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Doesn’t it all belong to the economists anyway? Has education research done by educators in schools of education had a meaningful impact on education policy in recent years? I feel like everything that’s happened since at least NCLB has been under the direction and guidance of economists. Emily Oster has done so well with the pandemic and getting pregnant women to drink (just a little bit!) that I nominate her to empirically study all scholastic decisions, large and small.

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it was reagan and the republicans who decided to make schooling into an employment process, giving economists power in this realm. Part of their purpose was to break the public school system as it was, including the teachers unions, which tended to vote democratic, as all unions (except police) tended to do once upon a time.

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The Ford Foundation and Hillary Clinton continued the process of "corporatizing" education. See Glynn Custred's article on the CSU Systems' "Cornerstones" project in the 1990s.

The Democratic Party subsequently abandoned labor radicalism in preference to IdPol, turning labor unions into lobbying appendages of the neoliberal economic system and partisan political corruption.

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So complex. I have a simple truth: 50% of people are below average. Education, learning, practical application, why do some people succeed where others fail? Thank you for your effort to figure it out.

For me the question becomes how we treat people who can’t get there. Currently we leave them in abject misery. Half of people will fail in a knowledge based economy. How are we going to treat them? Saying that half of people will fail cuts against politeness and politics.

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People fail for so many reasons. Often it is about talent. Often it is not. When I was a kid, kids from my neighborhood didn't want to do well in school because they couldn't stand the wealthy kids who looked down on them. So failing to them, meant creating a distinct and separate identity from those whom they loathed. Not sure where this shows up in educational research.

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Good point. Lots of PhD‘s driving Uber. For success interpersonal skills, opportunity, luck are more important than education, knowledge, cognition - yes?

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I think this truth would be easier to swallow if being in the bottom half didn't also mean struggling to make enough money to live with dignity and basic human needs in the 21st century. Perhaps education and education research would be less fraught if the experimentation didn't shine a light on the kids destined to become adults with few options.

If everyone was guaranteed a basic income and enough food to eat after they leave school, would we be so horrified by the kinds of conclusions Freddie is drawing?

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>>>struggling to make enough money to live with dignity and basic human needs

What is this standard of living, and do we have a common/society wide agreement on this standard?

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pretty much, we do.

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I would think that adequate, up-to-code housing and three square meals a day would be a decent starting point.

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I think that the country doesn't have a common agreement on 'adequate' housing, much less 'up-to-code', and that society doesn't have a common agreement on what makes up '3 square meals'. Much less a common agreement on whether these should be provided in kind or via payments, and if the later, what happens when the payments are spent on other things.

We need at least a rough agreement on this before we can set any sort of guarantee.

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Up to code should be pretty commonly agreed on, considering they’re actual building and safety codes. SNAP and WIC programs have agreement on what counts as food. And as far as cash payments, whatever people are spending their money on is stimulating the economy. I have no interest in being a financial conservator for other grown adults.

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Building and safety codes can and do vary wildly by state and municipality. It's part of why building is more expensive in some places than others. Another issue is the approval of variances and grandfathering in old codes - if it's something that wouldn't be allowed in a new building (such as electrical outlets without childproof covers) but a majority of homeowners have in their houses today...is that 'up to code'? SNAP and WIC programs are based on a food plan that includes meat and excludes organic food - and on nutritional science that has proven to be iffy at best. As for playing financial conservator - is that not the point? That without outside help, they can't afford these things? I myself would have no problem with UBI, if there was any assurance that once that money was distributed (for that week, that month) - that was it. No coming back and saying "I spent it on booze/cable/drugs, now the kids are hungry, I need more."

Again - there is not agreement here, not even among leftists, much less the rest of the country that would be footing part of the bill. And it's not stupid or selfish to want answers to these reasonable questions.

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I live in a house built in 1989 (one of the newer structures in town) that is worth close to $1MM and it is clearly not "up to code." But it's a very suitable dwelling, no part of the construction is inherently unsafe, and anyone living in 'new,' fully code-compliant public housing would swap spaces with me and my family in a second.

It's not that there is no common agreement on "up-to-code" means [obviously all you have to do for that is pull the most recent code promulgated by the IEEE for the relevant trade (building, electrical, plumbing, etc.)], but on what constitutes habitability.

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How many square feet should a family of 4 be entitled to?

