School and Security (and more “snowed-in”)

…and why killing your smartphone isn’t just about privacy.

First off, choice quotes:

“institutions lack a conscience because they measure by accounting methods…The deepest purposes of these gigantic networks is to regulate and to make uniform.”

“After a long life, and thirty years in the public school trenches, I’ve concluded that genius is as common as dirt. We suppress our genius only because we haven’t yet figured out how to manage a population of educated men and women. The solution, I think, is simple and glorious. Let them manage themselves.”

Why do we live in a fundamentally insecure society?

Yesterday I pointed out that 64% of data breaches come from people fucking up, not malicious acts. Even the remaining malicious acts were probably pretty easy. By any measure of security, this is a big problem.

Follow the news at all, and it’s clear that perhaps even without the knowledge of the bigwigs that should have known, one or more centralized entities are able to slurp down more or less everything most people do electronically.

The technical world exists in a state of affairs so bad that, if you were to ask most of the technically inclined whether they would ever design a system that had these characteristics, would elicit a horrified “WTF?”.

Schools are kind of the same way. Ask most teachers whether they ever intend to produce Kardashian-watching automatons, and they’d be even less happy with the thought than the techies from the previous example.

I think the two phenomena are connected. The problems we face in security neatly mirror some of the structural deficits in education, and I suspect the former are a product of the latter.

Most of the serious and symptomatic problems that lead to security breaches are the result of people only looking for what’s in front of them.

Did a major breach result the first time I tried taking unencrypted backup tapes home in the backseat of my car?

Is there no button on the web page saying “click here to dump database”?

Does my bank’s login page “look legit”?

This kind of thinking is exactly what the linked article posits is the logical consequence of post-1920s educational systems. Teach people to sit in their little boxes and do what’s put in front of them. Use a particular structure that, no matter what you fill it with, produces addicts, addicted to TV, chemicals, Reddit, the little bing of a new email.

It turns out that dependence, it doesn’t really matter on what, is the key to making humans into engineerable quantities. As long as someone depends on something, no matter what it is, their actions will be limited by the need to maintain that input, and you can build a system around that phenomena.

(Developing human sources as currently practiced is the art of engineering ordinary people into steady fountains of information for a much larger system that demands a constant flow of it. The key to converting people into these fountains is in engineering their dependence on this new system.)

Unfortunately, like all attempts to engineer a system with infinite scope, engineering people to be parts of a larger system is doomed to failure — as your local phisherman will be happy to demonstrate.

So what do we do about it?

The author has some neat suggestions. Once you know the logic behind the system, avoiding its traps is fairly easy.

Teach people to be leaders and adventurers.

Teach people to think critically and independently.

Teach people to reject a horror of “boredom” and develop an inner life so they’re neer bored.

Urge people to take on really serious, in-depth subjects of history, literature, art, and all the rest.

Challenge people with solitude, so they can conduct inner dialogues and enjoy their own company.

Interesting comment on Snowden:
“If you ask me he hasn’t said anything at all about sources and methods, and a 29 year old would never be put in a position to know ANYTHING that took decades to engineer and put in place. It took 30 years of Math and Physics to understand these classified issues (BYM). A young brain with a few years of IT analytics who can’t even fathom “Shannon’s laws” and “entropy reversal” cannot possibly be of any real harm to National Security The whole thing was just an advertisement for Booz, Allen and Hamilton to convince new clients they are the security cat’s meow. They are wholly owned by a bigger private security group that includes former Wackyhut and Groupe 4. It’s like the CIA telling on itself….It’s FUNNY.”


A: “You are not even aware of what is possible. The extent of their capabilities is horrifying. We can plant bugs in machines. Once you go on the network, I can identify your machine. You will never be safe whatever protections you put in place.”

“Inglis breaks down the purpose – the actual purpose – of modem schooling into six basic functions, any one of which is enough to curl the hair of those innocent enough to believe the three traditional goals listed earlier:

1) The adjustive or adaptive function. Schools are to establish fixed habits of reaction to authority. This, of course, precludes critical judgment completely. It also pretty much destroys the idea that useful or interesting material should be taught, because you can’t test for reflexive obedience until you know whether you can make kids learn, and do, foolish and boring things.

2) The integrating function. This might well be called “the conformity function,” because its intention is to make children as alike as possible. People who conform are predictable, and this is of great use to those who wish to harness and manipulate a large labor force.

3) The diagnostic and directive function. School is meant to determine each student’s proper social role. This is done by logging evidence mathematically and anecdotally on cumulative records. As in “your permanent record.” Yes, you do have one.

4) The differentiating function. Once their social role has been “diagnosed,” children are to be sorted by role and trained only so far as their destination in the social machine merits – and not one step further. So much for making kids their personal best.

5) The selective function. This refers not to human choice at all but to Darwin’s theory of natural selection as applied to what he called “the favored races.” In short, the idea is to help things along by consciously attempting to improve the breeding stock. Schools are meant to tag the unfit – with poor grades, remedial placement, and other punishments – clearly enough that their peers will accept them as inferior and effectively bar them from the reproductive sweepstakes. That’s what all those little humiliations from first grade onward were intended to do: wash the dirt down the drain.

6) The propaedeutic function. The societal system implied by these rules will require an elite group of caretakers. To that end, a small fraction of the kids will quietly be taught how to manage this continuing project, how to watch over and control a population deliberately dumbed down and declawed in order that government might proceed unchallenged and corporations might never want for obedient labor.


Now for the good news. Once you understand the logic behind modern schooling, its tricks and traps are fairly easy to avoid. School trains children to be employees and consumers; teach your own to be leaders and adventurers. School trains children to obey reflexively; teach your own to think critically and independently. Well-schooled kids have a low threshold for boredom; help your own to develop an inner life so that they’ll never be bored. Urge them to take on the serious material, the grown-up material, in history, literature, philosophy, music, art, economics, theology – all the stuff schoolteachers know well enough to avoid. Challenge your kids with plenty of solitude so that they can learn to enjoy their own company, to conduct inner dialogues. Well-schooled people are conditioned to dread being alone, and they seek constant companionship through the TV, the computer, the cell phone, and through shallow friendships quickly acquired and quickly abandoned. Your children should have a more meaningful life, and they can.”

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