Sunday, January 24, 2010

The NEXT debt crisis!

To combat the next American debt crisis, the College Crisis, I foresee in a few decades we will have a whole new sector in the education industry, targeted skills training.

The goal of TST is to avoid both the hassle and the expense of the "university life" which most students aggrandize beyond its usefulness--sociology degrees don't get jobs, put bluntly.

Instead, educators need to reestablish their ties with industries (computer, engineering, service, construction, etc.) to offer simple apprenticeships to young people looking to get ahead in the business world.

Instead of 4 years of debt for a useless degree, kids as young as 16 can shadow a master in their chosen craft for little or no pay, do whatever work needs to be done, and receive skills training to become journeymen themselves.

The benefits are clear--to the business, cheap labor, voluntarily given. To the apprentice--skills learned, quickly and on the job. The system perfected during the middle ages still applies for us today--we need fewer students ruining their financial portfolios chasing after illusory degrees, and more apprentices in those sectors hurting from low employment, struggling to build capital.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Anarchy and Statism, refined...

(formerly a response to this blog discussion on the YAL website that I thought would make a better post of my own... go back and read the others if you want to get a sense of where I'm coming from.)

I would like to recommend Stephan Kinsella's "What Libertarianism Is" because it refocuses some of our discussions on how libertarian philosophy is not an either-or choice between state and chaos. Anarchy, unlike one of the posters above, simply means "no ruler," and is not synonymous with chaos.

The idea that we need somebody else to enforce our rules on others is in violation of Kinsella's discussion of the non-aggression axiom, which simply means that one ought not (moral, not legal, proscription) to use force (direct, through physical violence, or indirect, through representational violence) to deprive another person of their life, their liberty, or their property without just cause.

Certainly, people can and have been detained by other people without it violating the non-aggression axiom: murderers are detained until the aggrieved party is vindicated for their loss; you are bound by your oath to continue at your job, or your boss can justifiably sue you for breach of contract, etc. But simply passing the buck of federalist violence onto individuals is not a logical move; simply put, government offices and individuals are not the same creatures and do not act in the same way or have the same self-interest.

Governments are parasitical entities at their core, dependent upon the host body to survive but needing to mask their inherently lecherous activities. Rather than simply eat the organs of the host (which would destroy the parasite's home), the parasite will instead steal from the food source or the nutrients of the host (such as a tapeworm), growing fat off the effort of the host but not directly endangering his life--only his product.

Government officials have no money to run their business, so they use ours, or they run our businesses for their own profits; but they often cannot do so openly or they risk damaging or killing the country's economy, the source of their nourishment (i.e., Zimbabwean land-scheming by govt. officials bankrupted the country in only a few years). So instead of taking businesses, now the government merely oversees them, ensures that they pass muster, quality control, checkpoints, any and every conceivable way to make it difficult (but not impossible) for us to live, all the while telling us this is for our benefit, that the bogeyman will get us if we don't have an underpaid chair jockey test a few random batches of meat out of 500,000 and deem all 500,000 "safe."

Where most people run into trouble ethically is how they would live their lives without this singularly important chair jockey and his magical rubber stamp--for example, what if we didn't know if the meat was safe before buying it? Answer: we would learn, as we often do, from market sales. Company X keeps getting lawsuits and bad press from salmonella poisonings; their sales tank as their meat withers at the factory because Company Y institutes a massive new campaign of safety (whether real or perceived) to take advantage of their competitor's weakness, and thus corners the market. Notice how this is already done anyway; the childish notion of "fairness" in business is directly contradicted by the scarcity of resources and the ingenuity needed to get those resources--only the strongest survive.

Turns out, strength in today's economy means an ability to provide consistent quality, reliability, and cost-effectiveness in every product--in essence, tailoring the entire business to us and our self-interest (our greed). Walmart, Target, Lowe's, and numerous other big-box stores have done the math and have managed to give us exactly what we want at exactly the price we'd be willing to pay, with as little overhead and as much global commerce as possible. After all, our patronage is needed to keep all those plants open in China and all the workers employed in honest labor (their once-verdant country is turning to sand thanks to the unsustainable farming techniques adopted by the Communists there).

