zenpundit.com » public school

Archive for the ‘public school’ Category

Educating Divided Minds for an Illiberal State

Friday, May 4th, 2012

Adam Elkus had well-constructed argument about the Thomas Friedman-Andrew Exum exchange:

Education and Security

Andrew Exum’s has a useful critique of Thomas Friedman’s recent piece. In a nutshell, Friedman makes the old argument that the US could buy friendship and allegiance by giving Middle Easterners more education and scholarship opportunities. To this, Exum has a rather terrific rejoinder:

“I am a proud graduate of the American University of Beirut, but do you know who else counted the AUB as their alma mater? The two most innovative terrorists in modern history, George Habbash and Imad Mughniyeh. U.S. universities and scholarship programs are nice things to do and sometimes forge important ties between peoples and future leaders, but they can also go horribly wrong and do not necessarily serve U.S. interests. There is certainly no guarantee a U.S.-style education leads to greater tolerance or gender and social equality.”

Habbash and Mughniyeh are hardly alone. Diego Gambetta and Steffen Hertog famously observed an distinct overrepresentation of scientists, engineers, and other highly educated professionals in both violent and nonviolent groups with illiberal ideologies. Gambetta and Hertog make an argument that the black-and-white mindset of certain technical groups correlate well with extremist ideologies, but I am unfamiliar with how this has been academically received so I won’t endorse their claims. To be sure, a look at 20th century history would also reveal a significant confluence of intellectuals in the humanities and social sciences being involved in either state or non-state illiberal movements. 

Indeed, the problem here may be the imbalance of educational systems that produce divided minds, where lopsided cultures of thought interact with enough disturbed individuals with a will to power. Stalin demonstrated what Communism looked like when a former Orthodox seminarian presided over a police state run by engineers; Mao one-upped him with Communism as the mystical rule of an all-powerful poet.

One of the more unfortunate trends among many bad ideas currently advertised as “education reform” is the denigration of the humanities and the reduction or elimination of the arts and history in public schools in favor of excessive standardized testing of rote skills and reasoning at the lowest levels of Bloom’s taxonomy, mostly due to Federal coercion. That this has become particularly popular with GOP politicians (though many elitist Democrats echo them) would have appalled erudite conservatives like William F. Buckley and Russell Kirk or old school libertarians who would have seen nationalization of k-12 education policy as worse than the status quo.

In an effort to appear genuinely interested in improving education, some politicians couple this position with advocacy for STEM, as the teaching of science has also been undermined by the NCLB regime and a grassroots jihad by religious rights activists against the teaching of evolution in high school biology classes. While STEM in and of itself is a good thing and better science instruction is badly needed, STEM is no more a substitute for teaching the humanities well than your left hand is a substitute for your right foot.

The modes of thinking produced by quantitative-linear- closed system-analytical reductionist reasoning and qualitative-synthesizing-alinear-imaginative -extrapolative are complementary and synergistic. Students and citizens need both. Mass education that develops one while crippling the other yields a population sharing a deeply entrenched and self-perpetuating lacunae, hostile and suspicious of ideas and concepts that challenge the veracity of their insular mental models. This is an education that tills the soil for intolerance and authoritarianism to take root and grow

Education should be for a whole mind and a free man.

Systemic Curricular Choices Shape National Cognitive Traits

Thursday, March 10th, 2011

A brief point.

AFJ has a feature article by General Martin Dempsey on the need for the Army in it’s professional military education system to build future leaders who are critical thinkers:

Building Critical Thinkers

….The Army Leader Development Strategy identifies three critical leadership attributes for all Army leaders: character, presence and intellect. In addition to those three foundational attributes, we assert that strategic leaders must be inquisitive and open-minded. They must be able to think critically and be capable of developing creative solutions to complex problems. They must be historically minded; that is, they must be able to see and articulate issues in historical context. Possessed of a strong personal and professional ethic, strategic leaders must be able to navigate successfully in ethical “gray zones,” where absolutes may be elusive. Similarly, they must be comfortable with ambiguity and able to provide advice and make decisions with less, not more, information. While all leaders need these qualities, the complexity of problems will increase over the course of an officer’s career and require strategic leaders to develop greater sophistication of thought….

Read the rest here.

