How Do You Beat Your Wife?

What a fabulous thing is religion!

Happy Hanukkah, Now Git!


Another "No" To Merit Pay


Dear President-Elect Obama:

Congratulations on the overwhelming mandate issued by the American voters on November 4. In the months and years ahead, I look forward to your leadership and vision, and those of your Vice President, Joe Biden.

Over the past several months, issues related to teacher attraction, retention, and compensation have been discussed by the candidates and campaign spokespeople. In addressing these issues, Senator McCain espoused the concept of providing bonuses for teachers based on the standardized test score gains of their students. Your campaign platform recognized the need to attract more teachers into the profession and proposed to pay them more once they arrive. The respective campaigns touched on ideas and initiatives that are central to the growing national debate over these complex and controversial issues.

As you and Vice President Biden formulate your agenda in this arena, please consider the following perspectives. The ideas and assertions that formulate these beliefs are the product of more than a decade researching, analyzing, and bargaining teacher compensation. These suggestions are not intended to promote any political agenda or ideology. They are intended to advance the profession of teaching and learning in America. Among the things recent research has indicated, effective teaching is the single most important school-related factor in determining student success.

Much has been said and written about the need to reward the Nation’s “best” teachers. While such an idea may seem logical, understandable, and worthy, it is but a simplistic attempt to address very complex issues. Even if we were to set aside the profound difficulties in defining the “best” teachers, such an approach will not provide the type of systemic changes needed to effect positive advances in the teaching profession.

The effectiveness of a population of teachers, like that all other workers, tends to fall along a continuum or “bell curve.” A handful will be underachievers, a handful exemplary performers, and the vast majority will be found clustered in the middle. Those clustered in the middle are hard-working teachers doing what they can to deliver high quality instruction to students.

Most school districts and unions have negotiated systems to address the underachievers. If attempts to help them improve fail, they are escorted out of the profession.

The exemplary performers will remain such with or without the promise of a bonus. Instead of offering bonuses, the money is better spent building systems that put these highly effective educators in positions of teacher leadership.

For systemic change to occur, however, we must build systems that provide the majority of teachers clustered in the middle the ability and opportunity to further advance and improve the effectiveness of their teaching. The enticement of a bonus, limited and fleeting in nature, will not give them the additional skills and knowledge they need to become even more effective teachers.

With the above serving as the foundation, I respectfully request that you consider the following five point plan:

1. $40,000 Minimum Starting Salary
As proposed by Governor Richardson and others, we must provide economic incentives to encourage the best and brightest to consider teaching as a viable professional option.

2. Teacher Residency
In cooperation with institutes of higher learning, school districts and their teacher associations would be encouraged to implement teacher residency programs, similar to that used for training physicians, for first year teachers. These programs would assign a full-time first year teacher with less than a full-time student caseload. Such an approach would permit the new teacher time and opportunities to reflect on their practices, model and observe exemplary teaching from more experienced colleagues, and work closely with a mentor. In fact, Title II of the recently enacted Higher Education Opportunity Act authorizes a teacher residency program. One quick way to demonstrate your support for this program would be to include $300 million for Title II, it’s new authorized level, as part of the Fiscal Year 2009 education appropriations bill as well as in your proposed Fiscal Year 2010 budget.

3. Teacher Leadership
It is not enough to build systems designed to attract new and talented people into the profession; we must devise systems to retain them once they arrive. Studies have indicated that up to 50% of new teachers leave the profession within the first five years, at an estimated cost of nearly $3 billion annually. Leadership opportunities would permit alternatives for highly qualified teachers. Currently, educators either remain in the classroom, move into administrative roles, or leave
the business altogether. Teacher leadership would provide economic incentives and alternatives to those not wishing to move into administration, while providing extremely valuable contributions to the school district’s mission. Examples of leadership roles would likely include:

□ Mentoring
□ Peer Coaching and Assistance
□ Curriculum Development
□ Content Specialists
□ Research Coordination

4. Action Research
Adding to the research-based body of knowledge about effective teaching practices is an imperative component of effective school reform. Individual teachers and groups of teachers would be provided economic incentives to conduct action research in their classrooms. Such research would help to discover and promote the most effective teaching practices. The findings of this research would be warehoused in an electronic database available to teachers across the
country. The outcomes of such a database, for example, would permit a teacher in Maine to learn from the research conducted by a teacher in California.

