Education Part IV

There have been some interesting places to bring the discussion that came up in the comments, and I am impatient to get to them. But I think I will stay with my original plan for now. After this there are a few additional quick-hitters to spur thought, but no more extended essay.

Here are the weaknesses of those purported advantages:

Better teachers: Just because women in general had unacknowledged talents and some of them went into teaching does not mean those particular women were good teachers. Let’s go back just a bit further in history, to the late 19th and early 20th C and pick up the flow of who was heading up classrooms. My great-grandmother taught at a one-room school in Londonderry. She started at 17. Alert readers will suddenly remember Anne of Green Gables, the “Little House” books, and others of the era, and how young teachers might be. Moving forward in time, schools began to require that teachers had a highschool diploma, later a certificate from a Normal School (two-year teaching academy, later increased to four-year), then a Teacher’s Collge, and only quite far along, a Bachelor’s Degrees. Those with the earlier credentials were grandfathered – er, grandmothered – in. I had at least two teachers with a Normal School certificate only, even in my day. So whatever natural abilities they may have had, the majority of teachers did not have so much training – and there was not a lot of continuing ed in those days or supervision after.

Further, generic ability is not necessarily teaching ability. In that same district, my grandfather had Robert Frost at Pinkerton Academy – certainly a surplus of talent for a high school English teacher, you’d think. But Gramps wasn’t impressed. Frost was obvious about not wanting to be there and was apparently not very good. (Frost’s biographical info agrees that he took the job only because he had to.) So too with other teachers of the day. They didn’t want to be there. They didn’t like kids, especially boys. Lots of them were talented, competent, teachers. But there wasn’t a lot of floor in the profession. You could go pretty far down and no one would do a thing about it, just letting you plod along oddly for decades. And they did, most schools had at least one crazy abusive teacher. A lot of kids got left out. Public shaming was the norm. The worst students got little help, just embarrassment. The best students did okay if there was a track system (assuming anyone had recognised they were intelligent, which was not a given if you had attention issues), in terms of not getting into as much trouble. But the brightest students have always been largely self-taught. The non-book students mostly learned outside of school as well. There was a kind of cooperative, conscientious student who did well enough and probably got some value.

Some of them were great. I’m not ignoring that. And current education departments may destroy more teachers than they build (I don’t know that to be true, I just know that some people think so), but by age alone, a 24-year-old is going to be better than a 19-year-old. Bad training is going to be at least better than no training most of the time.

More dropouts: Not in first grade. Not in sixth grade. By highschool perhaps the system had weeded out a lot of kids who had less intelligence, or drive, or cooperativeness, and the remaining students could really sail. But that is ultimately less than a third of the system. The exception would be head-injured or developmentally delayed children, who were largely absent from the schools. If that did indeed create a better classroom environment – I doubt it would have much effect, but let’s pretend – do we want to pay that cost again?

Attention span and authority: We sat still for hours. I recall something in Reader’s Digest only a few years later noting that speeches in the Senate were kept under an hour, but fifth-graders hat to sit still for an hour at a time every day. One hour? How about 8-10 in the morning until 15 minutes of recess, then 12:30-2 every afternoon until that recess, with another 75 minutes after each? Getting up and doing things was rare.

I have no idea what everyone else did, but I read in secret or daydreamed my way through it. It must have been hell for active kids. But if we were able to accomplish that better then, before TV and video games and computers destroyed our ability for sustained concentration, it still sounds more doltish and docile than “focused” to me. Sixth grade, two hours straight, most mornings of the week – I’m not sure that’s a good thing.

18 thoughts on “Education Part IV”

  1. I’m getting more confused by what your argument is. These are mostly all legit flaws in the education system of any past era, but they are bad arguments for if you are trying to say that today is miles better, because in general they are examples of where today is objectively worse. Teachers today are extremely credentialed compared to the past, but as has always been the case, most schools have great teachers right next door to terrible ones, and everyone knows who the awful ones are but there seems to be no way to get rid of them. And recess and breaks have basically completely vanished from schools today. When I was a kid a few decades ago we had recess in the morning and afternoon, and a pretty long lunch/recess period. My kids in elementary school get 40 minutes for lunch/recess, and that’s it.

