All Animals Are Equal

When I went into high school, I went into a very different environment  than my brother had encountered almost 10 years earlier.  He’d gone through a “sorted” system.

This didn’t apply in the village school, where the classes were fairly small (my graduating class was 12) but the reigning educational theory (and one I’ve come to believe is by far the better) was that people learned best in groups of their general ability.

Indeed, if you’re going to have a public school, and teach people as a cohort, it is easier and better to put kids of the same rough ability through at the same time.  My brother was selected into the top rank, and many of his lifelong friends are doctors, top-ranking officials, and other such people.

When I came through revolutionary ethos had taken over, or rather Revolutionary! Ethos! because it was that derpy.  Painting revolutionary murals — yes Revolutionary! Murals! — was more important than regular education, for ex, because it taught us the eternal truths of Marxism.  To make room for such vagaries, we ended up striking from the curriculum things like Latin and Greek, classic literature and history, and — to the chagrin of my music teacher this didn’t matter to me, since I’d been struck by pneumonia the year before and lost my hearing to the extent I couldn’t hear notes.  Before that I’d been slated for piano instruction, though — frivolities like music and dance (the later of which affected my best friend who was the most promising ballet pupil of her age range, but whose parents could not afford private instruction.  I know what it’s like to deny a true vocation.  Not only did I try to do it to myself for years, with writing, but I watched her being eaten from the inside out.)

But more importantly, at the ground level, the teaching philosophy changed.  We were told that many students were mismatched into lower levels, particularly those who came from poor or lower educated homes, and this in turn made them unable to attain their true potential.  This was true.  Years later I made a precarious living teaching tenant farmers’ daughters the stuff they would have learned at home, in a more bookish household.  And though the reason the parents paid (not much, trust me) for the lessons was the certainty this would allow the girls to get higher-class husbands; but from my efforts there emerged a couple of medical doctors and some professors who would never otherwise have even aspired to such heights.  However true, though, the solution they arrived at was to abolish “ranked” forms (a form is a group of students who goes through all classes at the same time.  In most European nations you’re not given a choice of what classes to take in high school.  Heck, you might not get it in college.  My college offered two electives in third year and three in fourth year, all the rest being set pieces. If this seems completely insane to you, imagine what the American system seemed like to me when I first came here for twelfth grade.)

So my first year in high school, I found myself in a “mixed” classroom, in which I not only was the best, but it was very easy to be the best.  I coasted.  It was easy to see how we were chosen, btw, because everyone in the form had a last name (and often a first name) that started with A.  Yes, we were the A form.  (How creative.)

And then I guess the teachers, trained in the old model, got tired of the glacial pace the new model imposed on everyone.  Because the truth is, if you throw everyone into the same classroom, the ones who set the pace are the absolutely slowest.  So somewhere, in the dark of night, in arranging the forms for the second year in high school — I can’t even imagine how they got everyone on board with this — the forms got reshuffled “randomly”.  I only had a friend from the first year, in the same form, and she was the only one who’d offered me any competition.

The result was form N.  I SHOULD have had an idea something was afoot, because our classroom was located in the old carriage house (the school had once been an earl’s palace) had no windows, and was kind of hard for random inspectors to find.  (The classroom the year after was even more interesting, being atop the new building, past an expanse of broken furniture, in a room so small (it was a storage room the year before) that to go to the bathroom, if you set far from the door, you had to walk atop a row of desks.  We had 32 pupils crammed in there. )  But I’m stupid, okay.  So I sailed into class late (first day) and was shocked to find they were actually having a lesson (normally first day is a blow off.)  Then when the teacher asked a question, I waited a while, because I knew no one would answer and I’d look GOOD.  Except that in two seconds every hand in that classroom was up.

The teachers had picked the best students from every form, and made two forms.  We’d go through the rest of high school together.  The teachers loved us.  Unless they were new, badly prepared teachers, and then they hated us.  Even though by law we had to learn from the same books as the other students, our teachers found ways to supplement, including assigning us independent study projects, which we then presented.  Mine for 9th grade (Portuguese High school starts with 7th) history was tracking the fluctuations of currency due to the influx of gold from the discoveries.  I spent months in the municipal library tracking primary 17th century sources.  It taught me not just proper research techniques, but also a lot about economics (which contradicted the Keynesian model being pushed down our throats in economics, incidentally.)

I didn’t think anything about the two models of teaching (they went back to the equalitarian one, of course, since it started being pushed in teacher preparation) until a friend said that the reason the teacher in first grade was being so hard on my literate, articulate older son was that “the aim of elementary school is to level the learning, so middle school starts with everyone at the same level.”  This seemed daft, and I did in fact prevent them from making Robert learn to “guess” words, when he could already read them.  (Mostly by screaming, “Don’t guess.  Sound the d*mn thing out” at him, and by making him read to me while I was cooking or had my hands otherwise busy.)

WHY would you want to have kids unlearn the things they were supposed to learn, in order to make everyone alike?

I was thinking about this recently when someone complained of the deplorable (ah!) literacy of millenials, who seem to misspell their protest signs.  I’d lay it at the door of this.

So the push for the grand, unified, equalitarian classroom had a point.  Some students were being misclassified and this limited their potential.  I actually agree with this, though I’ll argue they were less likely to be misclassified in my brother’s time than by the method they used by stealth in my time: in my brother’s time they used IQs.  And don’t tell me those discriminate FOR people who are better at taking tests.  I know that.  Younger son has only recently conquered his panic fear of tests, while his brother ate tests for breakfast.  We were lucky when we did have him tested, the psychology was aware of this and made it seem like a game/puzzle which he loved.  BUT they were still more accurate, because the reason you’re better in the classroom might be linked to a ton of of other things, like better socialization or just a facility with words.

But by going to a “unified” classroom, now so far as I know used everywhere, what you do is not bring those kids up, but bring EVERYONE ELSE down, thereby leading to a dumbing down of the general population.

It is tempting to say that the progressive projected intended this, but that’s giving them too much credit.  It’s more that like their progenitors in the French revolution, they never learned the difference between equality of opportunity and equality of results.  And the only way to make results equal is ALWAYS to reduce to the lowest common denominator.

Which, in case you wonder, is why they’re pushing for universal college education.  It’s four more years to pound in this stultifying “equality.”  It’s an opportunity to make sure All Animals Are Equal!

But in the end, as with everything they take over, all they do is kill it, gut it, and wear its skin demanding respect.  Because that’s not the way this works.  That’s not the way any of this works.  If the school turns out equal ignoramuses, the school becomes valueless and employers start looking for other things.  Right now it seems to be internship experience.  And in the end, some people will do better than others, because humans are not widgets, and can’t be made into widgets.  Even the USSR didn’t manage it.

Meanwhile what the social engineers have achieved is a classroom that works badly for EVERYONE.  And you know, one can’t help but suspect them of malice.  Surely if what they wanted to do was elevate the unprepared smart, wouldn’t it be better to provide them with tutors at public expense? (Thereby helping the tutors, often the bright sons and daughters of the lower middle or working class, with some income to dissuade their parents from taking them out of school and putting them to work in factories.)  In the end, it would have cost some money, but it would have rendered up much higher dividends, particularly if such tutors were provided in elementary and middle school, so that the kids got “sorted” right in high school.

But some people simply can’t stand the idea someone might be better than someone else, or perhaps the idea anyone is better than they are.  (I remember reading a biography of Evita Peron in which she said the fact that rich people existed made her furious.  At the time we were beyond broke and didn’t see our way out of that situation.  I found her words incomprehensible.  Part of what provided me with joy was the knowledge we might be eating dirt, but there were people living happy lives.  In fact, sometimes, I made us sandwiches and we parked our car in a scenic “rich” neighborhood — it just occurred to me writing this, it looked much like where I live now — and ate there, to just bask in the beauty of the houses and the park.)

The people this system serves worst are the very gifted.  They either become incredibly bored and tune out school altogether, or they go through life enraged against “society” that doesn’t understand them and treats them so shabbily.  A lot of our radical losers are the product of this system.

While this accords with the Progressive aim of destroying all sorts of wealth (even intellectual wealth) and distributing poverty, it doesn’t serve anyone well, and it serves society and species very badly indeed.

We’ve spent at least forty years eating our seed corn and turning our best and brightest into enemies of civilization.

It’s time it stopped.  You must homeschool.  What if you can’t homeschool?  Homeschool anyway.  What I mean is we couldn’t either (mostly because I got REALLY ill just before Robert would have started kindergarten and I couldn’t do it, I just couldn’t) so we sent them to school.  And then we spent two/three hours a day at home deprogramming them and teaching them.  It’s that long because you need to get them over the stupid cr*p they teach them.  Like, for the longest time, Robert thought that glass was a non-renewable resource.  But you should also push books/educational games/resources at them. And most of all convey that you expect their intellect to be limitless.  There is no age range for learning, that’s a lie of the educational establishment.  You might (or not) wish to cull out books with explicit sexual content (yeah, you try having a three year old passionate about Rome.  I dare you) but other than that, you shouldn’t pull punches.  Find out what they want to learn and feed it to them in vast quantities.  And if they want to learn what you don’t know, find them tutors or courses online (there are excellent resources.  Also, btw, the Great courses now has Latin 101.  I hope they have Greek soon.)

Expose them to great works of the past.  Bypass our “occupied” classrooms and pump them full of the roots of their own culture (by which I mean Western culture.  Kindly remember whatever your genetics, culture is NOT genetic.  Sure, teach them a bit of their genetic history and language if they want to learn.  I don’t think anyone was ever the worse off for Chinese history or Bantu language. But make sure they know the culture they are growing up in, and its glories, better than anything else.)

The left is in a race to make traditional education irrelevant.  We must help them.  As we did to the news media, with news blogs and aggregators and eye-witness accounts, we must help traditional education enter oblivium by performing its stated function better and more deeply, and in a way that is appropriate to each individual.

We can do it, as my boss says, with “An army of Davids.”

Get to work.

306 responses to “All Animals Are Equal

  1. Let me add that if you decide to private school, be aware that many private schools use the same textbooks as publics do (especially in the AP classes) and be ready to point out any problems to your kids. The AP system is a great way to get a boost out of intro college courses (and thus saving much $$$) but be mindful of the biases in the material and how the graders expect it to be presented, at least in History and Government and Econ (not so certain about English or the sciences.)

    • English and the Sciences too. A lot of Marshall’s science books were eaten by Global Warming, which even got shoveled into engineering. so, be prepared to homeschool.

      • Oh the times I wished for a text of modern subject (digital signal processing, for example) written with a 1950’s attitude of actually telling the subject in a manner both useful and interesting.

        • Try Marvin Frerking’s book on DSP for communication systems. It’s quite thorough and eminently engaging to my practical applications oriented mindset.

          • Ai yi yi $183 for the “current edition” textbook scam. But only $25 if you’re not caught in the coils.

            • I bought my copy not long after it came out. Not cheap but not over $100 either. I found it well worth the price. Good theory but modest quantities of abstract math, and concrete stuff like “here is how you make an oscillator from a 2 element IIR”. Or “several ways to implement atan() for doing FM demodulation”.

        • My collection of engineering texts spans from the late 1800s to the mid 1950s. I have only a few written after that.

          The older books assumed you wanted to know how to do something, and told you how to do it. The new books seem to exist for the author to show off their calculus chops, even when it’s not relevant to the subject at hand.

          And that’s not even getting into newer books, ostensibly about complex and little-understood subjects, which turn out to be based on “modeling”. Extra points when the model is proprietary and not available.

          • extra extra points when they don’t publish their raw data?

            • The models *make* the data!

              The models themselves… you don’t *ever* question the models. It’s simply not done.

              That sort of thing is one reason why I finally dropped my membership in the Society of Automotive Engineers. Too many papers that turned out to be based on magic models instead of experimental data.

        • I’m not sure where I got the textbook (it may have been given to us by my mother-in-law, but if so, I’m not sure where *she* got it), but I have an “Intro to College Math” textbook that was used in the 1930s, perhaps, or maybe in the 1950s…

          It starts with algebra and goes up through calculus. I don’t know how long professors were supposed to take to go through the book, but the book boggles my mind. *And* it does it in a format more akin to a typical-sized hardback fiction book, as opposed to the huge over-sized (and over-thick) textbook that I know and love from my college calculus days!

          • Do you have the publisher or edition number?
            Im trying to improve my math skills ahead of leaving my blue collar work life behind (injuries), and going into Mechanical Engineering and I need a no nonsense “here’s how to do math” book.

