A Capital Idea Part 117: An Educational Model for Progress

Education, broadly speaking, is the imparting of impartial information and ideas to people. It includes formal education, learning how to do one's job from other workers, media news insofar as it is true and unbiased, and people sharing information and ideas over the internet. As with health care, affordable education should be a right, not a privilege.

True education needs to be free of ideological, religious or profit-driven bias. That might seem a strange comment, coming from a progressive blogger, but I am confident that truely unbiased knowledge will lead to a more progressive society. I have often heard the complaint, from people of various political orientations, that education is essentially an exercise in "brainwashing," and I agree that it all too often is indeed an effort to propagandize the "students." We have heard of conservatives' efforts to influence textbooks, starting with the Texas Board of Education and conservative influence on the Texas-based publishers of textbooks. There is also the push for "equal representation" of conservatives among professors. Religious schools might be fine for teaching arithmatic or the ABCs, but they tend to be horrible at teaching anything scientific, since so much of science tends to conflict with most religions. We all know full-well that Christian schools have as their primary goal, the spreading of their religious beliefs. The more recent danger in higher education is the corporate agenda. Colleges and universities have come to rely upon corporate funding more and more, as public funding has dwindled over the past few decades in the United States. Consequently, corporations have taken the opportunity to set the curriculum to whatever extent they can, and propagandize college students to be good, loyal, low-paid corporate workers. This trend has even extended to K-12 education to an extent.

I propose here that education, of all kinds, be formally ensconced in a model for progress. First, the right to affordable education must be written into law. Conservative overlords, as they always have throughout history, want an ignorant, uneducated population, aside from those people who need to be educated to do certain jobs. Furthermore, they want whatever education we have, to be biased to favor them -- that exercise in brainwashing mentioned earlier. It seems to me that the best ways to prevent this are: A. Culturally value true education and knowledge; and B. Encode the right to affordable education into law. Second, sources of bias in education must be eliminated. Corporate funding of universities and other schools is out. Religious schooling must be carefully regulated. Academic freedom, as long as it is in the pursuit of truth and the imparting of knowledge, is in and ideologically driven textbooks are out. These changes will require some legislative and regulatory action as well, in order to safeguard the integrity of our educational process.

Similarly, regarding other forms of lifelong education, such as media news and internet sharing, some legislative actions are needed to safeguard the process to ensure that people are learning from each other, not bullying, lying or propagandizing each other for personal gain. In order to call itself news, television and radio programs must present balanced, or unbiased programming. Otherwise, such shows (such as Fox "News") should be classified as opinion shows. With regard to the internet, I have found that there is a tendency for conservatives to intimidate progressives such as myself, in an effort to truncate honest discussion. The fact that they cannot shut us up, is I suspect why some conservatives have recently reacted so strongly and irrationally to our opinions; they find our truths threatening to their world view, and their efforts at intimidating us into silence have not been effective. These efforts by conservatives may take the form of personal attacks, but more commonly, they seem to take the form of "trolling," but in a more sophisticated form; that is, a statement which looks progressive friendly is made, but a progressive reply is subsequently attacked, or a topic with a progressive sounding title is presented, but the content is a conservative diatribe. In any case, "trolling" is a violation of internet protocol, which needs to be regulated more effectively. The same is true of personal attacks. The internet needs to be a place of open, honest, civil discussion.

The topic of unbiased education in all of its various forms, as a right, is simple in principle, but as this discussion indicates, ensuring it is not simple, and involves various legislative safeguards. All of this is well-within our reach, however. It is a matter of good legislation and regulation. Many other nations seem to be doing a much better job of this already, than the United States. Perhaps just as important ultimately, is a culture of truthfullness and honesty which as ideals, can be built around the public knowledge of these safeguards to our knowledge acquisition processes. In my view, having appropriate legislative safeguards, as well as a culture of open an honest knowledge acquisition, will inevitably lead to a more progressive society. The only way a mercilously greedy person can see to prevent progress, is to stunt our innate drive for knowledge by short-circuiting the educational process and turning people into "wage-slaves," driving humanity into a sort of cultural evolutionary dead end. Humanity did not evolve as it has, by preventing our fellow humans from learning.


