Further Evidence of the Failure of the Public School System

I just recently read a short article in Scientific American that is making me feel more concerned about the state of our educational system.  A venture capitalist wrote the article, and he focuses on educational projects for the firm.  Essentially, data is showing more and more immigrants are getting higher percentage of bachelors, masters, and doctorates.  In many cases these foreign students fly back to their home country, because there is better opportunity for them there than in the states.  First, the private sector is not hiring, and if they are, a masters will lead the life most are looking for.  The amount of people with college degrees working a minimum wage job has increased, and the average amount of money one can earn with a college degree has decreased.  It seems that if a person commits to going to college, they must commit to getting a masters.  So why are all these foreign students consuming a larger portion of the degree pie?  It is simple.  The public school system of the United States are not preparing students for college level work.  Considering the numbers involved, it is apparent that it is a systemic failure rather than the students’.  Sure there are students that put their failure in their own hands, but the drastic changes in the numbers can allow for the assumption that there are systemic issues at play.

There are multiple ways in which we could reform our education.  A TED talk that I will never forget, talked about the fundamental changes we should make towards education.  The first that comes to mind was recognizing how a certain child learns.  Do they learn best in a group, or by themselves?  If the child interacts in a group, how big of a group does the child learn best?  Teachers should be tailored and trained to identify, and it may just require asking some questions, on how the child responded to a given activity.  Eventually, activities would be tailored to how the children learn best.  I would of been the loner.  I would of loved to be able to pick from a collection of books which one to read, and then to just sit at a desk and read.  When it came to science and math, they were my strong suits but I needed a teacher to explain key concepts that other ideas were founded upon.  Excellent teachers are priceless, and I think we should put into place incentives for teachers to have their students perform better on exams.  If their students are performing well, then they systematically get a raise in pay.  If the performance of students are declining over time, then pay should be removed.  This idea was expressed in the Washington D.C. city schools, and the teacher lobby voted against it.  A lot of the teachers don’t teach anything if at all, while students are in the back smoking crack or weed.  The teachers are there to earn money and do nothing, while the students burn their time with drugs and gangs.

Those schools we need to help the most.  Their community doesn’t have the tax revenue to provide for good community schools.  And, where there is bad schools, there is bad neighborhoods and crime.  Simply, if a student drops out or figures there is no point into trying in school because their school performs so poorly, then they will resort to living on the streets.  And in order to survive, people turn to crime.  It is a vicious cycle.  The poor performing schools don’t have the financial resources to improve their facilities and faculty, and more students end their educational journey.  They don’t work a high paying job.  So therefore there isn’t substantial tax money to help the school out.  And so people continue getting in trouble and populate our prison systems.  It costs about $44,000 a year to sustain an inmate.  I think it is money worth spending to decrease the amount of people we have to sustain at a given time in the prison system.  That is a solid investment.  But that means helping some very poor people.  And frankly many American’s don’t like it, especially after the Welfare system.  The Welfare system was a fluke, but that just means that methodology didn’t work.  I firmly believe there are solutions out there that would benefit the poorest of schools into making them a thriving institution.  We would have to monitor the schools like an investment, and figure out where more money should be spent or saved.  There should be reforms on how teachers get paid, as well as administrators.  Schools should embrace technology and promote the usage of it.  Finally, schools should have a set plan to eventually seeing their students reach the goal of college and beyond.

Recently there has been a new curriculum pushed to some public schools across the country for grades K-12.  It provides a full plan on how to get students ready for the college scene.  I honestly think there should be a core curriculum required by all schools to follow, so that the public education system is in touch with higher education.  There is a danger to this methodology however.  Putting forth federal regulations on what people should know – if under the wrong hands – will create an educational system that is used as a barrier to revolution of an oppressive government.  Honestly though, I find no alternative in getting our schools out of such a dire spot.  I think tax money needs to be poured into education with nation wide reform.  I think better schools would be a stepping stone to ridding this country of poverty.  With a decrease in poverty, there would be a decrease in crime, which is money saved for everyone on many levels.  Plus, there would be more tax paying citizens, providing funds to not only the government but consuming goods and services.

