Students Forced to “Sit and Stare”
At Nathan Hale High School in Seattle, Washington, not one junior took Common Core Smarter Balanced (SBAC) standardized tests this spring. At four other Seattle high schools, district officials said about 95% of juniors refused to take the tests.
Seattle-area juniors boycotted tests because they aren’t needed in order to graduate from high school and because it is predicted that between 60-70% of students will fail. Students are using refusal as a protest against too much standardized testing. Sophomores must take the test because the reading portion is a graduation requirement.
Teachers at Nathan Hale High School planned to boycott the exams but changed their minds when state and district officials intervened. (Seattle Times, 4-28-15)
The claim that the U.S. Department of Education could withhold funding under No Child Left Behind if not enough students take the mandated tests is disputed.
Punishing Students for Opting Out
Many parents feel that the education system is too focused on standardized tests and that classroom activity focuses mainly on what will appear on tests. Some frustrated parents feel that opposition to Common Core is futile because no one seems to be listening to their concerns. Many believe the last hope to control their children’s education that parents have is to protect them from taking tests.
At a time when unprecedented numbers of students are opting out of taking spring 2015 standardized tests, controversy has emerged concerning what those students who opt out are allowed to do while other students take tests. In some schools, students must sit quietly with no alternative activity while others take tests. Even young students are not allowed to read or draw. They can only sit. And stare.
Some are calling this punishment for opting out.
In many cases parents couldn’t keep students at home on testing days for fear of repercussions over truancy.
Defending his decision to make students sit and stare, allowing no alternative activity to taking the assessments, Brian Schmitt, superintendent of the Genesee Valley Central School District in western New York, said of students opting out of testing, “We were not going to reward them by having them do something that other students may perceive as either fun or more interesting than taking the assessment, because that’s not fair to kids who were doing the right thing.”
In New York, there are three days of Students Forced to “Sit and Stare” math tests and three of English language arts, for a total of six days; each day’s test lasts 90 minutes.
Richard Hughes, the superintendent of Central Valley, New York schools makes students sit and stare for the first thirty minutes with the test booklet in front of them before allowing them to read quietly at their desks. About 40% of Central Valley students refused to take the English assessment.
Is it Bullying?
At some schools in New York, educators have been inundated with emails asking that they stop making students sit and stare. A few parents put signs on their minivans asking that the procedure be stopped. One parent’s minivan had a sign on which was written, “Central Valley sit and stare policy” next to two frowning faces.
Some superintendents feel that parents who opt their students out of tests and protest the sit and stare policies are behaving in a “bullying” manner.
But others wonder who might actually be doing the bullying, when schools try to force testing on children whose parents don’t believe in them and have no confidence in the tests’ efficacy. One parent said about bullying, “Honestly, we believe that’s what sit and stare is.”
In some schools students who are not taking the tests are allowed to go to the library or another designated location to read.
It is estimated that about 150,000 out of over one million New York students opted out of testing this year, which is more than double the number from last year. (New York Times, 4-23-15)
The 95% Controversy
Pressure from the federal government is causing trouble for local districts.
A May 6, 2015 letter to the editor published in Education Week states, “There is no reasonable basis in federal law for recent U.S. Department of Education threats to punish states, districts, or schools if significant numbers of parents opt their children out of standardized tests.” Letter writer Monty Neill, the Executive Director of FairTest, criticizes “dubious claims about potential sanctions made by Education Department staff members,” who are trying to scare states and districts. He says, “Federal officials are fabricating threats to discourage parents from opting out.”
“The original No Child Left Behind Act did state that 95% of students must take the test for a school to make adequate yearly progress. If they did not, the school faced sanctions. However, NCLB sanctions no longer apply to schools in the vast majority of states that have waivers from the federal law. In the few non-waiver states, virtually all schools have failed to make adequate yearly progress, so they face no additional risk from not meeting the rule on 95% participation.”
In Idaho, the Madison School District’s board of trustees voted unanimously in February against giving third-grade through high-school students the Idaho Standards Achievement Test, the fancy alternate name Idaho assigned to the federally funded Smarter Balanced (SBAC) Common Core tests. The district planned to offer an alternative test that is shorter, cheaper to administer, and gets results back to schools faster.
