Inputs and Outcomes, Part 1

Whereas the history of education ought to be the history of outcomes, that is the story of the graduates and what their schooling has helped them to accomplish, instead it’s overwhelmingly the history of inputs, or the educational theories and reform ideas of the experts. We hear so much about what the school would do to its students, not so much, if anything, about what the school has actually done for them.

Well, that’s not quite altogether true. There are well documented outcomes in the form of test scores and graduation rates, but that’s probably as far as we go in determining the results of schooling. Furthermore, since the schools do not primarily see themselves in terms of test scores and dropout rates (others do), we have the present clash between the schools and the No Child Left Behind Law which does see test scores as the only reliable measure of success or failure.

In fact, there’s probably no area of human activity where input so dominates output as education.* Think of an agriculture where all the talk were of fertilizers, and not of corn or soybeans, or think of manufacturing where the assembly line became more important that the product at the end of that line. Well that’s what’s happened in our schools. The assembly line is all important. What the graduate, or the dropout, knows, what he has become thanks to his schooling, no one knows.

The history of education is a fascinating account of the history of educational ideas, both in regard to what should be taught and how it should be taught. We read Plato, Aquinas, Rousseau, Dewey, and more recently John Holt, Neil Postman and E. D. Hirsch and countless others, and we come away thoroughly enraptured by what education according to these wise men is all about.

We find ourselves participating in this fascinating history. We may join the progressive or the traditional school of thought. We will certainly become passionate over one or more of the many reform movements, such as school choice, merit pay, the longer school day.

But when all is said and done the child, and what the child is learning is nowhere to be reckoned with. I do believe that this situation of placing the cart before the horse came about when children were removed from the daily presence of grown-ups, in the shop, office, or on the field, and placed in school buildings by themselves with just a teacher or guardian. What they were now learning was no longer going on around them. Not a great situation in which to learn, as anyone who has ever tried to learn a foreign language in a typical public school classroom will know.

We throw all our very best thinking about education, of which there is no  end, at our kids and they invariably react in one of three ways. The few follow orders and do what they’re told, becoming pets of the teachers.

The many are indifferent to what we throw at them, to our theories and philosophies and the resulting quarrels that rage among us as to this or that way of teaching, say, reading or mathematics, and they simply put up with school, and with us, and endure, while really reserving the best of themselves to activities and experiences that have little or no connection to the subject matters of their classes, such as popular culture, friends, and jobs.

The remaining few are probably the most interesting ones. They step out of the way of what we throw at them, but don’t make a huge fuss about it. They will react in as many different ways as there are numbers of them. It is from them probably that the country will draw its inventors, entrepreneurs, leaders and other talents. But what they are and what they achieve will have little relationship to the things that their schools would have them do. For they learn pretty much outside of the organized activities of the classroom.

To make it even clearer what I mean by our inattention to outcomes here I give you the mission statement of the typical American public school, the outcomes that the school would obtain for its students:

Our mission is “to produce responsible, self-sufficient citizens who possess the self-esteem, initiative, skills, and wisdom to continue individual growth, pursue knowledge, develop aesthetic sensibilities, and value cultural diversity.”

And they would accomplish this by “providing intellectually challenging educational programs that celebrate change but affirm tradition and promote excellence through an active partnership with the community, a comprehensive and responsive curriculum, and a dedicated and knowledgeable staff.”

No mention is made of higher test scores or graduation rates. Instead the school is set up to produce (turn out) accomplished and productive citizens as well as life-long learners,

Yes, I know, you ask, and I ask, why doesn’t the school have as its primary mission things that are valuable, more valuable than high test scores, things such as fluency in a second language, the ability to manipulate mathematical symbols on up and through the calculus, enough knowledge of history, whatever history it be, to pass an oral examination in the subject, and also things such as the ability to lay pipe and electric circuits, play an instrument of music, be a member of a sports team, be a leader of others.

There is no end of valuable things that kids might learn, all things that could then be subject to external measures, a kind of quality control, no less important in school than in the factory. They would have to do a lot more with a lot less. Learning is a life long venture and you have to begin with this or that.

So, what is to be done? Well we could begin by getting a real answer to our question, “what did you do in school today?” This answer would force us to align, perhaps for the first time ever (or at least since the education of our young was separated from the work of adults), our inputs, our educational philosophies, with what the kids are actually doing and learning. The progressive, traditional, and reform laden inputs would rapidly disappear as the reality of whatr the kids were learning took the forground.

Kids, no less than the rest of us, learn (and here’s where Dewey is still right), by doing. How much of what goes on in school is Dewey’s kind of “doing?”

Well the answer has to be not much because they are learning so little in the allotted time. It takes a whole year to master the times table?! Two whole years to learn how to ask directions in a foreign language?! Twelve whole school years to acquire just the bare rudiments of the country’s history?!

If we looked more at outcomes, if we seriously began to determine just what the kids are leaning in school, and how much of what they are learning results from our inputs, and how much results from things that kids do and of which which we are mostly ignorant well wouldn’t that be the strong wind that sets everything right.

I remember attending a story reading class in a progressive elementary school in Boston. All I heard about from the teacher before the class was what a great story it was and that this was not the first time that she had read it out loud to her students. I heard from her nothing abaout her students. Actually I knew the story and I liked it. It was about that young Frenchman who strung a cord between the Twin Towers and walked across it.

But before the reading I saw nothing of the teacher’s appreciation of the story in the faces of the children. Were they excited about hearing it again? What was the story for them? They were mostly well behaved, but was anything really happening in their hearts and minds. They showed little reaction, sat quietly for the most part, fooled around a bit with their neighbors.

This is another example of adult input. What was the output? What was happening to the children? All the class time was given over to listening to a “great story.” Probably much if not most of children’s literature is one more example of adult input. Has anyone ever actually measured the outcome of children’s literature on children? I know it works with adults. Does anyone have an inkling if the children have grown therefrom?

When one has looked at student outcomes, when one has taken the measure of what school has accomplished, the results have not been good. I think of the book I read some years back about what our seventeen year olds, our high school or almost high school graduates, didn’t know. The book made it clear that welve years of schooling had done little or nothing for their knowledge of history, and much else.

Then there are the community colleges. The outcome here is that only one in five students, and in some colleges even fewer, will stay and graduate in two years. Shouldn’t we be talking more about this outcome?

