Saturday, August 14, 2010

...and they vote.

At his blog, Kevin relays the tale of the 31-year-old who did not know who Adolf Hitler was.

I once worked with a young woman who was outgoing, fairly bright, had enrolled in the local VooTee's nursing program, and did not know that snakes were vertebrates. Or that stars were other suns like ours.

She was not stupid by any means, and yet had somehow managed to slide through twelve years of basic education without anyone really ever engaging her desire to learn. Now she was in college and trying gamely, but had an uphill fight ahead of her.

It's often been joked that you can ascertain someone's politics by asking them how they feel about prayer in public schools. If they say "I'm against it!" you have a liberal; if they say "I'm in favor of it!" you have a conservative; and if they say "Public schools?!?" you have a libertarian. We're spending a ton of money on each kid for twelve years and all too frequently winding up with bupkis. We might as well just close the schools and buy them all new Jaguars instead. They'd still be illiterate, but at least they'd have nice cars to show for all the cash we set on fire.

I don't pretend to know what the answer is, but what we're doing now isn't it.


Eric said...

My nephew managed to graduate high school without being able to comprehend what he read, couldn't do any sort of mathematical percentage problems and history longer than 20 years ago was unknown to him.

After A LOT of tutoring, he enrolled in a VoTech class for CNAs and is now a productive member of society. It happens more than we'd like to admit.

I wish I knew of a solution that more than 5 people could agree on.

Lewis said...

I think schools are more for warehousing people than teaching 'em. Like prison, only less so, except more so than they used to be.

Eck! said...

The old saw.. Those that do not understand history are doomed to repeat it.


My senior address was about how there were students who were well qualified to to college but are completely unqualified to fill out a employment form or any other document of importance. Educated and totally unable to function. That was in 1972
we are seeing the result.


og said...

Painfully, one of the answers is to live like a pauper and send an extra house payment to a private school, a concept I know all too well. it doesn't fix anything but one kid at a time, but so long as it's MY kid, it's worth it to me.

Where's my damned voucher?

REALLY annoying that several families far more well off than me got scholarships.

Wolfwood said...

My sister is very bright, an accomplished classical musician, and a graduate of a quality university. She is curious about the world around her. She also had her K-12 in public schools. She can't find Spain on a map to save her life.

I went to public schools from 3-12, have a doctorate from a top-tier university, various other measurements as well, and still can't diagram a sentence. If not for my 2nd grade Montessori education, I probably wouldn't know my parts of speech at all (I think we may have spent a week on them in 10th grade).

Here's the thing: my sisters and I attended the then-#2 public school system in the country. Several of us were enrolled in the gifted/talented curriculum, and in history and English I was WAY above most of my classmates.

The only people who know more than random snippets of information I know are self-educated. Other than cursive and a little bit about Athens and Sparta, I can't think of anything I learned in public schools that I use on a regular basis.

Larry said...

The scenario Tam described is commonplace. I tutor children from our public schools and I, too, had a high-school senior who didn't know that the Sun is a star around which the Earth revolves, that the Moon is a planet that revolves around the Earth, or that light travels very fast. This student had memorized the multiplication tables in elementary school but didn't know what multiplication "means."

Another example was with a high-school senior taking an "AP Chemistry" class. This student wanted help understanding how to calculate the molarity of a solution. I kept working "backwards" through the "things one needs to know" in search of the student's baseline competence. At one point I posed the question "If you have two five pound bags of sugar, how much sugar do you have?" The student responded, "Twenty-five pounds. You multiply don't you?"

Several years ago, I had a third grade student who needed help with arithmetic. This student was very bright but didn't seem to be retaining much from her class at school. I made an appointment with the teacher to try to get more information about what and how my student was being taught.

At one point in the conversation I mentioned that my student didn't seem confident in even basic facts like knowing the "multiplication table." The teacher said, "Well, we're not as concerned about their knowing the exact answer as how they feel about that answer."

At this point, I knew I had found the root of this student's problem. I thanked the teacher for taking time to meet with me and backed slowly out of the office.

Again, all of the students in these examples were very bright and had managed to be very successful in their classes. They were all eager students and found their way to me because they really wanted to learn. They all came from homes where their parents were present, loving, dedicated, and involved in their lives. In every case, their performance improved quickly once we put some of the basics in place. All graduated from college and are successful in their careers. The first is now an accountant, the second is a nurse, and the third is a psychiatrist. In short, the only thing preventing them from getting a high quality education was the Educational System itself.

