Wednesday, December 21, 2011

We're All Miseducated

We are educated by the wrong people: teachers, professors, journalists, filmmakers, fiction authors.

Teachers score lowest among all professionals on the SAT, and qualitatively, spend time with K-12 teachers and, unless you're a dullard yourself, you'll find most of them, well, dull: usually caring but unlikely to educate beyond a minimum, let alone inspire or elevate their students.

Professors are people who opted out of the real world so they can study arcana for a lifetime--not the best people to abet students' real-world functioning. And because there is a near litmus test for hiring professors in the humanities and social sciences, college and graduate school education is truncated: right-of-center ideas will usually be absent from the curriculum except as whipping boys. Some but not all wisdom resides left-of-center.

Journalists disproportionately self-select into the profession because they want to change the world--in the leftist direction their professors monolithically extolled. And most journalists have little real-world experience to temper their being True Believers in leftist theory: that the privileged white male capitalists are destroying society, especially women and people of color. In previous generations, that was tempered by journalism school professors urging students to strive to be fair and balanced. Now, many journalism professors urge "advocacy journalism," even in supposedly straight-news pieces.

Films nearly always have a leftist bias. For example, filmmakers generally portray corporations as evil --even though, for example, if not for corporations, you'd have no medication, no refrigeration, no TV, no computer, no car, no public transportation, etc. And corporations' efficiency enables even most low-income Americans to afford all of the above. Not to mention that big corporations offer some of the more secure, well-paying, well-benefited jobs, with ongoing free training, all in a safe, pleasant environment. But you'll rarely see that message in a major film. The hero is much more often a have-not.

I've been taking a number of literature courses through The Great Courses, for example, THIS, (taught of course, by leftist professors) and I've learned that the authors of most of our revered literature are misfits, so offbeat (depressed, alcoholic, or simply downright weird,) they nearly always honor the weird person over the straight arrow. And, like journalists, most fiction writers, holed up in their atelier most of their life, have little real-world experience to provide a reality check for their dreamt-up ideas.

I'm not in a bad position to assess the extent to which the above arguments are true. I've trained student teachers and observed many so-called master teachers. I've been on the faculty of the University of California and the California State University and been a consultant to 15 colleges, so I know lots of professors from the inside. I've been a journalist at the San Francisco Chronicle, Los Angeles Times, Kiplinger, U.S., News, the Washington Post, and The Atlantic. So I know journalists. I'm always looking for the metamessages in books, movies, and the news media's reporting. And as a career counselor who has worked with 3,900 clients over the past quarter century, and someone who, even at parties, loves to talk with people about their worklife, I have a pretty good sense of what our society's mind molders are like compared with other intelligent people.

As a result of all of this, I have concluded that we would be better educated if we were taught mainly, although not exclusively, by society's doers: businesspeople, those who work in nonprofits, tradespeople, as well as in the government. The older I get, the more I believe in a variant of the old saw: those who can, do; those who can't, teach, write, or make movies.


Maria Lopez said...

Remember, a successful writer or movie maker is a successful entrepreneur even if their personal life is a mess. Writers, in particular, are in fact working at their business when they stay home and write rather than get out in the world.

If you want fiction that doesn't feature folk who are a bit out of the mainstream, read medieval stuff. Since people who weren't economically successful had no time or ability to read or write the protagonists are almost uniformly successful nobles.

Thrillers, much science fiction, and romances, considered low brow by the literati are also full of people who achieved success by conventional means. Finally some political novels are quite realistic as they are written by people who are close to power and written to satirize the ways of the powerful.

I think teacher SAT and leftist biases are separate issues. Raising teacher pay and prestige might attract people with higher scores to K-12 teaching.

The amount of leftism you are exposed to college depends a lot on your major. Their are a hell of a lot of econ, business, health sciences, engineering, and military science majors who might see the campus as generally leftist but get little political talk from their professors.

Daniel Lemire said...

(1) Corporations exist by virtue of the state, they are, in fact, extensions of the state itself. The US government "owns" several corporations such as the US Postal Service. Public universities are corporations too. Communist states such as China have corporations. Socialists are typically not opposed to corporations, they just want them heavily regulated. Libertarians (often thought to be "right wing") typically oppose the state-backed concept of "legal entity" as unnecessary state interference. While they would support free associations of individuals, they are typically against state-backed "corporations" with limited liabilities. Let us not forget that corporations are often created by states to destroy the market and replace it with a monopoly, so it can definitively be a socialist tool.

(2) I'm not sure which movies we are thinking about here. What comes to me is Erin Brockovich with Julia Roberts. But in this movie, law firms (which are not very far from corporations) go against a big corporation that did nasty things. It is never implied in this movie that "all corporations are evil". In fact, in movies, we see a lot more "evil people" than "evil corporations". Take the popular TV show "fringe". In this show, "Massive Dynamics" is initially portrayed as a potentially evil company, but it later becomes clear that it is more of a gray area. I just don't see any anti-corporatism conspiracy among filmmakers. Do you?

Doug Skinner said...

Agree with your premise, but there are two aspects worth considering.

First, I agree that children learn best from those who ‘get it done’ in the real world. Second, the classroom teacher is not the one who’s most responsible for the child’s education. What should be mentioned in the education quotient are parents or family.

They are the primary educator, not the classroom teacher. The least fortunate children have absent, or unengaged parents. A great teacher may not even be able to help without the parents, in many cases, holding up their end of the bargain. The best education happens with the parents in partnership with the teacher. If the parents are 'doers' and engaged in the child’s education, then the child should be equipped upon graduation to cope with the challenges of being an adult, contributing to society, even if the teacher isn’t in the top tier of SAT test takers.

One place that I observed a gigantic disparity is in education received in public versus private K-12 schools. It’s not because of the teachers. I sent two children to private schools, one for K-12, the other for K-6, then 7-12 in public. I observed excellent teachers in both places, including the public domain.

One example of the difference came down to this: In the private schools, if you’re a parent wishing to chaperon for a field trip, you’d find massive contention with all the other parents, so many volunteers. After school programs? Plenty, too much for children. Problem is, there’s not enough unstructured playtime, everything is orchestrated, helicopter parents hovering incessantly. The open house night has the classrooms packed at standing room capacity, almost 100% parent attendance. Fundraising yields volunteers and donations aplenty. Sports and music programs are flush with resources. These are classy problems.

In contrast, the public school environment of parental involvement is sparse, like a desert next to a lush garden of the private world. I volunteered on the PTA of a public school with 648 children. Guess how many parents were there on average monthly? Less than fifteen. FIFTEEN! That’s about two percent. Open house attendance? About 10% of parents. I know parents are working long hours and don't have it easy, but it's darn crazy that 90% don't show up one night a year to meet the teachers. Teachers don’t have it easier with parents missing.

It’s a good thing we have education heroes, like Lester Dixon, Executive Director, Volunteer, and former Parent of the Cougar Cadet Drum Corps, who runs a wholly volunteer after school program for Academy of Alameda school children.


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