But the superintendent and board reversed their decision when state officials in Boise claimed that Madison’s refusal to use SBAC could cost the state millions of dollars. They said that Idaho is required to have 95% of students take the Common Core test or lose their No Child Left Behind waiver, which the federal Dept. of Education issued and which allows the state to fail to meet federal educational requirements and benchmarks.
40% of Madison district parents opted students out of SBAC tests. The district will allow use of alternative methods of assessment and allow students who opt out of standardized testing to pass on to the next grade level and to eventually graduate. The Madison superintendent said, “We’ve honored every parent opt out request because we believe it’s a parent’s right.”
But accommodating students has angered other Idaho districts. The superintendent of Bonneville district says, “You can’t legally do that . . . they can’t opt them out, it’s against the law.” (IdahoEdNews.org, 4-22-15)
The Washington Post reported on April 20 that schools in 20 states have had problems administering the computer-based tests.
Schools Hold Key to Christian Decline
While some say it is a mistake to make too much of the recently announced results of the Pew Research Center survey of American’s religious affiliations over the last seven years, it is nonetheless notable that the number of those identifying as Christian has dropped from 78.4% in 2007 to 70.6% in 2014.
While public prayer and Bible reading are banned in government schools, secular humanism is not banned, although some believe it to be a religion of sorts. Secular humanism is promoted in the policies and administration of many schools.
As Dr. Dennis Cuddy wrote in 2007, “For the last two centuries, there has been in the U.S. a battle between the Biblically-based values of the American Revolution and the secular humanists’ values of the French Revolution. . . .” Dr. Cuddy stated eight years ago that “while surveys show most Americans claim to believe in Biblical religion, in practice, a growing number of younger people are really secular humanists.” This decline is directly related to what students are taught, or not taught, in the nation’s classrooms.
Cuddy explained that in 1930, Charles Francis Potter authored Humanism, A New Religion. Potter wrote:
“Education is thus a most powerful ally of humanism and every American public school is a school of humanism. What can the theistic Sunday schools, meeting for an hour once a week and teaching only a fraction of the children, do to stem the tide of a five-day program of humanistic teaching?”
Potter, along with John Dewey, the father of progressive education, signed the first Humanist Manifesto in 1933. The primary affirmation of the Manifesto states, “Religious humanists regard the universe as self-existing and not created.”
The second affirmation is that of belief in evolution. As Cuddy wrote, “Sir Julian Huxley, the United Nations Education, Scientific, and Cultural Organization’s (UNESCO) first director-general, would later explain, humanism’s ‘central concept, to which all its details are related, is evolution.’” (NewsWithViews.com, 11-7-07)
The Pew Research Center reports that although the “drop in Christian affiliation is particularly pronounced among young adults, it is occurring among Americans of all ages. The same trends are seen among whites, blacks and Latinos; among both college graduates and adults with only a high school education; and among women as well as men.” (PewForum.org, 5-12-15)
It is notable that the Pew survey found only a 1% decrease in the number of Evangelical Christians since 2007. This is the group most likely to send their children to Christian schools and to homeschool. Whether or not there might be a correlation in adhering to faith is yet to be established.
Spying on Students
Even as parents become increasingly worried about their children’s personal security and privacy, spying on students is increasing. States who signed on to use Common Core standards must also participate in federally mandated collection of longitudinal data that is personally identifiable to individual students. This “permanent record” puts everyone one step closer to being tracked in the new cradle-to-grave social order. The Common Core College and Career standards demand tracking from the first day that children begin school.
Cybersleuths are scanning students’ posts on social media sites and their emails during this spring’s standardized test-taking season. Private security companies watch for any leak of test questions.
Schools and colleges also monitor students, looking for anything from negative comments about school employees, to bullying, or threats to harm themselves or someone else.
Students use their actual names and post personal information, such as where they live and attend school, on Facebook and Twitter. But even when students try to be anonymous, surveillance software is being used to figure out which student is posting by use of process of elimination among groups of friends, by piecing together mentions of class schedules, and other methods.
“School districts and colleges across the nation are hiring private companies to monitor students’ online activity, down to individual keystrokes, to scan their emails for objectionable content, and to scrutinize their public posts on Twitter, Facebook, Vine, Instagram, and other popular sites,” according to Politico.
