What will little Johnny learn in school?

When you were handed a textbook in school, did you ever question what made it in- and what didn’t? Probably not. Did your parents look it over to see if it was giving you the correct version of history? Math? Or even biology? Could your teacher substitute a different book?

All of these ideas are not something most of us think about- even our educators don’t get much of a say. In a strange twist of geography and demographics coupled with national perceptions of California being a little too out there- most of the decisions on what goes into your text books comes from one state, the same one that gave us George W. Bush: Texas

The state’s $22 billion education fund is among the largest educational endowments in the country. Texas uses some of that money to buy or distribute a staggering 48 million textbooks annually — which rather strongly inclines educational publishers to tailor their products to fit the standards dictated by the Lone Star State. California is the largest textbook market, but besides being bankrupt, it tends to be so specific about what kinds of information its students should learn that few other states follow its lead. Texas, on the other hand, was one of the first states to adopt statewide curriculum guidelines, back in 1998, and the guidelines it came up with (which are referred to as TEKS — pronounced “teaks” — for Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills) were clear, broad and inclusive enough that many other states used them as a model in devising their own. And while technology is changing things, textbooks — printed or online —are still the backbone of education.

via How Christian Were the Founders? – NYTimes.com.

In fact, 15 lay people who are elected to the Texas State board of education somehow get to set the standards for most of the county. You really need to read the entire NYT article to understand how borked this whole process is.

If you think that’s whacked, you should enjoy today’s Dayton Grassroots Daily Show: (note: Greg did the titles- and misspelled “Ohioans”- or maybe it’s just a Texas drawl slipping in…

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75 Responses

  1. jstults February 22, 2010 / 6:46 pm
    Jesse, thanks for bringing it back to schools.  I’m sympathetic to the ‘get out of my way’ sentiment.  On it’s own though, it’s too vague; it’s not a solution to the problem of public education (something I think is a public good, but we’ll have that discussion on your site).
     
    I think there are useful conversations worth having about the historical assumptions that lead us to a government solution for education that may not be valid given new technology for teaching / communicating (like the MIT stuff linked way up in the second comment).  This could open the way for market-based solutions, even in the face of government competition.  Between AP tests, open text books, and things like OpenCourseware, a motivated high-school student could get most of the credits for their Freshman year out of the way, all without disabling dependence on dirty old Uncle Sam.
     
    Ok, I know I just ‘reprimanded’ Jesse for being off-topic, but I can’t help myself:

    …a very limited government but one hell of a legal judicial system that makes all this determination on externalities and costs rendered to reach the “free market” solution.   In the above example an pollution let me ask a simple question- Who defined what pollution was?  Is this Agency part of the Court?  Or is there no agency and it is all based on eventual recognition of the “people harmed”  However, the “people harmed” must prove their case with the following legal criterion about harm…..  and therefore may only be acted against upon strict causal proof of harm beyond a reasonable doubt.  Now how do we “get the data” concerning the potential pollution of a river or air without some disclosure by the company on the chemicals or processes they are using, but is this pollution expected to be endured until “strict causal proof” can be “proven” beyond a reasonable doubt.

    Greg brings up a good point, if you are interested in how complex and difficult this process can be, then you might be interested in this report.

  2. Jesse February 23, 2010 / 9:43 am
    Jstults,
     
    I apologize already for this having nothing to do with education.  But it seems we may have co-opted this post to make it a wider debate about ways of improving Dayton and the United States.
     
    Greg and Jstults,
     
    I would just like to point out that their is a market for justice.  The idea that people would not have some desire to have justice provided and that businesses wouldn’t meet that demand is quite a stretch.
     
    Also, only in “criminal” cases do you require strict causal proof beyond a reasonable doubt.
     
    In civil cases, like where you or your property were unintentionally damaged by an upstream business, all you would have to prove is that 1) damage currently exists, 2) the damage didn’t exist before, 3)  the damage doesn’t exist upstream of the business.  That would be enough evidence that most reasonable people (a jury) would then demand that the business present some kind of evidence that they aren’t damaging their neighbors.  If the business refuses to cooperate, then the jury would likely find for the plaintiff.  If the business can demonstrate that the issue causing the damage is not theirs then one of two things is happening, 1) it is coming from upstream and they are being similarly damaged (which will likely have them join in the search for the cause), 2) it is coming from some other source that will need to be investigated by those parties harmed.
     
