How to save civilization (from itself)

Yesterday I went to a panel by Niven and Pournelle on their upcoming book on how to save civilization.


The premise of the book is that there is a dinosaur-killer headed for us, and we have to shift fast to save civilization. This permits some liberties with social society but, most importantly, it focuses the mind wonderfully.


The part of the panel I listened to (yes, I wanted to go to all of it, but kids getting anywhere at Liberty con is like a slalom course of meeting old acquaintances and new fans and there’s a high chance I’ll be late for everything, or sidetracked entirely (more on that later)) came to the conclusion that first we had to reform education. Which is right.


But as I sat there, nodding and occasionally clapping, several things came to me about how to save education – from itself – which is of course the way to save civilization.


First, the way to do it is to make its mission clear and narrow. At another part of the panel, Jerry said that if they fired all the incompetent teachers, they would – of course – have nowhere to go, but it wasn’t his job in this book to care about those people. It was only his job to save civilization.


It occurred to me that our civilization has got lost in the weeds because of mission drift. We’ve gone from “making sure enough people have enough to eat and can raise the next generation and avoid getting killed” to “we want to make sure everyone is happy, has fulfilling life, never ever ever experiences anything even vaguely offensive and unfair, etc.


That is not the job of civilization. I don’t know whose job it might be, except perhaps G-d’s, but it’s not the job of civilization and can’t be done by a mere group of humans.


In the same way, our education has gone from being narrow and focused “we want every kid to read” to “we want every kid to know enough to be perfectly happy, fulfilled, caring, never make anyone unhappy, and live a perfect life.


This is not education. This is redemption. Any system not inspired or run by angels will fall short.


They also touched on “not every kid is meant to go to college.” This is true. The problem is that we’re having too few kids – no. Don’t argue. Whether human population is still growing or not (bet you a dime it’s not. It’s all statistically hoccus poccus. Take away the bullshit and made up people and I bet you we’re already falling, life extension notwithstanding) we in the west are having too few kids – and therefore there’s an impulse to recruit all of them to maintain our technological civilization.


For all I know the impulse might be there because we need every one of them. What do I know?


BUT having too few kids creates the “all too precious child” syndrome that in turn forces us to pound our little square pegs into round holes at enormous costs for everyone.


My grandparents generation accepted pragmatically that one child out of six, even in very smart families might be “school stupid” and have them learn a trade instead. Our one such is wealthier than all his siblings combined, because he invented a new apparatus to do what his trade did.


He wasn’t stupid. He just hated reading. He CAN read, mind. He hates it though.


Now, our schooling is designed to do everything, and doesn’t do practically anything. Like publishing it’s so dysfunctional that the first alternative will topple it.


BUT when that happens, we’re still stuck with governmental requirements that insist kids must know very odd things, like how to conserve water.


Other than an asteroid headed for us, what we need to do is make learning cheap and ubiquitous. The net is doing that for us. Then, if we must have requirements from government (no, I don’t think we must, but hey, who am I?) make them basic and clear. “Every kid must know how to read and do simple multiplication and division.”


From then on leave them alone. If learning is ubiquitous, cheap and rewarding, they’ll do it.  Not everyone must read Shakespeare and know calculus. It’s not your mission to save them.  ONLY to save civilization.


131 thoughts on “How to save civilization (from itself)

    1. We need to raise a large crop of independent, creative, competent, and very dangerous (to the status quo) children. Nothing will reverse the course of decay faster than dispatching new generations of competent, responsible, independent, and dangerous children to meet tomorrow’s challenges.

  1. If you know how to read and have learned how to cipher you can, if you want, learn other things.

    Now I would advocate exposure with the elements of the basic old classical education: mathematics, reading and writing (to be able to learn and so you can organize and express your thoughts), basic civil documents (The Declaration, The Constitution, The Federalist Papers), a bit of Latin and Greek (to promote understanding of language) and some shared basic cultural stories (so you have a place to start when communicating).

  2. One flaw in our education philosophy is its failure to recognize a simple obvious fact (well, now I think on it, it fails to recognize MANY simple obvious facts; indeed, this overlooking of simple obvious facts seems to be the primary goal of our education paradigm, but I digress …) which is: people forget stuff.

    Yes, yes, a major part of the beginning of each new school year is spent overcoming the summer loss, but that is only a minor aspect of what I’m trying to address. When you are at work in the world, no matter what type of work you engage in, you remember that which you use. Certain formulas, for example, never have to be looked up because you use them several times a day, they come automatically to hand when needed. Elements of grammar become engrained because you employ them so frequently. If you are a typesetter fonts become as familiar to you as the back of your hand, you know Times Roman from Arial from Courier without even considering the question – to see is to recognize. A cook can discern a teaspoon of salt at a glance, and can convert tablespoons to cups automatically.

    All of this is because they use these tools regularly, and thus remember them while forgetting that which they do not use. Thus education might better focus on basic skills and information processing. Know how to look things up, understand the complexity of interrelationships (e.g., basic economics, how history functions) and gather the ability to look at reality through different lenses … or at least, understand that there are different lenses and that perfectly sane, decent and intelligent people are capable of using a lens different from yours.

    Oh, and learn to appreciate a job well performed.

  3. I think you misunderstand the purpose of government education. It’s not “we want every kid to know enough to be perfectly happy, fulfilled, caring, never make anyone unhappy, and live a perfect life.” It’s “We want as many government union jobs as possible to funnel benefits to folks who will reliably vote for us”. That’s the part that has to change for actual education reform. And I’m not sure that even an asteroid headed for the earth would let that happen, at least before it hit.

  4. Michael Flynn’s Firestar books are wonderful on the topic of the attempts to save ourselves from an asteroid. Interestingly, he also gets into saving the education system.

    One of the things that I have found annoying in my kids’ schools, is the assertion that, rather than all that boring memorizing of “stuff,” they are teaching them to think. That’s kind of hard if you don’t have something to think *about.* It’s hard to learn “why” if you don’t first know “what.”

    1. YES on the “teaching them to think” when they are too young, and have no basis to think from. Naturally, some will be ready for critical thinking younger than others, but the lower primary grades should be about getting basic information into young skulls full of mush, so they will have the skills and background to be able to understand what they are thinking about when they get older.

      It goes back to something that was brought up several days ago: the hippies who became teachers saying, “That was a horrible thing to do, making me memorize stuff when I was little, so I’m not going to do that to the children I teach”.

      1. At some point I realized that all that arithmetic I learned in grade school is for higher mathematics as learning the alphabet is for reading. (Admittedly, knowing arithmetic, even if you do not continue onto high math, is a lot more useful than only knowing the alphabet without continuing onto reading.)

        Most of elementary school is spent obtaining the necessary skills for basic daily function in society. By the end of fifth grade you should be able to reconcile you bank statement, balance your check book, look up information you need and follow simple written instructions. — AND this is a large part of why I abhor social promotions in grade school. If someone has not mastered these most basic and necessary skills he will not be able to do what is asked of him at higher grade levels. Whether it is because system doesn’t want to ‘hurt’ his tender young ego or because it fears the political result of having too few children pass, the child who has been socially promoted has been set up for future failure.

