STEM Crisis Myth Revealed: Industry Leaders and Politicians Need a Surplus Army of STEM Workers (Clayton Pierce, Ph.D.)

Great compliment to Boak Ferris’ article “Why English Matters: What the Science Says.”  Reblogged from Clayton Pierce’s blog “Education in the Age of Biocapitalism.”

Education in the Age of Biocapitalism


Over the past 10 years especially, calls to increase Science, Technology, Math, and Engineering (STEM) output from our country’s schools has been deafening. It is impossible to listen to almost any policy maker or CEO speaking on the topic of education reform in the U.S. who does not couch their entire analysis on the STEM worker shortage crisis the country is currently facing. Schools and universities in the U.S., if they are to do one thing, so the story goes, is to produce a massive STEM workforce that can help the economy roll past fast moving competitors such as India and China (insert any other country that scores better on the trends in international mathematics and science study [TIMSS] test). The problem with this story, as Harvard Law School senior research associate Michael S. Teitelbaum has recently pointed out in his study on the STEM workforce shortage, is that it…

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Why English Matters: What the Science Says (Boak Ferris)


The world and S.T.E.M.

By popular demand, Boak Ferris’ revised and expanded version (with footnotes and references) of “Why English Matters…”

Why English Matters: WHAT THE SCIENCE SAYS —


By Boak Ferris

English matters, but only under one condition: if America wants successful professionals and teachers who can innovate ethical advancements in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.  Otherwise, English doesn’t matter; it doesn’t matter at all.  We can always watch TV, push buttons, and play media devices instead.

Cart Before the Horse?

Do not view this thesis as a gripe over the diminishment of English and related fields as worthy disciplines—frankly, because it’s obvious and confirmed in the news that employers prefer applicants with strong liberal-arts skills.[i]  Nation-wide, employers know that strong language, writing, reading, analytical, and interpersonal skills serve as baselines in any STEM FIELD, especially since STEM professionals must rigorously document and publish every valid breakthrough, innovation, advance, and service.[ii]

So how have our influential educational policymakers and STEM monomaniacs missed it, and gotten so completely backward?  They don’t know the science!  Clearly, they have no background in, nor current knowledge about, the neuroscience of learning, nor in the common-sense developmental psychologies of child, juvenile, and adult learners.  Starting at three to six months of age,[iii] in what’s called the critical period, human beings begin acquiring language, and are genetically programmed to learn language first, before they develop the physiomotor skills to articulate the new words they learn and before they develop the skeletal-muscular skills to manipulate concrete objects in their environment, (let alone mentally manipulate abstract objects or actions).  Language-acquisition precedes arithmetic and mathematic and science literacy.  At the same time as infants learn language, their mirror neurons initiate the connections among the neural nets responsible for knowing and reproducing sounds.[iv]  Babies, in other words, maybe even neonates, are programmed to be enchanted by words and actions and must imitate adults’ words and actions.[v]

What these discoveries mean is that educators and their administrators need to understand that these innate mental learning neural pathways are devoted to mastering language and action—FIRST, if they wish to accelerate learning in other subjects for infants and children.  Those authorities who urge more and more sole STEM education, training, and testing for our children, prior to addressing the state of our children’s (and young adults’) literacy skills, risk disenfranchising entire generations of students.  And equally uninformed legislators, enchanted with the woefully inadequate acronym STEM, are climbing on board, but ignoring the science they advocate.

Literacy First?

How, when, and where are our students and eventual citizens supposed to acquire rigorous fluency, literacy, and documentation skills, especially if students have undiagnosed reading, language-processing, or fluency “disabilities”?  According to government statistics, America loses more than 20 percent of a viable white-collar professional workforce to high-school attrition, dropout, disappointment, discouragement, and disillusionment[vi]—all emotional factors caused by understandable frustration over enjoyably and easily attaining reading-skills, language-processing skills, aural-comprehension skills, abstract-symbol-interpreting skills, and other language-development skills. Perhaps M-METALS serves as a better acronym, (Movement/Motion, Math, Engineering, Technology, Art, Language, and Science).

Furthermore, America, finishing last among countries tracked by the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development), loses 46% of its potential college graduates to dropout[vii] as well, all likely because students find it painful and laborious and time-consuming to read quickly with high comprehension.[viii]  Another statistic that hasn’t changed in 60 years involves remediation: 30 % of High School graduates, otherwise qualified for college entry, need remediation for College English, Math, or both[ix]—a fact that can’t be fixed by eliminating remedial classes as a result of nationwide university budget cuts—or rushing to improve graduation rates by relaxing standards.

In other words, high-school students historically prepared for and competent at college-level math are often not competent at college-level English, and vice-versa, an educational fact that can be fixed by implementing the simple curricular solutions proposed in this article.  Meanwhile, note that eliminating remediation is sometimes university-speak for preventing access to college for disenfranchised and underserved students who have been failed by purveyors of curriculums who don’t or can’t address linguistic and literacy competencies.

How ironic it is, then, that monomaniacal curriculum programmers and designers engage in magical thinking by believing the myth: scientific, technological, engineering, and mathematical skills can somehow, through magic transference of knowledge produced by endless testing, talking-at, and tsunamis of homework,[x] be bored or forced into young learners’ brains, regardless of the initial state of learners’ verbal and linguistic competencies—the domain of English (read Language) teachers.

Pedagogical Brutality—or Ignorance?

The idea that STEM content can be forced into students prior to assessing and improving the state of children’s pre-existing English verbal, speaking, reading, and associative-thinking skills (the primary neuro-linguistic skills) amounts to irresponsible and unconscionable pedagogical practices.

And, when these practices are accompanied by the aforementioned persistent and emotionally abusive testing, America should not be so surprised that hatred for school and education and teachers arises, evincing clear signs of “educational trauma,” in schoolchildren.  The losses of students from high schools, who never graduate, and later as potential graduates from college, run too high.  Naturally unknowing and ignorant of their bullying, principals, teachers, legislators, curriculum designers—and parents—fuss and wring their hands, when students develop antipathies toward anything mathematical or scientific—and toward the purveyors of such disciplines.  “These kids don’t get it!  We’re not testing them enough! Let’s test them some more!!”  And next, “Let’s teach to the tests!!” all despite the fact that the average STEM textbook has upwards of 100 factual errors,[xi] and that the average test reflects more the prejudices of the test-makers[xii] than it does the actual “facts” students need to assess for truth or falsehood (an overlooked critical concept absent in K-12, except by gifted teachers).  When critical skills remain undernourished, the nation churns out masses of passive, unengaged, and unmotivated readers, as university faculty have observed over the last five years.

With a little reminding, perhaps educational policymakers and legislators can shift their perspectives slightly to one that’s first and foremost language-centered: children need to understand the specialized and embedded definitions and nomenclatures common to the varied pre-STEM fields.  Science and Math mastery start with Science and Math literacy.  Literacy as defined herein means 1) early vocabulary-acquisition, from day 1 of infancy; 2) early reading and decoding of abstract symbols called letters and numerals, from as early as possible, for most capable children without disabilities, by nine to eighteen months of age; 3) swift comprehension of read-concepts, which depends on accelerating non-phonetic word- and phrase-recognition; and 4) experiencing enjoyment at improving and honing these skills.

Naming Comes First[xiii]

Success in STEM fields rests on acquiring, and recognizing, specialized nomenclature, the words and their etymological building blocks which are language-based. The definitions required for mastery of STEM fields, in turn, derive from well-taught language expertise combined with later hands-on experimentation and activities with concrete and (next) abstract objects.  These concrete and abstract objects, (number concepts, for example, or principles of gravitation or protein synthesis), derive their initial meanings and applications from naming.

Naming comes first; before STEM prowess, and naming is the very first psycholinguistic activity in infants’ brains,[xiv] before they have the motor skills to experiment, or before they can correlate named objects with numbers.  The neuroscience proves that language-acquisition and literacy precede number literacy as well as precede arithmetic mastery.[xv]  In other words, language is the first engine of all thinking, (excepting, perhaps, sensorimotor experiencing), and in America the primary language is English.  Like it or hate it, English is also the predominant language of international business; while being the predominant medium of science,[xvi] math, and engineering official publication, documentation, and/or translation.  Straight up, if children can’t logically sequence their English language skills, and if they can’t understand easily what they read, they won’t wish to endure to logically understand cause and effect in the most advanced mathematic or scientific concepts (i.e., textbooks?) published in English.  Modern educators must recalibrate their teaching to leverage these existing linguistic neural pathways to accelerate fun learning.

Moreover, rapid word learning and mastery are not produced by throwing typed or written text at infants and children.  The fastest learning of words and language occurs when infants, children, and young adults see and hear a live adult speak and form and appropriately gesture those words in a genuine 3-D space[xvii]not on video or online, as has been proven and demonstrated in very current research.[xviii]  Yet, forty-five of our misinformed United States, climbing on a “Technology-first” bandwagon, have ludicrously assumed that “Technology” means making children “use computers”—and thus, teaching children to use ‘keyboards’ to assemble words, in order to make children “technology-proficient,” but to the loss of literacy and critical-thinking skills.  The states do this despite repeated research in the neuroscience of learning that early literacy is fundamentally gesture-based, and that early literacy depends on prioritizing children  first witnessing and then modeling the “making of gestures” in a 3-D learning space with an adult role-model present.  That implies mastering cursive.[xix]

How Infants Learn their Native Language

Recent modern linguistic research suggests that human language acquisition is serial and modular.[xx]   Infants generate their first language attempts much the way ducks imprint (within a very early critical period of time) onto the first living moving object as “mother.”[xxi]  Some geneticists believe that “gene initiators” triggered by visual and auditory inputs motivate neurons in the duck’s brain to aggregate and “direct” the duck’s instinctual survival-oriented motor behavior.  For humans, the cognitive science research indicates that the imprinting is primed before day one of age and is aimed (instead) at instant and early language-hearing, acquisition, and development.

Next, in humans, in response to rich and varied sensory auditory and visual input, (m)RNA causes neurogenesis, and initiates neural aggregates to connect for the purposes of storing, recognizing, associating, and reinforcing perceived visual- and auditory-associations to objects and actions, a bio-electric mechanical process mediated by releasing neurotransmitters into synapses.[xxii] These neurons also integrate with other neurons—such as mirror neurons—in the motor centers to evolve and involve the physiological processes that imitate adults’ pronunciation of sounds associated with the object or action recognition.[xxiii]  Neurolinguists have known for thirty years that language and motor neural pathways are identical, that language-production shares the neural connectomes-pathways that human motor-skills use.  These pathways, because they lead to the generation of ideas (language and verbal thinking) as well as the expression of will, are based on the action-motor system acquisition of language.

Evolutionary biologists see some explanation for this in the evolution of the human species.  The strong hypothesis indicates that the first human languages were not sound-based, but rather sign- and gesture-based.  Then making sound-associations evolved. Since humans first used gestures to evolve their dominant skill, would it not make sense pedagogically to exploit that existing and innate biology, and design curriculums around such genetic strengths?  Consider how the handwritten-formation of letters in either block form or cursive represents an extension of the innate human physiomotor pathways revealed in the neuroscientific research.  Furthermore, direct recent research proves that exercise and motion are essential for perception, learning, and brain health, adding an “M” (for Movement/Motion/Memory) to the acronym METALS.  Exercise and motion produce the peptide hormone Irisin which accelerates the encoding of memory in the hippocampus, a master-memory node in the brain.  Making block or cursive letters is developing a complex motor activity and skill, contrasted with pushing a button, while the research correlates poor motor skills with poor academic performance.[xxiv]

What this research implies is that children must continue to learn “cursive” in order to accelerate their literacy, and yet states are moving away because some “technology-maven” somewhere who has curricular power thinks pressing a button that has a squiggle on it represents linguistic learning and/or technology expertise. . . .[xxv]  What it may be doing instead is creating a nation of passive button-pushers who become uncritical consumers of products—and ideas.  Note how corporations like consumers who are indiscriminate button-pushers—they sell products and brands.  (Like!  Don’t Like!  Such a process inculcates a false sense of fluctuating self-worth dependent on how others rank you.)  (And please don’t forget that the “qwerty” layout of the keys was originally organized to slow typists down.  If educators must add keyboard skills in K-6, then they should at least teach one of the more expedient and programmable alphanumeric layouts.)

In this direction, while misguided curricular designers in the US eliminate cursive for the sake of “keyboarding,” Canadian, Chinese, Japanese, Arabic, and Hindi students all require cursive in their native languages as part of their educational, curricular, and cognitive development.  Many such students also learn to write English as a second-language in cursive!  How or why is it that our science-obsessed curricular designers don’t know the science?  Is it possible that certain big corporations and their lobbyists who influence national policy and education legislation are pushing such an irrational curricular plan because they secretly prefer a nation of ignorant American consumers, along with a cheaper STEM workforce? Note how the infusion of more uncritical STEM graduates may mean lower wages for those specialists.  And national educators can’t overlook the recent research suggesting that the STEM crisis is largely a myth,[xxvi] what with unemployed engineers out of work.  Perhaps they’re out of work because no STEM crisis exists; or perhaps they’re out of work because their literacy skills do not suffice.  Either way, take note of how much research in science and technology arenas is being accomplished and published by foreign nationals, working abroad or for American companies.

America is Losing its Place as a Leader in Science Research and Development[xxvii]

This article analyzes reasons for the pattern.  America has lost its focus on literacy and cognitive child development, and so if it wishes to maintain its place as a leader of R & D, its policymakers need to implement the correctives suggested by the science referenced in this article.

When Human Interest Trumps Pedagogical Ignorance

It’s kind of ironic that the research in the neuroscience of learning above proves that language acquisition is a predictive-bedrock of math and science skill, and yet our misguided curriculum designers prove through their actions that they disdain the actual science they revere.  Therefore, to give the science underpinning and serving as references to this article a bit more “heart,” allow me to support it professionally, albeit anecdotally.

To earn extra money in the early days I was a State University Reading/Writing and ESL “specialist,” I found part-time employment as an eighth-grade English and Social Studies teacher at the Woodcrest School, in Tarzana, a school designated for K-9 advanced students.  While I had only a Master’s Degree in English (Reading/Writing Specialist), my principal noted “You have a knack for explaining texts,” and so he asked me to consider the case of his six-year-old son, Scott: “Scott’s a good reader, but he’s having a lot of trouble in arithmetic.  Maybe you can help him?”  I couldn’t make any promises, but I sat down with Scott in the school’s “game room,” simply to interview him, and to try and analyze why he couldn’t add or subtract numbers.  As he reported his experiences to me in pretty good English, I realized that his failure wasn’t mathematic, but probably motorlinguistic, based on some independent scholarship I had pursued for his case.  As it turned out, his arithmetic teacher had not explained the concepts of arithmetic well verbally nor alphanumerically, but had simply transcribed the numeral-based problems on the board, over-relying on the “visual power” of the numerals “to teach,” and next, writing equations on the board, hoping students would “get doing operations” by absorption and/or osmosis.  Unfortunately, in Scott’s case, the numerals 3, 4, 17, etc. looked like “squiggles,” and he had no linguistic interpretations of their alphanumeric meaning.  I asked Scott to count, and he did so, in English.  He knew his numbers.  So I, knowing that improving some reading and language problems involved trying some different hand-gesture-based activities in real space, decided to switch subjects and teach Scott backgammon.  Within five minutes he was throwing dice, adding the dots on the dice, and moving his pieces appropriately.  He became especially interested in adding correctly when he could find and “knock” my pieces off the board.  I said, “Scott! You can add!”  “What?”  “You’re adding!  When you add three dots to six dots you know they’re nine dots.  Let me show you something. Get a piece of paper and do as I do.”  Three dots can mean this squiggle or letter: 3.” I drew it, and had him copy me.   “Four dots can mean this different squiggle: 4. Draw them with me.”  “You mean that those shapes are “letters” that say how many dots I have?!”  “Exactly!”  “Oh wow! I get it!”  I found an educational pack of cards in the game room, “domino-styled” cards that had numerals on them instead of dots, with addition and subtraction problems on the front, and answers on the back. Within two days, Scott advanced up to speed with his class in arithmetic. But note, his dyscalculia proved not to be arithmetic nor mathematic nor a disability. It was a pedagogical error of omission in understanding a child’s cognitive and educational development: which is initially motor-linguistic.

The Elephant (s) Not in the Room

Since neuroscience and linguistics have proven that language-acquisition represents the very first thinking skill humans acquire—and must master in order to advance academically, professionally, and intellectually—in order to attain sophisticated solid math and science fluency, the question now becomes, how early do human children acquire their native language(s)?  Lay people, parents, and educators outside the domain of neuro- and cognitive-linguistics expertise may believe the following falsehood: “humans begin to master verbal concepts around the first year and a half of life”—and they’re wrong.