            • You are familiar with Calculus Made Easy? Also the online Kahn Academy?

            • The book is called “Introductory College Mathematics, Revised Edition” by William E Milne and David R Davis, published by Ginn and Company, Copyright 1935 and 1941.

              I don’t know how “no-nonsense” it is, and upon reviewing it after having found it, it might not have as much as a range of subject matter as I thought, but I’m still astounded that it’s essentially a calculus book that in a small package, taking into consideration how big my Calculus book in college was.

              Also, I found a page of homework in the back. It astounded me to see math homework written in cursive (even the variables).

              Personally, I would also recommend looking up Kenneth Iverson’s math tutorials for J. They are available online, but are kindof hard to find (I was able to find them on the J Software home page, after much diligent searching, though). J is a fantastic language for learning math, although some people are insane enough to even do web programming in the language…

              I wish I had more time to go over Iverson’s material; he goes over types of calculus I managed to miss, even through me getting my math PhD…

        • I seem to remember some TI handbooks. Basic theory, how to do it on a TMxxx.

        • The eleventh edition of the Encyclopedia Britainica is a great resource, and somebody digitized it, or so I hear. Failing that, the thirteenth is easier to find, cheaper, and has all the same articles that make the eleventh so good.

      • I have been a member of ASME (American Society of Mechanical Engineers) since my college days at UT Austin back in 1977. I am getting ready to drop my membership due to the leftists getting control of the society. ME Magazine is chock full of articles “sustainability”, “Climate Change”, and “renewable energy” and very little on the real engineering world I work in.

        • BobtheRegisterredFool

          I recently skimmed many back issues of that magazine. The head editor says that his favorite columnist is David Brooks.

          I did not get the impression that it was written on a particularly interesting level or about particularly useful material.

          • It has not had an interesting truly technical article in several years. it has all been feelz good crap I could read in any general magazine.

            • Presented for your consideration:

              Science magazines are more political than you might think
              If you’re looking to take a breather from politics, science magazines aren’t exactly a safe bet. On top of global warming, there’s evolution and stem-cell research to argue about. And we’d guess that “mission to Mars” idea will invite loads of pique in Washington. What else? This week, there’s plenty.
              [END EXCERPT]

              Magazines reviewed:

              Discover

              Scientific American

              Popular Science

              Time

              New Yorker

              • Scientific American was political back in the 1970s, and maybe always has been. Discover hit the skids a long time ago. I gave Popular Science and Popular Mechanics the boot last year. Would have before, but had a subscription I let lapse. Time and New Yorker go without saying. Anyone approaching those thinking they won’t be biases should refrain from buying any bridges.

    • The first exposure I had to that Bastard Zinn was from a student at a Christian school on a mission trip.

      • Yes. Alas, if anyone is tied to Common Core, or is enduring the joys of a bishop or dioscesional [sp] curriculum director who finds Zinn to be the summation of US history, they have my deepest sympathies.

        • The Joliet Diocese has gone whole heartedly Common Core, driving another nail into the coffin of the local catholic school system that has been gradually fading away for years.

          • This stuff drives me up a wall– LITERALLY the week we got enough cash to be able to subscribe to NCR, they published a “let’s work with three other ‘catholic’ publications to strike against the death penalty” huge thing.

            Um, not binding teaching, and at least two of the three pubs you’re with are explicitly supporting abortion, which is bindingly wrong always and everywhere….

            I would love to send our kids to a Catholic school, but I can’t send them to be taught prudential judgements which assume false things are true. (Another example: I’ve lived on the paying the price end of the ‘illegal immigration’ thing. And not the one the news likes to show, or the noisy bishops like to push.)

            Add in that I think gov’t run charity is in most cases a sin against charity and it’s three strikes, you’re out…and then they wonder why those Christians (Jewish, too, IIRC about the stats on who went) who actually have kids aren’t sendign them to Catholic school!

    • The teachers at the private/parochial schools come from the same schools as the public schools too.

      • Not always. In some states (TX for ex) you can teach in private/parochial with a degree in a field without having an ed degree or teaching certification. That’s how I squeaked in, since I have a graduate degree in a field but no education credits. So you can have a businessman teaching economics, or a retired engineer doing physics or chemistry, or an IT person teaching computer science.

        • ED degrees should be AS only for high school. Major in your topic unless you only teach grade school.

          • Ed degrees are totally worthless for grammar school too. Back in the 1960’s all the really good teachers I had in grade school did not have an education degree.

            • A certification like NREMT would be optimal IMO but propaganda power of teaching would destroy utility

              • The Praxis exams (Praxis I covering basic educational requirements and Praxis II in your subject matter) fill the NREMT niche in my state for certification. You still have to have certain ed courses to get the certificate, even if you don’t have a ‘education’ major (just like in most states, you can’t just challenge the NREMT, unless you’ve had the education first) and I assure you it makes no difference. You still are looking at 12-18 years of indoctrination to overcome, plus the horrible ideas about what passes for pedagogy these days.

                And yes, I’ve sat both at different points in my careers. As well as the PANCE and PANRE.

                Although I discovered immediately during my student teaching that I was going to make it maybe a month before I either quit or was fired just over the internal politics, not even considering the broader ones. Still and all, having an ed degree has actually been a real obstacle in successfully homeschooling my kids because I’ve had so many “educational” methods to unlearn.

                • Ya. Just need a way to break that Ed degree stranglehold

                  • Unfortunately certification exams aren’t the way to do it. And haven’t been for many years since too many states require both, or at least the appropriate proof of indoctrination via catch-up courses in addition to your degree. The fun part is that with my MS but no valid certificate (mine was a) in Music and b) long since expired, requiring a degree of hoop jumping that I wouldn’t be willing to do even if I wanted to go back into K-12, which I decidedly do not!) I can teach in the local state-run college, no questions asked, just not in a local K-12.

          • Ed school degrees should disqualify you from teaching anyone, ever.

          • I believe ED degrees should, at best, be optional. Better yet, a disqualification. When I went to high school (in Holland, around 1970) as far as I remember there wasn’t any such thing as an education degree. If there was, it certainly wasn’t found in high school. Our teachers all had academic degrees (around M.S. level by US standards, certainly not Ph.D. level) in the field they were teaching or one closely related (for example, chemistry taught by a physicist). To be rated to teach, you had to do an internship with a school after graduating from the university. As for elementary schools, to teach there you needed a diploma from a teaching school, which is basically a trade school for elementary school teachers.
            One of Robert Heinlein’s great non-fiction essays is his description how you can get a Ph.D. from a big name university without doing any real work or learning anything. The field? Education. It’s in Expanded Universe, if I remember right. Read it and weep.

            • same in Portugal, though in my degree if you took “education option” you had an additional course on the laws and regulations involving schools. that allowed you to start teaching un-watched and got you higher pay.
              Yeah, I took that course.

        • That’s Texas, Illinoisy Catholic schools require certified teachers, certified by the state educrats. Some Protestant schools are holding out but they are under heavy pressure to conform.

      • At least the new ones. My three best teachers were all old school or taught as such. Essays in English, expecting details and quotes from material. Calculus and algebra taught via kill and drill and standard math. One had been teaching since 50s, one 60s and one 70s (this was in 2000s)

    • It is important to approach all texts (all news, for that matter) as “something somebody wants you to believe.” The focus should be on “reading” the agenda behind the presentation. Just because somebody wants you to believe something does not make that material false, but it should engage the student in more critical evaluation of the “facts.”

      Some fields of study are less subject to such presenter bias: math, physics, chemistry — anything with rigorous mathematical testing of its propositions, for example. Other fields are inherently warped by such bias (see: Zinn) and are an exercise in research in depth and comparison of alternate interpretations of events. It is axiomatic of Sociology that every social event means exactly what each participant believes it to mean (for example, look at the different interpretations of the treaty ending the Great War; the interpretations of this treaty by each of the participants is what led to the subsequent World War) and the perspectives of all parties must be considered when studying the History (for example, any study of the “settlement” of the American Southwest needs to look at it through the eyes of each participant culture, American, Mexican, Comanche and other tribes) to properly understand the intertwining perspectives of the issues.

  2. “The school system has a program for the gifted: mainstreaming.” – Pa in one of his more acid moments.

  3. In the 60s and most of the 70s California public school still had what they called “Tracking,” which resulted in “Clusters.” It was mostly sorting by IQ. The only real problem with it was that as the budgets shrank the schools couldn’t justify a teacher just for the gifted cluster, so what would have been the top of the next track lower, or people who had a narrow gift and were otherwise just above average got shoved into the Gifted Cluster. The result was that some very bright people who should have shone at the head of their class instead found themselves struggling and sometimes feeling stupid because half of the class were half a step brighter than them.

    • At first, it wasn’t shrinking budgets, it’s just that there were so darn many of us Boomer kids in a Navy town.

      • My experience was budget-driven on a per-school basis: My Junior HS (grade 7-9) had a strong gifted program with a dedicated very smart teacher who challenged us very effectively with a very wide range of interesting stuff. In HS, under the same budget structure, they basically skimmed all the gifted-progam money and spent it on AP classes.

        While I certainly benefited from the resulting HS AP English track, I watched some of the other kids from my JHS gifted program cohort get bored and spin out of school.

        Gifted programs aim to keep the bright kids engaged by challenging them, while AP programs aim to have kids who work hard do well on their AP tests. Just assuming all the gifted HS students would self-track and self-motivate towards college always seemed to me to be a great waste of potential.

        • Gifted programs suffer from the myth that “those kids will do fine on their own, we need to focus on the struggling student.”

          Then there are the parents who are sure their little missy is gifted and it is unfair to keep her out of a track in which the other kids will run right over her like M1 Abrams with a bunch of Shermans under tread.

    • I did the my first three years of school near Sacramento in the late 1960s.

      We moved to Florida, and I got set back from the 7th grade back to the 3rd, “because we keep age groups together.”

      Then, across several other states’ school systems, I merely kept repeating the third grade until I was old enough to leave.

      • This is the problem that Common Core pretends to address. Unfortunately, it addresses it the way most solutions developed by committee function.

      • Flames… flames on the side of my face…

      • working on a world where the students can take a test to certify they know to a certain level.

        At the age of 21.

        Pondered for a while, and — yes, it’s 21 because it’s not a school-leaving test, it’s a certifying you’re ready for combat or combat-support wizardry. Merely being capable of passing is no reason to take the test when you’re 15, as taking it means you can be drafted.

        Well, I had to keep them in school somehow.

    • When my father transferred back to Chicagoland after 6 years in Detroit, it worked out really well. St. Claire Shores had so-so schools, but by virtue of picking a fixer-upper, we ended up in a town with a world-class school system. This was in 1960, and they were able to undo the damage from Dick and Jane readers (Mom let me play with my brother’s phonetic flash cards, so things were working out anyway.) Didn’t hurt that the town library was a block from the house. I think I lived there several years…

      Elementary school was all right, not much tracking, but there was opportunity. JHS had more tracking, while high school had (AFAIK) 4 tracks; Honors/Superior/General/Special. I skated in Superior–got a bit lazy in math and paid for it in University Calculus and Differential Equations. OTOH, I did well in the science track, though I frustrated my advisor (not for the first time) by taking a programming course my senior year instead of AP chemistry. (The first time was when I insisted on taking drafting and metal shop my second year. Thought College Prep Advisor was going to have ‘splody-head. Those three classes paid off years later…)

      I still can’t make a pretty weld, but I can machine parts. Made retirement a lot more productive… (The welds are functional, just ugly. JC welding courses are available, but damned far away at inconvenient hours.)

      • Libraries do more than most teachers IMO. It was not uncommon for me to leave unable to see over stack of books and taught me a ton.

    • In VA we had tracking (class of ’71). Mostly English and Social Studies, Math and Science after 2 years were electives and some of us took chemistry in summer school so we could take physics as a junior and either genetics or qualitative analysis (chemistry) as a senior. Same with math, after Geometry, 2nd year algebra or algebra/trigonometry squeezed into a single year. The latter so you could squeeze differential calculus (or integral if you were *really* smart). Bonus course in Probability/Matrix Algebra.
      The ‘tracking’ was by subject, thus you could have accelerated(X) English and normal History() and math for dummies(Y). Latin, band, art, 2nd year Geography were electives and not tracked.

  4. Re: homeschooling…I have often explained our process as sending him off to public school to be brainwashed and then spending time in the evening to fluff dry and reshape.

    • Pretty much. BUT you also teach him other stuff, at the same time. it makes them educated AND resilient.

