Monday, January 23, 2017

"Deprived of all knowledge"

"Hey U.S. public high school graduates!  Who wrote The Aeneid? Who said, 'My only regret is that I have but one life to give for my country'? Who painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel."

About half of the high school graduates I meet tell me that the author of Hamlet is "Um...Hamlet?" About a quarter of them can place Brazil on the correct continent. Fewer than one in ten can multiply 12 by 8 in their head.

Something is dreadfully, horribly wrong.

"But for too many of our citizens, a different reality exists: mothers and children trapped in poverty in our inner cities; rusted out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation; an education system flush with cash, but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of all knowledge; and the crime and the gangs and the drugs that have stolen too many lives and robbed our country of so much unrealized potential."

-- President Donald J. Trump, 01/20/2017

Sunday, January 22, 2017

A Thought from Propertius -- William Butler Yeats (1919)

SHE might, so noble from head 
To great shapely knees, 
The long flowing line, 
Have walked to the altar 
Through the holy images         5
At Pallas Athene’s side, 
Or been fit spoil for a centaur 
Drunk with the unmixed wine.


Saturday, January 21, 2017

Heaven Sent -- The Steeldrivers (2006)

I know our days are heaven sent
Lord knows I know not where they went
Shake my head and I wonder how
I'll ever get to heaven now
An angel came one winter dawn
You shoulda seen what she had on
Wind was whistlin' like its rain
She left again just like she came
I move around a lot these days
Honky tonks and broad freeways
The same thing that I've always done
But I'm older now and I get tired some
Those who think they hold the cards
I send out my kind regards
Those who love to who care
I'll meet you down the road somewhere

Friday, January 20, 2017

Public High Schools Produce Empty Vessels

I often give the follow quiz to my college students on the first day of class:

1.       What is the last name of the man most commonly associated with the Theory of Relativity?
2.       What is the name of the author of The Republic?
3.       Of which country is Buenos Aires the capital?
4.       What is the last name of the author of the book 1984?
5.       In what European city is the Parthenon located?
6.       What is the last name of the monk who first studied genetic inheritance in plants?
7.       What is the name of the captain of the Pequod in the book Moby Dick?
8.       What is the name of the ship on which Charles Darwin made his scientific voyage?
9.       What is the last name of the author who wrote The Old Man and the Sea?
10.   What is the last name of the astronomer who in 1543 published his theory that the Earth revolves around the Sun?

They are encouraged to guess if they are not sure of the answer. They are assured that they will be credited for even misspelled responses.

The modal score is typically 2 correct out of 10.

This last round, only 4 out of 38 students got 6 or more items correct.

So much for a generation of "education is about starting a fire, not filling a vessel" and "education is about teaching students how to learn, and not memorizing facts and dates." Yeah, except the only problem is that we have ended up with a generation that knows nothing about its own culture. 

95% of American secondary school students are "educated" in public high schools. This is situation is a disaster. How about scrapping the entire American system of public secondary education and starting over with something that isn't crap?

Our new President could instantly revolutionize education in this country just giving making elementary and secondary school tuition -- for ANY school, or independent private tutor -- 100% tax deductible.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Leo Strauss: Liberal Education versus "apeirokalia"

"Liberal education, which consists in the constant intercourse with the greatest minds, is a training in the highest form of modesty, not to say of humility. It is at the same time a training in boldness: It demands from us the complete break with the noise, the rush, the thoughtlessness, the cheapness of the Vanity Fair of the intellectuals as well as of their enemies. It demands from us the boldness implied in the resolve to regard the accepted views as mere opinions, or to regard the average opinions as extreme opinions which are at least as likely to be wrong as the most strange or the least popular opinions. Liberal education is liberation from vulgarity. The Greeks had a beautiful word for ‘vulgarity;’ they called it apeirokalia, lack of experience in things beautiful. Liberal education supplies us with experience in things beautiful."
 — Leo Strauss, Liberalism Ancient and Modern

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

The Reading and Writing of Presidents

Image result for obama reading book
NYT, 1/16/17

"Not since Lincoln has there been a president as fundamentally shaped — in his life, convictions and outlook on the world — by reading and writing as Barack Obama."

Oh, please. Talk about recency effects!

What about James Garfield ("the professor President" and one of the last Presidents fluent in Ancient Greek), Theodore Roosevelt (who wrote 20 books before becoming President, and then a score more afterwards), the odious but certainly bookish Woodrow Wilson ("the scholar-President"), and even, saints preserve us, Richard Nixon (about whom this anecdote is instructive) -- all of whom most certainly were more fundamentally shaped by "reading and writing," and who wrote many more books, than Mr. Obama.

This New York Times piece is sickening hagiography. Oh for the days when journalists despised and mistrusted politicians!

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Declining Quality of U.S. Marine Corps Officers, 1980-2014


The GCT has a mean of 100 and a standard deviation of 20. A score of 120 is roughly equivalent to an IQ of 115.

I wonder what the IQ scores of the Chinese officer class look like? 
"Through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the Marine Corps, Klein and Cancian received data on the GCT scores of all officers—46,000 altogether—from Fiscal Year 1980 to Fiscal Year 2014.
After analyzing the data, the authors uncovered a startling trend: A statistically significant decline in scores over the past 34 years, the magnitude of which, the authors say, “is relevant given the distribution of the scores.” 
Other key findings include:
  1. Eighty-five percent of those taking the test in 1980 exceeded a score of 120, which was the cut-off score for officers in World War II. In 2014, only 59 percent exceeded that score.
  2. At the upper end of the distribution, 4.9 percent of those taking the test scored above 150 in 1980 compared to 0.7 percent in 2014.
  3. Over 34 years, the average score decreased by 6.6 percent, from 130.9 to 122.1.
  4. Taken together, the 8.2-point drop in average score represents 80 percent of an entire standard deviation’s decline (from 10.5 in 1980 to 9.6 in 2014). In other words, today’s Marine officers scored nearly an entire standard deviation worse, on average, than their predecessors 34 years ago.Klein and Cancian stress the importance of acknowledging and reversing the decline in officer quality as measured by the GCT score not just for the short-term impacts it has. The junior officers of today will become the generals of tomorrow; if the military does not receive the intelligent young leaders today that it used to receive in the past, it will not have high quality generals in the future.
What has been the impact of this drop in quality on the effectiveness of the military? Answering this question is beyond the scope of this paper. Given the myriad studies associating performance with intellect, however, it is hard to imagine anything other than a seriously deleterious impact on the quality of officers and, by extension, on the quality and efficacy of the military,” say the authors.