Posts tagged with: education

Blog author: jballor
Tuesday, November 26, 2013
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Catching Fire

In this week’s Acton Commentary, “Tyranny Is the True Enemy,” I explore the latest film installment of the Hunger Games trilogy, “Catching Fire.” I pick up on the theme that animates Alissa Wilkinson’s review at Christianity Today, but diverge a bit from her reading. As she writes, a major aspect of this second part of the series has to do with fake appearances and real substance, and the need to “remember who the real enemy is.”

Wilkinson is upset with the marketing buzz surrounding the film, arguing that it “declaws” the substantive message of the books themselves. There’s an element of truth to this. It comes home especially when watching an interview like this, in which Jennifer Lawrence seems to embody the idea that for a celebrity in today’s culture, “you never get off this train,” as Haymitch puts it to Katniss and Peeta on their own promotional tour.

But in focusing on the distracting nature of commercial merchandising of the films, I argue that Wilkinson ends up distracted from who the real enemy is. There is much that is morally problematic about the way that the Capitol operates. Wilkinson rightly shows the shallow consumerism and sensuality of Capitol couture. But the fact that this isn’t the real enemy, so to speak, can be shown by a bit of thought experiment.

Suppose that the consumption habits of the Capitol were far less odious to our moral sensibilities. Suppose the citizens all lived chaste, upright, and responsible lives in their city. Their oppression of the districts would be no less troublesome for all their virtuous consumption. The decadence of the Capitol only puts the real tyranny over the districts into sharper relief. John Tamny argues that to read Catching Fire as “anything other than a polemic against communistic, brutal government is a certain act of willful blindness.”

I won’t go quite that far, and I don’t agree that the film/book has nothing at all to do with critiquing consumerism, but I do think that such alternative readings often forget who the enemy really is. As Tamny (mis)quotes from Catching Fire, Katniss herself identifies the enemy as the one “who starves and tortures and kills us in the arena. Who will soon kill everyone I love.”

In the opening sequence of “Catching Fire,” Katniss is illegally hunting in an attempt to provide much-needed protein for her family. At one point, Katniss and Gale come across a flock of wild turkeys. This image is especially striking at the release of this film during the Thanksgiving season.

Far from promising a “turkey in every pot,” President Snow has no regard for the welfare of anyone in the districts. The citizens of the Capitol are all that matter, to the point that people like Katniss have to resort to illegal hunting and the black market for basic necessities like medicine and food.

There is a connection between hedonism and what might be called a “soft” form of tyranny characteristic of the vicious circle between the citizens of the Capitol and the government. And while tyranny in all its forms is to be rejected, the real enemy in the Hunger Games is the hard tyranny of President Snow and his jackbooted thugs. Everything else is, in the end, a distraction.

Blog author: ehilton
Monday, November 25, 2013
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anne of green gablesAnne got her best friend, Diana, drunk. Sick-drunk. Neither was old enough to drink, and Anne didn’t really mean to, but…there it was. Diana’s mother was horrified, and forbade the friendship to go on. Anne was crushed. She really had made a mistake: what she thought was a cordial was wine. It was a hard lesson.

If you ever read Anne of Green Gables, you know this story. Things get set aright – partly by the adults, and partly by Anne. She learned a very hard lesson – and so did I. Anne’s mistake and her tenacity in fighting for the friendship gave me much food for thought, in a book I’ve read time and again since my childhood.

Daniel B. Coupland, an associate professor of education at Hillsdale College, knows that “children’s” stories hold sway in the world of morality. Oh, we don’t need cloying stories that tell children, “do this” and “don’t do that.” No, good literature helps children form imagination and morality without shoving it down their throats. (more…)

The educational cronyism of textbook publisher cartels is coming to an end as digital alternatives are on the rise, or so says AEI’s Mark Perry in a recent article. “Hear that hissing sound?” he writes, “It’s the sound of the college textbook bubble starting to deflate. . . . The era of the college textbook cartel and $300 college textbooks is ending.”

I have written on this subject in the past for the PowerBlog (here and here), mentioning Perry’s coverage of the subject at that time, among others.

