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kottke.org posts about education

Hitting the wow

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 25, 2013

A long piece in this week’s New Yorker by Marc Fisher about more alleged sexual abuse at The Horace Mann School, a prep school in the Bronx. Fisher’s piece focuses on Robert Berman, an English teacher at the school for many years.

One group of boys stood apart; they insisted on wearing jackets and ties and shades, and they stuck to themselves, reciting poetry and often sneering at the rest of us. A few of them shaved their heads. We called them Bermanites, after their intellectual and sartorial model, an English teacher named Robert Berman: a small, thin, unsmiling man who papered over the windows of his classroom door so that no one could peek through.

Assigned to Berman for tenth-grade English, I took a seat one September morning alongside sixteen or seventeen other boys. We waited in silence as he sat at his desk, chain-smoking Benson & Hedges cigarettes and watching us from behind dark glasses. Finally, Mr. Berman stood up, took a fresh stick of chalk, climbed onto his chair, and reached above the blackboard to draw a horizontal line on the paint. “This,” he said, after a theatrical pause, “is Milton.” He let his hand fall a few inches, drew another line, and said, “This is Shakespeare.” Another line, lower, on the blackboard: “This is Mahler.” And, just below, “Here is Browning.” Then he took a long drag on his cigarette, dropped the chalk onto the floor, and, using the heel of his black leather loafer, ground it into the wooden floorboards. “And this, gentlemen,” he said, “is you.”

The next day, I asked to be transferred. I was not alone. By the end of the week, Berman’s class had shrunk by about half. The same thing happened every year; his classes often ended up as intimate gatherings of six to eight. Many students found Berman forbidding, but some of the teachers referred to him as a genius. Boys competed to learn tidbits about him. It was said, with little or no evidence, that he was an artist and a sculptor, that he knew Sanskrit, Russian, and Urdu, and that his wife and child had been killed in a horrific car crash. Though he was only in his mid-thirties, a graduate of the University of Michigan, it was rumored that he had been a paleontologist and had taught at Yale. Administrators told students and their parents that Horace Mann was incredibly lucky to have him, however odd he might be. The boys who remained in his classes were often caught up in his love of art, music, and literature, and in his belief that every moment of life should be spent reaching for the transcendence of the Elgin Marbles, of a fresco by Fra Angelico, even of an ordinary sunset. The boys absorbed the lists he made. “Take this down,” he’d say. “The ten greatest racehorses of all time.” Or, “This is the list of the ten greatest movies ever made-but you won’t find ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ on it, because it’s off the charts!” One day, he mounted a rearview mirror on the far wall of the classroom so that he could stare at the portrait of Milton behind his back.

Chris Ware on his Newtown-themed New Yorker cover

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 07, 2013

Chris Ware designed the Newtown-themed cover for the New Yorker last week and describes the process that went into it.

On December 14th, I helped chaperone my daughter’s second-grade-class field trip to a local production of “The Nutcracker,” where I spent most of my time not watching the ballet but marvelling at the calm efforts of the teacher to keep the yelling, excited class quieted down. Teaching was not, I concluded at one point, a profession in which I could survive for even one day. Our buses came back to the school at midafternoon, and I and the other volunteer parents left our children for another hour of wind-down time (for us, not them) before returning for the regular 3-P.M. pickup. I came home, however, not to any wind-down but to the unfolding coverage of the Newtown shooting. Shaken to the core, I returned to the school, where a grim quiet bound myself and the other parents together, the literally unspeakable news sealing our smiles while, at a lower strata, our happy, screaming children ran out of the building into our arms still frothed up by sparkling visions of the Sugar Plum Fairy.

?uestlove to teach class about classic albums

posted by Aaron Cohen   Oct 18, 2012

The Roots drummer, ?uestlove, will be schooling kids left and right this spring as he teaches a class on classic albums at NYU. It’s too bad this isn’t a high school class so my Young MC ‘Principal’s Office’ reference would fit better.

