We Don’t Need No Thought Control

I haven’t yet read da blogfather’s latest book.  I have it on my kindle, but the last few days having involved cat illnesses, stupid house tricks, even stupider car tricks and other such interesting, not to say terminally diverting occasions, I haven’t had the time to finish Necropolis and move on to The New School.  (And for those who have no idea who da blogfather is – Which planet did you just land from, and no, I will not take you to our leader.  There’s some discussion on who that is, and he official one is probably golfing – his name is Glenn Reynolds.)

I’ve read excerpts, and I’m looking forward to reading the book.

As most of you know, I came head to wall with how inadequate our school system is when the kids first entered middle school.  It wasn’t so bad with First Son, where the “problem” was simply plummeting grades and the teachers telling me they didn’t have anything new to teach him.  (Which considering he was in sixth grade, shocked me.)  It was solved by moving him to a new school and a more demanding program.

However, First Son has always been extremely verbal for a boy, and could compete handily in the world of education, even if it was geared to a more verbal presentation.

Second Son is more stereotypically male.  In many ways his brain is almost a stereotypical male brain, good with math and spatial reasoning, just now getting to his stride in verbal (though even in that he was fairly above average according to tests.)

But he also had some sensory issues, not uncommon in boys, for instance issues hearing, particularly in a loud classroom.

This made him very, very unlike the other children, and the school didn’t seem to know how to deal with “different” except by assuming it is willful.  So they kept punishing him for things he couldn’t help.  They also assumed everything he did was malicious.  That was before the whole bullying incident.  (And of course every time a kid is treated as different by a teacher, the kids pile on, anyway.)

Anyway – I’m not mad in love with American schooling.  Colleges are better, because they allow more choice and because the population is more self-selected, at least in STEM.

My own schooling would have been considered erratic by American standards.  I’m not absolutely sure whether Portugal too adapted the Prussian schooling methods.  Perhaps not, as, like Britain, it seems to have a dual path – to the professions and to academics.

The village was still transitioning from a stage in which the kids were taught what we’d consider elementary school by “dame schools” which is a fancy word for a woman with some learning (which could be just her letters and some cyphering) who would set up a one-room school in her living room.  Some took only girls and taught them to embroider as well as read and write.  My grandma dropped out at the equivalent of third grade, because she loved reading and writing (and had the most beautiful handwriting) but HATED embroidery and lace making and was tired of being called stupid because of that.

These teachers were colorful characters in themselves, I think.  Well, not my grandmother’s older sister, who ran a mixed school room, and whom I barely remember (she died when I was six) save for two things: at her wake, my grandmother taught me to make filet crochet in order to keep me quiet. It remains one of the few kinds of crochet I can do.  And she left me her glasses.  I think I played with them until I lost them, which is a pity and not just because they’d probably now be worth money.

But the lady who taught me for about six months, then brought me back to grandma with the recommendation she keep me at home till the public school teachers were forced by law to put up with me when I entered first grade was.  (No, I didn’t scream, steal other kids’ lunches, or refuse to work.  She could deal with all of those.  I was a barracks lawyer and every time she punished a kid I came to the defense.  Hitting me just made me talk more/louder.)

She had been some society girl, according to local lore.  (This could mean anything, including that her parents lived in the city and were moderately well to do/white collar.)  She got seduced by a married man, who bought her a cottage in this remote (then) village, and paid her bills until he got tired of her.  Then he left her adrift, amid the probably hostile, certainly judgmental, villagers.  I don’t know how she had the nerve, but she hung up the shingle saying she’d teach children for x a month.  She died doing it at eighty, respected, and having taught most of the village their first letters.  (My aunt who was the elder schoolmarm taught at the other end of the village, and I understand mothers – then – were more confident sending daughters to her.  She was also more expensive.)

My mom OTOH learned her first letters at a lady who went by the name “Barrel of Sewage” in her village.  Mom said it was the way she smelled.  Which goes to show.

But that’s the thing.  There was public schooling when I grew up, but people didn’t really trust it to teach kids the first stuff – at any rate it started much too late, around 7. Kids were sent to Dona Maria as early as three.  (Their formal schooling then often ended at ten.)

And formal schooling was less formal than you expect.  I remember my first day of school vividly.  No one had told me anything.  I woke up at the normal time, had my leisurely breakfast, then mom walked me to the school and handed me in.  All the other girls were already there.

But until fourth grade, and then only if the teacher thought you had the potential to test into the academic track, no one much cared when you arrived.  People went shopping with their mothers and were dropped off two hours late.  Parents came to pick up the kids really early.  No one cared.  We had a half hour recess midday when we were allowed to run around like crazy.  If the teacher was feeling poorly, which often happened, the recess could turn into an hour or two.  (Which is why we had time for what I now know were LARP.)

I missed every other week due to being sick, and no one said anything because a) they knew I as one of the better students and b) they knew I was sick.

When I tested into the academic track and went into middle school ( 5th and 6th) grade, things were more formal and stratified, but there was still a lot of slack, and provided you tested well, you got away with an awful lot.  Less in high school and still less in college, but even in college, I read blank papers because I’d forgotten to do homework, and it didn’t affect my grades any.

Some parts of it were terribly regimented (until the revolution we had to wear pinafores over our clothes.  The idea was a cheap school uniform, which I’d have tolerated better if my middle school pinafore color weren’t p*ss yellow which makes me look sickly and sallow.)  But most of it was almost endlessly adaptable and pliable.

What I mean is, encountering American “you must turn homework in on day so and so” was a shock to the system.  And the system here has got a lot more regimented since.

But even in high school and college, I had the benefit of three (full) free months in summer, two weeks Easter, two weeks Christmas and sometimes endless teacher strikes.

Benefit?  Well, yes.  That’s when I read and studied stuff the school didn’t teach (I always studied my brother’s books, for instance.)  This makes me understand completely Mark Twain’s bit about never letting school interfere with your education.

But then I came across this article.

Over many years, I’ve observed learning at one such place, the Sudbury Valley School, in Framingham, Massachusetts. The students, who range in age from four to about 18, are free all day to do whatever they want, as long as they don’t break any of the school rules. These regulations, which have been created democratically by the children and staff together, have nothing to do with learning; they have to do with keeping peace and order. The school currently has about 150 students and ten staff members, and it operates on a per-child budget that is less than half that of the surrounding public schools. It accepts essentially all the students who apply and whose parents agree to enroll them.

