Sunday, October 4, 2020

Fixing Our Broken Education System

 A friend of mine recently expressed an interest in fixing our broken education system.  I shared with her a few resources to begin looking at the problem.  As she saw it, there was a problem in providing quality education to children.  A child moving from one part of the country to another would find himself either too far ahead of peers or too far behind peers at the new school.  This happened to her children.  She rightly perceived that some schools are not imparting the skills our children need.

 I referred her to an excellent book, Class Warfare: Besieged Schools, Bewildered Parents, Betrayed Kids and the Attack on Excellence by J Martin Rochester (2004), which describes the perspective of a frustrated parent.  It is an excellent book:  https://www.amazon.com/Class-Warfare-Besieged-Bewildered-Excellence/dp/1594030448/


The author, Dr. Rochester is a Professor of Political Science at the University of Missouri-St. Louis.  The book "Class Warfare" speaks of the experience he has lived in combating incompetent education and the results of his research on the depth and breadth of the problem.  His book has 241 referenced footnotes. It is a resource for people starting to look into the problem.  The background is that Dr. Rochester bought a home in what he believed to be a good school district for his children, and then was shocked to find how bad the quality of education truly was.  I recommend this book.

My story is that I was shocked at the deficiencies in my children's education in the Plano schools.  I ran for the Plano ISD (PISD) Board of Trustees a few times to try and fix the math curriculum. There was a disastrous program called "Connected Math" that was crippling math education in Plano.  I found a way to provide my children with tutoring to help them get around the problems with the PISD curriculum.  You find yourself so busy providing your child with the tutoring they need that you give up trying to fix the system.  Then your children graduate and you walk away from the problems at PISD.  I did write about it in this blog to try and help other parents:  https://planoparents.blogspot.com/2010/09/surviving-connected-math-6th-grade.html

 There are many factors leading to failure in the schools.  One is the shift to "student centered" education instead of "teacher centered" education. "A guide on the side instead of a sage on the stage" is their slogan.  A well written book that shows instruction (sage on the stage) is still useful is: "The Academic Achievement Challenge: What Really Works in the Classroom?" by Jeanne S. Chall PhD. Dr. Chall is Harvard professor.  I recommend her book.  https://www.amazon.com/Academic-Achievement-Challenge-Really-Classroom/dp/1572305002/

It is important to recognize that the problems in our schools have been documented steadily for decades.  There was a sensation when the Secretary of Education under President Ronald Reagan issued the report "A Nation at Risk" in  1983.  This statement in the report got attention:  "If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war."  It is now 37 years later and our schools have gotten worse instead of better.  Here are a few places where you can access the report. (1) https://www2.ed.gov/pubs/NatAtRisk/risk.html (2) In downloadable PDF https://edreform.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/A_Nation_At_Risk_1983.pdf

If you wonder why I say our schools have gotten worse, besides the continuing decline of necessary skills there is increasing evidence of damage to our children, to our society, by teachers and administrators trying to redesign our society by brainwashing our children.  One example is the transgender push, trying to turn boys into girls and girls into boys. Another example is the creation of an army of violent thugs who call themselves "Antifa."  This violence comes from left wing indoctrination in both our  high schools and our universities.  

How can we fix a problem that has been with us for so long?  We begin, I think, by recognizing a pattern of unsolvable problems.  Besides problems in our public schools, we have seen an overlap with problems in our universities.  In God and Man at Yale by William F. Buckley Jr. (1951) we learn that the economics department was promoting Socialism and the university administration was promoting atheism.  (https://www.amazon.com/God-Man-Yale-Superstitions-Academic/dp/089526692X/)  Political indoctrination of our college age children by socialists has been going on for much longer that this: 1951 to 2020 being 69 years.

Another seemingly intractable problem has been poverty in the black community.  The root problem was spelled out in 1965 in The Moynihan Report (https://www.amazon.com/Moynihan-Report-Family-National-Action/dp/1945934298/).  Even then the author Daniel Moynihan mentions that he found the problem well defined in an academic report published in 1950 by E. Franklin Frazier, meaning the root cause has been known for 70 years but the problem remains unsolved.

Why then are these problems apparently unsolvable?  I believe it is because there is a group of people dedicated to maintaining these problems and making them worse.  When Donald Trump became President there was a group of government employees who declared they would resist his efforts to improve our government.  They called themselves "the resistance."  It is people like this who are dedicated to keeping blacks poor, our school children poorly educated, and our college students upset and hostile to our society.

