kitchen table math, the sequel: 7/13/08 - 7/20/08

Saturday, July 19, 2008

more on redshirting Kindergarten kids

from the WSJ:

A new study draws attention to the social consequences of a decades-old trend in parenting: having kids start school a year later. For years, research showing the benefits of being an older first-grader, as well as the experience of countries like Finland where schooling doesn’t start until age seven, has encouraged parents and teachers to “redshirt” kids. In 1968, 96% of six-year-olds were enrolled in first grade or above. By 2005, that number had fallen to 84%.


Harvard’s David Deming and Susan Dynarski, in an NBER working paper published this month, write that “increasing age at school entry intensifies inequality in human capital and social welfare.” Kids who start school a year late have one year less schooling before they reach the age at which they’re allowed to drop out, decreasing their average educational attainment and widening the gap in learning between rich and poor.


Deming and Dynarski note that, in the last 40 years, almost every state has raised the age at which children can start school. “This change is remarkable,” they write, “given the strong evidence that, in the United States, starting school later decreases educational attainment.”

The Graying of Kindergarten'

a couple of interesting comments:

I agree that the extra year is especially helpful for boys. My son has the skills but not the social maturity to sit through all day kindergarten. I also feel that there should be some boundaries. My daughter had an eight year old in her first grade class. Bullying and sports are both a problem in that case.
Comment by Andrew - July 18, 2008 at 2:32 pm

I have a January birthday and was a good reader when I entered Kindergarten. My first grade teacher had me tested and based on my social maturity and age, I was moved to second grade after two months or so.

My mother years later said that some neighbors shunned our family because I got special treatment and their kids did not. Mind you, this was in 1959 when parents were less competitive about their offspring.

Later in HS, I felt socially immature compared to my peers and the fact that my puberty was delayed did not help either. That senior year was tough. But in college, it did not matter.

The intangibles of being one year off probably cannot be reliably assessed for 10 years.
Comment by Skipped first grade - July 18, 2008 at 2:49 pm

In my neighborhood there are two reasons parents hold back their children: 1) To give their child an academic advantage over their younger classmates so they have the honor of being in the gifted track; and 2) To give their child an athletic advantage in sheer size and speed over younger classmates.

To me it was very strange seeing several of my child’s classmates with adult teeth when they entered kindergarten.
Comment by John - July 18, 2008 at 2:55 pm

I have three sons, the third of which started a year late. The third is in his second year of high school and has been this highest achiever of the three. Had we entered him into school a year earlier, his relative immaturity and diminutive size would have likely caused socialization and confidence problems that would have resulted in a much different outcome.
Comment by Paul - July 18, 2008 at 2:59 pm

I love this: “increasing age at school entry intensifies inequality in human capital and social welfare.” Isn’t that the whole point of holding your kid back? It’s to give him a leg up and widen the gap between him/her and other students because good jobs are a scarce resource. Maybe on average kids who start later do worse, but not in the WASPY demographic of the WSJ. Face it people, we are trying to widen the gap between our own children and everyone else’s so they aren’t in a position to lose their job to a 3rd world worker. Ideal? No. Reality? Yep - welcome to America.
Comment by So Smart You're Stupid - July 18, 2008 at 3:33 pm
[this commenter must have read The Race Between Education and Technology...]

Have none of you really considered why many parents are starting their kids later…for sports. I know lots of kids who were held back by a year so by the time they reached high school they were a year older and more mature and developed than the competition, thus increasing the chances of being recruited for college. It’s sad but true that so many parents actuall do this.
Comment by Anonymous - July 18, 2008 at 4:04 pm

Parents who redshirt their children believe that outcomes in life are determined by relative achievement. For example, they feel that their children will be better served by becoming Little League All-Stars while competing against younger teammates. This is clearly sub-optimal for society, but it does strike me as rational. The Harvard researchers seem to have missed the fact that many parents would prefer their daughter to graduate from Harvard at age 23 than from State U at age 22.
Comment by John Sterling - July 18, 2008 at 4:16 pm

The problem here is how the data is being interpreted by the Harvard folks. When the dropouts are lumped in, on aggregate the picture looks bleak. The more interesting point, and the one that everyone seems to be alluding to in their comments, is what happens to the educational attainment of those children who do stay in school for the full 12 years; is it better or worse than a control group?
Comment by Professional Researcher - July 18, 2008 at 5:27 pm

After reading/scanning most of your comments I am baffled how parents have abdicated their responsibility in raising their children. Wake-up call: it is not the state’s responsibility to educate your children or set age limits, it is yours. Just because the state has taken over this job doesn’t mean it should be that way. And for those ready to ask me about the “socializing” of my children, here’s my answer: My children are socialized with a diverse group of people: older people, children from other countries, their parents and each other. They are certainly not the peer dependent children that the state/private school gives you back when you send your child there.
Comment by Homeschooling Dad - July 18, 2008 at 6:23 pm

I was an August birthday who started “on time.” I did fine academically, but my social and physical development lagged behind my academic development.
The problem isn’t whether a kid is or is not ready to start by a certain date, the problem is whether a kid is or is not more mature than their peers. The youngest kid in the class will always be developmentally behind the oldest, whether the youngest kid was born in December, August, or May.
Comment by Jim - July 19, 2008 at 8:36 am

just throwing it out there, but I repeated kindergarten then went on to graduate number 1 in my class from high school and magna cum laude from college. From my recent experience, the younger kids in my grade during high school were more imature and did not do as well on average. Most of the AP classes were older kids
Comment by another opinion - July 19, 2008 at 10:04 am

There are numerous comments from people who were the youngest in their class and did great. I've pulled the negative comments because they describe what we've experienced.

I had a funny experience this spring. I've long had the perception that the dominant boys in C's class are the older kids. But I hadn't thought about the ramifications of this apparent fact.

In C's class there are a couple of boys who routinely blow him & most of his friends out of the water on grades, etc. These kids also seem to be very well liked by the teachers.

This was always a bit of a mystery to me. Obviously these kids were very bright, but I didn't see the big difference between them and all of the boys in C's circle, who seem a tad underappreciated by my lights.

Then last May C and I were talking about something or other, and C mentioned in passing that "X & Y are a year older. That's why they're so smart."

He said this matter-of-factly, as if this were simply taken for granted by the kids at school.

I'm sure he's right.

My conclusion is that if your son is going into a highly competitive public school setting, a Richard Elmore-type "high-performing" school* in which parents are hiring tutors, there's nothing to be gained and plenty to be lost by allowing him to be the youngest in the class.

I suspect things are different in a DI or Catholic school, though I don't know.

Basically, any kind of sink-or-swim educational environment will handicap kids by age. I'm pretty sure.

* Richard Elmore posts t/k

relative age effect
high school leadership, wages, and relative age
redshirting kids
redshirting & tournament settings


I've been asking friends about sport psychology lately, mostly on C's behalf. Having missed out on sports as a child, I know nothing about athletics and wish I did. Ed is teaching me tennis, so I've started...)

One thing I didn't know: the importance of the "mental game." Actually, I'm not sure I was fully aware that there was a mental game. All I knew was what Ed's college friend, Ricky, who began life as a sportswriter for USA Today, once told us about the greats. The difference between the great athletes & the near-greats, he said, was that under ferocious pressure the greats got better. That image has stayed with me.

