To Fix College Admissions

I’m already sick of reading about the fraud-in-admissions scandal, but figure that solutions are useful. There are a few things to note about colleges.

Foremost, it’s ridiculous that something as basic as education gets turned into a brand and prestige commodity. It’s basically a celebration of ignorance to prefer someone who learned the same material at a pricey school over someone who learned it elsewhere. If the educational standards at Megabucks U are really that superior, they should be adopted by other institutions. If not, we should stop pretending that the Latin motto matters.

Second, qualifications only matter to a point. If you have two otherwise-identical students and you’re down to weighing the choice of their musical instrument (“E plays harmonica, but e plays the mandolin. Which of those is more of the Megabucks sound?”), fuck off. And the broader situation holds, as well. Qualifications should be about whether someone has the educational background necessary to succeed, and not about chest medals.

With those two things in mind, the way that college admissions (and other things like hiring choices) ought to work is simple:

  1. Select out the qualified candidates.
  2. Randomize that list.

Simple. Unbiased. No-nonsense.

That includes legacy, wing-donors, whatever. It includes minority-preference, scholarship, whatever. Pick them at random. Unless you have very small class sizes or very bad luck, you’ll get a diverse selection that includes the offspring of megadonors as well as underprivileged applicants.

One of the big problems for Megabucks U is that the big donors actually reduce school competition and the spread of education. Rather than franchising or otherwise spreading curricula to others, in hopes of raising more money for the institution, Megabucks will spend more effort protecting its stupid name-brand. The same problem exists in politics, where overreliance on megadonors limits the political oxygen available for a party or a politician to make reasonable choices.

If a Republican megadonor doesn’t like the idea of wind power because e thinks it will mess up eir hairdo, suddenly the Republicans have to oppose wind power, even if their constituents favor it. That sucks. It’s anti-democratic. It can go screw.


Welcome to the Trump Years

Officially, now, Donald John Trump the First is the 45th President of the United States of America. He has 1460 days to make America great again, which means:

  • Raising 30,000 people up from poverty per day
  • Legalize and stabilize some 7500 undocumented immigrants per day
  • Rehabilitate and release some 1500 state and federal prisoners per day
  • See 17,000 undereducated individuals achieve at least a GED per day
  • Employ or improve the employment of 11,200 unemployed or underemployed persons per day
  • Repair or replace 41 bridges per day, among other infrastructure improvements needed
  • Cut the carbon emissions another 1.25% per year to reach the 17% reduction from 2005 levels by 2020

And so on.

It will not be an easy task, and it will be all the harder for the resistance to greatness that the Republican party loyalists in Congress cling to. They seek not to address these problems with an eye to solution, but instead to focus on limited agendas to improve the bottom lines of a few corporations.

If President Trump truly wants to make America great, he will have to stave off the legislative assassins who will gut any real reforms he might seek.

Greatness is not a measure of the stock market. It is not found on balance sheets. It is quantifiable, but only in the quantity of humans who are prosperous. And prosperous not for a day, a week, a month, a year, or a presidential term, but for their lives. For their children’s lives. And on down the road.

If President Trump does not address the measures above, and others, he will not have succeeded in making America great. He will be held to that standard by history. He can either go down as another in a line of those he would say to, “You had four years, and yet you did not succeed.”

It is a weighty task. There is much to be done. But it is doable. It has always been doable. It will take a lot of work, but any president that is willing to put in the effort can achieve great things.

So, go ahead, punk. Make America great. I dare Trump. I double-dog dare Trump. What is Trump, a chicken? Bok-bok!

Whatever happened during the 2016 election, Trump is now president. He ran to make the country great, to shed the shrouds that have weakened us. Now he must perform.


The Automation Issue and the Presidential Race

While Donald Trump softens (or curdles, depending on the perspective) on immigration, while folks question whether Hillary Clinton is a particularly articulate zombie, automation looms like a tidal wave. Neither candidate has touched on the issue very much, which is a shame because it will likely begin striking during the next administration.

Automation is the process of making stuff happen without humans doing it. Self-driving cars (and trucks) will be one example of automation, but so will robotic cooks at fast food joints. Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) were an early victory for the robots, way back in the 1960s. But technology has come a long way since then, and I understand they will have ATMs for Bitcoin any day now.

There are some big concerns with automation (which isn’t AI, although AI is an important subject in its own right). One of the biggest issues is how you deal with job losses to machines. Some say this won’t be an issue, claiming that new jobs will be created to take up the slack. These people are both correct and wrong.

They’re right that humanity will figure out how to deal with the startling reality of no longer being needed to sweep floors, drive cars, weld, do taxes, cut hair. They may be right in the idea that we’ll find new employment doing creative tasks, but that remains to be seen. We may invent alternative modes of employment, instead. We may implement a universal income system, or pay people for activities, or shorten the workweek. Where they are wrong is the idea that we shouldn’t worry about it. Looking back at previous transitions, we should definitely have plans in place to protect people from the worst of automation.