    2. Momma once told me that she was glad that she had memorized poetry when she was younger. It gave her something lovely to escape to when she was on her hands and knees scrubbing under the clawfoot bathtubs, or defrosting the freezer compartment of our refrigerator. While I do not face her particular domestic challenges, it remains that some chores are even more tedious if you don’t have something worthwhile to ponder.

      I have always wondered when it was said that kids find memorizing difficult. I am not the world’s best memorizer, I is not because I cannot, but because I have not deliberately challenged myself. I know I can memorize because I know the words to a large proportion of the Beatles song book. (And how many of you out there could finish the following: ‘Just sit right back and you’ll hear a tale, a tale of a fateful trip…?)

  5. well, I like what I read here. I have one thing to say about ” not everyone needs to go to college” . They need some kind of learning beyond Highschool. 2nd part of this is that the folks who go to trade school may be way smarter than the ones in college. My son is an electrician, he went to school for that and then apprenticed for 4 years. he is very very bright, yep he sure can read, and sight read and play music, sings too, a well rounded man, not a neandrethal too dumb to go to college. Do you want a dumb person fixing your plumbing, building your house, wiring your home ? No you do not. Untill the society takes away the stigma associated with ” the trades ” more and more students will spend untold thousands on college, when what the country needs is more folks who can build, fix, and invent things.

    1. Sadly, I think our Trades people will be looked down upon by the educated elite for so long as the Trades are required to actually produce concrete results. When plumbing systems or electrical wiring plans get published in peer-reviewed journals, then will our intellectual class pay respect. And it won’t even matter if the toilets don’t flush or the wiring shorts out — it is the process that intellectuals respect, not results.

      1. Um? I believe that Daddy, high powered attorney, lover of the theater, and an avid museum goer qualifies as one of your intellectuals. I seem to recall that it was after multiple Christmases running when he needed to call in a plumber, he observed that plumbers were far more necessary to a functioning society than he was.

        Momma’s Father, a doctor, asserted that ‘indoor’ plumbing was one of the greatest basic health advances in the world. Unfortunately for the plumbers, many have enjoyed the luxury of plumbing so long that they have no idea what they are not missing and take its benefits for granted.

        1. It’s generally been my observation that when someone in a group such as this starts mentioning intellectuals in a negative context, they are usually referring to those who believe that if you don’t have a degree from an Ivy-League college, your opinion doesn’t matter. It sounds like your father doesn’t fit into that category.

    2. After a presidential candidate that I supported enough to know jack crud about pointed out that expecting everyone to go to college was elitist BS, I spent a few weeks arguing with a former classmate about this exact topic.

      He spent DAYS saying how much he valued skilled tradesmen…and then turned around and talked about how they were ignorant blankers because they cheered when this guy–college educated, which was supposed to mean something?– said that not everyone should go to college.

      Dear Lord, most of my high school graduating class would’ve been improved by something REALISTIC, like military service or so much as a summer job, before their parents sent them to college in their new car.

  6. Education consists of two things. Inputting data. Analyzing and manipulating data.

    Making kids memorize things is necessary. Teaching all the clever ways to manipulate numbers or analyze history are useless if the kid doesn’t know the multiplication table and thinks Che Guevara was some sort of rock star.

    1. One thing I realized about memorizing things like multiplication tables or poems. Doing so is a way to increase your ability to hold concepts and data in mind, the better to perceive connections and processes. Just as push-ups build upper body strength, memorization builds mental strength.

      1. My grad school associates could not believe that I could recite all of “The Man From Snowy River,” “Lichtenberg” (“Smells are better than sounds or sights for makin’ your heart strings crack . . .”), long chunks of “Gunga Din” and “Ballad of East and West” among others. But I grew up memorizing music and poetry, and did not realize that no one did it anymore. As you say, RES, it builds mental muscle.

  7. To paraphrase from Douglas Adams, we’ve gone from “Is it edible?” to “When can we eat?” and are now at “Where would you like to eat?” Having fallen back to level 2 several years ago, the absence of the resources necessary for obtaining edibles tends to concentrate one’s attention wonderfully. A BA from a good college wasn’t going to buy me ramen, but finding extra work did the trick, work that did not require more than a willingness to move lots and lots of snow by hand.

    Reading, writing, math up to long-division and some basic exponents (for the majority of people); civics and history and geography, so we have a common background and common understanding of laws and government, and some sense of the why of that common story and of those laws; those are the utter basic educational necessities. Good to have but not critical for everyone: Latin and Greek, algebra, trig, earth science, life science, animal husbandry and agronomy (food does not grow in cardboard boxes); physics and chemistry. If you want to go into a trade, that’s wonderful and more power to you, but you have to be able to balance a checkbook, evaluate an argument, write coherent English and read same, and be able to explain what laws are, how they are made, and what the role of government at various levels is. For those interested in an older version of this thought experiment, try Louis L’Amour’s “Bendigo Shafter,” about the making of a town and of an educated man.

  8. As far as population goes – I’m thinking that GLOBAL population is still rising. Unfortunately, the majority of the increase is in areas where poverty and horrible governments make them unlikely to be taught.

    In the West, many people have known that the population of Native Westerners has been dropping for decades, and the population of first- and second-generation immigrants has been producing what little growth there may be. Combined with the drive toward “diversity” rather than integration, the immigrant cultures are tearing down the Western cultures. If these were cultures with similar values to ours, it wouldn’t be so bad, but it seems that they are mostly either those who take advantage of the generosity of their adopted home’s government, or those who are actively antagonistic to it.

    I won’t say we need to turn back the clock, because statements like that always bring out the examples of bad things with questions of, “You want to go back to this??!?”, but there are many things that have been dropped by the wayside that should be taken up again.

    1. hear! hear! – being Western raised (I was Canadian Western born w/American parents) I have seen the disintegration of the Western culture. Even in my youth we were very independent. We did help our neighbors … and my parents and grandparents talked about barn raisings until the paperwork became too much. We weren’t like the East where you had to several papers from different governments to just put in a patio. However it has changed drastically. The West is turning into a carbon copy of California. Ugh.

    2. That’s the point – OTHER culture are multiplying, but when they outnumber the smarter ones, the world will descend into anarchy as all the advanced folks are burned at the stake and a new dark age overtakes us.

      1. I seem to have read, although I cannot recall where and am not interested in delving into it, that the Muslim (or perhaps Arab) world is suffering from a demographic inversion, with the exception of Iran (yeah, that would be in the Muslim world, not the Arab one — work with me here and stop quibbling) that is producing a geriatric bulge. Certain I am that I have read China is experiencing that (funny things happen when you start limiting people to only a single child, eh?) So maybe the 3rd World is not outpopulating us? (Yeah, I know — Mark Steyn says they don’t have to screw much to out-breed the West.)