Just found this passage in a WSJ article:

If a masterpiece is both sui generis and gives abiding pleasure, then Stephen Potter's odd books "Gamesmanship" (1947), "Lifemanship" (1950), "One-upmanship" (1952), and "Supermanship" (1958) surely qualify.

I first read "One-upmanship" at age 19, and not long after attended a lecture by the book's author, an Englishman who, had his accent been any plummier, would have been indecipherable....

Of the lecture itself, I remember only that afterward a graduate student rose to ask, in the best wooden academic fashion, how it came about that he, Potter, a recognized Coleridge scholar, a man who had proved his seriousness, as it were and if you will, had veered off to write such ostensibly frivolous books as "Gamesmanship," etc.

Pausing interminably while clearing what seemed like three or four liters of phlegm from his throat, Potter leaned close to his microphone and, in five staccato beats, replied: "Out of work, you know."

A perfect answer, I should say, for the author of books whose reason for being is instruction in how to stir doubt, undermine confidence, spread unease, and encourage hopelessness in one's fellow human beings.


Stephen Potter's own description of his career before writing his -manship books runs: "Failed academic lecturer, failed novelist, failed literary biographer, reasonable compiler [of anthologies], reasonable educational pamphleteer, failed editor, failed book critic, failed rowing blue . . ." He also wrote a play, which, he reports, "got as far as a read-through by a Sunday Society and is perhaps the only play which died on the first rehearsal."

All this failure is important, for it never would have occurred to a successful man to devise the four strange books that were the making of Potter's reputation as a comic artist. The idea for these books first arose while Potter was playing tennis with the philosopher C.E.M. Joad as his partner, against two younger and better players. After hitting a ball that was obviously well out of court, Joad called, "Kindly say clearly, please, whether the ball was in or out." By suggesting a slight lapse in etiquette on the part of the younger players, good sportsmen both, it threw them off stride, a stride they never regained, and Potter and Joad went on to win the match. "For me," writes Potter, "it was the birth of gamesmanship."

"Gamesmanship" is devoted to "the art of winning games without actually cheating." Actually is the key word here. In tennis, golf, chess, poker, cricket, bridge, hunting and other games, Potter suggests delicate ways of breaking the flow of concentration in your opponent so that he stumbles and falls off his game. A gamesman does what he can to make sure that the best man does not win.

The Success of Failure
by Joseph Epstein
July 19, 2008 Page W14
Wall Street Journal

In fact, I figured this out in a high school P.E. class one day. We were playing softball, and I was pitching to one of the naturals. As I recall, my opponent was not only naturally athletic, she was popular and she had made the Pom Pom squad, which I had not.

So I was pitching to this paragon of athleticism and teen success, and I found myself saying to her solicitously, after she had uncharacteristically missed a first swing, "Are you OK? Do you feel alright?"

Her normally confident expression changed to a look of uncertainty and then to near bewilderment as her swing fell apart and she struck out.


C's tennis teacher told me to get Brad Gilbert's Winning Ugly, which I did.

It's about beating people who are better than you.

The tone of Potter's books combines the amiability of P.G. Wodehouse with the humorous malice of Evelyn Waugh. Behind them is the Hobbesian presupposition that man lives in a natural state of war. Well, perhaps not all men -- only those of us who are not dazzlingly handsome, impressively athletic, widely learned and deeply cultured, always at ease in the world. Natural advantage is the enemy for Potter, whose books offer guidance in the art of redress -- or how to go from well down to one-up.

That was pretty much my view of high school.

Friday, July 18, 2008


I've always thought there was something important about actually working physically with your hands:

LONDON - British children's brain development is being threatened by their failure to work with their hands in school and at home, said a report released on Monday.

With woodwork, metalwork, craft, music or car mechanic classes dropped by many schools and children wanting to play computer games at home, the UK is becoming a "software instead of a screwdriver society," said the report, commissioned by the Ruskin Mill Educational Trust.

"Working with one's own hands in a real-world 3-D environment is imperative for full cognitive and intellectual development," said the report's author Dr. Aric Sigman.


The report cited examples of 11-year-olds with deficits in certain areas of their cognitive development and a decline in the ability of young engineers and apprentices to conceptualize straightforward mechanical problems.

"The findings of this report clearly point to strengthening the role of '3-D' learning and crafts in educational policy-making today," said Sigman.

Working with hands helps develop kid's brains

Temple has been talking about this for years. Her students can't draw (scroll down). By "her students can't draw," I mean her students can't use CAD to make a correct architectural drawing. The reason they can't use CAD, Temple believes, is that they never learned to draw by hand. Older architects who learned to draw by hand and then switched to CAD do fine. It's the younger architects who never did hand drawings at all who are lost.

My sister's husband has seen the same thing. And Carolyn always thought there was something important about hands and math.

Maybe one of these days I'll get around to reading The Hand: How Its Use Shapes the Brain, Language, and Human Culture.

This could be wrong, of course. But if I had to bet, I wouldn't bet on Project Lead the Way.

Bring back shop.

The Race: declining value of a college degree

College-educated workers are more plentiful, more commoditized and more subject to the downsizings that used to be the purview of blue-collar workers only. What employers want from workers nowadays is more narrow, more abstract and less easily learned in college.

To be sure, the average American with a college diploma still earns about 75% more than a worker with a high-school diploma and is less likely to be unemployed. Yet while that so-called college premium is up from 40% in 1979, it is little changed from 2001, according to data compiled by Jared Bernstein of the Economic Policy Institute, a liberal Washington think tank.

Most statistics he and other economists use don't track individual workers over time, but compare annual snapshots of the work force. That said, this trend doesn't appear due to an influx of lower-paid young workers or falling starting salaries; Mr. Bernstein says when differences in age, race, marital status and place of residence are accounted for, the trend remains the same.

A variety of economic forces are at work here. Globalization and technology have altered the types of skills that earn workers a premium wage; in many cases, those skills aren't learned in college classrooms. And compared with previous generations, today's college graduates are far more likely to be competing against educated immigrants and educated workers employed overseas.

The issue isn't a lack of economic growth, which was solid for most of the 2000s. Rather, it's that the fruits of growth are flowing largely to "a relatively small group of people who have a particular set of skills and assets that lots of other people don't," says Mr. Bernstein. And that "doesn't necessarily have that much to do with your education." In short, a college degree is often necessary, but not sufficient, to get a paycheck that beats inflation.

Economists chiefly cite globalization and technology, which have prompted employers to put the highest value on abstract skills possessed by a relatively small group, for this state of affairs. Harvard University economists Lawrence Katz and Claudia Goldin argue that in the 1990s, it became easier for firms to do overseas, or with computers at home, the work once done by "lower-end college graduates in middle management and certain professional positions." This depressed these workers' wages, but made college graduates whose work was more abstract and creative more productive, driving their salaries up.

Indeed, salaries have seen extraordinary growth among a small number of highly paid individuals in the financial sector -- such as fund management, investment banking and corporate law -- which, until the credit crisis hit a year ago, had benefited both from the buoyant financial environment and the globalization of finance, in which the U.S. remains a leader.

