Tag: Education

The Heckler’s Veto

A few weeks ago, the 9th Circus ruled that it was acceptable for a school to ban shirts displaying the American flag. Their reasoning was that high school students do not have full Constitution liberties, which is a well-established precedent, and that the shirts would have caused disruption in the school by angering Mexican students.


This was the end of a series of confrontations between Mexican-American students and white ones alternatively displaying Mexican and American flags. The confrontations had been growing more alarming and the school said they acted to defuse the situation. But here’s what Eugene Volokh had to say:

This is a classic “heckler’s veto” — thugs threatening to attack the speaker, and government officials suppressing the speech to prevent such violence. “Heckler’s vetoes” are generally not allowed under First Amendment law; the government should generally protect the speaker and threaten to arrest the thugs, not suppress the speaker’s speech. But under Tinker‘s “forecast substantial disruption” test, such a heckler’s veto is indeed allowed.

Yet even if the judges are right, the situation in the school seems very bad. Somehow, we’ve reached the point that students can’t safely display the American flag in an American school, because of a fear that other students will attack them for it — and the school feels unable to prevent such attacks (by punishing the threateners and the attackers, and by teaching students tolerance for other students’ speech). Something is badly wrong, whether such an incident happens on May 5 or any other day.

And this is especially so because behavior that gets rewarded gets repeated. The school taught its students a simple lesson: If you dislike speech and want it suppressed, then you can get what you want by threatening violence against the speakers. The school will cave in, the speakers will be shut up, and you and your ideology will win. When thuggery pays, the result is more thuggery. Is that the education we want our students to be getting?

It’s not clear to me if Mexican flag shirts were banned too. That would at least be … somewhat defensible, I guess, if you ignore which country this was taking place in. But it would still set a dangerous Heckler’s Veto precedent in our schools. A veto that at least one North Carolina school is taking up:

WLOS-TV reports that 9-year-old Grayson Bruce was being “punch[ed],” “push[ed]” and “call[ed] … horrible names” for bringing a “My Little Pony” bag to school — so school officials told him to stop bringing the bag:

[Bruce’s mother, Noreen, says] the school asked him to leave the bag at home because it had become a distraction and was a “trigger for bullying.” …

Buncombe County Schools declined an interview, but sent us this statement, “an initial step was taken to immediately address a situation that had created a disruption in the classroom. Buncombe County Schools takes bullying very seriously, and we will continue to take steps to resolve this issue.”

So let’s get this straight. Boy brings My Little Pony bag to school. Assholes call it girly and bully him. And the school … tells him not to bring My Little Pony bag to school anymore.

I’m not sure what we would have done with a My Little Pony-carrying kid in my school. I’ve seen quite a bit of My Little Pony since Sal 11000 Beta loves the show. It’s girly, but not ridiculously so. And there is, in fact, an online community of male fans of the show called “bronies” although the less said about them the better (I was once at a conference and told a colleague about the brony thing. He thought I was making it up until he googled it.)

I’m sure the bully-defenders will claim he was provoking them; deliberately bring the bag to create this situation (since we all know how much kids love being bullied). But let me ask a straight-forward question. If you allow students to enforce some kind of social norm this way, where does it end? If a kid is being harassed because he is gay, do you tell him to pretend to be straight? If he’s being punched for being openly religious, do you tell him to stop wearing a cross? If he’s being called horrible names for his political views, do you tell him to wear an Obama button? At what point will you finally concede that the bullies might be the problem and not the victim?

Granted, it’s just a book bag. But notice the word “trigger”. The school officials are acting like the My Little Pony bag, by its very presence, provokes an uncontrollable rage in the students. If only we removed the evil talisman of My Little Pony, the bullying would stop.

But it won’t. That’s the gripping hand here: removing the My Little Pony bag will not stop the bullying. As anyone who has witnessed or experienced bullying can tell you, stopping the behavior that “invites” bullying only invites bullying on some other subject. And it goes on until the bullies find something the victim can’t change. If they get rid of a My Little Pony bag, the bullies will get on him about his unfashionable shoes. And if he gets rid of the shoes, they’ll find something else until they end up on something like race, religion or grades. Removing “triggers” for bullying doesn’t stop bullying any more than making women wear burkhas stops rape. Bullying is a choice, not an uncontrollable reflex.

