Charter Schools Better for Low-Income Students

Wednesday, November 25th, 2015

Research suggests that charter schools are better than public schools for low-income, nonwhite students in urban areas:

This pattern — positive results in low-income city neighborhoods, zero to negative results in relatively affluent suburbs — holds in lottery studies in Massachusetts as well in a national study of charter schools funded by the Education Department.

My own research, conducted with colleagues at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard, shows that charter schools in Boston produced huge gains in test scores. A majority of students at Boston’s charters are African-American and poor. Their score gains are large enough to reduce the black-white score gap in Boston’s middle schools by two-thirds.

Boston’s charters also do a better job at preparing students for college. Charter students are twice as likely to take an Advanced Placement exam as similar students in Boston’s other public schools. Ten percent of charter students pass an A.P. calculus test, compared with just 1 percent of similar students in other public schools. This stronger preparation means that these charter students are far more likely than similar students in traditional public schools to attend a four-year college.

The Revenge of the Coddled

Tuesday, November 24th, 2015

Dominic Bouck, O.P., interviews Jonathan Haidt, and they discuss the revenge of the coddled:

I would not want to lead a conversation on this topic with students here at NYU. Not because NYU is more PC than other top schools—it’s not. But professors are much safer these days speaking at other campuses than on their own because it’s only on your own campus that students are going to file harassment charges and drag you before the Equal Opportunity Commission if you say one word that offends someone. So I must heavily self-censor when I speak on my home campus. I can be more provocative and honest when I’m speaking at other schools.

Children are anti-fragile. They have to have many, many experiences of failure, fear, and being challenged. Then they have to figure out ways to get themselves through it. If you deprive children of those experiences for eighteen years and then send them to college, they cannot cope. They don’t know what to do. The first time a romantic relationship fails or they get a low grade, they are not prepared because they have been rendered fragile by their childhoods. So until we can change childhood in America, we won’t be able to roll this back and make room of open debate.

My biggest prescription is that in every hospital delivery room, along with that first set of free diapers, should come the book: Free-Range Kids by Lenore Skenazy. If everyone in America read the book Free-Range Kids the problem would be over in 21 years, when the first set of tougher kids filled our universities.

If you try to reach students when they get to college it’s already too late…. As we say in the essay, childhood changed in 80s and 90s, there was much more protectiveness, there were new zero tolerance policies on bullying, which was fine when bullying was linked to physical aggression and to repeated actions. But bullying has gotten defined down over the last twenty years. There’s no longer a connection to physical violence, it no longer requires repetition, and it no longer requires intent. If someone feels excluded or marginalized by a single event, they have been bullied, and there’s zero tolerance for that. So that’s the way kids are socialized by the time they arrive in college…

What I would suggest is that if any school has an anti-bullying policy, they should balance it with an anti-coddling policy. They need to realize they can do a lot of harm if they coddle the students. They turn them into “moral dependents,” a term for people who cannot solve problems by themselves; they are morally dependent on adults or other authorities to solve their problems for them.

I love the interview note at the end:

This conversation took place on November 4. Over the following days, the meltdowns at Yale, Dartmouth, The University of Missouri, and Claremont McKenna College took place.

Can Videogames Make You a Better Race-Car Driver?

Sunday, November 15th, 2015

A few years ago Top Gear put an iRacing champion in a real race car and found that he was virtually prepared — but not at all physically prepared.

The Wall Street Journal now reports that videogames can make you a better race-car driver:

The first time that Brendon Blake, a 41-year-old physical therapist from Flowery Branch, Ga., careened around the nearby Road Atlanta racetrack, his instructor was taken aback. Mr. Blake, despite being a total beginner, was fast. That’s because, long before he’d enrolled in the one-day racing class, he’d “driven” the same course hundreds of times. It didn’t matter that he had done so virtually, in the Xbox car-racing game “Forza Motorsport.”

“The instructor sitting in the passenger seat said he was surprised I knew where to place the car on the track,” said Mr. Blake of that maiden drive, about four years ago. “I recognized every single corner and knew where the race line was and where all the apexes were — all from the game.” Since then, Mr. Blake — who plays using a force-feedback steering wheel and mock pedals like those shown below — has taken his 291-horsepower Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution to courses all over the country, from Tennessee’s Nashville Speedway to Talladega in Alabama. He pays about $250 a day for further driving instruction on “track days,” when average Joes can rent time on a course that’s not being used for a race.

