Category Archives: Uncategorized

2014: Half a million satisfied page views

Yes, I have half a million page views. Not bad for someone who only has 650 Twitter followers.

My page views increased from last year, but not by a whole lot. I had 42% more views in the first half of the year, but was down 22% for the second half. As I mentioned, I had an insanely busy first semester, teaching two brand new classes (one not math) and mentoring two teachers. I only had 3 posts in November, and one lonely post in October. I’d hoped to write 72 posts (6/month); in fact I averaged just fewer than 4 posts a month, at 45. That accounts for most of the drop off.

But I also didn’t have the huge posts that I had last year. At the bottom of this post is a list of my top posts overall (1500 views or more).
Here are the top posts I wrote this year (over 1000 views):

Just a Job 2831
The Dark Enlightenment and Duck Dynasty 2527
Strategizing Horror 2027
Encylopedia of Ed, Part I: Things Voldemortean 1802
Ed Schools and Affirmative Action 1776
The Available Pool 1721
Timothy Lance Lai: Reading Between the Lines 1588
College Confidential and Brain Dumping the SAT 1575
SAT’s Competitive Advantage 1392
Reading in the Gulag of Common Core 1236
Finding the Bad Old Days 1224
A Talk with an Asian Dad 1156
Memory Palace for Thee, but not for Me 1128
Multiple Answer Math Tests 1086
Parents and Schools 1067
Math Instruction Philosophies: Instructivist and Constructivist 1022
Why I Blog 1016
Advanced Placement Test Preferences: Asians and Whites 1008

In all, 41 posts out of the 244 got over one thousand views in 2014 alone (not counting views from prior years).

Compared to last year, I had far fewer big posts. Compared to posts written in prior years, this year’s posts did far less business. Also, the disappearance of both Who Am I and About from my top posts means I had far fewer new readers.

I’m not bothered by this. First, I chose a bunch of esoteric topics. Fox, dammit, not hedgehog. Second, as I said, I had an incredibly busy second half of the year.

Third, when I did have time to write, I spent all the time researching. These pieces consumed well over hundreds of hours of googling and reading:

Only three of them made my top posts. Meanwhile, I knocked out The Dark Enlightenment and Duck Dynasty in 2 hours one very late evening and it hits second place. Again, I’m not complaining. If Steve Sailer or Charles Murray isn’t interested in a post, it’s unlikely to get big numbers on the first viewing.

I also didn’t spend much time on pedagogy this year, and that’s something I vow to change in the upcoming year. I have all sorts of topics that I don’t think of as much because I’m teaching advanced math. The following pedagogy posts got at least 1000 views, got more readers this year than last, despite being over 2 years old, and three of them made my top posts for the year:

Multiple Answer Math Tests, written this year, also got over 1000 views, and a lot of my older curriculum work gets close to 1000 views.

This reinforces a pattern I’ve seen for over two years: Google likes my blog, and teachers like my curriculum. Teachers are not a big part of my regular reader base, but they seem to find my work and if they didn’t like it, google would know somehow. I can’t tell you how pleased I am that teachers might be finding my pedagogy useful.

I am also reminded that the teacher tales, which I consider some of my best work, are not google friendly. Teachers really like my stories, but since they aren’t part of my regular base, they don’t often stumble across my work. I’m not sure how to address this—I mean, how often does someone think “Hmm, I want to google some fun teacher stories!”?

In the meantime, I thought my Teacher Tales from this year were very good. Hey. Maybe I could do a page. Huh.

I will update my Encyclopedia of Ed pages pretty soon–it’s clear they are getting some use, which is nice.

Finally, the second half of this year did see some disillusionment on my part. Not with teaching, or with writing, but with the realization of just how many people in education reform are poseurs, and yet are treated as experts simply because they’ve got an employer claiming they are. I thought I was cynical to begin with, but at this point I’ve become exhausted realizing just how many people are just flat out regurgitating opinions that their employer pays them to have.

On to year 4.