Some research demonstrates that neonates can associate sounds to objects as early as a few hours old.  Neuroscientific research has also proven that newborns recognize lullabies they heard in the womb.[xxviii]  Linguistic research also shows that one-month-old infants can differentiate the patterns of their native grammars from nonsense patterns.[xxix]  The most amazing research from just last year contradicts the following long-held but false stereotype endemic to the field of child-development: “Babbling is nonsense sound.”  Not so: babbling occurs as infants practice the sounds of words they have learned as well as the rhythms of the syntax and grammar they are hearing from adults and siblings as their ideomotors are expanding connections and engaging physiomotor processes for controlling the tongue and pharynx.[xxx]  In other words, babbling is infantile speaking-practice with learned linguistic content.

What is the point?  Early language development is everything to a high-functioning human being.  The point is this: schools and teachers do not have the opportunity or authority to influence infantile verbal development: so that responsibility must fall to the parents. By the time a 5- or 6-year old gets to school, it is too late to give the child the perfectly timed impetus needed for success in verbal and numeric literacies.  Responsible parents must expose children, no, infants, to language, to vocabulary, to reading, to talk, to numbers and counting,[xxxi] and to writing and cursive long before three years old, all while using vivid hand gesturing.[xxxii]  Infants deserve every early chance to become the Einsteins and Madame Curies America seeks.  Otherwise, the task for K-6 teachers becomes remedial work to help children form new ideomotor pathways, which consumes a great deal of time, causes frustration for teachers, children, and parents, when the parents could have prevented remedial work in the first place—barring cognitive disabilities in their infants.  A certain percentage of parents will naturally blame teachers for their children’s failures, not recognizing their own omissions in their children’s upbringing, because they aren’t current with the science of infant development.

What is America to do about its missing parents, the elephants not in the room when infants are developing their first cognitive and literacy skills?  Perhaps becoming a parent should require a license earned after taking a series of classes in infantile physical and cognitive development?  A very interesting and relevant study has shown that the earlier infants receive experience with language, the more able children become at managing frustration and anger.[xxxiii]

Arguably, the most dangerous thing in a civilized world is an ignorant human being who cannot manage frustration, or who cannot tell the difference between good and evil, and one who cannot select good when presented with a moral choice.  When such people achieve political power, the damages can become enormous to the point of an international plague of global proportions.  Such sociopathic or psychopathic human beings exist largely because their parents emotionally or physically abused or neglected them—and neglected their cognitive and linguistic development when they were infants and children, though some very rare children can survive and overcome a history of neglect or abuse.

Criminal scientists and forensic linguists have known these truths above about the etiology of criminal and pathological human behaviors for more than a century, while recidivism remains a statistical inevitability caused by so many family nuclear tragedies.  Yet teachers are supposed to provide a magic fix when abused, neglected, brainwashed, and intellectually under-developed children arrive to their pre-schools and first-grade classrooms—unable to write, read, count, and do basic arithmetic.  Frustration must arise in such underprepared students, unable to cope with a linguistic world, and this frustration escalates to become displaced psycholinguistically into anger.  And anger, as the Buddha observed, is a poison, because it is an inappropriate response (ignorant of cause and effect) to the circumstances that engender it.

A Negligible Human Interest Story

My mother, a pediatrician and medical researcher attached to UCLA, had postulated a theory of early child-language development—as early as the 1940’s. She had observed that very young infants in her care focused their attention on the appropriate objects when she and their parents uttered the sounds representing those objects, especially when the objects were family members or family pets—objects of fascination to infants.  She thus believed that as early as four months of age, infants knew words, as exhibited by their quickly associated gazes and attention.  With that in mind, she embarked on an experiment with me when I “arrived later” as an infant: she decided to teach me to master as many words as possible before I reached age one. We used to play a game where she would utter the word, point to the object or touch the object, and then form her lips so I could watch. Later, she sat me in her lap and read books to me, pointing to the letters and words on the page, helping me draw the letters, and later, we used to play a game, where I had to remember, name, and spell all words rhyming with a word she chose at random.  “Tall.” “OK, all, ball, call, crawl, doll, fall, hall. . . .”  “You forgot “gall.”  “What is ‘gall’, mom?”  Her favorite experiment involved teaching me all the words involved in human anatomy and the sciences—while pointing to the pictures in the anatomy texts.  She claims I was reading first-grade level books before age two, although I don’t remember reading that young, but I do know when I started kindergarten (at 3), I was reading books, while the other kids were learning their numbers and alphabets.  I started first grade when I turned four, as did my brother after me.  I always earned ‘A’s in English and in science classes, and intended to become an astrophysicist, before I became enchanted with language.  My mother also believed that my early exposure to Japanese (we lived in Japan during the first two years of my life) and to Spanish accelerated my linguistic and cognitive development.  Throughout the rest of my life, reading and learning new words were easy and fun, continued as joyful games from infancy.  Colleagues who have worked with me in testing circles can attest that I have one of the fastest reading speeds they have witnessed—with high comprehension, a skill I owe entirely to my mother’s investment in my development. And fast as I am, I have met faster who have greater comprehension. I was fundamentally no different than any other viable infant out there.  Simply, I had an invested teacher who “taught me early enough”—and I enjoyed early opportunities to travel and meet new people and hear new languages.  The research now confirms such methods.  (By the way, when I asked my mother how she became so good at higher math, she answered, “Simple.  My dad gave me a tool kit when I was three, and I accompanied him around the farm, helping him build and repair.”  She used tools in a 3-D space, while she was still learning language.)

Conscript the Parents for Initializing Linguistic Training for Their Infants

The research shows that infants start learning language as soon as they hear a lot of it spoken and sung, and see it performed.  So, if true, a next hypothesis must be likely true, as well, that the earlier an infant is born, if exposed right away to lots of language, then the sooner a child development specialist might expect that infant to attain language.  In other words, a premature or pre-term baby who survives with all faculties intact must have higher cognitive and language skills and score higher than regular-term newborns.  The research confirms exactly that conclusion.[xxxiv]  Such educated pre-term infants have higher cognitive and language scores “at seven and eighteen months” than full-term ones, when the data are “age-corrected.”  This research reinforces the strong premise in this article that neonates are ready for language.  Parents must apply this research to their parenting methods to give their infants professional and life-success-momentum right out of the gate.

If the nation refuses to act to influence its parents, the only ones with access to their infants, with public service announcements from our national leaders about the importance of immediate language skills for children, then K-20 teachers should be required to take a course or two in developmental neurolinguistics (and in educational testing) to earn a teacher’s credential or teach in the universities.[xxxv]  As alarming as a parenting “license” or “linguistics-certificate” sound, the research points to considering these omissions seriously, and starting a national discussion, before rushing to, “we’ve got to teach our kids science, technology, engineering, and math if we’re going to compete internationally with the boom in science education abroad.”  Note how professional white-collar, academic, and research disciplines have a huge linguistic component—or even a linguistic edifice.

And how is America to help its uneducated parents or those from low socioeconomic status raise their infants, America’s future citizens?

The Lost Sex?

The nation wrings its hands because women are not succeeding in equal ratios to men in most math and science fields, in the United States, although women are close to par with men in 12 other countries.[xxxvi]

It’s further puzzling because the cognitive-science research shows that girls are better than boys at arithmetic before age four.[xxxvii]  Girls test better at arithmetic earlier than boys because the research has shown that girl infants develop language skills faster than boy infants, a fact long known to cognitive development scientists, while “secondary” math skill is first a linguistic skill as demonstrated above.  But between age four and age seven, boys start outpacing girls at math skills, to the puzzlement of many educators. The research suggests very strongly that the attrition of girls in math is due to two primary psycholinguistic causes.  The first is that girls’ early and reinforced strength in language skills predisposes them to apply the language (counting) pathways that have been successful for arithmetic to solving mathematical problems, where spatial skills become more important for success at higher math.  In countries where girls learn early and apply spatial skills strategies, girls score equal to or better than boys at math.[xxxviii]

The second psycholinguistic cause is very telling, pointing to the failure of educators and policymakers to address embedded assumptions in the way K-20 schools teach and test.  Research suggests that the very concept of educational accomplishment as signaled by performance on math tests may be gender-biased: girls may experience cognitive dissociation displaying their math skills and knowledge under such “competitive” circumstances in the presence of boys competing in the same space.[xxxix]  Note that teaching and testing proceed by way of language, and that in-class pedagogies proceed by assumed and embedded (verbal) scripts. When educators don’t understand that a simple word like “math” or “test” can produce negative arousal in specific hearers, and when educators can’t recognize the signals of such antipathies, then they are not equipped to successfully educate our children.[xl]  If educators remain ignorant of the roles their language and scripts and assumptions play in inspiring achievement and a desire for learning, then America can’t be too surprised if it loses a huge intellectual resource to a (male) idea of assessing the exhibition of skills.

Similarly, America can’t afford to overlook the likely failures and omissions of parents in nurturing their girls before girls arrive to school, too late by age 6.  Without knowledge of the research, parents may believe such enculturated stereotypes that girls’ sole purpose is to look cute and not become “scary” and intimidating by knowing more than boys.

The psycholinguistic truths underlying the loss of women from professional STEM fields are too obvious to need warrants here.  Parents can be forgiven, perhaps, for not knowing, but it’s not too late for the nation’s parents to benefit by national outreach administered by our nation’s highest authorities.  Meanwhile, the nation’s educators and/or intended educational policymakers, from K-20, need to take mandatory classes in the neuroscience of learning, in the linguistic roots of thinking, in the psycholinguistics underpinning pedagogical scripts and exam-construction,[xli] and in the flaws inherent to the linguistic structure of English.

But Why English?

Truths about how literacy fluency precedes math and science fluency above do not represent English elitism.  (Twenty percent of Americans are illiterate[xlii]; while only 1% to 2% of Japanese are so.)  As a matter of fact, now would be a good time to challenge the perhaps unfortunate predominance of English.  Trained linguists know that all languages are flawed, usually for two reasons: first, languages are fossilized, because they exhibit embedded historical and cultural flaws, traditions, and prejudices.  The English language reflects an Indo-European ancestry and remains primarily subject-oriented, where the subject “controls” the verbs (actions) and objects in the sentence.[xliii]  Neurolinguistic theoretical research suggests that this kind of syntactical ordering (subject first, verb second) evolved in some proto-languages because the subject (of a sentence) is always a metaphor for the “I,” or experiencer, who does the action (the experiencer who “verbs”).[xliv] Verbs, in turn, are metaphors for the subject’s primitive and infantile need to grasp, or attain and grip some desired object—be it concrete or abstract.[xlv]  In this sense, English seems an egotistical language, preferring the speaker/writer above other ideas in a text.

By contrast, some Asian (and other world) languages are object-oriented, where the object of observation comes first in a sentence, making such languages more “other-oriented,” for lack of a better phrase.  It should seem no surprise, for example, that many rice-growing cultures have developed object-verb-subject syntactical orders, where sometimes the subject is omitted entirely, contrary to the common syntactical orders of English.  (Arabic and Spanish, for examples, can alternate between subject-verb orders and object-verb orders, unlike English.)  Both classifications of syntaxes have their limitations and strengths.[xlvi] (A third classification involves syntaxes where verb-forms come first in the sentence order.)

The second flaw embedded in all languages appears outright: languages must be for the most part irrational, which is why verbal and textual communications require constant clarifying and correction.  Languages represent human beings’ attempts to make mental and sound and written analogues for a perceived “external reality,” and as such, they embed all the flaws that analogous-thinking manifests.  (For example, arithmetic is rendered and learned as nouns and language first, and as names of modeled operations or verbs second. . . .)[xlvii]

While maturing, a native-speaker of a language also acquires, by nurture, emotional valences and attitudes tied to trigger-words and to words describing experience, and thus these eventual emotional valences will imbue texts with perceived psychological content, be it pleasant or unpleasant, a fact well known to forensic linguists.[xlviii]  This truth means any word can produce a positive or negative “affect” for learners, and so educators must remain alert and even prepare for such a reaction, especially when their students next experience possible cognitive paralysis produced by this unexpected “word-affect.”[xlix]  The simple word “math” for example, may shut down a child’s (or a college youth’s) cognitive processing of some current lesson, which may not involve any math—causing a delay in aural processing, a feature which can be detected by watching the child’s concentration and focus, or by asking a student about perceived confusion exhibited on the student’s face.  (Along these lines, note how poorly articulated assignments, test questions, and writing prompts can also “shut down” an otherwise solid or high performing student—when the linguistic content contains arousal words or embedded biases, or combinations of the two.)

Finally, but not last, languages exhibit flaws reflecting human’s limited sensory capabilities.  Language and words likely developed to report human sensory experience, but our world-views, as rendered in language, remain incomplete, due to limited human sensory detection, so words are only an approximation of “reality.” (Human senses are remarkably limited, and require dependency on machines for their extension in to unperceived domains. (We can’t see into deep space, nor UV or X-rays, without special optics; we can’t smell as dogs smell, and detect drugs or explosives; we can’t hear beyond 20 kHz., etc.)

To conclude it all briefly, in only one way can the emotional, irrational, and misperception flaws embedded in English (or in any language) be qualified and rendered rigorous and professionally applicable: students must learn to perfect their thinking in English throughout the range of their academic careers, with an evolving series of courses conducted by informed faculty in all of their courses.  And most important of all, students must get a good start on language, ideally, even before they attend school.  Parents have the duty to provide deep language hearing, reading, and showing experiences to infants starting from day 1, as argued above.  So where are we to find or produce informed faculty and parents, if English doesn’t matter?

The Linguistic Basis of Scientific Analytical Skill

Clearly, faculty intending to teach any subject in English need a solid grounding in the limitations of the local medium of instruction, as do faculty who teach in universities where English represents the primary language of instruction, (or PMI).

Certainly, the arguments above oversimplify the diversities of languages, which are more subtle, and which lead to the next point requiring urgent curricular care:  because English is not originally object-oriented, those who learn English as a first language may fail to develop an initial mastery over observation of detail, for psycholinguistic reasons, mainly because the embedded egotistic and psychological flaw in their linguistic thinking values the perceiver over the perceived.  (“But that’s my opinion! And I’m entitled to an opinion. The earth is flat! It doesn’t matter if I’m wrong! I have a right to believe that!”)  Only a great amount of mentored and monitored practice thinking and planning, then writing, then reflecting on writing, and rewriting can help students correct the egotistic prejudices embedded in thinking in English—as the great scientists and writers have had to do—if combined with fiction and nonfiction texts that introduce humanism.  Truly egoistic professionals who desire unchallenged success would not want to think wrongly anyway, so it behooves them to acquire this training.

As an experienced linguist (and writing-assessment officer) who has spent thirty-plus years teaching English to—and assessing the English writing of—first-language speakers and second- and third-language speakers, I have noticed a general artifact in student populations at the first-year university level: English-as-a-first-language learners require up to two semesters to learn how to adequately observe and render objective details in writing.  This lack of developed observational skills may reflect a lack of training in K-12 and omissions in our pedagogies, as much as reflect flaws inherent in English.  Such learners tend “on average” to express much more emotional investment in reporting their un-based opinions and impressions than they do in observing and reporting “external detail,” a psycholinguistic predilection that requires much work by informed faculty to dilute and diminish.  This predilection persists in students through the third and fourth years of undergraduate careers, and remains largely unobserved by specialist/disciplinary faculty outside Linguistics.

The farming of writing skills to faculty without linguistics training cannot help students become more objective about their observational predilections—habits that may lead to subjective and unfounded reasoning.  Please note the correlation of high accuracy and investment in reporting objective details skill to candidates’ maturation in applying science in specialized disciplines, where objective-details-mastery and accuracy may mean professional life or death for a scientist or number theorist or technician or engineer.

By contrast, first-language Spanish speakers, Arabic speakers, and Asian language speakers professionally master details-observation-and-rendering within three to four weeks of training, despite forgivable grammatical flaws that may appear in their English sentences.  Accepting such stereotypes, few curricular designers and educational testing officials deny the power over detail Asian students and similar professionals attain, while not understanding the linguistic and cultural roots of these important pre-analytical skills.  But, deserving special awards, Hispanic students also demonstrate that they can learn to render accurate detail quickly, because as a language, classical Spanish underwent a different evolution[l] than did English.

Our Intellectual National Engine Drops Hispanics

Recent statistics available from reliable national sources (a quick Internet search reveals numerous such sources) show that Hispanic students are apparently suffering a so-called achievement gap,[li] which should alarm everybody, if only because the specific Hispanic students identified who come from Spanish-speaking households will number one in four students throughout the United States.  And their numbers are growing.  So how is America losing this precious intellectual resource?  It’s simple:  the teachers (and their principals and superintendents who construct local school policies) who teach and serve this group in English as the PMI, may not understand, because they have not been trained to understand, the fundamental syntactical and linguistic—and ultimately cultural—differences between Spanish and English.  Both European Spanish and Mexican Spanish diverged from their Indo-European roots, and have undergone mini-evolutions, probably due to the strong historic influences Arabic and Latinate linguistic cultures played in Spain—influences which transferred to Mexico.

