Education is Progressive 2009-2010
Rigoberto Ruelas: The First Victim of Teacher Efficiency Ratings
Today I will take a break from my regularly scheduled installment on my ideas to radiaclly transform the world economy for the better, to discuss the sad case of Rigoberto Ruelas and the implications this case has for our educational system.
Rigoberto Ruelas was a 39 year old 5th grade teacher in Los Angeles, who committed suicide a few days ago. His body was found yesterday underneath a 100 foot high bridge in the Angeles National Forest. Apparently, he had jumped off the bridge. I am not sure whether this case is receiving national attention, but judging by its absence of mention on the internet, I guess not.
The following is what precipitated the suicide of Ruelas. The Los Angeles Times had recently run a series of articles detailing what are called "efficiency ratings" of grade school teachers. These ratings are essentially comparisons, as I understand them, of the performance of a teacher's students on standardized tests at the end of the school year, to their performance the previous year. These comparisons themselves, are then compared among the various teachers, with the assumption that "good teachers" have students whose percentile rankings on standardized exams go up over the course of a year under that teacher's tutelage, while the opposite is true for "bad teachers." Such competition among teachers is being touted by many as the way to improve our schools. Included in its proponents are the makers of the new documentary film "Waiting for Superman," the authors of a recent Times Magazine article on how to fix our schools, Bull (oops, I mean Bill) Gates, Washington D.C. school superintendent Michelle Rhee, and many other rich and prominant people. Competition among teachers, competition among schools -- that's the way to go, they say! Charter schools can do things better! Well, competition is the tired old conservative fix for everything -- throw out the "bad teachers," close the "bad schools" and let the "good ones" take over. Actually, it is the wrong fix for our schools, which I will explain.
In order to evaluate students, we must compare them, so that competition is part of the process. We must not fool ourselves into thinking that education itself is a competitive process, however. This would be conflating comparisons between what two students have learned in a given period of time regarding a particular topic, with the ultimate value of the educational process. At its core, education is a cooperative process, not a competitive process. Education informs students, socializes them, and most importantly, gives them skills to learn and adapt in the future, and in the process, also teaches the teachers. Of course it is true that some teachers are better than others, and some schools do a better job than others, but these differences can not be captured by something so crude as "teacher efficiency ratings," much less used to make corrections.
To get back to Mr. Ruelas, the Los Angeles Times published the "teacher efficiency ratings" of some 2,000 teachers in the LAUSD recently, those of Mr. Ruelas among them. As it turns out, his ratings were below average -- not terrible, just below average. He had been teaching for 14 years, and to him, the affront to his worth as a teacher which this information represented was apparently more than he could take. Yesterday evening (the hottest day in recorded history in Los Angeles with a high temperature of 113, by the way), parents of Ruelas' students and former students were shown memorializing him. They were talking about what a wonderful human being he was, and how selfless he had been as a teacher. It is easy for all of us to say that he should never have taken these ratings so seriously as to drive him to suicide, but the fact is that he did commit suicide, and that is a horrible tragedy. Allow me to extend my sympathies to the Ruelas family.
I am sure that most of us can remember favorite teachers and ones who influenced us in positive ways, from throughout our years as students. In my opinion, the work of a teacher -- as with a parent -- is never finished. We cannot assess the value of a teacher's contributions until the lives of all of that teacher's students are finished, by which time the teacher has almost certainly passed on as well. I am not saying that evaluating teachers is necessarily a fool's errand, but it is fraught with so many unknowns as to be no better than a rough estimate at best. I had a teacher when I was in second grade who was named Mrs. McPhail, and according to my parents, she was crazy about me, as in her all time favorite student. I liked her very much too. I could not honestly say she was "the best teacher in the world," having only had a few of them, but I knew that I liked education and liked her. I suppose one could say I was her "teacher's pet." In fact, I was probably a "teacher's pet" to several teachers throughout my schooling. As an educator now, I realize that "teacher's pets" and bonds between students and teachers are very important to having an effective classroom atmosphere, and also, the bonds and conversations that teachers and students have, create lifelong, positive impacts on the students, and teachers act as positive role models who show students desirable behaviors which they may not see at home.
I recently had an unusual experience in one of my classes at the community college where I teach. Two of my female students got into a fistfight after class. I actually tried to pull one of them while a male student pulled the other one in the opposite direction, but we could not pull them apart. Next, I tried to find a phone, and told my students that I was looking for the campus police. There was no phone in my room, but several students quickly ran upstairs and found the police and a dean at our school who seems to specialize in conflict resolution. Soon, they all showed up in my room as I tried to calm down the remaining fighter. The other one had left the room, which I thought was good since that would prevent further fighting. The interesting thing is, the young woman who stayed was actually what I would call a "teacher's pet" type, who threw the first punch. What had precipitated the fight was that she had been upset with the other student for leaving the room slightly early the previous time that the class had met. When it happened again, they had angry words as the class ended, resulting in the fight. The conflict resolution specialist, Dr. Burnett, had the early leaver transferred out of this class, while my defender stayed. It turns out that my defender, who has an unusual name, is apparently a Native American gal -- an amazing coincidence given that I just recently wrote a couple of blog posts about Native Americans -- who had just left the military service and moved to Moreno Valley literally days before the fall session started. (Once again, military training tends to have violent consequences.) Nonetheless, she got an "A" on her only exam so far, felt remorseful for causing such a scene, and has a good attitude which has transferred to the entire class. It is my observation that this entire incident has unified this class and given us a sense of bonding, as various students helped me resolve the conflict, plus, they know that if anybody gets out of line, they will have my "teacher's pet" to deal with. Some classes bond and as a consequence, have good outcomes; others fail to relate to each other, and have poor outcomes largely as a consequence. I am sure that my "teacher efficacy rating" would probably be much better in some classes I have taught than others, or some years than others, but that has little to do with my efforts as a teacher, nor how I conducted myself in teaching my students. Maybe Mrs. McPhail would have gotten low marks on her "teacher efficiency ratings." I can see the headlines now, "Mrs. McPhail fails, fired from teaching job." The same could be true of other effective teachers I had. We cannot know the value of a teacher's effect on a student until many years later, certainly not by year-to-year teacher effectiveness ratings, nor student evaluations of their teachers as is done in college.
How do we figure out who is going to be a good teacher, then? I believe it has to do with a variety of characteristics of a teacher which can be measured. Among these are:
1. Empathy for one's students;
2. Genuine concern for the well-being of students and genuine desire that they learn;
3. Commitment to one's job as a teacher;
4. A sense of responsibility to the students and to the school;
5. Intelligence, adaptibility and knowledge which can be used to facilitate learning;
6. Desire and skills relating to creating an accepting, warm learning atmosphere;
7. Having the appropriate level of learning standards, pushing students to learn more, while not leaving the class as a whole behind;
8 The ability to summarize and explain material in ways which are understandable to the students;
9. A love of learning and an open mind (openess to experience);
10. Being able to express ones feelings while remaining a calm, rational role model to the students;
11. The ability to avoid experiencing inordinate stress on the job.
I am sure that there are other relevant characteristics, but these are what I was able to come up with at the spur of the moment. My "educated guess" regarding such characteristics is that they would be poor predictors of a first year teacher's popularity or any sort of first year ratings; however, they would predict the teacher's longevity as a teacher (since mamy teachers "burn out" and quit quickly, and here we have all these would-be education reformers advocating firing more teachers), and secondly, the teacher's effectiveness after 10 years or more of being a teacher. By these criteria, I sadly suspect that Mr. Ruelas would have been considered a good teacher, based on what people who knew him, had to say about him.
Regarding "What is wrong with the American educational system," the real problem is that we need a culture transpant if we are to devolop a top flight educational system. First of all, we need to become a pro-intellectual society, not the anti-intellectual society which with the help of mass media and politics, our nation has been allowed to devolve into. We need students who come to learn, and parents who expect and wanat their children to be good learners, wherever that leads them. Second, we need to value teachers more. Chinese culture, for example, with which I am very familiar, and which literally whoops America's butt educationally, refers to teachers with reverence, often using terminology to address teachers which refers to them as "masters." I am not necessarily talking about paying teachers more money, although that couldn't hurt, but paying them respect. Third, we need to make quality education available to all, preferably free, government sponsored lifelong education. Oh my God, I am a socialist! Yes indeed, we are all socialists to one degree or another, and that is what makes society work, only some of us who identify with conservative ideas are too much in denial to admit that. Some of the nations with the best educational systems have free education even for college students. Even here in California, the state colleges and universities used to be free for California residents, until Reagan was governor of California and decided to make us all pay, and we all still are paying for Reagan's and his supporters' mistakes. To sum it up, it's the culture, stupid! No number of charter schools, teacher efficiency ratings, computers for students etc. can fix what is fundamentally wrong with our educational system, but when the public understands and supports the prime and proper role of education in the progress of a society, having an educational system of the highest quality will be a natural consequence of enacting our priorities as a culture.
March 31, 2010
Education is Progressive Part 15: Empowering Students
Last week, I had a troubling experience while administering an exam in one of my classes, one that drives many teachers into a hissy fit, but fails to perturb me. I noticed one of my better students in the class, staring at a nearby student, then realized that the reason she was doing that was because he had his class notes out. I went to check it out, and reminded him that class notes are not allowed on exams, and mentioned that perhaps he did not know that, as I may not have made that clear. While I was over there, I noticed two gals who are friends, also with the notes of one of them out. I told them to put their notes away, and the one closer to me said something to the effect that she was about to do that, since she heard me talking to the other student.
The student who alerted me to the problem wrote a note on her test stating that she wished I wouldn't let these students "get away with" using their notes on the test, and that the gal who spoke with me "flipped me off" after I turned around. I did not have much room to reply to her on her exam, but I wanted to write something. After scoring her exam, I wrote that I could easily compose a ten page response to her, but in the space given, I would mention several points, which I paraphrase here:
1. My occasional tentative experience with open note/open book exams has shown me that they don't really help the students get better scores. What helps them get better scores on their exams is paying attention in class, taking good notes, and studying, so that they won't have to search for answers during the exam, which is very time consuming and inefficient;
2. Many of these students may be used to open book/open note exams, the way that high schools are run in this area these days, so they may honestly expect my exams to be that way. They probably weren't trying to cheat, in my opinion. (It was too obvious to be a serious cheating attempt.) In any case, I use the innocent until proven guilty principle;
3. I feel one of my strengths is that I provide a calm, rational, caring role model for students who may not have that at home. Many of my students have probably been raised on welfare, by single moms, or irrational, flighty, or emotionally harsh parents. Unfortunately, that is pretty much the reality of the community where I live, and probably much of the United States. I concluded that I choose a loving approach to teaching over harshness and anger.
After returning the exams, the student who wrote the note seemed to understand and agree with my point of view.
I should mention here that the reason I don't have open note or open book tests is that this is not the way things are done at universities, and I hope to help give as many of my students as possible the training they will need in order to go on to university and be successful students. Another reason is that students need to build up their long term memory for information presented in class. It is not because I think using the book or notes unfairly helps students during exams. In fact, I encourage them to use their notes and book, before exams as much as they please. By the way, the results of the exam were that, the student who alerted me to the note-using had an "A" on the exam, and the 3 students in question had a "C," a "D" and an "F" on the exam, even after "curving" the exam. A year ago, I had a course in which a group of 4 students with possible ADHD were chatterboxes, even during exams, which gave some of the other students the impression that they were cheating. As a result, I repeatedly warned these students to be quiet during exams and concentrate on their work, which never seemed to effect their behavior. In fact, they might have been discussing some of the questions inappropriately during the exam, but it never seemed to help their scores. As I recall, 3 of them had "Fs" as their final grades for the course, and the other, a "D." They probably would have done better on the tests if they had concentrated on doing their tests instead of talking.
There are two psychological approaches which have great application to teaching, in my opinion. One is the behaviorist principle of "shaping," along with the behaviorist principle of "modeling" good behaviors. The other is the humanistic principle of unconditional positive regard. Shaping is the process of rewarding successive approximations to a desired, complex behavior with the aim of eventually training individuals to perform the complex behavior, first described by B. F. Skinner. Unconditional positive regard is the attitude advocated by Carl Rogers as the primary means to facilitate self-actualization. It means something like trusting in and having confidence in someone, that the person will do something good for society as a result of the person's natural desire to develop his or her own capacities and talents as a good person. Also helpful in facilitating self-actualization are empathy, honesty and being a good listener. These principles are essentially the basis for Rogers' Client Centered Therapy, which is the most popular psychotherapy technique worldwide, but they have many other applications as well, including the teaching endeavor, and relationships in general.
