School Choice: A Bumpy Ride or Getting Bumped, Both Wrong Answers

30 05 2007

This morning I see a right answer in the news, real analysis and insight for all those of us who puzzle over public school policy (and party politics, religious wars, et cetera) and just can’t understand why we keep doing all the wrong things wronger, regressing rather than progressing:

Schooling is like flying.

The whole story is about how aggressive and insulated data analysts crunch endless numbers to create operational models that are statistically attractive but unfit for human consumption, thereby infuriating regular, responsible people just trying to participate in the system in good faith.

Necessity being the mother of invention, savvy front line folks experiencing the fallout have to cope somehow. They create practical workarounds at their own lowly level that seem to compensate the consumer reasonably well and thus protect the system from its own longterm self-inflicted wounds. But that in turn makes the analysts redouble insistence on THEIR strategies, further infuriating users and further hurting the systems’s credibility, requiring even more creative counterprogramming and loss of respect from the people caught up in it all. More and more regular people wise up to the system’s escalating adversarial shortcomings, thus making it all even worse. Finally the system becomes neither workable nor fixable at any level . . Dörner’s Logic of Failure.
“Stuck in a quagmire . . .”
“Scant credbility. . .”
“People view [it] as not on the up-and-up”

. . .what psychologist Dietrich Dörner shows, is that the problem lies not in the world, but in our own world-view . . .most of us are too simpleminded, especially when it comes to anticipating future trends or interactive processes. We don’t think about the implications and consequences of what we want, or want to do, with results that come back to haunt us.

Nevertheless, and contrary to many current claims, Dörner also argues that there is no secret formula or mental trick . . . to overcome complacency or over-confidence. The world always has been very complex, but as the ambition and scale of our intentions has increased in modern times, the malevolent implications and consequences of our simple-mindedness becomes more and more frequent and compelling. . .
This is a book that public policymakers, politicians, planners, and the general public desperately need to read. We are squandering our environmental capital and undermining our social capital because we are trying to do things, or avoid doing things, that cannot be sustained for very much longer. . .



14 responses

30 05 2007

Remember that Kansas town that got wiped off the map by a giant tornado? Its mayor just quit, said he would not lead the rebuilding effort, wasn’t temperamentally suited to that kind of system work with competing ideas about what to do and how to do it. The town council said oh, don’t quit, we’ll just consider that you’re on sabbatical to get your own family squared away and then maybe you’ll come back and lead us. We’ll just wait.

HUH? But he is leading you, by example!
He’s doing a couple of smart, real, practical things. He has his priorities in order (family first) and he knows that not everyone is equally good at every task, “entitled” to it or not. And he knows that politics and government do not constitute leadership; it’s service.

30 05 2007

I tie this together at Culture Kitchen with Cindy Sheehan’s retirement and whether it should be mourned as a loss to the public, should she run for Congress, what has she accomplished as one mom, etc . . .
I tried to read some of the 1300 Daily Kos comments, mostly about what a heroine and true leader she is. I just don’t get that at all. To me she’s all emotion and no reason.

UPDATE – actually now I’ve turned it into a whole essay!

30 05 2007

She’s a hard one to support. She’s as big a flag waver as any hawk and all teary-eyed about her dead son. Yes, we’d all be but. . . how does that qualify her to lead anyone? OTOH, why doesn’t it qualify her as much as the next guy? OTOH, why do I need some Messiah to lead the way. I don’t think any of this thinking about the war is out of the reach of the average concerned citizen. So is it all about the PR? And that is needed too, right? Why am I wasting brain cells thinking about Sheehan? OTOH, she expresses a level of disgust that a lot of us Dems are feeling right now. Disgust at our own party.



Your flying article sent me to find Marion Brady’s latest — I’m posting it in full here because I don’t think most people are subbed to the list ( where he posted this —

I’m (Mr.) Marion Brady, long-time Florida teacher, administrator, publisher
consultant, teacher educator, policy analyst, author of texts and
professional books, myriad journal articles, and six years of newspaper
columns on education for Knight-Ridder/Tribune. I’m under no contract to
anyone, and am offering non-exclusive rights to the following because I’m
appalled at what’s happening to American education.

