There is a war on. People who can do things, even just the things our parents could do, or less, are losing.
I noticed it first in elementary school. Not MY elementary school, with a tiny class and an 70 year old teacher who always seemed faintly surprised when someone wasn’t learning. And who backed her surprise with a wooden ruler when she thought someone was WILLFULLY not learning. (Yeah, she sometimes misfired on that. There were obvious disabilities, like the mentally slow girl to whom she was very gentle, but dyslexia and transposing of letters she was sure was a prank someone was playing on her. It didn’t go well for the dyslexics. I managed my number thing almost imperceptibly, but the friend who just scrambled letters was number one target for a while.)
No, I noticed it in the kids’ public school, when they entered. Both boys — in retrospect — went to school knowing how to read. (We didn’t know how well the younger read, but well enough to fetch me my book as in “I left my book somewhere, it’s Death on the Nile. Go find” and bring me the right one in a household carpeted and littered with books. The older, we first spotted he could read before his brother was born, when he was not quite yet 3. And he was reading middle grade books, then. By six when he entered school we often discussed Roman history or Heinlein juveniles over breakfast.
A few weeks into the school year, I noticed something odd. I’d gotten used to the convenience of having him fetch my book, but suddenly books brought back just had a couple of letters in the title in common. Or when we were somewhere like a museum I’d notice him “guessing” comparable became compared, say. Also, he stopped reading as much and went into comics.
I finally lost it and asked him if he’d been hit on the head and forgot how to read. “We’re not supposed to read. We’re supposed to look at the word and guess.”
I descended on the school like the wrath of me and was informed they weren’t teaching him whole word, oh, no. That technique didn’t work. They were teaching WHOLE LANGUAGE. But yep. No sounding out, nothing like that. That was boring. They had them guess both what the word was and what it meant.
I realized I couldn’t change the school and for various reasons I thought I couldn’t homeschool. So years of shouting “READ THE DAMN WORD, DON’T GUESS.” started.
The older son recovered almost immediately. The younger son, being stubborn and really wanting to fit in still has moments — usually when very tired — when he guesses. And then I shout “Stop sounding illiterate. READ.”
A friend told me the purpose of this was to have all the kids start at the same level, but what sense does it make? Kid comes in already doing what you’re supposed to tell him? Let him do it.
Then comes foreign language teaching. “Immersion” is a dirty word. Oh, it works fine (sort of) if you’re really immersed. I.e. everyone tells me that’s how the secret service does it. What, two hours a day and never any grammar? Bullsh*t. Days of immersion and then grammar and translation of some words to correct the patois you’ll pick up? Sure.
If total immersion worked auto-magically, then Mexicans working here would be absolutely fluent and perfect at it within months.
I hear everywhere Americans just don’t learn other languages. But that’s not true. Americans aren’t TAUGHT other languages. Not in a way anyone can learn. After four years of watching my son hit his head against the wall of French (which NO ONE EVER in my family had trouble learning) I took his summer away to learn it the way I did it: lists of vocabulary, books of verbs, endless grammar drills, and reading the Three Musketeers in French. By the end of summer he was fluent. (We don’t do it much now. Well, he doesn’t live at home. But when we made runs to the hardware store or whatever we often spoke in French to each other, (mostly in the car) to keep in practice.)
But there is worse. Lately I’ve been running into a new category “people who can’t do their jobs.” And these aren’t just our manual labor imports, I mean, people who supposedly are trained and certified and either can’t or won’t do their jobs.
I know everyone was very impatient with me last year when I was fixing the house for sale, but honestly, there is a reason I do all the manual labor I can. The reason is the tile wall I paid someone 1500 to fix (it had fallen. Long story) and which fell in the night, the day after he put it up. He’d mixed the adhesive wrong. So he came back and fixed it. It fell again. The third time I got a book (this was before youtube) figured how to do it and did it. This wasn’t an isolated incident. It just keeps happening when someone comes over to fix something. So if I can, I do it.
But there’s more serious cases, like the guy who replaced our brakes but didn’t replace the brake cables. Leading to us losing brake power 15 minutes later. (Thank G-d someone was looking out for us. We lost it a) when Dan was driving. I’d have panicked. Well, he did too, but… he works even panicked. b) we were JUST outside a garage c) we’d been going very slowly.) Or the doctor who convinced himself my 13 year old had an STD and wouldn’t listen to the kid when he insisted he was a virgin. If I hadn’t gone over his head to a urologist, and told the boy to stop taking the antibiotic that was making him ill, my son would probably have died within months. (Of the problem, which was rare, but not unheard of particularly in early teens. As in the urologist identified it on symptoms alone.)
I’ve been given completely wrong instructions by someone selling me a machine or a product. I’ve had ghastly things done to garments or objects taken in for repair because the person who was supposedly an expert on this just couldn’t do it.
And I’ve heard of “programmers” who steal code from sites on line, and cannot actually tell what it does, leading to spaghetti coding that makes no sense. (A friend of mine is a QA person for such code. Two friends, actually. Both have lost a considerable quantity of hair and have dents in their forehead.)
Publishing… well, there’s a reason the houses are floundering. And it’s not just the innovation, the end of push marketing, or the fact they can’t wrap heads around Amazon. That’s all I’ll say. Every time someone tells me they can’t go indie because how do they know the book is good if no professional has read it, I remember when I was sitting in a panel with the editor of my friend’s book, (professional, one of the big five) and it became clear not only hadn’t she read the book, but she had only skimmed the proposal. I later watched for the tells and (other than Baen) most of my books were published without anyone but the copyeditor even looking at them. And the copyeditor often sounded like she (it was always a she) had a high school education, even the ones editing history books.
