Morning Links

Wednesday, July 27th, 2011

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77 Responses to “Morning Links”

  1. #1 |  A McGillican | 

    In response to the “Could you modify it post”. This was the very experience I had in grade school. Through an arrangement with my first elementary school, my parents had me learn math outside of class. By 4th grade I was learning basic algebra (for other subjects, I was just at the upper level of my grade). Then I switched school districts (to one that had a lower socio-economic class) and the new school couldn’t handle an exceptional student. In the 5th grade, many of the students hadn’t memorized their multiplication tables to 10 yet. The school’s solution – I was to memorize my multiplication tables to 25! They did explore having me skip a grade when I switched schools, but since I was in the 5th percentile for height, they thought socially this would cause problems. I often wonder if I had been allowed continue my pace in math (and other subjects not offered like computer programming) where I may have ended up (I ended up with PhD anyway).

  2. #2 |  Michael Chaney | 

    Radley, the prison story link goes to the last frame in the set.

  3. #3 |  ZeroSkill | 

    @Khan Academy Post

    The idea that you would want to slow down the learning rate of students is completely ridiculous. If Khan Academy can take care of teaching your students math does that not free up more class time to teach them things like history and writing that Khan Academy has currently not figured out how to do? Also if the issue is differential advancement in the class why not enlist the advanced math students to assist the less advanced students?

  4. #4 |  townCrier | 

    “Your plane tickets should be cheaper right now. Here’s why they aren’t.”

    Ahh, greed is good….right?

  5. #5 |  Mo | 

    @Khan Academy Post

    The quote is damning, but I wonder if it’s an isolated comment representing a minority opinion (a lazy and wrong one). Have schools stopped students from skipping grades*? I went to public schools in grades 1-12 (H.S. class of 96) and students were skipped grades as appropriate and kids that were advanced in math in my junior high went to the high school for higher level math than that offered at the school and kids at high school could go to the nearby community college for advanced classes. Also, just like in reading groups, math classes were divvied up by ability.

    Cato blames this on monopolies, but private schools are largely run the same way. I think this is merely a case of pedagogy not yet caught up with new technology.

    * From what I’ve heard from coworkers with kids, it’s the parents that stop schools from letting their kid skip grades, so they’re the big fish in the small pond, rather than the other way around

  6. #6 |  tarran | 

    The pedagogy is dictated by the government certification monopoly. They dictate process not outcomes. If I invented a way of teaching people via injections (a la the Memory RNA of Niven’s A World out of Time, there’s no way my system would be approved, even though it would be superior.

  7. #7 |  C. S. P. Schofield | 

    A small minority of public school teachers are genuine Teachers; people with a serious calling to instruct and a love of their subject(s). The remainder are jumped-up drudges with an assortment of mental problems, a hunger to boss children around being the most benign. Why anybody takes the assertions of moral superiority put forward by the teachers’ unions at all seriously has baffled me since I was in grade school ….. and I’m 50 now.

  8. #8 |  Mo | 


    Private schools don’t have the government certification requirements that public schools do, yet still have the group kids by age problem.

  9. #9 |  Pablo | 

    Re: the article about the 2 am search with the dogs–note that there were LEO’s from TEN jurisdictions participating in this crap. Harassing people who were asleep in their homes and doing nothing to harm anyone. If they actually have this much time on their hands it sounds like some layoffs are in order.

  10. #10 |  JimBob | 

    After I finished kindergarten, the school I went to told my parents that I was to be placed in “transitional kindergarten-1st grade” (TK-1) for a year, because I had not made “sufficient academic progress” during my year in kindergarten.

    Their basis for claiming that I wasn’t progressing appropriately as a student? At the beginning of the school year, I tested at a third grade level in reading and a fourth grade level in mathematics. At the end of my year IN KINDERGARTEN, I had only progressed half way to the fourth grade reading level, and only a third of the way to the fifth grade level in mathematics.

    Fortunately, my parents fought tooth and nail (as did my kindergarten teacher, who was horrified that the school could make such a recommendation), and I was allowed to go to first grade normally.

    Did I mention that the school received an extra $60k in state and federal funding per student enrolled in TK-1, because such students are considered “special needs” students?

    Nah. THAT couldn’t have anything to do with their decision to hold me back…

  11. #11 |  Ron | 

    Businesses can charge whatever they want for their services.

    Except airlines. They have no right to make money.

  12. #12 |  Yizmo Gizmo | 

    “In the case of Meadowview, Roche said, the search was conducted with the support of the complex’s management.
    Because of the time searches are generally conducted, Roche said, residents typically aren’t aware of them unless police knock on their door.”

    So police with no warrant can rummage through my apartment while I’m at work?
    Comforting. I think I’ll start coming come early.

  13. #13 |  Highway | 

    I think part of the issue is that a student in a special focused program might be advanced in a couple subjects, but at an ‘age appropriate’ stage in other subjects. So a kid who learns math and writing at two grades above their age might struggle mightily with other subjects of the higher grade – History, social studies, even handwriting. For example, when I was in second grade, I was placed in a subclass that was primarily advance 5th and 6th graders (reading and analysis mostly), and while I could keep up with the subject matter, I tended to fall behind on assignments because I had not learned cursive writing, and just couldn’t produce written output as quickly as others (the students in this school were not very advanced, when I moved to another school, I was in all grade appropriate ‘gifted and talented’ classes with others smarter than me). And as others have mentioned, moving more than one grade can cause socialization issues, because who wants to hang out with the ‘little kid’?