In today’s NYTimes we learn that our soldiers in Iraq, large numbers of them, are ethically un-principled. For instance, “fewer than half of the marines and a little more than half of the soldiers said they would report a member of their unit for killing or wounding an innocent civilian. More than 40 percent support the idea of torture in some cases, and 10 percent reported personally abusing Iraqi civilians…” Now these soldiers are graduates of our high schools, probably in many instances of high schools with mission statements similar to the one above, “to produce responsible, self-sufficient citizens…”

If you ask a kid what he did in school today, you’ll hear, if you hear anything at all, what the teacher did. What the kid did remains usually out of the asker’s, be it parent, older sibling, or other adult, ken. Just think what it might mean if the question to the kid was answered by in fact what the kid had done in school? They you would be seeing real outcomes of work in school, not as now another statement of teacher input.

Why is it that most of our discussions about education are all about inputs and hardly ever about outputs? There are probably two principal reasons for this situation. First of all we don’t talk the kids’ language, and we don’t talk it because we haven’t taken the trouble to learn it. Instead we force the child to talk ours and as a result, since kids are smart at knowing what we want, he talks our language of inputs.

Then second, educational outputs are only visible over long periods of time (other of course than test scores which now predominate our talk of outcomes). Furthermore, how on earth could these outcomes be measured? Could the school ever point to this or that student and say that he or she has acquired any or all of the admirable outcomes of our mission statement? I don’t think so. This is the sort of thing that can only be said, if at all, at the time of a person’s death.

Finally it should be stressed that schooling at best will do little or nothing to eliminate man’s imperfections —quick to anger, slothful, ungenerous — let alone provide him with the skills and knowledge necessary to continue to grow in goodness and wisdom throughout his life time. Our schools need to assume much more modest outcomes, such as I described above, outcomes that have some chance of being realized in school.

*This statement may be incorrect. Arnold Kling in a recent TCS article, The Real Solution to Poverty, points out that we are always addressing the problem of poverty in terms of input, in particular by “centralized, planned solutions,” such as President Johnson’s anti-poverty program of the 1960s. And in spite of these repeated centralized plananed solutions the problem of poverty is still very much with us. Kling wonders why government and think tank bureaucrats and experts continue to  believe in such failed intiatives. He says it’s because they focus only
on intentions. “If a program,” he says, “is intended to reduce poverty, then it is
an anti-poverty program. [That of course is not enough.] Instead, I believe that anyone who sincerely
wants to do something about poverty needs to focus on outcomes.”
I would say that anyone who sincerely wants to reform our system of education needs also to focus on outcomes.

Stop Paying Attention to the Middle East

In a recent article in Prospect Magazine Edward Luttwak has some interesting things to say about the West’s bête noire, or better, black beast, the Middle East. Is he right? If he is why are we presently sinking so much of our wealth and sacrificing so many of our people in that area of the world?

Luttwak would persuade us that the whole world and in particular the United States would benefit if the Middle East were simply ignored, removed from its now nearly 100 year long position on the front burner of the world’s trouble spots.

Here follows a summary of what he has to say. To read Luttwak himself, click Here.

First is the Arab-Israeli conflict. There are those who, like the late King Hussein of Jordan, and now his son, Abdullah, constantly promote a “five minutes to midnight” catastrophism. The King was always warning us that the Arab-Israeli conflict was about to explode, involve the whole world, “unless…”

But of course the explosion never took place. In fact, “the dead from Jewish-Palestinian fighting since 1921 amount to fewer than 100,000—about as many as are killed in a season of conflict in Darfur.” Luttwak says that “strategically, the Arab-Israeli conflict has been almost irrelevant since the end of the cold war.”

Then there is the oil. What has been the impact of the Arab-Israeli conflict and of the Middle East conflicts in general on oil prices? Only in 1973, following the Yom Kippur/Ramadan War, was the impact even felt when the Saudis declared embargoes and cut production, but that was the first and only time the “oil weapon" was wielded.

“For decades now,”Luttwak writes, “the largest Arab oil producers have publicly foresworn any linkage between politics and pricing, and an embargo would be a disaster for their oil-revenue dependent economies.”

Furthermore, he says, “the relationship between turmoil in the middle east and oil prices is far from straightforward. During the period, 1981-1999, when Iran and Iraq fought an eight-year war within view of oil and gas installations, when the Gulf war came and went, when the first Palestinian intifadah raged—oil prices, adjusted for inflation, actually fell.”

Today global dependence on middle eastern oil is declining, that region producing 30% of the world’s crude oil supply at the present time as compared to almost 40 per cent in 1974-75. In 2005 17 per cent of American oil imports came from the Gulf, compared to 28 per cent in 1975.

Even if the Israelis and Palestinians could settle their differences,”it would do little or nothing to calm the other conflicts in the middle east from Algeria to Iraq, or to stop Muslim-Hindu violence in Kashmir, Muslim-Christian violence in Indonesia and the Philippines, Muslim-Buddhist violence in Thailand, Muslim-animist violence in Sudan, Muslim-Igbo violence in Nigeria, Muslim-Muscovite violence in Chechnya, or the different varieties of inter-Muslim violence between traditionalists and Islamists, and between Sunnis and Shia,” let alone push the Islamists to abandon their particularly severe hostility towards the West.

Just as mistaken as the importance given the Arab-Israeli conflict is what Luttwak calls the “Mussolini syndrome.” Serious people, including British and French military leaders, accepted on their face Mussolini’s claims to great power status because “they believed that he had serious armed forces at his command”….only to later discover that “his forces quickly crumbled in combat,” and that “it could not be otherwise, because most Italian soldiers were unwilling conscripts from the one-mule peasantry of the south or the almost equally miserable sharecropping villages of the north.”

The same mistaken Mussolini syndrome is now applied by the so-called middle east experts to the countries of the Middle East. “They persistently attribute real military strength to backward societies whose populations can sustain excellent insurgencies but not modern military forces.”

First of all in the 1960s there was the supposed strength of Nasser’s military. The strength, of course, wasn’t there as the war of 1973 demonstrated.

Then in 1990 it was the turn of Iraq to be hugely overestimated as a military power. Whereas it took the allies just two weeks of precision bombing to paralyse Saddam’s entire war machine, so that it scarcely tried to resist the allies’ ground offensive when it did come. Saddam’s army was the usual middle eastern façade without fighting substance.

Now it’s in Iran’s turn to be subject to the Mussolini syndrome. For example we are given awed descriptions of the Pasdaran revolutionary guards, those same guards who fought only one war, against Iraq, and lost. Now we are warned by the experts that Iran, if thwarted in its nuclear intentions by the West will unleash a devastating reign of terror on us all.

