical knowledge. A young boy goes hunting with the men to learn how. A young girl follows her mother on a foraging expedition to learn where the best roots are to be found. Nobody has to lecture these children on the importance of learning these skills and the knowledge of how things work that supports them using the skills. They are tied to the very act of living and the motivation for learning is built into the brain from billions of years of evolution. Contrast this as I stand in front of a class of blank faces trying to explain to them why it is important for them to learn how logic gates can be configured to wonderfully do arithmetic. Such attempts at motivation do not really work. They know they will never need to know that to put food on the table. What they need to know is how to write a program in the latest language so they can get a job that will put food on the table. How can I get them to see that their ability to write programs well does depend on their subtle understanding of logic when they know very well that they just have to choose the right method (a program function already available in a library of such functions) from a menu of options and never have to worry about how it works?!

So, though the number of people who really need a deep grounding in STEP subjects is actually quite small, they still do need to have an intellectual base from which to operate. And the average worker/citizen needs to have a better understanding of what they do for work and why they are doing it. They require more than just a cursory knowledge of which button to push. So the real conundrum for society is how to develop an education system that achieves deep learning. Clearly the design of education that matches the way people actually learn would seem to be the answer. But immediately we run into a fundamental problem. The current education system is based on mass production – the assembly line process of moving students in lock step through the manufacturing plant, adding modules of knowledge to their brains with each step. It is done for economic reasons. The industrial model of production is the most efficient way to move large volumes through the system.

An education process based on how humans actually learn, on the other hand, would be the antithesis of what we have now. The kind of process that is best matched with learning has already been prototyped in the Montessori schools. The mechanics of classrooms and developmentally-based learning with hands-on active learning a core part of the program are much better matches for how kids learn a variety of subjects. These schools still adhere to the curriculum ideas of traditional education, for the most part, but have a much better set of practices with respect to pedagogy. An even better matching would be achieved if a Montessori-like school were combined with a permaculture-based curriculum (application of systems science principles to designing and operating living and sustainable communities). Students would be immersed from an early age in the skills and knowledge needed to live successfully and in harmony with the natural world but also have access to the underlying and intellectually stimulating principles of systems. Those who have a natural bent for exploring the intellectual areas or want to go deeper into design principles will be motivated to learn math and science as it pertains to these living systems. When a curious child ask grandmother what makes the plants grow the opportunity to teach biology is at hand. At the time an inquisitive youth asks father why the arrows need feathers the chance to teach physics is realized. These questions have deep meaning to children who grasp that those subjects are truly important for life. The gaining of knowledge of biology or physics follows from the desire to understand why the world works the way it does. Moreover, when the child asks if larger feathers would make the arrow go further or faster or straighter, the advent of learning science and invention is reached.

The Sad Reality

Unhappily our society is locked into mass production of know-nothing education. We will not reform schools in any meaningful way. It would be too costly. We would have to sacrifice a lot of consumption of luxury to support such an endeavor. And with the attitudes expressed by the majority of people in this country (and many abroad) that is not going to happen.

So we will continue to force kids to sit in dull classes memorizing just enough facts from dull subjects to pass tests (and then promptly forget what they memorized). We will stunt their development. We will erect barriers to progress for those kids who are exceptional. We will drive our future generations into the depths of ignorance as we tell ourselves that with just the right amount of testing we will have a perfected education system. And a decade from now we will be complaining even more.

As with all of the foibles of human behavior of which I have written over these years, this example reinforces my thesis that the human species is deficient in the one thing that would help us achieve better decisions in life. As I have said so many times, we are clever but we are not wise. Cleverness gave us calculus but it didn't tell us where best to apply it. Cleverness doesn't give us the understanding that just because we have calculus (which is very useful for a number of applications!) doesn't automatically mean every human being needs to learn it. Let those who are curious learn it and those who are adept at its uses use it. For the rest all that is needed is a basic understanding of what its uses produce and appreciation for what it does for humanity. Appreciation for is more important than having any facility for using when you don't really have an interest or a need. I am perfectly happy knowing that there are quantum physicists in this world who are exploring the basis of physical reality. I appreciate their capabilities and their findings without having to know the kind of math they use to do their work. We don't need many such physicists to explore that world. But it is nice if everyone else can grasp the significance of what the work produces.

There are many different kinds of cleverness (intelligences and creative capabilities) and not everyone fits the STEM model, or the humanities model, or the social sciences model. But we all need to have some basic appreciation for the variety of capabilities that exist and contribute to our lives. Each individual will learn what seems important. Wisdom would help individuals decide what to pursue. Wisdom would help us collectively not try to force everyone into the same mold (or at the same rate). But this world we have created has no place for wisdom. It is too costly. It does not make profits in the current quarter. We will continue to batter our children with one-size-fits-all education based on the belief that the curriculum we teach is what students need to know to thrive in this world. And our delivery system (schools) will continue to crush curiosity so as to get conformity from all. At least we can say that we did successfully acculturate out children — if you call this a worthy culture.

Education: A Ph.D. calls it Quits in the Race to Nowhere

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Published on Question Everything on June 6, 2015

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Time to Retire (from Education)?

The Hopeless State of Education

education_race_to_nowhereIf you have been reading QE for a while you know that I have a pretty dim view of the education system in this country and increasingly being adopted around the world. The colonization of education by the same neoliberal corporate (modern capitalism) practices that have destroyed an economic system that promoted the idea of a strong middle class as a worthy goal (though why there should be any classes is my question) and hence provided jobs for the majority is destroying the very soul of education. The main themes today are 1) education is just to get people ready for the marketplace; 2) everyone needs a college-level education; and 3) teaching should be accountable. Education has always been about getting young people ready to be effective members of societies but that has meant more than just being ready to follow a particular profession. There is that whole thing that Thomas Jefferson thought was important about being informed (educated) about everything needed to be a thoughtful, knowledgeable citizen. He felt that was a prerequisite for the proper operation of democracy. In his day (and thinking) while all men might be created equal, only some men attained sufficient education to be full participants in the democratic process. Today we assert that all men and women have an equal right to participate. But, of course, the modern political process assures the new elites that that won't be the case.

My first inkling that our education system was not working as advertised came to me early when I compared my own experiences with what was being claimed about education (teaching critical thinking and all of that good-sounding stuff). Being unstoppably curious about how the world worked I launched off on my own quest for knowledge early in my school life and followed my intuitions about what sort of knowledge was really useful. That is how I ended up constructing my own curriculum in systems science since it didn't actually exist officially in schools. Fortunately, having a love of biology served me well there since most of the really interesting systems science (e.g. cybernetics) was being explicated in that realm.,cs_srgb,dpr_1.0,q_80,w_620/MTI3NTgyNTY0MDIxMDk0NDEw.jpgThe second hint I got that something was fundamentally wrong with education came when as an engineering manager, and then later as the CEO, I discovered that entry level embedded systems developers were ill-prepared for doing any actual engineering. I won't bore you with details but the problem came down to several employees that had graduated from pretty well thought of programs could not actually solve engineering problems. They had done well in school (grades) and interviewed well regarding some technical issues, but when it came to delivering the goods they simply could not synthesize their disparate pieces of knowledge or even analyze the problem to formulate a solution. I ended up finishing their projects for them and they ultimately ended up on the street. I was curious as to why a couple of young, and seemingly intelligent, engineers, with official degrees were so incapable of basic skills (including communications with other engineers and supervisors). I took a quick survey of the histories of my older engineers who were doing well at those tasks. It turned out that of all four of the other design engineers, only one had an "official" degree in electrical engineering and the other three were, like me, self-taught on embedded systems, control theory, filtering theory, etc. I can't generalize to all engineering schools on the basis of my own sample, of course, but it did make me aware that anomalies were possible.

Once I became part of the professoriate I began to see more clearly where at least one problem lay. As I have railed on about before, I repeatedly witnessed PhDs who were supposed to be among the smartest people on the planet and who, I presume, when working on problems strictly within their silos could exercise critical thinking and investigate the backgrounds of those problems, when faced with other issues, such as university governance, seemed to more often than not fall back on emotion-based opinions. Professors will be the first to tell you that they teach students critical thinking skills. Yet they failed many times to exercises such skills outside of their specialties. This observation is based on having interacted on more than several occasions with committees that were dealing with more global problems in education, such as governance and especially strategic management, areas where I had developed a good deal of background knowledge (e.g. I did my homework to make sure I knew something about the subject), and witnessed first hand people offering opinions and making various claims that I knew to be bogus. I wondered often how they had developed their opinions. And when I asked for evidence I got push back. One of the prime tenants of critical thinking is that it involves the use of unbiased evidence.

Recent studies of critical thinking capacity of college graduates have produced the shocking (to the professoriate) results that graduates show almost no improvement over their capacities when entering school. There was a flurry of discussion on various academia venues when the results were first published, but the cacophony has died down to a barely audible whimper now. The professoriate will go on with their practices and basically ignore those results. Don't look for much in the way of reform anytime soon.

I have also railed on about the problems with professional administration. This has been the single biggest point of contact between neoliberal corporatism and education. Professional administrators have no choice but to act like corporate managers in their methods. To have any “career” potential they have to do what corporate bosses have done throughout history — they have to expand their fiefdoms in order to look important and fluff their resumes in preparation for moving to the next position. Professional academic administrators (those who left teaching to take on “important” jobs as deans (and their many associates) or provosts (and their many associates)) are faced with the same situation. Google “high cost of education” and “administration” and you will turn up numerous studies that have identified the rising costs of education to the expansion of administration (also look for “administration bloat”), the pattern of top administrators' pay, and administrator turnover rates. You can also dig into the other costs that administrators generate through their corporatized notion of competing with other colleges for students by building luxury dorms, etc. Several studies point to the idea that more than 50% of rate of increases in costs (and hence tuitions) can be laid at the feet of administration.

