June 19, 2016

Arrogant Ignorance - A Problem?

A while ago, the president of Arizona State University, Michael Crow, gave a fiery speech to a group of area leaders. As head of the nation's largest public research university he is well aware of the problems facing our society and particularly the educational system. In his speech he did not mince his words. Based on how directly he spoke I think we can assume he isn't running for a political office.

Intrigued by some of what he said, I thought several of his comments were worth repeating, with a thought or two of mine added. My thanks to an article by Sonu Munshi in the Arizona Republic for alerting me to his message.

Mr. Crow said, "A collective arrogant ignorance" holds the nation back. He cited the educational system that's not innovative enough, a lack of awareness or even acknowledgment, of global competition, and a lack of long-term vision. He said we, as a country, are resting on our laurels.  "We don't understand ...the development of the rest of the world as competitors. He went on to say " we are the means by which solutions will be derived."

Turning to the educational system, he noted we should be comparing our educational system not with the schools across town, but "with schools internationally." He accused his fellow university presidents of being too focused on the elite students and not thinking of what's best for educating the entire country.

Wow. I wonder what the reaction was in the meeting hall to those thoughts. He pulled no punches in laying blame where he saw it: the lack of appreciation for how the global economy has changed and a certain smugness on our part, the inability of the educational system to stay competitive, and the focus on just the cream of the crop, not everyone who is required to help us compete.

Personally, I believe he has made some extremely important points that more than just 200 people in a conference in suburban Phoenix needed to hear and think about. I was invited to attend but didn't. That was a mistake.

What is your reaction? Is he addressing critical issues that need to be discussed, or is he making things out to be worse than they actually are? Are we living with our collective heads in the sand about the world changes, or are we positioned to continue to lead the world in innovation and technology?

A few weeks ago an article in the Wall Street Journal presented the author's thoughts on why countries that have gotten much richer over the last century have done so. I think she glossed over some of the not-so positive reasons for this massive increase in wealth. But, her central point mirrors what Mr. Crow said: it is ideas and the ability to implement them that propel society forward. 

Personally, I think how we treat and pay teachers is shameful. They have direct, immediate, and a lifelong impact on our children. To pay them as little as we do is indefensible. Plus, all the teacher I know spend hundreds and hundreds of dollars from their own pockets each year for their students because there is not enough money in the budget for supplies.

But, that is probably a subject for another post. For our purposes this time, think about the "charge" that we are complacent and set our country's sights too low. Do ideas drive us? Are we losing the global ideas race?

27 comments:

  1. A lot to chew on here. I'd agree to an extent, but of course he's overgeneralizing -- and I think it's the very elite students he says we're focusing on too much who do take international competition seriously and apply themselves to compete on the world stage. Yes, there is smugness. There are also entrenched interests, including, probably, a lot of his own highly paid university administrators.

    I agree that teachers are sometimes underappreciated, and a lot of them go above and beyond. However, while I don't know how they are treated elsewhere, around here in the NY suburbs they are paid pretty well (many make over $100K a year with good benefits, lots of vacation and an enviable retirement program).

    Then there are the parents. Our town raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to improve the sports fields at the high school, complete with artificial turf and lights for night play. But where are the educational reforms that matter, like starting the school day later (because adolescents by and large are not at their best early in the morning), like longer school days and longer school years. Why does the typical college academic year end in early May?

    But now I sounds like an old curmudgeon. Maybe others have answers.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Good points, Tom. I doesn't matter whether you are talking about colleges or high schools, if sports are involved the money and support is there. New textbooks, extra curricular activities, not so much.

      Study after study shows that involved parents are so important to a school's success as an educational outlet. But, with 2 working parents in most households, that participation is often lacking.

      Teachers in Arizona make about 1/3 what they do in your area. Yes, living expenses are much lower, but they are not paid on par for their importance.

      Delete
  2. I think the problems with schools is that state legislatures and school boards promote their own agendas without consulting the schools. More emphasis should be put on the teachers and individual schools to work out their convens. Sure let the communities voice their concerns but let the schools, teachers and don't forget the students have final say.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Rigid standards have not proven to work as well as some people thought they might. Like so much of the rest of our world right now, politics has inserted itself deeply into the process of what is best for our teachers and children.

