Why Public-School Education is Dying – Part 2 of 5 Parts

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In Part 1 of this blog on education, I stated that, “I am going to dive into the major reasons that are leading to the death of public-school education.”  In this part, we will look at

  • Why our present educational model is obsolete

Our present educational model is obsolete because it is based on several faulty principles or assumptions.  Perhaps at one time some of these reasons had some validity but that is no longer true.  We are not living in a 19th century agricultural or a 20th century industrial economy.  We are now in a digital economy that is moving faster than anything the world has ever known.  The following are the most important issues that one must understand to realize why our present educational system is useless.

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  1. Outdated concepts of how education should be conducted

The teaching in the early part of America was based on two principles.  First, that every child needed a broad liberal arts education to be qualified as a good citizen.  Second, that education curriculums would follow a set of orderly progression starting from simple concepts to more complex concepts.  Thus, you would learn simple arithmetic before taking complex subjects like calculus or trigonometry.

The above principles treated every student as though they were the same.  There was no customization.  There were no exceptions to the grading progressions that developed in most schools.  If you were an advanced student, you would need to wait for the less advanced to catch up.  If you were not as advanced, then you looked like the dummy in class and were often ridiculed.  If you were somewhere in-between, you kept your mouth shut and dreamed of the end of the school year.

These principles may have been useful in a society that was information poor.  Marshal McLuhan said that schools made sense when they could bring information to a central point. Prospective students from information poor societies could come together and feast on the abundance of knowledge that was now centralized in one location.  Over time, the reverse has taken place.  Societies and cultures have become much denser and richer in information than any school could possibly hope to capture.  Students today can access more knowledge on their smart phones than probably exists in the entire Library of Congress.

“Today in our cities, most learning occurs outside the classroom. The sheer quantity of information conveyed by press-magazines-film-TV-radio far exceeds the quantity of information conveyed by school instruction and texts. This challenge has destroyed the monopoly of the book as a teaching aid and cracked the very walls of the classroom so suddenly that we’re confused, baffled.” — Marshall McLuhan, excerpt from “Classroom Without Walls,”  Explorations in Communication (Boston: Beacon Press, 1960)

Treating students as though they are all the same ignores fundamental elements of human skills and abilities.  Some students may have better social skills.  Some have better musical, artistic, and athletic skills than others.  Even in the domain of cognitive knowledge some students excel at math and others excel at English and language.

Just imagine if music was the dominant purpose of education rather than liberal arts.  Children might enroll in schools where the curriculum included violins, drums, harps, guitars, pianos, trumpets, and harmonicas.  Each student would have to learn all of these instruments and get a passing grade in each to graduate school.  It would not matter if a child received an A in violin if they did not pass drums.  If this sounds ridiculous, it should not since it mirrors the way curriculum is handled today.

Furthermore, the system of education assumes that all children would need to progress systematically through learning each instrument.  You would have violin 1 before you had violin 2.  It would not matter if you could do violin 1 when you came to school, you would still be required to take violin 1 before you could take violin 2.  True, in some schools you can test out of a subject but that is still rare in most public high schools.

The idea of holistic learning is totally ignored by the rigid lock step progression that is built into curriculums in both public and private schools.  Fifty years ago I argued with math teachers about the use of calculators in a classroom.  Most felt that students would not learn the proper concepts behind the calculations if they were allowed to use calculators.  Ten years later, the Mathematical Association of America approved the use of calculators in high school classrooms.

The fear of technology is still prevalent in schools as most schools do not allow their students to make use of a smart phone’s capabilities.  In many high school classrooms, students are prohibited from having their cell phones out.  (There is a constant game today between teachers and students to prohibit students from “misusing” their cell phones.)  It is rather funny since some teachers do not restrict cell phone usage and others do.  A few students told me a while ago that they wished their teachers could agree on a “cellphone policy.”  True, many schools give students laptops and tablets, but their usage of these tools are limited to such programs as Blackboard, Desire to Learn and other instructional interfaces.  Students are not taught how to use the power of their cell phones to think.  Teachers often seem afraid of new technology perhaps fearing that it will replace them.  In truth, the times have changed in respect to what a teacher’s role should be.  Looking at the results in the Virginia Governor Race this year, where the pundits believed that parental dissatisfaction played a major role in the election results, I found the following comment.  It was made by one of the consultants that the Loudoun County School District in Virginia hired to incorporate equity and inclusion in their curriculum.

“I think the thing that public education offers… because I certainly don’t think we offer learning… are relationships.  What historically high schools were for was the dissemination of information very quickly…Well, actually, the internet is better than the high school is…Truthfully, the teacher in relation to the dissemination of information is obsolete.”  —Equity Collaborative Leader Jamie Almanza.  

