Ordinary World: Education


Scott J Davies

Scott Davies is a freelance writer and tutor. He is currently studying a Master of Education. He is interested in education, economics, geopolitics and history. He's on Twitter and has a Medium page.

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19 Responses

  1. fillyjonk fillyjonk says:

    EDU6: this seems to be an issue many places. Locally, they’ve gone to “online textbooks” but apparently are not allowing the kids to take the devices home with them – so it’s very hard to study and do homework at home and several of my friends have expressed frustration about how their high-school or middle-school aged kids and grandkids are learning (or not learning, as the case may be).

    There’s also a push in higher ed to do everything online. While I know I tend to be a Luddite about such things, sometimes I think I’m not totally unreasonable – in casual discussions with advisees, I have learned that a high percentage of them (a) do not like and do not want online classes and (b) they don’t like electronic textbooks even if they’re purportedly cheaper.

    I dunno. When I worry at my father about “computers gonna take my job” he reminds me of the IETV fad of the mid 70s when HE was a mid-career academic, and how the thought then was that they’d reduce the teaching workforce way down and just broadcast classes to everyone else, and that never amounted to much.

    But I don’t know. These are different times with different funding and the “but it’s cheaper” argument seems to shut up questions of “but is it equally good?”

    Anyway. I hope the students keep complaining and saying they don’t want to learn that way, especially if they see they aren’t learning as well.Report

    • Avatar Michael Cain in reply to fillyjonk says:

      Locally, they’ve gone to “online textbooks” but apparently are not allowing the kids to take the devices home with them…

      So, some proprietary format tied to a specific device?

      The last class I taught was Calc I at the local community college. The textbook price wasn’t that bad if you were going to take the full three-semester sequence, but for the people that only needed Calc I it was painful. Some of the price was covering support — there was an online resource that would give a succession of clues for each of the homework problems, and a limited chat service where you could text with a TA of some sort. When I found out that you could buy a PDF version rather than paper, I did a quick check — sure enough, the unencrypted PDF was available from the Russians at Library Genesis. I didn’t tell the students. I’m sure the school has some sort of license arrangement that telling would violate.

      This is happening with more and more texts. The LibGen folks have some interesting backdoors. A friend recently published a textbook through one of the academic presses. Paper only, no PDF for sale. Yet within a few weeks a copy of the PDF that was used to transfer the book from publisher to printer was available at LibGen.Report

  2. Avatar LeeEsq says:

    ED1 and ED6 are both from the fact that Americans want Swedish level social services but not the taxes necessary to pay for them. We can’t have the awesome schools that they have in Germany and other European countries without money. Since Americans want to pay fewer taxes compared to other countries, we have to resort to gimmicks like that in ED6 when it comes to education. It does not help that Americans are prone to fads.

    EDU9: My senior year social studies class was an Introduction to Western Philosophy. It involved reading the canonical texts. It was glorious. It has a lot of political problems though. The main thrust in education seems to emphasize STEM over the humanities because they are seen as more practical. Teaching the canonical texts is also political. Many parents are going to be upset when their kid reads something they do not like. Some of the canonical texts could get very weird and unsafe like the Symposium. The canonical texts might be beyond many teachers grasp. A good teacher isn’t necessarily an intellectual comfortable with abstract thought.Report

    • Avatar Mike Dwyer in reply to LeeEsq says:

      “Americans want Swedish level social services but not the taxes necessary to pay for them. We can’t have the awesome schools that they have in Germany and other European countries without money. Since Americans want to pay fewer taxes compared to other countries, we have to resort to gimmicks like that in ED6 when it comes to education.”


    • Avatar j r in reply to LeeEsq says:

      ED1 and ED6 are both from the fact that Americans want Swedish level social services but not the taxes necessary to pay for them. We can’t have the awesome schools that they have in Germany and other European countries without money. Since Americans want to pay fewer taxes compared to other countries, we have to resort to gimmicks like that in ED6 when it comes to education. It does not help that Americans are prone to fads.

      I don’t buy this. Saying that Americans don’t want to pay higher income taxes; therefore, Americans don’t want to pay for education makes no sense. That’s generally not how we finance education in America.

      Americans are more than willing to pay for what they perceive as high quality education. People who can, generally either send their kids to expensive private schools or move to places with good public schools financed by high property taxes. And people don’t seem to have a problem either paying exorbitant amounts or letting their kids go into debt to attend prestigious colleges and universities.

