Twilight of the Idols

...Or how one blogs with a hammer: an undergrad's views on education, cuisine, and more.

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Thursday, October 30

Off Topic: I Hate Stupid People!

This letter was printed in the New York Times today, in response to the (suprisingly balanced) article the NYT ran a few days ago about the Free State Project:

To the Editor:

Re "Libertarians Pursue New Political Goal: State of Their Own" (front page, Oct. 27): Elizabeth McKinstry, a spokeswoman for the Free State Project, says, "Many times government gets in the way." In this, she echoes the political sentiments of many conservatives and Republicans in addition to libertarians.

To see through the verbal mask of this ideology and discover the real agenda behind it, I recommend that citizens substitute "the voters" for "government" in all the various libertarian, Republican and conservative pronouncements.

The chances are extraordinarily high that if you're reading this, you're a libertarian, conservative, or a Republican (or at the very least, you have a better grasp of their policies than this guy), and you can come up with vulgar epithets of your own in response.

Of course, this isn't to imply that I think he's 100% wrong; if we're talking about voters who hold the opinion that the government needs to worry and fuss over our every iddle need, then I do think that they get in the way (in the way of my freedom, in the way of your freedom, in the way of even their own freedom). The difference between he and I is that there's plenty of room for him in my Perfect World and no room for me in his.

Further Update: Crosses In The Classroom

Today's New York Times had an article with a bit more info about the cross in the classroom in Italy.

"The cross has always been there," said Anna Berardi, 56, as she stood outside the elementary school on Wednesday, marveling at the phalanx of television news trucks in the parking lot.

Ms. Berardi, who said that she seldom attends church, was referring to the cross as a visual motif throughout Italy, and she kept repeating herself.

"It's always been there," she said. "It's how we were taught. It's the way it's always been."

And we all know that just because something's always been a certain way, that's the way it should always be.

Monday, October 27

Update: Crosses In The Classroom

After looking for some time, I didn't find any particularly new and/or different information about the Italian judge who ordered a cross removed from a classroom. I did notice this at the end of the article, however:

For the time being, no crucifixes have been removed from the Ofena school. Local education board official Nino Santilli said he hadn't received an official order, and he had no plans to take down the crosses yet.

"It's more than 2,000 years that our people and our country have gravitated around the culture of Christianity and the crucifix," Santilli said. "And that goes for nonbelievers, too."

Not to be overly picky, but it's only been 1700 years at most. Constantine had his vision of the Chi-ro in 312 CE, and Constantine is typically considered to be the first Christian emperor. Further, it was a good century after Constantine before Christianity started to become more widely accepted and the debate shifted from pagans versus Christians to the Nicaean Orthodoxy versus Arianists versus Donatists versus... well, you get the idea.

Why should I care about a few-hundred-year discrepancy? Because I'm in a class about the decline and fall of the Roman Empire, and it makes me feel good to know that I may actually be learning things - however obscure they may be.

Gotta Love Indiana!

Just when you think you've heard it all: the Steuben County Herald-Republican has a story about how the president of the Hamilton Community School Board was ticketed for ignoring a school bus' stop arm.

Presley, who said he was talking with his son when he drove by the bus at about 10 mph, could face a total of $234 in fines and court costs for the violation.

“I made a mistake,” Presley said. “I will pay the ticket.”


Kenyan Anti-Testing Advocates

From Reuters:

Kenyan students set fire to their school, ransacked the kitchens and looted computers in a three-hour orgy of destruction after teachers banned video shows and discos, newspapers reported Monday.

Color me depressed. Someone needs to grab these kids by the shoulders, shake them really hard, and explain that unless they want to be trapped in a third-world hell for the rest of their lives, they're going to need an education. (Granted that an education doesn't guarantee anything, but there's no way they have a chance without one.)

Sunday, October 26

Separation Of Church And State - In Italy

I just saw this AP Wire report on Yahoo's front page.

It looks like a Muslim father sued a school over a cross that hangs in his sons' classroom, and a judge in Italy has ruled that the school must remove the cross; this doesn't seem out of line to myself or most Americans. (You may or may not agree with the judge's ruling, of course, but the ruling should sound familiar either way.)

Judge Mario Montanaro ruled that the cross should be removed because "the presence of the crucifix in classrooms communicates an implicit adherence to values that, in reality, are not the shared heritage of all citizens."

Here's the catch, though:

The Italian Constitution says the state and the Catholic Church are each "independent and sovereign," and that "all religious faiths are equally free before the law." However, a 1923 law also says that schools must display the crucifix.

The Education Ministry argued that the 1923 law is still in effect, and it had no plans to apply the court ruling in Italian schools, news reports said.

