Tags: Education

Nietzsche Club Not Made Stronger By University College, London


A college in the United Kingdom has banned a student organization devoted to the 19th-century philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche:

The Nietzsche Club was barred from holding meetings at University College London after a ruling that discussions about right-wing philosophers could encourage fascism and endanger the student body. As well as Nietzsche, a favorite of Benito Mussolini, the philosophers to be studied included Julius Evola and Martin Heidegger, who have been cited as inspiration by far-right politicians.

The student society was never allowed to hold a public meeting after a series of posters advertising the new group appeared on campus. One asked if there was “too much political correctness?” Another claimed: “Equality is a false God.”

Before those ideas could be explored on university property, the student union stepped in. The fledgling group was banned after the Union Council approved a motion arguing that “there is no meaningful distinction to be made between a far-right and a fascist ideology” and that “fascism is directly threatening to the safety of the UCL student body.”

Nietzsche — who vied with Søren Kierkegaard for the title of hardest-to-spell philosopher until Slavoj Žižek came along — has influenced thinkers and creators ranging from the composer Richard Strauss to Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. First (and last?) Objectivist Ayn Rand denied influence from any philosopher other than Aristotle; but Rand’s early writings, at least, bear convincing Nietzschean marks.

The Daily Beast’s Nico Hines focuses on Italian Duce Benito Mussolini’s Nietzsche connections, but he allows that “many political scientists have since argued that any links to fascism resulted from a fundamental misreading of the German philosopher’s writings.”

Mussolini, as Jonah Goldberg notes in his book Liberal Fascism, was also steeped in the works of Karl Marx (another philosopher who has been misread, apparently by 100 percent of his readers), Immanuel Kant, and Arthur Schopenhauer. In addition to being a contributor to Cosmopolitan magazine, Mussolini wrote numerous socialist tracts, edited the Italian Socialist Party journal La Lotta di Classe (Class War), and eventually organized Italian industry and agriculture according to strictly socialist models.

The U.K. (which is never called “The U.Q.,” even though it has been ruled by a queen for more than half a century and its two most successful monarchs since the Middle Ages have been women) has lately become a hotbed for this kind of speech-policing, an activist tells Hines. “In the U.K. over the past year alone, we’ve seen everything from Robin Thicke’s ‘Blurred Lines’ to tabloid newspapers like The Sun and The Daily Star banned by scores of student unions on just as tenuous grounds,” says Tom Slater of the “Free Speech Now” movement.

Tags: Education , philosophy , leftism

Straight Outta Brumfus: the Eternal Dingbattery of Rutgers


By this point I presume even Condoleezza Rice has moved on from the Rutgers commencement speech debacle, but as a Scarlet Knight myself, I have a few notes (beyond just noting that I can now claim moral outrage, rather than just stinginess, as my reason for not giving money when the alumni association comes calling):

1. Of all the George W. Bush administration alumni a left-wing mob could choose to shout down, Rice has got to be the least intuitive. She was a well known as a moderate on Bush’s foreign policy team, and the popular conception of a split between her faction and the Dick Cheney wing is more or less accurate. Maybe you can fault her for not standing up for prudence as Bush plunged America into the most catastrophic war of the 20th century, but surely students at a college that paid Snooki $32,000 for a speech can find more firebreathing Bush cronies to protest.

2. I’d like to say I’m crestfallen over the decline of my alma mater. But the truth is ill-informed students are exactly as sanctimonious on the banks of the Old Raritan, and administrators just as craven, as they were two decades ago. In my day, student activists were holding down the quad in a resounding NO to President George H.W. Bush’s slashing of the social safety net, taking over buildings to protest a proposed 2 percent tuition hike (at a state school where a highly competitive education was, even to a fully self-supporting student like me, dirt cheap). Taking Back the Night was becoming a thing, and one of the pressing issues for students was a campaign to out Colonel Henry Rutgers, the school’s namesake. My ‘92 cohorts have not let me down since: A few have even managed to stick their noses into the current hubbub. The celebrated and unreadable racialist obsessive writer Junot Diaz was in my graduating class.

