Re: Tell Us, How Has This Worked Out?

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When I make a couple of billion dollars, I'm going to develop strongly held opinions about policing and prison administration, and go around bribing/sponsoring people to write editorials saying that it's only because of the dead hand of unions that my radical and obviously correct ideas aren't being followed up. Maybe I can get a few dozen counties to put me in charge of the legal system.


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 5:56 AM
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I think that might take more than a couple of billion. Not the buying good press part, but the getting put in charge of legal systems.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 6:00 AM
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If I understand it correctly, it doesn't sound too different from the Div classes I took at school - basically a no-exam, cross-disciplinary history of thought course. It's the sort of thing that's brilliant when it's done well and terrible when done badly.


Posted by: Ginger Yellow | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 6:08 AM
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Bill Gates is an expert on the global market for business software. What the fuck does he know about education?


Posted by: Spike | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 6:14 AM
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He probably knows quite a bit as he's been involved in funding one side of the policy debate for more than ten years now. But however much he knows, Oggers is right that if you want to change the way a public service is run in a democracy, the gentlemanly thing to do is stand for election.


Posted by: dsquared | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 6:19 AM
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he's been involved in funding one side of the policy debate for more than ten years now.

That's nice. Has he ever taught a class of seventh graders?


Posted by: Spike | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 6:21 AM
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I wouldn't put my seventh-grade teachers in charge of filling in a ditch, much less digging it.


Posted by: Flippanter | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 6:28 AM
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The article made the concept sound incredibly dumb -- let's teach everything interesting from the Big Bang on forward in the same course, without selecting any particular subset of material! Sure. That sounds nice. How much time do you have?

I mean, cross-disciplinary things are often fascinating and informative, but they really can't be exhaustive -- there's not time.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 6:35 AM
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I didn't think my esteem for Justice Scalia could go any lower, but then I didn't know that he gets his news from talk radio and the Washington Times.

|>


Posted by: knecht ruprecht | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 6:38 AM
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9: But that had to be true, right? His opinions have gotten dumber and dumber, and his reputation as an intellectual that could be admired across the aisle has eroded almost completely. The alternatives are either he's only listening to wingnut radio, or he's had a stroke.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 6:44 AM
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I mean, cross-disciplinary things are often fascinating and informative, but they really can't be exhaustive -- there's not time.

Yes, that certainly seems to be the big difference with my Div classes. They didn't pretend to be comprehensive - it was mostly whatever the given teacher was interested in. So with one it was a lot of Buddhist philosophy/history, with another it was the French revolution, with another it was the art of translating poetry.


Posted by: Ginger Yellow | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 6:45 AM
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9,10: Scalia watchers have noted in the last several years that traces of wingnut info/memes have begun popping up in his opinions.


Posted by: real ffeJ annaH | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 6:53 AM
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They didn't pretend to be comprehensive - it was mostly whatever the given teacher was interested in.

There is something to be said for doing a deep dive on a single, narrow topic. I don't think I've ever had a class like that.

I guess the IB is good for that sort of thing.


Posted by: Spike | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 6:53 AM
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I mean, cross-disciplinary things are often fascinating and informative, but they really can't be exhaustive -- there's not time.

What in the world makes you think think that's what they're really attempting to do? This is very clearly in the vein of a good "Connections"-type class.


Posted by: nnelid Gustator | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 7:04 AM
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It's deeply depressing that the tech jackasses have seized on education as the new toy they can play with/break.

I mean, if you've already spent all you can possibly spend on yachts, mansions & etc., can't you go build a private moon rocket or something?


Posted by: AcademicLurker | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 7:10 AM
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But the problem is not jackassery. If you have the ability, you're going to try to change things that seem wrong to you. Perfectly normal! The problem is that we allow one rich guy to make massive changes to kids' schooling.


Posted by: ogged | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 7:16 AM
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I guess I was using jackass as shorthand for "insufficiently self-aware to consider the possibility that I'm not an expert on everything simply because I have money". That seems to me to be a personality type heavily overrepresented among the wealthy in general and wealthy tech types in particular.

All of which is really just an addendum to your point that the real problem is handing control to individual rich guys.


Posted by: AcademicLurker | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 7:22 AM
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I was amused by the Mark Zuckerberg thing where he gave $100 million to the Newark school district and then education reform grifters ran off with his money.

Kind of sucked for the kids of the Newark school district, though.


Posted by: Spike | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 7:25 AM
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18: Did they really? I never heard anything about that money, so I wondered if he'd announced it before The Social Network came out, and then he just didn't give it.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 7:27 AM
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My impression of it is that Bill Gates sounds like the boss who saw a TED talk and was, like, super blown away by it and so everyone else has to see it and then there's a meeting where you all explain how its insights affect your work. Then again, I read like a quarter of it before giving up because I got bored with it, and him, very early on.

