kitchen table math, the sequel: I would like to overthrow dissension

Friday, April 18, 2008

I would like to overthrow dissension

Didn't Toqueville call this kind of thing the tyrrany of the majority?

I believe he did.

This woman's election is bad news for Ridgewood. Ms. Goodman, like most of us, does not know the first thing about the "overthrow of dissension," the first thing being: only a totalitarian state can overthrow dissension. (I know this because I happen to be married to a historian.)

A simple dictatorship, of the kind enjoyed by school boards and school superintendents, won't do. A simple dictatorship, of the kind enjoyed by school boards and school superintendents, breeds dissension.

oh good

Ed is back from his run.

Ed speaking: Supporting a constructivist superintendent's reform agenda won't overthrow dissent. Supporting a constructivist superintendent's reform agenda will provoke dissent. If a school board member wishes to overthrow dissent, she will have to support policies to which everyone agrees. Or else move to Irvington, where dissent is frowned upon.


Catherine Johnson said...

btw, I doubt this woman ran on a platform of restoring an offer to the constructivist superintendent

She obviously did run on a platform of overthrowing dissension on the fundamental question of whether Ridgewood students will or will not be taught math.

Catherine Johnson said...

That doesn't work.

Catherine Johnson said...

One of the reasons it doesn't work, especially in a small-town setting, is that while you can pressure the dissidents into quieting down, the issue that has produced dissidents in the first place does not go away.

First off, my sense of the way these things work is that a district doesn't tend to produce dissidents unless there is a very large silent majority (or a large silent minority, as the case may be) who are extremely unhappy with the situation and have been for some time.

School district dissidents don't come out of nowhere.

Second, when you opt to overthrow dissent, which is SOP for school boards & districts everywhere, you make things much, much worse.

Nobody likes getting rolled over.

Independent George said...

1. The two sides in Ridgewood differ not over implementation, but over their fundamental views of education; this makes a compromise not only unlikely, but undesireable from both sides.
2. Logistically, it's just not practical for one school to support two diametrically opposed math curricula.
3. Picking one side necessarily alienates the other.

It's ironic, but this ideological split provides us with a non-ideological case for school choice. Forget about unions, or competition, or inequality, or NCLB. At its core, school choice is about different parents (shockingly) having different opinions on how their children should be educated, and want their kids to attend a school that matches their preferences.

The simplest solution is to let each side part company, and educate their children as they see fit. Where is the harm in that?

concernedCTparent said...

Catherine this is not exactly on topic but boy, sometimes this synchronicity thing freaks me out just a little. I was just talking to my husband yesterday about Democracy in America in the context of the John Adams mini-series on HBO. I have a discussion about de Tocqueville (something I don't believe I've done since my college days) and then have you mention him in a blog the next day. Weird, but very cool!

SteveH said...

I've heard it as the tyranny of the majority. Perhaps you can make the process so onerous that you can scare people away to ensure your majority. In our town, parents are chased away to private schools, which ensures their majority. This might create more resistance to school budget increases, but the schools always tie budget cuts to programs that many like, not overhead costs. They use democracy to boil the question down to being either for or against the schools.

Voting is nice unless you want "none of the above". If you control the questions, you can control democracy.

You don't want a school to find the best math curriculum for all kids. You want a choice of math curricula, either within a school or with school choice. How many times have you been in a situation where someone wants to vote on somthing that should just be a matter of choice?

Overthrowing dissension is just a way to control the process. They want you to be part of the (their) solution, not part of the (their) problem. Our schools define the setting, conditions, assumptions, and questions to answer, and they hire a facilitator to make sure it happens.

concernedCTparent said...

As for the outcome in Ridgewood, I was disappointed to learn of the outcome. It will be interesting to watch how the situation plays out.

Independent George said...

Wow - talk about convergence...

SteveH said...

"Where is the harm in that?"

No voting necessary, except when parents vote with their feet.

Over all of the years I've been studying K-12 education, I've heard a variety of answers to this question, such as parents will choose the wrong school or supply won't meet demand.

