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 Is there a "cult of ignorance" in America?

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alj
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PostSubject: Is there a "cult of ignorance" in America?   Wed Jul 02, 2014 7:28 am

This article puts the blame in the right place, it seems to me.

I noticed the same thing in Japan when I was there in 69.

http://m.huffpost.com/us/entry/5505032?utm_hp_ref=world

Quote :
America's Cult of Ignorance Is No Match for Asia's Cult of Intelligence

John W. Traphagan 06/17/14 01:59 PM ET
This article also currently appears in The Diplomat.

I have been traveling to East Asia (and many other parts of the world) for more than 25 years and over that time one of the things that has always struck me is how intelligent the general public in countries like Japan appear to be. It's not that there aren't dummies in East Asia, but it always seems that the average level of education and ability to think about the world intelligently and critically is impressively widespread. I've often thought about why this is the case and also why the same seems more difficult to say about the U.S. The answer, I think, can be found in a comment science fiction writer Isaac Asimov made about the U.S. while being interviewed in the 1980s: "There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge."

Asimov is right on the mark, and this cult of ignorance is the most serious national security issue facing the U.S. today. It is more important than the external threats from terrorists or the rise of a politically and economically powerful China. And a major part of the reason it is such a major issue for Americans to fix is that our immediate competitors, particularly those in Asia, have managed to create a culture in which rather than a cult of ignorance, a cult of intelligence plays a major role in shaping attitudes about the world and, thus, policies about dealing with other countries.

Many Americans are aware that the U.S. does not score well on measure such as international student assessment tests when compared to other industrial countries. For example, the 2011 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) the top five societies for math were Singapore, South Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Japan-- the U.S. is not in the top ten. It is better by 8th grade, where the same societies are in the top five (although the order changes) and the U.S. makes number 9. Roughly the same pattern can be seen for science results. This doesn't seem too bad, but in a different testing organization's measure, the Programme for International Student Assessment, the U.S. does not fare quite so well, scoring 36th for math, 28th for science, and 24th for reading. With the exception of science, where Finland is ranked 5th, all of the top five countries in this measure are from East Asia.

American policy has generally worked from the assumption that the problem lies in basic weaknesses in the structure of our educational system with its inherent inequalities and the way in which our school curricula are constructed. These certainly have contributed to comparatively weak scores. I have long been convinced that one of the reasons Japan's educational system is better than the U.S.--at least in the sense that a very broad swath of the general public receives a good and equal education through high school--is related to funding. The U.S. system generates inherent inequalities in school funding by depending upon property taxes. Even in states where there is some (usually grudging) redistribution of wealth to support public schools in poor areas (in Texas it is called the Robin Hood law), it is obvious that children in wealthy areas receive a better education with far greater academic and other resources than those in poorer areas. In Japan, because there is a national curriculum and a significant portion of the funding for public schools comes from the national government, in addition to funding from prefectural and municipal governments, there is considerably less inequality in distribution of and access to quality education than in the U.S.

Unfortunately, the troubles with the U.S. education system are much deeper than distribution of funding or curriculum weaknesses, although these are both a byproduct of the cultural issue that Asimov observes. The troubles lie in the cult of ignorance and anti-intellectualism that has been a long-standing part of American society and which has become increasingly evident and powerful in recent years through the propagandizing and proselytizing of groups like the Tea Party and the religious right.

The fundamental reason that countries in places like East Asia present such a significant challenge to the U.S. politically and economically is not because they have a lot of people or big militaries, or seem to be willing to grow their economic and political might without concern for issues like damage to the environment (China). The problem is that these countries have core cultural values that are more akin to a cult of intelligence and education than a cult of ignorance and anti-intellectualism. In Japan, for example, teachers are held in high esteem and normally viewed as among the most important members of a community. I have never run across the type of suspicion and even disdain for the work of teachers that occurs in the U.S. Teachers in Japan typically are paid significantly more than their peers in the U.S. The profession of teaching is one that is seen as being of central value in Japanese society and those who choose that profession are well compensated in terms of salary, pension, and respect for their knowledge and their efforts on behalf of children.