  2. I am also have trouble following your argument. Also, the site is acting up.

    In past years, intelligent young women went into teaching and nursing, to the benefit of both professions.

    Like my first wife, lots of college girls planned to teach until their husband’s careers got going. You may think IQ has little to do with teaching ability but I disagree.

    Right now, Ed schools in universities draw their students from the bottom quintile of students in GPA and SAT.

  3. I have to agree with Brian & Mike — the thrust of your argument is getting a little confused.

    If you are saying that schools in the past were less than perfect — no disagreement. If you are implying that schools today are better than (or even as good as) that “less then perfect” standard of the past, you have yet to make a convincing case.

    There is an analogy between education and health care. In both cases, the bureaucracy likes to focus on easily-measured parameters — years spent in a classroom; length of life. Bureaucrats shy away from more meaningful issues — usefulness of education; quality of life.

    This topic brings back memories of a long-ago conversation on an airplane with a young lady fellow-passenger — a scientist returning from a conference on the Ozone Hole. (Remember that scam?). She was Canadian, and commented that the best experimentalists tended to be farm boys. She ascribed this to farm boys having been brought up to look at how things worked (tractors, water pumps, etc) so that they could fix them and keep them running. That is a definite form of education — and it does not take place in a classroom. But it would not be surprising if the Canadian classroom environment had been improved for other students by the presence of those inquisitive farm boys.

  4. Schools today are much better. I have refrained from saying that until now, and have been setting that up with the evidence that past schools – even in America, which was still better than other places – were not very good. “Less than perfect” would be too kind. They butchered kids. I’m still not happy with what is produced for the amount of money we spend, but I want to pound into the earth the idea that it was ever better. Conservatives are worse than liberals in this, believing that the good old days really were.

    More to come.

  5. Is education better or worse than 100 years ago?

    The answer is: It depends… Certainly science was virtually absent form K-12 then. Whether the random assortment of facts and concepts most seem to bring away on graduation is significantly better isn’t clear to me. Neglectful parents are easier to spot now when they are often entirely absent but it would be pretty hard to prove that the proportion had increased.

    Many of the factors that apply are now, and always were, outside the influence of the schools. One is that many children come late to the realization that learning matters, some never do. Society and especially employers were much more tolerant modest intellectual accomplishment. Now, getting a job picking up dog poop needs “some” college. The population is three times what it was then. Many students are in either one parent or no parent homes or no home at all. There’s no getting around the fact that millions of tons of lead were dumped into the atmosphere over most of the time.

    It seems clear to me that most students that find some sort of motivation, whether it’s sports, or band or something else do better. Home-schooled also seem to do well. Actually proving it one way or the other won’t happen in my lifetime.

    If teachers come from the bottom quintile, Congress seems to draw from the bottom decile. The fact that the “out of scope” education problems are out of scope for legislation doesn’t stop them from thrashing around, making things worse. The idea that the teachers unions are advocating for students should be laughed into the oblivion it deserves.

    I once thought that welfare mothers should be paid to stay home and pay attention to their children. I now realize that this is the sort of job you do if you love it or not at all

  6. AVI: “Schools today are much better.”

    We are listening. Present the evidence. And that evidence had better not be percentage of young people getting a college degree, or increased years spent in classrooms, or inflation-adjusted dollars spent per student. Those do not prove anything about the quality or utility of the education being delivered.

    As a rhetorical technique, it is not clear that pounding on the undoubted motes in earlier education eyes is an effective way of diverting attention from the horrible beam in the eye of today’s education. And that is before we factor in the additional damage being done in today’s education by the cancer of Political Correctness.

  7. Conservatives are worse than liberals in this, believing that the good old days really were.

    Unfortunately for your argument, I was there, plus I have educated five kids over the past 50 years,

    My most recent experience with public schools, and I assume that is your topic, was abysmal. My grandson, attending public school in a wealthy suburb (Mission Viejo, CA), was struggling with 4th grade math. His mother met with his teacher who told his mother that she could not do the math problems using Common Core methods either. She suggested his mother teach him at home using traditional methods.

    He and his sister are now in Charter school and much happier.

