14 October 2018

The Serenity Prayer For Education

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.
- Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971) (there is more to the Serenity Prayer, but the first stanza it what is most widely remembered and what is relevant here).

The tendency of genetic investigation is to focus on what is hereditary, to identify who has hereditary traits and to what extent, and to determine the exact reasons why that is the case right down to the molecular level. But, really, from the point of view of an educator, and anyone making education policy, it is really more helpful to be mindful of the trait that have a low hereditary component, because those are the traits with respect to which an educator can make a difference to the greatest extent.

And, what are those traits?

By and large, they are traits that have to do, not with individual level psychology, like intelligence and personality, but with group level social matters, like language, one's religion (as opposed to one's religiosity), how people react to authority and interact in groups (like the capacity of groups of people to self-organize), and matters like how much people are comfortable with (or need) physical touching in non-sexual relationships.

Put more succinctly, the educational process has much more of a capacity to influence how people are socialized than it does to change, for example, their IQ.

By focusing on the possible, instead of expecting the impossible or extremely difficult to achieve accomplishments, from the educational system, we might be able to produce results that are more fruitful.

The Paradox Of Technological Progress And Societal Decay

Technologically, the world has never been more advanced. And, there is currently nothing so profoundly screwing up our world that this seems likely to be stopped, even if it may be slowed down by political mismanagement and negative cultural trends.

But, the larger context does look bleak. The economic gains from technology are concentrated with oligarchs. Trump and a Republican party that seems to have gone mad along with him is doing incredible damage to our country, our world and our culture. Looming trade wars, already partially in progress, threaten the global economy. 

Far right movements are making gains not just in the United States, but across Europe, in Hungary, Greece, Poland, Sweden, France, Italy and the United Kingdom. And, it isn't just far right movements. Russia has grown militant, ruthless and corrupt, has illegally annexed Crimea and is fighting an ongoing conventional proxy war in the Ukraine. The former Central Asian Republics of the Soviet Union have become authoritarian dictatorships.

China seems to be falling into a period of more severe totalitarian tendencies, ramping up censorship, persecuting dissidents and oppressing minorities in its frontier territories.

Saudi Arabia has a leader who on one hand seems to have some reformist tendencies, but on the other seems to condone some of the Kingdom's darkest tactics. Fundamentalist Islam may have retreated to a simmer with the defeat of ISIS in Iraq and Syria, but battles for the fates of civilizations continue in Afghanistan, Pakistan and the African Sahel. Violent civil wars are ongoing in Syria and Yemen and Afghanistan. 

Venezuela has collapsed economically and much of Latin American is overwhelmed with gang violence, much of it fought with guns imported from the United States where they are loosely regulated and money from the ongoing drug trade. The Philippines is also riven with an out of control drug war and battles against Islamist insurgents.

Is there light at the end of the tunnel? What are we to make of a paradox in which science advances while society falls apart?

12 October 2018

Many Union Soldiers In The Civil War Were Immigrants

An interesting bit of civil war history that influenced the character of our Republic, at least in the North.
Here we arrive at one of the least appreciated factors in the equation that led to the Union victory: the military service of immigrants. Foreign-born recruits provided the Union army with the advantage it needed over its Confederate rival. An estimated 25 percent of the soldiers in the Union army (some 543,000) and more than 40 percent of the seamen in the navy (84,000) were foreign-born. If one includes soldiers with at least one immigrant parent, the overall figure climbs to 43 percent of the Union army… 
The demands of war meant that Union officials needed to appeal to immigrants. Military recruitment placards were printed in foreign languages; Union officials presented the war as part of a transnational struggle for republican government, thereby decoupling the idea of the nation from Anglo-Saxon Protestantism… 
The military service of the foreign-born did more than enhance the Union’s advantage in the field. It also transformed the politics of nativism in the United States. From the nativism of the 1850s, exemplified by Know-Nothingism and bigoted anti-Catholicism, the Union now moved in the direction of welcoming — indeed, encouraging — foreign arrivals. 
That is all from the new book by Jay Sexton, A Nation Forged by Crisis: A New American History.
From Marginal Revolution.