kitchen table math, the sequel: Amy Chua in the NY Times

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Amy Chua in the NY Times

In interviews, she comes off as unresolved. “I think I pulled back at the right time,” she said. “I do not think there was anything abusive in my house.” Yet, she added, “I stand by a lot of my critiques of Western parenting. I think there’s a lot of questions about how you instill true self-esteem.”

Her real crime, she said, may have been telling the truth. “I sort of feel like people are not that honest about their own parenting,” she said. “Take any teenage household, tell me there is not yelling and conflict.”

Yelling and conflict in the teenage household.

Check.

Initially, Ms. Chua said, she wrote large chunks about her husband and their conflicts overchild rearing. But she gave him approval on every page, and when he kept insisting she was putting words in his mouth, it became easier to leave him out.

“It’s more my story,” she said. “I was the one that in a very overconfident immigrant way thought I knew exactly how to raise my kids. My husband was much more typical. He had a lot of anxiety, he didn’t think he knew all the right choices.” And, she said, “I was the one willing to put in the hours.”

In my family, I've had the over-the-top Amy-Chua role.

I had it with Jimmy, and I had it with C. (Not with Andrew.)

At one point, the entire household - Ed, M. (nanny), Christian (aide for Jimmy & Andrew & unofficial son) - were lined up in opposition to my four-year quest to teach C. math.

Today everyone's glad I did what I did.

Ms. Chua wrote most of the book in eight weeks, yet struggled with the end, she said, reflecting the East-West tug on her parenting. “It’s a work in progress,” she said. “On bad days I would say this method is terrible. I just need to give them freedom and choice. On good days, when Lulu would say: ‘I’m so glad you made me write that second draft of my essay. My teacher read it out loud,’ I think, I’ve got to stick to my guns.”

Retreat of the ‘Tiger Mother’
By KATE ZERNIKE
Published: January 14, 2011

That's where Amy Chua and I are different.

I am torn over not doing enough.

Not doing enough with C., and certainly not enough with Andrew.

And, heck, while I'm at it -- Jimmy could have used a couple more efforts to teach him to read, too!

77 comments:

le radical galoisien said...

Amy Chua type parents of smart children create very rebellious children after a certain point. I treated my abusive father like a god -- but after the disillusionment that he was not one -- oh the fallout! It was like James Joyce' "Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man" x10. Luckily there was a divorce and my mother was more liberal. I guess she was authoritative -- open minded but she drew the rules.

There is a fomenting rebellion among Asian youth my age, and besides the typical generational clash it will be a cultural revolution of sorts. Yes we will be #1 in everything, but not always in the ways they want us to.

You see, the Asian style of parenting has one severe shortcoming: for all their good intentions we are still servants of the power structures they want us to climb. Their actions and assigned ambitions have done nothing to break the bamboo ceiling, or the perceptions and stereotypes that we are less creative, more subservient, better off as technically-inclined experts than capable leaders. Asian parents (I generalise for my friends, from Boston to Brooklyn to Northern Virginia) try to lecture us about a society they are more misinformed about than we.

When it comes to schools, Asian parents are so ridiculously empathic on prestige and Ivies and UNSWR that they will refuse to allow their children to apply to perfectly good (and selective!) schools like Swarthmore or CCNY or Ann Arbor ...

For many long hard years my friend, who you might guess have Asian parents, and now has gone to the RISD (a top-ranked fine arts school) struggled against her parents. Be pre-med! Pre-law! Something with a (large) stable salary. Even when she raised thousands of dollars at TJHSST (#1 public in the US, sciency magnet high school, rivalling Stuyvesant) at its first fashion show ever, then sold her pieces to couture designers where they sold in SoHo for hundreds of dollars apiece, it took great trouble to convince her parents to allow her to apply to arts schools. Even at RISD she has been giftedly rebellious and a force to watch, garnering professional allies for a new style of thinking that is antithetical to most brand name fashion labels, (because they dictate onto the consumer what is fashionable as though he/she were a mindless mannequin) ... thank goodness her Asian parents had a little ounce of social consciousness in them or she would be hatefully repressed somewhere else.

This is not to say Western parenting is all that good either. But at least it allows for individualism. I turn 21 this May. My mother has been good to me and I'm not bitter at how she raised me. But when I see my peers and how they have been disempowered and quota'ed and perceived as obedient but technically skilled robots, then I am magnificently bitter about Asian parenting.

Anonymous said...

While I do not advocate the extreme methods of Amy Chua, there is wisdom to the underlying values of struggle and hardwork she wishes to instill. LRG: You rail against being "disempowered, quota'ed and perceived as an obedient, technically skilled robot". Asian parents are not the ones who seek to disempower you; the Asian parenting described by Amy Chua was pursued by parents with all good intentions to make their children strong against the ethnic inequities in American society. Frankly, the only way the first Asian immigrants could see to avoid the lynchings, outright enslavement, disenfranchisement, and loss of their country that others of "color" enjoyed was silent, quiet obedience. Their success as the "model minority" was indeed the Asian "yassuh" which they hoped would pass their children in safety to the promised land. Do you really think that if you weren't "perceived as obedient" or "perceived as technically skilled..." that you would somehow be more empowered to survive as a stranger in a strange land? Yes, the Asian parents did not understand fully the society in which they landed. The problem is even Dr. Chua herself (ostensibly a bright, successful professional) did not understand her situation in these Western United States ...or she would have anticipated the vehemence of the response.

le radical galoisien said...

The Irish were rather loud immigrants weren't they? The Italians too. Then there are the Russians, the Poles, the Jews -- the model minority of the 1910s to 1960s -- who had to fight quotas in such places as Harvard Medical School, but oh they fought them.

And of the colour of skin! Oh I only know too well the cases of
Takao Ozawa v. United States (1922) and United States v. Bhagat Singh Thind (1923). But really would we have suffered any more lynchings if our parents had not been so ridiculously vehement against their kids being "risky" and breaking into music, the media, the press, and other important cultural organs? (And what use in self-empowerment is the piano or violin if you do not play in a band? Like, a visible band. Regina Spektor band even. look at that how that Lower East Side Jewish girl enchants the world--) The Jews have Charlie Chaplin to Groucho Marx to Schindler's List. (These my great aunt and uncle in Flushing, Queens, do not even know of, despite having been here since the 1970s.) Instead we have kung fu films and token minority representations in TV dramas, or are on the posters or billboards any time a public relations or ad company wants to make their clients look "diverse".

I would think that having our own Malcolm X would have only helped our cause.

SteveH said...

Is there an automatic connection between high expectation and obedience, no creativity, no leadership, and no individualism? We set very high expectations for our son but it included nothing about: "You doctor yet?" when he was 12 years old. There are multiple issues. High expectations require pushing, but what are those expectations and how do you push?


Catherine said: "Today everyone's glad I did what I did."

We have struggled with this since our son was born. You often only know the answer later. Most families yell, and all push at some level. This is not about yes or no, but what level and how. What if the RISD girl had parents who pushed and supported her in that area? That might be great or it could be annoying and unhelpful.


"I am torn over not doing enough."

We try to push to find that line, but our son is part of the process up to a point. As our son gets older, he has to be the one to set the line for himself, but he is not ready yet to go into the deep end of the pool without us watching. We also have to show him where the line is. In music, he can't just listen to his friends and relatives. He has to know what the Sophia Chuas are playing in competitions at each age level. He has to be realistic about how he fits in the world. This can't be left to chance or his own ideas of excellence. We could let him learn from his mistakes, but some mistakes can't be fixed. My wife and I had another discussion about the risk of mistakes just the other day.

My parents had a completely hands-off approach to our education. Since we never got poor grades, they never did anything. My brother and I talked years ago about how we wished that they did a lot more. We felt very ignorant and naive when we got to college.

Our father taught about jet/rocket engines at Pratt & Whitney. He never told me a thing about it or what he was doing at Cape Canaveral in the 1960s. I didn't know a thing about engineering until I was a sophomore in college.

People get upset about the Amy Chuas, but you have to see how awful (and invisible) the other side of the issue is. If kids don't learn, then it must be their fault, or their parents, or their peers, or society. Extreme non-pushing is so much more of a problem because people have no feedback. They can't see the problem. They think it's a matter of engagement or self-motivation.

Katharine Beals said...

I've often had the impression that what distinguishes East Asian immigrants in America from other discriminated-against immigrant groups is that they combat this discrimination much more by hard work and much less by political action than other groups do.

That's why, for example, it was such a big deal when Asian students at South Philly high finally organized and protested against the racially-motivated violence that for years had been perpetrated against them. And that's also why top colleges still get away with more restrictive de facto quotas on--and much higher de facto SAT requirements for--East Asian students than for other ethnic groups. If any other group were subjected to such unequal treatment in college admissions in today's world, I'm certain they'd be up in arms, and that the issue would get much more public attention than it in fact does.

le radical galoisien said...

"He has to know what the Sophia Chuas are playing in competitions at each age level."

Really? I have always been disenchanted with people who can play classical pieces (violin or piano) well but cannot innovate or compose, or write a piece for either the purpose of introspection or expression. Any robot can be technically proficient at a recital. Innovation and expression! are what make us human.

I never see many Asian parents push their kids into the free-flowing rhythms of jazz. I suppose they fear the improvisational philosophy of jazz might well undermine their discipline.

Well my future children must strive to proficient in at least one form of the creative arts, but I would never be the parent who gets jealous of the others and say, "oh! you must be like her!" or "oh! I'm pretty sure violin is your calling."

SteveH said...

"I never see many Asian parents push their kids into the free-flowing rhythms of jazz."

You are clueless about classical music and are confusing two different issues.

le radical galoisien said...

clueless not really-- disenchanted maybe. impressionists such as Faure and Debussy are much more enjoyable than the classicists.

Asian parents have no perspective when it comes to classical music either. Classical music is like compulsory figures in figure skating; something to be mastered in hope of bigger and better things.

SteveH said...

You're the one saying:

"Any robot can be technically proficient at a recital."

Do you really think that's all there is to it? Judges can see them coming a mile away. Even Debussy can sound mechanical. My son is working on Debussy's Toccata. Bach can sound wonderful. Even in jazz, some just don't "get" it.

"Asian parents have no perspective when it comes to classical music either."

Where are you looking? I never see that. Classical music is not that and nothing in the system encourages that. In fact, you get into big trouble if you place technical ability over musicality. We heard the Chinese girl who won the MTNA junior national competition two years ago. Not one tiny bit was mechanical. My son shared a recital with a Chinese high school student last year and is now playing a Schbert piano/violin sonata with a 6th grade Chinese violinist. I help run a piano competition where there are many asian competitors. There is nothing mechanical or robotic about the kids or their parents. There might be too much pushing, but don't try to tie that in with some sort of robotic meme.

le radical galoisien said...