But 30 years of “death to American” has produced little in the way of international terrorism. As for the claim that the Iranians are united in their pursuit of a nuclear bomb, or in anything else, the truth is that of “Iran’s population of 70m or so, 51 per cent are ethnically Persian, 24 per cent are Turks, with other minorities comprising the remaining quarter. Many of Iran’s 16-17m Turks are in revolt against Persian cultural imperialism; its 5-6m Kurds have started a serious insurgency; the Arab minority detonates bombs in Ahvaz; and Baluch tribesmen attack gendarmes and revolutionary guards.”

After the Arab-Israeli conflict, the oil, and the Mussolini syndrome, perhaps the greatest error repeated by middle east experts of all persuasions, by Arabophiles and Arabophobes alike, is “the very odd belief that these ancient nations are highly malleable.” Whereas “it is not hard to defeat Arab armies, it is mostly useless.” For although force can destroy dangerous weapons "it cannot bring about desired behavioral changes.”

The experts also make the opposite mistake. They keep arguing that if only this or that concession were made, if only their "soft" policies were followed through to the end and respect shown, real behavioral changes would result. Hostility would cease and a warm Mediterranean amity would emerge.

But the real condition of these lands and peoples is something else. Their scientific and technological and cultural backwardness generates a constantly renewed sense of humiliation and of civilisational defeat. It is this that fully explains the ubiquity of Muslim violence embodying Muslim resistance to policies of the West, be these concessions or the force of men and arms.

“The operational mistake that middle east experts keep making is the failure to recognise that backward societies must be left alone…. With neither invasions nor friendly engagements, the peoples of the middle east should finally be allowed to have their own history—the one thing that middle east experts of all stripes seem determined to deny them.”

“We devote far too much attention to the middle east, a mostly stagnant region where almost nothing is created in science or the arts—excluding Israel, per capita patent production of countries in the Middle East is one fifth that of sub-Saharan Africa. The people of the middle east (only about five per cent of the world’s population) are remarkably unproductive, with a high proportion not in the labour force at all.”

“The middle east was once the world’s most advanced region, but these days its biggest industries are extravagant consumption and the venting of resentment….”

“Unless compelled by immediate danger, we should therefore focus on the old and new lands of creation in Europe and America, in India and east Asia—places where hard-working populations are looking ahead instead of dreaming of the past.”

What our President Doesn’t Know Hurts Him and Us

OK, our president is George Bush, and he’s not a good president. According to some, of whom many historians, he is our worst president ever. I often wonder how he can be still standing after six years of blunders.

Why, for example, haven’t the mortal blows that our country, our people, our service men and women, as well as other countries and other peoples, have received on a daily basis, why haven’t these blows toppled our president and thereby enabled our country to begin again to relate intelligently and positively to other countries and peoples? 

How is it possible that this man, a product of our very best families and schools, doesn’t see today, now into the fifth year of the war, the terrible price we are all made to pay for his mistaken policies and decisions?

Of all the many errors of judgment the man has made during his presidency the very worst one may very well be his apparent belief that countries and peoples can be fundamentally changed, made to order, by superior force. Then can’t, of course.

This is a common mistake, although not often producing such disastrous outcomes as we are now experiencing in Iraq. Parents make the mistake with their children, teachers to a lesser extent with their students. Foreign invaders make this mistake with conquered populations. For people will be changed, if at all, not from without, but from within.

When most successful in their conquests the Romans used persuasion, not force. When they did use force it was so overwhelming that no resistance was possible.

There is no inbetween. By superior force alone one can no more control people’s movements, let alone their opinions, minds, and hearts, than one can keep expanding quantities of air or water within containers of fixed dimensions. The containers no matter what they are made of will burst under the increased pressure. And just as air or water, call it wind or tidal wave, will overwhelm everything within its path, so will peoples, determined to be free, overturn all obstacles in their way.

The greatest irony may very well lie in the fact that as Bush says he is bringing “freedom” to peoples who have never known freedom. In this instance the freedom he brings is most of all freedom to oppose him and his plans for the country.

In their new found freedom the Iraqis are not choosing to be like us, no more than children will ever freely choose to be like their parents. The Iraqis are clearly choosing to go their own way. Why doesn’t Bush get out of their way?

Again, why doesn’t Bush see the disastrous results of his mistaken policies? Bush would make people free, but the people only see in this as his attempt to have them under his control. The strongest force in the world is that of people freeing themselves from an unwanted yoke.

The Israelis and the Palestinians are another instance of the same thing. For Israel in regard to its treatment of its conquered peoples is no less mistaken than Bush in regard to Iraq.

Take, for example, the Gaza Strip. It looks well within the power of one of the world’s best armed forces to control. Why it’s less than the size of Philadelphia, and with fewer people.

How many Israeli soldiers would it take to control Philadelphia, say prevent the good citizens of Philadelphia from firing rockets and mortar shells across Delaware Bay into Camden, NJ?

Maybe none at all if the good citizens were not seeking their independence above all else. But if they were, if they were hell bent on being free, what number of soldiers could control some one and one half million people armed to the teeth? Israel continues to act as if to do so were within its power.

As the Romans did to Carthage, or the allies to Dresden during the second world war, one might “bomb” the city of Philadelphia into the Stone Age. But if you didn’t do this, and as long as you allowed some of the people to live, you would not be safe from their suicide or other attacks on your soldiers and other representatives.

Again, there is no inbetween. Why haven’t we learned that after Vietnam and now Iraq? Why hasn’t Israel learned that after more than a half century of conflict with the Palestinians?

Why doesn’t our president see that there is only one way that people change, say Sunnis and Shia giving up their ethnic hatred of one another, Al Qaeda abandoning its Jihad against the US, criminals walking away from criminal behavior, and that’s from within?

We need to reach other peoples who live on this earth and who do not share our beliefs but from within, if we would reach them at all, and not destroy them and us in the process. How do we do that? Perhaps first by putting away our guns.

We in Iraq, and the Israelis in Palestine, have only the choice between completely destroying the enemy (a choice that no one is now making) and talking with that same enemy.

The talk to succeed at all will have to lead to one side giving up positions of power, Israel, for example, giving up controlling rights to Gaza water supplies and air space, and the United States giving up its present military occupation of Iraq.

But that’s not enough. The other side, the Palestinians and the Iraqis, will have to begin turning more and more of their energies to bettering the lives of their peoples and thereby giving less of their energies to Jihad against Israel and the West.