Robindell's picture
Robindell 5 years 29 weeks ago

I think there are many problems with education that either not acknowledged or well understood by most educators. Parents may try and limit what their childern learn in school; some low-wage, uneducated people are suspicious of learning and don't value education, except perhaps for the possibility of its leading to a good job somewhere down the road. Conservative parents may not want their children exposed to unfamiliar ideas and maybe even contradict some of what their kids are being taught in schools. Politicians have their own agendas which may also interfere with what teachers are supposed to be doing.

I have a book, edited by Russ Kick, called You Are Being Lied To. The book is a anthology, a reader of different authors and topics. One chapter is on education, and the author refers to Alvin Toffler, who he calls a "social critic" but who I was under the impression is a futurist. Anyway, the author writes that Toffler said that the schools are set up as assembly lines to mold children into becoming compliant industrial workers. Today, we have more of a service-based economy, as manufacturing has been in decline. The schools, the author of this chapter says, have experts -- teachers -- who decide what is important, and when. The school uses regimentation to teach students to do as they are told instead of learning to think for themselves; the emphasis is on learning to follow rules. This system, it is said, does not promote creativity in students, a quality that is supposedly needed more today than in the past, when work often was or resembled an assembly line. Intellectual curiosity is stifled in the process.

I am not sure that this argument is completely valid. From my vantage point, I see people who often are too undisciplined, choatic, loud, insensitive to the feellings of otehrs, and concentrated on fufilling one's own needs to the exclusion of anyone else's. People often seem to be too creative with the facts, making something up that fits with their view of the world, rather than questioning their own views. I find that there is so much impatience with and even intolerance of others in society. Patience is a necessary quality, a precursor to study, scholarship, and knowledge acquisition. Everyone has to be first in social situations, while entering a store, while driving, while engaging in a conversation. I find that people often are lacking in reasonableness and in common sense and in figuring something out for themselves instead of immediately having to ask someone else for an answer or explanation.

Teachers often emphasize the role of parents in their child's education. That is an important and influential role. But that does not excuse the failure of education in too many instances to develop characteristics which are needed for learning, the ability to try and understand difficult or confusing material, the need to consult more than one source of information. Upper middle class parents may be so wrapped up with their careers and with social obligations that they may not have much time for their children. Lower class parents may not know how to reasonably control their children's behavior or to teach them values and ethics.

Creatiivity for the sake of creativity does not seem like it would necessarily serve a constructive purpose. Creativity at the service of creating beauty or solving a problem makes sense. Perhaps what is actually missing is the development of so-called critical thinking skills.

A psychology professor once made the claim that artistic types were not that good with sticking to the facts, with being objective. That may have been an exaggeration, but I can see where it might be somewhat true.

I know of an individual who claims to be a Democrat and who doesn't like Republicans, particularly George W. Bush. Yet, the individual seems more on the side of management rather than of labor, sometimes, a defender of the status quo, of authority figures. The individual does not have much post-secondary formal education and yet at times seems to have little repect for people who have a greater level of education, and is sometimes arrogant toward co-workers. I wonder if a lack of education breeds insecurity which then results in compensation through an attitude of superiority, or if this over-abundance of self-confidence resulted in the person not continuing on with post-secondary education and possibly earning some kind of academic degree.

I sort of resented the idea of having to pay money in the form of rather expense college tuition just so a person would have some credential to help in qualifying for a (future) job. Why should people have to pay a large sum of money just to become employed, when schools offer no guaranty of employment?

