Links 7/7/08

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Rubber ‘snake’ could help wave power get a bite of the energy market EurekaAlert

Bletchley Park set for Lottery rescue SC Magazine

Analysis: NSA Spying Judge Defends Rule of Law, Congress Set to Strip His Power Wired. Note the action would be limited to the pending case regarding telecom immunity.

Challenges of $600-a-Session Patients New York Times

U.S. Stocks Now Worth Less Than Rest of G-8: Chart of the Day Bloomberg

The gullible and the greedy Chan Akya Asia Times. A critical take on the recently-issued BIS report.

The China Hot Money Scam Russ Winter

America’s human capital is tested Clive Crook, Financial Times. An important theme, but Crook is way too polite in the way he formulates it:

A startling and profoundly important fact about the US economy has received surprisingly little attention. The educational quality of the country’s workers is starting to decline – not just relatively (because other countries are catching up and moving ahead) but also, for the first time, in absolute terms.

A quibble with Crook’s analysis: he relies overmuch on the proportion of the population obtaining a college education or post grad degree as a proxy for attainment. I am an old fart, but when I was a kid, much of US college education served merely to bring the students to the level of what was taught in European secondary schools. I am not sure today re comparisons to Europe, but in China, foreign language and advanced math training start years earlier than they do in US schools.

Similarly, I regularly met people In Australia in pubs who had minimum wage or not much better jobs (temp data processing work, for instance) who were every bit as articulate and well read as the average person I would meet at cocktail parties in Manhattan peopled solely by professionals (which meant they held advanced degrees). Americans are peculiarly complacent about how lousy our public education system has become.

Antidote du jour:

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  1. russell1200

    It is not the education system. It is a culture that places little value on education beyond what is need to be employed.

    It is exasperated by our placing a high value on “being entertained.”

  2. Jojo

    Re: America’s human capital is tested

    I regularly see stories complaining about the education quality in American schools these days. This argument is also used by those whining for increased H1-B quotas to “keep America competitive”.

    The young people I run into working as clerks in stores do appear to be light on math schools but then, maybe that is why they are working as clerks. I don’t have much occasion to mingle with younger people on a college track. However, I do know from business that the writing skills of many younger people, even MBA graduates, leaves something to be desired.

    When I was a kid, foreign language was something that you took at some time in high school (I did 2 years of Spanish of which I retained little). I agree that in today’s world, foreign language training should be started much younger. As for “advanced math” though, I question how applicable this would be for most people.

    I went through algebra, geometry and trig in high school. In college, I went through 3 semesters of calculus, a year of physics and a semester of statistics. In my entire career in the IT world, I have had no need for the calculus at all and outside of personal interests, little need for physics either. Outside of very basic algebra, geometry, statistics and physics, I am not convinced that the average person has much, if any requirement for any type of advance math or science in most business employment.

    I would like to understand better what it is that so many “pundits” claim is missing from education. Perhaps it isn’t that so much that the the skills are missing, but that the students never mastered the skills in the first place and therefore, should not have been promoted or graduated. If so, that is an entire different issue.

    Similarly, I don’t understand what foreigner’s really bring to the table that has business so worked up about H1-B quotas. Most foreigner’s that I have encountered in business have been weak on understanding and communicating in effectively in English. I just don’t understand what it is that they can do better than U.S. citizens!

    btw Yves: Speaking of “regular” people who may know more than you would expect, again, when I was younger, I took a test to get into the carpenter’s union in a large east coast city. I remember that this test involved a lot of math, including algebra, geometry and trig. I thought it to be a very hard test, almost like the SAT (and I scored in the 600’s on my math SAT’s). I gained a new respect for carpenter’s. I was one of the 50 people chosen out of 3,000 that took the test that year to get into the union. Unfortunately (in retrospect), I decided that I didn’t want to apprentice and go to school 4 nights a week after working a full day, so declined the opportunity. Sigh…

  3. Melancholy Korean

    I am an old fart, but when I was a kid, much of US college education served merely to bring the students to the level of what was taught in European secondary schools.

    This is absolutely correct. But note that what this ultimately means is that the education in our colleges and grad schools is far superior to the college educations in Asia, not quite as dramatic in Europe, but the same dynamic applies.

    Look, Americans like letting their children free to be children. They play sports, they mess around, they are relatively undisciplined compared to their European and Asian counterparts. Real education doesn’t start in the US until college, unless one is lucky enough to go to a rigorous high school, like the traditional boarding schools, the great public magnet schools, etc etc.

    But in the good colleges is where we excel. My father went through the vaunted educational system in Korea, and the poor children worked like slaves from age 5 until 18, not just school but then the after-school “cram schools” that everyone goes to. So a student is in some kind of school from 9 am until midnight!!! Monday through Saturday. It’s crazy.

