Simple Math Versus Confused Woman

Mar 262012

If you’re driving 80 miles per hour, how long will it take you to go 80 miles? Well, the answer is not so simple according to this pretty young woman:

Paul suggested that the man is married to her for reasons other than her intelligence… but I’m not sure that anything could compensate for that level of ignorance!

This video was brought to you by the stellar education offered by government schools. Thanks, politicians!

Update: Here’s an interview with the couple on Good Morning America… and wow, she really is dumber than a box of rocks.

Civics Test

Mar 012012

Steve D’Ippolito sent me this civics literacy exam by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute. It’s 33 questions, and here’s the summary:

Are you more knowledgeable than the average citizen? The average score for all 2,508 Americans taking the following test was 49%; college educators scored 55%. Can you do better? Questions were drawn from past ISI surveys, as well as other nationally recognized exams.

Both Paul and I got 100%, although we had to make a few educated guesses.

It’s appalling that the average score is about 50%. (That’s just proof that our government schools need more money, right?!?) Amazingly politicians did even worse.

If you take the quiz, tell us your score in the comments!

Evolutionary Theory: Fact Versus Faith

Jul 252011

Should evolution be taught in schools? I can’t help but laugh as these Miss USA contestants answer that question… but then I want to cry.

Evolutionary theory is the integrating theory of biology. As such, it should be a major part of middle and high school biology. Alas, it’s not, and the result is the widespread acceptance of blatantly faith-based views like those expressed in this video.

When I taught introductory philosophy at the University of Colorado at Boulder, I’d spend a day discussing evolutionary theory. Evolutionary theory explains the supposedly mysterious order and complexity of living beings cited by Paley’s analogical argument for God’s existence via purely natural law. Hence, the existence of a divine designer cannot be inferred from the complexity and order of life.

Before starting that class, I’d ask my students whether they’d studied evolutionary theory before. Only about two-thirds of them had done so. That was bad enough, but even worse, most of those students were utterly confused about evolutionary theory, usually thinking it to be nothing more than sheer random variation.

When young people aren’t taught the basic facts of biology, is it any wonder that they default to religious superstition and myth?

Why Caltech Is Different

Jan 182011

I recently read a fascinating article entitled, Why Caltech Is in a Class by Itself“. Here is an excerpt:

Of the top two dozen or so elite universities in America only one has managed both to avoid the craziness of the post-60s intellectual fads, and to establish something pretty close to a pure meritocracy — California Institute of Technology, which has not received the general recognition among academics that it clearly deserves…

If you can’t meet the stellar performance requirements and show an intense love for science and mathematics, Caltech isn’t interested in you and will not lower its standards. When you apply to Caltech the admissions committee is interested only in your intellectual merit and passion for learning. It has little or no interest in your family heritage, your race, or your skill in slapping around a hockey puck…

Perhaps the most striking difference from all other elite universities — including institutions like MIT and the University of Chicago which forgo athletic recruitment — is Caltech’s complete indifference to racial balancing.

In a state and a region of the country with the largest Hispanic population, Caltech’s entering freshmen class in 2008 was less than 6 percent Hispanic (13 out of 236). The unwillingness to lower standards for a larger black representation is even more striking — less than 1 percent (2/236) of Caltech’s 2008 entering freshmen were listed as “non-Hispanic black”.

This “underrepresentation” of blacks and Hispanics, of course, was more than made up for by the huge “overrepresentation” of Asians. Only 4 percent of the U.S. population, Asians made up a whopping 40 percent of the incoming freshmen class in 2008, a slightly larger proportion than the 39 percent figure for whites.

Applicants to Caltech are clearly seen as representing only themselves and their own individual merit and achievement, not their race or their ethnic group.

(Read the full text.)

I found the “no legacies” and “no racial preferences” policies especially interesting. Given how rigorous the school is, it would simply be cruel to admit a legacy student or “underrepresented racial category” student who couldn’t otherwise handle the academic pace. It also means that if you’re a black or Hispanic student at Caltech, everyone there knows you are there because you met the same admission standards as the white and Asian students, rather than being stigmatized with the “affirmative action” label.

And even though I’m a proud alumnus of MIT, Caltech is purer in how it applies its meritocratic principles.

(Via Marginal Revolution.)

