Ghosts from the Nursery

[Please note: The word “Featured” on the left side above was NOT inserted by this blogger, but apparently was inserted by WordPress, and it cannot be removed. NO post in this blog is sponsored.]

The Book of the Week is “Ghosts from the Nursery, Tracing the Roots of Violence” by Robin Karr-Morse and Meredith S. Wiley, published in 1997. The authors cited scientific studies to support their assertions about the links between the increasingly younger ages at which Americans are committing increasingly more frequent horrific crimes, and the social and cultural trends that are driving this alarming revelation.

At the book’s writing, in the United States, criminal justice system spending was three times (!) the entire healthcare budget. The authors argued that the seeds of criminality in humans are planted in the womb rather than in early childhood, as previously thought.

Environmental factors, such as a future mother’s or father’s consumption or inhalation of toxic substances, alters the reproductive mechanisms in a fetus’ brain cells. If the fetus’ environment is neglectful, chaotic or hostile– people are raucous, or physically abusing the mother-to-be– it stands to reason that the child might have behavioral problems later on. These problems could range from hyperactivity, impulsivity, attention deficits and learning disabilities to criminality.

The range and extent of damage done varies with the time frame in which the abuses occur. It has been found that any amount of alcohol drunk by a potential father or mother can adversely affect: spermatozoa and ova weeks before conception, the zygote, embryo, fetus and then the child’s health thereafter. Maximum visual damage is done to the brain of a fetus, when the abuses occur during the limited time, for instance, in which the neural connection from the retina to the visual cortex is made. Language skills develop or fail to develop, similarly.

The opposite is true, too: a nurturing environment will maximize benefits for the child (even in the womb!) when parents’ soothing or happy voices are heard by the fetus during his or her audiological development. After emergence from the womb, the baby can recognize his or her mother’s, father’s or others’ voices. Preverbal memory (an emotional vibe emitted by parents and others– a mood felt by the fetus and then infant and then child) stays with everyone through their entire lives. Parents have been shown to display the same behaviors their parents did with their own babies and children.

The authors mentioned several European studies that showed the incidences of juvenile criminality and suicide increased with an increase in unwanted pregnancies. That’s obviously a can of worms. But, since reams and reams of data have been collected from decades and decades of sociological, psychological, medical and legal studies worldwide, perhaps a multi-pronged approach applied locally would help– instead of commissioning more, additional expensive studies for the purposes of procrastination and patronage.

HOWEVER, one particularly rich vein of data on how to invite failure of the multi-pronged approach at the federal level of poverty-fighting (and on a related topic, crime-prevention), can be found in the administration archives of the late president Lyndon B. Johnson. A 20/20 hindsight look at the enduring actions he did take, are unfairly omitted from the history books that show an anti-liberal bias. His administration saw the start of Medicare and Medicaid and the passing of landmark civil rights legislation. BUT, these great accomplishments were overshadowed by conspiracy theories that he plotted the assassination of JFK and of course, his role in a needless war.

Johnson had grand plans to eliminate poverty at home, but shortly after he came to power, he decided to send Americans abroad to fight a war that led to countless deaths and ruined lives. And continued to rationalize why it needed to continue. Johnson’s anti-poverty programs weren’t given sufficient time to succeed because they became starved for funds.

That is why this country has regressed on the social-programs front: Every American president has sold his soul to the MILITARY [Currently, that military is fighting a war at the Mexican border instead of overseas; a future post of this blog will elaborate on this].

The only president fully justified in diverting significant taxpayer monies from improving conditions at home, toward fighting a war, was FDR. Since WWII, alpha males with hubris syndrome have been funding military actions whose long-term costs outweigh the benefits.

As a final insult that indicated that Johnson had major control issues, was the fact that he cruelly teased his own Democratic party by withdrawing from a 1968 reelection bid at the last minute, leaving the field to a few other candidates, and uncertainty in his wake. He also gave his political opponents a golden invitation to smear him in so many ways.

Granted, there are countless other vicissitudes of history that come into play with any president’s actions, but as is well known, campaign-finance regulation in America has become horribly eviscerated in recent decades, so the increase in financial influence of special-interest groups other than the military, has also played a role in this nation’s shifting priorities.

