Rethinking American Education From the Ground Up

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The ethos of Bellows is that the institutions of education of any society, in the best cases, are the inner compass of those societies; the repository of their ideals, their core beliefs that provide vital direction, and their sense of solidarity to sustain themselves under the most adverse conditions.  This inner compass must have a shared narrative as its cornerstone.

Neil Postman, in his THE END OF EDUCATION, provides an excellent insight into the importance of a “great narrative” as a fundamental necessity of any community, big or small.  All such narratives, according to Postman:

“…….tell of origins and envision a future, a story that constructs ideals, prescribes rules of conduct, provides a source of authority, and, above all, gives a sense of continuity and purpose…..one that has sufficient credibility, complexity, and symbolic power to enable one to organize one’s life around it…….one that provides people with a sense of personal identity, a sense of a community life…..Our genius lies in our capacity to make meaning through the creation of narratives that give point to our labors, exalt our history, elucidate the present, and give direction to our future.”

A sad commentary about the American school system is the earlier debate about character education.  Some claim that character, ethics, morality, and the like, are missing in much of today’s youth and must be taught in the schools as if these concepts can be transformed into academic subject matter. Following conventional logic, character education can then, in accordance with principles of scientific inquiry, be broken down into its “elements” and defined accordingly,  in the hope of personal internalization. But, Postman would say that students have to be moved first by a shared narrative—from religion, from parents, from mentors, from somewhere—–to provide the foundation for good character. And, absent a compelling narrative, no series of classroom presentations is going to suffice as a substitute. Why?  Because only by developing his or her own narrative can each student acquire the resolve and resilience  to move forward through the inevitable obstacles  to a well-conceived  set of goals and objectives based on a belief system reflecting a high social consciousness.

With no shared narrative to act as an inner compass, is it any wonder that some of our next generation gravitate to alternative narratives provided by:  (i) the MTV culture, (ii) the TMZ celebrity focus, (iii) the fashion industry, (iv) the massively-funded corporate advertising campaigns that attempt to shape new narratives for profit, and (v) the ever-present gang culture, among many other distractions.

To Make Matters Worse

On May 3, 2017, the Pew Research Center published a national survey titled:

Public Trust in Government Remains Near Historic Lows as Partisan Attitudes Shift

Democrats’ confidence in country’s future declines sharply

The 2016 election ushered in a new era in Washington defined by unified Republican control of the White House and both chambers of Congress. The changes in the dynamics of power in Washington have registered with members of both political parties. Somewhat more Republicans express trust in government today than did so prior to the election, while views among Democrats have moved in the opposite direction.

For the first time since George W. Bush’s presidency, Republicans (28%) are more likely than Democrats (15%) to say they can trust the government in Washington to do the right thing just about always or most of the time.

The share of Democrats expressing trust in government is among the lowest levels for members of the party dating back nearly six decades.

The national survey by Pew Research Center, conducted April 5-11 among 1,501 adults, finds that the overall level of trust in government remains near historic lows; just 20% say they trust the government to do what’s right always or most of the time. Far more say they trust the government only some of the time (68%); 11% volunteer that they never trust the government to do what’s right.

As was the case prior to last fall’s election, the public’s feelings about government tend more toward frustration than anger. Most Americans (55%) continue to say they are frustrated with the federal government, while relatively few say they are either angry (22%) or basically content (19%). On both measures of trust in government and emotional reactions to government, improving views among Republicans and Republican-leaning independents have been offset by more negative views among Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents, resulting in overall assessments that are little different than in previous years.

There also has been a substantial change in partisan attitudes regarding the country’s future. Overall, 41% of Americans say they have “quite a lot” of confidence in the future of the U.S., while 30% have some confidence. About a quarter (28%) say they have little or no confidence in the country’s future, up from just 15% in the fall of 2015.

Since then, the share of Republicans expressing quite a lot of confidence in the nation’s future has increased 19 percentage points (from 40% to 59%), while falling 22 points among Democrats (50% to 28%).