Dr. Eliot’s Five-Foot Shelf

Sunday, November 8th, 2015

Harvard president Charles William Eliot’s five-foot shelf of books marked the end of an era:

“On or about December, 1910,” Virginia Woolf wrote, “human character changed.” Woolf was not referring to a specific event so much as to a new cultural climate, a new way of looking at the world, that would become known as modernism. When he finished his introduction to the Harvard Classics in March of that same year, Charles William Eliot could hardly have guessed that such a change was just over the horizon. Yet it is tempting to think that his “five-foot shelf” of books, chosen as a record of the “progress of man…from the earliest historical times to the close of the nineteenth century,” was meant as a time capsule from that era just about to end. In 50 volumes we have a record of what President Eliot’s America, and his Harvard, thought best in their own heritage — a monument from a more humane and confident time. It is surprisingly easy, even today, to find a complete set of the Harvard Classics in good condition. At least one is usually for sale on eBay, the Internet auction site, for $300 or so, a bargain at $6 a book. The supply, from attics or private libraries around the country, seems endless — a tribute to the success of the publisher, P.F. Collier, who sold some 350,000 sets within 20 years of the series’ initial publication.

In fact, though the series bears the Harvard name, it was a commercial enterprise from the beginning. In February 1909, Eliot was preparing to retire from the presidency of Harvard after 40 years. Two editors from Collier, Norman Hapgood and William Patten, had read a speech Eliot delivered to an audience of working men, in which he declared that a five-foot shelf of books could provide “a good substitute for a liberal education in youth to anyone who would read them with devotion, even if he could spare but fifteen minutes a day for reading.” Now they approached Eliot with a proposition: he would pick the titles to fill up that shelf, and Collier would publish them as a series.

At their very first interview, Hapgood and Patten convinced Eliot to say yes. He enlisted professor of English William A. Neilson, later the president of Smith College, to act as his assistant, and secured the approval of the Board of Overseers for the series’ name. Eliot and Neilson worked for a year, the former deciding “what should be included, and what should be excluded,” while the latter was responsible for “introductions and notes” and the “choice among different editions of the same work.” By the time publication began, in 1910, Eliot’s celebrity had turned the series into a media event, and earned Collier valuable free publicity. The question of what the series should include and exclude called forth articles and letters to the editor across the country.

In his introduction to the series, dated March 10, 1910, Eliot made it clear that the Harvard Classics were intended not as a museum display-case of the “world’s best books,” but as a portable university. While the volumes are numbered in no particular order, he suggested that they could be approached as a set of six courses: “The History of Civilization,” “Religion and Philosophy,” “Education,” “Science,” “Politics,” and “Criticism of Literature and the Fine Arts.” But in a more profound sense, the lesson taught by the Harvard Classics is “Progress” — progress in each of these departments and in the moral quality of the human race as a whole. Eliot’s introduction expresses complete faith in the “intermittent and irregular progress from barbarism to civilization,” “the upward tendency of the human race.”

Eliot’s life was spent in the cultivation of that tendency. He built up Harvard into one of the world’s great universities, vastly expanded its student body, course offerings, and faculty, and became a sort of public oracle on questions of education. He was one of the most effective evangelists for what the Victorian poet and critic Matthew Arnold called “sweetness and light.” Samuel Eliot Morison, in Three Centuries of Harvard, describes Eliot as a representative of “the best of his age — that forward-looking half-century before the World War, when democracy seemed capable of putting all crooked ways straight — the age of reason and of action, of accomplishment and of hope.”

Behold the true progress since then:

But already in 1936, when Morison wrote, Eliot’s variety of optimism seemed sadly obsolete. Today we are proudly alert to the blind spots in Victorian notions of culture and progress. Three thinkers whose names appear nowhere in the Harvard Classics — Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud — have taught us a new, more suspicious kind of reading, in which an author’s motives are to be questioned, probed, overturned.

