On-Line Learning

More Bill on Student Debt.

I have not yet seen a serious article or essay on the character, value, or deficiencies of “on line” education.

I am baffled by people who are convinced that you can replace classrooms filled with flesh-and-blood professors and students with a tv screen and a keyboard.

It is impossible to have a lively, dynamic, challenging, stimulating, discussion online. It’s just not possible. It’s crap. It’s turning education into television.
There is a caveat. In a lot of popular courses at a University or college it never was possible to have a lively interactive discussions because of large class sizes. But that only applies to the most mainstream courses. Surely, once you reach junior and senior level courses, classes would be much smaller and you could be engaged. The idea that you can replace this with an online course is insane.

And here’s the kicker. Do you imagine for even one second that you will see a drop in the costs of these course because they are now cheaper to present? Because one on-line professor can now present to 3,000 or 5,000 or 10,000 students at once?

Student Debt

In 1974 it cost me (a Canadian from Ontario) about $3,000 to go to a U.S. college for one year. That included tuition and room and board. I had a job cutting grass and plowing snow too, for spending money. So a poor boy like me could get a college degree and get a good job and do well.

I ended up with about $10,000 in student loans. A house, at that time, would have cost me about $80,000, in Chatham, Ontario.

Now of course there has been some inflation since 1974 and everything costs more and people earn more money, but the rate of increase in college tuition has been nothing short of astronomical. It is now, typically, $35-50,000 for a year in college. In the U.S., a graduating senior typically owes about $50,000.

What happened? Did it suddenly cost ten times as much to hire a professor? To build a lecture hall? That $80,000 house is now $175,000. Why is that $3000 education now ten times as much?

Part of the reason is that State governments cut back on the amount they contributed to the cost of higher education. In Washington State, for example, in 1991, the state’s contribution to the costs of colleges and university education was (inflation adjusted) $96 for each person in the state. Today it is $31. All while politicians of every stripe whine and kvetch about the low achievement of American students on international tests and their unpreparedness for work after they receive their diplomas!

The other reason college costs rose astronomically is quite simple: the money available to pay for it increased; the colleges knew how to get that money flowing by facilitating access to government-sponsored loan programs and young students with poor judgment about the relative advantages and disadvantages of massive debt signed up in droves believing that high-paying, secure jobs awaited them upon graduation.

There was, in short collusion. The government offered student loans thinking they would be applied to 1974 tuitions in a 1974 job market. College Presidents rewarded themselves for increasing student debt by paying themselves $500,000 a year or more, with lavish benefits. Athletic departments received more money for stadiums, dressing rooms, uniforms, and coaches. When tuitions skyrocketed and the job market tanked, you suddenly had a huge population of deeply indebted under-employed young people. It’s almost as if the fast food industry’s wettest and juiciest dream came true: a large population of macjob candidates, desperate for any kind of income.

I think what most people don’t get about the economics in the United States, and elsewhere, is that the system is largely controlled by the banks and large corporations and the purpose of the system to keep the vast majority of people in perpetual debt, continuously streaming vast sums of money into the coffers of the investor class. The government is utterly complicit with this process, allowing banks to offer money to people who clearly cannot afford to pay it back, at unconscionable interest rates which serve to trap them the way the giant insect alien in “Aliens” traps it’s victims, with gooey slabs of useless consumer goods and mortgages and degrees. Unable to move or free themselves or escape the massive interest payments.

And the emblematic moment of this relationship, in 2008, after the banks got too greedy– an almost incomprehensible development– more greedy than before?!– and the mortgage securities markets collapsed and the economy was threatened with disaster, the government bailed out the banks. The consumers were strung out to dry with continuing liabilities for houses that had lost half or more of their value or cars they could no longer drive or educations that no longer produced jobs.

There were no consequences to the investors or managers of these banks. In fact, most of them were lavishly rewarded for their greed, their ruthlessness, their incompetence, their monumental callousness towards the home-owners who held their mortgages, and their ability to bribe politicians effectively.

A few of them must have a sleepless moment or two imagining what it would be like to live in a world in which there are consequences for psychotic behavior on a grand scale– a moment or two. But such anxieties will vanish quickly when they meditate on the poetry, the operatic grandeur, the delightful, soaring arias of the capitalists, the Republicans singing in harmony praises every day to a system, they insist, that is going to benefit the average working guy as much or more than those who are already rich.

I found an article in Forbes online addressing the issue.  If this represents the caliber of debate, we are in big trouble.

much better article on debt forgiveness.

It doesn’t: a much better, more informative article at the Seattle Times.

It’s Fun to Say at the NCAA

It’s rather quaint the way University administrators and NCAA officials declare just how wonderful and pure is the devotion of their students to athletics. They play for the love of the sport; they aspire to greatness. They want to improve themselves. They want to be true to their school. They want to learn about leadership and team-building and self-sacrafice and self-denial and goal-setting and how to give everything you’ve got, for a higher purpose.

That kind of sentiment is for saps, of course, and the Administrators and Coaches and NCAA officials know it. If they claim otherwise, let’s make it simple for them: prove that you believe in the values you insist your students must believe in– you now work for nothing. You are volunteers. You get no money, no limos, no first-class flights, no suites, no dinners at the top restaurants. You too can express your purity and join in this ethereal expression of academic holiness.

Don’t be too quick to dismiss the idea. I mean, it is not likely at all that it’s going to happen, but not because it makes sense to do it the way we do it now. It will not happen because of simple, unencumbered ruthless human greed. There is no body or institution or person who is in a position to prevent the NCAA would perpetuating their positions of privilege indefinitely. There is a symbiotic relationship between college administrators, sponsors, coaches, and politicians, and they will all circle the wagons and roll out the big guns if anyone threatens the status quo.

