To Critical Race Theory, or not to Critical Race Theory?

Like the uncollapsed quantum state holding Schrodinger’s cat in a state of simultaneous life and death, whether a school is “teaching critical race theory” or not seems to depend entirely on whether the inquiring person wants them to. Are you anti-CRT? Then, you may rest assured, American schools most certainly aren’t teaching CRT. (If you press a bit and ask why the district has cancelled all of the advanced math classes in the name of “equity,” you’ll be politely informed that this, “Isn’t CRT,” and, further, that you are, “Full of hate. So, so full of hate.”) On the other hand, if you are in favor of CRT, then you will be heartened to know that the schools definitely are teaching CRT.

The National Education Association (NEA) is, according to Wikipedia,

“the largest labor union and the largest white-collar representative in the United States.[2] It represents public school teachers and other support personnel, faculty and staffers at colleges and universities, retired educators, and college students preparing to become teachers. The NEA has just under 2.3 million members and is headquartered in Washington, D.C.[3] The NEA had a budget of more than $341 million for the 2012–2013 fiscal year.[4]

The NEA has been hard at work at their annual meeting this summer, passing (among doubtless many other important union matters), the alluringly-named New Business Item 39:

The NEA will, with guidance on implementation from the NEA president and chairs of the Ethnic Minority Affairs Caucuses:

A. Share and publicize, through existing channels, information already available on critical race theory (CRT) — what it is and what it is not; have a team of staffers for members who want to learn more and fight back against anti-CRT rhetoric; and share information with other NEA members as well as their community members.

B. Provide an already-created, in-depth, study that critiques empire, white supremacy, anti-Blackness, anti-Indigeneity, racism, patriarchy, cisheteropatriarchy, capitalism, ableism, anthropocentrism, and other forms of power and oppression at the intersections of our society, and that we oppose attempts to ban critical race theory and/or The 1619 Project.

It goes on, but the grammar here is so atrocious that I had to pause to double-check what, exactly, the nation’s largest union of educators had written. This is a complicated sentence, given the nested nature of the resolution’s clauses, but we can simplify it by only looking at subjects, verbs, and parts that make no sense at all:

“The NEA will… share and publicize… Have a team… and share information… Provide (a study)… and that we oppose attempts to ban critical race theory and/or The 1619 Project.”

Absolutely pathetic. I might just be a mom, but at least I have a grasp of basic grammar. These people are teachers.

I like the inclusion of anthropocentrism here. It’s good to remind children that when dogs are allowed to pee on random trees, but they aren’t, this is speciesism, and speciesism is evil. True equality will not have been achieved until children and dogs are treated equally.

But let’s go on:

C. Publicly (through existing media) convey its support for the accurate and honest teaching of social studies topics, including truthful and age-appropriate accountings of unpleasant aspects of American history, such as slavery, and the oppression and discrimination of Indigenous, Black, Brown, and other peoples of color, as well as the continued impact this history has on our current society.

You might have thought that the purpose of school was to equip children with the skills they’ll need in adulthood, but it’s actually to make children sad.

The Association will further convey that in teaching these topics, it is reasonable and appropriate for curriculum to be informed by academic frameworks for understanding and interpreting the impact of the past on current society, including critical race theory.

Ah, yes, academic frameworks. You see, whether you’re busy teaching kindergarteners their ABCs or trying to help the whopping 28% of 12th graders who still can’t even read at a basic level, it’s important to make sure you’re using college-level academic frameworks for the concepts you introduce to your students. Supposedly the people who wrote this, or at least who voted on it, are “real teachers” who have totally interacted with “real children” and understand the meaning of the phrase “age appropriate instruction,” and aren’t just trying to shoehorn their political beliefs into an utterly inappropriate context.

D. Join with Black Lives Matter at School and the Zinn Education Project to call for a rally this year on October 14—George Floyd’s birthday—as a national day of action to teach lessons about structural racism and oppression. Followed by one day of action that recognize and honor lives taken such as Breonna Taylor, Philando Castile, and others. [Sic]

Aside from being entirely inappropriate, this is grammatically pathetic.

USA’s economy/social order is built on interactions between different cultures/races.

“Don’t worry, Evie,” they said, “Cultural Marxism isn’t hiding under the bed, waiting to eat your fingers, because Cultural Marxism isn’t real.”

