A Documentary a Day Keeps the Psychiatrist Away

Most people are put off by documentaries and nonfiction books because they fear they will be educational, especially the mind-numbing kind of education they were exposed to when sentenced to 13 years of hard learning back in their K-12 prison days.  And yes, many documentaries and nonfiction books are as painful as classes back in high school.  However, and I mean a really big however, some documentaries and nonfiction books are mind blowing far out fun and entertaining – if you get off on learning about new things about this world and reality.  A good documentary should educate, but a wonderful documentary will entertain, and a great documentary will inspire.

As I have gotten older, I have become jaded to normal television entertainment.  It takes Breaking Bad quality to make me watch fictionalized television shows, so to fill up my old TV watching time I’ve turned to documentaries.  I’ve discovered if I can find the right documentaries I’m far more entertained than by watching 98% of fictional television shows.  More than that, I’ve discovered that watching a great documentary is uplifting for my mood, even if it’s about a depressing topic.  And the best documentaries inspire me with hope.  Documentaries can be elixirs for the soul.

For instance, last night I watched Touching the Wild on PBS Nature, about Joe Hutto spending seven years with Wyoming mule deer.  It took Hutto over two years of patiently following a herd of mule deer daily before they accepted him.  Eventually, he got to know them so individually that he named them.

Touching the Wild is about more than making friends with wild animals.  It’s an extremely profound philosophical work, about existence and death, about mind, language and intelligence.  One of the things that I’ve been learning from all of these documentaries is science is discovering that that animals are much closer to us mentally than we ever wanted to believe.  We are not God’s chosen creature.  We have no right to claim dominion over all the other creatures of this planet.  Nor can we claim our intelligence makes us superior. 

I am not a religious man, but this film was Biblical in its impact.  Strangely, I had seen Noah this weekend, and it makes you wonder if there was a creator, if he wouldn’t despise humans and want to wipe us out.  Christians babble on endlessly about being saved from sin, but I think it’s a childish cop-out to want to be forgiven.  We need to stop sinning to atone for our sins.  Watching Touching the Wild is like walking in Eden, we can blame the serpent all we want, but it is humans that are destroying paradise.

I was going to write this essay by listing dozens of great documentaries I’ve seen lately, but that would be too wordy I think.  I think instead I should tell you how to find great documentaries.  The highest qualities documentaries on TV are on PBS.  The next best source is streaming Netflix.  For instance I showed my friend Olivia Samsara yesterday that’s from Netflix.  She was blown away.

Cable TV has a lot of channels with documentaries and nonfiction shows, but most of its crap.  Sorry, but it’s true.  Some of it’s okay, but be careful.  The History Channel has such great potential, and sometimes it even has good shows, but all too often it has suspect information.  I wish it was peer reviewed by actually historians.  It would be great if actual Ph.D. historians had a chance to evaluate their documentaries in follow-up shows, because it would be enlightening to teach folks how they are being misinformed.  The History Channel has some good shows among the schlock, like The Universe, but they aren’t as well made as the science shows on PBS.  They tend to endlessly repeat the same animations and information.  Fox has redeemed it’s news division with Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, a 13 episode series currently appearing on Sunday nights, that would make Carl Sagan choke up with pride for his protégé Neil deGrasse Tyson.

Like I said, PBS is where it’s at, when we’re talking about documentaries on regular television.  Currently Wednesday nights are called Think Wednesday, that start with Nature and NOVA, and follow up a three part series called Your Inner Fish, based on Neil Shubin’s book of the same name.  Your Inner Fish should give creationists apoplexy and intelligence designers their worst nightmares, but for people who understand evolution it’s a thing of beauty.  If only Darwin could have lived to see it.

NOVA has been running a series on animal intelligence and last night show was about dogs.  Anyone who loves dogs should watch it, especially if you’ve wondered why your favorite pet knows when you are coming home.  By the way, if you have a Roku, get the PBS channel, and you can watch these shows if you missed them.  The Roku PBS Channel keeps current shows around for a few weeks like Hulu.