The problem is, we’ve never done very well with transitions. We suck at integrating military service members back into society. We suck at integrating ex-convicts back into society. We fail to make adequate plans to rapidly retrain workers losing coal mining jobs or oil jobs when the price drops. And so on.

We fail with the people we like best, veterans. We fail to help women have children, despite the fact that everybody loves babies. There’s no reason to think goodwill has anything to do with it. We’re just bad at helping people transition.

Instead of facing automation, we’re trying to tackle issues that will be mooted by it. The outrageous cost of health care, a real and pressing problem, will likely evaporate as automation makes everything from basic tests to elaborate surgeries cheaper and safer. The main issue there will be regulatory: how to get a body like the FDA in shape to tackle changes to equipment coming at breakneck speeds.

A similar story will play out in education. While college is currently way too expensive, automation will probably lead to the elimination of all but the most historied campuses.

Now, many of these changes will take decades to fully develop, but the first wave of automation is likely to begin in the next four years. While it’s not an issue that will likely sway voters, it would be nice to see some discussion of it. Oh, global warming, too. Automation—figurative tidal waves; global warming—literal hurricanes.


Web English Class

Web literacy isn’t just about understanding how the web and internet work. It’s also about how to participate. It seems reasonable that school curricula be shifted to reflect the changing communication media of the day. One of the key changes in modern reading habits is, now more than ever, we’re reading amateur writing.

Primarily, comments on websites are written by amateurs, and they make up a substantial portion of our reading diet, at least online reading. But what percentage of us has ever been formally educated in how to write comments online? Putting aside astroturf groups, the number is likely very tiny. Modern education should focus on the use of language where it is most common, and that should undoubtedly include online commentary.

Now, there are probably folks who did learn how to write an e-mail in school at some level. It’s not clear how well the advice and instruction they received matches the actual use of e-mail. But online writing requires some instruction of its own.


One of the biggest issues with online writing is how links are formed. In too many cases, links have non-descriptive text. These days not so much “click” type labels, but often things like a raw link to a YouTube video that doesn’t give you any indication what it is. Or links to pictures that describe the person’s reaction rather than the content (“OMG!!!!!”).


In the same vein, article submissions that contain editorial titles, and other similar faux pas, are common. While this common issue teaches well the aphorism, “you can’t judge a link by its title,” it doesn’t lower the friction of online discourse. English classes should emphasize proper title construction.

Smartphone typos

The boom of odd phrasing will hopefully be short-lived as technology improves. But, for now we see quite a lot of word substitutions that are due to smartphones.

The boom of of pain will hopefully be short lived as technology improves. But, for now we see quite a lot of word substitutions that are die to smartphones.

At issue here is the interface friction required to correct (or see) typos. Not sure what English classes can do except to encourage care in writing.

Tone of comments

Forums can turn ugly pretty quick. Maybe English teachers can find some way to teach the youth not to devolve into screaming barbarians as easily? I don’t know, but it’s worth a shot. Of course, the other side of that is building a standard set of comment tools to empower users to avoid fraught conversations online.

And so on. As so much of our daily reading is now in the form of comments, it would be nice to see the form taught in schools. On the other side, it would be interested to see some studies about online culture and inculcation into the norms of a new online subculture.


Teaching Protests

The events of late in Ferguson, Missouri give a lot to think about. Not so much about who was right or wrong, either in the initial incident, nor in the response, but in how to change the responses for the next time humans butt heads in our society. That is inevitable, at least at present.

Foremost, we do have an education problem. We do not train people how to protest. And our training for how the police respond to protests is inadequate. We should have both.

Teaching protests could begin in grade school with some exercises tied in with already common activities. Classes often walk in lines when the class migrates around the school campus, for example. That could be used in a lesson for protesting. The act of marching to the protest site in a line could help trigger pre-protest discipline, getting protesters in the mindset of advocacy as public performance.

Proper protesting is a very disciplined activity. Being led off-point adds danger to protest, and also weakens the message of the demonstration. It gives opponents (both those generally opposed to dissent and those specifically opposed to the activists’ views) ways to distract from the message both at the time and in the media afterward.

Protesters should all be assigned roles. Some should be tasked with first aid or other assistance. Others should be responsible for leading lines or chants. Still others should act as spotters, alerting the group to media, counter-protests, police, and other changes in the environment. And so forth. The use of assigned roles allows for the further development of group discipline and helps avoid distraction.

At the grade school level there is little effort to teach these roles, but pupils often seek them out anyway. During recess, for example. The merry-go-round offers the chance for one student to lead the effort of spinning the apparatus, coordinating the efforts of the others. Swings may also offer organizational development, if the group wishes to have the swings either line up or alternate.

During later years, especially in high school, students could participate in bona fide protests. They could be tasked with selecting a cause, organizing, and executing a protest at the local level over an important community issue. Some high school students already may do this, but it is organic and only reaches those who are awakened to the need for activation at a young age.

With the obvious need for public dissent, and the general lack of education of how to proceed, it is clear that future generations can benefit from public education that includes instruction in activism.