"Learning is a change in human disposition or capability that persists over a period of time and is not simply ascribable to processes of growth."
-- Robert M. Gagne
If you haven't read them already, please consult the previous two pages in this section for background, examples, and context. Ignorance, Idiocy, and Democracy covers the important distinction between knowing and not knowing, between being open to an expansion of awareness and being closed minded. It is through that openness, that possibility, that potential for learning that democracy is able to exist for democracy requires an educated populace that can steer the political discourse and avoid political pandering by those seeking to control them via sound bite BS politics. How, Why, and Policy Making takes it a step further by describing the importance of the questions "how" and "why" in the crafting of good policy. The question of "how" allows politicians to give their stance on the matter- such as "how" they will address healthcare reform; the question of "why" then forces politicians to justify their thoughts, simultaneously giving insight into their thinking methodology.
What I aim to do here is expound upon those two pages and (finally) offer some real policy changes.
Mandatory Logic Classes in High School
The first is asking for mandatory logic classes in all high schools around the country. I think it would make a good subject for junior year students. In the middle of the teenage years, rebellion takes hold and kids seek to understand and conquer the world. They seek to find their place, learn about themselves and others. Puberty gives birth to strange feelings and strange hair, desires, thoughts and relationships bloom. Guidance needs to be given, not just from friends and family, but through their education. All students take math, science, history, and English. This logic class I propose is philosophy based, with a year dedicated to learning about real semantic logic and predicate logic, learning rules like Modus Tollens, Implication, Equivalence, Idempotence, Universal Introduction and Existential Elimination. To encourage such learning and study, my recommendation would be to make use of current events and other school subjects.
Let's say you're taking this class at Beaver Dam High School, a school I just made up in my mind. The football team is facing a crisis of quarterback. Play it out in a logical fashion in the class. Have students give an argument for why one quarterback is better than the other. Push the students to see how arguments cannot be petty and simple but rather complex and meaningful when you're really trying to get a point across. An argument that goes "because A is hotter than B and the quarterback has to be the hottest guy, therefore A should be quarterback" while valid, is also unsound and silly. But hey, at least the student would be able to prove their argument with logic, even if someone else could put forth a counter argument for why "the quarterback has to be the hottest guy" premise is invalid. Or maybe a counter to the premise of quarterback A being hot at all!
Doing that gives kids ammunition to learn. They can read books, have conversations, and learn how to have true discourse. It will prepare them for college when they may need to challenge their professor's reasoning on a subject, it will prepare them for the workforce when they need to understand why their boss thinks something has to be a certain way rightfully or wrongly, and it will give them the ability to seek truth in life however they deem fit with the ability to constantly reason and reevaluate. Because that's what's so great about logic and arguments. They are malleable, changing until Truth with a capital "T" becomes closer to reality.
Common Core Review for Experiential Learning
The second reform I want implemented is a review of Common Core. Not for the sake of "fixing" the program. I very much like and approve of the notion that America has a base set of principles, skills, and context for all kids to partake in. This ensures equality in education while also providing multiple perspectives for our youth to learn. Learning requires these perspectives in order to understand how various aspects of our reality fit together. Studying math or chemistry or English or Spanish or music or any field in a closed off silo creates imbalance in the child. The real world, what we are preparing these kids for, involves anything and everything. It is a ridiculous complicated existence. Minds far greater than mine have spent millennia trying to figure it out.
Common Core was created by the states (governors, education commissioners, teachers, parents, and more) coming together to form a standard set of rules and processes. These were meant to ensure all kids get access to a consistent, quality education. To date, most states have implemented Common Core standards. Some states are still not there, but hopefully will be in the near future.1
So while I support Common Core and what it aims to achieve, I also want to conduct a review. It's been over five years since first implemented, so a thorough review is warranted. But what I really want to know is how much experiential learning is being given to students. See, understanding- really understanding something- takes two pieces of knowledge: intellectual knowledge and experiential knowledge. We learned intellectual knowledge all the time in school; memorization of history, biology, and more was forced on us in order to do well on our exams. Likewise, we might hear about Stephen Hawking's theory on how to escape Black Holes and (maybe) intellectually grasp what he's referring to. However, a crucial piece is missing. We may have memorized or stored a certain idea in our brain, but we don't truly understand it. Not until we have experienced the concept or idea in action.
Take any physical activity- throwing a curve ball, dribbling a ball between your legs, doing a back flip, drifting a car around a corner, etc. Someone can tell you what to do. That's easy. And you can know in your head what to do. It "makes sense." Then you try it and, more often than not, fail on your first try. If you truly understood, why did you fail? Just because you understand something in your head does not mean it translates into the real world so easily. For physical activities, the intellectual piece is balanced with physical awareness, understanding the timing, the motion, distances required, and so on. Then, once both intellect and experiential knowledge are achieved, only then can you really say you understand something.
