kitchen table math, the sequel: Reactionary politics at Kitchentablemath?

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Reactionary politics at Kitchentablemath?

In a recent comment on Out In Left Field, someone mentioned having "reactionary politics shoved in my face" here at kitchentablemath.com. As recent examples, the commenter in question cited this and this.

For my part, I've added the commenter's reaction to my growing list of associations between general political ideologies on the one hand, and, on the other hand, specific opinions/observations about the Powers that Be, status quo, and prevailing fashions, in grade school education.

My list also includes Barry Garelick's discussion of how Lynne Cheney's criticisms of Reform Math made democrats not want to touch it; rants at Rational Math Ed; the political branding of Mathematically Correct members and, of course, teacher's unions and the legacy of Progressive Education.

I'd love to write a longer piece about this political branding, because I think it, combined with what seems to me an unprecedented polarization in this country of political "debate," is one of the biggest obstacles to improving public education, I'd hoping at some point to write a longer piece about this.

So, if you have other examples of this, or thoughts about them, please share them here! Along with your thoughts, in particular, about reactionary politics at kitchentablemath.

If I had to guess, I'd guess that many of us here are politically moderate or eclectic, pragmatist, suspicious of big bureaucracies and big government (because of what these have done to education), and sympathetic to free markets (e.g., school choice). As for whether we tend to be hawks or doves, religious or agnostic, pro choice or anti-abortion, or for or against curbside recycling, I doubt that there's much here at ktm on which to base any firm conclusions.

65 comments:

Barry Garelick said...

This has always been of interest to me. If you have the patience and/or the stomach, you might look at the comments (there are 111 of them) generated on a blog in San Francisco about public schools. The topic of Everyday Math came up. I left a comment and a link to the Education Next article that talks about Cheney which you alluded to above. The next comment started in on how I was a "Hoover drone". While Ed Next is published by the Hoover Institution, I don't work for them, and interestingly, the editors with whom I worked on the article were all Democrats. (And as my article discloses, so am I.)

SteveH said...

"political branding"

When I run into one of these people, I don't talk about anything. On the blog-o-sphere, I can't pick and choose, so some try to get away with branding me. Barry knows who I'm talking about in particular. Then again, he brands everyone. It's his argument of last resort. It doesn't work, but it brings any sort of reasonable debate to a crashing halt.

What I see are people who have climbed on one political bus or another. It's all or nothing politics. It's a competition. Some of these people are up on the absolute latest of who is blogging what about whom. All opinions are filtered through a mesh of political thought, and smoke is more important than substance. Each party tries to carve out a position that it can call its own.

It doesn't leave much room open for independent thought about specific subjects. Education is not just education. It's part of some sort of grand political scheme. We all have some philosophical ideas that guide our thoughts and preferences, but many, including modern journalism, thrive on the smoke and the hot buttons.

I would say that KTM is very independent. We have people who don't fit into any neat political category. Many have tried for years to brand Mathematically Correct as right wing. It's really a joke and a way to avoid talking about real issues. Unfortunately, it's something we do have to deal with.

Hopping on a political bus is so easy. You just follow the script and you will always have something to say at cocktail parties. What is hard is doing your homework and defending your position with details. Details are the enemy of politics. It doesn't always happen, but I think that's what we try to do at KTM.

SteveH said...

Yes, I remember that thread well. They often degenerate well before that number of comments.

SteveH said...

Katherine fell down the rabbit hole. I call it the brain research diversionary tactic. Maybe they can do MRI scans of kids from different cultures when they ask them what 2 + 2 equals. That should be a NSF winner. I think the answer is brown.

Of course the real problem is why about 50% of fourth graders don't know how many fourths are in a whole on the NAEP test. This is about competence, not philosophy or culture.


As for the person who referred to KTM as right wing. HA, HA, HA, HA, HA!

TerriW said...

I find this subject very interesting. As I once said to my husband, I never really *planned* on hanging out all the time with conservative Christians (of which I am not), but it turns out that they're the ones that I agree with ... on many (though not all, see: evolution, theory of) educational matters.

I once wondered if this was a Twin Cities "thing," because I sure didn't recall Texas being this way -- with most of the liberal folks being unschoolers and the conservative folk having more structured, classical curriculum. (Though, technically, I suppose it makes sense that a "conservative" in the technical sense of the word -- if not the current political sense -- would be more appreciative of the "old school," classical methods of teaching.)

What ever happened to just being a moderate these days? I'm not interested in throwing in with either "side," really.

Catherine said...

I'm with everyone else thus far - I'm riveted by the topic of education politics (in particular).

What particularly fascinates me is that public education is fantastically bipartisan. I don't know whether there is any subject that crosses party lines more consistently than this one.

There's a great story about Mathematically Correct, back in the day.

(I'm writing from memory - so take this with a grain of salt...)

As I recall, one of the people who founded it established a rule that if you wanted to talk about party politics, you had to leave the room.

The reason for that rule was that members of both parties were always in the room.

Catherine (forgot to sign in)

Catherine said...

This post is relevant: spilt religion.

I've bugged Ed, who is a historian, about whether romanticism is more closely associated with contemporary liberalism than with conservatism.....and I've never gotten anywhere. Either he doesn't know or I don't remember what he said.

Catherine (why don't I go sign in)

Catherine Johnson said...

As I once said to my husband, I never really *planned* on hanging out all the time with conservative Christians (of which I am not), but it turns out that they're the ones that I agree with

I love it!

Nope, me neither - and now I'm glad I do!

I wrote a post about that back at the first ktm: it was about suddenly finding myself part of a Christian homeschooling universe --- and getting the mail AND EAGERLY OPENING IT ALL UP AND BUYING STUFF.

Catherine Johnson said...

And, uh....Ed didn't see himself sending his kid to a Catholic high school, either!

Catherine Johnson said...

One day a while back I was explaining our situation to a man who immigrated from Iran years ago & became a surgeon here in the U.S. He is now in his 70s, I think; he travels the world doing surgery for people who can't afford it.

I was saying that we'd had a bad time with our public school & that we'd ended up in a Jesuit school - then I said I was a Midwestern Methodist & Ed was an East Coast Jew so we were still amazed at this outcome.

He stared at me for a couple of seconds, then burst out, "What a great country!"

Crimson Wife said...