While English became a logically-sequenced and almost linear, non-repetitive syntactic domain, following its Germanic and Northern European roots, Spanish[lii] adapted a stylistic recursiveness from Arabic[liii] and Latin.  Recursive languages, along with the preferred grammatical structures inherent in recursive writing[liv], tend to revisit and re-characterize observed details in multiple ways, leading to the production of multiple viewpoints and to a progressive reconsideration of observed details as a specific language tract evolves.  With more viewpoints comes the possibility of deeper and more thorough analysis—the ultimate goal of professionals advancing in STEM fields.  Spanish speakers and readers reveal a great tolerance and appreciation and respect for divergent viewpoints and details-interpretation.  These are well-known cultural artifacts among the populations of Spain and Mexico—and others, which makes them such a joy to be around.  Note that Spanish is a much less Subject-Verb-ordered language than English.

Unlike English, for example, Spanish has syntactical conventions that allow for object-verb- sans-apparent-subject sentence structures. Consider the common syntactical form of Lo tengo, for example, which means, “It” (the object, lo) have (the verb tener), I, where this subject I is embedded in the conjugated verb form ‘tengo,’ a Latinate conjugation, and not stated overtly as a pronoun Yo.  Such syntactical forms psycholinguistically favor objects and also actions, analogized by emphasis on the verb, while embedding the personal pronoun indicator in the verb.  Contrastive linguistics points to Spanish as an action, object-concerned language.  In short, the Spanish language is ideally constituted to pursue action via research and experimentation, and to manage and render observations objectively.

Give me a university student who comes from a Spanish-language family background, and I can transmit highly professional details-observation and rendering skill in about four weeks.  These students also become excellent writers, because writing is a motor activity, and Spanish as a language favors actions, as noted.  Once these students glom onto the necessity to render accurate detail, they find it natural—almost innate—to master the skill in a short time, because both their language and culture have those skills already deeply embedded as cultural imperatives.  Subsequently, the potential for such students from Spanish language backgrounds to become top-notch researchers and experimenters pre-exists within their cultural traditions.  Researchers working in Spain, for example, today work at the forefront of studies of evolutionary anthropology,[lv] in tracing the history of the human species—contradicting the populist stereotype that if someone comes from a predominantly Catholic country—or speaks Spanish, then that person cannot become an objective scientist.

To the degree that these culturally linguistic features are proven, or under investigation, is less important than my main concern: we are losing an unacceptably large Hispanic population early, in K-12, because curriculum designers, public-policy administrators, principals, teachers, and yes, parents, have no training in or even clues about the deeply baseline and contrastive roles English studies play in preparing such students for academic and professional success in the United States.[lvi] Alarmed authorities rush to STEM curricula before assessing and managing students’ linguistic competencies and cultural roots.

Leveraging Existing Linguistic Neural Pathways to Accelerate Attainment of M-METALS Skills

Not only does language come first, in preparing students for any kind of ideological progress and analytical success, as evidenced by the construction of ideomotors, in the brain,[lvii] but language is also the medium by which all the more sophisticated kinds of analysis and thinking (science/math leading to technology/ engineering) are eventually conducted. That’s why a superior education in English and its vocabulary must precede, prior to elementary school, and continue through the college years, while the brain is still young, along with hands-on experimentation, if America wants to make it easy for young people to transform into consummate trained and innovative professionals in STEM fields.  Vocabulary mastery leads to faster reading and comprehension, as busy or lazy readers won’t need to skip or omit unfamiliar words and concepts.  Art classes are also necessary so students can work with objects in a shared 3D space; and music classes are necessary, because music, rhythm, and movement are an innate part of language learning[lviii], a fact unknown to most current curriculum authorities.  Otherwise, ignore continued language and reading development, make learning harder and unpleasant, and lose 70 % of our intellectual potential by ages 16-18, or earlier.

Learning nomenclature doesn’t stop in high school. And furthermore, curriculum designers commit the gravest error, when they abandon liberal arts, literature, fine arts, and language courses in the universities for another reason.  The sole two differences between high-school students and college graduates involve two fundamentals: sophistication/evolution of vocabulary and literacy skills as covered above—and attaining mastery over a highly complex new and required professional concept, the Theory of Mind, which also has its underpinnings in high-school language and literature courses (these latter usually placed under the common umbrella of “English”).

Omissions in the Core Standards

A visit to the nationally-recommended core standards can be quite discouraging, because the standards list what students should be able to do, but give no indication about how teachers are supposed to move students to those skills.  Research has shown, however, when early child educators acquire strategies, and receive linguistics coaching about how to teach English to pre-school language learners, the learning-playing field between native speakers and second-language learners can be leveled.[lix]

Toward “Building” an Ethical Humane M-METALS Professional: the THEORY of MIND

The term Theory of Mind, AKA ToM,[lx] may sound dramatic and specialized or even artificial, but it is very real, and highly applicable and necessary to the 21st century professional.  While a complete definition of ToM remains complex, consider its usual applications.  Someone with a well-trained ToM enjoys multiple professional and competitive advantages in STEM fields over those without:

She understands the limitations of languages; she can predict others’ behavior; she can read others’ verbal and non-verbal cues; she can differentiate between a psychopath and a sociopath, or between a civilized or uncivilized colleague; she can decide on a future program that’s ethical and best based on the limitations within set cultural and behavioral and technological limitations; she can render fair judgments objectively and impartially.  She understands the moral and ethical approaches of those belonging to different religions.  She can enter an international world composed of those with different belief systems.

These represent some damn fine skills—non-STEM skills.  And for those policymakers interested in bioethics, biomedical ethics, or in the ethics of applied sciences, or in geoethics, she is exactly the kind of trained specialist modern employers seek.

These cross-cultural ToM skills, paramount and essential to the humane and global applications of STEM innovations, are not attained by learning solely Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics.  They are acquired by reading in the so-called Liberal Arts, literature[lxi]—fiction and non-fiction, philosophy, religion, mythology, and history; by creating art and music; by learning languages; by traveling and studying abroad; and by socializing in shared learning in mentor-monitored public spaces.  It’s difficult enough to “create” adults who are good at and who love their STEM professions; it’s quite a bit more difficult to transform young people into adults who can generate service-oriented, ethical, and far-sighted humane applications of their professional STEM work.  ToM began with the transcribed dreams of young humanity, preserved in its myths and legends, and indeed in its sacred literatures, and was sustained in the dreams of history’s writers and artists.  Mythology and religion represented human beings’ first attempts at understanding the cause and effect of their perceived realities, and thus represented the first Sciences, but through the power of analogies manifested in the fantasized powers of legendary and mythic Gods and Goddesses, human beings developed the associated ideas to try and build and attain these “powers” for themselves. With the advent of humanism and rationalism, human beings gained increasing understanding over the Laws of Nature, and gained increasing dominion over natural processes, as they continue to do.  The Gods and Goddesses were immortal in the human imagination, and humans now leverage science to close in on that fantasy.

The visions thus manifested and recorded inspired advances in science and technology.  Icarus wanted to fly, as did the first human beings who imagined adapting the skills of birds.  Later, authors and science fiction writers imagined space elevators and invisibility cloaks and teleportation.  So where do students currently immerse themselves in the welcoming, inspiring, and provocative atmosphere of these fantasies, if “English” and its related media become trivialized or marginalized, perceived as non-technological or “unrealistic”?  Arguably, in two hundred years our current “science” will look like “mythology” anyway. Right now, current science represents “place-holder” nomenclature (“dark matter” “Higgs” ‘particle’/’field’?) for that which we do not yet understand.  We must maintain the interflow between language/movement and science and literature and the arts, mighty recursive engines of innovation and creativity.

The Elephants Not in the Room Push an Elephant into the Room

Because uneducated parents have no knowledge of the infantile critical period and about how infants learn concepts, they remain ignorant about how to prepare their children to learn ideas (language) quickly and enjoyably, as covered partly above.  But parents in the United States do even worse by their children.

Parents continue to disserve their children’s eventual success in the sciences, engineering, technology, and math fields in a much more imposing and intimidating way, as well—when they indoctrinate their children with outmoded and fundamentalist religious stereotypes that inhibit their children’s learning of science and math, and thereby of engineering and applied technology.  Unlike their European and Asian counterparts, a possible majority of American children enter elementary school with unsophisticated and backward literalist stereotypes about the nature of God, and children later bring these inculcated and unchallenged stereotypes with them into college, believing for example, that fundamentalist literal English interpretations of words from the Old Testament Hebrew Bible which are based on earlier (perhaps faulty) translations into first Greek, then Latin, then German, and finally into English (languages, again!) “prove” somehow that God is a “spot-creator,” rather than, say, a creator by evolutionary or other undisclosed principles.  How else are we to explain that “ . . .70% of Americans cannot read and understand the science section of the New York Times”?[lxii]

These parochial, misinformed, and unscientific attitudes, indoctrinated by well-meaning but ill-informed parents, create in children predictable and insurmountable cognitive and affective blocks to concepts like evolutionary biology, genetic engineering, exo-planet investigation, and modern applied cosmology.  Note that these failures of progress in science education are due to children not understanding that the linguistic content and meaning of sacred texts is altered by translation practices and agendas.  When linguistic blocks and ignorance are allowed by parents, educators, and authorities to become psychological and cognitive barriers to education in science, then clearly adults have failed their children’s chances for economic success, creativity, innovation, and modernity.  Recent surveys revealed that 1 in 4 Americans are not aware that the earth revolves around the sun; and 46% are not aware that human beings evolved from earlier mammals and life-forms.[lxiii]

Note that the cognitive blocks to science may associate and extend to learning math, also, when the parents’ fears have transferred to children in such a way that learning math is perceived as dangerous, because math is objective and may implicitly challenge the realm of God’s perceived ongoing control of the universe.  The misconception that God needs to or must control the universe is so old, it is medieval, whereas modern scientists who are deists believe the deity simply allows the universe to operate under discoverable laws that the deity established to be autonomous and develop evolutionarily.  In other words, literalist parents teach fear of science and math, through both believing and indoctrinating their children with permanent scripts, scripts containing long outmoded stereotypes about the nature of god or of god’s activities:  such parents fear thusly, “ Since science and math seem to introduce laws understandable by humans without a need for worshipping god, then we parents cannot encourage or condone scientific thinking and literacy nor even math in our children, for fear that they will become godless or lose their faith.”

Such poorly-substantiated and unchallenged, untested familial beliefs receive reinforcement when legislators and principals and school officials embark on policies of “religious accommodationism,”[lxiv] in order not to face a parental or House of Representatives or Senate riot.  And so these authorities are forced to ignore the cognitive paralysis that inhibits or prevents young people’s full-scale immersion into the scientific fields while trying to ignite a STEM crisis.  And those same authorities insist on a purely STEM curriculum.  Note that among nations that are scientifically literate, the U.S. ranks 29th![lxv]

Without confronting this large-scale issue of impedimental religiosity in the public schools, and perhaps in the private religious schools as well, curricular designers should not be surprised to learn recent reports chronicling the lessening of science papers published by Americans, and the increase of such papers published by nationals of other countries like China, India, and Japan.

To “negotiate” with such parochialism, a strong and brave public liberal arts 6-12 curriculum should include introductions to foreign languages and cultures, readings in fiction and non-fiction in English and in translation, comparative religious studies, all of which come under the umbrella of English and the so-called Liberal Arts.  Our public students become our public and global citizens, so they indeed deserve to develop multi-cultural understanding and sensitivities. Educators must not fail them.

Donald Prothero, well-published science-literacy author, has analyzed the issue, and states, “The single biggest predictor of national success in science literacy is the degree to which a country is not dominated by dogmatic religious beliefs, whether it is fundamentalist Christianity or conservative Islam.”[lxvi]  His article notes that the least scientifically literate countries are indeed among those so described, Turkey, Cyprus, and the United States.  He has fully illustrated how America’s institutionalized and outmoded religious ideas have created a self-defeating drag on intellectual advancement in the United States, and he has a point.

Yet, our current curricular designers expect to push and sell STEM without addressing ingrained and anti-scientific religious attitudes—and without proposing remedies.  One of the major failures of the CORE standards, for example, recognized by teachers throughout the country, is how the standards insist on outcomes, but have no recommendations on how those outcomes are to be achieved, and so there is no national direction in educational pedagogy and leadership—precisely because our leaders have no training in the neuroscience of learning and about literacy and about contrastive linguistics.  Accommodationism means stepping aside, at the necessary moral moment of decision, whereas humanism means having the courage to raise the issues honestly and to propose civilized remedies.

Note that in most universities, faculty consider it bad taste to include assignments assessing how beliefs in God can affect objective critical and scientific thinking.  And note that concepts like “god” and “faith” are definite trigger-words, activating strong embedded affects for hearers and readers.  Still, a direction appears.  Faculty who offer options for such assignments can introduce how and why words produce such “affects,” and how such words, associating to stereotyped literalist content, interfere with objective listening and perception, because, according to this remedy, faculty will have already received training in psycholinguistics.  Next, faculty can add a pedagogical script suggesting something along these lines: “When the evolution of faith is revealed by reading the history of science, by practicing critical thinking, by writing, and by revision, modern faith becomes better-informed.  A person with a better-informed faith can more compassionately enter the service of a diverse humanity, one composed of respectable and moral, but highly differing, beliefs.”  For adults, attaining both ToM and literacy implies mastering the ability to tolerate increased cognitive dissonance, without lapsing into moral relativity, while maintaining healthy skepticism, when negotiating with moral and ethical human beings whose background otherwise differs—all while being sensitive to language.   “English” matters.

On Writing

Education, (which must never be personified, because it requires informed human beings to act as its agents), makes a big stride toward “building” an ethical professional in high-school English class, when the “kids” read appropriate diverse secular and religious literatures in translation; when they take band; or when they have art class or when they take a foreign language, and as a result, when they develop greater sensitivity toward the cultural and philosophical—and prejudicial—limitations inherent in the English language and its cultural and psycholinguistic roots.  And we make an even bigger stride toward building this evolved professional, when more mature versions of these experiences become mandated in the General Education spectrum ranging throughout lower-division to upper-division course offerings in the university setting.  Please don’t think that a single writing course in a specific discipline suffices to accomplish this necessary adjusted vision: students need to write and construct arguments and projects in all of their courses, if they are to develop superior critical thinking skills, rigorous document-construction ability, and cross-associative thinking.

Evolving Thinking in any discipline requires organized reflection, which guided, mentored, coached, and evaluated writing accomplishes—through the process and practice of local and/or national publication. Hopeful professionals need to practice evolving their thinking.  They do this by seeing their thinking published to paper.  Rarely do specialists outside the fields of English and linguistics and the liberal arts understand how to teach professional fluency requirements and revision to developing professionals from multicultural backgrounds.

Only by reflecting on one’s thinking, by seeing it in writing, as a document, can professionals “correct” their thinking, as Galileo, Euler, Madame Curie, Einstein, and other geniuses understood.  Einstein, for example, who was multilingual and played the violin, searched for linguistic analogues in order to more clearly explain the consequences of his general and special theories of relativity to people who lacked math mastery and knowledge of physics.  All specialists, sooner or later, must serve user groups outside their specialty areas, which requires exactly the kind of literacy advocated herein.

But note, however, that rarely, if ever, do upper-division instructors in specific disciplines have the deep linguistic training necessary to help their students become the different kinds of Einsteins America seeks.  And rarely, if ever, do curricular designers and public-policy makers receive an overview about the flaws inherent in languages, read and written and spoken, and thus, thought.  So we can’t be too surprised when such authorities falsely believe that STEM skills exist magically independently of languages, the media of transmittal and investigation.

To give up, or marginalize, or sub-specialize “English,” or, in other words, to obscure, to ignore, or to mystify STEM content dependent on “English,” (read language), happens at America’s peril.  Make no mistake, this article became necessary because a (mal-informed) curricular subtractive cascade has begun.  Let’s act quickly to correct the cart-before-the-horse STEM monomania, which must be recognized as temporary, misguided, abusive, and cross-culturally suicidal.

Best Solutions: A New Acronym, Hiring Only Informed and Current Educators and Public Policy Officials, Plus a National Executive Stance on M-METALS

The solutions in the title are self-explanatory.  Our authorities, educators, and public policy administrators need to learn the principles of the neuroscience of human learning and advocate and model these.  They need to understand the basics of both psycholinguistics and psychometrics, the science of testing.  Our president and his advisors can leave a lasting impact on our nation’s CORE standards, and also take a public stand on literacy leading to M-METALS success, and also take a stand on influencing parenting—via public service announcements and infomercials.  Our children deserve the momentum their compassionate inspired parents and educators can give them. Our children are more important than we are.  Our Executives need to advertise to parents that the science supports it.

Boak Ferris is a linguist, author, and former test officer at CSULB. The ideas herein may or may not reflect the opinions of other faculty and administrators at CSULB.

[i] Millennial  This white paper surveyed 225 employers with a data pool of over 100,000 US companies.

[ii] NACE (National Association of Colleges and Employers) Jobs Outlook report 2012.

