What Really Suffocated Upward Mobility?

Short Answer:   The 99%.

In the US social mobility is now heavily dependent on parental wealth being passed down to children, not by children climbing up on their own merit as was the nation’s chief characteristic in the past.  The primary American mechanism in the past was for parents equitably sharing responsibility to work toward a point higher than where they had begun, and then to have their children use that point as their platform for continuing the climb on their own in similar families.

Several studies have been conducted in recent years comparing social mobility among contemporary developed countries.  One such study (“Do Poor Children Become Poor Adults?”, 2006) found that of nine developed countries, the United Kingdom (9) and the United States (8) had the lowest intergenerational vertical social mobility with about 50% of the advantages of having a parent with a high income simply passed on to the next generation.  France (7), Germany (6) and Sweden (5), had the next lowest social mobility.  The four countries with the lowest “intergenerational income elasticity”, i.e. the highest social mobility, were Denmark (1), Norway (2), Finland (3), and Canada (4) with less than 18% of advantages of having a high-income parent passed on to their children.  These four countries had independent social mobility rates 2.5 times higher than the UK and US; that is, high socio-economic standing was 2.5 times less dependent on wealthy parents.

Note that the study was published in 2006, when the US economy was on a major upswing bolstered by a hyper-inflated housing boom – two years before the latest bubble burst and the Great Recession began.  Since 2008, the trends indicated already by the 2006 study have only significantly worsened, especially for the UK and US.  When an economy as big as the US builds 6,000,000 more houses than it has people available to occupy those houses, much less to actually afford to buy them, you know that there are major screws loose somewhere.  Apparently a lot of Americans felt that, if you can’t simply inherit wealth, perhaps you can create it out of thin air using other people’s money.  Steadily working towards long-range achievable financial objectives for your children’s future while living within your means didn’t seem to be a major part of the “thinking”.  It was all about “me” and “now”, with some major help from a Big Daddy Government buying votes.

In this regard, the stagnating UK and the US economies are becoming more characteristic of ancient Rome.  These countries have become much more dependent on government “wealth redistribution” and much less reliant on individual genius, creativity, risk-taking and innovation in a highly competitive arena for wealth creation than in their 19th and 20th century past.  Their governments have also become much less smart investors in national infrastructure development, maintenance and redirection and less a facilitator for private investment for profit in key sectors benefiting the nation and all of its citizens than in the past.  Government has become increasingly focused on maintaining dependent herds than on encouraging self-reliance and upward mobility.  In short, there is little evidence of long range strategic thinking at the helm of the UK and US over the past forty years as was the case previously, especially during the period when their Greatest Generations were at the helm.

In all cases, however, education was a critical factor.

Excellent Finnish teachers say, and I tend to agree, that the problem with American public schools is their enormously powerful teachers unions, which have fostered a mentality permeating all of American “education” that it’s all about the teachers, rather than about the students, all about process at the expense of results.  (I would add women’s powerful lobbies in America to that equation.)  But is it really this simple?  While my personal overriding concern is the despicable censorship that surrounds everything about the crippling “education” of boys in this country, it’s worthwhile to take a look at the problem from other angles.  For example, despite the fact that US has the most expensive public school system on Earth, that system is still the worst performing in the industrialized world.  So, obviously, it’s not about money.  Time magazine’s gifted Indian-American editor Fareed Zakaria has a terrific knack for going straight to the core issues unburdened by all the usual self-serving propaganda, blame-shifting nonsense and mind-numbing mumbo-jumbo intended solely to deceive and confuse the public into throwing ever more mega-bucks into black holes.  And, although he avoids the gender issue here, Zakaria, like the Bill Gates he cites, has a young son he definitely wants to succeed.


When Will We Learn?

Time magazine, 14 November 2011, By Fareed Zakaria  (See Footnote #1.)*

For the past month, we have all marveled at the life of Steve Jobs, the adopted son of working-class parents, who dropped out of college and became one of the great technologists and businessmen of our time.  How did he do it?  He was, of course, an extraordinary individual, and that explains much of his success, but his environment might also have played a role.  Part of the environment was education.  And it is worth noting that Jobs got a great secondary education.  The school he attended, Homestead High in Cupertino, Calif., was a first-rate public school that gave him a grounding in both the liberal arts and technology.  It did the same for Steve Wozniak, the more technically oriented co-founder of Apple Computer, whom Jobs met at that same school.

In 1972, the year Jobs graduated (See Footnote #2.), California’s public schools were the envy of the world.  They were generally rated the finest in the country, well funded and well run, with excellent teachers.   These schools were engines of social mobility that took people like Jobs and Wozniak and gave them an educational grounding that helped them rise.

