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How bad is it? Really.

The older generation always complains about the younger generation and notes all of the ways in which they are inferior. They often don’t notice the ways in which the younger generation is stronger and optimized for the conditions of thier time. I am not immune from these tendencies and am going to use this post to complain about kids today.

First of all, kids today are tone-deaf. I just listened to a choir of 3rd graders and only one out of a hundred could carry a tune.

Second of all, their rites of passage are hollow. They are forced to stand on a stage while a crowd of complete strangers applauds for their names being called on a roster.

Third of all, they are encouraged to dream of self-serving careers. In the school play, the kids acted out their dream jobs: zoo director, astronaut, marine biologist.

Why did they dream of lording over non-humans or of escaping humanity? Why didn’t they choose any careers that benefit people? Why not caregiver, infrastructure maintenance engineer, sustainable food producer?

Why? Because the school system trains them to be narcissists.

Why? Because narcissists are so self-motivated and that makes them the best consumers and globalized workers.

I can see what the culture of narcissism did to my generation and it saddens me that it is repeated in the present generation.

I saw a show about Amish teenagers visiting London where they met a bunch of kids who were doing a dance performance and getting fancy manicures. The Amish teens had been taught that drawing attention to yourself was a bad thing. They were embarrassed for the London kids.

The Amish are the worst consumers and the worst at contributing to the globalized economy.

Note that I didn’t even mention how smartphones are affecting kids. Like everyone else, I’m in denial about that, but my guess is that we will have a generation that takes an extra decade to -grow up-. It will take adults a decade to -wake up- to the reality that dependence on an electronic brain is tantamount to brain damage.

I haven’t been in the teaching trenches, but I’ve heard that the situation is dire. Even if it isn’t as bad as some say, suppose that there is a new technology that creates a lost generation at some point. Or, suppose that a generation requires an extra decade or two to grow up. Will this absorb the economic impact of jobs lost to automation? Will this generation be kept busy in some sort of educational institution until it reaches maturity? Will it be set free in the wild west of the internet to do as it likes?

Smart people are often lonely.

Bryan Caplan’s recent article in the Atlantic argues that ‘college for everyone’ is a horrible idea because

  • College students today don’t spend that much time studying
    • Perhaps they only need to study for 13 hours per week on average because grade-inflation (3.2 average GPA) makes graduation a given for anyone who has paid the fees.
  • Vocational training is adequate for most jobs.
    • A student would learn far more in a 40 hour per week apprenticeship than he would learn in college.
  • Admission requirements select for student quality more than college classes do and most employers don’t actually utilize the ‘value added’ through the college classroom experience.
    • Consider the difficulty of the engineering school entrance exams in various countries. If a difficult exam does the selection work, the college teachers don’t have to.
  • When a country increases the number of college graduates, it does not increase its overall productivity or its niveau.
    • Academia primarily trains people to be confident in their abilities and economic damage from subsidized hubris is hard to quantify but it is in evidence whenever there is a banking crisis or whenever people gobble up a pop-sci article on a nonsense ‘discovery’.
  • When a country incentivizes ‘college for everyone’ the result is runaway credential inflation
    • Today, you need to have a degree to get a job which did not require a degree 40 years ago and the reason is not that the job has become more complicated.
  • College is a waste of time because even the ‘best’ students do not demonstrate the ability to apply the knowledge they have acquired.
    • “Students who receive honor grades in college-level physics courses are frequently unable to solve basic problems and questions encountered in a form slightly different from that on which they have been formally instructed and tested.” Howard Gardner, Harvard psychologist
  • College is a waste of time for most people because most people are too dumb to learn the subtleties of the lessons. Without practical subtleties, knowledge is worse than useless.
    • In Caplan’s economics classes, he notes that only 4 out of 40 students demonstrate true comprehension of the material. The rest just demonstrate some level of memorization – but they still pass.

This last point is the most worrisome to me because on sites like Quora and WordPress, we see an appetite for comprehension whetted by experiences in college but not satisfied by experiences in graduate programs or in the workplace.

Yet, throughout the internet, we see the spread of some of the worst, most inaccurate heuristics. Instead of the best teaching rising to the top, we often see pedestrian misinformation promoted by people who have been trained by their college experience to be overconfident.

This is a difficult issue because nobody wants to live in a country full of uneducated imbeciles, yet nobody wants to be surrounded by overconfident idiots either. Tough call.

Companies certainly like college graduates, though. An employee who can’t quit because he has debts to repay is a great employee.

Based on concerns similar to those of Bryan Caplan, I wrote a novel to explore a utopia/dystopia in which science education is heavily subsidized. This is the direction in which our society appears to be aimed and I wanted to look at its implications.

These guys took another interesting angle on the issue of runaway credential inflation.


A more down-to-earth sign-of-the-times is clear in this video: How this man went from high school dropout to Harvard professor

This man had an 0.9 GPA and two kids with his teenage bride. He worked minimum wage jobs and took out 40k in loans to pay for night school and college. After graduation, he took out more loans and moved his family across the country to get a master’s degree and PhD, working at the Center for Advanced Astrophysics. They even made him an associate professor. Is he a genius, or just a guy who took on hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt, dragged his family through poverty, and worked really hard to get a job with a high-status title that doesn’t pay much more than minimum wage. Would he have been better off avoiding academia and working at getting promoted to manager of Best Buy or McDonald’s? I believe it is worth thinking about.

