Please Stop Saying That

February 22, 2011

            The general theme of this article is "Stupid S*** That I Wish People Would Stop Saying", or at least stop and explain what it is that they really mean.   Let us start with college basketball.


Stupid S*** One

             No college basketball broadcast is complete these days without the statement that there really isn’t a great team in college basketball this year.   No college basketball broadcast was complete without this statement last year, either, or the year before or the year before; it is simply something that college basketball analysts have to say.    There is no great team, they will add, because there is so much parity in college basketball now, and there is so much parity because the great players only stay in college for one or two years, and then they go on to the NBA.

            This bothers me more than usual this year because

            1)  I kind of think that my team, the Kansas Jayhawks, might be a great team, that they might actually be the best college basketball team in ten years or more—or not—and

            2)  It seems pretty obvious to me that opposite is true, that there is actually less parity in college basketball this year than there has been in years.

            The way the experts know that there is no great team this year is that everybody loses once in a while; Kansas, Duke and Ohio State all have two losses apiece; also Brigham Young has two, and San Diego State has only one, but San Diego State hasn’t played anybody currently ranked in the Northern Hemisphere.

            Two losses—but the NCAA basketball champion normally loses about five games a year.   In the last eleven years the NCAA division one champions have lost a total of 53 games—4.8 per season.   Every championship team lost at least four games except the 2008 Kansas Jayhawks, who went 37-3.

            We’re getting late in the season here, and we still have five teams with only one or two losses.   There is a very good chance that, at the end of the season, we will have our first 2-loss national champion in 12 years—and that there will be one or two other teams with only three losses.  The norm for an NCAA championship team is five.   How does that constitute "more parity than ever?"

            It doesn’t, frankly, and this raises another question:   How, exactly, does ten or fifteen players a year leaving early for the NBA create "parity?"

            Players leaving early from Kentucky and Kansas would have some very, very weak parity-inducing effects, IF the next crop of outstanding young players didn’t also go to Kentucky and Kansas.   In the real world, the NBA-type players—of which there are only a handful each year—tend to go to a very few schools.   John Wall leaving Kentucky after one year creates "parity" in contrast only with an imaginary world in which John Wall stays at Kentucky for four years, becoming a fantastically dominant college player, and is joined by yet more Kentucky-type recruits.

            First of all, that was never going to happen, and second, players like John Wall have been going to the NBA after one year of college (or less) for a very long time now, and a great many other things have changed over that time period.   When was it, exactly, that Moses Malone skipped college and went right to the NBA?   1975?  1977?  It’s been a while, I think.   Envisioning all of the good talent staying in college for four years—in the modern world, where there are so many superbly talented players—is envisioning a world that has never existed.    The reality is that there is more talent in college now than there has ever been. 

            The obvious question that occurs when you say that there is no great team in college basketball this year is "What is a great team?"  What do you mean by that phrase?

            I would assume that the first test of a great team is that they win the championship.   Probably the best team Kansas has ever had was the 1996-1997 team, which had four players who had NBA careers of more than ten years (Raef LaFrentz, Scott Pollard, Jacques Vaughn and Paul Pierce).   I don’t know that there has ever been a college basketball team with more talent than that team; still, if I were to tell you that that was a great college basketball team, someone would point out very quickly that they failed to win the NCAA championship.   You can’t be a great college basketball team, they would argue, unless you win the championship.

            Which actually, I would agree with; it seems to me an entirely reasonable expectation of a "great" team that they should win the championship.    But if we assume that that’s true—if we assume that you can’t be considered a great team unless you win the national title—then what is the point of saying that there is no great team in this year’s field?    In saying that, aren’t you necessarily doing one of two things:

            (1)  Saying that which is axiomatic and obvious—that none of these teams can be considered great yet, since obviously none of them has yet won this season’s championship, or

            (2)  Pre-judging the caliber of this season’s NCAA champion, and saying that, whoever they are, they won’t stand up by comparison to the great teams.

            Suppose that you’re a school teacher, or a college professor.   Would you walk in front of your classroom the third week of class and say, "There are really no "A" students in this class this year.  I’ve had some great students in the past, but there are no great students in this school anymore.   You’re all kind of mediocre."  You probably wouldn’t do that, would you?

            Here’s my real point about this:  (1) It is disrespectful to the game to keep saying that, because it is putting down this year’s players down by contrasting them with some mystical past that never existed, and (2) it is stupid to keep saying that because you don’t know whether it’s true or not.

            There’s a second issue here, which is "What, exactly, is a great college basketball team?"  What are the characteristics of such a team?   What are the greatest college teams ever?

            I have a set of ideas about that, too, but I’m going in a different direction today, so I’ll go on down that other path.


Stupid S*** Two

             Then there is the education debate; this has to do with K through 12.   American kids, we are told by the same savant who seven years ago was telling us that Florida was about to be buried under the Atlantic ocean, are now 21st in the world in math skills, and 25th in science, whereas a generation ago we were #1 in both areas.

