First of all, as I see it, no one has any ability whatsoever to figure out what is going to be important to people. I look back on my own life. When I was in high school I had two habits that greatly irritated my teachers; actually, many more than two, but let’s focus. One was writing funny notes to my classmates, trying to make them crack up in the middle of class. The other was spending hours of valuable study time making mystifying totals from the agate type in the sports pages. I was called on the carpet any number of times and told to stop doing this stuff and pay more attention to What Was Really Important.
As I look back on those years, the two most useful things that I was doing, in terms of preparing me for my career, were 1) Writing humorous notes to my classmates, and 2) Making mystifying totals from the agate type in the sports pages. By writing amusing if vulgar notes to my classmates, I was learning to write — not learning to write in a way that would please English teachers, but learning to write in a way that would hold the interest of people who had no reason to read the note, other than the expectation that they would enjoy reading it. That’s much, much closer to writing books than writing insipid research papers to please bored English teachers. The adults in charge thought they knew what was important, but in retrospect they were just completely wrong.
Bill James, Popular Crime – Reflections on the Celebration of Violence, 2011.
September 15, 2014
September 11, 2014
What about the rationalization that charitable extracurricular activities teach kids important lessons of moral engagement? There are reasons to be skeptical. A skilled professional I know had to turn down an important freelance assignment because of a recurring commitment to chauffeur her son to a resumé-building “social action” assignment required by his high school. This involved driving the boy for 45 minutes to a community center, cooling her heels while he sorted used clothing for charity, and driving him back — forgoing income which, judiciously donated, could have fed, clothed, and inoculated an African village. The dubious “lessons” of this forced labor as an overqualified ragpicker are that children are entitled to treat their mothers’ time as worth nothing, that you can make the world a better place by destroying economic value, and that the moral worth of an action should be measured by the conspicuousness of the sacrifice rather than the gain to the beneficiary.
Steven Pinker, ” The Trouble With Harvard: The Ivy League is broken and only standardized tests can fix it”, The New Republic, 2014-09-04.
July 28, 2014
In The Spectator, Douglas Murray wonders when the moderate Muslims are going to speak out over the “Trojan Horse” scandal:
The Trojan Horse reports are in, and they make for damning reading. ‘An aggressive Islamist agenda… a coordinated, deliberate and sustained action to introduce an intolerant and aggressive Islamist ethos’. Teachers who claimed that the Boston marathon bombing and the murder of Lee Rigby were in fact hoaxes and an ‘Attack on Islam’. And so on. The grim details are out. But there is a story behind this story which has not been thought about, though it ought to be. That is the response of Britain’s Muslim communities to these awful revelations.
Ever since 9/11 a considerable appeal from the non-Muslim majority in the West has been ‘where are the moderates? Where are the moderate voices who are willing not just to excuse or remain silent in the face of their religion’s extremists, but to actually stand up and say ‘these people are bringing our faith into disrepute, we recognise it, we hate it, and we are going to actually push them out of the faith.’ The unwillingness of more than a tiny number of Muslims to actually stand up and speak out as well as push out the extremists is very noticeable to non-Muslims. Indeed, I would suggest that it is one of the largest contributing factors to the hardening of attitudes across Europe towards Islam in general (see here for some interesting polling on this).
So when the story of Birmingham schools emerged – with stories of the most appalling racism against white people and disgusting bigotry against Christians, gay people and others – it should have provided a fine opportunity for what is generally termed the ‘moderate majority’ to make their voices heard. Granted, the ‘Trojan Horse’ story started strangely and plenty of us were uncomfortable about writing or speaking about it until we knew what the facts were behind the allegations in the original document. But, once the press and then the official investigations got underway, it became clear that, whatever the origin of the document, what it alleged was true. It has now been repeatedly found to be true.
Yet the response of Muslim communities has not been to accept this and to do something about tackling it. Far from it. The official responses have almost to a man and woman been denial, evasion and a fall-back onto claims of ‘Islamophobia’ and racism.