Today there are about two dozen schools in the United States that are explicitly modeled after Sudbury Valley, and still others that have most of its basic characteristics. Compared with other private institutions, these schools charge low tuitions, and some have sliding tuition scales. Students come from a wide variety of backgrounds.

To people who haven’t witnessed it firsthand, it’s hard to imagine how such a school could work. Yet Sudbury Valley has been in existence for 45 years and has hundreds of graduates who are thriving in the real world.

Read the whole thing.  I’m not saying that their model isn’t better than the current model, or that it won’t work spectacularly for many kids.  But…

But the school they’re talking about is called a “democratic model” and they are assuming (like the people who assume everyone wants to work hard) that every kid wants to learn.  In Hunter-gatherer societies every kid wants to learn because there’s no life outside the tribe (and there are no other models of adult, either.)  Here…

If we’d had a “democratic school” in the village, half the farmer girls would have learned nothing EXCEPT needlework, because they saw the use of that.  We routinely heard “I don’t need to know how to read to be a wife and mother.”

The thing about kids is that they’re kids.  They might want to learn, but not having any idea of what the world is like, learning the complete list of pokemans (once Robert’s ambition) is as important as the multiplication tables.  More, since it makes your classmates jealous.

We had direction from a schoolmarm, who told us that spelling, reading and arithmetic were not open to discussion. And everyone learned to read, including the deficient girl.

Was it wonderful?  Well directed?  Oh, heck.  We memorized train schedules for the entire country on the assumption they’d never change and we’d use them every day.  It was mandated curriculum.

But we did learn the basics, which we otherwise might not have.

I think in our tech-advanced and savvy society the solution is more complex than “this is the way every kid should learn.”

If the democratic school works for some kids, let them have the democratic school; if some kids learn better in a top down school let them have that (but make sure it teaches needed stuff, not indoctrination.)   If your kid learns better at home or in peer-groups, or via computer, or whatever, let them have that.

The virtue of our world as it now is – and the reason I say the next system to get hit is education.  Hit with new opportunities and the sort of opening up we’ve seen in Publishing – is that if one thing doesn’t work, you can do the other.

We shouldn’t be trying to identify “the one best method” but allowing sufficient flexibility within existing methods that kids can then learn as each learns best.

Is our current system damaging kids?  Assuredly.  Particularly boys.  If I had my way again, I’d have homeschooled the boys and hired tutors for the sciences.  Of course, I probably wouldn’t have started writing except the last four years, but it would have been worth it.

My boys are largely self-directed which is good – and demanding which is not from a mom-who-wants-to-be-writer pov.

But if I knew then what I know now, I would have tried.

And what we should be working on is opening possibilities for families, and letting them know what is available.  Also stopping the confiscation of tax money to favor only one model.

Can we do it?  I think it will happen one way or another.  The important thing is to be ready.


153 thoughts on “We Don’t Need No Thought Control

  1. I like your point about not every kid wanting to learn. I’ve read some of John Taylor Gatto’s stuff and other, similar, authors and they often assume that all kids are self directed learners. If teachers just got out of the way, all children would naturally read all day or teach themselves carpentry or some other interest that just so happened to be intellectually edifying and/or lead to developing a practical skill. I find this view suspiciously optimistic. Playing video games all day might lead the talented tenth to develop great programming skills, but the rest of us would just end up with a fun childhood and little education. 🙂

    I like the idea of homeschooling, but some homeschooling advocates seem similarly over optimistic. They’ll criticize the schools for not teaching kids how to read (a legitimate criticism). However, then they’ll recount how their own kids taught themselves how to read when they were 4. Again, this seems a tale of the talented tenth to me. Just cause your kid taught himself to read, doesn’t mean other kids, or most kids, can do so, or will find learning to read easy.

    American schools certainly are too rigid, but unschooling or light handed homeschooling won’t work for everyone. I agree with you that families need more choice when it comes to education options for their kids.

      1. I totally would have spent my childhood playing video games and reading science fiction if I’d been given free range. “Long division? Who needs that? I’m gonna be a starship captain!”

        1. This is TOTALLY useable for educational purposes. Example:

          “Oh, Skeptical. You like Citizen of the Galaxy, huh? Answer these three questions:

          Q1.) Would it be possible to travel around the galaxy the way the ship in the book does? Why or why not?

          A1.) Some variation on Nope, no such thing as FTL travel in the “real” universe.

          Q2.) What is the biological reason that it is necessary for the Traders to trade their women among ships.

          A2.) Inbreeding is bad, mmmkay?

          Q3.) What are the ethical implications of making Thorby think his ship is under attack by pirates and that he has killed them when it is not really true?

          A3.) I’d need awhile to work through this one myself, but there are a lot of possibilities here.

          1. THIS is how I taught #2 son. I’d take him for walks and we’d “talk” — he never figured out he was having class 😛

            But I still made him read/write/cypher at home.

    1. My experience with homeschoolers has been decidedly mixed. Some seem to do very well, but others have definitely been well behind their peers in reading and other skills.

      I’ve never bought the argument that homeschoolers miss out on socialization. I don’t think kids need the kind of socialization that comes from having their face shoved into somebody’s armpit (to paraphrase Bill Watterson.) But I’ve met a few that lacked social skills even for dealing with adults.

      Have not made up my mind on homeschoolers yet.

      1. As I explained to a Aunt who was a (catholic) school prinicpal that yes, she was probably right, my daughter DID need the socialization of a public school, otherwise where was she going to learn how to roll a joint, install a condom, find a vein with a needle or suck a d*k.

        AFAIC she can learn those things in college, not gradeschool.

      2. Homeschooling, as in all schooling, depends heavily on the instructor. At least in the beginning. Some folks shouldn’t do it. Our host’s point about options and people being aware of them is key to solving our educational mess, I believe. The ability to treat individuals individually could take us far.

        1. – The three or so families I’ve known who home-schooled were lucky, I guess – they all did very well. The one I know about that went back into public school system in highschool – 3 kids all tested-in at a grade higher than their ages.
          – I’m thinking that, to avoid excessive time lost in trial-&-error, it would be good to have some learning style assessment tools for parents to use, to pick the right kind of schooling for each kid.

      3. Statistically, it’s the “very well” ones that are representative. When we go for large scale testing and stuff.

      4. I suppose your experience with the formally schooled has been decidedly unmixed?

        Too often people compare an alternative against the ideal rather than the norm. What would be the proper metric for evaluation of the home-educated? What percentage of High School entrants reach graduation capable of basic academic function? Do public schools more closely resemble PS 106 or Boston Latin?