But it is even worse than that. Administrators have bought into the whole idea of teaching accountability and retention. The first I will address below as it impacts what has happened to our K-12 education system. The idea behind retention is what really gets me. The question I have asked repeatedly is why do we believe that college is for everybody? And why do we (the professoriate) have to find ways to keep everybody who gets admitted in their programs? Is it true that everyone has the same basic intellectual capacities? Or should we turn our four-year academic institutions into the new high schools and dumb everything down so that everyone can succeed. We can always change the definition of success in academics to achieve this goal.

Unfortunately it goes way beyond a college-for-everyone mentality based on thinking everyone can and should do advanced academic work. Do administrators really believe that everyone is intellectually above average? No it has to do with dollars, tuition dollars specifically (these days). Administrators need a growing revenue stream just as if they were running a for-profit outfit that needed to maximize shareholder value (a core principle of the neoliberal agenda). They have fallen into the “growth is good” fallacy trap. In pursuing growth for growth sake they have overseen the creation of all sorts of “professional” degree programs for career categories that used to be handled well enough by trade schools so that they could “capitalize” on the larger population of potential students who were not interested in solving differential equations or plumbing the depths of the human mind, but would love to say they have a college degree in restaurant and hotel management. It might very well take four years of more education to in fact qualify for restaurant and hotel management, but does it really need any “intellectual” pursuit. I realize, by the way, that this is definitely not PC in this day and age. But what the hell? This post is about retirement so I don't really give a damn.

As Attacked from Above, So from Below

The whole education system is in a nosedive from the positive feedbacks instilled by neoliberal capitalism in the corporatized model operating on education through professional administration. I've had a career of dodging bullets shot from above. I've a reputation as something of a trouble maker among certain high officials! But I had been reasonably successful working with students who were open to the idea that learning was not a process of stuffing their heads with facts (my job) as much as learning the skills of self-teaching so that they could become truly autonomous agents in their future lives. There were always a small majority of such students in my mostly upper division classes who responded to my methods (and of course a minority who already thought of themselves as “customers” who were buying my services to stuff knowledge into their heads!). I labored for the sake of those who got it, knowing that they would go on to succeed in the real world. Over the years I have had many e-mails from some of those students acknowledging that fact.

Education-FAILING REPORT CARD-2I took my lumps from student evaluations from the disgruntled (who seem to be the ones most eager to fill out the forms!) because I knew, even if they didn't, that what I was doing, though it didn't fit the mold of education they had grown used to (and had learned how to game successfully), would eventually surface in their lives and help them become successful in spite of their grumbling about me as a teacher. I've gotten numerous e-mails from former students in this category as well who have recognized that the things I made them do were really the things they needed to learn in order to succeed. I was able to get tenure on the basis of my research and sufficiently good student evaluations. I confess, however, that in the years leading up to getting tenure I did lighten up a bit on my classes. I did this somewhat subconsciously because of the pressure to not get bad reviews if I wanted tenure (another little way administrators have gained power over the professoriate over the years). But I did eventually recognize that I was leaning toward winning popularity contests (I was voted as best computer science professor by the student body twice during that time!) and once I was tenured I consciously made an effort to reestablish my standards. Not surprisingly, student evaluations went back down again (however, I taught a number of specialty courses, such as in our Global Honors program where my evals were way high – but then I was working with extremely bright students who loved being challenged).

In the last few years, however, I have noticed a definite shift in the majority of student attitudes toward education, what it means, how it should work, etc. My first eye opener was teaching a freshman class (what we called our “Core” courses for general studies) in systems science last year (winter quarter). I had taught the very same course the year before with very good results and high student evaluations (as well as good peer reviews). Eighteen year olds are still immature in many ways so you have to work with them differently, but they responded well to my problem/project based approach and I only had two students, out of 24, who did not make it grade-wise. But last year's crop were quite different. Their attendance was horrible (we are disallowed to use attendance in grading!), they constantly talked to one another during my lectures, they openly texted or played games on their computers. Some of them freely admitted they didn't like science period.

My first thought, and something I conferred with the program chair about, was that somehow I had just gotten an unlucky draw. It does happen from time to time that you get a class that has a peculiar personality, i.e. the majority are problematic or extra good. So I chalked this experience up to that fluke. About three quarters into the course I finally gave up trying to stick to the curriculum as planned and turned it into a completely project oriented class so they could talk all they wanted but they had to contribute to their team's work or be penalized. That helped with the attendance a bit. I had a heart-to-heart talk with them with only a week left to go in the quarter. I was frank and so were they. I tried to get at why they were not taking this class seriously and they told me flat out. What they understood as education is I was supposed to tell them what parts of the book would be on the exam and give them practice homework on the same kinds of questions that would be on the exam. I asked them how they came to believe that that was the way education was supposed to work and they told me. That is how it worked in high school (and apparently also in several of their other freshman classes at our campus). I was stunned but still was inclined to chalk it up to bad luck in the draw.

But this last year I experienced something I was completely unprepared for. Many of the seniors in my engineering classes and this last quarter a batch of juniors, had very negative responses to my approach to problem/project-based learning (which involves discovery and experimentation which has been shown to improve context grasp and long-term retention of knowledge). The subjects of these courses are among the most challenging on our campus (maybe quantum physics would be more challenging). So students do need to work much harder to explore the space of solutions. It requires much more autonomous thinking than lower-division courses (especially, for instance, math courses). I also taught two junior-level computer science classes in fall and winter quarter and found some of the same attitudinal problems that I'd seen in the Core course freshman the year before. Needless to say I found this interesting and distressing.

My reviews are in from my engineering courses and I must tell you they were really bad. Most accused me of not teaching at all. And they definitely complained about the amount of work they needed to do to solve the problems. But here is the irony. They all succeeded in doing so, and whether they realize it or not, they learned a huge amount of really useful knowledge in a short period of time and can expect to carry that knowledge far into their futures. They just hated the process and could not grasp what my role in the process was. And here is another ironic fact. This year we had more of these seniors succeed in getting very good jobs with name recognition companies than in prior years. Every one of them reported to me that they did well in their interviews because they actually knew stuff and could think through the solution for tough problems! On top of that I had a recruiter at one of these companies ask me to send more of our seniors her way because the interviewing managers had said our soon-to-be graduates were more prepared than any they had seen from other, supposedly top engineering programs. Go figure. I want students to realize that they have the power to figure things out on their own, and the only way they will understand that is to do it and prove to themselves they have it. But it would also be nice if they recognized that they got that because I set up the situations that allowed them to do so. That, apparently, was not to be.

Whenever the world doesn't work the way I expected it to I start wondering why and start digging into background to educate myself. I read a number of critiques of problem-project based learning (P2-BL) and where it was considered as failing because the students didn't like it. One study found that students who had been immersed in K-12 education in which No Child Left Behind (NCLB) had resulted in a huge increase in teaching to the test pedagogy were the most averse to P2-BL methods. The idea of becoming an autonomous learner did not fit their model of what education was about and they resisted learning a new model. In another similar study they found that not only were students from NCLB affected schools averse, but that miraculously they had actually learned more and retained longer than students who continued on in the NCLB framework. Both of these studies involved looking at high schools that had converted to P2-BL methods (they still had to give standardized tests, which is how they knew that students had actually learned more). One of these schools has since reverted because of problems not only with student attitudes but with teachers having problems with the pedagogy; it is quite hard to come up with meaningful problems and projects in which you can identify the points in which students will have succeeded in learning if they actually do solve the problem (and making the problems solvable but still challenging).

It has been fourteen years since NCLB and the increasing emphasis on standardized, high-stakes testing became the law of the land (2001). The K-12 system has been struggling with the ramifications ever since. But now students who have spent their entire educational lives in that environment are hitting the upper division courses in college. Even those students who are a bit older, who went to community colleges before transferring to our campus, have spent a good portion if not all of their high school lives in it. Based on my experiences this year I would hypothesize that the attitudes we are seeing in the university are much the same as those found in the above mentioned studies.

By happenstance I ran into a couple of high school history teachers in my favorite neighborhood pub. We got to chatting about challenges in teaching and student attitudes toward learning. Suffice it to say they reinforced my presumptions quite strongly. Both were more mature teachers, having been doing it for more than twenty years. And both were livid about the degradation in the whole educational environment as a result of the teaching-to-the-test mentality which now permeates their school (and apparently most of the others as they had talked to colleagues in other high schools in the area). One of them told me he was advising his daughter (who was going to college) to not go into education as it had become a death trap. Both agreed that when they had first started it was a pretty good vocation and the students' attitudes on all counts were generally pretty good. Now both of them had lost the faith and described their attitudes as just putting in the years until they could retire. Very sad.

More recently we've seen a growing backlash among parents (and some ideologues, for the wrong reasons of course) to the Common Core and the “Race to the Top” federal program. With the Common Core standards the emphasis on more standardized testing and the high stakes of missing out on federal grants if the scores are not adequate are combining to raise the stress levels on young students even more. It is so ironic that lawmakers, eager to reform and improve education are passing laws that have the exact opposite effects. But, once again, this is the effect of neoliberal capitalism and corporatism on thinking about education and the idea of “accountability” being the way to cause improvement in the process (particularly teaching). I do not deny that the teaching profession has its problems with bad teachers and phenomena such as I described at the start about critical thinking. So I do understand the desire to find ways to bring these problems to light and take some form of appropriate corrective action to fix things (I, for one, would suggest getting rid of teachers' unions might be a start, or at least revamp the union governance so that it doesn't knee jerk protect clearly substandard teachers). But then letting corporatists in to design the solutions is not the way to do this. For starters the ideas surrounding measures of teaching effectiveness are poorly understood, actually not even really defined. The fall back onto student evaluations by administrators is an intellectually dishonest, and lazy way out for college administration. Unfortunately even much of the professoriate has bought into this mechanism because few of them really have time anymore to do extensive peer reviews (they are pushed more and more into spending time in research instead of finding ways to help their colleagues improve their teaching effectiveness).