This presents an interesting conundrum for someone such as myself who equally dislikes courts that make policy and state-sponsored religious displays. I would assume that almost any modern interpretation of the Italian Constitution (based on the two quotes above, anyway) would make the 1923 law unconstitutional, but I am completely unfamiliar with Italy's legal system.

"I consider this sentence deeply flawed," Augusto Barbera, editor of a journal on constitutional law, told the Corriere della Sera newspaper. "There are laws in effect on this issue. A judge cannot ignore them."

I'm not sure where I stand on this. Many of the big societal issues in the US (for instance, abortion) wouldn't be issues if they were left to the states (or at the very least, the federal legislature) to decide. I will say that I don't think having lifetime-tenured, non-elected officials making policy is a good way to run things.

However, the law seems pretty clearly in conflict with the Italian Constitution. Assuming that their legal system is similar to ours in the US (and I realize that's a pretty bold assumption), it should be reasonably within the judge's power to overturn the law. The problem with this theory is that the language of the article is quite ambiguous. It seems to imply that the judge ordered the removal of the cross from only the school in particular, not schools in general; this would imply to me that he ignored the 1923 law, rather than addressing its constitutionality. Further, did the judge order the removal of the cross from the classroom, which would seem to be allowed under the 1923 law, or did he actually order the removal of crosses from the entire school?

I'll try and dig up more information about this later tonight.

Saturday, October 25

For Those Of You Looking To Obtain A "Dimlopa"...

I wouldn't normally announce that I got spam, but this is rather humorous (and has nothing to do with all those distant Nigerian relatives of mine).

Subject: I More bling bling paid to you piae


Dimlopa Program

Cerate a more proopersus ftuure for ylurseof

Rceeive a flul dipmola form non accredetid
universtiies bsaed upon yuor rael lfie enperiexce

You will not be tested, or itnerviewed
Reveice a Mtsaer's, or Docrotate

Call 24 huors a day 7 days a week

1 - 2 1 2 - 6 2 9 - * * * *

So, right, this sounds like the answer to the educrats' dreams. What we have here is a universtiy that offers flul dipmolas (dimlopas?) bsaed upon yuor rael lfie enperiexce. This isn't like normal universities where students are accepted based on SAT/ACT scores and GPA and receive their dipmolas based on classroom performance; we all know how ridiculously unfair that merit-based scholarship is to students. At this universtiy, you will not be tested, or itnerviewed, and you can reveice a Mtsaer's, or Docrotate - degree paths that are usually closed to people who can't spell words like "Master's" or "Doctorate."

Say, actually, since this is from a non accredetid school, that gives me an idea - just contact me if you want a diploma. BAs and BSs are $19.95; MAs and PhDs are $29.95. If you want your diploma (dimlopa? dipmola?) printed on fancy-style marbled paper, that will be $5 extra (Certificates of Congratulations included free with every order!). Just drop me a line and I'll have you on your way to More bling bling in only a few short days. Heh.

Wednesday, October 22

Too Quick To Judge?

Kimberly at N2P has a post about this Northwestern student who is suing because he claims his professor unfairly docked his grade from a B+ to an F.

After receiving a B-plus on the test, Rozenbaum went to the professor to dispute how he graded the exam. [ok, there's his first mistake. With a B+, what was there to complain about?] During the meeting, he took notes on the exam and the two got into an argument, according to the suit. [So, he's writing notes on his exam as Professor Sontheimer explains his grading scheme, then starts arguing with him.]

(Bold emphasis is on Kimberly's comments; regular italics are from the article.)

Why is it a mistake to question a B+? Sure, it's not a bad grade - but if you think something was graded wrong, then you have every right to question the professor. Just last week I met with my Decline & Fall of the Roman Empire professor and course assistant to discuss the B I received on my paper. (As it turns out, they wanted an "interpretive" paper, not the mostly-research paper I wrote. But since this wasn't made clear in class... *sighs*)

Do I think a B is a bad grade? No, of course not. But since I got docked points for "not hav[ing] a clear thesis" when I most certainly did, I felt somewhat obligated to go talk to someone about my grade. Thus, without knowing the specifics of Rozenbaum's test, I cannot judge whether or not he was wasting time by trying to appeal the grade (if in fact he was even trying to appeal the grade).

Now, back to the matter at hand, Rozenbaum is writing notes on the test; this is a fairly common practice in my experience. I can't offer anything but anecdotal evidence to back myself up here (indeed, most of my reaction to Kimberly's post is based on my own personal experience), but I think anyone would concede that it's reasonable to take notes on a test that you had a question about - although I would say that if you were attempting to appeal the grade, this would be a bad idea. (Reason #1 why I don't think Rozenbaum was trying to appeal the grade (assuming he's not an idiot).)

