309 Comments
Sep 6, 2022·edited Sep 6, 2022

One thing I don't understand about the debate over teaching racial history in school is the idea that this is a new thing. But I remember race and race relations being a central theme in my study of history in high school (I was in a Republican-leaning school district in California and would have been studying this around 2005). When I was in high school, we studied genocide of the Native Americans, the brutal realities of slavery, the xenophobia against Chinese immigrants in California leading to the Chinese Exclusion Act, the horrors of Jim Crow and segregation, and the backlash to Civil Rights movement. We studied the court cases covering affirmative action and the subsequent backlash. We learned about Thomas Jefferson's owning of slaves and the ordeal with Sally Hemmings, and how Jackson made his reputation attacking and displacing Native peoples. We learned about the Zoot Suit riots against Mexican immigrants, the Bracero program, and Cesar Chavez fight for labor rights for migrant workers. We read the People's History of the United States by Howard Zinn (which was balanced by more conservative text by Paul Johnson). We read first hand accounts of Japanese who were interned during WWII. I remember then having adults ask me then if our history class was too critical and made us feel too negatively about the country and our national heros.

Now I'm sure that there were gaps in my history education. It's true that I don't remember learning about Juneteenth or the Tulsa massacre. And I'm sure there were places where there was less focus on themes of race relations than I had. But it's hard for me to think that my history education was unusual for the mid aughts. But when we are having this conversation about race and history education, people my age are pretending like their history education was overly positive and patriotic, and that racial history of African Americans and other minority groups was this enormous gap. And either my memory is just completely wrong, or my education back in 2005 was truly exceptional for its time.

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I learned the same material....in rural Alabama.

Though I will say that it always got back around to emphasizing America as flawed but struggling to live up to it's high ideals, so it doesn't have the trendy pessimism that my kids are already picking up in school. (Oldest just entered 6th grade!)

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Conservative Catholic parish school, then liberal Catholic preparatory high school in PA, same general tenor in my history classes too.

I really think 85% of this argument is driven by 2% of the population on each side, and the other 20% who are participating are just glancing at "their side's" caricature of what the "other side" wants and believing it.

Which means we're all talking past one another. One or two edgy, 20-something Zoomers with no kids aside I don't know anyone in my sapphire-blue metro who wants history curricula to parrot the woke/pessimistic line on how "America is rooted in evil." And on the other side, I know 1 person who wants them to teach "states' rights caused the Civil War" bullshit.

The mushy middle is a lot wider on this issue than the loud-ass Twitter debates suggest, and I suspect that if a state were to delegate creating the history curriculum to a representative citizens' commission, that would work out well.

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Interesting comment. I was in high school in central Florida starting in 1969 and we went through busing/forced integration, with the county closing down the beloved but grossly underfunded Black high school and merging our two student populations. That was . . . intense. Both on the part of parents and the students.

Compared to that, is today's thing really a thing? Or, as David R. notes, is it more just some woke ideologues and loudmouth right-wing parents shouting at each other while every one else pretty much goes their own way?

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Yes, states’ rights caused the 1st American Civil War. The states’ rights to continue slavery. Now you know 2.

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True, I think that was overall the message that we were taught as well. That America had great ideals, that it hasn't always lived up to in its history.

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Same here. They covered this in my rural Kansas district.

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Sep 6, 2022·edited Sep 6, 2022

I'm curious if you could expand on the nature of the "trendy pessimism" that you've seen from your kids in how they've learned history. Is it like what's been dominating the "critical race theory" culture war news? Or is the nature of it different?

I honestly can't remember what the idealogical perspective of my middle school history classes were...

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I also had a pretty comprehensive and "woke" history curriculum going to high school in the mid-2000s. Then again I took AP History, but I doubt the standard class is that different ideologically. At the time I had assumed that stuff like "Lies My Teacher Told Me" was just a relic meant to reflect the types of things boomers were taught but I do constantly hear from people my age who say their history classes were like something out of the 50s and it weirds me out.

I almost wonder if their actual history classes were a lot more progressive then they remember and they just weren't paying as much attention in class as they should have.

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Some people are simply lying, others may have the type of false memory that happens over time as people's memory of their history classes merges with their understanding of what people's history classes were typically like.

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It's also hard for me to think that the mid-aughts was a particularly woke period...in fact I remember that being a pretty conservative time in American politics.

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I can't speak to US History, but I can tell you that in Florida, the state World History curriculum is substantially different from the AP World History curriculum (I teach both courses). The AP course is truly a World History course - lots of coverage of all different regions. The state World course is essentially "Western Civ plus a few other things thrown in so we can call it World History." My course starts in about 300 (all the ancient stuff, plus the Mongols, is covered in Middle School), and we never mention India or China unless they are interacting with the West. That's just the way the standards are written.

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Interesting! I remember at my high school it was a bit reversed: World History was actually relatively balanced (Western-centric of course but not as much as you might expect), while the AP option was actually AP European History with a few short units at the beginning and end of the year to meet state requirements. Apparently this was an issue with teachers not having enough time to teach the AP World History material in one year. (That said I think that changed, I vaguely remember my brother saying AP World was available when he was at the same high school 6 years later.)

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Sep 6, 2022·edited Sep 6, 2022

By the way, it was the same thing back in the Obama era when people were complaining about the Common Core curriculum, people were treating the "new math" as if it were a new thing. But if anyone had "Everyday Math" like I had in the late 90s, early 2000s, you also had homework that your parents couldn't recognize (like when we learned the "ancient Egyptian" method for doing multiplication). And when my mom was in school, she learned base 8 arithmetic before base 10...Basically, these fights have been going on forever.

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Base 8 _before_ base 10? Seems crazy to me since almost every number you encounter in the real world is base 10.

I couldn't find a description of doing it _before_ base 10, but:

https://www.nytimes.com/1974/01/06/archives/does-new-math-add-up-new-math.html

certainly seems to imply it was taught pretty early.

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It could be an exaggeration. Someone who lived through the "new math" reforms of the 60s should comment...

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I cannot, but I can recommend a song on this topic: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UIKGV2cTgqA

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Sep 6, 2022·edited Sep 6, 2022

In the same vein: Linderholm, Mathematics Made Difficult: A Handbook for the Perplexed (1972).

"With a few brackets it is easy enough to see that 5 + 4 is 9. What is not easy to see is that 5 + 4 is not 6....

When we said that 1+1=2, this meant only that 1 + 1 was to be called 2. It may perhaps be, for all we know, that 1 + 1 is really 0, so that we have agreed to call 0 by the name '2'....Who can tell?

All we know so far is that it cannot be settled at all if all that is known about the system of numbers is that it is a monoid. Obviously, the thing to do is to assume a universal property:

> The monoid [of natural numbers] is universally repelling.

(It is self-evident that this has reference to the subcategory of the category of all categories; but to obviate any doubt, the morphisms are the functors.)

Note: The reader may well object to the use of monoids and not groups. He should be reminded that this book is not a first text in algebra, and that the difficulties of negative numbers are sufficient unto another section."

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I love Tom Lehrer

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Sep 6, 2022·edited Sep 6, 2022

Never mind the 90s, Tom Lehrer wrote a song parodying new math in **1965**. His introduction to the song notes how parents struggle with their kid's arithmetic...

EDIT: Emily beat me to it.

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I’m a little bit older than you and I had a similar experience. It was made very clear that the trail of tears was an atrocity. We had an entire unit on the internment of Japanese Americans. The civil war was about slavery and the south committing treason to preserve it and we just assumed that people who made the south out as noble were racist. Granted I grew up in a part of the northeast that was a hotbed of abolition but it seems to have been pretty commmon throughout the northeast

It’s really weird to see old friends from high school who were In the same history classes as me claim that they learned the civil war was about states rights not slavery.

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I had the same experience in Ohio in the mid aughts. We even had to read Howard Zinn.

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"It's true that I don't remember learning about Juneteenth or the Tulsa massacre."

This also opens the question about what exactly is supposed to be taught about some of these "suppressed" or "forgotten" things. I can definitely see the historical significance and plenty of "teachable moments" concerning the Tulsa massacre, but, to be blunt, the event of Juneteenth itself is a trivia answer -- no one was hiding it, it's just that the whole trend in teaching history for the past 60 years at least has been to *deemphasize* names-dates-places style memorization.

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Also Juneteenth only became a federal holiday last year! Before 2000, it was only officially recognized in 4 states! It had an important history within texas and within the black community - but only in the past 20 years has it transitioned to the national stage.

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I remember being told at an opening college lecture that the exact textbook we used in high school history didn’t teach us [list of bad things in US History] that I definitely learned reading that textbook.

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I wonder if there's almost a savior complex at play. That these people actively want to deny that history education might not be so bad because that would prevent them from swooping in and letting them be the heroes to tell the "real truth" that can't be found elsewhere.

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I actually think we might have had the same, or at least similar, curriculum. I grew up in the suburbs of Tacoma in Washington state between 00-10 and was exposed to a very similar set of topics. Like you, I was unfamiliar with Tulsa until 5 years ago but we definitely learned about the Birmingham church bombing, Emmet Till, Jim Crow, Poll taxes, etc. The only difference I can see was maybe our curriculum didn't emphasize Cesar Chavez as much, but I definitely remember the Zoot suit riots being discussed.

There were definitely still some things I was naive about coming out of High School but I'm also not really sure that's a bug that can be fixed.

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What's changed is the addition of outrage culture amplifying and simplifying debate, and the idea that "this was/is bad" needs to be hammered home much more. That has led to ill-advised things like campaigning for changing school names.

I would like to believe kids can understand that someone like Thomas Jefferson isn't a saint, and that Jefferson's positive aspects are somewhat diminished by his slave-owning. And perhaps understanding the difference between values and society 250 years ago and today.

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I agree with your first sentence in particular as the same phenomenon is actively spreading through journalism in which putatively straight news reporting increasingly includes editorializations/characterizations suggesting how the reader is supposed to feel about the story rather than trusting the reader to make their own determinations.

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Vox's 'explanatory journalism' falls into this category, I think.

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Vox doesn't bother me as much because I believe it was candidly partisan from the start, just putatively more "data driven." I'm talking mainstream media outlets.

