Michael Bloomberg exacerbates income inequality with donation to Hopkins for financial aid

“Michael Bloomberg: Why I’m Giving $1.8 Billion for College Financial Aid” (nytimes):

Let’s eliminate money problems from the admissions equation for qualified students.

America is at its best when we reward people based on the quality of their work, not the size of their pocketbook. Denying students entry to a college based on their ability to pay undermines equal opportunity. It perpetuates intergenerational poverty. And it strikes at the heart of the American dream: the idea that every person, from every community, has the chance to rise based on merit.

… I am donating an additional $1.8 billion to Hopkins that will be used for financial aid for qualified low- and middle-income students.

Here’s a simple idea I bet most Americans agree with: No qualified high school student should ever be barred entrance to a college based on his or her family’s bank account. Yet it happens all the time.

Let’s ignore the obvious solution for the Hopkins administrators: raise headline tuition prices by $1.8 billion over the next 10 years, charge families exactly what they were being charged before, but say that “financial aid” has been increased by $1.8 billion. (See “Credit Supply and the Rise in College Tuition: Evidence from the Expansion in Federal Student Aid Programs”, a 2015 paper from the New York Fed; 60 percent of subsidized student loans were captured by increased tuition rates and provided no relief to the purported beneficiaries.)

Suppose that the Bloomberg program works as advertised and therefore that lower income families will actually pay $1.8 billion less over the forthcoming years.

Won’t this exacerbate the inequality that Bloomberg himself was decrying as recently as May 2018 (see “Inaction on inequality could lead to uprising”)? People born fortunate (high academic potential in an economy that rewards cognitive skills) will now go to college for free instead of taking out loans and paying them back from their high earnings. So they will pull yet farther ahead of Americans with low academic ability.

Instead of the rich-in-genetics person with an IQ of 140 paying back student loans that enabled attendance at an elite university, the rich-in-genetics person will now get to use a full 50-60 percent of income (assume 40-50 percent total tax rate in California, New York, and other typical destinations for elite Americans) on consumption and retirement savings. The smart Hopkins grad who came from a lower-income family will essentially get a gift from Michael Bloomberg of luxury clothing and automobiles that will make median-IQ, median-income Americans sick with envy.

In “Protests against Charles Murray inadvertently prove the points he made in The Bell Curve?” I asked “If you like to fret about inequality, the sidelining of less-than-brilliant workers in favor of robots, etc., why wouldn’t you love Charles Murray?”

See also “The Bell Curve revisited,” my 2004 post on the book. Excerpts:

The Bell Curve starts out by talking about how we live in an era where people get sorted by cognitive ability into socioeconomic classes. In 14th century England if you were a peasant with a high IQ or a noble with a low IQ it didn’t affect your life, reproductive potential, or income very much. In our more meritocratic and vastly more sophisticated economy a smart kid from a lower middle class might make it to the top of a big company (cf. Jack Welch, who paid himself $680 million as CEO of GE) or at least into a $300,000/year job as a radiologist. For the authors of the Bell Curve the increasing disparity in income in the U.S. is primarly due to the fact that employees with high IQs are worth a lot more than employees with low IQs. They note that we have an incredibly complex legal system and criminal justice system. So you’d expect people with poor cognitive ability to fail to figure out what is a crime, which crimes are actually likely to be punished, etc., and end up in jail. (A Google search brought up a report on juvenile justice in North Carolina; the average offender had an IQ of 79.) If they stay out of jail through dumb (literally) luck, there is no way that they are ever going to be able to start a small business; the legal and administrative hoops through which one must jump in order to employ even one other person are impenetrable obstacles to those with below-average intelligence.

… For us oldsters, one unexpected piece of cheerful news from this book is that younger Americans are getting genetically dumber every year. Even if you ignore the racial and immigrant angles of the book that created so much controversy back in 1994 it is hard to argue with the authors’ assertion that smart women tend to choose higher education and careers rather than cranking out lots of babies. …  Our population is predicted to reach 450 million or so [by 2050], i.e., the same as India had back when we were kids and our mothers told us about this starving and overpopulated country. An individual person’s labor in India has negligible economic value … It would seem that no enterprise would need an old guy’s skills in a country of 450 million; why bother when there are so many energetic young people around? And how would we be able to afford a house or apartment if there are 450 million smart young people out there earning big bucks and putting pressure on real estate prices? But if the book is right most of those young people will be dumb as bricks.

