Every person has two educations, one which he receives from others, and one, more important, which he gives to himself.
― Edward Gibbon
The Silicon Graybeard muses on the fall of civilization:
Over the years, I've said (and more often hinted) that what I see in the future is not just the chance of an economic collapse due to the world's unsustainable debt levels. I see a real chance for another Dark Ages. The main driving force there is the Postmodernists in academia pushing the idea of "my truth and your truth"; the idea that there isn't anything other than our perceptions of things. That works fine for simple questions like, "what's your favorite color?" but is completely wrong for "what's the speed of light?", "will this virus survive in air?" or any interactions with the real world. VDH follows those trends to the conclusion a Dark Age may already be starting.When civilization falls, it falls hard. We hear mostly dry statistics about the collapse of civilization, things like the population of Rome in 100 AD was around a million people. That's impossible to visualize. Instead, we should look at this:
|Immagine gentilmente concessa da Wikipedia|
And then it all fell, and fell so far and hard that it was forgotten. The Roman Forum itself - the political center of the Ancient World for four centuries or more - became a cow field, the Campo Vaccino:
|Modern Rome - Campo Vaccino by J.M.W. Turner, painted in 1839|
If this is a system created by the government - and remember that government is politics - then politics will be the main thing that we can expect the third generation to understand. NASA is an excellent example of this dynamic: the generation that won World War II created it. They landed a man on the Moon and returned him safely to the Earth, all in that decade. The generation that followed watched that. They were able to make a Space Shuttle and a Mars Rover. Now NASA is in the third generation and the Space Launch System is pushing a decade late and $20B over budget, all while offering less capability than SpaceX at quadruple the price. But hey, a Senator is happy so it's all good, amirite?
This Republic has a population that is observably more stupid than when I wore a younger man's shoes. This isn't just get offa my lawn ranting, it's a measurable fact:
According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), test scores for 17 year olds have not improved since the early 1970s. That is, the average 17 year old in 2012 got about the same score in reading and math (287 and 306, respectively) as a 17 year old in 1971 or 1973 did (285 and 304, respectively).The response from professional educators?
Well okay, then. This is the same time period when per-pupil spending on K-12 education has skyrocketed:Carr argues that flat scores aren’t terrible. “It’s a good thing that they’re not going down,” she said.
If anything, this understates the scope of the problem: there is lots of discussion about how incoming college students can't read or do math very well, and so they have to take remedial course (and take on student debt while doing so) before they can start what would otherwise be their studies.
Note that this discussion has been about the portion of the public education system that is arguably working; it doesn't work at all in the inner cities. None of Baltimore's schools graduate students who can do mathematics, and Atlanta's school system had a huge scandal where test scores were massively manipulated so that administrators could get their incentive bonus. People went to jail for that, but the system is no better five years later.
In short, the more government has gotten itself into education, the dumber the population has gotten - and at fabulous expense. The system is broken, and since it's a government system (in which politics is uber alles) it will not reform itself. Further, the public education system is generally popular throughout the land, so the normal political process will be useless for reform.
And so the Republic slouches towards the Campo Vaccino. The third generation will lead to a fourth, and as Graybeard fears, a new Dark Age approaches.
Immodestly, I believe that there is a solution. It's one that will improve performance, reduce costs, and be politically acceptable to large portions of the voters. The Department of Education can issue a rule saying that if a public school system does not issue vouchers allowing parents to send their children to the school of their choice, that the Department will withhold education grants to that school system equal to the average per-pupil cost in that district. The Department will then issue an Income Tax credit to the parents for that amount. The Department will provide a free home schooling curriculum and teaching materials for free with the tax credit.
Simples. No fuss, no muss. It may even be that the Education Department can do this without any action of Congress. I Am Not A Lawyer, but Congress has granted a huge amount of authority to the Regulatory State.
So why do I think that this is politically possible when the Teacher's Unions and Democratic Party (but I repeat myself) will fight this to the death? Consider:
- Vouchers are popular among blacks and hispanics and have been for a long time. This makes sense, as its their kids who are locked into failing school districts. You don't get much more White Privilege than mandatory public schools.
- Tax Credits allow stay-at-home Moms to school their kids if they want. Home schooling three kids at an average tax credit of around $12,000 per kid is the equivalent of a pre-tax job paying around $50,000/year. Politically, this will play very well with women.
- We can expect this to be especially popular with black and hispanic women. No doubt some upper middle class white women will complain that these women of color cannot be trusted to educate their children but we can dismiss this as veiled racism, and the women certainly can't do any worse than the current inner-city schools are doing. At the very worst, the money wouldn't be going to an impenetrable education bureaucracy but rather directly to voters.
- Public schools will have to do a better job, at a lower cost. Competition will focus on results, rather than on a politicized curriculum.
Now what's interesting about this is that politically this would hurt democrats and help Donald Trump. However, the people who think that politics doesn't enter into the public education system shouldn't concern themselves about, well, politics entering into the public education system. And anyway, since government is politics, a better description of "public education" is "government education", leading to "political education".
This is no panacea against the New Dark Age. However, it puts resources in the hands of parents who presumably care more about their kids than a set of bureaucrats. Eliminating all the nonsense permeating the schools (hello, Common Core) will let teachers and parents focus on reading and math and you know, education.
I'll deal with Higher Education in a future post. Turning that around will be harder in some ways and easier in some.