Amy Alkon, in the comments:

You don’t stop bullying by giving the bullies a free pass on their behavioe[sic]. I think the best way to put an end to this particular incident is to sit down with the kids causing the problem and their parents

This is how the bullying of me in junior high stopped. A gang of girls followed me around, taunted me, threw things at me. My dad went to the principal.

I have a similar story, but from another perspective.

When I was in Hebrew High School, there was one kid who was the target of relentless abuse. Everyone made fun of him, even me, probably because we ourselves were picked on so often in regular school. One day, one of the teachers pulled the entire class into a room and laid into us something fierce. He pulled no punches in telling us that we were behaving horribly, that the kid had attempted suicide before and that he would not put with any more of our bullshit.

Thinking back on it, he had little authority to really do anything. But no one said a word. Everyone was looking at the floor or the wall, ashamed. And, in the end, we backed the hell off the kid. Confrontation from an authority figure worked. And I don’t think the kid “tattled”; the teacher just saw what was going on and did something about it because he was a good and decent man.

I still think about that to this day, thirty years later. I still hope he got everything together and is living a happy life. And I am still extremely grateful to the teacher who did not let us get away with it, who did something to stop the bullying.

The Demons of the Demon Weed

Alberto Willmore was a beloved art teacher in Manhattan. Two years ago, police busted him, claiming a marijuana joint they found on the ground belonged to him. He then fell into a morass of legal system delays and education bureaucracy bullshit that he is only now just emerging from.

We think that the two million people in prison are the only damage out insane War on Drugs does. Watch the video to see what a “minor” pot arrested can do. This happens 40,000 times a year and 90% of the arrestees are black, even though blacks use marijuana at rates comparable to whites.

(H/T: Amy Alkon)

Duncan Flips Us the Finger

What’s the definition of a gaffe again? When a politician accidentally says what he really thinks:

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan told a group of state schools superintendents Friday that he found it “fascinating” that some of the opposition to the Common Core State Standards has come from “white suburban moms who — all of a sudden — their child isn’t as brilliant as they thought they were, and their school isn’t quite as good as they thought they were.”

I haven’t written much about Common Core because I honestly haven’t studied the issue enough. They are set of national standards — long on the Left’s education wish list — that most states have accepted. Except that they seem unrealistic. I haven’t just heard this from opponents of top down education, I’ve heard it from pediatricians, teachers and parents who believe the material is not developmentally appropriate — meaning they’re pushing young kids too fast (see details linked in the above article and here). I live in a college town with excellent schools and the teachers here are very worried that they will not be able to teach Common Core. You can imagine what it’s like in the inner cities.

Fundamentally, Common Core just sounds wrong. Imposing a one-size-fits-all education model sounds good to an technocratic fool like Duncan, who sees children and parents and simply interchangeable parts of a massive system. But to anyone who has actually taught in classroom (Duncan hasn’t), it sounds insane. It’s great if a kid can learn fractions by third grade but not all kids can. Even kids who have mathematical skill may bloom late.

Common Core also crosses me as a politico’s misunderstanding of how the world works. It’s not unusual to challenge employees or divisions to meet ambitious goals. But you do not throw those challenges out at divisions that are already failing. Many schools in this country aren’t even teaching the basics. But Common Core will … I dunno .. make them raise their game? In a way that, say, school choice wouldn’t? One suspects, given the strong union support, part of the goal is that the schools will fail Common Core and this failure will be used to demand more funding. The Obama Administration has already made noises about year-round schooling (ignoring that countries with year-round schooling have shorter school days). We all know the way people Duncan and Obama think: there isn’t a fundamental failure that can’t be overcome by more money, more hours and less freedom.

