Monday, January 7, 2008

Education Reply

So my reply to your education reply.  People shouldn't need laws to tell them not to kill, but they do.  Lot's of things shouldn't, or should be, but that doesn't matter.  Again, stop looking this as helping someone, I'm not doing this to help the people, I'm doing it to help the country the government represents as a whole.  Big government and admin costs are really the same, and I don't think either would be a big deal.  Anything the government does will add costs, and require more people, the question that needs to be asked is is it worth it.  Everybody hates welfare in general, the entire purpose of the government though is welfare to one degree or another.  There is nothing the government does that isn't forcing others (at gun point) to pay for things that make you better off.  Again I think it all reduces down to if the reward is worth the cost.

Your concern about the increased volume is valid, I hadn't thought of that. I think those are the only valid problems, the increased amount of people going to school.  Although I'm not sure if they can be called a fault of the system, they are a fault of the school system.  It would be the same situation if some anonymous source started paying for education.  I think the market will fix it, the schools that let everyone in will lose reputation, and the price they can charge will go down.  With the additional tuitions school will be able to hire more teachers and build more room.  It will all take over a decade, but it's not like people will be dieing in the streets in the mean time.  It will be a short term decrease in quality of education for a long term net gain.  I'm not too sure how the process of starting a college works, but assuming it is kept as free of barriers as possible it will be a great opportunity for people to start a new school to fill the void as needed.

I think you noted I didn't like the GPA, but I feel it must be based on actual performance in the class, not on potential performance.  By percentile I assume you mean like those standardized tests we had to take, that tell us what percentile we are in intelligence wise out of the population as a whole.  Just look at me, I would score high on those tests, but I refused to do work in school, yet the state would pay for my education, which I wouldn't take seriously.  I hold very little weight with standardized tests, they are too easy to cheat at.  You may say you can cheat your way through an entire class, but you can do anything, but it's easier to cheat a single test than a months long class.

One of the biggest problems with No Child Left Behind, is with the test system it uses to rank progress.  The problem is that the test is a way of gauging the student and the teacher, thus the teacher is inclined to help the student cheat.  That is just one example of what can happen when you put all your faith in a single thing (a test).

I had a lot of complaints about school in high school, but I never felt the grades were that bad (one exception would be that absurd attempt to improve education by raising the numerical grade thresholds for each letter grade). In general two students would perform about as they should, even with different teachers, and at different times.  You may argue that the teacher has a huge role in how a student performs, and I'll agree.  Although it should never be that large.  I think a large problem in general about schools is long term teachers reach an unfirable state, and then can do whatever they please.  They often use their position to further the way they think other subjects should be taught.  An example is the math teacher that forces essays to be written, or those horrible classes were you are graded on keeping a notebook.  That is a problem with the administration of the school though, they shouldn't put up with such nonsense.

A big problem (and it's much bigger than this situation), is how to deal with a group of people that want something not in their best interest.  In general the population controls what is taught, and the population (or at least certain populations) may very well like a class were to get an A you just need to mindlessly copy notes.  Since we aren't training scribes that skill is all but worthless.  Lots of things teachers do is just to make their own jobs (of grading) easier.  Again though how do you handle a population that doesn't want it's own best interest?  How do you decide fairly what is in the best interest of a large group if they can't make the decision?  I'd like to discuss this further with you, but I've been thinking about it for a while, and I'm starting to suspect there may not be any fair way to do it.

So back to grades.  You say you don't need a higher education to build a better taco, and this is where I think you miss my main point (as well as the subtleties of taco construction).  A better educated populace would move up, and that would create a void at the bottom that our endless supply of illegals (that we won't stop) will fill.  I know this comes back to another old discussion we had, but with the whole population better educated they would be able to do a higher job.  Thus the taco maker would no longer be a taco maker, he'd move up, and the whole chain would move up, and it would create new jobs at the top.  More jobs at the top mean a better standard of living for all.

