Education · Society

Our Dumbest Shall Educate Our Kids!

There is a rather curious development going on in large parts of the Western world. As far as I know, in countries like the United States, England, Germany, Sweden, and probably a few others, the teaching profession is seemingly the exclusive reserve for the absolutely dumbest students. I recall reading studies of the average IQ of education majors in the US, which were found to be among the lowest of all disciplines. In England, teaching is a highly unattractive career, at least in state schools. They still have a system of elite private schools, and I’d assume that the teachers there are of a different caliber. Sweden likewise has decided to let the biggest morons educate their children. Just like in the US, it is almost impossible to fail high school, and if you have barely graduated, you still have the grades to become a teacher.

The Swedish high school system places few demands on pupils. In fact, if you barely make it through high school and want to study at university, then becoming a teacher may be your only option. The required grades are very low, but if you were so stupid and lazy that you can’t even do that, then you can sit a multiple-choice test that has a passing bar that is so low that you can be expected to pass by answering questions randomly. An older teacher told me this, and she said she doesn’t know the math (lol), but she believed that it’s almost impossible to fail. This was a few years ago, but if I recall correctly, the bar was at a shockingly low 20%, there are no penalties for wrong answers, and all questions have four answer choices. Thus, the expected value when pursuing a strategy of randomly choosing answers is 25%. (I tried explaining the calculations to her, but to no avail.) Another problem in Sweden is that teaching is poorly paid. On top, schools are full of vibrant enrichers, so if they want to recruit any teachers at all, they can no longer afford to ask for any kind of minimum qualifications. Currently, there is even a push to let people teach without a degree, based on “life experience.”

In Germany, teaching is a somewhat odd profession. It can be fabulously well-paid if you get a position as a government official who cannot get fired, a so-called ‘Beamter’. Your income after taxes is above 4,000 Euros/month for new hires, which is the kind of salary that the person who goes into teaching would not be able to earn elsewhere, not by a long shot. Of course, if you are smart and ambitious, you can make more money in industry, but even as an engineer, accountant, or consultant, you may need a few years of work experience to make that much money. However, it may also be that you only get a fixed-term teaching contract, which is only for nine months per year and at a lower salary level. You’ll of course have to work side-by-side with teachers who make twice as much and have a job for life.

I went to school in Germany, so I don’t have first-hand experience of the other countries I mentioned. Yet, what I experienced back then was such a shitshow that it is not surprising that any pupil with a modicum of intelligence wants to avoid the profession. Likewise, the laziest and dumbest pupils wanted to become teachers. Heck, I had teachers who bragged about how poor their grades in high school were or about the fact that it took them 10 years to get their teaching degree. It was bizarre. I think the saving grace was that the state I attended high school in had a centralized final examination, which ensured that a decent standard was reached.

In countries like China, Japan, and Singapore, students get held to high standards. There, your school grades determine to quite a significant degree how well you will do in life. I think this is most extreme in Japan, where high school is so challenging that the top students who get into top universities can afford to coast for years because it is so relaxed in comparison. My Singaporean wife went to an elite high school and for her, university was likewise a walk in the park. When she studied abroad in Europe, she couldn’t believe how lax the standards at university were. That professors would individually extend deadlines or even offer alternative examinations, e.g. an essay instead of a group presentation because you want to travel around Europe, seemed strange to her. Quite frankly, it is strange and makes higher education into a travesty. You get coddled instead of challenged.

In the end, you reap what you sow. The idea of letting the absolutely dumbest high school graduates become teachers is so preposterous that words fail to describe how idiotic it is. Smart pupils in high school simply zone out. In high school, and I went to a decent one, I was able to do my mathematics tests faster than the teacher who designed them. Let this sink in: the dude designed the test and then, while we did the test, he did it himself as well to check how long it would take him. He should breeze through it, not only because he already knew the questions but also because he’s teaching the same material year after year. We had weekly tests that were scheduled to take 60 minutes. I don’t think I ever needed more than 15 minutes; my teacher needed 25 or so, and the better students 40. A significant chunk of students was not able to finish the test within the hour. The point of this detour is that any good student will necessarily feel alienated in the West. (On a side note, I once seriously considered studying Latin, and the main reason was that it was the only subject where I had to make an effort.)

