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  • Simon Blackburn: An Unbeautiful Mind
    Polkinghorne holds the belief that unless some things last forever, everything is futile, a "meaningless empire of accident." This would wipe the smile off the face of many scientists. For science is not good about "forever." It paints a different picture of the world in which we find ourselves. Science teaches that the cosmos is some fifteen billion years old, almost unimaginably huge, and governed by natural laws that will compel its extinction in some billions more years, although long before that the Earth and the solar system will have been destroyed by the heat death of the sun. Human beings occupy an infinitesimally small fraction of space and time, on the edge of one galaxy among a hundred thousand million or so galaxies. We evolved only because of a number of cosmic accidents, including the extinction of the dinosaurs some sixty-five million years ago. Nature shows us no particular favors: we get parasites and diseases and we die, and we are not all that nice to each other. True, we are moderately clever, but our efforts to use our intelligence to make things better for ourselves quite often backfire, and they may do so spectacularly in the near future, from some combination of manmade military, environmental, or genetic disasters.
  • Roger Scruton: The West and the Rest
    "It is thanks to Western prosperity, Western legal systems, Western forms of banking, and Western communications that human initiatives now reach so easily across frontiers to affect the lives and aspirations of people all over the globe. However, Western civilization depends on an idea of citizenship that is not global at all, but rooted in territorial jurisdiction and national loyalty. By contrast, Islam, which has been until recently remote from the Western world and without the ability to project its message, is founded on an ideal of godliness which is entirely global in its significance, and which regards territorial jurisdiction and national loyalty as compromises with no intrinsic legitimacy of their own. Although there have been attempts to manufacture nationalisms both appropriate to the Islamic temperament and conducive to a legitimate political order, they have fragmented under the impact of sectarian or tribal allegiances, usually giving way to military dictatorship or one-man, one-family, or one-party tyranny. Islam itself remains, in the hearts of those who live under these tyrannies, a permanent call to a higher life, and a reminder that power and corruption will rule in this world until the reign established by the Prophet is restored."
  • Adam Smith: Wealth of Nations 1776
    The difference of natural talents in different men is, in reality, much less than we are aware of; and the very different genius which appears to distinguish men of different professions, when grown up to maturity, is not upon many occasions so much the cause as the effect of the division of labour. The difference between the most dissimilar characters, between a philosopher and a common street porter, for example, seems to arise not so much from nature as from habit, custom, and education. When they came into the world, and for the first six or eight years of their existence, they were perhaps very much alike, and neither their parents nor playfellows could perceive any remarkable difference. About that age, or soon after, they come to be employed in very different occupations. The difference of talents comes then to be taken notice of, and widens by degrees, till at last the vanity of the philosopher is willing to acknowledge scarce any resemblance. But without the disposition to truck, barter, and exchange, every man must have procured to himself every necessary and conveniency of life which he wanted. All must have had the same duties to perform, and the same work to do, and there could have been no such difference of employment as could alone give occasion to any great difference of talents.
  • Kishore Mahbubani: Freedom
    But freedom does not only solve problems; it can also cause them. The United States has undertaken a massive social experiment, tearing down social institution after social institution that restrained the individual. The results have been disastrous. Since 1960 the U.S. population has increased 41 percent while violent crime has risen by 560 percent, single-mother births by 419 percent, divorce rates by 300 percent and the percentage of children living in single-parent homes by 300 percent. This is massive social decay. Many a society shudders at the prospects of this happening on its shores. But instead of traveling overseas with humility, Americans confidently preach the virtues of unfettered individual freedom, blithely ignoring the visible social consequences.
  • Harold Pinter: Nobel Lecture
    There are no hard distinctions between what is real and what is unreal, nor between what is true and what is false. A thing is not necessarily either true or false; it can be both true and false.
  • Charles Darwin: The Descent of Man
    As man advances in civilization, and small tribes are united into larger communities, the simplest reason would tell each individual that he ought to extend his social instincts and sympathies to all the members of the same nation, though personally unknown to him. This point being once reached, there is only an artificial barrier to prevent his sympathies extending to the men of all nations and races.
  • Earnest Becker: The Denial of Death
    We have to go the way of the grasshopper even though it takes longer.
  • Johnson, Samuel: Rambler # 121 May 14, 1751
    "To learn is the proper business of youth; and whether we increase our knowledge by books or by conversation, we are equally indebted to foreign assistance."
  • Murray Rothbard: Education Free and Compulsory