        OTOH, what does it matter when the “Civilized World” is abandoning civilization, deriding ethics and morality as artifacts of obsolete cultures? We are producing our own barbarians, and burdening them with enormous debt (any body want to guess what the % of college educated 20-somethings who will retire their student loans before their own retirement?) and turning civilization’s keys over to them. Ernst & Young calculate that failing to renew the “Bush tax cuts for the wealthy” will cost some 700K jobs and reduce economic growth by 1.8% … wouldn’t that tip us into negative growth?

        1. You forgot to mention the effect of the various wars and HIV/AIDS is having on the population of sub-Saharan Africa.

      2. This will continue until it doesn’t. For a slightly less dismal (although only slightly) view of how this will pan out, see Tom Kratman’s book “Caliphate,” available from Baen. 🙂

        Money quote: “And when the enemy demonstrated that the planet wasn’t big enough for both of us, we demonstrated that it didn’t necessarily have to contain both of us.”

        1. “And when the enemy demonstrated that the planet wasn’t big enough for both of us, we demonstrated that it didn’t necessarily have to contain both of us.”

          Like that quote.

      3. RD — from friends who travel, and friends who study such data — OTHER CULTURES AREN’T. They just fudge statistics more. Yes, even that “islamic womb” thing, seems to be a bunch of hooey when you scratch the surface. Yes, they have massive numbers of unemployed youths, but that’s civilizational failure NOT reproductive — er — heat.

        Remember one thing: when it comes to statistics, the US, as bad as it is (and it is) is almost squeaky clean. Another thing: other countries are net recipients of international aid which is usually “per capita” — and neither have good (or often any) mechanisms to count people NOR do they WANT TO. They want to claim they are countless. This type of deception was part of the card tricks of the Sov Union who claimed burgeoning population until if fell and we found it had been imploding, population wise, for decades.

        Look, trust statistics and figures from non-free countries at your own risk, bucko. Me, I know the way to bet.

    3. No. Wayne. HOnestly — AIDS in Africa, plus double counting and that’s to begin with. Portugal has so many African immigrants that I swear it’s half the population — but I bet you they’re ALSO still counted in Africa. Seriously — Americans believe this bullshit because they have no clue how slapdash data collection is even in “second world” countries like Portugal. And then ask yourself “who benefits?” from all this? as in, do they have incentive for reporting REAL (or even decent estimate) population? Oh, hell no. Everything from macho pride to the international subsidy system rewards reporting more people than you have. So, why would they report fewer?

      1. The dirty secret is that the money ends up in the hands of the dictators. We saw that in Panama. It is a sad thing when before the Presidente is elected that he has 1 million dollars, and afterwards he has 4 million dollars.

  9. re: “The problem is that we’re having too few kids – no. Don’t argue. Whether human population is still growing or not (bet you a dime it’s not. ”
    I agree if you are talking about populations in Asia or Europe or the hopeful countries of South America. Concerning USA population growth, I think you are mistaken.

    On Dec 21, 2010, the U.S. Census Bureau announced that the population of the United States was 308 million.

    Sarah, statisticians project the US population to be 600 million by 2100. That is based on legal immigration of 15 million a decade, and, due to births and allowable sponsorship of relatives, an extra 15 million a decade. Total growth per decade: 30 million. I think you are right about family size being limited by thoughtful parents, but certain cultural groups have large families as born out by the census.

    I read that last year the federal government gave 1,500,000 applicants legal residency in the USA, or an average of 120,000 a month. Where all the adults find jobs which support the American dream I don’t know.

    Skilled legal immigrants may already have a job waiting, and “skilled” includes English language facility. Lack of modern skills, poor or no English facilities, only a few years of primitive schooling, etc. can only increase the difficulty for newcomers.

    Penniless-ness and property-less-ness are usually terrible for a family. In countries with no social welfare programs, only family or tribal loyalties keep hungry children fed. But in the USA, within 60 days, Social Services can fix a new “green card” household up with $25,000 to $35,000 in untaxed benefits for housing, food, medical care, etc. Plus the $1,000 child tax credit is paid to even wageless households, providing they file an IRS tax return and wait for their check.

    It’s an unimaginably benevolent program. Is it sustainable? Can any rational person think the Treasury borrowing $100 billion a month since 2007 is sustainable? That’s $8 Trillion in 6 years. Sounds like a lot of dough to me.

    My grandparents kept FDR’s portrait on the wall. My father and mother raised us to be compassionate and understanding for the downtrodden, because that was how they grew up. How ironic if our compassion leads to fiscal collapse.

    1. Sarah, statisticians project the US population to be 600 million by 2100.

      FWIW, I notice on the collection side that a lot of the estimates are based on counting “invisible” people that get benefits but don’t otherwise officially exist. (Justifiable, I still don’t exist in law enforcement matters.)

      If you give multiple names, you get multiple benefits.

      There’s also the funky things like that study in Iraq that found that something like half the population had died since Saddam was dead— they sampled violent city areas, then assumed that everyone in a block that knew someone who’d died from violence represented the nationwide average. (It’s late, I don’t want to look it up, but it was something silly like that.)

      I only found out about this funky sampling because a family friend volunteers county-wide in a food pantry, and she discovered when she was emergency called to multiple outlets that a decent number of highly recognizable people were going to ALL of their outlets, every week, thus getting at least five weeks of groceries a week.

    2. Beth, I wonder if we ought to differentiate between pure numbers (308 million within the borders of the US) and cultural population (those who support what Sarah calls Usaian ideas and values). Which is a whole ‘nother field for ” cussin’ and discussin’.”

    3. Lies, damn lies an statistics. No, seriously, WE have no accurate way to count population. NONE. “undercounted minorities” are usually adjusted up, whether there’s evidence for them or not. And if WE who take this sh*t seriously do this, think on what the countries do. The answer is “you don’t want to know.”

      The soviet union massively inflated its population till it collapsed. MASSIVELY. Heinlein suspected this having visited. Moscow felt “smaller” than they said it was. Turned out he was right. Let’s just say I have traveled and have friends who travel. A lot of us are starting to feel this way about the whole world.

      1. When McDonald’s moved into Moscow they found that the roads outside the city and the food delivery system was – to put it gently – iffy. That is another clue, insufficient infrastructure, the claimed population.

      2. I agree – Holland has a smaller land mass so they SEEM larger. Germany has the largest population in Europe and it still has open areas. Of course, when you compare Europe with the US, the US is huge especially in area.

        1. I used to post elsewhere and got in a conversation about overpopulation and overcrowding. I once had someone from L. A. seriously suggest after I had described the empty land in the panhandle of Oklahoma that it was only waiting for the mall to be built.

          People in this country have no sense of our own geography, no less that of the rest of the world.

          1. I used to talk to people in Germany about the vastness of America. They couldn’t get their minds around it until they actually saw it. I also noticed that some of those Angeles don’t travel so don’t know what we have. It sometimes takes seeing it to really understand. I remember the first time I flew from NY airport to SLC airport (I was coming home from Africa). It was quite a sight and brought it home to me that we are huge.

