Here is a speech I gave last month to the Chattanooga Chamber of Commerce. It is as close to my “philosophy of everything” as you will get.
On behalf of the Chattanooga Chamber, we thank Jon for delivering this well-reasoned and thought-provoking speech. He drew on ideas and political philosophies from both sides of the political aisle in painting a picture of America’s past, present, and possible futures.
…yeah? More like from both ends of a pew athwart the aisle, but it’s for me an eye-openeing address that casts local, state and national efforts against the Blue Screen backdrop of global horizon. That in itself is a bravura service. And greetings from Atlanta. Best of luck to y’all up there, truly. We cannot muster strategic planning here. (Even our better roadways in GA mostly fall short of 1934 federal street standards, with the results that Prof. Taplin reports; fits of vision here, in highway planning, misfit an unplanned landscape in which freewheeling developers (insiders) trump imported and homegrown planners (suspect outsiders). Tennessee, thank goodness, has been blowing past static systems of Southern–especially collegiate–primogeniture in ways that really heartened my colleagues and me in California’s Bay Area even 25 years ago. Such strategic smarts.
@Jon, thanks. Makes sense. I’m deepstruck by your global analysis. In no particular order: (1) aren’t you pissing on USC’s transportation planners in advocating for Transit whereas Trojan transowonks were the holdouts for Disneyesque Autopia? [the L.A. Metro system built over their academic dead bodies]?; (2) what have our Incumbent or his Attorney General done in four years to evince a commitment to Federalism, outside of the letting of contracts?; (3) you still can’t tell schooling from education, the worth of a school from the byproducts of its “Standards, Assessment and Accountability” [thank you, TN], nor the ideological and nodal lunacy and profligacy of continuing to use schools as points of DC delivery when AC is better. Your endorsement of DC “charter schools” [CA SB813(1983)] is a bit lame. First, its author was a Democrat gunning for California’s Governorship. Second, What’s Good for the Goose is Good for the Gander. If it works, why then do we not generalize the successful result? That’s the very pretext of your rhetorical construct, Bro’: You think that we geopolitical Sections or states are the laboraratories for Washington, DC’s study preceding its final edicts binding throughout the Land.
This must be a stretch back to your last farthest pinpoint of elasticity, as honestly that’s beyond the farthest one can stretch in trying to encompass individual Liberty (e.g. a mother’s or father’s or grandparent’s direction of childrearing versus that of important state experiment and control, and the Cenral Government’s compelling interest in its own preservation. You cite Mr. Justice Brandeis, who frankly has sparked me again when there was no spark in my life–no bloody sense of purpose at all–so you must know that the ultramodern dream of universally compulsory state training in the interests of state-determined objectives but most importantly in the interest of serving the state and its commendation of lifelong state dependency and servititude, worked then. Passed the gas test. Passed the many tests for Absurdity that it now cannot pass.
If schools can produce the competencies required of a democratic republic, then great! If not, I swear I’ll them anyway I can. But if the competencies be acquired some other way, then Allelujah! That’s where I’ll go next.
“Class size”? What’re you really after? And what has that got to do with class size? What has research to do with the size of a home room class? Nothing. It’s an NEA myth, having nothing to do with eyes on the Sparrow.
Haysoos, if it’s class-size reduction you’re after, try doubling class size to 50 team taught from grade to grade, the teachers following the learners. Then do that math. Alternative to facile (or flacid) taught obsession with class size, consider the relevance of school size. Smaller schools garner far greater benefits than do easier teaching loads per teacher:pupil ratio. (Assuming we want to get real). But most importantly your thinking that your huge capacity is worthily run through the eureththrae of a necessarily bypassed system systematically incapable of adapting to forces foretold by Christopher Jencks and others twenty-five years ago is just a wind-pissing. Focus on education itself. In your mind forget the delivery system. Honor the one we have. Envision a far more humane and efficient one. Then awake, and proceed to meet the two.)
Hugo, how big were the classes when you went to primary and secodary schools? And how did that work out for all concerned?