The course will include lectures on albums such as Sly & The Family Stone’s There’s a Riot Goin’ On, Aretha Franklin’s Lady Soul, Led Zeppelin’s IV, Prince’s Dirty Mind, Michael Jackson’s Off the Wall, and the Beastie Boys’ Paul’s Boutique.

They’ll also cover what constitutes a “classic” or “seminal” album, looking at the music, lyrics, production, and business behind great albums.

Billboard reports that the course was inspired by an NPR blog post over the summer where an intern reviewed Public Enemy’s It Takes A Nation of Millions To Hold Us Back, an album he’d never heard before. ?uestlove responded to the dismissive review in the comments, prompting NYU’s Jason King to invite ?uestlove and Weinger to teach the course.

The Kalamazoo Promise

posted by Aaron Cohen   Sep 14, 2012

Excellent NYT Magazine piece on the impact of The Kalamazoo Promise, an initiative by anonymous donors to pay the college tuition of every graduating senior in Kalamazoo. The Promise, which is intended by the donors to be an experiment in urban investment has had several amazing results in only a few years. High school test scores have improved continuously, and the promise of help with tuition has lead to families moving to and staying in Kalamazoo. The 2,450 new students has allowed the school district to hire 92 additional teachers. It’s not all rosy, and the Promise hasn’t solved every problem yet, but Kalamazoo seems to be headed in the right direction.

Under the terms of the program, students who start in the Kalamazoo school district as kindergartners receive enough money to cover their entire tuition to public in-state schools. Students who enter the district in later grades get less, based on a sliding scale; entering high-school freshmen, for example, get 65 percent of their tuition covered. (Those who move to Kalamazoo after that or who enroll in colleges that are private or located outside the state are not covered by the Promise.) To date, the Kalamazoo Promise has paid out $35 million for postsecondary study for 2,500 students. On average, about $4,200 is spent on each student per semester. Students are responsible for their own room and board.

(via @graysky)

Introducing Marginal Revolution University

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 06, 2012

Tyler Cowen and Alex Tabarrok of Marginal Revolution are starting an online education platform.

We think education should be better, cheaper, and easier to access. So we decided to take matters into our own hands and create a new online education platform toward those ends. We have decided to do more to communicate our personal vision of economics to you and to the broader world.

The first course is Development Economics.

Development Economics will cover the sources of economic growth including geography, education, finance, and institutions. We will cover theories like the Solow and O-ring models and we will cover the empirical data on development and trade, foreign aid, industrial policy, and corruption. Development Economics will include not just theory but a wealth of historical and factual information on specific countries and topics, everything from watermelon scale economies and the clove monopoly to water privatization in Buenos Aires and cholera in Haiti.

A piece of unsolicited advice: change the name to Revolution University.

A most unusual test

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 21, 2012

Tyler Cowen once gave the following final test to one of his classes:

Tyler [Cowen] once walked into class the day of the final exam and he said. “Here is the exam. Write your own questions. Write your own answers. Harder questions and better answers get more points.” Then he walked out.

Love it.

Lessons from the dead

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 06, 2012

A wonderful comment over at Ask Metafilter by rumposinc about how valuable her nursing school cadaver was.

You have to take really exceptional care of your cadaver, so that it stays workable, free of pathogens, and easy to learn from. Towards the end, this care became very ritualistic for my lab team, and nearly reverent. She had been a very small lady, and so we had to be so careful. In the end, there is a very simple ceremony students can attend honoring the life, contribution, and cremation of our subjects. It was overwhelmingly emotional and I remember my lab partner reached over and held my hand, and though I almost hesitate to say so, there is a way that we felt like her family. She had shared so much of herself. It wasn’t something we talked about, but it was a palpable feeling.

(via ★choire)

Short term mobile phone storage for NYC students

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 16, 2012

Cell phone check truck

Mobile phones are banned in NYC public schools so a company called Pure Loyalty parks trucks outside of several schools so that students can check their phones, iPods, and other devices for the duration of the school day.