As one parent told me one time, "They are the experts.". I said, "Experts in what?"

Affluent parents get choice. Do schools think these parents are smart enough to choose and poor parents are not? Would they force all kids into public schools if they could? Our schools are high performing so they don't want any child to be able to go to a charter school. (They just really don't want to lose "their" money.)

It's a control and turf issue.

They say that private schools can do more because kids are preselected, but they won't separate kids by ability. In fact, they go in the opposite direction.


Independent George said...

Sowell called it the conflict of visions. The unconstrained (utopian) vision is holds that there is a single, ideal solution which everyone can/should/must! support. The constrained vision holds that everyone's going to have different sets of preferences, and that the ideal solution is one which leaves the most room for individual agents to act on their own behalf, making their own individual exchanges and compromises as needed.

It's not a new idea, it's just one that everyone ignores beacause THIS TIME is an exception since I'm so clearly right, and everyone would agree with me if they just understood the issues a little more, and anyone who still disagrees is obviously being paid off by some corrupt interest group.

Matthew K. Tabor said...

I love the Ridgewood blog - they do an excellent job.

There are 76 comments on the post in which this video clip appeared. 3 of them were mine, with the other 73 coming from someone named "anonymous."

I've pasted my two relevant comments below, because they sum up how I felt about this shameful video.

"It's especially charming how she speaks like a 13 year old teenybopper, ending every sentence on an upnote as if she's asking you a question.

Ms. Goodman, I suggest that next time you throw in, "like," "oh my god," or, as a personal favor to me, "idk my bff Jill." I like that commercial.

And on a more serious note, Goodman appears to embody that timeless dictum of oppressive know-nothings. She, fearless leader, believes in, "Freedom for me, but not for thee.""


"Personally, I didn't say anything to Ms. Goodman Tuesday night because I wasn't there. I don't live in New Jersey, and to be honest, I find 5-hour drives to hear potential school board candidates to be tiring and not worth the gas money.

But it's important to note that all sorts of stakeholders around the country are watching. For better or worse, Ridgewood gets some attention.

I'm guessing, based on some of the recent comments, that I'm in the minority when I expect an adult - whose name is in the hat to become a school board member - not to have to read a prepared statement word for word. Notes? Fine, we're all mortals here, but I've seen 3rd graders read book reports with more attention to their audience than Ms. Goodman gave here.

But the reality is that school leaders [and all leaders, really, from business to political, etc.] are constantly put in situations where they don't have a script - or couldn't read from one even if they had it.

And, really, if you're going to craft a pre-fab script, it's a good idea not to be so dismissive of those you want to represent - and tendentious to boot. Even if those aren't your intentions, it can easily come across that way."

Catherine Johnson said...

oh for pete's sake - OF COURSE it's the tyranny of the majority


I also went back and fixed Ed's observation so as NOT to imply that this woman campaigned on a platform of rehiring the NJ guy...

What none of these people seems to grasp is that a board provides oversight.

That is its job.

Its job is NOT to trust every move made by "the people we hired."

Catherine Johnson said...

I'm having a little too much synchronicity myself....

Independent George --- You're right, absolutely. I make this argument all the time, and it's not one people have a ready answer to. (Or any answer at all.)

I don't think it would be as hard to have two math curricula as you think, though. Schools already do it all the time for SPED versus regular ed kids; high schools do it with tracking.

You could have a Singapore track & a Trailblazers track & let people choose.

Or you could do Saxon & Trailblazers, which would be particularly easy since people choose Saxon for special ed sometimes.

Schools have far more leeway to offer choice and flexibility.

They don't do it not because they can't do it but because they don't want to do it.

Catherine Johnson said...

Nevertheless, it's better just to let people go their separate ways.

You'd have a lot less dissension if you allowed instructivist parents to send their kids to instructivist charter schools.

Catherine Johnson said...

freedom for thee but not for me

I love it!

Doesn't work.

Even if that's what you believe it, it doesn't work.