Many a psychologists (of learning) have pointed out over and over that the effects of teaching are extremely subtle and cannot be measured in any direct way. We can, of course, determine when teachers are simply not doing their jobs. There are numerous “behaviors” associated with this that can be easily determined. The problem is that we can't really say what effect teaching styles have on learning and retention. Even more importantly we cannot determine the degree of understanding that students obtain from interactions with teachers. The only meaningful definition of teaching (or education) effectiveness is in terms of how successful, in many dimensions, a person is in life several years after graduation. How successful are they at getting meaningful employment, after factoring out effects of the economy on employment opportunities? Specifically, if they went through a program like ours (engineering and computer science) where technical knowhow and know-what is important, are they capable of solving typical problems in their work several years after graduation? And, that means are they on average as a group doing so?

By that measure a number of people are arguing that education is failing. By implication it must be the teaching that is poor. Actually many of my colleagues lament the poor preparation for college level work in our freshmen so they put the blame on high schools (who pass the buck to the K-8 system!) But employers are forever pounding on politicians that our colleges are failing to adequately prepare graduates for the real world. And, based on what I have witnessed I agree with them. Unfortunately their solution is to make schools and teachers accountable through measures of teaching effectiveness that are not known to correlate. It is fast, convenient and, unfortunately, part of a positive feedback loop that is blowing up the very fabric of education. The sad part is that it cannot be fixed. The more failure on the part of education the more pressure will come for accountability which, in turn, simply causes teaching practices to get worse.

Caught in the Middle

The real root cause of the cycle of destruction is the lack of critical thinking by all of the players, administrators, teachers, students (who might be forgiven when they are young), and the rest of society but especially the business people and politicians. Everyone is looking for a miracle cure, an easy way out, something that can be done fast and cheap but produce the right results. Once again I come back to the lack of sapience in the species. That lack prevents people from using holistic systems thinking and long-term strategic thinking to realize they must work hard to develop wise decisions about education. And once again my thesis about how the quality of high sapience is so missing from our species is further demonstrated. Without it, all of the decision agents in this complex system will continue to make mistake after mistake, thinking they are doing the right thing but unable to see the real consequences of their “solutions”. I would never accuse George W. Bush of having good intentions per se, but I'm sure he thought NCLB was a cure for what ailed failing schools (whatever that means). So he and Congress waved a magic wand and created a monster that would show itself more fully fourteen years later. Congratulations Mr. former president. Yet another example of your ideology trumping wisdom.

Fortunately for me I don't have to fight this any more. I and my colleagues all over the country are caught in the middle of the stresses from above (administration) and from below (students' growing insolent attitudes). I've paid my dues. I've accomplished a few academic things of use. I thought I had struck teaching gold with the P2-BL approach. There for a few years it was producing results in student learning. I could directly measure this because I taught a series of courses in a prerequisite chain where I could see the end effects of teaching a cohort with this approach. In the last course those students had, in fact, learned considerably more in the first courses and had retained it better in the last course. Of course many of them grumbled in the first course in the series because this was their first exposure to P2-BL methods and they had to acclimatize. But by the third course the grumbling had stopped and my teaching evals generally reflected their liking the approach and their attaining a sense of learning autonomy. But these last two years everything has turned to mud.

I could, of course, do what I did when I was up for tenure. It really is easy to game this system by doing exactly what the students expect and want. It makes their lives so much easier and that keeps them happy. This is what my superiors are suggesting. But I can't do that in good conscience knowing what I know. I can't seem to explain it to people. After all the students have been conditioned (I do provide reading pointers that should make them aware of what it is about, but they don't follow pointers). So have the professors. The standard pedantic/didactic lecture-textbook-homework-tests pedagogy has been around a very long time. And all of us have been through it. It is the norm. It is what everybody does, so it must be right. Yet we are failing.

And administrators are just looking for an easy way to hold people accountable. In all of my years of teaching never once has an administrator above the level of a department chair come into my classroom or visited me in my office for a chat about teaching and learning. Once they achieve a high-sounding title they are above that. They are important and have important decisions to make so have no time for walking around and finding out what is actually happening on the ground.

All of this adds up to one thing for me. I'm leaving the profession. I had a pretty good run. There for a while it was extremely satisfying. And a few years ago I thought I would stay in the game till I dropped. But what I see happening now (and, by the way, the rate of decay seems to me to be increasing) just doesn't sit right. I will probably do one more year since I have some graduate student obligations and have two conference papers and a journal paper in preparation that I want the university to pay for(!) But then I kiss it goodbye.

In truth, this is the longest time I've been in a single profession! I've had a lot of different careers in my life. Each one has taught me a lot, and I've been able to leverage my grasp of systems to succeed fairly well in all of them (got fired only once from a “transient” job because the boss and I got into a big argument!). My pattern was to switch to something new when I felt I had reached some kind of upper bound in terms of what I could learn and try out. This time it has more to do with the deterioration of the system that makes it hard to learn anything new (like P2-B learning and how to refine it). It has turned into a situation of finding out what the new battle to fight today is, even if the older battles are still being waged. The growth mentality I mentioned above is another factor. The last several years our department has done multiple multiple-person searches for lecturers and tenure-track faculties. We've been in constant search mode (which is extremely taxing) and continuous mentoring of new people mode (which has been marginally successful). And we have not done a particularly good job of either. I had been making idle threats about retiring for a few years in order to spur the department finding several people who could teach the courses I teach, since I knew I would either retire or drop dead one of these days and the department would be hurting when that happened if it didn't bring in some new, younger people to take over. But that search failed because a certain administrator wouldn't listen to the engineering members of the search committee. So now we have to do it all over again.

I'm not so tired that I can't fight a good fight. But I'm not so foolish (shall we say quixotic) to fight a battle that is not winnable no matter what. And this one is just that. Besides I will more likely go off to another career. I have one book published, one ready for review, and a third in process. So I will at least be writing more about systems science and its applications to all of these problems (one of which is education). Who knows? Maybe working from the outside might be more productive.

An Energy-Related Reason Why US Healthcare Outcomes are Awful

Off the keyboard of Gail Tverberg

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Published on Our Finite World on September 9, 2014


Discuss this article at the Energy Table inside the Diner

Back in January 2013, the US Institute of Medicine published a report called U.S. Health in International Perspective: Shorter Lives, Poorer Health. This poor health outcome for US citizens is in spite of the US spending twice as much as a percentage of GDP on healthcare as other high-income nations.

As an example of the problems the US has, the report showed the following exhibit, pointing out that the US has made much smaller advances in life expectancy since 1980 than other high-income nations.  The US is now seventeenth of the seventeen countries analyzed in male life expectancy, and sixteenth out of seventeenth in female life expectancy.

Figure 1-6 Female life expectancy at birth

I am sure I do not know all of the reasons for the US divergence from patterns seen elsewhere, but let me try to explain one energy-related reason for our problems. It has to do with a need to get a wide variety of nutrients at the same time we need to balance (Energy In) = (Energy Needed for Life Processes), in a period of time when the food we eat is increasingly of the “processed” variety. There may also be an issue of eating too much animal protein in our food mix, thanks to today’s ability to ramp up meat production using grains grown and shipped around the world, using fossil fuels.

An Overview of Energy-Related Modifications to Food

If look at primates in general, it is pretty clear that all of the nutrients such animals need come prepackaged in the food that they gather with their limbs. They get the level of exercise they need from gathering this food and from their other daily activities. They have a pretty good balance between (Energy In) = (Energy Needed for Life Processes), without any special effort.

We humans have been modifying food for a very long time, dating back to the days of being hunter-gatherers. Our earliest changes were successful from the point of making humans more dominant. They allowed us to grow larger brains and allowed human population to grow.

The changes made in recent years, thanks to abundant fossil fuels, seem to be excessive, however. The new processed foods are often missing necessary nutrients and fiber, providing mostly empty calories. It becomes a balancing act to get enough of the right nutrients without filling our bodies with calories we don’t need. Some foods (juices, added sugars, very finely ground grains) are sufficiently different from natural foods that our systems don’t react properly to such food. Also, the exercise our body was expecting is often much reduced.

The way our current system works, the food that is closest to its original form is hardest to ship and store, so tends to be highest-priced. The most calorie-dense, over-processed food tends to be cheapest. As a result, the least-educated people (who tend to be poorest) tend to be most damaged by our poor food supply. According to one study, at age twenty-five, men with less than a high school education have a sixteen-year shorter life expectancy than men with a graduate degree.

Remaining Years of Life_prbOf course, at least part of the problem is the disproportionate lack of health care of less-educated US citizens. There are no doubt effects related to feeling like second-class citizens as well, because of reduced work-opportunities for those with poor educations. But having to work around a poor food system with an inadequate income is an issue that likely plays a major role as well.

How Did Humans Develop Larger Brains?  

There is a popular belief that eating meat made us human. While meat eating may have played a role, there seem to be other factors as well. National Geographic in an article in the September 2014 issue, The Evolution of Diet, observes that modern day hunter-gatherers typically get about 30% of their calories from meat. When meat supplies are scarce, they often live for long periods on a plant-based diet. The article says, “New studies suggest that more than a reliance on meat in ancient human diets fueled the brain’s expansion.”

The point National Geographic mentions is the one I have brought up previously–the theory advanced by Richard Wrangham in Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human. It seems to be the ability to control of fire, allowing humans to burn biomass, which set us apart from other primates. This allowed us to cook food, and in doing so, allowed the food to be more easily chewed and digested. Reduced chewing time freed up time for other activities, such as making tools. Nutrients could be more easily absorbed from cooked food. The fact that the food was easier to chew and digest allowed chewing and digestive systems to shrink, and brains to increase in size. It probably also made it easier for more human children to survive.

Furthermore, we now know that some other primates eat meat, so humans are not unique in this regard. Chimpanzees even hunt animals for their meat. National Geographic reports that baboons eat birds, rodents, and even the young of larger mammals, such as antelopes and sheep. But meat makes up only a small share of their diet. We also know that when monkeys are fed a diet that includes very much meat, they gain weight and experience degenerative diseases like humans.

Food Processing: A Little of a Good Thing vs. Too Much of Good Thing

The experience with cooking some food back in hunter-gatherer days shows that a little help in getting more nutrition from foods can be helpful. Plant cell walls are made of cellulose. Cooking vegetables helps break down these cell walls, making nutrients more accessible. There are other ways of processing food–pounding meat to make it more tender or using a blender to chop it into fine pieces. Humans have been milling grains for a very long time.

