Monday, March 31, 2008

The Risk of Living True to Your Values

We're told (ad nauseam) to live true to your values. Yet if those values dare be politically incorrect, your career and personal life may well suffer. For example, how do you think a person's career and friendships might fare if the person lived these values:
  • Society should devote more resources to smart kids than to low achievers.
  • Reverse discrimination in employment and college admission is rampant and bad for society.
  • Insufficient evidence yet exists to justify massive efforts to attempt to stop climate change.
Those who have suffered slings and arrows from living their values may take a bit of encouragement from what Einstein said, "Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds."

Your thoughts?

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Time for a Class-Action Suit on Behalf of Smart Boys?

Per a previous post, I believe that intellectually gifted students, especially boys and especially in the elementary school, are our most underserved students. That, of course, is ironic in that gifted kids have the greatest potential for solving societal problems and for the U.S. thriving in the global economy.

For 40 years, despite a vigorous lobbying effort by the National Association for Gifted Children, our legislatures have made clear they don't want to fund bright kids' education. Indeed, nearly all funding for the gifted has been reallocated to the lowest achievers, using such vehicles as Title I and No Child Left Behind.

Civil rights groups achieved many of their goals by skirting the legislature and, instead, filing lawsuits : Brown vs Board of Education (integrated schools,) Larry P (special education), Gratz vs University of Michigan (reverse discrimination.)

Perhaps advocates for bright kids need to take a lesson for the civil rights groups: file a class-action lawsuit on behalf of bright kids, especially boys (who are so underserved in today's girl-friendly, boy-unfriendly schools) demanding merely what the courts and legislators have bestowed upon special education children: sufficient funding to provide an appropriate education.

What do you think?

Saturday, March 29, 2008

The Recession Can Actually Help You

American society has been built on the notion that you can spend your way to contentment. That has never been true, as most wealthy people will privately admit. They'll acknowledge they're on the hedonic treadmill, in which buying something new gives pleasure for an ever briefer time, forcing them to ever buy more and more expensive things to derive an ever briefer buyer's rush.

But now, the economy is not only in recession but has crushing structural problems:
  • Massive deficits and unfunded liabilities such as the Medicare Monster.
  • Poor ethics from top to bottom: from CEOs who encourage or condone ill-begotten profits to healthy workers who steal sick days, to priests who abuse parishioners, to students who cheat on tests (3/4 of high school and college students do.)
  • Uncontrolled immigration.
  • The growing trend to "redistributive justice," which reallocates resources from those most likely to boost the economy (businesses and above-average-income individuals) to society's lowest-achieving people. That short-term pleasure/long-term pain trend will only accelerate with a Democrat president. (Alas, I can't vote for an anti-choice, big-spending Republican. Where's a Philosopher King when you need one?)
  • A badly dysgenic birth rate, in which the people likely to contribute least to society have the most children.
  • Mixed-ability school classes ensuring racial equality but also that everyone learns less than they could and should.
Those factors combined with China and India's ascendancy will cause the U.S. economy to keep declining.

As a result, ever more Americans will be forced to find non-spending paths to contentment. My suggestions for the most likely sources of contentment:
  • A mission--either in your career, avocation, or serving God. (I'm an atheist but I'd be remiss if I didn't acknowledge that many people find great contentment in their religion.)
  • A deep love--of a romantic partner, child, protege, or mentor.
  • A consuming hobby: writing, participation in community theatre, gardening, music, art, etc.
  • A determination to do as many good things as possible: random acts of kindness, uncommon courtesies, honesty when it benefits someone at your expense, etc.

Friday, March 28, 2008

If a Genie Gave Me One Education Wish

If a genie said, "Marty, I'll give you one wish for improving the schools," I'd wish for an experiment:

Take two large public elementary schools that are as similar as possible.

In School 1, assign students to classes as is currently done: by age-level.

In School 2, place students into classes without regard to age, but instead by both sex and performance on the state's achievement test.

So, in a school large enough to fill six classes, School 2 would have a class for:
  • the highest-achieving girls
  • the highest-achieving boys
  • average-achieving girls
  • average-achieving boys
  • the lowest-achieving girls
  • the lowest-achieving boys
Then, over a few year period, see which district's students grow more in achievement, emotional development, social development, etc. Break out results by age, race, gender, and initial achievement level.

What do you think of this idea?

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Smart, Active Boys: Our Most Underserved Students

by Marty Nemko
When I was a boy, I just could not sit still in class. I was very bored and active by nature, so I would rock my chair back, whisper and write notes to kids, even wander around the classroom until the teacher yelled, "Martin, sit down!"

That was decades ago. Today, I suspect I would, like so many boys, put on a Ritalin leash. Indeed there are eight boys for every girl on Ritalin.

The blame is placed on the smart, active boy, rarely on the schools, which claim to celebrate diversity of learning styles and needs but stop celebrating when it comes to smart, active boys. Indeed, this decade's signature domestic policy, No Child Left Behind redirects nearly all efforts to educate the lowest achievers.

This, of course, is ironic in that smart kids have the greatest potential to contribute to society: to cure its diseases, close the racial achievement gap, develop cost-effective solar power, etc.

