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The Moral of the Story 7/e is Out! April 15, 2012

Posted by Nina Rosenstand in Education, Ethics, Nina Rosenstand's Posts, Philosophy Profession.
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I’m happy to announce that the seventh edition of my ethics textbook The Moral of the Story is now available:

The cover painting is by Karen Barbour, Bay Area artist, and every edition of the book has had a painting by her on the cover. She has a wonderfully visionary style, and I love being able to maintain the visual consistency in this new edition. This image in particular perfectly illustrates the maze of thoughts we often find ourselves in, in regard to moral issues. (And as with all mazes, there is always a way out, even if it is not within view…)

McGraw-Hill has a website where you can check out the Table of Contents and other features of the new edition. Instructors can request a desk copy. Among the new sections are a thoroughly updated Chapter 1, and sections on Happiness studies, Moral Naturalism, updated research on ethics and neuroscience, ethics and empathy, a new Nietzsche section, an updated Ayn Rand section, and several new movies and novels including Avatar, State of Play, True Grit, The Invention of Lying, and A Thousand Spendid Suns. And  Chapter 10 has a picture of Dwight Furrow! 🙂

The Young Brain—Why Does it Take So Long to Grow Up? January 30, 2012

Posted by Nina Rosenstand in Education, Nina Rosenstand's Posts, Philosophy of Human Nature, Science.
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Welcome to the Spring 2012 semester, where we will post occasional blog entries as our schedules and moods allow! Here is something that I think will interest those of you who are under 25, or happen to know someone who is! Finally we understand the adolescent brain, and furthermore, that the adolescent brain will last well into young adult years these days, because what makes a brain “adult” is that is has responsibilities. Uh-oh! Does that mean some people will never grow up? Maybe…and there is a name for that: the Peter Pan Syndrome. Perhaps there will be a neurological explanation for that, now…

But in the meantime, this is what professor of psychology Alison Gopnik writes in her article, “What’s Wrong With the Teenage Mind?”: Puberty is happening earlier, but adulthood seems to be delayed. So we will have to live with “teenage weirdness” longer than in past centuries.

The crucial new idea is that there are two different neural and psychological systems that interact to turn children into adults. Over the past two centuries, and even more over the past generation, the developmental timing of these two systems has changed. That, in turn, has profoundly changed adolescence and produced new kinds of adolescent woe. The big question for anyone who deals with young people today is how we can go about bringing these cogs of the teenage mind into sync once again.

The first of these systems has to do with emotion and motivation. It is very closely linked to the biological and chemical changes of puberty and involves the areas of the brain that respond to rewards.

Recent studies in the neuroscientist B.J. Casey’s lab at Cornell University suggest that adolescents aren’t reckless because they underestimate risks, but because they overestimate rewards—or, rather, find rewards more rewarding than adults do. The reward centers of the adolescent brain are much more active than those of either children or adults. Think about the incomparable intensity of first love, the never-to-be-recaptured glory of the high-school basketball championship.

The second crucial system in our brains has to do with control; it channels and harnesses all that seething energy. In particular, the prefrontal cortex reaches out to guide other parts of the brain, including the parts that govern motivation and emotion. This is the system that inhibits impulses and guides decision-making, that encourages long-term planning and delays gratification.

This control system depends much more on learning. It becomes increasingly effective throughout childhood and continues to develop during adolescence and adulthood, as we gain more experience. You come to make better decisions by making not-so-good decisions and then correcting them.

In the past (from hunter-gatherers all the way to the recent past) those two systems were in sync, but they are no longer.

The experience of trying to achieve a real goal in real time in the real world is increasingly delayed, and the growth of the control system depends on just those experiences. The pediatrician and developmental psychologist Ronald Dahl at the University of California, Berkeley, has a good metaphor for the result: Today’s adolescents develop an accelerator a long time before they can steer and brake.

This doesn’t mean that adolescents are stupider than they used to be. In many ways, they are much smarter. An ever longer protected period of immaturity and dependence—a childhood that extends through college—means that young humans can learn more than ever before. There is strong evidence that IQ has increased dramatically as more children spend more time in school, and there is even some evidence that higher IQ is correlated with delayed frontal lobe development….