            I am not saying that this is untrue, but. . .I am skeptical about it on a great many different levels.    First of all, I’m an old person, and I actually remember what people were saying about the American education system way back when, which actually was pretty much the same thing they are saying now.   Remember "Why Johnny Can’t Read?" . . . .anybody remember that?   Why Johnny Can’t Add, Why Johnny Doesn’t Know History.

            Oh yes, our schools from the 1950s and 1960s were terrible; the Russians were far better than we were, the Germans were better, the Japanese were better.   The current generation of Why-Johnny-Can’t-Read alarmists sound, to me, a great deal like the last generation.   I’ve been hearing this for a long time; I always wonder what the specifics are.   What exactly is being tested here?

            This is not to say that it’s not true; if you run around saying every day that Grandma is going to die tomorrow, the fact that you were wrong yesterday doesn’t mean that you are wrong today or that you will be wrong tomorrow.   But if you were told that American kids a generation ago were 1st in the world in math skills, but now they are 21st among 30 developed nations, what would be the first question you would ask?

            Is this because American kids are doing worse, or is it because kids from other countries are doing better?

            Of course it makes a difference.    All of life is not a mindless competition.    If our kids have improved by 10% but those from other nations have improved by 30%, that’s one problem.   If our kids have actually gone backward, that’s a different problem.

            If other countries’ educational systems have improved dramatically then we should begin, I think, by celebrating the fact that other countries are doing better than they were.   That’s a good thing.   We will all benefit from that.

            Maybe it’s just me, but. . .my kids

            a)  have worked far, far harder in school than I ever did, and

            b)  are far better educated than I was at the same age.

            I don’t think it’s just me.   I know that when I have written things like this in the past, I always hear from teachers who say "That’s right; the kids do work much harder now than they did a generation ago.   The standards are much higher."

            Look, here is what I think is happening; maybe I’m wrong, I’m not an expert.   What I think is happening is not that we’re doing a poor job of educating our kids, but that we’re doing a very poor job of selling our kids on the value of education.   Many, many more young people go to college now than did when I graduated from high school, but there is this difference.   When I got out of high school, the smart kids wanted to go to college because we wanted to get ahead in life.    Now, the kids from good families are all going to go to college because it’s expected of them.

            What I am concerned about is that there is too much "push" in our educational system, and not enough "pull".    It’s not that we’re not pushing the kids hard enough; rather, we are beginning to push them too hard, and it is time to BACK OFF.   High school kids now work really hard, and a good bit of it is just busy work.   They are better educated, as a group, than we were, but they are also doing a lot of work-for-the-purpose-of work.   In fact, in a lot of families, the kids are now working harder than the parents are.

            Well, what do you think is going to happen if the kids decide that they’re working harder than their parents are?    I can tell you what’s going to happen, if it’s not obvious to you.   They’re going to rebel.    They’re going to start refusing to do it.   Maybe they’ve already started refusing to do it, I don’t know.

            There’s a different problem that is related.   We have pockets in our society, pockets of poverty, which are perpetuated by the fact that people don’t believe that they can get out of poverty by working hard and getting an education.   I was raised in poverty, and I mean true poverty; as I’m sure I’ve mentioned, my father was a small-town school janitor, and we didn’t have plumbing or television or heated bedrooms.  But I always expected to do better, and I always saw education as the way to do better.  There are pockets of poverty now—black and white—where people don’t get that anymore.

            But we are also reaching a point, I think, of mindless education; it’s an oxymoron, but I kind of think it’s where we are.   We’re pushing our kids to get more education and more education and more education, but we’re not really explaining to them why, and we’re not explaining to them why because we can’t explain to them why, and we can’t explain to them why because there isn’t any why there; it’s just education for the purpose of education.   We’re pushing kids to get Master’s Degrees because the Bachelor’s doesn’t do it anymore; you have to have an advanced degree now, and you have to do better in school because the Chinese are doing better in school, and there’s some sort of obscure competition between us, and they’re going to win.

            Pardon me for being dense, but I don’t see what difference it makes how the Chinese kids are doing on their math tests.    So what?   Do you really think that we’re going to become a third-world nation because the Chinese kids are doing better on their math tests?   Why?   Explain it to me, as if I was an idiot.   I don’t get the connection.   I don’t see what difference it makes.   Cutting-edge scientists, yes, but that’s a different problem.   Owing trillions of dollars to the Chinese because we’re spending money we don’t need to spend is a serious problem that will impact the lives of Americans if we don’t stop it.   Education is not an Olympic competition; in fact, it’s not a competition at all.   Falling behind in some imaginary competition is not a serious problem, and please stop assuming that it is.