[iii] Modern child development research has identified the critical period for human early language acquisition to be around three to six months of age.  E.g., Northwestern University, (2010), “Words influence cognition from the first months of life,” ScienceDaily.  Vouloumanos, A. & Gelfand, H., (2012), “Infant perception of atypical speech signals,” Developmental Psychology.  Bergelson, E., Swingley, D., (2012), “At 6-9 months, human infants know the meaning of many common nouns,” PNAS, 2/28/12.  Cohen, L.B., & Cashon, C.H., (2003), “Infant Perception and Cognition,” in Comprehensive Handbook of Psychology,  Vol. 6, Wiley, NY.  See also note 17.

[iv] Linguistic research on mirror neurons reveals that human language acquisition shares the gesture and sensorimotor neural pathways in the brain, leading to the strong confirmation of the hypothesis that the first human languages were gestures and signs, leading to the production of repeatable and teachable sounds associating to these motor movements:  Bernardis P and Gentilucci M., (2006), “Speech and gesture share the same communication system,” Neuropsychologia, 44.  Rizzolatti G and Craighero L., (2007), “Language and mirror neurons,”  in Gaskell, G., (Ed), Oxford Handbook of Psycholinguistics, Oxford: Oxford University Press.  Pulvermüller, F. & Schumann, J. H. (1994), “Neurobiological mechanisms of language acquisition,” Language Learning  44: 681–734.

[v] Saby & Meltzoff, (2013), “Baby brains respond to actions,” PLoS ONE, 10/2013.

[vi] See  Note the difference between status dropout rates and overall dropout rates.  Status dropout refers to 16- to 24-year-olds who never enrolled.

[vii] Harvard (2011), Pathways to Prosperity, Harvard Graduate School of Education.

[viii] Some analyses point to the prohibitive costs of a secondary education, but as a reading specialist I can vouch for the pains public university students articulate regarding having to do and complete reading assignments—in any discipline.

[ix] Department of Education, (2013) NCES statistics.

[x] Horsley, M & Walker, R., (2012), Reforming Homework: Practices, Learning and Policies. Palgrave Macmillan.

[xi]AAAS, Science, Mathematics, Technology, and Education Seminar Report, (6/23/2007): publications.

[xii] As a testing expert I can vouch for how valid multiple-choice tests, in any subject, require a multi-cultural team of faculty and experts to construct, in order to discover and eliminate as many linguistic and cultural biases that arise as possible.  Without training in contrastive linguistics, however, most national K-12, or university, standardized-test-makers have no idea how their test questions may induce cognitive dissonance or worse—cognitive paralysis—in their brightest candidates. See endnotes 48 and 49 below.  The Educational Testing Service, for example, which constructs most of the national testing that advances American (and indeed International) students, expertly researches its own tests every year to insure generalizability, validity, and reliability, through a statistical science applied to educational-testing assessments called psychometrics. Psychometrics are not voodoo: they are necessary to ensure that a test, any test, embeds as little tester-generated bias as possible.

[xiii] Modern neuroscientific and linguistic research on infantile language acquisition trends toward two baseline concepts: first, infants learn nouns before verbs and actions, because the most emotionally important objects in the infantile environment are kin and family members, necessary to survival, which are capable of being touched or grasped.  Second, most Subject-Verb-Object based grammars may represent physiological metaphors for the Infant’s need (I) to grasp (Verb).  For an introduction to these ideas see Glenberg, Gallese, “Action-Based Language” at

[xiv] The old linguistic theory once called ideomotors led to research that demonstrated how language acquisition starts with infantile sensorimotor observation and subsequent sensorimotor imitation via mirror neurons in the infant’s brain: Pulvermuller, F, Fadiga, L (2010): “Active Perception: sensorimotor circuits as a cortical basis for language.” National Review of Neuroscience.

[xv]See Vukovic & Lesaux, (2010), “The relationship between linguistic skill and arithmetic performance,” Learning and individual Differences, Elsevier.  On the necessity of language literacy as a predictor of math performance see LeFevre, J., Fast, L., Skwarchuk, S., Smith-Chant, B. L., Bisanz, J., Kamawar, D., et al., (2010), “Pathways to mathematics: Longitudinal predictors of performance,” Child Development, 81, 1753–1767.  See also Kyttälä , M and Björn, P, (2014).  “The role of literacy skills in adolescents’ mathematics word problem performance: Controlling for visuo-spatial ability and mathematics anxiety,” Learning and Individual Differences, Volume 29. Some linguists view math as a second language, while some view it as a co-incidental first language, based mainly on the parents’ approach (teach or ignore) to coaching infants about number and arithmetic concepts.  Math skill starts out as a linguistic skill.   For another recent study seeZhang, Xiao; Koponen, Tuire; Räsänen, Pekka; Aunola, Kaisa; Lerkkanen, Marja-Kristiina; Nurmi, Jari-Erik; (2013), “Linguistic and Spatial Skills Predict Early Arithmetic Development via Counting Sequence Knowledge,” Child Development, 2013.

[xvi] Falagas, Fabritsi,[…], Mellos (2005): Critical Care, vol. 9 (6), 2005.  See also Van Weijen, Research Trends, Issue 31, November 2012.

[xvii] Lopez-Barroso, Catani, Ripolles, Dell’Acqua, Rodriguez-Fornells (2012), “Word learning is mediated by the left arcuate fasciculus.”  PNAS.  This portion of the brain is a collection of nerve fibers connecting the auditory regions to and from the motor areas of the frontal lobe and is activated by seeing adult motions and gestures.

[xviii] On the failure of showing videoed adults to toddlers to transfer language skills successfully, see Roseberry, Hirsh-Pasek, Golikoff, (2013), “Skype Me,” Child Development.  The system called Responsive Interactions requires the presence of a live teacher in the 3D learning space.  On the failure of online learning as a tool for improving the brain’s performance for adults, see Royal Institute of Technology, (2013), “Online Time Hobbles Brain’s Performance and Work,” September 20, ScienceDaily.

[xix] For modern research (ca. 2011 and 2012), on the necessity to teach cursive to children, see David Kysilko’s references at  For some research more formal and scientific regarding children’s neurological health and accelerated learning via learning cursive early, see also note 25.

[xx] Frank, Bod, Christiansen, (2012), “How Hierarchical is Language Use?Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences.

[xxi] A discussion suggesting human imprinting during the critical period driving language acquisition appears in: Kisilevsky, B, et al. 2003. “Effects of Experience in Fetal Voice Recognition,” Psychological Science, Vol. 14 (3).

[xxii] Peter S. Eriksson, Ekaterina Perfilieva, Thomas Björk-Eriksson, Ann-Marie Alborn, Claes Nordborg, Daniel A. Peterson, & Fred H. Gage (1998), “Neurogenesis in the adult human hippocampus,”  Nature Medicine  4, 1313 – 1317 doi:10.1038/3305. Anna M. Krichevsky, Kai-C. Sonntag, Ole Isacson, Kenneth S. Kosik 2 (2006), “Specific MicroRNAs Modulate Embryonic Stem Cell–Derived Neurogenesis,”  STEM CELLS Volume 24, Issue 4, pages 857–864, April 2006. Neural aggregates become the connectomes neuroscientists discuss in brain mapping, linking the sensorimotor systems and hippocampus to developing nouns, verbs and their associated content.

[xxiii]Rizzolati, G. and L. Craighero. (2004), “The Mirror Neuron System.” Annual Review of Neuroscience, Vol. 27.  Controversy once existed over human beings having mirror neurons as were discovered in primate animal species. For years now, however, researchers have leveraged experiments on the human mirror-neuronal system. Mukamel, Roy; Ekstrom, Arne D.; Kaplan, Jonas,; Iacoboni, M.; and Fried, Itzhak, (2010), “Single neuron responses in humans during execution and observation of actions.” Current Biology, April 27; 20(8): 750–756., Published online 2010 April 8.   Iacoboni, M; Dapretto, M,. (2006), “The mirror neuron system and the consequences of its dysfunction,” Nat. Rev. Neuroscience. 7:942–51. Iacoboni, M., (2009), “Imitation, Empathy, and Mirror Neurons,” Annual Review of Psychology Contents, Volume 60.

[xxiv] Regarding the necessity of children to experience motion and exercise so that their brains produce the necessary peptide hormone Irisin which works to promote brain health and establish memory, see Christiane D. Wrann, James P. White, John Salogiannnis, Dina Laznik-Bogoslavski, Jun Wu, Di Ma, Jiandie D. Lin, Michael E. Greenberg, Bruce M. Spiegelman, (2013), “Exercise Induces Hippocampal BDNF through a PGC-1α/FNDC5 Pathway,” Cell Metabolism, 2013.  For the correlation between strong early motor-skills and learning with memory see Eero A. Haapala, Anna-Maija Poikkeus, Tuomo Tompuri, Katriina Kukkonen-Harjula, Paavo H.T. Leppänen, Virpi Lindi, Timo A. Lakka, (2013), “Associations of Motor and Cardiovascular Performance with Academic Skills in Children,” Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise.

[xxv] For an introduction to the pedagogical necessity to maintain cursive as an instructional mode for both accelerated literacy and neurological health of children, see Feder, Katya P., & Majnemer, Annette, Ph.D.’s, (2007), “Handwriting Development, competency, and intervention,” Developmental Medicine & Child Neurology, Volume 49, Issue 4, 312-317.  See also The University of Stavanger, (2011), “Better Learning through Handwriting,” See Also James, Karin H. an Atwood, Thea P. (2009). “The role of sensorimotor learning in the perception of letter-like forms: Tracking the causes of neural specialization for letters,” Cognitive Neuropsychology, 26 (1), 91-100. James, K.H. and Engelhardt, L. (2013), “The effects of handwriting experience on functional brain development in pre-literate children,” Trends in Neuroscience and Education.  Marie-France Morin, Natalie Lavoie, Isabelle Montésinos-Gelet, (2012), “The Effects of Manuscript, Cursive or Manuscript/Cursive Styles on Writing Development in Grade 2,” Language and Literacy, 2012; 14 (1): 110-124. ETC.!

[xxvi] Charette, Robert E., (2013), “Stem Crisis a Myth,”

[xxvii] As an introduction to these continuing patterns, see http:/

[xxviii] Partanen & Kijala, (2013), “Infants recognize lullabies heard in the womb,” PLoS ONE.

[xxix] Association for Psychological Science (2008), “Baby Talk: The Roots of Early Vocabulary in Infants’ Learning from Speech,” ScienceDaily/releases.

[xxx] Educational neuroscientists have known for some time, that babbling is not nonsense: it is language practice: See Petitto, L-A., & Marentette, P., (1991), “Babbling in the manual mode: Evidence for the ontogeny of language,” Science,  251, 1483-1496.  This research and its authors specifically collect the three strong warrants in this article, 1) Language is gesture-based; 2) Babbling is not nonsense, but rather infantile language practice; 3) infants know word meanings or are significantly inspired to prioritize language acquisition—earlier than anyone thinks—by three to six months.

[xxxi] That parents must use numbers (words and counting) with infants during the critical period see research at the University of California San Diego, (2013), “One-two language = math learning,” UCSD.

[xxxii] Yu, Chen, Smith, Linda B., (2013), “Joint Attention without Gaze Following: Human Infants and Their Parents Coordinate Visual Attention to Objects Through Eye-Hand Coordination,” PLoS ONE; 8 (11), e79659.

[xxxiii] Roben, Caroline K.P., Cole, Pamela M., and Armstrong, Laura Marie, (2012), “Longitudinal Relations Among Language Skills, Anger Expression, and Regulatory Strategies in Early Childhood,” Childhood Development, 20 December 2012.

[xxxiv]M. Caskey,  B. Stephens, R. Tucker, B. Vohr,  (2014), “Adult Talk in the NICU With Preterm Infants and Developmental Outcomes,” PEDIATRICS.

[xxxv] See notes 41 and 48.

[xxxvi] Seymour, Elaine, (2002), “Tracking the Process of Change in US Undergraduate Education in Science, Mathematics, Engineering, and Technology,” Science Education, Vol. 79, pp. 79-104.  Aspiring Minds Report, (2013), “Women in Engineering: A comparative study of barriers across Nations,”

[xxxvii] Association for Psychological Science, (2012), “Girls’ Verbal Skills Make Them Better at Arithmetic,” February 22, 2012:  Xinlin Zhou, Wei Wei, Hao Lu, Qi Dong, Chuansheng Chen, (2012), “Gender differences in children’s arithmetic performance are accounted for by gender differences in language abilities,” Psychological Science.  Though arithmetic teachers have recognized this artifact for decades: see Wozencraft, Marian, (1963), “Are boys better than girls at arithmetic?” The Arithmetic Teacher, Vol. 10, No. 8 (December), pp. 486-490.

[xxxviii] Elida V. Laski, Beth M. Casey, Qingyi Yu, Alana Dulaney, Miriam Heyman, Eric Dearing, (2013), “Spatial skills as a predictor of first grade girls’ use of higher level arithmetic strategies,” Learning and Individual Differences, 23, 123-130.

[xxxix] Muriel Niederle and lise Vesterlund (2010), “Explaining the Gender Gap in Math Test Scores: The Role of Competition,” Journal of Economic Perspectives, Vol., 24, No. 2, pp. 129-144.

[xl] See the next section of this article for the role psycholinguistics plays on both sides (learners/educators) of literacy. See notes 47 & 48.

[xli] A class in psychometrics, the science of constructing valid, unbiased examinations, should be mandatory for all teachers or anyone who enters the business of public or private education, at whatever level.  Psychometrics may include tests about personality, but is as much, or more, concerned with ensuring validity during educational testing. Regarding the science behind psychometrics, see American Educational Research Association (AERA), American Psychological Association (APA), and the National Council on Measurement in Education (NCME), (1999), The Standards for Educational and Psychological Testing.  Much of educational testing involves wording and phrasing of test questions to remove arousal and bias, which is a cornerstone argument for this current article about why English matters.

[xlii] U.S. Department of Education, (2013), National Institute of Literacy, 4/28/13.

[xliii] For one foundational analysis of the linearity of English see Kaplan, R.B., (1966), “Cultural thought patterns,” Language Learning, 16 (1), 1-20.  See also, Kaplan, R.B., (1987), “Cultural thought patterns revisited. In Connor, U. & Kaplan, R.B. (Eds.), Writing Across Languages: Analysis of L2 Texts (pp. 9-21), Reading, MA: Addison Wesley.

[xliv] For an introduction to the “I grasp” theory of native world grammars and human-language-generation see Arbib, Michael A., (2008), “From grasp to language,” Journal of Psychology, Paris.

[xlv] The Subject as I, the Verb as grasps: these fundamental human motor motions of infants may serve as the cornerstones of all learning skills, and may analogously represent the basic grammar unit of languages: part of the Action-Based-Language Theory of language acquisition in the brain. See note 13.

[xlvi] On object-verb-subject syntax in rice-growing cultural languages, a misapprehension exists about Japanese, for example, that it is essentially a Subject-Object-Verb language: not true.  It is as much, if not more, an Object-Verb- (optional subject) language.  Lay people are confused about Japanese syntax, because Japanese has topic-indicator particle words that tell a listener or reader which word is the object, usually the first noun.  English-speaking lay people confuse the idea of the first “topic” noun of a sentence with their cultural idea of “the subject of a sentence.”  “Eggs ate” might look like a weird raw transliteration from Japanese to English, while the context and particles would tell you that “eggs” is the object of the verb: “The eggs . . ., eat did (I)” (the I—and past tense—implied by particle words).

[xlvii] All languages are metaphoric and analogous—and entirely associative.  Empirical observation confirms that a sound and/or a written text is/are not the real object(s) or action(s) they signify.

[xlviii] For a good start on psycholinguistics, which includes investigations into how a hidden emotional negative and  positive reactive valence (an affect called arousal) can become embedded in or triggered by (any kind of) words, see Pulvermüller, Friedemann,Words in the brain’s language,” 1999), Behavioral and Brain Sciences (1999) 22, 253–336. The bibliography in this source is excellent.

[xlix] Psycholinguists and forensic linguists take very seriously the strong hypothesis that human memories and words are inextricably fused with ambiguous emotional content, some pleasant, some unpleasant. Any word for a native speaker of a language can produce an unexpected emotional response [arousal] in a perceiver—the affect mentioned in note 47. Similarly, second-language words for second-language learners can produce an affect.  SeeWarriner, Amy Beth; Kuperman, Victor; Brysbaert, Marc, (2013), “Norms of valence, arousal, and dominance for 13,915 English lemmas,” Behavior Research Methods, December, Volume 45, Issue 4, pp 1191-1207, published online.  See Lewis, P. A.; Critchley, H. D.; Rotshtein, P.; & Dolan, R. J. (2007), “Neural correlates of processing valence and arousal in affective words,” Cerebral Cortex, 17, 742-748. The ANEW project addresses exactly this very concern—which should alarm teachers everywhere:

[l] SeeLathrop, Thomas A. (2003), The Evolution of Spanish, Fourth Edition, Newark, Delaware: Juan de la Cuesta, 1986.  Or see Lapesa, Rafael (1942/1981), Historia de la Lengua Española (9th ed.), Madrid: Gredos.

[li] U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics, 6/2013.