(End of Pew Research Center segment—-scroll to the bottom to read the entire Pew report)

 

What Does This Mean For American Education?

Irrespective of the various reasons for the long and alarming down-trending of pubic trust in government, this glaring deficiency constitutes a profound threat to America’s fundamental solidarity.  If a government—-any government—-has lost public trust, what national institution would typically step forward during a down-sliding national crisis?  History gives us the answer: the military institution steps in and that slippery slope takes the public where it never wants to go.

There appears to be only one American institution that can permanently hold the flame of American principles: reconstituted American education, from where national solidarity and a self-aware, national inner compass could emerge.  It would be reconstituted American education that has the unique capacity to:

“…….construct ideals, prescribe rules of conduct, provide a source of (moral) authority, and, above all, give a sense of continuity and purpose…..one that has sufficient credibility, complexity, and symbolic power to enable one to organize one’s life around it…….one that provides (the American people) with a sense of personal identity, a sense of a community life…..(From reconstituted American education), lies our capacity to make meaning through the creation of (a unifying self-awareness) that gives point to our labors, exalts our history, elucidates the present, and gives direction to our future.”

What does “reconstituted American education” mean?  It means the vital national institution that is absent the deep corruption of the government that is losing the trust of the American public, and thereby has the capacity to: (i) hold the flame of American principles, (ii) project a national inner compass, and (iii) prepare our next generations for creative, collaborative, and productive life-pursuits by magnifying their critical thinking, their social intelligence, and their social consciousness, which will lead to the natural evolutionary advance of our entire society.

A Catalyst of the Our Rethinking:  Thirteen Students at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington

Our rethinking process gathered momentum when we attended an extraordinary student presentation at a gathering of six colleges at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington in October 2004.  A composite group of thirteen students, with several days of preparation, were responding to a question posed by faculty members, namely:

“Is there anything missing from your academic education?”

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First, the students presented six vital student learning goals that they believe are not effectively addressed in their undergraduate education, as follows:

1. Construct field studies that connect with students’ academic concentrations to deepen meaning and to make classroom-acquired knowledge relevant to the real world of the 21st century.

2. Reconnect with the natural world and indigenous cultures in order to internalize the urgency for safeguarding a sustainable future and have an undisturbed time to carry on the vital process of self-reflection to consider one’s personal worldview and one’s identity in this context.

3. Discover and expand one’s unique creative spirit and range of creative expression.

4. Broaden one’s perspective about real world interactivity, maintain a sense of responsibility to others, and participate in the achievement of a just society.

5. Consider a variety of realistic life-pursuits that can make a difference in the world by immersion in real world work environments and by interfacing with men and women who bring intuitive understanding and good judgment from long experience in their life-pursuits.

6. Develop a frame of mind and coping ability that allows one to address the realities of life with equanimity and good judgment, rather than succumb to uncertainty, anxiety and depression.

This student commentary was insightful, and also troubling, because the learning goals enumerated above, which the students believe are gaps in their education, in fact, constitute the crucially important learning that prepares students for creative, productive and responsible participation in our global society.  The thrust of their commentary was unmistakable:  they were working toward the creation of a new paradigm of education that envisioned a fresh worldview and a shared great narrative.

The thirteen students who made this remarkable presentation at Evergreen State College in October of 2004 were:

  • Tawnya Bissell (New College of Florida)
  • Cayla Casciani (Fairhaven College)
  • Trevor Caughlin (New College of Florida)
  • Frida Espinosa (Arizona International College)
  • Sara Farooqi (Pitzer College)
  • Kate Goddu (Fairhaven College)
  • Emily Hoeh (Daemen College)
  • Jayleen Lineback (Arizona International College)
  • Amber Margolis (Arizona International College)
  • Jeff Reynolds (Fairhaven College)
  • Gabrielle Roesch (Fairhaven College)
  • Heidi Skiles (Fairhaven College)
  • Zaliah Zalkind-Hawkin (Arizona International College)

Steve sat spellbound as the presenting students patiently described their vision of how to close these gaps. They spoke of a creatively collaborative immersion, off campus, in real world learning environments for a sixteen-week semester that could profoundly deepen the meaning of their academic education.