The Classics, in particular, cry out for such questioning. The series is authorless — there is only an editor, conducting his chorus of texts. Yet the way those texts are selected and arranged speaks volumes — literally. To take an obvious example, the total exclusion of female authors would be impossible today; at the time, it would hardly have been noticed. But the series’ more profound limitations can be found in its treatment of science, philosophy, and literature — the most interesting and substantial of Eliot’s six “courses.” In these areas, the Harvard Classics serve as an index to just how much the world really has changed since 1910.

The Cultural Revolution in the United States

Thursday, November 5th, 2015

David Gelernter describes the cultural revolution in the United States:

It seems to me something happened. There was a historical event, which needs to be understood and recognized more clearly than it is. The cultural revolution in the United States, which people take for granted. If I tell people there was a cultural revolution, yeah sure, there were a lot of changes in the 60s. But it’s more than that. It’s a double change.

Colleges and universities. Let’s look at the generation after the Second World War. This is a cultural revolution, it seems to me to extend roughly from 1945 to 1970. So in 1970 everything is different. Things are radically different. And what happened during those 25 years? Colleges and universities became vastly, vastly more influential on American culture.

Journalists didn’t use to go to college. I mean, they could have if they wanted but some of the very best did not. A lot of highly intelligent people in highly influential professions, in the movie industry, people didn’t go to college. Loads of people didn’t go to college. You didn’t have to go to college to be a businessman. Some businessmen did obviously but lots of people did not. So the influence of colleges was limited to the upper classes. The upper-middle classes.

But in the generation after the Second World War there was an academicization; suddenly everybody had to get a bachelor’s degree. It was just self-evident that everybody had to go to college. And professional schools, journalism and education. Teachers didn’t have to go to ed school. Journalists didn’t have to go to J-school. Businessmen didn’t have to get an MBA. But suddenly all these professional schools. Not suddenly — they had existed before the war. There were journalism schools and education schools, but they were not terribly important. They were theoretical centers.

But after the war, suddenly, you had loads of journalists going to journalism schools so what Yale and Harvard teached them, Columbia, you know, matters a huge amount. Loads of teachers going to ed schools. Loads of businessmen getting MBAs. And so in this generation, American’s colleges and universities become much, much more influential than they’ve ever been before. And during the same time, I think the hardest kind of historical phenomenon to grasp are ones where there are two parallel processes working together.

At the same time, the universities were taking over by the intellectuals. The leadership of Yale is a dramatic example. Harvard, too, slightly less dramatic. But Yale and Princeton were created by WASPs, by white Anglo-Saxon Protestants. Most of them wealthy or at least wealthy-ish. They sent their children there. And they were run by WASPs who also built them. Who built the built the buildings, who donated the money, who donated the time to meet trustees.

They were WASP institutions, they were run by WASP businessmen, basically. But the idea suddenly that the professors at Yale and Princeton and Harvard should not be just generally WASPS with an occasional Jew but should be absolutely world-leading superstar thinkers. The best scientist. The best historians. This meritocracy, which we got very excited about and speaks very well for us as a nation, obviously.

But intellectuals are abysmally bad at running institutions. The idea that the President of Harvard or Yale should be a professor would have struck the WASPs of the 1920s as idiotic. I mean how, unless it’s really a socially serious professor who’s a member of the club, who gives his daughter a wedding in the right Episcopalian church.

These people were prejudiced but they knew what they were doing. They knew how to run an institution. I as an intellectual am an idiot at running institutions. Not my field. My field is to think and to write and to do whatever. But not to run institutions. I’m not a businessmen, I’m not an organizer. I’m a lousy person to run an institution. Now, I never will but the people who are running Harvard and Yale and Princeton are unfortunately too much like me. Are not as different from me as they ought to be.

They’re running the university down. They’re turning them into political instruments, as we all know. Now, the universities were always to the Left of the general population, at least throughout the 20th century, but they never used to be hard Left, and they never used to be propaganda sellers.

I mean, in the Second World War, America looked to Harvard and Yale and Princeton for its officers, obviously. Undergraduates were — there were close relations with Yale, particularly the State Department and the CIA, and Harvard, of course, had all sorts of political connections, and Princeton, too. But this idea of what you owed to the country. What you owed to the country, a Yale man, a privileged — he has all sorts of white privileges, male privileges, WASP privileges. What the hell. On the other hand, he also has obligations and duties; when the country’s in a war, he feels an obligation. He feels an obligation in general to the country, to — it’s his country. Wants to do his best for it.