*****************************
Posts getting over 1500 views this year:

Asian Immigrants and What No One Mentions Aloud 8577 2013
Homework and grades. 3590 2012
The Dark Enlightenment and Me 3058 2013
Binomial Multiplication and Factoring Trinomials with The Rectangle 2524 2012
SAT Prep for the Ultra-Rich, And Everyone Else 2490 2012
Algebra and the Pointlessness of The Whole Damn Thing 2419 2012
Core Meltdown Coming 2317 2013
The Dark Enlightenment and Duck Dynasty 2527 2014
The Gap in the GRE 2213 2012
College Admissions, Race, and Unintended Consequences 2151 2013
Strategizing Horror 2027 2014
Philip Dick, Preschool and Schrödinger’s Cat 1818 2013
Encylopedia of Ed, Part I: Things Voldemortean 1802 2014
Ed Schools and Affirmative Action 1776 2014
The Available Pool 1721 2014
Teaching Algebra, or Banging Your Head With a Whiteboard 1640 2012
Timothy Lance Lai: Reading Between the Lines 1588 2014
Kicking Off Triangles: What Method is This? 1554 2012
College Confidential and Brain Dumping the SAT 1575 2014

A Talk with an Asian Dad

Summer enrichment ended two weeks ago. I enjoyed my classes as always, although the commute, now that I’ve moved, was brutal. Not sure I’ll take it on next summer, but that’s a while away.

On the last Monday Nick asked me if I’d speak to his dad.

“I’m happy to, but you have to run it by the director.”

At Kaplan, parent management is turned over to the tutor. Not so here, or at other hagwons I’ve known of. At first, I assumed the company just didn’t want parents trying to privatize the tutor and cut out the middleman. Until six years ago, when a parent whose child I was tutoring in APUSH got my number somehow and called me fourteen times, leaving agonizingly long messages giving her schedule to ask when I could meet, asking over and over again if I could meet more frequently, telling me she’d call at x o’clock, then calling up to cancel the scheduled call, asking for a report on progress each day, wondering idly if I could meet directly with them but assuring me she couldn’t afford high fees—all during a 3-day period after I’d met with her daughter for the first time. I told my boss, he threatened to fire the parent, I didn’t get any more calls.

Run all parent contact by the director. This is a rule I follow.

So after class the next day I sat down with Nick and his dad, a genial Indian gentleman.

“I wonder if you could advise me on how best to prepare Nick for the PSAT this fall.”

“Nothing.”

“No practice? No classes?”

“He’s a sophomore. He was solidly over 600 on both reading and writing, over 750 on math, in all our practice tests—which are skewed difficult. If for some reason he gets lower than 60 on any section, I’d be shocked, but not because he was unprepared. He shouldn’t go back to PSAT practice until late summer or fall of junior year—he’s definitely in National Merit territory, so he’ll want to polish up.”

“But wouldn’t it be better for him to practice?”

“No. If he gets below 60–even 65–then look closely at his results. Was he nervous? Or just prone to attention errors? But it won’t be lack of preparation.”

“Oh, that makes sense. We are trying to see if he has any testing issues.”

“Right. Content isn’t a problem. I don’t often get kids scoring over 600 in reading and writing in this class. Which brings up another issue. I want you to think about putting Nick in Honors English and Honors World History.”

“English? That’s not Nick’s strong subject.”

“He’s an excellent writer, with an outstanding vocabulary, which means he is ready to take on more challenging literary and composition topics.”

“Really?” Dad wasn’t dismissive, but genuinely taken aback. “He gets As, of course, but I get glowing reports from his math and science teachers, not English and history. Shouldn’t he focus on science and robotics, as well as continue programming?”

“If Nick really loves any of these subjects, then of course he should keep up his work. And please know that I’m not suggesting he give up math and science. But his verbal skills are excellent.”

“But I worry he’ll fall behind.”

“He’s starting pre-calculus as a sophomore. And that’s the thing….look. You know as well as I do that Nick’s college applications will be compared against thousands of other kids who also took pre-calculus as a sophomore. His great verbal skills will stand out.”

This point struck home. “That’s true.” Dad turned to Nick. “Are any of your friends taking honors English?”

“No, most of the kids taking honors English aren’t very good at math.” (Nick’s school is 80% Asian.)

“But shouldn’t he just wait until his junior year, and take Advanced Placement US History?”

“Nick. Tell your dad why I want you to take these classes, can you?”

Nick gulped. “I need to learn how to do more than just get an A.”

“Isn’t that enough?”

