Essential personnel

2nd Grade Teacher has a great post describing what she and her students do on a typical day. I’m especially struck by how thoroughly math and reading are integrated into the everything.

Say you have 3 dimes and 14 pennies. You can trade 10 of those pennies and have 4 dimes and 4 pennies! They both equal 44 cents! We did lots of examples using real copies of actual dimes and pennies.

Too many of my algebra students, all high-school graduates, have trouble understanding groups as units, chopping them up, and then re-forming them into other units. That is pretty much the same as saying they have trouble with algebra.

My wife follows children’s literature and has done some volunteer work as a reading buddy. I know nothing about early childhood education except from the perspective of a father, but I imagine at that age learning is less usefully chopped up into discrete subjects:

As of the moment, we may only teach them how to read during an uninterrupted 90 minute block of time. No writing, no grammar, no punctuation, no study skills, just reading. I tried to tell them that this stuff would help the kids be more literate, but they didn’t believe me.

Hmm… an experienced teacher suggests one thing, and the latest ed-psych researchers and DC bureaucrats suggest another. Surely every parent who has thought about this would choose one way. Why do we end up doing it the other way?

Best links ever!

Well, pretty good anyway

Joe Carter gives us Heuristics and Hyperbole:How Not to Argue (Part I)

An example of a rule of thumb that I find to be particularly useful in helping to avoid problems is to avoid, whenever possible, willfully stupid people. Intelligence is, of course, a relative concept and everyone (except for the World’s Smartest Person) is just a little less bright than someone else. Willful stupidity, however, is distinct from IQ because it consists of a moral failing: Choosing to be dumber than you have to be.

And speaking of that…

Via Joanne Jacobs, China has modeled its new math curriculum on the 1989 U.S. math standards set by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.

The Arrogance of Office

This is the kind of thing that drives parents out of public school:

parents are possessed of no constitutional right to prevent the public schools from providing information on that subject to their students in any forum or manner they select

says Judge Stephen Reinhardt (seen at Joanne Jacobs)

The argument is about a sex survey given to first, third, and fifth graders. The survey itself seems reasonable. If my local school board wanted to do one, I would probably support it; Though certainly I would read the fine print.

So what’s the problem?

The problem is the heavy-handedness of it all. It is fundamental to our system that government can only act with the consent of the governed. In the short run, there is not much anyone can do about it. In the long run, it is just another component in the decision process that leads to private school, or church school, or home school. Parents are not going to passively let the judge decide what their children will be taught and when, and what they will be taxed to pay for it. (1)

The result is more outrage at judicial arrogance. A man may like the food, but be angry when it is shoved down his throat. If today the judge is sticking it to my political opponents, it does not take a great leap of imagination to see him sticking it to me tomorrow. The problem is not the way the way judge uses his power; He almost always uses it judiciously. The problem is that the judge has too much power.

The solution is left as an exercise for the reader.


1 Re-reading, I see that what I have said is not strictly true. Some people will passively let the state do as it pleases. Some are oblivious, and some think they are helpless. These are the parents whose children, disproportionally, will stay in the public schools.

Two things

I have more opinions than I need…

A few weeks ago someone who didn’t know me well asked what I thought of math education today. Of course I ranted Perhaps I spoke longer and with greater intensity than strictly necessary in a social situation, but I did not address the issues as well as this tall, dark, and mysterious lady, who demands, “Show me the data.”

…and less creativity than I would like

Back of the Envelope is accepting submissions for the thirtieth Storyblogging carnival. As of now, I have nothing in any condition to post.


Theory and Practice

Survival of the Fitest

Darwin and Education Policy

I have no religious problem with evolution. It doesn’t undermine my faith any more than elephants do. I mean, suppose you’d never seen an elephant. People told you about them, but you were skeptical. Then you saw one in the flesh. Why would your first reaction be, “Well, that does it. There is no god.” Space aliens, same way — I’m skeptical about the existence of intelligent extra-terrestrial life (where is everyone?) but if we do someday make contact that won’t make me convert to atheism.

I don’t have a scientific problem with evolution. I can accept natural selection –> differential reproduction –> speciation. Mostly I don’t care. I don’t have any background in biology, and what chemistry I know involves more-or-less rapid combustion.

My interest in evolution is social and political. If the local school board proposed teaching Intelligent Design I’d be concerned, and would at the least watch them very closely. If I had kids in the school system, I’d consider sending them elsewhere, or even moving.

But I would not support the federal or state government requiring schools to teach evolution, or forbidding schools from teaching creationism. It’s up to the voters to decide what they want to have their children taught. A mandatory national curriculum designed by scientists according to the best Ed-Psych research is a greater threat than all the school children in Kansas being taught that Darwin was wrong.

Science teaches us that…

…more study is needed. People don’t trust scientists. After the twentieth century, scientists don’t trust themselves. Why would the rest of us? Trying to re-make society according to scientific principles, they turned Europe and Asia into a slaughter house. Scientists lost my unqualified trust when they started considering the consequences to society of their work.

The big problem with Darwinism is that it’s unconvincing. Reasonably bright non-specialists read an outline of the theory, and some non-trivial fraction of them think Darwin’s as goofy as Freud. Marxism, Phlogiston, Relativity, Quantum Mechanics; Science isn’t a body facts, it’s a way of systematically being wrong about stuff. Science advances by making falsifiable hypotheses, finding them to be wrong, and making better ones.

Since 1944, scientists have had a blank check. Science and math education were tremendously expanded in the fifties and sixties. High tide was reached at some point, and reading became the new priority. In spite of all this, scientists have never been able to convince some fraction of laymen of the validity of evolution solely on its merits. They want the government to give them a monopoly and not allow competing theories to be taught in government schools. It’s significant that other scientific theories don’t require that kind of protection from the marketplace of ideas.


  • This discussion at Decrepit Old Fool nicely summarizes the difference between liberals and conservatives, if you read between the lines. For extra insight, read it in conjunction with Jonah Goldberg’s What Is a ‘Conservative’?, which I saw at Back of the Envelope.
  • Mostly Cajun‘s analysis of the motivation behind standardized testing reminds me of why businesses hire consultants.
  • I ordered a twelve-inch sub once, and the associate asked me if that was the same as a foot-long. Tall, Dark and Mysterious muses on the nominal sizes of things.
  • I have to admit, I like this Unitarian Jihad meme that’s going around. I’m not ready to join the Jihad yet, but the rhetoric is compelling:

    Why is the news dominated by nutballs saying that the Ten Commandments have to be tattooed inside the eyelids of every American, or that Allah has told them to kill Americans in order to rid the world of Satan, or that Yahweh has instructed them to go live wherever they feel like, or that Shiva thinks bombing mosques is a great idea?

    We are Unitarian Jihad, and our motto is: “Sincerity is not enough.” We have heard from enough sincere people to last a lifetime already. Just because you believe it’s true doesn’t make it true. Just because your motives are pure doesn’t mean you are not doing harm.

  • Chris Tessone sets a good example, reinforcing my belief that there are decent people on both sides of most issues.
  • Doc Rampage has been writing about illegal immigration, vigilantes, and the Minutemen. Doc asks the questions that the politicians should answer, but probably won’t.


  • Heidi Bond on Campus Intellectual Diversity:

    maybe the problem with intellectual diversity on campus is far broader than just a lack of conservatives. Maybe, we are teaching people to avoid what they fear and dislike.

  • Here’s a good post about materialism. I read The Screwtape Letters some years ago; It might be time to look at it again from the vantage point of middle age.
  • There are some poll results from the NBC survey on religion and American life, which I saw at It’s interesting reading. I’m concerned that the questions set up false choices.