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I’m fascinated about how the Tulsa massacre was effectively hidden. I grew up in rural New York state and then went to a very good private school in Massachusetts and never heard of it- and I think it was because my teachers just didn’t know themselves. We were taught plenty about horrible Jim Crow practices in southern states and there would have been zero embarrassment to add another item for something that happened outside the northeast, but yet we just didn’t know about it.

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Was it hidden? Or just not prioritized? Even just within American history there are 250 years of events to pick from. And even if you just want to teach racial discord or political violence there's dozens of sub-genres, many of which are still almost entirely left out of curriculums - look at this list of labor disputes that ended in worker deaths, for example:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_worker_deaths_in_United_States_labor_disputes

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You are pointing to a perpetual and unsolvable problem when it comes to anyone's desire to teach "the truth" about American history. The average High School year is ~180 days / 36 weeks. Maybe real instruction + homework gives you 180 hours total. There's just no way to cover what any specific viewpoint (liberal, conservative, etc.) would want in a meaningful way in that time, and the competing viewpoints are going to jockey for priorities.

Choices have to be made about what to cover and what not to cover even within viewpoints too. Would the 'Left" view circa 2022 make the same content choices they would have made in 2002? Seems unlikely! You can say the same thing about every other point of view.

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This. We have around 15 weeks to cover around 300 years of history. Things get cut, it's very zero sum. There need be no great conspiracy to hide Tulsa, there's barely enough time to nail down who was fighting on which side in World War 2. What I tend to find is that things slow down over the year and since high school history is taught chronologically what students really miss is everything after about 1970.

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Yeah that's the way I remember high school history but earlier. I kind of remember everything post-WW2 being compressed into the last couple weeks.

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The 1960s Civil Rights movement tends to be the last thing I can confidently cover before we get into end of year mode and everything is a blur.

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Just half a year? I'm curious what grade level are you teaching?

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Whoops that was just a brain fart. How long is a school year again? Lol

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Yes, I'm quite sure the Tulsa massacre wasn't covered in my K-12 education, but my American AP History class in the early 1990s devoted a lot of time to late 19th Century labor history issues, including the use of state militias and other military personnel for violent suppression of strikes on behalf of industrialists. (Also specifically covered the Sand Creek massacre, which has a larger confirmed death toll than the Tulsa massacre, but that could be because I was attending high school in Denver, so the Sand Creek massacre was "local.")

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I read about the Homestead Strike / Massacre in High School in 9th grade, but that was part of a special project outside of normal curriculum and it took place a few miles from my school. Other than that I never learned about labor violence or the labor movement, but I did get a does of slavey/reconstruction/civil rights, etc.

A lot of this is just the randomness of different teachers, different times, different places and different memories. So that's why I'm questioning how much certain things are broadly "hidden" versus prioritized or arguable overlooked.

I'm actually not sure what benefit there is to "teaching" the Tulsa Massacre, in particular, versus the broad strokes of racial unrest or oppression. Sometimes history teaching gets criticized for being too much about memorizing names and dates and I think focusing on specific events like Tulsa can kind of fall into that.

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I don't think it's being hidden; I think we just don't pay attention. It wasn't that long ago that I learned to my shock that two years after Tulsa another massacre almost as bad as that one occurred just a few miles down the road from my hometown (and during my father's lifetime) at a small all-Black Florida town called Rosewood. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rosewood_massacre), and a lot of the survivors even fled to my hometown. On top of that, I further didn't know that there was even a half-decent John Singleton movie about it back in 1997 which came and went fairly quickly.

Nothing had to be suppressed; we just weren't in the mood to think about these things.

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I think it's more about prioritization and goals than mood. I know I'm unfairly picking on your word choice, I guess I'm just using it to pivot to what's on my mind here, and I apologize for that.

There's an ocean of things to pick from to teach, and no 2 people would come up with the same list. And then you could teach each event in an infinite number of ways. Do you just teach that event with the name, date and casualty list? Or do you broaden it to show it's part of a pattern of similar events that happened in the early 1920s? Or do you connect it more broadly to the US, or even worldwide history of racial pogroms and ethnic strife?

It's all connected to what the goal is, which I think may be something like what you mean by mood.

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Some of it may not only be prioritization, but localization. I grew up in Kentucky in the 80s, HS in the early 90s. We didn’t learn about Tulsa, but we did learn about the race riot in Corbin, KY.

We all sort of became aware of Tulsa particularly in the last few years but, unfortunately, there’s no shortage of atrocities that a teacher can choose from on this topic. And in most parts of the country, there are examples that are at least a little more local (I lived almost 3 hours from Corbin).

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What happened that Tulsa suddenly became this important event in the national memory?

Is it as simple as the remake of the Watchmen that incorporated it into its story?

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By mood, I mean it was really on *no one's* radar screen, even the victims and the affected community. Everyone just moved on and it went down the memory hole until the mood changed and it became salient again.

I'm not Black but I am Jewish so I can draw an analogy: the de-emphasizing of the Holocaust. In the US for a couple decades after WWII even the Jewish community wasn't that interested in dwelling on the Holocaust; it wasn't forgotten, it was more of an incredibly painful event that was best treated by putting it aside. Things shifted starting in the 1970s for many reasons and it then became more and more salient -- the mood changed, in other words. And it has remained salient (maybe even too salient) ever since.

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It was never "hidden" exactly. You look in a lot of relatively comprehensive text books from the past and you'll find a paragraph about it or similar violent situations like the Rosewood Massacre, but there doesn't seem to have been much effort put behind highlighting it or paying special attention to it and without that it can just dryly sound like one more awful thing in a long list of them.

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I went to elementary school in Lawton OK (& also Monmouth county NJ). I can assure you we never heard a word about that tragedy.

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I mean we also learned about the racism in the north--I mean I think that's how people learn the words "de jure" and "de facto"

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I'm younger (I took AP US history in 2013-2014) and my memory of the curriculum is very similar.

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I learned the same at about the same time in what was at the time a GOP stronghold in the northern suburbs of Detroit. (It’s a Dem area now but that’s heavily tied to demographic shifts—in the intervening years the Whites retired and moved out, and Asians moved in.) We didn’t get A People's History but the nasty stuff was not particularly excluded. And my teacher—who was excellent—was an unapologetic conservative Catholic Republican who nevertheless taught all of it without batting an eye or editorializing (well not too much).

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It may be surprising to some people but in my elementary school experience we did give a wee bit of credence, not a lot and not emphasized but it was mentioned as a legitimate perspective, to the idea that slaves that did make it across had descendants that would have a better life than in Africa. When we were taught about Harriet Beecher Stowe (which inspired me to read her book which I loved and which gave me my first impression but really strong imoression of how wrong slavery was and which made me always wonder why some dismissed uncle toms cabin as propaganda since I thought it was my favorite propaganda I ever read), it was mentioned that “not all slave owners treated their slaves that badly.” So anyway there was some pretty sketchy ideas back then about 30 years ago being given breathing room in classrooms and good that it has been mostly gotten rid of. Good to stay vigilant against this sort of garbage for sure just the political racial education stuff is simply overemphasized in media. Prob for no reason than it gets clicks. Boring crap about reading strategies for 4 year olds is mostly irrelevant to majority of NYT readers.

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I mean in 10th grade we had to write a paper about whether European imperialism benefited or hurt 3rd world countries more. I'm guessing that in 2022, the answer to that would be considered obvious.

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It may be, but it would probably be wrong. At least in general.

All the acute bad is likely overwhelmed by the general increased living conditions and reduced mortality rates over the long term.

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I took a junior high school US history course in 1990 in Fairfax County, Virginia. We were taught that reconstruction was a monstrous era of corrupt and unwise government. I took AP US history in 1994, and we were taught a more modern view of reconstruction, though we were never taught that Jackson was a white supremicist. In fact, my teacher kind of liked him for supporting pseudo egalitarianism amoung whites.

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Why should public schools invest scarce resources in teaching events like the zoot suit riots that the private sector has already covered via the late 90s swing revival?

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Very good point. But I think illiteracy of late 90s swing music among Gen Z is growing, and what is the point of public schools if not to expose young minds to the Cherry Poppin' Daddies.

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Throw back a bottle of beer.

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Would it surprise you if I pulled up your x grade social studies book and it had a paragraph about the spot suit riots?

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This is a great piece and I think hammers home the concerns a lot of people (or at least I) have about this approach to education. To start, I think Chris Rufo is a shady character and I'm always amazed at how few remember his employer to be the intelligent design people. Whatever their goal is it probably isn't good, non-ideologically charged education on its own merits.

However the kind of Tema Okun stuff that characterizes habits of good students as 'white supremacy' is bad, and probably bad for kids and the education system. Introducing strange gender concepts without a lot of scientific basis to impressionable kids that can barely read is a recipe for stupidity, and in some cases seems to presume authority public schools don't have. I can think of no better way to destroy support for public education than to embrace ideas seemingly designed to hurt quality and piss people off.

So none of this is to say you don't teach about Jim Crow or redlining in a social studies or history class, not to mention of course the fact that these things are now illegal after the hard work of dedicated people. But if the perception becomes that priorities of the public schools are something other than core educational concepts like the 3 R's tax payers will eventually defect.

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“…remember his employer to be the intelligent design people.”

That reminds me of the early 2000s controversy over “intelligent design” in public schools. (Intelligent design being a sanitized version of creationism.). You had school boards like the one in Cobb County, Ga. putting stickers in science texts that "evolution is a theory, not a fact” in order to placate fundamentalist Christian fantasies.

That raises the question of how much schools should have to cater to the sometimes irrational desires of parents. Particularly when they want to replace actual science with fiction.

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A good biology education would begin the lessons on evolution by saying, “Evolutionary Theory is, yes, a theory. And it’s a very, very successful theory because it explains and connects so many observed facts.”

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The problem was that Christians were advancing “intelligent design” as a competing theory with evolution. A scientific theory like evolution can be tested and proven. Intelligent design cannot be tested because it’s religious myth like the two stories of creation in Genesis where the world is created in less than a week.

And this is the thing — a lot of people just don’t understand the meaning of the word theory in a scientific context. They (perhaps like the Cobb County school board) think theory means idle speculation. That why these Christians refer to evolution as “just a theory.” Of course evolution is fact and reality not speculation.

The appeal of Intelligent Design to some people was that it made the creator/god nondenominational rather than the Christian deity. Of course the whole thing was still a creation of fundamentalist Christians who knew that Creationism needed better PR if it was to infiltrate public schools. And they were right.

