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Thursday, August 04, 2005

I Miss Daschle- At Least He Wasn't Incompetent

Yall like the USA, right? Great country. Lots of potential. Lots of decadence. We're not in a downward spiral yet, but there are some severe problems.

Most of our productive output is consumed by buying iPods, PSPs, basketball jerseys, and fast food. Look around at the vast number of people who do relatively useless jobs. Look at the vast sums of money spent pandering to minor whims. Most people could lead a perfectly happy life with a mere 200$ worth of ice cream per month, or perhaps less. Instead, they spend 200$ buying dog toys, treats, shampoos, and day camps. Yes, day camps for dogs. Not in the confederacy, nay, but in some areas. Tens of thousands on custom cars. etc. etc. Today's America is a sybaritic paradise.

Even so, we're investing for the future and stimulating the economy to periodic climaxes of IPOs and insider deals. It's not all bad.

And then there's the education system. (I'm getting to the main point, here.) Most people agree (See that throw-away rhetorical device? the hallmark of a small mind) I say, most people agree that the education system needs to be reformed. Most people have no idea of the scope of that change.

I think I have solutions, but so do a million other hucksters. Whether I or they are more correct is not urgent. Examination of the current system makes it painfully, achingly clear that the current system is fifty to a hundred years out of date.

That is not verbal excess. The schools in this country are a relic of the industrial age. We have already passed the Indian Space Age (it came briefly, but will probably be back to stay). We are elbows-deep in the Information Age, and the Age of Robotics or the Biotech Age may soon be upon us.

Let me show you how you too can see what's wrong. Stand up on that chair and look over the wall. See that kid? He was sorted outat an early age and put into class. He's been sent from class to class for 10 years, now, each one pumping him up with another required piece of education. Eventually, he'll step off the assembly line (unless he fails the TAAS or TAKS or TEAKS or TADAS) and go to work.

This particular assembly line is unionized. It can't get enough workers, or enough equipment, and no one wants to work in the factory because it's run by commies who will never promote or recognise hard work. Teaching methods are hopelessly muddled and out-of-date. (The Phoenicians mastered Phonics, and became rich and swarthy. What's so hard to understand about phonics?) Students face soft discipline, and the system trains even the best and brightest to be lazy and errant. All of these are crippling problems, but they are not the main problem.

The problem is that this assembly line is obsolete. Today, quality assurance checks every part. An uptick in sales at the retail counter causes and increase in production, and the Doodad Brand Fasteners are at the dock by the next morning. Factories are constantly retooled, the product is constantly updated, and customers are studied with everything from surveys to EEGs. Tell me that the educational system matches this efficiency. And that's just in the mass-manufacturing sector. The network-centric model in IT, air traffic, sales, services, and even cutting-edge manufacturing has trumped the assembly line.

People (educators) complain that educators are paid a starvation wage for their nine months of air-conditioned work. (They make more than my parents did, and more than many of the parents of their students.) Still, their solution is more teachers. The solution of every politician is more teachers. When we can't find enough qualified as it is, we should hire more people- whether they're qualified or not. We can't afford to pay the ones we have- so we must hire more. They can't teach, so we should hire more.

Athletes, on the other hand (and this is the constant comparison) make millions. Their job isn't as important as teaching! No, but they entertain millions of viewers at once. The ones we call teachers fail to teach 30 students at once. It's the economy of scale, among other things.

I know personally that a child can learn many times faster from a computer than from a worksheet, or even from many teachers. A computer can correct errors and give feedback instantly; it can repeat instructions indefinitely; it can create new problems and stick to a subject until the student gets it; it is entertaining, continuous, nearly infallible. A computer can't replace a teacher, yet, but for economies of scale, for effect it is unmatched.

Whatever. Computers are merely a topical cream on the arterial wound that is the Department of Education. The system is antiquated and ineffective because it is socialized. (Although Stalin could probably run it with better results.) The system subsidizes everything but success, and that is what it reaps.

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