Richard Spitzer is one of those beneficiaries. He received his undergraduate degree in East Asian studies in 1995 from the College of William and Mary and graduated from Georgetown University's law school in 2001. The New York firm for which he works, now called Dewey & LeBoeuf, has a specialty in complex legal work for insurance companies. There, Mr. Spitzer has developed an expertise in "catastrophe bonds." An insurance company sells such bonds to investors and pays them interest, unless an earthquake, a hurricane or unexpected surge in deaths occurs.

Experts in these bonds are "probably a rarefied species -- there's only a few law firms that do them," says Mr. Spitzer, 35 years old. He typically spends two to four months on a single deal, ensuring that details like timing of payments or definition of the triggering event are precise enough to avoid disputes or default.

Mr. Spitzer's salary has doubled to $265,000 since joining in 2001, in line with salaries similar firms pay.

But not all law graduates are so fortunate; many, especially those from less-prestigious schools, have far lower salaries and less job security. Similarly, some computer-science graduates strike it rich. But their skills are not as rare as they were in the early 1980s, when the discipline took off, and graduates today must contend with competition from hundreds of thousands of similarly qualified foreign workers in the U.S. or overseas.

The Declining Value of Your College Degree

in a nutshell:

(entire article posted here)

  • the returns to a Bachelor's degree dropped between 2001 & 2007
  • the returns to advanced degrees increased between 2001 & 2007

The rising inequality described in this article is the subject of Goldin & Katz's The Race Between Education and Technology. Their explanation, however, is quite different in substance and in emphasis.

Goldin & Katz's book isn't about the horrors of globalization. It is so not about the horrors of globalization that the word globalization doesn't even appear in the index.

The word outsourcing appears once:
Even though international outsourcing has been blamed for the decreased utilization of the less educated, the facts in this case argue against that explanation as being the primary factor. Large within-industry shifts toward more skilled workers occurred in sectors with little or no foreign outsourcing activity, at least in the 1980s and up to the late 1990s. (p. 98)

Goldin and Katz document and analyze a race between eduction and technology. As technology advances, the demand for educated workers advances, too. This has been true since the end of the 19th century.

(Prior to that, advancing technology reduced the demand for skilled labor, as when the invention of factories reduced the demand for skilled artisans.)

The law of supply and demand determines wages. For 75 years, American public schools created a continuously increasing supply of educated workers, more than any other country in the world. Because we produced so many educated workers, income inequality steadily fell.

That changed in 1980. We are no longer seeing enormous gains in educational attainment from one generation to the next. It used to be that kids were always much more educated than their parents; those days are gone.

Meanwhile, the advance of technology has not slowed. We are producing more high-level jobs, and fewer high-level workers. This means the highly educated earn more while others earn less.

The two charts below accompanied the WSJ article:

The second chart is the important one. This chart goes back to 1976. Look how close the lines are in 1976. The difference between a lawyer and a plumber back in the day wasn't that big. I'm old enough to remember that time. Newspapers and magazines were filled with articles arguing that college wasn't worth the money because you could get rich being a really good plumber.

Then look at the difference between a plumber and a lawyer today.

Winner take all.

Given the (apparently) related fact that we also see rising within group inequality, I see two rational responses:
  • do everything in your power to see to it that your kids receive a superb education up through graduate or professional school
  • carry on lobbying schools & governments to fix the schools, which, in my case means supporting charters & vouchers as well as school reform

Steve Levitt summarizes The Race in 2 sentences
Jimmy graduates

The anemic response of skill investment to skill premium growth
The declining American high school graduation rate: Evidence, sources, and consequences
Pushy parents raise more successful kids

The Race Between Education and Technology book review
The Race Between Ed & Tech: excerpt & TOC & SAT scores & public loss of confidence in the schools
The Race Between Ed & Tech: the Great Compression
the Great Compression, part 2
ED in '08: America's schools
comments on Knowledge Schools
the future
the stick kids from mud island
educated workers and technology diffusion
declining value of college degree
Goldin, Katz and fans
best article thus far: Chronicle of Higher Education on The Race
Tyler Cowan on The Race (NY Times)
happiness inequality down...
an example of lagging technology diffusion in the U.S.

the Times reviews The Race, finally
IQ, college, and 2008 election
Bloomington High School & "path dependency"
the election debate that should have been

algebra in 8th

A View From Abroad: Algebra Comes Early

While more American students are being encouraged to take introductory algebra in 8th grade, their foreign peers are typically exposed to that math content by at least that grade level, if not earlier, a well-known scholar has found.

Research conducted by William H. Schmidt, a professor of education at Michigan State University in East Lansing, has shown that many Asian and European countries teach introductory algebra in 8th or even 7th grade, and seek to prepare students for that material in earlier grades. Those courses usually aren’t called Algebra 1, as they are in the United States, even though they cover algebraic material, he said.

Mr. Schmidt studied algebra and math coursetaking in about 50 foreign nations with varying levels of academic achievement in the mid-1990s; their curricula have remained relatively unchanged since then, he said.

The researcher says he believes all U.S. students should be encouraged to take introductory algebra by 8th grade—and be adequately prepared for it beforehand. In American middle schools today, “there’s a tracking,” Mr. Schmidt said, in which “some kids get Algebra 1 and others don’t.”

—Sean Cavanagh
Catching Up on Algebra
Education Week
April 22, 2008

and, in California:

California 8th graders will be required to take Algebra 1 and be tested on it as part of the state’s accountability system, under a controversial decision made by the state board of education last week after last-minute pressure from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The board voted 8-1 July 9 to approve the requirement, which could be could be phased in for the state’s nearly 490,000 8th graders as early as the 2009-10 school year if the plan passes muster under federal accountability standards.


California joins Minnesota as the only states with a requirement that all students take algebra in 8th grade. The Minnesota mandate goes into effect for the 2010-11 school year.

California was forced to move on the issue because it has been under pressure from the U.S. Department of Education to meet an Aug. 1 deadline to align its testing program with its state math standards in 8th grade. While more than half the state’s 8th graders already take algebra and are tested on it, the rest are tested on 6th and 7th grade general mathematics skills.

California Board Mandates Algebra 1 for All 8th Graders
Ed Week
July 14, 2008

tips from the Associated Press

Tips for Coping with Your Kid's New Math Homework

Having trouble helping your kids do their homework? Here are some tips from educators for parents flummoxed by some of the new math curricula:

Attend school meetings or family nights: Some school districts plan family nights to explain the new math curricula to parents. Teachers sometimes even ask parents to try out math problems. "I like to give parents little white boards and socks (as erasers) and see what answers they come up with," says Pat Cooney, math coordinator for six public elementary schools in Ridgefield, Conn.

Sit down and work it out: Even if it's difficult, and even if your kid is as confused as you are, it's worth taking the time to try sorting it out together. "One of the best things parents can do is be willing to sit down and talk it through," says Hank Kepner, president of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. "It can lead to breakthroughs for both parent and student."

Call for Help: "If you have questions, by all means, call the teacher," says Melissa Hedges, an elementary school teacher in Milwaukee. "It's a two-way street."

Teach your way if you must, but keep teacher in the loop: Parents may feel they want to teach their kids the "old methods," but they should at least discuss it with the teacher. "It's best for there to be an open conversation between parent and teacher," says Kepner. "You don't want the kid to be in the middle."

