Monday, March 4, 2013

Keep Your Ignorance to Yourself

So, let's see.  I spend 40+ hours a week administering retirement plans sponsored by a wide variety of employers - manufacturing companies, nonprofit organizations, media companies, school districts, hospitals, etc, etc, etc.   In my line of work, we are constantly being challenged to improve our technology, our reporting, our services offered to both employer and employee alike, etc, etc, etc.    We find ourselves at the mercy of the government, with the latest and most disturbing trend being Congress's use of the 401(k) industry as some sort of pawn or potential cash cow in budget negotiations.  Many times those of us in the industry feel manipulated and/or unduly pressured by layers of government regulations.  Likewise, retirement professionals are human beings who function at varying levels of education and experience.   Last year, we had to devote countless hours of overtime to implement new fee disclosure requirements at both the employer and employee level.  While we complained amongst ourselves about the painstakingly detailed level of disclosure being required and the aggressive timeline imposed by the government, there was not one of us who could argue against the idea of full disclosure of the fees being deducted from employee 401(k) accounts.

Conversely, I just read a disturbing Facebook post by a middle school English teacher.   She quotes the following passage from the eight grade ELA exam sample:

From the Narrative of Frederick Douglass: "In entering upon the duties of a slaveholder, she did not seem to perceive that I sustained to her the relation of a mere chattel, and that for her to treat me as a human being was not wrong, but dangerously so."

This teacher then proceeded to not only rail against the unfairness of expecting eighth graders to read and interpret "college-level" passages but then actually admitted to the Facebook world at large that she had "never seen the word 'chattel' before."  Hmmm....... while I refrained from thanking her for reinforcing my decision to send my daughter to Catholic school, I did feel compelled to comment by siting a study I had read that stated that most of today's educated adults could not pass a nineteenth-century sixth grade certification exam.  I'll live to regret that, I'm sure.  I will admit that this particular teacher enjoys railing against the unfairness of it all and this is nothing new for her, but there are always the sycophant colleagues chiming in with total agreement, and the endless gripe-fest inevitably ensues.

Does it not occur to any of these people to question why an eighth grade student in 2013 is incapable of comprehending this passage?  This woman dug her grave further by stating that this test was purposely made more difficult so that kids would fail.  Presumably, the test will be easier next year, thereby demonstrating "growth".  Huh?   Here's a novel thought:  increase actual classroom standards (meaning that 13 year olds are actually expected to read and comprehend this level of literature by the end of their eighth grade year), fund and staff accordingly, and how about parents actually raising responsible citizens instead of spoiled hellions who can't function in society but nonetheless, have wonderful "self-esteem."  I guess this theory probably makes me a wacky combination of William Bennett and Rachel Maddow.  So be it.  There are merits to both sides of every argument.

What sort of reaction would I receive if I posted this on Facebook.

"We have to disclose administrative  fees, trading fees, activity fees and advisory fees that are deducted directly from peoples' 401(k) accounts.  We have to give this information in painstaking detail to the employers, and we have to spell all of the deductions out in detail on quarterly participant statements.  This is a ridiculous waste of time, because no matter how many extra hours we spend on this (in addition to everything else we have to do) only a tiny minority of employers and employees will even take the time to read these disclosures, let alone understand them."  

Obviously we recognize that we need to do a better job of educating employers and employees instead of just throwing a bunch of new disclosures at them.  I'm not sure how we will go about doing that, but at least we are willing to not only recognize the problem but to also take some sort of ownership of it. Wouldn't it be swell if all parties in this country associated with the education of our children (teachers, parents and government) could get together and do the same?  And for God's sake, set a better example for your students than airing your ignorance on Facebook.  Students don't seem to recognize social media as being a public forum.  We should at least expect more from their educators.

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