Today, California’s public schools are a disaster, beset by dysfunction and disrepair.  They rank at the bottom of the country, just as the U.S. now sits at the bottom of the industrialized world by most measures of educational achievement.  The World Economic Forum ranks the U.S.’s educational system 26th in the world, well behind those of countries like Germany, Finland, the Netherlands, Denmark, Canada and Singapore.  In science and math, we score even worse.  ((It’s even worse than that if you compare countries by gender.))

We’ve been talking about America’s education decline for three decades now, so much so that we are numbed by the discussion.  But the consequences of that crisis are only just becoming fully apparent.  As American education has collapsed, the median wages of the American worker have stagnated, and social mobility – the beating heart of the American dream – has slowed to a standstill.  Education is and always has been the fastest way up the socioeconomic ladder.  And the payoff from a good education remains evident even in this weak recovery.  The unemployment rate for college graduates is just 4%, but for high school dropouts it is 14%.  If you drop out of high school  – and the U.S. has a 25% dropout rate  – you will have a depressed standard of living for the rest of your life.

The need for better education for most Americans has never been more urgent.  While we have been sleeping, the rest of the world has been upgrading its skills.  Countries in Europe and Asia have worked hard to increase their college-graduation rates, while the U.S.’s  — once the world’s highest  — has flat-lined.  Other countries have focused on math and science, while in America degrees have proliferated in “fields” like sports exercise and leisure studies.

Bill Gross, the head of Pimco, the world’s largest bond fund, sums it up in no uncertain terms: “Our labor force is too expensive and too poorly educated for today’s marketplace.”  There are two variables here: our educational levels, which are low, and our wages, which are high.  Either we will raise our educational level or markets will lower our wages.

How to do it?  Well, there is one simple, time-tested method.  Work harder.  Thomas Edison said that genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.  Malcolm Gladwell found that behind many supposedly natural-born talents like musical ability lay lots of practice — by his calculations, about 10,000 hours of practice.  U.S. schoolchildren spend less time in school than their peers abroad.  They have shorter school days and a shorter school year. Children in South Korea will spend almost two years more in school than Americans by the end of high school.  Is it really so strange that they score higher on tests?

If South Korea teaches the importance of hard work, Finland teaches another lesson. Finnish students score near the very top on international tests, yet they do not follow the Asian model of study, study and more study.  Instead they start school a year later than in most countries, emphasize creative work and shun tests for most of the year.  But Finland has great teachers, who are paid well and treated with the same professional respect that is accorded to doctors and lawyers.  They are found and developed through an extremely competitive and rigorous process.  All teachers are required to have master’s degrees, and only 1 in 10 applicants is accepted to the country’s teacher-training programs.  The contrast with the U.S. is stark.  Half of America’s teachers graduated in the bottom third of their college class.

Bill Gates has spent about $5 billion trying to research and reform American education.  I asked him, if he were running a school district and could wave a magic wand, what he would do.  His response: hire the best teachers.  That’s what produces the best results for students, more than class size or money or curriculum.  “So the basic research into great teaching, that’s now become our biggest investment,” he says.  One study estimates that if black students had a top-quartile teacher rather than a bottom-quartile teacher four years in a row, that would be enough to close the black-white test-score gap.

There are many more ideas, many of them worthwhile and worth trying, but you can get lost in the details of the education debate.  These two seem simple–work more and get better teachers.  Yet implementing them is anything but simple.  They bump up against an education system that is deeply resistant to change and teachers’ unions that jealously guard their prerogatives.  All the specific measures that would allow students to work more and good teachers to be identified and rewarded — more days, longer hours, merit pay — are mostly opposed by the teachers’ unions and other guardians of the status quo.

When you get depressed by the obstacles to reforming the educational bureaucracy, you can get excited by the meta-reformers on the outside who are trying to revolutionize the system.

Take Sal Khan (See Footnote #3.), who accidentally created what might well be a new way of teaching.  Seven years ago, the MIT graduate was helping his cousin, who lived across the U.S., with her math homework.  When scheduling got difficult, a friend suggested he put the diagrams and equations he had drawn on YouTube so she could access them.  Five years later, Khan has produced 3,000 videos teaching mostly math and science that have been viewed 80 million times!