Associated Press

Sit down and work it out?

How about no.

renegade parents of the world, unite!

On an occasional evening at the kitchen table in Brooklyn, N.Y., Victoria Morey has been known to sit down with her 9-year-old son and do something she's not supposed to.

"I am a rebel," confesses this mother of two. And just what is this subversive act in which Morey engages — with a child, yet?

Long division.

Yes, Morey teaches her son, who'll enter fifth grade in the fall, how to divide the old-fashioned way — you know, with descending columns of numbers, subtracting all the way down. It's a formula that works, and she finds it quick, reliable, even soothing. So, she says, does her son.


As the math coordinator for six public schools in Ridgefield, which over the last two years have implemented the Growing in Math curriculum, [Pat Cooney has] seen a lot of angry parents.

"I had one parent who was probably as angry as a parent could be," Cooney says. "I've had irate phone calls. Some think we're giving the kids misinformation. They think we're not doing our jobs."

One problem, Cooney says, is that parents remember math as offering only one way to solve a problem. [ed.: evidence, please] "We're saying that there's more than one way," Cooney says. "The outcome will be the same, but how we get there will be different." Thus, when a parent is asked to multiply 88 by 5, we'll do it with pen and paper, multiplying 8 by 5 and carrying over the 4, etc. But a child today might reason that 5 is half of 10, and 88 times 10 is 880, so 88 times 5 is half of that, 440 — poof, no pen, no paper.

"The traditional way is really a shortcut," Cooney says. [take the long way round...] "We want kids to be so confident with numbers that it becomes intuitive."

As for parents, Cooney hopes that if they're teaching kids at home, at least it won't be: "Let me show you how you REALLY do it," Cooney says. She's spending the rest of her summer working on plans for more family nights at school, to better explain the system.

Renegade Parents Teach Old Math on the Sly

They do what they do.

And we do what we do.

You may be able to leave a comment on the Education Week post of the article here.

how to get parent buy in
Everyday Math does it, too
a teacher using Math Trailblazers
parents rise up
math night coming right up

eduwonkette makes my day

Savvy New York City parents have long suspected that high achieving kids are losing out in the push to boost the achievement of the lowest performing students. But those suspicions are often cast aside by public officials as helicopter parent whining or muted class warfare.

Are New York Schools Shortchanging High Achieving Students?

This is the first time I've seen anyone other than a parent (well, other than the folks around here) use the term "helicopter parent" to indicate coded language administrators & educators use to fend off parents & evade accountability.

This spring the Health teacher actually taught the term "helicopter parents" to her 8th grade class.

The subject was stress, and the teacher had asked the kids what things stressed them out. One kid said his parents stressed him out because they were pressuring him to do well in school.*

"That's called helicopter parenting," the teacher explained.

I managed not to write an email about that one, although I wanted to.

If I had, I would have explained to the teacher that a helicopter parent isn't a parent who pressures his kid.

A helicopter parent is a parent who pressures the school.

* I gather no one said that ineffective classroom instruction or indecipherable grading rubrics stresses them out. A missed opportunity!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

A possibly good development for science education?

This week's Daily Pennsylvanian, the student newspaper at the University of Pennsylvania, reports on a five-year, $10 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education's Institute of Education Sciences to Penn and several other institutions to establish a 21st Century Center for Cognition and Science Instruction.
According to the Daily Pennsylvanian, the consortium will collaborate with "over 200 Pennsylvania middle schools to study how the mind receives, processes, stores and retrieves knowledge and how to improve middle school science curricula."

The Daily Pennsylvanian quotes Andrew Porter, the new dean of Penn's Graduate School of Education, as saying: "It's highly unlikely that the U.S. can continue to produce leading scientists and engineers without providing a stronger science education to our children, particularly in the critical middle-school years."

Besides Penn (both its Graduate School of Education and its Institute for Research in Cognitive Science), the other institutions involved are the University of Pittsburgh's Learning Research and Development Center, Research for Better Schools, and the 21st Century Partnership for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Education.

Does anyone know anything about these other institutions--in particular, how empirically based vs. dogma-driven their past ventures have been?

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

onward & upward

Megawords 5: DONE

woo hoo!

Megawords: personal history

Being your child's frontal lobes May 5, 2005
Megawords 1 completed May 14, 2005
Bonus pre-teen post June 6, 2005
How to spell, inquiry version June 14, 2005
How to spell, inquiry version pt 2 June 14, 2005
Spell check March 4, 2006
Bad spelling on job applications March 4, 2006
Sea sponge-worthy March 7, 2006
Megawords in the summer June 11, 2005
Spelling Inquiry June 14, 2005
Sounding out nonsense words January 31, 2006
In which I attempt to purchase a Top Secret spelling program March 3, 2006
Megawords 2 in progress March 7, 2006
Megawords, Moats, schwa sound, ABCs & All Their Tricks
Megawords: Saxon Math of spelling June 14, 2005
"second stage phonics" & 4th grade slump June 14, 2005
Liveblogging the spelling bee June 2, 2005
Megawords 3 completed June 25, 2006
Summer school 2007: Megawords 4 July 14, 2007
Put the politician in a submission hold August 5, 2007
Why not a spelling war? September 12, 2007
Spelling & reading September 16, 2007
Megawords 4 completed October 3, 2007
Syllables, Syllables, Syllabary (Elizabeth) February 11, 2007

The ABC's and All Their Tricks by M. Bishop

double major


We use the 2003 National Survey of College Graduates to provide the first estimates of the effect on earnings of having a double major. Overall, double majoring increases earnings by 2.3% relative to having a single major among college graduates without graduate degrees. Most of the gains from having a double major come from choosing fields across two different major categories. Graduates who combine an arts, humanities or social science major with a major in business, engineering, science or math have returns 7–50% higher than graduates with a single major in arts, humanities or social science. But such double major combinations have returns no higher than single majors in business, engineering, science or math. Majors combining business and science or math have returns more than 50% greater than the returns to having a single major in these fields.

Double your major, double your return?
Alison F. Del Rossia, Joni Herschb
Economics of Education Review 27 (2008) 375–386

This is exactly the premise I've been acting on.

C.'s talents & inclinations lie in the humanities-slash-social sciences -- more the social sciences, I would say.

I've been assuming that having him be as good at math as he possibly can is going to be an advantage in terms of careers down the line. (I also assume that the field of history may take another crack at using statistical analysis in the future. Statistical history had a vogue in the 1960s or 1970s -- don't know when, exactly -- & didn't pan out, but I'm guessing that the development of Bayesian statistics combined with the fact that countries are now keeping so much data will convince young historians to try it again.)

A few years ago, Carolyn told me that one of the main reasons she was able to get a job in private industry, coming out of a math professorship, was that she told the interviewer that she liked to write. The guy perked up when he heard that.

This "value-added" notion is also the reason why I regret not having made sure C. learned a second language to fluency.

My dad used to lecture us girls. "Learn to type," he would say, standing in the kitchen door. "In case anything happens to your husband."

I did learn to type; I'm an extremely good typist. Neighborhood of 110 wpm sort of typist.

My dad was right. I didn't end up needing to support myself by typing, but I did end up being much more productive as a writer because I type so rapidly.