        1. Alternatively, you might evaluate Home Educated kids against Public Schooled ones by comparing failure rates: what percentage of Home Educated kids shoot up their schools perform three or more levels below grade norm?

    2. But it’s such an easy theory– like “the kids want me to be happy” before you ignore their interests in whatever you’re doing as a parent.

  2. What does “read blank pages” mean? (Here’s the context: …but even in college, I read blank papers because I’d forgotten to do homework, and it didn’t affect my grades any.)

    1. I’d guess: hold an empty paper and pretend to read from it while adlibbing. I remember doing something like that a couple of times, but I was never good at it.

    2. I took it that Sarah had forgotten to write a report/paper on a subject that she was to read aloud to the class.

      But since she knew the subject she just had a blank sheet of paper in front of her while she spoke on the subject.

    3. Yes – a while back, she said she had once stood up and read a 3-page report from a blank sheet of paper. At which point, I turned green with envy and began plotting to kidnap her brain and harness it for my own use when I am tongue-tied.

      1. I can recall doing one better in high school. I once read from a blank sheet of paper, then sat down at my desk and wrote out the report I had just ‘read’ to turn in to the teacher at the end of class.* I can’t verify how closely the written and verbal reports matched, but apparently close enough.

        *I recall this distinctly, because the teacher seen me writing and asked what I was doing. When I told her she just looked exasperated and went back to having the other kids read their reports.

        1. I never did anything like that, I just did the math homework in my head, one problem ahead of each person called on to read off the answer to the next homework problem. That way, I was ready when it was my turn, even if teacher skipped across the room to me, which she did a few times.

          THAT generated an exasperated look, too.

  3. People learn – or they absorb information in different ways. For instance, I simply cannot learn certain technical stuff, like various computer programs by sitting in a classroom, looking at a training film or listening to a lecture. Tried it repeatedly over the years. Nothing happening. How I do learn technical tasks is to sit with the instruction manual in my lap, and play around with the gadget. Run whatever tutorial came with it, and play around. I discovered this almost by accident as a broadcaster, when we would get a fancy new piece of production gear … and there would be no money for a training course. I’d just sit down and play with it – and very shortly would know it well enough to use it – and to teach others.
    I was also a voracious reader – and when I got taken by curiosity about a topic – whatever it was – I’d read everything I could get my hands on about it. This ability has come in handy in writing HF. When it comes to history, I’m an autodidact.

    1. I’m somewhat similar. I could remember and understand everything I could visualize, or if we are talking about something like using a machine, actually get to do, pretty easily (now that ability comes and goes) but as long as it remained just words on paper trying to memorize it could be a very difficult chore. Teaching films – depends on how well they were done, or maybe how well they fit my personal requirements. Sometimes they worked for me, sometimes not so well. And when it comes to math geometry was easy for me, most of the rest of it far less so.

    2. Math and tech stuff I need someone to sit me down and walk me through it, at least until I get the fundamental operating concepts hammered in (and know what to do when something goes wrong, other than yanking the cord out of the wall and running). Once I got the bones of language, I can teach myself to read languages pretty easily and history? I absorb it.

      1. I love Math, and I’m very good at it, but I simply cannot learn new approaches from a book. Or at least it takes at least 10 times as long. With sciences, the same, except that if it’s a non-mathematical explanation, I can plow through and just absorb it. With a competent professor, however, I can sit through a lecture, and by the time it’s done, I know the subject almost well as if I had gone over it every day for a week.

    3. If it is printed, I can read it, remember it, visualize it and understand how to do it. Couldn’t always explain it to others or actually physically do whatever needed to be done because I had never had experience with the machine or whatever, but I could usually figure it out.

    4. I used to work for a company with a pretty good training budget – new office software, etc. all had courses available. I found the best way to learn was to play with it until I could use it, then use the course to ask questions and to extend the training in directions I hadn’t thought of.

  4. Everything starts with a question, what is school for? Until you have an answer to that, reform will be haphazard and give mixed results. We have no proper measuring stick to sort out the good from the bad reforms. We don’t have a proper measuring stick because we have no consensus answer as to what is school for. We don’t have a consensus answer to that question because nobody is insisting that such a question be answered, and put up publicly on the school website.

      1. Funny TM, I thought this would trigger a bunch of discussion. I bet it didn’t because everyone here thinks we all know what school should be for.

        It’s probably best to start from the beginning. The public school system of compulsory education was supported and founded by big business and the labor unions. The unions wanted to get children OUT of competition with their members for jobs. The industrialists wanted workers who were very good at doing repetitive tasks, under strictly regimented controls/environment.

        So we get kids in school and not at work, payment to schools for ATTENDANCE ONLY, truant officers, etc. Then the schools train the kids to sit still, work at a task for long periods of time, only speak after asking permission, use the toilet at specific times, move from place to place when the bell rings, arrive and depart at exactly the right time, conform to the norms of the class, value attendance above all else, etc.

        Think about how different this was from farm work, piece work, or cottage industry. Think how different from local one room schoolhouses…

        If we are no longer a nation of middle class factory drones, then how should we shape education?

        In the absence of a plan, we’ve adopted a prison model.

        Our big school districts are preparing kids for prison life. They use the language of prison, the structures, and the accoutrements. Like a prison there are gangs, metal detectors, guards running intelligence networks, cameras, zero tolerance policies, lock downs, searches (that USED to be considered unconstitutional), enforced wearing of ID badges and uniforms. And most tellingly, like prison, the only absolute requirement for the student is that you attend for a certain number of years.

        The bureaucracy, ever increasing expense, and huge union political power is a copy of what we have in the prison system.

        The prisons don’t rehabilitate (their primary goal when the current system was developed) and the schools no longer educate.

        So what do we want schools to do?


        1. Well put, although I don’t know that the primary goal of prisons was to rehabilitate. I believe the primary goal was to punish, which might help rehabilitate, but was also a deterrent to others so criminally inclined, and kept the culprit off the streets for the duration of the punishment.

          1. “Penintentiaries” are places that are/were originally intended as a place to do “penitence”. They were originally developed in the United States to help criminals see the error of their ways and reform themselves. Evidence that they are, or ever were, successful in this is sorely lacking but that was the intent. Recidivism in the US is currently somewhere north of two-thirds. It seems to me that this is just another failed government program, but what do I know?

