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« Civilization Collapse 3.0 | Main | Happy Summer Solstice »

June 06, 2015


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Ugo Bardi

Exactly my experience, George. Teaching has become a chore; not fun any more. Students are becoming more and more insolent and uninterested. On the other hand, what do we expect? Everything is falling apart, "high" education can't be expected to be an exception. And the growth of bureaucracy is weighing everything down, a typical dynamic effect

George Mobus


Amen to that brother!

I have decided to stop using the phrase "higher education." Upon some more reflection I realize that it is neither higher nor education. Instead I will call it "extended schooling." And even that is being generous.


Ugo Bardi

My post about your post


Currently I am reading The Castle by Franz Kafka. The following extract from Quality and Power in Higher Education (Louise Morley 2003) put me in mind of what you said. Johnson (1994: 379) invokes Kafka:

It no longer really matters how well an academic teaches and whether or not he or she sometimes inspires their pupils; it is far more important that they have produced plans for their courses, bibliographies, outlines of this, that and the other, in short all the paraphernalia of futile bureaucratization required for assessors who come from on high like emissaries from Kafka’s castle.

If I may be permitted a trip down memory lane (the good old days). When I gained by bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering we had just one elective in a four year course. The lecturers, whom I remember with great respect, had a subtext to everything they said, “We know more about chemical engineering than you do. Shut up and listen”. And they did, and we did. My hunch is that eighteen year olds don’t really want all that much freedom — they want structure and leadership.

The hardest challenge was getting accepted to the University. Once you were enrolled you were going to graduate — the drop out rate was tiny. And there were no such things as student evaluations. How can a student know what he or she wants ahead of time, and how can he evaluate what he has learned, except maybe after ten or twenty years? Similarly there was no need for any kind of roll-call; everyone knew everyone very well. If someone chose not to be present some very hard questions would be asked right away.

Twenty five years later I took a Masters degree in Literature, and enjoyed it very much. In that environment having lots of choice was great. But even then, when given an evaluation form, I usually tossed it in the trash.

I don’t want to be naïve — there were great injustices then, just as there are now. And we now have a much more open and tolerant system. But we were not challenged with so much choice, and we were not made to feel important. Maybe students now have too much choice. I don’t know, I am only looking in from the outside.


Although not politically correct to say so (Duh!), this is the result of deindustrialization, financialization, and feminization of the economy and society.

Now there is a movement to overtly "feminize" high-tech employment and management as has occurred in gov't, "health" ("illth") care, and "education", i.e., 60-65% to 80-85% of employment is female for these sectors.

Gov't spending, "health" care, "education", and household debt service now combine for an equivalent of 54% of GDP. Then add this to the fact that wages as a share of GDP are at a record low going back to the 1930s and 1890s.

Over half of equivalent GDP is in the sectors that are now a net cost (no longer productive) to the rest of the economy, with females receiving the disproportionately largest net gains at the expense of males and to the economy as a whole.

QE, ZIRP, regressive taxes on labor and favorable tax treatment of unearned income from rentier speculation, and mandated medical insurance via Obamacare only exacerbates the multi-decade effects of deindustrialization, financialization, and feminization, including worsening wealth and income inequality, falling money velocity, and weak private investment, wages, and overall growth of real GDP per capita.

Therefore, I am not surprised by what George shares from his experience.

Reverse Engineer

My short stint in teaching academic subjects in the Public Schools was so utterly horrific that I swore off the model 20 years ago. I taught Math & Science, Junior High through HS, and I jumped through all the bureaucratic hoops necessary to be certified in Biology, Chemistry, Physics and Mathematics through HS. You needed a minimum of 15 credits including upper level coursework in every area to do this. I'm a generalist big picture kind of person so I did it before ever thinking about becoming a teacher, I just wanted to know abut the stuff. Then in order to get a teaching license, I had to take a whole bunch of utter bullshit courses in "Education" in order to get the license later on, after working for years as a Clinical Chemist. Reagan years, when they were BEGGING for Science Teachers.

Every last problem you mention I already saw in the schooling system back then. The students by and large were utterly unprepared for learning ANYTHING at a reasonable level. Each year I dumbed down the material a little more, until after 3 years it was completely unrecognizable as an education in any of those subjects. I was teaching to the Tests (NYS Regents Exams) and nothing more than that.