    As an aside; given the political environment, with whom do you think a jury is likely to side in cases where the business cannot prove they are not at fault?  A 79 year old woman dumped coffee on herself and got 2.86 million dollars awarded from a jury of her peers.  If anything that system would still be overly skewed against the interests of the businesses.
  3. Greg Hunter February 23, 2010 / 11:51 am
    A 79 year old woman dumped coffee on herself and got 2.86 million dollars awarded from a jury of her peers.

    I would contend that Corporations have continually excused or discouraged their employees from serving on Juries, leaving not a Jury of Peers but of the unemployed, Pensioners or students.  Corporations have reaped what they have sown in that respect.

    and therefore may only be acted against upon strict causal proof of harm beyond a reasonable doubt

    Sorry, not a lawyer so I was only using information obtained from almighty MISES concerning property rights and obtaining justice for harm from pollution.  So you can make any case you would like, but in America today it takes a great deal of balls, intelligence and fortitude to take on a Corporation even if the data plays your way.   Here is a nice little read on a researcher taking on Big Pharma.   Note how the law on recording conversations in OHIO plays into this story.  I am sure Big Pharma will change that…

    The recording and events surrounding it offer a rare window into an unusual confrontation between a prominent cardiologist and one of the world’s biggest drug makers. Since industry is the source for much of the money and studies available in academic medicine, executives normally drive the agenda in such meetings.
     

    OK I agree enough derailing and let’s get back to School.  Here is a story of a Charter School developer and the KEY in creating a Great Learning Environment.

    “If you had an amazing teacher who was talented and passionate and given the freedom and support to teach well,” she said, “that was just 100 times more important than anything else.”
     
    “I became obsessed with how to develop great teachers,” she said.
    The first step in that complex, difficult process is to create a school environment that has standards high enough and challenging enough to appeal to very good people. “You put all of your focus on finding great people,” said Ms. Kenny, “and you establish a culture that helps them constantly learn and grow and become better at what they do. You have to provide a community in the school that supports and respects teachers. And you have to give them the kind of freedom that allows their passion for teaching to flourish.

    I think this has been my point all along.  Encouragement of Great Teaching.  As I have said the deferment of Vietnam era males into the workforce was a factor in my excellent education. IMHO

  4. jstults February 23, 2010 / 12:26 pm
    Jesse:

    damaged by an upstream business, all you would have to prove is that 1) damage currently exists, 2) the damage didn’t exist before, 3)  the damage doesn’t exist upstream of the business

    Your example with a well defined ‘upstream’ is a good thought experiment, but the real world is more complex.  Lots of problems in  attribution (establishing causation) are ill-posed (there is no well-defined ‘upstream’), the nature of the harm is probabililstic rather than deterministic, the harm is difficult to map into economic damages, or the effect is separated from the cause by a large amount of time (the responsible party may have gone out of business decades before any harm is noticed); read that report I linked to get an idea of the complexity.
     
    Greg:

    Here is a story of a Charter School developer and the KEY in creating a Great Learning Environment.
    […]
    “You put all of your focus on finding great people,” said Ms. Kenny, “and you establish a culture that helps them constantly learn and grow and become better at what they do.

    Sounds like she’s read Good to Great.
     
    I think some sort of virtual Charter School that breaks the zipcode-schoolhouse connection would be a promising avenue for getting better / more efficient education, possibly even a niche for a free-market startup.  Going virtual also allows the teaching / pace to be more personally tailored to the student, Smart Sally won’t be bogged down by Slow Suzy, alternatively Slow Suzy won’t be discouraged by comparisons to Smart Sally.  There’s still a need for socialization, completely virtual is probably a bad idea, but some sort of hybrid could be really affordable and effective.  For a locale to be really competitive though, you’d have to offer the opportunity for residents to ‘opt-out’ of the taxes that go towards the public school if they wanted to go the private route.