      In fact, Americans love the Northern European model of education so much that they try pretty hard to get their kids into schools that look like Northern Europe. And that’s part of the problem. Americans have no problems paying for education. They just want that education to be provided in a setting that surrounds their kids with the “right type” of peers and actively excludes the wrong type. Sure, some of those people will then assuage whatever lingering guilt they have by voting for the right candidate, paying lip service to public education and by getting their schools to exhibit some kind of token diversity and teaching a very sage fuzzy-left wokeness, but for the most part parents aren’t taking too many chances.Report

  3. Avatar Oscar Gordon says:

    EDU12: I think Bug’s Kindergarten teacher was teaching phonics, because Bug went from just beginning to recognize words to accurately sounding out 3 & 4 syllable words in a matter of a few weeks (about this time last year). And he gets REALLY annoyed when a given word does not follow the phonics rules he learned (he wanted to pronounce ‘Police’ as ‘poe-lice’, and told me I was wrong when I corrected him).

    Now, he reads on his own, out loud to us, or quietly to himself (not quite reading in his head yet).Report

    • Avatar Em Carpenter in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

      I wish I knew how to add a picture to a comment, but this reminds me of the time my son’s kindergarten teacher was teaching with the Saxon phonics curriculum, and he took his letter blocks and spelled out:


      • Avatar J_A in reply to Em Carpenter says:

        and he took his letter blocks and spelled out:


        Which, of course, it’s the logical way to spell it.

        I don’t know how much the commentariat here realizes how English Language centric this discussion, and the underlying and competing “research” is.

        Most romance and Germanic languages I’m familiar with have a close relationship between letters and sounds. Turk languages, too, have, since the 1920s an almost perfect correlation sound-letter. There’s little to no guessing between spelling and words.

        English, however, is exceptional in that it preserves “whole words” archaic spelling while the language sounds have continued to evolve. You now have discussions about whether children are “frustrated” when they can’t pair groups of letters with a word they know because they don’t know the specific rule for that specific combination (*)

        I don’t have a memory of a time I didn’t know how to read (in Spanish). I am told I learned the ABC before age three and that I would spell out words I saw in the street, and from there I naturally progressed to reading without much effort or trauma. When, aged 6, I started in a British school, I was taught the actual sounds of the English ABC and of certain digraphs by means of something akin to a measuring tapa that we would hold and move along repeating “A days a, B says b…..” over and over again. And we had spelling bees, a concept totally unheard of in most other languages.

        (*) Am I the only one reminded of Chinese children learning individual ideograms, and baffled when they saw one they didn’t know, being told to try to guess by context and by similarity with other ideograms?Report

        • Avatar Oscar Gordon in reply to J_A says:

          There have been multiple attempts to align the written and spoken English language. They have all largely failed.Report

          • History suggests it’s a waste of time and effort. The really odd things that happened when the London-Oxford-Cambridge dialects were combined and the Great Vowel Shift come to mind. Also, as James Nicoll said, “We don’t just borrow words; on occasion, English has pursued other languages down alleyways to beat them unconscious and rifle their pockets for new vocabulary.”Report

    • Avatar Richard Hershberger in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

      My understanding from when my kids were in kindergarten (just a couple of years ago) is that they had come around to a sensible compromise between phonics and whole word learning. My older kid was already a fluent reader, thanks to PBS Kids and me and the missus reading to her. My younger kid was more fluent that she let on. She claimed not to know how to read, yet had a mysterious ability to correctly interpret signs she had not previously seen. This has turned into a game. She is in third grade now, and in the unicorn phase. So I bought her some graphic novels (for want of a better term) about “Phoebe and her Unicorn.” The kid insists that she is just looking at the pictures, but we can catch her out, knowing what the text says. She is, in other words, totally full of shit. She also insists that “Phoebe” is pronounced with a long /o/ sound.Report

  4. Avatar Mike Dwyer says:

    EDU11: The Atlantic had a really good article related to this back in September. They discuss how school ending two hours earlier than most parents get off work has created this enormous need for after-school care. It’s a pretty messed up system when you are working those two hours just to pay for daycare for your kids so you can work the two hours. The only benefit is to employers that get two hours of labor and the massive child care industry in the U.S.

