Category Archives: Education

We’ll Always Have Dover

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Lewis Black, the gruff comedian, has a shtick about evolution. At one point he intones that he carries a fossil with him, and when he runs into a creationist, he holds this trilobite up, pointing it at them, and yells (he’s always yelling), “Fossil!” Then, if they still don’t get it, he throws it over their head.

I do exactly the same thing, but instead of just any creationist, I target public school administrators who are soft on science, and instead of a fossil I just yell, “Dover!”

Nobody wants to get Dovered.

Dover was the US Federal court decision that found that science class can not teach religion, that creationism is a form of religion, affirmed that so called creation science is just another form of creationism, and specifically determined that “Intelligent Design” is just more creationism.

Dover is to the teaching of evolutionary biology what Rove v. Wade is to reproductive rights, plus or minus. Plus, in the sense that Dover may well be an even more solid decision (though not at SCOUTS, never got to SCOTUS because it was so solid). Minus in the sense that it restricts an activity that can still go on at low level if we are not careful.

The point is, the 15th anniversary of the Dover decision is coming up. The National Center for Science Education, under the directorship of my friend Genie Scott, coordinated the Dover win, and has produced “Rembering Kitzmiller v Dover” for your perusal. For a deepre dive, see Laura Lebo’s book The Devil in Dover: An Insider’s Story of Dogma V. Darwin in Small-town America.

“cdesign proponentsists” = smoking gun

^^ look it up ^^^


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K-12 On Line Learning: Not Easy, Not Better, but Survivable.

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This is one of those posts I write to show people later when they get something wrong, something that lots of people get wrong, over and over again. Thus the post so I don’t have to repeat myself or, worse, allow someone to be wrong on the Internet without comment.

First, let us clearly establish that there are many ways to learn, and many ways to teach. Let us further establish that when I, or any other educator, uses the word “teach” it does not ever imply a student sitting there and getting taught at. It is just that there are people who are professional educators, and when they are doing the job they do, the applicable verb is “to teach” and they are called a “teacher.” I digress, but that is just because one in ten readers will be thinking thoughts that needed to be addressed by that comment.

One way to teach and learn in in a classroom. Another way is with distance learning materials, which in the old days were usually sent by mail, but these days are accessed on line. Another way is in an on line classroom setting of some sort. In class teaching and learning is replaced today, in many instances, by a mixture of these two, owing to the Covid-19 Pandemic. (If you are reading this in the far future, we are having a huge pandemic, you may not have heard about it, but it started in 2020, which in the old system, was a number referring to the year.)

Here are the two things that I want to address, that people often get wrong. Usually it is Republicans who get this wrong (“Republcian” was at one time a political party in the US, for those of you in the future) because they hate education and therefore are blindingly stupid about it.

1) All you have to do to create an on line learning system that will work perfectly well is to throw a bunch of lectures, and handouts that teachers are using, on the internet, and it will pretty much take care of itself. This is cheaper, requiring fewer tax dollars, and teachers if they really cared would just do that and then kill themselves and go away. It is easy.

2) On line learning is at least as good as in class learning for everybody, so why don’t we just do it all the time? The Teachers Union, probably, and Libtards in the city that are trying to get our kids into public schools so they can be indoctrinated in things like the arts and literature. Everything people really need to learn can be put on line in a few lectures.

The main fallacy with this first point, I think, is that turning classroom learning into something on line is either very simply, or even, less work than what teachers were doing before. The proof that this is not true is that every single teacher doing their jobs right now is spending about twice the amount of time doing this than they were doing thier work the old way. Much of that time is because this is new, so each of these courses had to be, in large part, redesigned to be on line. It takes a couple of years for a teacher, or a small staff of teachers, to get a new course deployed, and up to speed. If all the courses are going through this transition, that is a disaster. If on line teaching keeps going for three or four years (which it won’t at this level, but if it did, hypothetically) teachers would be able to settle back into something more doable. It is not know if this will take more or less time, or be more or less difficult, than in class teaching, once all the courses are redesigned and run through the paces a couple of times.

So, to summarize that point, the idea that this is somehow easier than what was being done before is absurd. Insisting that it is, well that would be an ignorant ass-hat thing to say. Insulting, and you look like a moron. So maybe don’t do that.