In addition, we do not see in Japan significant numbers of the types of religious schools that are designed to shield children from knowledge about basic tenets of science and accepted understandings of history--such as evolutionary theory or the religious views of the Founding Fathers, who were largely deists--which are essential to having a fundamental understanding of the world. The reason for this is because in general Japanese value education, value the work of intellectuals, and see a well-educated public with a basic common knowledge in areas of scientific fact, math, history, literature, etc. as being an essential foundation to a successful democracy.

Americans need to recognize that if the cult of ignorance continues, it will become increasingly difficult to compete politically and economically with countries that highly value intelligence and learning. Nowhere is this more problematic in the U.S. than among a growing number of elected officials who are products of that cult of ignorance and who, thus, are not equipped to compete with their international peers. Why is this a problem of national security? Because a population and its leadership need to have the knowledge and intellectual skills necessary to analyze world affairs in an intelligent and sophisticated way and to elect intelligent, capable representatives. The problem is not really with our educational system; it is with our educational culture. Americans need to remember the words of Thomas Jefferson, who wrote to Charles Yancey on January 6, 1816: "if a nation expects to be ignorant & free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was & never will be."


Last edited by alj on Wed Jul 02, 2014 7:38 am; edited 1 time in total
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Abe F. March
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PostSubject: Re: Is there a "cult of ignorance" in America?   Wed Jul 02, 2014 7:34 am

Good article, Ann.  Educational funding seems to be a key factor.
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PostSubject: Re: Is there a "cult of ignorance" in America?   Wed Jul 02, 2014 7:40 am

Abe F. March wrote:
Good article, Ann.  Educational funding seems to be a key factor.

One key factor, Abe. For that to change, there needs to be a change in that anti-intellectual attitude towards teaching and learning
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PostSubject: Re: Is there a "cult of ignorance" in America?   Sat Jul 19, 2014 8:22 pm

Change is necessary and quickly.
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PostSubject: Re: Is there a "cult of ignorance" in America?   Sun Jul 20, 2014 4:00 pm

Do other countries have "school supplies drives" to collect school supplies for impoverished children?  I think this is an abomination.  In a democracy, every child needs an equal opportunity for the best education - and that includes supplies.  The fact that poor children line up from early morning to get free backbacks of school supplies at the local arena from donated stuff is a blight on our land.

Access to the tools for education need to be equally available to everyone, paid for with taxes.  Same for teachers.  I see teachers in the dollar store buying stuff for their classrooms from their pitiful pay - and in Florida new teachers are paid pitifully -
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PostSubject: Re: Is there a "cult of ignorance" in America?   Sun Jul 20, 2014 9:58 pm

Answers are sought and theories presented, but what actions are taken? 
I keep harping on "cause" when it comes to conflict.  Cause is not limited to conflict.
What is the cause for the slump in America's educational system?  Is it the availability of money, of qualified personnel or what?  It can't be fixed unless the root cause is dealth with.
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PostSubject: Re: Is there a "cult of ignorance" in America?   Mon Jul 21, 2014 6:48 am

The root cause, Abe, is exactly what the article explains: The anti-intellectal attitude of too many Americans. Americans traditionally see thenslves as succeeding through hard work rather than through "book learning." Why spend so much money on schools? "People who can, do; people who can't, teach." It's an expression that has been around for a long time. It reflects an attitude that says teaching isn't "do-ing." Education is funded to the extent it is valued. If you want qualified personnel, you have to pay a decent salary, and offer them a do-able job that isn't fraught with the impossible tasks and lack of materials that go with over-crowded classrooms.

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PostSubject: Re: Is there a "cult of ignorance" in America?   Mon Jul 21, 2014 6:54 am

Thanks Ann for the clarification.
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PostSubject: Re: Is there a "cult of ignorance" in America?   Wed Aug 13, 2014 1:54 pm

This Huffington Post article was prompted by some remarks made on The View by Ms. Goldberg.  While I frequently agree with her perspectives, I do not where teacher tenure is concerned.  The article explains why, and points out how the concept of tenure is misunderstood by the general public:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/m-shannon-hernandez/the-view-teacher-tenure_b_5661200.html?ncid=fcbklnkushpmg00000020

This paragraph from the article reminded me of this thread on "the cult of ignorance" which provides a means for "understanding" where the misconceptions come from.