[lii] Consult Candau, M, (1985), “Historia de La Lengua Espanola,” Scripta Humanistica, Potomac, Maryland.  See alsonote 49 above.

[liii] See Aoun, Benmamoun, Choueiri, (2010), The Syntax of Arabic, Cambridge University Press.  See also Ostler, Nicholas, (2005), Empires of the World: A Language History of the World,” Harper Collins.

[liv] Simpson, Joellen, (2000), “Topical structure analysis of academic paragraphs in English and Spanish,” Journal of Second Language Writing, 9 (3), 293-309Montaňo-Harmon, M.R. (1991), “Discourse features of written Mexican Spanish: Current Research in contrastive rhetoric and its implications,” Hispania, 74, 417-425.  Please note the difference between recursion in composition pedagogy, which refers to a writers’ revision and editing technique, and recursiveness in ESL education, which refers to the amount of repetitive  and/or recast clauses and grammatical structures (iterations) ‘endemic’ to syntaxes of specific languages.

[lv] Note how the following scientists from the Spanish National Research Centre for Human Evolution have contributed to the advancement of knowledge in the discipline of evolutionary anthropology:  J.M. Parés, L. Arnold, M. Duval, M. Demuro, A. Pérez-González, J.M. Bermúdez de Castro, E. Carbonell, J.L. Arsuaga (2013),  “Reassessing the age of Atapuerca-TD6 (Spain): new paleomagnetic results.”  Journal of Archaeological Science, 40 (12): 4586 DOI: 10.1016/j.jas.2013.06.013

[lvi] For a good start reviewing the complexities along with a helpful bibliography, visit: Pavlenko, Aneta (2012): “Affective processing in bilingual speakers: Disembodied cognition?”  International Journal of Psychology, 47:6, 405-428.

[lvii] See note 14.

[lviii] See Brandt, Gebrian, Slevc, (2012): “Music and Early Language Acquisition,” Frontiers in Psychology,  2012See also Tierney & Kraus, (2013), “The Ability to Move to a Beat is Linked to the Consistency of Neural Responses to Sound,” The Journal of Neuroscience, (9/18/13).  See Anvari, S. H., Trainor, L. J., Woodside, J., & Levy, B.A. (2002), “Relation among musical skills, phonological processing and early reading ability in preschool children.”  Journal of Experimental Psychology, 83, 111-130.  Many cultures have linked music to accelerated verbal and reading and literacy skills, and these studies confirm the practice.  Could English learners benefit by a number song?  Evidence exists that the dependence of learning a second language is also highly dependent on (both music/speech) rhythms: Max-Planck-Gesellschaft, (2011): “Crossing Borders in language science: What bilinguals tell us about mind and brain,” online.

[lix] Wilson, Sandra jp, Dickinson, David K., Rowe, Deborah Wells, (2013), “Impact of Early Reading First program on the language and literacy achievement of children from diverse language backgrounds,” Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 28 (3): 578.

[lx] For an introduction to the history of this concept and its associated methodologies and hypotheses, see Goldman, Alvin I., (2012), “Theory of Mind,” in the Oxford Handbook of Philosophy and Cognitive Science.  A print is available at

[lxi] See Kidd & Castano, (2013), “Reading Literary Fiction improves Theory of Mind,” Science, 10/2013.  See Berns, Blaine, Prietula, Pye, (2013), “Short- and Long-Term Effects of a Novel on Connectivity in the Brain,” Brain Connectivity.

[lxii] Miller, Jon, (2007), credit Dr. Donald Prothero.

[lxiii] National Science Foundation (2014), “Science and Technology: Public Attitudes and Understanding,” Presentation to the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

[lxiv] Please credit Dr. Donald Prothero with this term, which may have originated elsewhere. See notes 65.

[lxv] Among 15-year-olds, science literacy in the United States ranks 29th among nations of the world:  http:/ Credit: Dr. Donald Prothero.

[lxvi] Prothero, Donald, Dr., (2013), “The Rejection of Reality: How the Denial of Science Threatens us All,” SKEPTIC, Vol 18, #3.

University Students and Cambodia’s January Violence: Global Lessons from Cynical Youth

Massive public demonstrations in Phnom Penh, December 2013

Massive public demonstrations in Phnom Penh, December 2013

by Teri Yamada, CSU Long Beach

“It seems logical: College graduates have lower unemployment and earn more than less educated workers, so, the thinking goes, the fix for today’s anemic growth in jobs and wages is to make sure that more people earn college degrees. But that’s a common misperception, deflecting attention from the serious work that has to be done to create jobs and improve incomes” (Making College Pay, NYTimes Op Ed, Feb. 12, 2014).

I have been going to Cambodia during academic downtime to work on literacy issues since 1995; yet, this past December was quite definitely different. I imagine  Phnom Penh felt this strange prior to the 1997 coup— the palpable anxiety and underlying fear represented by the eerily uncrowded streets.  Something felt very wrong on December 30 just standing outside the arrival terminal at Pochentong Airport.  And unexpectedly, everyone I knew was talking about political change—including the tuk-tuk drivers—in an atypical expression of public outspokenness.  So I wasn’t that surprised to get an early morning phone call from a close Cambodian friend a few days later telling me not to leave my hotel room today no matter what.


Cambodian monks at January 3 demonstration threatened by the special police.

The previous day at the office, the Cambodian staff—all college graduates—had been live streaming the massive demonstrations of garment workers in “Freedom Park” near the new American Embassy. Organizing was taking place via Facebook and other social media while the “real situation” was missing from the official Cambodian TV evening news .  On January 3, the “special police” disbursed the large gathering of garment workers and their supporters, including youth and Buddhist monks, by shooting into the crowd—killing five and wounding an estimated forty others, including onlookers observing from second-story balconies—as many of us watched or received updates via social media.   This violence included clubbing saffron-robbed Buddhist monks.  A lesson seen before in Cambodia and elsewhere: State power trumps cultural values.  For the rest of my short stay,  I saw military police on every major street corner and huge rolls of nasty looking barbed wire distributed strategically along the major boulevards of central Phnom Penh.

The average garment worker in Cambodia is a rural young woman, age 16-30— now around 600,000 in number working largely in sweatshops— most of them unable to read or write Khmer fluently, working up to 80 hours a week for $125 a month including overtime. Next time you walk by Target, check the label on the designer T-shirts: “Made in Cambodia.”

Investors see Cambodia as an ideal place to make garments given its low wage costs and huge supply of young workers, many from rural areas where jobs outside of subsistence-level farming are scarce.… Chan’s dreams for the future are not uncommon. She’d like to have a family and children. And she’d like to have the money to send them to school so they can get good jobs and not have to work in a garment factory. While she is not ashamed of what she does, she doesn’t want her future children or even her 13-year-old sister following in her footsteps. “I’ve told her not to quit school,” she says resolutely. “I’ve told her not to come here, never to come here. ( DW, “Cambodia garment worker dreams of better future,” Feb. 02. 2014.)

 “Though progress has been made in terms of encouraging girls to attend primary and secondary school, a third of Cambodian adult women are still illiterate,” Ms. Channay said.  (The Cambodian Daily“Females Still in Need of Better Access to University Education” Oct. 8, 2012)

Not mentioned in any of the reportage about garment workers’ organizing was the support of a large number of college students now facing unemployment in Phnom Penh and elsewhere in Cambodia.  What unifies college students and garment workers is their mutual despair and disgust over government corruption, with its tentacles in the education sector as well.   The garment worker Chem Chan, mentioned above, has a younger sister who will encounter “barriers to success” in her school due to the very people running the public education enterprise.

 An investigation by two NGOs has uncovered a network of Education Ministry officials stealing schoolbooks that were intended to be given free to students, and then either selling them back to schools or in local markets. The investigation, conducted in December and January, found that officials at district education departments had intercepted the delivery of the official school textbooks, funded by the Asian Development Bank (ADB), and had created three revenue streams for personal enrichment. (The Cambodian Daily,  “District Education Offices Stole Free Books for Students,”  Feb. 13, 2014. )

While in Cambodia this January one of my Cambodian colleagues, who works in the government sector, asked me to review an English translation of the Prime Minister’s forthcoming education reform policy that proposed changes in both the public and private education sectors.  Anyone involved with the education sector in Cambodia hears about corruption in the public schools.  This has worsened over the years, starting with underpaid school teachers whose salary has increased so slowly from $60 to $120 a month during the past 15 years or so depending on your status as a K-12 or college instructor.  (Over the past few months garment workers were striking to improve their monthly wage from $90 to $130/$160 a month).   This means most teachers must have outside jobs to survive or ways of making money in the classroom: they may sell paper and pencils to their own students, or work independently as  motorcycle taxi drivers after school.  If you are a college teacher, you probably teach at three or four different institutions even if you are lucky enough to have a full-time job at one university.  This makes it impossible to update knowledge of your discipline or conduct research.   The salary for a full–time job at a public university is about $180 a month, plus some options for overtime; some private universities may pay more, but my colleagues tell me that outside teaching jobs are about $8 an hour.  It takes at least $400 a month to have a middle-class lifestyle with a family of four in Phnom Penh these days, with the cost of good private education for your children a significant expense.

I was pleasantly surprised by the new education reform policy since it actually listed many aspects of corruption known to everyone—the first step for change is to admit there is a problem.  Aspects of this corruption includes teachers and other ‘entrepreneurs’ selling the test questions and answers to the national university-entrance exams prior to the test; an online business where one can call or text  and get the answers to the test.

 In the past few years these examinations have been fraught with increasing amounts of large-scale bribery, cheating and intimidation, with the collaboration of many teachers and Education Ministry employees who occupied important supervisory positions in administering exams. Some of the bribing and cheating methods are outlined by an eleventh grade math teacher who sought anonymity in an interview with the Post.  He said: “The principal examination supervisor, sent from the Ministry of Education, had many ways of being corrupt because he controlled all aspects of the testing process, oversaw both the students sitting the test and the markers who corrected the students’ papers.  School teachers usually just monitored the exam. If they wanted to be corrupt they normally had to collaborate with the principal supervisor.”   (The Phnom Penh Post, “How $200 can buy exam pass,” 17 June 1994)

National High School Exam candidates each spent an average of 120,000 riel – about US$30 – on bribes over this year’s two-day testing period to secure exam answers, according to independent research released yesterday. Social researcher Kem Ley’s report Turning a Blind Eye purported that 92 per cent of students were involved in bribery or cheating during the exam, which is conducted under the supervision of high- school proctors, teachers and police officials. “We also see that 55 per cent of answers were copied from their hand phone after the answer was made and sent around by email,” Ley said, noting social media site Facebook had emerged as a popular means to cheat during this year’s exams, which took place on August 6 and 7. (The Phnom Penh Post, “Exam cheating rampant: report,” Aug. 22, 2012).

Not mentioned in this new education reform document for Prime Minister Hun Sen is the lack of training for proctors or examiners (since one gets paid for grading these examinations, connections will determine who gets the job not qualifications); no option to get a copy of your child’s test to see if it has been graded correctly; no process of appeal.    Essentially there is no accountability or transparency in the national college-entrance examination system.   How a child does on this exam determines whether he or she will receive a scholarship for university education or get into a free public university.

When you talk to Cambodians about this corruption among teachers in the education sector, many are surprisingly sympathetic.  That is because they know that survival on $60-$120 a month is tough, especially if one has a family.  Therefore it doesn’t shock them that schools are selling textbooks that should be distributed for free or that teachers are selling test questions and answers in advance of the national exam.  At the same time, they are outraged; but that anger is directed toward the government not the individual teacher perpetrator.

Once these “successful” high school graduates have advanced to college and completed their BA degrees, they face enormous competition for scare jobs:

As a recent university graduate with a degree in accounting, one might expect Sady Seang Saoly to be ideally placed to take advantage of Cambodia’s rapidly growing economy. Instead the 23-year-old from Kampot province is downbeat about his prospects two years after leaving university. “I and many friends I graduated with still have no jobs. We are very worried,” he said in a recent interview….Despite the Education Ministry citing a 37 percent rise in university graduates from approximately 8,000 in 2005 to around 11,000 last year, coupled with one of the most rapidly growing economies in Asia, high unemployment continues to plague young Cambodians. Only about one in 10 recent university graduates were holding down a job, according to statistics in 2005 from the Youth Star NGO. Between 1996 and 2006, the youth labor force in Cambodia grew by 78.7 percent from 1.29 million to 2.3 million, compared to 6 percent on average in ASEAN countries… “Economic growth in the last few years has been driven mainly by growth in the garment, construction and agricultural sectors, which don’t necessarily employ a lot of university graduates,” Hem said.

Sandra D’Amico, managing director of human resources and recruiting agency Hr Inc, said that despite the large number of graduates, many are unprepared for the rigors of the business world. “There remains a mismatch between the education provided at university versus what employers need,” she said. One major problem is the emphasis on rote learning at Cambodian universities, D’Amico said, when critical thinking skills are needed to learn quickly on the job. Another is that universities offer students little in the way of career guidance (Cambodian Daily,” “Recent Graduates Find Job Prospects are Bleak”  Sept. 9, 2007). (1)

The anonymous authors of the Prime Minister’s new education reform policy, echo D’Amico’s comments above.  They complain about the higher education sector producing graduates with majors and skills that are not aligned with business needs.  Sounds like U.S. politicians’ complaints about higher education in America.

We also have our own special form of higher education corruption in the U.S., the result of a poorly regulated private ed industry—both for-profit and non-profit—that promised future non-existent jobs and used federal funds to subsidize an education scam that indebted millions of young adults.  The 2010 Frontline expose College, Inc. about inflated and false data used to seduce students into debt still remains relevant four years later.  For an update see Forbes reportage “How the $1.2 Trillion College Debt Crisis Is Crippling, Students, Parents and the Economy.”  And then there is the example of Corinthian Colleges under investigation by California’s Attorney General Kamala Harris:

A year ago, if you were Jack Massimino, CEO of  Corinthian Colleges, you might have been feeling pretty good.  Despite extensive evidence from congressional and media investigations that Corinthian, along with other big for-profit colleges, has been abusing students — luring them with deceptive recruiting, offering high-priced, low quality programs, and often leaving them without jobs and deep in debt — you seemed to be getting away with it.  Almost 90 percent of the revenue for the schools you operated — Everest, Heald and WyoTech colleges — was easy money: federal taxpayer dollars from student grants and loans, about a billion dollars a year.  You yourself were taking home over $3 million a year in compensation some years (Huff Post Business, “Federal and State Law Enforcement Dramatically Escalate For-Profit College Probes” Feb. 6, 2014).

I’m thinking, in the State of California, of the Bureau of Private Post Secondary Education, which remained legislatively impotent and underfunded for over  twenty years  while scam, predatory vocational training schools established themselves in our under-regulated state.  There are scores of online law schools in California, none accredited by the California ABA.  The issue of law schools, even those accredited, attracting students into an overcrowded profession while leaving them in deep debt, is addressed in  Brian Tamanaha’s controversial Failing Law Schools (U Chicago P, 2012).  As quoted in The Chronicle of Higher Education article, “Law School Professor Gives Law Schools a Failing Grade,” Tamanaha writes : “Law schools are thriving, kept afloat by students making poor judgments to attend, while the federal government obligingly supplies the money to support their folly.”  (2)


What we can say about a college education is that those with one have the lowest rise in poverty rates in the U.S.

And some law firms complain  that law schools are not training students as they should, in practical skills like writing contracts. An Education Week article frames it this way, “it appears that standardized-test results are positively correlated with a shallow approach to learning.”  Stephen Dubner of Freakonomics fame,  observes:  “tests have increasingly come to be seen as a ritualized burden that encourages rote learning at the expense of good thinking”. That assessment is confirmed by empirical data, including a study published in the Journal of Educational Psychology, which characterizes the learning of high test performers as “superficially engaged.”   “The students are not to blame, but it does mean that law teaching now involves shaping learning for a generation that has been encouraged to memorize rather than engage in critical thinking” (The Chronicle of Higher EducationLaw School’s Failure to Prepare Students…It’s Complicated,  Dec. 11, 2013).

Our situation sounds more and more like Cambodia’s: children trained in rote learning (teaching to the test via No Child Left Behind); an essentially unregulated private higher education sector without quality control; an increasing number of college graduates who don’t fit the job market, which is actually underperforming or collapsing.  And we also see flawed management in our own institutions and misuse of funds.

In a world where globalization with its glossy ideological promise of ‘raising all boats’ has stalled out, while  higher education is still advocated religiously as the path to economic success, we should contemplate the creation of new policy that actually produces economic restructuring so that all these college graduates might find meaningful employment instead of taking to the streets.  As a recent op ed (Feb. 12, 2014) in The New York Times points out: “On its own, more college won’t change the economy’s low-wage trajectory.”  That is so both  in Cambodia and the United States.


(1)  See Sandra D’Amico’s excellent study, “Higher Education and Skills for the Labor Market in Cambodia” (2010)

(2)  See also “Law Schools on the Defensive Over Job-Placement Data” in The Chronicle of Higher Education.


“State of the Union: The Poverty and Inequality Report, 2014,”  (The National Report Card), The Stanford Center on Poverty

Fear and Trembling: Nov. 6 and Public Higher Ed.

