the vampire’s university

Capital is dead labour, that, vampire-like, only lives by sucking living labour, and lives the more, the more labour it sucks. The time during which the labourer works, is the time during which the capitalist consumes the labour-power he has purchased of him.

Karl Marx, Capital 

David Blacker has a piece at with the title “The Vampire Squid Turns to Education.” David’s title draws from a piece in which Matt Taibi writes:

The first thing you need to know about Goldman Sachs is that it’s everywhere. The world’s most powerful investment bank is a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money.

The specific sense in which Marx viewed capital as dead labor which, “vampire-like,” sucks the life from living labor, is amazingly (for a work in American popular culture) dramatized by one scene in the movie Breaking Away, written by Steve Tesich. The issue at hand is whether the young Dave Stohler (Dennis Christopher) will go to the University (and whether people like him — with his family and class background) belong in the university.

The dialogue is dramatically poignant. Click here or the image below for a slide-show with the subtitles:

It ends with an amazingly freighted but unspoken line . . .  : Read More »


Michael Moore: “America is We, the People”

Michael Moore answers question on “American exceptionalism”; gives his version of the Pledge of Allegiance.

“American exceptionalism” has been a hot-button focus of contention in recent curriculum controversies, and features in several posts here on Curricublog.

This past Sunday (October 2, 2011), Michael Moore was featured on the interview and call-in show IN DEPTH on C-Span’s BookTV. Video of the three-hour program can be viewed on the C-Span’s video library website.

Here is their description of the event:

Michael Moore pledging allegiance to the people of the United States of AmericaPolitical activist and filmmaker Michael Moore talked about his life and career. Video clips were shown from three of his films and his television show, “TV Nation.” He also reacted to a video clip of his controversial March 23, 2003, Academy Award acceptance speech. He responded to telephone calls and electronic communications.

Michael Moore is the author of eight non-fiction books: Downsize This! Random Threats from an Unarmed American (1996); Adventures in a TV Nation (1998); Stupid White Men …and Other Sorry Excuses for the State of the Nation! (2002); Dude, Where’s My Country? (2003); Will They Ever Trust Us Again? (2004); The Official Fahrenheit 9/11 Reader (2004); Mike’s Election Guide 2008; Here Comes Trouble: Stories From My Life (2011). His films include the Academy Award-winning Bowling for Columbine, Roger and Me, Fahrenheit 9/11, Sicko, and Capitalism: A Love Story.

I have not seen the entire program yet, but I did catch Michael’s answer to a caller with a question on American exceptionalism. Here is a 3½-minute clip with his response to that caller’s questions:

Toward the end of this clip, Moore tells how he said the Pledge of Allegiance when he was in school:

I pledge allegiance to the people of the United States of America, and to the republic for which we stand, one nation, indivisible, part of one world, with liberty and justice for all.

SchortLink for this article:

2 curriculum jobs (Kabul)

Looking for job opportunities doing curriculum work? Here are a couple openings:

From: Yukiko Matsuyoshi
Date: Sun, Oct 2, 2011 at 9:37 AM
Subject: (UNESCO Kabul) Looking for Consultants/Experts in Literacy

Greetings from Afghanistan!

I am Yukiko Matsuyoshi, who has completed EdM in Anthropology and Education in 2002 and went to work in Afghanistan.  I have recently resigned from my previous job as a Japanese diplomat and recently joined UNESCO to work in Afghanistan again.

I am writing to you to seek your assistance in finding potential candidate for two vacancy posts for technical consultancy positions. .  The rate is approximately $10,000 a month including housing allowance, plus return air ticket.  I have attached the TOR for both positions – one position is for Curriculum Revision on National Literacy and we are seeking someone who could come on and off to Afghanistan for 1 year. For the curriculum revision, we are also working within a traditional approach to literacy here in Afghanistan. Through workshops and meetings we have slowly introduced alternative approaches to literacy programming and would hope the consultant would  be able to continue the work started in this area. It is a challenging and exciting opportunity as it will involve literacy programming at a national level.

Another position is for a new program on providing literacy training for Afghan police. For police literacy we are working within the constraints of existing literacy programming offered to police in Afghanistan. A programme that is quite traditional in its approach and is facing some challenges in meeting the literacy needs of police.  A preliminary study done by NATO has found that there is a sharp decrease in the literacy taught as early as one month after completing the programme. This project will focus on helping to maintain those literacy skills acquired, as it seems that learners are not using the skills taught.

We are looking for the consultant to start as soon as possible.  I would appreciate it if you could provide the information to people you know or if you could provide me contact information of people, I can contact those from here.

