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College Then and Now: Letter to a Bright Young Woman
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Dear ___,

You asked how college was when I was a kid, in the late Epicene, and what I thought of schools today. Herewith an answer which I will probably post on my website as I think the matter important:

Much has changed.

Long ago, before 1965 say, college was understood to be for the intelligent and academically prepared among the young, who would one day both provide leadership for the country and set the tone of society. Perhaps ten percent, but no more than twenty percent, of high-school graduates were thought to have any business on a campus.

It was elitist and deliberately so. Individuals and groups obviously differed in character and aptitude. The universities selected those students who could profit by the things done at universities.

Incoming freshmen were assumed to read with fluency and to know algebra cold. They did, because applicants were screened for these abilities by the SATs. These tests, not yet dumbed down, then measured a student’s ability to handle complex ideas expressed in complex literate English, this being what college students then did.

There were no remedial courses. If you needed them, you belonged somewhere else. The goal of college was learning, not social uplift.

Colleges were a bit stodgy, a bit isolated from the world, and focused on teaching. Most had not adopted the grand-sounding title of “university.” Professors were hired for a few years to see whether they worked out with the expectation that if they did, they would get tenure. At schools I knew, “publish or perish” did not exist. The students, almost entirely white and with the cultural norms associated with that condition, were well behaved within the limits imposed by late adolescence.

The purpose of college was the making of cultivated men and women who would understand the world to the extent that it has proved willing to be understood. This meant the liberal arts. “Liberal” didn’t mean “lefty” or “nice.” It implied a broad grounding in languages, literature, history, the sciences, mathematics, economics, philosophy, and art and music.

The emphasis was on “broad.” For example, if the student took a reasonably rigorous course called “A Survey of Art from Classical Antiquity to the Present,” he—or, most assuredly she—could go into any museum or archaeological site in the Western world, and know what he was seeing. In discussions of politics or literature he would not feel like an orphaned guttersnipe and, having a basis in most fields, could rapidly master any that proved of importance or interest.

There was of course, the young being the young, parallel interest in beer, the other sex, and the usual foolishness that we geezers remember with fondness.

That is how things were. Then came what are roughly called the Sixties, actually the late Sixties and early Seventies.

They changed everything.

The first and worst change was the philosophy that everybody, or much closer to everybody, should go to college. Disaster followed. There descended on the schools huge numbers of adolescents without the brains, preparation, or interest needed for college. They had little notion of what college was for. The very idea of cultivation seemed undemocratic to them, as of course it was. They set out to avoid it. And did.

Since they were not ready, and for the most part could not be made ready, colleges dumbed down courses. Remedial classes proliferated. These worked poorly. When a graduate of high school can barely read, there is usually an underlying reason why he will never be able to read.

Colleges, which had not been focused on money, realized that these swarms of the intellectually bedraggled paid tuition. Schooling became a business. Tuition rose sharply, much in excess of inflation. Banks, seeing a vast new market, began making student loans and soon learned to tie these loans to the parents’ houses. This kept the student from escaping by filing for bankruptcy. It was a gold mine.

The universities, become businesses, acted like businesses. They cut costs by using adjunct professors, often of low quality, as academic migrant workers instead of far higher-paid tenured staff. Academic quality dropped further.

Students became customers buying diplomas. On the principle that the customer is always right, colleges gave them whatever they wanted. One thing they wanted was grades. Grade inflation boomed.

What the students didn’t want was an education, to the extent that they knew what the word meant. They wanted courses that were easy and fun. Soon there were things like “What if Harry Potter were Real?” and “The Comic Book in the Struggle for Gender Equality.” These were vacuous, but the students didn’t know and wouldn’t have cared. They were in a USP—a university-shaped place—that had the form of schooling, such as numbered courses with solemn-sounding titles, credit hours, and buildings with blackboards. They thought they were in college. They weren’t really, but didn’t really want to be.

College, once a passage into adulthood, became a way of avoiding it. Immaturity and narcissism flourished well into the students’ twenties. This was perhaps because they had never had the experience of having to do things, such as work in a gas station or manage a paper route. They confused universities with their parents and worked to outrage them. With the righteousness of the still-pubescent, they demanded justice for everything and, having no experience of rational argument, or of thought of any kind, called for the abolition of anything that didn’t suit them. To their delight, they discovered that administrations would cave. Expelling them would have been a wiser course. They became the prissiest of prissy moralists.

Many professors were products of the Sixties and saw the role of universities to be the pursuit of social change. Students with little desire for learning were content with this. Black students were a particular problem, as they were usually even less prepared than the white. Largely to hide their deficiencies, universities began to abandon the SATs which made unpreparedness obvious. This was said to foster “inclusiveness.”

Universities recruited blacks competitively as evidence of social rightness. These trophies lacked roots in European civilization, literature, history, sciences and mathematics. They demanded, and got, departments of Black Studies, academic ghettos lowering standards yet further.

Meanwhile the federal government had taken control, almost unnoticed. Washington taxed the states and then gave some of the money back to the universities, provided that they behaved as desired. They invariably did. The Supreme Court decided admissions policies. Big schools became research centers for the government, largely the military. The education of undergraduates took third place, behind football.

Oversupply of graduates raised its ugly head. When degrees had been scare, and went to the intelligent, they carried advantage. When everyone had a college degree, they didn’t. The number of jobs actually requiring an education was far smaller than the number of young who had diplomas, though not educations. Soon there were countless college-educated taxi-drivers, parking-lot attendants, and servers of over-priced coffee at Starbucks.

Potentially far worse, though this wave is just beginning to break, employers noticed the falling capacities of graduates. They began to think of hiring people according to what they knew and could do, instead of according to possession of diplomas that increasingly meant little. Survey after survey showed that graduates couldn’t read documents with understanding, didn’t know in what century the Civil War was fought, couldn’t name the three branches of government, and had trouble with arithmetic.

The result was that students who wanted to learn nothing did so, at great expense and to little advantage to themselves or society, and were ruthlessly exploited by banks and rooked for exorbitant tuition while failing to grow up.

I hope these cheerful notes answers your question.


Uncle Rick

(Republished from Fred on Everything by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Ideology • Tags: Academia, Political Correctness 
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  1. This mostly rings true, but to be a bit contrarian:

    Perhaps ten percent, but no more than twenty percent, of high-school graduates were thought to have any business on a campus.

    OECD says 41% of 55-65 yo Americans had tertiary education in 2014.

    They wanted courses that were easy and fun. Soon there were things like “What if Harry Potter were Real?” and “The Comic Book in the Struggle for Gender Equality.”

    This trend exists but TBF it still remains a marginal phenomenon that gets (rightfully) mocked.

    Realistically, how much classtime, enrollment, and funding do these “[insert aggrieved minority] Studies” pseudosciences get as a percentage of the total? I would be surprised if it’s more than 5%.

    The far bigger problem is the penetration of Social Justice ideology into traditional academic fields such as history, literature, etc., and most notably, sociology and anthropology. This is an echo of what happened in the USSR and if these trends continue they might eventually make serious work in non-quantitative fields much harder, and perhaps even spur a migration into STEM on the part of more intelligent and principled people (which, ironically, might not be such a bad development).

    • Replies: @5371
    , @macilrae
    , @Ulysses
  2. Anon7 says:

    I matriculated at a fine university in 1972.

    At that time, people who didn’t go to college, but were able to graduate from high school, could move directly into blue collar jobs that paid enough to support a family. Some of the jobs offered lots of overtime, raising annual salaries to amounts in excess of \$100,000 per year in today’s money.

    Those who went to college put in four years of time (losing four years of salary – they could have been working) and paid modest tuition and room and board. In return, many of the jobs, like schoolteacher, frankly didn’t pay much. Even white collar work was often tied to the wages given to unionized workers, with not much of a premium. Lots of kids went to college, only to find that some of their high school friends were better off as skilled tradesmen or union workers

    Then it all changed.

    Unlimited illegal immigration coupled with the steady removal of our manufacturing base took the bottom right out of the labor market. A bizarre mistake confusing correlation with causation caused people to believe that if college grads made a million dollars per lifetime more than non-grads, if everyone became a college grad, then everyone would make a million dollars more over a lifetime.

    That’s why it’s necessary to believe that everyone is equally qualified for college. Because if it’s true that only about ten percent of people are really college material, then ninety percent of our children will be dirt poor for their entire lives.

    No one wants to hear that.

    • Replies: @Jim
    , @Jeff77450
  3. anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    Good points.

    I think the government got into the act earlier, in WWII. The US educational system became another branch of government during the war. The University of California had a Division of War Research, for instance. Just one random example that comes to mind:

    University of California, Division of War Research.

    And of course all those pilots and officers had to be trained…

    Another thing I think is under-appreciated is that a lot of the huge mass of 60s-70s students combined a woeful lack of preparation with high expectations (both their own expectations and others, such as the parents of “the first in the family to go to college”). As they started to flunk out, these students got stressed out. Stress does a lot of funny things to people. Things such as “well, jee, mom, I couldn’t very well go to class when I had to trigger the world revolution, right?” There were a lot of stressed out students who acted screwy. The whole project was tried way to fast, with insufficient institutional learning.

  4. artichoke says:

    Engineering, math and science are much the same as always I think. I recommend those majors as a way to avoid having to please the political gremlins any more than necessary.

    • Agree: Realist
  5. epebble says:

    “….employers noticed the falling capacities of graduates. They began to think of hiring people according to what they knew and could do, instead of according to possession of diplomas that increasingly meant little. Survey after survey showed that graduates couldn’t read documents with understanding, didn’t know in what century the Civil War was fought, couldn’t name the three branches of government, and had trouble with arithmetic.”

    Ha, Employers are smart! They refuse to hire the dumbos and take business to foreign lands. Also, they grab foreign grads and foreign educated immigrants with a bear hug and lobby for more high skilled immigration.

  6. You forgot the worst part. College is now a place where young women go to ruin themselves and ensure that they will not ever be marriage material. It used to be a place where girls would go to find husbands.

  7. Langley says:

    Actually it started before 1965.
    The Frankfurt school showed up in the late ’30s then the GI Bill and other federal school funding did the rest.

    • Replies: @Jacques Sheete
  8. work in a gas station or manage a paper route.

    Yep, did both of these jobs from the ages of 10 to 17.

    • Replies: @Expletive Deleted
  9. Wow! An absolute masterpiece! I have two Masters degrees and I have been in school for awhile and I can attest that everything written here is absolutely true! You can even hear it in the “students” stupefied speech patterns where they begin a sentence with the word “like” and then use said word incessantly in a single sentence! About two years ago I took a graduate level course in Public policy and a student could not pronounce the word “monotonous” and the professor had to pronounce it for her! Moreover, at about the same time, I took a graduate level terrorism course and two “students” showed up with bibliographies to class when the instructor had asked them for outlines for our research projects! These two “students” could not differentiate between a bibliography and an outline! It was unbelievable!

