Indentured Students

Did you know that the Government of Germany pays the full cost of post-secondary education for all of its students? Even for American students who speak German?

The student loans program  needs to be seen in a completely different light. Here we are now recruiting even younger people with even less knowledge or understanding of credit and pushing them to lock themselves into major debts so that immediately upon leaving college or university they begin making their perpetual payments to the banks.

The banks don’t care about he principal. They don’t need the principal. What they need and want is your perpetual payments to them, and you must not be allowed to escape until you are very old.

That’s when the medical bills kick in…

The Orwellian School

High schooler Blake Robbins filed an invasion of privacy lawsuit against his school, alleging that the Lower Merion School District had taken hundreds of secret photos of him over a two-week period. His family discovered this when a teacher accused Robbins of dealing drugs based on one of the photos.  Forbes (see link).

My first question is, does this school district teach George Orwell’s “1984”?  What do they teach about it?  What do they tell students about sick, totalitarian, repressive, intrusive, voyeuristic minds that have nothing but contempt for the privacy rights of any individual?

How the hell does this not result in criminal action?  Because the school district’s asserted intent was “good”?   How the hell does this not result in a police investigation in which it is determined which individual employee or group of employees at the school board decided to secretly spy on their own students, in their bedrooms, and retain the obtained images.  How the hell did these people not get arrested?

A student named Blake Robbins was photographed “dealing drugs”.  He says he was sharing candies, not pills, and the police never charged him, but Mr. Robbins wondered why the police ever thought he was dealing drugs.  Well, they had a photo, which the school district had given them, showing Mr. Robbins “dealing”.

The school denied any active spying, saying that security software activated for laptops suspected of being stolen kicked in automatically, and took photos every 15 minutes. That defense, while reasonable, was made shaky by the school’s possession of over 56,000 Webcam shots.   Forbes (see link below).

Forbes points out that the school district’s biggest mistake was not telling the students that the school district would be spying on them and taking photos of them in their bedrooms.    Forbes says, “if they had, they likely would not have gotten into so much legal trouble of the civil variety”, while pointing out, again, that there was no criminal charges filed.  The prosecutors “declined” to press charges.

You would think the school district had shot some people with a licensed gun: recklessly, with negligence, or in sheer stupidity– it doesn’t matter: they would be immune because Americans believe that of all the things in the world you could be liable for in terms of causing death, destruction, or mayhem, one of them is not ever going to be a gun.

Robbins successfully sued the school board.  He won $600,000.  Then his lawyer took $425,000 of that– the cost of seeing justice done.

How the hell, was this lawyer not also arrested?

The Forbes Article

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?

School is Football

The Story

It is really depressing to read this story in the New York Times about two impoverished Philadelphia high schools who were rivals at football and who were forced to merge because of declining enrollments and public debt. The New York Times, who should know better, thinks this is a feel-good story because the two schools together produced a football team that could win.

It is not unusual at all to see articles in the U.S. press about how important it is to have schools and universities and colleges so that there can be football. The Times notes that the coach of the football team mentioned academics once. And the writer keeps trying to insist that the football success has some bearing on other apple-pie issues like school violence, attendance, and just how wonderful these poor, mostly black kids can now feel about themselves.

Personally, I think the schools in the U.S., at all levels, should give up the academics entirely and do the only thing they are really good at: exploiting children for adult gratification. It’s the coaches and parents, who turn out in droves for the matches, who are driving this process, living their own competitive ambitions through their children, and their children who pay– the football players at King now have to do year-round weight training. Isn’t that great? Wow! What self-discipline and ambition and drive! Oh– and maybe he’ll do his homework too, but who the what cares?

Doesn’t the New York Times care about the academic performance of this school? Of course it does. Then why this exuberant account of the success of big bad dudes crashing into each other? What does that have to do with the mission of a school, with the students’ social lives, with poverty, with inadequate funding for the arts, with math and english and science and music and drama and poetry and history and philosophy?

The Terrifying Ebullience of Smart Women

I hate when people in a bar or at a party find out I’m majoring in physics. The minute they find out, I can see the guys turn away.” Yet another went on about how even at Yale the men didn’t want to date a physics major, and how she was worried she’d go through four years there without a date.

