Speaking of advertising

It seems much of education is turning into a PR campaign. The “21st Century Skills” movement seems quite fond of advertising.

Here are some sample projects from the “21st Century Skills Map” for social studies (from the P21 website):

Fourth grade:

Outcome: As a group, work together to reach a decision and to explain the reasons for it.

Example: Working in small groups, encourage and engage other classmates to assist with a group service-learning project. Using digital media, students demonstrate the need to raise the awareness of their classmates on an issue within their community, (e.g., students create a digital poster that persuades classmates to participate in a school fundraising project).

Eighth grade:

Outcome: Students develop entrepreneurial skills by undertaking a business project.

Example: JA World Wide (Junior Achievement) provides a semester project for middle school students, in which business leaders from the community teach a weekly class, and each student group in the class develops and markets a product.

Students are responsible for setting goals, developing and implementing their plans, monitoring their progress in developing and marketing their product, and modifying as needed.

Twelfth grade:

Outcome: Students create an economic venture that requires the application of economic principles such as supply and demand.

Example: Students work together as a class or in groups to execute a simple business task such as selling a certain amount of a popular snack by a certain date. The activity could be structured competitively or in such a way that various groups are attempting to reach group-based specific sales goals. Students use a range of sales techniques that incorporate forms of technology such as video and web-based promotion. Students could also create a new product or packaging of an existing product and make a competitive pitch to fellow students who decide which product or packaging should be awarded with a “venture capital” type of investment. The activity could be incorporated into a co-curricular school-based venture that has access to some start-up funds.

I don’t understand why kids should be selling snacks instead of studying history.

Comments

  1. Let’s see…the 8th grade project requires starting a business, but the 12th grade project requires as business that involves the principles of supply and demand.

    Curious as to what all those businesses that *don’t* involve supply & demand might be.

  2. SuperSub says:

    I wonder if the business focus of p21 is due to lots of out-of-work businesspeople trying to make a living selling their expertise as part of the p21 movement… no jobs in real business, so may as well create their own market.

  3. Isn’t it important to understand persuasive techniques so that you can then understand the techniques being used by companies on you? I think it matters that kids get how they’re being manipulated (and a great way to do that is try to be manipulative yourself) so that they’re savvy consumers.

  4. Tracy W says:

    I don’t understand why kids should be selling snacks instead of studying history.

    I think the ability to start up and run your own business is useful. You’ll never know when you might need to do it. I wound up doing so after getting made redundant when I wanted work for about 6 months and all the people I called looking for a 6-month contract said “well, we can’t commit to 6 months, but we have this project and this project…”

    Of course history is important too. That’s the trouble with education, there’s far more that is important to learn than can be learnt during the time at school. But having students try running a business strikes me as making as good sense as, say, teaching cooking, or woodwork, or financial decision-making. It strikes me as a rational goal to include in public education.

  5. Diana Senechal says:

    Tracy,

    Sure, if we had the time, we could offer a business course in high school. But should it be part of social studies, which is already watered down?

    My high school had a “January term.” We could take all sorts of electives during that time. It was enjoyable for teachers and students; it gave everybody a chance to stretch out and try new things. There was a great range of offerings. That would be a good place for a business course. Students who wanted to learn more could then be directed to programs outside of school.

    We are concerned with not missing a minute of instructional time–yet the subjects themselves have grown amorphous. It would be better to teach history, literature, languages, math, and science in the regular curriulum and then find a place (like a January term) for additional offerings.

  6. Tracy W says:

    Why do you think that learning history is more important than learning how to run a business? I say this as someone who studied history at school very happily, and wishes I had had time at university to take a history course (though I even more wish I had made the time to take a few pure statistics courses, so I guess I would never have taken those history courses).

    What makes business courses an elective while history is fundamental?
    And aren’t subjects always amorphous? At high school I learnt far more in my history classes about writing good essays than I did in English, although this could be attributable to bad luck in my English teachers and good luck in my history teacher.

    I confess I don’t have any good answers as to what we should teach in high school, beyond English, in the sense of good writing and reading) and mathematics (English because writing and reading are fairly fundamental skills, mathematics because I know of too many stories of people later in life being prevented from studying what they wanted because they hadn’t done enough mathematics earlier).

  7. Teachin’,

    Isn’t the goal in history class to understand the lessons of history so that we can become responsible citizens? Being a savvy consumer falls into the subject of personal finance.

  8. > Why do you think that learning history is more important than
    > learning how to run a business?

    That’s an easy one: because everyone should know history, but not everyone needs to know how to run a business any more than everyone needs to know how to weld or program a computer.

    A basic knowledge of history is absolutely fundamental to being a good citizen; being able to run a business is not. No one can soundly participate in the issues of the day (including educational ones) unless they have a firm sense of how we got here.