Then Came A Larger Creative Collaboration To Examine the Critical Thinking of the Evergreen Participants

Hoping to recapture the powerful impact of their presentation,  Steve invited these students to repeat their innovative thoughts at a five-day Bellows-sponsored colloquium at the Circle Z Ranch in Patagonia, Arizona in January of 2005.

A total of forty-three students, faculty, administrators, and others were in attendance, representing Alverno College, Daemen College, Deep Springs College, Evergreen State College, Fairhaven College, Hampshire College, New College of Florida, Pitzer College, Ursuline College, Columbia University’s Teachers College, University of Arizona, Texas Christian University and University of Wisconsin.

We were privileged to have with us Deans Mike Ford and Steven Weisler of Hampshire College; Dean Alan Jones of Pitzer College; Dara Molloy, a Celtic priest and founder of a learning community in the Aran Islands of Ireland; Josiah Bunting III, President of the H.F. Guggenheim Foundation; L. Jackson Newell, former President of Deep Springs College; Dr. Meredith Aronson, the former mayor of Patagonia; and Carol Soth, a highly respected Patagonia educator.  Absent, but with us in spirit, were Dr. Lee Knefelkamp of Columbia University’s Teachers College (Steve’s dissertation advisor) and Dr. Gregory Prince, former president of Hampshire College.

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Over five days of spirited collaboration, the participants of the Colloquium breathed life into a comprehensive vision of how to achieve the vital student learning goals that the students believe are on the periphery of their academic education. We came away from the Colloquium with a sense of optimism because while we know of the gridlock that thwarts educational reform from within, the students showed us an avenue of advance and the internal workings of a sixteen-week student immersion that can take place in real world learning environments beyond today’s high school, college and university settings.

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(One group of participants at the Bellows Foundation Colloquium)

In the pursuit of these research questions, Bellows also sponsored “listenings” in Patagonia that included: (i) a ten-day visit in 2005 from twenty-three students, faculty members and administrators from Hampshire College of Amherst, Massachusetts; and (ii) a five-day visit in 2006 from thirteen students and faculty of Earlham College of Richmond, Indiana.

Concurrently, Steve set forth to find a number of field base learning environments that would facilitate the learning goals described above.  This website describes four such prospective settings: in Patagonia, Arizona; Boulder, Utah; Petersburg, Alaska; and the Achuar Territory in the Ecuadorian region of the Amazon Rainforest.

(End of Colloquium presentation)

A Thoughtful Voice From Outside the Realm of Contemporary American Education:  Charles Hugh Smith

America’s Outmoded “Factory Model” Educational System Needs To Be Radically Reinvented

 Feb 14, 2017

It’s obvious that we desperately need a new decentralized, individualized and far more productive system of education.

I have long held that America’s educational system is an outmoded “factory model” designed to produce interchangeable industrial and service workers en masse for an industrial economy of factories and a 1960s-era service sector that needed millions of employees with basic-skills: Is Our Education System Based on a Factory Metaphor? (November 15, 2005)

Our “factory model” funnels hundreds or thousands of students into set courses within large mechanistic plants, regardless of their individual attributes, strengths and weaknesses. Like an assembly line of manufactured items, some students are “rejects” who couldn’t make the “quality control” grade, and they’re thrown on the scrap pile.

What if a kid has no aptitude in math but is a near-wizard in metal-working? Do we scrap him because he didn’t meet some factory-defined narrow standards for “knowledge worker”?

What about all the jobs which aren’t in biotech and technology? What if we required basic understanding of making meals with real food rather than the processed contents of a box? What if we required kids to know how to fill out a Schedule C form (small business) for a tax return, or change the oil in their car, or install shelving, or fill out a loan application and understand credit, adjustable rate mortgages and deductibles in insurance policies? Aren’t these skills more productive for the vast majority of workers than advanced math?