It is important that students don’t cheat on standardized tests. Alerting test takers in advance about questions constitutes cheating. But how far can schools go? Hiring outside companies to spy on students is a slippery slope. Scanning emails to look for “objectionable content,” going as far as monitoring websites students visit, and other tracking may have gone too far.
Some states are trying to protect students by enacting laws. Even the American Federation of Teachers union asks that Pearson Education “stop spying on our students.” But laws enacted and pending in California, Illinois, Michigan, Utah, New York, and Maryland would reportedly only protect students when they post anonymously. Parents must be extra vigilant about what children post publicly and be aware that “big brother” may be watching and recording. (Politico.com, 3-21-15)
A Single Homogenous Opinion on Campus
An April 2015 article at the The Onion, a satirical news website, celebrates a (fictitious) school that “encourages a lively exchange of one idea.” Facetiously telling about an invented college, The Onion reported that the (fake) university president said, “As an institution of higher learning, we recognize that it’s inevitable that certain contentious topics will come up from time to time, and when they do, we want to create an atmosphere where both students and faculty feel comfortable voicing a single homogeneous opinion.”
The Onion parody may strike a chord because it is quite close to the truth at many universities. Those who don’t spout accepted progressive mantras find themselves ostracized or silenced at some institutions of higher learning. And a vocal minority can sometimes exert unwarranted power and control.
Colleges today are havens of left-wing thought and those who go against the flow are often discriminated against. Political correctness sometimes runs rampant on campus.
Protect Us From Chick-fil-A
Several colleges have banned Chick-fil-A restaurants simply because the CEO dared to express support for the idea that marriage should remain between one man and one woman. The Student Government Association at Johns Hopkins University is so outraged that a business owner might hold a differing viewpoint about gay marriage than their support of it, that they passed a resolution to deny Chick-fil-A a (hypothetical) spot on campus, although no such project was ever initiated at the Baltimore university. The student government statement said that “visiting prospective and current students, staff, faculty, and other visitors who are members of the LGBTQ+ community or are allies would be subjected to the microaggression of supporting current or future Chick-fil-A development plans.” (TheCollegeFix.com, 4-23-15)
A Cooperative Institutional Research Program survey of 2012 incoming full-time college freshmen found that 75% believe “same-sex couples have a legal right to marry.”
At many colleges, “trigger warnings” are becoming a common way to “protect” students. A trigger warning is a device employed to warn students that something proposed to be discussed or addressed might upset them. An example would be discussing literature that may touch on the subjects of racism, sexism, or homophobia.
One journalist suggests that this sort A Single Homogenous Opinion on Campus of “lethal political correctness” might alarm those who have actually e x p e r i e n c e d authoritarianism or fled from repressive societies. Writing in Commentary magazine (5- 6-15), Michael Rubin suggests some “might need trigger warnings for the trigger warnings.” Rubin writes, “in order to protect the mental well-being of those who value liberty, intellectual freedom, and oppose censorship, perhaps it’s time to agree to put trigger warnings ahead of trigger warnings to ensure that no one is inadvertently stressed out by the decline in mental and intellectual maturity and the infantilization of society which trigger warnings represent.”
U. of Michigan and Paddington Bear
The Clint Eastwood-directed movie American Sniper was a hit in theaters and was nominated for several Academy Awards. It tells the story of Navy Seal Chris Kyle, seen by many as a hero. But some students at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor not only chose not to see the movie when a proposed campus screening was offered, they wanted to be certain other students were denied the opportunity to view it. Students, including members of the Muslim Student Association, signed a letter of protest that they sent to the group planning to show the movie. That group cancelled American Sniper.
The University of Michigan student participation group that originally chose to screen American Sniper is described at the campus website as offering “a variety of programs such as arts and crafts, live entertainment, recreational sports, movies, dances, and many other social events catering to the interests of a diverse student population.”
When they received the protest letter, they cancelled the showing, saying, “the impact of the content was harmful, and made students feel unsafe and unwelcome at our program.” Apparently believed in this case a trigger warning wouldn’t sufficiently protect the delicacy of some students.
But other students made known their opposition to the replacement of American Sniper with a screening of the children’s animated movie Paddington, about a make-believe bear. Their letter
to administration said, “As adults at a public university, we should have the option to view this movie if we so choose and have the opportunity to engage on the topics it presents to come to our own conclusions on the subjects.”
