How do Putin’s Russia and Trump’s USA Compare?

A screenwriter whom I knew back in junior high school here in DC, and who, like me, was an anti-war activist back during Vietnam, and with whom I sometimes agree and sometimes disagree, wrote:

Retweeted Doug Henwood (@DougHenwood):

Anyone left of center who took the Russia paranoia seriously, look where it’s taking us. This is extremely bad news. https://t.co/64ZUUe4p9K

I replied as follows (edited by me for clarity and accuracy):

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I cannot find any actual facts in that tweet. (And yes, I followed the link)

On the other hand, here are a few things that I think are objectively true, and a few that are my own opinion:*

the Russian government is… (1) oligarchical,

(2) a kleptocracy on every level,

(3) steals from its own people and rapes its environment for the benefit of a small group of billionaires,

(4) murders, muzzles, or imprisons people who dissent,

(5) supports friendly dictators abroad,

(6) builds and sells military weapons all over the world, and

(7) meddles in the internal affairs of foreign countries.

By contrast, the American government has recently been adjudged by experts (not me) as

(1) an oligarchy that systematically works for the benefit of a small wealthy class of businessmen to thwart the wishes of the majority,

(2) assassinates lots of people (mostly overseas; the murders of black men by police seems to be a local, not an explicitly national, policy),

(3) while the billionaires have been quite successful in breaking labor unions in the US and reducing wages for working people, we have had over time all sorts of vigorous [and sometimes somewhat successful] movements [which are now under hard attack from the current party in power] to preserve the rights of workers, consumers, and the environment,

(4) the US does in fact allow critics [for example, I’ve been to any number of anti-government demonstrations over the past 50 years and have only been arrested a couple of times for it, never beaten up by police; however, there have been plenty of times when the power of the State lined up firmly on the side of corporations to help break labor unions],

(5) supports friendly dictators abroad [of course proclaiming them to be lovers of freedom,

(6) builds and sells more weapons than anybody, and

(7) meddles in foreign elections and so forth [I recently saw a very long list of countries where the US had interfered with internal affairs or overthrew the government since WW1].

There are a couple of differences, though:

In many countries, you can’t get ANYTHING done at any level of government (from the head of state down to dog-catcher) without bribing somebody. That is not (yet) true in the US. However, it looks to me like Trump and his family are working hard to bring the US up to the level where our corruption is even higher than in Russia, China, India, the Philippines, or Nigeria. And 45 has certainly called for beating up protesters like myself, and praised corrupt, murderous foreign dictators like Putin and Duterte. However, there is still a lot more freedom of the press and assembly here than in the four countries I named!

Vive la resistance!

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* which statements are fact, which are opinion? I type – you decide.

Trump, Finance, and Outsourcing

I listened to Trump talking about the Chinese and Mexicans ‘stealing our jobs’. In fact, it’s American companies who shed American jobs either by automating the production (so that 1 worker today can do about the same amount of work as 10 workers back when I had summer jobs in factories making automobile parts and clamps and such, 40 or 50 years ago) or else by closing the entire American branch of the firm down and selling off all its assets and machines and renegotiating for suppliers of its raw materials and for customers, and generally stiffing the workers who had oftentimes accumulated a promise to some sort of a pension and life long health care plan after working a set number of years. So after working in a factory or mine for their entire able-bodied adult life, they end up with almost nothing.
 
(Trump would have a bit more credibility on this topic if he hadn’t for years had almost all of his branded products made in China, Vietnam, Mexico and so on. ‘Makes him smart’ to do an end-run around American wages, worker protections, and taxes. While he complains to American supporters about other corporations like Ford and Caterpillar doing exactly the same thing.)
 
When I went to school and worked for about 6-7 years in NH, MA, NY and VT during my ‘teens and 20’s, I knew older workers (like at my college) who lost had lost multiple fingers in the textile mills — which had already closed because the corporate heads were chasing cheaper labor in the American South. The janitor in my college dorm was a really nice older fellow. I think he still had a majority of his fingers, but I vividly remember that he was unable to go up a flight of stairs without immediately sitting down for 10 minutes at an oxygen tank, because he had contracted ‘white lung’ from years working around whirring machinery and breathing hot, moist air filled with cotton dust. [The hot, moist air and high levels of cotton dust made for better production levels and thus, higher profits for the company, workers’ long-term health be damned.] Despite his advanced age, he clearly still needed to work at the College because his Social Security and whatever pension he may or may not have had wasn’t enough.] He had an oxygen tank on the second and third floors of our dorm, IIRC.
 