I do not believe that classroom mobs make sense. I think that once you get past about a 20:1 teacher:student ratio, the quality of education and mental health supervision starts to go down. I was fortunate to go to a damned good prep school for my last three years of high school, and in my senior year, my largest class had 13 boys; my smallest had 4. The quality of education was outstanding, and I believe that a lot of that was because of the small class sizes. Is that scientific? No. But it’s deeply personal.
I am also fortunate to know and to have known quite a few teachers as friends, and I also teach in my field. When class sizes get too large, then education loses out to just herding kittens; the students are short changed, and the teacher(s) wind up nuts at the end of the day. There is nothing, absolutely nothing like decent one on one time in a teaching environment. That just can’t happen with large, one size fits all classes. And I’m not even getting into the whole issue of learning differences among students. My ex-wife worked for a good while as an educational therapist helping to uncover various types of learning disabilities…many of which problems could have been diagnosed much earlier had the kids been in smaller classes with teachers who had more time to deal with IEPs. I believe that one of the biggest problems with education today is the “one size fits all” approach that our teachers are forced to inflict upon ever increasing crowds of kids. Large class sizes encourage cookie cutter education, and our teachers are forced into it. I’d love to see input in this discussion from real teachers, not theorists who aren’t in the front lines of it all.
Jon, how does your best teaching work? Lecture classes or small seminars?
Absolutely, Rick, small is good. Where you find it. You & I have been fortunate that way, both at the board and in the seats. Agreed. The thing is, as a matter of broad public policy a ma$$ive program to adjust teacher:pupil ratios doesn’t garner the bang-for-buck that you and I would expect. From ’85-’92 we worked hard to convince AFL-CIO, Carnegie, The Getty and NCSL (National Council of State Legislatures) of this, with the result that funding began to shift toward smaller school organizations in favor of smaller classroom structures. It’s the same goal by a different route. Very unpopular with NEA and its Pinocchios, though, as it sets a better learning environment with less greasy largesse. Not many in Labor, outside AFT, much cared for the mound of data showing that teacher satisfaction and retention increase in inverse proportion to the size of the school. Doing better, happier work for children, while requiring fewer dues-paying workers, for some reason doesn’t interest our present political machines. A real head scratcher (or kneecapper, actually). You must know that I revere good teachers, I just want them to get their wish, to do their best work under optimal circumstances. And I already shared a family recipe, for team teaching, that yields delicious results from the provisions already in the larder. Even Der Hitler Jugend weren’t formed idiotically into big cohorts of learners before their local Leaders. Nobody wants that, and you and I don’t want it for our colleagues either. In policy terms “class size reduction” falls into the crucial category of restructuring, a word more significant for us now than “reform”. So, as long as we’re restructuring, let’s gather Jencks and Taplin and the others and really go to Town–to Sim City! That’s all I meant, Rick. Nothing antagonistic. It totally delights me to hear that you’re teaching your field man. I’d stick it to you if you weren’t!
Oh, and Turner, not to filibuster again, but I just remembered a connection to some rather significant Anthro Theory emphasizing the central importance, in cultures, of “small group relations”. Hmmnn. As for your direct question about my own best home-court advantage, I’m really not very good at other than one-on-one, although I’m told that I have a flare for the bullhorn when barking the Party Line to big assemblies. (Doubt that I could’ve tamed Altamont though). Your question really raises a host of important queries concerning interpersonal dynamics, org theory, Socratics, Ed Psych, democratic intent, the nature and intent of the arts of schooling. It’s a very Deweyan question you put. A crucial one I think. I’m certain that it excavates the Greek origins of at least two English words, academy and lyceum. Good teachers should teach it either way, and should be allowed to teach it both ways. Bad teachers should seek the protection of politicians. That’s what the Sophists did.
So, Hugo, where’s the cost-effectiveness line on primary school class size? 20? 25? 30? 35? 40? 50? Pretty quickly it turns into nothing more than a prison camp for kids…and the teachers get blamed for everything bad and get credit for little that’s good.