However, that was my weak point (as you may remember, I always present my points weakest to strongest, works well in email as I end with a strong point, but not so great in person since you cut me off and it takes an hour to give my strong point).  A better point is that we aren't just concerned with jobs, and economic growth.  You said your self the level of debt is proportional to the lack of finical training in school.  People need more training to prepare for life.  Life has grown much more complex than it was when the K-12 system was devised.  Very little of what would be taught then (the basics) is no longer needed, but much more new is needed now.

A better educated populace is better off for everyone.  Stop looking at it from the individuals point of view (helping with welfare), and stop looking at it from a job point of view.  Look at an entire population, then decide if they would be better off with a higher or lower education.  My number one concern in life is maintaining the balance between government vs people, and I think this is much less important in your eyes.  There is no denying that the people of the US couldn't care less what their own government does. There's something called bread and circuses, which says as long as you keep the population well feed and entertained they could care less about how you do it, or what else you are doing.  We reached a point a while ago where keeping us feed and entertained was no problem, now that the basic needs are meet, the government is free to do as they please.

As you should remember me saying, money = power, and our government has more money than any other entity on Earth.  The group charged with keeping them in check (us) couldn't care less what they do, as long as they live comfortably.  The worst part is they don't even need to be that well off, they just need to be convinced they are better off than they were, or than they could be.

The total apathy of us towards politics is appalling (and as someone who prides himself on general apathy I think I'm qualified to talk).  Not one out of ten could describe even basics of our government.  No one understands why we have states, and as far as they are concerned they are nothing more than administrative districts, larger than counties, smaller than the country.  Not understanding, at the least, why the country was founded out of states, and not just one country is a huge flaw.  This can be shown by the huge support to eliminate the electoral college after that election were the popular vote differed from it.  No one could understand how the winner could be different from what most people wanted.  I'm sure there were some people who understood the electoral college, and the history of state vs federal rights, and made an informed decision (for whatever reason), that a stronger federal government was better, but they were out numbered at least 100 to 1 by people who don't even grasp why we are called the united states of x.

A better educated populace is harder to trick, and would be at least slightly more educated in how things work and why they work that way.  I'm sure people would still be apathetic when all their basic needs are provided for, but at least they could make an informed decision if the need arose. You mentioned how you couldn't blame people for believing in gods when there were so many more unknowns in daily life.  But, you can't expect the fact that things are known to someone else to have any effect on people.  People need to know for themselves how things work.  I'm not just talking about civics, or political history, but just everyday understanding of how the things around us work.  How many people today couldn't explain half the things they interact with every day?  How many people do you think could explain how a microwave works (without using the word 'nuke')?  Such ignorance of our surroundings can only lead to poor choices.

I find it interesting that you support more things being taught, but yet not extending the period to teach them.  You want more practical stuff being taught, I assume at the expense of things you don't think are relevant.  We also seem to disagree on the additional subjects.  As you probably remember my policy in highschool was to do as little as possible and graduate.  This meant I didn't take any of the recommended classes, only those required by the state (as evident by my lack of a foreign language, which I remember surprised you).  Thus, I took a lot of practical classes that were meant for those not headed for college.  In particular I took 2 years of business, which largely covered personal finances.  I slept the entire period every day for 2 years and still got A's all the way through.  The class was even a joke to the other kids in the class.  I doubt any one ever got a C or below, and I doubt even more that any of them could remember even the most basics of the class today.  I also took a typing class, which covered letter writing, again a joke.

Making these classes a requisite would help, but there would still be levels, and the low levels will always be a joke.  In a way this is good, the system expels as little resources as possible on those that don't care, they get their minimum level of education to operate in society and then those who want more go on to college.  That's why I advocate the teaching in college as opposed to highschool.  Now I'm sure the counter argument is that the majority of those in college are just there for a piece of paper to help getting a job, but at least they are there of their own free will.

