Category: Educational Choice

Blog author: dphelps
posted by on Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Steve Wozniak, famed inventor of Apple I, Apple II, and the original Apple software, has a new autobiography coming out. Here is a snippet from a Businessweek interview where he gives a nice, Actony take on creativity and education.

Are there larger lessons that you have drawn about creativity and innovation?
That schools close us off from creative development. They do it because education has to be provided to everyone, and that means that government has to provide it, and that’s the problem.

Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak in 1975: Ready to Change the World

An interesting followup: according to a 2002 Census report, 76% of American business owners do not have a college degree, (24% have a high school equivalent or less).

I am certainly not anti-education, but the point is this: there is something other than education that drives people to create. We must begin (again) instilling in our children the old-fashioned-American-ingenuity-Do-It-Yourself mentality, the kind of thinking that encourages entrepreneurialism and creativity. These sorts of people are the ones who make huge differences in the lives of everyone (i.e. personal computers).

This Live Science article, “How Children Learn About God and Science,” by Robert Roy Britt, summarizes a new survey of scientific studies about the way children learn. It seems that an interesting conclusion has surfaced from these studies: “Among things they can’t see, from germs to God, children seem to be more confident in the information they get about invisible scientific objects than about things in the spiritual realm.”

There’s no conclusive explanation for why this is the case, but there are plenty of speculative options. Let me add my own theological proposition: as fallen human beings, our noetic apparatus for the perception of spiritual realities is naturally impaired. There’s a problem here both of intellect and will, although the greatest determining factor may well indeed be that of willful ignorance. In Calvin’s words,

Bright, however, as is the manifestation which God gives both of himself and his immortal kingdom in the mirror of his works, so great is our stupidity, so dull are we in regard to these bright manifestations, that we derive no benefit from them. For in regard to the fabric and admirable arrangement of the universe, how few of us are there who, in lifting our eyes to the heavens, or looking abroad on the various regions of the earth, ever think of the Creator? Do we not rather overlook Him, and sluggishly content ourselves with a view of his works? And then in regard to supernatural events, though these are occurring every day, how few are there who ascribe them to the ruling providence of God—how many who imagine that they are casual results produced by the blind evolutions of the wheel of chance? Even when under the guidance and direction of these events, we are in a manner forced to the contemplation of God (a circumstance which all must occasionally experience), and are thus led to form some impressions of Deity, we immediately fly off to carnal dreams and depraved fictions, and so by our vanity corrupt heavenly truth. This far, indeed, we differ from each other, in that every one appropriates to himself some peculiar error; but we are all alike in this, that we substitute monstrous fictions for the one living and true God—a disease not confined to obtuse and vulgar minds, but affecting the noblest, and those who, in other respects, are singularly acute (Institutes, 1.5.11).

He goes on to note that it is only in faith that we can come to true and saving knowledge of God: “In vain for us, therefore, does Creation exhibit so many bright lamps lighted up to show forth the glory of its Author. Though they beam upon us from every quarter, they are altogether insufficient of themselves to lead us into the right path. Some sparks, undoubtedly, they do throw out; but these are quenched before they can give forth a brighter effulgence. Wherefore, the apostle, in the very place where he says that the worlds are images of invisible things, adds that it is by faith we understand that they were framed by the word of God (Heb. 11:3); thereby intimating that the invisible Godhead is indeed represented by such displays, but that we have no eyes to perceive it until they are enlightened through faith by internal revelation from God” (Institutes, 1.5.14). It is entirely understandable, therefore, why human beings in such a state would feel less certain about spiritual and divine realities.

This does not necessarily determine, however, whether Christian faith is objectively less warranted than belief in the invisible conclusions of the empirical world. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes, “Faith alone is certainty; everything outside of faith is subject to doubt. Jesus Christ alone is the certainty of faith. I believe the Lord Jesus Christ who tells me that my life is justified. So there is no way toward the justification of my life other than faith alone.” But indeed, the reality of the fall into sin does give us some reason to expect a relatively less sure subjective sense of certainty, also known as doubt. (See also John 20:29, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”)

Even more reason, therefore, to take seriously the apostolic dictum to care for the education of our children in the truth of spiritual realities, that is, to “bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4 NIV).