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  1. The concept that more money for educators and educational institutions will result in better student outcomes

During the 15 or so years that I was a management consultant, I often encountered the argument that employees would be more productive if they were paid more.  Now, I am a great believer in paying employees as much as the organization can afford and well beyond a simple livable wage.  I am well aware of the battle between employers and employees over wages and have myself often had to fight to get a salary that I felt was fair.  Nevertheless, I see little or even no correlation between productivity and wages and I have told this to many a manager and employee.  I have frequently asked people if they thought they would be “twice” as productive if I doubled their salaries tomorrow.  No honest person ever told me yes.

Teachers are no different.  Teachers who are paid more will not have more students getting higher test scores. There will not be more students graduating or more students learning more because their teachers are higher paid.  Yes, I believe teachers are underpaid based on their abilities and goals but that does not mean that I think schools will be more effective with higher paid teachers or with more capital outlays per pupil.

I looked at the rankings for Arizona High Schools a few days ago.  (Arizona High School Rankings) The top-rated school in the state was BASIS Scottsdale.  Their average student expenditure was $7, 231.  Their “Average Standard Score” was 99.9.  I then looked at Vista Grande High School where I have been substitute teaching this year.  They were ranked 205th out of 226 public high schools.  The average dollar spent per capita for students was $9,153 dollars.  Their “Average Standard Score” was 14.1.  I briefly looked at the student expenditures for all 226 high schools in Arizona.  I did not calculate a Standard Deviation for the 226 but if I did, my guess would be that all 226 schools would fall within 3 standard deviations of the mean.  I think the mean for “per capital student expenditures” would be about $7,500.

What do the above figures tell me?  First of all that per capita spending is not related to school or student performance.  Second, that there is a correlation between the wealth or affluency of a community and high school student performance.  Put simply, students from poorer families do worse in school than students from more affluent families.  The bad news is that no amount of money poured into any school system in the country is going to change these outcomes.  The World Development Report 2018 shows a similarly weak correlation between spending and learning outcomes.

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  1. The belief that what can be measured is what is important to teach and that standardized tests and curriculums are essential to a quality education

This is another fallacy that I often encountered in my years as a management consultant.  There is some kind of a foolish business quote that says, “What gets measured, gets managed.”  What is more accurate is that “What gets measured, gets gamed.”  My mentor, Dr. W.E. Deming taught his students that a system is more important to performance than the individual.  A favorite saying of Dr. Deming’s was that “A bad system will beat a good performer any time.”  Dr. Deming taught how to measure the performance of a system and then to use those measures to improve the system, not to work on exhorting individuals or individual testing to improve the system.  Two of Dr. Deming’s 14 Points for Management were:

11 a. Eliminate work standards (quotas) on the factory floor. Substitute leadership.

11 b. Eliminate management by objective. Eliminate management by numbers, numerical goals. Substitute leadership.

12 a. Remove barriers that rob the hourly worker of his right to pride of workmanship. The responsibility of supervisors must be changed from sheer numbers to quality.

12 b. Remove barriers that rob people in management and in engineering of their right to pride of workmanship. This means, inter alia, abolishment of the annual or merit rating and of management by objective.

The standardized tests that are given to students all over America are no help in increasing school performance.  The ranking of schools and the ranking of students has no statistical validity in terms of improving the educational system in America.  In fact, not only are these measures useless, but they are a major impediment to improving any school system.  There are several reasons for this:

  1. They force teachers to focus on memorization and not learning
  2. They penalize students that are not good test takers
  3. They destroy student morale
  4. They stop educators from making the real reforms that are needed in education
  5. They have no scientific validity in terms of measuring student performance

The following comments are from a blog titled, “Here’s the Real Reason Why Public Education Will Never Get Better” by Shelly Sangrey

  • Schooling and education are two different things.
  • Education is about exploration and learning how to think.
  • Schooling (which is what our public schools are a part of) is about training and teaching children what to think.
  • Someone who is being educated will be told, “Do some research on this topic. Study the evidence, weigh both sides, and make an informed conclusion.”
  • Someone who is being schooled is told, “This is how it is because scientists, historians, and other people who are smarter than you have already figured it out. There’s no need to look into it further.”

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You cannot measure education.  You can measure training.  But even measures of training are more likely to reflect the ability of the system rather than the ability of the students in the system.

Where has this emphasis come from in terms of measurement and metrics?  The first is from politicians who have little or no knowledge of education.  They also lack knowledge of data analysis or statistics.  These so-called leaders are more than ready to jump on bandwagons that sound good to their constituents but actually have little value in increasing educational outcomes.