Yes, "sweatshop" factory work is honest work. Because without governments forcing businesses to shut down because they don't fit a predetermined model of usefulness, all sorts of new opportunities arise--some good, some bad. But people are neither sheep nor doxies--they will not let themselves be slaughtered willy nilly or outsourced as slave labor if they have a choice in the matter. Unfortunately, governments often collude with businesses to deprive people of their rights to leave a contract (a point on which I disagree with Walter Block, who does defend voluntary self-enslavement in Defending the Undefendable). Passport-hoarding, false promises, coyote smuggling, and a host of black-market evils set in once strong government disallows things like cheap factory labor.

In "Where Sweatshops are a Dream," Nicholas Kristof explains that apart from factory work, which is generally done inside, often sitting down, and for reasonable hours, many impoverished people have few employment options, especially young women and children who cannot do hard manual labor. The alternatives of factory labor are such laudable activities as rock-breaking, garbage-collecting (the woman interviewed in the story had her son die while collecting plastic to sell from a trashheap; the son was backed over by a garbage truck), prostitution, and starvation. Not all poor places are terrible to live, but in those worst places, where the work is indeed cheapest, the difference between living on a sulfurous mound of toxic waste, unable to breathe or bathe properly for one's entire life; between that life and 12 or 14 hours going blind at a sewing machine in low light while getting a paycheck on average 6 times what you'd been making prior... which would you choose?

But instead of being thankful that our businesses are using their own self-interest (their desire to maximize profits) to help out the world's poorest populations, we seek to bankrupt and destroy these companies, and use governments as the tools of our zeal, not realizing the true catastrophe of lives ruined and money wasted on overfed unionized domestic laborers. To make an apropos straw man, if you had 2 laborers and one was constantly diligent, hard-working, self-sacrificing, willing and able to work long hours and never once asks for a raise, are you really going to fire him and keep on his colleague, a worker who demands (not asks) for consistent raises without ever demonstrating an improvement in performance, uses government lobbies to force you into negative company equity just to support extravagant benefits plans that he has shown no qualifications for deserving, and who will walk off the job site, stopping production and threatening the solvency of your entire business if you do not immediately acquiesce to his demands? If he were in your position, responsible for the smooth and continued operation of the company, this second worker would be ashamed at his own actions, and recognize how industrious and worthy of employment your first laborer remains.

In short, government allows for individuals to bully from afar; people in positions of power in government can make others ruin themselves and their businesses just for their own self-interest. Kinsella notes that self-interest is neither good nor bad, but a trait of human nature; but when combined with the moral and legal authority that is modern government, self-interest is downright lethal, as over a million Iraqis and many more Middle Easterners have already found out. That is why anarchy is not just a possibility--it is a necessity of modern life; the vast differences between rich and poor are purposefully exacerbated by governments to maintain their extravagant lifestyles.

The greatest concentration of world wealth and world power are one and the same today, but they do not have to be. China's recent boom made many elites here in the "first world" question their diminishing buying power. Osama bin Laden is successfully waging a Vietnam-esque campaign against us in the Middle East, weakening our national defenses by drawing us into random invasions of the Arabian peninsula while masterminding any and all attacks to unsettle the population at home. Eventually, we will either tire of him and his ilk and leave Arabia unceremoniously (unlikely), or we will spend ourselves into bankruptcy trying to catch smoke.

Let me be crystal clear--if every individual American man and woman had to support, with their direct funds from their own bank accounts, the Iraq, Afghani, Pakistani, and now potentially Yemeni and Iranian wars, there would be no wars in the Arabian peninsula. The only reason we have these wars is because our governments are playing us like suckers at a carnival. We've been properly marked, and we're being taken for all that we have. Do we have the courage to know when we've been had, and cut our losses? Can we simply say to the government, "No"? I believe we can: Nullification.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

You Mean it's not Whiteface? You Sure?

What's worst about this movement towards ideological banality is that seemingly older, more responsible people get completely overwhelmed by the need to appear hip and edgy; in compensating for their obvious lack of childish malice towards others, they take on all the verbiage of the "oppressed" without actually realizing what it is they are parading.

Take Phil Kennicott's insane verbal gyrations attempting to fit "urban blackness" onto Heath Ledger's performance of the Joker in 'The Dark Knight.' Regardless of the fact that Ledger is a recently deceased "white" Australian actor, and that the comic book character himself is murderous, psychotic, and (incidentally) white, Phil seems to believe that the "deformed product of urban violence" that the Joker represents (he doesn't, but we'll get to that...) has been deliberately applied to a recent picture of President Obama in an attempt to highlight the "racially charged" undertone of the image, that "[Obama] is black and is identified with the inner city, a source of political instability in the 1960s and '70s, and a lingering bogeyman in political consciousness."

