You can’t teach niceness

Lessons designed to help children learn social and emotional skills show no results, a British study has concluded.

The programme called Seal (Social and Emotional Aspects of Learning) encourages pupils to discuss their feelings and manage their emotions. But a study of the group work phase of the project indicates that it is not having the desired effect on classroom or home behaviour.

Parents, teachers and pupils saw no impact on behavior, empathy and self-awareness.

Still, the program is slated to be taught in all British schools by 2011.

Some educators think teaching about emotions makes children over-sensitive and wastes time that could be spent on academic learning.

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Comments

  1. There’s nothing particularly comforting in knowing that British public education system has fallen into the grasp of the same sort of educational charlatans who afflict the American public education system.

    Now, if this were the Chinese public education it’d be worth getting excited about but the Chinese, worryingly, aren’t wealthy enough to indulge public education officialdom with this kind of corrosive nonsense.

  2. Roger Sweeny says:

    You teach niceness to kids the same way you teach most behaviors to kids: you are nice yourself and you force them to be nice.

  3. Diana Senechal says:

    What’s at fault here is not the idea of teaching niceness, but the refusal to actually teach it. Putting them in groups and having them talk about their feelings only makes things worse. The best way to teach niceness, as Roger suggests, is through example, instruction, and strict rules.

  4. State-monopoly schools, which generate their revenues at gunpoint (taxation) and assemble their clientelle at gunpoint (compulsory attendance, educational neglect, and child labor laws) are in no position to preach morality.

    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….
    …schools do not encourage research regarding possible emotional maltreatment of students by staff or investigatiion into how this behavior might affect student misbehavior….
    …Since these studies focused on teacher-induced PTSD and explored all types of teacher maltreatment, some of the aggressive feelings were also caused by physical or sexual abuse. There was no attempt to separate actual aggression from feelings of aggression. The results indicated that at least 1% to 2% of the respondents’ symptoms were sufficient for a diagnosis of PTSD. It is known that when this disorder develops as a result of interpersonal violence, externalizing symptoms are often the result (American Psychiatric Association, 1994).
    While 1% to 2% might not seem to be a large percentage of a school-aged population, in a system like New York City, this would be about 10,000 children so traumatized by educators that they may suffer serious, and sometimes lifelong emotional problems (Hyman, 1990; Hyman, Zelikoff & Clarke, 1988). A good percentage of these students develop angry and aggressive responses as a result. Yet, emotional abuse and its relation to misbehavior in schools receives little pedagogical, psychological, or legal attention and is rarely mentioned in textbooks on school discipline (Pokalo & Hyman, 1993, Sarno, 1992).
    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”
    Educatioinal Review V. 54, #1, p. 9

    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.

    Clive Harber
    “Schooling as Violence”
    Educatioinal Review, V. 54, #1. p. 10,

    …”It is almost certainly more damaging for children to be in school than to out of it. Children whose days are spent herding animals rather than sitting in a clasroom at least develop skills of problem solving and independence while the supposedly luckier ones in school are stunted in their mental, physical, and emotional development by being rendered pasive, and by having to spend hours each day in a crowded classroom under the control of an adult who punishes them for any normal level of activity such as moving or speaking.”

  5. this reminds me of a (wonderful) teacher i employed who would put on little puppet morality plays at the end of the preschool morning, acting out a scene from the day. the children *never* recognized themselves in the situation, even when it was a completely faithful reenactment.

  6. Ponderosa says:

    Our district used a character-education program called Positive Action for years. Kids and teacher alike hated its corny, vapid lessons. Behavior in that class was, ironically, always worse than in my academic classes. I wanted to find out if there were better character-ed currricula out there, so I went to the Department of Education website. To my amazement, the department had rated Positive Action as the best program out there. How could this be? I dug around and finally found the studies on which this recommendation was based. There were two: one was conducted by the owner of the Positive Action company herself and an associate; the other was conducted by that associate. I thought, wow, Bush has FEMA-ized the Department of Ed. I wouldn’t be surprised if that woman was a Bush campaign donor.

    Schools see a need (in this case, for improving kids’ behavior). Companies swoop in to “meet that need” with plausible sounding programs. Committees of intelligent-but-overtaxed teachers and administrators buy the program after some cursory investigation (e.g. by checking the DOE website). School gets screwed; private enterprise makes out like a bandit. The story of education in America.

  7. Questions for the libertarians.

    Is the tyranny of individuals better than the tyranny of government? Perhaps I’m even using the wrong term as you may believe that its not even possible for individuals to be tyrannical.

    If you believe in any form of government, how do you resolve the issue of means? For example if there are to be public spaces — e.g. roads — one would think that they need to be maintained. But let’s say there is plan A and plan B to maintain those roads. Should the backers of plan B be forced – at gunppoint if needed – to help pay for plan A? What about the free rider issues? I can always just say I’m for another plan so that I can benefit from good roads without having to pay.

  8. As far as roads go, the usual libertarian/free market approach would have roads built and maintained by private companies, who could then charge tolls for use of those roads. Free rider problems don’t come up in this scenario.