Whenever anyone talks about “financial aid,” I love to respond with “United Airlines gives more than 95 percent of customers financial aid since the official maximum ticket price is much higher than the typical price paid. Economists call charging each customer according to his or her ability to pay price discrimination, but it sounds better if you say ‘we’re giving these poor souls financial aid.'” (Note that price discrimination is possible
only in markets dominated by monopolies or oligopolies. McDonald’s can’t do this because Burger King is right across the street.)

Readers: Is it logically inconsistent for Michael Bloomberg to say that he wants to reduce income inequality and then give $1.8 billion to reduce college expenses for those Americans who are best set up to earn high incomes after graduation?

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Best programming language for a tweenager to learn (Java vs. JavaScript vs. Python)

A Facebook Messenger exchange that might be useful to others … (edited out some of the shocking language!)

Parent 1: D [14 years old] is in Robotics and has to learn Java. Did they mean Java or Javascript? S [11 years old] wants to learn a language. Should it be Java or Python or Swift or something else?

Me: JavaScript and Node.js; Then he can do front end and server side.

Parent 1: [Professional programmer friend] said robots are not programmed in JavaScript.

Me: That will change.

Parent 2: Ok so no Java please. It is a formally much better language. But the simplest programs take pages and pages of code before one can do anything. The APIs are verbose beyond belief. I hate it. It is a language of an Enterprise software architect who doesn’t really code but costs $250,000 a year. Javascript ist truly a piece of s***. Inconsistent and dirty but the kids do not care – they can learn that quickly. There are a lot of good libraries for JS now. So I would agree with Philip that JS is a better choice. Python is probably close second, but no frontend then.

Parent 1: You said JS was s*** but then you said learn it?

Parent 2: I think Java will put him to sleep. And he needs to be able to tinker and experiment fast. You have to consider his age. My kids completed three programming courses in JS in Khan academy this summer. He should be spending as little time as possible on learning syntax. And as much time as possible on f-ing around with his code to learn design patterns so to speak. Like loops, how to find the largest/smallest number in an array using a loop. Without digging in documentation or using Max/min functions to set bounds on a variable that he is changing. JavaScript has an advantage that is has C-like syntax which is similar to that of Java. If he God forbid wants to learn it later.

Parent 1: So JS is s***and Java is worse?

Parent 2: Our general advice here is to learn one high level scripting language (Python or Perl, but everyone hates Perl now and one low level language like C++ or Java. But I just don’t think a teenager has patience to learn Java. I don’t think anyone who respects himself or herself as a programmer should build a career around JavaScript. But everyone has to know it.

Parent 1: Ok. Sounds like S should do python and D should do whatever his teacher says.

Parent 2: Consider courses available. The content and engagement in the course trumps language.

Parent 1: D has already started Java.

Parent 2: Ok, then Godspeed. Look up a hello world application in java. So, teacher what is a class. What does public mean. What is static void. This is seven chapters of a textbook just to say hello world. Including a f-ing array of strings as an argument. And a dot notation. What is System. What is out?

Parent 2: Teachers who start teaching anyone under 18 in Java are either idiots or are teaching a group of ultra-motivated MIT students Also try setting up an IDE and compiling this baby of a program. You will pull your hair out. Once it outputs hello world to console, your normal child will rightfully look at you in disbelief and think “who the f*** wants to do this every day”? Don’t get me wrong. My crawlers are written in Java. But it would be like watching a pornstar do an hour-long **** video, then trying it with your college girlfriend for the first time and wondering why it didn’t go the same way.

Parent 2: (Actually our crawlers are written in Kotlin, which is a script-like language built on top of java (compatible in both directions). The Russians developed it to make Java more bearable and increase the speed of development.)

me: Haskell if he wants to learn about computation, but JavaScript is the real world power due to libraries and APIs.

