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  • Summer Rerun: Six Hundred Million Years in K-12

    Posted by David Foster on August 25th, 2017 (All posts by )

    (Millions of kids are already headed back to school, making it an appropriate time to again rerun this post)

    Peter Orszag, who was Obama’s budget director, thinks it would be a good idea to cut back on summer school vacations for kids, arguing that this would both improve academics and reduce obesity.

    I’m with Jeremy Lott:  But to look at the vast wasteland that is American public education–the poor teaching, the awful curriculum, the low standards, the anemic achievement, the institutional resistance to needed reform and say that the real problem is summer vacation takes a special sort of mind.

    I wrote about the war on summer vacation back in 2006, after stopping at a store in Georgia on the first day of August and discovering that this was the first day of school for the local children. My analysis:

    The truth is, most public K-12 schools make very poor use of the time of their students. They waste huge proportions of the millions of hours which have been entrusted to them…waste them through the mindless implementation of fads and theories, waste them through inappropriate teacher-credentialing processes, waste them through refusal to maintain high standards of performance and behavior.

    When an organization or institution proves itself to be a poor steward of the resources that have been entrusted to it, the right answer is not to give it more resources to waste.

    Orszag and similar thinkers seem to have no concept that good things can happen to children’s development outside of an institutional setting. Plenty of kids develop and pursue interests in science, literature, art, music…plus, there is plenty to be learned simply by interacting with friends in an unstructured environment.

    Would the world be better off if Steve Wozniak and Jerri Ellsworth..to name only two of many, many examples..had their noses held constantly to the school grindstone rather than having time to develop their interests in electronics?

    Lewis E Lawes, who was warden of Sing Sing prison from 1915 to 1941, wrote an interesting book titled Twenty Thousand Years in Sing Sing. The title refers to the aggregate lengths of the sentences of the men in the prison at a typical particular point in time.

    Lawes:

    Twenty-five hundred men saddled with an aggregate of twenty thousand years! Within such cycles worlds are born, die, and are reborn. That span has witnessed the evolution of the intelligence of mortal man. And we know that twenty thousand years have seen nations run their courses, perish, and give way to their successors. Twenty thousand years in my keeping. What will they evolve?

    Following the same approach, the aggregate length of the terms to be spent in K-12 schools by their current students is more than 600,000,000 years. What proportion of this time is actually used productively?

    And how many of the officials who supervise and run the public schools, and the ed-school professors who influence their policies, think about this 600,000,000 years in the same serious and reflective way that Lawes thought about the 20,000 years under his supervision? Some do, of course, but a disturbing percentage of them seem to be simply going through the bureaucratic motions.

    And the politicians and officials of the Democratic Party are the last people in the world who are ever going to call them on it.

     

    32 Responses to “Summer Rerun: Six Hundred Million Years in K-12”

    1. dearieme Says:

      Most of, perhaps darn near all of, the changes imposed on British schools since my schooldays have been changes for the worse. That’s because virtually all the change has been at the hands of the Forces of Progress whose interest is in social engineering not in education.

      P. S. The schools have been back in Scotland for about nine days now. The schools will go back in England in about eleven days.

    2. Mike K Says:

      My theory is that Ed schools faculty are bored by the teaching of basic facts to young children.

      We all know that rote memorization of times tables is fundamental to learning arithmetic.

      Phonics are fundamental to learning to read. Both these methods require repetition and the nuns were very good at that.

      They would have interminable spelling bees and diagraming sentences for older children.

      These methods are boring for the poorly motivated teachers who are mostly in the bottom quintile of college students.

      Students do not like to read the dull politically correct books that are now approved.

    3. Gringo Says:

      Phonics are fundamental to learning to read. Both these methods require repetition and the nuns were very good at that.They would have interminable spelling bees and diagraming sentences for older children.
      Drilling and repetition are essential to learning the sound-sight relationships that phonics teach. Young children LIKE those drills. One reason is that the drills involve students speaking- and all of us like to speak. More importantly, the repetition reinforces a new concept. By repeated exposure to a new concept, it becomes familiar. Similarly, a 4-5 year old wants to hear THE SAME STORY night after night- which bores the adult to tears.