It's been my observation that fans of educational constructivism are almost exclusively bleeding-heart liberals but those opposed to it run the full gamut from liberalism to conservatism.

Conservatives do tend to oppose constructivism- but so do plenty of liberals. My parents are die-hard Democrats but are in favor of teaching phonics, traditional math, and the Great Books.

It's easy to write off opponents' arguments if you are convinced that those arguments are politically motivated.

Kim said...

I do think that personal philosophies play a huge role in the politics a person practices and can seriously influence the type of schooling you believe is imperative. If you are a person whose philosophy believes that we all have to go along to get along and that everyone does and should depend on others, you are more likely to be a Democrat and you may be more likely to favor group work and cooperative exercises that emphasize communication, compromise, and interdependence.

If you are an individualist who believes that education's highest purpose is to train independent thinkers, then you are more likely to be a conservative and support independent work and results.

Which also means that someone who would want a fully independent person who is trained through education to think well could also support a Democrat's agenda. Though I would bet that children who are educated to rely on others frequently may never be comfortable being independent.

Interesting line of thought. I do believe it is entirely likely that there are deep-rooted personal beliefs that would lead a person to be liberal and support progressive education. After all, Dewey's progressive education and personal philosophy has similar roots to the other philosophies that lead to liberal thinking.

VickyS said...

I'll admit that my six years of studying education and curriculum, from the perspective of a parent, have made me more conservative, perhaps because, like Terri and Catherine, the conservatives are the ones I was surprised to find myself aligning with on educational issues and it's rubbing off!

But ED Hirsch (a democrat for sure; a socialist, even?) makes a great case that if liberals really want to empower the underpriviliged, they need to offer them a solid, content-rich education. So conservative or liberal, we are on the same side when it comes to education.

SteveH said...

Is it legal to be a Core Knowledge Democrat? Actually, that should be the norm. The parental support needed to make a progressive education even have a chance of working is just not available to those they most hope to support. It must leave conservatives shaking their heads.

While progressives are fighting for some vague ideal of public schools, inner city parents are fighting for KIPP and Green Dot schools. It's easy to deny rich people their vouchers, but when the demand comes from the other end, there is a crisis in fundamental assumptions. It's hard to let go. In fact, it's quite something to see the mental machinations being used to deny choice.

Catherine Johnson said...

I'm laughing - I hadn't read this thread, but had just written an email to a friend saying I would have been happy with speech by President Obama if Core Knowledge had written the study guides.

Catherine Johnson said...

Conservatives do tend to oppose constructivism- but so do plenty of liberals. My parents are die-hard Democrats but are in favor of teaching phonics, traditional math, and the Great Books.

That is EXACTLY right.

Ed is a left-liberal; he began life as a socialist.

A couple of years ago he told a friend of ours, "I'm as conservative on education as I am liberal on everything else."

Most of the time your basic, 'everyday,' real-world liberal - I speak from experience - has no idea this stuff even exists.

I didn't.

SteveH said...

"I'm as conservative on education as I am liberal on everything else."


I wouldn't call it more conservative (speaking for myself). I would call it more pragmatic and less political. It seems to me that politics are for those who haven't studied (or don't care to study) an issue. My liberal leanings lead me to support full health care. I suspect that if I studied that issue like I studied education, my views would become less political and more pragmatic.

Allison said...

I've been avoiding writing a response to Pres. Obama's speech because KTM didn't need the branding of being part of the VRWC. But now that we're already the center for reactionary politics posing as an education blog, why, I might as well!

SteveH said...

It's quite different if one's politics derive from the facts or if the facts derive from one's politics. There is also a difference if one's argument is with specific players or with specific policy.


I loved Allison's comment from another thread:

"See, if kids just set more GOALS for themselves, they would graduate. They need to try harder! Try smarter! Plan effectively! The idea that they drop out because they've not been taught to read, do fractions, or write a grammatically correct sentence is not in the consciousness here."


Actually, this sounds quite caring and liberal to me.

Linda Seebach said...

Thomas Sowell has a great book, "A Conflict of Visions," exploring why people tend to fall into the same blocs on many completely unrelated topics. One bloc holds that human potential is entirely unconstrained, we can do anything as a society if we only set our minds to it and have goo institutions and dedicated leaders. The other believes that human nature is stubborn stuff -- crooked timber -- and if we don't take that into account our institutions will fail.

It was written long enough ago that I think it does not mention any possible genetic influences on which bloc intuitively appeals to you.

Katharine Beals said...

Wow-thanks for all these responses! I have several specific follow-up questions that I'll post one at a time.

Katharine Beals said...

Barry, Thanks for your links. (I tried, but failed, to link directly to your Ed Next article in my post). I read through all 111 comments in the SF thread!

My question: re the "Hoover drone" issue, might the reason why your piece appears in Ed Next rather than somewhere else have something to do with the very political polarization we're talking about? That is, I'm curious whether more liberal outlets are willing to publish pieces like yours.

Katharine Beals said...

VickyS, do you have any source on ED Hirsch's politics? I didn't know he was on record as being a democrat, and it very much intrigues me that he might be a socialist.

Katharine Beals said...

Catherine, I'd love to read your old ktm post about the Christian homeschooling universe. Do you have a link? Re BUYING STUFF, what stuff did you buy???

Anonymous said...

Katherine,
Here's an interview with ED Hirsch.
http://www.educationsector.org/analysis/analysis_show.htm?doc_id=404833

Excerpt:
"Politics

ES: What are your politics?

EH: I've never voted Republican. I've always voted Democrat. And actually I've always thought of myself—though I've changed somewhat in this—as a quasi-socialist, and a sense of social justice is my chief animating emotion. I don't like great inequalities in the social landscape. I'm egalitarian, I guess. And that's what motivated me from an ideological sense, but it had nothing to do with the character of the technical analysis, which I have to say has never been challenged.

ES: You have been labeled a conservative. Has that served to marginalize some of your ideas?

