What are your biggest classroom management issues?

Answered Dec 20

I’ll offer a student’s perspective, relating to adults. I’ve been in plenty of full university lecture theatres and classrooms kept very well under control by authoritative (in a nice way) teachers.

Unfortunately, prior to that (several years ago now), I spent a hellish two semesters at an institution that I’ll call Low Rent Polytechnic. It was supposedly an introductory course, to get people prepared to be successfully studying at degree level the following year. It turned out to be dramatically lower-level than I had expected, in terms of material, and could be described as remedial.

Some days it was hard to believe I was in a room full of adults, who were on the hook for student loans, and were choosing to be there. Their mind-blowing classroom behaviour arose from severe lack of basic personal insight and multi-directional low standards and expectations. The behaviour of the following alleged adults is a logical progression from the mass failure to instill basic civility in primary and secondary school, as well as mass poor parenting…

Issues:

Zero selectivity in enrollments, and zero evaluation of the appropriate level at which to place a student. Hordes of people with appallingly low basic skill levels, and very little basic life experience, who were totally unaware of that. At the other end, there was also zero mechanism to avoid enrolling someone at a level so low that it was insulting to their intelligence. Now put those people together in the same classroom. And watch the open bullying by the least skilled/knowledgeable students against the most skilled/knowledgeable one.

Students were placed together in a group of twenty. The same people for every class (which totaled nineteen hours of class time per week). This meant that there wan’t any respite from the same disruptive and/or bullying individuals.

Bully-Girl (in her early 30s) instantly attempted to make the group into a personal social circle, revolving around herself.

In the first week, there was mistake in allocating the group, leading to twenty-one of us. The course coordinator walked in, explained to Bully-Girl (the extra person) that she needed to move to a different group that was short, and all lived in her area (for carpooling possibilities). Bully-Girl got offended, and actually yelled, “You suck!” and slammed her books hard onto the table. In front of the entire rest of the group (playing to an audience). The result? The coordinator coddled Bully-Girl, and let her stay in the present group. And, weeks later, did repeated additional coddling to try to prevent her from dropping out, despite the fact that she was also too low-skilled to legitimately pass.

Bully-Girl openly targeted me for her disruption and verbal insults, trying to establish that I was actually the incompetent one, to distract from her incompetence. She also got quite personal and creepy. I suspected that, she may have hoped that I would drop out in order to get away from her. A course manager failed to communicate any consequences for Bully-Girl if she kept it up, after I complained. Fortunately, Bully-Girl dropped out fairly quickly, after alienating basically everyone.

Constant implications (and even direct statements from staff) that the group was supposed to all be personal friends, and get to know each other well on a personal level. This wasn’t to be nice – it was a desperate, condescending dropout prevention strategy.

Speaking of which, there was a very heavy-handed effort to retain students, regardless of how bad their behaviour was, or how poorly they were doing in the course. So they stuck around, continuing that behaviour on and on, for the whole year. A couple of them got visibly more angry over time, in response to numerous failures of tests and assignments, and fed into each other’s indignation.

When a student didn’t show up for a few days, the course managers would actually call the person at home, repeatedly, to coddle him or her to start coming again.

One staff member openly told everyone that, it was our obligation to basically monitor classmates for dropout risk, and to help retain them.

A couple of staff members actually spoke to students with a tone of voice that would be insultingly condescending if you used it with a four-year-old child. Thus encouraging the tone that people weren’t really expected to be adults.

An attendance roll was allegedly taken, with a stated “requirement” of showing up 80% of the time. People would be there solely to be marked present, without self-motivation to learn anything. (In at least one case, I don’t believe the 80% rule was enforced).

A few people had patterns of being late whenever the did show up. One clown sat in class one day, rambling about it was important to have breakfast before arriving. So that, at 9 AM, he would be down the street at McDonald’s, having a leisurely breakfast. Openly acknowledging that that resulted in chronic lateness, but claiming that it was worth it. Oblivious to the disruption of 15 or 20 minutes late. He would even be late in returning from the midday lunch hour.

There was zero communication from staff about this. And worse, they would stop talking to the class as a whole, approach Late-Boy, and nicely tell him everything that he missed by being late. Including almost verbatim repetition, while the on-time people sat and waited.

At the other end, there were instances of people just getting up and leaving, halfway through a class. Including a few group-leavings, and failing to even tell the teacher that they were leaving.

Seating arrangements. This included a ridiculous “U”-shaped arrangement. To be close to the teacher and the whiteboard, I had to sit at the end of the “U”, and turn my head sideways. The point of this arrangement was apparently to get the students to pay attention to each other for “teamwork”, which devolved into loud socialising.

Disruptive duos. Pairs of students who always sit next to each other, so they can have loud, irrelevant conversations for the entire class. When separated, some will actually stay quiet. There was zero effort to separate these pairs until near the end of semester two, when a new teacher was hired. By then, it was too late.