We cannot expect all students to have well-shaped behaviors, such as good test taking skills, paper writing skills, or classroom behavior, but teachers can help shape such behaviors over time. In fact, the grading process is essentially a way of shaping a student's behavior and exam responses, a process which continues as long as the student continues to go to school. Meanwhile, perhaps even more important than the shaping process, is the caring attitude of the teacher toward the students, modeling unconditional positive regard, empathy, honesty and listening skills, as Rogers described. While the teacher of a single course in a students' life may not be a big influence, one never knows. I believe there are cases where a teacher has a major positive impact on a student's life, not so much because of the teacher's teaching, but because of the life lessons taught by the teacher, and the teacher's caring attitude. Certainly, as a whole, teachers are an important influence, hopefully a positive one. Applying these humanistic techniques for the facilitation of self-actualization, is a way of empowering students. The self-actualization process is essentially a process of empowering people, allowing them to make good decisions, using their free-will. Shaping is the process of showing people the way, using reinforcement, and encouraging people to follow the lead of the teacher. The teacher not only reinforces correct behavior and responses, but models them as well.
A well adjusted person is one who exhibits both good socialization and individuation. Individuation is a psychological term for a person who has developed productive individual talents as a person, and a healthy personality. Education is not only about knowledge acquisition, learning how to acquire knowledge, or encouraging creativity; it is also about socialization in a broad sense, and individuation in a positive, prosocial direction. That is, education is about the dual tasks of shaping students' futures, while empowering them to make good decisions and develop their capacity to be good, caring people. Both are needed; empowerment without self-discipline, adequate knowledge or prosocial concern is a dangerous thing, but empowerment combined with self-discipline, good knowledge and prosocial concern is a wonderful, essentially progressive thing, and a blueprint to success in life.
March 28, 2010
Education is Progressive Part 14: Education is a Tortoise, Not a Hare
We have probably all heard of the story of the Tortoise who beat a Hare in a race. I have come to realize that the effects of education are Tortoise-like, and that the impatient, flighty Hares among us may get the most attention, but have few practical solutions while creating many problems.
Cognitive psychologists over the years have increasingly focused on information processing as the key to learning and cognitive development. It used to be thought that cognitive development occurs in stages (as in Piaget's approach), with sudden shifts from one form of understanding to another. Now, information processing theorists believe that cognitive development, memory, knowledge base and learning are incremental. We learn a little bit more every day, not only as children, but also as adults. The Tortoise moves forward a little farther everyday.
Education facilitates the Tortoise-like process of incremental learning. Students who try to compete in courses they are not ready for, usually fail. Knowledge builds upon prior knowledge; learning builds upon prior learning. Even as a professor, new research and new textbooks update one's knowledge incrementally, as new information becomes available.
So it is in politics as well. I have encountered many people who are frustrated, ready to demonize all politicians, including those in the Obama administration, and are basically screaming for the change they wanted when they elected Obama. I can understand their frustration, but with all the progressive things that the Obama administration is trying to do, I don't really agree with it. I think Obama has realized, as have I, that essentially 28 years of conservative rule in the United States has done great harm, entrenched conservatism in powerful places, and damaged our institutions in ways that will take a long time to repair. Short of total social chaos and its destructiveness, anything we do to make progress requires patience at this time.
I do believe that there are turning points or tipping points in history, but they only happen when the groundwork has been laid. Had Einstein been born in the stone age, he would never have had the chance to develop his insights into the nature of the universe, for example. It is education that builds the groundwork for progress; education prepares a fertile soil for good ideas to grow in. We may be on the verge of reaching a tipping point in history now, but if so, that is only because of the work of generations to prepare us for what is to come, much as the work of generations of civil rights minded people prepared us for the election of Barack Obama as President of the United States. For now, we must plod forward, like the Tortoise in the fable of the Tortoise and the Hare, and hope we reach that finish line, that tipping point, in time. Perhaps we are closer than we know. But on the other hand, the regressive and repressive forces of social conservatism, monied interests who support social conservatives, and the inertia of history all impede our progress and make only slow plodding possible.
Take heart in history's (including evolution's) long, patient, progressive arc, my progressive friends. Know that history does not truly repeat itself, but rather, as one bright fellow with a British accent -- whose name escapes me -- said recently, history rhymes. I rather think of history as being like DNA, the double helix, the inner left side progressive, the outer right, conservative, but they both spiral upward like a staircase. No matter how hard the right side tries to keep the left side from moving forward, the left side still drags the right along with it. I think of education as building the steps upward, one at a time, until at some point, the Tortoise wakes up one day and realizes he is ready to fly -- not because he sprouted wings, but because he and his Tortoise friends and relatives of all Tortoise ages, genders and races and nationalities built an airplane.
March 22, 2010
Education is Progressive Part 13: The True Protectors of Freedom
We have all heard of academic freedom. Those professors who have taught long enough, can get tenure, so that they are free to teach and do research as they see fit. We have also all heard of the slogan "Freedom is not free." It must be paid in blood, so the thinking goes. "We must fight for our freedoms," literally, conservatives say, thus justifying war as a noble cause. If not for war, we would be slaves to the world's tyrants, so we owe our freedom to our brave warriors, is the implication. The reason that we fight all these wars (and occupy all these nations) is to make us free, so say conservatives. Thus, we are the most free nation in the world, say these American exceptionalists.
In this post, I will combine my thoughts on war and freedom, about which I have written before, with my thoughts about the progressive nature of education.
I thought of this topic at least a year ago, while writing about war. I more or less forgot about it, until last week, Thom Hartmann's quote of the day one day was the following by Civil War ear politician Edward Everett: "Education is a better safeguard of our liberty than a standing army." Thanks for reminding me, Thom!
It is in the classroom that the battle for freedom is truly fought, and the truth and freedom warriors who promote peace, prosperity and progress are its teachers! I am aware that not all teachers do a good job of teaching students to value and understand human rights, but by and large, they do. Civics has become a lost topic that should be taught regularly, but no longer is. We do still teach the Bill of Rights, and progressive ideas through a plethora of topics, particularly in the social sciences. Not only that, but we back it up through research which shows why progressive values and ideas work better than the regressive ones promoted by conservatives.
Freedom is more about how our own mental processes restrict us or not, than how we are allowed to behave by others. It is our mental processes -- thoughts and feelings -- which lead us to make the decisions that we do, and lead to our behaviors. Our mental processes also are largely what restricts our behavior, to not be free. Our desire to "fit in" leads to conformity in most people, which is not free behavior. Our fears may lead to restricted behavior, with both figurative and literal locked gates and shutters on our windows. And of course, people who would arbitrarily take away or restrict the freedoms of others, are closed-minded people. Open-minded people are free people, and closed-minded people are not. It is both open-minded educators, and students, as well as other open-minded people, who protect our freedoms.
Education leads to open-mindedness. That is the crux of the freedom issue, whether it involves the protection of human rights, the promotion of peace, the appropriate use of science, building a more progressive political system, or whatever. People who are open-minded do these things; people who are closed-minded do not. Education is also sequential and incremental in its effects. It acts as more of a tortoise than a hare, but over time, we look up and find that, with education, the world is transformed in wonderful ways we had barely dreamed of. I guess that is why I am more of a tortoise than a hare, metaphorically speaking. I would like to see instant fixes to our problems, but that is not realistic. As an ancient Chinese proverb says: "A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step." Before we know it, with a well educated society, we will have made that thousand mile walk to freedom.
Note: Edward Everett, whose biography I just checked on Wikipedia, was a brilliant person who graduated from Harvard at the age of 17, and eventually, became a progressive politician in the mid 1800s. He also was a well-known speaker, who gave the 2 hour speech just prior to Lincoln's Gettysburg Address. (I guess he was warming up the audience.)
March 17, 2010
Education is Progressive Part 12: The Internet is Giving me Cause for Hope
There is plenty of cause for despair among seekers of truth and freedom. "Freedom of the press" was enshrined in the U.S. Consitution as a principle of our nation from its inception. However, our so-called free press does not seem so free anymore. Propaganda has bloomed all around -- in advertisements, radio, and even newspapers and news television. People with excess money have long since figured out, with or without help from marketing researchers, that propaganda is effective, as long as it is not labelled as such. What is actually mind-numbing propaganda is labelled as "news," "advertisements," "information," "time-honored tradition," or entertainment based on "true events." Over time, media outlets have become more and more effective at using propaganda rather than facts to influence public opinion. Since the Supreme Court decision in the Citizens United case, the door to monied interests, even foreign ones, has been thrown even wider open. Meanwhile, even our textbooks are subject to the vagaries of the conservative dominated Texas School Board, for reasons which are bizarrely puzzling to me. Why don't we have the California School Board decide what to put in textbooks? After all, this is the most populous state. We should have textbook industries, and authors, more broadly distributed. (By the way, textbooks are overpriced, and virtually all from Texas, along with many of their authors -- just what I would expect from a Texas dominated industry, though.)
Where is one to turn for unbiased information? Thank God, we have the internet to turn to. At least for the time being, the internet is relatively open, and we continue to enjoy net neutrality. Of course, people have diverse opinions and points of view which they express on the internet, but these do not represent systematic biases such as presented in the media, biases which serve the purposes of those who control the message. The internet, along with public television and those few media outlets which can be trusted to give good information, serve the public's need for knowledge. The internet has become an adult education tool. As much has been clearly stated to me by several of my internet friends. Educational and informational websites, blogs and personal communications have enlightened a large portion of the public. The internet has helped unite us, and played a crucial role in creating the presidency of Barack Obama. I believe that the internet will continue to play a crucial role in swinging the pendulum of public opinion and politics in a progressive direction in the future.
At this time, it is the internet which will give us the best opportunity to undo the damage being done by the monied interests who control the messages we are all exposed to. For example, outrage over the Citizens United decision has resulted in popular movements on the internet to protest this decision and counteract its effects. Groups opposed to this decision have been forming and growing on social networking sites such as Facebook. Such groups make great sources of free information. Similarly, groups in favor of comprehensive health care reform -- something that would give us guaranteed low-cost health care as enjoyed in other nations -- have been growing on the internet. On the other hand, conservative movements such as the Teabaggers have certainly been aided by the internet, but the primary point is that the internet aids in open communication and the exchange of information, even between adversaries. Just recently, I had an adversarial discussion on Facebook with a high school student who is a "free-market" conservative type who insisted that we live in a constitutional republic, which according to him, precludes our nation from being a representative democracy. Since my wife and I recently bought a new car, which actually has a radio that works well, I discovered that there is a local conservative radio station. What I listened to has made me angry enough to seriously consider invading some conservative websites to provide an alternate viewpoint. Why do I hear conservatives on progressive radio programs, but never hear progressives on conservative ones? It has also given me some ideas for blog posts.
Also, I have discovered NPR (National Public Radio), which at times seems distressingly wedded to free-market economics ideology, while at other times, has encouragingly progressive programming. One of the most encouraging segments I have listened to was about how many parts of the U.S. still lack broadband internet access, with perhaps 1/3 of the U.S. population being so affected, myself included, even though I live in a city of at least 150,000-200,000 people. (We'll know better after the census information is in.) The show highlighted Trinity County at the northern end of California, a beautiful area I have been to on occasion. There is no broadband access in the entire county. Why? AT & T has deemed the project too unprofitable to go ahead with. An elementary school in Trinity County hooked up cable access to the internet for $5,000, but it doesn't even work properly. This documentary clearly put the blame at the feet of large communications companies such as AT&T (making me think about quitting my AT&T phone service). Clearly, government intervention is needed, was the implication of the show, which was touting a proposal by the Obama administration to create broadband access nationwide. This will make the internet even more powerful as a public educational resource and instrument of progress than it already is.
As long as we keep the internet a tool for open communication, it will remain one of our best, if not the best, tool for people power. The internet is the ultimate tool of public education, as well as the ultimate tool of populism. Of course, we could always use allies in the media, but on the internet, the people control the message, not the media. Ultimately, they will have to listen to us.
The future is here, and it is called the internet. May we use it to create an ever more educated electorate.