Let's let Phil try and justify this one: "The Joker's makeup in "Dark Knight" -- the latest film in a long franchise that dramatizes fear of the urban world -- emphasized the wounded nature of the villain, the sense that he was both a product and source of violence. Although Ledger was white, and the Joker is white, this equation of the wounded and the wounding mirrors basic racial typology in America. Urban blacks -- the thinking goes -- don't just live in dangerous neighborhoods, they carry that danger with them like a virus. Scientific studies, which demonstrate the social consequences of living in neighborhoods with high rates of crime, get processed and misinterpreted in the popular unconscious, underscoring the idea. Violence breeds violence."

Now, looking at the image myself, it's hard not to ACTUALLY find racism lurking in the image--in the form of whiteface, most often used in European clown and mime tradition, but also the distinctly American tradition of using black actors as a parody of the urban Irish, or as simplistic minstrel characters like the Massa and the Southern Belle, who had to be white. I know--it seems almost perversely racist... making fun of blacks by dressing them up as white women, or for heaven's sake, the Irish? Who would ever think of such a thing? Thankfully, however, Phil tripped all over himself trying to justify such obvious racism that it is a joy to point it out to the world.

Unfortunately, some other lucky poster got there before me; all that's left is the meta-analysis. First off: the Obama/Joker poster's creator is an idiot. The Joker was the embodiment of anarchy in the new film; had he not put the decisions for their deaths into the people's own hands, they would not have become so violent and wicked as Batman believes them to be (the enforcer of justice and order, even at the expense of massive spying and wiretapping). The great irony of the film is that the Joker's desire for lawless insanity results in lawless morality (both parties in the film's massive Prisoner's Dilemma ultimately choose not to rat each other out--spoiler!), while Batman's lawful iron fist is responsible for the death of his gal pal and the ensuing insanity of a once decent (supposedly) government official. I would say that it's a just characterization that all government types are two-faces following the whims of chance regardless of who it hurts or helps, but that's another post. As it stands, Obama would be better served metaphorically as Harvey Dent, with half his face exposed to the skull as a metaphor for his many rhetorical guises, than in Joker makeup. Mixing metaphors is just bad art.

Kennicott, on the other hand, deserves high praise for his ability to simultaneously diss and pander to an entire stereotype--"urban blackness." For the record, Obama is half white, internationally educated, and a recipient of some of the most hoity-toity qualifications America has to offer. Nothing, not his milk chocolate exterior, his custom Hart Schaffner Marx attire, nor his carefully accessorized cufflinks and executive Blackberry, screams Jenny from the Block. As far as stereotypes go, Phil, choose Al Sharpton or Jesse Jackson for your Black Knights, because Obama can't hack a convincing Sunday preacher voice even when surrounded by black hotness. But for failing so spectactularly to capture the essence of urban blackness (apparently a "virus," though he neglects to say which one...), Kennicott exposes himself as the worst douchebag of them all--an idiot hurting everybody with good intentions. And we all know where those lead, right?

Garbage In, Garbage Out...

Just as it was true for code monkeys creating the first GUIs, the concept that bad education leads to bad understanding rears its ugly head once more in Gene Healy's recent op-ed piece for the Washington Examiner. Only this time, the coming Revolution is a hydra of youth-core extremists pounding on tables and shouting down dissent in a desperate plea to get someone, anyone to listen.

We often forget that the young voters are, in fact, young; they are headstrong, stubborn, convinced of their righteousness, and unshakeable in their convictions. For today, at least. Tomorrow, the focus may be back on Gossip Girl, who knows. But using this mercurial demographic as a basis for both an election and a party position is extremely dangerous, rather akin to playing with fire in the southern California foothills--ideas that nobody cared about in the first place get passed along so fervently due to insta-media outlets like Twits and MyFace that the "old guard" of people over age 30 are simply taken aback by their ferocity.

Seeing this explosion of effort (which is all actually quite effortless, thanks to said above insta-media), the "fuddy duddies" rally around whatever makes them look the most popular, like the latest starlet with one side of her head shaved--in the pale light of morning, these elder statesmen look simply ridiculous for having followed the whims of children. But oh-hum, these children grow up, and become "activists," angry (and now bitter, thanks to adulthood) partisans who will smear anyone or anything across the information superhighway that gets in the way of "their" candidate. Shock and awe is not just a military campaign, it seems, anymore.