Why the hell would she care? Why would she want to date a man who felt that intelligence was not an asset for a woman?

I wondered if this woman was unattractive. I know that women generally don’t get what makes them attractive to men. A woman with large breasts sometimes believes she is irresistible and maybe she is to a certain kind of man but never has been to me.

This is from a young woman studying physics at Yale University. She is upset and feels that she is being discriminated against because some young men at Yale appear– to her– to be uninterested in dating a smart woman.

Another complains that she was “underappreciated”. I tried to connect to that. Would I have ever complained that my professors did not “appreciate” me enough when I was at college? Did they owe me appreciation?

“Big Bang Theory” is proffered as an illustration of persisting discriminations and stereotyping (the characters of Amy and Bernadette).

The problem with “Big Bang Theory” isn’t sexism: it’s that it is a cliché-ridden, mediocre show with a horrible laugh-track.


The Undergraduates Embrace of the Transgressive

For all the brow-beating and wailing and self-righteous pieties about the horrible scandal of the St. Mary’s University in Halifax Frosh Week ditty, I have yet to read or hear a single rumination on the essential nature of the evil song: it’s transgressiveness.

I suspect that the reason for that is that to acknowledge the essential thrill of the song experienced by the student representatives would be to acknowledge that they didn’t mean it. It was a joke. It was a joke in very bad taste, but it was, nevertheless, a joke.

That would emasculate the thrill of the self-righteous: how dare they! We are good, decent people who don’t approve of rape and non-consensual sex, therefore we ring out our condemnations. Let us issue a collective gasp of astonishment: our young people are perverted.

It was one of those things that I watched with contempt and then, just as I was ready to form a categorical opinion of the incident, I encountered the chorus of disapproval and denunciation. Both the CBC and CTV, for a time, made it their top story. The CBC, as usual, tried to make you feel like your friends were reporting the story: “so Tara Goodtan is in Halifax; Tara, how are students reacting to the sudden onslaught of vindictive hysteria? And how do you feel about it? What are your thoughts? Where are you now? Are you concerned? How can parents make sure their children never attend St. Mary’s University? Is there some way we protect our noses from the smell? Let me stroll over to another desk in our studio here so it looks like I am actually involved and absorbed by this feat of journalism.”

The students responsible are now to be administered a corrective session of sensitivity training, as if sensitivity was something you could train into a person, and as if we could somehow make the transgressive less appealing to young people on their own for the first time in their lives. While we’re at it, could we teach them not to drink and drive, and to do their homework?

Does anyone seriously believe that any sexual assaults that actually take place on campus will have anything do with the notorious frosh week chant? We think some macho male student is going to say, well, we chanted about doing it during Frosh Week, so I thought it would be okay. Do we think he wouldn’t know that it wasn’t okay, that it was not allowed, that it was abhorrent behavior?

This is acute scandal management. A few years ago, in 2010, the entire football program at the University of Waterloo was cancelled because a few players were caught using steroids. There. Are you convinced that the management of the university is in the hands of righteous people? They are so righteous, and so incompetent, and so incapable of making reasoned, intelligent judgments, that they had to swat the entire athletic division– 65 players– into temporary oblivion because three of them were caught using steroids, to be sure that you got their point: we do not countenance cheating!

Do they countenance unfairness and arbitrariness and loud, incoherent, pointless gestures? You bet. Most of the 2010 team transferred to other universities and continued to play.

The CBC on the Delinquency

An Epidemic of Diagnoses

You have to distinguish between an epidemic of diagnoses and an epidemic of allergies. Dr. Nicholas Christakis

A recent story out of Sacramento describes the tragedy of the death of Natalie Giorgi, a 13-year-old girl who was allergic to peanuts and inadvertently swallowed a bite of a Rice Krispies square that had “peanut products” in it. Her parents had two EPI-Pens, used them both, then used a third from the camp where their daughter had been staying. Natalie’s father, a physician, couldn’t save her, and neither could the EMS team that arrived by helicopter.