EH: Yes. Conservative and traditional are terms that are death in the educationist world. And it's been that way since the early teens of the last century; the dominant view has been against traditionalism and against content. We mustn't forget that the dominant view in American education is an anti-content view in the sense that it's against having content that is set out in advance to be delivered to the student. This has become the dominant line in education, so the real reason I'm labeled conservative and traditional in economic spheres is that I'm going against that line in the education sphere. And if that line of view had been correct—if it had been technically right, if it had worked and been consistent with social justice—that would have been fine with me. The problem is it's technically incorrect as an account of reading and of what we need to do to get students to read proficiently. So the accusation that I'm traditionalist or conservative is irrelevant. The reality of communication is that the unsaid is just as active in communication as the said. So, we have to give these kids the unsaid, that's the long and short of it, and if you don't, they won't be able to communicate and they won't be able to learn.

Democrats basically didn't talk to me because they assumed I was a Republican, which is not true. But that, to me, was the most disappointing aspect of the whole adventure—the knee-jerk politicizing of what are, in my view, intellectual and technical questions. Is phonics the right way to teach reading? That's not a Republican versus Democrat question; it's a question of how do you learn how to sound out best, and, in this case, how do you overcome the achievement gap between demographic groups?"

Anonymous said...

Katherine,

Check out the Well-Trained Mind homeschooling site.

The Well-Trained MInd is one of the most popular books for guiding the homeschooler in the classical tradition. Both authors homeschooled from a Christian point of view.

SusanS

Allison said...

Katharine,

I know we speak about how polarized things are now, but I really don't think it's unprecedented in the history of the nation. Our lifetimes are short, and our memories shorter. Things were quite polarized in 1968, all modern Baby Boomer revisionist history to the contrary. Things were definitely polarized under Wilson and into the 20s. They were quite polarized about slavery, polarized about the Civil War, polarized about reconstruction. Even just considering the history of public education in this country, the debate about whether or not public funds should be used for parochial schools has been around since before the Civil War (and was one of the major issues in the state of New York at that time.)

I'd say that the difference now isn't the conflict of visions. It's the sentiment that we've current got the worst political and governing class our country has ever seen, with a level of corruption and ineffectiveness so high that we don't trust nearly any of stakeholders in the public education to actually be capable of taking actions that are in the best interests of the students.

Barry Garelick said...

Katharine:

You asked: might the reason why your piece appears in Ed Next rather than somewhere else have something to do with the very political polarization we're talking about? That is, I'm curious whether more liberal outlets are willing to publish pieces like yours.

Good question. At the time I was seeking a home for the article, I had some discussions with various "math warriors" who advised me against submitting it to American Enterprise Institute (AEI) which I was considering. The reason being that any article in AEI will be dismissed by liberals and we're trying to reach the liberals. I eventually settled on Ed Next which has some ties to AEI through Rick Hess who writes for both publications. And interestingly, a friend of mine who when he found out where it was going to be published, started brow-beating me and saying "Well, I guess if that's your only venue."

After he read the article, he was a bit embarrassed by his comment, but that's beside the point. The fact is, he was right. There aren't many venues that are willing to publish the point of view I expressed in that article and continue to express in what I write.

Ed Week is certainly not likely to publish things like that, and although I have a good rapport with Sean Cavanagh of that publication, he continues with his fuzzy bias.

Jay Mathews of the Washington Post has not been as sympathetic to the math wars as one might think he would be. Though he has at times criticized Everyday Math, and talked about Saxon Math, he has told me that the math wars don't make for interesting reading for his readership. He characterizes the math wars as two groups of smart people calling each other names. He continues to promote the fiction (my term, but I'll stand by it should be he reading this, and I welcome any comment from him on this) that the constructivist philosophy promoted by "the progressives" is not practiced in public schools--this despite many letters from KTM folk to him with evidence to the contrary. In a recent review of E.D. Hirsch's latest book, Jay Mathews writes:

Unfortunately, Hirsch's work has been distorted and his views vilified by the education school professorate, who see him as an Orwellian Minister of Truth, drilling Americanisms into tender young brains. But Hirsch is guilty of distorting his opponents' influence, too. There is little credible evidence, for instance, that the progressive admirers of educational philosopher John Dewey, who think each child's personal perspective trumps the old classics, ever had much effect on what has been taught in real classrooms. Hirsch says the decline of SAT scores in the 1960s and '70s shows the harm done by Prof. Dewey's minions, but he fails to explain why we should make much of old results from an unrepresentative test. He blames the progressives' abandonment of a definite academic curriculum for leaving American teenage test scores behind most of the developed world. But he says little about our 9--year-olds doing quite well in international tests. Stanford education historian David F. Labaree's conclusion that public schools have largely shunned Dewey's ideas and methods as impractical and irrelevant comes much closer to what I have seen in 58 years as a public school student, parent and reporter.

I won't get into the intricacies of how TIMSS scores are reported, but this paragraph raises many questions. He relies on Labaree's work about ed schools, which pooh poohs the idea that the ed school dogma is followed seriously anywhere. I also question why Jay refers to the SAT as an unrepresentative test, but he tends toward the Gerald Bracey view of testing. (The review is here if you wish to read it.)

Congratulations on reading all 111 comments by the way. I didn't think enough Dramamine existed to get anyone through that.

Katharine Beals said...

Anonymous, thanks so much for the ED Hirsch excerpt--I'm going to hang on to that. And SusanS, thanks for the Well Trained Mind suggestion-- I now have the book on my reading list. Curious to see how the Christian perspective manifests itself.

Katharine Beals said...

Allison, It seems to me that both political polarization and political corruption have been around since the dawn of politics. Your post suggests that something like the current state of polarization is precedented, but that the current state of corruption is unprecedented. I'm curious where you get this sense. My own impression is that the political polarization of math education has reached unprecedented heights, and that--for example-- during earlier math wars it wasn't so hard to publish essays defending traditional math in nonconservative venues.

Katharine Beals said...

Barry, thanks for sharing your publication story. I'm curious whether you tried any 100% non-conservative venues, or figured it wasn't worth it. My own soon-to-be-released book has faced related obstacles. It was originally predominantly a critique of current practices in grade school academics--specifically those that de-emphasized the logical, analytical components (where my shorthand term "left-brain" originated). I was only able to secure a publishing contract after reducing those sections to a fraction of what they once were, and restricting my criticisms mostly to how current practices shortchange "left-brain" children (and spending a lot more time on parenting advice than I had wanted to). While I do believe that current practices especially shortchange those who are less social, less visually artistic, and more analytical, I also believe that all children end up learning less. However, while I regret having had to make these changes, I think they will allow me to reach a broader political spectrum of parents and educators, and ultimately allow me to write the more education-focused book I had originally intended.