Parent 2: Perl IS still #1 in terms of libraries. Python and JS are catching up. Kotlin is like Python with Java power (which also has libraries for almost everything). Plus everyone has to know JavaScript. Python is cleaner and more logical, for sure. Their philosophy is anthetical to Perl: there should be only one way to do it. So they spend time fighting which function to keep. This is good for large socialist enterprises where everyone is a cog in the machine. So that mediocre programmers don’t get confused. I started teaching my kids Python and quickly ran out of energy. I then moved to Khan Academy and their JS based courses, which are about programming, and not JS per se. That was quite successful, but the difficulty accelerated very quickly and I needed to be behind them to give hints and challenge them at key junctions.

Parent 1: [another programmer friend] says Java is the new COBOL.\

Parent 2: Most computer nerds are wrong when it comes to how to teach programming. It has to be now taught just like mathematics: slowly, painfully, step by step to build foundations. Can’t get to cool or useful s*** quickly without several years of work.

Parent 2: in order to make a clone of Tinder you’d need to know: 1. app development for iOS. 2. HTTP server programming, 3. databases, 4. image storage and processing, 5. file I/O, 6. APIs. That’s at least two programming languages. SQL and a bunch of other s***.

Parent 2: One has to keep doing it. My buddy put his 2nd grader in front of Khan Academy and she went all the way to the end of the Javascript track. I asked him to test her after 6 months – she forgot nearly everything. She obviously retained concepts, but that was about it. That’s not surprising because adults are exactly the same way.

Parent 1: The thing is – they remember that they could do it. So it helps them later. I haven’t forgotten C programming because i did it for so many years. But I have forgotten iOS programming.

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Should high school students design and build bicycles?

Factory schools teach science, math, and computers to students with the justification that “this stuff will help you, somehow, someday, maybe by getting you into the right college.”  Some students are happy with this amount of motivation and some students love these subjects for their very purity, their disconnection from the concrete world.  These are the students that we see at MIT and Harvard so in theory this approach is successful.

As evidenced by terrible average scores on standardized tests covering very basic material, the average high school student is not learning science, math, or computer programming to any perceptible degree.  And realistically why would we expect a kid to be motivated to learn these things?  They read newspaper articles about CEOs giving themselves $50 million/year salaries but flunking exams in basic accounting at their Stanford Business School refresher course.  They watch television broadcasts of politicians’ speeches and there is never any reference to principles or ideas taught in their science, math, or computer programming classes.

The combination of a high degree of an abstraction and the apparent ability of people to reach the highest echelons of society in perfect ignorance of these subjects makes it tough for a lot of kids to hit the books.

Why not make it all concrete?  Suppose that starting in 8th grade the kids were told “Each of you is going to design and build your own bicycle over the next 4 years.  To help you do a better job, you’re going to learn some math, some physics, and how to use computers to simulate and model.”

At least 50 percent of what is taught in high school math and science can be motivated by the engineering challenge of making a bike that functions properly and weighs less than 100 kg.  In particular one can dream that this project-based approach would rescue computer instruction from its current abyss.  Instead of teaching the kids how to use Microsoft Office and write lame little graphics programs in VB or Java, we’d show them how computers can become analytical tools.

For the hands-on oriented kids we can let them machine their own parts and maybe do some welding, thus combining math and shop in one period!  To keep the klutzes from killing themselves, though, you’d probably want a design option that included only pre-cut tubes bolted together (you could never make a commercially viable bike this way; it would be too heavy and expensive to manufacture but it would be fine to ride around flat areas and for teaching).

The actual change in the curriculum would be minimal.  It is more a question of spirit and always having a concrete answer if a kid asks “Why do I need to know this?”

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Something new from Edward Tufte

If you visit http://www.edwardtufte.com/ you’ll see a new publication from the great man:  “The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint”.  This is first notable for its format:  a 24-page essay on full-size paper with very high quality color printing.  This is not traditionally a commercially viable format.  Normally one must write short enough for a magazine or long enough for a 200-page book in order to get into the mainstream distribution systems.  High-quality printing is, of course, generally not on the menu except at some university presses.