But it is easy to overdo the processing of food, especially with the help of fossil fuels. Grains can be ground very finely, far more finely they would have been ground, years ago. Sweeteners of various types can be derived from sugar cane, sugar beets, and corn, and added to products of many types. Parts of fruits and vegetables that are deemed “less desirable” such as skins can be removed, even if these parts have a disproportionate share of the nutrients in them.

There is even a second order kind of change to the food supply that can be put in place. For example, before recent “improvements,” cattle ate a mixture of grasses and digested them in their four-part stomachs that are designed from that purpose. Now cattle are being fed all kinds of foods that are not suitable for their digestive systems, including corn and dried distillers grain, a byproduct of making ethanol from corn. There are many other shortcuts taken, from hormones to antibiotics, so as to produce more meat at less expense. Our bodies aren’t necessarily adapted all of these changes. For one thing, there is much more fat in the beef, and for another, the ratio of Omega 3 fatty acids to Omega 6 fatty acids is badly skewed.

There is the additional issue of whether plants actually contain the nutrients that they did years ago. Many of us have learned Liebig’s Law of the Minimum, which states that plant growth is not controlled by total amount of resources available, but by the scarcest resource. In other words, a plant needs all of its nutrients–just adding more of the most abundant nutrient isn’t good enough. But Liebig’s Law of the Minimum doesn’t remove all deviations in nutrient quantity. Plants will still grow, even if some of the trace elements are present in smaller than the usual quantities. Adding fertilizer (or even crop rotation) does not entirely fix this situation. We still end up with soil that is deficient in some micronutrients. This situation tends to get worse with time, as our sewer systems send human wastes out to sea.

In recent years, we have been hearing more about the role intestinal bacteria play. The processing of our food is especially likely to remove the less digestible portions of our food that these bacteria depend on for their nutrition. This adds yet another dimension to the problem of food that deviates from what our bodies are expecting us to eat.

Thanks to fossil fuels, processing of all kinds is cheap. So is adding sugar, artificial colors and artificial flavors to help cover up deficiencies in the original crop. The shortcuts farmers take, including heavy use of fertilizers and pesticides, are ways to produce food more cheaply. The food we end up with is inexpensive and convenient, but doesn’t necessarily match up well with what human digestive systems are adapted to.

What Kind of Exercise Do We Need? 

The story I keep reading is that we need a certain amount of high-intensity intermittent exercise to help our bodies operate as they are intended to. Running for even an average of five or ten minutes a day is said to reduce cardiac causes of death by 30% to 45%, and to increase overall life expectancy by three years. We can easily imagine that hunter-gatherers quite often needed to sprint from time to time, either to avoid predators or to catch potential prey. The finding that human beings need short bursts of high intensity exercise, such as running, would seem to be consistent with what our ancestors did. We also can’t sit for long periods–something our ancestors didn’t do either.

How about strength training? One thing that occurred to me when I visited India is how unnatural it is to have chairs to sit on. Much of the world’s population, even today, sits on the ground when they want to sit down. Needless to say, people who don’t sit on chairs get up from the floor many times a day. This is a type of fitness training that we in this country miss. We in the West also don’t squat much–another type of fitness training.

Even with the beneficial effects of exercise, some researchers today believe that food plays a more important role than exercise in obesity. (Obesity is linked to ill health and shorter life expectancies.) A recent study by Herman Pontzer and others compared the energy expenditure of the Hazda hunter-gatherers to Westerners. The study found that average daily energy expenditure of traditional Hazda foragers was no different from that of Westerners, after controlling for body size. The body seemed to compensate for higher energy expenditure at times, with lower energy expenditure at other times.


It seems to me that our appetites don’t work correctly when we fill ourselves with overly processed foods that are lacking for essential nutrients. We don’t stop eating soon enough, and we quickly feel hungry again. In part this may be from eating foods highly processed foods that would never be found in nature; in part it may be because the foods are missing the micronutrients and fiber that our bodies are expecting. Low-income people especially have a problem with such diets, since diets rich in fruits and vegetables are more expensive.

Many people believe doctors can fix our health problems. Looking across countries, diet and public health issues tend to be much more important than the medical care system in the health of a population. With most chronic health conditions, doctors can only take bad health situations and make them somewhat better. High rates of illness and increased mortality remain, similar to what we see in the United States.

Many of us have heard about the so-called calorie restriction diets of monkeys. This is a misnomer, in my view. In at least one version of it, it is a comparison of monkeys fed a low calorie diet that provides a wide range of nutrients found in vegetables, with a diet typical of Americans. If, in fact, we humans also need a wide range of nutrients found in vegetables, we should not be surprised if we have similarly poor health outcomes.

NYT 31aging_graphic_lgAccording to the graphic, Owen, 26, is affected by arthritis. His skin is wrinkled and his hair is falling out. He is frail and moves slowly. His blood work shows unhealthy levels of glucose and triglycerides. Canto, 25, is aging fairly well.

I personally have been eating a diet that is close to vegetarian for twenty years (heavy on vegetables, fruits and nuts; some fish and diary products; meat only as flavoring in soups). I also cut way back on processed foods and foods with added sugar or corn by-products. When I first changed my diet, I had a problem with arthritis and was concerned that I was at high risk for Type II diabetes. I lost weight, and my arthritis disappeared, as did my blood sugar problems. In fact, I rarely have reason to visit a doctor. In many ways, I feel like Canto on the left.

As I pointed out at the beginning of the post, we need to get a wide variety of nutrients at the same time we need to balance (Energy In) = (Energy Needed for Life Processes). Back in hunter-gatherer days, this was easy to do, but it is increasingly difficult to do today. Besides cutting back on processed foods, eating a diet at that is low in meat may be a way of doing this. Studies of people who eat mostly vegetarian diets show that they tend to have longer life spans. There is also direct evidence that diets that are higher in animal protein tend to shorten life spans. These findings don’t necessarily correlate with studies of what works best for losing weight, which is what most people are concerned about in the short term. Thus, we are deluged with a lot of confusing findings.

Food and health problems are issues that tend to strike a nerve with a lot of people. I can’t claim to be an expert in this area. But stepping back and looking at the issue more broadly, as I have tried to do in this article, can perhaps add some new perspectives.

Conditioning: That Which Keeps People Subservient to Abusive Leadership

Conditioning: That Which Keeps People Subservient to Abusive Leadership

by Peter Offermann

Few who are paying attention to world events, through a lens more precise than the Main Stream Media (MSM), would deny that the vast majority of humans are being badly abused by their leadership in a variety of venues ranging from local, regional, national, and international politicians and bureaucrats, financial managers, corporate controllers, religious leaders, media moguls and warlords.

The vast majority of humans appear to be oblivious to this abuse and passively accept what is being done to them. Why is that? In one word – conditioning.

The vastly increased access to information that the internet enabled is responsible for a large number of people at least becoming aware of this abuse. However even among this more aware group, taking effective action to stop the abuse is sorely lacking. Why is that? In one word – conditioning.

There is a much smaller group that are proactively attempting to counter the abuse through group protest but they are losing the struggle. Why is that? In one word – conditioning.

At 68 I am getting on in years. I have lived a full life and have had the time to reflect back on my path through life. As a result I have come to realize that most of the conditioning we are all subject to did not incapacitate me nearly as much as it did most people. I believe the realizations I have come to regarding my seeming immunity to conditioning are a necessary foundation required for people to free themselves from the tyranny that enslaves them.

With that hope in mind I would like to share some experiences from my youth that illustrate the problem (conditioning), and hint at the solution.

Our conditioning begins at the moment of our birth. Although they are not conscious of it, our parents, and family members, begin the process. Our parents have been conditioned before us and all their ‘conditioned’ traditions are passed on to us without considering their consequences. How often have you heard the excuse? “That’s just the way things are, get over it!” There is a great book by Wilhelm Reich called, “The Function of the Orgasm”, that explains the form of, and reasons for, this early in life conditioning. Yes our sexuality plays a large role.

It is widely accepted that our late childhood, and early adulthood, years are our formative ones and also when we are in our prime both intellectually and physically. Historically people took full responsibility for managing their own lives much earlier in their lives, during what we consider late childhood. There were once 14 year old admirals that oversaw large naval forces. The commitment of marriage and raising a family began much earlier. Pioneers struck out to discover and populate new mysterious lands before they reached their teens.

The most rigid and destructive conditioning is imposed on us during our schooling. Our schooling is starting earlier and lasting much longer than previously in history and while we are being ‘schooled’ we are not considered full adults with the responsibilities and freedoms such status implies.

Why is that? Could it be that control in our society is much more rigid than ever before? Those that control us realize that a rebellion of youth is the most dangerous kind. How better to minimize the impact of people in their prime than by keeping their status at ‘children’ with little access to power until well past their prime years? If people cave in to ‘slavehood’ during their prime years, how likely are they to rebel once they are past their prime; especially if they are burdened with excessive debt from their education?

I will only touch on the subject of our schooling lightly here and point out what I see as the most debilitating habits we are taught. The subject is an immense one covered well by people such as John Taylor Gatto, author of, “The Underground History of American Education”.

Disclaimer: I quit school in the early 60’s while in grade 9, at age 14. The reason being I felt I was being made dumber instead of smarter. My parent’s response was, “if you don’t go to school we will not support you.” I left home then and took on responsibility for my own life.

Even though I chose a different path than most I did not really understand intellectually why I did what I did then until recently, about a half a century later. What I did then, I did intuitively, rather than logically while accepting full responsibility for the outcome.

I first spent a few years hoboing around Canada taking whatever work I could find whenever I needed it. No job was too menial or too challenging to accept.

At 17 I took on a job that turned my life around and led to my conditioning mostly sliding off me.

This job was as a fire lookout man with the British Columbia (Canada) Forest Service. For a number of years I worked and lived on remote mountain tops, by myself, for 3 to 4 months each year. Spending that much time completely alone, and removed from civilization, especially during my formative years, had a profound effect on my perceptions about life as a human being and how I fit into society.

rendered by me from a photo by Kyle Johnson

I didn’t have a camera in those days so the image above, which closely represents my situation, is used to illustrate the setting.