      • Yes!! And spend hours in actual libraries randomly going through all sorts of books in the “adult” not “children’s” section on a mission to discover new areas of interest for and with your progeny. The internet is great, but for me, an “eld”, (don’t think of myself as elder yet) the slow pace of discovery in a brick and mortar library can’t be topped.

        • one of the side benefits of this is that you develop a friendship based on those trips to libraries and museums, on long talks on the nature of everything extending to the night. It’s way both of our kids are still our best friends and “fun companions of choice.”

          • And sometimes you end up with a kid who will ask you questions about anything at the darnedest times. No, eight-year-old, I really don’t know what water with tritium would do, and could you wait until after church to ask me that? (He really liked the “carbon-free sugar” joke, and was even able to tell me how many water molecules that would make…)

            • LOL. Robert. Marsh too, though his tended to be history. It was like being given homework by your kids, until I made them research and TELL ME.

              • My nephew was fixated on Civil War History. Probably because at an impressionable age, he went with my Parents to the ancestral cemetery in the Shenandoah Valley and saw the grave-site of John Carter (of VA not Mars) who served in the war.
                One of his teachers had a meeting with my Sister-in-law, informing her that he should not be studying so much of that era’s history. She suggested to the teacher that unless she wanted my Brother (and me as his second) to descend on the next PTA meeting, she would forget she ever mentioned it.

                • Why would the teacher not want him to study the history? Was she worried that he would be infected by Jefferson Davis or Abraham Lincoln?

                  • Just knowing that Lincoln was a Republican is ‘dangerous knowledge’ nowdays.

                  • Charitable assumption:
                    “excessive interest” in “extremist subjects” is a warning sign of someone being psycho.

                    IE, the serial killer probably read a whole ton of those pop True Crime books.

                    Being known for an interest in the Civil War is like being Known for an interest in Jack the Ripper.

                    that is the NICE interpretation, I repeat.

                • John Carter of Mars was a gentleman from Virginia, IIRC.

                • Utter digression:
                  The Justice League cartoon won my heart when I watched the first episode and the astronaut…who was on Mars… was John Carter. (he became a senator)

              • His favorite Christmas present was a book about the periodic table. We ended up getting a whole set of science books from that publisher. (Basher—real science, but colorful and fun presentation with cartoon characters.)

        • I won’t diss the children’s section at the town library; they had a full set of the Heinlein Juveniles. 🙂 My brother’s BIL gave me his paperback Heinlein collection years later–my favorite in-law.

        • The pre-renovation library building had very divided adult and childrens sections, such that going from one to the other meant going through the small hallway with an exit. Before the electronic scanners I had once been told I could not check things out of the adult section, but could take them to the children’s section and check them out there. If that was done now, the alarms would trip. Progress? The new building layout reduced the separation.

          • Our town library (part of a larger system, so access to more books than this little building will hold) has the kids stuff on the main floor and the adult stuff on the second, but you can check out books from wherever. I haven’t tried checking out “adult” books on my kids’ card, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the system allowed it.

            They would rather your kid read.

  5. Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

    Ever read C. S. Lewis’s “Screwtape Proposes A Toast”? (It’s usually published in Lewis’s “Screwtape Letters.)

    Lewis has Screwtape talking about “that program” as if Hell developed it.

    Sadly, Lewis might have been correct. 😦

    • I haven’t tackled “The Abolition of Man” by Lewis because it seems so depressing; fewer Hitlers, but fewer St. Pauls also (or is that in “Screwtape Proposes a Toast?”

      • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

        May have also been in “Abolition” but it was definitely in “Screwtape Proposes A Toast”.

      • Abolition of Man is in a series of three essays: Men Without Chests, The Tao, and The Abolition of Man, and is explicitly a commentary on the degeneracy Lewis saw in the English school system. it is serious essays on education and intended for a reasonably well educated audience. Like the readers here.

        Screwtape Letters is a novel in epistolary form, and was broadcast over the BBC during the first part of WW II; it is a form of apologetics, and is highly amusing to any who don’t reject the notion of God and Christianity from the outset. Screwtape Proposes a Toast was written for the Saturday Evening Post when the Post was paying more for short works than most publishers offered as advances for novels. (My late friend Stewart Cloete was paid $4000 for a Postc strory at a time when secretaries were paid $30 a week; Stewart was able to live a year on that, and thus do a novel, I think Rags of Glory.)

        I recommend both. Screwtape is easier to read, but it is a frank apologetic, although it amuses some serious atheists. Abolition of Man is a very serious work, a criticism of educational trends. It is not over the heads of bright high school students, but it will make no sense to the average American undergraduate, and will probably seem ridiculous to many of them. I used it as a text the year I taught the “Scholar” summer program for the 30 brightest high school graduates in Oklahoma (I don’t know if that program still exists).

        For some idea of what public schools once were, I have caused to be reprinted the California 5th Grade Reader of 1915 (https://www.amazon.com/California-Sixth-Grade-Reader-Pournelle-ebook/dp/B00LZ7PB7E ) (sample
        http://www.jerrypournelle.com/reports/jerryp/Sixthgradesample.html)

        • Check Youtube for the seriously amusing and interesting “CS Lewis Doodle” channel. They brilliantly narrate and illustrate a few of his best essays

          • Apropos of doodles, there is an “epified” Mahabharata doodle retelling on Amazon Prime. The eps are extremely short but accurate retelling. Rated G for art, but not for little kids.

            Still blown away by the concept of a mantra that summons gods to earth so that women can have demigod children with them. Sorta missed that part of the story before.

            • This sounds like something I really need to send to my husband– can you link to it, because searching Amazon video for Ma…can’t even spell it…didn’t bring anything up.

          • Are you the one that shared this recently?

            I got hooked, but it was during Baby Sleep Dep Step One, so I have no idea WHO shared the dang video… that said, been watching it on our TV, and it holds up very well to seven and five year old minds. (Doodles! Yay!)

        • I have about completed the audio book of RAH’s Expanded Universe and his concluding essay is a useful refresher, comparing the education received by his father, by himself and by the students of the Seventies in manner unfavorable to contemporary academia.

          Of course, he was saying much the same about “enlightened” academic trendiness in Have Spacesuit, Will Travel, some twenty years prior.

        • There is an audiobook version of Screwtape which is read by John Cleese. Perfect.

  6. If the school turns out equal ignoramuses, the school becomes valueless and employers start looking for other things. Right now it seems to be internship experience.

    In the late 2000’s I started to see new grads with BS degrees in electrical engineering, from real universities, who in interviews displayed little to no other evidence of having actually received that university education. They had to have been exposed to the EE curriculum, but it had mostly not taken root, and the rest of their college experience apparently consisted of “Studies in Ethanol Metabolism” and some set of classes that in aggregate which had barely brought them up to where they should have been four years earlier on exiting the public school system with their HS diploma. In the Semiconductor industry at that time, this resulted in the bar moving up, with MSEE replacing BSEE as the baseline new-grad interview selection criteria.

    We also ran a paid internship program that was unusual in the industry – year long between year 3 and 4 of one university’s EE program – which we used as a long prescreen to get new grads after they went back and finished the program.

    My manager colleagues with EE degrees, some as recently as 5 or 6 years before, regularly expressed significant shock that these kids were awarded their degrees knowing so little.

    Now to be fair, there were some really smart kids who knew their EE – but as a result of the apparent “everybody who pays gets an EE degree” program at major universities, they were screwed unless they stayed in and finished their masters.

    • One of the things that I really loved about my (private, Jesuit) university was the fact that professors were hired to teach, not research—they may not have been on top of the latest research, but they were the ones in front of the class, not TAs, and the class sizes were small enough that nobody got overlooked.

      The one regret I have about switching away from an engineering major (it’s amazing that I did as well as I did; I am temperamentally about as far from an engineer as you can imagine) is that we had acquired a new physics professor the year that I switched, and I only got to take one class from him. It’s the hardest class I’ve ever taken, and caused me no end of panic attacks due to the scholarships I was on, but if my very presence at the college had not depended on my grades, it would have been sheer panicked enjoyment. EM, Optics, and Relativity at high speed, exams that nobody had the time to finish, and a professor who was interested in having his students learn the material.

      I pulled a B-, despite really wretched grades on the early exam. (He reserved the right to pull up the overall grade if you showed an upward trend; I must have managed to do well on the final. Sure as hell studied hard for it.)

      Anyway. I wonder if there are a few universities that are still showing high standards in a statistical manner visible to hiring groups. I know that the university I *didn’t* go to is consistently ranked #1 for post-graduate value (the costs are high, but the ability to get a high-paying job in the field is also high.)

      • Re professors that teach: same at my alma mater, Lawrence University (Appleton, WI). I think the key feature is that it’s an undergraduate-only school. So no grad students for the profs to focus on, no grad students to be TAs. And at only about 1300 students total (10 per class, roughly, in Physics) with professors teaching, things work well.
        From all I know I rather like Hillsdale College — seems to be similar, except that they take NO government money of any kind and therefore get to run the school their way rather than the Fed’s way. They actually like the Constitution in that place.

      • I got an MSEE at the Jesuit U in Santa Clara; early bird classes, reimbursed by $EMPLOYER if grades were OK. 4 years of hell, but there were some really good instructors. (A couple of horrible ones, but the guy who taught circuit theory/design was fantastic. He’d use old exams for homework; if you could deal with them in reasonable time, you actually had learned something.)

        I retired when the dot-com bubble burst, but there were some bad signs back then. Lots of crud like
        “I went to prestigious University Foo; bow to my superior training.”
        “But your idea isn’t buildable!”
        Crickets

        • Those Jesuits turned out good engineers.

          “I went to prestigious University Foo; bow to my superior training.”

          I worked with some really great engineers from The Farm, and a lot of really really stupid ones. Same for Cal.

          And once they’d leveraged their connections and the prestige of their alma mater into a Director or VP title, there was pretty much no hope for them – they were all really good at telling, but I only recall two that I worked for from those schools in my 25 years on the semiconductor rollercoaster who were ever much good at listening.

          • Many of our engineers were Farmers :), but the guy who played the Prestigious University card the most was from MIT. “You can tell he’s from MIT, but you can’t tell him much.” (It was popcorn worthy to see the Stanford vs MIT ego-battles.)

            • I happen to know the philosophy major from MIT. Note the singular*.

              *I was talking with someone once—note that this is in California—and mentioned that I knew someone with a philosophy degree from MIT, and she said, “You know Kevin?”

        • Ya. One reason I am glad I have spent hours in shops. Had so many mechanical engineers in grad school that could program but didn’t know how mikes worked

          • ….like, microphones? Really hoping you say “no” and explain it’s a totally different Mike…..

            I never took a class in that sort of thing, but… back when I was FIVE we figured out that mom’s earphones would work the same as a microphone, and even had the same connector, and we figured out the basic “this moves and sends movements over to that thing” format.

            Before we could freaking READ….

            • Micrometer, so no

              • *blinks*

                ….the caliper looking thingie where you twist the dial and it measures stuff?

                ….

                Folks have to be TAUGHT HOW TO USE THOSE?!?!

                You mean the subtle things like not cranking it down like a muscle monkey, right?

                • You would not believe how little mechanical aptitude some engineers have. I’ve seen designs where everything fits when put together but is either too short or too long to be assembled.

                  ie. cable inside a flanged conduit with mil-spec connectors on each end that is perfect length when connected but has no slack to make the initial connection.

                  Absolutely no common sense. “But the CAD program said it was okay!”

                  • To be completely fair, I was like “Oh!” when I was first taught to read a vernier. Since then I see them everywhere. Looking at one periodic fence through another, for example.

      • Most schools protect their ratings by reporting how many graduates are employed or in graduate school. So you can have none of your class hired and have to go to another school to get a chance but still get a 100% placement.

      • Your experience just gave me a thought: professors (and probably schools in general) should not be allowed to grade students. It’s a conflict of interest, because professors want to give the impression that their students are learning something, and an easy way to do that is through grade inflation.

        (I say this as someone who worked as a graduate assistant, and later as a lecturer, who taught, quizzed, and tested his own students.)

        It would make more sense to have an independent organization for a given field, say the American Mathematics Association or the Mathematical Association of America for mathematics (or even both) offering their own tests, and their own standards for degrees, that anyone from any university (or no university at all) could then test against.

        As it is, getting an A in Calculus is meaningless — even when you know that the A was from Harvard, or from Podunk Community College — because it’s not at all impossible to get an easy professor at Harvard, or a challenging professor at Podunk. And given the grade inflation that’s been happening over the years, an A from 2017 is going to be different from one in 1995, which will be different from one in 1950.

        • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

          I know you’re not talking just about “grading on the curve” but I never liked getting an “A” just because I did better than the rest of my class when I only got 50% of the answers correct.

          In my opinion 50% correct was an “F”.

          I earned an “F” so I should get an “F”.

          Of course, that meant that when I got an “A” then I had earned the “A”. 😀

          • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

            Oh, I believe I got this attitude from my School Teacher Mother.

            IIRC in her mind, 70% correct was “F” work.

          • I don’t have a problem with “Getting 50% on this test is an A”, if that’s the expected standard for that test. I’ve never liked the concept of “grading on a curve” in genera, too. It just seems odd that your accomplishment should be dependent on how accomplished (or not) your fellow students are, combined with the fact that it *also* seems dependent somewhat on how well the teacher teaches the material.

            To me, an “A” in a given class ought to mean that you knew the material at an “A” level. On a particular test, that *may* mean you scored 50%, or it *may* mean you scored 95% — it doesn’t matter, so long as it’s consistent for that particular test. But to have a situation where in one case, you get an “A” because you got 50%, and the rest of the class got below that…while in another group of students, taking that exact same test, you get a “B” for the same 50% because some genius in that group got 55% or 60% on the same test, just doesn’t make sense to me at all.

            • (Genuflects in direction of opposition to grading on the curve.)

              As noted, it depends on the test’s calibration. According to one philosophy, the purpose pf a test is to identify a student’s strengths and weaknesses in order too guide further development. (I believe this is the principle underlying the English schools where the only high school exam that actually matters is your “A-Level” — everything before that is just prep.)

              Under that rubric, every exam ought be targeted so that no student can get a 100% — that would constitute a critique of the test designer. Tests are calibrated so that a top student should score about 60% (50%, 75% — whatever) and the truly exceptional student ought perform somewhat higher but still not know “everything.”

              Grading to the curve, in that system, is pretty reasonable. Unfortunately, when you take that type of grading from such a system and import it into our own, it serves no useful purpose — unless you consider making it easier to pass off failing students as actually achieving learning useful.

              • That was pretty much the standard that the physics professor cited above used. Tests were written so that nobody had finished them at the end of the exam period, and the highest grade set the A—but the next class was devoted to going over where students were going wrong, and how to fix that.

                Like I said, I regretted not having more classes from that guy. The first physics professor I had was a snooze fest, and that probably didn’t help.

            • Yabbut nobody wants to put in the time to generate a valid measuring instrument. Hmmm. Textbook publishers! Sell software that generates well-normed question bundles on the content. Enough of them so that every one the cheating little bastards has a different test muahahahah!

            • I had a History professor who refused to grade on a curve; then the class collectively did so poorly on one test that he felt he had to. Everyone received a “bonus” four points to their score… which brought me exactly to 100%, and earned me a punch in the shoulder from my roommate who was also in the class and left at a “B” after I broke the curve.

        • That’s one of the ideas behind standardized testing of K-12 students. Unfortunately, it leads to wholesale abandonment of everything except “teaching for the tests”. The only thing that matters for the school is how well the kids do on the tests. Anything not related to the tests is therefore frivolous and not worth bringing up in the classroom.

          • I’m completely against standardized testing, but mostly because I’m against the Government setting the standard. I do not trust government at all.

            I think the best outcome would be to have multiple organizations, such as the AMA and the MAA (who both have an interest in pure math) set their own standards. Certainly, when it comes to math, you’d have even more interests to get the standards right — with Engineers, Physicists, Business Analysts, etc all having an interest in the outcome. Certainly, we can see an example of this with the Actuarial Exams for insurance companies.

            Let independent, private organizations decide for themselves what ought to constitute “qualified”; teaching organizations should then be free to pick and choose what they want to prepare students for. In many cases, it will be up to the students to prepare for a given test, because there’s no practical way for a teacher to teach enough to pass the given test. (Prelim exams in grad school are like this; I have the impression that Actuarial exams are like this too.)

            If the EE Bachelor’s example is any indication, though, we can’t trust schools — including the government-run, or at least government certified, ones — to teach what needs to be taught.

    • The rot set in somewhat earlier. A friend of mine got his EE around 1990, got a job in the industry… and promptly learned that he’d been gypped.

      He’d taken signal processing, and microcontroller programming, and sensor design, and all sorts of interesting subjects. It had never occurred to him that he’d never been taught the boring parts that underpinned it all.

      In his opinion, the school had pushed “modern” classes like microcontrollers to keep students interested, and simply ignored the hard bits that drove the dropout rate up.

      He wound up having to spend long hours at night, trying to come up to speed fast enough to stay employed. He managed, but it was rough for a while.

      • Depends on the school and the student. Way, way, back – circa 1988 – I was interviewing a candidate for our design team.

        We thought we had a shoo-in candidate. He had a great back story (one of the first generation of Vietnam war refugees to attend high school in the US, fluent in English, Vietnamese, and French, MSEE from one of the better Cal State Universities, worked for several years at a major defense contractor).

        Unfortunately, he had never – never – worked as an EE. Lots of theory, but the project he did for his Master’s thesis was the only design work he’d ever done. And the whole of his experience afterwards was as a gofer doing documentation – looking up and documenting every component used to military procurement standards.

        He was a bright guy. But we couldn’t hire him at the salary that his degree and “experience” would have commanded, because a fresh-out-of-school BSEE could have done the job equally well. We ended up hiring a lady with about the same paper qualifications, but with 5 years of real-world design experience.

        My rule-of-thumb is that as a hiring manager you should treat advanced degrees as – if you’re lucky – the equivalent of the same number of years the degree took to obtain working in the field. Not always true – sometimes, the extra depth of theory needed may necessitate concentrated graduate-level study. But, even in high technology, I think it obtains most of the time.

        • My brother the rocket scientist went to grad school after having been employed for a couple of years. He said the professors *loved* him, because his experience meant that he knew what was really important.

        • I had a similar experience once with an intern. He was working towards his Master’s in computer science, and we were a computer company (microcomputers used for industrial control). All, and I mean all of his programming experience had been doing abstract computer-sciency stuff in Pascal on a VAX.

          We figured that getting him to do an interface to a clock/calendar chip would be an easy thing to start with, because it would only have taken me an hour or two to write and document. No such luck – I spent almost a week trying to get him to understand physical interfaces to peripheral chips. At the end of the week, we went our separate ways, and I wrote the code myself.

      • At a guess, the letters requesting alumni support are round-filed or returned with rude expressions written on them.

        It might be interesting to have “alumni support” as an available metric when rating colleges.

        • It’s my understanding that they already are.

          On the other hand, with the current building crisis of student debt on my mind (as well as my own frustrations with my own debt, which — considering that I have a PhD in math at a half to a third of the cost of some other grievance-study degree holders — isn’t as bad as it could have been) I have floated the idea that colleges should be forbidden from asking money from their alumni until they are free from student debt.

          *That* would certainly put colleges and universities in an interesting bind!

    • My husband has told me all kinds of horror stories from the interview process. EE graduates who can’t draw a basic circuit or tell the difference between series and parallel. Applicants with absolutely no frame of reference for how the various electrical measurements translated into real-world applications. That one guy whose bit on his resume about “built a digital to analog converter” turned out to be “was in the room goofing off while someone else built a digital to analog converter.”

      It’s one of the reasons I’m somewhat skeptical when I hear about how “STEM is no longer in demand, and those with the degrees can’t find jobs.” Are these people qualified for STEM jobs or are they people who have degrees in STEM fields? There’s a big difference.

      • Our EE likes to tell when he rode with a grizzled old lineman doing service work. That’s standard procedure in utilities when they take on an green EE. They were going down the road and the lineman asked him what kind of transformer bank that was ahead. He looked and honestly couldn’t identify it. The lineman said “Then what use are you?”

        He knew it, had worked on projects, but getting that into practical use was something else. He’s a good utility EE, but at some point every EE is green as a gourd, and has to learn how to translate their knowledge to practical application. Hence pairing green EEs with linemen as orientation.

        OTOH, I know of another EE who grabbed a live buss bar in a panel box and wondered why it knock him on his keister.

        • After I completed my doctorate, I took a class at the local technical college in machining. I came from that class deciding that my education is woefully incomplete without some learning in machining, carpentry, welding, or some other hands-on field.

          I *really* wish I could have taken the three months it would have taken to get a degree in machining, and then follow it up with welding, and maybe even carpentry and a couple of other things…but between being in a desperate need for a job, and already having gobs of debt, there was no way I would have been able to do that!

          And who knows? Had I done that first, and then gone on to college, I could have worked my way through college as a machinist, or a welder, or a carpenter, and go on to get my doctorate with substantially less debt…

          Of course, the “danger” in such a course would have been that I could have fell in such love with machining, that I could have pursued *that* work, instead of a white-collared job. Oh, the horrors!

          • Oh, and I should add: when explaining why a certain term was called “right-handed” when it was coming from the left, our machinist teacher said “it’s because the engineer — the ‘enemy’ — is standing on the other side of the lathe, and he set the terminology”.

            I have no idea how true that is, but I thought it was highly amusing to call engineers “the enemy” — understanding fully that it’s because it’s easy to design something on paper something that could be horrendous or even impossible to produce on a lathe or a mill.

        • Where I worked we had Electronic Technicians along with Engineers. I walked in one day and asked “I know this is a phillips screwdriver, what do you call a normal one?” The Engineer said that it was a flat head. The Tech looked sheepish and replied, “Flat head is a kind of screw, I believe that is called a sloted screwdriver; at least that is what the Sears Catalogue says.” I turned to their boss and told him, “In my experience, when an Engineer and a Technician give different answers, the Technician is always right.” My take is that Engineers have a broad base knowledge, but the Techs are focused and experts on their jobs (in our case, missile electronics). The Techs are also willing to tell you they don’t know when they are outside their expertise.

      • BobtheRegisterredFool

        There’s a STEM fad in higher education. Many of the proponents clearly think that that the certification alone gets earning, with overall throughput not limited by the number which get jobs. So they are pushing in female/minority students to try and hit demographic targets. Students are not necessarily uniformly prepared.

        If a student is marginal on the soft skills/social skills aspects of finding an entry level engineering job, there are effectively fewer of those available. I know of a case where such a marginal graduate, a high scoring student, was unable to find even entry level work.

        Some of the people being recruited to supplement enrollment numbers are going to be more marginal than usual. There are going to be fewer jobs for them.

        A truly high end entry level engineer has soft skills that would let them create a job for themselves if one isn’t available.

        • I am told of a visiting tech with many degrees (from the US apparently) who was within two hours of arrival, relegated to fetching coffee and drinks because of sheer practical ignorance; fucked that up spectacularly (used a can opener to open a cola can and was told to do only one thing: turn on the light. The light switch was the kind you flip up and down. Literally, ‘flip the switch on.’

          “Surely he can’t be so useless that he can’t turn on a )@#(*$@$@ switch!”

          Apparently that was too complicated, and he of many degrees used pure brute force to push that switch into the panel, hitting the electrical circuit in the back.

          Cue power blackout to the whole floor. Pshoooom.

          “Uh… ma’am…”

          “SHUT UP. JUST SHUT UP.”

  7. caitliniwoods

    It’s definitely the plan. I’m not quite sure how we’ll manage it yet–Daddy’s got a flexible schedule but a *lot* of work, Mommy’s got the regular-income 9-5–but I figure we’ve got the next four years or so to get our life situated for it.

    (Until then, there’s such-a-blessing grandparents. Hell, maybe after. They home schooled Daddy, after all….)

    • That sounds remarkably like our situation. Well, Mommy was the homeschooled one and has the flexible schedule with (usually) as much work as she feels she can take on…

      • Keep in mind that a primary goal of any homeschooling program ought to be for the student to learn to become self-educating. After the first few years most instruction ought be of the “go and learn about this” type, with parent supervising, reviewing and guiding as needed.

        Yes, there still needs to be an adult present, but the burden is less onerous than commonly assumed, if only because there isn’t much time spent on unlearning the nonsense taught in most schools.

  8. I think this rot was starting to set into the American system in the mid to late 70s as well. I spent 7th and 8th grade bored out of my skull; with the grades to go along with it.

    • I went to a pretty good junior high and HS, and was still bored out of my skull. But I was probably ready to write a thesis on sf/f.

