Thursday, May 12

Peak Snake Oil

Amy Chua "Tiger Mom: Here's how to reshape U.S. education". May 10

FULL Disclosure: 1) I am married to a high school teacher, and an excellent one, according to peer review, not my biased opinion. "Dedicated teacher" is a redundancy. You're nowhere near as dedicated to your craft as she is to hers. God knows I ain't. To find greater dedication you need to reference, e.g., the dedication Amy Chua has for self-promotion. 2) All I know about Oprah Winfrey is forced into my head despite my trying to turn it when I see something coming. If Amy Chua isn't an Oprah creation she should be. I probably should add, in the spirit of disclosure, that I also "know", in the metaphysical sense, that Ms Winfrey will spend her next six lifetimes, at minimum, as a mutant amphibian squashed on the roadway by the increasingly rusted hulk of one of those cars she gave away, just after mating with Dr. Phil and his barbed penis. No, I don't mean the reincarnated Dr. Phil. 3) It's good to get educational advice from a professional woman who is now known by the sort of nickname we used to give Lady Rasslers. 4) It's also good that the Ivies now have a noble successor to Erich "Love Story" Segal. 5) As a bloggo-American, I will admit that my concern with the average test scores of the average middle-school student in America pales in comparison to my concern over what long-term effect reading the opinions of law school professors is having on my colon health. You'd think that Amy Chua might consider recent graduates of Patrick Henry School of Law running the Justice Department with minimal guidance from Republican toadies and torture enthusiasts to be worthy of the occasional Op-Ed piece, wouldn't you?

But that wouldn't help the franchise. Professor Chua doesn't engage in teacher-bashing here. Thank Heaven for small favors. She remains mostly positive, which is to say she comes across as one of those Liberals who's internalized the partisan gripes of the Right without seeming to notice where they came from or what they serve. PISA scores! Teen pregnancy! Drug use! It's like we're suffering from a Strategic Sunday Sermon shortage or somethin'.
The secret to America's global success has always been its ability to attract the best human capital from around the world.

The secret to our domestic success? Cheap labor and smallpox.
We won the race for the atomic bomb by harnessing the genius of scientists fleeing Europe, such as the Hungarian Edward Teller, the Italian Enrico Fermi, and, of course, the German Albert Einstein.

Oh for cryin' out tigermotherfucking out loud, we go right to the A bomb? Isn't this a corollary of Godwin?

Listen, just for the record: The Bomb is not exactly the best choice of a cliché to begin with, and that's before we mention that using it as touchstone at all relies on swallowing two pieces of quasi-propaganda. First, the idea that because there was a race to develop an atomic bomb that the competitors ran neck-and-neck; the Germans, in fact, were headed the wrong way out the stadium. Of course we didn't know that at the time, but we know it now. Second, that dropping two atomic bombs on Japan caused the Japanese government to recognize the awesome power of science unleashed by America's Innate Superiority and surrender. It didn't. What realists there were in the Japanese government already knew the war was lost, and were clinging to the wild hope of the Soviets re-signing their neutrality pact and brokering a peace. The Soviets did the opposite. They renounced the treaty, and declared war on Japan the day after Nagasaki.

As for the rest of that mythology, it's true that in face of the enormity of Hitler many scientists became weapons manufacturers who unquestionably would not have otherwise; all except Strangelove Teller, pretty much. (A lot of 'em went to England first; once the US entered the war it subsumed the British program.) Einstein later called signing that famous letter to Roosevelt the biggest mistake of his life. Fermi denounced the development of the H-bomb. For chrissakes, if The Bomb isn't the perfect example of how Education has to mean something more than Math and Science proficiency, desperately has to mean something like Human proficiency, I don't know what does.

By the way, it's interesting that we destroyed Japanese war industry, and hundreds of thousands of the people who worked there, with conventional bombing, but nobody ever says Thank God America developed napalm! Okay, hardly anybody.
But now more than ever, intolerance is the wrong mind-set. Our children will inherit a world of fierce global competition, and we need to do our best to prepare them. Like it or not, child-rearing is inextricably intertwined with our nation's future. At stake is not just our children's well-being but the durability of the American Dream. Instead of ripping into each other, we should follow America's traditional formula for success: building on what we do well while being open to what works elsewhere and bringing it to America.

I thought we were an immigrant magnet? I thought our strength was that evergreen superiority of our own system, and the pools of money available to hire tech-savvy foreigners? Sure, maybe The American Dream is tied to GDP, somewhat, but I'd like to know when the two became congruent.