Very much looking forward to hearing from you.

Best Regards,

Yukiko Matsuyoshi (Ms.)
Program Manager
Literacy Unit, Education Section

Mobile:  +93(0) 774076537<tel:%2B93%280%29%20774076537>

UNESCO Kabul Office,
House No.KB647, Behind Esmat Muslim House, PD 10,
Shar-e-Naw Kabul, Afghanistan.<>

Seems like a more Freirean approach could be more effective.  Also seems like that won’t happen there.

“banking education”

Paulo Freire

I’m reading works by Paulo Freire now.

Donna Shalala

It seems to me that major themes that are most widely recognized in Freire are anachronistic in some ways.

An example is the “banking concept” of education. Within education circles, this conception is no longer so prevalent as it was once. We still need to articulate the difference between genuinely liberatory curriculum and the alternative(s), but I think the dominant alternative(s) are no longer expressed in terms of the “banking concept.”

On the other hand, instances of “banking concept” thinking do still abound; for example, in this answer from Donna Shalala, on NBC’s Meet the Press Sunday, September 25, 2011:

[Our high school graduates] have to know how to read and write and how to speak. But more than that, they have to know how to absorb new knowledge because we can’t predict what they’re going to need to know 10 years from now. We do know that they have to have a set of skills so they can absorb new technology, so they can understand the new things that are coming at them, and that’s very important.

Instead of teachers filling up the funds of knowledge in their students’ heads, Shalala says they need to learn how to “absorb” new knowledge and skills on their own, after they are done with school.

But the metaphor is still one of accumulating funds of knowledge and skill.

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Jamey’s “It gets better” video

Below: Jamey’s “It get’s better” video.

Left: Jamey Rodemeyer, “Born This Way.”

Click here for news re: Jamey Rodemeyer 

TCS: Politicization of Science Education Continues in Texas

In a press release, Texas Citizens for Science reports:

The recent adoption of new supplemental science instructional materials by the Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) was largely a victory for science. Although the biology curriculum standards were unfortunately damaged in 2009 by a politically radicalized majority of SBOE members who inserted four new standards that compromised the scientific integrity and accuracy of biology standards, the mainstream publishers produced biology materials that met the requirements of all the new standards plus did not insert any scientifically untrue content in their instructional materials.

Steven Schafersman, president of Texas Citizens for Science, observes,

“Why should Holt McDougal have to change anything in their instructional materials that is not a factual error? And yet Holt made five such changes to its biology materials–materials that only a few weeks before they defended as being scientifically accurate and factually correct.”


“Such continued abuse of scientific and educational integrity is consequential even if the particular changes themselves are minor. Will the identical scenario repeat itself next year when health education and social studies instructional materials are chosen? Will publishers submit materials that have been pre-censored to satisfy the desires of the most extreme members of the Texas State Board of Education or will responsibility and principle finally prevail.”

For the complete text of the TCS press release, with links to extensive background documents and analysis, go to

David Barton on majorities and minority rights

Under Construction

I don’t have time to write this post right now — hopefully I’ll get to it before too long.

But I did want to post these paragraphs now while people are looking for this.

These relate to a story on Al Sharpton’s show on MSNBC tonight (Aug 24, 2011) on Rick Perry and David Barton, and Barton’s views as reported by the Washington Monthly:

Barton and Peter Marshall initially tried to purge the  standards of key figures of the civil rights era, such as César Chávez and  Thurgood Marshall, though they were forced to back down amid a deafening public  uproar. They have since resorted to a more subtle tack; while they concede that  people like Martin Luther King Jr. deserve a place in history, they argue that  they shouldn’t be given credit for advancing the rights of minorities. As  Barton put it, “Only majorities can expand political rights in America’s  constitutional society.” Ergo, any rights people of color have were handed to them  by whites—in his view, mostly white Republican men.

Barton review of proposed revised Texas social studies standards: Read More »

Rick Perry and Higher Education

On the newest leading Republican Party candidate for U.S. President, from the Chronicle of Higher Education:

… Perry has promoted a conservative ideology in a higher-education policy agenda that emphasizes transparency and accountability and treats colleges like businesses whose customers are students. His associates have been hired for key leadership and advisory positions in the University of Texas and Texas A&M systems.

Among the more-controversial proposals the governor and his backers have pressed are policies Texas A&M has adopted to create a faculty-bonus system based solely on student feedback and to give professors a red or black numerical rating based on what they cost and bring in to the university.

