[Beowulf] (no subject)

Robert G. Brown rgb at phy.duke.edu
Tue Jan 31 06:56:07 PST 2006

On Mon, 30 Jan 2006, Kevin Ball wrote:

> This has the effect of creating a great discrepancy in teaching... there
> are the few who are truly driven to become teachers, and become so
> regardless, and there are the many who are unable to make a better
> salary somewhere else.  The first are the saviors of our education
> system, and are grossly underpaid.  The latter are hiding from
> capitalism and the idea that one has to be competent to be paid well,
> and are what drives student after student (including myself in high
> school) to hate subjects that by all rights are fascinating.

I was tempted to make this observation myself, but stopped myself
because it is really a bit unfair.  The "many" bit, in particular.
Honestly, I think it is the many who are driven to become teachers, and
the few who end up their incompentent and unable to make a better salary
somewhere else.  There is also a bit of overlap -- there are some who
ARE driven to teach but are still (unfortunately) incompetent -- but
overall most teachers are strongly committed, want to do a good job, and
are competent to teach at the level they teach at.

It is just that those few that aren't have a vastly disproportionate
impact on the NEGATIVE experience of schools.  Unsurprisingly.
Statistically, roughly 10% of the population has some sort of mental
problem ranging from a personality disorder or neurosis up through full
blown mental illness.  That means 90% do not and are for the most part
lovely people who are kind to children and pets and a pleasure to work
and otherwise interact with.  Yet who do you REMEMBER of your
colleagues, your clients, your teachers, your students?  The ones that
drive you bananas, that you vaguely dislike two minutes after meeting
them without knowing why and who have you thinking that the the infamous
southern defense -- "He needed killin'" -- isn't really all that bad
after knowing them for two months.

>  We end up driving away everyone in the middle, those who are competent
> but not so driven to be teachers that they will ignore all else.  If you
> were someone who was smart and talented, would you rather work in a
> system driven by seniority, or one where your intelligence and talents
> would be recognized by promotions, raises, and competition for your
> services?

This IS a very accurate description of the problem.  But don't forget --
job security itself is one of the things that attracts people into the
profession in spite of the lower pay.  It is a FORM of payment in the
best capitalistic tradition.  The local mill may close and everybody get
laid off, but the community teachers will have their jobs as long as the
community itself remains viable.

Similar problems exist with University tenure systems, within many
businesses, and throughout government, but jobs (and the humans that
have them) are part of a SOCIAL system and not just abstract notions one
can casually squash with Adam Smith's invisible hand.  As with most
human endeavors, what one seeks is generally a compromise between
ideological purity in some abstract economical model and functionality
in the human and political realm, with enough flexibility to be able to
accomodate change, eliminate gradually the most incompetent and unfit,
and to attract enough competence and commitment to be able to continue
to function "well enough" (but not perfectly).

However, your observation is apropos at this particular time, for the
school system in particular.  One symptom of this is the imbalance
between the cost per student in the public schools, where there SHOULD
be economy of scale and many other advantages that make it relative MORE
efficient, and the cost per student of education in private schools.  At
least around here, public schools are as expensive OR MORE per student
than the area private schools, with the exception only of the MOST
expensive private academies.  Also around here, the private schools tend
to (necessarily) provide a better education by at least some metric
valuable to those that pay their taxes AND their kids' tuition or they
wouldn't survive.

This really is a problem, a fairly serious one.  It is a concrete
symptom that the public school system in North Carolina, at least, needs
to be shaken up pretty seriously at the organizational level.  And
periodically, people attempt to do this.

They generally fail, or at least mostly fail.  It is like wrestling with
an amoeba -- any part that you grab ahold of to try to wrench into a new
shape just flows around you and makes you a part of itself, preserving
the old lest everything collapse altogether and adding yet ANOTHER layer
of abstract structure to be invaded by the career bureaucrats, to be
opposed by teachers who are just trying to do their jobs, to siphon off
some of the money that needs to be spent at the bottom for management at
the top or middle layers.  Yet every now and then there is anecdotal
evidence of a community somewhere or another that manages it, that
strips the system down again, dumps the truly incompetent, fights
through the inertia, revitalizes things, and makes them new again.
Usually driven by a young idealist with fire in their eye.  Time passes,
and the system once again drifts back to the stable but mediocre, the
parasites once again invade the woodwork, and things suck again (how
many metaphors can one mangler mangle if a mangler could mangle

So it goes in human affairs.  Life is a struggle, an evolutionary
process, and each generation has to refight the battle to prove their
fitness to survive.  And parasites have proven their fitness in every
niche of genetic biological endeavor.  Why should we be surprised to see
them in human memetic superorganisms?


> -Kevin
>> You're right.. you'll climb the scales faster in IT than in
>> teaching.  However, folks who teach do it for the love of it, not for the
>> money, so probably, it's not so much that you can earn a better living
>> being an SA than a teacher, but that the career path for the average IT
>> person doesn't encourage teaching as a profession.  I'll bet the average CS
>> curriculum doesn't have much content in the "how to teach others to do
>> computer" area, especially when the teaching target is rookies or 4th
>> graders (CS grad students do discussion sections for undergrads, but
>> that's, I'm sure, viewed as penance, dues paying, or something
>> similar).  Likewise engineering, etc.
>> Hah.. maybe this is the solution to the world's problems, here on the
>> Beowulf list:  it's not that we need writing classes, or teamwork classes,
>> or more calculus, etc., it's that we need to encourage more engineering
>> majors to take up teaching as a job, as opposed to being money grubbers
>> chasing VCs.
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Robert G. Brown	                       http://www.phy.duke.edu/~rgb/
Duke University Dept. of Physics, Box 90305
Durham, N.C. 27708-0305
Phone: 1-919-660-2567  Fax: 919-660-2525     email:rgb at phy.duke.edu

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