    Mr Reed, all of your articles are great but in this particular instance you have hit the ball out of the park!

    Erol Pedersen MA Political Science MA International history

  10. Wally says: • Website

    Sad, but very true.

    And now we have Bernie demanding that taxpayers pay for the mindless “education” of these morons.

  11. Realist says:

    “Long ago, before 1965 say, college was understood to be for the intelligent and academically prepared among the young, who would one day both provide leadership for the country and set the tone of society. Perhaps ten percent, but no more than twenty percent, of high-school graduates were thought to have any business on a campus.”

    It should still be that way. There are too many useless courses and majors of study. Higher education has become a scam to make more money for colleges. Greed.

  12. Faust says:

    ” Grade inflation boomed”

    As I recall that era, the explanation offered was that professors didn’t want to interfere with a student’s “student deferment”. Low grades could send s student to Viet Nam. Seems to me that I recall a nationwide examination (I mostly recall being fingerprinted for it) to retain a “student deferment”.

  13. @Langley

    We can go back a bit to the 1920s when Upton Sinclair described similar problems and their geneses with schooling in his excellent books, “The Goslings” and “The Goosestep.”

    Or how ’bout this from Ben Franklin, (under the pseudonym, Silence Dogood) which I think still rings true today.:

    “I reflected in my Mind on the extream Folly of those Parents, who, blind to their Childrens Dulness, and insensible of the Solidity of their Skulls, because they think their Purses can afford it, will needs send them to the Temple of Learning, where, for want of a suitable Genius, they learn little more than how to carry themselves handsomely, and enter a Room genteely, (which might as well be acquir’d at a Dancing-School,) and from whence they return, after Abundance of Trouble and Charge, as great Blockheads as ever, only more proud and self-conceited.”

    Silence Dogood

    (Silence Dogood, No. 4)
    Printed in The New-England Courant, May 14, 1722.

  14. Jim says:

    Ten percent of the present US populatuon would be the people with IQ’s over 120. That’s probably a higher threshold than required for at least some higher education. Charles Murray says that 115 is about the right level for what used to be called a university education. Linda Gottfredson’s data on professional attainment also indicates 115 as about the bottom of the IQ of professionals. Above 115 is about 16% of the current US population. L0wering of the average IQ of the US by 3 points or so as a rsult of demographic changes due to immigration could lower 16% to 12%.

    Note that declines in average IQ have a double whammy effect. Even as the percentage of the population capable of high-skill work declines the percentage of the population unable to function in a first world economy increases.

    • Replies: @fnn
    , @Bill
    , @Romanian
  15. 5371 says:
    @Anatoly Karlin

    [This is an echo of what happened in the USSR]

    Except that in the USSR it was a short-lived phase which left behind only lip service, whereas in the west it has been everywhere for a long time and already wiped out most good work.

  16. Speaking about young woman (bright or not, not for me to jugdge.)
    When our daughter was in High School, I told her repeatedly:
    — If I will die before you finish your education,
    you must take Linear Algebra course,
    and then you may do whatever you want with your life.

    She took it twice, both times successfully (A), and now I feel free to die.

    Shakespeare, Sonnet 66, end:

    Tired with all these, from these would I be gone,
    Save that, to die, I leave my love alone.

    • Replies: @Jim
    , @Anonymous
    , @Bolteric
    , @RobRich
  17. Go for engineering. It’s flat-out too difficult for many of the liberal-lefties to manage. They soon switch majors and will leave you alone.

    The disadvantage to society is that so many of them switch to pre-law or elementary education where they become the next generation of wrecking balls that swing through present and future culture.

    • Replies: @SolontoCroesus
  18. macilrae says:
    @Anatoly Karlin

    Certainly in post-war UK, before the proliferation of the sixties and early seventies, “university” education was only available to an elite which I’d put at no more that 15%, if that.

    And never mind those ludicrous courses (how about “Flower Arrangement”?) – there are whole DEGREES devoted to such fields as “Environmental Studies”, “Communications”, “Liberal Arts”. “Entrepreneurship” – not to mention (God forgive me) “Sociology”, “Psychology”, “Education” and (I hardly dare say it) “Political Science” and “Economics” which are so over-subscribed and diminished that they are no use to man or beast.

    And don’t imagine that Oxford and Cambridge have eschewed joining the bandwagon – reviewing a Masters’ dissertation in economics, which had passed professorial scrutiny at Oxford and was on the edge of submission, I was appalled at the English as well as the banal content.

    • Replies: @Expletive Deleted
  19. biz says:

    All true. And yet Unz was trying to make it FREE.

  20. Gene Su says:

    The problem with our colleges is not the market. It is government meddling. Google John Taylor Gatto, Charlotte Iserbyt, and Sam Blumenfeld. They have wrote a tremendous amount of work showing that this problem did not emerge in the 1960’s but the 1860’s. Elites like John Dewey wanted to transform the schools from disseminators of education to mind-control hives.

    Anyone can be educated but not everyone can be schooled. I would like to see a serious debate on these questions:
    Does it add value to a child’s development to warehouse him or her up for six hours a day, 5 days a week, 180 days a year? The time can be far greater if day care and summer camp is involved.
    Does it add value to warehouse the child with other children and not have any meaningful contact with adults?
    Does it add value to warehouse a child with unruly children?
    Does it add value not to discipline unruly children? If a well-behaved child constantly sees an unruly child being let off the hook, he or she might become unruly.
    Is it so necessary for school to be a block of 16 contiguous years? Why can’t a child take a break from school to find a job and then come back whenever he or she feels like it?
    Is it so necessary for teachers to have such massive tenure? Note that many teachers are incompetent and quite a few might be illiterate.
    Finally, was it really the integration of minorities that destroyed the public schools? Or was it the public schools that destroyed our minority communities?

  21. fnn says:

    Some years ago, I heard Murray being interviewed on the Milt Rosenberg show on WGN radio. Murray said that his youngest son had a verbal score 40 points higher than his math score-and he was actually slightly below average in math. Murray said he was now in a university majoring in journalism. Well, he’s Murray’s son so I guess he did OK.

    P.S. Murray said he had his son’s permission to discuss his case.

    • Replies: @Jim
  22. @E. Rekshun

    In those days IIRC it was highly unlikely that one would be ordered to empty the till and then shot in the face for fun after, or abducted on the round from one’s bicycle, by a gang of sex predators in a van.
    I wouldn’t let my kids do either of those jobs nowadays. Hell I’d want the full kevlar, NVGs and radio, plus as many automatic weapons as I could manage, upfront with the company logo on them, if I was to do them myself. The money’s not all that bad; the risks are horrifying.
    It could maybe reset to mid-20th century levels of safety and civility if all current vehicles were scrapped, and the entry-level automobile was a Tesla, or a Lambo. Guns are not much to do with it. It’s the mobility and anonymity that stupid-cheap cars provide, so known Bad Areas can’t be redlined adequately.

  23. @The Grate Deign

    how many of USA’s neocon think-tank denizens have STEM degrees (or even basic literacy in sciences)?

  24. Immigrant from former USSR [AKA "Florida Resident"] says:
    @Gene Su

    Hello, Gene Su.
    Do you really believe that

    Anyone can be educated

    I am not sure what did you mean, when using words “everyone” and “educated”.

    Charles Murray “Real Education.
    Four Simple Truths For Bringing America’s Schools Back Yo Reality”.

    %0.01 (used) +\$ 3.99 S&H.
    Truth #1. Ability varies. […]
    Truth #2. Half of the children are below average. […]
    Truth #3. Too many people are going to college. […]

    • Replies: @Gene Su
  25. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    Good article. I would like to note one thing. You mention the tying of students’ loans to their parents’ house to prevent bankruptcy but this would be minor to what actually exist. Student loans are not dischargeable in bankruptcy except if the debtor can show extreme hardship. With this it is is almost impossible for students to escape student loan debt unlike credit card debt, car loans, mortgages, or really just about any debt. There may have been a reason for this exclusion at one point as some people would not even attempt to pay their student debt but would declare bankruptcy. Now the pendulum has probably swung too far the other way, and people who really try to pay and can’t are unable to get relief.

    • Replies: @Bill Jones
  26. Jim says:
    @Immigrant from former USSR

    Regarding Linear Algebra – Back in the middle of the nineteenth century an eminent Britsih physicist complained once about a brilliant British mathematician who was wasting his time writing papers, “scarcely read by a half-dozen people”, on esoteric topics in algebra. The brilliant mathemtician was Arthur Cayley and tthe subject of his papers was what is now called linear algebra.

  27. Marcus says:

    Fred were you in San Jose for the protests? I’ll look for photos of an old gringo trying to lift a bag of rocks to throw at Trump supporters.

  28. Che Guava says:
    @Erol Pedersen

    So many ‘murricans have the ‘like’ habit, ‘I was, like, just walklng down, the street, like, and, like, it just, like, I didn’t know where I was, like, goin’. So. like, I had, like, …’

    I hear it and it sets my teeth on edge.

    In earlier times, it seemed to be restricted to parts of the west coast, with California as the centre.

    Before becoming independent, I had to put up with U.S. and Canadian idiots who didn’t know the difference between ‘monotonous’ and ‘monotonic’.

    I doubt that you did, either, given your ‘qualifications’.

    So I agree with you on the first point, but suspect that your MA Political Science MA International history only mean that you had a lot of time and money on your hands, and I know from observation that master’s degrees in any field are far less rigorous than four-year STEM degrees, not that I like that acronym.

    The system I graduated from had a rule of compulsory bullshit studies, but switching to genuine humanities was allowed. So I took first-year psychology, language studies, history, and courses where the lecturers seemed interesting, always got distinctions, except one that I dropped out of because the lecturer was a paedo supporter and ranted on about Tarot cards and other such crap.

    Very good in the tech subjects, too, except electric power, I imagine that if someone that explained the concepts in the way Tesla saw them, wouldn’t have got a bare pass there, too bad. Loved the HV lab, but the lecturer was a crock.

    • Replies: @Erol Pedersen
  29. Jim says:

    Such an extreme difference in verbal and quantitative IQ is pretty unusual. However women with Triple X symdrome (an extra X chromosome) tend to have much lower quantitative IQ than verbal IQ. They also do extremely poorly on tests of spatial visualization.

  30. Keeping children in educational facilities for longer means less time in other make-work facilities. If most can’t be good students at least they can be good products for a few years to process for adults who need make-work themselves.

    I see no special reason why being in college or university is somehow beneath other ways of spending lifetime.

  31. macilrae says:

    In UK we used to have two national examination levels – one at age sixteen called, then, Ordinary level GCE or “O Level” (now GCSE) – where successful candidates could leave school and emerge with a decent competence in their chosen field and, the next, mainly as a filter to qualify candidates for university (or not), taken at age 18 and called “Advanced Level” (A level).

    I took “A level” in mathematics in 1959, as did my friend who is now a retired professor of maths at London University, and we recently compared today’s A level paper with the one we took – the contrast was striking: we agreed that today’s paper is almost on a level with the O level of the 1950s.