This year the question of what professors should be doing with their time focused on the University of Texas system, which released a vast data file about its professors, including salaries and the number of students they teach, that was compiled at the request of a task force on productivity and excellence formed by the system’s Board of Regents.

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Parents Of Nasal Learners Demand Odor-Based Curriculum

The image from the Newsweek article in the post right below this one reminded me of the image of the student pictured here (at left).

Click on the photo here to see the article on parental demands for odor-based curriculum.

I think that article is actually very relevant to a point I’d like to raise also with regard to the matter of bilingualism featured in the post below this one, with the picture of the little boy.

I can’t write about that now, however.

But I thought I’d go ahead now and post this picture, so that it will appear above the one in the earlier post, and also so that people can read the article that’s linked from this photo here.

another benefit of being bilingual

Photo Illustration by Newsweek (source photo); W. Pollard / Ojo Images-Getty Images

There’s a piece in Newsweek currently on findings concerning cognitive benefits of bilingualism.

(Click the image at left for the article on Yes, I know the Arabic is backwards. It should be right-to-left — مرحبا , I think .)

The article reports that

According to several different studies, command of two or more languages bolsters the ability to focus in the face of distraction, decide between competing alternatives, and disregard irrelevant information. These essential skills are grouped together, known in brain terms as “executive function.”

Findings and interpretations by Ellen Bialystok, a professor at York University in Toronto, and by Tamar Gollan at UCSD are highlighted.

This is not about just having studied another language some, but about being actually bilingual, to the extent of actively using both languages on a regular basis, and having the cognitive burden of being able to say things in either language, and therefore needing to decide regularly which way to speak, or how to write. This actually creates a disadvantage for bilinguals trying to perform on standardized tests. (Note the original photograph, at right, used in an article on child stress.)

I’ve checked some of those researchers’ scientific journal articles, and the work is impressive. Still, I would suggest that there is more to this than simply matters of cognitive information processing — but I can’t elaborate on that right now.

The Newsweek article by Casey Schwartz avoids a couple of pet peeves that I have come to expect in articles on topics like this: I hate it when arguments for art education suggest that the value of art is in how it improves math scores, or when it is suggested that music is worthwhile because it improves brain performance, for example — or when people argue that it’s a good thing for children to learn Latin because it’s like exercising the muscles of the brain.

I have heard Schwartz use the “exercise” analogy, but in this case there is something to it. And she doesn’t reduce the value of language ability to just some general improvement of brain functioning. As she is clear to recognize:

Some of the most valuable mental perks of bilingualism can’t be measured at all, of course. To speak more than one language is to inherit a global consciousness that opens the mind to more than one culture or way of life.

Shortlink for this article:

Public investment, innovation, and quality of life

The Hamilton Project of the Brookings Institution has released an important new report on Innovation — how innovation happens, and its consequences for society.

The Report includes documentation and discussion of the following findings (For more information, click on each of the facts below or download the full policy memo (PDF) »):

  1. Innovation drives economic growth and raises wages.
  2. Innovation improves U.S. life expectancy.
  3. Innovation makes technology affordable.
  4. New organizational structures lead to rising standards of living.
  5. New household technologies allow for more time for family and leisure.
  6. The pace of American innovation has slowed during the past four decades.
  7. Innovation has failed to increase wages for a substantial number of Americans.
  8. Significant barriers to innovation exist in the government and the private sector.
  9. Federal support for research & development has declined in recent years.
  10. Relatively few U.S. college students study fields critical to innovation.
  11. American women are less likely to continue in STEM fields than American men.
  12. U.S. policy makes it difficult for international students to stay and work.

One aspect of this work is especially significant right now, as the U.S. Congress is slashing the national investment in education, research, and development, is the point elaborated here by the report’s co-author Michael Greenstone, interviewed by Ezra Klein (substituting for Martin Bashir on MSNBC):

Ezra Klein: Joining me now is M.I.T. economist Michael Greenstone director of the Hamilton Project and one of the authors of the report. Michael, thank you for being here.

Sergey Brin

Michael Greenstone:Thanks, Ezra.

Klein: The first question, I guess, is the obvious one. What happened? Did we get dumber? Where did our innovation go?

Greenstone:  You know, innovation as you’re saying is a tricky thing. There’s not a magic formula, but rather it kind of comes out of an ecosystem or a series of small choices that add up to something big. And I think what happened is that beginning sometime in the 1970s, we stopped being as aggressive in making those investments and kind of putting together the lattice work that leads to innovation and ultimately determines our living standards.