This essay by Paul Lockhart offers a magnificent of some of these issues.

A Mathematician's Lament


Brian J, said...

I used to pose two questions to acquaintances:

* Name six morals.
* What years were the Civil War fought?

I don't ask them any more because I couldn't get answers or correct answers out of college graduates or high school graduates or hardly anyone. When I found a girl who could answer both, I married her.

Anonymous said...


that beats a circa 1989 sparkling conversation with a Dallas Independent School Dist grad (recent as of say that month (June) who when asked why I had said a few folks from my Dad's VFW could now wear all their medals that had been in the footlockers for 50 years.

These guys had flown bombers and escorts for the first shuttle bombing missions (UK, Germany to USSR, USSR to Italy/North Africa, North Africa back to UK dropping little party favors as they went)

Quite a few of them had gotten various orders of whom ever, Red Banner etc and had to stash them during the cold war. (Side note the Order of Lennin is a pretty piece of heraldic if I say so myself)hxxp://

The Red Banner is way to busy

I kid you not her exact quote,

"...The Russians were on our side?"

How do you take modern US history and not note whom is on what side (with the probable exception on Italy which changed sides at various points).


Brad K. said...

Any school board has the authority and ability to take control over what, and how, children in the district are taught.

Just throw out the federal standards, guidelines, and programs.

The way to go about it - is to not accept any federal monies. If they don't take Dept of Ed money, they don't have to care about Dept of Ed rules.

They might still have to get around the NEA, but President Reagan showed how to deal with the Air Traffic Controllers union (PATCO). It worked for him back then.

You can look at formal and ad hoc programs for homeschooling, unschooling, radical unschooling - and today's children aren't getting dumber, if they are taught with respect, discipline, and the needs of the community in mind.

Unknown said...

Sadly, if the Department of Education was retasked as the Department of Jaguar Acquisition, our kids would still be left without anything of value. Each child would be issued an identical Jaguar in gender neutral mint green,
each with 16 left wheels (half of them mounted backwards), with no drive train, no electrical system, and with a single seat positioned conveniently in the back.

The owners manual would be a laminated 3x5 card, with the following text:

"Remain calm and enjoy your trip. Someone will be along shortly to tow you to your destination."

Sabra said...

Much as I hate the education system, I am not willing to lay the blame entirely on the system itself.

I managed to come out of a poor, inner-city school district with a knowledge of basic facts and systems. I had the opportunity to take classes in two foreign languages, study military history, become conversant with the basics of art and science, learn how to write (and well), etc etc. I even had the luxury of studying the Constitution in two different classes.

I did all this not in spite of the teachers (although there was some of that) but in spite of the other students. The main drawback to government schools in my experience was that the classes were constantly being dragged down to the level of the lowest-performing student--and even in my honors classes we had no few absolute dolts.

Nevertheless, the students who wanted to learn, DID. Government schools are designed to give a very minimum level of competence (and to churn out good little Citizens).

Mick Havoc said...

My 10 year old knows who Hitler was, his political philosophy, and how he came to power. He also can recite 12 morals (hint:the Scout Law) He knows when the Civil War was fought and why. My son can discuss the uniforms, weapons, equipment, vehicles, ships and planes of all the majot combatants in both World Wars. His 16 year old brother knows all this and more.
I am not a genius and neither is my ex-wife. Both of my kids are in a suburban public school system.
Teach your kids to read, and discuss issues beyond popular culture with them. Parents still hold the ultimate responsibility for their kid's education.

Mick Havoc said...

Sorry, I meant to say "major"
Obviously, I haven't taught my kids typing.

Robert said...

"that the Moon is a planet that revolves around the Earth"

I hate to be a pedantic bastard, but...

The Moon isn't a planet. It's a natural satellite, just like every other moon. As per the 2006 IAU definition, a planet is a celestial body that is (a) in orbit around the Sun, (b) has sufficient mass for its self-gravity to overcome rigid body forces so that it assumes a hydrostatic equilibrium (nearly round) shape, and (c) has cleared the neighborhood around its orbit.

Since the moon fails section (a) by virtue of revolving around the Earth rather than the Sun, it's not a planet.

