Public schools — un-educating Americans, one student at a time

School suppliesI was livid this morning. One of my children asked me to quiz her about rhetorical fallacies, which she was studying for a test. The teacher had put the examples together himself and they included such gems as saying it’s a logical fallacy to argue that guns are tools in the same way hammers are tools. Another example was that it’s a logical fallacy to argue against gay marriage. To give students an insight into good arguments against logical fallacies, he directed the students to Jon Stewart’s hyper-partisan The Daily Show. Indoctrination much?

When I complained to my resident Leftist, all I got was bewilderment. Guns are evil, gay marriage should be accepted by all, and Jon Stewart was the smartest, most informative man in television — so why am I fussing? The fact that all of those represent partisan views and the principle that they therefore should not be introduced on the taxpayers’ dime completely eluded him. School, after all, is there to teach students how to “think.”

School indoctrination is a sore subject with me, since it’s endemic in Marin, as it is in any school district that has a teacher’s union. Math is tainted both by Common Core and the fuzzy math approach that’s meant to give a pass to women and minorities who apparently struggle with actual math (you know, the kind where the results are correct).

As someone who’s bad at math (Common Core’s crazy complications are familiar to me because that’s the way they were teaching back in the San Francisco public schools’ 1960s/1970s experimental phase), I recognize the advantage of being able to reach roughly correct answers for such inconsequential things as calculating tips, measuring something that doesn’t need precise dimensions, or keeping vague track of a family budget. I also recognize what a weak reed this fuzzy math is. When the situation demands precision, I struggle.

English as taught in America’s public schools is a joke. I’ve already shared here my fury at the way an English teacher in Sandy Hook’s wake, handed out to the students strong gun-control articles. I politely protested (because my child, after all, was a hostage to grades in his class, but got nowhere). While the students get Leftist politics and lots of sex in their English classrooms, the students emerge without fundamentals such as grammar, spelling, structure, and narrative. Eileen Toplansky describes in heartbreaking detail trying to teach under-educated American youngsters  when they reach college.

As the recently AP U.S. History fight showed, history is taught through a purely Marxist, anti-American lens. The books subtly and not-so-subtly tell those pliant young minds that America is the root of all evil and that the purifying answer to our nation’s wrongs is top down collectivism.

It doesn’t seem to occur to these geniuses that the things about which they complain — whether slavery, Indian relocations, Jim Crow laws, etc. — were only able to happen because of government power. The corollary is that diffusing government power dilutes a nation’s ability to do things that bug Leftists.

Typically, each Leftist cadre assumes that, when it acquires unlimited power, it will get it right. That’s why Bernie, who shrilly screams for a government that uses its guns to confiscate individual wealth, is looked upon as some type of savior, rather than the power-hungry, crazed madman he really is.

Lastly, there’s the wreckage of science in America’s public schools. The kids still get taught useful basic stuff, such as chemistry and biology, but the higher up they go, the more tainted it gets.

I have in front of me the textbook used in our local school’s AP Environmental Science class. Published by Brooks/Cole Cengage Learning, G. Tyler Miller’s and Scott E.Spoolman’s 14th edition of Environmental Science purports to be a comprehensive textbook, teaching children everything they need to know about the natural world that surrounds us.

In the introduction to teachers (p. xiii), we learn that the book is all about “sustainability — the integrating theme of this book.” This theme leads to the boast that, in the new edition,

Climate change is emphasized with new coverage on the warming of the world’s lakes, climate change tipping points, and innovative [and, no doubt, prohibitively expensive] efforts to reduce methane and soot emissions.

I’m all for sustainability. Speculations about Mars’ potential habitability notwithstanding, we only have one planet that’s a sure thing for human survival, and it behooves us to treat it well. Treating it well, however, does not mean either falsifying science or destroying human kind. The environmentalists’ shtick to the contrary, we are a part of the planet’s diverse life forms, rather than an alien being that must be destroyed.

What got my knickers in a twist about the book was the random happenstance that, as I was moving it off the kitchen table, I dropped it and it opened to this page, which introduces the chapter on “Sustaining Biodiversity : The Species Approach”:

Brooks Cole Environmental Science

[Click on image for full size page.]

You know you’re in for it whenever you see anything about polar bears and climate change.  The entire page is a sustained sob about the poor declining Arctic polar bears.

Those pathetic bears, trapped forever on teeny little ice floes that carry them out to sea, where they die a bitter, lonely death.  Indeed, according to the book:

Scientific measurements reveal that the earth’s atmosphere is getting warmer and that this warming is occurring twice as fast in the Arctic as in the rest of the world.  Thus, the arctic ice is melting faster and the average annual area of floating sea ice in the Arctic during the summer is decreasing.  The floating winter ice is also breaking up earlier each year, shortening the polar bears’ hunting season.  And much of the remaining ice is getting too thin to support the weight of a polar bear.