I think we are stuck in a downward spiral that will be almost impossible to get out of. How would you even reset the system? Sure, you could raise standards for teachers, but that can’t quite work because everybody going through high school will have a substandard experience. Even if you could attract better students to the teaching profession, you would not change much because they also have to operate in a system that is egalitarian and leftist to the hilt. In other words, it is extremely difficult to change the system because the morons are running the show now. What could work is setting up magnet schools or lighthouse schools, or whatever you may call them, put the best teachers in them, and only admit the very best students. This would lead to a segregated school system, like it already exists in the United States or England. Yet, then the graduates of those schools would get stigmatized by society, which is certainly a problem in Europe. Quite recently, for example, Macron, the president of France, announced that he is going to shut down one of their selective schools for public administrators, which selected students solely based on academic merit. Great move! You can bet that the next generation of French administrators will be selected based on much more dubious criteria, maybe like in Germany where having a front-hole or having immigrant parents opens many doors.

At this point, the West is probably beyond hope. That our schools are rotten is merely a symptom of the terminal decline of the West. Arguably, we can no longer solve our problems with democratic means. If you doubt that, then please tell me which Western democracy is in a good shape. There is not a single one. It is all too fitting that the biggest idiots we can find educate our children.


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19 thoughts on “Our Dumbest Shall Educate Our Kids!

  1. On a large scale, Sweden changed the way that arithmetic should be done (typically by vertical addition/subtraction), with the new method being called “written mental calculation” or “intermediary steps”. Examples:
    1) 327+748 = 1000+60+15 = 1075
    2) 923-679 = 900+20+3-600-70-9
    = 900-600+20-70+3-9
    = 300-50-6
    = 200+100-50-6
    = …

    You get the idea. Wtf is this bizarre and absurd shit? A now 86 y/o teacher (Birgitta Rockström) promoted this since the 1990s and it gained traction. Some schools have even banned the old way of calculating. Imagine the torture being forced to do your homework this way. The new method isn’t based on any research or science at all. It’s completely ideological. What I find out about Sweden just makes me want to blow my brains out sometimes.

    1. “The new method isn’t based on any research or science at all.”
      The problem is the forceful implementation of the method. Not the method itself.
      There is no way you can call one method or the other correct, because people have different ways of representing math problems.
      327+748 in my brain goes 327+700+48=1027+48=1027+40+8=1067+8=1070+5=1075.

      Again, that’s how I mentally would do it. In written, I’d probably go vertically as well.
      I’d go nuts if I HAD to do it in written like you described.

      1. Imagine you do this for 10 years and then move on to Calculus. The concept is a disaster. It completely breaks down if you want to add up several numbers at once.

  2. A quick note on Macron closing the ENA (the school you refered to)-

    It was a good move. That school had produced a huge majority of the current ruling class (Macron himself went there).

    As a result, the country was run by a bunch of inbreds wearing racehorse blinders who’d spent their entire lives cramming for tests.

    If you support Trump because he’s “anti-elite”/”anti-establishment”, then you either support the closing of ENA, or there is a serious contradiction in your beliefs 🙂

    1. There are two kinds of elites: meritocratic ones and non-meritocratic ones. The latter depend on lineage, wealth, or connections. Sure, the ENA may have produced a few duds in prominent roles, but it also produced a lot of top administrators, I’d assume. I am not overly familiar with the French educational system, but I do know that the students at the top schools need to be really good to make it through the door. (I met a few alumni professionally, by the way. Those guys were very smart.) It is also a misconception that those schools select based on your ability to cram. If they are well-run, they select for raw intelligence. There are plenty of examples where a meritocratic civil service led to great prosperity. Prussia comes to mind first and foremost, which was arguably the best-run country in the entire world in its time. The best modern-day example is Singapore.