As a member of the Students for a Democratic Society once said, "The issue is never the issue.  The issue is always the revolution."  Until we recognize this underlying thread within of all our long lasting problems we can never solve these problems.

Robert Canright

Friday, September 11, 2020

Communism Is On Our Campuses

 It was brought to my attention that some people on the left have quit calling themselves Progressives or Social Democrats and are admitting they are Communists.  Here is one website our children at college are reading:  HoodCommunist.org.

This picture is from the article "Paradise is not for everyone: Black activists are going to build a utopia city in Florida".  This  young man with the red beret was interviewed by a Russian and the article was translated from Russian to English to be printed in HoodCommunist.org.  Russian Communists have been sticking their noses in the black community for decades, and they still are.  Manning Johnson, a former Communist, described Communist interference in American black communities in his 1958 book, "Color, Communism, and Common Sense."  It is available on Amazon and free in PDF on the internet.

We thought Communism was defeated, but it just licked its wounds and hid in the shadows until it was time to upset our elections by burning buildings.  Our college age students are reading Communist propaganda on our campuses and they believe it.  Instead of teachers in our schools warning the students about the dangers of Communism, they teach our children that America is evil and racist.

We parents must find a way to teach our children about the evils of Communism so they are not so easily suckered when they go to college.

At the very least, every student should read these words from the testimony of Whittaker Chambers to the House Committee on Un-American Activities, 1948:

"I had joined the Communist Party in 1924.  No one recruited me.  I had become convinced that the society in which we live, Western Civilization, had reached a crisis, of which the First World War was the military expression, and that it was doomed to collapse or revert to barbarism. I did not understand the causes of the crisis or know what to do about it.  But I felt that, as an intelligent man, I must do something.  In the writings of Karl Marx, I thought that I had found an explanation of the historical and economic causes [of the crisis]. In the writings of Lenin, I thought I had found the answer to the question:  what to do?"

"In 1937 I repudiated Marx's doctrines and Lenin's tactics.  Experience and the record had convinced me that Communism is a form of totalitarianism, that its triumph means slavery to men wherever they fall under its sway and spiritual night to the human mind and soul." [1]

Repeat this statement, adapted from Chambers, to yourself three times, right now:  Communism means slavery to men and spiritual night to the human mind and soulThere are plenty of facts to back up this statement, but this premise must be made clear to our children: that Communism is evil and dangerous.

Robert Canright

Reference [1]  Witness by Whittaker Chambers, Regnery Gateway, Chicago, 1952, page 541.  This book is also available in audio book.

Saturday, June 13, 2020

A Hispanic Engineer Talks to Young People

I wish to encourage young people to consider engineering as a profession.  I particularly wish to encourage Hispanic children to consider a career in engineering because they are under-represented in this career.  To this end, I have made four videos where I talk to young people about engineering . Below are the links to the four YouTube videos.
  1. Hispanic Robert Canright on the Good in Engineering
  2. Hispanic Robert Canright on the Bad in Engineering.   
  3. Hispanic Robert Canright on the Ugly in Engineering.  
  4. Hispanic Robert Canright on How to Prepare for Engineering.

In the last video I recommended young people read books.  I only mentioned recreational books.  But there are some books about engineering that are entertaining or educational.  Here is a short list.
  1. The Soul of A New Machine by Tracy Kidder.  This is an outstanding book that gives an insider's view of how one new computer was designed.  Not all computer design experiences are like this one, but this one is very interesting.
  2. Getting Sued and Other Tales of the Engineering Life by Richard Meehan.  This book is published by MIT Press and MIT is one of the premier engineering schools
  3. The Existential Pleasures of Engineering, 2nd Edition by Samuel C. Florman.  
I have read all of these books and recommend them. I have not read the following book, but it looks pretty good.  The Design and Engineering of Curiosity: How the Mars Rover Performs Its Job by Emily Lakdawalla.  One of the book reviewers posted pages from the book to show it has lots of pictures and illustrations.  "Curiosity" is the name of a large roving robot we put on Mars.  That is a big deal.
Anyone interested in computer programming should read The Mythical Man-Month: Essays on Software Engineering, 2nd Edition by Frederick P. Brooks Jr.  Here is a link to an obituary of a successful engineer so you can see how much a successful engineer can accomplish:  Harold Chestnut, The accomplishments and life of Harold Chestnut, 1917-2001.  This webpage on Dr. Chestnut has a couple of interesting videos.  This is worth reading and viewing.  He was an electrical engineer.  He also wrote a couple of books on systems engineering.  Not many engineers are this successful, but it gives you an idea of how much can be done in an engineering career.  On the right hand side of this web page is a list of accomplished engineers, dozens of them, and there is a hyper-link to each on.  Thomas Edison is on the list!  This set of web pages is maintained by the Edison Tech Center.  All these web pages and books can give you an appreciation of how varied an engineering career can be.