    My youngest daughter, in her class at U of Arizona in 2008 titled “US History Since 1877” was taught that “The Silent Majority” was made up of white people who refused to accept the Civil Rights Act of 1964. No mention of Nixon or the Vietnam War,

    I sent all my kids except the oldest to private schools through high school. I can no longer afford to do so.

    My ex-wife, with whom I am still friendly, recounted to me her experience going back to teaching elementary grades in 1995, after 30 years not teaching, She was a substitute teacher for 6 months and was appalled at the charges since she had taught when I was in medical school. She said if she were raising our kids again, she would home school them.

    I have no argument that science is better taught now, although I have no actual contact with it, except my youngest had a PhD chemistry teacher in her senior year Chemistry,.

    Maybe New Hampshire schools are better. I was positively impressed during the year I lived there. The kids at Hanover High could take classes at Dartmouth. The community schools were better run by parents, although that was 1995.

  8. Mike K

    Right now, Ed schools in universities draw their students from the bottom quintile of students in GPA and SAT.

    There is a difference between elementary and secondary school teachers.Education Realist:Teacher Quality Pseudofacts, Part I.

    In other words, the charge is (1) undergraduate education majors have very low SAT averages and (2) graduate education students have low GRE averages. An undergraduate education major is the primary entry point for elementary school teachers, PE teachers, and special education teachers. Secondary school teachers in academic subjects are far more likely to get a degree in their major and then get a post-graduate credential or a M.Ed.

    I’m going to take point 2 first. Notice that the authors conflate elementary and secondary teachers. Everyone else does, too. Because there’s no difference in the cognitive demands of teaching kindergarten or trigonometry, first grade math or biology, fourth grade science or AP US History. None at all.

    In fact, secondary teachers have much higher GRE scores than elementary school teachers. The Educational Testing Service reports the GRE scores of all graduate schools by broad area of specialization. Ed school candidates are broken down by secondary, elementary, curriculum, special ed, and other minor categories. (I’ve rearranged the rows to fit it all on one image–click to get full size or check out the data in the report).
    GRE mean scores for all testers in 2008-2009 were 462 for Verbal, 584 for Math.

    Break the GRE scores into two categories, and you get a very different picture. Elementary/middle school teachers are dragging the average down. The elementary school teacher mean verbal score is 437, nearly 30 points below the mean for all testers. 70% of all candidates score lower than 500 on the verbal. The average math score is 520, 64 points below the mean for all testers; however, the scores are distributed close to normally throughout the score range, unlike the verbal scores. (High verbal GRE scores are extremely rare. Anything over 700 is in the top 2%; anything over 600 is, I think, top 10%.)

    Secondary school teacher mean verbal score is 485, 20 points above the mean for all testers. Their average math score is 579, 5 points below the mean.

  9. Elementary and middle school teachers are more important because that’s where kids learn to read and simple math.

    Secondary school teachers should mostly have non-Ed majors. Why do secondary school teachers need Ed degrees?

    At one time, I had plans to retire to Vashoin Island in Puget Sound opposite Seattle. I owned 10 acres on the island and planned to build a house.

    I was thinking what I might do to keep busy. Vashion has its own high school. It and Bainbridge are the two highest rated high schools in Washington. I thought I might teach biology.

    I inquired. Nope, I would need two years and a MS in Ed to qualify, So instead, I taught medical students for 15 years. I sold the property,.

  10. “I would need two years and a MS in Ed to qualify”
    The education system has been taken over by the likes of Obama’s pal Bill Ayers. That’s the kind of lunatic who gets to decide who gets to be a teacher, and who gets to indoctrinate those who get to teach our kids.

  11. First- a kid should know how to read before going into school. And some simple arithmetic- No reason at all a pre schooler cannot learn simple reading and number concepts. I taught my daughter to learn letters and read words by using road and business signs. We spend enough time ferrying kids around, might as well put the time to use. It starts with them asking what those funny looking squiggles are on the red thing. “That’s a sign, honey- it tells us to stop when we get to the corner….See that first part, it looks like a snake? That’s an S. ssss. sounds like sssstop.” Basic math is easy. All it takes is some pennies, dimes, and a pad of paper. It could be done with just fingers, for that matter. But people would rather do anything rather than interact with their kids. What I found really fun was going to the grocery store with my five year old- imagine what a pineapple or a starfruit looks like to a kid? “how many of them are there, honey?” “if we buy one, how many will be left?” The chance to teach them is all around.