In any case, putting Common Core aside, the arrogance and condescension of Duncan’s remark is simply stunning, a peek at what this man — who has made a lot of education noise with little actual success — thinks. If we think his beloved Common Core is too aggressive or inappropriate, it’s because we are whiny little bitches who don’t realize how stupid our kids really are and how glorious his plans for them are.

The Nerf Generation

You’ve got be kidding me:

A middle school in Long Island, New York has banned the playing of typical schoolyard games and the use of many pieces of athletic equipment during recess.

CBS reported that Weber Middle School this week “instituted a ban on footballs, baseballs, lacrosse balls, or anything that might hurt someone on school grounds.” The ban also includes “hard soccer balls” and “rough games of tag, or cartwheels unless supervised by a coach.”

Assistant Principal Matthew Swinson explained that “sometimes when they participate in tag they use the opportunity to give an extra push.”

In a press release, the school district stated that “structured athletics” with footballs and baseballs do not pose the risk of “an errant throw injuring a child.” However, “unstructured play with hardballs” is dangerous and therefore impermissible. Their announcement explains that the children are confined by ongoing construction at the school, and therefore cannot be trusted with certain sports equipment. Nevertheless, the school made a specific exception for the spongy foam of Nerf balls, so that the children can safely “enjoy a 20 minute recess period.”

Now to be fair to the school, they claim this is a temporary measure caused by construction cutting off the amount of play space. They say that the confined recess space requires tighter rules to prevent injury and that they will lift these restrictions once the construction is done.

Nevertheless, their statements about the matter represent a diseased thinking that has slowly crept into not just our schools but our society at large. Note the point about “structured athletics”. This is part of a belief system that people simply can not function without constant supervision.

Let’s take a different topic: park closures. All week, I’ve been debating liberals on the closure of open air memorials, including the use of highway cones to block off overlooks of national monuments. It’s been an exercise in rationalization as eventually they’ll admit these things are being done to make the shutdown more painful.

But the midpoint of the discussion is when they say these closures are necessary to prevent injury and protect the government from liability. The latter is profoundly ignorant as the federal government enjoys enormous sovereign immunity from lawsuits. The former, however, reflects the increasingly paternalistic view that citizens can not be trusted to even walk down a sidewalk next to a memorial wall on their own.*

(*In reality, all of these explanations are bullshit. What it comes to do is Obama Defense Derangement Syndrome. The President is doing it, therefore there must be a good reason for it. Evil conservative oppose it, therefore it must be a good idea. This the current pinnacle of Democrat thought.)

Returning to the subject at hand, the implicit assumption is that children can not throw balls, play tag or even turn a cartwheel with an adult looking over their shoulder and making sure they’re doing it right. It’s not just the Port Washington School; it’s everyone, from schools to parents who won’t take their kids to a public park and just let them run around.

This attitude that children’s lives must be structure and controlled is not just insane; it’s dangerous.

Over the same decades that children’s play has been declining, childhood mental disorders have been increasing. It’s not just that we’re seeing disorders that we overlooked before. Clinical questionnaires aimed at assessing anxiety and depression, for example, have been given in unchanged form to normative groups of schoolchildren in the US ever since the 1950s. Analyses of the results reveal a continuous, essentially linear, increase in anxiety and depression in young people over the decades, such that the rates of what today would be diagnosed as generalised anxiety disorder and major depression are five to eight times what they were in the 1950s. Over the same period, the suicide rate for young people aged 15 to 24 has more than doubled, and that for children under age 15 has quadrupled.

The decline in opportunity to play has also been accompanied by a decline in empathy and a rise in narcissism, both of which have been assessed since the late 1970s with standard questionnaires given to normative samples of college students. Empathy refers to the ability and tendency to see from another person’s point of view and experience what that person experiences. Narcissism refers to inflated self-regard, coupled with a lack of concern for others and an inability to connect emotionally with others. A decline of empathy and a rise in narcissism are exactly what we would expect to see in children who have little opportunity to play socially. Children can’t learn these social skills and values in school, because school is an authoritarian, not a democratic setting. School fosters competition, not co-operation; and children there are not free to quit when others fail to respect their needs and wishes.