            1. Flying back from Japan, and this guy and his girlfriend near me are glued to the window. Very obviously never been to the US before.

              We fly into SeaTac, and they start gesturing wildly. I eventually ended up assuring them that yes, this was the right area, and the city stuff we’d gone over was pretty dense for the US. I think the idea that Seattle was dense nearly blew their minds.

            2. When The Daughter and I drove from N. C. to Albuquerque to visit a friend who had moved there she called the area of the great plains we passed through ‘miles and miles of miles and miles.’ Vast is almost too small a descriptive.

              Some years ago The Daughter and I took relief from a summer heat wave by driving up to Asheville and heading north on the Blue Ridge Parkway. (Disclaimer: I will try and find just about any condition short of extremely low visibility or ice and snow as an excuse to visit the Blue Ridge Parkway.) We stopped at Craggy Gardens overlook to sit on the wall and eat a picnic lunch. Next to us was a couple from England who were visiting friends in Asheville. They asked where we were from, and how far away it was. When I replied that where we lived was some two and a half hours away they asked what we planned to do and where we were going to spend the night. I said we planned to travel a few more hours north on the Parkway, hike a few trails along the way, have a picnic dinner and go home – they were flummoxed. The English couple could not wrap their heads around traveling so far on a day trip.

              I kept thinking of Quigley Down Under when Quigley being taken from the port to meet his new employer Mr. Marston. Having traveled a while he asks how far it is to Marston’s property and he is told, ‘We’ve been on it the last three days.’ Distance is a matter of perspective — in more ways than one.

            3. I was talking to a girl from Germany once and she asked if I ever went to DisneyWorld for the weekend. She couldn’t comprehend it when I told her it would take more than the weekend to just drive there (I lived on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington at the time)

              1. ouch – yea… we had a laugh because our landlady and her parents when to Arkansas to visit and uncle. They thought they could take a train from there to Disneyland. We told them different ;-). They ended up leasing a car while they were there.

                  1. oh snort – 😉
                    yea – when I was in Africa, my parents called when they had problems in Cape Town (I was in Johannesburg). ARG… So Americans have problems with geography too. (or some)

                    1. The US ignorance of our own geography has lead to the inclusion of amusing stories on the back page of a magazine devoted to our 47th state. One was about the very nice lady working the phone for the Metropolitan Opera apologizing because they could not take out of country credit cards for advanced ticket sales to a prospective customer from New Mexico.

                      The Spouse and I got to see the Tom Stoppard double-play Dirty Linen and New-Found-Land when we were in London. I believe that there was in New-Found-Land a description of an imagined trip across the US that includes Indian attacks on the train, Chicago gangsters and what have you … a most delightful mis-mash of misunderstanding of time and place.

                    2. In the 1990s I was going on the southern train from California to Kansas to visit my sister. There was a group of people on horses attacked the train with arrows. (no damage) However a few miles up the road someone had dug out the rails. From the workers, it happened a lot on that route through the reservations area of New Mexico.

                      If you remember they don’t have a passenger train going that route anymore.

      3. I’ve been reading about the development of serfdom in Russia in my research for my novel. I’m willing to go out on a limb and say that the reason Russia diverged so much from Central and Western Europe in terms of development was underpopulation and how the leaders reacted to it. The Mongols, plagues, and civil wars caused the underpopulation, much as in Europe, but the scale was so much greater in Russia (Muscovy and Kievian Rus) than in Europe that the Russians just couldn’t catch up in terms of people per acre. In the West, technology helped people do more with a lower population (the cam, the screw, water power, that sort of thing), but Europe still staggered after the population declines of the Black Death and the 30 Years War. Russia staggered, fell to its knees, and barely got back up by the time of Peter the Great. You can see a similar pattern in Prussia to a lesser extent, and for similar reasons.

          1. Exactly – the more people – the better the technology gets. I summarized something I read in the last year or so. It made perfectly good sense to me. Something about not everyone has to spend their entire days hunting for food.

            1. I dunno, guys. It seems to me that the fewer people the easier it is for a small cadre to seize power and establish themselves as an elite. So, if you define “good” as “me and my friends get to boss everybody around” then lower population is definitely “good”.

              1. percentage is not total numbers. If the number of people goes down, it stands to reason the number of idiots will go down, even if the percentage of idiots rises somewhat. If I have to deal with less people, then I should have to deal with less idiots.

        1. There was one silver lining to the Black Death. Rag dealers had a surplus of linen. That meant that the price of paper, which was made from scrap linen, went down and remained down. This meant that books dropped in price, particularly once Mr. Gutenberg came up with his little invention in the following century. 😉

          (There was a lovely BBC TV show called Connections hosted by the former science editor of The Times which I would highly recommend. At present it is only available in a rather costly package. Bother! It is on my wish list, along The Making of a Continent, a geographical history of North America.)

    4. I live in an area of the country that receives a large number of people who have been granted international refugee status. Many local families and churches provide help with resettlement and adult language acquisition. The county has set up the New Comers School, where children can go for one year to aid in their transition. Being able to support yourself, having a job, is part of the process to enter the path to citizenship. We have educated Burmese who are willingly taking jobs at chicken processing plants. It is work and they believe that work is honorable. They also see it as a means to a much greater end, becoming American.

      Meanwhile, I know a family that has for generations run a machine shop and they cannot find sufficient American born workers with the necessary skills. (This goes back to the problem of the American attitude towards the trades discussed above.)

      As to population projections: they are only as reliable as the data they are fed. In the 1960s various entitlement programs were expanded in the belief that the birth rate of Americans would remain steady. The growth they projected would continue to fuel the economy and the ever expanding work force would provide the necessary funds for the programs. They did not bargain for the unprecedented baby bust that came.

  10. My kids love video games (ages 9-5) love video games. So to play better they go on youtube and watch videos. There are already courses that combine video and exercises (, for example).

    We’ll figure solutions, we’re not stupid.

  11. One thing that I would add to the list of things that should be integrated into education is programming. Learning how to write simple code can teach kids that they can use the computer to create things. It turns the computer from a scary closed box that they play movies and music on to a tool that can be manipulated for their own ends.

    I think this is especially important because the devices that are coming out now really are closed boxes. Geeks are made by opening boxes and poking at the bits inside. Not every kid is going to grow up to be a geek, but its a way of thinking about computers that will make society as a whole more effective.

    1. I’m a programmer myself (among many other things), and I hate closed systems with a passion (if you may not open it and modify it, you don’t really own it) but my agreement here is with a caveat. Every child should learn the principles of logic (up the trivium!), and every child should have some exposure to the basic concepts of computer programming to see whether they is of interest to him. However, not everyone should learn to code. For a good explanation, see here:

      1. I’m with Oyster. Training in logic is amazingly useful, and not knowing the basics of it forms one of the pitfalls in my line of work (historian). But if someone is not “wired” for learning to code, and has other areas of skill and talent, it should be elective. And I’d hate to try and work with any program written by Bloomberg, or Pelosi, or Bachmann or Boehner for that matter!

