PostHeaderIcon The Threat to America

Jerry Pournelle, the well known sci-fi writer, has an interesting and rather politically incorrect post at The View From Chaos Manor entitled, “The threat to America.” He identifies Bill Gates as a public enemy, contributing to our primary threat, for reasons unrelated to Microsoft:

I won’t go into the main body of what I talked about, but my conclusions were simple: I believe that the worst threat to the United States is our failure adequately to educate the smartest 25% of our students; that there are no hopeful counter trends; and the result will be disaster. Add to that our failure to train or teach skills to the lower half of the population, and the disaster is made worse. These trends have related causes.

The underlying cause is our attempt to provide every public school child with a university prep education. Bill Gates becomes involved because his foundations promote the idea that “every American child deserves a world class university prep education”; and the attempt to do that insures that very few American children will receive a world class university prep education, and most of the smarter children will receive an education that is indifferent at best. The failure of our schools to educate the smart kids will put the United States into a terrible competitive position that will only get worse. We will continue to live off our capital, both intellectual and financial.

The problem here is that I don’t have any startling information: everyone knows the facts here. One fact is that this is not Lake Wobegone. Half of the American children are below average. That means that the only way to make sure that no child is left behind is to see that no child gets ahead.

It is impossible to argue with his logic. I am not sure if he realizes that dumbing our kids down is by design; but if we somehow survive all the more immediate existential threats nipping at our heels, he is absolutely right about the future prognosis for such an undereducated and/or unskilled population. It has come to pass that modern academia themselves are now too dimwitted to even be embarrassed by their inadequacies and failures. ◄Dave►

7 Responses to “The Threat to America”

  • I disagree.

    Bill Gates is famous for his hiring practices. He doesn’t hire people based on experience. He has the opinion that he can teach a smart person anything, and in many ways is the father of the crazy interview question. He likes to ask things that throw people off guard and make them think, just to see how they respond. The most famous of these is Why are manhole covers round? My answer was that it is a lot harder to drill a square hole.

    Google on the other hand, figures why train someone smart when you can just steal them from Microsoft with promises of better pay and working conditions.

    Education is changing. I know from experience that computers an often be far better learning tools than people. Software that adapts to both the learning style and current mastery of the subject in order to keep the student constantly challenged will blur the lines of class and grade.

    On the other hand I’m of the opinion that how much money we spend on education has about as much impact on how good of an education we get as how much money we spend on governing dictates the quality of our governance. Lets stick to quality over quantity.

  • ◄Dave► says:

    My answer was that it is a lot harder to drill a square hole.

    Interesting. I can think of three quick better ones, since the holes aren’t drilled; they are cast. First, manhole covers are very heavy. A square hole that would permit the passage of a man would require even more steel than a round one. It is markedly easier for a couple of men to roll one around than it would be to wrestle a square one around. Then, replacing a round one back in its recess would be much easier than trying to get a heavy square one lined up just right.

    I am not sure if you read more than the quote I extracted. His point was that only a small percentage of the population has any need of a world class university education; others should only go to small colleges, and the lower half should be encouraged to learn a trade. Not going to university should not be a stigma.

    You are right that computers will change the quality of individual educations, and I suspect that the brightest thinkers will eschew formal institutions in favor of computer assisted autodidact efforts where they can progress at their own pace without being held back by academia; but that does nothing for those without the actual interest and self-discipline to educate themselves. I must agree with his assessment, because academia isn’t going to let go any time soon. ◄Dave►

  • I like your rolling answer. None of our answers would have been labeled as correct by Bill, although I think he would have given us respect for having interesting answers. The drilling answer has a certain validity because knowledge of manholes isn’t the point. He is looking for creative thinking and problem solving. When I originally read the question, the answer was listed on the next line, so I only had a fraction of a second to come up with an answer before I was biased. I love questions like that though, and riddles that make me feel stupid for not having figured them out faster. Bill thinks the ‘right’ answer to the question is that they are round because a round manhole cover can’t fall in the hole. A riddle he posed is a favorite of mine: You have 8 billiard balls an a balance scale. One of the billiard balls is lighter than the rest. How many times would you have to use the scale to figure out which one is the lightest?

    I didn’t read the whole thing. I’m woefully behind on my reading and blogging this week.

    I find the worker class/ thinker class separations so often brought up by conservative elitists to be rather at odds with their hatred of immigrant labor, as well as their distaste for both universities and the opinions of the uneducated masses.

    Being a member of the uneducated worker class myself, I see the value of intellectual pursuits for my own class. By sparking someones interest in a complicated subject and giving them the tools to research it, you create a society where those people who mop the floors and work at the gas stations aren’t mindless sheep watching sitcoms, but people who can make additional important contributions to society in their spare time.