I kept a straight face. “No. Nick is comfortable in math and science classes. He knows the drill. But in English and history classes, he’s just….getting it done. He needs to become proficient at using his verbal skills in classes that have high expectations. This will be a challenge. That’s why I want him to start this year, so he can build up to the more intense expectations of AP English and History. He needs to learn how to speak up in school at least as well as he does here…”

Dad looked at Nick, gobsmacked. “You talk in class?”

“….and learn how to discuss his work with teachers, get a better sense of what they want. Remember, too: Nick’s GPA and transcript is important, but ultimately, he’ll want to be able to perform in college and beyond, as an employee or an entrepreneur.”

Dad nodded; he got it. “He needs to write and read and think and express his thoughts. And this will help. Hmm. This has been most helpful. So he shouldn’t do any SAT prep this fall?”

“He shouldn’t do any SAT prep this year.”

*************************

On our last day, I showed The Sixth Sense, which went over very big.

“Okay, I want you to heed me well on this. You must never tell anyone the ending.”

“You mean that he’s a….”

“STOP! Yes. That’s what I mean. Some movies—and it’s a small list—have surprises that take you out of the conventional, that take the story in a direction you never dreamed of anticipating. Tell people and you’ve robbed them. Never tell.”

“It’s like giving away the ending?”

“Worse. So, kids, we’re at the end. I’ve loved working with you. Do your best to take away the lessons from the summer. Speak up! Don’t just sit like a lump. Have ideas. Ask yourself what you think. Keep aware of what’s going on in the world. Remember that a 4.0 GPA has no bearing on whether you’re an interesting companion or a valuable ally in a bar fight.”

“But my parents…” Lincoln starts.

“Ahahah. Stop. I’m not telling you to disobey your parents. But your decisions, ultimately, are your own.”

“You don’t know what it’s like.”

“You’re right. But I can give you a strategy, provided you promise never to say it came from me.”

“Get caught cheating?”

I look around for something to throw. “That’s not even funny. DO NOT CHEAT. I know you have pressures and it feels like the easiest way to have a life and keep your parents off your back.”

Way, way too many nods.

“Don’t. I mean it. Never mind the morality, never mind how deeply wrong it is. Every time you cheat to get that better grade, you are adding to the pressure you already feel.”

Wide eyes.

“Anyway. Here is a strategy. First, you have to make an appointment with the counsellor at your school. The white counsellor.”

“But my mom always tells me to go to the Asian counsellor.”

“Yes, I know. For this, you need a white counsellor. Then you prepare. Irene, you take in your notebook, and have it open to all sorts of dark, depressing pictures. Ideally, one with you sitting in a corner, distraught. The rest of you don’t have that out, but make yourself look sad, and exhausted.”

“I am exhausted.” from Ace.

“And if I get a B, I’ll be really sad,” said Ben.

“So it should be easy. Then you tell the counsellor how much pressure you feel, how you feel like you can’t ever screw up, that your parents will be sooooooo disappointed if you ever don’t get an A, that you sometimes can’t sleep thinking about how much they expect, and how bad you are for letting them down, by not being perfect. The counsellor will want to contact your parents. You look horrified at first, say they’ll be angry. The counsellor will back off, and then try again. You reluctantly agree. The resulting meeting will be something your parents will not want to repeat. They will either soften their behavior, or take you back to China, Korea, India, wherever, so they don’t have to deal with these crazy soft white people.”

They’re all howling with laughter by this point.

“Because remember boys and girls, in white people world, Asian parenting styles shock and appall. If you went to a white therapist, that therapist would tell your parents to stop.”

“Oh, god, that makes me laugh just thinking about their faces.” Irene says. “I’d never do it, of course.”

“But at least I can think I have a choice,” from Ellen.

“Exactly. Which is my point. Choose to become genuinely well-educated and thoughtful people. Don’t be satisfied with a report card that lies about you. Now, get out of here. Enjoy the dregs of summer.”

Nick stayed behind.

“My dad is changing the spreadsheet.”

“What?”

“He has a spreadsheet with my classes through senior year.”

“Ah.”

“I’m taking honors English and history this year, instead of a second independent studies project. Then he’s moving the pretty easy biotech class to junior year, and AP Chem to senior year. And I’m going to take a programming course during the summer, rather than during school. That way I’ll be able to focus on AP English and US History as well as BC Calc next year.”