      Delete
  3. First off, most schools have stopped teaching American History. Why? I have no idea. Stop any student anywhere in the US and ask them about our constitution or laws and they will know nothing. This was not done by accident. It was done on purpose because a stupid citizen is one that will believe anything that spews out of a politicians mouth. We have a very dumb society right now.
    Also, recently two undocumented immigrant students, who graduated from High School as valedictorians, thanks to state funded financial aid, proudly got up and chanted to the audience, upon graduation, as they received their diplomas, that they were illegals living in America who were now going on to Yale and Harvard with 100% full scholarship on our tax payer money. Thanks to a change in law, as passed by Obama, these illegal, undocumented immigrants get full financial aid and a temporary social security number. They are taking away vital financial aid that our children should be getting. And what do these illegal immigrant students do when they graduate? Most go back to their own countries taking their valuable education with them. They do not benefit America in most instances. Most American parents must mortgage their homes and borrow to the enth degree in order to send their own children to college.
    More and more colleges are admitting undocumented immigrant students into their universities and schools. Why? For the guaranteed money the federal government will give them. Arizona is only 1 of 3 states (in all the 50 states) that does NOT give out this free financial aid to undocumented immigrant students. That's probably why the speaker you mentioned, Bob, was so adamant.
    For more information, you can read about it here:
    http://getmetocollege.org/financial-aid/info-for-undocumented-students/school-policies-towards-undocumented-students

    Personally, I sent my children to private schools. I wouldn't set foot inside a public school no matter what! My kids grades were averaged out. If they got a C (which they didn't) it would equal an A in public school. That's how bad public schools are IMHO no matter what the heck they pay those teachers. BTW, my kids got A's in private school and made any darn college they wanted to attend.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. A passionate reply. Thanks for your thoughts, Cindi.

      BTW, most kids are also rather clueless about geography. Forget about knowing where other countries are on a world map. Too many High School kids don't know where many of our 50 states are located!

      Delete
  4. It's pretty obvious today how ignorant our society has become. It truly boggles the mind where priorities lie when it comes to education. I have many friends who are or were teachers and it's amazing how much of their own money they spend for their students. This is just wrong, imo. I know teachers who would make twice as much money if they left the field and worked p/t at walmart. It is wrong!
    I recently met a p/t college 'professor' whose language skills were beyond questionable for the profession. When someone says, 'I seen that happen', I cringe! The standards aren't just low for schools, it seems they're pretty low for some colleges, too.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Why is it the education funding is one of the first things legislators look to for cuts when the budget is out of whack? Arizona has the distinction of making the deepest cuts to university funding along with the highest tuition increases of any state in the country over the last several years. But, tax cuts for large companies are fast-tracked and maybe a new arena for the Suns? At least we have our priorities right.

      Delete
  5. When asked about this, from my experience withhalf my life overseas, I say two things. First folks in most other countries, at least developed western countries, see themselves as a part of the world, while America sees itself and then the rest of the world apart. This is partly A geographical thing, I am sure.

    Second, the misconception still exists that we do everything and make everything better than the rest of the world. I'm not sure that has ever been true but it's not true now and we absolutely refuse to believe that we might learn something from another group of people in other countries. They have learned to take what they see as being a better idea from their neighbors while we refuse to believe anyone else might even have a better idea. I see this regularly and constantly on the news, in blogs. And everywhere else. Either that, or the offhand comment that "that would never work here". Those are the kinds of thinking that hold people back and makes us no longer the most educated or innovative country on the block.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Your point about the part geographic separation might play in all this is a good one. That is a likely factor, at least to a degree. The oceans keep us buffered from a lot, some bad, some good.

      It is a positive to have confidence and self assurance, but not to the point where one's mind is closed to fresh thinking. That is true for a person and a country.

      Delete
  6. We are constantly falling behind the rest of the world in education so let's look at how they do it. Almost without exception education is a national issue for them. Having educated citizens and workforce is a national priority. They don't let the local norms and prejudcies make one part of the country fall behind the rest.

    Yes, they do pay their teacher more compared to national averages but they also work a full year as most of the rest of us do. When we join the rest of the first world countries and get rid of the archaic 3 month summer vacation that will be a big help. They certainly don't let the students decide what is best for them as one of the previous comments suggest. They are kids after all and need guidance from adults who have been there...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The 3 month summer break is unusual in the Phoenix area. Most schools are on a modified year long schedule. Yes, they have a 6-8 week break, but most restart in late July. One unintended consequence is teachers, who are badly underpaid, don't have the opportunity to work a 3 month summer job to make extra money. It also affects family planning for vacations, basically eliminating August from the calendar.

      But, in a competitive world environment, to stop teaching for 3 months every year is silly. Studies show that children must spend the first several weeks of a new school year getting refresher lessons on what they forgot during the break.

