A tormented European intellectual or simply a concerned parent?

The Investigate Magazine (s) (http://www.investigatemagazine.com) of the past months have highlighted what every parent should be concerned about: how the state education systems of Western societies are failing miserably and contributing to the intellectual decline of Western nations. In his Eve’s Bite, Ian Wishart compellingly documents the social engineering of generations to the educational system. Having seen the output of current students when writing papers or reports I can not help but feeling a lot of sympathy for these feelings of failure.

I was made privy to several papers of University students made up quotes from copied and pasted using Google. Modern media appears to have become the standard and actual scholarly or scientific literature is something that is probably right for the makers of Discovery Channel or a few nerds, but not for the ‘normal’ student.

Knowledge based learning appears to have been replaced by social conditioning: no thought but which ones am  actually allowed to have in there. Reasoning/arguing a particular perspective, viewpoint or position? Nah, “discussing” a subject in a paper is marginalized to blind and thoughtless quotation of a set of prescribed and one sided articles and books (approved literature) by “approved” authors.

Try to incorporate opposite views and you will hear the that is not going to bring me any points argument. Most of all I was struck about the way in which these prescribed views were presented in these papers: do they not teach the basic skill of writing a sentence anymore? This was almost like reading a collection of text messages or so you wish tweets. Now I am known to make the regular spelling error but this was like nothing  ever saw before. Most of all I am truly worried to see that “thinking for yourself” appears to have actually been drilled out. Combine that with the erosion of parental roles, rights and responsibilities for the benefit of enhanced government control of the past nine years and it becomes apparent how much your child is in danger of becoming the next dumbed down puppet. It becomes apparent how much change and I mean dramatic change is needed.

I guess I can sympathize with Amy Brooke in her May 2009 column in Investigate Magazine:

“… Essentially we’re at war – essentially a kind of social war being waged by the mindless products of a rootless, destructive and immensely ignorant sector of society , including parents and their near barbaric offspring – indoctrinated with the grievances of overblown egos – or simply purposeless and adrift. What we’re now involved in is a social revolution against the very forces which traditionally stabilize Western society – an innate sober conservatism and the ultimate message of Christianity – stressing that man has obligations beyond those to himself or his mere tribe.

… This battleground encompasses our schools and their curricula, their anti religious – i.e. specifically their anti-Christian propaganda; the denigration of what he (Peter Hitchens in his book “The Abolition of Britain”) and the watering down of examinations to cover the attack on actual knowledge – and the decline of educational standards. All this in the name of spreading the gospel of a new society where everyone and everything is equal.”

In our state schools here in New Zealand nobody should be first, you don’t try to win a race, you “participate” and there is no room for first prizes. Individual study ad quiet concentration is replaced by group learning and discussion. In the meantime the lowering of the standards have lead to a decline in output of people that actually don’t have some of the most basic skills to develop as a human being: adequate levels of reading and writing and language skills, basic maths and science skills. The other day, and this is not the first time it happened, my four year old comes home with a picture he made. It was sad to see how a teacher can screw up such an effort by making spelling errors in a basic sentence. The boy had been asked what the teacher should write under his picture ended up with the following sentence:

“The sun is shinning today.”

Wouldn’t it be great if our children were actually taught the basics instead of all these ideology based social engineering programs in which the basics are replaced by mind manipulation and lowered standards for basic skills?

I recently had a great talk with Dr Jay Olivier (http://www.olivierlex.com), someone with a passion for teaching.
He passionately told me about his views on education I realized how incredible it would be for the system to have such driven and knowledgable individuals teach our future generations. At the same time I realized that he would most likely end up being one of those few genuinly knowledgable teachers left, who will have to deal with the “ignorance is bliss” culture of that system. On 14 April he tweeted “Promoting an Exclusive Education Programme in Christchurch, NZwhich most likely will have looked like swearing in church for some.

Count me in Jay! There is nothing wrong with exclusivity for those that do want to break free of the masses and get the best our of themselves. Can we please start with a course in “Thinking for yourself” or “Evaluating what you read and hear” and “basic report and paper writing” as I think they would be a good start to create what they used to call Triple C graduates when I was a student: competent, critical and creative: able to think independently without losing sight for the interconnected and interdependent state and nature of things and affairs and with room for a personal opinion even if it did not accord with that of your professor, that is if you could substantiate your views in a convincing way.

I am now thinking that someone we know would sigh and say: “John you are a tormented European intellectual that does not want to be helped.” I guess I am starting to understand what “help” may very well mean: join in with the ignorance and call it being relaxed. “She’ll be right mate, sweet as…”  In my humble tormented European intellectual opinion, our children are not going to be right at all if things don’t change rapidly and besides that as a parent (yes I refuse to use the word caregiver to describe my role) I think we can substantially contribute in providing a broader scope to what is being taught at primary, high schools, polytechs and universities all within our options and means. Ever since I went on from high school to study music and after that law, I have started to realize the importance of having two parents that opened my world by having books available in the house on any imaginable subject.

