Failed Empire

Chronicling the collapse of a failed society

Tag Archives: education

PISA Test Results: Americans Schooled by China and 20+ Other Nations

Outsourcing starts to make a lot more sense when considered in the context of the results from PISA, a comprehensive exam given to students in 65 countries:

In math, the Shanghai students performed in a class by themselves, outperforming second-place Singapore, which has been seen as an educational superstar in recent years. The average math scores of American students put them below 30 other countries.

In reading, Shanghai students scored 556, ahead of second-place Korea with 539. The United States scored 500 and came in 17th, putting it on par with students in the Netherlands, Belgium, Norway, Germany, France, the United Kingdom and several other countries.

In science, Shanghai students scored 575. In second place was Finland, where the average score was 554. The United States scored 502 — in 23rd place — with a performance indistinguishable from Poland, Ireland, Norway, France and several other countries. …

“I know skeptics will want to argue with the results, but we consider them to be accurate and reliable, and we have to see them as a challenge to get better,” he added. “The United States came in 23rd or 24th in most subjects. We can quibble, or we can face the brutal truth that we’re being out-educated.

The United States is losing any competitive edge that it might have had in past generations.  We used to boast about having the most intelligent scientists, the most creative engineers, the most inspiring mathematicians.  American research and technology was at the cutting edge of international progress for decades – albeit often driven by militaristic goals – and our educational standards represented the pinnacle of global excellence.

These days, we have very little to offer aside from epidemic obesity and ADHD, with a sprinkling of both physical and intellectual sloth.   Read more of this post


Obama’s Non-Promise to End the War is a Promise to Prolong the Status Quo

I know I’m a couple of days late in commenting on this tasty morsel of a news item, but it certainly needs to be addressed:

“At a landmark NATO summit in Lisbon on Saturday, Western allies agreed to call an end to their troops’ combat mission in Afghanistan by 2014.

The 48 countries of the NATO-led force in Afghanistan struck a deal with Karzai to begin transferring parts of the battlefield to his control in early 2011 and move Western troops to a support role by 2014.

While all the allies agreed to set the target date to end their offensive operations in Afghanistan, the United States warned that hard fighting remained ahead and did not rule out combat continuing after 2014.”

Our supposed ultra-left president, after sending an additional 30,000 troops to Afghanistan earlier this year, is now promising to continue this unwinnable war for at least another four years.  And given the ruthless stranglehold that the corporate media has on our national dialogue, this promise of four more years of needless bloodshed is actually presented in a positive light.  “Obama the leftist is ending the war!” is the obviously intended message.  One wonders if the pledged withdrawal of combat troops will resemble the “end” of the Iraq War we observed earlier this year:

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religious belief is rife with inconsistencies

My sister – let’s call her Sarah – was recently elected to her local school board. Her reasons for running were of a fiscal nature; she was concerned that the school was acting in a financially irresponsible manner, so she decided she could have the greatest impact by joining the school board.

Being from a small city, Sarah ran unopposed and had no problem winning the single-candidate election. However, in order to have her name placed on the ballot at all, she was required to collect one hundred signatures from local registered voters, which she accomplished by going door-to-door throughout her neighborhood.

At one house, she was greeted by a rather gruff, middle-aged man who demanded to know her stance on the theory of evolution. Taken aback, she responded that she was running for the school board based solely on financial reasons; her person beliefs in origin of life on earth were irrelevant. The man continued to press her, and when she admitted that she did not believe in evolution, this man abruptly informed her that he would not sign her petition, and closed the door in her face.

Sarah was rather peeved by this incident. She thought this man was rude and inconsiderate, and just as dogmatic as any fundamentalist Christian. She also failed to see how her views on an issue as peripheral as the theory of evolution should influence her eligibility to hold a spot on the school board.

My sister is an intelligent person. She is a college graduate, having earned excellent grades throughout her academic career. She has spent years working in the field of early childhood education, and her knowledge of pedagogy and early childhood psychology is superb. Yet my sister is also a fundamentalist Christian: she believes that God created the world in six days a mere 5,000 years ago, and that someday soon he will return from the sky, trumpets blazing, to simultaneously call his flock to heaven and bring on the seven years of tribulation foretold in the apocalyptic Book of Revelation.

How can we explain such contradictions? How can seemingly intelligent people adhere to such ridiculous belief systems? And how can she, and others like her, fail to see the inherent conflict of interest in running for an elected position which is directly related to the education of our children?

What we find is that such people have, generally speaking, never fully considered the ramifications of their beliefs. My sister embraces the fruits of science in virtually every aspect of her life: the food she eats, the TV she watches, the Internet she enjoys, the car she drives, the medicines she takes. She utilizes these benefits of science without hesitation or reflection, but when a well-established tenet of science appears to contradict a cherished childhood belief, she rejects it.

Such behavior is illogical and unreasonable, and seems to be in complete opposition to the level of education and critical thinking she brings to most aspects of life. But again, what we find is that she has, quite simply, failed to fully consider the implications of her religious beliefs. She, like myself, was raised in a fundamentalist Protestant Christian household. Growing up in such an environment can be a truly traumatic experience, as anyone who has seen “Jesus Camp” can tell you. This primitive, 5,000-year-old myth about the creation of the earth was thoroughly ingrained in her impressionable, childhood mind, and it has stayed there ever since.

