Radical Economics of the Left
A Polite Reply to a Neoliberal
The poster above is currently being shared on facebook. Rather than taking a one-by-one approach to commenting on itand, in so doing, giving the unintended impression that I am criticizing individuals for sharing itI am making my response to the facebook group "Anti-Republican Crusaders" the subject of a post here at The Dark Wraith Forums. What follows is the way I would write the commentary on this poster were I to address the matter on a social network.
"...singular issues," Mr. Clooney? "...singular issues," you rich, pompous Hollywood ass?
A globally accelerating engine of hegemonic wars.
A cowardly President who cannot confront and crush Republican opposition because he really doesn't want to.
A President who sneers about the brutal detention of Bradley Manning and whose administration has prosecuted whistleblowers (unlike the Bush Administration, which did not prosecute one whistleblower).
A President who ordered the top-secret classification of photographs of our brutality in Iraq.
A President whose Byzantine complex of domestic and international enforcers is spying on and shutting down Websites, not just in the U.S., but across the world.
A President whose FDA administrators are cowering to all manner of lies the food industry wants to use so we won't know just how little our food is something like what we think it is.
A President whose mealy-mouthed attitude toward the Occupy protests only encouraged state-sponsored violence that largely killed the movement in its tracks (and, I might note in passing, a President whose DoJ has encouraged YouTube and other sites to take down videos of the violence).
A President whose Federal Trade Commission and Department of Justice pretend to review the consolidation of major industries into oligopolies while letting the industrial concentration continue apace with the well-known consequences of higher prices, lower output levels, lower employment, and more concentrated corporate political money power coming at the expense of any pretense of protecting the huge advantages of fierce competition.
While I'm at it, Mr. Clooney, don't give me that line about some "400,000 jobs" your hero kept from going overseas. I'm an economist; unlike the paid and pampered economists of the liberal and conservative stripes, no one writes me a fat check, and that's why I get my predictions right. As I explained over and over again to no particular gain, U.S. Presidents Clinton and Bush coddled the Chinese as they pegged their currency at a ludicrously low value against the dollar, thereby destroying millions of American jobs and untold billions of dollars in American industrial physical capital. Clinton's less-than-geniuses did it because of old-time neo-Keynesian globalism married to neoconservative fantasies that the Chinese "free market" experiment would lead to a middle class that would demand political reforms. The subsequent Bush Administration's quite-a-bit-less-than geniuses did it because the import of artificially undervalued goods from China was matched by the American export of dollars to pay for those goods, and those American dollars in the People's Bank of China could be spent only back in the United States, where they funded our irresponsibly low tax rates, our irresponsibly unwise military adventures, and our irresponsibly high household debt-to-income ratios. Unfortunately, that Chinese pegging is now coming to an end as those years of the Chinese central bank printing ridiculous amounts of its currency to hold the peg are slowly, inexorably, and destructively turning into systemic inflation that the Chinese rulers cannot pretend isn't there because the global currency markets are making it quite clear that the peg has to come off, and those Chinese communists can't just lie about it anymore. The same is or will be happening all over the world to the nations we coddled by letting them peg their currencies. So, yes, jobs are coming home, but all that means is that old-time economics is finally putting its teeth into another system of New Age myths.
Now, let me get back to the main point I intend to make in this article, Mr. Clooney. You and your fancy income and high profile respectability can go straight to Hell. You're just another Institutional Left shill, and you're nothing but the mirror of the Institutional Right shills who apologized for Bush and his gang. You're dumb about economics, and you're irreparably lost in your self-importance fanned by the mainstream media, which magnifies the approved messages of the phony outrage of political opponents, neither of whose spokespeople have even the slightest clue about what it means to want for food, shelter, gainful and certain employment, and a little dignity. That last one, by the way, might mean your hero President's Executive Branch would have to take down its incomprehensibly huge busy-body cybernetwork that does everything from deploy malware in almost everyone's computer to run a whole industry of perverts who technologically strip naked anyone who wants to board an airplane.
"Hope and Change"?
Hope, sure; we're talking about marketing.
Change, absolutely not; we're talking about Empire.
Mr. Clooney, take your fancy income, your nice houses, your surety about your future, and your friends in high places, and you just go ahead and live your comfortable life, but do so somewhere other than in my face or even where I can hear your bleat. That goes for Warren Buffet, George Soros, and all the other fancy men and women who think Barack Obama and the failed neoliberal agenda are just what I need.
I'll go my own way, and you go yours; but know this, Mr. Clooney: history is not "about" conflict; history is conflict. Put on your nice suit, white shirt, and expensive tie; you should look good when history comes to visit.
Prelude to My Turn
The unedited exchange in text form is as follows:
J: i'm looking forward to failing english becuase the teacher acts like english 1 is the highest english possable. its freeking stupid! the teacher told me i have to re-do my full essay or i get an F on it.
A: Send me your stuff, I'll take a look at it.
J: -.-;; thanks a.
Teachers are dangerous u know that?
They ask u for ur opinion then grade u on it?
How can ur opinion be wrong when it is urs?
They offer their opinion of what they think it says but it is not correct it is only their opinion
Once u understand this u will know what i mean :-)
Teachers are overpaid and over rated for passing out theories and
making people offenders for workd that they do not even know :-)
A theory is not fact and a fact is not a theory:-)
Never in between will the two meet
Peace good nite good Luck from where dialogue from a play Hamlet to Horatio: "There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy." dialogue from a play written long before men took to the sky there are more things in heaven earth and in the sky that perhaps can be dreamt of and somwhere in between heaven the sky the earth lies the Twilight Zone
Yes, indeed, let's give those heaving throngs of semi-literate students all the ammunition they need to blame the teachers. After all, even the progressives' dream-come-true President, Mr. Barack Obama, has triangulated his way onto the occasional anti-educator band wagon, wheeling his weather vane opinion to be on record in support of firing teachers in "under-performing schools." His appointment of Arne Duncan, the neoliberal bully who ran the schools in Chicago, as his Education Secretary sends the clear message that this is the time of open season on teachers in this country.
From the hyperbolic fantasy land drool in books like Waiting for Superman to school districts appointing former military personnel as superintendents, the solutions are hitting the book shelves and the classrooms, and the consensus has spoken: the villain in the collapse of education is obvious, and that evilthat unwashed mass of incompetent, lousy, lazy, over-paid, under-worked, dumb teachers engorging at the hog trough of over-taxed citizens' hard-earned moneymust be taught a lesson.