            1. In today’s context of the centralized state it might amuse to consider the history of separating church and state, making penitence a state function, and removing prisons from local control. In addition to punishment and rehabilitation prisons function to satisfy victims and the general population with a state run justice system – else community justice with the mob replacing the jury. Melville Davisson Post in his Uncle Abner stories has one which suggests the community assembled is the proper source and judge of laws and justice – such things as jury nullification following from natural law.

            2. It is a nice touch to reform the crook, if we can. However, we must never lose sight of the important point that we are only entitled to try to reform him because he has merited punishment. If the treatment necessary to reform would be an unjust punishment, we must forgo it.

              1. I suppose it’s a good thing that such treatments don’t currently exist in any meaningful or otherwise acceptable form. There’s a lot of pressure for diversion to treatment in lieu of the criminal justice system for many offenses. Sadly there is not much treatment that works or indeed does any good at all. Just as he addressed Summerhill C.S. Lewis wrote about these issues including in That Hideous Strength which is arguably science fiction or as Freeman Dyson though theofiction

          2. I’ve read that they were called “penitentiaries” because the prisoners were supposed to be penitent, ie they were supposed to reflect on their crimes and learn to regret them. If that’s the case, then the desired result amounted to rehabilitation.

            Not my area of expertise though.

        2. I read your post and went d’oh! I had never thought to equate compulsory education with prison, but it seems pretty clear in hindsight. I’ve jokingly said that the purpose of school is to turn out “good little consumers.” Maybe it isn’t really a joke.

          I haven’t a clue how to answer your last question. What do we want schools to do? Were I to answer for myself it would be 1) to learn to think clearly and effectively 2) to learn to learn 3) to get exposure to stuff I wouldn’t necessarily find or seek out on my own. My family and my neighborhood was pretty homogeneous when I was growing up. Very sheltered. College was an eye-opener in mostly a good way. Sometimes you don’t know you are in a box until you unexpectedly run up against the walls.

          1. The similarities are plentiful and basis for a frequent joke among home educating families: public schools and prisons are the only two major social institutions where your progress through them is measured in “time served” rather than goals achieved., where obedience to an arbitrary authority is the primary concern, and where you are expected to tolerate direct supervision of almost all actions.

        3. I’ve given that question a lot of thought. You can find my thoughts on the subject (worth what you pay for them!) on my long-neglected but not forgotten education project. Which shall move forward eventually, for them as care about it; I’ve just had more urgent matters on my hands for the last many months.

  5. I’d expect more credit to Summerhill (nominally founded 1921) and the background of Neue Schule – Interesting to note that like modern art new schools date from the turn of the last century. Montessori as well: 1897-1907.

    Like most things human such schools in my observation often start off very well indeed under inspired leaders and a culture of learning. The again like all human endeavor things regress. I’d say there are any number of student driven classrooms in the U.S. of A. today – and the students are driving the classrooms into chaos not learning.

  6. Kindergarten taught me my letters. But it was my family that taught me that sounds go with each letter. I have a distinct snapshot memory of learning that M goes with “mmm” in the family car while driving across the spectacular Omega Bridge.

    First grade nudged me to start reading. I have another snapshot memory of the teacher sitting down with a few of “the brighter students” to begin teaching us to read, and I caught on after about two sentences. My reaction was vaguely along the lines of “Well duh. What’s so hard about that?” Meaning I was more than ready and could probably have been reading much earlier, except that the schedule didn’t call for me to start reading until first grade. I’ve been reading very nearly nonstop ever since. Do not understand people who do not read for pleasure. Perhaps they’re a different species that just look like us? Like monarch butterflies and false monarchs?

    I don’t recall which grade taught me long division. I don’t think I would have figured that out on my own.

    Other than those things, I don’t think school taught me anything until middle school algebra, which I actually struggled with. Mostly because I underestimated it. I did not repeat that mistake, and never particularly had trouble with math again. Well, linear algebra was a bit tough, but that’s because the instructor believed in generating a grading curve by forbidding the use of calculators, and I found inverting a 5×5 matrix by hand tedious. Complex analysis was very nearly a religious experience. There are few things more elegant than Picard’s Theorem.

    But ours were very progressive modern public schools, so the efforts of my teachers to find “enrichment activities” for me were decidedly outside the structure of the program, which makes them only the more appreciated. No one forced my fourth grade teacher to take time after school to arrange for me to tour the local hospital laboratory (I was interested in pathology at the time. No, really.) I don’t think that would be permitted today: OSHA rules. But this was before Mr. Nixon. And don’t get me started on the mercury spill …

    My daughter did okay in public schools. My autistic son has done better than anyone had a right to expect, but it’s mostly the accomplishment of one particularly superb teacher. (Not that others didn’t contribute.) My middle son had some trouble finding his niche, but that’s become moot since chronic fatigue syndrome pretty much derailed everything. We have him in a state-approved online school curriculum: State approval means it’s free, but it also means it has much of the inflexibility of a regular classroom. Does not work well when he has a particularly sick couple of weeks. We’re switching him to an online high school that is more flexible, but costs us some money, and we’re hoping the inclusion of Texas A&M among the schools that have accepted their graduates is not just a fluke. (We still want to believe he’ll get better some day and be able to attend a decent college.)

    My wife just became the Mistress of Science (completing an M.S. in biology) via an online program. She was a bit lucky in that the M.S. offered is usually a non-thesis M.S., but she was able to find a local sponsor for thesis research (developing a better T.B. test for the Third World) and completed a thesis M.S. I suspect we’ll see a lot more of that in the future, thought it will take awhile for prejudice against online education to die down.

    1. I have a cousin who learned to read out of the Sears catalog. To be sure, he had spina bifida and was misdiagnosed, and could read before he could walk.

  7. I think that an awful lot of what is wrong with modern Education is summed up in the mantra “Learning should be Fun”. Now, it’s nice if it can be managed. But a lot of the basics are fundamentally dull. HAVING an education is fun. GETTING an education is often tiresome. And trying to make the tiresome “Fun” is worse than than flat out admitting “Yes, it’s dull. You still have to learn it. Why? Because I SAID SO!””

    1. So true! And most teachers being female, what they consider fun is arts and crafts, which boys HATE! (I’m generalizing based on tendencies not absolutes). I can’t count the number of times my boys told me “I know the information, why do I have to draw a picture/make a collage/make a diorama?”