      These methods are boring for the poorly motivated teachers who are mostly in the bottom quintile of college students.
      Most adults, regardless of their intelligence level, are bored by drills and repetition. See my above comment about THE SAME STORY. In any event, elementary school teachers do not drive curriculum. Ed School profs are much more likely to drive curriculum.

      My theory is that Ed schools faculty are bored by the teaching of basic facts to young children.
      Ed School profs, like most adults, are bored by drills and repetition. They make the assumption that children are also bored by drills and repetition- which is definitely not the case for 6 year olds learning phonics. Ed School profs are forgetting that what children like and what adults like are quite often not the same.

    4. Grurray Says:

      A favorite rote/rule from childhood. Do they still teach kids this anymore?

      I have a theory that the autism epidemic is really a civilization-wide backlash against the dearth of structure and repetition. Children self-corrected, but unfortunately they missed well wide of the mark in the opposite direction.

    5. Brian Says:

      1. Most parents view schools as primarily daycare. Sad but true.
      2. Urban schools are a disaster and a national shame, but in general schools are fine, because kids are learning machines and it’s hard to screw that up.
      3. Teachers view schools as places where teaching happens. We should view them as places where learning happens. That changes things radically. Relatedly, teacher unions are an abomination and should be abolished.
      4. Modern schooling is a joke. Making kids sit all day, no recess, should be viewed as child abuse. And now making them sit all day staring at screens is enough to make you wonder when the madnesd will ever stop.

    6. Ginny Says:

      Even those of us not gifted in math find pleasure in the riches of the multiplication tables – the combinations and insight and repetition and structure.
      Even those of us not gifted in writing find pleasure in seeing the core of a sentence diagrammed and it essence revealed.
      And then there is phonics – or its lack of it in teaching.
      Knowledge is lots of things – but these skills are with us the rest of our life. My impression was that education departments in college had little sense of any of those joys. Some blame Emerson and probably that’s not as unfair as it sounds.

    7. PenGun Says:

      “Phonics are fundamental to learning to read. Both these methods require repetition and the nuns were very good at that.”

      Phonics have nothing to do with reading, well very little, is more accurate.

      I remember clearly learning to read. They were fooling with the flash cards with words on them, and I realized all the words had different shapes. I suddenly could read very well and went on to break speed reading records in my school. President Kennedy was supposed to be a fast reader, around 2000 words a minute. I could do well over 3000 with good comprehension.

      It works like this. First you can see a word, then you can see a phrase, a short sentence and when you get good, hunks of paragraphs. When you can read at the hunks of a paragraph level, you can literally just run down the center of that page, picking most of what’s on it.

      “We all know that rote memorization of times tables is fundamental to learning arithmetic.”

      Knowing your multiplication table up to 12 is just a help in calculation. It has nothing to do with learning math.

    8. David Foster Says:

      “My impression was that education departments in college had little sense of any of those joys.”

      I suspect that a high % of people running/teaching in ed schools do not really themselves experience much joy of learning, and project this attitude onto others. Hence, the endless effort to make subject “relevant”.

    9. jaed Says:

      Knowing your multiplication table up to 12 is just a help in calculation. It has nothing to do with learning math.

      I take it you’re not a number theorist. Or a mathematician of any sort.

    10. PenGun Says:

      Some math:

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w-I6XTVZXww

      How rote memorization will help you here is unclear.

    11. Mike K Says:

      PenGun, as usual, adds nothing useful. Just a troll.

    12. PenGun Says:

      Oh Mike, you are a treasure.

