Tag: education

Is College a Gilded Cage?

Dylan Palmer | @dylanpalmer22

We’ve heard it all before. The mountainous debt, constant partying, and falling academic quality offered by many universities across the nation have begun to call the value of an undergraduate degree into question. Yet, more and more students head into college. Why are we, the nation’s youth, so prepared to cast ourselves into tens of thousands of dollars in debt for an increasingly devalued, but increasingly expensive, piece of paper? The answer is one part psychological and one part cultural – but all parts social.

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Education in Firearm Safety Will Limit Gun Violence

 Ellie McFarland | @El_FarAwayLand

As mass shootings make their rounds in the news, the conversation about gun control is on everyone’s minds. However, basic education in firearm safety often is not. Legislators and lobbyists run themselves ragged writing bills they think will pass. It is a game of Democrats and Republicans playing tug-of-war with the repealing and reinstatement of gun laws. It takes over TV and radio with shouty gun-nuts and weepy children. Commentators and journalists often forget the measures and laws to prevent shootings already exist. They forget the main issues contributing to gun violence are poverty and ineffective law enforcement. We will never solve these root issues because the politicians voting on them know little about poverty and law enforcement, and less about firearms.    Continue reading “Education in Firearm Safety Will Limit Gun Violence”

Privatized Education Will Save American Schools

Nickolas Roberson | United States

This past month of February, teachers in West Virginia, California, Colorado, Arizona, Kentucky, and Oklahoma have been leaving their classrooms to take part in strikes all in the name of increasing wages, compensation, and school funding. Their numbers ranged from the hundreds to the tens of thousands depending on the state. Their demands have ranged as well, from a salary increase of few thousand dollars to salary increase of $11,000 dollars, the grand sum of these demands is that teachers want more from the government– in the name of themselves, their families, and especially their students. However, rather than receiving more tax dollars from state and federal governments, there is a better, more sustainable solution; privatize the education system.

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Some Thoughts on the True Importance of Grades

Craig Axford | Canada

School is supposed to be about learning. Tests to determine whether we’ve learned how to do something may be unavoidable, especially when it comes to the so-called STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields. But even in those cases, grades should be part of a broader context that includes a degree of playfulness and creativity.

As a student myself, it’s impossible not to sound at least a little self-serving when it comes to the topic of grades, exams, and all the other various methods employed to evaluate us. Believe me, I understand society has an interest in making sure the desired information has been retained and that we are capable of using it appropriately. The certificate we frame to hang on our office wall needs to signal much more than merely the fact that we were able to scrape together enough money to pay our tuition.

But as great as our need to know that the professionals we encounter have at some idea what they’re talking about is, it’s at least as important that the fields they work in be populated with a few rebels who are willing to challenge prevailing opinions now and then. This doesn’t mean adopting skepticism for skepticism’s sake or rejecting the value of a good education. Rather, it calls for a strategic skepticism that rejects the orthodoxy that existing knowledge is sufficient.

We want our heretics to possess an understanding of conceptual weak spots and have the ability to look at old problems from new perspectives. Fostering the kind of playfulness, irreverence, and creativity this demands can be difficult in a traditional school setting. However, while it may be unrealistic to expect schools to abandon grades as an evaluation tool it’s not unrealistic to encourage students (and the rest of us) to stop seeing their grade point average as an adequate measure of their intelligence and potential future productivity.

Developing a firm understanding of a subject doesn’t always translate into an easy A. Arguably, for those truly willing to explore the philosophical and scientific thickets that lie at the heart of virtually every field it never does. Though Einstein developed the theory of relativity only after initially gaining an understanding of Newtonian physics, he did not endear himself to all his professors in the process. As his knowledge of physics grew, so did his understanding of the limits of the Newtonian worldview. His willingness to challenge settled thinking and ask difficult questions others could not answer made him a very difficult student indeed.

Likewise, Darwin was only able to formulate the theory of evolution by first becoming well informed about contemporary thinking about biology and geology. But first, he was a terrible medical student and a rather mediocre would-be divinity student with a tendency to take unrelated classes and develop hobbies like beetle collecting simply because he found them interesting. Had Darwin attended university now instead of in the 1820s, he could very easily have found himself enrolled for years, piling up student debt as he struggled to select a major.