The second, closely related point, is that somehow we can magically assume that all online teaching is as good as or better than classroom teaching. This is not true for so many reasons that I don’t have time to go into it, but the number one piece of evidence is the roughly doubling of class failure rates in many schools that were already stretched too thin on resources. Some schools aren’t seeing this, but before you adduce that as evidence of your rightness, investigate further. The school districts that are not being hammered with high failure rates right now are doing some amazing things. I live in one of the top public school districts in the country. The district is taking direct action to make sure that every family has goo internet, even going so far as to hand out better wireless connectors. Every kid has had an iPad in this district for a while now, so that part of it was already covered. And so on. Everybody is working harder, so point 1 is obvious here, but some of that work is in order to avoid point 2 from being manifest here. But it is being manifest in other districts.

So, there, now you don’t have to be wrong about this any more. That is all.


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Racial inequity in teacher evaluation leads to racial inequity in education

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This is an oversimplification but it is true and part of the problem: There is a great deal of racial inequity in our school system. Put another way, kids of color get screwed over by our school system. One way to help with this is to increase diversity in the teaching and administrative staff of schools. However, the pipeline of incoming teachers and administrators is very white. Why? There are a number of reasons, and probably a lot of unknown unknowns. But one factor is bias against teachers of color. We see this bias all the time. A friend of mine called me up two years ago about this. Have you heard anything about Mr. X (a particular teacher in our school)? No, I haven’t, I said. I’ve heard from five people that he is a bad teacher, but my kid is in his class now and he is hands down the best teacher she has had. I wonder why people say that, I asked. I was wondering, she said, if it is because he’s black. He’s the only black teacher in the school. Were those parents complaining about him white? Ya. OK then.

Anecdotes are not evidence. But put together enough anecdotes and you get culture.

Anyhow, a recent study demonstrates that Black teachers might be discriminated against through a Catch-22 effect, whereby variation in performance across teachers is context dependent in a way that privileges White teachers and screws over Black teachers. The study is here. The abstract of the study says:

“Racial gaps in teacher performance ratings have emerged nationwide across newly implemented educator evaluation systems. Using Chicago Public Schools data, we quantify the magnitude of the race gap in teachers’ classroom observation scores, examine its determinants, and describe the potential implications for teacher diversity. Between-school differences explain most of the race gap and within-school classroom-level differences—poverty, incoming achievement, and prior-year misconduct of a teacher’s students—explain the remainder of the race gap. Teachers’ value-added scores explain none of the race gap. Leveraging within-teacher variation in the teacher–evaluator race match, we find that racial mismatch does not influence observation scores. Adjusting observation scores for classroom and school context will generate more equitable ratings of teacher performance and mitigate potential adverse consequences for teacher diversity.”

The press release includes this quote from one of the study’s authors:

“Our findings indicate that these classroom observation scores do not equitably compare the performance of teachers who taught in very different classroom and school settings,” said Steinberg, an associate professor of education policy at George Mason University. “The race gap in teacher scores does not reflect real differences in teacher performance.”

“Left unadjusted, these scores may lead to disproportionate and incorrect identification of Black teachers for remediation and dismissal, and may have serious implications for the diversity of the teacher workforce,” Steinberg said. “Our study, which focused on Chicago, raises questions about how classroom observation scores are being analyzed and used by school leaders across the United States. School leaders everywhere need to account for the potential impact of school and classroom factors on teacher scores.”

This picture shows two really important things. Frse, these bell curves overlap enough to tell us that small biases could make the difference. That’s the one on the upper left. Then the other graphs show how when we consider all the factors, the distribution of scores showing “racial” differences are explained by other factors.

This next picture shows the different factors found to explain differences in scores sorted by “race.” Note that the teacher is not a cause of the explainable variation, statistically.

There is a lot more than that in this paper, but that’s the basic idea.


Steinberg, Matthew and Lauren Sartain. 2020. What Explains the Race Gap in Teacher Performance Ratings? Evidence From Chicago Public Schools. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis.


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Games in the Covid Era

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I’ve been thinking about games (mainly two person or more board games) as a great idea for gifts in this era of Covid. So, I asked my Facebook friends to suggest some, and that resulted in about 90 comments so far. I’m put many of them here. I skipped a few games because they are fairly common yet not classic, included the classics, and focused more on games I’ve only recently heard of. Pandemic, Arboretum Codenames are newish and great. I try to indicate if I’ve had personal experience with a game, or in some cases, if the recommendation comes from a recommender that I would automatically fully trust. I’ve included Amazon links* but note that in many cases there are multiple versions of a given game, and I’m only linking to one. You’ll want to look laterally at the alternative versions and see if you want a traditional Stratego or a Star Wars Stratego, for example. The deluxe versions of the “traditional games” I’m suggesting here are simply taken off 2020 lists of deluxe versions of games, so again, just a suggestion, not really a recommendation.

