Morning Ed: Education {2017.09.20.W}

[Ed1] I will definitely have to read this to Lain when she starts kindergarten next year.

[Ed2] Your regular reminder that the science on school start times couldn’t be clearer.

[Ed3] Jennifer Gonzalez looks at academic redshirting and its eventual effects.

[Ed4] Educationrealist had a breakthrough in math class. I almost never asked for teacher help, even when I could have used it. Of course, when I didn’t understand something it was usually because I was not paying attention and that doesn’t put you on a teacher’s good side.

[Ed5] Lawrence Belluci writes of his experience in a post-modern PhD program.

[Ed6] Benjamin Wermund looks at how college ranking promote economic inequality. I’m not sure if they are disease, symptom, or a key component of a reinforcement loop. I think the latter.

[Ed7] I’d like to take the other side of this bet.

[Ed8] French schools apparently have the option between a 4 and 4.5 day week. Interesting that they choose to take Wednesday off instead of Friday or Monday. I like it most of the time, but makes weekend trips harder.

[Ed9] Being a music major is really only an issue if she didn’t have requisite experience. I’m surprised somebody thought to scrub it.

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Will Truman is a former professional gearhead who is presently a stay-at-home father in the Mountain East. He has moved around frequently, having lived in six places since 2003, ranging from rural outposts to major metropolitan areas. He also writes fiction, when he finds the time. ...more →

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51 thoughts on “Morning Ed: Education {2017.09.20.W}

  1. Ed2: This seems like one of those areas where the research is crystal clear but the result will never change. I wonder what it would take to get schools to experiment with later start times. Even private schools seem to avoid this.

    Ed5: I am skeptical of post-modernism as well but the events at Berkeley and Evergreen are really different. Evergreen is a one of a kind institution that has always attracted the most radical of the radical. Berkeley is a much bigger university but has a reputation for being a hotbed of radicalism. They also have engineering and business schools that are not radical. Berkeley is pearl clutching for the right-wing.

    Ed6: My alma mater has decided to do serious work in helping lower income students. According to the graph, enrollment among lower income students has soared at my alma mater. We are still selective with an acceptance rate of 25.6 percent according to Google.


    • Ed2: Early school start times may be bad for teenagers but they are good for their parents, who need the kids out of the house before they head off to work. Early start times are also good for school transportation logistics because they need the same bus fleet for high school, middle school, and elementary school students. The younger set goes last because these kids need the most help from adults in getting ready for school.


        • And I shudder to think of the trickle-up effect it would have on universities. Already we have almost eliminated 8 am classes (even though I loved teaching them because I am a morning person). I would hate to have a “work day” that started at 10 am and then ran until 6 or 7 pm….which is what it would probably have to do to get all the classes and labs in.

          Back in the dark ages (before I attended college, even) there were 7:30 or even 7 am classes.

          But I could see students raised on 10 am start times clamoring for there to be no classes (and no faculty office hours, I presume) before 10 am. It would suck for the faculty.


          • Exactly. I once saw a typical academic hit piece with Thomas Sowell, where he talked about how students couldn’t take eight o’clock classes because all of the lazy professors didn’t want classes at those times. I had to throw the BS flag. Like you, I like teaching eight o’clock classes. I’m a morning person, and I teach full loads, so I start early to get all of my classes in. Students, however, don’t like taking those classes. I’ve had some students who were clearly forced to take my morning classes. They rarely do well.


      • Ed2: I think that bus logisitics are important here, but I wonder if the elementary school start time (9:00 AM) should be flipped with the middle school (8:00 AM). The linked studies are about middle and high schools. I don’t know that the younger ones actually need more time to get ready.


  2. Vassar is number 1 for Vets and 12 for National Liberal Arts Colleges. We are number 6 for value and 13 for innovation according to US News.

    Vassar pride!!


      • Exactly the kind of helicopter parenting that gets us a generation of whiny snowflakes with no concept of what the world is really like.

        How are kids ever going to learn not to taunt godlike energy beings if you don’t turn a few of them into foam icosahedrons?


