Thursday, March 26, 2009

Obama's Next Stink Hole: Educational Performance Testing

Will it be possible to test public school students to improve the educational system?87

A Proposal for A New Direction in Public School Student Testing

The “No Child Left Behind” idea has probably spun out its last ideological talking point. The ill fated program’s most destructive quality was that it provided way too much fertile ground for ideological “talk show” nit picking from both sides. It will die quietly among the corpses of other momentary political educational “snake oil” cure-alls dating back at least as far as the Eisenhower years.

All these programs died from the same pair of plagues. The first was that none of them could breathe itself into life without funding. Whatever funding was proposed was gradually eliminated by questionable Congressional opinions about results. The second was that none of these legislative efforts could present proof of effectivity adequate for its own political protection. There were never any credible, unassailable test results to substantiate progress which could survive the Congressional looting operations.

Now, President Obama has, predictably, propped education up as one the legs of his three legged stool. He has even dared to trot out the seemingly good idea of merit pay for good teachers, a traditional bipartisan "meat-puppet" fun factory with a history of utterly destructive results. No one in Congress from either side of the aisle can agree on a concrete approach for testing public school students or school teachers.

The truly new feature of the debate this time around comes not from the studied educators but from the headlines of the newspapers still surviving that industry’s head long slide into the irrelevance of its neo-con news manipulation. The United States, in a performance record eerily similar to our health care disaster, spends the most money for the worst out comes (36th in the industrial world in most areas) from public education. Today, we require neither a wizened old educational expert or a tax craving politician to tell us that the public schools are a mess. The Chinese, Scandinavians, Europeans and Asians are running laps around our graduates.

That is what our testing vacuum has led us into as a nation which was originally famous for its innovative public education. Facts on the ground always trump expert educational opinions if the media presents them to the American people. These current educational “facts on the ground” are all around us in a troubling, unavoidable way, yes, just like a herd of homesick wildebeests in the parlor.

So far we have managed to fill in the gaps left by the shortage of our own educated workers by siphoning off the best from Eastern Europe, India, China and other places where education is still being taken seriously. However, with the waning purchasing power of the new “Paulson” dollars, that solution may well be ending. In recent years we have focused most of our attention on exporting colonial, greedy aberrations of our export style of free market capitalism and crooked elections and the rest of the world has returned the favor by supplying the best and brightest of its chemists, doctors, mathematicians, physicists and programmers to run our country.

The dilemma with educational testing has a few issues in common with the wildebeest problem. Just as was the case with medieval martyrs who were to be torn apart by bulls attached to each arm and leg, the educational testing quandary is characterized by its own four, self-serving flesh tearing bulls. We will consider a definition of precisely who those parties might be in modern terms, then we will look at a possible -- and delightfully simple -- solution to the whole affair of sensible educational testing.

Flesh Tearing Bulls Type One: The dogmatic, ideological arsonists.

This bunch is always willing to rant about big government intervention in the educational system. The threat they harness so effectively is to suddenly arise during elections with their prepackaged inflammatory rhetoric. They are able to convert any outcome, good, bad, or indifferent, related to changes in the educational system to a creeping, liberal contamination of traditional American values, those would be values such as illiteracy. More importantly, they seem to be consistently able to do this at election time.

Consequently, these ideological arsonists, already suspiciously under educated, are able to impose their “fire up the crowd” generalities at just the most strategic moment, term and after term, repopulating the legislative bodies of the House and Senate with more talking point zombies.

Flesh Tearing Bulls Type Two: The "free market" educational profiteers.

By sustaining their influence with copious campaign contributions, this crowd is able to sell text books and tests of incomprehensibly low quality to school boards, state legislators and governors. The secret of accomplishing this travesty year after year lies in the careful marketing of the content of these books of theirs and the emphasis implied by the questions in the tests they provide.

This means that such obsolete concepts as a 6,000 year old earth, tax and spend liberals, historically justified wars of aggression and the like can be injected into public school text books on a “pay as you play” basis. The procurement offices of state and local governments purchasing these text books and tests are only too happy to get an opportunity to “reinforce societal norms” with the both the content of these shabby, confusing standardized books and the rather shadowy “right answers” which correspond to the shabby, confusing standardized tests.

