American Elephants

Alternative Math by The Elephant's Child

This delightful short film has the odd feeling that we’ve see this story before, that it is perhaps a little too close to today’s reality. Makes you slightly uncomfortable.

Stolen shamelessly from Maggie’s Farm  Do watch the whole thing, it’s not very long and worth every minute.

The Democrats’ Baltimore Problem. by The Elephant's Child
May 2, 2015, 10:39 pm
Filed under: Politics | Tags: , , ,


“No Justice, No Peace!” Is that a threat or an invitation? The scenes of Baltimore set ablaze make us wonder what can be done for families trapped in an inner-city culture of violence? We had our own copy-cat riot here in Seattle last night, emanating from Seattle Central Community College. I have no idea why. Just wanted to join in the fun.

Clearly the breakdown of the black family has a good deal to do with the problems of youth run amok. The left talks of new programs, more money, The President pushes his free community college idea, early childhood education (which doesn’t work) and blames Republicans (why am I not surprised?) presumably because he wants a big influx of money which a Republican Congress would be loth to deliver. Baltimore has been a Democrat-run city for over 40 years. It’s Democrats’ problem, and the result of their policies. Republicans and a big number of African-Americans call for fathers.

In today’s Wall Street Journal, Stephen Moore writes of the success of the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program which George W. Bush signed into law in 2004.”It has so far funded private-school tuition for nearly 5,000 students, 95% of whom are African-American.They attend religious schools, music and arts schools, even elite college-prep schools.” Moore met with about 20 parents and children who participate in the program.” For the seventh straight year, President Obama has proposed eliminating this relatively tiny scholarship fund,which at $20 million accounts for a microscopic 0.0005% of the $4 trillion federal budget.”

Politics is always Obama’s first priority, And the teacher’s union voters trump black voters. The parents have compelling stories of how the voucher program has turned their children’s lives around. “Democrats say they want to make the 2016 election about income inequality, but they stand united in opposition to one of the most effective ways of reducing the gap between rich and poor: better education. Mr. Obama will not even meet with these parents. Democrats always emphasize empathy. They care (and Republicans don’t). But they empathize with taxpayer money and Big Government programs. When it involves displeasing the teacher’s union empathy goes out the window.

The basic choice open to blacks after the civil rights era, according to the Hoover Institution’s Shelby Steele, was between advancing “through education, skill development, and entrepreneurialism,” or “pressuring the society that had wronged us into taking the lion’s share of the responsibility for resurrecting us.” The second course became all but inevitable when the post-civil rights narrative of white guilt and black victim hood decreed that no black problem — whether high crime rates, poor academic performance, or high illegitimacy rates — could be defined as largely a black responsibility, because it was in injustice to make victims responsible for their own problems.¹ “

“An Education Department-funded study at the University of Arkansas found that graduation rates rose 21 percentage points — to 91%, from 70%, — for students awarded the scholarship vouchers through a lottery, compared with a control group of those who applied for but didn’t get the scholarships.”

The parents who are so passionate about the benefits to their children are opposed by almost every liberal group, including the NAACP, and Eleanor Holmes Norton who represents D.C. in Congress but opposes a program that benefits her own constituents.The DC schools spent $18,667 per pupil. The scholarship amounts are $8,500 for elementary-school children and $12,000 for high school.

The teachers’ unions are doing a lousy job of educating our young people, and our teachers are badly trained. Something needs to change dramatically. There is no excuse for the current situation.

For Baltimore, I would suggest significant numbers of charter schools, and hiring retiring Marine Drill Instructors as teachers. They have a an outstanding record of not only shaping up young men, but of installing a significant code of honor. Start them off with fifth grade. They would shape up the kids, and shape up the teaching profession!

¹Shelby Steele, White Guilt: How Blacks and Whites Together Destroyed the Promise of the Civil Rights Era (New York, Harper Collins, 2006).

Ladies, We’re Screwed! by The Elephant's Child
November 16, 2012, 6:02 pm
Filed under: Capitalism, Economy, Education, Health Care, Politics | Tags: , ,

From Reason TV, a look at some of the results of the election you may not have considered.

To Fix The Schools You Have To Stop the Machine! by The Elephant's Child

One constant theme on the campaign trail is always education. People care deeply about the education their kids are getting, and about education in general.  Often, people think education in general is dreadful, but are fond of their own school.

That gets into the “likeability factor” where you think your kid’s teacher is really nice, but don’t really have all that much information about what your kids are really learning. As a parent, I am sure I have communicated the really important things , but then the subject comes up and you discover they are clueless. I believe I have just suggested a big reason for home schooling.

International test scores show that our kids are not doing well, as does any trip to a fast-food place. There’s a reason why cash registers total everything for the clerk and tell them how much change to give back. They have enough trouble figuring out how many of which coins you need to make 39¢.

Everybody has an opinion about education. We have all experienced something close to 12 years of schooling at least, so we have first hand knowledge. and if we have become parents and sent our own children off the school, we are apt to be opinionated. Politicians are clear. The answer is to spend more money on education.

Stanford economist Eric Hanushek as shown that better-educated students contribute substantially to economic growth. If U.S. students could catch up with the math performance of their Canadian counterparts, it would add roughly $70 trillion to the U.S. economy over the next 80 years.

Obama wants an army of new teachers, and a federal government curriculum, and federal control. My response is easy: 1) Washington DC schools are usually rated as the worst in the country— and the capitol city spends $30,000 per pupil.  2) Since 1970, the public school workforce has doubled, to 5.4 million from 3.3 million, and two-thirds of those new hires are teachers or teachers’ aides. Enrollment over the same period has grown only 8.5 %. Employment has grown 11 times faster than enrollment. We have too many teachers.