Catherine Johnson said...

The unconstrained (utopian) vision is holds that there is a single, ideal solution which everyone can/should/must! support.


That is the essence of public schools philosophy.

We have the One True Way that is Family and Community and Everyone Would Be Happy If They Just Understood What We're Doing.

Catherine Johnson said...

Affluent parents get choice.


I'm not so sure about that now

There's a drastic shortage of slots in private schools around here.

Even if you can afford the $30K/yr tuition, the applications run 4/1 at the low end. The Riverdale schools are harder to get into than the Ivies.

My friends in other cities say their private schools are expensive and mediocre to boot.

Anonymous said...

What Private School Choice do I have? A zillion choices, all mediocre.

I've looked at k-8 schools here in the Twin Cities. Speaking just to the private ones, they are nearly all mediocre. None teach any science. NONE. A few of the Catholic ones use Saxon for math, but then when I actually see how it's taught and where they are in it, they aren't making progress, and their teachers aren't giving homework or drilling or something, because the kids are lost. At two of the schools with Saxon for math, their language arts classes require the 3rd graders to read a sentence a day, that's it. No A Beka there.

The top 2 fantastic private schools whose high schools are supposedly best in the state? In one, the kids sit on BOUNCY BALLS in 7th grade math class because some idiot decided that was how to make kids concentrate. In the other, they use TERC. And the PC garbage they teach erodes any curriculum map they supposedly have.

But then we've got a real school choice problem, here in the Twin Cities. We've got a charter school run by a front for the Muslim Brotherhood, a terrorist organization that is really the grandfather of Al Qaeda, and whose stated goals are the overthrow of the US govt and US constitution, and replacement with Sharia Law. But they've threaded the needle perfectly so that they fit the defn of a charter school and all of the Islamic parts are "after" or "before" school supposedly. They don't want their kids to be Americans first and foremost--is that really what we want school choice to mean?

School choice is not a sufficient condition for me to have a school to send my kid to. Even if I start my own school, how many other parents really do want what I want for my kids? 5? 15?

SteveH said...

Choice is no guarantee that a good choice will exist. My son is now back in public school. At least I'm not paying for something only marginally better. We have choice around here, but the cost is high. If the option was free, my son would probably have stayed in the private school. If a free option is available to all parents, public schools would have to be more responsive to parental wishes.

No choice can't be better than choice. In many cases, the problem is that there is not enough choice. Our state sets extreme limitations on charter schools.

Islamic schools don't bother me. I've heard this argument against choice before. They could do the same thing in a homeschool or private school environment. It's a money issue. I'd rather deal with those issues than the issues related to no choice.

In our area, private schools tend to fall into two camps, unschooling and college prep track. The college prep track schools (like the one my son went to) seem to be more interested in image than substance. For those K-8 schools, it's all about providing a track to the fancy academies. Many parents aren't too concerned about the details. They just want to see the list of schools where the 8th grade graduates go. This doesn't mean that they can fake it, but it doesn't mean that you won't find Everyday Math.

However, I'm convinced that over time, choice will provide many more options that meet the needs of individual parents and kids. It beats trying to legislate good public schools.

Anonymous said...

--Islamic schools don't bother me. I've heard this argument against choice before. They could do the same thing in a homeschool or private school environment. It's a money issue. I'd rather deal with those issues than the issues related to no choice.

Your and my tax dollars funding terrorist backing organizations to teach children that Sharia Law should be the law of the land is okay because otherwise, they'd just do it with their own dollars?

That's your position, and you're sticking with it?

How precisely do you deal with "those issues" ?

Should choice be a crowbar? Should choice mean vouchers? should charter schools exist? Should public schools exist at all? I think these are valid questions for debate. The question of what a public school is FOR, fundamentally, hasn't been answered satisfactorily by most of our districts or states.

But if the answer is "the schools are just there so that parents can outsource whatever teaching they want at the public's expense" then we've moved pretty far from the notion of what governments DO. There's no other place where the govt simply funds the public to "do whatever it wants".