One of the disruptive duos included a guy in his 20s, who would play video games, or do random web-surfing, and literally screaming at the top of his lungs. On and on and on, without letup. He set the overall volume level of the room, for the other incessant talkers.

In addition to practically non-stop screaming, he would put earphones in while watching music videos. Including a couple of occasions of singing along at top volume.

One time, I politely asked that clown to get his noise level down. Twice. Then, I picked up my papers, and moved as far away as possible, while remaining in the room. When he noticed, he started screaming at me (past several other people), asking if I thought there was too much noise in the room. The teacher didn’t even seem to notice. When I mentioned it to another classmate, she acted like I was just being grumpy and intolerant.

I was also bullied by a teacher, who accused me to giving off a hostile vibe, because (after that incident), tried to sit away from other students, preferably without anyone immediately on either side of me. She continued bullying me when I explained that it was to get distance from various disruptive duos, especially the screamer.

Handing out test and assignment grades in class, at the beginning. Certain people would then be visibly fuming in anger and fear. Also, every failed test and assignment had to be redone until they passed, so they couldn’t just move on yet.

Have fun being the good student (whom everyone knows is passing easily), and being forced into “teamwork” with two students engaged in the aforementioned anger and fear.

People resitting tests did so together, and thus knew who had passed or failed. Inspiring more grudges and bullying of the good student.

On another case, assignments were handed back, with the instruction to place it back into a box if they had passed, or keep it if they had failed. So people could watch each other, Inspiring more grudges and bullying of the good student.

In one case, a test was done on done on computers close enough together that a student was able to lean over, look at another’s screen, and loudly announce the near-perfect score. Inspiring more grudges and bullying of the good student.

That computerised test was for very basic literacy and numeracy levels, and was done two weeks into the course, without any specific preparation. Multiple students got rather agitated, and felt insulted by their low scores (i.e. the folks who had been totally unaware of their low basic skill levels).

Class sessions where a teacher sat down with an individual one-to-one, to work on basic mathematics worksheets, for fifteen minutes or longer. Then moving on to another individual. While failing to teach the class as a whole.

In one incident, I arrived, as per the schedule, ready to be taught material, and found a teacher sitting with several of my classmates, sequentially hanging over their shoulders for extended periods. Because they couldn’t write a simple assignment on their own time, without help. I had already written mine.

Class sessions where a so-called teacher arrived, and asked if people had assignments due for other classes. Then told everyone to work on those. In a room with computers, so they all just randomly surfed the internet, played with FaceBook, and socialised very loudly. While the so-called teacher quietly stared at his computer for an hour.

Early on, there was a very small, very brief “teamwork” task, involving arranging different-coloured plastic Based on the idea that, these people were “kinesthetic learners” who cannot understand verbal descriptions or even diagrams The class Bully-Girl made a point to walk over to me, and deliberately refuse to follow the simple instructions solely to bully me, right in front of the teacher, who said nothing.

In one “teamwork” exercise, groups of four or five were supposed to give brief presentations. Because I didn’t have any established clique for self-choosing, the teacher tried to force me onto a team with the three least-competent, worst-behaving students. I refused, and somebody else took that slot. On the day of the presentations, he was unable to do it, because the three clowns whom I had rejected, didn’t bother to show up. And didn’t contact him with excuses. My guess was that, one or more of them had the idea, “I don’t wanna talk talk in front of the class, so I’ll let the other people do it, and I can pass simply for being on the team”.

Low Rent Polytechnic staff branded ME as having a bad attitude towards “teamwork” for having rejected the no-show clowns.

Other class sessions a certain so-called teacher arrived, with zero material or preparation, and just rambled on about “don’t drop out”, etc, while expressing open contempt for the students.

Other class sessions consisted of going over a small quantity of material again, for the benefit of all the people who didn’t bother to show up the previous week. Or who had been present, but had been too busy disrupting to pay any attention.

I had to sit there, while my so-called peers were taught things that, in some cases, I knew when I was twelve years old.

There were moments when I looked around, and I was the only student even attempting to pay attention to the teacher. And moments when a teacher would get a horrified facial expression, didn’t even try to continue teaching any material. One of them seemed almost shell-shocked, and a few times looked at me with a rather apologetic, embarrassed expression.

Despite that, there was zero discussion of the connection between bad classroom behaviours and eventual failure. Or really, any clear discussion of failure. And zero discussion of how the behaviours would be perceived by eventual employers.

Overall, there was a complete failure to communicate any standards or expectations of adult civility. And total failure to have any consequences for anything. Nobody was ever told to leave the room.

Some of these people openly took the attitude that, since they were adults, they were entitled to do as much loud, irrelevant talking as they wanted. With zero insight that, adults should exercise basic consideration for others, and ability to pay attention and learn.

The aforementioned new teacher near the end was the only one who made any attempt to get things under control. And she eventually sunk to screaming in rage at a roomful of alleged adults.

In the final week of classes, the aforementioned screaming guy was carrying on, as usual. So, instead of teaching the class that new teacher repeatedly went over to him, screaming at him, desperately trying to get him under control. The consequence? They shoveled him into a degree programme the following year (and he either failed or dropped out at the end of that year).

