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.
Wrote Wild Clover:
Wrote Father Tyme:
Wrote Father Tyme:
Wrote Dark Wraith:
Wrote Dark Wraith:
Wrote Moody Blue:
Wrote Moody Blue:
Wrote Wild Clover:
Wrote Dark Wraith:
Wrote Dark Wraith:
Wrote Dark Wraith:
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