But there are different ways of being smart. Knowing physics and chemistry is no help with a soufflé. Wide-ranging, flexible and broad learning, the kind we encourage in high-school and college, may actually be in tension with the ability to develop finely-honed, controlled, focused expertise in a particular skill, the kind of learning that once routinely took place in human societies. For most of our history, children have started their internships when they were seven, not 27.

Recognize the problems of Will Hunting in Good Will Hunting? He has all the theoretical knowledge in the world, but has no idea how to live (and doesn’t even dare to). So what to do about it? Gopnik suggests to increase the level of varied hands-on experience of the young person, an extended apprenticeship-adolescence with responsibilities:

Instead of simply giving adolescents more and more school experiences—those extra hours of after-school classes and homework—we could try to arrange more opportunities for apprenticeship. AmeriCorps, the federal community-service program for youth, is an excellent example, since it provides both challenging real-life experiences and a degree of protection and supervision.

“Take your child to work” could become a routine practice rather than a single-day annual event, and college students could spend more time watching and helping scientists and scholars at work rather than just listening to their lectures. Summer enrichment activities like camp and travel, now so common for children whose parents have means, might be usefully alternated with summer jobs, with real responsibilities.

Hmmm…maybe we professors should recruit teams of secretaries and teaching assistants from among our students, for their own good?



Facebook Revisited–New Policies for Professors April 25, 2011

Posted by Nina Rosenstand in Culture, Education, Nina Rosenstand's Posts, Teaching.
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It’s taken a while, but there is finally a growing realization among professors that “friending” their students is not such a good idea.  And school administrators are certainly also catching on. This from The Guardian (UK):

Teachers are being warned not to “friend” pupils on Facebook amid concerns over the blurring of boundaries between school staff’s professional and private lives.

In a fringe meeting at the National Union of Teachers’ annual conference on Sunday, teachers were told that pupils are getting access to potentially embarrassing information about teachers on their Facebook pages, while headteachers and school governors are increasingly using information posted on social networking sites to screen candidates for jobs.

Karl Hopwood, an internet safety consultant and former headteacher, told the NUT fringe meeting: “The line between private life and professional life is blurred now because of social media.”

The same concerns extend to the world of college professors and students, sharing a daily environment—but on a professional level, not a personal one. That distinction needs to be reestablished in this age of the social media, regardless of what Mark Zuckerberg may think about the declining value of the concept of privacy. I talked about the subject on this blog last year, where I explained my take on professors friending students (and got a great deal of very interesting comments), and my concerns then have only been confirmed in the past year. In the real world you have to be able to distinguish between who is your colleague, who is your client (for lack of a better word), who is your acquaintance, and who is your Friend…and then all the others who are just faces on Facebook.

More on the Crisis in the Humanities October 28, 2010

Posted by Dwight Furrow in Dwight Furrow's Posts, Education, Philosophy.
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The threatened closing of foreign language departments at SUNY Albany (following threats to philosophy programs in the U.K and the U.S)  has received a good deal of discussion in the blogosphere. (Including here)  Highly regarded French philosopher Jean-Luc Nancy contributed these particularly pithy remarks:

So the choice is between getting rid of French and getting rid of philosophy? What a great alternative!

A choice between removing the liver or the lungs. Stomach or heart. Eyes or ears. How about that?

Someone needs to invent a kind of instruction that is, first, strictly monolingual — because everything can be translated into English, can’t it? — and also one from which all questioning (for example, of what “translation” means, both in general and in terms of this or that specific language) has been completely eliminated. A single language alone, cleansed of the bugs of reflection, would make the perfect university subject: smooth, harmonious, easily submitted to pedagogical control.

It’s time to propose getting rid of both French and philosophy, and, for that matter, all related subjects, like Latin, psychoanalysis, Italian, Spanish, literary theory, Russian, or history. Perhaps it would be wise to put in their place, as mandatory course offerings, some programming languages (e.g. Java), and also commercial Chinese and technical Hindi — at least until these languages have been completely transcribed into English. (Unless it is the opposite that comes to pass.)

Anyway, let us teach what is displayed on billboards and stock market monitors. Nothing else!

Courage, comrades: a new world is being born!