The second is from educators themselves.  Believing that if they show good rankings they can justify the money needed for higher salaries and more resources, many teachers support the idea of “pay for performance” or “measuring educational outcomes.”  These teachers know little about business concepts but are more than ready to accept that business principles can work in a school system.  Unfortunately, many business principles lack any kind of validity either for education or for business.  All over America today, we have accountants running businesses and schools.  Our systems are driven by short-term numbers and bottom-line thinking.  These are major contributors to the death of public-school education.

In Part 3, we will look in more depth at the role that our political leaders play in murdering public school education in America. 

December 31, 2020 – New Year’s Eve!

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Out with the old and in with the new!   New Year’s Eve!  The end of our past and the beginning of our future!   All over the world, we count down the minutes and then seconds until a New Year begins.  New Year’s Eve represents a finish and a time to put failures, bad dreams, and a year dominated by the Coronavirus behind us.  New Year’s Day represents a new beginning.  We pray and hope that each year will be better than the last.  Curiously, we celebrate this ending with a night of wild parties and much drinking which is not a good way to start off the New Year.  Thus, may I suggest a bit of Greek wisdom, “Moderation in all things.”

giphyDo you ever wonder why so many people get drunk on New Year’s Eve?  Is it simply to forget the past or is it to celebrate the past?  How many New Year’s days have been ruined before they even got started?  Tonight we drink, tomorrow we make promises about how different our lives will be and what changes we will make.  Each New Years is a time new-year-resolutions-300x304of magic.  We think it will mean great differences in our lives, but how long do these commitments usually last?  Go to the health clubs on New Year’s Day and the parking lots will be full (Of course Covid 19 has changed this little fact).  By early March, the parking lots will usually be back to their normal contingent of cars.  The landscape will be littered with failed promises and failed New Year’s resolutions.  Some may think that they can escape this debacle by simply not making any resolutions.  Instead their failure to make any commitments remain with them day after day.  Not making a commitment is akin to throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

new year resolutionThankfully, we have 365 chances each year to start our life anew. You don’t have to wait until New Year’s Day to begin again.  Each day you fail, tomorrow can be a new start.  If each day your commitments can last a little longer than the last time, you are making progress.  You do not have to wait until next New Year to start over.  Start now but get back up each time you fall.  The only failure in life is not trying and trying again.  Each time you fall down and you get up again you are a success.  Each day that you make a new commitment to try, you are a success.  Each time your commitment lasts a little bit longer than the last time you are a success.  So here’s to the success of each of you this New Year.  I drink a toast to all who try and try again.

Time for Questions:

What are you going to change in your life this New Year? What would you want to do differently?  What changes would help you to lead a happier and healthier life?  What are you going to do about it?  How long will your commitment last?  Can you fail and then keep trying?

Life is just beginning. 

Tonight is the first day of your new life.  Don’t wait to start.

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Taking It to Extremes – Part 4 of 5 – Conservative versus Liberal

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Introduction: (Skip if you have read Part 1 and Go to Part 4 below)

A number of years ago, I wrote an article about the famous “Golden Mean” of Greek philosophy.  The mean was basically a rule that said the best way of living is to balance extremes.  Another way of looking at what this rule implies is that evil or bad things happen when we over do something.  We need to take all things in moderation.  Thus, drugs, smoking, guns, watching TV etc., are not evil or bad in themselves but when we take them to extremes, they became dangerous and counterproductive.

Life is an ongoing struggle to find our proper balance.  However, it may never be a question of equal balance because the proper balance can never be static.  There are many dimensions or polarities in life where it is not really a matter of moderation or balance but more a matter of dynamically imposing a temporary order between two extremes.  The concept of Hegelian Dialectics comes to my mind as an aide in thinking about this process.

Dialectical thinking can be described as: “The ability to view issues from multiple perspectives and to arrive at the most economical and reasonable reconciliation of seemingly contradictory information and postures.”  This is a much more complex process than simply balancing extremes.  The more I thought about it the more I decided to add a corollary to the Greek Rule.  Since I think time has easily proved the value of the Golden Mean, a corollary by definition is a proposition that follows from and is appended to one already proved.  My corollary is as follows:

John’s Corollary:

Anytime, one concept in a set of opposing concepts is allowed to dominate the other concept, extreme dysfunction will result.

I want to discuss this more by using five pairs of concepts that I think are critical to our world today.  I want to show you how the distortion created by proponents of each concept is dangerous to life as we know it.  I do not use the word dangerous loosely or frivolously or for effect.  The battle between these ideas is destroying life as we know it on this planet.   The proponents of each side of these polarities seek to destroy the proponents on the other side.

Rather than looking at things from a systems perspective and trying to dynamically adjust the system, opponents are driven to allow one idea to dominate to the exclusion of the other idea.  Witness the name calling between conservatives and liberals today.  Each side demonizes the other side and assumes God is on their side and Satan is on the other side. Liberals are evil to conservatives and conservatives are evil to liberals.

