Hating Charlie Munger Hall

Munger Hall

In my endless and often psychologically damaging search for blog worthy news stories, I came across a proposal for Munger Hall, designed by billionaire Charlie Munger. It’s generating a lot of controversy and, when I read the sensational headlines, I too found myself incredulous.

The plan is to build the immense Munger Hall, 1.68 million square feet, at the University of California Santa Barbara in order to house up to 4,536 undergraduates in a single building. The bedrooms in the design are tiny with no windows, which seems to be the crux of all the hate. Over four thousand students crammed into tiny rooms with no windows! What sort of madness is this? What complete moron thought up this nonsense?

Then, of course, I did what I do. I read the articles about Munger Hall and saw why the bedrooms have no windows and the design intent of the building. I discovered, much to my surprise, I largely agree with the design. Let’s get into it.

Housing Shortage

The first problem Munger Hall addresses is the enormous housing shortage for students at various California institutions of higher learning including UCSB. The shortfall is so serious students are suing the state because they have nowhere reasonable to live while attending college.

It’s clear Munger Hall certainly addresses this issue with a huge number of rooms available for undergraduate students.

Too Small and No Sunlight

The problem, at first glance, is that none of the bedrooms have windows and they are absolutely tiny. It seems like a prison cell. When you read the headline and don’t delve into the actual design, the mind imagines hordes of students, crammed into small rooms with no chance of ever seeing sunshine.

The reality is quite different. The bedrooms in Munger Hall are designed largely for one thing, sleeping. The students must largely leave the bedroom to conduct most other activities although there is a small desk for private study when in the mood.

Munger Hall is filled with enormous common areas where students can gather in small, medium and large groups to eat, recreate, exercise, shop, walk, store their athletic equipment, and many other amenities.

There are restaurants, markets, courtyards, recreation centers, juice bars, pubs, and more scattered throughout the enormous building. All these spaces are possible because of the tiny bedrooms with no windows. Bedrooms designed for nothing except sleeping open the rest of the building for all sorts of exciting and interesting activities.

My College Experience

Back when I went to college, a million years ago at the University of Idaho, I slept in a fairly large dormitory room. Unlike Munger Hall, the building itself had little else of interest. We had a single lounge and a large hall used for parties. To eat we had to walk across campus. There were no common study areas. Getting to the gym required a long walk.

Where did I spend most of my time? In my room.


What I find interesting about the Munger Hall proposal is how many haters simply didn’t take the time to study the actual plan of the building. They saw the headline and started spewing the hate. I think many people who experienced college in the way I did, will see the value in the design of Munger Hall. If those people are willing to get beyond their kneejerk, emotional response to the building, I think they might find, like me, its appeal.

As a student, would you want to live in Munger Hall?

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Tom Liberman

Critical Race Theory and Teacher Resignations

Critical Race Theory

The Resignations

Critical Race Theory is in the news these days and an interesting situation regarding teachers resigning because of this issue piqued my interest. It’s not the resigning itself that I find interesting but those who support or denounce those doing so.

The political divide on the issue of Critical Race Theory is relatively easy to follow and it is this gulf that warps the sensibilities of people commenting on the issue. Some teachers resign because the school board includes Critical Race Theory while others resign because the state excludes such curriculum.

This is not about Critical Race Theory

Just to get it out of the way immediately; this post is not a critique of Critical Race Theory. It’s not about what is involved in the teaching of this subject. That is irrelevant to the discussion at hand. I want to talk about those who support or deride the resignations and why they do so.

Who is Resigning?

Teachers resigning seem to largely cite one of two things. Either they refuse to teach the curriculum or they insist on doing so despite the school board or state refusing to allow it. All of the teachers resigning are doing so because of strongly held personal thoughts on the subject of Critical Race Theory. Either for it or against it.

This is where the emotional passions of political divide seem to sever critical thinking skills. The people who support one group of resigning teachers absolutely denounce the other. If you applaud a teacher resigning because they refuse to teach the theory then it is almost certain you denounce the teacher resigning because they insist on teaching it.

What does a Libertarian Say?

I support both groups. It’s perfectly reasonable for teachers to follow their conscious and assert their individual rights. If a teacher thinks a lesson is vitally important or horribly destructive, she or he should resign rather than compromise principles.

This is not an easy decision. While I’ve spoken before about bad teachers, I think most teachers love their jobs and do their best to educate students. It’s a decision that affects the teacher financially. It’s a decision with life-changing consequences.

I do think there is a great deal of passion and misinformation on the subject and it’s difficult to reach rational conclusions. I’d encourage everyone to learn more about Critical Race Theory before making such an important life decision.


The political divide in this country and the world as a whole is discouraging. People base their opinions not on evidence but on perceived affiliations. What is good today is bad tomorrow. What is right today is wrong tomorrow. Who is a good teacher today is a terrible one tomorrow. Not because facts changed but because of political expediency.


Tom Liberman

The Great Quartz Rush in KwaZulu-Natal


Diamonds and Quartz Look Similar

The harm a lack of education and poverty can cause was on display in South Africa when a cattle herder found a mineral that looked like it might be a diamond. This set off a diamond rush to the KwaZulu-Natal region of that country.

The problem is that another mineral, quartz, looks an awful lot like a diamond to the naked eye. In fact, it generally takes a laboratory examination to tell the difference between the two minerals.

Diamond Rush Ensues

Many people rushed to the KwaZulu-Natal region in order to start digging for diamonds. These treasure hunters then proceeded to destroy over fifty hectares of land, that’s over a hundred and twenty acres to those of us in the United States.

This happened despite overwhelming geologic evidence the region is extremely unlikely to contain diamonds. It is a region composed dolerite, a predominately volcanic rock. We find Diamonds universally in rocks called kimberlites and lamproites.

Quartz is extremely common in dolerite regions.

Why did this Happen?

I finally get to the point of this blog. The incredible damage that often results from the terrible combination of poverty and lack of education. It is fairly clearly established that greater wealth goes hand-in-hand with higher education. This in itself is useful but I want to look at the dangers uneducated and poor populations present to the rest of society and the world.