The mission of any school should be to teach; the goal of any student should be to learn. But learning is a complex activity that involves the integration of new information that must be filtered through each student’s unique life experiences and personality. It is rarely if ever as linear a process as we tend to think it is. Given this reality, the correlation between “good students” and good grades is frequently as complicated at the ‘A’ end of the spectrum as it can be nearer the ‘F’ end.

A few years ago I took an osteology course to meet a requirement for my anthropology degree. It was the final year of an undergraduate program that included two degrees and that, for a variety of reasons, I was very much looking forward to finishing.

Cultural, not physical anthropology had been my focus. Bones were interesting but I didn’t see myself participating in any archaeological digs in the future. More problematic, however, was the expectation that students be able to very quickly identify bone fragments by the end of the course. Lab tests involved spending about 30 minutes with roughly 30 often very small pieces of teeth or bone, moving systematically from one to the other while the instructor timed us. I usually found myself spending the first 15 seconds at the next sample writing down my answer for the last one.

Given such identification probably involved hours of examination and discussion in the field, I seriously questioned the purpose of providing so little time with samples in the lab. It didn’t help that high-pressure tests requiring me to make very quick decisions also produce what I can only describe as mild panic attacks.

I barely passed the course, and then thanks only to an extra credit paper I wrote on the topic of rickets. But that paper enabled me to apply my cultural anthropology learning to osteology. To this day I still remember the results of much of my research for that extra credit assignment. In addition, due to the countless hours spent watching Youtube videos about the human skeleton and engaging with interactive anatomy programs, to say nothing of the time spent staring at images of Homo habilis and modern human bone fragments trying to identify the subtle differences between them, I can honestly say that my final grade did not reflect the amount of learning that took place that semester.


In his December 8th opinion piece in the New York Timesthe organizational psychologist Adam Grant argues it is among past students with grade point averages of 2.0–3.0 that we often find the best minds, not 4.0 or 1.0 and under. Grant writes:

Academic grades rarely assess qualities like creativity, leadership and teamwork skills, or social, emotional and political intelligence. Yes, straight-A students master cramming information and regurgitating it on exams. But career success is rarely about finding the right solution to a problem — it’s more about finding the right problem to solve.

In a classic 1962 study, a team of psychologists tracked down America’s most creative architects and compared them with their technically skilled but less original peers. One of the factors that distinguished the creative architects was a record of spiky grades. “In college our creative architects earned about a B average,” Donald MacKinnon wrote. “In work and courses which caught their interest they could turn in an A performance, but in courses that failed to strike their imagination, they were quite willing to do no work at all.” They paid attention to their curiosity and prioritized activities that they found intrinsically motivating — which ultimately served them well in their careers.

Anyone who has ever had to bring home a mediocre report card, let alone a downright disappointing one, has likely reminded their parents that Einstein had a reputation as a poor student or that Bill Gates and Steve Jobs were both university dropouts. Indeed, Grant provides his own list in his NY Times op-ed, pointing out that JK Rowling was a C student and Martin Luther King only ever received a single A.

Our parents were probably right to keep pressuring us to bring our GPA up. Though a great many great minds have been mediocre students, it doesn’t follow that mediocrity is necessarily an indicator of a mind functioning at the height of its potential. Usually, it’s just a sign of mediocrity.

Nonetheless, we need to be aware of what our grades are actually measuring, and in too many cases it is an ability to recite information we’ve heard or read rather than apply knowledge in new ways no one has previously thought of before. It’s one thing to know the dates marking great events in history or ace every spelling test, but it’s those able to apply the lessons of history to contemporary social problems or write great novels that really keep our culture marching forward.

If your goal is to graduate without a blemish on your transcript, you end up taking easier classes and staying within your comfort zone. If you’re willing to tolerate the occasional B, you can learn to program in Python while struggling to decipher “Finnegans Wake.” You gain experience coping with failures and setbacks, which builds resilience. ~ Adam Grant


Rule number five among the Dalai Lama’s 18 Rules for Living is “Learn the rules so you know how to break them properly.” Finding ways to produce the same or better outcomes more efficiently without causing yourself or others harm means first learning the path conventionally followed by others to get there.

But a willingness to apply the information that comes our way in the classroom — or anywhere else — in creative ways is necessarily going to be risky, even when we carry out our experiments “properly”. First of all, we may find out we were wrong. But as social creatures, perhaps what’s most threatening to us is our innate fear of rejection.