Hurricane Sandy and New York City

Our hearts go out to our colleagues and everyone on the East Coast battered by  Hurricane Sandy, the second October megastorm in two years.   May an outcome  of this devastation be the recognition of climate change   and the beginning of a rational public policy and action to address it, including the construction of  a more resilient electrical grid and  public infrastructure.

Fear and Trembling:  Nov. 6 and Public Higher Ed.

A deep existential dread pervades many of my colleagues in education  as Nov. 6 approaches.  And it is not just because we are in California with its problematic Prop 30, which would be the  coup de grâce  to public education if it fails.   This election could signify the closing of opportunity for any significant pragmatic action to protect what remains of public higher education across the country. The outcomes on Nov. 6 could be a further blow to unions, who despite faults, have worked hard to protect workers rights in the face of a relentless onslaught of big money, and reactionary legislation to gut them.

And I can be counted as one educator in this election season disappointed by the lack of debate on the state of  defunded public higher  education across the nation and the instability for young educated adults in the new lackluster economy.   I can see the impact of a dramatically changed economic reality on my students since the fiscal collapse of 2008: seniors about to graduate troubled by their chances on a job market that provides no career stability or upward mobility.  One of my students, a talented software programmer in the gaming field, works from contract to contract  asking for a permanent position at each job with no result.  Or there is the mature student, a biology major in my capstone course, who has survived rising  tuition costs in the CSU with a “good job” at Starbucks and may have to stay since jobs in her area of expertise are scare; or her partner also in the science business who does get highly paid contracts, but they are all short-term and he worries constantly about  the next short-term job.   This is an age of contingency for all workers, blue or white-collar,  and my students wonder whether they will ever have the economic security to even start a family or own a house.  The American Dream feels  very fragile to my graduating students in California in an age of business opportunism eager to exploit contingent labor.  This is a global trend , of course, pitting young educated adults against each other in the hunt for more stable jobs.

Is it the same across the states? Just last month many of us received the following message from  the American Association of University Professors (AAAUP) explaining the seriousness of union busting in Michigan:

 Dear AAUP Members:

In attacks on working families similar to those we saw in Wisconsin and Ohio, the Michigan legislature and governor have decimated collective bargaining rights in the state. In Michigan, this has been done not in one omnibus bill but with an onslaught of individual bills, railroaded through committees with the arrogant attitude, “your voice doesn’t matter.”

Fearing this pattern might continue though the next legislative session, and possibly lead to a so-called right-to-work state, the labor movement has initiated a ballot campaign to amend the Michigan constitution. The proposed amendment would protect the basic right to negotiate for fair wages and benefits with an employer.

Our friends and colleagues in Wisconsin and Ohio stood their ground and fought back with the power of collective action reminiscent of the 1930’s. It is now Michigan’s turn to carry the movement forward.

As we have seen over the past couple of years, corporate special interests have amassed staggering resources to use in their attempt to destroy collective bargaining rights. We therefore appeal to our AAUP colleagues from across the country to join us in preserving the labor/management relationship that has been so successful in creating the American middle class.

Our colleagues in Michigan need your help. To see how you can help, please visit the Michigan AAUP conference website (

Rudy Fichtenbaum President, AAUP

In California, funded by super PACS (including Karl Rove and the Koch Brothers).we have Prop 32 on the Nov. 6 ballot that would make political action close to impossible for unions here.   May we shake off the dread and act to make sure this doesn’t happen as we inspire our colleagues to become politically engaged by getting out the vote this week.  This is all hands on deck!

In his recent blog .”…Same as the Old Boss”  (below) Bill Lyne  provides a case study of the ongoing privatization of public higher ed in Washington State:

In a move that would make Dick Cheney proud, Education Secretary Arne “Aren’t I cool because I play basketball with the president” Duncan recently convened a secret meeting of higher education bosses to help him figure out how to do to higher ed what he has done to K-12.  According to a report in Inside Higher Ed, the meeting included top officials from prominent MOOCs, other players in online learning, veteran experts on course redesign, college administrators, people from powerful foundations, leaders of several of the major higher education associations, technology vendors, and for-profit college representatives.

“Few actual faculty members were invited to the meeting,” reported IHE. “And no high-profile faculty advocates attended.”  In the doth protest too much portion of the program, “education Department officials repeatedly said during the meeting that they recognize the leadership role faculty must take in any teaching and learning developments.”

Yeah, well if you’re not at the table, you’re probably on the menu.

In related news here in Washington, Governor Gregoire has now made her appointments to the Student Achievement Council, a longtime state bureaucrat with zero education experience is now running our community college system, and Rob McKenna thinks college professors are blowhards who should be turned into temp workers.

For those who haven’t been reading the fine print, the Student Achievement Council almost exactly fills the footprint left by the recently deposed Higher Education Coordinating Board.  Scott White is probably rolling over in his grave after the bill he introduced to scrap the bloated and ineffectual HEC Board has only produced a lot of wasted time and money to replicate the HEC with the SAC.

The governor’s appointments to the SAC all seem like fine people, but while the names have changed, the lineup overall is distressingly familiar.  A bunch of lawyers and managers and a token student (who will, depending on her willingness to go along, either be co-opted or marginalized), none of whom bears much resemblance to an actual educator.  As with every other task force, board, council, and committee appointed to ride herd on public higher education, there is no faculty member, no one who does the work of education, no one who knows from daily classroom experience what student achievement might actually mean.

For the past thirty years, U.S. public education has been going to way of U.S. health care.  Like health care, education is something that should be a right that has been inexorably turned into a commodity as a public good has been made more and more available for private profit.  The funding model has shifted from taxation to debt (much to the delight of the financial industry), eroding both the accessibility and quality of college.  Real educators generally object to this shift, which is why the new appointees to the SAC were chosen precisely because they are managers and not educators.  Kind of the same way that the people chosen to run health care are always managers and not doctors.

As public higher ed was eviscerated over the past four years, the HEC board stood by and didn’t raise a fuss, choosing instead to do endless tuition studies and produce lots of charts with pretty blue arrows.  It’s a pretty safe bet that the new SAC can be counted on to be just as acquiescent.

 Meanwhile, just down the street at the State Board for Community and Technical Colleges, Olympia perennial Marty Brown has been named Executive Director.  When last we saw Mr. Brown, he was throwing a fit to any reporter who would listen about the faculty contract at Western Washington University.  Despite the fact that Western professors’ salaries, adjusted for cost of living, ranked in the bottom fifteen percent in the country, Mr. Brown felt it was “a mistake” for the Western trustees to negotiate a contract with the faculty that included small raises.

This disdain for faculty, along with his complete lack of experience as an educator, should help Mr. Brown fit right in at the SBCTC, where hundreds of well-paid managerial employees with benefits oversee a system that is well on its way to becoming a sweatshop.  At some of Washington’s community colleges, up to 80% of the faculty are badly paid part-time itinerant workers with no benefits.  As SBCTC Director, Mr. Brown will have access to study after study that shows what a difference well-qualified permanent faculty can make.  He will also have the expertise of thousands of professors readily available.  The smart money is on his taking advantage of neither, instead continuing to rely on the squads of non-classroom consultants and “experts” who will continue to peddle the notion that doing more with less has no effect on a student’s education.

 Alas, these also seem to be Rob McKenna’s confidantes.  Mr. McKenna has made education the centerpiece of his gubernatorial campaign and he certainly gets it right when he talks about how he wants to increase funding for higher education.  And he consistently recognizes the damage done by years of cuts to higher ed.

 But when he gets down to specifics, it becomes clear that the Attorney General has drunk the managerial Kool-Aid.  In a higher ed speech at WWU’s Munro Institute this summer, Mr. McKenna cogently made the case about higher ed funding, but then moved into the trickier areas of instruction and teaching.  After a few banal remarks about online learning and “blended courses,” he launched into this observation about the nature of teaching:

 “We’ve got to move from a model where you always have a teacher or a professor who is, as someone put it, the ‘Sage on the Stage’ to where you’ve got a professor or a teacher who’s the ‘guide by your side.’  This is a phrase that I learned from Sam Smith at Western Governor’s University (WGU), I thought it was pretty striking.”

What seems novel and striking to Attorney General McKenna is actually pretty old and tired.  “Sage on the stage” and “guide by your side” have been around since at least the early 1990s and have been co-opted by the for-profit education movement as a way to demonize professors as pompous windbags and convince prospective student customers that a badly paid unqualified pal on the other end of a digital connection is better than a genuinely qualified instructor.  (The irony worth noting here is that almost every time some self-styled education expert trots out the sage-on-the-stage insult, he or she is usually speaking from a stage to a passive audience, just as Rob McKenna was at the Munro Institute.)  It’s no surprise that McKenna picked this up from Sam Smith, the lobbyist for WGU, where they have no faculty, just “course mentors.”

 McKenna’s lack of connection to real educators becomes even clearer when we take a look at his higher education position paper.  Buried near the end is a proposal to eliminate tenure, a move that would guarantee Washington’s universities would never again be able to recruit high quality faculty.

Chris Gregoire, Marty Brown, and Rob McKenna are doing nothing to improve the quality of higher education, but they can take solace in the fact that they are right in step with Arne Duncan.  Though they all come from different points on the ideological compass, they all firmly agree that major policy and funding decisions about higher education are best made without any actual educators in the room.

When the Duncan cabal got down to their business of identifying the obstacles to their brave new world of McEd, the things they pointed to were financial aid rules, pesky accreditors demanding some sort of accountability, and the “faculty culture” created by those nasty professors who stayed in school into their thirties and took jobs paying much less than they could have made as business people or lawyers, just because they don’t really care about students.

Given their mania for efficiency, it’s probably a good thing that Arne’s army kept the professors out of the room.  They would have just muddled things with questions about massive disinvestment, the difference between real education for responsible citizens and job training for docile employees, and why everybody in the room was sending their kids to real colleges while claiming that the MOOCs were good enough for everyone not in their tax bracket.

 The NFL Referee lockout demonstrated once again that nobody protects quality, integrity, and safety like organized, professional practitioners and that bosses, no matter what manner of pious bullshit they may publicly spew, are mostly interested in squeezing workers as hard as they can.  The bosses who have now focused on higher education are determined to make sure that today’s children get tomorrow’s education equivalent of replacement refs.

(permission to repost granted by the author)


Selling Water By the River: Reflections on AAUP and NEA’s national leadership strategy

Earl Warren Japanese Garden, CSU Long Beach

Selling Water By the River:  Reflections on AAUP and NEA’s national leadership strategy

Teri Yamada, Professor of Asian Studies, CSU Long Beach

In our current gilded age where all politics is business, we educators yearn for ethical leaders to admire.   Under assault in the trenches, our faculty unions are undermined at the local level, often by both political parties who are using this bad economy to privatize public education.  It is depressing as we fight the good fight against multibillionaires.   Therefore, we can at least hope that our national education associations will have our backs, effectively lobbying for us at both the federal and state levels to stop this wildcat privatization.  As associations who represent us, we expect NEA (National Education Association) and AAUP (American Association of University Professors) to model the highest standards of ethical conduct and leadership as we struggle daily on our campuses to organize against faculty apathy, and as we lobby our state legislatures to act responsibly for the public good. In our local fights for equity and access to public higher education for every qualified student in our respective states, in our struggle to maintain quality education and academic freedom, in our efforts to preserve secure jobs with benefits, we need help!  We need effective ethical help.

Our expectation of ethical and effective leadership holds true for both AAUP and NEA.  Both serve the public higher education sector as our national representatives to the media and the Department of Education in Washington D.C.  How our AAUP and NEA leaders comport themselves, what they say to the media, to Arnie Duncan and President Obama, reflects back on the entire higher education sector.  It is time for some self-reflection.

In a recent Chronicle of Higher Education commentary, former AAUP general secretary Gary Rhoades made a number of points about leadership and the difficult questions that AAUP must face if it is to survive as a respected and effective association.  The challenges are great.  But we all will be diminished if AAUP is unable or unwilling to embrace constructive criticism and prove by its actions that transformation is possible.  The United University Professions  (SUNY), have demonstrated the consequences of unresponsiveness by their February vote to end affiliation with AAUP after twelve years of relationship, citing a number of complaints including poor communication and lack of responsiveness.

NEA has also challenged patience.  Several years ago, NEA decided to establish or form a relationship with a proprietary affiliate called the NEA Academy (1) .  This Academy’s purpose it to serve as a portal to “online professional development products,” which means it provides a link to other providers’ online courses for teacher continuing education and Master’s Degrees.  Claiming to have a Content Quality and Review Board, the NEA Academy has published its Requirements for Inclusion in its products list.    These requirements include such standards as “content that aligns with NEA policy.”   One of the top three providers for NEA Academy’s courses is Western Governors University (WGU)

NEA stipulates that its vision is “a great public school for every student” and that its mission is “to advocate for education professionals.”  It promotes public education as a core value: “We believe public education is the cornerstone of our republic. Public education provides individuals with the skills to be involved, informed and engaged in our representative democracy.”   The question then is why does NEA embrace Western Governors University, a private, anti-faculty union provider of online courses?  How does this fit with NEA’s mission to advocate for “education professionals” when WGU is an institution that eschews teacher-based instruction; it has no teachers.  Why do this when so many excellent public universities and community colleges across the nation have online programs of the highest quality which adhere to the philosophy that teachers form the core of education?  Shouldn’t educators also deserve “a great public school” for their continuing education?

When our national associations fail to serve us well —as we battle on the ground to protect faculty jobs and save collective bargaining, to preserve adjunct positions with benefits and job security, to ensure quality control over curriculum, to save public education and academic freedom—we must wonder whom AAUP and NEA are serving.


(1) This relationship needs further clarification.  NEA Academy charges a course fee for its portal services.


Rhoades, Gary. “Forget Executives the AAUP Should Turn to Grass-Roots Leaders” in The Chronicle of Higher Education, 8 January 2012.

Schmidt, Peter.  “AAUP Loses Major Affiliate at SUNY” in The Chronicle of Higher Education, 6 February 2012.


DISCLAIMER:  Restructuring Public Hi Ed is curated solely by me.  All editorial decisions as to what is posted are based upon my interest and concern about restructuring in the public higher education sector.  These blog posts should in no way reflect upon any other person or organization since this is a “personal blog.”   Please send your blog posts and comments on restructuring in public higher education for consideration to me at

Time to reverse course: ‘We’ are not broke — and Minnesota can do more to educate our young

Southwest Minnesota State University

Prof. Kolnick mentions California in his blog below.  The CSU has the sad distinction of making the U.S. Department of Education’s list of the top 32 public, 4-year universities in the United States with the steepest tuition increases from 2007-2010 as reported in SFGate: “Now, the U.S. Department of Education has premiered a database on its web-site comparing college costs of all kinds. Of 32 public, four-year schools in the United States with the steepest tuition increases from 2007 to 2010, 22 are CSUs, with tuition rising 35 percent at Humboldt State at the low end, to 47 percent at San Diego State.”  This year, if the budget situation in California does not improve, the CSU will face restructuring that could destroy the integrity of our institutions.   ty


Time to reverse course: ‘We’ are not broke — and Minnesota can do more to educate our young

Jeff Kolnick

                                                   Guest blog by Jeff Kolnick, professor of History, Southwest Minnesota State University

Recent reports have indicated that accumulated student loan debt now exceeds $1 trillion and is greater than the nation’s combined credit-card debt.  In response to this bad news, we hear the usual: We are broke and must adapt to the new normal of diminishing resources and austerity.

With the Legislature now in session, we have a chance to reverse course on what is a profound generational betrayal of our young people. I refuse to believe that “we” are broke or that we are living in a period of diminished resources. I am forced to turn to the facts rather than the fantasy that passes for conventional wisdom these days.

America is a richer nation now than it was when I was an undergraduate, 1977-1982. Back in those days, another period of recession and high unemployment (remember stagflation?) my college tuition was much lower. I am from California and began my career at Fullerton Community College, where tuition was free.

Did he say free? Yes, free. I paid absolutely nothing for three years of excellent education with outstanding faculty. You can adjust for inflation all you want, but free is free.

After I transferred to UCLA, I paid a whopping $1,657 for two years of quality education. Imagine, a BA degree awarded from an elite university for less than $1,700. 

Minnesota used to have low tuition too
But that’s California, you say – a state run by hippies. Well, Minnesota also used to have low tuition. According to the Minnesota Office of Higher Education, between 1993 and 2009, a period when per-capita income in Minnesota increased from $22,302 to $42,549, tuition at the University of Minnesota went from $3,421 to $10,756. At State Universities the increase was from $2,521 to $6,373, and at two-year schools the increase was from $1,950 to $4,548. These increases were during a time when the wealth of Minnesota nearly doubled.

But heck, that was Minnesota. Was America a richer nation when I went to college? Were we somehow less broke? Of course not. As the chart below indicates, we were a poorer nation by every measure in 1980 than we are now. In 1980, in constant dollars, our per capita GDP was $25,640 and today it is $42,204. Looked at another way, the United States is more than twice as rich today as we were in 1970.