The Yale — there was a book published — I don’t know a long time ago now — Harvard Hates America. We all know it’s true. Yale hates it worse. Princeton worse. Berkeley, Stanford, you know.


Well, I think you saw these two processes just during the generation in which the Yale’s and Harvard’s and Stanford’s became vastly more important than every before, because now everybody has got to get a BA. And journalists have to go to journalist school, and businessmen and teachers and all these guys. Law’s a bigger profession than ever before. Medicine, suddenly doctors are making much more than anybody else — there was a period during which going to medical school was a frenzy.

And during this same period, universities were being taken over by intellectuals and moving hard to the Left. Intellectuals have also been Leftist, have always been hard to the Left. So the dramatic steer to the Left coincides with a huge jump in the influence of American universities. We have a cultural revolution. And the cultural revolution is that we no longer love this country. We no longer have a high regard for this country or for the culture that produced it. We no longer have any particular feelings for Western Civilization.


The Judeo-Christian tradition means nothing to us, except in terms of hostility. And we have a generational shift so that when we start in the 1970s and 80s, suddenly public schools’ and college teaching went way down. Deteriorating. There was that famous report in the 1980s, mediocrity, saying mediocrity in the schools. In 1983 or something like that.

So the schools were failing to teach but at least the parents had been educated before the cultural revolution. You know, they’d been educated in the 60s and the 50s, some by the 40s or the 30s. So they — When their children were taught garbage, when their children were taught nonsense, when their children were taught outright lies, at least the parents could say, “Hold on, not so fast, are you really sure about that?” Or “You know, there are Republicans in this country, too.” Or, “You know, we’ve tried those policies, and they created catastrophes. Are you sure we should do this all again?”

But what happened in — as we move out of the 90s and into the new century — the children educated in the first generation of the cultural revolution in the 70s, in the 80s, in the 90s, those children are now the young teachers. And then the not-so-young teachers. And they’re the parents.

And so the children who were being taught nonsense and garbage and lies in school, instead of going home and having the parents say, “Well, wait a minute, this is really idiotic, by the way.” The parents say, “Yeah, that’s what I was taught, too.” You know, the same.


So we have second-generation ignorance is much more potent than first-generation ignorance. It’s not just a matter of one generation, of incremental change. It’s more like multiplicative change. A curve going up very fast. And swamping us. Taking us by surprise.


Wednesday, November 4th, 2015

Bill Kristol has a conversation with David Gelernter — who doesn’t mention surviving a mail bomb from Ted Kaczynski, by the way:

Gelernter describes America-Lite, where the past and future are blank and there is only a big now:

I’m a teacher of college students. I’m lucky to be at one of the best colleges in the world, at Yale. Our students are as smart as any in the world. They work very hard to get here. They are eager, they’re likable. My generation is getting a chip on its shoulder, we always thought we knew everything about every topic, our professors were morons, and we were the ones who were building the world.

My students today are much less obnoxious. Much more likable than I and my friends used to be, but they are so ignorant that it’s hard to accept how ignorant they are. You tell yourself stories; it’s very hard to grasp that the person you’re talking to, who is bright, articulate, advisable, interested, and doesn’t know who Beethoven is. Had no view looking back at the history of the 20th century — just sees a fog. A blank. Has the vaguest idea of who Winston Churchill was or why he mattered. And maybe has no image of Teddy Roosevelt, let’s say, at all. I mean, these are people who — We have failed.


They know nothing about art. They know nothing about history. They know nothing about philosophy. And because they have been raised as not even atheists, they don’t rise to the level of atheists, insofar as they’ve never thought about the existence or nonexistence of God. It has never occurred to them. They know nothing about the Bible. They’ve never opened it. They’ve been taught it’s some sort of weird toxic thing, especially the Hebrew Bible, full of all sorts of terrible, murderous, prejudiced, bigoted. They’ve never read it. They have no concept.