Flesh Tearing Bulls Type Three: The Ensconced Educational Credentialists

This bunch seeks primarily glory, but very often find tenured job security a close second. If they are able to insinuate their consistently ineffective educational ideas into the testing system, their credentials as absolutely indispensable, educational geniuses are sustained. This may seem silly, but these Type Three Bulls actually labor constantly in the hope of complicating things so profoundly that the test questions they might approve have twisted, tormented baggage so circumnavigatory that graduate logic students would simply surrender when they read them.

The effect of this priority on typical public school students is to train their young minds to the elaborate "agenda dodging" tactics necessary to survive the test questions at the expense of what most tax payers would consider legitimate educational materials. Having materially failed at designing effective educational systems, these “parasites of complexity” have adopted a last, desperate ambition to keep all educational policy issues -- and test questions -- so complex that only they can interpret the results, an interpretation which, not surprisingly, usually suggests educational successes based on their plans.

Flesh Tearing Bulls Type Four: The Insistent Anti Intellectuals.

Although this group may also provide denizens of Type One when properly groomed by campaign strategists, or even otherwise, they are numerous -- and vociferous -- enough to qualify as an independent category. They prefer to compare all contemporary education systems with imaginary ones which have been dredged up from their memories of their own childhood. Of course, 95% of ideas introduced by them with phrases such as “In the old days ..” or “When I was young...” are entirely fabrications of equally unexamined appetites for a return to “The good old days...” In fact, these memories of theirs are not memories of their youth at all, but rather no more than poorly detailed constructs which have been placed in their minds by others (Types Two and Three).

Incredibly, these test complainers, considering their own uncertain educational status, would actually prefer that public school students not be educated too effectively. The prospect of losing an argument with one of their children is vastly more threatening to them than creating a nation where education is completely below the standards of its industrial competitors.

The Flesh Tearing Bulls have thwarted every attempt to adopt a rational testing program which might provide for merit pay for good teachers, lead to the selection of reasonably truthful textbooks or even provide some rational means to direct Federal educational subsidies beyond the current “graft and extraction schemes.” We might recall that George and Laura Bush “contributed” $10,000 to the Katrina emergency funds to restore education in that ravished city. What we might not recall is that this altruistic couple selected a gospel based history text written by the President’s brother as the exclusive “educational material” to be purchased with their money.

Somewhere, almost certainly, there was a test available to measure the success of that, ah, text book. Can we guess what sorts of answers might have been the “right answers” for public school students taking that test?

So how can we solve this testing problem? We have very confidently exhausted the more ideologically biased, the more expensive and profitable, the more credentialist innovated and the more anti-intellectual options. In various times and in various school districts we have experimented with every one of those approaches, and the result was a uniformly skeptical electorate which had reasonably concluded that none of their results measured any more than which interest had threatened or paid off the purchasing department most effectively.

What kind of test can actually measure educational progress? Certainly nothing similar to these previous cynical attempts. It will have to be a new approach, and here it is.

1. Unmanageable question selections.

The proposed test should present roughly 15,000 questions with topics scattered in an entirely random sequence. There should absolutely not be an English, history, literature, mathematics, civics or science section. Everything should be entirely mixed. A wildly uncontrollable collection of questions will end forever the lament of those who claim that testing means “teaching to the test.” No teacher can “teach” to this test.

2. No Grade Level Testing

There should be no implied educational level for any of the questions. In the body of the 15,000 questions should be plenty of choices for both first graders and seniors in high school. The public school students taking the tests will select the questions they want to take the risk of answering. The number of correct answers minus the number of incorrect ones will establish the educational status of the student. There will be no “upper” or “lower” limits on the knowledge level of the student respondent. If a senior scores at the tenth grade level or a third grader scores at the eighth grade level, so be it. The tests will have begun to generate some credible results which can actually be useful in tailoring an education for actual students, not theoretical ones.

3. Incorporate Real Critical Thinking

Probably the most lethal attack on measurement of critical thinking occurred when test results became little boxes to be filled in to answer multiple choice questions. The message of that “leap to efficiency” was that essay questions were simply too expensive to grade, and hence, not revelatory. Further, one unavoidably valid feed stock of critical thinking is the width of the spectrum of information available to the thinker. The Type Three folks have effectively controlled this area of testing for long enough. The results, with or without their confusing excuses, are abundantly -- and discouragingly -- clear.