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“The problem was that Christians were advancing “intelligent design” as a competing theory with evolution”

My point is that there are ways of taking on their argument without indulging it.

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Can you give an example of Rufo’s shadiness? Not where you disagree but where he is shady?

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He was pretty candid about his goals and methods for achieving them in his interview with Andrew Sullivan. It's a similar mission as that of the DEI activist (or whatever you want to call them) movement he opposes. In a lot of ways he accepts their faulty core premises, he just has a different vision of what the end result should be.

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I agree he is candid which seems very different than shady. What is the faulty core premise of DEI that Rufo accepts?

It probably seems like I am defending Rufo. Maybe I am a little. I think a lot of intellectuals (Matt’s crowd) don’t like him because he got his hands dirty in politics. I hear this from people like Blocked&Reported and Fifth Column.

Okay, state laws he’s pushed were overly broad, etc. That could be. But there was time there where we were in the middle of a woke moral panic (even a liberal like Matt got stung by it) and everyone was just looking around looking for someone to push back. He did. I give him credit for that. Some of this stuff will work out in courts and that’s good. We’ll see how it goes.

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To be clear I don't totally despise him, and to the extent he just posts primary sources of DEI (again, or whatever we're calling it) run amok I think he is doing a bit of a service. I also don't have a problem with impacted individuals suing institutions that practice it under standard civil rights law when the stuff is taken to its natural conclusion.

However, per the interview with Sullivan, he also accepts the premise of the DEI activist crowd that the entire concept of education is so value laden that there is no right way to do it. In his mind, as in theirs, it's all power and indoctrination anyway. He just wants people with his ideology in charge instead of theirs.

Neither of those things are what I want as a parent and taxpayer in public education. I want well functioning schools with high standards focusing on literacy, writing, math, and science, and,

useful trades. Now is that also a 'value'? In a certain reductive way I suppose but these are things that have proven valuable over time both to the students learning them and to society as a whole. None of this other stuff has.

So when I say 'shady' I mean I think he is doing a similar bait and switch as the one going on when you hear people say 'opposition to DEI is just opposition to teaching about slavery or Jim Crow.' I have no problem with exposing that as nonsense but I would not put Rufo or his acolytes in charge of a school system. If I did I'd anticipate similarly weird and bad outcomes with respect to some weird ideology.

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I’ll listen to that episode again. I agree school should not be about pushing ideology but rather developing skills for kids to reason for themselves.

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Rufo made some tweets last year where he explicitly talked about trying to rebrand various things as "critical race theory" regardless of whether they actually were part of what is generally accepted by academia to be "critical race theory". Article here: https://www.newyorker.com/news/annals-of-inquiry/how-a-conservative-activist-invented-the-conflict-over-critical-race-theory

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Yes he does that. Is it shady or just normal politics? I don’t see how his broad branding of critical race theory is so much different than the broad use of white supremacy? It’s all politics.

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I don't see anyone here defending overbroad use of "white supremacy"? In any event, you asked for an example of Rufo being shady and I provided an example. You can pretend that's inadequate, but it's fully responsive to your request. "Whaddabouting" other people's bad behavior doesn't excuse Rufo's.

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I am not pretending it’s inadequate. I am contending that you misuse the word shady.

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Sep 7, 2022·edited Sep 7, 2022

I'll say up front that I don't think what Rufo did with the term CRT is even shady.

Freddie deBoer's recent classic "Please Just Fucking Tell Me What Term I Am Allowed to Use for the Sweeping Social and Political Changes You Demand" [1] pretty much covers my feelings about Rufo's "CRT." Sure, it was a little comical for those of us that were already familiar with the Critical Race Theory of Kimberlé Crenshaw, Derrick Bell, et. al., but there was very little frisson or wickedness involved.

Contrast that to the way some people are trying to characterize proponents of various gender theories as "groomers". The worst thing I can say about the "CRT" re-coinage is that Rufo was trying to tar certain kinds of educational interventions with the nutty professor and ivory tower brushes, which isn't even wrong or dishonest. Beyond that, no one that really cares about CRT proper will ever mistake one for the other.

[1] https://freddiedeboer.substack.com/p/please-just-fucking-tell-me-what

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"So none of this is to say you don't teach about Jim Crow or redlining in a social studies or history class, not to mention of course the fact that these things are now illegal after the hard work of dedicated people."

Where is this actually illegal? Or even discouraged?

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Now I’m confused. Isn’t he saying that Jim crow is now illegal?

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Mea culpa. Mea maxima culpa.

Reading comprehension failure on my part.

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But correct Latin !

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I feel like a lot of the comments on here, and to some degree the piece itself, miss a core value of public education, which is the social emotional learning aspect.

For most people, a critical determinant of success in their future life, career, hobbies, and everything else is, "how good are you at interacting with other people." And there is no substitute for this but to interact with people in structured environments (because we mostly do not live in hunter-gatherer bands; we mostly operate in highly structured environments, like workplaces). A ton of what kids learn, at least in the early years, are skills like "listen to other people," "assess which rules are critical and which rules are breakable," "learn how to interact with people who have power over you," and "navigate the dynamics of groups where some people are mean / cruel / enemies."

As an undergrad instructor, I see this often with homeschooled kids who come to my classes with great cognitive skills (read, write, math) and terrible social and emotional skills (manage stressful interactions in class, interact productively with other people even when they are saying stuff you disagree with--esp. when they are empirically wrong, work in a group that includes people who are lazier or less competent than yourself). And I offer those latter two as examples of things that are legit irritating but which you encounter in real-world working situations all the time (I wasn't always an academic).

School-age kids are in a period of maximum social and emotional learning; there's really no substitute for throwing them into a pool of other humans and forcing them to learn that way. But this is also a big part of the value of the science, history, music, art, etc. teaching--not the curriculum, per se, but the exposing kids to a lot of material that becomes the building blocks of their identity in the world. This is a reason why desegregating schools really is a big deal (and why I wish we were more committed to making it happen). It is also why, frankly, conservatives are correct that Drag Queen Story Hour actually IS a big deal (and why I support DQSH).

Just as one example, from my own wheelhouse, a core function of history classes is to explicitly communicate social and personal values. That shouldn't be controversial; it has been the function of human storytelling from time immemorial (which is why value-communication is also a function of English class and of Sunday school). Unfortunately, that also puts you into tricky territory where people want to have fights, although honestly most of the values your kid gets in history classes are uncontroversial stuff like "helping people is good."

But the bottom line is that we need to quit treating school like it is exclusively about "hard" skills (3 Rs) and content mastery (Krebs cycle, atomic structure, Civil War) and recognize that a huge part of school is about that other stuff--social and emotional dynamics, physical mastery of the body, hobbies and interests, etc. That other stuff is hard to quantify, which is why people hate it, but it's some of the most important stuff, in terms of long-term success for individual humans.

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"miss a core value of public education, which is the social emotional learning aspect."

This seems very odd to me. Kids don't only exist in school and have many/most of their social interactions in life outside of school. Seems like they can and would figure that out from experiences outside the school. Instruction in the 3 Rs is primarily a school thing (at least to start) so would assign that the core function and social interaction skills as a secondary function.

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Sep 6, 2022·edited Sep 6, 2022

Do kids have many/most of their social interactions in life outside of school? I don't actually think this is true. My memory of the K-12 years is that the vast majority of my social interactions (apart from those with my immediate family) took place at school, and pretty much all my friendships were built through school and school-affiliated extracurriculars. I suppose it's possible that I'm in the minority, but I do get the sense that school is absolutely the main source of social interaction for most kids.

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It probably varies a lot but for example, I know kids who are way more invested in their league relationships than their school relationships. Mind you, I tend to think that means they are spending way to much time and focus on that, but that's a whole different issue...

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I could see that being true. I guess I am conflating "school relationships" and "extracurricular relationships" because so many of the time-intensive extracurriculars that really seem to shape kids' social groups and identities (sports, music, theater, etc.) are run through the school. I was a band kid, and my band friends—who were by far my largest and most important social group—were also my school friends; a lot of us had other classes together, but even if we didn't, we would still eat lunch together, hang out in the halls together, attend school functions together, etc. I suppose that for some activities that aren't school affiliated (e.g. club sports), that group could supersede the social importance of school friends, and result in having a lot of your closest friends attending different schools. But even the kids I knew who participated in club sports also played on the school team, and were very much part of the "soccer kids" (or whatever sport) group at school. I still think that for most kids, school—whether through the actual classes or through school-run activities—is absolutely the nexus of their social life, interactions, and identity.

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Sep 6, 2022·edited Sep 6, 2022

I think you're correct for a lot of students, probably a significant majority. But I also think there plenty of people who change schools a lot, home school, or are just very, very into certain activities where this would be different.

*I still remember talking with a coworker who mentioned spending upwards of 50k a year on his daughter's dance activities. The amount of time they spent through the entire year was incredible, 15-20 hours a week during the school year, 30+ hours during the summer.

Edit - to be clear, I still think these kids are socializing at school, I'm just saying that many kids have plenty of opportunities outside of school to socialize sufficiently.

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That’s not the proper thing to compare it to. You should compare it to what sort of social interactions kids would choose to get were there no school.

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“A ton of what kids learn, at least in the early years, are skills like ‘listen to other people,’ ‘assess which rules are critical and which rules are breakable,’ ‘learn how to interact with people who have power over you,’ and ‘navigate the dynamics of groups where some people are mean / cruel / enemies.’”

I think that basically the majority of students produced by the public education system are failures in these three categories so y’all should probably stop. Schools teaching which rules are breakable to a population with known significant brain development remaining? Hard pass. Stay in your lane and the subject/specialization of your degree major.

As for navigating dynamics where people are mean and cruel? Really? Schools are the production engines and practice grounds of our shitty culture. The masters tools will never dismantle the masters house.

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Without commenting for or against the original post to which you're replying, did you ever, when of the appropriate age, interact with the kids who were only homeschooled through secondary school?

Without being tossed into a gaggle of their peers to learn how to get on passably well with other people, young adults end up profoundly stunted (not my initial word choice, lol). The *vast* majority of parents are not willing or able to make up this deficit when home-schooling their kids. I'm not sure it's even possible, really. Helicopter parents partially short-circuit the same set of processes, but not as profoundly and totally as home-schooling does.

