Monday, May 19, 2014

Young people should loathe themselves

Normally, I couldn't care less what Michael Godwin of the New York Post thinks about anything. His latest offering, "The American Spirit is Breaking," contains a lot of crap -- "It is not hard to imagine Putin and China’s President Xi Jinping raising a glass to toast Obama’s health..." Still, one passage deserves non-derisive quotation:
Americans overwhelmingly agree that our educational system, once the envy of the world, is now lagging.

The cry to challenge students spawned a movement to raise the bar through the Common Core curriculum, but it is now grinding to a halt in New York and other places. The problem: Too many students are failing the tougher tests, making teachers look bad, parents unhappy — and politicians nervous.

So the standards are being shuffled aside, and self-esteem is back as the new measure of success. More students can appear to be learning and, presumably, that will make the adults happy, at least temporarily.
Those words concern grade schools in New York City, but the problem is widespread. Consider this piece on grade inflation, published a few days ago in Slate...
But even with all of these “hard-ass” measures, the ugly truth is that to get below a B+ in my class, you have to be a total screw-up. I’m still strict with my scale—it’s just that said scale now goes from “great” to “awesome.” It’s pathetic, I know. But when you see what professors today are up against, maybe you’ll understand.

If I graded truly fairly—as in, a C means actual average work—the “customers” would do their level best to ruin my life.
But it doesn’t start in college. Thanks to American K-12’s relentless culture of assessment and testing, everything our students have done since the age of 5 has been graded—but almost all of those grades have been “exceptional,” so the exception is now the norm. Now we’ve got high schools with 34 co-valedictorians—hell, why not just make everyone valedictorian, just for being alive?—et voila, students enter college having never gotten anything but an A for their entire lives.
The result is a generation of kids who are really dumb and really arrogant. They are too stupid to know how stupid they are. The emphasis on self-esteem has created millions of King Joffreys -- sneering, narcissistic, contemptuous incompetents.

When you point out their idiocy, they become pluperfectly pissed-off. For example, they will immediately lapse into King Joffrey mode if you politely ask them not to refer to Beethoven's Third Symphony as a "song." Sneers, insults, death threats. How dare you remind them that they don't know every fucking thing worth knowing? Didn't they get As all their lives?

(To this generation, there is only one musical form: The song. No-one under the age of 30 will call a piece of music "a piece of music." A younger person would rather use meat scissors to snip off the end of his or her tongue than utter those four dreaded words.)

Our corrupt system has created a generation of ninnies who think they're the smartest creatures on the planet. Their competitors in Asian and European schools will soon teach them the truth.

Self esteem is bad for our economic survival. Bring back shame and guilt!

(For more evidence of coddling, scroll down until you see the words "Trigger Warnings.")


Michael said...

Correction: It's a TRACK, not a song.

b said...

If kids know about King Joffrey, they're likely to be total fuckheads in the first place!

It's so sad to see what's happened with the fantasy genre.

From a master such as Tolkien to copy-editors striking out words to keep the Gunning-Fog indicator below 7 - while ensuring there's a rape scene in every chapter.

Never mind having more school pupils get "idiot" slapped on their back. How about banning brain-rotting shite like GoT?

It never fails to amaze me, what a successful job has been done getting people to associate 'leftwing' either with 'Stalin' or with 'liberal'.

joseph said...

I tend to agree with the majority or your posts and only leave a comment when I disagree. Telling you that I agree really doesn't add anything to the discussion. This is a post that I think is entirely wrong. First, America is still doing great research and the biggest problem is that the Rethuglicans have done all they can to impugn science and cut funding for it. As far as common core goes, it only makes sense if we are all the same, if we learn the same things at the same rate. But we don't. What we need to do is to recognize individual differences. Some students find math easy, some find history, some literature and so on. What we need are smaller classes with more attention to individuals. My son once told me, "Dad, when you went to school, you had to memorize facts, now we have to know how to find facts." If I had a hand held device which contained all the information known to man when I went to high school, I would have been considered a genius. That the average eight year old knows how to use that device better than many older people would suggest that the younger generation is smarter, not dumber, than us old fogies.