5. Professional Growth Tied to Classroom Objectives and District Mission
There are scores of school districts and their teacher unions that have developed exemplary professional development programs. Many of these are manifested in intra-district learning communities, where teachers gain the skills and knowledge they need to effectively teach 21st Century skills to an increasingly diverse student population. These models can and must be successfully adapted and implemented across the country.

Upon implementation of the above-prescribed initiatives, comprehensive assessment measures must follow. To adequately and effectively measure the impact of these initiatives, measures must include:

□ Classroom and school-based measures of student growth in those competencies
identified by the Partnership for 21st Century Skills.
□ Graduation rates
□ Student satisfaction
□ Rates of teacher attraction
□ Rates of teacher attrition
□ Participation rates in action research
□ Participation rates in teacher leadership
□ Participation rates in professional development
□ School climate and culture

Comprehensive and effective reform of the Nation’s teacher compensation systems is a highly complex and controversial issue. Simple prescriptions will not effect the type of systemic change needed to successfully achieve positive school reform.

I encourage you and your administration to avoid the temptations of politically-charged quick fixes. Please consider the above perspectives. I am convinced they will result in the type of positive evolution of the teaching profession and resultant improved education results that we all want.

Thank you for your time and consideration. And again, congratulations.


Jim Carlson
November 10, 2008

Do You Believe In Santa Clause?

Oh, Canada

Merit Pay For Teachers? Not Going To Work!

Merit pay for teachers is not a fix:
"In the 1980s, school districts dabbled with programs that offered teachers cash inducements, such as bonuses or raises, for doing their jobs well.

But those merit-pay programs were mostly short-lived, hotly debated, and understudied. Even after all this time, no one knows definitively whether children learn more when teachers are paid extra for boosting their students' achievement."
Go read the entire piece.


Thursday Cartoon Fun

War Crimes

A Few Bad Apples up on the Very Top

by publius

I'm not sure it tells anything we don't already know (read, e.g., The Dark Side). But the Levin-run Senate Armed Services Committee report on detainee abuse is now out (pdf exec summary). And it deserves some press attention.

It confirms that senior administration officials authorized torture. Specifically, they authorized the "SERE" techniques -- which had been originally used decades ago to train American troops to withstand Communist torture -- to be used on detainees. In other words, they used illegal medieval methods designed to obtain false confessions, and made them the centerpiece of our intelligence-gathering. In this respect, Abu Ghraib was the sick poisoned fruit of a very rotten tree.

I'm running to a meeting, but here's an excerpt from the press release (I received via email):
A major focus of the Committee’s investigation was the influence of Survival Evasion Resistance and Escape (SERE) training techniques on the interrogation of detainees in U.S. custody. SERE training is designed to teach our soldiers how to resist interrogation by enemies that refuse to follow the Geneva Conventions and international law. During SERE training, U.S. troops --- in a controlled environment with great protections and caution --- are exposed to harsh techniques such as stress positions, forced nudity, use of fear, sleep deprivation, and until recently, the waterboard. The SERE techniques were never intended to be used against detainees in U.S. custody. The Committee’s investigation found, however, that senior officials in the U.S. government decided to use some of these harsh techniques against detainees based on deeply flawed interpretations of U.S. and international law.

The Committee concluded that the authorization of aggressive interrogation techniques by senior officials was both a direct cause of detainee abuse and conveyed the message that it was okay to mistreat and degrade detainees in U.S. custody.
In short, war crimes.


