Archive for March, 2014

The Usefulness of Schools


What do schools teach? Mostly technical knowledge; reading, mathematics, science. History, for example is converted as much as possible to factual information from an American perspective.  Classes pass on technical information and in some cases provides situations to work that information out through reading with the teacher to laboratory work with appropriate equipment.  A general statement, with which many may disagree, is that schools teach that for which there is majority acceptance; subjects that will help youngsters get along in the technical world of scientific rationalism.

Although we live in an age of scientific rationalism, we also live in a world of experience both personal and cultural.  That experience is emotional as well as rational.  For every human being that experience begins at birth with adults, mostly parents, who try to shape an experience that will help the child cope/succeed in life.  There are large numbers of children whose parent(s) cannot provide that kind of environment.  In short, every child is unique for a variety of reasons.

Can schools as bureaucratic institutions do anything to meet individual differences, or are they confined to defining equality as every youngster receiving the same (equal) information (opportunity) in such a way that it can be measured through testing.  When I was a child in rural and small town schools, many superintendents visited schools several times a year and some principals would take him to classrooms to see a student, or several students, who were simply occupying seats.  Together with the teacher they would try to figure out some way to get them involved.

Today, superintendents of large school districts preside over building programs, pressure from many sources to manipulate the curriculum, manage a major bus transportation system and spend endless hours on finance problems: distribution and getting more of it.  The only time most superintendents find out about what is going on in classrooms is when something blows up.

Public schools must take all youngsters within the school district and parents work to see that their child gets appropriate attention.  After centuries of no attention, for example, children with learning disabilities now have programs that school personnel work to apply to individual children.

Private schools of all sorts can set up programs they want to teach.  Parents who pay to enter their children in a private school know what they are getting and their children either conform or are invited to move on.

Public schools, regardless of contorted statements to the contrary, are part of the local and state political process.  Most state governments set the curriculum and determine what text books are acceptable.  It is not unusual for pressure groups to form around some school “issue” and drag it into the election process.  This brings us back to what do public schools teach.  They largely teach what is non controversial drawn from our technical culture of scientific rationalism.

Finally, though essential, they teach behavior in large groups in which many youngsters do not wish to belong.  From kindergarten on, children learn to follow rules and treat each other with some degree of consideration.  In schools where this kind of education does not take place, neither does the subject matter of the academic curriculum.

This is a limited discussion of the work schools do, but it is a start.  Unfortunately,  so many discussions about what schools do are designed to sell a program, a set of values or a set of skills and behaviors.  Not much has changed in the education of children since I got into the business while almost everything else in life is in constant flux.

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Schooling & Society: Education and Individuals

Governments have as their major reason for being to engender national development, for which there are three major elements: 1) production of an economic surplus; 2) being both effective and efficient in maintaining order and providing security; 3) promoting a sense of identity and common goals among diverse social and economic groups that constitute the citizenry.

States support schools to advance their political agenda.  Economic institutions support educative activities to provide trained workers as a means to improve their profit making ability.  Individuals benefit from schooling according to their ability to navigate educative institutions to achieve personal as well as society’s goals.

 The proportion of gross domestic product devoted to government is increasing in the United States despite attempts to reduce it.  It is imperative that the economic surplus continue to increase so that tax revenue will increase to meet the promises that government makes to citizens to bind them to the state.  This effort at redistribution involves universal health care, protection from terrorism, and an increasing array of social welfare benefits.

 Both the state and economic institutions will accelerate their efforts to make schooling more efficient and cost effective in producing useful citizens; that is people who are orderly and who meet the job skill needs of economic institutions.   However, these efforts will not generate more revenue for schools.  Rather, through efficiency, state supported schools and colleges will be expected to do more with what they have.

 Consolidation will continue apace in economic institutions and government.  The Federal government will continue to limit the authority of state and local government and assume functions that previously had been provided by these levels of government and by social organizations.  For all educational institutions this will mean more rules and regulations and more requirements that come without money to implement them.

 Consolidation in both government and private enterprise will expand bureaucratic organization.  Designed to keep things going, not to generate new ideas, bureaucracy will thrive, growing in size and becoming ever more rule bound.  Increasing numbers of the population will work in these institutions, one of whose characteristics is to keep their operations free from public scrutiny.

 In the midst of a heterogeneous society, state support is concentrated in schools, designed both by purpose and by bureaucratic organization to promote homogeneity.  The rhetoric of programs such as “No Child Left Behind” conceals the fact that these programs are not aimed and helping individuals develop their natural abilities, but at meeting a national development need,

 Yet, the future of America depends upon its educative institutions developing individual ability to think and act flexibly and creatively to meet the technological changes and social and economic challenges that constantly undermine contemporary ways of behaving.  Currently, this goal is achieved only by individuals who are able to utilize their own inner resources to think otherwise.