Pure Loyalty LLC is the originator in electronic device storage. We put student safety first and work together with school safety to make sure that phones are checked in and out in a timely fashion for students to go straight to class and then home after school.

Each student is given a security card to ensure that their device is only returned to them!!!! If a student with a security card loses their ticket, not to worry. We have a system in place that secures their phone. Each student is given a FREE security card. Replacement cards are $1.

(photo by Jesse Chan-Norris)

Penn State is the #1 party school

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 11, 2011

In late 2009, after Penn State was named the #1 party school in America by The Princeton Review, This American Life devoted an entire show to the school and its festive status.

Most of the This American Life production staff spent the weekend at Penn State, and found that drinking is the great unifier at the school. Ira Glass, Sarah Koenig, Lisa Pollak and Jane Feltes report on tailgating parties, frat parties, an article of clothing known as a “fracket,” and a surprising and common drunken crime.

(via ricky van veen)

Report card stories

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 21, 2011

Paul Lukas came into possession of hundreds of report cards from the Manhattan Trade School for Girls from the 1920s but never knew what to do with them.

1920 Report Card

Recently, he started trying to track down the families of the women they belonged to in a series for Slate.

I discovered the cards in 1996 (more on that in a minute). I found them fascinating, but I didn’t have a good sense of what to do with them, so for a long time I just kept them as curios and occasionally showed them to friends. Eventually, though, I decided to track down some of the students’ families (including Marie’s). Even after doing it numerous times, I still find it a bit surreal to call a stranger on the phone and hear myself saying, “Hi, you don’t know me, but I have your mother’s report card from 1929. Would you like to see it?”

Extreme schooling

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 16, 2011

A NY Times foreign correspondent formerly stationed in Russia tells the story of placing his three kids into an unusual school in Moscow where all the instruction is done in Russian.

My three children once were among the coddled offspring of Park Slope, Brooklyn. But when I became a foreign correspondent for The New York Times, my wife and I decided that we wanted to immerse them in life abroad. No international schools where the instruction is in English. Ours would go to a local one, with real Russians. When we told friends in Brooklyn of our plans, they tended to say things like, Wow, you’re so brave. But we knew what they were really thinking: What are you, crazy? It was bad enough that we were abandoning beloved Park Slope, with its brownstones and organic coffee bars, for a country still often seen in the American imagination as callous and forbidding. To throw our kids into a Russian school — that seemed like child abuse.

Be sure to watch the video.

Back to school with Mister Rogers

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 09, 2011

After reading the fantastic Tom Junod piece on Fred Rogers earlier in the week, I poked around on YouTube for some Mister Rogers clips and shows. There are only a few full episodes on there but two of them are particularly relevant as kids across the nation go back to school for the fall:

I watched the first episode with Ollie yesterday (he was a big fan of the trolley, which was always my favorite part of the show too) and then we watched how crayons are made and how people make trumpets.

After our YouTube supply is exhausted, we’ll move on to DVDs (here’s a music compilation and episodes from the first week of the show), Netflix, or Amazon Instant Video, which has a bunch of episodes available for free (!!) for Prime subscribers.

Harvard dropouts, 40 years later

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 06, 2011

Harvard tracked down three people who dropped out of the school in the late 60s to see what had happened to them in the meantime.

“I knew I didn’t want to do city planning, to play in that bureaucratic world,” he continues. “I also knew that if I stayed another semester they would hand me a diploma, and that diploma is going to open a whole lot of doors that I don’t want to go through. And I know that I am not real strong, and if I have that key, at some point I’m going to be seduced and want to go through one of those doors. So by not having the diploma, I will remove the temptation. That actually worked out very well, because I was tempted, more than once.”

That’s from a man who became a world-renowned knife expert.

A Disneyland of child labor

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 13, 2011

The Morning News has a piece today on KidZania, a theme park for kids where they work and buy stuff just like grown-ups.