Below is a photograph of myself taken a few years later in the same general area I spent time on the lookouts. The other photos interspersed in this essay are taken by myself as I explored the mountains near my home after my lookout years.

In current society peer pressure during childhood, and early adulthood, is immense. To survive in this setting we must pay close attention to others around us for clues regarding what is and is not acceptable. Because of this pressure the bulk of our energy goes into human interactions and we are pretty much oblivious to everything but our immediate environment. “Use it or lose it”, is sage advice. Because of concentrating on human relations during their formative years most people have little if any connection to the natural world.

Try to imagine what people would be like if, as youngsters, they spent time exploring and living in nature, while being responsible for their own survival and actions, instead of hanging out at the mall or partying with their pals.

Is it fair to say that those that hang with the crowd are unlikely to be aware of, or able to understand, large scale events not part of their immediate environment?

What about someone who is tasked with surviving in the greater world using only their own skills? Would they stand a better chance of grasping what is going on?

Is this phenomena related to the common use of a ‘rite of manhood’ by many cultures where young adults leave the security of their group to face the wilderness on their own?

Do the majority of people in modern societies never go through this enabling rite of passage and instead go from the security of their parent’s care to the security of the big brother state? Does this explain why some people never seem to reach adulthood?

Substantial time on the lookout, without peer pressure, made me realize how confining trying to fit into the crowd is. Most people don’t even sense this pressure because it is all they know. It’s like the air we breathe. It’s just there until it isn’t, then we die; unless we are prepared for an airless environment.

Most people also don’t realize how much of their time and energy it takes to be ‘social’. Being removed from ‘socializing’ is enormously stressful if it is all you know.

Many aspiring lookout men needed to come down off the mountains prematurely because they could not stand being alone. Those that adjusted to the isolation,  came to treasure the freedom of being comfortable for extended periods with just their own company. The amount of time that then becomes available for other, possibly more worthwhile pursuits, is substantial.

In the forefront of these benefits is having the time to look inside yourself without constantly being subjected to the opinion of others. Building friendships takes time and effort and becoming your own friend is no exception. Most of us never get the opportunity to do this.

Those that desire to control human behavior understand that people that are not comfortable with themself are much more susceptible to being controlled because they are lonely and need to seek comfort and friendship outside themselves. Virtually every sales campaign, ranging from that of the door to door salesmen to world leaders, is then enabled to easily sell you a bill of goods by convincing you that what they have to offer is going to become your best friend and make your life less lonely.

Short excursions, or holidays into nature, most often with others, fitted into a busy schedule, do little to increase our awareness of the greater reality that humans exist within. Thanks to modern technology very few of these excursions actually take people far from the human controlled environment they are conditioned to.

It is one thing to climb to the top of a mountain, conquer it, and then immediately return to civilization. It is something totally different to stay in that wilderness environment for extended periods with the time to come to know those other species that are at home in those environs. It makes one realize that humans are not the be all and end all of life on earth. Humility is born which serves us very well. In this environment one soon comes to realize those species include the earth itself. Seeing the constant breathing of weather and daily and seasonal shifts of energies makes one realize everything is made of the same stuff and ‘lives’ in it’s own unique way.

To assume the earth is a lifeless blob which we can abuse without conscious consequence is a very risky proposition.

Most people’s lives are lived out within an environment created by and for humans. Most; and more all the time, live in an urban environment.

When they holiday people generally take some technological means of travel which quickly takes them to the other place of human habitation they wish to holiday in. Because people’s travel experience is so brief, and misses the detail of the ground they pass over, most of which currently has no human habitants, it is easy for them to agree, when told by ‘experts’ that human overpopulation is a crisis.

Yes there are many urban places on the planet that suffer from overpopulation, and many more places on the planet that are being strip-mined to support those urban centers, but all in all there is an enormous amount of free space, capable of supporting humans, if only they were able to tear themselves away from the social centers they now depend on and cluster in.

In the early 1990’s while transitioning from life in Canada to life in Mexico I drove between Canada and Mexico every second week for 3 years while gradually weaning my clients off the services I had previously offered. I was a workaholic and saw the time on the road as my own and enjoyed it by taking different highways almost every trip. Eventually I was able to drive between Mexico and Canada while only passing through a very few towns, all smaller than about 10,000 people. Most of the distance on these trips was spent on very remote highways with no other traffic to speak of.

I can say definitively that between, Canada, the USA and Mexico there is enough uninhabited fertile land to accommodate the whole world without the residents being able to see their nearest neighbor.

This vision assumes we overcome our condition of needing to be part of the herd clustering in vast hordes, and also manage to disempower the laws of those that enslave us that currently make this land unavailable to us.

Humans are far more difficult to control if they live in small clusters, all over the place, while paying little or no attention to the MSM. The propagandists can then not create a single message that will motive the whole herd of humans to act identically by broadcasting their one piece of propaganda from a single location that reaches everyone.

Propaganda still works but it must be tailored properly to fit each unique situation in order to get consistent results. If there is no central broadcasting service the message must also be taken to each unique location individually. This is an impossible situation for our rulers and is the reason we are all so heavily conditioned to….

Need to be in close quarters with other humans.

Need the approval of others.

Think alike.

Think we must be/are part of a team.

Become isolated emotionally from ourselves and each other, even while packed on top of each other, so only big brother can offer us comfort.

Desire specialized knowledge which results in only being able to survive as part of the ‘urban’ team.

To desire a ‘carrot’ of reward that only ‘winning’, at any cost(?), within the crowd can present.

Depend on centralized services, especially sources of energy.

Depend on the rule of ‘human’ law to protect us from each other.

The most destructive conditioning takes place in our schools, right at the time we are most susceptible to it, during our formative years. During that period we have little experience of our own to compare to what we are told, and raising questions about the validity of the taught ‘truth’ is ruthlessly punished, in order to force us to depend on the wisdom of others instead of our own intuition.

We are ruthlessly regimented to follow orders so that we eventually become incapable of thinking for ourselves and become dependent on the ‘boss’ to do our thinking for us. The intellectual box we become stuck within is then defined by the boss.

Specialization in training, and limiting access to information, (compartmentalization) is critical to our conditioning. If we cannot think for ourselves, and only understand part of the puzzle, and are incapable of deducing or intuiting answers to unknowns, we are trapped within our dependence on others.

I have personally met a number of world shaker class intellectuals that are extremely brilliant in their own field but figuratively can’t tie their own shoe laces. This situation is not accidental. If only the boss has the full picture, the boss becomes the only one who can act effectively. Everyone else then becomes totally dependent on the Boss. Specialization has its place but having a well rounded toolkit of lifeskills is essential to individual freedom.

Away from civilization, where the boss is not handy to hold your hand, is a disaster waiting to happen if you cannot think for yourself. Then unless you quickly learn to identify problems before they destroy you, and also learn to fix problems you can’t avoid intuitively, without an instruction manually from the boss, you will not survive long.

Lack of education, much time spent away from conditioning influences, and conditioned humans, has changed fundamentally how I solve problems.

When faced with a problem a conditioned human will go through the channels of historical solutions until they find one that works for them.

Instead I consider the elements of the problem in place, try to intuit the workings of the device/situation, and then pinpoint what is going wrong and consider what might fix it. No manual is needed; just the ability to think a situation through for myself.

Using only this skill I have managed to live my whole life well, if not always comfortably, while being considered an essential resource by many people with far more education than myself, even in areas they have expertise in.

No one is perfect and you will make mistakes when you think for yourself. Mistakes are often painful but if you accept the possibility of making mistakes, and are willing to learn from them when you make them, you will eventually become a very robust and capable person. What doesn’t break you strengthens you.

If you are afraid of making mistakes you are stuck on the safe (?) road built by our bosses. You still might not be safe but at least you can then blame your mistakes on someone else.

I have learned far more from my mistakes than from my successes. I am now very thankful for my mistakes, even though some were very painful to navigate.

This essay is getting long so I will end it with one last point about what I learned from my life on the lookouts.

While we are thrust into the middle of ongoing intense personal inter-relationships, especially during our formative years, our attention remains strongly focused on each interaction as it occurs and the rest of the world passes us by unnoticed. We see the trees but are oblivious of the forest. This is most often a habit we carry throughout life and it is a very dangerous one in our propaganda filled world. We see each piece of new propaganda as a standalone piece of information. We have no perspective to see if how it fits into the forest makes sense. We are then at the mercy of those that would deceive us for their own purpose. All they need to do is grab our attention and they can then do with us as they like.

On a lookout tasked with quickly finding dangerous anomalies, within a vast vista of forests, becoming focused on each tree individually is not productive and makes it impossible to see the whole picture. A good lookout man eventually learns to quickly scan vast vistas without focusing on anything in particular. Taking this approach to finding required data points, such as suspicious smoke, allows our intuition to come to our aid. It always amazes me how glaringly anomalies stand out when using this method.

It works just as well in any other environment, including researching on the internet. When surrounded by questionable ‘news/propaganda’ the fires stick out much more obviously when we also are aware of the apparently unrelated surrounding information that is part of webscape. The ‘trees’ of propaganda do not distract us from seeing the whole situation. If there’s no smoke there probably isn’t a fire. Our intuition can see the difference even though we logically can’t. Following our intuition instead of remaining focused on the propaganda leads us to the information that will then allow us to make sense of the situation.

Although my prognosis of our situation appears very gloomy I am not pessimistic. I see light at the end of the tunnel.

For those who managed to slog through to this point thank you for your attention.


More thoughts about Conditioning (not included in the original essay above).


My essay about conditioning only painted part of the picture. To help understand the situation more fully it is important to see the whole picture.

What I described previously is the conditioning that influences what we term the masses or those without power. This conditioning is put in place and controlled by the ruling class. It is easy to assume that because of their power and control those of the ruling class are not themselves being conditioned. This is a fallacy.

