The Hobbesian high school

Why do the laws largely ignore teen-on-teen crime?

Keith points out (see post immediately below) that the intolerable failure of adults in this country to enforce the laws against assault and theft as they apply to children leads some children “to drop out of school, or become depressed, or retreat into drugs and alcohol, or take their own lives.”

It also leads some of them to construct informal alternatives to state power for mutual self-defense. Alas, those institutions are also capable of collective aggression; we call them “gangs.” All the random psychologizing about how gang membership provides a substitute for the family misses its role in providing a substitute for the state. If we really want to shrink gang membership among juveniles, we might start out by making non-membership safer.

This is easier said than done. The lawless condition of teenagers has led to a situation where the rates of violence and theft are so high that enforcing those laws would require an intolerably heavy hand; the last thing we want is to bring more juveniles into contact with the existing juvenile justice system. So the campaign to re-incorporate juveniles into the civil community by enforcing that community’s laws with respect their crimes against one another would need to be carefully planned, done in small phases, and loudly pre-announced. But every day we delay the start of that process is another day in which we condemn our children to life in the Hobbesian State of Nature.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

35 thoughts on “The Hobbesian high school”

  1. I recall Randall Collins arguing in "Violence: A Microsociological Theory" that gangs don't make their members safer. Being a known member makes for a target for attack by rivals. Non-members who are "streetwise" may view their crime-ridden neighborhoods as safe enough if they act so as not to provoke attack. What gangs do is raise the status of their members.

  2. A. Even if gang membership doesn't make you safer, that may not matter that much. What it may do is help you maintain your dignity by helping to make you non-helpless against attacks–even if the attacks themselves become more frequent. Many people choose dignity over safety–it is often an eminently rational option, and the one one always chooses when opting to e.g. fight back against bullies.

    B. I couldn't agree more with Mark's post, and have long thought similar things. I went to a perfectly fine school in a small town in Missouri, and, still, your options as a male were (a) learn to fight or (b) be routinely humiliated. I chose (a), since teachers and administrators were simply no help at all. I eventually came to believe that many of them were themselves afraid of the (fairly run-of-the-mill, unarmed, not-really-dangerous) local bullies. Many of them seemed to curry favor with the bullies, perhaps even trying to work out something about their own, probably bullied, past or something. And, of course, the rules were set up in such a way to make self-defense the legal equivalent of unprovoked assault–fighting was fighting, and the morally-crucial facts about aggression and defense were scrupulously ignored for the purposes of determining punishment. It was flat-out Kafkaesque…quite simply a bat**** crazy system.

  3. The most common way people resolve conflict is to walk away. Age segregation, compulsory attendance statutes, and the policy which restricts parents' options for the use of the taxpayers' pre-college education subsidy to schools operated by the NEA/AFT/AFSCME cartel bar students and parents from the most common response to threat. Schools which cannot get rid of troublemakers cannot get rid of trouble.

  4. Both Mark and Keith seem to take it as a given that American public schools are uniformly, or at least commonly, hellholes of violence, theft, and other bullying, and adults don't bother to do anything about it. I think this takes the worst situations and casually assumes that they are tyupical. I further believe that it does a severe injustice to legions of teacher and administrators who strive successfully to maintain most schools as generally safe and orderly. In this bastion of evidence-based policy analysis, I request both of you to provide your evidence and statistics of these problems. Most U.S. readers will be able to make their own judgments, at least as to their own communities, but I fear others will take vague apocolyptic rhetoric as undisputed fact if not challenged.

  5. Roland Meighan

    Home-based Education Effectiveness Research and Some of its Implications

    __Educational Review__, Vol. 47, No.3, 1995.

    "The issue of social skills. One edition of Home School Researcher, Volume 8, Number 3, contains two research reports on the issue of social skills. The first finding of the study by Larry Shyers (1992) was that home-schooled students received significantly lower problem behavior scores than schooled children. His next finding was that home-schooled children are socially well adjusted, but schooled children are not so well adjusted. Shyers concludes that we are asking the wrong question when we ask about the social adjustment of home-schooled children. The real question is why is the social; adjustment of schooled children of such poor quality?"

    "The second study, by Thomas Smedley (1992), used different test instruments but comes to the same conclusion, that home-educated children are more mature and better socialized than those attending school."

