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The Great Fire Wall of China

As my regular readers know, I am writing from China these days, and have been doing so four years so far. Sometimes the blog becomes inaccessible to me, making it impossible to post regularly. In fact, starting in late September 2014, China began interfering with many Google-owned entities of which Blogspot is one. If the blog seems to go dark for a while, please know I will be back as soon as I can get in again. I am sometimes blocked for many weeks at a time. I hope to have a new post up soon if I can gain access. Thank you for your understanding and loyalty.

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Saturday, July 6, 2013

The Relationship Between Memorized Facts and Online Research

In China, many people believe that the Tiananmen incident is a fabrication perpetrated by Western governments in order to discredit the Chinese government. Exhibit A: Last year the people of Hong Kong objected to the new history booklet, The China Model, for among other offenses, failing to mention either Tiananmen or the Cultural Revolution. The people suffer from a lack of access to information, so they do not know anything.

Those with free access to information suffer from inundation. It can be difficult to separate the valid from the specious, so they also end up knowing nothing. A case in point is the issue of illegal immigrants. Hardly anyone knows anything about it, and they will not sit still for real information. They would rather cherish their misinformation because it feeds their own political beliefs.*

Meanwhile, educators lament the tendency of students to conduct “research” using the internet, and draw completely erroneous conclusions because they lack online research skills.

The problem I see is that education often swings to extremes. In the past, there was an emphasis on memorizing facts: math facts, historical dates, science info, etc. The backlash maintained that students do not need to learn facts, that a proper education means teaching students how and where to find the facts the need. Facts-No Facts is yet another example of a polarizing false dichotomy that has resulted in the lamentable situation where many students are not learning facts, nor how to find facts. The most useful approach amalgamates the poles. Students need a treasury of pre-learned facts they can sift through to find relevant search terms for online research.

*For example, many people are certain that illegal immigrants can receive Social Security benefits even though they have paid nothing into the program and pay no income tax. Let's break that down into three parts:
1. Illegal immigrants can receive Social Security benefits---False. Anyone without a valid social security number cannot receive benefits. Such people do not even have a record on file with the Social Security Administration from which benefits could calculated.
2. Illegal immigrants have paid nothing into the US Social Security system---False. Nearly all illegal immigrants have jobs. That was the whole point of coming to the US illegally in the first place. Many work several jobs at a time. Their employers prepare W-2 forms using a false social security number usually provided by OMG, the employer. The employer also withholds the Social Security and Medicare contributions and sends the money to the IRS on a quarterly basis. Since the illegal immigrant can never collect Social Security Benefits, their contribution help fund the benefits of US citizens.
3. Illegal immigrants pay no income tax---False. The IRS uses your social security number as your IRS account number. If you do not have a valid social security number, the IRS will assign you an account number, called an ITIN. (However, be aware there are many reasons besides being illegal why a person might need an ITIN. Do not jump to conclusions). First, the illegal immigrant pays a flat tax of 7% comprised of FICA which they will never collect in the form of benefits. Second, they pay higher income taxes than most US citizens, because without a valid social security number, they do not qualify for many tax credits, the biggest one being the earned income credit (EIC). Third, they usually end up paying the IRS a hefty balance due because the same employer who gave them the false social security number also filled out the W-4 for them, and withheld only the most minimal income tax.

If you do not believe any of the foregoing, print it out, take it to the nearest neighborhood tax preparer, and ask them. Most have received ITIN training and prepared tax returns for illegal immigrants.