But at the heart of the concept and the business of KidZania is corporate consumerism, re-staged for children whose parents pay for them to act the role of the mature consumer and employee. The rights to brand and help create activities at each franchise are sold off to real corporations, while KidZania’s own marketing emphasizes the arguable educational benefits of the park.

Kidzania

Each child receives a bank account, an ATM card, a wallet, and a check for 50 KidZos (the park’s currency). At the park’s bank, which is staffed by adult tellers, kids can withdraw or deposit money they’ve earned through completing activities — and the account remains even when they go home at the end of the day. A lot of effort goes into making the children repeat visitors of this Lilliputian city-state.

A US outpost of KidZania is coming sometime in 2013.

Comic Sans will make you smarter

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 06, 2011

Researchers at Princeton have found evidence that making something more difficult to learn improves long-term learning and information retention. More specifically, changing the typeface from something legible (like Helvetica) to something more difficult to read (like Monotype Corsiva or Comic Sans) increased retention in actual classroom settings.

This study demonstrated that student retention of material across a wide range of subjects (science and humanities classes) and difficulty levels (regular, Honors and Advanced Placement) can be significantly improved in naturalistic settings by presenting reading material in a format that is slightly harder to read…. The potential for improving educational practices through cognitive interventions is immense. If a simple change of font can significantly increase student performance, one can only imagine the number of beneficial cognitive interventions waiting to be discovered. Fluency demonstrates how we have the potential to make big improvements in the performance of our students and education system as a whole.

I agree with Lehrer…get David Carson on the horn. (thx, lara)

Childhood isn’t a race

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 02, 2010

Parents these days go crazy worrying about their kids’ progress: Should she be reading? Should he be writing? She can’t catch a ball! The kid down the street can say her numbers up to 100 but mine only knows 1 through 14. Magical Parenthood posted an article about what a four-year-old should know and it doesn’t have anything to do with how well your kid can spell.

1. She should know that she is loved wholly and unconditionally, all of the time.

2. He should know that he is safe and he should know how to keep himself safe in public, with others, and in varied situations. He should know that he can trust his instincts about people and that he never has to do something that doesn’t feel right, no matter who is asking. He should know his personal rights and that his family will back them up.

3. She should know how to laugh, act silly, be goofy and use her imagination. She should know that it is always okay to paint the sky orange and give cats 6 legs.

This advice for parents is gold:

That being the smartest or most accomplished kid in class has never had any bearing on being the happiest. We are so caught up in trying to give our children “advantages” that we’re giving them lives as multi-tasked and stressful as ours. One of the biggest advantages we can give our children is a simple, carefree childhood.

How not to cheat your way through college

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 22, 2010

Using statistical analysis, University of Central Florida professor Richard Quinn determined that dozens of students had cheated on a test, told them in a lecture (video below), and over 200 students confessed after the lecture.

I don’t want to have to explain to your parents why you didn’t graduate, so I went to the Dean and I made a deal. The deal is you can either wait it out and hope that we don’t identify you, or you can identify yourself to your lab instructor and you can complete the rest of the course and the grade you get in the course is the grade you earned in the course.

How to cheat your way through college

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 16, 2010

From The Chronicle of Higher Education, a fascinating piece by a person who makes his living writing essays for college and graduate students.

In the past year, I’ve written roughly 5,000 pages of scholarly literature, most on very tight deadlines. But you won’t find my name on a single paper.

I’ve written toward a master’s degree in cognitive psychology, a Ph.D. in sociology, and a handful of postgraduate credits in international diplomacy. I’ve worked on bachelor’s degrees in hospitality, business administration, and accounting. I’ve written for courses in history, cinema, labor relations, pharmacology, theology, sports management, maritime security, airline services, sustainability, municipal budgeting, marketing, philosophy, ethics, Eastern religion, postmodern architecture, anthropology, literature, and public administration. I’ve attended three dozen online universities. I’ve completed 12 graduate theses of 50 pages or more. All for someone else.