I still think typing is a good thing, and I've added "math" and "foreign language" to the category of good things to know in case something happens to your spouse.

Or in case something doesn't, of course.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

been there, done that


Economists have identified a substantial adult wage premium attached to high school leadership activity. Unresolved is the extent to which it constitutes human capital acquisition or proxies for an ‘‘innate’’ unobserved skill. We document a determinant of high school leadership activity that is associated purely with school structure, rather than genetics or family background – a student’s relative age. State-specific school entry cut-offs induce systematic within grade variation in student maturity, which in turn generates differences in leadership activity. We find that the relatively oldest students are 4–11 percent more likely to be high school leaders.

What makes a leader? Relative age and high school leadership (pdf file)
Elizabeth Dhueya, , Stephen Lipscombb
Economics of Education Review 27 (2008) 173–183

I've seen this over and over and over and over ........ again.

relative age effect
high school leadership, wages, and relative age
redshirting kids
redshirting & tournament settings

YouTube Math Movie Plan

I think we need a math movie for YouTube, too. I don't have as much math expertise as everyone here, but I would be willing to produce and upload the movie.

I would need either a dialogue I could read and some words for slides, or better yet, actual mp3 or other audio files and some powerpoint or jpeg slides. Watch a bit of my sight word movie (2 posts down) to get an idea. (Trust me, if you don't have a script to read, you may end up sounding like an idiot. I have tried the no script plan, it's usually bad.)

What do you all think are the most important things parents need to know that we can say in the 10 minute limit?

Here are a few of my thoughts:

Everyday Math bad, Singapore and Saxon good. Calculators before you really need them for something like trig are bad, drill and kill on multiplication and addition facts is good, worksheets may work better for some kids than flashcards. Counting on fingers is bad. For the truly math challenged parent, Math-U-See or something else with DVDs to teach it may be the best option, and much cheaper than tutoring. Knowledge good, stupid projects bad.

in which I swear off permissive parenting

Oh, brother.

I'm sure I've mentioned, on occasion, that Andrew (autistic, turning 14) is a holy terror.

This summer I'm in a panic because things are way out of hand. By this age, Jimmy (autistic, just turned 21) was a Good Citizen. Not at school, where he still had a lot of problems, but at home and in public. Andrew is the opposite. He's at his best in school, though he's not great there. He's chronically difficult here at home and impossible in public.

Over the past year it's become obvious that we've dropped the ball. But I didn't know how badly we'd handled things until today.

Last week we dropped Andrew off at a camp for developmentally disabled and physically handicapped kids. It was a scene. The nurse argued with Ed about the medications, which were improperly labeled, she said, and I tried to deal with Andrew, who went into a massive tantrum. I held my ground: I had my clicker! Miraculously, I managed to get him back on track using a combination of stare-downs followed by clicks the instant there was a break in the shrieking, but not until everyone there had acquired a look of polite horror on his face & the elderly gentleman manning the canteen had said, "Olivier is going to have his hands full this week." (Olivier was Andrew's assigned aide; he's from France.)

We didn't think camp was going to work.

We figured we'd hear from them the next day, asking us to come get him.

Then, when we didn't hear from the camp (apart from the nurse, who called to report that the local CVS had mislabeled the medicine bottles so we still didn't have properly labeled medication), we figured when we picked Andrew up we'd be told that he wouldn't be invited back.

That's not what happened.

We drove up to the camp and there was Andrew, calmly hanging out with the rest of the campers and the counselors, all of whom looked cheerful and relaxed.

They brought us papers to sign, which included their notes on Andrew's behaviors, things he needed to improve, etc. The standard end-of-camp form they give all the parents.

The report: Andrew had no behaviors at the camp, and there was nothing to improve.

No behaviors and nothing to improve for a whole week.

The counselors were hugging him and saying goodbye; other counselors were strolling past calling out, "Goodbye, Andrew!"

The young European counselors all took this for granted, but the nurse was openly amazed. She's middle-aged & raised a handicapped child herself. "We had a very good week," she said, wonderingly. As she was running through the list of rational acts she had and the staff had witnessed, Andrew wandered off into the kitchen behind her office and picked up an empty soda can, & the nurse said without missing a beat, "Andrew come back from there." He put the can down, came back, and waited politely while she finished talking to us. (We need a nurse.)

The counselor sitting beside her took my email address so she could send me a photo of Andrew hugging another counselor -- a pretty blonde from England -- and then the two of them told us all about their weekend program during the school year, and they wrote out every date for us by hand on a piece of scratch paper so we could be sure to apply for spots for Andrew.

Nobody said anything about a weekend program the day we brought him to camp.

Within 5 seconds of our leaving the nurse's office and heading to the car, Andrew started in. First with the "bad sounds" and the dark face. Stage One.

I said, "This is going to be exactly like The Miracle Worker. He spent all week in a cabin, and he's perfect. Now he's going to drop his napkin on the floor." I said the same thing to a counselor in the parking area, and he wrote down the title of the movie so he could rent it.

Sure enough.

We needed to get something to eat before heading back, so we parked in front of a deli and went inside. Andrew made a beeline for an occupied table and snatched up a little girl's beverage, which I snatched right back, of course, but he'd been so fast I hadn't been able to get out in front of him to prevent his getting it in the first place. A bad sign.

We went to the counter to order, and pretty soon Andrew was making his little warning sounds. He was getting his bad look, too.

So I took him to a table and we sat down, but he didn't drink his juice or eat his chips, just sat there looking stony. Another bad sign.

Pretty soon he was making more of his warning sounds, and picking at the sides of his temples; that's Stage Two. Meanwhile I was clicking away and lavishly praising every lull in the action, but it was no use. He started slapping the sides of his head, and within 10 minutes all told he was doing his war whoops and the guttural vibrating scream that has to be heard to be believed and he had crashed his heavy wood chair over onto the tile floor.

With Andrew it's always the wind-up and then the pitch.

I hauled him out to the car, pushed him inside, shut the door, and went back inside the deli.

Andrew sat in the car for a minute or two, then opened the door.

I went back out and asked him if he was ready to be calm. Then I clicked him when he was calm for a second, calm meaning "not shrieking."

That was a bust. When he's ticked off, Andrew interprets praise for good behavior as the A-OK sign. Praise is the releaser that lets him go back to doing the thing you're trying to get him to stop doing by praising him for not doing it. [see: release word] Behaviorists have a term for this, but I forget what it is. So, having been momentarily calm, and having received his click, Andrew reeled back to the beginning of his wind-up (bad face, warning sounds), and I put him back inside the car & closed the door.

He opened the door again, set one foot out on the curb. No sounds. I clicked. Still no sounds. OK.

We went back inside, sat down, and started over. Andrew was wearing his dark look, but he wasn't saying anything, so that was fine & Ed by that time had finished up ordering & he sat down, too. So far so good.

The owner of the place came over and introduced himself. "Stay as long as you like," he said.

We weren't expecting that, and Ed said later it was a good omen. The owner said his 6-year old is autistic, and he's carried him shrieking out of Applebee's more times than he can count. Every time he carries the kid out, he leaves fifty bucks on the table because he knows the bill isn't going to be more than that. So he always spends fifty bucks at Applebee's.

