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Race to the bottom

By Michael J. Smith on Tuesday October 26, 2010 11:32 PM

IOZ calls our attention to this remarkable piece of Parson Thwackum rumination in the New York Times:

48th Is Not a Good Place

The National Academies, the country’s leading advisory group on science and technology, warned in 2005 that unless the United States improved the quality of math and science education, at all levels, it would continue to lose economic ground to foreign competitors.

The situation remains grim. According to a follow-up report published last month, the academies found that the United States ranks 27th out of 29 wealthy countries in the proportion of college students with degrees in science or engineering, while the World Economic Forum ranked this country 48th out of 133 developed and developing nations in quality of math and science instruction.

Many questions crowd to mind here. What were the raw scores, and how were they obtained? How big is the gap between Number One and Number Forty-Eight? Is Number One at, like, 100, and Number Forty-Eight at 20? And if so, where's everybody else? Down in the minus-300s, maybe? Or is Number One at 100 and Number 48 at 98, with everybody else spread out at the third decimal place in between? (Which amounts to the same thing, of course, once the stats are normalized.)

One thing it seems the National Academies are academies of is propagandistic number-doctoring, not to say witch-doctoring.

In a 2009 survey, nearly a third of this country’s manufacturing companies reported having trouble finding enough skilled workers.
Poor babies! You mean they're not finding workers ready-made to their requirements at no cost to themselves? They might have to spend some time and effort training people in the specific skills that these exploitation mills require? The horror!

This math-and-science fetish is very strange. It's utterly at variance with everybody's daily experience. We've all seen at first hand this process of replacement: the old Amurrican gets replaced by the twenty-something from India. There may be cases -- maybe even a thousand or two, coast to coast, in the last five years -- where this happens because the young Indian guy can explain Heisenberg's uncertainty principle better than his sclerotic Anglo counterpart. But this is quite rare. Mostly, it's because the young Indian guy is willing to work harder, for less money, than the obsolete antediluvian fossil he's replacing, who grew up -- spoiled brat that he is -- expecting things like a forty-hour week, and some vacation time, and health insurance, and a pension.

On the other hand, if the credentialling sector can make some money out of this race to the bottom, selling apotropaic magical gold stars guaranteed by the Academy Of Witch Doctory to drive away the unemployment demons -- well, why not? In this economy, you sell what you can, for whatever the market will bear.

Comments (14)

Brian M:

I just want to say that this post is all kinds of awesome. I'm so sick of hearing that we all need to spend time sitting in a classroom (or...modern people that we are, staring at a flatscreen monitor) listening to some dude drone on and on. Especially if I were in Oxtrot's classroom and he wapped his ruler over my knuckles for bringing an iPhone into his precious stoa of wisdom.

"Education" as the answer to everything.


well said brian b
the university of 2010
is the monastery of 1520

Monk's robes have been replaced with PJs.

I'm so glad my kids have shown zero interest in the mathematical arts, that way I won't have to waste energy trying to dissuade them from such a volatile employment field.

Michael Hureaux:

I don't know about math and science ratings world wide, but I do know that the heavy focus on these scores in the high schools is strengthening a generation of students on the underside of a multi tiered school system who pay minimal attention to language arts or social history curricula, because "they can't see what any of it has to do with them". This "critique" will apply to any piece of literature you hand them, whether its urban memoir like John Fante, Luis Rodriguez or Wanda Coleman, or classic Young people are many times so exhausted by high stakes test culture that they are indifferent to any form of thinking about text which requires them to do anything but "look for the answer". In short, the current "reform" effort is doing a magnificent job of shutting down divergent thinking in both the urban and rural poor. It's really something to see, if you like traffic accidents.