Catherine Johnson said...

Well, I suppose this is as good a place as any to say that we're throwing in the towel on public schools.

We're throwing our lot in with the Jesuits, come fall. The Jesuits have a 400-year tradition of excellence in the liberal arts so we're thinking Columbia Teachers College probably hasn't managed to body-snatch them along with everyone else.

We're thinking: the last men standing.

Catherine Johnson said...

Ed ran into a historian he hadn't seen in a while the other day. The guy's youngest child has been diagnosed with autism so they're embroiled in the usual battles royales with the local SPED authorities. (correct spelling?)

Ed told him we're shipping C. out to the Jesuits, and he said, "The Jesuits. They're still doin' it."

Anonymous said...

We're leaning toward the Jesuits, too.


Ben Calvin said...

We just didn't have enough control at the (actually good) San Francisco public school we were admitted to.
At our small parochial school we’ve told the principal our priorities such as adding language instruction, and not putting a priority on “teaching technology” (web-surfing), and seen it reflected in the decisions made.
On my to-do list now the letter on Singapore Math.

Catherine Johnson said...


You had some influence??


Catherine Johnson said...

The top 2 fantastic private schools whose high schools are supposedly best in the state? In one, the kids sit on BOUNCY BALLS in 7th grade math class because some idiot decided that was how to make kids concentrate. In the other, they use TERC. And the PC garbage they teach erodes any curriculum map they supposedly have.

Private schools are, by tradition, progressive.

I'll try to track down the article on that; it's very helpful.'s helpful in the sense that it gives you a historical understanding of why the private school choice isn't quite as choice-like as you'd think.

I don't know if you took a look at the blog being written by the new head of Riverdale Country Day. Pure learning styles and 21st century hoopla.

One of the private schools we applied to actually sent out an expensive glossy booklet with the legend, "Character is more important than intellect" printed all over one of the pages in a very large font.

Catherine Johnson said...

There's no other place where the govt simply funds the public to "do whatever it wants"

Is that true of college loans and grants?

Do we know what kinds of restrictions and oversight are involved there?

I've always had the impression that the government basically hands you a loan and you take it from there.

Ben Calvin said...

You had some influence??

The school is starting classroom Spanish (as a separate subject, not bi-lingual or immersion) next year because we and other parents wanted it.

I would have preferred Latin but I'll take my victories where I find them.

VickyS said...

Those bouncy balls--we've suffered through them!! And in a Twin Cities private school, no less. Always loved watching my tuition dollars spent on important classroom supplies like that.

My son said that concentrating on math (or english--he had them in two classes) while sitting on one of those things is pretty much impossible. But then again there was never much to hold the poor kid's attention anyway.

Thankfully, that's changed, thanks to a charter school that is far superior academically.

SteveH said...

"That's your position, and you're sticking with it?"

Well, the government is doing a poor job of it now and parents don't have many choices? It will be an issue no matter what.

"There's no other place where the govt simply funds the public to 'do whatever it wants'."

Well, they're not doing a good job of it in your example above. Besides, there are never "no strings" with government money, but the strings don't have to mean that ed school graduates decide on the basic assumptions, curricula, and expectations for my son's education. There is a lot that can be done between what is being done now and no strings attached.

VickyS said...

School choice is messy. Some charter schools fail, academically or financially, and kids get hurt. Some, like the Muslim charter school in the Twin Cities, defy the law. But since it is becoming apparent that no real choice can be effected within district public schools, we need a system, warts and all, that allows stakeholders to craft what works for them, i.e., a healthy, unrestricted system of charters, private/parochials, and homeschools.

What happens to the district schools in such as system? They continue to lose enrollment, as is happening in my city. The district schools are so dysfunctional that handwringing about reduced enrollment never translates into changes that actually attract families back; just the opposite, they pump in more of the same and even more families flee.

And don't for moment believe that charter schools get the cream of the crop. They must take all comers, and it is often an extreme financial hardship for them to meet the needs of the special ed population that selects them (zero economies of scale). Yet, many of them succeed, and they give us real choice.