On the final day, during a test, a student got up, pestered the supervising teacher until she allowed him to leave the room (via a door leading outside the building), without any escort available. He was the type of idiot who just keeps repeating a range of inappropriate demands, confident that he will wear people down as they get tired of saying “no” to him. Which worked in this case. Ten minutes or fifteen minutes later, he returned with a cup of coffee (which had required him to go to another building) And resumed the test. In full view of other students. The consequence? They then shoveled him into a degree programme, and dragged him through two years before either failing him or booting him out.

Despite the lack of entry standards, mass low skill levels, and mass behavioural issues, it seemed impossible for anyone to fail the course. Due to a government funding and “performance” crackdown, there was intense pressure to get the dropouts down, and the pass rates up. Including intense pressure on frontline teaching staff. And telling those alleged adults to start acting like real adults might hurt their little feelings, leading to even worse attendance or dropping out.

Low Rent Polytechnic had a tradition of very low standards and expectations. And very poor big-picture performance and outcomes. And lacked any tools (including individual or institutional professionalism or motivation) to deal with the government performance crackdown.

They were were retaining and passing people in that course, handing them a certificate claiming they were ready for degree-level success. And some wouldn’t last even a single semester at university.

One teacher directly told me that I needed to accept that, all of those people were legitimately good students. And that, I had would be expected to tolerate their behaviour for another three years. And that, each and every one of them would end up with degrees and professional jobs, where their behaviour would continue. And that I would have to tolerate the same exact individuals as colleagues, doing all of the same behaviour, for the rest of my working life.

I suspect that, ironically, conditions might have been better previously, with disruptive students dropping out without the heavy-handed retention effort.

The lack of academic and behavioural standards result in many, many people borrowing piles of taxpayer money, and being subsidised with even bigger, non-repayable piles, for zero ultimate benefit to anyone, except Low Rent Polytechnic. Some of them are unemployable, and won’t even repay their loans. These kind of outcomes are what provoked the National government to start the aforementioned funding/performance crackdown, which has impacted all higher education (including students) in the country.

Also on the lack of professionalism, Low Rent Polytechnic teachers and managers had zero consideration for the fact that, I was paying and sacrificing to pursue education, and was being cheated out of it. One of the managers also told me that deserved open, repeated “tall poppy syndrome” bullying as punishment for having a decent vocabulary and other language skills. As well as for the fact that I’ve lived in places other than the town where I was born.

To top it off, three of them (two managers and one teacher) violated the law by telling me that didn’t have any recourse when I complained of an incident of highly threatening sexual harassment. Which openly occurred in class (perpetrated by the test-leaving clown whom they later shoveled into a degree programme).

The teacher angrily specified that, I would “forced”into “teamwork” tasks involving the harasser (and other male classmates) physically touching me, and that I would be academically failed if I resisted. She also put her hand on my shoulder, knowing that I didn’t consent, just to emphasise that I was expected to tolerate non-consensual physical touching by random people (including the harasser), without any respect for any boundaries. And zero consequences for a harasser provoking me to actually fear indecent assault.

One manager claimed that, the harasser just wanted an intellectual connection, and that I would benefit from being personal friends with him.

The other manager actually used the words, “sexual harassment”, and stated that, simply tolerating it (including non-consensual physical touching) is a normal basic requirement for professional job environments, and for classrooms. And that, I was the one who didn’t belong in either place, if I thought otherwise.

All three of them were middle-aged females. I should have recorded the conversations.

Multiple different Low Rent Polytechnic teachers and managers directly told me that, they didn’t have any problems whatsoever, on any scale. And that, the above-described atmosphere was completely normal, and representative of all higher education (and of successful students and professionals). They claimed that there was something wrong with me as a student, and as a human being, if I was in any way dissatisfied. They directly claimed that, despite straight A+ grades (since it was so easy), that, I had failed as a human being, for even daring to question what was going on.

It was absolute, relentless, deliberate gaslighting. I was afraid that, perhaps all higher education actually was this bad. Or that my own perceptions were somehow mistaken, and/or that actually had failed as a human being.

All of these shenanigans happened at a Crown-owned institution, that has been in business since the 1980s. And they recently received a government/taxpayer financial bailout to keep operating.

When I walked into a university the following year, the difference was like night and day.

Sure, there was still some cellphone use and web-surfing, and a few instances of obnoxious people.

But, from the very first day, it was clear who was in charge of a lecture theatre, or classroom, or laboratory.

Higher education is a filtering process. It isn’t just about teaching information or thought-processes. A degree also symbolises a certain level of persistence and self-discipline. Turning off the television or video game, and writing an assignment on your own motivation. Showing up to 8 AM lectures, on one’s own motivation, without being called and reminded or personally coddled. Being able to function in a crowd of people who aren’t all your personal friends. Picking up a book outside the classroom. Putting the telephone away, stopping the irrelevant conversations with the person next to you, and paying attention in class. Taking responsibility for the outcome. Acting like a halfway civilised, functioning adult.