In order to learn how to do just about anything in the real world, kids need to be forced to do stuff while immersed in a social setting. It's the air they need to learn to breathe while doing other things, for lack of a better analogy. You can't just say "figure that out from experiences outside the school," and expect it to work, anymore than you can train someone for combat on a quiet range with no physical exertion.

As far as I'm concerned, home-schooling is abuse, full stop.

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"As far as I'm concerned, home-schooling is abuse, full stop."

Uh, wow. As someone who was home schooled for about a year due to travel, moving and such, that seems pretty wild to me. I also know plenty of kids who were home schooled and they mostly turned out fine. That isn't to say there aren't some really odd people who were home schooled, but then again there are plenty of really odd people who went to public schools as well.

Most parents I know who home schooled got their kids involved in a lot of other activities- WAY more than the average public school kid. To the point that I thought it was a bit much, between sports leagues, dance organizations, scouts, etc.

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"As far as I'm concerned, home-schooling is abuse, full stop."

I think that's a pretty wild opinion. Do you have any data showing that aggregate life outcomes are worse for homeschooled kids than non-homeschooled kids? Especially to such an extent that it's proper to label it "abuse" rather than a different (or even suboptimal!) choice? If it's abusive, then surely that shows up in things like household income, subjective well being, higher educational attainment, etc?

What about for kids who have extremely poor public school options? Are you confident it's better for them to attend attend a failing public school? (And if you send your child to a bad public school - or to one where they are socially isolated, for that matter - is that abuse?)

Homeschooling definitely brings with it a different set of tradeoffs, and socialization is certainly a challenge. But speaking as someone who was homeschooled (as were many, but not all of my friends) it's certainly surmountable for most and in general, homeschooling is a net positive, albeit one that requires a high intensity of parental involvement that isn't feasible for most people.

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I have no idea whether the data even exists. But my experience is just *wildly* divergent from yours. I grew up in a mainly center-to-center-right religious community in the suburbs of a big city, then attended a religious university, and as such I met dozens of home-schooled kids over the years. *Without exception,* the homeschooled children I knew through church/Scouts/robotics, and the young adults I later met at university, were completely and utterly unprepared to meet the world at large without a great deal of completely avoidable suffering.

Maybe there's a tradition of home-schooling whereby that's not true, but I've never seen so much as a scrap of evidence hinting at its existence. And a great pile of evidence that it's just harmful, full stop, without any advantages relative to even mediocre schooling in any communal setting.

I cannot possibly disagree more strongly with the notion that it's a net positive; all I've seen of home-schooling are the kids who damned near drank themselves to death the moment they left their parents' shadow in college, those who were unwillingly consigned to be "loners" for 4 years due to social ineptness, and those who must have sought professional help, returned home to mommy and daddy, or outright harmed themselves after college due to the depths of their depression and ennui.

I don't think any parent should have the authority to inflict this on their kid, even if there are occasional examples of parents who do it well.

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"I don't think any parent should have the authority to inflict this on their kid, even if there are occasional examples of parents who do it well."

May I say that I'm grateful you are not in charge of any of this. You acknowledge that you don't have any data to back up your anecdotal claims, but instead of being open to contrary evidence from other people's experiences, you accept your conclusion as the authoritative one and suggest that no one should be able to do this. My friend, this is not a great approach.

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I'm unsure why, in a discussion about conflicting anecdotal evidence, and that's what this is at the end of the day, the burden of proof is supposed to be entirely on a single party.

Every study I've been able to find is absolute shit, very limited datasets with grave self-selection problems being extrapolated to very broad conclusions, pro and con.

In the absence of better analysis by people who actually want to find out the truth, all I can speak to is the experience that the homeschooling I've seen, all religiously motivated, was abusive and the end product was a series of maladjusted, fragile, deeply unhappy young adults.

Maybe there are a bunch of high-achieving, professional-class parents out there forming sophisticated informal co-ops to educate their children outside the public education system in the same intensive manner as the best magnet schools and tiger parents; certainly some of the "pro" studies seem to be able to find decent-sized samples of such groups. But I've never actually seen one of these people, and even in my major metro I've seen a great number of kids who I can only say were failed by their homeschooling experiences.

So... is it worth affording those parents the freedom to follow that intensive model, at the risk of leaving a bunch of much less privileged children to be failed by other forms of homeschooling?

I say no, it's not. You clearly disagree. Fine, that's your right.

What pisses me off is that you've decided this difference of opinion means I'm acting in bad faith. Which is something you've been hinting at a lot lately; damned near every time we interact you drop a hint in that direction, as in the death penalty discussion from the other day.

So forgive me if I simply don't care about your opinion regarding my "approach."

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I'm not sure all of what data exists, either. Some quick googling picked up this article. The author appears to be very pro homeschooling, but is linking to what appear to be legitimate pieces. Better than pure anecdote.

https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/15582159.2017.1395638?needAccess=true

In terms of anecdotes, a majority of the homeschoolers that I grew up with have graduated from college and have decent jobs or are stay at home parents. Several have advanced degrees or impressive jobs (e.g. graduate from a service academy and a thriving military career). A majority are married and have kids or are thinking about it. I know of a couple that have struggled with mental health issues (garden variety anxiety and depression, mostly). One friend dropped out of college (laziness, didn't drink). I'm not aware of any that ended up homeless, in jail, institutionalized, etc. A couple of divorces, but less than the general population. It would be pure counterfactual speculation about whether their lives would have been even better not being homeschooled, but it's hard for me to see how they were harmed by it, and most liked it at least somewhat. Most of us had our awkward points (who goes through adolescence without them?) but I honestly think we're mostly well adjusted.

The main counterpoints I would make are:

1. Most people don't stick with homeschooling if it doesn't work. A large number of the kids that I knew switched to homeschool co-ops or small private schools as they got older, or took community college classes, in part to get more socialization opportunities. A few switched to public schools. I'm open to the possibility that kids who never participates in co-ops or anything else might end up extra weird, but I have no idea how typical that is. I found that to actually be pretty uncommon, even in heavily religious circles.

2. I think there's a significant availability bias that could be at play here. How many people did you have in your classes that were homeschooled, but you never knew, because they were more well adjusted? I can't recall anyone who was not themselves homeschooled guessing that I was without me telling them. If your sample is limited to people weird enough that you could tell they were homeschooled, that's going to limit them to the people who had the worst social skills, which won't result in a fair comparison.

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"I don't think any parent should have the authority to inflict this on their kid, even if there are occasional examples of parents who do it well."

Well, Wisconsin v. Yoder stands in the way, and I can't imagine this SCOTUS overruling it any time soon. (Fair if you think Yoder should be overturned regardless, though.)

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I knew many home-schooled kids growing up and met more in college. Their social skills varied widely, just like kids who went to public school. Some of my good friends were home schooled and at first glance you wouldn't have known they were. There were no social cues to tip you off. Other I knew you definitely could tell from social cues that they were lacking in some social skills. It really depends on the person and their family.

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"The *vast* majority of parents are not willing or able to make up this deficit when homeschooling their kids." It is a big country, but in the red/purple state I live in this is profoundly untrue. The assumption that homeschooling works against the fact that "...they need to learn to breathe while doing other things, for lack of a better analogy" misses significant factors that drive the decision to home school. I would be interested in hearing your experiences that lead to this perspective.

Background: I am a passionate advocate for public education, have been involved in schools and done substitute teaching (I love subbing for middle school students!). I received an excellent education from a suburban Maryland school system, a long time ago.

And yet: I home schooled my children for about 4 years (5th - 8th for one, 9th- graduation the other) because after 8 years of really good experiences in public school the situations changed and no longer worked for my children. Depression in a 4th grade boy is heartbreaking.

Homeschooling is a big deal in our area and I would not have considered it if we did not know others who were doing it.

Our state essentially allows homeschools under the heading of private schools. One is allowed to teach one's own children but also the children of others. This allows parents to pool expertise, with those with math expertise handling math instruction, those with writing or history or science the instruction in those areas.

It also makes it a very social enterprise. Park days, music and sports lessons, even short classes offered by professionals from state cultural organizations (on their own time, not at state expense) allow kids to explore new things. There is great comradery built among parents as they wait for their children outside these activities. Isolation is possible but there are powerful forces working against it, like parental sanity!

Concern by non-homeschoolers about isolation is a sore point, as it implies homeschool parents are themselves uneducated and so incapable of meeting their children's needs. Homeschooling is frequently seen from afar as being a conservative religious phenomenon. There are groups that do organize around religious belief, however there are at least as many that do not, comprised of families from across the political and religious spectrum.

In my experience, one common thread for choosing to homeschool has to do with having a child who did not thrive in a traditional classroom setting. Whether it was reading at a much greater level than those around her or not dealing well with an....energetic environment (energy to some is chaos to others) or being so verbal it disrupted the rest of the class and drove the teacher nuts, the experience was that standard public school classrooms would not serve their children well at all.

My ardent preference is for a school system that supports accommodating this diversity of abilities and gifts with more than lip service, that provides world class education to all students. We do not have that. Maybe one day.

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My child attends a cooperative school; what you describe and we also practice... that ain't homeschooling, even if the legal mechanism that authorizes it is the same.

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Sep 6, 2022·edited Sep 6, 2022

I understand a cooperative school to be one in which a set group of parents arranges education for a set group of students, essentially a small private school. While that is possible and does exist in our area that is not our experience or what I described.

Rather, opportunities exist on an elective basis and parents sign their children up as interested. Some subjects are outsourced, some are not. To each his/her own.

Regardless: If the people participating refer to it as homeschooling, it is homeschooling. Your assertion of a much narrower definition introduces contention that works against constructive conversation.

**Addendum: I read some of your replies to other commenters after posting this. I see your experience is very different and your response certainly understandable.

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I knew a couple who homeschooled their kids pre-high school, and they did it by forming a cooperative with other homeschooling parents so they could pool resources together and also build interaction with other students. That seems like a more holistic way to do it.

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My child attends a cooperative pre-school, and I absolutely wouldn't consider that homeschooling. We parents manage it, make personnel, public health, and curriculum decisions, and do a significant work rota both during and after school hours, but we also hire professional teachers and rotate teaching duties among ourselves based on subject matter.