Perhaps the factory metaphor is precisely the wrong one in a rapidly evolving global economy. Maybe instead of cramming all kids into narrow channels of “competence,” we should actively filter out kids whose skills, interests and strengths lie elsewhere than math and science: the culinary arts, graphic arts, marketing, welding, etc., all skills which cannot be shipped overseas as readily as those lauded “knowledge worker” skills of programming.

If a child finds math easy and interesting, then by all means let’s encourage him or her to reach the highest levels of math and science. But if a child’s strengths and talents lie elsewhere, let’s replace the factory model with an individualized, tailored apprenticeships in which he or she can thrive and acquire skills which are just as valuable to our society as a whole as advanced math and science.

It’s worth recalling that Steve Jobs’ brief college career included a hands-on workshop in calligraphy. That apparently impractical interest, as we know, led directly to the Macintosh computer’s built-in fonts and the desktop publishing revolution which Jobs’ Apple Computer single-handedly launched in the late 1980s.

Can you calculate the value of what would have been lost if Jobs hadn’t been free to follow his non-STEM interests? My own guess is hundreds of billions of dollars in software, hardware and improved productivity.

It’s obvious that we desperately need a new decentralized, individualized and far more productive system of education. That is the core of my book The Nearly Free University and the Emerging Economy: The Revolution in Higher Education, in which I detail how we could design apprenticeships in virtually every field that would replace factory-model curriculum and teaching methods.

Technology is now enabling personalized learning that helps each student master the one absolutely essential skill: learning to learn on their own.

There have been a number of insightful critiques of the “factory model” of education (even if they didn’t use that term)–for example, Deschooling Society (Ivan Illich) and Pedagogy of the Oppressed (Paulo Freire).

A recent critique, Reskilling America: Learning to Labor in the Twenty-First Century, discusses how to fix the costly disaster of funneling every child into a four-year college program. The thinking behind this catastrophe was idealistic: our goal should be to give every child a college education, so that “no child is left behind.”

There are two fatal flaws in this idealistic thinking:

1. Funneling every child into a horrendously costly four-year university has stripped our economy of all the skills that aren’t taught in college: welding, pipefitting, etc.

Reskilling America argues that we have purposefully let our practical-skills education decline in favor of the highly impractical goal of issuing millions of diplomas in gender studies, environmental studies, etc., four-year degrees that qualify the graduate to work in coffee shops or as Uber drivers.

Even STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) degrees appear to be mismatched with the real-world job market in terms of what employers want students to know and the number of jobs in STEM that are actually being generated.

Evidence suggests that the number of tech/STEM jobs has remained constant for years, undermining the assumption that graduating 1 million STEM grads magically creates 1 million new STEM jobs in the real world.

2. Most students gain little of value from their four years of squandering $100,000+.

Graduates exit college with a diploma but few if any practical skills, few if any practical knowledge bases and few if any of the eight essential skills I describe in my book Get a Job, Build a Real Career and Defy a Bewildering Economy.

Consider the study Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses which concluded that “American higher education is characterized by limited or no learning for a large proportion of students.”

These charts illustrate the costs and diminishing returns:

The yield (in earnings) on the increasingly unaffordable college degree is declining sharply:

This idealistic goal has created a vast racket–higher education–that delivers limited or no learning for a large proportion of students.

New Analysis Shows Problematic Boom In Higher Ed Administrators:

In all, from 1987 until 2011-12–the most recent academic year for which comparable figures are available—universities and colleges collectively added 517,636 administrators and professional employees, according to the analysis by the New England Center for Investigative Reporting.

“There’s just a mind-boggling amount of money per student that’s being spent on administration,” said Andrew Gillen, a senior researcher at the institutes. “It raises a question of priorities.”

The ratio of nonacademic employees to faculty has also doubled. There are now two nonacademic employees at public and two and a half at private universities and colleges for every one full-time, tenure-track member of the faculty.

The number of employees in central system offices has increased six-fold since 1987, and the number of administrators in them by a factor of more than 34.