  32. @Gene Su

    The problem with our colleges is not the market. It is government meddling. Google John Taylor Gatto, Charlotte Iserbyt, and Sam Blumenfeld.

    I encountered Gatto in the mid-90s. While I am inclined to agree with almost everything Gatto has written, I do not believe that the failures of the national (mostly public) education system are “the problem” with our colleges. The public education system is a vast and pernicious device for propagandizing young minds with absurd and counter-productive ideas and values.

    As to the list you’ve included, it has never, and will never, be taken up by the elite that own and operate the corporatist state all Americans now serve. The intentions of the elite are not to improve the lot of anyone but themselves, and to perpetually drive wealth into their pockets.

    Revolution is the only alternative, and considering the extreme control exerted by the corporatists in every phase of American life, revolution is unlikely.

  33. Durruti says:

    Nice (incomplete) essay by Fred Reed

    As a History Prof I found much to agree with, and much missing in Reed’s thesis.

    1. Reed failed to mention the perversion of learning at University level that the business of \$Professional Sport\$, (mostly Football), account for.

    2. Reed fails to mention the increasing role of Universities as agents of Brainwashing of our (supposedly) brightest, and richest. Heavily Financed “Jewish Learning” centers in most Colleges are one example not mentioned by Reed, although he does criticize – and I quote in full:

    Universities recruited blacks competitively as evidence of social rightness. These trophies lacked roots in European civilization, literature, history, sciences and mathematics. They demanded, and got, departments of Black Studies, academic ghettos lowering standards yet further.”

    So Reed is a Racist. Sad, but no surprise. Zionist Nationalism, with the corresponding mass murder and culturcide against Palestinians and other Arabs, and the Suborning of entire nations, (such as the United States, France, England, Germany, Russia, and dozens more, is not worth a mention by the ‘educated’ elitist pretending Reed. Black nationalism is, however, conveniently deprecated.

    3. The lacked of any Balanced approach to the Classical ‘Liberal Arts’ education. My daughter took only one history class in 4 years at a major University. Additionally, after passing her Bar Exam, I mentioned Habeas Corpus to her, and she told me she was unfamiliar with the term.

    4. The time frame for the gutting of education corresponds with that of the aftermath of the Destruction of our Republic on November 22, 1963. A nice brilliant white elitist Harvard educated War Hero, and Published, (several excellent books “Profiles of Courage” – used in some of my classes), President was Assassinated, along with our Republic. That most important event has been forgotten? ignored? by the most educated Reed.

    5. Yet, the essential conclusion of the decline of our education system, has been correctly noted by Reed, and a few million others.

    My bright young women has become much more conversant in beauty of our Constitution, Bill of Rights, and Habeas Corpus. She is a fine attorney, mother, wife, and daughter. There is hope.

    Proof of hope is this news item which I append here:

    This approaches the appropriate response to the murder/er of your loved one/s.

    Not the lack of response in Norway, or in America, or in Dallas = 11/22/63. Throwing a shoe is not sufficient.

    The Restoration of our Republic with the corresponding regaining of our Liberties requires us regaining our mental health – sanity (sense and courage of outrage).


  34. @macilrae

    Although in the UK it’s been apparent for decades that the huge increase in admissions (and bumping F.E. colleges and technical schools up to full-on “University” status, with the attendant administrative bloat) is merely “self-funded unemployment”. A sort of cushy practice-run for the real thing waiting outside for them.
    The hazardous can of mass unemployment in the ‘working class’ young was kicked down the road by this wheeze from at least 1979, into somebody else’s term of office, again and again. Their older male relatives were ‘signed on the sick’ en masse, almost by government diktat (red tie, blue tie, no difference) at the same time and for the same reason.

    In a society without work, what are the working class for?
    Hurray! They can all be doctors, and teachers, and pop stars, and astronauts ..
    .. er, no, they can’t. And no amount of bogpaper degrees can change that.

  35. Ulysses says:
    @Anatoly Karlin

    “Perhaps even spur a migration into STEM on the part of more intelligent and principled people (which, ironically, might not be such a bad development).” Maybe, but I doubt it. Principled people have a habit of not running. Also, the obsessive drive to make breakthroughs in say understanding of prehistoric Europe cannot be so easily translated into an obsessive drive to make breakthroughs in advanced mathematics.

  36. artichoke says:

    At least it’s not political. But if the tests were like the old ones, the math classes would be blessed with less “diversity”. And they can’t have that …

    Our Scholastic Aptitude Test (now just called by the abbreviation SAT because aptitude is a banned concept) got dumbed down around 1980 or 1990. Lowered the ceiling on it, basically.

    In NY State we have state competency tests in high school subjects called “Regents exams”; we’ve had this tradition for over 100 years in this state. If you’re actually solid in fundamental subjects, you get a Regents diploma instead of just an ordinary diploma. And they are in the process of revising these exams for our new “Common Core” curricula that have been basically forced on us. Our district’s math teachers figured out that the new Common Core test in Algebra 2 (pretty much what you need to take calculus, although they put in another “precalculus” year so that no math teacher is expected to teach beyond first year calculus) omits 17 important topics, generally the more advanced ones from the previous Algebra 2 curriculum and the things that make you ready for calculus. Things like partial fraction expansion and infinite sums. It’s stripped out of the new curriculum. Now people will really need that “precalculus” year just to learn those basics.

    • Replies: @res
  37. @Gene Su

    “Anyone can be educated but not everyone can be schooled.”

    That claim is actually bassakwards.

    It’s my observation that many well schooled individuals are very very poorly educated. In fact, I can’t say I’ve ever come into contact with more than one or two truly educated people and that includes many I know from Europe and Asia. There are probably so few educated in ‘Merka, (which is full of ‘Merkins), that all of them could gather on the head of a pin and still have room to dance.

    The rest of the comment is correct with many good points.

  38. @Jim

    Greetings, dear Jim.
    Who was that British physicist?
    Cayley-Hamilton theorem is the love of my heart,

  39. Che Guava says:


    Another great article, although it doesn’t make me laugh.

    The trend started later where I graduated, but I met the deputy head of school when going to get my academic record, one of my favourite professors, lectured in the theory and mathematics of signals and communications (as in Shannon’s maths and relation to different signal coding schemes, etc.).

    He said, I can only paraphrase, that the abolition of merit-based education had led to a huge fall in standards, as the fee-payers expected to pass automatically.

    That aside, everything from nursing to teaching to fine arts colleges with very low academic standards, were incorporated into mega-universities.

    Trade (as in manual) and evening schools (I have appreciated parts of my education at both, so I do not post as a snob) became ‘colleges’.

    Much like grade inflation, only it is institutional title and degree inflation.

    If you enjoy well-written near-future SF, I strongly recommend the story Pump Six by Paolo Bacigaluppi, set in Noo Yawk.

    Not necessarily the collection, but that story is very funny in a slightly dark but very relevant way.

    He has other other stories that reflect on the contemporary U.S.A., another one that is not horrific is about water diversion in the western states.

    • Replies: @artichoke
  40. res says:

    Our Scholastic Aptitude Test (now just called by the abbreviation SAT because aptitude is a banned concept) got dumbed down around 1980 or 1990. Lowered the ceiling on it, basically.


    Do you have any sense of the change (or not) in Regents exams difficulty over the years?

    • Replies: @artichoke
  41. @Durruti

    Nice (incomplete) essay by Fred Reed

    Meh. And a steamy pile of excrescence from you, too.

    Look, man, if you want to add what you believe to be relevant material or detail, do so. Stop with the obsession/compulsion to denigrate Reed in so doing. He left some things out … and YOU think that YOUR points, if points they be, are exhaustive?

    Stop being a pompous Tweedledum. Add interesting and relevant material, but otherwise STFU.

  42. Klokman says:

    A quote from my grandfather’s life history, who took a BS in Manual Arts with a minor in science:

    “When I was about 60 years old, in June 1947, my health was poor. School was getting me down. This was during the war years of the Second World War. We had a new principal, an old maid, who was very strong for so called progressive education. This theory believed that children should have their own way, or they would get an inferiority complex, and as a result the children had no discipline at home or at school, since their mothers were in many cases working. Some of the children formed gangs and molested some of the teachers. In my department there were many classes with 40 students and equipment for only 24. Supplies were short and I was getting old I guess. This combination made me worry too much and my health was undermined, so I decided to retire at age 60 on disability. I had taught in the same school, Mr. Vernon, for 21 years, in general the best years of my life, except for the last while.”

    From my father’s memoirs:

    “In about 1927 when I was 11 years old I started Junior High School and attended Mt. Vernon Junior high. I studied the usual English, Latin, French, shop, math, and so forth that we all had to do. One of the classes which I had was wood shop. My teacher was ***(the above grandfather) who was to become my father-in-law. I was not acquainted with his family at all at this time. Also I was a very poor pupil as far as he was concerned. I never got better than a ‘C.’ He was often put out by my apparent lack of wood working ability….. When my parents divorced I went to live with my grandmother and changed high schools again to Manual Arts High School which was only two blocks from her house. This only worked until the end of the term and I decided to return to Washington High School where I had begun…..I was such a lug-head that father made a deal with the high school during the last year that if I would just attend every day and keep the peace that they would graduate me and they did.”

    This was 1934. Fourteen years later he graduated at age 32 from college with a BA in English, which he never used but for one year in SoCal teaching ESL. He later got his Masters, and started but never finished his PhD. None of this education ever gave him any material advantage financially. By the time he had acquired his Masters, with only an Associate’s degree, I was making more money and financially more secure than he had ever been.

    From a personal perspective, I would have to conclude that Fred’s accounting of public education, particularly college, did not start early enough. The system has been defunct since the beginning of the previous century.

  43. artichoke says:

    Not sure what “Jewish learning centers” you’re referring to. There’s often a chapter of Hillel on campus. Sometimes they have their own building that they paid for and maintain. But there’s no degree program for it, no academic credit, no affirmative action admission for kids who aren’t up to the standards expected of white and Asian kids. In fact the black studies departments and majors were started as a way to a degree for affirmative action admits who had a hard time with traditional fields, even those like psychology that are pretty easy at the undergrad level. Now it’s really getting ridiculous, with the recent pressure to require all students to take such courses. Fortunately all the good universities resisted that, and you see what happened to Mizzou which did not.

    So I don’t see how you have established that Reed is a racist. On the other hand I am all for black nationalism. Go get yourself some land somewhere (we had to conquer ours, you can conquer yours) and have your nation. Every American has the same opportunity to form a private army and go fight some foreigners somewhere else, and good luck. Just don’t be like Barack and Hillary and try to do it under the auspices and commandeering the common resources of our country.