The New Right of the 1990s that wanted government small enough to "drown in a bathtub" is on a serious roll, swinging budget axes at schools, eliminating the collective bargaining right of the teachers, and making the giant herds of cowardly Democrats head for the hills like so many whimpering dogs apologizing because they cannot bleed enough to make their tormenters like them.
Fair is fair: those teachers are directly and principally responsible for the lost generations of ignorant students in this country, right? Yet another wave of victimhood has found its perp, and yet another backlash of witch-hunting the bad guys may now proceed at full-throated, truth-is-with-us righteousness.
Before the pitchforks start the prodding and the torches burn the mob's own City of Reform to the ground, however, I shall have my say in my next article. I promise that I will offend every last person who reads it. I am not of a mind to be diplomatic in a world of hypocrites on both the Right and the Left. I am utterly weary of Sarah Palin and her sales pitch for hypocrisy on stilts, and I am every bit as sick of failed neoliberals like Barack Obama and those whose own hypocrisy compelled them to swallow his smooth-talking game of bait-and-switch.
I will tell you what the problem is with this country's education system, and I will tell you in no uncertain terms.
You will not like what I have to say; at least, I hope you won't.
Concealed Carry Campus
That's right: firearms on college campuses.
Welcome to the fun house otherwise known as the 21st Century (otherwise known as the insane asylum).
As a teacher at both a state university and at a regional community college, this presents considerable challenges to me in my role as one who is, in the words of Lee Iacocca, "...passing civilization along from one generation to the next."
Passing civilization across the generations begins with the mundane. Setting classroom rules is one of the very first steps. At the appropriate time, I will add a section to my class syllabi entitled, "Firearms: Appropriate Use," which will set forth rules of engagement with respect to when, where, and how sidearms should be the education technology of choice in student/professor interactions.
To those not in the profession of teaching, this might sound complicated, but the emergent nation of top-down hierarchical management in matters subject to government funding makes the job somewhat clearer (read, for example, my article, "On Modern Education"). The state in which I teach is now imposing specific standards on me in my community college courses as part of the pop-academia fad known loosely as "assessment standards" (the second-generation cripple of No Child Left Behind). I must obviously have the new section in my syllabi reviewed by the college administrators who properly channel state mandates; but the working language as I see it will be something to the effect that students who draw their firearms in class, in my office, or otherwise in my presence will be the subject of severe consequences. I'm thinking that those consequences will include harsh words like, "BAD student. BAAAAAD STUDENT!"
I am not entirely sure I can set grading policies on this matter, though, given that the state is now being fairly specific not just about grades, themselves, I issue, but also about the categories (and percentage allocations within those categories) I am required to use for determining grades.
It's difficult, but I've been a college teacher for 30 years, so I'm sure I'll craft workable solutions that maintain the quality of instruction, the appropriate number of students who pass (so the school will keep its revenue stream up), and the overall ambiance that is the hallmark of my classrooms.
As the bonus, of course, I can maintain my own sense of grim cynicism while laughing my way through the expansive graveyard that is this remarkably self-destructing Empire in its twilight.
Am I the one to change the course of history? Of course not. I'm the problem.
I'm the teacher.
President New Age Authoritarian
Heaven forbid our New Age Neocon President would tell the parents to get off their fat, lazy asses and do their jobs, and Lord knows his Chief Bully in charge of the Education Department isn't about to tell his comrades in the fancy suits running school districts into the ground to actually construct schools that foster learning and not rote compliance and penetrating fear.
No, it's better to terrorize the kids with ridiculous, "zero-tolerance" (for being human) policies and terrorize teachers with mass firings for trying to do something with children of self-indulgent parents who expect everyone (including the government) and everything (including brain-sucking pharmaceuticals) but themselves to do the work of making their children ready to learn and capable every day of doing so.
Go for it, Mr. President. Maybe all the failed parents like Sarah and Todd Palin and the tens of millions of others who want someone to blame but themselves will vote for you in 2012.
I won't, but that's just because I'm one of those failures of a teacher the system is purging, right?
The Canvas and Brushstrokes of Nightfall
Former Labor Secretary and perennial Leftist literary figure Robert Reich is calling for a bailout of the nation's public education system.
Mr. Reich is a professor at the University of California at Berkley, where he shares prestige and faculty doughnut deliveries with former White House counsel and unindicted war criminal John Yoo on the extreme Right and mealy-mouthed, obtuse, Paul Krugman pal Brad Delong on the Left. They and their fellow well-paid, tenured elites of academia must surely be feeling, at least in small ways, the catastrophe that is happening to public institutions of higher education in California and elsewhere throughout the nation, although the extent of the pain wafting to their lofty heights is measured in little more than slightly larger class sizes and slower upgrades to the nice computers in their big, professorially messy offices.
On my end, the catastrophe is quite personal, and I shall first address, in an admittedly rather non-linear manner, that minor matter before ending with a robust dose of macroeconomics. The macroeconomics portion is a follow-on to the years I have spent writing here about the consequences of our taxation and spending policies that were combined with years of allowing China and other Asian countries to undervalue their currencies against the dollar. Along the way, I will provide readers with further evidence of my toxic disdain for the Right-wing fools who got us into this mess and the whining, self-appointed Leftist Defenders of The Unprivileged like Robert Reich who perennially bleat for public money to be thrown at every problem, regardless of the fiscal consequences of uncontrolled federal spending and the social consequences of giving the government yet one more excuse for imposing its out-of-touch, overbearing expectations on constituencies already drained of essential freedoms.
First, though, I shall write about what I am seeing, what I am experiencing on the ground in real time, with very real, quite dire consequences for my life.
For the first time in my memory of 30 years of teaching, this Summer, I will not have the maximum of two classes I am permitted under law to teach. Summers are always a most difficult time financially for me, but with half my usual course load lost, I am facing wreckage.
Thanks to state and federal rules, I am never allowed more than 12 hours of teachingthat's four, three-semester-hour classesat any given college since that would mean the school would have to extend to me a benefits package I, quite incidentally, neither want nor need. In the absence of any opportunity to get more than 12 hours at any one school, I have to run from one college to another every day. It's okay for me to teach more than a full-time "full load," but only if I do it the hard way, racing back and forth from one school to another, sometimes from one city to another. The sheer nonsense of the rules that place this burden upon me is palpable, yet no one in a position of legislative power will do anything about it.
