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Quotations

  • Simon Blackburn: An Unbeautiful Mind
    Polkinghorne holds the belief that unless some things last forever, everything is futile, a "meaningless empire of accident." This would wipe the smile off the face of many scientists. For science is not good about "forever." It paints a different picture of the world in which we find ourselves. Science teaches that the cosmos is some fifteen billion years old, almost unimaginably huge, and governed by natural laws that will compel its extinction in some billions more years, although long before that the Earth and the solar system will have been destroyed by the heat death of the sun. Human beings occupy an infinitesimally small fraction of space and time, on the edge of one galaxy among a hundred thousand million or so galaxies. We evolved only because of a number of cosmic accidents, including the extinction of the dinosaurs some sixty-five million years ago. Nature shows us no particular favors: we get parasites and diseases and we die, and we are not all that nice to each other. True, we are moderately clever, but our efforts to use our intelligence to make things better for ourselves quite often backfire, and they may do so spectacularly in the near future, from some combination of manmade military, environmental, or genetic disasters.
  • Roger Scruton: The West and the Rest
    "It is thanks to Western prosperity, Western legal systems, Western forms of banking, and Western communications that human initiatives now reach so easily across frontiers to affect the lives and aspirations of people all over the globe. However, Western civilization depends on an idea of citizenship that is not global at all, but rooted in territorial jurisdiction and national loyalty. By contrast, Islam, which has been until recently remote from the Western world and without the ability to project its message, is founded on an ideal of godliness which is entirely global in its significance, and which regards territorial jurisdiction and national loyalty as compromises with no intrinsic legitimacy of their own. Although there have been attempts to manufacture nationalisms both appropriate to the Islamic temperament and conducive to a legitimate political order, they have fragmented under the impact of sectarian or tribal allegiances, usually giving way to military dictatorship or one-man, one-family, or one-party tyranny. Islam itself remains, in the hearts of those who live under these tyrannies, a permanent call to a higher life, and a reminder that power and corruption will rule in this world until the reign established by the Prophet is restored."
  • Adam Smith: Wealth of Nations 1776
    The difference of natural talents in different men is, in reality, much less than we are aware of; and the very different genius which appears to distinguish men of different professions, when grown up to maturity, is not upon many occasions so much the cause as the effect of the division of labour. The difference between the most dissimilar characters, between a philosopher and a common street porter, for example, seems to arise not so much from nature as from habit, custom, and education. When they came into the world, and for the first six or eight years of their existence, they were perhaps very much alike, and neither their parents nor playfellows could perceive any remarkable difference. About that age, or soon after, they come to be employed in very different occupations. The difference of talents comes then to be taken notice of, and widens by degrees, till at last the vanity of the philosopher is willing to acknowledge scarce any resemblance. But without the disposition to truck, barter, and exchange, every man must have procured to himself every necessary and conveniency of life which he wanted. All must have had the same duties to perform, and the same work to do, and there could have been no such difference of employment as could alone give occasion to any great difference of talents.
  • Kishore Mahbubani: Freedom
    But freedom does not only solve problems; it can also cause them. The United States has undertaken a massive social experiment, tearing down social institution after social institution that restrained the individual. The results have been disastrous. Since 1960 the U.S. population has increased 41 percent while violent crime has risen by 560 percent, single-mother births by 419 percent, divorce rates by 300 percent and the percentage of children living in single-parent homes by 300 percent. This is massive social decay. Many a society shudders at the prospects of this happening on its shores. But instead of traveling overseas with humility, Americans confidently preach the virtues of unfettered individual freedom, blithely ignoring the visible social consequences.
  • Harold Pinter: Nobel Lecture
    There are no hard distinctions between what is real and what is unreal, nor between what is true and what is false. A thing is not necessarily either true or false; it can be both true and false.
  • Charles Darwin: The Descent of Man
    As man advances in civilization, and small tribes are united into larger communities, the simplest reason would tell each individual that he ought to extend his social instincts and sympathies to all the members of the same nation, though personally unknown to him. This point being once reached, there is only an artificial barrier to prevent his sympathies extending to the men of all nations and races.
  • Earnest Becker: The Denial of Death
    We have to go the way of the grasshopper even though it takes longer.
  • Johnson, Samuel: Rambler # 121 May 14, 1751
    "To learn is the proper business of youth; and whether we increase our knowledge by books or by conversation, we are equally indebted to foreign assistance."
  • Murray Rothbard: Education Free and Compulsory