    It is evident that the common enthusiasm for equality is, in the fundamental sense, anti-human. It tends to repress the flowering of individual personality and diversity, and civilization itself; it is a drive toward savage uniformity. Since abilities and interests are naturally diverse, a drive toward making people equal in all or most respects is necessarily a leveling downward. It is a drive against development of talent, genius, variety, and reasoning power. Since it negates the very principles of human life and human growth, the creed of equality and uniformity is a creed of death and destruction.
  • J. M. Cameron: Review of Becker's Denial of Death
    Life, for Becker, is a desperate business, in which a steady heroism before the terrors of existence is in general the only thing to be commended.
  • Mark Lilla: The Politics of God
    In the end, though, what happens on the opposite shore will not be up to us. We have little reason to expect societies in the grip of a powerful political theology to follow our unusual path, which was opened up by a unique crisis within Christian civilization. This does not mean that those societies necessarily lack the wherewithal to create a decent and workable political order; it does mean that they will have to find the theological resources within their own traditions to make it happen. "Our challenge is different. We have made a choice that is at once simpler and harder: we have chosen to limit our politics to protecting individuals from the worst harms they can inflict on one another, to securing fundamental liberties and providing for their basic welfare, while leaving their spiritual destinies in their own hands. We have wagered that it is wiser to beware the forces unleashed by the Bible’s messianic promise than to try exploiting them for the public good. We have chosen to keep our politics unilluminated by divine revelation. All we have is our own lucidity, which we must train on a world where faith still inflames the minds of men. NYTimes Magaziine, 8/19/2007
  • Richard Fields: The Land of Opportunity
    Immigration to the United States is not a problem. It is a phenomenon. The only way the United States can stop this phenomenon is by destroying the capitalist economy that draws immigrants here. We need to move in the direction of more open immigration, not in the direction of militarized borders fit only for a police state. Though it's been obscured by layers of cynical campaign rhetoric, the issue of immigration comes down to whether we want to restrict individual liberty to native-born Americans or offer it to everyone. If freedom works for us — and it does — what possible moral reason do we have to offer it to those born in San Diego, and deny it to those born inches away in Tijuana?
  • Edward O. Wilson: Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge, 1998
    On the surface it would seem, and was so reported by the media, that the Rwandan catastrophe was ethnic rivalry run amok. That is true only in part. There was a deeper cause, rooted in environment and demography. Between 1950 and 1994 the population of Rwanda, favored by better health care and temporarily improved food supply, more than tripled, from 2.5 million to 8.5 million. In 1992 the country had the highest growth rate in the world, an average of 8 children per woman. Parturition began early, and generation times were short. But although total food production increased dramatically during this period, it was soon overbalanced by population growth. The average farm size dwindled as plots were divided from one generation to the next. Per capita grain production fell by half from 1960 to the early 1990s. Water was so overdrawn that hydrologists declared Rwanda one of the world's twenty-seven water-scarce countries. The teenage soldiers of the Hutu and Tutsi then set out to solve the population problem in the most direct possible way. Rwanda is a microcosm of the world. War and civil strife have many causes, most not related directly to environmental stress. But in general, overpopulation and the consequent dwindling of available resources are tinder that people pile up around themselves. The mounting anxiety and hardship are translated into enmity, and enmity into moral aggression. Scapegoats are identified, sometimes other political or ethic groups, sometimes neighboring tribes. The tinder continues to grow, awaiting the odd assassination, territorial incursion, atrocity, or other provocative incident to set it off. Rwanda is the most populated country in Africa. Burundi, its war torn neighbor, is second. Haiti and El Salvador, two of the chronically most troubled nations of the Western Hemisphere, are also among the most densely populated, exceeded only by five tiny island countries of the Caribbean. They are also arguable the most environmentally degraded.
  • Murray Rothbard: Rights of Animals
    There is, in fact, rough justice in the common quip that "we will recognize the rights of animals whenever they petition for them." The fact that animals can obviously not petition for their "rights" is part of their nature, and part of the reason why they are clearly not equivalent to, and do not possess the rights of, human beings. And if it be protested that babies can't petition either, the reply of course is that babies are future human adults, whereas animals obviously are not.
  • Dr. Kenneth R. Miller:
    When asked, “What do you say as a scientist about the soul?” Dr. Miller's answer is always the same: “As a scientist, I have nothing to say about the soul. It’s not a scientific idea.” Dr. Mller, a Roman Catholic and biologist at Brown University is the author of, “Finding Darwin’s God” (Harper, 1999)
  • Richard Rorty:
    "...if we can work together, we can make ourselves into whatever we are clever and courageous enough to imagine ourselves becoming.”
  • Richard J. Herrnstein:
    "It is easy to lie with statistics, but it's a lot easier to lie without them."
  • Michael Slackman: Quiet Revolution in Algeria
    In Algiers there is a whole class of young men referred to as hittistes — the word is a combination of French and Arabic for people who hold up walls.
  • Albert Einstein:
    Common sense is nothing more than a deposit of prejudices laid down by the mind before you reach age 18.
  • Neil Postman:
    "Children are the living messages we send to a time we will not see."