Marion Brady, 4285 North Indian River Drive, Cocoa, Florida 32927

321-636-3448, mbrady22@…


Jim Warford, executive director of the Florida Association of School
Administrators, made an important point in his recent column in several
Florida newspapers. The real FCAT issue isn’t about accountability. All
educators believe in it. Always have. Always will. It isn’t being held
accountable that frustrates them, but the FCAT’s superficial, simplistic
approach to it.

A source of even greater frustration for many is the degree to which the
standardized testing fad has shut down dialog on education-related questions
of great importance, questions bearing directly on student performance and
societal well-being.

Here are some of those questions:

. The present thrust of education “reform” assumes the familiar curriculum,
now locked in place by “standards and accountability,” is as appropriate
today as it was when it was adopted in 1892. Is it?

. If there are problems with the traditional, same-thing-for-everybody
curriculum, won’t “raising the bar” make the problems worse?

. The FCAT is part of a reform movement that assumes market forces can shape
schools up. At least one Florida legislator is even considering introducing
legislation to pay students for passing scores. Does this mean that learning
is unnatural and won’t happen unless teachers and kids are threatened or

. Management experts say poor institutional performance almost always
indicates unaddressed “system” problems. Poor FCAT scores aren’t being
blamed on the system but on the people in the system. Are the experts wrong?

. The FCAT is rapidly pushing “frills” out of the curriculum. Has research
now established that art, music, physical activity and so on have nothing to
do with developing reasoning ability?

. On critical, instruction-related questions, local educators and school
boards are increasingly being pushed out of the decision-making loop. Does
the history of top-down, centralized control suggest this change strategy

. Statewide, thousands of kids are being held back because of poor reading
and math scores. Is the ability to interpret symbols and fill in ovals on
multiple-choice tests the only way kids learn, and therefore sufficient
reason to flunk them?

. Education is supposed to teach kids to think for themselves, not just
recall what they’ve been ordered to remember. Are corporately produced,
machine-scored tests able to judge the relative quality of complex thought
processes? If so, why aren’t they already doing that?

. Will manipulating the curriculum to “maintain America’s competitive
position in world trade” be more likely to ensure America’s future
well-being than helping kids love learning because it lets them pursue their
abilities wherever they lead?

. Frantic to avoid the test-triggered “failing” label, educators use myriad
strategies to “game” the system. For example, administrators, knowing ahead
of time which kids will and which likely won’t pass the FCAT, ignore them
and flood the “marginals” with attention. Is it possible to track and
counter all such score-distorting strategies?

. If, as Acting Commissioner of Education Jeanine Blomberg says, state
officials “…will go back and re-equate and rescale the 2006 third-grade
FCAT reading exam…” isn’t this an admission of how open the scoring
process is to political manipulation?

. The FCAT’s defenders insist that it’s legitimate because it’s tied to the
Sunshine State Standards. Those “standards” have no overarching aim, fail to
capitalize on the mutually supportive nature of school subjects, and
emphasize knowledge rather than what kids can actually do with what they
know. Aren’t these problems sufficiently serious to warrant a fresh look at
the Standards?

Back in the 1980s, before the leaders of business and industry and the
politicians hi-jacked education reform, thoughtful educators were beginning
to explore ways to move student intellectual performance to a whole new
level. The keys were World War II-developed General Systems Theory and
research into how the brain organizes information. The FCAT’s “mother” – the
No Child Left Behind legislation – stopped that effort dead in its tracks.

The new model for education reform is the 19th century classroom of Charles Dickens’ “Mr. Gradgrind.” Future generations will look back on this era and shake their heads in disbelief at the educational naivete of the amateurs now writing education policy.

Marion goes deeper into the system’s problems than the rest of FCAR working to at least make sure the kids being “bumped” know what the rules of the game are.

I imagine they are like me — it would never occur to me that I could be involuntarily bumped from a flight. And, if I were an 8-year-old, I’d never imagine that the system could go back and change my score from last year, but that it wouldn’t really count, but that I would be told to still keep taking the big scary test seriously.