Thus what this proposed reform does is review programs in every state to determine levels of experiential knowledge. This involves writing papers for English class, real world math, more labs in science classes, and more. No doubt this already exists in our school systems, but the level of effectiveness most likely could use room for improvement.
Keep Religion/Politics Out Of Public Education
If you say just that, everyone will misunderstand. It's why sound bite politics absolutely suck.
What I mean when I say "keep religion/politics out of education" is that political ideology, preference for one viewpoint or another, has no place in objective covering of general education. States have used politics to restrict textbooks and subject matter available to students, often times using religious or political grounds to do so. This mainly occurs in discussion of evolution, but also in history textbooks where states may want certain people to have more prominence or in textbooks that don't discuss certain aspects of the civil rights movement.2 Recently, state legislators seem to have taken up a personal war against numerous science teachings. Missouri introduced a bill that specifically targets evolution;3 Indiana introduced a bill acknowledging controversies (especially in human cloning? huh?) and seems to be using it as a scapegoat for allowing alternative theories on climate change, evolution, etc;4 Montana put together a draft bill covering a lot more controversial topics with the goal being legal coverage for teachers to expound on alternative theories;5 West Virginia tried to mess with climate change standards in their science education curricula last year, but this year changed their tune after public backlash;6 Ohio wanted to ban teaching of scientific process, but somehow keep scientific knowledge and allow for free discussion of intelligent design.7
Generally speaking, it seems that over 10% of science teachers are using creationism to teach the "evolution" portion of science, which makes no sense as creationism is a measure of faith without scientific background.8 That doesn't make it better or worse, it just means that such has no real place in a class/curriculum meant to teach science and the scientific method. Science and the scientific method is heavily steeped in logic, reasoning, and critical thinking. Creationism involves God and not much else. That's great for teaching about God and religion, but horrible for teaching about science, how to learn, why things happen, and overall expansion of awareness.
Keep religion and politics out of public education. Or at the very least, confine it to classes on religion and politics. Doing otherwise forces beliefs on those who may not partake of a particular religion. Science is universal, religion and political views are personal.
Higher Education Fair Use in IP, and
IP Via Taxpayer Funds Becomes Public Domain
The next reform we need curbs the abuse of universities and academic journals. Reform our intellectual property laws as it pertains to education. This is a reform that begins with allowing complete copyright/patent fair use for educational purposes at high schools, universities, and colleges so that departments can learn, understand, experiment, and conduct research on the path to discovery without fear of multimillion dollar reprisal.
University research has not been as innovative as the Bayh-Dole Act of 1980 would have liked. Remember, the Bayh-Dole Act was designed to to relieve the federal government from the burden of tracking and organizing patents created via research funded by taxpayer money. Big bloated government at the time sucked, but the response to that problem was to allow businesses and universities to use their publicly paid-for inventions for profit. This reform aims to get around that. Reforms I mention in the intellectual property section cover non-universities, but here I'm specifically talking about higher education locking up innovation.
And when I say locking up, I truly mean it. The business model that universities took was one of "license to the highest bidder." Unfortunately, that model sucked. The private sector does not like being threatened with outrageous licensing costs for patents, choosing to discover alternate means instead of pursuing a license. So universities adapted by getting into the corporate business. A number of colleges and universities possess an Office of Technology Transfer (or licensing) where patents and inventions are held. Then, they foster startups and license out their portfolio to said startups for millions in revenue.9 But they're not very good at it. In the last 20-ish years, most universities (87% +/-) haven't broken even, meaning they haven't generated enough licensing revenue to cover the cost of the OTT program, itself.10 Thus the patents languish, unused more often than not.
I want all discoveries made with the help of taxpayer money to be freely available to all Americans. Any invention, anything that gets patented with taxpayer money immediately goes into the public domain. The days of universities creating something and then patenting it so they can charge millions in licensing fees for work subsidized by taxpayers needs to end. Everyone already hates taxes, but when university work funded by tax money in the form of grants, state budgets, etc. goes on to charge the very people funding it for the work created, that's akin to double dipping or double screwing the very people who helped get you where you are today. That is something I really, really don't want to see.
Universities and colleges pat themselves on the back for helping startups get off the ground via their technology licensing programs offered by OTT's. Sure, that's good. But imagine if there was no licensing fee to begin with. Then maybe the universities could put money and resources towards helping more students get startups off the ground without giving a damn whether the startup is economically viable to their income stream or not. Or maybe I'm being silly for thinking college's helping more students get jobs would somehow benefit everyone.