It's pretty clear that the "course" he's talking about is "four to seven years at an expensive liberal arts college" though. The only way I know of to make a barely workable course that would resemble that sort of thing is to narrow down the topic to the point where it looks hilariously frivolous - "The History of the Loom, 100 BCE - 1700 BCE" or something roughly like that. A pretty specific topic and a not-entirely-comprehensive timeframe, but explored across multiple angles.

The fact that they look hilariously frivolous does not mean they are that way. Often they're very interesting classes that end up making sense of a bunch of things that are related but outside the stated topic of the course - social changes as a result of technological developments, historical influences on the way we do things now, etc. Or at least they do that for students who get really, really into the material when the professor teaching it is also that way. But good or bad they almost always end up looking ridiculous. ("So what were you studying in College this term, son, that we spent thousands of dollars on?" "Oh! I took a class on paperclips.")


Posted by: MHPH | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 7:29 AM
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I'm not sure "frivolous" is the word I'd use to describe the history of the ancient loom. Esoteric maybe.


Posted by: Ginger Yellow | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 7:32 AM
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I mean, if you've already spent all you can possibly spend on yachts, mansions & etc., can't you go build a private moon rocket or something?

It's been done; Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos already did.


Posted by: Alex | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 7:33 AM
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It's been done; Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos already did.

Then surely Gates needs to build a Mars rocket to outdo them. It would be far better if he spent his money on something like that rather than mucking around with the educational system.


Posted by: AcademicLurker | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 7:39 AM
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19: there was a long NYer article about it recently.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 7:40 AM
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looks hilariously frivolous - "The History of the Loom, 100 BCE - 1700 BCE"

More history courses should be taught backwards. Explain how something is, then explain the causes, reductio ad antiquitas.


Posted by: dalriata | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 7:43 AM
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Perhaps a useful approach to the tech-dudes/moon rocket question might be drawn from Diana Wynne-Jones's early novel, Archer's Goon, in which a town is ruled entirely by wicked and super-powered magicians, each of whom "farms" an aspect of contemporary life - banking, the arts, education, crime, etc. They appear unstoppable but are all tricked into a fancy space ship and sent away, probably to Mars, the end.


Posted by: Frowner | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 7:52 AM
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24: Link? I was wondering about that as well.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 7:55 AM
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What in the world makes you think think that's what they're really attempting to do?

The fact that they were talking about starting at the Big Bang? I mean, a good Connections-style class sounds wonderful, but would have to be the sort of thing MHPH is talking about -- paperclips or henna. Expansive across disciplines, but very narrow in terms of subject matter.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 7:58 AM
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Actually, Musk's rocket works, but I've not heard much about Bezos's. Presumably being Amazon it's huge, with a really well organised API and absolutely no concession to design, fuelled by slaves, and barely profitable.


Posted by: Alex | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 8:01 AM
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If you leave out the history part, or really anything about humans, but have a course going from the Big Bang to the evolution of life on Earth (including mass extinctions, the dramatic changes in the Earth's atmosphere induced by photosynthetic life, and so on), you get something like How to Build a Habitable Planet by Langmuir and Broecker, which is a fascinating book full of stuff I wish someone had taught when I was a student. Revolutions that Made the Earth by Lenton and Watson covers similar things.

Putting human history in the same course sounds like a recipe for disaster.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 8:01 AM
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24: Link? I was wondering about that as well.

Link is here.

Like all New Yorker articles, its way to friggin' long. And also it features Cory Booker and Chris Christie, two people I'd rather never have to hear about again.


Posted by: Spike | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 8:05 AM
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They appear unstoppable but are all tricked into a fancy space ship and sent away, probably to Mars, the end.

A similar approach to the one taken in The Marching Morons except that there the elites put the seemingly unstoppable dimwitted norms in the rockets.

Lesson: beware of rockets.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 8:07 AM
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As well as the conman who developed the plan for tricking the norms into the rockets. Lesson: Beware of elites.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 8:12 AM
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Ick:

A class on the emergence of life might start with photosynthesis before moving on to eukaryotes and multicellular organisms and the genius of Charles Darwin and James Watson.

How life emerged from muck, evolved, and then degenerated back to racist, sexist muck.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 8:13 AM
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Didn't that New Yorker article get discussed here at the time? Maybe it was LGM.


Posted by: Ginger Yellow | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 8:15 AM
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35: There has never been a thread where we read the article first. Never.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 8:16 AM
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32: See also "Ark B".


Posted by: dalriata | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 8:18 AM
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31, 35: Really unclear as to what actually went wrong and where the money went, and what, if anything, happened as a result of the additional spending.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 8:21 AM
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This quote is telling:

The going rate for individual consultants in Newark was a thousand dollars a day. Vivian Cox Fraser, the president of the Urban League of Essex County, observed, "Everybody's getting paid, but Raheem still can't read."

Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 8:22 AM
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That article has pretty much melded with the one about the Atlanta teachers doctoring test scores into a vague "education is fucked" area in my brain.


Posted by: Blume | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 8:23 AM
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10, 12 -- I take a stronger view on this than some, but IMO there has been no decline, Scalia was always already a right wing hack. Even when he was a professor (remember -- not a real professor, a law professor) he was basically just a conservative journalist. It's true that as conservative journalistic tropes have gotten even more obviously stupid Scalia's tropes have followed suit.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 8:24 AM
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The going rate for individual consultants in Newark was a thousand dollars a day.

Pretty cheap in consultant terms.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 8:24 AM
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To put it in context, we have an external software company doing some consultancy for us, and it's in that region, yeah. Almost exactly, in fact.


Posted by: nattarGcM ttaM | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 8:26 AM
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I'm still trying to figure out how SWPL parents would game the system under Halfordismo. One stay-at-home parent brings the income down a lot, but probably not enough to count for poverty. There has to be more that I'm missing!


Posted by: Thorn | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 8:28 AM
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On the OP, the OP gets it 100% right.

Beyond that, when I was in college, I took a "history of materials" course that was a very well-intentioned engineer's idea of how to get humanists excited about "materials science"by teaching it as a history course. It was pretty interesting as a materials science learning device and I'm glad I took it, but man did it ever suck as a history class. Doing something even less focused on a global scale and calling it history sounds like a total disaster.

On the other other hand, this is similar to the kind of capricious weirdo notion that I would be totally into if I ruled everything, so I have some sympathy for BG.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 8:29 AM
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John McPhee's geology books do a good job of selling geology-as-history.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 8:32 AM
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42, 43: There's room for an awful lot of thousand dollar a day consultants in a hundred million dollars.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 8:33 AM
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Precisely, a hundred thousand consultant-days, I suppose.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 8:36 AM
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Also, it seems to me that the point of a liberal arts undergrad education is to provide a knowledge-and-thinking foundation on which you can then overlay middlebrow pop history/science/nonfiction in order to achieve distraction from soul-crushing day labor. The point isn't to spend your time in school reading middlebrow pop history/science/nonfiction.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 8:41 AM
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45: The subthread in the Howard Johnson's thread below suggests that one could probably put together a pretty entertaining course on "The History of Pointy Things on the End of Long Sticks".


Posted by: AcademicLurker | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 8:42 AM
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Rome wasn't built in a consultant-day.


Posted by: SP | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 8:43 AM
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45. That sounds a lot like the courses I've seen that tried to be interdisciplinary in any real sense.

I've always been a bit skeptical of interdisciplinary stuff that isn't very, very carefully restricted. It's really not a bad idea to keep communication going between them, but most disciplines really are different disciplines and the training and expertise involved isn't equivalent. The idea of a "everything together!" course just screams out "medievalist teaches particle physics!". What they should do is go back to the wellspring where the various bits all came from and just have the philosophy department teach all the courses at the university. That would probably accomplish things!


Posted by: MHPH | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 8:43 AM
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49 gets it exactly right.


Posted by: knecht ruprecht | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 8:52 AM
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49 Also, it seems to me that the point of a liberal arts undergrad education is to provide a knowledge-and-thinking foundation on which you can then go work at a hedge fund and never use any of that knowledge, judging by the senior whose course schedule I just had to sign off on.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 8:56 AM
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52 -- One thing I liked about the class was that it was taught by an older Engineering Prof who kept referring to his daughter the English grad student. The premise of the class was basically "if I can only figure how to put this stuff into humanities-speak, THEN I can finally get them to understand how incredibly interesting tensile strength really is!" It was really sweet. Probably not the best basis for the overall history curriculum though.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 8:57 AM
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Doing something even less focused on a global scale and calling it history sounds like a total disaster.

On the other hand, it does seem to be the basis of a remarkably popular book publishing template, namely "Commodity: How this miracle substance created the modern world".


Posted by: Ginger Yellow | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 9:03 AM
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On the other hand, it does seem to be the basis of a remarkably popular book publishing template, namely "Commodity: How this miracle substance created the modern world".

I wonder at what point publishers were consciously joking around when they came up with titles like that. I'm sure the first few were genuine, but some point everyone must have realized how silly it was.


Posted by: AcademicLurker | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 9:11 AM
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I really like natural history and history courses that are interdisciplinary and broad ranging (or, interdisciplinary and very narrow). But! One thing I don't like about the way this is written about is that it ignores that history is an actual thing of its own, with a methodology and way of thinking associated, and it doesn't just mean, 'anything that happened in the past.'


Posted by: Parenthetical | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 9:12 AM
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Also, on 49, it seems to me that interdisciplinarity is orthogonal to brow height.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 9:13 AM
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"Commodity: How this miracle substance created the modern world"

Closely related to "Year: How the course of civilization changed that year."