Quote :
I don't understand how we have found ourselves in "this place" in America where teachers are the enemies and are under constant attack. I don't understand why education has become more of an issue focused on economic status and politic party agendas -- rather than an issue of human and civil rights. I am saddened that news anchors, radio personalities, entertainers, and corporate reformers are given prime time slots on television to discuss the issues of public education -- when they most likely haven't even stepped foot into a public school classroom since they graduated, nor do they hold an advanced degree in education. It is enraging that the teaching profession continues to be attacked and demoralized by the media.
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PostSubject: Re: Is there a "cult of ignorance" in America?   Wed Aug 13, 2014 3:06 pm

I think there is only one issue:  the value of education.  In some cultures, education is a value and it is exhibited in the studious children who succeed regardless of the teachers, the school, the environment or extenuating circumstances.  The overriding value of an education trumps.

In my book, there's no such thing as "teacher education."  Teachers should be trained with the knowledge that needs to be shared with the students.  Then they should serve internships with master teachers who have the techniques that impart that knowledge. 

No one had to teach me how to teach.  I set up school in the basement when I was twelve and all the neighborhood children came after school and in the summer.  Their parents sent snacks!  We had a wonderful time and I helped all ages from older than me to younger find something to learn.  I was a natural.  All those ed classes were wasted time, required for certification.

I had colleagues who could take every ed class and never teach a willing student much less an unwilling one.

Do you think the early teachers had "ed" classes?  No, they knew a subject and taught it to those who didn't know it.  Period.  Simple.  It's not complex or expensive.  There should be master teachers, intern teachers and teaching assistants.  So long as students show progress and learning, the teacher is doing their thing.  When students fail, so does the teacher.  Again. Simple.

Money needs to go toward smaller classrooms, field trips, innovation and experimentation, etc.  In some schools, it needs to go toward safety measures - cameras and resource officers.  The money needs to go for social workers so teachers can teach.  It needs to go for counseling for parents and after school programs.

We teach the teachers to death.  We certify them to death.  If they know their subject and teach it, let them teach.  Certify them for what they know, not look for what they don't.
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PostSubject: Re: Is there a "cult of ignorance" in America?   Wed Aug 13, 2014 3:09 pm

I can't teach or administer in Florida anymore.  One day I was certified and could teach or administer anywhere and the next my certification expired because I wasn't in a school system to collect the requisite points for renewing certification by attending education classes.  So, in 24 hours I went from master teacher and exceptional administrator to useless unless I volunteer.  What kind of system is that?
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PostSubject: Re: Is there a "cult of ignorance" in America?   Wed Aug 13, 2014 3:10 pm

It's not like medicine where it changes all the time.  A competent teacher keeps up with technology and learning styles, etc. etc.
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PostSubject: Re: Is there a "cult of ignorance" in America?   Wed Aug 13, 2014 5:11 pm

Forgot.  With a high school diploma I can substitute teach for $11/hr.  I can drive a bus for $13/hr.
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PostSubject: Re: Is there a "cult of ignorance" in America?   Wed Aug 13, 2014 10:39 pm

The "Cult of ignorance" title is appropriate. "Thinking outside the box" doesn't apply to education.  To look outside the "American Box" is not in the American psyche.  There are countries that have systems that work.  That is seen with healthcare programs and with educational systems.  Have we become so arrogant to think that unless the idea originates in America it can't be good?  Does our arrogance contribute to our "cult of ignorance"? 
Pulling ourselves up by our own bootstraps can work only if there are bootstraps to pull. 
IMV, education should be available to everyone regardless of financial capability, however that is not the American way.  Just what is “The American Way”?  We have an abundance of clichés that are no longer valid.  When we look back at what made America great we are told not to look back, but to look forward.  Look forward to what?
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PostSubject: Re: Is there a "cult of ignorance" in America?   Thu Aug 14, 2014 5:30 am

Twelve years ago this past June, in Houston, I signed out for my last year of teaching in public schools, got into my already packed brand-new focus and headed straight for the interstate highway towards San Antonio and I haven't looked back.