[tr. J. K. Cohen/H. Saussy]

The corporatization of the university and the commercialization of every aspect of life continues apace enabled by greed-as-a-virtue conservatives and a timorous, ineffectual liberalism powerless to arrest it’s advance.

A new world is being born indeed. But is it one that humans will inhabit?

book-section-book-cover2 Dwight Furrow is author of

Reviving the Left: The Need to Restore Liberal Values in America

For political commentary by Dwight Furrow visit: www.revivingliberalism.com

Welcome to the Future of Academia October 25, 2010

Posted by Nina Rosenstand in Culture, Education, Nina Rosenstand's Posts, Teaching.
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Following up on the “Sad Stats” post below, perhaps it isn’t too hard to discern a trend here, in this excerpt from a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, “Putting a Price on Professors”:

As budget pressures mount, legislators and governors are increasingly demanding data proving that money given to colleges is well spent. States spend about 11% of their general-fund budgets subsidizing higher education. That totaled more than $78 billion in fiscal year 2008, according to the National Association of State Budget Officers.

The movement is driven as well by dismal educational statistics. Just over half of all freshmen entering four-year public colleges will earn a degree from that institution within six years, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

And among those with diplomas, just 31% could pass the most recent national prose literacy test, given in 2003; that’s down from 40% a decade earlier, the department says.

“For years and years, universities got away with, ‘Trust us—it’ll be worth it,'” said F. King Alexander, president of California State University at Long Beach.

But no more: “Every conversation we have with these institutions now revolves around productivity,” says Jason Bearce, associate commissioner for higher education in Indiana. He tells administrators it’s not enough to find efficiencies in their operations; they must seek “academic efficiency” as well, graduating more students more quickly and with more demonstrable skills. The National Governors Association echoes that mantra; it just formed a commission focused on improving productivity in higher education.

This new emphasis has raised hackles in academia. Some professors express deep concern that the focus on serving student “customers” and delivering value to taxpayers will turn public colleges into factories. They worry that it will upend the essential nature of a university, where the Milton scholar who teaches a senior seminar to five English majors is valued as much as the engineering professor who lands a million-dollar research grant.

And they fear too much tinkering will destroy an educational system that, despite its acknowledged flaws, remains the envy of much of the world. “It’s a reflection of a much more corporate model of running a university, and it’s getting away from the idea of the university as public good,” says John Curtis, research director for the American Association of University Professors.

Efforts to remake higher education generally fall into two categories. In some states, including Ohio and Indiana, public officials have ordered a new approach to funding, based not on how many students enroll but on what they accomplish.

You need to read the rest of the article. It’s too long to copy here, but I’ll end this post with the voice of one professor who tries to argue why it can’t all be boiled down to retention, exams, funding and profit:

Mr. Dunning teaches two classes a semester and has won several teaching awards. His salary of about $90,000 a year also covers the time he spends researching Russian literature and history. His most recent book argues that Alexander Pushkin’s drama “Boris Godunov” was a comedy, not a tragedy.

 Mr. Dunning says his scholarly work animates his teaching and inspires his students. “But if you want me to explain why a grocery clerk in Texas should pay taxes for me to write those books, I can’t give you an answer,” he says.

His eyes sweep his cramped office, lined with books. Then Mr. Dunning finds his answer. “We’ve only got 5,000 years of recorded human history,” he says, “and I think we need every precious bit of it.”

Sad Stats About Community Colleges October 21, 2010

Posted by Nina Rosenstand in Education, Nina Rosenstand's Posts, Teaching.

For those of us who spend our professional everyday lives teaching at 2-year/community colleges in California it usually gives us a warm and fuzzy feeling to think about the importance of our services rendered: a ground-level quality education (mostly!) that allows large numbers of hopeful, skillful young and youngish people to pursue their dream and seek further higher learning, good careers, and a fulfilling life, by transferring to 4-year colleges. We believe we add to that  elusive concept of flourishing that happiness is all about, by channeling students into further academic studies. But apparently we need to do a reality check. According to a study by the Institute for Higher Education Leadership & Policy at Cal State Sacramento,

Seventy percent of students seeking degrees at California’s community colleges did not manage to attain them or transfer to four-year universities within six years, according to a new study that suggests that many two-year colleges are failing to prepare the state’s future workforce.