Throughout the week, PBS has fabulous documentaries.  Just take a chance and try some of them out.  They cover every subject you can think of, and more than you can’t.

The variety of documentaries at Netflix streaming is practically endless.  New ones appear faster than I can keep up.  If you add one to your queue, Netflix will recommend ten more on the same topic.  Often when I add one documentary, I’ll end up adding eight or ten because Netflix is good recommending more that fit my tastes.  And if you aren’t a documentary junky, you’ll be surprised by how many documentaries are being made each year.   Just look at four music documentaries I recently watched.  The variety of all documentaries makes the word diverse quaint.

I’m not much of a traveler, so documentaries are my lazy-ass way of traveling the world.  I’m also on the shy side, so documentaries let me meet people I never would in real life.  But you have to be careful, some documentary film makers are very persuasive, and it’s easy to be convinced into believing bullshit.  We’re so used to fiction, that we accept what we see on TV.  That’s bad.  Being educated can be thrilling, and it doesn’t have to be boring.

What you really want, is to be inspired.  And sometimes you’ll find inspiration in the strangest places.  I’m not into fashion, but I found the documentary on Bill Cunningham, a fashion photographer for the New York Times, who is in his eighties and rides a bike around Manhattan, as very inspirational.  That’s the best thing about documentaries – seeing stories about people who stand out in their effort to achieve their ambitions.  Quite often I watch shows about people that overcome so many obstacles that aren’t in my way and still do things I only dream about.  They make me want to be a better person.

If I’m feeling blue and watch an inspiring documentary, my mind and soul will be uplifted.  If I’m feeling tired and watch a great documentary, I’ll be energized.  There’s more to TV than cop shows and sitcoms, and before reality shows, there were documentaries – shows about the real reality.

JWH – 4/17/14

What’s the Relationship Between Memory and Profession?

I’m wondering if how much we can remember is related to what we become in life.  Generally we think the careers we pursue are selected by interest, the ability to conceptualize the work, and talent.  But what role does memory play?  Does the ability to remember details accurately influence what we choose to do in life?  Could engineers, surgeons, mathematicians, composers, physicists, become who they are without good memories?  Could actors and singers work without the abilities to remember lines and songs?  Could salesmen and politicians succeed without remembering people’s names.  How well could people in law enforcement do their jobs without a knack for remembering faces and cases?  Isn’t becoming a lawyer all about memorizing precedents and laws?  Well, what about absent minded professors?  Maybe to remember all the important facts of their discipline it’s vital to forget all the piddling practical things?

I can remember all the things I wanted to be as a kid, and looking back I can see I never had the memory skills to do those things.  I became a programmer when I failed at being a scientist.  And I’m only a so-so programmer.  I have a certain knack for programming, but that’s because I can remember commands and algorithms to a degree.  If I could have mastered mathematics I would have liked to have been an astronomer, or robot designer.  My fantasy careers were to be another Robert A. Heinlein or Bob Dylan.  I have great difficulty holding plot ideas in memory, and the only song I can remember is Happy Birthday, and I usually flub the 4th line.

Our whole K-12 educational philosophy is to prepare individual children to know everything that an ideal adult should know – as if everyone should be the same.  We expect kids to memorize a body of knowledge we consider essential for a well rounded citizen, when in fact, everyone specializes, and everyone has varying levels of brain processing powers.  Some people are Intel i7s, while others are Motorola 6502s.

The hot topic in education right now is the Common Core State Standards.  The initiative’s mission statement says:

The Common Core State Standards provide a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn, so teachers and parents know what they need to do to help them. The standards are designed to be robust and relevant to the real world, reflecting the knowledge and skills that our young people need for success in college and careers. With American students fully prepared for the future, our communities will be best positioned to compete successfully in the global economy.

Currently, the Common Core standards focus on mathematics and English language arts, which is also what the national standardized tests cover.  In other words, this initiative is a massive effort in coordinated memorization.  By focusing on the Common Core standards we can evaluate students, teachers and schools through comparisons.  The assumption being if kids in school A rank higher than kids in school B, then teachers and administrators are doing a better job in school A.  But what if everyone learns the same standards equally well, but one school does better than another?  How much education comes from outside of the school?  Does growing up in a well-to-do family confer more opportunity to learn?  Or what if some kids have better parents or mentors that push practice and memorization?  Education isn’t just about the particularly facts we learn.