While all three of my children and two of their spouses are involved in education, not one of them is actually teaching in a public school classroom, so I know next to nothing about classrooms, technology, learning styles, etc, and I cannot speak to that.  I have no idea what is being taught in education classrooms.  My son and his wife are tenured professors at a university in New Jersey that trains teachers, but that has little connection to teacher training in Texas - or in Colorado, where my younger daughter worked as a school counselor for the three years she and my son-in-law lived there, before they moved back here last month.  Lynn is an administrator, and hasn't been in the classroom for eight years now.  Her husband, Chris, left his job as director of shows at SeaWorld to become director of music at one of the military base schools here, so while he now has a classroom, it isn't part of the public system.

Very little of the public education system is monitored or run by the federal government.  Each state has its own set-up, so it's hard to define an "American way" for education, or for the educating of teachers.  The article I quoted from above was mostly about the concept of tenure, with a smaller bit about teacher's unions, and the mistaken impressions many people hold about what tenure actually means.  This paragraph explains what tenure is about and how it protects, not only teachers, but their students as well:


Quote :
Over the course of my teaching career (15 years), teacher tenure is what allowed me to protect children and their rights without fear of retaliation or termination. You may recall that Jennifer McCarthy asked, "But who is protecting the students?" You can rest assured that it is the teachers doing the majority of this work: I advocated for students to be moved from one class to another, when students confided in me that they were being bullied and tormented by another student. Due process gave me the protection I needed when it was time to speak up because the school system was out of money for textbooks, and I was expected to develop a curriculum and secure my own materials for teaching 60 students a day. Due process also has allowed me to advocate for students who were misplaced and were not getting their educational needs met in the current classroom setting. Because I could use my voice and was protected by due process, I was able to secure a smaller class size for these children, so that the students could get the one-on-one attention they deserved -- ensuring their reading and writing scores would improve and approach grade level standards.

Public school teachers are constantly "thinking out of the box."  No two students are exactly alike, and no system or program works for all of them.  Every day is as different as every child.

The article also addresses the concept of "bad teachers"


Quote :
...I think the issue that must be addressed and answered is what constitutes a "bad" teacher? Is the brand new teacher who has been placed into a classroom, and who doesn't have access to a quality mentoring program, (which is happening more and more due to budget cuts), deemed a "bad" teacher? Is the teacher who is certified to teach art, but now also has to teach reading (so that he or she can be tied to student test scores for end-of-the-year teacher evaluation purposes) a "bad" teacher? What about the teacher who has a conflict with an administrator, because the teacher spoke up about misuse of school funds, and is now being silently bullied in the work place? Does this constitute a "bad" teacher?
 In almost a quarter of a century in the classroom, I came across very few bad teachers.  None of the teachers, good or bad, had tenure.  The district did not allow it.  The first three years a teacher was employed, she or he was given "provisional status."  The few "bad" ones were culled out during that time.


Earlier posts in this thread have covered the difficulties faced by public school teachers trying to work in a system that denigrates education.


America is a large and diverse country.  What works in smaller, more culturally homogeneous countries would not likely work on as large a scale as our schools must function in.


Free education was a new concept when it began here.  There were many people and nations around the world who did not believe that poor or middle class people could be educated properly.  If one could not afford a private school, one needed to be resigned to menial, lower-paying jobs.


The thing was, though, that this "cult of ignorance" where education and intellect were concerned developed out of the belief that every child could be taught, and could learn enough to earn a diploma and hold good, higher-paying jobs.  They did not need to be intellectual elitists.


If anybody could learn, then supposedly anybody could teach.  They did not need to be paid a lot of money, or have any kind of job protection.