Stephen Morgan said...

I was recently listening to Ill Wind by Flanders and Swann, a humourous satirical song of the fifties, and wondered how many people have even heard Mozart's fourth horn concerto. I also often find myself surprised by the ignorance of my peers, I recently discovered that someone I know has never heard of the Monster Raving Loony Party, one of our country's august political institutions.

They are very knowledgeable about mobile phone tariffs, though.

I blame the lack of grammar schools. They used to produce the top men in the nation, and they were chosen entirely on merit from the 11-year-old population. This system is still used in most civilised countries. Then some fool decided it was unfair to declare most of the population stupid failures at eleven, and we returned to the age-old system of being run by the products of buggery-based private education.

Joseph Cannon said...

small-j joseph: I confess that youngsters are good with most things computer-y. Learning the rudiments of Maya (a 3D program) was incredibly tough for me. It was also incredibly humiliating -- because so many instructional videos on YouTube are hosted by young men so young that their voices hadn't changed yet.

But what ELSE do young people know?

CBarr said...

Having a brain full of facts gives a person a big advantage when it comes to searching for information. Your "meat" computer is working in tandem with the silicon based model to produce superior results. It's pretty common for students to push buttons on a calculator and not recognize that the answer displayed has the decimal point three places off.

Teaching high school science, I used drawing to train students to actually observe living specimens. They loved it, and it worked... until around the year 2001 that is. After that date, give them a pencil and paper and they didn't know what to do. They'd been living a virtual reality and didn't know how to observe or draw the world around them. Truly sad.

joseph said...

Large J-Joseph
What they know is how to access information. We keep thinking that the purpose of education is job training. It isn't. The purpose of education is to make better citizens. We can teach facts, or at least how to find them, which leads to intelligence. Knowing what to with those facts is what wisdom is, we can't teach that. But smaller classes and more individual attention will ultimately lead to better citizens. The problem is that Republicans don't want that.

gavan said...

Here's Alexander Cockburn on The Myth of the Knowledge Economy:

The US government’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that in 2010 only 20 per cent of jobs required a bachelor’s degree, whereas 26 per cent of jobs did not even require a high school diploma, and another 43 per cent required only a high school diploma or equivalent.

Now for the next dose of cold water. The BLS reckons that by 2020 the overwhelming majority of jobs will still require only a high school diploma or less.

Cockburn quotes Steven Kent from Daily Finance citing an academic study of 2,300 undergraduates at 29 universities:

Among the authors’ findings: 32 per cent of the students whom they followed in an average semester did not take any courses that assigned more than 40 pages of reading per week. Half did not take any courses in which more than 20 pages of writing were assigned throughout the entire term. Furthermore, 35 per cent of the students sampled spent five hours or less a week studying alone.

Typical students spent about 16 per cent of their time on academic pursuits, and were "academically engaged," write the authors, less than 30 hours a week. After two years in college, 45 per cent of students showed no significant gains in learning; after four years, 36 per cent showed little change. And the students who did show improvement only logged very modest gains. Students spent 50 per cent less time studying compared with students a few decades ago.

The trouble is most of these people look and act as if they know what they are on about. Yet their depth is zero. It's a real problem engaging with people who lack the capacity to deal with others at the level of ideas, who can't separate themselves from their ego position. It leaves them open to every kind of manipulative propaganda. It makes for a bad society.

CBarr said...

Our children are now raised by popular entertainment which is a corporate product created to generate a profit. Popular media is aimed towards the lowest denominator. It is also highly edited to be stimulating and fast paced to hold the viewer's attention. Some subjects require a person to maintain a train of thought for a considerable period of time. But kids can't focus on any one thing now for more than ten minutes. I think this will hurt us in the long run. Or maybe I've just become a curmudgeon.

Stephen Morgan said...

There's a by-election here, as our last MP has resigned over corruption, as did the one before that a few years back.