4. Include Easy and Hard Questions

The test questions can have weighted difficulty. The first graders will be attracted to the one and two point variety, the juniors and seniors to the five and ten point variety. There won’t be enough time for a senior to select all the grade school questions and emerge with a good score. In fact, there won’t be time for any student to answer more than 10% or 15% of the questions in the difficulty -- and point -- range which will yield a good score on the test. That is the point. By selecting the questions they will attempt to answer from the vast number of questions offered, each student will effectively configure his own test. Good test results require a wide open testing process without preconceived limits.

5. Totally Random Question Selection

Let all the experts interested in participating submit their own questions. A good, rough estimate of the number of questions needed in the resource collection would be, say, 250,000. By the way, that would be 250,000 per year. Each annual test should be taken at random from a new, fresh collection of 250,000 possible questions. If the random questions selected are accidentally weighted toward a certain age group, the results can be quite rationally adjusted without impacting the objectivity of the effort. On the other hand, with 15,000 questions presented to students in the final form of the test, such a coincidental shift would be rather unlikely.

The testing regime could easily be spread over a three day period with 5,000 fresh, random questions being presented each day. If that approach was too exhausting, the tests could be issued in 1,000 question sets on fifteen school days distributed throughout the year or even at varying rates for students from different age groups. There would be no cheating, no prepping and very little arguing about the results. When such tests were administered annually on a nationwide student population, district by district comparisons might well prove chilling, indeed.

Legitimate testing results would deliver usable and effective data for directing and targeting the efforts of the entire public -- and private -- educational system. When test results are finally lifted above the contentious, yelling Bulls who have managed to neutralize every effort so far, we might see some material advances we urgently need in our national educational product. Until then, we will continue to fly blind.

We need them, and we need them soon.

For an interesting blog post on this subject, NCTE Elementary:
and for a sample of the confusing Type Three action, ( there are plenty)
For example, the following article from the BBC concerning science testing in the UK:

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

A Chit Chat with Republicans About the Stimulus

A Primer About Obama's Recovery Plan85

It has become very intellectually chic to chuck pot shots at the Recovery Program of President Obama. Of course, we expected the really “trailer park” fizzle from the vacuous, foaming mouths of the neo-cons. One female host, Tammy Bruce, actually called Michelle Obama “trash” on a network interview last week.

However, once we exclude the “drug addled gas bag,” the whining “pretty little mama’s boy,” and the ultra pious, self-appointed, "stalwart defender of The Church," we are still left with some unsettling whimpers arising from unexpected quarters -- quarters we had always previously assumed to be more rational.

There are comments that Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and Director of the White House's National Economic Council, Larry Summers, should be fired for lack of purity and effectiveness. That would be “lack of purity” from having been a Fed Bank President during the Bush bailout in Geithner’s case and from having been a Clinton advisor in Summers’ case, that would have been before he was President of Harvard University. All these comments can be immediately discharged because they are founded on the premise that what we are doing right now is, somehow, logically similar to something we have done before. Any hope of that happy serendipity betrays a frenzied dash for the refuge of history, hardly a behavior we would expect from the brave knights we have sent to kill the dragon.

The Treasury Secretary is a frighteningly intelligent man who has been seriously cautioned by the Obama White House to try to “de-accelerate” his speech enough so it can be captured on an ordinary, modern video camera during his interviews. Naturally, neo-cons -- being allergic to leadership of any type thanks to their toxic, soul consuming cynicism -- are quite uncomfortable with a man who constantly needs to concentrate on speaking more slowly so the rest of us can possibly follow him. Neo-cons like slow drawls so Southern that most Americans either won’t listen to them or can’t understand what is said. You know, ... southern ... coach ... pastor ... You know.

But some modern liberal pundits seem to be put off because they can’t understand it either. They think that the reason they can’t understand it is because what Geithner is saying isn’t even remotely similar to anything they have heard before, the lingering, predictably desperate test of validity for those who have found themselves unable to think. The most limited, self promoted, modern progressives don’t believe that anything can be progressive now if it hasn’t already been progressive before. Those talkative folks identify themselves by providing endless explanations of exactly who was at fault for almost everything that threatens their pretend, historical, progressive "status quo."

