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i'd say another highlight was skluug's comment, "i liked high school"

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I want to address Scott's "Utopian society" where kids over 6 can choose what they want to do and the level of rigor they want in their classes, or if they want to attend classes at all. I think this would be tantamount to child abuse--like opening a credit card in your kid's name and buying them a nice TV to watch, only for them to grow up and realize that they have a ruined credit score.

Kids are smart in some ways, but very dumb in others. They are bad at long term planning because they don't have the real world experience to know what the consequences of their actions will be. Also, if it's unethical for parents to make such schooling decisions for their kids, surely it's not fair for the kids to make decisions for the adults they will become. The person I am in my 20s has so little in common with my 7 year old self that we may as well be an entirely different person with shared memories.

The choices you make as a kid and the things you learn have an outsize impact on your entire adult life. 7 year old me HATED social niceties, hated brushing my hair, dressing nice, didn't understand why I couldn't wear stained clothes and live in a pigsty. And I hated my parents for making me conform to these arbitrary social standards. 7 year old me would not have chosen the rigorous class schedule. But I took it anyway.

Parents' job isn't to make their KID happy. It's to maximize total happiness/goodness (whatever you want to call it) over the course of their lifetime. Often, this involves making them miserable as children so they can be functional as adults. I'm glad my parents forced me to conform to (some) arbitrary social norms, because now I can have a normal social life and a well paying public facing job that wouldn't have happened if those habits (studying, being polite, being social, being neat) hadn't been inculcated in me so many years ago.

I guess I have less respect for kids' desires than Scott. I don't care if the kid doesn't want to greet adults with "good morning"; it's a social convention he'll need and he's going to learn to do it. I don't care if he isn't bothered by his room being a pigsty, because instilling norms of cleanliness will make him happier over the course of his life. I'm more of a libertarian when it comes to certain aspects of parenting (e.g. I think kids should have much more freedom of movement, freedom to read/watch what they want, than is currently socially acceptable), but I believe with strict enforcement of certain rules and behaviors along with plentiful unstructured free time.

Not every desire needs to be indulged as a pure expression of 'self'. SELF is changeable and should be changed, somewhat, for everyone's mutual benefit. Allowing young children too much freedom isn't being kind to them, it's screwing over the adults they'll become for temporary enjoyment.

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There already are these sort of community centers - libraries. They host classes and other sort of educational events.

I hope that with the recent bump in online education due to covid, more computational and automated approaches to education will emerge. There's no longer a need to limit one good teacher to teaching a class of 20-30 students, when they could teach the entire nation. And since the students have different aptitudes to explanation - some prefer more visual metaphors, some like analytic explanations - it creates a sort of market for explanations, for educational videos. Imagine a library of educational videos like youtube, where educators (like 3blue1brown) or educational teams (like CrashCourse) could host their videos to sell to schools. The schools distribute videos to their students and test them later to assess their knowledge. Ideally I envision automated education as something like "all students receive shortest possible explanation A -> 75% pass the test and move on, 25% fail and get a different explanation B, take test again -> 20% pass the test and move on, 5% get help from a teacher". This way strong students can quickly move at their own pace, students with unusual requirements for explanation get a chance to find an educator that works for them (telling material as a sockpuppet theatre for example), and failing students get full attention of the teachers without disrupting the flow of the lessons.

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I think some of the meritocracy objections might be that the higher salaries seem to be disproportionately aligned with the trait "smart" -- as opposed to the trait "kind" or the trait "has good hand-eye coordination" or the trait "has a lot of endurance" (all of which, incidentally, I would want in the "best" surgeon). That is, that "smart" is being treated as a near-universal proxy for "arete", even though most professions require other traits as well.

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An avenue Freddie didn't explore, but I'm interested in: let's consider intelligence a natural resource. Does our current system deprive us of some of the benefits of that resource, by allocating it toward useless academic pursuits?

For example: Tyler Cowen's post today (https://marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2021/02/my-history-of-manual-labor.html) prompted me to question: what if there were a bunch of 140+ IQ people running grocery store produce sections?

A friend of mine happens to (a) be a 140+ IQ genius, (b) run a produce section. And her produce section is *great*.

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I was surprised to see this quote:

> There are studies finding extreme negative effects from having disruptive kids in your class; I'm a little skeptical of this kind of research, but being stuck with unmanageable classmates is definitely no fun. I haven't seen the research, but it wouldn't surprise me if having lots of overachievers in your class was helpful - good role models, inspiration, whatever (see also this comment for some brief discussion of this). So if all the smart kids go to charters and all the dull kids stay in public, the smart kids will do better and the dull kids will do worse. How should we think about this?

That paragraph equivocates sort of strangely between "disruptive" kids and "dull" kids.

Scott's writing here takes it as given that these "disruptive" kids are going to be in classrooms and are going to be disruptive, so they're going to inflict negative externalities on _someone_, and the question is just who gets stuck with them. I thought the obvious answer was that we should put the disruptive kids somewhere that they don't inflict negative externalities on people -- either in a very strict classroom with harsh punishments, or in a daycare classroom where the school will still watch your kids but it's given up on teaching them.

For "dull" kids, I'd like to believe that they'd benefit from being in a class with other "dull" kids, so that the teacher can teach at a slow pace that will work for all of them.

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Something between “from each according to his ability, to each according to his need” and the perfectly efficient transistor would indeed be nice. Specifically, a system that gives exactly the additional incentive necessary to ensure people commit to higher-value professions, and no more. Or rather, that finds an equilibrium point at which the marginal cost of increasing the pay for a profession is not worth the marginal utility of increasing the chance that someone will choose to do it.

However, it’s important to note that today’s economy (and capitalism generally) is not only very far from that ideal case, but very far from the transistor, as well. The amount of money that flows to each individual corresponds to their power to demand that money. Merit is one type of power, which allows for some small demands. Vast existing wealth is a much greater power, which allows for much greater demands.

People without skills or existing wealth have almost no power, and thus are forced to accept minimum wage jobs which can’t even feed their families. Those who lack citizenship have even less, and can’t even command that. Of course, even poor and unskilled workers have power when working in concert to withhold labor, which is the point of union organizing. It corrects some of the power differential between owners and workers, getting closer to a truly efficient exchange.

Anyway, when we look at the drastically unequal wealth distribution, it’s hard to argue that it was created out of efficiency rather than these power differentials. So much of the time, in working to increase the power of workers and decrease the power of the very rich, we don’t even need to fight in the name of fairness. Even an actually efficient transistor would be an improvement.

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I'm loving the microwave burrito euphemism.

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I'm not a billionaire, so maybe I'm maximally boring, because "if you didn't defraud anyone or break any laws when you made your fortune, you 'deserve' it" appeals a lot to me.

It's not so much that I think Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos "deserve" a gazillion dollars, and that a surgeon deserves much much less than a gazillion, but still a lot of dollars.

Rather, every time I buy something from Amazon, I implicitly decide Jeff Bezos deserves the tiny fraction of his gazillion dollars that's coming *from me*. I'm not judging the sum total, only my individual contribution. And since I don't want someone else telling me whether I can buy from Amazon, I extend the same courtesy to others.

If enough people choose the same way I do, it adds up, and if it happens to add up to a gazillion, then so be it (standard caveats about people being free from coercion apply).

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"I agree with jmk's critique - I briefly tried funner, more freeform lessons, failed, and then did more or less the same thing as everyone else."

This might be surprising, but I disagree with this critique. I've tried lots of 'freeform' teaching ideas and they've all gone over really well. I really think there is free value just lying around that teachers miss because they assume students will try to take advantage of them. This was at the college level but even for college students, professors mostly assume that students are looking to screw you over. This has never been my experience and when I give students more freedom, they have consistently used it to become more engaged, not to skip class or throw paper towels.

"The purely financial issues seem solvable; if the cost of public education is X, give kids who want charter schools a voucher for 0.75X, and donate the extra 0.25X to the public school system. The charter school will be fine with less money, and every kid who leaves for charter schools will make the public schools better instead of worse."

I don't think money is ever the bottleneck. I would rather go to a hole in the wall with a few very bright students and teachers than a top-of-the-line building full of overpaid psychopaths and dull peers.

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Maybe I'm a naive idiot, but I feel like there is totally a common ground between you, Freddie, charter schools, kids, parents, Bryan Caplan and generalized school reformers that would give all of you mostly what you want, particularly in the "better total outcomes for kids" category. And I don't think it's that hard to imagine it, particularly since we have so many other examples in society of systems in different areas that overcome the issues (and the incentives that lead to them) that most of you all agree are bad and should be fixed.

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Not saying that the research on disruptive kids is definitely correct. But to anyone that's been through it, it's definitely the prior.

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Responding to jmk789's comment, I'll point out that my high school didn't have bathroom passes and pretty much freely let people go whenever and the hallways did not devolve into total anarchy and chaos (although some students did occasionally cut classes). I see the general point, but there's quite a lot of freedom you can in fact give students without it getting out of hand (assuming you do it regularly - if it's a one-time thing there's a much higher risk of exploitation).

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>In a completely utopian society I was building from the ground up, I would want a law that no child over (let’s say) 6 can be involuntarily confined anywhere, any more than any adult can. If a child wants to stay at home, they can stay at home. If they want to wander the streets, they can wander the streets.

This strikes me as the opinion of someone who's never parented a 6 year old before. Which isn't entirely unreasonable, as I had lots of highly unrealistic ideas about what parenting would be like until I had children.

This isn't to say that I don't think we impose too many restrictions on our children (I think most would be quite safe walking about on their own), but giving young children adult levels of freedom is asking for a lot of problems.

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What can we do as a practical matter to help young people escape institutionalized education?

One way we can help in a limited but practical way is to make more students aware of their ability to take a GED/High-School-Equivalency exam (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/General_Educational_Development) as a substitute for a high school diploma.

When I was a junior in high school, I somehow stumbled on information about this, passed the test, and without a second thought dropped out of high school to take charge of my own education in a microwave-burrito-friendly community college and then university. If more high school students were aware of this option, and that it's a fine option to take, the miserable ones among them could free themselves from it more quickly.

Any young students in your circle complaining about their lot in life? You'd be doing them a favor to make sure they're aware of this option.

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Funny how much of this discussion comes down to whether people like school or not.

I never liked it, and know a lot of people in the same boat. Then again, I know people that say it was the best part of their lives, many of whom weren't particularly popular or well liked.

But on the margins, I've little doubt it's better than the alternative. I have close family that teach in disadvantaged areas. There's a sizeable portion of the student body that are just happy to be somewhere where they aren't sexually abused.

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Your theory for how we should reform education in a utopian society seems exactly that - utopian. I doubt that without monetary or legal incentives, most adults would get an education or do productive labor with their free time as opposed to wasting it away. But kids, people who neurologically have not developed the part of their brain responsible for long term self control? No fucking way. If we gave kids the choice of where to spend their time, at least 80% of them would just fuck off and play video games or sports or something. Not only would this lead to them not getting an education, but even if you believe school is useless educationally, it helps kids to internalize norms of self-control and obedience that are necessary for successfully functioning as an adult. I predict that your utopia would collapse within a generation.

