About the Blog

I will post a new entry every few weeks. Some will be new writing and some will be past work that has relevance today. The writing will deal in some way with the themes that have been part of my teaching and writing life for decades:

•teaching and learning;
•educational opportunity;
•the importance of public education in a democracy;
•definitions of intelligence and the many manifestations of intelligence in school, work, and everyday life; and
•the creation of a robust and humane philosophy of education.

If I had to sum up the philosophical thread that runs through my work, it would be this: A deep belief in the ability of the common person, a commitment to educational, occupational, and cultural opportunity to develop that ability, and an affirmation of public institutions and the public sphere as vehicles for nurturing and expressing that ability.

My hope is that this blog will foster an online community that brings people together to continue the discussion.


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Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Inside the White House, It’s Not Just Education Policy That’s Threatened, But the Meaning of Education Itself.

            In his May 3, 2017 column in The Washington Post, https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/trump-has-a-dangerous-disability/2017/05/03/56ca6118-2f6b-11e7-9534-00e4656c22aa_story.html conservative commentator George Will wrote a sentence that I can’t get out of my head. Will is trying to pinpoint what he sees as the “disability” that makes Donald Trump unfit to be president. “[T]he problem isn’t that he does not know this or that, or that he does not know that he does not know this or that. Rather, the dangerous thing is that he does not know what it is to know something.” I’m not typically in agreement with George Will, but his insight here is, I think, stunning—diagnostically astute but also exceedingly relevant to those of us in education.

            Knowing what it is to know something is a key concern in epistemology, that branch of philosophy dealing with the nature of knowledge and methods of analyzing knowledge. Epistemology can get pretty heady, and, to be honest, I quickly find myself in the weeds when I try to read deeply in it. But the general concerns of epistemology are central to education and, for that fact, to many human pursuits, to the professions and trades, for example. Good electricians as well as good surgeons acquire a body of knowledge and use it flexibly in different situations with different features. This flexibility requires an awareness of what one knows, what to do when one doesn’t know something, and when experience in the field might require a revision of what one knows. When surgeons or electricians display a lack of such awareness, we consider them incompetent—and possibly dangerous.

            These observations apply to both teachers and their students, from the primary grades to the graduate seminar. If an education involves more than the most mechanical rote learning, then by definition it involves consideration of what we’re learning, how we’re learning it, and how to assess what we’ve learned. A good education helps us be more deliberate thinkers and think about our thinking.

            And so I come back to George Will’s observation about Donald Trump not knowing what it is to know something, and how that quality marks Mr. Trump as unqualified to be president.

            Along with abundant evidence of Mr. Trump’s ethical transgressions, we have daily proof of his disregard for the truth—and his moral laxity and dismissal of fact interact to his advantage. We also have continual display of his ignorance and intellectual carelessness—his confusion about U.S. history, for example. But if you want an extended illustration of the muddled state of what he does know and the related defects in his thinking, read the long interview he recently gave to The Economist. http://www.economist.com/Trumptranscript The interview is on Mr. Trump’s economic policy, a topic that one would assume is his strongest suit, given his continual self-advertisement as a business wizard. The editors note that the interview was “lightly edited,” though I bet the editors had to do more than light editing to make the interview readable. Still, the interview reads in many places like a word salad of policy fragments and clips of economics-talk blended with Mr. Trump’s trademark non-sequitors, meandering sentences, and evasions.

            The Economist is a pro-business, pro-market publication which in theory would make it sympathetic to Trump’s economic policies, though the editors would differ with him on trade. But in separate articles, the editors blast the incoherence and shallowness of the thinking behind “Trumponomics.” “Trumponomics… is not an economic doctrine at all. It is best seen as a set of proposals put together by businessmen courtiers for their king…. The economic assumptions implicit in it are internally inconsistent. And they are based on a picture of America’s economy that is decades out of date.”

            Donald Trump is a master pitchman with a keen sense of how to exploit (and, lately, undermine) the media. As I wrote in my blog of November 30, 2016, http://mikerosebooks.blogspot.com/2016/11/donald-trump-celebrity-culture-and.html, he has managed through his tenure on The Apprentice and other self-promotions to create the persona of the ultra-successful and all-powerful businessman, and he sold that image to a lot of voters who were desperate for the economic transfiguration he promised. But as Pitchman moved to President, the celebrity illusions of omniscience and transformative power dispelled like smoke rings, and we are left with a bundle of emotional pathologies and the intellectual limitations George Will describes so well.

            A lot of us in education have denounced Donald Trump for his appointment of the supremely unqualified Betsy DeVos to be Secretary of Education and for the policies the two of them champion. But there is another reason we educators, regardless of political affiliation, should be deeply concerned about Mr. Trump’s occupation of the White House: his continually evident lack of knowledge and the significant defects in his thinking—and his nonchalance about both.

            Mr. Trump’s supporters use a language of education to defend the neophyte president’s performance: He’s learning on the job, they say, or he’s a good listener. Yet we have little evidence that he’s actually thinking through what he’s hearing versus simply reacting to it. Nor do we have evidence that he’s learning very much at all, as demonstrated by the recent incident involving the sharing of classified information with his Russian visitors.

            People critical of President Trump say that his fragmented and digressive language is strategic, is used to distract us and keep us off balance. This may well be true, but what Mr. Trump says can be strategically evasive and still reveal the liabilities in thinking that concern me here.

            Many of us have spent our professional lives helping students of all ages think more deliberately and carefully. Learning new things and checking what you know is central to this work as is developing strategies to find something out when you don’t know it. To have all this violated daily is an affront to education—a statement by example that the fundamental processes of learning and knowing do not matter.

