ThoughtStarters 14

Date:         27 April 14

By:             Frank Gue, B.Sc., MBA, P.Eng.,

                   905 634 9538

For:           Interested friends and fellow-thinkers

Re:             A couple of thought-provokers


Item 1: Global warming


An organization called American Thinker has issued a

scholarly scientific paper by a physicist named Andre Lofthus on the subject of Anthropological Global Warming (AGW); link below.


I think that, as an engineer, I understand and believe their argument, though I want to ponder it further and invite others to ponder too.


Their argument is that, in the 1950s, it was demonstrated, at the Nobel Prize level, that the CO2 then present in the Earth’s atmosphere was absorbing 100% of the heat it was capable of absorbing; and that, therefore, the addition of further CO2 could not account for further warming. They sound the usual warning that correlation does not prove causation, and that, therefore, the global warming we may (or may not) be experiencing has nothing to do with man- (or bovine flatulence) made C02.


Bottom line: If we have global warming, it is not caused by CO2, man-made or other.


Item 2: The IPCC and a memorable aphorism


The Economist newsmagazine of April 19, page 73, discusses the latest International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, issued last week. Because of changes between drafts forced upon the IPCC by international politicians, they say (and this is the “memorable aphorism”):


That seems more like policy-based evidence than evidence-based policy.


Wow! Education? Wind energy?


Later in the article, referring to the assumptions made by the IPCC,


These numbers look preposterous … [Germany’s and Spain’s] bills are already enormous … much higher than expected … IPCC’s assumptions are “completely made up” … this report isn’t valuable… “


This from a publication that has been quite receptive to the global warming ideas up to now.




Discovery Leaarning’s poison

Date:   25 April, 14

By:       Frank Gue, B.Sc., MBA, P.Eng.

For:     Whom it may concern, esp. SQE

Re:       “Discovery” learning


GA, SQEers.


As the old German said, “Too soon oldt und too late schmart”.


I will share with you my belief that Discovery Learning, or Constructivism, or Experiential Learning, etc. has poisoned more parts of society than just Education.


Scenario 1:


My dear late brother (PhD Ed.) and I (B.Sc., Eng.) graduated within a couple of years of each other in the 50s from U of A. My brother wrote Canada’s first book on Ed. Admin. I wrote the first (known to me) book bringing mathematical modeling into the black art of Production Planning and Control in the notoriously difficult-to-plan heavy electrical manufacturing environment.


Many years later, we were discussing my book.  In a tone of utter horror, my brother asked, “But you’re not telling them how to do it, are you?”


Discovery learning applied in industry!

I remember being so flummoxed by the question that I hardly knew what to say. “Well – uh – that’s sort of the point of the book. I wouldn’t have bothered to write it, and no industrial person would bother to read it, if it didn’t give direct help.”


Scenario 2:


My wife Fern has been astoundingly successful in personal counseling and has always reported that becoming personally involved with a client, sharing life secrets and advice, sometimes providing a shoulder to weep on, etc. is her m.o. On her 90th birthday March 17, the hundreds of E.C.E.s in the agency that employs her partied her lovingly and left her with a 90-page book of cards and letters, the consistent message in all of them being, “You changed my life. I love you.”


But: The accepted wisdom in the profession of personal and family counseling is that the counselor is to remain entirely impersonal and detached, using non-directive interviewing and merely leading the client to her own development of a solution to her problem. I much doubt that many counselors have a book like Fern’s.  (Dr. Eric Berne, developer of Games People Play and the Transactional Analysis m.o. that Fern uses), once tauntingly asked a large audience of other psychiatrists, “Come now, Doctors, how many patients have you actually cured?They use Learning by Discovery in their social work.