Sontheimer claimed the notes on the exam paper were Rozenbaum's attempt to change his answers and get a higher grade, the suit states. He responded by reducing Rozenbaum's grade to an F.

Say what? Rozenbaum was stupid enough to change his answers in front of the professor, and then flip the exam around and claim, "But I did write that on here! See?"? If so, that's just pathetic.

So after they get into an argument, Prof. Sontheimer claims that Rozenbaum was taking the notes on the test as an attempt to change his answers and get a higher grade... Are you kidding me? Maybe Rozenbaum is that stupid - I won't deny that this is a possibility. (But I doubt it; that's Reason #2 I don't think Rozenbaum was trying to change the grade.) I think that there's another plausible possibility here: the professor is a complete jerk.

I have met very few professors that I wouldn't trust to be professional, but there are a couple that I wouldn't trust as far as I could throw. And especially given all of the discussion about arrogant professors (admittedly, mostly based in the humanities) over at Critical Mass in the past couple weeks, I can easily imagine an irritable assistant prof throwing a temper tantrum because a student deigned to question his oh-so-infalliable grading.

I rarely (if ever, barring the present discussion) find myself disagreeing with Kimberly; it just bothers me that she would automatically assume that the professor is telling the truth. I just don't see any reason to believe that things happened the way the professor claimed (as opposed to the student's version). It's absolutely possible that there are aspects of the story I don't know that might back up the professor - but until I see evidence that points one way or the other, I'm certainly not going to take sides. I'm only backing up Rozenbaum in this post because I think that it's not unreasonable to claim that he might have gotten railroaded by a bad professor.

One, don't bitch and moan about a B+. Two, don't try to change answers on your exam after the fact, on the assumption that the prof will never remember what you wrote the first time.

I wholeheartedly agree with Kimberly's admonition that one should not try to change answers on an exam after the fact; cheating irritates me. However, I must respectfully dissent and say that if you have a B+ and think you deserved better, go talk to the professor about it. That's what the professor is there for. You pay their salary with your tuition and/or tax money, and they are quite obligated to make time for you out of their day - even if it is over something minor like questioning a B+ on a test. My advice? Buy a digital voice recorder and stick it in your pocket before you go in if you're worried; then you're covered if the professor tries to accuse you of something you didn't do.

Update (10/22/03, 6:40 PM): Kimberly has a follow-up post about this. She dug up Northwestern's code of conduct and found out that Sontheimer couldn't have lowered Rozenbaum's grade without going through a system of due process, which does lessen the chance that Rozenbaum is getting the short end of the stick. I may not be able to rule out the idea that Sontheimer is a jerk - but it's a pretty safe bet to rule out an Uber-Evil Conspiracy of Academia whose sole purpose is to accuse Rozenbaum of cheating, heh.

Further, I realized that all of my post about contesting a B+ may have been a bit misdirected. If you think you deserved a higher grade, by all means contest the B+... But it's extraordinarily stupid to cheat to try and raise a B+ to an A. (I loved the comparison of Rozenbaum to Blair Hornstine!)

Tuesday, October 21

Like Going Duck Hunting Without An Accordion

Kimberly already noted that the policy described in this article is a "zero-tolerance idiocy." What disturbed me most, however, was this:

"It's like teaching a math class without a calculator," said Scott Sabotta, the course instructor.

...sigh. Teaching math with a calculator (until at least trig) isn't teaching math at all, it's Calculator Usage 101.

Monday, October 20

Fun, Not Freaky

Just when you thought that there was nothing but bad news coming from our schools, the Lawrence Journal-World (out of Lawrence, KS) comes out of nowhere with an extremely humorous little story.

Free State High School Administrators say problems with the way students dance at such events as homecoming and prom have prompted them to take some drastic measures.

Now if a student is caught dancing in a "provocative" way, they will be warned and then possibly kicked out of the dance.

Student council members have found a way to inform more students through a video (below) of their mascot showing what is and what is not appropriate.

Go there now and watch the video. Heh.

Why Basic Economics Should Be Required In Schools

This NY Times article is simply beautiful.

Putting educators on notice, one of the Republican lawmakers overseeing higher education legislation in the House introduced a bill yesterday that would withhold federal money from colleges that raised tuition much faster than inflation, a category that could include hundreds of universities.