    • The rot set in with the creation of ‘Professional Educators’, expecially since they were often taught, right from the start, that they were,superior to parents and should dictate to them. That goes back to the turn of the 19th to the 20th century. This sludge has been building for a long time.

  9. Catticus Finch

    Thank you for this post. I’m going to have The Spouse read it because we’ve been engaged in the debate on homeschooling throughout our marriage–and we don’t even have kids yet. As one of the high-performance kids, he had a wonderful public school experience and has argued that since it didn’t hurt him, it won’t hurt our hypothetical offspring. But now that he’s taking stock of his life, he’s coming to an awareness I’ve known for years: it *did* hurt him. He sailed through and was ill-prepared for college and for any potential grad school.

    So thanks for articulating your viewpoint on this subject so thoroughly.

    • I’m aware of how public school damages people; I’m not sure if some of the struggles I have are directly (or even indirectly) from my time in public school, or if it’s something innate in my personality…and if I had any inclination to gamble, I’d put money on both…but I’m convinced that even though I turned out ok going through public school, I’ve seen enough of my siblings and of other people in general, that I consider it dangerous to trust public institutions.

  10. Any relation between the timing on when this went up, and DeVos’s confirmation vote?

    • No. Actually I started this post on quite a different subject, about when the game stops working, but this high jacked it. Sometimes I SWEAR I take dictation on the blog as much as on my writing.

    • That reminds me I should take note of my left-wing Facebook acquaintances’ plans and contact my Senator as a voice countering theirs.

      • If it’s about DeVos – no need. She was confirmed earlier today.

        • Oh good. Clearly I also ought to keep up with events better.

          • Pence cast the tie-breaking vote. I believe the GOP quislings from the northern “corner” states defected.

            • So the teachers unions are happy with the money they paid for them?

              • Well, they did stay bought. For the moment, anyway.

                • Eh… Collins doesn’t bug me. Fact of the matter is, we’re lucky to have a Republican in elected office from her state. Sure, she frequently votes with the other side. But she adds an extra vote for the majority (which leads to Majority Leader and Committee leaderships). If she got primaried, a Dem might very well end up in her seat.

                  Murkowski, on the other hand…

                  • Murkowski, on the other hand…

                    She got primaried the last time by a genuine tea party candidate, and a damn good one, but since her family controls the Alaska GOP establishment, she ran as an independent and won a small plurality in a 3-way race during the general election.

                    Lisa Murkowski is exhibit #1 in the gallery of why not to trust the GOPe…..

                • I understand the demoncraps kept delaying the vote as the teachers unions were desperately searching for another bribeable Republican.

                  Good thing Sessions was still a senator today. Any other votes he should hang on for?

                  • Heh. Anybody else having Vorkosigan thoughts?

                    • Amusing as it would be to see Chuck Schumer’s severed head delivered in a bag, that from of shopping should probably be avoided.

                    • Not least because the problem, as Milton Friedman would remind us, is not Senator Schumer — it is the kind of people who look at Chuck Schumer and think he’s senatorial and the people who demonstrate outside his home asking “What the F-ck, Chuck?” and demanding he toe a line much farther Left.

                  • I’ve seen speculation that the Republican leadership might have actually okayed the Nay votes by Collins and Murkowski, since they still had the necessary votes to get Devos voted in. I don’t know if that’s actually true, but it would make the search by the teachers’ union for more “swayable” Republicans into a more amusing (and fruitless) thing.

    • It’s amazing the sheer level of freak-out there has been over this, which frankly doesn’t seem worth it on any level. I like DeVos, and it seems like a good symbolic victory over the teachers union, but I doubt too many people will notice or care about any changes in policy she might make.

      On the other hand, given that a number of Leftists have reacted to the news with “OMG!!!! My local school is going to turn into something out of ‘The Handmaiden’s Tale’; maybe I need to consider private schools or homeschooling”, perhaps we’re about to get a few more allies on the voucher front…

      • Christopher M. Chupik

        It’s Peak Outrage. If everything is outrageous, nothing is.

        • My Michigan school industry in-laws, a teacher and a superintendent, have been all over the book of faces demonizing DeVos. To me, that is a great reason to cheer her and Trump’s victory today.

          • I have to say, on election night, I felt an astonishing sense of relief as Clinton went down, even though I was not a Trump supporter and still have doubts about him. Then I spent a few days on Schadenfreude as the progressives freaked out. But by now I’ve actually had too much Schadenfreude and I’m thinking, “Get over it.”

            On the other hand, I’m all for DeVos making massive use of her office to reverse the damage done by Obama and Bush and others before them.

            • So precisely where I am.

            • I voted for Trump on the grounds that if I HAD to choose between a criminal shrew and an irresponsible clown, I might as well go for the laughs. So far, I haven’t been disappointed.

              • When faced with two unattractive choices, a fair rule of thumb is to choose the evil not previously tried, or the one with at least some chance of winning a lottery — whether that lottery is good governance, entertaining governance or, possibly, both.

          • Ask them if they are scared they might have to start working for a living……

            • Nah! They are recently retired with an absolutely awesome pension. Pretty good for people complaining that they are chronically underpaid.

  11. I ended up with all pretty good teachers through school. I realize now, just how lucky I was, even compared to most teachers back then. I didn’t have the chance to be “homeschooled” much by my parents because they worked such long hours, but the library was always open for us at school (and the school librarians liked my family so much that they waived any book limits for us).

    • I was homeschooled through elementary. Most of my teachers after that were pretty good, but the high school’s gone down hill. Other reports as well, but you look up the test scores on the official site, even, and they dropped off a cliff a few years ago….

  12. Good stuff. I recognize much of the background as an immigrant from Holland, where I completed secondary school (college was in the USA). I was in the last class to go through secondary school before the “Mammoth law” which redesigned the educational system for the worse (that was around 1970). Before: you picked a track, the courses were fixed. Some track were college-prep, some aimed at trade school careers. Mine was the former, the variant with Latin and Greek thrown in for grins. Plus 3 modern foreign languages. Starting with the year after, that was watered down to just one foreign language (pick one — 95% picked English, though my younger sister picked German because she didn’t like languages that consist only of exceptions). Advantages of this system: very thorough (I got my BS in two years largely on the strength of that Dutch secondary school). Disadvantage is that you get channeled around age 11, which is probably rather early. The Mammoth fixed that to some extent by allowing some later switching (at a cost in extra years).
    It’s sad enough to see what happened to my younger sisters; it’s really depressing to see the much, much worse system deliberately put in place in the USA to mangle young minds. And the violence its perpetrators will do to keep their power.
    On home schooling: agreed 100% on teaching the culture of the land. But at least as important is to teach the civic foundation of the land. Read the Constitution. Read the Federalist Papers. (And some of the Anti-Federalist ones.) Read St. George Tucker. Discuss how the advertising (in the Federalist Papers) differs from the reality of “constitutional” practice as it emerged especially since the days of Teddy Roosevelt (though even as early as 1802 the portents were bad). Discuss the meaning of the amendments in the Bill of Rights. Especially the 2nd.

    • Actually, the exceptional parts of English are the parts where it has rules. . . .

      • This is why I LIKE English. I hated German with a palpitating passion. The problem being to major in English I HAD to minor in German. (Sigh.)

        • Actually, more seriously, the crucial fact about English is that every single rule of English grammar depends on the context in which you’re applying it. That was the hardest thing for me to get across when my job description included training other copy editors. They always wanted simple rules that you could apply automatically without thinking about the meaning of the sentence, and so they produced some atrocities.

          • Time flies like an arrow.

            Fruit flies like a banana.

          • In think that many, perhaps all, human languages have context sensitive grammars (or things even more complex that computer science can’t wrap its heads around at all).
            Then again, when my sister was complaining about English comprising only exceptions, she wasn’t talking about the grammar (which is simple) but rather the spelling. A lot of other languages (French being a notable exception) have quite regular spelling. Grammar complexities vary all over the map, from quite simple (English, Afrikaans) to complex in wildly varying ways (Finnish and Japanese both have interesting complexities, but in rather different areas).
            Then of course there is phonology, where you can find all manner of fun. English isn’t too bad there, neither are other European languages. Chinese and Navajo and Xhosa are quite another matter.

            • A nice insight whose attribution I have lost is that English spelling is bizarre partly because it’s etymological.

            • Most linguists will tell you that all languages are equally complex and equally difficult. On the other hand, I’ve read a book by one linguist (it might be McWhorter; I can’t search my shelves just now) who argues that languages that are used in trade, such as English, undergo simplification by being spoken with people who don’t get nuances, whereas languages spoken by a single isolated group can acquire insane complexities.

              • I’m not sure what to make of that linguistic claim. Clearly it is not true if you look at aspects of a language. The grammar of Afrikaans is far simpler than that of classical Greek. The phonetics of Chinese are more complex than those of German. If it’s intended as a PC statement that all languages have equal capability of dealing with complex subjects, that’s a bit more plausible, but only barely. You’re not going to have much luck discussing the complexities of show and ice in Hawaiian, or computer engineering in Sumerian.
                As for equally difficult, that is similarly questionable, though it also depends on the person doing the learning. I have trouble with complex phonetics so I stayed away from Chinese, but grammar doesn’t bother me so classical Greek and Russian are fine. For some others it’s the other way around.

                On PK’s comment that English spelling is etymological — perhaps to some extent. I believe the larger issue is that English spelling is very old: it was fairly close to phonetic in the days of Caxton, but while the sounds of English changed dramatically soon after, spelling didn’t follow.

      • That’s what happens when you take an Anglo-Saxon/French bastard language and try to bolt Latin grammar to it.

      • Dearest creature in creation,
        Study English pronunciation.
        I will teach you in my verse
        Sounds like corpse, corps, horse, and worse.

        • Anonymous Coward

          To quote Iowahawk : “Yes, English can be weird. It can be understood through tough thorough thought, though.”

  13. I ran into that back in the 1950s in southern California. In third grade, you see, I could read far above my grade level (self-taught, of course), and one day I picked up an almanac that had a section on math review for adults who’d forgotten their math, and taught myself up through simple algebra. And then in the classroom I was told, in effect, “It’s nice that you can solve equations, but now practice the multiplication tables.” I had initially supposed that school was about learning, and that when I had learned the material they would teach me more; when I didn’t get taught anything new, I stopped seeing any point in school, and did no homework until I was in college and had to figure the idea out in a hurry. The main thing that saved me was that I learned to read textbooks for pleasure and checked them out of libraries.

    On the other hand, the main political lesson I took away from this was a lifelong hatred of egalitarianism and majority rule. It was harder for me to learn to hate elitism.

    • These days, at least in the system my kids went through, homework counts for more than tests. Even if you ace tests, you can fail if you don’t do EVERY TEDIOUS PIECE OF HOMEWORK, most of it button counting. Reverse is you can pass with F tests and every piece of TEDIOUS and pointless homework done.

      • Yup – who cares if you actually know the material if you don’t show your willingness to comply with pointless drudgery (that can give them an excuse to pass even the most ignorant)?

        I was one of the kids who usually read through the textbooks in the first couple of weeks of class, and spent the rest of the year bored out of my skull. I was much happier when I got tracked (back in the ’70s, when California still did that) into advanced classes – a lot more work, but my grades actually went up because it was *interesting* work.

      • I had an algebra teacher who, besides knocking off class a half hour early to watch The Young and the Restless on the TV in her classroom, demanded that we keep a notebook that must be periodically handed it and must have problems worked in her approved manner. All through school we were taught shortcuts, like canceling out factors in fractions, but that wasn’t the approved method.

        Didn’t care for her that much. Had a satchel stolen, along with some text books, and she was the only teacher to require me to pay for it. Then at the end of the year, she tried to make me pay for it again, and at that point my redneck nature manifested itself. I told her, quite loudly, that I’d already paid for that stolen text book once, and would not pay for it again. That was before my growth spurt, and I’d tried to keep my head down that year, so I think that shocked her. Didn’t even get an F.

        • I had a young math teacher that told us; “when your parents complain about you watching Gilligan’s Island while doing your homework, ask them where do they think I grade your homework.”
          Now, at least that was after class; he taught the entire period.
          My physics teacher, about 3 times in the year was so hung over 1st period that she gave us a ‘study hall’.

        • The ‘only approved method’ form of teaching was why I ended up utterly despising mathematics in college; the algebra teacher I had in high school showed us several different methods of arriving to the same correct answer; and threw us into the ‘here’s the problem, here’s the answer, how do you get there?’ for new problems method of learning.