That was funny to hear, because I have never, in my life, overpaid for something just because an autistic kid of mine happened to be shrieking and carrying on while I tried to settle a bill. That's probably why Jimmy ended up being a Good Citizen, come to think of it. Andrew's problem is that we ran out of energy and will somewhere along the line, and we stopped taking him anywhere instead of slugging it out with him in public.

Meanwhile, sometime during the Applebee's conversation, Andrew had decided to turn normal. When I looked at him again he was sitting cheerfully in his chair, eating his chicken fingers and drinking his juice. Then he threw his trash in the container and carried the leftovers to the car, after Ed and I were finished, too.

Time to download my copy of Grammar Trainer and get to work.

I still cry every time I see this scene.


Susan S suggested I post the breakfast scene. I saw this movie so many times when I was a kid I practically have a scene-by-scene breakdown committed to memory. For people who don't know the history of the film, Anne Bancroft and Patty Duke starred in the play on Broadway before making the movie. They did the breakfast scene 6 times a week.

eureka (on permissive parenting)

Help edit my sight word movie, please!

I am working on a sight word movie for YouTube. (I'll also post at my website with a link from my sight word page.)

The YouTube time limit is 10 minutes. I've gotten it down from about 18 minutes to 12 minutes and 7 seconds, with 31 seconds of blank space I've reclaimed that will come off the end when I finish editing. (It's hard to move things around, it's easier to get a group of cuts done at once and then re-arrange en mass.) So, I have about a minute and a half of excess babbling I need help cutting out. I've watched it so many times I can't see the forest for the trees anymore. Also, I could go on for hours about sight words, they really are a huge part of the reading problem, every time I watch it I just thing of things to add, not things to subtract!


The movie is here:

Sight Word Movie

I did have an idea about just reading parts of the quotes, but when I tried to explain that I was just quoting part of them, and that the full quotes would be available on my sight word page, that ended up taking longer than just reading the full quotes! I'll work on rephrasing that. Also, some of my viewers may have reading problems themselves, so I'm trying to get the full point across the audio.

Monday, July 14, 2008

David Labaree on the 2 factions inside progressive education

This paper tells a story about progressivism, schools and schools of education in twentieth-century America. Depending on one’s position in the politics of education, this story can assume the form of a tragedy or a romance, or perhaps even a comedy. The heart of the tale is the struggle for control of American education in the early twentieth century between two factions of the movement for progressive education. The administrative progressives won this struggle, and they reconstructed the organization and curriculum of American schools in a form that has lasted to the present day. Meanwhile the other group, the pedagogical progressives, who failed miserably in shaping what we do in schools, did at least succeed in shaping how we talk about schools. Professors in schools of education were caught in the middle of this dispute, and they ended up in an awkwardly compromised position. Their hands were busy—preparing teachers to work within the confines of the educational system established by the administrative progressives, and carrying out research to make this system work more efficiently. But their hearts were with the pedagogues. So they became the high priests of pedagogical progressivism, keeping this faith alive within the halls of the education school, and teaching the words of its credo to new generations of educators. Why is it that American education professors have such a longstanding, deeply rooted and widely shared rhetorical commitment to the progressive vision? The answer can be found in the convergence between the history of the education school and the history of the childcentered strand of progressivism during the early twentieth century. Historical circumstances drew them together so strongly that they became inseparable. As a result, progressivism became the ideology of the education professor. Education schools have their own legend about how this happened, which is a stirring tale about a marriage made in heaven, between an ideal that would save education and a stalwart champion that would fight the forces of traditionalism to make this ideal a reality. As is the case with most legends, there is some truth in this account. But here a different story is told. In this story, the union between pedagogical progressivism and the education school is not the result of mutual attraction but of something more enduring: mutual need. It was not a marriage of the strong but a wedding of the weak. Both were losers in their respective arenas: child-centered progressivism lost out in the struggle for control of American schools, and the education school lost out in the struggle for respect in American higher education. They needed each other, with one looking for a safe haven and the other looking for a righteous mission. As a result, education schools came to have a rhetorical commitment to progressivism that is so wide that, within these institutions, it is largely beyond challenge. At the same time, however, this progressive vision never came to dominate the practice of teaching and learning in schools—or even to reach deeply into the practice of teacher educators and researchers within education schools themselves.


The first thing we need to acknowledge about the history of the progressive education movement in the United States is that it was not a single entity but instead a cluster of overlapping and competing tendencies. All of the historians of this movement are agreed on this point.


The second thing we need to recognize about the history of this movement is that the administrative progressives trounced their pedagogical counterparts. Ellen Lagemann explains this with admirable precision: ‘I have often argued to students, only in part to be perverse, that one cannot understand the history of education in the United States during the twentieth century unless one realizes that Edward L. Thorndike won and John Dewey lost.

What this means for our purposes is that the pedagogical progressives had the most impact on educational rhetoric, whereas the administrative progressives had the most impact on the structure and practice of education in schools. A sign of the intellectual influence exerted by the pedagogical group is that their language has come to define what we now call progressivism. And this language has become the orthodox way for teachers and teacher educators to talk about classroom instruction. At the same time, however, it was the administrative progressives who were most effective in putting their reforms to work in the daily life of schools.

Progressivism, Schools and Schools of Education: An American Romance (pdf file)
David F. Labaree
Paedagogica Historica,
Vol. 41, Nos. 1&2, February 2005, pp. 275–280

in a nutshell

  • there were at least 2 factions inside the progressive education movement: the pedagogical progressives (Dewey) & the administrative progressives (Thorndike)
  • Thorndike won
  • ed schools teach administrative progressive education while speaking the language of pedagogical progressivism

parents at sea

Meanwhile, parents are mystified. We're hearing "child-centered" from the same people who are processing our kids through a not very efficient sorting machine.

spilt religion - Hirsch on progressive education & Romanticism
David Labaree on the 2 factions
Labaree on constructivism
Hirsch on Labaree

Hirsch, E.D., "Romancing the Child," Education Next, 1 (Spring 2001).
Labaree, David F., "Progressivism, Schools, and Schools of Education: An American Romance," Paedagogica Historica (Gent), 41 (Feb. 2005), 275–89. (pdf file)

it's a mystery

clocks without hands

an oldie but goody

brewhaha on the natural

Math is most unnatural - it is only after we understand it within its artificial axiomatic system that it seems natural. If math was so natural and could be learned in a completely natural setting we would have more mathematical geniuses out there and (at the very least) more people willing to forego maxing out their credit cards.
Brewhaha, commenting on spilt religion
John Saxon opens every one of his textbooks with an observation along these lines:
In this book we continue the study of topics from algebra and geometry and begin our study of trigonometry. Mathematics is an abstract study of the behavior and interrelationships of numbers. In Algebra 1, we found that algebra is not difficult—it is just different. Concepts that were confusing when first encountered became familiar concepts after they had been practiced for a period of weeks or months—until finally they were understood. Then further study of the same concepts caused additional understanding as totally unexpected ramifications appeared.
Didn't someone leave a similar observation from... Feynman?

things I wish I'd done

With C. headed to high school, it's too late for me to do some of the things I should have done:

  • pay for lessons and/or CD to teach C. a second language to fluency
  • teach C. to write paragraphs

The last two of these are going to have to happen anyway, so the fact that time has run out means only that we'll have to steal time from something else to do them.