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"Kids don't only exist in school and have many/most of their social interactions in life outside of school."

All I can say is that my experience with home-schooled kids is pretty similar to JCW's: their social skills are under-developed.

You're right the school isn't the only place that kids interact. E.g. I knew some home-schooled kids thru boy scouts. All I can say is that their out-of-school interactions with other kids wasn't enough to get their social skills straightened out. Some eventually went to public schools for high school, and that helped their social skills a lot (but it really did seem like a diving-into-the-deep-end experience for them). School really did have an impact that other out-of-school interactions did not.

That said, from my limited observations, homeschooling parents these days seem to be making a bigger effort to get their kids to interact more with other kids. Maybe it's enough. Maybe it's not. Home-schooled kids are never going to get certain experiences (e.g. clique-based seating in school cafeterias), but I don't know how important it is.

That said, a lot of the home-schooled people of my age that I've encounter were home schooled specifically because their parents thought something was wrong with society and were trying to shield their kids from it. Now, I encounter a fair number of homeschooling parents who are doing it not because they think society sucks but because they think that school sucks. (A view that I'm coming around to.) That's part of the reason they're putting more effort into socializing their kids. Again, it's not clear to me that it's working, but at least they're trying more.

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>navigate the dynamics of groups where some people are mean / cruel / enemies.

If often see this take, that school bullying and ostracism have the prosocial function of teaching kids how not to get bullied or ostracized. But is that true? As I recall, it was the same people getting dragged day in and day out. No one transformed from being unpopular or a bullying victim to being an accepted member of the group. It was more weed-out than learning. At most you could argue that it's in _everyone else's_ interests to have certain kids become suicidal. I don't think we can reasonably argue that it's in those kids' interests.

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Sep 6, 2022·edited Sep 6, 2022

Bullying is bad, but learning how to navigate the diverse social milieu of school is very, very good. There’s a balance in there somewhere that hopefully adults are insightful and perceptive enough to support.

I had to learn, through rather harsh social conditioning by my peers: not to cry at school, not to be a teacher’s pet, and not to tattle. It made me a higher-functioning teen and adult. Because I have pretty high EQ I caught on. It was hard, but ultimately good for my general participation in society.

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Learning to stand in solidarity with people who don't want to be there against shit they don't want to be doing and authorities they don't respect is perhaps good preparation for prison or minimum-wage drudgery. Some kids really are going on to those things, so it is better that they be prepared. But it's also a toxic set of attitudes that you have to unlearn or code-switch out of if and when you get to healthier environments. This is one of the big draws of gifted & talented programs, selective colleges, and tech careers: you carve out a space where taking the work seriously and making an earnest effort at it isn't a social death sentence.

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Sep 6, 2022·edited Sep 6, 2022

I think I agreed with everything here except maybe the "inject diversity to keep kids from being bored" thing, which isn't strictly wrong, but definitely has some slippery pitfalls. Core reading and math competency is far and away the most important part of an education and pubic schools should bias away from any particularly doctrinaire presentation of social issues.

For me the fundamental problem with schools is that students spend vastly too much time on inappropriately challenging material because we don't do anything remotely like sufficiently aggressive tracking, especially for kids that aren't in the very meatiest part of the bell curve. It's just not effective to give kids material that isn't appropriate to their ability level, either too advanced or too easy, and age cohort is just a laughably bad proxy, all the more so given that typical kids tend to advance at differing rates by subject.

We should be doing vastly more to accurately assess students subject by subject and slotting then into individual classes on a knowledge and ability basis. Instead we have a system where most kids are wasting their time while teaching resources are directed overwhelmingly at a small sliver of students typical enough to marginally benefit.

This total failure to meaningfully assess progress is core to the central policy failure of public schooling, which is that a High School Diploma has become essentially entirely worthless as an economic signifier. Every job that isn't entry level physical labor requires a bachelor's, absurd amounts of relevant employment history, nepotism, or all of the above to get hired because the HSD simply doesn't tell employers anything anymore. We've grade and graduation rate inflated away whatever value it used to represent and now every student gets shuttled into the higher ed/student loan debacle instead, so that public schools can avoid saying uncomfortable truths about who has learned what and bad teachers never have to worry about anyone coming to look at whether they're actually adding any value at all.

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Sep 6, 2022·edited Sep 6, 2022

I remember when I was a kid they did tracking in middle school for some subjects (science and math), and high school for most core subjects (science, math, English, history, and even things like econ and government), with the only courses untracked being things like health, and art. I know there's some backlash against tracking in some places (math in San Francisco, for example). But my understanding is that tracking is still a big part of secondary education in America. It's hard for me to see that the lack of tracking is the fundamental problem with schools.

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The devil is in the details when it comes to tracking. Like, some schools basically put every 8th grader who is close to grade level into algebra, leaving behind only the kid who are really below grade level for 8th grade math, and other schools have some kind of process for filtering which results in only the kids who are prepared for algebra taking it. Analyses of math classes show that there's been a lot of course title inflation, and it's likely that this contributes to it -- if you have an algebra class where your median student isn't prepared for algebra, are you actually going to teach it at a level that's appropriate for your advanced learner? But overall, there's been a shift pushing differentiation to higher grades, doing less of it on a test-in basis, and deemphasizing standardized tests in admissions to selective high schools, which has the same effect.

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Sep 6, 2022·edited Sep 6, 2022

My position is that any traditional notions of tracking are wildly under-baked and that the goal should be to largely abandon age cohort segregation entirely. No student should ever be slotted into any class on premises that aren't at least vaguely based on an assessment of their baseline knowledge and abilities. Having a student in an "8th year" English class and a "3rd year" Math course at the same time based on their individual assessments , or vice versa, or whatever other configuration, should be the norm. Progress should be individualized and based on assessment of specific subject mastery as much as possible. Right now progress in k-12 is basically a prison sentence. "Have you served your time?" with little or no regard for what you did or didn't do with it.

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There are social benefits to school as well, and this aggressive form of tracking is very bad for that aspect (how many 14 year olds who have to be in a class with Young Sheldon are going to just drop out? how many 6th graders want to be in a 9th grade class with a bunch of 15 year olds?). We should be balancing those, not going all-in on the education side.

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When I was in 2nd grade I was moved into a 3rd grade math class. I'm not entirely sure how it happened.

I remember feeling like it wasn't particularly difficult, but it was kind of weird and none of my friends were there. The other kids assumed I was there because I was super smart so they would always ask me for the answers - but I wasn't some prodigy or anything I was just doing 3rd grade math. I ended up asking if I could just stay in my class but get the 3rd graders homework.

I really don't know what the takeaway should be though. On the one hand you could say this is clearly a case of tracking while ignoring social considerations being a failure. On the other hand if tracking was a bit more aggressive it would be normalized and there would be other kids of all ages in different classrooms so I wouldn't have felt as weird.

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I think 2nd vs 3rd is fine (and this happened in my high school math classes sometimes for example...we had juniors in my senior year Calc AB class). But there are tradeoffs and once you hit 2 or definitely 3 years of age increase, I don't think it's a net positive or at least it should be voluntary for the child.

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I'm not convinced that the social tradeoffs involved in greater mixing of age cohorts are a negative in the aggregate, though there are sure to be hard edge cases involved as you note. I certainly agree that the social implications of what I suggest are substantial and complicated, what I'm not convinced of is that there's anything the current equilibrium has particularly going for it except for momentum.

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Sep 6, 2022·edited Sep 6, 2022

In my 8th grade geometry class, which was already advanced according my district's normal progression, we had one 6th grader who moved from out of state. We all thought she was annoying.

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Curious, is there anywhere in the world that does this?

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My first assumption is probably not at scale, but there are certainly private systems that advance far more of a "progress at your own pace" model.

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IDEA is a huge issue here. Most schools spend huge amounts of money on a tiny group of special education students. It leaves them almost no money to assess the learning levels of other students and give them appropriate challenges.

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IDEA is a huge issue here. Most schools spend huge amounts of money on a tiny group of special education students. It leaves them almost no money to assess the learning levels of other students and give them appropriate challenges.

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Sep 6, 2022·edited Sep 6, 2022

I generally agree with the piece. As usual quibble with an aside: “culturally relevant pedagogy”. I can see much that can go wrong here. As far as science teaching goes, I highly doubt pictures of figures on the walls matter one way or the other. However, they do matter somewhat for cultural capital. Newton is a unique figure in physics and thus in world history, unmatched by any in terms of his contribution save, arguably, by Einstein. Not learning about him is missing a piece of common knowledge that is moreover a crucial link in the history of science. But it goes deeper: The fact is that due to complex historical contingencies the industrial revolution happened in Europe, and scientific progress was achieved by Europeans, almost alone, until the 20th century, after which white men continue to punch well above their weight. Ignoring this fact potentially has three problems:

1. Giving a wrong impression of the past and the world

2. hurting kids “cultural capital” by keeping them ignorant about the most famous influential people

3. The basic, frankly racist, assumption, that kids needs someone who “looks like them” to identify with and draw inspiration from. That’s nonsense. To quote the black former Harvard (currently Brown) economics professor Glenn Laury, when asked who is the Black Tolstoy: “Tolstoy”. I.e. if a descendant of Irish peasants can feel like the Russian aristocrat Tolstoy is “his” why not a black guy or Latina woman?

In short, ironically I think this whole (pseudo)-progressive cultural sensitive idea is set to give kids in white-majority public schools advantage over public schools like the one MY describes, all else being equal.

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There are two problems with this formulation:

1) "scientific progress was achieved by Europeans, almost alone, until the 20th century" - I am a historian whose work focuses on science and medicine, and this statement is total garbage. The reason you have no conception of the significance of, to take just one example, non-Euro contributors to medicine and mathematics is just that your education on this subject is so incomplete. And that's okay! I mean, honestly, how much history of medicine does the average person need to know to function in the world? The answer is clearly "not much." But when you rely on ignorance to speak some kind of "deep truth" that will inform policy, well, that's bad.

2) The assumption that kids, like all humans, find it easier to identify or connect with people who look like them is extremely well-founded in both empirical research and personal experience. That doesn't mean that you need a black Tolstoy, but it does mean that thinking about audience and trying to connect with audiences is a useful thing to do when designing educational material, as is true of literally every other discipline where you are trying to communicate with an audience (just ask anyone who is good at marketing / sales or any top-notch writer). Some stuff is transcendent and crosses all human boundaries, but most stuff is not.