I was in downtown Chicago (otherwise known as "the Loop") the other day. There are always a substantial number of homeless people on certain streets, asking for a financial donation. Some rattle a cup, some have a sign, a few approach you and verbally ask for help. William Julius Wilson is an African-American sociologist who was at the University of Chicago before moving to Harvard. In Chicago, he conducted research on poverty and wrote the book, The Truly Disadvantaged. He claimed that the disappearence of factories and industrial manufacturing jobs from many inner-city neighborhoods resulted in a drastic increase in poverty and unemployment. I wonder how many of these homeless people downtown, almost all of whom are African-American, ever were employed and simply were laid off, and how many never really were skilled or dependable or mentally healthy enough to have held a job.

Mayor Daley and some Illinois state lawmakers were concerned about this problem at an earlier time, although not concerned enough, but now, Illinois and the city are both teetering on financial collapse, and so funding for housing, vocational, and health care programs is extremely tight in Illinois and no doubt in California as well. Rahm Emanuel and the city council cut funding for city-run neighborhood mental health centers. A number of these clinics are in the process of being closed. At one of these facilities, protesters chained themselves to the inside of the building and had to be removed by Chicago police. A North Side alderman who is considered to be a good guy by many voted for the mental health funding cuts, and a meeting he held in his ward was interrupted by some people who were in disagreement. They stood up and criticized him publically. The administration claims that provisions have been made to increase services elsewhere, but the protesters say that the mentally ill are unable to travel to another neighborhood to go to a far-away clinic, where they are unfamiliar with both the location and the staff members. Even when the economy was doing better than it has been doing for some time, the services were not always adequate or accessible to those who were homeless or had other problems.

Our educational system produced citizens throughout America who voted for politicians who favored the deregulation of banks and of Wall St. and this it is believed by many led to much of the financial collapse. I am not sure all of the economic problems and mortage failures can be blamed on deregulation, but either political candidates in the past did not honestly represent their economic policy positions, or people were too naive and/or dumb to see what these pro-business people actually stood for and supported, and what the consequences of such positions might be.

Natural Lefty's picture
Natural Lefty 5 years 29 weeks ago

I am not sure where to begin with a response to your post with so much relevant information.

First of all, I think I will mention the point of this post has to do primarily with legislation's role in education. Our political system has something to do with the way education is done in the U.S., but on the other hand, the voters produced by our educational system help shape the political system, as you point out. In any case, our voters and political system plus our culture have produced an educational system which is very flawed and poorly supported.

I don't entirely agree with the compliant factory workers view of U.S. education, either. That is not my experience, and it doesn't agree with at least the emphasis of the better grade schools around the U.S., much less its colleges. It might be true of vocational schools, though, and our academic system is having some big problems, mostly caused by lack of support in recent years. I do agree that we don't teach critical thinking skills enough or encourage the development of creative skills enough in our schools, even if people may have difficulty being objective while being creative.

I just saw an article in a local paper about the college where I teach. It was all about the budget shortfall, not that I didn't already know that. I was actually glad to see that was in the news. My summer classes have been cancelled for the second consecutive year due to budget cuts. Overall, the budget is over 14 million dollars in deficit, and the "equivalent of 26 full time jobs are being cut." I was really puzzled by that, because that would mean that each full time employee was being paid over $500,000 each according to the math, which is hugely more than what I think they are being paid, and also, full time faculty positions are not being cut unless somebody retires. It's the part-timers' work that is being cut.

I was just thinking recently about how students pay enormous sums of money nowadays to go to college, which results in the students going into debt big-time. The colleges get all of this tuition money, but there is no guarantee that the student will get a good job after graduating (assuming that the student graduates). Meanwhile, they are supposed to pay back their loans to the banks, a process at which the banks earn an enormous amount of money too. However, when students cannot pay back their loans, what happens? Does the school reimburse the student? No. Does the bank reimburse the students? No, that would be anathema to a banker. It's up to government and the public, I guess, to bail out the student loans, just as the public seems to bail out the bankers, businesses, and any other "too big to fail" enterprise while they dance their way to the bank with their ill-gotten money. In more socially advanced nations than ours, education is inexpensive at all levels, or even free, supported by progressive taxes, as I advocated in this post.