For Catholics, few doubt the importance of quality Catholic secondary education. However, many know that the current state of Catholic secondary education in America leaves much to be desired. The question that naturally rises is “what can concerned people do to enact serious improvement?”

The Acton Institute offers at least one solution. The Catholic High School Honor Roll is a unique evaluation system that assesses the overall quality of Catholic high schools based on academic excellence, Catholic identity, and civic education. Before the Honor Roll’s launch in 2004, there were no national evaluations for Catholic secondary schools.

Now, under the guidance of a notable advisory board, the annual top 50 list has become a “measuring stick” of sorts that honors schools for their good work and serves as a competitive motivator that helps schools continually strive for improvement.

It also generates significant national recognition for the schools and has proven to be a great resource for parents and others interested in Catholic education. Kyle L. Groos, principal of O’Gorman High School, said that the Honor Roll made “a huge impact within our community.” In an environment where parents are searching for quality Catholic education, “they want and need to know that we are considered one of the top Catholic high schools.” The Honor Roll has given schools the opportunity to help parents make the decision of where to send their children.

You can help support vibrant Catholic educational excellence and facilitate reform by encouraging schools in your area to apply for the Honor Roll. The deadline for applications is May 15. It involves no cost for you or the schools.

For the past several decades in the United States many parents have gravitated toward one extreme or the other in terms of allowing religion in public schools. It is generally understood these days that our public school system is not a religious organization, and should not promote one religion as a state religion, over others. Of course, this does not mean that morality or other ideas that call on the revelation of religion cannot be taught, but we try to keep things as secular as possible. Yet, many would call down a secular version of fire and brimstone on the teacher or administrator who brought students to pray at the local cathedral on a field trip.

For those of you who do not keep up with Japanese politics (I grew up there and so keep one eye on current happenings) the current government recently issued a bill proposing an amendment to the basic laws of education. This is the first revision of this sort that has been put forth since the Allied Forces, occupying Japan following World War II, drafted the Japanese constitution and laws. The current law requires the education system to “respect individual dignity, aim at raising people who will aspire for truth and peace, and seek universal and characteristic culture.” The changes to the law propose “the teaching of values such as patriotism and respect for Japanese culture and tradition.”

While the changes may sound innocent enough, especially to Western ears, this is a very loaded phrase. Many of you might be aware of the yearly controversies surrounding Prime Minister Koizumi’s visits to Yasukuni Shrine to worship the war dead of the Emporer. It usually enters the news because of demonstrations, especially in China and Korea. The problem with the shrine visit is that it is a state event, not merely personal, and that among the war dead are many convicted war criminals from World War II. This “cultural” event is in fact state-sponsored Shintoism. Other “cultural events” include the worship of ancestors and idols at various shrines and temples; “cultural events” that even President Bush (gasp) has participated in by clapping his hands and bowing in prayer. While this is not a massive problem for those Japanese who are Shinto (it should be a problem, even to them), imagine the message that this sends to Japanese, and other, Christians around the world. (more…)

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Thursday, April 13, 2006

Here’s an abstract of some recent NBER research:

“Why Does Democracy Need Education?,” by Edward Glaeser, Giacomo Ponzetto, Andrei Shleifer

“Across countries, education and democracy are highly correlated. We motivate empirically and then model a causal mechanism explaining this correlation. In our model, schooling teaches people to interact with others and raises the benefits of civic participation, including voting and organizing. In the battle between democracy and dictatorship, democracy has a wide potential base of support but offers weak incentives to its defenders. Dictatorship provides stronger incentives to a narrower base. As education raises the benefits of civic participation, it raises the support for more democratic regimes relative to dictatorships. This increases the likelihood of democratic revolutions against dictatorships, and reduces that of successful anti-democratic coups.”