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>I think this is one reason institutions are so bad: they’re a one-size-fits-all solution to how you’re going to spend your day, and that size will be right for some people and wrong for others.

This sort of contrasts with the idea that "it's not what you're doing but who you're doing it with." In my experience, school was miserable in k-6 when we were all in general ed classrooms but in 7-12th grade once we were segregated into AP/Honors I overall enjoyed school. I wonder if you'd have enjoyed school if you were around mostly other high achieving students and the "moron shouting weird taunts" was always in some other classroom? So is it the structure or the other inmates that causes school to be like prisons?

I also think if you start letting parents pick schools, soon most of the segregation will be along lines that won't have long-term benefits to the kids or society. If you let parents pick schools, for most parents, the most important thing will be picking schools with the same religious/political ideology they have (don't believe in evolution, there's a charter school for you!). This clearly erodes educational quality but more importantly will ultimately loosen ties that bind communities together, erode citizenship, and increase partisanship. Instead, I'd rather have one public school big enough that it can segregate via IQ/Academic Achievement. Having the smartest athiest, catholic, muslim, protestant, mormon, democrat, republican,and libertarian student all in the same classroom is much better than having each of them off in their own charter school.

I know I have strong bias for preferring my own experience but to me this was ideal. We had around 75 kids in the top 10% all attending the same classes together. But importantly, there were kids of different races, religions, class, and politics all mingled together. We'd constantly have fierce debates as we'd have everything from marxist to environmental anarchist, to free market capitalist kids arguing with each other. But in the end of the day, because we spent 8 hours a day for 4+ years with each other, we were mostly friends (the moron shouting weird taunts isn't in AP/Honors classes). And that's a huge Civic benefit to traditional schooling.

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I think a lot of what people complain about regarding "meritocracy"/"jobs for smarter people pay better than jobs for less smart people, and the smarter people deserve the extra pay because of merit" is what you called credentialism back on SSC, and what I recall in Listen, Liberal being (very) briefly referred to as "valedictocracy". Rule by people of a specific educational background, who think they deserve to be there specifically because of that specific educational background. That smart people in some meaningful sense "should" rule over dumb people, as Oligopsony talked about. I think this fundamentally elides one of the fundamental purposes of democracy, which is referenced quite clearly in Federalist Paper No. 10:

>Those who hold, and those who are without property, have ever formed distinct interests in society. Those who are creditors, and those who are debtors, fall under a like discrimination. A landed interest, a manufacturing interest, a mercantile interest, a monied interest, with many lesser interests, grow up of necessity in civilized nations, and divide them into different classes, actuated by different sentiments and views. The regulation of these various and interfering interests forms the principal task of modern legislation, and involves the spirit of party and faction in the necessary and ordinary operations of government.

It may very well be that high IQ people are "more important" to a good society than low IQ people - it also might very well be that creditors are "more important" to a good society than debtors. It is nonetheless fairly obvious to anybody with half a brain that letting creditors write all the laws will immediately result in the debtors getting absolutely screwed (and vice versa). One might (fairly) point out IQ isn't quite like creditor/debtor relations: a smart person has no particular class position. However, education is the actual metric we are actually using for all this, not literal IQ - there's a reason we roughly go after people for intentional deception in our education system, but nobody cares if you claim your IQ is 169 or 69 - and that sure as hell represents a defined class position.

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I'm not sure FdB would agree with me, but I regard myself as critical of meritocracy, yet I'm not really opposed either to:

"(1) "high-status jobs like 'surgeon' go to the most qualified applicant" or (2) "jobs for smarter people pay better than jobs for less smart people, and the smarter people deserve the extra pay because of merit"

I certainly think jobs should go to the most qualified applicant, at least in most cases. I don't think smarter people "deserve" extra pay, but until we can work out post scarcity utopia communism, I'm happy to pay them extra as a way of achieving adequate incentives etc.

So what do I mean when I say that I'm opposed to meritocracy? Well I take it that there's a cluster of positions and ideologies. The ideas in this cluster don't strictly entail each other, but they tend to go as a bloc. When I say "I dislike meritocracy" what I'm really saying is I dislike this bloc of ideas. Roughly, this bloc consists in:

A) Our absolute number one priority should be achieving equality of opportunity. This takes precedence over trying to ensure a comfortable life for those at the bottom.

B) People who fail simply didn't try hard enough. If they really wanted it they'd succeed.

C) The winners of the social competition , in virtue of being the winners, are well placed to govern us. They have smart ideas which mean they'll govern well.

D) It is possible to have a society with a strong degree of equality of opportunity without reducing differences in outcomes (c.f. the Gatsby curve for why this is wrong).

E) The answer to all social woes is education, education, education.

F) People who have managed to get a degree- or especially a postgraduate degree- deserve special respect in terms of their political views, moral credentials etc.

Michael Sandel discusses these ideas in his book "The Tyranny of Merit". I discuss Sandel's book here:


and here:


Happy to explicate further if anyone has any questions.

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To follow up on the charter school lottery discussion, San Francisco's school choice offers an interesting datapoint. All the SF public schools are open to any resident and assignment is determined by lottery. Families from areas of town with historically low test scores get higher priority, so most very poor families can effectively chose any school in the district.

This program is currently in the process of being reworked, because the schools are still segregated. Highly sought-after schools have trouble recruiting poor black students. Some schools near low-income housing have special programs like Spanish or Mandarin, which are very popular with middle- and upper-class white and Asian families, but most of the black families chose the less competitive English programs at the same schools.

Choice alone is not sufficient. Developing programs that are more attractive to black families is key. And providing more support for students who don't have resources at home could help boost students' achievement.

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Without wanting to understate the seriousness of some kids valuing school as a refuge from their home life... that still doesn't say a lot about school:


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The entire IQ/intelligence debate just makes me want to unplug the entire Internet. Almost everyone would agree that the cognitive, emotional, and psychogical substrate laid down during the prenatal period and infancy is determined by factors outside of your control, and that devastating genetic or environmental insults can completely alter the course of one's life.

But a small subset of the Internet has a set of psychological and ideological commitments that requires them to collapse this reasonable consensus into de facto genetic determinism, and no study is too small, no effect size too trivial, no heuristic or metric so flawed, that it won't get aggregated into multi-paragraph manifestos on the futility of social programs and the superiority of the genetic elite.

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There is an elephant in the room that needs to be addressed once you start talking about reforming education at the high school level: sports.

From an academic perspective, dropping the Freshman-Sophomore-Junior-Senior paradigm wouldn't be a huge deal. You could group kids by different ages, let them move up based on aptitude rather than time served, knock yourself out.

But whatever system you discover that works best for learning will have a very, very hard time usurping the status quo, because of sports. There's a big overlap between parents who are heavily invested in their kids' academic success and those invested in their athletic success. So while it may be best to send junior to some hippie-dippy school where he can be self-actualized by studying his key interests of chemistry, bowling, music, and cooking, if that means he never gets a chance to play for his hometown football team, there are a lot of parents who will keep him at City High.

And really, shouldn't we want City High's football team to be a source of pride for the local community? Doesn't that help create social capital, particularly in the more rural parts of the country that desperately need it?

And if you're a hometown hero, are you going to want to take an apprenticeship at age 18, or are you going to want to keep playing ball with your buddies? And are we so sure the latter isn't a better pathway to happiness in the long-term?

Ideally the US would have more of a European-style system where sports clubs aren't tied to any one particular school. But we don't have that system, and to get there we'd have to tear down a lot of Chesterton fences.

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As a high school teacher I believe that the issues brougth up by Scott and you others are valid. I have reasonably high hopes that they will be solved or at least go away. The three ways of getting to grips with the situation that I consider most likely is the following:

1. AGI or something reasonably close. One way or the other, the problem goes away.

2. Drastically longer lifespans permitting drastically larger investments in childrens upbringing. Some homeschooling families are pretty close to this situation right now but it is very far from something that can replace schools in general due to the considerations in the comments making up this post. I´m sceptical towards that a general rise in incomes would produce drastically more of this without changes since the salaries of teachers also rises.

3. Human genetical engineering, especially regarding intelligence. Maybe some molochian rat race would keep the misery alive and kicking but at least some part of the problem seems to be driven by our tries to handle the effects of the large individual differences. I belive that it probably will be easier to avoid low intellingence than to achieve high intelligence and that would compress the range and thereby ease some of the pressures.

My hopes for some kind of purely societal solution is really low. I went into teaching with my eyes open to this problem and 20 years of training, practise and reading have gotten my hopes down. No consideration rised in these two posts is new to me but several are unusually well articulated.

I don´t know if it makes a real difference for anyone other than myself and my conscience but at least most of my pupils seem to answer well toward openness about how school works and why it sucks. Just knowing how deeply unnatural the classroom setting and therefore the demands that follow from it are seem somewhat helpful to some (maybe half of them?).

If there was one single thing I would want us teachers to discuss it would be filtering on differences. If we (or the system) have tried something for long enough and someone persists in withering that should be considered a good reason to do things that otherwise are ruled out for system preserving reasons.

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I am one of the people who enjoyed school and wrote a comment pushing back on the idea that schools are so abusive. Reflecting futher, I think I did this because I was feeling defensive -- I liked school, and I felt that Scott's "burn down the schools" attitude would lead to something I liked being taken away (from, say, an imaginary version of me that's growing up now, or from my hypothetical future kids). I'd guess other commenters were coming from the same place, too.

On one hand, this is kinda dumb. Scott's proposal isn't actually to burn down the schools, it's to have more school choice. If the resulting choices aren't as good, then I won't have to pick them. No one's proposing to take anything away from my hypothetical kids.

But on the other hand, I still think it's worth flagging this defensiveness -- and its origin in a disagreement on how bad schools are and for whom -- for a few reasons.

First, there's both an object-level issue here (what sorts of changes will improve schools?) and a meta-level issue (what sort of system should we set up for finding and implementing these changes?). People like Scott who think that schools are a terrible hellscape and people like me who personally enjoyed school can agree on the meta-level issue (more experimentation and school choice) regardless of our disagreement. But ironing out factual disagreements about how many kids feel severely abused in school could help make more rapid progress on the object-level issue of which changes schools should preferentially experiment with.

Second, there's a meta-meta-level question about how much we should be willing to risk destroying the current system in order to pursue marginal improvements. Some people think that more charter schools will result in massive disruptions to the current education ecosystem. If you think that the status quo is a hellscape that needs to be burned down, that might seem like a worthwhile risk to take. If you think that the status quo is basically good, then you might be more nervous about opening the door to school reforms.

Finally, I think this discussion could be lubricated by making it common knowledge that some people feel defensive about how good/bad their school was. Consider this sentence from above:

> The potential solutions are things like offering more sizes (more diverse types of schools), having the sizes stretch (free-range schools where you can work yourself into the right niche for you) or having people not spend 30,000 hours of the most vulnerable period of their life in an institution.