Traditional games that would make a great gift if you get a nice one

Chess is only fun for some people. I’ve noticed in my own personal life that people who like to play chess and who are good at it have a knack for making the people they beat feel bad. And, it takes a lot of work to learn to play it well. For this reason, chessphobia is common. Don’t get a chess set because you think you can get someone to play with you. But, if you know someone who likes chess, an upscale chess board such as this “Handmade Chess Set European Ambassador with 21 Inch Board and Hand Carved Chess Pieces WEGIEL” may be just the gift. Or, perhaps a Harry Potter Wizard Chess Set for the person who already has a nice chess set but not a Harry Potter chess set. Also consider the less stressful No Stress Chess.

Cribbage is one of the more fun and challenging card games, and it requires a Cribbage board. It is way underrated and worth the time it takes to learn it.

There was a time when everyone played Backgammon all the time. Maybe that time will come again. Get your Backgammon set now and get good at it so when the Return of Backgammon happens, you are ready.

Go is a classic game, and people who like it probably a have a set, but they might not have something fancy like the Brybelly Go Set with Reversible Bamboo Go Board.

Similarly, everybody has a Scrabble board, but the Scrabble enthusiast might need something like a Scrabble Deluxe Edition with Rotating Wooden Game Board.

Strategy board games.

I don’t know Tiny Epic Galaxies Blast Off! – A Game of Cosmic Combos but it comes recommended by a trusted friend. Same with Castles of Burgundy Strategy Game.

Stratego is one of my favorite games. It is from ancient days but modern humans seem to like it. The version I link to is absurdly priced, but it gives you a hook for your own search for a version you may like. There is a Star Wars version, and probably other versions as well. I like the traditional form just fine, and I also like games that when you put them away they fit on a bookshelf. (Most versions of Stratego do not do that.)

You’all against the game.

For these games, the players play against the house, as it were. This is an interesting break from the usual games where one person tries to win against all the other players.

One of the best games I’ve played recently, and recommended by my FB friends as well, is Pandemic. You are on a team trying to save the world from a rapidly spreading deadly disease (as if that would ever happen!). This is you against the pathogen, and in my experience, the pathogen usually wins, but it is fun anyway. Pandemic: The Cure is a version of this game that is somewhat simplified and uses a different randomization and play direction strategy. I’ve not played it but it has been recommended to me.

You must check out one or another version of this game: Codenames.

Design and Strategy games. This is a category of games I’m not too familiar with but may of my FB friends recommended.

Azul and the variant, Azul Summer Pavilion look fun. Blokus might be in this category as well.

Patchwork: Americana Edition seems to come in different forms, so look laterally in your search for variants.

The one game in this amorphous category that I do know is Arboretum. It is very hard to explain how this works, and frankly, you’ll do best by playing it a time or two, and even discussing strategy with your opponents the first time. Highly recommended, and I think it is new enough that it could make a good gift.

I’ll put the classic Mastermind Game : The Strategy Game of Codemaker vs. Codebreaker (Packaging May Vary) in this category as well. If we weren’t’ already committed to other plans for Huxley’s birthday, this is what I would get him.

Card-based strategy games.

Recommended by FB friends: Race for the Galaxy Card Game

Pegasus Spiele Fungi may be good practice before actually looking for wild mushroom.

Recommended by an actual game maker friend of mine: Lost Cities

Small, clever games that abuse animals.

Not really, but you get the picture. These are all good: Pass The Pigs, Taco Cat Goat Cheese Pizza, and Exploding Kittens.

Not easily categorized but recommended by the Game Master herself, Rachel:

The 7th Continent. Looks really good.


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Teachers: This one neat trick could save your life

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This is for all teachers, but only some of you will be able to do this. Depends on your topic. This may pertain mostly to biology teachers, maybe stats or math, but by extension, any science or empirical topic including history.

Never mind that the first thing bio students to know is about Hydrogen bonds, or that the first thing stats students need to know is basic probability theory. You already probably do some sort of introduction thing that gets the students oriented to your subject, with a “get to know you” component, etc.