Anonymous said...

Katharine,
We are secular evolution teaching counter-cultural homeschoolers using the Well Trained Mind classical approach. WTM is written for a broad audience and is very easy for non-Christians to use. Aside from some Christian currricula recommendations and a small section on teaching religion in your homeschool, there's not much of a Christian bias at all. I know many secular homeschoolers that use Christian curricula, because sometimes it's the best choice. For example, we used Rod and Staff grammar texts until I found Hake Grammar, which I now prefer.

Barry Garelick said...

Katharine,

I responded to your question via email since the answer was getting kind of long.

vlorbik said...

can i have a cc?

vlorbik AT
insight DOT
rr.com

Doug Sundseth said...

Why does anybody care what label E.D. Hirsch puts on his political views? Are the views more persuasive if his name is followed by a (D) or a (Soc)?

If you find that his affiliations make his arguments more persuasive, I commend your attention to the Circumstantial Ad Hominem Fallacy.

Allison said...

--Your post suggests that something like the current state of polarization is precedented, but that the current state of corruption is unprecedented. I'm curious where you get this sense.

I was speaking of this country. We've never had a worse political class because never before has our political class had so much power to wield, so even if Chicago or Baltimore politics are no more corrupt than they used to be, they and their ilk and the feds have more money and more power over our lives than ever before. It may not be unprecendented compared to other cultures, but it is compared to the history of this country. (If you meant why do I think that, I could start with Barney Frank, Henry Waxman, Jamie Gorelick, Pelosi and her husband's business dealings, ACORN, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, corporate bailouts, Government Motors, Madoff, Allen Stanford's own congressional caucus, Tony Rezko, Timmy Geithner, etc. etc. etc.) Look at the collapse of San Diego. The local govt and the unions made deals that were egregiously bad and were obviously going to collapse the city, but didn't care, because they'd have gotten theirs by then. The schools were devastated by it.

Limiting the discussion to education, the simple fact was that the feds had nothing whatsoever to do with education, so no matter how corrupt Tammany Hall was, no matter how incompetent school boards were, they just didn't have the power they have now to create entire subsectors of education industries whose incentives are perverse.

--My own impression is that the political polarization of math education has reached unprecedented heights, and that--for example-- during earlier math wars it wasn't so hard to publish essays defending traditional math in nonconservative venues.

re: math education per se, I think you are probably right, but I guess I can't separate the control that the academe has over the educational world has anything but a corruption in the first place.

Look, fundamentally, I believe that one side has been winning the battle for two generations now, and that side doesn't want our kids to be free and independent. There's a battle going on, and we're losing that battle. The battle is for control of our children, and for our children to have control over themselves. For me, what I see is fundamentally that we're on a Road to Serfdom, and K-12 education is where they paved that road.

So if you ask me why is the polarization in math ed so terrible, it's because they've been winning, and now they hope to slaughter the remnants of the soldiers who were fighting before they regroup.

Hainish said...

Steve H., I'm a Core Knowledge Democrat. Actually, I've at times referred to myself as a Hirschian. Not out loud though, as I'm currently enrolled in an ed school. (You won't tell, will you?)

I really think that many liberals are on the wrong side of this issue, which is why I tend to pick up on things that might turn liberals off. OTOH, I also think the Dems dropped it big time when they avoided going after fuzzy math (because Lynn Cheney had taken it up, and they didn't want the association).

What was that comment someone once made about the real reason Republicans don't support stem cell research? Oh yes: it's because they're afraid the Democrats will grow little spines in Petrie dishes.

TerriW said...

Catherine, I'd love to read your old ktm post about the Christian homeschooling universe. Do you have a link? Re BUYING STUFF, what stuff did you buy???

Katharine:

I can't speak for the other Catherine, but I can tell you my experience with this.

For instance: I am a Catholic married to an atheist. We are enthusiastic users of Sonlight, which is an Evangelical Protestant company -- YE Creationist, to boot. And, you know, it really just isn't that big of a deal. I've caught some flak from more strident friends about this, and it seems like a lot of folks have a "one drop"-style policy about their associations with certain groups, people, companies, what-have-you.

What can I say? Years ago, that could have been me freaking out about THE_BAD_OTHERNESS.

But I've spent the last 5 years or so researching homeschooling options, educational philosophies, etc, etc, and I've spent much time around actual, living, breathing conservative Christians, YE Creationists and other typical bogeymen that just don't scare me or freak me out anymore, even though my beliefs are still at odds with theirs.

I guess what I'm saying is that I end up having quite a bit of materials in my home that I end up having to do a little bit of judicious editing-on-the-fly when I use them. Much like I suppose YEC do when they use secular materials. Or a modern parent would when reading aloud (or downright skipping) the black-face minstrel scene in the Little House series.

*** Back to the original thought for a moment: How totally awesome must a Young Earth Creationist company's product be for my atheist husband to be an enthusiastic customer? Sonlight has been that good for us. But we never would have given it a chance if we used the one-drop rule to make our educational choices. ****

SteveH said...

"...to the Circumstantial Ad Hominem Fallacy."

Is it more effective to argue the fallacy or point to this rule? How about both? In the real world, people listen to celebrities. (although Hirsch is so much more than a mere celebrity) I suppose this means that if you have to argue the fallacy, you've already lost. Hirsch's arguments can stand by themselves, even if his name was John Dewey.

Allison said...

--"Is phonics the right way to teach reading? That's not a Republican versus Democrat question; it's a question of how do you learn how to sound out best, and, in this case, how do you overcome the achievement gap between demographic groups?"

Funny that Hirsch can't help himself, though. He doesn't see how "the right way to teach reading" is a Rep vs Dem question, yet he immediately says that that's essentially the same a question of "how do you overcome the achievement gap"?

Which is ABSOLUTELY a conservative vs liberal question, and as phrased, is a markedly liberal one.

But of course, so is the first question. Because the first question had a goal which was not to teach reading, but had reading as a means to an end. In Hirsch's case, the goal is to close the achievement gap. But the Left can have other goals too. He seems to make the same mistake Camille Paglia makes.

http://pajamasmedia.com/richardfernandez/2009/09/09/run-away-run-run-run-away/

SteveH said...