    • I’ve got a fall birthday, and was consistently the oldest kid in my class (other than one who, in retrospect, had clearly been held back an extra year for behavioral reasons)

      I think my school experience would have been much, much better if I’d been put in kindergarten a year earlier–because either way, I would not have been at the head of the line for social or physical development–I was a pretty late bloomer there. But I was the smartest kid at my school, meaning I wasn’t sufficiently challenged by my schoolwork and I had real trouble developing social bonds with the other kids who just weren’t on my level. Had I gone to school a year earlier, I would have been more challenged by the schoolwork and I would have been surrounded by kids who had a head start on me, and I think I would have done me a lot of good both in how I interacted with my peers and how I approached schoolwork.


    • Right. Honestly, I’m not cut out to be a teacher. It’s a skillset I just don’t have. That said, I have over the years tried to tutor people in math and compsci, often with much frustration for both myself and them. The thing is, I just don’t believe people aren’t smart enough to learn the basic stuff. Sure, not everyone is going to grok Galois Theory. (I barely grok Galois Theory.) But simple algebra — I think most everyone has the mental horsepower to do that. (Well okay, there are people with actual developmental disabilities. I don’t mean to erase them. They matter. But I’m talking about the sort of people I ended up tutoring.)

      The blocks come from elsewhere.

      Johnstone talks about similar stuff in Impro, all the silly strategies that student’s will use to avoid being vulnerable, and how such strategies actually fail. He’s thinking more in terms of self expression, not math, but still, these things echo each other.


      • The closet I ever came to teaching was tutoring Economics, usually Micro and Macro. I got primarily students from one instructor, who used his own book (which was a crappy booklet not a textbook) and of those students, the majority were female. The instructor had a penchant for unwelcome touching. As a result, few wanted to see him alone during office hours, so they came to Tutorial Services.

        I wouldn’t want to tutor or teach anyone younger. I’m not “kid friendly”.


      • Most people are not effective tutors to people who do not think and learn similarly to themselves.

        I’m that way. If your learning and thinking process isn’t pretty similar to my own, teaching you is going to be a frustrating experience for both of us.

        People don’t think the same way, don’t learn the same way — a great deal of the Education (as the field and in the practice) boils down to identifying how a given student learns, identifying when that student isn’t learning — they often pretend to understand in order to look competent, or worse yet think they understand but don’t — and adjusting your teaching style to match.

        Effective instruction in a classroom, rather than one-on-one, involves creating lesson plans and tackling instruction in ways that encompass multiple learning styles simultaneously. Bad lesson plans and instructions…don’t.

        One of my continuing irritations with, shall we say, “Guy on a Bar Stool Talking About Schools These Days” is the weird implied belief that all kids are the same. They’re empty little thumb drives, waiting to have data download.

        Parents are pretty bad offenders — parents of a single child are the worst. (If you’ve got two or three kids, odds are at least one of them thinks and learns differently enough that their parents have at least some experience with “We have to approach Timmy differently than Johnny”)


        • My learning style was different enough from everyone else that it’s a constant thing in the back of my head as I watch Bug grow & learn. And he is already differentiating enough from me that I have to remember not to get frustrated with him when we get stuck on something.


          • I’m sure you’re already aware that your alertness about this is the best protection for him to develop his own learning style you can give him. But still it’s pretty awesome. I love reading your comments about parenting.

            The weird thing about atypical learning styles is that for me, it was a very huge difference in learning style that turned me into a good teacher/tutor/trainer … since I very rarely lined up with how we were supposed to learn anything (or how my parents wanted me to), I could empathize with other people in the same situation and just keep trying different methods until we figured out which one stuck. And I had a good knack for coming up with methods since I’d had to learn to adjust to all my teachers’ way-different-from-me styles.

            I spent most of elementary and junior high STEM classes teaching math one-on-one to my peers who weren’t keeping up with the rest of the class – sometimes the teachers would even let us go into another room to do it … and while I was happier once they let me move ahead on my own (because math! is! exciting! or it was until I hit series in Calc II :P), I did enjoy helping people go from lost to competent. And I understood the math *really* well by the time I’d thought of 6 different ways to approach it…


            • — I wish I’d had a math teacher like you.