    It is evident that the common enthusiasm for equality is, in the fundamental sense, anti-human. It tends to repress the flowering of individual personality and diversity, and civilization itself; it is a drive toward savage uniformity. Since abilities and interests are naturally diverse, a drive toward making people equal in all or most respects is necessarily a leveling downward. It is a drive against development of talent, genius, variety, and reasoning power. Since it negates the very principles of human life and human growth, the creed of equality and uniformity is a creed of death and destruction.
  • J. M. Cameron: Review of Becker's Denial of Death
    Life, for Becker, is a desperate business, in which a steady heroism before the terrors of existence is in general the only thing to be commended.
  • Mark Lilla: The Politics of God
    In the end, though, what happens on the opposite shore will not be up to us. We have little reason to expect societies in the grip of a powerful political theology to follow our unusual path, which was opened up by a unique crisis within Christian civilization. This does not mean that those societies necessarily lack the wherewithal to create a decent and workable political order; it does mean that they will have to find the theological resources within their own traditions to make it happen. "Our challenge is different. We have made a choice that is at once simpler and harder: we have chosen to limit our politics to protecting individuals from the worst harms they can inflict on one another, to securing fundamental liberties and providing for their basic welfare, while leaving their spiritual destinies in their own hands. We have wagered that it is wiser to beware the forces unleashed by the Bible’s messianic promise than to try exploiting them for the public good. We have chosen to keep our politics unilluminated by divine revelation. All we have is our own lucidity, which we must train on a world where faith still inflames the minds of men. NYTimes Magaziine, 8/19/2007
  • Richard Fields: The Land of Opportunity
    Immigration to the United States is not a problem. It is a phenomenon. The only way the United States can stop this phenomenon is by destroying the capitalist economy that draws immigrants here. We need to move in the direction of more open immigration, not in the direction of militarized borders fit only for a police state. Though it's been obscured by layers of cynical campaign rhetoric, the issue of immigration comes down to whether we want to restrict individual liberty to native-born Americans or offer it to everyone. If freedom works for us — and it does — what possible moral reason do we have to offer it to those born in San Diego, and deny it to those born inches away in Tijuana?
  • Edward O. Wilson: Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge, 1998
    On the surface it would seem, and was so reported by the media, that the Rwandan catastrophe was ethnic rivalry run amok. That is true only in part. There was a deeper cause, rooted in environment and demography. Between 1950 and 1994 the population of Rwanda, favored by better health care and temporarily improved food supply, more than tripled, from 2.5 million to 8.5 million. In 1992 the country had the highest growth rate in the world, an average of 8 children per woman. Parturition began early, and generation times were short. But although total food production increased dramatically during this period, it was soon overbalanced by population growth. The average farm size dwindled as plots were divided from one generation to the next. Per capita grain production fell by half from 1960 to the early 1990s. Water was so overdrawn that hydrologists declared Rwanda one of the world's twenty-seven water-scarce countries. The teenage soldiers of the Hutu and Tutsi then set out to solve the population problem in the most direct possible way. Rwanda is a microcosm of the world. War and civil strife have many causes, most not related directly to environmental stress. But in general, overpopulation and the consequent dwindling of available resources are tinder that people pile up around themselves. The mounting anxiety and hardship are translated into enmity, and enmity into moral aggression. Scapegoats are identified, sometimes other political or ethic groups, sometimes neighboring tribes. The tinder continues to grow, awaiting the odd assassination, territorial incursion, atrocity, or other provocative incident to set it off. Rwanda is the most populated country in Africa. Burundi, its war torn neighbor, is second. Haiti and El Salvador, two of the chronically most troubled nations of the Western Hemisphere, are also among the most densely populated, exceeded only by five tiny island countries of the Caribbean. They are also arguable the most environmentally degraded.
  • Murray Rothbard: Rights of Animals
    There is, in fact, rough justice in the common quip that "we will recognize the rights of animals whenever they petition for them." The fact that animals can obviously not petition for their "rights" is part of their nature, and part of the reason why they are clearly not equivalent to, and do not possess the rights of, human beings. And if it be protested that babies can't petition either, the reply of course is that babies are future human adults, whereas animals obviously are not.
  • Dr. Kenneth R. Miller:
    When asked, “What do you say as a scientist about the soul?” Dr. Miller's answer is always the same: “As a scientist, I have nothing to say about the soul. It’s not a scientific idea.” Dr. Mller, a Roman Catholic and biologist at Brown University is the author of, “Finding Darwin’s God” (Harper, 1999)
  • Richard Rorty:
    "...if we can work together, we can make ourselves into whatever we are clever and courageous enough to imagine ourselves becoming.”
  • Richard J. Herrnstein:
    "It is easy to lie with statistics, but it's a lot easier to lie without them."
  • Michael Slackman: Quiet Revolution in Algeria
    In Algiers there is a whole class of young men referred to as hittistes — the word is a combination of French and Arabic for people who hold up walls.
  • Albert Einstein:
    Common sense is nothing more than a deposit of prejudices laid down by the mind before you reach age 18.
  • Neil Postman:
    "Children are the living messages we send to a time we will not see."