Why doesn’t our president know that this is what has to happen, and that it’s not within his power to make it happen? Withdrawing is really all he can do. Taking away thereby the easy target he now presents to his enemies. Forcing them thus to look more at themselves, and less at him.

On Robert Epstein’s “Let’s Abolish High School.” Part Two

In his EDWeek article, “Lets Abolish High School,” Robert Epstein lists four “fatal legacies” from the past.
They are:

1)    The school system by and large does not take into account the child’s readiness to learn. Whereas every piece of steel is “ready” to become a fender not every child is ready to read.
2)    The mass productive techniques of the factory have given us mass education. Whereas effective learning—learning that benefits all students—is necessarily individualized and self-paced.
3)    The schools would cram learning into the first two decades of a child’s life. Whereas we know that real learning, or education, is a life-long process.
4)     Schooling is compulsory in most states up until age 16. Two more years, up until age 18, is usually enough to obtain a high school diploma. But how much time one spends in school or other learning situation ought to be directly proportional to the time needed to acquire the desired skills and knowledge. It’s not of course. There is in fact little direct relationship between the time spent in school and the competencies acquired thereby. Witness the highschool senior who has studied French or Spanish for four years.

I have just a couple of things to say about all this.

First, as Epstein points out, effective learning has to be individualized and self-paced. Furthermore, the teachers, as well as the students as they get older, know this. But they do nothing. Epstein says that unacknowledged awareness is the “elephant in the classroom.” A big object that you pretend is not there.

Epstein might very well have said that the other three “fatal legacies” are no less “elephants,” or “bodies” that occupy most of the learning space, but are never directly confronted by the teacher and students, leaving thereby little or no space for real learning to take place.

When one looks at our educational system, oblivious to these “legacies,” it does seem incredible, doesn’t it, that our schools go about their business as if the readiness, or the motivation and interest of the learner were not all important, as if learning could be anything but “individualized and self-paced,” as if one’s learning were limited to one’s time in school, and as if time in school (“she has perfect attendance,”) rather than acquisition of competencies were the best measure of school success.

Second, what ever happened to competency based learning? Epstein tells us that a 1852 Massachusetts law required that all young people between the ages of 8 and 14 attend school three months a year—unless they could demonstrate that they already knew the material; in other words, the law was competency-based.

Boy, have we come a long way from that! Why so? Growth in student competencies are what all reforms would bring about. The failure of all reforms to do this is perhaps their failure to recognize increased competency as the true goal of their efforts, substituting for the acquisition of competency such things as school choice, a longer school day, national standards, better teacher training, etc. as the principal ends of school reform. They’re not.

What typically does the teacher now do when she sees that her 25 different students are approaching the day’s lesson from 25 different perspectives? There will be those who already understand, have even mastered the lesson materials. There will be those who will probably need additional class of other help just to grasp the rudiments. And there will be all the others at different points in between.

The teacher will avoid this classroom elephant, that is, the widely differing degrees of readiness of her students, and speak instead to the level of understanding of this or that student, and of course during the process more or less losing the others.

Under a competency based system this wouldn’t have to happen. Schools could be structured around their students acquiring competencies, in school, out of school, at home, or elsewhere, not as now based on their students being present in class for some five or more periods a day, during a six hour day and a five day week.

In a more reasonable and more realistic school structure, one that recognized kids as they are, the “elephants” would have to be acknowledged, one after the other and all together, with the result that schools as we know them would probably disappear.

Perhaps this is what keeps any real reform from ever taking place. It would be too big a change in the status quo, thus raising the resistance of the present holders of power. Also, there is probably too much that is not known about what would happen if we publicly acknowledged the elephants. There would be the inevitable unexpected consequences, and this makes us afraid.

Why if kids were ready to learn, if their education were individualized and self-paced, if their learning were not confined to the school building and to the first years of their lives, and finally if they actually became competent in this or that skill or subject matter area, there would then be no stopping them.

As in the middle ages we might now see a real children’s crusade, as the kids, no longer only being a burden or charge on the rest of us, took back their rightful position among us, standing from a very young age as they once did, on the ground along with us, interacting with us, teaching us as well as learning from us. Once again, there would be no stopping them. Nor would we want to.

Schooling and Education, One

Everyone is familiar with the point of view that goes more or less like this:

“Students spend a relatively small number of their waking hours in school, and even fewer hours in classrooms.  Their education, if not their schooling, mostly takes place out of school. As a result their learning, or their not learning, depends more on what they bring with them to school than on what happens to them in school.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihaly’s in a 1995 essay for Daedalus is one of many writers who points to the fact that schooling and education are not the same thing. For too many, he says, "education is conceived narrowly as schooling.”

What is less generally known and recognized are the particular out-of-school societal conditions that most affect the student’s in-school learning. For Harold Howe such conditions are the following:

* A rapid decline in the time spent with adults by children across the full social and economic spectrum.

* Growing parenthood among teen-agers unaware of its responsibilities.

* A rapid growth of poverty in young families.

* An unexpectedly large, new wave of immigration since the Vietnam War.

* A major shift in the learning demands of well-paying jobs with an impact on middle-class children as well as the poor.

* A human rights revolution in the lives of racial and cultural minorities, with a serious lag in delivering its promises.

* The concentration in cities of poor and minority families along with well-hidden, similar problems in rural areas.

* The erosion of neighborhood activities to enrich children's lives as the need for them mounts because of growing poverty.

* Similar erosion of the capacity of health agencies and other services as demand exceeds supply.

As Howe points out such a list could go on and on, but this one is “sufficient to back up the assertion that non-school-related educational services are standing in need of prayer.”

In other words the out-of-school” conditions of kids’ lives are in desperate need of corrective action if we would expect schools to become places of real learning. This is the position of a number of educational writers from Jonathan Kozol, who speaks eloquently of the tormented lives of impoverished, inner city children, to David Berliner who makes it clear that poverty, joblessness, broken families, lack of health insurance, and other such conditions stand as insurmountable obstacles to kids’ learning in school.

This was my understanding of why public schooling was failing large numbers of minority and immigrant children living in impoverished urban and rural areas of our country. Then I read Robert L. Hampel’s “A Generation in Crisis” from Daedalus of September, 1998.

Hampel paints another picture entirely. Schools, all schools fail to educate large numbers of their students not principally for the reasons given above, although this is not to say that we might forget about improving the impoverished conditions of many children’s lives. This should still be a priority of government.

