Category Archive 'Education'
10 Jul 2018

Alternative Math

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18 Jun 2018

For the Convenience of Today’s College Students

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HT: Vanderleun.

18 Jun 2018

The Arrogance of the Ill-Educated Elite

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Joseph Pearce responds with understandable frustration to the chief problem of our time: the combination of arrogance with lack of real education.

Recently, sitting in traffic, I saw this .. bumper sticker on the car in front of me… which declared the following: “What you call the Liberal Elite, we call being well-educated.” …

Clearly designed to offend other motorists, it is supremely supercilious and extremely arrogant. We, the average Joe, whoever we may be, are not as “well-educated” as the royal “we” driving the car in front of us. This pompous “we,” who is presumably a she, presumes that anyone who disagrees with her is poorly educated, whereas she, of course, is well-educated. If we were as well-educated as she, we would agree with her.

To be fair to her, she is basing her presumption on data that shows that those who are “well-educated” tend to vote for the Democrats whereas those who are less “educated” tend to vote Republican. She votes Democrat because she is well-educated. We, who are presumed to be Republicans (because we are presumed to be stupid), complain that those who are better educated than us (and are therefore better than us) are part of an elite.

The problem is that her education is not as good as she thinks it is. …

If she was educated in our secular system, she will know nothing of philosophy, or, if she does, she will believe that there was no philosophy worth taking seriously before René Descartes. She will know nothing of the philosophy of the Greeks, of Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, and still less of the great Christian philosophers, such as Augustine or Aquinas. Insofar as she’s even heard of these people, she will presume that they did not know what they were talking about: “What the ancient philosophers call error, we call being well-educated.”

If she was educated in our secular system, she will know nothing of history, or, if she does, she will know it only from her own twenty-first century perspective, or from the twenty-first century perspective of those who taught it to her. History is not about learning from the people of the past, their triumphs and their mistakes, but is about sitting in judgment on the stupidity of our ancestors, who are presumed to be unenlightened, or at least not as enlightened as she is or her teachers are. “What the people of the past believed to be immoral, we call being well-educated.”

If she was educated in our secular system, she will know nothing of great literature, or, if she does, she will have misread it from the perspective of her own twenty-first century pride and prejudice, or from the proud and prejudiced twenty-first century perspective of those who taught her. She would not think of trying to read the great authors of the past through their own eyes because, living in the past, such authors lack the sense and sensibility which she has.


The usual argument over free enterprise versus the regulatory administrative state economy erupted over the weekend on my Yale class list. The usual three classmates who’d operated businesses defended freedom against the larger group of lefties who’d spent careers in academia.

The left-wing arguments were, as usual, actually embarrassing expressions of relativism combined with glib attempts to deflect substantive points by simple word-play. Reading the leftists’ efforts at debate, it is impossible to avoid noticing that what they really believe in is the absolute reliability of the consensus opinion of the community of fashion. The common culture of the establishment elite cannot possibly be wrong.

They fail to recognize at all just how dramatically that consensus has changed, even within their own adult lifetimes, because the accepted narrative is everything, History and Reality are nothing.

Their Cliff-Notes-based education has merely trained these people in the skillful manipulation of numbers, symbols, and ideas. Each of them is, of course, competent, even excellent, in some professional specialty, but if the gods of fashionable opinion decreed that college professors should go around barking like dogs, our universities would sound exactly like hunt kennels. They could be persuaded to accept anything, and they view with bitter hatred and disdainful contempt anyone daring to dissent.

22 May 2018

Guilty Meritocrats

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The big think piece of the week is this exercise in class navel-gazing in the Atlantic. Its author, Matthew Stewart, is an obviously Very Smart Guy, who went to Princeton and Oxford and who’s written books on the American Revolution’s foundation in Philosophy and on why Management Consulting is typically a scam.

I’ve joined a new aristocracy now, even if we still call ourselves meritocratic winners. If you are a typical reader of The Atlantic, you may well be a member too. (And if you’re not a member, my hope is that you will find the story of this new class even more interesting—if also more alarming.) To be sure, there is a lot to admire about my new group, which I’ll call—for reasons you’ll soon see—the 9.9 percent. We’ve dropped the old dress codes, put our faith in facts, and are (somewhat) more varied in skin tone and ethnicity. People like me, who have waning memories of life in an earlier ruling caste, are the exception, not the rule.