Klein: So you talk about that lattice work. I think the stereotype of innovation is that it is a lone genius in his attic – the Sergey Brin and Larry Page in a garage inventing Google. And that implies a sort of no role for society much less the government. We just sort of wait there and hope these guys think their great thoughts. Is that the way it goes or am I missing something?

Greenstone:  No. Actually, you know the Google example is really perfect. So if you just trace out the history of Google.  Sergey Brin immigrated to the United States with his parents when he was 6 years old. So that reflects our immigration policy. He then went to schools in America. He went to an excellent public university, the University of Maryland, did very well there, then was awarded a National Science Foundation fellowship that allowed him to go to Stanford. At Stanford he met Larry Page. Together they came up with this idea for Google and you know, then they found themselves in this area where there were lots of high-tech workers. Their ideas could be protected because we have good protection for intellectual property and, there was you know, very fertile capital markets. And so, all of those things are small, taken at a piece. You take the National Science Foundation fellowship, you take that he went to a public university, but when you put it all together, it created the conditions that allowed his brilliant idea to turn into Google, and now, you know, Google has 20,000 employees, and I think 13,000 employees in the United States alone.

Related to this point is an important book by Gar Alperovitz and Lew Daly: Unjust deserts: how the rich are taking our common inheritance (2008). Here’s from the book’s blurb at

Unjust Deserts offers an entirely new approach to the wealth question. In a lively synthesis of modern economic, technological, and cultural research, Gar Alperovitz and Lew Daly demonstrate that up to 90 percent (and perhaps more) of current economic output derives not from individual ingenuity, effort, or investment but from our collective inheritance of scientific and technological knowledge: an inheritance we all receive as a “free lunch.”

And, at

At the center of their rich and persuasive argument is the economic impact of socially-created knowledge. As people have solved numerous problems that bewildered and plagued those before us, we have accumulated an immense “stock of knowledge” which now plays a central role in economic growth, and is largely responsible for the real income gains that separated the twentieth century from all that came before.

This “stock of knowledge” is a social inheritance, nurtured by governments, institutions, and culture, and created by many generations of people. And yet even as our economic growth has become so highly socialized through the impact of expanding knowledge, the fruits of knowledge–the wealth being generated by knowledge-based growth–flows increasingly to the top.

While this book does concern itself with what’s “just” and “unjust,” and with “deserving” and “undeserving” (as in ‘the undeserving super-rich’), those are not the kinds of concerns that I want to focus on right now. Instead of those kinds of moral issues, I want to focus here on the cessation of public investment in the accumulation of intellectual and cultural capital, and what that will mean for such things as employment rates, household incomes, and quality of life in the United States, as document in the Hamilton report.

Although I might want to focus on the policy concerns without being distracted by those moral questions of desert, however, we need to face the fact that there is now a growing faction in the U.S. that is embracing the position that taxation, as such, is something evil — an evil that’s explicitly condemned by God in the Holy Bible, as they read it. Consider this from David Barton, who played a leading role in the revision of Texas social studies standards in 2010:

On a conference call with pastors in the wake of the November 2010 elections, Barton asserted that the Bible “absolutely” condemns the estate tax as “most immoral,” and said Jesus taught against the capital gains tax and opposed the minimum wage. Barton went even further, declaring that taxation is theft and in particular that the Bible condemns progressive taxation, which he insists is “inherently un-biblical and unfair.” He echoed those themes during a three-part broadcast on limited government in January 2011, saying “Money does not belong to the government, it belongs to individuals, and to steal money from individuals through whatever government spending program is taking private property and you’re not supposed to do that.”*

* People For the American Way. 2011, April 18. Barton’s Bunk: Hack ‘Historian’ Hits the Big Time in Tea Party America,  p. 7. (For Barton’s role in the Texas social studies revisions, see my forthcoming (2011) article in the International Journal of Social Education.)

This idea of accumulated wealth as a kind of private property that belongs to wealthy individuals because they are the ones who created it, by their own individual toil and wit, and deserve therefor to keep it, is an obviously self-serving myth, as recognized by Warren Buffett, for example, in this quotation on the page for Unjust Deserts:

Warren Buffett is worth nearly $50 billion. Does he “deserve” all this money? Buffett himself will tell you that “society is responsible for a very significant percentage of what I’ve earned.”

Tamir Ardon's DeLorean (from his website, where I retrieved the Inc. article)

The kinds of accumulated social capital that makes it possible for Sergey Brin and Warren Buffett to play their roles in wealth creation result largely from investments from the public sector. Brin’s story illustrates why this must be the case. There is no business model for a private company to make a profit from the broad cultural and social investments that made Brin’s career a possibility.