I have demonstrated in my book The Nearly Free University and The Emerging Economy: The Revolution in Higher Education that the tuition for a higher education apprenticeship/credential could (and should) cost $5,000, not $100,000 or $200,000.

The technology and tools already exist to accredit the student, not the institution and provide distributed courses, adaptive learning and real-world, workplace-based workshops for a tiny fraction of the cost of the ineffective, unaffordable factory model of higher education we are currently burdened with.

Once costs decline 95%, there is no need for student loans or the bloated bureaucracies currently overseeing the parasitic student-loan system.

Once we accredit the student, not the institution, existing universities will compete directly with Nearly Free Universities not in issuing diplomas but in how much students actually learn and master. If students can learn as much or more for $5,000 (including workshops in real-world workplaces) than they do for $160,000 in conventional universities, then the sectors of higher education that charge $160,000 for a 4-year degree will vanish.

In essence, technology has leapfrogged the outmoded, ineffective, unaffordable factory model. It’s time to scrap the factory model (optimized for 1960) and create an individualized apprenticeship model that accredits the student, not the institution–a model optimized for the 21st century economy.

(End of Zero Hedge article)

Rebalancing High School Education: (1) Four Different Learning Environments and (2) Diversely Skilled Teachers To Serve Those Different Environments

The most needed skills and attributes of teachers today must lead to the direct development of each student’s inner compass, which involves elevating their critical thinking, social intelligence, social consciousness, and their pursuit of creative and productive work that contributes to the natural evolutionary advance of our entire society.

However, this paramount goal is impeded by the current over-concentration of classroom-based learning of academic disciplines as they currently exist. Four high school years of that over-concentration has marginalized other critically important learning environments and has led to the charge that our American next generations are being substantially dumbed down by the time they graduate from high school. This very same argument has been directed at university-level education for the same reasons.

With the above-mentioned paramount goal in mind, new teachers coming into the American high school system today would do well to possess the following key skills and attributes:

1. Long immersion in a variety of non-academic work environments that collectively provide knowledge and experience of how the non-academic world actually works, which must be transferred to every student.

2. Acquisition of substantial direct experience in those work environments as opposed to indirect experience acquired by consulting, think tank activities, and advisory responsibilities.

3. Proven success and advancement in those diverse, non-academic work environments that facilitate the acquisition of valuable direct experience.

4. Evidence of the practice of life-long learning designed to enlighten and enrich one’s worldview and be conveyed to students.

5. Possessing a frame of mind that reflects the belief that America’s next generations are its greatest national resource because they provide the critically important spark of new energy, creativity, innovation, spontaneity, and spirituality that drives the natural evolutionary advance of our society.

6. The direct experience of being a parent of one’s own children to acquire the knowledge of the inner dynamics of child-to-adult development and parental responsibilities, which can be transferred to students.

7. The possession of genuine respect, kindness, and caring of all students, whether or not they are taking courses with that teacher.

8. A rejection of the academic practice referred to as “professional distance” that blocks the crucially important development of trust and genuine engagement between teachers and students.

9. The construction of classroom atmospheres and dynamics that foster that trust, student engagement, and creative collaboration.

In addition, it would be wise to add the specific elements missing in current American education as explained in a colloquium of thirteen students from Evergreen State College as described as follow:

10. Construct field studies that connect with students’ academic concentrations to deepen meaning and to make classroom-acquired knowledge relevant to the non-academic world of the 21st century.

11. Reconnect with the natural world and indigenous cultures in order to internalize the urgency for safeguarding a sustainable future and have an undisturbed time to carry on the vital process of self-reflection to consider one’s personal worldview and one’s identity in

12. Discover and expand each student’s unique creative spirit and range of creative expression.

13. Broaden each student’s perspective about the dynamics of the non-academic world, help them develop a sense of responsibility to others, and help them engage in the achievement of a just society.

14. Help students consider a variety of realistic life-pursuits that can make a difference in the world by immersion in non-academic work environments and by interfacing with older men and women who bring intuitive understanding and good judgment from long
experience in their own life-pursuits.