Across the world, STEM is subsidized by governments intent on harnessing a competitive edge in the domain of weapons or automation. For many young people, the difficulty of the STEM tests they take is a source of pride and competition. But do these tests really measure understanding or do they just measure memorization and IQ? Wisdom is something that takes time to develop, even when IQ is off the charts, and if you flood a high IQ person with information, they may lose the ability to see the forest for the trees.

I recently saw a youtube video in which a woman from New Zealand compared the JEE advanced exam in India to a similar exam from her country and her conclusion was that the JEE advanced covered college-level material from her first year of college. As in, the engineering school entrance exam for 18-year-olds in India covered material that 19-year-old science majors in New Zealand would be expected to know after their first year in college.

New Zealand reviews India: take one.

She implied that the JEE advanced required knowledge of an astonishing breadth of material, but no depth of the material. There was nothing in the test to check if the student understood how the material connected together. Each answer required a single step or calculation and there was no need to explain one’s reasoning.

The exam is in multiple-choice format and it takes three hours to complete, so if you are a creative-type whose mind tends to wander, you would have a hard time with such a test. She didn’t take a look at the second half of the test which is also three hours.

In comparison, the college-entrance test she had to take at age 18 was not multiple choice and each question had many steps – as many as 10 steps, each step probing the material at deeper and deeper levels. It was more of a problem-solving test rather than a test of memorization, speed, and concentration.

The JEE advanced appears to be a mile wide and an inch deep and aimed at selecting young people with a talent for studying very hard and absorbing recipes for solving a wide range of problems without requiring a deep understanding of how the theories came to be developed or structured.

My personal experience leads me to think that the US system is more similar in its testing methods to the Indian system than it is to the system in New Zealand or to the German system. In the German system, university exams are interviews in which the professor tries to find the limits of the depth and breadth of an individual student’s understanding.

In one of her other videos, she says that her math instruction felt like a journey into a professor’s private, mental world and it didn’t put what she was learning in any context. Consequently, most of the time, she was just learning what the professor said in order to get a good grade. She later regretted that she had worked for grades rather than working to understand the big picture because working for grades had taken the joy out of the work. She started making a lot of videos after dropping out of her PhD program.

Perhaps, she recognized that college professors were just a bunch of entertainers and she wanted a larger stage for her talents.

Load up on guns, bring your friends
It's fun to lose and to pretend
She's over-bored and self-assured
Oh no, I know a dirty word
Hello, hello, hello, how low
Hello, hello, hello, how low
Hello, hello, hello, how low
Hello, hello, hello
With the lights out, it's less dangerous
Here we are now, entertain us
I feel stupid and contagious
Here we are now, entertain us
A mulatto, an albino, a mosquito, my libido
Yeah, hey
I'm worse at what I do best
And for this gift I feel blessed
Our little group has always been
And always will until the end

While I like the videos that Tibees of New Zealand posts, there is misinformation about physics circulating on YouTube.

I spent some time debunking some of this content here:

I’m not an expert in all of these topics, but I have a good memory for what was taught in classrooms in the pre-internet age and IT WAS DIFFERENT from what is being taught on the internet today. How did this happen?!

I wondered about the extent of this problem in other areas and did some Googling.

Lo and behold: So Yummy baking videos. Even baking videos are disseminating misinformation. This is egregious. This has gone too far. I don’t want my children growing up believing that one can make frosting out of melted ice-cream or a parfait out of melted gummi bears. Just think of all of the sticky counters and wasted ice cream and gummi bears! This is positively criminal.

It seems that money seeking dumbasses are making videos to educate our children about EVERYTHING

Shame on you YouTube. And as for your ant-removal tips. They are also wrong. 

 There was an ant colony outside of my door that was making forays into my house. I had a pan with some leftover syrup (sugar and water cooked for a bit). I wondered if the ants would get stuck in it or distracted by it and leave my kitchen alone, so I put the pan of syrup outside next to the colony. Some ants did get stuck in it, but the strange thing was that within a few days, the colony completely disappeared.

Sugar is poison, y’all.

All of the ant killing instructions I’ve found on the internet tell you to mix sugar syrup with borax (poisonous soap), but I don’t think the soap is necessary.

Maybe it isn’t just YouTube that is full of wrong information. It is the whole Googlishous internet!

There are very few paywall-free places with any form of quality control for expert-level topics, and even then, I’m sure it is difficult to filter out the voices and votes from the dummies.

On the internet, we seem to be accelerating towards an intellectual bottleneck which selects the ideas that will rule the future and I hope that the selection is done wisely. Otherwise we may find ourselves in a new, dark age.


I first posted this material on The image in the header is of Ryan Lochte reenacting the photo from Nirvana’s album, Nevermind.

Don’t forget to take a look at my novel!


10 thoughts on “How bad is it? Really.

  1. I must put my ore in for what it’s worth. I’m a layman with no higher education and until I retired very little knowledge of anything.
    For years now the UK has had this concept of everyone going to university , and it is boosted by the totally absurd notion that anyone can achieve anything.
    The idea of IQ seems to have been forgotten , my IQ is 105 slightly above average so there is no way I could have become a nuclear physicist . The subject is too deep for my brain power and all the positive thinking won’t alter that.
    The great point overlooked is where are all these graduates doing to find suitable positions ? Who is going to mend the cars? build the roads and houses ? collect the rubbish? drive the lorries , clean the Windows?serve in the shops ect.

    Liked by 1 person

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