The subjects I'd like to see covered would be more general science and logic, statistics and probability, early US political history (the history of the political system, not the US), and more computer stuff.  Highschool should probably have less electives, recover the basics.  I didn't understand the basics of English in highschool (I still don't know what a preposition is), yet I was forced to read pointless novels about crap no one cared about, which were all to easy to get by with out doing.  Rehash the basics of grammar, and allow reading to be a elective (English should probably only be 2 years or so).  Math is much more needed.  Algebra is needed, but geometry and trig aren't that great.  Provide them as electives, but Algebra is the highest level needed, instead require statistics, and finance.  General world history is ok, 1 year of that, but much more extensive political history, and civics.  People must understand why the founders set things up they way they did.  More science, but more general. A combo year or physics, bio, chem, but then a few years of just how science works first.  Understand the scientific method, and how to solve a problem reasonably.

You may be noting that people would leave my highschool with less understanding of the world then before.  But the point is that they get what they need, a better foundation, then they can choose to pursue a higher education.  Highschool's goal would be to teach why, college to teach how.

This ties in with what I was saying about the good of the people vs want of the people.  Obviously the fact that I want more science and math, and less english wouldn't be much of a surprise.  I'm sure other people would want more english/history/gay crap, and less math/science.  I support the well roundedness of college, I think it is important to give people a view from all angles.  But not in highschool.  The goal there is to get people to understand why things are.  But, our problem arises of how to decide what needs to be taught.  Is teaching math/science better for people than the english/history?  How do we know for sure, and then how do we justify teaching others?

I'm opposed to your grading system.  First off, the fact that C is the middle ground is part of a much bigger problem.  It has to do with the way people refuse to be accurate, or reasonable (110% as a minimum).  I know I discussed this exact problem with you before.  I read about someone who tallied up the rating for video games from a bunch of different places over a few years.  The average was like 8/10, with like less than 10% under 5/10. A funny side quote is some past president who was alarmed to be told that half of American were below average intelligence.  My way of making this point when explaining how skewed the 10 point scale was, when rating girls on a 1-10 scale you never hear 5's.  Everyone is either very high or low. If you told a girl she was a 5 you'd get slapped.  Even if you told her she was a 6 she'd be pissed, yet 6 is above average.

However, the solution is not to dynamically change grades to make up for it. The number is a percentage of how well you did, and that is the only true gauge of you.  The letter is just there to help present the information faster.  I always found the letter silly.  The border between 89/90 is no more important than 90/91.  Before I discuss your system, let me review how it works to confirm I'm not misunderstanding.  It seems to be the standard grading on a curve.  The top 15% of grades in the class no matter how poor or well they do will be A's, the bottom 15% will be F's.

Assuming that you still will tie an F will a failure of the class this should have the effect of 15% of you class won't graduate every year, right off the bat.  But that's not even the biggest problem (points weakest to strongest).  The biggest problem is that two students that perform equally well will be given different grades depending on their peers.  You could get 90's on every test, yet if all your peers were getting 95's you'd fail. Looked at the other way if all your peers were getting 30's then you could get a 40 and get an A.  The only counter argument I can think of is that it would reflect the real world, in that your performance only matters in relation to your peers (the classic I don't have to out run the mountain lion, I only have to out run you).  My problems with that, is highschool isn't the real world.  Too much of highschool was justified as pretending to be the real world, just for the sake of 'preparing' us.  But they silly play we put on didn't prepare anyone for anything, and just got in the way of highschools true purpose, preparing us by giving us a basic understanding of the world.

If an entire class does well they should all get A's, and if they all do poorly they should all get F's.  I don't have any problem with adjusting the class, from year to year, to attempt to keep the grades matched up to a general break down of half getting about the C mid point, half below.  But that should be done be adjusting the difficulty of the tests, not be arbitrarily changing the grading system to fit the results.  You need to take in a larger sample than a single class.  A class could be as small as 10 people.  It wouldn't be unreasonable for 8 or 9 very smart or dumb people to end up together, skewing the results of the normal person.  By using the average grade in the class as a whole for a year you get a more accurate picture to adjust the tests.  Also it leaves a better audit trail for why a student did as they did.  If some kid gets a 30 in a class, you can look at the tests and say he didn't know 70% of this stuff.  If it was all on a curve all you could say is that he knew less than x other people.

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