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July 2007

July 12, 2007

Schooling, not Education...

Schooling, not education, is what mostly goes on in those places we call schools. for schooling as a rule has little direct relation to learning. When learning does take place it’s usually in spite of, not because of the school. What happened that schooling and education have grown apart? (Were they ever together? Perhaps in schools for adults. Perhaps at Plato's "school" in Athens.)

Education, or learning, is what life and the best schools are all about. Learning, which is life long, depends primarily on just two factors, the teacher and the student.

Now most educational reformers think that by positively impacting other factors, such as class size, length of the school day, standardized testing, school uniforms, disciplined classrooms, progressive classrooms, the degree of school autonomy etc. student learning can be given a boost. It can’t, of course, as has been abundantly shown by the history of failed school reforms.

A good teacher and a motivated student are the only two factors that can by themselves significantly boost the amount of learning that goes on, in school, or more commonly, in life. For learning to take place the teacher (which could also be a good book, work of art, or even the natural world itself... Lincoln's teacher was a book, Darwin's was nature) needs to be both knowledgeable and caring. The student needs to be ready, to listen and to want to learn. Absent either one and learning does not take place.

The tragedy of our schools stems directly from the fact that they are not primarily concerned with recruiting the very best teachers and with arousing the curiosity and interest of their students.

OK, that’s not easy to do, and there’s the rub. But rather than work on the “hard problem” (teacher recruitment and student motivation) we busy ourselves with endless “solutions” to the "soft" or easy problems mentioned above, length of school day, order in the school and classroom etc.

What happened that we have now in our schools so few excellent teachers and so few motivated students? For the first the answer is easy. Our country early on gave its respect, and resulting monetary rewards, to those who care for our bodies, our doctors, to those who protect our contracts, our lawyers, and to those who grow our economy, our business men, not to mention our media and sports celebrities. To those who would “school” our children, care for their minds, we gave, and continue to give as little respect and dollar recompense as possible.

Why we did this is not so easy to answer. Perhaps it was because those of us who made it to the highest levels of power and influence in our country always knew how little our own success depended on what we had done in school. Schooling was a minor factor in our lives so why should we by our tax payments heavily subsidize an industry whose major function seemed only to be holding children safely and securely in a place apart, in school, until they were of age and were ready to enter society.