So in reality, what we are dealing with is not the fallout from the miseducation of the American youth, but the radicalization of the American Memory of Youth, that wistful remembrance of better days when all these stuffy concepts and theories about jobs, economic recovery, auto manufacturers and endless option-ARM loans could be boiled down into one single defining statement that few alive today actually spoke--We Shall Overcome. Overcome... what? That's generally never answered.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

An Education-Free World at Last...

Jack Hough wrote a cathartic, if ill-researched piece on the end of the Education Bubble in America entitled "Don't Get that College Degree!" While the comments page rips Hough a new one for his bad math and worse assumptions about the earning potential of high-school vs. college-educated individuals, the article nonetheless gropes blindly towards the ultimate point that educators are waiting on pins and needles to reach... the Education Bust.

As Hough points out, there's something rotten in Denmark. Most easily recognizable is the treacherous "adjunct faculty position." Instead of long-term tenure-track stability dependent on successful scholarly publishing, promising young scholars are herded into ballooning class sizes, monotonous "required" courses that teach no skills and "entry level" courses that convey no new knowledge and often don't strain the student beyond a high school education level. Students are cheated out of an education that can expand their skill and knowledge base, while McProfs are last-hired, first-fired mercenary teachers living a shell of an existence teaching whatever will keep them from being sacked--not the best environment for new investigative research.

This race-to-mediocrity extends all the way through the university system: Greg Winter points out in his article "Jacuzzi U" that universities are spending billions of taxpayer dollars specifically NOT on education, but on resources like hot tubs, climbing walls, and endless resort-style amenities that turn college life into a theme park. This is not merely because college administrators are reptilian space-aliens bent on enslaving humankind (that's for another article), but because the business model of the university system has approximated the housing business model pre-2008: the bigger, the better. More stuff supposedly equals more students, which brings in more money, which allows for more stuff, which brings in more students... et cetera, ad nauseam. So where does it end?

From tiny private colleges like Reed to massive universities like Stanford, colleges are increasingly unable to support the students that they have, admit new students who are strapped for cash, and justify the cost-benefit of their supposed skills-training. Meanwhile, online "universities" like the University of Phoenix have become degree-factories admitting anyone regardless of ability (both in teaching and student positions) and graduating almost no one, boasting some of the lowest graduation scores in the country. The blood is most definitely in the water, and the sharks are looming.

Yet all this hassle and pain has been and most likely will continue to be blamed on students (who are just trying to get ahead) and administrators (who just want to make a quick buck), while the real culprits continue to "inspire" us to fritter away any savings we or our parents have gathered together as a bulwark against any unforeseen disasters or debts we might incur. The real culprits are quite simply our teachers, our professors, our parents, and our government officials, all of whom insist that a college education is absolutely essential to success in our lives.

Was this true of our grandfathers' or fathers' generation? Most students I've met as a teacher are first-generation collegiates, so obviously not. In fact, many students from my own former university were double-dipping, spending their Hope scholarship and Daddy's money together, living in palatial apartment complexes and shopping at Wal-Mart, eating Ramen noodles and driving around town in Escalades. "Slumming," it was called, as if it were a fashion trend and not an insult to people who can't afford any better.

In fact, I'd wager that just within my own family, mine will probably be the poorest generation thus far. My grandfathers on both sides were barely high-school educated, but all died wealthy enough to leave substantial inheritances that have afforded me and mine a comfortable life with or without steady work. My parents both attended college, but neither became successful from their degrees; both achieved success not by studying about it but by earning it through daily work and autodidacticism (a GRE word that's both useful and unnecessary--a twofer!). Thanks to their investments and achievements, my brother and I have been able to make it into our early thirties, both college educated single men, and yet neither of us own a business. I have a semi-marketable skill (teaching), but my brother's long-sought degree in political science is about as useful in today's job market as the napkins he knows how to fold expertly. In fact, my brother's finally seeing sense--working towards restaurant management, he might end up carrying my dead academic weight later on in life.