Moreover, you are betraying here your reliance on point 1, which is to say that the reason you read Tolstoy and not some Latina writer is NOT that there are no transcendent Latina writers. Choices were made, mostly not by you, about which transcendent experiences you would have. Different choices are possible. The real question is why we are so tied to some particular choices made by some particular people in the past. Sometimes there are good reasons, but sometimes the reasons are not so good. It's complicated, and pretending otherwise is a bit silly.

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Of course it doesn’t need to be zero sum when it comes to historical figures. Really I should have learned more about Tolstoy growing up I loved how he kind of addressed the political issues of the time in Anna Karennina. I honestly knew almost nothing about him until my 30s. But also I read Underground Railroad by colson whitehead and thought man everyone probably needs to read this at some point. Just add him in.

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Sep 6, 2022·edited Sep 6, 2022

Can you elaborate on point 1, and point to which non European figures in the 18th and 19th centuries contributed to science or medicine in the caliber of the 20 most important European contributors of those eras?

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I think that two things can be true of the same time. Definitely before the 20th century, there have been scientific and cultural advances in civilizations around the world, and up until the modern period, Europe did not really have much of an advantage over other civilizations (many innovations came from China, Arabia and North Africa, India, Persia, Mesoamerica, and elsewhere...) However, it is also true that in the early modern period, there were scientific, industrial, and agricultural revolutions that took place in Europe that didn't hit the rest of the world until later, so Europe was able to surpass much of the world in technolocial and scientific prowess between the 17th and 19th centuries.

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Sep 6, 2022·edited Sep 6, 2022

which is *precisely* my point: "The fact is that due to complex historical contingencies the industrial revolution happened in Europe, and scientific progress was achieved by Europeans, almost alone, until the 20th century," I am referring to "the great divergence" here. The HUGE advances in science and medicine since the 18th cent. happened in Europe (and to a lesser extent european colonies/ex-colonies), by European men. This started changing, very gradually, in the 20th cent. esp. its second half, but white men still punch above their weight.

OF COURSE we should teach also ancient and mediaeval history, including the key role of esp. Greeks and Muslim world in the history of science and ideas. I do ancient history for a living, how could i to object. It does not change the facts about *modern* science and medicine, and how and where it came to be.

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I'm walking out the door to go somewhere, but you need to start with Avicenna, or Ibn Sina. Pre-19th C. medicine is a weird beast; it's important to keep in mind how much of it was flatly wrong. But Avicenna / Ibn Sina's works on medicine and healing are the number one core texts of European medicine up to--interesting argument to be had here--certainly the 18th C. and maybe the end of the 19th C., depending on whether you are talking "cutting-edge" biomedicine or "medicine as actually taught and practiced in most places," which is way off the edge.

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Sep 6, 2022·edited Sep 6, 2022

Wikipedia says born 980. I asked speicifcally about 18th and 19th century figures.

P.S. I see now that you have quoted me very much out of context, thereby completely distorting my meaning. Please re-read *in full* that sentence of mine you quoted. As an academic you should know better.

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Sorry; I didn't read your clean-up response. I was responding to this: "The fact is that due to complex historical contingencies the industrial revolution happened in Europe, and scientific progress was achieved by Europeans, almost alone, until the 20th century, after which white men continue to punch well above their weight." That was what I was thinking of when I wrote, "this statement is total garbage."

And apparently you agree! Because you did clean-up in your next comment, when you added the caveat shrinking the possibility space to recent stuff. I apologize for not reading that comment more carefully; as I said, I was walking out the door when I wrote it. But apparently we don't actually disagree, so that's good.

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Sep 6, 2022·edited Sep 6, 2022

No, I did not "clean up". Read that sentence you just quoted (in full, for a change). "due to complex historical contingencies the industrial revolution happened in Europe, and scientific progress was achieved by Europeans, almost alone, until the 20th..." If it helps, let me spell it out more clearly "due to complex historical contingencies the industrial revolution happened in Europe, and [consequently] scientific progress was achieved by Europeans, almost alone, until the 20th century". Yes, the bracketed part is not there, but is there another way to understand the connection between the two parts of the sentence? why otherwise do you think I bothered beginning the sentence with noting that the industrial revolution started in Europe "due to complex historical contingencies"? Would I have written such a qualifier had I subscribed to some simplistic, ahistorical idea that only europeans ever advanced knowledge? Isn't it better practice, generally speaking, to engage in slightly more careful reading of people's words, and perhaps even adopt a charitable interpretation, before declaring them "total garbage" (eloquent and graceful though that phraseology undoubtedly is)?

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Sorry for the short reply.

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I'll answer your question, but first a caveat. Your specific question is a poor test, because the 18th and 19th centuries in particular saw increasing European global politico-military dominance. Political dominance then fueled scientific funding: a European had access to careers and raw experimental data worldwide that a comparably clever non-European would lack. Worse, the records of their work would be written in a language that more modern historians know. (Plofker, _Mathematics in India_: "To do justice to the mathematical and astronomical treatises of the early modern period would require another book. The difficulties are exacerbated by the fact that none of the works in question has been fully translated or studied in detail, and several of them have never yet been published.")

With that said, some possible examples are:

* Jagannatha Samrat, royal astronomer at the court of Jai-Singh II (fl. 1700-1743), and designer of the latter's Jantar Mantars. For a summary of the observatories, see the (unfortunately obscure) Sharma, _Sawai Jai Singh and His Observatories_ (1995). For contemporary European reactions, see Schaffer, “The Asiatic Enlightenments of British Astronomy” in Schaffer, Roberts, Raj, and Delbourgo (eds.), _The Brokered World_ (2009).

* Pedro Davila, Peruvian natural historian and biologist; his work was (for a while) to be the kernel of a Spanish natural history museum, as discussed in Pimentel, "Across Nations and Ages" in ibid.

* Wang Chang (1724-1806), epigrapher (do you consider archaeology a science?), whose work ended up in European hands as evidence of ancient occult knowledge (see Statman “The Tarot of Yu the Great" in Findley (ed.), _Empires of Knowledge_).

* Sunma Khenpo (fl. 1777), Tibetan geographer (do you consider geography a science?) who recorded much of the geography of modern Russia and Central Asia (note that this region would remain unclear to Europeans well into the 19th century) in the 18th century, described by Kapstein, "Just Where on Jambudvīpa Are We?" in Pollock (ed.), _Forms of Knowledge in Early Modern Asia_ (2011).

Some alternatives that might squeeze to fit your question are Ramanujan (who did his early work in the "Long 19th Century", not the 19th century _per se_, but, unlike subsequent Indian mathematicians, clearly worked in a serial Indian tradition distinct from contemporary Western concerns); whoever bred the asian pigs used in modern factory farms (remember, biology is science too! According to https://www.jstor.org/stable/pdf/23050648.pdf, the breed cannot have emerged prior to 1700); and the many, many African slaves who attempted to naturalize various African abortifacients in the Greater Caribbean (as discussed in Schiebinger, _Plants and Empire_ (2004); the conclusion chapter is a decent summary).

H/t Eric Gurevitch for the vast majority of these sources and personages.

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Sep 7, 2022·edited Sep 7, 2022

If you re-read my comments here carefully you’d see your caveat is unnecessary. I already made it for you. As for your examples, do you consider any of them to be among the 20 most *important* contributors to natural sciences, medicine or mathematics in this period? Because that was my question essentially. I never argued that there wasn’t contemporary intellectual activity elsewhere. The question is rather its relative importance, how groundbreaking it was compared to what was being done in Europe at the time.

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Sep 7, 2022·edited Sep 7, 2022

P.S. Although this was not my original question, I do think you can expand my question to the humanities and social sciences. Can you name any non Europeans *in this period* whose work in say, linguistics, economics, philology, philosophy, or history, compares to the 20 greatest Europeans of that time period? Of course the problem here would perhaps be that some of these disciplines were *invented* in Europe at that very period, to a greater or lesser extent, so it’s not an entirely fair request, yet on the other hand that’s part of the point.

And to be clear, if we choose other historical periods we can have the same exercise with other regions of the world, even if perhaps to less extreme divergence (because there is no exact parallel to the industrial revolution). The Middle East had *multiple* extended periods in which it put Europe to shame, to name just one famous counter-example.

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Sep 6, 2022·edited Sep 6, 2022

On your second point--if people say that it is important for them to have role models that look like them, I would believe them.

And of course you can take this to the extreme, and assume that people can ONLY have role models that share their identities. Of course we are all people here, and people can also to relate to other human beings who don't share our identities. Taking it to the extreme would be bad.

But saying, hey we want to include a diversity of figures into the curriculum that reflect the diversity of the student body. I think it makes sense.

And this isn't new. I remember in 2004, my school swapped out 1984 for Jane Eyre in the 10th grade curriculum because they wanted more female authors represented. I mean I hated Jane Eyre, but in principle, I don't think it was a big problem. But I concede that it's also possible for the pendulum of representation-based concerns to be taken too far.

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Sep 6, 2022·edited Sep 6, 2022

Wow, that was a particularly ill-conceived switch, methinks. But as to your general point, see my p.s. in the main thread. What determines who “shares identity” with whom, and anyway, when it comes to literature, why does the author at all matter and not the contents? A song of ice and fire does female agency far better than harry potter (to be fair it does complex characters better generally but it it’s especially noticeable with the female characters who are given short-shrift in HP!)

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Sep 6, 2022·edited Sep 6, 2022

Regarding point 2: the key problem is “looks like them”. What determines that? The four arbitrary categories of the us census? Also, what’s the obsession with looks? I should think that *stories* about people are far more influential, and kids are free to imagine the characters in their heads however they want (we only have a rough sense at best for what most premodern people looked like anyway).

As to point 3: in fact the process of canon creation is far more complex than how you describe it. The point is that one in fact cannot simply ignore it without paying a price (loss of cultural capital and literacy). Moreover, the Tolstoy example wasn’t about that debate at all but used with regards to point 2.

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Anecdotally:

My daughter is the only girl in my household with 3 males and she very clearly looks for female role models/examples (very excited about Kamala Harris for instance). My son doesn't bother looking for male equivalents - possibly because he already sees them enough at home with his parents, maybe school.