So in regard to the one factor, the teacher, things will not change until we decide to give the teacher the respect and monetary rewards that the importance of the position (being close to the child during the child's formative years) demands.

What about the other factor, student motivation? What happened that most students in our schools, most often before they reach the fourth grade and ten years of age, will lose their natural curiosity and interest in everything they encounter in the classroom? What happened that so many of them by the time of Middle School have little or no interest in what their teachers are doing and saying?

Many have tried to answer this question. The most common answer is hormones. The advent of puberty. The child’s interest in his or her body, in sex, trumps the beginning algebra, foreign language, history and literature classes. The real question is, given this fact of the child's interest and preoccupation with other than school subjects, why do we act as if it were not so?

The right teacher may somehow get through the child’s growing physical awareness of body and self to the child’s mind. This is what happens to those children with particular aptitude and talent for the lessons of the classroom and who are naturally obedient. We call these the "good students" of whom there are always a few in every classroom, their presence enabling those teachers who do remain, to remain. This is not, however, what happens with most children.

Is school destined to fail because it doesn't give proper place and importance to the physical changes taking place in the child's body, let alone to the popular culture that most occupies the child's time everywhere but in school?  There are those who would put middle school aged children to work on a farm, especially one with lots of animals, and where bodily functions may be readily and openly observed and discussed. And there are those who would bring popular culture into the classroom. But both "reforms" have failed to make schools also a place of learning.

Most of all in regard to the second of our two factors, the child’s motivation to learn, we need to give the child a lot of slack, and not pretend that the child is with us when he's not. We need to take into account and deal with the fact that the child is only a little bit with us in the classroom and a lot more somewhere else. The classroom lessons in math, science, literature and history while endlessly fascinating in themselves are probably of little or no importance, probably boring, to the child.

What is important to the child, especially in the tween and early teen years, are the “life lessons’ that they are experiencing all the time. These “lessons” may stem from their close contacts with their friends, from the many hours spent with their games, from the music, films and other forms of the popular culture that surrounds them, from their trips to the mall, shopping and just hanging out.

It's not at all that children are not able and ready to learn. In all the respects just mentioned they are far more knowledgeable than we are. There is no question about their ability to master what interests them. Ask them about the things they are curious about and are motivated to learn, their music, their computers, their video games, their interactions with their peers, and they will quickly lose us, as we lose them in our classes, but in this instance because of our absolute ignorance of what they are knowledgeable about.

Children are of course learning all the time. That’s what being alive means. It’s just that very little of that learning goes on in the places we call schools.

July 05, 2007

"These Boys are Innocent"

Among the plethora of information reaching us from London concerning the eight alleged terrorists, all medical doctors or technicians, we learn that those closest to these young men had no inkling that their children, family members, or just childhood friends, were preparing terrorist attacks in London and Glasgow.

Ii may be that their ignorance of what the men were planning was the result of the special circumstances of their lives in the turbulent and violent Middle East where they lived and where these young men for the most part (three of the group were from Bangalore) grew up. The external pressures on the families living in the Middle East, and perhaps in India also, were and are so great that there is probably little time for friends and families to be together in normal circumstances and get to know one another.

Or it may be that most parents including these parents don’t know their children, let alone their more distant family members and neighbors. It may be that the human heart is so well hidden that even our closest loved ones will on occasion startle us, in this instance overwhelm us, by a totally unexpected action.

In any case, how does one understand such statements from family and friends as the following, all witness to an apparent ignorance of what was really happening?

“Mrs Zakia Ahmed of Bangalore, the mother of Sabeel Ahmed (the brother of Khalid Ahmed, the driver of the SUV, who was critically burned in the fire at Heathrow Airport), said yesterday: ‘These boys are innocent.’”

And this:

“The father of the suspected terror cell mastermind, Mohammed Jamil Abdelkader Asha, said yesterday that his son's arrest was, 'beyond belief.... my son is incapable of such acts. It's a mistake. The British are going to find it is an error. Mohammed is innocent.’ And Dr. Asha's brother, Ahmed, 31, said his brother was in love with Britain, 'My brother kept forever singing its praises. He is not a Muslim extremist.'”