Extremely highly-skilled tool and die workers in Springfield, VT, which was once the very center of precision machine manufacturing of the United States, have seen the entire industry in that so-called ‘precision valley’ get shipped overseas. All of those factories are now empty shells, it’s true.
 
I talked to coal miners in West Virginia in the 1970s and 1980s who were similarly scarred for life by black lung disease; they were upset 35 years ago that their lifetime health care plans would be taken away or dramatically reduced.
But it’s not immigrant workers who sneak across our borders with secret plans to remoove all those machines in the dead of night, with the open or hush-hush agreements of state and local and federal governments, banks & other financial institutions, lawyers, and other companies that supply them with spare parts, raw materials, and markets. It’s not illegal aliens doing this. It’s sleaze bag financiers and businessmen like Donald Trump, Goldman Sachs, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, the Walton family, and the Koch brothers who do this. Not desperate workers looking for a life but who can’t afford the fees, bribes, lawyers and connections needed to get official, legitimate, visas and green cards.
In fact, one can make the argument that it’s the Walton family itself that has nearly single-handedly made China the manufacturing center of the entire world. David Stockman among many others has shown that Walmart’s relentless pressure to reduce prices forced American companies to lay off almost all of their American workers and to outsource production to countries where workers are killed by goons and their bodies bnurned or fed to crocodiles if they try to organize unions (as opposed to simply being fired, bankrupted and disgraced, which is the American way) to try to get better than starvation wages, some personal privacy and respect, shorter hours, and safer working conditions. So that’s why if you visit places like Rochester, Phoenixville, Pittsburgh, Buffalo, Springfield (VT), Detroit, or Indianapolis you won’t see the factories that gave employment to (and also maimed and wore out) millions of American workers. We also don’t have the smog or severe air and water pollution of yesteryear. The heavily-polluting coke mills of Gary or Weirton WV are (I think?) all closed too, thanks both to EPA rules and the impersonal dictates of the ‘invisible hand’ and the Walton family fortune.
But all is not so wonderful in China (or India, Thailand or Vietnam) for those peasants-turned-factory workers who are no longer spending their lives hoeing rice, millet, or sorghum but instead making toys, clothing, textiles, electronics, cars, and anything else for 12 hours a day, 6 days a week, all $100/month (Vietnam) see this for US, Germany, China comparisons
For one thing, the air pollution in India and China reminds me of the similar and famous problems of London or Pittsburgh back in the 1950’s (see London 1953 and Beijing 60 years later, below)
London during the Great Smog  
In addition, China is itself in a completely unsustainable bubble, where the financiers and Party heads command enormous empty modern cities to be built in the middle of nowhere, in which nobody works or lives except for a few security guards and custodians, and there are no open businesses or shops – as a way of making jobs, but nobody appears to be able to afford to buy the apartments and condos there. I don’t pretend to understand how that makes any sense, nor do I comprehend, high finance, but some people say they do, and their predictions for the Chinese economy make for pretty alarming reading.
And of course, the fact that nearly all Trump products are made overseas is a pretty good indication that he’s just pandering to an easily-fooled section of the electorate. It’s divide-and-rule: make American workers (who have been screwed by the 1/10 of 1% who rule this country) hate and blame workers overseas, especially if them furriners come here looking to make a better life and don’t have the right papers or might have some funny ideas or aren’t Baptists or Methodists …
Published in: on September 29, 2016 at 11:48 am  Leave a Comment  
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Education in India and China

Perhaps you recall the alarming ads from a few years ago about the millions of Chinese and Indian students who weren getting better educations from their system’s schools and wildly out-performing American students. The threat, of course, is that these Asians were about to eat the collective lunches of American students, and that we evil, lazy, stupid, unionized American teachers were to blame.

Lloyd Lofthouse has a column about how lousy the Chinese and Indian school systems are, in fact. I recommend reading it, but, unfortunately, he didn’t cite any of his sources, so I decided to dig around a bit to try to verify his figures.

So far, so good, and let me share a few things I discovered:

education in india

Take a glance at this table that I copied and pasted from a survey of Indian education by some group called CLSA. Notice that by  the high school level (grades 9-12), only thirty-two percent of the children in India are still in school. 