Preschool Bad

Friday, October 30th, 2015

The most extensive and careful study of preschool to date shows a slightly negative effect in the longer term:

By the end of kindergarten, the control children had caught up to the TN?VPK [preschool] children and there were no longer significant differences between them on any achievement measures. The same result was obtained at the end of first grade using both composite achievement measures.

In second grade, however, the groups began to diverge with the TN?VPK children scoring lower than the control children on most of the measures. The differences were significant on both achievement composite measures and on the math subtests.

This more or less supports Arnold Kling’s null hypothesis that educational interventions make no difference.

Feedback Considered Harmful

Friday, October 30th, 2015

Feedback can be harmful to learning, rather than helpful, when it’s simplistic:

Research shows the effects of feedback on learning are not always positive — and can even be negative. Our team collected and compared existing studies that looked at different methods for providing feedback in digital learning tools in order to find out which feedback methods actually improve student learning.

Digital tools, such as Improve, often give simple correct/incorrect messages to students, usually marking the answers with a tick or a cross. Research shows this kind of feedback is not effective.

Half of the studies that examined this kind of correct/incorrect feedback found that students who did not receive any feedback actually performed better than those who had received feedback.


One-third of the studies examined showed that students did not learn from being given the correct answer. Those students are more likely to disengage from the task as they can mindlessly click until they answer the task correctly without learning anything.

Schooling, not Learning

Thursday, October 29th, 2015

If you want to find children who lack education today, the place to find them is in school:

That’s because nearly all children are in school. That’s the good news. Governments have built schools and hired teachers. Parents have seen that schooling is key to their child’s future and are sending their children to school. There has been more progress made in expanding schooling since the UN Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 acknowledged education as a basic right than in all previous human history.

But the bad news is that hundreds of millions of children are starting school, going day after day, year after year, but not really learning. One study found that almost three-quarters of a recent cohort of youth in Zambia were innumerate and six of 10 illiterate. But only 7% of these youth had not attended school. In fact, half of those who were innumerate and a third who were illiterate had not just started school but completed grade 6. These children were being schooled but not educated. Schooling without learning is just time served. Unfortunately, Zambia is far from alone in having schooling without adequate education.

The cumulative results of international and national assessments around the world have led to a widespread recognition that, while there are disadvantaged groups still excluded from schooling, there is a global learning crisis of children already in school.

This is all terribly surprisingly to people who learned a lot in school and kept going back for more.

In India, for example, the government made a major commitment to finance elementary education. Central government spending on elementary education increased 11-fold between 2001 and 2013. Over the same period, assessments show the percentage of children in grade five who could read or do simple subtraction declined.

In Indonesia, a major commitment to increasing teachers’ salaries has led to more than $4bn in additional spending a year – but a rigorous evaluation shows almost exactly zero learning gain from students taught by the more highly paid teachers.

On the Spring Valley High Incident

Wednesday, October 28th, 2015

Education Realist shares his thoughs on the Spring Valley High incident:

So the Spring Valley High School incident is yet another case of a teenager treating a cop like a teacher. This is, as always, a terrible idea.


Reports say that the student initiated the event by refusing to turn over a cell phone — also offered up is refusal to stop chewing gum, which I find unlikely. However, it’s clear the student was refusing several direct orders that began with the teacher and moved up through the administrator and the cop.

Defiance is a big deal in high school. It must not be tolerated. Tolerating open defiance is what leads to hopelessness, to out of control classrooms, to kids wandering around the halls, to screaming fights on a routine basis. Some teachers care about dress code, others about swearing, still others get bothered by tardies. But most teachers enforce, and most administrators support, a strong, absolute bulwark against outright defiance as an essential discipline element.

Let me put it this way: an angry student tells me to f*** off or worse, I’m likely to shrug it off if peace is restored. Get an apology later when things have settled. But if that student refuses to hand me a cell phone, or change seats, or put food away, I tell him he’ll be removed from class if he doesn’t comply. No compliance, I call the supervisor and have the kid removed. Instantly. Not something I spend more than 30 seconds of class time on, including writing up a referral.

At that point, the student will occasionally leave the classroom without waiting for the supervisor, which changes the charge from “defiance” to “leaving class without permission”. The rest of the time the supervisor comes, the kid leaves, comes back the next day, and next time I tell them to do something, they do it. Overwhelmingly, though, the kids just hand me the phone, put away the food, change seatswhen I ask, every so often pleading for a second chance which every so often I give. Otherwise, the incident is over. Just today I had three phones in my pocket for just one class, and four lunches on the table that had to wait until advisory was over because I don’t like eating in my classroom.