Normally I'd have let that one go, but since this a thread about ignorance and wrong knowledge it was too juicy to pass up. ;)

"The teacher said, 'Well, we're not as concerned about their knowing the exact answer as how they feel about that answer.'"

That's fucking scary. Explains a lot, though, such as the 2008 election results...

Anonymous said...

You cann't teach common sence. But you can teach someone how to read and write and the basic math principles. Our education system has failed miserably at this.


Mark Alger said...

And I bet most of you think that this is an unhappy accident -- a peripheral and unintended consequence of other, wrong-headed liberal nostrums. Not so. It was deliberate, and set in motion a long time ago:

"You can’t make Socialists out of individualists. Children who know how to think for themselves spoil the harmony of the collective society which is coming, where everyone is interdependent." - John Dewey 1899

If there is any better reason for so-called progressives to be shot on sight as a public menace, I've never heard of it.


Anonymous said...

I graduated from high school in 1967 in a class of 143. I do not recall knowning anyone in my senior class from a broken home. Dysfunctional families? Certainly (not on par with the meaning of that term today, however). But they stuck together. I graduated with a bad attitude that started in 7th grade, and a straight D average. Many Ds represented the teacher's mercy. After 4.5 years in the Navy (fast attack subs) I returned to college. I made a single C as an undergrad, and that still bugs me. I finally realized how much you study and work has something to do with success. The point of this rambling story is that I also realized that my dedicated teachers, who never gave up on me, gave me the excellent foundation that resulted in the 95 percentile score in reading comprehension on the pre-admission test for a professional doctorate level degree. One teacher in our high school retired at the age of 92. Quiet a few others retired well into their 80s. You couldn't dynamite them out of the classrooms. They loved teaching, and the quality was as good as it gets. They very nearly had to be carried out by the coroner. Today, teachers retire on the first day of eligibility to do so, if they can last that long. Why? Both the teachers and their pupils are a product of our permissive "progressive" society. With some exceptions, "Parents" and teachers generally do not have the backbones to be real parents or teachers anymore. They worry too much about their kids feelings instead of their futures. We reap what we sow. Kentucky Jones

Revolver Rob said...

Public School?

By the time I was 16, I had read every book in the house twice (and my family had A LOT of books), and most of the ones at the local branch of the library.

Of course, when you home school, you have time to read and learn history and go in depth. Especially when you aren't stuck studying for a final standardized test. I struggled a bit in college, admittedly, going back to a structured learning environment. Once, I got past the boring basics, I really got into it.

By comparison, I know more about history, science, and math then most kids that I now teach, and I knew most of it, before they were in middle school.

The trouble with public schools, is the same problem with any kind of public funding. Too many people have different educational expectations. The best thing you can do for your kids is alternative education. Help them learn a good general background and help them focus on studies they find interesting. Don't let them be held back by "No Child Left Behind" or by "Lousy teacher who is a grad school reject."

If you absolutely, positively, have to send your kids to public schools. Be active in their education and get them into local magnet schools. At least Math and Science or Art and History magnet schools will provide your kids with the best education public schools can offer.


Larry said...

Ha. When I wrote that sentence, I wondered if that noun would elicit a comment.

In this incident, the student thought that the Moon was a star so I was more concerned with their knowing that it was made of dirt than whether they grasped the semantics related to its orbit.

Explains a lot, though, such as the 2008 election results...

That's right, Robert. In another instance, one of the local first grade classes, in teaching about how citizens should support their government asked the students to make home made cookies and cakes and then held a bake sale. The proceeds from the sale where to be sent to the US Treasury to help reduce the National debt. I boggle at all the things that are "wrong with this picture."

Anonymous said...

A stoopid populace is easy to control. An educated one will wise up to your bullshit and hang your ass.

Anonymous said...

What Sabra said. Schools will work when it stops being about playing down to the weak rather than pushing everyone to be the best they can be, even if that means it highlights the difference between the bright and the dim.

The former is equal treatment, the latter fair.


Joseph said...

I suspect the teacher who was so concerned about how students feel about an answer might have been trying to avoid the problems mentioned by Lockhart.

When you say "memorization isn't enough" many people hear "we need feelings instead."

Anonymous said...