  9. So would libertarians consider monopolies on roads acceptable?

  10. pm,

    I’m neither a libertarian nor a Libetarian, but you may find some hints toward an answer to your question here…
    Eduardo Zambrano
    Formal Models of Authority,
    Rationality and Society, V.11, #2. May, 1999

    Aside from the important issue of how it is that a ruler may economize on communication, contracting and coercion costs, this leads to an interpretation of the state that cannot be contractarian in nature: citizens would not empower a ruler to solve collective action problems in any of the models discussed, for the ruler would always be redundant and costly. The results support a view of the state that is eminently predatory, (the ? MK.) case in which whether the collective actions problems are solved by the state or not depends on upon whether this is consistent with the objectives and opportunities of those with the (natural) monopoly of violence in society. This conclusion is also reached in a model of a predatory state by Moselle and Polak (1997). How the theory of economic policy changes in light of this interpretation is an important question left for further work.

    and here…

    Randall G. Holcombe
    Government: Unnecessary but Inevitable
    The Independent Review Volume 8 Number 3, Winter 2004
    http://www.independent.org/pdf/tir/tir_08_3_holcombe.pdf

    Sane people believe in government. Sane people believe in government-operated schools, taxation in support of those schools, and policies which restrict parents’ options for the use of the taxpayers’ K-12 education subsidy to schools operated by government employees. Sane people also believe in earthquakes, cholera, and crablice, but sane and compassionate people woudn’t wish them on anyone.

  11. MK,

    So do you consider the cholera like nature of the public schools to reside solely in the results they produce or is it inherent in the fact that they are public?

  12. I recommend Chubb and Moe, __Politics, Markets, and America’s Schools__ (Brookings, 1991). The original title was “What Price Democracy? Politics, Markets, and America’s Schools”. Governments, like all large enterprises, operate through bureaucracy. Bureaucracies rely on standardization. Humans are not standard. The bureaucrstic imperative for standardization yelds schools which march age-segregated students through uniform curricula at a uniform pace.

    This is one result…

    http:[email protected]/

  13. MK,

    In a libertarian world, how can one be sure the baby formula doesn’t have melamine in it? Most libertarians will say, “Well, it’s not in the company’s self-interest to put bad products on the shelves; in the long run, they’ll lose customers or get sued.” Do companies ever put bad product out there to earn a quick buck? Yep. Can an impoverished Wal-Mart worker whose kidneys are damaged by the melamine sue a big company, with its army of smart lawyers, and win? The company lawyers will show that the kidney damage COULD have been caused by something else. Companies will continue to push bad product on us, emboldened by their shield of lawyers.

    Look, don’t you see that big business is a real threat to the individual? Without government to protect us, business divides us and conquers. No individual can stand up to big money’s juggernaut. Their powers of obfuscation and self-defense vastly outweigh the individual’s. All this talk about, “Well, the consumer should do good research about the ________(fill in the blank: medication, food product, school, character education program etc.) before buying” ignores the fact that a) companies will succeed at limiting access to deleterious information about their product by buying off ratings agencies, etc. and b) it doesn’t make sense to become a society of full-time product-quality researchers. So, sensibly, we band together to form government, an outgrowth of US, to perform this useful function efficiently.

    You may retort that the melamine outbreak happened in China, a country with a strong central government. Yes, but it’s been thoroughly corrupted by businessmen’s bribes. The regulatory bureaucracy of a clean government would have prevented that catastrophe.

  14. Is the tyranny of individuals better than the tyranny of government? Perhaps I’m even using the wrong term as you may believe that its not even possible for individuals to be tyrannical.

    The question doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but I’ll give my best shot at answering it as a libertarian.

    1) Libertarians, as opposed to anarchists, believe there is a role for government to play in society. That role is to defend the life, liberty, and property of the people in that government’s sphere of influence.

    2) Dogmatic adherence to principle 1 is tempered by practical reality. There are certain things, like roads, which are just easier if handled by government or a government-picked monopoly and treated as a public resource. These things have certain commonalities: they are geographically exclusive which makes competition difficult. Roads are useful because of where they are, meaning they have no substitute. This goes for other kinds of infrastructure as well. Schools are not part of this category.

    3) Because of the problems of information and debate to find the best solution, most libertarians believe problems that can be solved by private cooperation between citizens should be, and problems that cannot be, like infrastructure in point 2, should be handled at the lowest level of government possible. This allows the decision-makers to have the most possible information about the problem, and gives the greatest chance for the citizens to make sure the solution does not violate principle 1.

    The prevailing wisdom, which is causing great harm in this country, is the outdated notion that more concentration of powers in the hands of the federal government will lead to more effective solutions. This is simply false, and they repeated “keystone cop” failures of Washington bureaucracies should have proven it to everyone by now.

  15. The regulatory bureaucracy of a clean government would have prevented that catastrophe.

    That’s absolute garbage. It’s been proven, time and again, that the regulatory bureaucracy of government becomes captured by the interests the bureaucracy is supposed to regulate, and ends up protecting those interests from harm *at the expense of the citizen*.

    Look, don’t you see that big business is a real threat to the individual?

    Yes, I do, and I also correctly see the regulatory state as their enablers. Before you state that a *clean* government would have prevented this, you must realize that the nature of a regulatory bureaucracy makes this cleanliness impossible. Regulatory states are enablers of big business against small business and the consumer. That’s a fact, and that’s part of the reason we libertarians oppose the regulatory state.

    Can an impoverished Wal-Mart worker whose kidneys are damaged by the melamine sue a big company, with its army of smart lawyers, and win? The company lawyers will show that the kidney damage COULD have been caused by something else. Companies will continue to push bad product on us, emboldened by their shield of lawyers.

    If a company causes physical harm to a person with its products, that should be handled as a criminal issue, but because we’ve lost sight of what criminal law is for in this country, it’s not. Again, part of this is due to the ability of companies to say that they should be exempt from criminal liability because they were operating under the auspices of the regulatory state.