July 13, 2014
This is Cargo Cult stuff. They did the same thing with their new innovations in Whole Word learning (reading a word at a glance), when they got rid of Phonics (sounding a word out, letter by letter), and doomed a generation to being bad readers.
Here’s the Cargo Cult part:
Professional Highly-Educated Education Researchers noted that high-level early readers were usually just identifying words at a glance — reading in a “whole word” way. While kids using Phonics read more slowly. Phonics kids were slower readers and struggled with it more.
So hey — let’s stop teaching kids this slow method of reading called Phonics and just teach them “Whole Word” reading!!! Win, win, win!!! It’s easier for the students, and even easier for the teachers, as they don’t have to teach the step-by-step Phonics method of reading. They can just say the word “horse” is horse and keep saying it until these stupid kids start learning that “horse” means horse.
Here’s the problem: This is Cargo Cult mneliaty. Yes, the high-lanrneig, early-raednig kids are in fact using the Wlohe Wrod raenidg mhoted, just as you, reading that gibberish I just wrote, employed Whole Word reading — looking at the first and last letters of the word and using context and years and years of experience in how the written language works, and what words are expected to come in which place in a sentence to read, fairly easily, a bunch of misspelled words as the words I intended.
But the high-learning, early-reading kids are only doing that because they started reading earlier than the other kids. All kids — including the early readers — go through the Phonics phase. [...]
Now, having gone through the Phonics phase at age 3 or 4, by age five I was reading quite a bit, especially Peanuts (I had whole books, decades’ worth of Peanuts cartoons). And I had moved from “mostly Phonics” to “mostly Whole Word reading,” at least as far as common words. The unfamiliar words I still had to sound out, Phonics-style.
So sure — the accomplished 6-year-old readers are indeed mostly using whole word, at least for common words. Spoiler alert: That’s because they already went through the Phonics phase at age 4 or 5.
The Cargo Cult mistake of these “Educators” is to think that Whole Word reading is a shortcut to teaching reading. No — Whole Word reading is the endpoint of learning to read. First you read letter by letter, then syllable by syllable (as you have begun to compile, in your Reading Memory, a large list of common syllables). Then you start just reading Whole Word.
You have to go through the letter-by-letter process to get to the Whole Word level. [...]
By denying kids their first step in reading — teaching them to read letter-by-letter — educators have not advanced Whole Word reading. They’ve retarded it. You can’t do whole word until you’re an ace at letter by letter.
They’re making the same mistake here with this jackass method of teaching math. The method they’re teaching is what I’d term a secondary insight. [...]
But once again the “Experts” are demonstrating their Cargo Cult mentality when it comes to pedagogy. Because kids will start intuiting these things after they’ve mastered the rote-memorization and drilling routine of arithmetic and the times tables, hey, let’s just cut out the middleman and teach the Advanced Secondary Insights explicitly! And skip all that tedious rote-memorization and drilling!
Ace, “Common Core is Pretty Dumb”, Ace of Spades HQ, 2014-01-21
July 7, 2014
Why, almost everywhere you look, should such mediocrity triumph?
Of course, if mediocrity has not triumphed throughout the Western world, there is nothing to explain. There is, after all, no need to search for the origins of the nonexistent. But let us suppose that there is such a trend to mediocrity, a manifestation of which is bureaucratization: What can explain it? (Here I should mention that we should not get too exercised about definitional matters: Words should be used as precisely as possible, but not more precisely than possible. We know what a cloud is without being able to define its limits.)
The explanation lies in the expansion of tertiary education. Earlier in my life I used to think that this was unequivocally a good thing: The more educated a population, the better. But length of education, or attendance at supposedly educational establishments, is not the same thing as education itself. But in the modern world, where governments have to demonstrate tangible progress to their electorates, length of education and education are confounded.
Guerrilla movements in the last half-century or so in Latin American countries, seeking to establish totalitarian utopias, were caused by the expansion of tertiary education, not by peasant discontent. The graduates of that education — many of them, at any rate — found after obtaining their diplomas that the only work available to them, if any at all, was beneath their new status as educated person, a status that formerly would have entitled them to both respect and an important position in society. If they found work, it was work that they could have done without having gone to university. Bitter disappointment and resentment was the natural consequence.