You’ve never heard of me, but there’s a good chance that you’ve read some of my work. I’m a hired gun, a doctor of everything, an academic mercenary. My customers are your students. I promise you that. Somebody in your classroom uses a service that you can’t detect, that you can’t defend against, that you may not even know exists.

His kind of service attracts three types of student:

From my experience, three demographic groups seek out my services: the English-as-second-language student; the hopelessly deficient student; and the lazy rich kid.

For the last, colleges are a perfect launching ground-they are built to reward the rich and to forgive them their laziness. Let’s be honest: The successful among us are not always the best and the brightest, and certainly not the most ethical. My favorite customers are those with an unlimited supply of money and no shortage of instructions on how they would like to see their work executed. While the deficient student will generally not know how to ask for what he wants until he doesn’t get it, the lazy rich student will know exactly what he wants. He is poised for a life of paying others and telling them what to do. Indeed, he is acquiring all the skills he needs to stay on top.

The value of a Hogwarts education

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 10, 2010

Here’s an interesting theory from Sam Arbesman: the wizards from the Harry Potter books aren’t that bright because their education neglects the basics.

As near as I can tell, if you grow up in the magical world (as opposed to be Muggle-born, for example), you do not go to school at all until the age of eleven. In fact, it’s entirely unclear to me how the children of the wizarding world learn to read and write. There is a reason Hermione seems much more intelligent than Ron Weasley. It’s because Ron is very likely completely uneducated.

My take is that wizards are jocks, not nerds; Hogwarts is not so much a secondary school as a sports academy. What’s odd about that is that quidditch is an extracurricular…

Essential skills you didn’t learn in college

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 13, 2010

Wired has a go at defining liberal arts 2.0.

It’s the 21st century. Knowing how to read a novel, craft an essay, and derive the slope of a tangent isn’t enough anymore. You need to know how to swing through the data deluge, optimize your prose for Twitter, and expose statistics that lie.

Creative creative writing prompt

posted by Aaron Cohen   Aug 07, 2010

I guess this went around last year, but somehow, I completely missed it. I’m visiting with two English professors this weekend, and apparently this video caused something of a stir in the department. “If you knocked your brother down, would you urinate in his mouth?” is an age-old question, used for generations as a writing exercise. Or something.
2 questions:
When trying to prompt creative writing, why would you ask a yes/no question?
What were the other 12-13 questions on this exercise?
Watch out for the mustachioed Superintendent, as it is his honor to take you through this night.

(Thanks, Maura/Jonathan)

Goodbye, Rubber Rooms

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 29, 2010

Last year, the New Yorker ran a story on NYC’s Rubber Rooms, the common name for the rooms which house NYC schoolteachers accused of classroom misconduct.

The teachers have been in the Rubber Room for an average of about three years, doing the same thing every day — which is pretty much nothing at all. Watched over by two private security guards and two city Department of Education supervisors, they punch a time clock for the same hours that they would have kept at school — typically, eight-fifteen to three-fifteen. Like all teachers, they have the summer off. The city’s contract with their union, the United Federation of Teachers, requires that charges against them be heard by an arbitrator, and until the charges are resolved — the process is often endless — they will continue to draw their salaries and accrue pensions and other benefits.

Yesterday, the Rubber Rooms were finally closed down. It seems like a purely cosmetic move; the real problems outlined in the NYer article remain unaddressed. Shouldn’t the Times article at least mention that?

Your reality is out of date

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 18, 2010

There’s a category of information that slowly changes throughout the course of a lifetime. Sam Arbesman calls them mesofacts.

These are facts which we tend to view as fixed, but which shift over the course of a lifetime. For example: What is Earth’s population? I remember learning 6 billion, and some of you might even have learned 5 billion. Well, it turns out it’s about 6.8 billion. […] If, as a baby boomer, you learned high school chemistry in 1970, and then, as we all are apt to do, did not take care to brush up on your chemistry periodically, you would not realize that there are 12 new elements in the Periodic Table. Over a tenth of the elements have been discovered since you graduated high school!

