Category Archives: Education

Discussions on education generally and photo education specifically

The Evolving “Trump Doctrine” — The Good and the Bad.

I’m so tired of all of the desperate cries of knee-jerk revulsion at the new President Elect that pretend to know with absolute certainty that, among other things, he is a spawn of the Devil to put even the previously hated “Bush Demon” to shame, and that he is, by liberal definition, the political and geo-political AntiChrist that will usher us rapidly down the road to ruin and perdition, darkness will envelope the country shore to shore and we will all be living wretched lives in caves surely by, oh, say, mid February at the latest… 

True, Trump certainly is not a supporter of socialistic tendencies as desired by the alt-left and is, to their increasing horror, an unabashed, unrepentant capitalist.  Viewed in a vacuum, that does, I confess appeal to me in terms of economic philosophies; but that does not lend itself to quite so simple a conclusion for either side when placed in the context of a government leader as opposed to a business leader. 

But there are somethings that the business world, especially that part of it that is international in application, does better than governments, and one of those is gathering and interpreting geo-political intelligence on the areas and governments in which it must do business.  Why do I say that?  After all literature is overflowing with tales of the intelligence exploits of CIA, MI6, KGB and GRU.  As some of you know, my military service was in an intelligence capacity so I do know of the vast capabilities of governmental information gathering using both overt and covert methodologies.  But there is a huge weakness in governmental intelligence and it was seldom more evident than in my time during the Vietnam era.  It is always in the service of the political institution which oversees it and its results are too often, perhaps most often, filtered through that political filter and arrives tainted and spun for the pleasure of the administration.  This is not done by the field operators who risk their lives to gather information, but by the top level political appointees and courtiers who must present it and hopefully walk away with their jobs intact.  In my opinion, in doing so they betray the operators in the field AND their country but I admit they have to operate in an environment of political capriciousness in which I would not long survive.

Intelligence in the business world is, on the other hand, far more pragmatic.  They do not care about the political issues other than how they effect the business bottom line.  More importantly, to successfully operate under foreign authority and oversight, you have to know the reality of the situation in the areas you wish to operate whether you like it or not. 

Therefore, private intelligence, while perhaps not as granular as governmental intelligence, is, in my experience and opinion, frequently more accurate in its final presentations.  One of the best sources of business-oriented intelligence has, for many years, been the organization “Stratfor.”  And once again, they have reviewed a subject too clouded in emotion and personal paranoia (or euphoria) to yield workable conclusions for mass consumption, to wit, the geopolitical approaches and views of our about to be installed newly minted President, Donald Trump.  So with their kind permission, here is a reprint of their latest paper on the evolving geopolitical “doctrines” of a President Trump. 

As usual and typically for Strafor, they objectively present the good and the bad to help businesses prepare for the world stage which is about to change dramatically.  I would recommend this to folks who are so overwrought with the current epidemic of emotional incontinence over the election that they are polarized into the “Trump can do nothing right” or the “Trump can do nothing wrong” camps.  As usual the truth lies in the middle and Stratfor analysts are among the very few to try to objectively sort it all out.

——— Republished Paper by Stratfor on the Evolving “Trump Doctrine”———–


By Reva Goujon, Stratfor

The world is in a “frenzy of study,” Henry Kissinger said in a recent interview. At home and abroad, strategists and pundits are trying to piece together a blueprint of American foreign policy under U.S. President-elect Donald Trump from a stream of tweets, some campaign slogans, a few eye-catching Cabinet picks, meetings at Trump Tower, and a pingpong match already underway with Beijing. Highbrow intellectualism can be a handicap in this exercise. Commentators among the Washington establishment have been quick to dismiss Trump’s foreign policy moves outright as erratic and self-serving over the past few weeks. In an op-ed entitled “Trump Failed His First Foreign Policy Test,” for instance, columnist David Ignatius admonished the president-elect for the “hot mess” his phone call with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen precipitated. Trump makes people uncomfortable. It’s what he does best, in fact. But how this quality applies to foreign policy is a question that merits deeper exploration than knee-jerk displays of stricken disbelief. After all, as Kissinger noted in his Dec. 18 interview, “a president has to have some core convictions.”

So what are Trump’s? From what we can discern so far from his upbringing, the trajectory of his career and the profiles of those who have infiltrated his inner circle, Trump prizes business acumen and a “killer” instinct for managing affairs. He has enough corporate firepower in his Cabinet to fill the next Forbes’ list. By nominating ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson as secretary of state, he has demonstrated his belief that tough deal-making — identifying sources of leverage and showing a willingness to use them — is the secret to running a country and presiding over the international system. Trump does not fear nationalism; he sees it as the natural and rightful path for every state, the United States included, to pursue in protecting its interests. He also seems to have internalized the idea that the United States is losing its competitiveness and that internationalist foreign policy is to blame. Finally, Trump apparently believes that U.S. foreign policy has become too predictable and overwrought with diplomatic formality. Better to say it like it is and call out institutions and conventions that have outlived their usefulness.

This, at least, is the worldview at a distance. When we come in for a closer look, however, some of the cracks come into clearer view. In 1953, General Motors Co. CEO Charles Wilson was asked in his Senate confirmation hearing to become President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s secretary of defense whether his decisions in office could end up harming his company. He answered that they might but that he could not imagine such a scenario since “for years I thought what was good for the country was good for General Motors and vice versa.” In fact, what is good for a business will not always be congruent with the national interest. A company is answerable to its shareholders, just as a president is answerable to some degree to Congress and the American public. But the mission of the CEO — maximizing value for its shareholders — entails different considerations when pursuing the raison d’etat and preserving a social contract with a nation’s citizenry. The latter entwines economic arguments with the social and moral obligations of the state, a nebulous territory where inefficiencies, compromise and the social consequences of massive deregulation are unavoidable.