That’s so affecting.  The only problem is that, unsurprisingly given the continuously dynamic nature of planet earth, none of that is true:

After the shortest melt season on record, and the most rapid growth on record, Arctic sea ice extent is the largest in a decade.

Arctic sea ice

Ocean and Ice Services | Danmarks Meteorologiske Institut

Arctic sea ice 2

Not only is extent increasing, but Arctic sea ice thickness has also increased by 40% over the last five years.

Arctic sea ice 3

Bpiomas_plot_daily_heff.2sst.png (2488×1960)

Steve Goddard, who wrote the above post and generally provides invaluable actual climate facts at Real Science, concluded by saying “None of this will be reported by the criminals at US government agencies or in the press.”  I’ll add that none of this will appear in school books either, which are completely invested in the pathetic polar bear scenario.

Goddard also caught the fact that the climate changistas have had to scale down their dire predictions about the declining polar bear population.  The textbook indoctrinating. . . . er, “teaching” our children insists that

According to a 2006 study by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, the world’s total polar bear population is likely to decline by 30-35% by 2050.  By the end of this century, polar bears might be found only in zoos.

I’m dubious about anything the purports to predict with exactitude what will be going on in the natural world in 35 years, let alone 85 years.  Right off the bat, that confidence about a future that will be affected by data we can’t even begin to imagine suggests a con.  And indeed, with the con collapsing, these vague “scientist” collectives have abandoned the line that those polar bears on itty-bitty icebergs are dying now and, instead, are saying, “It’s still going to happen, we promise, but not for another ten years.”

Polar Bear Science is a useful site that looks at actual, you know, facts and data, rather than loosey-goosey futurist predictions. For example, the Western Hudson bears, one of the more studied bears, have shown population stability for eleven years now, no doubt explaining the new claim “scientific” announcement, above, that climate change won’t affect them for another decade. Indeed, if you scroll through the Polar Bear Science site, which relies solely on field study data, you come away comforted to know that the polar bears are doing fine, thank you very much.

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (“IUCN”), which authored the 2006 study that the book cites with such elan, probably isn’t the best source for information in any event.  You see, it’s guessing:

The IUCN Polar Bear Specialist Group admits its global population estimate is simply a qualified guess with a large potential error.  So perhaps it’s time to acknowledge that for the purpose of comparing polar bears to other species of concern, the upper limit for polar bear numbers worldwide could be more than 30,000?

In subsequent updates to the above post, it appears that the polar bear population is a stable 26,000 or more and holding steady.  (For more facts, not guesses, about polar bear population trends, check out these links.)

And here’s one other interesting thing about the IUCN: It’s an old organization, formed shortly after the UN, and seems to have the UN’s same impulse toward’s tyrannical insanity.  Wikipedia isn’t always the best source for this information, but it offers an interesting criticism about the IUCN:

It has been claimed that IUCN put the needs of nature above those of humans, disregarding economic considerations and the interests of indigenous peoples and other traditional users of the land. Until the 1980s IUCN favored the “Yellowstone Model’ of conservation which called for the removal of humans from protected areas. The expulsion of the Maasai people from Serengeti National Park and the Ngorongoro Conservation Area is perhaps the best known example of this approach.

But back to that textbook, which is preaching to the best and brightest kids throughout America’s high schools.  It shares IUCN’s anti-human slant:

Many biologists consider the rapid loss of the earth’s vital biodiversity — largely resulting from human activities — to be one of the most serious and long-lasting environmental problem [sic] that the world faces.

Children!  You’re murderers!  Every last one of you.  And just ignore the fact that this publishing company is responsible for printing up gazillions of copies of this 500-or-so page book, with its nice laminated covers, and shiny ink-coated pages.  The problems of the world are due to you, not to us.  We’re just trying to profit off of the destruction you wreak.

When it comes to socialism, Lefties are just like little children.  You can tell them forever that freebies are never free, and can come with a dangerously high price (whether it’s a child being kidnapped and killed by a predator offering “free” candy or puppies, or a nation having its economy and individual liberties by socialists offering “free” benefits). No matter the proof about freebies carrying risks, and no matter how often you dun that information into their heads, Lefties are no more capable of resisting temptation than is a five-year-old child.

If anything, Lefties regress even further mentally when it comes to climate science.  Have you ever played peek-a-boo with a baby.  It’s so cute.  You cover your face, and the baby thinks you’re gone.  And when the baby covers his own face, everything vanishes.  What a fun game.  Now you see it, now you don’t.  And when you don’t see, not only doesn’t it exist, it never existed.  It’s baby magic!!!