I teach about one-and-a-half times the load of a full-timer, and I make less than a third to a fourth of what the privileged profs do. In the case of the top-paid professors, my yearly salary is less than a tenth.
During the Summer, though, only one school available to me ever has work, and the maximum load has always been two courses, given that the semester runs half as long and each class is compressed to be go twice as fast. That makes Summers rough for me financially, but I've always managed to make it through, one way or another.
The bad news was fairly evident before it arrived with my schedule for this Summer. The state had failed to pay three of its four quarterly contributions to the school, and the current president of the college, whom everyone had thought would stay until his dream of massively expanding the institution's infrastructure was completed, is leaving before the ribbons are cut. Notwithstanding his detractors' long-time assertions that he is a hard-nosed, uncompromising bully, he quite apparently is not stupid.
(Never mind his flagrant, years-long extra-marital affair with one of the school's employees; never mind that the building frenzy was done on a bond trick that required no approval from the voters whose property taxes sky-rocketed as a result; and never mind that the bond funding did not include debilitating, continuing costs of maintaining all those new buildings and a whole new athletic program, complete with its own fields, well-paid coaches, and facilities. When the mob is gathering to chase a scoundrel out of town, this is the soon-to-be pariah who not only gets in front of the mob like he's leading it, but also prints out a Google map to plan the parade route.)
The writing on the wall for me goes beyond mere budget cuts that will send me into a personal financial crisis in a few months. There are quite a few course offerings this Summer, but most of them are online, and I was decertified as an online teacher several years ago by the none other than the Associate Dean of Information Technology, a man reviled by at least a few old-school professors who deem him an incompetent twit. (I cannot comment on that assessment: I haven't taken the necessary training class.) He was angered that I had taken the abominable software called "WebCT," which used to be the love child of higher education's emergent high-tech activists, and customized it so it would be effective for me and inviting for my students. That did not fit with the one-size-fits-all, everything-must-look-the-same requirements (unstated, of course) of those in IT who have no skills other than to ensure compliance with their self-invented standards for how things should be.
The out-sized power of Information Technology departments in some schools comports with broader trends in higher education, though. The mania with what used to be called "Assessment and Evaluation"now reduced to the catch-all word "Assessment"has had, as one of its toxic results, a drive to standardize, routinize, and compartmentalize the scope and sequence of curriculum across each discipline. The phenomenon of "PowerPoint professors" has gotten so pervasive that many students are bitterly complaining to me that virtually every class they're taking is nothing but a daily exercise in sitting in a darkened room while some prof reads to them what is projected on a big screen at the front.
This trend works for "Assessment" standards, however, because every class in a given course is pre-packaged, with even the standards, themselves, already met and set forth (in standards-compliant form, of course) by the publisher of the chosen course textbook. The professors do not need to do any prep and really don't need to know, much less care about, what they are teaching. In the darkened rooms pervading the halls of academia, those professors need not even see their students' faces, perplexed, confused, beginning to understand, struggling to learn as they might be. Why have that kind of feedback when assessment instrumentspre-packaged and certified to standards by the publisherscan do the job, instead?
For the personal touch, and in line with yet another higher-ed fad sometimes called "Writing across the Curriculum," some online instructors have their students submit an essay or two, despite the pervasive, palpable lack of writing skills these learners possess and despite the dubious grammar and composition skills of those who are their "teachers" in these courses.
Online courses are enormously attractive to colleges, however. Publishers deliver each course as a fairly complete, out-of-the-box package, and the "teacher" can do little more than be a supervisory quasi-Webmaster, scheduling tests, collecting results, and overseeing the big "classes" that cost the school less than brick-and-mortar delivery media and modalities. Better still, the power center shifts to the school's information technology services, which then has legitimate claim to pose as the center of teacher standards, teaching expertise, and funding. I have seen this happen: at the college where I was decertified as an online instructor, the so-called "Faculty Academy," which runs teacher training, is under the authority of Information Technology, which is not an academic department, but which is run by that fellow who personally decertified me, despite the fact that I was named Faculty Member of the Year that very same year. (That was the same year I launched my own education Website, complete with all kinds of resources, including professional-quality podcasts of all my lectures, which are also available by free subscription on Apple iTunes.)
The Information Technology services division whose Associate Dean decertified me also runs such programs as the one that "trains" teachers in everything from ethics (yet another fad in higher education, right now) to "instructional development" (whatever that is).
As an aside, this is the same Information Technology services department that cannot maintain standardization across the PCs on campus, fails to keep the software even on faculty workstations current, and becomes righteously furious with anyone who points out critical flaws, security gaps, and uninstalled but necessary software on campus computers.
Returning for two final, somewhat broader points on the topic of those online courses that are now the cost-saving choice of cash-strapped schools, let there be no understatement about how bad they are for both students and educators. The department chairwoman whose decisions led to my looming financial difficulties, in defending the tilt toward these courses (while denying that any substantive shift is occurring), told me they are "popular," especially in the Summer when students want to go on vacations and do lots of other things that would preclude attending real classes. She is right about that: far too many students sign up for those online sections fully intending to get course credit for less effort than they would put into a classroom-based course. The downside is this: at least in my disciplines of expertise, especially in economics, virtually no online student can learn what I want that student to learn. I know this for a fact. In the cases where a student took the first of a two-course economics sequence online and then tried to take the second course in my classroom, almost never did the student pass unless he or she pretty much re-learned the material from the first course. In the past two years, students who had earned a course grade of A or a B in an online, first-semester section almost always failed or nearly failed my brick-and-mortar, second-semester class. Most of these students, in fact, dropped my course and eventually went back to the online way of getting their college credits in economics.