30 05 2007

Wow. That is EXACTLY what I mean, Nance. ANd the part about the lost opportunity costs, how it shuts off all the important thinking, is what I’ve screamed about for years and still keeps me blogging most days, the motivation that if it’s not being considered in our public discourse then at least I can add it in here and there, not to change people’s minds to agree with my view but so others might see it as part of the larger whole picture THEY are considering. Collective wisdom as a self-governing system has to get the best that each of us has to offer, unfettered and undiluted! Or else it isn’t wisdom and can’t serve us well . . .

31 05 2007

And then there are the words we choose to express our wisdom, thoughts and feelings. Cindy Sheehan and I may be interconnected within the cosmos but we don’t speak the same language, it seems, or share much that we each mean to express with that language.

Yesterday I got into discussing her dramatic farewell with a Dem political operative at CK, one who (like Sheehan) uses emotionally loaded words, fixates on narrow points with little foundation and then uses those to fix blame rather than actually fix problems, etc —

Anyway, it gave rise to some useful synthesis about words and language and layers of meaning for different audiences here. And something I didn’t tie in there, is Dick Cavett’s NYT blogging about choosing joke words, having the “pre-conscious” ear for exactly which word has the right rhythm and feel for each comic’s voice.

If there’s any lesson cultivated more successfully through Unschool than School, surely it is this! 🙂

. . .In music, the inability to do it would be called “having no ear.” I saw writers who failed to get renewed at the end of those fateful 13 weeks of trial because they sensed no difference in having their comic say “doubtless” as opposed to “indubitably” or just “sure”. . .

I wrote for Groucho Marx when he hosted “Tonight” for two weeks, and he adjusted my wording of a joke by a single word. As written, it ended with, “Well, you could have fooled me.” Its rhythm didn’t sound right to him.

“It needs a ‘certainly,’” he said. “Make it, ‘Well, you certainly could have fooled me.’” Groucho’s East Side New York accent made “certainly” come out as “sightny,” as distinct from the Brooklyn “soitny.” He was, needless to say, right. To the faultless Marx ear, without those few added syllables the line didn’t quite scan.

The brain process that results in a joke materializing where no joke was before remains a mystery. I’m not aware of any scholarly, scientific or neurological studies on the subject.

The crux of the mystery is, when exactly does the ad-lib artist become aware of the spontaneous joke he has just spouted. In the case of a comic genius like Groucho, I’m convinced that the process in the speaker’s head that results in funny words spoken is somehow preconscious. Sitting next to him, I saw him be both delighted and . . . this is important . . . surprised by what he had just heard himself say. He was as much the audience to the joke as the rest of us who heard it. . .”

31 05 2007

Cavett goes on in his May 30 post about the phenomenon that I experienced at my father’s funeral — making jokes through no conscious intent or effort, even as you’re feeling guilty about it!

It’s a bit scary and it strikes on those unfortunate occasions that arch Chinese proverb calls “interesting times.”
If there’s a catastrophe — plane crash, miners trapped, kidnapping, ghastly murder — writer-brain kicks in by itself and makes jokes about it. The machinery starts without you; you hear it in your head and you feel ashamed.

Like Cavett and the comics he writes about, I was able to control whether I said them aloud (thankfully!) but not whether they sprang into my mind . . .

31 05 2007

Notice the word “machinery” in the Cavett quote above, about joke-making? The fellow commenter from CK dismissed all the cognitive psychology I offered about the Logic of Failure as me trying to turn Cindy Sheehan into a “machine” — so if he sees this quote, I predict that one word will leap out at him and reinforce his complete misconstrual of, well, just about everything and everybody!
And to do that, he would have to miss (at least dismiss) all the OTHER words Cavett and Dorner and I choose, like mystery, music, funny, delighted. . .oh, and simpleminded . . .

31 05 2007

Driving along last night, carting kids all over, I got to thinking about this —

Cindy Sheehan’s appeal is not to you. It is not meant to be to you. Her vocabulary and every-woman sort of appearance is aimed at a more mass market.

The WalMart crowd. Not the Bloomingdale’s crowd.

And then I saw a film of her on Current TV (first time I’ve watched and only because DS was watching — it’s Al Gore’s brainchild as I understand it and is a series of short films made by non-pros — regular viewers maybe?).