"how do you overcome the achievement gap"?

Yes, this is a political question. The gap is an effect, not a problem to be solved directly. Some attempts to solve it directly are a form of NCGA - No Child Gets Ahead.

However, it's difficult to be involved in the debate without dealing with fallacies and political arguing points. I would love to move the dialog from relative academic gap to absolute international standards. I would also love to change the discussion from treating kids as poverty statistics to individual educational opportunities. But then we have to deal (once again) with arguments about things like 21st century learning.


I want the discussion to get to the real issues and move faster. Actually, I don't want discussion, I want choice so that individuals can move faster, both those who want to set up new schools and those who want to send their kids to those schools. Discussion assumes that there will be or can be some sort of consensus. It assumes that someone else will determine what's best for your child. Many seem quite willing to accept this role. Unfortunately, the goal is often about poverty (low expectations) rather than education (high expectations).

PhysicistDave said...

Katherine,

I’m an atheist, I want to take “under God” out of the Pledge, I opposed the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan from the beginning, I’m moderately “pro-choice” on abortion, and I favor legalization of drugs, prostitution, etc.

So, I’m obviously “far-left liberal,” right?

Well… I’m also, to use your words, “suspicious of big bureaucracies” and “sympathetic to free markets.”

And, in the eyes of many liberals, that puts me in the fever swamps of the far Right.

On the other hand, quite a few Christian conservatives are willing to tolerate my disagreement with them on religion and on some social and foreign-policy issues.

Cool.

If the liberals don’t want me to hang with them because I actually know some economics, and many Christian conservatives decide that I’m all right, if a bit eccentric, that means that I am going to end up with a lot of friends who are Christian conservatives and not too many friends who are secular liberals.

Not much I can do about that.

Dave Miller in Sacramento

PhysicistDave said...

Allison wrote:

>I was speaking of this country. We've never had a worse political class because never before has our political class had so much power to wield, so even if Chicago or Baltimore politics are no more corrupt than they used to be, they and their ilk and the feds have more money and more power over our lives than ever before.

And, that sort of statement will get you labeled a frothing-at-the-mouth right-winger!

Of course, your statement is also a straightforward application of economic analysis to politics, not to mention rather obvious from a common-sense viewpoint.

But, tell the truth about politics, and you’ll be labeled a “wingnut.”

C’est la vie.

Dave

Anonymous said...

Hey PhysicistDave,

You actually sound like a libertarian to me. They drive everyone crazy at some point.:)

SusanS

PhysicistDave said...

SusanS wrote to me:
>You actually sound like a libertarian to me.

Well… a few years ago, I knew a fellow who was running for State Assembly as a Libertarian. He went around telling everyone that, while Republicans and Democrats always broke their promises, everyone could trust Libertarians to be incorruptible and hold fast to their principles. When I replied that “power corrupts” and that Libertarians, if they ever got power, might be corrupted just as the Dems and GOP had been, he was outraged.

So, I think I may have a lot less faith in politics than some libertarians do.

Also, a fair number of libertarians (I’m thinking for example of the Cato Institute) come up with complicated “market-oriented” approaches that are, I suspect, rather too clever by half, and really just attempts to put band-aids on existing government programs. I suspect, for example that this may be true of school vouchers, which could lead, I fear, to greater regulation of private schools (I know this is a complex subject, and that education is now in such a bad state that even a short-term benefit from vouchers might be worth it).

I’m content now to label myself a “Thoreauist”: i.e., as being in substantial agreement with the political views of his “Essay on Civil Disobedience.”
> I heartily accept the motto, "That government is best which governs least"; and I should like to see it acted up to more rapidly and systematically. Carried out, it finally amounts to this, which also I believe--"That government is best which governs not at all"; and when men are prepared for it, that will be the kind of government which they will have.

A country usually gets the government it deserves. Since an awful lot of Americans, at present, are unwilling to take responsibility for their own families and their own children, our political system is inevitably going to reflect that.

And, to return to Katharine Beals’ original post, I think one reason this blog may bug a lot of liberals is that its implicit message is that people can and should take responsibility for themselves and their kids.

There is an implicit political overtone to that, even if not stated explicitly, that some people will not like.

Personally, I think the long-term future of our society may be more affected by activities such as this blog than by who wins the next election.

And that makes me rather cheerful.

Dave

Katharine Beals said...

What a fascinating thread (if I do say so myself). I'd love to do something with all this material. I'm especially tickled by TerriW's observations about her atheist husband's enthusiasm for YE Creationist educational materials, and by PhysicistDave's suggestion that Christian conservatives are more tolerant of his atheism and social liberalism than liberals are of his libertarianism. (I do think Dave's beliefs are quintessentially libertarian, *especially* since he reports having less faith in politics than some libertarians have!)

As far as political tolerance goes, I suspect that whoever is in the local political minority--whether in the neighborhood or at the workplace--ends up being more tolerant, and having more thoughtful, thought-out beliefs, than those whose beliefs align with the local majority.

PhysicistDave said...

Katharine Beals wrote:
> I do think Dave's beliefs are quintessentially libertarian, *especially* since he reports having less faith in politics than some libertarians have!

Perhaps, Katharine, I have run into too many “libertarians” whose views do not meet your standards of being “quintessentially libertarian”!

Seriously, I don’t object to being labeled “libertarian” as long as the person labeling me recognizes that I am not a member of the Libertarian Party and that I do not necessarily agree with any “official” libertarian views. I think a number of the people here, and a rather large number of Netizens in general, probably count as “libertarian” in some sense.

Katharine also wrote:
> As far as political tolerance goes, I suspect that whoever is in the local political minority--whether in the neighborhood or at the workplace--ends up being more tolerant, and having more thoughtful, thought-out beliefs, than those whose beliefs align with the local majority.

Yes, I think that is true. Liberals still tend to view themselves as the natural ruling group in this country – especially since they won the last election. Conservatives, especially Christian conservatives, tend to view themselves as a minority group: this is especially so out here in California where I live. The situation might be different in, say, the Deep South (I’ve heard from Web acquaintances who live down South that it is indeed different down there).

I think there is also an interesting cultural correlation. People who adhere to the “old-time religion” are also likely to have persoanlities that incline them to hold to old traditions on other matters also.