            And stop telling the kids to work harder; it’s backfiring on us, and it’s making the problem worse.   If Japanese kids go to school 244 days a year or whatever it is supposed to be, then frankly the Japanese should be ashamed of themselves.  You remember what Bill Russell said when the East German women were winning all of the swimming medals because they took male hormones and ate steroids like candy?   Let them.    At that point, you let them have it; it’s just a medal.   If the Japanese want to go to school year around, let them.   All they’re gaining is a medal.   What they’re losing is their childhood.


Stupid S*** Three 

            In the summer of 1848 a revolution broke out in the streets of Paris.   This was followed, within weeks, by revolutionary pushes in Italy, several German states, Denmark, Rumania and in other places around Europe.

            Most of these revolutions failed.    Most of Europe at that time was governed by old dynastic families which had been in charge, in some cases, for hundreds of years, and in other cases by tyrants who had seized power at some point and "legitimized" their authority by claiming to represent old dynastic families.    After a large number of extremely bloody street riots, in most of these states and provinces the old-line rulers were able to re-establish control—temporarily.

            Everything in history is temporary, of course; the only thing permanent is change.   The old regimes re-established themselves, but in 1871 the same thing happened again;  street riots broke out in Paris, leading ultimately to a series of revolutions all around Europe.  When France sneezes, they used to say, Europe catches a cold.

            Pardon me for saying this, but what is happening now in the Arab world doesn’t have a goddamned thing to do with twitter, Facebook, Mah-jong, or any other social media.    What is happening in the streets of the Middle East is the same thing that happened in Europe in 1848 and 1871 and on several other occasions.   People are demanding better government.    The struggle for just and enlightened government is a long one, stretching across centuries. The Arab world is, for the most part, governed by repressive regimes more focused on their own wealth and power than on the welfare of the people.   At some point, people get tired of it, and start to demand better government.

            When people start to demand better government, that spreads from one person to another, from one region to another, very rapidly.   It always has.    The fact that it now spreads by twitter and social media really doesn’t have anything to do with anything; that’s just stupid political commentators who are focused on the shiny objects.   If the last thing that had been invented was the telephone, the repressive governments would be shutting down telephone service, and these people would be telling you sagely that the thing that’s driving this is the telephone.


COMMENTS (41 Comments, most recent shown first)

I'm also new to the site, and am catching up on the wealth of older article that Bill has to offer. It's a gold mine.

The education rant connected with me deeply, perhaps because I currently have twins in high school. The happen to be fraternal twins, and as opposite in personality as two people who've shared a womb could possibly be.

Their experiences in HS have me searching for answers; one is an academic type who salivates for new challenges, and has become bored because her school can't provide them. The other is very different; she tests quite highly, but is getting poor grades because she detests the avalanche of "busy work" that her teachers keep burdening her with, and just as Bill suggested might happen, has simply rebelled, and refuses to let the busywork ruin her social life.

I come from a family of teachers, so I'm cognizant of the unique challenges that educators face, but I'm at a loss as to how to deal with my two situations. Bill's article gave me a fresh perspective. Thanks for that.

6:54 PM Nov 17th
I know this is not a new article at this point (August 2012) but as a new reader on this site I am just catching up on reading what's been posted earlier.

Three wonderful arguments here. I am especially grateful for number 3 as it makes a point I have tried to make elsewhere. 1848 was a fine example to use.

As to education, I have the impression that you right about the US. I don't live there these days, but there is no question that children in Italy do enormous amounts of homework and are better educated than their parents. I would be surprised if this were not true in the US as well.

But I know enough about the US educational system, since I teach for an American university, to agree with contrarian, way too much testing and it is becoming the sign of the phenomenon you note Bill, counter-productive education.
6:28 PM Aug 3rd
Re Stupid S*** Two: Amen. As a parent of a third-grader, i'm a lot less concerned about math test scores slipping than i am about kids not being taught social studies, arts, music, computer skills and, most of all, life skills because of our stupid obsession with test scores.
7:30 PM Mar 16th
I agree with your observations on education. Students work a lot harder today than they did back then, but I'm not sure this is a good thing. A lot of the added workload is due to pressure from parents. The public system was so badly trashed in the media during the last 20 years that, in order to keep "pace" with the mostly-mythical higher standards in private schools, more pressure was put on students. Are students better now? In some ways, they are far ahead. But this added workload has been accompanied by a drop in reading ability. It used to seem like this to me, when I was a teacher, but I wondered if nostalgia was clouding my vision. Then one day, when I was teaching at an old school, the English department teachers went into the old book storage room ... to discover classroom sets of Crime and Punishment, Jane Eyre, Anna Kerenina, David Copperfield... novels very few students could read today. I think we have gained in some areas, and lost in others. I wonder if those students in Denmark (they're number one!) could get through Crime and Punishment...
3:31 PM Mar 10th
Great read, and in particular, I loved #2. I operate an educational website - - and have been in education for years and don't know that I've read a better statement on the insanity around test scores. Wish I could link to this! Thanks much for this.