Now the Giorgi’s have gone public because they want to convince a skeptical public that food allergies are real and pose a real threat to public health and safety. They believe most people aren’t already hysterical enough about food allergies. We need to ramp it up.

Now, I don’t know where the Giorgis stand on gun control, or drunk driving, or lightening, but, if we, as a society, were to respond intelligently to genuine threats to health and safety, we might be better off channeling our energies into more productive causes.

Even worse, the remedies proposed most often– declaring schools “peanut free”, for example– may actually be having the opposite effect. In Israel, where peanuts are a popular snack, the rate of peanut allergies among children is about 0.17%. In Britain, where peanuts are less popular, the allergy rate is 2%.

About 150 people die every year in the U.S. due to an allergic reaction. About half are due to peanuts. That’s slightly more than the number of people who die from lightening strikes.

Be it noted: there is a lot of misplaced faith placed in Epi-Pens.

Penn State University

Penn State rakes in $70 million a year from it’s football program. The University eats, breathes, and suckles football.

It’s stadium holds 107,000 people.

State College– what a dumb name for a town!– only has a population of about 50,000.

I don’t think it’s unreasonable to assume that Coach Paterno and assistant coach Mike McQueary didn’t call the police because it was former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky raping that ten-year-old boy. The more I think about it, the more ridiculously lame Paterno’s excuse– that he notified Penn State’s administration and trusted them to do the right thing– sounds.

Let’s leave that aside for now.

My question is, why do they even bother with the “university” aspect of their operations?

All those professors and non-football-playing students and courses and books and libraries and museums and lectures and panel discussions and seminars and sororities and fraternities– why bother? Who needs them? Who wants them? Why not just convert all the big universities into sports franchises, like the NBA, NFL, or MLB?

The football is obviously the only real focus of the institutions that devote so many resources to the sport, and whose mostly highly paid employee is the football coach.  Why are you pretending to give the slightest fuck about education?

Let’s say you’re interested in learning. Yeah, lets say you are a total weirdo by American standards. If you really wanted to, you could probably buy a few buildings, hire a few smart, educated people who know something about history or English or physics or economics, and see if you could get them to pass on their knowledge to young people who think there might be some value to it.

You could have a place where learning is valued, where knowledge is prized, and the imagination is appreciated.

Some young people who didn’t think the life of the mind was a mere after thought, a tiny, insignificant garnish to the gleaming athletic trophies, might sign up. You could have dorms and cafeterias. You could name the place after a brilliant writer or artist or economist or scientist.

And once in a while, if the kids need to get their yah-yahs out, there could be a game of football or something.

But just imagine:  place devoted to learning and knowledge and the arts and intellectual development!  Would that be amazing.

The Ethical Culture Fieldston School of Hysterical Over-Reaction

Barry Sirmon was a history teacher at Ethical Culture Fieldston School.

On the third day of school this fall, he joked about two black students, “I hope I will be able to tell you apart.” Mr. Sirmon, reasonably, insists that he was not making a racist joke– he was making a joke about racism.

Damian Fernandez, head of the school, panicked. Obviously, a terrible, terrible blow to the school’s reputation had been inflicted by Mr. Sirmon’s cruel remark. He had to be fired, immediately!

Damian Fernandez is Latino, and openly gay. He is obviously very sensitive to the potentially oppressive culture of abuse in Mr. Sirmon’s classroom.

All right — sarcasm doesn’t work here. Sirmon had worked at the school for ten years. Not everyone liked him because he tended to speak his mind and he was often sarcastic. The truth is, Fernandez was afraid of him and used the incident as an excuse to get rid of him and to intimidate the rest of the staff. In my opinion.

When he was fired, one parent said, “it wasn’t just one thing– it was a pattern of behavior“.  That is the last refuge of accusatory scoundrel’s:  a “pattern” of behavior.

What absolute horseshit! Either he was fired for the other things or he wasn’t. A “pattern of behavior” is the pathetic excuse you offer when you have failed to make your case and you don’t have any actual facts or information to support your view. It is a contemptible comment unworthy of an institution with a name that becomes more ridiculous by the second: Ethical Culture Fieldston School.