Senate Candidate #5

SC#5 is Jesse Jackson Jr. What a scandal! Looks like Illinois Democrats should all just resign. Horrible! At least Obama has a history of staying away from these scum. That is how people apparently think of Obama--above the fray, ethical, clearly not involved in this nonsense. But still, oy vey!

Update: Seems JJ has been an informant for the FBI against Blago for a long time. I suppose JJ is in the clear now, and poised to become Governor of Illinois!


Merry Christmas From Your Local Atheist Jew (Me)

h/t The Daily Dish

TFT's Health Updated

I went to my follow-up today. The CT looks good according to the doc. My blood work looks good. So, I am fine.

There is one bit of bad news, though it does not involve my lifespan, fortunately. The drug I was on for one year is a brand new drug for my illness (it had been developed for another illness, and was deemed useful for my ailment the day I began it...so it is new and the jury is still out on some of the issues surrounding many new drugs; how long to take it, dosage, etc;) The recommendation was that I take it for a year, and I did. It is just a pill, but it does come with its side effects, like headaches, stomach upset, slow healing, and many others, mostly mild when you compare them to chemo that is injected and makes your hair fall out!

Today my doctor told me that the consensus is that I might as well continue to take it. There are some European studies still in the works, as well as others here in America. When these studies are concluded, we may know more about how long one should remain on the drug. But until then I need to go back on, just to be safe, because there is a chance of a recurrence.

I am not happy about this development. It costs a mere $20/month, but I was getting used to the extra $20/month! And now that my health insurance just doubled, I am especially bummed. I also do not like the 2 hours or so of discomfort that comes after I take the drug after dinner each night. And it makes going out a bit tough. But I think if I eat better (its hard to stay fed due to the surgery) the stomach discomfort will be less.

Anyway, I am fine, the drug is not debilitating, and I am not too bummed about it. Just bummed enough.

Teach For America: Makes For Bad Teachers!

From The Daily Howler:
The little reform that doesn’t: On the front page of Saturday’s Post, Megan Greenwell penned a long piece (1380 words) about the Teach for America program. One paragraph struck us as very important. It was paragraph 12 in her long report—out of 27 in all:
GREENWELL (12/7/08): Research into Teach for America's effectiveness has been inconclusive, but at least three major studies in the past several years indicate that students taught by its teachers score significantly lower on standardized tests than do their peers. A small handful of other studies, and the organization's own research, contradict that claim.
Say what? “[A]t least three major studies in the past several years indicate that students taught by [Teach for America] teachers score significantly lower?” Greenwell said this research isn’t conclusive. But we thought that paragraph (paragraph 12) was remarkable—really quite striking.

Why did we find that passage so striking? Because of the way the Washington Post—and the upper-class press corps generally—loves pimping Teach for America. Indeed, someone should quickly introduce Greenwell to her paper’s editorial board! Just two days before her piece appeared, the board produced this high-minded editorial; the editors begged Obama to “opt for boldness”—for bold “reform”— in selecting his Secretary of Education. And in the mahoganied world of our upper-end press corps, “educational reform” almost always means Teach for America! The Post didn’t even feel the need to explain what TFA is, or why it’s a useful “reform:”
WASHINGTON POST EDITORIAL (12/5/08): The choice of Stanford University professor Linda Darling-Hammond to head [Obama’s] education policy transition group, along with speculation that she is a candidate for secretary or deputy secretary, is not reassuring to those in the reform movement. Ms. Darling-Hammond has been more critical than supportive of the No Child Left Behind law, dislikes linking teacher pay to test scores and is no fan of Teach for America. It would be a mistake to retreat from the accountability that No Child Left Behind has brought in improving learning and narrowing the achievement gap for minority students. And the next secretary should encourage the kind of innovation and entrepreneurship typified by Teach for America's success in attracting top college graduates to inner-city schools.
In that passage, the Post listed three markers of “reform;” TFA was one of the three, and it was quickly pimped again. But then, David Brooks had promoted the same connection—TFA means reform!—in the New York Times that same morning:
BROOKS (9/5/08): There is only one education secretary, and if you hang around these circles, the air is thick with speculation, anticipation, anxiety, hope and misinformation. Every day, new rumors are circulated and new front-runners declared. It's kind of like being in a Trollope novel as Lord So-and-So figures out to whom he's going to propose.