I don't know that you need "people who look like you" to make up exactly the demographic percentage that you yourself occupy(e.g. 50% of science portraits on the wall must be women), but seeing _some_ clearly fills a need.

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Sep 6, 2022·edited Sep 6, 2022

gender might be different, to an extent. But race and other forms of identity are important only if you make them salient. There is no inherent reason to consider Caesar as "white" (in fact an anachronistic categorization). Not that I'd take him as a role model anyway (yikes) but you see my point. He was however very much a man, little point debating that.

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“So long as men worship the Caesars and Napoleons, Caesars and Napoleons will duly rise and make them miserable.” ― Aldous Huxley (Sorry for the tangent, but your reference to not wanting Caesar as a role model immediately made me think of this quote.)

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Both were quite complex figures, actually , who ushered in useful reforms that many (in Caesar's case most) people use and benefit from (in slightly adapted forms) to the present day!

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As always, incredibly thrilled to get a flipper-up affirmation from the sexiest member of Tokyo's cetacean community.

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I was under the impression that the figures on the walls weren’t meant to be significant figures in the history of science, but rather “this is a picture of so-and-so who graduated from this school six years ago and is now researching quantum physics at the University of Maryland”.

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That’s different, but not my impression. Anyway that’s not the case in other schools so the specific example is less important.

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When kids learn ancient history these days they learn about the Fertile Crescent. But I think there is a lot more emphasis on the idea that interesting things including written language were happening in mohenjo daro kind of separately, and that while it wasn’t the hotbed of economic and technological advances, the native Americans were not lesser persons than the conquering Europeans. This is stuff I honestly think you forget to teach or remind kids of unless u are deliberate about it. Hand wringing over every emphasized historical figure is tedious and sometimes counterproductive and divisive, but the underlying biases are often worthy of counterbalancing. I am absolutely opposed to the overemphasis on the divisive cultural issues when talking about education but I think on the whole history is being taught better today and had real bias taken for granted in the past.

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Sep 6, 2022·edited Sep 6, 2022

I have no idea what kids these days learn, and if I were to set the curriculum I'd definitely teach about ancient Akkadian civilizations (among other things). I'd also leave time for some of the great civilizations of the world, and the native civilizations of the Americas should obviouslly hold a special place for American students. However, I do think there should be greater emphasis on history that directly influenced the development and creation of one's own country, because it holds special heuristic value. In that sense, and in that sense *only* , which is, moreover, a strictly relativistic sense, Greco-Roman history is, among ancient history, a particularly important topic for American students, because it helps elucidate the thinking of the founding fathers, the shaping of the Us governing institutions, some of the the aesthetic of tis building and artistic movements, and some of the best (and worst!) ideas that influenced the country from its founding to the present day. It is also, along with the Bible (and christianity more generally) a key to understanding the cultural world and references in which all previous generations of Americans were educated, and there is, in my view, value in understanding the thinking, and cultural references, of ones predecessors in one's country (e.g. being able to read an American novel and get many of the references without endless footnotes).

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As a parent sending my kids to relatively good local public school, when I read these NYT op Ed’s and other comments from really political left people, I wonder if they understand how much pretty much every single parent, left right or center, who is sending their young kids to school, is constantly worrying about how much regular stuff they are learning- math, reading, problem solving. It’s a huge thing that is for the most part out of our hands, we have entrusted the public school system with this tremendous responsibility. But when liberal journalists (and any conservative commentators as well, x10 probably) think about schools they just think of straight political bullshit. I am not being dismissive of racism when I say that I am just pointing out that when thinking about math curriculum it is really a problem when you are not discussing the math. Also with no legislation, with nothing at all, my daughter is getting a tremendous amount of education on racism, feminism, famous and impressive people of color. This stuff shouldnt be outlawed obviously but many people prob have very little appreciation of how much of this stuff is already taught.

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'“Culturally relevant pedagogy” where you try to make sure kids aren’t just reading books by white people with white characters or leaning history as a succession of things done by Important White People seems to work.'

Not sure whether you really mean 'culturally relevant' (as in the Thailand example), or 'racially uniform.' Jefferson, eg, is more 'culturally relevant' to an American black kid than Toussaint L'Overture, but is not same-raced. Shakespeare, for another example, is culturally no closer to today's white kids in America than today's black kids, though racial uniformity would recommend teaching him to the former, but maybe not the latter. Culture easily jumps the color line, to the chagrin of racists.

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"Citizenship" is not (or shouldn't be) a trojan horse for political indoctrination. People need to know the very non-political facts of our political system - two houses of congress, federalism, what are your rights if you are arrested, really basic stuff that never needs to touch culture war politics. I couldn't disagree more with the McGhee/Ray idea - being a good responsible citizen in no way requires you adopt any historical narrative about America, whether it's about anti-racism or anti-communism or whatever. It doesnt require much history at all. Participate in local politics if you can, vote, follow the law, be a good neighbor, go to jury duty if called, start a business and run it ethically, lots of ways to be a good citizen that never touch history.

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Seems more than a bit naive to me to suggest that 'federalism' and 'what are your rights if you are arrested' won't turn into political flashpoints depending on circumstances. The country fought a civil war over federalism (amongst other issues)!

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It would if the classroom was full of a bunch of politically engaged adults like SB readers, but in my experience a room full of teenagers actually probably wouldn't- I'm talking more about questions like what are the responsibilities of local v state v federal governments rather than what should that relationship be. Same with the police question- clearly an opportunity for serious political disagreement, but this almost never happens in my classes. What are the rules- 4th and 5th ammendments, Miranda rights, right to an attorney. Not controversial on its face, could open the door to spicier discussions if students are interested (they mostly aren't).

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I'm not talking about it being a flashpoint among the students, but among the parents/administrators/general political discourse.

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My mistake I misunderstood. Yes, parents love to yell at teachers but that's what good admins are for, to have our back in such cases. That's not always the case but I'm lucky enough to have good support that way. I haven't had a school administration that really wants to lean into politics like that, and if they did I'd be looking for a new job pretty fast.

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No worries, my first comment should have been clearer. And I agree that a school administration that wanted to be politically prescriptive (in either direction) would be a poor place to work, less because of the politics in itself but more because it would be a lack of trust in the judgment of the teaching staff.

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Sep 6, 2022·edited Sep 6, 2022

“ All of which is to say that improving the level of basic reading competency is basic citizenship education.”

There is essentially no evidence that reading competency can be meaningfully improved from current levels long term for the vast majority of people.

“ Let’s say you have 200 dollars in a savings account. The account earns 10 percent interest per year. How much would you have in the account at the end of two years?”

While only 18% answered correctly, I would venture to guess almost all were taught it. Many were tested on it and answered the test question correctly. They then quickly forgot it.

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"While only 18% answered correctly, I would venture to guess almost all were taught it. Many were tested on it and answered the test question correctly. They then quickly forgot it."

Thank you so much for this. Every so often so admittedly-terrible part of America history will become the hot topic on social media for half a day, and I see friends that I went to school with post inane comments like, "WHY DIDN'T SCHOOL EVER TEACH US ABOUT THIS??? MAKES YOU THINK.", while I am sitting here like....well, we, uh, DID learn about it. I sat behind you in class. I could tell you the teacher's name who taught us about [bad historical thing X] in 9th grade.

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Sep 6, 2022·edited Sep 6, 2022

My understanding is that reading scores have been improving since 1971, and that the pandemic brought them back down to the levels that they were two decades ago. That tells me that educational interventions since 1971 have been able to bring up reading scores. And school closures for extended periods of time also hurt reading scores.

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You are not correct:

This from before the pandemic:

“ American 17-year-olds aren't performing any better in reading and math than their bell-bottom-clad counterparts in the early 1970s. That's one conclusion from the latest round of a national test tracking long-term educational trends.”

https://www.csmonitor.com/USA/2009/0429/p02s01-usgn.html

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That article is from 2009 and leaves out half the period Briross is citing

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Sep 6, 2022·edited Sep 6, 2022

From 2019

“Overall student progress in reading has stalled in the last decade, with the highest performers stagnating and the lowest-achieving students falling further behind.”

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This is correct, but the absolute magnitudes are smallish. The pandemic dropped median standardized test scores about a decile. Two decades of progress improved median scores about a decile. However, improving the test score of the median student by a decile wouldn’t make liberal scholarship that much more accessible

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I wondered about this too. I can't remember if Matt has ever directly addressed Freddie DeBoer's arguments in support of the null hypothesis: that better teaching methods and increased resources won't help much because it's mostly about student IQ.

I do know that advocates of phonics say this isn't true for their particular pet intervention, and that it's supported by research. Since Matt knows about everything and Freddie knows a lot about education policy specifically, it would be great to see them hash this out.

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I believe deBoer’s argument focuses on relative academic performance. I.e., you can increase the absolute academic performance of a population of students, but the relative performance within that population doesn’t change. E.g., the top 10% is composed of the same students as before. And hence deBoer doesn’t believe education is an effective way to address socioeconomic disparities since relative performance is what matters in the labor market.

Think he’s most recently summarized his thesis in “Education Doesn't Work 2.0”, https://freddiedeboer.substack.com/p/education-doesnt-work-20

> The brute reality is that most kids slot themselves into academic ability bands early in life and stay there throughout schooling. We have a certain natural level of performance, gravitate towards it early on, and are likely to remain in that band relative to peers until our education ends. There is some room for wiggle, and in large populations there are always outliers. But in thousands of years of education humanity has discovered no replicable and reliable means of taking kids from one educational percentile and raising them up into another. Mobility of individual students in quantitative academic metrics relative to their peers over time is far lower than popularly believed. The children identified as the smart kids early in elementary school will, with surprising regularity, maintain that position throughout schooling. Do some kids transcend (or fall from) their early positions? Sure. But the system as a whole is quite static. Most everybody stays in about the same place relative to peers over academic careers. The consequences of this are immense, as it is this relative position, not learning itself, which is rewarded economically and socially in our society.

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Yes, but (as I think I remember Matt pointing out) Freddie is focusing too exclusively on relative improvement for the lowest-performing students. If phonics worked better than other methods and improved outcomes for students at every ability level, that would be a very good thing even if the relative gaps remained unchanged.