    Even worse, “running a business” is a nearly meaningless phrase. Running a high-tech startup is a completely different thing from running a manufacturing company, to pick two examples at random. My guess would be that students “undertaking a business project” would be unlikely to learn much of anything actually useful in the real business world. If we want students to learn “business,” then we should teach it. A group project like this just a lazy way of passing the buck to the students – the few students who will do the work, while the others coast in their wake.

  9. Margo/Mom says:

    I thought that economics WAS a part of social studies.

  10. Lightly Seasoned says:

    This is the sort of thing our Business Dept. does. See, told you this 21st C. Skills stuff was unadulterated crap. Raising awareness as a social studies activity in 4th grade? You have got to be kidding. That reeks of inappropriateness. Look at the assessment language on that one. Is the ability to “encourage” part of the new standards-based report cards?

  11. Tracy W says:

    Rob, you’re muddling up things here. Perhaps everyone should know history, but that doesn’t mean that they need to know it. And why not say that everyone should know how to run a business, or weld, or programme a computer? (I’ve done all three). On the flip-side, no one *needs* to know history. When my brother was recovering from his brain injury the rehab centre drafted a set of goals of what he should learn to do before heading home, they included things like “bathing himself” and “cooking a meal” (the second caused much merriment as he never cooked before the accident). Nothing in there about re-learning history. In the event it took him a lot longer to walk again, and thus bathe himself, than it did to regain his memories of history, but I think the priorities of the rehab centre were still right.

    I also think that education policy should not be set merely on the basis of what people “need” to know. I think that’s a pathetically weak goal. Who wants to live a life doing merely what you need to do?

    And while being able to run a business may not be fundamental to being a good citizen, knowing something about how businesses operate strikes me as as useful for being a good citizen as history. How many politicians do you know pile requirement after requirement on business owners with no consideration of the time it takes to deal with paperwork and how much this takes away from actually making money? Where do our taxes come from, if not by people selling goods and services for more than the input costs, which is business? (not necessarily in the cooperation form).

    I agree that this method of teaching about business is quite possibly lousy. What I am responding to here is the assertion that teaching history is more valuable than teaching about running a business. I am pretty sure that Batman’s Joker, if put in charge of Gotham’s education system, could figure out a way to completely ruin the teaching of history as well as he could ruin teaching about business.

  12. Tracy W says:

    Darn, not necessarily in the corporation form, not cooperation.

  13. Andy Freeman says:

    > A basic knowledge of history is absolutely fundamental to being a good citizen; being able to run a business is not. No one can soundly participate in the issues of the day (including educational ones) unless they have a firm sense of how we got here.

    Oh really? CA just had an election with six state-wide initiatives. In which case would history have been relevant? In which case would biz knowledge have been relevant?

    > Even worse, “running a business” is a nearly meaningless phrase. Running a high-tech startup is a completely different thing from running a manufacturing company, to pick two examples at random.

    Actually, they’re not that different, but then I’ve worked at both.
    There are some differences in capital allocation and accounting, but people are people, and people (both internal and external) are always the biggest issue. (I love technology, but technology is only a way to fail, it’s never the reason why you succeed.)

  14. chartermom says:

    I have to agree with Tracy W and Andy Freeman. Understanding business is important no matter what you do in life. I’m not sure these exercises are the best way to teach it but that doesn’t mean learning the fundamentals of business isn’t important. I can’t tell you how often I hear someone who works outside of business make a comment about business that is so fundamentally wrong it makes me cringe.

    And similarly I think one of the most important courses that should be added to the high school curriculum is “life skills” and should include things like cooking, sewing, basic use of tools, understanding credit and contracts, financial literacy and the like.

  15. Ponderosa says:

    Business fans, have no fear. The infiltration of the business world into the schools is continuing apace. Biz school-type superintendents and principals, indifferent to subject matter and deep knowledge, are implementing business style accountability schemes, union-busting, flow-chart blah-blah-blah, etc. and leaving the craft of teaching in the dust. Young peppy teachers with little interest in the liberal arts (because they themselves have not had great liberal arts classes) who are replacing the last of the truly well-educated (along with the old hacks) cheerfully comply with these new ways. The teaching “product” must be uniform, measurable, neat, clean and visible, like a Kraft foods microwave meal. Old teachers, throw away your old recipes! Or better yet, get out of the way, so these pliable energetic vacuous serfs can produce a nice, neat education product.

    What I’d rather see: erudite teachers who have respect, autonomy and SUPPORT (in the realm of discipline and prep time, especially) who pursue rigorous uniform standards in non-uniform ways –ways determined by each teacher’s individual talents.

