Dragging people down instead of trying to make things better

Perhaps I’ve blogged about this before. The tendency has existed long before social media, but social media makes it even easier to broadcast one’s ressentiment. Today this one popped up in my newsfeed, edited because Facebook and Twitter will use it as the image for this post:

Epipen Ressentiment

See what I did there? The original post suggests that because children’s parents are being charged nefarious costs, drug users should also be charged nefarious costs. That’s, of course, either idiotic (in most cases) or evil (if you’re selling epipens). By crossing out the second sentence, I changed the message. That people are being gouged of their limited resources because they or their children need epinephrine to not die is screwed up.

One might object that they think children are blameless and that drug users deserve worse. Even thinking that, to try to drag the conditions of drug users down instead of to raise the conditions of children up is at best an expression of bitter ressentiment.

And this is, of course, just one form. This shoddy rhetoric also comes up with the minimum wage. Some people will say that, for example, nurses only make $13 an hour, so clearly people working cash registers should make less than $13 an hour. Thinking and speaking that way only drags everyone down. If you want to hold onto that nurses should make more than cashiers, then instead reason that since everyone working should make at least, say, $15 an hour, nurses should make at least $20 an hour. And instead of saying we should make drug users pay up or die, instead say nobody should be forced into such a bad situation.

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On preparation for the Real World™ via being unpleasant

When students enter the Real World, they will probably experience hail.

This means teachers should whip chunks of ice at their students. To prepare them.

Sex discrimination inherently includes discrimination on homosexuality, transsexualism, etc.

I’ve been saying this for years, but hey, looks like the courts are getting on board.

The linked article includes some statements in opposition, but they’re generally terrible. First, a brief argument for the statement in the title of this post. If you’re going to support equality across sexes, then you’re going to support that for all x, if x is permissible for one sex, then x is permissible for all sexes. (There are other understandings of how to use the word “equality”, but those are clearly not the ones in play here.) So, if it’s okay for people of any particular sex to be attracted to women, then it’s okay for people of any sex at all to be attracted to women. And so on.

Jeff Sessions said,

Title VII’s prohibition on sex discrimination encompasses discrimination between men and women but does not encompass discrimination based on gender identity per se, including transgender status.

I’m curious what action Jeff thinks is unique to the transgender “status”. To use the case in the article as an example, there’s nothing Stephens is doing against any rule, unless there are some sex-specific rules. There is no way to state his objection to Stephens’s case completely without reference to her sex.

The employer, Rost, said he wants to run his business in accordance with his religion that says that

a person’s sex (whether male or female) is an immutable God-given gift and that people should not deny or attempt to change their sex.

I’d be really curious to see which religion says you cannot employ people who deny or attempt to change their sex. I’ll admit I’m only a little into the iceberg of religion, but rules for employers seem to be generally sparse, and I’ve never seen anything approaching this.

Posner said,

It is well-nigh certain that homosexuality, male or female, did not figure in the minds of the legislators who enacted Title VII,”

He then proceeded to say the meaning of “sex” can be updated to include homosexuality. But that’s unnecessary. There’s no way to discriminate against homosexuals without also discriminating on the basis of sex.

The successes of the walking out protests

Some students walked out of school today in response to the latest shooting. Some people, primarily non-students, are very upset about this. A run-down of the bad arguments I’ve seen levied against the walkout, and why each one is ridiculous. Put together, they reveal the opposition is people digging their heels into the ground for entirely selfish reasons.

Bad argument #1: The kids are just walking out because they want to ditch class.

Why it’s ridiculous: Pretty much anyone who wants to ditch class already ditches class. Nothing about a protest magically creates the ability to leave the room. Any day of the year all one has to do is stand up and leave. Or just not even go.

Also, the walkout lasted seventeen minutes. That’s not even a full class period. I’d be surprised to see anywhere it’s even half a class period. If the goal was getting out of class, some other length of time would have made more sense. As would doing something more fun than protesting.

Bad argument #2: Teenage texting and driving is a much bigger problem than school shooters.

Why it’s ridiculous: The most obvious reason is that we can care about multiple things. There are more car crashes than homicides, yet pretty much everyone is on board with taking measures to prevent homicide. Being kidnapped off the street and tortured is worse than having your place burgled at night, but you still bother locking the door.

This bad argument reveals a truer motive, though. The people making this argument are largely not involved in schools anymore. But they are on the roads sometimes. So to them teenage texting and driving is a bigger problem than school shootings. I don’t have any argument against such grotesque selfishness, but they will have no principled objection to being robbed, so I advise anyone to take advantage of their moral permission to have their stuff.

(A subordinate problem: This argument usually relies on death toll alone. It ignores the other effects of each. For the most part, people still drive just fine despite people texting on the roads. However, education is itself thwarted when the students are too afraid of a possible attack to focus on learning. You may as well send the kids home.)

Bad argument #3: Walk UP not OUT.

Why it’s ridiculous: There are several ways this is ridiculous. The first is that it’s just a continuation of the selfishness from before. A societal problem exists, and the people making this argument want to push all of the work of fixing the problem onto the students. Nevermind whether the solution actually makes sense. But let us consider why it doesn’t make sense.

Many of the people shooting up schools are terrible people. Possibly all of them. You have bunches of people who are exemplars of pernicious sociopathy and the incel subreddit. People who demand a right to abusive relationships lest they start killing people are not the people to spend much time with. Asking someone to enter an abusive relationship with someone else for your own benefit is another level of ridiculous.

On the other side, this argument itself is harmful. There are a lot of quiet kids out there who are quite peaceful. In fact, most kids who are content to sit in the corner and read a book alone have no desire to shoot anyone. Yet the propagators of this argument are scare-mongering about them, making their lives worse. Stop it.