      1. Hmm. I loved building plastic model tanks, ships, aircraft, &c. as a kid.

        Sadly, you pretty much have to go online to find one any more. I haven’t seen one in a brick-and-mortar store in some time.

          1. Mmmm. must find a Hobby Lobby.

            Well, no, actually, not. I’m the wrong side of 50 and I find it next to impossible to do up-close detail work. Too hard on the eyes.

            1. There are lighted standing magnifiers–table top and floor– if your fingers are up to the job, even if your eyes aren’t.

              1. I’ve used these, and they help a lot. I suppose I will probably take a stab at building something now and then, but I find myself more inclined lately towards reading, writing, and taking long hikes amongst interesting geology. Long story.

                1. I’m not needlepointing as much as I used to because neither my fingers nor my eyes are up to the job. A combination of diabetes and arthritis. I’m 52 but there are days I feel more like 72.

      2. I don’t know if it’s because most of my teachers were female, but for the first five grades “science” was growing something in a jar. Grade six was taught by a man, who had pulleys, batteries and wire and switches and flashlight bulbs, a Van Der Graaf generator, and similar toys.

        I seem to remember that the girls thought they were neat too ….. but that may have been advanced boredom.

        1. They wouldn’t be quite so useless if the teachers actually knew anything about museum-style dioramas. There’s real art and skill involved.

          … that’s the problem, actually …

        2. I disagree — as a corporate accountant I cannot begin to count the number of times I’ve employed dioramas to demonstrate inventory valuation methods or compare depreciation methods.

          Dioramas are also useful training for the legions of department store window dressers that are needed for the 21st Century economy.

            1. I am confident that you, as a practicing lawyer, have frequently resorted to dioramas in order to address complicated issues of property rights, contractual obligations and many other complex legal principles. In modern society I daresay that diorama construction is a skill only slightly inferiior to the ability to create an effective Power Point presentation.

  8. There is something to be said for introducing the concept of “practice to get better” to young minds, vs. completely unstructured exploration. Methods of learning are useful things to know and frequently more efficient than inventing it yourself all over again. When quantum mechanics first came out it was a bit of a slog. I had a quotation from Wolfgang Pauli whining about how he wished he’d never heard of physics and had joined a circus instead, because he just couldn’t wrap his (giant, Nobel-winning) brain around quantum. Forty years later, it’s a feeder course for physics grad students 😉 The science didn’t change, but they figured out ways to explain it better. And I start to gibber when I think about trying to understand Newton’s “infinitesimals” version of calculus *without* Descartes’ grid variables. (It was all words! ALL WORDS! The world’s biggest word problem!)

    1. I LIKE word problems. Well, generally I like them either because they make sense, or because I can make fun of them. Why would I do the math to figure out how many gallons of water my new odd shaped swimming pool holds when I could just look on the receipt? I guess THAT particular word problem has a big fail on the making sense part, and I think I’d have to understand it better than I do to make fun of it properly.

        1. I would do the math, because I like math, (or at least would have back when I could remember all the equations, it has been so long since I used most of them that I would have to reinvent most of them) but the normal person would just fill it up and see how many gallons it took.

          1. or at least would have back when I could remember all the equations

            Ran into this recently. Drawing someday-house-plans, and needed to convert a circular tower to an octagonal one (why yes, I am planning to build a castle eventually) and had to dredge up the trig I hadn’t used at all in well over a decade. See, I knew the diameter of the circle, and the interior angles of the octagon, but then I needed the length of the sides… It was exasperating, how hard it was to remember, but it was a thrill when I finally got it an hour or more later. And then depressing when I saw how close the answer was to what I had ballparked to begin with. :-/

  9. If a child have never had ANY discipline at home then to put him in an unstructured environment isn’t going to work. I don’t mean a harsh regimented environment, I mean the sort of child I see who isn’t trained as well as you expect a puppy to be trained. To sit, to come, to not crap on the floor.
    On the other hand I see most schools no matter what system they use, who have no respect for the student at all. Then they wonder why he has no respect for others.

    1. Big study out all over the news today, about the schools loss of resphttp://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2014/01/23/respect-schools-school-teachers-parents-students/4769631/ect.

  10. Seems to me the whole point of organized education should be to convey what was _already_ learned. Too much of current educational theory is toward “self directed discovery.” Not everyone is Archimedes (most aren’t) so expecting the eureka moment to come in a class room, working in “peer groups” without the years of rigorous study beforehand in the basics, is pure folly.

    Yes, those moments when something becomes clear after banging your head on it, or the moments of connection, when it suddenly makes sense, are personal eureka moments. They are rightly celebrated when they happen. But that is NOT what happens when you put a couple of kids together at a table talking. Especially when they don’t have the basic info and experience (or the rigorous thought processes) to make the connections and discoveries on their own. N.B. at this point someone in the audience is saying “but it is supposed to be _guided_ discovery. The teacher is guiding the student toward making that internal discovery.” Well, I guess that would work with sensitive and knowledgeable and engaged teachers, but MOST of them aren’t any of those things. Most of them are harried, distracted, and barely understand the subject matter themselves.

    If you want people making fundamental discoveries themselves, you have to give them the current existing body of knowledge as quickly and efficiently as possible, so they have some giants to stand on top of….


    1. The other problem with “self-directed learning” is that one “self” is going to go in one direction and another “self” go in another. So then the teacher has to pull those kids back on to the approved track and tells them they are being disruptive and preventing others from their “self” discovery.. They say “self-directed” and imply that the kids will be in charge of finding things out and discovering for themselves, but it is on the teacher’s schedule and the teacher’s direction.

      Not sure if I’m expressing that well.

      1. That is as clear as mud… which means you did an excellent job of expressing a moronic contradictory theory, which unfortunately is being testing on our kids with the very predictable results.

  11. When I was in middle school I took a book from my father (a professor of education) called Summerhill I think and read it. I thought it was completely unworkable and ridiculous. My father agreed with me.

    When I reread “The Silver Chair” a little later, I realized that the opening and closing chapters were a hilarious attack on some of the ideas of Summerhill. Those chapters still make me laugh decades later.

  12. And wow, check out the common core standards.

    EDIT: thought I followed a link from here, but maybe it was from Jerry Pournelle to Ace, and then on.


    I’m looking at the kindergarten one, since my 4 1/2 yo will be there soon. The gist of it is– at the end of kindergarten, age 6-7! they should be able to count and know that one number is bigger than another, and understand that putting more of something in a pile increases the number of things in the pile, while taking away decreases the number. They should understand that one child is taller or shorter than another, and recognize basic shapes.