Hampel says that the real culprits to learning in school are what the kids are doing during the greater number of hours spent outside of school. If they do any homework at all it’s only a few hours a week. Whereas they spend inordinate amounts of time with television, video games, computers and other electronic media. They spend probably no less time “chatting” and being influenced by their friends and peers. And, as the get older, they will hold down part time jobs, for as many as 20 hours a week.

We look at our kids and see them with computers, friends, and part time jobs, and are most of all relieved that they’re not over eating and getting fat, trying drinks and drugs, not engaging in premarital sex and getting pregnant, not members of gangs, not,heaven forbid, contemplating suicide. We support them in what seem to us healthy activities. We buy them computers, encourage them to be with their friends, even help them to secure a job.

But what happens, as Hampel makes clear, is that school and classroom learning cannot compete for their interest and attention.  Their games, friends and weekly pay checks are much stronger influences in their lives. School is definitely out of the running.

Hampel doesn’t ask what we should do. What can we do? What has happened is that schooling has lost its way. For the most part it is no longer concerned with what the kids care most about.

It may very well be the mission of the school to:

“produce responsible, self-sufficient citizens who possess the self-esteem, initiative, skills,  and wisdom to continue individual growth, pursue knowledge, develop aesthetic sensibilities, and value cultural diversity by providing intellectually challenging educational programs that celebrate change but affirm tradition and promote excellence through an active partnership with the community, a comprehensive and responsive curriculum, and a dedicated and knowledgeable staff.” *

But this is not the “mission” of the kid. He is on a mission of his own and for the moment, anyway, there seems to be no connecting link between his mission and that of the school.

*The mission statement of the New Rochelle, NY, public schools of June, 1987

On Robert Epstein’s “Let’s Abolish High School.” Part One

I read as much or more than I write. And in my reading I’m always encountering others’ expressions of my own ideas, that which stops me in my tracks, as it were, from going ahead and writing down my own thoughts. For what I was going to say, as I find in so many instances, had already been better said by someone else.

Progress may very well be standing on the shoulders of those who have come before and thereby seeing further yourself. But from where I stand on others’ shoulders I see still others onto whose shoulders I first have to climb before I can even begin to see for myself. A process with apparently no end.

One such article, “Let’s Abolish High School,” by Robert Epstein, articulating many of my own thoughts, appeared just recently in “Commentary” on the back page of the publication, Education Week. Now I find my own thoughts about school and school reform thoroughly embodied by what Epstein has to say.

Epstein writes, “about 10 years ago I noticed—I couldn’t help but notice—that my 15-year-old son was remarkably mature. He balanced work and play far better than I did, and he seemed quite ready to live on his own. Why, I wondered, was he not allowed to drive or vote, and why did he have so few options? Simply because of his age, he couldn’t own property or do any interesting or fulfilling work, and he had no choice but to attend high school for several more years before getting on with his “real” life.”

Well I have an almost 10 year old grandson. He spends a couple of nights a week at our house which is near his school. When he comes in he sits right down and does his homework, that which is currently mixed numbers and improper fractions along with reading assignments from Time Magazine for kids on which he has to answer a few questions.

His homework may occupy him for about 30 minutes, a little longer if he needs to ask me a question. Once finished he goes to his computer in the big upstairs room where his grandmother and I also have our computers and are working. My grandson, while listening to some of his favorite rap or hip hop music downloaded from iTunes, plays Neopets, the online virtual pets game which allows him to create and take care of one to four of 54 species collectively called neopets.

If I were asked to determine from which activity, homework or Neopets, he was learning the most it would be Neopets hands down. On his own he has to care for his neopets, keep them alive and well by feeding them virtual food obtained by means of Neopoints which is the currency of the game. all of which taxes his numeracy, powers of memory, and judgment, as he seeks to master the intricate world of Neopia.

While watching my grandson I conclude that school and homework is just a small part of this 10 year old’s growth and development, a small part of his education. I sometimes think that school and homework are most of all restraints that prevent the child from doing the things that are most interesting and meaningful to him. In that way school may even be and often is a major obstacle to learning.

What Robert Epstein is saying about his 15 year old son is essentially true for my 10 year old grandson. Simply because of their age they’re not allowed to do the things they would probably choose if left more to themselves. Instead they have to follow adult prescriptions as to what is best for them, in the case of my grandson that being improper fractions rather than the intensive, long term care of a virtual pet.

But I’m not so much saying that Neopets ought to take the place of school. Rather that school ought to give more place to what’s most interesting and stimulating in the life of a 10 year old boy. This particular boy is not excited by mixed numbers. (Neither am I.) All this is not too different from having the boy listen to Mozart while the “music” that he is hearing is Rap. Shouldn’t we go more with what he hears than with what he is supposed to be listening to? In general we want them to hear, but we can only make them listen.

Finally, of what is my 10 year old grandson capable? In my experience the 10 year old’s mental abilities are much more advanced than the demands placed on those abilities in school. We’re not tapping into what kids are capable of.

For example, the other day I asked my grandson how he could be like all children, like only some children, and like no other child.*  Why "Bonpapa," he said, "like all children aren’t I human, and like some children, I’m fast, or slow, or maybe crippled, but I’m really not like anybody else."

Try asking that of one of your adult friends. Then see if his answer is as well formulated as that of my 10 year old grandson. (He also correctly gave me the answer to the riddle of the Sphinx the first time I asked.)

*See Clyde Kluckhohn and Henry A. Murray, "Personality Formation: The
Determinants," in idem, eds., Personality in Nature, Society, and
Culture (New York: Knopf, 1950), pp. 35-48. "Every child, to is like
all other children, like some other children, and like no other child."

Let’s Abolish High School

Education Week

By Robert Epstein
From Commentary in Ed Week,
April 4, 2007

Well, not quite. But while writing a new book called The Case Against Adolescence: Rediscovering the Adult in Every Teen, I explored some ideas that go almost that far.

I’m a father of four children, and about 10 years ago I noticed—I couldn’t help but notice—that my 15-year-old son was remarkably mature. He balanced work and play far better than I did, and he seemed quite ready to live on his own. Why, I wondered, was he not allowed to drive or vote, and why did he have so few options? Simply because of his age, he couldn’t own property or do any interesting or fulfilling work, and he had no choice but to attend high school for several more years before getting on with his “real” life.