Oh, my sweet readers, Cultural Marxism is real, very real, and the only reason it isn’t hiding under your bed is because it’s busy reshaping Marxist arguments about the structure of society and the economy being determined by a nation’s economic system into an argument that they’re determined by the nation’s racial system.

To deny opportunities to teach truth about Black, Brown, and other marginalized races minimalizes the necessity for students to build efficacy.

I think this sentence is grammatical, it just sounds like schizophrenic word salad and actually says the opposite of what it is supposed to. To simplify/make it more understandable, “Denying opportunities… minimizes the need for students to become more effective.” Not needing to be more effective is a good thing: it means that students are already just as effective as they need to be.

I think they wanted to say, “Denying opportunities… minimizes the opportunities for students to become more effective.” Look over your work before you send it out, people. If necessary, get a friend to edit your work for you; they’ll probably catch mistakes you overlooked.

The ancient African proverb says, “Know Thyself.”

This is just thrown in randomly, at the end of the paragraph, with no context. A Turkish proverb says, “Those who want yogurt in winter must carry a cow in their pocket,” and an Arabic proverb says, “Someone who can’t dance says the ground is sloping.”

“Know thyself” is, incidentally, also a Greek aphorism; it was inscribed in the Temple of Apollo at the Oracle of Delphi:

“But I have no leisure for them at all; and the reason, my friend, is this: I am not yet able, as the Delphic inscription has it, to know myself; so it seems to me ridiculous, when I do not yet know that, to investigate irrelevant things.”–Socrates, Phaedrus.

Of course, “know thyself” is short and straightforward enough that it is probably a bit of wisdom given in many cultures.

And finally, the money:

This item cannot be accomplished with current staff and resources under the proposed Modified 2021-2022 Strategic Plan and Budget. It would cost an additional $127,600.

Someone will be well-paid for this grift.

At least you may take some comfort, my reader, that the quantum state of CRT in the schools has collapsed: the teachers’ union has voted unambiguously in its favor.

Now’s a good time to Homeschool

If you’ve ever wanted to homeschool your kids, but been afraid of funny looks and disapproval from other people, now is the time. Not only will everyone nod along and say, “Oh, yes, I totally understand why you are doing that,” right now, but also, if it doesn’t work out, you can just send your kids back to school when things return to normal.

The basic supplies you need for homeschooling are very simple: paper, pens/pencils, and books. If you’re reading this in the first place, you probably already own a lot of books, but if not, try the library: many are doing some form of lending. (Or ask your relatives if any of them have some extra books they’d be willing to loan you–my grandmother sent us textbooks on algebra, geometry, and linear algebra.)

Different kids need different things at different ages, so obviously you have to adjust what you are doing to match your kids. A typical 5 year old will spend most of their time learning letters, numbers, simple words, and simple equations. A 15 year old will be studying for the SAT and APs. You can supply a beginning reader’s need for books with simple text like “The cat sat” by yourself (see those pencils and paper above), but obviously you’ll want a real textbook for AP Calculus.

Workbooks: If you’re worried about whether you’ll hit all of the material you’re supposed to cover, get a workbook. It doesn’t really matter which workbook you get–I’ve never met a workbook I didn’t like. Workbooks tend state which grade they’re for on the front and all cover similar material inside, though different brands go at different paces. An “all-in-one” will be thick and cover lots of topics, or if your kid needs to slow down and do a lot more math problems, get the Kumon books. (I have even used second-hand workbooks that I got for free from a neighbor by simply copying out the problems onto fresh paper.)

Online/computer-based programs: We’ve used a variety of computer-based learning programs, including videos on Youtube, Zoom classes, and of course “educational” aps. These vary hugely in quality. Personally, I wouldn’t want to get tied down in any sort of long-term commitment right when starting out because it limits my ability to try different things, but my kids have benefited tremendously from math videos on Youtube. (YMMV.) Just remember that there are only so many hours in the day, so if you’ve just invested in a bunch of workbooks, you might want to hold off on that online literacy program.