  14. #14 |  Sean L. | 

    RE: Airline taxes:
    It’s a near certainty that once the FAA gets its ducks in a row they’re going to ask for all those back taxes. The airlines would be foolish not to collect it.

    RE: Framed ex-girlfriend:
    “I can never have faith in justice in this country again.”

    Another one in the fold.

  15. #15 |  Mattocracy | 

    It looks like Ikea was contracted to decorate that prison.

  16. #16 |  Sean L. | 

    #3 ZeroSkill:
    “If Khan Academy can take care of teaching your students math does that not free up more class time to teach them things like history and writing that Khan Academy has currently not figured out how to do?”
    #4 Mo:
    “Have schools stopped students from skipping grades*?”

    Unfortunately, these normal-sounding concepts are exactly backwards. Schools under the current government monopoly benefit by having kids as long as possible because they are paid by attendance. Advancing students more quickly means the money runs out more quickly.

  17. #17 |  Johnny Clamboat | 

    “About 2 a.m., federal agents and officers from the Pulaski, Dublin, Radford, Blacksburg and Virginia Tech police departments; the Pulaski County, Montgomery County and Wythe County sheriff’s offices; the Claytor Lake Drug Task Force; and Virginia State Police showed up at Meadowview Apartments on Lee Highway with their drug dogs, Pulaski police Chief Gary Roche said.”

    This in a town with 9,000 people. I’m with Pablo @ #8, time for some layoffs. Also, why were agents of the Central State present?

    “In the case of Meadowview, Roche said, the search was conducted with the support of the complex’s management.”

    Well then, everything is peachy.

  18. #18 |  Johnny Clamboat | 

    “Your plane tickets should be cheaper right now.”

    Not really. Even if the State doesn’t reinstate the taxes retroactively it is the demand that is driving the price.

    Should is the wrong word here ;)

  19. #19 |  Nemo_N | 

    Norway’s humanitarian prison:

    Well, the fact that Anders Behring Breivik exists means that from now on all prisoners should be treated like mass-murdering monsters.


  20. #20 |  Matthew | 

    The airline tax expiration is an illustration that the full cost of fees are never passed to the end consumer, because the price is set by a supply/demand curve, not by the cost of production. The company has the choice to shift their supply curve, but they know it comes at the cost of demand and revenue.

  21. #21 |  omar | 

    The remainder are jumped-up drudges with an assortment of mental problems, a hunger to boss children around being the most benign.

    That’s quite an accusation. Citation please.

    Why anybody takes the assertions of moral superiority put forward by the teachers’ unions at all seriously has baffled me since I was in grade school

    I’m not sure many people do. The cited comment was made by one person, not the teachers’ unions. It’s an example of an individual exercising poor thinking – not evidence for society-wide submission to the moral authority of any teachers’ union. Your comment is a bit of a straw-man.

  22. #22 |  Hal_10000 | 

    The Norway prison story is interesting, but I’m dubious of extrapolating its lessons to a nation 80 times its size.

  23. #23 |  Dave Krueger | 

    The main function of children is to provide jobs for teachers. The main function of the public school system is to make sure the education process takes as long as possible. How well the kids are educated plays no part in the process.

  24. #24 |  Nancy Lebovitz | 

    Khan’s programmer, Ben Kamens, has heard from teachers who’ve seen Khan Academy presentations and loved the idea but wondered whether they could modify it “to stop students from becoming this advanced.”

    So, it’s more than one teacher, but we have no idea of how many or what proportion they represent of the teachers who’ve contacted Kamens.

  25. #25 |  capn_amurka | 

    I’d hard time coming up with a better example of finely orchestrated collusion and price-fixing than the airlines simultaneously raising prices to fit the tax holiday.

    That alone may be sufficient to show that the air travel industry is too heavily concentrated to permit free market mechanisms to properly operate.

  26. #26 |  A Missing Link | 

    Another story about a prosecutor who lacks good judgment: “Perry County mother charged with unlawfully entering school bus to help a son she thought was ill”

  27. #27 |  Aaron | 

    @mo: some private schools, yes. Others, no. Consider the model.

  28. #28 |  jfoobar | 

    The lessons from Khan Academy should be, in my humble opinion, that individualized computer-based training can be effective for children and also produced at a fairly modest cost. These are two very distinct lessons, however.

    If computer-assisted learning is the standard, the worries about a young kid skipping a grade and not fitting in become moot as he/she can continue to stay with their class. Likewise, the concerns about a child becoming advanced in some subjects like math and science but not others also become moot. He/she can continue to take their advanced coursework in one subject and average coursework in another while getting assistance as needed from the same group of teachers who monitor and assist with the computer-based learning. That same child can also continue to take lunch, attend gym classes and go out on recess with children his/her own age.

    This sort of curriculum also has the added benefit of developing computer usage skills that every one of those children are going to need later in life.