Possibly video games.


Write Now by Barbara Getty & Inga Dubay & Italic Handwriting Series at Portland State

The Organized Student by Donna Goldberg & Jennifer Zwiebel

reading & studying
How to Double Your Child's Grades in School by Eugene M. Schwartz

Megawords by Kristin Johnson & Polly Bayrd

Analyze, Organize, Write by Arthur Whimbey & Elizabeth Lynn Jenkins
Sentence Combining Workbook by Pam Altman
Writing Skills 2nd Edition by Diana Hanbury King (Susan S's find)
Sentence Composing for Middle School by Don & Jenny Kilgallon (high school & college, too)
Sentence Composing - Don & Jenny Kilgallon's web site

posts from ktm-1

The Organized Student:
getting the call in May
3-hole punch for packet world
accordion file for The Organized Student
Donna Goldberg on children's sense of time

How to Double Your Child's Grades in School:
an approach to reading that really works
an approach to reading that really works (notetaking & outlining)
the 3 building blocks of success

some books that changed Carolyn's life

Sunday, July 13, 2008

spilt religion

Here is Hirsch on the religious roots of romanticism and progressive education:
In my mind, progressive educational ideas have proved so seductive because their appeal lies not in their practical effects but in their links to romanticism, the 19th-century philosophical movement, so influential in American culture, that elevated all that is natural and disparaged all that is artificial. The progressives applied this romantic principle to education by positing that education should be a natural process of growth that flows from the child’s natural instincts and interests. The word “nature” in the romantic tradition connotes the sense of a direct connection with the holy, lending the tenets of progressivism all the weight of religious conviction. We know in advance, in our bones, that what is natural must be better than what is artificial. This revelation is the absolute truth against which experience itself must be measured, and any failure of educational practice must be due to faulty implementation of progressive principles or faulty interpretation of educational results....The fundamental beliefs of progressivism are impervious to unfavorable data because its philosophical parent, romanticism, is a kind of secular theology that, like all religions, is inherently resistant to data. A religious believer scorns mere “evidences.”

The Chasm Between

....The two sides [in the education wars] are best viewed as expressions of romantic versus classical orientations to education.* For instance, the “whole language,” progressive approach to teaching children how to read is romantic in impulse. It equates the natural process of learning an oral first language with the very unnatural process of learning alphabetic writing....The emotive weight in progressivist ideas is on naturalness. The natural is spiritually nourishing; the artificial, deadening. In the 1920s, William Kilpatrick and other romantic progressivists were already advocating the “whole language” method for many of the same reasons advanced today.


[T]he classicist is quite willing to accept linguistic scholarship that discloses that the alphabet is an artificial device for encoding the sounds of language....

The progressivist believes that it is better to study math and science through real-world, hands-on, natural methods than through the deadening modes of conceptual and verbal learning, or the repetitive practicing of math algorithms, even if those “old fashioned” methods are successful. The classicist is willing to accept the verdict of scholars that the artificial symbols and algorithms of mathematics are the very sources of its power. Math is a powerful instrument precisely because it is unnatural. It enables the mind to manipulate symbols in ways that transcend the direct natural reckoning abilities of the mind.


The romantic poet William Wordsworth said, “We murder to dissect”; the progressivist says that phonemics and place value should not be dissected in isolation from their natural use, nor imposed before the child is naturally ready. Instead of explicit, analytical instruction, the romantic wants implicit, natural instruction through projects and discovery. This explains the romantic preference for “integrated learning” and “developmental appropriateness.” Education that places subject matter in its natural setting and presents it in a natural way is superior to the artificial analysis and abstractions of language. Hands-on learning is superior to verbal learning. Real-world applications of mathematics provide a truer understanding of math than empty mastery of formal relationships.

Natural Supernaturalism

The religious character of progressivism is rarely noted because it is not an overtly religious system of belief. Romanticism is a secularized expression of religious faith. In a justly famous essay, T. E. Hulme defined romanticism as “spilt religion.” Romanticism, he said, redirects religious emotions from a transcendent God to the natural divinity of this world. Transcendent feelings are transferred to everyday experience—like treacle spilt all over the table, as Hulme put it. M. H. Abrams offered a more sympathetic definition of this tendency to fuse the secular and religious by entitling his fine book on romanticism Natural Supernaturalism. The natural is supernatural. Logically speaking, it’s a contradiction, but it captures the romantic’s faith that a divine breath infuses natural human beings and the natural world.

In emotional terms, romanticism is an affirmation of this world—a refusal to deprecate this life in favor of pie in the sky. In theological terms, this sentiment is called “pantheism”—the faith that God inhabits all reality. Transcendent religions like Christianity, Islam, and Hinduism see this world as defective, and consider the romantic divinizing of nature to be a heresy. But for the romantic, the words “nature” and “natural” take the place of the word “God” and give nature the emotional ultimacy that attaches to divinity. As Wordsworth said,

One impulse from a vernal wood
May teach you more of man,
Of moral evil and of good,
Than all the sages can
—The Tables Turned (1798)

The romantic conceives of education as a process of natural growth. Botanical metaphors are so pervasive in American educational literature that we take them for granted. The teacher, like a gardener, should be a watchful guide on the side, not a sage on the stage. (The word “kindergarten”—literally “children-garden”—was invented by the romantics.) It was the romantics who began mistranslating the Latin word educare (ee-duh-kar’e), the Latin root word for education, as “to lead out” or “to unfold,” confusing it with educere (eh-diu’ke-re), which does mean “to lead out.” It was a convenient mistake that fit in nicely with the theme of natural development, since the word “development” itself means “unfolding.” But educare actually means “to bring up” and “instruct.” It implies deliberate training according to social and cultural norms, in contrast to words like “growth” and “development,” which imply that education is the unfolding of human nature, analogous to a seed growing into a plant.

The same religious sentiment that animates the romantics’ fondness for nature underlies their celebration of individuality and diversity. According to the romantics, the individual soul partakes of God’s nature. Praise for diversity as being superior to uniformity originates in the pantheist’s sense of the plenitude of God’s creation. “Nature’s holy plan,” as Wordsworth put it, unfolds itself with the greatest possible variety. To impose uniform standards on the individuality of children is to thwart their fulfillment and to pervert the design of Providence.


Whether these educational tenets can withstand empirical examination is irrelevant. Their validation comes from knowing in advance, with certainty, that the natural is superior to the artificial.

A More Complicated Nature

Plato and Aristotle based their ideas about education, ethics, and politics on the concept of nature, just as the romantics did. A classicist knows that any attempt to thwart human nature is bound to fail. But the classicist does not assume that a providential design guarantees that relying on our individual natural impulses will always yield positive outcomes. On the contrary, Aristotle argued that human nature is a battleground of contradictory impulses and appetites. Selfishness is in conflict with altruism; the fulfillment of one appetite is in conflict with the fulfillment of others. Follow nature, yes, but which nature and to what degree?