    13. Gringo Says:

      PenGun against phonics and for whole language:
      It works like this. First you can see a word, then you can see a phrase, a short sentence and when you get good, hunks of paragraphs. When you can read at the hunks of a paragraph level, you can literally just run down the center of that page, picking most of what’s on it.

      There are basically two approaches to teaching children to read: whole language and phonics. Phonics breaks down words into sight/sound combinations. Whole language deals with, shall we say, whole words.
      PenGun is describing the whole language approach to reading- where, as he puts it, you deal with hunks. My impression is that the way that adults generally read is the whole language approach. For example, I have seen exercises where a number of letters are taken out of a paragraph or a sentence. That doesn’t make the paragraph or sentence undecipherable to me or most adults. That is a whole language approach.

      For beginning readers, phonics generally works better, as it gives them the tools by which they can convert any letter combination into a sound combination. Whole language assumes a knowledge base that beginning readers don’t tend to have.
      PenGun was able to jump this. More power to him.

      I remember clearly learning to read. They were fooling with the flash cards with words on them, and I realized all the words had different shapes. I suddenly could read very well and went on to break speed reading records in my school. President Kennedy was supposed to be a fast reader, around 2000 words a minute. I could do well over 3000 with good comprehension.
      I still read around 400-500 words per minute. From what I have read, speed reading doesn’t have as good comprehension as some claim.

    14. Mike K Says:

      My ex-wife learned reading in the “Whole Language ” era where she was taught to “see and say.”

      I have reminded her that when she began college, she was obliged to take English 100y, also know as “dumbbell English.”

      She angrily denies that but I remember. It is not the only reason we are no longer married but it is related.

      She still can’t spell.

    15. Ginny Says:

      David,

      Somewhat off topic, certainly autobiographical and certainly anecdotal – but in real agreement.

      Your belief that education departments are anti-intellectual has long been my belief. That is – they are anti-content, anti-ideas. Once you begin there, political ideology isn’t far behind, a tendency nurtured by unions.

      I avoided ever taking an education class but in the year after I sold my business when I was at loose ends and needed money, one of my daughters’ friends’ mothers was recruiting people to write on-line classes for some teaching project in 1992. So I was paid (minimally) to design a course (minimally) for some college-level classes in education. (Which in itself says something – I was hired because I had a Ph.D., okay – but no work at all in education.)

      I have no idea what ever happened. The woman I never met who paid me was happy with the work – because she said no one was doing .what I did. That was because the tests and quizzes were over the texts I was supposed to be breaking into assignments, etc. but I constantly questioned the assumptions and kept asking why content wasn’t prioritized, or, even, considered. The books were as bad as I’d thought they’d be – constantly assuming that content wasn’t important in teaching, only ambitions and teaching to the student. I’d always hoped those classes might have raised a rebellious thought here and there but have no idea what happened or if they were ever used.

      How can students respect the subject if teachers don’t? The method is the thing – more important than the content – whether philosophy or welding, literature or physics? Insane. Hell, writing needs to be taught differently than literature, one is skill and the other content.

      None of our three daughters majored in English – though what they did major in was part of what their parents had loved about the subject and had brought them together and was discussed over the dinner table. Part of that is specialization but part of it is that they really didn’t like their sexist, narrowed, dogmatic often silly English classes – in high school and reinforced, then, in college.

      I’d always thought that studying literature was a little bit of studying linguistics, religious history, and sociology. Real literature closely read teaches us these disciplines; bad literature poorly read and ideologically taught misunderstands them.

    16. Brian Says:

      Isn’t Obama’s pal from the neighborhood Bill Ayers an education professor?

    17. Sgt. Mom Says:

      Yes, Brian – Bill Ayers has gone into corrupting education for decades. Yep, make the proles dumber and more susceptible to what their betters tell them.
      Personal anecdotes; my next younger brother and I learned to read by phonics; read confidently and happily from about the age of seven or eight on. My next younger sister caught the ‘whole word’ thing full in the neck. She was never the reader that my brother and I were. Youngest brother was tutored with phonics outside of school, and read enthusiastically.