If Fernandez had a real case, he would have documented every incident and his response to the incident and his directions to Mr. Sirmon to alter his behavior to be in compliance with school policies and directives. He didn’t do that. He was new to the job and he wanted to show his balls.

I feel like I know this head, this Fernandez. I’ll bet he’s had leadership training. I’ll bet he has absolutely no clue about anything to do with the issues he is judging. He’s making an appearance about an appearance and instead of dealing rationally with a behavior he wants to change, he chose to bray and screech to demonstrate his authority. A lot of newly hired managers do that– seize the first opportunity to prove that he or she is tough enough for the job, and throw a little fear out there. They don’t bring anyone else into the process. They don’t follow a refined process or carefully consider all sides.

I’ll bet Mr. Fernandez is an asshole or a whiney, timid little wuss. He has no real understanding of what Mr. Sirmon said, what it means, how much it weighs, whether it is insulting or not, whether it is racist or not, or whether it was a joke. Or not.

It’s this kind of crap that gives cover to the hysterics on the right who decry political correctness. The only thing we can trust them to do is to avoid any actual facts and information.

The world is full of people with small minds blindly stumbling around trying very hard to look tough and inflicting damage wherever they go.

The New York Times reported that a teacher at one of the public schools in the city was still on the job even though he had told a student, while handing back an assignment, that she did such a good job he could kiss her.

He didn’t actually kiss her.

Nevertheless, three men in long scarlet robes appeared and shrieked and lamented and, at last report, the teacher was still hanging from his thumbs and the student was being medicated and the rest of the class were having their brains scoured with steel wool.

They will all shortly return home to play video games in which they dismember each other.

Trinity Christian College – Dr. Martin Vrieze

Trinity Christian College in Palos Heights, Illinois, was founded in 1965 or thereabouts. It is a reformed Christian college, founded on the idea that science is not neutral, that all knowledge is influenced and shaped by a person’s worldview, and that Christians, therefore, need to study in a Christian College to reach an understanding of the world that is in harmony with their faith

You can buy it or not buy it. As a student, it was clear to me that the history and philosophy departments were trying their best to follow the program, but English classes seemed to me to be pretty well the same kind of classes you would be taking at York or the University of Toronto or the University of Western Ontario or the University of Chicago.

If you took art and needed to learn how to draw the human figure, you had to go to Saint Xavier University down the street to see a nude model because, apparently, Christians didn’t do nudes.  Well, at least not on Trinity’s campus.  I’m amazed we had a pre-med program– when did they ever get to look at a human body?

As for the business and accounting departments, they were all eager little capitalists who believed that religion was largely relevant to Sunday mornings. The philosophical perspective of my friends in these departments could be summed up thusly: “Hey, watch your language guys– there are girls around.”

Philosophy, at Trinity, was like the art: we didn’t do nudes. You had to go elsewhere to study the shapes and contours and shadows of an undraped human mind. We studied rationalism and humanism and scholasticism and Marxism and read Kant’s Transcendental Critique and always, near the end of the course, bang, biff, whap! we put them in their places.

Christian Reformed Doctrine held that all of us have a prior faith commitment which coloured all of our conclusions about science and truth. So Kant could write ten critiques if he wanted but he would be no closer to the truth because he was, at heart, a humanist. Geez, that’s a gross simplification. But it will have to do: I don’t have all day.

So, at the end of the course, our professors would expose these philosophers’ hidden biases, offer the “correct” Christian perspective, and then we would move on to the next great fraud.

Now, this Christian philosophy was not supposed to be the same as a reactionary, conservative philosophy. Heavens no! Even if, at the end of the long torturous journey through the Bible, Augustine, Aquinas, and Herman Dooyeweerd, and Abraham Kuyper, we ended up, lo and behold, agreeing with Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson. I didn’t get that at the time. I didn’t get it until I was at a Christian Labour Association of Canada banquet five or six years later where the guest speaker, Bernie Zylstra, attacked the media for attacking Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson. I didn’t get it until I realized that a lot of these devoted “Reformed Christian” thinkers were astoundingly similar, in outlook, to neo-conservatives like Daniel Bell, Patrick Moynihan, and Irving Kristol. (Oddly, they opposed support for Solidarity in Poland at first, because they thought it was doomed to failure, and because they fervently believed that communist regimes never liberalize, while our cuddly U.S.-friendly capitalist autocratic regimes– like Pinochet in Chile, and Somoza in Nicaragua, and the Shah of Iran– do.)