    Alas, I don’t see the second lesson ever being learned. For such a program to see widespread adoption, it would be produced by a major educational materials corporation (see current list of large textbook publishers) and the processes around the institution of such a curriculum would have to be nitpicked and negotiated to an unhealthy degree by various parties (including teacher unions), ultimately slowing the rate of adoption, reducing the effectiveness of the procedures surrounding that adoption and dramatically increasing overall cost to the taxpayers.

  29. #29 |  Marty | 

    ‘Because of the time searches are generally conducted, Roche said, residents typically aren’t aware of them unless police knock on their door.’

    so, because they weren’t inconvenienced, their rights to privacy weren’t violated. Dogs smelling our property, helicopters flying around looking in our back yards and using infrared equipment to find indoor grow operations, hacking our emails and phone conversations, etc… It’s like we’ve all been roofied and now we’re getting our proctology exam. Because we don’t know about the violation, it’s ok.

  30. #30 |  hilzoy fangirl | 

    Of course we need to prevent students from becoming too advanced. If we’re not careful, one of them might become self-aware, take over the U.S. nuclear arsenal, and initiate Judgement Day.

  31. #31 |  Marty | 

    Khan is an exciting component to educating kids. We should all be elated at the technology available and options available… The only reason I can think of to send kids to most of these schools is for socializing and fun. School boards dumb down social studies and history books into bland, lifeless, rated G crap that almost no kid is interested in. It seems like someone’s still fighting the Scopes Monkey Trial. The athletic and music departments have these amazing facilities, but science isn’t important.
    Unschooling is an amazing option. The resources are better and cheaper than any time in history. Your kids just might reach their true potential… The way I see it, competition would be created by more homeschooling and more parents looking for better options- private music lessons, math, science, etc. We shouldn’t be settling for cookie cutter educations, unless we want cookie cutter kids.

  32. #32 |  Johnny Clamboat | 

    @ #25…. That begs the question: To what degree does commercial aviation enjoy a free market?

  33. #33 |  Problem for schools: ‘stop students from becoming this advanced’ « David McElroy | 

    […] issue was brought to my attention by an item at the Cato Institute’s blog, which I found via a link at Radley Balko’s Agitator site. I highly recommend following both of those blogs. […]

  34. #34 |  Andrew S. | 

    Really, Radley? You couldn’t have gone with the “Teachers: KHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAN!” headline? Shame.

    I’m really going to have to figure out how to come up with the money to put my daughter in private school when she’s old enough for kindergarten (except if I can get her into the supposedly excellent charter school down the road from where we live). Private school is probably more money than I can afford, but gambling with her future is worse.

  35. #35 |  Anthony | 

    #31 Marty,
    I was home schooled and I’m considering doing the same with my children. The number 1 issue/comment other people bring up in opposition is that of socialization. Not the quality of education. They are other and better ways to teach social skills to children than to lock them into a one size fits all program that is dumbed down. Unschooling doesn’t have to be an option if you don’t institutionalize your kids in the first place.

  36. #36 |  Boyd Durkin | 

    I’ve worked with a fair amount of teachers who’d LOVE to have a group of kids they could “run fast with”. The comment (IMHO) is damning of bureaucracies (organizations that value standardization and process above effectiveness) and everything associated with them.

    The private school I use seems to have this figured out.

    PS: My tin hat tells me the state hates anything that threatens their dogma monopoly at the local indoctrination academy.

  37. #37 |  newshutz | 

    @Khan Academy

    Thank you for this.

    I followed to the website, and watched a few of the lectures and the TED talk. This is exciting stuff.

    I especially liked the idea of reversal, that lecture becomes homework and practice to mastery becomes the schoolwork.

  38. #38 |  Deoxy | 

    -Airlines and taxes: Pricing and “should” – while I can see some points you might be trying to make with that, aren’t you a free-market-type libertarian? They can set the bloody price to whatever they think the market will support, right?? (And the “they might want the back-taxes” argument, especially in what is likely a short-term situation, is something to consider, too.)

    -age cohorts and schools, private and public – most private schools are going to use the system that the public schools do, simply because it’s what everyone (most possible employees, almost all parents) are used to. The value is that they do it “better” (without so much bureaucracy and stupidity). TO actually use a truly different system requires a much larger level of effort, likely makes recruitment more difficult (for fear of being “locked in” some weird system – how to transitions work in actual practice? If it’s truly a new system, no one knows), and generally has significant risks associated with it. That’s not to say that it’s not worth doing or that nobody will or even already is doing it, only that the “default” system is what’s going to be used, and the government set that.

    -“Humane” prison: considering both the obvious flaws in their system that the current mass-murder is exposing (maximum penalty is 21 years…even for THAT??!?!!!??! among other things) and the incredible homogeneity or their society (relative to ours), I’m not sure that’s really a useful thing to look at, other than the general inherent interest factor for something that is unusual. I generally have a pretty strong aversion to making prison nicer than what we provide the poor who AREN’T in prison. (If you want to make the case that we need to make it nicer because we put too many people there who don’t deserve it, I would point out that you are trying to solve the wrong part of that problem.)