March 12, 2010
Education is Progressive Part 11: Students are Giving me Cause for Hope
Yesterday after my first class, I had a conversation about politics with two of my students, Yvette and Andrew. A few days before that, one of my students in the same class told me that she was going after class to the rally against the tuition increases at the University of California. I explained the Supreme Court decision in the Citizens United case to Yvette and Andrew, and how the Obama administration is fighting an uphill battle against entrenched corporate interests. Both of them totally got it. In fact, they helped me with it. Andrew mentioned that Obama must have found out that he wasn't as powerful as he thought he would be as President, and I confirmed that essentially that seems to be true -- much of the power has already been apportioned to corporations, to the wealthy, to the Supreme Court, something that most of us rarely think about. I told Yvette and Andrew that we are up against a wall, and we can't just blow it down; we need to chip away at it, and eventually, it will come down. "I see it that way, too" said Yvette, this didn't happen in a day, and it won't be undone in a day, but it needs to be undone, she related to me.
I think the attitudes of Yvette and Andrew are fairly typical of college students now. These are not students at an elite school, either, but community college students who may constitute a large portion of the future electorate. It is clear to me that we are not talking about low information voters, here. They are putting their education to use, broadening their perspectives and seeing how our society operates more and more clearly as time goes on. I have gone through the same process, myself, although I have innately always been a progressive. For all I know, there could be a sudden progressive revolution, or on the other hand, World-Mart could happen, but I doubt either of those will happen. I think our future electorate will chip away at the conservative military-industrial-political-religious alliance which has been thrust upon America, until eventually, there are only remnants of it remaining. It will take many years, but these people are young, and they have many years to do so -- if not them, then the next generation, and the next. I plan to stick around as long as I can, myself, and I am in very good health.
Another community college student who gives me cause for hope is my good friend from the internet, David Walker. He may not be typical of our young adults today, but he certainly represents a growing portion of America, who see that populist actions for progressive causes, is the way to make our future brighter. David just made the Dean's List at his community college in Chicago. With people such as David out there fighting the good fight for the public, I feel better about our future.
Of course, reality will surely slap us in the face eventually, showing us what atrocities humankind has commited against the planet, and against each other, as global warming continues, fossil fuel and food supplies dwindle, and mass extinctions continue. I believe that the current generation of young adults, and subsequent generations, will understand how we need to change our worldview. They will expect a good and inexpensive education, and if they don't get it, will protest in large numbers until they do. If universities become unaffordable, they will go to community colleges such as mine. There, they will receive the information they need to help them understand the realities we face in this world. Once they understand this, they will do what is necessary to create a better reality for us all.
To me, college is not some place other than "the real world." It is the real world. Those who live in the fantasy world of big business, with its delusional billionaire superstars, are the ones who are not living in the real world. These few individuals who are so fortunate as to be billionnaires, not because of inheritance, but because of their business, seem to fancy themselves to be "self-made" billionnaires, as I heard them referred to on NPR yesterday. What nonsense! It is the system, and the work and money of countless other persons, which allows these few people to become billionnaires. If I could, I would send all of these billionnaires back to college, to live as students with little money, so that they could learn what the real world is like. But given that is not possible, I am glad we have a generation of progressive minded young, informed voters and political activists to bring our power structure back to reality.
Education is Progressive Part 10: The Flynn Effect (Increasing IQ Scores)
The first intelligence test in the world was constructed by Alfred Binet and Theophile Simon in France, in 1905. The first intelligence test made in the United States was the Stanford-Binet Test, a translation and revision of the original test, in 1916. Before long, intelligence tests were routinely being given to grade school students in the United States. However, it was not until the 1940s that intelligence tests for adults were used. The first intelligence test for adults was authored by Psychologist David Wechsler. At that time, he gave his test to people of various ages, and found that intelligence scores on his Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale declined with age. He promptly concluded that brain rot was causing people to become dumber and dumber througout adulthood, having peaked around the age of 20. Personally, I suspect that he was predisposed to come to this conclusion.
However, since it takes many years to follow the intellect of a person throughout adulthood, it was not until much later that it was discovered that Wechsler was wrong. In fact, when longitudinal studies were conducted in which the same people were given intelligence tests once every few years, it became apparent that overall intelligence was basically stable throughout adulthood, until a final mild dropoff after the age of 70. If intelligence is actually stable throughout adulthood, except for the mild drop among the elderly, what was the explanation for Wechsler's results? The answer is fairly simple. What Wechsler was actually observing, was that younger generations were smarter than their elders. This conclusion has been confirmed by studies over the generations, which show that when given the same intelligence test, people of a given age do better on it now than did earlier generations. This effect has come to be known as The Flynn Effect, after the psychologist who first described this effect, and has done much research on it.
The reasons for the Flynn Effect are actually common sense. The principle reason is that younger generations are more educated than their elders -- as in "Education is Progressive." Education makes people smarter, and teaches them the skills that they need to perform well on intelligence tests. However, earlier generations of intelligence researchers were themselves less smart than the current ones. Researchers such as Binet, Wechsler, and Stanford University's Terman, consistently believed that intelligence was some sort of magical construct, genetically determined and uninfluenced by experience, measured by special questions upon which experience and culture had no effect. Clearly, this is nonsense.
In fact, it has become clear that culture, family, education, experience, and the intelligence test questions themselves all have large effects on intelligence test scores. With regard to culture in particular, it has been found that cultural biases are written into all intelligence tests. As a result, intelligence testing is not nearly as widespread as it used to be. The reputation of intelligence tests has taken a number of major hits, this being the biggest. But also, while genetics does influence intelligence test scores substantially, the influence of education on intelligence testing has become increasingly recognized over the years. A substantial component of what intelligence tests measure is scholastic skills which are trained in school. Perhaps a better way to look at intelligence tests is that they measure a combination of what a people have learned and their readiness to learn more.
Additional factors in The Flynn Effect, according to Flynn, are video games and computer skills, which also help people with the skills needed to do well on intelligence tests, especially those components of the tests which rely on quickness of response. All in all, the strength of The Flynn Effect is such that a child who would have had an intelligence score of 120 on the Stanford-Binet test in 1932, would only have scored 100 in 1997. That is a very substantial increase in score, and as far as I know, intelligence test scores continue to increase. We will find out in due time, but the computer information age bodes well for The Flynn Effect's continuance.
While we face many problems are pressures in the modern world, and while there is much improvement needed in our educational system, The Flynn Effect informs us that, at least with respect to intelligence test scores, we are getting better. The so-called "dumbing of America" is a total myth. In fact, we are experiencing the opposite! Take heart, and know that education and technology are doing their jobs in shaping bright minds. Good, democratic government depends upon having an educated, intelligent electorate, and ours has been getting to be more educated and intelligent, boding well for our future. Now, if we can only get the world's teenagers to stop playing their computer games long enough to ponder the weightier issues, with which they will be faced as adults, we can really make progress.
Education is Progressive Part 9: Self-Esteem Versus Accomplishment
One of the most interesting developments in recent years in Personality and Social Psychology is that self-esteem has turned out not to be what it was supposed to be. Jail inmates often have higher levels of self-esteem than accomplished people such as doctors or lawyers, at least as measured by self-esteem questionnaires. This is obviously absurd. As envisioned by Abraham Maslow, self-esteem comes from appreciating one's own accomplishments. However, what passes for self-esteem, as measured by our common self-esteem measures, is more a function of several other factors such as physical appearance, praise from others, and most tellingly, having relatively low standards in order to achieve satisfaction. People who have high standards tend to be perfectionistic, and thus, have relatively low self-esteem, regardless of their accomplishments. In contrast, it has been suggested by some Psychologists that having unrealisitcally high levels of self-esteem leads to narcisism and perhaps Narcisistic Personality Disorder, a dangerous thing.
One of the most startling cross-cultural studies I heard of regarding education, compared the achievement levels of grade school students in different nations with their self-ratings of competence. Among various industrialized nations, the highest math achievement among grade school students was in Korea. The United States, I believe, had the lowest test scores. However, students' self-ratings were exactly the opposite. The students in South Korea felt the worst about their math skills, while those in the U.S. felt the best! Clearly, far more is expected of students in Korea, and far less in the United States, resulting in a false self-derogation by the South Koreans, and a false sense of esteem in the Americans. I saw my own step-daughter's scholastic records from Taiwan after she moved here at the age of 16. One of the comments was that Isabella was "not very good at math." Obviously, that was relatively speaking, as she did very well in math courses here in the U.S., and now is an accountant. (She was just hired last week to be an accountant once again after being unemployed for 16 months, during which time she managed to complete her MBA degree.) Also, Isabella and her mother told me that in Taiwan, any score over 80 is considered an "A" -- a fact which I could see from her report cards. In the United States, that is considered to be a distressingly low "standard" for an "A." I know, because I used to give my students difficult tests but reward any student getting a score over 80 an "A," Taiwan style, but was reprimanded for this practice, and forced to increase the percentages required for all grades. The fact is that, exams are more difficult in Asian nations such as Taiwan, than here in the U.S., resulting in greater achievement, even though the average scores are lower.
Since I am not allowed to do the same here, for the sake of the appearance of having reasonable "standards," I have tried to make my exams somewhat easier. I choose somewhat easier questions from the test banks than I used to, and write or rewrite others to test basic concepts I have covered in class. These efforts only go so far in maintaining a decent grade distribution. I have always given lots of low grades, "D"s and "F"s, and not very many high grades, but since increasing the percentages required for a particular grade, I have assigned even fewer "A"s and "B"s, and more "D"s. (The cutoff for an "F" has not changed.) For example, during a recent semester, I wound up giving only 7 "A"s out of about 130 students in 3 classes. I remember this because I told this to my eldest brother Craig, who teaches at U.C. Davis, and he was astounded at how low the grades I assign are. Of course, I would like my grades to be much higher, but I feel my hands are pretty much tied in this regard.
Meanwhile, the community college where I teach has a student population which is not nearly as good on the whole as at a university, and many of the students find it difficult to handle my university-type exams. When one teaches at a community college, it doesn't take long to realize that it isn't exactly Harvard, if you know what I mean. One of my good friends, Steve, who also teaches at a community college, told me that he has downgraded his course content and/or exams 5 times in order for his students to have decent grades. Thus, the prevailing mindset at our community colleges, and probably much of the rest of our educational system, is to "dumb down" courses, and "idiot proof" exams, while keeping percentage criteria for grades high. This way, the appearance of having high standards is maintained, as long as potential critics do not look to closely at the actual course content and exams, and reasonably good grades are attained by the students. At the same time, we continue for the most part to salve the egos of students and allow them to maintain relatively high levels of academic esteem, even if they do not deserve it. It all works out from a face-saving point of view, except that students face relatively little challenge in school, mostly know only the basics, and have lousy critical thinking skills. No wonder we end up with a nation of mostly low-information (but high self-esteem) voters who are easily swayed by sound-bite messages.
I would suggest that we adopt a system more like Asia's, with challenging material, difficult exams, but somewhat relaxed percentage criteria for the better grades. Additionally, we should teach more critical thinking and logic, and give more educational opportunities for creative thought. Furthermore, we should encourage students' interests to give them the greatest possible opportunity to develop intrinsic motivation. And most importantly, we should hold the educational process itself in high esteem, as it is in much of Asia. We should reward students for good performance, and have far more opportunities to recognize their accomplishments, including awards and public recognition -- something which is common in Chinese communities. This will give students the best opportunity to develop their intellectual potentials, and to develop true self-esteem -- self-esteem based upon true accomplishment rather than well-intentioned but overly accomodating praise for no particular achievement. Finally, we should be sure to recognize progress -- the progress of the individual, in this case -- rather than focusing solely upon competition and social comparison. I try to do this as a teacher. The accomplishment is when a student masters new skills and knowledge, not so much when he or she beats classmates on an exam. This way, every student can develop a sense of accomplishment and self-esteem, not only the best ones, and the cooperative aspects of education will be validated. After all, education in the end is a social, cooperative process.
Education is Progressive Part 8: Candles to be Lit, or Jugs to be Filled
There are two competing philosophies of education, as I understand it. One is that school's main purpose is to inspire young people to love learning, and to help them develop their intellectual talents. It is mostly about creativity and being free-thinking. This is the Candles to be Lit philosophy. The other philosophy is that school's main purpose is to fill yoiung people's minds with the information and skills they need to succeed in the world as adults. This is the Jugs to be Filled approach. Actually, I once saw a PBS documentary by the very name of this post, and found it fascinating.
