Wednesday, July 28, 2021

What Will Happen When We Kill Meritocracy?

Let’s say that you want to destroy a house. And that you want to do so without the owner noticing what is happening. If you set about destroying it from the roof down, the owner will notice and will surely try to stop you. But, if you find a way to eat away the foundation, by the time the owner notices what is happening, it will be too late. The foundationless house will inevitably collapse. And you will have decamped to nicer climes.

In today’s America, as I and many others have been reporting, the best way to destroy the country, to diminish if not erase its economic future, is to render schoolchildren stupid. Take their young minds and fill them full with nonsense. Ensure that they do not know how to think or to count, or, God forbid, to do calculus. Lo and behold, America’s future as a great nation will collapse.

If you are really clever, you institute this program with a flurry of grandiose ideals, like democracy, equity, inclusion, whatever. You eliminate competition; you eliminate standardized test scores; you cease teaching anything that would divide students according to ability. In short, you dumb down the curriculum so that no one will feel badly about not being able to do the work. And you do it by punishing the most able children, because their success rate defies the arguments for proportional representation in test results and in economic achievement. 

Its proponents rationalize this process because they imagine that white people are disproportionally represented among the best scoring children. In truth, Asian students, Indian and Chinese, are really doing the best. But, the proponents of these remedies are functional imbeciles, so what did you expect?

Of course, dumbing down the best children makes it nearly impossible for the worst children to advance. After all, they are being told that their test answers are correct, regardless. And they are told not to emulate the study habits of those who do better. The reason-- they are told that the Asian children who did better were exercising their white privilege, and that they are criminals who did not earn what they have.

Now, American leftists, people who have complete control over the American educational system, have gone on a rampage. Their goal, to eliminate merit and to make American children stupid and dysfunctional.

Joel Kotkin takes the measure of the problem in The American Mind (via Maggie’s Farm.)

We are, he opens, suffering a severe educational deficit. In truth, this should not be news. And yet, even though it is not news to say that our educrats are ignoring it. In truth, they are trying to make it worse:

Over time, our educational deficit with other countries, notably China, particularly in the acquisition of practical skills in mathematics, engineering medical technology, and management, has grown, threatening our economic and political pre-eminence. Our competitors, whatever their shortcomings, are focused on economic competition and technological supremacy. In math, the OECD’s 2018 Program for International Student Assessment found the United States was outperformed by 36 countries, not only by China, but also Russia, Italy, France, Finland, Poland, and Canada.

We can make it worse by dispensing with math and science, replacing it with Critical Race Theory. America’s foundation has been eaten away by leftist academics for decades now. CRT is the latest and most flagrant effort to pull away the remaining bricks and mortar:

Critical Race Theory and its growing chorus of implementers—from the highest reaches of academia down to the grade school level—have little use for such practical skills acquisition and brook little dissent from teachers and researchers who raise objections to the new curriculum of racial grievance. Woke educators, like San Francisco’s School board member Alison Collins, claim that “merit, meritocracy and especially meritocracy based on standardized testing” are essentially “racist systems.” Some among the new racial cadres even denounce habits such as punctuality, rationality, and hard work as reflective of “racism” and “white privilege”.

Kotkin explains that what he calls “habits of mind” are being degraded and diminished and denigrated. Corporate executives, he adds, know all about this. But they are powerless or simply too weak to do anything but acquiesce.

In a world where brainpower pushes the economy, the denigration of habits of mind can only further weaken our economic future and undermine republican institutions. Even though the vast majority of corporate executives perceive a growing skills gap, they have failed to stop educators from abandoning skills in favor of ever greater emphasis on ephemera of race and gender.

How bad is it? Here are a few statistics:

Only 5 percent of American college students major in engineering, compared with 33 percent in China; as of 2016, China graduated 4.7 million STEM students versus 568,000 in the United States, as well as six times as many students with engineering and computer science bachelor’s degrees. “In the U.S., you could have a meeting of tooling engineers and I’m not sure we could fill the room. In China, you could fill multiple football fields,” Apple CEO Tim Cook has observed, revealing one rationale for keeping virtually all the company’s production in the Middle Kingdom.

