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TWIP Vol. 6 Issue 02

In this issue:

  • Teman(22) Writes about education
  • Rundy(21) Writes about the cold weather
  • Rundy(21) Brings catharsis to The Word Corner

Find the current issue of TWIP on the web at http://www.purdyville.com/twip/current.html


Teman doesn’t normally write for TWIP. The following article wasn’t written for TWIP either. Teman is currently taking an economics college course on-line through Empire State College. This following article was originally a discussion post in his course forum. It wasn’t an official writing assignment, but I thought the quality and idea presented were good enough, and interesting enough, for TWIP. There are a few references in his writing which are obscure to someone not familiar with economics, but most of it is straight forward.–Rundy, TWIP Senior Editor.

Investing in Education
By Teman

How should a country invest in the education of its people?

Unfortunately, no easy answers to that question can be found in textbooks. However, if we take the question of the use and utility of formal education out of the realm of the theoretical and into the world of the real, then we find that matters become more complicated. Our first problem is one of opportunity costs. Formal education may indeed move the Production Possibilities Frontier outward, but does it do so better than other ways we could expend those same resources? Second, we must not uncritically accept the assertion that formal education increases human capital. Only when we have examined both of these questions can we consider how we should apportion resources between the various forms of formal education.

Like most questions in economics, it is impossible to give a definitive answer to the question of whether formal education is the best way of building human capital. Furthermore, our goal for this course is to explore the basics of economics, not various theories of education. However, many people in this course seem to assume that the only way to build human capital is in a setting where a teacher addresses a number of students in a classroom and maybe does some lab work on the side.

This view ignores the fact that throughout human history the most common way of increasing human capital was through the means of apprenticeships. Indeed, such apprenticeships (for our purposes we will define apprenticeship as guided learning while producing goods and services) are still around. They are common in much of Western Europe as a way of learning a variety of skills. Doctors in this country must go through a period of apprenticeship before being able to practice medicine. Much of the way in which the military trains its personnel would fit my definition of apprenticeship. In fact, the higher you go in higher education, the more it tends to resemble an apprenticeship in form and function. Think of how many classes at the lower levels of college are taught by student TA’s or how Ph.D students will help their professors with research projects. Even at the primary school level alternatives to formal schooling can be found, primarily in the growing homeschooling movement.

All this is just to point out that the resources we devote to formal education have a real opportunity cost. Not just in the sense that we can not use the resources we devote to education to building houses or acquiring clothes, but that we can not pursue other means of building human capital as well as we might. Furthermore, we should not assume that just because formal education is the most commonly used method of increasing human capital in the developed world, it therefore must be the best.

In fact, there is some anecdotal evidence to suggest that the opposite is true. In France, the les compagnons (as the people who have been through the various guild apprenticeship programs are called) almost always find a job right away even though the unemployment rate among young people with college degrees is quite high. In Germany, the extensive apprenticeship program is usually given a large share of credit for Germany’s post-war economic success. Back here in the United States, homeschooling has been gaining growing acceptance because people who have been educated in this way tend to do well on any kind of test.

It is such anecdotal evidence that leads some people like John Holt to question the value of formal education. They tend to assert that all such learning actually destroys human capital. Among the sins they accuse formal education of are: Segregating people based on age and intelligence, thus destroying the social fabric. Squelching people’s natural desire to learn because the formal method of learning does not resonate with what they have experienced in their life. And crushing people’s ability to think for themselves because formal education puts the emphases on finding the answers that the teacher wants. Indeed, if you listened to some people who follow John Holt’s way thinking, you might get the impression that formal education was the root cause of all that is wrong with the world.

I believe that such an extreme view of formal education is an error. It springs from the mistaken belief that everything that is imposed by society is bad and that every thing that comes from a person’s own nature is good (John Holt owed a lot to Jean-Jacques Rousseau). But if society does not impose a way of spelling "the" then how will we be able to communicate? That is not to say spelling "the" the way we do is any more morally correct than any other way, only that it is necessary to be able to communicate. Thus, many times, accepting the formal impositions of society allows us to be more productive and creative because we can share our ideas with others and receive their ideas in turn. That is to say, sometimes the right answer to give is the one the teacher wants. This distinction seems to be lost on the people associated with John Holt.