      1. Agree about competent civil service being very good for a country’s prospertity.

        I am not quite sure what you would mean by “raw intelligence”- the current French system of grandes écoles is set up in the following manner –
        There is a highly competitive concours/examination to get in, which is the sole determinant for selection for the majority of cases.

        Now these tests are quite hard, and pretty much everyone I know who has succeeded in getting into a grande école (although my circle of reference is heavily skewed towards enginneering and maths schools) has the following traits
        a) they are clever. Probably high IQ, or at least they seem like it. Very lively intellectually, generally.
        b) they worked their fucking asses off, doing reams and reams and reams of practice problems (in the maths/engineering case) or reading constitutional law every spare moment (in the one political science case I know).

        So I think you could say that those schools tend to select for smart people who are very hard working.

        Please note that doesn’t mean they will be competent leaders, although it is generally a good formula for competent engineers.

        Now I’m not going to pretend to know the innermost thoughts of my 60milliom countrymen, but it seems that ENArques have a reputation more for being put of touch than for being rock solid administrators.

        In fact, I’m going to go ahead and guess, based on your writings, that you don’t find their recent work to have been exactly stellar, but please correct me if I’m wrong.

        So just based off that, you might agree that if one school has a monopoly on top positions, and it isn’t producing many superstars, erasing it to allow other possible sources of administrators might be wise.

        Now contrast that with Trump, who is neither very intelligent or very hard working, but generally gets applauded here because he is “charismatic”. He is the exact opposite of an ENArque- inherited a large fortune, learned a few simple truths about life (namely, the basic tenet of capitalism ie captial gets rich, not labor, all publicity is good publicity, basic interpersonal charm*) and at some point decided to completely stop giving a fuck about figuratively pleasing his schoolteachers (or other moral figures) because, hey life is short.

        So I don’t see how you can be both pro ENA – academic technocracy and pro Trump – virulently anti-academic populism at the same time.

        In my mind at least, nerdy bureacrats and loud showmen are polar opposites.

        *although he’s miles away from having the charm of someone like Clinton, Reagan, or Chirac from what I hear

      2. I met a few Frenchmen who went through the technical grand ecoles. In those subjects you need raw intelligence more than anything. You could also run a technocratic government with those types, but that is not the direction the Western world has taken. Trump hails from one of the richest families in the US. Surely, you’d want a more meritocratic system in which hard work counts for something as well.

        I think it’s a misconception that the smartest people do nothing but study. Many are surprisingly well-rounded individuals.

        As an outsider, I may lack relevant information, but isn’t it the case that the ENA first and foremost educates rank-and-file bureaucrats for French ministries? In the grand scheme of things, France is well-run, even though it certainly has its problems. The question of selecting leaders is a different one. Macron, in particular, has a rather shady background. He came out of nowhere, so it’s clear that he’s an establishment puppet with very powerful connections. I think it’s safe to say that he could have gotten his current job even if he hadn’t attended ENA.

        I’d prefer a purely meritocratic system in general, also the US. The way the US selects its presidents is farcical. Their entire system furthermore ensures that only the very rich even have a chance.

      3. Where do you foresee better administrators might come from? From what you’re saying, it seems like Singapore has a similar problem– the people perceive our technocratic elites to be out of touch, way too handsomely paid for the policy outcomes produced, etc. But nobody is suggesting to shut down the top schools that produce at least half of these elites; Singaporeans ultimately still want competent leadership. Instead, the proposed tweaks (which to some extent have been adopted) have been along the lines of broadening/changing the criteria of merit so that some diamonds in the rough may be selected by the system.

      4. Very good question ^_^

        One possible solution would be to
        a) start hiring people with actual industry experience. It is likely that spending part of one’s career managing a large enterprise would be good preparation for managing part of a country.
        and
        b) recruit from a more diverse group of schools, all of which have different selection criteria and teaching methods.

        The hope would be that this more heterogeneous group of people would be better a running the country than the current crop of ENArques, as their different skills, viewpoints, and life experiences would complement each other and offer a wider variety of competences than an incestuous* bunch of technocrats.

