Thursday, July 10, 2014

More On The Failings of Higher Education

By Professor Doom

    Of late I’ve been reading a book by an Australian academic, which details the collapse and fraud of Australia’s higher education system.

     I should point out, what he sees there and I (and many others) see here isn’t really a result of higher education, per se. It’s quite common in institutional systems for administrators and bureaucrats to take over. It happened with many US corporations (especially in the area of Detroit), where bloated middle management sank company after company.

      There are some differences, though the most important from the view of the taxpayer is that the wild inefficiencies created by too much management no longer lead to bankruptcy of a corporation. Instead, they lead to higher tuition, paid for by the taxpayer. That the underlying product, education, is very susceptible to being fraud is just icing on the crap cake that the taxpayers are now forced to buy.

      The “titans of industry” running the institutions in Australia, much like here, are degrading the system first by treating the students as customers, rewarding them not for learning, but by simply paying for tuition. The results in Australia are likewise similar to the United States:

The end result of a Student-Centred/Constructivist education is the
emergence from our institutions of poorly-educated people with
unrealistically high opinions of their abilities. This feature of modern
Australian society is something that citizens experience through
virtually daily encounters with rank incompetence at every level of the
society. …”

     The above is so familiar to me. I’m reminded of a student who said he was a “human calculator” but could not function at the 7th grade level in math comes to mind. I’ve stopped asking for “6 ounces of provolone cheese” when I go to the deli…I get a blank look, since the scales are digital. When I instead ask for “.375 of a pound”, I still get a blank look—the counter person really doesn’t understand the decimal system much beyond “1 pound” or “half a pound”.  Rather than frustrate myself or confuse the drone behind the counter, I just buy the prepackaged cheese. I see Australia is having the same problem.

“…Without the mental resources that should be acquired as part
of a proper education, these products of Australian “Educational
ism” typically blame others for their own failures and expect everyone else
to do the hard work…

     Again, there were so many people at Occupy Wall Street, just completely clueless what had been done to them, and wanting someone else to bail them out. Indeed, much of what is said in this book is familiar.

     The similarities continue:

“…Fortunately for the hapless, Australian universities, with a keen eye on collecting fees from young Australians and foreigners alike, have responded by simplifying their courses and degree curricula so that in many cases they are teaching what previous generations learned, sometimes as far back as primary school. After all, who cares whether our graduates can do long division or write a coherent sentence?...

     While the author doesn’t delve into in how the courses got simplified (mainly through bogus Educationist degrees and firing faculty with integrity, as I’ve documented in my blog), what he’s observed in Australia is no different in here. It’s a simple matter to show that 90% of college work is at the high school or lower level, after all. Because all that matters is “butts in seats,” having any challenge or educational material in the courses would be counter-productive.

     The rampant greed I’ve shown to dominate educational institutions in the US is also pretty apparent in Australia:

“… Surely all that matters is the amount of money that can be extracted from the consumer of education product (i.e. you or your children)…”

    For the most part, the book just shreds all the inane Educationist theories that are being inflicted on Australia’s youth. The author does a fine job of this, but he does have an unfair advantage: the idiotic ideas of Educationists have already failed horribly in America, so he’s got a head start on understanding their failures in Australia.

     Most people outside the system truly don’t understand on how many levels Educationist idiocy is harming education, from primary school to higher education. Pointing out all the ways it’s bad is counter-productive. Instead, we just throw the entirety out, and use common sense to realize what should be done. The author makes it easy:

    “…If you needed to learn something conceptually challenging, what learning environment would you choose? Most people would choose to have the best physical resources at their disposal, an expert in the relevant area to teach them and a class size of one... “

     I’ve certainly pointed out that, throughout human history, humans have learned by standing near an expert. I’ve accomplished in a few months tutoring a student 1 on 1 than what the student learned in years of being in a stuffed classroom. We all know the obvious here.

     These are obvious things, and higher education did the best it could for centuries, following the obvious ways for how humans learn and become educated. Modern Educationists have studied education as a scientific endeavor, supposedly, for decades now.