LePort Schools

Nov 292010

The following is from Heike Larson. It was posted on OGrownups in late September. I’m reposting it here with her permission, albeit rather later than I’d hoped!

Over the summer, I have had the great pleasure of working with LePort Schools in Orange County to design their new web site. Our goal: to make accessible to parents a clear, compelling description of what a life-affirming, conceptual education can and should look like, from preschool through 8th grade.

I’d like to invite you to check out the site, and let us know what you think:

On our blog, we comment on a range of education topics, with posts written from a conceptual education perspective, and informed by the day-to-day experiences at our school. Check it out, and subscribe if you find it interesting:

Amy Mossoff, at her blog The Little Things, just blogged about the site. Here’s what she had to say, to give you added incentive to check it out:

LePort recently unveiled a new web site. It holds an amazing wealth of information that can be useful for just about all parents. I’m particularly excited about it because of how much it is going to help me with homeschooling. It may sound crazy, but this web site will replace Susan Wise Bauer’s The Well Trained Mind as my homeschooling bible. It’s that rich, and that good.

The web site goes beyond giving some vague mission statement with a hodgepodge of ideas thrown in, as most school web sites do. In dozens of organized, easy-to-navigate pages, rich with content (and beautiful photos), it covers just about everything that makes LePort what it is: pedagogy, curriculum, motivation, teacher qualifications, enrichment, personal development, and more. Every principle is clearly related to the school’s mission:

Our Goal: A Student Who Flourishes As A Joyous Child Today, and As A Successful Adult Tomorrow

We hope you enjoy it – and do let me know any feedback you may have.

I’ve only just now taken the time to poke around LePort’s web site, and I love what I see, such as Heike Larson’s blog post on choosing a school, Ray Girn’s post on teaching cursive handwriting, and the description of how they teach. I’m looking forward to exploring further, and I suspect that anyone involved with or interested in education will find more than a few interesting gems on the web site.

So… go see for yourself!

Announcing Objectivist Answers: Bring Your Questions!

Sep 222010

I’m thrilled to announce Objectivist Answers, a new question-and-answer site dedicated to Objectivism!

Objectivist Answers is already turning into a great resource for people wanting to better understand Ayn Rand’s work and its application in living on earth. In just its pre-announcement activity, OA has brought almost one hundred Objectivists to bear on dozens of questions! Here are a few that they’ve already addressed:

Anybody can ask questions on Objectivist Answers, so please jump in and add yours! People who know little or nothing about Rand and Objectivism are especially welcomed.

Participation Earns You Karma! (And More Power on OA)

  • Anybody can ask a question!
  • Any Objectivist can post answers. (Are you an Objectivist? Check out the OA FAQ to find out how to join the answering fray!)
  • Anybody can give feedback with comments and up/down votes!
  • Earn credibility with good questions, answers, comments, and voting feedback — you’ll automatically get more visibility and moderation power in the system

WANTED: Objectivists willing to tell the world what they think!

Are you an Objectivist living on earth? Great! You’re officially invited to give the world a piece of your mind! You might even earn some fame and glory on the way to nudging the culture in a healthy direction. Please keep in mind that there’s no need to post long, carefully polished questions or answers on OA: that’s why we have edit buttons and commenting. On OA, you’re officially encouraged to edit your content! Just go create an account on OA and check out the site FAQ to find out how you can be assigned the power to answer questions.

Why do we need Yet Another online community thingie?

Sure, there are already plenty of fine online forums out there. But while the discussions they host can have brilliant content, that brilliance is usually buried in long threads of back-and-forth debate. It just isn’t that usable for someone who wants to find a solid answer now. OA is built to highlight great answers and the Objectivists who deliver them — not the conversation. The system manages this by way of voting, which lets it identify and automatically highlight popular content while drawing attention to its creators (who, besides earning some fame and glory, also earn increased moderation powers). And if someone really knocks it out of the park, their answer could also be featured here on NoodleFood!

Whether you’ve got questions or answers we look forward to seeing you at Objectivist Answers!

Permanent Political Football

Feb 242010

While reading a story in the New York Times about the Texas State Board of Education, I was struck by the parallels between special-interest lobbying that occurs with a mandatory school curriculum and special-interest lobbying that occurs with mandatory health insurance.