Conducted by the Institute for Higher Education Leadership & Policy at Cal State Sacramento, the report, released Tuesday, found that most students who failed to obtain a degree or transfer in six years eventually dropped out; only 15% were still enrolled.

In addition, only about 40% of the 250,000 students the researchers tracked between 2003 and 2009 had earned at least 30 college credits, the minimum needed to provide an economic boost in jobs that require some college experience.

And the affirmative action efforts seem not to be working, either:

There were also significant disparities in the outcomes of black and Latino students. Only 26% of black students and 22% of Latino students had completed a degree or certificate or transferred after six years, compared to 37% of whites and 35% of Asian Pacific Islanders.

Latino students were half as likely as white students to transfer to a four-year university — 14% versus 29% — and black students were more likely than others to transfer to private, for-profit institutions without obtaining the credits needed for admission to the University of California or Cal State.

So why is this happening?

Students face many barriers, including not being prepared for college-level study, as well as financial, work and family constraints. Black and Latino students, the study notes, are more likely to have attended segregated and overcrowded elementary and high schools and to have had less access to highly qualified teachers and counselors. But some community college campuses do a better job than others, and the research found that students who pass college-level math and English early in their college careers and complete at least 20 credits in their first year of enrollment had higher rates of success.

Ah, here comes the recommendation:

The study encourages community colleges to improve data collection about enrollment patterns and student progress and also calls for a new state funding model that rewards schools when students complete degrees and transfer.

The community colleges already are putting more emphasis into ensuring that students master basic math and English skills early in their college careers, she said. Legislation signed this year also establishes an associate’s degree that will provide more seamless transfer of community college students to UC and Cal State University. Under another new law, the community colleges’ Board of Governors will create a task force to consider ways to improve retention and degree attainment.

This sounds proactive and nice, and in many ways it is, but those of us in the CC trenches read an additional subtext: a demand for even more faculty time spent on managing and monitoring students, in a field where the workload is already  heavy (5 classes taught per semester, plus school-related work). I will need to hear more about that report—but off the cuff it seems to me to be an argument for more faculty involvement in class management and paperwork rather than more emphasis on what we are good at doing, and like to do, teaching good classes and fire up fresh minds, thus improving retention and hopes of transfer. So now I’m really depressed.

Crisis in the Humanities October 13, 2010

Posted by Dwight Furrow in Dwight Furrow's Posts, Education, Philosophy.
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As the recession cuts into budget outlays for higher education, not only in the U.S. but across Europe as well, it appears that the humanities are taking the biggest hit.

Philosophy programs and language departments have been shut down in a variety of states as well as in the U.K, and Humanities departments are being forced to prove they contribute to the bottom line in order to justify their existence.

In light of these developments, the article by Stanley Fish in the NY Times earlier this week was troubling.

And indeed, if your criteria are productivity, efficiency and consumer satisfaction, it makes perfect sense to withdraw funds and material support from the humanities — which do not earn their keep…

And it won’t do, in the age of entrepreneurial academics, zero-based budgeting and “every tub on its own bottom,” to ask computer science or biology or the medical school to fork over some of their funds so that the revenue-poor classics department can be sustained.

Stanley Fish is a literary critic, Professor of Humanities and Law, and a former Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at University of Illinois. One would think he would be sympathetic to the plight of the Humanities.

But with friends like this who needs enemies?

Christopher Newfield’s ongoing research on university funding comes to radically different conclusions:

Further budget research needs to be done, and far more budgetary data need to be disclosed and discussed. In the meantime, I propose these conclusions from my case study. The humanities and social sciences are major donors to science and engineering budgets. Major dogmas about university research turn out to be wrong: science and engineering research costs money, and humanities and social sciences teaching subsidizes it. Furthermore, humanities and social sciences students receive a cheap education—that is, they get back less than they put in.

Making matters worse, university officials have historically perpetuated the myth that the science and engineering fields are the generous subsidizers of the “soft” humanitiesand social science fields.

This concealment of the humanities’ contributionto the progress of science fed the vicious cycle of the culture wars: underfunded humanities fields cannot buy respectability through the media,think tanks, or prominent science agencies, a limitation that gives free reinto assertions that the humanities produce only pseudo-knowledge. This belief has lowered the humanities’ status, which in turn has justified flator declining funding, which further lowers the humanities’ status, whichencourages further cuts.