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actually, as someone who has built and remodeled homes in four states, i can tell you with complete candor that many of the building codes in effect are BS. Those codes are passed by a bunch of people who sit around all the time and think of more ridiculous stuff to add to the code. Much of it is really unnecessary. Further, the US, especially compared to the EU, builds the worst housing in the developed world. most houses are only intended to last for around 50 years now at most. Totally unsustainable. In Germany houses are designed to last several hundred years. In the US prior to the 60s and the emergence of mass production (and those building codes you are talking of) this was not uncommon either. There are in fact VERY few building codes that are necessary. Load bearing walls and electricity being two of the few that are crucial. An additional note, replying to Betty: the american idea of suburban houses with bedrooms for everyone and multiple bathrooms is not a sustainable form of housing for the world. It is very inappropriate to put our current idea of non-poverty on the world's housing. What really is true is that there are a great many forms of housing that are far better than surburban homes, that should avoid our idea of prosperity, that do not need the kind of waste treatment that we think essential in this country (and which is actually horribly bad for the environment and not all that good even by its own standards). Plumbing is fairly easy and needs very few if any codes for family housing, and in fact should be designed very differently when dealing with the waste and incoming water sources. This has been known for over a half century but nothing is being done simply because of the building industry. as with so many other things, the building industry controls housing codes and building innovation; they don't want it to change. Essentially, i would do away with nearly all codes and all licensure in most professions, including the trades. (I know whereof i speak.)

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The break down of high-social-trust makes that more and more impossible.

Thus there will be regression to high levels of social and economic inequality, and rule by authoritarians, such as can be seen in latin america for the last 150 years.

The loss of high-social-trust will correspond to increasing corruption and dysfunction in social institutions, including politics.

The left-vs-right narrative will continue to fail on all sides.

Slave owners always fear slave rebellions, and that fear shapes politics.

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See Maslow for the general case. Survival needs first: physical security from crime and social chaos, then food and water, a roof, medicine.

Evolutionary psychology is clear that the human need for purpose, meaning and belonging is a crucial survival adaptation for the human species because it is needed for social cooperation (parochial altruism).

Modern western civilization exists because the form of social cooperation that existed for 100,000s of years in premodern, "tribal" kinship groups was extended, via high-social-trust, to the larger "super-tribe" of nation state institutions.

The gene pool in NW Europe became more variable after the early church banned cousin marriage as a way to diminish the political power of clans. With increased variability, the co-emergent forces listed below led to the selection of liberal personality traits, such as "openness to new experience", and scientific innovation.

As feudal society (mostly rural peasantry, clans, honor systems) evolved into classically liberal modern civilization, Constitutional order co-emerged with the expansion of the urban middle (bourgeois) urban commoners class (scribes were needed in the new courts, etc.), increased literacy, increased river and sea trade, increased wealth, expanded representative institutions, decreased poverty, starvation and disease, and peasants' rights (see Leonard Liggio).

After 1492 the initial gains in creating decentralized liberal civilization were set back by imperialist projects and regression to rule via "oriental despotism" (honor systems within clans and dynasties).

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Yes, should the standard of living that we all achieve be a 2,000 square foot house for a family of 4 and one trip to Disney Land during one's lifetime?

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actually, the majority of physicians and scientists graduated in the bottom half of their class; meritocracy does not weed out stupid. it weeds out people who don't like school and tests and who want to do other things instead. But i do agree that respect for other forms of education and learning and working is essential. A lot of people are heading into the republican camp simply because of a lack of respect by liberals for what and who they are. (and yes, I have talked to them extensively on this issue.)

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I agree that the notion of meritocracy isn't an absolute determinant of a person's future. But as Freddie pointed out, the whole point of research is to make substantive generalizations. I guess what I really meant was school success (or lack of it) doesn't have to be horrifying to liberals if we changed our ideas about what success looks like. If a living wage was guaranteed to everyone, we could perhaps convince more people to be truthful about what education research is showing. It wouldn't necessarily be a travesty that some kids can never achieve what others can academically, because emotional competency/athletic competency/interpersonal competency/a great attitude don't always translate to careers if they're not accompanied by those high test scores.

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yes, completely agree

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From the viewpoint of evolutionary psychology, educational bureaucracy evolved to serve the narrow self-interests of people with a specific ideological agenda and narrative, and the need for propaganda to support that narrative (the corporate-state and its various components).

Classical liberals such as Henry David Thoreau saw big government being the same as imperialism and slavery.

By the late 1800s the industrial revolution had disrupted classical liberalism, and the idea of technological progress (driving social and political progress) replaced it.

The problem is that "progressives" were Hegelian idealists with a missionary, internationalist agenda: techno-economic progress via internationalism and imperialism. (Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson are the perfect examples.)

Those are some, but not the only, flaws that are fundamental to the dysfunctions built into the core of the establishment.

Anarchists tried to dig out the disease and failed.

Communists tried to dig out the disease and failed.

Fascists tried to dig out the disease and failed.

(The general pattern being an inadequate, utopian and/or romanticist paradigm that was as much of the problem as liberalism).

So, progressive-liberal civilization kept clanking and rumbling, becoming more of a giant mess.

By the 1900s, Martin Van Creveld, world class sociologist of war, was explaining that the modern nation state system was collapsing and that tinkering around the edges was not going to solve real problems.

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That being the case, what WILL solve real problems? (I mean that earnestly.)