     What have they done for education? Have they managed to improve upon the obvious ideas, or have they managed to turn education in the exact opposite direction?
      Are our classes well supplied, small, and led by experts? No.

Faculty: “So the dean, vice chancellor, and CFO all told me there’s just no money for glass beakers in my chemistry lab. They each make 100k or more a year. Shut down the lab, and there goes my job.  The beakers cost a few hundred bucks…guess I’ll just buy them myself, because there’s no way to teach the lab without them.”

     It really is nuts how time and again I can’t get lightbulbs or basic things for my classrooms, and my requirements are pretty minimal. There are college classes with 1,000 enrolled students in them, massive lecture halls filled with students that text or play on their computers while a very distant instructor drones away futilely. Instead of teachers with actual knowledge, time and again I’ve seen Educationists that don’t have a clue take over teaching positions, because their degrees in Education mysteriously qualify them for everything. Even though casual conversation reveals them to be incompetent, they get promoted through the advance more idiotic ideas.

      Much like modern drug companies are forever trying to find drugs just as good as aspirin, and ignore aspirin, so too does it seem that Educationists seem to ignore obvious ideas for education, in exchange for bizarre ideas of their own creation. Only one question remains: do they do this out of greed, incompetence, or pure evil?



  1. Part of it is an over-dependence on whatever passes for the latest technology. This not only discourages students from thinking, it makes it difficult to teach the theory associated with certain concepts.

    I noticed that while I taught a basic electrical engineering course for a different department during my final year as an instructor at a technical college. When I was a schoolboy and, later, an undergrad, I was taught that I should *show* how I got my answers. One reason is that I needed to demonstrate that I didn't make a lucky guess or, worse, cheat. Another was to show that I actually learned the concept being tested on an exam and I often received credit for correct logic or procedures, even though my numerical result was incorrect.

    Instead, I was often presented with nice neat exam papers with very little written on them other than, say, "punching these numbers into my calculator..." and a final result. I had no idea beyond that how the students in question got their answers nor could I check where they might have made their mistakes if they got the answer wrong.

    I remember receiving a thorough dressing-down from a student for penalizing her for doing just that. Apparently, I was supposed to "know" how the calculator did it. I later mentioned the incident to her department head, who simply laughed it off, the implication being that it was *my* fault that she got mad.

    Earlier, while I was a graduate TA for a different electrical course during my final year of my Ph. D. work, the prof told me something like: "We're not an algebra course." Huh? Wasn't a course like that where the algebra the students were taught is not only applied but also tested?

    In both courses, who was supposed to receive the grade? The student? Why? He or she didn't do any real calculation by simply pressing a bunch of keys. The calculator? Why not? It was the one that actually did all the work, didn't it?

    Part of the reason for my difficulties was that the institution I used to teach at carried a certain line of calculators due, no doubt, to a nice arrangement the bookstore made with the supplier. As a result, many courses were specifically designed around those specific models, which might have made things difficult for someone who used a calculator made by a different manufacturer.

    Post-secondary institutions no longer teach concepts and logic but machine operation.

  2. I'm sorry, but should you even expect to be served in ounces when half a pound is not really a large quantity and cheese is not as expensive as gold? Could it be that the employee grew up in a country that is using the metric system? Is it even necessary to know so many units and unit conversions just because some people are still familiar with ounces and insist on using them in this day and age?

    1. Yes it is. I've taught courses both using SI and Imperial units (SI being Systeme Internationale, the official name for what used to be referred to as "metric"). Canada has been using SI measurements since the mid-1970s, but certain materials, components, and standards are based on American units, and my students would likely have work with both systems when they got into industry.

    2. I guess I hit a nerve here? It happened several times...and they were locals. I'm guessing you're not in the US? All the packages here sell in ounces (including the packages of cheese I buy, at least provolone). Do you really eat a pound of cheese in one sitting?

      They did not know how to read a digital scale past the first decimal place (and then only if the first decimal place was .5). That has far more to do with lack of understanding in general than simply some guy trying to actually buy cheese at a deli. You make it sound like it was my problem.

      "Insist" on using the same measurements the whole country uses?