    Ponderosa, when you argue for a regulatory state, I hope you realize you’re arguing in favor of the big businesses you seem to revile.

  16. Ponderosa says:

    Quincy,

    Bush and his appointees have contempt for government; what can you expect except “keystone cop”-like behavior from them?

    Government doesn’t have to be this way. Our federal government build the interstate system, Social Security, a competent and helpful FEMA under Clinton, etc. It stopped Jungle-like practices in food production, and has the power to protect workers from needless risk to life and limb (it’s failing to do that now). If you think I’m wrong, tell me why. Why must a group of individuals in Washington necessarily solve problems less effectively than a group in Peoria? Look, if the group in Peoria is dumb and/or ill-informed or corrupted by a local special interest, won’t the results be WORSE than those from a team of smart, erudite and truly civic-minded individuals in DC? The key variables in effective government, it seems to me, are knowledge, wisdom, honesty, patriotism, not location of decision-makers.

  17. Ponderosa says:

    Quincy,
    Government regulators –especially under Republican administrations –CAN be coopted by Big Business, you’re right. But I think you’re painting with too broad a brush: government has forced Big Business to do many things it didn’t want to do, hasn’t it? And even if business often sorta likes the regulations (because they assuage consumers’ wariness), isn’t the situation post-regulation usually better than pre-? (I’m thinking of those formaldehyde-laced cans of meat from The Jungle). Federal regulation is not perfect, but under an aggressive Democratic administration, I think it can make great strides in protecting us. In particular, I’d love to see an Obama EPA or OSHA crack down on the neurotoxic cleaning agents that are turning school custodians into Alzheimer-like zombies across this country. It’s sad and maddening and needless. And don’t tell me the Peoria City Council has the wherewithal to stop this kind of thing from happening.

  18. Dunno why you people keep nattering about libertarians. I’m neither a libertarian nor a Libertarian. Most libertarians are too religious for my taste; they seem to believe that “rights” (especially property rights) poured into our universe through a crack from the seventh or eighth dimension, or something. As I see it, morality is a result of biological and cultural evolution. Institutions, including legal institutions, evolve. Every law on the books is a threat by the State to kidnap (arrest), assault (subdue) and forcibly innoculate with HIV (imprison) someone, under specified circumstances. The legal process defines rights. As I use the term, individual A has a “right” to do X if the State has promised not to interfere with A when A attempts to do X, and further if the State has promised to interfere with individuals B, C, etc. if they interfere with A when A attempts to do X.

    Perhaps you introduce extraneous topics like food safety to establish bounds on the discussion. Could you be more explicit? Seems to me your argument has this form: “The US declared war on Japan on 7-Dec.-1941, therefore the US should be perpetually at war with every country on the planet”. “If you grant that regulation is appropriate here you must (Why?) grant that it’s appropriate there“.

    You migh consider the vague public/private distinction. We are all public citizens and private individuals. The government of a locality is the largest dealer in interpersonal violence in that locality (definition). People do not become more intelligent, better-informed, more altruistic or more capable (except to the extent that their command of violence increases) when they enter the State’s employ.

    You might consider the vague for-profit/non-profit distinction. “Profit” is a bookkeeping term: the difference between total ravenues and total costs. A organization which has no line in its balance sheet for “profit” must attribute all revenues to costs. This says nothing about the motives of people in that organization.

  19. Ponderosa –

    Put simply, it’s information, information, information. An idiot can do a better job running his own life than a genius can do running it for him. Why? The idiot has on-the-ground knowledge of what is happening, while the genius does not.

    Consider, for example, that there is no one person who knows all the skills necessary to make a pencil, or even could comprehend all the economic factors of making a pencil well enough to balance them with minimal waste to make sure that the demand for pencils is met. We’re not talking computers or airplanes, mind you, but simple pencils. This is a classic problem of information. The free market solves this systemically by coordinating the knowledge and self-interest of all the people needed to make pencils to provide them to people who want them.

    Look, if the group in Peoria is dumb and/or ill-informed or corrupted by a local special interest, won’t the results be WORSE than those from a team of smart, erudite and truly civic-minded individuals in DC?

    Usually, no. The group in Peoria might be dumb and ill-informed, or even corrupt, but they will still be in contact with the citizens they are affecting. The group in D.C., no matter how “smart, erudite and truly civic-minded” they are, will not have the same level of information or accountability about the problem.

    Locality is not just a function of geography, mind you, but also a function of organization. A person can be in the same town (or even the same building) as the the thing he is trying to control, but can be organizationally distant from it. How many times every day in this country do teachers accuse principals, superintendents, and school boards of “micromanaging”? This is organizational distance at work.

    Also, from a systemic standpoint, don’t you think it’s kind of a design flaw to have your system require “smart, erudite and truly civic-minded” people, of whom there are very few? Many of the people who become regulatory bureaucrats captured by the industries they sought to regulate started out as “smart, erudite and truly civic-minded”, at least in their own minds, yet become defenders of the industry they are supposed to regulate due to factors of self-interest and simple humanity.

    When the public is a faceless mob, but the industry you’re regulating is a bunch of people you’ve come to know, who are you more likely to believe in?

  20. Quincy,

    Just to clarify, libertarians would say that both the public operation of schools and the public funding of schools is an undesirable activity?

  21. Federal regulation is not perfect, but under an aggressive Democratic administration, I think it can make great strides in protecting us.