Here are the five pairs of concepts we will look at in the next few weeks.  This week we will look at number four on my list.  We have already discussed the “efficiency versus effectiveness” dimension in part one of this blog series and the “growth versus development” dimension in part two and the “society versus economy” in part three.

  1. Efficiency versus Effectiveness
  2. Growth versus Development
  3. Society versus the Economy
  4. Conservative versus Liberal
  5. Rights of the Individual versus Rights of the Group

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Part 4.  Conservative versus Liberal:

Being a Liberal was once a label that someone could be proud of.  Today it has become a name of scorn.  Those to the left of liberals including progressives and radicals regard Liberals much like salt that has lost its flavor.  Jesus said “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltness be restored? It is not good for anything any longer but to be thrown out and trodden underfoot by men.” – Mathew 5:13

All too often Liberals seem to lack the desire to take a strong position.  They seem to prefer to walk a middle road that often goes nowhere.  Once upon a time a Liberal was defined as: “One who is open-minded and not strict in the observance of orthodox, traditional, or established forms or ways.” — Meriam WebsterBasically, a liberal was someone who was willing to change and was quite comfortable with change.  The political definition of a Liberal was someone who was committed to individualism, liberty, and equal rights. Liberals believed that these goals required a free economy with minimal government interference.  Today, we have a new concept for liberals or “Neo-liberals.”  A Neo-liberal is defined as someone who believes “in market-oriented reform policies such as ‘eliminating price controls, deregulating capital markets, lowering trade barriers’ and reducing state influence in the economy, especially through privatization and austerity.”Wikipedia

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The definition of a “Neo-liberal is somewhat of a paradox since it contains many of the same concepts as we see in a definition of a political Conservative.  If you accept (as many pundits claim) that Democrats are liberals and Republicans are conservatives, then it would be almost impossible to tell the difference between a Neo-liberal, a Conservative, a Liberal, a Democrat and a Republican.

I have always hated to be called a Liberal.  The liberals that I knew seemed like the proverbial salt that had lost its flavor.  Bleeding hearts who were more than willing to give anything away as long as it did not impact their well-being. They would not stand up in the face of adversity and they always wanted to acquiesce when the going got rough.  Never one to stand up and fight, Liberals exemplified a Democratic party that I thought was beset by cowardice albeit they were always civil and polite.

But that brings us to the Conservatives.  This is the other extreme of my Conservative Liberal dimension.  Today Conservatives are the Tea Party zealots who have little in common with traditional Conservative values.  The current Republican Party has become the residence for what we should to be calling “Neo-conservatives.”

People hold signs at a Tea Party Patriots rally calling for the repeal of the 2010 healthcare law on Capitol Hill in Washington

People hold signs at a Tea Party Patriots rally calling for the repeal of the 2010 healthcare law championed by President Barack Obama, on Capitol Hill in Washington, March 24, 2012. The Supreme Court will hear arguments next Monday to Wednesday over the fate of Obama’s healthcare law, a battle with legal, political and financial implications for the U.S. healthcare system’s biggest overhaul in nearly 50 years. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst (UNITED STATES – Tags: POLITICS HEALTH CIVIL UNREST) – RTR2ZTA0

“Conservatism in the United States is a political and social philosophy characterized by respect for American traditions, republicanism, limited government, support for Christian values, moral universalism, pro-business, opposition to trade unions, strong national defense, free trade, protectionism, anti-communism, rugged individualism, advocacy of American exceptionalism, and a defense of tradition and Western culture from the perceived threats posed by communism, socialism, and moral relativism.”  — Wikipedia

The traditional definition of a Conservative was someone who wanted to conserve or someone who did not relish or look forward to changing.  It was more of a careful orientation to established policies, procedures, and institutions.  Merriam Webster’s online dictionary defines a conservative as someone who: “a: Tends or is disposed to maintain existing views, conditions, or institutions: Traditional conservative policies. b: marked by moderation or caution.”

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Once upon a time a grudging respect existed between Conservatives and Liberals as exemplified in the show featuring Gore Vidal and William Buckley called “Firing Line.”  Each side knew that the truth politically and socially lay in a balance or a dynamic Hegelian tension between the two ends of the continuum.  I often thought of myself as socially liberal and fiscally conservative.  In the old days, this would have had me with a foot in both the Democratic Party and the Republican Party.  That day is long gone.  Murdered, assassinated, and executed by Right Wing Pundits and Corporate Capitalism that has no use for social benevolence or taking care of the sick and needy.