We in the developed Western world do not have guerrilla movements, at any rate to a significant extent. Our equivalent is the bureaucracy that administers increasingly politically correct regulations. In this way people who have gone to the considerable trouble of obtaining a tertiary education that is of value to them neither vocationally nor intellectually may avenge themselves upon an unjust world, though their anger can’t be assuaged, being the only thing that gives meaning to their lives.
Thus, the mother of mediocrity is the university.
Theodore Dalrymple, “Triumph of the Mediocre”, Taki’s Magazine, 2014-01-19.
July 3, 2014
Fred Siegel reviews Please Stop Helping Us: How Liberals Make it Harder for Blacks to Succeed, by Jason Riley:
A half-century ago, the Great Society promised to complete the civil rights revolution by pulling African-Americans into the middle class. Today, a substantial black middle class exists, but its primary function has been, ironically, to provide custodial care to a black underclass — one ever more deeply mired in the pathologies of subsidized poverty. In Please Stop Helping Us: How Liberals Make it Harder for Blacks to Succeed, Jason Riley, an editorial writer for the Wall Street Journal who grew up in Buffalo, New York, explains how poverty programs have succeeded politically by failing socially. “Today,” writes Riley, “more than 70 percent of black children are born to unwed mothers. Only 16 percent of black households are married couples with children, the lowest of any racial group in the United States.” Riley attributes the breakdown of the black family to the perverse effects of government social programs, which have created what journalist William Tucker calls “state polygamy.” As depicted in an idyllic 2012 Obama campaign cartoon, “The Life of Julia,” a lifelong relationship with the state offers the sustenance usually provided by two parents in most middle-class families.
Riley’s own life experience gives him powerful perspective from which to address these issues. His parents divorced but both remained attentive to him and his two sisters. His sisters, however, were drawn into the sex-and-drug pleasures of inner-city “culture.” By the time he graduated from high school, his older sister was a single mother. By the time he graduated from college, his younger sister had died from a drug overdose. Riley’s nine-year-old niece teased him for “acting white.” “Why you talk white, Uncle Jason?” she wanted to know. She couldn’t understand why he was “trying to sound so smart.” His black public school teacher similarly mocked his standard English in front of the class. “The reality was,” Riley explains, “that if you were a bookish black kid who placed shared sensibilities above skin color, you probably had a lot of white friends.”
The compulsory “benevolence” of the welfare state, borne of the supposed expertise of sociologists and social planners, undermined the opportunities opened up by the end of segregation. The great hopes placed in education as a path to the middle class were waylaid by the virulence of a ghetto culture nurtured by family breakdown. Adjusted for inflation, federal per-pupil school spending grew 375 percent from 1970 to 2005, but the achievement gap between white and black students remained unchanged.
June 27, 2014
[I]n any bureaucratic organization there will be two kinds of people:
First, there will be those who are devoted to the goals of the organization. Examples are dedicated classroom teachers in an educational bureaucracy, many of the engineers and launch technicians and scientists at NASA, even some agricultural scientists and advisors in the former Soviet Union collective farming administration.
Secondly, there will be those dedicated to the organization itself. Examples are many of the administrators in the education system, many professors of education, many teachers union officials, much of the NASA headquarters staff, etc.
The Iron Law states that in every case the second group will gain and keep control of the organization. It will write the rules, and control promotions within the organization.
Jerry Pournelle, “The Iron Law of Bureaucracy”, Chaos Manor Special Reports, 2010-09-11.
June 21, 2014
In 1939, Bruno Rizzi, a largely forgotten Communist intellectual, wrote a hugely controversial book, The Bureaucratization of the World. Rizzi argued that the Soviet Union wasn’t Communist. Rather, it represented a new kind of system, what Rizzi called “bureaucratic collectivism.” What the Soviets had done was get rid of the capitalist and aristocratic ruling classes and replace them with a new, equally self-interested ruling class: bureaucrats.