I don’t have that much of a fondness for traditions per se myself, but, sometimes, the old way of doing things just does happen to be superior if judged by some objective standard.

We’re of course seeing this in the “math wars.” I don’t think the way our grandparents was taught math was anywhere near optimal, but there are in fact some very good technical reasons for learning the “traditional algorithms” for arithmetic (e.g., those algorithms transfer to algorithms used with polynomials in algebra). As everyone here knows, a lot of the university mathematicians rallied to the right side in the “math wars” out here in California. I’d guess that quite a few of them were Democrats, but they also knew that “fuzzy math” was not a good idea because of their professional knowledge.

More generally, a lot of us who are interested in history and economics think that there is something to be said for the old “Puritan ethic” in a functional sense, even though we have no religious sympathy for the Puritans.

So, again, we find ourselves on the same side of the fence as many conservative Christians, even though our reasons for being in that position may differ from theirs.

Dave

SteveH said...

"I am not a member of the Libertarian Party"

Many of us do not like to be pigeonholed politically. We prefer that people listen carefully to what we say. (Hopefully, it's something worth listening to.) Actually, I'm not sure why anyone would identify themselves as a Democrat, Republican, Libertarian, or anything else. Others love to do that to me, but I like to keep them guessing.


"As everyone here knows, a lot of the university mathematicians rallied to the right side in the 'math wars' out here in California."

That's where they were pigeonholed. There are many things I don't like about my "traditional" math education, but the changes were going in the wrong direction. The argument has little to do with any particular algorithm, but educators push this deliberately to control the discussion.

The only real "tradition" involved is a bottom-up or skills approach (hard work, high expectatios), rather than a top-down, real-world, in-class, group approach (fun, motivational, low expectations) to learning basic skills. With all of the pigeonholing and extraneous arguments, the discussion never gets to the details of what basic skills and what level of mastery are required.

Everybody wants skills, but nobody explains what that really means. Everybody wants balance, but nobody discusses the details. Those in control argue with generalities, but then control all of the details. This is a classic parent open house technique used at schools.


If the discussion is ever allowed to get to the details, everyone will clearly see that this is not about a different approach to the same goal. Talk of discovery and understanding hide the fact that the goals are different and expectations lowered.

Party affiliation is a control thing. It can work both ways; you can try to control others, or they can try to control you. I would say that the Libertarian Party is an oxymoron. They can't have it both ways.


"Personally, I think the long-term future of our society may be more affected by activities such as this blog than by who wins the next election."

We can only hope that the egalitarian access and the pace of internet discussions will reduce the power of party politics (and others who wish to control the debate)and increase the focus on details and individual issues. Actually, there is one thing I call myself; an optimist.

SteveH said...

"I am not a member of the Libertarian Party"

By the way, isn't this what Catherine calls "little 'l' libertarian"? Isn't that the only type of libertarian you can be?

I remember the bad name H. Ross Perot gave to "Independents". Now, it has to be called "unaffiliated". That's what we do in our state; we affilate, vote in a primary, and then we sign a form when we leave the polling place to unaffiliate.

Crimson Wife said...

I've not particularly liberal (usually come out at the intersection of moderate, conservative & libertarian on most tests of political ideology) but I'm embarrassed by how large a gap we have between racial/ethnic groups and SES classes.

Some of the gap is due to cultural factors but a lot of it is due to the typically atrocious schools many poor and/or minority kids attend. Jonathan Kozol may have the wrong solution (I don't believe it's a question of money) but he is absolutely correct about there being a "savage inequality" in American education. Upper-middle-class and affluent parents can "afterschool" or pull our kids out of lousy government-run schools, but for various reasons low-income parents often lack the ability to do so.

Anonymous said...

Oh, I think many more could afterschool if they wanted to.

I've talked to many parents who are concerned, annoyed, and even angry, and still don't really do much about it. I think there are a number of reasons why they don't.

I do think that most parents start off intimidated by the schools and the rhetoric they use. Probably the higher your education level, the more likely you are to smell a rat curriculum-wise.

But, I know plenty of parents who stood by and watched until it was really too late to do anything. At that point their kids were more than likely tracked down.

These are the same parents who often mention to me that they think high school should be "fun" and that kids "work too hard." Well, I want it to be fun, too, but I also want it to lead somewhere.

Whatever. To each his own.

Really, the internet has been a complete game changer in this regard. You can practically be your own Kumon franchise with what's out there.

SusanS

Barry Garelick said...

My father was a liberal and progressive from the 30's and held on in many ways to the old style of thinking. When my article on math was published in Education Next he was tickled pink that I had "broken through" and got my thoughts published in something published by the Hoover Institution, which he of course pigeon-holed. He didn't realize that the arguments I made in my article were in line with conservative thought. He thought my arguments made sense, and sounded liberal to him.

I didn't have the heart to break it to him.

Crimson Wife said...

How does someone "afterschool" if he/she is working 2 or 3 minimum wage jobs and is barely literate & numerate? Maybe he/she is a dropout or maybe he/she holds a diploma that's not even worth the piece of paper it's written on. Kumon? Where's a low-income family just scraping by going to come up with $1320/year for that?

Anonymous said...

Crimson Wife,

That isn't exactly "middle class" now, is it? Of course, I wasn't taking about a situation like that. You used the words "upper middle class" and "affluent."

Please.

SusanS

PhysicistDave said...

SteveH wrote to me:
> Many of us do not like to be pigeonholed politically. We prefer that people listen carefully to what we say.

In all honesty, I am not really too worried about Katharine or SusanS unfairly pigeonholing me – they both strike me as pretty fair people, and, indeed, as people with whom I have some common perspectives.

I did just want to make clear the difference between Libertarian Party members, “small l” libertarians, etc. It sounds as if most people here may already grasp those distinctions.

Being a physicist, I have a tendency when I post to come across as saying “Now I will tell you the truth…” when what I really mean to communicate is “What you said was pretty cool and I’d like to add in support of what you said…” I’m afraid this is a bit of an occupational hazard for us physicists (and perhaps for mathematicians, too)!

What is interesting here is Katharine’s initial point about the assumed correlation between educational views and religious and political views. That assumption certainly does exist, and it does not seem to make much sense. We have a friend who assumed we are fundamentalists (we homeschool, we don’t drink alcohol) and was rather surprised to find out we are not religious believers at all (she was not bothered, just surprised). Of course, this is California, where we all come to expect interesting choices of personal lifestyle.

