Saturday, November 26, 2005

What's Wrong with the Media, Schools, and Universities

Obviously, the major victims of the information and communication (r)evolution, are the institutions that had a monopoly in the old paradigm -- which are the media, the schools and the universities, heavily unionized to maintain those exclusivities. That works when they are the only game in town and the cost of new entrants is prohibitive.

The Internet, as even these institutions have to eventually acknowledge, has leveled the playing field, nullifying those overwhelming advantages, so that now, even the New York Times, is just another blog, or website competing for attention on merit -- and not seniority. Seniority, tradition (inertia), precedent, in the new era of information and communications, is a liability rather than an inherent advantage -- because the old wants to carry on the old, and not create the new. So it ends up on the wrong side of the tide of history and evolution -- sweeping them aside, or more likely, just bypassing them altogether.

Maintaining their institutions and tactics of control, suffocates them -- but not their competition. The competition can outrun them by a wide margin -- while they insist they are still in charge, calling the shots, transmitting culture, enforcing the rules, maintaining the norms and mores, etc.

It is true that the modern information processor can go through the entire literature and knowledge of entire disciplines and curricula these days -- because there are no material barriers to information, as in the old days, dominated and controlled by the old publishers and publications. Universities were powerful because they controlled the publications for virtually all the academicians -- which greatly constrained thought to only a self-designated, powerful few. In the age of Internet publications, they are considerably less powerful rather than more, while the public at large is more powerful and influential -- if they have the ability to be so. The former derived and had the greatest vested interest in keeping information scarce -- and controlled exclusively by themselves.

For those used to such power and its abuse and misuse, the new age is their worst nightmare -- but to true egalitarians everywhere, it is a world without limits and infinitely greater possibilities.

The problems of the media, schools and universities that they see so pervasive, is because they are the wrong people, at the wrong place, at the wrong time. So all they see are eternal agonies, miseries, and dysfunctions -- that they still demand to project and impose on everybody else -- living, working, laughing and playing in the world beyond their control.


At November 26, 2005 1:07 PM, Blogger Mike Hu said...

NY Times Previews Next Wave in Public Opinion Manipulation
Posted by Noel Sheppard on November 26, 2005 - 10:53.

Tired of public opinion polls? Well, an article in today’s New York Times might be an indication that Americans have seen enough polls in the past three months, and that a new strategy is necessary to inform them how to think. How does it work? Well, instead of releasing data that supposedly represents a statistical picture of the nation’s views on a subject, make the data significantly more real by putting names and faces to the numbers.

The article in question, entitled “Even Supporters Doubt President as Issues Pile Up,” effectively introduced this strategy in its first four paragraphs:

“Leesa Martin never considered President Bush a great leader, but she voted for him a year ago because she admired how he handled the terrorist attacks of 2001.

“Then came the past summer, when the death toll from the war in Iraq hit this state particularly hard: 16 marines from the same battalion killed in one week. She thought the federal government should have acted faster to help after Hurricane Katrina. She was baffled by the president's nomination of Harriet E. Miers, a woman she considered unqualified for the Supreme Court, and disappointed when he did not nominate another woman after Ms. Miers withdrew.

“And she remains unsettled by questions about whether the White House leaked the name of a C.I.A. agent whose husband had accused the president of misleading the country about the intelligence that led to the war.

“‘I don't know if it's any one thing as much as it is everything,’ said Ms. Martin, 49, eating lunch at the North Market, on the edge of downtown Columbus. ‘It's kind of snowballed.’"

One of the beauties of “polling” in this fashion is that you can reduce your sample size even further – in this case, only 75 people were questioned. And, since it’s not a poll, you don’t have to present the methodology of how the respondents were chosen -- what party they are registered with, etc. In effect, this makes it even easier to create a sample that is likely to give the answers you’re looking to receive without the requirement of providing the reader with that information.

Another benefit is that you’re quoting “real Americans” rather than political insiders or strategists. As such, their opinions theoretically have more value as they lack the obvious partiality of someone who is working for one of the country’s major political parties.

Yet, maybe most interesting were the opinions of the interviewee who pointed out just how powerful propaganda can be:

“‘We keep hearing about suicide bombers and casualties and never hear about any progress being made,’ said Dave Panici, 45, a railroad conductor from Bradley, Ill. ‘I don't see an end to it; it just seems relentless. I feel like our country is just staying afloat, just treading water instead of swimming toward somewhere.’

“Mr. Panici voted for President Bush in 2004, calling it ‘a vote for security.’ ‘Now that a year has passed, I haven't seen any improvement in Iraq,’ he said.”

And therein lies the real point: As Americans like Mr. Panici have largely only seen the darkest possible side of what is going on in Iraq with all the negative reporting on the incursion, how could they possibly see an improvement?

At November 26, 2005 1:11 PM, Blogger Mike Hu said...

Mass communications (media) is just a euphemism for propaganda.

At November 26, 2005 1:13 PM, Blogger Mike Hu said...

They ARE the problem.

At November 26, 2005 1:21 PM, Blogger Mike Hu said...

In an earlier time, people would have reacted by saying, "Then we have to counteract their propaganda with OUR propaganda," which exacerbates the situation because the instigator has caused the other to adopt the tactics they do, and then they can point out, "See, everybody does it, so why shouldn't we -- as though they are innocent, rather than the instigators."

Far better just to be aware and let that be apparent to those who can tell the difference -- and aren't vulnerable to these manipulations.

There's nothing so embarrassing and humiliating as when these control freaks realize everybody is on to them.

At November 26, 2005 1:31 PM, Blogger Mike Hu said...

The important point in communications, is not seeing how many people one can manipulate -- but determining those few who can tell the difference.

At November 26, 2005 1:53 PM, Blogger Mike Hu said...