The book wasn’t widely read, but it did reach Bolshevik theoretician Leon Trotsky, who attacked it passionately. Trotsky’s response, in turn, inspired James Burnham, who used many of Rizzi’s ideas in his own 1941 book The Managerial Revolution, in which Burnham argued that something similar was happening in the West. A new class of bureaucrats, educators, technicians, regulators, social workers, and corporate directors who worked in tandem with government were reengineering society for their own benefit. The Managerial Revolution was a major influence on George Orwell’s 1984.
Now, I don’t believe we are becoming anything like 1930s Russia, never mind a real-life 1984. But this idea that bureaucrats — very broadly defined — can become their own class bent on protecting their interests at the expense of the public seems not only plausible but obviously true.
The evidence is everywhere. Every day it seems there’s another story about teachers’ unions using their stranglehold on public schools to reward themselves at the expense of children. School-choice programs and even public charter schools are under vicious attack, not because they are bad at educating children but because they’re good at it. Specifically, they are good at it because they don’t have to abide by rules aimed at protecting government workers at the expense of students.
Working for the federal government simply isn’t like working for the private sector. Government employees are essentially unfireable. In the private sector, people lose their jobs for incompetence, redundancy, or obsolescence all the time. In government, these concepts are virtually meaningless. From a 2011 USA Today article: “Death — rather than poor performance, misconduct or layoffs — is the primary threat to job security at the Environmental Protection Agency, the Small Business Administration, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Office of Management and Budget and a dozen other federal operations.”
June 15, 2014
The average middle school kid in Pennsylvania must be a druggie, if the local school boards mandate drug testing for grade five and up students:
At Susquenita Middle School in Duncannon, Pa., a community 20 minutes north of Harrisburg, an eighth-grader chose to skip the National Junior Honor Society this year, reports Eric Veronikis at PennLive:
Leila May was drug-tested once during her fifth grade year, once in sixth grade and three times as a seventh grader because Susquenita School District randomly tests students in grades five through 12 who participate in extracurricular activities and apply for parking permits.
She always tested negative but her parents have tired of the intrusion and embarrassment and her mother Melinda says they’re weren’t willing to sign another consent form. “It’s sad that this is what we had to resort to. It’s ridiculous.”
Twelve years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in Board of Education v. Earls (2002) that schools generally have discretion to impose drug testing on participants in extracurricular activities even without particularized suspicion, on the grounds that such activities are voluntary.
Well, I guess the local school board must have good reasons to implement the kind of drug testing regime that professional sports leagues or military organizations might use … although I’m scratching my head to figure out what they could possibly be.
June 14, 2014
Few if any other professions — not law, medicine, finance, engineering, etc. — offer guaranteed lifetime employment after a six-year apprenticeship. Tenure was predicated on a simple premise: The protection of faculty free speech and instruction was worth the possible downside of complacency and an absence of serious ongoing faculty audit. Whatever may once have been the case, in our time tenure does not ensure free expression, but instead a banal orthodoxy, in which 90 percent of the faculty in the humanities share the same progressive outlook. Tenure also created a caste system far more rigid than anything found in private enterprise, while a huge permanent faculty class ensured inflexibility in scheduling and budgeting. The associate or full professor enjoyed a lifelong right of selection of his classes without too much worry over whether they were either needed or taught well. Worse, the nontenured faculty member, in the fashion of the Middle Ages, was admitted to the guild only if his tenured peers believed that he was agreeable in politics and attitude. He was usually judged by teaching and publication criteria that did not necessarily apply to his board of overseers, many of whom had achieved tenure 20 years earlier under entirely different criteria.
The abuse of lecturers, part-timers, and graduate students is institutionalized. In a word, the university is the most exploitative institution operating at present in the United States, protected by the notion that it is progressive and that its protocols cannot possibly be understood by the ordinary public. Temporary and adjunct faculty members often have degrees as good as those of their tenured betters. Often their teaching records and publications are comparable, if not superior. They may teach the same classes as permanent faculty do, and yet often receive about half the compensation. Were Wal-Mart or a coal mine to operate under such protocols, it would earn Labor Department sanctions. At some public universities, nearly half of the curriculum is taught by part-time faculty — in effect a subsidy that allows the tenured caste to teach smaller and less-in-demand classes, where less time is needed for preparation and grading. Worse still, universities knowingly turn out too many PhDs in the humanities, which ensures a glut of job applicants, which, again, ensures a continued supply of cheap temps to sustain tenured privilege.
