World-class education, but how?

In his acceptance speech, Sen. Barack Obama called for giving a world-class education to every student. How?

I’ll invest in early childhood education. I’ll recruit an army of new teachers, and pay them higher salaries, and give them more support. And in exchange, I’ll ask for higher standards and more accountability.

I heard that “army of teachers” from another speaker. It must be talking point. I wonder how he’ll judge whether the new recruits will be good teachers (are the old teachers no good?), how they’ll be paid (merit pay? pay for needed skills? more for everyone?) and whether the standards and accountability will resemble No Child Left Behind. Then there’s the whole issue of whether Obama wants to continue the slow federalization of education or let states (and school districts) decide things such as how to hire and pay teachers and what standards to set.

I’ve heard that “world-class education” thing before, starting with the senior President Bush. It doesn’t seem to happen.

Obama got huge cheers when he called for parents to step up and make their kids do homework. But he didn’t say what the federal government should or could do when parents fail.

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  1. Good questions! Not sure that Obama even answers them in the policy literature his campaign has produced. If he had addressed those questions seriously in his acceptance speech he probably would have put a lot of people to sleep, and rightly so. And how could he really do them justice in the time alloted.

  2. The problem with your analysis, Ms. Jacobs, is that you’re looking at what he said from a rational point of view. You’re asking logical questions that require concrete and reasonable answers. His speech wasn’t directed at you and those who have the ability (and proclivity) to think. It was directed at the millions of swing voters who are swayed by promises that sound good but can’t be kept.

    People say that the problems in this country are because of politicians, but they’re actually because of a lazy and irrational public that wants something for nothing. They’ve been lied to over and over, yet the same lies keep attracting votes. If you perform (in the stage sense of the word) well enough, substance and ability to deliver on your promises don’t matter. It’s all about getting elected, not about really changing anything. I don’t know whether Obama and his people know that on a conscious level or if they’re so jaded that they can’t see what’s obvious to anyone paying attention.

    Just as a side note, I’ve spent years as a political consultant, after starting as a newspaper journalist. I was idealistic when I got into politics, but now I’m cynical enough to realize that the public WANTS to be lied to. If they didn’t, the same old lies wouldn’t keep working.

    And just in case anyone thinks this is just a partisan slam on Obama, every word of what I said would apply to McCain or any of the legit candidates from the major parties.

  3. Charles R. Williams says:

    I will do this. I will do that. I will hold them accountable for the money I give them. Sure.

    What he is really saying to the education establishment is that he will try to raise federal taxes so that he can pour more money into failing schools. In return they should expect some sort of increased federal control over what they do. Lots of great job opportunities for the education bureaucrats.

    To the general public he is saying that things ain’t right on the ole plantation and massa’s gonna fix it, he sure is, and that ole rich man down the road is gonna pay for it.

    A people who have the strength and courage to remain a free people will never buy it.

  4. Too bad that many Americans no longer have the strength and courage to remain a free people. I’m afraid that many of my friends, colleagues, and associates have already bought it.

  5. I agree with Holly that it’s way too late to think about Americans “remain(ing) a free people.” I’d say that train left the station a long time ago. While some of the effects are just becoming obvious (to some people) at this point, the causes started happening at least as far back as FDR’s first administration. Ever since then, it’s just been a long acceleration toward centralized power and loss of individual liberty. We’re at a point of government control today that I believe would appall the Founders and the vast majority of Americans as recently as the late 19th century. The Progressive Era laid the foundation for what was to come, because it provided the philosophical underpinnings for the loss of individual freedom that we still see going on today.

  6. “We’re at a point of government control today that I believe would appall the Founders and the vast majority of Americans as recently as the late 19th century.”


    “The Progressive Era laid the foundation for what was to come, because it provided the philosophical underpinnings for the loss of individual freedom that we still see going on today.”

    Not just going on, accelerating.

  7. I posted about that on my blog,, under the title Personal Responsibility. People have forgotten what it was like to be responsible for their actions, rather than have the government step in.