There are only so many facts we can stuff into our brains.  We grind through our school years cramming for tests, but how much of this essential knowledge is really essential later in life?  In last month’s Harper’s Magazine Nicholson Baker wrote “Wrong Answer: The case against Algebra II” – not available online, but nice summarized at Popular Science as “Should Math Really Be A Required Subject?”  Baker pleads for us to abolish the Common Core State Standards for Algebra II because few people use it later in life, and many students suffer from studying it.  But isn’t that true of most of what we studied in school?

What if pushing memory skills helps with careers?  Advance math requires remembering years of previous mathematical techniques.  Most of what you learn in school can be studied days before the test, but not advanced math.  Passing Algebra II reflects great memory skills.

How successful in life we become is determined by how much we can remember.  Kids who master Algebra II go on to become scientists, engineers, economists, doctors, lawyers – whether or not they actually need advance mathematics or not.  The ability to remember and process complex concepts correlates well with success in many fields – and I think it’s because it reflect memory skills.

Also in the news was the Bullitt County 1912 Eighth Grade exam, that made 2013 smart people feel stupid.  Not only could I not pass this 1912 test, but I doubt I could pass any 2013 Common Core tests.  I read lots of books and consider myself reasonably educated, but if I had to rate my intelligence by tests then I’m a dummy.  I love pop culture, but do miserably at trivia games.  Facts just don’t stay in my head, and I think that’s true of a lot of people.


I’ve read dozens of books on the history of physics and cosmology, yet I doubt I could talk about this topic in anything but the vaguest way. I often write blog posts stuffed with facts that I hope to retain by writing about them, but never do.  Some bits of information do stick, but I have no control over what facts get filed in permanent memory and what don’t, and whether or not I can recall the stored facts in a timely manner.

What I do is consume knowledge and shit out the solid facts, maybe digesting a bit of their nutriments, and I hope I become a bit wiser overall.  My opinions will change but I can’t substantiate my beliefs with regurgitated references.  My love of information is more akin to binging on sweets.

Knowing this makes me wonder why we spend so much money and effort forcing children to pass tests regarding knowledge they don’t retain.  Obviously, a good education leaves a lot of knowledge sticking to the ribs of their brains, but a surprising amount gets immediately discarded.  I do remember a fair amount of arithmetic but damn little algebra, geometry, trigonometry, statistics and calculus.  My guess is the old adage, “use it or loose it” applies.  So anything I learned fifty years ago that’s still in my head is there because I’ve had to use it.  So why not build an education system focused more on doing and less on testing?

Now that I’m retiring next month, I hope to study math again.  I’ve always regretted not working harder at learning math, and I’m wondering if I use it again, will some forgotten aspects magically come back, or will I have to memorize the old facts all over again?  My guess if I work at it for a year I’ll develop some skills I currently don’t have, but if I stop working at it, those same skills will quickly disappear.  Whether or not I’ll find some hobbies that actually need math skills is another matter.  I’ve always wanted to program some computer animation and that does take math.  If I apply the math, I might remember more, and for longer.

Sure, I might discover I hit a math barrier quickly.  I might not have the memory skills to go very far this second time around, but I am going to take a different approach.  It won’t be to pass tests.

Are our minds more like a hard drive where we store files, or like a computer program where we load information into memory to process?  We generally think of memory and mind as one, but what if that’s not true?  Is my personality reflected in how I react to experiences, or how I remember them?  Recently I fell in love with the song “What Becomes of the Brokenhearted” sung by Joan Osborne.  Do I love that song because of who I am, or because of the 1966 Jimmy Ruffin version of the song imprinted on my brain for life as a mood memory and listening to the new one stimulates that old memory?

Even after playing this song over a hundred times recently, I can’t remember the words, nor could I hum the melody.  However, something has been recorded in my brain that remembers the mood of the original song.  Hearing the Joan Osborne version pushes the same button in a deeply emotional satisfying way.