By any sociological or financial measure, it’s good to be us. It’s even better to be our kids. In our health, family life, friendship networks, and level of education, not to mention money, we are crushing the competition below. But we do have a blind spot, and it is located right in the center of the mirror: We seem to be the last to notice just how rapidly we’ve morphed, or what we’ve morphed into.

The meritocratic class has mastered the old trick of consolidating wealth and passing privilege along at the expense of other people’s children. We are not innocent bystanders to the growing concentration of wealth in our time. We are the principal accomplices in a process that is slowly strangling the economy, destabilizing American politics, and eroding democracy. Our delusions of merit now prevent us from recognizing the nature of the problem that our emergence as a class represents. We tend to think that the victims of our success are just the people excluded from the club. But history shows quite clearly that, in the kind of game we’re playing, everybody loses badly in the end. …

The fact of the matter is that we have silently and collectively opted for inequality, and this is what inequality does. It turns marriage into a luxury good, and a stable family life into a privilege that the moneyed elite can pass along to their children. How do we think that’s going to work out?

This divergence of families by class is just one part of a process that is creating two distinct forms of life in our society. Stop in at your local yoga studio or SoulCycle class, and you’ll notice that the same process is now inscribing itself in our own bodies. In 19th-century England, the rich really were different. They didn’t just have more money; they were taller—a lot taller. According to a study colorfully titled “On English Pygmies and Giants,” 16-year-old boys from the upper classes towered a remarkable 8.6 inches, on average, over their undernourished, lower-class countrymen. We are reproducing the same kind of division via a different set of dimensions.

Obesity, diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease, and liver disease are all two to three times more common in individuals who have a family income of less than $35,000 than in those who have a family income greater than $100,000. Among low-educated, middle-aged whites, the death rate in the United States—alone in the developed world—increased in the first decade and a half of the 21st century. Driving the trend is the rapid growth in what the Princeton economists Anne Case and Angus Deaton call “deaths of despair”—suicides and alcohol- and drug-related deaths.

The sociological data are not remotely ambiguous on any aspect of this growing divide. We 9.9 percenters live in safer neighborhoods, go to better schools, have shorter commutes, receive higher-quality health care, and, when circumstances require, serve time in better prisons. We also have more friends—the kind of friends who will introduce us to new clients or line up great internships for our kids.

These special forms of wealth offer the further advantages that they are both harder to emulate and safer to brag about than high income alone. Our class walks around in the jeans and T‑shirts inherited from our supposedly humble beginnings. We prefer to signal our status by talking about our organically nourished bodies, the awe-inspiring feats of our offspring, and the ecological correctness of our neighborhoods. We have figured out how to launder our money through higher virtues.

Most important of all, we have learned how to pass all of these advantages down to our children. In America today, the single best predictor of whether an individual will get married, stay married, pursue advanced education, live in a good neighborhood, have an extensive social network, and experience good health is the performance of his or her parents on those same metrics.

We’re leaving the 90 percent and their offspring far behind in a cloud of debts and bad life choices that they somehow can’t stop themselves from making. We tend to overlook the fact that parenting is more expensive and motherhood more hazardous in the United States than in any other developed country, that campaigns against family planning and reproductive rights are an assault on the families of the bottom 90 percent, and that law-and-order politics serves to keep even more of them down. We prefer to interpret their relative poverty as vice: Why can’t they get their act together?


Stewart’s mea culpa article is intelligent and well-written, but gravely flawed by many of the characteristic intellectual errors of the meritocratic community of fashion elite.

It’s true that life in America has changed. Economic, regional, and cultural changes enormously increased social and physical mobility over much of the last century, killed local industries, and drained, year after year, ever larger percentages of people with brains and talent and initiative out American small towns and rural counties, sending them off to the big cities and their posh suburbs.

The automobile and the shopping mall killed Main Street, and the big multiplex theaters killed the hometown movie palace. Now Amazon is killing off the malls, and digital streaming off the Internet is killing off the multiplexes.