As a longtime professor and researcher, I got curious. Were our young people always required to attend school, and were their work opportunities always limited to babysitting, yard work, and cleaning the floors at fast-food joints? Were they always subject to so many restrictions? Are teenagers necessarily incompetent and irresponsible, as the media tell us? Is there really an immature “teenage brain” that holds them back? After all, past puberty, technically speaking we’re not really children anymore, and presumably through most of human history we bore our young when we were quite young ourselves. It occurred to me that young people must be capable of functioning as competent adults, or the human race quite probably would not exist.
—Steven Braden

Over time, through interviews, surveys, and scholarly research, I began to investigate these matters in depth. What I learned amazed me—even shocked me.

Consider school, for example. The first compulsory education law in the United States wasn’t enacted until 1852. This Massachusetts law required that all young people between the ages of 8 and 14 attend school three months a year—unless, that is, they could demonstrate that they already knew the material; in other words, this law was competency-based. It took 15 years before any other states followed Massachusetts’ lead and 66 years before all states did. Along the way, some powerful segments of society staunchly opposed the mandatory education trend. In 1892, for example, the Democratic Party stated as part of its national platform, “We are opposed to state interference with parental rights and rights of conscience in the education of children.”
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Restrictions on work by young people also took hold very gradually. In fact, the earliest “child labor” laws in the United States actually required young people to work. It wasn’t until the late 1800s that laws restricting the work opportunities of young people began to take hold. Those laws, too, were fiercely opposed, and in fact the first federal laws restricting youth labor—enacted in 1916, 1918, and 1933—were all swiftly struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court. After all, young people had worked side by side with adults throughout history, and they still helped support their families and their communities in countries around the world; the idea that there should be limits on youth labor, or that young people shouldn’t be allowed to do any work, seemed outrageous to many people.

Eventually, multiple forces—the desire to “Americanize” the tens of millions of immigrants streaming into the United States to get jobs in the land of opportunity, the effort to rescue millions of young laborers from horrendous working conditions in the factories and mines, the extreme determination of America’s growing labor unions to protect adult jobs, and, most especially, the extremely high unemployment rate (27 percent or so) during the Great Depression—created the systems we have today: laws severely restricting or prohibiting youth labor, and school systems modeled after the new factories, established to teach “industrial discipline” to young people and to homogenize their knowledge and thinking.

Unfortunately, the dramatic changes set in motion by the turmoil of America’s industrial revolution also obliterated from modern consciousness the true abilities of young people, leaving adults with the faulty belief that teenagers were inherently irresponsible and incompetent. What’s more, the rate at which restrictions were placed on young people began to accelerate after the 1930s, and increased dramatically after the social turmoil of the 1960s. Surveys I’ve conducted suggest that teenagers today are subject to 10 times as many restrictions as are mainstream adults, to twice as many restrictions as are active-duty U.S. Marines, and even to twice as many restrictions as are incarcerated felons.

Over the past century or so, we have, through a growing set of restrictions, artificially extended childhood by perhaps a decade or more, and we have also completely isolated young people from adults, severing the “child-adult continuum” that has existed throughout history. This trend is continuing. Just last year, Reg Weaver, the second-term president of the National Education Association, while lamenting the fact that 30 percent or more of our young people never complete high school, called for extending the minimum age of school leaving to 21. When adults see young people misbehaving or underperforming, they often respond by infantilizing young people even more, and the new restrictions often cause even more distress among our young.

Some leaders in education are far more trusting of our nation’s young—and also recognize the inherent dangers of infantilization and isolation. The former New York City and New York state teacher of the year John Taylor Gatto has long warned about the dangers of artificially extending childhood, and has blamed our schools for damaging families and stifling creativity and a love of learning. Leon Botstein, the longtime president of Bard College and the youngest college president (at 23) in U.S. history, has called for the outright abolition of our high school system, pointing out the obvious: High school is a waste of time for the majority of the students—that is, for those who haven’t already dropped out.

Our educational institutions today are cursed by at least four fatal legacies of the Industrial Revolution—ideas that may have been helpful a century ago but have no place in today’s world.
In today’s fast-paced world, education needs to be spread out over a lifetime, and the main thing we need to teach our young people is to love the process of learning.

First, although cars can be assembled on demand, it’s absurd to teach people when they’re not ready to learn. As the brilliant German educator Kurt Hahn (the founder of Outward Bound) said, teaching people who are aren’t ready is like “pouring and pouring into a jug and never looking to see whether the lid is off.”

Second, although mass education was exciting in the era that invented mass production, it does a great disservice to the vast majority of students. People have radically different learning styles and abilities, and effective learning—learning that benefits all students—is necessarily individualized and self-paced. This is the elephant in the classroom from which no teacher can hide.

Third, although it’s efficient to cram all apparently essential knowledge into the first two decades of life, the main thing we teach most students with this approach is to hate school. In today’s fast-paced world, education needs to be spread out over a lifetime, and the main thing we need to teach our young people is to love the process of learning.

Finally, whereas that first compulsory-education law in Massachusetts was competency-based, the system that grew in its wake requires all young people to attend school, no matter what they know. Even worse, the system provides no incentives for students to master material quickly, and few or no meaningful options for young people who do leave school.

A century ago, there was no way to address these concerns, but, thanks to computers and the Internet, we now have rapidly improving tools that will soon allow virtually all young people to master essential material at their own pace, and to do so at any point in their lives. There will probably always be a place for the classroom, but it will be a place where intense and intimate learning takes place with highly willing students, not a step on an assembly line.

Are young people really inherently incompetent and irresponsible? The research I conducted with my colleague Diane Dumas suggests that teenagers are as competent as adults across a wide range of adult abilities, and other research has long shown that they are actually superior to adults on tests of memory, intelligence, and perception. The assertion that teenagers have an “immature” brain that necessarily causes turmoil is completely invalidated when we look at anthropological research from around the world. Anthropologists have identified more than 100 contemporary societies in which teenage turmoil is completely absent; most of these societies don’t even have terms for adolescence. Even more compelling, long-term anthropological studies initiated at Harvard in the 1980s show that teenage turmoil begins to appear in societies within a few years after those societies adopt Western schooling practices and are exposed to Western media. Finally, a wealth of data shows that when young people are given meaningful responsibility and meaningful contact with adults, they quickly rise to the challenge, and their “inner adult” emerges.

A careful look at these issues yields startling conclusions: The social-emotional turmoil experienced by many young people in the United States is entirely a creation of modern culture. We produce such turmoil by infantilizing our young and isolating them from adults. Modern schooling and restrictions on youth labor are remnants of the Industrial Revolution that are no longer appropriate for today’s world; the exploitative factories are long gone, and we have the ability now to provide mass education on an individual basis.