          Bad teachers seriously damage. To this day, I have a hatred of complex maths, and I hate statistics to the point of simply refusing to do anything with it.

          • like my high school algebra II teacher that couldnt tell me what quadratic equations are for?

          • 10-4, good buddy…

            That degree in “education” didn’t hide the fact that *none* of my math teachers had the slightest idea of what they were doing teaching a math class. And that includes the Ph.D. who taught the statistics course I took in college.

            After getting lost trying to demonstrate a problem on the blackboard, he gave up and said, “It’s in the book.” Except the book was just a list of problems; apparently the fool with the chalk was supposed to tell us what to do with them.

            The average score on the final was something like 40%. Yes, he wound up grading “on the curve.” I passed, but I bought better books and studied them at home.

            • I remember arguing with one of my high school math teachers about the solution to one of the bonus problems. I was the only one who had attempted it, and he insisted that I had done it wrong (he compared it to his own solution). I was stubborn enough that he finally referred it to the department head – whose solution agreed with mine.

              I’ll give him points, though – he admitted he was wrong, gave me the credit, and we got along well for the rest of the year.

      • I think they may have cared a lot about homework back then, too, but I’m not sure, because I paid no attention to what grades I got. But I frustrated my teachers for many years by doing homework only if I thought it was interesting, which seldom happened.

        • I invented extravagant excuses for missing homework and more often than not read non-existent essays off blank paper, or did the homework quickly while other people were unpacking and reading stuff.

        • There was a teacher who was upset that I did my homework in between classes – not right after the class for which the homework was assigned, but I managed my time in that way. The other teachers were puzzled as to why she was upset; my answers were correct, I made ‘smart use’ of my time, and nobody could complain about my grades.

    • Ah, but for the last century or so, egalitarianism has always been a false front for elitism.

  14. Oh, and as a comparative note, my wife’s taking art history courses at UC Riverside, including lower division medieval and Renaissance, because the credit from her AP course in the 1970s didn’t transfer over. She’s commented to me more than once on how much less demanding the class is than her AP course was, and how much more handholding there is. From what she says, it’s less demanding than the Renaissance to modern course I took at a community college in the 1980s, though I have to say the teacher for that course was a really smart guy; he may have been exceptionally good. Still, you would think the University of California would teach at a high level, wouldn’t you?

  15. “Mostly by screaming, “Don’t guess. Sound the d*mn thing out”

    Heh, how that brings up memories for me! (although I’m still terrible at sounding things out.)

    Looking at everything now, I become more and more grateful to have been homeschooled.

  16. scott2harrison

    I am inspired to pick an annoying nit (big surprise right?). The use of “Lowest Common Denominator”. The lowest common denominator of any number is 1. When most non-progressives use LCD, they actually mean the highest common denominator. I am just tired enough today that this rant burst out of my fingers rather than just circling around inside my head.
    I now return you to the actually interesting comments. Thank you for your patience.

    • Highest common denominator, lowest common multiple

      • Beg pardon, but LCD is correct. 1 is the least common *factor* of the denominators. For instance, to add or subtract 1/2 and 1/3, you need to convert them to equivalent fractions that have the same denominator. Any number that has factors of both 2 and 3, that is any multiple of 6, would work as a common denominator. For simplicity’s sake, you usually want the smallest, or least.

  17. Science in public school? Mind you, I’m in my sixties, but I remember we kids thought a particular teacher had hope because she apologized for marking us “wrong” for saying light moved faster than sound, and corrected our grades. I can’t remember her justification for thinking that, but it was some hopelessly wrong observation she had made on her own.

    • Ours was mostly good. And we got to do experiments! With electricity!. I clearly remember an experiment in our textbook that was a controlled dust explosion. No, we didn’t get to do that one.

      We did much more experiments than ours have coming through school. And for some reason they never let me help with the volcano projects.

      • I remember a day in high school chemistry. The teacher drew a bottle on the board to illustrate some point. Suddenly he grinned and said extra credit for the first person name the type of wine sold in that shaped bottle. Nobody could so he spent the rest of the class drawing wine bottles and explaining which wine was in each. I learned why champagne bottle bottoms are indented that day.

        That evening my teetotaler mother was appalled but my father said it was good that practical information was still taught in school.

      • I have a wonderful high school chemistry memory. The assistant handed out samples of some solid to each student, with instructions to identify it as we had been taught. They were salts of various kinds. I looked at mine, nice kelly green crystals, and said “nickel sulphate”. He glared at me, “analyze it!”. We did. With H2S, and NH4S, and various other non-PC chemicals. (And yes, it was nickel sulphate, though I admit the sulphate part was a lucky guess.)

        • Our final in HS Chemistry II was to identify a substance given to us at random. We were allowed multiple attempts, but our final score would go down with each one.

          Our teacher once did a thermite demonstration – on the lab counter in front of the door, the door open, and as classes were changing. We stayed and watched the fun.

          Another time she got into some kind of tiff with the assistant principal. She announced we were going to do the hydrogen sulfide experiment. We’d already done that one, so we glanced at each other and set it up. This time we ran tubes venting the gas out the transoms into the hall – for safety reasons, of course. Didn’t take long for the assistant principal to arrive asking what was going on and our teacher innocently saying we were preforming a chemistry experiment. Think we stank up half the school by the time we were done.

          • Chemistry in my school was intensely boring, and the teacher was more focused in trying to convert students to his cult.

          • The head of my high school’s science department had been there a long time (he’d taught both my mother and aunt – and vividly remembered the time my aunt left a large bull snake in his desk).

            At one time he’d handled all the science classes (he was famous for making small amounts of explosives or other dramatic experiments in chem lab), but by the time I had him all he handled was Physics. He still managed to keep us alert, especially when we got to practical electricity experiments (hands-on Van Der Graaf generator fun, having the class link hands while the ends of the chain each held one terminal of an old hand-cranked phone generator, and – my favorite – leaving some charged Leyden jars on a workbench with prominent “Do Not Touch” signs and letting student curiosity do the rest . . .)

            He had a house (and dock) on the bank of the Sacramento river, and graded papers while fishing. Returned papers often had a slight fishy smell and a few scales clinging to them.

            We all learned a lot from him – usually, without even realizing the method in his craziness. One of my favorite teachers.

            • In my dad’s high school, the teacher made nitrogen triiodide to demonstrate its entertaining properties. He had some left over, so he sprinkled it in the hallway, with enough time for it to try by the next class bell.

      • The seniors in my high school got to run experiments in the physics classroom – they had a number of fermentation and distillation projects going. The physics teacher never paid a lot of attention, really.

        • I remember preparing phosphine, not to be confused with phosgene. Bubbling the fresh gas up through a water trough, it would ignite with a pop! on each bubble and produce a perfect white vortex smoke ring, maybe 30 cm in diameter.

          It would be a DHS matter today.

          • Or imagine a teacher passing around a half-pint bottle of mercury (to amaze the kids with how heavy that is), as our teacher did in high school.

  18. Popular bumpersticker: “If you can read this, thank a teacher.”

    Um, no. I’d thank my Grandma if she were still around. Of course she’d been a teacher in a one-room schoolhouse in northern Minnesota for a brief time in her youth before she met Grandpa, so maybe the meme still holds.

    • I’d rather thank my Mom. She’s the reason I was reading “Animal Farm” by the 2nd round of 3rd grade, Tom Clancy by junior high, and John D. MacDonald by high school.

    • Robert would have to thank himself. We discovered — disturbingly — that he was reading Caesar’s bio (MY book, bought for research and rather… uh… comprehensive) by just after/before his 3rd birthday. I asked him how long he’d been reading and he said “Dunno. always could.”

      • My answer too. You guys are probably tired of me telling about how I read the Burma Shave signs we passed on the highway from my baby seat.

      • Same answer here. I can remember when I learned to read cursive, but I have no memory of learning how to read print. I grew up in a house full of books (both parents voracious readers), and my parents read to me before I have any memory of it. Apparently when I was two or three, we’d go on trips and I’d want the same book read to me over and over again. My dad has a tremendous verbal memory, and after a few repetitious, he’d just start reciting the book, and I’d say, “No, Daddy, read it to me.” At that tender age I already knew the difference between reading from the book and reciting it.

      • Little things like that are what give me a reason to suspect there’s something to reincarnation. viz. My four-year-old nephew using nautically correct terminology when ‘playing pirate’ who, when asked where he’d heard terms like ‘binnacle’ replied, “That’s just what it’s called.”

        • A three or four year old who used a two-handed pistol grip and took cover behind furniture while playing spy gave me pause. Said kid had never been around pistols or watched so much as a Western. They pick up things by near osmosis, though, Such as swear words. Lock combinations. Passwords. One of ours, at three, came by with my wife at work and “Helped Daddy” by opening my email for me, without me supervising.

      • Similar path here. I know there must have been a time before I could read, just like I know that there was a time before I could walk or eat solid food, but I don’t remember anything about that time.

        Downside of that is that if my daughter doesn’t just magically show up learning how to read, I’m not going to have a clue how to teach her to do it. Fortunately, I think my husband remembers how it was done.

        • For second son I got Hooked On Phonics. that’s when we found out he had hearing issues…

        • Both of our families have a long tradition of early reading, so I had to remind myself that when my daughter entered kindergarten *not* being able to read complex sentences, that was not a cause for concern. (She is reading chapter books with great glee as a first grader, so obviously it just kicked in later.)

      • I can’t remember when I learned how to read. I’m told that it was sometime before my 3rd birthday. As far as I’m concerned, I’ve always been able to read.

      • Apparently, my parents discovered me reading at 9 months. By age two, I was hooked on encyclopedias.

        I don’t remember learning how to read, which is part of my problem when trying to teach someone else how to do it.

    • My first grade teacher, a veteran of some 20+ years teaching (she had taught my Dad) taught reading the old fashioned way and we studied phonics. After that, my dad was an avid reader and kept books in the house, and I followed his example and read. When I was bored in class, I would tune the teacher out and read ahead in the text. And then reread. I was often chided for it, but it didn’t take: I saw no good reason not to and read ahead anyway. “But the book says…” got me into trouble a few times.

    • I believe I learned to read from my mother reading me Walt Disney’s Comics and Stories. I certainly could read before I entered first grade. My teachers had nothing to do with it.

    • For me, it was Dad. Starting around age 4, our favorite activity was reading everything from comic books to cereal boxes. Years later, he’d still sneak stuff out of my comic collection.

    • Apparently I’m a late reader among this group.

      I didn’t really start reading until the end of first grade. When I got my glasses.

      Before then, well, I could read, but it apparently wasn’t worth the effort.

      My kids both taught themselves to read before they started school, though.

  19. I think a prima facie case can be made that sending your kids to public or even most private schools is child abuse.

  20. I learned to read before I went to school. In my day (the 1970s), the teachers in grade school took the attitude (more or less) of, “You can go get a book from the library and read it while I teach the rest of the class about phonics.” Nowadays I hear from friends with kids that some school districts *actively discourage* parents from “helping” or “letting” their children learn to read before they start school, which I find chilling.

    My parents also did all kinds of enrichment stuff on the weekends, on vacations, at home in the evening. I remember being kept in from recess in fourth grade because I could do the “old math” way of long division, and the teacher insisted on this stupid “new math” way that took a dozen extra steps. I was like, “I can get the right answer, let me do it the way I learned to.” (The next year, I got a teacher who got up and said, “I am within three years of retirement. They can’t fire me. I don’t like New Math so I’m not going to teach it to you.” I loved that teacher; if we could prove we knew why a shortcut worked and use it correctly, we could use it, no stupid “grouping” or “tens’ place and ones’ place”)

    If I had a kid, I’d home school. As much for the fact that schools are little hives of scum and villainy that reward surficial things like “who has the most expensive clothes” and where the Odd kids are singled out for abuse, as much as for what/how things are taught.

    I was an Odd kid. I remember my grade school years unfondly. I was not just Odd, I was from a more-frugal family in a spendthrift town. I remember being teased mercilessly for the brand of jeans I wore, because they were from the “cheap” store.

    Kids really are little b*stards and anyone who refers to them as “angels” gets a hard stare from me. No. They’re animal nature writ large and it’s the parents’ responsibility to civilize them into something that can function in society. Sadly, we see too many parents dodging that responsibility

    • Robert can only do long division the Portuguese one-room school way. Hhe simply couldn’t learn the way they were teaching him. I read his book and couldn’t make heads or tails. So I taught him the way I learned. Cue teachers screaming at him for two years, or calling me to ask why he used such an “interesting” method. But his results were right, and they caved.