But this post is all about having a chit chat with Republicans. There are actually a few of them still visible who are so inebriated on the Kool Aid and so head strong that they continue to claim a tiny, forgotten patch of Bush Jr.’s, medieval fear mongering “high ground.”

If you have had a creepy, out of focus feeling while talking to these Republicans and other aging reactionaries about Obama’s plan, don’t blame yourself! The person standing before you in those conversations isn’t actually saying anything. What you are hearing are talking points! The actual words being uttered in such conversations have been “piped” down to eager repeaters by their “thought masters,” repeaters who, when considered generously, have nothing else to say besides more road weary talking points about the Stimulus Package, Socialism, abortion, gun control -- well, you already know the list of topics they prefer.

On to the water cooler.

Although MeanMesa usually avoids inserted diagrams and charts, please consider this following exception. Perhaps we can spend just a minute with this National Debt record as an introduction to a few points which might “flesh out” your conversational repartees.

click to enlarge

The large block of red at the far right of the diagram is an estimate of the accumulated deficit of the Bush Jr. autocracy. Politically unpopular spending such as the war in Iraq is, of course, omitted. However, the total of the eight year deficit since the Supreme Court appointed Bush Jr. amounts to roughly three trillion dollars. What might have been a rather lack luster disaster was converted into the present calamity by two large tax cuts which directed vast windfalls to the very richest Americans, and the utterly outrageous PHARMA written Medicaid Prescription Drug Plan, designed to channel boat loads of tax money to the “pill masters” of the pharmaceutical lobbyists. The PHARMA bill was passed at 3 AM in the House. The tie vote in the Senate was broken when the Vice President Pretender voted in favor.

An often overlooked aspect of the trillions which disappeared into pockets of Bush cronies has to do with the rest of the economy, you know, the part where we live. After the extraction, that sudden, purloined flatulence among the rich and mischievous found itself stranded with nowhere to go. When we speak of financial instruments such as securitized toxic mortgages, incredibly leveraged, shadow assets on the profit and loss books of all the investment banks we are presently rescuing, and other Wall Street Casino speculative doodads, we see the “new home” all these suddenly wealthy “businessmen” found for their less than legitimate good fortune.

What might have been expected as “risks” associated with such a move were gleefully buried under the cover of a dysfunctional Justice Department, a conveniently blind Security Exchange Commission (Remember Madoff? Enron?), ruthless gangs of well paid Federal Appointees and an overly protective Executive (Autocrat) who had already hit his management high point bankrupting professional ball teams and oil companies his father gave him.

The Independent Senator from Vermont noted this unusual development:
Not everyone has had a hard time during the Bush years: “The top 400 richest Americans have seen their personal wealth increase by $630,000,000,000 - $630 BILLION - since George W. Bush was appointed President by the Supreme Court in 2000.” (Sen. Bernie Sanders, Sept. 18, 2008)

The point? When this much of the economy’s liquid money was effectively removed, it caused a bit of a shortage. After that initial insult to the economy, when the reckless schemes which had absorbed all these dollars fell apart, it created even more of a shortage. The spending which normally fuels the US economy ground to a halt. No one had any money, and no one could borrow any.

Yes, of course, all these “genius investors” immediately started bellowing for a bail out from the Bush Jr. -- Paulson crime family, but they were able to loot only a paltry $350 billion before their sponsoring syndicate was run out of Washington. That left them hungry for more. Their eyes, naturally, turned greedily toward the Obama Stimulus Plan. If that legislation could be converted to even more tax cuts, then looted as it straggled through the Congress, they could be made whole by the tax payers, a veritable wet dream for any self-respecting neo-con.

The Obama plan replaces all that “missing” spending with Federal spending. It is clear that such a bold move is probably the only chance still on the table to avoid a repeat of the World Wide Great Depression of the FDR days. The amount of spending in that spending bill is, unhappily, astronomical. That would make it roughly the same size as the take that Bush Jr.’s fellow looters snatched during the eight years when frenzied high crimes were the constant currency of the day. The economy was supposed to tank after the Bush crime family was safely back in Texas, just in time to blame Obama for everything, but, as is usually the case for everything Bush Jr. dreamed up, it exploded prematurely.