    MY TWO Y.O. DOES THIS NOW. All of the goals of common core math for kindergarten are achievable by a 2 1/2 y.o. My daughter is not extraordinary. Her peer group is very similar and my older daughter is even farther along.

    The reading ones are pretty basic too. My older daughter is about half way through the list now. I can’t imagine it taking 2 years to be through the rest of the goals, especially since there is a cascade effect in learning to read where it just takes off after you get the basics down.

    I’m sick to my stomach thinking about subjecting them to this.


    1. And yet the professional educator experts can’t understand why parents don’t like Common Core.

      CC is another beautiful example of a decent idea (a standard set of minimum curricula) fed through federal-level committees of experts.

        1. Watched a TV show once which had a Belly Dancer on, who wormed her way under a 6″ Limbo bar, but she cheated, because her back touched the ground. Still, it was an impressive feat.

              1. Oh, for crap’s sake. I was having problems posting my comment, so I had to copy the link to bearcat’s comment, then go to a new tab and reload it. Then I forgot to change to the actual comment text to post. Geez, what a goofball.

                Try again:
                Well, you could tell that she was definitely female, but on the other hand, it didn’t take much compared to the rest of her to show that. I swear I could wrap my hands around her waist.

  13. When I was at the age that I wanted to learn to read (3) my parents bought into the philosophy that children should wait till they went to school to learn how to read… Even though I had a great first grade teacher (at six), I was at the bottom of the class for a very long time. However, once I learned how to read (she used several different methods) I took off like a rocket. I find that I am that way now with every subject from science to English literature. It helps if I have a good teacher that can help me with the basics and then get out of my way when I start the rocket launch. 😉

    I was sick a lot during my elementary (3rd to 6th grade) school days. I could come back to school after being gone in a month and finish the work in one to two days that I missed. The days I was well, I was so bored that I would read and then hurry up and do the work when the deadline was looming.

    My parents decided to do homeschooling after my seventh grade. Unfortunately I did the teaching and at least one of my brothers had severe dyslexia– Normal teaching (and what did I know about helping him with this problem?) never helped him. Now he has been diagnosed– He works as a merchant marine on boilers– he has no problems with diagrams and remembers everything that someone reads to him. The rest of us read at varying levels.

    1. Cyn, I’ve heard that dyslexic children should be taught cursive first because the letters don’t mirror. I don’t know if that’s anything that would be helpful to your brother at this late date.

      1. I’ve read that the dyslexia disappears if they learn to write Hebrew (apparently some people read right to left more easily) or kanji (Japanese or Chinese, typically.)

        That seems a bit extreme, but I bet you that in less than ten years we could get a well-funded advocacy group pushing the demand that all American kids be taught to write in Chinese so as to stop discrimination against the dyslexic.

  14. As a second generation home schooler, with five kids, four of them boys, I have lots of thoughts on home schooling. I have one, son #3, who would be well off unschooled. The others need somewhere from more to a ton more of structure. #3 does fine with structure, he also does fine without it.
    We’re seeing a lot of attacks on home schooling right now, though, and many of them are along the lines of “You have the online public charter schools available now, and you ought to use those so that your children stay on track.” Those are nothing more or less than public school at home. If your problem is bullying at the pubic school, or length of bus ride, or some other non-education public school problem, then public school at home may well be a good solution for you. But if your problem is material (or lack thereof) taught, or methods of teaching, then public school at home is probably not going to be the right fit, and it is not home schooling.
    We find it very interesting that the wealthiest info-technology guys send their children to private schools that do not use any computer-based education. At a guess, they know something about computer-based education that they don’t like–they must have a reason, anyway, and therefore we have delayed using computer-based education for our children.

    1. “We find it very interesting that the wealthiest info-technology guys send their children to private schools that do not use any computer-based education. ”


        1. All the Silicon Valley guys I know have kids who could code before they could talk, and one was a qualified sysadmin before kindergarten age.

          So of course they don’t want them on computers at school; they save them for home, where they can get adequate parental supervision.

          1. I know my mom wasn’t too hot on my getting biology education at school once she figured out it was on a lower level than what I had when I was five….

    2. A benefit of home education is it permits much greater flexibility for scope and sequence. This means when a child expresses an interest in a topic the educator is able to adapt lessons to stimulate that interest, rather than informing the kid “we don’t study that until the next grade level.”

      This is very effective in most areas of interest, although the child who expresses an interest in dominating others and bending them to her will would probably be better served in public school.

      1. bending them to her will

        “bending them to his will”.

        The trend towards using “her” when “his” is called for is one I see as stealth rad-feminism. Attempts to wipe all traces of masculinity from the culture by stripping it out of the language.

          1. Bending them to her will I said, bending them to her will I meant. Had I only been thinking of shaking kids down for their lunch money I would have said “his.”

            Project that bit of sexist stereotypickery to the larger society and make of it what you will. Evolution favors males who impose physical dominance, females who impose emotional/psychological dominance.

            1. Hmmm. I can see your position now that you’ve laid it out, but to infer it from your original comment would’ve required more knowledge of your personality than I have at my command. The *possibility* had occurred to me that you meant it that way, but as most such usages that I encounter are not intended as criticisms of feminine wiles, I tend not to presume that the writer is being cynically non-PC.

              Good to know my presumption was wrong in this case.

              1. Moi, cynically non-PC? Heaven forfend.

                A long time participant in this community, I confess to presuming my general attitudes have long since been noted and discounted by other participants and rely on their clarifications when appropriate. I readily understand that my ordinarily shy and reticent personality might cause people less familiar with my locutions to infer as you did.

              2. For some reason, mention of “feminine wiles” always prompts this Pavlovian response:

                This irresistible Paris original’s
                All paid for and mine;
                I must look devine
                ‘Specially for him.

                Suddenly he will see me
                And suddenly he’ll go dreamy
                And blame it all on his own
                Masculine whim,
                Never knowing that

                This irresistible Paris original,
                So temptingly tight
                I’m wearing tonight
                ‘Specially for him, for him.

                It is worth considering that at the time this was originally staged 39 bucks was, for a secretary, about a week’s pay.