Scientists have been monitoring the environment somewhat closely for the past, say, 50 or 60 years.  Because of the Victorian passion for record keeping, we’re able to access some data going back as far as 150 years.  Hard science, such as core samples or clues (fossils, bones, etc.) found in sediment, rounds out that data.  And that’s what we’ve got.  But anthropocentric scientists are convinced that all the knowledge they’ve acquired now — and some of it’s pretty darn patchy — constitutes the sum total of all human knowledge, from which everything can be extrapolated.  The fact is, species have been going extinct forever — since earth was first formed.

Examining earth trends starting with the dinosaurs, we can readily identify things that cause local or mass die-outs.  Sometimes the earth’s climate changes.  Sometimes an earthquake, volcano, or catastrophic flood rejiggers the landscape in a certain region.  Sometimes a meteor wipes out life.  Sometimes the meeting between two species results in one getting destroyed.  Humans definitely did in the dodo and the mammoth.

As an aside, it’s likely that the Lefties’ beloved Native Americans, who are invariably presented to children as hippie types who would never dream of committing violence against the earth, had they populated North America in greater numbers probably would have destroyed the buffalo.  After all, one of the Comanches’ hunting techniques was to drive a whole herd off a cliff.  The Comanches would then take what they could carry (not much), and leave the rest of the herd to die slowly and painfully, and then to rot in mangled heaps at the bottom of the cliff.  The Aztecs almost certainly turned to human sacrifice because they’d destroyed all animal food sources — i.e., protein and iron sources — in their region.

But here’s the deal:  Because modern scientists, baby-like, uncovered their eyes to view Western interactions with nature only a few decades ago, they’re pretty clear that none of the previous occurrences existed or mattered.  Like a baby revealing the world to itself, today’s scientists consider only what they see before them when they see it.  Everything else is pushed aside and ignored.

I remember many years ago spending a vacation day in Cartagena, Columbia.  It was one of the most depressing places I’ve ever seen.  The encroaching jungle bore down hard on that city, and the city seemed inclined to give up the fight.  It was obvious that, if the city stopped for even a while to keep the jungle at bay, the city would vanish.  Nature is powerful.  Nature is merciless.  Nature is adaptable.  Nature, by its nature, is change.

Modern science’s fear of change and rejection of Nature’s powerful adaptability means that the scientists are driven to irrational, rather than rational, analysis.  Worse, once locked in the grip of this irrationality, our modern ideological science is driven to two dangerous paths:  ignoring the data and indoctrinating the young.

Medicine taught us that scientific rigidity is terribly dangerous.  Just look at germ theory, which scientists at first couldn’t recognize, but then wouldn’t recognize.  Even when knowledge was available, ideologically driven men of “science” continued to kill patients.  But maybe that’s what the scientists want in the end:  a lot of children who have been trained to a suicidal mindset they’re told is absolutely necessary to save a natural order that needs their stewardship, rather than their disappearance.

The Bookworm Beat (11/22/14) — Sad Saturday edition (and Open Thread)

Woman writingWhy is it a sad Saturday? Because I read an analysis of 2016 electoral prospects arguing that, while Republicans can definitely win Congress and state houses, the combination of huge Democrat-voting urban areas and the electoral college makes it impossible for Republicans to take the White House. I think that’s true. Unless voters in urban areas turn on the Democrats, what we’ll have as of 2015 — a Democrat president and slight-majority Congress — will be the status quo for a long time.

That makes me sad because it will mean that Barack Obama’s presidential legacy, both domestic and international, rather than being reversed and lost in history’s backwater, will last far into my, my children’s, and even my grandchildren’s future.  It’s not good for America and it’s not good for our traditional friends abroad.

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The Bookworm Beat (11/19/14) — It was a dark and stormy day edition (and Open Thread)

Woman writingThat global warming sure has caused global cooling with a vengeance. My thoughts are with all of those who are suffering the brunt of this blast (or vortex?). Stay warm and safe, please.

Here, I’m happy to say, it’s raining! Considering that Marin is constantly hovering just a few gallons away from water rationing during this drought, rain is always good news. Equally good is the fact that it’s supposed to rain for another day, and then rain again in five days. Woo-hoo!!!

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The suggested list of books for a high school government class

Rear view of class raising handsIf you’re wondering why the younger generation blindly supported Obama through two elections; why they are reflexively hostile to conservatives and Republicans; and why, even though Obama has dismally failed them, they are incapable of considering another, less intrusive, approach to governance, just contemplate the list of books a local high school Government teacher recommended for the class’s mandatory reading requirement:



I don’t know about you, but I’m thinking most (or all) of those books hew Left, way, way, way Left.

Since the list is supposed to consist of suggestions only, I’m trying to think of a few counter suggestions.  I need books that present conservative approaches to government and economics. Moreover, to the extent that a high schooler is going to be reading the book, I think my counter suggestion should be eminently readable and entertaining.  Of course, since I’m trying desperately to think of something quickly, before the weekend is over, I’m pulling a big, fat blank.