  5. Jesse February 23, 2010 / 12:28 pm
    Okay… last one then:
    Wouldn’t it be best to just allow GlaxoSmithKline to sell Avandia and publish the results of the studies?  Let people know that their is a chance that you might have a heart attack (64% increase in likelihood according to this doctor), but that it helps with Diabetes 37% of the time.  What is wrong with allowing people to make their own choices with their own doctors?
     
    Back to education:
     
    Isn’t it great that a bright innovator has the ability to be successful because “standards” don’t restrict her ability to try new things?  What is the problem with eliminating more “standards” and allowing more innovation?
     
    I agree with you that encouraging great teaching is necessary.  Is the best way to do that by eliminating teachers unions and paying teachers based on the growth in the abilities of their students as opposed to years of service and academic credentials compiled?  Does it also make sense to allow people to send their children to the schools with the best teachers, even if it means paying more?  Does it then make sense that we would allow the poorest of the poor to only be able to afford to send their children to a school with the worst teachers?  But if we subsidize them to go to the better schools, then wont those teachers be overwhelmed and become less effective, and want even more pay?  Perhaps we should just stop trying to plan it all and let the market determine where people are best served?
  6. Greg Hunter February 23, 2010 / 12:34 pm
    Smart Sally won’t be bogged down by Slow Suzy, alternatively Slow Suzy won’t be discouraged by comparisons to Smart Sally.

    I think part of the problem is that we shield kids from the realities of life.  Slow Suzy and Smart Sally benefit from the relationship.  Smart People need slow people to achieve their aims and learning how to bring them along effectively is a great life skill.
     

    For a locale to be really competitive though, you’d have to offer the opportunity for residents to ‘opt-out’ of the taxes that go towards the public school if they wanted to go the private route.

    I think this already occurs for Dayton as schools with Academic Emergency allows payments to be deferred to a Charter or Religious School.

  7. Jesse February 23, 2010 / 12:41 pm
    JStults,
     
    I will pick up the debate on your blog then.  I have read the linked article and the information is still not overwhelming to the free-market system.  Have you read much of Walter Block’s work in this area? This is a very brief paper that describes the basics of the free market approach and the ways that government intervention have distorted the market.  http://www.walterblock.com/wp-content/uploads/publications/misallocations_externalities.pdf
     
  8. jstults February 23, 2010 / 12:49 pm
    Jesse:

    Wouldn’t it be best to just allow GlaxoSmithKline to sell Avandia and publish the results of the studies?

    If all the study results got published this would be ok; unfortunately there is selection bias (attributing cause is iffy, but I’ll go out on a limb and say the cause is profit motive), favorable studies are published, unfavorable ones are buried.

    Isn’t it great that a bright innovator has the ability to be successful because “standards” don’t restrict her ability to try new things?  What is the problem with eliminating more “standards” and allowing more innovation?

    Based on my experience with open source software, I’d argue the exact opposite, having well defined open standards spurs innovation rather than hinders it.  If the standard describes the ‘what’ rather than the ‘how’, then it is probably useful for encouraging disciplined processes, low transaction-cost communication, and innovation (the ‘how’).

  9. jstults February 23, 2010 / 12:53 pm
    Jesse:

    I will pick up the debate on your blog then.

    Here’s an open thread

  10. Jesse February 23, 2010 / 1:16 pm
    Jstults,
     
    I don’t disagree that businesses have the desire to show the information that best moves their product, however, if you could prove fraud then you would have a case without the need for “regulation”.  Also, the independent research environment that would spring up in the place of the inefficient Food and Drug Administration or Department of Education would be astounding.  Think about Consumer Reports, or Zagat’s,  Michelin Star ratings except with regard to medical care, schooling, .  It would be great.
     
    “Open standards” and “government standards” are very different things.
  11. Greg Hunter February 28, 2010 / 4:10 pm
    One of my favorite bloggers on things associated with the economy talks about what children SHOULD learn.
     

    This is our friend the lowly (and so-often forgotten) exponent.
    It is not that we do not teach our children about this basic function of mathematics – we do.  Ask your kid in sixth or seventh grade if he or she understands exponents, square’s, etc – they do.
    No, it is that we fail to teach the fact that any time two or more exponents are in play, one of them always “runs away” from the other.
    Always.