Victor Davis Hanson, “The Outlaw Campus”, VDH’s Private Papers, 2014-01-07
June 11, 2014
The Los Angeles Times on yesterday’s decision:
Teachers union officials denounced a ruling Tuesday by a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge deeming job protections for teachers in California as unconstitutional as a misguided attack on teachers and students.
The ruling represents a major loss for the unions and a groundbreaking win by attorneys who argued that state laws governing teacher layoffs, tenure and dismissals harm students by making them more likely to suffer from grossly ineffective instruction.
If the preliminary ruling becomes final and is upheld, the effect will be sweeping across California and possibly the nation.
Judge Rolf M. Treu ruled, in effect, that it was too easy for teachers to gain strong job protections and too difficult to dismiss those who performed poorly in the classroom. If the ruling stands, California will have to craft new rules for hiring and firing teachers.
The Silicon Valley-based group Students Matter brought the lawsuit on behalf of nine students, contending that five laws hindered the removal of ineffective teachers.
The result, attorneys for the plaintiffs said, is a workforce with thousands of “grossly ineffective” teachers, disproportionately hurting low-income and minority students. As a result, the suit argued, the laws violated California’s constitution, which provides for equal educational opportunity.
The laws were defended by the state of California and the two largest teacher unions — the California Teachers Assn. and the California Federation of Teachers. Their attorneys countered that it is not the laws but poor management that is to blame for districts’ failing to root out incompetent instructors.
May 16, 2014
Conor Friedersdorf talks about a new privilege awareness exercise for new grad students at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government:
Such exercises are not without insight or merit (though I find it hard to believe that first-year graduate students at Harvard haven’t encountered this sort of thing before). It surprises me not at all that Harvard insiders would craft the exercise to highlight where they ostensibly stand relative to their fellow Harvard classmates.
As a Harvard outsider who will one day live under a governing elite populated by today’s KSG first-years, I’d only ask for one addition to the “step forward, step back” exercise. Prior to the day it is conducted, KSG should take out some ads in local media: $50 dollars available for the first 500 non-Harvard students to show up at the campus football field at an appointed time. Let them gather, black, white and brown; men and women; straight and gay. The hoi poloi and the KSG freshmen should all mass together behind one end zone. Then the stadium announcer should say, “If you’re not a Harvard student, stay where you are. And if you are a Harvard student, take 95 steps forward, until you’re at the 5 yard line by the far end zone.”
Once all the KSG freshmen are lined up straight at that 5 yard line, everyone can do the “step-forward, step-back” exercise as before. I submit that my augmented approach will afford a more accurate understanding of privilege as it operates at Harvard.
May 3, 2014
When conservatives complain that children are not being taught anything in public schools, they’re half right: They’re not being taught anything useful. They’re taught how to conform. That’s really the point of so many of the stupid rules in modern schooling, people learn to obey the irrational.
This translates into the corporate world in two ways. Those leaving the educational system are outwardly rebellious and undisciplined, even slovenly. Inwardly they’re perfect conformists. They haven’t the slightest notion of principles or integrity, it’s been beaten out of them by the public schools. They are desperate to fit in and conform in a way that is common among teenagers, but used to fade away as people entered their twenties and thirties. As a cranky old executive once observed to me, the young people aren’t so much soft as weak. Passionate about trivia and indifferent toward the fundamentals of life and work.