Driving a Hard Bargain

Trump sees it as his mission to repair the social contract with the American public by bringing manufacturing jobs back to the United States. This will be easier said than done, however. Across-the-board tariffs against big trading partners, such as China, might have worked 20 years ago but not in today’s globalized environment. Raising import tariffs now could cause the price of goods no longer produced domestically to skyrocket and disrupt international supply chains, turning many U.S. businesses into pawns in various overseas trade wars.

It could be argued that China depends more heavily on exports than the United States does and cannot afford to risk its vital supply lines in a major confrontation with the world’s most powerful navy. This, in effect, leaves Washington with the upper hand in its trade tussle with Beijing. In the search for additional leverage against China, Trump has shown a willingness to expire Washington’s “one-China” policy, a holdover from the Cold War that dodged the question of Taiwan’s statehood to drive a wedge between the Soviets and Communist China.

But that’s just one side of the equation. China has twin imperatives to maintain access to export markets and raw materials and to prevent an outside power from blockading its northern coast through the Taiwan Strait. If Trump’s policies interfere with these objectives, Beijing has levers it can pull to retaliate. Should the United States play the Taiwan card to try to exact economic concessions from Beijing, China can strong-arm U.S. companies operating on the mainland. Beijing can also use its enormous economic clout over Taiwan — whose semiconductor manufacturing and assembly industry is tightly intertwined with the mainland — to threaten a disruption to the global tech supply chain. Furthermore, as its recent seizure of an unmanned U.S. naval drone illustrated, China can flex its maritime muscle, albeit cautiously, to raise the stakes in a trade dispute with the United States. Though Trump would rather leave it to regional stakeholders such as Japan and South Korea to balance against Beijing, his compulsion to correct the United States’ trade relationship with China will draw him into stormy security waters in the Pacific.

A Different Kind of Negotiation

Just as Trump regards the one-China policy as a relic of the Cold War worth revisiting, he intends to update Washington’s relationship with Moscow. As Trump sees it, the United States is not fighting an existential battle with Russia deserving of Cold War-era collective security commitments. Russia is no longer preoccupied with forging an empire under an ideology that is anathema to Western capitalism. Instead, Moscow is focused on the more basic task of constructing a national identity and insulating the state and its borderlands from Western encroachment in anticipation of greater domestic turmoil to come. As Kissinger recently put it, Russian President Vladimir Putin is like one of Fyodor Dostoevsky’s characters, for whom “the question of Russian identity is very crucial because, as a result of the collapse of communism, Russia has lost about 300 years of its history.” If Russia were to try to build a state by expanding its already sprawling territory, nationalism would not be enough to hold it together. Consequently, Putin is trying to defend the areas surrounding his country and compel the West to recognize and respect that sphere of influence.

Taking a less alarmist view of Russia’s intentions, the Trump administration sees an opening to develop a new understanding with Moscow, one that could put to rest the question of Crimea and perhaps recognize Russia’s influence over eastern Ukraine. Syria, a peripheral issue for both Moscow and Washington, would be recognized as such. Since sanctions are a drag on business and Russia sorely needs investment, Trump could ease the measures to get a dialogue moving on what an understanding would look like without sacrificing the U.S. military presence along Europe’s eastern flank.

Should Tillerson be confirmed as secretary of state, Trump would rely on his knowledge of Kremlin personalities and their internal feuds to advance the negotiations. After all, if a company needs good inroads with the Kremlin to do business in Russia, the same must go for a government that wants to negotiate with Moscow. But negotiating access to Russia’s Arctic shelf on ExxonMobil’s behalf is not the same as conducting talks centered on Russia (or China, for that matter) trying to get the West out of its backyard.

Russia has no illusion that a shuffle of personalities in the White House will reverse U.S. policy and cede the former Soviet sphere to it. The United States will still be compelled to keep a check on Russia’s moves in Europe just as Moscow will maintain its levers across several theaters, from cybersecurity to arms control to proxy wars in the Middle East. Though Trump’s administration may change the tone of the conversation and broach the topic of tactical concessions, Russia will still be driven by an unrelenting distrust of Western intentions that will keep defenses up on both sides. Nonetheless, the very notion of a private bargain developing between Washington and Moscow will inject uncertainty into long-standing collective security arrangements as the European Continent is undergoing another Machiavellian moment in history where the assertion of state interests is breaking the bonds of its flawed union.

An Unlikely Precedent

Despite the changes that Trump will doubtless bring to the presidency, his foreign policy is not as unprecedented as the world’s pundits may claim. The bridge between President Barack Obama’s foreign policy doctrine and the one evolving under Trump is not entirely sturdy, but the foundation is there. As president, Obama was a realist. He considered it his mission to rebalance the United States after the country had overextended itself fighting wars in the Islamic world. His resistance to expanding U.S. military commitments in the Middle East was deeply ingrained; as he said in an interview in The Atlantic, “it is literally in my DNA to be suspicious of tribalism.” He held strong convictions that the United States would once again be trampled under a sectarian horde in the Middle East if it tried to extend its ambitions beyond the more immediate and visible threat of the Islamic State. He also pressured even close U.S. allies such as the United Kingdom to pay their fair share in security commitments because, as he put it, “free riders aggravate me.” Obama was a follower of 20th-century American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, who held a rather Hobbesian view of the world as a struggle among self-interested groups. (It was Niebuhr who wrote, “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”) The current president built a foreign policy on extreme restraint while addressing his own set of geopolitical anachronisms: the United States’ relationships with Iran and Cuba.