Still, keeping my requirements in mind (accessible, entertaining, easy-to-read), my top choice for a suggestion is Jonah Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left, From Mussolini to the Politics of Change, which I think is one of the most readable political books out there. Goldberg has an incredibly deft touch. He makes his points lightly, often humorously, without ever resorting to browbeating.

What do you guys think?

What blight has fallen on Hispanic kids that keeps too many of them from succeeding?

Hispanic gardenersHere in Marin, children grow up in very politically correct homes.  It would be the rare household in which kids here racist comments from their parents.  Also, here in Marin, kids grow up with Hispanic housekeepers and gardeners, most of whom have an incredible work ethic.  They show up, and they work long, well, and hard.  They are admirable.

But here’s something funny:  I listen to the kids, and what I pick up from them is that, at their public schools, the Hispanic kids are seen as second class.  This isn’t because they’re Hispanic, it’s because they have two qualities the kids in my community disdain:  they’re disproportionately represented amongst the academically lazy and stoner kids.

Think about how peculiar this is:  In the 20th century, most of America’s middle class came, not from the immigrants, but from the immigrants’ children.  The children were born into the migrant slums and saw their parents working like dogs just to get back.  To get out of that poverty and to relieve their parents terrible burden, these children studied hard, if they had access to education, and worked like dogs to raise themselves out of the ghettos.  That held true for Irish, Russians, Italians, Asians, old-time Hispanics, etc.

But something toxic apparently happened to too many in this current generation of Hispanic children.  They live in lousy neighborhoods, their parents and older, Latin-American-born siblings have a superior work ethic and, between wanting to escape the former and being able to emulate the latter, they should be precisely like those Asian “model minorities.”  But the opposite is true.  Too many of them have neither ambition nor discipline.

Any theories?  This is not a race issue.  This is a generational thing, with the children being the mirror image of what immigrant children used to be.

Indoctrination at schools focuses on fantasy ills, while simultaneously denying reality

GaslandAmerica’s educational institutions aren’t taking antisemitism seriously — despite the mount of proof (often from the killers themselves) showing that tens of millions have died from antisemitism over the centuries.

Meanwhile, as antisemitism surges unchecked on America’s campuses, schools are taking very seriously fracking, even in the absence of any proof that it’s killed any one, ever.

It’s possible that schools aren’t taking antisemitism seriously because, at least in some schools, denying it is part of their curriculum: Witness the now-infamous Common Core assignment in the Rialto Unified School District directing all 8th graders to read Holocaust denial literature and than write essays denying the Holocaust.

And here’s an interesting tidbit: this Common Core assignment took place on the watch of an Interim Superintendent named Mohammad Z. Islam. The District’s story is that Islam knew nothing about the assignment and was appropriately shocked when he learned what had happened. There’s no reason at this point to disbelieve that assertion.

Islam, 57, grew up in Bangladash, where he saw the damage done by denying people access to education. He’s a finance guy, and worked as the CFO in the San Bernardino school district. He was then invited to step into the Rialto district after the former superintendent “retired” following the district accountant’s arrest for embezzling $1.8 million. Islam was seen as the antidote to chaos and corruption. Islam could well be a stand-up kind of guy. In that case, it’s very unfortunate that he has a name that many people consider consistent with a belief system that denies that the Holocaust happened.

What’s quite obvious is that more and more American public schools are abandoning classical education — when that looks to facts and analysis — in favor of a Leftist hodge podge of propaganda on everything from climate to the Holocaust.

Others have noticed that teachers think of themselves as one step removed from coal mine workers

Teacher affirmationI’ve commented before about the way in which America’s teachers paint themselves as the hardest working, most pathetically abused people in America.  In 2011, I noted that today’s teachers work fewer hours and are paid more than my dad’s generation of teachers, but the latter didn’t whine all the time.  Last year, I posited a reason for the unusual deference teachers get, and it’s not because they’re the overworked saints of their own heated imaginations:

At National Review, Jason Richwine points out that this martyrdom shtick benefits them in intangible ways, and is the flip side of the disdain with which doctors are increasingly treated in our society.  This got me thinking about the fact that, in every society that socialized its medicine, doctor’s status instantly degraded.  This is true whether you’re looking at the Soviet Union, Cuba, England, Canada, France, or anywhere else.  This is true even though doctors have the longest education and apprenticeship of any job in America and, once they’re working, they truly hold our lives in their hands.  Likewise, in every socialized society, teachers’ status improves.  This is true despite the fact that their training places a moderate demand on their time and they don’t hold our lives in their hands.

Thinking about it, of course, this socialist inversion makes perfect sense.  Teachers produce the next generation of socialists; doctors cost money by saving the lives of old socialists who no longer contribute to the commune.  The relative values assigned these jobs in a socialist society has nothing to do with their contributions to the individual and everything to do with their contributions to the state.