But now, we live in a highly technological world.  Our populations are more diverse.  The cost of educating these children is growing.  The conditions facing the teacher are more difficult than ever, but it seems easier to place blame on "bad teachers" and a failing system than it would be to set aside more money for qualified personnel and equipment.
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PostSubject: Re: Is there a "cult of ignorance" in America?   Thu Aug 14, 2014 8:20 am

I do not believe in tenure no matter how it's couched.  Work status is dependent on quality of work in a perfect world.  Any system that protects mediocrity is not on my list of positives.  I worked in public education from K-university for most of my career and saw the negative effects of tenure.  I saw nothing positive.  It talks a good talk, but the reality is that it protects mediocrity (already said).  It also sets criteria that benefit an institution instead of the students through its demands for "publish or perish."

Democracy requires an educated population.  When that population was the landed gentry, they were the ones educated. Now that we almost have universal suffrage (the republicans keep trying to take us backwards) that means education for the masses or the masses don't understand what they need to know to vote - and that is evident in countries where democracy is pushed onto a populace without adequate preparation.  That's now a problem here where people have stopped thinking and become hypnotized by mass media.  Perhaps our low literacy rate contributes.

I did experience the glory days of California that gave birth to Silicon valley and engineering innovation and educational excellence - those were the 60's and 70's when education in California was paid for by the home owners and taxpayers - all of them - and the receipt of that education was nearly free.  We paid for books.  We paid some fees.  I went to community college through California State University at Long beach into a Master's Program in International Law - with minimal cost beyond books and fees.  My contributions to society may be unnoticed, but in a career of being one of the best in my field, I can't help but believe some of the people with whom I worked went on to accomplish something major in this world.

I taught in Santa Clara Unified School District in the 1970's when it was a diverse community of multiple economic strata and housing was quite integrated.  Children in my elementary classrooms came from every walk of life and all studied together. We had all the resources we needed and the pay was rationale.  I loved going to work with supportive administrations, legislatures and school boards.  Even the parents participated in much of what we did.

Proposition 13 killed the exorbitant taxes on dwellings that paid for schools.  From then on, it was downhill.  When I lived in Cupertino, everyone was taking classes at De Anza Community College of every age.  They had a major program for veteran rehabilitation and the integration of their clients into the student milieu.  One semester I took running, rowing, tennis, karate, piano and Accounting.  I dropped Accounting.  California was known for its health orientation and I was also a six-mile runner.  Peer pressure for my generation of "yuppies" was high to be educated, think of the environment and be health-minded.  And in my circle, we were all Republicans.  One remaining friend from those days is still Republican.  She never saw the world that I moved through in later years.

Education is the core of any society that includes the voice of the populace.  Revolutions have often been stirred by leaflets that even uneducated masses could comprehend.  There is no reason under the sun why education through University level cannot be nearly free for everyone in these United States.  California was a pretty big, diverse state. It worked there until a conservative lot touted saving taxes on homes as a higher goal than education.

We have higher goals than education in this country.  We always have enough money to buy war machinery, to build prisons and incarcerate people equivalent to the population of nations, to provide tax relief to banks and corporations, to arm police forces, and to send foreign aid abroad.  We could empty out the prisons for starters and only incarcerate those who are true risks to the life of people in society.  That alone would pump enough money into the education system to keep young people out of the negative influences that put them there in the first place. 

If you could go to De Anza College and take a course in kick boxing or karate, painting, guitar, etc. why waste time with gangs on the street when fame and fortune might lie ahead?  Choices create hopes and dreams.  Lack of choice create the opposite.

I know I rattled on.  Sometimes I post here to practice getting out cogent thoughts that I often wish someone would gather up and organize.  I do believe I have important things to say that other thinking people share and with enough strength of the masses could make a difference.

I wish someone would take on the prison industry, the weapons manufacturing, the payments to corporations, and the the foreign aid that does not include strings such as building their own government infrastructures to help their own people.