But Obama, unlike Trump, applied an internationalist lens to his realist views. He wanted his allies to pay their share but was resolute in keeping the U.S. security umbrella over their heads. He viewed foreign trade as a means to build alliances and contain conflicts. Still, protectionism was already well underway during Obama’s tenure. Since the 2008 financial crisis, the United States has led G-20 countries in carrying out discriminatory trade measures on selective industries (particularly metals), according to a report by Global Trade Alert. At the same time, Obama saw that the world was changing with technology and that old jobs would give way to advances in manufacturing. He preferred to think in longer horizons, at times to his own detriment: For Obama, the long-term impact of climate change was existential compared with the short-term threat posed by the Islamic State.

By contrast, Trump’s realism is steeped in nationalism and tends to be more myopic in assessing threats. His solution to displaced American labor is to punish foreign trade partners rather than to retool the workforce to adapt to demographic and technological change. Under Trump, climate change concerns will take a back seat to the more immediate desires to ease regulations on business. Rather than play a restrained globalist role, the next president would sooner respect countries’ rights to defend themselves, irrespective of the long-term consequences of undermining time-honored collective security arrangements. Though a departure from an already defunct two-state solution in Israel’s favor acknowledges the current reality, it also risks further destabilizing the balance of power in the Middle East as Turkey continues its resurgence and multiple civil wars rage on. A short-term escalation with Beijing over trade and Taiwan could cost Washington a much bigger strategic discussion over China’s attempts to achieve parity with the United States in numerous spheres, from cyberspace to the seas.

Keeping the World on Its Toes

Perhaps the greatest difference between the Obama and Trump foreign policies lies in what may be Trump’s biggest virtue: his unpredictability. Obama has been criticized as overly cautious in his foreign policy and thus too much of a known entity for U.S. adversaries. Trump, on the other hand, gives the impression that he is willing to throw caution to the wind and rely on instinct in shaping foreign policy. This matters immensely for U.S. allies and adversaries alike that have to be kept on their toes in developing their long-term strategy while avoiding the unexpected with the world’s superpower.

Regardless of who occupies the presidency, the United States’ strong geopolitical foundation gives it options. As opposed to more vulnerable countries in less forgiving locales, the United States, buffered as it is by two vast oceans, can debate the merits of isolationism and intervention. George Kennan, a diplomat during the Cold War era, may have captured the immense power of the country’s unpredictability best:

“[American democracy is like] one of those prehistoric monsters with a body as long as this room and a brain the size of a pin: He lives there in his comfortable primeval mud and pays little attention to his environment; he is slow to wrath — in fact, you practically have to whack his tail off to make him aware that his interests are being disturbed; but, once he grasps this, he lays about him with such blind determination that he not only destroys his adversary but largely wrecks his native habitat.”

Aloofness in international affairs is a geopolitical luxury, but it cannot be taken for granted. That may be the basis for the Trump doctrine.

Top of Form

The Trump Doctrine: A Work in Progress is republished with permission of Stratfor.”

———-End of Republished Essay on the Evolving “Trump Doctrine”———

I hope this was enlightening and hopefully a little calming.  We, as a country, need to rapidly get over our emotional paralysis and work together.  When Obama took office the left accused the right of refusing to cooperate in anything leading to a gridlock that was bad for the country.  Well, now the shoe is on the other foot and what remains to be seen is whether the left will act as they said the right should have done, or whether they will simply now repeat the old ills they once excoriated and take us into the tragically flawed state of playing tribal level “payback” and thereby guarantee the failure of us as a nation among nations.

Time will tell…



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Start of New Things

San Diego – Today is the first day of classes at City College for Fall 2011.  Getting ready for it and all it encompasses and includes has taken pretty much my full attention over the last week so I’ve not had time to write.

Not that fun stuff isn’t happening.  In California, the poster child for a cradle to grave nanny-state, where education is in shambles, schools are scrambling just to keep doors open and teachers hired, the state legislature is considering a critical new bill.  No, it is not about the budget idiocy; it is about banning flat sheets from hotels.  Additionally I have learned, in a dressing down from my dean, that playing nice in the sandbox and acting like non-performers are to be respected is more important than the success of our educational mission (which explains an enormous amount to me), and during the convocation we had the union rep give an openly, overtly political speech far beyond even some of his screeds to the email distribution list.  All fodder for comment to be sure.

But this semester is not only about to start with an interesting load of classes, it also marks a turning point in my attitude.  The program has been my life since 2005.  Dave (my fellow full time faculty member) have sacrificed breaks, paid for supplies from our own pocket, provided our own time to work on equipment and systems and he even taught a class for free because the administration stabbed students int he back and he felt it important to keep his promise to them.  While my respect for some of our internal vendors, and those who think turning away from the truth of their (or anyone’s) incompetence is a good thing,  plummeted, my respect for him rose enormously.

But with such administrative attitudes now holding sway and in the process, in my opinion, facilitating and perpetuating the very problems that have made California an educational laughing stock, it is time to seek to close out this plateau and seek a route up to the next one.  By the end of this school year Dave and I thought perhaps we would have things running smoothly and could reclaim some of our “off” time for ourselves.  Now instead of a hope and expectation, that, for me, has become a mission.  And with it has come a vision for how to use some of that regained off time.