People who do not have money have less to lose. I can understand why someone from the poverty-stricken region of KwaZulu-Natal gave into the temptation of this diamond rush. What do they have to lose? Their lives are already miserable and the futures for their children are just as bleak.

Throw into this mix a lack of education. The people in the KwaZulu-Natal region might not even know the mineral composition of the soil and the impossibility of the discovered minerals being diamonds. They just don’t know any better.

The Terrible Results

In this case, the result is the destruction of a large chunk of land, that happily enough was not of great value. The potential damage is far, far greater. It seems to me the negative results of anti-education policies right here in the United States and around the world are manifesting themselves every day.

People who are desperately poor and without a solid educational foundation are significantly more likely to make poor, desperate decisions. Those decisions lead to negative outcomes not only for the people in question but for everyone around them. That’s the problem.

As a Libertarian, I strongly think people should make their own decisions in life. That being said, it’s undeniable poor people, desperate people, and uneducated people tend to make worse decisions than their counterparts.

I know some people will laugh at this situation and think of South Africa as a poor nation. Such people will think to themselves this could never happen here. I beg to differ. I put no stupidity beyond people, even here in the United States.

If a supposed diamond was found in my backyard, I’d immediately fear for my life from the hordes of people immediately descending upon my property with violence in their eyes, greed in their hearts, and nothing at all in their minds.

The United States is not as far removed from South Africa as you might imagine. People are the same everywhere.

Tom Liberman

Watching People Argue in a Chess Chat

Chess Chat

Chess Chat is as filled with acrimonious debate as any political forum and, while watching the first round of the Norway Chess Tournament an instructive moment occurred which I will wax on about today. Don’t be too distressed, the topic isn’t primarily chess, or chess chat, it’s how to have a productive debate.

In this case the chess chat included a hearty exchange, including nasty insults as per usual, between two interlocuters debating as to which chess format, blitz or classical was more interesting, or more to the point whether or not classical chess is boring. Of some note but not important to the point is that one of the debaters is essentially the chief sponsor of chess in the United States. He took the side that classical chess was more interesting while an unknown but equally belligerent opponent took the opposite view.

Don’t worry, the chess talk is finished. What is important to understand is the nature of the question being debated and how to arrive at an objective answer. One side of the debate posited that a particular thing was more boring than another thing of largely the same nature.

What is the first thing to understand in order to arrive at a conclusion to this debate? What is boring, how do we define boring in this context, it must be determined. We cannot have any meaningful answer until we do so. Now, there are a number of ways to do this, but what is vitally important to understand is that neither of the two challengers made any attempt to do so.

They simply wrote facts back and forth at one another. This many people watched that tournament, so many people watched the other tournament. The quality of play in this style is better than the other style. It was endless, pointless, and much to the dismay of most of the people in chat, hideously boring. No one got anywhere except to clog up the chess chat with their ranting and most certainly, no one’s opinions were changed. Meanwhile, there was some quite interesting chess being played that the two debaters completely ignored.

The lesson is simple enough, you can’t arrive at an objective answer without defining what it is you are debating. A lesson neither of the two debaters understood or, frankly, are ever likely to understand.

Thus ends the lesson, young Ionians. Go outside to practice your Phalanx maneuvers and we shall return to the problem on the morrow.

Tom Liberman

Taking the Bing Quiz without Reading

Bing Quiz

One of my daily activities in retirement is to take the daily Bing Quiz. Essentially, the search engine Bing has a daily picture on the front page. There is a Bing Quiz associated with this picture if you click a link. It includes a small blurb about the picture and generally at least a few of the questions in the Bing Quiz are addressed in this blurb. I’ve noticed that a fairly high percentage of quiz takers answer such questions incorrectly and that intrigues me.

The only explanation that makes any sense to me is that people are clicking on the Bing Quiz and taking it without bothering to read the blurb. Now, there is an incentive to take the quiz whether or not you get answers correct, you get a small number of Microsoft Reward Points. It’s not much but it’s something.

Now, to the point of this blog. I want to get the answers right, there is a small feeling of pleasure I get from answering the question correctly. I also feel a sense of disappointment when I give a wrong answer. The blurb in question is usually just a couple of paragraphs and only takes a minute to read. Taking the time to read the blurb and answer the questions correctly is of value to me. It is clearly not of value to others, based on the percentage of people that get Bing Quiz answers wrong despite often being given the answer.

Is that a product of the way my brain works? I’m not a neurologist but I feel fairly confident everyone gets pleasure from answering correctly and feels some disappointment in not doing so. Some tiny chemical release generates this pleasure I’d guess. Anyway, I think it is universally human to enjoy being right and dislike being wrong.

Why do so many people trade being right for saving a minute of reading or doing a modicum of thinking? It’s not my place to judge anyone for this behavior and I’m not trying to put myself on some sort of pedestal because I choose to read the blurb and get the answer right more often than not. Whatever, take the Bing Quiz without studying first, none of my business.

I do find it interesting. Can we diagnose more important character traits based on such simple behavior? What about you? Would you take a quiz without studying first?

Would you take the Bing Quiz without reading the blurb first knowing it will result in more wrong answers?

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Tom Liberman

Reopening Schools and why Federal Money does not Mean Federal Control

Reopening Schools

The issue of reopening schools is making a lot of headlines and parents all over the United States are hopefully learning a Libertarian lesson. Just because the Federal Government gives money to a particular organization does not mean they should write the rules governing it. Schools in this case. I’ve written on this topic before but from a State rather than Federal level. The lesson still applies.

Increasingly both Democrats and Republicans have used federal purse strings to influence how both state and local governments go about their business. Both Republicans and Democrats are not shy about using the money they provide to local government to rationalize said organizations must follow the directives of the federal government. Reopening schools is just the latest salvo in the battle.