  39. #39 |  Deoxy | 

    Dogs going through the apartment complex

    OK, I can see that it’s probably a waste of manpower, but can’t anyone walk the halls of the apt complex, generally speaking? I could walk my OWN dog there, for instance. As such, I find it hard to fault them for this one (other than being wasteful).

    Now, what they were LOOKING for, I have several problems with (primarily having to do with the horrendous incentive structure laws against drugs pretty much inherently set up which proceed to corrupt the police and restrict our rights – the actual drugs I don’t like people using one bit… but I haven’t found a solution to that problem, really – our current actions are pretty darn stupid), and certainly, there are major problems in what becomes “probably cause” regarding drug dogs, but those weren’t really the main reasons you brought it up, was it? That is, solve both of those (magically, just for the sake of argument), and that doesn’t fix the complaint you have about that operation, does it?

  40. #40 |  freedomfan | 


    I’d hard time coming up with a better example of finely orchestrated collusion and price-fixing than the airlines simultaneously raising prices to fit the tax holiday.

    I think the airlines (those that raised their fares; not all did) are missing an opportunity to get some extra business and emphasize that some of the ticket price is a government charge and not an airline charge. However, the collusion theory doesn’t hold water for several reasons.

    First, almost all of those tickets were sold before the FAA reauthorization deadline was missed and the bottom line price included those taxes. It’s not as though, weeks ago when people were buying tickets, they were going to reset their computers to stop adding the tax charge on the chance that the FAA fees weren’t reauthorized. Of course, they could issue refunds now.

    Second, there isn’t an airline company that wouldn’t be worried that they will be asked / forced to pay those taxes retroactively. Whether or not they all decided to collect the taxes just in case (and that would be the safest thing for them to so), what would be surprising is if they all didn’t seriously consider it.

    Third, airlines deciding to raise prices at the same time might have been “evidence” of collusion 15 or 20 years ago (and not really, even then). But, nowadays, any company can find out what another is charging in seconds and adjust their own prices. It would have been trivially easy to see that other airlines were still collecting the taxes and decide to do so also. And, as the original article pointed out, the airline fees did not all go up at once – some airlines raised them right away and most of the rest followed in a few days. Not exactly collusion to adjust prices when it is publicly available information that your competitors have done so.

  41. #41 |  Radley Balko | 

    That is, solve both of those (magically, just for the sake of argument), and that doesn’t fix the complaint you have about that operation, does it?

    I don’t really understand the point of your question. If you assume away all the troubling stuff, then yes, by definition you’re left with a story that isn’t troubling.

    The problem here is that drug dogs regularly give false alerts, and have been shown in controlled tests to alert to please their masters. This then provides probable cause for a search warrant. Which means these cops are going to get to search whatever apartments they want, based on no real probable cause.

  42. #42 |  MassHole | 

    Holy Shit. That apartment complex search is in my podunk home town. Meadowview apartments is maybe a hundred unit complex for low income tenants. I’m sure that many if not most tenants are on some sort of government assistance. It’s not surprising in the least that the local cops would do something like this. A string of car break-ins makes the front page of the local paper. So other than dealing with the general stupidity of drunks and pill heads, there is very little for the cops to worry about. It’s just an excuse for the local cops to act like the big boys. The only thing running a dog around an apt building is going to catch is someone smoking weed in the comfort of their own home. Heaven forbid!

    Ironically, it wasn’t too long ago that a Town of Pulaski police officer was arrested and sent to jail for using and dealing meth, while in uniform and on duty! See the link below.

  43. #43 |  Mannie | 

    A f(r)iend had a solution for dog searches at his school. He sprayed random objects including the Principal’s door, with a water pistol filled with bong water. He also scattered empty .22 brass about for the bomb sniffers.

    Don’t get caught, though.

  44. #44 |  Luisa | 

    Nice selective quoting there, Cato.

    For those who didn’t bother to click through: the Khan Academy article at Wired actually begins with a positive report on a public school teacher here in Cali who uses the program in her elementary classroom. She has a ten-year-old student studying inverse trigonometric functions. The article goes on to mention other public school teachers [and a public school principal] who think the program is great, and public school board members interested in using Khan Academy in even more classrooms. No one expresses concern that students might “become too advanced.”

    From the article: “Khan himself winces when I apply the label [“education reformer”] to him. He says he has no particular animus toward the public school system; in fact, his experience with Los Altos has shown him that public school teachers can be as innovative as anyone else.”

    For the record, I teach at a suburban, middle-class, public middle school here in SoCal, and our math students who are ready and willing to study more advanced math go to a nearby high school for their math classes. Our school district isn’t unique in this regard. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that my school’s math teachers were already using the Khan program in their classrooms. [subjunctive = Spanish teacher]

    Too bad Cato’s animus twisted its representation of the Wired article.

  45. #45 |  Adam G | 


    So glad you saw the article about the drug dog “searches” at the apt complex in the Roanoke area. I saw this article in the paper the other day and was going to forward it along, but never got around to it. Keep up the good work, my friend.

  46. #46 |  Windy | 

    Strip a man naked, then beat, tase and pepper spray him for 22 minutes on video but superiors say their officers followed their training?