I just previewed 1177 BC on the kindle. Apparently it was a big deal.


Posted by: Spike | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 9:14 AM
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58: Yeah, I was thinking that maybe the term "natural history" needs to be revived. Do people still use it for anything other than naming museums?


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 9:15 AM
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If the Kindle lets you preview a year, wouldn't you pick one in the future?


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 9:16 AM
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62: You have to be a premium member for that.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 9:19 AM
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61: Where do you stand on changing science back to "natural philosophy"?


Posted by: AcademicLurker | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 9:19 AM
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"Between the the time when the oceans sank Atlantis and the rise of the sons of Arius: How one Snake Cult created the Modern World"


Posted by: MHPH | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 9:21 AM
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Also, on 49, it seems to me that interdisciplinarity is orthogonal to brow height.

There's a fox/hedgehog joke somewhere in there, I know it.


Posted by: Ginger Yellow | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 9:25 AM
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I saw a hedgehog yesterday. The zoo people brought one out to the park. Sega really had me misinformed.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 9:28 AM
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How about Isaiah Berlin?


Posted by: Ginger Yellow | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 9:29 AM
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Haven't read the link or thread yet, but since ed-tech has been coming up lately, I just want to recommend Audrey Watters' blog/reporting/twitter feed.


Posted by: fake accent | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 9:30 AM
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60: Don't forget "Year: A Very Important Time In My Pseudohistorical Narrative."

67: Nevermind what the fanart people said.


Posted by: dalriata | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 9:33 AM
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61: Where do you stand on changing science back to "natural philosophy"?

I'm agin' it. But "natural history" seems to have more of a place: putting together all the insights from physics and chemistry and astronomy and geology and biology into a narrative of how the world around us got to be this way. Oddly, it seems like one of the places where this gets the most attention in academia now is in astrobiology, since the story of how we got here is relevant if you're looking for life somewhere else.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 10:27 AM
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At the local museum, "Natural History" means dinosaurs, plus we committed taxidermy on what rich people shot, plus some rocks because we have more space.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 10:39 AM
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One thing I don't like about the way this is written about is that it ignores that history is an actual thing of its own, with a methodology and way of thinking associated, and it doesn't just mean, 'anything that happened in the past.'

The two critics cited in the article make the same point ("It's like fact soup" and "What is most pressing for American high-school students right now, in the history-social-studies curriculum, is: How do we read a text? How do we connect our ability to sharpen our intellectual capabilities when we're evaluating sources and trying to understand human motivation?").

The critics are of course exactly right, and also doomed to lose the argument in the political realm, because the debate is so easily caricatured as "hard facts versus airy-fairy critical thinking".

Our local school system kind of has the right idea with the primary school social studies curriculum: they start with the local area and extend outward, so they can introduce the methodological component in a comprehensible context. I would love for my children to study some of the primary source documents from the PDBS museum that tell the story of American abolitionism, for example. Unfortunately, because the social studies curriculum intersects with the whole Western Civ versus indigenous voices debate, the pupils end up spending a lot of time studying artifacts instead of documents, so they end up learning quarter-assed archeology and ethnology instead of half-assed history.


Posted by: knecht ruprecht | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 10:42 AM
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Does half-assed mean you only get to see one butt cheek or does it mean that you only see half of one butt cheek?


Posted by: peep | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 10:47 AM
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74: Now I'm wondering whether I'm thinking about this all wrong -- maybe seeing has nothing to do with it.


Posted by: peep | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 10:48 AM
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I read Christians' book "Maps of Time" and listened to his teaching company lectures. It is pretty interesting. Here is the TED talk:

https://www.ted.com/talks/david_christian_big_history

The book isn't crazy. It is something like 1/4 big-bang to the formation of the earth, 1/4 biological evolution and 1/2 conventional world history.

The over-arching story is about "energy". I think the ultimate point is the inevitable human colonization of space.

There would be something like two weeks on human evolution. Don't know whether the fundamentalists would be into it.

Plus, the cartoon history of the universe did it first:
http://www.amazon.com/Cartoon-History-Universe-Volumes-1-7/dp/0385265204


Posted by: lemmy caution | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 11:15 AM
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The over-arching story is about "energy". I think the ultimate point is the inevitable human colonization of space.

Ugh what no that sounds awful


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 11:22 AM
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Space, the inevitable frontier.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 11:27 AM
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GO INTO SPACE!


Posted by: OPINIONATED FAULTY PERSONALITY MODULE | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 11:54 AM
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I thought Christian's book on Central Eurasia up to about the 14th century was pretty good. I don't think he ever wrote volume 2, and if he hasn't after 17 years I'm guessing he never will.


Posted by: fake accent | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 12:02 PM
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79: space space space space space


Posted by: dalriata | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 12:07 PM
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In space, no one can hear your TED talk.