It’s not just about high tech engineers. The problem extends to manufacturing and industry. Skills shortages will surely hurt these. Again, our politicians keep telling us that we are going to onshore manufacturing. What makes them think that the products of America’s educational system can do the jobs:

The skills shortage may be even more profound on the factory floor. Due to an aging workforce, as many as 600,000 new manufacturing jobs expected to be generated this decade cannot be filled. The percentage of the skilled manufacturing work force over the age of 55 has doubled in the last 10 years to 20 percent of active workers. And there is no deep bench of talent waiting to replace retirees—50 percent of the active workers are above the age of 45. The current shortage of welders, now 240,000, could grow to 340,000 by 2024.Manufacturing employment is expanding more rapidly than in almost four decades but there are an estimated 500,000 manufacturing jobs unfilled right now.

To maintain our factories, offices, and laboratories, America needs more rigorous training, not less, and greater emphasis on skills and the ethic of work. Although certainly not the cause of decline over the past few decades, CRT is re-enforcing, and enhancing, a long-developing pattern of educational failure ever more evident, particularly for working class youths.

Ah yes, it is not just skills. It is about a work ethic, a competitive atmosphere where people have the chance to excel. That is, to do better than others, to gain promotions and raises.

Kotkin offers a brief glance into the California side of this story. We are not surprised to find that California schools are making students unemployable. Dare we mention that this is a very good way to repeal the Industrial Revolution and to save the environment?

As is all too common the case, California provides a useful roadmap to dystopia. In recent decades, California has lagged in providing worker-training programs. Rather than bolster training that may make young people more employable, California public schools seem determined to make them less so. The San Diego Unified School District, for example, will no longer count such scruples as turning in work on time in grading and evaluation, and may reduce the penalties for cheating. This is justified as a way of redressing racial issues, as many of the malefactors (like most California students) are from disadvantaged minority groups.

Obviously, ethnic studies courses are designed to promote an oppression narrative, one that will make one group feel guilty while making other groups feel terminally oppressed. They will learn that they should not bother to work hard. They should be out fighting the revolution, just as they were doing last spring and summer across America. After all, destroying what others have build is what they know how to do.

The ongoing implementation of the “ethnic studies” curricula may make some California students more racially aware, even turning them into progressive cadres, but won’t make them more skilled for the economy. The state’s model curriculum focuses instead on how to “build new possibilities for post-imperial life that promotes collective narratives of transformative resistance.” In contrast, hard work and aptitude are far less valued: California’s woke educators are rejecting even the idea of “genius” and calling for the elimination of advanced math classes as a way to achieve greater racial equity.

How is California doing? Very very bad, awful. And this is especially the case for minority children:

Since 1998, California has ranked, on average, 46th in 8th-grade reading and mathematics subject-area performance on the National Assessment for Educational Progress (NAEP), the only nationwide assessment among the states that measures comparable relative performance.This includes comparisons with demographically similar states like Texas, which spends less money per student. Almost three of five California high schoolers are not prepared for either college or a career; the percentages are far higher for Latinos, African Americans, and the economically disadvantaged. Among the 50 states, California ranked 49th in the performance of poor, largely minority, students. San Francisco, the epicenter of California’s woke culture, has the worst scores for African-Americans of any county in the state.

The result, Kotkin suggests, will be very bad indeed:

In the future, California businesses will face a severe shortage of skilled graduates, as baby boomers retire and the new generation moves elsewhere.According to a 2017 Association of General Contractors study, 75 percent of contractors in western states are finding it hard to hire skilled crafts people, and 24 percent say it will get even harder in the future. According to the Public Policy Institute (PPI), as boomers age and retire, California is going to need approximately 1.1 million more college graduates by 2030. PPI projects that the demand will then exceed the supply of college graduates by 5.4 percent, making it even more essential that K-12 institutions do a better job of preparing students for college and careers.

Among the reasons why California could not build a high speed train from San Francisco to Los Angeles might be this-- it does not have the skilled personnel able to do the job.

No one is teaching science. Critical Race Theory and Anti-racism training are religions, "revealed religion," as Kotkin calls it.