I was nodding along in total agreement for the first two-thirds of this sentence. But then I got to the last third, the 30,000-hours-in-an-institution part, and started feeling mad. And since I was feeling mad, I figured that I must actually disagree with Scott and started looking for reasons to disagree. But ultimately, there weren't any: I actually agree that people should have the option of not spending so much time in school; I just felt defensive about the framing of it and started reflexively looking for counterarguments. I think this is mirror to the way Scott was upset by DeBoer's line about getting kids out of empty homes, setting off an angry rant despite them agreeing on object-level things like letting kids leave school early. Stuff like this makes you feel like you disagree, even when you actually agree.

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"Student A takes off in the direction of the bathroom, but then decides to run up and down the hallways as fast as possible. Student B is off to visit her friend in in-school suspension and waves into the windows of other classrooms along the way, disrupting numerous other classes. Student C goes to the bathroom, but then decides that the paper towel dispensers seem like they’d be fun to tear off the wall and comes back to the classroom armed with plenty of wet crumpled paper towels to throw at other students. Students D and E, now that it’s clear Teacher Scott isn’t going to stop them, decide to ignore the amazing, engaging lesson Teacher Scott is trying to pitch to them and have wandered out of the classroom and are now engaging in some kind of inappropriate conduct in the stairwell."

Yes, that is absolutely what happens. There are also the kids that straggle in ten minutes late, the kids who go "Miss/Sir, I forgot my book, I need to go to my locker" and so forth. We have those two. The thing is, if you tell those students A, B and C they can't go to the bathroom, they are not going to sit quietly and learn. They will find some other way of being disruptive.

Possibly the difference is that American schools are so much larger and have so many more pupils. And of course you have the whole school shootings thing. So very strict harsh discipline is needed. But I went to school when you could be beaten with a stick by the teacher and we *still* didn't have anything like "bathroom passes":


"Research has found that 84% of second level schools use corporal punishment as a form of discipline. The most common method of corporal punishment used is the leather strap. Other methods include the cane, ruler, furniture legs, and tree branches."

I liked school. I wasn't bullied, but I didn't get the things out of it that are claimed to be benefits (socialisation, being a good 'team player' and so on). I drifted along happily in my own little world.

I'm fascinated that most (all?) of you seem to think that homework is of no benefit. Yeah, there's the problem of having to write English essays that the teacher obviously hasn't read, but by the same token it (a) enabled me to practice my handwriting (b) go over what I had learned in class so I could be sure that I understood it (c) learn and study what hadn't been gone over in class ("I want you all to read chapters 5-10"). Depending on the age level, three hours a night may be excessive, but no homework at all seems also the other extreme.

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Regarding the selection effect discussion, it seems clear that charter schools do select for parents, and I would argue this is a good thing. An involved parent at a bad school can't really make an impact, but a school composed of involved parents can develop a culture of valuing learning and academic achievement. A situation where the average school is pretty bad but at least we can say everyone is treated equally is far from optimal. I think this is one of those situations where it's ok to sacrifice complete equality and let parents associate based on their priorities. The parents who want a good education for their kids can go find one, and the ones who don't care or don't have the and energy will get whatever is doable.

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> Let him stand up for his kind of people, and I’ll stand up for mine, and hopefully we can figure out some kind of system that serves everybody.

You cannot, because there are at least two different distinct categories of students.

One category is like Scott: extremely intelligent and conscientious. If you stick a child like that in a nice community center with an unlimited library, his sparkling mind will expand into the study of science, math, history, music, and anything else, much faster than any teacher could keep up.

Another category is like me: average kids. If you stick someone like me in the same community center next to Scott, I'd alternate my time between running around doing nothing (or causing trouble), and reading science fiction all day. I know this, because that's what happened to me. Kids like me need *guided* instruction, with teachers who can patiently explain the material, and who can enforce student participation. Enforcement is sometimes ugly, but without it, some kids will never develop practical problem-solving skills -- the skills that simply come naturally to genius children.

Arguably, there's a third category of kids: those with mental (and/or physical) problems; and obviously they require custom-tailored solutions. However, I think maybe their existence is already implied in Scott's article and DeBoer's book, I'm not sure.

Sadly, one obvious solution to this problem is gating/warehousing/whatever you call it: separating the three categories of children, then applying different solutions to each. But this will probably never happen; at least, not officially, and not in America.

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AnonymousFeb 19, 2021

Shenkin's memory of vocational schools is one thing that's really missing here. I went to a fairly bad (by educational, rather than ethical standards) high school that educated about two thousand students at a time. A lot of those kids had a bad attitude and didn't respond well to the seemingly-abstract demands of the education system. This is something that I think can happen both to students above average intelligence and ones slightly below average. I ended up graduating with a C average and not proceeding to college, which was probably the result of diagnosed and untreated ADHD (one thing that I think psychiatrists may be prone to overlooking is the different calculus that the parents of an ADHD patient might have to work through if one or both parents has a history of amphetamine abuse, and perhaps their greatest fear is their kid going down the same path. I don't think this was talked through very well by my child psychiatrist)

Late into my high school education I was referred to a partner program with a local community college that allowed high school students meeting some base requirements to attend vocational classes. There were classes in nursing, auto mechanics, welding, and computer networking (which is what I went for), among others. What surprised me was that a really good number of the kids attending these programs were the ones that I'd known as problem-students. Some aspect of this, in my opinion, was that auto mechanics and welding were compatible with an especially toxic masculinity common to rural america. Another, more important aspect, is that kids who've previously shown little interest in education might come around if there's a clear-cut path to skill attainment that will give them a career. The scale of this program was so small that I doubt it could have had much real impact on even the local scale, but it's easy to speculate that many of the students hit worst by the education system as it stands-- those with overly concrete expectations for education, little desire or ability to proceed through college, parents who have less enthusiasm for education, and other social risk factors-- would be the first to benefit from a vocational alt-education system.

I'd also like to hit on the philosophies of education that you described (especially the contrasting ones between Thiel and Rawls): whether you believe in education as prioritizing maximal attainment by any student, or as raising the floor for attainment by all students, the current education system has the same gaps, and in many cases the answers are so obvious that we can't assume that they aren't known to the system.

Education in mathematics at and above grade 6 is one especially egregious example: most students will have at least an anecdotal memory of being given test questions and having to memorize certain aspects of the material in order to pass the test. Most readers of this blog probably did above average-- I did well enough to buoy my grades despite tanking the homework assignments in every class. But this is a fairly awful way to teach mathematics, and everyone knows it. It is, however, a fairly good way to test for a specific form of forced memorization that can stand in as a proxy for a single aspect of IQ. I'd wager that if you took a good math test (ie, one that asks students to look at a few formulae and figure out how to apply those formulae to specific problems) and instead forced the students to memorize half of it before test day, that you could probably use those test results as a vague analog for IQ.

English classes' vocabulary tests, history classes' memorization requirements of dates and names, and countless other easy examples would suggest that American education does this constantly. It's as if the way that classes test for things isn't optimizing for their stated role (determining whether a student learned what the class was teaching them) but for another strange, implicit role of sorting students by IQ. You could probably conceptualize this as IQ 'covering' for failures in the design of the test, but I think there's more to it. I'd guess that schools are aware of their role in sorting societal winners from losers, in determining who gets the good jobs and the accolades. And they measure for innate ability so that the highest-IQ students are the ones who make it through.

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It's been a long time since we had a Chesterton quote, so here's one on education (or if you prefer, the trade of teaching).

We've been generally saying that schools are much more for the benefit of parents than of children, and here's G.K. describing a schoolmaster at his own school of St Paul's:

"It is time that something should be said about the masters, and especially the High Master. Immensely important as we thought ourselves in comparison with those remote but respectable enemies, after all they did have something to do with the school. The most eccentric and entertaining of them, Mr. Elam, has already been sketched in brilliant black and white by the pen of Mr. Compton Mackenzie. I have forgotten whether Mr. Mackenzie mentioned what always struck me as the most disturbing eccentricity of that eccentric; the open derision with which he spoke of his own profession and position, of those who shared it with him and even of those who were set over him in its exercise. He would explain the difference between satire and the bitterness of the risus sardonicus by the helpful parable, "If I were walking along the street and fell down in the mud, I should laugh a sardonic laugh. But if I were to see the High Master of this school fall down in the mud, I should laugh a sarcastic laugh." I chiefly mention his name here for another reason; because he once vented his scorn for what he called "the trade of an usher" in the form of a rhetorical question addressed to a boy: "Why are boys sent to school, Robinson?" Robinson, with downcast eyes and an air of offensive virtue, replied faintly, "To learn, sir." "No, boy, no," said the old gentleman wagging his head. "It was because one day at breakfast Mr. Robinson said to Mrs. Robinson, 'My dear, we must do something about that boy. He's a nuisance to me and he's a nuisance to you and he's a perfect plague to the servants.'" Then, with an indescribable extreme of grinding and grating contempt: "'So we'll Pay Some Man. . . .'"

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I wasn't confused about why Scott didn't like grade school. He did a fine job of explaining why in the previous post. I was confused why Scott thought that his problems were representative of most students. Or if not most, then at least enough to where that group's feelings about school should be dominant in discussions of reform.

I expect that as a child, Scott was an outlier among students. I expect that's true of many folks who read and post here. I'm not surprised that lots of folks felt that school didn't do a good job for them. But that's because ya'll are outliers! School didn't do well with you because it wasn't designed for you. Before you tare down the system and replace it with something that better suits you, you should spend more time considering folks in the fatter part of the distribution. (Unless you're a Thielist, I suppose.)

Last thing: Scott dismisses Konstantin's point far too easily. If you're predicating your argument on the fact that school made you miserable, how can you dismiss the argument that the alternative to school would make other people miserable? (Educated by Tara Westover seems relevant to this discussion.) Scott is able to dismiss this because he thinks "School is prison" and is therefore punishment for everyone but the truly miserable, but here again is my confusion. "School feels like prison for me [and other outliers like me who read my blog]" isn't the same as showing that for most people. So really the argument boils down to whether one set of outliers should be forced to feel miserable so that another set of outliers (along a different axis) will have a space to not feel miserable.

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My version of the minimally viable reform that would be most possible, is to legalize child labor. This also demands the removal of truancy as a crime, at least to the extent that children can find and do work safely.

If all goes as planned from there, some corporation or the like will offer slightly better conditions than the schools, and children will flock there, and the schools will realize that they must adapt to survive, and will become themselves, slightly better, and the corporation will realize their new billion dollar cash pump is in danger if they don't make it just a little better, and the spiral continues.

Standard model of competition working.

I find that the people most pushing for this are race realist leftists, who think that forcing calculus on blacks then sending them to jail when they fail to measure up, is the very essence of systemic racism. This isn't exactly my political position, but if shutting down the school to prison pipeline is the best excuse to shut down the schools, I'm happy to side with it.

Charter schools are probably net positive, but only slightly, and won't spiral, because they're still competing for parents, not children, and, the current system is already optimized in large part, for the convenience and self esteem of parents. The well being of children is left out of the equation.