If you are a young person thinking about engineering, I hope the videos I created for you will be  helpful to you.  My videos are talks about engineering as a career, including the tough parts of the career as well as the good parts.

There are professionally made videos on DVD or streaming video available for purchase from the Great Courses company.  This set of videos is called Everyday Engineering: Understanding the Marvels of Daily Life.  It is a set of 36 videos, each about 30 minutes, that describe the wonderful engineering accomplishments you see in your daily life.  We are surrounded by engineering in our society. 

Robert Canright

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Language Learning with Duolingo. Does it Work? Is it Addictive?

I am a Duolingo user.  I have been using Duolingo to learn German for about a year.  There is almost nothing on the web about Duolingo, so I am writing something here for you. I will start with some Q&A.

Do you really learn a language with Duolingo?  After a fashion you do.  I listened to a German movie, "Das Boot," with English subtitles.  I could pick out a word here and there, but there was one short conversation that I completely understood.  I understood it well enough that I could see the translators did not translate the German precisely, but into an equivalent English idiom.

What is best about Duolingo?  That this app is free is obviously a major advantage.  A lesson takes 5 to 10 minutes to complete.  The earlier, simpler lessons are 5 minutes. Towards the end of a course the lessons are harder and might take 10 minutes.  Short lessons are great.  But here is what is best:  When they give you a sentence in German and ask you to translate it, they say the sentence out loud.  You can then listen to this one sentence repeatedly until your pronunciation matches the Duolingo pronunciation.  This part is great:  you can stab an individual word with your finger and that word is translated for you and it is spoken so you can practice that one word.  You can practice on an individual word.  I have also used the Pimsleur Conversational German course and you can rewind the CD, but you cannot work on an individual word.  The advantage of Pimsleur is that you get to hear entire conversations.

Is Duolingo addictive?  It does seem as though Duolingo Leaderboards can be addictive. If you make your profile public, then you get invited to participate in Leaderboards, a competition.  I have calculated that there are people in many of the leaderboards who spend 20 hours or more per week with Duolingo.  These people get hooked on the desire to finish in the top 3 places in their current leaderboard.  There are times you get your competitive juices going and you want to get promoted to the next league and you do 2 or 3 times more lessons than you objectively want to do.  The leaderboards and leagues have become like games and you want to play to win.

Here is a calulation.  First place player has 2000 XP points (experience points).  You average 12 XP points per 8 minutes.  Do the math and you see that 2000 XP points means 22 hours of play.  That is a bit ridiculous.

You must remember that internet game companies know how to make their games addictive.  Senator Josh Hawley from Missouri wrote an Op-Ed for the Thursday, August 29, 2019, Wall Street Journal entitled, "Big Tech's `Innovations` That Aren't".  The Senator writes, "... the dominant platforms employ behavioral scientists to develop interface designs that keep users online as much as possible.  Bit Tech calls it `engagement.`  Another word would be addiction."  Beyond a doubt you can get addicted to Duolingo competitions.  You look to see where you are in the ranking for your leaderboard.  You watch people above you and people below you.  You find yourself wanting to climb past people. You want to maintain your place on the ladder.  It does get competitive.

Tell me about the Duolingo Leaderboards.  First they place you in a Bronze league leaderboard.  A leaderboard is a group of 50 people. In a Bronze league leaderboard you must be in the top 15, the Promotion Zone, to get promoted to the Silver League.  Once you get promoted you find that the bottom 5 in the list of 50 are in the Demotion Zone.  (Oh no! Don't demote me!)  You are in the top 15 at the end of the week and you get promoted to the Gold League.  Surprise!  The promotion zone now changes to the top 10, so it is harder to get promoted from the Gold League. What do you get promoted to?  They do not tell you.  You have to get promoted to discover you are now in the Sapphire League.  The zones stay the same in the Sapphire league:  top 10 get promoted, bottom 5 get demoted.  What comes next is a mystery.  Duolingo is not informative.  On the Duolingo website there are discussion boards, but they are pretty useless.  Eventually you will find you are like a hamster running in a wheel going nowhere.  Enjoy the leaderboards for a while, but then move on to better uses of your time, like studying a book on German (or your chosen language).

