Just leave ’em behind

Education is bunk, argues John Derbyshire in New English Review. Kids aren’t that malleable, he argues. The children of uneducated parents will not learn much in school; if they do, it’s because the teachers are “saints and masochists,” who are in short supply.

Genes? What are you, some kind of Klansman or Nazi? No, no, no, the kids are little blank slates for teachers, parents, and politicians to work their magic on, These undesirable outcomes — these mysterious test-score gaps, these dropping-outs and delinquencies — arise only because we are chanting the wrong spells!

A very good rule of thumb when reading child-development literature is that any study that has not taken careful account of heritable factors — by comparing identical twins raised together or separately, fraternal twins ditto ditto, non-twin siblings ditto ditto — is utterly and completely worthless. That sentence is (a) true, and (b) guaranteed to get you thrown out of a high window if spoken aloud at any gathering of education theorists.

I’ve seen parents whose older children had failed in school choose a different school for the younger children, who then went on to success. I’ve seen regular people — not “saints and masochists” — enjoy teaching in a well-organized school of choice with longer hours and higher expectations. We have no idea how many low-income students can succeed. We haven’t tried hard enough to teach them.

I’m not sure what Derbyshire would propose for low-income minority students. No schooling at all?

Good instruction makes a difference, writes D-Ed Reckoning.

About Joanne

Comments

  1. Hmmm – my great-grandfather dropped out of school to help support his family at the tender age of 8. All of his kids went to college and did well there.

    I think this is a case where some kids may very well be doomed from the beginning in school – but I know enough examples where kids from the same family had wildly different experiences / adaptations to school to say that we can’t tell in advance which kids will end up doing well and which will be a waste of time. We need to give everyone a decent shot and let them sort themselves out.

    There have got to be other ways to do good controls than doing everything through twin studies – limiting yourself only to twins in and of its self would introduce bias. Perhaps someone like Jenny D can comment on this?

  2. Sounds like the musings of an embittered teacher…

    You’re right that those who make a difference are not saints or masochists. I quite like myself and have the drive to better myself, but I also am able to educate those students who have previously been given up on successfully.

    I worked in a public school district for a couple of years. There, the union dictated only a certain number of hours to work… what I was supposed to do… etc etc etc. The administration there did not help me in my quest to better educate my students. I left, and contemplated leaving teaching because I felt ineffective because I couldn’t wade through all of the bureaucracy.

    I took a chance and signed on with a charter school. The hours are longer and the work is more challenging. But, because of the break down of bureacracy and because I don’t have a union breathing down my back to tell me what is right and wrong, I now have the ability to actually TEACH my students. And they are achieving high.

    I went to a charter school to work harder because it was more rewarding. I don’t think that makes me a saint or a masochist…. I did it because I was greedy enough to want to have a job where I felt more rewarded.

    Oh, I also make more money than I would have in the district and I don’t have to pay union dues.

    Some to think of it… I’m a very self centered person.

    I also care a great deal about my students.

  3. Walter E. Wallis says:

    Perhaps goal oriented education might be better than age oriented.
    Zeroth, teach siting, behaving and arriving.
    First, teach reading and english usage up to the level necessary to make do in the world.
    Second, teach math well enough to enable someone to add up a check or fill out a tax return.
    Third, Teach about our country and laws.
    Nothing else than that until that is iced.

  4. Richard Donley says:

    John Derbyshire is an intelligent and well-educated man who is deeply interested in his children’s education.

    Derbyshire the writer likes to shock his readers and, as he admitted to me in another context, sometimes finds it necessary to make his subjects seem more controversial than they are. He should be read for amusement and stray pieces of information not for guidance as to goals either political or social.

  5. “I’ve seen parents whose older children had failed in school choose a different school for the younger children, who then went on to success. I’ve seen regular people — not “saints and masochists’’ — enjoy teaching in a well-organized school of choice with longer hours and higher expectations. ”

    Yes, but what you’ve never seen, apparently, is the fundamental difference between hard data and your selective personal experience.

    What earthly difference does it make what you’ve seen? Do you really think that your experience of a fraction of the whole in any way rebuts Derbyshire’s facts?

  6. Your paraphrase “Just Leave Them Behind” is not anywhere near what Mr Derbyshire said.

    What he is saying is that the Education Establishment is using blindly biased junk science to reach the same conclusions that have failed repeatedly upon testing. Duh. Nothing we haven’t said repeatedly on your site.

    Of course, the twins/siblings research point he makes is wrong in degree, if not in substance.

