Posts Tagged ‘self-responsibility’

A Response to a Reader’s Criticism of My Articles on “Truth”

April 13, 2012

One reader who very kindly responded to my posts on “truth” brought out some very interesting suppositions contradicting my assertion that there was no such thing as a “universal truth”. There are certain facts, that is, things that can be proven over and over under all circumstances, but I claimed that “the truth” is what you believe it to be, simply because your personal truths are the guiding principles in your life. For a more in-depth explanation of this, please read those two blogs.

Here is her comment: “The pursuit of/yearning for love is a universal truth. The desire to know a higher being/consciousness is a universal feeling and therefore truth; that fear motivates one way and love motivates another way is a universal truth; the desire for security is a universal truth; the need for self-esteem is a universal truth; that men/people will ignore wisdom to carve out their own flawed philosophies is a universal truth.”

In this blog, I will only deal with the topics of love, fear/love motivation, security, and self-esteem. It’s clear where she’s going with that “higher being” topic, and I’m writing a book on it, so that will be a long answer for another posting.

Wisdom?

As to the last comment, I will further address that in the same post about a supreme being. However, I will say now that it’s clear this “truism” implies that anyone who doesn’t believe in the “wisdom” of a true believer (i.e., a religious person) is ignorant, and intellectually blind to the “truth”. I absolutely confess to being ignorant about many subjects. I may even be a fool. However, I personally don’t think that not believing the “wisdom” some preacher hands down or a text clearly written by men (Torah, Bible, Qur’an, etc.) makes me either one. It just means I don’t think the same way as you do. Ironically, this is not a religious person vs. atheist thing; all religions use the same argument to “prove” that their religion is right and all the others wrong.

A Little Math…

I beg you for a little indulgence here: I studied probabilities and statistics when I was young and even more foolish, so part of this “universal” thing is related to total population. You can skip the next paragraph, but the point is even tiny statistical variations can mean millions of people when talking about “everyone” in the world – which is what universal means.

“In statistical significance testing, the p-value is the probability of obtaining a test statistic at least as extreme as the one that was actually observed, assuming that the null hypothesis (i.e., no relationship) is true. In this context, value ‘a’ is considered more “extreme” than ‘b’ if ‘a’ is less likely to occur under the null. One often rejects the null hypothesis when the p-value is less than the significance level α (Greek alpha), which is often 0.05 or 0.01. When the null hypothesis is rejected, the result is said to be statistically significant. When you have a large sample size, very small differences will be detected as significant. This means that you are very sure that the difference is real (i.e., it didn’t happen by fluke).”

Okay, now for some really BIG numbers. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) describes an epidemic as affecting around (yes, the percentage fluctuates…) seven percent of the population of a given area. Therefore, if even seven percent of the people have different opinions from what some people consider “the truth”, this would represent a huge number of people in the world.

Love

So, given the above, we’ll start with love. I suppose this is the closest “universal truth” that I would agree with. However, we don’t all seek the same kind of love. Some people truly only seek the “love” on an alien space being who is all-powerful. Some people are really happy being loved by their pets, and don’t want anything to have to do with other humans. You think that extreme? A sociopath is a person “with a psychopathic personality whose behavior is antisocial, often criminal, and who lacks a sense of moral responsibility or social conscience.” They hate people and do not seek love. While there are many people who have either neurotic or actually psychopathic degrees of this disorder, there are many other “normal” people whose motto is “I don’t like being around other people”. In fact (very ironically), there is a website entitled Experience Project where they discuss their feelings, presumably without ever wanting to meet. There are undoubtedly many others who want to totally ostracize humanity by having no contact whatsoever.

Security

We’ll move on to security. This is a little lower down the Maslowian “Hierarchy of Needs” discussion, which is a big part of the teacher education process. That means it’s more basic, but not less important than love. First, “security” is a very abstract word. What does it mean to you? According to Maslow, it’s equivalent to safety. Does it mean not being killed? Does it mean having a home or situation you can count on? Second, I know of many people who actually want “adventure”, whatever that means. To most of them, it means moving on from home and security, to a life of excitement. When I was a young man, I loved cliff diving. Others I knew did hang gliding, or drag racing, or other dangerous activities. Perhaps as a person grows older they desire security, but how many young people really seek it out? That is a huge part of the human population.

Motivation

As to motivation, I’ve written articles on that. I claim there is actually no extrinsic motivation, only intrinsic. You’ll have to read the article on that to fully understand what I mean, but basically it’s that other people—your parents, teachers, preachers, et alia—can only seek to push the buttons that motivate you as a person, they cannot in themselves make you act in a certain way outside of coercion, which is vastly different from motivation, which is the desire to act in a certain way. What is more, some people in love act like “maniacs”, quite often killing or committing other externally destructive acts to demonstrate their love, while others will commit any act of self-sacrifice to prove their love.  This is not “acting one way”; such actions are polar opposites, and there are many variations in between. The same applies to hate: some people become subservient to those they hate in order to try to gain favor or sublimate their feelings, while other may murder and mutilate someone they truly hate. While hate is the flip side of love, in many people it manifests the same manic reactions.