    Why history and not advertising? Why the liberal arts generally? Because school helps make the soul –“alma mater” means “soul mother”. Without a liberal arts education, we risk a generation of razor-thin souls, with no internal resources, who know nothing but the low-grade stimulation of texting and being a compliant energetic efficient serf for some big corporation. Aldous Huxley’s World State in Brave New World is where we’re heading –or where we are. Truly, old school lovers of the liberal arts seem like an endangered species among educators –at least in the schools I’ve seen in California.

  16. Parent2 says:

    Reality check. “I can’t tell you how often I hear someone who works outside of business make a comment about business that is so fundamentally wrong it makes me cringe.” Fourth grade, eight grade, and twelfth grade social studies teachers are about the last people on the face of the earth who should be tasked with teaching students how to run a business–because the vast majority of them have never done it.

    They should be teaching social studies, particularly history and geography. Americans are already woefully ignorant of world history. In a week in which North Korea executed a nuclear test, it is not possible to argue that modern citizens have a greater need for business skills than for a knowledge of history.

    As I skim over the “skills map,” I see that most of the projects lay a great deal of emphasis upon u$ing hardware and $oftware product$. This makes sense. As I look at the list of board members, it’s not an education board. It’s primarily a board made up of computer industry executives. They are building the technology consumers of tomorrow–but education is not their priority. It would be very interesting to discover where they choose to send their children and grandchildren–and whether those schools teach “21st Century Skills.”

    On the bright side, it’s a great time to be a student at any private or parochial school, as long as you can find a school which decides to teach content knowledge rather than group-projects-using-expensive-technology. After all, someone has to run things. The skills you’d learn from a liberal arts degree will allow you to understand the general principles underlying running a business–or any other area of human endeavor.

    By the way, as bad as the social studies skills map is, the English map is worse.

  17. Sharon R. says:

    Other than the “using digital media” silliness (an on-line digital poster is still a poster, needing slightly fewer basic skills than getting the same thing done with poster paints, since your mom doesn’t have to drive you to the store for supplies), these 21st Century Skills sound a lot more like 19th Century Skills to me.

    Everything but the webification (at which most kids are way too proficient already) and contemporary jargon could date back to the Industrial Revolution.

    We did all those things in junior high and high school in the 80’s (ok, the bright kids did all those things, because not enough AP classes had been invented yet to completely fill our schedules), and a friend who graduated high school in the mid-70’s did them all as well (JA, motivational posters, selling snacks, etc.).

    What are they trying to accomplish here?

  18. Tracy W says:

    Ponderosa Why history and not advertising? Why the liberal arts generally? Because school helps make the soul –”alma mater” means “soul mother”. Without a liberal arts education, we risk a generation of razor-thin souls, with no internal resources, who know nothing but the low-grade stimulation of texting and being a compliant energetic efficient serf for some big corporation.

    Firstly, if you have run your own business, and/or you have learnt something about advertising, then clearly you know something other than “the low-grade stimulation of texting and being a compliant energetic efficient serf for some big corporation”. What you do know may vary, you may know a lot about how to run a business, or you may know how to make a business fail, you may know a lot about how to make advertising work, or just about some ways it doesn’t work. But to assert that someone who has tried running a business or advertising therefore only knows the two things you listed indicates a certain lack of critical thinking on the behalf of the asserter.

    And why do you believe that a liberal arts education makes the soul more than an business/advertising education? In the book “What Good Are the Arts” by John Carey points out that a number of nasty people have also been fans of various aspects of the liberal arts.

    Aldous Huxley’s World State in Brave New World is where we’re heading –or where we are.

    Having read Huxley’s Brave New World I am not at all worried that that is where we are heading, let alone where we are. Very few people appear to be satisfied with their state, books are still in ample supply, creative and critical thinking abound, we don’t have a caste system, sexual competition and romantic relationships are rampant, and not merely can pregnancy be mentioned in public, women actually breast-feed in public.

    Truly, old school lovers of the liberal arts seem like an endangered species among educators –at least in the schools I’ve seen in California.

    Unluckily, the supply of people willing to make unsupported and irrational assertions about the values of liberal arts appears to be endless.

    Parent2: In a week in which North Korea executed a nuclear test, it is not possible to argue that modern citizens have a greater need for business skills than for a knowledge of history.

    But we should be doing our best to argue this. Only by really attacking the argument that history is more important than business skills, can we have any confidence that such an argument is right, if the argument is right of course. Or at least that’s the best way I know of testing an argument – by trying to destroy it.
    So I am going to argue that modern citizens have a greater need for business skills than for a knowledge of history, in light of the week in which North Koren executed a nuclear test. My argument may be wrong, but that’s quite different from saying that it’s impossible to make such an arguement at all.