Scenario #3


In the popular “permissive” parenting mode, children are not directly forbidden to do anything nor directly told not to do anything. They are “given choices” and allowed to argue whether they should comply. Only one of several bad results of a permissive upbringing is relative morality, e.g., “If it feels good, do it”, or “One religion (or no religion) is as good as another (Satanism included, presumably)”, and “I want it all, and I want it now.” Discovery learning applied to parenting.


If you’ve come with me this far, thanks. I had to get it off my chest. “Discovery Learning” is an insidious social, economic, and moral menace in a lot of places in addition to Education.





Curriculum problem in Ontario

Date:    23 April 14
By:        Frank Gue, B.Sc., MBA, P.Eng.,
             905 634 9538
For:      Letters Ed., Lee Prokaska, The Spec
Re:       “Curriculum” in Ms. Barb Albert-Hughes’s letter in the Apr. 23 Spec 
GA, Lee:

Ms. Albert-Hughes’s reference to Ontario’s 

curriculum as being “crammed with no methods”
touches on a vital subject that is a serious problem 
in Ontario.
Our public school curricula drip 
with the principles of the long-discredited
“constructivist” method of teaching.  Some,
thankfully not all, Ontario teachers using these
methods consider it unnecessary to graduate
a numerate, literate student, and that,
to quote one of them, “If they don’t learn
the stuff, that’s their problem.”  Again
thankfully, some Ontario teachers who get
excellent results are represented by one 
of them who commented, “I teach them
using the forbidden phonics.  When I close 
the classroom door, the Ministry
doesn’t know what I’m teaching.”  Parents
should hope their kids get one of those.
I will anticipate the screeches of outrage
from members of the education establishment
who object intolerantly to what they call
interference by ignorant outsiders We 
need only recall that –
* Einstein was a patent clerk.
* the Wright Brothers were bicycle mechanics
* Mendell, the developer of genetics, 
   was a monk.
*  and endlessly onward.
A spell of “creative destruction” and re-
development of education systems is 
badly needed.  Selfishly one hopes that
Ontario’s would be the first.
Frank Gue. 

Lender of Last Resort – You!

Date:        17 April, 14
By:            Frank Gue, B.Sc., MBA, P.Eng., 2252 Joyce St., Burlington, ON L7R 2B5, 905 634 9538
To:            Editors, The Economist, London, UK
Re:           “Leviathan of last resort” April 12 issue

Dear Editors:

It is encouraging that regulators are re-learning the importance of leverage, but discouraging that relentless pressure from the financial industry is (apparently with some success) pushing the ratios back down.
Capital ratios are a form of group insurance, with the important members of the group, in this case, comprising a relatively small number of big banks, with the government as the re-insurer.  Unfortunately this is probably too small a group, individually accounting for too large a balance sheet, to assure the hoped-for performance, in an emergency, of the group.
In proportion to the size of the risk, a 3% or 5% ratio is totally inadequate; Canada barely squeaked through with ratios varying from 7% to 10%, of which most was of good quality.  “Quality” brings up the vexatious subject of weighting formulae with their infinite potential for gaming of the system.  Is it not past time that a more rigorous definition of “quality” be adopted?  One such definition, which would calm many of the anxious, unwilling lenders and might reopen their wallets, would exclude commercial and financial paper and pyramidal schemes such as securitization (and magnetic dots!) from “reserves”.  Such a definition would admit only tangible, saleable assets such as property, especially productive property such as mines, factories, and farms.  
True, this would create enormous disruption in the capital markets; but, arguably, it is time for creative destruction of a system that has become a haven for clever people designing clever (but fragile) games with names like “derivatives” and “high frequency trading”.  Finance, far from enabling productive enterprise, which was once its function, now simply enables finance to finance finance.  E.g., close to 100% of current market traffic is now exclusively financial in nature; and it is a serious question whether the textbook “efficient allocation of resources” objective is being served whatsoever.
Concerning Bagehot’s “sting in the tail”, the logic in the common assumption that the taxpayer must be the lender of last resort escapes most taxpayers entirely.  As one writer put it, after explaining the process of money creation, don’t look for any logic in taxpayer bailouts; there isn’t any.