    Now, you’re just living in fantasy land. It is the nature of the regulatory state to be captured by the businesses it regulates against the interest of consumers. The regulators who operate under the Bush administration are *the same people* who operated under Clinton. The mid- and low-level functionaries of regulatory agencies do not turn over every time a new administration is put in. These are the people who get captured by industry.

    Inspector Jim knows foreman Bob at the baby-food plant personally, but doesn’t know baby Sally who just got sick because foreman Bob wasn’t enforcing safety procedures. That’s why enforcement of safety regulations for workers is so much stronger than that for product safety/quality.

    In particular, I’d love to see an Obama EPA or OSHA crack down on the neurotoxic cleaning agents that are turning school custodians into Alzheimer-like zombies across this country. It’s sad and maddening and needless.

    If it could be proven that the cleaning agents being produced are in fact neurotoxins causing physical harm, the companies producing them and marketing them as safe should be criminally liable for that harm. Instead, we depend on a captured regulatory state to try and catch it for us. Again, the regulatory state has failed.

  22. Just to clarify, libertarians would say that both the public operation of schools and the public funding of schools is an undesirable activity?

    In general, yes. However, it is determined by a community that it has to fund public schools to make sure its children have the opportunity to get an education, then control should remain in that community. State and federal involvement negatively impact the effectiveness and efficiency of public schools.

  23. That should be, *if* it is determined…

  24. Ponderosa says:

    Quincy,

    I concede that some regulators get cozy with those they regulate, but others, maybe most, do not. It’s my understanding that many workers at EPA and Interior are loathe to follow Bush’s business-friendly policies and would truly like to crack down on the industries they’re supposed to be watching. What evidence do you have that bureaucrats almost always forget the public interest and succumb to the temptation to pal around with badly-behaved businessmen? The difference between Republican and Democratic bureaucrats, by and large, is that Republicans think it virtuous to get cozy with the offenders.

    Who’s going to prove that the chemicals are neurotoxic (they are, by the way, though I cannot prove it)? The brain-dead janitors? A well-organized league of brain-dead janitors (oxymoron)? Who’s going to pay for the tests? What if there’s good reason to suspect that brain-damage occurs, but definitive tests are as yet unavailable? Get real. The way every other civilized nation has dealt with this problem is to create vigilant, adequately funded, muscular safety agencies. Even if they sometimes get coopted by business, what better mechanism is there?

    Regarding your “information, information, information”… I agree that information is hugely important, but the issue is a lot more complicated that you portray it. Locals are close to the action, but may lack big picture information that’s important to know. Lots of decisions about education get made at the local level –lots of BAD decisions. Do the members of the Board of Ed really KNOW their schools better than a team of sage, experienced, master teachers assembled in DC? On the surface, the answer seems an obvious “yes”. But in reality those school board members see the dog-and-pony shows, the art work in the board office, the school musical, while the sage educators in DC have x-ray vision: they KNOW what’s going on in those schools. I’d much rather have Diane Ravitch and E.D. Hirsch make policy for my district that the well-meaning but hapless members of our school board.

  25. Get real. The way every other civilized nation has dealt with this problem is to create vigilant, adequately funded, muscular safety agencies. Even if they sometimes get coopted by business, what better mechanism is there?

    You tell me to get real, yet you are the one living in a fantasy land if you believe that the regulatory agencies created by any of the civilized governments put the interest of the average citizen ahead of the business they have personal contact with.

    I have said, *at least twice*, what the better mechanism is. Releasing a product that harms people should be treated as just as much of a crime as harming them with fists or a baseball bat. What part of this is not perfectly clear? As for labs, these agencies called law enforcement have some of the best labs on the planet, and they would be put to better use looking at your neurosolvent case rather than trying to track down where a pot plant came from.

    I’d much rather have Diane Ravitch and E.D. Hirsch make policy for my district that the well-meaning but hapless members of our school board.

    That would be great, if they were making policy for *just* your district. However, as Malcolm said, bureaucracy depends on standardization, so the policy they would be making would be for many districts, not just yours, and would necessary contain many compromises that would make it a poor fit to your district. That’s organizational distance at work.

    Also, don’t confuse policy with standards of good practice, which I was advocating for on the Nationalizing Education thread. Academic content can only be taught well a certain number of ways, and people like Ravitch and Hirsch provide great value in elucidating what some of those ways are. Education, as a field, needs to develop clear, proven standards of practice, much like medicine has. Note that, even with those clear standards of practice, organizational distance in policy making still inflicts damage on the system. (See, for example, Medicare.)

    That said, you’ve apparently drunk the kool aid and genuinely believe in centralized control. I know I can convince you otherwise, so after this I’m going to stop trying.

  26. Quincy,

    I’m not sure what the word community means in your statement. Is this a voluntary association of people who operate only on explicit contractual obligations? I’m trying to figure out how libertarians differentiate community from the state and federal governments.

    So it seems from point 1 in your first reply to my question, that libertarians support some forms of mutual aid — the communal defense of life, liberty, and property plus you also mentioned roads in point 2. For libertarians, what differentiates this type of aid from educational aid? I’m most interested in the funding aspect of the aid, as I don’t consider myself a libertarian but definitely like the idea of being able to choose from different suppliers.

  27. pm and ponderosa,

    You talk of corrupt businessmen, yet fail to address my point: government itself is a business: a giant extortion racket (in the most hostile view) or a giant security subdivision or shopping mall with its own security force (in the most benign view). It makes no more sense for people who are not in government to argue about what government should do than it does for the swimming survivors of a mid-ocean shipwreck to argue about what sharks should eat.
    I have slowly come to the view that amateur policy discussions (like this) serve a limited purpose: to gague the intentions of State actors; “If agency A employees were well-intentioned, they would do X. They do not do X, therefore they are not well-intentioned.”