But the real revolution has been in the classroom.  Last year, Los Altos, Calif., decided to use the Khan Academy videos and software in its public-school classrooms.  Doing so turns the educational model on its head.  In the traditional method, students sit in class and receive information from their teacher while they busily take notes — a passive process that wastes valuable classroom time.  They do the most challenging work — solving problems — at home without help.  Under the new system, they watch the Khan Academy videos at home and solve problems in class, where the teacher’s talents can be put to use most fruitfully.  In addition, students can learn at their own pace – re-watching videos — until they actually understand the material.  The early results show huge leaps in student skills.  Technology is being used to create a customized, interactive education that is both novel and powerful.

The reason that I am so taken by the Khan Academy — other than that I have used its videos with my 12-year-old son — is that it is a quintessentially American innovation, a new way of thinking about education.

I went through the Asian educational system, which is now so admired.  It gave me an impressive base of knowledge and taught me how to study hard and fast.  But when I got to the U.S. for college, I found that it had not trained me that well to think.  American education at its best teaches you how to solve problems, truly understand the material, question authority, think for yourself and be creative.  It teaches you to learn what you love and to love learning.  These are incredibly important values, and they are why the U.S. in the past has been able to maintain an edge in creative industries and innovation in general.

The U.S. should truly fix its educational system by emphasizing the basics — like hard work — again but also by renewing its distinctly American character.  We will succeed not by becoming more Asian but by becoming, as the writer James Fallows put it once, “more like us.”  That’s what made America the world’s most dynamic society — and it can make it so again.

xx – end article – xx

So, it’s not just about the teachers unions, despite the fact that non-educators outside of unions can have an enormous positive impact on education quality that is lacking in unions.  Nor is it about money.  It’s about teaching students how to think, not what to think.  That takes real talent and a solid education.  And ALL Americans would do the whole world a big favor if they spent far less time studying and glorifying their quite average navels “according to me” and far more time looking at the larger world beyond themselves, including to the future of the nation and its children in that larger world.  Ours is in real danger of becoming a dysfunctional failed state that won’t be able to keep importing the foreign-schooled brains it needs to keep its head above water.  After over thirty years of nothing but negative movement, it’s long past time to stop talking this problem to death and to fully embrace whatever works, time to make “education” money, jobs and benefits contingent on results, and just “do it”, damned the self-serving unions and women’s lobbies.  A nation of parasites simply cannot survive another thirty years of whining emotionalism based on suffocating dogma; people need to be told the hard truth about themselves, about the destructiveness of all the childish focus on “me”.

America doesn’t need day care guardians; it needs hundreds of thousands of very effective teachers – who place the students above themselves, just like soldiers place the nation and its citizens above themselves, without unions.  Americans also desperately need to reclaim the responsibility for caring for and raising their own children, and free schools to concentrate with full accountability solely on what they are intended to do – teach future Americans to think, to succeed and to move both themselves and our society forward.  Note that the greatest difference between the “Asian model” of pre-college education, which taught Zakaria in India, and the “American model”, is the competitive nature of the former – the same competitive nature that once characterized American schools pre-1970. Attending American schools has become another birthright entitlement requiring no responsibility and accruing all sorts of “extra” benefit to the child and, most importantly, to the child’s parents; the expectation is simply that students be docile, compliant, happy, under-educated, bored and boring members of the herd – on someone else’s dime.

Furthermore, while American citizens in the competitive arena have a right to organize themselves into unions for their own self-interests, employees in government, including education, should be barred from union membership.  Either they are public servants, or they are solely a self-interested group allowed to “negotiate” with other members of their own group, both working to the overall detriment of the nation and its citizens.  As in all other sectors, both the priorities and the allegiance of a government employee union member are inherently suspect.  It is NOT all about “me”.   Besides, there’s something exceedingly grotesque about the nation’s two largest and most powerful unions representing government employees who use mountains of taxpayer money to advance an incessantly failing mission while padding their own interests – for decades.  Given the critical importance of the mission, that absurdity, to a military man, borders on treason.

Getting Young Americans On Board

Like most of the world today, we live in a capitalist society, so a good way to view the problem is from a business angle, one that involves technological innovation.  Except for the Privileged Class living and retiring on the people’s dime working for government, it is innovative and highly competitive business that provides the nation’s jobs and wealth while propelling society forward.  Everything else just moves the money around, even out of the country.  As another of similar hundreds published over the past twenty years, the following article, published over three years ago, is about a woman who recognizes that we can’t keep contemplating our navels ad infinitum by providing our kids nothing but wasted “educations” in the liberal arts and social sciences embarrassingly focused on “me”.  The Greatest Generation would have viewed all this primping in front of the mirror as just obscene. I would add that it is also totally unjustified and hasn’t been justified for decades. Most of what we think constitutes our “greatness” is based on the accomplishments of those who went before us, not on anything we ourselves have actually done.  While we play, for example, a new 21st century earthquake-resistant bridge is being assembled across the San Francisco Bay – using advanced technology and manufacturing techniques and even gigantic parts made in China, the same country that sees even the Moon as a great prize worth winning.  We apparently can no longer even design and build our own advanced infrastructure.  Almost all of our “innovations” anymore come out of our military and space programs (but now, even there, mostly via foreign-schooled scientists).