In my observations of schools (public, private both secular and religious), the successful schools are those with very involved (and not necessarily 'helicopter') parents. Private schools are typically so ($20k/yr will make you involved) but it is not an impossibility in the public system. After all, that guy on the school board for your zone wants your vote, and involved parents control that vote.

But if that educational opportunity isn't supervised by the community that surrounds it, you get typical results from an unsupervised, unmotivated workforce: lackadaisical results.

Some background... I graduated from Alabama public schools yet still managed to obtain an engineering degree from a well regarded institute that Tam once lived not too far from. I credit almost all of it (I did have some good English teachers) to parents that valued that education and who encouraged a broad and voracious appetite for reading.

On a recent visit home, I sat back while Dad spoke bitterly on the size of the local educational budget yet the particularly poor results seen. I simply looked back at him and said "You can't turn lead to gold."

Ed FRoster said...

I really don't have an answer either. I taught as a substitue for 2 years off and on in an inner city school back in the 70's(Hartford High Annex on Washington St, since euphemised several times but still a holding facility for sociopathic droolers).

Seriously, it recieved the losers they couldn't begin to handle in HafaHi, Buckley, or Weaver, all really evil schools, and the average I.Q. of the students there was 72.

For reference, when they asked the Shrink Association back in the '60's what number gave them dummies, they said 90. The curves for falling I.Q. and falling income matched with metronomic precision from there down, data point for data point.

But they had to set it at a more Politically Correct 70 because a suprising number of ethnicities average well below that number.

Bottom line, roughly a third of the U.S. population isn't capable of doing more than the simplest kind of labor, usually with constant supervision.

A quick thought: Why are we bringing in Mexican Braceros to pick our crops? That's what the grandparents of these kids did for a living.

But, we're discussing the other 70% of the population, the kids who might become astronauts or plumbers.

My granddaughter is a highschool sophomore in Bristol CT, and is getting an education equal to private school in most cases. The history is almost entirely American and borderline hysterical liberal, but there's plenty of it, and she also has great science and math classes.

Is she typical? No, she's an honor student in the top accelerated program, with a work ethic I can only be amazed by. And her English is good enough for her to tweak me for misusing a preposition at the end of a sentence.

But it is available for those who have both the smarts and hustle, and the program attracts not only bright and motivated kids, but upbeat and capable teachers as well. A school system inside a school system.

Somehow, Bristol has managed to maintain an elite program, with, as Jim at reflectoscope pointed out, no classromm disturbance by children incapable emotionally or intellectually of participating.

Both my sons went through a similar accelerated program in Hartford, but it was cancelled before my daughters could attend, when it was noticed that 34 of 36 kids graduating were fair haired, and one of the exceptions was an immigrant from India.

At the time, European Americans were less than 10% of the Hartford system. They are now zero.

The parochial schools near Hartford were dying back in the 80's, but are now chock-a-block filled with a rainbow of races and cultures, as well as everything from Baptists and Buddists to Sikhs and even the occasional Jew.

Several of the brightest kids I know were home schooled, and they score above average nationally. Knowing a few fundamentalists who do it, I wonder if that means they're smart or it's just that so many public schools are disaster areas?

How about supervising and teaching the parents of home schoolers, and offering a tax credit of perhaps 50% the cost of public schooling to encourage the part time hireing of tutors?

No credentialing required, just testable results. We might end up with 20 or 30 kid schools that met at Mrs. Jones's house on Mondays and Tuesdays, Mr. Johnson's place on Wednesdays and Thursdays, took parentally supervised class trips on Fridays, and had their gym classes run by the parks department.

The teacher's unions would be livid, but I'll bet the end product would be far superior.

Ed Foster said...

And no, I never took typing, and am very sleepy. Oops.

Anonymous said...

"Public schools? Oh, you mean government schools..."

Anonymous said...

This is funy. The local red-rag just reprinted an article written by Ray Fisman in Slate. The article discussed the problem(s) of the current education system in the US.
The short version is that a Big Group of Important People got together at the Columbia Business School, discussed the current situation, and then ran all their finding through a computer.
The computer came back and told them the only solution was to fire roughly 80% of the current teachers...

mts1 said...

You can lead a horse to water, etc.