        1. There isn’t a day that goes by when I don’t wish that those in power had a solid understanding of the way computers and the internet work. I’m not the most knowledgeable person out there but some of the things these people come up with are face palm worthy.

          Perhaps Oyster is right. But there is a big gap in this area that needs filling. I can only speak to where I see the lack in my own education and where I think the world is going.

          1. Oh I agree that an understanding of the general principles and concepts behind modern technology would be of great value. Programming is not needed for everyone, but understanding how the world you live in works is vital.

    2. Sorry, no. Programming is NOT basic. I know it seems like it to some people — my husband for ex — but a requirement to be able to program, if you’re like me and digit dyslexic would Just waste a lot of time. And honestly,you’re not thinking this through — we’re barely teaching them to read (and most of the time failing) and you want programming on top? I can see programming being useful, but “basic” it ain’t. Most people’s minds will NEVER work that way and they’ll have to rely on others to program for them. If you start piling that, then you go “Well, and every child should know how to calculate whatever, because it’s a basic skill” “every child should know history because–” And then we’re back to mission creep. No. Every child needs to know JUST enough to learn whatever else they need — programming included. After that, they’re on their own. A course in logic wouldn’t hurt, but it will be above A LOT of them.

      1. I hate to say this, but I think a primary reason we are failing to teach children to read is that we are not really attempting to do so. There is good reason to believe that in the ‘bad old days’ of the early America we had a greater proportion of the population that was functionally literate. Look at the early those readers — then look at the texts that children receive now. There is a reason that reprints of early readers and newer programs such as Alpha-Phonics are so popular with home educators, while they may be structured, they work. (And for the children who do prosper with phonics, and there are some – we do not all process language in the same manner, there are other good resources.)

        1. I have read some of the early readers (McGuffee???). When you start looking at sixth grade and higher, it is a harder text that what we see in our high schools.

        2. There’s also the problem of publishing not wanting to put out anything that kids would want to read in the first place. I remember the horrified squawks when the Goosebumps books first came out – heavens, this is junk, no kid should be reading this! Except that this is exactly what kids want to read. Things have swung back more in favor of kids lately, thanks to Harry Potter, but I’m already seeing the backlash – people talking about how we need more books of inclusion and books about “teen issues” like cutting, which will only drive kids away.

          1. It is a lot harder to drive teens away with the Internet. I’m pretty sure that most western teens have the ability to download free books. We just need to hook them with good stuff.

          2. I don’t know if it’s the publishers or the schools, but my kids are entering their senior year in high school, and everything they got to read in English in lower and middle school was depressing, as if they wanted kids to hate reading. There were lots of books about bullying. I explained that the adults wanted them to hate reading.

            1. it’s the publishers AND the schools. There was a book called Bless Me Ultima that BOTH my kids, independently, nicknamed “Bless me Crapula.” I skimmed it. It is VILE. Anti-human wave all the way.

        3. I am not going to dispute they’re not trying to teach, CA. My school had two classes of twelve taught by a very old lady. EVERYONE learned to read, including the one who was functionally mentally retarded. We did it by phonics — duh. Our alphabets are designed for this.
          BUT the big difference now, is that somewhere — don’t ask me — someone decided ALL education should be fun with no rote memorization. At the very beginning of anything: reading, math, even foreign languages there’s a boatton of memorization you HAVE to do. There’s really no two ways around that. We fail to teach that memorization because we don’t want to “bore” the children — hence, we produce illiterates. BUT this was an idea on how to reform “public” education — which means it would be the same people teaching programming. I’m not saying most kids are too stupid for it. BUT most kids have zero interest in it, and lacking the force to MAKE them learn the schools can’t do it. I don’t think the schools should be given “force” hence, lowest of low denominator that will allow kids to learn rest is all we can shoot for.

        4. I’d like to note that early schools did not teach reading or basic arithmetic because they were so basic that a child was expected to have learned them already. My children are not geniuses or prodigies of any kind, but Minion Number One was reading The Hobbit at four and a half and while Minion Number Two is lagging behind that (older brother keeps doing the reading for him) he’s well on his way to reading that well before he turns six. Reading is not that complicated for most children, if given proper opportunity and direction, and it is the gateway to so much other knowledge.

            1. YES – when I wanted to learn to read (at 3/4) my parents had bought into the school propaganda that a child wasn’t ready until six. It was harder at six for me.

  12. we want every kid to know enough to be perfectly happy, fulfilled, caring, never make anyone unhappy, and live a perfect life.

    I actually don’t think this is so. We (reading “we” as “the educational system”) want every kid to have the proper attitudes: tolerance, caring, “correct” reactions. Knowledge, fulfillment, and living a perfect life are not a necessary part of the picture. I am not talking about indoctrination per se – not inculcation with specific political positions and such – more about emotional conditioning.

    (Have you read Richard Mitchell’s Graves of Academe? He’s utterly vociferous and quite convincing about this.)

  13. One historical fact that seems to be totally ignored is that most of the wars for at least a hundred years were in part opium wars. You have to wonder why that is hidden in plain sight. .i.e. hardly anyone looks into it.

  14. In yet another eerie demonstration of your prescience, here is a quote from Amazon’s “Message from Big Brother of the Day” this morning. (July 23rd.)

    “We want to make it easier for employees to make that choice and pursue their aspirations. It can be difficult in this economy to have the flexibility and financial resources to teach yourself new skills. So, for people who’ve been with us as little as three years, we’re offering to pre-pay 95% of the cost of courses such as aircraft mechanics, computer-aided design, machine tool technologies, medical lab technologies, nursing, and many other fields.

    The program is unusual. Unlike traditional tuition reimbursement programs, we exclusively fund education only in areas that are well-paying and in high demand according to sources like the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, and we fund those areas regardless of whether those skills are relevant to a career at Amazon.”

    Whoa. Looks like Bezos is taking a page from the Henry Ford playbook – he needs customers and customers need money so it’s in his best interested to make sure people have money.

    1. I’ve been a fan of Bezos ever since he founded Blue Origin, the only rocket company I know of to employ a science fiction writer. He’s got the vision-thing.

  15. The task you assign yourself is complicated by the problem that there is more than one “civilization.” That is, there is always more than one polity, and there is always or at least almost always more than one class within a polity. Any of these may be willing to save itself at the expense of one or all of the rest. This is not a solved problem, but it has been explored in very great detail in many centuries of political philosophy, the partial understanding of which has allowed men both to found polities and to see that their successors maintain them. If you wish to “save civilization,” then please know that I think the polities that will save themselves will most often be the ones in which someone thought to save men’s understanding of the works of the political philosophers.

  16. We have long known how to educate kids, efficiently and effectively, as pointed out by Maria Montessori: Constructive Play. There are kits that work effectively for this, such as Lego Logic and the Snap-It Electronic kits that Instapundit Glen Reynolds has endorsed. (Names may not be accurate; in some areas memory is sadly fallible.)