I think you much malign robots. I am sure it is not that significant of an AI problem to design algorithms to play a piece expressively and movingly (to tears!) and send shivers and catecholamines down the spine. I do not mean to malign fellow musicians either. I am sure that many are passionate.

It just disenchants me so much to meet parents who don't really /get/ the music their children play and they only force them to because the music and the names are prestigious. They won't offer their opinion about what they think about the composition of Eleanor Rigby or what they think of when they hear Gershwin or (Bach's Sheep May Safely Graze) even as they try to push their kids to do all of these things. You can't converse with them about music and they are not effusive about /anything/. Asian parents are the worst. Ugh.

Anonymous said...

"Yelling and conflict in the teenage household.

Check."


I get the conflict part. I think.

Why is yelling assumed with teenagers?

-Mark Roulo

Catherine Johnson said...

Why is yelling assumed with teenagers?

That's a good question, which I formulate as: why are negative reinforcement and punishment so much easier -- and so much more natural -- than positive reinforcement.

When I was teaching C. math in middle school, our relationship eventually became so conflictual that we were having yelling & screaming (both of us) & storming upstairs & slamming the door (him) on a near-daily basis.

The situation was particularly distressing in that I'm not much of a yeller & a screamer. Back in Studio City, Ed and I could always hear the neighbors shouting when they were having a fight. We used to joke that the way the neighbors could tell if we were having a fight is that they would hear **nothing.**

That's when I found Karen Pryor's book Don't Shoot the Dog and started teaching myself how to use positive reinforcement.

Positive reinforcement works beautifully, but it's not easy to use, and it's not **natural** to use (in many situations).

I don't have an answer.

What happens, in reality, is that teenagers go after you, push your buttons, act up, dig in their feet, etc., etc, etc....and things can escalate.

That said, I'm going to add that I think I'm pretty good at **not** escalating normally.

The one criticism I have of Amy Chua is that she doesn't seem to know very much about learning, practice, and reinforcement.

If the excerpt is typical of her household, I would say that she relies too heavily on negative reinforcement & punishment.

She also doesn't appear to understand the importance of distributed practice. The all-day piano practice scene with no breaks is all wrong; a bathroom break would have been good for her daughter's ability to play that piece.

Better yet, a 24-hour break would have allowed the skills she did have to 'consolidate' a bit...

Catherine Johnson said...

or she would have anticipated the vehemence of the response

I don't like the vehemence of the response one bit.

Apparently, Chua has received death threats.

I find that appalling.

Amy P said...

"She also doesn't appear to understand the importance of distributed practice. The all-day piano practice scene with no breaks is all wrong; a bathroom break would have been good for her daughter's ability to play that piece."

Or 10 minutes of Wii or video or whatever. I get a lot of work and better quality out of my 8-year-old with breaks.

Catherine Johnson said...

Absolutely!

PhysicistDave said...

lrg wrote:
>I have always been disenchanted with people who can play classical pieces (violin or piano) well but cannot innovate or compose, or write a piece for either the purpose of introspection or expression.

Yeah, a pet peeve of mine. Our kids started composing their own pieces (sort of pop neo-romantic classical, I suppose) when they were nine, without any suggestion at all from anyone that they do so (I guess they encouraged each other). That seems to me more important than playing Carnegie Hall by age 14 – surely, you learn more about music by actually creating music than by simply performing music.

On the other hand, I notice that this failure to encourage composition is not limited to Asian parents. We searched for some time to find a piano teacher who would encourage composition and improvisation. We finally found a retired university prof who wants his students to do their own ornamentation on Bach – which was the norm in the eighteenth century – as well as to create their own compositions. Too many teachers are appalled at the idea of fooling with Bach!

lrg also wrote:
>Their [Asian parents’] actions and assigned ambitions have done nothing to break the bamboo ceiling, or the perceptions and stereotypes that we are less creative, more subservient, better off as technically-inclined experts than capable leaders.

Have you read Steinberg’s observations in Beyond the Classroom on Asian attitudes? He claims, in essence, that the Asian perception has been that Euro-Americans are simply not ready for forceful, aggressive Asian “leaders.”

And, I myself, being married to the daughter of Chinese immigrants and seeing how Euro-Americans interact with her and her Chinese-American friends and colleagues… well, I've noticed that what Chinese consider civilized behavior does not match well with what most Americans consider “leadership.”

Are Chinese parents really wrong to be opposed to their children's turning against Chinese standards of civilized behavior in order to strive to be “leaders” by American standards?

Personally, as a born-and-bred Euro-American, I’m not real thrilled with the behavior patterns that Americans currently consider appropriate for “leaders”!

lrg also wrote:
>Faure and Debussy are much more enjoyable than the classicists.

Debussy is classical music – late Romantic/early Modern classical music. The “Classical period” (Mozart, Haydn, et al.) does not equal “classical music.” I know of no classical music teacher who limits his or her students to the Classical period. Indeed, that would be stunningly absurd. No Bach, no Schumann, no Chopin…?

Dave

SteveH said...

"It just disenchants me so much to meet parents who don't really /get/ the music their children play and they only force them to because the music and the names are prestigious."


I'm not sure who you are talking to. Some of the parents (not just Asian) I've talked to at competitions push too hard, but they know what music is all about. I had a very nice talk on Saturday with a Chinese parent of a boy playing in their chamber music group while we waited for them to finish their lesson.

"You can't converse with them about music and they are not effusive about /anything/. Asian parents are the worst."

How can one respond to a stereotype like that? I've never seen that. Maybe it's how you talk with them.

SteveH said...

"... surely, you learn more about music by actually creating music than by simply performing music."

More?

Discovery versus skills. It sounds like the same argument as in math. Some see mastery of skills as rote or robotic.

There are piano teachers who allocate little time for student-driven discovery or improvisation, but who is in charge of the learning process? In a traditional piano class, improvisation is clearly taught, but it's in the form and limits of interpretation. If you want a jazz-level or type of improvisation, you need to find that type of teacher.

Some piano teachers are rigid in their pedagogy and don't allow any flexibility. However, my wife and I have had many discussions about this with his piano teacher; the balance between technique, musicality, motivation, and creativity.

Most all of the classical pianist students I know write their own music and can play variations of other pieces by ear. At a summer music camp my son was at, some of their practice time was spent playing their own pieces for each other. They had composition classes, but not as part of the regular private lessons.

My son's teacher has gone over some of the music my son has created and offered to help him work on it, but not during his regular lesson. Writing music doesn't drive the learning process. It's the other way around.


"We finally found a retired university prof who wants his students to do their own ornamentation on Bach – which was the norm in the eighteenth century – as well as to create their own compositions."

Bach is an issue in itself. It's interesting to see that Bach is often avoided in piano competitions because you never know what biases the judges might have. You try to select pieces that are relatively unknown. Scarlatti is big now for the Baroque period.

It's like breaking the rules in writing. It's best to do that after you've learned the rules. Experts can get away with breaking the rules more than novices. For Bach ornamentation, you need to understand and practice the explanations in the urtext editions. Bach wouldn't appreciate any sort of ornamentation. My son's teacher explains what those limits are. Maybe if you get to a Glenn Gould level, you can justify an extension of those limits.

SteveH said...

"the importance of distributed practice"

I've heard of work that shows that improvement does not just happen while you are practicing. After a certain point of practicing, the benefits decrease, but when you come back the next day, you are better than where you left off. It's more than rest.

PhysicistDave said...

SteveH wrote to me:
>[Dave]"... surely, you learn more about music by actually creating music than by simply performing music."
>[SteveH]More?

Yeah, I would think obviously so. Actually writing your own music gives you greater insight into the process of composition, which is surely learning “more” about music. How does it affect performance skills? I don’t know – I’d guess that it improves interpretative skills, but does not much affect technical skills.

But, performance is only one very small part of music. You don’t know math if you are a great calculator but totally unable to do proofs. You don’t know music if you are a great performer but quite clueless about composition or improvisation.

I know that pre-college competitions tend to focus solely on performance. That is why I view such competitions in the same way Terry Tao views things like the math olympiads – good fun perhaps, but definitely not to be taken seriously.

SteveH also wrote:
>Most all of the classical pianist students I know write their own music and can play variations of other pieces by ear.

Excellent – that’s my point: good piano students should be doing that. But, I think that your saying that “most all” of the students you know are doing that shows that you have self-selected to be involved with an elite group. If you talk to random piano teachers (or to random grade-school/middle-school piano students) as we have, I think you will find that this is fairly rare. Indeed, in our experience, most (random) parents of piano students do not even know that their kids are missing something by not learning composition. And, the idea that the performer should do his own ornamentation on Bach is unheard of to most of the parents I know. I’ve known for years that that was the eighteenth-century performance standard (I tend to pick up little random facts like that), but one of the profs at the local university (not our own teacher) is on a bit of a crusade to get this message through to parents, students, and piano teachers.

lrg’s complaint is a fair rap against the average piano teacher. That it is not a fair rap against your or my kids’ teachers is just because we have not chosen average teachers.

SteveH also wrote:
>For Bach ornamentation, you need to understand and practice the explanations in the urtext editions. Bach wouldn't appreciate any sort of ornamentation.

And, Bach is God? Who cares what he would appreciate?

Sorry, but I think music is meant to be fun. I agree that playing well makes it more fun. But, somehow, I think that J.S. Bach, looking down upon us, is a big enough man to even smile at, say, P. D. Q. Bach!

Dave

le radical galoisien said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
le radical galoisien said...

art has an audience. the audience could be yourself, or your friends, or the general public, but it still has an audience.

see, see, I have something against parents (especially the Asian ones) who send their children to these lessons because they have fantasies of their children being the star of the recital or because it makes good resume material, not because they even actually really appreciate what their children play. Otherwise the parents would sit down and play with them, at least once in a while.

If we think about the pedestrian uses of music everyone can enjoy, that is, uses that any student of music would, or any friend of that student, then doesn't it delight to hear an original composition? To write effective (noncheesy) love songs to a crush, soothe an upset friend, motivate and galvanise people against some perceived grievance or injustice, to express thoughts and emotions, or inspect them. To cheer others (or yourself), to haunt others, in say, writing the music for a cultural performance, to celebrate.

/that/ is why music is to be learnt by a child.



if you have to make your child play for 24 hours at a time without bathroom breaks, then you have utterly missed the point of music, even if she does sweep the next prestigious competition.

le radical galoisien said...

Also what did her daughter's rebellion consist of exactly? Did her daughter end up instead choosing to be the lead vocalist (and maybe keyboardist) for a punk rock band?

PhysicistDave said...

lrg,

An anthropologist said that he couldn’t sing or dance when his African hosts invited him to participate in their festival. They were stunned – they viewed making music and dancing as being as natural to human beings as walking and talking. Sorry that I cannot remember the source: the anthropologist sincerely viewed himself as a non-singer, non-dancer, and was interested in the African reaction that of course all non-handicapped humans danced and created music. Donald Brown’s Human Universals supports the Africans’ view.