Interesting point about the anarchists and communists and fascists trying and failing to “dig out the disease.” My (admittedly basic) understanding of those philosophies was step 1 = take the current system and burn it to the ground. They failed, but did they fail on their own merits? Or because the foundation of the current system is too strong? Or because we’ve evolved the way we’ve evolved and what is done cannot be undone?

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I've been following various religious/spiritual and rationalist philosophers and futurists for several decades, a few of them have ideas that might be worth studying (my guess is that Freddie is more or less converging on the same path they have been: post-postmodern, holistic-integrative epistemological indeterminacy, construct-aware meta rationalism, also known as Kegan Stage 5 awareness).

The issue in the 1700s/1800s was anxiety about a collapse of social and moral order as mythic civilization was giving way to rational civilization. Nietzsche summarized the problem by saying "God is dead ... and we killed Him".

"God" being the 3,000 year old system of mythic (Axial-contemplative) social, political and moral order. The core myth-narrative in that system was good-vs-evil, which is a purity myth: the kosmos is perfect and spiritually pure (free of evil, sin and suffering), but the world and the humans in it are "unclean" and can only attain spiritual salvation when they repent for their sins and emotionally buy into the social system's rules and regulations that attempt to discourage spiritual and moral impurity.

The big problem was that the ancien regime ("alter and crown") did not want to give way to liberalism, Constitutional order, rationalism, etc.

Weirdly, the opposition to rationalism, which goes back to the (Catholic) counter-reformation and then Rosseau, shows up as utopianism on both the far right and far left.

Classical liberalism (WERID(O)*) survived because it was on the leading of evolutionary emergence for well over 500 years, and as such, it captured more depth and breadth of meaning, more explanatory power and better solutions, than the competing paradigms.

What classical liberalism did not do was develop anti-fragile capabilities. So, it is fragile to disruption by postmodernism, the shift to global economics (which evade nation-state regulation) and technology, such as network effects.

The collective intelligence (the sense making social ecosystem) of modern rationalism is based on a hierarchy of curated expertise.

That hierarchy is dissolving because of network effects: information flows around the old, ossified regulatory hierarchy, which then becomes corrupt and dysfunctional.

This kinda jargony (a mix of futurism, systems theory and new agey consciousness studies), but is an otherwise good summary of the problem of "Blue church" hierarchies being disrupted:


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* WEIRD(O) civilization, explained:


W = western

E = educated

I = industrialized

R = rich/wealthy

D = democratic


O = outbred gene pool, no cousin marrage in NW Europe since it was banned by the early church from about 600 AD on

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some of the "Kegan Stage 5" communities:

Michel Bauwens, The P2P Foundation

Jim Rutt, Game-B

John Vervaeke and colleagues (cognitive science, reverse-engineering rational civilization)

Integral theory and "Spiral Dynamics" (Jean Gebser, Sri Aurobindo, Clare Graves, Ken Wilber, etc.)

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re: "Or because we’ve evolved the way we’ve evolved and what is done cannot be undone?"

short answer:

Yes and sorta.

Evolution has a pattern of dynamic equilibrium, as described in systems theory. Emergence: a system recovers from rapid change because of emergent properties that tend toward equilibrium, but also include capacities for surviving disruption.

Classic examples of civilization changing disruption:

1. the end of the ice ages eventually doomed nomadic hunting-gathering culture because settled agrarian civilization emerged under favorable conditions not present during the ice ages.

2. the Bronze Age Collapse doomed shamanic (embodied) spirituality because a new, higher order transcendent god was needed to justify a new social hierarchy to control the slaves and peasants and organize larger military defenses against nomadic marauders.

3. the industrial revolution and modern rationalism made the mythic sense-making system largely obsolete. Subjective, inner awareness (spirituality) gave way, mostly, to objective, exterior awareness (scientific rationalism and systems).

(See Gerhard Lenski for many other examples.)

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I agree that all workers deserve a living wage and comfortable life, and that it would make education research less urgent. But I think as long as we have achievement gaps between different demographics, there will be intense pressure on our schools. They're supposed to be the solution to both poverty and inequality.

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They are not the solution, that is an untruth. They are schools not employment agencies and they should not be. Poverty and inequality come from oligarchy and corporatist controls, economic manipulation. This is nothing that schools can change. Only government controls over corporations and oligarchs can do that.

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I agree! Sorry I wasn't clear -- I meant that "we" (Americans / corporate and political leaders) pressure our schools to solve those problems, not that it's realistic.

It's easier to blame teachers than to do something about the poverty and trauma so many kids are living through.

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unless "regulatory capture" (Wolin's inverted totalitarianism) stops, govt will continue to be part of the problem, not the solution.

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...and childcare and child welfare.

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When I saw the actual statistics for black people, there was something like a 15-20% increase in middle class income (movement for being very poor or lower working class), overall, since the 1960s.

That is a significant, positive change, but not as great as I had assumed.