It is characteristic of members of the intelligentsia like Matthew Stewart to place limitless confidence in the calculative powers of human reason and the wisdom of credentialed experts and to imagine that the iron laws of economics and the choices of the gods of History can simply be set aside by the application of a bit of collectivist statism. That perspective is obviously dead wrong.

Unless you are prepared to go to the same lengths as Pol Pot and march people at gunpoint out of the city and into the countryside again, you are not going to change all this. A hundred years ago, many people were sad that the gods of Economics had decreed that the small family farm had to die and everyone had to move into town and take work at the factory or the mill, but it happened, and that is how economies progress and standards of living rise. But change always comes with some pain as its cost.

The establishmentarian feels guilty and suffers from an obsession with Equality. People like Matthew Stewart naturally believe that they are the cat’s pajamas, the winners in Life’s Olympic Race, and they assume that everybody is crying himself to sleep every night for not being one of them.

They are profoundly wrong in a couple of ways. First of all, it is possible to be a good man and a person of accomplishment and skill in all sorts of ways not measured by the SATs and entirely unconnected to graduation from elite schools or the publication of important books. There are circumstances in life in which you’d be better off having the assistance of a skilled automobile mechanic or a grizzled old hunting guide than that of an Oxford graduate or best-selling historian.

Then, it is also an important fact of life that it is simply impossible for everybody in the world to graduate from a top Ivy League school and grow up to be a doctor, lawyer, investment banker, or management consultant. The world really does have to have more Indians than chiefs. And not everybody thinks the same way. I have some things in common with Mr. Stewart: I went to Yale and I sometimes read The Atlantic. But they’d have to pay me by the hour to live in Brookline or any similar place. And I’m surrounded out here in rural Pennsylvania by people who feel the same way.

My Trump-voting neighbors here in the Central Pennsylvania boondocks are, it’s true, ill-educated, and unfashionable. They are also a lot less affluent than people like Mr. Stewart. They do have some problems, but most of them, at least most of the older ones, are not unhappy. I think younger people out here in the sticks are more decidedly the left-behinds, and are more demoralized by the decay of Religion and the local economy, and the weakening of all the institutions. And it is there, not in the areas Mr. Stewart talks about, that we meritocrats are to blame.

If you go to Princeton or Yale, you can reject bourgeois society, organized Religion, and Kipling’s gods of the copybook headings and (mostly) get away with it. You’re a clever person and probably a strong-willed person, so you can do drugs and get up and go to work anyway. You believe in free love, but somehow in the end, you wind up married anyway. But where we catch a cold, the ordinary people back home get the Plague. Without the old-time Religion and conventional bourgeois morality keeping them on the straight and narrow, for them, everything goes to shit. You get single mothers, jailbird fathers dead at 35 from booze or meth or crashed cars, neglected, badly-raised kids, and ruined lives all over the place.

Our guilt does not lie in erecting barriers to entry at Ivy League schools. Our class’s guilt lies in our snobbery, our boundless self-entitlement, and our abandonment of hometowns, home regions, and obligations of leadership and fellowship, in our home communities, and in the deplorable example we set with our wholesale rejection of tradition and conventional wisdom.

10 Apr 2018

Education in America

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Tony Esolen:

The gorilla in the living room is this: A majority of teachers are pretty ignorant in the subjects they are hired to teach. They write poorly, they do not read good books, they think poorly, and so they end up depending upon on-line lesson plans — which are wretched — or the puked-up politics they are fed in college.

Ask how many high school English teachers are able to read a poem by Milton without trouble, let alone teach that poem. Or rather ask how many college freshmen, having come out of “good” schools with English teachers galore, even recognize the name of John Milton.

Raising salaries won’t attract better teachers, not now, because those better teachers don’t exist. Our college education now is pretty wretched. I am regularly informed by my old students that even in graduate schools, students pursuing a degree in English literature do not know English literature, and often do not even LIKE English literature; they like “theory,” which they do not have the philosophical grounding to evaluate, and politics, which rushes into the vacuum that ignorance leaves.