That means that 68% of the children in India have dropped out of school by the time they reach high school.

Wow.

And according to Hindu Business Online, not probably a hotbed of wild-eyed Marxists, the typical Indian child only spends about 5.1 years in school. Five years!

And while it is true that China has done an amazing job of opening up opportunities for its youth and reducing the illiteracy rates from about 80% to about 5% (mostly the aged), and while it is true that many Chinese students study very hard and do very well on tests, this should be taken with some grains of salt. According to James Fallows in the Atlantic,

“it is certainly arguable the Chinese educational system and culture leads the world in training students how to take tests. But it is not clear whether this type of training prepares students for much else other than taking tests. Certainly I have seen much evidence for this proposition in the Chinese graduate students that I have worked with. My favorite examples were the Chinese students with perfect TOEFL scores who could neither read nor write English in any meaningful way.”

[TOEFL used to mean Test of English as a Foreign Language]

I have not yet been able to nail down figures for what percentage of Chinese students actually make it to middle school or to high school or to college. But from what I see so far, you can rest assured that these numbers are much, much less than 100%!!

Apparently it doesn’t matter to that nearly every other nation has close to 100% union membership among its teachers, notably Finland — another nation whose students appear to be eating our lunch, too, according to the same international tests. It also doesn’t matter that in the USA, states where teacher union membership is high tend to have higher test scores than states where union membership is low.

Korean vs American Schools as seen by Amanda Ripley

A surprising look at the supposedly wonderful schools in South Korea in Amanda Ripley’s fairly recent book “The Smartest Kids in the World” makes you appreciate American public AND private schools.*

Why? According to Ripley, the American exchange student who began attending a Korean high school in Busan (Pusan) SK  was surprised to find that about a third of his classmates openly, “flat-out slept” through classes and that many paid no attention in class, chatting quietly.*** It was easy to see why: they were in class with only a few short breaks from 7 in the morning to 11 at night!

Why did they spend so much time in school? Because Korea has a single end-of-HS exam that would make or break a student’s entire future. No possibility of a do-over or a re-take. If you were in the top 2% (or what we might call the 98th or 99th percentile, in other words, well over two standard deviations above the national mean) or roughly over 720 on the SAT, you were set FOR LIFE – admission to the best universities for free, guaranteed top jobs at top corporations, guaranteed brilliant career and wealth for life. Everybody else in Korea? Not sure – haven’t read that far yet, but it seems that every secondary student in the entire country spends the last two years of high school doing NOTHING except studying for this final exam. Perhaps they rank every single student by their exam score, just as every kid’s scores were publicly displayed and ranked on the single blackboard in every classroom after every single important graded effort in their classes? (Yeah, sure, they used ID numbers instead of names, but the kids all knew each other’s ID#s, according to Ripley.)

By the way, according to Ripley, just about all Koreans HATE and DESPISE their supposedly wonderful educational system. They would much rather have a system that valued and promoted creativity and teamwork.

Is that the sort of education we want for most of our kids? It certainly seems like some folks do want that. I’m referring to the  hedge-fund or high-tech billionaires or just plain con artists (remember Michael Millken? He’s one of the biggest edupreneurs today, fresh out of prison for multibilliondollar fraud…) or former sports stars; all of whom who went to progressive and elite private schools and who are running the policies of American education today – do want that, but not for their own privileged children. Only for the children of poor, black or hispanic kids attending public or charter schools. No, if you go to Lakeside or Sidwell or Georgetown Day or Chicago Lab school, you get to be on interscholastic sports teams, go kayaking, volunteer on farms or stables, and learn foreign languages and art and music and so on and so forth.