So, I agree with you that:
>I have something against parents (especially the Asian ones) who send their children to these lessons because they have fantasies of their children being the star of the recital or because it makes good resume material, not because they even actually really appreciate what their children play. Otherwise the parents would sit down and play with them, at least once in a while.
> If we think about the pedestrian uses of music everyone can enjoy, that is, uses that any student of music would, or any friend of that student, then doesn't it delight to hear an original composition?

It’s more fun to play well than poorly at a recital, and I don’t begrudge parents’ reminding their kids that the kids will enjoy the experience more if they prepare well. But to make learning and performing music a chore and a source of unhappiness and anxiety is is very, very sad.

That is where I think Amy Chua really went wrong – not that she unreasonably blew her top (the lady’s human!), but that she failed to grasp that what she basically wants for her kids could and should be a source of joy, not conflict and confrontation.

My dad was once having a nurse listen to his heart and breathing when she stopped and said, “Excuse me, but are you singing??” He said, “Yeah, I guess I always do.”

Doesn’t everyone?

Dave

SteveH said...

There are a number of issues here. There is the issue of pushing; how much and in what way, and there are the issues of curriculum and teaching methods. You can't translate the pushing of parents into a reflection of the teaching methods and curriculum. You can't look at those with a lot of technical ability and claim that they are robots or that they don't really understand what they are doing or that they aren't creative. All serious music students have to take theory and composition courses. The question is when do you take the courses. You can't look at private lessons that seem to focus only on skills and assume that nothing else is going on.

That argument sounds just like the argument against a focus on skills in math in the early grades. This causes some to claim that while that approach may be good for the elite, it's not good for the average student. So what does the average student get? Everyday Math and loads of educators claiming that it's better than the traditional, math brain approach that does not produce creative people with real understanding. That's just B.S.

There is also the issue of what you want to get out of the subject and when you want to keep doors open or let them close. You can't ignore the doors and assume that you know what's best for a subject. That's what they do in K-8
math. They claim that they know what's best for understanding and creativity, but kids end up barely able to get through algebra. They also pull out all of the robotic and non-creative arguments.

In music, it's different in the sense that many don't worry about certain doors. They are not important. For many kids, playing in public or memorizing music for a recital is not important. There is nothing wrong with that, but it does close doors. You may not like those doors, and you may not like the competition, but it's quite another thing to claim that your own ideas of music will make those doors go away.

Even if you don't want to get a music performance degree in college, you still have to audition and you still have to perform. This is all meaningless if you just want your kids to be exposed to music as an important part of their life. That defines a different set of doors and opportunities. However, our schools do push to have all musicians (starting in 7th grade) play in the state's solo and ensemble festival. In high school, it's required if you want honors credit for band or orchestra.

SteveH said...

There is also the issue of pushing. I see lots of pushing, some good and some bad. The worst is when kids are pushed well past their limits or interest. This is not a reflection of the pedagogy. It's a reflection of the parents and perhaps the teacher. It has nothing to do with robotic playing or lack of understanding and creativity. Too much pushing also does not necessarily mean that the parents are clueless or that it's an ego thing.

What's difficult is for parents to match their kids up with a teacher who shares their idea of what they want out of music. The first indicator is whether recitals are required and whether music has to be memorized. Another indicator is what books or system the teacher uses. Does the teacher focus on classical, jazz, or just about anything. Most systems include a good dose of jazz early on and start to teach some theory and sight reading skills.

It's common after a couple of years to change to a teacher who better meets the needs of the student. Our son switched after a year and a half. We were lucky, but I've heard of some parents searching for years.

In our case, our son loved music and loved to perform. There was a possibility that he might want to make a career in music, so we had to find a teacher who would support that. This required us to better understand what the doors are and how everything worked.

In many other parts of the world, there are prescribed curricula or programs for music that are based on levels. This has nothing to do with regular schools. It has to do with the private lessons teacher. There is ABRSM in the UK and RCM in Canada. Some are pushing a form of the RCM levels in the US called the National Music Certificate Program. These define very rigid levels of content and skills that have to be mastered. Tests are taken and levels can't be skipped. We found them too restrictive. The downside is that a lot then depends on the private lesson teacher. We asked whether there is an advantage to a RCM or ABRSM certificate, but the answer is no. Everything depends on the audition.

In the US, however, we do have two big organizations: MENC and MTNA. MENC represents music teachers in schools. They are the ones who sponsor things like All-State and Solo & Ensemble Festivals. MTNA is an organization of independent or studio teachers and offers recital and competition opportunities to students. There are also other groups, like the Piano Guild, that are popular in certain areas.

It's tempting to use Amy Chua to justify all sorts of viewpoints, but the main issue is that there is a big risk in pushing too much. It may work out in the end, but that's not a good justification. The question is what is too much? It depends on the situation and child. In math, I will push even if there is no joy in it ... up to a point. In music, I won't do that. I will push if my son agreed to do something and wants to quit in the middle. I will push if he is not being realistic. He might want to get into a music conservatory, but I will push if he is not preparing properly. I will push to keep him from putting all of his eggs into one basket. Excellence requires hard work that IS a chore. I will push to make him understand that. I will push to open as many doors as possible. If I wait for him to push himself based on some sort of epiphany of motivation and joy, it won't happen, it will be too late, or that joy will disappear as soon as the going gets tough.

PhysicistDave said...

SteveH wrote:
> That argument sounds just like the argument against a focus on skills in math in the early grades

But, there is one huge difference here: music is an extra-curricular activity!

You do not need to be fantastic at performing on a musical instrument to be an educated person (though, I would argue, you do need to be able to understand basic musical notation to be a truly educated person).

On the contrary, you do need to be pretty good at grade-school math to be an educated person, for fairly obvious reasons.

SteveH also wrote:
> There is also the issue of what you want to get out of the subject and when you want to keep doors open or let them close. You can't ignore the doors and assume that you know what's best for a subject.

On the contrary, life consists of letting doors close: you have to make choices. No one can be good at everything.

Again, there is a huge difference from math. Fail to master grade-school math, and you are not merely making it difficult to pursue a STEM career but even a career in accounting, business, etc. (I know there are accountants who lack basic grade-school math skills, but I doubt they will ever be good accountants.) Fail to excel at a musical instrument, and you merely “close the door” on being a brilliant performance musician, a door almost everyone will close anyway – for, musical performance is not a very highly paid or very easy career, in any case.

Of course, there are kids who are truly passionate about becoming serious musical performers (although they are a very tiny fraction of all children), and, of course, adults should be upfront with them about the kind of practice this will take. But, if those kids are unwilling to put in the necessary and grueling effort, they probably do not care enough to pursue that career – and that is probably for the best. There are not that many jobs open for serious performance musicians, and there is no reason to push kids to prepare for a career they cannot ever really pursue.

The right analogy is not with math but with formula-one race-car driving or plumbing. Very few people excel at either. That is no excuse for not learning how to drive or for failing to understand the basic ideas of how the plumbing functions.

But no one can learn everything

lrg and I are arguing that for most people who learn something about music it is more fun and rewarding, and will contribute more to their lives as adults, if they learn something about composition and improvisation at a fairly early stage in their musical education. My own kids did that naturally, without adult aid, and then we figured out how we could help them.

Creating music, not just playing what someone else has created, is a natural part of being human, an aspect that is, alas, all too often suppressed by music “teachers” in our society. Becoming Yoyo Ma is not a natural part of being human, and, unless a child shows an intense desire to be the next Yoyo Ma, it seems to me inhumane for adults to force him in that direction against his will.

My kids play recitals; in a few weeks they will be part of a “Baroque Festival” run by the local university, as will some of their friends: I expect they will have fun.

And, that is the point, I expect they will have fun. They prefer Bach and Tchaikovsky to pop music (and certainly to rap, which they do not consider to be music). Of course, they practice, of course they struggle over the correct fingering. But, it does not make them miserable, they are not “pushed.”

I know you and I differ on this point in general: I do not think serious learning has to be unpleasant. It isn’t unpleasant for our kids: the major reason we are homeschooling is that I dissent both from the educational establishment and from most ktmers on this. Serious learning is not the same as riding a roller coaster. But it does not have to be miserable.

Dave

SteveH said...

"But, there is one huge difference here: music is an extra-curricular activity!"

I've already addressed this and all of your other issues in detail.


"I know you and I differ on this point in general: I do not think serious learning has to be unpleasant."

It all depends on what you call unpleasant and pushing. Apparently, what you do is neither by definition. I have no idea whether I agree with you or not.

PhysicistDave said...

SteveH wrote to me:
>It all depends on what you call unpleasant and pushing. Apparently, what you do is neither by definition. I have no idea whether I agree with you or not.

Well, Steve, I do know that I fairly strongly disapprove of some of the ways you deal with kids in various respects that you have posted over time here on ktm!

To take one of many examples, you wrote earlier with regard to music:
>I will push if my son agreed to do something and wants to quit in the middle.

I’ll give a specific example of how I disagree: Last spring, my daughter had agreed to participate in a recital. The teacher was being unreasonable and rather nasty in dealing with my daughter in preparation for the recital. So, I told the teacher (in front of my daughter) that my daughter could simply refuse to participate in the recital if she so wished, which was true. My daughter was doing it for fun – if the teacher insisted on not making it fun, my daughter could and probably would quit. This greatly annoyed the teacher; I found that to be a good thing. What I did in that case would seem to contradict the quote from you.

So, I do disagree with you. Does that prove you disagree with me? I sort of think disagreement is, logically speaking, symmetrical, but I’ll leave the logical issue at that.

Multiple times you have posted opinions that appear to say that kids basically do not innately want to learn. I disagree, based on my own experience as a child and on my kids’ experience: I think kids innately want to learn, but that that desire is squeezed out of them by our society (parents, schools, and pop culture).

Multiple times you have posted opinions indicating a willingness to tolerate aspects of the system with regard to your kid – whether a nit-picky physics teacher or the system in general – to which I would simply never subject my kids.

Multiple times you have posted opinions that indicate concern and respect for authoritative systems of testing and credentialing that I do not share: I think one should learn worthwhile things and then one will do pretty well on tests if the tests are worthwhile. If the tests are stupid, my attitude is that the authorities can simply shove them.

You have many times indicated a desire to improve or fix the public schools. I don’t wish to improve them; I wish to abolish them.

I know you will disagree with how I have characterized your opinions. That’s okay – I disagree more with how you have expressed your opinions on those subjects than with my summaries of them.

You are entitled to your opinions, and, of course, I could also list numerous points on which you and I have similar views. I’m not trying to discourage you from posting your views. Quite the contrary.