Replace that with this. The first thing the students should encounter in your classroom is some sort of topic appropriate, level and age appropriate, encounter with pandemic reality. Many of your students are not taking this pandemic seriously. They’ve been hanging round mask-less and in close quarters with their friends all summer, maybe practicing on a team, whatever. They are not going to properly manage their own viral shed or the possibility of someone else’s pathogenic effluence. They are going to be gobbing all over each other, their desks, and you.

Now is the time to use your mad teaching skills to push at least some of your students in the direction of being more careful, and possibly, slowing the spread of the Covid-19 causing disease.

I know, I know, you are saying “we are doing distance learning, this does not matter.” But it does matter. The back to school outbreak is going to happen whether or not you, or your school, is doing distance learning, and your small part of the learning community overlaps with the rest of it. And, you never know when your college, HS administration, or school district is going to send the students back into your room. This is your chance. Take it.

Can’t think of an example of a lesson that would smart up your students, to enhance the behavioral part of their innate immune system? Don’t give me that! Of course you can, you are a great teacher! In face, once you’ve thought about it, I want to hear your ideas. Let’s get moving on this!


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Opening the schools, Plan B

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This should really be Plan A but no school district is going to adopt this plan until after just the right cute little kid or beloved teacher dies of Covid-19 on a news day with few other distractions. This plan pertains to High Schools only. Perhaps later we can extend a version of this to other grades.

Here’s the plan.

1) Admit there is a deadly pandemic and that we need to not feed the virus. Also recognize that a realistic estimate of when a vaccine starts to be available is during the school year after the upcoming one, and that it will take a year or so to fully deploy it in the US. The plan for starting school should not be, as it is now, “we’ll do this for the first week then… who knows?” The plan should be one that will flexible but outlined for a two or three year time range, because that is the time range over which this pandemic is going to play out.

2) Change the requirements for graduating from high school. Henceforth, students must meet the core* class requirements, and do not need to meet total credit requirements. All students who have met these requirements are graduated instantly. That would instantly reduce the number of students in the schools by a few percent.

4) Add one year to the high school plan. Call it “Covid-Extention-Year.” (Why? See below.)

3) Identify (mainly) Seniors and Juniors who have only a few core class requirements to finish. Spread those required classes over the next two years (some Seniors will thus be extending their school time into CEY). Many students in most schools will in this manner only have one class at a time, at most, with many semesters/quarters not having to attend school at all.

4) Restrict all other teaching to core requirements only. So, no electives. All teachers are switched to core requirements, all students are taking core requirements.

Suddenly, 3-4% of students would be gone. Within one semester, another 10-15% of students would be graduated, while another 20% of students would be committed to attending school for only one or two classes over about a year and a half. These first four changes simply thin out the herd gracefully and without killing anyone, as opposed to the current approach, which will thin out the herd the hard way.

5) Do as much distance learning as possible, but if classes are required…

6) Revise the one room schoolhouse model.

  • Students stay in one room.
  • Passing time and bathroom access is set up to minimize hallway contact.
  • Teachers move from room to room (teaching core classes only) and wear hazmat
  • Very few students in each room so when an infection pops up the total number of students removed from school is small. They can come back in a few weeks.
  • Since teachers are suited up they do not have to be quarantined when a student in their room tests positive.

It is essential to keep the teaching staff intact. There will be more needed than usual because several will be out sick for more time than usual. Classes, both distant and in person, should have smaller class size (for most classes, some distant learning classes may not need that). The one room schoolhouse method not only reduces infection, but serves another goal: Relationship building will be easier and more solid in mostly distance learning settings.

*Many schools use the term “core” to refer to a specific subset of academics. What I mean here is different, and includes more. Think of it this way: Look at a set of class records for a sample of seniors. Consider the total number of classes, and the types of classes, that make those students viable HS graduates, and cut out everything else. In other words, pare down. Most students manage to get what we think of as a full on high school degree with a few classes extra. Some students do everything in three years, and earn a year of college. This does not mean removing art or music. It means paring down the individual student’s total work, and probably, the full range of options.

By reducing the number of students and keeping the number of teachers the same, and simplifying the offerings, it is easier to have smaller one-room learning units. While distance learning is ongoing the one-room learning units are not necessary, but they are ready to go when the students and teachers are called back into the classroom. This might be after a vaccine is available, but is still being deployed, and the virus is in smaller numbers but still a threat, which one might estimate to be some time during the 2021-2022 school year.