    "So-called 'school phobia' is actually more likely to be a sign of mental health, whereas school dependancy is a largely unrecognized mental health problem"….p.281

    Linda Darling-Hammond

    __American School Board Journal__, September 1999.

    "…(M)any well-known adolescent difficulties are not intrinsic to the teenage years but are related to the mismatch between adolescents' developmental needs and the kinds of experiences most junior high and high schools provide. When students need close affiliation, they experience large depersonalized schools; when they need to develop autonomy, they experience few opportunities for choice and punitive approaches to discipline…"

    Hyman and Penroe,

    __Journal of School Psychology__

    "Several studies of maltreatment by teachers suggest that school children report traumatic symptoms that are similar whether the traumatic event was physical or verbal abuse (Hyman, et.al.,1988; Krugman & Krugman, 1984; Lambert, 1990). Extrapolation from these studies suggests that psychological maltreatment of school children, especially those who are poor, is fairly widespread in the United States…."

    "In the early 1980s, while the senior author was involved in a school violence project, an informal survey of a random group of inner city high school students was conducted. When asked why they misbehaved in school, the most common response was that they wanted to get back at teachers who put them down, did not care about them, or showed disrespect for them, their families, or their culture…."

    "…schools do not encourage research regarding possible emotional maltreatment of students by staff or investigatiion into how this behavior might affect student misbehavior…."

    "…Since these studies focused on teacher-induced PTSD and explored all types of teacher maltreatment, some of the aggressive feelings were also caused by physical or sexual abuse. There was no attempt to separate actual aggression from feelings of aggression. The results indicated that at least 1% to 2% of the respondents' symptoms were sufficient for a diagnosis of PTSD. It is known that when this disorder develops as a result of interpersonal violence, externalizing symptoms are often the result (American Psychiatric Association, 1994)."

    "While 1% to 2% might not seem to be a large percentage of a school-aged population, in a system like New York City, this would be about 10,000 children so traumatized by educators that they may suffer serious, and sometimes lifelong emotional problems (Hyman, 1990; Hyman, Zelikoff & Clarke, 1988). A good percentage of these students develop angry and aggressive responses as a result. Yet, emotional abuse and its relation to misbehavior in schools receives little pedagogical, psychological, or legal attention and is rarely mentioned in textbooks on school discipline (Pokalo & Hyman, 1993, Sarno, 1992)."

    "As with corporal punishment, the frequency of emotional maltreatment in schools is too often a function of the socioeconomic status (SES) of the student population (Hyman, 1990)."

    Karen Brockenbrough, Dewey G. Cornell, Ann B. Loper

    "Aggressive Attitudes Among Victims of Violence at School"

    __Education and the Treatment of Children__, V. 25, #3, Aug., 2002.

    "Violence at school is a prevalent problem. According to a national survey of school proncipals (National Center for Educational Statistics, 1998), over 200,000 serious fights or physical attacks occurred in public schools during the 1996-1997 school year. Serious violent crimes occurred in approximately 12% of middle schools and 13% of high schools. Student surveys (Kann et al, 1995) indicate even higher rates of aggressive behavior. Approximately 16.2% of high school students nationwide reported involvement in a physical fight at school during a 30-day period, and 11.8% reported carrying a weapon on school property (Kann et al, 1995). Research on victims of violence at school suggests that repeated victimization has detrimental effects on a child's emotional and social development (Batsche & Knoff, 1995; Hoover, Oliver, & Thomson, 1993; Olweus, 1993). Victims exhibit higher levels of anxiety and depression, and lower self-esteem than non-victims (eg., Besag, 1989; Gilmartin, 1987; Greenbaum, 1987; Olweus, 1993)".

    Linda M. Raffaele Mendez, Howard M. Knoff;

    __Education and the Treatment of Children__, V. 26, #1, Feb. 2003.

    "Results showed that the over-representation of Black males that has been cited consistently in the literature begins at the elementary school level and continues through high school. Black females also were suspended at a much higher rate than White or Hispanic females at all three school levels."

    Clive Harber,

    "Schooling as Violence"

    __Educatioinal Review__ p. 10, V. 54, #1.

    (Quoting) "…It is almost certainly more damaging for children to be in school than to out of it. Children whose days are spent herding animals rather than sitting in a classroom at least develop skills of problem solving and independence while the supposedly luckier ones in school are stunted in their mental, physical, and emotional development by being rendered pasive, and by having to spend hours each day in a crowded classroom under the control of an adult who punishes them for any normal level of activity such as moving or speaking."