Richwine and I aren’t the only ones paying attention to this teacher worship phenomenon.  Writing at The Federalist, Daniel Payne, a homeschooling parent, also asks “Why Do Teachers Complain So Much?”  His theory is that teachers lack backbone.  Products themselves of America’s public school system, they have no ability to face adversity.

Reading his post, it also occurred to me that today’s teachers, unlike teachers of yore and homeschooling parents today, have an infinitely harder time teaching, not because students are inherently worse behaved than they were 50 years ago, but because their pedagogical tools are so poor.  Whole language is sneaking its way back into the classroom, despite a thirty year run of failures that saw the pendulum swing, way too briefly, back to phonics teaching.  Since we have a phonetic alphabet, the latter is the only teaching methodology that makes sense.  And those countries, such as China, that do not have phonetic alphabets, spend way more than 45 minutes per day, 5 days a week, making sure their students master “whole word” recognition.

Math too is becoming increasingly impossible because Common Core has also abandoned common sense.  In addition, where teachers once taught English classes that focused on language and composition and history classes that spoke admiringly of our own country, their English classes are now Left value propaganda and their history classes are deeply depressing diatribes about how evil we are.  Kids don’t want to learn this stuff, and no wonder.

English teachers

My conclusion would be that today’s teachers whine partly because they’re not as tough as past generations were, and partly because they teach in a socialized system that simultaneously elevates their status even as it makes teaching an impossible, demoralizing, and depressing job.  The cognitive dissonance this forces on the teachers is an uncomfortable mental realm to inhabit.

Proposed changes to the SAT show that the Left is gaming the system to bring egalitarianism to the inegalitarian world of higher education

standardized-testing-400x2651Here’s a story that’s familiar to many of my older readers, but one that may be surprising to my younger ones. Once upon a time, you’d sign up for the SAT a few weeks before you were to take it. Then, the night before the SAT, you’d go to bed a little earlier than usual. And that was it. That was SAT test prep — an early bedtime.

Nowadays, SAT test prep is a huge business. Here in affluent Marin, every teen I know has taken, is taking, or will take an SAT (or ACT) prep test. The good classes do two things: they tutor kids in the fundamentals of math and English that one needs for the test and they teach test taking techniques. These last are probably the most useful, since they show the kids the tricks of the test, and give them a way to translate test language into the academic language they already know, both in math and English. Most prep programs promise that, if the student gets with the program, he can expect to raise his test score by 200-400 points.

Today’s Most Emailed New York Times article announced that the SAT is about to undertake a big change:

Saying its college admission exams do not focus enough on the important academic skills, the College Board announced on Wednesday a fundamental rethinking of the SAT, ending the longstanding penalty for guessing wrong, cutting obscure vocabulary words and making the essay optional.

Some might call it a “dumbing down” change.  Others, however, could say that the SAT is changing simply to align itself with the realities of modern youth: thanks to bad teaching and the decline in reading anything but text messages (“r u thr? BRB.  K.  TTYL”), modern youth cannot write and has no vocabulary. That being the case, the realist would say, we may as well stop pretending when it comes to the standardized test.  (Me?  I think anything that encourages a good vocabulary should be preserved.  As Orwell knew, the fewer words you have, the fewer thoughts you have.)

Those are academic arguments.  What we’re really seeing here is another step in the road to a purely egalitarian approach to higher education.  In the old days, fewer students went to college. The rising numbers don’t come about just because the US population has grown every decade since forever. They also reflect the fact that, back in the day, a smaller percentage of the population went to college. The nation agreed that an educated citizenry was a good thing, but the societal agreement before the GI Bill was that a high school education was good enough for everyone except the “educated classes,” which meant the wealthy and upper middle classes.

The GI Bill changed that classist approach to education.  I’m not quibbling with the GI Bill’s effects.  The change was a wonderful thing, because it opened higher education to people who had the ability but, in the past, couldn’t meet the class and cost requirements.  College was still for the “educated class,” but we’d expanded the economic definition of an “educated class.”  With more young men able to go to college and get into higher payer jobs, the economy and the middle class boomed.

Of late, though, the Left has made it clear that it considers college today to be the high school of yesteryear: everyone should go, whether they have aptitude, interest, or money. It’s that last that’s especially important. Public schools may be lousy, but they’re an integral part of America’s economic infrastructure. They run on budgets set by state or local communities, and society as a whole has long agreed to pay for them (whether individual taxpayers have children or not), because they’re viewed as necessary institutions in a republican democracy.

