Whether or not you agree with Richard Simmons, it's promising when anti-obesity initiatives work. That appears to be the case in Philadelphia, where the results from a comprehensive healthy-eating campaign showed that "The number of kids who got fat during the two-year experiment was half the number of kids who got fat in schools that didn't make those efforts."

What was the secret? Enter libertarian paternalism:

"We found when you give children healthy choices, they pick them," said Grace McGinley, school nurse at Francis Hopkinson School, one of the test schools.

Call it a nudge, a push, a shove, whatever???schools are supposed to be in loco parentis, so I say be a nudging nanny and junk the junk food for good....

Liam Julian

A cursory glance at this article, innocuously titled "Bisbee casts net for new schools boss," reveals nothing revelatory. The first paragraph notes simply that the Bisbee Unified School District, which is who-knows-where, is searching for a new superintendent and that at Monday's school-board meeting that search was furthered when members decided to establish an application-review committee. But then, in paragraph fifteen, we learn what else they decided at Monday's meeting:

Students attending the Bisbee High School Prom will be given gifts bags containing pictures (sic) frames, candles, mints and two condoms per bag. The board members voted four to one in favor of allowing the gift bags to be distributed.

Paragraph fifteen is rendered even more shocking because, in addition to being tucked away as if it contained nothing of import, it is preceded by this:

Board member Luche Giacomino was concerned with the wording of another section of the dress code that deals with the length of girls' skirts. She felt the measurement by a girl's fingertips at the sides for length was to (sic) vague and wanted the code changed to inches from the knee. Finger-tip length was too short, she added.

Giacomino, who voted...


Richard SimmonsSo says fitness guru cum educational historian Richard Simmons in this Newsweek article: "The idea of NCLB was to make our children academically well rounded. Now they're just round."

Yup, it must have been NCLB that made kids fat, because back in 2001 American younsters were lean, mean fighting machines. Ah, the low bigotry of soft expectations.


George Will explains that Clinton strategist Mark Penn was caught doing something sensible, surreptitiously. (In Penn's case, it was promoting free trade.)

The same could be said about Chris Doherty, who was also caught doing something sensible, surreptisiously. (In Doherty's case, it was promoting scientifically-based reading instruction.)

In today's Washington, both faced the same fate.

Who's ready for a new approach to politics?

Liam Julian

Over at City Journal, Stephen Malanga turns in a piece critical of Richard Florida's newest book, Who's Your City? Florida is the economist best known for his theory that a place's vitality and economic potential is determined by its "creative class," which Florida rather vaguely defines as that composed of those whose jobs require an aspect of creativity. It's actually easier to define what the creative-class economy isn't???i.e., the old industrial economy that gave rise to cities like Pittsburgh, Cleveland, and Detroit.

Joel Kotkin, Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University in Orange, California, disagrees with Florida's thesis that "cool" cities with burgeoning creative classes are the most successful ones. Productive workers want convenience and solid basic services, according to Kotkin, not hipsters. Malanga agrees. He writes:

Unfairly or not, the impression one comes away with after reading [Florida's earlier book] Creative Class is that if mayors can just figure out a way to attract some musicians and gays to their town, they don't need to worry much about intractable problems like crime and failing school systems.

Florida tried to address such criticisms in Who's Your City? by commissioning a large-scale survey that...

Liam Julian

Related to Mike's post: Here's a review of Nudge (the book by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein) that appeared in The New Yorker several months ago. The author makes a solid point:

The whole project, though, as Thaler and Sunstein acknowledge, raises some pretty awkward questions. If the "nudgee" can't be depended on to recognize his own best interests, why stop at a nudge? Why not offer a "push," or perhaps even a "shove"? And if people can't be trusted to make the right choices for themselves how can they possibly be trusted to make the right decisions for the rest of us?

Good questions.

Liam Julian

I hope everyone at Fordham will survive our blog's debut.

Liam Julian

This is also precisely why I've been avoiding the gym.

Seriously, though, this part of the article is interesting:

It comes as official figures show that pupils in all-girls' schools play significantly less sport than in mixed or boys' schools. The Department for Children, Schools and Families said that pupils at just 65 per cent of girls' schools did at least two hours of PE or sport a week???the official Government target???compared to 86 per cent nationally.

I would have supposed that young ladies enrolled in all-girls' schools would get more physical activity than their fairer-sex counterparts in gender-integrated environments. One of the reasons commonly provided in support of single-sex education is that because females won't be concerned about the opinions of masculine classmates, they will be more comfortable answering questions in class, for example, and playing field hockey. (Boys in single-sex schools, where are found no females in need of impressing, will, it is supposed, be less likely to act like asses. Highly dubious.) Perhaps our assumptions about single-sex education simply require more scrutiny....

Liam Julian

Mike was right, it seems. I open my Sunday New York Times and, over coffee and smoked salmon, am accused of being not only racist, but sexist, too!

Kristof suggests that "getting past race" or "getting past gender" is nearly impossible (his penultimate paragraph allows a smidgen of hope). Of course, his article applies this thinking to the presidential contest, but if Kristof is right, we should be far more concerned about how our inherent racist, sexist ways will affect our daily interactions with coworkers, spouses, and family than how it will affect our votes.

Thankfully, he's not right. That people tend to subconsciously generalize and form snap impressions is nothing new. But neither is it new that people use reason and analysis to get past intrinsic, knee-jerk reactions. We demand such from mature adults. In k-12 schools, for example, what good is it to suppose that teachers may unknowingly expect less of black students? Teachers???regardless of their snap impressions, which really are their own business???should behave like mature adults and not let their impulses guide their actions.

I cannot understand why Kristof, whose columns are only occasionally perceptive...


In his "Department of Human Behavior" column in today's Washington Post, Shankar Vedantam considers Nudge, a new book by University of Chicago professors Cass Sunstein and Richard Thaler. In it, they argue for "libertarian paternalism." Says Sunstein:

We agree with people who want to allow the market to flourish, so we are libertarians in that sense. On the other hand, we don't believe you can just have markets and then declare victory. It is legitimate to be paternalistic in terms of steering people in directions that will increase the likelihood they will do well.

The authors are particularly enamored with "default" policies, such as having companies enroll new employees in retirement savings programs unless they opt out. Vedantam explains:

When new employees are told that retirement accounts will be started for them unless they object, for example, most sign up cheerfully. When told that the accounts will not be started unless they opt in, most employees do not sign up because not having the account is then the default choice.

Defaults work in education, too. One of the primary goals of the American Diploma Project, for instance, is getting states to adopt a common,...