Bunker Mulligan "Let us endeavor so to live that when we come to die even the undertaker will be sorry." ~Mark Twain

December 3, 2004

Liberal Education

Filed under: Education — Bunker @ 7:50 pm

We’ve had a bit of comment drift in a previous post that went into Bogey’s concern that Republicans are becoming a bit over the top regarding the liberal bent on college campuses. I thought I’d bring it up here and see where it goes.

First, I have to say my college experience was over twenty years ago, and I spent most of it working on calculus, thermodynamics, and structural mechanics. I did have some liberal arts classes, although I took as many exams as I could to bypass them so I could focus on engineering. Engineering classes offered little in the way of opinion, although freedom of thought and inventiveness meant a lot. All engineering professors were licensed Professional Engineers, which meant they practiced their craft for at least five years under tuteledge of another PE, and had to pass a comprehensive exam. What that all means is that they generally had a break in their educational career to go out and have to make a profit for someone, and theory only mattered as a means for achieving something practical. What other discipline outside the physical sciences does that?

When I got my masters degree, I was fortunate enough to have one professor who had gone all the way through school at Berkeley in Political Science. He was an expert in Marxism–he had lived it. But he had also seen the light, much like David Horowitz. I mentioned once that I had been spat upon in the San Francisco airport by some flower child, and he quickly grinned and said, “God, I hope it wasn’t me!” Our political discussions tended to be quite philosophical, with his goal being education, not orientation. I signed up for every class he taught that fit my program.

Someone I know well is working on a masters degree right now, and is the only contact I have with the education environment. She has run into problems where the professors and several women in the classes turn each session into a women’s rights free-for-all, and is disgusted that nobody else seems to be interested in studying the subject matter. She is in the class to learn something, not cry on her sisters’ shoulders.

At USAFA, and the other military academies, the faculty are on a four-year rotation. Yes, they are diverse faculties. Liberal thought is in the majority–true liberal thought. But we had our share of those from both sides who took a very stark view of the world. The worst were women (understandable in a formerly all-male environment?) who were not Academy grads. For some reason, they felt it was their mission in life to have “Bring Me Men…” removed from the Academy Ramp. Here is the problem as I see it throughout academia. “Bring Me Men” is the first line in a poem. The poem celebrates those who are the best. “Bring me men to match my mountains.” Bring us the best you have to offer. Women I knew who graduated from USAFA had no problem with that line. They understood what it meant.

There are some people looking for something that will upset them. Perhaps the academic world attracts that type of personality. Certainly in the 1970s, those who saw all manner of things wrong with the United States found their home in colleges, first as students then as faculty. And tenure protects them, unlike at the academies where only a very tiny percentage are allowed to stay on. Collegiality requires addition to their group of like-minded individuals. The unification of thought strengthens.

I think it is a poor survey that presumes to measure a faculty philosophy based on professorial voter registration. Assuming someone thinks a certain way based on registration is as bad as believing something about someone based on their skin color. Yet when the imbalance is so glaring, there must be some correlation.

That does not mean all professors spew forth Marxist dictat. Most teach their subject and press on. What people like Mike Adams point out is when an administration is obviously biased. Then, the students they claim to be educating are actually being indoctrinated. Attending college is the first opportunity many of these students have had to explore a broader range of thought–and why so many think they know everything after completing their first semester!

If the role of a college education is to help students to learn how to think, they are doing those students a disservice when the focus in a class on economics turns into “bash someone and their ideas.” That approach can be valuable, but only when used as a tool to make a single point on the topic at hand. I used it myself. Students soon learned that Captain Mulligan used it frequently, and never knew for sure which side of an issue I stood on. Such as “Those damn Yankes started the Civil War by attacking Charleston!” If you don’t know why that’s over the top, better study a little more history. My impression (and it is only that) is that there are professors out there who can say something like that, and insist their students learn it as fact. It is reinforced when a college invites only speakers offering one point of view. That seems to be fairly common. Yes, students need to hear that perspective. But don’t they need the opposite as well? Or won’t those ideas stand up under scrutiny?

I love education. I would like nothing better than to be a lifelong college student. Life is good, little work required. I enjoy hearing an opposing viewpoint and mulling it over to see what truths might lie underneath. But I want that opportunity to mull it over. And I want the chance to hear the other side.

Can we ever achieve that in our colleges?