Finally, online courses certainly disserve students, but they also disserve educators who fall into the trap of getting work by agreeing to be "trained" to run online courses and then accepting online sections just so they can have a teaching job. The work might seem attractive at first, given that all it seems one must do is sit at a computer to deploy pre-packaged materials, then collect and report results; but the bad part comes if the "teacher" actually cares about student learning. A class of thirty-five students who have no means of communicating otherwise are going to be pounding that educator with written questions every day and every night, each question requiring some response of lesser or greater detail about subject matter. Considering the mode of communication, some of the most effective means of conveying knowledge will be completely unavailable. Even worse, at least in this state, there seems to be some kind of regulatory prohibition against online teachers using what are known in customer service as "standards" canned answers that are the first pass at answering a question. This was barked at me in a department meeting by none other than a tenured professor, sitting as she was on her high pedestal dictating truth and consequences to those who do the dirty work she would not. Tenured professors, rarely willing to run online sections, themselves, are nevertheless sometimes veritable geysers of knowledge when it comes to the ghetto work percolating in the burgeoning, LCD-lit sweatshops under the ivy of Higher Education Hall.
I end this part of the article with an unqualified stipulation: what I wrote above was venomous, biased, self-aggrandizing, and parochial.
I have for myself no champions, save myself, and I have learned from too many personal experiences that reserve, resignation, dignity, understatement, and patience work only capriciously; too often, they are the ways of the dominant insisting upon safe passage through the enraged ranks of those they exploit. When the mainstream media whips hysteria in the wake of angry people who resort to violence, they give ever more power to those who make incomprehensibly large numbers of people fight progressively bleaker lives, almost all of them quietly, in despair, disillusionment, and surrender.
Therein lies the transition from my personal prospects of a degraded future to the large picture, which actually has nothing whatsoever to do with me or with anyone else in my position. What happens at the scale of the small is mere anecdote, offering neither affirmation or refutation of the grand scale. To hold otherwise is to go down a corrosive path all too common in the laws of this nation, where any and every incident has the chance of becoming a bloody red shirt to wave for yet another law, another regulation, another polemic's demand for a pogrom. American law is fast becoming a modern Lex Romana, so vast, so intricate, so complex, so detailed, that it serves no one but those who construct and enforce this or that set of provisions which advance an interest or protect a group at the expense of the body of the governed. In the case of the Roman Empire, by the time the Visigoths entered Rome in 5th Century, the wise generals had already made their alliances with the hordes, the most powerful of the city had in many cases already made their plans to the extent that they could, and the citizen commoners and others saw nothing but yet another unstoppable plunge into terrifying, if all too familiar, darkness. A barbarian and a centurion look pretty much the same to the man being put to the sword of one or the other hateful brute.
Nothing important remains of those who were already traveling the road with their backs to the sunset.
Nightfall then, nightfall now.
Professor Rubin wants a bailout of education. After all, the U.S. government has bailed out the economy and the banks, and it has engaged in decades-long, life-sustaining, wildly expensive support systems for everything from agriculture to the military hardware industry. Why not education now that the system is in a crisis of such proportions that courses are being canceled, teachers are being furloughed, and students are becoming restive enough to engage in public, vocal protests?
We bailed out a bunch of greedy, incompetent bankers.
We bailed out an economy with a huge number of people who had voted not once, but twice for the staggeringly incompetent former President and his equally incompetent minions who hauled us down an eight-year road to the economic and financial meltdown that finally got the people's attention once it slammed head-long through the info-tainment that masquerades as evening news into their own tunnel-vision lives.
Why not bail out the education system?
Professor Rubin (and anyone else who thinks this is a dandy idea whose time has come), allow me to succinctly explain why we should not, and I preface the emphatic words I write below by pointing out that I wear the hats of an economist, a financial analyst, a parent, and an all-around realist who does not care whom I offend. Read my explanation and imagine for yourself how bad it would be if I were actually leaning over your diminutive, Leftist head, sir, my voice thundering, my saliva flying, as happens all the time when I am teaching and when I am ranting on my talk radio show:
Mr. Rubin, we can't afford it, you Leftist academic airhead simpleton.
Again, sir, WE CANNOT AFFORD IT.
We are running unsustainable, unconscionable federal budget deficits, and our Congress is too cowardly to do anything about this madness other than to allow China and other countries to keep lending us literally trillions of dollars to keep our ludicrously low taxes and our bizarrely childish spending habits going, all while those countries peg their currencies at a half to a third of their purchasing power parity values against the dollar, thereby wrecking millions of American jobs and destroying billions and billions of dollars of our industrial base.
We can't get our tax structure put right because our President cowers to self-promoting clowns who squeal and bawl for even lower taxes.
We can't get our spending under control because our President and his Democratic allies are so obsessed with one-issue health care "reform" legislation that they'll sacrifice more important issues like antitrust law modernization and privacy law reform to some shifting vision of "fixing" a health care system that first and foremost desperately needs a hard dose of exposure to a real fist of antitrust law enforcement that includes no-exemption price transparency and, where necessary, government-sponsored, brutal competitive pressures.
More money for education, Mr. Rubin? Find it.
Go ask the Federal Reserve; for years, they've been printing money to keep the economy twitching through the slow death spiral of the Bush years and right on into the spending spree of the Obama Administration.
Oh, wait, that's right: all that money the Fed has printed in excess of the real growth rate of the economy is sooner or later going to create a massive tidal wave of inflation, isn't it? Or do you think clicking our heels and wishing real hard will make the so-called equation of exchange not come to bear in the long run with steel teeth? It's happening in China right now: our benefactor's years of currency exchange rate manipulation against the dollar (and against our interests) are now coming to a head with inflationary pressures that are scaring the living Hell out of those addled communist thugs running the show in Beijing.
Oh, just another minute, there: the Chinese are trying to pretend they can ratchet up their domestic interest rates to quell the inflation while still playing their currency rate manipulation games. Those are two mutually exclusive economic policies. The Chinese mercantilists' gambit is running into the long-run end result of years of spinning their yuan printing presses at near-light speed. Despite continued efforts to peg the yuan at a low level against the dollar to keep the growth of the Chinese economy high, the value of the yuan will rise as the People's Bank of China, with increasing fear of inflation expectations embedding into the Chinese economy, pushes their domestic interest rates up. The value of the yuan against the dollar will inexorably rise, and this will throttle down hard on the ability of the People's Bank to get American dollars by inducing its merchants to sell us cheap trash. Once the Chinese goods on American store shelves start getting expensive for us to buy, we will stop exporting greenbacks to China in exchange for their not-so-cheap-anymore stuff, which means the People's Bank of China won't have all those American dollars to lend back to our government (and consumers and businesses, by the way) so we can keep spending beyond our means like we have for so many years, now.
Nightfall coming: nightfall for them, nightfall for us.