And don’t get me started on the failure of parents…
Oh, I’m all for small schools as well. There were 53 in my graduating class at Moses Brown in Providence, RI. And it was a single sex school with about 45% boarding students in the top five years; both of those factors were relevant, I think, to the education I got there. Dress code…jackets and ties…compulsory sports…Quaker run school which meant it was both conservative (in all the good ways!) AND very liberal socially. The Quakers really walk their talk better than any other Judeo-Christian religious group I’ve run into. Not for everyone, but it worked for me…so well that when I hit Boston University in ’62 I was bored to tears. But then again, I hit BU at the peak of the Boston-Cambridge folk scene times…and so I majored in Folk Guitar with a minor in Coffee House. Paid off, though…
No such line. That’s half the point. Paid childrearing’s an art more than a skill; an act of stern love and responsibility; and inescapably an affective endeavor not susceptible of quantification. Is that a sufficiently Dickensian retort in kind? And please do not get “started on the failure of parents” as you’d regret it and here’s why: in U.S. Law there are three categories of “parent”, and the schoolteacher is one. In American jurisprudence, therefore, ain’t neither nor need nor no time for Solomon’s Judgment, the matter of discerning the ontological vs. the biological parent. The way our System’s set up we’re in this kid-rearing thing together whether we like it or not. Force of fucking Law, Officer Krupke, so no point in pointing. A couple of us have been trying to get you guys to lay off the fact that some of us have different nerdskills to throw in which basically amount, in my case, to my being able at a forgettable sitting to provide you later with a Perp Sketch you can dispose of as you choose. That’s all. Except, I worked on Boylston in 1982 and oh oh oh oh oh oh…what I wouldn’t give to have been in your scene prior. I was uphill from B.U. in a nest of egghead radicals-in-chambray, whilst meanwhile down the Line were nasal Yuppies breeding like weasels in heat and I swear each of us on the Hill took the jocular challenge to calculate the odds and all our results matched: we were demographically screwed by the forces of the great Emperor YupYup. I miss MA, though, very much.
Well, true Dickensian form would have the streets be full of urchins. Now we have high school dropouts…and college grads who can’t find work…on the streets.
I don’t think teacher can apply their art when they’re herding too many obstreperous kids and teaching just to the test.
And how ’bout that OctoMom…now there’s some good parenting skills on display…
Rick trust me: we as a people can double teacher pay to where it ought to be while improving teacher conditions and student results. It’s just a matter of surrendering old bad bullshit. I live in Georgia, man. I’m from Laguna. Old, bad bullshit I know.
Hugo, we’re really on the same page, but the money has to come from somewhere. OH! The inflated military budget! I’d say that for every soldier less we hire a teacher. No net loss of jobs, and probably a big cost savings. What’s a tank worth? A new gym? A new library? And those $400.00 hammers…surely each one could fund 2/3 of an iPad. And so on…
No BS, do you have a sense of the actual “dropout” rates of L.A. Unified, the country’s largest school district? Name the rates for African Americans and for Latinos (whatever either of those is supposed to mean this year). Do. I dare you. Behold a lie unfolding…
In the U.S. the three largest systems of public education are, in order foremost, those of the State of California, the United States Navy, and the State of New York. Do we therefore take a No. 2 axe to the Pentagon, or rather a No. 11 scalpel? Oh bother. (Beloved Libs, you think you know everything and that nobody else loves you…fucking relax, this is lifeboat time)
…”teaching to the test”. Oh, tell me another! Who/Whom?!!!
You know who was really smart about this stuff, when he governed Pennsylvania? Tom Ridge of all people! See, it really does take all kinds…
Excellent, Jon. Well constructed, presented and argued. I like the positive emphasis on American strengths and the false fear. Nice.
The dilemma for the cultural mavens is to change the expression to favor the positive technologies. As long as Hollywood and Silicon Valley sell war, Americans and the rest of the world will wage war. War is as much an industrial reflex as a societal pursuit.
Imagination and innovation are synonymous. We traveled to the Moon because it satisfied a very deep urge to explore and find adventure, but would we have looked there so specifically had science fiction and fantasy made it the exciting place to look? It became glamorous. It had heros. It had great success and failure. But at the climax, it was a heroic masterful win.
Today a win is a tour in Afghanistan. They become what they desire and this directly affects what they create. An excellent speech, but the military drives the technology and the budget because Americans desire their safety that much and admire those who provide it to them even more. That is a difficult cultural know to unwind.