But these pious fraudsters sure do seem to be on way towards instituting that. Using the language of the civil rights movement, they somehow, and in a very Owellian way, institute a very oppressive and stultifying regime in many of their schools. For example, I visited a supposedly highly-ranked, large, charter school here in DC (not a KIPP) 100% black and latino IIRC, where the kids were in the very same classroom from 7:30 AM to 4:30 PM, all day, and were only let out to go to the bathroom and to pick up their breakfast and lunch bags from a cart in the hallway. Unless there was a fire drill. I am not exaggerating in the least. Teachers moved, not students. No wonder the kids were off the hook much of the time, giving their very young and mostly inexperienced teachers a hard time with no possibility of administrative support. For the kids, the only way to get some excitement was to be bad and act out, which they did. (They were not even allowed to make any noise or talk to each other while one teacher left and the other entered!)**

I thought and said at the time that one way to improve things would be to take kids on walks up and down the stairs or go outside and and make it into a math activity somehow so you could slip it past the administration. The teacher could get real buy-in from the students by convincing them that if they were “good” on these expeditions, they could continue, but if kids acted up, they’d be back int he classroom again… because the admin would cancel the walks – remember, the only times the kids would get out of the classroom until 4:30 pm… And no art, no music, no PE most days. I think they had one period of one of these once a week, but I could be wrong.

But in any case, this is not how I was raised, nor my parents or other older relatives I know anything about, nor my own kids, and I hope not my grandkids will be raised. Kids need time to go outside, run around, climb, build things, knock them down, chase each other in various games, socialize, scream, play-act, and so on. You go nuts if you don’t. We do not belong inside all the time cramming for an exam!

Chinese students of mine and a Chinese colleagues have described to me told me that American teachers worked so much harder than Chinese teachers, more hours a day and more students and many more onerous tasks and responsibilities for the entirety of their students’ lives: supervising in hallways and cafeterias and playgrounds, meetings with parents, endless meetings with other administrators, filling out myriads of highly complex yet meaningless forms both in hard-copy and on-line in various media and platforms… exactly none of which is required of Chinese teachers. They teach their three or so classes per day, and that’s it. They even have graduate assistants to do all the grading! No parents demanding that little Wang or Miao-Miao deserves a 95% on a test and a good recommendation or an apology from the teacher for not braiding the child’s hair correctly… If there is a meeting with parents, the teacher is more likely to be given deep reverence and large presents… No interactive, engaging lessons there. Just lectures.

Why is it that American teachers are held in such ill-repute? They try harder and work harder than teachers in any country that I’m aware of, and I’ve lived and gone to school overseas for nearly four years, learning the local languages fairly well.

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I would appreciate any comments from other folks who have visited schools in the US and abroad — what comparisons would you like to make?

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*I’m reading several books simultaneously, all of them interesting. I won’t finish this one for a while, but I ran across something interesting and I thought I’d share this. I had previously thought Ripley was much too worshipful of Michelle Rhee, but so far, this looks pretty factual.

** Even though I think 7:30 AM to 4:30 PM such as at that DC charter school is a long day, it’s “only” nine hours. Pity the poor South Korean kids who are in school for EIGHTEEN hours a day, minus a few recesses and meal breaks, and who are also expected to do all of the janitorial duties at their schools!! New Gingrich would approve, as long as they are poor people’s children, and not his own…

*** A few paragraphs from Ripley’s book:

“A few minutes later, he glanced backwards at the rows of students behind him. Then he looked again, eyes wide. A third of the class was asleep. Not nodding off, but flat-out, no-apology sleeping, with their heads down on their desks. One girl actually had her head on a special pillow that slipped over her forearm. This was pre-meditated napping.

“How could this be? Eric had all about the hard-working Koreans who trounced the Americans in math, reading and science. He hadn’t read anything about shamelessly sleeping through class. As if to compensate for his classmates, he sat up even straighter and waited to see what happened next.

” The teacher lectured on, unfazed.

“At the end of class, the kids woke up. They had a ten-minute break and made every second count. Girls sat on top of their desks… chatting with each other and texting on their phones. A few of the boys started drumming on ther desks with their pencils…

“Next was science class. Once again, at least a third of the class went to sleep. It was almost farcical. How did Korean kids get those record-setting test scores if they spent so much of their time asleep in class?” (pp 52-53)

The Chinese Way to Get High International Test Scores: Exclude Low-Scorers

Here is the secret for getting high scores on tests like PISA, TIMMS and so on: systematically exclude any student likely to produce low scores.

In Singapore, the children of the local indentured servant class and the children of migrant workers who cross from Malaysia every day simply are not counted because they are not permitted to attend schools in Singapore at all.

In China, even though students in a number of provinces are tested and measured on PISA by the OECD, the Chinese government only permits scores to be published from the city of Shanghai — where half of the school-age children simply are not allowed to attend school or receive any services at all, since they theoretically and legally belong to their home town out in the rural provinces somewhere.