I intend to revisit and revitalize the concept of location workshops and use City College as the host for San Diego’s own growing version of the Santa Fe Workshops initially run by The College of Santa Fe.  This will not only bring exposure to our photo program but will allow me to expand my energies to a new project as the project of the new building and new program come full circle.

i have several ideas for making the workshops, at least the location-based ones I run, into something unique and special taking a lesson from the many white water trips i used to enjoy.  I’m working on a list of sites, topics, and times and will post those as soon as something is permanent.  In addition I have encouraged faculty members to create workshop topics to be hosted by City and by combining all of these we may be able to not only create something new and wonderful, we may be able to use the facilities hosting as a way of pumping some much needed funding back into the photo program at city.

It is all still in the early thinking stages but as it becomes more tangible I’ll start to roll it out here.  So stand by.  The first week of every semester is filled with chaos so i may not be able to add anything for a number of days but do stand by.  Hopefully we will have some very exciting data to follow soon.


Snail Darters 100… Education 0

San Diego – There is no joy in being able to say, “I told you so” when the results leading to that really hurt yourself and your passions.  THat is certainly the case for us in the Photo Program at City College.

I have been writing, for several years now, that the liberal screeds on the importance of education were BS and utterly disingenuous unless that education was to indoctrinate the non-liberals in the wonders of socialist thinking and Keynesian economics.  California, the poster child for liberal policies and a main testing ground for progressive experiments, is the perfect case in point.  When the new liberal governor took over, realized to his horror that rhetoric aside, the state finally had spent all of other people’s money it could get and had to actually cut back on spending, what got cut?  Did anything negative happen to programs to protect snail darters, spotted owls, and delta smelts?  No.  Did anything positive happen in terms of allowing the state to start producing energy from its own reserves? No.

What went up? Regulations.  Resulting, last year in California being a leading state considered hostile to business and in over 650 major businesses leaving the State mostly to go to Texas and a few to Florida. Now that is brilliance beyond the call of the most progressive sense of duty.  Where does state revenue come from mostly? Income Tax.  Who pays income tax? People with jobs making an income.  And who provides the jobs?  Businesses.  So what would be the logical and anticipated result of driving away businesses? Less revenue.


To be fair there were some spending cuts.  And just what spending did get cut?  Well first to go to the block was education.

Remember that education has been taking hits since at least 2007 when City College had to start cutting class sections.  Every semester since 2008 we have had to cut approximately 10% of our class offerings.  The district had wisely set aside a large reserve fund but even that well had, as i predicted, a bottom, and now we are reaching it.  Consequently, for Fall 2011, we received the cruelest cuts so far.  Our Academic Budget (from which we get supplies, maintenance, etc.) was cut in half.  50% across the board cuts were instituted without regard to the varying needs of the vastly different departments and programs.

You want to know what social justice really means?  What leveling the playing field really results in?  Well here, boys and girls, it is.  Typically for liberals the solution is to bring everything down rather than trying to bring the bottom up.  Some programs with little more than dry erase markers to buy are treated the same as programs, such as ours, where we live and die by our labs.  Perhaps the new math is not capable of any analysis more complex thinking…???

But then we got the really bad news.   Our hourly lab techs were cut from 72 total hours per week down to … wait for it… wait for it… 3.  That is correct, you did not misread it nor did i misrepresent it.  We are cut from 72 hours to 3.

That means we cannot staff the labs we were approved to run or are necessitated by the course curricula. That bombshell was just verified as accurate today so we have not had time, as faculty, to meet and come up with some plans.  But whatever those plans are to be, they cannot include another penny of funding from the state or district.

Nor will they allow us, as of this point, to charge lab fees.  Why not?  It’s not fair (for God knows what reason) nor is it within the guidelines because, according to some attorney completely ignorant of photographic logistics, do the students “get to keep what they paid for.”  Only in an environment inundated by liberal thinking is it better and more fair to force us to close the labs entirely than to allow students the opportunity to help defray the costs and at least keep them open a little.

To be fair, education was not the only thing our retreaded Governor Moonbeam cut.  Infrastructure was cut, state parks and rec was cut.  But how about state employees (other than teachers) such as prison guards who make up the largest group?  Well, no, their union is too strong.  How about pension reform in a state scandalized by pension abuses?  Well, no, again, the unions involved are too strong.  And no liberal can, by definition, see the unions as anything other than the saviors of mankind.

So here we are watching helplessly as liberal chickens come home to roost on the heads of education generally and students specifically.  So tell me, all you progressive teachers out there, is this what you really wanted?  I hope so; because it is the logical, predictable, and historically inevitable result of the policies you backed; so if it is not seeming like a step toward the ideals and social utopia you desire then, to be frank, you are too stupid to continue being a teacher.

And if it IS what you wanted, then don’t you dare complain in my presence about the low educational standings of California students and schools.


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Back from the Imaging DNA Conference at Art Center

San Diego –  This past weekend I attended the Imaging DNA Conference held at Art Center in Pasadena.  It was a great experience and presented some very challenging concepts for education in the digital world.  It also previewed the Raytrix Plenoptic Lightfield camera. That technology is very new and still under development but the possibilities are amazing.  Enough data is captured from the incoming light rays that focus can be recalculated in post production and 3D images can be made from the data.  The version of the camera we saw was for industrial use on very small objects but it certainly proved the concept works.

