Public school education

Not an autodidact

My only education-related experience has been passive, as a recipient. From kindergarten through 12th grade, I attended public schools in Las Cruces, New Mexico. I loved learning algebra, calculus, chemistry, English literature, French, U.S. history, physics, drafting, home economics, and orchestra. I find it difficult to learn from self-instructional materials. Learning by doing is effective, but requires some guidance.

K-12 education

I perceive betrayal of public interest throughout the U.S.A., due to federal government educational policy. New York City is especially troubled. Exceptionally wealthy individuals with ZERO experience or training in education have decided that they know what is best for America’s children.

The 0.1% of the 0.1%

The Brookings Institute describes them as the 0.1% of 0.1% in assets. Assets held is a robust metric for gauging wealth. It is important to distinguish between wealth and income. Income fluctuates from year to year, even for the wealthy. Causes vary. Some have profound impact, such as significant reversals of fortune. Some are merely transitory, e.g. accounting losses reported in order to minimize impact of tax law changes. These 0.1% of 0.1% individuals choose to actively direct the projects that are beneficiaries of their philanthropy.

Philanthropy, education reform and charter schools

Most education reform activists, or perhaps investors, have no knowledge, nor experience in public school education. Rather, they are exceptionally capable leaders of global software conglomerates. Others have great prowess as hedge fund managers, venture capitalists or real-estate moguls. Several are Wal-Mart family scions. Education reformers who have children educate them at private schools like Philips Andover or Choate, yet they claim that charter school operators provide a superior education, compared to public schools in the U.S.A.

Comparison of charter and public ed chart

Statistically questionable comparison of charter versus public school performance via Wikipedia

Charter schools are similar to private schools, yet they are financed by public, i.e. taxpayer funds. They are not fiscally accountable, unlike public schools. Charter schools do not resemble Exeter or Choate-Rosemary Hall as far as quality of instruction or facilities, not at all! An increasing body of empirical evidence and peer-reviewed research indicates that charter schools are inferior to public school education. (Education reform is a euphemism: Consider agenda-driven Teach for America and Common Core Standards.)

common core is an unpopular ed policy

Common Core poll – KFYI AM Radio 550


Schumpeter wrote about creative destruction. I think that the current education reform movement is better described as destructive disruption.

Unfortunately, the media tows the line of those who claim that teaching must be disrupted. This is because those who are wealthy are influential, and LOUD. They like to say that teaching must be disrupted, in order to keep pace with the inexorable path of scientific progress.

Why the need for disruption? Answer: We live in an era of technology! Existing pedagogy is allegedly archaic, resembling that which was used for the past 1000 years. Silicon Valley is especially fond of saying that. In fact, 20th century teaching methods were similar to those used for the past 1,000 years, and for good reason: Our brains haven’t changed in the past 10,000 years! Our cognitive processing and synthesis of information into knowledge has not evolved over such a short time span. Technology is great, but technocrats who want to replace teachers with robots and mobile phone apps will do great damage. That isn’t how THEY (the technocrats) learned math, reading or anything else! Yet most websites where programmers, PhD educated mathematicians or physicists gather, cannot say enough bad things about how repressive, stifling, corrupt and inadequate our public education system is. Where did most or all get their educations? Surprise: K-12 public schools, often followed by land grant universities! Most excel in their careers, in STEM fields.

We are now said, as a nation, to be grossly deficient in STEM skills, although IEEE has evidence to the contrary. Trans-humanists such as Sugata Mitra are given $10 million grants to form schools without teachers, only the internet. And then there is the recent fascination with grit

Root-cause medley of societal malaise

So, just maybe, status quo pedagogical methods, as applied before 1990 (and Common Core), were exceptionally effective! And the problem, now, is not teacher inadequacy and the lack of iPad’s from kindergarten on. Instead, there are profound societal inefficiencies due to a decade or three of so-called Democrats, who are neither Democrat nor GOP nor libertarian. They are crony capitalists, neo-liberals, oligarchs in the wings. What’s happening now is a logical consequence of:

  • a Byzantine tax code full of loopholes
  • inconsistently applied, sometimes adversarial regulation
  • no protectionism or support of American products in global markets
  • anti-union federal government policy under the Obama Administration
  • dismantled immigration policy
  • never-ending wars, yet not calling it war, but rather “conflict”
  • anti-intellectual wisdom of the crowds and the sharing economy, euphemisms for exploitation of foreign workers/U.S. underemployed youth and feasting off The Commons, respectively
  • anti-intellectual arrogance, that is, too much Thomas Kuhn, not enough Thorsten Veblen!
  • “questioning everything” including mainstream scientific thought, while blindly following life coaches, anti-vaccination celebrities and pseudo-religious demagogues
  • dissolution of local community, partly due to unfair competition from huge e-commerce retailers; note that small e-commerce is hurt by this too!
  • ridicule and intolerance of religion, of any sort
  • failure to value the independent 3rd party press, e.g. “news is a commodity, distributed freely by the internet”
  • failure to distinguish between intellectual property laws that oppress innovation e.g. nutty software patents, NPE’s a.k.a. trolls versus copyright as a basic human right, that is, the right to be paid for one’s original work

I’ll stop now.


In the style of Seeking Alpha investment analyses, I disavow any agenda, nor will I benefit in any way from this post. My passive experience with public education, that I mentioned earlier, is based on observations made by my mother and two aunts, each of whom has 20 years experience as public school teachers. Also, I have tutored college students who had trouble with calculus. I do that at my kitchen table, free, yet many can’t make time in their busy schedules, until failing out and retaking the class.

