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Colleges should be the destination for those interested in Sartre and Camus, Planck and de Broglie. Attempting to transform universities into some kind of glorified vocational system that confers the final stamp before a white collar career is wreaking havoc on society. It is especially harmful to disadvantaged/working class populations who a) take on horrific amounts of debt in an attempt at a better life and b) are often unsuited to "creative" professions due to a mismatch in aptitude or temperament.

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The "get the job done" part is interesting. For all that we live in a fairly ruthless capitalist economy, there are lots of places for the incompetent* to hide, and paradoxically this becomes easier the more white collar the environment. I've done pizza delivery, where an inability to find a house or show up on time gets you unceremoniously fired. I've done data entry, where slacking off to read a sports website gets your pay docked. I've done blue collar work, where incompetence makes you the pariah of the shop and guarantees temporary misery and eventual unemployment. And finally I've done - and am at this second doing - middle management in corporate America, where busily doing eight hours of unproductive nothing a day gets you a matched 401k and health insurance.

In this sense, funneling people into roles that are contrary to their abilities actually makes a lot of sense. Few things have less impact on day-to-day life than the composition of a Google doodle or shuffling the menu options on the Uber app. If on the other hand that person can't check a brake system properly, or can't hang drywall correctly, the consequences are much direr.

Eventually the music will stop. But for the time being, arraying society to get as many people into home office sinecures as possible, ability be damned, is very, very rational, because what use is ability anyway when resources are so abundant and roles so meaningless?

*Many of these people being incompetent through little to no fault of their own; rather they are acting very rationally by taking opportunities afforded them by a society that thinks diplomas are magic scrolls that award not just a middle class life but actually denote someone's abilities.

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Aug 10, 2021Liked by Freddie deBoer

The movement to lower standards has reached university physics. The American Physical Society ran an editorial by a Nobel Prize winner advocating re-formulating physics classes to best fit the lower third of the students (not a crazy policy position), and explicitly denying the existence of any relevant talent variation (a pretty crazy factual claim). Worse, it turns out that the published research papers used to support the general position are amazingly incorrect, with explicit logic errors. I describe the technical aspects here: https://arxiv.org/abs/2101.05647.

To the great credit of the editor of the journal that published the research papers (a branch of Physical Review), they are about to publish most of my technical critique. (The arXiv version also discusses two papers published since my journal version was submitted.)

These dismal research papers, like the one on GRE's I discuss here https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCHEvLUxTWGsAjNjR3epRiQw and here https://arxiv.org/abs/1902.09442, give us a taste of the pseudoscientific drivel toward which we seem to be heading.

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Aug 10, 2021Liked by Freddie deBoer

"..we cannot achieve equality in schooling because human beings are not equal in their abilities"...

This obviously true statement is now verboten in polite society.

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We had the same problem when I worked at a community college. Students failed remedial classes over and over until they gave up. We tried everything. Tutoring, co-reqs, learning communities. Forgiving their debt so they could try again.

It was hard to point to one problem. Some students never came to class because they had work or childcare problems. Some seemed to have undiagnosed learning disabilities; we rarely assessed for that although we provided accommodations like “extra time” for those who came in with documented disabilities.

There was a lot of pressure on instructors. Some had very low passing rates, year after year (like 25%) while others regularly passed more than half. Of course, the instructors with low passing rates said their colleagues were inflating grades. The administration said they were bad teachers.

I never knew who was right. But either way, the point still stands because even the instructors with “high” passing rates had students who just could not get there for whatever reason. Ability, motivation, something. A lot of them left with nothing but debt.

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I had dinner with a good friend last night who is a law professor. He's noticed a recent sharp shift in pressures and standards at his highly rated law school. It's happened so fast that it's caught him off guard. The focus has shifted from demanding achievement and promptness from students to catering to their comfort and emotional wellbeing, empowering them to report every slight they perceive in class or elsewhere, and micromanaging professors' speech in the hypotheticals they conjure to demonstrate a legal point. The law school scrutinizes grades a professor gives to a student, if said student reported something untoward by said professor.