We have a school resource officer (SRO), but I’d call a supervisor for defiance, and I’ve never heard of a kid refusing to go with a supervisor. If there was a refusal, at a certain point the supervisor would call an administrator, and it’s conceivable, I guess, that the administrator could authorize the SRO to step in. So assuming I couldn’t have talked this student down, I would have done what the teacher did, and called for someone else to take over — and long after I did something that should have been no big deal, this catastrophe could conceivably have happened.

I ask you, readers, to consider the recalcitrance required to defy three or four levels of authority, to hold up a class for at least 10-15 minutes, to refuse even to leave the classroom to discuss whatever outrage the student feels warrants this level of disruption.

Then I ask you to consider what would happen if students constantly defied orders (couched as requests, of course) to turn over a cell phone, or change seats, or stop combing their hair, or put the food away. If every time a student defied an order, a long drawn-out battle going through three levels of authority ensued. School would rapidly become unmanageable.

So you have two choices at that point: let madness prevail, or be unflinching with open defiance. Students have to understand that defiance is worse than compliance, that once defiance has occurred, complying with a supervisor is a step up from being turned over to an administrator, which is way, way better than being turned over to a cop. (Note that all of this assumes that the parents aren’t a fear factor.)

Some schools can’t avoid the insanity. Their students simply don’t fear the outcomes enough, and unlike charters, they are bound by federal and state laws to educate all children. If the schools suspend too many kids, the feds will come in and force you into a voluntary agreement. This is when desperate times lead to desperate measures like restorative justice, where each incident leads to an endless yammer about feeeeeeeeelings as teachers play therapist and tell their kids to circle up.

Adopted Children Do Worse In School, Despite Having Better Parents

Thursday, October 22nd, 2015

Adoptive parents go to great lengths to raise their adoptive children, so why are their young kids’ behavior and test scores worse on average? I can’t imagine — but researchers, willing to dig deep, have come up with this explanation:

One clue might be attachment theory, which holds that a strong bond with at least one nurturing adult—usually the mother—is essential to a child thriving. That adult can be the adoptive parent, but the adoption itself might mean that the bond with the birth parent was disrupted or never formed, Zill writes. In the worst cases, these children might have experienced a traumatic event prior to their adoption. Early trauma can affect the parts of the brain that control mood and learning.

Infants and toddlers with a so-called “disorganized attachment” to their earliest caregivers—those who feel frightened of or dissociated from their parents—are more psychologically vulnerable later in life. Among other things, they have more problems regulating their emotions and managing conflicts without resorting to hostility. Parents who create disorganized attachment with their kids might be the sorts of parents who get their kids taken away and adopted out.

That last line raises some intriguing questions. I’d investigate that line of thinking a bit more thoroughly.

IQ testing across space and time

Tuesday, October 20th, 2015

Raw IQs have been steadily increasing for decades, and IQ tests have been renormed along the way, but this Flynn Effect has been more pronounced in the more abstract, less culturally loaded sections of the test:

The kind of cognitive facilities that come up in normal conversation, such as vocabulary, arithmetic and general knowledge, have only seen small Flynn Effects, which is why the Flynn Effect isn’t easily noticeable in much of daily life (although I’ll point out below where it can be seen).

Flynn Effect and Cultural Load

One of the big changes in daily life over recent centuries has been the growth of what I might call humans having to deal with “machine logic.” People today deal far more often each day than in the past with semi-intelligent machines who can only be dealt with in a certain way according to their logic. You deal with the ATM rather than with a bank teller, with a gasoline pump rather than with a pump jockey, with elevator buttons rather than with elevator operators. You can’t wave your hands around with these machines until they figure out what you want done. You have to follow a precise logical series of steps.


Generation after generation, children grow up in an environment ever denser with the kind of systems logic that the more Flynn Effected-Wechsler subtests ask about. Growing up, kids these days get more practice with the kind of thinking tested on the Raven’s and on some of the Wechsler subtexts. And they legitimately are better at it.