Schools such as Montessori schools and other free-wheeling private schools, magnet schools, or charter schools take mainly a Candles to be Lit approach to education, many of them with good results. Mainstream schools, public or private, tend to take a Jugs to be Filled approach. For example, the "No Child Left Behind" policy clearly promotes a Jugs to be Filled approach. In Asia, in part due to the difficulties of learning to read and write character-based languages such as Chinese or Japanese, schools emphasize lots of memorization, and the learning of basic information and skills, or cultural information, thus taking a Jugs to be Filled approach. Students from these nations tend to do very well academically, as is widely known, so either approach can be successful. However, the Candles to be Lit approach emphasizes more intrinsic motivation and the cultivation of creative thought, while the Jugs to be Filled approach, if successful, cultivates a thorough knowledge base to use and upon which to build. On the downside, many students get bored with the learning of relatively dry information during the Jugs to be Filled approach, and many students become sidetracked or slack off during the Candles to be Lit approach, if their "candles" fail to be "lit."
The fact that either approach can be either successful or unsuccessful, makes me think that the success of education is more dependent upon culture, family and the individual, rather than teaching approaches. In Asia, both the culture and the family are supportive of education. According to educational research, even peers, at least among the Chinese, support each others' education. Education is the sign of a good, civilized person, according to the various Asian cultures. Education may also be the means to prosperity or financial security, and prestige, but the most important function of education according to Asian cultures is to help a person become a productive, important, useful member of society. I think Asia has it correct in this regard. On the other hand, we have a counterculture in the United States which derogates education in intellectualism, which is very destructive. No wonder we have so many unmotivated, "bored" students. I put the word "bored" in quotes, because I doubt that many students are really bored by school. Rather, they are blaming their distractions, other interests, and personal failings on the convenient excuse of boredom. After all, it is "cool" to say that school is boring.
The role of the individual in his/her education is enormous. When I write this, I am referring to free will. Of course, people have different talents, but any person with a reasonably healthy brain can become a well-educated person. We can decide to be interested in everything we are learning, or not. We can decide to put forth our best effort in trying to learn as much as we can, or we can let other interests override the priority of learning. Personally, I could not help but find anything I was studying while in school, fascinating. Perhaps part of that is due to my biological temperament, but I believe it is also a fundamental choice that I made, and always will make. Finding a source of intrinsic motivation was never a problem for me. My intrinsic drive to learn fueled, and continues to fuel, my learning efforts. I was also fortunate in having a family which fostered learning and education. However, such is not the case for many Americans. Research on attributions for academic performance consistently shows that Americans, except for Asian Americans, tend to attribute their academic outcomes to ability or lack of ability. They tend to think that ability outweighs effort as a determinant of academic success. Thus, why try if success or failure is written into our genes? Once again, this results in scholastic apathy and mediocrity. It is a dangerously false belief. And once again, Asians, and people of Asian descent, generally have it correct. They tend to attribute academic outcomes to effort or lack of effort, rather than ability, luck or any other circumstances. This attributional pattern promotes greater effort and academic success, and contributes greatly to the academic success of Asians and persons of Asian descent. And no, Asians and Asian immigrants generally do not find school "boring," either, even in Jugs to be Filled type schools. It probably would be more fun to go to Montessori type schools where you get to choose what you want to learn about, and how you want to learn it, but learning carries with it an intrinsic importance and interest, something that I believe is part of human nature.
Thus, what I can conclude about the Candles to be Lit or Jugs to be Filled controversy, is first, that education ideally should include a combination of both strategies. Secondly, this controversy's importance is overstated. As described above, if we want to have the most educated possible populace -- an event which should lead to a much more progressive society -- we need to change our culture. We need to teach children, and adults, that effort is the most important factor in academic success. There are actually specific, "attributional retraining programs" which psychologists have devised which have demonstrated success in doing so. Such programs need to be applied more generally to the population. We need also to better emphasize the importance of family in children's education. When parents get the idea that education is not only the teachers' responsibility, they will be better parents and produce better educated offspring. Finally, our media needs to promote education, and prevents the derogation of education and intellectualism. (By the way, Asian cultures are often not what we would consider to be progressive, but in fact, are more progressive in some ways than American culture, such as the government taking greater responsibility for the welfare of individuals, promoting more socially responsible behavior, and having pubic health care. Also, many Asians lack access to much education, which may be a failing of their governments, or a strategy of those governments to make it easier for them to stay in power.)
In teaching my own classes, I am sometimes reminded that perhaps teaching is more about people to be helped, or talents to be developed. I had a couple of students in my Introductory Psychology class this Winter Session who were having psychological difficulties. One had been to Iraq as part of our occupation, and had experienced a Traumatic Brain Injury. He took the first exam in another room, taking far more time than the other students, and did okay but not very well. Last night, I did not see him. I am hoping he will not drop the class, although clearly, he needs more help than I can give him. (He is receiving help from Army psychiatrists, but he says that all they do is basically give him "meds." Also, by the way, my class on Tuesday was cancelled due to torrential rains which knocked out the power supply and caused water leakages. My room has been moved to a different one because my original room is wet, so this has been a strange week.) The other student comes from a family in which most of the members have a number of psychological disorders, including I recall, Bipolar Disorder and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. She asked some interesting questions in the beginning of the course. She took the first exam, and also did so-so on it, but not too bad. However, yesterday, I saw on my school email account, that she had dropped the course. I feel badly for her, but it is out of my hands. I do know that she has seen a psychologist, so hopefully, she can get the help she needs if she dropped the course due to psychological problems. It is ironic that psychological problems can make a person unable to complete a psychology course, but that it the reality I have to deal with. Cases of students, sometimes very good ones, who suddenly drop my course happen from time to time. I think that is all part of teaching at the Community College level, especially. I worry about these students, but must continue my teaching and not be distracted by their plights. I just pray that things get better for them and work out in the long run, and concentrate on helping the students that I have. After all, for me there are Candles to be Lit and Jugs to be Filled. I try my best to do both.
Education is Progressive Part 7: Making Educaton More Educational
In the previous post on this topic, I wrote about true education, which is progressive, which is impartial, which is truth-seeking, which encourages the actualization of human potential and spirit. I wrote that education which consists of propagandizing in order to promote a certain point of view, and brainwash young minds, is not true education, nor is education which is based upon a faulty paradigm which educators refuse to correct. There may be elements of such education which are genuine, but not in its entirety.
The most obvious example of an education which is not genuine is "religious education." That is, parochial schools. They teach basic facts and skills, of course, which no one would dispute, but they do so with the understanding that one must accept their religion and world view. I have never been to a parochial school, but I understand that there is plentiful coursework and exercises which are designed to make young minds compliant, obedient, true believers in the religion. My wife Eunice went to an evangelical college in Taiwan, and I can see its effects in her stubborn refusal to accept anything which contradicts the brainwashing she received there. At the same time, such schools may provide a wholesome environment, with a supportive atmosphere, and a lack of distractions to learning, so there are advantages to parochial schools. One thing which can be done about the problem of parochial schools, is to revoke their tax-free status. The plethora of such schools in this case should diminish, or they will become so expensive that they will run out of students. As it is, the expense of running private schools is already impacting their ability to continue operating.
An example from my life is my misadventure in the Biophysics program at the University of Washington. Topics such as medicine, chemistry, biochemistry, or biophysics, require great amounts of memorization in the early stages. I have always felt that the ability to memorize information has little if anything to do with the ability to be a good professional in these fields. Thus, the education does not fit the needs. This has no direct connection to propaganda, but is an example of education based upon a faulty paradigm which is resistant to change. Nonetheless, I have heard that there are some efforts being made now to change this paradigm and present a less memory-based curriculum in these topics. The exact details of these changes, or where they are being applied, I do not know. Perhaps some reader knows more about this. I suppose such a curriculum would entail more research, paper writing, and pursuit of a student's particular interests, along with greater emphasis upon conceptual principles rather than knowing one's chemicals, anatomy, etc.
More generally, an entire department may reflect a theoretical paradigm, as opposed to a faulty teaching paradigm, which is inculcated in the students. For example, economics departments tend to present the corporate big-business-is-good, greed-is-good paradigm to its students, both at the undergraduate and graduate level. This paradigm is probably all to easy for students to accept, given its hedonistic appeal, and a lifetime of exposure to these concepts. Pscychiatry programs are known to present a biological paradigm regarding psychopathology, a paradigm which is fatally flawed. Psychopathology does have biological influences, but to promote biology as the cause of psychopathology is ludicrous, except in the case of a few disorders which have strong genetics components, particularly schizophrenia, which is about 50% biological according to the evidence, and bipolar disorder, which is poorly understood, but seems to be more than 50% biological. The false paradigm of biological causes for psychopathology, along with the power of and misplaced trust placed upon the pharmaceutical companies, has resulted in a massive overreliance upon psychotherapeutic drugs for depression and anxiety disorders. Such drugs should not be needed in order to treat these disorders. Psychotherapies have proven to be effective treatments for them. Despite this, antidepressants and antianxiety drugs are the two most lucrative categories of drug which drug companies sell! Psychiatry programs clearly need to change their psychopathology paradigm. There are other, less biological psychopathology paradigms which are taught in clinical psychology programs, which psychiatry programs would do well to adopt. Part of the problem here is culture as well, however. We need to rethink how psychopathology is presented to the public. For many people, the only thing they see regarding treatments for psychopathology are the advertisements for drugs by money-bags pharmaceutical companies.
Another example from my own experience, one which many are familiar with, is how certain professors (or school teachers) may push a certain point of view. Perhaps there is a required paper for the course, for which the grade largely depends upon how well the students mimics the professor's point of view. There may also be essay questions on exams which are similarly graded according to the professor's biases. I did not take many courses where I felt this way, but there were a few. It is difficult to know what to do about this, especially when the professors have tenure. Since professors (and school teachers) are generally intelligent, and usually open-minded people, the use of reason to make them open to alternative points of view seems to be in order.
Finally, we have all heard of propagandistic education, such as "re-education camps" in mainland China. The fact is, topics such as history and government are bastions of propaganda here in the United States, and I am sure, in other nations as well. However, we do not recognize it as such in the United States, making the process even more dangerous. At least in mainland China, officials are open about the propaganda being pushed upon its citizens. They even have propaganda departments, with propaganda officials whose job it is to oversee efforts to create a thoroughly brainwashed, obedient citizenry. I once knew a young lady from Beijing whose father was just such a propaganda official. As a result, she was disenchanted with the People's Republic of China, so she moved to the U.S. In fact, a great many Chinese citizens are disenchanted with their own government, due to its overt methods of attempting to exert control over its citizens. In the United States, there are many disenchanted citizens as well, but most of these people have a difficult time identifying the cause of their misery. I think that is in part because we have been presented a hugely pro-America, mythical world view which is widely accepted by children -- once again, a world view which appeals to our more hedonistic, self-serving tendencies. When we find that our nation is not what we thought it was, massive cognitive dissonance results. We need to present a balanced curriculum regarding history, government and civics in our grade schools, one which presents various points of view equally, presents the truth whenever possible as opposed to myth and propaganda, and which promotes critical analysis of our nation and our government. As for foreign nations such as China, their system will not last forever; the seeds of its own destruction have been sowed by its own inequities. We can encourage them to provide a more open-minded academic curriculum to its students, but first, we need to do so with our own students.
Education is Progressive Part 6: What is True Education?
When examining complaints about education, there is a common theme which I have noticed. It is the same thing which I worry about with some so-called education. Basically, the critiques of education amount in one way or another to saying that it isn't really education. When I write about education being progressive, I mean true education. What is not progressive, is when people attempt to use the appearance of education in order to influence the minds of others for their own benefit. In other words, propaganda, brainwashing, refusal to accept honestly won evidence, or whatever you want to call it, degrades education into a form of self-interested social influence.
Complaints about education which I hear, include:
1. Education teaches people to accept old, broken paradigms. Those who do not accept them are derogated. Actually, this merely points out how difficult it is to change to better paradigms. If anything, educators are the most likely people to undergo a paradigm shift, because the educational process itself encourages the examination of one's beliefs. Compare education, for example, with religion, for which paradigm shifts are anathema.
2. Schools teach children things which are clearly not true. The intentional teaching of information which is closed to the truth is not true education. This happens when schools are used as tools of propaganda and mind control, as in parochial schools or scholastic programs designed with the edification of a particular political and economic system in mind.
