education

Teachers Failing the ASVAB?

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For the readers of my blog who don’t know, less than a week ago I changed my duty to station to Wheeler Army Airfield in Hawaii, from Fort Drum. And thank goodness for that. My morale has already doubled based on the weather improvements alone. More on Hawaii later.

Yesterday I took part in my unit’s inprocessing with a  large group of new people. One female Staff Sergeant told me she was just coming off recruiting duty in the San Francisco area. I asked her if that was a particularly tough area to recruit in, given the high salaries common there, the average education levels and the lack of historic military culture. She assured me that it was indeed difficult to recruit, particularly given the Army’s cutbacks in which the standards for recruitment are higher than they were the two wars were raging.

Shocking to me, she said that sometimes people with Master’s degrees and teachers would fail the ASVAB test. The ASVAB is the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery. The test was designed to help the Army fit people to the right jobs, as well as predict who will perform well.

I used to be skeptical of the ASVAB and intelligence tests in general. While I do think it’s impossible to design a test that can judge every facet of a person’s abilities, what with the mysterious chemistry of social skills, psychology and raw computational power, as well as the new aspects being studied concerning intelligence, such as fast thinking and slow thinking, my experience has shown that the ASVAB is indeed an adequate predictor of a person’s potential. I first noticed this at the NCO academy where some with low GT score really struggled with even basic concepts. There are of course exceptions, and I’ve seen those, too. GT is General Technical; a subcategory in the ASVAB and generally considered the most important aspect of the test. A GT score of 110 or higher will enable a person to work in almost any job in the Army, minus the ones that require extensive technical training such as surgeons and some higher sciences in R+D; those jobs require higher degrees. The GT highly correlates with IQ, but much of the ASVAB measures “crystalized intelligence”; raw knowledge that does not necessarily require logic to recall. The ASVAB was sited in Charles Murray’s controversial book, “The Bell Curve”, in which he contends that the ASVAB does an adequate job of measuring intelligence and thus performance.

The Army put a lot of research into the ASVAB. Studies show that just as with IQ, people with higher ASVAB scores are more successful in their job. Again, my experience in my own office at Fort Drum showed this to be the case.

The ASVAB score is based on a percentile of the population that took the test. If a person scores an  80 on the AFQT (Armed Forces Qualification Test ; the raw score on the ASVAB), this means that he performed better than 80 percent of the people who took the rest. The Army’s minimum standard for passing is a 31, which is pretty abysmal. When I was at the Army’s Intelligence school at Fort Huachuca, there were some people with very high ASVAB scores in my class. We had about 60 people and two people scored a 99 on the test. I scored a 94 with a 133 GT, which placed me third in my class. I think I would have done slightly better if I had just come out of college like those two other guys did as it had been well over a decade since I took regular standardized tests of much importance. I struggled to remember how to solve  some of the higher math problems, problems I hadn’t worked on since high school. But there’s no question those guys were bright.

For someone with a Master’s degree or a teacher to fail the ASVAB is to me, frightening. It may not be easy to do extremely well on the test, but it seems almost impossible to fail if one can read. My question is, how is this possible? Have any readers met people with education that are this incompetent?

Are intellectuals overrated?

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In today’s America and Europe, few social classes are more respected than the intellectual.

What exactly is an intellectual? For this piece, I’ll go with the Collins English Dictionary definition:

 1) a person who enjoys mental activity and has highly developed tastes in art, literature, etc.

A problem, is that Americans tend to confuse intellectualism with logical thought and deep intelligence. The typical intellectual in America usually has a degree from Harvard, Princeton, or Yale.  To me, the intellectuals “highly developed tastes in art, literature” means they love a long, boring, pointless yarn, or obsess on a single brush stroke in a 19th century painting.  I’ve read books that intellectuals drool over, and by the time I finished (if I finished at all) wondered what the hell happened in the last 350 pages.  I guess that’s why I like Stephen Hunter’s books.  Hunter says that he only knows one way to write a story. It’s a series of events leading to a violent resolution of the problem.  Call me unsophisticated and barbaric, but I can’t make it through 10 pages of Umberto Eco.

Stephen Hunter’s main protagonist in his book, Bob Lee Swagger, is a metaphor for all sophisticated non-intellectuals.  A Vietnam veteran and sniper, he is the best marksman in the world, he hunts, he lives alone in a remote wilderness cabin, he can fix a car, live off the land, and kill a man when a man needs killing.  And he hates Umberto Eco.  Or at least I bet he hates Umberto Eco.