  47. #47 |  JS | 

    Windy “Strip a man naked, then beat, tase and pepper spray him for 22 minutes on video but superiors say their officers followed their training?”

    Hey just because that excuse didn’t work well for the SS at the Nurremburg trials doesn’t mean it won’t work in 21st century America.

  48. #48 |  Jay | 

    Windy and JS:

    If their boss said that the officers behaved as trained, isn’t he admitting personal criminal liability? According to him, he told them to do it!

  49. #49 |  Windy | 

    What I want to know is when are these kinds of stories (beatings, puppycide, innocents killed, etc.) going to stop being “isolated incidents” and start being the “serious problem with America’s police” they obviously are?

  50. #50 |  JS | 

    Jay, you don’t understand. When WE do it there can be personal criminal liability, when THEY do it it’s different.

  51. #51 |  JS | 

    Windy “What I want to know is when are these kinds of stories (beatings, puppycide, innocents killed, etc.) going to stop being “isolated incidents” and start being the “serious problem with America’s police” they obviously are?”

    As soon as its the lead story on ABC nightly news. CNN, Foxnews, etc. In other words, it’s probably not.

  52. #52 |  Highway | 

    Luisa, how is ignoring that quote, as you do, any less ‘selective quoting’. The Cato piece is pointing out a specific thing. They didn’t make it up, it’s actually in the Wired article. It doesn’t matter if people love it. The point is that the school systems where people have that concern don’t want to bother dealing with a situation where a kid is advanced more than other kids in one subject. So rather than figure out how to deal with a situation where some kids learn a subject better, and allowing them to learn, the response is “hey, let’s pull them back so they don’t learn as much.”

    If the supposed goal of ‘teaching’ is ‘learning’ by the students, this is anathema to that goal. And that’s what Cato is pointing out.

  53. #53 |  BSK | 

    Disclaimer: I am a teacher (private school, Pre-K)

    I know nothing of Khan academy. I don’t know how much stock to put in that quote, because A) it comes from the director of the program who has incentive to paint his detractors in a negative light and B) it is unclear who said it and how representative it is of teachers as a whole.

    What I will say is that there are issues with aggressively advancing students. A mantra I firmly believe in is “Just because we can doesn’t mean we should.” Many students who “master” advanced topics have often only really mastered rote memorization and have little conceptual understanding. This is problematic for a myriad of reasons. There is also a limit in the ability for a teacher, even the best teacher, to differentiate. Differentiation is the adjustment of curriculum so that students of differing levels are appropriately challenged while still functioning in the same cooperative learning environment. This is somewhat in contrast to individualization, where each child is essentially working on their own curriculum, which may or may not overlap with that of their peers. For a variety of reasons differentiation is the preferred approach for both the teacher (nearly impossible to effectively come up with 20+ curricula) and for the students (cooperative learning has a variety of benefits). A good teacher can and should be able to differentiate across a wide range of ability levels but there is a limit. If you have a 5th grader who has genuinely mastered everything from the basic 5th grade math curriculum through advanced 12th grade trig, that can present a problem for the teacher and the class. Does the student have an obligation to avoid advancement because of the impact on his teacher and class? It’d be hard to argue that he does, but that doesn’t make it less concerning for a teacher.

    Personally, my biggest issue with programs such as these have to do with what is sacrificed in their pursuit. As a teacher of young children, I am bothered when I hear parents tell me that their 4-year-old is reading at a 3rd grade level because they do an hour and a half of direct instruction at home yet the child has little time to play outside or interact with peers or get bored and foster creativity.

    I’m not saying that students should be discouraged from being pushed or challenged. If a child has a passion and a proclivity (that first criteria is often ignored), that should absolutely be nurtured in a healthy way. Teachers/schools should be expected to address the needs of all students, including those who are advanced. However, I do think there is genuine reason to be concerned about programs like this, even if that particular quote seems quite damning to teachers.

  54. #54 |  Dave Krueger | 

    #43 Mannie

    A f(r)iend had a solution for dog searches at his school. He sprayed random objects including the Principal’s door, with a water pistol filled with bong water. He also scattered empty .22 brass about for the bomb sniffers.

    Don’t get caught, though.

    That is what I call an excellent example of civil disobedience.

  55. #55 |  Highway | 

    But what is that a failure of? To me, it indicates not a failing of subject teaching, the Academy, or the student, but a failure of the current conceptualization of ‘school’. And maybe that’s what really needs to be challenged. It’s not convenient for the huge industry that all schooling is, but it should open the question of what the priority is. Is it to have kids learn as much as they can? Is it to put a brake on that learning in some areas for other reasons? Or should the priority be to let the kids and parents make that decision and figure out how to adjust schools to that purpose (this is laughable with the current mindset of schools, I fear)? I also think it’s very troubling that it seems to me that schools have the worst problem with children who don’t just ‘do what we tell you’. Whether it is “overadvancement”, or kids who don’t care, or kids who have development problems, or kids that want to do something different, the system of ‘schooling’ cannot deal elegantly with them. So to a certain extent it completely ignores behavior that is outside the desired norm, but when a threshold is reached there is generally a bad reaction.