        To use a biology metaphor – when planting a forest, it is wise to plant many types of trees. That way, if a disease that hits a certain species strikes, it won’t kill the whole forest.

        ENArques may be smart and hard working. But they also tend to be out of touch, and smug. Theodore Roosevelt and Abe Lincoln are generally regarded as being two of the greatest American presidents. Both were intelligent and hard working. But they also had charisma, humility, and vision, all of which ENArques tend to severely lack, as they’ve spent their entire lives in very narrow elite circles hanging out with people just like them. Honestly, maybe we’d be better of if instead of hiring a bunch of smart hard workers who efficiently and diligently do the wrong thing, we’d hire lazy idiots who figured out the one or two right things that actually need to be done, and just do those. (you could argue this was the choice America made with Trump v Clinton).

        Now of course, maybe this mix would be somehow worse than the current system, but given a choice between a system that has been tested and shown to be broken, and one that is untested, I prefer the latter, as we can always change back to the current system if the new one is worse.

        *= The 2007 socialist candidate for president was Ségolène Royal, an ENArque. 5 years later, her ex-partner, François Hollande, as an ENArque, was elected president. Another 5 years later, one of Hollande’s minister’s, Macron, another ENArque, becomes president.

        It’s like being in the middle ages with hereditary royalty.

      5. I’m not a big fan of the idea of “increasing diversity”. We have been doing that in the West, with the end result of weakening our institutions. By the way, don’t underestimate Trump. I think he is pretty intelligent. However, he addresses the general public as opposed to only a cabal of journalists. Thus, he speaks in simplistic language.

        Once you ruin a system, you can’t easily go back. You can easily observe this in reality. Just look at failing organizations. Did Yahoo manage to turn itself around? Have former industry leaders like IBM ever had a chance at regaining their former preeminent position? The point is that if you replace the current system with something new and it does not work out, you cannot just return to the old one. You’ll need another revolution, peaceful or otherwise, to start over because organizations seem rather resistant to change. If there is change, it’s generally for the worse because at a certain point any bureaucracy becomes self-serving, in politics and business alike.

      6. “In the grand scheme of things, France is well-run”

        I’m curious why you say that. To me, France was more like Germany, but less efficient, relatively speaking.
        That being said, after having lived in both countries, if I had to chose, I’d rather live there than Germany, despite the mighty general unreliability of the French. The savoir-vivre is still with them and they still got the “ah fuck the gov” spirit the German robots have lost since 1848.

      7. I was maybe not clear enough when I wrote that. The median country in this world is a corrupt third-world shithole. France is in the top 20 globally. I”m not saying that France couldn’t improve. However, when contrasting it with the fact that a solid 75% of countries are failed states, they are doing spectacularly well.

        I find the typical German mentality hard to deal with. One of the most obnoxious aspects is the behavior of lowly administrators who seem to revel in their ability to lord over you. Even doctors do this, for instance by letting you wait two hours even though you have an appointment.

      8. I suppose your point about large systems being hard to reinstate once changed is actually quite valid, thank you for pointing that out ^_^

        Perhaps another solution would be to just make it very easy to fire public servants? This would have the advantage of easily removing bad ones, but could lead to large instablilities due to a constantly changing administration.

        I could understand why you’d be against “diversity” if it means just blindly hiring people because they aren’t straight white males, but I think diversity of skillsets is a good thing in most entreprises.

        For example, you mentioned specialization in another post. Even in a small team of programers, it is generally useful to have one be in a more managerial role whilst the others focus on more technical work. Furthermore, even amongst the technical side, you may find it more useful to have some specialization (which is in this case nearly synonymous with diversity of skillsets).

        For larger organisations, diversity of skillsets/specialization is almost required – most companies will have executives, sales teams, product teams, ect.