    It must be said that Jews have a natural claim to our academic establishment. They did build (a lot of) that. Einstein, Mendelssohn, etc. created a lot of stuff we teach. When Hitler’s government “purified” the math department at Gottingen of Jews, David Hilbert told him that at the end, the department (formerly best in the world) was basically gone. Young Jews frequently become expert in such fields and continue to build them. If some others think that something else should be taught, make a campus or a website and teach that. Just don’t say the existing places have to change their curriculum to teach other stuff. And by the way, when Africans from Africa want to come to study in the USA, I bet they’ll be applying to our schools not those other ones. Because everyone but African Americans thinks our stuff is better.

    I remember when JFK was assassinated. I was in first grade. It was shortly after the Supreme Court ruling that we couldn’t say the Lord’s Prayer in the morning in school, which always made me feel good until it was stopped. Things did get weird after that. None of LBJ’s stuff worked, because it wasn’t supposed to.

    • Replies: @Truth
  44. artichoke says:
    @Che Guava

    I remember there was Goldey Beacom Junior College just up the road from where I grew up. It was where you learned to be a secretary. It then became Goldey Beacom College and is now Goldey Beacom University, and they even showed and pitched their leafy campus (at least they have one leafy picture for their brochure) at my kids’ high school college night.


    • Agree: Che Guava
  45. @Erol Pedersen

    I got one for you. I got permission to take a particular 500 level course when I was a senior in my under grad. Small class of eight or, but the professor had to explain basic things like what a primary source was and rudimentary grammar and syntax for a research project proposal. Nobody had any trouble there, but it told me some grad students do.

    • Agree: Che Guava
  46. restless94110 [AKA "Stephen Douglas"] says:


    Much of your impressions on colleges and college students in the past and in the now is utter nonsense. As a student at the University of California when Reagan came to power as California governor in 1967, I want to remind you that higher education at all levels in Calfironia was nearly free….until Reagan decided that there were too many “radicals” in the school system and so needed to instigate higher and higher fees, which he and future governments have done.

    And as a returning student over the past 5 years to the California Community College and State University systems, I can tell you that you are misguided about the courses being dumbed down. It is still completely possible to get a liberal arts education and the texts and lectures are rigourous.

    What has been dumbed down is the grading. And yes, there are large swaths of young students who don’t understand nor care to understand barely a thing about current events, economics, and writing. Even though the university has specific mandatory courses centered on learning how to write academic essays there is still a formidable gap in many students’ abilities and incliniations in that area.

    But this clearly comes from deficiencies in their educations long before they arrived at college.

    You also failed to mention that there has been rampant certificate inflation in the job market, thanks mostly to the rise over the past several decades of the Human Resources field. This makes it imperative for young Americans to get a degree in order to work (there was a recent article about a McDonald’s requiring a BA to work there).

    Blaming it on the schools and the kids is nonsense. The teachers are screwed, many kept on as part-time adjuncts making less than a burger flipper at McDonald’s. I know instructors who are forced to drive school bus in order to make ends meet between their varied schedule of classes they teach.

    There is administrative bloat, you are correct, but the motive for rising fees is not a profit motive, but instead the removal of even more state support from the college system, usually in order to spend more money on prisons.

    You have only Reagan, businesses (via their HR departments) and current state and federal government policies for the terrible state of affairs that higher education is in right now, Fred. You don’t need to do any more snarky age-bashing.

    People aren’t stupid and they aren’t venal at any age and in any generation. They are reacting to the pressures and difficulties of their time. Just as you had to when you were young once.

    • Agree: Catiline
    • Disagree: Che Guava
  47. Che Guava says:

    Good you, artichoke, that is perfect!

    Two points I meant to make but forgot.

    In many places, this is just a ploy to disguise real unemployment figures, as is detaining children who would rather be out in the world working, but kept in throughout all school years. It is sick.

    It also reflects competition for ratings in the OECD, a crap org., so ‘the more grads we can get in inflated and bullshit degrees the higher our OECD scores on education’, which is precisely how the OECD’s pressure works.

    The OECD bureaucrats are all graduates of elite schools and bullshit degrees, never any other experience, so the OECD people are morons.

  48. Gene Su says:
    @Immigrant from former USSR

    Florida Resident,
    Let me clarify myself
    Anyone can be educated but not everyone will be educated in the same manner. School, even before the decay, sought to educate everyone in the same manner.

    Truth #1. Ability varies.
    Which is exactly why grouping kids into classes is rather counter-productive. Solitude is needed to cultivate the individual.

    Truth #2. Half of the children are below average. […]
    I don’t think IQ is qualitative. It is quantitative. I’m really good at math but my practical skills are sub par and I can’t play basketball for my life. Some people will be good at reading. Others will be good at music. Others will be good at reactive sports like basketballs. And so on…

    Truth #3. Too many people are going to college. […]
    Too many people are going to high school. There was a time when children only had 6 years of school. After that, they got a job.
    However, that is besides the point. There are many things children learn in high school that they can and should learn in the elementary grades. There are many lessons young adults learn in college that they should have learned in high school. The curriculum in elementary school is too slow and too easy.

  49. Durruti says:

    Stephen Douglass,


  50. Immigrant from former USSR [AKA "Florida Resident"] says:
    @Gene Su

    Thank you for reply.

  51. CanSpeccy says: • Website

    Fortunately, the proportion of the population capable of grasping linear algebra or even more difficult concepts is about the same today as it ever was. So if you need people with such capability, all that’s necessary is to hire from among the top 10% of graduates of a reputable school. You will find they are good, in fact very good.

  52. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    From the perspective of an outsider, things started going to hell in the UK when ordinary people stopped aspiring to speak with the RP accent. It’s painful to listen to young British people compete with their peers to sound more working class. In particular, they need to relearn how to pronounce the letter “t.” They would sound much smarter, and maybe they would work and act more smartly, too.

    • Replies: @macilrae
  53. “Let me clarify myself
    Anyone can be educated…”

    Yeah, in the same sense that lab rats and seals can be “educated.”

    Hint: It ain’t education, it’s training, i.e., schooling.

    There’s a world of difference, but most folks don’t get it even when it’s pointed out to them which helps to explain the fact that the only truly educated person is one who is both self motivated and self taught. Putting faith in the ability of some institution to educate folks is a fraudulent concept.

    In other words, people can be trained, but they cannot be educated; they have to do that themselves.

  54. Jeff77450 says:

    Good points well said.

  55. Biff says:

    Wen eye went 2 Skool I pay wots of mooney.

  56. mtn cur says:

    Reality deficit disorder destroyed the USSR; the leadership pretended to manage and the workers pretended to work and over time they began to believe their own bull speak. Here we are in the USSA making faces at Russia while making the same stupid mistake of believing our own bull, while having no clue how many educators are kept busy with foolishness they hate while others are paid to ensure they comply with the foolishness while the better research schools make up loss of funding by becoming shills for the corporations. Indeed, K through twelve has become a spring, summer, fall and winter camp for the hapless brats of cookie cutter corporate cubicle clones who know how to google a liability lawyer along with an advocacy group. When guns are finally outlawed, there will be no need for hunting dogs and so I will volunteer to be Washingtons czar of education, K through congress and I will outfit “educationally challenged” students, convicts and congress creatures with surplus coon dog shock collars retrofitted with GPS cell phones tied in to NSA surveillance systems. In a matter of few days they will be marching like Prussians and barking out stats, dates, algorithms and factoids like Ringling brothers circus seals begging for a fish.

  57. Gene Su says:
    @Gene Su

    Mix up and correction
    I don’t think IQ is quantitative (measured by numbers). It is qualitative (can have many different aspects).

    • Replies: @biz
  58. Bill says:

    Even if 115 is the minimum IQ to get something out of university, that does not mean that everyone with an IQ over 115 can get something out of university. Some people are crazy. Some people are pathologically lazy. Some people really aren’t interested in learning. Some people (even smart ones) want to be carpenters, firemen, roughnecks, Etc. I’d be shocked if more than 10% of the US population actually belonged in university. 5% is probably about right.

  59. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:
    @Immigrant from former USSR

    Speaking about young woman (bright or not, not for me to jugdge.)
    When our daughter was in High School, I told her repeatedly:
    — If I will die before you finish your education,
    you must take Linear Algebra course,
    and then you may do whatever you want with your life.

    She took it twice, both times successfully (A), and now I feel free to die.

    Charles Murray said in an interview on C-SPAN years ago that he failed linear algebra. He said he really tried hard and studied hard but couldn’t get it. I’d peg Murray at an IQ of no higher than 115. Which goes to show you that hard work and good study habits can get you pretty far.

    • Replies: @artichoke
  60. @SolontoCroesus


    Concerning the neocons, whose ideas on foreign affairs I dislike, I have no idea how many are engineers or scientists. And it’s a fact that some notoriously wicked people have had technical educations.

    A STEM degree doesn’t ensure decent moral character. It just screens out people who can’t do the math. In my private opinion, based solely on my own personal experience, folks who can cut it in a course of study that requires both intellectual horsepower and a more rigorously logical turn of mind tend to embrace the facts of life as they really are. The modern American manifestation of liberal-leftism is all about denying the facts of life. They are people who think sodomy is wholesome and honestly don’t know where to piss.

    That said, I will freely admit that there are some brilliant minds in the liberal arts. Heck, you may be one of them with an IQ of 160 and a B.A. in Congolese Vagina Studies.

  61. edNels [AKA "geoshmoe"] says:

    Well Fred has it pretty well covered, and he struck a chord with the comment gallery too!

    a couple of comments added some historic points of interest, John T. Gatto’s book: ”Dumbing Us Down” and his many lectures on the fallacy of compulsory education, which I also am aware, I believe he traced the origins of the ruse back to Prussia, and the decision to create a malleable and controlled mass society through that means, while of course a typical trojan horse type window dress of the benefits offered therein.

    It was also interesting that Benjamin Franklyn wrote of what I guess were the overeducated dolts of his day.

    But, isn’t College really just a social device to separate the elite from the lower orders?
    What do too typical college boys do, size each other up as to the almemater, what level of exclusivity, who is top dog, and capitulate to the pecking order accordingly, and none other need apply, you,re out of place if you don’t posses the sheepskin.

    What they learned is way back there, behind football, who screwed who, etc. etc, If you got the skinny, you just step up and be counted.

    Nobody would want to be too nerdy with serious STEM degrees, either. How many Stephen Hawkins do you need?

    These probably are going to be interesting Times soon, as the functionally illiterate overly schooled masses meet unemployment and robot competition, amid plans of austerity for the main population.

  62. @artichoke

    Engineering, math and science are much the same as always I think.

    Regrettably, they’re not. I’m a retired (as of a couple of years ago) optical engineer, and about fifteen years ago, I noticed something unfortunate about the kids right out of school: they’re incapable, for the most part, of working by themselves. They require groups. Teams. To a large extent, that’s how they were educated, and now, that’s how they operate.

    Not a good thing, I think.

