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I have recommended that Ron Paul create a free online high school curriculum.
How is this for a slogan for his curriculum? “Ron Paul’s curriculum will teach your teenager the fundamentals of constitutional government, economics, and history — plus writing skills and public speaking skills — free of charge.”
How would you like to compete against that? I wouldn’t.
Think of the mailing list. Think of the impact 20 years later.
I am constantly looking for ideas to make such a curriculum better. Recently, I came across a great book review on Amazon. The reviewer — a computer programmer — has it right. It’s a review of a standard economists’ book: we need more taxes, more government schools, etc. The reviewer nailed it.
Goldin-Katz spend the bulk of the book hammering away on two points that everyone already knows: years of schooling on a national level correlates with industrialization, and years of schooling on a personal level correlates with income. Goldin-Katz spend precious few pages actually dealing with the causation issue, and never address any of the best arguments against their thesis. Nor is there any attempt to actually talk to people working in technology in order to understand more deeply why the correlation exists.
Let’s examine in detail some of the flaws.
a) Goldin-Katz’s base hypothesis is that years of schooling should continuously rise over time, as technology increases. But the very definition of technology is that you get more output for a given amount of input. Thus we should not expect a proportional increase in education to take advantage of new technology. Indeed, this is what we see on the ground. As a programmer in 2009, I no longer need to learn a huge amount of information that my father needed to know. For my job, I do not need to know assembly language, register hacks, memory allocation, pointer arithmetic, etc.
b) Goldin-Katz’s hypothesis is at odds with the experience of all the recent college graduates I know. No one believes that education teaches job skills. A quick check of the top 10 most popular college majors shows that these majors have little to do with technology. Clearly if there is an income bonus from college education, it cannot be from teaching technology, because colleges do not actually teach technology.
c) Goldin-Katz’s hypothesis is at odds with the life experience of most engineers I know. If you ask the typical, engineer, “How many years would it take, starting from the beginning of high school, and working efficiently, to reach an amount of knowledge where you could be a productively employed?” the answer is usually something like 1 to 3 years. If you look at the actual skills to do high-tech jobs, you simply notice that very few require 8 years of full time schooling. You’ll also notice that engineers universally deride schooling, and that they learn most of their skills by avoiding school work (this is especially true in high school). For more details Google the essay “Why nerds are unpopular” by Paul Graham.
I read Graham’s essay years ago. It’s great on why you should not send your child into tax-funded schools.
Technical skills are learned best on the job. The apprenticeship system is the way to go. The trade unions resisted this. But they are dead now, outside of government jobs.
If a student finishes high school at (say) 16 or 17, then it’s time to find a mentor who will apprentice the high school graduate locally. The student gets a technical skill that has a market.
Meanwhile, the student takes AP, CLEP, and DSST exams to quiz out of college. By age 20, the student is a collage graduate, which the student has paid for with wages in the apprenticeship job. He or she is ready for a career.
Parental monetary cost of the child’s education: zero. Zero is the nicest, roundest number I can think of.
What should formal education accomplish? The more I think about this, the more I am convinced that it should be geared to teaching students a love for self-taught knowledge. John Taylor Gatto is an evangelist for this kind of education. He was a master teacher. Then he quit. He saw he was wasting his life in tax-funded schools.
The Ron Paul curriculum should immunize students against nonsense. Show them how to spot bad arguments — like the ones in the book that the reviewer devastated. Teach them how to think by teaching them basic logic — different in different fields. After all, economics is not physics. Any attempt to make economics look like physics destroys economics, which economics departments did after 1950.
Teach the fundamentals of each field so that an intelligent student does not get fooled. A person cannot learn the fine points in any field in one year. He can learn enough to say: “I’ve heard that line before. It ignores the obvious.” Teach what ought to be obvious.
Don’t imitate colleges. Beginning college courses are taught as if every student will major in it. This is a mistake. There should be classes for non-majors. These should teach how to think critically in order not to get conned by the mainstream media. A few basic rules would be taught, with many case studies of what happens when people refuse to think straight.
An ideal high school curriculum should have a track for a major and a separate track for non-majors. The student chooses as a freshman: math/science track, social sciences/humanities track, home business track, or fine arts track. The non-track electives should be for immunization, not mastery.
I could teach economics this way, with one basic premise and two corollaries. Basic premise: a free market economy is a giant auction. Corollary #1: supply and demand. Corollary #2: high bid wins. This is all you really need. I wish most Ph.D. economists believed these two corollaries.
I would teach with images. Badges and guns (government). Bulldozer, shovel, teaspoon (capital theory). Wallet, gun, IOU, printing press (Keynesian economics). If a person comes up with the right image, he can’t be fooled easily. Images are easier to recall than formulas. Teach with images.
You cannot teach chemistry this way, but you can teach the social sciences this way, and should. Formulas in the social sciences are mostly fake: crude and misleading imitations of physics.
I will recommend this to the person who will put together the Ron Paul curriculum.
Formal classroom or home school education should be for inspiration and ideological immunization. Homework should be devoted to two things:
Once this curriculum is online, the next step is to create a for-profit Ron Paul Academy. The Mises Institute has pioneered the way. This strategy should spread. I think it will.
August 5, 2010
Copyright © 2010 Gary North