But you and I do disagree, very, very clearly, and on numerous issues.

Ultimately, I think the central importance of education is to enable children to understand that the broadly accepted views in our society on government, religion, philosophy, lifestyle, socially accepted values, etc. range from simply false to outright, horrific evil. To grossly oversimplify, I think that any education that does not result in a student’s becoming an atheist and an anarchist is a failure.

Again, I am pretty certain you and I disagree on that.

That’s fine -- vive la différence. But there is floating around in contemporary society a rather common rhetorical trope that expresses disagreement by a belligerent insistence to the effect of “No, I can not see that you disagree with me!” It seems to me that this is what you are doing, and I find that disingenuous.

So... here’s to disagreement – the natural and inevitable result of a free society!

Dave

SteveH said...

"What I did in that case would seem to contradict the quote from you."

Not necessarily, if the teacher was being unreasonable and nasty. That is a key distinction.


".. appear to say that kids basically do not innately want to learn."

Not true. I've always said my son is a sponge for knowledge, but not all learning is going to be fun.


"Multiple times you have posted opinions indicating a willingness to tolerate aspects of the system with regard to your kid – whether a nit-picky physics teacher or the system in general – to which I would simply never subject my kids."

My son hasn't had a physics course yet. Do you expect all parents to homeschool? Will you subject your kids to what goes on in the workplace?


"I think one should learn worthwhile things and then one will do pretty well on tests if the tests are worthwhile."

What test do I support that you don't think is worthwhile? Are you saying that I support any test?


"You have many times indicated a desire to improve or fix the public schools. I don’t wish to improve them; I wish to abolish them."

That's a workable solution. What do you expect people to do? Why do you bother posting at KTM?


"To grossly oversimplify, I think that any education that does not result in a student’s becoming an atheist and an anarchist is a failure."

Oversimplification to the point of being meaningless.


"“No, I can not see that you disagree with me!” It seems to me that this is what you are doing, and I find that disingenuous."

No. I wanted you to define more clearly what you mean by pushing and unpleasant. In your last post you give just one example that most parents would say is an exception, not the rule.


The whole business of Amy Chua is about looking at the details of when and how to push. This is complicated by those who define any sort of pushing as bad. Details and examples matter if any sort of benefit will be achieved. I'm not being disingenuous. You are just not being clear about details.

Katharine Beals said...

While it may be true that *most* kids innately want to learn *something*, one should not take it on faith, or on anecdotal evidence drawn from ones own personal experiences, that *all* kids innately want to learn *all* that they need to in order to function independently in society.

Take, for instance, the many kids on the autistic spectrum who have no innate interest in interacting with other people and in learning basic social interaction skills, or even, in many cases, of learning the fundamentals of spoken and written language. Indeed, it's because of this deficiency in innate interest that many of the most effective therapies for autism involve high degrees of structure, teacher/therapist control, and extrinsic reinforcers.

I suspect that AS children are not the only ones who lack innate interest in learning certain sorts of skills that most of us would deem essential for independent living. Among the diversity of personalities that constitute humanity, I imagine that there are some who have (through no fault of pop culture in particular or society in general) no innate interest in learning how to read, in how to write intelligibly, and/or in how to keep track of their finances.

Especially if one is lucky enough to have smart, good-natured, broadly inquisitive children, it's important not to generalize from one's own parenting experiences and assume that, if only others would just follow in our footsteps, their children would turn out just as well as ours do.

le radical galoisien said...

I'd prolly have practiced the piano more as a child if my parents (both trained pianists) had sat down beside me and played with me. I mean, if //watching// your kid play his exercises is that boring, what about the kid?

With the saxophone I was more motivated because you had "peer" figures such as Lisa Simpson, and what child would identify with the pianist in Casablanca anyway?

PhysicistDave said...

SteveH wrote to me:
>That's a workable solution. What do you expect people to do? Why do you bother posting at KTM?

I “expect” that most people in the US will continue putting up with the schooling system more or less as it exists now, until the USA collapses as the USSR collapsed. Based on history, my guess is that this will happen sometime in this century. Of course, no one knows for sure.

Most Americans want their kids to get a minimum education consistent with getting a maximally cushy job. That actually works for a decent number of people. Most Americans do not want their kids to learn things about science, history, etc. that will cause their kids to question the social and cultural order.

As Catherine says, they will do what they will do. Not much I can do about that.

What I think parents should do is yank their kids out of the public schools yesterday, homeschool them, and focus on teaching a questioning approach based on hard-core knowledge of science, math, and history that will turn the little ones into atheistic anarchists – i.e., people who have no faith at all in socially established authorities. I see the usefulness of math and science in pursuing STEM careers as only of secondary importance: the main importance, to me, is in the role that science plays in destroying all of the old socially-stabilizing verities – everything from Divine Creation to human equality.

Very few parents, including of course most homeschoolers, have any intention at all of following that advice.

Again, not much I can do about that, is there?

They do what they do.

Anyway, it is not my job to convince you or anyone else that my views are right, or vice versa: as Thoreau said in “The Essay on Civil Disobedience,” I came into this world not primarily to change it but simply to live in it. Other people do not have to share my views, and, indeed, they don’t.

I was not trying to prove my views are right, but merely to point out that you and I truly disagree on a lot of things. You and I do also agree on a number of things: a few days ago, I responded to one of your posts with my own post that said “Exactly right.”

Happily, human beings can have strong disagreements and still be neighbors and even friends.

All the best,

Dave

Katharine Beals said...

PhysicistDave's response to my post hasn't shown up on ktm; only in my inbox. Here are two things I'd like to respond to.


"Of course, I meant the vast majority of kids, those with normal intelligence, not suffering from debilitating mental disabilities. etc."

"Well… of course, there are other forms of mental disabilities than autism."

For a someone who prides himself on his ability not to take things on faith, you have a remarkable amount of faith in the idea that the only children who don't have an innate desire to learn *everything* their parents might deem important are mentally disabled.

Unless this is your definition of what a "debilitating mental disability" is? But then I'm not sure"vast" is the right word for your "majority". Also, I think it's important to draw a distinction between abilities and interests.

Can you guess what one of the things is that most demoralizes the many parents of eccentric children, narrowly-focused children I know who feel they must push their children quite hard in certain areas? The judgments of parents of kids who *are* innately interested in pursuing these things on their own and who assume that every child must share these innate interests. The fact that these judgments often stem from ignorance does not erase their sting.

It's important to note that many of the children I've written about do broaden their interests later on in life, but that if one waits for the innate interest to show up on its own, the resulting delay in mastery may frustrate not just the parent, but the child him or herself. For example, not every 5, 6, 7, or even 10-year old boy wants to learn how to read, even if he or she is not mentally disabled, and even if he recognizes the importance of reading later on and wishes he had started earlier.

SteveH said...

"Especially if one is lucky enough to have smart, good-natured, broadly inquisitive children,.."

My son can be more natural because he is so bright. He has always been ahead of the curve and that helps school to be more natural. Although we have worked hard to make that happen, my wife and I can only do so much.

Part of our goal is to make tests and doors disappear; to make them inconsequential. I don't want my son to get a fixation on Ivy League schools. I want him to focus on content, skills, and the love of learning. However, that won't make the doors of opportunity disappear. Even if he goes to a non-Ivy League school, there is competition. Too many people are chasing too few opportunities. I talked with a PhD physicist (Brown) a while ago who would like to teach, but there are absolutely no openings and you are competing with many other brilliant people. This can happen at all levels.

The other question is whether it is better to ignore the carrot (and doors) to follow your own path, even if that means not being able to do what you really would like to do. That's not natural.

For those of us who can't or won't avoid the game, the question is how to keep it all in balance and as natural as possible. What worked best for us was to make sure that our son was ahead of grade level from the start. This was a natural process for us, but if he wasn't so bright, then we would have had to push more. Push for natural learning. That's a paradox. KTM is about pushing at home to make school more relaxed and natural.

Even the couple of years of math (Algebra and Geometry) I taught my son (with permission from the school) at home were not natural. I generally don't buy into the stereotype about middle school kids, but there were big differences from when I used to teach him things when he was little. His learning may be natural, but when his interests did not match the material, the teaching and learning was anything but natural. At times, the connection would be amazing, but at other times, the process was tough. That is with my very naturally learning son.

You could say that life is not natural at any level. You can turn up your nose and pretend that the carrot isn't there; that the only contests you will enter are the ones you know you will win; or that the contests don't matter. I would love to have my son's life be happy and natural, but I don't think the path to that point is natural. There are many unexpected bumps along the path.

As I've mentioned in the past, when my son was one year old, I told my mother that I wanted three things in life for him; to care about other people, to know the value of hard work, and to be happy. Her response was that if he learned to do the first two, then the third would come naturally.

We're still working on number two, and there is little that is natural about it.

lgm said...

lrg, needing a parent to sit by you while you practice is an emotional need. That need can be met before instrument practice time or before homework time or during.
FWIW listening to my sons practice isn't boring...I know enough to hear improvement and when to compliment effort. I also know when they aren't distinguishing what needs to be improved...so their practice is not a boring drone of something already mastered to my ear.

I'd say the pianist in Casablanca would not be the ideal to the teens playing piano..they are looking at rock musicians such as Keith Emerson as well as local artists.

lgm said...

SteveHsaid>>KTM is about pushing at home to make school more relaxed and natural.

For me, KTM was about learning that other people were experiencing the same sort of public school system - the kind that uses one size fits all, ignores anything that isn't considered 'basic', and rewards those who are wealthy enough to privately tutor and/or of high local political status with honors classes while ignoring competent children. Competent meaning that they qualify for gifted classes from outside providers..but can't get a seat in the local honors classes.

I am not interested in 'getting ahead' for school purposes, as the classes my children need in math don't exist in this district or at the CC. Even if they did, there is no subject acceleration in a politically correct climate of equal outcome...so that leaves me to afterschool or homeschool should I want my children to have an education in math equivalent to what was offered to all in my own upbringing.

I am interested in what consitutes a good math education, and how other districts have overcome the politics of the 'disadvantaged' to ensure that all students have access to real math classes. It sounds as if this is impossible, once the vocal urban and special ed segments are at a percentage high enough to invoke "No Child Gets Ahead on the Public Dime" rhetoric.

le radical galoisien said...

Dude, music is an emotional discipline. It's also a collaborational one. Having a parent play with you is not like having a parent watching you do pen and paper Hartree-Fock equations. Of course you're more inspired and energetic with a fellow musician.

lgm said...

lrg, have you ever done anything on your own that has resulted in motivating yourself to reach even higher? Or do you always reach out to the hive?

le radical galoisien said...