This doesn't even begin to touch on all the problems with the bureaucracy that went on.

This model of education has been in catasrophic failure mode for DECADES. I am surprised only that it took you this log to see that.

Anyhow, at least you'll get a decent pension out of it, for as long as that lasts.



George Carlin was saying this years ago:

I have been shocked to see mighty engineering enterprises - household names when I left school - just disappear, as technology allowed these functions to be exported to low-wage economies. Education has followed.

This is the action of a dying order, trying to keep the game going and the tables open until the last punter has been fleeced.

V. Cochran

Although I agree with the summary of all that is amiss, I think the assumption that public education exists to educate is incorrect. A pragmatic analysis of outcomes might be more helpful.

Educating is not what public education currently does best. What public education currently does best, especially at the K-12 levels, is to provide employment bearing a middle class income for those unequipped or unwilling to engage in the technological era. The primary function of education, measured by what it succeeds at, is to be a safety net for a certain segment of the middle class that is largely technology-phobic or intellectually unprepared for the demands of a technologically based society.

"We teach what we are."

Don Stewart

Dear George
I'm not an academic. I have recently read Mobus and Kalton and also Capra and Luisi textbooks on Systems Theory. I find them both refreshing in their breadth.

My question to you: Do you think that broad focus Systems Theory courses can survive in the kind of environment you have described?

Don Stewart


Dear George,

My husband's experience as a highschool teacher and my involvement in education on the sidelines has led me to believe that the smart kids are the ones who don't take the system seriously - they either drop out or do the minimum required to sail through - and who also have a strong personal character, which includes the self discipline, focus and motivation to work on their own projects.

I am sad to hear that you will be retiring from teaching. Reading your blog posts, along with the links and book references you have provided, has sent me down an incredible intellectual journey and has been truly mind-expanding. Thank you for being a "Socratic midwife". I hope you at least continue to serve as an educator on the web.

Michael Murphy

I'm a retired middle school math teacher who now tutors rich kids. Often I get students who just can't emotionally cope anymore with the twisted system. I offer to home school them for a fraction of their private school tuition, but invariably their parents are such true believers in our ongoing myth of progress and how their own status is associated with where their child goes to school, they can't accept my proposition.

Paul Chefurka

I've also made a decision to retire from my role as a "drum-beater of doom"

I no longer need to find out anything more for myself. Even more than that, I no longer see any point in waking people up to the imminence of the death of everything they love. There seems to be little kindness in that act, just a sort of malignant, self-congratulatory schadenfreude.

In any event, most personality types aren't even wired to be able to hear the message - see

Propelled by a recent burst of self-awareness, the obsessive Shadow energy that has been driving my numerical ruminations about inevitability has finally drained away. I intend to drop whatever communicator's role I've had on these issues, and concentrate on immediate, personal needs instead.

My recent realization came from reading deeper into Myers-Briggs psychological typologies. I discovered that the negative energy that has suffused my writing came my deep unconscious. I have actually been operating as a psychological type I am not - I misidentified myself as INTP rather than INFP for most of my life. As a result, I completely missed the fact that much of the energy of my thinking (the thermogenetic absolutism, the rejection of free will, the focus on ite inevitability of doom, etc.) was psychological in origin.

Speaking of the Shadow and its Jungian archetypes, the image that came when I had the breakthrough was fascinating. I appeared to myself as an Aztec priest on top of a pyramid performing a sacrifice. My victim represented all of humanity, and the still-beating heart that I was holding up in front of their horrified dying eyes was labeled "Hope"...

Here's to more peaceful days!

George Mobus


Please forgive my tardiness in replies. Finishing up the last quarter at school was, I will just say, interesting. I also needed to finish a paper I will be giving at the International Society for Systems Science conference in Berlin in August so it has kept me busy.


Thanks. Good points made there.


Things have changed dramatically over my lifetime but even more so just in the last decade. Since I posted this blog I've had a chance to talk with a number of other academics who have confirmed this observation of a dramatic downturn in student attitudes toward learning and how they perceive teachers. I'm going to turn out to be one of the lucky ones who caught the tail end of an era when "higher education" was more about intellectual growth and development and less about just getting a job.