As for the rest, I'm firmly in the [school as torture] camp, and have little patience or forgiveness for those who excuse it with "torturing people is fun" and "it makes us money".

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A lot of people seem to be coming at the school debate with the sort of implicit assumption that schooling done well means taking a pupil from one point in the hegemony, and delivering them to another place on the hegemony, some number of rungs up. Given the research suggesting that the majority of things determining where one ends up are genetically determined and that a good amount of the rest are determined by family and community rather than teacher and school, it would be easy to write off the value of school - it doesn't work!

But education could also mean that each person, within that hegemony, can be more effective. The paperwork could be done faster, the beer brewed more tasty, the new inventions more brilliant and the new companies better at changing the world. And surely this is true? A person in the middle of the hegemony now can process more accounts than can a person in the middle of the hegemony fifty years ago, but that hasn't helped today's accountants somehow become higher up.

That view of education suggests that a huge amount of the ways we measure school (how much further education do they do on to, what are their lifetime earnings...) are measuring entirely the wrong thing, and that's probably cause for concern!

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"Answer that’s paternalist itself (though not necessarily collectively so, since it can achieve mass support): more mandatory meetings. Compulsory voting, conscription into militias (give everyone guns and the training to use them), compulsory Quaker meetings, compulsory PTA meetings, compulsory unionization of all workplaces (and if the union votes to set dues at zero and not go on strike ever, okay, at least that’s what they chose.) Anything that increases capacity while getting each other to talk to each other about their interests."

Apparently (according to the summary at https://scholars-stage.blogspot.com/2018/11/the-winnowing-of-american-democracy-few.html ) this sort of direct democracy was how most local governments and community organizations were run for much of American history. This doesn't necessarily seem paternalistic in itself: that article justifies it in terms of giving people more direct control over how they were governed. Historically, this method of making decisions was beneficial in that it reduced the extent to which elites could make decisions that benefitted them but not the people they ruled, and it may have reduced the frequency of misguided top-down attempts at progress of the sort that James Scott criticizes in _Seeing Like a State_ ; it was harmful in that the citizens in general were less competent at making decisions that required Scott's epistémē and more likely to be led to make bad decisions by emotion (the article notes that lynchings were a result of partly leaving law enforcement up to the community rather than letting specially trained and somewhat legally accountable professionals do it).

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For a discussion of alternate classroom discipline, I suggest Duncan Sabien's discussion with Spencer Greenberg regarding Duncan's experience as a teacher.

His rule for bathroom use for instance was that if you need to go to the bathroom, you write your name on the "used the bathroom" sheet, go to the bathroom and then stay in class 5(?) extra minutes after the recess bell rings. No questions asked, no moralizing, no permission required. Did not lead to total chaos.


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Scott, what happened to "every single part of my brain is telling me that high school was lovely"? (https://slatestarcodex.com/2016/11/10/book-review-house-of-god/) . Did you realize your younger self had been telling you the truth all along? What's the story here!

(Sorry about possibly having posted this twice. My browser is acting funny right now.)

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Scott, re medical residency, do you think that all of those hours are necessary? I've always been skeptical that in order to produce a competent doctor, the U.S. system needs to be as elite and demanding as it is. O-chem required as a undergrad, and intense residency hours being two things that always made me suspicious. Is there really sooo much to know that it couldn't be done in 40 hours. And why is this still a thing given the research about how many patients are harmed by overworked and tired docs?

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An issue is: Do we need to spend 13 years making an 18 year old? With 39 months off spread throughout? It seems glacial. Our Education System really needs to be refocused on identifying aptitudes (which includes smarts, but also talent, enjoyment...) and building on and adding to skill sets. There should be much more independent play and certified learning up front, with daycare provided for working parents. Intense modules of learning interspersed with projects as they get older. Then classroom study and hands on before separating into vocational, collegial or uncommitted.

FdB wants to change the world so that we can find places in it for the people he will not let us change (in any intrusive way). I would rather change the system slightly, add a Works Corps and have them change the country and the world.

Let’s work backwards. I propose an adjunct to the Army Corps of Engineers, the America Works Corps. You could think of it as Society in Motion. When fully operational there would be EMTs, Practicing Nurses, Hi Voltage Line Techs, Internet Specialists, Heavy Machinery Operators, Carpenters, Electricians.... FEMA could call in a full battalion to Puerto Rico after a hurricane. Five battalions could be dropped in Indonesia after a tsunami.

The reason for it being under the auspices of the Corps? Socialization, standardization and deployment as a resource. The first year would be Boot Camp and Basic Ed. From there aptitudes would sort and further classes, exercises and field work would begin. It would be a 3-4 year commitment. It would all depend on chosen field.

Individuals could re-up. They could sign up for 2-3 year postings to overseas projects. Or, having gained their professional licenses / credentials, they could get a GI Loan, move to the place of their choice and start rebuilding America.

The gold standard studies on job training tell us that the only ones that move the needle are apprenticeship related. Why? Because the individual wants to do that type of work, the company has that type of job and a training site is set up to put the two together. This idea does just that but on a national scale that doesn’t flood any one market.

Now that we seen what the Black Box connects to, the question becomes what do we do with the Box? Well, we certainly move towards a more Germanic system of identifying those whose aptitudes and personalities want to move towards the Corps than college.

I also think that there is a huge issue that has been completely ignored: terraforming. Schools need to be involved from soil management to hydroponics to seedlings to aqua-culture to..... If the Sahel needs a 8,000 km green barrier, then the High Plains could use a bit of tending in the next 20 years as we manage the Missouri and Mississippi basins.

The education experts keep ‘fixing’ their factory. They keep giving their customers an experience they don’t enjoy, they keep turning out too many products of low value and they keep demanding more more money for their efforts.

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Scott wrote:

> The best I can do is: on the one hand there's the utilitarian perspective,

> which is summed up well enough by "from each according to their ability,

> to each according to their need".

Scott. The word "utilitarian" is a couple of centuries old; you don't get to redefine it now. That's a quote from Marx, who is NOT a utilitarian. The utilitarian perspective is traditionally summed up as the Benthamite formula "the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people" (although that's both imprecise and insufficiently general).

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I'm sympathetic to FdB's critique of the part of meritocracy where smart=good. I've been trying to work on giving up that alief, now that I'm more intellectually convinced the belief is incorrect and pernicious. I grew up thinking "stupid" was such a bad word (and thing to be) that you could never call anyone it—it would be shattering. So it takes some deliberate practice to unlearn that.

Here's what's been helpful to me:

- I read about saints who were intellectually slow (e.g. Bl Solanus Casey, who remained a porter, not a priest, for this reason)

- Since becoming Catholic, I meet a lot more people with serious physical and mental disabilities, and I get to know them as people, not as deficiencies. This is a huge part of the Bruderhof's culture, too: https://www.plough.com/en/topics/life/parenting/special-needs-children/the-teacher-who-never-spoke

- I work on remembering that I'm very smart now, but I won't be when I'm old (probably) and I'm not going to become less a person then. I'm going to be the same person, called to different work (including the witness of being dependent on others without being ashamed of my dependency)

- Having a baby helps! My one-year-old is so clearly a person and takes joy in the world without being able to do the things I pride myself most on. I expect her to grow up and become more like me, but there's a lot that is good about her as she is, I don't feel as frightened about if she didn't mature in the way I expect.

I'm curious if anyone else here has actively cultivated this shift?

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re: "charter schools get 0.75x and public schools get to keep the 0.25x extra" it's important to seperate marginal vs average costs. If the average cost of educating a kid is $20k and 5 leave for a charter school then you're down 5*0.75*20k=75k ie a full teachers salary, so have to fire a teacher and redistribute 20 kids amoung the rest. All the fixed & nongifted population's costs of buildings, busses, special Ed, etc don't decrease. Assume classes are 25 kids, then the marginal cost per kid is only $3k*, not enough for a 2nd school. This is per a Massachusetts ex-principle.

There could be more cost savings if you have charter schools share buildings, increasing beurocratic inertia against; starting a charter school is easier than convincing an existing school to turn over part of the student body and physical building.

*multiply by 4/3 if each teacher only teaches for 3 of the 4 periods in each day.

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At risk of being a nuisance, my first name's got one "L" and three "P"s.

And yes, this is my real surname.

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My experience is that school was at it's worst between around 10-15 years of age, and many of my friends and acquaintances agree. I think the community center idea would work especially well for kids of this age, give them relative freedom to develop while still maintaining a safe space, especially for issues relating to puberty.

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freedom at six?? um... you've read lord of the flies, right?

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"The purely financial issues seem solvable; if the cost of public education is X, give kids who want charter schools a voucher for 0.75X, and donate the extra 0.25X to the public school system. The charter school will be fine with less money, and every kid who leaves for charter schools will make the public schools better instead of worse."

Would the benefit of the additional funding actually outweigh the loss of the student? Peer groups certainly have a positive impact on students' performance, and I'm not convinced its one that could be offset by throwing money at the problem.

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"saving the really abused kids is an important goal, and school accomplishes it": One negative utilitarian argument for compulsory students I hear a lot is just that - school is a better place than the worst homes, and importantly, the worst parents would not send their kids to school if it wasn't compulsory and enforced by threat of fines, CPS intervention etc. So unless we find some way to reliably determine who is a terrible parent / what is a terrible household, we need to force everyone into school (or at least have high standards for opting out) to protect the worst-off children.

(A related argument is that making everyone go to the same child prison forestalls the development of isolated bubbles of society where "dangerous things can grow" - that's both a staple of Islamophobe rhetoric and the official rationale for compulsory schooling in Germany - specifically, to prevent Nazi enclaves from forming out of sight.)

Personally l find compulsory child prison to be a disproportionate response to the problems it's meant to solve, and would prefer directly screening for bad parents; but I realize that seems icky and most people would prefer just putting all kids into child prison to doing the hard work of figuring out what we want to expect from parents as a society.

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I feel very conflicted about this.

My first thought related to childrearing is to send said child is to some weird Montessori thing because it is surely better than the regular school I've been to. In my country it's often said that "childhood/high school/whatever is the best years of your life". To me that feels very alien - adulthood is the best years of your life, because you have control over your environment and the way you spend your time, can minimize contact with people who drive you up the wall and/or want to harm you, can surround yourself with people you actually like etc.

I think school has messed me up in a lot of ways, in particular by introducing a very unhealthy divide between work (motivated externally) and play (which I do because I want to) - which magnifies my natural tendency to procrastinate even on personal projects. Once I decide I want to finish them they go into the "work" category which I will then avoid as much as possible. The complete inability of most people to do self-directed work seems caused by the way we approach schooling.

However, what if it's the other way around? I can only tell by observing adults, myself included, who can get absolutely miserable when unemployed and otherwise unforced to put themselves in motion. If humans are naturally lazy (or energy-conserving) yet inaction makes them unhappy and depressed, forcing people to attend a bullshit job / bullshit education is a net good. In a similar way, many introverts I know would probably have no social skills whatsoever without compulsory schooling, they'd just hole up in their houses and gradually lose the ability to talk. Hell, _this happened to me_ in a few periods in my life. When I was writing a thesis and otherwise not leaving the house at all, despite my normally outgoing personality I recall being anxious about even going to a grocery store.