In my book, Free to Learn (2013), I document these changes, and argue that the rise in mental disorders among children is largely the result of the decline in children’s freedom. If we love our children and want them to thrive, we must allow them more time and opportunity to play, not less. Yet policymakers and powerful philanthropists are continuing to push us in the opposite direction — toward more schooling, more testing, more adult direction of children, and less opportunity for free play.

I believe that Dr. Gray is onto something. Sal 11000 Beta loves organized activities: swimming, gymnastics, dance, religious school. But I think she benefits the most when I just shove her out the door to play with other kids in the neighborhood. Her daycare was great at just turning the kids loose in the yard in the afternoon and letting do what they wanted. Some parents whined (apparently, the girls were playing at marrying each other). But the improvement in social skills was measurable. She learned how to interact with other kids, how to be considerate of their feelings and how to be spontaneous.

Yes, kids will sometimes act like jerks. I’m of average height now, but as a kid, I was always the shortest in my grade. I was also kind of sensitive, which made me the recipient of more than a few aggressive tags and “errant balls”. But even that bullying type of behavior is useful. It taught me to duck. And it taught me to fight back. I’ll never forget the day in Hebrew School when I punched a kid who’d been harassing me. My teacher, who had spent her childhood in Israel being bombed and shot at, was almost proud of me.

Kids gotta be kids, dammit. If they don’t get a chance to be kids when their kids, they’ll be kids when they’re grown up with far more serious consequences.

One last quote:

“We know kids are going to get injured … but we have a responsibility to lessen injuries,” said Swinson, explaining that the children could only be trusted with spongy balls.

Nonsense. You have a responsibility to prevent serious injuries. But the occasional bruise, bump, scrape or even broken arm is part of growing up (I once told Sal 11000 Beta’s daycare that I would be disappointed in them if she didn’t get at least one scrape or bruise a week). It’s how kids learn to avoid life’s sharp edges and be careful.

I work at a university. I’ve seen the kind of kids the Nerf Life produces — whiny, helpless, narcissistic adult babies who can not function without supervision. That they are outnumbered by kids who are hard-working and polite is a testament to the number of parents who recognize this horse manure for what it is and reject it.

Take Your Rights Somewhere Else

Oh, lovely academia and its commitment to free expression:

In a stunning illustration of the attitude taken towards free speech by too many colleges across the United States, Modesto Junior College in California told a student that he could not pass out copies of the United States Constitution outside the student center on September 17, 2013—Constitution Day. Captured on video, college police and administrators demanded that Robert Van Tuinen stop passing out Constitution pamphlets and told him that he would only be allowed to pass them out in the college’s tiny free speech zone, and only after scheduling it several days or weeks ahead of time. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) has written to Modesto, demanding that the college rescind this policy immediately.

The FIRE, in case you don’t know, are a completely awesome organization devoted to fighting for academic and personal freedom for everyone. Every year, some idiot liberal expresses shock when FIRE fights for the rights of a liberal organization. I am not shocked: this is what FIRE does. They don’t care what your political views are; they care about freedom.

The free speech zones that decorate about 15% of our college campuses are a disgrace. Colleges should be giving their students more freedom of expression than the government minimum, not less. And it should apply to everyone: from Occupy Idiots to Tea Partiers (yes, there are some on campuses) to gay rights activists to abortion activists. Colleges and universities like to claim that they aren’t exercising prior restraint; they’re acting like an employer who won’t let you engage in political activity at work. But most of them are, in fact, state institutions and almost all of them get massive portions of their budgets from state and federal agencies. When they are completely privately funded, then they can act like private agencies.

I’ve talked about all this before but I had to post this because … this really takes the cake. Telling a kid handing out Constitution pamphlets to get lost on Constitution Day? Holy crap, that’s bad.

Making the Grade

Say what?

The dreaded F.

Most parents are alarmed by that letter on a child’s report card. But they won’t see it this year in Milwaukee’s K-8 and elementary schools, as the district does away with traditional letter grades in favor of a new scoring system that separates academic progress from social skills.