Dave

Crimson Wife said...

SusanS-
If you had actually bothered to read my comment, you would've seen I was talking about low-income families.

"Upper-middle-class and affluent parents can "afterschool" or pull our kids out of lousy government-run schools, but for various reasons low-income parents often lack the ability to do so."

And you dismissed that by claiming that those families could afterschool if they really wanted to.

Allison said...

Dave said
--Also, a fair number of libertarians (I’m thinking for example of the Cato Institute) come up with complicated “market-oriented” approaches that are, I suspect, rather too clever by half, and really just attempts to put band-aids on existing government programs. I suspect, for example that this may be true of school vouchers, which could lead, I fear, to greater regulation of private schools (I know this is a complex subject, and that education is now in such a bad state that even a short-term benefit from vouchers might be worth it).

At least 2 of us here agree with you; both VickyS and I have come to this same conclusion, that vouchers are a way to destroy what's left of private education in America, and any political party should be very wary of advocating for vouchers when there's abolutely no way to stop them from inevitably having strings attached. Just imagine a president saying "We'll create federal education vouchers good at any school that teaches social justice" or "that uses our national standards approve curricula of Everyday Math and Balanced Literacy" or even the states saying "you can only have vouchers to schools that teach nondiscriminatory sx ed without opt-out clauses, ala California" (see http://www.alamedasun.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=5633&Itemid=10 for more details.)

I would not vote against someone giving DC vouchers, but economically, vouchers mean no private school that costs less than the current voucher will survive at all as a private school, and unless a school costs more than that district's current per pupil expenditure, it probably can't survive.

The real problem is how clever-by-half vouchers are. "vouchers mean the money follows the child!" is the claim. Funny! The simplest way to have the money follow the child is for the CHILD (through certain intermediaries) TO PAY THEMSELVES, not to wash that money in a government. Because it's not the child's money, it's the governments, and the schools will do the govt's bidding, not the parents'. So you want the money to follow the kid? Let the parents keep more of their own money, and get rid of the govt schools. That won't be happening any time soon.

--I’m content now to label myself a “Thoreauist”: i.e., as being in substantial agreement with the political views of his “Essay on Civil Disobedience.”
> I heartily accept the motto, "That government is best which governs least"; and I should like to see it acted up to more rapidly and systematically. Carried out, it finally amounts to this, which also I believe--"That government is best which governs not at all"; and when men are prepared for it, that will be the kind of government which they will have.


Two notes: first, the word is subsidiarity. People need to use this word more often! Everywhere! start the meme! Subsidiarity!

Second, do you have young kids? there are some adorable picture books by D.B. Johnson about Thoreau, drawn in a cubist style with Thoreau as a bear. One is about him building his cabin; one is about a nature walk, one is about a daydream while in prison; one is about a comparison of how he and a friend get to Fitchburg for the day. The last is my favorite, because although Thoreau is convinced he took the better path, my son can make a convincing case that his friend did as well, and in that, I get to teach the value of working for money! yay!

--A country usually gets the government it deserves. Since an awful lot of Americans, at present, are unwilling to take responsibility for their own families and their own children, our political system is inevitably going to reflect that.

This is why I think we're doomed. Oh well, 250 years of empire for the English Speaking Peoples was quite a run. We can't really expect longer than that can we? And maybe with luck India will step up next, so it can last a bit longer. The other options aren't so cheerful.

SteveH said...

"So you want the money to follow the kid? Let the parents keep more of their own money, and get rid of the govt schools. That won't be happening any time soon."

So what happens now? We've been through this a couple of times before. The problem of strings has never been defined or justified.

PhysicistDave said...

Allison,

Yeah, you’ve summarized my concerns nicely. I’m not “anti”-voucher in the sense that I have any sort of heart-felt opposition to vouchers. I can certainly see how they would help in the short-term and intermediate-term. And, as a simple matter of justice, parents should have some choice.

But, in the long-term, vouchers really might make things worse.

Incidentally, I hope it is clear that I am not accusing either the Cato Institute or voucher advocates in general of being ill-intentioned. It’s just that I am starting to think that they are looking at half-way solutions that may not really help long-term.

In the end, people have to change how they think and how they choose to behave. Changing “hearts and minds” is a long-term project, but such changes do occur. It’s already happening – I think there is a lot more percolating up from the grass-roots than is generally realized.

You wrote:
> This is why I think we're doomed. Oh well, 250 years of empire for the English Speaking Peoples was quite a run. We can't really expect longer than that can we? And maybe with luck India will step up next, so it can last a bit longer. The other options aren't so cheerful.

I know the feeling. I married into a family of Chinese immigrants, and my kids and I are studying Mandarin. Asia will inevitably be more important in this century than it was in the last century.

On the other hand, there are still enormous strengths in this country. Where Asia is succeeding, it is largely by imitating the America of a few generations ago – my wife’s family reminds me a lot of the old Puritans, and, indeed, of my own great-grandmother, who was born in 1883 (I knew her well, since she only passed away when I was in college). My wife’s cousin’s daughter, who was born in Communist China and who came to the States when she was seven, has an intense interest in ancient Greece. In general, the East Asians and South Asians we know have more interest in the great achievements of Western Civilization (not just science and math, but also, e.g., classical music) than most Americans do.

America can still build upon its strengths. The future is still undecided.

Dave

Anonymous said...

Crimson Wife,

By suggesting that only the "affluent" afterschool, you implied to me that everyone else had a problem, so perhaps I should have clarified that I meant people who aren't desperate and living hand to mouth.

Your snarky tone notwithstanding, I would still argue that many low income parents do have more ability and power than you give them credit.

But, yes we can agree that those living in desperate situations, or who are illiterate or innumerate, are probably unable to help their kids. I didn't realize that I'd have to state that clearly.

SusanS

Allison said...

--The problem of strings has never been defined or justified.


Actually, Steve, I did define it above. But I think this is a question my politics inform my view, and I think we've reached a point where people pro-vouchers need to show sufficient reason why that won't mean governmental intrusion, not the other way around.