It's possible that the forcing part needs to stay. Perhaps we can, at least, let the children choose the activities and social contexts they're forced into, by greatly extending the definition of "school" that satisfies the mandatory requirement? Apprenticeships, community centers, all kinds of voluntary classes? Just let the children sort themselves into groups they feel good in, doing something useful and prosocial?

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Most of your position on this seems to come down to you much you hated or enjoyed your school life and then reasoning backwards from there. I'm kinda in the middle.

There was a period (maybe 6th to 7th grade) where I would have 100% agreed with Scott that schools are prisons. Bullying at that point was a daily occurrence. Some of my friends were even worse off than me, and I already felt horrible most days.

At some point the bullying just stopped. I don't know if the bullies changed or I changed. Maybe others were still being bullied just as bad and I was just not noticing it? I mainly enjoyed the rest of my school time after that. Maybe Stockholm syndrome.

I might be the only person in the world but I enjoyed most of the novels I had to read and interpret for school. Some authors I discovered through school I still like today.

At the end of my school life I was even pretty friendly with one guy who I remembered as being the worst bully because the two of us were the only two libertarians at school. I eventually stopped being a libertarian, he is an academic economist today. Make of that what you will.

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Currently, schooling is the equivalent of having both arranged marriage and banning divorce. The equivalent of the common argument in favor is then that marriage is so beneficial for most, that the fact some people become really unhappy in marriage, or actually get beaten by their partner, is not a reason to make exceptions.

Note that divorce is a major reason for poverty among women and children & staying single makes people poorer, lonelier, etc. And many people in certain nations seem quite happy with their arranged marriage.

Yet arguing for the combination of arranged marriage and banning divorce would make the NYT describe you as an evil neo-reactionary misogynist, especially because it would disallow a minority of women who get abused, to leave their abuser. Yet we know that many kids get horrible abused in schools, but then the mainstream is fine with forcing these kids to stay in that abusive environment and their only solution is anti-bullying programs, even though they seem fairly ineffective. Imagine suggesting that the only allowed solution for abused women is to go to couples therapy and to argue that if therapy doesn't stop the abuse, the women have to stay with their partner.

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I think Joshua's comment is very plausible. In the town where I grew up, the path of least resistance went to a fairly bad (at the time—I hear a new head came in and turned things around) secondary school. The motivated parents got their kids into schools the next town over or the local (private) Public school or the Catholic school. I can see that causing a vicious cycle of brain drain on the not-so-good school. I've heard similar things from people who grew up in the few parts of the UK where the Grammar School system remains. (OTOH the Germans, Dutch and Austrians seem okay with their Realschulen and selective Gymnasiums and what have you)

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There is another take that is missing from all of this. Many people object to meritocracy not because they object to meritocracy on principle (of course jobs should be worked by those most qualified to perform them!).

However, they argue that the current system does not correctly identify who has this merit. This is because social investment is a person is cumulative, and most people can learn to do most things. Lots of people will make perfectly qualified surgeons if you just assume that's what they're going to be from an early age (and divert social resources to training them).

This allows for a sort of inter-generational transfer of wealth under the guise of meritocracy, which I believe some have termed 'opportunity hoarding.' It's probably less bad than other forms of hereditary privilige, since it requires work to maintain and you can still lose if if you're not able to learn or perform well enough even with these advantages. But it's still bad that some kids, who might turn out to be brilliant scientist, dont ever get the chance because they got low-grade lead poisoning, went to a bad school, were socially punished for studying outside of gender norms, etc etc.

So I think probably one of the major and most compelling arguments against meritocracy is that it attributes differences in capability to innate qualities, rather than environmental ones. This is not to say that innate ability doesn't play a factor: it's a multiplies, and perhaps has larger effects at the tails. But for most people and most jobs, these aren't the dominant effects. The main concern, then is that meritocracy is a useful excuse for continuing to ignore inherent structural inequalities in opportunity.

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I think that Americans have far too much hope and fear about charter schools.

I live in The Netherlands where there are very many charter schools and have been for a long time. There is no real evidence that this has caused inequality or has had an impact on the quality of schools. The Dutch PISA results have historically been much better than average for the EU, but the same is true for Finland, which has only public schools. So if you can do much better than average by having almost no private or charter schools and by having way more charter schools than average, the percentage doesn't seem to matter.

So it seems to me that charter schools are largely a distraction and don't result in the kind of significant changes that many Americans hope or fear will happen.


For those who want to know some Dutch school system history:

The French who occupied my country from 1795-1813 made a law that forced all schools to be public. They were still religious, but based on a very liberal and generic Christianity. The result was a century-long conflict that is know as the 'school struggle.' The first part of the struggle involved the right to start schools for a specific denomination.

After a new constitution was introduced and a fight over the interpretation of that constitution, denominational schools were allowed in 1857, although they didn't get equal funding. The second part of the struggle was a fight to get equal funding. This was resolved in 1917 after a compromise between conservatives and liberals (which also resulted in universal suffrage).

Since then, you can start a Dutch charter school with full funding, if you can make a good case that you will attract enough students and can provide a quality education. The government is then obligated to provide the school building and pay the same amount per student that public schools get. A side effect of this law initially intended to enable denominational schools, it that it is also relatively easy to start schools with a different pedagogic approach, like Montessori, Dalton, Jenaplan or Waldorf.

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>I feel bad for giving such emotionally loaded examples - saving the really abused kids is an important goal, and school accomplishes it.

Does it? How? Isn't school usually during work hours, when parents aren't home? Even if a parent is not at work during school hours, can't a kid just go anywhere else? To a friend, or just join other kids on the street? And if a kid is locked at home, social services definitely should have already taken them.

As far as I can tell, schools have three effects on abused kids:

1) It marks them with bad grades, giving abusive parents motivation and excuse to abuse their kids more. (Also, I suspect, a lot of otherwise nice parents misguidedly think they HAVE to abuse kids with less-than-perfect grades and if they don't, they are BAD PARENTS who DON'T CARE ABOUT THEIR CHILDREN'S FUTURE)

2) It takes their day time they could have used to mentally recharge and prepare for parent's return.

3) It gives them homework, preventing them from escaping abuse in the evening, and additionally enraging abusive parents.

Sending everyone to school to help abused kids is not like forcing women to marry moderately abusive men because they might marry someone worse. It's like forcing women to marry an additional abusive man who comes when their real husband is at work because women can't vote, too dumb to know what's good for them and honestly just fuck them, it's not like they count as people anyway.

Unless I'm missing something huge (would like to know what if so!), it was the most wrong individual sentence you ever wrote on your blog, and I have read everything!

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Having read a number of the comments and the assumptions contained therein in the original post and this one, I kind of feel compelled to weigh in. As this is my first comment here: hi all and thank you Scott for the amazing work you do.

DISCLAIMER: The content in this post is purely anecdotal/experience based. If that doesn't interest you, skip over it I promise you you won't miss anything.

So I went to a Montessori School. I'll try to outline as briefly as possible the framework this entails: Students were giving a lot of freedom from the very beginning (talking about 6 year olds here) and the focus was on empowering them to make their own choices. In short, I think it worked and proves that, at least in some cases, you can let kids decide what they want to do and what and how they want to learn and end up with kids consciously deciding to learn things.

About half of the time spend in school, you would be literally free to do whatever you wanted. You were obliged to spend it in the classroom (although you could take bathroom breaks whenever you wanted) but that's it. If you wanted to do math, you could go to your teacher and ask for some math problems, if you felt like reading a book, that was fine. A friend of mine and I decided we wanted to draw a comic set in the world our favourite video game and we did that and nothing but that for multiple weeks. Nobody had a problem with it. Students were free to wander around the classroom, sit on a different table or on the ground, even rearrange tables if they wanted to engage in some form of group project. I don't remember there being anything remotely describable as anarchy.

There were no grades. From time to time, you would get tested in this subject or that and afterwards your teacher would tell you how you did and how you could improve. At the end of each term, you would receive a written assessment of your learning progress from your teacher, about half a page for each subject and also stuff like general behaviour. Furthermore, you yourself would write an assesment of how you viewed your efforts and your progress (again, starting from grade 1). I remember that being really hard but these are now cherished documents of a younger me's view on themselves.

Ages 6 - 9 and 9 - 12 would be educated together in one classroom. As students mostly chose what they wanted to spend their time on, that worked surprisingly well. If you had trouble with a certain task the idea was that you would first go to another, usually older student and ask them about it and only if that didn't solve your issue you would ask the teacher. I remember that being mostly enjoyable and I found explaining things to younger students was a great way to test your own understanding of a matter.

There was no fixed curriculum either. If you took longer than other kids to learn to write, you were encouraged to keep working on it but nothing else happened. If you wanted to repeat a certain exercise for the 10th time, you were free to do so. If you felt you got it after the first time, you could get a harder one or move on to a different topic. There were learning goals sorted by year but how and when exactly you achieved them was entirely up to you.

There were no homeworks. Occasionally you would be asked to do presentations or group projects (of which you could usually choose the specific topic yourself out of a broad range) and these could require you to go to the library to get some material or something of the likes. You could take care of those during the freely assignable school times or at home.

So where did that leave the kids? I decided to leave that school at the age of 12, which to this day I consider one of the greatest mistakes of my live but it gave me the opportunity to observe how I and other kids from that school would fare when tested the regular way. Pretty much all of them seemed to do just fine, with very few being true all-As kind of students but with nobody really struggling too much. Neither me nor the many people I talked to, including those that switched at a much later age, found any noticeable deficit in curriculum and most went on to finish high school with good-to-very-good grades.

Of course I am aware that such a school would heavily select parents for certain traits. While, as it was a public school, it wasn't a selection by wealth (I was raised by a single mom and money was definitely an issue) I would expect parents who really cared about their childs education to be more likely to choose such a school. Which definitely would bias the results of my anecdotal observation.

However, even if we assume that most of the kids on that school would have finished high school with good grades regardless of which elementary school (which honestly I doubt) they did, there is still one crucial difference: Me and most people that I talked to (I'd guess n~100) who attended this or a similar kind of school enjoyed it. Very much. At the end of the holidays I was actually getting a bit impatient to get back to school, to start learning again. And nobody, not a single one experienced it as the living hell that I find so much writing about here and elsewhere.

So why am I writing this? It seems from my observation that you can achieve, at the very least, similar results of regular modes of education with MUCH more freedom and MUCH less suffering on the side of the children. The model is certainly not perfect (and, as always, implemented even less perfectly) but it goes against the conventional wisdom and assumptions about childrens behaviour in so many ways with results so far from what I have heard people express that I think it is worthwhile to at least know it exists. That it is possible to do things differently and to at least not necessarily have it descend into the sort of prisoner-experiment-survival-fight that a lot of people seem to be envisioning.

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The thing I found interesting about this discussion, and the unpleasantness of last weekend, was how it highlighted the degrees to which various parties index on agreeableness.