      Should I also insist the person behind the counter speaks the national language, so that i can place my order? Or do you feel every customer be able to speak every known (and unknown?) human language, just so he can order cheese?

      I guess you missed that line about "blaming others for their own failures" I quoted above. Thank you for helping to reinforce that point.

    3. Packages here, in Canada, sell in grams. I have just bought 2 prepackaged pieces of cheese of 200 grams each. Why make it so complicated? Somewhere else on the Internet, the counter person probably wrote that some weird customer is insisting on using some obscure units. If a pound is too much, buy half a pound. If half a pound is too much, just store the rest and eat it later. It is perfectly possible to save a piece of cheese for later (maybe until you get home) even if you don't have access to a fridge. It doesn't have to be unsafe either. Why would you even want to buy only one serving? Keep the cheese in your fridge and feel free to cut the ounces yourself. As for speaking the same language, didn't the counter person speak English?

    4. OK, let's put it this way. Here in Canada, structural steel has been in SI units since the late 1970s. The associated references and codes reflect that.

      Pipe fittings, on the other hand, are largely in Imperial units. Hand tools, such as drills and sockets, are often sold with both SI and Imperial items in the sets.

      Until certain manufacturers decide to change from Imperial/American units to SI, which is unlikely to happen in the near future, both systems of measurement will have to be taught.

      That's the reality of industry.

    5. People who work in some professions or industries may have to know more math than people who are just selling cheese behind a counter. By the way, what exactly is the advantage of buying at the counter instead of just getting prepackaged cheese like most people? Is that just some old-fashioned way of doing things or is the cheese really fresher or better in any way? Isn't this method less hygienic? It's not that it can't be safe enough (mind you, I'm the one who pointed out that refrigeration can be postponed a little) but the fact remains that you don't even get to leave the store with a sterile, sealed package that was never opened before. I wouldn't want the store to open my packages of cheese for me.

  3. Related to my previous comment, I recently wrote a qualification exam in which I was not allowed to used a calculator which was programmable or which had memories. I fulfilled that condition by taking an old slide rule out of retirement and using it for my calculations.

    During my studies for that exam, I was reminded just how remarkable a calculating device the slide rule is. But I was also bewildered why using it is no longer taught, even though it's not used in the workplace any more. There are many mathematical concepts that could be taught with it, such as how dividing one number by the inverse of another was the same as multiplying both of them together. One of the nice things about a slide rule is that one can physically see these relationships.

    But, I suppose, since educationists regard devices such as slide rules as being "irrelevant" to the lives of students, plus one has to think while using one (and thinking is *work*, and work isn't regarded as "fun"), it's unlikely that we'll ever see anything like that ever used again.

    Meanwhile, we'll have students who can't do basic arithmetic if the batteries in their calculators expire.

    1. Slide rules are freaking *amazing*. I had to demonstrate one at a seminar a few years back, on computing devices (pre-computers). We're not used to thinking of physical measurements being so accurate, but it's truly awesome how a couple of well-marked sticks can calculate so accurately like that.

      I think there's a Little Rascals episode with a 10 year old using a slide rule.

      They don't even sell them anymore, at least not in general stores...but I remember buying mine the first few times without difficulty.

    2. Yeah, back in the old days when every deli counter person was familiar with ounces and students were using fountain pens in class.

    3. Um....every grocery store in the country has a deli counter. Some people like their food just a bit fresher than the prepackaged heavily preserved foodlike substances you can buy off most store shelves.

      Honest, when in America, it's understood to use ounces and pounds when measuring things, just as it's understood you're supposed to speak English when talking to a person you don't know..

      If I went to the deli counter and asked for a kilo of cheese (or a 200 hundred grams), they'd be even *more* confused. I wouldn't even be motivated to tell them to press the button to change the units on the digital scale.

    4. So why don't you just ask for half a pound, since a pound is too much? That would make it easier.

    5. I certainly could. Heck, I could even just ask for a pound, because that's even easier, right?

      But you're epically missing the point here. See, the point of the article is that thanks to Educationists mistraining, knowledge is more limited than it was, not that long ago, and rather than say "it's ridiculous that we no longer can handle basic concepts that everyone could do, years ago" people yell about "why don't you just make the concepts even more basic?"