  15. Ugh. Sarah, I know this is blasphemy and I will probably be a victim of the auto de fey for admitting this publicly, but I freaking hate Pink Floyd. Now I have that horrible song stuck in my head. Ick. That much being said…

    It is my belief that the modern American public school system is a thought control system. Children are taught political correctness and the leftist line. My oldest daughter came to my house talking about school and how she had been taught that the function of government was to provide services in exchange for tax dollars.


    My daughter. My own flesh and blood. The little girl that I love more than life itself was being force fed this crap at school by her teacher. The word “unhappy” just doesn’t begin to cover it. What does begin to cover it are words that are best not used in polite company. I am her father. I gave her the best advice I could: Memorize the mess that was in the book and pass the test. Don’t believe a word of it.

    It sucked to have to do that. I’ve always been a believer that a student should work hard to understand what was in the book and not just memorize it. What sucked worse was that she goes to a Catholic school and I quite frankly assumed that part of what I was paying for was not having my daughter subjected to this crap.

    At any rate, you’re right about different students learning differently. Not everyone is exactly alike and we never will be. That’s a good thing. It also makes it difficult to design a mass education system because no teacher is capable of teaching his/her/its class thirty different ways to thirty different children all at the same time. So yes, school choice is important. Its something I’d like to see increased and something that gives Zero and his lapdog Eric Holder fits. Apparently, to the leftists in the US, it’s more important to make sure that our classrooms are properly racially balanced than it is to properly educate our kids.

    1. Most Catholic schools have gone hard left…
      I’m not that fond of Pink Floyd myself.
      I deprogrammed the boys every day after school after Robert came home and told me there was a limited supply of glass in the world, and we had to recycle. (Yes, his dumbass teacher had told him that.)

        1. My high school class picked that song also (I voted for it, so you can call me an idiot 🙂 ) But we had a communist (literally, or at least openly socialist) class advisor who had stated that we could have any song we wanted to walk to for graduation except Metallica or AC/DC, because he didn’t like Metal. Then he immediately vetoed We Don’t Need No Education when we voted for it.

          Oh, and that happens to be the only Pink Floyd song I like.

        2. We had a fire at our school the summer before my senior year. When we voted for class song, some wit nominated “Burning Down the House” by the Talking Heads. It would have won except that the administration said no. I don’t remember what was chosen instead.

            1. We had a fairly large class, and we walked to that song and Def Leppard’s “Sugar Me”

              The class that were sophomores when I was a senior were a little wild (I tended to hang out with a number of them) and they had a more understanding class advisor; the walked to AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell” 🙂

          1. My mob would have voted for “We Gotta Get Out of this Place.” My undergrad class wanted “Liberty Bell March” for our graduation music and almost got it, until the organist caught on. “Radetzky March” also got vetoed (too fast a tempo.)

    2. Jim, there may be three or four PF songs that I either like or find useful. Otherwise I agree with you completely.

      I substitute teach in a private school and I have to be careful about just how libertarian I am. In part, I don’t want to mess the students up when it comes to things like the AP exams or interfering with the full-time teachers’ lesson plans and materials. In part, some of the senior teachers are very well meaning Christian Socialists, more or less, and I don’t want to get in trouble with them. So I make very clear what is my opinion and why I believe thus-n-such when it is appropriate, correct the textbooks when appropriate (mostly what’s out of date), and do my best to expose the students to other ideas quietly.

    3. PF is one of those bands that could benefit from an editor.

      And “the function of government is to provide services in exchange for tax dollars” makes a kind of sense, if you tilt your head to the side, close one eye, and hit yourself in the face with a hammer.

      To coin a phrase, governments are instituted among men to secure rights. That could be considered a service. And it requires money, ergo taxes. But to call it an exchange implies a degree of freedom that is lacking. And just because government provides services doesn’t mean it should provide all services. A plumber provides a service, it doesn’t mean you should have him rewire your house.

      1. “… the function of government was to provide services in exchange for tax dollars” — Isn’t that what the Constitution says?

        We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

        After all, didn’t the Declaration express exactly that rationale of government?

        We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
        That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed …

        1. Exactly, the “To coin a phrase” was more than a little tongue-in-cheek.

          And if you define “provide services” exclusively as “preserve rights” then the lesson is correct. The problem is that it isn’t much of a leap to consider things like health care and a living wage as services. Once you do that the wheels have come off the wagon.

          1. Considering one of the common meanings of “service” it is no surprise that our government seems filled with whores.

            Which suggestion concedes to politicians a virtue that they frequently fail to demonstrate.

  16. I’m going to try to talk to two different issue here in one comment. First, regarding Sudbury Valley and its ilk, there is a very VERY important element which that article, and most of the analysis of failures of various democratic or nue schul systems fail to take into account, “culture.” At Sudbury from the very first day, the faculty was perfectly willing to assist a kid in learning -anything- at the rate the kid could absorb, but there was an assumption, a culture, that said in essence that people should be doing and learning _something_. Kids who just “hung out” or who stared at the walls, or isolated themselves, weren’t left alone, the other students brought them along and brought them into activities. This happens both in the way described above “So, you enjoyed that video game huh, do you think that someone could build a real car that moved like that? ” etc, and in “We’re building rockets, come on come on, it’s going to be so freaking cool!” While there is no curriculum nor schedule, there is a culture of activity and learning that is very hard to avoid. Your village girls, dumped into Sudbury would have been brought into story circles or something, reading adventures or romances, but would have been reading.

    Regarding reading instruction — the numbers look pretty clear.

    A substantial percentage (numbers vary from 8 to 20 percent but call it one-standard deviation) of children will learn to read either on-their-own or with whatever method is used to teach them, they “get” the connection between letters and sounds, but they also have fluent visual memories and quickly establish a relationship between words in print and words in their language. No fluently literate adult “sounds out” words like “word” or “sound” or “out.” We recognize the word. The top tier of students learn this process on their own, irrespective of the method used to teach them to read. Never-the-less, we do not “whole word recognize” words we’ve never seen before. Even at first take, a fluently literate person can read aloud the sentence “The wahabists elicit conflict enthusiastically while invoking extreme salafism.” Any of the tier-one readers can probably read that sentence aloud without a few months of starting to read, because they not only have recognized the whole-word structures, but have developed a phonics algorithm in their heads to “sound out” words they don’t know yet. Thus “‘Twas brillig and the slithy toads…” is a readable sentence.