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Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Keepin’ Up With the Trumps One Budget Cut at a Time

            Over the last week or so, the cost of President Trump’s frequent trips to his Palm Beach resort Mar-a-Lago has been making the news. On the campaign trail, candidate Trump repeatedly said to great applause that once elected he wouldn’t be taking vacations or playing all that golf that Obama plays. He would stay in the White House “making deals.” But since assuming the presidency, Mr. Trump has, to date, gone to Mar-a-Lago seven times. While two of those visits involved meetings with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Chinese President Xi Jinping, others have not been for affairs of state. The Secret Service does not make available the costs for security, but estimates range from $1 million to $3 million per trip. These estimates do not include a number of associated costs, such as $60,000 in overtime pay each day for the Palm Beach Sheriff’s Department. President Obama spent around $97 million on travel during his two terms in office. Reports by CNN and The Hill suggest that President Trump could spend close to that amount in his first year alone.
            One more thing, Mr. Trump’s use of Mar-a-Lago (or any other of his major properties) contributes to the brand of these places, so taxpayers subsidize brand enhancement. Right after the beginning of Mr. Trump’s presidency, the yearly dues for Mar-a-Lago doubled, from $100,000 to $200,000. Value-added.
            If the President is vacating the White House, the First Lady is avoiding it altogether. Melania Trump has said that she maintains residence at Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue because she wants to keep her son, Barron, in his current school. The cost for protecting Trump Tower is $500,000 per day, according to The Guardian. I could not determine how much of this cost is for New York police officers vs. Secret Service personnel or if the federal government reimburses the city of New York. Over one year, the cost for the First Lady and her son to stay in New York could be as much as $183 million. I wanted to compare the yearly cost of protection for President Obama’s two daughters to attend Sidwell Friends School in D.C., but could not find any numbers.
            Another expense associated with Donald Trump is the tax-payer supported cost for security for Eric Trump and Donald Trump, Jr. whenever they travel for Trump family business. Again, the Secret Service does not release expenditures, but The Washington Post, CBS, and The Guardian were able to get some figures. A trip to Dubai to open a Trump-branded golf course resulted in a $16,000 hotel bill for Secret Service agents and a trip to a Trump-branded condominium in Uruguay resulted in a $88,320 hotel bill for Secret Service agents and other federal employees. These expenses are only for lodging (and possibly food); they do not include salaries, travel, equipment, and other expenses. The two Trump sons are the managers of the Trump estate, so these trips will occur with some frequency and have nothing to do with the United States government and do not benefit taxpayers in any way.
            The Trump administration recently released its proposed budget, and it contained cuts to a long and wide list of programs and initiatives. A budget is not only an economic document but also a moral document, a statement of values. There are the predictable GOP targets: The Corporation for Public Broadcasting, The National Endowment for the Arts, and so on. But let us look at four less visible programs targeted for elimination—programs that directly affect the less fortunate—and compare their budgets to the Trump expenditures I just listed.
            The Delta Regional Authority and The Appalachian Regional Commission are two wide-ranging agencies that foster economic and workforce development, infrastructure improvement, and education and health programs. The Delta Regional Authority will lose $45 million in federal funding; The Appalachian Regional Commission will lose three times that amount. Both of these agencies cover parts of the country that are in great need—and that voted for Donald Trump in strong numbers. The president’s trips to Mar-a-Lago, Trump Tower, and his New Jersey country club—all lavishly developed—could over several years provide the budget for these agencies committed to fostering economic development in regions that desperately need it.
            The Striving Readers Comprehensive Literacy Program is targeted toward students with disabilities or limited English proficiency, many of whom come from low-income backgrounds. The cut here would be $190 million, which is just about the projected annual expense for Melania Trump to maintain residence at Trump Tower and continue to send her son to the Trumps’ chosen school. The trade-off: one child with every educational resource and option imaginable versus many thousands of children with few options or resources.
            The U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness has a small budget of $3.5 million and coordinates federal and state agencies that deal with homelessness and also serves to connect local agencies with available resources. It wouldn’t take many of Donald Jr. and Eric’s business trips to promote luxury properties to supplant this budget cut aimed at people who have no property at all.
            While writing this post, I found that the Center for American Progress Action Fund has just launched a website to track “time and taxpayer money the president expends at his South Florida Estate.” http://istrumpatmaralago.org/ This site will help you keep up with the Trumps in real time.
            The conservative commentator Kevin Williamson has a point when he writes in National Review that the criticism about presidential travel expenses—Bush’s, Obama's, or Trump's—is overdone and overwrought, for the problem lies in the presidential entourage itself, which is "bloated and monarchical" and, in the scheme of things, travel "is small beans in the context of federal spending." OK, fair enough—though it should be said that what is small beans to one person is a whole bean field to another. Still, when travel and residential spending hits the levels it is hitting now, beyond the bloated norm with no sign of abating, and when that spending is connected to a president who pledged his allegiance to the Little Guy, and when that same president's budget includes substantial cuts to programs to aid the less fortunate, well… then the excesses are worthy of condemnation, for they represent not just a case of very bad optics, to use that tiresome buzzword, but a case of moral blindness.
I’ll close with a question that kept coming to mind as I was writing this post, a question from another time and place in our history and from quite a different context: The Army-McCarthy hearings of 1954. It was the Cold War and Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy had been conducting increasingly assaultive and unprincipled investigations on the infiltration of communists into various government departments and agencies, including the U.S. Army. After a particularly nasty exchange, Joseph Welch, the lead counsel for the Army, asked McCarthy in exasperation, “Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?” I certainly thought of that question many times as candidate Trump insulted everyone from Mexican immigrants to a reporter with a disability. But the question seems fitting here as well, perhaps even more so, posed to President Trump and the entire Trump enterprise: Where is the decency here? At long last, where is your decency?

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