Self-esteem

Self-esteem is much along the same psychological path, one step higher than the social need of love. Yet it’s a much more slippery slope. Not only is “self-esteem” a variable from one person to the next, I don’t agree that everyone seeks it. An extreme case: I know there is a BDSM community out there where many men and women not only seek humiliation, they enjoy it. There seem to be many people who subscribe to that particular “enjoyment”. Would most of us describe receiving the desired humiliation and subjugation as seeking self-esteem? Seems a very bizarre interpretation of self-esteem to me. There are a surprising number of religious people who actually enjoy being told by their clergyman that they are “evil sinners”, and will go straight to hell if they don’t seek god’s forgiveness for their inequities. There are many, most prominently Catholic sects, who practice self-flagellation. Frankly, I don’t consider either of those as people with great self-esteem; they simply seek their humiliation in different ways from the BDSM crowd. Then there are people, mostly women, who will remain in a severely abusive relationship because, deep down, they know the man really loves them and only hits them … what? Because he can’t control his temper? Because they actually deserve to be abused? Not my idea of self-esteem. Have we started to hit epidemic proportions yet?

Security

Security is a myth, and we don’t all seek it. Let’s start with the thrill seekers: diving from cliffs, racing cars or motorbikes on highways at terrible speeds, shooting hard drugs, playing Russian roulette, and so on. Some people don’t have to be homeless, but they prefer it. Addictive personalities, such as die-hard gamblers or alcoholics, are certainly not concerned with security. The tens of thousands of people in the world who commit suicide each year are not seeking security (although some of them commit suicide because they have no security; go figure). I could go on, but the point is the numbers here are huge. In fact, we can’t even define security: again, each person has their own concept of what that means. Definitely way past epidemic proportions!

SO – NO!

All of those warnings you hear about using medications (‘May cause this or that’) are because no human body reacts exactly the same to any given drug. The same drug and dosage may cause anything from no reaction to death, depending on a person’s body chemistry. Multiply that by about a million times of complexity and you get the human mind. Do you really think all people react the same to the same stimulus? If so, that shows a deep ignorance of the psychology of most human beings.

So, no, Ms. Responder, you have not proven to me in the least that there are universal truths. There are perhaps some “general population” truths, but even the particular flavor of that truth changes according to individual taste buds. I stand by my previous contentions.

Your turn!

Our Failing Public Schools, Part II: Politicians

April 12, 2012

Section 2: Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

Prior to the 1970s, local politicians and school districts had control of both budget and curriculum. Because these people had to answer directly to the local voters, the people generally got the educational system they felt their children deserved. While it is undeniable that more and more authority over the public education system has been given to the legislators by the voters thanks to both public lawsuits and the passage of funding bills, much more has also been appropriated by the state and federal government. There will be a lot more on this, including Serrano vs. Priest and Proposition 13, in Part IV of this series.

A couple of examples that spring to mind are former President Bush and his alleged “No Child Left Behind” policy, and former California Governor Schwarzenegger with his massive budget cuts in education and opposition to Prop. 98. When wielding that power, politicians should bear in mind that education is not their field of expertise (unless they were teachers before being elected), and should therefore tread cautiously when enacting legislation or determining policy that impacts the public school system.

Unfortunately, it seems that most of them really consider themselves experts in the field. When I was in private industry, it was exactly the same attitude with many businessmen. The attitude was: “We went through the educational system. We graduated from college. We’ve read a few articles, talked to a few educators. We understand it perfectly.”

Well, I studied history, government and a little political science. I’ve been governed and otherwise impacted by politicians all of my life. During my years in business, I talked with a number of politicians, some as high as the senate level. I still read and hear reports on the goings on of our government and the politicians on a near daily basis. I’ve actually read many political tracts (not counting “The Prince”), from theory to practical application. Therefore, I must be an expert in politics, and could start my career as a politician tomorrow, right? Of course not. Not any more than the average politician should consider him or herself an expert in education and presume to dictate the inner workings of the public school system. So make policies, be a “watchdog”, but don’t micromanage education.

It’s bad enough that many politicians seriously interfere in the educational system without really understanding how it operates or what its mission should be. What is infinitely worse is that many of them do not care. For many politicians, education is simply a “platform issue”, something that cannot be ignored during election time, but gets short shrift once they are in office—especially when determining budget. When they do become involved, it is often “politics as usual”, a tit-for-tat approach either brokering their vote in exchange for a pet bill of their own or writing some piece of legislation that will appease one of their powerful constituent groups—or, even worse, one of their wealthy lobbyist groups. In the worst case scenario, they support changes in the educational system that will financially benefit publishers, contractors, consultants, or other business concerns that make a profit from the school system. From looking at most of the impacts on how teachers are credentialed, textbooks are chosen, curriculum is developed and how programs are instituted, the last people many politicians seem to care about are those for whom the system was actually intended: the students.