Posted by: AcademicLurker | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 12:09 PM
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There would be something like two weeks on human evolution what it was like back on the veldt.


Posted by: Spike | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 12:09 PM
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Just read the article during lunch. That's a pretty serious fluff piece, especially the last few paragraphs. Sorkin must really want Gates to think of him the next time he wants to be featured in a major media outlet.


Posted by: fake accent | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 12:26 PM
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72: Not sure what city you're in, but natural history museum exhibits that have been renovated in the past say 30ish years are often really interesting and informative if you read the signs and go through in the intended order. Of course, almost no one does that.

For example, the "dinosaur" floor of AMNH in New York does a really good job laying out the shape of the tree of life of vertebrates and explaining how they sort out which side of branches various fossils lie on. Doing this requires starting at (and watching!) the Meryl Streep narrated video, and then going around clockwise and reading the large signs. Unfortunately, the layout of the museum is such that the most common point of entry to the floor is not at the beginning, and reading the signage is a pretty serious commitment.


Posted by: Unfoggetarian: "Pause endlessly, then go in" (9) | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 12:32 PM
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I love our natural history museum (in addition to the La Brea tar pits, which it also runs, which are independently awesome). It's a nice blend of old-school taxidermy, which really is awesome in its way, and new school science education. Plus some gigantic ass fish from GSwift's Dad's tenure on display. The recently redone Age of Mammals exhibit is particularly great, though it doesn't mention SOMEBODY's theory about the Eocene-Oligocene Transition. (The non-natural history, history of Los Angeles part sadly isn't too great, however).


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 12:37 PM
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I'm in Pittsburgh. The dinosaur part is very newly renovated and informative. The rest of it has a nice old-timey vibe that I sort of like.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 12:37 PM
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I love natural history, and think it'd be great if universities did a better job of teaching natural history and got more students to learn natural history. But I don't think trying to cram too much into one semester is wise. Something like a 3 quarter course where the first course was the physical history of the universe, milky way, and solar system (taught by a physicist!), the second quarter was the history of life on earth (taught by a biologist!), and the last quarter was the deep history of humanity (taught by an anthropologist!) could be a really awesome part of a liberal arts education. Trying to make it too interdisciplinary or too fast is going to just make it bad.


Posted by: Unfoggetarian: "Pause endlessly, then go in" (9) | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 12:38 PM
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I haven't been to Pittsburgh's museum, sadly. I should do so one of these days on my way home. But yeah, old Natural History Museum exhibits tend to be not so informative, but enjoyable just as an artifact of a different time. Some great pure examples of the latter: The Pitt-Rivers museum of imperialism, and the Paris natural history museum of more skeletons than you thought could fit in one room.


Posted by: Unfoggetarian: "Pause endlessly, then go in" (9) | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 12:41 PM
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87: The last time I went (circa a few years ago), they had an exhibit on Arctic peoples (IIRC on the top floor) that I'm pretty sure made references to the Soviet Union as contemporary.


Posted by: dalriata | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 12:41 PM
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(The physicist can also be an astronomer or a geologist of the right sort. The biologist could also be in the geology department.)


Posted by: Unfoggetarian: "Pause endlessly, then go in" (9) | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 12:43 PM
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I enjoy finding the old exhibits in big museums and finding all the things we now know to be wrong. My favorite is probably the primates room at AMNH where they don't know that chimps are more closely related to humans than to other apes.


Posted by: Unfoggetarian: "Pause endlessly, then go in" (9) | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 12:44 PM
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31, 38: I think a bunch of the "where the money went" stuff was addressed in these two paragraphs:


All of this came at a steep price. The union demanded thirty-one million dollars in back pay for the two years that teachers had worked without raises--more than five times what top teachers would receive in merit bonuses under the three-year contract. Zuckerberg covered the expense, knowing that other investors would find the concession unpalatable. The total cost of the contract was about fifty million dollars. The Foundation for Newark's Future also agreed to Anderson's request to set aside another forty million dollars for a principals' contract and other labor expenses. Zuckerberg had hoped that promising new teachers would move quickly up the pay scale, but the district couldn't afford that along with the salaries of veteran teachers, of whom five hundred and sixty earned more than ninety-two thousand dollars a year. A new teacher consistently rated effective would have to work nine years before making sixty thousand dollars.


The seniority protections proved even more costly. School closings and other personnel moves had left the district with three hundred and fifty teachers that the renew principals hadn't selected. If Anderson simply laid them off, those with seniority could "bump" junior colleagues. She said this would have a "catastrophic effect" on student achievement: "Kids have only one year in third grade." She kept them all on at full pay, at more than fifty million dollars over two years, according to testimony at the 2013 budget hearing, assigning them support duties in schools. Principals with younger staffs were grateful. Far fewer of the teachers left than Anderson had anticipated. She hoped Christie would grant her a waiver from the seniority law, allowing her to lay off the lowest-rated teachers, a move that both the legislature and the national teachers' union promised to fight.