Sure, some highly-educated people are also highly dysfunctional (my supervisor says I’m one of them). And some people without much formal education are intelligent/knowledgeable/insightful and well-functioning. But, a degree at least shows that you are not a member of the out-of-control horde that I’ve described here. And it’s partly a social ticket to get away from being surrounded by that horde.

An important last point regards personal and socioeconomic issues. Some of the behavioural problems I’ve described involved people with significant privilege, in terms of parental income, support systems, and so forth. They were blatant spoiled brats, including those well into their 20s and even older.

On the other hand, I come from a background of instability, poverty, violence, bigotry, and other social ills. And I’ve encountered a student at university who had a significantly worse background than me, yet who was remarkably mature for her young age, diligent/hardworking, and pleasant.

How do we improve education in New Zealand?

Updated Tue

A few points:

The literacy claims here are misleading, because literacy isn’t black-and-white.

Plenty of people are “literate” at only a very basic level. They have very poor vocabularies and poor comprehension. They also choose not to read anything that they don’t absolutely have to, and so never improve their skill. This also leads having a very poor personal knowledge-base.

Many are also completely oblivious to their skill deficiency.

I’ve encountered adults who got personally offended by meeting someone with decent written or spoken language skills, and/or a good knowledge-base obtained by extensive reading.

And no, these aren’t all just English-as-a-second-language immigrants. And they aren’t all economically downtrodden, either.

I’ve also seen people attempting higher education when their skill levels and attitudes meant that they wouldn’t be able to handle high school.

There are serious disparities based on geographic location and socioeconomic status. Schools for children aren’t all equal. Socioeconomic disparities lead to racial/ethnic disparities.

Higher education (and pseudo-higher education) is also multi-tiered.

The eight universities are one level.

The 16 polytechnics are at a lower level, and some have been caught engaging in blatant fraud and providing seriously poor quality courses. I had a very negative experience with a certain polytechnic some years ago, and the difference between there and a university was like night and day.

Poor management at polytechnics has resulted in three separate government financial bailouts this year. Including at one that was supposedly within a month of shutting down, in the middle of a semester, and had it’s entire governing board fired as a condition of the bailout. In another case, a polytechnic was caught for fraud, hit with a financial penalty that it couldn’t pay, and so received forgiveness of said penalty, plus a pile of additional cash.

One reason for the government tolerating (and even rewarding) bad behaviour from polytechnics is geographic. There are people who wouldn’t even go 20 kilometres from Porirua to either of Wellington’s two universities. Thereby giving Porirua’s polytechnic reason for existing (and receiving one of those bailouts).

There are also deep issues with low expectations and low standards, with polytechnics offering courses taught at high school level, and which do not lead to any improvement in the student’s job prospects. Some specialise in scraping the bottom of the barrel to enroll students with remarkably low skill and attitude levels. And lowering the bar, so that their certificates aren’t worth the paper on which they are printed.

I’ve witnessed a totally irrational situation of shoveling in people who had zero chance of success, and also taking people for whom the level and pace were insulting to their high intelligence, and putting them in the same classroom. Guess who got bullied?

Still lower are private training establishments targeting international student cash-cows with low-level, low-quality non-degree courses, which damage the country’s reputation.

Improvements?

One thing would be to teach students, right from primary school, to act civilised. At the aforementioned polytechnic, I saw people in their twenties and even older doing classroom behaviour that I wouldn’t consider acceptable for a ten-year-old. They got away with it in primary and secondary school, and expect to continue. And I’m not just talking about people with disadvantaged socioeconomic backgrounds.

When the classroom disruption is so severe that a tutor stops speaking/teaching, that deprives the good students of the education that they may be paying and sacrificing to obtain.

Kids also need to be taught that, reading is a normal, daily life function, rather than some uncool misery to be avoided.

A huge issue is parenting. Violence at home? Foetal alcohol syndrome leading to behavioural problems? The child coming to school hungry every morning because Mommy spent the food budget on cigarettes? Poor people having children they cannot afford? Middle-class people who coddle their children and instill a sense of entitlement? All of these harm education for those children, and the others around them.

Another issue is the people who go into teaching. I recall back in 2005, a recently-graduated schoolteacher (in her 20s) living next door. I mentioned the Cassini–Huygens landing on Titan, and said that the kids would probably be excited to look up some photos on the internet. This schoolteacher actually said that she didn’t use the internet, for anything.

NCEA has various problems, and I get the impression that it is excessively complex. And can also be “gamed” to show students/cohorts performing better than they really are.

Education is also affected by unplanned (or deliberate) pregnancies, which can totally derail a young (or even not-so-young) person, and can do so permanently. There needs to be proper sex education in high school, with the emphasis on reducing this. I’ve actually encountered women who acted like I should have been having unwanted children while still a student. Or, really, instead of being a student. This is also a huge factor in the disparities between men and women, in terms of advanced academia and science professions.