15. Help students develop a frame of mind and coping ability that allows them to address the realities of life with equanimity and good judgment, rather than succumb to uncertainty, anxiety and depression.

There are four cornerstones needed to maximize the effectiveness of a teacher who possesses the skills and attributes described above:

1. Reconstruction and Redevelopment of the Classroom Learning Environment: The teaching of academic disciplines has a place in the classroom learning environment so long as the time taken leaves sufficient time for the work of a field studies learning environment, a workplace learning environment, and a mentorship learning environment.

What is called for in the classroom learning environment is a rearrangement of classroom dynamics which requires the removal of the traditional school desks and chairs, all in regimental order facing forward where the teacher stands prominently as an authority figure.

Instead, the classroom should contain a large seminar table and comfortable chairs where the teacher sits among the students and maintains an atmosphere of creative collaboration marked by trust among all parties at the table.  For details, rationale, and images,
please click on the symbol at the top of the top menu and read the Home Page.

2. Construction and Development of a Field Studies Learning Environment: What is called for is to get the students out of the classroom learning environment and deep into the natural world, and far away from the overwhelming distractions of the media, entertainment, advertising, fashion, crowds, signage pollution, noise pollution, air pollution, and over-development. Then, the students are to be brought to remote, carefully selected field bases that facilitate learning elements #10 to #15 and mix the students with older, knowledgeable and experienced teachers from diverse, non-academic work environments.

For details, rationale, and images, please click on the four subjects listed in the top menu, titled: “Perspective Field Bases in Patagonia, Arizona; Boulder, Utah; Petersburg, Alaska; and the Ecuadorian Rainforest.”

3. Construction and Development of a Workforce Simulator Learning Environment: What is called for is the introduction of pragmatic learning by doing of the dynamics of the American workforce in order to help students consider a variety of life-pursuits and to achieve job-ready status in today’s workforce. For details, rationale, and images, please click on the subject listed in the top menu, titled:  “Workplace Simulators, Critical Thinking, Teamwork, Leadership.”

4. Construction and Development of a Mentorship Learning Environment: What is called for is a group of well-trained older men and women of substantial experience and knowledge in the non-academic world, who have the skills and attributes to address the paramount goal described above through story-telling and discussion in an egalitarian atmosphere. Such mentorship can be achieved in the revitalized classroom atmosphere described above, the Field Studies learning environment, and the Workplace Simulator learning environment.   Mentorship learning can also be achieved by simply having students and mentors mix together to converse and compare notes in any commonly accepted locations.

One cautionary comment: The practice of “professional distance” modeled by certain traditional teachers in their interrelationship with their students disqualifies those teachers from participating in mentorship environments of any kind because it blocks the building of trust and authentic engagement between mentors and their students. The same is true for creative collaboration environments which rely on the same egalitarian principles of interaction.

The incorporation of four equally-important learning environments would also require a re-balancing of  educators possessing different skills and attributes. In any high school setting, what would be called for would be: (i) a reduction of academic teachers; (ii) larger numbers of older teachers with the qualifications described above to work in the field study learning environment and the workplace simulator learning environments; and (iii) older mentors to create their own mentorship learning environment apart from the other three learning environments or within them in a complementary manner.

This re-balancing of teachers, mentors and learning environments would be like a breath of fresh air if, from within the American public school system, there arose a coordinated movement to experiment with such adjustments as a reflection of the American school system’s immune system in action to appropriately adapt, as any organism or organization must do, to insure sustainability and to protect the natural evolutionary advance of our entire society.

To have this experimental educational model tested in the high school setting, I believe the first students should be chosen solely from among the at-risk and resistant profile. This model could genuinely be cast as experimentation to reduce the drop-out rate and to reach, motivate, and propel such students forward to college or the job market. Furthermore, institutional resistance, if any, to this experimental model from senior faculty, senior administrators, and the school board might be minimal. Instead, there might be enthusiastic support from these constituencies, as well as from the at-risk and resistant students and their parents.