The most topical item in the essay regards the PowerPoint slides used to guide thinking about the Columbia‘s wing while the shuttle was still up in space.  (A sad echo of the poor presentation materials used to decide whether or not to launch Challenger, a theme discussed in Tufte’s earlier book Visual Explanations: Images and Quantities, Evidence and Narrative.)

Remember how horrified you were at your first slide-based presentation?  The disaffected civil servants who stood up in front of you in public school at least tried to get you to pay attention to them, rather than darkening the room and insisting that you focus on one disembodied sentence at a time.  By now most of us are used to PowerPoint, however, and we need something like the Tufte essay to bring back the outrage.

Slides are useful when you need to show everyone in a room a graph, a photo, or some other item for discussion.  Somewhere in the 1960s and 1970s things went horribly wrong, however, as bullet points began to make their way onto the slides.

A modest step back from the PowerPoint culture is to limit one’s PowerPoint slides to charts and photos.  If you can’t resist some text, limit yourself to an opening outline slide dense with structure and a closing summary to remind everyone of what they heard.

Why not step back more dramatically, though, to an age before the computer and the overhead projector?  Color printing has never been cheaper and society has never been richer.  Why not print up materials in advance of the talk and hand them out?  If you need to refer to a chart or photo during your talk, ask people to “turn to page 3 of the handout”.  You can leave the room lights on, people will focus their attention on you, the discussion and flow need not be constrained by the tyranny of the bullet points.  The one disadvantage of the handout approach is that you can’t use a laser pointer.

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Our hometown makes the NY Times!

Cambridge, MA has made it into this NYT article.  The public school system here has been in the news from time to time in recent years.  In the mid-1990s it was the most expensive school system in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and it provided a fairly good education to the smart hard-working kids via an honors program and a fairly bad education to everyone else.  In the late 1990s the honors program was eliminated in the interests of fairness.  The rich parents responded by sending their kids to private schools; non-rich parents who cared about education moved to suburbs.  Here we are in 2003 and the city apparently is spending $17,000 per year for each remaining student (still the most expensive in Massachusetts) to achieve some of the lowest test scores of any district in the state.

The $17,000 number combined with the poor results invites some brainstorming.  The world’s best-performing secondary schools tend to be in Asia.  Korean students do especially well on international tests.  This U.S. military guide says that Korean private schools range in price from $2,000 to $13,700 per year.  So the taxpayers of Cambridge could afford to charter Boeing 747s to fly kids to and from Korea every month, enroll them at the most expensive boarding schools in that nation, and still end up spending less than we’re spending now.

Suppose that we want to keep our kids close to home, though.  For $17,000 they are getting a 1/25th share of a disaffected civil servant’s time (the teacher) plus some fraction of the time of the school administration.  If we spent a bit of money on personal video conferencing setups for each kid, we could spend the rest hiring PhDs in low-wage English-speaking countries to teaching our city’s children one-on-one.  Actually the way the U.S. economy has been going we might be able to find home-grown humanities PhDs to do the tutoring face-to-face for $17k/year (that’s about what they are getting now at Starbucks).

Friday Update

Just when you think you had an original idea… this more recent NYT article covers the “send a kid to a boarding school in a foreign country” idea.

Separately, it occurred to me that most people have kids in groups.  If you had four kids, for example, the City of Cambridge would be spending $68,000 per year to educate them in a factory school.  If you could get your hands on the $68,000, though, you could bring in Harvard grad students and PhDs to tutor your children at home.  It is ironic that factory schools were started on the premise that, though they could never be as effective as the private tutoring that rich children enjoyed, at least they would be cheap and universal.  Car factories certainly have lived up to their initial promise.  A car from Hyundai is much cheaper than a hand-built car from a workshop.  But the factory schools have actually become more expensive than the process that produced Thomas Jefferson, Bertrand Russell, and a lot of the successful people we’ve heard about.  [The youngest professor at MIT, Erik Demaine, was home-schooled.]