    Clive Harber

    "Schooling as Violence"

    __Educatioinal Review__, p. 9 V. 54, #1.

    "Furthermore, according to a report for UNESCO, cited in Esteve (2000), the increasing level of pupil-teacher and pupil-pupil violence in classrooms is directly connected with compulsory schooling. The report argues that institutional violence against pupils who are obliged to attend daily at an educational centre until 16 or 18 years of age increases the frustration of these students to a level where they externalise it."

    E. G. West

    Schooling and Violence

    "We conclude that so far there is no evidence to support the 19th century Utilitarian hypothesis that the use of a secular and public school system will reduce crime. Beyond this there is some evidence indeed that suggests the reverse causality: crime actually increases with the increase in the size of the public school sector. Such findings will undoubtedly stimulate further work, and clearly more research would be helpful. But if further investigation confirms the findings of Lott, Fremling, and Coleman, we must reach the verdict that the cost of public schooling is much higher than was originally believed. Published figures show that the conventional cost of public schools, on average, are already just over twice those of private schools.11 When we add to this the extra social costs of increased delinquency, the full seriousness of the inefficiency of our public school system is more starkly exposed."

    San Francisco Chronicle 2005-Nov.-01

    "The UC Berkeley-Stanford study found that all children who attended preschool at least 15 hours a week displayed more negative social behaviors such as trouble cooperating or acting up, when compared with their peers. The discrepancies were most pronounced among children from higher-income families."

    "Children from lower-income families lagged behind their peers who didn't attend preschool an average of 7 percentage points on the measure of social behavioral growth. But children from higher-income families lagged 9 percentage points behind their peers. These wealthier children did even worse when they attended preschool for 30 hours or more: They trailed their peers by 15 percentage points."

    " 'It's not clear why children from higher-income families exhibit more negative behaviors than their stay-at-home peers. Fuller speculated their peers might be in enriching home environments that include things like trips to the library as well as dance and music lessons. Other studies have found childcare centers negatively affect children's social development', said Jay Belsky, director of the Institute for the Study of Children, Families and Social Issues at Birkbeck University of London, in an e-mail interview."

    " 'It is time to come to grips with what all too many have denied for all too long, namely, that all disconcerting news about adverse effects cannot be attributed to low-quality care, which has been more or less the mantra of the field of child development and the child-care advocacy community for decades,' Belsky said."

    In Hawaii, juvenile arrests fall when school is not in session. Juvenile hospitalizations for human-induced trauma fall when school is not in session.

  6. Ken D:

    Nansel's is still I believe the best nationally representative study of school kids, with almost one in three (29.3%) respondents reporting involvement in bullying as a bully, a victim or both. Nansel follows the common definition of bullying in the literature which is that it is intentional efforts to cause harm repeatedly over time by a more powerful individual or group perpetrator and a weaker victim.

    Public access abstract of Nansel's JAMA study here

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11311098

  7. I never got the impression that the administration was actually in cahoots with the bullies. (Of course, this was the 60's, things might have changed.) Rather, that they were enamored of radically mistaken theories of how to deal with them. And didn't have a great deal of incentive to respond to evidence their theories were wrong, since they weren't the ones getting beaten on.

    Some thoughts:

    First, you can't beat something with nothing. Children WILL organize into groups. Deny them positive groups, and the negative groups will fill the vacuum. Gang substitutes are needed, in my time it was the boy scouts. But it's got to be something.

    Second, the one good thing we've got going for us, is that there's a lot of turnover in the relevant age group. Not a lot you can do about what the kids are exposed to out of school, but it ought to be possible to start fresh with grade 1, and carry through, if things are managed right.

  8. The exact sentence from the results summary is: "A total of 29.9% of the sample reported moderate or frequent involvement in bullying, as a bully (13.0%), one who was bullied (10.6%), or both (6.3%)." I have not read the report. I have to say I find it very striking that more respondents report being bullies than victims. That said, these numbers are not far from my perception of the American-school-world as expressed previously. Rephrased, 83 percent of students report not having been bullied by this standard, and more than a third of the rest admit being perpetrators as well as victims. Assuming also, I think reasonably, that the affirmative responses scale up from minor and occasional to more severe, this is a portrait of public school as reasonably safe and orderly for the vast majority. Also, presumably half of all schools do better than this, some much better. I have to think that there are caring and competent adults doing their jobs in there somewhere. I continue to believe the two original posts were a little over the top.