3. Politics estupidates us all. I took 200 and 300-level French lit classes with François Cornilliat, one of the faculty leaders of the anti-Rice movement, and he was an excellent teacher. To his credit, I never knew what his politics were, and I wish I still didn’t. What is the point of intruding politics, which is by nature binary, zero-sum, and focused on winning, into the liberal arts, which are, or are supposed to be, about nuance, discovery, and consideration of new or contradictory ideas?

4. For what is widely regarded as a no-nonsense safety school in the least romantic of U.S. states, Rutgers has a pretty extensive track record of pie-eyed tomfoolery. There’s even a whole campus — Livingston — that was introduced in the late sixties as an experiment in communal living with an ecological preserve and a bunch of other then-trendy gewgaws. At the groundbreaking, some Rutgers official declared that the “Spirit of Woodstock” had descended on central Jersey. Like many such utopian schemes, Livingston turned out to be a dystopia, with the common areas becoming magnets for sexual assault and other crimes. It now limps on as the school with the most underperformer-friendly admissions standards, and thus it probably has some usefulness in educating the Garden State’s masses. But its grim history is unremembered — except in The Livingstoniad, a mock-epic written in heroic couplets by one of my profs, a rare conservative on campus. I wish I could find a copy, because it was funny and hair-raising in equal parts.

5. The Rutgers site still hasn’t named Rice’s replacement as the main-campus commencement speaker, but a fitting revenge would be to do what they did with my class. After weeks of rumors that Ted Danson (then riding high as Sam Malone in Cheers) was going to be our speaker, they brought out some three-million-year-old Rutgers professor who explained how we were going to benefit from a “revolution in age” that was making it easier for oldsters to remain competitive well into their dotage. It infuriated me then that they expected a bunch of kids graduating into 7.5 percent unemployment to be grateful that the baby boomers would keep depriving them of job opportunities indefinitely. It still infuriates me now that I’m an old fogey myself. As my late father once told me, the two most self-centered groups on earth are young men and old women.

6. Does everybody know that Condi Rice has a high-achieving cousin, Los Angeles civil rights activist Connie Rice? Like most community activists, Connie Rice peddles her share of baloney: I once attended a Power Point demo on reforming the City of Angels’ gang intervention bureaucracy, in which Slide A was a classic Power Point spaghetti of hundreds or thousands of conflicting agencies, and Slide B (the solution) had one big block with a label that was something like “Gang Intervention Services” and an arrow pointing to a second big block with a label something like “L.A. Gang Problem.” (I’m exaggerating only slightly. There may have been three blocks.) But she is a serious person who had a hand in reforming a notoriously corrupt and racist police department and contributed to the era of good feelings that characterized William Bratton’s tenure as chief of the L.A.P.D. That’s a talented family, the Rices, with their own inspiring story of getting ahead in an America that was not always so welcoming to ambitious women. You’d think that kind of thing would be appreciated at a school presumably committed to raising up the younger generation.

Tags: Condoleezza Rice , Education

Forget the SOTU Laundry List. Let’s Try Setting Up Three Accounts.


Urgh. An interminable State of the Union Address. So let’s forget that, and focus on a completely different approach, laid out in today’s Morning Jolt . . . 

The Three-Accounts Plan for a Real American Recovery

We’re stuck with this guy until January 2017. We don’t know exactly what the future holds, but the outlook on the horizon isn’t good. The economy sputtering along, unemployment still high by historical standards, low workforce-participation rate, a complicated mess in health care, annual deficits that are merely ludicrously high instead of incredibly ludicrously high, chaos overseas, hoping our numbskull big campaign-donor ambassadors manage to avoid exacerbating a crisis . . . 

Imagine somebody comes along and says, “Okay, America. We’ve tried that approach and we’ve seen what it gets us. Let’s try a different approach. Let’s try an approach that sets you up with the future with three accounts.”

Those three accounts are a 401(k) or IRA, a 529 plan for education, and a Health Savings Account.