 

Reference:

 

May 3, 2017

Public Trust in Government Remains Near Historic Lows as Partisan Attitudes Shift

Democrats’ confidence in country’s future declines sharply

The 2016 election ushered in a new era in Washington defined by unified Republican control of the White House and both chambers of Congress. The changes in the dynamics of power in Washington have registered with members of both political parties. Somewhat more Republicans express trust in government today than did so prior to the election, while views among Democrats have moved in the opposite direction.

For the first time since George W. Bush’s presidency, Republicans (28%) are more likely than Democrats (15%) to say they can trust the government in Washington to do the right thing just about always or most of the time.

The share of Democrats expressing trust in government is among the lowest levels for members of the party dating back nearly six decades.

The national survey by Pew Research Center, conducted April 5-11 among 1,501 adults, finds that the overall level of trust in government remains near historic lows; just 20% say they trust the government to do what’s right always or most of the time. Far more say they trust the government only some of the time (68%); 11% volunteer that they never trust the government to do what’s right.

As was the case prior to last fall’s election, the public’s feelings about government tend more toward frustration than anger. Most Americans (55%) continue to say they are frustrated with the federal government, while relatively few say they are either angry (22%) or basically content (19%). On both measures of trust in government and emotional reactions to government, improving views among Republicans and Republican-leaning independents have been offset by more negative views among Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents, resulting in overall assessments that are little different than in previous years.

There also has been a substantial change in partisan attitudes regarding the country’s future. Overall, 41% of Americans say they have “quite a lot” of confidence in the future of the U.S., while 30% have some confidence. About a quarter (28%) say they have little or no confidence in the country’s future, up from just 15% in the fall of 2015.

Since then, the share of Republicans expressing quite a lot of confidence in the nation’s future has increased 19 percentage points (from 40% to 59%), while falling 22 points among Democrats (50% to 28%).

Public trust in government: 1958-2017

As has been the case for the last decade, public trust in government remains near historically low levels. Just two-in-ten Americans say they can trust the government in Washington to do what is right “just about always” (4%) or “most of the time” (16%). Nearly seven-in-ten (68%) say they trust the government to do what’s right only some of the time and 11% volunteer the response that they never trust the government.

Public trust in government is little different that it was before the 2016 election. In October 2015, 19% said they felt they could trust the government in Washington to do what’s right always (3%) or most of the time (16%).

No more than about 30% have expressed trust in the government in Washington to do the right thing at any point over the last decade. This marks the longest period of low trust in government since the question was first asked in 1958.

Trust in government has typically been higher among those associated with the party in control of the White House than among those who support the opposing party. This is true today as Republicans and Republican-leaning independents are now more likely than Democrats and Democratic leaners to say they trust the federal government to do what is right always or most of the time (28% vs. 15%, respectively).

Trust in government among Republicans has increased 17 points since October 2015. The current share of Republicans who say they trust the government at least most of the time (28%) is considerably higher than throughout much of the Obama administration and is on par with the share of Republicans who said this in 2007 and 2008. Still, GOP trust in government today remains significantly lower than it was throughout most of George W. Bush’s administration.

While Republicans’ trust in government has increased substantially over the last several months, Democratic trust in government is now as low as it has ever been in 60 years. Just 15% of Democrats say they trust the government in Washington to do what is right always or most of the time, a decrease of 11 percentage points since fall 2015. (See the accompanying interactive for long-term trends on public trust in government, including among partisan and demographic groups).

Few say they are content with the federal government

The public continues to express frustration with the federal government, rather than anger or contentment. A majority of Americans say frustration (55%) best describes their feeling toward the federal government, while about two-in-ten say they are angry (22%); a similar share (19%) say they are basically content.

Overall, attitudes toward the federal government today are virtually identical to a year ago. In March 2016, 57% said they felt frustrated with the federal government, while 21% said they were angry and 20% said they were basically content.

The current level of anger toward the federal government is about the same as it has been over the last few years and lower than it was in October 2013, during the 16-day government shutdown. At that time, 30% said they were angry at the government.