You can measure the anxiety in the reformist camp by the level of nervous phone chatter each morning. Weeks ago, Obama announced that Darling-Hammond would lead his transition team and reformist cellphones around the country lit up. Darling-Hammond, a professor at Stanford, is a sharp critic of Teach for America and promotes weaker reforms.
Brooks offered only one marker of “[strong] reform.” And sure enough—it was TFA! When Greenwell sits down with her newspaper’s board, maybe Brooks can audit the course.

Endlessly, Teach for America gets ballyhooed by a largely know-nothing, upper-end press corps. For that reason, we thought that one paragraph—paragraph 12—was striking in Greenwell’s piece. But Greenwell’s piece was not an attempt to warn that TFA may be ineffective “reform.” Quite the contrary: In its basic format, Greenwell’s piece was the latest attempt to spread the good news about TFA’s “success!”

Greenwell does deserve lots of credit for including that one lonely paragraph. But when Teach for America appears on page one, its treatment—by law—must be upbeat. In fact, Greenwell was writing about TFA’s latest triumph—about the way a tough economy has encouraged even more college grads from the very best schools to join the program’s ranks. Within that framework, here is the longer passage in which Greenwell explains that this ballyhooed reform doesn’t quite seem to work:
GREENWELL: The program's success in attracting top talent such as [Georgetown senior Olubukola] Bamigboye has not silenced its critics in the world of education, many of whom say teachers need more than a summer's worth of preparation before taking jobs in inner-city schools. Lorri Harte, a 20-year teacher and administrator in New York City who writes a blog called Debunk TFA, argues that placing the least-experienced teachers with the highest-risk children is a potentially harmful combination.

"Teaching is a job where you get better as you go along, so for the first two years, people are generally not good teachers," Harte said. "The public relations blitz for the program does not address the real problems in education.”

Research into Teach for America's effectiveness has been inconclusive, but at least three major studies in the past several years indicate that students taught by its teachers score significantly lower on standardized tests than do their peers. A small handful of other studies, and the organization's own research, contradict that claim.

The latest spike in applications is only the most recent high point for the program...
The program doesn’t seem to work. But so what? Bamigboye is still described as “top talent”—even though the evidence suggests that she won’t perform like “top talent” during her two years in the program. (Meanwhile, in a weird construction, Greenwell notes that TFA’s success in attracting such college students “hasn’t silenced its critics.”) It’s the law! By the rules of the game, the fact that even more elite grads are signing up simply has to represent another “high point for the program!”

Readers, even more of our brightest grads will be failing to help low-income students! It takes a deeply disordered world view to keep churning such upbeat narratives about a “reform” that doesn’t seem to work. Teach for America doesn’t work. But long live Teach for America!

Greenwell deserves a lot of credit for including paragraph 12. But nothing seems to stop the pimping of The Little Reform That Doesn’t. What could be driving such puzzling work—the insistence on such upbeat frameworks?

Could it be Satan? the Church Lady asked. Tomorrow, we’ll suggest a different possible answer, after reviewing this borderline comical piece about Obama’s quite-elite helpers.
There are no quick fixes for education. Why? Because the problem is poverty and our culture. Let teachers teach, let kids learn, stop trying to save the world with experiments. TFA is a failure. Sure, a good teacher or two will emerge from any program, but it is because of that teacher, not the program, as anyone who has ever succeeded at anything can tell you.


Should Schools Teach Art? Yes, If We Want To Learn Stuff!