They must want America 3.0 more than they are conditioned to be frightened.
Turn up the funk.
@len Thanks Len. I agree that the default setting for both the “cultural mavens” and the hedge fund billionaires has been negative on our future. All the screaming heads on Cable TV talking about going over the fiscal cliff, is such nonsense. Likewise the great fortunes made on Wall Street in the last 20 years have been bets on failure (Soros shorting the Pound, John Paulson betting on failing mortgage securities, etc). I think that period is over. But like any Interregnum, we are not sure what new world is being birthed.
@len Going to the moon also satisfied a real political need, which was making sure the Soviets didn’t get there first. At a time when separate economic spheres were fighting for the proverbial hearts and minds of everyone trapped between them, conspicuous displays of technical and economic prowess were vitally important to leaders on both sides of the Cold War.
As far as the American people were concerned, no so much. As noted here, a majority of Americans did not support going to the moon throughout most of our lunar adventures. Approval topped 50% – briefly – in 1969. But the imaginative, and innovative drives to explore and find adventure are hardly predominant traits.
Indeed, the people who possess them tend to be outliers. And cultures that elevate them are truly exceptional. America, contrary to its preferred self-image, is far less exceptional than it imagines. By global standards, we’re still way ahead of the game. But our domestic politics remain beholden to a sizable percentage who are very clearly aren’t, and who are actually very uncomfortable with life in the land of the free and the home of the brave where everyone is created equal, and happiness is held in high enough regard that people can pursue it right into gay marriage. Or a biology career that’s upsetting to Creationists but interesting to school teachers.
Those folks aside, the fact remains that if you are one of the bright sparks, America is the very best place to be, even with graduates from Bob Jones and the Regent University School of Law gumming up the works. My feeling is that these hopelessly fearful and small-minded people (bless them) have held the stage for far too long. I agree that the extent to which people in Media and Finance assume that idiocy will prevail is absolutely warping business and culture alike. But the GOP shot itself in the foot with their last hostage-taking crisis, and now it looks like they’re about to shoot themselves in the head.
This won’t be the end of it, of course. Zombies are a bit tougher than that, and their brains are hardly vital organs. Even so, 2012 really was the beginning of their end. This may sound harsh, but you can’t fix stupid and right now a serious correction is in order. It would be far better if the ascendent had the benefit of loyal opposition, but in the absence of that we need to shove the caucuses of Boehner, Cantor, and McConnell aside and just get on with it.
America has bigger problems than these dipsticks, and a role far greater than anything they can imagine.
Thank for that Alex. A lot.
What I hear at work, today being the last of 2012, is resignation: “At least I have a job.” When those budget cuts hit the Pentagon, they will hit us too. On the other hand, something has to give so we will take it day by day.
Your speech outlines an exciting future for those ambitious and ready to take the initiative. There is one sign about the future and I’ve mentioned it in other threads: as the complexity of the systems goes up, gaps emerge as a result of the knowledge and skills required to maintain them becoming temporarily in demand and without supply. A hairy ride results. Also, during these times and for a time afterwards, people become the machines they service. Just as Apple People and Microsoft People do, we see the same patterning in weapons systems.
Identity as a function of systems-centric skillsets is a cultural shaper. Chaplinesque.
@alex: stupid shapes are still relative to the culture of the machine. The same hard right wing Tea Bagger that is stupid in a political culture is probably servicing the next jet you board to fly to the coast. We can’t fix specialization either and still fly fast.
Rick, Happy New Year to you too. Did you mean “Tea Bagger” to refer to homosexual practitioners of fellatial foreplay or did you intend to imply that today’s Republican grandmothers could not possibly identify with the Sons of Liberty?
The Sons of Liberty were once radicals!
Not familiar with the other argot… Just a hick from Santa Cruz here…
They’re stil mindblowingly radical. Only, now they’re classified as conservatives or else liberals. At least they didn’t live to experience the pain of their own castration. Omnisciently I really wish the best of the Year to you all up in Santa Cruz, down in L.A, and across the Belly to me via Alabama, Nashville, Raleigh. Were I ordained I say as the Commander-in-Chief does: God Bless You All.
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