Way back when I was a youngster of 19 at the University of Idaho, the drinking age was 19 and the federal government didn’t like that. The National Minimum Age Drinking Act basically withheld highway funds provided by the federal government for those states not instituting a higher age. Before that the government successfully coerced states into lowering their speed limits.

Today the federal government has a financial interest in almost every aspect of our country and federal politicians use this fact to coerce the states and local governments into doing the bidding of whatever party happens to be in power in Washington D.C.

Now President Trump with the full support of the Secretary of Education, Betsy Devos, is attempting to coerce the various local municipalities by insisting students and teachers begin reopening schools. It goes without saying the various school districts across our nation are in vastly different circumstances. Some are in the midst of a Covid-19 crisis with cases rising and available respirators and emergency care beds available in hospitals dwindling or gone. Other districts have no cases whatsoever. If this situation does not illuminate to you the inherent problem with federal control, federal mandates, federal oversight, and federal oversteps then I suspect nothing will do so.

President Trump is threatening to cut of funding. Vice President Pence says explicitly: We’re going to be looking for ways to give states a strong incentive and encouragement to get kids back to school. This is coercion. This is the federal government telling all local communities they must handle the crisis in the exactly same way despite the obvious different circumstances. If you don’t find this insane, I suggest you might be a totalitarian fascist.

In our current situation the local community should decide if, when, and under what circumstances they will begin reopening schools. Anything else borders on tyranny.

Tom Liberman

Students on Phones are Bad or are they?

Students on Phones

Educational systems in the United States and all over the world are roiling with the constant reality of students on phones. From grammar school to college teachers, parents, administrators, and even law-makers are wrestling with the problem. It seems to me that the knee jerk reaction to students on phones is to take the phones away. I disagree.

The basic idea is students on phones are a distracting element taking away from the learning process and therefore the trend must be countered. Certainly, it can be argued cell phones are a useful tool in school for a number of reasons but the reality is students do get distracted while on their phone. It is within the purview of administrators and teachers to make rules about students on phone in their schools and classrooms. Being on a phone is not a constitutionally protected right so the state has the right to pass laws as well, that doesn’t mean it’s a proper thing for them to do.

It’s my opinion that each teacher should be allowed to make the rules in her or his classroom. Teachers are closest to the situation and can make the best determinations. Not to say all teachers are fair and equitable in their decision-making process. I’ve written about unfair teachers before so I’m under no illusion in that regard.

Now I’ll get to the point of this article. Were it my classroom, I would have no restrictions on students on phones. Believe me when I tell you I paid little or no attention to my teachers back when dinosaurs roamed the earth and we didn’t have cell phones. You can’t make a student pay attention if she or he does not want to do so.

The final arbiter of learning is test results. Should we punish students who don’t seem to be paying attention but get high scores while rewarding students who seem to be listening to every word but get lower scores? That’s the fundamental question that goes far beyond the schoolyard and into our everyday life. We must value results more than perceived effort.

It’s true that students will be distracted by phones and miss out on lesson content but you cannot convince me the same student would have paid attention without a phone in her or his hand. That’s the reality of the world. The onus is on the teacher to make the lesson interesting and engaging for the student. I’m not living in a fantasy world in that regard either. I know some students won’t pay attention no matter how hard the teacher works.

We cannot control how people learn or even if they learn at all. We must trust the individual to do the most with their own life despite our inclination to the contrary.

Tom Liberman

State of Missouri Enforces Start Date for School

School Start Date

My home state of Missouri just voted in a new law that forces local school districts to start their year no earlier than fourteen days before the first Monday of September. The basic idea is to extend the summer vacation so families will spend more on tourism. Here’s the problem. It should be up to the school district and their duly elected board to make that decision. If school board members want to have year-round education, that’s their business and they are accountable to the voters in their region.

It’s interesting, although unsurprising, to note that Missouri is dominated by small government Republican politicians and governor Mike Parson is part and parcel of that group. Their excuse, as usual, is it’s for the children. We want to help families spend more time together in summer. If you’ll excuse my crass language, nonsense. Someone convinced politicians an early start date cut into revenue and therefore they want to force local communities away from such.

In addition, the old rules allowed for school districts to start earlier if they gave notice and held a vote, the new rule prevents them from starting early for any reason. This is big, intrusive government in action.

This is exactly what the Constitution of the United States was designed to prevent. Those rights not given to government by the Constitution are reserved to the States or the People. That’s the Tenth Amendment and its meaning is very clear to this Libertarian. Those closest to the situation must have the right to pass their own laws. A school district can start sessions on any date it desires and the board members are then held accountable by local voters.

When the state steps in to enforce their rules onto local municipalities the voters have much less say in the matter. I’m sure there are many parents angry at their State Representatives and Senators over this action but a vote against such takes on a much broader range of issues. The school board is directly responsible for the operation of the school and local voters are in the best position to affirm or reject their decisions. The further removed we become from the local, the less likely we are to get a result in line with voter desires.

Now, to be certain, this means if a school board wanted to have a one-day school year because the majority of members didn’t believe in education, I would support their right to make such a foolish decision.

The freedom to be a moron is an important freedom. The state should not, and frankly cannot, protect us from our own stupidity. The state certainly should not be making school decisions for us when the main rational for doing so is financially motivated. Which is exactly what the Republican led legislature of Missouri just did.

Tom Liberman

Just Let Kids Like Olivia Jade Giannulli into College

Olivia Jade

I know it won’t be a popular opinion but I think the only real way to stop the behavior associated with the college admission scandal is to simply let kids like Olivia Jade Giannulli into school in their own category. If Olivia Jade and the legion of kids like her, who have the wherewithal to not only pay for their education but eventually fund many other students through future donations, want to attend a particular college, just let them in, no questions asked.

Simply create a category separate from normal admission so they don’t take anyone else’s spot. We’ve got some wealthy kids with rich parents who want their kid at a particular institution. If the school lets them in, they pay lots of money today and much more in the future. This allows the educational institution to flourish. The downside? I suppose all the people who are getting money off the bribery, such as Mark Riddell, will have to find a new way to finance their lives but other than that, I don’t see a problem.