More generally, the overall financial stability of higher education—especially public higher education—has been undermined by an increasingly dysfunctional postwar research-funding model that depends on subsidies from teaching revenues that are being cut from state budgets and added to student costs. Finally, the hidden subsidy—in which high-enrollment, high-teaching-load fields in the humanities andsocial sciences help pay for advanced scientific research—is the primary reason why the humanities are perpetually poor.

In offering this analysis of budgetary myths and inequities, I am notseeking to foment a class war between the arts and sciences. I admire and study the sciences and their sociocultural impacts and think they, as well as the arts, need even more funding than they have. Given the funding crisis for all higher education, now would be the worst possible time to set upa zero-sum competition between different sides of campus, and I instead advocate cooperation and collaboration across all our disciplines.My analysis is intended to encourage truth in budgeting.

I’m no expert on college financing but many people, such as Andrew Hacker, have argued that in our system of higher education, undergraduate teaching subsidizes research. We overcharge students for tuition and fees and underpay faculty by hiring mostly adjuncts, and that money goes to pay for endowments, new technology, intercollegiate sports, expensive student centers, and graduate student education, especially in engineering and the sciences, which ends up benefiting big business.

Of course, given that it is big business that ends up benefiting from this, it is not a surprise that this scam is not well publicized.

book-section-book-cover2 Dwight Furrow is author of

Reviving the Left: The Need to Restore Liberal Values in America

For political commentary by Dwight Furrow visit: www.revivingliberalism.com

A Letter to Students August 24, 2010

Posted by Dwight Furrow in Dwight Furrow's Posts, Education, politics.
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Berkeley Professor Michael O’Hare wrote a letter to his students that all California college and university students should read.

After extolling the virtues of his students, he gives them the bad news:

The bad news is that you have been the victims of a terrible swindle, denied an inheritance you deserve by contract and by your merits.  And you aren’t the only ones; victims of this ripoff include the students who were on your left and on your right in high school but didn’t get into Cal, a whole generation stiffed by mine.  This letter is an apology, and more usefully, perhaps a signal to start demanding what’s been taken from you so you can pass it on with interest.

Swindle–what happened? Well, before you were born, Californians now dead or in nursing homes made a remarkable deal with the future.  (Not from California? Keep reading, lots of this applies to you, with variations.) They agreed to invest money they could have spent on bigger houses, vacations, clothes, and cars into the world’s greatest educational system, and into building and operating water systems, roads, parks, and other public facilities, an infrastructure that was the envy of the world. They didn’t get everything right: too much highway and not enough public transportation. But they did a pretty good job.

Young people who enjoyed these ‘loans’ grew up smarter, healthier, and richer than they otherwise would have, and understood that they were supposed to “pay it forward” to future generations, for example by keeping the educational system staffed with lots of dedicated, well-trained teachers, in good buildings and in small classes, with college counselors and up-to-date books.  California schools had physical education, art for everyone, music and theater, buildings that looked as though people cared about them, modern languages and ancient languages, advanced science courses with labs where the equipment worked, and more. They were the envy of the world, and they paid off better than Microsoft stock. Same with our parks, coastal zone protection, and social services.

I will just post the entire letter because it is crucial that students have this information.

This deal held until about thirty years ago, when for a variety of reasons, California voters realized that while they had done very well from the existing contract, they could do even better by walking away from their obligations and spending what they had inherited on themselves.  “My kids are finished with school; why should I pay taxes for someone else’s?  Posterity never did anything for me!”  An army of fake ‘leaders’ sprang up to pull the moral and fiscal wool over their eyes, and again and again, your parents and their parents lashed out at government (as though there were something else that could replace it) with tax limits, term limits, safe districts, throw-away-the-key imprisonment no matter the cost, smoke-and-mirrors budgeting, and a rule never to use the words taxes and services in the same paragraph.