A study of history clearly demonstrates that throughout history humanity has been in a constant struggle within itself which takes place between a few strong rulers who gain power and subsequently use that power disproportionately for their own benefit. The larger the discrepancy between the quality of life of the rulers and everyone else, the more destructive the relationship becomes.

During my life, because of the skills I have to offer, I have had a few brief glimpses into the personal lives of some of the small circle of rulers that control the condition of humanity. They mostly have names we have never heard of because their employees do their work for them and are the ones the public see and blame for the harm that is occurring.


What I saw behind the curtain was surprising but obvious once it was seen. The conditioning we the masses go through is nothing compared to the conditioning of these elites. The same applies to the trusted employees that work directly for this inner circle.

Looking back through history it becomes obvious there is continuity in the family lines of the ruling class as generation after generation of the same families take over the reins of power in turn.

As with the majority of us the elite’s conditioning begins at the moment of their birth and is initially provided by their parents and family as translated through their hired help. This conditioning is far more rigid and destructive to individuality than that outside the ruling class. The elite’s privileged position is totally dependent on each generation in turn continuing to exercise the power that keeps them all on the top.

The pressure we the masses get from our parents to better ourselves by becoming doctors and lawyers is nothing compared to the pressure put on the children of the elite to ruthlessly manage the masses. With few exceptions those in the elite live cloistered lives and rarely relate extensively with individuals that have not been conditioned identically to them other than in master / servant situations.


The schooling for the elites, and their trusted inner circle of employees, is far more rigid in enforcing subservience to their common cause than the masses education. This is because the loss of a servant is far less critical to the cause than the loss of someone in a position of responsibility. I believe that the rituals used by elite secret societies such as skull & bones at Yale University are designed for initiates to demonstrate to their superiors their willingness to be subservient to the cause even when faced with degrading demands. This subservient position is demeaning for individuals with large egos and probably translates directly to their in turn taking out their anger and frustration on those less powerful than themselves. A circle of abuse then radiates outwards as each level of abused takes out their pain on the power below themselves.

The conceptual box previous generations of elites have trapped their children in is much smaller than the box we the masses inhabit. The people I met appeared to me totally lost. On the surface many appear bubbly and satisfied and feeling on top of the world but this facade is only skin deep. It is obvious that deep down they are deathly afraid of confronting reality. Substance abuse and suicide is a large component of this lifestyle.

To my understanding the relationship between that of the elite and the masses is identical to that of the predator / prey relationship commonly found in/between other species than humans.

The elite are conditioned by their history to be predators and the masses are conditioned by their history to be prey. Those masses that seek the rewards seeming to be available to the elite must become predators in order to join those rarefied circles.

The Bible suggests through the allegory of the Garden of Eden that the predator / prey relationship is not the only possible relationship between individuals. It further suggests we humans fell from grace once we adopted this predatory way of life.

As has been shown by history many times power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

It is obvious to me that for there to be peace within humanity power, and the need for it, must be removed.



Culture of Ignorance: Part I

Off the keyboard of Jim Quinn

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Published on The Burning Platform on October 27, 2013

Discuss this article at the Kitchen Sink inside the Diner

“Five percent of the people think;
ten percent of the people think they think;
and the other eighty-five percent would rather die than think.”

– Thomas Edison

The kabuki theater that passes for governance in Washington D.C. reveals the profound level of ignorance shrouding this Empire of Debt in its prolonged death throes. Ignorance of facts; ignorance of math; ignorance of history; ignorance of reality; and ignorance of how ignorant we’ve become as a nation, have set us up for an epic fall. It’s almost as if we relish wallowing in our ignorance like a fat lazy sow in a mud hole. The lords of the manor are able to retain their power, control and huge ill-gotten riches because the government educated serfs are too ignorant to recognize the self-evident contradictions in the propaganda they are inundated with by state controlled media on a daily basis.


“Any formal attack on ignorance is bound to fail because the masses are always ready to defend their most precious possession – their ignorance.” Hendrik Willem van Loon

The levels of ignorance are multi-dimensional and diverse, crossing all educational, income, and professional ranks. The stench of ignorance has settled like Chinese toxic smog over our country, as various constituents have chosen comforting ignorance over disconcerting knowledge. The highly educated members, who constitute the ruling class in this country, purposefully ignore facts and truth because the retention and enhancement of their wealth and power are dependent upon them not understanding what they clearly have the knowledge to understand. The underclass wallow in their ignorance as their life choices, absence of concern for marriage or parenting, lack of interest in educating themselves, and hiding behind the cross of victimhood and blaming others for their own failings. Everyone is born ignorant and the path to awareness and knowledge is found in reading books. Rich and poor alike are free to read and educate themselves. The government, union teachers, and a village are not necessary to attain knowledge. It requires hard work and clinging to your willful ignorance to remain stupid.

The youth of the country consume themselves in techno-narcissistic triviality, barely looking up from their iGadgets long enough to make eye contact with other human beings. The toxic combination of government delivered public education, dumbed down socially engineered curriculum, taught by uninspired intellectually average union controlled teachers, to distracted, unmotivated, latchkey kids, has produced a generation of young people ignorant about history, basic mathematical concepts, and the ability or interest to read and write. They have been taught to feel rather than think critically. They have been programmed to believe rather than question and explore. Slogans and memes have replaced knowledge and understanding. They have been lured into inescapable student loan debt serfdom by the very same government that is handing them a $200 trillion entitlement bill and an economy built upon low paying service jobs that don’t require a college education, because the most highly educated members of society realized that outsourcing the higher paying production jobs to slave labor factories in Asia was great for the bottom line, their stock options and bonus pools.

Instead of being outraged and lashing out against this injustice, the medicated, daycare reared youth passively lose themselves in the inconsequentiality and shallowness of social media, reality TV, and the internet, while living in their parents’ basement. They have chosen the ignorance inflicted upon their brains by thousands of hours spent twittering, texting, facebooking, seeking out adorable cat videos on the internet, viewing racist rap singer imbeciles rent out sports stadiums to propose to vacuous big breasted sluts on reality cable TV shows, and sitting zombie-like for days with a controller in hand blowing up cities, killing whores, and murdering policemen using their new PS4 on their 65 inch HDTV, rather than gaining a true understanding of the world by reading Steinbeck, Huxley, and Orwell. Technology has reduced our ability to think and increased our ignorance.

“During my eighty-seven years, I have witnessed a whole succession of technological revolutions. But none of them has done away with the need for character in the individual or the ability to think.” – Bernard M. Baruch

The youth have one thing going for them. They are still young and can awaken from their self-imposed stupor of ignorance. There are over 80 million millenials between the ages of 8 and 30 years old who need to start questioning the paradigm they are inheriting and critically examining the mendacious actions of their elders. The future of the country is in their hands, so I hope they put down those iGadgets and open their eyes before it is too late. We need many more patriots like Edward Snowden and far fewer twerking sluts like Miley Cyrus if we are to overcome the smog of apathy and ignorance blanketing our once sentient nation.

The ignorance of youth can be chalked up to inexperience, lack of wisdom, and immaturity. There is no excuse for the epic level of ignorance displayed by older generations over the last thirty years. Boomers and Generation X have charted the course of this ship of state for decades. Ship of fools is a more fitting description, as they have stimulated the entitlement mentality that has overwhelmed the fiscal resources of the country. Our welfare/warfare empire, built upon a Himalayan mountain of debt, enabled by a central bank owned by Wall Street, and perpetuated by swarms of corrupt bought off spineless politicians, is the ultimate testament to the seemingly limitless level of ignorance engulfing our civilization. The entitlement mindset permeates our culture from the richest to the poorest. Mega-corporations use their undue influence (bribes disguised as campaign contributions) to elect pliable candidates to office, hire lobbyists to write the laws and tax regulations governing their industries, and collude with the bankers and other titans of industry to harvest maximum profits from the increasingly barren fields of a formerly thriving land of milk and honey. By unleashing a torrent of unbridled greed, ransacking the countryside, and burning down the villages, the ruling class has planted the seeds of their own destruction.

When the underclass observes Wall Street bankers committing the crime of the century with no consequences for their actions, they learn a lesson. When billionaire banker/politicians like Jon Corzine can steal $1.2 billion directly from the accounts of farmers and ranchers and continue to live a life of luxury in one of his six mansions, they get the message. Wall Street bankers are allowed to commit fraud, reaping profits of $25 billion, and when they are caught red handed pay a $5 billion fine while admitting no guilt. No connected bankers have gone to jail for crashing the worldwide financial system, but teenage marijuana dealers are incarcerated for ten years in our corporate prison system. The message has been received loud and clear by the unwashed masses. Committing fraud and gaming the system is OK. Only suckers play by the rules anymore. A culture of lawlessness, greed, fraud, deceit, swindles and scams was fashioned by those in power. Reckless disregard for honesty, truthfulness, fair dealing, and treating others as you would like to be treated, has permeated the beliefs and behavior of our society.

The ever increasing number of people in the SNAP program along with abuses committed by retailers and recipients, the skyrocketing number of people faking their way into the SSDI program, billions of taxpayer dollars lost to Medicare fraud, billions more lost paying out earned income tax credit refunds based on non-existent children, public schools falsifying test scores, students cheating on SAT tests, credit card fraud on a grand scale, failure to report income and falsifying tax returns, and a myriad of other dodges and scams are just a reflection of a moral and cultural collapse. The dog eat dog mentality glorified by the media, with such despicable men as Dimon, Greenspan, Corzine, Clinton, Trump, Rubin, Bernanke and Bloomberg honored as pillars of society, has displaced honesty, compassion, humanity, shared sacrifice, and caring about our descendants. Self-interest, self-indulgence, and a narcissistic focus on what is in it for me today has led to an implosion of trust and an attitude of “who cares” about our fellow man, morality, right or wrong, and the fate of future generations. We ignored the warnings of our last President who displayed courageousness and truthfulness when speaking to the American people.