Many California schools are "magnets"; they get extra funding because of a concentration in their curriculum, like communications, art, science, technology or myriad other concentrations. I never really understood how the thing worked, and beyond that never really cared because I assumed it was crap anyway--just another creative way to get some money. I assumed (all this before I was a teacher, mind you) schools taught all this stuff. How could they call themselves schools if they weren't teaching this stuff?

As you know, schools teach what they can, and money is a huge factor. When money is tight, the arts get cut. From the article below, we are cutting off our art to spite our future!
Art's power to teach 21st-century skills

By Lisa Guisbond

A RECENT report calling for Massachusetts schools to develop 21st-century skills is cause for both optimism and unease. The promise is that all children, no matter their ZIP code, will benefit from more expansive educational goals, including access to the arts. The concern is that the call to teach and assess more than a narrow set of academic skills will translate into a longer list of high-stakes hoops for teachers and students to jump through.

Education leaders considering how to implement the state's 21st Century Skills Task Force's recommendations can look to an extraordinary local arts program for inspiration. Every summer, Brookline's Creative Arts at Park offers a vivid demonstration of art's power to teach, transform, and develop skills essential for success. Watching my son and his campmates perform "A Midsummer Night's Dream" last July, I thought there could be no better way to learn Shakespeare than to perform it. But this diverse group of young people did much more than memorize one act of a play in five weeks. They mastered a long list of skills, including collaboration, creativity, critical thinking, problem solving, and communication.

According to the 21st Century Skills report, these are the competencies everyone will need to succeed as citizens and workers. These are the skills employers and colleges say are now severely lacking among high school graduates and entering students.

The task force report wisely acknowledges that different tools are needed to assess such skills, including performance assessments like speeches, projects, and exhibitions. Clearly, multiple-choice tests with short written essays are not up to the task. But simply adding more kinds of exams to the current high-stakes system would be a mistake. To promote and assess 21st-century skills, Massachusetts needs to construct a balanced assessment system, as called for in the Education Reform Act.

Some fear that moving beyond our current focus on high-stakes testing and toward multiple measures will mean lowered standards. This argument falsely assumes tests themselves are standards. The fact is that too many schools are now narrowly focused on preparing kids for tests, not educating the whole child.

Nor is it true that students must first memorize some set of basics before they can engage in thinking and interacting with the world. To the contrary, cognitive science and the experiences of nations that score high on international assessments prove that students learn better when they are challenged to think and do, not simply memorize and repeat. Many students are engaged by arts instruction, and when students are engaged, their overall motivation to learn improves.

Massachusetts needs a broader system with more emphasis on classroom-based and performance assessments. We need to make graduation decisions not by a series of separate hurdles but through an integrated approach that taps into our children's diversity of strengths and talents. The cost of such a system is modest and the payoffs large as better-educated students enter adulthood.

The Brookline arts program suggests how much could be gained by giving all students access to the kinds of opportunities usually reserved for rich kids. Wouldn't many children blossom given the chance to steep themselves in Shakespearean culture and language, as they must to put on a coherent performance? Wouldn't they benefit from collaborating and cooperating the way an ensemble cast must do? And wouldn't every child be challenged and grow as a result of all the problem-solving required to put on a play?

Of course, schools should not be turned into theater camps. Quality academic instruction is essential. However, there's been little in my son's school experience to compare with the multidimensional growth I saw as a result of the challenge of playing Nick Bottom. Sadly, the more schools eliminate arts to spend more time boosting test scores, the more access to these experiences is restricted to children whose parents can afford to pay the added costs.

It's time to expand our notion of education and extend the chance for these transformative experiences to all children. I'll be the first to shout "Bravo!" if that is a result of the 21st-century skills report.

Lisa Guisbond is a policy analyst at FairTest and serves on the board of Citizens for Public Schools.
I have always thought all teachers should have to have experience being a counselor at summer camp. Counselors know how to excite kids, talk to them on their level, and especially, how to make baking soda-vinegar explosions!