Richard Anderson, “In Praise of Grumpy Men”, The Gods of the Copybook Headings, 2014-05-01
April 23, 2014
An interesting article in the New Yorker by Jelani Cobb discusses some of the aspects of the struggle to desegregate American schools that I hadn’t heard of:
The architects of Jim Crow were fixated by notions of white racial purity, but black people subjected to that dictatorship of pigment were concerned with a different question: In a hostile society, is it better to be isolated from those who view you with contempt or in close proximity to them? In retrospect, it is easy to see segregation as a moral evil unanimously despised by black people, but even its fiercest critics betrayed ambivalence about what its end would mean. In the thirties, W. E. B. Du Bois inspired rancorous debates within the N.A.A.C.P. by arguing, in his writing, that there were important economic benefits — the built-in market for black businesses, for instance — that came with segregation. James Nabrit, Jr., an attorney who handled a school-desegregation suit in Washington, D.C., that became one of the cases grouped with Brown, went on to become president of Howard University, a job that entailed the seemingly paradoxical task of preserving and furthering an all-black educational institution. Three of the other attorneys who worked on Brown, including Thurgood Marshall, had, in fact, met as students at Howard’s law school, and they began their desegregation work under the tutelage of Charles Hamilton Houston, the school’s dean. Black teachers in South Carolina, where another of the desegregation suits had been filed, worried, with some cause, that integration would end a state of affairs in which black children, though deprived of equal resources, at least benefitted from teachers who did not calibrate their expectations according to the color of their students’ skin.
The Supreme Court decision on Brown, in 1954, marked a moral high point in American history, but the practice that it dispatched to the graveyard had already begun to mutate into something less tangible and far more durable. What would, in the end, preserve the principle of “separate inequality” was not protests like the one staged by Orval Faubus, the governor of Arkansas, who deployed the National Guard to Little Rock’s Central High School, in 1957, in order to keep black students out. Instead, it was policies like the Interstate Highway Act, whose passage one year earlier helped spawn American suburbia. In the wake of Brown, private schools, whose implicit mission was to educate white children, cropped up throughout the South. The persistent legacies of redlining, housing discrimination, and wage disparity conspired to produce segregation without Jim Crow — maintaining all the familiar elements of the past in an updated operating system.
To the extent that the word “desegregation” remains in our vocabulary, it describes an antique principle, not a current priority. Today, we are more likely to talk of diversity — but diversification and desegregation are not the same undertaking. To speak of diversity, in light of this country’s history of racial recidivism, is to focus on bringing ethnic variety to largely white institutions, rather than dismantling the structures that made them so white to begin with.
And so, sixty years after Brown, it is clear that the notion of segregation as a discrete phenomenon, an evil that could be flipped, like a switch, from on to off, by judicial edict, was deeply naïve. The intervening decades have shown, in large measure, the limits of what political efforts directed at desegregation alone could achieve, and the crumbling of both elements of “separate but equal” has left us at an ambivalent juncture. To the extent that desegregation becomes, once again, a pressing concern — and even that may be too grand a hope — it will have to involve the tax code, the minimum wage, and other efforts to redress income inequality. For the tragedy of this moment is not that black students still go to overwhelmingly black schools, long after segregation was banished by law, but that they do so for so many of the same reasons as in the days before Brown.
H/T to ESR for the link.
April 13, 2014
Published on 10 Apr 2014
“It’s kind of a weird thing that’s happened with American society — this idea that you have to have a college degree to be a respectable member of the middle class,” says Glenn Reynolds, professor of law at the University of Tennessee and purveyor of the popular Instapundit blog. Reynolds’ latest work, The New School: How the Information Age Will Save American Education From Itself, looks at the higher education bubble and how parents, students, and educators can remake the education system.
Reynolds sat down with Reason TV‘s Alexis Garcia to discuss why Americans are spending more for a college education and how students are responding to increasing tuition costs. “Given how expensive it is to go to college, there has to be a return sufficient to make it worth the time and especially the money,” Reynolds states. “You’re seeing declining enrollment in some schools and you’re seeing much more price resistance on the part of both parents and students.”
The discussion also includes Reynolds’ take on school choice, the upcoming elections, the current state of the blogosphere, and whether or not both political parties are necessary. Nearly a decade after Reynolds published An Army of Davids: How Markets and Technology Empower Ordinary People to Beat Big Media, Big Government, and Other Goliaths, the blogfather still remains optimistic about technology’s ability to empower the individual and inspire grassroots movements.