The February 14, 2010 New York Times Magazine published a lengthy article entitled “How Christian Were the Founders?” This article described in detail the ferocious political lobbying in Texas resulting from the fact that Texas has established a statewide curriculum guideline for all its schools. Hence special interest groups have a powerful incentive to have their point of view promulgated in this mandatory curriculum.

The NYT article focused primarily on the Religious Right, and their often-successful attempts to promote the theme that “America is a Christian nation” — by which they mean that “the United States was founded by devout Christians and according to biblical precepts”. This in turn has powerful implications for what they believe children should be taught about American history, the proper relationship between government and religion, and what they considered the dangerously flawed notion of “separation of church and state”. And they have been successful in using the power of government to include their views within the textbooks in use throughout the state of Texas.

Regardless of whether one agrees or disagrees with the various Religious Right theories of American history, the kind of lobbying they engage in is a completely predictable consequence of a government-mandated educational curriculum. In other jurisdictions, we might see hardcore environmentalists attempt to require school textbooks adopt a radical “green” perspective or leftists require teaching an anti-West, anti-capitalist curriculum.

Basically, the presence of a mandatory curriculum serves as a giant magnet for special interest groups seeking to have their particular viewpoint represented in the curriculum. It turns the educational curriculum into a permanent political football to fought over by the various interest groups.

Hence, there is a parallel with the lobbying that occurs under a system of mandatory health insurance. If everyone is required to purchase health insurance (as they are in Massachusetts), the government must necessarily determine what constitutes an “acceptable” package. This creates a giant magnet for special interests to have their particular pet benefit included in the mandatory package. In Massachusetts, residents must therefore purchase numerous benefits that they may neither need nor want, including in vitro fertilization, chiropractor services, alcoholism therapy, and hair prostheses — raising costs for everyone to benefit the few with sufficient political clout.

Nor does the lobbying ever stop. As Michael Cannon noted in the August 27, 2009 Detroit News:

In the three years since Massachusetts enacted its individual mandate, providers successfully lobbied to require 16 specific types of coverage under the mandate: prescription drugs, preventive care, diabetes self-management, drug-abuse treatment, early intervention for autism, hospice care, hormone replacement therapy, non-in-vitro fertility services, orthotics, prosthetics, telemedicine, testicular cancer, lay midwives, nurses, nurse practitioners and pediatric specialists.

The Massachusetts Legislature is considering more than 70 additional requirements.

As with mandatory educational curricula, mandatory health insurance thus becomes a permanent political football for special interests to fight over.

Of course, the solution in both arenas is to eliminate the government mandate. Just as parents should be allowed to decide what kind of education their children should receive, consumers should be allowed to decide what sorts of health insurance they wish to purchase. The government should respect and protect these individuals’ rights to make these decisions for themselves, rather than making that decision for them.

However, according to the February 18, 2010 New York Times story, “Obama to Offer Health Bill to Ease Impasse as Bipartisan Meeting Approaches“, President Obama is still insisting on his plan of mandatory insurance as the basis for his upcoming health care “summit” with the Republicans.

His plan would thus turn health insurance into an unfair game of permanent political football, where the politically strong perpetually pummel ordinary Americans who lack sufficient lobbying pull. Unless Americans want to become the permanent tackling dummies for the special interest groups, they should remain firm in their current opposition to the President’s plan and not let down their guard yet.

[Crossposted from the FIRM blog.]

School Laptops Used for Home Spying

Feb 182010

From BoingBoing:

According to the filings in Blake J Robbins v Lower Merion School District (PA) et al, the laptops issued to high-school students in the well-heeled Philly suburb have webcams that can be covertly activated by the schools’ administrators, who have used this facility to spy on students and even their families. The issue came to light when the Robbins’s child was disciplined for “improper behavior in his home” and the Vice Principal used a photo taken by the webcam as evidence. The suit is a class action, brought on behalf of all students issued with these machines.

If true, these allegations are about as creepy as they come. I don’t know about you, but I often have the laptop in the room while I’m getting dressed, having private discussions with my family, and so on. The idea that a school district would not only spy on its students’ clickstreams and emails (bad enough), but also use these machines as AV bugs is purely horrifying.

Wow, just wow. I wish that government officials wouldn’t use 1984 as a how-to manual.