Colleges, though, are expensive and getting more so. Much of this expense has nothing to do with education and everything to do with political correctness. Taxpayers have no say at all in how most colleges are run. They’re footing the bill in terms of taxpayer funding to public institutions, and grants and student loans to all institutions, but they’re shut out of management and oversight.  Additionally, contrary to the promise under the GI Bill and for many decades afterwards, college is no longer a gateway to well-paying jobs.  This can be traced to lots of things:  a lousy economy; more college grads depressing the market for said grads; the dramatic instability brought about by a changing internet economy (new jobs, new educators, new skills, etc.); and the lousy education too many college grads get, making them good at arguing Leftist PC polemics, but of little use otherwise.

Despite the expense, the lack of oversight, and the declining return on time and money invested, the Left insists more stridently than ever that, just as high school was once a necessity for all citizens, now college is — and it’s even better if we fund it for illegal residents too.

Where the Left runs into a problems is with the fact that, unlike public schools, which have to accept all students (legal or illegal) within the school district, colleges don’t. Despite the massive amount of public funding that comes their way, colleges get to pick and choose who will enter. How un-egalitarian . . . and how galling it is when the main comers are white and Asian middle class kids, rather than the huddled masses yearning to break free of America’s Democrat run ghettos.

Which loops me back to my starting point, which is prep classes for standardized tests. Those prep classes give the same white and Asian middle class kids yet another edge over the poor kids stuck in failing, union-run public schools in heavily Democrat districts. David Coleman, who is president of the College Board, which creates an administers the SAT, is done with that kind of inequality. He’s going to make the test easier. (Call it the Harrison Bergeron approach to test revisions.) His explicitly stated goal is to put those elitist test prep services out of business:

“It is time for the College Board to say in a clearer voice that the culture and practice of costly test preparation that has arisen around admissions exams drives the perception of inequality and injustice in our country,” Mr. Coleman said Wednesday. “It may not be our fault, but it is our problem.”

David Coleman is an idiot. (Come on, Bookworm!  Tell us what you really think.)  First, I strongly disagree with his Leftist drive to put small business out of business. Second, does Coleman actually think that the test prep businesses will just go away and that middle class parents will say, “Thank God our children don’t have to strive anymore”? Only an academic could be so dumb. What will actually happen is that the businesses will change their model and teach to the revised test. Indeed, some spokespeople in the industry have already announced that they intended to do precisely that:

While test-preparation companies said the SAT was moving in the right direction, with more openness and more free online test preparation, the changes were unlikely to diminish the demand for their services. “People will always want an edge,” said Seppy Basili, a vice president of Kaplan Test Prep. “And test changes always spur demand.”

None of the above means that it isn’t time to change the standardized tests. No one argues that they’re not as helpful in determining student performance as grades are.  But here’s the dirty little secret:  they never will be as good as grades — or, at least, grades from a good school. High performing students from high performing schools will do well in college. Sadly, high performing students from union and Democrat-run inner city schools do not do well. They are not ready for college. Or, to be more accurate, they’re not ready for the Ivy Leagues that hurl affirmative action admissions at their heads. Two years at a decent junior college or four years at a decent four-year college would suit them better. They might not get the corner office on Wall Street, but they’ll get out of the ghetto, which means that their children might get to Wall Street. Too bad that incrementalism — meaning a generational ascendance in America’s class structure — is anathema to the Left.

The bottom line is that, no matter how the test is re-jiggered, it will remain what it always was — an inaccurate tool to admissions offices smooth out slightly differences between the thousands of high schools scattered throughout America.

But back to the SAT. (By the way, this serpentine post is as close as you’ll ever get to having a conversation with me. I tend to stay near topic, but to wander around it a lot, bringing in varying threads and ideas that seem to me to be relevant and helpful.)

The fundamental problem isn’t the SAT and it isn’t test preps. Instead, it’s that our governing class has decided to make college as mandatory as high school. It’s doing it without a consensus or a plan, it’s paying for it on the back of the middle class, and it’s gaming the system to try to create an egalitarian outcome for decidedly inegalitarian institutions.

New Zealand experiment proves that fewer rules mean better behavior — at least in the playground

schoolyardAll of us have bemoaned the fact that the Nanny school is denying children the opportunity to learn skills that are essential to getting through life.  The teachers should supervise to make sure that things don’t get too much out of control, but otherwise, they need to leave the kids alone.  Kids need to get hurt to learn how to deal with pain (because life will toss lots of pain their way); they need to get dirty to teach their immune systems how to defend the body against invaders; and they need to fight, because they need to learn how to make up.

Most importantly, they need to play competitive games, and there are a lot of reasons for that.  They need to learn how to become gracious winners . . . and gracious losers.  They need to learn that they can draw on inner depths within themselves if they really want to win.  They need to learn that the world isn’t always fair.  They need to learn that those who try harder usually do better . . . and if they don’t do better, they still earn their peers’ respect.

Additionally — and kids intuitively know this — is that competition makes things more fun.  Every weekend, I usually have a pack of teens over at my house playing highly competitive games, everything from charades to Resistance. Woe betide the misguided adult who tries to make the games more fair (i.e., “everybody wins”). In that case, the kids simply leave because the fun is gone.