There’s no reforming it. We have some teachers who really do love English literature — I’m choosing that subject because it’s the one I know best — but they are coming out of “classical” Christian academies, secondary and post-secondary, and they haven’t taken courses in education, they don’t have degrees in education or in English education, so in most states you can’t hire them for public schools. They end up teaching in private schools, most of them for wages that at best barely allow them to support a family.”

10 Mar 2018

This Would Not Happen Today

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Robert Boyers describes how, long ago, his professor, at the cost of some social discomfort, summoned him to his office and did him a very great favor.

In my freshman year at Queens College, I had a strange awakening—strange in that the attendant, overmastering emotion was a combination of humiliation and pleasure. My English professor had called me to his desk and handed me the A+ paper I had written on Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia and suggested that I make an appointment to see him. This was no ordinary suggestion at the City University of New York, where professors never scheduled regular office hours and only rarely invited students to private conferences.

I was uneasy about the meeting, though I imagined that Professor Stone wished simply to congratulate me further, perhaps even to recommend that I join the staff of the college literary magazine, or to enlist my assistance as a tutor. Delusions of grandeur. Modest grandeur.

Professor Stone’s office had been carved out of a warren of rooms in the fourth-floor attic of the English Department building, where I was greeted with a warm handshake and a “delighted you could come.” Though the encounter took place almost 60 years ago, I remember everything about it—the few books scattered on a small wooden table, the neatly combed silver hair on the professor’s head, his amiable, ironic eyes. Most clearly I remember the surprising moment when another professor named Magalaner was called in and stood next to Professor Stone, both men smiling and looming ominously over me. It was then that I was asked to describe—in a few sentences, or more, don’t hesitate—the paper I’d written on Orwell.

Which of course I did, picking up steam after the first few sentences of diffident preamble, until Professor Stone asked me to stop, that’s quite enough, and then turned to his colleague with the words “see what I mean?” and Magalaner assented. The two men only now pulled over two chairs and sat down, close enough that our knees almost touched, and seemed to look me over, as if taking my measure. Both of them were smiling, so that again I speculated that I was to be offered a prize, a summer job, or who knew what else.

“I’ve a feeling,” Professor Stone said, “that you may be the first person in your family to go to college.”

“It’s true,” I replied.

“You write very well,” he offered.

“Very well,” said Magalaner, who had apparently also read my paper.

“But you know,” Stone went on, edging his chair just a bit closer to mine, “I didn’t call you here to congratulate you, but to tell you something you need to hear, and of course I trust that you’ll listen carefully—with Professor Magalaner here to back me up—when I tell you, very plainly, that though you are a bright and gifted young fellow, your speech, I mean the sounds you make when you speak, are such that no one will ever take you seriously. I repeat, no one will ever take you seriously, if you don’t at once do something about this. Do you understand me?”

I’ve told this story over the years, starting on that very first night with my teenage sister, explaining what I understood: namely, that a man I admired, who had reason to admire me, thought that when I opened my mouth I sounded like someone by no means admirable. It was easy to accept that no one close to me would have mentioned this before, given that, presumably, we all shared this grave disability, and failed to think it a disability at all. Professor Stone didn’t sound like anyone in our family, we may have thought, simply because, after all, he was an educated man and was not supposed to sound or think like us.

In any event, my teacher moved at once to extract from me a promise that I would enroll in remedial speech courses for as long as I was in college, and not “so much as consider giving them up, not even if you find them tedious.” The proposal left me feeling oddly consoled, if also somewhat ashamed. Consoled by the thought that there might be a cure for my coarse Brooklynese, as my teacher referred to it, and that the prescription was indisputably necessary. Unsure whether to thank my interlocutors or just stand up and slink ignominiously away, I agreed to enroll immediately in one of those speech courses, ending the meeting with an awkward, “Is that all?”

A former student, hearing my story a few years ago at our dinner table, after telling her own tale of a recent humiliation, asked, “Who the fuck did that guy think he was?” and added that he was “lucky you didn’t just kick his teeth out.” She was concerned, clearly, that even after so many years, my sense of self might still be at risk, the injury still alive within me. And yet, though I’ve often played out the whole encounter in my head, I had decided within hours of my escape that I had been offered a gift. An insult as well, to be sure, but delivered not with an intention to hurt but to save and uplift. It would have been easy to be offended by the attempt to impress upon someone so young the idea that he would undoubtedly want to become the sort of person whose class origins would henceforth be undetectable. But I had not been programmed to be offended, and was, in my innocent way, ambitious to be taken seriously, and though I rapidly came to loathe the speech exercises to which I was soon subjected, I thought it my duty and my privilege to be subjected to them. Night after night, standing before the mirror in my parents’ bathroom, I shaped the sounds I was taught to shape, and I imagined that one day Professor Stone would beam with satisfaction at the impeccably beautiful grace notes I would produce.


