Wednesday, January 28, 2009
The 67% Solution
With the predictability of a lunar eclipse, the New York Times today features a front-page report headlined:
Stimulus Plan Would Provide Flood of Aid to Education
So now the taxpayers--US--will be coerced into partnership with failed and corrupt banks, failed, corrupt and stupid carmakers, and a failed, corrupt, stupid and arrogant education industry. The Times article is excerpted here.
The proposed emergency expenditures on nearly every realm of education, including school renovation, special education, Head Start and grants to needy college students, would amount to the largest increase in federal aid since Washington began to spend significantly on education after World War II.
Critics and supporters alike said that by its sheer scope, the measure could profoundly change the federal government’s role in education, which has traditionally been the responsibility of state and local government.
In this euphoric run-up to the ascension of The Oba-Messiah, all the usual suspects are lumbering toward the trough in order to slobber up the Fool's Gold now being minted by our leaders in Washington.
Consistently neglected in boom years, INFRASTRUCTURE is now the Golden Calf of the 21st Century New Deal, worshipped by one and all in every level of government.
Who can argue with it? Don't these worthy projects need funding? And aren't these the same public servants that have served us so well in good times and bad?
In recent years here in New York City the tax dollars fueled by Wall Street profits cascaded into the city treasury and--as in boom times past--roads, bridges and transit systems deteriorated.
Did any of our political leaders wail about our crumbling infrastructure?
"Sorry, bridges don't vote" came the reply from the political class as they shoveled money to voting blocs and interest groups for the express purpose of remaining in office so they could shovel more money.
Remember the gas tax? How about the bridge tolls that were supposed to benefit mass transit? Money, money, money with nothing to show. So now that stimulus is our government's most critical responsibility, the Fed is cranking up the printing presses.
Their mission: inflate the money supply to pay workers to dig holes in the ground.
Ten years from now when the next crisis hits we'll be treated to another round of bleating from those who advocate a commitment to infrastructure and we will have all forgotten about the previous roads and bridges scam.
This should come as no surprise.
Wasting money is what governments do and infrastructure is traditionally the way they do it. Nothing new here.
But what of social welfare, healthcare and education? Surely these are noble endeavors worthy of national mobilization and they figure prominently in the new administration's stimulus plans.
Useless infrastructure projects simply produce "Big Digs" and "Bridges to Nowhere" that impoverish our grandchildren. National commitments to worthy social and educational crusades typically result in stunted human development in the here and now. As an added kick in the ass, they prolong and entrench the delusions of the social engineers and educrats so that effective reform becomes impossible.
As an example, let's take issue with a government initiative that is beyond reproach: Project Headstart. Headstart was born in 1965 during America's Great Society frenzy. Its mission and vision, to promote greater school readiness among under served children, was self-evidently noble. Predictably, as the Headstart Medusa spread its reptilian ganglia from city to city, suburb to suburb and state to state, community action groups sprang up, taking proactive steps to keep the federal dollars flowing. Also predictably, advocacy groups such as the National Headstart Association resisted all efforts to provide accountability and financial transparency.
Instead, public money was poured into a black hole while self-serving measurements designed to assess the "SKILLS" promoted by the early education movement showed that these skills developed at a more rapid rate.
In effect, industry studies demonstrated convincingly that two-year-old children who were taught to place "A" blocks next to "B" blocks performed this valuable task better than two year olds who had not been conditioned like trained seals. More than forty years later, the beat goes on without a whisper of protest from those who know better but fear being branded as heartless.
Year after year, independent studies designed to measure long-term educational efficacy consistently demonstrate that when tracked through the four stages of cognitive development, children enrolled in Headstart programs show no greater proficiency in formal operational thinking than children who have started school as late as seven years old.
Jean Piaget, the Swiss biologist, philospher and epistemologist first identified the four stages-- sensory/motor, preoperational, concrete operational and formal operational--more than seventy years ago.
He also observed that by the end of secondary education about one third of all high school graduates were capable of formal operational thinking. Today, throughout the industrialized world, one third of all high school graduates demonstrate formal operational thinking.
Does this mean that the decline in public education is only an illusion?
I think not. It's true that the proportion of students capable of abstract thinking and symbolic logic has remained constant. However, the academic performance of the remaining 67% of high school graduates has declined precipitously. These are the
students who in past generations achieved a level of functional literacy which has all but disappeared.
Who is advocating for the great two thirds?
Who will campaign for functional literacy?
Moreover, will anyone have the courage to admit that America's continued prosperity depends on Americans who can operate a CNC lathe at least as much as it depends on Americans who can design a CNC lathe?
In a matter of weeks the Fed will start pouring buckets of depreciating Greenbacks into the feeding trough.
And you can be certain that the Early Education Pimps will be there, cheek-to-jowl with the porcine infrastructurists, their snouts buried deep in the stimulative slop. So take heart. There will be new roads and gleaming bridges and modern transit systems to speed Americans to work in this grand new epoch of 21st Century jobs. But traffic will be much lighter than normal if there aren't enough qualified Americans to fill these dream jobs.
For today, though, the skies are brighter and the air is fresher and a brave new world is just beyond the horizon. God help the 67% who will be left behind.