In particular, I would maintain my position today that if more affordable, quality alternatives exist, educators ought to take the time to research them and find ones that fit their curricula if they can. Students are already overburdened by student loan debt in order to get degrees of decreasing quality and utility. If a professor can do a little to lessen the financial burden of higher education, it is one small victory for the common good. And Christian educators ought to lead the way.

Perry summarizes the problem as follows:

Between January 1998 and September 2013, the CPI for college textbooks has increased by more than 144%, compared to an increase of only 44.4% for the CPI for all items, and an increase of only 0.6% for the CPI for recreational books. In real terms, the cost of college textbooks has increased by more than 69% over the last 15 years, while at the same time the real cost of recreational books has fallen by more than 30%.

The reason that the college textbook bubble is on an unsustainable price trajectory and is already starting to show some initial signs of deflating is because of the increasing amount of competition for the college textbook market.

Read more . . . .

Blog author: jcarter
Thursday, October 24, 2013
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school-taxWhen it comes to public education, racial bias has not been acceptable for almost fifty years. So why is religious bias still tolerated?

If we really want to promote religious liberty and educational reform, says Charles L. Glenn, we have to end the public school monopoly:

[T]he rich diversity and energy that has been the glory of American religious life was, by the early twentieth century, largely suppressed in American K–12 schooling, though it continued at the collegiate level. This was not primarily through the regulatory efforts of state governments—that would come later—but through an emerging consensus among a class of professional educational administrators, part of the Progressive movement, who sought to create what historian David Tyack has called “the one best system.”

Accompanying this development over the course of the later nineteenth century was a growing popular concern about what was seen as the divisive and even subversive effects of Roman Catholicism, associated with immigrants and with contemporary conflicts in Western Europe. The efforts of Catholics to provide their own schools, as was the norm in most of the countries from which the immigrants came, was seen as a refusal to allow their children to become absorbed into American life, and rejection of Catholic demands for public funding of those schools became a winning formula in many elections.

Read more . . .

UntitledIn the U.S. there are approximately 4,500 colleges and universities (2,774 4-year institutions and 1,721 2-year institutions). Most of the institutions that were founded prior to 1900 began as Christian colleges, though only about 970 schools are still religiously affiliated. Out of those 970 sectarian schools, 570 are distinctively Christian.

America has almost as many Christian schools as the entire rest of the world combined. But that’s quickly changing. As the Chronicles of Higher Education notes, in the developing world there is a renaissance in Christian higher education:
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Today at Public Discourse, I explore the dubious connection between educational attainment and upward income mobility, arguing instead that a focus on cultivating social capital would be far more effective than the conventional wisdom: “Stay out of trouble and stay in school.” Staying out of trouble is still a good idea, but staying in school — when it comes to higher education — is becoming less and less effective on its own at predicting economic improvement.

In addition, while I believe education to be desirable for itself, I do not think that one can turn a blind eye to the great cost, decreased quality, and decreased utility of higher education today. I write,
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BRITAIN BOXING

Floyd “Money” Mayweather

Over at Think Christian today, I explore the connection between higher education as a means to greater earning power in “The myth of lucrative college majors.” I argue that “the size of a paycheck is not the only factor worth considering,” and go on to detail what a paycheck does and does not represent.

By looking at the earnings of various majors, it becomes apparent that we have a need for more engineers of various kinds. But apart from specific market signals, I echo, in large part, the conclusion of Paul Heyne, who wrote that the success of the market in increasing affluence and getting us the things we want ought to impel us “to think more carefully about what we want.”

The reality of today is that we have a developed economy to the extent that we have unprecedented levels of specialization. You can make a living, even if it isn’t a particularly lucrative one, doing almost anything imaginable. This is in marked contrast to previous eras, where the realities of class, technological innovation, and knowledge were such that only a few careers options were possible. Consider, for instance, the case of the early modern executioner.

One way of showing the incredible levels of specialization made possible today would be to simply observe the many, many things you can major in at a college these days. My working hypothesis is that if you have to add the word “studies” after something, then it probably isn’t a real major. But more seriously, the level of specialized education available today is simply breathtaking. And that doesn’t even begin to address the question of whether higher education is necessary at all.