The very "standards" and ratings you've mentioned are based largely upon test data, which any quality teacher will tell you is reflective solely of a student's ability to take tests. Whether they are able to think about a number of strategies when they are confronted by a question is another matter. And isn't the latter a worthy goal of public education? Not anymore. It's all about "the economy of the 21st century", which, near as I can tell, seems to be people learning to numb themselves to their objective need for pensions, days off, reasonable working hours, vacations, etc. At least, that seems to be happening to most of my younger colleagues in the profession. "It's about the kids" goes the Seattle School District Slogan. Oh, mercy, mercy me. Things ain't what they used to be. Patriotism, I'm finding out, is the second to last refuge of scoundrels. The culture of the usurer, decked out in pretty language about schooling young people, is the actual last refuge of scoundrels.

There is a virtual disconnect between the new geniuses who drive this discussion, and the young people we are supposedly serving. Better than half the students in this building are unfamiliar with our second principal- we have three full time administrators in this program that serves fewer than 500 students, and two of them are full time principals- anyway, half of the students in this building don't even know their second principal by name. And principals are expensive in a time when urban programs are having a hard time paying for quality texts and materials, but never mind, it's about the kids.

One of my students the other day, a very beautiful young woman with a great deal of potential, but unable to tear herself away from the knucklehead world which surrounds this community, gave me quite a wake up call yesterday. After three days of independent research on skin color and caste- or the brown paper bag test of the old black south, she was unable to explain how skin color could possibly have effected the social standing of earlier generations of blacks. Her group had been discussing this history as part of the contextual study we have been doing alongside our current reading of Toni Morrison's "The Bluest Eye". She informed me she didn't understand, didn't care that she didn't understand, and she thought it was very funny that I cared as much as I did. And I'd be laughing too, normally, but I've heard this joke before, and I didn't think it was funny the first time.



"unable to tear herself away from the knucklehead world which surrounds this community...."

very complex notion that

the k world that "surrounds"
her community .. is in 4D
and the community is only in 3D

"... She informed me she didn't understand, didn't care that she didn't understand, and she thought it was very funny that I cared as much as I did ..."

not sure slamming doors is a limiting response if it's to someone
perceived to be a correctional practitioner
that drinks odd tasting kool aide

communication received eh ???


if the compulsory public schools are taken as is by the day go inmates
what are they??

certainly not about getting folks
where they wanna go or to where they wanna be

choice doesn't exist

a place to fail ..great !!!
and you have to go there
beyond say 12 maybe 14
bad enough before that
when its corrective
after that its main intent
for all but the sifted few
is punitive
yup not even corrective
not even cowing
not even attaching handles
its lashings


at least at a job site they pay you
and don't pretend its all done to serve you

the barber shop services you
the gas station the fast food joint
the movie house they serve you
high school butt fucks you


so why is the university the ogre in this tale and not the high school itself ??

maybe because
public high school
as we know it
is the reflexive byproduct
of the public university


the only thing worse
in our merit class hemisphere
then the credentialling process
is the awards process

winning makes obummers
out of formerly
worthy stock

Brian tries, fails. News at 11.

Marginally related: video recently posted by Proyect on the humanities at colleges, made with the program that Pez Candy site uses.

I can tell you from first hand experience that you are A Double One Fucking Correct MJS.

Unfortunately this is all well known within the industry and there's still not a goddamn thing you can do about it.

Except work like an Indian for Indian wages.

Oh... one other thing while I'm thinking of the subject.

There are two things Obama as done that make me stop short of thinking he is the devil himself.

A) Called off the dogs on medical marijuana dispensaries

B) Raised the fees for H1-B visas (guest work visas mostly used by Indian workers)

Don't get me wrong, he's captive of the corporate machine and all but these are two small things he's done that weren't evil.

All the rest... evil as hell. But hey, we take what we can get.


Credit where credit is due and all.

Brian M:

Charles....Go back and read your earlier screeds about how in YOUR classroom there will be none of this pop culture or newfangled electronic thingamabobs. No siree. Achtung! LOL. Authoritarian much?

So explain to me how I "fail", oh succesful one?

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