The most important thing is actually just sitting down and doing it. Most kids are not super eager to do schoolwork, at school or home, so there will probably be some reluctance. It can be frustrating when they flop around like dead fish or give answers like “a really big number” instead of actually doing the work. This is when you have to take a deep breath and remind them that they don’t get to play Minecraft again until they finish their work. I also reward mine with Nerds and let them earn long-term rewards like “a trip to the pool” (though, obviously, that’s on hold right now). The important thing is to just sit down and do some school work each day so that they and you get into the habit and stop protesting.

And not everything has to be on paper. Go outside and toss a ball back and forth while practicing multiplication tables. Practice spelling words while in the car. Add biology and history questions to the Trivial Pursuit box. It does take a little effort to set up, but once you’re rolling, you’re good.

Homeschooling Corner

Welcome! Highly unscientific polling has revealed an interest in a regular or semi-regular feature focused on homeschooling.

Note that I am NOT some homeschooling guru with years of experience. We are just beginning, so I want some other people to discuss things with. I don’t have a curriculum picked out nor a coherent “philosophy,” but I am SO EXCITED about all of the things I have to teach I couldn’t even list them all.

I was thinking of starting with just a focus on what has been successful this week–which books/websites/projects we liked–and perhaps what was unsuccessful. I invite all of you to come and share your thoughts, ideas, questions, philosophies, recommendations, etc. Parents whose kids are attending regular schools but want to talk about learning materials are also welcome.

One request: Please no knee-jerk bashing of public schools or teachers. (I just find this really annoying.) Thoughtful, well-reasoned critique of mainstream schooling are fine, but let’s try to focus on the homeschooling.

This week’s successes:

DK Workbooks: Coding with Scratch (workbook) has been an amazing success.

Like many parents, I thought it’d be useful to learn some basic coding, but have no idea where to start. I once read HTML for dummies, but I don’t know my CSS from Perl, much less what’s best for kids.

After a bit of searching, I decided to try the the DK Coding with Scratch series. (This particular workbook is aimed at kids 6-9 yrs old, but there are others in the series.)

Scratch is a free, simple, child-friendly coding program available online at https://scratch.mit.edu/. You don’t need the workbook to use Scratch, (it’s just a helpful supplement.) There are also lots of helpful Youtube videos for the enterprising young coder.

Note: my kids really want to code because they want to make their own video games.

In general, I have found that toys and games that claim they will teach your kids to code actually won’t. (Eg, Robot Turtles.) Some of these games are a ton of fun anyway, I just wouldn’t expect to become a great coder that way.

Professor Astro Cat’s Frontiers of Space is as good as it looks. Target market is 8-11 years old. There’s a lot of information per page, so we’re reading and discussing a few pages each day.

There are two other books in the series, Professor Astro Cat’s Intergalactic Activity Book, which I’m hoping will make a good companion to this one, and Astro Cat’s Atomic Adventure, which looks like it fills the desperately needed “quantum physics for kids” niche.)

I’m still trying to figure out how to do hands-on science activities without spending a bundle. Most of the “little labs” type science kits look fun, but don’t pack a lot of educational bang for your buck. For example, today we built a compass (it cost $10 at the toy store, not the $205 someone is trying charge on Amazon.) This was fun and I really like the little model, but it also took about 5 minutes to snap the pieces together and we can’t actually carry it around to use it like a real compass.

Plus, most of these labs are basically single-use items. I like toys with a sciency-theme, but they’re too expensive to run the whole science curriculum off of.

Oh, sure, I hand them a page of math problems and they start squawking at me like chickens. But bedtime rolls around and they’re like, “Where’s our Bedtime Math? Can’t we do one more page? One more problem? Please?”

There are only three math problems every other page (though this does add up to over 100 problems,) the presentation is fun, and the kids like the book better than going to sleep.

The book offers easy, medium, and hard problems in each section, so it works for kids between the ages of about 4 and 10.

There’s an inherent tension in education between emphasizing subjects that kids are already good at and working on the ones they’re bad at. The former gives kids a chance to excel, build confidence, and of course actually get good at something, while the latter is often an annoying pain in the butt but nevertheless necessary.

 

Since we’ve just started and are still getting in the swing of things, I’m trying to focus primarily on the things they’re good at and enjoy and have just a little daily focus on the things they’re weak at.