So, let's go on the not-so-bold assumption that colleges need money, or else they wouldn't raise tuition. (We will ignore for now the fact that many schools are more interested in building jacuzzis than educating students.) If the schools need money, and raise tuition, then this guy is proposing that the federal government should take money away from the schools... meaning that they have to raise tuition even higher in order to compensate.

Now, in all reality, that's okay with me - I'd just as soon see more schools out from under the government's yoke - but I can't help but think that this legislator is a moron.

Most important, the colleges argue, the legislation would ultimately hurt the very students it is intended to help. Although Mr. McKeon's bill would not withhold federal Pell grants and Stafford loans, two primary sources of assistance to low-income students, several other programs would be withdrawn. In particular, campuses could be cut off from federal money that helped pay student workers, provided scholarships and furnished low-interest loans to those in need of financial aid.


Sunday, October 19

Speaking Of Unions...

NYC Schools Chancellor Joel Klein says it best:

"Schools will never work because they're governed by a 250-page contract and a 10,000-page book of regulations," the chancellor said in a speech before the Citizens' Committee for Children of New York.

Instead, he said, schools will work when their cultures shift away from what he described as micromanagement and microregulation.

"The outcomes that we see are dictated by risk-reward ratios that would not work in any other sector and will not work if they are perpetuated in ours," Mr. Klein said.

The best is from the Dean of the School of Education at City College, though:

"Teachers want to be treated as professionals; they have to behave like professionals," he said.

Professionals (engineers, doctors, lawyers) are held accountable for their performance, which is measured through any number of means throughout the year. If teachers want to be treated like professionals (instead of cogs in a machine, like assembly line workers), then they're going to have to accept things like merit-based pay. Then the teachers who can perform will get the best jobs and the most money; the ones who can't will be lucky to keep their jobs (and here's to hoping that they don't). That works for me.

Note: the above post should not be implied to detract from people who work on assembly lines. Jobs like that are painfully repetitive, boring, and sometimes dangerous. The difference for my purposes is that assembly line work is something that requires no higher education, and therefore workers can be trained with greater ease.

Not Exactly A Record To Be Proud Of...

From the LA Times: Marysville, WA teachers have set a record for the longest-ever teachers' strike in Washington state.

Last week, the teachers union began running 30-second television ads targeting the Marysville School Board. The ads, running on local cable channels, ask residents to call board members and urge them to negotiate a fair contract. Money for the ads came from donations.

The two sides, which have met more than 20 times since contract talks began in June, remain apart on salary issues. Veteran teachers in the community are among the highest-paid in the state, averaging $54,000 a year. The union says Marysville salaries must remain competitive to keep its teachers from moving.

So, which is it? Is the current contract unfair - the ads claim that a "fair contract" needs to be negotiated - or is the current contract simply not lucrative enough, which is what the union necessarily means by saying that the already-high salaries "must remain competitive?" Unless one is to assume that only high-paying contracts are "fair," then the union is obviously contradicting itself. (And while I readily recognize that most unions actually do consider only high-paying contracts to be fair, I think that's positively ridiculous, and similar to the argument that "only tests on which all students do well are fair.")

All the 11-year-old [Francesca Rubatino] knows is that she's tired of doing nothing. She misses her friends, and she doesn't like getting scolded by her parents for doing things like ordering hip-hop jewelry from the Internet.

"There's nothing else to do," she complains.

Her mother, Michele Rubatino, is tired of getting up every morning and thinking of things to keep her daughter, an only child, busy.

Why don't her parents tell her not to use their credit cards and/or checkbook? For that matter, why don't they just refuse the packages and cancel the charges? And more importantly, why is her mom angrier about the lack of childcare than the fact that her child isn't learning anything?

The answer to the last question is simple: many schools aren't anything but childcare anyway. Kids who are ahead of the game (for whatever reason) are bored and kids who are behind (for whatever reason) stay that way. I suppose if they changed the name from the Department of Education to the Department of Daycare it wouldn't make things any better, but at least there'd be some truth in the advertising.

The context for the following quote: A judge may rule that teachers have to return to work, and some teachers are saying they'll ignore the order. Note, however, that the typical abbreviation for "association" is "assn." and is used as such later in the article.

"It's an option. It's always an option," says Elaine Hanson, a high school math teacher and president of the teachers union, the Marysville Education Ass. "When the time comes, the teachers will decide whether we follow the court order or continue on."

Someone's Freudian slip is showing, heh.

Saturday, October 18

Not What I Meant...

Joanne Jacobs had a post about vouchers two days ago, and the comments turned kind of snippy.

Anyway, I reccomended that one of the posters read The Road To Serfdom by F. A. Hayek. Another commenter responded with articles from several places (including this one from Mises.org; Ludwig von Mises was a staunch free-market libertarian, to say the least) saying that vouchers are bad stuff. The catch is, though, I didn't have to be convinced of this; I basically agree already.