The blog over at mesofacts.org is a good place to update yourself on this slowly changing information.

Community colleges save lives

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 10, 2010

Grant McCracken quotes Kay Ryan, reigning US Poet Laureate and sharer of my birthday, on community colleges.

I simply want to celebrate the fact that right near your home, year in and year out, a community college is quietly — and with very little financial encouragement — saving lives and minds. I can’t think of a more efficient, hopeful or egalitarian machine, with the possible exception of the bicycle.

Go to film school with Werner Herzog

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 15, 2009

Werner Herzog is doing something called The Rogue Film School.

The Rogue Film School is about a way of life. It is about a climate, the excitement that makes film possible. It will be about poetry, films, music, images, literature. The focus of the seminars will be a dialogue with Werner Herzog, in which the participants will have their voice with their projects, their questions, their aspirations.

Fiddling while our kids don’t learn

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 26, 2009

A truly maddening article about the NYC school system and its interactions with government and the teacher’s union.

These fifteen teachers, along with about six hundred others, in six larger Rubber Rooms in the city’s five boroughs, have been accused of misconduct, such as hitting or molesting a student, or, in some cases, of incompetence, in a system that rarely calls anyone incompetent.

The teachers have been in the Rubber Room for an average of about three years, doing the same thing every day — which is pretty much nothing at all. Watched over by two private security guards and two city Department of Education supervisors, they punch a time clock for the same hours that they would have kept at school — typically, eight-fifteen to three-fifteen. Like all teachers, they have the summer off. The city’s contract with their union, the United Federation of Teachers, requires that charges against them be heard by an arbitrator, and until the charges are resolved — the process is often endless — they will continue to draw their salaries and accrue pensions and other benefits.

Nobody comes out of this looking good.

Update: This American Life did a segment on Rubber Rooms earlier this year in cooperation with a group of filmmakers making a movie about them. (thx, @hautenegro & heather)

Autism an advantage, not mental retardation

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 16, 2009

In the Chronicle of Higher Education, Tyler Cowen argues that society in general and academia in particular is prejudiced with respect to people with autism and that autism in the academy can be an advantage.

Autism is often described as a disease or a plague, but when it comes to the American college or university, autism is often a competitive advantage rather than a problem to be solved. One reason American academe is so strong is because it mobilizes the strengths and talents of people on the autistic spectrum so effectively. In spite of some of the harmful rhetoric, the on-the-ground reality is that autistics have been very good for colleges, and colleges have been very good for autistics.

Education in 140 characters or less

posted by Ainsley Drew   Mar 26, 2009

In response to a push for more tech literacy, British primary schools have proposed a new set of academic standards, including plans to study Twitter.

It seems to be going over fairly well with those at the head of the class. According to John Bangs, of the National Union of Teachers:

“Computer skills and keyboard skills seem to be as important as handwriting in this. Traditional books and written texts are downplayed in response to web-based learning.”

Let’s hope that history lectures don’t devolve into presentations on now-defunct MySpace pages and AOL screen-names.

via CNET

The 15 Strangest College Courses In America

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 11, 2009

The Online Colleges blog has collected a list of the oddest college courses in the US, including Arguing with Judge Judy: : Popular ‘Logic’ on TV Judge Shows, The Science of Superheroes, and The Strategy of StarCraft.

I’m sure that in South Korea one could major in StarCraft, but it’s a bit strange seeing a college course about the game here in the US. The class uses StarCraft to teach the art of war, discussing strategy and tactics in the famous game.

Another class on The Wire

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 06, 2009

Regarding Berkeley’s class on McNulty & Co., Jason Mittell is teaching a class on The Wire at Middlebury College this spring. More information is available on the class blog, including the course schedule. This class *will* include the underrated season two.