I arrived at Yale in 1966 from a working class background in an Appalachian coal town. I had probably already shed my indigenous regional accent, but I was still undoubtedly horribly unpolished and decidedly non-U in all sorts of social-mobility-limiting ways. Yale professors, to my knowledge at least, never stooped to help out in manner of Professor Stone, but at Yale we had lots of judgmental and intolerant peers, from the poshest families, straight out of the nation’s top prep schools.

If you showed up wearing an unsuitable jacket, were badly groomed, or otherwise failed to meet proper Yale standards, it did not take long for you to hear about it. Our upperclass lords and masters in student organizations were not in the least inhibited in colorfully denouncing all freshmen failures and deficiencies. If you wanted to go anywhere, or do anything, you got with the program.

Today, of course, all that has changed. Coats and ties have gone the way of Nineveh and Tyre. Yale has been coed fifty years. Today’s students are typically left-wing snowflakes, thoroughly indoctrinated in intersectionality and the politics of identity. The process of removing Cockney-Flower-Girl mobility-limiting speech habits, poor grooming, and inappropriate forms of dress must still go on, but the process of sanding down rough edges must take place highly diplomatically and with great care. The former devastating quip has, I expect, been replaced with a minutely raised eyebrow. In the case of the most protected castes of students, I suppose, that process may not go on at all.

24 Feb 2018

Teachers Were Armed in My Day


They had rulers.

24 Feb 2018

Harvard Gets a New President

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Minding the Campus explains that Harvard is following the example of most elite colleges these days by putting in charge the sort of guy who will reliably cave in to the demands of crazy leftist radicals every time.

Lawrence Bacow has been named the president of Harvard, succeeding Drew Gilpin Faust, who held the office for 11 years.

Mysteriously missing from the news coverage was the fact that Bacow was a 2007 finalist for the “Sheldon,” our coveted award for worst college president of the year. The award is a statuette that looks something like the Oscar, except the Oscar features a man with no face looking straight ahead, whereas the Sheldon shows a man with no spine looking the other way.

The award is named for the late Sheldon Hackney, the former president of the University of Pennsylvania and the Babe Ruth of modern Sheldonism.

As president of Tufts University, Lawrence Bacow looked the other way when a student-faculty committee put a conservative Tufts publication on trial and found it guilty for publishing two parodies. One was a mock Christmas carol making fun of affirmative action and the other was a satire of Tuft’s Islamic Awareness Week.

The committee accused the journal of causing “embarrassment, which we had thought was the entire purpose of satire. The committee ordered the publication not to run any unsigned articles in the future, a rule not applied to other campus publications. The committee also hinted that funding would be cut if other controversial articles were published.

FIRE wrote Tufts University President Lawrence Bacow to ask why a verdict declaring The Primary Source (TPS) guilty of “harassment” and “creating a hostile environment” still stands―despite the fact that Bacow himself has openly admitted that such a punishment could not stand under the First Amendment.

“We explained to President Bacow (again) that the only way for Tufts University to shed the dishonor of being one of three schools named to FIRE’s Red Alert list―reserved for schools FIRE deems ‘the worst of the worst’ when it comes to protecting rights on campus―was by immediately dropping the guilty finding against TPS. As we wrote:

“As long as the harassment finding against The Primary Source remains, students at Tufts are in danger of being censored and sanctioned merely for expressing unpopular opinions on campus.”

Eventually, Bacow acknowledged freedom of speech by eliminating punishment for the student journalists and praised free expression but refused to overrule the guilty verdict, leading the Sheldon committee to conclude that Bacow’s commitment to free speech ‘’shuttles between tepid and imaginary.”.