That sounds like around $50 million in back raises and other incentives to get the union to accept the contract, $40 million in principals contract/other labor expenses, and around $50 million to pay unwanted senior teachers to do administrative/support duties, so that they didn't use seniority to bump the more junior teachers. Probably some double-counting going on there between the last category and the first two, but if not, that's $140 mill of the $200 mill raised by Zuckerberg and the matching funds.


Posted by: Dave W. | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 12:45 PM
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90: Probably. But it's very sedate up there.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 12:45 PM
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the second quarter was the history of life on earth (taught by a biologist!)

Maybe a biologist would be best, but I think one of the most interesting parts of this story is the tight coupling between life, the composition of Earth's atmosphere, and geology, and their mutual influences on each other. That's what distinguishes what I see as the "natural history" story from just purely studying biological evolution in isolation. Who is most equipped to teach this might vary a lot from place to place.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 12:48 PM
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90: the best part of that exhibit is that they keep it quite chilly (realistic!), so it's basically the best place in the city to be on a miserable summer day.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 12:49 PM
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Especially if you have a restless small child who doesn't want to swim.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 12:50 PM
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Shorter 93: Buying off entrenched interests can be amazingly expensive.


Posted by: Dave W. | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 12:50 PM
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In Pittsburgh museum, Soviet Russia freezes you!


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 12:51 PM
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I should hang myself in shame for making a fucking "In Soviet Russia" joke, aka most played out thing ever.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 12:51 PM
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Anyhow, I'd take UPETGI's course in a heartbeat, but it shouldn't replace (and indeed has very little to do with) an actual history curriculum.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 12:53 PM
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Right, that was the only big lump of money identified with any clarity. The discussion of the 'total cost of the contract' is weird enough to be uninformative, though. Total cost doesn't seem to mean total cost, in the sense of the total amount of money paid to teachers in salary and benefits over the life of the contract, it seems to mean the total difference in cost between that contract and either the old contract or some other expected baseline which is left totally undefined. At which point it's really unclear what, exactly, the Zuckerberg funds had to do with it -- was there a decision to use the funds to give teachers raises because someone thought that was a good idea? (Which it could have been, I don't have an opinion without knowing more specifics.) The "the teachers union sets salaries and benefits without input from the government" story drives me batshit, as entirely unrelated to reality.

And the final 50 million seems absolutely insane. Anderson was claiming to have identified 50 million dollars in payroll worth of teachers who were so bad that it was worth paying them for nothing to keep them out of the classrooms, but couldn't possibly have been fired? That's not 'buying off entrenched interests', that's psychotic management.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 12:55 PM
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In Soviet Russia, joke plays you!


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 12:55 PM
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Rather than emphasize massive amounts of standardized testing in order to measure teacher quality, an approach that yields a very poor signal and, arguably, decreases the quality of the average education, I wonder if having teachers teach the same students over multiple years might improve things. This would mean students stuck with bad teachers would suffer, and those with good teachers would benefit, but these more variable outcomes would have the effect of producing a better teacher-quality signal.


Posted by: Eggplant | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 12:58 PM
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100: In Soviet Russia, you wouldn't have to do the hanging yourself.


Posted by: fake accent | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 12:58 PM
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102: Yeah, I don't know what the whole story is, but it certainly reads like the writer deliberately spun it as a standard hatchet job on Big Evil Teachers Unions.


Posted by: AcademicLurker | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 1:00 PM
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La Brea is teh awesome. A T-shirt in the gift shop: "What Happens in La Brea Tar Pits Stays in La Brea Tar Pits." Also a nice slice of 20th Century Los Angeles history. A benefactor made several fortunes, one by buying LA beachfront property during WWII - prices were low after Pearl Harbor because of fears of a Japanese invasion - and selling it for gazillions later.


Posted by: bill | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 1:00 PM
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107: The idea of WWII as the biggest real estate scam in history is kind of great.


Posted by: AcademicLurker | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 1:01 PM
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106: I don't mean to say that it's impossible that the teachers' unions were part of the problem, of course. But the superintendent's decisions are reported as if she was bound by constraints that make no sense without explanation.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 1:04 PM
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102 last: I read that as the price to ensure that the renew principals had the freedom to pick their own staffs. So the unwanted teachers weren't mostly so incompetent that you could make a good case for them to be fired outright, but perceived as somewhere in the mediocre middle plus either set in their ways or not demonstrating enough enthusiasm about the reforms the principals wanted to push. That perception may or may not have been accurate.


Posted by: Dave W. | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 2:06 PM
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110: At a pricetag of fifty million dollars, doesn't that sound like an insane decision to you? Reform principals can't possibly run a school with ordinary teachers?