I’d like to find a good typing tutor (I’ll probably be trying several out soon) because watching the kids hunt-and-peck at the keyboard makes my hair stand on end. I’d also like to find a good way to hold up workbooks next to the computer to make using the DK books easier.

That’s about it, so I’ll open the floor to you guys.

Open Thread: Education and Survival

Really dumb people are too dumb to commit as much crime as mildly dumb people
Graph of IQ vs crime — Really dumb people are too dumb to commit as much crime as mildly dumb people

Hey guys, I have a cold. Boo. How are you?

Today’s theme is education. You probably know already that I’m pretty positive toward both public/private schools and homeschooling; I think which you should chose depends a lot on a person/family’s individual situation.

But what could we do to improve these systems? (Imagine you are given free-range to design a system from scratch.) What would you add or subtract? Would you change the focus or style in some way? (Do you have any specific recommendations for books or curriculum materials for children?)

One thing I find lacking in the modern school system is a clear path to a job. A highschool diploma ought to qualify a person for many low-level jobs, but as a practical matter, it’s basically crap. A college degree ought to qualify you for the average higher-skill job, but even still, there’s a big disconnect between getting the degree and getting the job. I’ve known people with degrees from very nice schools (HYPS-MC) who have still struggled to get good, regular employment. And many people end up working in fields well outside of what they majored in. That’s not horrible–life happens–but it does make me question what the whole point of spending 4 years and $$$ on a degree in the first place was. (If it’s signaling, we could do signaling a lot cheaper.)

Scheme of the Roman Hierapolis sawmill, the earliest known machine to incorporate a crank and connecting rod mechanism.
Scheme of the Roman Hierapolis sawmill, the earliest known machine to incorporate a crank and connecting rod mechanism.

Anyway, I was thinking about survival as a skill, man-vs-wild style. How to hunt/fish/trap/gather your food. How to build a shelter. How to signal SOS. Basic woodworking? First aid, navigation, swimming, boating. What would you add?

Relatedly: how to start a business and actually make money. How to fill out the necessary related forms.

How would you go about teaching that/finding people to teach it? We’re in cub/girl scouts, but I find those basically useless; I don’t think my kids have learned so much as to tie a knot there in the past 3 years. (Don’t get me wrong, they’re still having fun. They’re just not about to come home with freshly killed dinner anytime soon.)

I hate the phrase "Red pill" because it's dumb, but something similar to this was my red pill moment. This isn't about justice; it's about being mad that they aren't allowed to murder us without consequences.
I hate the phrase “Red pill” because it’s dumb, but something similar to this was my red pill moment. This isn’t about justice; it’s about being mad that they aren’t allowed to murder us without consequences.

I hear people say, “kids are natural learners, we shouldn’t force them to learn!” Well my kids are naturals at learning Minecraft, but they think multiplication is lame.

So I’m eager to hear your thoughts.

Some interesting Links:

Walruses try to play with seabirds. No word yet on if seabirds play back:

Behavioural analysis based on detailed observations, photography and video recording showed that the most common types of walrus behaviour toward a bird were approach by surfacing and splash, approach by surfacing and hit and attack from below. Immature individuals initiated 82% of encounters. … Walrus encounters with live birds showed a very low rate of bird kill. … Object play in wild walruses is reported for the first time.

The porbeagle shark plays with seaweed:

This stocky shark is often included in studies on whether or not sharks play. That is because several observers have reported seeing porbeagles in groups of up to 20 individuals manipulating and tossing about floating objects, including lumber and seaweed. They seem to engage in such activity for no apparent reason other than to pass the time.

Okay, comments o the week:

Leuconoe brings up an argument I hadn’t even thought of before regarding corn, potatoes, and exchange with the New World:

The effects of the exchange were various, on the one hand it brought deadly illneses to the new world that killed tens of millions on the other it brought many forms of food to bouth worlds that saved hundreds of millions from starvation. Chinas population grew from 150 to 400 million because of introduction of new world crops. What would have hapened to this people without the crops? They would have died from malthusian limits or killed by their parents.

There were many other excellent comments, but I think I will highlight infowarrior1‘s question and follow-up (after I said it seemed inefficient):

I have a question. Do you regard war as eugenic or dysgenic as it currently stands?

Then why are humans and chimpanzees designed to war in the 1st place if its so inefficient?

Discuss!