      In college I blundered by accident into an elective that I thought would be interesting – a study of children’s literature. Discovered later that it was an elective aimed at education majors, and OMG, the horror. The professor who taught it actively despised all the kid-lit that I had grown up loving to bits. (He loathed Child’s Garden of Verses, because it rhymed, and Wind in the Willows because it was so nauseatingly sentimental. Don’t recall how he felt about Kipling’s Jungle book, although he probably couldn’t even …). Yes, this one single class killed in me any interest in being a teacher.

      My late business partner had an MA in English from UT-Austin back in the day. She was married to the Chicago Manual of Style, and believed with the force of Holy Writ that all Education Departments should be nuked from orbit and the grounds where they had been plowed with salt.

    18. Mike K Says:

      “I’d always thought that studying literature was a little bit of studying linguistics, religious history, and sociology.”

      I was an English major while I was doing premed. They would not write a student loan for a premed in those days.

      I did my premed as electives and enjoyed the English courses very much. I still have a “survey” type textbook form a English class on English and American drama since 1890 where we read about 40 plays and had exams asking us to explain quoted lines from the play.

      I read about English majors who don’t read Shakespeare and wonder what they think they are doing.

    19. Gringo Says:

      Sgt.Mom
      My late business partner had an MA in English from UT-Austin back in the day. She was married to the Chicago Manual of Style, and believed with the force of Holy Writ that all Education Departments should be nuked from orbit and the grounds where they had been plowed with salt.

      Both of my parents got teaching certificates from teachers’ colleges, though only one made use of the teaching certificate- and only for 4 years. Both were contemptuous of Ed Schools- knowledge of subject is what counted for them. An aunt who taught for over three decades, beginning in the ’30s, was also contemptuous of Ed Schools. So, we are not dealing with something new.

      After having subbed for several years, and taught for several years, my opinion is somewhat different from my parents. Knowledge of subject is necessary, but not sufficient. It is not intuitively obvious how to present a given subject to a given student population. There is a need for pedagogy. Unfortunately, instead of instructing prospective teachers on what has worked- or hasn’t worked- in 2,500 years of formal classroom instruction, Ed Schools push the latest unproven theory THAT WILL EXPLAIN IT ALL and the latest Politically Correct catechism.

      Every 5-10 years, a new unproven education theory THAT WILL EXPLAIN IT ALL sweeps through the Ed Schools. Prospective teachers get indoctrinated in the latest new, unproven theory THAT WILL EXPLAIN IT ALL. Ten years later, research shows that the unproven education theory THAT WILL EXPLAIN IT ALL is bunko. No problem for the Ed School theorists. The old unproven theory is dead. Long live the new unproven theory.

      However jaundiced my opinion of Ed Schools may be, my opinion of English departments isn’t much better. The English department at my high school forced the Junior Literary Critic model on its students when I was there- and still does, I am told. Literary criticism is a poor vehicle for teaching composition, as students feel compelled to make conjectures about literature that seem like wild-assed guesses to them. Metaphor, schmetaphor. Before I entered high school, I liked English class. I hated English classes in high school- and as a result of my high school experience took only two English courses in college. Junior Literary Critic in college, also- though I did enjoy the Shakespeare class I took. The only times I enjoyed my high school English classes were the once-a-year opportunities to write a composition in class that had nothing to do with literary criticism.

    20. Ginny Says:

      Children’s Literature has been badly politicized. Another anecdote:

      One of my colleagues taught it and I thoroughly respect(ed) him. He went back to grad school after teaching, he loved children’s literature, he appears to be a great father, etc. He is one of those sunny people who never complain and certainly never criticized his director (who taught with my husband and I certainly am willing to criticize). Still, two things that he told me without rancor (again, that is his personality – rancor I would feel): one was that he had never read the House on the Prairie books because he’d been told they were racist.
      The second was that he was finishing up his dissertation and his director told him never to use the sexist term “seminal”. He had liked the word and used it to describe works that were, well, seminal in the field within children’s lit that he was writing about. Fortunately for computer editing, he could search and replace them. Insane. Insane.