Reformed Christian Philosophy…. in a word, we believed that truth was handed down from high, given to us in the Bible, but also– as per some Scholastics– through “general revelation”, evidence to be found in creation itself, and in natural law as divined through science. That explained why non-Christian scientists occasionally or often hit on a “truth” or two even while blinded by their own humanistic determinism– they were working from evidence from God’s own hands, his creation, which is an expression of divine will, and part of the way God communicates with us sinners.

I don’t mean to be too glib. Our professors, Dr. John Roose and Dr. Martin Vrieze, were respectful of their achievements, and properly awed by the depth and breadth of their insights. But we were convinced that the great reformed thinkers– Abraham Kuyper, Herman Dooyeweerd, Bob Goudzwaard, and others could hold their own with these mighty intellects. Especially Dooyeweerd who was rumoured to be almost as smart as Kant, and maybe even smarter, if not at least equally incoherent.

And then there was Contemporary Philosophy.  (Actually, it may have been “Philosophy of History”.)

I took this course in my senior year, I think it was, with a few philosophy die-hards, with Dr. Marten Vrieze. I have no idea why I thought this but I had the idea that Dr. Vrieze was a bit pissed off at the Reformed establishment for some reason. It may have been because, unlike some of the other reformational professors like Calvin Seerveld and Robert Vandervennen, he hadn’t been asked to sign on to The Institute for Christian Studies in Toronto, one of the other, bigger Reformed Christian Colleges, or the new King’s College in Edmonton. I had a feeling he was fed up with something. Whatever the reason, the course was an eye-opener and it completely altered my perception of Christian philosophy.

There was no text-book, no digest, no over-view: content was taken from philosophical journals and books by the philosophers. These philosophers were not dusted off from their positions in the pantheon of all-time BIG thinkers, buffed and admired, then discredited. These were living, breathing philosophers, mostly, who were engaged with living, breathing currents of philosophy and were way ahead of the constructs and discredited frameworks of Hume, Descartes, and Kant.

It would be impossible to do justice to their ideas here, so I’ll do an injustice instead, just so you know what I’m talking about. Ludwig Wittgenstein, a logical positivist, believed that truth was a construct of language and formal structures of thought, within which we distilled our experiences of the world into a coherent narrative. It wasn’t so much the ideas that mattered, as the way the ideas were expressed, shackled, as they were, to the expression itself.

Karl Popper believed that we formulated our perspective on the world in a sort of complex of patterns and systems of thought called paradigms. A paradigm was “true” as long as it was useful. As human knowledge would begin to exceed the framework of this paradigm, it might be overthrown, and a new paradigm would take it’s place. Again, it didn’t really matter if a paradigm was really true or not– there probably was no such thing as a “true” paradigm.

Imre Lakatos and Paul Feyerabend developed these ideas even further, and I remember, in particular, and argument from Paul Feyerabend that demonstrated, finally, to my satisfaction, that the idea that 2 + 2 does not necessarily equal 4 is not nearly as silly as it sounds. You can’t make any person who hasn’t taken advanced philosophy believe this.

What these gentleman called into question was the idea that you could measure a worldview, such as reformed Christianity, against it’s own reference points. Reformed Christianity would argue that even without the Bible, the evidence of creation is sufficient to explain a just and loving God and a purpose to life. Popper would argue that this world view prevailed only as long as it was “useful” to humanity. With the Renaissance and the Age of Reason, this paradigm was challenged, and eventually over-thrown.

More to come…

Some neo-cons like Irving Kristol support the idea of “intelligent design”. It’s very difficult to imagine that Kristol really believes in it. Maybe he does. Or maybe it just confirms the idea that neo-cons are just a bunch of neo-prudes with reactionary instincts who really don’t care for facts and information unless they can be marshaled in support of their conservative politics.

Forrest Gump is a neo-con’s wet dream of a movie.