The major challenge came in the presentations which built on a recurrent concept that achieving the “possible” is no big deal, anyone can do it because it is, well, possible.  But aiming for the “impossible” is the path from which growth stems in all areas. We need to learn to interrogate the possibilities but not to achieve them so much as to point to the IMpossibilities we need to achieve.  And education is where that habit can start.  We talk about various learning styles among individuals but all of those are, in fact, LEARNED.  Based on our culture, history, associations, habits, etc. we have “learned” to learn in a particular way.  But for given material that may not be the most efficient or optimal way.  The data is out there, and it exists in a wide variety of forms.  If we want our students to succeed, we need to concentrate as much on teaching them how to learn our material optimally as we do on the material itself.

That is a bold view and flies in the face of political correctness and the adherence to diversity especially in academia by those who have taken tolerance to the point of cowardice.  But it is backed up by experience and practice.  But it means we, as educators need to know that in the first place and Im not sure we all do… I’m not sure I do.  But you can bet I’m going to be working on it.


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Scorn for Teachers, etc.

San Diego – These are really interesting times.  With the broohaha in Wisconsin and Ohio my email has been inundated by political offal from the union but that is normal for them.  Thinking is not required beyond memorizing the talking points and screed demanded.  But then, a couple of emails appeared from an instructor in our political science department.  Of course he is liberal but we are not supposed to be using our district email for political diatribes (unless they are properly liberal, of course, in which case it is OK) and I am used to that too and try to ignore or summarily delete them.  But he reprinted an article from the NY Times which touched on a point I think is incredibly important; the growing scorn for teachers in general.  Plus he could not resist at dig at a new make-work effort now going through our state’s system called “SLO” where we define our expected student learning outcomes and how we will measure success.  It is important for you readers that are not in the system to know that our faculty are nearly unanimously opposed to these.  Below is a reaction to his note and the article…

I have really wanted to stay out of this debate knowing I am not part of the choir to which the NY Times article the professor copied is preaching.  And I am certainly not part of the choir for which the unending litany of claptrap from the union bombing our email is directed either.  I would prefer, generally, to simply watch and chuckle from afar and not, once again, open myself for the ad hominem flame wars that seem always to flow in response from people I would rather continue to believe are better than that.  But sometimes the disconnection between rhetoric and behavior is too great to ignore.

We teachers talk a great line about being most interested in the students’ well being and success yet adamantly refuse to even admit a problem we all know exists: dead wood teachers protected from all attack or removal for no reason other than time in grade or personal friendships. 

Oh yes, I know the line about how they can still be removed for good cause;  but let’s get real, when was the last time that happened?

How are we evaluated anyway?  By student evaluations which are a popularity contest and by so-called peers that know nothing about the specifics of our unique disciplines and often give little more than a perfunctory visit because they already know they are not going to rock any boat by suggesting, god forbid, things might not be going well.  And even if it is not the best of class presentations during that visit, a single visit does not a trend make so, for good or ill it is purely for the image of it and has nothing to do with a teacher’s real skills at leading students to success in their fields of study.   Unless done for acceptable political reasons it is generally a toothless system putting instructors in thrall to the union.

And the de facto bottom line result is that tenure virtually assures that dead wood accumulates and the union seems more interested in dues and self- perpetuation than in truly helping to improve the educational system by some dead wood clearing.  So unless a teacher beats or assaults a student in front of the class, and continues such behavior after repeated warnings, they are nearly bullet proof so long as they are sufficiently politically correct and echo the line of the choir’s thinking at least in public.

And yet we wonder why we are scorned?   Really?  Not unless we are willfully blind to reality we don’t.  And if we truly are clueless then we have no claim on any authority based in intelligence and insight to call ourselves fit teachers for anyone.

Meantime, out of the blue and down the pike comes SLOs – Student Learning Outcomes/Objectives.  A murky rehash of the MBO (Management By Objective) craze that made it through the corporate world a number of years ago and now dressed up in new edu-jargon and targeted at the educational field to give some new doctoral thesis a semblance of credibility.  In the end it will prove as elusive a progenitor of quality in our workplace as MBOs were in that world.  And like there, the failure will happen for all the wrong reasons, chief of which is that workers there and workers here often seem more interested in security than growth so the defined “outcomes and objectives” in both get successively downsized to fit not a real standard but based on the efforts the workers are willing to apply.

But on the other hand, we have, with the SLO concept, flawed as it is and open to abuse as it is, an instrument by which we, the teachers, could demonstrate our own commitment to the improvement of an obviously broken education system, starting where we need to start, with ourselves.

We cannot legitimately point the finger at other issues to explain the failures of education if we are not willing to look internally and make sure our own house is in order before casting stones at another house.  After all, there was a time when it DID work and remarkably well at that.  So what has changed?

It is not just the top heavy system that skims money off long before it get s to the classroom though that is a factor.

It is not just the acceptance of programs more concerned with feelings than success; programs that seem to ignore that to make a student feel good about themselves all you have to do is to help them become truly good at it and scorn the students by acting as if they are not smart enough to not know when we are flim-flamming them by pretending mediocre performance is just fine if they feel that it is.

It is not just the development of a system that protects its own deadwood and hides its own failures.

It is all of those things and some of them fall squarely into our own laps.  So where can SLO’s help us instead of hurt us?  It depends entirely on how we teachers chose to use them.  Assuming we have enough of a grasp of real world needs (which in my world of vocational topics and advisory committees is our Bible) then determining and quantifying the objectives a student needs to be successful therein is not a difficult or arduous task.  And if we do not have such a grasp then I’m sorry, but we are in the wrong job and have no business in this one.