I can be pretty cynical sometimes - this is one of those times - and so I am pretty sure I would swing with the above article and say that vouchers might actually be worse. Why? Because I don't support public education at all, and vouchers are a bandage that might keep the public school system alive a bit longer. Well, forget that, I say; let it bleed to death. When it's gone, we can replace this pitiful excuse for an education system with privatization. Full privatization means school choice for all and social welfare for none. Cool.

(Yes, I'm feeling radical at the moment. But hey, I'll just disavow all personal responsibility and blame it on the fact that I'm a college student. At least I'm not a communist. Heh.)

Wednesday, October 15

How Not To Raise Your Children

Daryl at HSOES had a link to this article about kids and file sharing yesterday.

As you may know, I'm no fan of intellectual property laws and the like, but this article shows what's wrong with the movement - not to mention how stupid people/parents can be. Just look at the first two paragraphs:

Jon Beeson of Wilmington allows his 16-year-old daughter Rachel to download copyrighted music all she wants. In fact, he does it himself, and doesn't consider it illegal.

"I just don't look at what we're doing as wrong," he said. "If it was illegal, we wouldn't be able to do it."

There are so many issues with this. He doesn't consider it illegal? That's really strange, because downloading copyrighted music is, in fact, illegal. What he "considers" it to be has no effect whatsoever on the law. And just because something is illegal doesn't mean you can't do it; people rob banks, commit murders, and download copyrighted music every day.

Ed and Angelia Johnson of New Castle also once allowed their children to download "anything they wanted" - until the recording industry filed 261 lawsuits on Sept. 8. Since then, they have forbidden their 17-year-old son Marcus from downloading.

The issue here is that the parents are woefully uninformed. The RIAA has not sued anyone for downloading music. All of the suits filed so far have been filed against people for sharing music, not for downloading it. This is for a number of reasons; someone might actually have a legitimate copy of the song they're downloading, for instance, or they might delete it after listening to it. Thus, they could simply tell their son not to share files and that'd be quite safe.

(The delete-after-listening arguement is sketchy, but the logic is this: You can loan a friend a CD and he can listen to it, decide if he wants to buy it, and give it back to you. If people actually did delete the songs after listening to them, that would most likely be okay.)

Of course, this ignores the problem of whether or not they should let their son download music - but I really think that there's no worse decision than an uninformed one.

"I think it's kind of ridiculous, personally, since you can share music with a friend and people have been able to tape music for years," Angelia Johnson said. "But since all this stuff happened with lawsuits, we decided to delete the program used to download music."

Once again, Mrs. Johnson obviously hasn't thought about what she's saying. While copying a cassette is just as illegal as downloading an mp3, there's a huge difference in scale between the two. It takes an hour (give or take) and a blank cassette (not cheap) to dub a cassette without special equipment; it takes just a few minutes to download an entire album (or ten), not to mention that CDRs and hard drive space are quite cheap these days. When people had to go through a lot of hassle to steal music, it wasn't a huge issue, but now that it's ridiculously easy, people are more than willing to do it. And she still doesn't understand that it's sharing - not downloading - that is what gets people sued.

Here are some choice quotes from Rachel Beeson, the 16-year-old mentioned at the top of the article:

"If they started shutting down sites and I had to, I'd definitely pay a little for songs," she said.


"I don't buy music because a CD costs $17," Rachel said. "That's outrageous when I can download for free.

"Teenagers aren't exactly the most moral of people, anyway. It's [the industry's] problem to deal with, not ours."

The first two quotes make the issue clear: people simply won't pay for something they can get for free. In my opinion, it is impossible for the RIAA to get rid of file sharing, and they need to adapt now (or become obsolete).

The third quote is the scary one, though. Raised by a father who is apparently too stupid to tell the difference between legal and illegal, Rachel has leared how to push blame for her actions onto other people. Just because "teenagers aren't exactly the most moral of people" (which is debatable in and of itself) doesn't mean that she herself cannot be moral. She can be, but she chooses not to. And file sharing may be "the industry's problem, not hers," but I bet she'd feel differently if the tables were turned.

As for the legality of the practice, Ibrahim [mother of a 14-year-old] said, "I guess I haven't really thought about it."

Why? Don't? People? Think?!?!

Anyway, this post is way too long, so I'll cut it off with a final thought: If you don't agree with a law, that does not give you the right to break it. To borrow a bit from Daryl's analogy, just because you think the speed limit should be above 65 doesn't mean you are somehow allowed to drive 120. However, if you don't agree with a law, you can (gasp!) work to change it. Write your Representatives and Senators, write the RIAA, heck, do what I'm doing and go to law school. And for goodness' sake, at least have some clue what you're talking about before you get interviewed in a newspaper about something.