I am both Asian (therefore communalist/collectivist) and a dissenter (therefore individualist). I don't really grasp your question. Music is both an expressive and an introspective discipline. I say it's hard to play an expressive piece without another listening ear you see. Or even sometimes an introspective one. Music is a drug -- a rush of endorphins enhanced by communal interactions (what hippie ever wanted to smoke a blunt by herself ?) Music is a conversation -- sometimes with yourself, sometimes with others. How can you play a conversation with others by yourself?

(I did math by myself. Math is different.)

Anonymous said...

lgm said...

lrg, needing a parent to sit by you while you practice is an emotional need.


Many years ago I read about a study that looked at child, not prodigies, but those that were well beyond average. The study discovered that (almost?) every student who excelled had a parent who sat with him while he practiced. It might be an emotional need, but emotional needs are important, and in this case it had a big payoff.

PhysicistDave said...

Katharine,

I don’t know why my post a while back showed up in your In-box but did not show up here.

I’ll try re-posting it, so at least anyone passing by can see what you were responding to – of course, our posts will then be in reverse chronological order.

C’est la vie.

Dave

PhysicistDave said...

Katharine wrote to me (re my disappearing post):
> For a someone who prides himself on his ability not to take things on faith, you have a remarkable amount of faith in the idea that the only children who don't have an innate desire to learn *everything* their parents might deem important are mentally disabled.

Well, there are two points here:

First, I think there is not just faith but very strong (not admittedly, conclusive) evidence that most kids are naturally willing to learn a great deal, but that our society has distorted that natural inclination.

I alluded to some of that evidence above: There is little trouble in our society in getting kids to want to learn how to drive. Historically, aside from the modern West and mandarinate China, teaching kids what they need to know to function in their society does not seem to have provoked enormous resistance or rebellion on the part of the kids. Everyone knows that toddlers tend to be curious about just about everything (including a lot of things they should not be curious about for safety reasons), but that this curiosity tends to get squeezed out of American kids before adolescence.

And, in my own personal experience, watching kids I know – family, friends, etc. – as they develop, the process by which the schools squeeze out the children’s natural curiosity has been fairly obvious: some of the kids have even been rather explicit in telling me that this is the case.

As a scientist, I look for simple hypotheses which fit all the facts I can uncover. This hypothesis seems to best fit all the facts I know of.

My second point relates to your mentioning kids’ not having an “innate desire to learn *everything* their parents might deem important.” You’re right, of course, but my sympathies do not lie with the parents on that! Sure, most kids would not voluntarily read The Scarlet Letter. Why should they? A boring and historically inaccurate book that was basically an excuse for Hawthorne to trash his Puritan forebears. Amazing for how many centuries “intellectuals” have gotten mileage out of trashing the Puritans!

I’d make the same point about history – history as it is taught in the schools is largely propaganda, rather insipid, boring propaganda that lies by omission. Tell the students how Lincoln went to court to force a slavery family back into bondage, how Washington ordered the brutal murder of members of the Continental Army who said they would only fight if they got paid, how Washington said he might not attend the Constitutional Convention because it was apparently illegal… well, real history is pretty interesting. But any kid with half a brain and a nose for horse manure should balk at studying history as it is presented in the schools!

I’d make similar points about math and science, but, of course, those points have been made on an ongoing basis throughout this forum.

I’m fascinated by history and economics as well as math and science, and I think it would be great if most children were too.

However, I am with the kids in abhorring these subjects as they are now taught in the schools. I think kids should be much more rebellious than they are now, and stand up to the adults, and refuse to put up with this nonsense any longer.

Alas, most American kids are wusses.

And, I also concede that even if these subjects were taught in a meaningful way, many kids would refuse to seriously study them. So be it. Perhaps, most people should not learn history, literature, etc. in their teens. Perhaps, most people can’t.. Perhaps, you grok “Macbeth” or The Scarlet Letter better when you have some life experiences than as a callow teen. Or, perhaps, both are not really ever worth reading at all.

What kids really need is the three Rs. Americans once knew how to teach the three Rs rapidly, in four years or less, as my great-grandmother’s generation proved, and there was much less of a “youth culture,” “adolescent rebellion,” etc. back then than there is now.

All the best,

Dave

PhysicistDave said...

(Third attempt to post my “disappearing post”: I’m slicing it in two this time: so far, it has appeared briefly, then disappeared)

Katharine Beals wrote to me:
>While it may be true that *most* kids innately want to learn *something*, one should not take it on faith, or on anecdotal evidence drawn from ones own personal experiences, that *all* kids innately want to learn *all* that they need to in order to function independently in society.
>Take, for instance, the many kids on the autistic spectrum who have no innate interest in interacting with other people and in learning basic social interaction skills, or even, in many cases, of learning the fundamentals of spoken and written language.

Yeah, of course.

Of course, I meant the vast majority of kids, those with normal intelligence, not suffering from debilitating mental disabilities. etc.

Katharine also wrote:
>I suspect that AS children are not the only ones who lack innate interest in learning certain sorts of skills that most of us would deem essential for independent living. Among the diversity of personalities that constitute humanity, I imagine that there are some who have (through no fault of pop culture in particular or society in general) no innate interest in learning how to read, in how to write intelligibly, and/or in how to keep track of their finances.

Well… of course, there are other forms of mental disabilities than autism.

You also said:
>Especially if one is lucky enough to have smart, good-natured, broadly inquisitive children, it's important not to generalize from one's own parenting experiences and assume that, if only others would just follow in our footsteps, their children would turn out just as well as ours do.

Well, in our society, I don’t think that! Obviously, there is a grave problem in our society in educating children (though, from a functional viewpoint, not as bad as many critics of the schools make out – most adult Americans do function, more or less).
(cont.)

PhysicistDave said...

(cont.)
However, I’m interested in the history of education, and it is hard to think of any society prior to the twentieth-century West in which there was any serious problem getting the vast majority of kids to learn the basic information they needed to function: whether hunter-gatherer societies, Neolithic societies, the classical world, the medieval world, or even colonial and early-republic America.

The only exception I can think of besides the modern West is China during the last millennium, during which the artificial mandarinate system did create a bizarre educational system similar to what the USA now has. – which, as I have said, is the reason Amy Chua really is relevant.

Of course, it would indeed be very hard to get most American kids to read “Macbeth” voluntarily. But why should they? If they are reading it just to pass a test, to check off “English Lit” on college applications, etc., then let them not read Macbeth. What’s the point?

If you’re suggesting that most American kids really would like to avoid acquiring the basic knowledge of the “three Rs” that my great-grandmother already had acquired when she dropped out after fourth grade circa 1893, well… how on earth could we have produced children who do not want to know that? It is not normal for children to so hate their society that they do not want to acquire the very basic knowledge required to live in that society, and, indeed, American kids are (notoriously!) eager to learn how to drive, how to use credit cards, etc.

No, somehow, something very strange has happened to children in twentieth-century America.

And, it’s fairly easy to see the connection between that development and the creation in the twentieth-century of age five-to-eighteen “schooling” that largely consists of warehousing the kids and keeping them out of the labor force.

Looked at in a broad historical context, the educational situation in America today, and, more broadly, the situation among American children today, is so bizarre as to be difficult to put into words.

Something has gone horrifically, catastrophically, frighteningly wrong.

Dave

Lisa said...

Note to self. Sit with kid while she practices.

Katharine Beals said...

Dave,

I'm not, of course, talking about MacBeth and the Scarlet Letter. Nor am I talking about learning how to drive. I'm talking about basic skills for functioning independently in society of the sort that may require of kids a tremendous amount of discipline to master, and time (yes, four years of time): yes, the three Rs. What is your evidence that kids in general--not just your great grandmother-- used to master these things without forced to by adults? What about all those rebellious farm boys we read about in the Laura Ingalls Wilder books--or are you referring to an even earlier golden age of education? That most people have a love of learning that has been squeezed out of them by school (a point with which I agree) does not imply that only mentally disabled children resist learning the three Rs.

It would seem that you haven't met many children whose love of learning is channeled into narrow, esoteric interests; I've met tons. Families share genes; friends share personality traits; family and friends do not represent the gamut of personality types. People don't realize this, think they've seen everything, and then make toxic judgments about other parents.

Let me repeat my final point:
It's important to note that many of the children I've written about do broaden their interests later on in life, but that if one waits for the innate interest to show up on its own, the resulting delay in mastery may frustrate not just the parent, but the child him or herself. For example, not every 5, 6, 7, or even 10-year old boy wants to learn how to read, even if he or she is not mentally disabled, and even if he recognizes the importance of reading later on and wishes he had started earlier.

Glen, on a different thread, puts it beautifully:
"There is a value conflict between the little people my kids are today and the adults they will one day become. The little people fight for what they value today, but who represents the adults they will become?

"That has to be me. I'm like an agent representing the interests of faraway clients with whom I can't communicate. I have to do my best to figure out what they would want me to do and act on their behalf while still protecting the interests of the kids in front of me. I can't let either side take too much advantage of the other.

"Many years from now I'll meet those adult "clients" face to face and have to justify my actions. There will be some second guessing. They'll have the benefit of hindsight and won't fully understand how things were. But, overall, will they be pleased at how I took care of their interests?

"That's a question I try to keep in mind when deciding how hard to push."

And many other parents as well, especially, I imagine, those of us with kids whose "natural willingness to learn" is focused on a narrow range of esoteric topics.

Unlike the evil schools, we don't try to squeeze out these interests, but we do push, often harder than other parents do--and however much they might frown on us.

SteveH said...

"Of course, it would indeed be very hard to get most American kids to read “Macbeth” voluntarily. But why should they? If they are reading it just to pass a test, to check off “English Lit” on college applications, etc., then let them not read Macbeth. What’s the point?"

So, anything that kids don't want to do is either wrong or bad or not necessary to function in society ... by definition? Is it natural to grow up to be contrarian anarchists, or will you push?

Using some sort of societal 3Rs level for a definition of natural learning is vague at best. Averages are not appropriate if they are applied to individuals. There is not some sort of magic cut-off point. Some kids struggle to function in society and some kids do that naturally. For my natural son, I set much higher effort expectations than that. I don't rely only on his natural interests to define the path and the effort just because he meets some minimum 3Rs level.

Schools may be fairly accused of making kids dislike learning, but in K-6, the cause for a lot of the dislike is natural or discovery learning. Everyday Math is all about letting kids learn at their own natural pace.

Anonymous said...

PhysicistDave wrote:
"What kids really need is the three Rs. Americans once knew how to teach the three Rs rapidly, in four years or less, as my great-grandmother’s generation proved, and there was much less of a “youth culture,” “adolescent rebellion,” etc. back then than there is now."

That's because they read from the McGuffey Readers and books by Josephine Pollard. It's the content that matters.

ari-free

Allison said...