Having said that, I think that it is worth paying attention to what John Holt has to say, if only to counteract the equally extreme (but far more prevalent) view that formal education is an unalloyed good. John Holt may be wrong in his belief that everything imposed by society hampers intellectual growth, but today’s educators need to realize that our classroom-based forms of education are failing to help students increase their creativity and their independent thinking abilities. In the past, those failings were well-disguised by the demands of the industrial economy, as doing the right thing on the industrial production line was more important than independent thought. But we are now in the post-industrial era where service jobs outnumber the old production line jobs and it is becoming increasingly clear that our old education model is failing us.

To some, the answer is to throw more resources at the problem. But I believe that much of what we spend now is wasted, and to spend more would only compound the problem.Our educational needs are more akin to the craftsman of 200 years ago than they are to the factory worker of 50 years ago. It would be wise to remember that people in pre-industrial era were not too stupid to figure out how to have one person stand up in a room and teach 30 other people. In fact, they did do some teaching in the formal form, often for things like writing, math, and reading, but also for anything that the authorities wanted to control (such as religious teaching). But for most of their educational needs they stuck to the apprenticeship form as the best way to train people for jobs that needed technical skill, creativity, and good judgment.

I believe that as our economy grows ever more service oriented, we also will discover that a like form of learning will best suit our needs. In fact, I think that is the case
right now and that it is only inertia that keeps us on our present course. That is not say that I think formal education does not have any use. As long as we have to read and write, and do other things where conformity across broad sectors is desirable, there will always be a need for formal education.

To sum up, I believe that we spend way too much money on formal education. Of the resources our country does devote to formal education, I think that most of it should go towards the primary level. What resources are spent on higher education should be in the way of preparing the ground work for an advanced apprenticeship (sort of the way that doctors do it now).–TP

Comments, questions? Write to Teman at purdyville@earthlink.net

Riding a Bicycle in The Winter
By Rundy

Why?

Why ride a bicycle during the miserable weather of a northern winter? I haven’t found a good explanation, but I’m trying. When friends and family learn of my habitual early morning trek out into snow and sub-zero temperatures their reaction is horror, disbelief, or both. There is that sideways look, as if they are reevaluating previous assumptions about my sanity. Then there is the spoken, or almost spoken, question. Why?

Why would any sane, reasonable, normal, intelligent person go out for a bicycle ride when there is snow covering the road, or when the temperature is sub-zero, even without factoring in the wind chill? No one has said it exactly that way, but the half-laughed comments and askance looks say enough. How do I explain? When the bicycle riding experience is couched in such negative terms I’m left hunting around for an answer. Why am I, after all? It didn’t seem so strange a few minutes ago. Now that you mention it the idea does seem a little peculiar. Rather than stuttering about how riding in the winter it isn’t really so bad–which would only earn me more knowing smiles–I simply give a big grin, and hope they don’t lock me up. There is a good reason for what I do–somewhere. I just haven’t found it yet.

Riding a bicycle in winter weather isn’t so very horrible. Really. I don’t freeze to death or suffer from . . . um . . . well, okay–riding a bicycle in the winter isn’t for everyone. Maybe I’m just so stubborn that I refuse to alter my schedule for a bit of frigid weather. Or perhaps I like a little variation in my experience and enjoy the chill and snow as something new and different. So? You should try it sometime. It’s not all so bad as you might think. I can explain.

The Dark

This may surprise you, but above all else the worst thing about bicycle riding on winter mornings is the darkness. This is worse than snow, worse than cold. No, not because I can’t see. I can see. If I couldn’t see I wouldn’t ride, because, let me assure you, if I can’t see I can’t stay on the road. The issue isn’t other people not seeing me, either. When I ride in the dark I wear a highly visible orange fluorescent reflective vest over my riding gear. The great trouble with riding in the dark is psychological.

Darkness is for sleeping. I’m a firm believer in this. Rising early doesn’t bother me–so long as it is light out. Rising with the dawn is fine. But rising before dawn is a type of punishment. In the cruelest most dark days of winter a 7:00 AM bicycle ride is decidedly on the dark side of dawn. When I step out into that darkness, climb onto the bicycle, and begin to pedal down the road–then, above all other times I’m inclined to wonder whose brilliantly idea it was to go riding at this time of day.