    The most effective accountability mechanism humans have yet devised is the ability of unhappy customers to take their business elsewhere. Credit by exam ( http://harriettubmanagenda.blogspot.com/2008/12/what-happened-to-federalism.html ), school vouchers, subsidized homeschooling, and Parent Performance Contracting ( http://harriettubmanagenda.blogspot.com/2005/12/proposal.html ) create escape options for unhappy parents and provide performance accountability to taxpayers. There is simply no good argument for a policy which restricts parents’ options for the use of the taxpayers’ pre-college education subsidy to schools operated by government employees.

  28. pm –

    Sorry if I wan’t clear about the word community. When I used it above, I was thinking at the municipal level. A neighborhood or city might decide that it is not being adequately served by the schools that the market has created, so they band together and form their own public school. This is far different from a state or federal level bureaucracy decreeing that all cities and towns within their jurisdiction *must* have public schools and that same bureaucracy decreeing that those schools answer to it. That process is top-down, while the community-centered process is bottom-up.

    In general, libertarians hold that if government authority must be involved in something, it should be the goverment authority closest to the problem. For certain things, like defense, the Federal Government *is* the closest to the problem, being the entity that handles relations with foreign nations. For most of the mundane things people want the Federal Government in on, though, they are farthest from the problem, and therefore least equipped to solve it.

  29. MK,

    I don’t know what you’re thinking of as I don’t recall making any statements about corrupt businessmen.

  30. Quincy,

    But would libertarians support individuals having the option to not participate in a city/neighborhood school? By participate, I mean both withhold funding and not attend.

    When it comes to education I have a real problem with defining community by geography. That is the fundamental reason that I support charter schools.

  31. When it comes to education I have a real problem with defining community by geography.

    Most communities are defined by geography, though not all. But the thing about municipal-level communities, as opposed to states or nations, is they tend to be of a size that allows for individuals to have some influence over them.

    For example, if some musicians in the state of California decided their kids needed an academy that taught music more rigorously than the available schools, they might start a boarding schools for their kids. This would be a private, voluntary school.

    The thing you have to realize about government is that it is inherently geographical. So, if a local town or city were to decide to start their own schools, that would be geographical, as would the support for it. Again, it’s not a perfect situation, but if it’s only happening at the city level, it gives a person the opportunity to avoid it if desired. This is exactly what’s happening with all the anti-business, anti-liberty crap in San Francisco. Those who care about business and liberty are leaving, fast.

    That said, it is part of the state and federal governments’ jobs to make sure that, in regard to education, cities aren’t preventing private, charter, and homeschooling to occur to preserve a monopoly. If a city wants to tax its citizens to fund a school, that should be up to a vote of the people. If the city wants to force its people into a single schooling regime, to the exclusion of all others, that’s a problem.

  32. Quincy,

    My main problem with organizing education by geography is that simple market forces artificially raise the cost of education. People who like to spend lots of money on education have to congregate and since they tend to make more money the competition for housing is high. So the cost of education goes up without actually getting to spend more dollars on actual education. And this also means that the option of moving to get better education is very limited or non-existent. So I’m not convinced any level of government can solve this problem and keep the restrictions of educating by geography.

  33. pm –

    My main problem with organizing education by geography is that simple market forces artificially raise the cost of education. People who like to spend lots of money on education have to congregate and since they tend to make more money the competition for housing is high.

    I think you’re conflating geographic market restrictions and subsidies in raising the cost of education. The latter does far, far more damage. That said, there’s nothing that says that private education has to be organized at all. A private school in San Francisco should not be barred from accepting students who live in Oakland or San Jose, so long as their parents can get them there.

    That said, most schools only have a certain geographical reach because of simple logistics. Drawing students from more than an hour or so away becomes increasingly difficult. That’s a legitimate market force of bricks and mortar schooling. Online schooling/hybrid homeschooling could allow for quality education in areas without the infrastructure to handle it today.

    Also, in a non-subsidized market, sellers in the market can’t charge more than the market will bear. If you went into a depressed area and started trying to get $35,000 a kid, it wouldn’t happen. If you went into a depressed area and offered a quality education for $4,000 a kid, you’d be swamped.

    So I’m not convinced any level of government can solve this problem and keep the restrictions of educating by geography.

    I’m not convinced state and federal governments can stop causing the problems in education, let alone solve them.

    My personal feeling is that the extent of the federal involvement in education would be to pass a law that legalized homeschooling and private schooling in throughout the US. No federal money going to education, no federal regulation of schools, just legalize homeschooling and private schooling to ensure cities and states can’t exclude them.

    Charter schools seem to be kind of transitional measure necessary to bring competition and fresh thinking into the education scene. The problem with them being a long-term solution is that they still require money from the tax payers for support.

    In a market-oriented schooling environment, you would still have some municipalities that chose to provide public schools. There are many towns across the nation that are simply too small to attract a private school for the locals and too isolated to send kids to the next town over. So, the town government would set up a school with a subsidy to ensure there was some opportunity there. But in larger towns, suburbs, and cities, there is no reason that education can’t exist free of the government monopolies that exist today.

  34. “That said, there’s nothing that says that private education has to be organized at all. A private school in San Francisco should not be barred from accepting students who live in Oakland or San Jose, so long as their parents can get them there.”