Thus, not having had to obtain a job, I've been essentially paying for the privilege of sitting in drafty rooms and reading long hours--things I could have done for free, on my own time. I like to imagine that I've been interning with successful companies in the hopes of becoming a long-term employee (tenured professor), but that's a fantasy. The reality at many universities is that every year after the mid-nineties tenure-track positions have decreased, even though faculty (including graduate students) hires have been increasing. It's quite devilish, actually--the universities are simply waiting for old tenured faculty to retire, then simply not hiring new tenures to the position, instead opting for an adjunct scab to fill the gap at a quarter of the pay with no benefits or job security.

The system is simply broken: 300 or even 500-person schoolrooms teaching standardized crap that imparts no useful skills... students are graduating at record numbers with degrees in such useless fields as Interior Design, Popular Culture, and the great liberal-arts bastions, History and Social Sciences. What we have as a nation forgotten is that nobody NEEDED a degree for any of these things a hundred years ago--people learned their trades by doing them. For example, if you wanted to be a mason, you apprenticed yourself to a master mason and would work for him like a dog until you became a journeyman with some marketable skill; you would then have to work your way into the good graces of a masonry firm until you achieved enough skill to be a master in your own right, at which point you could hang out your own business shingle and get little apprentice-slaves for yourself and continue the cycle ad infinitum (another latin phrase you'll never need, but which always looks good to employers).

Business has not changed in its capitalistic structure for over 100 years, even though our elites have become too sensitive for hard labor and earnest trade. That's why immigrants are coming to this country and getting richer, faster than us. It's not because they have a desire to debase themselves; they simply don't find work to be debasing. I say let schools be for scholars, and let business be done by businessmen. Car repairmen need liberal-arts degrees like fish need bicycles! Perhaps, when education is no longer required by the government nor desired by the nagging majority, it will become fashionable again to learn on one's own, and be recognized by one's own skills and achievements instead of one's uncanny ability to bore whole parties to death with impromptu lectures on Proust.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Poetry Night: Echoes from the Past...

Behold, the crimes of 2009, writ before us in stately verse by the late Rev. Jonathan Swift:

The bold encroachers on the deep
Gain by degrees huge tracts of land,
Till Neptune, with one general sweep,
Turns all again to barren strand.

The multitude's capricious pranks
Are said to represent the seas,
Breaking the bankers and the banks,
Resume their own whene'er they please.

Money, the life-blood of the nation,
Corrupts and stagnates in the veins,
Unless a proper circulation
Its motion and its heat maintains.

Because 'tis lordly not to pay,
Quakers and aldermen in state,
Like peers, have levees every day
Of duns attending at their gate.

We want our money on the nail;
The banker's ruin'd if he pays:
They seem to act an ancient tale;
The birds are met to strip the jays.

"Riches," the wisest monarch sings,
"Make pinions for themselves to fly;"
They fly like bats on parchment wings,
And geese their silver plumes supply.

No money left for squandering heirs!
Bills turn the lenders into debtors:
The wish of Nero now is theirs,
"That they had never known their letters."

Conceive the works of midnight hags,
Tormenting fools behind their backs:
Thus bankers, o'er their bills and bags,
Sit squeezing images of wax.

Conceive the whole enchantment broke;
The witches left in open air,
With power no more than other folk,
Exposed with all their magic ware.

So powerful are a banker's bills,
Where creditors demand their due;
They break up counters, doors, and tills,
And leave the empty chests in view.

Thus when an earthquake lets in light
Upon the god of gold and hell,
Unable to endure the sight,
He hides within his darkest cell.

As when a conjurer takes a lease
From Satan for a term of years,
The tenant's in a dismal case,
Whene'er the bloody bond appears.

A baited banker thus desponds,
From his own hand foresees his fall,
They have his soul, who have his bonds;
'Tis like the writing on the wall.

How will the caitiff wretch be scared,
When first he finds himself awake
At the last trumpet, unprepared,
And all his grand account to make!

For in that universal call,
Few bankers will to heaven be mounters;
They'll cry, "Ye shops, upon us fall!
Conceal and cover us, ye counters!"

When other hands the scales shall hold,
And they, in men's and angels' sight
Produced with all their bills and gold,
"Weigh'd in the balance and found light!"

There you have it... fractional-reserve banking described to a T nearly three hundred years before our current crisis (1720).  THESE are the poems we ought to be drumming into our students--poems that invite us to learn more, not less.  Another favorite of mine is the condemnation of nationalistic patriotism by Wilfred Owen:

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of disappointed shells that dropped behind.

