Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Vocational Schools

Opinion Journal - Extra What's Wrong With Vocational School? by Charles Murray

Murray's article was rather lame. It read like an exam paper done at the last moment, the night before it was due.

Having said that, he does hit on one important point. There should be other options for people besides University. College is a ridiculously poor at training people for most jobs in the real world. As Murray points out, college has become little more than a litmus test for employers. My brother who is an electrical engineer for Boeing even admits that he maybe uses 10% of what he learned in college, and he has a Masters degree.

For many many jobs, specific technical schools would probably be a much more cost effective and efficient way to train new employees. Witness the U.S.A.F., that manages to train 18 -21 year old kids to work on multi-million dollar aircraft, with only a few months of formal schooling, and a year of on the job training. In my field, nondestructive inspection, 22 year old's are able to leave the Air Force after four years and get a job in the civilian sector earning $40,000 a year.

Having lived in Europe for 12 years, I think that many European countries take a much more pragmatic approach to post secondary education. For example, the German model has industries working in partnership with government to create Berufsschule's (vocational schools) that provide government certified certificates in over 400 different careers.

Moving to a system like this, or similar, would serve several purposes. Employers would get employee's with specific job knowledge, our college graduation rate should improve, and students without the desire to sit through four year's of irrelevant classes would be able to quickly move into the workforce.

Murray though doesn't do the idea much justice. It's as if he adopted it to make up for the political incorrectness of his research into the IQ gap. Of course, because of Murray's perceived political leanings, his suggestions will be ignored... but good idea's being ignored has become the norm in education policy these days, so why should this idea be any different.

(Also posted at Kitchen Table Math)

Hat Tip: Joanne Jacobs

The Lowest Form of Logic

Apparently "argument by analogy is the lowest form of logic." At least Peter Campbell of Transform Education thinks so.

Apparently he didn't like my "sinking ship" analogy, and responded with his own crazy analogy about giving comfortable shoes to child workers, but I will get to that in a minute. Let's back up a bit though, to this analogy as an argument thing.

You see I compared his argument in a post entitled "What if KIPP Worked?", to letting everyone on a sinking ship drown because you can't save everybody... an all or none mentality.

I would like to apologize for insulting my readers (all three of you) intelligence. You see it was obviously my limited intelligence led me to believe that analogies were appropriate in responding to a post that used analogies. See I got confused, and thought that when peter compared education and KIPP schools to "world hunger", that responding with a comparison would be appropriate. Of course, maybe I misinterpreted this paragraph:

Imagine if we said the same thing about world hunger. Maybe we we have to throw up our hands and say, "We can't beat world hunger." Maybe we have to face the facts and say, "Hunger will always be with us, so we just to have to make the best of it." Maybe we have to admit that current solutions are not as great as they claim to be, but -- because not all children end up starving to death -- then that is enough.

Maybe it wasn't an analogy and he just went off topic for a bit. Oh well, I have learned my lesson.


Now, where were we? Oh that's right, Peter responded to my sinking ship post. A bit of history first.

Peter originally said:

We accept, in full self-fulfilling prophecy mode, that these problems can never be solved. We accept that the best we can do is make something intolerable a little more tolerable. The question is, tolerable for whom?

For all the kids that are not "lucky" enough to get a place at KIPP, it is not tolerable. For all the kids that do make it into KIPP but are not able to endure the 10-hour days and two hours of homework every night and who eventually drop out or are "counseled out," it is not tolerable. And even for those kids who do make it into KIPP and make it out of KIPP, their "success" is not tolerable because it comes at a price, a price that is too high to pay.

Ryan responded with:

So because school choice might harm others in some nebulous way, it should be withdrawn? And "success" in sneer quotes? Is this writer suggesting that said students are faking it, or that their academic achievements are somehow counterfeit?

Look, school integration is a worthy endeavor. But even assuming that KIPP is somehow unconstitutional, you had better be willing to see that all guilty parties are held to account. Including the parents who are responsible for sending their children there.

I jumped on the bandwagon with:

Does this mean that all schools have to be integrated? No. It may very well but I wanted to add one more point. It's very hard to shake the feeling that there are some who truly wish for equality... equality of failure. I have used the argument in the past, but I will use it again. These are the sort of people who would let everyone drown on a sinking ship, because they couldn't save everybody. To them it's not about excellence, it's about equivalence. They have already given up on success, and now they just want to drag everyone down to the lowest level.

Peter then responded to me on my blog, his blog, and over at Edspresso. (He wanted to make sure that we read it)

OK, now we are up to date.

Now since he posted on my blog, I think that entitles me to quote him in his entirety, so I will just go paragraph by paragraph. (My comments in blue)

The sinking ship analogy is a good one. It would seem that this is precicsely what I am supporting, i.e., it's best that everyone on the ship drown rather than saving a few.

But this is, of course, absurd. And argument by analogy is the lowest form of logic.

We already covered this... he started it. Not me.

But I'll offer my own argument by analogy.

Like dude, you already did... but go on. Let's see what you got.

Imagine we are in early 20th century America. There are no child labor laws. It is a common sight to see 10-year-olds working in factories for next to nothing. Along comes a reform movement that provides comfortable shoes for the children. They can now stand at their assembly line positions for 8 hours at a stretch and feel considerably less pain. Many people are relieved by this intervention. At last, they say, we have done something to help these poor children.

Providing comfortable shoes doesn't undo the injustice of children working in these conditions. Providing questionable schooling for an infinitesimally small population of poor black and Hispanic children doesn't undo the injustice of segregation.