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Radical Conditions: Books

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A selection of fairly new books that seems suddenly more appropriate than usual:

Food or War by Julian Cribb, author of Open Science [OP]: Sharing Knowledge in the Global Century

Ours is the Age of Food. Food is a central obsession in all cultures, nations, the media, and society. Our future supply of food is filled with risk, and history tells us that lack of food leads to war. But it also presents us with spectacular opportunities for fresh human creativity and technological prowess. Julian Cribb describes a new food system capable of meeting our global needs on this hot and overcrowded planet. This book is for anyone concerned about the health, safety, affordability, diversity, and sustainability of their food – and the peace of our planet. It is not just timely – its message is of the greatest urgency. Audiences include consumers, ‘foodies’, policymakers, researchers, cooks, chefs and farmers. Indeed, anyone who cares about their food, where it comes from and what it means for them, their children and grandchildren.

Anarchist Pedagogies: Collective Actions, Theories, and Critical Reflections on Education edited by Robert Haworth.

Important and challenging issues in the area of anarchism and education are presented in this history of egalitarian and free-school practices. From Francisco Ferrer’s modern schools in Spain and the Work People’s College in the United States, to contemporary actions in developing “free skools” in the United Kingdom and Canada, the contributors illustrate the importance of developing complex connections between educational theories and collective actions. Major themes in the volume include learning from historical anarchist experiments in education, ways that contemporary anarchists create dynamic and situated learning spaces, and critical reflections on theoretical frameworks and educational practices. Many trailblazing thinkers and practitioners contributed to this volume, such as Jeffery Shantz, John Jordon, Abraham de Leon, Richard Kahn, Matthew Weinstein, and Alex Khasnabish. This thoughtful and provocative collection proves that egalitarian education is possible at all ages and levels.

Anarchism and Education: A Philosophical Perspective (Routledge International Studies in the Philosophy of Education (Numbered)) by Judith Suissa.

Arguing that the central role of educational practice in anarchist theory and activism has been overlooked by many theorists, this examination of contemporary educational philosophy counters the assertion that anarchism reflects a naïve or overly optimistic view of human nature. By articulating the philosophical underpinnings of anarchist thought on issues of human nature, freedom, authority, and social change, the case is made that the anarchist tradition can be a rich source of insights into perennial philosophical questions about education. This theoretical exploration is then bolstered with a historical account of anarchist education, focusing on key defining features of anarchist schools, their ideological underpinnings, and their pedagogical approaches. Finally, a clear explanation of how anarchist education is distinct from libertarian, progressive, Marxist, and liberal models defines the role of anarchist education in furthering and sustaining a just and equal society.


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Make Your Own Games using Scratch

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Scratch is a computer programming language that is designed for use by children to learn programming, but that is also serving as a paradigm for STEM programming more broadly, and I suspect, for IOT programming of the future. Programs are written in scratch by assembling shapes that represent programming structures or objects.

For example, look at the code block to the right. This is an object that is called when the user clicks on the green flag button on the user interface. That green flag is how one starts a program in Scratch. This is hooked, literally, to a “forever” lop. Within the forever loop, execution (of that object) is delayed for a fifth of a second, then an “If” statement is executed. If the object linked to this object (such as a sprite that might be able to move around on the screen) has come into contact with something green, a chomp sound is made.

The Scratch interface is normally accessed on a web page, and in that context, every single Scratch programmer (that uses the basic interface) has access to every bit of code developed and saved by every other programmer. Or, you can run it on your own computer.

You will see scratch like coding in Lego projects, in association with various robot kits, and I suspect over time, with Internet of Things objects. The coding is so straight forward that even Mikey can do it.

The book Make Your Own Scratch Games! by Anna Anthropy, produced by No Starch Press, brings an elementary school or middle school age kid, or an adult who just wants to screw around, through the process of developing three significant game projects and countless elements that users can use for a number, approaching infinity, of different games.

As is usual for No Starch books, the source code is available, but more importantly, among the on line resources are certain graphics and sound files and such used in the game making.

This is a great book for STEM oriented kids, and Scratch is a great Age of Covid activity.