3. Schools are used to create obedient little "worker bees" to help maintain the status quo and help maintain corporate profits. The same comment as in number 2 above, applies here as well.
4. School continues to teach in outmoded ways and select successful students in ways which do not relate well to their potential as professionals. This is a valid complaint, but educational research itself is used to assess such issues and make improvements in the educational process. The needed changes may be slow in coming, but do ultimately occur, although it may require paradigm shifts in some cases.
5. Our educational system is broken. Teachers are being made to act as babysitters of oversized classes, and thus, are not teaching their students what they need to learn. That is because our educational system is underfunded by a selfish, shortsighted public. Don't blame the teachers, nor the students, for the dismal situation which lack of public funding has put them in. Remember, is the most important investment in our future which we can make. However, it is a long term investment. That means that the benefits of education are gradual to develop, as are the problems created by lack of education. It can be neglected for awhile, with no particularly noticeable consequences, but over time, the consequences of educational system neglect are horrendous. We need to fund education -- true education -- the way it deserves to be funded, and treat the education process with the respect it deserves.
What are the characteristics of true education, then?
Education is open-minded and impartial. It is not something in which minds are closed to new evidence, nor something which is designed to promote a particular point of view.
Education is not self-interested. It is other interested. The purpose of education is to benefit the students, not for the edification of the instructors.
Education is a truth-seeking process. It is never willfully ignorant, but rather, seeks to end ignorance.
Education is loving. It is a form of nurturing the minds and lives of others, regardless of their age. It is not a means of controlling others, although it can teach discipline.
Education makes us well-informed. It teaches basic skills needed for thinking and learning, and imparts basic information which a person will need.
Education is two-sided. It informs us regarding what is disputed and why it is disputed, as well as presenting alternate views on an issue, and allows people to evaluate the evidence.
Education is intellectually stimulating. It is intrinsically interesting, and it makes people think about important issues. True educators convey a love of learning.
Education teaches us how to learn; critical thinking, logic and various learning skills are imparted through an honest and thought provoking educational process. Education is not learning to mimic the instructor's or educational systems' particular point of view, nor is it learning to memorize only that information which the teacher, or the system, deems useful. Educated people think for themselves. Good instructors should be forgiving when their students disagree with them, because it shows that the students are thinking critically.
Education creates paradigm shifts. As people assimilate scientific, and other, concepts, and as evidence accumulates regarding the shortcomings of old paradigms, eventually new, better paradigms replace the old ones.
Education is an agent of progress through its impartial promotion of science, the arts, and philosophy. Through its promotion of the physical and biological sciences, education promotes progress and positive change. Through its promotion of the arts, education results in greater aesthetic appreciation. Through its exposure to philosophical concepts, it creates better ways of thinking about life and how to live life. Through its use of the social sciences, education helps people build happier and more productive lives. In other words, education is progressive.
In my next post, I will discuss some particular examples of flawed education, and how these problems may be corrected.
Education is Progressive Part 5: Spreading Psychology, Spreading Progress
It is not unusual for me, when shopping in Moreno Valley, to encounter a former student of mine. They are all over the city, and I am fairly well known in this city. They always greet me in a friendly manner. The conversation goes something like, "Hey, Dr. Warden, how are you. Is this your wife?" From there the conversation goes on to talk about school, what they are doing with their lives, and so forth. My former students seem generally genuinely appreciative. I feel like an important part of the community with my long-term efforts to bring psychological knowledge and progressive thinking to Moreno Valley, as well as help launch the future careers of some of my better students.
Frankly, I am not as career-oriented as most people with careers. I teach half-time, and that is but one of several important avocations in my life. Other avocations of mine are my wife, my family, fishing, gardening, and of course, my progressive, creative efforts involving writing and the internet. I never necessarily aspired to spend my adult life as an educator, but I have always in essence liked being an educator, although I have endured my share of problems while teaching, as detailed below. I would have been just as happy to be a researcher only, but such jobs are scarce in Psychology, as I found out. Most importantly, my other avocations and particularly, my aspirations to make a positive, progressive impact on our world through my ideas and creativity have always played a role in my life. I have aspired to someday, finish my teaching career and devote my efforts to writing and creative activities. On the other hand, I could see myself continuing to teach until ready for retirement at a ripe old age, then devoting my efforts to wrting and creative activities.
Thus, my development as an educator has been gradual. I actually spent several years after finishing my Ph.D. working part time on research with my advisor Carolyn Murray as well as being a part-time teacher. Carolyn and some of her other graduate students received a research grant from the NIMH to study African-American families, including their parenting practices and other factors in their children's success. I was in charge of data preparation and preliminary analyses for the research project. Mostly, I taught at Cal State San Bernardino, then at the California School of Professional Psychology until I decided to apply to teach at the local community college in 1995. It is not uncommon for people with Ph.D.s to teach part-time at various schools, sometimes simultaneously, especially in the first few years after attaining the Ph.D. Scholars who teach part time at more than one school simultaneously are known as "freeway fliers." I think I did that during one or two quarters, but usually combined research with teaching, or taught several courses at one place.
With my modest, mild-mannered personality, I combined some excellent characteristics for teaching -- conscientiousness, patience, compassion, caring, knowledge and intellect -- with some lousy characteristics for teaching -- social anxiety at times, a normally soft voice, a tendency to lose my concentration and become addled when unexpected negative events happened in class. I actually have had some bad experiences as an instructor. Some of these happened when I was a teacher's assistant, while others happened while teaching my own courses. During my first year as a Teaching Assistant while I was in graduate school, I was assigned somehow to be one of two T.A.s for an older female professor who was getting close to retirement age. She was getting a bit feeble and seemed bitter. People would try to be nice to her, giving her gifts, only to find them thrown into the trash. Along with fellow T.A. Ralph, I found that there was no pleasing this professor. As was typical for her, she gave both of us a scathingly bad evaluation, writing that we "stood around looking like dummies in the back of the classroom," and so forth. Actually, we were trying to figure out what she wanted, since it seemed that every time we tried to do what she asked, she said it was done incorrectly, and we had to try again. Interestingly, I met the younger sister of three of my high school friends, who was in the class, so at least something good happened that quarter. The climax of the quarter's follies was when I was supposed to show a film in one of my lab sections. This was Introductory Psychology, where informational film or films of classic studies were often shown. The way that the work was divided up, it was Ralph's responsibility to order the film. However, Ralph, who had no interest in becoming an educator, but rather, wanted to continue doing sleep research at a lab at Loma Linda University where he was already working, forgot to order the film. (Perhaps he was sleeping.) Consequently, I was left trying to figure out what to do when the film did not show up. I tried to get the film to come, but it was no use. By the time I was finished running around trying to find the film, most of the students in the lab had walked out. Young college students being as naive about teachers as they are -- yes, believe me on that -- I had absolutely atrocious ratings from my students that quarter, basically because I was a victim of a bitter professor and a careless partner. After that, I realized that I needed to be really hands-on whenever teaching, and use my conscientious nature to make sure that the course, well, stayed on course. Subsequently, it was common for professors that I worked with to comment about how conscientious, diligent and knowledgeable I was. As a T.A., I always attended every lecture along with the students, took notes, tried to learn from the instructor, and talked to students trying to help them. I probably worked much harder at my job than most of the other T.A.s, if not all of them. I figured that if at least part of my living was going to be as an educator -- and the idea of being an educator was one that I liked -- I should really throw myself into it and learn every aspect of being a competent educator.
My other really bad experience as an educator was several years later, when teaching at the California School of Professional Psychology after attaining my Ph.D. This school, known as C.S.P.P., is a private training ground for Clinical Psychologists. It offers Ph.D.s, for which a student must complete a dissertation based upon original research, and Psy.D.s, for which the student does a project which is not original research, but rather, more of a review paper. The Psy.D. degree is for people who strictly want to be clinical psychologists, with no involvement in research. Most of the students at C.S.P.P. were Psy.D. students, in fact, which seemed not particularly relevant, except that I was a research oriented Social Psychologist who was into research methods and statistics, very different from the point of view of the typical C.S.P.P. student. While I taught there from 1991-1993, I taught courses in Social Psychology, Personality Theories, and Research Methods. At first, the teaching there went okay. In fact, I got a hearty, standing ovation from my students in one of my first classes there at the semester's end. But then I made a tactical mistake. Upon the reccomendation of one of the full-time faculty, I decided to have students form groups and do a couple of presentations each. Since we only had 2 hours of class time per week, I was not sure how this would work. The answer was that it didn't. The presentations took longer than anticipated, so there was too little time left over for lecture. Once again, relying on the students to monitor their time was not working, and attempts to cut off students before their presentations were finished were not well-received. I should have stuck with one presentation at the end of the semester for each group of students, after the necessary material has been covered, the way it is usually done with good reason. In addition, there was a deranged student in one of my classes -- at a clinical psychology school. Imagine that! He was harassing several of the female students, mostly outside of class, so it was difficult for me to realize what he was doing, although I knew there was something pathological about his references to incestuous relations between sons and their mothers. (I think you know the term for that.) Eventually, I received a call from one of the faculty there, asking if I had observed any inappropriate behavior in class. I said there wasn't any that I had seen, and the professor cut me off just as I was about to backtrack and mention that the student in question had made inappropriate comments. By the way, this student was in a class which also included two identical twins, who were tall, thin, attractive Vietnamese-American young ladies with a model-type appearance. In fact, they were part-time models in their spare time. I could never tell them apart, but the deranged student had no trouble telling them apart. He "liked" one who had slightly longer hair, and harassed her, but not the other one. I guess he liked long hair -- really strange stuff. After that experience, conditions at C.S.P.P. deteriorated steadily for me.
The Psy.D. students seemed to resent my scientific background, or feel that they should learn only from Clinical Psychologists. I changed my course structure so that there were not so many presentations throughout the semester, and I had more time to lecture. I felt I was doing fine as an instructor, but word of mouth and lemming-like follow-the-most-vocal-classmate/leader mentality had taken over, and I was derogated by most of the students no matter how well I taught by the time I had finished my second year of teaching there. Believe me, there is little that is objective about student evaluations of their professors. The school decided not to ask me back, and frankly, I didn't feel like returning anyway, making long drives to Alhambra in bad traffic (with occasional greetings by horn honk and one-fingered salutations) to teach students who were personally biased against me, for minimal pay at a second rate clinical psychology program. Actually, the sad thing is that there were a considerable number of students there that I liked, who even thought of me as a mentor, and told me so, primarily students in the Ph.D. program, but there were too many students of the other kind. Thus it was that I eventually went the other direction, from teaching graduate students, to teaching community college students, who actually are more appreciative of my talents.
It is true that I have had some troublesome students at the community college where I teach, but they are far outnumbered by the more respectful students. I have always received good evaluations from the students there, when they do the evaluations, which is only one semester every 3 years. Having evaluations so seldom is fine with me. In fact, one of my biggest teaching lessons has been not to pay attention to student evaluations. They do nothing to make me a better teacher. I suspect the same is true of other educators. Basically, evaluations give students a chance to praise people they like, and snipe at ones they don't, anonymously. Since students are still learning the topic, and are not knowledgeable about teaching methods, they are not really in a good position to evaluate the instructor's effectiveness. The time to ask people to evaluate their teachers is years later, after the effects of the teachers' lessons have come to fruition, but that is not timely enough to be "practical." I feel my own self-evaluation is much more useful in improving my teaching. Discussions about teaching with other instructors, with whom I have a common experience, are also helpful. Another important skill I have learned is to calm myself, and have an even demeanor while teaching, so that I do not become addled at any time. I put things into perspective, and realize that a few troublesome students or a few bad moments here or there are not really significant in the bigger picture. Of course, the more I teach, the easier this becomes. Thus, I have a certain teaching demeanor which is very calm, cool and collected -- a demeanor which students of all backgrounds can respect and find a worthy role model. Another lesson is that I am a true role model. Some students have even told me so. That part of my job actually comes naturally to me, but it can be enhanced by the lessons I give. I do often range into philosophical, political, even spiritual discussions which can expose students to progressive ideas in a non-coercive way and allow me to model a genuinely caring lifestyle. I think this has much to do with the positive image I seem to enjoy at my school. Along with the demeanor comes a certain teaching voice. I have learned to project my voice (no microphones in our classrooms) in a natural way which is pleasant and soothing. Fortunately, I am blessed with a good sounding, pleasant voice much like my father's, but it tends to be soft unless I go into voice projection mode.