  9. One other point occurs to me: The idea that children ought to spend most of their time in the company of similarly aged children is crazy. You'd be hard put to find a better way to retard their social development. The gang problem may just be a side effect of that, not to be solved until we abandon this social engineering experiment. And the modern design of the educational system WAS an experiment.

    Perhaps it's time to give it up as a failure.

  10. Ken D.–

    Your defense of schools is that only 17% of students get bullied? Seriously?

    You think it's OK for life at school to be hellish for 17% of the students, as long as it's just dandy for the rest? Seriously?

    If not, what is your point?

  11. "Ever having been bullied" does not equate to a "hellish" school career any more than "ever having been a crime victim" equates to a "hellish" life. I do indeed condemn assault and theft — Mark's characterization — as well as bullying generally; I apologize if inept expression left a different impression. I sought to address the prevelance rather than the existence of the problem.

  12. Any thoughts on the gender issue? We think of boys first, as tending to be more aggressive physically than girls, who specialise AFAIK in verbal abuse and spite – which can also drive to suicide. How does the interaction between the sexes work out in gangs and bullying? Does coeducation tend to alleviate or exacerbate it? Are male role models (eg as teachers) important for prevention?

  13. Why all the crazy in this thread? Look – public education is a vast and complex thing. No one group controls any of it. That's ridiculous. There are many different players, most of them generally following the thinking of the day. Unions, administrations and the public, contrary to what some might like to believe, are generally on the same page. There are many ideas for reform, and there are many sides to every issue.

    In my personal opinion the current reform norm via charters & NCLB have actually created an environment in which a lot less experimentation is possible. State mandates are often created by people who have little experience in actual education and it means endless wasted hours for those of us who want to make our schools better, distracting us with top-down bureaucracy that distracts from the business of site-level analysis and serious reform. But there's of course some good too.

    I work with at-risk gang populations at a continuation school and fortunately we have the benefit of small class sizes. I have students who are able to get the kind of one-on-one support that no comprehensive classroom teacher would be able to offer with 35+ students. That makes me just one more person in his(her)life who he knows cares about him and facilitates his emotional acculturation. This means that when he walks out my door to the lunch line he's that much less inclined to react violently to a negative situation.

    Obviously there needs to be sufficient policing. But the culture of a school (something incredibly hard to quantify) is possibly more important. There's a ripple effect from violence, hate, anger, etc. that can overwhelm even the best security measures. In my own classroom, I know that things happen behind my back because the students are very good at not being seen. But through handling bullying and conflict appropriately, which often means directly in a smaller class, provides rich opportunities for improved student self-awareness and an orientation toward compassion. Students know what is wrong and what is right, but they often lack the tools to get through conflict in a safe and responsible way. A lot of gang/bullying/etc. behavior comes from a simple ignorance of appropriate responses to stress.

    Now, the fact that so many of the students are coming from high-stress homes, with few or no positive adult role-models, makes this process very fragile. And honestly, I'm not sure every teacher is cut out for the work, as it demands difficult to identify, high-level emotional skills. But there's also little room in the day for this type of instruction, much less in any kind of serious, targeted curriculum – especially in high-risk neighborhoods where everyone is simply trying to survive academically and everything is focused towards reading & math scores. But school may be the only place many students will ever receive the type of moral leadership and emotional skill-building that they'll need to be succesfull in life. It should be on the agenda of every school board and site administration.

  14. Agreed. As a former teacher in a variety of schools, including a boy's "reform" school and a public high-school as well as a number of private schools I have seen how the culture of a school can make a huge difference. At the "reform" school in particular the success of newly enrolled boys depended a great deal on whether the boys who were already enrolled were really willing to work on their problems or were just killing time until they aged out of the system. Since boys were accepted into the program throughout the year, that dynamic was constantly fluctuating.