Anna Anthropy is a video game creator and game historian, and author of Rise of the Videogame Zinesters: How Freaks, Normals, Amateurs, Artists, Dreamers, Drop-outs, Queers, Housewives, and People Like You Are Taking Back an Art Form, a guide to game design that encourages aspiring developers from all backgrounds to create games and contribute their unique voice to the video game industry. Her most recent book, ZZT, explores a shareware game from the ’90s and its lasting impact on developers everywhere.


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Where to go to get the info on Climate Science and its deniers

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My field is paleoanthropology, where I’ve focused on the relationship between large scale change in climate (like the spread of grassland habitats, or the cooling of the Earth since the Miocene) and the evolution of our family, genus, and species. So when people say “climate has changed before,” I get it. How does one understand the importance of ongoing anthropogenic climate change in the context of such large, long term change?

A partial answer to that question: 1) most changes in the past have been slower; 2) When they were fast they were devastating; and 3) our genius emerged less than 2 million years ago, and our species less than a half million years ago. Everything recently adapted about us is adapted to a cooler environment than the one we are heading for now. You think climate change super-charged storms are bad? Well, they are, but when a three degree latitude band around the equator becomes uninhabitable by mammals, that point will become very clear.

If you go to the Skeptical Science web site, my go-to web resource for climate science denial answers, you’ll see “Climate’s changed before” right at the top of the list of “Most Used Climate Mythis” (left sidebar). Click that, then click the “intermediate” tab, and you’ll find the Skeptical Science answer to that myth, with excellent graphics.

Skeptical Science does not shy away from complex and nuanced questions. It is the single best, and most comprehensive, source of description and explanation for both climate science denial and the science itself. Skeptical Science links peer reviewed research with the thoughtful study of communication and brings them right to your uncle Bob.


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Imma let you get that training in the trades, but also … get your liberal arts degree!

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This is the new mantra: “Not every kid has to get a college degree. It is a great idea to get training in the trades.” This is wrong. Everyone should get college level liberal arts education, and for most, in the form of a degree. And of course, the trades, variously defined, is a very good place to be. Our society should make the choice to do both the common expectation, and affordable.

To be clear, that “liberal arts degree” might be an AA, a BA, or a BS, depending on your particular situation. And you shouldn’t have to pay for it, or at least, not much. Or it might be something equivalent to a degree, and it might be obtained in any of number of different ways. But for the most part, when educators speak of the “liberal arts” we mean the classes one takes for an associates degree or to meet the distribution requirements for a bachelor’s degree. For some students, a good chunk of this can happen in high school.

This idea that a college education is only for some is a pernicious falsehood. The premises of the statement are largely incorrect, and it is the same kind of civilization ending policy that gave us Trump and McConnell. Maybe not everyone needs a college degree, but in fact, that is the status quo already. About 39% of Americans ever get a four year degree or higher. About 66% get some college. So, the number of Americans (and we are typical of industrialized countries) who get at least a portion of a liberal arts program may be about half, depending on how one counts. So, why are we speaking of “you don’t really need a college degree” like this is a new strategy that is going to save us from something? The truth is, the fact that so many Americans are not more liberal-arts educated than they are is a problem we need to address and fix, not one that we need to exasperate with platitudes.

Anyone can benefit from liberal arts learning. At a societal level, this is how a generation makes that transition from adolescence to thoughtful adults prepared to contribute in this complex world. The mantra in question tells us to separate our youth into two categories. One includes those what will be richly endowed with knowledge and ability sufficient to contribute to our various national conversations, to understand the law, history, civics, science, literature, language, arts, enough to have a meaningfully enhanced appreciation of the world around them. The others might achieve this state of contribution, or not, and if so, achieve it without the same resources and help everyone else gets, because we told them no, this is not for you.

Indeed, people may be excused in this educationally bifurcated future for assuming those in the trades have a lesser grasp of these important things, maybe even a lesser right to contribute to the conversation, a diminished right to be heard and, why not, no real claim to the voting franchise.

(Have you ever had the sense that a person “in the trades” who also has a high level of post secondary education has done something subversive? Well, that feeling is real because the subversion is often real.)

There is a window of time, of two to four years, when a person is both ready and available to engage in this liberal arts project. There is variation in when a student is mature in learning and can thus engage in this kind of education. Ask any experienced high school or intro college teacher. Variation among high school juniors, for example, in how well they do in a particular advanced subject is not explained by their native intelligence, but rather, by their stage of maturity with respect to learning. The high school junior who just does not grasp AP biology might be a biology wiz as a college frosh, and from there, be your next Nobel Prize in Biology recipient. (Oh, and there really needs to be a Nobel prize in biology, by the way.)