By agreeableness, I don't necessarily mean personal pleasantness or nastiness, though I suspect they are somewhat correlated. But how much people value agreeing with the right people or disagreeing with the wrong people.


I think the current mainstream internet culture is characterized by a strong emphasis on agreeableness. I think Matthew Yglesias summed it up well in his post last weekend:

"But everyone also believes that sexism and misogyny are significant problems in the world, and that the people struggling against those problems are worthy of admiration and praise. So to leap into a conversation about sexism and misogyny yelling “WELL ACTUALLY GIOLLA AND KAJONIUS FIND THAT SEX DIFFERENCES IN PERSONALITY ARE LARGER IN COUNTRIES WITH MORE GENDER EQUALITY” would be considered a rude and undermining thing to do"

Again, this should not be confused with personal pleasantness -- this agreeableness can manifest itself in some ugly ways like Twitter mobs. But there is a sense that if people are fighting on the side of the angels; defined as against racism, sexism, homo/transphobia or Trump, then it's best to nod along and ignore any inconvenient facts, lest it provide ammunition to the other side. In fact, they are unlikely to follow paths of research that may lead to inconvenient facts.

Critics would call this careerism and groupthink. It may be a response to the media industry being driven by social media. More charitable people would consider it an understandable response to a president who was a blowhard and stoked resentment. Regardless, it's there.


Scott indexes a little lower on agreeableness (though again, seems to be more personally pleasant). He will not stop digging for truth, even if it might lead to a conclusion that puts him at odds with people supporting a cause he may believe in. He'll listen to and allow in his forum voices that might be shunned elsewhere.

I'm glad there's people like him doing it. But I confess it's not for everyone. I wouldn't even go down the road of researching racial differences in IQ. I'm still not convinced it's prudent to even take up that question, given the light/heat ratio such a discussion will produce. But I'm glad someone is doing it. It can lead us to taking a possible pandemic seriously before we might have otherwise.


On the other end of the spectrum we have Frederik de Boer. As Scott noted at the beginning of the review, he's someone who doesn't seem to agree with anybody.

It seems that for de Boer, not only does he not care about being in agreement with the right people, he cares very much about *not* being in agreement with the wrong kind of people.

So, if his research leads him to conclusions that are uncomfortably close to Charles Murray, he writes a several page rant about how loathsome he thinks Murray's ideas are, and anyone who might agree with them.

Acknowledging how cruel schools can be to some people might land him in alignment with people like Christian home-schoolers and proponents of more traditional families, and we can't have that! So it's back to the standard prescriptions of universal pre-K and after-school programs so kids can be supervised while parents are at work where we belong!


I agree (ahem) with Yglesias that we have swung too far to the agreeable side of the spectrum. I'm not sure Scott's at the optimal point, but I'm glad there are people pulling us in that direction. And I think that as Trump shrinks in our rear view mirror, and we realize that our pandemic response could have benefitted from some unorthodox thinking, we'll move in that direction.

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> I think there's a weak straw-mannish version of (2) which is something like "because I'm smart, I naturally should get more money than dumb people, to reward me for being an inherently better person". I think the stronger version is something like "very few people can be surgeons, lots of people can be fast food workers, if someone is smart enough to do either one we want to incentivize them to become a surgeon, so surgeons should be paid more." If you take out a lot of steps, it looks like "smart -> pay more", but it's not quite as moralistic as the straw man.

I mentioned this no reddit, but I'll mention it here too: you don't need to have smart people paid more to incentivize them to be doctors. Pay them more for being doctors, pay them less (i.e. via taxes) for being smart.

I won't say taxing IQ isn't controversial, but we also shouldn't pretend there is no alternative to smart people being richer than dumb people. Society currently assigns economic spoils at birth via IQ, and society could very easily undo this without destroying the incentives of smart people to pursue important/hard jobs. We choose not to.

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I would add on to Pete Shenkin's comment regarding vocational schools. The public HS I attended from 87-90 wasn't a dedicated vocational school but it still had vocational/shop classes that included wood-working, drafting, home-ec, and auto shop. It at least provided alternatives and creative outlets to learning that the required classes could leave one wanting. I think the push towards STEM in the 90s caused these programs to be cut, then subsequently, art & music classes as being worthless for creating a society of engineers and doctors. As a student back then I bridged the gap between enjoying doing moment-diagrams in my statics classes and doing woodworking projects. Learning opportunities that my parents couldn't provide and ultimately led me away from wanting to be an engineer and veer into architecture.

The learning environment over the last 20 yrs for middle and HS kids has been this relentless drive towards STEM learning (with the whip-hand held by tech telling everyone that the only way to save American kids from a life of wrenching pipes or welding steel is to teach them code) and the media, parents and politicians lapping that up.

Believe me, I enjoyed math, statics and chemistry until I got into a University Engineering school and loathed every minute of my classes. Only once I started taking creative electives did I realize differential equations, learning Fortran, and plodding through thermodynamics did I realize my talents lay adjacent to engineering via architecture. I'm also fortunate/unfortunate enough to be self-didactic enough to want to learn a lot of things without becoming an expert in everything.

This segues into the meritocracy side of the equation. Not every surgeon is smart. Not every engineer is smart. Not every architect or lawyer is smart. But these professions have managed to gatekeep the flow of folks into their respective fields to also keep social respect, accolades and pay higher. It's always fun listening to my very smart brother-in-law who is finishing his medical fellowship talk about the dumb doctors who he has to learn under and who are well-paid despite the fact. I can say the same for many formula-smart engineers who are not common-sense bright. I also know a few tradespeople who never went to college but are smart and make good money.

I think the last 25 years of our collective shift towards STEM learning as the be-all-end-all of education by forcing a certain-type of meritocratic learning and social stratification has been a big disservice to society in general. It wrongly assumes that STEM will lift all boats (tech certainly thinks so) but it just furthers stratification and marginalizes the type of Renaissance learning that leads to more well-rounded individuals.

Maybe a return to trade/vocational classes to primary learning environments would allow us to see a shift in making learning enjoyable for everyone and not as either a prison-sentence for 18yrs or simply the means to earning a future high 6-figure income.

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https://i.redd.it/fzrdqksju9i61.jpg is a school sucks meme for your perusal.

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> The purely financial issues seem solvable; if the cost of public education is X, give kids who want charter schools a voucher for 0.75X, and donate the extra 0.25X to the public school system. The charter school will be fine with less money, and every kid who leaves for charter schools will make the public schools better instead of worse.

I'm not sure I follow. This increases the per capita funding for the public school system, but still decreases its funding total. There are per capita costs for school (textbooks, materials), and there are non-per capita costs (like teachers). I'm not entirely sure that a class of 30 with 30.25X funding is better than a class of 31 with 31X funding.

To extend the difference a little, a class of 20 with 22.5X funding vs a class of 30 with 30X funding is still something I wouldn't be sure about. If the class of 30 spent 21X on a teacher, and 9X on materials (.3X per person), then a class of 20 would have 16.5X on a teacher, assuming the same material costs. I know lower class size helps, but surely a teacher paid a little over 25% more would too, so I still don't know which wins out, or if the winner is consistent with varying numbers.

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Very aside comment, I ordered a copy of "The Bell Curve" yesterday. I know of two people who claim to have read it... so I'll be the third. I liked "Coming Apart" by Murray, which I think was described as an update of the Bell Curve without the forbidden topic. I mostly feel that Charles should be given some credit for pointing out the effect of genetics, intelligence and selection. Rather than being demonized for sharing an uncomfortable truth.

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In the interest of adding data to the competing anecdotes of whether kids hate school: The Georgia Department of Education surveys students on school climate annually and requires public schools to administer the results to at least 75% of students in grades 3-12.

372K students in grades 3-5 responded to the statement, “I like school”: 35% Always; 26% Often; 34% Sometimes; 5% Never.

690K students in grades 6-12 responded to the statement, “I like school”: 16% Strongly Agree; 56% Somewhat Agree; 16% Somewhat Disagree; 13% Strongly Disagree.

The elementary survey is 15 questions long, but the middle/high survey is over 100 questions long. However, “I like school” is the first question for either survey, so I’m reasonably confident in its validity.

Another relevant question: 372K students in grades 3-5 responded to the statement, “How often in the past couple of months have kids picked on you by threatening you?”: 70% Never; 15% Once or twice; 8% A few times; 4% Many times; 2% Every day.

The results for “How often in the past couple of months have kids picked on you by hitting or kicking you?” are pretty similar.

Data is here (in a very unhelpful Excel format): https://www.gadoe.org/schoolsafetyclimate/GSHS-II/Pages/GSHS-Results.aspx

I summarized the results for Atlanta Public Schools here: https://apsinsights.org/2020/03/17/climate-survey-2019/

In the bottom part of that post, I briefly describe analysis that shows the 6-12 grade question, “I feel my school has high standards for achievement” has the strongest relationship to student growth (schools that see the most improvement in test scores tend to have high standards). And the most predictive question for elementary schools is the threats question.

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The point of meritocracy isn't to move everyone into the upper class, it's just to create a maximally productive society. Assume that education has the ability to create a surgeon who, without education, would have been a general laborer (this may or may not be true).

In a "meritocratic" capitalist society, that's good for the surgeon - she gets more money. It's also good for people who need surgery - if she's a good surgeon, they get better surgery, if she's a bad surgeon, she provides an alternative that decreases surgery costs society-wide. Note that this doesn't have anything to do with what the surgeon "deserves" as Scott points out. It's just people making choices that help them. There aren't as many surgeons as general laborers.

But, and here's the part I feel like people miss, it's *also* good for general laborers. With people removed from the general labor pool, the cost of general labor goes up. So when people say "education is the silver bullet that solves poverty" it doesn't necessarily mean "education will turn all factory workers into programmers." It means "education, done well, will place our citizens more optimally in a way that fills empty programming jobs *and* makes factory workers more valuable by alleviating the glut."

You can ask whether education actually does this - maybe it gates high-skilled jobs more than it fills them by forcing all high-skilled workers to be credentialed. But I get very annoyed with people who talk about "meritocracy" being unfair (it is), without asking, "okay, but even if it is unfair, is it better for everyone?" If I'm going to lose in every possible world, even if it's completely out of my control, please do not waste your breath arguing about how unfair it is that some people have to lose. Please instead just let me lose in a world where losing has a good consolation prize.

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One thing missing from the ideal schooling system you describe is civics education. Schools teach subjects that make each individual student no better (or not much better) off, but benefit society as a whole. Broadly I think this includes some math, a fair amount of history, a fair amount of science, and a bit of actual civics. Few students would choose to study these topics, but we're all better off when more students understand these things.

Imagine if no one got the lesson on the balance of power between the federal government branches. We might have one branch ceding lawmaking power to the other two. Or if everyone skipped the lessons on trends versus data points in statistics, a bunch of people would be fooled by arguments like "winter is cold still, therefore climate change isn't real". In reality, just imagine how much worse it could be.

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How is anyone taking this article seriously? Such fundamental misconceptions about 1. how to create better learning environments and 2. economic value provided by specialized labor.