What we need is a Great Quest marshaling huge resources and make it a national security issue, and once again channel many hundreds of thousands of US kids into it.  (Since our dismal education system represents one of the top three threats to our future security in the world, perhaps we should make K-12 education a matter of national security and put it on a footing similar to the US military.)  President George W. Bush tried to get such a program rolling – to establish a base station on the Moon as a jumping-off point for further space exploration and exploitation – but it was soon killed by elected “representatives” in Congress with their own interests and priorities.  But such irresponsible vote-buying myopia doesn’t erase the great need.

We need Jack Kennedy’s vision, and a great fervent national mission, to finally get our kids and their teachers excited about accomplishing something great and real and worthwhile — for THEIR kids.  New nifty little toys won’t ever cut it. “… go to the Moon and return, in this decade.”  What an astounding challenge.  No one thought it was possible, not in their lifetimes, but the Greatest Generation did it, and well within Kennedy’s time frame.  That generation sent 24 military men to the Moon between 1968 and 1972, and 12 of them were the only humans to ever actually walk on a celestial body.  Along the way the program got millions of kids really excited about the physical sciences.  Yet, even though the 1960s US manned space program spun of literally thousands of benefits and products to mankind, the last such feat was accomplished almost 40 years ago.

These days much attention is focused on alternative forms of energy that are not based on scarce natural resources, which, when used, further damage our environment.  Why not start anew with a national plan to mine the Moon for helium-3 to feed a national and global grid of much safer nuclear reactors?  (See “From The North Pole To The Moon – And Back”, posted separately.)  How about finally conquering nuclear FUSION?   How about getting all our kids excited about a single national program to rebuild our entire national infrastructure for 22nd century needs and standards around a helium-3 nuclear fusion energy grid?  Or changing all gasoline powered engines to superior hydrogen powered engines?  How about turning some distant moon into a pristine mini-Earth laboratory for research into how to save this planet?  The possibilities here are limitless.  And it doesn’t necessarily have to be entirely  funded by taxes, but rather by government programs that channel competitive business investment, research and development in a concerted and intelligently coordinated effort with a clear long-range objective and pay-off.

But all the Baby Boomers have done for the past forty years is kick the cans further down the road, to their kids and grandkids.  And then they failed to provide those kids even an adequate education, much less the necessary values, to face the challenge.


Another Voice Warns of an Innovation Slowdown

New York Times, September 1, 2008
By Claire Cain Miller

MENLO PARK, Calif. — Judy Estrin (See Footnote #4.), 53, has spent her entire career in Silicon Valley, a region that thrives on constant innovation. Ms. Estrin, the former Chief Technology Officer of Cisco Systems, has founded four technology companies.

Yet she is deeply worried that Silicon Valley — and the United States as a whole — no longer fosters the kind of innovation necessary to develop groundbreaking technologies and sustain economic growth.

“I am generally not an alarmist, but I have become more and more concerned about the state of our country and its innovation,” she said last week, explaining why she wrote her book, “Closing the Innovation Gap,” which arrives in bookstores Tuesday. “We have a national innovation deficit.”

Ms. Estrin’s book is the latest call to action during the last several years by scientists, technologists and political leaders worried about the country’s future competitiveness in technology. ((Most of the CEOs of our largest corporations have lamented in public the sorry state of technical preparedness of American-schooled kids.))

In 2005, the National Academies published “Rising Above the Gathering Storm,” a report requested by Congress, which found that federal financing of research in the physical sciences was 45 percent less in 2004 than in 1976 and that 93 percent of students in grades five through eight learn science from teachers who do not hold degrees or certifications in the topics they teach.  ((Education interests require that teachers be “certified” to teach; what they teach is apparently of little consequence.  And contrary to university feminist complaints about few women in the advanced physical sciences, most MEN in advanced physical scientists in America were not schooled in America.  You can’t suddenly create advanced physical scientists in college; you have to start in grade one.))  In 2007, the book “Innovation Nation” by John Kao, a business consultant, revived the debate.

And this year ((2008)), both presidential candidates have made government support of innovation and technology a central part of their campaign platforms.