    Most modern citizens can do jack-all about North Korea executing a nuclear test. The impact we can have on a rather insane, insular government is trivial. This is a job for specialists in North Korea, in nuclear strategy, and for those who can apply force, espionage or economic threats to try to change North Korea’s policy.
    Meanwhile, business skills give individual citizens an option for earning their income in ways other than being an employee of some big corporation or government department (despite Ponderosa’s weird assertion above). They are also the basis of how we create wealth, and as voters we can have far more influence on our own countries’ governments’ polices than we can have on North Korea.

    Of course this is really an argument about the margins – over an education lasting multiple years there is time to fit in both some history and some business skills, but I don’t have the foggiest idea what the split should be, let alone with all the other subjects.

    The skills you’d learn from a liberal arts degree will allow you to understand the general principles underlying running a business–or any other area of human endeavor.

    An unsupported assertion. Many people with liberal arts degrees have made complete stuff-ups of various areas of human endeavour. The US President Nixon hardly covered himself with glory. Orwell’s theory of language as presented in Doublespeak in 1984 is wrong (where did he think that words came from?). Numerous liberals were fooled by Stalinist Russia. Gandhi’s economic theories sucked. On the other hand, people without liberal arts degrees have managed to make considerable progress in understanding general principles behind some area of human endevaour. For a start, early Maori engineers managed to re-design their forts to withstand musket fire. Polynesian navigators were managing trading routes across the Pacific long before European contact.

    Sharon R. – My best guess is that the Partnership for 21st century skills is entirely ignorant of education history and that people have been trying to do those skills for over a century.

  19. History vs business?…See this for an interesting analysis of the proper role of liberal arts in business education. The writer whose work I excerpt, Michael Hammer, was a noted management consultant credited with developing the concept of “business process reengineering.”

    Dr Hammer argues that undergraduates planning on a business career should *not* study business, but rather should intensively study both a scientific field and a rigorous humanities subject. He’s talking about college, but surely would make the same argument even more strongly for K-12 schools.

  20. Tracy W says:

    David Foster: going to your link It might seem odd to suggest that the works of Plato and Madison and Joyce prepare one for the twenty-first century, but they are constants in a world of change

    If studying Plato and Madisom are so awesome, how come all those European politicians raised on Ancient Greek and Latin and so forth coped so badly with WWI and the rise of Nazism? How come so many people with Oxbridge or Ivy League university educations got fooled by Communism? I find it hard to believe that if they’d added Joyce to their studies they’d’ve coped better. I don’t see that a liberal education was any great shakes at preparing one for the 20th century, so why should I think that one would be any better at preparing one for the 21st century?

    I don’t dispute his argument that one should not study business at university, but instead something more specific. I after all studied electrical engineering and economics with very little in the way of regrets. This is not to say that there’s no argument for doing a pure business course, my failure to see an argument is hardly evidence that it does not exist. I however do dispute his assertion that a liberal arts degree or a classical education is a good preparation for the 21st century.

    It does strike me as rather ironic that all these people proclaiming the advantages of liberal arts appear to have applied exactly zero critical thinking skills to their valuation of the liberal arts. There may be good explanations for the mistakes made by people with liberal art degrees, or it may be that people with liberal arts degrees do make less mistakes than people without, or with more specific degrees, but then the proponents of the liberal arts should be trying to supply those explanations, but I see no sign that they’re even aware of the questions.

    It is also bizarre that I apparently am the only one who even thinks about the trade-off betweeen business and history in terms of the margin, and considers that there might be benefits to studying both within a normal school, or university career, even if I don’t have a framework for thinking about the marginal benefits between different subjects.

  21. Ponderosa says:

    Tracy,

    By “soul” I do not mean “morality” –I mean depth and richness of mind and personality. I believe that reading great literature, philosophy, history –in short, the humanities –helps give this. I’ve met many who are technically proficient at some task but whose soul has been shaped by pop culture, and I feel these folks are lacking some important beauty and goodness. For them it’s work and mindless pleasure (Prozac, Xbox); it’s this that reminds me of Brave New World. Forget the economic utility of the liberal arts –what kind of HUMANS are our schools going to help produce?

  22. Tracy…”there might be benefits to studying both within a normal school, or university career”…I do agree with you on this. Mike Hammer’s proposal is an interesting one, but is probably not practical for most people, since it assumes (a)money & time to pursue both undergraduate & graduate degrees, and (b) HR people and hiring managers in business who are enlightened enough to understand the value of the course of studies Mike is suggesting.

    A very common career path for people in the VC industry, btw, is an electrical engineering undergrad degree followed by a later MBA.