Be that as it may, the United States’ practices fly in the face of reason by bringing in a “pound of cure” (after the fact!) via a complicated, expensive bunch of bloated, bureaucratic government services (special-education, welfare, foster care, criminal justice, etc.). Instead of an “ounce of prevention.” One specific program has been found to be the most effective solution thus far in preventing crime in the long run: infant home-visitation programs, because the problems are dealt with early! This was the conclusion of a criminology team who submitted a report to the U.S. Congress in April 1997.

Clearly, different levels of government can implement more of a combination of social programs and legislation in order of what works best pursuant to all those scientific studies (preferably longitudinal ones), regardless of costs, limited by whatever the budget will reasonably bear; instead of going the easy, greedy, or power-hungry, politically expedient (and fraught military) route.

A grass-roots movement would have to hold officials’ feet to the fire on that– perhaps appealing to their egos by giving them a legacy via a footnote in the history books crediting them for getting it done. This, while keeping political patronage to a minimum (It used to be called “honest graft” but has reached excessive levels in certain regions; time will tell whether upcoming elections oust the “Tammany Hall/Boss Tweed” contingents.).

So, for instance, a hypothetical mandate for a large, diversely-populated city might consist of:

First, an infant home-visitation program;

Second, no-charge universal pre-kindergarten program;

Third, stricter background checks and bans on specific firearms and loophole-closing;

Fourth, a community-policing program (that does not involve military hardware) like those mentioned in this blog’s posts, “L.A. Justice” and “Riverkeepers”; and

Fifth, imposing and enforcing a legal maximum to class sizes in early-childhood education.

If additional funding is found (for whatever reasons), there could be other kinds of education programs that deal with issues such as: teen pregnancy, sex education, contraception, substance abuse prevention (all possibly as a part of the high school health-class curriculum), parenting classes, family planning, welfare-to-work, at-risk youth centers, and job training– again, prioritized from the most to the least effective outcomes.

Anyway, read the book to learn much more about research results on this topic, and the authors’ suggestions on crime prevention via focusing on ways to improve outcomes in connection with pregnancy and child care.

World Class

[Please note: The word “Featured” on the left side above was NOT inserted by this blogger, but apparently was inserted by WordPress, and it cannot be removed. NO post in this blog is sponsored.]

The Book of the Week is “World Class, One Mother’s Journey Halfway Around the Globe in Search of the Best Education for Her Children” by Teru Clavel, published in 2019.

Born in the early 1960’s, the author had very different educational experiences from that of her children. She spent her early childhood years in Greenwich, Connecticut; middle years in New York City, and teens in Westchester county, New York. She, her husband and their three children spent a decade in Asia, and moved back to the United States in 2016.

They began their stay in Hong Kong in the expat community, but the author wanted her children to see how the natives actually lived and learned. The rat race among the super-rich elitists had become tiresome. So in Hong Kong and later in Shanghai, she found a preschool and elementary school that were right for her then-two children. Even so, most local Asian schools demanded discipline and rigorous academics that were standardized nationwide.

In Shanghai, though, her family endured hardships in order for her children to get the best educations– authentic to the culture of that place and time. In Asia, teaching is a highly respected profession for which there is rigorous training and a highly selective hiring process.

Both the author’s family’s local public school and their residence were structurally dilapidated. The former had classrooms that were unheated, so in winter, the kids wore their coats all day. The grounds had no playground, only a concrete basketball court with a bare hoop. The family’s home had vermin and unreliable water and internet service.

At the elementary school, the teachers specialized in math, Mandarin, English language or other subjects, and were paid more than the homeroom teacher. The kids learned with pencils and paper; not tablets and videos.

Every day before preschool began, the kids were subjected to a color-coded health examination: red (a lucky color in China) meant the child was well, yellow meant slight illness but okay to be in class, but blue indicated that the child would spend the day at the school infirmary. Most parents of elementary schoolers work to support a multi-generational household: an only child, the parents, and both sets of grandparents of the child.