The nation is currently undergoing a debate about public education, of sorts. I say “of sorts” because the debate has largely been very dishonest on the part of proponents of certain kinds of “reforms” in which they hope to have a future financial interest, if radical changes can be legislatively imposed that will a) drastically lower labor costs and b) permit a “scalable” curriculum, to use the grammar of certain equity investor CEOs and lobbyists. The former does not concern this topic as much as the second, though the two will work in unison to create a profitable business model for a for-profit management company desiring to contract with local and state governments to run school systems.

“Scalability” builds upon Bush era NCLB legislation that emphasized standardized testing in basic math and reading skills, with punitive accountability measures for schools and districts failing to make “adequate yearly progress”. Due to the penalties and escalating standards, public schools have frequently narrowed their curriculums considerably, reducing instructional time for history, science, complex literature and the arts to put greater emphasis on basic skill drill instruction in just two subjects.

The net effect is that American public school students, roughly 88 % of all school children, spend a greater proportion of their day at concrete level cognitive activities than they did five or ten years ago and far less time on higher-level “critical thinking” like analysis or synthesis, making evaluative judgments, inquiry based learning or problem solving.

 “Scalability” means expanding on this dreary and unstimulating paradigm with digitally delivered, worksheet-like exercises to comprise the largest percentage of the instructional time for the largest number of children possible. It will be a low-cost, high-profit system of remedial education for would-be contractors, provided students are not able to “opt out”, except by leaving the public system entirely.

But only if their parents can afford it.

The US military relies upon the public schools to deliver the initial k-12 education of the overwhelming majority of their officer corps, to say nothing of the enlisted ranks. The soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen who went to Andover or similar private institutions before enlisting are very, very few. Today some public schools are excellent, some are failing and the rest are in-between. Most make an effort to challenge students of all ability levels, from those needing extra help to those in AP courses and gifted programs. There is systemic resiliency in a diversity of experiences.

What will be the effect on  the military leadership in the future if critical thought is methodically removed from public education by a nationally imposed, remedially oriented, uniform, “scalable” curriculum that is effectively free of science, history, literature and the arts? What kind of cognitive culture will we be creating primarily to financially benefit a small cadre of highly politically connected, billionaire-backed, would-be contractors?

Can inculcating critical thinking really be left entirely to universities and, in the case of the military, mid-career education?

What kind of thinkers will that system produce?


Or worse?

“What we think, we become” – Buddha

John Seely Brown: “The Power of Pull”

Monday, November 1st, 2010

John Seely Brown, who is the co-author of The Power of Pull: How Small Moves, Smartly Made, Can Set Big Things in Motion along with blogfriend John Hagel and Lang Davison, is primarily speaking about education and learning in an ecological paradigm.

Note to self: I need to read this book.

That said, “pull” is the fulcrum for all 20th century orgs that hope to adapt to the 21st, not just public education. Hierarchies, including states, can no longer completely dominate, only aspire to generally arbitrate, or concentrate their powers in an asymmetric fashion. To do this, over the long term, requires putting  attracting the allegiance of clients and allies capable of taking independent initiative in harmony with the org’s vision rather than relying primarily upon coercion to force people to mechanistically follow orders.

Not sure that too many people in our hallowed institutions “get it”.

Sir Ken Robinson on Educational Paradigms: Animate Version

Saturday, October 16th, 2010

I have featured Sir Ken Robinson here previously. I saw this short 11 minute “talk” today in John Hagel’s   twitterfeed. It’s great!

Expanding the Antilibrary

Wednesday, May 19th, 2010

Posts have been slow here lately because my real-life workload has temporarily increased. Irrationally, I’ve attempted to compensate for my lack of blogging by ordering yet more books; perhaps I should order more free time instead!

 In any event, esteemed readers, @cjschaefer and @CampaignReboot have requested a full accounting of what is new and here it is:


 Blood and Rage: A Cultural History of Terrorism by Michael Burleigh

Koran, Kalashnikov and Laptop by Antonio Giustiozzi

The Collapse of Complex Societies by Joseph Tainter

Street Without Joy by Bernard Fall


The Third Reich at War by Richard J. Evans

The War Lovers by Evan Thomas

The Death and Life of the Great American School System by Diane Ravitch

Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination and Energizes the Soul by Stuart Brown


Rewired by Larry D. Rosen

The Human Factor: Inside the CIA’s Dysfunctional Intelligence Culture by “Ishmael Jones

Coupled with what was leftover from last year, my 2010 summer reading list is set.

Switch to our mobile site