Examples of the untoward reported against professors, prompting a talking to with the professor, include excessive use of "he/him" in hypotheticals. My friend said, that to be safe, he's defaulted to exclusively using "she/her" in his hypotheticals to avoid someone sitting in class counting how many times he says "he," and since there's never a complaint against overuse of "she/her." I wonder if the students equally police the frequency of "he/him" in their Criminal Law classes.

Other examples include students being offended and complaining about the use of anything that casts a different culture or country in a light that's less than maximally prosperous and advanced. So you can mention someone stopping for a quick bite at a hotdog stand, but not a taco truck, because that presents Mexicans and Latin Americans as poor and unsophisticated. While it's ok to talk about Target or Walmart, US discount chain stores, you can't make a hypothetical about a Target- or Walmart-like chain store in Mexico because that too juxtaposes Mexico with poverty and cannot be tolerated. My friend was reported for this racial insensitivity when setting up an anti-trust violation hypothetical, and got a talking to from the admins. This friend of mine, a life-long activists Democrat who I adore for his love of liberty, open mind and open heart, and his side-splitting sense of humor, is now afraid of cracking a single joke or saying anything in class that's not expressly in the course material.

I asked him how his colleagues are teaching Constitutional Law and Civil Procedure, and Criminal Law classes, course materials chock full of offensive and triggering subject matter. How do you tiptoe around those topics and still manage to teach? How does the law school pump out freshly minted lawyers capable of defending or prosecuting rape cases, child abuse cases, or employment discrimination or harassment complaints, if they're so easily traumatized, and the law school validates and caters to their feather touch detonators? How do the students even absorb the complex subject matter when distracted by "offensive" details not germane to the legal analysis? Has law school given up on fostering well-rounded maturity, a love of liberty and justice, and the ability to tell right from wrong, while telling the students they're right about everything, all the time? He had no idea. The professors don’t talk among themselves, mostly because Covid has largely driven them to stay off campus as much as possible. My friend is himself reluctant to talk to other professors, because he feels he's in a mine field. Ultimately the school policy is now geared towards blaming the profs for disrupting the student's concentration and educational experience with classroom speech the students disapprove of.

It appears the lowering of standards and expectations of competency is occurring at every level of education. It should surprise no one that our law schools are producing ACLU director level attorneys that advocate book-burning. Next up, doctors who advocate for a diet rich in deep-fried butter with a speedball chaser because it's been linked to an instant hit of euphoria and sense of well-being, advancing the prime objective to make people feel good all the time.

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college is an interesting experience and i found it partially useful but not so much so that i went on to an MA and Ph.D.; those would have destroyed my capacity to do what i wanted to do which was a broad interdisciplinary degree far different than anything i could have received in the university system, even in the 70s. I believe strongly in education, not schooling. and i believe in extremely high standards of intellectual achievement; without it, it all becomes a joke, as the US is fast becoming in every way possible. Reagan really screwed the US education system when he began focusing it on being a vocational process rather than an education process. There should always have been at least two tracks, one vocational another liberal educational, with some people going into STEM fields out of the liberal track. But the system has been so perverted now that it is not salvageable. I don't know what the solution is, but i do know that a striving for excellence and to do as well as those i respect, or as close to it as i can get, is what education is all about. i was lucky enough that that sort of thing was still possible when i came up. but the plain truth is that not all people are meant for college or university and it should be fine that they are not. there needs to be a place for all of us in this country, not just some of us. And i do bemoan the incredible stupidity that is now occurring among my liberal tribe about intellectual excellence and in my country, too. as well, the cruelty of the culture toward anyone not part of the elite . . . we are well and truly in bad territory.

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I really appreciate your articles about education. Between my family and my girlfriend, there are 6 teachers/professors and they nearly all tell of facing bureaucratic pressure to pass kids that aren't ready for various reasons, which only hurts them in the long run (only my brother, a teacher in Germany, doesn't face these problems). Ranging from my gf being asked to pass students in Geometry if they complete just one extra assignment despite failing the entire course to my dad having to try and teach international students who scored a 440 on the TOEFL test because they're cash cows for the university. They despise the excessive standardized testing like Pearsons but also know there needs to be an objective way to assess a student's abilities.