Dave,

The fraction of *people* educated to read in your g-grandmother's generation wasn't anywhere 100%. Your grandmother doesn't prove her "generation" was taught to read. What was true was that those who were taught, were taught quickly--but the sample bias is enormous. And who might those have been? You think all factory workers' kids were taught? How about goose girls? The ones taught were likely from educated families, with above average intellectual genes and environment. That's not everyone.

Your ideas about the innate curiosity of the majority of children *before they get to school* is unsubstantiated. I'll get to that in a second.

You said "I alluded to some of that evidence above: There is little trouble in our society in getting kids to want to learn how to drive."

This is a bizarre example, because it's false. Most children I know do not want to learn how to drive out of curiosity. They aren't doing it because they are innately interested. For those who learn, they decide they will learn to drive because the rewards of knowing it outweigh the effort. I've known plenty of kids who never bothered to learn--because they did not need to. Ask most Manhattanites when they learned--the answer isn't at 16. The answer is that they were not self-motivated to bother, just as most teens are not "self" motivated to bother. Even in Suburban San Diego, I had friends who didn't bother to learn, because they had enough friends who drove that it didn't matter to them.

"Everyone knows that toddlers tend to be curious about just about everything (including a lot of things they should not be curious about for safety reasons)..."

Now, this "tend to be" statement is a far cry from "the majority of kids are self motivated to learn everything if left to their own devices" romanticism. Yes, toddlers "tend" to be. But there are plenty of examples of toddlers who don't. You can see toddlers with personality traits that give up quickly if they don't immediately succeed at their goal just as you can see toddlers whose perseverance is beyond 11. I'm not going to solve the genes/env question of where that comes from, but those kids didn't learn to shut down from school.

Katharine's right that you have enormous selection and confirmation bias to assume that the majority of children want to learn most everything. Even in my kid's preschool, which certainly selects for parents who care very much about fostering a good creative learning environment and that are pro-constructivism, you can see a huge disparity in kids' innate willingness to work at learning something--some would play trains all day and never branch out to anything else. Some would play sports all day and never branch out. Some, when encouraged to branch out, do so easily, while others resist. Some do well from the peer pressure and competition, and without someone else beating them at something, they would never bother to learn a new skill. Some look at the competition and collapse. They came this way before school got hold of them.

Maybe it's easier for us to see since we moved to somewhere so alien to our upbringings. Our neighbors' kids are happy and well behaved, but in terms of personality, nothing like ours. It doesn't matter how much Isaac talks about black capped chickadees and american goldfinches, none of his friends care. They don't sit down and read the books he reads, (and neither do his parents.) And his friends don't hit 100 shots on goal in a row to practice the way he does, because they don't think it's fun, and it's not because someone has sucked that out of them. They are 2, 4, 6. It's not in them.

And to blame parents for it not being in their kids is a terrible calumny on parents who raise their kids to be good people.

PhysicistDave said...

Allison wrote to me:
>The fraction of *people* educated to read in your g-grandmother's generation wasn't anywhere 100%.

That’s wrong: at least in the USA. American literacy in the early days of the republic was stunningly high; historians have researched this. We all know the stories of Lincoln, who was “white trash,” but yet knew how to read.

Teaching reading is stunningly easy: all you need is a couple books and an adult who can read.

That we fail to teach reading today to so many kids is, well, absolutely stunning, if you’ll pardon my over-use of that word.

Allison also wrote:
>The ones taught were likely from educated families, with above average intellectual genes and environment.

Simply not true. My great-grandmother was a poor farm girl, daughter of immigrants. Learning to read was the norm in the USA (aside from slaves of course), even a century before she was born.

I know this was not true in much of Europe. But the USA was a (relatively) free country.

Allison also wrote:
>This is a bizarre example, because it's false. Most children I know do not want to learn how to drive out of curiosity. They aren't doing it because they are innately interested. For those who learn, they decide they will learn to drive because the rewards of knowing it outweigh the effort. I've known plenty of kids who never bothered to learn--because they did not need to. Ask most Manhattanites when they learned--the answer isn't at 16. The answer is that they were not self-motivated to bother, just as most teens are not "self" motivated to bother.

In modern America, yes: we live in a very, very sick society, one that hopefully will not survive much longer. But young kids start out curious – I have never seen any exceptions. If you have, you must have found a different species of human beings than I have been around.

(cont.)

PhysicistDave said...

(cont.)

Allison also wrote:
>Now, this "tend to be" statement is a far cry from "the majority of kids are self motivated to learn everything if left to their own devices" romanticism.

Your words, not mine. I think it foolish to expect kids to re-invent the wheel on their own! Why on earth would we hide from them what humans have discovered over the centuries? There are a tiny number of kids who have actually decoded the alphabet and taught themselves to read without adult aid (supposedly, John Stuart Mill did), but of course it is much easier if adults teach the kids the sounds of the alphabet and how to sound out words – i.e., phonics. (I think you may have pegged me as a Rousseauist: I’m not – I have contempt for the old child abuser. I’m with the mainstream of the Enlightenment, more of a Voltairean.)

And, of course, most kids are not “self motivated to learn everything”! Nobody is, not even curious adults like you and me. People can’t learn everything; they shouldn’t try. But, in sane societies, it is not that big of a deal to get kids to learn the basic things they need to function in society; in America it is very difficult. Something is wrong.

I’m well aware that most kids will not teach themselves special relativity when they are twelve-years-old, as I did. I view that fact with sadness, but, after all, it is rather besides the point. Very few people need to know special relativity. The problem is the deep antagonism so many American children have to learning the little they do need to know: the three Rs. That is not normal: something has gone very, very wrong.

I certainly believe that your son is more curious than most kids in his pre-school. Frankly, everything I have seen of pre-schools convinces me that pre-school is part of the process of killing kids’ curiosity. My wife and I looked at a number of pre-schools here in Sacramento when our kids were young, supposedly the best in town. We were appalled. We kept our kids out.

I know Americans are eager to deny the plainest fact of human nature: young mammals, especially young primates, and most especially young humans, are built, above all else, to learn. Americans simply do not want to face up to the “house of horrors” that this society has become.

Aristotle begins the Metaphysics by declaring, “All men by nature desire to know.” When I disagree with my fellow Americans about human nature, I am content to accept Aristotle as a tie-breaker.

Dave

PhysicistDave said...

Education: Free and Compulsory, which is by my late friend the economist Murray Rothbard and which convinced me, many decades ago, to homeschool, goes into some of the history of (mis-)education in the USA that is relevant to this debate: it’s now available online at http://mises.org/story/2226 .

Allison said...

You hold up *Abraham Lincoln* as an example of how someone can teach themselves to read???? Outliers aren't the way to argue the mean.

You're wrong about literacy in the US. Literacy rates were higher in the pre revolutionary period for men in the British colonies, but that didn't hold in the 1800s.
In the early and mid 1800s, various studies put literacy rates for women in the 50% range, and men ranged by community from 10-40% illiterate. We're talking a crude literacy here--enough to sign more than a document with an X meant you were literate, not that you were in any way learned.

Genealogical records of the time starting asking about literacy. The census started asking this question in 1840, though no tests were administered. Names notoriously changed during this period--look in your family tree and you'll likely see several spellings of your surname, because the census workers wrote down various versions what was said and families didn't know how to spell their own name for them. Now it's also true that spelling took a while to standardize, so that plays a part in trying to interpet the data, but here are some sources for you:
http://books.google.com/books?id=PSmIDJrSOYQC&pg=PA112&lpg=PA112&dq=1840+census+literacy+rates&source=bl&ots=954p26ztia&sig=_uBDnvZd1c-ITHk72VHWX2EQvhc&hl=en&ei=6h06Te66LIXQgAe-qKzyCA&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=5&ved=0CEkQ6AEwBA#v=onepage&q=1840%20census%20literacy%20rates&f=false
http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m2005/is_n4_v29/ai_18600988/

Other genealogists talk about this as well. I'll try to find you more sources.
Primates are built above all else to reproduce. To the extent that learning supports reproduction, they learn. But that's not what we're built for. We've got nifty genes for verbal language acquisition, for example, that allow learning by just a kind of saturation in verbal language. But funny, we don't have those genes for written language acquisition.

Allison said...

--I certainly believe that your son is more curious than most kids in his pre-school. Frankly, everything I have seen of pre-schools convinces me that pre-school is part of the process of killing kids’ curiosity. My wife and I looked at a number of pre-schools here in Sacramento when our kids were young, supposedly the best in town. We were appalled. We kept our kids out.

This is enough selection and confirmation bias for me. You've never seen my kid's preschool, and you have no data to support that it is part of the process of "killing kids' curiosity". You've decided schools are bad, and you won't hear evidence to the contrary. My kid's preschool is a dream school where the kids get to be (for 6-10 weeks at a time) ornithologists, astronomers, naturalists and animal trackers, weavers, sculptors, urban planners, cooks etc. while exploring life cycles of trees, frogs, butterflies, and still playing. Curiosity killing? No. And yet, the variation among children is already there before school, and in some ways, grows while there.

(for those interested, you can see the website: http://www.cehd.umn.edu/icd/LabSchool/Classrooms/Dalia/)

Would such a school work at higher ages? Not past 2nd grade, no, because the exploration phase ends, and kids missing the basic skills of literacy will never catch up. And there is the real issue: how do you balance getting those basic skills to the kids who absolutely need them and aren't getting them at home and yet not shackling the kids who already have them and are accelerating away, who are able to handle this level of exploration. The answer is you can't meet both needs simultaneously. But that's a far cry from this Rousseau ideal of the noble student.

PhysicistDave said...

Allison wrote to me:
>You hold up *Abraham Lincoln* as an example of how someone can teach themselves to read???? Outliers aren't the way to argue the mean.

No, Allison, no! I did not hold up Lincoln as an example of someone who could teach himself to read!

Really – look back at what I wrote.

I said:
>There are a tiny number of kids who have actually decoded the alphabet and taught themselves to read without adult aid (supposedly, John Stuart Mill did), but of course it is much easier if adults teach the kids the sounds of the alphabet and how to sound out words – i.e., phonics.

I said that a “tiny number” have managed to do that and gave Mill as an example.

As far as I know, Lincoln did not teach himself to read. However, he did manage one way or another to learn the three Rs, even though his family was poor and lower-class. And, if you look into the historical data, you will find that that was not unusual. Teaching the three Rs is stunningly easy.

It takes the bizarre Rousseauist educational philosophy held by almost Americans, including a lot of people here, to make it seem hard.

Allison also wrote:
>Names notoriously changed during this period--look in your family tree and you'll likely see several spellings of your surname…

Probably not – there is one pretty obvious way to spell the English name “Miller”!

Dave

PhysicistDave said...

Allison wrote to me:
> But that's a far cry from this Rousseau ideal of the noble student.

I’m the anti-Rousseauist here: Rousseau, and, even more, his nineteenth-century epigones, thought it unnatural for kids to learn solid academic material.