Still, not all technology watchers agree with Ms. Estrin about the extent of the innovation problem — or whether there is a problem at all.  ((Most such people ignore that we are importing the foreign-schooled physical scientists needed to sustain research and business by the tens of thousands every year – now at an incredible 65,000 annually.))   “The whole innovation crisis thing is a bit overblown,” said Paul Saffo, a technology forecaster.  Innovation in the natural world, in the form of mutation, is lethal, so species do it only when they are under dire stress, he said.  “What makes Silicon Valley unique is that this place has stumbled onto a way to sustain innovation even when the place is doing well,” he said.  ((This is nonsense.  Edison saw darkness, not stress, and came up with the electric light bulb.  It led to very much more, in a highly competitive arena.  We live in a highly competitive world, and one that gets more competitive every day; to assume it’s all a matter of natural evolution is simply absurd.))

Ms. Estrin argues that short-term thinking and a reluctance to take risks are causing a noticeable lag in innovation.  ((We Americans anymore are ALL about short-term “thinking” – whatever dances in front of our noses from minute to minute.)) She cites a variety of contributing factors.  A decline in federal and university financing for research has dried up new ideas, she said.  When research does produce new technologies, entrepreneurs and the venture capitalists who back them have been too cautious to make big bets — especially after the costly failures of the dot-com bust.  If start-up companies do find financing, she said, new regulations make it hard for them to grow, and the focus of investors on short-term performance discourages companies from taking risks.

Ms. Estrin’s suggestions for bolstering innovation range from the vague, like advising venture capitalists and entrepreneurs to take more risks, to the specific, like mandating that schools pay teachers higher salaries. ((This is a good idea – provided salaries and promotions are solely merit-based – according to measurable results, not just on observed effort – and teachers are accountable for their results.  There is no excuse that youth schooling in professional education is not every bit a performance-based meritocracy as national defense is in the professional military.  After all, that military can only be as effective as the people who come to it from the larger society.  Today over 80% of young Americans can’t qualify to serve in that professional military.))

Some of her prescriptions are unlikely to become reality, like her idea for a new government body modeled after the Federal Reserve that sets science policy without Congressional input.

Some thinkers on innovation agree with Ms. Estrin’s assessment. “There is a remarkable telescoping in of vision and an unwillingness to make long-term bets,” said Vinton G. Cerf, the chief Internet evangelist at Google.  ((What has disappeared from American culture is a willingness to take really great risk, to “bet the farm”, for truly worthwhile pay-offs.))

Mr. Cerf led the development of the networking protocols that form the basic architecture of the Internet, a project to which Ms. Estrin contributed as a graduate student.  He points to the Internet as an example of the need for long-term research and financing, since development of the technology used to transmit data online required two decades of government support.  ((The “internet” superstructure was originally a 1960s Greatest Generation DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) program for developing a US military communications system that could survive a global nuclear war – before being released to the global public for free in the late 1980s by President Reagan after two decades of proven and improved use.))

Robert Compton, a venture capitalist and entrepreneur, said that the United States is losing its innovation edge to China and India.  Chinese and Indian children are required to take more science courses than students in the United States, said Mr. Compton, who recently produced a documentary comparing high school education in the three countries. Of college graduates, 30 percent to 45 percent in India and China have engineering degrees, compared with 5 percent in the United States.  ((We don’t even produce enough engineers to check the stability of our own bridges, much less design and build new ones.))  Venture financing and patent applications are falling in Europe and the United States and rising in China and India, he said.

Most alarming to Mr. Compton is that over 60 percent of engineering doctorates from American universities are granted to foreign nationals, but they are no longer staying here to work.  “The American economy is not as exciting as China and India, and a lot of them are going back home,” he said. ((Our country is importing foreign-schooled physical scientists, providing them excellent advanced degrees and research pedigrees, and then watching them go back home.  This is an incredibly stupid waste of our best universities and grad schools in a highly competitive global economy – schools that depend on taxpayer dollars, but to maintain their edge and standards the universities need the best students possible even if they have to be imported.))

Ms. Estrin and others acknowledge that the recent surge in financing for alternative energy companies is a sign that innovation is alive and well in some sectors.  Still, she is concerned that investors will not have the patience to build these companies.  ((And if they do, they will quickly be bought by foreign companies that have no intention of yielding their established lead in such 21st century areas to anyone.  Or it will be too expensive for us to manufacture the innovation, so we will sell the innovation to Asia, for THEM to make the profit.  Something is very wrong with our whole “thinking” in this area.))