In doing so, Milwaukee Public Schools joins a growing number of districts that are eliminating traditional letter grades or untethering student behaviors from academic marks.

The changes — which can include no longer docking points from academic grades for late assignments and offering students multiple chances to submit their work — are a big shift for some teachers, and a head-scratcher for many parents.

“I think (district administrators) want letter grades to go away because they want to blur the line of failing students,” said Sara Andrea-Neill, a parent in the Kenosha Unified School District.

I think you’ve got in one, Sara Andrea-Neill. The new system will give students grades of AD (advanced), PR (proficient), BA (basic) and MI (minimal, but he’s totally not failing so for the love of God please don’t beat your kid). They will also get a separate feedback on “effort” of 1-4.

This is not that unusual. My wife’s high school in Australia used a similar system. However, I think the critics are missing something important. It seems to me that the larger problem is that the grading system continues the trend of emphasizing competence and proficiency over excellence. Notice what is lost. F becomes MI; D becomes BA, C become PR, B becomes AD and A … just disappears. There’s no longer a way to distinguish between kids who are above average and those who are truly exceptional.

I also don’t like that the system interferes with the teacher’s management of their classes by not letting them demand assignments on time. Anyone who has taught at any level above teaching the dog to fetch knows that deadlines are critical to get students to finish assignments and to preserve your sanity. You can’t have students turning in assignment willy-nilly and maintain a consistent pace in class.

Nothing Outside The State

Oh, Slate. You certainly know how to troll for traffic.

You are a bad person if you send your children to private school. Not bad like murderer bad—but bad like ruining-one-of-our-nation’s-most-essential-institutions-in-order-to-get-what’s-best-for-your-kid bad. So, pretty bad.

That’s the opening line to an astonishing condescending post by Allison Benedikt about how people should not be allowed to send their kids to private schools. I’m not linking directly, but you can find it through the eviscerations by Popehat and Overlawyered:

I am not an education policy wonk: I’m just judgmental. But it seems to me that if every single parent sent every single child to public school, public schools would improve. This would not happen immediately. It could take generations. Your children and grandchildren might get mediocre educations in the meantime, but it will be worth it, for the eventual common good.

This caused Ross Douthat to reply with a quote from Mussolini: “Everything for the state, nothing outside the state, nothing against the state.” If you follow the argument, your goal in life should not be to give your children all the advantages you can; it should be to sacrifice them on the altar to the greater public good. It won’t pay off today. But maybe, perhaps, if we wish really really really hard, it will pay off.

I used that phrase “sacrifice them on the altar” very specifically. Notice that Benedick cites no evidence that stuffing more kids into public schools would actually improve them. She just says we should put them in there and … it will happen. Because she thinks so. Her statement has as much reason and logic behind it as a pagan sacrificing a goat to Baal in the hopes that it will bring rain.

I would think this was Poe’s Law, but I have actually heard this argument before on some fringes of the left and some mainstream Lefties. Dylan Matthews and Matt Yglesias made sympathetic noises on Twitter. Dan McLaughlin reminded me this piece of excrement during the Chicago teacher’s strike. And I’ve also heard it from mainstream figures like Warren Buffet.

Destroying this column is like shooting fish in a barrel. But my shotgun has been a little rusty lately, so what the hell.

First, there are many problems that afflict our public schools. The biggest, in my opinion, are parents and students who simply don’t give a shit. I don’t see that manacling them to students who do is going to improve that situation. In fact, most of the parents who send their kids to private schools do care about the public ones. They pay hefty taxes, they vote for politicians who spend on education and many of them only move their kids to private schools after the public schools fail them. They care. They’ve just found that caring isn’t enough when faced with an education system that doesn’t want to listen and defines itself by the lowest common denominator.

