Monday, March 26, 2012

The Face of Education

Education Has Gone Astray

To get to a certain point we all need some basic instruction, how to read, how to write/type, and basic math. Once we have those skills we can quite easily take over the course of our own education, tailored to our interests and our strengths.

Nothing is more demotivating to a child than having to learn something they are absolutely not interested in and yet are forced to learn. Then why do it?

Why do we have mandated by law instruction until the age 16, when by the age of at least 7 they have acquired the rudimentary skills to continue down the path that they choose and at their own pace?

Think about why our education system is like it is. It is shaped by corporations, curated by government, and mandated by law to produce a particular subset of workers (not thinkers) that fit into the current economic and cultural milieu.

This would be acceptable except for the fact that the system is now failing our children. If the free market guaranteed some form of employment for the time spent in school it would be an equitable trade off.

However, what is happening is that the level of education required by today's corporations is insufficient, the governments are too broke to provide more subsidies and corporations will not step in unless there is a profit to be had.

Hence all further education investments are coming from private individuals to get their children a degree from a university. The result: a hoard of over-educated mail-room clerks.

The over production of young adults with degrees has raised the bar for those seeking employment. Why hire a high school grad, when you can get a University grad for the same price? All this on the dime of the private individual.

Student loans? One of the hardest loans to discharge through bankruptcy, essentially creating a self-reinforcing loop that requires young adults to:
1. Get a degree
2. Take on massive amounts of debt
3. Take the first job offered to allow them to pay that debt

Which drives down the ratio of labour cost to the level of education a company gets.

So why pay for the privilege of having a degree or a diploma when the same education can be had for the price of a library card and a good computer?

Some of the greatest innovators (see links) in history share a common trait, either they were self-taught, or they were kicked/dropped out of school and then self-taught. Schools, as configured, squash innovation and encourage conformity.

Grades are degrading.

Grades are a shorthand that teachers and employers can use evaluate the quality of conformity attained by the pupil. A student that receives mostly A's and B's is praised while another student that receives mostly C's and D's is looked at as performing at an unacceptable level. Grades are little more than branding, establishing social hierarchies before they are let out into the "real" world.

Creating a situation of scarcity, for example, grading on the curve, creates an environment of competition which discourages information sharing (often referred to as "cheating") which in turn creates an atmosphere of fear of being wrong. The result: a roomful of mediocre students who end up being mediocre adults who take no risks, stand for nothing, all for fear of being wrong.

Children are natural collaborators. Don't believe me? Watch them at play in pre-school environments, you will see them learn about games, structures, songs, in groups and often spontaneously. Ironically this behaviour is one of the first the education system tries to snuff out with rigid formations (desks in a row), rigid schedules (class time length, recess length, occurrence of lunchtime), no talking, and repeated discipline for the offenders (non-conformists) that do not fall within the range of "acceptable" behaviour.

What does a diploma tell you? Or a degree or designation? All it says is that the student knew the material well enough to pass a standardized test. It does not demonstrate or illuminate the passion or adeptness the student possesses with the material. The only way to know how well someone knows their field is to talk to them and better yet to have them talk to others that share their passion and expertise, thus both at once demonstration their ability and maybe learning something more about what they love.

The Way Forward

Provide the basics for our children: reading, writing, and math, which are the bare essentials that provide a platform to acquire more knowledge on their own. In short, once the children are able to absorb and choose the knowledge they want to acquire, then we allow them to do so. No grades are to be given, no diplomas earned, instead the child is allowed to pursue an education path as far as his or her ability allows them to progress.

Initially knowledge would be acquired through a Khan Academy-like environment ( where the child watches/reads a section, then answers a number of questions at the end of the chapter, if they are right, then the child progresses to the next level. At some point when the child exhausts a particular path in Khan Academy then he or she "graduates" to partaking in discussion circles/forums where others share the same interest in furthering on the same educational pathway.