    Separately, I’d argue that even knowing ‘rote memorization’ is better than having no knowledge at all. It’s a completely valid process to learn the ‘rule’ first in things like physics, math, and engineering, and then as you apply it, you figure out why the limitations of the ‘rule’ are there. Knowing how to do advanced computation doesn’t necessarily cut off the investigative processes of the mind. This has been a concern for the entire history of humanity. “Yeah, but you don’t know WHY you can’t plant in wet soil”, etc. People keep learning from those they interact with, and it’s actually one reason I think the ‘solitary knowledge’ system that all school is based on is pretty terrible. There is nothing I do as an adult that I cannot ask for others opinion or independent checks on. As an engineer, there’s never a time when there *should* be. I should do it right, certainly, but someone should always check me, and I should always be checking for other people. A side process of this is that knowledge is shared and propogated, as well as examined and refined.

  56. #56 |  bbrown | 

    Meadowbrook Apartments in Pulaski is Section 8 housing. Most poor and minorities. I wonder if the police to the same for apartments housing Virginia Tech students in Lynchburg??

  57. #57 |  BSK | 

    Highway (I assume your replying to me)-

    My comment was focused more on what is than what ought to be. I am first in line saying that we need to reform the school system and in many of the ways you discuss, going beyond simply trying a new curriculum and actually challenging what we think school is supposed to be. You won’t get any disagreement from me in that area.

    However, there is a limit to how responsive schools can be. At least as presently constructed. That is a practical reality. Again, this brings us back to making changes.

    Personally, I think a huge step would be moving away from the “one size fits none” model. Combine multiple smaller school systems into larger school systems. Then offer a variety of schooling options that parents/students are free to choose between. Some can cater to those who want to aggressively advance while others can have different focuses, approaches, and philosophies. There would be no limits to access. A team of folks can offer advice on which kids might benefit from which programs, though the decision still remains with the family. There are a few logistical issues that would need to be worked out, but the largest hindrance to an approach like this is very human: ego.

  58. #58 |  Highway | 

    I think ‘one size fits none’ is a very apt description of the system we have now, with the caveat that it does ‘fit’ one particular group: The administrators.

    I’d much rather see ‘education’ moved away from supposed education professionals as a group and more to a distributed system, based more on home and small neighborhood group supervision. This runs counter to the babysitting / day care / warehousing system we have now that allows higher overall productivity (especially if you count the babysitting as productivity). And I don’t know how it would actually work, but I just can’t get away from the fact that there’s a ton of inefficiency in current education, because of the frictions we’ve been talking about.

    But I think it also needs to be recognized that there will always be ‘limits to access’, because if we’re talking instruction, then that takes time and effort by other specialized people, and they should be compensated for that time and effort. Some things can certainly make it cheaper (like the Khan Academy type of thing where a video is made once and then takes no more time), but it’s still got some cost. But there’s always going to be some limit when something needs ‘doing’.

  59. #59 |  BSK | 

    “I’d much rather see ‘education’ moved away from supposed education professionals as a group and more to a distributed system, based more on home and small neighborhood group supervision.”

    Can you elaborate on this? Do you mean the education is happening in the home and small neighborhood groups? Or that supervision and oversight wouldn’t be so top down?

    If it is the latter, New York tried this with more community based oversight. One district (I believe in Brooklyn but don’t quote me) that was primarily poor and black actually started to make some very impressive gains but bucked the system to do it with much of the “bucking” taking the form of the black community leaders telling the white higher ups that maybe they knew better when it came to teaching their kids. Naturally, the program was disbanded, quite violently if memory serves (I think the local leaders were actually locked out of meetings). I’m being vague because I didn’t witness any of this first-hand (I think it took place in the 70’s) but learned about it in grad school. I’ll see if I can dig up more info on it.

  60. #60 |  Highway | 

    I mean the former. That most ‘education’ would be on the order of larger scale ‘homeschooling’ now. Of course, I prefer homeschooling myself, and if I had children they would not be going to a school. But as I said, a major impediment to that now is the daycare aspect of current schools. People feel they ‘need’ to work two jobs (to keep up with the evolving ‘American Dream’ or whatever), or denigrate those who don’t work. So the caregiving is passed off to schools, while people work to make marginally more than the pre and after-school daycare that they need because they’re working.

    I really do think that more people would take the option of stay-home parenting and homeschooling were it not for the efforts of the government to marginalize it. As it is, it invites so much government interference into one’s life, either through the board of Ed, or through CPS, that it’s daunting. But despite the continual denigration of homeschooling as the provenance of kooky superreligious folks or anti-social weirdos, it seems to have at least as good a track record at teaching children as government schools do.

    And no, it’s never going to be a total replacement for current schools, but right now it’s barely even an option. And what I’m envisioning – home or neighborhood schooled kids learning in smallish groups, like up to 10 kids in someone’s home – is for the most part really frowned on from what I can recall.

  61. #61 |  André | 

    MassHole: Back in the day (late 70s), my uncles caught wind of drug dogs that would be brought to school. Their response was water pistols filled with bong water and squirting the principal’s door.

  62. #62 |  Deoxy | 

    The problem here is that drug dogs regularly give false alerts, and have been shown in controlled tests to alert to please their masters. This then provides probable cause for a search warrant. Which means these cops are going to get to search whatever apartments they want, based on no real probable cause.