A mutual friend invited Bacow and me to lunch, where Bacow once again reiterated his innocent but guilty position, a stance opposed by the ACLU of Massachusetts, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) and several newspapers. It was, however, the only time a Sheldon candidate argued his case before the whole Sheldon committee (me).

Bacow lost the worst-president title that year to a superlative effort by Richard Brodhead, president of Duke.


Bacow resembles Yale’s own Peter Salovey very closely. He did not attend Harvard College as an undergraduate, but does possess the tenuous connection of a Harvard graduate degree (in his case from the Law School). Salovey’s Social Science (Psychology) background is bad enough, but Bacow spent decades specializing in “Environmental Studies,” i.e. trendy superstition based on an updated version of the Manichaean heresy.

11 Feb 2018

The Problem With American Education in a Nutshell

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It’s a foolish society that chooses for its teachers and storytellers people who hate that society.

All too often our children are being taught by people who have no experience of our society and no success within it. Their indoctrination at collectivist “education” schools has made them openly (and ignorantly) hostile to America.

What if one of the requirements to teach K-12 was that you be at _least_ 50 years old, with proven success in the society (in business, a trade, parenthood)? You needn’t have made a million or be a top-level executive–so long as you have functioned effectively within American society.

Ned Young

30 Jan 2018

American Education Is For the Mediocre

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Christopher Michael Langin explains why conventional American education short changes the genuinely smart.

Owing to the shape of a bell curve, the education system is geared to the mean. Unfortunately, that kind of education is virtually calculated to bore and alienate gifted minds. But instead of making exceptions where it would do the most good, the educational bureaucracy often prefers not to be bothered.

In my case, for example, much of the schooling to which I was subjected was probably worse than nothing. It consisted not of real education, but of repetition and oppressive socialization (entirely superfluous given the dose of oppression I was getting away from school). Had I been left alone, preferably with access to a good library and a minimal amount of high-quality instruction, I would at least have been free to learn without useless distractions and gratuitous indoctrination. But alas, no such luck.

While my own background is rather exceptional, it is far from unique. Many young people are affected by one or more of the same general problems experienced by my brothers and me. A rising number of families have severe financial problems, forcing educational concerns to take a back seat to food, shelter, and clothing on the list of priorities. Even in well-off families, children can be starved of parental guidance due to stress, distraction, or irresponsibility. If a mind is truly a terrible thing to waste, then the waste is proportional to mental potential; one might therefore expect that the education system would be quick to help extremely bright youngsters who have it rough at home. But if so, one would be wrong a good part of the time.

Let’s try to break the problem down a bit. The education system is subject to a psychometric paradox: on one hand, it relies by necessity on the standardized testing of intellectual achievement and potential, including general intelligence or IQ, while on the other hand, it is committed to a warm and fuzzy but scientifically counterfactual form of egalitarianism which attributes all intellectual differences to environmental factors rather than biology, implying that the so-called “gifted” are just pampered brats who, unless their parents can afford private schooling, should atone for their undeserved good fortune by staying behind and enriching the classroom environments of less privileged students.

HT: Vox Day.

07 Aug 2017

Six Baltimore Schools Report 0 Students Proficient in Math, Reading

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Education Dive has another of those horror stories about the complete failure of public education in democrat-run big cities.

Six Baltimore City schools — five high schools and one middle school — were found to have not a single student who scored proficient in math or reading in 2016, Fox45 News reports.

One student interviewed by the station said he believes students aren’t passing the state assessments because the material on the tests is not covered in class.

Data shows that despite maintaining one of the country’s highest per-pupil spending levels, a recent study out of Harvard University found Baltimore to have the lowest rate of mobility out of poverty in the country, a statistic tied directly to education as much as it is economic opportunity.

The news in Baltimore again underscores the debate over the impact of funding on school quality. Some say the education level of adults and parents in the district is the greatest determinant of student achievement, while other research has found a direct correlation between school funding and student graduation rates. And with Baltimore City Public Schools out-spending both Howard and Montgomery Counties in the state — both perennial exemplars in student achievement — questions loom over exactly where the money is going in Baltimore.