      • Oh dear, you mean there are more than one way to do long division? I occasionally fuss at my dad because he uses the phrase “3 divided into 9″… I tell him the phrase “9 divided by 3” writes the equation for him.

      • … the Portuguese one-room school way.

        That got me curious, so looked at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Long_division which lists a bunch of methods. The one they have listed for Portugal is at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Long_division#Eurasia and is essentially the same long-division method that I learned. Slightly different notation, but same method. I assume* that’s the one used in Portugal today, but is that the same one you learned in grade school, or has it changed significantly since you were taught long division?

        * Since this seems likely to be a non-controversial article, and the article’s edit history doesn’t show any edit wars, I assume that Wikipedia can probably be trusted on this subject.

      • In elementary school, I could not make sense of “borrowing” as a method of subtraction. So I worked out an alternate method, where instead of subtracting one from the tens place in the minuend, I added one to the tens place in the subtrahend. I’ve used it ever sense. Much, much later, during a stint as a math tutor, I encountered students who’d gone to high school in Tijuana and been taught the exact same method, which apparently was standard there. And later still, when I listened closely to Tom Lehrer’s “New Math,” I heard him describe both methods and who would have learned each. . . .

        One of my grandmother’s proudest stories (she took her bachelor’s degree in math before the Great War) was of taking geometry in high school, and coming up with a proof that wasn’t the one in the book. The other students objected that her proof was wrong, and her teacher said, “No, it’s right, it’s just not the one in the book.” So I guess I come by it honestly, as they used to say. . . .

    • > actively discourage

      Things like that are why I’ve never been sure if the movie “Idiocracy” was supposed to be a comedy or a documentary…

      • Tragicomedy seems a good option, as well.

      • It’s neither – “Idiocracy” is at it’s base a wish fulfillment fantasy, where the D-students who end up in Hollywood can finally be the smartest kids in class.

        But to get there they had to accept 9/10ths of the eugenics stuff that led directly to death camps.

        We’ve discussed it here before in depth so I won’t rehash, but the bottom line is Einstein’s parents were not genius theoretical physicists, and adopted kids IQ-test in line with their adopted parents, not their genetic ones, so you can’t tie “brilliant rich PBS-watching lefties don’t make babies, but stupid trailer trash NASCAR-watching righties have lots of them” to any possible population-wide trend in intelligence.

        • Yeah, you find that the kids of really talented musicians tend to not really be as talented. For instance, of the many Beatles spawn who have tried to go into music, only Zach Starkey has a pretty regular gig with the Who II, and that has more to do with the fact that he learned drumming from Keith Moon.

          • This also explains Hollywood, where your parentage matters more than your talent. Aside from Drew Barrymore, I cannot think of a next gen dynastic family actor that has anything close to the talent of their ancestry.

            • Her father was a mediocre actor.

            • Isabella Rossellini is another, but not quite the talent her mother was.

            • Michael Douglas.
              Carrie Fisher

              Kirk Douglas once told of seeing Michael in his first college play and thinking he didn’t have it. Then he saw him in another production and noticed something there beyond just improvement.

              Also know of a family that you’ve never heard of who are probably one of the best vocalists ever. I’ve heard professionals who don’t sing as well as they do.

              • Michael Douglas was one who came to mind, also Liza Minelli and Jane Fonda (hate her political judgement but acknowledge her acting chops.)

                Evidence to the contrary: Taryn Power, Patrick Wayne, Peter Fonda.

                Often the connection is not apparent, as in offspring with somewhat different names, e.g. Tippi Hedren and Melanie Griffith or Goldie Hawn and Kate Hudson. (I am not going to argue there was significant acting talent on either side of the relationship, just that both had roughly equivalent careers.)

                • There is also Ron Howard* and his daughter, Bryce Dallas Howard**, but I am not sure ether can actually act.

                  *Not of the “Howard Family” Howards … so far as I am aware.


                  **Jurassic World, Spider-Man 3

            • GoneLikeSmoke

              Collin Hanks is on par with where Tom was at that age. I’d wager he’ll be as good as his father. That is, of course, if people casted him in anything anymore.

            • The Barrymores were already an acting dynasty back in the ollllllld theater days. Like the Booths.

    • I had one year I tutored general courses in college. I learned old school math and gave up tutoring after that year because nothing made sense. It is difficult to tutor when you cannot tell what the student is doing. Was similar when I graded.

    • Kids really are little b*stards and anyone who refers to them as “angels” gets a hard stare from me.

      According to Christian theology, there are two kinds of angels, you know, Which is why, in a move to boost Sunday School attendance, and the teachers of the preschoolers picked “Miss [redacted] Angels,” the entire church laughed because we figured which ones were meant.

    • I’m not a math whiz, but we were taught how our a feature of our number system is that it mimics an abacus. Lining numbers vertically with each power of ten in the same “column” makes it much easier to see what’s going on. Of course, that’s not done, or wasn’t when ours went through it. “That’s not how the teacher does it,” became a common phrase at our house. So did “Do it this way, and write it down the way the teacher wants.”

      Besides trying to teach estimation before they know what’s going on in what they’re estimating, one of my major mathematics peeves was they put them through trial and error problem solving when they could have more easily taught them the concept of equations and how to set them up. Once again:

      “That’s not how the teacher does it.”
      “Do it this way, and write it down the way the teacher wants.”

      • The ‘cut and try’ method for putting up high frequency dipole antennas annoyed me. It was plain that you could make it a bit a long, but of a known length, measure the resonance, and work out the actual ‘constant’ for the environment (buildings, trees, non-ideal distance from ground) and then compute the length needed for the desired resonance and be done in two hardware steps instead of many steps of successive approximation.

      • Terry Sanders

        That’s also why Roman numerals work. Nobody calculated with them- -they used a counting board/ abacus and recorded the results.

    • I’ve literally heard recently that some people are saying that reading to your kids and teaching them how to read gives them an unfair advantage and you should stop.

      • Yup. It’s a form of privilege.

        i.e. guess who’s doing it?

      • Anyone who claims that teaching kids gives them an unfair advantage is a criminal and should be treated accordingly. Life imprisonment sounds about right.

      • I’ve heard the ‘reading to your kids is unfair’ argument. You know what else is “unfair”? Treating your kids with love and forming a bond with them. Let’s just have a whole feral generation! I’m sure that would work out just peachy.

        honestly, having my parents read to me was as much an “I love you and want to spend time with you” thing as it was a “I want you to care about books and reading thing.”

        • I think that’s “we don’t want your children to so how unprepared our teachers are”

          • My elementary school would parade my little sister around to show how their kids read.

            I had taught her before kindergarden.

    • When I was in kindergarten and could read, the period of time dedicated to teaching kids how to read was instead my time to spend with a couple of Polish kids who were still learning English. I really have no idea what we did. Then I had an after-school reading supplement time with a more advanced group. (I ended up at a different school entirely by second grade, the one with the advanced track class. My original school got me tested as soon as the district would allow.)

    • My elementary and middle schools were in an area that was a bedroom community for three (or was it four?) Universities. The “I’m an education professional, and you need,to stop interfering with your child’s education” crap was making the rounds then (late 1960’s, early ’70’s), but it tended to get stopped COLD in my schools. One middle school principal, right out of Ed school, lasted ONE semester, after which a deputation of PhD Parents gave her the word.

  21. Growing up in the 70’s here in Chicago, I think we went thru every iteration of modern education theory.

    And Sara your wish has been granted
    http://www.thegreatcourses.com/courses/greek-101-learning-an-ancient-language.html

    • Seeing the various ways math teaching change while I went through school taught me that “New and Improved!” had as much truth in education as it did in laundry detergent advertising.

  22. But by going to a “unified” classroom, now so far as I know used everywhere, what you do is not bring those kids up, but bring EVERYONE ELSE down, thereby leading to a dumbing down of the general population.

    I think another think it does for the progs is helps create the Outer Party types with their contempt for the proles. By mixing above average kids in with below average kids and forcibly holding those above average kids back for the below average ones you will generate contempt and a desire to just “take over so we can move forward”.

    The kids who develop those feelings are perfect examples of Orwell’s Outer Party types.

  23. “If the school turns out equal ignoramuses, the school becomes valueless and employers start looking for other things. Right now it seems to be internship experience.”

    It occurs to me that if you were looking to cement the advantage of the upper class and create a pseudoaristocracy, you couldn’t do too much better than this. How do you get an internship, especially if the schools are such that looking at the school records tells you nothing? Why, connections of course! Little Suzy’s mom went to Harvard with one of the partners in Dewey, Chethem & Howe Law Firm, so she can pull some strings and get Suzy interning with Mr. Howe over the summer. Meanwhile, Anna the janitor’s daughter has nothing but a transcript full of As, something that 90% of her classmates also has, which just isn’t enough to get her noticed by anyone (particularly since they don’t really need interns anyway). She spends the summer jobless and never gets any experience to help her get a leg up.

    Now, I don’t think this is an intentional side-effect of what the Left is doing here, but if anyone was looking for a potential villainous plot for a near future distopia…well, there you go.

    • And let’s not forget that even if Anna develops connections–say, a professor who’s impressed that she’s one of his more competent students–she might not be able to afford to work, unpaid, for an entire summer, unlike Suzy.

  24. Oh, and one thing I will say for the public schools is that they do teach the very necessary skill of figuring out how to deal with BS from someone more powerful than you are. When your idiot of a teacher/professor/boss gives you an assignment that you think is stupid, sometimes you just have to roll your eyes and do it rather than ignoring it and doing things your own way.

    That may sound like damning with non-existent praise, but dealing with that sort of stuff is a necessary skill. I’ve seen homeschoolers run into trouble in college for precisely that reason: “Yeah, I know you said I needed to do an essay on subject X, but I found subject Y more interesting, so I spent all my time researching that instead.” It flew with the parents; not so much with the professors.

    • Thankfully, my kids respond to structure like a vampire to a cross…so we’ve already been teaching them the “no, you have to do it” thing.

      And are working on “manners” and “obedience.”

      Honestly, one of the better arguments that even teachers that are relatives have accepted is “…you know TrueBlue. You know me. Our pictures are in the dictionary next to the phrase ‘pig headed.’ Why would we inflict that on some poor teacher?!”

      I can sit there for three hours while the Princess huffs and sighs and moans and breaks into spontaneous try sobs rather than reading the instructions, while a teacher cannot. And I really don’t want them trained that throwing a fit gets them what they want!

  25. Bunch o’ stuff ahead:

    Dollars to donuts, mainstreaming in the US came about after someone noticed special ed classes in post-integration education had a high number of blacks, and concluded it was being used as in-school segregation, I remember talk about that prior to mainstreaming. Maybe it was, in some schools. The most disruptive kid mainstreamed into our class happened to be white.

    Teachers had an old observation: Those who could teach, did. Those who couldn’t went into administration. Heard many a choice word over some “bright ideas” dictated from education official higher up.

    These “bright ideas,” in both text books and curriculum, along with restricting the teacher’s authority to deal with disruptive students, had a negative effect on education. The point when certain things were taught were bumped up a grade level.

    OTOH, when you’re low in the rankings, you try harder. Preschool is what kindergarten used to be; kindergarten what the first grade used to be, and so on. None of this “equally stupid” business. The talk we had with one teacher over one of ours advanced reading level wasn’t to hold them back, but to be careful that what they read didn’t introduce them to concepts they weren’t ready to handle.

    Despite this, my wife and I noticed the AP classes were basically what a standard HS class was back in our day. The problem is the tendency to teach to the standardized test. This leads to short cuts what my wife and I called “spoon feeding.” When students encountered what was expected in college, some were shocked and some parents complained. When the school superintendent quizzed my wife and I about it, I told him it was just cold water in the face, and far better they experience it now than in every one of their first college classes. It wouldn’t have been such a shock if they’d had that in their regular classes, as we did.

    Common Core actually lowered our state standards and was not well received in the classrooms. See the old teacher’s adage above.

    Not all private schools are better than public. Not every student that goes through homeschooling will perform academically better. Have seen examples of both, with some private and home schooled students that were behind compared to public school students. In other words, your mileage may vary.

    This is certainly the case reading horror stories here. But see low rankings and trying harder above.

    Even sending kids to a public or private school, each parent should still home school. This means looking after your kids’ education and not turning it over to others. It’s still time for learning after the homework is done, just not as structured. Also time for maybe correcting something they’ve picked up in school.