      Delete
  7. I think the "archaic 3 month summer vacation" was put into effect because at least in PA, kids helped do the farming over the summer and having grown up on a farm that is what I had to do, plus a huge garden to take care of and help with canning and freezing for the winter months. I was married to a teacher for over 20 years and he taught in the same school district from 1970 to I believe 2004...anyway, most of his colleages got into teaching for the 3 months off in the summer and probably looked forward to it as much or more than the kids...I sat through years of "teacher talk" as I worked in the same district for a couple of years...most of the elementary teachers I knew did spend out of pocket for their classrooms, some classrooms had mold problems and this was in an upscale district and they lost all of their investments in their books and other classroom improvements they had made because the classrooms had to be sealed off and everything destroyed for health reasons. I have yet to meet an elementary school teacher who isn't in it for the love of the children they have in their classrooms every day. My ex-father in law was a superintendent of schools in a PA school district, so I can tell you I heard "teacher talk" at my holiday dinner tables and at the summer end of year picnics and the back to school gatherings...I've heard it all...a lot of kids are not going into teaching because the distric ts in our area are laying off teachers due to budgeting issues. They see it as a temporary position unlike the folks who got into it in the seventies. I agree about the athletics spending...when we came into our district in 1970 our band was number #1 in the world, during my time there, our basketball team was number #1 in our state...both of these distinctions went on for multiple years, but the kids worked their tails off for them too. They sold candy bars and other things to earn the money to travel abroad, so they learned valuable lessons in hard work and pride of accomplishment.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You are right: the summer break was designed around the planting season. Then, most employers expected their employees to take a vacation during good weather so the 3 month break just stayed. Today, those needs aren't there anymore but the break remains the same. At least in Phoenix, summer is too hot to be outside for very long. The kids would probably prefer school in the summer and a lomg break when the weather turns nice in late October.

      My mom taught for almost 40 years, with the last 6 as a classroom volunteer. I am very familiar with teacher talk! Even back 30 years ago she would spend hundreds of dollars on her students.

      Delete
  8. I also think that we tend to think of education only in terms of college. We will always have need for trade people and I feel that someone who wants to be an electrician or plumber or carpenter, etc is not given the encouragement or tools to learn that trade. Years past there were trade schools and apprenticeships where young people could learn how to do a variety of jobs that did not require college, but that needed training.

    I think we have forgotten about this in our push to make sure that EVERYONE goes to college – it is not logical that everyone either wants to or needs to attend college. Granted there are many fields where college is a necessity, but certainly not everyone. Think of those people who have made great contributions to our country and the world who either never attended college or dropped out.

    Some of the smartest, most creative people I know never went to college – in fact some never finished high school. And some of the most unproductive people I know not only went to college, but got advanced degrees and in some cases just kept on going to school because it is MUCH easier to do that than it is to face the real world. – And unfortunately, a lot of them teach our young people in colleges not because they love teaching but because it is a good way to avoid that very workforce that they are supposed to be preparing their students to enter!!! Boy does that sound cynical.

    Having a grandson in college, I am amazed at the education he is getting at what is supposed to be a great university. So far I cannot see that he will in anyway be prepared to face life. Already he is thinking about graduate school – and he is an English major.

    I think your Blog got me thinking – and I too had read about the speech by Michael Crow – and I do think that ASU is a great school – but I think he is correct in many ways. Often folks are going to school because it is what is expected not because there is a passion for learning.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I agree completely. I know what I pay my plumber. I am pretty sure he makes more than my GP doctor. Trades are both essential and lucrative. In our area there are plenty of trade and technical schools, but what you are referring to is the cultural bias against a "dirty hands" profession. That way of thinking is unfortunate, but i wonder if we see it more in our social circle than in other parts of the country. And, as you note, the number of years in school does not relate to how much common sense and "smarts" someone has.

      Delete
  9. I am writing this comment from Cheshire UK three days before we vote on whether the UK should remain in the EU. Your post and the replies you have received are relevant to our situation here in the UK. For example, do we look inwardly to the other EU states or outwardly to the rest of the world for trade? Do we allow open borders whereby all EU citizens can enjoy our benefit system and National Health Service? Should we be able to control immigration so we only let sufficient people in to do the 'dirty' jobs? The problems confronted by our two countries are so similar. I am in favour of controlled immigration and looking globally for business opportunities, so I will be voting to leave the EU on Thursday.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Ian, for your thoughts. I will certainly be watching the results closely on Thursday evening. In Arizona, being 7 hours behind you, the results should be known before I go to bed Thursday night.

      Whatever the decision of your fellow citizens, there will be consequences. Watching them play out may give us a glimpse of what we face, as well as several other European countries that are facing major immigration and economic problems.