Eric Cohen
4:57 PM Mar 2nd
As an aside, I'm not entirely sure that Kansas' 96-97 team was even the most talented cbb team to NOT win the title that year. The Kentucky teams from 96-98 are pretty unreal, and while their stars didn't have as much success in the league as Pierce, their depth was unmatched. The 95-96 team that won the tourney had nine guys who later played in the NBA, and were coached by Pitino. The 96-97 team lost 4 of those guys (walker, delk, mccarty and Pope) but added Jamaal Magloire and saw Anderson and Mercer rise to lottery picks in the place of the lost four. Kansas was probably better THAT year, but the Kentucky teams on either side probably had more raw talent. UNLV 90 is still a freakshow...and UNLV 91 was probably better and also failed to win the tournament. Just musing...
9:40 AM Mar 2nd
I'm sure the rebellers regularly get squashed immediately. Only in those few instances where they do jump out to a lead does anybody notice them.

Tho' I'll certainly concur with their difficulty in holding leads even when they do get them.
8:22 PM Feb 25th
The rebellers always jump out to a quick lead....holding on for the win is the difficult thing to do.
5:07 PM Feb 25th
And of course the tools matter, some. Perhaps there's a newness effect here. Till 'The MAN!' figures out how to coopt the new media, it provides an opening for organizing rebels. Say, like Luther and the printing press.
12:00 AM Feb 25th
Personally, I think you 1848ers are being a little too clever. I mean, the current rebellers are winning rather than losing, which strikes me as the most important basis on which to fashion a Similarity Score. I'd posit that recency should matter, too. Ergo 22 years ago possesses more germanity than 163 years ago.
11:56 PM Feb 24th
Slate put an article about a week ago now stating that 1848 (rather than 1989) was the better comparison for what's going on in the Arab world right now.
11:50 PM Feb 24th
Bravo, Bill. Leave it to the legendary baseball analyst to be the only one in the media to figure out the parallel between the revolutions in the Middle East and what happened in 1848. As soon as this started spreading beyond Tunisia, where it started, the first thing I thought was that 2011 is going to be the Arab world's 1848. The only question I have is who's turn it will be next. Gadhafi's having his turn, will Assad be next, or the mullahs in Iran, or maybe even Arabia loses the "Saudi" part of its name?
12:00 PM Feb 24th
Steve--it's appears you teach at the college level and I'm guessing you are a very good teacher of young minds. Your repsonses on this sight are always well thought out.

What bothers me is your the last part of your paragraph. I think a person could understand curriculum without being trained. They may not have the know the details and specifics...your statement is part of the issue. There's an intellectual elitism that within that last paragraph. Only those trained can understand the finer details of curriculum? What? Parents want to dumb down their child's learning?

Your response is part of the issue. Parents can understand issues (maybe not in detail), but your approach doesn't allow for a conversation to take place -it appears you already assume they don't get it.

We both follow the works of Bill James and for years people told him he couldn't understand things because he didn't have the proper background- he didn't play the game. Baseball's response to James was sickening. They did not allow for new energy to come into the system. New energy that could have made the whole of baseball healthier and more engaging.

11:35 AM Feb 24th
Steven Goldleaf
Cooper—I think you’re downplaying the importance of solo work, and the prevalence of doing exactly what you’re saying in the early grades. AFTER grades 1-8, when basic skills have been taught, there’s no real point to practicing them (other than in remediation) during class time, unless avoiding plagiarism is your prime goal. There are better ways to discourage plagiarism, though. I design “homework” for college students that just can’t be plagiarized: I ask very specific questions that I design myself, often involving comparing two works that aren’t typically compared, and I want a quick turnaround. (I also keep copies of all past assignments handed in on the same question in previous semesters, as well as using Turn-It-In, a national data base of essays for sale.) I stress how severely plagiarism, even “accidental” plagiarism, will be dealt with, and why Draconian measures are useful in dealing with plagiarists, and I try to follow up on that severity as best as I can. The thing I think you’re failing to take in account is that students justify plagiarism, not in terms of how poorly the subjects are taught, or how little time they’re given to practice a skill before performing graded work, but in terms of their own levels of interest, and parents tend to sympathize with their kids, who aren’t trying to be Shakespeare scholars or medieval historians so “Why should Johnny be forced to write some stupid so-called original essay on Bavarian city-states during the Reformation? He has soccer practice, and the lawn to mow, besides. Give him a freakin’ break.” The place to argue curriculum is obviously not with each individual student and with each assignment on a case by case basis, but that takes work (and training) that the parents aren’t prepared to invest. There's a very low limit to the academic standards most students and their parents support, and you can't keep teaching down to that limit because it gets lower the further you keep reaching down.
6:42 AM Feb 24th
We're doing slightly better in science & math than we were 50 years ago:

"The U.S. performance on PISA has been flat to slightly up since the test's inception, and it has improved on TIMSS [the Third International Mathematics and Science Study, another major series of tests] since 1995."
11:43 PM Feb 23rd
Steve - there are many teachers that do not practice what they are teaching IN class. When you are learning a new skill, i think it would be important to have time to practice the new skill with the teacher (the one is teaching the skill). What occurs more often is the teacher teaches a new skill without giving the student enough time to learn the skill in class, to ask questions about the skill being aquired. I'm speaking to something close to the socratic method. As it stands now, the learning is so disjointed and broken up that the student begins to think results are all that matter. They do not interact and and enjoy the process because

1. teachers don't engage 2. and the teachers claim there's no time for it.