        Or for a sports example, a basketball team will tend to put different players in different roles (small fast guy in point guard, big guy in the paint), and sometimes just blindly hiring the “best” players by say, draft placement, can actually produce an inferior result to composing a team that has good chemistry (for example you hire 5 guys who are really good in the paint, and get reamed by a more balanced team who are capabale of a more long distance game). On the other hand, finding a group with good chemistry is hard, and I suppose you could argue it’s therefore better to have a policy of just hiring for “skill” rather than to fill a certain role.

        To use another example, teamcomps in games like LoL are not always “just pick the 5 most OP champs right now”, but rather about picking the group of 5 champions that is most OP when played as a unit.
        Re: Trump – I personally would really hesitate before hiring him or doing business with him. But that’s just my opinion. And I would be surprised if he could even complete a first year course in physics or mathematics at almost any university. I think most of his success comes from understanding people and capitalism – he knows that working a salaried job is a sucker’s game*, and he’s a smart dealmaker, so he did well for himself in real estate (and he did have the good fortune to start off with quite a bit of family capital, which always helps).

        Now Merkel, on the other hand, has a doctorate in physics. If I had to pick between her and Trump to build an airplane, I’d pick her.

        *= as a friend of mine, a graduate of one of the grandes écoles who worked as a quant back in the 2000s said when I mentioned I was thinking of joining a firm that does informatics consulting (an SS2I they’re called here in France)
        “anyone who is proud of having a job that pays 4000Eur a month in the world we live in is an idiot”.

        He has a point I think. The top AI experts at Google make what, 750,000-1million a year?
        Larry Page is worth 58,3 billion.

        Salary is just how the elites keep us working to make them richer. They give us golden chains to encourage us to work harder for their benefit.

      9. Of course we need complementary skills. My point about “diversity” was about filling the same role with non-white non-males just to be able to put a United Colors of Benetton ad together. Forced diversity, i.e. the kind that is practiced in the real world, has been leading to disastrous results. One of the most observed phenomena is a lack of trust in diverse groups.

      10. **errata – according to Google Merkel’s doctorate is in quantum chemistry, not physics. She did do physics at undergrad, however.

        Apologies.

  3. “In Germany, teaching is a somewhat odd profession. It can be fabulously well-paid if you get a position as a government official who cannot get fired, a so-called ‘Beamter’. Your income after taxes is above 4,000 Euros/month for new hires, which is the kind of salary that the person who goes into teaching would not be able to earn elsewhere, not by a long shot. Of course, if you are smart and ambitious, you can make more money in industry, but even as an engineer, accountant, or consultant, you may need a few years of work experience to make that much money. However, it may also be that you only get a fixed-term teaching contract, which is only for nine months per year and at a lower salary level. You’ll of course have to work side-by-side with teachers who make twice as much and have a job for life.”
    4000 € after taxes is about the salary for a Gymnasiallehrer (secondary school teacher, 200.000 jobs in Germany). To earn this much at a regular job you would need to earn 80k+. It puts you squarely in the upper 10 %. Aaron didn’t mention the excellent healthcare plan that comes with it as well as the on top benefits for marrying and having kids. As Aaron mentioned if you aren’t a Beamter the pay sucks. Salary progression isn’t stellar though and you are “stuck” in the upper 10 %. On the negative side a career change is out of the question and your skills aren’t translatable to another country or field if you don’t want to take a huge income hit.

    I’ve read your “My Endgame (2020 Edition)” where you wrote you built a career, acquired necessary skills and wanted to go to another country. Can you elaborate a bit on what you do (quantitative field is a bit general) and on your situation (i.e. what skills are you building)? I’m in a similar situation: In my 30s building skills/career. I work in manufacturing, think the west is in decline, am acquiring an advanced degree in electrical engineering and a career (finished my first steps in climbing the ladder). After I’m finished with my degree moving to another country is definitely a possibility.

    1. There is limited career progression for such teachers, though. First, they can move up one or two paygrades simply trough seniority. Second, they can get promoted but that normally ends at the position of school principal.

      Let me keep an air of mystery about my job. But since you’re a long-time reader of my blog, you’re welcome to reach out to me via email.

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