    The schools that I have taught in that seemed to have the best outcomes where the ones where teachers, parents and staff all recognized that academics are not the most important part of a child's education. Those schools that encouraged teachers to use academics and academic excellence to develop character and life-skills were truly able to develop and maintain a culture in which learning was possible. By understanding that requiring neat work trains a child to be a conscientious employee, emphasis was placed in the right place and teachers were given the freedom to spend time on teaching conflict resolution and other life-skills.

  15. I don't understand why we segregate ages. And we should use the more advanced kids (and the older kids) to teach the younger kids. One learns best by teaching to another the concept one has learned.

    And we need more shop classes and externships and apprenticeships. Some kids aren't going to college, but to actually say that (for some reason) is taboo, or is read as stereotyping of one group or another. We need masons, plumbers, and other skilled tradespeople.

    I agree, sitting in a classroom and holding still and listening for six or seven hours a day is simply not conducive to learning. The amazing thing is that we generally accept this crazy system!

    I say this as a person who never had a hard time in a classroom; graduated with honors, and got 99th percentiles on every standardized test, and all that rot. That is only a tiny measure of job success likelihood. Trust me.

  16. I think it's worth pointing out that the entire concept of adolescence is a modern construct. In most traditional societies, both Western and non-Western, young people began the responsibilities of adulthood in what we would now consider early adolescence, and were considered children prior to that. Teenage boys entered apprenticeships or started contributing to the family business; teenage girls often were married. That (especially the latter) was problematic in a variety of ways, but it gave the youths something significant to do and made them an actual part of society. In the modern West, it often seems that teenagers are put on the back burner because no one wants to deal with them: they're too old and unruly to be treated as children, but they aren't allowed to do the things adults do, and even if they were, they don't have the necessary formal credentials we insist upon for most jobs. I don't know what the solution is, but there has to be a better option than what we're doing now.

  17. 1) It could be a lot worse, a lot more Hobbesian.

    2) I will acknowledge that popular education is not perfect (I will not acknowledge that compulsory school attendance is slavery) but for commenters who would like to speculate about the effects of the institutionalized dreariness of public high schools on juvenile delinquence, let me direct you to Shakespeare.

    "SHEPHERD. I would there were no age between ten and three and

    twenty, or that youth would sleep out the rest; for there is

    nothing in the between but getting wenches with child,

    wronging

    the ancientry, stealing, fighting- Winter's Tale"

    There is really no alternative in a society that, far more than Shakespeare's, is dependent, at least theoretically, on detailed and systematic work, to consider at least young teenagers to have the same responsibilities as adults.

  18. Eli's point about the special skills needed to address social/emotional/violence issues is well taken. Many teachers don't have them, and shouldn't necessarily be expected to have them, if they're dealing with a more typical student body. And there's this: historically, teachers were rewarded for being able to draw out shy, withdrawn students; that was a valued skill too. Now, those students are ignored because they dont' act out and require attention.

  19. (Eli): "Why all the crazy in this thread?"

    Aloha.

    (Eli): "…public education is a vast and complex thing."

    An argument for a competitive market in education services, seems to me. Break the State-monopoly system into small, comprehensible parts. Give power to people with relevant local knowledge (i.e., parents).

    (Eli): "No one group controls any of it. That’s ridiculous."

    We disagree, here. "Control" is a matter of degree. Administrators, public-sector unions, and (often, unionized) faculty in Colleges of Education exert sufficient influence with sufficient coordination to qualify as a "group" with great "control" over most of the system.

    (Eli): "There are many different players, most of them generally following the thinking of the day."

    I recommend Ravitch, __Left Back: Century of Failed School Reform__. Watch as the system lurches from fad to fad at the whims of prominent nitwit theorists.

    (Eli): "Unions, administrations and the public, contrary to what some might like to believe, are generally on the same page. There are many ideas for reform, and there are many sides to every issue."

    Again, a good argument for a voucher-subsidized market in education services or, better, a policy of official (government) indifference to the education industry. The State (government, generally) cannot subsidize education without a definition of "education". The State's definition then binds students, parents, real classroom teachers, and taxpayers.

    (Betsy): "…I say this as a person who never had a hard time in a classroom; graduated with honors, and got 99th percentiles on every standardized test, and all that rot. That is only a tiny measure of job success likelihood. Trust me."

    Thank you. You identify one important factor in the persistence of the system: survivor bias. Decision-makers come from the ranks of people who are good at school. They protect their self-image when they exalt school performance as the measure of human value. Your mechanic is probably as smart as your divorce lawyer, but since schools only offer one year of shop class, s/he never got to show off.