Each of those accounts operates on the same basic concept: you put money in, sometimes your employer kicks some money in, and the government gives both of you some big tax incentives. Unlike a bank savings account paying one tenth of 1 percent to 1 percent (annual percentage yield), money put in these accounts gets invested in a fund that you choose and most years increase in value by several percentage points. These funds can go down in value, but most years will go up in value, and some years will go up a lot, depending on how the market and broader economy perform and the judgment of the folks managing the fund.

The 401(k) or Individual Retirement Account: These types of accounts accumulate retirement savings; 401(k)s are set up by employers, IRAs are, as their name suggests, set up by individuals.

The 529: This is an education-savings plan operated by a state or educational institution designed to help families set aside funds for future college costs. Your contributions are not deductible when you make them, but your investment grows tax-deferred, and when you withdraw to pay for the college costs, you pay no federal tax on that. Plan assets are professionally managed either by the state treasurer’s office or by an outside investment company hired as the program manager.

The Health Savings Account:

Health savings accounts, the investment account that typically accompanies high-deductible health plans, are enjoying a boost: In 2013, some 7.2 million people had HSAs, up from 6.6 million in 2012, according to the Employee Benefit Research Institute. During that period, assets also leapt, reaching $16.6 billion in 2013, up from $11.3 billion in the previous year.

HSAs typically run in tandem with a high-deductible health care plan, with the intention that insured people tap the HSA itself to cover qualified medical expenses. Employers and insurers generally like HSAs because insured people are using the account to foot the bill for services until they hit their deductible. In theory, if employees are aware of the real cost of medical services because they are shelling out for those expenses, they’ll become more educated consumers, according to Paul Fronstin, senior research associate at EBRI.

Employers and employees can contribute to HSAs, and the chief benefit is that the funds contributed won’t be subject to federal income taxes when deposited. Any distributions made for qualified medical expenses can be made without incurring taxes.

Many successful, secure Americans have these accounts. If everyone in America had these three accounts, their worries about paying for their retirement, paying for their children’s education, and paying for their health care would be greatly ameliorated. Not completely erased, but everyone in America would have one, two, or three little nest eggs, each enjoying the fruits of compounding returns. As time goes by, your accounts would grow and your worries would shrink.

We could either mandate these accounts for every American . . . 

(sounds of conservatives drawing swords from sheaths)

. . . or we could make it unbelievably easy to set up these accounts. (My aim, of course, is to turn every American into an investor, from birth to death.)

You’ve just had a child? Congratulations, mom and dad, here’s the setup form for your 529 plan with your child’s new Social Security card. Plug a bit in every year over 18 years, and you’ll have a nice pile of money to put towards college, trade school, etc. If anything, we should expand it so that your 529 never goes away, and you can put money in at any time to use on a graduate degree, certification programs, or any other instructional course.

You’ve just turned 18? Congratulations. As you pick up your driver’s license, here’s the setup form for your IRA and Health Savings Account.

Instead of fining people 1 percent of their income for not having health insurance — up to 2 percent in 2015 and 2.5 percent in 2016 — let’s make it easy to put 1 percent of your pre-tax paycheck into any or all of these accounts. Let’s let Americans pay one less percentage point of their current 6.2 percent Social Security tax into their IRA or 401(k). Let’s let Americans pay a half a percentage point of their current 1.45 percent Medicare tax payment into their Health Savings Account!

(Sound of Democrats drawing swords from sheaths)

We can fiddle with the tax code to give employers huge incentives to match donations to these accounts. (Democrats: “Hey, you’re reducing revenue!” Me: “Yes, and ameliorating three big problems that all of this federal spending has tried to address and largely failed: anxiety over paying for health care, education, and retirement.”)

You know who once supported one piece of this proposal? Hillary Clinton, back in 2007, who wanted a universal 401(k). One wrinkle was that she had the federal government matching the first $1,000 in savings for married couples who earn up to $60,000 a year and would match the first $500 for married couples who earn $60,000 to $100,000 a year. These matching donations from Uncle Sam would cost $20 billion to $25 billion per year. Not her worst idea ever, but I’d prefer to give an employer a tax incentive to the employer or give the individual an expanded tax deduction — deduct 105 percent of your annual contribution? 110 percent? — than the U.S. Treasury matching your contribution.