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Starting in 2000, I listened nightly to AM 1280 in Minneapolis, also called “The Patriot Radio Station.”  This station was a haven for right-wing commentators like Laura Ingraham, Dennis Prager, Mike Savage, and Hugh Hewitt among many others.  Day in and day out, these fascists would spew out slander about Liberals.  Liberals were associated with all the bad in the world and none of the good.

I wrote a blog four years ago about these right-wing nutcases called “Bigots, Liars and Right-Wing Radio Talk Show Hosts.”  In this blog, I explored the lies, calumnies, slanders, and bigotry that characterized most of their discourse.  For seven years, I tuned into the station.  Sometimes, I listened during the day and other times at night.  Always it was the same drumbeat:  Liberals bad.  College Professors bad.  LGBTQ bad.  Socialists bad. Democrats bad.  Nowhere on any radio station in the country were people or talk show hosts using the same derogatory comments to define Conservatives.  I have no doubt that the lies and hatred spewed forth on this station as well as other right-wing stations have poisoned the USA population against the ideas of Liberalism.

I know I stated off with my own less than positive slant towards Liberals but my attitude has more to do with Liberalism as it exists today and less with the traditional notion of a Liberal person who is willing to change and accepts change when needed.  Similarly, I have nothing but the deepest respect for the traditional values of a Conservative who is oriented towards caution and discretion when it comes to change.  Nevertheless, which ever side I choose to be on, it goes without saying that according to John’s Corollary:

“Anytime, one concept in a set of opposing concepts is allowed to dominate the other concept, extreme dysfunction will result.

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Conservatives need Liberals and Liberals need Conservatives.  Many people are condemning the extreme partisanship that has divided America.  I could not begin to list all the books that purport to both describe this partisanship and propose to have a solution to end it.  Most of these solutions are what I would call “pie in the sky” or looking at the world through “rose collared classes.”  There are many reasons for the divides that exist.  I am not a big believer in the idea that simply condemning the partisanship will end it.  What is my solution, you have every right to ask?  Am I any more pragmatic and less naïve than many of the pundits out there?   Sadly, I do not think there are any fast solutions, and I am not sure how many that I might propose would be workable.  But here goes my short list:

  1. Just as Nazism was outlawed in Germany, we need to outlaw and label as terrorist organizations many of the right-wing groups that exist in America.
  2. We need to broaden the definition of hate speech to make it a crime to label people and equate them with evil just by virtue of their job or title. Unless an organization advocates violence and bigotry they should be entitled to respect.
  3. Establish a bi-partisan group to monitor media and to restore some balance to reporting in terms of objectivity and factual relevance.
  4. Expect schools to teach critical thinking and not simply recite facts for Standardized Achievement Tests. Students need to learn to see the pros and cons in any position or argument and to understand that the world is not black and white.
  5. Create a national award system for journalists and commentators that are able to bridge the divide between left-wing and right-wing positions and who seek to find a solution that is win-win.
  6. Create a higher standard for ethics in the Legal Profession. Today the Legal profession in the USA actively aids and abets the right-wing fanaticism that is fueling much of the hate in this country.

Neither the fanatics nor the faint-hearted are needed. And our duty as a Party is not to our Party alone, but to the nation, and, indeed, to all mankind. Our duty is not merely the preservation of political power but the preservation of peace and freedom.  ― John F. Kennedy

I am open to other ideas.  If you would share any, please send them to me via email or post them in the comments section.

Taking It to Extremes – Part 1 of 5

A number of years ago, I wrote an article about the famous “Golden Mean” of Greek philosophy.  The mean was basically a rule that said the best way of living is to balance extremes.  Another way of looking at what this rule implies is that evil or bad things happen when we over do something.  We need to take all things in moderation.  Thus, drugs, smoking, guns, watching TV etc., are not evil or bad in themselves but when we take them to extremes they became dangerous and counterproductive.

I sincerely and whole-heartedly believe in this rule.  However, recently I was thinking about it from another perspective.  I was reflecting on the problems of government today and the extreme polarization that now exists in American politics.  The more I thought about it, the more I realized that the Greek rule was not quite strong enough.  It needs something more.  Perhaps, an extension or a corollary to make the rule stronger.  There are too many instances, where the rule taken at face value does not do enough justice for the circumstances. 

For instance, when I was teaching business I always told my students that organizations needed to balance efficiency with effectiveness.  Efficiency is doing things right, while effectiveness is doing the right things.  Organizations do not need to balance these two concepts as you would a seesaw, but they need to be constantly aware of the tension and perhaps conflict that can exist between the two.  It is an ongoing struggle but never a question of equal balance because the proper balance will never be static.  There are many other polarities in life where it is not really a matter of moderation or balance but actually more a matter of dynamically blending and using synergy to impose a sort of order between the two extremes.  The concept of Hegelian Dialectics comes to my mind. 