With this concept in mind, yesterday’s news brought stories out of England and New Zealand, offering two different approaches to child’s play. The English approach is to reject the playing fields of Eton entirely and, instead, to go the full Harrison Bergeron.  Thus, the British Rugby Football Union is changing the rules for the under 11 crowd to make sure that all players are equal — or else!

The key components are that tournaments will no longer have a winner, they will be round-robin only. Coaches must meet before each match to try to pick evenly matched teams and if any matches are proving too “one-sided” then coaches will be forced to “adjust” their teams at halftime to make them closer. Teams will no longer be streamed on ability but will play all matches with mixed ability groups.Teams who fail to follow the new guidelines will see all their club’s age-group sides thrown out of the tournament and face further disciplinary action.

Showing that a few in England still have some backbone, the article notes that parents first thought the new rules were a spoof and that many of them are objecting. Not all of them, mind you. Indeed, I bet that quite a few Marin parents would think this is a lovely idea. I should note that, when my children have come home over the years desperately unhappy about losing, it didn’t occur to them to do away with the notion of winning. What they wanted was another chance, no tactics, and better skills, bless their little hearts.

(For more on life in a Harrison Bergeron world, check out Bret Stephens brilliant piece at the Wall Street Journal.)

New Zealand is trying a different approach, and one that is proving to be successful.  That is, it’s not just working in the fevered imagination of ardent Leftist educators; it’s actually working on the playground itself:

Ripping up the playground rulebook is having incredible effects on children at an Auckland school.

Chaos may reign at Swanson Primary School with children climbing trees, riding skateboards and playing bullrush during playtime, but surprisingly the students don’t cause bedlam, the principal says.

The school is actually seeing a drop in bullying, serious injuries and vandalism, while concentration levels in class are increasing.

Principal Bruce McLachlan rid the school of playtime rules as part of a successful university experiment.

“We want kids to be safe and to look after them, but we end up wrapping them in cotton wool when in fact they should be able to fall over.”

To those of us living in the real world — one populated by actual children rather than Ivy Tower widget children — the Auckland school’s success was pre-ordained.  Provided that children are given reasonable limits that a reasonably enforced, they will not turn into Lord of the Flies monsters.  Instead, they will become the type of children we remember from our childhood — sometimes nice, sometimes mean, usually having fun, capable of solving most of their own problems, and better able to sit still in the classrooms.

How about a different approach to Holder’s demand that schools stop disciplinining minorities?

out-of-control-classroom-300x225It’s already old news now that Eric Holder has announced that schools must stop disciplining minority students because he feels they are disproportionately the subject of school discipline.  Many who read his edict thought, first, that a ukase against discipline based upon skin color, rather than conduct, was just about the most racist thing they’d ever seen; second, that this will be a disaster for minority children who are seeking some structure in their lives; and, third, that it marks the end of any discipline at all in schools, as each school drops to the lowest common denominator of possible behavior.

Robert Arvanitis has suggested that there is a different way to achieve racial parity — a way that would also expose how appalling Holder’s ideas are without turning schools into out-of-control war zones:

Holder now complains that valid, objective standards for school discipline are nonetheless racist if the results fall disproportionately on minorities.

Forget the rational rebuttals — it is unfair to all the other kids who are deprived of education; it ignores the root causes such as fatherless homes, causes engendered in turn by failed left policies.

Time to fight back in a smarter way. Let’s frustrate the left’s feedback mechanisms just as they themselves try to hijack and distort the real metrics of society.


For every “favored-minority” student disciplined for real cause, we report the required multiple of non-favored kids on comparable status. I don’t mean lie, I mean we actually do things like “in-school suspension.” No harm to records, which are all sealed for college applications and recorded in aggregate anyway.

Now if Holder catches on and seeks separate categories like in and out of school suspension, then we refine it a bit. Everyone is on “in-school” suspension,” and held in separate classrooms. We spend some extra for dedicated tutors for such separate classrooms. And when the real troublemakers fail to show up, then hey, they’re marked delinquent as well.

My point is that there is no rigid rule system the statists can impose, that we cannot game. I have long experience with such things as tax, accounting, and regulatory frameworks. They all fall because of the algebra — it’s called “over-determined equations.” When there are more constraints than free variables, there will necessarily be contradictions and inconsistencies in the system for us to exploit.

So rule away Eric; check, and mate.

The Left tries to reframe our expectations

Teacher affirmationIn September 2011, I wrote a post about the way teachers constantly present themselves as the hardest working, most underpaid people in America.  I have a great deal of respect for teachers and, to the extent I deliver my kids to their care, I want them to be decent, knowledgeable, skillful, hardworking people — and that’s not something that can be had for free.  Nevertheless, I don’t see them as the martyrs that they see looking back from their mirrors.