              I’m dyslexic and have APD, so for me learning math was about hacking my brain to “see” the structure. Over the years I’ve become pretty damn good at it, but usually I’ll study the same topic from multiple books and papers, trying to find that one author who will provide that one insight I need.

              Sometimes I need to put the book down and do something else for a while. Maybe in a few weeks I’ll hit that problem again. Maybe next time my brain will zigzag the right way and the concepts will snap into place.

              School didn’t really work for me.


            • My own experiences are what keep me alert, since the schools I went to, the teachers were either unable to recognize a student with a different learning style, or lacked the resources to accommodate one. While the tale told in Ed4 was a heartwarming tale to read, I can relate to Warren a bit.

              It get’s frustrating when you go see the teacher for help, and their ‘help’ is to explain it to you again in exactly the same way they did in class (which mirrors the textbook, natch), and when you still are lost, to explain it again the same way, then to get frustrated with you for not getting it.

              It doesn’t take much to come to the conclusion that the teacher is not actually able to help you.

              PS While I had some phenomenal math teachers in college, the Mathematicians were by far the worst when it came to having alternative ways to explain things. One of the things that helped me is that a lot of my math classes paralleled things I was learning in my engineering classes, so I could get help with my math by getting help with my engineering.


              • One of the things that helped me is that a lot of my math classes paralleled things I was learning in my engineering classes, so I could get help with my math by getting help with my engineering.

                Do you think this was because of the concrete-abstraction divide? Because I think most people learn math better when there is some concrete application of the concept. Now for me, I have enough math under my best that the “concrete application” can be the symbols themselves, the logic itself. But still, so much math is proving that “murples” have the “gooblat” property, where those terms have denote bizarro subtle abstraction.

                Needless to say, I struggle with topology.


                • That was some of it, but the rest is just that I learn math visually. Equations make no sense to me until I see them plotted in some space. Perhaps that is just another manifestation of the concrete abstract divide, but it’s what let’s me grok the type of equation (e.g. integrals & derivatives made no sense to me until they were described as the area under a curve, and the slope of a curve).

                  Engineering problems tended to give me a reason to plot something.


                  • I’m almost exactly the opposite. I do much better with symbols and words than with visual representations, and struggle the most with topics that really need a lot of spatial or geometric intuition.

                    Like differential geometry. Ugh.


    • It shed a lot of light on why I was never a terribly effective tutor or teacher. I can do a pretty good job explaining stuff to people who already (for whatever reason) are committed to understanding, but people who aren’t—for whatever reason—always posed an insurmountable challenge.


      • Exactly, when I was tutoring, I was doing it with students who NEEDED to pass the class and were afraid of seeing the instructor in his office. They were motivated to understand enough of the class to pass and move on. I provided understanding, clarity, and didn’t try to feel them up.


  3. Ed9: Right. Nobody would bat an eye if she had a bachelor’s degree in computer science, but I have a bachelor’s degree in computer science from a pretty high-ranking school, and I don’t think I learned anything about computer security that she didn’t learn in her music program. Especially back in the 70s and 80s, when most software came in boxes, I wouldn’t expect undergraduate computer science programs to spend much, if any, time on security.


  4. Ed5: I have a friend who is a sociology professor, and one of the smartest people I know. We had a conversation about post-modernism some fifteen or twenty years ago. Her take, coming from the sociology/anthropology side, was that pomo is a case of taking an interesting and valuable idea and running with, zipping right past the point where it is no longer interesting or valuable. Consider our Western understanding of other cultures, taking Margaret Mead and her sexed-up Samoans as an extreme example. Take a hard look at what we think we know and it turns out to be heavily influenced by our own culture. Even what naively appears to be objective knowledge is subject to this influence. So far so good–indeed, so far, very good. Were this a caution to be very careful about how our own culture affects how we see other culture, and an injunction to develop methods to minimize these effects, this would be all to the good. Instead, the pomos shot right past this and decided that there is no such thing as objective knowledge. It is all cultural constructs. Carry this thought further and you end up with the Law of Gravity as white male patriarchy and Newton’s Principia a rape manual. My sense is that when this got to the physical sciences it bounced off pretty hard, most notably in L’Affair Sokal. I don’t hear about this stuff much anymore, but this might be a cultural construct of my current reading habits. I don’t know how this is playing out in the humanities nowadays. This stuff hit American universities what, about forty years ago? That generation of the professoriat should be hitting retirement, making room for a generation less impressed by Theory.