Tuesday, October 14

Long Day

Edu-posting will resume tomorrow, after I've gotten some sleep.

Today was a long day that involved me getting some grades back that I'm not too happy with; tomorrow will be a slightly-less-long day (I hope) that involves talking to a professor and going to Law Day. Woohoo!

The bright side of the day? While eating lunch and chatting with a friend before a class, a wannabe pretentious jerk overheard us griping about Bowling for Columbine and decided that he wanted to educate us on how Michael Moore is the best thing since sliced bread. He didn't appreciate it when I told him what I thought about Michael Moore ("that gelatinous waste of flesh") - and he walked off when I backed up what I said about his movies with some facts that are right there for anyone who cares to look. Heh.

Sunday, October 12

Another Blogroll Addition

Conservative talk show host / University of Chicago professor Milt Rosenberg dropped me a line about his new blog the other day. While Dr. Rosenberg saves most of his commentary for his radio show, he updates his blog daily Monday through Friday and has links to a lot of good news stories. Drop by and check it out!

Colleges Face Budget Crises, Trim Programs, Build Golf Simulators

Colleges nationwide are facing deep budget cuts and are running short of money, according to the LA Times. This is hardly news, right?

They have raised tuition steeply, often two years running, but public universities around the nation remain so pinched for funds that they are cutting deeply into their academic offerings — eliminating majors, thinning library collections and canceling scores of classes.

So, go look over that article, and then look over this post by Joanne Jacobs. I would link to the original article in the NY Times, but it's pay-to-read now - you can get the idea from the excerpt she has posted. Look at the schools mentioned: University of Wisconsin, Washington State University, Ohio State University, etc. They're all state schools.

So we've got state schools complaining about how their budgets are being slashed and how they're having to trim academic programs on one hand, and then we've got state schools building water parks and the world's largst Jacuzzi on the other. I would typically use something like this as an opportunity to launch into a tirade about how academics are being pushed off the stage in favor of flashy, trendy crap like rooms that simulate golf courses from around the world, but I'm just not feeling it today. I'll let you get mad about this one on your own, heh.

Lowering The Bar

USA Today often features dueling editorials; this past Friday's were arguing rather to leave the SAT as it is or to increase the time for everyone.

The argument for extending the time is simple and predictable:

Because the College Board is wedded to a stopwatch system, it places unnecessary time pressures each year on more than 2 million students whose scores can have a major impact on their college careers. The approach also runs counter to the SAT's goal predicting how students will fare in colleges, which typically provide ample time to complete coursework and exams.

First of all, changing the time will raise scores, sure - but it will raise them for everyone. (This assertion discounts those on the fringes.) Increasing the time limit won't make anyone better in relation to their peers, it will simply make everyone perform at an artificially higher level. The College Board could decide to cut the time limit to an hour while keeping the test the same length and it would have a similar effect - everyone's score would fall through the floor, but they would be basically the same in relation to one another.

By clinging to timed SATs, the College Board also has inadvertently opened up a new way to game the test. Students with designated learning disabilities receive 90 extra minutes to finish the SAT. And starting this fall, colleges no longer will be informed which test takers get extra time, a change the College Board made after disability advocates threatened discrimination suits. But the new policy also creates an incentive to make bogus disability claims.

This is faulty reasoning. The issue shouldn't be "people will game the test, so we should change the test;" the issue should be "people are gaming the test, so we should stop them from doing so." (Side note: this is effectively the tactic SMU took when putting a stop to the affirmative action bake sale. They claimed that there were "safety concerns," and rather than protect students who were being threatened, they told those students to stop the bake sale.) Parents who pay to have their children labeled as disabled (*coughs*Hornstine*coughs*) disgust me. I'm not sure what to do about this issue - that is, how the College Board can weed out the fakers - but that's not really the point here. It's something to think about.

And the issue of disability advocates threatening to sue the College Board is a straw man of sorts. It's not as if increasing the time for everyone will keep said disability advocates happy. If the time is increased for the regular test-takers, the advocacy groups will then press the College Board to offer still even more time for disabled students because it would be oh-so-unfair for disabled students to be forced to take the exam in the same amount of time as non-disabled students.