21 Jul 2017

First California Community College, Then Yale

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NPR interviews the head of California’s community college system, who is arguing in favor of eliminating Algebra as a course requirement. The reason? Algebra is too hard for minorities.

Algebra is one of the biggest hurdles to getting a high school or college degree — particularly for students of color and first-generation undergrads.

It is also the single most failed course in community colleges across the country. So if you’re not a STEM major (science, technology, engineering, math), why even study algebra?

That’s the argument Eloy Ortiz Oakley, chancellor of the California community college system, made today in an interview with NPR’s Robert Siegel.

At American community colleges, 60 percent of those enrolled are required to take at least one math course. Most — nearly 80 percent — never complete that requirement.

Oakley is among a growing number of educators who view intermediate algebra as an obstacle to students obtaining their credentials — particularly in fields that require no higher level math skills.

Their thinking has led to initiatives like Community College Pathways, which strays away from abstract algebra to engage students in real-world math applications. …

What are you proposing?

What we’re proposing is to take an honest look at what our requirements are and why we even have them. So, for example, we have a number of courses of study and majors that do not require algebra. We want to take a look at other math pathways, look at the research that’s been done across the country and consider math pathways that are actually relevant to the coursework that the student is pursuing.

You are facing pressure to increase graduation rates — only 48 percent graduate from California community colleges with an associate’s degree or transfer to a four-year institution within six years. As we’ve said, passing college algebra is a major barrier to graduation. But is this the easy way out? Just strike the algebra requirement to increase graduation rates instead of teaching math more effectively?

I hear that a lot and unfortunately nothing could be farther from the truth. Somewhere along the lines, since the 1950s, we decided that the only measure of a student’s ability to reason or to do some sort of quantitative measure is algebra. What we’re saying is we want as rigorous a course as possible to determine a student’s ability to succeed, but it should be relevant to their course of study. There are other math courses that we could introduce that tell us a lot more about our students.

Do you buy the argument that there are just some forms of reasoning — whether it’s graphing functions or solving quadratic equations that involve a mental discipline — that may never be actually used literally on the job, but may improve the way young people think?

There’s an argument to be made that much of what we ask students to learn prepares them to be just better human beings, allows them to have reasoning skills. But again, the question becomes: What data do we have that suggests algebra is that course? Are there other ways that we can introduce reasoning skills that more directly relate to what a student’s experience in life is and really helps them in their program of study or career of choice?

A lot of students in California community colleges are hoping to prepare for a four-year college. What are you hearing from the four-year institutions? Are they at ease with you dropping the requirement? Or would they then make the students take the same algebra course they’re not taking at community college?

This question is being raised at all levels of higher education — the university level as well as the community college level. There’s a great body of research that’s informing this discussion, much of it coming from some of our top universities, like the Dana Center at the University of Texas, or the Carnegie Foundation. So there’s a lot of research behind this and I think more and more of our public and private university partners are delving into this question of what is the right level of math depending on which major a student is pursuing.

And there are people writing about concepts of numeracy that may be different from what people have been teaching all this time. Do you have in mind a curriculum that would be more useful than intermediate algebra

We are piloting different math pathways within our community colleges. We’re working with our university partners at CSU and the UC, trying to ensure that we can align these courses to best prepare our students to succeed in majors. And if you think about it, you think about the use of statistics not only for a social science major but for every U.S. citizen. This is a skill that we should have all of our students have with them because this affects them in their daily life. …

Rates of failure in algebra are higher for minority groups than they are for white students. Why do you think that is? Do you think a different curriculum would have less disparate results by ethnic or racial group?

First of all, we’ve seen in the data from many of the pilots across the country that are using alternative math pathways — that are just as rigorous as an algebra course — we’ve seen much greater success for students because many of these students can relate to these different kinds of math depending on which program of study they’re in. They can see how it works in their daily life and how it’s going to work in their career.

The second thing I’d say is yes, this is a civil rights issue, but this is also something that plagues all Americans — particularly low-income Americans. If you think about all the underemployed or unemployed Americans in this country who cannot connect to a job in this economy — which is unforgiving of those students who don’t have a credential — the biggest barrier for them is this algebra requirement. It’s what has kept them from achieving a credential.