    The university stigma I think is created by those very same universities in order to drum up customers. From what I saw of college, it seemed like mostly a scam to me unless you are going to be a doctor. My recommendation to anyone I know graduating high school is to decide what job they want to have, apply for it, and if they don’t get it, to pursue what it was that they were lacking.

    You seem to me to be in a unique position to assess the potential interest and self discipline humanity possesses to educate themselves. Do you think we really are cursed to continue our current level of intellectual ambition, or do you think we are just poisoning the minds of our youth with mindless entertainment?

  • ◄Dave► says:

    You have 8 billiard balls an a balance scale. One of the billiard balls is lighter than the rest. How many times would you have to use the scale to figure out which one is the lightest?

    Without spending too much time puzzling over a quicker method, I would say three. Put four on each side. Remove the four heaviest, and put two of the remaining on each side. Remove the two heaviest, and put one of the remaining on each side.

    I didn’t read the whole thing. I’m woefully behind on my reading and blogging this week.

    Me too. I got talked into a time consuming project printing, cutting out, and laminating a new set of our language cards for out teacher training institute. That is over twelve hundred cards, and I just finished today.

    I find the worker class/ thinker class separations so often brought up by conservative elitists to be rather at odds with their hatred of immigrant labor, as well as their distaste for both universities and the opinions of the uneducated masses.

    I hadn’t noticed “hatred” of immigrant labor. It is the conservative thinkers that usually champion the notion of allowing seasonal migrant labor for agriculture, and the progressive unions who oppose it. The notion that there are regular jobs beneath the dignity of our own illiterate peasants on the dole in our ghettos, which necessitates the importation of more ambitious peasants and the subsidizing of their low wages with more taxpayer dole, just doesn’t strike them as common sense. It is the altruistic, Marxist, and Multicultural agenda of the universities, which infect the opinions of the uneducated masses, that they find distasteful. I do too.

    As an autodidact, I too belong to the uneducated worker class, if one defines education in terms of credentials. I never spent a single day in college; but I do not consider myself uneducated. School bored the hell out of me, because it is always taught at the speed of the slowest student, and I am not slow. I learn best by reading and experimenting, which is so much faster than listening to boring lectures.

    I can only imagine what I could have done with the tools we have today. Google is simply awesome. All the literary classics are a click away, with the advantage of instant access to a dictionary. There are already countless people without formal education acquiring an even better one with their internet explorations.

    Do you think we really are cursed to continue our current level of intellectual ambition, or do you think we are just poisoning the minds of our youth with mindless entertainment?

    Excellent question, if I understand it correctly. There is not the slightest doubt in my mind that the dumbing down of our kids, and the mindless entertainment diversions for the sheeple, are deliberate strategies perpetrated by the oligarchy. The Marxists in academia are just “useful idiots”; but they have been extremely successful at undermining the very nature of our American culture.

    If we somehow survive all the existential threats we are currently facing, my hope would lie precisely in the home schooled kids who have inculcated a love of learning, without imbibing the poison which would have crippled their minds in academia. These, and the immigrants who received a serviceable education abroad before ever arriving here, will own the future. One needs to learn how to learn, and grasp the sheer joy of learning, before education can occur. Perhaps it is prejudice, but I am drawn to the wisdom of self-taught and self-made individuals, who have demonstrated competence in the real world. To me, someone touting an Ivy League degree elicits my suspicion rather than admiration. ◄Dave►

  • I think it is important to remember that those aggressively ignorant couch-lumps out there had, and in many cases, still have the potential for bigger things. We should seek to engage them.

    Immigration is a tough issue for me because (as people like you and I are used to) our current system is so far from what I consider ideal that discussing it within the confines of the current government is an exercise in frustration. I see it as an issue of demand rather than one of supply.

    The answer to the billiard ball question is 2. No tricks. This is as honest and awesome a riddle as the fox/sheep/grain across the river. Think on it if you find the time. The moment of realization is a rewarding one. It shows how the brain, once it perceives an acceptable solution, is an unwilling participant in looking for a better one.

  • ◄Dave► says:

    Cool, you were right! Start with three on each side. If it balances, test the two withheld. If not, discard them along with the three heaviest. Then test two out of the three remaining. If they balance, the one not tested is the lightest. ◄Dave►

  • ◄Dave► says:

    It shows how the brain, once it perceives an acceptable solution, is an unwilling participant in looking for a better one.

    Agreed, and profound. It is interesting that it only took me a couple of minutes of thought to come up with the answer, once I knew it was possible. I simply looked at my three step solution and asked myself how to eliminate a step. I didn’t spend any more time initially either, because I was interested in getting into the subject at hand. I wonder now, if you had posed the question with the goal of doing it in two steps, if I could have solved it in anywhere near the same total time. Fascinating. ◄Dave►

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