  7. Derbyshire proposes no alternatives to educate children from disadvantaged homes and ignores data from successful schools because he believes the supply of dedicated teachers is limited. But how does he know that replication of successful school models is impossible?

    If the question is: Can we equalize the achievement of all children regardless of their parents’ genes, culture and family environment, the answer clearly is no. But I think the question is: Can we do a much better job of educating children from disadvantaged family backgrounds? Yes, we can. And if we give up on the job then these kids are doomed to lifelong poverty.

  8. society will have to deal with these children sooner or later, if the teachers did a better job, maybe just maybe they could get the parents involved a little more.

    it might be time to change schools all together, maybe teachers need to work like regular folk how about 240 days vs 180, how about 9 to 5.

    why do they judge students on how much money they have and not their abilities.

  9. Derbyshire’s article condemned the corrupt, tax-subsidized, US State-monopoly education establishment; it did not recommend abandoning poor minority kids. This is not to say that abandoning poor, minority kids would be a bad idea.

    Years ago Ivan Illich wrote that a compassionate society would have in its constitution a clause like the First Amendment to the US Constitution which would say “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of education”. The terms “school” and “education” are not co-extensive. “Public education” and “government-operated schools” are not synonyms. What we call in the US “the public school system” is an institution staffed by State (that is, government) employees which, in most US States, occupies an exclusive position in receipt of the taxpayers’ K-12 education subsidy.

    It does not take 12 years to teach a normal child to read and compute. In the US, “public education” has become a make-work program for dues-paying members of the NEA/AFT/AFSCME cartel, a source of padded contracts for politically-connected construction and personal-service contractors, a source of campaign support for compliant politicians, and a venue for State-worsdhipful indoctrination.

    The largest cost of the US school system is the opportunity cost to children of the time they spend in school. Children work, unpaid, as window-dressing in a massive fraud on US taxpayers. Compulsory education statutes, minimum wage laws, and child labor laws put other education options, such as on the job training, off limits.

    Several lines of evidence support the following generalizations:
    a) As institutions take from parents the power to make education decisions for their own children, aggregate education system performance falls.
    b) Political control of school harms most the children of the least politically adept parents (“Well, duh!”, as my students would say).

    In Hawaii, juvenile arrests fall in summer, when school is not in session.

    http://new.photos.yahoo.com/malcolmkirkpatrick/album/576460762329410123#page1

    http://pg.photos.yahoo.com/ph/malcolmkirkpatrick/detail?.dir=735dscd&.dnm=e37bscd.jpg&.src=ph

    Juvenile hospitalizations fall in summer.

    From: Hyman and Penroe, __Journal of School Psychology__.
    “Several studies of maltreatment by teachers suggest that school children report traumatic symptoms that are similar whether the traumatic event was physical or verbal abuse (Hyman, et.al.,1988; Krugman & Krugman, 1984; Lambert, 1990). Extrapolation from these studies suggests that psychological maltreatment of school children, especially those who are poor, is fairly widespread in the United States….”

    “As with corporal punishment, the frequency of emotional maltreatment in schools is too often a function of the socioeconomic status (SES) of the student population (Hyman, 1990).”

    Clive Harber, (“Schooling as Violence”, p. 9, __Educatioinal Review__V. 54, #1): “Furthermore, according to a report for UNESCO, cited in Esteve (2000), the increasing level of pupil-teacher and pupil-pupil violence in classrooms is directly connected with compulsory schooling. The report argues that institutional violence against pupils who are obliged to attend daily at an educational centre until 16 or 18 years of age increases the frustration of these students to a level where they externalise it.”

    Please read this one page Marvin Minsky comment on school.
    http://www.rru.com/~meo/hs.minski.html

    Please read this article on artificially extended adolescence by Ted Kolderie.
    http://www.educationevolving.org/pdf/Adolescence.pdf

    Take care. Homeschool if you can.

  10. RE:

    “I’ve seen regular people — not “saints and masochists’’ — enjoy teaching in a well-organized school of choice with longer hours and higher expectations. ”

    Yes, but what you’ve never seen, apparently, is the fundamental difference between hard data and your selective personal experience.

    What earthly difference does it make what you’ve seen?”

    It goes both ways, Cal. If you believe that few or no “regular people” would “enjoy teaching in a well-organized school of choice with longer hours and higher expectations”, you need to challenge the theory with hard data. The bet here is that SOME teachers will accept longer hours and more accountability if they correlate with more attentive students (e.g., perhaps in some parochial schools) even lacking higher pay and that others will only work harder if paid more. Indeed, some of us (e.g. adjunct college staff) don’t want to teach more hours or give up curriculum control even for substantially higher pay.