    If that’s the real problem (and I agree that it is) with the story in question, not that the police went through the public access areas of the apartment complex, then the story you’re linking is a VERY poor example – it strongly implies that the problem is the police going through the complex.

    That’s really all I meant, what I was trying to check with you on – it seemed like you were complaining primarily about just going through the complex. Just to be clear, if they really were following Constitutional and ethical procedures (not the farce that drug-sniffing dogs has become), would you still have pointed out that story?

    (Whether they would bother wasting their time to do that without the unethical method of obtaining “probable” cause is a different question… one that pretty well answers itself, I think.)

  63. #63 |  Deoxy | 

    “humane” prison (again):

    Also be interested to see if more humane treatment produces better results.

    Define “better”. I suspect who it works for and how well would depend GREATLY on that definition.

    Happier inmates? Of course.

    Feeling morally superior to those barbaric lower life forms over in the US? Check!

    Lower recidivism? Depends VERY VERY VERY much on why they’re in there – people who like violence are still going to like violence, no matter how well they learn to cook, etc. For some groups of criminals, I could see real value here… not sure how to set up a system that won’t be easily gamed, though (since essentially ALL criminals would prefer this over the regular ones).

    The part I found really odd was that they did this with what they call a “maximum security” prison. If a criminal is so easily rehabilitated, they don’t need to be in maximum security. If a criminal needs to be in maximum security, I find it incredibly difficult to believe that playing house for a while will really rehabilitate them.

    But then, with that 21 year maximum sentence no matter what, I suppose they have a much lower bar for “rehabilitated” than I do.

  64. #64 |  albatross | 

    Just as an aside: Discussions of recidivism rates tend to have a lot to do with political ideology–liberals and conservatives tend to have different default views of how much rehabilitation is possible. However, the BJS makes some really wonderful data available in an accessible form:

    BJS Recidivism Calculator. This lets you select some traits of a given criminal (race, age, prior criminal history, sentence served), and then uses data collected from several states to give some estimates on likelihood that this guy will end up back in jail within three years.

  65. #65 |  JS | 

    Deoxy “Feeling morally superior to those barbaric lower life forms over in the US? Check!”

    Considering the state, and especially the scope (5% of the world’s population but over 25% of the world’s prisoners) of US prisons I’d say that desicription is pretty well justified.

  66. #66 |  BSK | 


    My objection to homeschooling is based on a few premises:
    1.) Vygotsky’s social-constructivist theory tells us that much learning happens best when it is learned through interactions with peers. Home-schooling groups that are smaller than ten likely don’t offer the necessary opportunities for social interaction. And the learning isn’t simply social, but cognitive as well.
    2.) We have trouble as it is staffing our schools with enough effective teachers. A lot (I’m tempted to say most but I won’t be that dire right now) of teachers are shit. Some of that has to do with unions. Some of that has to do with compensation. Some of that has to do with education as a profession still being very young. There are a myriad of factors. Smaller groupings of students will require more teachers and I don’t know if there is a supply to fit that demand. Now, don’t get me wrong; teachers do not have a monopoly on the knowledge base that we hope children attain as they go through schooling nor on the skills required to convey knowledge and guide development. I’m sure there are many people who have never took an education course or lifted an education book who could walk into a classroom today and be effective instructors. But I don’t know that there are enough out there to make your scenario a reality.
    3.) Schools provide many services beyond education. Many children get 2/3s of their daily meals there. It serves as a screening tool for identifying needs. It provides access to materials that might be otherwise inaccessible for many kids.

    I agree that the perception of home schooling is unfair. I’m sure there are many kids for whom home schooling is best and there are obviously many success stories of home schooling. But, the home schooling population is a self-selecting one; it does not surprise me that most of the kids who are home schooled do well. It is the same reason that kids in charter schools and private schools tend to do better than those in public schools. Yes, part of it is the likelihood of a better quality education; but there is also much that has to do with a set of parents who care enough about education to research and seek out options like charter schools or private schools or spend the time to provide a quality home education. Those parents would likely have successful children no matter where they went to school because of their own investment. So, the data is a bit skewed.

    The state’s monopoly on education is troublesome. But I don’t know that widespread home schooling is the solution, given what we know about how students learn best and the practical issues around finding enough qualified home schoolers who are willing to do the job.

  67. #67 |  Highway | 

    A couple of rebuttals:

    1. I certainly wouldn’t imagine that smaller groups would be completely insular, so there would be interaction and flux through multiple groups. Also, if ‘school’ time is reduced (as frequently happens with home schooled children, they spend much much less time in instruction, and not solely because they’re smarter, but because instruction is more focused and individualized), there’s more time overall for social interaction. I also don’t know how much a larger group than 10 or so actually interacts with everyone, on a regular basis. So I think it would be a wash, or still tilted in favor of the small groups.

    2. We have bad teachers now because they have to be “teachers” in a) a crummy system and b) under odd circumstances. When you load 20 kids in a room, solely based on age, with completely different interests and aptitudes and attitudes, it’s not surprising that a ‘teachers’ time is going to be spent wasted on dealing with a small fraction of those kids, and likely not actually teaching a subject. I think this gets better as kids get older and kids are somewhat more separated by interest and aptitude into different classes. But there’s still significant problem with attitudes in a lot of classes.