    The clearest piece of evidence that the NEA/AFT/AFSCME cartel's schools (the "public" schools) serve primarily as a make-work program for government employees is the fact that we measure knowledge in units of time: "a year of Algebra" or "three credit-hours of US Diplomatic History" makes as much sense as "a pound of friendship" or "a square foot of curiosity".

  20. The problem is also manifested in the routine sexual harassment of girls in schools. Touching and comments that would be completely unacceptable at any adult workplace are the common and prevalent in most high schools. What are the long term effects on young women to be as crudely and publicly objectified as a sexual commodity — their bodies compared and evaluated — as they are in high school?

  21. Ken D: "83 percent of students report not having been bullied…"

    True, but producing bullies presents problems for society as much, if not more, as being bullied. So I don't think it's accurate to discount the other 13% in the study.

    Ken D: "I find it very striking that more respondents report being bullies than victims."

    I think this may reflect the tendency of bullies to act in groups on an individual. Certainly was true when I was growing up.

  22. In my previous comment, I may have neglected how horrible I consider violence by young people.

    The clearest piece of evidence that the NEA/AFT/AFSCME cartel’s schools (the “public” schools) serve primarily as a make-work program for government employees is the fact that we measure knowledge in units of time: “a year of Algebra” or “three credit-hours of US Diplomatic History” makes as much sense as “a pound of friendship” or “a square foot of curiosity”.

    I would point out that private schools (subsidized through the tax system in addition to more obvious subsidies!) use the same concept. The reason is because that is how the classes in which we learn things unfold, over time. The same cannot be said for your hypothesized alternatives. You know this too.

    (Betsy): “…I say this as a person who never had a hard time in a classroom; graduated with honors, and got 99th percentiles on every standardized test, and all that rot. That is only a tiny measure of job success likelihood. Trust me.”

    Thank you. You identify one important factor in the persistence of the system: survivor bias. Decision-makers come from the ranks of people who are good at school. They protect their self-image when they exalt school performance as the measure of human value. Your mechanic is probably as smart as your divorce lawyer, but since schools only offer one year of shop class, s/he never got to show off.

    Malcolm and Betsy are going off in completely different paths. Betsy is talking about job success likelihood. Malcolm then introduces a hypthoetical about "the measure of human value." I would say that school performance can be a small measure of job success likelihood while still being "a measure of human value" which of course is different from being "the measure of human value." (In fact, Malcolm goes against Betsy when he discusses decision-makers as being those who did well in school.) The reason for this is that the curriculum, generally speaking, is not arbitrary and teaches concepts and skills like familiarity with the basic concepts of math, science, languages, social studies, the arts (as well as providing a forum for socialization) and the ability to follow detailed instructions and THINK IN ABSTRACT TERMS, which are important for society in a different way than athletic, manual or even techical skills are, while the problem-soliving intelligence found among many of those (but not all of those and certainly not only among those) who succeed in it makes performance in these subjects useful as a test of that intelligence that can be generally-applied (now the education system must also accomodate people who are more interested in or suited for things other than that curriculum by encouraging more hands-on experience). As far as providing work for bureaucrats; that is a good thing too. Many of those bureaucrats have skills and traits that even if not otherwise marketable are useful, and society would be a poorer place if those skills and traits were discouraged in favor of wolfishness and philistinism. To complain of educational faddishness is one thing or even to advocate a system financed by vouchers (paid for by government subsidies or special tax deducations I would imagine) or to complain that there is not enough vocational education available, but the basic approach to the present curriculum must be the basis for learning among the young.

  23. Of course, very few people, either among those who are not teachers or those who did not do well in school are either wolves or philistines and neither being a teacher nor doing well in school is a guarantee against being a wolf or philistine. Nothing in my second comment inthis thread actually says anything against this, but I'm just making sure. That is all I have to say in this particular thread; I dislike flame wars.

  24. Eli says:

    "Why all the crazy in this thread?"

    Brett finally agreed to share the one terminal in his lock-down unit?

  25. (Malcolm): "The clearest piece of evidence that the NEA/AFT/AFSCME cartel’s schools (the “public” schools) serve primarily as a make-work program for government employees is the fact that we measure knowledge in units of time: “a year of Algebra” or “three credit-hours of US Diplomatic History” makes as much sense as “a pound of friendship” or “a square foot of curiosity”.