What’s weird, I’m obsessed with the song right now, but in a few weeks I’ll have completely forgotten it – until the next time I hear the music.  Even when I want to preserve a memory, to hang onto a cherish feeling, I can’t.  I supposed if I sang the song myself every day it would eventually become a part of me.  And that might explain why I forget so much – I’m constantly consuming new songs, new books, new movies, new television shows.

There are limits to memory I can’t overcome, but I could master more facts if I was willing to narrow my consumption of new data.  I’m a hummingbird flitting from one flower to the next, with no memories of the last.  Maybe if I tasted fewer flowers I’d remember more of them?

If humans were robots and we stored our memories in mechanical devices, we’d still have limitations, even if we could consciously control what we retained.  I’ve always read about people with eidetic memories in awe.  In my mind, they must be a superior species.  Obviously, we’re all different when it comes to how many facts we can maintain at our fingertips.  We’ll never be robots, and most of us will never have photographic memories, but who we are is defined by our limitations of memory, and not what we remember.

I believe my hobby is blogging now because of the limitations of my memory.  I can look up facts and quotes on the internet as needed.  If I could remember lyrics, chords, notes and melodies, I’d be playing music as my hobby.  If I could hold a lot of entangled concepts in my mind, I’d probably be writing novels.  If I was good with trivia I’d spend more time with my wife going to trivia games.  If I had a great memory, I’d probably be programming with languages that have large libraries of powerful functions.  I’m really amazed at the synergy between my poor memory and using Google with writing blog posts.  Even the length of the post is hitting the wall with how much I can conceptually handle at once.

I believe our memory abilities define what we choose to do.  But I also believe that the limitations of my memory confines me in explaining this.  I hope my memory power at least hints at what I want to say.

JWH – 9/17/13

How Much Education Can Our Heads Hold?

As far back as I can remember, the United States has been in a state of educational crisis.  You’d figure by now educators would know exactly how much stuff we can squeeze into a student’s head, and the best methods for cramming all that knowledge in quickly and efficiently.  Since we hear so much about dropout factories and the failure to produce enough qualified students to meet the needs of our technologically evolving society, I have to assume pedagogy is a colossal failure, but the truth is we’re smarter than ever.  I’d even say the dumb kids are smarter than the dummies of the past.

The problem is we want to put more data in brains that haven’t gotten any bigger in the last million years.  Urban legends claim we only use five percent of our brains, but scientists know that’s not true.  It doesn’t take much living in our modern rat races to fill those suckers up.

Scientific American has produced a special report, Learning in the Digital Age for its August issue, but you can read it all by following the link.  It appears large corporations and wealthy philanthropists want to develop computers that instruct students and monitor their progress so computer programs can automatically adapt teaching methods on the fly, and thus constantly improve the spoon feeding of young minds.  Sounds painful to me, and makes me glad I’m not a kid in school.

Remember the movie The Matrix, where Keanu Reeves, who plays Neo, is taught new skills via a jack in the back of his head?  Well, these teaching machines are essentially trying to do the same thing via the eyes and ears.  Want to know Calculus?  Sit down at this machine and watch and respond.

Here’s my question:  How much can we learn?  The storage space in our brains is finite.  Comprehension is more than recording facts.  But let’s imagine we have a machine that is the perfect teacher, one that completely understands the student, and can feed a kid, byte by byte, the data they need.  Let’s also imagine that we want to teach kids Algebra, Geometry, Trigonometry, Algebra II, Calculus, Linear Algebra, Statistics and Number Theory. In The Matrix that might have taken a couple of hours, but that was a fantasy.  How long should it take to cram in all the math skills we think the average 21st century kid should know?

I had through Calculus I in college, but I never really used any math after my last test, other than ordinary dollar processing and to take the GRE.  As far as I know all my Algebra, Geometry, Trigonometry, Calculus, Statistical knowledge is gone.  Should we waste time packing information into brains that won’t be used later?