I strongly recommend reading this article, on Diane Ravitch’s blog, as well as my wonderfully edifying comment.

http://dianeravitch.net/2013/12/12/tom-loveless-on-shanghai-the-scores-are-rigged-and-oecd-doesnt-care/

and here is the original article by Tom Loveless of the Brookings Institution, and here are a few paragraphs from it:

The only reasonable conclusion is this: officials in Shanghai are only counting children with Shanghai hukous as its population of 15 year-olds, about 108,000.  And the OECD is accepting those numbers.  It is as if the other children, numbering 120,000 or more, do not exist.  This is not a sampling problem.  PISA can sample all it wants from the official population.  Migrant children have been filtered out.  Professor Chan of Washington agrees with this hypothesis, saying in an email to me: “By the time PISA is given at age 15, almost all migrant children have been purged from the public schools.  The data are clear.”

What Now?

As a researcher who studies student achievement, I use PISA data.  That requires trust and confidence in the integrity of the assessment.  I can be confident, for example, that the scores from Portugal are from a representative sample of all 15 year-olds in Portuguese schools.  I have no such faith in PISA scores from China.  PISA-OECD has been silent about its special arrangement with China.  All of the data from 2009 still have not been released.  The data from Shanghai apparently only represent the privileged subset of 15 year-olds who hold Shanghai hukous.  I don’t know for sure. In the four volumes of data on PISA 2012, neither hukous nor the migrant children of China are discussed. Not a word.  Not a peep.

PISA officials are not shy about offering policy advice to countries, especially policies that the OECD believes will promote equity.  Delaying tracking and ability grouping, reforming policies governing immigration, distributing resources so that schools with less get more, and expanding early childhood education—all have been promoted as equity-based policies.  But not a word about reforming hukou.  Not a word on a discriminatory policy affecting the education of millions of Chinese children.  Not a word on the human rights story of migrant families in China and the human suffering that they must endure. 

Published in: on December 12, 2013 at 9:34 am  Leave a Comment  
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Wonderful Satire By Yong Zhao

His headline and first paragraph or so:

 

What’s Still Missing in American Education and How to Out-educate China?

10 MAY 2012

America has almost caught up with China, and actually in some areas surpassed it. Thanks to No Child Left Behind, America can now claim to have even more frequent high stakes standardized tests than China.

It can also be proud to be more serious than China about the test results because it uses test scores to break up schools, fire school leaders, and publicly humiliate teachers, while China does not have the guts to do any of that. China only gives those schools and teachers with high test scoring students some extra money.

America has also successfully reduced time on nonsense school activities such as music, arts, sports, science, social studies, lunch time, and field trips, something it has wanted to do since the 1950s when surpassing the former Soviet Union was the aspiration. And the silly Chinese are working hard to push those nonsense activities into schools.

Published in: on March 17, 2013 at 8:23 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Shanghai PISA scores not representative of China

Interesting article by a Chinese-American scholar who studies Chinese migratory labor. He points out that the students in Shanghai who took the PISA tests, and who scored at the top of the various nations who engaged in the test, aren’t representative of Chinese students generally. An excerpt:

“… the contrast of the U.S. scores with Shanghai’s is not totally appropriate: It is comparing the entire U.S. population — including many who are on free or reduced-price lunches — with China’s cream of the crop, the Shanghai kids.

Even more important, but far less-known, is that in Shanghai, as in most other Chinese cities, the rural migrant workers that are the true urban working poor (totaling about 150 million in the country), are not allowed to send their kids to public high schools in the city. This is engineered by the discriminatory hukou or household registration system, which classifies them as “outsiders.” Those teenagers will have to go back home to continue education, or drop out of school altogether.

In other words, the city has 3 to 4 million working poor, but its high-school system conveniently does not need to provide for the kids of that segment. In essence, the poor kids are purged from Shanghai’s sample of 5,100 students taking the tests. The Shanghai sample is the extract of China’s extract. A fairer play would be to ask kids at [Alice Deal, Lafayette, Sidwell Friends, NCS, or St. Alban’s*] to race against Shanghai’s kids.”

Here is the link to the article:

http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/opinion/2013808513_guest03chan.html

* The author used some fancy private school in Seattle that I’ve never heard of, since I live in the East coast Washington. So I inserted names of some schools I do know something about.

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