November 17, 2004

Fight Mental Health Screening For Children

Filed under: Education,Government — Bunker @ 5:58 pm

The Congress has several spending bills to deal with before their term ends. One of the ways they do this quickly, and with little fanfare is through an omnibus bill. In that way, they can wrap up a lot of spending in a single document which the President must sign or veto at once, without recourse to discussion. This week, the House is to vote on one bill which provides for mandatory mental health screening of kids in public schools. Details are here. The bill itself, HR 81 IR, was introduced by Rep Sheila Jackson-Lee, one of our favorite Democrats–from Houston. The same lady who wanted to name hurricanes in a more politically-correct way. The first line of the bill says, “At least one in five children and adolescents has a diagnosable mental , emotional, or behavioral problem that can lead to school failure, alcohol or other drug use, violence, or suicide.” How did I manage to rear four children with no mental health problems? Perhaps a fifth would have been deranged! (And no comments from you, Slice!)

The behavioral problems have more to do with lack of discipline than any mental health issues. And yes, I am an expert.

Congressman Ron Paul, an OB/GYN physician for over 30 years, is desperately trying to keep the drug companies, politicians and federal bureaucrats from becoming parents to your children. Dr. Paul will introduce on Wednesday afternoon or Thursday morning (whenever the floor schedule allows) an amendment to the Labor, HHS, and Education Appropriations Act for FY 2005 that will withhold funds for this new federal mental-health-screening program. He will urge his congressional colleagues to support his effort in a letter to be distributed tomorrow morning.

The Liberty Committee, a caucus of Congressmen with a libertarian bent led by Rep. Ron Paul, have agreed to the following wording to be added to the Omnibus Funding Bill to be voted on this week in the House:

None of the funds made availablefor State incentive grants for transformation should be used for any programsof mandatory or universal mental-health screening that performs mental-health screening on anyone under 18 years of age without the express, written permission of the parents or legal guardians of each individual involved.

I don’t want any funding going to this cause, whether the parents agree or not. I spent a couple of years as Commandant of a private military school where about a third of the junior high and high school kids were on Ritalin. Not one needed it. In fact, most were overachievers, intelligent, and simply bored with the mundane classes they endured in public schools. The acted up not because they had problems paying attention due to some mental disorder, but because their minds were racing far ahead of the pace the teachers set. When placed in a disciplined environment with plenty to do to keep their minds active and busy, they responded with intellectual zeal. What they had never had at home or school was a solid foundation of self-discipline, created through imposed discipline early on.

I don’t believe the federal government has any place in the education system. I certainly don’t feel they should be involved in mass mental evaluation. Are you concerned about total government control of your child’s life? This is not just a step in that direction–it is a huge leap. The evaluation will determine a mental rating for your child that will follow him/her for many years. It may require medication under threat to you of child abuse or neglect prosecution. It will make it very easy for school administrators to place your child in “special” classes if they don’t meet an arbitrary standard. And that does not necesarily mean special education classes, but may mean annual or even weekly mental health evaluations.

We are taking some of the most intelligent self-starters in this country and turning them into automatons through drugs, when we should be celebrating their ability to advance faster than their peers, and offering them opportunities to develop their skills. Instead, we drug them and make them sit quietly while others catch up. A quiet, bored student is better than an active, bored student.

Sales of Ritalin must have peaked, and the drug companies need a new market. And the psychologists.

At the bottom of my left column you will find links to your congressmen and Senators. Use them.


Filed under: Education,Government — Bunker @ 10:38 am

National Education Association makes a plea we’ve heard often in the last two weeks from many groups that supported Kerry:

This is a great opportunity for the Administration to change the tone of its discourse with the education community, particularly the 2.7 million members of the National Education Association who are in schools all over this nation.

What they are really saying is that Dubya has an opportunity to make them relevant once more. Do any of these groups ever consider that they may be wrong?

November 12, 2004

Opportunity Knocks

Filed under: Education,Government — Bunker @ 7:01 pm

Here is an opportunity to do something right with the No Child Left Behind funding.

Dubya, do nothing before you call Bill Cosby.

November 8, 2004

Educated idiots

Filed under: Education,Society-Culture — Bunker @ 12:33 pm

Yes, I’ve known a few. I’ve also known quite a few people with tremendous mental power who didn’t even finish high school. Smarts, intelligence, and formal education aren’t necessarily linked. One of my earliest posts was one which compared Howard Dean to Pat Buchanan, and also explored the “smart vs. intelligent” conflict. I think it may be time to revisit it.

It is only natural for a college student to feel intellectually superior to someone who hasn’t been to college. The experience is such that new ideas and information fill that student’s mind. And there is reason to celebrate that newly acquired knowledge. The disconnect comes when that same college student believes that the things he has learned are things others have never before considered. And many are ideas others have considered, then rejected as wrong after learning from experience. To him, it is new knowledge and unimpeachable.