Case Scenario: In the 1970s, English teachers commonly had one textbook for grammar and punctuation, and a lot of literature, both fiction and non-fiction. Some would augment their curriculum with newspapers, magazines, and other periodicals. While academic presses were very big in colleges because professors tended to write their own texts, K-12 teachers used the primary texts that the local school board deemed fit.

After the money shifted from local districts to the state, academic publishers got really interested in producing “classroom packages”. These packages include a dozen or more texts (main text, grammar book, workbook, teacher’s guidelines, variations for different reading levels, etc.) as well as CDs to do all of those things on the computer, as well as accompanying videos, test generators, etc. These packages were different for each grade level, and each cost the district thousands of dollars. If you taught English to three different grades, you got three different sets for you and your students. Most of these materials were so “overkill” that none of the teachers used them. Are the teachers of today more stupid than those of fifty years ago? Nonsense. A good teacher could still pick up a newspaper (if there are any print editions left…) and create a lesson plan for virtually any subject.

However, now that the decision making process has been centralized, it’s easier for the big houses, such as Houghton-Mifflin, Pearson Prentice Hall or McGraw-Hill, to approach the state board of education and a few key legislators (those who serve on education-related committees) to, um, convince them to buy their units, than it was to approach every single board of education in the state. Because they have such a huge investment in a package they had to produce before they could try to sell it, guess how much more they spend wining and dining the decision makers to choose them above the declining competition?

I will leave the last word on this blog to Jennifer Marshall:

“The Constitution does not provide for a federal role in education, and public schools have traditionally been under the jurisdiction of local authorities. Washington’s intervention seems to have brought out the worst in education governance. It has led to ever-increasing spending and bureaucratic bloat while undermining schools’ direct accountability to parents and taxpayers. Federal intervention also creates a compliance burden, sapping time and money (an annual price tag to taxpayers of $25 billion) that could be more effectively deployed to achieve educational excellence.” Jennifer Marshall, “Freeing Schools from Washington’s Education Overreach”, The Heritage Foundation, April 6, 2011

Next: Our Underfunded School System

Our Failing Public Schools, Part II: Politicians

April 7, 2012

Section 1: If Only it Were a Perfect World…

In a perfect world, we would not need government, and hence no politicians. Everyone would be able to govern their own emotions, their own actions. We would find a way to resolve our conflicts. We would find a way to share our wealth, our resources. If this sounds like I’m talking about socialism, I’m not. I’m talking about each individual achieving a state of complete self-responsibility, and understanding that he or she is impacted by the condition of every other person in the world.

Of course, in a perfect academic world, everyone would be an Abraham Lincoln or a Siddhartha Gotama, a dedicated seeker of knowledge who takes care of their own education. Hence, we would need no formal teachers. After all, “teachers” are really just guides, people who facilitate the learning process. Each individual must decide, consciously or unconsciously, what information they will actually absorb, and thus what they will “learn” and believe. A person cannot be forced to learn, although they can be coerced to memorize.

But Man is only one step removed from the lower animals, and it’s probably not that big of a step. We are, in general, self-centered, greedy, lazy, and complacent in our ignorance. Hence, we need people to ensure that there is structure, order, and some viable financial way of making the wheels go ‘round for our society. Thus, the need for government. And thus, the need for a more formal system of education.

The trick, of course, is for those people who have been placed in positions of authority, or responsibility if you are an optimist, to understand their limitations and try to stick to them. Perhaps it is because we teachers have very little power, or perhaps because the primary motivation of most sincere teachers is to help others, but I believe most teachers have come to grips with the fact that they are not demigods and should stick to their duties. On the other hand, having observed politicians both directly (when I was in business I had the pleasure of working with a number of local and state politicians) and indirectly through the media for a number of decades, it is my considered opinion that most of them veer wildly in the other direction.

Section 2: Who Should be Held Accountable?

Because teachers are in the classrooms with the children, and have direct responsibility for education, they are held accountable for the performance of the students, including the standardized scores of those students. However, in many cases, the teachers have no control over the curriculum, and are also very limited in the styles of teaching they may use. (This is especially true in the Oakland Unified School District, where the District, through state direction, has mandated specific materials and methods of teaching into a “guided curriculum” where every teacher is to read the lesson from a manual and be on exactly the same schedule every day as every other teacher in the subject.) Thus, the curriculum of most low-performing schools is controlled by the district which, in most cases, takes its orders directly from the state (see the SAIT process).

Therefore, ultimately, the politicians have direct control not only over curriculum, but certainly over the Teacher Education Program. While the Board of Education fills in the details, the legislation sets all of the standards and parameters for how future teachers are trained. Therefore, how can the politicians claim the primary problem with the public education system is poor teachers, when for many years they have had full authority to create the teachers into exactly the mold they want them? If the teachers are supposed to take responsibility for student performance, even though in many cases they are hamstrung by what they are allowed to do, shouldn’t the legislators take responsibility for the performances of the teachers, when the legislature has complete control over every aspect of how teachers are trained and credentialed?

Next: Section 3: Quis Custodiet Ipsos Custodes?