“If they treat these companies the same way they treated others — a couple years in, they need to see returns or cut the burn rate or start cutting people — they are not going to get to where we need to go,” she said.

Some who track innovation in the United States say the alarm bells are unnecessary and sound like a repeat of similar fears in past decades that turned out to be unfounded. ((No such alarms were heard in America until the 1980s – when they first became real and were then pushed under the carpet through immigration.  A nation that MUST import what it needs to survive is a nation dying.))

A June study from the RAND Corporation found that 40 percent of the world’s spending on scientific research and development comes from the United States.  The country employs 70 percent of the world’s Nobel Prize winners ((most were foreign-schooled)) and is home to 75 percent of the top 40 universities.  ((THIS is where our waste is greatest.  We still have some great universities, but they now depend on foreign students because our own schools simply don’t measure up.  In fact, an American boy would have a better chance of a college education growing up in Helsinki or Beijing or Mumbai and THEN applying for admission and scholarship to a top American university.))

“The United States is still the world leader in science and technology,” said the study’s co-author, James Hosek.  ((Be very careful about such statements; they tend to hide the FULL truth, and that truth is that our “leadership” is now based mostly on foreign-schooled students and researchers using American tax and corporate dollars.))

But Ms. Estrin said that the technologies at the root of new products like Apple’s iPod or the Facebook social networking service were actually developed several decades ago. ((Almost all of our “innovations” today are actually little more than tweaking around the edges of the Greatest Generation’s true genius and innovative breakthrough.  The cell phone, for example, was developed for WW II soldiers – as “walkie talkies”, just without hundreds of thousands of ugly re-transmitting towers.  Most of what we have done in recent decades is miniaturize old innovation, re-package it, and market it as something “new” .  Who of us has come up with something truly innovative — like the refrigerator, the television, the light bulb?   It’s been mostly just a few guys, like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, operating outside the “system”, including the “education” system, on their own wavelengths and “attention deficit disorders”.  I often shudder to imagine what would have become of them if some creep had drugged them into docile stupors when they were “disruptive” boys.  (See Footnote #5.))  If a new round of fundamental innovation isn’t seeded now, the country will suffer in the next decade.

She compared the situation to a tree that appears to be growing well, but whose roots are rotting underground.

Too much of it is short-term, incremental innovation, and the roots of the tree aren’t happy,” she said.

xx – end article – xx

Americans are already being beaten in a wide range of endeavors by smarter new societies working harder.  But Americans have no idea of the level of competition that will soon come at them like a tidal wave.   They will be working so hard to just to keep up, much less to move ahead, that there will be very little time, or patience, for contemplating their navels.  It’s a really tough world out there, and it gets tougher every day.  Government cannot create wealth; it can only create and maintain an environment where wealth creation can thrive.  My best recommendation is that Americans take a good hard look at how Germany has re-structured itself over the past dozen years in order to place the society in a good position to face that coming global tidal wave of engineers and scientists and robotic manufacturing.  Germany has set its sights on the highest ends of manufacturing, technology, engineering and science as the key to survival.  It has a very highly trained workforce in all sectors, including manufacturing, that it keeps on the job at part-time levels during the current recession and constantly upgrades its capabilities.  That workforce is fine tuned, locked and loaded, at ready to burst out of the starting gates the moment global economic conditions improve.  Under Angela Merkel, Germany also seems to have found the right median between socialism and capitalism, with a highly literate society based heavily on highly advanced manufacturing, technology and science.  She has stubbornly defended that mix against a continent of neighbors who simply want her nation to bail them out without similarly re-structuring their own economies while also living within their means.  In recent times the US has managed to stay afloat mainly by importing large numbers of foreign-schooled brains to attend and conduct research at its top universities, research labs and companies, but soon the best opportunities for those well-prepared immigrants will be back in their home countries.  This means that the US will have to produce its own brains, beginning with the first grade – something of which we never should have lost sight back in the 1970s.

Life aboard the sinking ship:  Everyone was too busy sitting around looking for “someone  else” to do the hard stuff, take the blame, and pay the bills .. to realize that they had been that “someone else” all along.  Incredible.  “Someone else”, it turns out, is “me”.


(See “Gymnastics Of The Mind“, “Why Are American Men So Dumb?”, “America’s Greatest Social Shame – Boys”, and “More On Dumb American Men”, posted separately.)