Aristotle’s famous solution to this problem was to optimize human fulfillment by balancing the satisfactions of all the human appetites—from food and sex to the disinterested contemplation of truth—keeping society’s need for civility and security in mind as well. This optimizing of conflicting impulses required the principle of moderation, the golden mean, not because moderation was a good in itself, but because, in a secular view of conflicted human nature, this was the most likely route to social peace and individual happiness. The romantic poet William Blake countered, "The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom." But again, that would be true only if a providential nature guaranteed a happy outcome. Absent such faith in the hidden design of natural providence, the mode of human life most in accord with nature must be, according to Aristotle, a via media that is artificially constructed. By this classical logic, the optimally natural must be self-consciously artificial.

Renewed interest in evolutionary psychology has given the classic-romantic debate new currency....[E]volutionary psychology reintroduces in its own way the classical idea that there are inherent conflicts in human nature—both selfishness and altruism, both a desire to possess one’s neighbor’s spouse and a desire to get along with one’s neighbor. The adjudication of these contradictory impulses requires an anti-natural construct like the Ten Commandments. Similarly, from the standpoint of evolution, most of the learning required by modern schooling is not natural at all. Industrial and postindustrial life, very recent phenomena in evolutionary terms, require kinds of learning that are constructed artificially and sometimes arduously on the natural of the mind—a point that has been made very effectively and in detail by David Geary, a research psychologist specializing in children’s learning of mathematics at the University of Missouri. Geary makes a useful distinction between primary and secondary learnings, with most school learnings, such as the base-ten system and the alphabetic principle, being the “unnatural,” secondary type.

The very idea that skills as artificial and difficult as reading, writing, and arithmetic can be made natural for everyone is an illusion that has flourished in the peaceful, prosperous United States. The old codger Max Rafferty, an outspoken state superintendent of education in California, once denounced the progressive school Summerhill, saying:

Rousseau spawned a frenetic theory of education which after two centuries of spasmodic laboring brought forth... Summerhill.... The child is a Noble Savage, needing only to be let alone in order to insure his intellectual salvation... Twaddle. Schooling is not a natural process at all. It’s highly artificial. No boy in his right mind ever wanted to study multiplication tables and historical dates when he could be out hunting rabbits or climbing trees. In the days when hunting and climbing contributed to the survival of Homo sapiens, there was some sense in letting the kids do what comes naturally, but when man’s future began to hang upon the systematic mastery of orderly subject matter, the primordial, happy-go-lucky, laissez faire kind of learning had to go.

The romantic versus classic debate extends beyond the reading and math wars to the domain of moral education. The romantic tradition holds that morality (like everything else) comes naturally.... Wordsworth’s account of his own education, which he called “Growth of a Poet’s Mind,” contained a section entitled, “Love of Nature Leading to Love of Mankind.”

The romantic wishes to encourage the basic goodness of the natural soul, unspoiled by habit, custom, and convention. The principal means for such encouragement is to develop the child’s creativity and imagination—two words that gained currency in the romantic movement. Before the romantics, using the term “creativity” for human productions was considered impious. But that ended when the human soul was conceived as inherently godly. Moral education and the development of creativity and imagination went hand in hand. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, textbooks like the McGuffey Readers strongly emphasized moral instruction and factual knowledge. With the rise of progressive ideas, however, the subject matter of language arts in the early grades began to focus on fairy tales and poetry. The imparting of explicit moral instruction gave way to the development of creativity and imagination. Imagination, the romantic poet and essayist Samuel Taylor Coleridge said, “brings the whole soul of man into activity.” When we exercise our imaginations, we connect with our divine nature, develop our moral sensibilities.

Romance or Justice?

One cannot hope to argue against a religious faith that is impervious to refutation. But there can be hope for change when that religious faith is secular and pertains to the world itself. When the early romantics lived long enough to experience the disappointments of life, they abandoned their romanticism. This happened to Blake, Wordsworth, and Coleridge. One of Wordsworth’s most moving works was the late poem, “Elegiac Stanzas,” which bade farewell to his faith in nature.

Romancing the Child
By E. Donald Hirsch Jr.
Education Next
Spring 2001
Vol 1, no. 1
in a nutshell:
  • Romantics (progressive ed) versus classicists (instructivism)
  • Romanticism is a secularized expression of religious faith; it is "spilt religion."
  • Pantheism (“the faith that God inhabits all reality") versus transcendent religions (Christianity, Judaism, etc.)
  • the natural is supernatural (!) God is in nature
  • the abstract is unnatural; the concrete is natural; the natural is good
  • the natural = growth; the unnatural = instruction
  • nature = wholeism ("We murder to dissect")
  • nature = developmentalism (teach no subject before the child is "ready")
  • Romanticism: children are naturally good & are to be developed via creativity & imagination
  • diversity expresses the "plenitude of God's creation"

pop quiz

Which classroom best expresses the plenitude of God's creation:
  • 19 or 20 heterogeneously grouped middle school students working collaboratively in groups on tiered projects
  • 19 or 20 homogeneously grouped elementary school children reciting correct answers in unison on the teacher's signal

spilt religion - Hirsch on progressive education & Romanticism
David Labaree on the 2 factions
Labaree on constructivism
Hirsch on Labaree

Hirsch, E.D., "Romancing the Child," Education Next, 1 (Spring 2001).
Labaree, David F., "Progressivism, Schools, and Schools of Education: An American Romance," Paedagogica Historica (Gent), 41 (Feb. 2005), 275–89. (pdf file)

Cultural amnesia & the road to educational destruction

It may have been here at KTM that I first learned of the professor of Greek who lost part of his memory in an auto accident. One of the things that this professor could no longer remember, by an ironic twist of fate, was Greek. He ended up having to relearn the Greek language and used the textbook he himself had written to do so. The Editor of The Classical Teacher, Martin Cothran, draws upon the story of the Greek professor as a metaphor for our society’s own cultural amnesia.

What a fitting metaphor, I thought, for the plight we face in education today. As a civilization, we are the authors of a great and glorious educational tradition, one which took centuries, even millennia, to achieve. Yet here we sit, at the beginning of the twenty-first century, having forgotten what we knew, and having to relearn it from our own books. We have created a famine, to quote the Bard, “where abundance lies.”

Unlike the Greek professor who forgot Greek, however, our memory loss is self-inflicted. Our education establishment here in the United States spent the better part of the twentieth century throwing its heritage overboard in a mad rush to load up on the latest educational fads and gimmicks. And most of these innovations have themselves been discarded in their turn, only to give way to new ones equally transient.

No wonder the education reform ship never seems to get underway.

We can now look back on a long chronicle of failed attempts at "school reform," very few of which have even attempted to take a prudent look at our cultural heritage for instruction and insight. We have attempted instead to "build bridges" to future centuries, only to find out, once there, that we had been going down the wrong road in the first place.

Wide is the gate and broad is the way that lead to educational destruction, and there are many who go in by it. But we don’t need to be looking for a bridge to a future century; in fact, we might learn more by taking a look back at past centuries to see what our educational institutions were doing right.

Progress,” said C.S. Lewis, “means getting nearer to the place where you want to be. And if you have taken a wrong turning, then to go forward does not get you any nearer. If you are on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; and in that case the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive man.”

The civilization that had to teach itself with its own books, Martin Cothran, The Classical Teacher, summer 2008.
I also recommend many of the articles that are posted over at such as Joe Knows Latin by Joe Paterno and Why Read Homer's Iliad? by Cheryl Lowe.

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