    (Wido): "I would point out that private schools (subsidized through the tax system in addition to more obvious subsidies!) use the same concept. The reason is because that is how the classes in which we learn things unfold, over time. The same cannot be said for your hypothesized alternatives. You know this too."

    Independent schools resemble the NEA/AFT/AFSCME cartel's schools for two obvious reasons: (1) the cartel's post-secondary allies require "Canegie units" (coursework measured in semester-hours) and (2) the policy which restricts parents' options for the use of the taxpayers' K-12 education subsidy to schools operated by dues-paying members of the NEA/AFT/AFSCME cartel has so crowded out other options that the that cartel's model dominates the market and so dominates the minds of employers, parents, and voters. "School" must look like the dominant model.

    I disagree that classes have to work this way. Read __Evolution's Captain: The Tragic Fate of Robert FitzRoy__. FitzRoy started the Admiralty school at 12 and completed what the Admiralty regarded as a 36 month curriculum in 20 months, then went to sea. According to Peter Nichols, the curriculum included fencing, dancing, ship-handling, Geography, Trigonometry, Navigation, foreign languages, and "fluxions" (calculus). This implies three things: (1) FitzRoy was sharp, (2) FitzRoy had been well-educated at home, and (3) the Admiralty curriculim was self-paced.

    I tutored a Korean immigrant kid from third through sixth grade. A kind instructor, Monica Vo, at the UH Math Department, allowed him to sit in on a Calc. I class over summer between sixth and seventh grade and graded his homework and tests (he was not enrolled). He earned a B. Between seventh and eighth grade he sat in on Calc II. At this point we begged his plush private school (Punohou, Obama's high school) to rig his schedule so he could take History and English in the morning and go up to the UH in the afternoon, but Punahou has this weird rotating schedule that makes this impossible, so his parents decided to homeschool him. This meant that they went to work and he went up to the university. The UH allowed him to enroll after he turned 16. He took the GRE (Math) before he turned 17 and earned his MS (Math) before age 19.

  26. (Mark): "…the intolerable failure of adults in this country to enforce the laws against assault and theft as they apply to children leads some children 'to drop out of school, or become depressed, or retreat into drugs and alcohol, or take their own lives'.”

    Independent schools must operate within the law; government schools must operate according to the law (the State's administrative rules are laws). Independent schools which operate in a legal environment which protects freedom of association and freedom of contract face a much lower standard of evidence in dismissing bullies than government schools face. Even in a legal environment degraded by anti-discrimination laws, independent schools have less trouble dismissing bullies.

    School administrators who fail to react to student reports of bullying respond rationally to the legal environment that requires of State agents that they provide more protection to bullies than to victims. They cannot say so in public.

  27. I believe someone pointed out in the companion thread to this one that behavior and bullying at the level discussed here simply does not happen in schools elsewhere. Apparently children/adolescents in many societies of all sorts don't appear to have the propensity to act this way, and if they even approached this level, it wouldn't be tolerated. If it's an American phenomenon, it can't be chalked up to the "problem" of children sitting in classrooms all day every day being taught by adults (who may or may not be part of a "cartel") – because isn't that the definition of "school" worldwide, for the most part? I think we should be asking a larger question – not "what's wrong with our schools?" but "what's wrong with a society that leads kids to act this way, and think it's OK to do so?"

    Sure, there are things I'd like our schools to do better – and maybe it's being older, but it seems as if they used to do them better. Things like vocational and arts education, for one, as has been pointed out. Things like acceptable ways to burn off energy during recess (or PE.) But somehow I can't feel it's entirely the fault of schools, or education, that kids want to bully and mistreat each other, if similar kids in similar schools in other countries don't generally appear to have anywhere near the level of aggression that American kids do.

  28. Bev, US schools are different. Belgium, Belize, Chile, Hong Kong, Ireland, the Netherlands, Poland, Sweden, and Singapore subsidize a parent's choice of school. So also do some Canadian provinces. According to John Gatto, students in Switzerland attend high school only if they plan to attend college, while the rest enroll in apprenticeship programs for non-academic jobs like mechanic and banker. Britain most definitely has a problem with bullying in schools.

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