Appreciating Education

Lane, Robert E. “The Road Not Taken”.   Maryland: Critical Review Volume 8, Number 4, Fall 1994. ISSN 08913811 from Institute for Philosophy on Public Policy, Page 544

The evidence on the rising incidence of depression in advanced economies seems to confirm the belief that market solutions to the deficit of companionship in modern society have failed.  Economic growth is unlikely to be a solution, since precisely those countries that have experienced or are currently experiencing rapid economic growth have the highest incidence of depression.

Ritzer, George.  The McDonaldization of Society:  an Investigation into the Changing Character of Contemporary Social Life.  United States:  1990.  ISBN 0803990766, Pages 199 through 203

Avoid classes with short-answer tests graded by computer. If a computer-graded exam is unavoidable, make extraneous marks and curl the edges of the exam so that the computer cannot deal with it.
Seek out small classes; get to know your professors. Instead of using a “McChild” -care center, leave your child with a responsible neighbor interested in earning some extra money. Keep your children away from television as much as possible and encourage them to participate in creative games.  It is especially important that they not be exposed to the steady barrage of commercials from rationalized institutions, especially on Saturday morning cartoon shows. Lead efforts to keep McDonaldization out of the school system.

John Gall, Systemantics: How Systems Work and Especially How they Fail New York, Quadrangle Books, 1975,  Page 71

Consider, for example, the System of the Family.  The family has been around for a long time….  Clearly, this is a functioning family system.  Its immense survival power is obvious.  It has endured vicissitudes compared to which the stresses our own day puts on it are trivial.  And what are the sources of its strength?  They are extreme simplicity in structure; looseness in everyday functioning; “inefficiency” in the efficiency expert’s sense of the term; and a strong alignment with basic primate motivations.

Donald B. Kraybill, Amish Schools Are Simple – But They Work  The Philadelphia Inquirer, July 1994

Amish teachers care as much if not more about character formation as they do about academic competence.  Honesty, obedience, self-denial, hard work, persistence, patience, and responsibility are touted over scientific expertise.
But, nevertheless, Amish performance on aptitude tests related to reading, spelling, word use and arithmetic parallels that of non-Amish pupils in rural elementary schools.

Ayers, R.U., Ayres, L.W., and Warr, B. 2004. Is the U.S. Economy Dematerializing? Main Indicators and Drivers, pp. 57-93 in Bergh, CJM van den, and Janssen, M.S. 2004. Economics of Industrial Ecology: Materials, Structural Change, and Spatial Scales. MIT Press: Cambridge, MA

“According to a recent study of 100 years of material use in the U.S. increased demand overcompensated for efficiency gains in every case we have investigated.”

Rizzo, Mario J.  Time, Uncertainty, and Disequilibrium.  New York:  1979.  ISBN 0699026980

Put another way, action is a learning process.  As the individual acts to achieve his ends, he learns and becomes more proficient about how to pursue them.  But in that case, of course, his actions cannot have been efficient from the start—or even for the end—of his actions, since perfect knowledge is never achieved, and there is always more to learn.

Interview with Dr. Ellen Langer,  Author of The Power of Mindful Learning
 The New York Philharmonic with Kurt Masur and Sarah Chang,  March 3, 1998

DR. ELLEN LANGER:    If an extraordinarily talented person is practicing mindlessly, then imagine what their performance would be like if they practiced mindfully! Most experts become experts because they don’t take the basics for granted. Imagine what it means to take the basics for granted. You learn your task, whatever it is you’re learning, when you’re first learning it, and you don’t want to freeze your understanding of it because you don’t even know what it’s going to entail later.  The people who are most expert don’t freeze their understanding, so then you can keep coming back and redoing and exploring the basics.

Michael Berube, “Why Inefficiency Is Good for Universities” March 27, 1998 The Chronicle of Higher Education,The Education Digest 9/1/98, Vol. 64, No. 1, Page 35.

The problem is that the goals of the liberal arts — “critical thinking,” for example, and “intellectual cosmopolitanism” — are usually intangible, whereas the costs of the liberal arts are all too tangible and (for efficiency-minded administrators) all too high. Therefore, we in the liberal arts have a special burden to bear whenever we insist that we are (or should be) a central part of the mission of higher education: We must convince administrators that a better university for students in the liberal arts is, above all, an inefficient university. It is a university where student writing is copious and carefully read, and where students themselves are names, faces, and advisees, not modular production units.

‘Efficiency’ isn’t always best for education Commentary by TOM BOMAN,  Duluth News Tribune,
Posted on Sun, Nov. 28, 2004

Parent participation drops in large schools when the school is not located in the neighborhood. Every so often, public education gets caught in the cross hairs of efficiency experts. It might be useful to examine who these efficiency experts are and how they operate.