  63. OutWest says:

    I’ve been puzzled for some time about the emphasis on poor students with the objective of equalizing them with gifted students. This is contrary to Gaussian distribution and seemingly rather counterproductive. It’s the brightest that have always led the way in both technical and economic progress. They carry those of us who are less bright. The greater their accomplishments the higher the standard of living. Doing “OK” when it’s not the optimum learning pace is not OK.

    Students of all levels tend to be happier when challenged more to the level of their abilities.

  64. Rehmat says:

    Until 17th century, studying science and algebra was considered against the teachings of Christianity. Many of European scholar studied in universities in Muslim Spain, Sicily or Baghdad. Pope Sylvester II (April 9, 999 – May 12, 1003) as youth studied in Muslim Spain.

    It seems, Fred Reed does believe that before 1965, there no Ivy League universities in United States.

    On May 3, 2013, The Bilzerian Report, said: “Contrary to popular opinion, the most important criteria for admission to the Ivy League is not grades, nor SAT, nor recommendations, or even essays. The most important criteria is actually race/religion. By claiming to be Jewish, an applicant can increase his chances of admission by up to 15 fold“.

  65. grey enlightenment2 [AKA "grey enlightenment"] says: • Website

    the evidence however says that college and high school was actually easier 60 years ago

    • Replies: @artichoke
  66. Mr. Blank says:

    I’d probably fall well within Fred’s cutoff for folks who “belong on a college campus.” But if I could travel back in time and give my younger self one piece of advice, it would be this: Don’t go to college. Every word that comes out of your school guidance counselor’s mouth is a lie, including “and” and “the.” Join the military and/or learn a trade that appeals to you. You’ll make a lot more money and be a lot happier. Just because you have a high IQ, it does not follow that you have to pursue an academic path. You can find guys in the pits at the Daytona 500 who have 130+ IQs, make a ton of money, and are having a blast, and a lot of them don’t have four-year college degrees. Would you rather have that, or would you rather struggle with paying the electricity bill every month with your prestigious master’s degree? My plumber lives in a much nicer house and drives a much nicer car than I do.

    I’d probably still ignore it, though, being a punk-ass kid and all.

    • Replies: @Jacques Sheete
  67. artichoke says:

    Well I never took them, but I am sure they were harder when my mother took them than now that my kids are doing so. A Regents diploma used to be a distinction, and that’s when we were less diverse and not everyone even attended high school. Now it’s more the rule than the exception, and most children of normal intelligence should probably get one.

    In recent years the difficulty has gone up and down depending on political oscillations. But the whole range of the oscillation is certainly lower than it was in the first half of the 20th century.

  68. @Anonymous

    The bankers bought the Congress during Bush the lesser’s bankruptcy reform in 2005.
    Business as usual.

  69. anon • Disclaimer says:

    Knuth said that one should know something about everything and everything about something. That was what liberal education meant in his day.

  70. Historian says:

    I took “A level” in mathematics in 1959, as did my friend who is now a retired professor of maths at London University, and we recently compared today’s A level paper with the one we took – the contrast was striking: we agreed that today’s paper is almost on a level with the O level of the 1950s.

    Here are the Cambridge O levels (including GCSE) and A levels from 1957 to 2000:

    The A levels seem to have maintained most of their rigor, at least until the year 2000. They may seem easier in 2000, but that is mostly because of the changes in the style of questioning. The topics are just as advanced.

    I don’t see the deterioration that you mention. The 2000 A level in maths is much more advanced than the 1957 O level in maths. Are you saying that standards have slipped greatly since 2000?

    There has been a shocking deterioration in the O levels, though. The 1957 O level in French was a creditable exam, but the 2000 GCSE in French has dropped to the level of tourist French. The 2000 GCSE in mathematics is a joke. The first question asks you to write the number “eight thousand two hundred and nine.”

    • Replies: @macilrae
    , @macilrae
  71. Truth says:

    “Not sure what “Jewish learning centers” you’re referring to…”

  72. @Che Guava

    Yes I did know what monotonic meant! I am far more articulate and eloquent than most other individuals so you don’t need to patronize me with your condescending and demeaning comment! Secondly, I know many STEM students and most could not formulate a coherent argument on most topics because they simply were not well rounded in general worldly knowledge. Moreover, most of the STEM candidates and “students’ were lacking in basic communication and verbal skills and were downright dullards in basic ordinary conversations. Believe me, I know! I had the unfortunate experience in living with them on campus as suite mates and housemates! Your tone of voice reeks of envy and jealousy, which is sad because I had attributed such traits mostly to women, so thanks for proving me wrong and demonstrating that men nowadays exhibit the same characteristics!!

    • Replies: @Che Guava
    , @artichoke
  73. edNels [AKA "geoshmoe"] says:

    that is quite interesting….

    In California, in my time… it was not like that.

    I think John T. Gatto tells the story very well indeed

    Oh, sorry, Mr. Macilrae…

    My point of departure is…. that the f’n teachers were a bunch a’ queers…. and/or a sorry lot what couldn’t … you know the old saying…?|” If you can’t do it… teach it…. !!

  74. TheJester says:

    Another tour de force, Fred. You’re racking up a large number of these lately 🙂

    I remember ….

    I have two masters degrees and my course work done for a doctorate … back from the good-old-days when you could get an education at places called “universities”. I later (and older) taught at four universities, including one that many would designate as elite. I was distanced from my students by a generation. I was shocked at what passed as literacy on the part of students who passed themselves off as juniors and seniors.

    An example from the so-called elite university: a senior who could not punctuate as evidenced in his term papers. I asked him about his strange punctuation. He said someone had told him in grade school that commas and periods were like breathing stops … so, to punctuate, he read his term papers out loud to himself in front of a mirror. When he took a short breath, he input a comma. When he took a deep breath, he input a period. He got that far. I wonder if it was due to the multiple-choice questions.

    Not everyone attempted the university. My high school had a vibrant vocational track for males who could not or did not want to pursue university degrees. They trained as printers, plumbers, HVAC, auto-mechanics, etc.. They graduated into relatively high-paying jobs. Indeed, starting out, their incomes often exceed those of university graduates.

    The females pursued husbands … yes,starting in high school. Many studied home economics. They followed the males to the universities to find husbands equal to their parents’ economic class and social status. As evidenced in class reunions, a surprising number are still married to their high school sweethearts. It wasn’t a golden age in the middle of the Vietnam War; it was just a better time.

  75. @Mr. Blank

    I totally agree with all of your points.

    Someone very close to me, a really smart young man, barely made it through the torture called high school, never even thought of going to “collittch” and has done very very well both financially and spiritually. He’s had a lot of fun the whole time and is very street smart. He’s much better educated than most of what exudes from the diploma mills these days as well.

    In contrast, I was talking yesterday with a successful lawyer neighbor/friend and he was making the case that Hillary was the one to vote for while I was making the case for voting NOTA. I asked him how familiar he was with the arguments of the “Anti-Federalists” and he sheepishly admitted that he hadn’t read them since his college days when he was a Pol Sci major and found them boring!

    He also challenged me with the old canard of running for office myself and I shot back with Juvenal’s response (“…nobody is going to be a thief with me as his accomplice,
    and that right there is why I’m going in no governor’s entourage.” – Satires, Volume 3, (3.41-48) ~100 AD), and he asked who Juvenal was!!!!

    I then hit him with Socrates’ “Reflecting that I was really too honest a man to be a politician and live…” and he replied that he’d never heard of it!!!

    I like jawboning with Mike, but successful as he is, he seems nearly as naive as the day he was born and although he’s had a lot of supposedly high quality schooling, he’s not one whit educated in my opinion. Sadly, he’s pretty typical of the bright and well schooled professionals I know except that he’s not as arrogant as he is ignorant.

  76. Che Guava says:
    @Erol Pedersen

    How do you know that I am not a woman?

    I am quite aware of how poor at expression many grads in sci., tech., eng., maths are. In any case, it demonstrably does not apply to me.

    your condescending and demeaning comment!

    My comment about the relative ease of most master’s degrees is a simple statement of fact, based on direct observation.

    It doesn’t just apply to the humanities, the point where I realised it for the first time was at a cafe at the uni from which I graduated.

    I had been interested in the master’s in ‘cognitive science’, but I watched a student doing the homework, it was at the level of an almost intelligent junior-high school student project.

    Master’s degrees in the humanities (liberal arts, if you like) and interdisciplinary areas, or public policy, are purely a function of being sponsored by an almost certainly government actor, or having a lot of money to burn.

    The majority don’t even demand a decent thesis, most are based on junior-high level coursework, due to market demand.

    Your tone of voice reeks of envy and jealousy

    No, it reeks of irritation at a higher-education system that has become essentially corrupt.

    BTW, you may like to consider paragraph breaks when writing.

    • Replies: @Erol Pedersen
  77. artichoke says:
    @Erol Pedersen

    STEM does turn you into a bit of a drone conversationally during the initial STEM training process. It’s so absorbing and demanding that it really does occupy all your brain cells, figuratively speaking. Acquiring well roundedness in general worldly knowledge is not difficult. Browse the internet, live a little, done. Talk to that STEM graduate at 30 or 35. Supposedly the liberal arts promote analytical skills. Well a STEM graduate has truly rigorous analytical skills that a liberal arts grad can’t match. It may just take a little while to apply those skills to popular topics and think about things a bit.

    After finishing my STEM doctoral qualifiers at a university well known for liberal arts, I took a graduate seminar in a humanities subject just for fun. I wanted to see how the other half lived. Well it was very nice, I learned a bit about ancient architecture, everyone was very friendly, and it was easier than most high school classes I’d taken. It was better though in that the instructor was a world-class expert in the subject.

    On the STEM side we got world-class experts too, but they made us work like hell and flunked out some.

    • Replies: @Greg S.
  78. artichoke says:
    @grey enlightenment2

    That’s just the number of credits taken and the titles of courses. I’ll agree the number of credits has gone up. My kids’ high school has 8 periods in a day. I am sure we had no more than 7, and by taking a full schedule for 3 years there, I set some kind of record in number of credits taken. Actually it’s because I dropped out of marching band since I missed the summer practices where they learned how to march, and filled in the period with a real class instead.

    That worked out well for me. It’s nice to have high school bands and orchestras, but if it does the school good, I don’t think it does much good for the kids in them. The kids are mostly done in terms of the early “growth spurt” of musical skill, if they’re going to be any good. And for the kids who are good, the teachers are not suitable. They need a private teacher and/or a conservatory. For the record, I was never any good.

    Many people including me have reported that the content in similar-named classes has gone down. In math, the need for inclusion has forced a reduction in rigor. Used to be, some teachers felt like talking in a more advanced way. Now they are punished if they do so. Same is true in other subjects.

  79. @Che Guava

    Yes indeed all good points! As for the paragraph breaks, stream of consciousness kicks in! Sorry!
    Not only has the entire system and institutions been corrupted but the curriculum has been dumbed down and combined with the rampant grade inflation you have the current crop of students who graduate only marginally more knowledgeable and educated then when they arrived.

    In fact, academic studies have demonstrated this!