Buffett’s testimony suggests that the kinds of accumulated social capital that went into the production of his wealth may include not only public, but also private-sector resources. But this, too, is forgotten in the fog of thinking that an individual’s achievement is completely his own doing. As illustrated by the case of John DeLorean (creator of the automobile perhaps best known by many for its use in the movie Back to the Future):

DeLorean’s actions as chief executive officer of his own company show that he had no appreciation of the role GM had played in his successes during his 17 years there, no understanding of his limitations, and no comprehension of the finite nature of capital and other resources. He was, in short, an entrepreneur destined to fail. (Waters, Craig R. 1983, April. John DeLorean and the Icarus Factor. Inc., April, 35-6, 38, 40, 42, p. 35)

Ths myth of private individual wealth as individually created property, to which the individual has an absolute moral right, so that progressive taxation becomes viewed as outright theft, becomes a matter of more urgent concern when it is embraced by politicians as a basis for uncompromising policy positions threatening the national economy, as with Michele Bachmann and others in the recent conflict over raising the debt ceiling. Again, as much as I would like to focus on the economic and social merit of investment in the common wealth, the nature of opposition to such investment compels attention to the moral — even the religious — arguments.

In “Because the Bible Tells Me So: Why Bachmann and Tea Party Christians Opposed Raising the Debt Ceiling, ” Adele Stan traces the condemnation of progressive taxation as a form of theft to the Christian Reconstructionist writer Rousas John Rushdoony, the author of Larceny in the heart: the economics of Satan and the inflationary state (2002), as well as his foundational text Institutes of Biblical law (1973) where, in Chapter 8 “Thou Shalt not Steal,” he stakes the biblical case against progressive taxation on the passage from Exodus (30:15) in which we read that among the ancient Israelites “The same tax was assessed on all men: The rich shall not give more, and the poor shall not give less.”

In the same chapter, Rushdoony writes that a tyrannical state “always limits a man’s use of his property, taxes it, or confiscates that property as an effective means of enslaving a man without necessarily touching his person.” Again, we see this kind of rhetoric resonating in the Bachmann campaign’s insistent comparison of “economic enslavement” with race-based chattel slavery, and Bachmann’s claim, with reference to the Affordable Care Act of 2010, that “This is slavery …  It’s nothing more than slavery.”

It resonates, as well, in the rhetoric of 2012 GOP Presidential contender Rick Perry when he says such things as this:

I think in America from time to time we have to go through some difficult times — and I think we’re going through those difficult economic times for a purpose, to bring us back to those Biblical principles of you know, you don’t spend all the money. You work hard for those six years and you put up that seventh year in the warehouse to take you through the hard times. And not spending all of our money. Not asking for Pharaoh to give everything to everybody and to take care of folks because at the end of the day, it’s slavery. We become slaves to government.

Of course, there’s plenty that could be said in response to this rhetoric, and what it suggests about the role of revealed religion as authority for public policy. But the particular point of this particular post is to focus attention on the potentially disastrous idea that wealth is created independently by individuals, with no need for socially created conditions and resources.

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Congress math (& civics) deficits

What can we understand from this stunning performance by Jared Polis (D-CO) in the debate on the House floor (July 28, 2011)?: 2½ minutes were yielded to Polis so he could present prepared remarks, equiped with a neatly-printed three-color chart showing yields and interest rates paid by countries rated AAA vs. AA. The bottom line in each column listed average interest rates as 3.75% for the countries rated AA (which is what could happen to the US as a result of this nonsense) vs. 2.98% for countries with a AAA rating (like the US has today [updated Aug. 5: like the US had at the time of Polis’ speech]).

In prepared remarks, with the poster facing everybody, Polis said that the difference between those interest rates is “1.75% … almost 2%,” and went on about how much this difference would amount to in interest payments on debts in the hundreds of billions over decades to come.

With compound interest on that much over that long, even the difference between his “2%” and the actual .77% difference between the rates he was showing would be quite substantial!

Congress members have the privilege of correcting their floor speeches before they are permenantly published in the Congressional Record.; but here is the text as it was officially published (with my emphasis added) [click here for a pdf file of the printed page]:

[Mr. MCGOVERN, D-MA.] At this point I would like to yield 2½ minutes to the gentleman from Colorado, my colleague on the Rules Committee, Mr. POLIS.

Mr. POLIS [D-CO]. Mr. Speaker, this smoke-and-mirrors bill before us today actually stands to increase—yes, increase—the deficit of the United States of America by over $100 billion.