Children and teenagers or any demographic background should be encouraged to take interest in science fields, and to see this as a viable path for themselves, and towards rewarding jobs.

The requirements for University Entrance were significantly raised in 2014, but some people say they are still much too low.

I have mixed feelings about “discretionary” entrance for over-20-year-olds without University Entrance. I’ve seen it work out very well in a couple of cases. But I’ve also seen people get indiscriminately shoveled into courses when they had no business being in any classroom, anywhere. Just for revenue.

For higher education, Labour’s fees-free scheme (i.e. election bribe) doesn’t seem to have worked to get more people into university. It’s expensive, and may incentivise some people to view it as a year’s vacation. It would have been better arranged as a reward for actually passing academically.

The previous National government was provoked by a perception of wastage, and basically punished everyone involved in higher education, including students. From 2011, there have been restrictions on loan and allowance eligibility and time limits. Which are worse for mature students and for postgraduate students.

I don’t suggest just throwing money at students who aren’t serious. But will say that, one of the biggest stressors and distractions is worrying about keeping a roof over your head for the years it takes to finish a degree. Especially in high-cost cities, like Auckland and Wellington. I have seriously contemplated camping in a public park.

I support cracking down on cheating and plagiarism (e.g. assignment-for-hire businesses). And on international students (and overseas agents) lying to obtain a visa.

Another problem to address is the increased pressure on academic staff to pass students, as part of performance evaluations, which affect not only individuals, but also institutional funding.

Two universities are currently undergoing “reorganisations”, which have provoked negative atmospheres among the staff, and some students. It’s important to consider economic viability, but the bean-counters can go much too far.

There are problems with supply and demand in certain fields. There may be a perceived labour shortage in a certain field, so it is promoted as where the jobs are, but three years later, there is a labour glut of new graduates. Not coincidentally, schoolteaching qualifications have had this cycle around in the past several years.

New Zealand has serious issues with funding and conduct of research, which can limit opportunities for postgraduate students, and also for the value of the degrees. Some people leave the country in order to pursue research and/or academia (i.e. the “brain drain”).

There is also tall poppy syndrome endemic in New Zealand society. I’ve been treated with open contempt by acquaintances upon hearing that I chose to go to university as a mature student in a STEM field, rather than remaining trapped in a low-level, low-skill, low-wage dead end job. As I’ve written before, this is a strongly female-biased pattern, based on a sense of competition and taking things personally.

Some people get negative attitudes like that, while simultaneously feeling entitled to all of the things that are created by, and work done by, highly educated people.

A million Kiwis lack literacy skills, prompting call for review

We are barely functioning, literally

An answer to New Zealand’s illiteracy enigma?

Why has the New Zealand government made it harder for international students to work in New Zealand after they finish studying?

Updated Dec 17

Because they want customers, not immigrants.

A commonly used term is “export education”. This means that, those hordes of foreign students are lured here, pay a pile of money, and then leave. They need to leave, in order to make room for replacement with next year’s cohort. The ultimate outcomes for those students aren’t considered particularly important.

These people’s contribution is bringing cash into the country, not staying or working long-term. They are effectively viewed as tourists.

There have been mass abuses:

  • Agents (particularly in China and India) lying to prospective students, and saying whatever will get their money.
  • Fraudulent financial documentation, claiming that the student has the required funds to live on, when they actually do not.
  • Businesses exploiting those financially desperate students. Ranging from restaurants to brothels (which I think may be illegal for people on student visas).
  • I once had a student flatmate from a developing country, whose husband moved here, without a work permit. They eventually moved out, and I had a strong suspicion that they were planning to stay in the country illegally. I’m sure they weren’t the only ones with that idea.
  • Cheating on English language testing, resulting in students who cannot function academically, and whose employment and social situations are poor. I have personally met a couple of these people.
  • Academic misconduct, including students with poor English ability resorting to paying sleazy businesses to write assignments for them.
  • Pressure on teaching staff to maximise the number of passing students. Not for genuine success, but for revenue. This also relates to the National government’s idea to to base university funding partly on pass rates. There are implications that this pressure is more likely to involve international students (e.g. with the obvious language issues, and mismatches of speaking ability compared to writing quality).
  • International students don’t count towards the enrollment caps or subsidies involved with domestic students. Their fees are much higher, incentivising piling them in.
  • A substantial number of low-quality, low-level educational businesses known as “private training establishments”. There have been reports of shenanigans all the way up to students simply laying cash on the owner’s desk, in exchange for a passing grade.

Those private training establishments have serious, systemic issues. They are accredited by the government, generally for low-level courses and “qualifications” that do not result in any credit towards an actual degree. Some is taught at a high school level. This results in little or no benefit to the students, and doesn’t enhance their ability to contribute to NZ society, in terms of employment. They are not creating highly skilled/qualified, in-demand professional workers.

The government has previously tolerated that, specifically because those PTEs exclusively target international student cash cows. Unfortunately, it is starting to kill the goose that lays the golden egg, when those students go back home, and tell all of their friends about the “ghetto education” being sold.