If I listed off the problems of our public schools, students abandoning them for private schools would rank dead last. In fact, even the Gawker article hilariously stumbles on this:

Nationwide, where 10% of the nation’s students—and 16% of the white ones from families making more than $75,000 per year—attend private schools, the stratification is similar. White and asian students enroll in private schools at twice the rate of black and hispanic ones, according to Harvard University’s Civil Rights Project. Nearly two thirds of private-school students are from wealthy families. In the nation’s 40 largest school districts, one in three white students attends private school (the number is one in ten for black students).

Of course, that means 84% of kids from white middle class families are attending public schools. And 2/3 of white students in the largest districts are attending public schools. Even if you posit that the private school parents are selfish bastards, they are massively outvoted by those who use the public schools and have a vested and passionate interest in improving them. And this shows in the amount of money we throw at our public education system.

The “make people care by forcing their kids into public schools” argument stumbles on the petitio principii that the problem with our schools is that we don’t care enough and aren’t giving them enough resources. Even if that’s the case — and I don’t think it is — you need to prove that before you drag all the kids out of private schools.

Second, if you mandate public schools the only thing that will happen is that people who care about their kids’ education will move to good school districts**. They will take a bungalow in a good school district over a mansion in a bad one. This is already the case for much of the country. I moved to my current location, in part, because the public schools are outstanding. My university uses this as a big selling point to potential faculty. My brother moved to his current location partly for the good schools.

(*A lot of parents would actually home-school, but I’m assuming if you’re going to abolish private schools, you’re going to abolish home-schooling too.)

You could, of course, tear down the good public schools and force all their teachers and students to go to the bad schools. None of the fuckwits proposing to abolish private schools are proposing this but … one thing at a time, I guess.

Third, private schools aren’t always about bailing out of bad public schools. Ken’s post linked above details the choices his mother made and the ones he is making that have to do more with matching environment to a child than some nebulous definition of quality. Indeed, one of the biggest problems with our public schools is the increasing uniformity of methods and curricula that assume every child should learn the same things in the same way.

Fourth, redistributing “education resources” equally might … might … raise the level of mediocrity. But the price would be destroying the excellence without which our economy and our civilization can not survive. Benedick takes the attitude that she didn’t get a quality education in her public school. But she ended up writing idiotic articles for Slate, so why should she care? But without physics and calculus at my school (a public school, incidentally), I probably wouldn’t be a scientist. Without good teachers and good schools, many future scientists, doctors, engineers and entrepreneurs would fall by the wayside.

Really, when you break it down, that’s what this is about: a raging, screaming anti-intellectualism. Just as socialists hate wealth in material goods, the private school banners hate wealth in education. They don’t want anyone to be better than anyone else, anyone to be smarter than anyone else, anyone to have more opportunities. But if the past century has taught us anything, it’s that dragging achievers down doesn’t lift everyone else up. All it does is … drag the achievers down and the rest of us with them.

Matt Yglesias and others have made the point that the children of the wealthy will do just fine in the public schools (“the research is unequivocal” says Dylan Matthews). They just won’t be as happy. Pushing aside that many private school users are middle class parents who are trying to give their kids better opportunities than they had, education is not a social experiment. Nor are children assets to be used in social experimentation by the state. Even if private schools just buy a little extra happiness and peace of mind for kids whose parents can afford it (and in many cases, can’t), what the hell is wrong with that? Oh, I forgot. Those children do not exist for themselves, but to be assets in our Education System.

The odds that private schools will be abolished are pretty close to zero. But I wanted to blog about this because it illustrates an important point. If you ever wanted to know why I could never be a leftie, this is a perfect example. The idea of outlawing public schools is offensive, stupid, misguided and vicious. It is based almost entirely on wealth envy and anti-intellectualism. And it reduces children to human sacrifices to the Great God of the Public Good. No one would take it seriously (and indeed, Slate commenters are ripping the piece in comments). But it has caused a lot of left-wing chins to be stroked and a lot of, “well, she has a point…” pontificating. It is a vivid reminder of the moral and intellectual vacuum on the fringe Left that our media try to pretend doesn’t exist.

Why the President’s College Plan Won’t Work

I’ve been thinking about the President’s recently announced plan to change the federal student loan program. Something about it bothered me and it took Alex’s post below to finally crystallize my objections.