When your Republican starts off with complaints about too much spending and out of control deficits, show him the chart. Agree with him -- in a condescending way -- that it really is too much spending and that the deficit it will cause really is too high. Tell him -- compassionately -- that we have already paid off the neo-con extortionists once while they were gang raping us the first time, but that we are willing to pay again to save the country.

Then walk away.

For a comprehensive explanation of the contents of the 2009 Stimulus Bill,
and for an overview of the President's 2010 Budget, submitted to Congres in 2009,

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Education Reform Without the Lipstick

Another in the MeanMesa "Lipstick" series. This time: President Obama's Plan for Education Reform. 85

A Little History:

Last week the President made a speech which officially places education reform in the role of a “leg” on his three legged stool for national recovery. That speech, nestled into a daily news cycle of speeches, any one of of which would have induced uncontrolled bleeding twenty four months ago, still arose filled with phrases not dissimilar from those which have filled traditional speeches about education reform at about the same early point in every Presidential term in recent history.

The implied consequences of not “educating better” have trailed along with the string of competitors our nation has faced through the years. There were the Soviets with their relentless, cast iron, collective system which seemed to crank out legions of nuclear physicists, chess players and spies. There were the ambitious Indians who seemed to be able to duplicate the results of even our most expensive efforts with their tin cans and strings. There were the Asian youngsters who seemed to be able to almost effortlessly become industrial manufacturing geniuses whether in the poverty of their ancient homelands or the worst schools the American system might offer their immigrant parents.

Defending our side were the unfaltering voices repeating the mantra, “If they are so good, why are we still richer?” Uh, right. The United States population apparently hit its highest literacy rate in the 1950’s, one of the very few constructive results of decades of US/Soviet MAD geopolitics (Mutually Assured Destruction).

Some commentators (Thom Hartmann) cite the beginning of public education during Freidrich’s Hohenzollern Prussia. The population of orphanages had grown so large that the King became interested in developing the boys there to become obedient soldiers, loyal subjects and profitable, respectful employees. It seems that, once all that had been figured out a few centuries ago, there hasn’t really been much cause to consider the matter any more since then.

Back to the Future: 2009

Perhaps the notable departure from past Presidential education reform speeches is not to be found in the words of Obama’s speech so much as in the incredible inertia of the man who spoke them. And, notably, wrote them. Such words become more credible when we realize that they were not simply handed to the President a few minutes before air time to make sure he could pronounce everything that was going to appear on his teleprompter.

President Obama has done his part. So, let’s set aside the “lipstick,” and do our part. Let’s take a shot at “boiling the thing down to its bones.” What conclusions can we make about the essential necessities required for education reform?

As with most political questions, we immediately encounter that apparently unavoidable human trait, “humiliation avoidance.” We seem to suffer an unreasonable fear of making decisions which will turn out to be less than optimal. Those would be decisions about the nature of a “good education,” about the actual amount of resources we will need to dedicate to the effort and about means and methods of testing our proposition as it goes along. We would very much prefer to know as early as possible -- or better yet, even beforehand! -- if the decisions we have made are really producing the results we seek. Otherwise, of course, we would not be “avoiding the humiliation” of having made such bad decisions.

By the way, this “bad decision” business has grown legs. One might think that our past efforts at education have been so ill conceived and misdirected, that is, so “humiliating,” that any reasonable person would be extremely “gun shy” about even so much as attempting to ever make such plans again. Our present situation, although neither particularly reassuring nor satisfying, is not yet a cataclysmic, world ending, “Death to America” disaster. However, given its tepid results, that historical approach is, most likely, at its end.

One result of this realization has been to discourage any public participation in redesigning the system at all. As with many modern quandaries, the electorate has been carefully groomed to passively accept the idea that the solution, if one exists at all, is far too complicated for “mere mortals” to comprehend. The entire matter must be turned over, along with a very big check, to the “education experts.” Only the hyper-qualified denizens of the educational world have the background to propose some painless improvement, at its best probably only a “little better” than what we have now. We have tried this one already. Several times. Too many times.

Another result is a cowardly and thoughtless appetite to “collapse to tradition.” This plan reverts education efforts to their earlier states. Those “early states of education” might be “the way things were when I was a boy,” or “when my dad went to school,” or “when the nation was young,” or even “back in the old country.” A loftier version might reflect positively on conditions young Alexander encountered while living with Aristotle, or Scian ‘jiou while living with his dark teacher from Abarabia, Mullah Edin. We will need to learn from the past, but there is little future in reliving it.