    • I think this is largely correct, but I also think that there was a tendency for the worst and most extreme examples of critical theory stuff to get the most attention. Part of this was nutpicking, of course, though some of that IMO was a useful corrective, but some of it was, I think, also just enthusiastic and overspecialized young academics making a mess of things due to a lack of experience and perspective.

      I remember the first time I encountered the whole “scientific facts are socially constructed” idea was in a freshman-year discussion session led by a TA who pretty obviously didn’t know dick about science. I was a an arrogant asshole [1] physics major who didn’t know that much about science either, but I definitely knew more than him, and he really couldn’t even handle basic objections like, “I’m pretty sure there’s a physical reality independent of social construction because I’ve stubbed my toe.”

      Now, a number of years later I encountered an academic with a similar background (online), but also some real knowledge of science, and he was able to put the argument in a context that made much more sense, and, you know, wouldn’t be derailed by half-assed arguments made by obnoxious kids in their first year of college.

      [1] Hard to believe now, I know!


      • some of it was, I think, also just enthusiastic and overspecialized young academics making a mess of things due to a lack of experience and perspective.

        Perhaps, but Sokal followed up by teaming up with Jean Bricmont (a genuine native Francophone!) to write Fashionable Nonsense (Impostures Intellectuelles in the French edition), where they took pains to aim for the big guns. This isn’t to say that there wasn’t a lot of small fry that made for easy targets, but Sokal and Bricmont went to pains to avoid that trap.


        • Sure, but they still didn’t have much on some of the biggest guns [1], and I really did get the sense that they were straying a bit off the beaten path to get some particularly appealing targets. I’m not terribly well-versed in the field, but I’ve never heard anyone mention, say, Luce Irigary outside the (admittedly ridiculous) thing about how physicists studied solid mechanics instead of fluid dynamics because penis.

          [1] ISTR Sokal and Bricmont said Foucault bugged them for some reasons, but he never made the kind of errors that the rest did.


      • I think this is very spot on. One of the big issues on the net is that a lot of very precise or supposed to be precise academic terms have gone into the public. The public tends to use the terms with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer.

        One of the most curious things about the age of Trump to me is that Teen Vogue has seemingly become a voice of really strident left-wing politics. They might be more anti-Trump than the Nation. Think about that.

        One article I saw on social media was Teen Vogue stating that Hollywood’s white savior complex was neo-colonialism at its worse.

        Now I think there is something here but calling it neo-colonialism at it’s worse is very silly.


        • Yeah, the white savior stuff is pretty noxious, and we should be talking about it. In fact, it’s really obnoxious how much it still happens. That said, it’s certainly not the worst manifestation of colonialism.


        • @veronica-d

          Is this the article you saw, Saul?

          Because I don’t see where in that article they say anything about it being neo-colonialism “at its worst”. It’s a pretty solid set of arguments as Teen Vogue goes, whether or not I think every interpretation of every movie is correct.

          So if someone was saying that, it was either a facebook intern setting up the social media blurbs (which definite problem that’s happened before in all kinds of orgs), or it was one of your social media friends putting their own spin on it.

          Not trying to fuss at your larger points, but since I think Teen Vogue is in many ways doing really *good* work and holding themselves to a fairly high standard (as puzzling as I find this), it seemed like a strange example and set off my librarian-alarms :D.