Now, your infrastructure is falling to pieces under your feet, and as citizens you are responsible for crudities like closing parks, and inhumanities like closing battered women’s shelters. It’s outrageous, inexcusable, that you can’t get into the courses you need, but much worse that Oakland police have stopped taking 911 calls for burglaries and runaway children. If you read what your elected officials say about the state today, you’ll see things like “California can’t afford” this or that basic government function, and that “we need to make hard choices” to shut down one or another public service, or starve it even more (like your university). Can’t afford? The budget deficit that’s paralyzing Sacramento is about $500 per person; add another $500 to get back to a public sector we don’t have to be ashamed of, and our average income is almost forty times that.  Of course we can afford a government that actually works: the fact is that your parents have simply chosen not to have it.

I’m writing this to you because you are the victims of this enormous cheat (though your children will be even worse off if you don’t take charge of this ship and steer it). Your education was trashed as California fell to the bottom of US states in school spending, and the art classes, AP courses, physical education, working toilets, and teaching generally went by the board. Every year I come upon more and more of you who have obviously never had the chance to learn to write plain, clear, English.  Every year, fewer and fewer of you read newspapers, speak a foreign language, understand the basics of how government and business actually work, or have the energy to push back intellectually against me or against each other. Or know enough about history, literature, and science to do it effectively!  You spent your school years with teachers paid less and less, trained worse and worse, loaded up with more and more mindless administrative duties, and given less and less real support from administrators and staff.

Many of your parents took a hike as well, somehow getting the idea that the schools had taken over their duties to keep you learning, or so beat-up working two jobs each and commuting two hours a day to put food on the table that they couldn’t be there for you. A quarter of your classmates didn’t finish high school, discouraged and defeated; but they didn’t leave the planet, even if you don’t run into them in the gated community you will be tempted to hide out in.  They have to eat just like you, and they aren’t equipped to do their share of the work, so you will have to support them.

You need to have a very tough talk with your parents, who are still voting; you can’t save your children by yourselves.  Equally important, you need to start talking to each other.  It’s not fair, and you have every reason (except a good one) to keep what you can for yourselves with another couple of decades of mean-spirited tax-cutting and public sector decline. You’re my heroes just for surviving what we put you through and making it into my classroom, but I’m asking for more: you can be better than my generation. Take back your state for your kids and start the contract again.  There are lots of places you can start, for example, building a transportation system that won’t enslave you for two decades as their chauffeur, instead of raising fares and cutting routes in a deadly helix of mediocrity.  Lots. Get to work.  See you in class!

Economist Robert Reich makes a further point in an email that O’Hare includes as a postscript:

…one big reason why middle-class Californians began thinking more about themselves than posterity starting in the late 1970s: Their real incomes started to flatten. In the thirty years before that – when their parents invested in California’s education system and infrastructure – the median wage tracked productivity gains. The typical family grew so much better off it could afford to be generous. But then the median wage flattened even as productivity gains continued. Public-spiritedness is harder to inspire among people who feel they’re losing ground.

I’ve posted on this issue earlier this summer. We have in fact been losing ground for decades. Our current troubles just make this trend toward stagnant middle class incomes very visible, a reality that students especially are experiencing.

book-section-book-cover2 Dwight Furrow is author of

Reviving the Left: The Need to Restore Liberal Values in America

For political commentary by Dwight Furrow visit: www.revivingliberalism.com

Wikipedia on Trial August 3, 2010

Posted by Dwight Furrow in Culture, Dwight Furrow's Posts, Education.
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Larry Sanger is one of the founders of Wikipedia, although he quit the project because of disagreements about the quality of Wikipedia articles. He was also trained as a philosopher with a specialization in epistemology, and thus has an interesting perspective on some of the problems of using Wikipedia as a source of knowledge.

Here is an excerpt from his Slate interview:

Why did you feel so strongly about involving experts?

Because of the complete disregard for expert opinion among a group of amateurs working on a subject, and in particular because of their tendency to openly express contempt for experts. There was this attitude that experts should be disqualified [from participating] by the very fact that they had published on the subject—that because they had published, they were therefore biased. That frustrated me very much, to see that happening over and over again: experts essentially being driven away by people who didn’t have any respect for those who make it their lives’ work to know things.

Where do you think that contempt for expertise comes from? It’s seems odd to be committed to a project that’s all about sharing knowledge, yet dismiss those who’ve worked so hard to acquire it.