The issue is basically that kids like Olivia Jade have always had, and always will have, every advantage in life. They get special tutoring, the best instructors, training at elite institutions, and other perks that less wealthy kids do not. It’s reality whether we like it or not. Some of those super-wealthy kids will do great things with the advantages they are given while others will squander them but that’s their business.

I know many people will complain about the inherent unfairness of a system such as I propose. Poor and middle-class kids have to work extremely hard under disadvantageous conditions to get the same thing being given to rich kids in exchange for lots of money. I agree, it’s unfair. Welcome to life.

Rich kids, children of important people within the academic institution, excellent athletes, and others have always been given far more breaks than those without such connections. It doesn’t stop at school either. Such children get better jobs with less effort and receive more chances when they fail.

My point is there is no stopping such behavior so we might as well allow it under a stated structure. Olivia Jade is allowed into USC with all the advantages such an education entails but she doesn’t take up a spot some other kid earned.

In the end, as the expression goes, the cream rises to the top. If such rich children are allowed into school along with their poor but harder working counterparts, eventually the one who does the best job will rise the highest. Maybe Olivia Jade will find great success in life but I’d guess someone like Rose Campion will achieve more. In the end, it’s up to them. Sometimes having to work harder for something is a good thing, even if it’s unfair.

Tom Liberman

Raven Osborne and the Future of Free Education

raven-osborneI have a strong interest in all things educationally related as I once worked as a Technology Trainer. One of the big topics we see in this field is the so-called Right to an education. A young woman named Raven Osborne, and her accomplishments, give what I believe is a peek into what education will eventually be for everyone.

Osborne was able to take a number of college credit courses through her high school. She also completed courses online. She will now get a college degree in Sociology at the same time she graduates high school. All at no cost.

One of the most interesting things about this is that it harkens to the past. In the old days, we did not have nearly the formalized schooling environment we see today. It was quite possible to obtain a license to practice law without attending law school. You simply educated yourself through available resources and then proved an adequate knowledge of the material. Can you say Abraham Lincoln?

While Lincoln had to read books, we now have the Internet and people can take many classes online. It’s certainly possible to pay for these classes and accumulate college credits but it is becoming increasingly easy to simply watch videos for free. I’ve always had an interest in law and I’ve been watching YouTube videos about Contract Law. I think it’s quite likely if I studied diligently enough, I could learn as much as was necessary to pass the Bar Exam. I could do all this without a single payment of any kind other than internet access.

As more and more educational opportunities became available through the Internet, it seems increasingly likely people will take advantage of them, as did Osborne. We’ll see a whole new generation of doctors, lawyers, massage therapists, and professionals in every field imaginable simply learning their skills through free sources and setting out in the world to make a living.

There is a huge debate among various factions about how education is a right. In a number of countries, a college education is paid for by the state. There are those who want such a system here in the United States. There are many who think this is prohibitively expensive.

Well, I’ve got good news. It’s all going to happen without any government intervention. It’s just going to require the sort of personal initiative that we see from Osborne and we saw from Lincoln. There is coming a time to this world where an education, in any field you might want to pursue, is completely available for all; at the cost of an internet connection. How incredible is that?

Technology and innovation is going to completely solve the problem. It is based on the personal initiative of educators posting their knowledge and colleges making classes available online to view. I challenge you to go, right now, to the internet and search for an educational topic that interests you. Find some videos and learn. Become a Photoshop master. Learn the law. Start on your way toward a career in veterinarian care. It’s mostly out there already and the catalog of available information is growing quickly.

I foresee a time when there are no schools at all. Every person will have the opportunity to get any education they desire for free. Then there are no excuses. If you want to be a lawyer but don’t take advantage of what is available, the onus is upon you.

The future is impossible to predict but it seems quite clear to me that education will be free. That more and more people will have the opportunity to enrich their lives without being limited by financial wherewithal. This means those most motivated and talented will succeed regardless of the circumstances of their birth. One of the great tragedies in this world is when a person with ability and desire is unable to fulfill their potential because of economic or social circumstances.

When the most motivated and the brightest are allowed to succeed, that is good for all of us.

Tom Liberman

Eager Students Need Motivated Teachers

eager-studentsA friend of mine who taught philosophy years ago, recently recounted a conversation he had with a student and it brought to my mind the nature of learning. There are two facets to the teacher student relationship that must be in good working order for learning to occur in a meaningful way. The teacher must want to impart information and the eager students must want to learn. I think this is fairly self-evident but I asked myself, after reading the dialog, how can we improve the current status?

How many of you had instructors who weren’t much interested in teaching? I know I did. The worst teacher I ever encountered likely changed the course of my life. She was a history teacher in high school and her lessons consisted of putting transparencies on the overhead projector and changing them every ten minutes or so while we wrote down their content. She had the entire semester laid out on those transparencies and, from beginning to end, we barely had a discussion in class.

Tests consisted of her writing the questions on the chalkboard and sitting at her desk while we took the test. From this teacher, I learned to hate history.

In college, I was friends with a history major and he convinced me to take a high-level class in European history that had no prerequisites. The professor was engaging, interesting, and taught with enthusiasm. I learned, contrary to what I believed, I love history. I’ve been a history buff ever since. If I had that teacher in high school, I am all but certain I would have followed a very different course in my professional life.

Therefore, we see the importance of a teacher who wishes to teach. If the teacher is willing to engage and challenge the student; the chances of learning increase dramatically.

Now I must also face a harsh reality. I was an indifferent student. I didn’t pay much attention in class and I shirked doing homework or any sort of schoolwork at all. I wanted to play sports and, later, Dungeons and Dragons. That was about it. I had an incredibly engaging chemistry teacher in high school. Perhaps one of the best teachers I’ve had in my life. I learned more about chemistry in that class than any other but I also, most likely, learned a lot less than other students who were eager for the lessons.

I think it was most frequently said about my academic career that I was intelligent but didn’t put forth the effort required. That is more than fair, generous even. I was lazy or perhaps just completely uninterested.

