Brooks and Krugman

In “Schools for Wisdom” Bobo sighs that a cumentary promotes an educational approach suited for modern times and the modern workplace. But it shortchanges intellectual virtues.  I guess Bobo is tired of reading what people have to say about his burblings, since no comments are possible.  In “Democrats, Republicans and Wall Street Tycoons” Prof. Krugman says financiers are putting their political contributions behind Republicans, who don’t threaten their way of doing business like Democrats do.  Here’s Bobo:

Friends of mine have been raving about the documentary “Most Likely to Succeed,” and it’s easy to see what the excitement is about. The film is a bold indictment of the entire K-12 educational system.

Greg Whiteley’s documentary argues that the American school system is ultimately built on a Prussian model designed over 100 years ago. Its main activity is downloading content into students’ minds, with success or failure measured by standardized tests. This lecture and textbook method leaves many children bored and listless.

Worse, it is unsuited for the modern workplace. Information is now ubiquitous. You can look up any fact on your phone. A computer can destroy Ken Jennings, the world’s best “Jeopardy!” contestant, at a game of information retrieval. Computers can write routine news stories and do routine legal work. Our test-driven schools are training kids for exactly the rote tasks that can be done much more effectively by computers.

The better approach, the film argues, is to take content off center stage and to emphasize the relational skills future workers will actually need: being able to motivate, collaborate, persevere and navigate through a complex buffet of freelance gigs.

Whiteley highlights one school he believes is training students well. This isHigh Tech High, a celebrated school in San Diego that was started by San Diego business and tech leaders. This school takes an old idea, project-based learning, and updates it in tech clothing.

There are no textbooks, no bells marking the end of one period or start of the next. Students are given group projects built around a driving question. One group studied why civilizations rise and fall and then built a giant wooden model, with moving gears and gizmos, to illustrate the students’ theory. Another group studied diseases transmitted through blood, and made a film.

“Most Likely to Succeed” doesn’t let us see what students think causes civilizational decline, but it devotes a lot of time to how skilled they are at working in teams, demonstrating grit and developing self-confidence. There are some great emotional moments. A shy girl blossoms as a theater director. A smart but struggling boy eventually solves the problem that has stumped him all year.

The documentary is about relationships, not subject matter. In the school, too, teachers cover about half as much content as in a regular school. Long stretches of history and other subject curriculums are effectively skipped. Students do not develop conventional study habits.

The big question is whether such a shift from content to life skills is the proper response to a high-tech economy. I’d say it’s at best a partial response.

Ultimately, what matters is not only how well you can collaborate in groups, but the quality of the mind you bring to the group. In rightly playing up soft skills the movie underemphasizes intellectual virtues. For example, it ignores the distinction between information processing, which computers are good at, and knowledge, which they are not.

If we want to produce wise people, what are the stages that produce it? First, there is basic factual acquisition. You have to know what a neutron or a gene is, that the Civil War came before the Progressive Era. Research shows that students with a concrete level of core knowledge are better at remembering advanced facts and concepts as they go along.

Second, there is pattern formation, linking facts together in meaningful ways. This can be done by a good lecturer, through class discussion, through unconscious processing or by going over and over a challenging text until it clicks in your head.

Third, there is mental reformation. At some point while studying a field, the student realizes she has learned a new language and way of seeing — how to think like a mathematician or a poet or a physicist.

At this point information has become knowledge. It is alive. It can be manipulated and rearranged. At this point a student has the mental content and architecture to innovate, to come up with new theses, challenge others’ theses and be challenged in turn.

Finally after living with this sort of knowledge for years, exposing it to the rigors of reality, wisdom dawns. Wisdom is a hard-earned intuitive awareness of how things will flow. Wisdom is playful. The wise person loves to share, and cajole and guide and wonder at what she doesn’t know.

The cathedrals of knowledge and wisdom are based on the foundations of factual acquisition and cultural literacy. You can’t overleap that, which is what High Tech High is in danger of doing.