    But for home and neighborhood schooling, I think there would be the ability to focus a lot more on each child, and the knowledge of the ‘teacher’ doesn’t matter as much. And this would especially be true if programs like the one which started this conversation were more available, and they would be if this was a more accepted model of childhood learning. So the fact that we don’t have a lot of ‘teachers’ now that are suited to a bad system isn’t really as important. I’ve seen plenty of parents who you wouldn’t think “they could be qualified as an ‘educator'” be fine as homeschooling parents, because it’s not about them actually teaching as much as kids being interested in learning.

  68. #68 |  BSK | 


    Personally, I think we have far bigger questions to ask before we can begin to discuss true overhaul. The big question is… what is the goal of education? That is a question that is often ignored in our system, which is why we have so many disparate parts of the education system/process that work in opposition towards each other. We talk alot about fostering creativity but then use standardized teaching which emphasize a very different type of learning and thinking. Leaving aside my personal feelings on which of these is better, the fact is, such disjointed ideology and methodology is just stupid. There will likely be many different answers to this question, which is a good thing, at which point different paths will be constructed using different means to achieve different ends. And I’m not talking about minor differences like large group vs small group or whole language vs phonics instruction. I’m talking about far larger issues.

  69. #69 |  pam | 

    I wonder how many children are doing lwop at the Ikea prisons? Probably alot since Norway’s crime rate is so low.

  70. #70 |  albatross | 


    It’s quite likely that different kids (and different parents) need different things from the schools. For example, my two school-aged kids went to kindergarten reading books independently, my wife stays at home so we don’t absolutely need daycare till 3 every weekday, and we don’t have any trouble providing them food and medical care and such. There are many kids who got to school not knowing the alphabet, whose parents work (so that daycare function is part of what makes it possible for the family to stay afloat), whose families don’t manage to provide decent meals every day, whose families wouldn’t make it to a doctor for vaccinations and such if not required for school, etc. There are even many families in the US where the parents don’t speak much English, and they’re relying on the schools and their kids’ playmates to teach their kids the language they’ll need to be full members of this society. And there are many kids with some kind of special needs, where the school is having to do a bunch of extra stuff to help the kids get something out of school.

    My guess is that kids from such different circumstances just need different stuff, and that the kind of education reform or redesign that works well for, say, children of educated middle-class parents, may not work all that well for kids of Salvadoran immigrants working three jobs each, or for kids of a single mother who dropped out of school when she had her first child at 16.

  71. #71 |  BSK | 


    I agree entirely. If I came across as thinking otherwise, that was not my attention.

    I would also add to your list that some kids are positioned, either through ability or drive, to go through undergraduate and graduate school and work as a high level executive while others are positioned to be mechanics. Why should these two kids go through the same (or similar) education system for the first 18 years of their life? Why not let the former take advanced liberal arts classes while the latter takes vocational classes? I know many bristle at this notion because of the idea of kids being tracked and having their futures determined and limited for them by others (like this doesn’t happen a million other ways), but if the decision is left up to the student and the family with advice from dedicated professionals, I see no reason why we have to have the same expectations for everyone and then consider a whole class of kids failure because they were never cut out for that path to begin with.

  72. #72 |  Leon Wolfeson | 

    BSK – This is the sort of example you’ve probably heard before, but…

    I was one of a half-dozen “bright” kids when I was young, at my school, who read at a very high level. Only two of us did so naturally, the other four were drilled by their parents. Today, only us two natural readers do any significant amount of reading for pleasure. One of the others, who’s still a friend, mentions his parents made reading a duty for him, and that lingers.

  73. #73 |  dmoynihan | 

    What I loved about Khan is a lot of his ideas (particularly getting older students to interact with younger ones) could be straight out of John Taylor Gatto (Gatto’s a former 2-time NY Teacher of the Year who quit and called out the administration.)

    I’ve been eking out a living doing ebooks for a decade-and-a-half, which let me see an implausible amount of educational vaporware, but folks like Khan and the Starfall team are really doing amazing things with limited budgets, almost entirely w/o bureaucracy.

  74. #74 |  Michael | 

    Why is any city called Lynchburg in the first place?

  75. #75 |  markm | 

    Michael: It was named after someone named “Lynch.” I hope it’s not the same person who inspired “Lynch law.”

  76. #76 |  John C. Randolph | 

    I was very lucky to learn trigonometry at work, the summer before I got to it in high school. I learned it as AC power, though. My boss needed me to understand power, so he sat me down and explained it to me. When I got to my trig class at the end of the summer, I saw the graphs, and said to myself “Oh, sine is voltage, cosine is current. I know this.”

    When I look at what I know, and what proportion of that I learned on the job versus what I learned in school, I’m furious that the state made me sit and obey their bureaucrats for twelve years.


  77. #77 |  John C. Randolph | 

    The more I learn about the history of schooling, the more I’m convinced that forcing children to sit and pay attention for hours every day is barbaric and counter-productive.