    Then get them something fun to read, instead of school issued dreck, so they can expand vocabulary and learn some American values, instead of commie BS.
    Youth literature used to be filled with adventure stories, the opening of the west, the hero’s of the Revolution, there were whole series of books exploring the American quest. And even the fiction usually had some moral lesson. In grade school I was fed a steady diet of John Paul Jones, Jim Bridger, Heinlein and Asimov, etc.- by Mom, not the authorities. Martha Washington, Madame Curie, Joan of Arc.
    (and lot’s of Kenneth Roberts, of course) Fighters, Dreamers, Builders, Adventurers. All tons of fun to read. And not a rainbow colored money shitting transsexual unicorn among them.

    And have them help with everything-yes, it takes a little longer-so what is time for anyway? One of the moments of joy in my life was watching the light come on when I asked my young daughter to navigate, and showed her what a road map was, and how all those places on the map represented real locations. It was like she had discovered the Secrets of the Ancients! Or read a tape measure, and make a simple drawing. Cut vegetables,cook food.

    If they learn to read quickly and easily with good comprehension,they can learn anything they wish BY THEMSELVES. My parents taught me to read well and put my best effort into a job. I never had any formal schooling beyond 10th grade. Those things have enabled success despite all the handicaps I have placed in my way.

    Now in an unintended and roundabout way, I have just made the case the problem is not the schools- the problem is the parents, or lack of them. Idiots will raise idiots, and there is not a damned thing the schools can do about it, in most cases. especially if the primary motivate for the parents is not that the kids learn, but that the parents are free of them for most of the day.

  12. Raven — You are making the case about the denigration of traditional motherhood. (Sure, fathers can and should play a critical role in parenting too). There is a lot more to successful motherhood than simply producing a baby.

    One could argue that modern schools exacerbate the lack of good early mothering — no discipline, no expectations, no consequences for anti-social behavior, automatic promotion, meaningless graduation certificates.

    Although Extreme Left Feminism deserves a lot of blame for the current situation, I sometimes wonder if one of the most significant events in 20th Century US history took place in a forgotten California classroom. Used to be that mortgage providers would credit only one income per household. Than a working couple sued, and a judge ruled that the mortgage provider had to consider both incomes in setting the allowable loan. This was great for the first few couples, who were able to borrow more and buy a better house. But very quickly (and predictably), the price of housing rose to match this greater borrowing capacity — and then it required two incomes to qualify for a loan on a house in a decent area. Women had to go out to work — and children (and society) have been suffering ever since.

  13. @ Gavin – I agree those measurements mislead. I do not rely on such. Where I will be going is that the overall testing remains the same despite adding in more students. We have pulled up the bottom. For the top students we are at about the same we have always been.

    @ Mike K – I have five grown sons, two in the usual way who excelled at both public and privates schools and tested exceptionally well; two from Romania who had mixed results at both public and private schools, and finally a nephew who was with us 6th-12th grade who seemed neither helped nor harmed. This is against a background of five siblings myself, attending almost two dozen schools all told, some of which were the same as our parents attended – with some of the same teachers. I rely on such things as a corrective for whatever theories I or others might cook up, as I can sometimes find an easy refutation right in my family. But I don’t base any theory on that experience, because even in that volume, it is still just anecdote and subject to bias.

  14. AVI, I’m going to severely challenge your thesis here because of two things.

    1) grammar teaching today (for over 3vdecades, in fact) is shit. I knew this was true when I spotted a bonehead grammar error in a nationally televized HBO commercial in the mid 90s:
    “Do you know its Saturday Night?”
    Hint: wrong “its/it’s”.

    Now, this is a NATIONAL commercial. It ran for at least 6 weeks before it was quietly corrected. How many people — language use PROFESSIONALS — had to miss that error during the process of making and then airing the commercial?