Afghanistan vs. Obama

The Best And The Brightest: Morons

I never thought I would agree with the anti-intellectuals, but, I do; at least as far as blaming the self-important elite snobs from the Ivy League who just ruined global finances. Here is a great take down of these so called "Best and Brightest".
Harvard, Yale, Princeton and Stanford, along with most other elite schools, do a poor job educating students to think. They focus instead, through the filter of standardized tests, enrichment activities, advanced placement classes, high-priced tutors, swanky private schools and blind deference to all authority, on creating hordes of competent systems managers.
The Best and the Brightest Led America Off a Cliff

Posted on Dec 8, 2008

By Chris Hedges

The multiple failures that beset the country, from our mismanaged economy to our shredded constitutional rights to our lack of universal health care to our imperial debacles in the Middle East, can be laid at the feet of our elite universities. Harvard, Yale, Princeton and Stanford, along with most other elite schools, do a poor job educating students to think. They focus instead, through the filter of standardized tests, enrichment activities, advanced placement classes, high-priced tutors, swanky private schools and blind deference to all authority, on creating hordes of competent systems managers. The collapse of the country runs in a direct line from the manicured quadrangles and halls in places like Cambridge, Princeton and New Haven to the financial and political centers of power.

The nation’s elite universities disdain honest intellectual inquiry, which is by its nature distrustful of authority, fiercely independent and often subversive. They organize learning around minutely specialized disciplines, narrow answers and rigid structures that are designed to produce certain answers. The established corporate hierarchies these institutions service—economic, political and social—come with clear parameters, such as the primacy of an unfettered free market, and with a highly specialized vocabulary. This vocabulary, a sign of the “specialist” and of course the elitist, thwarts universal understanding. It keeps the uninitiated from asking unpleasant questions. It destroys the search for the common good. It dices disciplines, faculty, students and finally experts into tiny, specialized fragments. It allows students and faculty to retreat into these self-imposed fiefdoms and neglect the most pressing moral, political and cultural questions. Those who defy the system—people like Ralph Nader—are branded as irrational and irrelevant. These elite universities have banished self-criticism. They refuse to question a self-justifying system. Organization, technology, self-advancement and information systems are the only things that matter.

“Political silence, total silence,” said Chris Hebdon, a Berkeley undergraduate. He went on to describe how various student groups gather at Sproul Plaza, the center of student activity at the University of California, Berkeley. These groups set up tables to recruit and inform other students, a practice know as “tabling.”

“Students table for Darfur, no one tables for Iraq. Tables on Sproul Plaza are ethnically fragmented, explicitly pre-professional (The Asian American Pre-Law or Business or Pre-Medicine Association). Never have I seen a table on globalization or corporatization. Students are as distracted and specialized and atomized as most of their professors. It’s vertical integration gone cultural. And never, never is it cutting-edge. Berkeley loves the slogan ‘excellence through diversity,’ which is a farce of course if one checks our admissions stats (most years we have only one or two entering Native Americans), but few recognize multiculturalism’s silent partner—fragmentation into little markets. Our Sproul Plaza shows that so well—the same place Mario Savio once stood on top a police car is filled with tens of tables for the pre-corporate, the ethnic, the useless cynics, the recreational groups, etc.”

I sat a few months ago with a former classmate from Harvard Divinity School who is now a theology professor. When I asked her what she was teaching, she unleashed a torrent of obscure academic code words. I did not understand, even with three years of seminary, what she was talking about. You can see this absurd retreat into specialized, impenetrable verbal enclaves in every graduate department across the country. The more these universities churn out these stunted men and women, the more we are flooded with a peculiar breed of specialist. This specialist blindly services tiny parts of a corporate power structure he or she has never been taught to question and looks down on the rest of us with thinly veiled contempt.