Let me walk the Speaker through the math here. This is why credit ratings matter: countries that have AA credit ratings—this is a group of them—pay an average interest on their sovereign debt of 3.75 percent. Countries with a AAA rating—this is a 10-year bond, but it would carry across 3-year, 5-year, 30-year in similar degrees—countries with AAA pay 2.98 percent. That’s 1.75 percent, almost a 2 percent difference between AAA and AA.

In passing this bill today, which only has a 6-month extension, we are jeopardizing our AAA rating that will be incredibly hard to ever earn back. And in addition to paying 2 extra percentage points on your variable rate home mortgage that middle class families can’t afford, 2 points more on your credit card debt, 2 points more on your car debt, in addition to that, Mr. Speaker, the government, the biggest borrower in the country, will pay more interest on the debt. Over 10 years that 1.75 percent difference, which is just taking the average between AAA and AA, costs over $100 billion a year in extra interest on the debt. Over a 10-year period, over $1 trillion of additional interest paid on the Federal debt.

So what are we doing? Cutting $915 billion and risking adding over $1 trillion in additional expenditures.

This smoke-and-mirrors effort before us today risks increasing the Federal deficit at a time when we all know we need to decrease Federal spending, we need to decrease our deficit. The last thing we need is to set motion forward to actually up our interest rate, jeopardize our credit rating because of the short-term nature, and increase the interest payments on our Federal debt.

I encourage my colleagues to look at these numbers and vote ‘‘no’’ on the underlying bill.

Mr. DREIER [R-CA]. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself 15 seconds to say to my friend that he is absolutely right: if we go into default, if we don’t extend the debt ceiling, we are, in fact, going to see an increase in interest rates. The fact of matter is the ratings agencies like Standard & Poor’s say that we not only have to increase interest rates but we have to put into place a deficit reduction plan that will pay down our debt, and that’s exactly what’s happening.

With that, I would like to yield 2 minutes to our hardworking colleague from the Energy and Commerce Committee, the gentlewoman from Brentwood, Tennessee (Mrs. BLACKBURN).

Mrs. BLACKBURN [R-TN]. Mr. Speaker, I rise today to offer my support for the Budget Control Act of 2011, what I like to call Cut, Cap, and Balance 3.0.

Last week the House passed Cut, Cap, and Balance 1.0 in bipartisan fashion. Not surprisingly, Senator REID and his Democrat colleagues in the Senate failed to even allow for a vote. Speaker BOEHNER then offered Cut, Cap, and Balance 2.0, which, according to the CBO, failed to generate sufficient savings to accompany the debt ceiling increase. So the Speaker went back to the drawing board, found more cuts and reductions, and I applaud him for that. …

I have included enough from the two Republicans who followed Polis to show that they did not see the math problems here (I’m ignoring other problems, such as the questionable inference that a 2% increase in interest on federal borrowing would automatically result in a 2% increase on every other debt by all Americans). But how could anybody watching not have seen the basic, elementary arithmetic problems? Here is the audio — and again, I have included enough of the two following speakers to show their failure to see the problem (note: you can also click on either of the C-Span images above for a link to the streaming video of the session; this segment begins about 21½ minutes into the session):

Are they smarter than fifth-graders?

Again, I come back to the fact that nobody noticed the error here — when the remarks were prepared for delivery on the floor, as they were being delivered, or even after that, before they were finally published in the Congressional Record. Any fifth-grade teacher would be upset to find that her/his students would not see this directly, without even needing to do any subtraction or any other calculation.

Starting in Pre-Kindergarten, children learn to develop “number sense” as a basis for understanding mathematical relations, which enables them to make estimations, and also to judge when the results of counting or calculation seem to be unreasonable, or possibly in error.

They also learn the reasonableness of rounding up or down when making estimations. It’s hard to imagine any context where the number .77 would be reasonably rounded up to 2; but even rounding 1.77 up to 2 is problematic. In some contexts it could be valid (if, for example, I figure that I need to order 2 pizzas for 7 people if I want each of them to get ¼ of a pie); but when talking about rates of interest to be paid on hundreds of billions of dollars compounded over ten years and beyond, rounding from [even] 1.77% [not to speak of 0.77%] up to 2% would produce wildly inaccurate results.

And these people are making the decisions about our nation’s finances?

Back to our beginning question: What can we understand from this stunning performance by Congressman Polis? — and from the performances by his colleagues in not noticing the problem with his calculations?

Obviously, there is a problem with mathematics education on exhibit here in these performances and non-performances.