Currently Washington is battling healthcare.  That is a battle that needs to be fought.  But I hope after things stabilize a leader will take aim for education.  We should be investing in ourselves, not dishing out our knowledge to other countries.  Better education not only produces revenue, but decreases the costs of crime and dependency.  Finally, it fights poverty.  It is just a humane thing to do to try and deter this problem of poverty.  The current welfare system doesn’t work.  We all know this, and we all should learn from it.  But that doesn’t mean we should give up!  If we could provide transitional housing for people on the streets to either further educate/certify themselves, or for aid in finding work, we should provide it.  It is a good thing to do for a fellow human being, and it benefits society as a whole.

With that said, it is apparent that our educational system is failing us.  I just hope enough people care to reform our public school system.


Determinism Vs. Free Will Part 2


The above picture is taken from neuroscientists tracking the different pathways in the brain.   It is fairly obvious that most of them head to the brainstem, but as you can see, towards the edges you have these flaps that connect with other areas of the brain.  Plus there could be some pathways touching others on their way to the brainstem.  This goes all around the brain.  I thought this picture was really cool and really enlightening as to the physical routes that these neural pathways travel.

And finally, comes my second post on this subject because I finished my book.  Determinists believe that the neural pathways that you see at the top of the post, can all be described by a set of algorithms.  That literally, since a brain is composed of biochemical processes and that they follow the laws of physics, that eventually neuroscientists with added knowledge will be able to describe different brains with different mathematics.  The implication of this, is that your thoughts, including your conscious thoughts, are just part of a system.  The conscious is just an illusion created by the brain.  The author does not go into why determinists think we have a conscious in the first place.  If conscious thought is too influenced by subconscious thought, then why do we have the experience of being us?  The best answer that I can give you, has to be one of survival.  With this view, I think subconscious and conscious thought to be part of a two core processor.  And it allows us to multitask within our thinking.  We could be sharpening an arrow head, but be thinking about what needs to be done next at the same time.  The sharpening of the arrow head would be in the subconscious networks, but the person wouldn’t really be thinking about it that hard and yet they are doing it.  The deliberation on what to do next is purely on the conscious networks.  And the conscious networks is able to probe so many different areas of the brain, that it helps ensure the most logical decision for what is known.  A different example would be having to bring livestock in when it is getting really stormy.  You are consciously trying to tie out the knots as fast as possible, but your subconscious is telling you to hurry up, forcing your conscious thoughts to center around untieing knots as quickly as you can and to do it as calmly as you can.   There is no doubt that after reading this book I have a much more appreciation for the subconscious.  It has much more influence on our decisions than we think.  And I think this influence, is enough to influence our free will that we should be truthful to ourselves and recognize that our decisions have both a conscious and unconscious component.  That our free will is not as much as pure as we would like to think.  I think right now with the experiments that were cited in this book, this is an okay assumption.

One experiment that I thought was very strong, was done with non-precise methods, so there is some intrinsic error.  However, I believe that there have been newer attempts at this methodology with better technology.  There just has to be, given the importance of this discovery.  And if it hasn’t been done already, trust me, it is going to be done.  I will show you why.

The scientist hooked up subjects to an EKG, which basically record electrical signals on the scalp, a way to record brain activity.  Then he asked his subjects to flick their wrist.  The EKG showed there was considerable amount of brain activity just before the flicking of the wrist.  So, he took the experiment a little further and had the subjects say when they were consciously flicking the wrist and he would record the time when they said it.  He found that there was heightened brain activity before the subject consciously made the decision.  Therefore, the subconscious made the decision.

The author said the experiment had a lot of intrinsic error.  It did on the precise times, but it was very clear that the subconscious was first and the conscious was second.  He then stated that we don’t know what that subconscious activity really was, that it could be anything else.  To me this is desperation at trying to discredit a pivotal experiment.  The EKG also records baseline activity, and when a certain task was presented, the activity went up followed by the conscious activity.  It is very safe to say that the subconscious activity was activity tailored towards the flicking of the wrist.  Considering the implications of this experiment, I would not be surprised if a group of scientists updated the methodology and redid the experiment.  I understand that the recording of times was not done in a very precise way.  But the scientist was able to clearly distinct the beginning of electrical impulses following by the conscious decision to flick the wrist.  To me that is good enough evidence.