The school-reformers shibboleth that of course junior teachers are going to be more skilled and desirable than senior teachers also seems bizarre to me, as something to state without examination. It's the only profession in the world you get worse at as you do it more?


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 2:18 PM
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111: Senior teachers may have their own opinions on how to teach.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 2:23 PM
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And managing them is literally impossible. There is nothing whatsoever a principal can do to influence what happens in the classroom other than firing the teacher and identifying a better one. This seems like a very strange set of assumptions.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 2:27 PM
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111.2: The assumption is that teachers get better for the first several years as they accumulate experience, but then over the course if decades they become apathetic and less effective (and less willing to change). I don't know if it's a realistic model, but it's not impossible. Good teaching may require a level of idealism that wears off after a while. For we while, the acquisition of skill outstrips the diminishing idealism, so new teachers get better. But soon skill plateaus or at least begins to increase more slowly, while idealism continues to fall down towards cynicism and apathy.


Posted by: urple | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 2:32 PM
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The trick to aging gracefully is to arrange your life so that cynicism and apathy are useful.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 2:35 PM
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Not every profession is like being a lawyer.


Posted by: fake accent | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 2:35 PM
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If the answer isn't "Get rid of a bunch of teachers", something's wrong with the question for Booker et al.


Posted by: Minivet | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 2:38 PM
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Good teaching may require a level of idealism that wears off after a while.

Seems to be true of nursing.


Posted by: knecht ruprecht | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 2:39 PM
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114: It's not impossible, but it's really weird. The assumption is that burnout makes teachers incompetent in ways that are unquantifiable. If they, e.g., stopped showing up for work, or delivering lessons, or doing anything else amenable to management, then you could fire them for not doing their jobs. But that's not the problem. The problem is that teaching apparently requires some sort of invisible joie de vivre, and when that's gone, a principal can tell, and would replace the worn-out teacher with a fresh young thing if they could, but couldn't possibly make a case that the worn-out teacher isn't functioning any more.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 2:56 PM
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And again, I'm not saying that there are no stagnant middle-aged teachers who are less skilled than some teachers junior to them. But it's a big enough problem that it's worth spending fifty million dollars on it?


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 2:57 PM
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119 et al. -- seems like Ockham's Razor is that it was a political decision to clean house completely in order to implement new management without fear of pockets of resistance in the schools. Not about individualized teacher performance but about minimizing the chances of intra-school political struggle (a determined teacher, especially a popular one, can put up a ton of resistance in any particular school). That's not necessarily a totally illegitimate position (that is, if reform is really necessary, and pockets of resistance (even from, maybe particularly from, competent or semi-competent teachers) are going to make reform impossible, then maybe it's worth it to clean house. In practice of course it's probably just ed-reform bullshit.

nb, I haven't read the article because everything in the New Yorker is too long, but that hasn't stopped me before.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 3:03 PM
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111: The school-reformers shibboleth that of course junior teachers are going to be more skilled and desirable than senior teachers also seems bizarre to me,.

Possibly because no one actually believes that? The reformer argument is usually some version of:

(1) rapid increases in teacher quality can and do happen over the course of the first few years on the job, after which time performance plateaus (statistical rule of thumb, not law of nature)
(2) tenure protections kick in before reasonable assessments of quality can be made (e.g., 2 school years in California)
(3) 1 and 2 interact to lock in bad teachers for life, and force the firing of possibly promising teachers who don't have the seniority protections

It might be a bullshit argument, but it's not "old = bad"


Posted by: Criminally Bulgur | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 3:08 PM
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We've been kind of doing the experiment Eggplant suggests. Mara is in her second year with an excellent teacher, looping so that the same class from last year still together. This means they don't need to spend the first weeeks learning how to line up and get to know each other. Nia was with a teacher who's now been mothballed and kept out of the classroom for her last few months before retirement because none of her students make sufficient progress and haven't for years. Even as an involved and aware parent, it's really hard to guess whether Nia is struggling with some sort of learning disability or is just behind and baffled because she doesn't have the basics down, but it certainly seems that she's made more progress in her first two weeks this year than since Christmas last, and I wouldn't be surprised to see her test scores move accordingly after flat-lining completely. Last year we had bigger things to focus on than academic progress and the teacher was socially and emotionally positive for her, but she is at a disadvantage because of this.


Posted by: Thorn | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 3:08 PM
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122: The weird thing about that argument is the assumption that 'bad' teachers -- ones that really shouldn't be in the classroom -- are (1) not bad in any way that permits them to be fired for cause; (2) not bad in any way that can be remedied through training or mentoring, and are (3) a really large percentage of the workforce. In what other profession would that make any sense?