          • I agree with them on the broader points but not on the phrasing and I have a strong pet peeve on how my side tends to phrase things (note: I often think it is poorly).

            Colonialism was a very specific thing and it was an extreme moral wrong that needs rectifying. But calling anything you vaguely dislike neo-colonialism or colonialism is vague and overbroad.


            • It’s amusing when what appear to be wish-washy-liberal movies that try to deal seriously with race, turn out to be seriously “problematic.” If this article reflected a popular or influential view, I would predict fewer movies about race, more car-chases and explosions.

              My daughter’s English teacher led a discussion one day about how racist “The Help” was, which really upset her. I suppose the future is Jane Austen on race, but not for gender because men in her stories hold disproportionate power and resources for some reason.


              • I don’t know about the movie – given my feelings about the book I never got around to watching it, though I will eventually because some of the actresses are great.

                The source material though, the novel The Help, could easily have been written in the 1940s, or earlier, given how much more important the central white character’s feelings were than the actual rotten experiences of the women of color in the book, which were glossed over very very lightly except when it caused the white character to have feelings again (at which point we were talking about their feelings again, and not so much anyone else’s). It wasn’t all or nothing, but maybe …. 90-10? Even the dialect sections (which is another irritation altogether) were more focused on the journey of the white main character than anyone else.

                The proper parallel in your scenario, btw, should be not Jane Austen on race, but not for gender, it would be something like Victor Hugo on race, but not for gender. Which would still be a stupid outcome, but maybe not SO stupid. Much like when they refuse to teach Mark Twain… I’d be vexed but it would really depend on what their alternative choices were.

                It’s not that I think it matters all that much overall, but rather that I wish the industry cared half as much about the stories written by black women. Be “the industry” publishing, film, or education. Imagine if instead of discussing The Help at all, the English teacher had taught or brought up the power of one of a kajillion alternatives written by the people who actually went through racism first-hand. Equal in quality, but far less well-known in the popular imagination. Your daughter would have been way more interested and less upset (I am guessing), no one who was reasonably sensitive to (as opposed to overwrought about) the underlying assumptions that white people are most important would have been bothered by the different choice, and everybody would have learned things…

                But no. They have to get kids to “discuss controversial issues” so they stir up controversies. *eyeroll* I’m glad my English profs (including the ones I know as friends) were not like that.


              • We can certainly quibble about the term “colonialism” and how it gets used. But whatever. Sure, words matter, but it’s still just a word. It is certainly possible to connect its historic meaning with its modern application. If someone doesn’t like that, fine.

                I’ll say this: I am utterly and completely disgusted with how cis people utilize transgender people in their shitty, self-indulgent, garbage movies. Honestly, it’s just trash, and the feel-good liberal tripe-people who think they can thoughtfully watch The Danish Girl or Dallas Buyers Club and I won’t fucking hate them —

                — it’s hard to explain. But imagine trying to convince some weird alien overlord species that it was wrong to eat your children, when their culture regards eating children as entirely normal. What argument would you make?

                At some point you just have to listen to people with less power than you, when we say, “This hurts us. It just does.”

                There is something deep about being transgender, which seems mysterious but fascinating to (many) cis people. That’s fine. We can try to communicate these things. However, when cis writers just make shit up from their own imaginations, about us, those things are always wrong. What actually happens is these writers map their own sexual and gender preoccupations onto our lives, and thus large audiences come away with an understanding that is really about the weird dysfunctions of a bunch of insipid cis Hollywood dipshits.

                And thus over time the broad culture doesn’t understand us, but they still feel a need to have opinions of us, to pass laws about us, etc.

                Blah. Mind your own fucking business people. You don’t know shit.

                On the other hand, if you really want to understand us — well there are limits of empathy. But you can try. Read the things we write for each other. Listen to us talk to each other. It’s possible to draw near to an understanding.

                Honestly, for most day-to-day things we are exactly like cis people — we are people! — except that part where our gender was totally wrong, which led to a soul crushing hell, and so we had to somehow change our gender and now we live among you as hated freak people.

                Well, it’s sorta like that. There are good parts. The sex is nice.