Can we divorce this from the Retail Parenting Advice crapola? (Or not; mass-marketed anxiety epidemics are one of the things we do really well.) You want your children to succeed, as defined by Money; you believe the key to this, ten or fifteen years down the road, will be math, science, and reading proficiency.

But who says? If the idea of America as a meritocracy is anything more than wishful thinking that idea is being seriously challenged by the erosion of the middle class. Getting a degree--perhaps, now, an advanced degree--in math or the sciences is probably a good entree to finding high-paying employment. Assuming that's what you want to do, and assuming that Money is the accepted Gold Key to Paradise. But it ain't. If you wanna make money in America, inherit some. Or write some piece of popular self-help trash.
The average American child spends 66% more time watching television than attending school.

Then we really should be trying to make television smarter.
In the recent Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) tests, American high school students ranked 17th in reading, 23rd in science and 31st in math — with Asian nations taking top marks.

Thank God we still lead the world in Imagining Everything Is Quantifiable.

Listen, Professor: two generations ago states across the South responded to Brown by shuttering their public schools. That continued a centuries-long tradition of the worst sort of racism imaginable. It was, in much of this country and for much of our history, against the law to teach a colored person to read. Any who managed to get an education in spite of it all did not "succeed" in any absolute sense. This is the fucking reality of circumstances still faced by African-Americans in this country. Yet in the (still) most economically stratified country in the developed world, self-satisfied American Exceptionalists now object to paying for the improvement in minority education we've only begun to effect in the past couple decades. We don't have an homogenized population, and we don't--to our continuing shame--have an educational system offering equal opportunity for every citizen. The refusal to acknowledge this--the refusal to acknowledge it above all--is odious, no matter how good you imagine your for-profit intentions to be.

And if we're going to take the PISA results as something they aren't, then let's do so. In the 2009 PISAs the United States, one of the most culturally diverse countries on the planet, one with a pretty deplorable history regarding education, but one which is also the birthplace of the idea of universal education, scored higher than, for example, Liechtenstein, Sweden, Germany, Ireland, France, Chinese Taipei, Denmark, the United Kingdom, Hungary, Portugal, Macao-China, Italy, Latvia, Slovenia, Greece, Spain, and the Czech Republic.

I'd say that's a damn fine record. Improvable? Maybe, but that shouldn't come at the expense of turning public education into one-dimensional parrot farms. We need musicians and writers and painters and dancers, too, and we need people to teach the next generation of them. Bombs, lady, we already got enough of. Though if you'd really like us to move up seventeen places next year…


bob_is_boring said...

"Thank God we still lead the world in Imagining Everything Is Quantifiable."

Fuck and yes, Mr Riley.

also, too:

"We need musicians and writers and painters and dancers, too, and we need people to teach the next generation of them."

That there's the bit that ain't jibe with capitalism, which says that we don't need any of those fucking things if they aren't profitable; we need only walled compounds and guns to keep out the po' people.

I think I liked it better when we were using the arguably more benign strategy of _cultural_ capitalism/imperialism.

Anonymous said...

This is a woman who faked test scores to make it look like her 'ideas' (those are irony-quotes, not scare-quotes) had Turned Washington DC Around.

Which is to say, to address the content of anything she writes is to make a fundamental error: there's no there, there.

Anonymous said...

As a high tech worker I can tell you that advanced degrees in math and science are not a sure path to wealth or even sure employment. I have spent a good portion of the last few years training and managing my replacements in India. They work for about 20% of the same staff here, which is a good thing since it takes at least 3 of them do do the work of one American (seriously thats the math the fortune 50 company I was working for used). And they are moving into off-shore legal staff so there goes that profession too. High-speed networks and electronic imaging will allow medical consulting long distance.

Welcome to third-world America!

Anonymous said...

The libertard/conservatard alliance on education has but one goal: the destruction of public education in America.

They want to return to those golden days of antebellum Southern life. Only the wealthy educated their children, everyone else was cheap labor for the masters of the plantations.

Today we have the masters of the universe who have decided to fund a fight to make America and ignorant, backward duplicate of feudal Europe and plantation third-world banana republics.

satch said...

Hey, I grew up during the fifties watching Walt Disney's favorite Nazi, Werner Von Braun, explaining rocketry on Sunday evenings. You know... back when TV was good for you. Yep, we sure can attract talent.

-dg said...

This is a woman who faked test scores to make it look like her 'ideas'...

Late to the party, but in fairness, the horrifying Tiger Mom, Amy Chua, is not the corrupt schools test score slimeball, that would be Michelle Rhee.