Reality, Not Authority

Sep 282009

In response to my story from my third podcast about a father teaching his child to evade by demanding obedience from her, Rational Jenn posted some fascinating comments on how parents often substitute their authority for that of reality. Here’s a bit from her post:

Please don’t misunderstand me–this is not to say that I don’t exercise my parental authority. I do have it–you sort of get it automatically when the kids are very small. As they are utterly dependent upon the adults in their lives, they of course learn to rely on them for the things they need, including guidance, and they do view parents as authority figures.

But what I try to do is to never ever make my authority the sole basis for discipline. I explain my reasons–sometimes those explanations need to be provided to the child after the fact (there’s that rushing out into the street example again). I try to show or tell them something about the reality of the situation and guide them through what needs to happen. And if they can’t or won’t do what they need to (like not biting a sibling), then I will exercise my authority and help them stop.

Parenting by Authority does encourage kids to evade. They can learn to squash their feelings, to pretend events didn’t happen, and to learn how to game the system. They learn that what Dad decides is more important than what actually occurred. And they lose the ability and the chance to use their minds independently.

She then discusses some the consequences of Parenting by Authority, but for that, you’ll have to read the post. (Later, Jenn posted a fascinating story on catching her son trying to evade.)

Then the discussion continued: Amy Mossoff posted on the dangers of authority-based education. In her view, “Montessori is the only widely available educational system that does not Educate by Authority.” Here’s an example:

The Montessori method recognizes that external reward systems such as grades are not necessary, and even harmful. Children naturally want to learn. Anyone who has observed small children can see this. The reward for good work is in the work itself, and in the accomplishment. Montessori materials are self-correcting – the children know whether they have done the work correctly without relying on a teacher’s stamp of approval. The blocks of diminishing size must be stacked up from biggest to smallest or the tower will not stand. The cylinders of diminishing size must be placed in the proper holes, or they will not all fit in the puzzle.

I love that!

I’m delighted that my podcast sparked this bit of discussion. Here’s my follow-up question: In dealing with other adults at work or elsewhere, do you always deal with them by reason to the greatest extent possible? Or do you sometimes lapse into mere authoritarian demands? It’s easy to say “I deal with people by reason, of course!” That’s the answer we want to give. However, I suspect that the intrinsicism pervasive in our culture has affected most of us to some degree or other.

Personally, I’m going to make a conscious effort to interact with other people scrupulously in “mind of reason mode” rather than “muscles of authority mode.” It’s not an error that I make often, but I’m pretty sure that I’ve slipped into it from time to time with people open to rational persuasion — particularly when tired, frustrated, or hurried. Clearly, that’s a mistake. So if I do that, I hope that someone will point that out to me — preferably without gloating!

How Anne Sullivan Taught Hellen Keller to Speak

Aug 302009

Those of you have have seen the movie and/or play versions of “The Miracle Worker” might be interested in this short 1930 newsreel clip in which Anne Sullivan explains how she taught Helen Keller to speak:

Ayn Rand was a great admirer of “The Miracle Worker“, a now-classic play about Sullivan and Keller.

In her essay, “Kant Vs. Sullivan” (from Philosophy: Who Needs It), Rand wrote:

…Annie Sullivan, her young teacher (superlatively portrayed by Anne Bancroft), is fiercely determined to transform this creature into a human being, and she knows the only means that can do it: language, i.e., the development of the conceptual faculty. But how does one communicate the nature and function of language to a blind-deaf-mute? The entire action of the play is concerned with this single central issue: Annie’s struggle to make Helen’s mind grasp a word — not a signal, but a word.

…To my knowledge, “The Miracle Worker” is the only epistemological play ever written. It holds the viewer in tensely mounting suspense, not over a chase or a bank robbery, but over the question of whether a human mind will come to life. Its climax is magnificent: after Annie’s crushing disappointment at Helen’s seeming retrogression, water from a pump spills over Helen’s hand, while Annie is automatically spelling “W-A-T-E-R” into her palm, and suddenly Helen understands.

The two great moments of that climax are incommunicable except through the art of acting: one is the look on Patty Duke’s face when she grasps that the signals mean the liquid — the other is the sound of Anne Bancroft’s voice when she calls Helen’s mother and cries: “She knows!”

We had the pleasure of seeing a theater version of “The Miracle Worker” with some friends when it came to Denver last year, and it was a real treat precisely because of the talent of the actresses who played Sullivan and Keller.

If you can’t see a theater version live, you can always rent the excellent 1962 film version from Netflix.

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