Our government will no longer be able to get cheap money to squander on worthless war-making, which is the Right-wingers' favorite sport, or on some ridiculously expensive government solution for every sparrow that falls from the sky, which is the Leftists' preferred opiate.
The Federal Reserve can't keep printing money, not with the magma dome of inflation set to blow like Uncle Ed's trombone-oriented bowel after the Thursday night all-you-can-eat chili supper at the Second Methodist Church Jubilee Revival and Ladies Quilting Circle.
The government's gargantuan, out-sized demand for capital will push domestic and global interest rates upward, and the domestic economy, recently recovered from a pretty nasty recession, will teeter on the brink of an even worse economic crisis as those rising interest rates choke off private investment and consumer spending.
No, Professor Rubin, we can't afford to bail out another failed industry. We're going to need all the money we can just to postpone the end of yet another of history's failed empires.
Nightfall can certainly be forestalled, there's no question about that. All we have to do is close our eyes for a while longer.
The problem with that solution is sort of obvious, though: when we finally open our eyesas eventually we will, if for no other reason than out of morbid curiositytwilight will be over, and we will be entirely unprepared to see our way through the darkness.
Yes, morning will inevitably and someday follow this long and gathering night. It's just that we won't be around to see it.
How's School Going This Year?
Teaching is always a pleasure and a frustration: I am passing to my students shards and evidence of civilization, along with the ability to sustain it through the development of learning and other cognitives faculties; but I know the students are becoming less and less capable not only of learning, but more importantly of caring. The modern "solutions"like "No Child Left Behind," "Zero-Tolerance" school policies, and even "Abstinence-Only" sex educationare worsening the situation. Failed generations are trying to craft policies and prescriptions to rectify failures magnificently evident in their own lives. All too easy is the noble task of repairing others compared to the tedious work of reforming ourselves.
I must stipulate that the lament of youthful ignorance, indolence, and sloth is as old as time, and few are the generations that can honestly claim their own moral, intellectual, or spiritual superiority over generations that followed. We are swift to condemn those whose youth reminds us of our own that we have lost, and we are even quicker to the judgment that we would do better if only we were once again young yet endowed with the wisdom of long lives, even if poorly managed as they have been.
Still, I see the end of America as empire of knowledge, craft, ambition, and abiding intellectual curiosity. If I am right, I must acknowledge that I have no one to blame but myselfnot because I am a failed professor, though, because I am, in all honesty, a fine college teacher, one of the best of a vanishing breed of face-to-face lecturers with fiery oratory and unrelenting interest in his many disciplines of specialty. The blame I carry is that I am undeniably a member of a generation that failed, both in its whole and in far too many of its constituents. We failed in the leaders we chose, the policies we pursued, the self-indulgence we embraced, and the paths to rectitude we feigned.
Now, I must fail far too many students in my classes.
To that extent, I am, if nothing else, consistent.
On Modern Education
Speaking as an educator of almost thirty years, the free-thinking student is generally undesirable if that freedom of thought has no tether to knowledge of facts, ability to reason, or capacity for meaningful expression. We long ago abandoned teaching students how to think in the disciplined, rigorous ways that require the use of valid logic as the framing guide in which accurate and deep understandings of history, the arts, science, and mathematics can be brought to bear upon a problem, proposition, or idea at issue. Modern American pedagogy offers not even so much as a worthwhile mechanism by which to implement standards for effectively, consistently teaching and insisting upon proper grammar, even though mastery of constructive thinking and expression are at the very heart of shaping a young mind for higher expressive thought and communication. From long and grueling personal experience, I can assure readers that, unless one is very much in love with subject matter at its deep, technical level, teaching is no fun when it requires as much discipline, effort, and continuing thought on the part of the teacher as on the part of the student.
When I was the director of education at a school for court reporters, I had an English teacher with a Master's degree from a most reputable university. She resolutely refused to teach English grammar, even though the course to which I had assigned her was "English Grammar I." She hated grammar, did not understand essentials of it, and knew very well that "grammar is dead," anyway. She wanted to give her students "writing assignments" because that's what is important: all students have to do is write and writeand especially, they should write about their feelings and their opinionsand they will get the education in English they need. She stormed into my office one night after class, frustrated to no end because my curriculum was hard-core grammar, and she was supposed to have covered the topic of what are called "gerunds" that night, and she simply could not, for the life of her, understand what these gerunds were all about. She said, "F*ck gerunds." I fired her.
Ultimately, she was the winner in a way. The accreditation board for the school finally ordered me, under threat of pulling the accreditation, to abolished the two-course sequence in English grammar. I was told, "Grammar is dead."
It is important to point out that exceptional writing does not flow from perfection in form and grammar. I have invited a number of bloggers to contribute at Websites of Dark Wraith Publishing, and many of these writers are not top-notch grammarians; nevertheless, they are good or great writers, and that is why I deem their work important and worthy of publication and exposure to a wide audience. My assessment is good, too: the ability to write well is, to some extent, a gift, but it is a gift enhanced by elements of early life in school, at home, and in other venues that brought forth something special, perhaps not entirely well-formed in terms of grammar and composition lessons retained, but special nonetheless in terms of essential understanding of what makes for a good read.
People learn in different ways and, to some degree, at different rates; and it is surely insufficient to anticipate that teaching will, in and of itself, be enough. Some students will emerge of their own accord as great in math, writing, art, or some combination of areas; most, however, will have to be given years and years of prescriptive, structured, and (unfortunately) repetitive lessons to induce retention and usage. Higher-level expectations brought to bear too soon and in inappropriate venues do not have positive effect and can, in many cases, have disastrous long-term consequences. This is true whether it be the average fifth-grader being taught algebra or the college student being harangued to write and write, regardless of individual ability to form essential thoughts, much less the capacity to express thought in a readable way.
Specifically, that fascination with simply "writing" at the expense of writing from clarity of thought and productivity of expression has gone from brushfire in the 1980s to full-blown conflagration in the current era. Colleges have become nearly obsessed with "writing across the curriculum," holding seminars, pumping out e-mail newsletters, and going so far as to stand upon the precipice of evaluating teachers in part upon how much they integrate "writing" into assessment and evaluation at the course and classroom levels. The assumption, of course, is this: if students write and write and write, sooner or later, they'll write well and communicate meaningful thoughts about the subject matter at hand. (I must note, here, that I am valiantly resisting the urge to conflate this myth with the somewhat erroneous idea that, if a bunch of monkeys are allowed to type long enough, a Shakespearean sonnet will emerge from one of their pages of random characters.)