“As we peer into society’s future, we — you and I, and our government — must avoid the impulse to live only for today, plundering for our own ease and convenience the precious resources of tomorrow. We cannot mortgage the material assets of our grandchildren without risking the loss also of their political and spiritual heritage. We want democracy to survive for all generations to come, not to become the insolvent phantom of tomorrow.” Dwight D. Eisenhower

The Me Generation has devolved into the Me Culture. While the masses have been mesmerized by their iGadgets, zombified by the boob tube, programmed to consume by the Madison Avenue propaganda machines, enslaved in chains of debt by the Wall Street plantation owners, and convinced by their fascist government keepers that phantom terrorists are hiding behind every bush, they surrendered their freedoms, liberties and sense of self-responsibility. There will always be evil men seeking to control and manipulate the ignorant and oblivious. A citizenry armed with knowledge, critical thinking skills, and moral integrity would not passively submit to the will of a corporate fascist oligarchy. Well educated, well informed citizens, capable of critical thinking are dangerous to rich men of evil intent. Obedient, universally ignorant, distracted, fearful, morally depraved slaves are what the owners of this country want. As the light of knowledge flickers and dies, we sink into the darkness of ignorance.


“No people will tamely surrender their Liberties, nor can any be easily subdued, when knowledge is diffused and virtue is preserved. On the Contrary, when People are universally ignorant, and debauched in their Manners, they will sink under their own weight without the Aid of foreign Invaders.”Samuel Adams

Cult of Ignorance

“There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that “my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.”Isaac Asimov


“While every group has certain economic interests identical with those of all groups, every group has also, as we shall see, interests antagonistic to those of all other groups. While certain public policies would in the long run benefit everybody, other policies would benefit one group only at the expense of all other groups. The group that would benefit by such policies, having such a direct interest in them, will argue for them plausibly and persistently. It will hire the best buyable minds to devote their whole time to presenting its case. And it will finally either convince the general public that its case is sound, or so befuddle it that clear thinking on the subject becomes next to impossible.

In addition to these endless pleadings of self-interest, there is a second main factor that spawns new economic fallacies every day. This is the persistent tendency of man to see only the immediate effects of a given policy, or its effects only on a special group, and to neglect to inquire what the long-run effects of that policy will be not only on that special group but on all groups. It is the fallacy of overlooking secondary consequences.”Henry Hazlitt

America’s cult of ignorance, combined with the selfish interests of various constituencies, the character weakness of the people elected to office, a lack of understanding or interest in basic mathematical concepts, and inability to comprehend the long term and unintended consequences of every piece of legislation, have brought the country to the brink of fiscal disaster. But still, the vast majority of Americans, including the supposed intellectuals and economic “experts”, are basking in their ignorance, as the stock market reaches a new high, the local GM dealer just gave them a 7 year $40,000 auto loan at 0% on that brand new Cadillac Escalade, Bank of America still hasn’t foreclosed on their McMansion two years after making their last mortgage payment, and they just received three pre-approved credit card notices from Capital One, American Express and Citicorp. As long as Bennie has our back printing $1 trillion new greenbacks per year, nothing can possibly go wrong. Our best and brightest economic minds are always right:

“Stocks have reached what looks like a permanently high plateau.” – Irving Fisher, Professor of Economics, Yale University, 1929

“Many of the new financial products that have been created, with financial derivatives being the most notable, contribute economic value by unbundling risks and shifting them in a highly calibrated manner. Although these instruments cannot reduce the risk inherent in real assets, they can redistribute it in a way that induces more investment in real assets and, hence, engenders higher productivity and standards of living.” – Alan Greenspan – March 6, 2000

“We’ve never had a decline in house prices on a nationwide basis. So, what I think what is more likely is that house prices will slow, maybe stabilize, might slow consumption spending a bit. I don’t think it’s gonna drive the economy too far from its full employment path, though.” Ben Bernanke – July 2005

The profound level of ignorance displayed by economists, politicians, business leaders, media personalities, and the average American, regarding the mathematically unsustainable path of our fiscal ship is perplexing to me on so many levels. If the Federal government was a family, the budget ceiling debate would be put into the following terms. Our household earns $28,000 per year, but we spend $38,000 per year and add $10,000 to our credit card balance, which stands at the limit of $170,000. In addition, we owe our neighbors $2 million we don’t have because we promised to pay if they voted for us as Treasurer of our homeowners association. We celebrate our good fortune of getting approved for another credit card with a $30,000 limit by increasing our spending to $39,000 per year. Intellectuals scorn such simplistic analogies by glibly pointing out that the family has a crazy uncle with a printing press in the basement and can pay-off the debt with his freshly printed dollars. And this is where the deliberate and calculated ignorance by the highly educated Ivy Leaguers regarding long term and unintended consequences is revealed. They ignore, manipulate, cover-up and obscure the facts because their wealth, power and influence depend upon them doing so. But ignorance doesn’t change the facts.

“Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored.” Aldous Huxley

Nothing exposes the ignorance of various factions within our society better than a debate about budgets, spending, and unfunded liabilities. This is where every party, group, special interest, and voting bloc ignore any and all facts that are contrary to their selfish interest. They only see what they want to see. The fallacies, errors, omissions and mistruths of their positions are inconsequential to people who only care about their short-term self-seeking interests. When I question the out of control spending on entitlements and our impossible to honor level of unfunded liabilities, those of a liberal persuasion lash out with accusations of hating the poor, starving children and throwing granny under the bus. Anyone suggesting we should slow our spending is branded a terrorist by the overwhelmingly liberal legacy media.

When I accuse Wall Street bankers of criminal fraud and ongoing manipulation of the financial markets, the CNBC loving apologists for these felons bellow about the market always being right. When I rail about the military industrial complex and our un-Constitutional invasions of other countries, the neo-cons come out in force blathering about the war on terror and imminent threats. When I point out the horrific results of our government run educational system and how mediocre union teachers are bankrupting our states and municipalities with their gold plated health and pension plans, I’m met with howls of outrage about the poor children. The common thread is that facts are ignored because each of their agendas requires ignorance on the part of their team’s fans.

The following chart of truth portrays an unsustainable path. Ignoring the facts will not change them. This isn’t a Republican problem or a Democrat problem. It’s an American problem.


“There are men regarded today as brilliant economists, who deprecate saving and recommend squandering on a national scale as the way of economic salvation; and when anyone points to what the consequences of these policies will be in the long run, they reply flippantly, as might the prodigal son of a warning father: “In the long run we are all dead.” And such shallow wisecracks pass as devastating epigrams and the ripest wisdom.” Henry Hazlitt

Henry Hazlitt may have written these words six decades ago, but they aptly describe Paul Krugman and the legions of Keynesian apostles whose bastardized interpretation of Keynes’ theory has led us to this fiscal cliff. How anyone can truly believe that borrowing to consume foreign produced goods versus saving and making job creating capital investments is a rational and sustainable economic policy is the height of ignorance. One look at this chart exposes the political party system as a sham. When it comes to the fiscal train wreck, set in motion thirty years ago, the ignorant media pundits peddle a narrative about politicians failing to compromise as the culprit in this derailment. Nothing could be further from the truth. Compromise is what has gotten us to this point. The Republicans compromised and allowed the Democrats to create a welfare state. The Democrats compromised and allowed the Republicans to create a warfare state. The Federal Reserve compromised their mandate of stable prices and preventing financial calamities by inflating away 95% of the dollar’s purchasing power in 100 years, while creating bubbles every five or so years, like clockwork. There are a myriad of facts related to the chart above that cannot be ignored:

  • It took 192 years for the country to accumulate $1 trillion in debt. It has taken us 30 years to accumulate the next $16 trillion of debt. We now add $1 trillion of debt per year.
  • If the Federal government was required to use GAAP accounting, the annual deficit would amount to $6.7 trillion per year.
  • The fiscal gap of unfunded future liabilities for Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and government pensions is $200 trillion.
  • Using realistic growth assumptions adds another $6 trillion of state and local government unfunded pension benefits to the equation.
  • The Federal government has increased their annual spending from $1.8 trillion during Bill Clinton’s last year in office to $3.8 trillion today, a 110% increase. The population has increased by 12% over that same time frame, and real GDP has advanced by 25% since 2000.
  • Defense spending has increased from $358 billion in 2000 to $831 billion today, despite the fact that no country on earth can challenge us militarily.
  • The average Baby Boomer will receive $300,000 more than they contributed to Social Security and Medicare over their lifetime. Over 10,000 Boomers per day will turn 65 for the next 17 years.
  • The Social Security lockbox is filled with IOUs. The funds collected from paychecks over the last 80 years were spent by Congress on wars of choice, bridges to nowhere, and thousands of other vote buying ventures.
  • A normalization of interest rates to long-term averages would double or triple the interest on the national debt and increase our annual deficits by at least 30%.
  • Obamacare and the unintended consequences of Obamacare will add tens of trillions to our national debt. The initial budget projections for Medicare and Medicaid showed only a modest financial impact on the financial situation of the country. How did that work out?
  • Entitlement spending in 2003 was $1.3 trillion. Entitlement spending in 2008 was $1.7 trillion. Entitlement spending in 2013 was $2.2 trillion. Entitlement spending in 2018 will be $2.8 trillion, as these programs are on automatic pilot.

When you consider the facts in a rational manner, without vitriolic denials, bitter accusations, acrimonious blame, and rejection of the entire premise, you come to the conclusion that we’ve passed the point of no return. Decades of bad choices, bad leadership, bad men in important positions, bad education, bad governance, and bad citizenship have led to bad times. But very few people, across all socio-economic classes, have any interest in understanding the facts or making the tough choices required to save future generations from a life of squalor. We willfully choose to ignore the facts.

“Most ignorance is vincible ignorance. We don’t know because we don’t want to know.” Aldous Huxley

Our degraded and ignorant society is incapable of comprehending their dire circumstances or acting for the common good of the country. We are a nation on the take. Greed really is good. Everyone needs to play the game. From the top floor corporate CEO suite to the decaying urban wastelands, we have chosen comforting ignorance to uncomfortable knowledge. Our warped form of democracy enriches the few at the top, while dispensing enough subsistence payments to the lower classes to keep them from revolting, while enslaving the middle class in debt and convincing them it’s really wealth. Mencken understood the pathetic impulses of the American populace decades before we reached our point of no return.

