11 May 2012

The Inevitable Economic Decline

Many of you have been reared on the cliché that the purpose of education isn't to stuff your head with facts but to teach you how to think. Wrong. I routinely interview college students, mostly from top schools, and I notice that their brains are like old maps, with lots of blank spaces for the uncharted terrain. It's not that they lack for motivation or IQ. It's that they can't connect the dots when they don't know where the dots are in the first place.
Now to Fact Two: Your competition is global. Shape up. Don't end your days like a man I met a few weeks ago in Florida, complaining that Richard Nixon had caused his New York City business to fail by opening up China.
This, in a nutshell, provides two of the main causes of America’s inevitable failure:  free trade and shitty education.  I’ve hammered of the fallacies of free trade for a while now, and if anyone has any doubts about the abject stupidity of the theory of free trade, I highly recommend reading Ian Fletcher’s work.  As for education, let me simply point out that what currently passes for education—particularly higher education—is nothing less than a sick a joke.

In the first place, children are not taught the basics, like reading, writing, and arithmetic.  Instead of being told that 2+2=4, young students are expected to discover this “organically,” the same goes for reading and writing.  The theory is that children best learn subjective, arbitrary truths by discovering them on their own.  In essence, children are assumed to be able to think adequately and abstractly.

Then they get to high school, and the idea that students can think independently disappears, and so students are expected to memorize massive amounts of boring, trivial facts, with little explanation of their importance and meaning.  History becomes a string of numbers instead of a set of moral lessons.  Science becomes math instead of being a method of direct observation.  Literature is taught to kids who can’t read and math is taught to kids who can’t think logically.  It’s basically a mess.

To top it all off, children are viewed as inputs rather than individuals.  Thanks to Dewey and his ilk, the current paradigm of the modern educational system in the united states is predicated on the assumption that children are like absorbent sponges that will soak up knowledge and education if they simply have good teachers.  Furthermore, the children-as-inputs model fundamentally denies not only the individuality of each child, but their humanity as well.  The focus of the modern education system is to ensure uniform outputs.  Thus, all children are expected to know the same things and be identically apt in the same subject areas.  Hence the current emphasis on testing, which reduces the children to mere numbers.*

This is a sick system, and one that handicaps people.  They are not able to think, and they have no knowledge base.  They are treated as worker cogs, stripped of their individuality and stunted intellectually.  And then they are told to compete with foreigners.  They cannot compete, and so they hasten the united states’ inevitable decline.

* Incidentally, Finland—a country whose students score well on PISA tests—places almost no emphasis on standardized tests or other markers of creating standardized student outputs, focusing instead on developing students as thinkers.  Finland does a better job than the US at treating students as individuals, and teaching them to think instead of simply viewing them as empty vessels to be filled with knowledge that has been carefully selected by bureaucrats.


  1. Finland is also chock full of Finns.

  2. "Here, when we want the elephant to grow, we feed the elephant. We don't weigh the elephant."
    Nice work, grey.

  3. Yeah, Finland is an awful example. You have a country that is ethnically homogenous, 99.999999% white, and relatively wealthy. Their education strategy could consist of sitting in a circle banging rocks together, and they would probably do better than the US as a whole.

  4. @Steve- And?

    @The Bertholds- Thanks.

    @Anonmymouse- I doubt it. While ethnic homogeneity and wealth do play a role, it is absurd to suggest that educational philosophy and methodology are irrelevant. They may not be the only factors or even the main factors, but they are important nonetheless.

  5. @Simon,

    Took me a while to dig this up, I had responded to a friend's post on Facebook to this exact notion. Here is my response;

    "The true story of educational attainment in the US is a racial one. White students in the US score approximately 5% better than the national average on standardized tests (http://www.collegeboard.com/prod_dow...thnic_0506.pdf). If we made the population of the US 100% white, as Finland practically speaking is, they would score above average on the tests referenced by this article. Per this link, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn...120400730.html, the US scored 2.2% below average, on at least the science portion of the test, and if we accept the College Board’s statistics as true, then a 100% white USA would score somewhere around 2.8% BETTER on the science test than the average country. In fact, based on this article, white students might over-perform by a factor much higher than 5% in different categories (http://nces.ed.gov/surveys/pisa/pisa2006highlights.asp)."

    The long and short of it is that you can't compare the US to Finland, when there are such massive differences between; a) the racial compositions of the two countries, and b) the performance between the said races on the same test that is supposed to compare the two.

    It's like saying that basketball players are taller than average, so we would all be taller if everyone HAD to play basketball.

  6. @Anonymouse- That doesn't exactly undermine my point. My point was that American education has only led to students being able to perform on tests and not being able to think. In essence, students are reduced to a number, and are thus dehumanized.

    The point I was making with Finland was that you can still get students to perform well on tests while also treating them as more than a number (i.e. viewing them as fellow human beings and actually educating them).

    To put it another way, making test scores the point of education will not improve test scores, and will lead to the general dehumanization of students. I recommend Neil Postman's Building a Bridge to the 18th Century and Teaching as a Conserving Activity for better understanding the role grades and numerical indexes have played in education over the years (hint: it's not a good one, generally speaking).