Friday, April 29, 2005

A modest proposal for the reform of education

Here in Montana, we are trying to deal with the weasel words of "quality education," as written by polticians and defined by lawyers, and what the impact would be on the State's financial situation. So, to the average person, what does a "quality education" mean? For that matter, what is it that should be taught to students, and how should it be delivered to them?
In examining our present system of education, it is amazing that no one states the obvious, that our education system is based on and Industrial Age model, trying to teach kids for the Information Age. Right now, our kids are being trained to work in factories. Their foreman (teacher) instructs them on the plant's tasks, and then leads them through the process until the scheduled task is over, and onto a new task when it is mandated according to the clock. To further make the students compliant with the required change of industrial activity, every year they are reorganized into new work groups for new tasks when they are advanced to the next grade.
There are some holdovers from the Pre-Industrial Age. Students are let out of school every summer, so that they can work on tending the crops, and bringing in the harvest. No one seems to notice that less than 3% of the population of this country live on farms.
The current debate seems to focus on the amount of spending and the formulation of how that spending takes place. Under our present (pre-reform) system, the State of Montana provides approximately $7,000 per student per year. in a 25 student classroom, that means $175,000 per classroom per year. Multiply by 20 classrooms, and you are talking $3.5 million per year. Now, you have to remember, that this is only the State's portion. Not taking into account any federal money, grants, local mill levies, etc. Of course, to question the idea that more money is needed is to be accused of being miserly toward our future. What no one who does know will do, is to actually explain where the money goes to. If you figure that a teacher makes ony $24K per year, with another $14K for benefits, taxes, etc. and you have used less than 25% of the money that the State allocates. Add in building maintenance, supplies, support staff, and overhead management, and it is still difficult to account for all of the spending that is done.
Further, an analysis of dollars spent, shows that North Dakota, which is in the bottom of the spending scale, gets better results than Wansington D.C. which is at the top. So, do dollars spent automtically measure results? There are complicating factors and variables that are too difficult to control for, but money spent seems be only a minor factor in measuring success.
If we look at history, at least in this state, some of the most successful students came from one room school houses. In those schools, students from the entire age spectrum worked and learned together. The advantage of the system, was that the older students helped to teach the younger ones. In order to teach, you have to know it first. The older students also formed a bond with the younger ones, and acted as mentors, helping to develop a sense of community and shared responsibility.
So, could we do the same thing in the present day? Absolutely. To set up a modern version of the one room school house, let's take teachers and give them 12 to 14 students apiece. The students will be with the same teacher throughout their elementary education career. The advantage being that the student and the teacher will be able to form a bond, and the students will be able to form bonds with other students.
This system would finally allow teachers to become professionals, and not just factory foremen. They would be able to exercise their independent judgment in accomplishing the goals that they have for the students.
Everyone has had a favorite teacher, and teachers have had favorite students. Suppose you could be with your favorite teacher for your entire educational career. Don't you think that you could learn more? Don't you also think that a teacher who knows what your strengthas and weaknesses and take advantage of the strengths, and overcome the weaknesses.
The problem is that this solution is different than what the powers that be want to do. Someday, I hope that my grandchildren will have the opportunity to follow in the footsteps of the students of Socrates and Aristotle. Maybe then, we will teach kids how to think, not just know.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