The system(s) probably benefitted from low hanging fruit that was easily picked to show results early on with affirmative action: 25% of the population is well above average and reducing basic obstacles and creating opportunities for them allowed dramatic results.

After that, the going got a lot more rough, and progress more limited.

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Is there any country in the world where more than 33% (roughly) of the population gets a college degree? If facility in the "knowledge economy" is required to earn a decent living that would seem to condemn 2/3 of the population to economic misery.

I have an alternate approach: if you accept the idea that garbage men, construction workers, factory workers, grocery workers and delivery drivers, etc. are necessary to a functioning society then how about making sure that they earn a decent living regardless of their educational bona fides?

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Perfect, your argument is it. I had plumbers at my house yesterday, I paid close attention, those are smart people.

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smarter than most Ph.D.s actually. William Deresiewicz's piece, The Disadvantages of an Elite Education speaks to this exact issue, beginning with his interaction with his plumber. https://theamericanscholar.org/the-disadvantages-of-an-elite-education/

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Actually, I think plumbers usually make good money, but I'm on board with the sentiment.

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plumbers usually make a good living; EVERYBODY, no matter how poor will call them when the toilet backs up and won't be cleared or the pipes burst or the house floods. After them, remodeling carpenters who can do anything needed for home repair and upkeep are the most needed and called. They often make very good money. The rest of the trades . . . they are not as necessary to people who have limited income. But the truth is, people in the trades have a very different view of the world than Ph.D.s. What they do actually has something to do with the real world. one of the running jokes in the trades is the stupidity of architects in the US, few of them have worked in the trades and so continually come up with ridiculous things, further they tend to look down on the craftsmen who do the work. The ones i have met over the years seem oblivious to the contempt in which they are held.

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Good read thank you. “Approach the life of the mind with a pilgrim soul” - Deresiewicz has a nice way of expressing himself. My blue-collar family and I would say - don’t be a douche bag.

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good one, the difference between a Ph.D. and a regular person, captured perfectly. And yeah, Deresiewicz is really something. He has written a number of seminal articles on this and related issues. I think he has a fine mind.

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I love his book A Jane Austen Education. It's a great example of how the humanities can enhance your actual lived experience. If more folks would aspire to be craftsmen/tradespeople/essential workers (a designation I am really pleased has come out of the pandemic) who also happen to love reading and writing, rather than people who love writing grasping for things to write about without having any tangible skills, I believe we'd be better off as a society. But I'm biased, because that's the path I chose.

I recommend the movie Paterson, starring Adam Driver, which speaks to this very thing. (Driver, btw, is a veteran.)

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Garbageman wages: ~$20k annually for the low end (full time) up to ~$35k for mechanics and above ~$50k for managers. Construction guys make bank if they show up sober and don't violate safety rules. Factory workers and grocery workers - wages depend on available replacements - the job is important enough to keep hiring people, but not demanding enough to require someone of particular skill. Costco is already showing how to automate people out of jobs, and has for years. Any job that requires a clean driving record pays reasonably - unless by 'delivery driver' one means 'pizza guy' or 'Ubereats' - these tip based jobs have always had a high turn over. In all of these, smarter guys who are reliable workers make more money than average.

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Yes, most of the OECD countries have a higher tertiary graduation rate: https://data.oecd.org/students/tertiary-graduation-rate.htm (select only "Tertiary" in the "Perspectives" dropdown)

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Note that in the US roughly 45% had completed a tertiary education program, versus only roughly 33% who had completed a four year college degree.

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"Tertiary" includes trade schools, vocational colleges, etc. In terms of four year degrees. Consider Germany, which tracks students into two year trade schools. In terms of four year degrees in 2010 Norway took first place with 35% of the population holding a degree versus 32% in the US.

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The working classes made significant gains after 25 years of radical labor activism and a running war between the private police (Pinkertons) and revolutionaries from 1890 to 1915. Yes, there was a "secret" civil war in the USA between labor and industry in mining and timber camps, between populist small family farms and wall street, in meat packing plants, and in immigrant sweat shops such as textile businesses.

All of that eventually converged in FDR's New Deal, when the establishment capitulated to some of the demands of the radical labor movement.

But by the 1960s globalization began to set in, low wage immigrant labor and offshoring of jobs set in, as demanded by international bank pirates, driving wages for the working class down, or into stagnation.

As the political power of the working class diminished, the college-educated, professional "left" threw working class people under the bus.

The "right" then began a campaign of lies that pandered to and exploited working class voters for decades.

It seems unlikely that the existing political party system will deliver the solution.

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re: morals and heterodoxy in the postmodern era, corrupt New Clerisy

Snobs and totalitarians on the cultural-left have been throwing working class people under the bus for a looooooooong time, at least as far back as Marcuse, 1960s.

Education went from being traditionally elite, mostly hand-crafted, to a vast industrial project after WW2 (GI Bill). According to Eric Weinstein, the post-WW2 "growth model" crashed by the early 1970s, and a series of band-aids and work-arounds were put in place that did not "cure" the underlying "disease" of dysfunctional (pro-growth) bureaucracy in education.