I was sent to boarding school on a scholarship at the age of 10. By the time I had finished eight years in New England prep schools and another eight at Colgate and Harvard, I had a pretty good understanding of the game. I have also taught at Columbia, New York University and Princeton. These institutions, no matter how mediocre you are, feed students with the comforting self-delusion that they are there because they are not only the best but they deserve the best. You can see this attitude on display in every word uttered by George W. Bush. Here is a man with severely limited intellectual capacity and no moral core. He, along with “Scooter” Libby, who attended my boarding school and went on to Yale, is an example of the legions of self-centered mediocrities churned out by places like Andover, Yale and Harvard. Bush was, like the rest of his caste, propelled forward by his money and his connections. That is the real purpose of these well-endowed schools—to perpetuate their own.

“There’s a certain kind of student at these schools who falls in love with the mystique and prestige of his own education,” said Elyse Graham, whom I taught at Princeton and who is now doing graduate work at Yale. “This is the guy who treats his time at Princeton as a scavenger hunt for Princetoniana and Princeton nostalgia: How many famous professors can I collect? And so on. And he comes away not only with all these props for his sense of being elect, but also with the smoothness that seems to indicate wide learning; college socializes you, so you learn to present even trite ideas well.”

These institutions cater to their students like high-end resorts. My prep school—remember this is a high school—recently built a $26-million gym. Not that it didn’t have a gym. It had a fine one with an Olympic pool. But it needed to upgrade its facilities to compete for the elite boys and girls being wooed by other schools. While public schools crumble, while public universities are slashed and degraded, while these elite institutions become unaffordable even for the middle class, the privileged retreat further into their opulent gated communities. Harvard lost $8 billion of its endowment over the past four months, which raises the question of how smart these people are, but it still has $30 billion. Schools like Yale, Stanford and Princeton are not far behind. Those on the inside are told they are there because they are better than others. Most believe it.

The people I loved most, my working-class family in Maine, did not go to college. They were plumbers, post office clerks and mill workers. Most of the men were military veterans. They lived frugal and hard lives. They were indulgent of my incessant book reading and incompetence with tools, even my distaste for deer hunting, and they were a steady reminder that just because I had been blessed with an opportunity that was denied to them, I was not better or more intelligent. If you are poor you have to work after high school or, in the case of my grandfather, before you are able to finish high school. College is not an option. No one takes care of you. You have to do that for yourself. This is the most important difference between them and the elites.

The elite schools, which trumpet their diversity, base this diversity on race and ethnicity, rarely on class. The admissions process, as well as the staggering tuition costs, precludes most of the poor and working class. When my son got his SAT scores back last year, we were surprised to find that his critical reading score was lower than his math score. He dislikes math. He is an avid and perceptive reader. And so we did what many educated, middle-class families do. We hired an expensive tutor from The Princeton Review who taught him the tricks and techniques of taking standardized tests. The tutor told him things like “stop thinking about whether the passage is true. You are wasting test time thinking about the ideas. Just spit back what they tell you.” His reading score went up 130 points. Was he smarter? Was he a better reader? Did he become more intelligent? Is reading and answering multiple-choice questions while someone holds a stopwatch over you even an effective measure of intelligence? What about those families that do not have a few thousand dollars to hire a tutor? What chance do they have?

These universities, because of their incessant reliance on standardized tests and the demand for perfect grades, fill their classrooms with large numbers of drones. I have taught gifted and engaged students who used these institutions to expand the life of the mind, who asked the big questions and who cherished what these schools had to offer. But they were always a marginalized and dispirited minority. The bulk of their classmates, most of whom headed off to Wall Street or corporate firms when they graduated, starting at $120,000 a year, did prodigious amounts of work and faithfully regurgitated information. They received perfect grades in both tedious, boring classes and stimulating ones, not that they could tell the difference. They may have known the plot and salient details of Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness,” but they were unable to tell you why the story was important. Their professors, fearful of being branded political and not wanting to upset the legions of wealthy donors and administrative overlords who rule such institutions, did not draw the obvious parallels with Iraq and American empire. They did not use Conrad’s story, as it was meant to be used, to examine our own imperial darkness. And so, even in the anemic world of liberal arts, what is taught exists in a moral void.