      Delete
  10. The teachers where I live make very good wages, only work 9 months of the year, and can retire at 55 on a pension close to their former salary.

    Where I live the special interests run the show mostly for the benefit of the special interests.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Comparing education in the U.S. with other countries is like comparing apples to motor oil - they are very, very different things. The three biggest differences off the top of my head are that when you compare the U.S. educational system with a high-performing country like Japan or Finland, you are comparing our highly multicultural society to a homogenous society. Compare the U.S. to a more multicultural society and you will see many of the same educational issues we have here. Second, we finance our education completely differently than other countries, at the state and local level, where in other countries education is financed at the national level. The result is that we have a huge disparity in our country when it comes to what schools can offer and what they can pay their teachers. Wealthy communities in our country have the tax base to provide the very best and the most for their students, while less wealthy and poorer communities are left to fend for themselves. That allows us to complain about how the education system is "failing" our kids, like it's the schools' fault, or for people who send their kids to private schools or whose kids no longer attend school to complain about paying taxes for public education. Finally, in other high-performing countries education and teachers are respected. Teaching is a desirable career path, teachers are held in high esteem, and parents take their children's education seriously. Here, too often parents expect the public schools to do EVERYTHING and provide EVERYTHING for their children, and if their children don't know something complain bitterly that it's the teachers or the school's fault.

    These are of course generalizations, but our public schools are mandated these days with educating everyone, which includes students who don't speak English as a first language, and students with health issues or developmental disabilities that can be (and usually are) rejected by private schools. Again, you're comparing apples with oranges when you compare public and private schools. We got caught up in testing as the best means to determine whether a *school* was performing well, rather than using tests to see whether individual students were learning and advancing. Schools and teachers became an easy target, another government "failure" that needed to be privatized, except guess what? Private schools weren't often doing much better.

    OK, off my soapbox! (don't get me started on what college costs these days!)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, Laura, for taking the time to add this excellent comment. You make very valid points that seem to support what Mr. Crow said: we have system that doesn't work as well as it should but we are loath to change it.

      The private and public school debate is an important one. In Arizona, charter schools are quite popular. They are supported by the state but have more freedom to design programs and teaching plans than public schools. They are open to all. As a general rule I believe they produce more academically proficient graduates.

      Delete
    2. Several solid studies in Michigan showed results at charter schools generally were about the same as for public schools, and in quite a few instances the charters lagged behind.

      Delete
  12. My experience with charter schools is that they can either be very good or very, very bad. Many of the charter schools that were started in the state where we lived prior to Hawai'i had high ideals but couldn't live up to them and failed in short order, often at great cost to both the district and families. Charter schools fulfill an important niche though so I'm not in favor of doing away with them completely. I believe our public schools are doing a much better job than many give them credit for these days. Students are required or expected to know, and teachers required to teach, far more than what was offered in the past (I went to the top high school in CA back in the day, and calculus wasn't even available - these days it's practically expected for graduation. There was no such thing as AP courses in any subject, even for gifted students). With college costs spiraling out of control and college admissions far more competitive these days, many students are now doing college level work in high school in order to get ahead. The pressure on ALL students, not just the 'elite.' is incredible, and it begins in kindergarten or even before.

    We are loathe to change in our country. Right now it's popular to whine about the Common Core curriculum, but the learning techniques are ones that top-performing education systems in other countries have been using for years. We love to complain that these other countries are performing better and that our schools are "failing," yet try and implement changes and everyone screams!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. More good insight, Laura. I do know the charter school my grandkids attend is excellent. I am impressed with what they accomplish. But, I am sure there are poor charter schools, just like there are public schools that struggle for a variety of reasons and others that shine. But, as you say, overall change to anything of real substance produces a backlash.

      Delete
  13. I'm glad you posted this Bob. As someone who spent most of my adult life in higher education, I think that professional educators have these conversations all the time, so people at the conference probably weren't shocked by the remarks. But that conversation needs to be much more public -- and an intelligent conversation, not some dumbed-down, oversimplified version.
    I think the problems with our education system are similar to the problems in our health care system: As a nation, we just keep telling ourselves that we have the best system in the world and that it is the envy of everyone else. Saying it over and over doesn't make it true, but it does contribute to a massive collective denial of reality. -Jean

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. According to respected research we are 14th in educational performance and 44th in health care efficiency when compared to other developed countries. We are #1 in prison population as a percentage of overall population. Is there a connection? That is for better minds than mine to figure out.

      Delete

Inappropriate comments will be deleted