education and schooling

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Play Gun Theater

Friday, November 21st, 2014

Stop me if I repeat myself . . . but maybe we don’t need elaborate explanations for poor performance in America’s public schools.

Maybe it comes down to this: they are run by people as unhinged as the administrators of the Stacy Middle School in Middleford, Massachusetts.

Yes, it’s time again for American Play Gun Theater, in which children (usually boys) pretend to have toy guns in their empty hands, emit fake gun sounds from their mouths, and scare the living Horace Mann’s out of government employees.

The current case? That of Master Nickolas Taylor,. He formed his hand to vaguely resemble a revolver (index finger as barrel, thumb as hammer — don’t try this at home, kids!) and mimicked some ray gun sounds towards two girls in lunch line, and then blew his finger tip, as if smoke drifted up from firing.

I am not aware of ray guns needing this, but it does have panache.

His punishment? Suspension. The 10-year-old malefactor needed to be taught a lesson, by gum.

Had he done something truly dishonorable, like cut in line, some punishment was probably in order. But if all he did was pretend to have a toy gun (two layers of pretense here at least!), then the worst probably should have been to put him in Pretend Jail, with no bars and no irons and some irony.

The lad’s father and grandmother came to his defense; the local newspaper put him on the front page.

The lesson? For supporters of today’s abysmal public schools: Don’t reload. Rethink.

And if I’ve said this before, point a finger at me and make ray gun noises.

But hey: I may raise my special Deflect-o-shield.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Sack Lunch

Tuesday, November 18th, 2014

On the face of it, the idea that the federal government should be involved in school lunches is . . . weird.

And yet Congress and a long line of presidents have pushed the notion of federally funded and controlled lunches; recently the First Lady, Michelle Obama, made a big deal about revamping the federal school lunch program. But as Baylen Linnekin explains, “Whatever past successes [the national school lunch] program may point to, by any objective measure, the USDA’s school lunch program has since earned a failing grade.”

Instead of going through another alleged upgrade, maybe the best idea would be to, as Linnekin puts it, “Separate School Lunch and State.”

And this isn’t an oddball, contrarian proposal. As Linnekin relates, “More than 1,400 school districts have opted out of the USDA School Lunch Program since 2010.”

Linnekin tells the tale of Meghan Hellrood, a high school student in Wisconsin who leveraged Facebook to hold a one-day protest boycott of her school’s lunch. “It’s not actually giving us healthy foods,” she said.

Maybe Hellrood’s protest strategy should become the norm. Brown bag it, America. Declare your independence!

Parents can make a sack lunch. Older kids can pack their own. And as Adam Carolla, king of the podcasters, has so often opined, even the poor can afford to make their kids a bean sandwich. We can do this.

Reform of public schools might best begin with lunchtime. Locally. With parents regaining some control and responsibility.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Tech/Knock/Crazy

Wednesday, October 1st, 2014

When Bill Nye “The Science Guy” spoke out in defense of Common Core, he succumbed to the urge to carry baggage from other disputes. He laid much of the blame for opposition to Common Core on the creation/evolution debate, basically just blurting out that people who objected were objecting to “science.”

Amusingly for someone with “science” in his moniker, Nye missed the fact that science isn’t part of Common Core. Math and English are. There are many ways to learn and teach both. I see no reason to standardize either. The “science is settled” meme doesn’t translate to English studies — “the English” is definitely not settled.

More recently, Bill Gates trumpeted that the issue seemed to him a “technocratic” one (his words, not mine; thanks, Bill), like which electrical socket standard to choose, or which gage of rails to adopt.

Now, it’s worth noting that American railways standardized the bulk of its gages ages ago, and without government help. So standardization, when it really matters, can happen without appointing a Technocrat in Chief. Or a Department of the Technocracy.

For my part, I’m glad my wife and I homeschooled our daughters. We could avoid the latest trends in the education biz.

It’s harder for schools under the federal thumb.

Common Core’s “mathematics” looks like a slightly renovated “New Math,” a goofy experiment that wreaked havoc on public schooling when I was young. Some teachers might teach such innovative and oddball methods well; some students might learn best with it. Pushing it down all gullets seems not merely bad educational policy, but bad “technocracy.”

And heck, even bad “science.”

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Nothing to Sneeze At

Thursday, August 21st, 2014

I don’t believe everything I read. If I did, I’d believe seven incompatible things before breakfast, and by lunch I’d suffer a nervous breakdown.

From a cognitive dissonance overload.

There’s a story just out: A Tennessee teen was allegedly suspended from school for saying “Bless you.”

Un-sneezin’-believable.

I don’t want it to be the case that even the people whose policies I generally oppose — in this case, public school administrators (I think the government school system needs to be opened up, competitive) — can be this outlandishly foolish.

The story comes out of CBS Charlotte. One Ms. Kendra Turner, a senior at Dyer County High, says that she offered a “Bless you” after a classmate had sneezed. And then her teacher reprimanded her, saying (in Ms. Turner’s story) “we’re not going to have godly speaking” in the classroom, and the student protested that it was her “constitutional right.”