Presidencies Derailed

This blog is about a book recently published, Presidencies Derailed; Why University Leaders Fail and How to Prevent It, by Stephen Joel Trachtenberg past president of The George Washington University, Gerald B. Kauvar research professor in public policy and public administration at GW and E. Grady Bogue, past chancellor of Louisiana State University.  This is a paean of praise about this unusual book; brief (139 pp.), concisely and directly written and organized to address the topic in a clear and direct manner. This is unusual in professional writing.

At this point I need to say that I know and have worked with President Trachtenberg and Professor Kauvar.  In our early association, President Trachtenberg put me in a category used by his predecessor, a professor as one who thinks otherwise.  Apparently, he came to accept that.

 The authors describe a major problem in American higher education, finding and employing capable college presidents.  They lay out six of what they describe as derailment themes and illustrate them with real cases in four different types of institutions: private liberal arts institutions, public master’s level institutions, public research universities and community colleges.  Real situations are used with care being taken to provide no evidence of who the people were and what the institution was.  Descriptions are crisp and to the point.  Stories by two derailed presidents are included to good effect.

 The final part of the book is labeled Averting the Train Wreck.  It deals directly with the problems described. It is absolutely on target though it resembles advice to children to be careful, a problem for all advice givers.  Although there is no attempt to take the book beyond the academic world, there is much here that can apply to management in practically any field (if careful thought is used).

 I can think of nothing more to say other than this is one of the best professional books I have ever read



Truth seems to be a commodity in short supply today.  The news sources broadcast information that is changed, often without explanation, in the same news day.  In political information particularly, there is often no effort made to present information that is accurate.  The Syrian civil war is killing thousands of innocent people; President Obama is responsible.  Putin is dismantling the Ukraine; President Obama is responsible.  The Federal Health Care plan will ruin America, or at least those parts the accuser is concerned with.

 Truth in science is supposedly achieved by experimental activities judged by carefully constructed criteria.  Later, new criteria are discovered that lead to a reexamination of the “truth” of the original interpretation of the findings.  I see an accident and tell what I saw to the police who get a slightly different story from someone who saw it from a different angle.

 So, what is truth?  Obviously, there is no single angle.  A number of years ago Felipe Fernandez-Armesto wrote a book entitled Truth in which he dealt with ways of truth seeking.  His motivation, he says, is that there can be no social order without trust and no trust without truth.  He approaches his task by identifying four ways of finding truth:

The truth you feel

The truth you are told (in every form it comes down to us, the truth you are   told is embedded in structures of authority and assent)

The truth you work out through reason (thought disciplined by reason and     thought that deciphers experience)

The truth you perceive through your senses (the author makes a      distinction between hard science in his discussion of reason and sense      truth, and that of anthropologists and psychologists with their up from     savages theory of human development)

 Obviously, he does not come up with clear cut distinctions between his four ways of working out truth.  What he does do is show how we have tried through the centuries to work out what is true and what we can’t determine as truth from lying.

 Separating truth from “this is the best we know” and the myriad ways of lying has never been easy.  In today’s complex world driven by technology, it is an even more difficult task.  The point of this little blog to say that we have to consciously work at it.


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Of Course I remember that!!! (Don’t I?)

Memory is the result of what has happened in my lifetime that has been direct experience.  Or, it has been told to me by friends, family, acquaintances that happened before my lifetime that relates to my present life experience.  This is a lot to get mixed around in the brain and, in my experience, activities and stories get mixed up.  I have managed to construct participation by me in some startling events only to be straightened out later by someone who could prove they were right.  Memory is interesting.  Some people store and retrieve historical happenings from their memory very efficiently and others confuse things that happened yesterday. I have an acquaintance who illustrates this perfectly.

 Some family historical events are converted into myth.  The family trip to Denver in which hotel rooms got slightly mixed up is converted into a circus of running between floors to locate clothes, take showers, change sleeping arrangements, etc. So are some happenings at work. Over time an event is polished up, or edited by addition and subtraction and rearranging to present a wishful interpretation as a “factual” event.  This kind of wishful interpretation is used by most of us to present ourselves as we want others to see us.  This is different from memory, but related in that together with myth they help us create a personal identity.

 Myth uses memory to help us convince other people that we are what we want them to think we are.  Some people are heavier users of the two than others and probably most of us have gotten caught up in the webs we have spun.  Richard Nixon comes to mind as a politician who spent a good part of his life weaving myth in and out of his memory of his misadventures.

 Life would be a lot less interesting without mythical memory.  Problems start when the creator begins to believe his creation.

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