Teenagers are inherently highly capable young adults; to undo the damage we have done, we need to establish competency-based systems that give these young people opportunities and incentives to join the adult world as rapidly as possible.

Robert Epstein is a former editor in chief of Psychology Today, a contributing editor for Scientific American Mind, a visiting scholar at the University of California, San Diego, and the host of “Psyched!” on Sirius Satellite Radio. His latest book, The Case Against Adolescence: Rediscovering the Adult in Every Teen, was published last week by Quill Driver Books

Teacher Attitudes

How helpful is it to obtain the views that teachers and administrators have of their students?  Let me give you selected results of a survey made by the National School Boards Association’s Council of Urban Boards of Education (or CUBE). This survey, Where We Teach, follows directly last year’s survey, Where We Learn. The latter surveyed 32,000 students in 15 school districts in 13 states attempting to show how students felt about their school environment.

Where We Teach summararizes teacher and administrator perceptions about eight major themes – safety, professional development, expectations, bullying, professional climate, parental involvement, influence of race, and trust, respect, and ethos of caring.

In this study there were 13 school districts representing 10 states—Alabama, Arizona, California, Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, Nebraska, New York, Ohio, and Texas. Approximately 4,700 surveys were received from teachers in 127 schools, including 45 elementary schools, 33 middle schools, 20 high schools, 12 K-8 schools.

Here are some of the more interesting findigs of the Survey: (see Greg Toppo, in USA Today)

Nearly one in four teachers in urban schools say that most children “would not be successful at a community college or university.”

Nearly one in three teachers say that most children are not motivated to learn. And when they speak of Latino students in particular they feel that well over half of them are not motivated to learn.

Over one in three teachers are convinced that students in their schools will have difficulty with core academic instruction regardless of strength of instruction.

When you ask them about their own teaching lives the teachers are much more upbeat. Nearly 9 in 10 feel they are preparing students to become productive citizens. The same number say they are currently following in-service opportunities to improve their teaching. 8 in 10 say they look forward to coming to work most days.

In general the responses of the administrators are much more positive and upbeat in regard to the students’ ability and motivation, that which you would expect. Saying otherwise would not reflect well on them. This is of course the major problem with surveys of this nature. Who’s going to tell the truth when the truth might threaten one’s job?

At the end of Greg’s article in USA Today he cites John Mitchell, director of educational issues for the American Federation of Teachers, who says that the survey findings could be largely the result of events that happened in the day or so before the survey. "You go through a lot in a day, and you have days when you feel optimistic and days when you don’t."

What is one to make of these surveys? If John Mitchell is right we shouldn’t even do them. I’m sure they’re costly, and why spend the money if what we learn is valid only for a brief moment in time?

For me the single most important variable in the equation representing the education of our children is the child’s/student’s motivation. If as many as one in four teachers admit publicly that this key element is lacking in their students you know that the real number must be much higher.

How many parents want to admit that their children are not motivated in school? And it’s even more true with teachers. To say that most of your students are not motivated is to condemn your own effectiveness as a teacher. Therefore when you ask the teacher the unmotivated ones will always be minority in the classroom.

Just as no one likes to believe that most people don’t vote, no one wants to believe that most of the children in our schools are not motivated to learn.

What if a real, substantial, scientific survey was in fact done (assuming it could be done, which I admit is a big assumption) in order to determine motivation levels of students in our schools? And by that I mean motivation to learn math, language, history, science, not motivation to be in school, play basketball etc., and just hang out with one’s friends.

Does anyone doubt that with the results of that survey we would be forced to rethink and restructure the way we educate our children? Would even the teachers’ unions want to go on defending the status quo if it was clear that most students were not motivated, and that most students were only pretending to learn, just as their teachers were only pretending to teach?

What We Can Do

In a recent Op-Ed piece in the New York Times Rory Stewart says that, “We must acknowledge the limits of our power and knowledge in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere and concentrate on what is achievable. The question is not “What ought we to do?” but “What can we do?”

Shouldn’t we say the very same thing, ask the same question, in regard to our system of education? Shouldn’t we no less acknowledge the “limits of our power and knowledge” to significantly improve our schools and our children’s education? Shouldn’t we begin to address what we can do and no longer be stymied by what we ought to do but can’t?

When I ask educators if all children can go to college they reply that we have to give all children that opportunity, that we have a moral obligation to do so. By emphasizing moral necessity educators can justify almost any reform program including most recently the No Child Left Behind law. For don’t we have to change all children’s lives for the better. Aren’t we required to do so?

But what in fact is happening in regard to our efforts to reform the schools and make all our school children  proficient in reading, writing, and figuring? We are not being successful, as is evident to  everyone.

We are learning, painfully, that many, if not most, of our problems and difficulties in raising the achievement levels of all our children are deeply embedded in things over which we have no control, in family histories, experiences, and the circumstances of the lives that children bring with them to school. For teachers, even the best of them, positive role models that they are, rarely diminish, let alone replace, the negative role models that children bring with them to school, and that are much more a part of them than are their teachers.

The teachers, being as they are on the front lines of the struggle to educate children, are aware more than anyone of just how little they can accomplish with the children in their classrooms. Furthermore, many of them come to their teaching jobs with little or no experience with the particular needs and situations of the minority and impoverished inner city children who fill their classrooms. Even the very best of them need in support of their classroom work all kinds of other services that for the most part are not readily, if at all, available.

In short there is a gulf that separates teachers from their children, perhaps no less daunting than the gulf separating the Americans in Iraq and Afghanistan from the native populations they would help.

We were warned by the authors of A Nation At Risk, in April of 1983, that “If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war. As it stands, we have allowed this to happen to ourselves. … We have, in effect, been committing an act of unthinking, unilateral educational disarmament.”

Now, nearly 25 years later, nothing has changed. The warning was heard and repeated endlessly in the national media, but nothing came of it in regard to the outcomes for our children in our schools. Now only the educators seem to have held onto the great objectives of the members of the Nation At Risk Commission. For educators (probably not teachers) like Commission members go on looking for a single reform effort, such as national standards, merit pay for teachers, school choice, No Child Left Behind, etc. that will transform all schools into successful educational establishments. But of course this won’t happen.