This is especially silly in grades 1-8 when there are more skill building issues.

As for reading in the class, yes...i think i would allow that. I think I would allow for each kid to read and discuss what he/she read in class. If you want to put an end to cheating make the process worthwhile and engaging.
7:34 PM Feb 23rd
Steven Goldleaf
Cooper--Could you specify, please, what you mean by "process"? What exactly would you have instructors doing much more of in the classroom? I hope you don't mean that you feel the students should be writing their papers during classtime, when they could be discussing the assigned readings with each other and with the instructor. That's mostly what classtime consists of, and what the assigned at-home essays grow out from-- I would ask if that discussion is what you're so critical of. If not, what? Writing a paper is the only equivalent I can imagine to basketball players playing a practice game as opposed to diagraming plays on a blackboard and verbally analyzing various strategies.
5:55 PM Feb 23rd
Instead of the 19th century I think what is happening in Africa and the Middle East is what happened to the USSR 20 plus years ago. America's Empire is imploding. How it will end up I don't know. It could be the case of, "here's the new boss, same as the old boss," or something new, but the Empire is not sustainable.
What's scary about the kids is that their going to college and working hard and they'll be no jobs for them to get, plus they'll be saddled with 20, 30, 40 thousand dollar loans to re pay. Student loans are over 890 billion, more than credit card debt. Imagine, you work hard, do what your told, graduate, and end up living with your parents making $10.00 and hour being a waitress, plus you're are in debt. We live in interesting times. For those of us who are around 60, we had a nice 40 year run. I don't know about the next 4 much less 40.
5:30 PM Feb 23rd
1. Re: cheating. These kids are brillant. I wouldn't have thought of half that stuff. Amazing and pure technological brillance. I celebrate these skills.

2. There is moral ambiguaity occurs when results and process (how to get there) are not connected. There is a ton of "make work" that occurs in education. It's a lot like it was when the substitute came in for a day to fill in for the teacher. The teacher knew the sub couldn't handle "teaching" so they thru out a couple of assignments for the class to do to keep them busy. It's patronizing and I think it happens a lot more often with full time teachers than it used to.

Teachers love to hear themselves teach- they love the sound of their own voice (and that's ok -we all love hearing ourselves i am right now). The downside to this is that there is no actual practice time in the classroom. They lecture the whole time and then the kid takes the work home. This is akin to a basketball coach teaching plays on a board and then the team having to go home and work on them with a player (mom/dad) that played 20 years ago. This is silly- practice the problems in class, thus you can help the student while they are working on process. The student does not see you valuing process --why should they? Mom and dad don't fully understand the process cause they weren't in class. What gets valued? The result.

If you want your kids to value process and to decrease the cheating then shut up and start teaching it (practice) in the classroom. Stop sending it home to be taught by people who haven't dealt with it in 20 years.
4:36 PM Feb 23rd
didnt ucla have wicks walton and rowe as thir frontcourt at least one year? pretty tough to match.
i agree about todays high schoolers; i mean my daughter in 9th grade is given more to do and harder material than i ever was.
4:26 PM Feb 23rd

Every school and every school system have their own idiosyncrasies but I would say most of those things listed are fairly typical to schools in New York Metropolitan area. Parents have more power & influence in wealthier districts than in working class or poorer districts. But I think Parents in general have far more power & influence than they did in the 1970's. There seems to be a much more combative dynamic between the parent and the teacher then their was in the 70's. From what I've heard from older teachers, 1970's parents were much more supportive towards the teachers. Now it seems like the parents side exclusively with their children whether they are right or wrong. I can't remember any student bringing up the word "Lawsuit" in the 1970's.

I think modern parents feel guilty because they are forced to work so many hours that they don't want to be harsh or discipline their children with the few hours they spend together.

I don't know the exact number but cheating is rampant throughout all school systems poor/rich and all types of students as well. I was really kind of shocked at how indifferent kids are towards cheating, they're really nonchalant about it. A big Part of it was the boom in technology during the late 90's-00's which made cheating so easy. Kids will store answers in their modern calculators. Kids will text message each other with the answers to tests. Kids will copy and paste whole Wikipedia articles and pass them off as their own work. Kids will keep all of their papers on their hard drive and re-print them for students in the following term. Kids will take photos of tests with their cell phones/digital cameras to have a permanent database.