And finally,

“Sheikh Rehmatullah, a childhood friend of Sabeel Ahmed, insisted in Bangalore: ‘He is not like that. He can't be a terrorist. We have played together since we were young, we used to play cricket together. I have known him for the last 20 years. They are very good people, the whole family, they are very educated.”

“These boys are innocent.” “It’s a mistake.” “He is not like that.” These words ring true. I believe them.  That is I don't think they're lying. I think they believe what they say. Furthermore I see no reason to suppose that we’re not like the speakers, and that we probably don’t know our own children any better.

Is that the way it has to be? That we don't really know one another, even those closest to us? The great writers who write about these things would probably say yes.

If even the closest family members are without suspicion of the true motivations of their children what chance do our counter terrorist agents have of recognizing the terrorist among the millions out there? Especially when he or she holds a respected position in society, as did these eight Moslem doctors and medical technicians?

We need to go after the terrorists, but even more so we need to confront whatever it is that motivates them to hate and destroy themselves along with us. If we don't go after what motivates them what chance do we have of defusing in time the probably endless series of suicide bombers as they come at us fully intent on ending their own lives and ours along with them? We will not always be so lucky as we were at the London and Glasgow airports.

July 04, 2007

Who Owns the Future?

At present there is some talk that China does. Just as in the past in the thirties there was some talk that Russia (the Soviet Union) did. What did Russia do, and what is China doing to stake their claims on the future?

In totalitarian Russia (as in totalitarian China today) human labor was cheap, and could be sacrificed with impunity to the goals of the ruling class. From a distance the West watched Stalin and company transform the Russian people into a blunt instrument for moving the country rapidly into the future.

Most of all Stalin seemed to operate under the assumption that the Soviet Union had to do everything if not better at least bigger than the West, and hence the series of gigantic projects he undertook during the thirties, at least before his country was invaded by the Germans, that which again transformed the country, this time into one vast war machine.

Prime examples of Stalin's huge projects that would take his country into the future were the city of Magnitogorsk and the White Sea Canal. In 1929, Stalin decreed that this city, that didn't yet exist, be built from scratch around Magnitka - an entire mountain of pure iron ore in the southern Ural range, iron being of course the key ingredient of steel, and which, according to Stalin, the man of steel, would determine the future of the Soviet Union.  (My source for this and the following account of the White Sea Canal can be accessed here.)


With expertise provided by Communist sympathizers from the West Magnitogorsk, a ready-made city for 450,000 inhabitants, was constructed in about five years. The costs were kept down by having the heavy lifting done by political prisoners, 30,000 of whom died in the effort. Steel production began in 1934, but shortly after World War II the iron ore ran out and the city’s economy collapsed.


And there was the White Sea Canal. Ever the optimist, this time Stalin wanted connect the Baltic Sea, with its key port of Leningrad, to the White Sea’s port of Archangelsk. The idea was that he could move the Soviet navy back and forth. So Stalin had more political prisoners sent to work on the canal - there was a seemingly endless supply from the gulags - and after a few brutal years it was completed in 1933.

Disease, poor nutrition, and brutal conditions took a huge toll, though, with as many as 250,000 of the slave laborers dead by the end of it. Of course nothing of lasting benefit came of Stalin's mad schemes, but at the time we marveled at what a nation could do if all its resources could be directed without opposition to its own ends, a new city, a new water way, and later the first man in space.

There were those of us who even wondered if we were on the wrong track. Didn't President Roosevelt's public works projects of the depression years pale in comparison?

The White Sea Canal was completely useless when finished. For most of its length it was too shallow to admit anything larger than a small barge. Later a book of propaganda detailing the biographies of "heroic" workers and engineers, intended for distribution in capitalist countries, had to be recalled because in the meanwhile Stalin had ordered all the main characters shot.