  8. That’s an excellent post on your blog, Holly. Thanks for linking to it.

  9. Several disparate thoughts come to mind.

    In pretend play a gross approximation to an action is just as good as a highly accurate and disciplined action. To pretend to be a tennis player a child needs only make a few movements with his arms, and in his pretend world he is a world class player. Is politics, for many people, just a form of pretend play? Pretend play is a regular part of childhood, and so far as I know, considered a healthy part of growing up. But can we say the same thing for pretend play in grown ups?

    We know that humans are ideological animals, but doesn’t our ideology become unhealthy at times. I have long assumed that there is a strong evolutionary basis to ideology acting in us. It seems reasonable to assume that through perhaps a million years of stone age existence, our ideological tendencies would have survival value. We support and defend the ingroup and hate and attack the outgroup. That makes our ingroup better for us, and it doesn’t matter about the outgroup. But the survival value of ideology in stone age living might not be so good in modern living. What should we do about it? I don’t know, but I think it deserves some thought.

    I pretty much agree with David McElroy’s comments on politics, except for one thing. I think there is a bit of difference between the two major parties. I agree they share the same faults to quite an extent, but I personally think one party is a bit less shallow and shortsighted than the other. I also think this party is less ideological than the other. But that’s just my humble opinion.

  10. Brian, I wonder whether you’re using the word “ideology” in a different way from what I understand it to me. The word actually just means a system of ideas, so if you have a set of principles (ANY principles), you have an underlying ideology that supports your thoughts and decisions. Having a reason for the things you believe is an unqualified good thing, to my way of thinking, so I’m confused about how “ideological tendencies,” in and of themselves, could be unhealthy. Certainly, most ideological systems are wrong (by the very fact of their contradictory nature), but to say that ideology can be unhealthy is no different from saying that philosophy or values are unhealthy. They’re all neutral terms. It’s the content of a specific ideology that makes it objectionable, not the fact that someone has a belief system. So unless you mean something very different from what I understand the word to mean, I’m confused by that.

    On the point about the parties, it seems to me that how different the parties look has to do with perspective. If you’re within the broad tradition of the two, the points where they disagree seem huge. But if you reject their entire reasoning about government (i.e. if you believe that government has no right to use force to dictate to individuals to achieve either social or economic goals), then their differences between fairly trivial. Both parties believe government has to right to shape society the way it sees fit, forcing individuals to conform to things whether they want to or not. Over the last 30 years, the Republican Party has tried to force its social views on society, but has been a bit more tolerant (in comparison to the Democrats) on economics. The Democratic Party has tried to force its economic views on society, but has been a bit more tolerant on social policy (or at least had a different emphasis). So they’re both all about using the blunt instrument of government to force society to conform to their desires; they just have different things they emphasize and different things they’re a bit more tolerant about. But for those of us who reject the application of government powers in those areas, we see them both as equally guilty of claiming ownership of the individual which is immoral and misguided.

    If you get right down to it, the problem is inherent to democracy. Anytime you allow majorities to control the rest of the population, you get things that become ugly. This country was never intended to be a democracy. It was intended to be a republic in which people had individual rights. (The Founders actually had quite nasty things to say about the concept of democracy.) The notion of “majority rule” is completely at odds with individual rights, which is why it’s such a shame the the Constitution has been perverted to mean whatever the majority want it to mean today.

    I don’t believe any of this CAN change through the political process. In fact, I think it’s going to get much worse before it gets better. And I believe that it’s going to lead to economic and social collapse which will be ugly and bloody. I hope I’m wrong, but I can’t see how it can change any other way and I also don’t see how the present system’s pressures can be contained forever.