This has led to people I know discussing politics. Mainly UKIP, who have shipped up with their media circus. They've convinced one girl I know, who had planned to vote for them because she hadn't done before, not to. Making too much fuss. Still, a surprisingly tolerant immigration debate, given the huge number of jobs around here monopolised by Poles.

There's been a bit of discussion of the others, too. The Tories' disgusting tactics, using the mentally enfeebled and small children to advertise themselves. The Liberals' shameful whoring of themselves to the Tories.

The only one anyone has anything good to say about is the now disgraced former MP, who was the least objectionable Tory you could probably find and helped a friend of mine with her benefits claim. Compared to the filth, the whores, the cowards and the crazies taking a bit of money from a lobbying firms doesn't seem too bad. And the bloke with the sandwich board from the Common Sense party who wants, by the sound of him, to bring back the gold standard.

b said...

"America is still doing great research". The majority of it is military, so I wouldn't put it like that, but you have a point.

Through Fulbright scholarships and other means, the US dominates world science and world academia.
Many of the top professors in the US - probably the majority - are either foreign citizens or US citizens who have family reasons for loyalty to Israel. The US is still a magnet for many careerist types around the world, not just in Europe but in India, China and South America. They earn more money there and many of them just follow the pack because they are too stupid to form opinions for themselves. But given that many of them would call the US 'vulgar' (so long as no US dude who might hire them is listening), you gotta wonder why else they embrace that country other than because they can make more money there than they can at dear old Home. What is it but vulgar for people who are already financially secure to base their life plans on following the money? They're as vulgar and greedy as fuck. Not that they base their decisions on the views they have of themselves. Too busy playing Let's-pull-a-fast-one-on-the-punters, with occasional breaks for Dog-eat-dog and the fucking gym.

Middle-class teenage brats around the world seem to be in love with the US. A great deal of US propaganda is aimed at them. What with the 'Arab Spring' etc. (you wonder how many commentators were born yesterday), recent US campaigns have had a lot of success.

@gavan - Yes. Over here in Britain, the myth of the knowledge economy has enormous influence. All major political parties sell the idea that the City of London produces much or most of the 'wealth' in the country. They and the 'experts' say that the most vital occupations are

a) conning people into debt and insurance deals, managing hedge funds, speculating in property, doing shit on the internet, advertising, and running restaurants for people who do the above, and

b) services which are necessary to keep the show on the road, such as nursing, school-teaching, the fire service and the police

This 'knowledge economy' rubbish (and it is total rubbish: neither the US nor Britain can viably function like Singapore) connects with the way London - not just its geographically small financial centre - is ramped up as the 'hub' of the country. Its population has increased from maybe 6 million to 8 million in recent years. Oh wow, they say, look at all the 'graduates' it's attracting.

The truth is that millions of white working class people and many working class people of other ethnicities too have left London because they couldn't stand it any more, and their places have been taken by increasing numbers of very low-paid workers, mainly of minority ethnicity, including many who are recent immigrants, in many cases working on a half or a third of the wages that used to be paid to people doing the same jobs 10-20 years ago.

To give you a flavour: as the oil companies cut corners and closed down a lot of their petrol stations (it's no skin off their nose if people have to drive further to get petrol!), many of the premises have been taken over by gang-protected low-paid immigrants who do things like washing car windscreens. Often they will live in the practically falling-down building and keep some chickens out the back.

London has basically become a third world city, like New York or Detroit.

To paraphrase Bertold Brecht: when the rulers trumpet 'sustainability', famine is already being prepared

And more kids go to 'university' nowadays. The only reason that development has been brought about is because a) most of them can be got into big-time debt as soon as they turn 18, the youngest age at which a person can agree a contract, and b) there aren't any jobs. Your typical dude in Britain nowadays is in debt up to his eyeballs from 18 to about 50.

Assoc Prof said...

I teach at a large state university and I just do not see this problem with my students at all. They are not entitled or arrogant or disrespectful. They are hardworking, they do read and they learn a lot in their courses. I know this because I teach subjects you don't pick up through pop culture or common sense and I see the improvement on their exams -- they know nothing coming in and a lot when they leave. I don't think this doom and gloom characterization of college students or higher education is helpful.