As a culture we seem to retain plenty of the demand that things should be simplified, our traditionally American, folksy, anti-intellectual tantrum. We have watched enough old movies to have been thoroughly convinced that “good old American common sense, saturated with naiveté and an innocent, ebullient, ‘can-do’ optimism made possible by not knowing our limits” has allowed us to overcome Nazi’s, alien invaders and hopeless, impending cometary collisions. We probably should not be quite so convinced that the same approach has delivered a polio vaccine, a man on the moon, the internet, the United Nations or Viagra. Education did that.

Finally, returning the the “humiliation avoidance” idea, we have grown gangrenously cynical. We have relegated the responsibilities for defining the measurement of our educational system to the most unlikely people. Dirty shirt preachers and southern speaking coaches have been left with the task of defining educational success as they mindlessly transform adolescent boys into leaders, unthinking generals and admirals, more pastors and coaches, national league athletes, Senatorial hillbillies and the like.

We have been listening to those who say that a good education can be measured by high school graduates who are well prepared to work in factories or join the military without rehabilitative training. An occasional “star” who invents something against all odds (even a rotten education), who makes billions of dollars in the stock market or who composes a brilliant symphony drives the “last nail to seal the lid” on this case.

Don’t Trust Anybody.

The “straw man” is comprised of several parts. The most appealing of them is the almost universal insistence to test the education system in any new design to see if it is accomplishing its mission. Closely behind those voices is an unending interest in determining whether or not its product is a “good deal for the money.”

The validation derived from a testing regime has generated significant traction. Because no current educational proposal package can reach media maturity without centering on “credible testing,” elaborate testing regimes have become as central as educational substance itself. The testing systems have risen in importance until they now validate the educational systems more strongly than what is actually being taught.

The missing piece, although conveniently hidden by the testing distraction, remains the definition of the educational goal. Coaches and pastors aside, what are we willing to agree on when it comes to over all objectives for our new educational effort? The “trained up” soldiers and factory workers concept doesn’t carry much water. The “states rights” bigots insisting on education promoting a six thousand year old planet aren’t really anything we are interested in spending federal dollars to sustain.

Where does this leave us? Who will tell us whether or not we are doing the right thing?

Oh dear.

Let’s ask the teacher. That’s right. Let’s ask the teacher if the students in his class are receiving a correct education. Surely the teacher would know something like that.

Wait a minute! We can’t “just ask the teacher” because we don’t trust the teacher. Those darn teachers will trick us! They will tell us that their students are getting a good education so they can have a chance at one of those merit raises. Maybe those teachers don’t really know if their students are getting a correct education or not.

What does this mean? It means that we have teachers we don't trust and who, we think, don’t really know whether or not they are providing a correct education in charge of educating our young ones. Does this mean that we should increase funding and inject merit pay into the mix or just spend lots more money devising testing regimes that these tricksters cannot manipulate?

After all, the prevailing religious mythology has continuously promoted the idea that men are evil opportunists who can’t be trusted. Why would we expect these teachers to be any different than the rest of humanity? They’re not saints, so we can’t trust them. Since we can’t trust them, we must try harder and harder to expose their trickery (or be humiliated by winding up with kids the army doesn’t want and who can’t work in factories). It isn’t our fault if we have to work so hard on exposing them that we simply haven’t got time to worry about what kind of education is being accomplished.

We can’t even agree on a few guiding principles which might define what kind of education we want to accomplish! When that question is placed on the table, every vested interest emerges from the culture swamp to enjoy a bite of lunch! There are speciously useless text books for a $100 per copy, the products of dithering committees of experts and consultants, contracts based on political favors and “certified” by someone as being precisely the books which are absolutely, critically essential to a “good education,” whatever that is.

There are confused college students marching through a numbing chaos of education classes which avoid any relevance to the essence of the teacher’s motivation beyond the capture of merit pay, tenure and union membership. There are bellowing, cracker politicians snapping worn out harangues about waste and frivolity in the schools, all imposed by some sinister parasites with no interest other than extracting tax money.