Year Real GDP
(millions of 2005 dollars)
Real GDP per capita
(year 2005 dollars)
1970 4,269,900 20,819.74
1975 4,879,500 22,592.27
1980 5,839,000 25,640.46
1985 6,849,300 28,717.52
1990 8,033,900 32,112.35
1995 9,093,700 34,111.44
2000 11,226,000 39,749.59
2005 12,623,000 42,612.30
2010 13,088,000 42,204.92

So I ask you, where are the diminished resources? Where is this broke nation? To find out who is broke you can visit our state colleges and universities, where students are paying super high tuition because my generation has decided to slam the door shut on the very opportunity that allowed me to become an educated citizen.

Today, Minnesota state policy (Minnesota Statutes 136F.01) is that the state will fund 67 percent of the cost of a college education. In fact we are paying only about 30 percent of the cost of a college education, and students are paying the remaining 70 percent. MnSCU institutions are incredibly efficient. MnSCU appropriations for this biennium are the same in real dollars as they were in 1999; we are educating many tens of thousands more students, and the total cost of educating a student per capita has remained roughly the same.

Reneging on commitment started with Pawlenty
The state’s decision to renege on its commitment to paying two-thirds of the cost of a public education began under the Pawlenty administration. As recently as 2002, the state honored the law and only began its generational betrayal under the former governor, a man who, like me,needed and used public higher education to jumpstart his career. [PDF, page 45]

It is time to refute the lie that we are broke! WE are not broke! Some of us are broke, some of us are in debt and going deeper into debt. But the United States is a richer nation now than it was 30 years ago, or even 10 years ago. The trouble is that all of the money has gone to the top 5 percent and those at the top are not as generous today as they were 30 years ago when I got a world-class education for $1,657.

America has the money to rebuild its infrastructure and educate its citizens. In 1955, when we built the interstate highway system and expanded opportunity in public higher education, per capita GDP was $15,128.12,not the $42,204 it was in 2010. In those days we acted like a nation that looked out for one another, and we prospered together. Today we act more like a pack of wolves, except that wolves do not eat their young.

Reposted from MinnPost.Com (Tues, Jan 24, 2012) with permission of the author .

Western Governors University (WGU) Is in Your State: Deconstructing the Academy

M4 Rally, CSU Long Beach

Western Governors University (WGU) Is in Your State:  Deconstructing the Academy

        Teri Yamada, Professor of Asian Studies, CSU Long Beach

In our cultural echo chamber of deception, as Joseph Goebbels   said, “If you repeat a lie often enough, it becomes the truth.” The media has served business well in the production of panic over America’s imminent fall in the global economy. We are told that our decline in global competitiveness is due to the failure of “traditional public education.”

For the past several years, the Lumina Foundation for Education   has been calling for the United States to increase higher education attainment rates — the proportion of the population that holds a high-quality postsecondary degree or credential — to 60 percent by the year 2025. This call — known as “Lumina’s Big Goal” — has been embraced by many others. Foundations, state governments, national higher education associations, and President Obama have all issued their own call for increasing the proportion of Americans with high-quality degrees and credentials.

Their way to meet this goal is to alter the “unchanging public education system” through disruptive technology and privatization. In this mythic death and rebirth struggle, we must rid ourselves of the ossified, brick-and-mortar educational institutions and embrace the redemptive and disruptive online learning platforms of virtual education.   Stephen Ehrmann refers to this phenomenon as “the rapture of technology” (1).

The big money behind rapture technology ensures the effectiveness of its propaganda. Public discourse on education has been remolded to focus on the cause of its “failure” defined as teachers and their unions.  And remedies are offered in the form of privatization through vouchers and charters, online delivery, and school funding tied to the measurable outcomes of retention and graduation rates.

The result is contested cultural space over  the meaning and value of education. For example, the Lumina Foundation promotes its definition:

“Quality in higher education must be defined in terms of student outcomes, particularly learning outcomes, and not by inputs or  institutional characteristics. The value of degrees and credentials…rests on the skills and knowledge they represent.” (2  )

Compare this reductive utilitarianism to the “affinity philosophy of learning” embedded in the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation’s cutting edge digital media and learning initiative ;

“If it were possible to define generally the mission of education, it could be said that its fundamental purpose is to ensure that all students benefit from learning in ways that allow them to participate fully in public, community (creative) and economic life (3 ).

Both Lumina and MacArthur advocate a shift from an instructor-centered model of education to a student-centered learning model; but MacArthur’s frame does not erase  “teachers” from education although it does reshape their role as instructors.  The Lumina value of reductive utilitarianism is the basis for the WGU model of learning.  The goal of this learning is to demonstrate competency over a specific vocational skill set defined by measurable outcomes.

WGU began in 1995 when several governors of western states decided to create a virtual university to confer “competency-based” degrees.  They had the following concerns (4):

  • To accommodate access of rural students, the governors wanted delivery of cost-effective education at any place, any time;
  • The rising cost of education combined with population growth would surpass the capacity of the brick-and-mortar institutions; there would be no more money to build new campuses;
  • State colleges were not producing enough skilled graduates, and the graduates they were producing had uneven skill sets.  So a competency-based degree, certified by a third party, seemed to make sense “in an employment climate where it is commonplace to question what it means to have a degree” (5); they had corporate support for this plan;
  • The governors felt their state colleges had been unresponsive to these problems so the governors decided to shake things up, “to foster innovation in higher education institutions.”

The governors embraced a competency-based, online delivery model that required re-conceptualizing the function of “traditional” faculty in higher education.   This re-conceptualization is called “unbundling”: the splitting off into distinct functions of a faculty role and assigning each function to a distinct human agent or technology.

Unbundling enables virtual universities to control costs by increasing “instructor productivity” (6).   Research and university service are removed from the role of “faculty.”  Academic advising is not recognized in this world-view as part of a faculty’s role in the university.  The remaining component —instruction —is further unbundled to the following five distinct activities:

  • Designing the course;
  • Developing the course through the selection of instructional methods and course materials;
  • Delivery;
  • Mediating a student’s learning process (such as identifying learning styles);
  • Assessing levels of competence.

These five activities are then assigned to technology or separate agents. In this way, the traditional understanding of “faculty” is deconstructed.  WGU does not offer instruction directly but brokers “learning opportunities” through various technologies. Advisers (mentors/monitors) assist students in choosing the “learning opportunity” to achieve a certain goal.   Those who design the courses and programs belong to WGU Program Councils consisting of faculty members and industry specialists.  WGU agents are all contract laborers; there is no tenure.  So we are left to contemplate Jerry Farber’s concerns, expressed in 1998:

If you take the new developments in educational and communications technology, lift them up on a millennial wave of technological enthusiasm, integrate them into the competency-based/outcomes movement in education which has persisted in one form or another since the 1970s or earlier, and put them in the service of corporate interests, which are moving toward a de facto takeover of higher education, you come up with a rough approximation of what appears to be happening in a great many colleges and universities at the turn of the century (7 ).

ACTION PLAN : Check to see if there is a stealth bill  to establish WGU as an “official branch” in your state.  We recently discovered one in California.  If so, consider educating your elected representatives now.

  • Ask your legislators how the “competency based” instruction of WGU will impact your state’s public university systems? What is the cost-benefit analysis? How many jobs will be lost to out-of-state WGU employees? The low cost of WGU tuition— its main selling point to “customers” —is politically attractive to state legislators since it undercuts for-profit providers who voraciously consume federal and state grant money and are difficult to regulate.  One can argue that our legislators should be investing in state community colleges, which offer even lower-cost vocational training programs, many with online components and a richer learning experience.
  •  Ask your legislators to explain WGU’s lack of transparency and accountability.  WGU refuses to release official accreditation reports.  It is impossible to assess their  “success” in terms of graduation and retention rates until they release longitudinal studies of yearly cohorts for each program. Currently they refuse to provide this data on the basis they are a “private non-profit.”

For fun,  watch Aimee Shreck’s cartoon  “We Don’t Have Teachers at WGU!”    Bill Lyne of United Faculty of Washington provided the “real conversation” for this media moment.


(1) AFT, “Teaming Up With Technology,” p. 19.

(2) Both Farber and Johnstone discuss these.

(3) This is a quote from Bill Ivey, former chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, and Steven J. Tepper in Jenkin’s “Confronting the Challenges…” a MacArthur Foundation report,  p.  61.

(4) These concerns are found in both Farber and Johnstone.

(5) Paulson, 124.

(6) See Paulson for this explanation.  Note that there are other models of disruptive unbundling, for example University of Phoenix.

(7) Farber, 809-10.


AFT.  “Teaming Up with Technology: How Unions Can Harness the Technology Revolution on Campus.” Report of the Task Force on Technology in Higher Education. January 1996.

Farber, Jerry. “The Third Circle: On Education and Distance Learning.Sociological Perspectives. 41.4 (1998): 797-814.

Jenkins, Henry et al. “Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century.” Occasional Paper on Digital  Media and Learning.  MacArthur Foundation.

Johnstone, Douglas. “A Competency Alternative: Western Governors University.” Change. 37.4 (July-Aug 2005): 24-33.

Paulson, Karen.  “Reconfiguring Faculty Roles for Virtual Settings.” The Journal of Higher Education. 73.1 (Jan-Feb, 2002): 123-140.

Some Good News from Florida: Court Rules that Florida Politicians Must Justify Their Actions

Guest blogger Kathleen Oropeza ( represents a grassroots movement of activist parents and their educator allies in Florida, who are successfully opposing the total privatization of public education in that state.   She reports on a recent court victory in their case on  the Florida legislature’s “paramount duty” that takes them  to the Florida Supreme Court.  Other education activists around the country are using “education adequacy” lawsuits in the courts as a means to stop further erosion of public education.  Kudos to our colleagues!!

Court Rules That Florida Politicians Must Justify Their Actions

Just before Thanksgiving, the First District Court of Appeals told Florida politicians “no.”  In a rare move, the entire panel of 15 judges voted 8/7 to deny the writ of prohibition and certify the suit as a “question of public importance,” sending it directly to the Florida Supreme Court.

Attorneys representing Senate President Mike Haridopolos, House Speaker Dean Cannon and the state used an obscure writ to try to stop the suit and deny the courts the right to consider whether the Florida Legislature meets its “paramount duty” to the people as described in Article IX, section 1 of the state constitution.

State attorneys called the funding of Florida public education a “political matter.”

Have Florida politicians forgotten that we, the taxpayers, are the reason they have any money at all to send back to our school districts?  The explosion of “education adequacy” lawsuits springing up in states from Texas to Maine means that people everywhere are weighing the same question.

Each and every year we spend our hard-earned money building public education for our children.  We pay our property taxes to fund public education only to see billions cut from education budgets.   Wanting the best for our children, we send in hundreds of millions of dollars in crayons and paper.  We sell enough wrapping paper to cover the earth three times.  We use that money to pay for direct classroom needs like books, smart-boards and computers.  This asset belongs to us.

Despite these facts, Florida politicians continue to make high art out of subverting the will of the people.  They do not value our state constitution as the purest expression of the peoples’ will.   Article IX, section 1 of the Florida Constitution clearly instructs the Florida Legislature that their “paramount duty” is to fund a free high-quality system of public education for every child.

Instead, Florida politicians, coached by Jeb Bush and the American Legislative Exchange Council, are laser-focused on showing the whole country the most expedient way to sell public education off to the highest bidder.  Clearly, a majority of Florida politicians, tempted by special interest dollars, now ignore their official oath to uphold the state constitution.   Our public servants refuse to serve us.

The court did its job.  The 8 judges who solidly rejected the State’s move to silence the voice of the court have brought hope to every classroom in this country.  Their decision says that the court believes it can decide whether Florida public education fails the high-quality test.  It says this case is not just about funding:


This is Florida’s chance at redemption.  Instead of providing outrageous supermarket headlines, Florida just may be the place where the whole country learns the truth behind the “education reform agenda.”   The court action will force an unvarnished discussion.  It won’t take long for average citizens to see that these unwanted, unfunded “reforms” are a shameless scheme to rob public tax dollars from the education pot of gold meant for our children.  Maybe then, the word “no” will be on everyone’s lips.


Kathleen Oropeza is co-founder of  She and her partners Christine Bramuchi and Linda Kobert are plaintiffs in the lawsuit mentioned in this article.  Contact her at

Link to Florida First District Court Decision:


The Assault on Public Employee Unions

Guest blogger John S. James is a Psychometrist at California State University, Chico and the Vice President of Academic Professionals of California.

The Assault on Public Employee Unions

Over the past three years we have seen the cumulative impact of a wide and varied number of unprecedented and unrelenting attacks on public employees in general and public employee unions in particular. This ongoing campaign is not a merely a series of individual and isolated events, but rather is an integral part of a well-planned long-term coordinated strategy to undermine working people’s livelihoods and destroy what remains of important hard-won collective bargaining rights. It is no great secret that this effort has been in a great part orchestrated and massively financed by a number of extreme-right wing millionaires and billionaires, including the once reclusive and secretive, but now increasingly infamous Koch brothers.

The most recent and glaring demonstration of the assault on public workers occurred earlier this year in Wisconsin. Newly elected Governor Scott Walker (whose campaign was heavily financed by the Koch brothers and their affluent allies) deepened an existing fiscal crisis by giving massive tax breaks to wealthy individuals (including campaign donors) and large corporations.

Using the budget shortfall as a rationale, the governor demanded that Wisconsin public employees make significant concessions concerning salaries and pension benefits. After the unions finally agreed to accept these unprecedented proposals, the real agenda emerged – to eliminate collective bargaining rights for public employees. Despite sit-ins at the state capitol and some of the largest protest demonstrations in the state’s history, nearly all union rights of most state workers were eventually revoked by law.

In addition to Wisconsin, several states including Idaho; Indiana; Massachusetts; Michigan; Minnesota; Nebraska; New Hampshire; Ohio; Oklahoma; New Jersey, and Tennessee have recently enacted legislation restricting the rights of union members. Legislation has now been introduced in 43 states to change collective bargaining for public employees. Even in the ostensibly “blue state” of California, a ballot initiative has been filed that would amend the state constitution to prohibit the recognition of all public sector labor unions and prevent bargaining between these unions and government authorities.

It is important to note that such repressive and draconian measures, if adopted, might possibly violate existing international law, which definitively states that workers have a human right to organize and bargain collectively, according to Amnesty International.

It is somewhat encouraging that all of the media attention concerning the widespread vicious attacks on unionized public employees provoked a backlash, which has produced an outpouring of popular support. A USA TODAY/Gallup Poll taken in February, 2011, expressed the sentiments of most Americans who now strongly oppose taking away the collective bargaining rights of public employees. The poll found that 61% would oppose legislation in their state similar to the Wisconsin bill, compared with 33% who would favor this type of law.

Another example of this historic sea change in public attitude is reflected in a Bloomberg National Poll conducted last March, which clearly demonstrated that Americans firmly reject recent efforts to restrict the bargaining rights of union members. Interestingly, this survey also reported that 63% of respondents feel that corporations have more political power than unions. Public employees were viewed favorably by 72%, compared with 17% who saw them unfavorably. Of those individuals polled, 63% do not think that states should be allowed to break the promises previously made to their retired workers. Most importantly, 64% believe that public employees should have the right to bargain collectively. This result is also consistent with Parade magazine’s online poll, which found that 92% of the respondents believe that America still needs labor unions.

A solid majority of individuals polled in these surveys seem to have a clear understanding of the critical role played by organized labor in the struggle to achieve benefits for working people – benefits which unfortunately are often taken for granted. It was the unions that were instrumental in creating the eight-hour workday and the 40-hour workweek with overtime. It was union activists who successfully fought for paid employee vacation and sick days, genuine retirement security with pensions, and health benefit packages including medical, dental and vision care. And it was the unions that bravely took a stand against the blight of child labor, and stood for unemployment insurance, workplace safety laws, a minimum wage, Social Security and worker’s compensation. Because of the efforts of labor unions, society as a whole changed for the better.

Union members and non-union members alike need to remember the great successes and monumental gains of the past and recognize that they are being threatened by the critical situation the American labor movement is currently facing. In 1935, during the depths of the Great Depression and in the midst of often contentious and sometimes violent labor disputes, the National Labor Relations Act (Wagner Act) was signed into law as an important component of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s (FDR) New Deal. This legislation established the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to assist workers in protecting recently won rights to bargain collectively over their terms and conditions of employment.

Eventually, based upon the percentage of all employed workers, union membership peaked at around 30–35% in the 1950s, which was also a time of unprecedented prosperity with a thriving and vibrant middle class. In contrast, for the year 2010, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the nation’s union membership rate was 11.9%, down from 12.3% a year earlier. The number of wage and salary workers belonging to unions declined by 612,000 to 14.7 million. Despite the general nationwide decline, California now leads the nation in reporting the largest number of union members (2.4 million) with a membership rate of 17.5%.