The author’s six-year old son’s report card was a 46 page bound book containing assessments in each subject including social skills– comprised of opinions of the parents, teachers and students themselves. According to the author, the Chinese education system is a meritocracy, with high school and college entrance exams the keys to the kingdom.

The author wanted her children to attend high school in the United States, so the family moved to Palo Alto in California– the best school district in the nation; but, as the author found out, only reputationally.

Read the book to learn: many more details of Asian education and cultures, and how they compare to the American system in recent years; the author’s advice and tips for how parents can seek out the best education for their kids; and biographical information on the author and her family.

The Cult of Smart – BONUS POST

The Bonus Book of the Week is “The Cult of Smart, How Our Broken Education System Perpetuates Social Injustice” by Fredrik deBoer, published in 2020.

The author discussed trends that have already been ongoing for decades. The government agencies that make or change policy blame teachers and schools for the failings of the American education system, because those are the elements in the system that they can control.

The author argued that one major elephant in the room is inherited traits of the students, which educrats obviously can’t control. But bringing up that issue invites accusations of racism or eugenics– both taboo topics that might result in cancel culture.

Studies have shown that genetics plays a larger role in a student’s ability to learn than policymakers want to acknowledge. Instead, government is perpetuating the elitism of American education because educrats themselves want to stay in power and /or make money, or are deluding themselves into thinking they’re bettering education. In reality, the monetization of the system has pressured a huge number of interested parties to lie with statistics, and simply lie.

Two misleading claims included those with survivorship bias. In 2013, Stanford University, in updating a study, omitted 8% of the data consisting of underperforming charter schools (which had been closed since the first study). They then bragged that the charter-school students had made modest gains against public-school students, in standardized test scores. The other example was an elite New York City public high school whose entrance exam allows the school to select the cream of the crop when accepting students; in this way, it could boast of its high number of celebrity alumni.

One issue the author could have mentioned relevant to genetics and academic ability, included that of the American college entrance exam, the SAT. It used to be called the Scholastic Aptitude Test. The definition of aptitude is talent, which is genetic– innate ability– for which students cannot study. When educrats realized this, they changed the name to Scholastic Assessment Test. This way, the test might validly measure students’ skills that could be learned. But it might not.

One concept the author could have discussed– that would jive with his view of a more relaxed way of preparing young people to become mature, responsible adults– is that of the two kinds of smarts: street smarts and academic (book) smarts. He thought that kids who are not cut out to be students, could be counseled to acquire the former, which is learned; whereas, he believed the latter involves inherited traits.

It is interesting to note which American presidents, beginning in the twentieth century, possessed each of the two smarts. It is easy to see that having either one or both, does not necessarily indicate a president’s success in office, given: how history has treated him, and historical events during his tenure.

It can be argued that the presidents all had street smarts, else they wouldn’t have previously won any elective office. Yet, they could have been elected because they surrounded themselves with crack political strategists and public relations experts who burnished their image– although they acquired reputations for incompetence or wrongdoing in office. But street smarts could mean the ability to emerge unscathed from scandals.

Presumably, there is general consensus on academic smarts– when the president graduated from an Ivy League college, or earned a law degree, or was known as an intellectual (but there are exceptions). Here they are:

SS = Street Smarts; AS = Academic Smarts; both; neither.

Theodore Roosevelt, William H. Taft, Woodrow Wilson: both.

Warren Harding: AS only.

Calvin Coolidge: both.

Herbert Hoover: neither.

FDR: both.

Harry Truman: SS only.

Dwight Eisenhower: SS only.

JFK: arguably AS only.

LBJ: arguably neither.

Richard Nixon: AS only.

Gerald Ford: both.

Jimmy Carter: arguably neither.

Ronald Reagan: SS only.

George H.W. Bush: AS only.

Bill Clinton: both.

George W. Bush: neither.

Barack Obama: both.

Donald Trump: arguably neither.

Joe Biden: arguably SS only.

Anyway, read the book to learn of the author’s recommendations for an approach to American education that is socialistic, kinder and gentler; one he thinks that would improve it immensely.

Disrupting Class

The Book of the Week is “Disrupting Class, How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns” by Clayton Christensen, Michael B. Horn and Curtis W. Johnson, published in 2008.