The American people, of whom I am one, are probably beginning to feel that the great educational objectives (for example, everyone going to college, and graduating in a reasonable time frame) are unachievable, and although not yet “lapsing into a widespread cynicism and opposition,” comparable to their attitude vs. the war in Iraq, they may soon do so.

Instead of constantly looking for the magic bullet that is going to solve our problems we ought instead to acknowledge our great limitations in respect to the powers we have to educate all our children. We don’t have such powers. For children, especially those whose lives outside of school are singularly deprived of adequate housing, health care and two parent families, we can do very little of what we would like to do. Why not start by owning up to our own inadequacy in this regard?

The mission of the inner city school (such as the Jeremiah E. Burke High School in Boston) may very well be, “to turn out students who are competent, skilled, and informed citizens, capable of critical thinking and problem solving, appreciative of the arts, and able to function effectively within an increasingly pluralistic and technologically advanced society.” But given the present  circumstances of the lives of its children there is absolutely nothing that the school can do to realize its mission. It doesn’t have the power.

There are, however, things we can do in regard to improving our schools and the education of our children. We are not powerless, no more than the United States army in Afghanistan. While we’re not going to have all kids graduate from high school and go on to college (unless we make the standards ridiculously low) we could make sure that while they are with us in school the kids are doing things that make sense to them and to us.

That’s not the case now, and if you don’t believe me attend classes for a day or two in a large inner city middle or high school. And after doing so ask yourself if the activities you witnessed were making “competent, skilled, and informed citizens, capable of critical thinking and problem solving…” out of the kids. Then ask the kids themselves what sense it all made to them “what was it all about.”

To know what we can do we ought to begin with what is working. For in every school there are probably pockets of learning that are going on. During the six hour long school day there are probably some activities that have successfully engaged the kids. For example, I taught in a high school where for many students that only thing that brought them to school was a beloved theater program.

Then there are other activities, such as sports, band, a rock music group, a few clubs etc. that clearly engage the kids. The gifted kids are often engaged intellectually by good math, science, history and language teachers. But most kids, probably even in the average suburban schools, will rarely if ever be engaged, fully engrossed by their learning, during the school day.

Each year the teachers ought together decide what they might do differently to involve a few more kids in one or more learning activities. Save the kids one by one, no longer en masse, that should be our Mantra. Modest efforts are needed. The big ones, such as racial integration and No Child Left Behind, have not and will not work.

Stewart concludes his Op Ed piece with these words, “I believe we can do a great deal… [But] we have no moral obligation to do what we cannot do.”

What about us who care about the schools? What can we do? In Kabul, Afghanistan, one can help a single baker to open a business. (See Nicholas Kristof’s op ed piece in the NYTimes of March 27)

In the inner city middle school we can help a single teacher to reach a few more of her kids with meaningful learning activities, not open a bakery on the ruined streets of Kabul, but perhaps read a book and engage in meaningful conversation about the book with teacher and classmates.

The Teaching and Learning Dyad

What is wrong with our educational system. Many things, but high up on the list are people, in particular educators, who write such as what follows below about education. It is the tortured intellectual formulations of these people who would explain what learning is all about, rather than, say, an intimate knowledge of the real world of children, that drives, alas, too many educational reform efforts.

What happened to the belief that learning must be fun if it would take hold of the child and lead him into the world? Where is the fun in acquiring the “intellectual competence” of which the writer speaks?

Edmund Gordon on Intellectual Competence:

“The ability to use knowledge to engage and solve problems, not just acquire knowledge, is increasingly the currency of advanced societies. The goal should be to develop such abilities in a broader range of young people….

“I am more and more persuaded that the purpose of learning – and the teaching by which it is enabled – is to acquire knowledge and technique in the service of the development of adaptive human intellect. I see these as being at the core of intellective competence.

“What is intellective competence? I have come to use the term to refer to a characteristic way of adapting, appreciating, knowing, and understanding the phenomena of human experience. I also use the construct to reference the quality with which these mental processes are applied in one’s engagement with common, novel, and specialized problems. Intellective competence reflects one’s habits of mind, but it also reflects the quality or goodness of the products of mental functioning….

“Like social competence, which I feel is one manifestation of intellective competence, it reflects “goodness of fit,” or the effectiveness of the application of one’s affective, cognitive, and situative processes to solving the problems of living….

“The deliberative or affirmative development of academic ability should include more equitable access to such educational interventions as:

* Early, continuous, and progressively more rigorous exposure to joyful pre-academic and academic teaching and learning transactions.

* Rich opportunities to learn through pedagogical practices traditionally thought to be of excellent quality.

* Diagnostic, customized, and targeted assessment; instructional and remedial interventions.

* Academic acceleration and content enhancement.

* The use of relational data systems to inform educational policy and practice decisions.

•    Explicit socialization of intellect to multiple cultural contexts.
•    ….

“Important as these educational interventions are, the matter of personal agency may be even more so. It is possible that the attention we give to improving the quality of teaching and to broadening access to good teachers, while being necessary to the achievement of academic proficiency, may not be sufficient. Increased attention may need to be given to the learning domain of the “teaching and learning” dyad. Good teaching is necessary, but it may take appropriate student learning behaviors to achieve proficiency. In my thinking about learning behavior on the part of the student, I tend to privilege:

* Time on tasks related to what has to be learned.

* Deliberate deployment of energy and effort to those tasks.

* Seeking and utilizing necessary human and material resources.

•    Personal efficacy – the belief that the learning goals and related tasks are worth the effort.”

The excerpts above were all taken from Edmund Gordon’s article, Intellectual Competence, appearing in VUE, no. 14, Winter, 2007. Edmund W. Gordon is the Richard March Hoe Emeritus Professor of Psychology and Education at Teachers College, Columbia University, and the John M. Musser Professor of Psychology Emeritus at Yale University.

Did you noticed his way of saying that we should pay more attention to the student, “Increased attention may need to be given to the learning domain of the ‘teaching and learning’ dyad.”

Teaching and learning dyad! Is this the way one writes when one is no longer teaching, no longer in the classroom with kids who are probably perfectly intellectually competent when they first arrive in school, but who “learn” that they are not competent and will remain that way, incompetent forever, unless they listen to their teacher.

When our leading educational figures write like this (in this instance he’s writing about the meaning of “proficiency for all”) we realize just how little chance there is of our kids in school ever becoming “proficient.”

But then, how “proficient” is the reader, such as myself, for whom Edmund Gordon’s words remain utterly opaque, mostly well beyond his/my comprehension.

Liberté, Égalité, et Fraternité