While there may have been difficulties with paying the bills at times, there was always room to expand the already impressive collection of books. I remember the days well where I would enjoy reading about the lives and times of the great painters like Van Gogh, Rembrandt van Rijn, Cezanne, Gaugin, great figures of history like Leonardo da Vinci, Gandhi, Napoleon, Lincoln, Washington, and well the lost could go on forever. It must have been in these younger years that I developed that hunger for new knowledge and understanding. Having a primary school where such an approach was highly stimulated only enhanced this experience.  And no we were not are equal, and because of that those that needed extra assistance in certain areas were actually identified and assisted by teachers as well as classmates. Yes there was competition bit at the same time there was a sense of helping out each other since lowering the standard was not an option.

I remember well my warm welcome as a twelve year old at the Greek embassy because I needed to write about Greece. No set rules on what you were to write, but go and read or go and talk to the people themselves, and where better to do that than the embassy. Or, my Wednesday afternoons spent in the Maritime Museum in Rotterdam where with the help of the then Museum librarian I wrote my own first paper on the history and developments of ships and combined with a a number of relevant books at home about the same subject. And just for the record, I was not an exception, that was the way it was done, that was the norm. Groups were based on achievement levels and while there were group lessons, there was a lot of quiet and concentrated time where you worked on your assignments and where the teacher was available to help out with questions, whether it was reading, writing, maths, science, history arts and crafts or religion.

I think I had a good wake up call, and will need to take more responsibilities myself, meaning extra time for the children and stimulating them to be the best they can be at all times an do whatever it takes to ensure that they can think for themselves. In the tradition of my parents that will mean connecting my children with history, the full scope of present and with that hopefully the future, and raising children that are hungry to learn and experience and most of all that can actally think for themselves and develop their own understanding of things.

Swine Flu Scams

It could of course be expected, but with may in the world concerned about the outbreak of swine flu, there will always be scam artists trying to cash in on that, preying on the fears and anxieties of people. The public is turning to the net for information about the swine flu but so are these scam artists.

According to F-Secure people are registering domains related to “swine flu” (see more info here http://www.f-secure.com/weblog/archives/00001668.html) an whilst there are no cases of malware sites registered yet F-secure warns that that will only be a matter of time. (The list of domains is located here: http://www.f-secure.com/weblog/archives/swineflu_domains.txt).

The Better Business Bureau is already urging consumers to reliable information regarding the outbreak from the website of the Centers for Disease control and Prevention (http://www.cdc.gov/swineflu/) and warns that scammers are creating their own epidemic of spam.The BBB advises:

  • Avoid opening emails frm an unknown source and do not click on any links, instead delete or report the email to the Federal Trade Commission;
  • Don’t believe any offers for vaccinations because there is no such vaccine (yet);
  • Keep your computer security updated.

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Security NL Encryption surpassed by awareness

Security.nl a Dutch website focused on computer and internet security conducted a poll from which – according to their latest  newsletter – it transpired that currently awareness education/training is considered the most popular solution to prevent leaking of sensitive information. Last year 34% of the readers considered encryption the most suitable prevention tool, this year 44% of the respondents considered awareness training the most preferable solution. This is claimed to be a remarkable move upwards from 27% last year with encryption chosen by only 30% of the respondents. Consistent was the 8% of respondents that opted for storing less data.This according to the latest newsletter.

(Pleasantly) Surprised by that outcome I checked the respective poll on the site to find that this report was based on 679 votes which seems hardly adequate to draw any general conclusions from this poll. At the same time however daily reality can not come to any other conclusion than that awareness is your first key step, despite the importance that encryption may or may not have.

It cannot be denied that in many nowadays situations, encryption is only part of the solution. Especially the social web and social engineering have become important “weapons” in the arsenal of those that do want to get their hands on sensitive information. Years ago, Kevin Mitnick, already predicted that the human factor would be the one most important in the information security area, and that advice, in my view, still remains as current as when it was made.

Reading the reactions to the poll, I see a substantial divide between those that opt for encryption and those that opt for awareness training. Imho there is nothing wrong with an approach that incorporates both. At the same time I would have to maintain that those that are committed to get their hands on your valuable data probably will find a way.

Talking about that I need to mention that at the moment data theft by employees is considered the largest threat. While this may come as news or at least it is presented as such, it has been my experience that the “insider threat” has always been the most important one. What has changed however is that more of your insiders may have an incentive to actually make the threat into an incident. Anxious about lay-offs or upon actual lay-offs employees may be more tempted to take along your valuable information, either because they are considering setting up shop for themselves or because the competition may be keen to re-employ them, or just because, well, you never know where it may come in handy.