Begging the Question on Education

Shoshana Zuboff says Hillary Clinton is banking on a system of superdelegate elites overriding the will of the people and criticizes this mentality:

With tens of millions of blogs, 211 million Internet users, and more than two hundred million cell phones, these folks don’t want to be cogs in some vast machinery of Big Politics or Big Business. They want a voice and they want their voices to matter. They don’t want to simply take orders; they do want to make a difference.

With the idea of a people averse to taking orders I heartily agree, though I do not think superdelegates would ever have the power to overturn a clear win. The American tradition of liberty and the voice of the governed is very powerful, even if the people can be misled, manipulated and deceived. We may be fickle idiots, but it really is crucial for our voices to at least be heard and our concerns to be taken seriously if we shout louder present them rationally.

However, Zuboff hinges her discussion of Hillary Clinton’s (perhaps reprehensible) hope on the premise of the people being educated:

Since the last brokered Democratic convention at mid-century, the huddled masses have been reborn as a nation of wired individuals. The greatest symbol of this shift is education. In 1900, only 2.3% of the United States’ young adults were enrolled in college. By 1940 that proportion had inched up to 9.1%, but by the end of the century it had exploded to 55.7%.

With this I cannot but cordially disagree. I shall assume her figures are correct, but her argument contains the logical fallacy of begging the question: she uses the proposition of university and college enrolment entailing real education to prove under the cover that our vast masses really are educated. I take issue with such an argument, to which she seems either to have paid little attention or swept under the rug in the spirit of catering to the crowd’s demand for numbers that don’t actually mean anything without explanation.

Since she goes to the trouble of highlighting these facts, I should hope she would not fall into the useless-numbers trap. It is certainly true that in ages past higher education has been a preserve of the few, but I do not think a system that has undergone John Dewey’s abuse and pushes a majority through into middle-classdom really means anything of substance to our ability to make the right decisions. Might — or numbers — does not make right, regardless of whether it comes from the top or the bottom.

I’m not saying Hillary is definitely not elitist or ruthless, but pointing to the schooling of the American people does little to speak for this assertion. Indeed we may just be held captive to a system that short-changes us of real education and make us technocrats who feel educated as long as we hold to the orthodoxy of an ill-justified vision of “progress” and “change”. Change is good only if it actually makes things better. This may be a near-tautology, but think about what change makes things better and what change makes things worse.

Chances are, if things are not at their worst, many kinds of changes could make things worse. Therefore we must do more than chant for change and say “Yes, we can!” about it. Things may be bad now, but a regime change does not imply real progress. Real education should enable us to think clearly about the issues that face us, even if ultimately the problem is much more complex than our solutions. Real education should enable us to think about being a virtuous nation and not just a superficially prosperous but fundamentally diseased one. Real education should enable us to think of this reality in light of a higher one.

Now do I jump ship because no one in these hallowed halls sees education that way? Not if it’s redeemable inside the system, unless by staying I would be putting many in danger. I need to assess education and see what I shall do about it.

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9 responses to “Begging the Question on Education

  1. Bravo. Perhaps reference/write a post about the purpose of education for us mortals to read? What do you mean about our country being fundamentally diseased?

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  2. Tim — The disease is simple: affluenza and the immorality it enables by placing the focus on the material world and blinding us to how things affect our souls.

    As for education, that one is something I’m still trying to figure out even more than other uncertainties, but this article on classical schooling may help. I believe, however, that in America this mode of education has a lot of biases to counteract before it will appear as legitimate for “the masses” as for the “elite”. Affluenza is part of the problem for many people, and this kiasu attitude, however much we associate it with Asians, is definitely with everyone else too.

    May it never be that no one contemplates goodness, truth and nobility because the proles find no use for it and the upper class think it an anti-progressive anachronism. Nevertheless, when it comes to the cases of certain people the issue gets much stickier. There are brave and noble people who seem to have no time to spend units on some “useless” components of education, owing to their circumstances, except insofar as it helps fulfil graduation requirements.

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  3. I disagree with the idea that superdelegates will somehow overturn the will of the people if they do not support the pledged delegate winner. Here’s why:

    1. This race has been incredibly close. Hillary and Barack are within 2% of each other in terms of pledged delegates and <1% in terms of popular vote. These numbers will get smaller as the race continues since most remaining states and Puerto Rico favor Hillary. Either way, 50% of the people participating in the Democratic Nomination process will be disappointed.

    2. The pledged delegate winner may not end up with the popular vote majority, and many Democrats are still very upset that Gore won the popular vote and still didn’t win the presidency due to some bureaucratic method used to allocate votes.