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January 16, 2008

Supply and demand in the non-profit world

Those of us who have been to college and taken Economics 101 are familiar with the supply and demand curve. If you're not, here it is again.

Supplydemandprice


The demand curve illustrates the variation of a demand Q in relation to the variation of a price P.  The supply curve illustrates a variation of supply according to a variation of price P. The intersection of the demand curve D and the supply curve S represents the equilibrium price Pe where a quantity Qe of commodities will be sold.

What might we learn if we applied this market thinking regarding supply and demand to the non-profit world, and in particular to our public schools? Demand might then become the demand on the part of students for education. Supply would be the knowledge that the teachers brought with them into the classroom.

Learning would take place at the point where the students' demand for met the teachers' supply of knowledge.

But what actually happens in our schools? Those of you who have visited our public schools, especially the troubled inner city schools serving largely poor and minority student populations, will readily admit that the “demand” for education on the part of the students is almost non-existent. The students are clearly not present in school to learn, or in other words, to have their demand met by the supply of education that the school is there to provide.

What about the supply? Well, if there is little or no demand we don't know, do we? We don't know much about the supply. Teachers may be, or may have been at one time, well supplied with enough learning to meet the demand, but years of close contact with non-demanding students will have sent that supply into deep storage, perhaps never to reappear.

In the supply and demand curve the price is all important. High prices will lower demand, and vice versa. At the point where the two curves meet the price will be right and the purchase will be made. 

In our schools, however, the price is always too high. And the students are rarely ready to pay the high price represented by the hard work it will take in order to learn. As a result there is little exchange and the teachers remain pretty much without a market for their goods. The two curves never meet.

The single most important question in regard to our schools, and in particular in regard to those that are failing, is how to increase the students' demand for learning. How do we motivate them? Up until now only the single teacher, here and there throughout the nation's hundreds of thousands of schools, seems to know how to do this. And up until now he or she hasn't known how to pass this particularly valuable skill on to others.

At this very moment the entire country, while following the directives of the No Child Left Behind Law, seems to be using standardized tests to raise the students' “demand” for knowledge. This of course is not what's happening. And although the jury is still out regarding the effectiveness of the Law there is ample anecdotal evidence that this “fix” is not fixing anything at all.

We might extend what we have said up until now to the non-profit world in general. In the for profit world goods, cars and televisions etc., things that people want, are constantly being produced, and demand is meeting supply.

In the not for profit world, on the other hand, what is being supplied is not what people want, but rather what some people, often government employees, think that people should want, things such as education, healthcare, jobs, and homes.

But what's the difference? Don't people want education, good health, jobs and homes? And if so, why doesn't demand and supply work in this world also? Well, these goods, education, healthcare, jobs, etc., for their production and full realization, depend no less, perhaps even more, on the consumer than on the producer.

We can build schools and hospitals, provide teachers and doctors. We can create businesses and provide jobs. We can build new homes. But we cannot give someone an education or good health. Both are both things that people have to do by and large for themselves.

Also we can provide a job and a new home. But doing the job satisfactorily and maintaining the home is something else again, something that people have to do largely for themselves, and so far we haven't been very good at motivating them to do this for themselves.

This is why the demand and supply curve breaks down in the non-profit world. The "rub" is that we go on pretending that it doesn't break down, that the analogy holds, that education and healthcare can be provided like cars and televisions. They can't.

The not for profit world is really a supply side world. There is no demand in this world unless we create this demand, that which we don't yet know how to do. There is only a supply of help, a great supply to be sure for we are the richest country in the world.

A lot of help is what we've been providing in Iraq, and in other troubled places in the world, not to mention in our own impoverished inner cities. We have most often failed in our endeavors because, while giving away the store, we haven't yet been able to arouse in the recipients a demand on their part for what we have to give, be it algebra, history, safe neighborhoods, or democracy.

Two final comments. One, give me a motivated learner and I can teach. If that motivation is not there, if it is not aroused by what I do, I will never teach him a thing.

And two, a last word in regard to standardized tests. Tests shouldn't have the kind of importance they now have. For if they have that importance it's really only because nothing else of an academic nature is going on in the school. If the kids were demanding to learn about math and history tests would be of little or no importance, to them or to us.

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