An educational fair use clause would allow clips of books and movies to be used without fear of reprisal under the current system which isn't nearly as clear cut as it should be. It also provides safety for schools improving upon inventions through use or reverse engineering of patents without licenses. This balances out against the public offering portion because universities are supposed to be about education, innovation, and discovery, so the goal is to make it easier for such to happen, to more quickly return that knowledge back to the American people. Which is precisely why the third part is that these discoveries, creations, etc that universities like Duke come up with should not be sold to patent trolls and licensed out at obscene amounts, but rather made available to all for the progress of science and the arts, like our IP laws are supposed to do.11 Those licensing deals sure as hell aren't going to help cover tuition costs, after all.
Addressing Academic Journal Costs
What I said about patents from taxpayer funded research going back to the public applies all funded research, including copyright on researched published in academic journals and magazines. This means the major academic journals that take articles and charge $40+ for 10 pages of taxpayer funded research will need to rethink their business model, and I'm sorry for that. But if your business model is to gouge the public for research you didn't write that was also funded with public money, that's just a bad business model to begin with and I have no problem forcing you to fix it or vanish.
The cost for academic journals and paper access has become a real problem, not just for outside researchers whose taxes go towards a good chunk of these works, but also for the universities themselves. For years now, colleges and universities have warned that their subscriptions to these closed-access journals are unsustainable. Harvard, with their incredible alumni association and high tuition, is spending close to 10% of their entire Library material acquisition budget on these closed-access journal bundles, bundles which include articles written by their own staff.12 We're talking millions of dollars, here. The model needs to switch. We need more open access journal usage. There is ample opportunity out there for more open access journals to compete with the big players in the game. If you aren't familiar with the Directory of Open Access Journals I recommend you check them out. Competition is good and necessary to bring down the costs. If professors and researchers simply sell their article rights to a journal without care for what readers will be charged or if it will ever be open sourced- a very unlikely scenario- that is the equivalent of killing knowledge, keeping it secretive and restrictive, eliminating the potential all people have in learning and understanding. If we were to measure ROI on such paper deals, the author is the only one who really benefits; for everyone else, the ROI is crap. The money would have been better spent on those who'd be willing to share their findings and make it open and accessible to the masses. No taxpayer wants to hear "sorry, this government grant from NIH generated some great, progressive research on curing cancer, but you need to pay $100 to read it."
Academic journal access helps everyone, both in school and in the real world. The fount of information available begs to be devoured by those who truly want to learn. Demanding $50 for a 12 page paper that may not even be exactly what you're looking for helps no one. I cannot tell you how many times I've tried to research a topic only to be forced into a paywall from JSTOR, Project MUSE, and other groups aggregating research they didn't fund and charging me $5 per page at times. By having that access which I deserve thanks to taxpayer funding, I can further educate myself and, in turn, bring awareness to others by sharing my knowledge and/or applying it to work and life.
Much like what I said about immigration reform, education reforms of the non-cost variety could be expanded upon. What I provide here (and everywhere, really) serves as a base for what I'd like to see done to our educational system. We must first, as a nation, realize that education and awareness is a requirement of all citizens. The cloud of ignorance hinders every American, even when they don't realize it. We also need to make sure teaching is being done in a beneficial manner by understanding learning theories, especially when it comes to experiential learning and the benefits surrounding that. And we need to implement a slew of IP reforms not just for the nation as a whole, but to remind our centers of higher education that they are not meant to take public money and then charge the public in a metaphorical "double taxation." This might take revenue away from universities, but it could also save them millions by making academic journals more affordable.
While this is all well and good, there's still the elephant in the room...... the cost of higher education.
(1) See Standards in Your State by the Common Core Initiative.
(2) See How Texas Inflicts Bad Textbooks on Us and Texas still seeing attempts to limit evolution in school textbooks and Publishers remove confusion about climate change from Texas textbooks. Also for non-Texas related stories, see Kentucky governor to overrule legislature, OKs new science standards and Science education vs. high-profile ignorance.
(3) See HOUSE BILL NO. 486.
(4) See SENATE BILL No. 562.
(5) See LC1324.
(9) NC State, for example, pulled in over $7 million in licensing revenue in 2014, which pales compared to New York University's $213 million in 2013. See NC State's OTT Statistics and Maximizing the ROI of intellectual property.
(10) See University Start-Ups: Critical for Improving Technology Transfer. While the article favors the Technology Transfer, I do not and am only using it for the cost reference. The entire article would be moot if publicly funded research automatically went back to the public.