The disagreement went to an administrator, and the young lady was booted out of school. The school claims the girl was “disruptive,” which hopefully means something other than saying “Bless you.” The girl’s pastor is concerned, and suspects a very touchy, irreligious teacher.

The story seems preposterous. And yet similar stories elsewhere have been confirmed, usually about non-existent, symbolic guns. The degree of intolerance amongst today’s cultural vanguard (which includes teachers) for unapproved practices astounds.

There’s almost nothing more innocuous than a “Bless you,” or even a “God bless you.” It’s so traditional it’s hardly even religious.

But this story does have a ring of plausibility. Why? Because there is no level of absurdity — no breach of common sense — that a zealot won’t contemplate.

Especially a zealot in America’s intellectually bankrupt public schools.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Grading on the Progressive Curve

Wednesday, July 23rd, 2014

It used to be a joke.

Tom Lehrer made it about his military experience. “One of the many fine things (one has to admit) is the way that the Army has carried the American democratic ideal to its logical conclusion … not only do they prohibit discrimination on the grounds of race, creed and color, but also on the grounds of ability.”

Now it’s becoming reality. At least at the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

A fairly recent set of directives from the august institution’s faculty senate called for “proportional participation of historically underrepresented racial-ethnic groups at all levels of an institution, including high status special programs, high-demand majors, and in the distribution of grades.”

We’re told that these goals were buried in a huge document, and the academics who approved it may not have known what they were approving, exactly.

Sounds like they’re ready for Washington, DC, where lack of reading skills can be compensated for by spin skills.

The idea that the thing to be achieved is some sort of demographic microcosm of the social macrocosm, proportioned at all levels, doesn’t hold water. Apparently, if 5 percent of the population were Lower Slobovian, the institution simply must mirror that five percent in its ranks.

Including a proportion of Slobovians getting high grades.

Whether this “proportionality” means what Katherine Timpf says it means — “good grades should be distributed equally among students of different races” — I don’t know.

But I do know the standards being scuttled here: ability, achievement, merit.

It’s obvious: trendy, “progressive-minded” academics and activists have so little sense of proportion (and so little sense of humor) that they can’t tell when their earnest efforts are themselves nothing more than jokes.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Why Homeschoolers Make Good Citizens

Wednesday, April 2nd, 2014

Horace Mann promoted the “common school” not primarily to increase literacy or prepare kids for college. No, the movement that gave birth to the modern public school system in America was designed to inculcate good citizenship by putting all kids through a “shared experience.”

A few years ago, Mann’s notion was re-iterated by a college professor in an essay called “The Civic Perils of Homeschooling.” Public schooling, he wrote,

is one of the few remaining social institutions . . . in which people from all walks of life have a common interest and in which children might come to learn such common values as decency, civility, and respect.

Are we really supposed to believe that public schools instill decency, civility, and respect?

In “Does Homeschooling or Private Schooling Promote Political Intolerance? Evidence from a Christian University,” Journal of School Choice: International Research and Reform, 8(1), Albert Cheng left bald assertions aside and conducted some research. He concluded that private schooling does not decrease social tolerance, and “those [college students] with more exposure to homeschooling relative to public schooling tend to be more politically tolerant.”

Why might this be the case? Cheng himself offered two possible reasons — greater self-actualization in homeschooling, and religious instruction — but I can think of others.

For one, public schools bring together many, many kids, but through regimentation and Mann’s desire for “shared experience,” the results tend toward more conformity, and bullying, and less tolerance.

Meanwhile, homeschoolers are doing something different than the crowd, and perhaps are that much more wiling to accept others doing their own thing, even if not the norm.

So, hooray for homeschooling! The cradle of liberty.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Nixing Success

Monday, March 10th, 2014

Newly elected New York Mayor Bill de Blasio made waves, recently. He nixed the establishment of two new charter schools and halted the expansion of another.

Widespread protest followed, with over ten thousand people showing up to express their frustration and ire. The charter chain under de Blasio attack, Success Academy, has been very successful increasing student test scores, and can boast a waiting list of five applicants for every school opening.

So why would the mayor be against them? What would make him so against this non-radical form of education reform?

Well, de Blasio received the overwhelming support of teachers’ unions during his campaign for office. Teachers’ unions are no fans of charter schools, which gain some of their advantages by not being hampered by union contracts.

Sure, the mayor’s heavy-handed slap at charter schools may simply be a political payoff to the teachers’ unions, but couldn’t there be something more to it?

Last May he directed his metaphorical guns at the head of the Success Academy, former New York councilwoman Eva Mosokowitz. “It’s time for Eva Moskowitz to stop having the run of the place,” he promised the United Federation of Teachers at a mayoral candidates forum. “She has to stop being tolerated, enabled, supported.”

Knee-capping the less politically muscular charter school folks to please the immensely powerful public education unions is indeed classic patronage politics. But maybe de Blasio’s personal animus also shows his true colors, his commitment to undercut any successful competition to the governmental way of doing things.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.