Old methods and methodologies are the stuff of trash bins when it comes to academia. Our education system flits from one pop-academic airhead theory to the next, and I have seen enough of these brainstorms pushed into service to make me thoroughly suspicious of anything new, whether it be a new idea about how teachers should be "learning facilitators" or some new, high-tech toy the IT department has been suckered by academic-corporate marketers into buying for every classroom on campus. As the uselessness of one pedagogy or toy after another becomes too obvious to ignore, and as a new crop of academics desperately publishes reams of research to get doctorates or tenure, what do we get? Why, we get a brand new banquet of pop-academic airhead ideas, the latest and biggest of which these days is stampeding the ivy under the banner of "assessment," which is the Son of Frankenstein billowing forth from the "accountability" craze that expressed itself legislatively with the abomination of No Child Left Behind and other initiatives that have now fully infected and misdirected critical and precious resources in schools from kindergarten through college.
Whatever the academic fad du jour might be, the results are predictable: in K-12, teachers who are, themselves, the products of woefully inadequate education from their youth clear through to their suspiciously easy degrees in education are expected to impose upon their students standards that the students cannot meet because the teachers cannot teach to standards that are utterly detached from genuinely worthwhile arcs of education; and all of this happens in the context of administrators whose academic training is even more miserable than that of the teachers they oversee; and those administrators are flogged along by school boards comprising ambitious know-nothings cowering to the mindless masses of voters who will shoot down pathetically inadequate school levies, then go out and mortgage their lives to the hilt for their own consumption overdrive.
Do people want something better? No, not at the price they have clearly, unambiguouslyover and over again, from one school district to the next, from one state to the nextdemonstrated that they are willing to pay. No, not at a price that would include a direct cost in the fifty to sixty thousand dollar-a-year range for starting teachers; no, not at a price that would include giving up the economies of scale of giant, mausoleum-style, mass-education schools and replacing them with lots of small, intimate, localized learning centers; and, no, not at the awful price of resolutely and consistently standing up to pop culture by telling the kids, "No, no, no. Not television, not your iPod, not your friends at the mall. First, foremost, and every day and night, your studies... and I will be there to support, help, and believe in you."
The price of educating kids the right waythe way a whole lot of people know very well is the right wayis far, far too high.
Oh, yes, and one more thing. No more of this 'some people just aren't good at math or science or reading or whatever' nonsense. Do Americans have even the slightest clue as to how ingrained in our culture the excuses for academic failure are? Finding excuses for failure are so much easier than living for reasons to succeed.
As a side note, when the kids decry the difficulties of living in a household where parents insist upon high academic standards, those youngsters can be comforted with the certain knowledge that, when they grow up, they can go on the Oprah Winfrey Show and tell the world about how terrible their childhoods were. (Dear GOD! Expectations?! O, the horror... the horror!)
I need to address one last, really important matter, here. To be a good teacher means commanding respect rather than demanding compliance. The teacher who bullies, cajoles, threatens, and otherwise terrorizes students is doing nothing even remotely related to teaching.
The same goes for the society, itself, and its instrumentalities in law enforcement: we are ruining one generation after another of kids by terrorizing them with massive police raids at schools, making them accept that they have no privacy or speech rights we don't "let" them have, and refusing to deal with the school bullies who create miserable hierarchies of brutality.
And finally, the same goes for parents: violence in word and deed is not merely the raised voice, the threatening hand, or the inappropriate willingness to punish; violence can also be done to children by giving them the awful example of a parent unwilling to live a circumspect life, full of learning, occasioned by fun and games, and always willing to show love even in the most difficult of times. It is, indeed, hard to grow up; do it, anyway. It is also hard to remember being a child; do that, anyway, too.
Here's some good news. At the end of the day, nothing of what I wrote above is actually important, necessary, or even advisable. We are in the decline of Empire. Quite honestly, we would be wasting our time trying at this late hour to do for our children that which we willfully declined to do when we had some chance of making their lives better than ours. At this point, it is better to go out and spend that tax rebate check, bemoan the price of gasoline, and whine about all the ills of society that some new President should fix at the behest of an electorate standing in the breach of a society unable to cure itself through the will and personal sacrifice of its citizenry.
Here's one last piece of good news. Given the current state of our education system, only a few of today's kids will grow to adulthood smart enough to grasp who is to blame for the grim world in which they will live. At the very least, we had damn well better hope these kids don't figure it out before we are all safely in our graves.
The Dark Wraith has spoken.
Academic Podcasts by Dark Wraith
For those of you more or less unfamiliar with Podcasting, you do not need an iPod to listen to Podcasts, and you can use Apple iTunes software right on your Windows or Mac computer not only to subscribe to Podcasts, but also to listen to them.
To provide some background, this project was a lot like work. The first step, recording lectures, requires relatively good audio equipment as well as marginally decent acoustics in the classrooms. A few donations made it possible to get a fairly high-quality digital recording device (on eBay, of course), although one room in which I deliver lectures is proving to be the sound stage equivalent of a large, noisy cave, and I'll probably have to get a better stereo microphone to deal with that problem. The next step, editing the recordings, is an on-going, time-intensive process. The NCH audio software I was using decided at the most inopportune time to announce that my free trial period had ended, so I went to a freeware package called Audacity, which is pretty impressive in terms of features, but it crashes like the Hindenburg on files as large as the ones I'm trying to use it to edit.
Recording and editing are the on-going work of this Podcasting project. The up-front chore was creating a valid Podcast RSS feed, which proved somewhat more challenging than I was anticipating. What made it a whole lot like real work was constructing the RSS feed to make it "iTunes-friendly"that is, to make it so Apple iTunes, the 800-pound gorilla of Podcast aggregators, could see it and consider it worth checking out for approval. That required special iTunes tags in the RSS feed, several of which had to be generated by a PHP script that could read the information in an mp3 file in an article, do some calculations, and echo the results back out to the XML file (which is sort of like a Website's shadow page that aggregators favor: this page has a special, strictly structured grammar and syntax with all the important informationarticle titles, dates of publication, author, contents, etc.from the Webpage that end users usually see).