The result is a vast, clattering and clanking Rube Goldberg machine that ultimately produces little or nothing more than what sitting kids down in a field with a pile of books would.

Freddie's main point, repeating what other critics have said for many decades, is that the existing system is deeply, profoundly broken and operates on the basis of corrupt power and intellectual dishonesty. It reflects the vastly dysfunctional values and ideology of the billionaire class (which are being rapidly adopted by the New Clerisy/The Elect: the upper class professional classes).

A system of corrupt self-dealers is inevitably going to produce contradictions, incoherence and inconsistencies and promote depraved, evil, sociopathic liars and narcissists to leadership positions (people with ZERO morals that are able to promote lies because doing so gives them power and money which they think will fill the spiritual hole at the center of their broken minds-souls).

Such sociopathic leaders are the prefect characters to defend the corrupt system from reformers like Freddie and meaningful change in general. (superficial educational reform fads replace meaningful change.)

The vast majority of non-sociopaths in the education establishment are people that refuse to challenge the sociopaths, out of reasonable fear of having their careers and reputations destroyed by the sociopathic leaders and their bureaucratic minions and twitter mobs.

The system is so pervasively corrupt and dysfunctional that it just has to be burned to the ground. The ashes then need to be dumped in the hole under an outhouse and covered with a bulldozer.

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Organisational sociopaths: rarely challenged, often promoted. Why?

Richard J. Pech and Bret W. Slade

Faculty of Law and Management, Graduate School of Management,

La Trobe University, Melbourne, Australia


Purpose – Organisations sometimes select and promote the wrong individuals for managerial positions. These individuals may be incompetent, they may be manipulators and bullies. They are not the best people for the job and yet not only are they selected for positions of authority and responsibility, they are sometimes promoted repeatedly until their kind populate the highest levels of the organisational hierarchy. The purpose of this paper is to address this phenomenon by attempting to explain why it occurs and why organisational members tolerate such destructive practices.

It concludes by proposing a cultural strategy to protect the organisation and its stakeholders from the ambitious machinations of the organisational sociopath.

Design/methodology/approach – The authors develop an explanatory framework by attempting to combine elements of the theory of memetics with structuration theory.

Memetic theory helps to analyse culture and communication of beliefs, ideas, and thoughts. Structuration theory can be used to identify motives and drives. A combination of these theoretical approaches can be used to identify the motives of organisational sociopaths. Such a tool is also useful for exploring the high level of

organisation tolerance for sociopathic managers.

Findings – Organisational tolerance and acceptance for sociopathic managerial behaviour appears to be a consequence of cultural and structural complexity. While this has been known for some time, few authors have posited an adequate range of explanations and solutions to protect stakeholders and prevent the sociopath from exploiting organisational weaknesses. Reduction of cultural and structural

complexity may provide a partial solution. Transparency, communication of strong ethical values, promotion based on performance, directed cooperation, and rewards that reinforce high performing and acceptable behaviour are all necessary to protect against individuals with sociopathic tendencies.

Originality/value – The authors provide a new cultural diagnostic tool by combining elements of memetic theory with elements of structuration theory. The subsequent framework can be used to protect organisations from becoming the unwitting victims of of sociopaths seeking to realise and fulfil their needs and ambitions through a managerial career path.



Society and Business Review

Vol. 2 No. 3, 2007

pp. 254-269

[(c)] Emerald Group Publishing Limited


DOI 10.1108/17465680710825451

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There are so many variables in education, particularly in our very heterogeneous country, I really don't know how we come up with sweeping theories. And yet we always want to. I am reminded of the reign of Whole Language, a time when teachers lived in fear of administrators catching them teach phonics or grammar. How did this ignite? Was it sparked by quantitative or qualitative research? Then we flipped, and became very skills oriented again. I wonder how it is now? Quantitative and qualitative both have value, taken with a grain of salt, because again, it's hard to apply something to everything. I'm surprised that quantitative is so disdained. How can one do research while excluding the quantitative?

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I should say, in case I was unclear, that education research is dominantly quantitative; that kind of research was/is unpopular in my weird little subfield within English.

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re: "How can one do research while excluding the quantitative?"

The simple answer is: because the system is corrupt, and being able to selectively present faux "research" that fits the narratives of sociopathic organizational leaders is what is being rewarded most of the time. Not scientific accuracy.

The human mind is complex, and mostly evolved for subjective information processing for survival in small survival groups with intense social bonding and cooperation as a defense against predators and other tribes.

Modern civilization's rational-systematic capacities require very elaborate, fragile scaffolding that is currently being disrupted by techno-economic change (postmodern culture, network effects, global economics).