Dialectical thinking can be described as: “The ability to view issues from multiple perspectives and to arrive at the most economical and reasonable reconciliation of seemingly contradictory information and postures.”  This is a much more complex process than simply balancing extremes.  The more I thought about it the more I decided to add a corollary to the Greek Rule.  Since I think time has easily proved the value of the Golden Mean, a corollary by definition is a proposition that follows from and is appended to one already proved.  My corollary is as follows:

John’s Corollary:

Anytime, one concept in a set of opposing concepts is allowed to dominate the opposing concept, extreme dysfunction will result 

I want to discuss this more by using five pairs of concepts that I think are critical to our world today.  I want to show you how the distortion created by proponents of each concept are dangerous to life as we know it.  I do not use the word dangerous loosely or frivolously or for effect.  The battle between these ideas is destroying life as we know it on this planet.   The proponents of each side of these polarities seek to destroy the proponents on the other side.  Rather than looking at things from a systems perspective and trying to dynamically adjust the system, opponents are bent on allowing one idea to dominate to the exclusion of the other idea.  Witness the name calling between conservatives and liberals today.  Each side demonizes the other side and assumes God is on their side and Satan is on the other side.  Here are the five pairs of concepts we will look at in the next few weeks.  We will start by looking at number one in my list and following the order given. 

  1. Efficiency versus Effectiveness
  2. Growth versus Development
  3. Society versus the Economy
  4. Conservative versus Liberal
  5. Rights of the Individual versus Rights of the Group
  1.  Efficiency versus Effectiveness:

I noted that I used to teach these concepts to my business students to emphasize the role and responsibilities of a corporation or business.  Taken from a macro perspective, these two ideas might seem unimportant.  However, when you realize that our entire government and system of capitalism runs on both of these concepts, their importance cannot be understated. 

Business seems to sheer towards efficiency with less concern for doing the right things.  If they were more concerned with doing the right things, there would be less of what economists’ call “externalities.”  An externality is a side effect or consequence of an industrial or commercial activity that affects other parties without this being reflected in the cost of the goods or services involved.   Externalities can be either positive or negative in terms of their consequences for society.   Negative externalities include such issues as:  water pollution, air pollution, soil contamination, fumes, dangerous side effects from drugs and many others.  Businesses will invariably try to ignore the costs of these side effects and thus they get passed on to the society.  It is society and environment that suffers from the effects since the consumer or customer generally benefits from the lower costs of production guaranteed by the business passing the costs of the negative externalities on to the world. 

The opposite extreme is seen in government and this is the extreme reflected in how the government tends to manage its costs.  The government focuses on effectiveness.  That is trying to do the right things.  This is actually why we have a government.  The government exists to ensure that things needed by society are provided without regard to costs.  The “without regard to costs” becomes a problem because too often government agencies seem to provide services with little or no emphasis on cost management.  Senator William Proxmire was well known for his “Golden Fleece” award in which a government agency would be bestowed an award for its gross mismanagement of costs.  Over the past decades, conservatives have increasingly tried to take the management of many government functions away from various government agencies due to their gross negligence and ineptness when it comes to management of budgets and costs.  Unfortunately, when put into the hands of a business that is singularly bent on efficiency the quality of the service in terms of its effectiveness may suffer.  One example of this is with our education system. 

Conservatives and Republicans and even some Democrats have decided that public education is inefficient, and that business can do a better job of providing education to American students.  A business exists on a profit and loss model.  However, the idea of providing a quality education to all Americans on such a basis is flawed.  Schools that are democratic institutions cannot cherry pick their students.  In a typical public school, you have a bell-shaped curve of students in terms of both aptitude and attitude.  A private school or charter school will select students with higher aptitudes and attitudes.  This of course, begs the question of how and where the students with lower aptitudes and attitudes will get educated? 

The education of Americans youth becomes an either-or proposition with losers and winners.  No other solutions are looked at as groups coalesce around extremes.  Either we have public education, or we have for-profit education.  There are other solutions, but they involve a radical restructuring of our entire educational system which neither side wants to contemplate.  I do not see public education as the answer to education nor do I see private and for-profit charter schools as the answer.  See my blog on the subject titled:  “Creating a Twenty First Century Education System.”

I could point to dozens of examples of the stupidity of businesses that focus more on costs than effectiveness.  In my twenty some odd years as a management consultant, I worked with many businesses to help create a synergy between efficiency and effectiveness.  The Deming Philosophy exhorted organizations to use systemic thinking to create this synergy.  Much of my focus in consulting was with helping organizations do the right thing and to do things right. 