As they demonstrate a firmer grasp on the material, the collaborative environment of the discussion circles/forums will stimulate new theories, new material, and new ideas to pursue. As their knowledge increases they in turn reinforce or increase the knowledge of others. The one truth that they will hold is that novelty can come from anywhere and from anyone.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Z-Day 2012: A Review

Post Z-day 2012. 

So I've had some time to let the speakers words sink in. I didn't stay for the main event as I had my brother-in-laws B-Day to attend to and to be frank I had more fun at because I found talking to normal people about the worlds events refreshing. 

Regular joes, like my brother-in-law, do not, in fact, have their heads buried in the sand. They are usually fairly knowledgeable about politics and economics and the environment and are open to hearing different perspectives. 

But I digress, I saw most of the speakers with the exception of dear leader. I figured I could catch that later on YouTube. Actually I could have caught the whole thing on YouTube and saved myself the venue money and parking/transit.  But I felt I should at least see them in person once. 

So where to begin?  I'll start with a list of offenses:

1. Material abundance = misnomer

Let's call a spade a spade. Stop sugar coating this. What you are referring to is material sufficiency not material abundance. Enough to feed everyone? Yes, only if the Earth is managed carefully and at present rates of depletion and regeneration, but most importantly reduces levels of consumption. You allude that no one can have a 40 room mansion, but in truth no one can have a 2500sq ft house either. They are both unsustainable. I know why you frame it like this, because it is scary. But scarier is what happens if we don't rein it in. 

2. Technology, although cool, is not energy. 

It takes energy to make and energy to maintain. 

3.  Energy is certainly abundant has to be available to do useful work. 

I get into this more later. 

4. Complexity

Refer to the Law of Diminishing Returns or as I like to call it the Law of Getting Thoroughly Crushed by Complexity.  It trumps the Law of Accelerating Change. 

As societies become more complex more energy is required to sustain that complexity. The reason why most great civilizations of the past collapsed?  Too much complexity and insufficient energy. 

5. Population

Let's have a frank conversation about the population.  You've glossed this over with the twin tenets of abundant energy and technology, when that is really not the case. There are three ways to reduce the impact of the human ecological footprint, one is to vastly increase the land, energy and resources available, this is one of the least likely scenarios. Another option is to let the population crash, not a great solution, but doesn't require much planning. The third is to reduce individual consumption, this choice is by far the hardest and the second most unlikely because it requires that people understand the global ecology and that every choice they make has an impact. 

So unless Doug manages to find us another handful of planets and truly doesn't believe in annihilation, then the third option is the way to go.  Is it a tough sell? Sure it is, but do it consistently and do it softly. Live it if you can. 

6. Wealth. (the resources/currency)

Also while we are at it let's have a frank conversation about wealth redistribution.  It's not going to be voluntary.  See point 7. 

7. The rich. (people)

You can rarely educate away privilege and entitlements. Maybe try peer pressure.  But seriously how are you going to deal with the gatekeepers who currently control the majority of the resources?  Guilt? Puppy dog eyes? The current system works for them. If we enter collapse, it won't be them or their children dying. They don't have a dog in this fight. 

8. The Viking. 

Whom I thought might have been VTV with dyed hair. 

9. PJ's vocabulary. (CFOX)

I get it, you need to project the intelligence, literally oozing out of your orifices, but let's be honest, it comes off sounding a wee bit douchey. 

You want to be accessible, dipshit, not wall yourself off with words.  You can say profound things using words of just a few syllables.  

I am well read. This is not me bragging, I have a 4 fucking hour commute daily so I have time to kill by attempting to make myself smarter.  It hasn't worked yet, but I am hoping for an osmosis type reaction. 