Here are some other lessons I have learned as an educator:
1. Listen to students. Sometimes, I learn something important from them. It is not a one-way operation.
2. Always be responsible toward the institution for which I teach. Turn in grades and other work I am expected to do on time. Fulfill all of my obligations as an instructor. I have never missed a class I was teaching, although once, I cancelled a class because construction workers had accidentally cut the power supply so that there was no light.
3. Concentrate on covering the material which I feel needs to be covered, and upon which the students will be tested. The material is intrinsically interesting. Some students may find it boring, but that is because they have boring, underfed minds. Summarize the material in a way that students can best understand and relate to.
4. Supplement the material by using my experiences, philosophical thoughts, and sense of humor as appropriate, when I have time, but don't overdo it.
5. Continue to refine my knowledge, both of Psychology and of teaching, with an open mind. Read my textbooks with interest.
As an educator, I am helping open up the minds of young adults (and some older adults). This makes people more open to experience, which leads to more progressive thinking. Psychology in particular is a very progressive field. Rather than measuring a society's success in terms of how much money is being passed around, or how high stock prices are, we would measure a society's success in terms of a high Happiness Index, or a low Misery Index. The happiness of a society depends upon the well-being of all citizens, not only the elite, and it depends upon us most of all, taking care of each other, so that we can thrive as individuals, at the same time free and bonded to others. Every academic field opens up our minds in one way or another, however. Science itself is a progressive force, and education transmits scientific knowledge, and other knowledge as well. Through education and the science which is promoted by education, we can find solutions to our problems. In some cases, this might mean reducing our profligate use of resources, but research on that topic is also useful. In other cases, solutions may involve the invention of new technologies, and in other cases, solutions may involve educating the public, improving our social and psychological knowledge. I am at the forefront of the psychological education of the public, something of which I am very proud.
In order to progress as a society, and have a progressive society, we must have inexpensive (preferably free) education for all! Comunity colleges are inexpensive, but even there, I encounter some students who have difficulty paying, especially for the textbooks, which are very expensive. Remember, education is an investment in our future, in particular, our progressive future and future progress. It's time we stopped investing in the gigantic gambling house known as the stock market (which I believe should not exist), and start concentrating our investments in education, infrastructure and other programs which increase our Happiness Index.
As I write this, I am preparing to give the final exam to my best-performing class ever at R.C.C., Moreno Valley Campus. There is indeed reason for optimism. And there is reason for me to think that I am doing my job, when students thank me, go on to better lives using in part the knowledge gained in my course, or give me the occasional ovation as one class did last spring. But ultimately, in agreement with my aversion to paying attention to student evaluations, it is my own self-assessment which really counts. As long as I am spreading psychology and its progressive thinking, I am satisfied that I am doing my duty as a human being.
Education is Progressive Part 4: When Failure Leads to Success
I have always been a sort of believer in miracles since I was young -- not the miracles found in religious texts, but the kind of miracle in which dreams come true through my own efforts. If I try hard enough, I can succeed where others fail; I can make good things happen. This has imbued my life with a sense of a true purpose that transcends my own self-interests, which others, even family and academics, have found difficult to understand. I suppose it is my own personal manifestation of the American spirit of optimism, but the form it takes in my case is not vying for the most prestigious possible job, such as being a Harvard Professor, or striving to acquire as much money or as many toys as possible, or be followed by a host of paparazzi everywhere I go. While money, fame and prestige might be gratiftying, my primary aspiration is to do all I can to change the world for the better, starting with my own personal life. For a few things, I believe a child can help his parents marriage, a student can help his advisor's career, a teacher can help a poor student become a good one, and a couple can make love suceed against all odds. It is my version of Carl Rogers' and Abraham Maslow's concept of self-actualization, becoming the best person I can be, the one I was meant to be -- in a sense, becoming more myself the more I live. However, I have learned the hard way that I cannot always succeed, no matter how hard I try. I have learned that true success requires learning from one's own mistakes. Most importantly, I have learned that the best miracles are the ones in which people work together to make wonderful things happen. I want to do my part in the progressive evolution of society, sharing ideas and actions in combination with other like-minded individuals.
For me, everything progressive revolves around education, or to be more precise, learning. Life is an educational process. In fact, my version of spirituality postulates that the entire universe and its divinity are evolving spiritually through a cosmic education process, an idea with which the Dalai Lama may actually agree. The remarkable thing about education is that it is the one way in which failure ultimately leads to success. A crucial aspect of education is about correcting one's mistakes. Education is the most forgiving of life experiences. If one messes up in one's job, one gets demoted or fired. If one sabotages a relationship, it will be permanently damaged if not ended. If one errs in competitive activities such as sports, one is likely to find oneself a bench warmer. If a student fails a course, at a community college at least, he or she can retake it. A student who flunks out of one school can find another school at which to pick up the pieces, if he or she so desires. I should know; I did that myself, and eventually earned a Ph. D. My failure as a student was painful, and this is a difficult matter for me to discuss, but it is important for me to do in this context and presumably therapeutic.
Actually, my intellectual gifts themselves are a miracle of sorts. I was born a month late, seriously oxygen deprived, and my parents and hospital staff were worried that I would be retarded. As it turned out, the opposite was the case. When I was young, I learned and taught myself concepts very quickly, even teaching myself basic math. I made a habit of beating my older brothers at many games, even though they were also bright students. In fact there was one game, mastermind, in which one guesses a pattern of various colored pegs, which I never lost. Perhaps it was just good strategy, or maybe it was ESP. (Hmm, maybe ESP explains my scholastic success too.) Although I don't remember my grades prior to high school, my marks were very good and I made a habit of gettting very high scores on standardized tests. However, when I was given an intelligence test for advancement to a gifted class in second grade, I found the psychologist who administered the test strange and intimidating, and consequently, did not do well enough to pass. Perhaps that is why, when offered a place in certain gifted classes in high school, I opted to stay in mainstream classes, although I did take many of the hardest non-advanced placement classes. I knew I was gifted whether or not anyone else knew it, and that was enough for me. In fact, throughout my education, I think I surprised others by doing so well. I seemed goofy and slow to most people, as well as modest and soft-spoken. Actually my demeanor may have been a result of my preoccupation with intellectual issues, perhaps complications from my late birth, or difficulty hooking up my thoughts to my speech mechnanism.
In high school, I was pretty much a star student. I had the highest point totals in many of my classes, especially during my junior and senior years. I was the star of my chemistry and physics classes, as well as my history and psychology classes. All of my grades during my senior year were "A"s. I was intellectually curious, had a natural intuitive feel for practically any topic, and had a budding renaissance-man type mind. I was also nonconforming, and determined to make my own creative path in life, resisting pressures to "get with the program" of calculated success which many of my classmates proceeded with. I suppose my determination to take a different life path from that of even my sucessful classmates was a manifestation of my optimistic belief that I could make miracles of a sort happen. During my senior year in high school, I found a college that was as unconventional as I was, Pitzer College, in Claremont, about a 45 minute drive from where i grew up. This school was a social sciences mecca with a hippie hangover from the 1960s, part of the highly regarded Claremont Colleges cluster of schools. I went there in 1977, and academically thrived there. I still am very fond of Pitzer College, in fact. While many of my classmates were partying, smoking marijuana or eating magic mushrooms, "hooking up" sexually, or having a series of boyfriends or girlfriends preoccupying their time, I was a virtuous young man who avoided all of the above -- not only to study better, but also because partying and drugs didn't interest me, and I took sexual relations very seriously -- as I pursued my education in my own unconventional way. I forged a major of my own making, which was relatively easy to do at Pitzer. The major I chose was biophysics, the application of physics to biological processes. I was primarily interested in the physics of the nervous system, and saw great potential appicability of biophysics to the study of the nervous system. I was able to take the necessary classes because we could take classes at any of the campuses in the Claremont Colleges cluster, including a place called the Joint Science Center which had courses covering various topics in the physical and biological sciences. My senior year, I applied to a couple biophysics Ph.D. programs, at the University of Washington, and the University of Michigan, and was accepted to them. I decided to go to the University of Washington's program the following year. Meanwhile, I was feeling somewhat burnt out during my senior year, becoming more introspective, and since I knew I would be going to graduate school the next year, my grades dropped to some degree that academic year. My worst classes were ones which involved a lot of memory work, such as anatomy or classes involving remembering the compoistions of various chemical compounds such as biochemistry; this had always been my weak point mentally, whereas I was outstanding with concepts and relations among conceptual or experiential information.
In the fall of 1981, I went to the University of Washington's graduate program in Biophysics. I soon found out that the core classes which we needed to pass during the first year of graduate school depended greatly upon memory -- something which I still believe is a tactical mistake made by such programs. Also, few of the courses studied the nervous system. I had somehow managed to get myself into a program which depended the most upon proficiency at what I did the worst. Since it was graduate school, any grade less than a "B" was considered not passing. Unfortunately, my grade was a "C" in several of my classes. Meanwhile, life at Mercer Hall on the campus of the University of Washington was rather distracting. Being in Washington State was a new experience for me, so I was trying to soak in the environment at the same time I was trying to pass my classes. I became close friends with another student, David, who lived in the same dorm. I also made friends with some attractive young women, whom I probably vexed by going on a date or two, then ignoring them due to my worries over my schoolwork. The penultimate moment of my year at "YouDub" was at the end of the school year when we were asked to write a research review paper. I wanted to do a good job on it, doing lots of research, but ran short on time. Consequently, the evening before the paper was due, I asked my friend David to help me by typing the paper from my sloppy notes in my messy handwriting, while I continued to work on the paper. These were the days before there were personal computers, so that mistakes were difficult to fix.
David graciously accepted the task of typing my paper, but since he had trouble reading my handwriting and was unfamiliar with the topic, made various mistakes which I could not excise from the paper. Also, I did not know references style very well, so I had many references listed at the end of the paper which I did not actually read. Since I was out of time, I turned in the paper as it was. I don't remember what the paper's topic was, but I do remember the professor who who described it as containing a litany of mistakes, and so forth. He was a very short man who studied gender issues in biology, such as hormonal problems. Something about him made me think that he was one of the people with biological gender problems that he was studying. The head of the department was a man with a hole in his forehead. It was a really strange place. A woman had her arm ripped off by a Chimpanzee. We were asked to remove Cat's brains, Rabbit organs, and poke around in Monkey brains with electrodes. A guy living in the basement of our dorm committed suicide that winter. It was an ill-fated year. I developed insomnia due to my worries, a problem I had never had before and never had since. The professor I was working with, Dr. Fuchs, was a very nice man. He had a talk with me in which he told me that he believed I had an outstanding intellect, and could succeed at academic subject I wanted to. Actually, that wasn't true, because I had just tried, and found one I couldn't succeed at. I could not perform a miracle this time. My father is a physician, and my eldest brother, Craig, a Ph.D. in biochemistry who studies genetics. They were talented at assimilating loads of information using their memories, but I, who was otherwise the agreed upon most intelligent person in a very intelligent family, missed out on that gene. At the end of the year, I was asked to leave by the executives of the Biophysics program. When I left, I left one momento to show that family was most important -- a picture of my little niece. My brother Bruce was in the Soil Science Ph.D. program at Washington State University at the time, and his daughter Shelley had been born while he was there. Bruce had conflicts with his advisor, however, and transferred to U.C. Davis, where he completed his Ph.D. In 1987, Shelley drowned at a public pool in Davis. Later on, in 1991 or 1992, I had a student named Clifford who had known Dr. Fuchs at the University of Washington. Clifford told me that Dr. Fuchs had quit his job the year after I had been there, to become some sort of Pastor.
In July 1982, I headed back to my parents' home in Riverside, California with my tail between my legs, metaphorically speaking. Nonetheless, I never lost faith in myself or my intellect. I just realized that I had my limits. I decided to study Psychology, always a major interest of mine, at U.C. Riverside. I had already taken several Psychology courses at Pitzer and done very well in them. Now, this was a topic in which I could thrive. Over the next couple of years, I took every available Psychology class that I had not already taken at Pitzer, and found that Psychology was really where my heart was. I have to think that my family, although they never put any pressure on me to major in the biological sciences, had exerted an unfortunate influence on me. Everyone of them other than myself, including my mother, had a degree in some aspect of biology. In fact, even I did, from Pitzer. Carl Rogers had spoken to me through his book "On Becoming a Person" while I was still in high school. I was to be a Psychologist. I did have a great uncle, Cree, who was a Clinical Psychologist, but virtually everyone else on either side of my family was a Biologist, Doctor, Pharmacist, Architect, Engineer, etc. They weren't into the social sciences, but I was. In fact, I think some of my relatives viewed the social sciences with disdain.