    But then if you happen to get into the top university (Seoul National, Tokyo University, etc etc–my brother’s wife is Japanese and she wants to send the children to college in the US), that’s when it’s time to party and blow off steam. What my father learned in his time at “medical school” there taught him never to trust Korean doctors. They played cards all day and protested the government when they stopped the poker. The momentum stops because one can ride that degree all the way through one’s career. (I think the same logic applies to the Grand Ecoles in France, because from what I saw, the French public universities are terrible, and the career system very hierarchical.)

    What’s the better system? Well, I’m biased toward our system. Losing momentum just as one hits adulthood doesn’t seem like a great trade to me. Of course, the Europeans might say, as I’ve been told, that children need to be disciplined, need structure and need to be habituated to hard work. Whatever. Maybe. But in America, you turn the academics once you get to college and then push ahead. Look at how much freedom the Europeans have in their university education. They can take years to get a degree (I’m thinking in particular of France and Italy now, where I’ve met college students and seen them in action) and they do. You don’t have to be in class if you don’t want to. I understand they’ve learned more along the way, but it seems like a great waste.

    I would love to see a comparison of the educational path of Americans and everyone else from the late teens up to the late twenties. I think it more than balances out.

  4. Independent Accountant

    I am an older fart than you. Yes, the quality of our human capital is declining. The largest single cause: immigration! In 1960 the US was 88.5% Causasian, now it is about 73%. We import millions from Southern Mexico, average IQ, 82. Recommended reading, IQ and the Wealth of Nations by Lynn and Vanhalen, 2002. You could also follow and Academics lack the guts to bring up issues like differential fertility, but the average IQ of Americans is falling about 1.3 points every 20 years. College grads today can’t do what I was expected to do in fifth grade. If really interested follow the debtate touched off by “Sputnik panic” which began in 1957. Hyman Rickover, father of the Nautilus, wrote much about the failures of American education from 1958-62. Arthur Bestor, a University of Illinois history professor began writing about this in 1953. If you insist on living in the world of Lake Wobegon where “all children are above avarge”, what do you expect? We need more high school dropouts, not less.

  5. Peripheral Visionary

    “I agree that in today’s world, foreign language training should be started much younger. As for “advanced math” though, I question how applicable this would be for most people.”

    Totally agreed. I have a science degree and work in a math-heavy field, but even so, I think most people will never use much math beyond advanced arithmetic. The real deficiency in schools is in reading and writing, the two skills that people will use more than any other.

    The “teach the test” approach being pushed into the schools is bad enough, but that is being compounded by an obsession with math. I would much rather see the emphasis put back on reading and writing, with foreign languages thrown in as well. I think science education at the pre-college level should be there, but let’s not have any illusions about teaching hard sciences before students have been properly equiped with the analytical tools, which won’t happen until college.

  6. Anonymous

    The US educational level is pathetic. People don’t read much being slaves. They are too busy surviving. Uneducated citizenry is easier to manipulate short-term. It is the official US policy to keep its people uneducated.


  7. donna

    No reason education can’t be fun, too. As my oldest has said, “I’ve learned more watching the history channel than I ever learned in class”.

    The biggest problem is early education. Give kids lots of manipulatives, Montessori style education and lots and lots of hands-on time with a wide variety of materials.

    It doesn’t have to be a grind. Educational toys and games go a long way towards making people smarter.

    If you prepare kids early on, they can handle pretty much anything as they get older. Math isn’t “hard” if you’ve developed the basic mental abilities as a kid.

  8. Mara

    Having seen the product of H1-B’s and their education, I’m not impressed. I can’t tell you how many MS in Computer Science from the University of Chennai I’ve seen. They still can’t duplicate the questions being asked of them.

    On the flipside, I will say that the public education system for K-12 is a mess. It is fraught with psychobabble and political correctness, and much needs to be done to improve it. But it has proved difficult to budge the vested interests, who ride a union, tenured job with a generous benefits plan. And who make more for their school when they manufacture ‘special needs’ children by demanding they be drugged. Ugh…

    My own solution was to invest in my children by putting them in a private school where they embrace old-fashioned basics, balance mass and theory (lots of hands-on), and where kids are debugged individually so they can actually apply the material they learn–not just promoted along so as not to hurt the student’s self-esteem if failed in a subject.

    My youngest is 4 1/2 and is starting to read and write. The older one is almost 7. He is starting to work on Lego mindstorm robots. He began navigating on a computer at just under 4 years old. American kids are brilliant, we just need to give them a real opportunity early on, rather than waiting til college for them to sort it out. Last thought: no one will care as much as you do about your kids (or parents, family, etc) so parents need to take full responsibility for them, not leave it to the bureaucrats or the un-fireable help.

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