The players, as you know, are this pure and devoted and selfless. They play for nothing. In fact, if they do accept money or gifts, they can be fined and suspended and expelled. But their coaches are among the highest paid state employees in the nation. The head of the NCAA famously drives a Porsche and lives in luxury.

What’s my problem with NCAA sports in America? Nothing. Just drop the pretense and make it what it really is: a professional league. And pay your players and provide them with decent insurance and other benefits, and cut out all the bullshit. Strip all of the Universities and Colleges of all the professional sports– let them go back to amateur athletics organized purely, solely, and exclusively by and for amateurs.

And athletic scholarships should be terminated, period. The entire idea is stupid. What is an institution of higher learning doing paying for people to come play football or basketball or to swim for them? Who says they should? Who says it wouldn’t be a better world if Universities went back to the business of education?

Let’s get rid of the vampires and pimps. And let’s have a string of institutions that are actually dedicated to higher learning: to producing smart people. Let’s value them on the basis of how good they are at doing that. And let’s put cost controls on them so that the incredibly obscene rise in tuition costs (fueled by perverse application of federal student loan guarantees) stops.

The Circuitous Life of Johnson’s Folly

If President Johnson had decided in January 1964 that the U.S. would not win the war in Viet Nam and should withdraw it’s troops and let the chips fall where they may, what would have been different?

About 45,000 American men would be alive today instead of buried in graveyards all over America. Most of them would have married. They would have had children– another 100,000 citizens– who would, by now, be having children of their own.

Johnson would have run again in 1968 and he probably would have won, being the incumbent, and credited with the Civil Rights Act, and his anti-poverty programs and the general prosperity of the expanding consumer society. The war protests, of course, would have ended. The younger generation would have lost their identity. No Chicago riots, no Kent State. One great song “Ohio” by Neil Young, would not have been written or sung. We would have never learned who Abbie Hoffman or Jerry Rubin were, or cared. Nixon would probably never have been elected and U.S. relations with China might today be a lot worse.

Who knows– maybe Reagan would have won in 1972. Maybe Vice-President Hubert Humphrey. Bobby Kennedy would not have been assassinated, because he would not have run in 1968, because Eugene McCarthy would not have run (proving that an antiwar candidate could win), because there would have been no war.

There are threads that can never be traced because everything else would have been different.

The inflation of the 1970’s would have been stopped dead in it’s tracks because, don’t you know, the Viet Nam war ate up a HUGE chunk of American government spending and purchasing. Maybe there would not have been a budget deficit. Or– even better– perhaps that deficit would have been run up by spending on social programs and infrastructure instead, which would actually have improved the economy even more.

U.S. credibility abroad would have been immeasurably higher. Except for the fact that they had engineered coups in other Third World countries like The Congo and Iran and El Salvador. Well, imagine, if you will, that they hadn’t. Imagine the U.S. as an emblem of freedom and democracy and justice, in the 1970’s, instead of a cynical, manipulative, oil-mad behemoth?

Viet Nam would still have gone communist, of course, just as the Republicans feared, and just as they did anyway, but with a less extreme leadership. (The moderates were all driven out by the war.)  Significantly, Cambodia would not have been destabilized by U.S. bombing likely sparing the world one of the great atrocities of the 20th Century committed by the Khmer Rouge, which came to power as a result of the illegal U.S. bombing in the border regions with Viet Nam.

I’m saying all this because, in 40 years, we may be asking ourselves what would have happened if the U.S. had just walked away from Iraq in 2014.

Sentencing Children

Once upon a time, children who committed serious crimes were treated like adults and sent to prisons and hanged and flogged, like adults.

Then we became civilized. We realized that it was horribly unjust to treat, say, a 12-year-old, the same way we treat a 25-year-old, and to hold them to the same standards of behavior and responsibility.

We realized, for one thing, that children are not complete human beings yet. Their brains are not fully developed. They are undergoing big changes. They are not “responsible” in the same way a mature adult is responsible. So they need to be treated differently. They still have a chance to become a normal, well-functioning, rational adult human being.

And then we completely forgot about all those things because we are ourselves evil beings and we want to see people suffer, given the opportunity, so now we routinely charge adolescents “as adults” so we can maximize the severity of their punishments.

There are days, by golly, when our society looks like we have already embraced Sharia law. Gather the stones!



“It was weird that I didn’t feel remorse,” NY Times, 2014-06-08, from a story about two 12-year-old girls, Morgan Geyser and Anissa Weier, who lured a third girl into a woods and stabbed her19 times.

I’ve heard this before and I always wonder why, if you didn’t feel remorse, you would think it was “weird” that you didn’t feel remorse. There’s a whole world of morality and philosophy and culture hiding in that little phrase. Does anybody really feel remorse or does anybody else just not think it’s weird?

Of course, we all act as if remorse is what you feel after you do something wrong. We act as if everyone knows what is wrong and what is right, and we respond to regrettable events appropriately, the way everyone would.

The girl who made the statement above believed it. Well, she says something like that. If you take everything people say at face value, you would have to say that she meant it– she thought she would feel remorse. She was prepared for it, but still committed to the task at hand– proving to “Slender Man” that she was evil enough to earn his trust.

She could have said to her victim, it’s nothing personal.

It is quite possible that most people don’t feel remorse. We all pay lip service to values like kindness and compassion but, as when we charge adolescents as adults in order to maximize the amount of suffering we can inflict upon them, we don’t seem so different.

The judge will sentence these girls to long, long terms in federal penitentiaries. And then she might just say to herself, “it was weird that I didn’t feel remorse”.

Oh but wait– the judge is an adult. She will have learned long ago to say– regardless of what she really feels– how sorry she is to have to punish these girls like this.