Going to school at this time was very enjoyable for me. Even taking exams was very fun for me. I had "A"s and even "A+"s in all of my classes except for one in which we were asked to do group projects, and the group's grade pulled my course grade down to a "B+." During this time, I also became a tutor for disadvantaged high school students. My transition to becoming a Psychology Instructor had begun. Meanwhile, I decided to be a Research Assistant for one of the Psychology Professors there. I wandered into the office of Carolyn B. Murray, an African-American Social Psychologist whom I had never met before, and offered her my services as a Research Assistant. I chose her because I had decided I wanted to study Social Psychology in graduate school, and I was interested in her research on academic self-handicapping and other factors in underachievement. When I had nearly completed the courses needed for a Psychology B.A. (although I did not actually receive one since I was a "special status" student), I applied to be Carolyn's graduate student, and was accepted. This was 1984. Over the next several years, I was Carolyn's graduate student. For most of that time, I think I was her only graduate student, although eventually, she did have some other ones. The other Social Psychology professors wanted to get rid of her for some reason, by denying her tenure, and I worked diligently to help her with her research, her weak point, so that she would be granted tenure. Meanwhile, I was getting offers from other professors to be their graduate student. I was told again what an outstanding intellect I had, what an outstanding author I was, and so forth. I didn't really need to hear that, but it did feel good. Classes were relatively easy for me there, even in graduate school, and I made sure I did well. Exam taking was still enjoyable. I majored in Social/Personality Psychology with minors in Quantitative Psychology (Statistics) and Comparative Psychology (animal psychology), completing my Ph. D. in March of 1991. That year, Carolyn Murray won the award for outstanding faculty of the year, and I was the first person to graduate. The Chancellor told me I was "exemplary" as she handed my Ph.D. degree to me. I felt vindicated.
It was while in graduate school at U.C. Riverside, that I fully realized the link between education and progressive politics. Carolyn Murray was an attractive, well-spoken woman who was generally pleasant in public, but in private, was politically angry and disenfranchised. She would often call Reagan, Bush or any conservative politician evil, commiserate with me about the evils of the military industrial complex, and so forth. I think the reason we talked about politics so much is that we agreed with each other. I had never really talked about politics in that way with others, even family members, so when Carolyn and I talked politics, it was like realizing for the first time who I had always been as a political entity. I also realized that Carolyn's attitudes were fairly representative of social scientists as a whole, although with more of an African-American perspective, and more righteous anger. One difference between Carolyn and myself is that, from Carolyn's upbringing, she was a devout Christian who did not believe in evolution. Perhaps her Christianity explains why she viewed so many people as "evil," whereas, I felt that people such as conservative politicians do not usually intend to do evil, but in fact do much harm because of their mistaken beliefs. Being Carolyn Murray's graduate student also helped me realize that African-Americans, and other "minorities" see a different America from the one which White Americans see. Frankly, I think it is a more accurate vision of America than the delusional one of American mythology with which White kids grow up. (By the way, my entire life, most of my friends have not been White, so I have always been very comfortable in multicultural environments.) I felt at home at U.C. Riverside, and in fact, was living at home with my parents. In April, 1986, I went to my Pitzer days friend Ted's wedding in Phoenix, AZ, where the wedding bouquet was thrown to me. (You know what that means.) Sure enough, I met the love of my life, my future wife Eunice, in June of 1986. In July of 1986, I returned to Washington State, this time Tacoma, to be best man at my friend David's wedding. This time, the state of Washington treated me better.
During my time in graduate school, I was a Teacher's Assistant for several years. Eventually, I began teaching classes on my own. I gradually learned how to be a throughly competent educator. Now I have been teaching at the local community college in Moreno Valley almost since its inception, around 14 years. Failure led to success for me. That is the nature of learning. In terms of the American electorate, I would go so far as to say that the miracle of Barack Obama's election in 2008 was made possible by the public learning from its mistake of allowing George W. Bush to be our President from 2000-2008. We worked together with Obama and his team, and made something amazing happen.
I read that Herbert Hoover had been a stunning success his entire life, until he became President of the United States. Then the nation fell into depression, and he, being unused to failure and sure that a good work ethic could solve any problem, reacted inappropriately to the crisis. He told people to work harder so they could get out of the depression. For the jobless, he thought they should just start their own businesses or some such -- typical Republican uncompassionate, money driven ideology. I can't help but think that Hoover would have been a better President had he experienced and overcome failure previously in his life. This is one thing about Barack Obama that also concerns me. His life has been characterized by astounding success in all aspects, and a meteoric rise to the Presidency. I do not think he has experienced any significant failure in his life, and I see him accepting disproven political memes which were generated by conservative political thinkers. We must as a people continue to work to help Obama turn to his populist, progressive inclinations, and help him learn from his mistakes.
I still believe in miracles, but now I believe the best miracles are the ones that require people to work together in order to achieve what they cannot accomplish as individuals. This is the basis of progressive ideology, in my view, and is the basis of the forgiving lesson of education for all. Education allows us to learn from our mistakes. We need education in one form or another for all, not just during childhood, but lifelong learning. This is the way we develop our special talents, and learn to work together and care for each other in a cooperative society. Education is indeed progressive, and it has made me the progressive person I am.
Education is Progressive Part 3: Progressive Professors
As long as I have known about higher education, I have known that education was a progressive force, and educators were largely progressive. Thus, I find it distressingly surprising that much of the public is not aware of this. In fact, this is one of my reasons for writing this series. Even among progressives, I find widespread misunderstanding of education's progressive role in society. I also find many legitimate criticisms of our educational system as it currently stands in the United States, as well as critiques of education around the world in general. I plan to address these concerns and make suggestions eventually, but first, I need to address a point which is obvious to anyone who has spent much time in our higher education system, or anyone who looks at statistics regarding the political attitudes of professors, medical doctors, scientists and others with advanced degrees. That obvious point is that those with graduate degrees represent by and large the most progressive demographic in society.
A few weeks ago, I heard Thom Hartmann on the radio citing a study of the public's knowledge of the political attitudes of professors and scientists. The study showed that the public consistently underestimated the progressiveness of these intellectuals. I tried to find this study online, but could not. I also tried to find it among the archives on the Hartmann site, but every time I try to enter his main site, my low-speed computer becomes unresponsive, although it doesn't have a problem with the Thom Hartmann Community site. Nonetheless, these findings are what I would have expected, despite the impression among many conservatives that higher education is "biased" against them, and the efforts of conservatives to increase the number of conservative university professors, and to discredit progressive-minded academia as a whole. (If you do an internet search including the words "liberal" "bias" and "university," you will see what I mean.) I did find abundant research about the political attitudes of professors and other highly educated people. In response to the bias claim by conservatives, I find it is actually a natural phenomenon that professors tend to be progressive, as I will explain later in this essay.
The general finding is that highly educated people tend to be very liberal politically. However, there are differences among various specialties in political attitudes. For example, as of 2005, 72% of full time college faculty identified themselves as politically liberal, and only 15% identified themselves as conservative. (See the note from Wikipedia at the end of this essay for more information.) In general, social scientists and educators of humanities have the most politically liberal attitudes. In some studies, social scientists are the most liberal; in others, professors of humanities topics are the most liberal, but these two areas definitely are the most liberal overall. The same 2005 study found that 81% of Humanities faculty identified themselves as liberal, along with 75% of social sciences faculty (College Faculties a Most Liberal Lot, Study Finds). Another study in 2007 found social scientists to be the most liberal group (The Social and Political Views of American Professors). As a social scientist (Social Psychologist) and Psychology Instructor, this is as I would expect. I have never known even a single social scientist to be a political conservative. Furthermore, probably over 90% of mental health professionals are on the progressive side of the political spectrum. I have never personally known a mental health professional to be a political conservative. The only conservative one I can think of is "Dr. Phil." Here's a sarcastic thanks a lot to Oprah! More than 90% of mental health professionals are progressive, and she chooses to promote a conservative bully of a mental health professional. But "Dr. Phil" is from Texas, so it doesn't surprise me that he is a Republican.
Overall, liberals outnumbered conservatives in all specialties, as well as professional research scientists and medical doctors. The most conservative specialty, distressingly but not surprisingly, is Business. In the 2007 study, conservative Business professors were slightly more numerous than progressives. However, liberals mildly outnumbered conservatives even among Buisness Professors in the 2005 study. Thus, the people who would run (and perhaps ruin) our economy are more conservative than other academics. However, I suspect that progressive ideas are gaining traction among business theoreticians, especially with recent economic developments revealing the fallacies of the dominant, free market business ideology of the past several decades. By the way, I saw nothing about the political attitudes of lawyers, which would be most informative, since attorneys dominate politics. I suspect that they are somewhat like business professors -- business oriented and narrow-mindedly analytical people who are more conservative on the average than most people with graduate degrees, much to the detriment of our political system and society. Nonetheless, attorneys probably are fairly moderate to somewhat liberal politically, on the whole, compared to the general populace.
Now that it has been established that people with advanced education tend to be on the progressive side of the political spectrum, the obvious question is: Why is this the case? Personally, I find this to be an easy question to answer. Perhaps it seems obvious to me, though, due to my own education and background. Basically, two factors are involved. The first is personality and the self-selection process; the second is the effects of education itself. Thus, a synergistic process exists in education, in which personality and intellectual attributes which make a person suited to academic life, interact with the lessons learned during the educational process itself, in order to shape a progressive mindset. To be specific, people who are high on the personality trait of open-to-experience are attracted to lifelong learning and education or scientific pursuits as a profession. This trait is one of 5 described in the currently popular trait theory of personality, the Big 5 Theory of Personality, by Costa and McCrae. Furthermore, the notion that people with high levels of education tend to be high in the open-to-experience trait is not just speculation. Research already confirms this to be the case. People who are open to experience are open-minded, tolerant, and like to explore various ideas and concepts freely. Although Costa and McCrae did not set out to create a set of traits with positive and negative poles, this is largely what emerged from their results. One side of the spectrum of a trait seems better than the other extreme in at least 4 of the 5 traits. Thus, being open to experience seems to be one of these trait outcomes which represents desirable characteristics, as opposed to its opposite, closed-mindedness. Being an intellectual is a good thing. It leads to progressive ideas, which ultimately lead to real progress.
The other, more relevant factor in the educational interaction which leads to progressivism, is the effect of education itself upon the minds of students. Education exposes people to new ideas, peoples and cultures. The farther one progresses, so to speak, in education, the more this is the case. In this essay, I have concentrated on discussing higher education, because this is where the progressive effects of education are most clearly seen. However, to a lesser extent, any and all education is progressive. Some disciplines especially expose people to progressive ideas concerning the nature of our society. These disciplines are those in the social sciences and humanities, thus, the consistent finding that those whose careers are in these disciplines generally have the most progressive attitudes out of all the academic disciplines. Those of us who are social scientists or who work in the humanities, are exposed to thinking about the nature of society, and ideas and research regarding what works and what does not. We are encouraged to think about these issues not only as part of our work, but as an integral part of the totality of our beings. For example, as my Clinical Psychologist friend Ben says, Psychology exposes us to the nurturing, caring, compassionate side of life, thus, showing us the need for progressive policies. To speak for progressive social scientists and humanities professionals as a whole, we are offended by unfairness and inequities which we are made to be aware of. We see solutions to these problems, and sometimes find that certain ones are being implemented in other nations (such as universal health care), but are frustrated to see that the United States is caught in a politically moribund system in which corporate greed rules. No matter how much we complain about what is, explain what should be, and try to make it be so, we seem to keep fighting enormous societal inertia. The election of Barack Obama has given us much hope that the tide of history is changing to a more progressive tone, but we (social scientists and humanities professors) find that although politics in the U.S. have improved considerably since Obama's election, far less progress is being made than we think should be. Yes, we are at the forefront of progressivism in society, not just for now, but always.