What do you do when you get to the end of your course?  You have learned a lot, but you don't really know the language, so what do you do? On your phone you can scroll up to the top of the list of lessons you have completed and you can start over.  The lesson titles are the same, but the content changes and the presentation changes.  The second time through the course they will play a sentence out loud and you have to pick words from a list to show you understood what you heard.  There is a turtle button to repeat the sentence more slowly.  When you complete the lesson a second time then the crown on your lesson icon changes from showing a 1 to showing a 2.  I like this very much.  Getting to the bottom of a list of lessons is, I think, called "completing a tree."  I do not know at what point you are completely finished with a language course.  I just listened to a fellow Duolingo user discuss on YouTube his experiences and he did not mention repeating the course.

What else do I need to know about Duolingo?  I suggest you also pick up a free translation phone app.  I use iHandy Translator, the free version.  There are times you will find it helpful with your Duolingo lessons.  There are Hearts and Streaks in Duolingo, but you can learn about them on your own.  There are many tricks you can use to help you past tricky parts in the lessons.  When you get an item within a lesson wrong, they repeat it at the end so you are expected to get it right the second time around.   They showed you what you should have done, so it is up to you to remember that when you see the item again at the end of the lesson.  The tool is pretty intuitive.  I like it, but it requires a bit of shrewdness as a user to make the best of the Duolingo app.

The tool does not explain anything.  It is learning by doing.  If you want understanding, you do need a book.  What do they not explain?  Declensions, verb tenses, there is a lot that is not explained.  Even if you can master the formation of sentences in every instance, you won't be able to explain why you do what you do.  Because of this I would say you might learn a language with Duolingo, but you will not master it.

Tips.  Remember I said Duolingo does not explain declensions and verb tenses?  It turns out that there is sometimes a light bulb icon on the button to start a lesson.  Press that light bulb icon and you get a brief grammar lesson.  I have been using Duolingo for about a year and I just discovered the meaning of the light bulb icon.  The Duolingo is not hard, but it is not intuitive.  Let's say Duolingo is partially intuitive.

Conclusion:  Duolingo is definitely worth your time, but it has limitations.  There are Facebook groups for Duolingo that might be useful.  You will find out more about Duolingo by searching YouTube than by searching Google.  If Google has limitations, why shouldn't Duolingo?

Robert

From this website we have a list of the Duolingo leagues: https://forum.duolingo.com/comment/33013171/how-many-leagues-are-there
"...there are 10 as of May 2019. Bronze, Silver, Gold, Sapphire, Ruby, Emerald, Amethyst, Pearl, Obsidian and Diamond."

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Graphical Displays of Inflation

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so here is a great picture of inflation.  Look at the caption in the picture!

That is an easy picture to understand.  Here is a more descriptive graphic from the Federal Reserve.
Chart Title: Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers: Purchasing Power of the Consumer Dollar

Double-click on the image to get a better view.  The image is found at this location, from the FED. The chart shows the value of the dollar from 1913 (start of the FED) to today.  If you go to the website you will see that the $1,017 in January 1913 would be worth $39 today.  Another way of saying it is that $1 in 1913 would buy $0.038 worth of goods today.  A 1913 dollar would be worth 4 cents today.  The chart is interactive.  You can move your mouse back and forth over it and the value is visible in a cursor related box.

You might notice the graph says "FRED" at the top.  I think that stands for Federal Reserve Economic Data.  Here is a link to their "About Us" webpage.

We need to get our children to understand that inflation is bad for them and all of us.  Then we need to get our elected representatives to push the Federal Reserve to push inflation back down.

The money you have saved for retirement is shrinking.  The money your children will save for their retirement will be shrinking.  Only the U.S. government likes inflation because it pays its debts with cheapened dollars.