“Democracy is a pathetic belief in the collective wisdom of individual ignorance.” – H.L. Mencken

The only way a democracy can survive is if the population is knowledgeable, vigilant, skeptical, educated, individually responsible, self-reliant, moral, capable of critical thinking and willing to accept the consequences of their actions. A nation of takers, fakers and blamers will not last long. We’ve degenerated into a nation of knowledge hating book burners. Our culture of ignorance will lead to the destruction of our culture and the ignorant masses will wonder what happened.


“But you can’t make people listen. They have to come round in their own time, wondering what happened and why the world blew up around them. It can’t last.”Ray Bradbury – Fahrenheit 451

In Part Two of this examination about our culture of ignorance I’ll explore the roles of technology, family breakdown, government, and propaganda in creating the ignorance that is consuming our system like a mutant parasite. If you are seeking a happy ending, I suggest looking elsewhere.

Searching for Bobby Fischer

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Just back from the Matanuska-Susitna River Valley Elementary School Chess Tournament.

I am proud to report that in our first competition as a Team against all the rest of the Elementary Schools in the Matanuska-Susitna River Vally, out of 16 schools competing we took 3rd Place. All the rest of the teams are from the Public Schools, ours was the only one entered for Homeschoolers/Private Education. To make an almost full team of 9 (10 is max) we combined my group of 5 intrepid Trebuchet builders with 4 traditional Homeschoolers who all signed up as a single team. Top 7 scores count. You get 1 point for a win, 0 for a loss, .5 for a stalemate or draw. The tournament goes 7 rounds so your max individual score is 7 points if you win every game. 15 minutes on your clock, so 30 minutes maximum time for the game. Touch-Move Rules. We started at 9 this morning and finished around 2:30PM

We lost out to Shaw and Knik, both schools with hundreds of students and well developed Chess Clubs. My Chess Warriors are all first year Chess players except for one who learned some from his Dad before this year. He did the best out of the group with 5 wins. One of the Homeschoolers also had 5 wins. The rest of our counted scores were all 4 or 4.5 Points., 3 of them from my group and 2 from the Homeschoolers.

For my group, attendance at the Tournament was Mandatory since I am teaching Chess as part of my curriculum, its not a Club. This was their “Final Exam”. We play chess or discuss strategy twice a week for about 1 hour. It is IMHO one of the finest games ever invented for learning to think ahead, develop strategy and spatial awareness and how to focus your mind. Go is the only other game you can make a case for it being as good, but its not a very popular game in the Western countries.

Gender demographics at the tournament were the usual Male Dominated at about 5:1 ratio. I remain unsure as to whether this is a cultural or genetic discrepancy, I think it is mostly genetic though. Chess favors a more aggressive nature found more often in Boys. In the top 20 of 84 Players, there were no Girls.

As we look forward to the end of the Age of Oil and Electronic Joystick Games, Chess will endure through it all. I played Chess on Ipanema Beach in Rio as a 6 year old using sea shells and rocks and cans of Fanta Orange soda, drawing out the 64 squares of the board by hand in the sand many times. The Game was invented long before there were joysticks and video screens, and depend on nothing but the Mind of the Individual really. It is possible to play chess with no board at all and just do the game in your head, that is how you play multiple boards at the same time. When I was young I could do this, I can no longer though, brain cells too stiff with age and I just do not play enough anymore to do it.

There is no element of “chance” in Chess as there is in say Backgammon or Poker or Bridge, other very good games but all dependent on the Roll of the Dice or the Deal of the Cards. The miniscule advantage you get by playing first with White dissipates quickly if you play someone of equal ability. There are no guaranteed victory strategies you can play by memorizing games, though this does help you if you have many memorized. Modern computers have now exceeded the ability of even the top Grandmasters mainly by crunching through billions of possibilities in nanoseconds, but no Grandmaster ever goes that deep, its done more by developing strategy and securing the space. I think the AI now does some of this as well.

In the world to come, I consider Chess as important to teach as how to construct a Trebuchet or how to field dress a Caribou or Filet a Fish. It refines your thinking and focuses your mind. It also teaches you that there are Winners and Losers in a very real sense, and that the smallest of mistakes can drop you into the LOSER category very quickly. It also transfers to other areas very well, for me a Debate is just like a Chess Game. You build a case; you feignt; you misdirect; you ATTACK when you see an opening and then you go in for the KILL. From my POV, these kids will not SURVIVE if they do not know how to go in for the KILL when necessary here. They are the generation destined to fight the Last Battle for ALL THE MARBLES. You don’t win against the Illuminati playing White if you are Stupid and playing Black, and you don’t win by playing nice either. You win by TAKING OUT their Pawns and then their Bishops and Knights and Rooks, until you finally get the Queen and leave the King isolated. We NEED really good Chess Players in this game, and I hope I can teach a few how this game is played.

Metaphors aside here, its nice to get away from the Doom for a few hours and play/watch some Chess. I occassionally still play some against my computer, but of course the damn thing is so good I can’t beat it unless I turn down the settings a couple of notches. I’m no Bobby Fischer or Gary Kasparov either, but I do the best I can to teach what I do know about how to play the game of Chess. No Josh Weitzman’s either in my classroom so far, but ya never know, one may turn up here someday. I am Searching for Bobby Fischer.


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Peak Public Education

An Oldie but Goodie from my Peak Oil Forum years…

Peak Public Education

Unread postby ReverseEngineer » Sun Apr 19, 2009 2:13 pm


Long ago and far away, I went to public school. Not as often as lots of people, because I really HATED school. I mean REALLY hated it. So I would fake being sick at least once a week to avoid going, and my mom wasn’t real tough on MAKING me go. So she went to work, and I stayed home watching Jeopardy on TV and The Rifleman with Chuck Connors. You could make a real good case for saying I am who I am today as a result of answering Jeopardy questions followed by watching episodes of Lucas McCain blowing away the bad guys with his Winchester with the cool modified lever action he could spin around on his hand. LOL.

Why did I hate school so much? It wasn’t because it was hard, it was pretty easy. It was because it was so regimented, and fundamentally dull as far as I was concerned. So I avoided everything I could with regards to school, the only thing I really had to “perform” on were the TESTS. The tests however were ridiculously easy themselves, so long as I got 100 on a test I was doing fine so far as TPTB in the school were concerned. Never did my homework though. LOL.

As a result, I didn’t really end up a social automaton, which is why my writing is so idiosyncratic and why my life in fact became so idiosyncratic. One of the real ironies is that despite absolutely HATING school, I became a teacher in the public schools, at least for a while. Reason for that was during the Reagan era there was a big bemoaning of the fact we didn’t have enough good Science and Math teachers in the schools, I was unemployed at the time and figured since I knew so much science and math as a result of playing Jeopardy all those years this would be a good way to make a living
So off I went into a middle class school district to teach the science and math I picked up along the way, and guess what? I HATED teaching in the public schools as much as I HATED being a student in them! LOL. MOST of the kids in my classroom really couldn’t give a flying hoot about why elements combine to form compounds or why gases expand with heat input or even why 2+2=4. Most of them had in fact been “educated” in primary school by teachers who themselves didn’t know why 2+2=4. Anybody who DID know why 2+2=4 at the time was emplyed by banks that paid a lot more money than teachers got paid.
Most of my day in the public school teaching was concerned with keeping the behavior problems in check and satisfying the administrators that I was duly diligent about spitting out Lesson Organizers to try to force feed some knowledge into unwilling learners. I began to see this as a pointless exercise, you simply cannot FORCE a child to learn if they don’t WANT to learn. Especially not anything real difficult for them. There were always a couple of kids in a class that wanted to learn, but they were overwhelmed by those that didn’t. If you sieved them out into “gifted”classes you could get something accomplished, but the typical classroom was just an exercise in babysitting. So at this point I began to wonder just WHY we were running a public school system at ALL, since clearly nobody, or at least only a small percentage, were actually LEARNING anything in them?
Pondering on this, I realized that public education only really took hold at the beginning of the Industrial Era in the 1850s or so. This was the time people were coming off the land and into the factories, and so they weren’t available to teach their children what they needed to know, they were working. Factory OWNERS needed a constant supply of workers however, so you needed to Warehouse the kids until they were old enough to employ productively. POOF you get the Public Schools up to about a 6th Grade level, if you will allow employment of 13 year olds anyhow. However, the society became more technological and needed workers with skills past the 6th grade level, so over time more kids went thru High School, and more went through college. Still a form of warehousing, but also a further form of sieving out workers who could do the tasks required for an increasingly technological society. Problem being of course, such LONG warehousing and so much education time spent on so many people is incredibly expensive. It was a Ponzi Scheme that had to crash eventually, and so it has. The education system we have is a complete mess, it does not educate children well at all, and colleges charge outrageous tuitions which students take loans to get they cannot pay off because the technological jobs they train for are disappearing.
As for myself, I still value learning and as you all know I still teach. I just don’t teach in the public schools anymore, I teach in another paradigm with kids who want to learn.r at least who have parents who want them to learn.  I don’t deal with the funding issues of the public schools, and I view parents as partners in the education process. My job as I see it is to help educate them since many do not really have all the knowledge necessary to teach as many things as I can teach. I can do this mainly as a gift of God, with some help from years of playing Jeopardy.
The Public Schools are quite doomed here in this spin down. Education budgets are going to be slashed here and its highly doubtful you will see a massive Obamout of public education. What you will see is a push toward more Homeschooling as more of the workforce is unnecessary. However, the mass of children coming out of the public schools in this generation are wholly unprepared for what is to come before us, really they are utterly clueless. None of the assumptions held out to them as truth are holding true, and they will have to learn about life all over again now. A few will adapt, a few will learn, a few will survive. Most will not. That is how it goes when a civilization crashes. Peak Public Education probably past us around 1970 or so. I got lucky and got educated through that time period, but it has gone the way of the dinosaur now and probably all to the good, because really all it did was enble the power structure that has brought the Earth to its knees now.
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