Once a child has been indoctrinated in any religious belief system, it is remarkably difficult to break free – particularly in Christianity, which is an especially parasitic religion. For embedded into the most basic tenets of Christianity, and as discussed in great detail by Richard Dawkins and others, are two important characteristics: a belief in the notion of faith as a virtue, and a belief in the existence of hell as an actual physical place.

When a young child is told that he/she must believe a certain set of tenets or face eternal damnation, that child will invariably force him/herself to believe. And when it is further added that unquestioning adherence to these belief,”faith,” is a virtue to be rewarded – and, by extension, that questioning them is a vice to be punished – that child will all the more passionately and blindly throw him/herself behind those beliefs – however absurd they may be.

Once those beliefs are deeply ingrained in the childhood psyche, they are remarkably tenacious. Rooting them out – through a long process of tedious self-reflection which is perhaps never fully complete – can be an experience as traumatic as the initial indoctrination. As a result, we find people like my sister who are both intelligent and highly educated, yet clinging to an antiquated belief system that predates the advent of science by two millennia – give or take a few.

Should a person like Sarah be allowed to serve on the school board? In this particular circumstance I would say yes, because I know her to be a reasonable person who would not actively strive to push her own beliefs onto the school. In general, however, I would argue that public educational institutions have no place for adherents of ancient pre-science superstitions, and their very presence could be detrimental to our continued development as a civilization and as a species. Our society is founded on the ideals of science, and it is dangerous to allow anyone who questions the veracity of science obtain a position which might influence the education of our children.

creative expression as a human right

What would a world without the profit motive actually look like? To what ideals are we actually striving, when we talk about shrugging off primitive, animalistic instincts and consciously shaping our evolution as a civilization and as a species? It is difficult to answer these questions with any great degree of detail, since such a word would be so profoundly different from our own it would be virtually unrecognizable. Our minds in their current states are, perhaps, unable of even fathoming what a civilization would look like that was consciously designed at every level, down to the most minute detail.

But it is fairly easy to speak in generalities. We can point to the major flaws in today’s social order, and simply state that, in a better and more just world, such flaws would not exist. So, for example, when I say that the profit motive is a primitive and barbaric impulse that should be cast aside in favor of a more evolved world view, what, precisely, am I advocating?

Well, a world without the profit motive would be a world where everyone had, at the very least, enough. There would be a certain minimum standard of living provided to every human being simply for because he/she is a human being. It’s that simple. Being human entitles to certain basic rights; hence the term, woefully disregarded in our culture, human rights.

Having enough food to eat is a basic human right. Having access to clean water is a basic human right. Access to proven, effective medical care is a basic human right, and no one should be profiting from the illness of anyone. Shelter and protection from the elements is a basic human right, as is access to education and the full breadth of the knowledge base that humanity has been steadily expanding since our forefather first stood on two legs all those eons ago. And perhaps most importantly of all, the the ability to engage in creative expression is a basic right, a right that is so fundamental to what it means to be human that it is shocking our current social order has managed to survive for as long as it has.

In a wage-slavery system such as our own, people are forced to spend the bulk of their lives engaged in menial tasks, merely to fill their bellies and keep roofs over their heads. The 40-hour work-week, itself an abomination, is largely a thing of the past as most workers today devote 50 or more hours of each week to a job which is in most cases utterly meaningless.

If the supposition is correct that creative expression is a fundamental human need, what effect would this have on a person’s sense of happiness, fulfillment and personal well-being? If a person spends the majority of his/her life engaged in a task which has no real meaning beyond a cog keeping machine of capitalism functioning, can that person truly be happy? Can that person find a sense of satisfaction in life? And if not, couldn’t we classify this system of wage-slavery as a form of torture?

In an ideal society, one which is shaped around our most cherished values as fully conscious, self-aware human beings, the fundamental needs of food, water, shelter and health care would be taken care of, allowing all people of all walks of life to devote their previous time on earth to fulfilling that ancient and most crucial need of meaningful creative expression.

People often question how society would function without the profit motive. Why would people continue working and innovating, if there was no material reward for doing so? If a person does not need to work in order to feed himself and his family, why would he choose to engage in work? Such questions ignore what is perhaps the most quintessential of all human qualities: the need for creative expression. The motivation for humans to partake in meaningful activities that contribute towards the betterment of the species would not be material gain, but rather than innate need for humans to express themselves, solve problems, and expand the limits of understanding and knowledge. Few humans would be content to merely sit around their home each day eating and drinking; humans crave challenge, and nearly all humans will seek out meaningful challenges if given the opportunity to do so.

The time is long past for our schools to be extolling the virtues of capitalism and the universality of the profit motive. Parents and teachers alike must begin nurturing that curious and inquisitive nature that is present in every human child, leading children to realize that this impulse to learn and grow and express oneself is the most beautiful and fundamental of all human qualities, and that this quality in and of itself is the only motivation we need to live and prosper and grow.

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