That defines the opening of that window: ready to learn in all the ways one normally would be. The closing of the window (and this is of course an oversimplification) comes later, when the individual is beyond the introductory level in their education, working on a major, or graduate work. Or maybe they are starting up a business and are fully occupied with that, unable to be taking two night courses. Or family matters, or some other thing. Very few people are set up to take two or three courses at a time for a couple of years at any arbitrary point in their lives. This tends to happen only during that window, in that age range.

(As an aside: I did not go to college. I got a college degree on my merits, graduated in the top of my class of 10,000 at the University of the State of New York Regents College, then went on to get my MA and PhD. So I’m very highly educated, but not traditionally so. At a later time, I was a principle in a program at the University of Minnesota to support adults who were decidedly past that window of maturity and opportunity, to get their as yet unfinished degree. I served variously on the board of advisers, as a faculty advisor, a student general advisor, and director of admissions. In that capacity I was among a handful of people across the country actively supporting and working in favor of non traditional education. I say this here and now so that you, dear reader, understand that I appreciate non traditional approaches as much as anyone, fully embrace them, and I demand that non traditional approaches be part of any education system.)

For most, this window typically opens any time during the first year of Highs School (rare) and it can run as late as the last year of college (rare). For most people, this two or three year period happens somewhere between the start of the third year in high school and the end of the second year in college, and that is also when the “lower division,” or “liberal arts” courses, in both advanced high school (AP, etc.) and intro college, are most available to everyone.

Go into a trade, fine. Tell your kid into going into a trade, fine. Make sure to tell everyone in ear shot that this is what everyone should do after your careful study of education and society’s professional and avocational needs. Fine! The trades are where many, maybe most, people should be, and this should be a good way to go. And there should be more unionization, and more respect for the people that actually make civilization work.

But going into the trades should not sentence someone to a significantly reduced general education. At present, we don’t sacrifice high school for the trades, though there is a move to do that. What I’m suggesting here is that we embrace the basic liberal arts as part of our paid for and well attended to expectation for most people, regardless of the direction they have chosen, including trades, professional training, a military career, business, or any other thing.

But training in a trade with no liberal arts education produces a high proportion of adults who are not really ready to help us as much as they could in this whole civilization thing, and who effectively then become a burden on our system of government and politics. Thomas Jefferson pointed out that the ability of the people to self govern is closely linked to education. It is generally understood that public opinion is often simply wrong on the facts or easily manipulated by nefarious actors, and it is also understood that these effects are a product of differential education as much as anything else. (There are multiple factors, of course.) An education system that sorts out our children is a burden caused by policy intentionally and intentionally promoted, promulgated to produce a large angry, aka “populist,” middle and working class voting base that for the most part comply with the wishes of those who push for this policy.

Part of this is, of course, keeping college expensive, and using tax based funding to support private colleges that are generally out of reach of regular people. The 1%ers, the 10%ers, and the wanabee-%ers, strategize to make good education (at all levels K through PhD) deferentially available for the rich, mainly through private offerings, and to keep public education inadequate and use as little public money for it as possible.

The “go into a trade, it is the thing to do now” trope is simply more of this, and it is exactly what the Koch Brothers want you to say, think, and embrace.

Everyone deserves the opportunity to get that basic liberal arts education.

A few years ago I was tasked by the University of Minnesota to visit a giant military base where we expected thousands of troops standing down from the front lines in the Middle East to return for redeployment or homecoming. My job was to make contact with soon-to-be veterans or reservists who needed to fill out their education to obtain a BA/BS, certificate, or maybe a Masters.

It turns out that the large number of military personnel expected went to a different base, and only special forces soldiers arrived at my location.

Several had MAs. More commonly, though, they had PhDs or were working on their PhD. Most of the MA-only holders planned some sort of further graduate education, including law. Not a single one had only a bachelors degree or less. Not one.

Guess what folks. The most intense trade of them all may well be that of professional soldier. The top echelon of professional soldiers go way beyond a handful of liberal arts classes. This is not an accident, it is by design. It is also paid for.

Just like Medicare, this is a micro example of a way of doing things that is very very good but that we do not do. But we should.

Go into the trades. Meanwhile, society owes you a BA (or AA or similar). Good for you, good for all of us.