You know what the problem is. We all know. Republicans want to encourage charter schools (which are public schools) but the innovation underway will change schools as we know them anyway, and that’s online education. Long way to go, but the potential is clearly there.

As David Gelernter says:

Where is the politician who’s willing to say that this nation demands public schools and public colleges without political bias, without anti-American bias, without anti-Jewish or anti-Christian bias? That this nation demands public schools and colleges whose first mission is to produce patriotic American citizens, who know who they are — who know their own history and culture, the history and literature and culture of this country and this Western civilization that belongs to them, that will stand or fall based on their stewardship of the future?

We make a big deal about bigotry and bias in this nation, and it’s right we should; but it’s crazy to ignore the biggest bigotry engine in the nation today, the US Education Establishment — our school systems and text books and some — not all, but too many — of our school teachers and college professors.

Your Tax Dollars At Work! by The Elephant's Child

Let’s all fix education with stimulus dollars.  The Detroit Free Press has reported that Detroit Public Schools, one of the nation’s most chronically corrupt school systems, will receive $355 million from the federal stimulus package — with no strings attached.

The Detroit Public Schools have a $1.5 billion annual budget, but they are currently running a $150 million deficit, with finances so tangled that the state of Michigan has recently appointed an emergency financial manager to oversee its operations.  Since the declaration of emergency, DPS has failed to hand over at least five financial reports required under the state’s consent agreement.

The Brookings Institution has ranked Detroit as America’s worst major urban school district.  Detroit Public Schools only graduate 24 percent of its students.  The Superintendent was fired in December for incompetence, the second superintendent fired in three years and the eighth in the last 20 years.

A 2001 audit found $600,000 missing or misspent.  A 2004 audit of the district’s central warehouse found budget over-expenditures of $1.9 million, and that furniture purchased as part of a $158,000 purchase order is missing.

Expectations of improvement might be a little hasty.  Handing out funds with no strings attached sounds more like payback than stimulus.  Good politics, maybe, but the kids are, as usual, the ones who really get hurt.

Is The Internet Making Us Stupid? by The Elephant's Child
December 16, 2008, 6:43 pm
Filed under: Freedom, History, Literature | Tags: , , ,

One of the great problems of education has been the desire to make education easier — easier and more interesting for the teacher, who finds it boring to have to do it all over again each year with a new batch of children, smarter or dumber, quieter or more obstreperous.  And of course, if a way could only be found to make kids enjoy learning the basics of civilized life, then it would all be so much easier, and more fun.  After all, things should be fun, shouldn’t they?

When television first arrived on the scene, everyone was sure that we had found the magic key.  Symphonies, uplifting plays, history as it was being made. That turned out well.

The computer and the Internet are still thought to be some sort of magic in the education of children.  President-elect Obama apparently believes that much good will come from greener school buildings and more computers in the schools.

An elementary school principal noted that “fifth graders proceed as follows when they are assigned a research project; go to Google, type keywords, download three relevant sites, cut and paste passages into a new document, add transitions of their own, print it up, and turn it in.” This is not knowledge formation, but information retrieval.

Anyone who has Googled for information knows the difficulty of separating the valid websites from the junk.  Keywords get you keywords, not necessarily deeply informed information from a reliable website, and not even correct information at that.  Discernment is not much taught in fifth grade.  That takes long education in reading and history and the other basics.

A number of writers are suggesting that reading on the web is changing the way we read and the way we think.  Nicholas Carr has written recently in a piece titled “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” in The Atlantic Monthly that he is now having trouble with lengthy reading.  The deep reading that used to be so enjoyable has now become a struggle.

[M]edia are not just passive channels of information.  They supply the stuff of thought, but they also shape the process of thought.  And what the Net seems to be doing is chipping away my capacity for concentration and contemplation.  My mind now expects to take in information the way the Net distributes it’ in a swiftly moving stream of particles.  Once I was a scuba diver in the sea of words.  Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a Jet ski.

I’m not the only one.  When I mention my troubles with reading to friends and acquaintances — literary types, most of them — many say they’re having similar experiences.  The more they use the Web, the more they  have to fight to stay focused on long pieces of writing.

James Bowman expands on Mr. Carr’s essay in The New Atlantis with his recognition of the changes in his own reading patterns, and evidence from other authors that there is something going on here that is as yet untested by those who explore and test the functions of the brain.  If  you have children and are concerned about their education, these two essays provide food for thought.

I would suggest that schools have it backwards. Students need to learn deep reading, discernment, judgment and how to cope with the overflow of information characteristic of our age before they learn about how to retrieve information.  In elementary school math classes, students are taught with the assumption that they will always have a handy calculator.  Cursive writing is no longer taught in many schools, for it is assumed that students will always have a handy keyboard.  Is there a relation here to declining math and science scores and the decline in SAT scores?

There is, however, plenty of time to teach children of the dangers of global warming and the importance of recycling and the pressing need to save the polar bears.  Go figure.

Understanding affirmative action… by The Elephant's Child

The idea of “affirmative action” is widely misunderstood.  Philosophy Professor John R. Searle of the University of California at Berkeley explained it very well in an article in Reason Magazine in February of 2000.

[A]ffirmative action had a disastrous effect.  We created two universities during affirmative action.  We had a super-elite university of people who were admitted on the most competitive criteria in the history of the university, but then we had this other university of people who could not have been admitted on those criteria, and who had to have special courses and special departments set up for them.

Now affirmative action meant two completely different things.  When it first started out the definition was that we were going to take affirmative actions to see that people who would never have tried to get into the university before would be encouraged and trained so that they could get admission.  I was all for that — that we were going to get people into the competition.  What happened though, and this was the catastrophic effect, is that race and ethnicity became criteria, not for encouraging people to enter the competition, but for judging the competition.

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