Anyway, they had a spot about CS and it consisted of clips from her early on. Fresh and earnest and just lovely in that Plain Jane way. Not as vitriolic or tired as she seems now.

And, boy, was she appealing!

Now, the nice thing about Current TV was that they came on and said they knew this was a one-sided film on a controversial issue and they’d welcome other films or comments.

Anyway, it confirmed my drive-time thinking that her appeal was not meant to be particularly intellectual or high-falutin’. Genuinely her or not, her aim was lower on the ladder of thinking skills.

So she hasn’t exactly failed but her appeal just doesn’t get us very far when the folks voting on war budgets invented crocodile tears.

Or maybe that’s what you have already said and I am just catching up. 🙂


31 05 2007

Both, probably — it is what I’m saying, and also you are right about Sheehan’s audience not being me, which is a good point I hadn’t acknowledged in all this talk so far. I should (and do) give her some overt credit for reaching the people she’s reached, because inarguably she HAS reached many — only not in a way that succeeded at what her policy goal supposedly was. Much like homeschool activists fixated on charter school marketing, who reached a lot of us and got us all emotional and mobilized, but then what? That doesn’t accomplish the so-desperately stated goal, which is to protect HS from regulation through clear public understanding and earning support for the cause. . ..

9 08 2007
“Don’t Give Up the Fight. . .” « Cocking A Snook!

[…] when what the fight is fighting, is FIGHTING?? That is the Logic of Failure. (You’d be flunked for this silly-gism in a logic class: we must never give up the fight to […]

1 09 2007
New Wings for “Schooling is Like Flying” Analogy « Cocking A Snook!

[…] for “Schooling is Like Flying” Analogy 1 09 2007 A stray analogy I had dubbed “School Choice: A Bumpy Ride or Getting Bumped, Both Wrong Answers” is starting to sound worth developing — see the Sept 3 New Yorker and see if this reminds you […]

8 01 2008

A comment I just posted over at Dana’a on “Defining Homeschooling”:

I think the trouble is in the semantics that homeschooling throws out to try to address the “confusion” with charters. We wind up making things worse, wrongly defining each other as in or out and worst of all, alienating ourselves from our own principles. As any sort of policy proposal, it gets to be an irrational mess.

For example, the public funding question seems like a logical place to divide schooled and unschooled kids, but — we all already get tax benefits for the children themselves, from the moment they get a social security number. And that has not endangered our parental sovereignty. (Maybe there are parents who don’t claim this “public” money but I never met or heard of one — including all the homeschoolers with whom I have disputed funding source as the definition of what’s home education and what’s not.)

And my family fully intends to claim whatever public scholarships, tax credits and deductions are available for college (which Favorite Daughter already attended for several semesters at public expense, as a legally dual-enrolled homeschooler completely in charge of her own learning.)

These are the kinds of real situations along the education continuum or spectrum (there are dozens) that make “tax funding” not a clearcut definition to divide them at all, and expose as a convenient untruth, our fixed ideas about “private” as so different from “public.”

Imo, public programs and funding aren’t the issue; compulsory attendance laws are. Prison-like coercive schooling with criminal penalties to the parents for resisting, isn’t right or fair or worthy of a free nation.

And compulsory schools don’t even work . . .the final indignity. Heck, even military service isn’t compulsory any more, for similar reasons — nothing is as good when you’re forced into it. Everything wrong with public schools is transformed when the compulsion is dropped, including all these conversations and probably home education too, but in good ways.

And if we still see the need to clarify semantics, I suggest working on the difference between “schooling” and “education.” Now there’s a topic! 🙂

11 03 2009
Quitting and Going Home: Failure, Success or Complicated? « Cocking A Snook!

[…] expert public policy eye spots a (rare imo) right answer in the New York Times business news, real analysis and insight for all those of us who puzzle over public schools and party politics, religious wars, et cetera and just can’t understand why we keep doing all […]

6 01 2010
Unity Emerging: All Political Divides Boil Down to One Common Purpose! « Cocking A Snook!

[…] The whole story is about how aggressive and insulated data analysts crunch endless numbers to create operational models that are statistically attractive but unfit for human consumption, thereby infuriating regular, responsible people just trying to participate in the system in good faith. […]

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