Ideologically, we see the vacuous hilarity of those bemoaning a lack of “critical thinking.” In dull moments we can always “tune in” to the latest spectacularly depressing news about sex education or school violence. We can find common cause with those who would like to blame parents, civilization itself, poverty, teen sex or video games.

What in the hell are we doing?

This rapacious maelstrom of default thinking is not anything that will benefit from more “education reform.” Its stench has grown far, far too strong for that generosity. This is both an unavoidable wake up call and an opportunity surfacing in the teeth of calamity.

The problems we face in education seem to be incomprehensible because the grotesque thing we have created under that name is, well, incomprehensible. (Doubtful? Try to envision a future history which explains how we reached this failure state. Does your history make sense?) It is a monster consuming huge tax resources, brazenly diverting all its assets to its own protection, producing terrifyingly dismal results and worst of all, denying American youth the opportunity of their birth right to have a chance to develop themselves into something they might actually want to be.

It is clearly the intention of Great Nature that parents assist their children in every possible way to reach the age of responsibility, self-sufficiency and individualism. No amount of persuasive details or comforting, mitigating expertise exonerates a failure to accomplish that parental obligation. Parental obsessions with the goal of perpetuating religion mythology, aging, unexamined ideas or the ambitions of somehow converting their children’s futures into ideological, social or political currency are criminal.

This is childhood’s end.

But not childhood’s end for the children. Their childhood has already been through the meat grinder. Literally hundred of millions of them have had their dreams permanently crushed already by this hideous thing.

This is childhood’s end for the parents. No more being the “half-cocked,” inch deep, gushing ninny at the PTA meeting. No more being the passive, long suffering stoic without any ideas to improve things. No more being too busy to get involved. No more bitching about the property taxes. No more simply refusing to think.

No more turning the young ones over to the television for four hours a night. No more credit-card problem solving. No more “too tired.” No more exhaustion -- there is no exhaustion permitted when it comes to the little people who are counting on you to help them dream.

The following link to You Tube contains a complete video (36 minutes) of President Obama's speech in Dayton, Ohio:

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

“How Far Must the Dow Plunge Before Confidence Is Restored?

Spending too much time "ducking" the old things? Spending not enough time dreaming about the new things?

These days hold only cold comfort for the timid.

The newspaper headline titling this post betrays what may be an unexamined paradox. The sensation of "confidence" is an allegedly rational one which may be insinuated by past history, but probably not the past history being cited in the discussions of this moment. Likewise, the "restore" idea is visiting every area of pain in the present economy. There are the dreamy desires of those who would like the declining value (market price?) of their real estate "restored" to the figures of a year or two ago. There are those who feel that economic recovery implies that the stocks they purchased in the past might be "restored" not only to their previous trading values, but also in their vivacity and mobility with respect to potential profits or losses demarcated in the "numbers and the systems of the past."

Folks who are entertaining this expectation for the "recovery" are not founding their ideas on circumstances which enjoy much of a chance to materialize in reality.

The less lofty have ambitions for a stable floor to the decline where, although the numerical "prices" of monetary assets would be defined by lower numerical values, the relative values would become, once more, as promising as they had been before. Perhaps even the wage earners are gradually becoming adjusted to the idea that their "restored" wages, although not bearing the same figures as on the old paychecks, might have a "restored" purchasing power or offer an investment opportunity equivalent to the ones on those old stubs.

The economic pedestrian has only a slightly more realistic view of the possibilities at hand. He, at least, has the common sense necessary to envision an economic solution which is not the "restoration" of his previous conditions, but something of a hybrid, located between full "recovery" or "restoration" and some intermediate state where his comfort level is comparable to what it was before.

Likewise, the critics and cynics (uh, that would be the hillbillies, Senate bigots and other free market criminals) seize on the predictable, codependent opportunity of establishing that true "recovery" or "restoration" can be nothing less than a sterile return to the artificial successes previously derived from the avarice of the recent past. They would, foolishly, like to establish that vision as the only possible outcome which might legitimatize Obama's desperate efforts ideologically. The public opinion attraction to that insistent approach is waning rapidly, most likely, as was the tragic case with "confidence," another victim of “common sense” on the main street.