My wife and I went to downtown Chicago a few years ago. My parents used to live there before I was born. When we were there, however, we had a similar experience to yours. I remember being asked for money by two different African-American men on a short walk. We went to a nearby McDonalds. They were open, but closed for the day shortly after we got there, because it was 5 p.m. Apparently, the neighborhood is quite unsafe after 5 p.m. Overall, the whole area seemed run-down and the roads and other infrastructure seemed badly in need of upgrading. I had the impression of extreme wealth disparity when I saw the contrast of the run-down neighborhoods to the big modern looking skyscrapers such as the Sears Tower.

Finally, the role of parents is indirectly dealt with in this post as well. Actually, I talk about the role of the larger culture in producing a good learning environment for progress to occur in. Parents of course, play a huge role in that. Showing them that their attitudes make a real difference is crucial to changing the culture of education in the U.S.

Robindell's picture
Robindell 5 years 28 weeks ago

In my experience, almost all large U.S. cities have a sharp contrast between working class and poor inner-city neighborhoods and expensive areas. I have never been west of the Midwest, but I am sure that Los Angeles and even San Francisco and San Diego have their share of poverty. L.A. is known for gang activity, as is Chicago. There is a book that describes mentally ill and other homeless people who hang out in an area that is right in downtown L.A. There is a mental health agency in that neighborhood that is part of the story in the book. I am referring to The Soloist, which is a true story that was made into a movie and was also featured on CBS News 60 Minutes. In Chicago, the contrast is even more evident than in smaller cities as the buildings are even taller and the city has the exclusive Lake Shore Drive which going north takes you past miles of expensive, luxurious, tall condo and apartment buildings. The area just south of the Loop has experienced an explostion in new residential construction. I would assume that most of these buildings are condominiums. The most troubled neighborhood in the city is supposedly Englewood on the Southwest side, but crime happens in many areas. The North Side has less crime than the South and West sides and has many older neighborhoods that are still solidly middle class. Chicago has the largest population of Poles outside of Warsaw, Poland. The city has the largest Mexican art museum in the U.S. It is often considered to be the most ethnically-oriented city in the country because of all the various ethnic groups that moved there over the years. Chicago was once the fastest-growing city in the world. A writer I know wrote a book which was made into a movie years ago, and he spent time in Hollywood working on the script for the film, and he said to me that Chicago with its lakefront is a more beautiful city than is L.A.

Chicago is architectually significant because of several famous architects that worked their in the past and because it was home to the world's first skycraper. The site was first settled by a black man who I think was French Canadian by the name of DuSable. There is a small statue and plaque right near the Chicago River in his honor that was recently installed.

I took Amtrack once through Baltimore on the way to Philadelphia, and the slums in Baltimore (especially right near the famed Johns Hopkins University Hospital and Medical Center) looked even more decrepit and run-down than almost any areas I have seen in Chicago, and Chicago has some old neighborhoods. Philadelphia, at one time at least, was described as having more empty lots where houses had been torn down than any other city, but I think that record has since been surpassed by Detroit. I live about 5 hours away from Detroit and have visited that city three times in my lifetime, and they have some very poor areas. Washington, D.C. has one of the most troubled school systems in the country, one of the highest murder rates, and some of the poorest neighborhoods you will see anywhere. The small steel-producing city of Gary, Indiana is among the poorest, with a high crime rate. Downtown Gary on Broadway, which is the city's main street, consists mostly of out-of-business stores with many of the windows knocked out and glass on the ground. There is a Sheridan Hotel that is 10 stories tall that has stood abandoned and empty for many years. The current mayor says that she has had companies volunteer to take it down, and she hopes to have it demolished. The previous mayor wanted to rehab it into a senior citizen's residential building, a very bad idea that fell through. Gary which was built for U.S. Steel once had a population in its heyday that was almost as large as Riverside's, 200,000, but today it has only about 80,000.