That is the glaring difference between the Old Media style and the New Media style, the old communication style and the new communication style, the old culture, hierarchy and status quo -- and the new culture, egality, dynamism.

The new sees the old -- and puts it gently aside. No need to kill it; it dies of its own accord and fate.

At November 27, 2005 7:51 AM, Blogger Mike Hu said...

It'd be one thing to be biased and clever, but to be biased and dull, dimwitted and boring, is an irrecoverable lethal combination that can only accelerate the dismal prospects for employment of reporters, editors and publishers.

If they're going to fabricate the news, they have to report non-events as milestones -- while ignoring and denying successful events like the liberation of Afghanistan and Iraq.

At November 27, 2005 9:48 AM, Blogger Mike Hu said...

It's the same story everywhere else:

Old-timers rewarded, while young punished
Accountability only for LAUSD newbies
By Ari Kaufman, Guest Columnist

As the school year reaches its midpoint, I am reminded of the various reasons why I left the Los Angeles Unified School District for good this past June.
While I met many good colleagues, parents, and, of course, students, during my teaching days, teaching was not the profession I gleaned it to be when I finished college. Then I imagined a challenging but rewarding career that was all about enriching kids' lives, opening up doors of potential and wonder. I was going to change the world, one child at a time.

Reality offered something quite different, something for which I was not at all ready. Two years of post-graduate credential classes cannot remotely prepare you for the onslaught of bureaucracies, bizarre meetings, paperwork and union dominance that engulfs you when you teach in Los Angeles.

Sadly, the profession is so scripted these days that it leaves little room for creativity. The art of education has been hijacked from young, dedicated teachers like me, with salaries at the bottom of the seniority-based pay scale. It's no wonder so many young, intelligent, would-be good educators choose not to go into teaching.

My two years serve as a testament to someone who at least gave it the old "college try" - and was left with little choice but to move on.

My horror stories are too numerous to recall, but a few come to mind that illustrate what sort of professional and educational environment the LAUSD has become.

In a workplace where, after two years, it is virtually impossible to get fired - and steady pay raises come regardless of merit - the result is a predictable decrease in teachers' motivation. The system punishes young and enthusiastic teachers, who get nothing but grief for their innovation, and rewards the old-timers who grow complacent and are happy to simply collect a paycheck for as little work as possible.

Case in point: One Tuesday every three months, my colleagues and I would have a two-hour math planning meeting after school. A UCLA instructor would come in to share tips with us. I loved it, but nine of the other 10 people in the room would eye the clock the entire time. I'd silently muse, "this is their profession, isn't it?" But staying at work until 3:30 p.m.? This was considered traumatic for many.

Likewise, while new teachers like myself would typically come in as early as 7:30, many of the old-timers - the ones who left immediately after the close of class each day - would usually arrive at 8 with the kids. If the principal were to ask a new, probationary teacher like me to come in early for an extra meeting, the answer was always yes - when the boss talks, you listen. But she wouldn't think of asking any such thing of certain veterans. It would have prompted an angry complaint from the union.

All in all, the union seems to exist to protect the unmotivated. The teacher next door to me, a veteran, would take as much as a week off of work at a time, putting her way over 10 "mental health days" for the year. She need not worry, though, as the union had given her 90 extra days off at the bargain cost of only half pay.

While there were some great veteran teachers in my school, they were few and far between. The tenure system, the pay scale and union politics work to encourage mediocrity, often driving new teachers out of the business or, over the long haul, sapping their spirits should they decide to stick around.

With abstruse "pedagogical" programs, probationary teachers (first or second year) in the LAUSD are watched closely. They are required to adhere to proper protocol. In addition to the two math and language arts "coaches," numerous people were in my room to observe me constantly, usually unannounced. They produced write-ups and evaluations, checked my classroom bulletin boards to make sure that all posted papers were from within the last 20 days, and scanned my "rubrics" (grading criteria).

All this, even though students' thrice-yearly grades were ultimately and solely determined by the LAUSD's district-generated assessment scores. All this fussing proved to be much ado about nothing. Meanwhile, administrators rarely, if ever, visited the veteran teachers' rooms on either side of mine.

Why should they? The veterans were tenured. Accountability was for the newbies only.

And though I was always taught five or six subjects in elementary school as a student just 15 years ago, these days it is all but forbidden to teach social studies in an LAUSD elementary school. It's not part of the standards. It doesn't show up on the tests. There is no time for it, and no one does it.

Well, I did. I had to "buck the system" now and then. I even created my own exams to test the kids on what I taught them, since history is a passion of mine. But even this little bit of academic rebellion carried its risks. I had dreams of someone from downtown coming into my class one day, a la William Macy's character in "Mr. Holland's Opus" and say, "Mr. Kaufman, it has come to my attention that you are teaching the kids social studies!"

It was then that I woke up laughing, and asked what the heck I was doing with my life.

Dealing with all the extremities, most of which seemed unnecessary and made education more complex than needed, I resigned from the LAUSD in the spring of my second year. I don't know if I will ever return to public education, either. Teaching truly was far more hassle, and much less rewarding, than I'd imagined.

Ari Kaufman, a former LAUSD teacher, lives in Washington, D.C., happily pursuing a career in journalism and politics. He and Aaron Hanscom co-author a blog at

At November 27, 2005 9:58 AM, Blogger Mike Hu said...

It seems the major function of most unions now is to create resentment of workers towards their jobs -- to justify higher compensation for doing the job. So they demean their own jobs, work and dignity -- and wonder why their money can't buy them any respect and sense of prosperity. They psychologically impoverish themselves as their ploy to be paid what they "deserve." People who talk that way, obviously have no self-respect and value for their own work -- and that is the great lack of their lives, which the unions are exacerbating, exploiting and aggravating.


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