    An anecdotal caution from two nephews on homeschooling. They observed some home schooled college classmate who knew the material but had difficulty adapting. They theorized that they hadn’t had a strongly structured environment, in which a specific block of hours was nothing but school time. They were referring to interruptions such as chores during they day. They felt that a strongly structured environment would have helped them in college, and that’s certainly do-able in home schooling. Just saying.

    • The flip side would be that you might create people who could only learn in a “structured” environment.

      I’ve known some of those. Not stupid people, either. But while they did fine in a classroom environment, they were helpless at being able to learn anything on their own. And wherever the class stopped, that was the extent of their knowledge; they wouldn’t or couldn’t keep up in their field by themselves.

    • RE: those who can’t teach go into administration

      My mother got a degree in music education back in the late ’70s, and has commented that the education professors tended to be long on theory and short on actual experience–or, if they DID have experience, it wasn’t in public school, whIch was where the majority of their students would end up.

      • City Journal had a great article on what happened when some of these idealistic young teaching graduates got into the universities and into the inner-city public schools, ready to help these disadvantaged youths with a “child-centered classroom.” By Week 3 or so, most of them had completely lost control of the kids and had all come to the conclusion, “My professors don’t know jack about these children or how to deal with my classroom.”

        Of course, even the suburbs aren’t immune from ed school stupidity. I went to an elementary school with an “open floor plan,” no walls, just a wide-open space where every class was given a bit of room to do their own thing. Because clearly the best way for young kids to learn is to make sure that they’re as distracted as possible and that people are shouting different things at them from every direction. Even in the 70s, I don’t think there were enough drugs to justify that decision.

    • I went to a small private high school that had a number of gaps at the upper level. (I ended up with THREE study halls one term in my senior year; when the administration called me in to talk about it, I went through the available classes in each block and pointed out that I’d either had them or had bypassed them. I ended up doing a free-form physics study and actually got a couple of credits out of the deal—and the occasional nap.)

      One of the things that I noticed is that you could sign up for an AP test without attaching it to a class, since they didn’t have classes for a lot of them. I didn’t go crazy on that—I think I only took three AP tests total over two years—but one of the ones I *did* take was the English Composition test. I figured that I could get a five on that one, easy, and I did. The annoying part was that it would not have been enough to get me out of English 101 at my college (“learn to construct sentences and paragraphs”). You had to be in the Honors Program (all of twenty students) to skip that. Talk about incentive! I got in, though that seems to have been more because my brother was in it, but if I’d had to take English 101, somebody would have died.

  26. I’ve been out all day, finished up donating a pint to the Red Cross, so I am cmmenting to get on the mailing before I read all the other comments and discover somebody has already made this point.

    The reason sorting by ability ended in the US & Britain (can’t say about Portugal and elsewhere) is that it was discovered that the sorting was being rigged, with the class assignments correlating suspiciously closely to … well … class (and in the US the epidermal melanin content.) To put an end to this abuse the people in charge enacted more strict and outside-factor neutral methods of organizing kids by scholastic ability.

    Hah! No they didn’t, they ended the grouping by ability, of course. Because why throw out just the bath water when you can be rid of the baby, too?

  27. Hearing about all sorts of nightmares that is the public school system (not just the comments here, but other people and my personal experience) I am dreading the time my son goes off to the public system. I don’t have the means or time to do the 100% homeschool route. Believe me if I could I would. That being said he’s going to be getting an education from me that will either expand his school learning or exceed it. Just hope it works.

    • It will. It did for us.

    • Involved parents have a way bigger impact than the public schools do. I was in public school k-8, and, while, granted, it was the 1970s and a “better” district, still – my parents’ influence was larger in my life.

      The biggest thing for me was being able to come home from the social hellhole into a household that was orderly and where I had people who loved me (also, being made to go to church as a pre-teen and adolescent helped: there were other people there who seemed to think I was OK, even if the other kids at school constantly told me I was not).

      Also, my parents valued education and pushed me to read and learn on my own and look into stuff that interested me. At school – we were in a fairly wealthy “bedroom” district – it seemed a lot of the kids were either in to status stuff (or, when they got older) partying all the time. The coolest way to be was to scrape through with Cs and Ds but wear the right clothes and go to the right parties….

      My parents made the sacrifice (and it was, financially) to send me to prep school for high school and it made a big difference in my life – I was challenged and for the first time a plurality of my peers respected me for being smart and getting good grades. I’m…..not sure I would still be alive today if I had had to go to the local public high school.

      • Beloved Spouse and I were talking over lunch about Trump and his respect for working stiffs and disdain for “elites.” From what we’ve read, growing up he would have been “new money” and disdained by his “old money” peers at school. His daddy had to “work” for the family money, unlike those who merely clipped coupons, collected dividends or were in the “professions.” No, Trump’s family was in Trade and thus were looked down on as money-grubbers.

        Growing up in the construction business means Trump would have learned he’d get better answers on foundation work from a guy who’s spent the last thirty years pouring ‘crete than from some fresh outta school engineer who’s only real exposure to pouring ‘crete may have come from a summer job between sophomore and junior years; sure, he can quote you figures on stress and load but that doesn’t mean he actually knows how to tell at a glance if the ‘crete you’ve mixed and poured will set right and hold up to the demands.

        Trump learned the flags for status but his tastes remained plebeian, flashy and glitzy, and his manner that of a guy on the make, always selling his latest product, his hottest concept.

        No wonder he resents the “smart people” and no wonder they are being driven nuts by him. They cruised through on passes to the right schools and spent their time there partying with the right people and they learned to despise those on the make — who in turn learned to resent them.

  28. I was misplaced in the wrong math group in third grade. I understood everything but made numerous sloppy mistakes in haste. It took enormous self control to actually check my work. My eyes tend to see what they expect to see, not what is there. My teacher knew I understood the concepts and was just sloppy. He worked valiantly to make me take time to check my work.

  29. “And in the end, some people will do better than others, because humans are not widgets, and can’t be made into widgets. Even the USSR didn’t manage it.”

    Those Russians, they just didn’t know what they were doing. Lenin, Stalin, idiots!

    This time, this time we will reach the Worker’s Paradise for sure!

  30. Sorry, but any egalitarian outcome proposal invariably brings me to:

    “You cannot strengthen the weak by weakening the strong.”
    — Rev. William Boetcker

    He had nine more, besides.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_J._H._Boetcker

  31. this system serves worst are the very gifted. They either become incredibly bored and tune out school altogether, or they go through life enraged against “society” that doesn’t understand them and treats them so shabbily. A lot of our radical losers are the product of this system.

    Nah. Those people were never that bright to begin with if that’s all it took.

    I went through this system, and I have gone through life with an abiding distrust of left-wing politicians, and a loathing of teachers unions. That’s a *win*

    What gets a gifted kid to radical loser enraged at life’s shabby treatment is a crappy home-life. If you want a kid to loathe and distrust “society” and its institutions, have his parents betray him.

  32. “There is no age range for learning, that’s a lie of the educational establishment.”
    There is a range where learning is easiest, but sadly, it is when all the damage from poor teaching is being done.

  33. “An Army of Davids” is a book by Instapundit, whom I can’t see as Sarah’s boss.

    Be that as it may, I believe that is the right approach. There are giants in the land, as the spies told Israel. But in our case they are paper mache and twine as we saw with Trump’s campaign bowling them down left and right.

    Be of good courage. Spread the truth.

  34. It is my strong impression that the entire United States Educational Establishment is in deep, serious, gritty trouble. There are plenty of signs, if you look for them.

    The most obvious is that we are going to have a Secretary of Education that is Pro-School-Choice, but that could be an outlier. More telling is that many Black Democrat politicians with inner city constituencies are pushing school choice. They have to, if they want to be reelected. Their inner-city voters have had it with the Educrats’ excuses, and no amount of Union money will make up for the loathing the voters feel. The “Prop the existing system up at the expense of everything else” plan is failing, badly.

    The attacks on ‘for profit’ colleges strike me as telling. Sure, such ‘colleges’ may be dicey, but that’s always been the case. I think we are seeing an attempt to distract from traditional colleges’ failures. I think the calls for ‘free’ college education are another straw in the wind; there just aren’t enough middle class high school graduates to support the bloated Universities and colleges that litter the American landscape. Unless a HUGE number of students are forthcoming quickly, an awful lot of Academic Intellectuals are going to have to start working for a living, and Starbucks just doesn’t NEED that many incompetent baristas. And, somehow, I don’t think ‘free college’ is going to fly. There’s too much ammunition against it, starting with that poor shmoo who owed $30K far a Master’s Degree in Puppetry. OK< it's easy to mock HIM, but who the hell was his advisor, and why haven't they been crucified on the freshman quad?

    I await developments with interest.

    • Unless a HUGE number of students are forthcoming quickly, an awful lot of Academic Intellectuals are going to have to start working for a living, and Starbucks just doesn’t NEED that many incompetent baristas.
      ———————-

      Especially since Starbucks is going to hire 10,000 refugees.

      /rolleyes

  35. Some relevant points here, from a former president of F.I.R.E. — especially in that penultimate paragraph:

    Important Lessons in the Outrageous Response to Betsy DeVos
    By David French — February 8, 2017
    In one sense, Betsy DeVos seems like an odd target for unrelenting, condescending vitriol. Christians like DeVos are constantly being told that they would be far more loved and respected if they poured their time and money into helping the most vulnerable members of society. That’s exactly what DeVos did. Rather than merely enjoying her billions and donating money to fashionable causes, she poured money, time, and energy into education reform — with a particular focus on the least economically advantaged. She became an expert in her field, directly participated in some of the most important reform efforts in the United States, and did what everyone says Christians should do — focused on serving the poor.

    And now she’s a hate object in parts of the Left. Why? My colleague Kevin Williamson is right — part of it is the simple fact that the teachers’ unions oppose DeVos, and in Democratic politics the teachers’ unions get what they want. I had to laugh at the Democratic memes on Twitter implying that DeVos bought her confirmation votes with campaign contributions. But DeVos’s contributions are a drop in the ocean compared to the financial impact of the teacher’s unions in American politics. In 2016 alone, teachers’ unions gave $33.2 million in political contributions, 93 percent to Democrats. DeVos’s contributions — even if you include contributions from her entire family — are inconsequential by comparison. Who’s buying whom?

    But it’s about so much more than money. The public educational system is indispensable to leftist cultural power in the United States. As a practical matter, if your child goes to public schools from kindergarten through college, they are (with some exceptions) educated by the Left. Yes, there are conservative teachers here and there (especially in conservative towns), but they work in a system designed, built, and maintained by the other side of our great ideological divide. Moreover, given the public school monopoly in town after town, parents often have little choice but to expose their kids to public school morality, (often) public school incompetence, and public school ideology for seventeen consecutive years. It’s simply naive to believe this reality doesn’t carry with it profound cultural and political consequences.

    Finally, you can never forget the extent to which large numbers of secular progressives simply hate DeVos’s brand of Christianity. The idea that even a dime of taxpayer funds (through school choice) would go to a single Christian school is abhorrent to them, and they’d prefer that such schools vanish from the face of the earth. These ideologues want to control public education, they want to use public education to inculcate secular progressive values, and they want public education to be freed from any meaningful competition. DeVos opposes all those goals, so her desire to help poor kids, her millions of dollars in philanthropy, and thousands of hours of work weren’t even deemed worthy of respect. The lesson here is clear: If you’re a religious conservative, the only way to be “good” enough to earn the respect of radicals is to change your beliefs.

    • That is very good indeed. One other consideration is that leftists don’t object to the purchasing of politicians — they merely want to restrict the buying so it’s done only by their people.

  36. What I mean is we couldn’t either (mostly because I got REALLY ill just before Robert would have started kindergarten and I couldn’t do it, I just couldn’t) so we sent them to school. And then we spent two/three hours a day at home deprogramming them and teaching them.

    Saw a meme on a homeschool group the other day….
    “Oh, you have to spend three hours on homework with your kids, and upload it to the school website, but you could NEVER homeschool? Please, tell me more.”

    My seven year old is doing word problem division and multiplication.
    She can read Nancy Drew (though not understand it if she’s reading) and writes in cursive.
    She will DRIVE YOU NUTS connecting science, technology, cooking and engineering things, especially if they’re related to some history she’s learned.

    A perfect day starts at 8:30 and ends about 10:30.

    And Starfall is free for enough of their stuff to figure out if it will work for you.

    Education dot com has free samples– believe it’s monthly.

    There’s… I think it’s ABCya…which our eldest son loves.

    Computers make it REALLY EASY.