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How to get a few percent of college paid for with one small trick

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Without paying a dime for it, the United States Congress can cause colleges across the country — maybe not all but most — to write off the cost in tuition to students for at least a few percent, on average, of a college degree, and the colleges don’t have to pay a dime either (though they would lose a bit of income, they would also shed a corresponding amount of expense). Continue reading How to get a few percent of college paid for with one small trick


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How to be a better LEGO architect in 1001 easy lessons

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Some of the earliest LEGO sets were for buildings or some sort of structure, and to this day architecture forms a core part of the LEGO panoply. If you build an architecture project from a kit, you’ll see that they are highly engineered. In order to make a LEGO project look like something other than a concoction of random bricks made by some kids having fun (which is, of course, just fine), serious planning has to have happened.

Most of the LEGO books I’ve seen are pure idea books. If you wanted to build a project based on what you see in the books, you have to either have a huge collection of LEGO parts very well organized, or you have to be prepared to order several specific bricks that are called for in the books.

But that is the wrong way to play with LEGOs. The books demonstrate concepts, give you ideas, guide you to become a better LEGOer.

Very few LEGO books that I’ve seen are clearly this, clearly about methods and techniques, as The LEGO Architecture Idea Book: 1001 Ideas for Brickwork, Siding, Windows, Columns, Roofing, and Much, Much More by Alice Finch.

How does this work? Let me give you an example. Say you want to build a building with nice columns. There are many different kinds of columns out there in architecture land, and you can imagine that there are different ways to build each one, and which method you use depends, in turn, on the scale you are working on. Say you want to build columns that would go with a building that would work well with the assumption that the building will be used by minifigs (the small LEGO people that come with many kits). Finch gives you sixteen pages of ideas for columns, starting out with these two:

Or maybe you are in need of some curved walls:

Or stained glass:

Or towers:

You get the point.

LEGOs are bricks, and bricks are used to build buildings, and The LEGO Architecture Idea Book: 1001 Ideas for Brickwork, Siding, Windows, Columns, Roofing, and Much, Much More is a really helpful guide to developing the methods and techniques for doing that.

The wizzard behind the book, Alice Finch, is one of the top LEGO builders in the world, famous for her extensive renditions of Harry Potter’s world and other major projects (see below). This is a great book for the aspiring LEGO builder, and an excellent choice as a holiday gift for your LEGO-loving offspring.


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Kids Learn Coding with Scratch Cards

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First, in case you don’t know, “Scratch” is a programming language and environment.

Its mascot is a cat, of course, but the name “scratch” supposedly comes from the use of scratching by disk jockeys. Scratch was first developed at MIT back in the early 2000s, and has advanced considerably since then. You now see the basic format of this language either duplicated or mimicked in many different environments.

Scratch can be an online langauge or you can run a stand alone version, but the former is easier and better. To get started, go here and follow instructions.

If you want (your kid or you) to learn scratch fast, you may want to consider getting the cards produced by No Starch Press. You can get ScratchJr Coding Cards for ages 5 and up, or the much more advanced Scratch Coding Cards for kids 8 and above.

The idea is simple. You put the stack of cards on your desk next to the computer, which is tuned to the MIT Scratch site. Then you try out the stuff in the cards. By the time you are done you (or your kid if you step aside and allow access to the computer) will be pretty good at scratch programming.

I used the 3 year and above cards with Huxley, and we are about to start on the 8 and above cards, although he is very advanced and we are likely to skip past the first several.

By the way, Scratch runs on the web so you can access it from any sort of desktop or laptop computer including Chromebooks,a nd there are iOS and Android versions. It runs on the Kindle Fire as well.


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The Ultimate Science Stocking Stuffer, Also Fights the Patriarchy!

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From Hypatia of Alexandria to Katherine Hayhoe, women have made and continue to make important contributions to the physical sciences. Now, you can get the “Notable Women in the Physical Sciences” deck of cards to celebrate them!

Here’s the deal. Continue reading The Ultimate Science Stocking Stuffer, Also Fights the Patriarchy!


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A Great Echo Math Skill-Building Skill

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An Echo is a small round robot that lives in your house, and that you can give commands to, converse with, get to run your devices, and learn from.

(See this review of the Echo and related devices.)

An Echo “skill” is an app, essentially, which you can turn on and have available at any time to do whatever it is that that skill does. You can safely think of the word “skill” as equivilant to “app” for most purposes. Continue reading A Great Echo Math Skill-Building Skill


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