    It is the nature of kids to immerse themselves in a topic of interest, focusing monomaniacally on a subject for such period of time as it holds their interest. Constructive Play uses that natural tendency to teach skills useful to exploring the subject matter, broadening the area of interest and incorporating related fields as opportunity allows. Kids will learn to read if given books and articles on the topic of their interest, they will master complex mathematics if it helps them better design a model airplane of rocket. Heinlein illustrated this process in depicting what Kit learned in order to repair Oscar and prep him for space.

    Much modern pedagogy is designed to thwart children’s natural learning style and school them, instead, to learn in an industrial model. Thus schools, when you look at the meta, are training kids to be obedient and compliant, to follow instructions without regard to their meaning or intelligence, to respond to scheduled interruptions without regard to whatever task with which they are occupied. The conditioning to be good employees on an industrial production line is increasingly inappropriate for the entrepreneurship which is becoming the modern commercial model.

    1. Books and novels written for or about games also help teach kids to read. I had a friend that always struggled and when he started high school was still functionally illiterate, he then got into the Battletech game when it was first coming out. He taught himself to read through the dent of much hard effort (he had some sort of learning disability, what I don’t recall now, but it made it very hard for him to learn to read) so that he could read the manuals and whatnot for the game. Then he started reading the novelizations of the game, before it was over with he had mastered reading and graduated high school with A’s in English; even though he started in the ‘special’ classes as a freshman, and had been in them since grade school without out ever learning to read.

    2. And yet, children instructed when this model was ubiquitous in the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s went on to become “The Greatest Generation.” They fought our wars, came home and founded successful businesses and raised families. This criticism of “industrial” education is old and tired, and never seems to look at the things students learn in that environment: discipline, the values of systematic hard work and perseverance. Oh, and they learn history, mathematics, reading, and writing, too.

      We’ve been systematically destroying that successful learning environment for 40 years now, due in large part to mission creep, as Sarah points out. Not to mention these misbegotten, mystifying ideas that nothing should be hard and everything fun, that it’s harmful to have lots of homework, that competition – and by extension, rigorous grades – is unhealthy, that every student “deserves” to attend college, that we have to somehow “save the world” by altering the culture through public schooling… instead of saving the world by producing new generations of well-educated young people.

      I think there are much larger issues at play than whether we are instructing our students via traditional classrooms or the Montessori method. Let’s start with the fact that I haven’t heard the word “character” mentioned in a public school in over ten years.

      1. While I’m sure that Montesori works for some children it is hard to truly apply it on a grand scale… and I am a terrible person, perhaps, but I’ve doubted the wisdom of Maria Montessori since reading that one would never really know a language or be able to use it for artistic expression if one learned it after the age of six. She might have been right, but I’d still have liked to show her my middle finger. I learned English at fourteen, and I’d DAMN WELL like to believe I can use it artistically. I know Montesori educated kids who are wonderful, but again, I don’t know if it’s something that can be up-scaled to a whole nation. the attempts to do so are half assed and end up having the worst of both worlds.
        As for the other issues — we have the majority of our children raised by menials who do not REALLY have the ability to punish. Every time this has been done, the civilization hasn’t lasted much longer. (And yes, I’m awfully opinionated.)

        1. Maria Montessori wasn’t perfect? Next you’ll tell me Newton’s conceptualization of the Cosmic All was incompleat! It does not invalidate the central thesis of the method: teaching is more effective when working with the child’s natural inclinations.

          Arguably (I’m not arguing it – John Taylor Gatto did; I claim no expertise other than as a product of the system) the success of the so-called “Greatest Generation” (for my money, the “Greatest” would be the one that won our independence from King George, although the one which fought the War of Southern Secession and settled “the West” has its arguments) occurred in spite of the pedagogy, a pedagogy largely not in place until after the Second World War; ere that the teachers largely constituting the profession had all been developed under an earlier regime.

          But that argument is largely one about arrangement of deck chairs. The larger issue is the breakdown of the social cohesion and public systems which once held sway and now is derided as corn. The wholesale abandonment of familial authority and personal discipline are more significant than the failures of our educational system. Put another way: the problem is NOT the obvious failure of our education system; the problem is the tolerance of the obvious failure of our education system.

          1. I’m not going to argue that Montessori doesn’t work — only that it is difficult to implement in large groups. I was taught — first — in neither method, but the way Shakespeare was. It was called “dame school” I believe.

            Even though Portugal had a public school system it had been spotty till my parent’s generation, yet people learned to read. In any village there was a woman who taught the kids “their letters” often for startlingly little and often on a sliding scale. In my dad’s day that woman was his aunt which meant he was the prankster of the class because he was going to get in trouble ANYWAY. In my day it was a woman who had first been set up in the village in a house by some wealthy man from Porto. When he left her, in her middle age, she started taking in pupils. We sat around her living room, twenty or twenty five of us, with our writing slates, and learned mostly by repetition and rote, just as Shakespeare did. There was no blackboard. There were no grades. But if you were being “stupid” you might get smacked, and then your parents smacked you again, because they were paying for you to learn. Mind you I got kicked out after six months. There was this girl the teacher always picked on and I became a barracks lawyer. The teacher couldn’t get me to shut up. Not by beating, not by giving me candy. So she took me back to my grandmother and said “Keep her at home till she goes to official school” — and that was that.

            The problem I have with Montessori, RES is that it WILL work for kids who come in WANTING to learn — anything — but not with kids who have already been taught by circumstances to be incurious or to sit and stare. And that’s not JUST our underclass. I don’t think any of the farmer kids whom dame Maria taught would have learned at Montessori. By four they already wouldn’t do/learn anything without being forced to. Yes, I know she tried this on Italian peasant children. All I have to say is “not the peasant children I grew up with.”

            And then there’s what the federal bureaucracy would do with the method. Finding out fast readers perceive a whole word at once caused them to banish phonics. I actually know what they’ve done with Montessori — it was responsible for those “open plan” “no grades, no discipline” schools of the sixties and early seventies — which resulted in practically none of the kids learning to read.

            I agree with you what we have isn’t working, but what we have is industrial-educational complex and it is MORE regimented than what the Prussians invented — which, yes, is the model it is based — now the tab-a, slot-b is more important than learning, but at the same time the teachers aren’t given any way to enforce their regulations. So what we have is… er… nothing much.

            I say let’s teach people the basics, teach them they can learn and then set them free to learn what they want to.

        2. Montessori looks a lot better compared to todays system, than it does compared to a hundred years ago. When teachers don’t have the authority to punish kids and make them learn, then they have to find other ways to make them want to learn. The carrot and the stick works a lot better than just a carrot (especially if your walking down a farm lane between carrot fields).

          The biggest problem with the Montessori method is that it really has to be custom tailored to the individual student, much more so than the ‘industrial’ method which is a better off the shelf fit. Which means that the industrial method works better in mass production, like our public schools (although again it worked better when teachers had the authority to use the stick, or willow branch) Montessori may very well work better for homeschooling, but then parents have more authority to punish also, so other methods are more successful with homeschooling, also.