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Give Fs to your best customers?

Here’s a portion of the “to the instructor” blurb of Internet Application Workbook:

The daily cost of attending a top university these days is about the same as the daily rate to stay at the Four Seasons hotel in Boston, living on room-service lobster and Champagne. It is no wonder, then, that the student feels entitled to have a pleasant experience. Suppose that you tell a student that his work is substandard. He may be angry with you for adversely affecting his self-esteem. He may complain to a Dean who will send you email and invite you to a meeting. You’ve upheld the standards of the institution but what favor have you done yourself? Remember that the A students will probably go on to graduate school, get PhDs, and settle into $35,000/year post-docs. The mediocre students are the ones who are likely to rise to high positions in Corporate America and these are the ones from whom you’ll be asking for funding, donations of computer systems, etc. Why alienate paying customers and future executives merely because they aren’t willing to put effort into software engineering?

In teaching with Internet Application Workbook you have a natural opportunity to separate evaluation from teaching. The quality of the user experience and solution engineered by a team is best evaluated by their client and the end-users. If the client responds to the questionnaire in Exercise 3 of the Planning Redux chapter by saying “Our team has solved all of our problems and we love working with them”, what does your opinion matter? Similarly if a usability study shows that test users are able to accomplish tasks quickly and reliably, what does your opinion of the page flow matter? During most of this course we try to act as coaches to help our students achieve high performance as perceived by their clients and end-users. We use every opportunity to arrange for students to get real-world feedback rather than letter grades from us.

The principal area where we must retain the role of evaluator is in looking at a team’s documentation. The main question here is “How easy would it be for a new team of programmers, with access only to what is in the /doc directory on a team’s server, to take over the project?”

America’s most grade-inflated schools tend to be its most expensive, e.g., Harvard.  Assuming a 5 percent annual increase the cost of education at a top school will top $1 million within 40 years.  Are the employee-teachers really going to give Fs to people donating $1 million to the institution?  Is there any way to maintain academic excellence and good relations with our wealthy patrons (the students)?

Suppose that there were a set of standardized problem sets and tests, shared among groups of universities.  A student at School A would have his or her work graded by teachers at Schools B,C, and D.  The relationship between students and staff at School A would therefore be more akin to that of athlete and coach, people working together to achieve great results, never having opposed interests.

This idea might be tough to implement in advanced courses in very rapidly changing fields but should be easy for old standbys such as undergrad physics, chemistry, math, etc.

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Teaching them to become lawyers

This evening we showed our 6.002 students the Ken Burns PBS documentary Empire of the Air.  This was adapted from a book of the same name by Tom Lewis.  Here are the facts that were related in two hours:

Lee De Forest, who did much to publicize the idea of using radio for broadcast rather than point-to-point communication, claimed credit for other peoples’ inventions and, through good luck and great legal talent, managed to prevail in a decades-long lawsuit against Major Edwin Armstrong, the true inventor of most of the important technologies behind radio broadcasting.  De Forest ridiculed America’s entry into World War I and then became a profiteer.  On the cusp of his 60th birthday, De Forest married Wife #4, a beautiful 21-year-old actress who remained devoted to him until his death at age 88.  As an old man, De Forest wrote a book entitled The Father of Radio and unsuccessfully encouraged his wife to write a book entitled I Married a Genius.

Edwin Armstrong worked hard and labored through formal electrical engineering training at Columbia University, the very sort of EE torture that our students are getting in 6.002.  Armstrong developed the circuits that enable using a vacuum tube as a radio transmitter and the superhet receiver, which together made it practical to transmit music and voice over AM radio, rather than Morse code.  A staunch patriot, Armstrong donated a royalty-free license to all of his patents to the U.S. government for use in World War II and served in that war by designing communications systems including that used during the invasion of Normandy in 1944.  Armstrong developed frequency modulation (FM), which was suppressed by David Sarnoff at RCA because it would threaten revenues from his AM radio monopoly and the emerging television.  RCA eventually was forced to use FM for the federally mandated NTSC television system but they refused to pay Armstrong royalties on his patents.  Armstrong committed suicide while embroiled in lawsuits attempting to force RCA to stop infringing.