I disagree with Rousseau.

Allison also wrote:
> Literacy rates were higher in the pre revolutionary period for men in the British colonies, but that didn't hold in the 1800s.

In short, things were going great among us Anglo-Saxons until we let in all the inferior immigrant stock – I’ve long suspected as much. (At least we had the sense to let in the Ashkenazi Jews, who kicked up the mean IQ a bit.)

Dave

Anonymous said...

Teaching the three Rs is stunningly easy.

How many kids have you taught them to?
Three?
Thirty?
Three hundred?

Teaching the 3 Rs might be stunningly easy for you, but learning them can be stunningly hard for some children. Your broad sweeping generalizations hurt rather than help any arguments you're making.

Allison said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

2nd time posting, with previously omitted information included.

PhysicistDave said:
Teaching the three Rs is stunningly easy.

Really? How many kids have you taught them to?
Three?
Thirty?
Three hundred?

Teaching the 3 Rs might be stunningly easy for you, but learning them can be stunningly hard for some children. Your broad sweeping generalizations hurt rather than help any arguments you're making.

Allison said...

--Dave said: --American literacy in the early days of the republic was stunningly high...We all know the stories of Lincoln, who was “white trash,” but yet knew how to read.


Kearns Goodwin write that Lincoln's father was illiterate, and "never did more in the way of writing than to bunglingly sign his own name." She says Abraham was taught to read by his mother, who she quotes from various sources as a woman "known for the Extraordinary Strength of her mind among the family and all who knew her: she was superior to her husband in every way. She was a brilliant woman...[she] read the Good Bible to him--taught him to read and spell--taught him sweetness & benevolence as well." She died when he was 9.

I guess I don't understand what your point was. That he learned it because literacy was "stunningly high"? Or that all his peers learned to read? He didn't learn it in school; his total schooling amounted to less than one year--as was that of his peers. Beyond reading and writing, he was self taught in all ways including up to his law license. Obviously that wasn't normal for his peers.

Rousseau had the same unconstrained vision of humanity you have. If the current corrupt institutions would just get out of the way, human potential would be so much higher, and we'd be so much better. You may not agree with Rousseau in other places, but in that you hold the same philosophy.

PhysicistDave said...

Allison wrote to me:
> Rousseau had the same unconstrained vision of humanity you have. If the current corrupt institutions would just get out of the way, human potential would be so much higher, and we'd be so much better. You may not agree with Rousseau in other places, but in that you hold the same philosophy.

Nope. You are clearly the Rousseauist here: I’ve hated the guy since I was a kid (honestly).

You’re the one who has utopian beliefs in governmental institutions, religious institutions, etc.

Not me. I don’t trust any of ‘em.

I’m with Lord Acton: “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

Give humans unconstrained power over other humans, and I am convinced they will lie, steal, cheat, and murder to create Hell on earth.

I stand with the men and women of the Enlightenment: Voltaire, Hume, Jefferson, et al.: let human beings be constrained by reason, and by natural law derived from reason, not by corrupt institutions created and dominated by unconstrained, corrupt human beings.

Dave

PhysicistDave said...

Allison wrote to me:
> Kearns Goodwin write that Lincoln's father was illiterate, and "never did more in the way of writing than to bunglingly sign his own name." She says Abraham was taught to read by his mother, who she quotes from various sources as a woman "known for the Extraordinary Strength of her mind among the family and all who knew her: she was superior to her husband in every way. She was a brilliant woman...[she] read the Good Bible to him--taught him to read and spell--taught him sweetness & benevolence as well." She died when he was 9.

Thanks for making my point for me. A good-for-nothing, illiterate dad, a dirt-poor family, and yet Mom taught him to read, even though she died before he was ten.

Teaching a kid to read is really, really, really easy. I strongly suspect that anyone who thinks otherwise has never successfully taught a kid of normal intelligence how to read. It’s easier than changing diapers.

Let’s remember that by our own standards, almost everyone in American in 1750 or 1800 was dirt poor, but most free white males learned to read.

That is the tell-tale: America today vs. America in 1750 is like Switzerland today vs. southern Sudan today. We’re not surprised if southern Sudan has a lot lower literacy than Switzerland. We are surprised if the Swiss do as poor a job educating their kids as the south Sudanese do.

Three of the first four Presidents that this country elected were basically geniuses (Adams, Jefferson, and Madison). This country once honored and respected real learning.

Read Anderegg’s Nerds: Who They Are and Why We Need Them: this country’s adults today hate and despise learning, and they have very, very effectively passed that attitude on to their kids.

Once our heroes included Franklin, Jefferson, Edison, etc. Now, they are Elvis, Madonna, and Michael Jordan – and that’s for the adults; the kids’ heroes are even worse.

Adam Smith said, “There is a great deal of ruin in a country”: i.e., a country can have a lot of flaws and still survive. I don’t think the collapse of education in the USA will have as catastrophic results as many education critics think. I actually suspect the country’s collapse will come from some combination of our insane foreign policy and our irresponsible monetary and tax policies.

Of course, the lack of education doesn’t help in any of those areas, either.

Anyway, I am frankly astounded at the inability of almost all American adults to see these facts staring them in the face.

Dave

Allison said...

--I stand with the men and women of the Enlightenment: Voltaire, Hume, Jefferson, et al.: let human beings be constrained by reason, and by natural law derived from reason, not by corrupt institutions created and dominated by unconstrained, corrupt human beings.


This is exactly the set of ideas Rousseau put forth that led to the French Revolution. As if we could somehow manage to get away from these corrupt institutions if we just had Reason!

(Where do you get the notion that *I* have any Utopian beliefs at all? Where?)

Hey, if you want to argue that Abraham Lincoln was a dime a dozen, and therefore, anyone can learn to read, you're welcome to do so. But no one else sees a dime a dozen of him or anyone like him, or pretends it's easy to make some more like him.

I don't think you've ever met any child of "normal" intelligence, and I'm sure you've not taught them to read. Other than your children, who have you taught to read?

Allison said...

"A good-for-nothing, illiterate dad, a dirt-poor family, and yet Mom taught him to read, even though she died before he was ten."

An "extraordinary mother" taught him. And given the rest of his capacities, there's quite a lot of evidence that quote is correct. So not exactly any ol Mom taught him to read.

How many more extraordinary mothers must there be? If we aren't all extraordinary, what then?

What makes you think that those of us who are merely a-bit-beyond-ordinary or sadly-just-ordinary can do it? And if we can't, what does that mean to you? by definition, we're what, or our children are what?

Glen said...

Allison wrote: Literacy rates were higher in the pre revolutionary period for men in the British colonies, but that didn't hold in the 1800s.

To which Dave responded:
In short, things were going great among us Anglo-Saxons until we let in all the inferior immigrant stock – I’ve long suspected as much.


Given your discussion, this might interest both of you. A g-g-grandfather of mine was "Pennsylvania Dutch," meaning his recent ancestors were immigrant stock from Germany.

He became a public school teacher at age 16 after what he figured was about 2-1/2 school years spread over about 5-6 calendar years, as was common. (School was held when no farm work could be done so, yes, you would walk five miles each way to school in the snow.) His college roommate, also a "Dutch boy in Dutch pants" (lederhosen) did the same thing. Both of them claimed (in diaries, etc.) that in PA and OH in those days (early 1800s) teaching school was a common occupation for "the Dutch" because "the English" had such poor literacy in English. It was common for the English to prefer to send their kids to schools with German ("Dutch") teachers because, although English was not their home language, they were STILL more literate in English than most of the English.

He ended up marrying a girl recently arrived from England, my g-g-grandmother. She was his nurse when he got shot in the battle of Vicksburg. I'm pretty sure she was illiterate, like so many English coal miner's daughters in PA.

So, who was the inferior immigrant stock?

And as for variant name spellings, the Pennsylvania Dutch were required to anglicize their names on government documents, so a Johann Schneider in a church marriage register would be a John Snyder on a census, because he would be literate in both languages, while his English neighbor would be Stephen Whittaker in the church register and Steven Woodacre on the census, because he was literate in neither!

PhysicistDave said...

Glen wrote to me:
>So, who was the inferior immigrant stock?

Ah, Glen, the Pennsylvania Dutch (some are included among my ancestors, too) were Germans, might as well be Anglo-Saxons.

Good immigrant stock.

As to the bad stock, they know who they are!

PhysicistDave said...

Allison wrote to me:
>This is exactly the set of ideas Rousseau put forth that led to the French Revolution. As if we could somehow manage to get away from these corrupt institutions if we just had Reason!

No, you are not well informed.

Rousseau was not an anarchist at all – he wanted to submerge the individual in the General Will. He wanted new institutions that were even more constraining of individuals than the old institutions, and, of course, that is exactly what the French Revolution produced.

That is not what Jefferson, Voltaire, Paine, etc. advocated. They wanted an end to “unconstrained” institutions that oppressed individual human beings. I could quote numerous examples from them, but perhaps Jefferson will suffice: “I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against all forms of tyranny over the mind of man.”

Rousseau was a precursor of the Romantics. Most of the leading philosophes despised him: when Hume unwisely offered to have him as a guest, the philosophes warned Hume about what he was letting himself in for.

Putting Rousseau in the same basket as the other members of the Enlightenment is like treating Solzhenitsyn and Stalin as pretty much the same sort of fellow on the grounds that both were citizens of the Soviet Union!

Distinctions matter.

There is a reason the American Revolution turned out so differently from the French Revolution.

You are taking Tom Sowell’s fallacious nonsense about “constrained” vs. “unconstrained” visions way too seriously. I’ve met Tom, he’s a very nice person – a quiet, polite gentleman. But, his constrained/unconstrained silliness is just a covert way of trying to divide all human beings into either American neocons or Rousseauists, especially weird since a number of leading neocons started as Trotskyites, who legitimately could be called “Rousseauists” (see Raimondo’s Reclaiming the American Right for documentation).

The human race is a wee bit broader than that. Some of us are really, truly neither neocons nor followers of Rousseau. In fact, there is a longstanding affinity between conservatism and Rousseau -- many of Edmund Bruke’s declarations, for example, are curiously similar to Rousseau’s General Will thesis (e.g., “parliament is a deliberative assembly of one nation, with one interest, that of the whole; where, not local purposes, not local prejudices ought to guide, but the general good, resulting from the general reason of the whole”).

Indeed, Rousseau is closer to contemporary American conservatism than to many other ideologies: the “unconstrained” two-front war in the Mideast in the name of “nation-building” and “democracy,” the idea that America is a “propositional nation,” the worship of Lincoln, etc. is all rather Rousseauist.

Again, I’ll stand with the men and women of the Enlightenment – Voltaire, Jefferson, Locke, Paine, et al.