The best I can say is that the worst of the darkness last only from December to January. Long enough, thank you, but by February 7:00 AM is almost dawn. The semi-light of soon breaking day is more bearable, and hopeful, with the promise of full day. November is grim because I know it is going to grow worse. It’s something like driving into a dark, dank and foul smelling tunnel. February is better because I know every morning will be brighter. February is like driving out the other side of the dark, dank, and foul smelling tunnel. From February on out things must get better

The Snow

Snow can be one of the most enjoyable aspects of winter bicycle riding. The operative phrase here is "It depends." If the morning is bright, with crisp air, pure blue sky, and sheets of white snow–yes, indeed. There is a cool refreshing pleasantness to such a ride. Otherwise, snow can be annoying.

Snow is annoying anytime it actively falls from the sky. Gently descending snow is one of those pleasant things to watch through a window, but riding in it is another issue entirely. The experience is akin to having someone constantly throwing snow in my face. My forward momentum sends me careening through those innocent snow flakes and I’m either blinking like some malfunctioning light-bulb or I’m forced to screw my eyes up into teeny slits and bow my head to avoid the brunt of the incoming snowflakes. This is neither very cold, nor very difficult, but it is exceptionally annoying and I’m glad I’ve not had to live through it very often.

When the road is covered with snow, riding a bicycle becomes fun. Fun, as in a little dangerous but not too dangerous. A light dusting of snow is inconsequential, but any significant snow accumulation begins to have an effect on the riding experience. Narrow bicycle tires have almost no traction on snow. Anything more than a dusting of snow makes a traditional speed bicycle impossible to ride. I ride a mountain bike, which is better, but still bogs out on snowfall over an inch deep.

A bicycle ride in snow is difficult because of resistance, but the trickiest part is remaining upright and seated. Poor tire traction means wiping out is even easier than on loose gravel. Yes, if you want to practice wiping out, I advice you to go for a bike ride when there is snow on the ground. Myself, I like practicing not wiping out. I haven’t wiped out yet, but I’ve had many close calls. The chance of wiping out isn’t much of a danger even though it is very possible. The road is covered with snow, I’m all bundled up for the winter weather, and I can’t go particularly fast with snow everywhere. The worst I face is a bump or two, and an injured dignity.

Besides maintaining good balance, there is a trick to not wiping out when riding a bicycle in the snow. When the snow plow hasn’t cleared the road the only place where snow is packed down is where car tires have passed. This situation offers me some amusement and diversion from monotony as I’ve perfected the game of "drive in the car tire tracks so I won’t wipe out." So long as I stay in the tire tracks I’m okay. Drift out and I begin to bog down and slide. This becomes an even trickier game when the snow has become slush, which makes a slick road cover. I’ve fish-tailed and slid, but I haven’t wiped out–not yet.

Snow plows are also a concern. I’m of the firm conviction that snow plow operators are not amused to find themselves driving behind some idiot bicycle rider who decided to go out early some snowy morning. Because of this opinion I try to keep both eyes and ears open for the deep rumble which signals an approaching plow. If a driveway is nearby I can pull off to the side and let the plow pass. If visibility is good I also have the option of switching to the other side of the road until the plow has passed. I’ve only had to get out of the way twice so far all winter. I guess my chosen time for riding is not the time the plow operators normally clear our local roads.

The Cold

Of all the things involved in bicycle riding in the winter, the idea that I ride in sub-zero temperatures provokes the most shock from people. It’s i
nsane to go out in that weather, they say, if not outright unsafe. It could be, yes. An unprepared person could freeze themselves badly in such cold weather. But it is entirely possible to go on a safe, and even fairly comfortable, bicycle ride in negative ten degree weather. I can say this because I’ve done it. I’ve gone on my morning bicycle ride many times in subzero weather. I rode in subzero weather all January, and conditions haven’t improved much in February. So, much as some people might want to doubt, it is a proven fact that sub-zero weather is not the mark of death.

Having said this, I must also stress that a ride in subzero weather isn’t the same thing as a bicycle ride on a nice spring morning. A person must dress properly, and be aware of what is possible and what is foolhardy. I ride in the cold, but I dress for the occasion. Dressing for the occasion doesn’t mean amazing arctic gear. It means common sense. I’ve ridden for an hour in these biting subzero temperatures without any amazing arctic clothing, and suffered no serious chill. I could have been even more comfortable if I chose to bundle up more, but I try to strike a balance between how much clothing I carry and how much cold I’m willing to take. This depends on personal taste.