Once we have defined those objectives/outcomes then by our own hand we have created the precisely proper criteria for our own evaluations.  This criteria doesn’t depend on outside influences, conclusions by people  who know nothing about our discipline’s needs, or subjective conclusions by people who personally like or dislike us or our beliefs.  Success is not to be measured by how long one has been teaching but by whether or not the student’s are measurably learning and accomplishing what the teachers themselves said was proper.

If we cannot meet our own standards of success how dare we claim that we should continue to inflict ourselves on our students solely due to seniority while at the same time we offer flowing rhetoric about how the future of our country, state, culture, society, depends on high quality education?  Do we assume parents and others not in the profession do not notice?

I know that we are in a culture here increasingly interested in avoiding consequences for choices, responsibility for behavior, and freedom from any sort of constraints on our desires.  I know we wish to turn every desire into some sort of “right” until the term becomes meaningless.  But at some point it has to stop.  If the people claiming to be able to educate — teach — the rest of the populace what they need to know to grow as a human beings, succeed in their lives and careers, understand their real place in society and the universe, play nice in the social sandbox, but cannot themselves even accept being held accountable for the very standards they set for themselves, then scorn is the least form of derision they deserve.

If we want to get the public to see us as the keepers of the future we see ourselves as being, to view us as a class of workers worthy of our pay and status, to hold us out as professionals in the field of human endeavor, then we have to act like it and openly perform like it and openly work to clean our own house and harvest our own deadwood.  Or the assaults will simply continue and escalate until there is no place to hide and the mob of angry voters and tax payers ends up throwing the proverbial baby out with the bath water.

If we continue to look down on them intellectually as if we actualy occupy the intellectual high grown and continue to view those who see us as less than god-like as all morons and troglodytes, then we cannot complain too much because they have resulted from our own care… they are what the educational system we hide behind have managed to produce.  As a friend of mine once asserted; he had gotten his education in spite of his schooling.  If we wish to see the success of our current efforts we need look no further than the people howling for our heads.

Arthur C. Clark, the futurist, science, and sci-fi writer, once wrote that the problem with academia and the intelligentsia was that their education had surpassed their intellects.  I never understood that assertion until now. I
i would propose that instead looking down from our ivory towers at the evil other side; instead of trying to join in the hunt for simple easy solutions (like throwing more money at a problem) to incredibly complex issues; that instead we start to act as if we really WERE intellectuals and begin by searching for real solutions, starting with healing our own obviously failed system by being honest about the fact that some of that failure is on our heads.

If we did that, and did it openly, I think we would see that scorn start to fall away and turn to admiration once again.

  I believe this: we are being scorned because we have been scornful of those who actually pay us.  We act as if the money comes from the great anonymous “state” instead of realizing the state just filters money it has taken from the people and doles out some of it back to us.  But that is not state money, it is taxpayer money.

We are scornful of those who actually depend on us because we sit in our isolated halls of academia and seem to think that hearing seminars from other isolated individuals and reading papers by other isolated individuals gives us an insight into the functioning of a real world that we have known, at best, second hand.

We are being looked down upon because we too often look down ourselves upon others from different perspectives as if we somehow have a pipeline to eternal truth.  We read a long list of like-minded people and reach conclusions reinforced by others in our safe and hallowed halls and cannot fathom that someone with different experiences could possibly reach different conclusions without being, well, stupid.

We are the authors of the very attitudes now arrayed against us.  And the only ones who can ever make it better, who can ever make our system work again and become, once again, the beacon of the world rather than the laughingstock of it, is us.   But we can’t do it by continuing business as usual. 

When one finds themselves in a hole the first thing to do is stop digging.  Our approach, rather, as displayed by that article, is to ask for a bigger shovel.


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Who Cares About Education?

San Diego – What a wild week this first week of the Spring semester has been.  Our classes are ALL full to overflowing, especially the foundational ones.  Hopefully attrition will happen fairly quickly because, as usual, I let in far too many crashers and even at the end of the week I was getting requests to add.  The system is seriously out of synch with the realities here on the ground.  If we hold to our student number caps as we are instructed to do then by mid terms we will have empty seats as the toll of real work starts to filter out students.  But if we do as many of teachers do and let in extra students, the state does not pay the school back for those over cap even though they happily take the fees.  Of course since we are generally on deferral payments anyway I’m not sure it is all that big a hit on the district.

But we could easily have run one or two more sections of the basic classes and filled them but the budget will not let us hire the instructors to do that so we would have to swap for upper level classes that need to be run.  It is a real dilemma.  Poor Dave, who does the heavy lifting for scheduling classes is always caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place over it.  The losers, as always, are the students.

The State and Federal politicians all sing a happy tune about how important education is to the future.  And I think that is exactly the right melody.  Without educated citizenry not only does the country falter in a democracy, but its productivity falters as well.  And also its economy suffers and that in turn impacts education in a vicious circle.  But despite all of that nice singing going on, their actions tell of a very different belief system.

It is a sad if not pathetic truth that we as a country and as a State spend more money per student than anywhere else in the world and yet have ridiculously low comparisons based on student achievements.  The U.S. is no longer anywhere near the top of educational achievement scale world wide and California has now dropped to 45th in the country… so where does that leave our students?  And where does all that money go anyway since it does not appear in the classroom?  And what impact does that have on our future when several generations of the warm and fuzzy curricula that passes for education leaves kids coming into our college classrooms unable to form a simple declarative sentence, do the simplest math or even count change without a calculator, and cognitive skills likely to lose a checkers game to the nearest potted plant.