What is the basic dataset that every citizen of planet Earth should possess?  I believe we should be striving to define the essential basic knowledge, rather than develop techniques for squeezing massive amounts of education into little minds quickly and cheaply.  And to be honest, much of the furor over education is about cost.  I think a lot of new theories about education are inspired by reducing the costs of K-12 schooling, or by companies that want to get a piece of ever expanding educational expenditures.

Then there is the battle over science versus religion.  The faithful know a good liberal education equals the eroding of faith.  If we perfect teaching machines to mentor K-12 kids from ignorance to scientific enlightenment would we mandate their use?

Everyday I live with the regrets of what I haven’t learned.  Each night as I drift off to sleep I wish for more time for reading and contemplation, thinking I’m getting close to achieving the general unified theory of everything.  If I could only find time to read another thousand books, things would make sense, but hell I know that’s not true.

I think we should be teaching something different, something less head filling.  I think we should teach how to learn, how to research,  how to concentrate, how to write, how to stick to a task until it’s done, and then let kids go to work at age 12.  Start giving them real world jobs and problems to work on.  If they need trigonometry, chemistry, carpentry, mechanics, electronics, they can pick it up quickly as needed.

It’s not until you go to work that you learn what you really want to know.  Why waste all those years learning everything you might need?  I think we’ll develop the technology for individualized education very soon.  What we need to do now is teach people how to absorb knowledge quickly and apply it right away.  Sort of just in time learning.  Education has always been lifelong.  Why assume it’s K-12 + 4 years of college?

JWH – 7/23/13

How To Change The World?

I want to change the world
I want to make it well
How can I change the world
When I can’t change myself

“Change Myself” by Todd Rundgren

Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn has dozens of real life stories about exceptional women changing the world.  Kristof and WuDunn are two Pulitzer Prize winning reporters who have traveled the globe, gathering thousands of facts culled from hundreds of research articles and interviews with leaders about the problems we face making women truly equal to men.  Half the Sky is a gut wrenching chronicle of real life suffering, more horrific than the wretched that Victor Hugo wrote about in Les MisérablesHalf the Sky is a book that will make many readers want to change the world too, although I’m afraid most will want to hide away in escapist fiction.  This is an intense book about the nature of our reality.

For all the misery that Half the Sky presents, it’s important to know Half the Sky is a positive narrative about heroic women changing themselves and their communities.  I doubt there will be any readers not humbled by this book.  Changing the world is tremendously difficult.  We’re talking theory of relativity hard, but not impossible as these stories prove so dramatically.  Helping others is far more difficult than writing a check, although you should write plenty.  Charity is a complex endeavor.   Often helping others causes more misery, and just giving money can be corrupting.

Half the Sky is about finding the right way to help others.  Half the Sky is not about helping the helpless, but finding the right female outlier who is willing to change herself dramatically with just the right amount of help.  Often this is minimal to individuals, but it can be very expensive getting resources to the right women.

We need to change the way we see charity.  Changing the world is about changing ourselves.  And we all know how well we do with New Year’s resolutions.  To help others, we have to help ourselves first, and reading Half the Sky is a start.

I’ve come to this 2009 book late, but I’ve yet to meet any of my bookworm friends that’s read it.  A few months ago, PBS presented a two part documentary based on this book.  It’s now available for sale and on Netflix streaming.  Half the Sky is becoming a movement.  I highly recommend reading the book first, because its far more educational. It will prepare you to appreciate the documentary all the more.


Americans Have Already Won The Lottery

It’s hard to think about so much suffering worlds away.  We have plenty of poverty and injustice in this country, yet compared to the rest of the world, most Americans have already won the lottery – in money, freedom and equality.  And we spend hundreds of billions every year on protecting our country, either through defense, foreign aid, or influence.  And after eleven years of war in Afghanistan and Iraq, and trillions of dollars, we have not eliminated terrorism.  Kristof and WuDunn point out, time and again, that terrorism is a product of male dominated societies, and that we could more effectively fight it far cheaper by just promoting the equality of women in these cultures.  I don’t know if they are right, but we should try.  Our expensive testosterone solutions haven’t worked, have they?