Published in: on May 17, 2014 at 9:28 am  Comments (9)  
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9 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. “Byzantine tax code” – well, I certainly can agree on that one. As for the rest, I’m afraid our ways part right at the beginning. I’ve always been an autodidact to the highest degree. And other than tables and reading/writing I think most anything else, but based on that foundation, I taught me myself. And the (woman) teacher who taught me the former skills was mobbed from the school because she insisted to keep using her methods of thirty years instead of retraining in some bogus new reading system. Her classes had the best readers always and, what at the time didn’t strike me as miraculous, but today does: ALL her pupils ALWAYS learned to read (reasonably well) after the first half year with her. Today, worldwide, we often have double-digit numbers of functional analphabets in whatever school system. However, I tend to agree that charter schools may just be another statist monster and that because of that they may well be a step back behing what public schools have achieved for society.

    • I am glad to see you online, after such a long hiatus, Crisis Maven.

      The woman from whom you learned times tables, reading and writing, seems like a most excellent teacher. It makes me happy to read about your positive educational experience.

  2. I think you contradicted yourself at least once. Early on, you use the fact that philanthropists send their kids to private schools as evidence that they don’t know anything about the public K-12 system. Later, you point out that most of the critics of the public school systems are themselves graduates of them (with which I agree). That includes at least a portion of the philanthropists. If the critics graduated those systems, they have first-hand, eye-witness information about them, regardless of where they send their kids. The information may be dated, but then you assert that teaching methods have not changed much (and tie that to limited change in brain physiology).

    Actually, though, my main argument is with your content that 20th century teaching methods (and presumably early 21st century methods, before the 0.1% took over?) have not changed much from prior eras. They have changed from time to time in crucial if not necessarily obvious respects. I’ll point out two concerns with which I have personal, anecdotal familiarity. First, unionization of teachers brought with it “bumping” rules: when cuts occur, the teacher with least seniority is let go first. That can result in a STEM subject teacher being cut and someone else less qualified in the subject matter sliding over to teach it. The results can be quite unfortunate. Second, somewhere in the late 20th century, university education programs started pushing “effort grading” and the related notion that you should not tell a child her/his answer is wrong, lest you crush her/his little ego. I don’t know if this is still going on, but I ran into adults who’d been infected with this in elementary or secondary school, and again the results were unfortunate. Next time you drive across a bridge, you might speculate on whether the designer actually knew principles of civil engineering or just Tried Really Hard.

    • Welcome, Professor Rubin! I am delighted to have the insights of another operations research fan and practitioner. You are rather more advanced though 😉 I’ll respond to your comment in reverse chronological order. I have the greatest respect for structural engineers. Most have a mastery of several variable calculus, ordinary and partial diff eq’s, complex analysis, as well as physics and material science. I don’t subscribe to the idea of “tried really hard” either. Yet I don’t believe that “grit” and MOOCs will replace my math teachers and grumpy old engineering professors at New Mexico State University, nor Swarthmore College. If they taught so well then, the late 1970’s through late 1980’s, why can’t that be done now? You read my mind, regarding this,

      …20th century teaching methods (and presumably early 21st century methods, before the 0.1% took over?)…

      Lol! I was referring only to what I know, over a decade prior to the early years of the 21st century.

      Re unions and teachers: teacher’s unions aren’t new. Recall TIAA-CREF, the teacher’s retirement fund, extant for 50 years. My mother was a teachers union member. The union helped get her better benefits, but never was involved in hiring or other staffing decisions. This is Arizona, not Chicago though.

      Philanthropists don’t know anything about the public K-12 system, insofar as knowing how to teach children. I know this because I know their educational backgrounds and work experience. A rare exception is Jeff Bezos’s mother. She was a teacher; she is credentialled and experienced, and 1 out of maybe 50 of our oligarchs.

      The charter school philanthropists went to school when I did, + or – 5 or 10 years. None that I know of has made any statement criticizing his own public school educations. Yet they don’t send their own children to charter schools, nor public schools. Why? Public schools are a mess, after years of budget cuts and propagandizing from the Obama admin’s crony capitalists and the ALEC-loyal conservatives that proceeded them (they are nearly indistinguishable, in terms of policy preferences re privatization of public services). Generally, Tea Party types who abhor big government, religious parochial schools and NOT-neo-liberal Democrats object to Common Core and charter schools. What do they have in common? They aren’t trying to turn education into a profit center.

      Have I adequately resolved the logical contradiction? If not, please tell me, and I will gladly clarify!

  3. Bingo!

    • Thank you, as always, for your support.

      • My pleasure! Would you believe I have been approached do teaching at a community college recently? It’s humbling, and the invite is from a legacy family that has directors, admins, and 50 years of community support via local media here. Oh, I can’t wait to get started.

        • That’s wonderful! Please tell me more, which school, specifics of what you’ll be teaching, if you wouldn’t mind? You have my email address, or feel free to leave comments here. That always makes me smile! I’m so happy for you 🙂

        • Hi Ms. Ellie,

          It’s a community college class for those interested in computing, coding, web languages, and so forth.It will be a class to see if one is interested going into the realm of commercial skills in the these areas. I will be teaching at a very old(but newly rebuilt) school in Jacksonville,Fl., with a storied history, especially in their athletics dept.(they’ve produced several college stars and three NFL stars there) It’s exciting, and I have access to all the material and management I need to get started. Never thought I’d be in this position, but I’m going for it. It’s always good to to hear from you and likewise you make my day. Take care, Happy Holidays, and I’ll definitely keep you posted.

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