Downtown Chicago is quite safe even at night. The poor people on the streets who need help are no threat and are very timid for the most part, having been oppressed, ignored, and otherwise mistreated. It is actually quite common for there to be older, poorer neighborhoods surrounding an urban downtown core. There is a book called The Urbane View by Scott Greer which compares the older model of St. Louis to the newer, more spread-out form of development found in L.A.

Since you last visited Chicago, I think the Loop has been revived somewhat. During the day, downtown is always very busy, the sidewalks generally crowded, even on weekends. There are several large movie palaces that have been remade into broadway-type theatres, and the Goodman Theatre which is currently doing The Iceman Cometh with Brian Denney and Nathan Lane moved more directly into the theatre district. Chicago is known for its neighborhood restaurants and bars which often serve as neighborhood gathering places. One correction I would make is that the Sears Tower is no longer called that. It is no longer owned by Sears, which bought K-Mart and moved its headquarters to a Northwest suburb and is not doing too well and is closing a number of stores. The building is now called the Willis Tower. The Freedom Tower under construction in New York will overtake Willis as the tallest building in North America. Chicago now also has its own Trump building which is mostly residential. The lower levels are all intended for retail shops, and I was sort of glad to see that Trump has not yet rented out any of them as they appear to be empty. The building is a combination Trump Hotel and very expensive condos. (I stood right outside of Trump's building and not being able to resist, I said, "You're fired!")

Once, when I was downtown, a man came up to me and complained that the city has all of these expensive skycrapers and office buildings when the neighborhoods are being neglected. My father used to say that the University of Chicago had the most famous sociology department of any U.S. university, and yet they couldn't solve the social problems such as poverty and crime right in Woodlawn, which is the neighborhood next to Hyde Park where the university is located.

Finally, last month, I also went to Chicago and heard a live concert with the San Francisco Symphony which is touring the country in honor of their 100 year or so anniversary. Several famous orchestras and musicians visit Chicago each year.

Natural Lefty's picture
Natural Lefty 5 years 28 weeks ago

Yes, I think that all cities tend to develop the same pattern of urban blight. it seems to me that the contrast was more extreme in Chicago than in other cities that I have seen, though. That is ironic that the sociologists at the University of Chicago cannot seem to solve the social problems around them, but, that would also take a lot of funding which I doubt they have.

"You're Fired, Donald Trump." That's pretty funny. I don't think he has any buildings in this region, none that I have heard of, at least.

My impression of Chicago at night was that business owners were afraid of crime, even if it is quite safe. Perhaps the perception doesn't match the reality. It looked to me as though businesses closed early or made it impossible to enter without permission in the area we were in. I think we went to Gary, Indiana briefly too, but we probably didn't go to the poorest areas. I think we basically drove through there and got gas for our rental car there. We haven't been to Philadelphia, Washington, D.C. or Detroit, at least not yet. We still have several states which are on my wife's agenda to visit, but those cities are not in those states.

I wrote another blog post today which included a lot of material about research psychology -- specifically test validation -- and also from my friend who used to be a member of this site but was banned quite a while ago, Poor Richard, who recently wrote a post on nearly the same topic. My post from earlier today is called "Making Money Real."

We have a lot of abandoned business buildings around here; the economy around here has been pretty bad for a long time, so some of the business buildings have been empty for probably 10 years or more. There would be a lot of abandoned houses, too, but those who can afford them, or those who are willing to spend their savings in order to buy them, are snapping them up at relatively cheap prices, and renting them to people who can't afford to buy homes. However, we also have shopping areas near here that have been recently built and are doing well. Almost all of the stores in the new shopping areas, however, aside from a few restaurants, are large chain stores.

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