  23. Tracy…also…good and important point about the fact that liberal arts education did not act as effective insulation against Nazi and Communist totalitarian beliefs. As a partial counter, I’d cite Friederick Meinecke, in his book “The German Catastrophe.”

    Meinicke cites a friend who oberved (just prior to Hitler’s takeover of Germany) that many “young technicians, engineers, and so forth, who have enjoyed an excellent university training as specialists will, will completely devote themselves to their calling for 10 or 15 years and without looking either to the right or the left will try only to be first-rate specialists”…but then, in their middle or late thirties, something awakens in them that Meinicke calls a “suppressed metaphysical desire”…”then they rashly seize upon any sort of ideas and activities…the former first-rate specialist changes into a kind of prophet, into an enthusiast, perhaps even into a fanatic and monomaniac.”

    In Meinicke’s belief (he was himelf a German) many converts to Naziism fit this mold…the specialist who finally decides to become involved in broader issues but lacks the education to think about them coherently.

  24. This is one of the dumbest arguments I’ve been in for a long time.

    > Actually, they’re not that different, but then I’ve worked at both.

    Andy, you may have worked at both, but you weren’t “running” them. “Running” the two is entirely different. Start-ups are usually based on capital investment, which gives the company a “runway” of time before it has to take off. Managing a startup has to do with timing your product development to match your runway of time before you have to start making a profit. Managing an established manufacturing company is about unit costs, efficiency, gross margins and so on. The skill sets aren’t at all similar, which is why startup entrepreneurs often find themselves out in the cold once the company gets established.

    > On the flip-side, no one *needs* to know history.

    Tracy, this is silly. I didn’t say you couldn’t make it through the day without knowing history, I specifically made the point that you couldn’t be an EFFECTIVE CITIZEN without knowing history. It’s absolutely foolish to think that a citizen ignorant of history (as you apparently prefer) could possibly be as effective as a citizen NOT ignorant of history.

    Arguing otherwise is crazy. Do you really think that a voter familiar with the history of the middle east didn’t have a better viewpoint on the war in Iraq than a voter ignorant of it? Do you really think that a voter with no idea of the history o the conflicts in North and South Korea can have a good appreciation of the significance of Kim’s nukes? Does an understanding of government policy (good and bad) from the Great Depression tell you nothing of use today?

    You’re in deep enough, quit digging.

  25. Tracy W says:

    Ponderosa,
    I’ve met many people who only studied literature, philosophy and history, never mathematics or the hard sciences. I feel that these people are lacking in some important beauty. I don’t know about goodness once you separate that from morality.
    I have also met people who dismiss all of modern pop culture as a waste of time, they also strike me as lacking in important beauty(remember that many of our classics were popular culture of their time, Shakespeare was the original hack writing for money, Jane Austen was entertaining herself with that trivial feminine entertainment of novels). Think of the poor people who dismiss all SF! Who never watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer or The Simpsons, or never read Terry Pratchett, out of snobbery.

    And I’ve worked with experienced tradesmen (as it happens all men) who never did liberal arts degrees. They have quite a different experience of the world to Arts Graduates, but it is a fascinating one. They see the world in a different way. For example, travelling with my husband through Asia he noticed a whole different world, he spent his time comparing and criticising chainsaw use techniques, he got on a boat in Vietnam and once assigned to our cabin immediately dismantled the window without unlocking it first, he comes up with observations on the interaction between building style and climate. He sees things that I’ve never heard someone with only a liberal arts degree comment on. He also misses some things, but it’s a different view of the world, not a poorer one.

    My grandfather had to drop out of school at age 14, and died before I have any memory of him more distinct than “someone really tall” but my parents travelled around the USA with him and they said he had this whole different view of what he saw, having been a farmer since age 14.

    The more you have experienced and learnt, I think, the more depth and richnesss of mind and personality you are likely to have. I don’t think there’s anything special about the liberal arts in that respect. I admit that my statement here is only based on my subjective experiences, but then so was your statement.

    And having played a fair few x-Box games, I don’t think there’s much that is mindless about the pleasure that they bring. Hard, but entertaining work, solving puzzles and the like. Consider Grand Theft Auto, one of the most popular XBox games. It not merely presents the performer with mental puzzles, it also presents moral dilemmas. Or the strategy involved in managing a whole football game given the new control technologies that software developed.

    Haven’t you noticed that popular culture has gotten far more intellectually demanding over the last few decades? For example, back in my childhood, TV series typically consisted of a set of disconnected stories, revolving around one or two main characters, with a simple plot that mostly consisted of “funny bit at the start, main story, funny bit at the end”. Nowadays they consider a far wider range of recurring characters (consider the cast of Heroes compared to McGyver), plots run for entire seasons or beyond, and stories are switched between multiple characters.
    Or consider entertainment TV. Back in my childhood we had static TV quiz shows where four people perhaps sat in chairs and answered trivia questions or guessed vowels. Now in reality TV we have people coming back show after show, challenges are varied and involve working together with people you’ve worked with in the past.