    Maybe I just misunderstood your original comment. So would libertarians require Oakland to give me a voucher to spend on the school in SF?

  35. To clarify, even if the market can provide the education I want and its geographically convenient, if I happen to live in a city that decides to fund education publicly would libertarians say tough luck or would there be a state/federal law saying I have to be given a voucher. In that regards I probably should have switched the roles of SF and Oakland in the questions 🙂

  36. So would libertarians require Oakland to give me a voucher to spend on the school in SF?

    No. Of course, the problem here is coming up with a way to transition from the current model where you get $X spent on your kid depending on where you live. The only workable idea I’ve heard to this is Milton Friedman’s idea of a negative income tax. One single payment from the federal government to insure that each person has a minimum income. Children, not earning income yet, would receive the full minimum payment, to be administered by their parents or guardians for their child’s needs, including education. It would be up to each family to seek out and find schools which fit the family budget. (Note that this also replaces *all* other federal welfare and tax credits, and the tax rate is set to raise just enough revenue for the government to perform its constitutional duties, so working parents would end up with larger paychecks on top of the childs NIT payment.)

    The key here is there is no amount that *must* be spent on education. This keeps a downward pressure on price. Schools and other bureaucracies with arbitrarily-set budgets have a game they play called “leave nothing in the bank”. The point is if you as a school or department have money left over at the end of the year, you open yourself up to budget cuts. Thus, education never gets cheaper because schools try and spend all the money they’re allocated.

    Likewise, with a fixed price education voucher, the price of schooling will gravitate towards the amount of the voucher, and in cases of limited supply, the voucher will be “priced in”. This has happened with Federal Financial Aid at private universities. Students end up needing loans regardless of whether they get Federal aid or not because the aid is part of the price. This “pricing in” effect gets worse every time a new form of financial aid is implemented. The NIT, not being tied to any specific type of spending, does not produce a “pricing in” effect in specific sectors of the economy.

    Now, I realize in a libertarian’s paradise, the NIT would be called unnecessary because people should be able to take care of themselves and the people they produce, but my feeling is that it’s a much better solution to the want of the majority for a social safety net then what currently exists.

  37. To clarify, even if the market can provide the education I want and its geographically convenient, if I happen to live in a city that decides to fund education publicly would libertarians say tough luck or would there be a state/federal law saying I have to be given a voucher.

    That would be a matter between the citizens and the city government. The higher levels of government shouldn’t be involved.

  38. Quincy,

    Thank you for answering all the questions. My current thinking is along the lines of NIT. But since we’re a long way from that charters seem to be the best option.

  39. FuzzyRider says:

    For all the libertarian questioners:

    Go to a website (such as Jewishworldreview.com) that publishes the columns of Drs. walter Williams and Thomas Sowell- click on the archives- go back as far as you can- start reading… by the time you reach their most recent columns, you will understand everything, and be a much better person for it.

  40. pm –

    Thanks for a thoughtful discussion on the merits of libertarian ideas. Some here bash libertarianism without thinking, and it is most annoying.

    FuzzyRider’s suggestion is excellent, and I would add to it Milton Friedman’s book Free to Choose. It is an excellent introduction to the libertarian mindset.

  41. You can’t teach niceness? Nonsense! Utter nonsense!! Complete nonsense!!! Abysmal nonsense!!!! Kindergarten teachers have always taught niceness. Parents have always taught niceness (admittedly not as well as they should sometimes.) Elementary teachers have always taught niceness. Even high school and college teachers teach niceness in some ways now and then. If nobody taught niceness, the world would not be a nice place. (Okay, the world is not always nice, but it could be a whole lot worse.)

    The “program mentality” is thinking that if we don’t have a “program” for something we are not doing that something. A pernicious extension of this is the idea that once we have a program for something, there are, and can be, no other programs for that something. So if the SEAL program comes out as ineffective, we conclude that “You can’t teach niceness.” That’s like concluding that if a corn plant dies in a laboratory experiment then corn plants can’t grow. But get out of the city most anywhere in the midwest and you may observe that corn plants do grow. They grow by the zillions.

    I have argued before that the study of education lacks a basis in simple description. What goes on in a Kindergarten classroom? I don’t know, but I think there is evidence that, among other things, niceness is being taught. How is it being taught? I don’t know. What practices work well, and what work less well? I don’t know. Do you lead with reason, or just lay down the law? I don’t know. Do I even know what questions to ask? Certainly not. But to say “You can’t teach niceness” is like driving by a corn field while concluding that corn can grow, because, after all, “We did a study.”

  42. Brian,

    I hope you don’t mind me mentioning it, but I got real good laugh out of Brian Rude making a comment about niceness.

  43. Brian –

    You’re right that niceness can be taught. The problem is the British are trying to do it without teaching self-discipline. Really, the post should be “The Brits can’t teach niceness”.

  44. Margo/Mom says:

    Brian:

    Thanks for returning the discussion to that which was posted.

    I must be reading too much, because I cannot recall, nor find, where I read recently about the long-term effects of something that would have fallen into the category of social emotional learning, character education or NICENESS. Essentially they found it was a good thing, over the long haul.
    Not certain exactly what is being implemented in England, although my suspicion is that it is a segmented appreach–niceness being taught from 8:30-9:00 AM, as opposed to being something that became incorporated throughout the day. In poking around trying to find whatever I had read recently (and not finding it), I did come across some more general information in support of social emotional learning and its interconnection with academic learning. http://ecs.org/clearinghouse/44/04/4404.pdf if anyone is interested–or the CASEL website for further info.