  15. 2) the “box method” for teaching bonehead arithmetic. What is happening is that they are DELIBERATELY delaying the teaching of “place notation”. :-( ARRRRRGGGGGHHHHH!!!

    Place Notation is arguably THE MOST IMPORTANT ADVANCEMENT in math AND accounting. And we’re DELAYING the teaching of it to 5th or 6th grade?!?!?

    We should be teaching it in PRESCHOOL!!!

    Sorry, AVI — if any foreign nation had imposed the edumikashinal system we have upon us, it would qualify as an ACT OF WAR.

  16. I have five grown sons, two in the usual way who excelled at both public and privates schools and tested exceptionally well; two from Romania who had mixed results at both public and private schools, and finally a nephew who was with us 6th-12th grade who seemed neither helped nor harmed.

    I also have five kids. In two weeks we will drive over to California to celebrate my younger son’s 50th birthday. The oldest graduated from public high school but was lazy and hard to keep on track. At one point I learned that kids on academic probation had to go to the office every Friday and pick up a slip with the week’s evaluation from the teacher. I tried to make him do the same but many teachers refused to cooperate. It was too much trouble to fill out that he had done his homework and participated in class. At one parent teacher night, I tried to talk to his Algebra teacher who had refused to fill out the slip. His reply was “Mike is a good kid.” Nothing about his school.

    He is now a trial lawyer. I can’t say there is correlation.

    The other kids went to private schools. Teachers were better. I knew some that worked for lower salaries to teach kids interested. This was all taking place in a wealthy suburb.

    The public schools in the same area got into the “mainstreaming” of handicapped kids. I knew of teachers flushing feeding tubes instead of spending their time teaching,
    I think I recounted the experience of my first wife, who had been a big public school advocate. She got laid off from her bank VP job in a merger and had a lifetime teaching credential.

    She went back to teaching when Pete Wilson was trying to lower class size and the school districts hired a bunch of teachers. The was a mini-scandal because applicants “of color” complained about the CBEST exam they had to take,. My ex told me it was an 8th grade level exam. She was appalled at what she found in the schools. She had not taught school in 30 years. Of course, the unions ruled. She left after 6 months to take another bank job. Her principal tried to convince her to stay, She used to see him in the neighborhood market.

  17. When I tutored in a low-income public school in East Houston, the teachers seemed like really nice, self-sacrificing people doing a hard job–but they were not bright, and they were appallingly, unbelievably ignorant. The administration was absent and detached, apparently 100% devoted to proving up the attendance numbers on which all their funding depended. There were endless excuses for turning out kids who couldn’t read or add, but none whatsoever for failing to put bums on seats, when it came to the state funds. If the administration had the tiniest role in overseeing actual education, it wasn’t visible. The teachers made some effort to teach some things (this was 4th grade), but at the end of the year, if a kid still had no English and hadn’t learned anything to speak of, the important thing was to keep him with his age cohort, so he was graduated to the next level. On the plus side, I didn’t see any violence among these fairly young kids.

    It’s not fair to compare the East Houston school I tutored at in the 1990s to the nice SW Houston suburban schools I attended in the 60s and 70s. Hardly any of the kids I worked with in East Houston had two parents, and many had none–some aunt or grandmother was stepping in. English was a second or even unknown language for half the kids. My own childhood schools could attract teachers who had some options, who could look forward to the support of the principal on the curriculum and on issues of discipline. It never even occurred to me back then that there could be a school in which kids beat each other up in class but couldn’t be expelled. It could be that the schools on the other side of town when I was a teenager were as mired in dysfunction as the school I tutored at in my 30s, or the schools that surround me in my current county.

    What continues to baffle me about the schools in my current hometown is how it’s possible to kick a kid out for having an aspirin or for wearing a T-shirt saying “ARMY,” but not for beating someone up in the bathroom. It seems like random lunacy, and I can’t grasp the guiding principles. Surely no one who could possibly contrive to home-school or use a private school would put up with our schools here. Their only redeeming feature seems to be that they do manage to keep some accelerated classes going for a few college-bound kids. Everyone else cares for little but sports. And yet, when the problem is discussed, hardly anyone gets beyond the issue of “we need more money.”

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