Credit: Anna Jordanous, University of Kent School of Computing — Science Daily

Others often don’t appreciate the fact that we’re thinking outside the box, even when we’re proven right in the end. In a classroom setting, our teachers may not approve. At work, it may mean getting called into the boss’ office for a lecture on following company procedures to the letter.

Unfortunately, both mistakes and rejection are inherent risks of the learning process. While we need to be mindful of the lines we choose to color outside of, we still need to be willing to wander beyond them now and then. The lessons that really stick with us, whether from the classroom or elsewhere, are the ones that involved the most growth. If we’re honest, those experiences almost never include a perfect grade.

Follow Craig on Twitter or read him on Medium.com


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The Tyranny and Failure of Coercive Paternalism

By John Keller | United States

Coercive Paternalism can be defined as intervention in cases where people’s choices of the means to achieving their ultimate ends are confused. An argument of this nature, notably by Sarah Conly, rests on four main points: (1) Such a view promotes individuals actual goals. (2) Coercive Paternalism is effective. (3) The benefits are worth the cost. (4) Coercive Paternalism is efficient. Coercive Paternalism offers an ambiguous and unclear argument that ignores many of the complexities of the issues.

The Argument For Paternalism

A Coercive Paternalist would make an argument such as this: (1) People want to live long and healthy lives. (2) Eating processed foods and consuming drugs hinders people from living long and healthy lives. (3) Thus, the government must ban certain foods and drugs to promote the goal of the individual. Assuming the premise to be true, a rather noncontroversial claim, logically the next step is to examine the second step of the argument. Does consuming drugs hinder people from wanting to live long and healthy lives?

Examine, for instance, veteran suicide and veterans who deal with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Marijuana has been instrumental, if not vital, to veterans dealing with the mental complications involved with going into combat. By denying veterans drugs to promote the ‘individuals’ goals, they are actually exacerbating the mental complications of veterans and creating an environment in which veterans are forced to live shorter, mentally unhealthy lives as they tragically fall victim to the grip of suicide. Is this outcome the promotion of ‘long and healthy lives’? No, and thus Coercive Paternalism is unable to provide the needs of individual citizens.

The Failure of Coercive Paternalism

As it is unable to provide the needs of the individual citizens, it can not be effective. Paternalism itself is the idea in which the government must assume a role similar to that of your parent because the individual is inadequate to take of themselves and make good choices. Are any two individuals the same? Are any two children raised the same? Even siblings are often raised differently as a parent learns more, realizes mistakes, and adjust in real time to the needs of their children. The government, however, can not operate in this way on an individual level. Instead, they institute a policy under the basis of ‘one shoe fits all’. A clear example of this is common core education. With more money in the education system, improvement has been rare to come by. RealClear Education reports, “Between 2013 and 2017, only five jurisdictions logged improvements in 4th-grade math and just three in 8th-grade math.” As no two individuals develop the same, no government program can claim to be for the benefit of every citizen.

The theorized benefits of paternalism, that cannot apply to every citizen due to the nature of individuality, are not worth the cost. From 2013-2017, a total of $375,577,635,000 was spent federally, with an additional $840,757,185,970 spent in the same time frame by the states. In 2013, roughly 62,146,000 children went to school. That means that between 2013-2017, a total of $1,216,334,820,000 was spent on 62,146,000 school age children, or roughly $19,572.21 per student. As a result of paternalism, $1.2 trillion was spent to see only eight jurisdictions see an increase in math skills of America’s youth.

With the cost not being worth the near invisible benefits, Coercive Paternalism fails to also be effective. While it is not effective, it also fails to be efficient. Prohibition has historically failed to be efficient. The Eighth Amendment, passed in 1917 and ratified in 1919, was passed to prohibit the sales, transportation, importation, and exportation of “intoxicating liquors”, also known, more commonly, as alcohol. During the Prohibition Era, drinking remained constant. It is very likely that it not only stayed at the pre-prohibition levels but that drinking increased following the prohibition. When the government stopped sanctioning the legality of the alcohol industry and its services, it was forced to go into an underground state, run by speakeasies throughout the nation. The people reverted to the black market to get the products they desired, proving government regulation of the market to be inefficient. Furthermore, the government prohibition on the use of marijuana proved again to be a failure for the U.S government. Historically speaking, prohibition has always been ineffective.

Coercive Paternalism fails to promote the individual’s actual goals, is not effective, and is not worth the cost. The theory of Coercive Paternalism offers a simple answer to the complexities of society that fails to respect an individuals rights, needs, and the pursuit of happiness.


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