Our last administration ended with the feds forcing a "merger" of two private companies, Bank of America and Merill Lynch no matter what the shareholders wanted. The current administration has since giving the banks money decided the govt can ex post facto decide the salaries of those private banks' employees. They bailed out GM buy ripping off the *secured* creditors who were GM bondholders--that means they broke their own federal laws about what it meant to BE a secured creditor, and instead, paid off the UAW at the expense of voiding the contracts of the bondholders. The current administration then fired the CEO of that private company. They told CA no bailout unless you give the SEIU what it wants.

So no, I don't see it's possible for a voucher system not to mean governmental intrusion. If people want control over their children's schooling, they should do it with their own money. To the extent that the poor can't afford that, then vouchers may be appropriate, as food stamps are. But that's a far cry from the entitlement culture run by the centralized State we've got.

SteveH said...

There is government intrusion in everything, but you haven't made the case for why it would be worse than what we have now in education. And, as you admit, the private route is not possible. Where does that leave us? Where does that leave those who would have to rely on vouchers - like food stamps?

Instead of government funded education, I can't imagine many families could budget school costs over a lifetime. You also lose the contribution from businesses and others who don't have kids.

I guess I come at this from a much less political standpoint. Pragmatism informs my view.

PhysicistDave said...

SteveH wrote:
>I guess I come at this from a much less political standpoint. Pragmatism informs my view.

Steve, I actually think Allison and I are judging this on pragmatic grounds, too. In principle, I think each family should provide for their own children’s education, but I recognize that, in practice, most kids’ education is going to be tax-funded for the foreseeable future. So, the question is how to do this in a way that will hopefully make things better and, at least, not make things worse. I agree that vouchers would probably make things better short-term; I am concerned that, long-term, vouchers might wreck private schools (which could end up making even public schools worse, if the competition from private schools effectively disappeared).

You’ve asked for concrete examples of how this could happen. Let me mention an example from my own experience. We are signed up with a charter school that sends a teacher out once a month to check on our homeschooling and that provides some curricular material. Our charter school is very “parent-oriented,” and, indeed, the teacher we deal with was actually homeschooled herself, so she really is oriented towards real learning rather than bureaucratic nonsense.

And, yet, when we wanted to order, through the school, the later volumes of Karen Mohs’ “Hey Andrew! Teach Me Some Greek” workbook series, the charter school disallowed it on the grounds that the workbooks had verses from the Greek New Testament, and thus violated separation of church and state.

I explained that we were not religious, that we had no interest in the Bible except for its cultural and historical value, and that the New Testament happens to be a good source for reading beginning Greek because it was written for the common people and is easy to read.

To no avail.

If this sounds like the charter school was being unreasonable, in fact, they are actually angry that they are subject to these rules. They explained to me that they could pay for a Koran (the assumption being that Americans buying a Koran really are buying it for social studies/history purposes), but that they could not pay for a Bible (the assumption being that Americans buying a Bible were religiously motivated).

The charter-school administrator I spoke with is actually an evangelical Christian: she recognizes that these rules are absurd (and in fact discriminatory against Christianity vis a vis Islam).

But there is nothing she or the school can do about this, given the legal advice they have received as to California state laws and regulations.

What makes it even worse is that the laws and regulations are vague enough that the school never knows for sure when it is crossing the line, so it has to censor its own behavior out of fear of reprisals from the state.

(In this particular case, we just went ahead and bought the books ourselves -- Karen's stuff is cheap. Since we generally have no desire to buy a “Christian curriculum,” this “church vs. state” issue does not have much of an impact on us, though it does significantly impact Christian families served by the school.)
(CONT.)

PhysicistDave said...

(CONT.)

Is it really unreasonable to fear that voucher programs would have the same sort of problem?

Racial discrimination is wrong. Most of us do not want our tax dollars to go to institutions that discriminate based on race. But, how much paperwork will schools receiving vouchers have to fill out to prove that they are not racially discriminating?

Similar concerns apply to history and civics. Most of us think the Confederacy was in the wrong. So, if a school receiving vouchers teaches that Jeff Davis was a better man than Lincoln, do they lose their funding?

Worst of all, you never know for sure what the regulations really mean. So, there will be a tendency for schools, just to stay on the safe side, to avoid “controversial” approaches to make sure they do not get into trouble.

My own experience with the charter school does make me think this could be a real problem: we had ourselves been with a previous charter school in which the bureaucratic nonsense became a big enough problem that we switched to this one. Our current charter school is run by folks who are basically “small-l” libertarians, and are doing their best to leave the parents free.

But, long-term, I am not optimistic that even they can resist the pressures from the state bureaucracy.

I’m stubborn enough, and we are affluent enough, that if the charter school does have to cave in to the state educational bureaucracy, we really will just homeschool on our own.

But many families have become dependent on the financial help from the charter school and might have to alter their educational approach quite dramatically in that event.

So, as friendly and helpful as the charter school has been so far, it could end up negatively impacting a lot of families’ educational experience.

I apologize for going on at such length, but you asked for a detailed explanation of our concerns, and I thought my personal experience might help explain those concerns.

Again, I’m not dogmatic about this. I realize that vouchers probably would help in the short-term, just as our charter school is so helpful to many of us here in the Sacramento area – believe me, they really are nice, pleasant people who are great to work with.

But, I think there is good reason to fear that the web of state regulations can eventually wreck even well-designed charter schools, voucher programs, etc. and derail well-intentioned attempts to improve education.

Dave

Allison said...

A dollar for dollar tax credit for sending a child to K-12 private school rather than a voucher would mean the money stayed in the hands of the family. Too poor to afford that, because you are too poor to pay that much in tax? Then an earned income tax credit like device, where you give out more than they paid in. It's still a transfer payment, but it's not a Government Education payment.

But I still disagree with your take. I say that pragmatically, Government Motors is worse than GM's assets being sold off in pieces because it will drive Ford out of business. Government control of Freddie and Fannie created massive incentives for mortgage fraud, leading to securitization of worthless properties which was a huge portion of what caused the bubble. Bailouts created banks EVEN BIGGER than too big to fail before. "the public option" will drive private insurers out of business who can't compete without subsidy. Graft and corruption are endemic in the system. You might think "that can't be worse than what we've got now in our school", but of course it can. Take the worst school districts in the country, and now imagine they could all look like that, with all the privates out of business. Because a voucher system could easily force expensive mandates that force privates out of business the same way individual mandates on health insurance force insurers out.