I think colleges should quit wasting time teaching teachers how to teach and encourage students to learn a field so well they could pursue a career in that endeavor and also teach, with teaching a choice not a fall back.  Then teaching salaries would need to compete with industry to attract the best (which is what California did in the glory days).
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PostSubject: Re: Is there a "cult of ignorance" in America?   Thu Aug 14, 2014 8:38 am

Thanks DK.  Your insights are well-received.  You have much to give.  Follow your instincts and say what is on your mind.  Someone somewhere is waiting to hear what you have to say. 
We write books and wonder if anyone reads them, and if they do, did they like them or in some way benefit from what was written.  It is gratifying when we do hear that what we wrote affected someone's life in a positive manner.  Not everyone says "Thank You" even for the smallest favors. 
Giving without expectation of reward is the best gift.
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PostSubject: Re: Is there a "cult of ignorance" in America?   Thu Aug 14, 2014 9:50 am

Sometimes our differences in opinion reflect our basic attitudes toward life in general.  Take the concept of tenure as an example.  Is it seen as an entitlement by lazy staff members who don't care about the work they are being paid to do, or is it an earned protection for staff members who are devoted to doing what is best for their students in the face of an administration that values scores and statistics over the children in their charge?

I tend to see the latter.  I also tend to see people in a positive light.  Give an individual half a chamce and a belief in their basic sense of right and justice and they will respond in kind.  Believe in them and they will be far more likely to believe in themselves and so behave in positive ways, out of a sense of integrity. Believe in the worst, and one will generally have those expectations met as well.

I have not had a lot of experience as an administrator.  During the last three years of my career, I was the director of the English/Language Arts portion of a special "school within a school" program that allowed drop-outs to return and receive credit for classes they had dropped by completing a computer-based plan that allowed them to get credit for skills they had learned in courses they had been denied credit for.  It was my job (part time and in addition to my full-time schedule of classes) to write the programs and coordinate the work of all teachers in the English department where the credit recovery program was concerned.  The only problem I had was with the school's English department chair, who thought that she should have been in charge, in spite of the fact that she was basically computer-illiterate, and needed more help with the program than any of the other staff members. Rolling Eyes 

Obviously, my perspective is that of the classroom teacher, rather than that of the administrator.  Sometimes I have to remind my oldest daughter that she was a teacher for over a decade before she decided to earn her administrative certification, and that her reasons had to do with her frustrations in dealing with the typical problems teachers faced every day.

I am curious to know, Abe, if your statement, "Giving without expectation of reward is the best gift," refers to members of the teaching profession, since that is the subject of this thread.

If so, it reminds me of the objections I came across throughout my career.  Teachers are not supposed to be concerned about the amount of their income since their work is done as part of a service, and their devotion ought to be to the service.  I actually had a professor (for one of those required ecucation courses) say that teachers should not expect high salaries because they received a "nice little second income for a mother whose children were entering school and giving her time to pursue a little personal career."

According to the district where I taught, I was not to expect compensation for conducting after-hours tutoring programs because it was part of my job to provide the best learning experience for any and all of my students.

BTW, this district not only not believe in tenure, it made a point of advising staff members that membership in a union could strongly, negatively, affect their careers.
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PostSubject: Re: Is there a "cult of ignorance" in America?   Thu Aug 14, 2014 11:59 am

No Ann, my remarks were general.  Although I taught, I was never part of the teaching profession and therefore would not comment on that.  If I were to give my opinion about tenure it would be from opinion hearsay. 
I was referring to DK's comments in a general way.  She has much insight on a wide range of subjects that I attribute to her travels and varied experience.  When she gives her views, I take them seriously.
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PostSubject: Re: Is there a "cult of ignorance" in America?   Thu Aug 14, 2014 12:10 pm

Then we are in agreement, about that part, anyway.

The focus of this thread is, and has been, on education and the problems involved in finding workable solutions to complex circumstances. Discussing differing opinions and perspectives is a good thing, especially for those who have been involved in different parts of the process. It helps us get a broader perspective. Thanks for your input.
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PostSubject: Re: Is there a "cult of ignorance" in America?   Thu Aug 14, 2014 1:47 pm


Some interesting statistics here:

http://wallethub.com/edu/states-with-the-best-schools/5335/#Jeffrey-L.-Hoopes
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