    TV and computer games are going in the opposite direction to “mindless pleasure”. I don’t see any reason to worry about a Brave New World because of them.

  26. Tracy W says:

    Rob: Tracy, this is silly. I didn’t say you couldn’t make it through the day without knowing history, …

    And I never said you did. I said you were not making a fair comparison. On the one hand you were saying that people should know history, on the other hand that there was no need to know how to weld or program a computer or run a business. I think that if you’re going to compare the merits of learning history to learning how to run a business, use the same measuring stick, don’t judge one by the standard of what we “should” know and the other by what we “need” to know. I threw in the bit about recovery from head injury in case you decided, in response to my criticism about inconsistent standards, to go with the “need” to know standard.

    I specifically made the point that you couldn’t be an EFFECTIVE CITIZEN without knowing history. It’s absolutely foolish to think that a citizen ignorant of history (as you apparently prefer) could possibly be as effective as a citizen NOT ignorant of history.

    Rob, I agree that you are being silly here, if you really do think that I prefer citizens being ignorant of history. After all, earlier in this thread I said that I had studied history at school, and regret not having the time to take some history courses at university. Throughout this thread I have been borrowing examples from history. The argument I am making here is about the relative merits of knowing marginally more history versus knowing marginally more about business. Or alternatively about the merits of knowing history at all versus the merits of knowing business at all, as you are apparently trying to turn this into an all-or-nothing game.

    Arguing otherwise is crazy.

    Good thing for me that I never argued such a thing in the first place, then, isn’t it?

    Do you really think that a voter familiar with the history of the middle east didn’t have a better viewpoint on the war in Iraq than a voter ignorant of it?

    Now you are muddling up the question of having a better viewpoint with being an effective citizen. A voter familiar with the history of the middle east may indeed well have a better viewpoint on the war with Iraq, but that doesn’t mean that they’re more likely to be an effective citizen just because of that better viewpoint. The question of what, if anything, to do about Iraq, is not merely about history, it’s also about the resources your country has that it could bring to bear, coalitions that could be made with other countries, the pros and cons of such coalitions, etc.

    Do you really think that a voter with no idea of the history of the conflicts in North and South Korea can have a good appreciation of the significance of Kim’s nukes?

    And here you are muddling up having a good appreciation with actually being an effective citizen. Do you really think that an ordinary voter (as opposed to a voter who also happens to be high up in the US State Department, or the equivalent for any other country that actually has the power to do something, eg China) can do anything effective about Kim’s nukes?

    Does an understanding of government policy (good and bad) from the Great Depression tell you nothing of use today?

    Two things here:
    1. Again you are muddling up knowing something of use with being an effective citizen.
    2. I think it is more plausible that knowing something about government policy from the Great Depression could be of use for an ordinary person when it comes to being an effective citizen than knowing something about the history of conflicts in North and south Korea. Domestic policy is more under the control of domestic citizens in a democracy than international affairs, which of course depend on the cooperation or not of other foreign governments, many of whom don’t give a fig about what their own citizens think, let alone what the citizens of the decadent West think.

    You also are failing to ask a set of questions about the merits of knowing something about business. Does experience with running a business really tell you nothing of use when it comes to debates about the tax depreciation rates? Does experience with running a business really tell you nothing of use when it comes to labour law and the placing of further paperwork obligations on business owners?

    I think that when it comes to making up our minds between two different options we should consider the pros and cons of each option, not just one.

    You’re in deep enough, quit digging.

    Rob, I’m surprised that you say this. It may be more valuable to teach history than business. But the best way I know of testing that argument, or any other argument, is to see how it stands up to the strongest arguments that critics can bring against it. This is not to say that I am mustering the strongest arguments possible, I am merely mustering the strongest arguments that I can think of, which is the best I can do. Telling me to stop digging implies that you care more about my image than about the truth. Well I’m the opposite, I’d far rather be thought a complete crazed nut than let sloppy thinking of the sort displayed here on this page go unchallenged. Even if I’m being totally silly, responding to my arguments can give proponents a far better understanding of their own arguments, and some increase in confidence that their propostion is more likely to be right.

    Why would proponents of the idea that teaching history is more valuable than teaching business not want to go through this testing process? Aren’t you interested in whether your proposition is true or not? Why would you value my image above finding out the truth, if, of course, that is your motivation?

  27. Andy Freeman says:

    > leaving the craft of teaching in the dust.