All three of the authors– educrats– pushed education solutions that were mostly software-centric and charter-school based. The educrats made no distinctions between teaching and learning, but indicated that students would learn from software, if schools adopted their recommendations. It is difficult to see how students who are unwilling to learn, would learn from software, though, without supervision.

Nevertheless, one point the authors got right, was that a wrench in the works that is hindering their push to convert the American education system into a machine-dominated one– is teachers’ unions across the country. One other uncertain aspect of the whole kit and caboodle is the competition between the two current software operating systems– Windows and Apple. So, due to all this political patronage and profiteering, America’s education system will remain a patchwork, most likely.

Anyway, in 2004, one school district’s (demographically similar) students in Kentucky had 26% better state standardized test scores than another; the latter had three times the funding. There are usually three major reasons for such a discrepancy: the former district prepped the students for the test, and /or they cheated, and / or students possessed the basic skills and fundamental knowledge to do better than the competition.

The authors admitted more research was needed to determine the reasons for the discrepancy. They did however, declare that their recommendations for bettering the American education system through customization of teaching would help all students improve, regardless of funding.

The authors then presented a hypothetical scenario which would defy reality in most underfunded, understaffed and /or poorly staffed schools. In the scenario, a star athlete was attending that kind of a high school. He was having trouble understanding a concept in science class. The teacher wasn’t explaining it in a way the student could understand it. If the student didn’t keep his grades up, he wouldn’t be able to play in the big soccer game. The student’s father, an engineer, was more than happy to, was available to, and was able to, successfully tutor him so he could still play. The student lived happily ever after.

First of all, subpar schools tend to coddle their star athletes– allow them to pass their classes, or provide them with extra tutoring. Secondly, such schools have a significant number of students in overcrowded classrooms, who are discipline problems– disruptive to the class (sort of like the software-based learning that would be disruptive to the industry that the authors seemed to think the American education system is becoming).

The anecdote said nothing about: the classroom’s learning environment (which in subpar schools is frequently noisy and / or hostile) or what proportion of the other students were truly interested in learning, etc. Thirdly, it would be very unlikely that the student’s father would be an engineer, never mind available.

If there was only a handful of students who truly wanted to learn, then the authors should have suggested that those schools assign those students to do software-based learning. Those students deserve better! But the authors didn’t suggest that.

It stands to reason that live, experienced teachers should know their students and thus know how to customize teaching or customize extra help for each one. The inconvenient realities that prevent them from doing so, include but are certainly not limited to:

  • limited class time;
  • overcrowded classes;
  • classes with students who are disruptive the entire period; and
  • lack of resources for helping students learn the way they learn best.

The authors complained that American schools developed ways to lump kids together efficiently in classrooms, but in ways that have hindered their learning. But– there are reasons other than efficiency: individualized learning is expensive; face to-face social interaction is good for the kids; and they learn from each other. In isolation (with software-based learning), they don’t.

The authors then compared customized teaching to products in corporate America. This was not a very accurate analogy. For, students, teachers and resources aren’t product parts; corporate America runs on the profit motive. Education shouldn’t. Nevertheless, that is the direction it’s heading, with more and more commercialized visual education resources.

The authors explained that two recent American federal education laws would lead to growing pains and chaos in the short term, but [italics, theirs] “schools have actually been improving.” Yes, and so has the United States: a meaningless generalization. One of the laws, No Child Left Behind, a can-of-worms, was obsessed with raising standardized test scores across the board, for all students. It caused schools to (besides go crazy) lie with statistics.

The authors failed to elaborate on the aforementioned “improving” with specific examples. Instead, they went on to briefly describe the evolution of the American education system, mentioning a few influencers in early curricula, trends that prompted changes to those curricula, and changes to student populations due to other federal laws, through the years.

The next anecdote told of a student doing online research. The problem is that, sadly, the World Wide Web has been largely taken over by political propagandists and profiteers.