In the 1920s, in a golden age for the United States that came to a crashing halt in 1929 with the collapse of the stock market, there was an amazing love affair with the new American manufacturing system. One of the kinds of people who rode to prominence during that era was the efficiency expert. Efficiency experts, so they claimed, could make any system work more efficiently and thus make more money for an organization. It was inevitable that efficiency experts would eventually descend on the public schools.

The early efficiency experts were into counting things that were simple to count and measuring how much those things cost. The efficiency experts were not often very sophisticated and tended to ignore the big picture or hard-to-grasp operations. But, nonetheless, they did seem to work wonders with simple systems like manufacturing washing machines and assembling cars.

The first recorded use of efficiency experts in public education was in studying the efficiency of teaching foreign languages. These experts came to the conclusion that it was more efficient to teach Latin than Spanish or French since, according to their measurements, there were more individual student recitations in Latin per hour of instruction than in the other two languages. Never mind that Latin was a dead language and going the way of the blacksmith. Many public schools bought in to the efficiency results, and the teaching of Latin remained long beyond its usefulness to students.

Efficiency experts also determined that a classroom with large windows on the left side of the room was more efficient than a classroom with large windows on the right side of the room. They reasoned that most students were right-handed, and a window on the left side would be less likely to cast a shadow on a student’s handwriting. Almost all classrooms designed well into the 1950s followed that principle even though electric lighting made the whole issue moot.

Another favorite idea of the efficiency expert was the use of the sliding blackboards in the front of science classrooms. Usually the blackboard went up, revealing another blackboard underneath and thus allowed a fast-writing science teacher to keep writing formulas without erasing by just raising the board that he or she had finished and keep on moving on the board underneath. Only science teachers had these unique blackboards, not mathematics or social science teachers who wrote as much as science teachers.

The idea started in Denver with a new high school designed by a well-known team of architects from the East. To be more efficient in the use of space, the architects designed a fume hood (something like the exhaust hood over most kitchen ranges) for the science teachers to use that was behind the blackboard in the front of the room. When the fume hood was needed, the teacher raised the blackboard and there was a space about the size of the average kitchen counter with an exhaust hood. No other teachers ran demonstrations that created stuff that smelled, so they didn’t get the movable blackboards. The demonstration fume hood idea didn’t work out very well, but the idea of the movable blackboards in science classrooms remained so that even the University of Minnesota Duluth had them built into science classrooms in the 1960s. No one knew why — it was just a tradition.

So that brings us up to the present day with efficiency experts, often from industry, telling educators how they might do their job more efficiently.
One bright idea from the efficiency experts was to have every youngster tested to see how well they are reading or doing math. If the test scores are low, throw out the teachers and start all over. Never mind that the youngsters might have English as a second language, or come from disadvantaged homes, or are physically or intellectually challenged in some way. Thus we have the No Child Left Behind legislation that Congress and the administration offer as a way to make schools more efficient.

Another big idea from efficiency experts is that it makes sense to have large schools rather than small schools since a large school can more easily have the maximum number of students in every classroom. That results in less cost for instruction per student. It works for big-box stores like WalMart and Best Buy. But that analysis fails to take into account that many students get overwhelmed and lost in big schools. Parent participation drops in large schools when the school is not located in the neighborhood.

One of the premier educational research and development organizations in the country, the Center for School Change at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, now advocates that small schools do a better job of educating students when you factor in the cost of student dropouts, the loss of student motivation when feeling overwhelmed, and the drop in parent involvement.

We will always have efficiency experts, and their siren song is intriguing. But educational policy makers need to look carefully at their recommendations and ask if these experts are counting what really counts.

TOM BOMAN is a professor in the education department at the University of Minnesota Duluth.

David Dunham, from Internet site

Efficiency is intelligent laziness.

The Minutes of the Lead Pencil Club, New York:  1996    ISBN 0916366847, Page 15

There is an educational channel.  It’s called “off.”
Lily Henderson (Age 11)

Bromley, Daniel W.  “The Ideology of Efficiency:  Searching For a Theory of Policy Analysis” in Journal of Environmental Economics and Management, 1990, Pages 86-107

Page 90

In a simple world, where the distinction between means and ends may be though clear, it is necessary to regard the means as simply factors of production or commodities in which there is no intrinsic merit attached to the components of either.  This distinction is meaningless, however, in the real world of policy analysis in which there are few— perhaps no—policies (institutional arrangements) that can be assumed to be neutral means without intrinsic value of their own.
Page 93

The essence of markets is efficiency, and therefore analysis that focuses on changes in economic efficiency is “objective science.”

Since it was impossible, on utility grounds, to know what should be done, and since voting would produce inconsistent results, there was only the market to rely upon.  Just short of two centuries after Adam Smith’s intuitive celebration of the invisible hand, his ideas were confirmed by the best minds in the profession.  While no one could say that the market was the best of all possible worlds, future Nobel Prize winners were proving that it was at least as good as — if not better than—meddling bureaucrats.  Markets at least produced consistent and efficient results.