Like Steve, I am happy to fight that rogue religous charter school if it means that other charter schools can take root and flourish.

And if I look around and see no good schools, but I nonetheless have the freedom to start one myself or homeschool until one appears, I prefer this over being forced to choke down what the district schools serve up.

As you can see, I'm with Catherine. Sadly, I've concluded there is simply no way to have any significant input into the machine that runs the district schools.

A friend of mine used to say: "Don't fight; it only makes them stronger." It's time for the end run.

LSquared32 said...

My youngest is in a public charter Montessori academy (K-6), and it is wonderful. Now, I'm lucky, I have a district I'm mostly happy with overall, but you should also know that Montessori is also reliable to do a good job at what it is (and not to change with every new fad). And the math curriculum is great: there's math (arithmetic) and geometry both, with a strong emphasis on mastering fundamental skills.

Anyway, there are good elementary Montessori options out there, it's not just preschool.

Anonymous said...

"Well, I suppose this is as good a place as any to say that we're throwing in the towel on public schools.

We're throwing our lot in with the Jesuits, come fall.

I went to a Jesuit run high school. The education was excellent. Do be a bit wary (and that is all ... no need to panic) of some non-academic propaganda in the 'liberation theology' direction. I had a teacher who believed that fighting the Nazis in WWII was immoral (didn't qualify as a just war, you see. Should have done the Gandhi passive resistance deal). Unless you like a liberation theology tilt, in which case: No Worries!

In any event, I am quite pleased with my HS education.

-Mark Roulo

SteveH said...

The problem I see in our state (which has a moratorium on charter schools) is that charter schools are strictly controlled. They have to pass inspection by the state's public school educational authority. This means, by definition, that you don't get a lot of choice. They will not allow any charter school that they think will attract students who want a more rigorous education.

Around here, charter schools are for kids who can't make it or don't fit in to public schools. Their charters are unusual, to say the least. This doesn't stop the teacher's union from claiming that choice does not solve the problem of education. They point to the charter school test scores. However, you should see the demand to get into the charter schools that do have good numbers. Parents know. They're not dumb.

I've also seen some small changes in our public schools. There is more flexibility. They feel the pressure. (Some of it is from NCLB.) They got rid of CMP. They dealt with scheduling and allowed my son to skip 6th grade Everyday Math. More charter school pressure would only help. My brother-in-law talks about positive changes in their public school due to the pressure of competition.

If real choice were allowed, I would be able to see more school choices here in my own small town. Perhaps they would be oversized homeschooling arrangements. I'm not optimistic about the overhead of federal regulations, but meeting test score minimum cutoffs would not one of them.

However, in our town, I could see our small public schools finally giving in and becoming a resource for the community rather than a dictator. Then, maybe the 20-25 percent of kids who travel long distances to other schools will stay home.

This won't happen without more choice.

DeeHodson said...

I too have my 2 daughters (11 & 9) in a Montessori school - although a private school.
I like the math curriculum through 3rd (Ive been able to understand the strength of the program by reading KTM through the years)- in 4&5 we use the Key to books and 6-8 uses Saxon and Singapore. (Latin starting in 4th also)
I believe that Montessori is quite misunderstood by the public- its a content rich curriculum. I am thrilled.

VickyS said...

Agreed; charter schools can't offer much competition if they are so strictly controlled (in number, operation, or academic approach) that they function as ersatz district schools. You can still have a solid system of accountability (as in my state) without that kind of interference. I'm very thankful it's being done right here.

And, I'm sure you can find some level of real choice (not just windowdressing) within some districts, too. Perhaps it's a function of size--the smaller districts may be more responsive. Our large district is moving in the opposite direction--strict uniformity down to identical daily lesson plans across a 40,000 student district, in order to address the "mobility" issue.

It's interesting that the charters school in your area are mostly for nonperforming kids. Not so here. But it does explain why grandma, who lives in a different state, was very worried when I moved my kids to a charter school!