Today, Republicans (21%) and Democrats (24%) are about equally likely to express anger about the federal government. This reflects substantial shifts within both parties over the last year: Levels of anger toward the federal government have fallen sharply among Republicans, while levels among Democrats are up significantly.

Among Republicans and Republican-leaning independents the share feeling angry toward the federal government is down 12 percentage points from March 2016 (from 33% to 21%). The last time anger toward government was about this low among Republicans was in March 2011 (18%), shortly after Republicans regained control of Congress following victories in the 2010 midterm elections. Still, Republicans are more likely to express anger at government today than they were during the Bush administration.

By contrast, Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents are about twice as likely to express anger toward the federal government than they were a year ago (11% then, 24% today). The only time during the Obama administration that levels of Democratic anger were about as high as they are now was in October 2013, during the federal government shutdown, when 25% said they were angry. Democratic anger at government was at similar levels during Bush’s second term.

Confidence in the future of the U.S. moves lower

The public’s overall outlook for the nation remains more optimistic than pessimistic, though a smaller share express confidence in the country’s future than did so in the fall of 2015.

Overall, 41% say they have quite a lot of confidence in the future of the U.S., while another 30% say they have some confidence. About three-in-ten (28%) say they have very little or no confidence at all in the future of the U.S.

The share with at least some confidence in the future of the country is down 13 percentage points from 2015 (from 84% to 71%). Over the same period of time, the share saying they have very little or no confidence in the country’s future has increased from 15% to 28%.

As with views of government, attitudes among Republicans and Democrats have moved in opposite directions following the election of Donald Trump. Fully 59% of Republicans and Republican leaners now say they have quite a lot of confidence in the country’s future and 22% say they have some confidence; just 18% say they have little or none. The share with a lot of confidence in the country’s future is up 19 points from 2015, when about as many Republicans said they had a lot (40%) as some (42%) confidence in the country’s future.

Democrats express much less confidence in the future of the country today than in 2015. Currently, just 28% of Democrats and Democratic leaners say they have quite a lot of confidence in the country’s future, down from 50% in 2015. And while 34% of Democrats now say they have little or no confidence in the nation’s future; just 12% said this a year and a half ago.

Differences in views of the country’s future vary across demographic groups. Men are almost twice as likely as women to have a lot of confidence in the future of the U.S. today (53% vs. 29%). This 24-point gender gap is far wider than it was in 2015, when there was little difference in views between men and women on this question.

Younger adults are less optimistic about the nation’s future than older Americans. Nearly half of those 50 and older (48%) express a lot of confidence in the future of the nation, while only about a third of adults under 50 (35%) say the same.

Currently, there are modest differences in outlook by levels of educational attainment. Those with some college experience are somewhat less likely to say they have a lot of confidence in the future of the U.S. than are both those with more and less education. The shares who say they have a lot of confidence are down significantly since 2015 among postgraduates (13 points), college graduates (8 points) and those with some college experience (7 points). There has been no significant shift in outlook among those with no more than a high school diploma.

 

Satisfaction with the state of the nation

By 66% t0 30% more Americans say they are dissatisfied than satisfied with the way things are going in the country today.

Overall satisfaction with the state of the nation has changed little over the last several years, but there has been a stark shift in these views among partisans.

Currently about half of Republicans (49%) say they are satisfied with the state of the nation. Though this is unchanged since February, it is up from 24% in January and 11% in late October, a few weeks before the 2016 election. Throughout the course of Barack Obama’s presidency, no more than about two-in-ten Republicans expressed satisfaction with the way things were going in the country.

By contrast, Democrats’ satisfaction with the country has plummeted following the election: Just 16% of Democrats and Democratic leaners say they are satisfied with the way things are going today. This is down from 33% in January and 52% in October.

While it is typical for partisan views of the country’s direction to shift following a change in party control of the presidency, the size of the shift among both Democrats and Republicans is more pronounced today than it was in either 2001 (when GOP views grew more positive and Democratic views more negative after the transition from Clinton to Bush) or in 2008 (when Democratic views became more positive and Republican views more negative at the beginning of the Obama administration