Unfortunately, many of these college students never leave academia, and continue their formal education to become professorial without ever having left the academic environment. They never get the chance to take that intellect and turn it into smarts.

Smart is not the same as intelligent. Education confers neither. Education can instill some level of smart, but it is still just a mental exercise. Smart comes from experience seasoned with education, formal or informal, and native intelligence. You don’t really get smart without all three. And there are many self-educated folks, with much in the way of life experience to put that education in perspective. A pure intellectual can never be smart because there is no practical experience to test the knowledge acquired. And without that test, there is only simple faith that what they’ve learned is valid. All they have to lean on is surveys and study of those with experience.

The whole “Bush is dumb and so are the people who voted for him” mentality is exhibited by people from the media and academia in particular. Which makes me consider, “Those who live in glass houses…”

October 12, 2004

Hire the man

Filed under: Education — Bunker @ 8:59 am

That renowned racist, Bill Cosby, is out there talking down to black kids again.

“Study. That’s all. It’s not tough. You’re not picking cotton. You’re not picking up the trash. You’re not washing windows. You sit down. You read. You develop your brain,” Mr. Cosby said at Fred D. Thompson Middle School, where 65 percent of the 700 students meet low-income criteria for free or reduced-price lunches.

I don’t care what his politics are, what kind of car he drives, or what brand of toothpaste he uses. This man either needs to be the Secretary of Education, or a new position created as an at-large ambassador for education. Whatever he wants in the way of salary would be money well-spent. I hate the expansion of government, and am torn about even considering a new federal job. So let’s just put him in some position in the governemnt and give him an aircraft to travel the country spreading the word.

Give him the entire No Child Left behind budget to spend as he sees fit. I would guarantee results, and far better ones than we’ll see otherwise.

September 28, 2004

Community College

Filed under: Education — Bunker @ 7:55 am

I haven’t written about education in a while, but Lago had a segment on our local community college this morning and made me think about people’s perceptions.

I have an associates degree, bachelors degree, and masters degree. The toughest one for me was the first. But it led to the others. It was tough because I was working, and I had to get back into the school mentality. I had to catch up on the math I had forgotten. I had to write much more than I had before.

But the teachers I had getting my schooling in a community college were the best. Almost all had real-world experience, and many taught part-time while working in their field. The students at community colleges across the country average about 27 years of age. The classroom discussions and student goals reflect that maturity.

The real question about where to attend school comes back to expectations.

Most jobs in this world do not require a bachelors degree. They require an education. There is a difference. If you look at any 4-year college in this country, the majority of students are in the College of Arts and Sciences. A large portion of those are in several “soft” degree programs, that is programs which have no direct tie to any particular career path. A sociology, pyschology, even biology degree is but a step toward a higher degree. There are few jobs around where people hire someone with only a bachelors in those areas. English Literature and Women’s Studies offer almost nothing in the way of employment.

That’s okay. An education is of value regardless of the type degree someone gets, if what you want is simply an education in something that interests you.

But a large number of freshmen don’t get past the first year, even in these programs. I don’t have any numbers handy at the moment, but when I was working in education the number who survived was around 25%. They have heard all their lives that a college degree is essential, but they really have given no thought to why, or what they want to do with it.

I’ve found that community colleges offer a much better route for education than 4-year schools for most folks. There are programs in all forms of technical work, nursing, and even journalism. For most jobs in this country, the education a student gets with the diploma is enough to take them to the highest levels within that career path. And most also provide the kind of education they need to start and run their own business. It is cheaper, and a good way to immerse yourself in the academic environment. And it is a good way to sample a variety of options.

Let me offer a little unsolicited advice to current high school students and their parents. Unless you know precisely what you want to major in, and what your future employment prospects are with that degree, consider a local school for the first two years. If you want to get into computer programming or systems development, you will get as much hands-on experience and instruction from someone actually using those tools at a community college as you will in a complete 4-year program at a university. Of course, you will need more education later in some specific areas, but you will go into that better equipped.

I took care of all my basics as a part-time student–English, math, physics–then went on and got my engineering degree. And I was able to focus on my core engineering courses. But I had excellent teachers for calculus and physics at a community college, better than I had later on in more advanced courses. My instructor for the first of my calculus-based physics course taught part-time. In real life he worked an the Air Force’s airborne laser system.

Don’t think the quality of instruction suffers.

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