Rather than science based on evidence and argument, we now get something closer to Science as revealed religion whether on issues like the pandemic or climate change. Government and their allies in the oligarchy, the media, and academia, as former Obama advisor physicist Steve Koonin notes, have transformed “science” into “fallacies” that turn even the most unsupported assertions into “accepted truths”.

Of course, our international competitors are not following us off the cliff. For now our great tech companies have given up on hiring Americans. They have been filling their ranks with Asians, people who learned science and engineering, but who missed out on the anti-racist training. And of course, if the best engineers at Facebook are all speaking Mandarin, it is devilishly difficult to police their speech.

This diminishment of merit is not something people at the Indian Institute of Technology, the Tokyo Institute of Technology, or Tsinghua University have to contend with. Companies there are not likely to issue gender or racial quotas over proficiency. Instead, our companies can tap this workforce, if not overseas, here at home. In 2018, three-quarters of the tech workforce in the Bay Area was foreign-born, a majority on short-term visas, dubbed as “technocoolies” by some in India, “non-visa immigrants” unable to qualify for a green card, unless their employers allow it.


urbane legend said...

This policy toward education will accelerate California's race to being a footnote of history. The problem is these uneducated, unskilled former Californians aren't an asset anywhere in the country.

Unknown said...

Well, I'd put more trust in the blathering of the PPI & Association of General Contractors if they would lead off their reports about the shortage of Skilled Labour by calling loudly for higher pay.
But, it is always the same song.
"There are not enough people to perform skilled craftwork!"
The unspoken second half...
"At the lousy rates we are willing to pay"
The old rules no longer apply. The old leaders have not realized this yet.

Sam L. said...

The Left and the Democrats (but, I repeat myself), hate, Hate, HATE the rest of us. That's why we're buying firearms and ammunition.

370H55V said...

Once again, Kotkin has to prove his liberal bonafides by taking a gratuitous potshot at the GOP near the end (I guess since he doesn't have Trump to kick around any more).

Joel, YOU supported and voted for the people who are bringing this about. You have no right to complain.

David Foster said...

See my related post Hedgehogs, Ideologues, and the 'Woke'

jdgalt said...

The movie "Idiocracy" sums up nicely what will happen.

Mark Matis said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
markedup2 said...

On the one hand, this is a tragedy in that so much potential is being wasted. However, it has already been established that we don't care about that (see "no GMO rice to prevent Indian children from going blind" or the entire continent of Africa). So, leaving aside the "oh those poor children!" appeals, what's left?

We need welders! I've only spot welded, but as I understand it, welding doesn't require calculus. Very basic algebra, I can believe, but I doubt there is much call for factoring polynomials. A reasonable understanding of geometry, but textbook geometry doesn't really help all that much with folding sheet metal.

As for skilled "college trained" workers, the number of people who do actual difficult, ground breaking work is miniscule. Even at SpaceX, the number of people actually doing "rocket science" is a tiny fraction of their payroll. This category of people are the really, really smart ones - and they know this well before college. They'll pick good schools and get the educations they need.

The rest of the US is ALREADY the idiocracy. Does anyone here know how a microwave works? How you can make a cell phone call to Russia? How that amazing Starlink antenna works?

Yes, the dumb will get dumber and the mediocre will get dumb, but I don't think it much matters. We already have to solve the problem of what to with the people who are permanently automated out of the job market. "Fight for $15" is really "speed robot development".

And that, too, is a good thing. We're not going to build orbital habitats with dudes in spacesuits.

Turning children into idiots is a tragedy, but other than feeling bad about it, no one has cared about it for centuries. I see no reason to worry about it, now, when it's the best time in history to be an idiot.

markedup2 said...

One more note: This is entirely a parenting problem. This is why I'm not worried we will run out of smart, motivated, highly educated people. Smart, motivated, highly educated parents will not allow this to happen to their children. See the giant push-back against CRT that is just beginning and the huge increase in home-schooling due to the WuFlu (most of those kids are not going back to public schools).

The losers here are those already at a disadvantage (and one has done anything about for their entire lifetime, so far, or they wouldn't be at a disadvantage, would they?).