But here’s a follow-up question: Does a top-down, dictatorial model of eduation undermine education’s tendency to support democracy? If so, then it seems the best model for education in a democracy would be the vigorous and free schooling provided by the private sector.

Citing a recent OECD report, the EUObserver says that European schools are falling behind their counterparts in the US and Asia.

The main reason: a governmental obsession with equality that prevents investment and innovation in education, especially at the university level.

“The US outspends Europe on tertiary level education by more than 50% per student, and much of that difference is due to larger US contributions from tuition-paying students and the private sector,” noted the OECD paper.

Here’s how the news story concludes:

Despite European ideals like equality and equity, several OECD’s studies reveal that “social background plays a larger role in determining a student’s performance in countries such as Germany, France and Italy than in the US.”

“Europeans from difficult socio-economic backgrounds don’t receive the same educational opportunities as children from rich and middle-class families,” notes the paper.

This account accords pretty well with my own observations in Italy. The educational and economic mess created by governmental interference, protectionism and deference to trade unions results in a system where only the well-to-do and the well-connected end up with any sort of opportunity. If you happen to be born outside of Rome or Milan or to a poor family, tough luck.

From what I can tell, there’s not much of an educational choice movement in Europe but there ought to be.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Thursday, March 2, 2006

Yesterday I recommended Professor Plum’s EducatioNation, and I’ll do so again today.

Here’s a tidbit from a recent post titled “We Need More Unions” on Prof. Plum’s blog: “Once again, America’s teachers unions reveal that all their blather about being child centered, about being stewards of America’s children, and about social justice and diversity, is nothing but a disguise for their real interest—which is self-preservation via monopolistic control of the means of education.”

Prof. Plum, who daylights as a master’s level education professor at a large public university, certainly knows how to turn a phrase. Read the rest, including a link to and text of an OpinionJournal article (with Plum’s commentary included!).

This story in the UK’s Education Guardian is remarkable for its links to a number of issues.

In contrast to the American system, Britain’s permits “faith” schools that are part of the government system. Thus, this Scottish “Catholic” school is, in the American usage, a “public” school. Now that 75% of its students are Muslim, some Muslims are demanding that the school switch its faith allegiance.

One of the obvious issues is the Islamicization of Europe. Here is a Catholic school in the middle of Scotland’s countryside that is three-quarters Muslim—and another 13% Sikh. France, with its headscarves-at-school controversy, is not the only nation struggling with this new reality.

Another issue is the Catholic identity in educational institutions. (The problem applies more broadly to other kinds of Christian schools as well.) The school is evidently making efforts to preserve it (given the priest’s reference to Mass), but it seems to me that it is possible to reach a tipping point in terms of numbers of non-Catholic students and/or faculty, when Catholic identity becomes impossible to maintain adequately. Serving non-Catholic populations is generally laudable and can even be evangelizational, but Catholic educators need to be realistic about how fidelity to an institution’s original mission can be threatened by a lack of Catholic majorities among students and staff.

Finally, there is the issue of government interaction with religious schools. This Scottish Catholic school benefits financially from depending on the government. But it also thereby depends on the government for its existence. If the state determines that it’s better off Muslim—or anything else, including secular—Catholics (who have made it, apparently, the most attractive school in the area) must stand aside and see it transformed.

HT: Mirror of Justice

Following Michael Miller’s recent Acton Commentary, “Why Johnny Can’t Compete with Sanjay”, and the resulting comments, two of America’s best political commentators have also weighed in on the subject.

First there’s Charles Krauthammer’s Time article, arguing that America is doing fine, partly as a result of less dependence on government-funded research.

Then Michael Barone comments on Krauthammer’s argument, along with a request for more information on the role of the private sector in research.

Any takers?

The math and science skills of American high schoolers and college students continue to erode. Michael Miller looks at the implications for U.S. economic competitiveness and offers some suggestions for fixing what ails the schools.

Read the full commentary here.