    One point that I ran across, which is certainly in line with my personal experience, is that if the adults in the school cannot do it, the kids won’t be likely to either. In other words, if the teachers have retreated to their individual classrooms, ignore the chaos in the halls (someone else’s responsibility), live with the existence of problems that they consider to be “management responsibility” without confronting and solving them, or resent the presence of students with differing social, cultural or ability traits in their classrooms (even if they don’t say it out loud where the children can hear), odds are it doesn’t matter what “niceness” curriculum they choose–the kids will know it is a lie.

  45. Hah!

    I found it (or rather it just showed up on another listserv).

    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/12/081201162026.htm

    This study–somewhat more longitudinal found benefits from social training in school.

  46. Margo –

    The key difference between the Seattle study you cite and the British SEAL program comes down to two words: impulse control. This is the key to growth and maturity, and programs that teach it well will have a positive effect. Programs that don’t will have no effect, and programs that undermine it will have a negative effect.

  47. Quincy:

    I don’t think it is as simple as impulse control. One can control one’s impulses without necessarily acting in ways that are healthy or helpful. Many of us have been led down various dysfunctional paths of controlling impulses that were better paid attention to.

    Last night I watched the latest Hallmark presentation–based on one student’s growth into a teacher, taught by his “constant companion” of tourettes. In interviews, as polite people uncomfortably shoved down their impulse to ask, “what’s up with those noises you are making?” he invited their attention to the elephant in the room with a brief explanation of tourettes as a neurological disorder that sent messages from his brain that resulted in vocalization and head jerks.

    Of course, he experienced a certain amount of hell as a child in schools where he was expected to control these uncontrollable impulses. But, even further, we frequently lay out behavioral expectations that give the illusion of everybody getting along, without teaching appropriate ways for people to “get along.” We teach no fighting, no name calling, everyone’s the same under the skin (don’t you just love that one–what does it mean?)–without any in-depth modelling, presentation or notion of what should emerge in the absence of fighting. All fighting, or just physical fighting? What’s the difference between disagreeing and fighting? How should we handle disagreements if we can’t fight? Is it ever OK to fight? How about the American Revolution?

    In Skinner’s utopia he taught impulse control by making children stand at table before eating. What a silly thing to do–as if we aren’t faced every day with fifty less artificial barriers to acting on immediate impulse.

  48. Margo –

    You bring up good points. Impulse control is not the be all and end all, but it is a necessary first step. Civilized behavior is not possible when a person cannot control his impulses towards doing others or himself harm. And control means more than simple suppression. It means knowing when to act on an impulse, when not to, and when and how to redirect the energy produced by an unhealthy impulse in a healthy way.

    This basic skill builds up to more advanced concepts of morality, politeness, empathy, compassion, civilized disagreement, etc. Undermining it, as I suspect the Brits are doing, cuts off access to all the advanced concepts you mention.

  49. Brian…

    You can’t teach niceness? Nonsense! Utter nonsense!! Complete nonsense!!! Abysmal nonsense!!!! Kindergarten teachers have always taught niceness. Parents have always taught niceness (admittedly not as well as they should sometimes.) Elementary teachers have always taught niceness.

    Roland Meighan
    Home-based Education Effectiveness Research and Some of its Implications
    Educational Review, Vol. 47, No.3, 1995

    The issue of social skills. One edition of Home School Researcher, Volume 8, Number 3, contains two research reports on the issue of social skills. The first finding of the study by Larry Shyers (1992) was that home-schooled students received significantly lower problem behavior scores than schooled children. His next finding was that home-schooled children are socially well adjusted, but schooled children are not so well adjusted. Shyers concludes that we are asking the wrong question when we ask about the social adjustment of home-schooled children. The real question is why is the social; adjustment of schooled children of such poor quality?

    The second study, by Thomas Smedley (1992), used different test instruments but comes to the same conclusion, that home-educated children are more mature and better socialized than those attending school.(p. 277)

    12. So-called “school phobia” is actually more likely to be a sign of mental health, whereas school dependancy is a largely unrecognized mental health problem. (p.281)

    One can beat Math instruction into students. That is brutal and stupid and ultimately counterproductive, but at least it’s not as hypocritical as beating morality into students.

    Albert Einstein
    deas And Opinions, p. 61 (Three Rivers Press)

    Give into the power of the teacher the fewest possible coercive measures, so that the only source of the pupil’s respect for the teacher is the human and intellectual qualities of the latter.

    I repeat my original point:…

    State-monopoly schools, which generate their revenues at gunpoint (taxation) and assemble their clientelle at gunpoint (compulsory attendance, educational neglect, and child labor laws) are in no position to preach morality.

    Do you really imagine that kids don’t sense the fundamental dishonesty of compulsory moral instruction?

  50. Margo/Mom says:

    MK:

    You have some interesting studies, but I am always uncomfortable when conclusions are reached to pit two large categories agains one anther (charter vs public, public vs private, public vs homeschool). Especially when I read my examples and realize it is alway something vs public. I don’t know for certain what measures were being used, but there might be some different findings if the measures included tolerance for differences and looked at subsets of publics based on such things as diversity.

    But there is one feature that I would expect homeschooling to excel at that I don’t see a lot of in public schools and that is socialization across ages. Because home schools look more like families, this is something that I would expect them to be strong at–and something that I have sought in places outside of school for my own children. Age/grade grouping is really a very artificial way of doing things–and the only place in life that it is experienced, that I can think of, is in the schools.