But I have trouble seeing how that could be the case for reading instruction. If non-phonics methods are failing the most disadvantaged students, it's by keeping them at the level of "can't sound out words easily". If you can get everyone up to "can sound out words, but may or may not know the relevant vocabulary", you won't eliminate the gaps but you're guaranteed to make them smaller.

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“Thousands of years”? Where is this planet where most most children have been educated for “thousands of years”? Universal literacy is a relatively new idea, attempts to implement it go back a few hundred years at most.

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“ you can increase the absolute academic performance of a population of students”

I think you’re mistaken. You can’t improve academic performance long term above current levels. You can, for example, with great effort increase reading scores modestly. But when you compare that group with a control group at age 25 the improvement vanishes.

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Are you saying that 25 year old native born Americans read no better today than in 1870?

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No, 1970.

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so educational improvements lost efficacy in 1970?

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Then why is reading better now than pre universal schooling?

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I amended my comment to say from current levels. What the research shows is you can improve test scores (very) modestly. But if you check back at age 25 the intervention group has reverted to the same skill level as the control group.

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I'm sure what's going on is that people likely saw the formula for compound interest, but never really understood the formula or an intuitive sense for how to calculate it beyond plug and chug.

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You can lead a horse to water…

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Learning about how compound interest works was a revelation for me. I suspect that even if I weren’t a math person I would have remembered it because of that. Compound interest is an excellent opportunity to show kids how math relates to their real life.

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This was one of my favorite revelating discussions of compound interest out there:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YXTAgth6KY8

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But there are other things they did not forget. I read Matt's argument to be that we need to prioritize the time practicing reading and math so those skills are maintained and they forget there was a President named Millard Fillmore.

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I agree with this to a point but it seems like you are overstating your case. I think maybe if we looked at potentially doing some mass education interventions at age 20, 24, 30 your point comes into sharper focus. At a certain point, we try to teach kids because we are looking to take custody of them for many hours and while we are doing that we might as well try to teach them. Eventually people are pretty productive on their own and the idea of the state taking time out of their lives (at expense) to modestly improve their arithmetic seems very silly.

At the end of the day there really is no urgent need to get people to read at a sightly higher grade level. That’s why we put so little emphasis on improving adults reading. It’s an intervention of opportunity as kids need something to do. and when it starts to seem really difficult to make progress it may be better not to push too hard.

But maybe people would really like their kids to be in school 10 hours / day; 6 days / week and we could all spring for that and I bet they would read a bit better on average. But people don’t actually want that.

All that said, phonics does seem to help some of the most struggling students as an early intervention and we should definitely push it. Why even try to figure out the next great reading intervention when people won’t even do the one we have?

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That’s still a huge problem. I want members of parliament to be able to figure out the answer to that question.

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There are many conceptual problems with piece, but I am going to stick with the most basic one (at least for now).

Matt keeps using the word "basic" as though his argument and desired outcome is simple and straightforward. He says what is missing is "basic reading competency," because the recommended target level for writing for the public is roughy eighth grade. He has been talking phonics for quite some time -- not unjustifiably. But phonics is really about lower elementary school, with some later reliance on it -- particularly for struggling readers. Phonics doesn't even get one to 8th grade reading levels.

Matt -- a somewhat Harvard-appropriate philosophy major -- has a certain sense of what appropriate general public writing ought to look like and has settled on 11th grade or maybe college sophomore level. And yet, he -- not unjustifiably -- screams about how the median voter is a 50+ non-college white person. He thinks that 50+ non-college white people currently read at a college sophomore level? Even an 11th grade level? 30+ years after graduating from high school, what does he think they've been reading all this time to keep that reading facility up?

Matt is *not* talking about "basic reading competency." He is talking about *advanced* reading competency. Is is talking about the ability to read complex passages in complex texts with layers of meaning. Perhaps not philosophy texts, but complex texts nonetheless -- in a world in which most people's entertainment and information sources are *not* text-based (e.g., YouTube now counts as research for so many people).

It looks to me as though Matt wants more focus and more success with the goals of the Common Core State Standards. It looks to me like his not talking about outcomes that achievable with drilling math, reading or anything. He want people to have a decent number sense -- something that has always been really challenging to teach. Drills help with facts and declarative knowledge. They do not supply intuition or judgement.

And I agree with *all* of that. ALL. Of. That.

But these are *not* basic skills. At no point humanity have these been basic skills. I do not know whether they will *ever* be basic skills. Certainly, there are cognitive development challenges to when different students are able to develop many of them.

So, here's my real criticism: It's a cheap trick to *call* them basic skills. It's a slight of hand that allows Matt to avoid thinking about what it takes to teach them. By *calling* them basic, he can suggest that schools are not doing the easier part of their job, the easily expected part of their job.

Acknowledge that these skills are *not* basic, despite being incredibly important to an informed citizenry and our democracy and future economic growth (and and and...) and the piece has to change. Then, one has to wonder whether it is possible to teach alls students these advanced skills and what it would take. If they are *not* basic they the assertion can be taken less for granted.

I think Matt wants our K12 public schools to instill better math skills that most good college graduates have (e.g., UVa? That's pretty good). I suspect that he wants folks long removed from college -- if they ever went -- to have better reading skills than al those people who graduate from college with majors that are not "reading intensive." He wants to raise the bar everywhere.

So do I.

With all my experience and expertise in this area, I don't think that this is generally about "basic" skills.

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Agreed.

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I think it is perfectly acceptable to use "basic" as a normative term.

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You leave out one important grievance of the right wing with respect to public education. Since the 1950s, public schools in the US have been deChristianized. This is appropriate for a secular democracy. However, it is unacceptable to conservative Christians, hence the assault on public education.

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Honest question - what did Christian education look like in public schools? I wasn’t aware that there was much beyond rudimentary daily prayers, etc.

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It varied. In my Ohio elementary school classroom, it was just a morning prayer. This was awkward for the approximately one third of my class who were Jewish. In North Carolina teaching prospects were vetted for theological correctness and their willingness to teach Sunday school.

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question - is that what it was "always" like or a specific quirk of the height of the cold-war years (like the introduction of "under god" to the pledge of allegiance and of "in god we trust" to the coins etc. )?

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This varied dramatically by location. Some areas were/are significantly more religious than others and the schools reflected this difference.

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One thing that has always gotten my goat from the DEI industrial complex is the notion they have passed off that in 2019-2020 the country was teaching racial issues and history the same way it was in 1925.

Students were absolutely learning about things like the 3/5 compromise, slavery as the cause of the Civil War, etc.

Heck, I am not young and I was taught these things in school.

The DEI industrial complex in its absolute fraudulence pretends that they are "forcing America to confront difficult history."

Total nonsense.

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For a coalition that ostensibly believes education naturally produces people who agree with its goals and values, the progressive left is very insecure about whether or not people will actually end up agreeing with their goals and values.

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I'd also add basic science competency to the list. The leaps and bounds of scientific understanding of the past 50-60 years are completely foreign to most Americans, and I'd argue it's because many of these concepts are taught poorly (or not at all!) at most public schools. The pandemic has shown a harsh light on what happens when the populace doesn't understand basic science (not that this wasn't an issue before the pandemic).

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So, I wouldn't say epidemiology of a novel virus, or the mechanism of mRNA vaccines are "basic" by any stretch of the imagination. It's not surprising to me that even highly educated people were baffled a bit by the pandemic.

With that being said, preparing people with some basic scientific literacy is critically important, I won't argue with you there.

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That's not what I was arguing for, but let me try to clarify. In the context of a pandemic, people should be able to understand the following concepts:

-Herd immunity

-How vaccines work

-How to interpret data

-Statistics

-A testable hypothesis

-Evolution

All of these should be well within the reach of a high school student. If you understand all that, it's not critical to know the details of how the spike protein works or the purpose of the furin cleavage site; you can learn about the pandemic and adjust your behavior accordingly.

Frankly, it was quite clear that a good chunk of the news media doesn't understand these basic concepts (and I'm not casting blame just on the Fox News universe either). It's been a huge source of frustration for scientists for many years.

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I think you are assuming that people just didn't understand the science, but most of it to me seemed to be a lot about differing risk tolerances and bridling at the govt telling people what to do in a particularly heavy-handed manndr

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That's a separate issue entirely and I'm not downplaying those factors in the context of the pandemic. Basic science literacy, however, is an issue that extends far beyond the pandemic into many walks of life. Climate change is probably the most prominent example, but there's also the rise of supplements and crystals as an alternative to medicine.

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I agree with your main point, but I'd still consider reading and math to be the 'foundations', with science being a tier higher.

You arent going to get much scientific literacy with those two things in place first.

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No argument from me there! My point was that a high school graduate should have a level of scientific literacy well above what the what the current average American has. But you're absolutely right, it should go without saying that you need to have the reading and math underpinnings first.

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Herd immunity is hard to understand without college level statistics. High schoolers, even smart ones, might view it in semantic terms and think “if there were herd immunity, no one would get sick” when all it really means is the R0 isn’t much above 1.

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Sep 6, 2022·edited Sep 6, 2022

It's definitely possible to have qualitative understanding of concepts without knowing the underlying higher-level mathematics. Like I can understand what climate change is without being able to tell you how the latest climate models work.

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founding

You don’t need college level statistics to understand herd immunity. You need the basic idea of R0, the idea that we can think of there being an average number of people that one infected person will infect in the absence of immunity. If R0 is 3, then you can see that if more than 2/3 of the population has perfect immunity, and they are distributed randomly, then any initial outbreak will shrink (or if there’s a higher number with slightly less perfect immunity), while if there’s less immunity than that, then any initial outbreak will grow. That’s all herd immunity means - having enough immunity in the population that R will typically be less than 1.

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To my discredit, I thought herd immunity had been achieved in April of 2020 when infection rates crashed. I didn’t understand that was driven by distancing rather than immunity resulting from paucisymptomatic infections

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But reality is messier than that arithmetic example. The R effective changes hugely over time based upon voluntary distancing, coercive distancing, vaccination, prior infections and the evolution of the virus.

Conceding a high schooler could understand the arithmetic, they would be helpless to look at infection/death curves and say “herd immunity occurred at this point.”. The difference between an R effective of 1.1 and 0.9 would be very important if nothing else changed, or even if the system could be described by a relatively simple, logistic equation. However, no one can fit a logistic equation to the actual curves because life is much more complicated than simple models.

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