Say you have a 3 sections of the same class. One student who has the class during period 1 will take a photo of the test with his smart phone and send it to a friend who has the same class during period 5 or period 7. About 1/2 of the kids in period 7 already have seen the entire test.

Say you give a class a take-home assignment of 20 difficult and time consuming problems/questions and the kids are given 1 week to complete the assignment. 5 kids will agree to each answer 4 of the questions. Say Kid One answers questions 1-4, Kid Two answers questions 5-9, etc. Then when they are home they e-mail each other the answers to the questions and then they copy & paste the results and print out 5 separate copies.

Because of programs like "Word, Pages" kids can write out a whole full paper crib sheet of answers and then shrink it down to a piece of paper the size of a matchbook. Some kids take that piece of paper and then tape it to their leg and then wear shorts so it's easily attainable. Some kids hide the miniature crib sheet in a tissue so it looks inconspicuous. If a teacher is curious the student will simply blow his nose into the crib sheet/tissue.

There seems to be a moral ambiguity to cheating among this generation of kids. Maybe it's the technology, Maybe it's the acceptability of illegally downloaded material, maybe it's the use of Steroids/PED, maybe it's watching Wall Street types not being held accountable.

Essentially all kids are on the "college" track in today's schools. When I was a kid there were basically 4 tracks for high school students: Honors college prep, college prep, general studies & vocational studies. Today the general studies track has been substituted by level "3" college prep courses. Essentially they take Biology, Algebra, Chemistry but it's a such a low level that they really exists in name only.

Parents are essentially clueless to a majority of things their kids do.
2:51 PM Feb 23rd
How much of that stuff was due to your "fairly wealthy suburb" school district, JohnQ? Not contesting it, just wondering how environment-specific it might be. Any other school teachers on this site?
1:06 PM Feb 23rd
Thank you for another excellent article, Bill!

On your third point, a problem which stands in the way of people demanding better government is the bullets. In Libya, the government is firing on the protesters.
9:25 AM Feb 23rd
I'll preface these comments by saying I was a substitute teacher in a fairly wealthy suburb in New Jersey for 6 years. I taught in all three middle schools & both high schools and I was able to see how a school system runs almost like an undercover reporter.

I've always felt that test scores are essentially tools politicians use to promote their cause or detract against their opponents cause. Politicians want simple black & white data that hey can put in advertisements. If they are the incumbent then they will use those numbers in such a way as to show success. If they are the challenger they will use those same numbers to discredit their opponent.

Test Scores are sometimes rigged to fulfill the needs of certain districts. There's an interesting case study in the book, "Freakonomics."

The U.S. is odd as far as I know among industrialized countries in that our school systems don't operate with the same curriculum and school funding is mostly handled at the Municipal level. In New Jersey we had 566 municipalities I think there were roughly 500 Boards of Education with roughly 500 Superintendents and roughly 500 unique curriculums. There are State standards each municipality must reach to fulfill the "No Child Left Behind Act" but how you get there is reliant upon each municipality's discretion.

K-12 schools are mainly a jurisdiction of Municipal & State Government so I always find it odd when politicians at the Federal level spend so much time with speeches and political advertisements on the issue of public education. I think the contribution of funds by the federal government towards k-12 is roughly only 10% yet you would think by their rhetoric the Federal government subsidizes 75% of public k-12 education.

Teaching is an extremely hard and demanding job yet it's depicted as a fairly easy & fun job. I think the US is unique in this perception of the teaching profession. The US is also unique in the low esteem it has for teachers.

Most people would be shocked to know what goes unreported in a school during a typical school year.

Most parents would be completely shocked to know what their children are really doing most of the day.

One of the biggest differences I saw from when I was in school during the 70's-early 80's is the amount of influence and control parents have on a school district. Schools are terrified of parents and will acquiesce to most of their demands for fear of conflict or possibly a lawsuit. Never be alone with a child in a classroom without a witness! Seriously, this is the first thing they tell you for fear of lawsuits.

Everybody cheats now. I would say at least 90% of students cheat on a regular basis, even the smart kids. They don't even think of it as cheating because they view it with such moral ambiguity. It's simply amazing how they've incorporated technology into cheating. The best one I saw was a kid who typed out all the answers to a test and then shrunk it down to the smallest font possible and then glued the paper to the inside of his water bottle label.

All kids go to college now, that was the only acceptable coarse of action for 90% of the students. Basically if you didn't go to college in the district I worked at you life was doomed.

There's enormous pressure on these kids to succeed and make high grades. The only important thing is making high marks what you learn or didn't learn is irrelevant. With this enormous pressure kids start to feel there's nothing wrong with cheating because essentially the grade is the most important thing, not what you learned or how you got the grade.