In my later life, I’ve developed a strong desire to learn although, as in my youth, only in topics that interest me. I suspect if I were to go back to what we call traditional school, teachers might well give the same evaluation report.

To me it’s fairly clear that a desire to learn by the student and an eagerness to impart information as a teacher are an indispensable couple in the quest for education.

What is different in this information age is students have a much broader pool of instructors. With YouTube and colleges offering Video on Demand courses, there is an ever-increasing amount of fantastic knowledge out there. I’m certain this is going to grow larger and larger. There will be a time in the not too far distant future when anyone can learn anything while sitting at her or his computer.

Perhaps if I was born fifteen years ago instead of fifty-two, I would have learned my love of history when a lad. Perhaps my life would be very different today, at least professionally. That’s an astonishing thought. Today I spend hours learning about history through various sources, including college courses available to watch on YouTube.

It’s quite possible that any number of young, eager students, might someday watch videos created by my friend and go on to distinguished careers in philosophy. That some young girl or boy might watch one of his lessons on YouTube and eventually come up with a revolutionary idea in the field. In the past, my friend was limited to students in the classroom. That limitation no longer exists.

To sum it all up I say to my friend, get cracking.

Tom Liberman

Why Should the Government Mandate Cursive Writing in Schools?

cursive-writingThe answer is simple. They shouldn’t. Yet it’s a trend that just added Alabama and Mississippi and which already includes fourteen states. Fourteen states think the government should mandate spending time to learn something that is largely useless in modern society. There is little need of cursive writing but for some reason legislators and, judging by the comment section, lots and lots of regular folks, approve of these laws.

Those who support such measures make any number of claims including the ideas that it helps students think through ideas, helps creativity, it helps train the mind, and helps grammar. The reality is different and I think important to understand. The people who support such laws were taught cursive writing in school. They don’t want students today taught things differently because they are threatened by and scared of this new world in which we live.

There is very little need for cursive writing anymore and soon there will be none. We use computers, tablets, phones, and other devices to type our messages, this is self-evident. There is no need for me to argue this point. Cursive has less relevance in the modern world with each passing day. It will not return as a useful means of communication. The purpose of teaching cursive writing was to allow people to write down their thoughts more quickly than block printing but with the legibility of that style. That’s why cursive writing was taught, because it was an incredibly useful skill for people to know. We did not teach it to encourage creativity, to train minds, to help thinking, or to help grammar. We can teach those things in other ways.

Cursive was taught because it was useful to know. That is the most important thing and the basic reason it was taught. It’s not important to know anymore so we shouldn’t be teaching it. We should spend time teaching other things.

I’m not opposed to teaching grammar. I’m not opposed to teaching students creativity. I’m not opposed to teaching students how to think through an idea. I’m not opposed to teaching students to use logical thought processes. I am, however; totally and irrevocably opposed to teaching cursive in school.

The people who argue for this seem to universally lament the fact that students today are unprepared for life and that somehow spending many hours teaching them a useless skill will help this problem. Let me be clear, the people who claim young people are stupid and unable to handle the modern world are wrong. Young people today face a very different world and very different challenges than I did and they are well-equipped to handle such a life. College students, high-school students, and young adults are often intelligent, smart, capable, and largely better educated than their parents.

This insistence on cursive writing is almost solely based on fear that kids today are learning things that adults don’t know or understand. People feel safe in forcing  kids to learn the things we learned, it gives a comforting sense of continuity. It’s a bad idea.

This fear drives much in our lives. This fear holds us back. This fear will hold back millions of kids in Alabama, Mississippi and twelve other states.

Tom Liberman

It’s not the Beard, it’s the Rule – Andrew Jones Graduation

Andrew-Jones-beardThere’s a story all over the news this morning about a young man who was not allowed to participate in the graduation ceremony with his class because he had a beard.

There seem to be largely two takes on the story.

1. A rule is a rule and Andrew Jones should have followed the rule. He was given a chance to shave his beard but refused.

2. He was allowed to wear his beard all year long at school but the district decided to enforce the rule only at the graduation, therefore the rule is being arbitrarily and unfairly applied.

I have a third opinion, no surprise. Why is there such a rule in the first place? What does a beard have to do with a public education? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against rules. No running with scissors. Why? Because you might take out your eye or stab someone else in a fall. No talking in class. Why? Because it prevents the teacher from communicating the lesson.

I’m also not pretending there is no reason for the rule. It has a very definite purpose. It is a rule created to show the students who is in charge. It is a rule designed to acclimate young minds to the idea that they must follow pointless guidelines instituted by small people who delight in their trivial taste of power. Who all but masturbate because they get to enforce their will upon a captive audience.

Jones attends Amite High School in the Tangipahoa Parish School System in Louisiana. Tangipahoa Superintendent Mark Kolwe insisted the rule was fine and they would enforce it the entire year in the future rather than selectively at graduation.

Yuck. Petty bureaucrats reveling in their power and enforcing their stupidity.

Mr. Jones. You graduated. You excelled during your time in high school. Small minds stole your moment to celebrate with your fellow students. I have a lesson for you. It won’t be the last time your inferiors try to bend you to their will with useless and petty rules. Sometimes you will be tempted to forgo you principles, to shave your beard, so that you might get along. My advice? Fuck them.

If you must give up things like a graduation ceremony in order to be true to yourself, you have won. You have defeated the reptiles of the world who hope to destroy you for the simple reason that you are better than they will ever be.

Success lies ahead. Keep on your path, Mr. Jones. Stay your course.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Gray Horn
Next Release: For the Gray

I’m Smarter than Them

smarter-than-you-minI just added a blog to my Stupid Comment of the Week collection and, while discussing it with my co-worker Joe, found his observation to be extraordinarily intriguing. His thought essential involved the idea of perceived intelligence. Let me explain.

The original stupid comment involved a mathematical equation involving prime numbers but it is the implications of that comment that intrigue me.