Even those who study topics with fewer social implications such as biological or physical sciences, or any other profession, as a graduate student, are exposed to mind-opening and often mind-boggling information and ideas. They also typically become friends with foreign students as well as domestic students with a wide variety of backgrounds and belief systems. All of these experiences serve to reinforce the trait of openness-to-experience, which in most cases, was already a fairly strong aspect of the personalities of students before they found their way into graduate school. The fact is, that there is no more progressive force in society than education, and the farther education proceeds, the more this is the case.
Postscript note: The following information is from Wikipedia on the Democratic Party.
Professionals, those who have a college education and whose work revolves around the conceptualization of ideas, have supported the Democratic Party by a slight majority since 2000. Between 1988 and 2000, professionals favored Democrats by a 12 percentage point margin. While the professional class was once a stronghold of the Republican Party it has become increasingly split between the two parties, leaning in favor of the Democratic Party. The increasing support for Democratic candidates among professionals may be traced to the prevalence of social liberal values among this group.“ Professionals, who are, roughly speaking, college-educated producers of services and ideas, used to be the most staunchly Republican of all occupational groups... now chiefly working for large corporations and bureaucracies rather than on their own, and heavily influenced by the environmental, civil-rights, and feminist movements — began to vote Democratic. In the four elections from 1988 to 2000, they backed Democrats by an average of 52 percent to 40 percent. ” A study on the political attitudes of medical students, for example, found that "U.S. medical students are considerably more likely to be liberal than conservative and are more likely to be liberal than are other young U.S. adults. Future U.S. physicians may be more receptive to liberal messages than conservative ones, and their political orientation may profoundly affect their health system attitudes." Similar results are found for professors, who are more strongly inclined towards liberalism and the Democratic Party than other occupational groups. The Democratic Party also has strong support among scientists , with 55% identifying as Democrats, 32% as Independents, and 6% as Republicans and 52% identifying as liberal, 35% as moderate, and 9% as conservative.
Academics, intellectuals and the highly educated overall constitute an important part of the Democratic voter base. Academia in particular tends to be progressive. In a 2005 survey, nearly 72% of full-time faculty members identified as liberal, while 15% identified as conservative. The social sciences and humanities were the most liberal disciplines while business was the most conservative. Male professors at more advanced stages of their careers as well as those at elite institutions tend be the most liberal. Another survey by UCLA conducted in 2001/02, found 47.6% of professors identifying as liberal, 34.3% as moderate, and 18% as conservative. Percentages of professors who identified as liberal ranged from 49% in business to over 80% in political science and the humanities. Social scientists, such as Brett O'Bannon of DePauw University, have claimed that the "liberal" opinions of professors seem to have little, if any, effect on the political orientation of students. Whether or not that is true, some conservatives and Republicans complain they are offended and even threatened by the liberal atmosphere of college campuses. As of July 2008 the Students for Academic Freedom arm of the David Horowitz Freedom Center, a conservative organization, posted a list of 440 student complaints, most of which pertain to perceived liberal bias of college professors (Abuse Center). The liberal inclination of American professors is attributed by some to the liberal outlook of the highly educated. Those with graduate education, have become increasingly Democratic beginning in the 1992, 1996, 2000, 2004, and 2008 elections. Intellectualism, the tendency to constantly reexamine issues, or in the words of Edwards Shields, the "penetration beyond the screen of immediate concrete experience," has also been named as an explanation why academia is strongly democratic and liberal. Although Democrats are well-represented at the post graduate level, self-identified Republicans are more likely to have attained a 4-year college degree. The trends for the years 1955 through 2004 are shown by gender in the graphs below, reproduced with permission from Democrats and Republicans — Rhetoric and Reality, a book published in 2008 by Joseph Fried.These results are based on surveys conducted by the National Election Studies, supported by the National Science Foundation.
Education is Progressive Part 2: Blame Reagan, Not the Regents
Due to recent events, my Education is Progressive series will take a slight detour. The big news here in California was that thousands upon thousands of University of California students were protesting a 32% increase in tuition which yesterday, the Board of Regents approved for next year. Apparently, the Board of Regents meeting at which the tuition increase was approved was held at the UCLA campus. Thus, thousands of students were trying to block them from leaving the building, and generally harassing them for their decision. This was of course, a predictable reaction on the part of the students. They are justified in their anger. Tuition rates will now be over $10,000 per year at the U.C. system. That does not include room and board for on-campus resident students, or books for anybody.
Large tuition increases have been annual over many years, so that tuition as a whole has skyrocketed out of control, but never has any one annual increase been so large. As a product of the U.C. system, I can make a personal comparison. I went to U.C. Riverside, taking undergraduate courses for a couple of years, then graduate courses, beginning in 1982 until I finished my Ph.D. in 1991. Tuitions during this period were approximately in the range of $2000 per year, perhaps $3000 per year by the time I was finished, and those were graduate school tuitions, which are higher than undergraduate tuitions. Furthermore, we were paid Teachers' Assistants as graduate students, which paid us much more than the amount of the tuition. The Teachers' Assistant pay was approximately $10,000 per year as a part-time job and training program while attending graduate school. My older brothers attended the U.C. university system prior to me, when there were tuition fees, but they were even lower than when I went to school there.
While the current economic crisis in California is partly to blame for the current tuition increase, and the situation warrants anger, I feel that the protesters are misplacing the blame for the situation. The roots of California's current tuition crisis traces back to Ronald Reagan's policies when he was California's Governor, well before he became the President. When Reagan became California's Governor in the 1960s, public education was free. Reagan's self-centered, short-sighted conservative mindset found it objectionable that public funds were being paid to invest in the future of our citizens by sending them to college. Reagan famously said that he didn't want to pay for other people's children to go to university and protest his policies. That was right before he said "If you've seen one tree, you've seen them all," so we might as well chop down all those big Redwood Trees and make a profit. Although there still is some state funding for higher education in California, the amount of funding was decreased considerably by Reagan, and apparently, the funding continues to decrease. Thus, the "fees and fines as economic policy" (another one of my blog post topics) kicks in. In order to make up the funding shortfall, politicians and administrators must raise fees such as tuition, parking fees and fines, room and board, book prices, anything they can to collect enough money. The difference is that the money is now being collected from students, who basically cannot afford it and usually wind up with huge debts by the time they finish school, and their overstressed and financially overstretched parents, rather than having the cost equitable distributed among the entire population, on a sliding scale, with the wealthy paying the most. In the conservative mindset, the current, dysfunctional system of "pay as you go" is more fair than the publicly funded system. This shows how demented their thinking is. The progressive mindset finds the public funding, free education method to be more fair, and that is indeed the more functional way to invest in our future.
The most distressing thing about this situation, historically speaking, is that California used to be a great leader in progressive policies. That had the correct policy long ago, but Reagan, and his supporters, would not allow that to continue. In order to correct the problem with our educational system, and to reinvest in our future, all we would have to do is return to pre-Reagan policies, but now that the "cat is out of the bag," it has become politically difficult to return, because it would mean higher state tax rates. Add to that, our current economic situation, which is the result of conservative policies, worsens the situation by creating budget shortfalls and depriving many citizens of adequate income. Any further increases in taxes for the middle class would be correspondingly more difficult for them to absorb.
I am not into extreme displays of anger suggesting violence, but I would not blame any Californian for burning Ronald Reagan's image in effigy, or cursing him in his grave. Remember, though, Reagan had a great deal of help in deconstructing the progressive political system which worked so well in California prior to him becoming its Governor. We must put the blame where it is due, which in many cases means blaming one's own parents who supported Reagan's policies and voted for him and other conservative politicians. Ironically, they helped to create this mess, which now plagues their children and grandchildren. And we must blame the corporations which advocated Reagan as a celebrity politician, and benefited financially from his political success. Finally, we must blame Reagan's political allies and proteges, one of whom is a celebrity muscleman who occupies the state capital at this time, and many of whom have dominated American politics since the 1980s, having bamboozled into supporting their policies, enough of the public to win the majority of their elections.
Education is Progressive Part 1
A strange thing just happened. I found a twenty dollar bill on my driveway. Unfortunately, it was only Monopoly money. It reminded me of my paycheck as a half-time Community College Instructor. Actually, my pay is not that bad, but it certainly isn't good, either.
This is the last of 3 series about some important, often overlooked factors which I consider to be progressive. The first was love, which also includes prosocial emotions such as compassion and empathy. The second was evolution, which includes biological, cultural, and spiritual elements. As such, evolution also includes the progressive arc of history, in terms of cultural and spiritual evolution, at least.
Today, I ask the question: What would the world be like if there were no formal education? Exactly how society would be had formal education never developed is impossible to answer, naturally, but one may make some educated, so to speak, guesses. First, I wish to qualify this discussion: With the progressive trend of history, it was inevitable that sooner of later, formal education would evolve. But for the sake of discussion, let us assume that it never did evolve. The first place I would look for clues as to how a society without formal education would be, is to examine specific cultures which have never developed formal education. To no one's surprise, all of these societies are notably primitive in nature. One can infer that formal education at least is a correlate of the modernization and technological sophistication of a society. Further, I assert that formal education is necessary to grow an increasingly technological culture, and a lack of formal education would limit a culture to an occasional, somewhat random technological discovery, perhaps by chance, perhaps by self-educated, intellectually bright individuals. However, without a well-educated populace, it would be difficult to implement very much technological change, because few people could master the use of new technologies without the necessary background. Also, the infrastructure needed for widespread technological change would be absent.
Some may argue that primitive societies have admirable qualities which should be copied. This is only true of certain cultures and certain practices among those cultures, so that would be a matter of "cherry picking" the best cultural traits of the many past and present primitive cultures around the world. Some primitive societies are peaceful and offer much to admire, but other ones are violent, bellicose, and have practices which are clearly vile to an educationally enlightened mind. I would assert that overall, life is much better and more civil than in primitive times, and that formal education is the main means by which society becomes more enlightened. Education is the conduit through which the progressive arc of history runs. It leads people to reject regressive ways of thinking and behaving such as enslavement, hereditary hierarchical structure in society, racial, ethnic and gender bias, reliance on blind acceptance of religious beliefs, for example, and leads people to think in a more fair-minded, egalitarian manner. I doubt that many of us would really rather live in the uneducated world of the past, at least not if we knew what it was really like.
Second, without a formal educational process, the population would largely be illiterate, much as it used to be before the widespread implementation of formal education. There could be a small, literate elite class which learns to read and write from parents, tutors, and self-training. However, without general literacy, the written word would carry little power. Not only would that make learning new technologies difficult, but new ideas of any kind would be stymied. They could only spread by word of mouth, which does not allow for a careful examination process in the same way that written words do. In a largely illiterate society, there always seems to be a ruling elite which is literate. Literacy empowers people. However, this situation is not permanent, for 2 reasons. First, and most importantly, education causes the downfall of the very hierarchical social structure which it helped to create. Once educated, people cannot help but think that education should be universal, since empowering people through learning is one of the lessons of education, and universality in the common bond of humanity is another. The second reason is that those who wish to implement technology, whether motivated by profit, or the wish to bring progress to all, need an educated populace in order to do so. In fact, these are the very factors which lead the educated elite of the world to endeavor to make their knowledge, and more, available to all in the first place -- an inevitable result of education's knowledge, I would say. Add to this, the fact that it is only natural for everyone to desire education.
Thus, my best guess about how the world would be without any formal education is that it would resemble a medieval world of lords and serfs, with slavery and meaningless wars being prevalent. Technological progress would proceed only at a snail's pace, so to speak, if even that. I don't think the entire world would be illiterate, and have to pass on information directly from elders to children, because the evolution of written language and the cultural transmission of information through some sort of education was inevitable. In fact, written language, at least in a hieroglyphic manner, has independently evolved in various cultures around the world. However, even with a form of written language, without formal, widely available education, few people would have the opportunity to reap the benefits of the written word. Those few who could do so, would be largely male, and members of a ruling class (although females of the ruling class would eventually make sure they were literate too). It would amount to a very autocratic society, perhaps even more so than that found in medieval times, because the limiting of literacy and education to a small class of people would become thoroughly entrenched in the culture over time. This would be the complete opposite of a progressive society. Fortunately, this was something which was bound not to happen. Both the educated, and the uneducated inevitably found it desirable to make education available to all.
Next time, I will discuss the realities of how becoming educated makes most people more progressive-minded. Following that, I will describe how my own family's education and my personal educational journey have molded me into the progressive person I have become, or rather, made me realize the progressive person I have always been.