Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

Kenneth Lay speaks the truth

July 5, 2004

At River Oaks Elementary, there is a bench with this dedication:

“Education is the key to opportunity”
in honor of
Linda and Ken Lay’s grandchildren

This is true. Without education, you’ll never get the opportunity to defraud your shareholders of billions of dollars.


A familiar lament

February 20, 2004

From the lead article in the February issue of Atlantic Monthly:

Many of you young people of [today] have not heard of Cassandra, for a little Latin is no longer considered essential to your education. This, assuredly, is not your fault. You are innocent victims of a good many haphazard educational experiments. New ideas in pedagogy have run amuck for the last twenty-five years. They were introduced with much flourish of drums; they looked well on paper; they were forthwith put into practice on the hapless young. It has taken nearly a generation to illustrate their results in flesh and blood. Have they justified themselves to you?

The rising generation cannot spell, because it learned to read by the word-method; it is hampered in the use of dictionaries, because it never learned the alphabet; its English is slipshod and commonplace, because it does not know the sources and resources of its own language. Power over words cannot be had without some knowledge of the classics or much knowledge of the English Bible—but both are now quite out of fashion.

[…] I recall serving upon a committee to award prizes for the best essays in a certain competition where the competitors were [college] seniors […]. In despair at the material submitted, the committee was finally forced to select as ‘best’ the essay having the fewest grammatical errors and the smallest number of misspelled words. The one theme which showed traces of thought was positively illiterate in expression.

Did I forget to mention that this article leads off the February 1911 issue of the Atlantic Monthly? I did? My apologies.

(And a tip o’ the hat to Eddie Thomas.)

“Our children are learning”

February 12, 2004

On my way home from work today, I passed by the Gregory-Lincoln Education Center, my neighborhood’s middle school (and the world’s finest—and perhaps only—example of red-checkerboard Stalinist architecture). Its signboard had this message: “Our children are learning”.

I’m sure they are. That’s what children do, wherever they spend their time. The important question is, “What are they learning?”

Saturday morning at UHD

February 7, 2004

As I stumbled out of bed at 6am, volunteering to be an exhibit judge for the local junior division National History Day didn’t seem like such a good idea.

Ten of us—all quite awake, believe it or not—met at 8:45 in the Judges Room at UH-Downtown to discuss the rules and procedures. The setup was similar to a science fair or a poster presentation. This year’s NHD theme was “Exploration, Encounter, Exchange in History”, and our task was to rate how well the exhibitors—who were students from grades 6 to 8—stuck to the theme, wrote up their research, and designed their exhibit.

We split into two groups, each reviewing half of the exhibits. We asked the exhibitors questions, testing their knowledge of the subject they chose and examining how well their exhibit meshed with the theme. Because these were 11- to 13-year-old kids, our goal was more to encourage them to continue to study history than to critique their exhibit at length and in detail (though some critique went into the written judge’s reports we gave them later). To our relief, the parents of the exhibitors were kept out of sight, taking a lot of pressure off both the kids and us.

After an hour examining the exhibits, we returned to the Judges Room to discuss what we’d seen and rank the top four exhibits out of the six (the top two would be sent to Austin for the state contest; third and fourth place would get certificates). We spent about 45 minutes hashing it out, and ended with a rank order and a set of critiques we could agree on, after which our group leader kindly volunteered to write the reports.

I enjoyed being a judge—it turned out to be worth getting up at 6:00 on a Saturday morning. I would encourage others with an interest in history to participate.

On proper forms of revenge

September 28, 2003

A “Viva Mexico” party held by Duke University’s Sigma Chi fraternity has angered Mexican-Americans at that campus.

Sad to say, the anger of the aggrieved students, as they are now expressing it, will not deter future such parties or even provide catharsis. Protests, denunciations, administrative warnings…these so-called remedies neither punish the offenders nor console the offended. The offense is that the men of Sigma Chi at Duke think that the cultures of other nations are funny. The true redress is to point out that the culture of Sigma Chi can be funny, too.

Why doesn’t one of local Latino student groups re-enact Sigma Chi’s secret rituals in the middle of campus, while distributing flyers explaining each one in exhaustive detail? Or throw a “Rush Sigma Chi” party, complete with every variety of stereotypical fraternity behavior? Or visit a local homeless shelter, give the residents Sigma Chi clothing, and teach them the Sigma Chi handshake? (Readers are invited to suggest better ideas in the comments section.)

Are these responses immature? Perhaps.

Would they do more to stop offensive fraternity parties than crying will? Yes.

And isn’t that the point?

[Link courtesy of Critical Mass.]

Standardized testing and learning

August 27, 2003

A middle school teacher in Nebraska, on mandatory standardized testing:

Politicians (and business people/capitalists) are competitive. They have a challenge, they try harder, and succeed. They see this as the solution to education: raise the bar, tougher standards, more competition. They don’t see the reality, that not everyone is as competitive as they are.

When the going gets tough, the tough get going, but what about those who aren’t tough?

Students are the ones in charge of their education. They decide if they will learn or not. If they see or predict or experience failure, they don’t try.

The last decade or so of assessments have seen slight increases in achievement, but increased dropout rates and lower graduation rates.

Assessment needs to be a tool to help students succeed, not a means to compare schools/districts/states and punish those which do not measure up.


Students and their families are the ones who are/should be accountable for their education, not schools, districts, states.

“Public education system” is a misnomer: Public schools can provide only an opportunity to learn, not a guarantee to educate. If students won’t (or can’t) do, then teachers can’t teach.

To hold schools accountable for what is almost completely beyond their control will not increase learning. As we have seen in Houston, it will instead increase lying.

Telling the truth

August 18, 2003

“People have got into their heads the extraordinary idea that English public schoolboys and English youth generally are taught to tell the truth. They are taught absolutely nothing of the kind. At no English public school is it even suggested, except by accident, that it is a man’s duty to tell the truth. What is suggested is something entirely different: that it is a man’s duty not to tell lies. […] [T]he thing we never teach at all is the general duty of telling the truth, of giving a complete and fair picture of anything we are talking about, of not misrepresenting, not evading, not suppressing, not using plausible arguments that we know to be unfair, not selecting unscrupulously to prove an ex parte case, […] not pretending to be disinterested when you are really angry, not pretending to be angry when you are really only avaricious. The one thing that is never taught by any chance in the atmosphere of public schools is exactly that—that there is a whole truth of things, and that in knowing it and speaking it we are happy.”

— G. K. Chesterton, 1906

Aggie car decorations

May 23, 2003

Seen on a car in Houston today:

[bumpersticker] They can send me to college, but they can’t make me think!

[window decal] Texas A&M Engineering