    3. A contest as close as this one is why the superdelegate exists. When no one candidate has emerged as a dominant front runner, it is their duty to determine which candidate is best for the party. The majority of Obama’s votes come from states that have voted Republican for decades (i.e. the Midwest and the South), while many of Hillary’s are large swing states (i.e. Florida, Ohio, New Mexico and probably Pennsylvania).

    4. Obama’s pledge delegate lead, assuming he retains it, will be illegitimate if Florida and Michigan are not sorted out. If both hold new primaries and Hillary wins both, then CNN projects that the delegate lead will evaporate.

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  4. In our church, many families have opted to take part in homeschooling for their children, which takes them out of the kiasuness of our local academic environment — a big step, because, being Asian, we all just love being kiasu to the point of addiction.

    The syllabus that is popularly used consists of probably equal teaching on God as opposed to academic material. It is still relatively new here and was maybe viewed initially with skepticism on whether it was workable, owing to the high involvement of parents, and whether the contents would be sufficient for students to carry on to higher institutions of learning, not to mention it being conducted in English and our children losing out on fluency in our national language. But it looks to me that the youths, the products of homeschooling seem to have turned out very well if not better, being confident yet God-grounded young people.

    I believe that the more we know, the more we should be humbled, because there is just so much more that we know we do not know. Education is not just about going through the process and acquiring recognition but it is also about how to use that knowledge to think and to reason wisely. It is also about becoming a person with better character than when we started with.

    Otherwise the acquisition of more knowledge just makes for a puffed-up person or an “educated” criminal. So does formal education make a man educated? Not necessarily. Wisdom is to be greatly desired. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.

    Btw, I believe you have the gift of teaching and the gift of nudging people into digging deeper into the surface of their education.

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  5. Joe — You’re right, I don’t think it a big deal for superdelegates to break a statistical tie.

    »states that have voted Republican for decades (i.e. the Midwest and the South)«

    A quibble, but I would not characterize the upper Midwestern states Minnesota, Wisconsin and Illinois that way.

    Virginia’s also a state to watch: because of Northern Virginia it’s been blue-shifting (not in the astronomical sense, of course), and I expect it to follow through this time with a blue vote. Despite being a Republican stronghold in the past, it’s becoming at least a swing state.

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  6. Auntie — Well said. There is no education without the things of God: truth, wisdom, justice, mercy, and the grace for them all.

    »In our church, many families have opted to take part in homeschooling for their children, which takes them out of the kiasuness of our local academic environment.«

    I, too, would like to homeschool if I had a wife who felt up to it — yet another reason to marry someone I view as an intellectual equal. Almost no school outside, state or private, meets my specifications for intellectual depth and worthwhile intensity, while the vast majority are either sleep camps or pressure cookers that make people feel educated. For both, self-esteem and “socialization” are idols.

    »The syllabus that is popularly used consists of probably equal teaching on God as opposed to academic material.«

    I firmly believe you can do both without trying to “balance” things. The reason is that education is not indoctrination: a truly godly education will lead the student to truth, and the truth will set him free. Of course, such a programme is still hard to strike on target, but people trying to be a Confucian junzi or a Platonic guardian will find that the Logos is the Way.

    »whether the contents would be sufficient for students to carry on to higher institutions of learning«

    It’s a concern for me, too, because I believe my kids, if God entrusts me with any, will serve most effectively for their gifts if they attend Chicago or other such universities, but I hear people who have undergone Classical Christian education generally do much better than their peers. I don’t fear for their test scores, either.

    Now the major issue is figuring out the cultural tradition in which to teach them to learn, as well as the primary language medium. I’m loath to speak English at home unless I marry a non-Chinese, but I think I’ll pretty much have to if they’re to acquire mastery of English.

    »Education is not just about going through the process and acquiring recognition but it is also about how to use that knowledge to think and to reason wisely. It is also about becoming a person with better character than when we started with. Otherwise the acquisition of more knowledge just makes for a puffed-up person or an “educated” criminal.«

    Word. We forget that these goals are not isolated from “the rest of education”: they are education. Education isn’t about jumping the hoops to get a Ph.D. or an M.D. or a J.D. or an M.B.A. and securing a place in the upper middle class or even primarily “a [physical] living” for parents and kids.

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  7. Pingback: Schooling: Make it Useful « Cogito, Credo, Petam

  8. Homeschooling is almost like having children or getting married. The more informed we are and the more we think about it, the more afraid we will be to take the plunge. See what Paul says in 1 Cor. 7:8. 😀

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  9. It’s important to be better informed about God and His wonders than about the workings of homeschooling. Not that I loved Caesar less, but that I loved Rome more, as Brutus would say.

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