Americans are quite charitable, we give away billions of our own money to help others, but how effective are our dollars?  In case after case, Kristof and WuDunn show how insanely hard it is to actually help people, even when we have the money and volunteers.  You can’t just buy equality.  You can’t just pay men to stop enslaving and raping women.  And even when our hearts and money are in the right place, like with Three Cups of Tea and the education of girls, things get corrupted.

Read Half the Sky carefully, because it’s about creating effective business plans to change the world.  That means changing ourselves.  We have to help people help themselves.  It’s about teaching people to fish, rather than giving them fish.  It’s about education.  But it’s also about how we help ourselves, our country and our culture by uplifting women in distant lands.

Even though America is a leader in gender equality, we still have a long way to go.  As long as Americans bitch about paying property taxes for education, or can’t understand concepts like Title IX, or why fifty percent of Congress and corporate leadership shouldn’t be women, then we do have a long way to go, but we can still help the women elsewhere.  The battles won by the women portrayed in Half the Sky should inspire us.  I don’t have one millionth of the guts and determination of some of these women I read about, and I’ve had a million times more money and opportunity than they have.

With every TV show you watch, with every movie you attend, with every book you read, with every song you hear, observe closely and ask yourself do you see gender equality, freedom from sexual oppression, equal opportunity for women?

Until women are truly free and equal everywhere, most of the problems we face as an evolving species won’t be solved.  It will take one hundred percent participation, and quite often as I think Half the Sky so effectively proves, it’s the inequality of women that’s causing our bigger problems.

JWH – 1/12/13

The Privatization of Education–The Hidden Political Battleground of the Conservatives

The United States of America was an early adopter of public education – free education paid for by tax dollars, and managed by local governments.  Now conservatives want to change that and privatize education – free education paid for by tax dollars, but run by corporations.  Education costs, both K-12 and higher education, are skyrocketing into unaffordable realms.  You can’t really blame big business for looking at very large public budgets and thinking there’s a gold rush in education.

K-12 education has been getting bad grades for years, and resentful taxpayers want change.  K-12 education is a fascinating concept.  Basically it prepares each new generation to function in society.  We spend monstrous amounts of money on education, and we’d like to produce very functional citizens.  But does anyone know what constitutes a good education?  The new trend is teaching core content, and that sounds like a dandy idea.  But the history of education is a trail of dandy ideas that have failed miserably.  Will shifting teachers paid by the city and states to profit making corporations solve our educational woes?  I have no idea.  I do think it’s a fascinating problem – but we need some ground rules.

Conservatives and the rich have been hard selling the idea of charter schools and vouchers for some time with no real data supporting their ideas.  Their sales pitches are appealing.  Their ideals are appealing.  Unfortunately, I’m not sure their motivation is anything other than greed.  Conservatives have a one track mind:  pay less taxes.  It galls them to pay for anything that other people get for free.

To reduce the education tax requires reducing the costs of education, but because these corporations also want to make money, lots of money, and reduce taxes, they will have to slash educational costs dramatically.  That means cutting teachers salaries, using fewer teachers, shrinking administrative systems, shrinking the infrastructure of schools, and shrinking every other line item that goes into funding education.  I can’t help wonder how they can produce a better product.

Of course, if they can do more for less, shouldn’t we welcome their revolution?  Sure, but they haven’t proven their methods work, and it appears all we’ll get is badly educated students and new class of teachers that are paid more like fast food workers than professionals that teacher deserve to be.

Like I said earlier, we should have some ground rules for this great social experiment.  I think the number one key to analyzing the success or failure of this experiment and all future educational experiments is doing away with grading by educators and moving to national standardize tests that are administrated by other private corporations that have no ties to the public or private education systems.  This would allow any city to try out any new-fangled educational system they want and tell if it’s effective or not.  Of course, this means experimenting with a whole generation of kids.

Back to that core content idea.  At a national level we have to decide what every kid should know.  Most people will think about the academic content, but I think we also need to add social skills, work stills, health and physical education, etc.