This should not be construed to mean that I think that disabled students should have to take the test in the same amount of time (although I might - I haven't considered the issue enough); it should be taken to mean that I have little to no respect for advocacy groups in many cases and that I am quite confident that the fact that disabled students would have the same amount of time as before will be lost on the groups who see things like this as discrimination. Anyway, my long-lost point was that advocacy groups are never satisfied, and doing something that benefits "enabled" students while not similarly benefitting disabled students will still get the College Board sued.

Turning off the clock can provide a fairer test for all students.

Check that: turning off the clock can provide an easier test for all students. It won't affect students at the fringes; kids who are getting 600s or 1590s are probably going to get those same 600s or 1590s no matter how much they increase the time limit. But for the majority of students in the middle, their scores will all raise together as a unit, and that simply won't help them. If the average score moves up a hundred points because of extra time, it does not mean that thousands more students will be getting into Harvard each year. It simply means that Harvard will increase the average SAT score they look for by a hundred points.

The "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" editorial was written by Wayne Camara, a VP at the College Board. His responses are simple and to the point:

The College Board has found that at least 80% are able to complete all or all but one item on each test section.


Beginning in 2005, the addition of a writing test will make the SAT approximately three hours and 40 minutes long. To increase testing time by 90 minutes for all students would require more than five hours of testing, plus an additional hour for registration, instructions and rest breaks.


Ethnic and gender differences would not be affected.

Camara also points out that many students finish before time is called, and that it would be "downright cruel" to those students to force them to stay in the exam room another 90 minutes. Having spent more than my fair share of time staring at the ceiling of testing rooms, I can't help but agree.

Friday, October 10

School To Distribute Aluminum Foil Hats

Well, not really - but maybe it'd make these parents happy.

A pioneering elementary school district outside Chicago has been sued for installing a wireless (news - web sites) computer network by parents worried that exposure to the network's radio waves could harm their children.

According to the complaint, filed in Illinois state court, parents of five children assert that a growing body of evidence outlines "serious health risks that exposure to low intensity, but high radio frequency radiation poses to human beings, particularly children."

...I mean, really, this is idiotic. Sure, I don't like the focus on computers in schools in the first place, and I certainly think a wi-fi network is a gross waste of money for an elementary school. (Not to mention the fact that almost all wi-fi networks have security holes that you could drive a school bus through, but once again, that's not the point.)

And in case you thought that maybe these parents were just a bit more concerned than they were informed - that is, that they aren't money-grubbing scum just trying to make a buck off of an alleged "health risk" - read the rest of the article:

The parents allege that the district failed to examine the health impact that wireless local area networks pose, especially for growing children. They are seeking class action status for their suit, which seeks to halt the use of wireless networks.


Wednesday, October 8

What's Worse Than A Nanny State?

Kimberly at N2P has the answer:

"I didn't think much could be worse than a Nanny State, but a dangerously inconsistent Nanny State that focuses more on sweets than assaults manages it."

Busy (As Always)

Sorry for the lack of substance; I've been busy trying to clean up my apartment and (as always) with reading for class.

In the meanwhile, here's something that I find uproariously funny: perhaps you've heard about the brand-new, ultra-spiffy copy protection for CDs that the RIAA has been touting? Well, guess what - it can be disabled by pressing the shift key.

Read the article, and understand why I say the war has been over for years... The RIAA needs to remove its head from its rear end and realize that the market moved on years ago, and that people simply won't pay for something they can get for free.

Monday, October 6

Update: Caucasian Club

The Washington Times has an article with more details about Lisa McClelland, the girl who wants to start a Caucasian Club at her high school.

It looks like administrators, teachers, and students - not to mention the NAACP - are trying to thwart her efforts at every turn. Ask me if I'm surprised. I wish her luck; she's fighting the good fight.

Laptops In Education

From the Twin Cities Pioneer Press, an article about schools buying laptops for the students... Read it (and weep).

The Stillwater school district's decision to provide laptop computers to junior high students for use at school and home plunges it into a debate taking place across the country: Are such efforts worth the money?

No, they're really not. I mean, what benefit can people possibly see in dropping nearly $2 million on laptops?

Program proponents predict scores will start moving up as laptop-loan efforts become more entrenched. And in the meantime, they say, giving kids round-the-clock laptop access leads to powerful, often intangible, benefits such as increased engagement in school and development of writing, research and other real-world skills.

Oh. Intangible benefits. Gotcha. I bet they'll really help out those kids who have intangible qualities - like creativity and diversity - that standardized tests don't measure.

Seriously, though, I think it needs to be noted that the laptops sure won't help with research unless they pay for internet connections at home for every student. I won't even mention that none of the major writing styles (MLA, Chicago, etc) have a specific, standardized method for citing internet sources. And I certainly won't mention that there's a little place called a "library" that already has a bunch of these archaic (but still handy) research devices called "books" - and that there are computers with internet access available to the public at the libraries ("Each Library has several "INTERNET" computers.").