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A little off topic but I want to rebut the idea that the finish line for educational research and reform should be getting everyone into college and an "elite" career. That is economically illiterate. A healthy economy has a wide diversity of work and not all of those jobs are going to be in the field of computer programming. Blue collar labor is just as necessary to a well-functioning society as white collar labor. It is no failure if somebody doesn't want to go to college--that is a simple and basic diversity that society as a whole should understand and embrace.

What is remarkable to me is the belief that only white collar work should pay well and the blue collar work should naturally pay poverty wages. Why does this paradigm go largely unquestioned/unchallenged? It's factually wrong for the skilled trades and the worship of concepts like "creativity" and "innovation" has become practically fetishized.

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Have I got a book for you!

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hilarious response. and i totally agree with the comment.

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Really great post. “Hard science” folks like your friend will always be skeptical of social science, and a lot of that skepticism is deserved – but these are important questions, and there’s no good alternative, especially because we’re largely talking about quantitative outcomes (GPA, test scores, class rank, college admissions and performance, job salary, etc.) Ethnography can suggest hypotheses, but it can’t tell us what works at scale.

I encountered a lot of the same prejudices against statistics in grad school, mostly from people who specialized in inequality (race, gender, and LGBTQ studies). They would convince themselves it was a hate crime to even categorize people for quantitative analysis. For example, a checkbox for race/ethnicity = oppression because it reduces complex personal identities to a few categories. I would often point out that we wouldn’t even be able to talk about inequality without categories and numbers.

For me, one of the most feasible reforms is increased & improved use of randomization. We need greater tolerance for the inherent unfairness of randomizing interventions in the short term so that we can help everyone in the long term.

Another feasible one is publishing null findings--because this can be accomplished without billionaires. The discipline could come together to support a real journal for null results, or (even better) prestigious journals could dedicate a certain % of each issue to null results. A small group of big names could make this happen if they really wanted to. But they’re probably afraid of younger scholars publishing papers that disprove their pet theories.

Finally, more funding for schools to conduct their own quantitative research (in collaboration with professional researchers). Schools have access to their own student data, the ability to conduct new surveys / assessments, and the desire to find out what actually works in reality. I haven’t looked at the research closely enough to speak to the quality, but the concept behind the U Chicago Education Lab (partnering researchers with school districts) seems promising – at least, it’s better than school districts implementing expensive interventions without a plan to study the results that accounts for the many threats to internal validity.

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Systems Theorists (complexity modeling) have been describing those kinds of problems since at least the 1970s:



Counterintuitive Behavior of Social Systems is a 1971 paper by Jay Wright Forrester. In it, Forrester argues that the use of computerized system models to inform social policy is far superior to simple debate, both in generating insight into the root causes of problems and in understanding the likely effects of proposed solutions.

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The assumption should be that such models are themselves flawed and inaccurate, in need of refinement, but are at least a start in a better direction.

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Freddie, I understand why you do it, but i wish you would make a distinction between education and schooling. What you are talking about is schooling, not education. What all the papers are about, and all the supposed innovations, is schooling and its structure. The belief is that schooling will result in education. Generally, it does not. It can result in learning but even then it sometimes, for some people, does not. (BTW, I am totally on board with your perspectives on schooling and your subtle parsing I think valuable and excellent.) I have, for a very long time, believed that the one thing that is not examined is the rationale for the existence of schooling and its particular structure that is in place. And i think that it is the rationale that is problematical.

I may be wrong in this but from my reading which has been extensive but not as extensive as yours it seems to me that two points about schooling are foundational to its current form. 1) It was oriented around Austrian forms of the nineteenth century; 2) The primary function of mandatory schooling was the integration of the huge influx of immigrants coming into the US in the early 20th century into US culture. The main focus seemed to be on: a) learning english so that all of us had a common language and b) the inculcation of the american myth in immigrants so that all of us would have a common bond which would reduce the tendency for subgroup conflicts. As regards the latter rationale: the assaults of the right and left on the american myth is destroying it as an umbrella under which we all can live and find similarities between us. People forget that we are one of the few "created" nations that exist. Others have histories that go back a very long way. To be French is one thing, To be American is another thing entirely. We have the founders and bill of rights and the constitution, they have France. Radical leftists don't seem to care or realize that if the myth is destroyed the country has no rationale for existence and can subsequently devolve into a confederacy of independent nation states. Not something that will be good for us given the world situation. The right is willing to destroy existing structures in order to get and keep power; they don't care what or who it hurts or destroys in the process. In any event, i think the teaching of our common myth (in which i happen to strongly believe) is important. I also think a common language (not to the exclusion of others) is important as well. The rest of it, up for discussion simply because most people are not interested in being educated. They just want to get on with things. Which is why i don't think that schooling beyond age 14-16 is an important alteration of our current mindset. (If a 13 year old can be treated as an adult when they commit a crime, then 13 is the age of adulthood, not 18. It is hypocrisy to have it both ways.) Children come to realize around the age of puberty that they are not in school for their own good, they are there so their parents can work in the corporate world; it is child care and a social attempt to keep teenagers under control when their hormones kick in. There is a reason that 14 was considered the age of adulthood for much of human history (sometimes even earlier).