Now it's China that threatens (promises?) to be the future, just as did the Soviet Union in the thirties. And because what we see coming from China is not the same as what we saw in the thirties from Russia we can't readily dismiss what's happening in China as being just more "mad schemes" no less wrong headed as those of Stalin.

Furthermore China is not so much doing things differently from the West, but in some respects both bigger and better. They have taken our production model (and much else besides) and with the benefit of cheap manual labor and borrowed Western ideas, have taken it much further than we ever did, or could.

To look at Chinese workers within a Chinese factory is to make one wonder if this is not the future for all of us. Why? Because it works. Production is way up and people all over the world are purchasing the products from the factory floors. And most important the workers on the factory floor are now sending a portion of their earnings to their families left behind in the villages.

China has taken the factory production model and made it the principal engine of their rapidly growing economy. Hundreds of thousands of people from the country have almost overnight transformed themselves into factory workers in the new cities on the coast.

You can go here to see my sources for the following text and images.


The largest mobile-phone manufacturer in China when this photo was shot, Bird Mobile has since been overtaken. Here, workers complete a manual-assembly portion of the phone-production process.


This is the main processing floor of the Deda chicken processing plant, a Thailand/China joint venture. The factory processes approximately 100 million chickens a year, which are mostly exported because of their superior quality.



Workers' uniforms hang outside a dormitory located amid a massive industrial complex. Waste from the complex has turned the river in the foreground completely black.


Lunch time in the cafeteria of Youngor Textiles, the largest suit maker in China, lasts around 20 minutes.

From these pictures alone wouldn't you have to say that China owns the future?  When people get together, live together, work and eat together, as some 200 million of them seem to be doing in present day China, who could ever stop them, let alone compete with them?

China, unlike the Soviet Union, is taking the best from the West, and trying to do it even better. The Soviet Union of course tried to do things differently from the West and achieved nothing but disastrous results. China is doing some things better than the West, or at least at a much lower cost. And in a market economy, in which China, again unlike the Soviet Union, is now immersed, lowering the costs is doing it better.

Also, China's products have found hundreds of millions of buyers in the West and elsewhere, thus cementing their industry to the body of the world's consumers, that which bodes well for their future (and for ours?). The Soviet Union's products could not even find satisfied buyers within their own country, let alone the rest of the world.

Actually China produces not so much for its own people, who have little or no purchasing power of their own, but for us Americans, and to a lesser extent because of tariff barriers, the Europeans.

In China the production of goods of all kinds is not hindered by concerns for individual or employee rights. Their only concern is to make at the lowest possible cost exactly what their customers will most want to buy. And in fact hardly a day goes when the American consumer is not buying a product made in China.

Could this be a model for China's future, our future, and the future of the world? In any case the free market will always seek out regions for the production of its goods where the costs of production are lowest, and, for the time being anyway, this region is China.

I end this discussion of China's ownership of the future on a sour but important note, another opinion regarding in this case the not so bright future of the Asian giant.

I refer you to Guy Sorman's article, The Empire of Lies, in the City Journal, Spring, 2007.  Sorman clearly implies that it's not China who owns the future. China has enormous up until now un-addressed, let alone unresolved, problems stemming from its unchecked economic growth. Furthermore, I think if I asked Sorman who did own the future he would say it's still America, and maybe just a little bit Europe and his own country, France, under its new anti-anti-American president Nicholas Sarkozy.


July 02, 2007

Protecting the Child's Eagerness to Learn

Today, on the Op Ed page of the NY Times Barry Schwartz of Swarthmore College asks this question:  “Why don’t children get intrinsic satisfaction from learning in school.” It is assumed that they don’t. And in fact for most of us, school was always more a tasteless, sometimes bitter pill that we had to swallow than an uplifting, often joyful experience from which we gained fresh and exciting insights into ourselves and our world.