The decision to cancel American Sniper didn’t stand. University administrators overruled the cancellation and the movie was shown as originally scheduled. In the end, University of Michigan administrators opted to screen both American Sniper and Paddington, and let the students make their own choice.
Michigan’s head football coach, Jim Harbaugh, said that regardless of what the administration decided, the football team would watch American Sniper. Harbaugh said he is “Proud of Chris Kyle and proud to be an American. And if that offends anybody, then so be it!”
Harbaugh was immediately criticized by Muslim students and later attended a campus meeting with 15 of them. Harbaugh and the students had no comment after the 90-minute meeting that included the coach’s boss and a university vice president. (Detroit Free Press, 5-20-15)
It should be noted that the protest petition that nearly resulted in the Chris Kyle movie being banned on campus was signed by a few more than 200 students. Over 43,000 students attend the university.
A year ago, when University of Michigan President Mark Schlissel took that job, he said in his inaugural address:
“This is what great universities do: we encourage all voices, no matter how discomforting the message. It takes far more courage to hear and try to understand unfamiliar and unwelcome ideas than it does to shout down the speaker. You don’t have to agree, but you have to think.”
President Schlissel and his administration should be praised for following through on this important aspect of students’ experience.
Parents of children attending Fairfax County, Virginia schools are unhappy that the school board voted to allow teachers and students use of bathrooms and locker rooms of their choosing, regardless of sex. Erroneously interpreting provisions of Title IX, the Dept. of Education threatened to pull $47 million, or 1.7% of the district’s budget, in federal funding, if they did not comply. Students who call themselves “transgender” will be allowed to decide whether they are male or female, regardless of their biological makeup, and use whichever facilities they choose. (Washington Times, 5-7-15)
The Washington Post reports that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation put more than $10 million in additional funding into Common Core in the past seven months, including $3.7 million given to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to be used for public relations campaigns to counter negative reactions to the national standards. (5-12-15)
The U.S. Dept. of Education (DoE) supports curriculum that encourages students to “develop their sociopolitical awareness” by having them write letters to all involved in the Michael Brown incident in Ferguson, MO and to create a Memorial to “honor” him “and other people who have been victims of police and other violence” on classroom bulletin boards. A division of the DoE, the White House Initiative for Educational Excellence for African Americans, tweeted a link to a Huffington Post article suggesting the above activities, along with further links to #HipHopEd, #FergusonSyllabus, and “social justice” organizations.
In May, police found the partially clothed 45-year-old principal of Mavericks Charter School of Palm Springs, Florida in the back seat of a car with one of her students. The female principal and the 18-year-old male student were arrested when marijuana, rolling papers, and a lighter were discovered. (NBC, 5-8-15)
Book of the Month
Letters From John Dewey/Letters From Huck Finn: A Look At Math Education From the Inside, Barry Garelick, William R. Parks Publishing, 2014, $7.95
The “math wars” — debates between those who want students to learn math in a traditional manner and those who prefer what has been called “fuzzy math” — have gone on for decades. This book explains what each side of the argument wants.
Garelick discounts those who claim “the old ways of teaching math were just rote memorization, with no understanding.” He believes that “procedural fluency leads to understanding; once you’re able to do certain procedures, its easier to understand why they work.” Memorization must be combined with inquiry in order to make connections.
To relay his experiences as a retired federal employee with a degree in math who returned to school to get an education degree, Barry Garelick wrote anonymous letters using the name “John Dewey,” a progressive educator whose theories are a cornerstone of many American teacher education programs.
While doing his student teaching and working as a substitute teacher, Garelick took the name “Huck Finn” and described his “experiences rafting along the ideological, political, and cultural river known as math education.”
Although his observations (originally written as blog posts) are sometimes glib, the subject matter isn’t amusing. Garelick found that those in charge of teacher training showed “a significant and depressing lack of understanding of what math is about.”
The author identifies influence from the the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) as a major problem with math education. The NCTM strongly informs teacher training and math textbooks, but doesn’t believe in memorization. It is foolish to believe students can learn math without memorizing basic arithmetic facts.
Most schools adhere to NCTM and the NCTM fully supports the untested and unwieldy Common Core math standards.
In one example of mathematical wrongheadedness, Garelick addresses a textbook series that millions of students in the U.S. use during their K-12 years, called Everyday Mathematics.