Who is actually more valuable to the world, Bob the Plumber, or Noam Chomsky?  If society fell apart, who would you rather have around?  A guy that could help build a system for clean water, or an MIT professor who’s hands would tremble if they touched a rifle?  I’m not saying that intellectuals have no place in the world, but like actors, they’re very overrated.  Most engineers are not intellectuals.  Yet they are responsible for designing the infrastructure that makes our nation so impressive.  Engineers don’t live in a world of unproven theory; they can’t or projects fail and people die.  Intellectuals on the other hand, are, as Ralph Peters states in his essay, Dogma and the Dead,

those men and women, freed from the necessity of labor, who prefer theory to reality and who footnote while others fight our nation’s battles.

Intellectualism is a primary reason for the decline in the status and capabilities of males throughout the nation. My father and grandfather could do so many more useful things than most men around today, including myself.  I know which buttons to push on an IPhone, but my father could weld, rebuild a motor, hunt and skin a deer, and repair the roof on a house.  I’m betting Noam Chomsky can’t do any of that.  Yet Chomsky is known world wide and his kind are revered and many would emulate him but not my grandfather.

Intellectualism breeds cowardice.  John Fowles, a noted intellectual and author in the 70s and 80s, states the following in his book The Magus:

 If a person is intelligent, then of course he is either an agnostic or an atheist. Just as he is a physical coward. They are automatic definitions of high intelligence.

Can we say he is wrong? When one thinks of an intellectual, does one think of a religious military man?  Instead, the man in uniform who believes in God is the butt of jokes from the Left.  He is a zealot, with little depth, who desires the abolition of the federal government, that all flag burners be hung, and all people of color be resigned to riding the back of the bus.

In truth, the intellectuals glibness is a shield from him having to do anything really tough or physical.  Most intellectuals are so cowardly as to even avoid sports.  There are of course exceptions.  But where is the intellectual sportsman nowadays?  It was not always this way.  Men used to be good at many things, and there were some who were masters of both physical and intellectual skills.  Many of our founding fathers fit this bill.

Thomas Jefferson:

“A strong body makes the mind strong. As to the species of exercises, I advise the gun. While this gives moderate exercise to the body, it gives boldness, enterprise and independence to the mind. Games played with the ball, and others of that nature, are too violent for the body and stamp no character on the mind. Let your gun therefore be your constant companion of your walks.”

Such men still exist, but are so exceedingly rare that we ascribe to them a moniker which denotes that they belong not in today’s age, but in the 15th century.  We call him a Renaissance Man.  

Indeed, so far removed are these types of men, they may as well be called Neolithic Man.  Read about Teddy Roosevelt, Thomas Jefferson, and Goethe.  Roosevelt spoke 9 languages, wrote 17 books, commanded the Rough Riders and lived his well-known Strenuous Life.  

Could Noam Chomsky wear suspenders like this? I think not.

Modern intellectuals are the masters of big, overgeneralized and many times, very bad ideas.  Education seems to be no guardian against byzantine theorems implemented on the masses “for their own good.”  Most intellectuals are excellent writers, thus their ability to persuade revolutionaries and even governments that their ideas just may work.  10,000 years of human civilization be damned.  Marx: Intellectual.  Al-Qaeda’s roots sprung from an Egyptian intellectual named Sayyid Qubt. The intellectual has a fantastic capability to criticize the best and ignore or become a supporter of the worst.  He thinks hes being smart and clever by being obtuse.  Thus the never ending screeds pronounced by intellectuals against the United States, and the quasi-adoration for tyrannical regimes and apologies for al-Qaeda.  They are critical of Abel, while finding a comrade in Cain.

An argument leveled against such movements as the Tea Party is that it is “anti-intellectual”. What the Left means by this, is that the Tea Party is not made up of intellectuals, but of people who actually work for a living.  The people who actually know how to fix a car or a toilet and enjoy a Stephen Hunter novel.  Chomsky is nowhere to be found in their libraries.  In truth, anti-intellectual in this case means people who can ponder the big picture, but who can do many other things, too.  Running a business and fixing an engine takes smarts and education.

At around the age of 28, I realized that I’d been wasting my life.  There was so much to learn and do and so little time.  A sense of urgency swept over me.  I had to obtain knowledge in everything.  I had to be an outstanding softball player in the city league I played in, become an expert marksman, read voraciously, learn a second language, write a book and go to war.  But there’s still so much to be done.

So, intellectuals have their place.  It’s just that the world could use a lot more John Galts and fewer Gore Vidals.  Unfortunately, the enrollment rates at universities for engineering and other “hard” sciences has significantly dwindled.  This is because intellectualism is, at its kernel, more about appearing smart than doing what is meaningful.  And this is because what is meaningful is tough.  A line repeated throughout my novel, For Want of Knowledge, is “Nothing good is easy.”  A little more respect needs be given to those who make the world go round on a daily basis.

In ending, here’s Robert Heinlein:

A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.