It won’t work. Even if it works, it won’t work. It won’t work because Barack Obama, oddly enough for a Harvard man, misunderstands the nature of higher education and, not oddly at all for a Democrat, misunderstands the nature of the problem with student loans.

Here’s the plan:

The plan, which Obama rolled out as he opened a two-day campaign-style bus tour of college campuses, would create a rating system beginning in 2015 to evaluate colleges on tuition, the percentage of low-income students, graduation rates and debt of graduates.

Eventually, as an incentive for schools to make improvements in these areas, federal financial aid would be awarded based on those ratings. Obama said he could create the ratings system through executive action, but the plan to reallocate federal aid based on the ratings would require congressional approval.

In principle, this isn’t a bad idea. There are a lot of diploma mills out there that give out crap degrees and a lot of schools that really don’t care if your degree is useful or not as long as they get that sweet sweet federal money. So some form of accountability wouldn’t be a bad idea.

But in practice, it will fail. Badly.

Let’s put aside that such a system would inevitably be gamed by the colleges (most likely through grade inflation to bump up their graduation rates). Let’s put aside that rent-seeking universities will make sure that their school doesn’t get hit. Let’s put aside that this will only change how loans are allocated rather than the total amount — so the river of federal money will continue to flow. Let’s put aside that such rankings already exist in many publications. In fact, let’s put aside that the President’s plan is so dumb that even Kevin Drum can point out the flaws in it.

No, the bigger problem is that many people do not go to college to get an education. You can get a fantastic education if you want one. And for many specific professions — science, for example — you can learn a lot (although most of the necessary skills for me were learned in the lab and the library, not the classroom).

But most people go to school for credentialing: to get the bachelor’s degree that is a requirement for a steadily growing number of jobs that have little to do with education. Harvard could be giving out the worst “bang for buck” in America. But people would still line up to go because a degree from Harvard carries a cache in the business world that a degree from East Yachupetz Community College doesn’t (even though community colleges almost certainly give the best education bang per dollar). So let’s just say, for the sake of argument, that you use this system to cut down on student loans to Harvard in favor of schools that are more “efficient”. That won’t happen, of course, since Harvard has about three hundred friends on Capital Hill, but let’s pretend it does. What happens? Does Harvard care? They’ll have plenty of people who can pay. They have tens of billions in tax-free endowment to finance people who can’t. At worst, some people at the margins lose out on getting that ticket to the upper class that is an Ivy league diploma. Net benefit: nil.

Indeed, the exploding cost of education has nothing to do with education — faculty hires have been flat. It has been the result of growing administration and construction designed to make a university degree seem like a more impressive credential than it actually is.

The President has two more speeches to give on this subject but I doubt that he will address the real problem problem here which is that the federal government has slowly become the biggest predatory lender in the country. The simple fact is, as Matt Taibbi points out, we now have a system in which universities can charge what they want and the federal government will lock young people into massive loans for an eternity to pay for it. Loans that can not be discharged in bankruptcy but can tally up penalties and interest rapidly. Loans that are immune from Truth in Lending requirements. Loans that can destroy people’s lives by using powers that private lenders simply don’t have. Loans that make more profit for the federal government than they ever did for industry. The situation is so bad that even Taibbi is capable of seeing the truth:

Bottomless credit equals inflated prices equals more money for colleges and universities, more hidden taxes for the government to collect and, perhaps most important, a bigger and more dangerous debt bomb on the backs of the adult working population.

I believe that the federal loan system has poisoned the education system. It has allowed naive young people take out six figure loans for useless degrees. It has bypassed all the consumer protections we have out there. If a private industry did this, they would be in prison (well, maybe not, given how the Obama Administration has dealt with the crooks in the mortgage industry).

Don’t fix federal loans; end them. Let private lenders subject to the same laws as everyone else take over. Let universities loan money and scale their reimbursement to future earnings of their students. In short, give the lenders and the schools a financial interest in providing a useful and affordable education. Because right now all the interests are aligned toward screwing the students, the taxpayers and the professors in favor of university administrators, big education lobbyists and politicians.

