Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Socialist Experiment that Wasn't Socialist - Or a Real Experiment

There’s this story going around the internet – what story isn’t – about a professor who is teaching his students about socialism. Although, he’s not really teaching them socialism because this is not what socialism is. Anyway, it’s passed around by people who don’t believe in welfare programs and figure that it’s okay to let children starve. Here it is and the problems with this experiment, which by the way, never actually happened. It’s just a made up story. You can also check it out at snopes.

An economics professor at Texas Tech said he had never failed a single student before but had, once, failed an entire class. The class had insisted that socialism worked and that no one would be poor and no one would be rich, a great equalizer. The professor then said ok, we will have an experiment in this class on socialism. All grades would be averaged and everyone would receive the same grade so no one would fail and no one would receive an A.

After the first test the grades were averaged and everyone got a B. The students who studied hard were upset and the students who studied little were happy. But, as the second test rolled around, the students who studied little had studied even less and the ones who studied hard decided they wanted a free ride too; so tey studied little ...

The second Test average was a D! No one was happy. When the 3rd test rolled around the average was an F. The scores never increased as bickering, blame, name calling all resulted in hard feelings and no one would study for anyone else. All failed to their great surprise and the professor told them that socialism would ultimately fail because the harder to succeed the greater the reward but when a government takes all the reward away; no one will try or succeed.

Okay, sounds pretty clear, doesn’t it. If there’s no reward then no one does the work. I can’t argue with that. I know that people need rewards. 

But the experiment isn’t based on reality.  You have a group of students who all have several things in common. They all are there because they believe in some form of education. Otherwise they wouldn’t be there. They all have the same chance at success. There’s no barriers to any of them. Sure, a couple of them may have a learning disability which they’ve learned to cope with, a couple more may have kids that make it harder to do the work, and quite a few of them have jobs, and one has an insane school workload and another  is serving on various school committees which limits their time, but overall, these students are all equal and have roughly the same chance.

Now if you want to make this experiment more like life, then the professor would have to divide the students up into groups. Group A has no limitations. Group B can only use research found within the college itself. Group C isn’t allowed to use the school library. Group D can’t talk to any one about their research, so no interviews or outside help.  Group E  can’t use computers at all but they are still expected to hand in a type written assignment. Group F can’t use their hands.  Group G can’t start work on their papers until the day before it’s due.  Group H will not get an A or a B no matter what they do.

Unfair? Yep. That’s life. Obviously those that are in limited groups are going to have far more obstacles than those who have less limitations and certainly Group A has the best chance of success.

What is often seen in life, is that Group A will be very critical of Group H for not getting an A and naturally Group H is resentful of Group A’s success and if they can’t succeed it would be equally natural for them to give up trying.

In the above scenario, if everyone is graded together then naturally they will not succeed.

Unless they help each other.

That does not mean that those who have plenty do the work of those who don’t, but it does mean that they offer help and try and bridge the gaps that exist.

The truth is, that we expect so much more from people who have little than we do from people that have a lot. Why is that?

Baby A (lets call him Rich) is born to parents who come from a long line of wealth. Dad went to Harvard, Mom went to Columbia. There are servants, private schools, trips to Europe and lessons in horseback riding, tennis, and foreign languages.

Baby B, Tom, is born to a single mom (recently divorced) who works making minimum wage. He goes to the local school and when he comes home there really isn’t any place to do his homework because there’s too much noise and distraction in the small apartment which he shares with his Mom and sisters. 

When Rich graduates from high school he gets into Harvard because his dad went there. Rich struggled in school, but his parents were able to hire a private tutor to help him through it. Rich parties and at one point he gets arrested but charges are dropped because of connections that his dad has. Eventually Rich graduates and instantly gets a job in his Dad’s company which he doesn’t have to apply for. When Rich decides he doesn’t want to work there, his Dad calls up one of his Harvard Frat friends and finds Rich a job in a company that’s better suited to Rich. When Rich gets married Mom and Dad present Rich and his new wife with a brand new house as a wedding present. 

Tom manages to get through high school as well, even though he also works at a part time job to help support the family. His grades suffer because of his outside job that takes up so much of his time and he doesn’t have many options as far as college. He can’t afford college anyway and he doesn’t dare take out a loan. Mom taught him not to get into debt.  It would just be another bill to pay. When the store that he works at closes down, he can’t find another job. He goes from place to place but his clothes are a little rough, or he doesn’t have the skills, or he doesn’t have enough education.  Tom doesn`t have connections to get a job. No one wants to give him a chance because there are shinier kids out there with better prospects.  Tom decides to go to a different city for a chance so he hitchhikes to a different town, but things aren`t better for him there, and he ends up sleeping on park benches asking for hand outs. Meanwhile, his mom has lost her job and can`t help him. 

Sure these stories are cliché, but that`s because they happen.

And yet people will criticize Tom for not doing better and admire Rich for succeeding. Rich would have had to screw up badly to not succeed and Tom would have had to be an extraordinary individual with a lot of luck to achieve a fraction of what was handed to Rich. 

So back to the experiment. Without help everyone in that class will fail, not because there`s no reward to those who have no limitations, but because it`s impossible to succeed when you don`t have the tools of success. The only way for the class to succeed is to ditch the "every man for himself” mentality and work together. Will there be slackers? Of course. There’s always slackers. But there are enough people who will work so that the slackers don’t heavily influence the outcome.

And the reward for the stars? Well, certainly they don’t get any better grade than anyone else in this class, but if any of them need a letter of recommendation, who is the teacher going to give it to? The ones who earned the A’s because he knows who they are. In fact if there’s anything those A students need from that teacher, they will be likely to get it. The work and study skills carry over to other classes as well where they will be rewarded for their efforts. And let’s not forget the lessons they will have learned by helping others.

In the end, we all get rewarded for our efforts even if it isn’t immediate, because the one that passes out the rewards, does know us best.