Liam Julian

The newest edition of The Gadfly is out and jammed with choice offerings, especially an essay that concludes "that for long-term sustainability and academic success, a charter school has better odds if it enrolls at least 300 students. " The small-school crowd won't like it.

As for Coby and whether paying students is the right thing to do, I summarily disprove all his assertions thusly:

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That seems to be the premise of this Washington Post op-ed by a first-year Yale Law School student (and Princeton grad) about high achievers at America's elite universities.

I'm saying that sometimes some of these students will denounce world hunger but be unfriendly to the homeless. They will debate environmental policy but never offer to take out the trash. They will believe vehemently in many causes but roll their eyes when reminded to be humble, to be generous and to "do what is right."

Never mind the vacuousness of the author's writing. (What does it mean to be "unfriendly" to the homeless? Maybe she's referring to Liam, who once put some change in a beggar's coffee cup only to discover that it still had coffee in it.)

What's more interesting is that the Post--a redoubt of Ivy League grads with Ivy League guilt, surely--would choose to publish such silliness. It's not really too surprising; America has a long history of bigotry against the best and brightest; this piece just fits the narrative. And its hardly alone. On the pages of Education Week, "mulitiple intelligences" guru Howard Gardner argues that affluent, high-achieving suburban kids are ethically deficient. Maybe so, but isn't that the case for inner-city and rural students too? (He doesn't seem to think so.)

Some cultures celebrate their highest achievers. We could learn something from them....

Liam Julian

Greg Toppo has a thorough piece in USA Today about school lunches. Long story short: They're disgusting. A little competition in this arena would do a body good, but the politics (yes, messing with the school lunch program is political) are such that allowing schools to do the smart thing--i.e., find local purveyors to supply their cafeterias with decent food--isn't currently feasible.

Plus, as long as students are responsible for paying only about a dollar or two of their daily lunch costs, they're going to eat preprocessed garbage.

Jeff Kuhner

If you need further evidence of the coarsening of our culture, then read Ian Shapira's piece in Monday's Washington Post. The latest fad among some young teachers--meaning those in their 20s--is to post profiles on social networking sites, such as Facebook and MySpace. What's wrong with that, you might say? Nothing, if one's intent is to post professional or responsible private information (resume, education background, hobbies, favorite movies, music ... etc.). The problem is that many teachers are using the sites, which are marketed heavily toward immature teens, to post outrageous comments or indecent personal acts. In other words, they are acting very much like the immature, sex-obsessed, alcohol-guzzling and profanity-spouting students many of them are supposed to be teaching--and serving as role models for.

Mr. Shapira writes that the epidemic of improper postings is now causing serious concerns among principals, parents, and other fellow teachers trying to maintain basic standards of civilized decency in the classroom. Take the case of Stephen Murmer, a Richmond area high school art teacher, who had to be fired last year for painting canvasses--I am not making this up--with his buttocks in images on You Tube.

Then there is Erin Jane Webster, a 22-year-old long-term substitute teacher in Prince William County, Maryland, who has posted this witticism on her personal profile page: "you're a retard, but i love you." There is one little problem: Ms. Webster teaches students with learning disabilities. Perhaps it never occurred to her that the...

In his latest riposte, Liam argues that I've ignored the ethical dimension of the student-pay debate. When one considers the difficult moral questions that paying students for performance invariably poses, he says, it becomes clear that principals should not be given free reign to try it out in their schools.

He goes on:

Parents have a right to a public-school education for their children that is unencumbered by controversial incursions unrelated to teaching and learning.... They can reasonably object to having their children exposed to a culture of cash payment for achievement... which is not indubitably part of learning and completely restructures the culture of achievement to which we so desperately cling as the hope for inner-city schools.

A potential flaw in Liam's reasoning, as I see it, is that the education that today's public school pupils receive is necessarily encumbered by "controversial incursions unrelated to teaching and learning." In today's politically-correct public sphere, nearly everything that goes on in the classroom can be and is made into a controversy.

Let's take Liam's claim but leave it open-ended: "[Parents] can reasonably object to having their children exposed to a culture of X." Now think of all the things we could plug in for X and ask yourself what we'd have left over if we simply banished them all from the classroom, as Liam would like.

Liam might respond that the term "reasonably" precludes a whole host of possible values for X, but "reasonableness" is a...

No, not Reverend Wright, but our favorite ed school professor, Bill Ayers.

* Friend of Barack Obama

Liam Julian

The New York Times offers a piece today about the progress of providing good??public??education in New Orleans.

And this bill , backed by Gov. Bobby Jindal and fighting its way through the state legislature, is promising.

Liam Julian

When a school experiments with paying students for their good grades or attendance, as Coby suggests a school should if its leadership so chooses, it makes not simply a pedagogical or policy decision but an ethical one, too. Part of the trouble with handing out cash to 11-year-olds is that it puts parents uncomfortable with the action in the even more uncomfortable??arrangement of either a) allowing it or b) disallowing it and conspicuously rendering their children among the several who don't receive payment for??time served.

Parents have a right to a public-school education for their children that is unencumbered by controversial incursions unrelated to teaching and learning. Parents do not have a right, for example, to dictate that evolution, which may offend them, be forbidden from science class because evolution is an indubitable part of science and should therefore be taught. They can reasonably object to having their children exposed to a culture of cash payment for achievement, though, which is not indubitably part of learning and completely restructures the culture of achievement??to which??we so desperately cling??as the hope for inner-city schools. ??

We can debate whether or not paying kids to show up to class works, is a good idea, sets up good incentives, etc. We cannot debate that it has ethical reverberations that may not jibe with those parents wish to inculcate in their progeny. As such, it's a policy/pedagogy/ethical decision best left??alone....

So why did Miami-Dade superintendent Rudy Crew turn down a principal's offer to work for a $1 salary? As paraphrased by the Miami Herald, he said it was because "a position budgeted at $1 a year plus benefits could not be filled if [the principal] left before year's end." To which the principal, replied, "New life has been thrust into this old body. With one more year, I could take these kids to the next level."

It sounds like new life needs to be thrust into the Miami-Dade school district, which has a habit of tangling itself in bureaucratic knots.

Liam Julian

Ben Stein is really doing himself a disfavor by promoting his new documentary thusly. He's in cahoots with the Discovery Institute, the not-so-hidden agenda of which is to lend scientific credibility to intelligent design and push it into schools. Woefully, the strategy seems to be working in Florida and Louisiana. That's bad enough. But the Hitler angle is just too much, and someone needs to tell Stein and his buddies that they're leaving the realm of the respectable.