In my opinion the piles of money we already put into education go to all the wrong places in a ferociously top-heavy system.  When new full time classroom teachers devoting themselves to educating our future citizens are paid $50K or less and are lacking basics like textbooks for the classrooms while top administrators are making hefty 6-figure salaries, things are out of whack.  It is a typical, perhaps stereotypical, bureaucracy which at is best is inefficient and at its worst is simply blindly self-serving while its actual reason for its existence, the students it exists to serve, are the constant losers.  i won’t even get into the distorted cultural mind set that sees nothing wrong with football players and play actors making millions while educators struggle to pay basic mortgages.

The question for us would appear to be a simple one:  if you were part of  the leadership of some political entity such as a State or Country, and you were honestly truly primarily interested not in your own re-election but in the future of the prosperity of your constituents, then…

  • Which do you think would better serve that goal?  Higher paid teachers or higher paid prison guards?
  • Which structures have more lasting value to a state or country?  Better school and teaching facilities or more modern prisons?  Better, safer better equipped campuses or bigger sports arenas?
  • Which segment of your population would deserve more consideration?  Students or convicts?  Individuals trying to learn how to be good citizens or individuals who have demonstrated blatant disregard for the rights of other citizens?  Real citizens or non-citizens?
  • What demographic will likely better increase productivity and thereby raise all levels?  Entrepreneurs and business people who risk all to start and maintain companies that hire people and produce things or  people who want to feel victimized and entitled and live off of the public feed trough?  Scientists in spending long hours in research labs who seek solutions for life and death issues or people living in boxes and out of  stolen grocery carts whose choice was to give up the fight and seek refuge in a bottle or needle or rolled up C-note?
  • And who is more likely going to create a better tax base to provide money to keep the state running?  Employees of those businesses or the homeless people on the streets?

While I would personally chose the first category in each instance it would appear that the State politicians and now our Federal leaders have consistently and continually chosen the second.  And because those second choices cannot provide the taxes the State needs in order to coddle even themselves,  the State has had to borrow the money to pay for their welfare and even more similar programs to where important infrastructure needs such as roads lose out to welfare and education loses out to political and government bureaucracies which produce little more than more bureaucrats scratching for their place at the trough.  And now it has decided it is “fair” to take from those who are doing the hard work of building and maintaining society and give to those who are not.  The problem is pretty soon the government will run out of other people’s money and have to admit it truly has none of its own.

I don’t believe that can be sustained for long without collapsing of its own poor construction.  Just like the Feds, we are trying to borrow our way out of a debt crisis while “investing” (read: spending) more toward the least likely productive ends.  We want, for example, to spend money on high speed rail when state and federal railroads have always been models of inefficiency and lost dollars because they are built for a different culture and a different time.  if you want to see the future success of government-run high speed rail then look no further than Amtrak.   We clamor for alternative energy sources despite the stats that the costs per energy unit are up to 10 times (and sometimes more) the costs per unit derived from fossil fuel and then we shaft the University labs and energy company research facilities that might actually find a way to make it more affordable and maybe even profitable.

Don’t misunderstand me, I am really in favor of pursuing alternative energy research and finding ways to make it more efficient and less expensive.  But that means not only funding the places that can do it but also in the meantime realizing we have lots of domestic reserves of oil and gas but are blocked from accessing them and then blocked from refining them.  Is that a finite resource that is running out?  Of course it is, and I actually think it will do so long before we are told giving even more impetus to seek alternative solutions.  But rather than present to the people an objective fact-based workable narrative to explain that impending and catastrophic situation along with the potential national crisis of dependence on a foreign resource provided by people who detest us (or, as in the case of Canada who provides most of our actual oil imports, who will soon realize they need it themselves), and get the nation on board to buy into a workable plan, our leaders try to sell it based on still controversial (despite the true believers’ cry that it is beyond debate) concepts of anthropogenic global warming to scare us and alienate as many as they convert.

Let me be clear: I think we need to be scared, very scared.  But we need to be scared of the real dangers not of cash-cow theories designed for pocket lining far more than planet survival.  And the truth is, there are things out there, events and trends already underway, that will potentially do us in long before the sea levels flood Manhattan.  But those are being ignored because so far no one has figured out how to make money off of the panic that will ensue when people get scared about it.

So what does that have to do with education?  Everything.

  • A well educated and scientifically skeptical perspective would lead to a population more analytical and less susceptible to theoretical long term terrors and perhaps more aware of the really scary short term ones.
  • A better educated citizenry would be sufficiently endowed with enlightened self-interest to understand what types of individuals and enterprises are more likely to lift ALL boats if supported as opposed to supporting those that perhaps simply have the squeakiest of wheels and the most pathetic of stories.
  • A better-educated population might be better able to distinguish between rhetoric and action and thereby identify when cheap political talk has not been put into any meaningful action.
  • A better educated populace would know that a government, like an individual or family, that spends more than it takes in and borrows to make ends meet will sooner or later have to start defaulting on the loans and when that happens it is s swift spiral into disaster.
  • And while they were at it, a better education population would also more likely provide the talent, creativity, initiative, and inspiration to return us, as a country, to the truly exceptional place we once were and make of us once more the true leaders – not dictators or tyrants, but real leaders – of a free world and its economy.