“Most Likely to Succeed” is inspiring because it reminds us that the new technology demands new schools. But somehow relational skills have to be taught alongside factual literacy. The stairway from information to knowledge to wisdom has not changed. The rules have to be learned before they can be played with and broken.

Now here’s Prof. Krugman:

Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders had an argument about financial regulation during Tuesday’s debate — but it wasn’t about whether to crack down on banks. Instead, it was about whose plan was tougher. The contrast with Republicans like Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio, who have pledged to reverse even the moderate financial reforms enacted in 2010, couldn’t be stronger.

For what it’s worth, Mrs. Clinton had the better case. Mr. Sanders has been focused on restoring Glass-Steagall, the rule that separated deposit-taking banks from riskier wheeling and dealing. And repealing Glass-Steagall was indeed a mistake. But it’s not what caused the financial crisis, which arose instead from “shadow banks” like Lehman Brothers, which don’t take deposits but can nonetheless wreak havoc when they fail. Mrs. Clinton has laid out a plan to rein in shadow banks; so far, Mr. Sanders hasn’t.

But is Mrs. Clinton’s promise to take a tough line on the financial industry credible? Or would she, once in the White House, return to the finance-friendly, deregulatory policies of the 1990s?

Well, if Wall Street’s attitude and its political giving are any indication, financiers themselves believe that any Democrat, Mrs. Clinton very much included, would be serious about policing their industry’s excesses. And that’s why they’re doing all they can to elect a Republican.

To understand the politics of financial reform and regulation, we have to start by acknowledging that there was a time when Wall Street and Democrats got on just fine. Robert Rubin of Goldman Sachs became Bill Clinton’s most influential economic official; big banks had plenty of political access; and the industry by and large got what it wanted, including repeal of Glass-Steagall.

This cozy relationship was reflected in campaign contributions, with the securities industry splitting its donations more or less evenly between the parties, and hedge funds actually leaning Democratic.

But then came the financial crisis of 2008, and everything changed.

Many liberals feel that the Obama administration was far too lenient on the financial industry in the aftermath of the crisis. After all, runaway banks brought the economy to its knees, causing millions to lose their jobs, their homes, or both. What’s more, banks themselves were bailed out, at potentially large expense to taxpayers (although in the end the costs weren’t very large). Yet nobody went to jail, and the big banks weren’t broken up.

But the financiers didn’t feel grateful for getting off so lightly. On the contrary, they were and remain consumed with “Obama rage.”

Partly this reflects hurt feelings. By any normal standard, President Obama has been remarkably restrained in his criticisms of Wall Street. But with great wealth comes great pettiness: These are men accustomed to obsequious deference, and they took even mild comments about bad behavior by some of their number as an unforgivable insult.

Furthermore, while the Dodd-Frank financial regulation bill enacted in 2010 was much weaker than many reformers had wanted, it was far from toothless. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has proved highly effective, and the “too big to fail” subsidy appears to have mostly gone away. That is, big financial institutions that would probably be bailed out in a future crisis no longer seem to be able to raise funds more cheaply than smaller players, perhaps because “systemically important” institutions are now subject to extra regulations, including the requirement that they set aside more capital.

While this is good news for taxpayers and the economy, financiers bitterly resent any constraints on their ability to gamble with other people’s money, and they are voting with their checkbooks. Financial tycoons loom large among the tiny group of wealthy families that is dominating campaign finance this election cycle — a group that overwhelmingly supports Republicans. Hedge funds used to give the majority of their contributions to Democrats, but since 2010 they have flipped almost totally to the G.O.P.

As I said, this lopsided giving is an indication that Wall Street insiders take Democratic pledges to crack down on bankers’ excesses seriously. And it also means that a victorious Democrat wouldn’t owe much to the financial industry.

If a Democrat does win, does it matter much which one it is? Probably not. Any Democrat is likely to retain the financial reforms of 2010, and seek to stiffen them where possible. But major new reforms will be blocked until and unless Democrats regain control of both houses of Congress, which isn’t likely to happen for a long time.

In other words, while there are some differences in financial policy between Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Sanders, as a practical matter they’re trivial compared with the yawning gulf with Republicans.

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