I wish that the trades were a viable, socially respected alternative and maybe one of these days it will be again. The infrastructure of america will always need to be maintained, which it is not these days. And there are a lot of people who like to work with their hands (me among them, though i also am fully invested in a variety of demanding intellectual fields as well). Such a calling should not be denigrated. As Hillary made all too clear, disrespect of the "deplorables" has a bad outcome. And I think that most people find the majority of politicians far more deplorable, and truly so and the managerial, meritocratic elite are joining them at a pretty fast rate.

You are entirely correct about your point that it makes no sense to try and school every person in america through age 18, the current system does not work for a lot of people. This is why i think the entire system needs to be rethought. What IF children did not have to go to school so their parents could both work? This situation serves the corporations, not the people. It would necessitate a complete restructuring of the corporate/social structure complex which i think is essential anyway. Most people I think agree with that. In any event, the caffeine just hit, sorry, it just stimulates one word after another. I do agree with nearly everything you post on this issue, i appreciate your doing so. My main quibble is that i think the entire system dysfunctional and believe it is time to tear the whole thing apart and create something completely different. (which i know is not going to happen until it collapses of its own weight.)

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In physics, there is substantial evidence-based educational research. The biggest name in the field is Carl Wieman, a Nobel Laureate for his experimental work on Bose-Einstein condensates: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carl_Wieman

have never dug into the data myself, but I have heard Wieman speak, and he is very persuasive that peer instruction works much better than traditional lecturing: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peer_instruction This methodology is now widely used in lower-division college physics classes.

Has this had any impact on broader education research? (As far as I can tell, no.)

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Interesting. I will definitely take a look when I can tonight. My immediate worry is that, if they're students in physics classes, there are almost certainly selection effects - many lower performing students self select out of challenging STEM classes. But I have to read the paper!

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Well there is way more than one paper! It's a whole field, and one I don't know very well. But here's a place to start digging: https://cwsei.ubc.ca

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I like Wieman's general approach ad think he has done some important work but he has now co-authored a paper and written and editorial that are examples of some of the worst of education research. I describe the flaws here: https://arxiv.org/abs/2101.05647

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Wieman's editorial is on the last page of this 8-page pdf,


and I agree that it's pretty bad. Oh well.

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There is similar research in developmental psychology (Kurt Fischer and Robert Kegan at Harvard GSE), but DevPsych was severely marginalized from the 1970s on by the Cultural Marxists (neo-marxists), including those in education theory.

See Pinker on the "Blank Slate".

The education establishment has been defending a very shitty narrative (producing compliant consumers) which is wildly incapable of producing accurate research, for 50 years!

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José Saramago trained as a mechanic. Nobel Prize for Literature in 1998.

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I think a lot of the vapidity of elite media Freddie bemoans can be attributed to the cultural commentators having little or no experience with any real skills other than navel-gazing and pontificating. Leads to a lot of opining without the credentials or life experience to make the opinions in any way relevant. I'm extremely glad that as a young 20-something I gave up the idea of being a full-time writer. I had very little to offer other than my own thoughts from limited experience.

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I'm an infectious disease doc who's done research on and off for the last 7 years. Initially, I did bench research studying genes of antibiotic resistance, and then later ventured into more "qualitative" realms, looking at public perceptions of science, specifically around vaccines. This shift came as I grew antsy in the lab, but especially as I developed a wider interest in philosophy and the world of ideas. Since that shift, I've had at least 500 internal versions of that conversation you had with your friend, where I've thought that I could have a lot better go at things (and a lot more influence) as a muck-raking reporter, a special interest writer, or even a hyper-online twitter personality (with a LOT less hassle from the folks at the IRB).

I don't think it's controversial to say that the science I used to do is something entirely different from the science I do now, where the basic endpoints are human behavior, in all its messy and subjective glory. Many of the reasons the social sciences are different from the natural ones are things you listed: the complexity of baseline variables, the agony of interpreting endpoints as ephemeral as "beliefs," and the increased propensity (and capacity) to simply juice the data to prove either your own pre-existing theories or the hot theories of the day. (You can only imagine the ways that external drivers have affected the field of vaccine hesitancy research over the last year or so...)

The other problem of the social sciences is the inherent paradox of studying human behavior at all while also allowing for some concept of freedom. Part of this goes back to Aristotle and the problem of future contingents: Even if all your best scientific models say that there's going to be a sea battle tomorrow, the fact that a sea battle occurs doesn't necessarily PROVE the truth of your models, because ultimately the battle's coming-to-be depends on an element of human freedom, right up until the minute it occurs. Other problems arise from all that Foucault that people are always rehashing: The more we try to pre-empt and account for peoples' behaviors (behavior that simply hasn’t happened yet), the more we suck those people into an ever-expanding sphere of potentialities, where everyone is just a bundle of risk factors that need to be monitored, interrogated, and retrained if necessary. Yes, humans are material beings, influenced by material needs and material conditions; but we're also influenced by art, by faith, by love, by hubris. To return to Aristotelian terms, we are beings beholden to both Efficient and Final causes. Even if you're willing to recognize that both kinds of causes are always at play in, it can be a real pain in the ass to try and figure out how they actually interact.