The commenter got themselves involved in a complex mathematical discussion in which they felt their ideas would easily trump that of the established mathematic community. Their idea was nonsensical and well-worthy of inclusion in my Stupid Comment of the Week blog but it was the idea behind it, that Joe so ably pointed out, that I find so interesting.

Why would someone, without much thought or hesitation, enter into a complex mathematical discussion? I think there was a time when the sciences, as a whole, were respected and admired by the population. But in the last few years we’ve seen a stark politicization of science. When the science agrees with my political philosophy I respect it but when it does not I ridicule it. This attitude has filtered down to the average person so much so that they think they know better than scientists.

That is clearly what drove the comment in question. Anyone who had respect for the all but unfathomable nature of higher mathematics, which I do, would never so much as dare enter into an opinion that countered the established thought. At least not without considerable research. Yet the fellow in question, one assumes without hesitation, had the absolute arrogance to assume a greater knowledge than those who spent countless hours in study. The fellow in question did not hesitate to assume that their ten seconds of thought, if that, could simply and easily dispose of astonishing intelligence and hard work.

What does this tell us? That the average citizen believes they are smarter than those who work, who study, who spend hours in deep discussions with colleagues, who are clearly of superior intelligence? That the average, or below average, person thinks they know more than she or he who has spent a lifetime studying and learning?

It is a disturbing thought. If the average person believes they are smarter than the intellectual giants; what does it tell us about where the United States of America is heading?

I think this is a question well worth examining and I find I do not like the answer.

If the average person does not respect, does not admire, does not even so much as admit that the intellectual elite are in fact, elite, where is our nation headed?

The only answer I can come up with is that we are headed for obscurity. The United States will become an afterthought in the world. A has-been. A once great fallen into laughable disrepair.

I hope this is not the case but evidence is growing.

What do you think?

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Girl in Glass I: Apparition
Next Release: The Gray Horn

Monica Pompeo, Lesbians, and Academic Standards

critical-thinking-abilityI just read an interesting case that has largely concluded in New Mexico wherein a student named Monica Pompeo filed a lawsuit against the University of New Mexico.

Pompeo took a course called Images of (Wo)men: From Icons to Iconoclasts in which the syllabus suggested that students have open minds to examine representations of a plethora of genders and sexualities. Her opinion of lesbians was that they were perverse and had barren wombs.

The original story about the lawsuit describes how professors seemed to harangue Pompeo for her negative comments about lesbians in the essay but the updated article tells a different story. Had I only read the original story I would have sided with Pompeo. In the updated story where the judge did further examination it was found that Pompeo was not asked to change her opinion but simply to substantiate it with critical thinking as is required in an academic environment.

Pompeo was spoken to about rewriting the paper so that it conformed with the requirements of the course, critical thinking, rather than rewrite it to conform with a particular ideology. Pompeo refused. Her academic advisor, the professor, and the professor’s immediate supervisor all reviewed the paper and came to the same conclusion. That the thoughts Pompeo laid out were not properly substantiated.

Rather than perform a rewrite of the paper, essentially attempt to prove her point, Pompeo resorted to a path more in tune with the United States of whining America. She filed a lawsuit because people were forcing her to adhere to high standards. The judge dismissed the case.

I think this sequence of events tells us a great deal about Pompeo, those commenting on the story, and our nation as a whole.

It’s my opinion that those who vilified Pompeo after the original story were completely wrong and those who trumpet her cause after the updated story are also mistaken. That is what we have in this country these days; a complete lack of critical thinking and blind loyalty to a particular cause.

If Pompeo was being told to rewrite the paper in ideological grounds then she is in right, whether you support lesbian rights or not. Pompeo is most certainly entitled to her opinion and all the more so because it is in an academic environment where individual thought is encouraged, even more so if it is against the mainstream. The “Liberals” who applauded such treatment were guilty of supporting bullying and closed mindedness.

However, if Pompeo was being asked to merely substantiate her claims then it is those who continue to support her that have failed in their analysis. “Conservatives” who support Pompeo are guilty of saying that standards do not apply. That clear and well thought out arguments are valueless. You need not understand or explain a position, it’s enough to simply have one. This attitude is also an utter abrogation of the responsibility of an academic institution.

And, by and large, I think that’s where we are in this country. It matters not if you have facts to support a position. It matters that you hold a position strongly and you talk louder than anyone else.

What I find discouraging is that I think the vast majority of people who originally disagreed with Pompeo will continue to do so and those who supported her originally will continue to do so. Only a small minority will have changed their opinion based on an evolving understanding of the case.

It’s my opinion that bad decisions are often rooted in this kind of thinking. People stick with an opinion and a plan despite evidence that it is wrong and will fail. The result is failure.

What happens when men and women who think like this run our municipality, our state, and our country?

All one need do is look around.

Tom Liberman

Woodrow Wilson – Embrace History or Erase it?

Woodrow-Wilson-President-PrincetonI just read an interesting story about how students at Princeton are demanding the school remove the name of Woodrow Wilson from various buildings and programs.

For me it brings up the question as to whether erasing history is a better solution than understanding it. I think you can probably guess my opinion on that subject. Let’s examine the story first.

President Thomas Woodrow Wilson was many things including, President of the United States during World War I. He was also the President if Princeton. He was very effective in both positions. He managed to institute massive changes while in power working to bring together disparate points of view into acceptable compromises.

He instituted many policies some of which are reviled and some of which are hailed as having allowed the United States to become a world power. His racial thoughts were a mixed bag. He opposed slavery on economic grounds rather than moral ground. He certainly discouraged black students from applying to Princeton. The leader of the NAACP, W. E. B. Du Bois, was a supporter of Wilson.

All that being said, I am not here to debate if Wilson was or was not a racist. I am not here to debate his fiscal policies.

I’m here to talk about why we shouldn’t ignore history. Wilson was President of Princeton and to ignore that is to ignore history.

To put the question more personally to me; am I offended by many memorials to Ulysses S. Grant? Grant issued the infamous General Order No. 11 which ordered the expulsion all Jews from military districts.