David Sarnoff had no formal technical training.  Through ruthless business dealings and manipulation of the federal government managed to create and sustain a magnificently profitable enterprise that included the RCA radio and TV manufacturing company and the NBC radio and TV networks.  Though Armstrong’s widow eventually made him pay up a bit for his flagrant infringement of the frequency modulation patents, Sarnoff sailed unscathed through a sea of lives that he wrecked.  He died an old and rich man.

The only people in the drama who made millions without taking tremendous risks, working very hard, and occasionally going bankrupt, were … the lawyers in the patent and regulatory disputes.

What are our students to make of all this?  It can’t be that working hard as an MIT electrical engineering student and contributing useful innovations to society will be rewarded.  If you’re walking your dog in the Harvard Law School Yard four years from now and you run into our 6.002 alumni, tell them “hi” from me.

[The video also made one wonder for whom public television programs are made.  Despite having two hours the show did not attempt to explain even the simplest physics or engineering behind radio or any of the inventions that were the subject of the disputes chronicled.  The biographical and historical information was narrated so slowly that it could have been sped up 3X without approaching the speed of dialog on the Simpsons, which most people seem to have no trouble following.  It seems as though public TV is designed for people whose minds are not quick enough to handle the quick pace and intellectual challenge of commercial TV shows.]

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Why do Colleges Build Dormitories? And teach half-time?

The one thing that everyone who has studied college education can agree on is that students learn more when they work in groups.  Yet colleges don’t build infrastructure to support this.  A university will spend hundreds of $millions on dormitories, i.e., places for students to drink beer and sleep together.  Why is there is no budget for cubicle farms where students in the same major could do their homework together, asking for help from the person at the next desk and, if necessary, raising their hands for help from roving teaching assistants?

Another paradox of college life is the brevity of the calendar.  In a country where less than 3 percent of the population works on the farm, we’ve preserved a long summer break so that Junior can go home and help bring in the harvest.  The result is that parents, already reeling from the cost of 4 years of tuition, also have to figure out how they’re going to support Junior during Winter Break ski trips, Spring Break beach trips, and the long summer break in an economy where jobs are scarce.

Would it not make more sense for colleges to get out of the housing business and into the group-work business?  Let students come to campus at 9:00 am and stay until 9:00 pm, working with other students.  Then let them sleep at night wherever they want to.  If a college has infinite money, there’s nothing wrong with building dorms but if funds are scarce why not spend it on things that are directly relevant for learning?

Would it not make more sense for colleges to be in session for 45-50 weeks per year?  A student would be able to get a bachelor’s degree in 2.5 years and join the workforce, i.e., get off the parental payroll.

The answer to these apparently obvious questions seems to be “it depends”.  Mostly it depends on how rich the students’ parents are.  At a school for the ruling class, e.g., Harvard or Yale, it really doesn’t matter how effective the pedagogy is.  If Biff doesn’t learn calculus his daddy can still buy him a seat in Congress.   What Biff really needs to do is meet other members of the ruling class even if they are from different majors  The dormitory is the ideal environment for this mixing.

Similarly a school targeted to children of the ruling class need not worry about the parents’ ability to support Muffy for 4 years.  Much more important is that Muffy have plenty of time off to take the Grand Tour of Europe, hop the family fractional jet for the December trip to St. Barts, spend a summer interning in Cousin (Senator) Bob’s office.

A suboptimality arises when schools whose parents aren’t rich ape the policies of the traditional schools, all of which were established in an age when only the privileged went to college.

Prediction:  the coming decades will see the rise of new colleges with more intensive academic programs, more shared workspaces for undergraduates, and no dorms.