Last night, Obama took a baby step in the right direction with this idea:

And while the stock market has doubled over the last five years, that doesn’t help folks who don’t have 401ks. That’s why, tomorrow, I will direct the Treasury to create a new way for working Americans to start their own retirement savings: MyRA. It’s a new savings bond that encourages folks to build a nest egg. MyRA guarantees a decent return with no risk of losing what you put in. And if this Congress wants to help, work with me to fix an upside-down tax code that gives big tax breaks to help the wealthy save, but does little to nothing for middle-class Americans. Offer every American access to an automatic IRA on the job, so they can save at work just like everyone in this chamber can.

As I understand it, the MyRA would have no minimum deposit or balance, and is designed to help low-income earners sock away enough money until they can get a regular IRA.

A “Three Accounts” approach to Americans’ economic security would be big, it would be bold, and it would tap into Americans’ distrust of Washington, now reaching Deepwater Horizon–level depths. We can tweak the details, but the idea is to give all Americans the tools to build their own prosperity and restore their confidence that tomorrow will be better than today.

Tags: Barack Obama , Social Security , Education , Health Savings Accounts , Retiirement

Promoting STEM in a Celebrity-Obsessed American Culture


The Thursday edition of the Morning Jolt reveals new problems for patients under Obamacare in New Jersey and Minnesota, and taxpayers in Delaware; New York City’s new Mayor DeBlasio cracks down on the menace of horse-drawn carriages in Central Park; and these thoughts about the difficulties of steering young people to a realistic yet fulfilling career path:

The Dangers of the American Dream, or Teenage Dreams

It’s not that MTV’s “Cribs” — still on the air in a slightly different format — is the biggest problem in America, but it is a useful indicator of one of our problems.

This is not the standard-issue rant about materialism. If you love those professional-quality kitchen knives you got for Christmas, God bless ya. And if you have the chance to move into a mansion with the eight-car garage, with a custom built-swimming pool and Jacuzzi, overlooking the ocean, go ahead and enjoy every minute.

It’s great to have big dreams of success and wealth and fame. They’re one of the things that make the world go round, and the history of humanity would be dramatically different, and worse, without big dreamers like the Founding Fathers, Thomas Edison, Martin Luther King, the scientists and engineers of the Apollo program, Steve Jobs, etc.

It’s the message expressed directly and indirectly to all of our children: work hard, study, don’t quit, and you can live your dreams!

But not everybody’s going to live out their big dreams. You may dream of winning a gold medal as an Olympics sprinter, and just not be that fast. Some folks will strive for their dreams and conclude it’s too hard. They’ll get discouraged. They’ll be stung by the criticism, constructive and destructive. After trying and failing, they’ll conclude that it’s easier to not try.

And then what? What do they do with their lives afterwards?

If your dream is to succeed in an extremely competitive field, you may never get to give that Oscar acceptance speech, play to a sold-out crowd at Madison Square Garden, or declare that you’re going to Disney World after winning the Super Bowl. Hopefully you can find some way to enjoy your passion of performing or athletics, but whatever you end up doing, you’re going to have to make a living.

The free market has spoken, and it has decided that people who can play basketball as well as LeBron James can make unbelievable sums of money. There are about 400 roster spots in the NBA, and they make varying sums, from Kobe Byrant’s $30 million per year to ten guys making less than $100,000 per year. But there are thousands upon thousands of guys who are just “pretty good” at basketball who make nothing — as well as millions of singers, actors, musicians, artists — and millions more who make a little on the side while working a day job.

Part of the problem is that we live in a culture that celebrates music stars, professional athletes, and movie stars well beyond any other professions. There are entrepreneurs, inventors, scientists, doctors, diplomats, and other professions who live in houses as nice as the ones on “Cribs.” But we only have a show about the celebrities. Elon Musk (founder, SpaceX), Dean Kamen (inventor of the Segway and the drug-infusion pump), and Chuck Hull (inventor of the 3-D printer) aren’t even household names – at least not compared to, say, Kim Kardashian or Lindsey Lohan.

If there’s not much glamour in being exceptionally smart, there’s certainly not going to be much glamour or excitement just doing your job well.