    > What I’d rather see: erudite teachers who have respect, autonomy and SUPPORT (in the realm of discipline and prep time, especially) who pursue rigorous uniform standards in non-uniform ways –ways determined by each teacher’s individual talents.

    I note that the ed school folks running public educatio didn’t do that. As to the “craft of teaching” that is supposedly disappearing, do you really think that we’re about to leave a golden age?

  28. Andy Freeman says:

    > Andy, you may have worked at both, but you weren’t “running” them

    Don’t be so sure.

    Of course, you wouldn’t be lecturing me about my supposed lack of experience if you don’t have said experience….

    > “Running” the two is entirely different.

    In some ways, but not in others.

    > Start-ups are usually based on capital investment, which gives the company a “runway” of time before it has to take off. Managing a startup has to do with timing your product development to match your runway of time before you have to start making a profit. Managing an established manufacturing company is about unit costs, efficiency, gross margins and so on.

    The observant reader will notice that the supposed differences are actually similarities. Startups that aren’t concerned with production fail. Manufacturing that isn’t concerned with new products or production techniques (both involve developement) are either making bricks or on their way out.

    The big difference is that startups don’t have a sufficient revenue stream.

    > The skill sets aren’t at all similar, which is why startup entrepreneurs often find themselves out in the cold once the company gets established.

    Actually, the reason that they get pushed out is that the board thinks that they’re not capable of pushing the company to the next level (or have failed push it to the target level).

  29. Tracy W says:

    David Foster, sorry, missed your comment earlier. Yes, people who specialised also could become Nazis, which was a bad way of dealing with the 20th century.
    Which turns the question of the value of liberal arts into a relative one – does a particular sort of education make people more or less likely to make bad decisions? I don’t have an answer to that one.

    And also, while I have never done a business degree, it does strike me that they are possibly quite different to an engineering degree in the terms of generalisation. To run an effective business you need to deal with quite a variety of things, from dealing with people to paying taxes, to setting up business processes, to setting up prices. This doesn’t strike me as particularly specialised. Of course I could be wrong.

    And returning to the specific point of teaching how to run a business, as well as history, although at the price of taking some time away from teaching history, this should presumably reduce the risk of someone becoming too specialised too early in their career and switching to some seductive systematic ideology in their thirties?

  30. > A voter familiar with the history of the middle east may indeed well have a better viewpoint on the war with Iraq, but that doesn’t mean that they’re more likely to be an effective citizen just because of that better viewpoint. The question of what, if anything, to do about Iraq, is not merely about history, it’s also about the resources your country has that it could bring to bear, coalitions that could be made with other countries, the pros and cons of such coalitions, etc.

    If I understand this dancing-on-the-head-of-a-pin argument correctly, you are saying that simply knowing more about a situation (having a “better viewpoint”) is no guarantee of making a better decision about that situation, because there is always more to know about the situation?

    Since we can’t know everything, there’s no profit in knowing anything?

    Fine, you win. By your definition, there is no point in further argument because we’ll never reach 100% understanding.

    >In Meinicke’s belief (he was himelf a German) many converts to Naziism fit this mold…the specialist who finally decides to become involved in broader issues but lacks the education to think about them coherently.

    I haven’t read the book, but what I’m arguing lines up pretty well with this. The US these days is full of people who write slogans on signs and generally feel compelled to participate in “broader issues”, but haven’t any fact to use when it comes to thinking about them “coherently”. Ignorance never serves and history has a wonderful way of smiting those who refuse to learn from it.

  31. Tracy W says:

    If I understand this dancing-on-the-head-of-a-pin argument correctly, you are saying that simply knowing more about a situation (having a “better viewpoint”) is no guarantee of making a better decision about that situation, because there is always more to know about the situation?

    Rob, I was saying three things here:
    – Firstly, a knowledge of history in and of itself is not sufficient to have an informed opinion on war in Iraq, or any other intervention in the Middle East. You also need to consider current political factors like the resources your own country has to bring to the mix, what a coalition with other countries would do, etc. It’s not just history.
    – As a practical matter, the contribution that the average citizen can make to foreign affairs is much lower than the contribution that the average citizen can make to their own domestic affairs.
    – Knowledge of what it is like to run a business is also valuable for being an effective citizen.

    As for this idea that you have introduced that “simply knowing more about a situation (having a “better viewpoint”) is no guarantee of making a better decision about that situation”, I was not intending to make that statement, and I certainly cannot see anything in what I wrote that supports such a statement, but now that you have brought it up, I agree that simply knowing more about a situation is no guarantee of making a better decision, I think that knowing more does increase the odds of a better decision, but I know plenty of cases of politicians in their own country who made bad political mistakes (eg Robert Muldoon, PM of NZ, and a very experienced operator in that market, called a snap election in 1984 that he badly lost). I don’t think we can ever guarantee that we will make a better decision. All we can hope for is to increase the odds.