  11. You know, every time I think I’m in too big a hurry to use the preview function, it comes back to bite me. I’m sorry for the typos in my previous. Please forgive my laziness in that regard. 🙂

  12. David,

    Yes, I’m obviously using the word “ideology” a little differently than you are, but I don’t think it’s much different. Yes, ideology is a set of ideas, pretty much the same as philosophy. But I think the term is also commonly used to mean a set of ideas that one is defensive about, that one has one’s “face” attached to. Politics provides many examples. Political partisans do not discuss things dispassionately, usually (there can be exceptions). People generally do not discuss the tenets of their religion dispassionately, usually (again there can be exceptions). You can conclude that a person has his “face” attached to his beliefs by the defensiveness shown when his beliefs are attacked, even when that attack was not intended. People rationalize at the drop of a hat. To avoid this defensiveness we often observe the simple rule never to talk about politics and religion.

    When I say that humans are the ideological animal, I am referring to the tendency to easily attach our face to lots of things, including, perhaps primarily, groups and belief systems. When this happens then a perceived attack on one’s group or belief is treated as an attack on one’s self, or at least one’s face. It’s an insult, and elicits a hostile response, or at least a defensive response, including whatever rationalization seems to work at the moment. From my perspective this tendency has an instinctual base because it provided some degree of survival value in primitive society.

    In a math classroom ideas are pretty well neutral. No one has their “face attached” to an erroneous version of the quadratic formula. But in much of the world we must tiptoe around trying not to offend. We have to be “politically correct” at all times. That’s not all bad, of course. It’s part of the price we pay for being civilized. A biology classroom ought to be as neutral as a math classroom, one might think. But some people have their face attached to a rejection of Darwinian evolution.

    I don’t think I am completely alone in using “ideology” in this non-neutral sense. When we say a person is an “ideologue” isn’t this the sense of “ideology” that we have in mind? So when I suggest that ideology can be unhealthy, I am thinking of the ideologue who is so blinded by his defensiveness that he becomes totally incapable of thinking and acting rationally in some situations.

    Remember the pictures from Little Rock in 1957, white faces contorted with rage at the sight of black school children heading toward the school house doors? One might say that is not ideology, but I think the term applies. “Tribalism” might be another term. Or what would be the best term? One might say that those rage-contorted faces are not of philosophers, but they do have a belief system, a “philosophy” if you will. And they have their face attached to that belief system.

    I probably haven’t succeeded very well in giving a very good explanation of how I am using the term “ideology”. I think it is an incredibly important social phenomenon. It is ubiquitous in human life. It causes no end of misery and strife. One might say it also is a basis of much that is good in human life, a basis of human relationships. I don’t know. I think we have a lot to learn. Our present issue is semantic, I think, the definition of “ideology” and “ideological”. But by whatever terms we use there’s a lot of study and analyze. Those contorted faces from Little Rock do not make a better world.

    Concerning Democrats and Republicans, I have long observed that each party has an authoritarian streak and a libertarian streak. I consider myself a libertarian, but I have always taken it for granted that we do need government, that government has a legitimate claim to have a monopoly on coercion, and therefore rule by the majority is inevitable. It has its faults and limitations, of course, but remains the best of all alternatives, I think. I’ll stick with my humble opinion that one party is a little more “knee jerk” than the other, that there are more “true believers” in that party, that it is the party of wishful thinking and good intentions more than the other party. But I’ll tiptoe around these opinions in most situations.

    I have expanded my thoughts along these lines in an article on my website. Here’s a link,

  13. Brian,

    Your link didn’t come through. I’d really like to read further on your ideas.

  14. Seems to me the only way to guarantee that everybody gets a first-class education is by using technology to a greater degree– most businesses train their staff by using internet-accessible training materials. One bar review company I know has used this system for decades–they get the best lecturers on each topic; video them live; then allow all their students world-wide to access the video.

    Teachers, like everyone else, are on a bell-curve of competency. Wouldn’t it be great to have kids learning interactively, rather than being lectured to by a teacher who may be great, or may be average,m or may be poor.

    We need the teachers to provide one-on-one or small group inspiration and direction. But the vast majority of the transfer of information can be better done through interactive, pop-up quiz, multimedia single-source hi-tech delivery.

    Then we might be talking about offering a first calss education to all.

  15. The missing link on my comment above is this:

  16. we might be talking about offering a first calss education to all.