There was an incident several years ago, where a few (probably related) PTEs in Auckland passed about 50 Chinese students with some kind of diploma in business management, which they then used to get into a university, ostensibly to study at degree level. And couldn’t speak a word of English.

There was situation a few years ago, where students who had some type of Indian nursing qualification had taken a course at a polytechnic, that they believed would get them nursing licenses in NZ. But their Indian qualifications were then deemed to be inadequate. They protested in front of Parliament, but had no recourse or compensation.

There was an incident recently, where a PTE had had its accreditation cancelled a year ago, so that the students didn’t receive their certificates from NZQA. Then, a bunch of them moved on to another PTE, where the same thing happened again.

There are also serious quality issues going on at various polytechnics, which are Crown-owned, but have had major accountability issues, but that’s another story.

International students don’t receive NZ government loans or the taxpayer subsidies that apply to domestic students, so there isn’t an investment that you would want to be recovered by having people stay here and pay taxes for a few more decades.

It’s all about pulling money into the country.

Generally, NZ also has serious population issues. Auckland and Wellington both have high housing costs, crowding, and infrastructure problems. The country overall has plenty of empty space, like in the middle of the South Island, but that isn’t where new immigrants (or anyone else) tend to want to go.

There is a strong perception that foreigners (both immigrants and non-resident investors) are largely responsible for the housing problems. There may also be a perception that, people from crowded and poor countries like China and India, will tolerate poor housing conditions and working conditions, thus enabling bad attitudes from landlords and employers, dragging things down for everybody.

There is also social ghettoisation that you can see among international students, while they are studying. The Chinese students huddle together, and the Indian students huddle together. There may be a sense that they simply aren’t interested in ever fully assimilating, and would continue that ghettoised situation if they stayed.

And, to a significant extent, there is also pervasive xenophobia in NZ society, which actually goes way beyond racism, and will also be directed at white/European, English-speaking immigrants.

What is your opinion on Massey University banning Don Brash from speaking on any of their campuses?

Answered Sep 21

There is a distraction from the university’s real issues, and a couple of over-reactions.

First, while I don’t agree with some of Mr. Brash’s opinions, I also believe that expressions and debate (especially from people with public, economic, or governmental influence) should be out in the open. Even if someone is misogynistic or racist, there is a saying that, the best disinfectant is sunshine.

Second, there was allegedly a threat regarding security and safety. Probably from some stupid person, but the rest of the students and the staff should not have to tolerate that.

Third, most of these younger students (in their late teens or early 20s) probably have zero clue about politics, and don’t care, and haven’t heard about any alleged controversy. They may be nice people, but often not well informed at that stage of life.

Fourth, Massey has much more important issues with the current Vice-Chancellor which are larger scale than this, and which involve a financial “reorganisation”. This has concerned students and staff. There have been concerns raised on how people are treated, and how their jobs and academic work are threatened. There is concern of short-term financial numbers leading to long-term derailment.

This includes individuals whom I personally know and respect.

The Brash thing is irrelevant.

Are there any mature students in STEM undergraduate programs?

Answered Jul 29

Yes, of course.

I can’t really compare to other fields like humanities, because my experience is almost entirely in scientific areas.

On one hand, it can feel a bit odd or alienating to be the oldest person in the room. And some of the “traditional”-aged students aren’t always friendly or acceptably mature to deal with. A few can escalate to open bullying and/or sexual harassment (which is made all the more offensive when it is some little punk in his mid-20s doing it to a thoroughly adult woman in her 40s).

On the other hand, I’ve seen a few “mature”-aged students with very poor attitudes and behaviour, as well. For some, their age just represents more years that they haven’t bothered to pick up a book, or learn anything. More years for them to develop over-inflated views of their alleged competence.

Some lecturers and professors say that they have had positive experiences with older students. I guess based on diligence, responsibility, life experience, and understanding that they are personally going to have to pay the fees (so it is way too expensive to treat as an extended vacation).

There can be an odd dynamic if a “mature”-aged student is single and childfree, and thus has that in common with the younger people. And has that difference with other “mature”-aged students who fixate on their husband and kids.

On the other hand, it is difficult to relate to young people who are still very attached (or even totally dependent) on their parents.

One annoying point is “mature”-aged NON-students getting envy-based obnoxious attitudes towards a “mature”-aged person whose chooses to go to university. And I suppose is aggravated by studying a field that is associated with high intelligence, and/or where the judgement-passers can’t figure out how your education and work might personally benefit them in some way.

In any case, don’t let age stop you. “Mature”-aged people have the same right to be in that classroom as anyone else.

What are the pros & cons of social promotion —keeping students grouped together by age, mostly independent of academic performance & developmental progress — as a policy for advancing children through grades in school?

Answered Jul 2

Pros:

Promotion avoids having a child keep redoing the same grade repeatedly. Or having to redo each grade sequentially.