Having finally gotten the RSS feed "validated" by W3C standards, with the iTunes supplemental tags validated by Apple, the final step in making the whole project go live was to submit the feed to Podcast aggregators, most notable among them being iTunes, itself, which not only has to ensure that the RSS feed meets its technical criteria, but also that the Podcasts, themselves, meet with Apple's approval. I am still unsure of what that latter process entails, but the Heartland Collegiate Compendium lectures got approved sometime yesterday.
As of the dateline of this article, I am still in the process of catching up to the end of last week's lectures. Right now, each one is taking a couple of hours to edit, but I'll get more efficient as time goes on and as I free myself from the repeated crashes of the audio editing software. (I am, of course, mindful that the crashes might be the result of the software dying of boredom from the audio content.)
Enough about that, and I do apologize for the boring grind above. I had to tell someone.
The lectures are in mp3 format, and a computer user can always simply click on such a file to play it, provided audio software like QuickTime or Windows Media Player is on the computer. The principal advantage in subscribing to a Podcast feed is that the aggregator a subscriber uses will go out to look for new episodes to a subscribed feed and fetch them automatically. Feed aggregators like iTunes will also make the task of saving the Podcasts and transferring them to portable devices like iPods, Zunes, and other mp3 players more routine. Nevertheless, again, because the lectures I am posting on my server are mp3 files, an interested visitor can just click on the link for a given lecture and listen to it at a computer.
As a sample, below is the link to one of the first lectures I delivered.
Principles of Macroeconomics, Lecture 1: Origins of the Discipline.
Lecture Date: 15 January 2008.
Run time: 1:02:38
Type: mp3 audio file
Bitrate: 128 kbps
Size: 57.3 Mb
Notice that this is a huge file. On fast broadband, it will take about a minute or two for the buffer to fully load so the file can start playing. On dial-up service, you should start the download, then go out, have dinner, catch a movie, maybe take a yoga class, work for an end to world hunger, take that trip overseas you were thinking about, return to the country and organize a new political party, then go home to listen to the lecture, which should have downloaded by that time.
For those of you who watched my YouTube or Revver video lectures, the one to which I've linked above will be old material: the script is about the same from one semester to the next, although I do vary content a bit. The advantage of audio-only for my lectures is that you don't have to look at me flailing about; the disadvantage is that visual contentinformation I would write on a whiteboard, for exampleis not visible; however, I do try to say in words much of what I write on a whiteboard, anyway. Perhaps more importantly, in economics classes, although I do draw graphs, I believe that such graphs are far too often a crutch that economics educators use when oral and written explanations fail them. This has the bad result that students come to the conclusion that the answer to an economics question is a graph they can draw on an exam. A graph is not an answer to anything, nor is it, by itself, an adequate basis for a well-formed response to an economics question. A good answer might or might not have one or several graphs to visually supplement a written, expository explanation; but a graph, in and of itself, cannot be the answer I want. Because of this, I don't turn to the whiteboard and draw a graph every time I need to explain something.
Anyway, Podcasting is now available for my lectures. Follow the episodes for one or more courses, and you'll hear an entire semester's worth of material. By the end, either you'll love the subject matter of the lectures, or you'll be so sick of it you'll never want to hear another economist again as long as you live.
The Dark Wraith is unsure of which scenario is more undesirable.
Tomorrow and Tomorrow
In a completely rational society, the best of us would aspire to be teachers, and the rest of us would have to settle for something less, because passing civilization along from one generation to the next ought to be the highest honor and highest responsibility anyone could have.
Twenty-seven years, maybe two dozen institutions, literally thousands and thousands of students: that's my claim to a worthwhile life.
All manner of place: great lecture halls at enormous, public universities; abandoned shopping malls, where fly-by-night schools shared space with homeless men sleeping in the corridors; prison; beautiful corporate facilities; for-profit little schools in urban ghettos; private colleges with perfect students and back-stabbing, if quite friendly, faculty; big and small community colleges; even a private little K-12 school. I've run hundred-mile circuits in a single day, teaching in different cities just so I could make ends meet.
I've taught more subjects than I can sometimes recall: math, from arithmetic to differential equations and everything in between, including developmental math, remedial algebra, probability theory and statistics, the calculus, and drafting math; managerial finance; real estate finance; economics; financial accounting; marketing; paralegal; business law; transcription and proofreading; learning study skills; English grammar and composition; computer software skills; keyboarding; court reporting; psychology; sociology; and Western civilization. I've been a director of education and a dean (at the same time, and at the same time I was teaching at the school).
I've had stunningly bright students, thunderously stupid ones, and countless thousands in between. My students have ranged in age from five years to almost eighty: "normal kids" and whole classes of the "learning disabled," which once included in a single classroom a quadriplegic, a couple of epileptics, several TMJs, a handful of dysgraphics and dyslectics, and some who, in a later era, might have been diagnosed as autistic. I've had my chops busted for nailing star athletes for cheating; I've had my throat slit by administrators who didn't like my style; I've had parents, spouses, and friends ruin students' hopes of achieving academic dreams; and I've seen people I wouldn't have bet a dime on succeeding walk up to get their diplomas.
Students have broken down, sobbing in my arms, and former students have given me firm handshakes years after I last saw them.
I've seen students on their way to nowhere, and I've marveled at kids on their way to the stars.
I've bemoaned hot-headed boys and crazy girls more interested in their soap-opera lives than in their homework. Oh, yes, and I've run across the occasional, albeit rare, post-adolescent female looking for a rather less-than-academic relationship with a male authority figure, and I've had occasion to encounter a few young gentlemen rather too timid to say much other than to discreetly let me know they were gay.
On streets near campus, I slept in my car through a brutally cold Winter in the Midwest and crashed in the cockroach-infested basements of rooming houses, all because the pay for non-tenured college teachers comes with a choice of food, soap, and clean clothes or a comfortable place to live. I've bummed money from caring friends; I've worked side jobs; and for more than twenty years, until my body and veins were too weary to do it anymore, I sold my blood plasma twice a week.
I've watched academia flop from one pop fad to another, and I've seen excellence in teaching beyond what I could ever hope to attain, myself.
In my life, I've been many things; but alwaysalwaysI've been a teacher.
For all I know, this will be my last semester at the college that has kept me for the past few years. I have no guarantees. If the truth were to be told, I'm going to start wearing out my welcome pretty soon if I don't move on voluntarily. That's how it's always been.