Conversely, when I was working with a government organization, I would help the organization learn to do things more efficiently.  I was often so frustrated with the inefficiency and economic stupidity of some government agencies that I thought they should simply be abolished.  When Governor Perry was asked which government agencies he would eliminate, he could not name three.  I could immediately think of six that I would abolish. 

I am no friend of inefficiency.  Inefficiency is a crime upon humanity.  It robs people of valuable time and resources and money.  It makes life more difficult by waste and rework and a callous disregard for the abilities of employees.  I am also no friend of ineffectiveness.  What good are products and services if they cannot do what they were designed to do or if in providing their intended functions, the unintended side effects are a disaster for our society or environment.  Corporations need to provide a quality product that is wanted or needed by a customer “but not just at a price they can afford” but at a price that allows the negative externalities to either be avoided or addressed.  In other words, costs of pollution and environmental degradation must be paid for by the organization and its customers. 

I think you should now understand from much of my conversation above, the inherent dangers of not addressing both efficiency and effectiveness in the operations of any business or organization.  As I have argued, ignoring either concept or taking either one to an extreme will create a dangerous situation that will become dysfunctional to life.

My next blog will look at the battle in our world between growth and development.  This is a battle that is destroying our environment and lives throughout the world.  The following has been noted by the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions:

  • Communities, builders, homeowners, and forest managers can reduce the likelihood and impacts of wildfires by:
  • Discouraging developments (especially residential) near fire-prone forests through smart zoning rules.
  • Increasing the space between structures and nearby trees and brush and clearing space between neighboring houses.

Thanks for reading.  Please leave any comments or thoughts you might have on my blog site.  Or email me at persico.john@gmail.com

Reconstructing the Great Speeches – Danton:  “Dare, Dare Again, Always Dare”

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George Jacques Danton born October 26, 1759 wanted to dare and dare he did.  He dared so much; he lost his head to a guillotine on the 5th of April 1794.  Danton was one of the prime movers during the French Revolution of 1789.  For those of you whose history is limited, the French Revolution was quite a remarkable event.  Here is some background before we look at Danton’s famous speech.  For more detailed history, go to Wikipedia or the library.

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The French Revolution (1789-1799)

What makes the French Revolution confusing is that there was actually two of them.  We are discussing the background of the first one.  The second one was in 1830.  The first one is noteworthy for two major reasons.  1)  It set a precedent for overthrowing the rule of divine right by kings.  You have to keep in mind, that with the major exception of the United States of America, the world was ruled by Kings and Queens.  Many of these rulers professed a “divine right” to rule.  In other words, they believed that they were ordained by God him/herself to rule over the lesser beings on the planet whom they regarded as subjects.  As “subjects” the people under the rulers were “subject” to all forms of abuse and intimidation.  In many countries, people had little or no rights except by the grace of their rulers.

256px-TroisordresThe Catholic Church in France was a major power.  The Catholic hierarchy managed to continue to exert influence in France long after it lost power in other countries.  The Catholic Church kept its power by a political collusion with the French monarchy which helped the Church fight off the Protestant religion that had swept so much of Europe.  From the beginning of the Protestant Reformation, the Church in France along with the Monarchy had persecuted, exiled, and killed thousands of Protestants.  Thus, there were many in France who hated the Catholic leaders as much as they hated their King and Queen, who by the way also lost their heads during the French Revolution.

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Needless to say, the rest of Europe was not too happy at seeing the servants and peasants overthrow the royalty in France.  This idea that the royalty was not so special might just infiltrate the minds of subjects in other countries.  Which of course is just what happened.  Over time, most of Europe eventually marginalized the role of their monarchies and established a variety of democratic institutions.  These later institutions would rule by laws set by the people and not by “divine right.”

Three of the most important democratic concepts to come out of the first French Revolution is epitomized by the motto “Liberty, Equality and Fraternity” which became the national motto of France.  Liberty is the right to express one’s ideas without fear of repercussions.  Equality expressed the idea that all social classes were citizens of France and would have equal rights.  The monarchy and the Catholic Church would no longer be privileged.  Fraternity meant that we are all brothers and would share in a common unity of humanity and respect.  In 1789, The leaders of the Revolution drafted a document called the “Declaration of the Rights of Man” which outlined a set of enlightened principles about governing and government which bore some resemblance to the Bill of Rights in the USA.  Of course, women were still among the unprivileged.  Which leads us to the second major reason that the first French Revolution is noteworthy.

This second reason is the devolution into chaos and anarchy that happened.  Faced with a great deal of opposition both in and outside France to these new enlightened ideas, the leaders of the revolution became increasingly paranoid.  They were beyond cautious about who their enemies might be and what they needed to do to protect the emerging values of the French Revolution.  This led them to adopt a rather expedient method of protecting the Revolution.  The guillotine was developed as a very effective instrument for cutting off the heads of anyone whom they suspected might be either an enemy of the Revolution or even those who did not fully support the Revolution.  During, what has become known as “The Reign of Terror” (June 1793 to July 1794) about 17,000 people were guillotined.  Many more people were shot or otherwise murdered during the French Revolution.