Education in Ontario – anecdotal evidence

GA, Teri.  (Teri Pecoskie is Education reporter for the Hamilton Spectator)

Anecdotal evidence, wise statisticians tell us, must not be relied upon; you need masses of data.  But even wiser statisticians assure us: Don’t dismiss anecdotes, because they are data too.  So:  This letter is a bunch of anecdotes.  Hope you can wade through it.  These leads are doubtless too late for your current series, but I hope they give you something for the future.
Re gender of students:
The education folk in Clackmannanshire, Scotland, ran a well designed formal seven-year-long (horizontal) study to compare the effectiveness of Direct (traditional) Instruction (DI) with Whole Language (WL) instruction.  To the surprise of no one of the many like me, DI came out well ahead of WL.  But to the considerable surprise of everyone involved, certainly including me, an unintended result was that the gender gap vanished.  They don’t know why, and I certainly don’t!  Tantalizing … ??  Some folk better qualified than I pooh-pooh the Clackmannanshire study, but I’ve learned to be at least a little skeptical about any Education guru who declaims on anything, pro or con.  One-up (among many) for traditional DI.
Re gender of teachers:
Your informants say there is no discernible impact of teacher gender upon the teaching of math.  I strongly feel this is questionable.  Many folk adhere to the superstition that “girls are not good at math”.  As the saying goes, people live up to (or down to) what is expected of them.  A school girl suffering under this superstition is bound to do less well than her potential as a student or as a teacher.  Further, among my wife’s counselling clients have been women teachers who complain about being “… pitchforked into teaching math, which I haven’t touched since high school and which I can’t do very well.”  How good a math teacher will she be?  A Finnish math teacher must have a master’s degree in math!
Re teachers and teaching:
I once asked the then Director of Education of Burlington District 6 whether he employed science-and-math teachers in proportion to some analyzed need (of employers, Universities, etc.) or in proportion to the number of such teachers available.  He acknowledged that it was the latter, and that he could never get  enough such.  A different, later Dir. of Ed. (himself a science graduate) commented sadly to me that, “My managers (Supts of Instruction etc.) don’t understand, like, or know how to use numbers.”  One wonders how such high-level educators, having come up through the ranks of similar educators, can possibly manage improvement programs without intensive use of numbers, some quite sophisticated, e.g. standard deviations.  For instance, how many senior educators still adhere to the policy stance of the one-time Supt. of Instruction in Burlington, who declared firmly and publicly, “We will not use comparisons.”?  Without using comparison, nothing can be improved.
One major teaching paradigm in use widely is Constructivism (or Experiential Learning, or Learning by Discovery – it has a lot of names).  A Queens summer-school instructor long ago explained it to me.   Concerned about what I was hearing, I asked, “But at the end of the day, don’t you want to graduate a literate, numerate student?”  In a tone of cold hostility, this teacher replied, “Why?”  (I’m serious!).  Later in the discussion, this teacher-of-teachers commented, “If they don’t want to learn, that’s their problem.”  (Again, I am serious.  I am not making this up.)
An associate of mine, a wealthy business man who could afford to take the time off, was sufficiently concerned about the education of his boy that he took a two-year Education degree.  He reported that:
*  His intake class of 28 was assured by their instructor that all would graduate; they duly did.
*  He (as an employer) would have considered hiring two or three of the 28.
*  Two of the 28 were clearly illiterate.
If you want, I can relay this conversation to this person and leave it to him if he wishes to contact you.
You and many others have commented to the effect that students, of course, vary widely in their talents and interests, i.e. their potential.  True; and this leads to a need to identify aptitudes (inherent talents, not merely interests) and in some logical way group or stream students and hire teachers appropriately.  At 17, I was taken by my far-seeing Dad to the Human Engineering Lab at the U. of Chicago for aptitude testing.  Their advice changed the course of my life.  (“Yes, you could be a writer.  But your profile is engineer, scientist, or something like that.”)  Result: With a very modest set of abilities I have had an enormously satisfying career as an engineer which has overlapped with basic science.  I don’t think our ed. system does enough aptitude testing.  Get the square pegs into square holes, you know.
Again, congrats to you and Paul and whoever else is involved in this Education series.
Frank Gue.