But I digress, you will not hear me talking like I'm smarter than I am for the following reasons:

   1. No one likes a smartass. 
   2. For fear I would trip myself up
   trying to enunciate some of that 
   shit.  For example, I avoid saying the 
   word "enunciate". I also avoid the 
   word "Kunstler" but for different 

Mark my words, this word salad will come back to bite you. Perhaps it already has in the legions who attempt to emulate you and piss people off with some regularity I.e. VOR.  You've got nothing to prove, just be yourself.  Unless of course that is "yourself" in which case just pretend I didn't say anything. 

10.  Freemasons. 

If you have a conflict of interest allegation then make it.  Something I've learned in my travels is that you don't need a nefarious conspiracy if everyones goal happens to be the same. Your movements premise is that there are systematic irregularities that generate scarcity and inequality, so WHERE exactly do Freemasons play into that analysis?

11.  End of work. 

Quit selling the "no more work" angle. You will be working, not for money, but because you want to and your community expects you to contribute. And you will be working damn hard at what you do. 

When you say no more work or end of work as you know it, it makes the hard core anti-welfare, Ayn Randians and libertarians hate you a little bit.  Instead focus on the hard work that volunteers do and just how rewarding it feels. 

12.  No more cars. 

Holy Jesus you might as well say no more hockey. I get it, cars are big resource hogs that sit around 80% of the day, but in people's minds they see endless waiting at bus stops, crowding into a smelly cramped bus (which I currently do so I know). Lead with a palpable alternative first, if you can. Cars epitomize freedom and the first world living. You need to do a better sell job on this. 

13.  EROEI. Nuff said. 

Ok maybe not...because the concept of abundant energy seems to be a non sequitur for your movement.  "We can build wonderful things, don't worry, energy is plentiful". Yes, logically you can build wonderful things and yes logically energy is all around. But one does not follow the other logically because you need energy accessible to do the work and you need energy and material inputs to build the toys, neither of which is plentiful or accessible.  

You are constrained by the laws of thermodynamics, and thus constrained by EROEI, when it take 1 barrel of oil to extract 1 barrel of oil (or whatever energy equivalent you'd like to use) it is game over.  

Oil is the most flexible, energy dense substance we've ever discovered.  There is not another energy source that has all three attributes that made our current society possible, scalability, energy density, and flexibility.  Some may have one element or two but not all three. 

14. Playing to the singularitarians. 

Yes technology is growing exponentially, but so is everything else, resource depletion, population, ecological destruction, extinction. Seems to me we are putting our foot on the gas, headed for a cliff, with the hopes of catching the singularity as we fall off, like in an action movie, and rise like the Phoenix.
15. You call us techno skeptics but you haven't given us skeptics anything other than to poo-poo our apparent lack of common sense. You have shiny new toys, but these have to come from  somewhere and that takes energy. 

You got boundless enthusiasm in your hand, I see that and raise you some realism. 

16. Marahall (even my iPhone autocorrects to Marshall)

Take some time with your editing. I was sitting watching Moritz's speech and he had on the big screen spelled "Marshall" as "Marahall" not once but twice. It is one thing to have something spelled wrong but when it is a name it is worse.  Of course the irony is not lost on me that this was during the "Competent Communications" section. It comes off as lazy and sloppy. 

17. Canadian stereotypes.

I realize this was played for humor, but the underlying subtext is that people are generally fearful and ignorant, and are fearful because they are ignorant. True or not, this approach lacks tact. If you are going to use humor, self-deprecation holds the audience and those external to your tenets, harmless. If you are going to hold the system accountable, don't make fun of people's ignorance. These are the people you want to reach. 


In the final analysis I was heartened that people showed up, even if not in overwhelming numbers, because it shows that these people are looking for a better way. I suspect, however, there are far more people out there like myself, who have grown disillusioned with magical thinking and have move on, looking for more realistic solutions. 


Monday, March 05, 2012

Limits to Growth

This problem is not a liberal or conservative problem, it is not a republican or democrat problem. I would even go so far as to say this is not even a rich versus poor problem. This problem belongs to all of us.