“How’s it feel?”

“Really good.” His beam matched mine. “I’m going to try and talk him down to AB Calc, even. Thanks for helping out.”

One dad at a time.


200 Posts

I did 100 posts in 10 months, but I had a number of ideas backlogged. 200 posts took me 19 months. At the rate I’ve been going, 300 posts will take me 25 months.

I want to change that, but I’m not sure how. I like each essay to be stand alone, and the best way to increase my output is to chunk thoughts. So I did that with Finding the Bad Old Days and Just a Job, which I’d originally planned as one piece. I likewise have chunked Memory Palace for Thee, but Not for Me and the Advanced Placement analysis. But I haven’t gotten back to Memory Palace, and am not sure when I’ll get back to the AP work. On the other hand, if I hadn’t posted that much, when would you all have seen it? I’m still pushing to get to 5 essays a month, but thus far I’ve been hardpressed to keep to four. However, as Mark Zuckerberg said to Cory Booker, “DONE IS BETTER THAN PERFECT”. Billionaires are all Js, in Myers Briggs terms, so I’m going to try and up the J of this blog and downplay the P-ness. (haha! MB joke, that.)

Anyway. I have just hit 385,000 views, have 560 or so Twitter followers, and have long since given up tracking posts that made over 1000 views. I have nine posts that have exceeded 5,000 page views, four of which I’ve written since October of 2012—in fact, all of four have been written since April of last year.

Leaving popularity aside, here are some favorites from the last 100 posts, in rough order of my preference:

And if you’re interested, here’s my most recent take on why I blog.

Newcomers, you can check out the Encyclopedias, which I’ve updated:
Encyclopedia of Ed:
Things Voldemortean
The Players
Teaching
Movies, Miscellany, and Me

Repeating myself: this blog has a readership and influence that has wildly exceeded anything I envisioned, not only when I started two years ago, but to this day. Thanks again for following me on twitter, on the blog, for your comments (even when I’m cranky), and for taking the time to stop by.

PS: Go ahead, Pershan, mock me.

Anyway.


Content Knowledge and Reading Comprehension: Bold Talk and Backpedaling

Empty buckets seldom burst into flames. –Robert Pondiscio, Literacy is Knowledge.

People who push curriculum as a solution are generally pushing content knowledge, and they’re pushing content knowledge as a means of improving reading comprehension. Most of these people are in some way associated with Core Knowledge, the primary organization pushing this approach. They aren’t pushing it for money. This is a cause.

Pondiscio’s piece goes to the same well as E. D. Hirsch, who founded the Core Knowledge Foundation to promote the cause of content knowledge in curriculum, Lisa Hansel, the CK Foundation’s current Pondiscio, and Daniel Willingham, who sits on the board of Core Knowledge.

Pondiscio even borrows the same baseball analogy that Hirsh has used for a decade or so, to illustrate the degree to which content knowledge affects reading comprehension. Many Americans are unfazed by “A-Rod hit into a 6-4-3 double play to end the game”, but might be confused by “I’ll see how the wicket is behaving and then decide who are the bowlers I’ll use in the last few overs.”

We can understand content if we have the background knowledge, Hirsh et. al. assure us, but will “struggle to make sense” of reading if we’re unfamiliar because, as Pondiscio asserts, “Prior knowledge is indispensable”.

Let’s take a look at what some people do when they read without requisite content knowledge. (you can see other examples from my early childhood here).

Let’s pick another sporting event—say, the Kentucky Derby, since I don’t pay much attention to it. I googled, saw a headline at Forbes: “Final Kentucky Derby Futures Wagering Pool Opens Today”.

I don’t watch horseracing, I don’t bet, I know about futures because they were a plot point in “Trading Places”, but until that google I had no idea that people could bet on who won the Derby now, in advance. And now I do.

I was not confused. I didn’t struggle, despite my lack of prior knowledge. I constructed knowledge.

But Pondiscio says that any text on horse-racing is a collapsing tower of wooden blocks, “with each block a vocabulary word or a piece of background knowledge”, to anyone unfamiliar with horseracing. I have too few blocks of knowledge.