If 90% of students know that getting by will get them fed and housed, why try harder? They'll get an apartment, AFDC, food stamps, etc., and still have money for cable, smokes, and the gambling boats, even if all they do is sit around. Don't assume you're representative of the norm. All of you people are on the right (upper) side of the Bell Curve. At risk of dislocating my arm from patting myself on the back, so am I. Of course we know the basics plus 10,000. We'd look up and down the street and see the library or bookstore as the most valuable storefront there. Others see the liquor store or the electronics store. Look at the looting in NO after the hurricane to prove my point. Bling stores cleaned out, but not a broken window or scratch on a Borders or Barnes & Noble.

I stopped getting fed up with the Idiocracy once I came to terms with "that's just the way they are, you can't teach a pig to sing, don't reason with them, just try to herd them and not get trampled."

It was my Old School Catholic education, complete with smacking nuns and punching priests and the clergy's overall bibliophilia. And a library card, and a good stash of books back home, including ole Funk & Wagnalls.

Anonymous said...

most of the freshmen i meet are the quality of intellect that would pull the grenade and throw the pin...
even talking to them is a painful experience...
the local CSU actually has a frosh class in laundry/bathing/checkbooks/ and etc that runs for 2 weeks and is mandatory...
i just throw the course catalog in the recycle bin when it shows up...
we are doomed...

Buzz said...

Read the comments to a recent NYT column by Bob Herbert.
The collectivists blame the problems on the few and relativley unsuccessful campaigns to wrestle influence on public education from the unionized socialists that have been manipulating curricula and poisoning impressionable minds for decades.
(Well, that and Ronald Reagan is apparently the liberal atheist version of the anti-Christ.)

Amusing that a fairly recent and tiny blip on the education radar was met with scorn, yet they completely ignored their ideological stranglehold on the nation's education system, especially a near ban on rational and conservative thought at institutions of higher learning.

Regardless of political bent, we seem to agree on most of the core problems, but we can't get past pointing fingers at each other long enough to actually find the common ground for a fix.

Idiocracy, thy name is America.

SpeakerTweaker said...

I don't pretend to know what the answer is, but what we're doing now isn't it.

Tam for President.

Srsly. Someone needs to get thee hence to the campaign trail with that for a slogan, as opposed to every other moron who pretends to have a solution. Besides, a president who totes would be a major plus, particularly when the UN holds their next big conference;)


Anonymous said...

The most frustrating part, at least for some of us, is that educating children efficiently and effectively is not difficult, complex, or expensive. It is certainly not a new field at the bleeding edge of the new sciences. It merely requires a certain degree of will and discipline on the part of the educators, who must also--and here we begin to go off the rails--be more concerned with the welfare of their students than in the power their union wields.

The McGuffey Reader of 1836 is quite, quite sufficient to the task of teaching any educable child to read by the age of five or six, and remains a far better tool than most up through the grammar school level.

However, as others have mentioned, there have been permitted to develop in the US vast and growing populations of congenital mental defectives who are cognitively incapable of contributing to society or the economy by any means requiring greater abstract thought than what is involved in pulling the white bits off the cotton plant and stuffing them in the bag, while the "buckra man" watches and administers little reminders with a horsewhip whenever their tiny minds wander from the task at hand. Even in the Nineteenth Century the labor of such persons was less efficient than the use of recently developed agricultural machinery; in the Twenty-First Century such persons can only be useless eaters.

But there is more to it. The useless eaters vote. They vote early, often, and with great enthusiasm for whomever will promise them more of your tax money, and they very much like educational policies that emphasize "self-esteem," whatever that may be, over a grasp of reading, writing, and arithmetic, as objective demonstrations of merit and superior capacity for abstract thought are painful reminders of just what they are and what they are not. Dat beez racisms! Dat beez scriminations! And dat beez, to coin a phrase, the real reason for integrated schools and falling standards.

New Math, New New Math, Ebonics, self-esteem, and Afro-American Histry Munf are what they want, and they vote. The fact that this cirriculum leaves the children, both theirs and yours, pitifully unprepared to work at Burger King, much less go to college, is irrelevant to them. Work? Them? Ha ha ha ha. A life devoted to using the food stamps to buy blunt wrappers and lottery tickets is a life well spent, in their piglike little eyes. And the future appears to belong to them.

This is the single most significant reason for which I do not have children myself. Bugger the future. Let the "wonderful diversities" and the money men who pull their strings enjoy the Zimbabwe they are working so very hard to create. I don't want to live to see it, nor see any of my family have to live through it.