Category Archives: Education

“Obscure security makes school suck”

James Stephenson has an article on Boing Boing on how "Obscure security makes school suck".  It is brief and well worth the read.  Here are a few excerpts:

The thing to remember about the public schools of today is that
students are treated worse than criminals. Everyone is presumed guilty
until proven innocent.

A common justification for [surveillance] cameras is that they make students safer,
and make them feel more secure. I can tell you from first hand
experience that that argument is bullshit. Columbine had cameras, but
they didn't make the 15 people who died there any safer. Cameras don't
make you feel more secure; they make you feel twitchy and paranoid.
Some people say that the only people who don't like school cameras are
the people that have something to hide. But having the cameras is a
constant reminder that the school does not trust you and that the
school is worried your fellow classmates might go on some sort of
killing rampage.

In northern Virginia, the measures are even more Draconian. They
have heavily-armed and -armored police officers roaming the halls.
Students undergo a mandatory security orientation during their first
week of middle school. In it, a police officer goes through the
implements they carry at all times. The police women who performed the
demo I attended showed us how she was always wore a bulletproof vest,
and carried handcuffs, cable-tie style restraints, a large knife, a can
of mace, and a retractable steel baton. "It's nonlethal, kids," she
said. "But you don't want me to have to shatter your kneecaps with it."

She also wore a pistol with exactly thirteen rounds: one in the
chamber, 12 in the clip. She could have taken out a terrorist or two;
which I guess that is what they were expecting some of us to be. At the
tender age of 12, this made quite an impression of me, and I still
remember the event clearly. But these methods were useless in keeping
me or any of my classmates safe. They didn't stop the kid who flashed a
gun at me, or the bully who took a swipe at me with a switchblade.

Some people say youngsters are more disrespectful than ever before. But
if you were in an environment where you were constantly being treated
as a criminal, would you still be respectful? In high school, one of my
favorite English teachers never had trouble with her students. The
students in her class were the most well behaved in the school–even if
they were horrible in other teachers' classes. We were well-mannered,
addressed her as "Ma'am," and stood when she entered the room. Other
teachers were astonished that she could manage her students so well,
especially since many of them were troublemakers. She accomplished this
not though harsh discipline, but by treating us with respect and being
genuinely hurt if we did not return it.

Petty acts of rebellion–and innocent little covert activities–kept
our spirits up. The school's computer network may have been censored,
but the sneakernet is alive and well. Just like in times past, high
school students don't have much money to buy music, movies or games,
but all are avidly traded at every American high school. It used to be
tapes; now it's thumbdrives and flash disks. My friends and I once
started an underground leaflet campaign that was a lot of fun. I even
read about a girl who ran a library of banned books out of her locker.
These trivial things are more important than they seem because they make
students feel like they have some measure of control over their lives.
Schools today are not training students to be good citizens: they are
training students to be obedient.

Who would have thunk it? – kids learn better if they have time for recess

The Tara Parker-Pope of the New York Times' Well blog has an article about how children learn better if they have time for play.  It covered a number of studies about the effects of gym and recess on learning including this one:

A study
published this month in the journal Pediatrics studied the links
between recess and classroom behavior among about 11,000 children age 8
and 9. Those who had more than 15 minutes of recess a day showed better
behavior in class than those who had little or none. Although
disadvantaged children were more likely to be denied recess, the
association between better behavior and recess time held up even after
researchers controlled for a number of variables, including sex,
ethnicity, public or private school and class size.

At my son's school, at least one teacher uses denial of recess as a tool for disciplining the children in class.  On that strategy, the article notes:

Also, teachers often punish children by taking away recess privileges.
That strikes Dr. Barros as illogical. “Recess should be part of the
curriculum,” she said. “You don’t punish a kid by having them miss math
class, so kids shouldn’t be punished by not getting recess.”

Participating in gym also helps:

Last month, Harvard researchers reported in The Journal of School
Health that the more physical fitness tests children passed, the better
they did on academic tests. The study, of 1,800 middle school students,
suggests that children can benefit academically from physical activity during gym class and recess.

Apparently just walking or being in a natural setting helps as well:

A small study of children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder
last year found that walks outdoors appeared to improve scores on tests
of attention and concentration. Notably, children who took walks in
natural settings did better than those who walked in urban areas,
according to the report, published online in August in The Journal of
Attention Disorders. The researchers found that a dose of nature worked
as well as a dose of medication to improve concentration, or even

Andrea Faber Taylor, a child environment and behavior researcher at the Landscape and Human Health Laboratory at the University of Illinois,
says other research suggests that all children, not just those with
attention problems, can benefit from spending time in nature during the
school day. In another study of children who live in public housing,
girls who had access to green courtyards scored better on concentration
tests than those who did not.

So here is where I get to share a teachable moment.

The Green Party takes a holistic approach to, well, everything.  We tend to favor non-linear approaches in the policies we prescribe.  Rather than view learning in a linear way, i.e. knowledge=hours of study, we recognize that life has diminishing returns.   The more time or money that you put into something, say studying or consuming, the less you get out of it, i.e. knowledge or happiness.  However, as the article shows, devoting more hours to play and fewer to studying helps children learn better. 

As with knowledge, decreasing production and consumption for many of us, say by allowing people to work fewer hours, probably will increase their happiness.  By devoting more time with family, friends, neighbors and health, and less with their TVs, cars and computers, people will be richer and live longer. 

By having people with "higher skill jobs" do less, we create opportunities for those with "fewer skills" to learn and share in the work.  We can eliminate or automate the drudgery jobs and design work that uses all of our faculties.  We all end up better off if we distribute the work better, have less of it to begin with and make sure everyone benefits from the bounty this blue/green jewel of a planet is willing and able to share with us.