You see a lot of educators beating the drums about STEM – science, technology, engineering, and mathematics – and how central they are to everything from long-term earning potential to innovation to national security. If you’re playing the odds, having great ability in these areas is your best shot to avoid unemployment, earn good wages, have good opportunities for advancement, etc.

So why don’t more kids dive into these subjects, and more college students major in them? Well for many of us, these subjects are hard. But there’s also that question of glamour, and why so few young people see being a scientist or engineer or even a doctor as a path to the kind of success they see on “Cribs.” Perhaps the road to Hollywood or sports stardom actually seems easier than memorizing the periodic table or understanding quadratic equations.

Still, there seems to be this disconnect between people’s dreams — perhaps even expectations of life — and what’s required to achieve those dreams. One of my all-time favorite essays discussed the notion of “effort shock”:

It applies to everything. America is full of frustrated, broken, baffled people because so many of us think, “If I work this hard, this many hours a week, I should have (a great job, a nice house, a nice car, etc). I don’t have that thing, therefore something has corrupted the system and kept me from getting what I deserve, and that something must be (the government, illegal immigrants, my wife, my boss, my bad luck, etc).”

And young people entering the workforce seem to be experiencing the greatest amount of “effort shock.” This Slate article by Brooke Donatone from a month ago generated a lot of snickering about Millennials, and offers one of the all-time great opening paragraphs:

Amy (not her real name) sat in my office and wiped her streaming tears on her sleeve, refusing the scratchy tissues I’d offered. “I’m thinking about just applying for a Ph.D. program after I graduate because I have no idea what I want to do.” Amy had mild depression growing up, and it worsened during freshman year of college when she moved from her parents’ house to her dorm. It became increasingly difficult to balance school, socializing, laundry, and a part-time job. She finally had to dump the part-time job, was still unable to do laundry, and often stayed up until 2 a.m. trying to complete homework because she didn’t know how to manage her time without her parents keeping track of her schedule.

I suggested finding a job after graduation, even if it’s only temporary. She cried harder at this idea. “So, becoming an adult is just really scary for you?” I asked. “Yes,” she sniffled.

Amy is 30 years old.

Cue everyone’s “By the time I was 30, I had [worked 60 hours a week/served in the military/gotten married/had children/founded a company/etc].” stories.

Donatone’s conclusion:

A 2013 study in the Journal of Child and Family Studies found that college students who experienced helicopter-parenting reported higher levels of depression and use of antidepressant medications. The researchers suggest that intrusive parenting interferes with the development of autonomy and competence. So helicopter parenting leads to increased dependence and decreased ability to complete tasks without parental supervision.

Amy, like many millennials, was groomed to be an academic overachiever, but she became, in reality, an emotional under-achiever. Amy did not have enough coping skills to navigate normal life stressors—how do I get my laundry and my homework done in the same day; how do I tell my roommate not to watch TV without headphones at 3 a.m.? — without her parents’ constant advice or help.

. . . The era of instant gratification has led to a decrease in what therapists call “frustration tolerance.” This is how we handle upsetting situations, allow for ambiguity, and learn to navigate the normal life circumstances of breakups, bad grades, and layoffs. When we lack frustration tolerance, moderate sadness may lead to suicidality in the self-soothingly challenged.

The U.S. education system is failing our kids in a lot of ways. But perhaps none bigger than their inability to accurately communicate just how much effort and dedication it takes succeed in this world.

Tags: Education , STEM , Culture , Millennials

An Uncommon Contempt for Common Core Critics


Today’s Morning Jolt features another bad poll for Democrats, another Obamacare deadline that won’t be met, and this examination of a topic that gets too little attention in Washington:

An Uncommon Contempt Displayed to Those Objecting to Common Core

Our friend Ramesh on the Common Core debate:

Arne Duncan had to backtrack from [his statement that Common Core critics are mostly “white suburban moms who -- all of a sudden -- their child isn’t as brilliant as they thought they were and their school isn’t quite as good as they thought they were”] which also happens to be clearly false. Students aren’t yet being tested to determine whether they meet the standards, so poor test results couldn’t be generating a backlash. The contempt that the remark revealed is real enough, though. Proponents of the Common Core tend to view its critics as an ignorant mob. Support for it is, in certain circles, a sign of one’s seriousness about education reform.