See Footnote #1:   Zakaria is an Indian-American journalist and author.  Born and raised in Mumbai, he received a Bachelor of Arts in politics from Yale and a Doctor of Philosophy in political science from Harvard in 1993.  He was managing editor of Foreign Affairs magazine from 1992 to 2000.  From 2000 to 2010, he was a columnist for Newsweek and editor of Newsweek International.  In 2010 he became Editor-At-Large of Time magazine.  He is also the host of CNN’s “Fareed Zakaria GPS”, and a frequent commentator and author about international relations, trade and American foreign policy issues.  He has written on a variety of subjects for the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and The New Yorker and is the author of “From Wealth to Power: The Unusual Origins of America’s World Role” (Princeton, 1998), “The Future of Freedom” (Norton, 2003), and “The Post-American World” (2008); he has also co-edited “The American Encounter: The United States and the Making of the Modern World”  (Basic Books).  In 2007, Foreign Policy and Prospect magazines named him one of the 100 leading public intellectuals in the world.

Footnote #2:   This is when (1970) women’s lobbies began re-engineering American public education to favor themselves.  (Forty years later we are all still focused on race solely to avoid the reeking elephant of women and their lobbies sitting right there two-to-one in the campus living room.)  It was also a period when all young American men between the ages of 17 and 25 were undergoing great turmoil due to the Draft for a very unpopular and deadly war – a Draft that had significant effect on their thinking and planning for the future.  The period was characterized by major social upheaval in many areas, a period when really huge herds of very young Baby Boomers universally rejected and rebelled, often with considerable violence, against all the values that characterized their Greatest Generation parents, especially values like hard work, planning, sacrifice, delayed gratification and advancement in highly competitive meritocracies.  Their parents had put in place everything their children needed to rise with much less effort than the parents had needed; all it required was for the children to apply themselves to that task.  But very many of them decided instead to change all the old rules to suit themselves and simply milk the bounty in a childish belief that an easy future alone would take care of them forever.  The first task was to rid themselves of all those irritating responsibilities.  The Baby Boomers set about glorifying themselves while exchanging husbands and fathers and responsibilities for Big Daddy Government, trading in one dependency for another dependency – one that doesn’t require any reciprocal responsibility.   (See article, “Why Are American Men So Dumb?”)

Footnote #3Bangladeshi-American Salman ‘Sal’ Khan is the founder of the Khan Academy, a free online education platform and nonprofit organization.  His Bangladesh- born father and India-born mother immigrated to New Orleans.  He holds three degrees from MIT: a BS in mathematics, a BS in electrical engineering and computer science, and a MS in electrical engineering and computer science.  He also holds an MBA from Harvard Business School.  This one guy, not even trained or “certified” as an “educator” all by himself is effectively teaching hundreds of thousands of kids important stuff.  How much would he be confined by membership in a teacher’s union?  Why would he even need a union?  This man is actively sought everywhere on the planet – where he would go straight to work.  Just like Finnish teachers. 

Footnote #4:   Judy Estrin is the author of “Closing the Innovation Gap: Reigniting the Spark of Creativity in a Global Economy” (McGraw-Hill; Hardcover, September 2008).  She received a bachelor’s degree in mathematics and computer science from UCLA (where her father and sister are professors) and a master’s degree in electrical engineering from Stanford University (1977).  Most of her subsequent work was related to microprocessors, internet protocols and computer networking. After initially working with a Zilog Corp. research group in designing the Z8 and Z8000 microprocessors and the first commercial LAN (Z-net), she co-founded several technology companies, including Bridge Communications (1981), Precept Software, Inc. (1995) and Packet Design (2000).  Estrin has three times been named to Fortune magazine’s list of the 50 most powerful women in American business.  A member of the University of California President’s Science and Innovation Advisory Board, in 2002 she was inducted into the Women in Technology International Hall of Fame.

Footnote #5:

Bane of all genius, virtue, freedom, truth,
Makes slaves of men.

– Percy Bysshe Shelley

…. and the last thing that lesser people want is any of those traits in others.

About invincibleprobity

US Regular Army (ret)..... Career military and professional foreign human intelligence operations officer with half century experience in sociology, psychology, foreign affairs, political-military affairs and geo-politics, plus additional developed interests in culture and history, including civil rights, education and similar human societal forces and influences. .....(That’s enough. The rest would just be irrelevant details looking like the boring index of a history book. I know stuff; any questions, just ask. Or better yet, engage me.)
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2 Responses to What Really Suffocated Upward Mobility?

  1. roblorinov says:

    Excellent post!!