My advice? Quit dreaming of the past. Quit trying to measure the possibilities and challenges of the near future by the currency of the past. All those “restorations” require more than a duplicated economic flow of factors and equations. Frankly, they all depend on more than a resurgence of familiar numbers on the Wall Street trading boards. They also, in a way as subtle as the “elephant in the living room,” also depend upon the resurrection of all sorts of imaginary asset values, labor rates, real estate ambitions and even international trade relations. There is no part of the economic stimulus plan which can re-materialize these old, opium dreams. They cannot be “restored,” because they were never material in the first place.

We can join the wailing of the Wall Streeters and the bankers and the quiet, arrogant ultra-rich with their effected accents if we like, but all the old deceptions of this crowd have evaporated just as concretely as the sale price of the duplex next door. All the illicit advantages they promoted as “sharp business practices” for the last dozen decades have been exposed now. Worse, their dreams of the precise value of such deceptions have also been smashed. They sold them to us once, and that worked out well for them. But now, those balloons have popped -- perhaps largely in the very faces of these “pretend Captains of Industry.”

No one can still reasonably hope that those “balloons” of theirs can be “restored.” Further, citizens of both the United States and the rest of the world where their extractive schemes have reached, seem to have a new, much more informed style of awareness of exactly what had been done before. The hordes of what had previously been “easy marks” have now entered a period of renewed understanding of what the responsibility of “self-interest” actually means. An understanding which excludes the necessity of supporting these parasites in the style and luxury of the past.

Obama gets this. One wonders how many familiars of the old White House have appeared once again with “offers he can’t refuse.” One wonders what was on their deflated faces when he did, in fact, refuse.

Without the hordes of the sleeping, the mistaken certainties of the past are beginning to rot on the vine. Mistaken certainties? The sanctity of the free market as the ultimate director of the economy. The acceptability of the well (and not so well) disguised, noncompetitive subterfuge, whether a no bid contract for billions or some doo-dad added to a House bill at the last minute making new profits an automatic reality for some crony.

But wait. No matter how refreshing it might be, a modern correction of these sorts of things amounts to little more than a tweeking to the system. Such a development might turn out to be the final result of this economic melt-down, but there are others -- developments which can hardly be defined as a “tweeking.” In any event, it looks constantly less likely to be a mere “restoration.”

The economy is not experiencing a little difficulty, it is evaporating before our very eyes. We have heard fifteen thousand reasons why this is happening, but what seems the most logical conclusion at this point is that no one has either any complete or rational explanation of precisely why this is happening or how far down it will go. All the old reasons are approaching a region of logical discontinuity far too similar to what might be encountered on a classic Riemann Equation’s first surface. We have probably left explanations or their possible comfort somewhere behind us.

The classical parameters which used to drive everything have ceased functioning. What was successful “tweeking” in the past system no longer produces any effect at all.

So, where does it go?

It “goes” through the discontinuity, and we go with it. The hilarious threats of creeping Socialism or nationalization or Fascism or vacant promises of capitalism or free marketism or a “restored” hegemony are all now parked in the "used car lot" history of the past, in our memories, in our dreams. That old currency fills the entire stage, constructs all the sets and writes all the play. We can make no new play which requires parts other than those old familiar ones. Our imagination has beached itself on the remnants of our fears.

The choices for the face of the future system will not be variations of the faces of the past. What has begun as an economic aberration has become an ideological meat grinder, and its product may well arrive without so much as a reasoned hint or even a wild speculation from the past.

The “new thing” approaches.

It won’t be all bad, either, but these last few months before its arrival will be terrifying -- especially for those who were able to prosper in the false world of the false values of the past. Still, we must prepare ourselves for a new system. It arrives just as the widower's new wife. The recipes and the bedroom, although quite satisfying, can never "restore" what has passed before. We have no firm ideas about what the new system will require of us or what new opportunities it may present, of course, but we do know one thing. We prepare ourselves by watching for its arrival with hope, not dread.

Adjusting our ideas of “necessity” and “comfort” might help a little. Experimenting with values which have evolved beyond imposed scarcity and insatiable greed and impossible security is probably a good idea, even if such a discipline hasn’t ever been reasonable in the past. We must clear our road weary slate of ancient false priorities, thrash out the cobwebs and steel ourselves for a new day.

As humans, we are now stranded with the frightening necessity of charting our way forward. We find the press of events has cast us not as survivors, but as designers.

The “new thing” approaches.