The next idea hasn’t been mentioned yet, and that’s responsibility.  I don’t think the weight of education should fall totally on the educational system.  I think students and parents should be held accountable too.  There is no pedagogical system that produces 100% success, even if teachers, students and parents give 110%.   I believe public education often fails not because of teachers, but because of students and their parents, but the teachers get all the blame.  So in setting up this grand experiment, I believe we need to assign a degree of accountability to students and parents.

Students need incentives to work harder, and grades are no real incentives.  Nor do students equate education with later success in life, because such delayed rewards are no incentives to young minds.  We need to find ways to reward kids for working hard.  Parents should have the built-in incentive to work harder for their kids, but that genetic incentive isn’t trustworthy either.  Parents need their own carrots.

If I was a kid and was told summer starts as soon as I finish the core content for the year, even if that’s two months after the academic years starts, I think I’d study harder, especially if failure means no summer and Saturday classes, ever even Sunday classes for falling behind.  Or if I was told I could play sports, video games, take music lessons, read, or pursue other free activities each day as soon as I finished up my assignments, I’d study harder.  I believe the real incentives for students to get a better education is the reward of less schooling.  This will only work if the core content is practical, manageable, and efficient.  One failure of education is we try to teach too much.

Many of these corporate ideas for schools involve virtual schools and online education.  Most parents want K-12 schools for free daycare, so there’s going to be a real clash there, except for the parents advocating home schooling.  Many of these corporate teaching systems advocate fewer teachers and larger class sizes – and that’s only going to work if students are motivated by self-study.  Their hope is video lectures will replace live lectures, and teachers will be used as guided homework helpers.  Whether this idea has merit is yet to be proven.

If all privatization of education is going to give us is overcrowded schools, with low paid teachers, we can’t really expect much.  And the only way these privatization advocates can prove cheaper education is better is by test scores.  However, anything less than standardize tests conducted by separate national corporations can be scammed.  Grade inflation and cheating is the scourge of education.  Separating educators from testing is the only possible way to solve this problem.  And this kind of testing only works if we have a national core curriculum.  Many advocates of privatization of education secretly want to control curriculum for religious reasons, so this will be another battle.

There will be other corporate opponents too.  Education involves a lot of money and lots of people want get their hand into the pie.  Textbook costs add a lot of red ink to educational systems.  A national core curriculum could hurt the textbook industry and they will fight that with all the lobbyists they can buy.  Privatization advocates know you can’t make education cheaper without reducing all the factors that go into the total cost of education and textbooks are a major issue.  Since many cost reductions depend on the Internet and online education I expect the core content to be public domain in the future.  However, there will be a booming business to sell supplemental textbooks, computer programs, videos, and other training material to parents of affluent students that will give the rich an edge competing with the poor.

There will be side-effects to the core content theory.  If everyone has a good core content education how can the exceptional stand out?  With standardize national tests, with no grade inflation, we’ll actually know what every individual is capable of and comparisons between individuals will be easy, but will an array of standardize scores covering a variety of subjects really let employers hirer the right people they need?  Maybe, if they want math wizards and science geeks, but I image they’ll want more, and thus even with national core content we’ll find ways of making society un-egalitarian.

Personally, I think a good education for all will cost more and not less, but I can’t prove that.  It’s only a hunch.  However, I believe the tide is shifting quickly towards the idea of educational privatization.  We’ll just have to try it out for a generation and see how it works.  I don’t think most people know about the political battles that are going on right now.  It’s not a very newsworthy topic, but the battles are being fought and won in state capitals around the country.   Liberals don’t have a clue.  Liberals don’t work at politics like conservatives do.  That’s why I think the conservatives will get their way.  Most people focus on presidential politics when the real political decisions are being made in the shadows of the political limelight.

Keep an eye on ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council).  ALEC is leading the effort of the privatization of education.  If you do a Google search you’ll find many conservative and libertarian think tanks devoted to this topic.  This is a very political topic.  And ALEC is revolutionary, so many other corporations oppose it because ALEC ideals conflicts with their efforts to make money from education the old fashioned ways.

To understand more, read these links:

For more, just search Google for “ALEC Education”

JWH – 5/14/12