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 3:14 PM
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124 -- one as political as teaching, I guess. It's really about squashing labor power at the hands of management. I guess it's conceivable that if you buy the line that it's necessary for management to really, really be in control for schools to work (or school reform to work) it makes some sense -- precisely because individual teachers are so powerful--but of course in reality no one should buy that line, and total management control doesn't seem to magically result in good schools.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 3:21 PM
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111.2: and it coincides all too well with standard Silicon Valley mythology about young disruptive innovators versus stodgy broken establishment.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 3:30 PM
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More to 122: I'm, obviously, being dismissive here. But what I'm reacting to is that the argument you describe (and I think you're describing the 'reformer' argument pretty well), is, not impossible, but really very factually aggressive. It's the kind of thing that could be true, but when you compare teaching to other professions, it seems as if it would take a whole lot of factual evidence to make the described argument likely as a source of the significant problems in education.

And I'm really not aware that there is much, if any evidence for it, but it's been sold as a background assumption to the reformers' ideas for so long that an article like the one linked can present "Well, we spent fifty million dollars on paying our workforce to twiddle their thumbs so we could hire a different one without having to demonstrate that the original teachers were incompetent" as a plausibly reasonable thing to do without setting forth any specific defense of what makes it not an obviously insane waste of money.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 3:50 PM
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I thought this was a good essay:

https://educationrealist.wordpress.com/2014/06/04/keeping-teachers-new/

As I've observed before, teachers and cops have a lot in common and wow, check out the research on cop turnover. Like teachers, policing is a state government job that requires intelligence, doesn't have a huge amount of upwards growth, but offers qualified people an interesting challenge or a safe job, depending on their inclinations and abilities. And both occupations turn out to be harder than they appear to the outsider, thus leading to what I assume is a higher than average degree of turnover for a professional occupation. Thus I don't see any sinister cause for teacher churn.

....

A growing conventional wisdom is forming among the elites--the opinion makers, business leaders, political leaders--that teaching should be a short term job, that they aren't worth the government expense. While they probably feel this way about cops, too, current memes dictate respect to the men (and they are, usually, men) who fight--crime, terrorists, fires, and the like. Teachers, on the other hand, are mostly like elites except not as smart--because otherwise, they wouldn't go into teaching--and far more female. Hence the emphasis on their supposedly weak qualifications and determined ignorance of all evidence showing the qualifications aren't weak. To put it in political terms: the center-left is supportive of cops and critical of teachers in a way that's relatively new. The bulk of the people defending teachers and criticizing cops (these days on stop and frisk) are way, way to the left.

...

The problem with teaching is that all "sides" of the debate accept as a given that we are failing to educate our kids, that we could do a much better job. In fact, we aren't failing, and there's no evidence we could be doing much better. But so long as everyone agrees that "schools are failing", teachers will be on the firing line, and "churn" will be seen as either desirable or not based on absurd expectations and beliefs.


Posted by: lemmy caution | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 3:53 PM
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Probably more accurately, we aren't failing to educate the kids we (as a society) want to educate and are mostly educating the kids we only want to have the minimal education necessary to do basic jobs, but reformers think we could manage the second one cheaper, either by reducing the amount of education they get or just abandoning the pretense of equity.


Posted by: MHPH | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 4:06 PM
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I note in general that more and more, jobs are being structured by elites - in education, in health, in retail, much more - to take on young energetic people, and systematically burn them out, with no concern to that making them underemployed for years to come.


Posted by: Minivet | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 5:07 PM
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If you've got $50 million worth of teachers on the sidelines, why don't you use them to shrink the heck out of class sizes? I suspect a lot of those teachers who are "bad" with 30 kids in the room would be a lot better with 20.


Posted by: Spike | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 5:21 PM
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125 is right, obviously, but it's good to see that the teachers have a good union and basic workplace rights so can't just be fired on a whim and, quite rightly, expect compensation for arbitrary firing.


Posted by: Keir | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 5:52 PM
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|| I sure do like the word "depraved" to describe a certain Associate Justice. |>


Posted by: CharleyCarp | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 6:42 PM
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The last time I went (circa a few years ago), they had an exhibit on Arctic peoples (IIRC on the top floor) that I'm pretty sure made references to the Soviet Union as contemporary.

That exhibit is great. I actually took some pictures of it when I visited about three years ago (and sure enough, in one of them you can clearly see the "USSR" label on the background map), because I thought I might blog about some of that stuff at some point and would need some illustrations. After all, how likely was it that I would ever make it to the Arctic myself?


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 09- 8-14 10:47 PM
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134.last is adorable.


Posted by: Thorn | Link to this comment | 09- 9-14 3:42 AM
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The reformer argument is usually some version of:
(1) rapid increases in teacher quality can and do happen over the course of the first few years on the job, after which time performance plateaus

Right; but if that's so, that's insane. children don't benefit from having teachers who are "improving", they benefit from having teachers who are "good". all that is happening here is that new teachers are converging on normal performance, from below. anyone who starts a new job will start out green and improve.


Posted by: Alex | Link to this comment | 09- 9-14 4:03 AM
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