Bad argument #4: Those are seventeen minutes they should have spent learning.

Why it’s ridiculous: See the subordinate problem to #2. Learning requires a healthy state of mind. Nobody worrying if they’re about to die is paying attention to fractions and chlorophyll. If you care about learning, you care about having an environment in which learning can be done. This argument is just another expression of wanting to not have to deal with even the slightest discomfort over a problem that does not directly affect oneself.

A success or two: At the very least, the protests have kicked up a lot of dust. These four bad arguments, and others, have been forced into the light where they can be seen as the ridiculous selfishness that they are.

Many schools have issued punishments for the students who took part in the protests. For the most part, I see people lamenting this (or continuing to spew vitriol toward anyone who dares question any element of the status quo not directly harming themselves, but I will ignore them here), but the opposition reveals the success of the protest. If the protest had no opposition, it would be pointless as a protest. Either everyone would already be in agreement and so no protest would be needed, or the protest would fail to attract enough attention to do anything.

Some people simply do not like the discomfort of possible change if the change isn’t directly benefiting them. We see it here. We saw it when people kneeled during the national anthem at football games. We see white people denying racism because they haven’t experienced it themselves. But now they are uncomfortable with the status quo. And of course their first move is to whine. Then they lash out against anyone daring to demand a better world. But, somewhere along the line, movement happens. The squeaky wheel gets the grease. And hopefully the kids sitting in detention recognize that their punishment means their protest is working.

Watching the development of protest strategies has also been, in a way, pleasant. Posts have been circulating with directions on how to present the protest. Because some stubborn asses are prone to attacking the character of the protesters, they’ve designed the right way to appear in such a way that the asses have no ammunition to use. (Mostly ammunition for BA#1.)

Perhaps the biggest actual problem—and I don’t think it’s that big right now—is a lack of concrete demands. Right now the demand is to do something about gun violence in schools.  That’s great for getting the ball rolling. But if nothing concrete is figured out, it may fizzle like OWS. (Of course, concretization will also lead to new arguments. For example, if they go for gun control, all the the arguments against gun control will come out against them. Right now any time someone tries to dive into gun control, one can point out that the protests are not calling for gun control, but for something to be done. That move will stop being available.)

TBT: More of people trying to replace education with gatekeeping for employers

This article is pretty good. A few comments, mostly echoing Strauss, though my own thoughts are intertwined:

1-Perhaps the most disturbing issue at play here is the profit motives driving educational reform at the moment. Yes, K-12 education could be done better. However, looking at the material associated with the Common Core as well as the people advocating it at the highest level, the companies making tests have a lot to gain. More tests means money is being spent padding their pockets rather than educating children.

2-Related to the above is the distressing tendency for learning to be quantified. A teacher reading a student’s work will know much better what needs to happen than any number can express. I wrote down my SAT scores on some college applications, but the test itself was entirely useless. Likewise, my modus operandi with ECA and ISTEP+ results was to light them on fire. (Not really. But where they are is beyond me.) Telling me I got a 654/800 or whatever other score tells me approximately nothing. Was my reasoning not solid? Was my grammar poor? Was the grader intoxicated? Did I fill up every single line and use no punctuation but still get a perfect because OMG SO MCH WRITING (yes, that happened to someone on the ISTEP+)?

I don’t know. I’ll never know. Quizzes here and there, along with chapter or unit tests with individual feedback is pretty useful; don’t get me wrong. Feedback is always critical (except apparently in MOOCs), but numbers are not feedback. Hell, Finland seems to do fine when they throw numerical grades out entirely and just focus on teachers and students communicating what’s going on. “This essay would work better if…” or “You need to use this formula here…” is a lot more useful than “4/5 B-“. What the hell does that even mean?

Of course, to, say, the profit-minded who are purely interested in who can churn out the best numerical results? Perhaps corporate employers who need a quick, easy method of whacking thousands of applications away without any work? Tests might aid them a bit. Human interaction isn’t as profitable. For those who care most for profit, anyhow. Anyone who’s looking to move up or focus on learning has an obstacle in their way.

Can’t get more money to seek more education because scores are too low.
Can’t focus on learning because the test is more important.

3-The idea of nationwide consistency is nice. Why Maryland is a year ahead of Indiana in Mathematics is beyond me. Why English curricula, as far as I know, is completely different state-to-state is also beyond me. (Well, it’s not beyond me; Jeffersonianism is entirely to blame.) CCSS is also not the solution because it doesn’t even work on the school level. Saying “9th grade students should generally learn algebra to some degree of depth based on ability” is one thing. “All 9th grade students must know how to solve two-variable systems of equations via substitution by October 18th”, or something to said effect, is an entirely different thing. While, as far as I know the latter case is not CCSS, the idea that completely uniform education is going to happen, especially with funds being siphoned to testing, is not particularly convincing.

The article notes several other issues, and I do recommend reading it. Another notable aspect is the lack of educators involved in the design of Common Core. When one K-12 teacher is involved, no professors, and no parents, but a solid 300 non-educators, primarily politicians and businesspeople, there’s probably an issue. I’m no expert in pedagogy, and thus my comments ought to come with a grain of salt, but neither are the vast majority of the people designing the educational reform. Maybe when we get the money and numbers off the table and let teachers who, you know, actually know how teaching works do their jobs, we might see better results.

Yes, there are equality problems. Solutions beyond “Seek revenge on schools that fail our standards,” exist. They’re also actually solutions. My preferred plan would be to have funding based on the national level, thus making each student able to have equal funding regardless of district, but other solutions, of course, exist. I’d also advocate for smaller classes and longer school days, but that’s, of course, getting off-topic.