      At some point, removing knowledge from education is going to cause a problem more relevant than no longer being able to buy cheese except in 1 pound (or 1 kilo) chunks.

      I imagine in a few years, infants will start dying from being given too large doses of medicine. I'll be in the tiny minority saying it's because we no longer train nurses properly, while you and others will agree with the nurse when he/she says:

      "The doctor told me to give half the dose, but I just gave the infant the whole thing, because that's easier. Why should I have to know what 'half' means, it's the baby's fault for being so small!"

    6. Nurses can learn that highly specialized knowledge in nursing school. On the other hand, if people don't really need math, or if the consequences of approximation are as unimportant as getting a little more or less cheese, it's OK if they don't learn. There is too much information and knowledge is more highly specialized, so some people may just end up not having certain skills and knowledge. That's OK.

    7. I honestly didn't think you'd defend baby-killing over admitting an error in your point of view. My bad.

      And, again, "break the pill in half" is now "highly specialized knowledge."
      Some folks think that no, that knowing half of 6 is 3 isn't only for the upper classes.

      Let me make a final attempt to pierce your solipsism.

      Suppose you have a sandwich, and say "gee, I'd like some cheese on this". You go to the deli, and ask for "50 grams of cheddar cheese."
      The counter person says "I dunno what grams are. How about 50 kilos of cheese, that's about the same, right?"

      He turns to the one of the other people working with him, who says "Yeah, grams and kilos are the same thing, I'll go get the truck." A third deli worker overhears this and says "Crap, 50 grams of cheese? My poor aching back, it'll take me three trips at least to carry all that."

      Now, in response to this, do you say to yourself

      (1) "I guess that sort of highly specialized knowledge can't be expected of a deli worker, it's my own fault for using the screwy measurements of this country. I'll just put the bill on my credit card so they don't feel bad"


      (2) "12 years of school, and three people in a row can't tell the difference between grams and kilos? There's something wrong with the education system here."

      Now, please, only pick one of those two options, otherwise there's no need to continue to try to explain the point here.

    8. I choose none of the above. Obviously, you are exaggerating. Are people really that ignorant? Of course they would at least have some idea of the order of magnitude. "Kilogram" really means "one thousand grams" ("kilo" means "thousand"). Since a kilogram is not that much, although it is too much for one meal, it stands to reason that a gram must be very small. Similarly, I realize that an ounce is small. I just can't tell you how many grams exactly it is without looking that up. But I wouldn't get a truck to carry your twelve ounces and I don't need to learn about ounces (I'm not a deli worker and I have no need for that information in my life and job). But who doesn't know that half of 6 is 3?

  4. On your closing questions, I've always wondered about that myself. Are the folks in charge liars or idiots? I have to conclude that they are intentional liars and are motivated by greed with an undercurrent of evil. Wasting human talent, defrauding individuals and families out of thousands upon thousands of dollars for shoddy product, that in my book, is theft and it is evil. These are immoral and unethical people at the top. When it counts, they know what they're doing and there is a method to their madness, although they'll never publicly profess, you have to decipher the code, which you have.

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. I used to teach at a technical college. I long suspected that the system there was fundamentally fraudulent.

      For example, I know personally of certain students who had failed courses that I taught but qualified for supplemental exams. Mysteriously, they managed to pass without ever having to write them. I also knew of students who not only failed but didn't qualify for those exams and they passed as well. Coincidence?

      I've seen course content diluted in order to maintain pass and, ultimately, graduation rates. Why? Government "gravy" funding depended on favourable Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). Good KPIs also made certain upwardly-mobile administrators look like effective leaders, thereby making them more eligible for promotion to, say, dean.

      Open dissent against these policies was ruthlessly dealt with, often by means that were legally and ethically questionable. Often those dissenters were acting in the best interests of the educational system and the students.

      To be frank, that institution was the most corrupt and dishonest employer I ever worked for.

    3. It's funny you mention admin rubber stamping graduates, as that's something I discuss in my next post (I usually write about 3 posts ahead, so it's just an coincidence).