1. How to create a better learning envrionment:

Instead of pointing at the good schools (the ones with the best results) and saying, "How come all of their parents care about their education? How dare they all sit in class well behaved! We need to break that up so that those 'special' kids are evenly dispersed." How about you take the principles that are established in those schools and imitate them. What principles are those? The very ones you complain are selected for in those schools: mainly 1. ability of the child to act civilized in a classroom setting and 2. parents who care about their education.

2. Economic value:

The people who get paid more in society don't get paid more because we value intelligence more that stupidity, or however you want to label that spectrum. They get compensated more because of scarcity. There are less people who can build good software than can mow a lawn. I can agree with you all the day about gatekeeping problems, especially in well established industries like medicine. But there are only certain people who can do certain things. This alone doesn't make them receive higher payment. It is that fact which leads their labor to be competed over. The fact that multiple employers will seek them out is where their salary is determined.

I mean these are so fundamental and your article laughs in the faces of these tenants. I understand how education and gatekeeping are tied into both of these, but I think your article doesn't deal w/ that properly.

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How is anyone taking this article seriously? Such fundamental misconceptions about 1. how to create better learning environments and 2. economic value provided by specialized labor.

1. How to create a better learning envrionment:

Instead of pointing at the good schools (the ones with the best results) and saying, "How come all of their parents care about their education? How dare they all sit in class well behaved! We need to break that up so that those 'special' kids are evenly dispersed." How about you take the principles that are established in those schools and imitate them. What principles are those? The very ones you complain are selected for in those schools: mainly 1. ability of the child to act civilized in a classroom setting and 2. parents who care about their education.

2. Economic value:

The people who get paid more in society don't get paid more because we value intelligence more that stupidity, or however you want to label that spectrum. They get compensated more because of scarcity. There are less people who can build good software than can mow a lawn. I can agree with you all the day about gatekeeping problems, especially in well established industries like medicine. But there are only certain people who can do certain things. This alone doesn't make them receive higher payment. It is that fact which leads their labor to be competed over. The fact that multiple employers will seek them out is where their salary is determined.

I mean these are so fundamental and your article laughs in the faces of these tenants. I understand how education and gatekeeping are tied into both of these, but I think your article doesn't deal w/ that properly.

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Re: "cherry picking parents" - maybe it explains away the overperformance of some charters, but *is it a bad thing*? Parents in deprived neighborhoods often face schools with significant discipline problems that interfere with learning. Parents who want better for their kids should have the option to get their kids out of these situations.

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Prevalence of bullying is another reason the child prison analogy is apt.


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>DeBoer argued that charter schools succeed through selection effects: they only take the best students. Several commenters pointed out this was illegal.

Is this written with USA in mind? How does it work and why is it illegal? In Russia, many schools for children only take those who perform best on some kind of test.

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I am disappointed with the treatment of lotteries. There are several issues that people are failing to distinguish.

Freddie DeBoer asks why are they cheating "if the charter advantage is as powerful as proponents claim"? Different people make different claims! Some of them are exaggerated and some are probably correct. Yes, barriers to entering the lottery improve the charter's test scores, but they controlled in a randomized controlled trial. It is very important to only consider the results of RCT. In the book he cites the same Reuters article and claims that it undermines RCT. This is confused. Also, he mentions drop outs / backfill as another form of selection. This should be corrected by intention-to-treat analysis. I haven't checked how extensively this is used, but Scott pointed it out in the study he cited.

Maybe the drawing of the lotteries is rigged, and not just entrance to the lotteries. Steve Sailer is the only person I have heard clearly suggest this. Sometimes people imply it, but muddled insinuation does not produce clear thought. In particular, DeBoer said at SSC that the papers take the lotteries "on faith," which sounds like this, but again he cited the Reuters article and is probably just confused. This lead me to actually look at some charter RCTs and they don't take it on faith. They check that the selected and rejected groups were indistinguishable on all the metrics they could measure, in particular prior test scores. I looked at 4 studies, looking at multiple schools each, and only one found a school with rigged lottery, which of course they excluded from their analysis. Maybe lotteries are rigged in the normal case where a school is not subject to a study, but for the factual question of whether charter schools do something, that is irrelevant to RCT. One of the studies noted that the Boston charters have a centralized lottery, which I'd think would be more secure than letting the individual schools draw their own lotteries.

Alexander H suggests that the selective students made his education better. Maybe charters are just streaming, but that doesn't mean they don't work. Is streaming a positive-sum change or a zero-sum change? Do smart students help arbitrary classmates, or do they more help other smart students? Disruptive students are probably a zero-sum game of hot potato, though. But people are already playing this game; are charter schools making it worse?

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"Why would they have felt the need, if the magic charter school dust was all it took?"

This is like expressing incredulity that Lance Armstrong is a fast bicyclist because he cheated. 'If he's so fast, why'd he have to cheat.' Because he wanted to win, and the surest way to win is to both be really good and also cheat.

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"The community centers offer a wide variety of classes aimed at a wide variety of learning styles to make that happen."

I was surprised to see this -- it's not something I'm especially knowledgeable about, but I was under the impression that "learning styles" had been widely discredited -- am I mistaken on that? eg from a 2017 literature review (https://bit.ly/2M6xDSR), "more methodologically sound studies have tended to refute the hypothesis and...a substantial divide continues to exist, with learning styles instruction enjoying broad acceptance in practice, but the majority of research evidence suggesting that it has no benefit to student learning, deepening questions about its validity."

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Does anyone have some pointers to read more about this "Thielian perspective"?

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> There are studies finding extreme negative effects from having disruptive kids in your class; I'm a little skeptical of this kind of research

I went to a "good" school district and was a "good" student, in that I have a nearly eidetic memory and enjoyed learning most things. In eighth or ninth grade, I had a social studies class with a "disruptive" boy who quickly figured out that the teacher was *extremely* timid. He effectively ran the classroom all semester, running around, yelling over the teacher's feeble attempts to teach anything, inciting other kids to join him in bullying the teacher or performatively goofing off. This continued such that I have no memory of doing anything in that class or even what we were supposed to be doing - maybe we were supposed to be getting some geography? I really don't know. But I am pretty sure that one disruptive kid invalidated an entire course.

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Italian universities usually work somewhat similarly to your utopian education system.

For most curricula and courses attendance is not mandatory. Students have multiple opportunities in an year to take a final exam worth the whole grade, they can retake exams if they fail or they are not satisfied with their grade, and delaying exams even by more than an year is not particularly punished or frowned upon. Often there is a syllabus listing multiple adequate sources for individual study and students can look for the one that most suits them.

Single professors can deviate from this model and try to enforce more standardized classwork, for instance by making the final exam significantly harder than whatever other grading option they offer to students attending the lectures and following week by week. Those who do are usually almost universally disliked, and the amount of misery they produce becomes only more jarring by the close comparisons to their more relaxed colleagues

Of course we are talking about institutions that educate adults, albeit usually young and not financially independent, which in many ways makes things simpler.

Also usually the more "professionalizing" a curricula is, the stricter the organization becomes, for instance medical students and engineers often get much less liberties than say students of pure mathematics or literature or philosophy.

In general I think this flexibility is very effective in both making the whole experience less miserable and in retaining students that would otherwise dropout or underperform.

Early in my university degree I had an important loss in my family and I was not able to study effectively for some months, and failded or got bad grades in multiple exams. In the end I graduated with honors in the normal three years, whilst in another system I may have been kicked out.

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I think there are two main reasons people object to meritocracy, which aren't quite the ones mentioned:

1) No-one's bothered about how surgeons are chosen, and only a handful of hand-wringers care about "how we, as a society, decide who we value and who we don't." People care about how the current ruling-class is chosen. Historically, the US was ruled by a lively mix of robber barons, small-town lawyers, charlatans, silver-spoon dynasts, slaveowners, militia generals and religious zealots. Now it's ruled by copy-pasted Princeton grads.

This has massive policy implications, as seen by the fact that it nearly lost the Cold War until a senile B-movie actor surrounded by a clique of blanco refugees, religious zealots, oil barons, a spy with Nazi connections and his wife's favourite astrologer took over. All this was only skin deep, because the broader ruling class weren't replaced, and civil servants, lawyers judges, NGO-ites, journalists, academics and bankers are all varying degrees of the same copy-paste. Even modern Republican politicians are mostly Princeton grads LARPing as cowboys (hence Trump). Surgeons are a terrible example, as they're the least relevant to the direction the US takes. They'd always be chosen on ability in the same way athletes are, it's the ruling/administrative class who wouldn't.

"Picking the best people and putting them in charge" is the point of all political systems, as opposed to the definition of any of them, and it's difficult to see how swapping "credentialism" for [actual ability determination system] would would change the way the US is run.

2) In any meritocracy, there has to be a way to assess merit that is quickly legible to whomever's making hiring/promotion decisions, there will always be tests, and people will try to game them. These could be improved a bit in a way which wouldn't immediately degenerate (e.g. standardised, open-admission tests at the degree level), but the trade-off greater gains for those with test-taking skills (as opposed to actual ability at the occupation) vs. class bias in university selection. Sarcastically straw-manning your position as "Real meritocracy hasn't been tried yet" is rebuttable, but I'm not convinced meritocracy wouldn't degenerate into credentialism fairly quickly.

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Also, Marxists don't like it because anyone who's still a Marxist is presumably angry at the ruling class we have now (most of the old-growth Marxists in Europe/North America made peace with the system and merged into the current ruling class).

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Late to this convo, as always, and also as always I find the conversations irritating but appreciate those who discuss this as policy for all rather than assuming everyone's a bright but anti-social kid who hated school.

I know Michael Pershan posts here and he's very good. His writing focuses more on teaching and research, while I focus on teaching and policy. In any event, if you are interested in reading about policy and teaching in Title I schools with a diverse community, you may want to ignore my politics and try my blog: https://educationrealist.wordpress.com/

Specific topics mentioned here that you might want to read about: disruptive kids, vocational education, the worth of teaching advanced topics to lower IQ kids, the value of education, my experience as a bright kid who was bored, Brian Caplan's book, Robert Pondiscio's book, the history of education reform in Bush/Obama years.

General comments:

1. It is impossible to overstate the damage risked by a disruptive kid in a classroom, even when the teacher can handle it. (as I can)

2. Vocational education is very expensive, and there was never a halcyon period when we did it better than today.

3. Any discussion of education that doesn't discuss the disparate impact of the policy is really not worth discussing. Education policy in the US is *all* about race and disparate impact.

4. Most people are woefully ignorant of how the costs are distributed. For example, Scott starts by proposing that parents be given "the cost" of educating their child, then says as a counter well, give them 75% of "the cost". But "the cost" of educating children includes the cost of educating sped and ELL kids. Little is done on cost of educating the kids who show up at the border and are plopped in a public high school (I taught those classes for three years), but they get twice as many English classes and then electives and also stay in school an extra year.