A subplot of the above anecdote (which was ongoing) was that a dedicated high school student got permission to take an online course in Arabic through the local community college. This, because her school didn’t offer Arabic. In a later chapter, the authors claimed the course was free (!) but didn’t specify whether course materials were free, or what kind of financial arrangement, if any, was made between the high school and college. They also weren’t clear whether the course fulfilled a graduation requirement for the student.

The student was allegedly going to chat with a native Arabic speaker halfway around the world. However, there are all different dialects of Arabic spoken in different Middle Eastern countries. The authors explained nothing about this inconvenient fact in their fanciful anecdote.

Further, the authors wrongheadedly compared the disruptiveness of online classes to that of innovations in consumer goods. But those are apples and oranges. Consumer goods’ innovations are driven by the profit motive. Childrens’ educations are driven by their parents’ belief in education and legal requirements that children attend school. The parents see the connection between education and success in life.

There are millions of complications of all sorts in connection with preparing children to become mature, responsible adults. Consumer-goods innovations are applied to inanimate objects. The only similarity is that costs of software-based learning and innovations will both fall as time goes on. But for students: at what price?? Especially if their chemistry class, as has happened at Brigham Young University (according to the authors)– was turned into a video game??

The authors thought that the large amount of money spent for universal free pre-kindergarten could be more wisely spent on parenting classes. But, once again, they failed to elaborate, and instead, ended the chapter. (For more extensive info on the myriad of subjects covered above, see this blog’s entire category of posts, “Education”).

Read the book to learn: the four major aspects of the American education system that, according to the authors, constrained students from learning; why the authors thought extrinsic motivators would force schools to rethink their services; the four ways the authors contended that technology would assist with customized learning; other comparisons with corporate models; charter school methods; and other imaginary “learning” scenarios that are likely to remain imaginary.

Educated – BONUS POST

The Bonus Book of the Week is “Educated, a Memoir” by Tara Westover, published in 2018.

This was an emotionally jarring autobiography of a female whose dysfunctional family members were the major influences in her life. Born in 1986 in rural Idaho, the author was the youngest of seven children. Her father– a fanatically religious Mormon– home-schooled his children, asserting that public school would brainwash them. The author’s mother taught her basic reading and math, but little else academically. Three of her older brothers rebelled, and left home as soon as they could. One of those– who had a thirst for knowledge– worked his way through college, and inspired the author to do so.

Morbid curiosity will keep the reader in suspense throughout this ghastly book that recounts a series of life-threatening injuries, traumatic and violent scenes of family strife, interspersed with anecdotes that spur the reader to cheer the author on during her journey toward self-awareness, healing and profound insights about her life and her family members. Read the book to learn all about it.

ENDNOTE: It took the above author a long, long time. Just as when someone has a lifelong dream, it isn’t usually achieved immediately. He or she is not going to change their mind about it. They’re going to pursue it relentlessly. In an ideal world, the one who prepares for it properly deserves to get it more than others. However, in the world of United States politics, an infinite number of factors complicate the process.

See Nothing and Nobody – BONUS POST

SEE NOTHING AND NOBODY

DOWN BY THE SCHOOLYARD

sung to the tune of “See Me and Julio Down By the Schoolyard” with apologies to Paul Simon.

President Trump said reopen schools.

So did the czar of education.

When the teachers found out they began to shout,

which started the litigation.

Teachers said naw! Teachers said naw!

A lot of sick we saw.

There ought to be a law.

Florida’s gov stood his ground, said we’re not bound

to conform to the convention.

Other govs said you must open schools or we’ll legally quash your dissension.

We’ve lost our way.

Don’t know where we’re going.

We’ve lost our way.

Law takes its time. Don’t know where…

Goodbye democracy, via the scourge of Corona.

See nothing and nobody down by the schoolyard.

See nothing and nobody down by the schoolyard.

Oh oh, people are saying they’re going to take school away and have online and home education.

And when the special interest groups have total control,

we’re gonna have an airheaded nation.

We’ve lost our way.

Don’t know where we’re going.

We’ve lost our way.

Law takes its time. Don’t know where…

Goodbye democracy, via the scourge of Corona.

See nothing and nobody down by the schoolyard.

See nothing and nobody down by the schoolyard.

See nothing and nobody down by the schoolyard.