Needless to say, administrators across the country were happy to talk about how much computers improved the learning enviroment, etc, etc, etc, and even though test scores didn't noticably change, the laptops were just peachy keen. At least the writers were kind enough to include a solitary voice of reason:

"I'm sure that kids are happy to get a free computer. I would be too," [MIT Professor Joshua Angrist] said. "The simple answer is that it's not a better way to teach. It's costly. It's distracting. And it decreases teachers' ability to control what's going on in the classroom.

"Why not spend money on areas where there is evidence (of improving student achievement)?" he said. "Maybe teacher training or class-size reduction."

Friday, October 3

C Is For Cookie...

Randomly off-topic, but this headline was on Yahoo earlier: Scientists discover why cookies crumble. Weird.

Thursday, October 2

Administrative Functions - i.e., Blogroll Updates

Changes are afoot over on the left side of your screen!

Paul Musgrave's blog has been added. Paul is a friend here at IU; he's a great guy and a great writer - you should drop by.

Lone Dissenter has been removed because she hasn't found much to gripe about in her senior year of high school. As much as I wish otherwise (for her sake), I'm sure she'll be back next year - once she has to deal with her first "Culture Sensitivity Meeting" during orientation.

Also, Crescat Sententia has a new address and spiffy new Movable Type digs.

Side note: Can someone email and explain how to put those spiffy category divisions in Blogrolling lists? I am apparently far, far too uncool to figure it out for myself (and I'm too lazy to go manually type all that into the template, heh). Thanks in advance!

Wednesday, October 1

Nazis And Paris, Circa 2003

Paris, Texas, that is. I was going to write about this story, but it looks like Michael (not George, heh) at Highered Intelligence beat me to it. Go give his post a read for some good thoughts on the subject.

After you read that, here's an update: The school has issued an apology and will be removing all flags except the US flag for future performances. I would say - and I think Michael would agree - that this is a terrible reaction on the school's part. They don't really have anything to apologize for, although interest groups eat up hollow apologies faster than Elvis ate pills and peanut butter sandwiches, so the apology was probably a good move. Removing the flags seems completely wrong to me, though.

Hiding the fact that Nazis existed sure isn't going to make them go away. Much like watching the movie Schindler's List provided a painful but necessary reminder of the Holocaust, this simple high school band show could have helped keep the memory of Nazism alive - so that we can make sure it never happens again.

Math Teacher Re-Assigned For Giving A Lesson In Economics

From the NY Times:

A math teacher at a Queens high school was reassigned yesterday as school officials investigated whether he sold students tickets to last week's free Dave Matthews Band concert, officials said.

The capitalist in me is secretly delighted. I've used Ebay to make money off of stuff I got for free, and you can too: take a free promotional item you get with the purchase of a movie ticket, video game, etc, and sell it to someone who wants it more.

The realist in me points out that this was bad conduct - as well as the fact that the teacher's union will have him back in the job within the month anyway.

At the school yesterday, students in a third-floor stairwell crowded around Mr. Nissen, who was dressed in jeans and a T-shirt. Students slapped him high fives and several girls shook their heads in sympathy.

"It's the board of education's fault for not paying teachers enough," said Adam Gassman, a student who said he bought four tickets from Mr. Nissen, for a total of $120. "He was doing a good deed. Kids wanted to go, and he sold them the tickets."

The cynic in me wins the day, though, by pointing out that kids this gullible probably deserve to be taken advantage of.

I mean, I knew about the free Dave Matthews Concert, and I live in south-central Indiana. (I don't even like Dave Matthews that much.) If these kids, who live in Queens, didn't know the concert was free, then that's really their fault. If they weren't willing to do the five seconds of research it would take to find out that tickets were free, that's hardly the teacher's fault. Further, these kids now know that the concert was free and that they paid $30 to go see it, and what do they do? Defend the teacher?! Nope, sorry, those kids got exactly what they asked for.

And if anyone thinks otherwise, I've got a nice bridge in the Brooklyn area that I'd love to sell you. Cheap. Heh.

That said, I still think it's poor conduct; I don't think I would want this guy teaching at a school I ran. And not because what I think he did was wrong, but because I think where he did it was - maybe these kids thought they'd get bonus points out of it or something, who knows?

Although I doubt it will, the school's administrators should take this opportunity to teach the kids a handy lesson about economics - shop around (hmm, free tickets or $30 tickets?), profits ($30 on a $0 investment is an excellent return), etc. - it could make the whole ordeal worthwhile.


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