The Teacher’s Reference Manual for this McGraw-Hill series states that students do not need to learn “paper-and-pencil algorithms for all possible whole number, fractions, and decimal division problems.” Why? Because “quotients can be found quickly and accurately with a calculator.” This math program introduces calculators in kindergarten.
Students won’t understand math when it is taught that way. Two programs that Garelick likes are Singapore Math and Saxon Math.
FOCUS: Why America’s Obsession with STEM Education is Dangerous
by Fareed Zakaria
Originally published in the The Washington Post, on March 26, 2015. Reprinted with permission.
If Americans are united in any conviction these days, it is that we urgently need to shift the country’s education toward the teaching of specific, technical skills. Every month, it seems, we hear about our children’s bad test scores in math and science — and about new initiatives from companies, universities, or foundations to expand STEM courses (science, technology, engineering, and math) and deemphasize the humanities. From President Barack Obama on down, public officials have cautioned against pursuing degrees like art history, which are seen as expensive luxuries in today’s world. Republicans want to go several steps further and defund these kinds of majors. “Is it a vital interest of the state to have more anthropologists?” asked Florida’s Gov. Rick Scott. “I don’t think so.” America’s last bipartisan cause is this: A liberal education is irrelevant, and technical training is the new path forward. It is the only way, we are told, to ensure that Americans survive in an age defined by technology and shaped by global competition. The stakes could not be higher.
This dismissal of broad-based learning, however, comes from a fundamental misreading of the facts — and puts America on a dangerously narrow path for the future. The United States has led the world in economic dynamism, innovation, and entrepreneurship thanks to exactly the kind of teaching we are now told to defenestrate. A broad general education helps foster critical thinking and creativity. Exposure to a variety of fields produces synergy and cross fertilization. Yes, science and technology are crucial components of this education, but so are English and philosophy. When unveiling a new edition of the iPad, Steve Jobs explained that “it’s in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough — that it’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the result that makes our hearts sing.”
Innovation is not simply a technical matter but rather one of understanding how people and societies work, what they need and want. America will not dominate the 21st century by making cheaper computer chips but instead by constantly reimagining how computers and other new technologies interact with human beings.
For most of its history, the United States was unique in offering a well-rounded education. In their comprehensive study, “The Race Between Education and Technology,” Harvard’s Claudia Goldin and Lawrence Katz point out that in the 19th century, countries like Britain, France, and Germany educated only a few and put them through narrow programs designed to impart only the skills crucial to their professions. America, by contrast, provided mass general education because people were not rooted in specific locations with long-established trades that offered the only paths forward for young men. And the American economy has historically changed so quickly that the nature of work and the requirements for success have tended to shift from one generation to the next. People don’t want to lock themselves into one professional guild or learn one specific skill for life.
That was appropriate in another era, the technologists argue, but it is dangerous in today’s world. Look at where American kids stand compared with their peers abroad. The most recent international test, conducted in 2012, found that among the 34 members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the United States ranked 27th in math, 20th in science and 17th in reading. If rankings across the three subjects are averaged, the United States comes in 21st, trailing nations such as the Czech Republic, Poland, Slovenia, and Estonia.
In truth, though, the United States has never done well on international tests, and they are not good predictors of our national success. Since 1964, when the first such exam was administered to 13-year-olds in 12 countries, America has lagged behind its peers, rarely rising above the middle of the pack and doing particularly poorly in science and math. And yet over these past five decades, that same laggard country has dominated the world of science, technology, research, and innovation.
Consider the same pattern in two other highly innovative countries, Sweden and Israel. Israel ranks first in the world in venture-capital investments as a percentage of GDP; the United States ranks second, and Sweden is sixth, ahead of Great Britain and Germany. These nations do well by most measures of innovation, such as research and development spending and the number of high-tech companies as a percent of all public companies. Yet all three countries fare surprisingly poorly in the OECD rankings. Sweden and Israel performed even worse than the United States on the 2012 assessment, landing overall at 28th and 29th, respectively, among the 34 most- developed economies.