OK... this analogy is good. I like it, except that it doesn't at all relate to the idea that KIPP schools are bad because they don't help everybody. Instead, it almost seems to me to be an analogy to what our current public school system does. They use constructivism, inquiry learning, and feel good teaching methods, and to make poor minority students feel better about themselves in a system that nothing more than a factory (a very inefficient factory). Instead, using your factory analogy. Kipp's schools are like giving some of the poor children a chance to leave the factory and go to school (OK, I know KIPP is a school so its not technically an analogy, but you get the point). Of course, not all the kids are saved from the factory, but maybe when people see these kids excelling in the school, they will pass child labor laws.

Did you see that. I took it... turned it around 180 degrees, made it my own, and turned it on its originator.

We can't make "improving segregated schools" our goal. If we do this, we accept as a fait accompli that segregation is an immutable reality. The Brown decision said it is NOT an immutable reality. We must work to honor the legacy of that decision.

Now see what he did. He slipped the "segregation" issue in there, to throw me off. I am now presented with a false dilemma. Either I want to improve segregated schools or I don't want to improve segregated schools, either way I have accepted the inevitably of "segregation". Of course, perhaps by improving segregated schools we could desegregate them. If KIPP and Achievement First schools continue to excel, how long will it be before middle class white parents start jockeying to get their kids into them. Perhaps it will happen, perhaps it won't but if you had a choice between a successful segregated school, or a failing integrated one, what would you choose?

Does this mean that all schools have to be integrated? No. It may very well be that urban schools that are TRULY on the level of their suburban counterparts (as far as educational quality goes) can accept their segregated status. But, as I said, I fear the consequences of this level of acceptance, of this kind of abdication of a vision. We will accept our separation from each other. We will very seldom encounter each other. Of course, we see each other on television – in movies and in sit-coms and on the news. And, based on my experience of others on television, I know that most Asians are very quiet and work in laundries, that women on crime shows have large breasts and wear short skirts and tend to over-react when under pressure, that young black men are very angry and sing a lot about bitches and hos, that Muslims wear scarves over their heads and carry Kalashnikov machine guns, and that white men are smart and usually in charge.

The only place where people can go and share common space inside non-commercial venues is a public school. (Channel 1 tried to change that, but – fortunately – it recently reported financial problems and looks like it’s going to be gone forever. Good riddance.) In our society today, public schools are the only place where we have a chance to see and talk to people who are not exactly like us, maybe even get to know them a bit. For those of us who have already graduated from public high schools, it’s too late. There is really no other place to go.

Obviously he lives in a different America than I do. My work center is a diverse mix of people from different regions, of different races, of different ethnic backgrounds, and of different genders. I know this might not be representative of all places in the country, but to say that public schools are the only place to be in an ethnically diverse environment is a slight exaggeration.

Look, I know. It’s not like there was a time when this did happen, back in the good old days when people of different racial, ethnic, religious, and social backgrounds got together and held hands and inter-related. Rich people have always stayed around rich people, whites have pretty much always stuck to whites, blacks to blacks, etc., etc. And, of course, this is the case today. And it was certainly not the case with public schools either, certainly not before Brown v. Board, and certainly not today. A large number of suburban and rural schools are virtually devoid of any kind of diversity, whether economic, racial, ethnic, or religious.

In acknowledging this, we should not conclude that since most public schools are devoid of diversity, we should give up on the vision that diversity entails. Rather, it’s a reminder that we have to fight for what little diversity there is, where people of different backgrounds can share common space. It’s also a reminder that we have our work cut out for us to extend the democratic commons, to find new ways for diversity to be nurtured or, at the very least, to be experienced on a more substantive basis beyond merely passing each other at the food court.

To tell the truth, the post has now mutated from a debate to a sermon, but I will attempt to respond. Of course diversity is to be valued, but most diversity champions only see race. At the same time they decry the use of race as an indicator of a person's worth, they use race as a measure of diversity, but that's beside the point.

Peter in his original post states that "And even for those kids who do make it into KIPP and make it out of KIPP, their "success" is not tolerable because it comes at a price, a price that is too high to pay."

I would argue that the minority students in KIPP programs are way more likely to attend college, get white collar jobs, to integrate into "white" society. By doing this, they will bring diversity to the universities they attend and they will bring different experiences to their future workplaces.

Of course if I could wave my magic wand and make all schools as successful as the KIPP schools, I would, but that's not the world we live in. Instead, I take comfort that at least some students can benefit from the KIPP schools. Perhaps Peter's energies would be better spend raging at the public schools that fail poor minority students instead of spending time hating on the all to few schools that actually do some good.

Update: I just noted that Peter's various responses varied slightly. To be fair I need to respond to the end of his post at his website.

One more problem with the sinking ship analogy. Nothing can be done to save a sinking ship. The only thing that can be done is to try and save as many people as possible from drowning.

That is true. Nothing can be done to save a sinking ship, but we can learn from it and see why it sunk. Was it a design flaw, could we have built it stronger? Was there enough life rafts? Could the passengers of the ship have flown instead?

Social justice is not a sinking ship. There is a lot we can do to bring it about. To call it a sinking ship is more than just inaccurate. It is immoral. It means we are abdicating. It means we are giving up.

When the phrase "social justice" gets brought up, my first instinct is to tune out, but this argument is the easiest to rebut.

I never said "Social justice" was a sinking ship. I said that the public education system for poor and minority students is a "sinking ship".


Saving a handful of kids is to accept this inaccurate and immoral analogy. Saving a handful is to give up.

So eloquent. There is no way I can compete with this line. After all Peter has a B.A. from Princeton and a M.A. from New York University. All I have is a High School diploma, a beer gut, and a smart mouth. I suppose the best way to counter is with some much simpler language.

Hating KIPP because they are successful is fucked up!