    I am afraid to say that the Business Administration students are by far the worst!

    • Replies: @Che Guava
  80. Greg S. says:

    I have an electrical engineering degree, but also took one year of humanities focusing on English Literature after my degree when I couldn’t find a job and was working at Best Buy (I did eventually land something in my field and left university for good).

    In my experience, a large percentage (maybe even a majority) of “STEM” graduates suffer from what I call “tunnel vision” or extreme narrow mindedness. They tend to have rigid views of what’s right and what’s wrong (gained in their education) but never learned to un-learn this rigidity when it applies to the rest of the world.

    So these people are the types that tend to believe everything that they read in the newspaper (such as how evil that Trump is) and they lack the creative / critical thinking abilities to imagine scenarios where what they read in the paper might not actually all be true.

    That year in humanities, while not being overly difficult or challenging, did underscore one thing not taught at all in Engineering: how to think critically. In science, there is only ever one right answer, but the real world doesn’t work that way. So STEM graduates are not the panacea they are made out to be in this comments section. I think the best graduates are the most diversified / well rounded ones.

    • Replies: @artichoke
  81. macilrae says:

    I share your pain – as the big dumbdown proceeds, we also have the “uncouth is cool” movement which, I see, is also, like, well-entrenched in the USA. Those who darkly hint at the media imposing some sort of, er, ‘protocol’ on the great unwashed have a certain logic on their side which deserves airing – if only to dispel it.

    I doubt that will happen.

  82. Romanian says:

    Can you, please, direct me to some resource online (tables and the like) or maybe explain to me how to calculate the number of people in a particular IQ interval based on the population’s average IQ and other figures? I’m interested in the percentage of people over 120 or 130 in a population and how that changes with average IQ. So, you’d have like 2% over 130 in a homogeneous population with an average of 100. What if you had 94 or 96? How many would that mean?

  83. macilrae says:

    I did say “almost” but, looking at the specimen paper for 2000, (and, unlike my friend) having little occasion to do much of this sort of mathematics since university, I’d draw your attention to question number 8 which is an obvious application of the sine and cosine rules (pre-O level stuff in my day) and ask how this could ever be considered as an “advanced level” question? I also see that a calculator could be used to get those answers whereas, in my day, we had to look them up using trig tables – and use logs for calculations!

    Certainly there are topics at advanced level which never appeared at ordinary level but I suggest the treatment of them is far more simplistic today.

  84. artichoke says:

    That’s part of why I felt the need to return to school for my doctorate and why I only felt educated once I completed it. Not because, unbeknownst to me, Knuth said it (I thought it was an older sentiment than that) but because then I knew I could complete more doctorates if I wanted to; I knew how to do it. Which is probably why my grad school only lets you do one.

    To know “everything about something” is not the result of any Bachelor’s degree I know of.

    • Replies: @Che Guava
  85. artichoke says:

    What you’re looking for is called a “percentile”. IQ’s are generally assumed to fall in a Gaussian distribution. The standard deviation is often taken to be 15, and the average was originally taken to be 100. If you plot one population with an average of 100 and standard deviation of 15, then another sub-population may have a different mean and standard deviation.

    If you assume mean = 100 and = 15, then to find the percentile for a score of 94, calculate that that is 6/15 = 0.4 standard deviations below the mean, and then look it up in a “standard normal” table.

    • Replies: @Romanian
  86. artichoke says:
    @Greg S.

    I also got my bachelor’s in EE. If EE grads are having trouble finding first jobs these days, our country really has gone to hell and we need Trump to bring it back.

    I think I know what you mean about tunnel vision. I found it more in the working world than at my university. I guess it’s less tunnel-like to be “open – minded” i.e. not to be able to find a correct solution to anything — which is how I would characterize most people who don’t pursue a quantitative field, or especially those who don’t take more than the usual math requirement.

    I respect the great old literature that people quote, that was apparently the subject of old-time liberal arts degrees. I’ve never read it, but some mighty smart things there. When I hear them I often think of an abstract model to demonstrate the point.

    I’ve come to the place where I think I can find correct answers, at least approximately, to almost anything. Maybe that’s “many tunnel” vision. I think it’s the habit of modeling real-life situations in concise terms, certainly throwing away a lot of detail to get to the nub of the situation, then understanding and solving that model. Engineers learn that in courses in systems. I think economics, especially game theory, is very helpful. But it may take some years to get in the habit of applying it to real life, which is why I said to talk to them at 30 or 35. Maybe also it takes a world-class level of arrogance like I’ve got.

    • Replies: @Che Guava
    , @Greg S.
  87. Che Guava says:
    @Erol Pedersen

    Thanks, Erol.

    I will check the links, since you were kind enough to post them, tomorrow evening.

    MBAs, stairways to the stars at the earlier places to run them, OTOH, the entry tests were pretty tough, and the only close friend I knew to take one had an interesting thesis topic, but I can’t recall precisely what it was right now, perhaps it wasn’t really so interesting.


  88. Che Guava says:


    H-1B (think I have the number right) visas are the reason many EE and Comp. Sci. grads, and the many talented amateur programmers and Web coders in the ‘flyover states’ (I want to visit them) don’t get the jobs they deserve.

    Much cheaper to import the workforce from India and China.

    So, just shitty service jobs for the native-born.

  89. Che Guava says:


    You will never know everything about the something as you imagine you will.

    Boasting about your inability to read doesn’t help.

    What is the topic of your doc thesis?

    • Replies: @artichoke
  90. Greg S. says:

    >If EE grads are having trouble finding first jobs these days, our country really has gone to hell

    Too late: I would say that less than 50% of my class of EEs got jobs in their field. The number today is probably less than at graduation due to factors such as H1Bs and offshoring.

    I myself was laid off once already – our entire engineering department was transferred to China and I was forced to train my Chinese replacement (otherwise no severance). That’s a much more common occurrence than most people realize. I’ve struggled to stay in the field ever since, doing things like taking up programming jobs to stay employed.

    Competition for tech jobs is fierce because there are many pools of labour competing for the same job. You have: a fresh crop of new grads each and every year, a constant stream of legal immigrant with advanced degrees / experience (most of these end up as cab drivers), H1B and NAFTA exempted workers, and experienced tech workers who’ve been laid off. Only a fraction of each group actually gets an engineering job. Most I would say end up in that never talked about statistic: “not in the labour force.”

    There is a “big lie” in society that if you just get a STEM degree you have a guaranteed job. This could not be further from the truth, but it seems that most failed engineers just go quietly into the night never to be heard from again. Hard sciences are probably even worse than engineers for this. I think there are more biologists working as baristas than working as biologists.

    It’s a sad situation overall. American desperately needs someone like Trump (assuming he does what he says he will) at the helm.

    • Replies: @artichoke
  91. artichoke says:
    @Che Guava

    My dearest Mango,

    I didn’t boast about that. Do tropical fruits have a reading comprehension problem?

    I showed WHY volatile stocks don’t list on the NYSE. The specialist would lose money. That was one of the papers.

    I said I could learn, not that I have imbibed all knowledge already. But maybe it’s just a word salad to you.


    • Replies: @Che Guava
  92. artichoke says:
    @Greg S.

    Michelle Obama just gave a graduation speech at CUNY. It’s very nasty. One of the things she says is that contributions to society are “never” made by those who “climb the ladder of success”. Only by people in poor circumstances, or immigrants.

    She actually said literally that. In context. In this country built by so many who pulled themselves up by their bootstraps to brilliant accomplishments and contributions.

    She will be gone in less than a year. May her soul pay for her full share of the damage she’s done.

  93. macilrae says:

    Hello again!

    Thank you for digging out those papers – did you actually try any of the problems? I did and the 2000 paper is a doddle whereas my rustiness really shows up on the 1957 one. I might have exaggerated when I said the 2000 “A” is almost on a level with the 1957 “O” because obviously new material has been introduced but the strain-on-the-brain with the 1957 “A” is definitely more!

    • Replies: @Historian
  94. @Romanian

    Jim, You ask,
    “I’m interested in the percentage of people over 120 or 130 in a population and how that changes with average IQ. So, you’d have like 2% over 130 in a homogeneous population with an average of 100. What if you had 94 or 96? How many would that mean?”

    What @artichoke has explained is correct, but do people actually look up this information in tables anymore? Instead, use a scientific calculator, such as the TI-84 or TI-83, which has a built-in function normalcdf(lowerbound,upperbound,mean,stdev) that computes the proportion of the total population whose IQ (for example) falls between lowerbound and upperbound, assuming a normal distribution curve (“bell curve”) having a given mean (average IQ, typically 100) and a given standard deviation (typically 15).
    So with mean=100, standard deviation=15, the proportion of the population that have an IQ less than 100 is normalcdf(-9E99,100,100,15) = .5 (as expected: half the people have an IQ less than 100), and the proportion of people with an IQ above 120 is normalcdf(120,9E99,100,15) = .0912112819, about one person in every 1/.0912112819 = 11. (-9E99 is very small, effectively minus infinity, and 9E99 is an approximation to plus infinity.)
    Is it possible to have an IQ that is less than zero? Yes! The proportion of the population that has a subzero IQ is normalcdf(-9E99,0,100,15) = 1.315E-11, which works out to one person in every 1/1.315E-11 = 76 billion. How many such people exist, depends on the size of the human population of the Galactic Federation.

    • Replies: @res
  95. @Romanian

    Dear Mr. Romanian:
    The answers that our very qualified commentators (no sarcasm here) gave
    are definitely correct.
    What those answers and your question do not touch are the following aspects of the problem.

    1. How valid was the measurement of IQ for the particular individual.

    2. How valid is the application of Central Limit Theorem of probability theory
    to particular random variable, IQ.
    In other words, how well was established the Gaussian profile of that Bell Curve.

    3. What are the values of average and of standard deviation for the particular reference group, within which you want to place the individual in therms of percentile.

    In the introduction to
    “The Bell Curve. Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life”,

    R. Hernstein and Ch. Murray wrote there, page 19, *) that the knowledge of IQ of an individual is somewhat predictive, but not very predictive, of his (or her) future achievements.
    Hernstein and Murray: mostly the study of IQ is about averages for relatively large groups, for which one can make rather definite predictions or conclusions.
    Moreover, as we know, different “very large groups” have
    a) different average values and
    b) different standard deviations of IQ.

    In other words, uncertainties of the input data and input assumptions, IMHO, are much greater than the existing precision of calculations of the areas under Gaussian curve.

    *) All editions of “The Bell Curve” have identical pagination.

    Good luck to you, Mr. Romanian !
    Your I.f.f.U.