  12. jstults February 28, 2010 / 4:27 pm
    From the linked article:

    We do not teach our children this.  We do not drill this as the essence of what they must understand.  We do not make clear that the above must never be allowed to occur and continue, and that in each and every case where it is detected, it must be stopped immediately.

    Hopefully after that lesson, they’ll get one on Stein’s Law:

    Stein was the formulator of “Herbert Stein’s Law,” which he expressed as “If something cannot go on forever, it will stop,” by which he meant that if a trend (balance of payments deficits in his example) cannot go on forever, there is no need for action or a program to make it stop, much less to make it stop immediately; it will stop of its own accord.[2] It is often rephrased as: “Trends that can’t continue, won’t.”
    Herbert Stein wiki page

  13. Jesse March 1, 2010 / 6:34 am
    Jstul ts,
     
    I couldn’t agree more.  People have been predicting that we are “running out of resources and space” for hundreds of years.  The thing that isn’t discussed in these models is that the other thing (other than consuming) that humans are amazing at doing is innovating.  We support more people with less land mass than thought possible 100 years ago.  We will continue to innovate and create more efficient means of energy & food production and water reclaim.  It is also important to realize that we don’t “consume” energy on this earth.  The concept that we have “limited resources” would be true if we weren’t just converting the existing resources into other resources.  There is no reason to believe that we will not be able to convert “waste” into “useful resources” 100 years from now.
  14. Greg Hunter March 1, 2010 / 11:13 pm
    the other thing (other than consuming) that humans are amazing at doing is innovating.

    The human has been producing the most amazing products while he consumes the most amazing gift on the planet.  Man’s entire innovative life has been harnessing “cheap energy” to “create” this innovation.

    create more efficient means of energy

    Bar none, the most ignorant statement ever made, and a perfect place to make it in this particular post on Education.

    There is no reason to believe that we will not be able to convert “waste” into “useful resources” 100 years from now.

    WOW!  You are “dead” right about that one….. My ancestors (you will not have any) will convert all the waste left over in landfills today to survive 100 years from now.  Here is a nice little parable about the Future Julian Comstock
     
    Look all of you so called humans can go on and on about innovation, but before the end of Whale Oil, Oil had already been discovered.  It’s properties have been known since antiquity.  There is NO REPLACEMENT.
    It is very HARD for the human to understand LIMITATION as there have been relatively few obstacles in his rise to greatness (Ok, or we would not be where we are).  The constriction of cheap energy will be this monkey’s last predicament.   Here is a great non math based parable about energy.  Enjoy!

  15. jstults March 2, 2010 / 7:36 am

    From Greg’s non math parable:

    There are a few other contexts in which energy can be had in concentrated forms…a handful of scarce and unstable radioactive elements that can be coaxed into nuclear misbehavior under exacting conditions

    Yeah, there’s that whole nuke thing, but that’s way too complicated and tricky (with weasel words about misbehavior to conjure notions of radiation leaks and melt-downs), never mind the possibilities of really good energy return on energy invested:

    The price of thorium ore is difficult to quantify.[…] thorium does not incur a cost of enrichment as uranium does, mostly due to the fact that natural thorium occurs only in one isotope. We believe that if the world’s thorium supplies were exploited for energy, its price would drop to be comparable to–or even lower than–current uranium ore prices.
    Energy from Thorium, The Risks

    Ah, here’s the rub, we’re putting constraints on ourselves that the replacement should be renewable:

    The same logic also explains why projects for coming up with a replacement for fossil fuels using sunlight, or any other readily available renewable energy source, are doomed to fail.
    […]
    What makes fossil fuels so valuable is the fact that the energy they contain was gathered over countless centuries and then concentrated by geological processes involving fantastic amounts of heat and pressure over millions of years. They define the far end of the curve of energy concentration, at least on this planet, which is why they are as scarce as they are, and why no other energy resource can compete with them

    What makes nuclear fuel for fission so valuable is the fact that the energy they contain was gathered since the beginning of the universe and then concentrated by the explosions of massive stars involving fantastic amounts of heat and pressure over billions of years.  They define the far end of the curve of energy concentration, at least on this planet, which is why they are as scarce as they are, and why no other energy resource can compete with them.
     