    Some possible solutions would be to extend the school day, but that would force teachers into a longer workday. Another solution is to acknowledge that most jobs can be done in about 6 hours per day and the other two hours is mostly wasted on socializing, sneaking time on the internet, smoke breaks, etc. Get people in for 6 hours of focused time and then get them home to their kids. Obviously that wouldn’t work for every profession, but it would for many. Another idea is better community-sourced childcare options. We were lucky enough to have access to a very robust and affordable YMCA after-school program that took good care of the kids and allowed us to be a two-career household. Not everyone has that option.Report

    • Avatar Richard Hershberger in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

      My kids are on the cusp of aging out of the need for after school care, into becoming latch-key kids. I eagerly await this, as it will free up significant cash. I think that part of the lack of political will to fix the system is that for any given kid, the daycare burden is only a few years, and it goes down as they age from needed their diapers changed to simply being play time to being after school time. My kids are two years apart, so the financial hit is concentrated, but we can see the light at the end of the tunnel. In two years, daycare will be but an unhappy memory.Report

    • Avatar Oscar Gordon in reply to Mike Dwyer says:

      I work about a 6 hour day (0830 until 1500), then after dinner I put in another 2 hours or so. Usually doing the kind of development work that I like to do free of distractions.Report

  5. Avatar bookdragon says:

    EDU6: Our school district is moving toward giving every student a chromebook starting in 7th grade and doing everything in jr high and high school over google classroom. This has advantages in terms of the kids not becoming hunchbacks from carrying a big pack of heavy books (since the schools are big and there is never time between classes to get to a locker, switch out books and still make it to the next class) and theoretically provides a place where assignments can always be viewed from home. In reality there have been a lot of growing pains, partly because the teachers are far less computer literate than most of the students and partly because the system has a lot of glitches (my husband and I are both extremely computer literate engineers and have still struggled to help our kids find things and verify that assignments were submitted correctly).

    I think they will eventually get the bugs worked out, but I am glad that they are only using google classroom for books and assignments. There is still in person in class teaching for all classes. The only classes taught via internet are for students with emotional/behaviorial issues that make attending in a regular school environment detrimental. In at least one of those cases that I know of, the parents consider online schooling a godsend.

    EDU9: I’m in a STEM career, but still think having that basis is very beneficial. Just knowing the references – phrases, allusions, images – from certain ‘great works’ can allow a person to join in conversations and social circles that might otherwise not be available to someone of their social or economic class/background. But beyond that those works examine social change and attitudes and moral questions. They introduce different ways of expression – some more complex with textured language, some more direct and starkly worded – and allow the reader to ‘feel’ the effect of those.

    Certainly though it shouldn’t be limited to just the old list of ‘dead white guys’. There are ‘great works’ available from many other categories just in the Western World, as well as from around the world, and students would reap the same benefits in cultural understanding and literacy that you outline from being exposed to those as well.

    EDU11: Yes. My 14 yr old moved to 9th grade this year, which means getting up an hour and a half earlier. He’s always been good at math and spatial reasoning, which placed him honors level geometry, but the class was the first one of the day – at 7:20am. He went from an A student to a D student in the first month before finally making the adjustment (he’s back up to a B and working his way to normal levels now). Granted, he has always been a nightowl so puberty+early start probably hit him harder than most, but my daughter, who is more of a morning person also struggled when she started the earlier schedule. This also complicated by a large school district with long bus routes. Their high school starts at 7:20am, but their bus leaves at 6:15am.

    EDU12: I’m skeptical. Perhaps its’ because I have hearing issues anyway, but learning to pronounce words by sounding them out was always secondary to learning the meaning of words and understanding them in context. Being able to work out the correct way to say a word had little to do with finding a book engaging. Also, phonics is frustrating method for learning English since there are so many exceptions to every rule of how certain letters and combinations of letters are pronounced.Report

    • Avatar Oscar Gordon in reply to bookdragon says:

      Phonics gets you most of the way there.Report

      • Avatar bookdragon in reply to Oscar Gordon says:

        It depends on the kid. Mine were reading at roughly a 1st grade level before entering kindergarten, because I read to them a lot and their pre-school did a good job with teaching letters and basic words, but I remember my daughter – who tend be a ‘follow the rules’ kind of kid – being really frustrated with phonics. The Rules Didn’t Work! She really struggled with that and even started to think of herself as a poor reader because she kept arriving at the wrong pronunciations. Her previous enjoyment of reading nosedived.

        The only thing I could do to help her past that was to tell her over and over that phonics is at best a crude tool for guessing how to say a word, so don’t stress about it. The important thing is to understand what the word means and be able to understand what the book is saying; being able to read it aloud is way, way less important.Report

  6. Avatar Richard Hershberger says:

    EDU8: I got all but the last question right. One question required an educated guess at the meaning of a term I don’t recall ever having been taught. The pyramid question I also fudged in that I don’t remember the formula, but the multiple choice format gave me the information I needed. The algebra questions are a breeze, but then again algebra is fun.

    As for the last question, I am stumped at how to solve it without using trig tables (or a calculator). I clearly am missing something. My dark suspicion is that what I am missing is that the actual test takers can use calculators or trig tables.Report