While I certainly agree that the way we are going about managing our economic activities (which is to say managing them so that the 1% get wealthier at everyone else's expense) I'm not in agreement that this "feminization" of which you speak is a cause. I'll admit there is a concerted effort to be more inclusive of under represented gender (i.e. women) in high tech degrees, for example, but isn't this more of an effect rather than a cause? Besides how could including more women in various economic sectors with more powerful voices cause education to go down the toilet??? I think the more likely cause is the invasion of neoliberal capitalism thinking into the education process and most of that can be laid at the feet of men.


I'm writing about college level. I've known for a while about K-12, I sent two boys through that system. It is only recently that the dramatic effects of NCLB and standardized testing have started to affect upper division college. For as long back as I remember teachers have always bemoaned the ill preparedness of students in all grades (I've even heard kindergarten teachers complain!) so that really isn't new. What is new is this attitude of entitlement to good grades (GPA) and the piece of paper at the end without having to do any really hard work or suffer the sometimes stress of learning. That is what this post was about.


A classic. For a long time education has been tending toward commodification due to the growth of population, the consumption mentality that Carlin talks about, and the decline of true economic wealth production that has been going on since the mid-70s.

@V. Cochran,

That is the sad part for me. I got into higher ed in order to actually make a difference in people's lives. And even though I have pushed a lot of students over the years, many of whom did resent it, at least temporarily,I think that for most of my time in the profession I did just that. But now the pressures from above to acquiesce to student demands for "easy" and the almost hateful attitudes I have witness of late, make it impossible to do anything more. I will endure one more year so that I can exit gracefully but it will also be with great sadness that it has gotten this bad.

@Don Stewart,

My question to you: Do you think that broad focus Systems Theory courses can survive in the kind of environment you have described?

The simple answer is no. My purpose in writing that book was to bring all of the seemingly disparate threads of systems science together under one roof and get the basics (the principles) preserved for when some small segment of a population (should one exist) will be able to start asking questions again and be ready to learn some seed knowledge to make a new start. By that I don't mean to build a new technological society, but a more human society based on understanding of how a social system is just a subsystem of the Ecos. I am looking for a medium in which the essences of the principles can be preserved with a longer shelf life than ordinary books. If anyone has any ideas please let me know.


Thank you for the kind words. I do plan to continue my efforts to record what I have learned in a series of books that will build on the principles in my textbook. The first, which is being shopped around as we speak, will be on Sapience and how it is the key to all veridical and moral decision making and so is a necessary element in our future. I have plans for books on systems science applied to governance, economics, education (of course), science and technology, and a few others. All will use my version so systems analysis to identify the critical processes, stocks, and flows, etc. in all of these. My hope is that it will start some people thinking. I will be posting some snippets from those efforts here from time to time.

You are right about the really intelligent kids with indomitable curiosities and the will to bypass the system.

@Michael Murphy,

Yes, our culture is a prime factor in our inability to grasp what is going on. Ergo we will continue down the same path to destruction and never realize it until it is too late.

@Paul Chefurka,

But keep on reflecting! I've gotten inspiration from your writings in the past. Hope to continue to do so in the future.



We can think about the meaning of the word ‘education’ in the context of the recent papal encyclical. Many people challenge the Pope’s authority to judge on climate change issues because he is not technically qualified. I have written here ( to show why I think that he is qualified. It all derives from what Aristotle said about education in On the Parts of Animals.

I conclude my post with the following.

. . .Francis is an educated man, a Renaissance man. I further conclude that he is a man of integrity and that his opinion should be respected. This does not not mean that people must agree with him but it does mean that, before they enter the debate, they clear their mind of cant and carry out research with as much thoroughness as Pope Francis appears to have done.

I have heard anecdotally that some successful Silicon Valley types are sending their children to old fashioned schools which do not allow the use of technology. I wonder if private business may create a new/old type of Uni-versity where students are liberal (in the sense of liberated) because they are educated (but not trained) in a wide variety of topics.

Does this concept fit in with your thoughts to do with Systems Theory?

George Mobus


Indeed it does. Way back in March of 2010 I wrote this piece: A Dream of Education for the Future. In that there is a link to this piece as well: The Core of a Sapient Society. In these I discuss my concept of an ideal education that starts with learning systems science from a very early age through active learning (problem and project-based learning - hands on). For example teaching kids permaculture provides a way to expose them to principles of systems science without pushing those principles as abstract concepts.

If some billionaire were to approach me to start such an education system I would in a heartbeat! Anyone out there got a few million to spare????


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