Teachers cheat as well. You want to get rid of all those complaining parents? Give everybody at least a "B" or a "C" and then give out a few "A"'s. I knew a woman that would essentially give out the answers to a test 5 minutes BEFORE she handed out the test.

Districts cheat as well. Algebra 1 is too hard and the parents keep complaining? Make a level "3" version of Algebra that's easy that anyone can pass. Same thing with Chemistry, make a level "3" version that anyone can pass and have them boil water with sodium and have them spend the whole year learning the symbols of the periodic table.
3:31 AM Feb 23rd
Stupid S*** #2 reminds me of a quote from the biologist E.O. Wilson: "Soccer moms are the enemy of natural history and the full development of a child." By that he meant that the mania for over-programming kids, for loading up their schedule with "activities" and pushing them in a certain direction, was smothering their ability to explore and learn for themselves. I suspect, Bill, that your childhood was closer to E.O. Wilson's -- where you were given freedom to explore the things that interested you -- than it was to most kids today. And all the better for it.
9:06 PM Feb 22nd
The stuff about parity and no great teams is, of course, all too common in just about every team sport.

As for the Japanese, the hallmark of Japan is its childlessness and the unwillingness of people in their 20s and 30s to get married and have families. Maybe that's partly the effect of having delayed gratification from their childhoods, and partly not seeing the having of children as something that brings joy into your life. Japan has long since proven to be an unsustainable model in a lot of ways.
7:50 PM Feb 22nd
The 1988 Mets were the deepest team I ever saw that got that way through management, rather than outspending their financial lessers. Then it all went bad. All of it.

Would make for an interesting case study. That, and the Royals Baseball academy. (teehee; teehee)
6:42 PM Feb 22nd
In the last couple years I've resumed playing (co-ed) softball, for my (Ivy League) college alumni team in Boston. I graduated in 1980; most of my teammates graduated in the last ten to 15 years. No question in my mind that they're much sharper than I and most of my classmates. I seriously doubt I could gain admittance to the school today.
5:41 PM Feb 22nd
The "great college basketball team" question is an interesting one. Definitions make it tough.

I've followed the Duke program for a quarter century (since their first run to the Final Four under Coach K), and UCLA going back to the Walton Gang. The "best" Duke team that I've seen was the 1999 that lost to UConn in the final. I've seen four other Duke teams win the National Title, two of which weren't great and pretty flukey in the big picture of Duke: the 1991 & 2010 teams. If you put those teams on the court with the 1999 team, they'd get beat 80% of the time. The 1999 team simply lost to another team that was arguably great. In turn, the 1992 and 2001 teams were truly great teams, in a college basketball context.

Talent is a tough issue. You mentioned four players who went on to half 10 year careers in the pros. Vaughn, LaFrentz and Pollard were all marginal pros. Collectively in 33 seasons of play, they started less games than Christian Laettner, who was a marginal pro. Shane Battier is about to pass them in starts, and Shane is a valuable role player.

In turn, were those three as good of college players as Jay Williams or Bobby Hurley? Do we judge talent based on future NBA talent/value, or how great they were in college? The 1976 Hoosiers were a flat out great team, but lack pro all stars. In turn, the 1982 UNC team won before Jordan was Jordan, but did have two HOFers (Worthy and Jordan), and a long time quality pro in Perkins. The 1984 team that was upset in the tourney had Jordan, Perkins, Brad Daugherty and Kenny Smith, which adds in a #1 overall pick and a starter off a pair of NBA championship teams. They question is just how much does one weight the 1000 pound gorillas in the room such as Jabbar, Jordan, etc.

There are likely ways to try to slice and dice it, but one wonders how well it washes everything out. You've watched a lot of KU teams that you probably thought were great at some point, or had the potential to be great. With the exception of one, "shit happened". But does that one game wash away everything else? The KU team that did win was a strong one, but were they better than the best KU team you've seen?

I can look at last year's Duke team and enjoy it, but I'd never sell them as being better than the 1998, 1999 or 2002 teams. In one major way they got lucky: the teams that matched up well with them all got eliminated (Villanova, Kentucky, Syracuse, K-State, Pittsburgh, Kansas, Ohio State) or were a shell (Purdue with Hummel out). In contrast, in 1998 (vs Kentucky in the RF) and 1999 (vs UConn in the Final) terrific Blue Devils teams met teams that matched up well or better with them, especially in second games of the weekend.