Less obvious, but arguably even more serious, is the problem with our civic education and our civic processes: It probably is safe to assume that Mr. Polis and his colleagues do have sufficient mathematical understanding that they would recognize these problems, immediately, if these math problems were pointed out to them — or if they were paying attention. And that’s where the real problem lies: Our “leaders” are not paying attention. They aren’t paying attention to experts who understand the economics. And in their floor “debates,” they are obviously not listening to each other — and sometimes, appartently, they aren’t even listening to themselves!

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Documentation for IJSE article: “Howard Zinn and the Struggle for Real History in the United States”

The items on this page are posted as documentation for an article that will appear later this year in the International Journal of Social Education. The complete bibliographic citation for that article will be added here when it becomes available. Read More »

Conceptions of Curriculum — Diagram

Earlier today people were apparently doing searches for my diagram of the classic definition of “curriculum” derived from Bobbitt. Their searches were taking them to  , where they did not find what they were looking for. That post does, however, include a link to the page where the diagram is linked from a smaller version. That page, with the link, is at   .

This summer I’ll be busy writing a book on curriculum theory, but I may get some of the ideas posted here along the way. For now, this post will have to serve as a makeshift help for anybody looking for that diagram.

State of the Nation: IN PERIL! (Bachmann speech / videos)

Michele Bachmann - Not Just a "balloon head"

On his MSNBC Hardball program last week, Chris Matthews was calling Congresswoman Michele Bachmann (R-Minn) a “balloon head” — somebody who speaks freely without knowing anything, about U.S. history, in particular, and somebody who need to go back to school to learn something about history, so that she might finally know something about the things she likes to talk about. I don’t agree: I don’t agree that this is just a case of simple ignorance (like, say, that of George W. Bush’s Press Secretary Dana Perino, as when she admitted that when a reporter in a White House briefing once referred to the Cuban Missile Crisis, she didn’t even know what that was: “I was panicked a bit because I really don’t know about . . . the Cuban Missile Crisis,” said Perino, who at 35 was born about a decade after the 1962 U.S.-Soviet nuclear showdown. “It had to do with Cuba and missiles, I’m pretty sure.”).

In Bachmann’s case — as we can see in the instance of her claims last weekend about slavery and American history which were the specific provocation for Matthews’ remarks — this is far from simple ignorance. However much she may be speaking from her deepest personal convictions, she is engaging in a campaign of devious historical falsehood in which she and others (such as Glenn Beck, and members of the Texas State Board of Education [TxSBOE]) are both promoting and depending on an American public that is historically uneducated, and even mis-educated. By dwelling so exclusively on education in the “STEM” subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) in his State of the Union address, President Obama contributes to the lopsided inattention to social education that perpetuates the national ignorance of history that enables Bachmann and others to continue getting away with this kind of nonsense.

First, here’s a quick (1-minute) clip of Bachmann on slavery:

We know there was slavery that was still tolerated when the nation began. We know that was an evil, and it was a scourge and a blot and a stain upon our history. But we also know that the very founders that wrote those documents worked tirelessly until slavery was no more in the United States. And I think it is high time that we recognize the contribution of our forbearers who worked tirelessly — men like John Quincy Adams, who would not rest until slavery was extinguished in the country.

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Denvir: Is American Higher Ed Screwed?

via Alternet:

Is American Higher Ed Screwed? Conservatives Try to Privatize College As Tuition Soars

By Daniel Denvir, AlterNet
Posted on January 22, 2011, Printed on January 24, 2011

As in most corners of American life, crisis is the new normal in academia. Investment returns to university endowments have plummeted, state aid is being cut, and critical federal stimulus dollars are running out. Tuition is up, enrollment is being capped, positions are being eliminated, and universities are increasingly relying on part-time adjunct faculty that shuttle from campus to campus in an effort to cobble together a paycheck.  * * *

Read the complete article on

Ab-using measurement (education testing, & misreading a JAMA report)

True or false: New research shows that for older people, a faster gait leads to a longer life.

Answer:  False — despite news coverage to the contrary (apparently).

Since this is a blog about curriculum-related matters, I want to start by explaining why this post is even here. Then I will review the story about gait and longevity, and after that I will expand on how this case of bad journalism can help shed light, I believe, on persistent problems in education theory, practice, and policy.

This post presents a case of reporting a relationship between measurement and the significance of measurement in a way that mistakes correlation for causation. This, of course, is a common and familiar form of error in dealing with statistical information, and is routinely dealt with in introductory courses on methodology, or in any kind of natural or social science.