Yet the reform strategy it represents hasn’t been thought through well, and it seems unlikely to work. The debate that surrounds it is an extended exercise in missing the point.

You can see why ‘common core’ would be a seductive idea in theory. Way too many American schools are failing the students who come in through their doors, and so there’s a natural belief that if we could just get those worst-performing schools up to some minimum standard, and establish some sort of universal floor or threshold for quality, everyone’s kids would be better off.

Why, you could use the slogan . . . “Leave no child behind!”

Of course, “No Child Left Behind” is what we tried with a national system of standardized testing back in 2001, with decidedly mixed results. Of course, President Obama granted waivers to 26 states exempting them from the No Child Left Behind requirements, effectively nullifying the law.

Establishing that minimum standard is easier in theory than in practice, and parents have good reason to be wary of an effort to centralize control and authority of education matters. If I’m a concerned parent with a beef with how my local school is teaching my children, I can join the PTA or attend my local school-board meeting. Those school administrators should, at least theoretically, be more attentive and responsive to my concerns, as they’ll see me at the school and around town. My state legislator will run into me much less frequently, and the evidence suggests Secretary of Education Arne Duncan seethes with contempt for parents who disagree with him and avoids interacting with “white suburban moms.”

Local control isn’t perfect, but it is, in theory, the most self-correcting.

And if a school over in some other district wants to change its curriculum, say to emphasize more math, or more history, or more foreign languages, and the local parents are fine with it . . . why should I complain or weigh in? Even if my school finds a formula to improve student performance, it may not work over there and their ideas many not work over here. If there’s anything that frustrating efforts at education reform have taught us, it’s that way too many success stories can’t be replicated elsewhere. Jaime Escalante proved to be an astonishingly successful calculus teacher, but after he and his successor retired, “a very successful program rapidly collapsed, leaving only fragments behind.”

As Ramesh notes, trying to standardize education across the country amounts to strangling experimentation and innovation:

The case for having a “common core” in the first place is weak. High standards may be valuable, but why do they have to be common? It isn’t as though different state standards are a major problem in U.S. education. There’s more variation in achievement within states than between them. Common standards may make life a bit easier for students who move across state lines, but they also mean that we lose a chance for states to experiment.

Finally, which is most remarkable and surprising — that Barack Obama is president of the United States, that Joe Biden is vice president, or that Arne Duncan has been secretary of education for five years and will remain in the job for the foreseeable future? It’s not like Duncan could cite a record of remarkable improvement during his tenure in Chicago:

Soon after Arne Duncan left his job as schools chief here to become one of the most powerful U.S. education secretaries ever, his former students sat for federal achievement tests. This month, the mathematics report card was delivered: Chicago trailed several cities in performance and progress made over six years.

Miami, Houston and New York had higher scores than Chicago on the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Boston, San Diego and Atlanta had bigger gains. Even fourth-graders in the much-maligned D.C. schools improved nearly twice as much since 2003.

The federal readout is just one measure of Duncan’s record as chief executive of the nation’s third-largest system. Others show advances on various fronts. But the new math scores signal that Chicago is nowhere near the head of the pack in urban school improvement, even though Duncan often cites the successes of his tenure as he crusades to fix public education . . . 

The Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago, which represents business, professional, education and cultural leaders, concluded in June that gains on state test scores were inflated when Illinois relaxed passing standards and that too many students still drop out of high school or graduate unprepared for college. The Consortium on Chicago School Research, a nonpartisan group at the University of Chicago, reported in October that Duncan’s closure of low-performing schools often shuffled students into comparable schools, yielding little or no academic benefit.

Obama picked Duncan because he was “his” guy. Then again, it’s not like President Obama trusted Arne Duncan enough to let his schools teach his daughters; while the Obamas lived in Chicago, Obama’s daughters went to the private University of Chicago Lab School, where the tuition is $25,000 to $28,000 per child per year.

Tags: Common Core , Arne Duncan , Education

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