Online Education is Coming, And Fast

An in depth piece in the New York Times magazine looks at an effort to improve teacher quality through training. While this particular initiative may be better than the hundreds of other such initiatives, I find myself wondering if teacher training is indeed that big systemic change that the school education needs. Is it just tinkering with the edges when what we need is seismic shifts?

There are a whole host of problems facing the school education system in the US. Teacher training is just one of them.

The sheer number of teachers required and the low pay almost ensures that the average school teacher will not be anywhere near the best that American colleges turn out. If you think about it, isn’t a school teacher’s job, in whose hands we leave our children’s education, much more valuable to society than a lawyer’s or a banker’s. Unfortunately, society puts a really low price on it.


Europe is Getting Less Secular

The latest flap over halal meat served in a restaurant in France

A French fast food chain’s decision to serve only halal meat in eight restaurants with a strong Muslim clientele has sparked a wave of criticism from politicians decrying the step as unacceptable.

Quick, the restaurant chain, is also not serving any pork products in these restaurants.

Right wing politicians are making hay out of the incident. But to anybody not blinkered by religious prejudice, there is absolutely no logical argument that you can make against Quick’s decision. Quick is free to tailor their product to suit individual or group preferences. Customers who don’t like halal meat, even though it tastes identical, are free to go elsewhere for their meals. Customers who would like pork in their meals could also follow suit.

I would spend a little more time on searching for a grain of logic in the arguments of the critics, but that would be a waste of time. What is clearly happening is that Europe is seeing growing pressure against its secular principles. Switzerland’s minaret ban vote is another case in point. France itself is pretty close to banning the burqa, which I have to admit is not as illogical as the tirade against halal only restaurants, but is fueled largely by political calculations and an anti-minority sentiment.

When jobs are scarce, people turn against immigrants. Most of the Muslims in Europe are immigrants from North Africa or South Asia. Add that to the fact that some people can’t separate terrorists from the religion itself and you have a situation ripe for exploitation by politicians like Jean-Marie Le Pen.

This movie still has a few reels left.

Money Begets Power Begets Money

Larry Lessig calls campaign fund-raising another form of corruption. It is interesting that in India if it were possible to get special interests to lawfully contribute to the campaign funds of politicians and not their own private accounts, we would probably declare victory against political corruption.

But, if you leave aside the fact that one is pernicious but lawful (the US) and the other is illegal and pernicious, there is little to choose between the two forms of corruption. The Indian version enriches the politician and his family. The primary use of that money is to fight elections (where the funds are used to buy mixer-grinders for the electorate, not TV ads). Money therefore becomes the means to stay in power.

In the US, it is the other way around. Campaign funds are used to fight elections. Once you win there are other legal ways to make money. Like through your spouses.

Ultimately, money and power are both means to ends and ends in of themselves. Whether special interests provide money to the politician or his campaign fund, they corrupt government and weaken democracy.

Corrupt Congress

Larry Lessig has an important article in The Nation about how campaign fund-raising has corrupted Congress.

This is corruption. Not the corruption of bribes, or of any other crime known to Title 18 of the US Code. Instead, it is a corruption of the faith Americans have in this core institution of our democracy. The vast majority of Americans believe money buys results in Congress (88 percent in a recent California poll). And whether that belief is true or not, the damage is the same. The democracy is feigned. A feigned democracy breeds cynicism. Cynicism leads to disengagement. Disengagement leaves the fox guarding the henhouse.

Read the whole article. You’ll hear a lot about this in the coming weeks (I fervently hope).

Here’s where you can sign the petition to Change Congress.