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Thursday, January 13, 2005


TCL replies to BS members (Part 1).

To James:

I begin in this confessional mode because I notice that all of us fall back on our personal experience in explicating the issue of education in our time—me included, mind you. Our CO and the Cunning Linguist try very hard to escape the gravitational pull of this huge planet, this personal experience, but in the end they, too, crash and burn.

Why? Why does the most serious empiricist among us, TCL, finally fall back on this kind of analysis, this form of first-person narrative? “Back in Illinois,” he says, in wrapping up, bearing witness, speaking the truth.

Having never been called an "empiricist" before, I don't know whether to take that as a compliment, or an insult. I've been called "dangerously liberal", "stubborn", "heretical" and "ignorant", so I'm not overly offended (gotta love that thick skin), but I do think that it's a tad strange that you would think that about me, especially if you're just going by the few posts that I have contributed to this site. Either way, I don't think that it is a very apt description of myself.

Although I do believe that personal experience trumps hearsay and conjecture, I don't base my opinions and beliefs solely on events that have happened in my presence. If that were true, I would be one of those nutjobs who thinks that the moon landing was faked (I've never been to the moon, how can I be sure?!?), or that all New Yorkers are assholes (never been to The Big Apple, but I read about it on the internets, so it must be true!) That type of thinking leads to a very close-minded mentality, and that's one of the things that I try hardest NOT to have. I just find that anecdotes are a good way to cut through all the jargon and technobabble that is sometimes used to smartify (yes, I know that's not a real word) posts.

Like you said, school is something that we all have in common, so sometimes using past experience and anecdotal tales, however pretentious they may be, is a better way to get others to understand and visualize the point that is being made. I used my grade-school experiences back in Illinois as an example of secondary education in order to show that there is more to this issue than simple statistics and raw data collected from various organizations. So, no offense taken, but next time it's a caning! WHACK!! =)

That being said, I strongly agree with this statement:

"Events from the past are significant for us Americans not because they happened in the past, but because we can, and do, and must, continue to argue about their significance in the present."

"Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it."

Perhaps I just took your quote out of context, but the quote above is the first thing that popped into my mind when I read your post. I feel that this applies to many, many issues that are relevant in modern day life. The most notable example being the Bill of Rights. Free Speech, The Right to Bear Arms (or Arm Bears, watch out, Yogi!), etc. The war in Iraq. Ohio 2004 vs. Florida 2000. Even things such as tsunami warning systems. I don't want to get sidetracked into ranting about something off topic, but I just wanted to let you know that your statement rang true (for me, at least).

Of course, I could be missing the point entirely...


Great post, I find your thoughts and ideas intriguing, and would like to subscribe to your newsletter.

"With respect to social matters, the most pressing is the structure of the family. Without painting with too broad a brush, the family structure in the inner city (primarily black families) is in an abysmal state relative to other racial/social groups with nearly 70% of children being born out of wedlock. Until that changes it’s going to be very difficult to effect positive changes in any aspect of life, including education."

That is something I noticed as well, when doing my weekly "stat hunt." Any ideas on how this can be changed? As I mentioned in my post, there is a surprisingly small amount of the budget going to black colleges, but that is a moot point. What good is funding historically black colleges if a large amount of black children aren't even graduating from high school? I'd be quite interested to hear any ideas you may have regarding this topic.

"Whom do we care about more; the good kids being deprived of learning time or bad kids causing the deprivation?"

Good point. One of the reasons that I am glad I left high school after 3 years is because it opened a door for someone who wanted to learn. My slacking off in class was (I realize in hindsight) depriving others of their opportunity to receive a proper education. The teachers weren't just wasting their time trying to teach me, they were wasting the time of other students who wanted that education, who had plans to attend college immediately after high school and who deserved the attention of a teacher much more than I did. As crass as it may sound, I feel that we need to focus more on the children who truly desire to be educated, instead of the ones who use school as a social event to hang out with friends, or go only because they have no choice. If I may make an analogy:

Chinese food is great when you get it from a restaurant that serves nothing but chinese food. But a place that serves both chinese and mexican food is more likely to have food that isn't as great. A restaurant that serves chinese, mexican and indian food will usually be even worse. You sacrifice quality for quantity. It's sort of like that with education. If you try to introduce too many factors into the system (for instance, teaching 35 kids, 10 of which are so bright that they become easily bored, 15 average students who have no problems in class, and 10 not-so-bright students who end up holding back the rest of the class, due to excessive amounts of classtime being spent trying to get them up to speed with everyone else) the overall quality will decline. Would you rather have a smaller group of students who are smart, and a few that aren't so bright, or an entire class of students whose educational level is sub-par?

Something to mull over... or not. *shrug*


"Schools, above all else, should attempt to equip our children with the ability to think critically, with the ability to reason. All else follows."

*golf clap*

Exactly. What good is knowing when the Bill of Rights was written, when you can't even name specific rights, or interpret what they mean? Other examples:

Drug education: Sure, I know that drugs are bad, but WHY?
Sex education: The mantra sexisbadsexisbadsexisbad is oft repeated. But WHY is sex bad?
History: I know of the American Civil War, but other than memorizing dates, battles and names, why not tell me how I am still affected by it today?

Applied knowledge is the key.

"Well, we must shift the focus from high school to elementary school. The basic ability to reason must be done in the first few grades at the latest."

Again, I agree. Sorry, James, here's another personal experience that I need to share:

From third to fifth grade, I was part of a program called AGATE (Aurora Gifted And Talented Education). Once a week, 30 kids from my school got bussed to an elementary school just down the street, and we would spend the day doing puzzles, brain teasers, anagrams, free-thinking exercises and discuss/debate certain subjects. Because of this, I am a sucker for wordplay, debate and self-education. I actually find it fun to spend an hour or two each night browsing through Wikipedia, going to debate sites and playing Devil's Advocate just to get an idea of what other people think, and even (as nerdish as it sounds) reading the dictionary.

I don't think that this program would have had the same effect on me if I had been enrolled 3 or 4 years later. A young mind is pliable, we should try to take advantage of it while we have the chance.

That's all I have for now. Sidial, Derek and Casual, I'll get to you in good time, as well as post up my Week 4 article.

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