Promotion avoids ultimately having a 16 year old still in the same classroom with the 8 year olds. With multidirectional bullying and other massive behavioural problems. More likely, the 16 year old would already have dropped out long before that point.

If I understand correctly, some systems “require” the child to repeat a grade under certain criteria. However, this “requirement” can be waived during a meeting with four parties:

  • The administrator, who wants progression, to keep the overall numbers looking good, and the funding coming in. And sees Little Johnny as just a number.
  • The teacher, who is very tired of Little Johnny, and doesn’t want him back in her classroom for another year.
  • The parents, who don’t want their child labeled as stupid.
  • Little Johnny, who doesn’t want to be in school at all.

And so they waive him on through to the next grade, hoping that, somehow, he will improve. And, if not, maybe they can just pass the buck again next year, too. Promoting avoids actually dealing with the problem (which the school might not have the time or resources to do).

Cons:

Little Johnny is, by definition, already behind. He hasn’t mastered this past year’s material and skills. Which would be required in order to comprehend next year’s material and skills.

The cycle keeps going. The buck keeps being passed. Little Johnny keeps being promoted.

And then one day…

Little Johnny is now 18 years old. And can’t handle filling out an application for a minimum wage fast food job.

On the bright side, if he can throw a football around, maybe he can get socially promoted all the way into university: University of North Carolina academic-athletic scandal – Wikipedia

But, if he can’t throw a football (and/or doesn’t meet the right enablers), things might be looking rather grim for Little Johnny. He loses, and society loses.

Is a GED truly equivalent to a diploma?

Answered Jul 1

No, and I’ll explain why.

There are several technical issues, and one perceptual issue (which becomes a major practical issue).

First, some states don’t allow you to take the GED exam until you are 18 years old. The reason is financial. US public school systems receive money from the federal government, partly based on the number of enrolled students. Their district performance is also partly based on the graduation rate.

The best-performing students may view school as a waste of time. They have already learned the skills and material. And now they sit there, bored, with everything being repeated yet again, slowly, for the benefit of their classmates. Students who are mature, well-behaved, and hard-working may also want to get out of the social environment of their so-called “peers”.

These students may want to test-out of the system early (via a GED), and move on with their lives (either work or university).

The school system doesn’t want that, because it would lower the funding, and lower the graduation percentage rate for “legitimate” diplomas. So the law may specify that you stay in school for the full 12 year sentence, without any chance of early parole.

Second (as in second-chance, second-prize, second-rate) the governmental view of GED test takers is that, it is a “something is better than nothing” type of deal. Therefore, standards will be pressured downward.

Third, speaking of standards. Have you ever heard of social promotion? Or NCLB? Or “no-fail” policies?

There are plenty of barely literate, barely numerate, willfully ignorant, instruction-following-impaired, reasoning-impaired, unreliable, behaviourally disordered individuals who somehow graduated with a “legitimate” high school diploma.

A GED officially certifies that you are “equivalent” to them.

Fourth, also on standards. There is a seemingly subtle (but actually major) problem with the difficulty calibration of the GED exam.

The GED Testing Service conducts a thing called the “Standardization and Norming Study”. They give the GED exam to a pool of, “graduating high school seniors”, to see how well they do.

Then, the people who take the exam for real (i.e. the dropouts for whom the exam is intended) are then compared to the above-described control group. The passing cutoff point is that, you need to do at least as well as 85% of the control group. This how the GED is allegedly “equivalent” to graduating high school.

Now here is the subtle bias.

The control group for the “Standardization and Norming Study” is described as, graduating high school seniors”. Meaning that, they have already completed high school, and already have their “legitimate” diploma in hand. They have probably zero personal incentive to do well in the “Standardization and Norming Study”. This biases the scale downward.

A real exam-taker has been told that, their entire future rests upon passing. They are told that, it is the difference between a decent job, social status, and self-esteem, vs being an unemployable bum failure.

Now, regardless of intellect, or any other factors, which group do you think is going to work harder to do well on the exam? Standards are set based on people who don’t care, and then used to measure people who care a great deal.

Fifth, the perceptual issue. No matter how intelligent, skilled, hard-working, etc. you are, a GED is highly stigmatised.

A prospective employer may directly ask, “Why did you drop out of school?” And they may already be thinking of exactly three possibilities. Stupid? Lazy/unreliable? A thug? All three?

Even before asking the question, they may already have decided that, you were too intellectually and behaviourally defective to even handle a low-standards, coddling high school. There is also a more general, “Can’t/won’t follow the rules of respectable society-members” idea.

Even if you legitimately state that, you were bored, unchallenged, head-and-shoulders above your “peers”, it will be interpreted as, you are an anti-social, arrogant snothead with an overactive ego.

Finally, I won’t tell you what to do in your specific personal situation. I’ll just note that, after all the incessant mass-brainwashing about the alleged critical importance of passing exams and getting pieces of paper…

These particular pieces of paper may still have you facing low-level employers, who just need some burgers flipped, and some of whom aren’t very bright themselves. Including low-level employers who “require” the piece of paper, but may “verify” it by merely seeing the words that you wrote in the little boxes on their application form.