The neocons can keep Rousseau, Trotsky, and all the other utopians who have managed to get so many millions of innocent people killed.

Dave

Katharine Beals said...

"Distinctions matter."

But not, apparently, when it comes to mental disabilities vs. narrow interests, being highly curious vs. being broadly curious; and objects of natural curiosity vs. skills pertaining to artificial systems like written language.

"The human race is a wee bit broader than that."

But not, apparently, when it comes to learning how to read.

After all:

"the vast majority of kids, those with normal intelligence, not suffering from debilitating mental disabilities" ... "innately want to learn"

and:

"Teaching a kid to read is really, really, really easy. I strongly suspect that anyone who thinks otherwise has never successfully taught a kid of normal intelligence how to read. It’s easier than changing diapers."

and:

"Teaching the three Rs is stunningly easy."

Of course, we're still awaiting Dave's response to Anonymous' question:

"Really? How many kids have you taught them to?
Three?
Thirty?
Three hundred?"

And to a few other points, including these:

"What about all those rebellious farm boys we read about in the Laura Ingalls Wilder books?"

"It would seem that you haven't met many children whose love of learning is channeled into narrow, esoteric interests; I've met tons. Families share genes; friends share personality traits; family and friends do not represent the gamut of personality types. People don't realize this, think they've seen everything, and then make toxic judgments about other parents."

SteveH said...

Why did the question change to whether it's natural to achieve some vague definition of functioning in society? What, exactly, is natural, and what, exactly, is this level? Besides, I'm trying to help my son reach his potential. That's what Amy Chua is trying to do. Obviously, many individuals find that what they want for their kids is not a natural process. They use all types and levels of pushing. Some work and some don't. I'm not a societal clone and I will push more than others. Why would an anarchist complain?

In K-6, schools use lots of natural techniques that fail to work. Everyday Math is all about letting kids learn at their own pace. They assume that if they don't learn then they are not ready yet. Schools ruin kids by not pushing. Natural can't be defined as whatever works. That's what schools do.

PhysicistDave said...

Katharine wrote:
>But not, apparently, when it comes to mental disabilities vs. narrow interests, being highly curious vs. being broadly curious; and objects of natural curiosity vs. skills pertaining to artificial systems like written language.

Already settled issues, Katharine: asked and answered, as the lawyers say.

And, as to “Anonymous,” it is my usual policy (I occasionally make exceptions) to ignore questions directed at me by people who post as “Anonymous”: if someone lacks the guts to identify himself, I do not take him seriously.

Dave

PhysicistDave said...

SteveH wrote:

> Why did the question change to whether it's natural to achieve some vague definition of functioning in society?

It has?

My view, as I stated earlier is:
> What I think parents should do is yank their kids out of the public schools yesterday, homeschool them, and focus on teaching a questioning approach based on hard-core knowledge of science, math, and history that will turn the little ones into atheistic anarchists – i.e., people who have no faith at all in socially established authorities. I see the usefulness of math and science in pursuing STEM careers as only of secondary importance: the main importance, to me, is in the role that science plays in destroying all of the old socially-stabilizing verities – everything from Divine Creation to human equality.

I think any education worth the name will turn kids into little atheistic-anarchistic social revolutionaries, because they will come to realize that all human societies are built on packs of lies.

Hardly a functionalist perspective!

On the other hand, alas, most American parents do not agree with me: most parents seem to just want the minimal amount of education required for their kids to function in society and get an okay job. And that really only requires the three Rs.

I’ve simply pointed out that, as the nineteenth-century experience indicates, achieving that minimalist goal is rather easy – kids in nineteenth-century America routinely were taught the three Rs in less than six years: anyone who reads up on the nineteenth-century educational experience will find that my great–grandmother’s experience (learning the three Rs by the end of fourth grade and then dropping out) was not particularly atypical.
(cont.)

PhysicistDave said...

(cont.)
Because I think learning in general, not just for minimal functionalist purposes, is “natural” to human beings, Allison thinks I’m a Rousseauist. Of course, he thought the opposite: he liked an approach like her son’s pre-school – back to nature, and all that – which I abhor.

I don’t see that anyone has, in your words, debated “whether it's natural to achieve some vague definition of functioning in society,” unless you are just referring to the trivially obvious point that most human societies do manage to teach most of their kids whatever those societies consider necessary for functioning in their societies: I suppose that fact is basically tautologous.

SteveH also wrote:
> Besides, I'm trying to help my son reach his potential. That's what Amy Chua is trying to do. Obviously, many individuals find that what they want for their kids is not a natural process.

And, that’s where you and I disagree. I agree with Aristotle that “All men by nature desire to know,” and I find it depressing that American society has perverted if not destroyed that natural “desire to know” in most of our children.

You and I agree that some level of adult encouragement and guidance is desirable in kids’ education: there are kids, who, after learning to read, largely do it alone and manage to do okay (I am somewhat of an example myself – I rapidly got beyond any adults I knew in math and science), but, obviously, adult guidance and encouragement can help.

The issue is whether or not it is natural to expect substantial resistance from kids in that process. I think it is fair to say that the vast majority of American kids are resistant: anyone who doubts that should ask a random public-school teacher!

I maintain, appealing to Aristotle, that such resistance is not “natural” and is a result of our very, very sick society.

SteveH also wrote:
> I'm not a societal clone and I will push more than others. Why would an anarchist complain?

Steve, actually I think you’re a pretty good guy (same for Allison): I’m sure we’d be friends if we knew each other in real life, and I’m happy to think of you as “Web friends.” But, if we have an open discussion about basic issues of education, well, such discussions do tend to evolve rapidly into basic issues about philosophy and one’s perspective on human nature, and differences on those basic issues can seem to be pretty sharp.

All the best,

Dave

Ari-free said...

PhysicistDave wrote: "There are a tiny number of kids who have actually decoded the alphabet and taught themselves to read without adult aid (supposedly, John Stuart Mill did),"

From John Stuart Mill's Autobiography:
http://www.cooperativeindividualism.org/mill_autobio1.html
"A man who, in his own practice, so vigorously acted up to the principle of losing no time, was likely to adhere to the same rule in the instruction of his pupil. I have no remembrance of the time when I began to learn Greek. I have been told that it was when I was three years old. My earliest recollection on the subject, is that of committing to memory what my father termed Vocables, being lists of common Greek words, with their signification in English, which he wrote out for me on cards. Of grammar, until some years later, I learnt no more than the inflexions of the nouns and verbs, but, after a course of vocables, proceeded at once to translation; and I faintly remember going through AEsop's Fables, the first Greek book which I read. The Anabasis, which I remember better, was the second. I learnt no Latin until my eighth year..."

Ari-free said...

Amy Chua is nothing compared to John Stuart Mill's father. And he wasn't Chinese!

SteveH said...

"Hardly a functionalist perspective!"

But it's not clearly defined. It seems to me that whatever level it is and whatever you decide, is natural and will work by definition.


"...most parents seem to just want the minimal amount of education required for their kids to function in society ..."

That a different issue. It's not the Amy Chua issue. Besides, I don't buy that argument. Most parents want the world for their kids.


"And, that’s where you and I disagree. I agree with Aristotle that “All men by nature desire to know,” and I find it depressing that American society has perverted if not destroyed that natural “desire to know” in most of our children."

Good luck trying to cram that philosophy into reality. You should try starting from the data and working the other way. I never destroy my son's "desire to know", but I push. Aristotle never figured that out. Damn the data, full philosophy ahead. There is a reason why the scientific revolution is called a revolution.


"the main importance [STEM careers], to me, is in the role that science plays in destroying all of the old socially-stabilizing verities – everything from Divine Creation to human equality."

Is that what your kids think or want? Is that a natural end result of teaching or will you go out of your way to emphasize your world view. In some ways, that's not much different than Amy Chua's approach. She pushes to make her kids the ultimate societal competitors. You push your kids to become the opposite. Both views are controlled by society. However, Amy Chua's kids will have more options in life.


If you are offering your perspective to others as a possibility to consider (the only thing an anarchist could do), then it's not clear enough. Once your kids have "no faith at all in socially established authorities", then what? Is that really the path to true enlightenment and a happy life?


I don't know what my son wants in life, but it does not involve closing doors. It means that I expect him to work hard and deal with the problems of competition and supply and demand. This requires pushing (as I define it) on my part, but that doesn't necessarily mean that I am, or that my son will become, some sort of slave to social norms. He's much smarter than that. I think Amy Chua's kids are too.

PhysicistDave said...

SteveH wrote:
>[Dave]"Hardly a functionalist perspective!"
>[SteveH]But it's not clearly defined. It seems to me that whatever level it is and whatever you decide, is natural and will work by definition.

I have no idea what you are talking about! You are the one who brought up “some vague definition of functioning in society.” It’s not my job to clearly define something you brought up in a statement that was in fact mistaken.

SteveH also wrote:
>[Dave] "the main importance [STEM careers], to me, is in the role that science plays in destroying all of the old socially-stabilizing verities – everything from Divine Creation to human equality."
>[SteveH]Is that what your kids think or want? Is that a natural end result of teaching or will you go out of your way to emphasize your world view.

Yeah, actually that is what my kids want: in fact, they are much more eager to discuss the dishonesty and stupidity of American adults than, say, Ohm’s law (which we recently covered). I suppose most kids would be, eh?

Actually, I tried for a long time to de-emphasize my “world-view,” to use the term you chose (a term that has been primarily pushed by the creationists lately). But, if you simply tell the truth to kids about, say, politics, rather than lying by omission as most adults do, they come away with a pretty negative view of government. Tell them, for example, the actual historical facts about the genesis of all of America’s wars as presented in graduate-level texts (but not grade-school texts!) and they come away thinking that the government of the United States is generally led by a bunch of mass murderers. Not my fault.

SteveH also wrote:
> If you are offering your perspective to others as a possibility to consider (the only thing an anarchist could do), then it's not clear enough. Once your kids have "no faith at all in socially established authorities", then what? Is that really the path to true enlightenment and a happy life?

Yes, it is: ask Tom Paine or Laozi or Henry David Thoreau or Lev Tolstoy or …

And, you misunderstand anarchists. “Anarchist,” as I and most anarchists I know use the term, is simply a person who does not have a quasi-religious faith in government: we view governmental actions as we would view the same actions if carried out by private citizens. If you try doing that, you will find a great deal of difficulty distinguishing the actions of government from large-scale theft, and, indeed, mass murder.

“Anarchist” does not have much to do with child-rearing, religion, education, or, for that matter vegetarianism.

And, no, Steve, I will not “calibrate” that! Most non-autistic people can understand that well enough.

SteveH also wrote:
>that doesn't necessarily mean that I am, or that my son will become, some sort of slave to social norms.

The worst form of slavery is those who are enslaved and cannot even admit to themselves that they are enslaved.

All the best,

Dave