The most disturbing finding of the 2010 Labor Report was that the union membership rate for the public sector (36.2%) was massively higher than that for private sector workers (6.9%). Why has the labor movement lost so many members in the private sector? The answer lies partly with actual and threatened job losses due to the impact on the large manufacturing sector of both globalization and so-called “free trade” – trade which sometimes pays near slave-labor wages in developing countries. Manufacturing was the great union bulwark that had once provided American workers with good wages and solid benefits.

The other key factor is that public sector employees had limited, though important, protections against wholesale retaliation for union-related activities. In the private sector, employees who attempted to organize in the workplace were often intimidated or summarily discharged. The unfortunate reality is that joining a labor union is no longer viewed as being an employee’s “legally protected” right. According to the NLRB annual report for 2005, there were 31,358 people who were either disciplined or fired for engaging in union activities. A poll conducted in December 2006 found that 58% of non-managerial workers would join a union if they had the opportunity. An ever-present and genuine fear of losing one’s livelihood prevents uncounted numbers of private sector workers from being involved in union organizing, despite wanting to do so.

The current assault on public employee unions is due in great part to the fact that they are the last remaining vestige of what was once a viable dynamic force, fighting for the economic rights of workers in this country. Organized women and men employed in the public sector are now precisely targeted in the crosshairs of determined, ruthless and well-armed adversaries.

Unions may possibly be the last major impediment standing between the total domination of the political and economic system by an oligarchy composed of a new breed of obscenely affluent “uber-libertarian” iconoclasts who want to establish another “gilded age” for present-day America. These plutocrats vehemently oppose even the slightest leveling of the parameters of an inherently unbalanced power relationship that exists between employee and employer, which is attained through collective bargaining. With what can only be described as religious fervor, they are convinced beyond reason that government has absolutely no legitimate function regulating business or providing for basic human needs. The Wall Street dictum that “Greed is good” has been baptized and morphed into “Greed is godly.” The libertarian fringe element is fervently committed to “starving the beast” and destroying all of the social progress achieved since the passage of the New Deal. In fact, extreme right-wing animosity toward Roosevelt’s policies isn’t only confined to FDR; it starts with the “Square Deal” of Teddy Roosevelt, the “trust buster” and conservationist who set aside massive tracts of land for national parks and ushered in the Progressive Movement of the early 20th century.

These ultra-conservative zealots look forward to returning this country to what they believe were the “good old days,” even though it will inevitably result in the same horrible conditions experienced by most workers in the past. They want to restructure the economy in order to once again create a society which is composed of only the greedy few who have riches beyond their wildest dreams and the vast majority who exist in a permanent state of human wretchedness.

Already, we can see the emerging “looneytarian” impact on the political process, creating a topsy-turvy skewed world where billion dollar corporations have been declared to have the same free-speech rights as people, and thus can spend unlimited amounts of money to buy elections. In this kind of world, all public services will one day be completely privatized by predatory corporate interests; all schools will have tuition and all roads eventually lead to a tollbooth.

Recently, public employees and collective bargaining have become convenient scapegoats, being vilified and blamed for the intractable financial difficulties faced by many state and local governments grappling with the repercussions of the greatest economic downturn since the 1930s. The crisis faced by governmental agencies nationwide was not caused by public employee unions: it is the result of persistently high unemployment rates and collapsed housing prices which, along with unfair regressive tax systems that favor the wealthy, have resulted in enormous tax revenue shortfalls.

Our current economic situation is a direct consequence of the wholesale looting of financial markets by modern day robber barons engaging in a reprehensible new form of unregulated “casino capitalism.” These are the same individuals (with businesses interests that were “too big to fail”) who were subsequently bailed out when their financial “house of cards” not so unpredictably collapsed, and are now receiving obscene salaries, with accompanying bonuses and bewildering lucrative stock options. The benefits of a one-sided jobless recovery have not yet moved from the plush boardrooms of Wall Street to the threadbare living rooms of Main Street; the penthouse suite is now even further from the basement.

The tactic of the right wing is to convince the voters and taxpaying public that collective bargaining is responsible for widespread state and local budget deficits. This Big Lie narrative depicts living wages, comprehensive health care benefits, and retirement pension programs as outdated concepts which are prohibitively expensive. In the present day economy such advantages are unavailable to millions of private sector workers, and therefore this line of reasoning concludes that governmental agencies can no longer afford to provide these amenities to their “coddled and greedy” employees.

Significantly, the overall decline of labor unions over the past several decades has been a major factor in the increasing concentration of wealth in the United States and rapidly growing income inequality.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities reported on an analysis by economists Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez, which found that in the generation following World War II, economic gains were shared widely, with the incomes of the bottom 90% actually increasing more rapidly in percentage terms, on average, than the incomes of the top 1%. However, since the late 1970s, the incomes of the bottom 90% of households have remained about the same, while the top 1% experienced massive income gains.

The average pre-tax income for the bottom 90% of households is almost $900 below what it was in 1979, while the average pre-tax income for the top 1% is over $700,000 above the 1979 level.

Piketty and Saez determined that two-thirds of the nation’s total income gains in the most recent economic expansion from 2002 to 2007 flowed to the top 1% of U.S. households, which held a larger share of income in 2007 than at any time since 1928. During those years, the real (inflation-adjusted) income of the top 1% of households grew more than ten times faster than the income of the bottom 90%.

The Financial Times notes that during this same period of economic expansion, the median US household income actually dropped by $2,000, which meant that most Americans were worse off at the end of a cycle than at the beginning. The annual incomes of the bottom 90% of US families have been essentially flat since 1973 – increasing by only 10% in real terms over the last 37 years, during the same period in which the incomes of the top 1% tripled.

The Economic Policy Institute reports for the year 2009, the wealthiest 1% of U.S. households had a net worth that was 225 times greater than that of the typical household, which is the highest ratio ever recorded. Approximately one in four U.S. households had zero or negative net worth, up from 18.6% in 2007.

Although it is estimated that approximately 84% of the nation’s wealth is held by the upper 20% of the population (with the richest 1% hoarding almost 50%), researchers Michael I. Norton and Dan Ariely reported that surprisingly, a panel representative of average Americans believed that wealth is distributed a lot more fairly in this country and greatly underestimated the present degree of our present inequality.

In 1973, chief executive officers (CEOs) were on average paid 26 times the median income. Now they are paid in excess of 300 times more. The New York Times recently commissioned a study which determined that for the year 2010 the median annual compensation of CEOs at the 200 largest U.S. companies was $10.8 million, a 23% increase from the year before. A USA TODAY analysis of data from GovernanceMetrics International found that for the same year, CEOs of Standard & Poor’s 500 index companies received a median average of $2.2 million from bonuses, up 47% from $1.5 million in 2009.

By contrast, the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ 2011 first quarter report revealed that the median wage for 98.3 million full-time workers was $755 a week. This amounted to an increase of only a scant 0.1 more than the prior year – very far below the 2.1 percent increase in the Consumer Price Index, which records the real cost of everyday living.

Robert Reich, former secretary of labor, points out that since the early 1980s a larger and larger share of the nation’s total income has been transferred to the very top. He notes that in 1980 the richest 1% of Americans received 10% of total national income, compared to over 20% of national income now. The result of this 30-year trend has been that the middle class lacks sufficient purchasing power to boost the economy without going deeply into debt. Reich writes, “The American economy can’t get out of neutral until American workers have more money in their pockets to buy what they produce. And unions are the best way to give them the bargaining power to get better pay.”

To view the assault on public employee labor unions as merely an isolated and limited campaign is to lose sight of the big picture. Attacking the last bastion of unionism is a bold tactical move; but it is just part of a cold and calculated strategy to finally destroy what is left of the middle class. If we eventually lose the middle class, we will also lose America as we presently know it.

The middle class in modern America was created out of the hard-fought battles of the labor movement in conjunction with the progressive policies of the post New Deal era. It is important to note that during this time period the “rising tide of unions lifted all boats” as it can be shown that collective bargaining raises the general salary levels of all workers, even those who are not unionized. Neither non-union nor represented employees should easily dismiss or forget the importance of this “invisible hand of the unionized marketplace.”

Despite all of the recent setbacks for the American middle class there have recently been some extremely encouraging developments, such as the exponential growth of the Occupy Wall Street movement, a solidly grassroots effort which has now received the support of organized labor. The powerful and compelling argument that 1% of the population massively benefits at the great expense of the remaining 99%, may eventually begin to resonate with an increasingly frustrated and angry populace.

Late in the year 2011, we look forward with guarded optimism to a better future for this country with a revitalized and committed universal labor movement, including both private and public sector employees, supported by union members and non-members alike, which could become a driving force that will protect the important gains made over the past several decades for all working people. We must fully engage in a protracted struggle to save the middle class with all of our available resources, so that the promise of the American Dream will indeed become a reality for future generations.

Blood Money: Pearson’s Profit

The Obama administration’s recent, modest change in policy toward No Child Left Behind (NCLB), indicates some response to years of activism and a statistically-based critique of the inadequacies and injustices of NCLB.  One recent critique is Diane Ravitch’s “School ‘Reform’: A Failing Grade.”

It appears that the momentum of the public relations campaign that has been waged against the “positive image” of the public school teacher may be changing.  National Public Radio has started a StoryCorps project “National Teacher,” which will foreground the transformational impact of  educators  on their students.  A new documentary “American Teacher” portrays the real lives of four teachers in the classroom.  Forty-six percent of all teachers quit before the fifth year of teaching; many need to find a second or third job to survive.  Meanwhile, nearly 15 million children in the United States live below the federal poverty level; one-third of all Hispanic children now live in poverty here.  Shouldn’t the cultural focus of the Gates Foundation and friends be a war against poverty instead of a war against teachers and public education?  In the meantime, it is the educator’s selfless act of conscience and  integrity  that makes a difference as we see in “Blood Money” below.

The damage done to the public education system through NCLB and the standardized test movement will take many years to repair.  We now find the same failed standards-based management ideology, which fueled NCLB, making an impact on the rush to  restructure public higher education.  Perhaps, if we are able to articulate the lessons learned from K-12, we may better fight the transformation now underway to cheapen the quality of public higher education through assessment regimes and quick fixes such as charter universities and  for-profit online education schemes.  Texas is well on its way down this path of devolution with Florida racing to catch up.   Texas’ Gov. Perry has cut $4 bil from the state’s health and education budget this year, leading to the potential  firing of 49,000 teachers. Thom Hartmann reports that “43,00 students will lose at least part or all of their financial aid — including 28,000 low-income college hopefuls who will  their entire scholarships” in a state that ranks dead last in the number of residents with college degrees.  Moreover, Eugenie Reich reports in “Texas Holds Firm on Physics Closures” that Texas plans to phase out nearly half of its physics programs at state funded universities this year if they have failed to graduate at least 25 students every five years.  This may seem reasonable but many low performing programs “are in areas with predominantly black, Hispanic or disadvantaged populations. Statistics provided to ‘Nature’ by the American Institute of Physics suggest that some 35% of the undergraduate physics degrees awarded in the United States go to students in programmes that would not meet the Texas board’s requirements for staying open.”  I guess science and engineering degrees will  be just for the children of wealthy Texans.

And as much as we want to support our president, his quote from the Department of Education’s  latest report “Our Future, Our Teachers”  gets it just plain wrong.  He states,  “From the moment students enter a school, the most important factor in their success is not the color of their skin or the income of their parents, it’s the person standing at the front of the classroom… America’s future depends on its teachers”.  According to physics professor Michael Marder, based on his extensive data analysis of students’ standardized text  results in Texas, what matters most is not just the teacher, or whether the school is public or charter.  What matters in improving higher student test scores  is also the socioeconomic and ethnic status of the student.  He invites EVERYONE to check his data.

“Joseph K. is a 24-year veteran of the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), a former mentor teacher twice named a Johns Hopkins University Teaching Fellow, who now teaches poor, inner-city children who wake up every morning in their gang-ridden, drug-infested neighborhoods at five a.m. to catch the bus by six.  He teachers the old-fashioned way —by ignoring standardized test scores. Instead of teaching bubbling, he tries to instill a love of knowledge and learning in his students and for this reason will probably be allowed to continue teaching for fifteen more minutes.”  He blogs at The Trials of Joseph K. (


Dear Teachers,

We are being asked (key word “asked”) to be trained (key word “trained”, like dogs) by Pearson “Learning” August 29th and 30th. Pearson is going to pay us. Make no mistake, ladies and gentlemen, the money they are going to pay us is blood money. And the blood money they are going to pay us with is our own blood. It is the blood we bled when the Los Angles Unified School District (LAUSD) cuts our pay. It is the blood we will bleed every day when we struggle with larger and larger class sizes. It is the blood Jenny, Isabel, Jared, River, Susan, Summer and all the rest are bleeding right now as they sit home BLEEDING because they no longer have jobs.

It is blood money.

Pearson “Learning” was once a nice publishing house. They printed books under names like Penguin and a number of textbooks primarily in England. They made a tidy profit in the millions of dollars each year. In 2000, as NCLB was being written and discussed, they bought their first testing company. That may or may not have been a coincidence. After passage of NCLB, they bought another testing company. Then they bought another and another and another and another. That was no coincidence. Today they are a conglomerate of testing companies, seven by my count. They have created a vast, powerful TESTING INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX. Their profits are not a few million each year, but a few billion each year and they are growing exponentially.

They employ legions of well-paid lobbyists who infest Washington, D.C., every state capital, and many local school boards. I would love to know how much they contribute to reelection campaigns. They have infested LAUSD which I will explain in a minute. They have one agenda: Profits. Until recently, they had one means to their agenda: Testing. More standardized testing means more profits for Pearson. NCLB is Pearson’s business model. Teachers are laid off, their salaries cut, class size increased, and curriculum narrowed as Pearson lines its pockets with gold.

Consider this regarding standardized testing:

  • high scores often signify relatively superficial thinking
  • many of the leading tests were never intended to measure teaching or learning
  • a school that improves its test results may well have lowered its standards to do so
  • far from helping to “close the gap,” the use of standardized testing is most damaging for low-income and minority students
  • as much as 90 percent of the variations in test scores among schools or states have nothing to do with the quality of instruction
  • far more meaningful measures of student learning – or school quality – are available.

-Alfie Kohn’s  The Case Against Standardized Testing

Standardized tests are DEMONIZING all of us in the inner city, demonizing our union, and being used by almost infinitely powerful economic and political forces in this country to dismantle public education.

And the situation is only going to get worse. [LAUSD Superintendent John] Deasy and [Secretary of Education Arne] Duncan both are pushing value-added standardized testing measures to evaluate teachers. The “LA Times” slanders all of us on a daily basis with its value-added measure on its website. Deasy calls it AGT.

Slander is slander. This year he is bribing teachers with $1,250 (after cutting their pay) to “volunteer” in a pilot project for AGT. “If you volunteer, we will pay you (after cutting your pay.)” To measure “improvement” you need baseline scores (pretests), probably at least one or two interim assessments, and a post test. These tests will be maximally time consuming and VERY expensive. All teachers need to be evaluated, so multiple tests will be given in every subject of every grade multiple times every year. You can bet that Pearson is using its vast influence to get to the front of the line to write (and sell) those tests. As far as I know, they may well have already elbowed out the competition. Their profits will be enormous. And guess where those profits will come from. They will come from you and our students. Your job, if you have one left, will rely on these tests, so you can be damn sure you are going to teach to them and probably teach little, if anything else.

Read this: The Test Generation.

Pearson “Learning” has now figured out a way to “double down” its billions in annual profits, its rape of public education. They are using their publishing arm to sell “Teaching Guides”, “Lesson Books”, etc. so teachers can “better” teach its own tests. Genius. They have created a mobius strip of profit production. We are pawns in their game and they are going to move you two spaces ahead August 29th and 30th.  Don’t think you are getting paid very much for being a pawn. Pawns, if you don’t play chess, are the first things sacrificed.

I reject Pearson and their blood money. I reject everything that they stand for. I reject their endless bubbling. I reject their process of elimination universe. I refuse to be trained like a dog to teach my students how to bark like seals. So should you.

I am drawing my own line in the sand. Public education is going up in flames in this country because of profiteers like Pearson and teachers are going down. I intend at least to have a say in my own demise.

I may show up on August 29th. I will not sign in. I will not touch their food. I will go nowhere near their blood money. If I do show up, it will only be to stand up before everyone and publicly denounce Pearson in much the same way I am doing now. My fantasy is to walk out and have everyone follow; but, alas, that will never happen. It would be nice if some of you would follow, though.

If I do not show up, it will be because I chickened out. Fear is something I understand. In an age of perpetual layoffs and teacher transfers, fear is not without merit. We are surrounded by fear. We are immersed in it. You all will make your own decision regarding the Pearson “training”. You all have your own lives, your own families, your own personal situations. You have to decide what is right for you. I will respect whatever decision you make. Count on that. But consider what is being done to you and our profession by Pearson, companies like it, and politicians who exploit their malevolence. Consider. Consider Jared, Jenny, Isabel, River, Susan, Summer and all the rest. Consider that you are next. We are next.

original post, Friday, August 26, 2011; reposted with permission of the author on October 1, 2011.