The whole thing is sort of an idealised story of a system much more rational and rigorous than it really is.

Is the value of a college degree going up or down?

Updated Jul 2

There are different kinds of inflation and deflation involved.

Schools may engage in grade inflation to increase the number of people receiving high school qualifications.

This, in turn, deflates the value of those high school qualifications.

You could have a very intelligent, hard-working, highly literate high school student. But their classmate can barely read, can’t follow instructions, and has attitude/behavioural problems. And they both receive the same piece of paper, making it impossible to distinguish them.

So employers inflate credential requirements.

To show that you are that first person, you need to go further, and pursue higher education, and get a fancier piece of paper.

This also inflates the dollar cost that you must pay in order to signal even basic competence.

This incentivises going to university, so numbers of university graduates have also inflated over time.

More degrees in the system deflates the value of each individual degree. You have more competitors when applying for jobs.

There can be further inflation, when an employer has a stack of applications from people with bachelor’s degrees. So now they raise the bar and want a master’s.

More inflation ensues, with the education time and dollar cost for you to get that even fancier piece of paper.

Also, degrees aren’t all equal. A job listing may be very specific about the field that the degree needs to be in. Some might list a range of possibilities, and some might just say, “a science degree”.

A few job listings might just require, “a degree” and be open about the field. This is back to the issue of distinguishing yourself from the barely literate, poorly-behaved high school graduates. However, this openness will inflate the number of competing applicants. Thereby deflating the value of an individual degree in a random field.

I would expect that some arts, literature, history, women’s studies, etc degrees have relatively poor economic prospects.

Some fields may be cyclic in terms of supply and demand. Maybe you tell people that there is a shortage of certain degrees and workers (“If you want to be in demand, here is what to study”). Then, a large number of people take that advice, resulting in an oversupply a few years later, deflating the value of those degrees back down.

Lastly, the value isn’t just about average incomes.

One point is binary. If an employer requires a degree, then people lacking one don’t even get into the competition pool. Their CV will be filtered out by a computer. So it isn’t only the size of your paycheque, but maybe whether you are employed at all.

Plus, it includes working conditions, both physical and interpersonal.

A degree can get you into nice, calm, air-conditioned office, with other people who had the basic competence and self-control to get through the university filter.

Lacking a degree can religate you to much worse physical environments, surrounded by almost feral people (coworkers, the general public, etc).

What is the mainstream opinion on John Taylor Gatto? Can he be regarded as a threat to the social fabric and order?

Answered Jun 30

I’m not mainstream. But, yes, he aspires to be a threat to the social fabric and order.

That is his goal.

And that is a very good thing.

I applaud him. But his goal won’t work, due to the same mass ignorance and incompetence that he discusses.

Is home schooling an advantage?

Updated Jul 1

Do you mean in the market for basic jobs?

No, it isn’t.

When they see something like, “High School Equivalency Certificate”, the first assumption is that you were in school but dropped out. They will automatically conjure up a stereotype of someone whose intellectual or behavioural deficiencies meant that s/he couldn’t handle formal, “legitimate” school.

That will extend to viewing you as a bad, unreliable potential employee.

They may ask, “Why did you drop out of school?” And then get an even more negative attitude when you tell them that you were never in school at all.

For a teenager, it can be worse, if you are in an area where there is a minimum age for taking an equivalency exam, and you are under that age. No formal schooling and no second-prize certificate will result in being insulted, dismissed, and shown the door by potential employers.

Your actual knowledge, skill level, reliability, and attitude are irrelevant, in terms of these responses.

If you are applying for a job in some low-level position, like fast food, I suggest simply lying, and pretending to have graduated from the nearest high school. When I was much younger, employers might have “required” a high school diploma or equivalent, but they never asked to see any documentation.

Personally, my CV (resume) “education” section only mentions true, verifiable information about university, and says nothing about levels below that.

Another side of this is that, if you have significantly more formal education than expected for the job, you may be dismissed as “overqualified”. Then, your interest would be served by deleting any mention of that degree, and, again, just claiming to be a high school graduate. Although that is kind of a different subject.

Socially, having been home-schooled will attract open contempt from acquaintances. Many people think that, the only context for learning anything is in a formal school classroom. I have been directly accused of being illiterate. Or alternately, accused of lying (i.e. ability to read, plus knowledge of history, science, etc, is viewed as prima facie evidence of having attended formal, “legitimate” school as a child).

Another social point is the “socialisation” argument, that claims such children/teenagers will grow up to be awkward outsiders. From my point of view, the “socialisation” of formal schooling is a mechanism to teach conformity and obedience to social pressure. Schooling for “the masses” (i.e. everybody except the elite wealthy) tries to squash everybody into a lowest-common-denominator position of worker and consumerist society-member. Barely literate, but highly conformist. Dumbed down. “No child left behind” also means “No child allowed ahead”. And that’s how society likes it.