  2. In response to several e-mails:

    In the US we heap great praise on the teaching profession that hasn’t been objectively justified by results for decades. We measure “performance” against other regions in the same state or inside the US, when performance should be based against all other countries aggressively competing in a global economy. Among the consistent top performing countries are not only developed nations like Japan, Finland, Sweden and extremely multi-cultural Canada, but developing countries and mega-cities such as South Korea, Mumbai, Hong Kong, Singapore and Shanghai.

    As the US continues to slip further behind top performing countries, it is paramount that we judge ourselves against their standards without using nebulous excuses for not measuring up. When we do that it’s easy to see that almost everything top performing countries are doing to design their education systems, we are not doing, and they are doing it at far less cost than we are. It’s easy to see that very few of our teachers are employable as teachers in other top performing countries even if they were native-qualified in the language and culture. We cannot keep basing our judgment on emotionalism when the facts scream otherwise. It is NOT about the teachers; it is ALL about the students, about the nation, about the future.

    The nations that are top performers in education have approaches that are remarkably similar and straightforward:

    > They boost the quality of their teaching forces by greatly raising entry and course standards for teacher education programs. (In the US college education degree programs are among the easiest to master, and most students pursuing education degrees are in the bottom third of their college contemporaries in other fields.)

    > They insist that all teachers have in-depth knowledge of the subjects they will teach, apprenticing new teachers to master teachers and raising teacher pay to that of other high-status professions. In Finland most K-12 teachers have masters degrees and many hold PhDs from excellent universities. (In the US, half of teachers are not qualified to teach the subjects they are tasked with teaching.)

    > They encourage these highly trained teachers to take the lead in improving classroom practices. They are not married to dogma and are willing to try whatever methods achieve the best results with each student group. (In the US it’s one-size-fits-all, a size deliberately engineered to favor girls.)

    > They develop world-class academic standards for their students, a curriculum to match the standards, and high-quality exams and instructional materials based on that curriculum. (In the US, most states have recently adopted Common Core State Standards in English and Math, which is a good start.)

    > They emphasize problem-solving tasks in all subjects, which require a greater in-depth understanding of the subject than simply memorizing the right answers for the tests. They teach students how to think, rather than what to think, and far beyond a focus on themselves. (In the US it’s all about studying tests and navels.)

    > Most put more money behind their hardest-to-educate students than those who are easier to educate, and demand that both genders, including boys, achieve similar results in all subjects taught. (In the US, we do the opposite, even removing low achieving students so as to devote more funds and time to higher performing students. This, in effect, blames the victims for the failure of teachers.)

    > They aggressively evaluate the effectiveness of teachers based on results achieved by all students and continually cull out the low performering teachers and reward the high performers. (In the US it’s nearly impossible to overcome union power to remove poor teachers.)

    > They publish objective performance reports that can be easily validated by third parties, including the public. (In the US the universal practice is to hide failing areas behind general comments about overall performance in reports that are simply deceptive self-serving propaganda that no perceptive observer can trust.)

    The result is a virtuous cycle: In top performing countries teaching ranks as one of the most attractive professions, which means no teacher shortages and no need to waive high licensing standards. This translates into top-notch teaching forces and the world’s highest student achievement. All of this makes the teaching profession even more attractive, leading to higher salaries and benefits, even greater prestige, and even more professional autonomy. It becomes a self-improving system.

    The end results are even better teachers and even higher student achievement – and a valuable well-educated workforce that can easily compete toe-to-woe with any in the world. It returns upward mobility to American citizens.

    P.S. Despite current high unemployment in the US, mostly in male-dominated construction and similar labor, one of the ways that the country has maintained even the static employment levels that it has over the past thirty years is to divide jobs up into parts and assign people to specialize in each part. What once required one highly competent employee working productively full-time now requires a team of mediocre people working full time on previously part-time tasks that gradually take on ever more puffed-up “importance”, most especially in office working environments such as in the government and finance industries, but also in industries like medicine, “health”, “vast village” parenting. This puts lots of people on the payroll and creates whole new avenues of specialization, but does present problems when it comes to tying all the parts together into a comprehensive whole that actually makes sense and accomplishes something worthwhile. It’s easy to hide in cooperative herds. It’s all about process, damned the results. Everyone is an expert on ever tinier universes, but no one knows what the whole picture is supposed to look like, how it all together is supposed to achieve actual progress. This is why big problems no longer get solved, why we’ve done nothing about a whole range of really huge messes for the past forty years except apply band aid fixes and kick the cans down the road to our kids and grandkids. People are now able to spend their whole lives devoted to pinheads floating on a vast unknown sea, mostly in endeavors that bear a bizarre resemblance to a colony of apes sitting around picking fleas off each other’s backs. We humans, in all our greatness, have come full circle.


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