Movie making. Director’s cuts are illuminating. “I filmed that scene, then it didn’t work. I don’t know why” — usually the reason is a gross error in basic storytelling. One anyone who had read a couples of plotting books could fix. But billionaires in Hollywood have no clue. They were never trained.
So, what is going on?
Lots of things. Look, I’m a science fiction writer. It’s easy for me to say “There is a conspiracy by aliens, to make sure we never get to the stars. They infiltrated our education establishment and are destroying competence from within.
Except it’s not just education, and I don’t believe in aliens or that ALL of this is done on purpose.
But Sarah, you’ll say, some of it is, like Bill Ayers redesigning education as a means to bring about a biddable proletariat.
Oh, sure, that might have been how the dumbass conceived it. It’s not why it’s applied though. And dumbass? Yep. Bill Ayers, like most progressives is a clever fool who thinks society spins on words and theories, and not on basic “can do”. This is one of the reasons communist societies QUICKLY become hell on Earth. Because you can’t get rid of everyone who is competent without the rest of society collapsing. The ceiling doesn’t stay up when you remove the walls. People who’ve been educated beyond their competence, don’t see that, though.
Still, most people who APPLY his poisonous ideas aren’t frankly competent enough to know what they’re doing. No. They’re doing it for other reasons.
- Stupidity – the most powerful force on Earth.
There are any number of people who’ll do whatever without thinking because someone in authority tells them not only that they should, but that “it’s the new way of doing things. All the smart people follow it.” And frankly they’re not competent enough to evaluate the “new way of doing things” so they settle for APPEARING smart.
- Rapid change.
Even in the village, the teacher often floundered. They’d added pre-history to the curriculum, and she’d never studied it. So… her idea of pre-history was the Flintstones. I came home talking about cars made of stone (I wish I’d had a camera to take picture of dad’s face.) Mom and dad corrected it. NO BIG.
If my kids are maleducated in the same way say, about computers, I can’t fix it. What’s more, I’m not alone. H*ll I found out the model of the atom I learned was superseded and that the physics I learned was not at all like what the kids learned (they thought I was nuts.) AND when Robert came home and told me “We’re sequencing DNA in lab. When you sequenced DNA–”
No, it’s not a complete excuse, no matter what they tell you, but it is PART of it. Not in teachers not being able to keep up, but in parents or even grandparents no longer being able to fill in those deficiencies.
The same applies to just about any type of work, btw, because the methods are so different now that the old codger who walked to the shop and corrected the new hires? He no longer can teach them anything.
- A belief in “natural” things and “natural” learning and that if it’s not fun, it’s not right. This apparently is the flowering of the student revolts in the sixties. It is certainly what is destroying marriage as an institution.
You see, every marriage goes through rough patches. I probably have one of the happiest marriages in the world, but yeah, there were days, evenings, and sometimes entire months when I’d have traded the whole thing for ten cents and a pack of chewing gum. It’s just I knew it had been good and would be again.
The same applies to learning. I don’t care how “gifted” you are at math or languages or even writing, you are not gifted enough to intuit the whole thing at our present level. NO MATTER HOW GIFTED YOU ARE, YOU’RE NOT GOING TO RECONSTITUTE AN ENTIRE SCIENCE OR ART WITHOUT LEARNING. And learning means some tedium, some memorizing and the inevitable patch that is difficult, even though everything else came easily.
When the entire establishment goes over for “should be fun” you’re going to fail.
People who are mal-educated and conscious of it don’t hire people who know more than they do. Okay, so some do, but not many and those people are exceptional. This is why the whole “The president can be a dumbass if he hires good advisors” always fails, as we have proof daily. People don’t want their subordinates to upstage them. Any of you who EVER corrected a boss knows exactly what I’m talking about.
So, let’s imagine that this started with the student revolts (it started a little earlier, with the busy parents who came back from WWII not passing things on.)
Those people hit the market place and hired people my generation who were LESS prepared than they were. They were AFRAID of being exposed. Then my generation hired people less prepared and then…
So what to do about it?
Some of us, and from the comments I suspect a lot of people here, are stubborn cusses who insisted on learning and being competent. We’re doers. Yeah, a lot of it when we tried to learn it was like trying to decipher arcane scrawls on cave walls. Among the things I’ve taught myself are stuff like ironing and how to actually clean a house, not just sort of pretend to. Also, tiling, painting walls, building porches. And it could be argued I taught myself writing. Yes, there are tons of books on it. Most are of the “if it feels good, do it” persuasion. I’m still learning. And while I understand every writer do this, I feel as though I not only didn’t get the basics in school, but I was actively lied to. This is why I TRY to counter some of my learning, like the notion to character is good or clean.
Don’t be afraid of competence. Correct, clean up, learn. (The more you learn the more you’ll spot errors.) Teach the kids. Work. Be competent yourself, even if it means being your own mentor.
We’re reaching a critical point where everyone is running on make-believe competency, certainly in any large organization. This cannot go on. What can’t go on, won’t.
And when it collapses, we’ll need competent people.
An abundant society can survive incompetents. A lean society, living close to the bone, can’t.
Are there enough of us to keep things up when the walls collapse? I don’t know. Impossible to tell. Though the proliferation and popularity of youtube videos on how to do stuff from basic to complex would seem to indicate so, as would the maker movement, as would a lot of millenials who can detect bullsh*t a mile away and who want to learn to DO. And then there’s the fact the human animal is infinitely adaptable and when adaption is learning, it will learn.
Maybe even in time.
Teach your children well and build under, build around, build beside. Our makeshift structures just might end up uplifting a crushing load. Maybe not tomorrow, but certainly not far off now.
And the ceiling must stay up.