There’s a whole worldview that’s shared by many programmers—although not all of them, of course—and by many young intellectuals that I characterize as “epistemic egalitarianism.” They’re greatly offended by the idea that anyone might be regarded as more reliable on a given topic than everyone else. They feel that for everything to be as fair as possible and equal as possible, the only thing that ought to matter is the content [of a claim] itself, not its source.

It seems to me that this conflict between amateurs and experts boils down to a conflict between egalitarianism and credibility. You gestured toward this conflict in an essay on the Edge.com, where you wrote, “It’s Truth versus Equality, and as much as I love Equality, if it comes down to choosing, I’m on the side of Truth.” Do you find that it really is a zero-sum gamethat, as a practical matter, we need to choose between these two goods?

I doubt very much that it’s a zero-sum game. I think it’s absolutely a great thing that people regardless of their credentials can contribute to the shaping of knowledge. And I think we have to creatively design ways of recognizing both the value of amateur work, on the one hand, and the objective value of the knowledge of people who are experts in various fields.

The idea behind Wikipedia is that by pooling information held by multiple authors truth will emerge in the marketplace of ideas. No planner or centralized authority is necessary because multiple authors will be self-correcting. If one author makes a mistake, other authors will notice the mistake and correct it.

But as Sanger points out, it is not obvious that Wikipedia actually works that way. The loudest or most persistent voice is not necessarily the voice of truth. The idea that a talented amateur is in a position to trump the judgment of experts who have spent years studying a subject is a modern but pernicious conceit.

book-section-book-cover2 Dwight Furrow is author of

Reviving the Left: The Need to Restore Liberal Values in America

For political commentary by Dwight Furrow visit: www.revivingliberalism.com

Clueless July 21, 2010

Posted by Dwight Furrow in Dwight Furrow's Posts, Education, politics.
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Last week, a coalition of civil rights organizations, students and parents filed a lawsuit charging California with an unconstitutional failure to provide adequate education for its K-12 students.

Meanwhile, the California Budget Project’s report on the state of our schools asserted that California’s school spending per pupil is near the bottom when compared to other states; it is last in school spending as a percentage of personal income;and  last in the number teachers, counselors, librarians, and administrators per student.

So what is Arnold Schwartzenegger’s solution. As reported by Peter Schrag:

A few days before, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger had offered his contribution to improving the schools. As one way to streamline the state bureaucracy, he suggested, eliminate the post of the elected superintendent of schools. (Yes, it’s ironic, but it’s true).

“In California we elect a Superintendent of Public Instruction,” he said. “But why? We already have a Secretary of Education and a Board of Education. Why do we need a Superintendent of Education?”

That is it? That solves the problem of underfunding education?

As Schrag points out, Arnold is just not serious.

It’s not a new idea, in fact it’s antique, a staple of constitutional reformers for the past two decades. We have a stupid, convoluted system with an elected superintendent supposed to administrator policies established by a board appointed by the governor. And of course it’s the governor who, as much as anyone, controls the budget.

So the problem isn’t with the superintendant who has little independent power and little control over the budget.

Schwarzenegger does have a secretary of education – in fact he’s had many, too many to count, a revolving door of secretaries — but he hardly notices them. If there are any Throttlebottoms in his administration, the secretaries of education are among the leading candidates.

And Schrag goes on to shred California politicians for their negligence:

It’s hard to decide what’s most deplorable in this picture. Is it the additional hardships and disadvantages imposed on the state’s poorest kids, who have long been consigned to the poorest schools and, in a disproportionate number of cases, to the weakest teachers, and sometimes to no regular teachers at all?

Is it the fact that even the state’s white, middle-class students achieve lower scores on national tests than their peers in other states? Is it the fact that California’s college graduation rates are low in a nation whose own graduation rates have been steadily falling behind those of our economic competitors?

Or is it the short-sightedness of state policy where almost no one has the courage to point out that our overall tax burden compared to other states is about average, and  that contrary to myth, our great periods of economic growth coincided with higher taxes?

Of course Arnold is on his way out. What is Meg Whitman’s solution? More mass layoffs of public employees and further massive cuts to public services.

Yup. That will solve it.

book-section-book-cover2 Dwight Furrow is author of

Reviving the Left: The Need to Restore Liberal Values in America

For political commentary by Dwight Furrow visit: www.revivingliberalism.com