In the TC piece I point to the example of undefeated boxer and high school dropout Floyd Mayweather Jr., who enjoyed a record breaking payout this past weekend. Mayweather is exceptional, certainly, as he would be the first to tell you. But there are plenty of more mundane examples of crafts and trades, as well as innovators and entrepreneurs, who found success without going to college.

Like all things, there are better and worse reasons to go to college and to choose a particular major. To simply increase your future earnings isn’t a particularly good motivation. And if all you care about is making money, then college may not be the best choice anyway, although as Michael Lewis puts it, “If you’re a certain kind of kid who doesn’t actually know anything about anything, Wall Street is still a great place to go.”

That said, all this comes from someone who majored in English at Michigan State University and then spent more than a decade pursuing theology at the graduate level. So I may be precisely the wrong sort of person to ask about lucrative career choices. As I often remind my wife, she married the wrong kind of doctor.

“When loans are guaranteed by the state and detached from market forces and personal responsibility,” says Dylan Pahman in this week’s Acton Commentary, “those institutions being paid with that loan money experience inflated demand as everyone and anyone now can go and wants to go college. As a result, tuition prices have been inflated. The full text of his essay follows. Subscribe to the free, weekly Acton News & Commentary and other publications here.

Federal Student Loans: A Problem of Subsidiarity

by Dylan Pahman

Ever see one of those used car ads that says, “Bad credit? Drive today!” The implication being that the dealer will happily arrange a loan regardless of the borrower’s credit history. For years now, the federal government has been running a similar scheme: “Poor student? Go to college anyway!” While this campaign has had better intentions behind it, it is no less of a problem. In the field of higher education, the federal government has usurped the roles of families, private organizations, and markets, with negative moral and economic consequences.
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UntitledHowever misguided their aims, there was one a time when progressives worked to protect the welfare and improve the lot of the individual. Today, the goal of many progressives is to protect the welfare and improve the lot of public bureaucracies. A prime — and stunningly inane — example of this tendency is found Allison Benedikt’s “manifesto” in Slate titled, “If You Send Your Kid to Private School, You Are a Bad Person“:

You are a bad person if you send your children to private school. Not bad like murderer bad—but bad like ruining-one-of-our-nation’s-most-essential-institutions-in-order-to-get-what’s-best-for-your-kid bad. So, pretty bad.

I am not an education policy wonk: I’m just judgmental. But it seems to me that if every single parent sent every single child to public school, public schools would improve. This would not happen immediately. It could take generations. Your children and grandchildren might get mediocre educations in the meantime, but it will be worth it, for the eventual common good. (Yes, rich people might cluster. But rich people will always find a way to game the system: That shouldn’t be an argument against an all-in approach to public education any more than it is a case against single-payer health care.)

Notice that she is willing to sacrifice the educations of children today — and generations of children for an indefinite time in the future — so that the public school system can be saved. Whereas public schools once existed to educate children, they now exist to justify their own existence (and the existence of teacher’s unions). Here’s how Benedikt thinks it should work:
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Blog author: jcouretas
Tuesday, August 13, 2013
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Howard Zinn

Howard Zinn

In an opinion piece in The Wall Street Journal, David J. Bobb examines the way in which Howard Zinn has been elevated by Hollywood and the academic left to make “the late Marxist historian more influential than ever.” Bobb, the director of the Hillsdale College Kirby Center for Constitutional Studies and Citizenship in Washington, begins with the campus furor that erupted among Zinn supporters when former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, now president of Purdue University, criticized Zinn after the historian died in 2010. Bobb writes that “90 faculty members hailed Zinn as a strong scholarly voice for the powerless and cast the former governor as an enemy of free thought.” Yes, predictable but difficult to see how these charges have any substance when you consider that Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States (described aptly by Daniels as “execrable”) has sold 2.2 million copies to date and most in the past decade. A healthy share of these copies, I’d wager, were purchased by secondary schools and colleges.

Bobb describes in “Howard Zinn and the Art of Anti-Americanism” how his ideas are spreading throughout the educational system: (more…)