The Flynn Effect is a side effect of the developers of the IQ test being on “the right side of history.”

How did Singapore universities become world-class?

Sunday, October 18th, 2015

John Gustafson, a visiting professor at the National University of Singapore, explains how Singapore universities became world-class so quickly:

When the Singapore government decides to do something, it never goes halfway. They figure out what resources it will take, and they spend them. And if something simply takes time, no matter what the resource cost, then they (the government) also have a lot of patience. Having consistent political leadership for 50 years will do that. They decided they wanted NUS and NTU to be world-class universities, just the same way they decided, say, that they wanted a subway system that was second to none. There is so little corruption in the Singapore government that it is possible to allocate money to something and not have most of it siphoned off by bureaucrats with bad comb-overs and incredibly generous pension plans. So when the government decides to spend money on education, it (gasp) actually goes to education.

Also, I have noticed some quality controls on the teaching that go beyond what I’ve seen at other universities. They treat education the way they would treat a manufacturing process. Use quality control; measure everything; fix problems as soon as they are discovered; please the customer; show zero tolerance for lousy teaching; treat course descriptions as a legally binding contract for what will be learned by those who take the course and apply themselves.

When professors create final exams, their exams are scrutinized and approved by independent reviewers before they can be given to students.

When they decide which courses to offer, they have one faculty member decide what needs to be taught, and a different faculty member decide who should teach that course, like a separation-of-powers principle.

They bring in external review committees to look at what they teach and how they teach, and solicit critical input that they take to heart. I know other universities use external review committees as well, but when NUS does it, they pick reviewers whose academic credentials have earned them biographical entries in Wikipedia.


It’s amazing how fast universities can excel when they are freed from politics, both internal and external. I think that is what has happened at NUS and NTU.

How Tom Wolfe Became Tom Wolfe

Friday, October 16th, 2015

Michael Lewis explains how Tom Wolfe became Tom Wolfe — when he left the South:

For the first time in his life, it appears, Tom Wolfe has been provoked. He has left home and found, on the East Coast, the perpetual revolt of High Culture against God, Country, and Tradition. He happens to have landed in a time and place in which art — like the economy that supports it — is essentially patricidal. It’s all about tearing up and replacing what came before. The young Tom Wolfe is intellectually equipped to join some fashionable creative movement and set himself in opposition to God, Country, and Tradition; emotionally, not so much. He doesn’t use his new experience of East Coast sophisticates to distance himself from his southern conservative upbringing; instead he uses his upbringing to distance himself from the new experience. He picks for his Ph.D. dissertation topic the Communist influences on American writers, 1928–1942. From their response to it, the Yale professors, who would have approved the topic in advance, had no idea of the spirit in which Wolfe intended to approach it:

Dear Mr. Wolfe:

I am personally acutely sorry to have to write you this letter but I want to inform you in advance that all of your readers reports have come in, and … I am sorry to say I anticipate that the thesis will not be recommended for the degree…. The tone was not objective but was consistently slanted to disparage the writers under consideration and to present them in a bad light even when the evidence did not warrant this.” [Letter from Yale dean to T.W., May 19, 1956.]

To this comes appended the genuinely shocked reviews of three Yale professors. It’s as if they can’t quite believe this seemingly sweet-natured and well-mannered southern boy has gone off half cocked and ridiculed some of the biggest names in American literature. The Yale grad student had treated the deeply held political conviction of these great American artists as — well, as a ploy in a game of status seeking.


He’d gone to Yale with the thought he would study his country by reading its literature and history and economics. He wound up discovering sociology — and especially Max Weber’s writings about the power of status seeking. The lust for status, it seemed to him, explained why otherwise intelligent American writers lost their minds and competed with one another to see just how devoted to the Communist cause they could be.

My Education Was A Complete Waste Of Time

Thursday, October 15th, 2015

Roosh Valizadeh suggests that his entire education was a complete waste of time, and a commenter who taught college for five years adds this bit of advice:

The one thing that school, from primary school through university, is able to teach a person is how to wake up, show up on time, do something you do not want to do, do it in a timely fashion and do it well.

For what it is worth, any branch of the military could have taught this exact same lesson and they would pay you (though admittedly not much) instead of the other way around.