We know all too well, and Schwartz reminds us, that by fourth grade students are no longer eager to learn. As a result children need to be bribed to learn, with gold stars and candies in elementary school, and in high school with grades and college acceptances implying eventually good jobs and successful life experiences. Now in NY City they've upped the ante. It is proposed that diligent, high-achieving seventh graders,  based on their attendance records and exam performance, be paid up to $500 a year.

In case you're wondering Schwartz makes it clear in his Op Ed piece why money for gold stars won't work. (In this regard see also Heather Mac Donald's article in the weekly Standard, Learning for Dollars.) But other than to say that neither intrinsic (love of learning) not extrinsic (dollars) rewards do work he makes no attempt to answer his own question, as to what has made the schools so "dystopian" that the children go from eagerness to learn to absolute boredom "almost overnight." Actually the process usually takes a few years, that which is a tribute to the great strength of the innate desire to learn within all children, at least at the start of school.

But isn’t the answer to Schwartz's question staring us in the face? Isn’t it obvious that children’s (and people’s) learning varies directly with their interests and abilities, and that no two children share the same interests and abilities? And doesn't it follow from the fact that schools group their students together by chronological age, and not by interests or abilities, that they are thereby placing students, differing widely in both respects, into a single learning environment with a single teacher?

In most cases this seems to have been enough to destroy the child's eagerness to learn. For it has meant that most children spend most of their time witnessing the efforts of others to learn, and very little time with efforts of their own. School for most children has turned learning into a spectator sport.**

So why would we ever expect children in this situation to be eager to learn!? Perhaps a few will learn in order to outdo the others. But most, of course, can't and won't. It does take our schools three years (everyone points out that it is gone by year four) to destroy the child’s eagerness to learn, but destroy it they do, as anyone who has taught the middle school years knows.

How sad and dismal places our schools have become when the highest achievements we can point to are all related to such things as how well the children do what they’re told, how neat and ordered is the classroom, and now, in particular, how many students in the class have reached proficiency on standardized tests.

Yes, only radical solutions are relevant. And one has to start with the most radical of them all, bring an end to grouping by age. This of course has never been seriously proposed by the political and educational establishment and hence the failure of all (lesser) reforms up until now.

To end grouping by age would mean many more places of learning, and for the most part outside the school building itself, in places where there are working and caring adults with time for children. The school buildings would find better uses, for times when large group spaces are necessary, but they could never, by themselves, provide hundreds of classrooms for hundreds of students all differing from one another in terribly relevant and important respects. Only the society at large could do this.

We have to rethink what we mean by education, and the rethinking has to begin with the absolute necessity of protecting the child’s natural eagerness to learn. We have to be sure this time around that whatever we do we do not take away the child’s natural curiosity. Horace Mann and his followers in the common school movement never seemed to understand that it wasn't enough just to put all the kids together with a single teacher in a single classroom.

Finally, what is it that differentiates the one room school house of the 19th. century from the large inner city middle or high school classroom today? Many things of course. But in the one room school house, especially when the children were of many different ages, children were much more apt to be taken as individuals, each with his or her own individual interests, talents, strengths, weaknesses, and all the rest, and then as individuals helped to learn and grow. Not, alas, what currently takes place in the places we call school.

** I find unexpected support of my comment about student learning being a "spectator sport," in a "featured article" from this month's TCRecord, The Cultural Myths and Realities of Classroom Teaching and Learning: A Personal Journey, by Graham Nuthall, 2005.

"We were discovering the ways students live in a personal and social world of their own in the classroom. They whispered to each other and passed notes. They spread rumors about girlfriends and boyfriends, they constantly commented on each other’s and the teacher’s behavior, and they continued arguments that started outside school. It became clear that the students cared more about their peers’ judgments than they cared about the teacher’s opinion. Within this pervasive (but hidden) peer culture, sexism and racism were alive and flourishing even when the teacher actively promoted fully inclusive learning activities or believed she was treating girls and boys equally (Alton-Lee, Nuthall, & Patrick, 1987; Alton-Lee, Densem, & Nuthall, 1991).