But other than bad test-takers, their economies have a few important traits in common: They are flexible. Their work cultures are non-hierarchical and merit-based. All operate like “young” countries, with energy and dynamism. All three are open societies, happy to let in the world’s ideas, goods, and services. And people in all three nations are confident — a characteristic that can be measured. Despite ranking 27th and 30th in math, respectively, American and Israeli students came out at the top in their belief in their math abilities, if one tallies up their responses to survey questions about their skills. Sweden came in seventh, even though its math ranking was 28th.
Thirty years ago, William Bennett, the Reagan-era secretary of education, noticed this disparity between achievement and confidence and quipped, “This country is a lot better at teaching self-esteem than it is at teaching math.” It’s a funny line, but there is actually something powerful in the plucky confidence of American, Swedish, and Israeli students. It allows them to challenge their elders, start companies, persist when others think they are wrong, and pick themselves up when they fail. Too much confidence runs the risk of self-delusion, but the trait is an essential ingredient for entrepreneurship.
My point is not that it’s good that American students fare poorly on these tests. It isn’t. Asian countries like Japan and South Korea have benefitted enormously from having skilled workforces. But technical chops are just one ingredient needed for innovation and economic success. America overcomes its disadvantage — a less-technically-trained workforce — with other advantages such as creativity, critical thinking, and an optimistic outlook. A country like Japan, by contrast, can’t do as much with its well-trained workers because it lacks many of the factors that produce continuous innovation.
Americans should be careful before they try to mimic Asian educational systems, which are oriented around memorization and test-taking. I went through that kind of system. It has its strengths, but it’s not conducive to thinking, problem solving, or creativity. That’s why most Asian countries, from Singapore to South Korea to India, are trying to add features of a liberal education to their systems. Jack Ma, the founder of China’s Internet behemoth Alibaba, recently hypothesized in a speech that the Chinese are not as innovative as Westerners because China’s educational system, which teaches the basics very well, does not nourish a student’s complete intelligence, allowing her to range freely, experiment and enjoy herself while learning: “Many painters learn by having fun, many works [of art and literature] are the products of having fun. So, our entrepreneurs need to learn how to have fun, too.”
No matter how strong your math and science skills are, you still need to know how to learn, think, and even write. Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon (and the owner of The Washington Post), insists that his senior executives write memos, often as long as six printed pages, and begins senior-management meetings with a period of quiet time, sometimes as long as 30 minutes, while everyone reads the “narratives” to themselves and makes notes on them. In an interview with Fortune’s Adam Lashinsky, Bezos said: “Full sentences are harder to write.
They have verbs. The paragraphs have topic sentences. There is no way to write a six-page, narratively structured memo and not have clear thinking.”
Companies often prefer strong basics to narrow expertise. Andrew Benett, a management consultant, surveyed 100 business leaders and found that 84 of them said they would rather hire smart, passionate people, even if they didn’t have the exact skills their companies needed.
Innovation in business has always involved insights beyond technology. Consider the case of Facebook. Mark Zuckerberg was a classic liberal arts student who also happened to be passionately interested in computers. He studied ancient Greek intensively in high school and majored in psychology while he attended college. And Facebook’s innovations have a lot to do with psychology. Zuckerberg has often pointed out that before Facebook was created, most people shielded their identities on the Internet. It was a land of anonymity. Facebook’s insight was that it could create a culture of real identities, where people would voluntarily expose themselves to their friends, and this would become a transformative platform. Of course, Zuckerberg understands computers deeply and uses great coders to put his ideas into practice, but as he has put it, Facebook is “as much psychology and sociology as it is technology.”
Twenty years ago, tech companies might have survived simply as product manufacturers. Now they have to be on the cutting edge of design, marketing, and social networking. You can make a sneaker equally well in many parts of the world, but you can’t sell it for $300 unless you’ve built a story around it. The same is true for cars, clothes, and coffee. The value added is in the brand — how it is imagined, presented, sold, and sustained. Or consider America’s vast entertainment industry, built around stories, songs, design, and creativity. All of this requires skills far beyond the offerings of a narrow STEM curriculum.
Critical thinking is, in the end, the only way to protect American jobs. David Autor, the MIT economist who has most carefully studied the impact of technology and globalization on labor, writes that “human tasks that have proved most amenable to computerization are those that follow explicit, codifiable procedures — such as multiplication — where computers now vastly exceed human labor in speed, quality, accuracy, and cost efficiency. Tasks that have proved most vexing to automate are those that demand flexibility, judgment, and common sense — skills that we understand only tacitly — for example, developing a hypothesis or organizing a closet.” In 2013, two Oxford scholars conducted a comprehensive study on employment and found that, for workers to avoid the computerization of their jobs, “they will have to acquire creative and social skills.”