From the perspective of the Left, colleges are there to supply credentials which are tickets to comfortable, well-paying positions in Society. Results must be equal, so if some groups are having trouble earning those credentials, it is necessary to grease the skids. The goal is not education; the goal is credentials.

01 Apr 2017

Today’s Students Not Part of Our Common Culture

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Patrick Deneen has more bad news from the Academe.

My students are know-nothings. They are exceedingly nice, pleasant, trustworthy, mostly honest, well-intentioned, and utterly decent. But their brains are largely empty, devoid of any substantial knowledge that might be the fruits of an education in an inheritance and a gift of a previous generation. They are the culmination of western civilization, a civilization that has forgotten nearly everything about itself, and as a result, has achieved near-perfect indifference to its own culture.

It’s difficult to gain admissions to the schools where I’ve taught – Princeton, Georgetown, and now Notre Dame. Students at these institutions have done what has been demanded of them: they are superb test-takers, they know exactly what is needed to get an A in every class (meaning that they rarely allow themselves to become passionate and invested in any one subject); they build superb resumes. They are respectful and cordial to their elders, though easy-going if crude with their peers. They respect diversity (without having the slightest clue what diversity is) and they are experts in the arts of non-judgmentalism (at least publically). They are the cream of their generation, the masters of the universe, a generation-in-waiting to run America and the world.

But ask them some basic questions about the civilization they will be inheriting, and be prepared for averted eyes and somewhat panicked looks. Who fought in the Peloponnesian War? Who taught Plato, and whom did Plato teach? How did Socrates die? Raise your hand if you have read both the Iliad and the Odyssey. The Canterbury Tales? Paradise Lost? The Inferno?

Who was Saul of Tarsus? What were the 95 theses, who wrote them, and what was their effect? Why does the Magna Carta matter? How and where did Thomas Becket die? Who was Guy Fawkes, and why is there a day named after him? What did Lincoln say in his Second Inaugural? His first Inaugural? How about his third Inaugural? What are the Federalist Papers?

Some students, due most often to serendipitous class choices or a quirky old-fashioned teacher, might know a few of these answers. But most students have not been educated to know them. At best, they possess accidental knowledge, but otherwise are masters of systematic ignorance. It is not their “fault” for pervasive ignorance of western and American history, civilization, politics, art and literature. They have learned exactly what we have asked of them – to be like mayflies, alive by happenstance in a fleeting present.

Our students’ ignorance is not a failing of the educational system – it is its crowning achievement. Efforts by several generations of philosophers and reformers and public policy experts — whom our students (and most of us) know nothing about — have combined to produce a generation of know-nothings. The pervasive ignorance of our students is not a mere accident or unfortunate but correctible outcome, if only we hire better teachers or tweak the reading lists in high school. It is the consequence of a civilizational commitment to civilizational suicide.

Another must-read.

31 Mar 2017

Universities “Full of Passionate Intensity”

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Flagg Taylor, taking the riots at Middlebury over a proposed talk by Charles Murray as an example, discusses how training in activism and applause for passion and commitment have replaced the quest for truth and the cultivation of the mind as goals for the modern (post-Gramscian Long March) university.

Training in politically correct opinions is designed self-consciously to churn out activists or silence dissenters. One must display one’s passionate commitment to these correct opinions; subjects like race and inequality are not really up for discussion, notwithstanding the omnipresent talk of “dialogue” and ceaseless self-congratulatory paeans to diversity.

But the praise of passion and engagement has another less noticeable but pernicious consequence. The loud, confident voices are applauded, but the quiet students are presumed not to be “engaged.” At best they are called apathetic, at worst they are “part of the problem.” Thus what institutions of higher learning have done with this fetishization of passion is to destroy the space for intellectual modesty. Some students might think, very naturally, “I really don’t know enough about that topic to have a strong opinion.” But the general atmosphere tells them to get committed, get passionate; there is no time to waste! For those who, perhaps instinctually, turn away from the politically correct opinions to which they are supposed to give their passionate embrace, what is left is most often a cynical distance from anything that smells of politics. So the destruction of the space of intellectual modesty leaves a desiccated field strewn with impassioned fanatics, knowing cynics, and careerists willing so say whatever provides the path of least resistance.

Read the whole thing.

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