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The Life of a Public School Teacher

In an effort to adapt to the blog culture, perhaps it is best to alternate between the themes of public schools and politics in the Middle East.  Here then is a public school-related posting.  Most of the opinions one hears expressed on public schools come from folks who’ve not set foot in a school for a decade or more.  This story comes from a friend who is a very well-educated teacher of high school math/science and gifted/talented classes.  I asked her why, given that so much taxpayer dough ($11,000+ per student per year in Cambridge, MA) was allocated to public schools, people still weren’t happy with the results.

Her words:

Maybe the perception is there that money gets poured into the public schools, but I certainly never see it.  I take home $1500 a month after taxes and have an increasingly expensive healthcare plan.  I’ve been waiting for five months for the state to consider whether to pay me at the Masters degree level, which would add $3500 more over the year.  With my student loans and other unconvered expenses like vision and part of dental, I save no money.  But obviously we don’t do this for the money. 

How about the job satisfaction?  I came back to my OKAY job to have it turn into a HORRIBLE job in one week.  All my stuff got moved w/out my knowledge, some personal things were thrown away, and I lost my space for consultations, meetings with parents, and computer access… This was all done to accommodate an administrator they moved into the area (a teacher work area, how humiliating for her).  I am no longer allowed a key to the area so I can’t get to my desk much of the time.  So now I keep half my crap on a cart, which I roll from room to room, getting stuck on any small bump, losing papers all over the floor.  I keep my purse and lunch out in the lockbox of my truck so I can get to it.  Of course, ALL the teachers lost their one last work area, and since even if they have their own room, it is used by a floater teacher during their planning, they either have to try and work at their desk with a class going on around them or wander rather aimlessly in the halls…. The room I use for one of my classes, which is out in one of the portables (so the above-mentioned cart gets rolled outside, where gusts of wind tend to blow things everywhere), now THAT teacher stays in there while I’m trying to teach, and on Friday even kept his radio on and had a loud conversation with one of this students.  Thank God my students (gifted and sharp) are very patient and understanding, because I feel that my environment is truly making me incompetent as a teacher.   I had to move my parent conference the other day from one room to another halfway through because my room was booked for a class, and another room had just opened up.  And none of this was held near my files, nor could I get to them, so if I needed to look something up, too bad.  Combine all of this with my good ol’ boy/former coach principal YELLING at me for (a) crying when I discovered personal things had been thrown away,  (b) for sending an email to the gifted supervisor saying I was concerned because one of the vice-principals was trying to make my gifted class a dumping ground for other students, and one of the gifted student’s parents is already ready to sue us, and (c) for having the AUDACITY to ask that same vice-principal if the students he dumped in my class came with teacher recommendations, because their academic background was weak, and he told me he spoke with them and thought they should try it (later the same kids showed up, said, ‘What’s this class?’, and immediately dropped the classes because of difficulty).

When I was being yelled at, the principal was saying things like, ‘You’re gonna sit there and listen, little lady, and I don’t want no attitude out of you… I’m the boss here, I say what happens… I’m in control, and if you don’t like it [they] can pull gifted out of this school…’

Like I said, none of this is particularly unusual.  The principal is stressed and yells at lots of people.  I know 7 people (plus myself) who are leaving next year because of working conditions. 

End of her words.

She starts her new job in a private school this fall.

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What they should teach in public schools

Third World dictators come and go.  Preppie U.S. presidents come and go.  The U.S. military comes and goes (from various far-away lands).  What topic is sufficiently eternal to merit inclusion as my very first blog entry?  Public education!

A friend grew up in a rich suburb of Chicago and went to a public school full of rich kids.  “In our school we read all of the great philosophers and were asked by the teachers to figure out which of these philosophies we agreed with and would like to apply to our lives and our society,” he related.  “The problem with most public schools is that they don’t teach this kind of critical thinking,” he continued, “I’d like to see every kid in America educated like this.”

I replied “that doesn’t make sense for schools in middle-class and poorer neighborhoods.   With the increasing income disparity in the United States, it is very unlikely that a middle- or lower-class kid will ever become wealthy enough to influence politics.  So it is irrelevant what he or she thinks is a fair, just, or optimum law or philosophy of life.  We should teach middle class kids to obey authority mindlessly because that’s what they’ll have to do anyway.”

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