          1. I should have read your comment before I answered RES. Yes. What you said. Montessori is good but it needs to be properly applied. Half assedly applied — which it is in many schools — it only works because those kids would learn ANYWAY. And applied on an industrial scale, it means that no kids learn because teachers don’t tailor.
            Hence, homeschooling.

            1. Having read Montessori I can say that a large amount of what purports to be Montessori is not. The system was developed and first used with the children of the lowest rung of society, believed to be uneducatable, part of why Montessori was allow to ‘experiment’ with them. It was Montessori’s unexpected success with these children that drew attention to her method.

              While looking unstructured, part of what attracted many of the free spirit thinkers, when properly set up and run it has a great deal of structure. There are learning stations, and there are times that children are free to explore them on their own, but there is also a teacher/teachers who teach and guide the students within the settings.

              1. How interesting – my first grade teacher used teaching stations for reading. We had to finish one to go to another. But it was only a part of the teaching. We did rote memorization and phonetics. This blend of styles helped every child to read by the first half of the year. The last half of the year we read and memorized poetry and the classics. It was her last year though. The new system of “boomers” forced her out. I remember her fondly because w/o this teacher, I think I would have been a smart illiterate, never able to reach what I wanted to reach.

                1. My first grade teacher was the opposite, I hated her, and she hated me. She put all the ‘bad’ and ‘stupid’ kids at the same table, and then made examples of them and made fun of them in front of the rest of the class. Guess where I sat?

                  In kindergarten I was considered bright by my teacher, in first grade I was considered stupid and she recommended special ed, in second grade I was put in the gifted program and tested out at the top of it. Says something about the quality of the teacher doesn’t it?

                  1. Robert had same issue in First Grade. So Dan, who is a BAD person, took all the money we had that Christmas and had Robert extensively tested. (The school who tested him without telling us told us he had an IQ of 107, because that’s where the set they had maxed — because the teacher told them he was “slow” and “learning disabled” — even though he was reading Heinlein Juveniles in first grade.) Then when we went in for the staffing meeting, he let the teacher lay out her “evidence” that he had “issues” — and then we brought out the test results from a respected psychologist. The teacher quit at the end of the years. Then they started on the younger one… and this time stealthily so that we didn’t even catch on to what they were doing till sixth grade. Marshall might always have scars.

                    1. We don’t usually put the onus on the private for the General’s screw-up…

                      Something is wrong with what we are doing, how we are presenting information to children. We have observed that at one point in our history all sorts of children learned. All this was done without teachers who had the benefit of training in schools of education. Home educators, also with no special training, are succeeding in producing children who test above children with similar backgrounds who attend the schools.

                      OK, schools are expected to take whoever comes, motivated or not, disciplined or not. Almost all of the teachers I have met really do care about their pupils. They do not feel supported by the system or the parents. They are drowning under paperwork for their system, their state and the federal government. They are expected to meet outcome based education standards. They feel like they are, as a result teaching ‘to the test’, instead of teaching the material so that the children will have the skills necessary to actually pass any test. And when the whole system fails the teachers get blamed. (Studies indicate that it is not the lack of pay or benefits that keep talented people out of the profession, or drives them to quit.)

                    2. From what I see, the biggest problem is that good teachers aren’t allowed to control their classroom, and good teachers tend to have the characteristics that get them handed a crudton of non-teaching extra work. (writing grant proposals, coaching the unpopular sports, anything that you want done RIGHT instead of half-assed….)

                    3. Gah. “Teaching to the test”. Blech.

                      I shall resist all the phrases that some to mind when I hear this complaint, and simply ask, “What does this mean?” Please bear with me, for I do not ask that sarcastically, nor with tongue in cheek. What I mean is, if there were no standardized testing, would there not still be tests? And if there are tests, does not every teacher “teach to the test”?

                      I truly do not understand. Does anyone here understand the distinction, and can explain it in some non-self-referential form? Is it something particular about the test? Is it something about the requirements FOR the test? Is the test badly designed in such a way that learning what is on the test is of no value?

                      You see, when I hear or read the lament that teachers are reduced to “teaching to the test”, all I can think of is that they have taken this phrase as their battle cry, whether it has meaning to them or not, because it would seem to me that, if a well-designed curriculum were taught, then students would score well on the tests anyway.

                    4. What I mean is, if there were no standardized testing, would there not still be tests? And if there are tests, does not every teacher “teach to the test”? I truly do not understand

                      There is a difference between teaching a child to read — so that they are prepared to take whatever kind of test that requires reading — and teaching a child how to take a reading test.

                      Teaching ‘to the test’ involves training specifically in those skills expected to be tested, and those skills which suit the form of the expected test. When the emphasis on the test becomes so strong only that which is seen as necessary for the test gets covered.

                    5. My position is that the new tests are necessary because teachers haven’t really been teaching so when “they” scream about “teaching for the test” I start thinking “well why having you been teaching before this?”.

                    6. And I would have agreed with you on that, except that I know some teachers who are very good, who say the same thing, but haven’t been able to articulate the issue, which is why I’m expanding my horizons on searching for understanding of this complaint.

                    7. I knew one of the people involved in the development of the pre-No Child Left Behind NC state reading assessment test. The idea was to provide reliable feed back on both the students progress. When looked at overall, the success of the teaching methods employed and the teacher could be reviewed. It was a great idea.

                      The problem, as it is now, the school administration is under threat of takeover from the state if the End of Grade testing does not go well, so, out of fear, they have instructed the teachers to teach ‘to the test’.

                    8. When the government starts to micro-manage every detail things get entirely out of whack.

                    9. It is always useful to look for conflicting agendas, many of which are usually covert. In the public schools systems certain factors ought be obvious.

                      1. Excellence is a byproduct, not a goal. Everybody pays lip service to the goal but nobody is actually committed to its realization. (N.B., some individuals are certainly so dedicated, but I am writing here of institutional components.) All parties are committed to the appearance of excellence but none are committed to the actuality.

                      2. Teachers, especially their unions, are in pursuit of maximizing their remuneration while minimizing their actual responsibility. From the perspective of unions, (slightly) incompetent teachers are more desirable than competent ones, as the less competent the teacher the more dependent upon the union for job protection

                      3. School administrators are dedicated to smoothly running systems with minimal disruption. They are bureaucrats and any among them inclined to rock the boat over issues (like excellence) which might disrupt operations, upset the applecart or entail accountability are discouraged.

                      4. Parents want their little darlings minded for significant portions of the day/week/year with a minimum of demand upon Mom & Dad. They want reasons to brag about their brood but tend to have little interest in the actual achievement except as relative to their peers (“all kids are above average” as the Lake Woebegone Effect avers.) AGAIN, some – many – parents are otherwise, but look at PTA participation and the number of parents actually consistently making their parent-teacher conferences.