In the morning, as is my unfailing way, into the classroom I'll stride, the swaggering, angry professor, the harsh, loud, in-your-face, bad nightmare who wouldn't mind flunking everyone on the roster. Unfortunately, at least some of the students will know the whole thing is a scripted act. Reputation precedes a teacher no matter how loudly he tries to shout it down.
Nevertheless, I'll be out there in the spotlight one more time, voice raising to a yell, then nearly vanishing into a whisper, long hair flying, arms waving, fingers pointing, eyes staring right at students, then straight through them into the vast depth of material I know and that I am inviting them to know, too.
I might have to move on, soon, I think. I'm getting old, and that should bother me, but it doesn't really. There's always a gig somewhere. It might not pay much, it might be a long ways away, and I might not even make it there. All of that is okay, though: every day of my professional life, I've been turning the page, anyway. That's just how it is when you cannot live your life anywhere but in the spotlight. It's the best place imaginable for those of us who want to hide from the wasteland of our own failure to be anything other than the object of high, rhetorical praise.
Again, though, whatever.
I am a teacher. That's what matters to me. More to the point, that's what matters to the future.
Modernity and a Teacher's Answer from the Cave of Antiquity and Irrelevance
My own efforts to convey to these specialists a few of the issues surrounding the use of e-mail as an integral part of courses has fallen for the most part on deaf ears. For example, not one of these computer "experts"such as what passes for an expert on the budget of a public institution of higher learninghas even the slightest clue that there might be an issue with handing a suspect behemoth like Google wholesale access to faculty-student communications. For another example, the folks in ITS seem put out by suggestions that professors are genuinely and legitimately concerned with the possibility that ITS technical people are encroaching on the absolutely sacred ground that is the academic freedom a professor has in his or her own classroom.
In the continuing effort to harp on the theme of teachers at the college getting with the program, the chief of ITS late last week sent out a mass e-mail to every faculty member; the subject line of the message was, "Worth a Look," and the body of the message was nothing but a link to a YouTube video, which is herewith presented below.
Readers are encouraged to watch the video in the entirety of its four minutes and forty-four seconds before proceeding to the remainder of this article, which resumes with the e-mail message I sent out this afternoon as a "Reply All," meaning that everyone who had been sent the original e-mail message with the link to the YouTube video has now received my response to it.
Enjoy the show.
Now, this is the message I sent to every faculty member. It also went to several deans and the director of education, those being people to whom I did not realize I was broadcasting until about two seconds after I had hit the "Send" button.
I am deeply unimpressed by the latest in centuries of calls for a "new" way for a "new" age. Until such time as we can effectively teach students the fundamentals of coherent, rational thought processes conveyable through constructively coherent writing, the digital age can find its acolytes and promoters in another teacher's classroom. Google is not part of the solution; neither is Wikipedia; neither are any of the legion of online and other innovative ways to "connect" and "collaborate." To the extent that they are treated as other than convenient tools of modernity, they are all part of the problem, and that problem has persisted from age to age. (Here's a hint: the problem, for lack of a more diplomatic wording, is called ignorance with a side of cultural sloth.)
To represent that those signs the students in that act were displaying were shocking messages from the post-modern world of the young is to deny that students have been bemoaning their teachers, their assignments, and their very lots in life since the beginning of time... or, at the very least, since the first professor held up a stone tablet and called it "Neolithic PowerPoint."
Nothing is new. The only differences from one generation to the next are the particulars of the "solutions" that avoid the hard-core duty of teachers to teach well, test rigorously, and show compassion while awaiting their students' slow, uncertain decision about whether to find an individuating reason to succeed or a tired excuse to fail.
Forgive me my bluntness. I'm a teacher. (I'm also a blogger.)
Having sent the above e-mail message to everyone, I awaited what I expected to be the brutal backlash against my Luddite-oriented lifestyle. I was quite surprised at first to find that the messages to me were uniformly favorable, some even glowing. Words such as "erudite" were used. One commenter wrote to me, "I was beginning to think I was alone."
Another faculty member wrote, "Hurrah! I have been meaning to reply to the video but wasn't sure how to put my thoughts into words with sounding like something out of the stone age. I found your response on the money. I'm sorry to think the next generation cares more about the internet and text-messaging than reading a book or actually researching a paper without the benefit of the internet."
I was most happy that my thoughts had resonated with so many of my peers. How uniformly favorable were the comments I was receiving!
It then occurred to me that I had become the academic equivalent of toast.
In higher education, praise is readily at hand, generally conveyed in unabashedly kind words, friendly banter, and the occasional, stale doughnuts left over from meetings among important people. Praise comes quickly and generously.
Retribution, on the other hand, comes slowly, in its own time, in its own way. Almost always, it comes from behind, and its effect is as a blade of unforgiving certitude. Revenge in academia has both patience and stealth.
How do I know I am going to face the wrath of a few who matter? That's easy: I received compliments from many who do not.
I shan't concern myself with that eventuality, though. The worst that can happen to me is the punishment which has already occurred, perhaps the greatest curse and the highest reward a teacher could anticipate. For the sin of speaking my mindindeed, for the far worse error of doing so in such a manner and tone that I was for a moment actually heardI shall remain in obscurity.
Economic poverty and bouts of self-condemnation are just the gravy on the banquet meal of hierarchical intolerance at once so vigorously enforced and so roundly denied by the practitioners of group-think in higher education.
Here at The Dark Wraith Forums, of course, I can speak my mind without much concern; and that is the most delicious of ironies for one who cannot countenance this "Information Age" that is inexorably separating me from relevance in my own profession. It is, in fact, irony of the highest order, irony worthy of a good belly laugh.
The Dark Wraith will try to muster that laugh once the smell of toast has dissipated.
As fair warning, although this would qualify as perhaps a 30- to 45-minute affair in a typical classroom setting, it might take you longer, given that you are being blindsided by it from out of the blue, and given that you might need some time to get those math brain gears of yours to start spinning with some degree of efficiency. That means you should set aside maybe an hour or so for this little project, bearing in mind that doing something like this is a far better use of your valuable time than many other things you could be doing, instead.
Indeed, it is.
The Dark Wraith appreciates your effort.
Why Math Teachers Deserve Better Pay
(No, this isn't one from my own stack: there would have been a justifiable homicide involved if it had been.)