Robert Canright

Link to the inflation thread in this blog:
Teaching Our Kids About Interest and Inflation  April 11, 2015

Sunday, March 10, 2019

The Shrinking Middle Class

I read an article once that said one third of middle class children slip out of the middle class and end up in bad financial circumstances.  I  have seen that happen.  I ran across a nice article by Charles Hugh Smith, Honey, I Shrunk the Middle Class: Perhaps 1/3 of Households Qualify.  I lifted this chart from it:
The illustration indicates that in 1971 the majority of families were in the middle class, but that is not the case in 2015.  If you look at the numbers,  the middle class actually grew in size, but the upper and lower economic classes grew more proportionally.  The fraction of families in the middle class is no longer the majority, but the number of families in the middle class still grew.  This shows how numbers can be interpreted in opposite ways.  The middle class is shrinking!  The middle class is growing!  Both statements are true, depending on your criteria.

The analysis by Mr. Smith is worth your time.  He also wrote another article worth your time and consideration: What Killed the Middle Class?    If we want our kids to be successful, we need to define success; we need to have a good idea of what it means to be in the middle class and what threatens our children staying in the middle class.

Robert

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Inflation in Postage Stamps: Knowing the Formula

The price of a first class postage stamp has in the past gone up a penny or two at a time.  The current increase, just started, was a five cent jump:  from 50 to 55 cents per stamp.  Ouch!  I scratched my head and asked myself, "Wasn't the price a nickel when I was a kid?"  Looking at the History of United States postage rates on Wikipedia, I could see that in 1963 the price was indeed five cents.  I threw the numbers into a hand held calculator and failed to find the aggregate inflation rate.  You cannot just stuff these numbers into hand held a calculator, you have to use the precise formula.  You begin by writing out the compound interest formula and then solving it for the interest rate. As money in a bank increases with compound interest, so the value of money shrinks with the compound inflation.  Here is the formula for compound interest.

Interest in a bank or certificate of deposit compounds monthly, which is why the variable "n" is in the formula.  We will use an aggregate yearly inflation rate, so n = 1 in the equation above.  We have
A = P ( 1 + r ) **t
We started out in 1963 with P = $ 0.05.  We ended up in 2019 with A = $ 0.55.  From 1963 to 2019 is t = 56.   We solve this equation for "r" using algebra.
1 + r = 10.0 ** (log10(A/P) / t)

As I mentioned in an early post,  Calculating Inflation with a Practical Example, August 19, 2018, you can solve this with the Python IDLE GUI, but you have to import the math library first.  Then to find the inflation rate, "r", we subtract 1 and multiply by 100 to get it into percentage.  Division gives us  ($ 0.55 / $ 0.05) = 11.0.  Plugging the numbers into the formula in Python gives
>>> import math
>>> 10.0 ** (math.log10(11.0) /56.0)
1.043749542065121
>>> ( 1.043749542065121 - 1.0) * 100
4.374954206512105
>>>
This means the aggregate inflation rate for postage stamps has been 4.375% from 1963 to 2019, and the cost of postage went up eleven fold.  Back in my August post I calculated that science fiction books went up at rate of 4.22% over this time span for a ten fold increase in the price of paper-back books.  We again that 4% inflation over 50 years drives up costs by a factor of 10.  That is horrible for our children and grand children.  We have been experiencing 4% inflation over our lifetime, with spikes that  have been very high, like in the 1980's under Jimmy Carter.

The Fed Lies to Us

The Federal Reserve has been telling us that contemporary inflation has been about 1% and they wanted to raise it to 2%, but the Fed lying to us because it excludes food and energy prices from the number they quote to us.  From this article:  The U.S. Lies About Inflation, we have these statements:
  • The government-issued consumer price index (CPI) is showing that "core inflation" – which includes prices for all items except food and energy – was up only 1% from last year.
     
  • By excluding food and energy prices, as volatile as they may be, the CPI fails to convey the pain that rising prices are inflicting on American households. Indeed, the true rate of inflation could be closer to 12%.
     
  • The CPI is a joke. Every American knows that in reality inflation is far higher than the CPI tells us based on what they feel in their wallets every day.
     
  • Our research suggests inflation is really running between 9% and 12%, which is more commensurate with what we all feel in our wallets every day.
From this article, Adler: "The Fed's Been Lying About Inflation; It's Frighteningly High", May 18, 2018, we have this statement:  "... the fact is that we really have more – much more – inflation than they’re telling us."

What Should We Do?

We should talk to each other about inflation.  We should talk to our congressmen about inflation.  We need to get inflation and the national debt under control, otherwise we will ruin the lives of our children and grand children.

Robert