I think this case is especially worth considering, however. For one thing, the problem with the misreporting here is particularly easy for anyone to understand, but not so immediately obvious that everyone would see it right away, without reflection. (At least, the editors did not see it, apparently.)

More important, for this blog: I think the misinterpretation here is suggestively analogous to the ways that the significance and practical implications of test scores are commonly misinterpreted in education, with ramifications for theory, practice, and education policy.

First, let’s note the headline of the WebMD story, and the first sub-section heading:

Walking Faster May Lead to a Longer Life

    Faster Pace Boosts Life Span

The headline and subhead are both reporting in terms of causation, although the article in JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association) is careful to avoid such causal interpretations.

The more careful, and more justified, interpretations are suggested by the headline and subheads in the Wilmington News Journal, where I learned about the study, and in the USA Today article where Janice Lloyd’s story first appeared.

By Ronald A. Fontana, UPMC Medical Media

As USA Today puts it in the caption to their photograph (at left):

Edward Gerjuoy, 92, a professor emeritus of physics, walks at a pace of about 3 mph. Researchers say he has a 40% chance of living to 102.

In other words, Dr. Gerjuoy’s pace can be used as a predictor of possible longevity, or an indicator of the physical conditions that could contribute to his chances for a longer life-span; but his gait is not an independent causal variable that will “boost [his] life span.”

If he were to walk more slowly while maintaining his same health conditions, the statistical correlation does not say that he’d be expected to die earlier as a result. And he wouldn’t be expected to live longer by walking faster, except insofar as that might contribute to improvement of his underlying health conditions.

The proper interpretation is clearly articulated in this video from JAMA:

Gait speed is not a measure of longevity. It is not even a direct measure of the causes of longevity. It does measure something that correlates with causes of longevity; hence it can be used as a sort of proxy for more direct (but theoretically and practically more difficult) measures of the nebulous complex of factors that contribute to longevity.

I think this example by analogy could be used to help show the (less obvious?) fallacy of using test scores as if they directly measure such things as learning, knowing, and understanding.

A specific example: When I was in grade school, we got tested a lot. I went to grades 5-12 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa — about half an hour from Iowa City, home of the ACT testing enterprise — and we got the full battery of Iowa tests of basic skills, educational development, and whatever. When we got back our results in terms of percentile scores, we were always told that the Vocabulary score was the most significant, since it was the best indicator of general intelligence. (I think they did this so that students would not be overly concerned about their scores in Reading, Math, and other more specific areas; in my case, my percentile ranking on Vocabulary was always markedly lower than my other scores.)

I can  certainly believe that vocabulary may be the best convenient, reliably measured indicator of literacy, or even of general intelligence (insofar as any such thing really exists).

But if so, that does not mean that drilling students in vocabulary is the best way (or even a particularly good way) of enhancing their literacy, or improving their intelligence.

It is reasonable to think that literacy develops with experience in reading, and that children with larger vocabularies will (as a statistical generality) tend to be those with more reading experience; such that within a tested population, variations in vocabulary would correlate with variations in literacy levels.

Attempts to improve literacy by drilling in vocabulary, instead of or without the reading experience that could otherwise enrich a child’s vocabulary, could boost vocabulary scores directly — in a way that would not reliably predict that literacy has been enhanced to the level that might be predictable if that same vocabulary had occurred as a by-product of reading experience.

In this way, the vocabulary drill could actually destroy the very relationship between reading and vocabulary that could otherwise provide a basis for using vocabulary scores as a proxy for literacy levels.

School programs, practices, and policies that aim directly at improvement of test scores, in this way, can undermine the relationship between test performance and the learning, knowing, and understanding that, as a result, can no longer be reliably assessed on the basis of test scores which have lost their validity as proxy measures.

I have seen such test-driven practices in my own area of social studies, as well as in math, science, and other subjects.

Just as faster walking could contribute to improved cardio-pulmonary and other conditions that contribute to longevity, drilling on vocabulary items could make some contribution to enhanced literacy.

Faster walking, in itself, is not the measure, nor the remedy — and much less the definition — of longevity. Just so, higher test scores are not themselves the measure, remedy, nor definition of intellectual achievement or ability.


Cesari, Matteo. “Role of Gait Speed in the Assessment of Older Patients” [Editorial]. Journal of the American Medical Association 305, no. 1 (2011, January 5): 93-94.

Studenski, Stephanie, and et al. “Gait Speed and Survival in Older Adults.” Journal of the American Medical Association 305, no. 1 (2011, January 5): 50-58.

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