How do I dress properly? Let me give you a hint; it involves more than putting on gloves and a hat. The ability to dress properly requires an understanding of bodily heat loss. Three basic ideas need to be kept in mind. First, heat is lost more quickly from smaller body parts, and extremities. Second, the body is more concerned about keeping the vital organs warm, so more blood goes to the head and torso when cold air encroaches. Most important of all–especially in such very cold conditions–is knowing that the number one cause of heat loss is wind. The colder air is, the worse any wind chill effects a person. A temperature of zero degrees Fahrenheit is only so-so cold when the air is still. A temperature of zero with a stiff breeze is absolutely brutal. Thus, the most important factor in keeping warm is the ability to cut down on wind penetration. An excellent garment for wearing in cold weather is one which creates an interior pocket of air for your body to heat up, and is impervious to wind.

Grim description, right? But I’ve never gone on a bike ride in subzero temperatures with a natural wind. That would be very uncomfortable, and possibly even dangerous. When it is very cold in the morning the air is usually still. Even so, I must deal with wind chill because I create my own wind by my body hurtling through the frigid morning air. I’m not sure what kind of wind chill I give myself, but it has a very noticeable effect on my body.

This is what I normally wear on a subzero bicycle ride: two pairs of underwear, long underwear, sweat pants, two pairs of socks, shoes, undershirt, heavy shirt, winter coat, headband, winter gloves, bicycle helmet. This is the minimum–sufficient only to keep from freezing. Being warm means wearing more. By the time I come back from a ride dressed as above I’m beginning to feel that if I don’t get home soon I’ll begin to get seriously cold. My hands and feet suffer worst. My fingers because they are so small they can’t keep themselves warm, and my feet because I wear shoes designed to allow my feet to breath–and this means air flows easily through my shoes. Not conducive to warm feet.

One alteration I’ve tried in my clothing was to wear a sweater along with everything else. When I did that I had too many layers of clothing on my upper body and I sweated on my torso while my fingers and toes still grew cold. Then a tried wearing a second pair of sweat pants. That helped more, but fingers and toes still suffered some. I’ve decided further improvements on my gear would be a change to wool socks, and maybe finding good mittens instead of gloves.

Once dressed against the cold, riding in sub-zero weather isn’t so bad. Some people have visions of nose and ears freezing solid and falling off, or throat and lungs catching chill. None of these things have happened to me. So long as I keep the collar of my coat zipped up to my chin my face feels fine. A little surprising, even to me.

Then there is the ice. This is the most impressive visual display from riding in the cold. When I come back from my rides in the subzero weather my face is caked with ice. My breath freezes as it leaves my mouth and condenses on my facial hair. By the time I finish my ride I look like some arctic explorer. This has started something of a running joke in our family along the lines of "We’re not impressed with those National Geographic explorers anymore. Those guys have ice on their faces and think their so tough! Well, Rundy can do the same thing by taking a bike ride."

The sight of a face encrusted with ice appears impressive, but it is rather meaningless in fact. The hairs are encrusted with ice, but it the mass of ice isn’t lying against my flesh. It doesn’t feel cold. But we like to take pictures of me anyhow, and see how many gullible people we can impress. Or else, how many people we can convince that I’m crazy.–RP.

Want to see the pictures of how Rundy looks after riding in the subzero cold? Click here to view the collection.

Comments, questions? Write to Rundy at purdyville@earthlink.net

The Word Corner
By Rundy

This week’s word: catharsis [ca thar sis]

Definition: The purification or purgation of the emotions (as pity and fear) primarily through art. b: Any purification or release from tension.

Rundy’s comment: I didn’t find the above description very helpful. What exactly does "the purification or purgation of the emotion" mean? Webster’s usage example is helpful: "these drawings served as a catharsis, relieving him of his burden of terrible memories, at the same time releasing hidden creative force"–Eva Michaelis-Stern.

Let me try to explain this a little more. When we say some action or thing is cathartic for a grieving person, we mean that thing helps the person deal with and release their grief. Or something might be cathartic for fear, helping a person deal with their fear.–RP

Comments, questions? Write to Rundy at purdyville@earthlink.net