    • Replies: @Romanian
  96. AmericanaCON [AKA "Rightsider"] says:

    United States began to collect data over education in 1869 so the data before that period is inconclusive. However, government was involved in education in the thirteen colonies, a heritage from Europe. The literacy rate for white Americans was 90 percent in 1870 and 20 percent for African-Americans in 1870. Twenty years earlier, in 1850, were 55 percent of white children within the interval 5-19 were enrolled in school. For African-Americans and Native Americans that number was closer one percent. The high literacy rate in United States in 1870 can be attributed to the public school system. This was not a federal system. Rather, village, towns and states made school attendance compulsory. There were also private actors who were involved in the schooling of the children. Public Schools had been around since the thirteen colonies era. In early 1700 up to ½ of children born in the United States were enrolled in a school. After school they further education through a trade. Often they followed their parents in their trade. Higher education was very rare. Lawyers, Medical Doctors, Engineers and Surveyors were only in part formally educated – instead they went through apprenticeships similar to other trades.

    In 1849 Connecticut made school obligatory for all children between 6-14 years old. The reason why school became mandatory was because of the shift from a peasantry economy to an industrial economy which meant school had become more important. More so, there was also a large Catholic immigration from Ireland. The mandatory school system forced Irish immigrants to send their children to school were they besides giving elementary education were also instilled with nationalist values. In 1900 had 34 states compulsory school laws which aggressively drove the illiteracy rate down for both whites and people of color. In 1918 all US states had laws requiring children to pass elementary school. From 1900 there is a massive increasing in school attendance. In 1940 only half of the US population went beyond 8th grade. Higher education became more common although only 10 percent of the US population held a college degree.

    In early 1900 youngsters had three choices. They could enter high school/preparatory college, go to trade school/apprenticeship or start working in a factory. The preparatory college was aimed at prepare the youngsters for college, lower administrative positions or take them into certain apprenticeship which required more theoretical skills such as engineering. The trade school/apprenticeship would give the youngsters a manual trade which required less theoretical skills. In the 1950 progressive politics pushed the length of education. A decade later United States experienced massive migration from third world countries (from 1965), outsourcing and technical development. It shattered the working class with trade diplomas and middle class with high school/preparatory college education. This forced youngsters to go to college to compete for the remaining jobs. Today, 30 percent of the US population holds a college degree and 85 percent have finished High School. However, there are not nearly enough jobs requiring such as degrees which have lead to massive unemployment and in particular under-unemployment.

    Instead focusing on creating job – education has become a way for government to hide unemployment. The deep relationship between government and business has been deeply problematic. It has been problematic because business always strives to decrease wages and flooding the market with high school and college graduates leads to lower wages. Note the percentage of “Liberal Arts” major is roughly the same as in the 1950s. Rather the problem lack in the number of jobs – which in the 1950s were plentiful because of the manufacturing base. When a factory moves to China both the blue and white color jobs disappear with it. In China and India they have turned their colleges into trade schools. However, if United States would do the same it would only lead to an oversupply of workers with trade school diplomas. Simply, the problem is about the lack of job opportunities because of the causes above. The American school system cannot be fixed because it is intermingled with other policy decisions.

  97. Renoman says:

    The truth is not hard to find, just ask Fred!

  98. Romanian says:
    @Immigrant from former USSR

    Thank you very much for your additions. I am aware of the limitations, but this is what we have to work with and I found “IQ and the wealth of nations” pretty convincing. I believe it was there that Lynn mentioned how my country has very few studies of this type and none on samples of adequate size and representation. I found that very disappointing but typical for my country’s lack of introspection, probably for fear of what it would find. I’m afraid probabilistics were never my strong suit in math, but the commenters here helped immensely.

    • Replies: @artichoke
  99. Che Guava says:

    I think the best graduates are the most diversified / well rounded ones.

    I respect the great old literature that people quote, that was apparently the subject of old-time liberal arts degrees. I’ve never read it, but some mighty smart things there.

    I’ve come to the place where I think I can find correct answers, at least approximately, to almost anything.

    Sorry for getting your uname wrong, it was not intentional. I suppose I have, for some reason, a strong mental association between artichoke and asparagus, beyond the initial letters. I did check the history, saw the drift.

    • Replies: @artichoke
  100. artichoke says:
    @Che Guava

    No problem, Papaya. I really did think the asparagus thing was funny. I didn’t think your assertion I was boasting or unconcerned about my lack of classical literature was as funny. But some of your comments are so clever I assume we understood each other.

    I said the second and third of those quotes. The first was someone else, in a post I think I replied to.

    • Replies: @Che Guava
  101. artichoke says:

    As a white American looking back at our 150 year guilt trip about relations with blacks, and that and other affirmative action laws, let me say that introspection is best done privately if you choose to do so. Some sort of national “introspection” would just be a recipe for weakening your nation’s strengths. I don’t advise it!

    • Replies: @Romanian
  102. Romanian says:

    I get what you are saying and there are definitely some who would like to give us the same kind of ethno-historical PTSD you Americans gave yourselves, but I was referring to a more technocratic sort of introspection, the kind that helps policy makers formulate good policy. Just a few things off the top of my head:
    – what is the national IQ average, also by ethnic groups
    – what is the actual population, also by ethnic groups (Gypsies are undercounted, they’re the 2nd largest group, not the dwindling Hungarians, many identify as Romanians, others don’t have papers like birth certificates)
    – what is the TFR?
    – what is the percentage of pregnant women and young children suffering from micronutrient deficiencies that, even when rectified later in life, lead to lower IQs than your genetics would support. The last report I looked at said that, in 2011, 50% of pregnant women had some sort of iodine deficiency. Going from a 100 IQ to 98 doesn’t sound like much of a loss, but, at a systemic level, I think it really screws with how many high achievers you have, not to mention making the dumb dumber.
    – how are our policies affecting all of the above etc
    – what does our diaspora look like in terms of IQ distribution? Is our brain drain less than our criminal drain?
    – what do people consider to be their ideal family size and how does their actual family size compare? (this idea I got from a Hungarian paper translated into English, where they made the point that Gypsy women have more children than they consider ideal, while Hungarian women had fewer, raising the hope that small interventions may lead both groups closer to their ideal family size)
    – psychological things, like what people view as status markers. An Israeli paper I read was almost boastful about how they got upper class secular women to start thinking that a large family size is a marker for high status.

    It’s like our rulers (yes, I use that word because incompetence detracts from political legitimacy – I mused on this bitterly today as I went to vote in the mayoral elections of our nation’s capital) are afraid that finding some relevant data will compel them publicly to act more competently than they have so far. An example of bitter finding was when we were faced with what we already suspected – rampant cheating on Baccalaureate examinations at the end of high school meant that results were unconnected with actual learning and competence. When they added cameras to exam rooms and started policing things properly, the pass rate (getting at least 50% score in all exams and at least 60% overall) utterly collapsed from 85%-90% of the student body to 40-50%, with some high schools having 0%. The wailing and the gnashing of the teeth was very satisfying to someone who had graduated not so long ago as to forget the difference between the marketing and the reality. Results have steadily risen since then, and are now at 60%, though I’m not sure whether the teaching is better, the students apply themselves better (failing the exam is quite the stigma, or used to be back when even lunkheads could crib enough to pass) or the tests have been dumbed down compared to when I graduated in 2006.

    You know, things that let you make the proper decisions at national levels or at least understand why you’re in trouble.

    • Replies: @artichoke
  103. Bolteric says:
    @Immigrant from former USSR

    Like the comment.

    I took it in the late 90s (at an elite Liberal Arts school) when I was undergoing a crisis perhaps in response to what Fred (Uncle Rick?) is talking about. I couldn’t concentrate and got a D. My dad freaked, and admittedly it was hugely out of character from a few short years before that.

    Fast forward 14 years, and I had to take Lin. Algebra for a remake of my career in engineering, financed in part by my good father. I got an A from a State University (perhaps slightly less challenging packaging).

    I qualified, I failed, I rose again.

  104. Che Guava says:

    You should go further, how many of them have basic literacy?

  105. Che Guava says:

    I assume we understood each other.

    Present tense would be preferable.

    The first was someone else, in a post I think I replied to.

    Doesn’t look like that.

    BTW, the apparently published paper on stock prices (sure, I believe it was published somewhere) doesn’t seem to be the topic of your doctoral thesis, and sure, how do you get a doctorate for that?

    In any case, I must sleep, first pt. above.

    • Replies: @artichoke
  106. artichoke says:

    How many people could complete a STEM degree reasonably, and don’t? Since I attended an engineering college, I don’t have a good handle on that. But I would guess that there aren’t so many.

    Linear algebra is typically the beginning of dealing with abstract mathematical objects that one cannot see, in this case high dimensions. You can get by up to then without formal mathematical thinking. But the ability to think that way really separates people into two classes, and what passes for rigor among those who cannot, is not the same as for those who can do such formal mathematical thinking.

    Linear algebra is harder to “get”. but as someone else said, time can help. One way is to start early. There’s no reason we can’t teach it in high school (what else are we doing in “precalculus” that’s so important) except that the teachers don’t know it.

    • Replies: @Romanian
  107. artichoke says:
    @Che Guava

    There are many many published papers on stock prices! And the somewhat conditional tone I used was not unintended; you are entitled to your editorial opinion.

    • Replies: @Che Guava
  108. artichoke says:

    You propose some excellent questions. I wish we talked about such things here as well, but our government nowadays would prefer to suppress such things — unless it’s to support such intrusions as AFFH (Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing), Obama’s invention to force poor NAM’s into good clean white neighborhoods by any means necessary. We gather racial data, so that we can detect well off white neighborhoods and target them for pollution!

    On a point of English, in my experience “introspection” tends to refer to a more psychological, less technical sort of thinking. It’s typically used in contexts of shaming, although it does not have to be. That’s what I was thinking about when I wrote my comment.

    • Replies: @Che Guava
  109. res says:
    @Mark Spahn (West Seneca, NY)

    One thing to remember is that the IQ distribution is believed to have fat tails relative to the Gaussian distribution. In practice this means there are more people with both very high and very low IQs (say > 3 SD from the mean) than a normal distribution would predict. There is a good discussion of this at

  110. Historian says:

    I might have exaggerated when I said the 2000 “A” is almost on a level with the 1957 “O” because obviously new material has been introduced but the strain-on-the-brain with the 1957 “A” is definitely more!

    I agree with that statement. The 2000 A level in mathematics is clearly more difficult than the 1957 O level, but also easier than the 1957 A level.

    Much of the “strain-on-the-brain” probably comes from the questions starting with “Prove that.” The 2000 exam has a much more straightforward style of questioning. It is very difficult to come up with a proof 50 years after learning the material, but the basic technique stays with you.

    There has also been a change in the purpose of the exam. In 1957, it was expected that there would be many low scores. In 2000, it may have been felt that there was no point asking the really tricky questions if the candidate was headed for Birmingham. Let Oxford and Cambridge ask these questions in their interviews.

    You should also read the Reports. The older ones are quite entertaining. As late as 1984, the Report was still talking about “dubious” and “ridiculous” responses from candidates. By 1994, this had turned into “weaker candidates.”

  111. Romanian says:

    Linear algebra is harder to “get”. but as someone else said, time can help. One way is to start early. There’s no reason we can’t teach it in high school (what else are we doing in “precalculus” that’s so important) except that the teachers don’t know it.