Inflation and interest rates

Date:      15 April 14

By:           Frank Gue, B.Sc., MBA, P. Eng.,

                 2252 Joyce St.,

                 Burlington, ON Canada L7R 2B5

                 905 634 9538

To:            Editors, The Economist, London, UK

Re:           Inflation and interest rates, March 29


Dear Editors:


You view some inflation as a Good Thing and deflation an unqualified Bad Thing.


But: enterprises succeed partly because they reduce costs which, when properly accounted, reduces prices. Would you immediately label this as evidence of the dreaded deflation?


Note the astounding 97% fall in direct labor in agriculture in only half a century; or the millions-to-one drop in the cost of business computing, in even less time.  The cumulative effect should have been a wholesome, economically sound fall in the general price level for everything from pickles to automobiles.  Thus we have the paradox of a permanent  state of falling real costs amid rising prices.  Who or what agency has captured the difference?


One hint:  your own newspaper, long ago, defined inflation as the means governments use to transfer purchasing power from the citizens who earned it to the government that didn’t.


Another hint, also from your newspaper, is your

identifying, while failing to recognize or name them, of the large and growing NVA (No Value Added) and VS (Value Subtracting) elements in the economy such as the high frequency traders and financial-system gamers. 


Sadly, the costs of all these activities, good and bad, enter undifferentiated into the GDP, which causes one to be more than usually uneasy with GDP and growth thereof as reliable drivers of our economies.


Perhaps we have it backward.  Perhaps we should think of inflation as an unqualified Bad Thing, and perhaps rechristen deflation as PLR (Price Level Reduction), a Very Good Thing.




School performance in Burlington

Date:     12 April 14
By:         Frank Gue, B.Sc., MBA, P.Eng.,
              2252 Joyce St.,
              Burlington, ON L7R 2B5
              905 634 9538
To:         The Hamilton Spectator: Teri Pecoskie, Paul Berton, Howard Elliott

GA, Teri and gentlemen:

Warmest congratulations on the first of your “Education” series!  Well researched, well done!
I did some of this on a very small scale (a patch of 25 Burlington schools) in 2002-5.  I can no longer even read the old floppies on which I have the results, but from memory:
*  The patch was about the same socio-economic stratum, judging by the then property values, all around $352K.
*  Plotting EQAO results against StatCan figures on family income showed a fairly steady improvement in performance from $46K incomes to $86K where it levelled off, BUT:  there were marked irregularities, the most striking of which were that some high-income schools had very poor results, while some low-income schools had very good results.  This screams the question:  What do the well-performing schools do from which the low performers can learn?  Speculation: School management (mainly the principal) must surely have a lot to do with it!
*  Small schools (around 300 students) have significantly better results than large schools where “large” starts around 600 students.
*  One-parent families do significantly less well than two-parent families.
*  Several schools have markedly more “excused” students than do others, in the order (if I recall) of 20 or 30 vs five or ten.  Speculation:  Is “excused” status used to improve reported results?
*  One can form a “criterion of goodness” (value per dollar) by dividing school EQAO results by per-pupil school costs.  There were remarkable differences among the 25 schools.  Speculation:  Principals have relatively little control over many of their costs, yet some schools give markedly better value per tax dollar than others.  What can they learn from each other?
*  Later results show that good and not-so-good performances persist through the years.  This confirms what sociologists tell us, i.e. that organizations  develop a certain “culture” that  is very difficult to change.
I hope this gives you additional ammunition.