Despite all these misgivings, on most days I generally share a feeling akin to yours: that we must, somehow, be able to assert more certainty from less. Much of this eternally-recurring faith is in the project of Empiricism: that every theory, to be considered true, must be continually tested against reality, and discarded if necessary. While this is obviously a lot easier in the natural sciences, the only way to make the social sciences worth anything is to apply the very same spirit to one’s practice. Much of this spirit is centered in that epistemic humility you mentioned, which- yes- is a lot easier in theory than in practice, but is also exactly what a decent grounding in the sciences is supposed to inculcate. The spirit of, “I might be wrong,” is the most fundamental basis of any scientific practice, though sadly it’s exactly what the left seems to be letting go of with the slow de-prioritization of free speech protections.

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postmodern social conditions (relativism, pluralism) call for both epistemic humility and epistemic indeterminacy. both very hard for conventional modern-rationalists.

here is one of the best summaries of the problem that I've seen:


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Thanks. This is helpful.

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New subscriber--really enjoy reading your substack so far—especially the education articles.

A lot to unpack here---I have been teaching in NYC public schools for almost fifteen years (small sample size, two schools ms/hs level). As to my ‘lived experience’ ---most of the little research I was exposed to has either been on the benefits of cooperative learnin , various diversity/equity (or culturally responsive as it used to be called---the same drivel I had to read in grad school—only more out in the open now) initiatives, or recently there was a little growth mindset sprinkled in -- the latter very short lived. I always got the feeling it was very top down and whatever the principals/assistant principals were getting told to read/implement by the district or central office. Most of this ‘research’ was exactly as you describe in this post—in some cases with cooperative learning, it was striking how little research they even exposed the faculty to but was such an absolute necessity come evaluation time. Not surprising, most of the ed-research gets trickled down, rolled out for a year or two, and then never brought back again or brought back with a new name.

I think the essential issue (see tell the truth) is that no matter what research based approach you utilize, in your average public school in the largest districts, teachers spend an overwhelming amount of time on the 2-3 students that disrupt the learning environment, and make it difficult for the other 90% of the class. This leads to most teacher outreach focusing on them, ‘professional development’ focusing on those 2-3 kids, and most of the ed-research focusing on them as well. Look at the overwhelming amount of research about impact of suspensions on students and the very little research done on impact of suspension on the class. Or just look at the NYC Mayoral race ridiculous focus on the specialized high schools at the expense of 95% of the rest of the schools in the city. Someone mentioned the phonics issue in another post---while I have no hard evidence for elementary school—my guess is that it’s very difficult to teach third graders a very structured lesson on phonics with the aforementioned 2-3 students in the room.

In NYC, I would bet that it’s 5% of the student body that has a substantial negative impact on the learning outcomes of 75% or more of the rest (baring the few remaining screened middle/hs’s). If you could identify these students early, track them into vocational options, get some therapy dogs, school psychologists (all in the same place!) bring in some local businesses etc. etc.—you could incorporate a variety of research based approaches and get some real quality data and see what works and what doesn't work. If you did do this, it would just lead to more uncomfortable truths about what those demographics would be…but crickets on the other 75% who happen to be those same demographics. Let’s continue to pretend that getting those 5% of students to see themselves in the curriculum will be the magic bullet---or just yell more about equity.

Are people willing to accept conclusions that cut against their social and political desires, especially the bipartisan commitment to pretending that there’s some magic bullet that will someday solve our education problems? I do not see it, and only see it getting worse.

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Ditto. The 2-3 difficult/ distracting kids in a class takes more than half of a teacher's energy. I like your ideas about focusing on these kids in a different way. I would like to see more investment in free after school programs for all kids that focus on motivating hobbies such as sports, art, athletics, dance, with some academic support as part of it. I have seen really successful programs like these transform children's lives.

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Not an academic but regarding "publishing null results," it seems like that requires some kind of vetting from a journal before the study is done? That is, someone needs to say in advance that a particular study is worth doing even if the results are null, because that would be interesting. (Otherwise you can do some bullshit study, get null results, and that's not interesting.)

This is sort of what funders do when they decide which studies to fund. I guess the idea would be for them to coordinate somehow? If you get approval to go ahead, you get funding and you get to publish the results.

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Freddie mentioned "pre-registration", which some journals now use. I don't know if any education journals do.

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I would be very surprised, though I'm happy to be proven wrong by any readers in the know.

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