I touched upon that subject again just this past September, after I’d gotten deluged by Facebook posts from teacher friends, all of them reminding us in a cute way that no one works harder in America than a teacher or for less money compared to their work output.  Again, with all due respect for teachers, I think many people, including the troops, would quibble with this.  I contrasted the Democrats’ deification of teachers and compared it with their denigration of doctors, something expressed obliquely through Obamacare.  Doctors train for years in their profession, work heinous hours, and truly hold people’s lives in their hands — and Obamacare is intended to increase their work load and cut their compensation.  My conclusion was that socialism prefers propagandists, something that teachers are perfectly situated to do, over providers.

And speaking of socialists and the way they value different categories of workers, Daniel Hannan has written about the British deification of its National Health Service, a system that is above reproach.  It’s not above reproach because it’s so wonderful, mind you.  It’s above reproach because no one is allowed to reproach it.  Hannan notes that there are two classes that speak well of the system:  those who work in it or are ideological supporters of socialized medicine, and those who are loudly grateful to have received decent treatment from it.  Hannan makes two points about this second category.  First, they’re amiable followers of the more strident ideologues.  Second, their gratitude that the system works is itself an indictment of the system’s myriad failings:

What of the wider constituency? What of the undoctrinaire people who say, with conviction, “the NHS saved my grandmother’s life”? Well, to make a rather unpopular point, she was saved by the clinicians involved, not by Britain’s unique prohibition of private finance in healthcare provision. In a country as wealthy as ours, we should expect a certain level of service. We can be grateful to the people involved without treating the whole process as a miracle.

When else, after all, do we become so emotional? Do we get off planes saying “I owe my life to British Airways: they flew me all the way here in one piece”? Of course not: that’s what is meant to happen. Our assumption doesn’t insult the pilots any more than expecting a certain level of competence in healthcare “insults our hardworking doctors and nurses”. On the contrary, it compliments them.

The elision of the “hardworking doctors and nurses” with the state monopoly that employs them is what allows opponents of reform to shout down any criticism. People who complain are treated, not as wronged consumers, but as pests. People who argue that there might be a better way of organising the system are treated, not as proponents of a different view, but as enemies.

Naturally, the above passage made me think of the obeisance we’re expected to pay to America’s teachers.  The demand that we recognize what wonderful martyrs they are is a tacit acknowledgment that too many of them are government drones who are, quite rationally, milking a system that gives itself up for milking.  This doesn’t mean we should denigrate teachers or take them for granted, but there’s a strong element of a “methinks we all do protest too much” mindset when it comes to the ritual demand that we acknowledge that teachers are society’s new martyrs.  After all, as Hannan said, they have a job to do and they should be doing it.

Incidentally, while Hannan doesn’t address the issue of teachers, he does point out that our being bullied into expressing exaggerated surprise and appreciation when there’s competence in a public sector area isn’t limited to Britain’s NHS.  His other example is the UN, which you all know I believe is one of the most vile, evil, antisemitic, child exploitative, anti-American, money-wasting institutions on earth, as well as a few other institutions that, coincidentally, are also usually anti-American and antisemitic:

Any organisation that is spared criticism becomes, over time, inefficient, insensitive, intolerant. It has happened to the United Nations. It has happened to the mega-charities. It happened, for a long time, to the European Union (though not over the past five years). The more lofty the ideal, the more reluctant people are to look at the grubby reality.

Cheers to Hannan for stating that, while the Emperor isn’t precisely walking around naked, his clothes are scarcely the golden, bejeweled garments that his sycophants claim he’s wearing.

Grade inflation in the Ivy Leagues (and their non-Ivy peers)

If these were Harvard students, all of them would have above-average grades

If these were Harvard students, all of them would have above-average grades

Sometimes my posts just re-write themselves.  This is me writing in May 2009:

Twenty years ago, a Stanford professor let me in on a little secret:  In a Lake Woebegone-ish way, all the students at Stanford are above average.  Truly.  The faculty was not allowed to fail anyone, so much so that, if it looked as if a student was failing, up to and including the final exam, the student was just “dropped out” of the class.  “A” grades were handed out like candy.  After all, Stanford got some of the best students in America.  You couldn’t let them, or their paying parents, down by giving them bad grades.  The notion that it might be good for them to compete against others as smart as they were, so as to winnow out the best of the best, was anathema.

And this is the latest report on the grade scam in the Ivy Leagues:

Life is very, very good for the select few who gain entrance to Harvard University as undergraduates. Thanks to Harvey Mansfield, the very rarest of phenomena, an outspokenly conservative member of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, the world now knows that the average grade at Harvard College (the undergraduate portion of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences) is A minus.

Read the rest here, because Thomas Lifson has written a long, fact-filled, analytical post about the Ivy League (and comparable colleges) scam.