Morning Links

Wednesday, July 27th, 2011

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77 Responses to “Morning Links”

  1. #1 |  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.

  2. #2 |  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.

  3. #3 |  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.

  4. #4 |  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.

  5. #5 |  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.

  6. #6 |  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??

  7. #7 |  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.

  8. #8 |  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’.

  9. #9 |  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.

  10. #10 |  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.

  11. #11 |  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.

  12. #12 |  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.)

  13. #13 |  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.

  14. #14 |  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.

  15. #15 |  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.

  16. #16 |  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.

  17. #17 |  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.

  18. #18 |  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.

  19. #19 |  pam | 

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

  20. #20 |  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.

  21. #21 |  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.

  22. #22 |  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.

  23. #23 |  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.

  24. #24 |  Michael | 

    Why is any city called Lynchburg in the first place?

  25. #25 |  markm | 

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

  26. #26 |  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.


  27. #27 |  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.