And "on average", special ed kids cost twice as much as non-sped, but even that masks the tremendous expense of severely handicapped kids. Even severely handicapped kids who can learn. I taught a wonderful, fantastic kid in a wheelchair who had to have a full-time aide to help him go to the bathroom, order food, eat. That aide easily cost at *least* $50k/year. And this was a kid who could be unattended, who could participate in class, and is now in college. Blind kids need full time aides in the classroom (who have to whisper information to their students while the teachers talk, not that this isn't disruptive). Again, these are kids who can benefit.

Now let's try the severely mentally disabled and autistic kids, who are violent and who often need their diapers changed. These classes have one teacher and 5-7 aides for maybe 10-12 kids. These kids on average cost close to $100K/year. (there's a reason why schools aren't totally averse to paying private school tuition for severely disabled kids whose parents argue for it. It's irritating, but often cheaper.)

Then there are all the services that schools have to provide: psychologists. Reading and sight specialists. ELL specialist to test the kids every year.

So if the average cost per child is $16K or $12K, or even $20k, you can dream on if you think a normal kid costs that much, or that you'd get that much. It will depend a great deal on the costs of your particular district, and they will have all sorts of laws on their side justifying all your costs.

Figure an average NYC kid costs a lot, as most of them qualify for special services. Maybe 8K. Average suburban kid? Maybe 4-5K. Teacher salaries are higher in certain states, of course, but as someone observes, teachers don't scale.

So it's more likely that Scott's idea to give parents the cost of educating their child will be negotiated down to maybe 50% or less, and that's of a much, much smaller number.

There's a lot of people commenting here that are just....wow. But I always forget how many are making really good points because, well, they're just so polite. And I know some of you read my blog already.

But education's important, and I really feel the aggravation keenly when I see a bunch of highly educated people be in the aggregate so utterly clueless about the issues in US Ed.

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You mention that the restrictions on bodily freedom got easier to bear as an adult. But isn't it possible that a large point of school is just that? To get you to adjust to letting go of bodily freedoms for a duration of time and become ok with it?

The same about intense boredom. I think the virtues of being able to tolerate boredom are not enough appreciated. The jobs society needs to get done are most often NOT tasks that are enjoyable. But they need to be done and often the wage premium is for learning to do a good job of things that you don't enjoy. Or oftentimes you don't think you enjoy but get past a certain threshold and they don't seem as bad.

In that sense learning to get past the frustrations of boredom seems a good skillset for success.

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In all of this, I did not find a link to studies showing that the average charter school or homeschooled kid is on actually happier than the average student of a regular high-schools. Some of the comments just seemed to me like the situation described could be mostly independent of school, and be caused by e.g. puberty. It may also be interesting to see whether class size affects happiness. As far as I know, it does not affect standard school results, once you control for background variables.

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To respond to deboer’s comment, they would cheat even if their education system worked (1) as a hedge because they didn’t know in advance it would, (2) to make it work even better

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Bathroom passes and defund the police: I was struck that the same utopian argument exists in both places - “if it weren’t for the system we wouldn’t need the enforcement”. And there’s the same Chesterton’s fence trade off: are we sure we really want to dismantle this system and roll the dice that the next thing won’t be way worse, vs if we keep trying to iterate on the current system there’s every incentive for dead Enders to do the bear minimum and keep dead-ending, and the only way to escape the rut is to tear down and rebuild. I was also struck by my instincts that it’s very dangerous to tear down the existing system when it comes to police, but that I’m more open minded when it comes to schools. Then I interrogated that apparent contradiction, looking for a model that would encompass a few axes and tell me whether I’m wrong and both flavors of utopian experiment are bad ideas, or if there’s a solution space that situates “tear down the rebuild school” but not “tear down and rebuild law enforcement.”

If we assume there’s an inflection point where some systems are better torn down and other systems iterated, it’s probably a matter of costs and benefits. How likely is it that the existing system is above the 50% margin of what we’d get if we rolled the dice and started over? How big is the upside if we succeed? How big is the catastrophe if we fail.

On its face it seems like defunding or dismantling the police scores medium on the first axis, high on the second, and high on the third. Which makes me need another axis, or at least a caveat to the first, which is “in the same game theory universe, how likely is it we could make something better even if we were well intentioned?” Call it “the wire principle”.

Given the above, the risks of dismantling the police would seem to exceed the benefits, especially when we can work granularly: dismantling and replacing some of the worst, for instance.

Schooling might score differently. The risks are certainly lower, as long as we allow home schooling and charters. If we eliminated public schools the burden while we were figuring out something better would almost certainly fall on the poor, and I’m not as convinced as Scott that school is not doing anything for them.

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Harrison Bergeron is a much misunderstood story. It's a parody/satire of anti-egalitarian writers like Ayn Rand, making fun of the "if not for the oppressive System that we think wants this ridiculous caricature of equality, we'd be godlke supermen" attitude. The point is not "strawman equality is bad", it's "they really think they're superheroes trying to stop us from implementing this strawman version of equality they've created in their heads."

(And remember the ending: after bounding through the air like a superhero and declaring himself king, Harrison Bergeron gets literally brought down to earth in the most extreme way possible: being killed by a shotgun, a weapon that almost anyone can use.)

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> We act as if there is some other sense of "deserve" beyond these three, where everyone in the First World "deserves" a middle-class lifestyle, and maybe a few very likeable hard-working people like surgeons and inventors "deserve" just a little extra. I share this intuition. But I don't have a good sense for what kind of definition of the word "deserve" lands us there

What about circles of concern? We start from the computer point of view: Assume that you are an incredibly strong transistor with lots of money, but your significant other isn't. Do they deserve an equal share of your money? No, according to the model, but it would make them (and thus you) unhappy if they got just the standard rate for childcare and housework and so they get the money. Same thing with children, parents, friends, employees etc. The people that you want to do well are in your circle of concern and you will spend money to make them happy. In the context of a whole society this becomes trickle-down economics which due to the limited number of people any person cares about works badly if only few people are rich but pretty decently if a fair share of the population has money to spare.

(Also, everyone cares a little bit about the people they meet in the streets (altruistically or you wish them economic success so you might benefit), so social security makes sense. You could maybe shoehorn this into utilitarianism by arguing that people always view themselves as part of a group and so would be happier in a disease-ridden African village than on the disease-ridden streets of San Francisco.)

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"This is also the kind of thing I hear from people in psychiatric institutions. Some people say it saved their life and helped them begin the work of self-transformation, other people say it was abusive and traumatizing. People will have both sets of comments about the same institutions, same doctors, same nurses."

Or the same people can say both that it was terrible and useful. Being locked in a box with a bunch of scary conspecifics and scared for your life isn't fun, but it's also closer than most of modern life to the sort of problem for which evolution baked our brains. That can be pretty helpful for some sorts of people - in particular, those clever enough to actually solve the problem and get all the happy juices associated with that.

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As a parent, the idea of enshrining in law the same freedoms for kids than adult have is... pure insanity.

The point of parenting children is they do not have the experience to make good choices. They avoid pain (like we all do) but cannot appreciate that pain avoided now is more pain in the future, or that things that hurt can turn out to be great things.

It is the job of a successful parent to balance freedom and joy and exploration of the world as the child wants it with discipline, effort, discomfort, and tolerating negative in exchange for positive. There is no easy answer, and attempting to parent has failure modes on both sides - too little push to do the hard, and too much regimentation and force. It still needs to be done.

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Responding to the section: "If a child wants to stay at home, they can stay at home. If they want to wander the streets, they can wander the streets..." Hahahahaha! Oh wait, you're serious, let me laugh even harder! *humor intended.*

It is a common failure of extremely gifted people to imagine that other people are just like them, i.e., possessing the curiosity, drive, independence, and personal discipline to maximize their potential from a young age. Most people are not like that, and most children are *especially* not like that. I think that Scott would learn something from being a parent. I have two very bright, very capable daughters, and we encourage them to pursue their own interests, but giving them total freedom would be an unmitigated disaster.

The vast majority of children, given total freedom to do whatever they wanted to with their time, would choose to stay home and watch TV or play video games all day. Given a choice of food, they would choose pizza and mac & cheese. I remember a news story a while back about a girl whose parents did let her do whatever she wanted, so she stayed home in front of the TV, and was morbidly obese at the age of 14. The parents were charged with criminal negligence and child abuse. This is basic biology: the portions of the brain that govern self-discipline and long-term planning are among the last to mature, and do not function properly until adulthood. Expecting 8-year olds to make decisions based on their future job prospects is laughable; many of my classmates in *college* couldn't do that effectively.

I share many of Scott's frustrations with "school as an institution", and elementary school in particular seemed like an enormous waste of time. The problem is that if you have a class of 30 kids, all of whom must learn the same lesson, then the teacher must teach to the lowest common denominator. The solution, however, is not to give kids total freedom, but to use a customized curriculum based on interests and ability. When I got to middle school, life for me improved enormously, because I was able to take a number of gifted classes. The rule in the gifted math class was that I could choose a textbook, and work through it at my own rate. However, the book had to be math, and I had to turn in a certain amount of work each week, and take occasional tests on whatever subject I had chosen to learn.

My daughters go to a public school where each class is divided by ability into small groups of 4-5 students, which learn different things at different rates. IMHO, it works reasonably well, but it is enormously labor intensive. The small groups are led by parent volunteers, so you so need 1 teacher and 5 parents for a class of 24 kids. Needless to say, the district is in Silicon Valley, where you have a surplus of highly-educated, high-paid, single-earner families, so that there are enough parent volunteers. (Charter-school-like selection-bias-for-parents applies here, too.) It would not work in a poor inner-city district.

The sad truth of the matter is that we are expecting public schools to take over much of the responsibility of child-rearing, because both parents are off working, sometimes multiple jobs, for low pay. The schools behave as institutions because they do not have the manpower (womanpower? personpower?) to do that properly.

Unfortunately, parenting is hard. You can't outsource it to the schools, nor can you outsource it (as Scott suggests) to the kids themselves.

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> The utilitarian's definition [...] even a burger flipper making $15,000 a year doesn't “deserve” it

> the utilitarian perspective, which is [...] "from each according to their ability, to each according to their need"

What the hell, Scott? As author of the Consequentialism FAQ, you should know better than to confuse utilitarianism with communism.

My opinion as a negative utilitarian is that everybody by default "deserves" $15,000 a year or so. Because why not? It doesn't hurt to say so. If you don't "deserve" something then you might feel guilty for having it (a feeling with negative utility), but not guilty enough to give it all away, and as you've discussed yourself, extreme generosity doesn't scale as well as, say, the Giving What We Can Pledge does, so we both favor the latter, do we not? Aside from which, incentive structures yada yada.

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Harry Nyquist is often credited with the sampling theorem (independently explored by Kotel'nikov in 1933 and Shannon in 1948 and perhaps some other people, Wikipedia story on it is instructive; Nyquist had proven a specific subcase). But yes, generally having a place to bounce ideas off each other is good. And I'd argue that elite schools are essentially that, that they are providing non-trivial benefits because they get both best students and best teachers in ("peer effects", superadditivity, whatever you want to call that).

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