This Aggression Will Not Stand

Ah, the public schools:

A Batavia High School teacher’s fans are rallying to support him as he faces possible discipline for advising students of their Constitutional rights before taking a school survey on their behavior.

They’ve been collecting signatures on an online petition, passing the word on Facebook, sending letters to the school board, and planning to speak at Tuesday’s school board meeting.

Students and parents have praised his ability to interest reluctant students in history and current affairs.

Dryden, a social studies teacher, told some of his students April 18 that they had a 5th Amendment right to not incriminate themselves by answering questions on the survey, which had each student’s name printed on it.

The survey asked about drug, alcohol and tobacco use, and emotions, according to Brad Newkirk, chief academic officer.

The results were to be reviewed by school officials, including social workers, counselors and psychologists.

The survey was not a diagnostic tool, but a “screener” to figure out which students might need specific help, Newkirk said.

The school is considering a “letter of remedy”. This has the potential to result in any level of discipline, up to firing.

The school’s position, which is not completely unreasonable, is that this survey was not going to be shared with police but was going to be used to identify students with problems and Dryden may have interfered with students getting some needed counseling. Dryden’s position, however, is that writing your name on a piece of paper and saying you’ve used drugs or alcohol is just asking for legal trouble. Is it really that hard to imagine the path from “we’ll give you help if you want it” to “you’re going to get help, wether you want it or not” to “enjoy juvie, sucker”? And is not that unreasonable for a social studies teacher to use this an example of what the Fifth Amendment means?

This does seem like bit of an over-reaction by the school. There’s a part of me that wonders if the school’s problem isn’t so much that he interfered with the survey but that he taught them a lesson in their Fifth Amendment rights. School administrators love things like locker searches, drug tests and student searches. They have routinely chafed against the very modest legal requirement of “reasonable suspicion”. Politicians and “educators” at all levels aren’t terrifically fond of any of our liberties really (James Taranto recently wrote about his experiences with censorship in college).

If you teach student to exercise their fifth amendment rights, they might start escalating to thinking about their fourth and first amendement rights as well. They might even start wondering about — the horror — their second amendment rights! And we can’t have that.

(In case you’re wondering about the title of this post, check out the picture of Dryden at the linked article and tell me he doesn’t look like the Dude.)

Kiss The Girls

And make them cry:

Kaitlyn Hunt, an 18-year-old high school student in Sebastian, Fla., is facing charges and has been expelled from school for having a same-sex relationship with a 15-year-old classmate, CBS Tampa Bay reports.

Hunt is charged with two counts of lewd and lascivious battery of a child 12 to 16 years of age after the other girl’s parents called authorities when Hunt, a senior at Sebastian River High School, turned 18, according to the station.

Basically, a 17 y/o girl was in a relationship with a 15 y/o, which is legal. Once she turned 18, however, the family called the cops. She is now facing up to 15 years in prison. Or she could plead to lesser felony, be under house arrest for two years. It’s not clear if she would have to register as a sex offender, but I’m guessing that would be the case. Either way, it would be ruinous toward any ambitions she has with her life.

Yeah, yeah, I know. “Hey, she violated the law!” But the intent of the law is to prevent a grown person from sexually battering someone under 16 against their will. It is not intended to suddenly throw a girl into prison for a consensual relationship that was perfectly legal the day before and, as such, is rarely enforced that way. This is not the first time, it is not the hundredth time we have seen this: police, prosecutors and parents using the letter of the law to defeat the spirit of the law in an effort to destroy a relationship they do not approve of. In this case, it has the added flavor of the parents thinking Kaitlyn “turned their daughter gay”. And I’m sure that is playing a role in this. But the principle would be the same even if this were a straight relationship.

Prosecutors have discretion. This one is misusing it.

Update: Via some discussion over at Volokh, I find this article about Florida’s Romeo and Juliet statute that could allow Kaitlyn, if convicted, to eventually scrub her sex offender status. But it is discretionary. And it would not remove any felony conviction.