    The former Communist bloc, at least the European side of it, did study it in high school, and it’s still being taught there in my country and others. I had a very good and conscientious teacher. I confess I don’t remember much about it ten years after acing my Baccalaureate. Maybe some of it or some facility with it would come back to me when needed to do homework with my (hypothetical) kids. Back then, it was true that a lot of kids did not get it very well and needed counseling outside of school. But it’s this kind of stuffing of the high school curriculum that lets us bypass the need to attend college before University that seems to occur in the US. Ideally, students on the math intensive track in high school (which is the majority track) would be prepared to step right into their role for a University STEM education. It’s the kind of thing that leaves a lot of the kids behind and it’s a bit resented, but I hope they don’t start copying Western educational fads and dumb things down for the sake of self-esteem, inclusiveness and what have you.

    Past exams translated into English here

    The Bac exams are at the end. Example for 2003

  112. artichoke says:

    I looked at the Bac exams (2004 physics, 2000 math) and my impression is they rely a lot on memory if anything. For example in the math exam, if you do the first division correctly with their very broad hint there won’t be a remainder, you can answer about the next five questions immediately. The calculus content is utterly trivial. If you remember how to compute the determinant, another five questions are obvious. But if you don’t remember how to compute a determinant and aren’t clever to figure what it must be for the exam, you’re cooked.

    (My impression of the bac physics exam is that there’s not too much problem solving there, but more than on the math. But you’d better remember the usual notations.)

    That’s not what I would call linear algebra. There’s nothing about projections, nothing about eigenvalues, etc. Just a 2×2 determinant. Our kids can learn to do that in a week, too. I think we teach that in precalculus.

    On our AP calculus exams, there is some actual problem solving. On the more advanced level, you actually have to do some integrals with techniques like partial fraction expansion and trig substitution. Our calc. exam is definitely much harder than that one. You can see samples of our higher-level high school calculus here:

    But only a small fraction of our kids get to our AP exam. So we withhold exposure to calculus concepts from kids, just because they might not be able to be clever or really fluent with them.

    I think your 8th grade exams are more impressive than your bac exams. The academic high schools could probably use improvement, based only on those exams.

    • Replies: @Romanian
  113. Romanian says:

    There’s too much in the curriculum to cram in a single exam, so there will always be things left out. Also, there was an emphasis on ensuring that almost everybody passed. I just wanted to give you an impression of the style and difficulty level, not do some sort of showing off. And the list of translated exams is very small. It just really is possible to teach all those things in high school. Also, I never said we did it well. Only that we have the baggage of theory. There is plenty to criticize about the system, which we do quite often – the reliance on rote memorization, on abstraction, the lack of critical thinking skills, real problem solving etc. The Communist system we inherited created worker drones for a rapidly expanding heavy industrial base. Whether by accident or not, it served to give the best theoretical grounding to very intelligent people who could reach their potential sooner in this way and not be discouraged by whatever else the system is lacking, such as levers to motivate average students to push themselves harder. But the system makes it hard to distinguish between the studious competents and the truly brilliant, as you noticed. The real test for the gifted is in our Olympiads, where a good result means you skip the Bac exam in the subject. I wish we’d have the kind of grading system where only a John Nash could get a 10 and a competent fellow would get a 7, but we will never have that. Also, we don’t have AP classes. You are assigned to one group where you take all of your lessons together. None of that American stuff about “being in X’s algebra class”. We try to sort people by ability, meaning that if a high school has five groups in science track, the first group will have the best students as per the previous tests, and the last group will have the worst that were allowed in. But it’s always been inexact.

  114. @Romanian

    Dear Romanian:
    For me personally non-trivial thing about Linear Algebra
    is not so much dimensionality larger than 3,
    but the possibility to multiply “vectors” by numbers
    from arbitrary FIELD OF NUMBERS.
    In particular, field of all complex numbers is especially important.
    It guarantees that there always exists a root of (polynomial) equation
    for the eigenvalue of a matrix, and thus, exists non-zero eigenvector,
    i.e. vector, which does not change “direction” under the multiplication by the matrix.

    Linear spaces over the field of all complex numbers
    constitute the mathematical foundation
    of “States of the System” in Quantum Mechanics.
    “Electron’s orbitals” (i.e. wave-functions of electrons) in molecules
    can be added and multiplied by complex numbers;
    thus they constitute Linear Space.

    By the way, fashionable word “qubit” in Quantum Computing describes states
    in 2-dimensional linear space, but over the field of complex numbers.

    My best to you, Mr. Romanian.

  115. biz says:
    @Gene Su

    I don’t think IQ is quantitative (measured by numbers). It is qualitative (can have many different aspects).

    Unfortunately, what you “think” is at odds with a century of robust results in the psychometric literature.

    There is a quantitative factor, g, which is highly correlated with the various modes that we commonly conceive of as intelligence, and IQ tests effectively and quantitatively measure g.

  116. @biz

    I agree with commentator “biz”.

    In the book “Real Education” Charles Murray explains that
    numerous, supposedly separate, “intelligences” introduced by Gardner,
    mostly have strong correlation with single one: with “g”, or with IQ.

    Exceptions, noted by Murray: 1. musical, and 2. body-kinestetic (sports).

    Political goal of Gardner’s introduction of separate “intelligences”
    was to claim that we all are”equal” in terms of educational success,
    teacher just has to find students strongest type of “intelligence”.

    • Replies: @5371
  117. 5371 says:
    @Immigrant from former USSR

    Some people are talented at figure skating, some at swimming, some at weightlifting. To say that these are not all the same talent is not in any way to claim that “we are all equal” in athletic pursuits. How much more true is an analogous statement about mental qualities!

  118. Hello, 5371 ! = 10^(17704)
    The main thesis that Charles Murray wanted to deliver
    to the readers of the book “Real Education” was
    that there are relatively small number of “work places”
    for specifically musically-talented students,
    or for body-kinestetically talented students.

    My additions (not from the book “Real Education”).
    1. In view of increased transfer of work places to robots,
    may be the above two “intelligences” will play larger role.
    2. I was saddened to learn that my hero Charles Murray
    was invited to “2016 BILDERBERG MEETING” (June 9-12):
    It shows his ‘establisharian” status.

  119. Che Guava says:

    Hello Artichoke.

    There are many many published papers on stock prices!

    I know that! That one just sounds too light to have been your thesis topic.

    Have done economics-related programming, it was enjoyable in a technical sense, writing new code to replace their spaghetti code for report generation so that it was well-structured, writing a program to analyse the correlation between the CPI and advertising revenue in broadcasting.

    Am not a total naif.

    I don’t have much love for ‘actually existing’ capitalism, it seems (in many western countries and all English-speaking countries) to be entirely based on never-ending real-estate and stock bubbles, which are sure to really burst at some stage.

    However, I want to work out how to make money from the latter, since I don’t have the cash for the former in the bubble places. The near-universal policy of open-slather foreign investment seems to be the main factor keeping the real-estate bubbles afloat.

    Mainly, this reply is to compliment you on your ‘word salad’ jest, of course, I know what it means, but witty in context.

  120. Che Guava says:

    Introspection, AFAIK, simply means examining one’s own psyche. Did I really use that word? Don’t think so.

    Since I frequently have to work with word salad in daily life, really did appreciate your jest.

  121. Sue Donym says:

    Fred Reed;

    “Universities recruited blacks competitively as evidence of social rightness. These trophies lacked roots in European civilization, literature, history, sciences and mathematics. They demanded, and got, departments of Black Studies, academic ghettos lowering standards yet further.”

    I agree with you that education standards were much higher in those days prior to the mid-sixties, and it has been the downfall of our culture that higher education is so poor. I am disheartened by how few people still cultivate a broad interest in the world and people around them with a mind to gain understanding of our shared humanity – which once was the result of taking a survey art course such as you describe.

    But back to the time before the fall of US higher edication: Imagine, had those elites who championed liberal broadmindedness, also championed the rights of blacks in American society to be guaranteed and protected, just as whites’ rights were, under the US Constitution, American blacks’ historical and prodigious contributions to the making of America, from a time before the first English settlers, would have been included in American History all along with European white history, a history which so negatively affected blacks in Africa and the New World.

    Think of it! Had that truer history been taught, a Black Studies department would not have been necessary, and you would not have been so sorely tempted as to not resist the evil of using racism to justify racism, as you did in the quote above.

    And imagine how much sooner the systemic racism that burdens blacks, which we sympathetic whites are only now standing up to, would have been identified and eliminated, if America’s real history been taught to those highly competent, white, elite students of yore who could then have changed the world for the better beginning at home.

  122. RobRich says: • Website
    @Immigrant from former USSR

    What’s with Linear Algebra? (as opposed to DiffyQ?)

  123. @RobRich

    Esteemed RobRich:
    You wrote:

    What’s with Linear Algebra? (as opposed to DiffyQ?)

    I am feeling humbled to answer this question in the presence of so many highly educated discussants, but will try.

    In the most primitive form Linear Algebra (LA) deals with solution of several (possibly many) equations for the same number of unknowns. Important simplifying difference (in comparison with General Algebra) is that in LA those unknowns x, y, z, etc. enter the equations in first power, in other words linearly. For example, for 3 unknowns x,y,z each of the 3 equations looks like

    a*x+b*y+c*z = U,
    d*x+e*y+f*z = V,
    g*x+h*y+k*z = W.

    Coefficients from a through k constitute a “matrix“.
    If Right-Hand-Sides (RHS) of equations is zero: U = V = W = 0, then there always a solution, with x=y=z=0; that is evident, i.e. trivial.
    However, sometimes even for zero RHS there may be a non-zero solution, which we call non-trivial vector with components
    Then a vector with components
    (17.3*x, 17.3*y, 17.3*z)
    is also non-trivial solution.
    Very important generalization of those equations comes, if the numbers in question are complex numbers, and we can multiply those vectors by complex numbers.

    State of a physical system, e.g. state of electron in an atom, in modern Quantum Mechanics is described by vectors, which may be added, subtracted and multiplied by complex numbers. The combinations of such vectors allow description of almost all the phenomena in physics of electrons, atoms, molecules etc.

    That is what so special about Linear Algebra.

    A citation (possibly invented) from inscriptions into an album of a nice lady:
    “The person who loves this lady stronger than I do,
    will write below my inscription.”
    In Russian:
    “Кто любит более меня, тот пишет далее меня.”

  124. @Immigrant from former USSR

    Apparently it is Pushkin, “Eugeniy Onegin”:
    Кто любитъ болѣе тебя,
    Пусть пишетъ далѣе меня.
    Ср. А на послѣднемъ (листочкѣ) прочитаешь:
    Кто любитъ болѣе тебя,
    Пусть пишетъ далѣе меня.
    А. С. Пушкинъ. Евг. Онѣг. 4, 18. Извѣст. альбомн. стишки.
    Shame on me !!!!

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