I remember my own absurd story from High School Trigonometry class where everyone did so poorly we had an extra credit multiple choice test just to pass people. And this was a blue ribbon school.

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I think part of the solution is letting teachers... teach. Let them decide what each student needs and leave the administration out of it. Raise the bar for teaching. Require real world experience for teachers instead of requiring the least challenging degree universities offer. I am so against the teachers unions but so very much FOR individual teachers.

Also the governor of Oregon just waved requirements for being able to read or do basic math a pre-requisite for graduating high school because she feels that black people can't be expected to do these basic things. Any pushback against this, even from black people, is deemed racist.

I would quote Zizek now but I'm exhausted and have a therapy session starting in 10 minutes. (Literally)

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Aug 12, 2021Liked by Freddie deBoer

Something alluded to but not explicitly stated:

We give everyone 13 years of free education in this country. Somewhere in the last few years, we have decided that the "equitable" thing to do is to drop all standards and expectations for those 13 free years of education, and instead shuffle people along to years 14-17, in which we suddenly have significant cost and academic standards .

Of course, you can do remedial classes and catch up, but that will cost you more. But don't worry - you can have tens of thousands of dollars! (that you must pay back and can never shake in bankruptcy). Not that you understand any of this, because you have a 4th grade education.

The end result is "equity" gives us a bunch of people from poor/minority backgrounds who drop out of college, have loans to pay off, and have no actual skills. Years ago, these same people would have dropped out much earlier without debt and learned a trade that could lead to a productive working-class life.

This is not serving anyone well, except of course colleges and banks who get to soak up additional loans.

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Aug 11, 2021Liked by Freddie deBoer

The problem I've always had with standardized testing in the US (particularly as an entry point to higher learning) is the expectation that one is supposed to be proficient in both math/science and language/humanities—when in reality, so many of us have brains heavily weighted toward one or the other. I scored very poorly in the math section of the SAT and got an 800 in the verbal section (this was back in the day, before the "new SAT" - I would guess I'm roughly the same age as you).

Fortunately, the university I got accepted to saw past my faults, but I wish that more were like that. I do see merit in testing, but I wish that the US system would allow for more narrow topical focus the way some of Europe and the Middle East does.

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As far back as 1964, an English visitor described the US something like this: "The question was not 'Have you got a degree?' but 'Where did you get your degree?'"

The end game may have to be that everyone has a degree and employers ask for other evidence of ability.

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This is such an important topic and I know you're always on thin ice for writing about it with intellectual honesty vs. dogmatic posturing so...thank you. One thing I'm thinking about is what it means to be "prepared" for college. In math or computer science, it's easy enough to see how you can't take a college-level class w/out the pre-reqs. Where it's murkier to me is in the humanities where students who may not be stellar writers and might have trouble with some of the reading material (I'll pause here to note that I didn't undertand a good % of my freshman syllabus which was heavy on Aristotle, Kant and just-fail-me-now Aquinas but this hasn't held me back in life) -- but who might be completely capable of engaging in classroom discussions and may, with some extra help, improve on their reading comprehension and writing ability. To me, that doesn't devalue the college experience in any way that I care about -- yes, it might devalue it from the perspective of professional oneupmanship if non-stellar students are graduating from my elite institution but this might be a good thing, to flatten the hierarchy of higher education and just make college a place to explore, learn as best you can, and exchange ideas (again, rocket/computer science excepted).

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The first part of your post uses the term unprepared. That implies (in my mind) that they could be prepared under the right conditions. But the thesis of your book is that there are people with low ability and even the best education in the world isn't going get them to Stanford/Google.

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“Students are consumers now and consumers get what they want”

Brilliant. The customer is always right lol

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Someone should ask the OR governor how the suspension of proficiency requirements will help AAPI students in particular and all students in general.

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