And this book was a broken record.  He would come up with fictional story after fictional story to describe the moral deliberations that some of us have to make.  To show us that no algorithm can describe a “boundless” problem; therefore, we have free will.  It is true that these experiments (there are two more but they aren’t worth mentioning in my opinion) only have to do with very basic decisions.  So going to the grocery store and picking ham or bacon is probably a subconscious decision.  Or going holiday shopping and picking a dress for your daughter is subconscious as well.  But the author focused on moral problems because if you guys don’t remember, the first post on this is that if there is no free will, we have no moral responsibility.  But I think the author missed the mark on how scientists would create a algorithmic system of the brain.  He thought they would have to literally create each an every moral rule.  Killing trumps stealing, and etc.  So I guess you could make a very simple moral rule and it would be something like:  K > S .  And there would be hundreds upon hundreds of conditions, that would only deal with morality.  Computers are powerful.  But if you were to set up these “algorithms” for the entire brain, that is a lot of power a computer has to have.  Which is why I think there is a more efficient way to go about it.  And it has everything to do with the picture I showed you at the beginning of this post.

The first step would be to mathematically map the brain.  What I mean by that, is to describe neural networks in 3D space.  And, certain regions of the brain would be excited by the resultant of certain networks, which could therefore be calculated.  Eventually, scientists would be able to have the fundamental networks, or mathematical map, of the brain.  And through the mathematical interaction of these networks, they could calculate the resulting network that would be stimulated.  Therefore, from those fundamental equations, you could run them to get every possible segment if you really wanted to.  They would have a complete map of the brain.  They would have algorithms (the author said that some of the brain works algorithmically) describing the entire brain.  So I think technically determinism is true.  But that is half the battle.  How would we derive meaning or thoughts from those mathematics?  If you had a subject look at a picture of a sunset, and you saw and were able to predict the brain activity, what exactly was the subject thinking?  Ultimately I do not think it wold be possible for us to go that far.  I think that is a limit to where this science can go.  Do I think the brain can be mathematically mapped?  Yes.  Does that mean the brain works deterministically?  Yes.  Will we ever be able to predict with supreme accuracy what someone is thinking or doing?  No.  It just isn’t possible.

If you take these moral situations that this author wrote out, it became apparent to me that there is a common strategy.  First, think of all possible alternatives.  And, once the deterministic brain looks for all the possible alternatives, it makes the most logical choice given all the information.  He was looking at how the brain would be mathematically described in a completely wrong view in my opinion.  The computer power needed would be tedious and asinine.  If scientists were able to describe the pathways with equations, that would be much easier to compute than hundreds upon hundreds of rules just for morality.

The brain is influenced by genetics, environment, and past experiences.  Environment, can even change the expression of genes.  Meaning the gene stays the same, but the protein that comes out of it is different.  And past experiences the brain is able to learn from.  I firmly believe our brains follow the laws of nature, and that even our conscious is determined.  Our trail of thinking can be recorded mathematically and later predicted, but a scientist would never be able to predict a conscious deliberation, but that does not mean that determinism is not true.  I believe the conscious and subconscious are ways to multitask.  For example, thinking while walking, or thinking while doing anything.  Our subconscious is like our firmware, deeply programmed and is able to influence conscious thought.  Does that mean conscious thought can influence subconscious thought?  I am not sure because we are talking about he subconscious, but I will infer that yes it does.  But this is how perfect our system is.  Humans evolved with these huge brains that have both subconscious and conscious thoughts among other powerful things.  The separate consciousness naturally help us survive.  Of course homo-sapiens had to fend off many species of human, and I don’t know exactly how.  But still, I think it is a beautiful thing.  That a few rearrangement of genes provides the building blocks of something so complex as the human mind.  

In short, I am a determinist.  I think we all do things for a reason, and our brain works like a machine, and works by what it was designed to do.  But skeptics are going to want more and more proof, and over time there will be more and more studies and experiments.  I think in order for these experiments to have any more merit, they have to record brain activity doing more complex decisions.  The advancement of technology is there, but essentially they would have to wear functional MRI magnets on a portable apparatus that can be fit around the head.  The results have to be sent wirelessly.  Only then, will we get the definite data that the skeptics will require.  And you never know, I could very well be wrong here, and they prove that there is a free will.

Only time will tell, but free will is losing.