“The existence of multiple forms of intelligence has become a commonplace, but however much elite universities like to sprinkle their incoming classes with a few actors or violinists, they select for and develop one form of intelligence: the analytic,” William Deresiewicz, who taught English at Yale, wrote in “The American Scholar.” “While this is broadly true of all universities, elite schools, precisely because their students (and faculty, and administrators) possess this one form of intelligence to such a high degree, are more apt to ignore the value of others. One naturally prizes what one most possesses and what most makes for one’s advantages. But social intelligence and emotional intelligence and creative ability, to name just three other forms, are not distributed preferentially among the educational elite.”

Intelligence is morally neutral. It is no more virtuous than athletic prowess. It can be used to further the rape of the working class by corporations and the mechanisms of repression and war, or it can be used to fight these forces. But if you determine worth by wealth, as these institutions invariably do, then fighting the system is inherently devalued. The unstated ethic of these elite institutions is to make as much money as you can to sustain the elitist system. College presidents are not voices for the common good and the protection of intellectual integrity, but obsequious fundraisers. They shower honorary degrees and trusteeships on hedge fund managers and Wall Street titans whose lives are usually examples of moral squalor and unchecked greed. The message to the students is clear. But grabbing what you can, as John Ruskin said, isn’t any less wicked when you grab it with the power of your brains than with the power of your fists.

Most of these students are afraid to take risks. They cower before authority. They have been taught from a young age by zealous parents, schools and institutional authorities what constitutes failure and success. They are socialized to obey. They obsess over grades and seek to please professors, even if what their professors teach is fatuous. The point is to get ahead. Challenging authority is not a career advancer. Freshmen arrive on elite campuses and begin to network their way into the elite eating clubs, test into the elite academic programs and lobby for elite summer internships. By the time they graduate they are superbly conditioned to work 10 or 12 hours a day electronically moving large sums of money around.

“The system forgot to teach them, along the way to the prestige admissions and the lucrative jobs, that the most important achievements can’t be measured by a letter or a number or a name,” Deresiewicz wrote. “It forgot that the true purpose of education is to make minds, not careers.”

“Only a small minority have seen their education as part of a larger intellectual journey, have approached the work of the mind with a pilgrim soul,” he went on. “These few have tended to feel like freaks, not least because they get so little support from the university itself. Places like Yale, as one of them put it to me, are not conducive to searchers. Places like Yale are simply not set up to help students ask the big questions. I don’t think there ever was a golden age of intellectualism in the American university, but in the 19th century students might at least have had a chance to hear such questions raised in chapel or in the literary societies and debating clubs that flourished on campus.”

Barack Obama is a product of this elitist system. So are his degree-laden Cabinet members. They come out of Harvard, Yale, Wellesley and Princeton. Their friends and classmates made huge fortunes on Wall Street and in powerful law firms. They go to the same class reunions. They belong to the same clubs. They speak the same easy language of privilege and comfort and entitlement. They are endowed with an unbridled self-confidence and blind belief in a decaying political and financial system that has nurtured and empowered them.

These elite, and the corporate system they serve, have ruined the country. These elite cannot solve our problems. They have been trained to find “solutions,” such as the trillion-dollar bailout of banks and financial firms, that sustain the system. They will feed the beast until it dies. Don’t expect them to save us. They don’t know how. And when it all collapses, when our rotten financial system with its trillions in worthless assets implodes and our imperial wars end in humiliation and defeat, they will be exposed as being as helpless, and as stupid, as the rest of us.


Nuvopor: Medicine, Not French

New Anxiety
for Coping With
Economic Gloom.


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