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Looking back, it seems bizarre to think that a revolution founded on the democratic ideas of the American Revolution and such theorists as Voltaire, Rousseau and Montesquieu could have led to the slaughter of so many people.  A slaughter that sadly is now one of the major things we remember about the First French Revolution.  Furthermore, the Revolution eventually led into an outright dictatorship by Napoleon Bonaparte.  Human nature was no more consistent or predictable in the 18th Century than it is today.  We wonder today how so many people in the USA would seem to reject the principles that it was founded upon.  Everywhere you look, we find those who reject the concepts of democracy and the rule of law.

Danton (1759 – 1794)

Some say Danton was the prime mover behind the French Revolution (1789 – 1799).  Before the Revolution, Danton was a lawyer of no particular noteworthiness.  He came into his own as one of the major leaders of the French Revolution.  He held a number of significant offices as the leaders struggled to form a government that would uphold the new values driving the Revolution.  Danton was perhaps as bloodthirsty or paranoid as some other leaders, notably Robespierre and Saint-Just.  Danton’s trial before his execution tended to be highly political and he was found guilty of a number of charges including bribery, financial corruption, and leniency towards the enemies of the Revolution   These charges were founded more on the fears of his political opponents than any real evidence.

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Dare, Dare Again, Always Dare (1792)

Danton’s most famous speech was not given at his trial.  Due to his noted oratory, the leaders at his trial decided not to allow him to speak.  They were afraid that if anyone listened to him, he would convince them of his innocence and perhaps even regain power over his accusers.  This speech was given in the face of threats by enemies attacking France from within the country and outside the country.  Danton as a key leader of the Revolution would have been marked for death should the Revolution be overthrown.  Ironically, he was executed by his former comrades.

“It is gratifying to the ministers of a free people to have to announce to them that their country will be saved.  All are stirred, all are excited, all burn to fight.  You know that Verdun is not yet in the power of our enemies. You know that its garrison swears to immolate the first who breathes a proposition of surrender.”             

France was being attacked by Germany then known as Prussia.  Verdun actually surrendered the same day that Danton’s speech was given.  Danton is lauding the efforts of the French people to fight for the principles of the Revolution.  The monarchies in the surrounding countries want to put down the Revolution for fear it could lead to the people in their countries also revolting.  Thus, Prussia, Austria, Spain and Russia all fought to help overthrow the French Revolution.

“One portion of our people will proceed to the frontiers, another will throw up entrenchments, and the third with pikes will defend the hearts of our cities.  Paris will second these great efforts. The commissioners of the Commune will solemnly proclaim to the citizens the invitation to arm and march to the defense of the country.”

In this speech, you can see a resemblance to the famous French National Anthem, the Marseillaise.”  The song was written in 1792 by Claude Joseph Rouget de Lisle in Strasbourg after the declaration of war by France against Austria.  One of the refrains from the song is:

  • Grab your weapons, citizens!
  • Form your battalions!
  • Let us march! Let us march!
  • May impure blood
  • Water our fields!

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“We ask that anyone refusing to give personal service or to furnish arms shall be punished with death.  We ask that a set of instructions be drawn up for the citizens to direct their movements. We ask that couriers be sent to all the departments to notify them of the decrees that you proclaim here.  The tocsin we are about to ring is not an alarm signal; it sounds the charge on the enemies of our country.  To conquer them we must dare, dare again, always dare, and France is saved!”

Danton wanted to impose harsh punishments for anyone refusing service to France.  France initially suffered a series of defeats by other countries.  Eventually, by rallying together, France went on the offensive and achieved many victories.  By defeating their enemies, they solidified the gains of the Revolution.  However, these victories also allowed Napoleon to gain power and become Emperor.  Not much difference really between and an Emperor and a King.   France might have gone two steps forward but they also went two steps back.

Danton’s concluding line was an exhortation to boldness and audacity.  “Dare, Dare and Always Dare!”  I have always admired these words and have tried to use them in my own life.  Consider what it means, if you will, when you try to apply them.  What are areas of your life where you have fears?  What areas where you need to be braver or bolder?  Where do you think you need to speak out more?  Where do you need to stand up for yourself more?  If you find many areas where you lack bravery, think of Danton’s speech.

Remember the line from the play Julius Caesar “Cowards die many times before their death, heroes only once.”  The following is a short one minute video I found online that captures the spirit of Danton’s lines.

 

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