                      5. Kids. Do I really have to explain this one?

                    10. I’m not sure I made myself clear (Which is not uncommon for me – I often find even I I have to work hard at understanding things I wrote more than a few weeks in the past). I’ve heard those arguments, but they still don’t make sense to me. There has to be something different in either the interpretation of the test, or the scoring, or something, to make it different. If your students are going to be tested on long division, you don’t teach them graphing on the x-y axis. If your students are going to be tested on grammar, you don’t teach them deconstructionism (I know I’m not making good examples here, but as I said, I don’t know what is so special about the standardized tests – I’m not making overblown comparisons on purpose or to belittle anyone).

                      No, if it’s a valid complaint, it almost has to be related to something that hasn’t been talked about much, if any, though WHY that is so, I cannot fathom, unless it is something that is an underlying factor which all teachers take for granted, so don’t think to understand.

                    11. No, I believe I was at fault. You see it is absolutely logical and rational to take the position that if you actually teach a subject then whatever test a child is presented with should go well.

                      But instead the administrations have decided that the teachers will teach test taking skills and stratagem. They have them teach patterns and forms, but not the reasoning behind them. They teach what they are sure will be on the test and little else. The state and district’s scope and sequence has been built around this.

                    12. Would it be fair, then, to say that the actual complaint is that the teachers are required to teach details, rather than principles?

                      If this is so, then it is actually close to what I expected, but it’s not quite the same focus that I had thought, because rather than being a necessary shift based on the teacher’s perception, it is because of the administration’s requirements that they teach responses rather than reasons.

                      I still wonder if the underlying reason is the way in which the test scores are interpreted, though, because if improvement were tracked from one year to another, I would think that a curriculum which taught the principles, in addition to some details, would do just as well.

                    13. “Teaching to the test” is one of those phrases that contributes to the degradation of American thought. It has many meanings to many people without having any one meaning to all persons. Like “Good government”, “sensible reform” and many another cliche, it gives the semblance of content without delivering.

                      In some cases, teaching to the test means focusing on test taking strategies, tricks that can be used to game the exam (such as answer analysis to narrow choice on multiple choice questions) as well as approaches (such as taking a moment to outline a short essay answer or writing an initial paragraph that sets out your line of argument so as to ensure partial credit if forced by time to curtail the essay.)

                      In other instances it can mean focusing on the material sure to be covered on tests rather than on those traits and abilities of individual students which may prove more important in life, such as emphasizing good character at the expense of good grammar.

                      Ultimately, “Teaching to the test” is one of those “if by whiskey” phrases (look it up) which is intended to evoke positive response without actual thought.

                    14. I wouldn’t blame the administrators either. They are under pressure from the States and the Fed, and often have little they can do.

                      Just one example of the stuff that occupies school administrations: As a result of a court order our county went from two city and one rural system to a system that covered nearly 100 schools located over 916 square miles. The logistics involved in transporting kids is amazing. First winter under the new system, we saw near record snows. All schools were out because of persistent ice on the roads in the county. Meanwhile the kids were running wild in the cities. The county ran out of ‘make up’ days, even with the loss of all but one scheduled post New Year vacation day and all the teacher work days. The teacher’s annual contracts expire in early June, so the classes could be extended no later than the 6th. The state would not grant a special-conditions waver for the requirement. It often did for the mountain counties, but this would have ultimately involved better than half the state, and most of its population. The thing here — the cities in our county could have met the requirement before consolidation. But all this landed on the administrators heads and had little to do with actually educating children.

                      If no pressure can be brought to bear by the school on a student who will not cooperate with his education there will be quite a number of children who will choose not to learn. If the parents don’t back the schools up there is little the school can do. The administration has to meet state education requirements without enforcement tools. Shortly before we went to home education for The Daughter we encountered a strange phenomena: a child who was on permanent in-school suspension. There was no adult at his home during the day, since they worked, so the child could not be sent home or expelled. The child learned that nothing that he regarded as consequential could happen to him if he acted out. So, he acted out and learned little else. But was it taken into account at EOG time that there were such students? No, his low performance, and that of others like him, would be counted against the performance expectations for the school.

                    15. I made a poor choice of words, I suppose – I actually meant the various Government administrations (I’m guessing mostly Fed, rather than State and Local, at least as far as the NCLB testing is concerned), not the school administrations. They would be the ones that would make the kind of decisions you were mentioning earlier.

                    1. I agree. I never had any who were actively antagonistic, but both my sons did, due to their ADHD, though it was nowhere near as bad as those stories.

                    2. I didn’t get along with grade school. I entered school reading, when I express and interest my parents had taught me using phonics. The school told them they had broken me. They proceeded to apply see-and-say, which nearly did break me. I entered school doing long division in my head, Daddy had taught me math while we did wood work together. Several years later, courtesy of the school’s modern pedagogical theory of education, I would break out in cold sweats when presented with any mathematics.

                      I don’t place the blame on the teachers, although they did not help, it is the system and how they were trained.

                1. Whereas the Dewey system, or classical, just demands competent teachers, and we have a shortage of them, much less gifted teachers.

      2. Yes, ‘the greatest generation’ went to school under the early application of the Dewey system, but the course work presented was still largely classical. Daddy learned to read with phonics, he memorized up to the 15 times table, went through trig, calculus and physics in math, he could diagram sentences, knew what a gerund was and had read extensively in classical literature and primary historical documents. Along with all of this, even though he was in the college prep track, he had practical courses in shop.

        A generation later the boomers hit the schools. I was subject to such experiments as New Grammar which attempted to describe our language using only four classes of words and intensifiers. In high school I got to read depressing contemporary books like A Separate Peace and Catcher In The Rye. OK, I admit I enjoyed Flowers For Algernon, but it only took dyslexic slow-as-molasses-in-January reader me less than one afternoon to read it and the class spent a month. My history textbooks was made up of short passages with pre-digested synopsizes of historical documents. I experienced all of that while attending two premier schools (junior and senior highs) in a major northeaster city. I learned more in my final two years at a small Quaker school in eastern Tennessee that was run on a shoe string.

        When The Daughter started … well I won’t go into detail, but things had not gotten better.

        I do not know what system you are in, but when I was involved (PTA, volunteer, school board input committee, etc.) ‘character education’ was being talked about all the time. It became part of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 – Subpart 3 Partnerships in Character Education. If your system doesn’t include it as a component of its education plan the system would have to have received a waiver.

        1. I managed to miss “new grammar” but got a full dose of “new math.” I have never recovered, which really hurt me once I got to physics and chemistry.

          1. Maybe I am just weird (well, okay, no “maybe” there, but maybe in this case it is relevant) but I remember liking “new math” when it hit me in seventh grade. To this day I calculate my birthday in its component primary factors and eagerly look forward to reaching two to the sixth. Mind, Fred Pohl taught me to cont on my fingers in binary, so it wasn’t just the “new math” that warped me.

            As I understand the big problem with “new math” wasn’t that it failed but that it was improperly learned by the teachers tasked with employing the method, and then blamed for their failure to effectively employ it. Sorta like Chesterton’s aphorism: “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult, and abandoned”

            1. I like counting on my fingers in binary. Learned it the same place you did. 😉

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