      She shortly left the big school here for a more impressive post, where I am sure she is training up another generation to teach as she does.
      Ayres has published a great deal (none of which I’ve read, so I won’t comment on that) on education; he was supposed to give a talk or workshop in Nebraska right around the time Obama was elected. The publicity led to the withdrawal of the invitation. I don’t know what happened after that. I doubt anyone stopped assigning his books.

    21. PenGun Says:

      “The method is the thing – more important than the content – whether philosophy or welding, literature or physics? Insane. Hell, writing needs to be taught differently than literature, one is skill and the other content. ”

      Indeed, and really all you can do is prepare people to learn. That’s what real schooling is, imparting a love of learning.

    22. Brian Says:

      “That’s what real schooling is, imparting a love of learning.”

      That’s the most absurd bit of vacuous nonsensical gobbledygook ever put into words. Humans are born loving to learn. School has nothing to do with that at all.

    23. Mike K Says:

      What you do is teach kids to read fluently in early grades. Then in middle elementary, you teach grammar, mostly by diagraming sentences.

      Then you get kids to read kids’ literature. I’m pleased to hear that my grandson is reading the Red wall series by Brian Jacques who, I believe, was a longshoreman.

      Jacques died at 71 in 2011. His books are sold in the millions.

      Then the kids can go on to “serious literature” buy the time they are in college.

    24. Konnie Says:

      As a former teacher, most of you NAILED it. I was incensed when I saw the ‘Social Studies’ book that I was supposed to use for the year. (First year teacher.) Bunk. What happened to history and geography? I taught them geography at least (snuck it in) and they loved it. I didn’t teach reading, but guess where they sent the poor readers? Phonics Remedial Reading. Public School is a travesty. My mother’s school only went to eleventh grade back in those times, but they taught Latin. Now, they can’t even be bothered to teach cursive, much less times tables.

    25. Phil Ossiferz Stone Says:

      No cursive and no times tables. How are these kids expected to function?

    26. PenGun Says:

      “That’s the most absurd bit of vacuous nonsensical gobbledygook ever put into words. Humans are born loving to learn. School has nothing to do with that at all.”

      And yet very many lose their love of learning early. Bad schools do this to people.

    27. Brian Says:

      “And yet very many lose their love of learning early. Bad schools do this to people.”
      Yes, that is 100% correct, but that’s not what you said.

    28. PenGun Says:

      What I said was “That’s what real schooling is, imparting a love of learning.”

      Although there is no direct statement to that effect, the obvious concept is that: real schooling is the opposite of bad schooling.

      I really don’t know why I bother, but there ya go.

    29. Brian Says:

      Real schooling has zero to do with imparting a love of learning. It has to do with imparting knowledge.

      I really don’t know why I bother, but there ya go.

    30. Mike K Says:

      “Love of Learning” probably has more to do with parents reading to kids when they are small.

      School has little to do with it.

      Aboriginal parents probably do the same thing with non-literate material like fishing and hunting. Or weaving.

    31. PenGun Says:

      Alright. I can understand where you are coming from.

      One of the advantages of a fancy school was good teachers. I had the great good fortune to have a retired nuclear physicist for my math teacher. He was so smart that you could understand things he explained if you stood beside him. When you moved away your IQ went down, and things you had just understood became more difficult. This fascinated me.

      None of the rest were quite as prominent but there were only a few that were not good.

      I was encouraged to learn, and as I took Riki Tiki Tavi’s motto: “Run and find out” at a very early age I did, and still do.

    32. Ymarsakar Says:

      Check out how much tutoring has taken over, along with home teaching, the “market share” of education spending.

      If people had their choices, they would just go back to the royal system of aristocrats: hire private tutors and that would be more than enough.