    If you want me to believe that knowing more about a situation is a guarantee of making a better decision about that situation, can you please explain why so many politicans made bad decisions in terms of their own political futures in their own native countries? Can you please explain why the economics profession performed so badly in terms of predicting the recent economic crisis? How about the number of medical treatments that have turned out to be useless?

    Since we can’t know everything, there’s no profit in knowing anything?

    If you want me to believe this statement, then provide some reasoning behind it. Because at the moment it sounds to me like you’re being silly. Just because people do make mistakes doesn’t mean that we can’t grow our knowledge. How do you explain the rise in GDP per capita since the start of the Industrial Revolution in 1800 if there’s no profit in knowing anything? Surely that growth had something to do with an expansion of knowledge, eg things like how to construct a more efficient steam engine? Or take medicine. My life was saved by antibiotics. I fully accept that doctors can’t heal every single ill that ails us, but I am still convinced that I profited from the knowledge of the medical system.

    Fine, you win. By your definition, there is no point in further argument because we’ll never reach 100% understanding.

    Not by my definition. To quote myself:

    . Even if I’m being totally silly, responding to my arguments can give proponents a far better understanding of their own arguments, and some increase in confidence that their propostion is more likely to be right.

    Here I deliberately said that the proponents of a liberal arts education could gain in responding to my arguments even if I am being totally silly and never gain anything myself from it. I am arguing here that argument is worthwhile even if there is zero understanding on behalf of one party.

    And, even if I never agree with your argument that “Since we can’t know everything, there’s no profit in knowing anything?”, I would like to hear your arguments for it. Who knows, perhaps you have some stunning insight that will manage to convince me that there is some merit in your argument. Or some new insights. Or at least, even if you can’t actually support it, I can have a slight increase in confidence that my view is right.
    I would also like to hear your arguments for your statement that knowing more about a situation is a guarantee of making a better decision about that situation.

    Ignorance never serves and history has a wonderful way of smiting those who refuse to learn from it.

    Well how about you give all us ignoramuses a helping hand and start explaining why you believe that knowing more about a situation is a guarantee of being able to make better decisions about it? Or why you believe that if we can’t know everything about a situation, there’s no profit in knowing anything?

  32. Diana Senechal says:

    This is a very interesting discussion. I would say that some subjects are hard to “pick up” in adulthood. History is one. I have forgotten much of what I learned in my ninth-grade European history class, but the topics come to mind often, and with them many questions. The course gave me necessary background for the subsequent history courses I took.

    Learning history takes years, and the levels of knowledge and understanding build up over time. An adult with a history background knows how to build on it, how to fill in memory gaps, and most important of all, how to distinguish between what he or she does or does not know.

    History helps us understand history itself, as well as literature, government, other fields, and our own lives. Does it help us make good decisions? It can, up to a point. Nothing can protect us from mistakes and tragedies; but if we study the past, we may avoid some of the more obvious mistakes and see certain movements in perspective.

    It takes many years to develop such understanding. Adults often do not have time for that kind of sustained study. That is why the study of history in school is so important. Beyond that, it is interesting and rewarding. It gives us much to think about, and it helps us see what we need to learn.

  33. Tracy W says:

    Diana,
    I agree that learning history takes years. So does learning mathematics. So does learning accounting. So does learning economics. So does learning chemistry. So does learning anthropology. So does learning medicine. So does learning electrical engineering. All of those are also interesting subjecs that give us much to think about and help us to see what we need to learn.

    I will also note that while the study of history may help us understand literature, government, other fields and our own lives, so may many other fields of studies. The economic theory known as public choice explains a lot about government and other decision-making processes, other contributions economics makes are to understanding tax policy, regulation, environmental policy, etc. Psychology also makes many contributions to understanding literature, government, other fields and our own lives. Geography, all our lives are affected by the land on which we live and the weather which beats down on us. Etc.

    I took history at high school for three years, and enjoyed it greatly, and learnt a lot, and I still read history in my own time. Despite Rob’s best efforts, I still however consider that a school can, at least if it has access to suitably-skilled teachers (be that one teacher who knows something about both subjects, or two teachers, one experienced in history, one in business, or some other method), teach something about history and something about business. I think this is a decision that could be made on some assessment of the marginal benefits of more hours of each subject, as opposed to an all-or-nothing. And I see some potential merits in teaching students something about business, assuming that the teaching is of good quality, or in giving them experience in running their own business. After all it opens up options beyond getting a “safe” job in some government department or big corporation.