This doesn’t in any way detract from the need for training in technology, but it does suggest that as we work with computers (which is really the future of all work), the most valuable skills will be the ones that are uniquely human, that computers cannot quite figure out — yet. And for those jobs, and that life, you could not do better than to follow your passion, engage with a breadth of material in both science and the humanities, and perhaps above all, study the human condition.
One final reason to value a liberal education lies in its roots. For most of human history, all education was skills-based. Hunters, farmers and warriors taught their young to hunt, farm and fight. But about 2,500 years ago, that changed in Greece, which began to experiment with a new form of government: democracy. This innovation in government required an innovation in education. Basic skills for sustenance were no longer sufficient. Citizens also had to learn how to manage their own societies and practice self-government. They still do.
Zakaria, a columnist for The Washington Post, is the host of “Fareed Zakaria GPS” on CNN and the author of In Defense of a Liberal Education.
Commencement Speech Invitations Favor Liberals
Results of the 23rd annual Young America’s Foundation Commencement Speakers Survey found that liberal speakers were favored six to one at the top 100 American universities. They called this an “established trend,” noting that in 2014, the ratio was five to one; in 2013, four to one; and in 2012, seven to one. Among the top ten colleges, as rated by U.S. News and World Report, no conservatives were invited to give commencement addresses in 2015; at the next 50 ranked colleges, nine liberals were invited for every one conservative.
A review of 2015 commencement speakers shows that Obama administration members were popular, but “not one conservative official currently serving in office was scheduled to speak.” (YAF.org, 5-11-15)
But according to a Washington Post reporter, students miss out because, as he writes, “Conservatives give better commencement addresses than liberals.” The author compared two books of compiled speeches given to graduating students by liberals and conservatives and found the conservatives to give better speeches in the following ways.
1. Conservatives are more likely to address students in a one-to-one manner, “focusing on people more than movements,” meaning the speech will be more meaningful to individual graduates.
2. “Conservatives give more actionable advice” that is specific and useful, instead of the sweeping generalizations about “changing the world” that liberals tend to offer.
3. “Conservatives are less likely to “suck up to” graduates.
4. Conservatives relate more interesting anecdotes.
5. Keeping in mind that most commencement speeches are “forgettable,” conservative speeches tend to be shorter.
(Washington Post, 5-14-15)
President Obama told graduates at the Coast Guard Academy, “Climate change constitutes a serious threat to global security, an immediate risk to our national security, and, make no mistake, it will impact how our military defends our country.” Obama made his climate-change pitch on the same weekend that Politico.com reported that “the Islamic State took over another Iraqi city. This time it was Ramadi, a city in which Americans died to capture in the first place years ago and comes after the fall of Mosul. The next major city on the conquer list for ISIS is Baghdad, not to mention the fact Christians have been essentially eliminated from the country.”
In his commencement speech at North Carolina Central University in Durham, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan told graduating students:
“The most vital attribute in the world you’re about to enter is not critical thinking or fluency in another language. It’s about whether you’re able to see the world through another’s eyes. The key factor of success for any society going forward is what percentage of its people are change-makers. It’s the new literacy, and empathy is the foundation of that new way of being.” (NewsObserver, 5-9-15)
Liberal comedian Stephen Colbert told graduates at Wake Forest University, “Get ready for my generation to tell you everything that can’t be done, like ending racial tension, getting money out of politics, or lowering the world’s carbon emissions. . . . Your job, pro humanitate, is to prove us wrong.” (Winston-Salem Journal, 5-18-15)
Former Secretary of State and National Security Advisor during the Bush Administration, Condoleezza Rice, stressed to graduates at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia the importance of an educated populace. She said that her grandfather showed her family, by example, that education was one solution to racism, by earning his degree at Stillman College. Rice told graduates to find their passion, to be optimistic, to seek out those who disagree. She said, “All too often differences are used to divide.” She told graduates that “there is no Constitutional right not to be offended,” and that they should try listening to opposing viewpoints, rather than taking offense.