    Then, you have the next two standard deviations around the mean, They will -eventually- learn to read sort-of no matter what method you use, but will struggle with unfamiliar vocabulary, even words they know and use in speech but have not seen written before unless they get phonics instruction. The most effective readers use a combination of phonics and word recognition. The middle tier students who do the best seem to benefit from both. Schools which use -only- one or the other method leave this middle tier of students at a disadvantage, but able to read most labels and instructions, fill out a job application, etc. They’re functionally literate.

    Then, you have the bottom tier students. These kids simply have a wiring defect that makes them unable to rapidly parse word-shapes into spoken vocabulary. For those students informal education or whole-word instruction leaves them mostly functionally illiterate. On the other hand, intensive phonics -can- leave those kids functionally literate and possibly even fluent if carefully taught. Reading one-letter-at-a-time may well be annoyingly slow, but it works. Schools with the lowest reading scores nationally generally are schools which lack a formal phonics program that can be applied to the kids who just “can’t read.”

    Most elementary home-schoolers choose to pick up a phonics reading program. If they’re lucky, they don’t need it. If they’re not, it’s a life-saver.

    1. The core problem with “Whole Word” or “See Say” or whatever they are calling it this decade is that it reduces the English language to an logographic written form, wherein many words are individual symbols. I understand why it was thought of; it gets the kids “reading” faster, which ties in to the whole “learning should be fun” narrative. But it doesn’t work worth a damn in the long run.

  17. USA public schools followed a classic government pattern:
    1. Create something fairly good
    2. Let it degrade through bureaucracy and poor management
    3. Repeat step 2 at least once
    4. Insist that the awful status quo is actually very good but just needs more money to become excellent
    5. Repeat steps 2-4

    There is no way to repair public schools. They need to be closed.

    1. You left out part of step 2 — skimming the funds to enrich supporters and fund election campaigns.

      1. Which is why Democrats are so adamantly opposed to voucher programs. Not only does it allow people to pull their kids out of their indoctrination centers, but if parents can choose where their kids go to school teachers are going to have to perform. That means the average competence of teachers is going to go up, and since competent workers are less committed to the union (we know we can just quit and get another job, why file a grievance?) that means fewer union dues and less money for the Democrat party.

        1. Ancillary services are a large part of the skimming. Just as public hospitals often overpay for linen services and trash pickup so too frex Chicago schools drastically overpaid building trades workers and maintenance workers – schools paid custodians to tend the furnaces year round and carpenters for full years at wages based on the industry practice of being out of work sometimes in working construction. Folks were never out of work when working in the school system and so total pay was much higher than comparable skills in the private sector.

  18. Despite the popularity of learning styles there’s a strong case that the common usages are meaningless. Further that testing shows no way to establish the presence of different learning styles across the student population. Research implies teaching to different learning styles benefits nobody (as it would if different students had different learning styles) – the same or similar people learn or don’t.

    There are certainly inferior teaching methods as teaching swimming with a chalk talk, film strip and computer simulation then dumping the students individually in the water to sink or swim – somebody might say I need to take a class on shooting and then I’ll know how instead of saying I need some guided practice.

    Traditionally the route to a black belt was taking lots of falls and washing the gi but not the belt – when the unwashed belt got to be brown the student was pretty good, when the belt got to be black the student was good and after that the student had become a teacher.

    A lot of people for long time have found that most of the softer subjects (many of which are verbal and arguably fit the brain and are rehearsed easily) come very easy – read the book, remember the book and pass the test as though the test were open book because for the good memory it is.

    The same people often recoil when a subject doesn’t come easily but requires concentration and sometimes repeatedly failing to solve the problem before delayed success. They’ve mostly retired by now but there used to a lot of old and powerful in the workplace men who insisted computers were for secretaries while secretly being afraid of new technology. Leaning new technology requires a certain sophistication of concept and language to have a framework for learning. Solving Rubik’s cube requires developing a language to describe states of the cube or all movements might as well be haphazard. These people will often describe themselves as not good at math when in fact they mostly aren’t good at staying on topic in the face of repeated failure until the work gets to be easy. See e.g. the discredited New Math that started with set theory instead of times tables.

    The issues of American education in the 21st century include control from a distance by demagogues using odd measures – works as well as body count did in Vietnam. See e.g. the cheating scandals among teachers and administrators in Atlanta and elsewhere. This is all made much much worse by the fact and it is fact that for many years now the education schools are full of the poorly educated – I don’t say that test scores measure intelligence but they might and if they don’t measure intelligence and do measure education still we can say with certainty that students in education who on average have inferior scores are inferior in either education or intelligence or at least something. Hence the unions, the rules and attitudes are designed to foster an illusion of expertise among educators that doesn’t exist.

    1. Actually the belts are a very recent innovation. Increased modern transportation meant that practitioners were being badly injured by practicing with someone much better than they were, which they had no way of knowing.

      1. Colored belts for other than dan rankings are very modern indeed – giving say a go kyu a belt is perhaps a marketing technique more than a safety issue – the Kodokan doesn’t use multicolored belts and I was surprised to see them –

  19. I remember digging through histories of the war of 1812/etc. and marveled at how many of these people were effectively homeschooled to read, and then didn’t get into school “proper” until later, if not outright apprenticed (Ben Franklin) or sent off to sea (Farragut).

    So yes, for some people, homeschooling works. For others “unschoolling”. For some Montessori works. For some rote school works.

    I agree with Pournelle that everyone MUST, hell or high water, be taught phonics and letters, and be able to read even nonsense words, and must memorize the basic addition and multiplication tables – or future math and reading will be damn hard.

    After that, the trick is not so much HOW you structure so much as, even in the “unstructured” methods mentioned by me and elsewhere upthread, that you provide A structure – that they’re always learning something.

    Or you end up with kids like me who read a book every day or two under the desk instead of paying attention, passing some classes, and – where I didn’t do the homework – failing others. And acing the SAT’s and most tests.

  20. The thing about alternate methods of schooling is that they are self-selecting samples. That a child is on one is a strong indication that either the parents or the child is serious about learning. But if one of the “alternate” methods becomes the baseline, it has to deal with the kids and parents who simply don’t give a damn.

    Which isn’t to say that none of the alternates are any better. But the very fact of choice will, perhaps, tempt to kids or parents to care. The easier it is to make choices, the more deadheads will be in the alternates, but hopefully also the more motivated (internally or parentally) kids there will be.

  21. Read Tolstoy’s essays on education. It’s remarkable that the problems he identified at the end of the nineteenth century continue to be an issue over a hundred years later.

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