A modest proposal for Social Security

I have been reading the letters which are in opposition to President Bush’s plan for the reform of Social Security. However, try as I might, I have been unable to find the actual plan. I would appreciate it if someone could point me to the real and total plan that he has proposed.
Nonetheless, I am intrigued by the defenders of the present system. To me, the present plan is the most regressive, racist, sexist and elitist form of taxation that has ever been designed by the hand of man.
The tax is regressive because it only applies to the first $90,000 of earned income. Everyone who makes more than that is exempted from being taxed on the overages. The net result is that a waitress earning minimum wage with two children will pay 12.6% of her wages in taxes, even though she pays no income tax. Compare this to former presidential candidate, Senator Kerry, who paid a net tax of 12.3% of his multimillions. Sure, some would argue that only one half of the 12.6% is paid by the employee, and the other half by the employer, but if the employer was not required to withhold it, could they use the difference to pay the employee a higher wage?
The tax is also racist and sexist. If you are a Native American, or an African American male with only a high school education, you will work your entire life to pay into the Social Security system, but more than half of you will never live to see a dime of it. However, college educated white and Asian females will receive far more than they pay into it.
The tax is elitist in that the members of Congress that will decide how to maintain the present system do not pay into it. Nor do many other federal employees, and certain other select groups exempted by Congress as pay back, no doubt, for some substantial contribution to an election campaign.
Some of the letter writers have pointed out that there is a Social Security Trust fund, in that the government has purchased Treasury bills to repay the debt from the over charges that they have already collected. Yeah, right!. Ask veterans and Native Americans about the government’s ability to keep a promise. If you really believe that you have an account waiting for you when you retire, go to the bank with your Social Security annual statement and get a loan against it. After your banker picks himself up off the floor from laughing so hard, you might finally realize that your account does not really exist.
The other problem is, even if Social Security is not in a crisis now, it will be eventually. While it is as American as apple pie to wait until it is almost too late to deal with a problem, I commend President Bust for taking on this unpopular issue now. As it stands at the moment, our children and grandchildren will have to work two jobs just to pay for all of us that are retired. Since they will be too exhausted to vote, I am sure that the current system will continue along just fine.
What we need to do is to rethink the whole darned thing. For instance, if given a magic wand, I would change the system in the following ways:
1st. Social Security is not your retirement plan. I would change it to pay every retiree 120% of the poverty level, regardless of the amount that they have paid into it. This is in recognition of the idea that the original plan was to acknowledge our responsibility to our fellow citizens when they cease to work. While 120% of the poverty level is not a lot, it is the minimum amount to ensure your golden years with a certain amount of dignity, especially if you have taken other independent steps to enhance your retirement.
2nd. Everyone would pay into the system, no exceptions, no caps or limits to be taxed, nothing. If we are all going to assume the collective responsibility for our fellow citizens, everyone must participate. Exempting anyone from the system would deprive their contribution to the whole.
3rd. Until you are age 45, one half of your social security contributions will be sent to your own account. This account would be available to you for investments that would be used to supplement your retirement. This proposal has the added benefit that most people will hit their peak earning years from 45 to 55, thereby providing sufficient cash to keep the system afloat.
If, from age 16 to 30 you were to invest in Growth type funds, your return compounded could provide you with a very comfortable existence. From 30 to 45, less risk would be recommended and from 45 to retirement, capital protection should be your goal. If you die prior to reaching retirement, that amount that was left would be credited to your estate for distribution in accordance with your will.
While it is true that there are the Enrons and WorldComs of the world which have engaged in criminal behavior, there are far more Johnson and Johnson and Exxons in the market place that can provide a very positive return. In fact, if you had invested $1000 in 1955 in the Dow Jones Industrial Average, and didn’t do anything else, it would be worth $25,000 today. It is not a risky gamble if taken over the long term to invest in stocks. While there are short time set backs, (2001-2004 for example) overall, the market provides better returns than T bills do.
My proposal is not that complicated, and would provide a basis for discussion. However, to just say that it is fine for now, is only delaying an inevitable disaster. We all need to recognize that something must be done. I would look forward to hearing any concrete plans that are going to be offered.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Why I am a Libertarian (sort of )