GAS! Gas! Quick, boys!-- An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And floundering like a man in fire or lime.--
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,--
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie:
Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori

We may not save lives through words or poetry, but at the very least, we ought to be able to save minds.  Jingoism, rapacious imperialism, and other blind desires to cause inhuman death and destruction have to be taught in order to be remembered; they have to be praised, promoted, and upheld as virtuous.  James Garner said it best when he said, "we wear our widows' weaves like nuns, Mrs. Barham, and perpetuate war by exalting its sacrifices."

"It's not war that's insane, it's the morality of it. It's not greed and ambition that makes wars; it's goodness. Wars are always fought for the best of reasons, for liberation or manifest destiny--always against tyranny and always in the interests of humanity. So far in this war we've managed to butcher some ten million humans in the interest of humanity. Next war it seems we'll have to destroy all of man just to preserve his damn dignity."

What use is there in being brave if you're dead?

Friday, May 29, 2009

Vouchers for Private Schools = Threat to America? has a wonderful Youtube video describing Obama's unceremonious canning of the DC Voucher program that gives a very tiny minority of DC kids the opportunity to escape the miasma of DC public schooling in favor of the many available private school options.  As the lady on the tape asks, why?

Is it failing?  No--it's becoming evermore popular, especially as public school educational numbers circle the drain.  Is it expensive?  No--unless you call $18 million dollars expensive.  Even the Pell Grant additions I mentioned earlier are not so cost-effective as the DC Voucher system.  It seems the only reason one would have to vote against such a cheap-yet-effective measure is found here:  the voucher program takes students out of public education.  Note how I didn't say "students AND money," because that's another hidden benefit of vouchers--in the case of the DC program's video, the cost of one year of public school is $14,000 per student.  The voucher program only offers $7500 per year.  That's a net profit for the government (since funds for public education are taken from the general tax fund) of $13,500 per student per year, and they don't have to use it on the student involved, because he or she is not attending a public institution!  It's like having your cake and eating it too!

So in reality, is there any answer to the lovely lady's question in the video?  Why in the hell cancel the program?  Certainly not from the standpoint of Obama's "whether it works" criterion--if he at least followed his own preachy rhetoric, the program would be totally safe.  Rather, I would like to posit my own possible answer, in line with the hypocrisy of the above-mentioned writer, Jay Mathews.  The key to a docile population is not education, but propaganda; one cannot subjugate a population merely by force of arms, but it is all too easy for a people to subjugate themselves by the force of ideas.  

Independent schooling often leads to independent thinking, as the video above clearly describes; students whose families have control over what is taught invariably get more focused, better-equipped education for a cheaper price than what the government has to spread scattershot on the general-ed pigs at the grant trough.  What I can only describe as "education postponement" is the product of socialized state-approved curricula, where only "grade-appropriate" learning is allowed and all independent thought is curbed behind a sanitized syllabus, a dumbed-down learning curve (for catching up those who don't want to learn), and a constant deferral of basic and necessary learning until just a few grades higher--grade-school prep, middle-school prep, high school prep, college prep, grad school prep, post-doc prep, and finally, unfortunately, shockingly, "real life."  

Students now entering their very first grades will not be taught how to balance a checkbook until high school; they will not be taught how to apply for a job ever, nor how to properly avoid getting STDs; they will not be allowed to ignore subjects that do not interest them even in PhD-level programs, thanks to imbecilic "general education requirements."  They will be given a basic reading test upon entering college, disregarding the fact that successfully entering college while illiterate is both a monumental achievement for the student and a massive indictment for the institution being hoodwinked.  And most tellingly, they will receive little or no realistic job skills, either in on-the-job training, apprenticeships, or simple work.  The term "vocational prep" is universally maligned as a dumb jock idiot course of study, while the "progressive" and "enlightened" Liberal Arts education teaches people to hate whites, go green, cheer on the deaths-by-starvation of 4 billion people, and avoid anything too horribly pedestrian like "communication skills" or "work ethic."  Who needs a work ethic when you can be the most educated coffee-jerk on the planet?

Obama is most certainly correct on one assumption:  this problem is neither "liberal or conservative," mainly because liberals and conservatives agree that socialized education is to the benefit of all, regardless of the detriment to the individual students.  So long as students are forced into "No Child Left Behind" classes that make sure no child bothers to achieve, those same stupid students will agree with them and continue to vote them into office.