    But, I would also like to remind you that some of us don’t pay taxes “at gunpoint,” but view them as a responsibility of living in a highly ordered society, participate in the democratic options for decision-making, and place a high value on the existence of public education–despite constant efforts to make it better.

  51. Dear Mom,
    When you say:

    some of us …place a high value on the existence of public education…

    , do you equate “public education” to:
    1) tax support of school
    2) compulsory attendance staturtes
    3) State (i.e., government, generally)-operation of schools
    4) State-defined curricula and
    5) policies which restrict parentss’ options for the use of the taxpayers’ pre-college education subsidy to schools operated by government employees

    ?

    The government of a locality is the largest dealer in interpersonal violence in that locality (definition). I also value public education, and that is why I oppose the government’s role in the education industry. Taxpayers get nothing from a State (i.e., government) presence in the education industry that they wouldn’t get from an unsubsidized, uncoerced market in education services, except for drug abuse, vandalism, and violence.

  52. Margo/Mom says:

    MK:

    Yes.

  53. MK,

    Well the current education funding regime redistributes money. This at least appears to be valuable to the people getting more money than they put in. What is your take on that?

  54. MK,

    To clarify, I’m assuming there is the possibility that some people might be better off now than with no redistribution of money because otherwise they couldn’t afford anything. Also that even though what they are getting now may not be what they would like best they at least consider it better than nothing.

  55. (malcolm): “…do you equate “public education” to:
    1) tax support of school
    2) compulsory attendance staturtes
    3) State (i.e., government, generally)-operation of schools
    4) State-defined curricula and
    5) policies which restrict parentss’ options for the use of the taxpayers’ pre-college education subsidy to schools operated by government employees?
    (Mom): “Yes.”

    The case for tax support of school (or education) is weak. This article:

    http://wbro.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/content/abstract/12/1/83

    was at one time available for free. I recommend the introduction for an abstract welfare-economic overview of education subsidies. In addition to the author’s caveats, the case for subsidization on “public goods” grounds suffers a further defect: corporate oversight is a public good, and oversight of State functions is a public good which the State itself cannot provide. State assupmtion of responsibility for the subsidization (or direct production) of public goods transforms the “free rider” problem at the root of public goods analysis but does not eliminate it.

    Except for #1 and #4 (which go together, since the State cannot subsidize education without a definition of “education”) there is contemporary empirical evidence that educated populations exist in States which do not feature #2, #3, and #5.
    2) Up into the early 1990s, the government of Singapore did not compel attendance at school.
    3) Compulsory attendance statutes do not mean much unless the State compels some school to accept students rejected everywhere else. Call these default-option schools “the public schools”. Depending on what policy makers hoped to achieve with the students in these schools, likely these schools would cost more, per pupil, to operate than schools which assemble their clientelle by mutual agreement. I do not see why the State could not put the contract to operate these default-option schools out to bid periodically (like private prisons).
    5) In Hong Kong and Ireland, 90% of students take tax subsidies to independent and/or parochial schools. In the Netherlands, close to 70% of students take tax subsidies to independent schools. In Belgium, about 65%. Close to 40% of schools in Singapore are independent or Church-operated (they tend to be smaller than government schools, so less than 40% of Singapore students attend independent schools).

  56. pm,

    The case for subsidization is weak, and the case for State (government, generally) operation of schools is non-existent. It’s a very large argument, but I believe that tax subsidies to the education industry benefit system employees and other contractors to the system and harm students, families, and taxpayers generally. Corvee labor is a tax, which falls most heavily on children of the least politically adept parents. Poor and minority children labor unpaid as window-dressing in a massive make-work program for dues-paying mambers of the NEA/AFT/AFSCME cartel. Compulsory attendance laws and child labor laws put on-yhe-job training off limits.

    Consider the last paragraph of this article (pardon the shameless plug for my blog)

    http://harriettubmanagenda.blogspot.com/2008/08/whats-linear-differential-operator.html

    At lunch today Eugene observed that Punahou found ways to accommodate the golfer Michelle Wie’s career (she and Eugene were classmates). We had to work to find ways to accommodate Eugene’s talents and the path we found may not be easy for others to follow, but I wonder how much talent never finds such opportunities for development. Is it only because we have clear measures of Math ability that the path opened to Eugene? If some auto mechanic or chef were to mentor a mechanical or culinary prodigy, would child labor laws and compulsory attendance laws permit such accommodation as we found for Eugene?

  57. It’s unlikely that anyone would get “nothing” in an un(tax)subsidized market in education services. Private charity would provide some schooling. Employers would provide on-the-job training. I suppose there are some who gain from the current system (relative to where they would be in an unsubsidized, unregulated market in education services), but losers outember winners.

    Eduardo Zambrano
    Formal Models of Authority
    Rationality and Society, V.11, #2. May, 1999

    Aside from the important issue of how it is that a ruler may economize on communication, contracting and coercion costs, this leads to an interpretation of the state that cannot be contractarian in nature: citizens would not empower a ruler to solve collective action problems in any of the models discussed, for the ruler would always be redundant and costly. The results support a view of the state that is eminently predatory, (the ? MK.) case in which whether the collective actions problems are solved by the state or not depends on upon whether this is consistent with the objectives and opportunities of those with the (natural) monopoly of violence in society. This conclusion is also reached in a model of a predatory state by Moselle and Polak (1997). How the theory of economic policy changes in light of this interpretation is an important question left for further work.

  58. Margo/Mom says:

    Hey Malcom–you’re only talking to yourself. Everybody else is gone.

  59. Actually I’m still listening.