Basic answer, cogito ergo sum, (I think, therefore I am.)
No, that is too simplistic. There are many reasons that I became a Libertarian. First, I grew up in Montana. It seems to me that the Democrats do better in high density population centers, and Republicans do better in less poplulated areas. I think that this is because when you are alone, you have to be more self reliant out of necessity. You can also do pretty much what you want when you are all alone. Just so long as you don't scare the horses.
In higher density population areas, there is a greater need to control other people's behavior. If you figure that most laws are directed at 5% of the popluation, and you only have 40 people in the vicinity, you really only have 2 people who are problems. Multiply by 1000, and now you have 2000 problem makers for 40,000 people, a small sized city. Same ratio, but with news systems designed to titilate and scare you, the 5% are getting far more than their share of the attention.
Therefore, some well intentioned, but busybody sort, will propose laws to control the 5% so that they can feel good about themselves.
A classic example here is the speed limit that we now have. As you may recall for about two years, we were without an actual speed limit. We were called America's autobahn. When the law came into effect, everyone was warned about the future carnage on our highways. Trouble is, the highway death rate actually dropped. Then some idiot named Stanko, decided to challenge the Basic and Prudent rule, and our Supreme Court found that the law was too vague.
So, the Legislaure, decided that we needed to reinstate the speed limit. Proponents of the speed limit bill said that it would save lives when it was passed. Trouble is, death rates jumped significantly.
So, did anyone say, wait a minute, we need to save lives, let's repeal the speed limit? Nope.
So what are we to learn from all of this? That the desire to control other people's behavior is more important than actual results.
Having spent my entire adult life defending the Constitution, I really do believe that the Bill of Rights is the most important part of all our laws, and can be summed up as: "Leave me the f*** alone."
So, now we have the Democrats, whose freedom of choice only extends to abortion, but not what I drive, or what I eat, or what I say. And Republicans, who can be just as controlling on the other side.
Liberals, that I know, think that Conservatives are evil. Conservatives, think that Liberals are stupid. I think that they are both half right. Liberals are stupidly evil, and Conservatives are evilly stupid.

Radical Republicans?

Okay, I am getting a little bit tired of the Democrats labeling everyone who might be a Republican as "Radical." Seems to me that the term first surfaced after the Civil War when some of the Repulicans insisted that the freed slaves be given full civil rights, like voting, owning property, being allowed to live, etc.
If I was Republican, I would wear the badge with honor.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

About me

This is a place like so many others, where one can indulge in their narcissisitic pleasures and think that someone may care enough to read what they think about ideas presented to the public.
My political journey has been a long and strange trip. I began as a Yellow Dog Democrat, just like me dear old Dad. He was a teacher and shop steward working for the federal government, and had been raised by a Teamster. No wonder that he believed that the Democratic Party was the only means of securing his happiness. I agreed with him, and even wrote letters to the Supreme Court when I was 17 asking them to investigate Watergate before Woodward and Bernstein.
By an accident, I ended up as a commissioned officer in the Army, and stationed in Germany in time for the 1980 election. At the time, I could not vote for a Republican, and was dissatisified with Carter, so I chose Anderson. After Reagan's election, I saw the changes that were taking place in the military, and having already seen the Soviet Mongol Horde arrayed against us, I became a Republican in 1984.
I stayed that way until 1992, when I again became dissatisfied with the incumbent, and went Independent. Because of absentee balloting requirements, I voted before Perot had his breakdown. I looked forward to Clinton, until after his first State of the Union Address, and when MonicaGate took off, I then became just plain Disgusted.
After 2000 I was mildly amused, but after 9-11, I became a cranky Libertarian with modifications.
The purpose of this Blog is to exchange ideas. I honestly believe that even idiots can get lucky every once in a while, so it is important to listen to everyone. I also believe that it is in the combat of ideas that the truth will emerge, and that false beliefs will die their own private death.
I invite anyone to correct me if I am wrong. Just be prepared to defend your ideas.
I do not believe that ad hominem attacks serve any purpose except for the juvenile pleasure of poor thinkers. Therefore, I would ask no one to use them.
In the spirit of the search for the truth, I ask you to join me, and lead when you can, and follow when you must, but always keep an eye on the goal of finding the one true objective set of data that will solve the problem, not ease someone's ego.