education and schooling

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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.

Cold Contempt for Common Sense

Friday, March 7th, 2014

It began when a science experiment at a Minnesota high school set off a fire alarm. One of the students, Kayona Tietz, was swimming at the time. Her clothes were in her locker.

Because the alarm was unplanned, a teacher ushered Kayona outside without letting her retrieve her clothes. All she had between her wet swimsuit and the five-below-zero weather was a towel.

Once outside, to be protected ASAP from the cold the 14-year-old could simply have sat in one of the faculty-owned cars. Everyone knew this. Nevertheless, ten minutes passed before she was allowed to do so, by which time she was suffering frostbite. A teacher felt it necessary to first acquire permission from school administrators for an exception to rules obviously inapplicable to the circumstances. Eventually, also, a teacher lent Kayona a jacket . . . but not immediately.

What happened immediately is that her classmates huddled around to keep her as warm as they could. Apparently they lacked the training to blindly follow rules intended to protect students as morally superior to, well, actually protecting their classmate.

A girl got frostbitten because school personnel were complicit in a bizarre and dramatic loss of common sense. One needn’t “review procedures” to prevent such things. One need only use common sense (and be free to use it!) The inane regulations may have originated in some bureaucrat’s cubicle. But those on the spot were responsible for their own judgment.

Or lack of it.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Just What We Need

Monday, February 3rd, 2014

Why is schooling so expensive? Government makes it so.

Take the recent example, in California, of “coder boot camps.” These are “schools” where computer coders receive training. We now learn that the Golden State’s education bureaucrats are cracking down on this unlicensed and unregulated form of learning.

Unless they comply, these organizations face imminent closure and a hefty $50,000 fine. These organizations have two weeks to start coming into compliance.

In mid-January, the Bureau for Private Postsecondary Education (BPPE) sent cease and desist letters to Hackbright Academy, Hack Reactor, App Academy, Zipfian Academy, and others.

The regulators insist that these private enterprises fall under their regulatory domain, and they are going to do their job, dangit, even if it helps . . . no one.

Reaction from the coder academy heads has been boilerplate. They’ve attested to their will to co-operate with regulators, but worry that current regulations do not really have much to do with what they are up to.

Hey, regulators, rather than shut these academies down, or cook up new regs, why not just let the operations go on as before?

Worried about quality control in a consumer-protection sense? Then make one requirement: The schools should notify paying students that the academy’s services and education contracts are unregulated by the state. Make do, students, with caveat emptor, as before. That is, by the principles of market supply and demand, and undergirding laws against fraud.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Can’t Complain

Monday, November 25th, 2013

During the Soviet era, there was a joke going around about how Soviet citizens expressed their feelings about life under Communist rule.

Whatever a citizen is asked about, he shrugs and says, “I can’t complain.” Finally the exasperated interviewer asks, “Well, is there anything about life in the Soviet Union that you do dislike?” Of course the answer is “I CAN’T COMPLAIN!!!”

In certain societies, persons who complain too pointedly or publicly are subject to arrest and imprisonment, if not worse. Luckily, being arrested for complaining, especially in a civil, peaceful, non-rights-violating way, would never happen in the U.S., right?

Don’t tell it to Jim Howe, the Tennessee parent arrested by a splenetic officer, Avery Aytes (“Officer Absolute Obedience” as Cory Doctorow dubs him), for calmly articulating disagreement with a new school policy on how his kids were to be picked up from school. The policy created traffic jams, so Howe walked to the school to get his kids. When he continues to calmly express his viewpoint despite being told to zip it, Aytes slaps on the cuffs.

The crime: talking.

County Sheriff Butch Burgess says he doesn’t even need to look at the starkly unambiguous video of the incident to know that the arrest was justified, Aytes was just doing his job. This means that all arrests by law enforcement officers are per se justified because they are arrests by law enforcement officers. Which is a prescription for cowed submission to tyranny.

That’s not common sense.

I’m Paul Jacob.

Pledge or No Pledge

Friday, November 15th, 2013

School authorities in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, decided not to require students of all ages to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. They said they couldn’t find time to put it in the schedule, etc., thereby both disappointing and puzzling local veterans, who were the ones who brought the issue up.

The “time” excuse was just that, of course. What the real reasons for the decision are, I don’t know, and will let others guess.

On the bright side, there are reasons not to require recitation of the Pledge. My qualms center on how un-American it seems. Veterans today often talk up the Flag, and the Pledge, etc., but the Founding Fathers took allegiance seriously, and they didn’t secede from Great Britain to pledge their sacred honors to a symbol — a fighting banner too easily unanchored from the best part of the short declaration, “with liberty and justice for all.”

Besides, the Pledge was written in the late 19th century by Francis Bellamy, a Christian socialist who targeted the Pledge at those sectors of society that he most feared: immigrants, anyone prone to “radicalism.” And yet when I read his political agenda, I see the very radical ideas that corrupted American politics away from limited government.

Worse yet, Bellamy devised an ominous salute to go with his recitation. (Thankfully, that was modified to the hand-on-heart gesture in 1942, when Congress officially adopted the Pledge.)

I’d rather students learn about the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Substance, not symbol; law, not fiction.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.