1988 Dodgers great, or a fluke? Were the 1988 A's and Mets closer to greatness?
5:35 PM Feb 22nd
I live in Fairfax County, Virginia, and there is no question that my children (a) work much harder and (b) are not just a bit more advanced but a LOT more advanced in their education than I was at the same age. They learn more material, and more complex material. In every subject, my 11-year-old daughter (6th grade) is 2-3 years ahead of where I was at the same age. And while she is certainly academically gifted, she is not unique. The core program of studies is just much more advanced, sophisticated, and academically rigorous. The only complaint I really have with it is that there is just too much damned testing.
4:51 PM Feb 22nd
Congrats on sticking to just 1 stupid thing that College Basketball announcers say. On Moses Malone, in 1974 he went from high school to the ABA, which at the time was at least as good a league as the NBA (but probably about equal)
4:15 PM Feb 22nd
Stupid sh!t in education: As I best understand it, the amount of homework comes and goes in trends. From purely anecdotal evidence, it sounds like it's up; it was definitely down when I was in high school twenty years ago, when would go for days at a time not bothering to move my bookbag from my locker because I had no homework.

What was it Johnny Sain was quoted as having said in Ball Four, that the older his former teammates and opponents got, the better they had been? That isn't just old athletes. Each generation hoists its troubles above the younger generation, and extolls its own accomplishments.
3:10 PM Feb 22nd
Interesting rants in your Stupid S*** article. I don't know s*** about basketball, so I won't comment on that one. The third one I agree with; however, the electronic media have speeded things up vs the old days.
I disagree with you on education. I have a lot of evidence that it's worse - a lot worse. I have kids and grandkids and MANY siblings, nephews, nieces, and cousins - all of them younger than my 70 years. None of them got the education I did at any level. My youngest sister, 24 years younger than I, went to the same college, got the same degree (chemistry), and even had some of the same profs as I did. I had to take 147 semester-hours of courses to graduate. She had 128.
I worked as scientist and technical writer for 30 years, and it was quite obvious that the younger scientists were much poorer writers than the older ones - even poorer than some of the foreign-born scientists.
Also, 40-50 years ago I rarely saw a grammatical or word-usage mistake in a magazine or newspaper. Now there are very few magazines and maybe only one newspaper (Wall Street Journal) that can get through an issue without language gaffes. Some years ago I had to quit the Oakland Tribune because it ceased being written in English.
I don't know about where you are, but here in California the Asians are taking over because they value education and do push their kids. I've sat in on a number of grammar- and high-school classes, and the disrespect and inattention of most of the students is unbelievable to someone who went to school when one teacher had no problem keeping 50 kids in order - mainly because the parents supported the teacher, not the kid vs the teacher a so many do now.
2:27 PM Feb 22nd
Thanks for the observation, GreggB. Now that you mention it, I do recall never having homework when younger due to my getting to it during 'homework time' in class. While my classmates who started socializing right away did wind up taking stuff home.
2:01 PM Feb 22nd
Responding to sptaylor. . .do you mean as a tendency, or as an absolute rule? As a tendency, yes; as an absolute rule, no. I think that's critical to the discussion. Certainly over the years the great increase in the amount of talent in the game has increased parity, which causes people to ASSUME that increases in talent ALWAYS lead to increases in parity. Which is not true.
1:39 PM Feb 22nd
As far as kids today working harder and knowing more than we did... Not sure I agree. I'm about the same age as you, and here's my observation. Kids today get more homework than we did -- at every level, from elementary school on up. But kids in our day worked MUCH harder during the school day. Our sixth kid just entered high school, so we have a pretty good picture of how things have evolved in the school systems in three different parts of the country. The school day, to a large extent, is now reserved mostly for the fun stuff -- kids working together on projects, field trips, doing and watching multi-media presentations. It is all supposed to be enriching, and maybe it is -- but relatively little hard-core learning goes on. When I was young, our teachers taught us to read, learn the math tables, and so on up the line; my parents never helped me with homework, and I wasn't even assigned homework until 6th grade. We learned those skills in the classroom, during the school day, through group recitation and hard-core drilling. None of that goes on today. Schools essentially expect the kids to be taught to read and do math at home. So while kids may be putting in more raw hours combining the school day with homework, I'm not sure that they are actually working harder all things considered.
1:09 PM Feb 22nd
Shouldn't the mere fact that there is more talent in college basketball create more parity in college basketball?
11:59 AM Feb 22nd
I always wonder if, if studies were published showing that the Japanese beat their dogs three times as much as Americans do, we would start hearing lectures on why we needed to beat our dogs more.
11:50 AM Feb 22nd
'EDUCATION!' is a sacred word, a sanctified concept, in the politically leftward third of the nation. Perhaps their most holy belief, I think. So buckle up, as it's not going away. The paeanization of 'EDUCATION'!, that is. Not that education itself is going anywhere, either.
11:43 AM Feb 22nd
Thank you Bill.
11:38 AM Feb 22nd
You know that annoying feeling you get when you believe something but don't know how to articulate it? That's how I feel about stupid s##t two. Thank you Bill for putting what I've been feeling into words. Now that I'm getting ready to graduate college I'm convinced that I worked harder in junior high and high school. The last thing these kids need is to go to school more to compete with kids in other countries who are being pushed to the brink. I'll admit I generally like it more when you focus on baseball, but I really enjoyed this article.
11:09 AM Feb 22nd
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