I must ask myself if I am diminished by the fact that there are many memorials to Grant. The memorials do not lessen me by honoring their arguably anti-Semitic founder. I am the one who takes offense. I am the one whose feelings are hurt.

Should we simply wipe the knowledge of Grant’s existence from every public place? Should we raze all pieces of art depicting him? Should we pretend he didn’t do the things he did because he also did awful things?

No one is all good or all bad, not even Adolph Hitler. The founders of our nation were largely, with a few notable exceptions, racist slave owners.

Will taking the name of Grant off a building erase his contributions to our nation? Should we only honor people who did no wrong in life? Can we not acknowledge and honor the good while still recognizing the bad?

The question for Princeton administrators is to ask themselves if they are willing to remove the legacy of the man who did so much for them, despite his flaws.

On a much broader scale I must ask myself if erasing the names of people who did wrong from memorials is helpful. My answer is no. It’s much better to let plain truth shine through, though it may be painful.

I am not offended by Grant’s name being honored in memorials. I think it rather self-centered for anyone to be so angered, Jewish or not. Grant did nothing to me and the honors being given are based on other things the general accomplished. That being said, I also think people should know about General Order No. 11. It happened. It was awful.

There are many who try to pretend their heroes did no wrong. They attempt to hide the misdeeds of those they generally admire.

Those who wish to take Wilson’s name off the Princeton building are exactly the same as these people, just in reverse.

No, I say. No. Honor the good, acknowledge the bad. They are not mutually exclusive.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Girl in Glass I: Apparition
Next Release: The Gray Horn

$400 a Month Forever Student Loan

student-loansI went down to my corner bar the other night to watch my beloved St. Louis Cardinals play, eat a delicious burger, have a nice gin & tonic, and generally try to shake off my anti-social tendencies. The place was largely empty and I struck up a conversation with the young (and attractive) bartender. What I learned was disturbing. She’s been paying $400 a month to pay off her $35,000 student loan for seven years and she still owes $29,000.

What, what, what?

There’s a problem here. Let’s solve it.

The first step is to identify the problem. It turns out to be systemic and rather like the 2008 housing crisis that cost We The People billions of dollars.

Colleges are charging huge fees for tuition that are far above the value of the education. Banks are giving out loans to people who cannot afford to repay them in a timely fashion. Loans are structured in a predatory fashion to ensure people pay essentially forever. People are willing to take out ridiculous loans. People who should never go to college are going and incurring debt. Lots of blame to spread around.

The next question is to find out how this all came to be. The root cause is money, as is often the case. The federal government, banks issuing loans, and higher education facilities can make huge amounts of money from these loans. 2005 legislation, The Bankruptcy Reform Bill, included provisions that meant declaring bankruptcy did not absolve students of debt. This means that you can’t legally get out from under the debt, you owe forever.

So we understand the problem and its causation, what’s the solution?

I’m no Socialist. I don’t think making higher education free for all is a reasonable solution. It sounds good and it certainly has some appeal. The big problem, from my perspective, is that higher education costs will rise to take advantages of this government larder. Many students who have no business going to college will do so at a cost to the taxpayer.

I am a capitalist and I think loan institutions should make money on their loans. The loans are a good thing in that they provide young people a chance at a higher education when they otherwise could not afford such. They also make money for the banks. That’s good.

So where does that leave us?

The Higher Education Act of 1965 created something very useful called the Perkins Loan. It is more like a car or home loan as opposed to a never-ending credit card charge. It’s a ten year loan at a fixed 5% rate.

Let’s take my new bartender friend’s case. She has paid $400 a month for seven years. That’s $33,600 off a $35,000 loan. Add the annual 5% to the principal and she’s pretty much got the thing paid off. Another three years and she’d be done. However, she didn’t get a Perkins Loan. Seven years into it and she’s nowhere near paying it off and there is no end in sight.

The problem becomes how to limit student loans to just Perkins type structures. If a student agrees to pay a ridiculous loan is it the bank’s fault for offering it? If banks give out insane loans are higher education institutions wrong to raise the fees to absurd amounts? Can the government legally force banks and schools to be less predatory and make a reasonable profit while allowing students to get an education without mortgaging their future? Can we force students to be reasonable about their future and crush their often misguided dreams?

No easy answers here.

I do think predatory loan practices are essentially stealing. It’s more egregious than taking money from a person via direct criminal actions. Yes, people are foolish to willingly sign for a loan that will essentially keep them in debt forever but fraud is a crime. I see no issue with charging people with theft for loan conditions that are unmanageable. Put a few loan officers in jail for issuing such loans and I think the problem would largely be solved.

Yes, fewer students would get loans. Yes, higher education facilities would see drops in enrollment. Yes, lenders would take a hit to their profits.

The other option is sit idly by while really nice girls like my bartender are made slaves to debt. Oh, and destroy the economy with a huge student loan default.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Girl in Glass I: Apparition
Next Release: The Gray Horn

Charged with a Crime for Cheering at Graduation Ceremony

warrant-high-school-graduationThere’s an interesting story hitting the news about three people who have been served with a summons for misdemeanor disturbing the peace after cheering at a graduation ceremony.

There seems to be pretty passionate and high levels of disagreement about whether the charge was appropriate under the circumstances.

Some think that the charges are ridiculous and that Senatobia school district Superintendent Jay Foster is a power mad educator forcing his view of the world on a few parents who dared commit the crime of cheering their children at graduation.

Others believe that Ursula Miller was well aware of the rules prohibiting cheering while the students were receiving their diplomas. The rules stated clearly that all cheering be reserved until after all names had been called. Miller states she was aware she was breaking the rules and assumed that she would be asked to leave, which she was, but had no idea criminal charges would be forthcoming. Many think she knowingly broke the rules and should be punished.

Those who think Miller should not be charged largely come in two groups. Many say she was clearly rude and disrespectful to all the other students but her rudeness does not amount to criminal behavior. The other group thinks parents and family members should be able to cheer all they want when their loved one’s name is called.