Despite how hard edged this sounds, I do have every sympathy for the poor homeless wretch sleeping on a grate.   But when we are functionally bankrupt and out of money, I think we first need to help the people who can work us out of our mess and THEN deal with the others.  if we cannot help ourselves and survive we will never be able to help those others that need and deserve some help.   We will not be able to help anyone when the whole system craters.   And besides how many historical instances does it take to demonstrate pretty conclusively that private charity is far more efficient and useful to the recipients than the public dole.

I believe further that people are generally not sent to prison for being pillars of the community and that they do not deserve to be housed in such a manner as to cost enough per bed to provide very workable shelters and help for those homeless people who are in that state because they were blindsided by life and a failing economy.  And I think a better educated populace would, when presented with the truth, hard as it may be, about the choices and budget options, tend to agree with that.

But, alas, what do I know?  I’m just a teacher.  And our State has just made it clear how much credence they give to my kind, my colleagues, and our contributions.  In a society that shows its valuation of things monetarily, we have less value than actors and sports figures.  So we cannot, by definition, know all that much…


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New Semester and Governor Moonbeam Returns with a vengeance for Education.

San Diego – Well, Monday starts the 2011 Spring Semester at City College.   A few last minute tweaks today on materials and then I’ll be as ready as I likely will get.  The only class not fully locked down is the Landscape Class and that is because I am waiting to hear if my proposed dates run into any lodging conflicts at the properties where we generally stay.  I’m hoping to hear back quickly so I can tell the class and they can start making plans.  This year we’ll do the usual 3-day trek to Alabama Hills, our 4 day trip will be to Yosemite, and because the rains seem to anticipate a lively display of desert wildflowers in a month, a one day trip to Anza-Borrego.  I will also be doing a Saturday afternoon workshop/seminar on printing on Canvas in February including issues of how to wrap/mount and display canvas prints.  Laurie Shupp from NIK Software has promised to give one and maybe two demos to my digital classes so that too ought to add to what will hopefully be a good semester.

Alas, the big picture for the school and education in general in this State is not so rosy and the budget issues have a much bleaker outlook.  All the academic liberals and the self serving teachers’ union all forgot his real record and even his campaign promises and naturally voted blindly along party lines for ex-Governor Moonbeam to be governor again and now that he is, they  are all stunned that he has just floated his draft budget plan in which he proposed an additional 18% cut to the State’s educational budget including a $500 million cut to the CU system and a $400 million cut to the community college system.  His ideology about social justice and welfare does not include education as one of the priorities and never has.  It take a business and real world savvy person to see the value of education to a state’s economy.  He loves the cultural classes and diversity classes but they contribute nothing to an education that prepares people to earn a living, become property owners, pay taxes, and generally boost the state’s productivity and economy.  Those that do he sees as just supporting the evil corporate demons and business boogey men and not a proper target for funding for a State as enlightened as Kalifornia. (OMG, should I apologize to someone for using the term “Target?”  Please tell me that none of you are going to be emboldened by my violent phraseology to go out and shoot the State…!!!)

In fact, his proposal will require, if passed, a re-thinking of the socialized and subsidized educational dream here in the People’s Republic of Kalifornia.  Depending on the various school districts’ reactions to it the results could be catastrophic or actually, in my opinion, a very positive return back to reason and responsibility in education.  Most in academia are in deep denial, as they have been through it all.  Some are still clinging to the hopes that Obama the Messiah will hear their pleas from on high and send Federal money to our aid… as if he had left any in the treasury for real education aid.   But some, and I dearly hope my district is one of them, as they have been thus far, may make a meaningful course change for the better.  All are constrained to some degree by the State’s system oversight but have some enormous latitudes in local approaches to issues.

As an example, at the moment, Community Colleges in California charge $26 per credit and that is up from $20.  Rumor has them looking at another escalation to $36 per credit.  To all of the other State’s that has got to seem like a typo or missprint and surely I have left of a digit or at least hit the wrong row on the numerical keypad.  Around the country Community College credit for in-state students averages from $70 to $120 per credit and that is STILL cheap compared to four year State schools and a giveaway compared to good private schools.  I think we should be at least at the $50.00 level especially since a huge proportion of our students are on Financiual Aid and do not pay anything anyway.   At City College we have the best facilities in the country (and that is not just my opinion, it is the consistent opinion of visiting professors for the SPE conference we hosted in November), one of the more extensive programs with over 30 programs, and we are growing it in quality constantly, while 120 miles north in Pasadena (an LA suburb for those not familiar with the area), the famous Art Center SChool of Design, considered still to be one of the top places to go, charges over $30,000 per year.

Yet some idiot lawyer at the State does not even let us charge lab fees because in a display of terminal ignorance about how photography works he claimed the students does not get to keep anything that fee would have paid for.  Nevertheless, all of the other good CC programs including Orange Coast, Santa Monica, and East LA charge lab fees.  We have got to be able to get that policy changed for us.  We also need to generate more revenue for our program in permissible ways via workshops and seminars and are off to a very good start at that as the word of our facilities starts to spread.  And we need to generate more out-of-state interest but before we can do that, since we are turning away students now, we need to be allowed, as a program, to get our section counts back to something reasonable.   I’ll be drafting a proposal to allow our program some unique flexibility in those and other matters so we can not only grow the program but also be able to generate the revenue that allows us to minimize our draw on district budgets and reserves.  It is time to get creative.

So this promises to be an interesting semester indeed.  I am actually looking very much forward to getting back into it!


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