The unfair treatment of smart, active boys comes from four factors:

1. The widespread abandonment of ability-grouped classes. In most of today's elementary schools, gifted and slow are placed in the same class. That creates more equality--especially racial equality--but the result is that all children receive a worse education. Imagine for example, that you spoke good Mandarin but wanted to become expert. Wouldn't you prefer a class with advanced students rather than one that also had beginners? Yet today, we don't give smart kids (or their parents) that choice. We force them into mixed-ability classes, where dispositive metaevaluations reveal they learn less and are bored. And because, on average, boys are more active than girls, they more often can't sit still for six hours a day, five days a week, 180 days a year, year after year. Rather than the harder task of accommodating to smart, active boys' needs, it's "take this (meth-like) pill." and/or be yelled at, and or given bad grades.

2. That elementary school teachers are overwhelmingly female. Today, the percentage is up to 93%, the highest ever recorded. Even if teachers believe they're accommodating to all students' needs, they can't help but tilt their teaching to what appeals to them. Thus, books about male heroism are replaced by those of female relationships and heroines, typically in which an inferior male is shown-up by a wise female. Competition--a prime motivator for boys--is replaced by so-called "cooperative learning," which usually reduces to the bright doing the slow's work, boring the bright kid and precluding him from learning new things.

3. The media's continuing to perpetrate the myth that females are oppressed and males are the oppressor. For example, they continue to spout these disproven assertions:

  • women earn 77 cents on the dollar compared with men. In fact, a rich research literature documents that sexism is not at the core of pay differentials, for example, THIS is from the New York Times, THIS is from the Wall Street Journal, THIS is from Compensation Cafe, THIS is from City Journal. Alas, the media chooses to ignore all that research in favor of the broadbrush, "Women earn 77 cents on the dollar."
  • women are underrepresented in high-level positions because of sexism. In fact, as documented in recent well-reviewed books such as Susan Pinker's The Sexual Paradox, women's not being in high-office comes much more from choosing to have a less work-centric lifestyle.
  • the schools shortchange girls relative to boys. (the long-debunked Reviving Ophelia canard.)
  • men abuse women--in fact, studies show that 30 to 52% of severe domestic violence is perpetrated by women.

Thus, the feeling among educators, policymakers, and the public, is that we need to do more for females than for males, ignoring such statistics that boys are achieving far worse in school than are girls, much more likely to abuse drugs, commit suicide, and drop out of high school, far less likely to graduate from college, much more likely, as young adults, to be sleeping late unemployed on their parents' sofas.

4. Society's bias that says: let's help those with the greatest deficit rather than those with the greatest potential to profit: "Those smart boys will do okay on their own. Let's commit our resources to the lowest achievers." I deeply believe that such a philosophy will reduce our society to the lowest common denominator, ironically resulting in a worse life for us all. Besides, it simply is unfair for the public schools to not provide at least a marginally appropriate education for all kids, and right now, smart boys get the very least appropriate education.

What do you think?

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

How to judge whether a college or grad school is good

Most colleges don't provide the following information, but it's so helpful in deciding if and where you should attend college or graduate school. Ask and see what you get:

  • Evidence of value-added: Does the program give pre-post tests to see how much students grow in, for example, critical thinking skills, writing and research ability? Is its value-added superior to competing programs or colleges?
  • The cash, loan, and work-study financial aid package you'll likely receive in your 2nd through 6th years. Some colleges use the drug-dealer scam: they give you the first dose cheap and then, after you're hooked, raise the price.
  • Retention data: the percentage of students returning for a second year, broken out by S.A.T. score, race, and gender.
  • The percentage of the institution’s students who have been robbed or assaulted on or near campus.
  • Employment data for graduates: The percentage of graduates who, within six months of graduation are in graduate school, unemployed, employed in a job requiring college-level skills, are earning less than $30,000 a year, $30,000-60,000, $60,000-90,000, $90,000+.
  • The most recent results of a student satisfaction survey.
  • The most recent accreditation visiting team report.

Job Searchers: Networking is Overrated

Networking too rarely lands you a job unless you already are well-ensconced in a successful career and have a network of important people in your field. Networking your way into a job simply takes too long, especially if you're a lousy or reluctant networker.

Devote most of your job-search efforts to finding and answering on-target ads, especially if you're applying for jobs that your resume proves you're well qualified for and if you're a good cover-letter writer. My favorite sources of want ads:,,, and sites specific to your line of work or geographical region.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Who and what can you trust?

Politicians are masters at hiding the truth.
Physicians, alas, are too often wrong.
Many clerics are not as wise as many secularists.
Friends and family may or may not be counted on.
Corporations too often maximize profit at the expense of the larger society.
Nonprofits and government are too often ineffectual.

What do I trust?
I find myself trusting mainly in inanimate things:
-- a touching movie
-- my zinnias
-- a hike
-- Glenn Gould's 1981 recording of Variation 32 of the Goldberg Variations.
-- watching a great play such as Brighton Beach Memoirs at a community theatre .
-- reading or writing unpopular truths. The latter is my primary purpose in writing this blog.