Those who think it is a crime largely have seen high school graduations deteriorate into screaming contests in which one family tries to outdo the other and the kids getting their diplomas are largely overlooked in all the cheering.

I place myself with this group. I didn’t much care about my high school graduation but listening to the screaming and yelling of a few families drowning out the calling of my own name did rub me the wrong way. I wasn’t furious or anything but I did think about the abject selfishness of their behavior.

I recently attended my nieces graduation and they clearly stated, multiple times aloud and in the literature, that no cheering would be tolerated until after all names were called. This rule was followed universally without issue.

The reason I’m in agreement with Superintendent Foster is that a simple summons for a misdemeanor is an appropriate punishment for the behavior. Miller did disturb the peace of all the other students and parents. The punishment is potentially $500 and up to six months in prison. I would imagine a far lesser sentence will be apportioned by the the judge.

I think the crux of the issue is if what Miller did was just rude or illegal. I dismiss those who think everyone should cheer as much as they want at such an event. It is incredibly rude at the very least and not an expression of joy. It is an expression of selfish disregard for anyone else. It is simply yelling out “Me, Me, Me.” Nothing more and nothing less.

The question then becomes if such behavior was illegal. Did she disturb the peace. Should disturbing the peace be a crime at all.

My answer is straight forward. The legislator of the community in question has legally passed an ordinance and a crime has potentially been committed. The Constitution of the United States is silent on the subject of cheering at graduations. Therefore it is up to the community. A judge will decide if the law has been broken or not.

If the judge agrees with me, I suspect next year the ceremony will be much more dignified. Good.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Black Sphere
Next Release: The Girl in Glass I: Apparition

Michael Diggle and the School Bras

southfield-school-michael-diggleThere’s a fascinating story making the news in England involving a drama teacher named Michael Diggle who has been fired for asking two female students to take off their bras in order to apply body make-up and take pictures.

It sounds like an easy decision to make but I don’t think so and I’m going to tell you why. I suspect a lot of people are going to disagree with me.

Diggle was a respected drama teacher and his students were practicing to perform a play called Crave. I’ve never seen it but it clearly involves some dark and sexual themes. He applied bruise make-up to one of the girls on her upper back and neck requiring she remove her bra. During this time he apparently commented on the girl’s figure. He also took sexy, or what is being called provocative, pictures of the girls because such photos are used in the play. Said pictures were used in the play. He did both of these things without supervision and while alone with the girls.

School administrators spoke with both of the girls in question and others in the play. All apparently describe Diggle as excellent at his job as Director of Creative Arts at Southfield School in Kettering. He is described by students as being devoted. He is the sort of teacher who apparently asks his students to stretch their ability and become better. His actions were determined not to be sexually motivated. He has a good history with the school and apparently no other disciplinary problems.

Another important factor, from my eyes at least, is that Diggle maintains he did nothing wrong. He merely wanted to help his students become better actors, to apply themselves in difficult ways. Being a great actor requires such ability and it seems clear to me that Diggle is the sort of teacher who helps young people reach their potential.

I’m not completely on Diggle’s side in this. He should have had other people present when applying the makeup and taking the photos; perhaps the parents of the girls or at least another adult. That being said I think firing him is totally inappropriate. He is the sort of person who should be teaching our children. He is clearly not frightened to take on difficult topics and forces his students into unfamiliar situations. This is something a great educator must do.

I’m not opposed to a reprimand or lesser punishment but does it help the children of Kettering to lose such a teacher or does it hurt them? Isn’t that the bottom line? Is a teacher effective? That’s the question. We all make mistakes and such draconian punishment ensures that those who are bold, those who take risks, those very people we want to motivate children are driven from the field of teaching. We are left with those who don’t take chances, who don’t ask tough questions, who go down the easiest path, and take their charges with them.

I understand the investigation but I don’t agree with the final decision. Others may disagree.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Black Sphere
Next Release: The Girl in Glass I: Apparition

School Lunch Reprimand from Teacher

school lunch reprimandThere’s an interesting story from the field of education making the rounds this morning and I think it’s pretty instructive in a couple of ways.

What happened is that a teacher at an elementary school in Kirksville in my home state of Missouri sent home a note asking parents to pack a better lunch for their child. According to the information given to the teacher the child’s lunch consisted of four chocolate bars, marshmallows, crackers, and a pickle.

The parent wrote a rather nasty reply that described the lunch contents in a more favorable light which included meat and cheese and an absence of crackers as the contents. An administrator apologized for the note and made it clear that it would not happen again.

The comment section seems pretty heavily in favor of the parent and suggest that the teacher overstepped his or her bounds (no information was given on the teacher in question). I largely disagree although I’m not completely on the side of the teacher. I think the note should have taken a gentler tone and first confirmed that the lunch was as described and then perhaps included information and links to studies on the importance of eating a healthy lunch as it pertained to performing well in school. That being said, I think the note as a concept was absolutely appropriate for someone with Libertarian beliefs.

I’m reminded of one of the early scenes of Atlas Shrugged when the train is in danger of running late and the man responsible for making sure it won’t happen refuses to accept the responsibility and eventually Dagny Tagger is forced to step in and make the decision.

In this case the lunch as reported to the teacher was clearly substandard. The teacher, being someone of conscience, someone of personal responsibility, decided to take on the matter personally. This teacher clearly takes an interest in his or her children and wants them to succeed. The teacher did absolutely the right thing in writing the note. As I said, the note should have tried to confirm the lunch contents and been gentler in tone, but it is the hallmark calling card of someone who cares, who is willing to make a decision, and most importantly, willing to take action.

The father should have written back explaining that the lunch was not as described and THANKED the teacher for caring, for taking the time to worry about his child. He should have told the administration that they had a great teacher and he was proud his child was in that class.

The result? The teacher shamed. Any other teacher who sees a problem with a student will now be reluctant and probably unwilling to take any sort of independent action. Teachers will have to check with ten layers of administration before sending a note home to a parent.

The losers? Children everywhere.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
Current Release: The Black Sphere
Next Release: The Girl in Glass I: Apparition