    Wake me up when we hit Peak Thorium.

  16. Jesse March 2, 2010 / 10:30 am
    Greg,

    Are you serious?  “Create more efficient means of energy production” is the most ignorant statement ever? 
    “One kilogram of natural uranium will yield about 20,000 times as much energy as the same amount of coal.”  You are right.  How could I be so ignorant?  Wait…um…that seems to support my statement.
    But surely you are right that we never use waste for energy http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Waste-to-energy …and there is no chance of that happening in the future.  http://www.ted.com/talks/bill_gates.html 

    Okay…got to get back to work.

  17. Greg Hunter March 2, 2010 / 2:41 pm
    Wake me up when we hit Peak Thorium.

    Thanks, I have enough distractions but I am studying this one closely and it “might” have merit.  I can be converted from a doomer to a believer, but EROEI still rules.  It’s development would require a great deal of politics…. I am hopeful as it appears the only people respected by the whole of a America are Military leaders and they are finally speaking up.

  18. David Lauri March 3, 2010 / 12:18 am
    My ancestors (you will not have any)…
    Um, doesn’t everyone have ancestors?  Even people who won’t ever have descendants have ancestors.
  19. jstults March 3, 2010 / 7:38 am
    Greg, you’re right about EROEI being important; probably the reason we’re not doing a lot of the alternatives is because of their lower EROEI, or significant barriers to entry (like established mining operations and reactors in the case of Thorium).  Just because alternatives exist doesn’t mean the transition won’t be painful, but I think it’ll be the slowly boiling a frog kind of pain rather than the sudden stop a the end of a fall sort.
  20. Greg Hunter March 3, 2010 / 9:05 am
    Thanks for the clarification on my lack of descendants and abundance of ancestors… I will submit all my posts to you for editing :)
     
    Yes I have tried to be positive, but the USA is past the point of no return for pain.  We hated reality of Jimmy Carter and embraced the bright but misplaced optimism of Ronald Reagan.  A movie actor over a USN nuclear navy farmer.  It was over then, but hey I had a good party, but it is time for the hangover.
  21. Jesse March 3, 2010 / 10:30 pm
    My posts don’t seem to get through anymore…and I said funny stuff about Greg.
  22. Jesse March 11, 2010 / 11:51 am
    Greg,
    My comment was not, as you quoted,

    create more efficient means of energy

    From which you deduced “the most ignorant statement ever made, and a perfect place to make it in this particular post on Education.”
    People could question your education when the statement was clearly, “…innovate and create more efficient means of energy & food production.”  Meaning a more correct quote would have been “create more efficient means of energy…production.”  Which is a perfectly rational statement.   Most of the innovation with regard to energy production has occurred in the most recent 150 years.
    http://www.eia.doe.gov/emeu/aer/eh/frame.html
    You then took issue with:

    There is no reason to believe that we will not be able to convert “waste” into “useful resources” 100 years from now.

    http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/bill_gates.html
    :)
     

  23. Greg Hunter March 16, 2010 / 10:40 am
    Bill Gates takes on Energy.  I think not!  Mr. Gates encourages energy use and yes it would be GREAT to believe in an infinite universe and infinite growth, it is not possible.  It is proven to the human species on a daily basis but in his ignorance or biological optimism that life will continue as well a continuum.  Yes people have been trumpeting resource constraints in the past but the interconnectedness of the world will cause a great number of problems.  I think this article on Jevon’ s Paradox will explain that we do not have a problem we have a predicament.

    There is no reason to believe that we will not be able to convert “waste” into “useful resources” 100 years from now.

    I agree!  Our descendants will scour every landfill left behind for useful resources.  Julian Comstock is a wonderful account of the Future and is a great read!
     

  24. Jesse March 16, 2010 / 3:33 pm
    I am not going to lay out the entire argument but I will concede that it is possible in the current world that we could put ourselves in a situation where large adjustments in lifestyle may be necessary in the future.  This is, however, not a “natural” phenomena.   If you are actually worried that people will burn through the resources of this planet too quickly then we need to eliminate government monopoly on currency and its ability to regulate new and more efficient means of energy production.

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