                Can black people make similar points about movies made by white people?

                I’m sure it’s somewhat different. Race is not like gender. But still, is it so hard to have black writers writing with a focus on black characters using language and motifs that are familiar to other black people? Will whites not watch such movies?

                Perhaps they will not. It’s almost as if racism is real.


          • Even when an outlet does good work overall, and is addressing something worth addressing—both applicable here—sometimes they will overreact, or underreact, or just make a hash out of things because writing and thinking clearly are hard under the best of circumstances.

            So one really ought to be somewhat charitable when someone appears to overreact, on the grounds that precisely calibrating one’s level of objection is not trivial.

            As for following my own advice when it comes to stuff produced by folks on the right (or for that matter by certain types of folks on the left who irk me)? “Lord, make me chaste, but not yet.”


    • Pomo seems to be evidence of George Orwell’s theory that “some things are so dumb that only intellectuals believe them.” I just read the House of Government: A Saga of the Russian Revolution. A big part of the book is spent on how the Bolsheviks attempted and failed to build an alternative to bourgeois civilization. There have always been intellectuals that have taken interesting and valuable ideas beyond the point of usefulness. Its why the Bolsheviks according to pg. 341 of the House of Government, in a chapter devoted to the urban theories of the Bolsheviks, believed that the last and decisive battle of the revolution would be fought against “velvet covered albums resting on small tables with lace doilies.” The Bolsheviks also loved premarital sex but hated dancing because of their hatred of bourgeois civilization.


    • Also, I do think this process is far from unique to post-modernism and critical theory. It’s sort of the intellectual equivalent of, “Every great cause begins as a movement, becomes a business, and eventually degenerates into a racket.”


  5. the usnews game is awful, and no fun to play. i personally dreaded their releases every year, even when the news was positive (and it generally was), because it is structurally so awful.

    but you have to play this game to some degree (if you are among the ranked) or hope you can dance around it (if you are not). the nots are generally playing different games (open enrollment, vocational tracks, niche recruitment programs, etc) where it matters less, despite being mostly (if not completely) tuition driven.

    that said, there are very few proxies for quality for parents/payers (generally the same group) in terms of differentiating between various potential destinations for their students. the usnews rankings serve as a proxy for quality and outcomes, especially since the most pressing questions are unanswerable – e.g. “will my student be successful? will they be happy? will they come to live in my basement?”

    so the usnews rankings are important for year to year operations, and do have a measurable impact on recruitment efforts, and are ultimately punishing to those schools where the payout for larger salaries, larger fundraising drives, and larger construction projects get them caught behind the eight ball when a downturn (like 2008) or the trump effect on international recruitment (last year and the next four years, potentially) hit their traditional recruitment areas and tuition income.

    rankings and reputation are also important when it comes to weathering other storms in terms of year to year recruitment efforts. **this cannot be stressed enough.** there is no “mizzou effect”, contrary to what people have apparently been told, because if political environments were the issue, we’d surely see a “berkeley effect” first.

    berkeley can have riots every other weekend and it won’t hurt them (they had a record year for apps this year iirc). mizzou couldn’t because they’d been suffering in-state competition, perception issues, and debt issues, for years. middlebury can have a professor assaulted and it’s meaningless for their goals, because their rankings are solid. evergreen has been circling the drain for a decade; their recent publicized issues are secondary to the fact that they have had chronic budget and enrollment problems.

    there are schools which could have isis show up and behead a bunch of students, and they’d still over-enroll by 5%.

    most of the top 50 of any list doesn’t really have to worry about these pressures in a deep sense (they have other things to worry about which are less related to survival) because of secondary income streams, better building/funded depreciation plans, large endowments, and the more immediate gains they receive from clawing slowly up the ranks. it’s the 50s and up that tend to be almost completely tuition-driven for year to year budgets that get caught in various debt traps.

    and yet, if they don’t strive, they’ll continue to fall deeper in to the trap. it’s not all usnews’ fault by any stretch; they’re just the boil on the surface.


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