Robert Pondiscio would no doubt point out that sure, I could figure out what that Kentucky Derby headline meant, because I knew what the Kentucky Derby was. True. I’ve known what the Kentucky Derby was ever since I was 9 or so. I didn’t get the information from my parents, or my privileged life (I grew up decidedly without privilege). I read through all the Highlight articles at the doctor’s office and picked up a Sports Illustrated out of desperation (the internet is a glorious place; I just found the article) and then did exactly what Pondiscio suggests is impossible—read, understood, and learned when before I knew nothing.

I first knew “derby” as a hat, probably from an Enid Blyton story. But I had recently learned from “The Love Bug” that a derby was also a race. What did racing have to do with hats? But now I learned that horse races could be derbies. Since horses were way older than cars, the car races must have gotten the “derby” idea from horses. Maybe jockies got hats when they won horse races. (I learned many years later, but before today, that I was wrong.) I not only built on my existing knowledge base, I learned that the Kentucky Derby was a yearly horse race almost a century old and the results this year were upsetting. No one expected this horse to win, which probably was why people were upset, because just like the bad guy had a bet with the Chinese guy in “The Love Bug”, people made bets on who won. The article also gave me the impression that horses from Venezuela don’t always win, and that lots of horse races had names.

Pondiscio gives another example of a passage requiring background knowledge: the Dutch in New Amsterdam. Oddly enough, I distinctly remember reading just that sort of passage many years ago back in the fifth or sixth grade, about New Amsterdam first being owned by the Dutch, then control going to the English. I knew about Holland from Hans Brinker, which I’d found in someone’s bookshelf, somewhere, when I was six or seven. So New York was first founded by the Dutch–maybe that’s why they called the dad Mynheer in Legend of Sleepy Hollow just like they did in Hans Brinker, because according to the cartoon I’d seen on Wonderful World of Disney, Sleepy Hollow took place in New York .And then the English took it over, so hey, York must be a place in England. So when done, I knew not only that the Dutch had once been in the New World, but that other countries traded colonies, and that while we all spoke English now, New York had once been Dutch.

I didn’t carefully build content knowledge. I just got used to making sense of chaos, grabbing onto whatever familiar roadmarks I saw, learning by a combination of inference and knowledge acquisition, through haphazard self-direction grabbing what limited information I could get from potboiler fiction, magazines, and limited libraries, after gobbling up all the information I could find in schoolbooks and “age-appropriate” reading material. And I learned everything without prior knowledge other than what I’d acquired through previous reading, TV and movies as came my way. I certainly didn’t ask my parents; by age six I acknowledged their expertise in a limited number of topics: cooking, sports, music, and airplanes. In most important topics, I considered them far less reliable than books, but did deem their opinions on current events useful. Yes. I was obnoxious.

My experiences are not unique. Not today, and certainly not in the past. For much of history, people couldn’t rely on information-rich environments and supportive parents to acquire information, so they turned to books. Using vocabulary and decoding. Adding to their existing knowledge base. Determinedly making sense of alien information, or filing it away under “to be confirmed later”.

But of course, say the content knowledge people pushing curriculum. And here comes the backpedal.

E. D. Hirsch on acquiring knowledge:

Almost all the word meanings that we know are acquired indirectly by intuitively guessing new meanings as we get the overall gist of what we’re hearing or reading.

That describes almost exactly what I did for much of my childhood. But this is the same Hirsch who says “Reading ability is very topic dependent. How well students perform on a reading test is highly dependent on their knowledge of the topics of the test passages.” Nonsense. I scored at the 99th percentile of every reading test available, and I often didn’t know anything about the topic of the test passage until I read it—and then I’d usually gleaned quite a bit.

Pondiscio slips in a backpedal in the same piece that he’s pushing content.

Reading more helps, yes, but not because we are “practicing” reading or improving our comprehension skills; rather, reading more is simply the most reliable means to acquire new knowledge and vocabulary.

This is the same Pondiscio who said a couple years ago:

What is needed is high-quality preschool that drenches low-income learners in the language-rich, knowledge-rich environment that their more fortunate peers live in every hour of every day from the moment they come home from the delivery room.

Well, which is it? Do they think we learn by reading, or that we only learn by reading if we were fortunate enough to have parents who provided a knowledge-rich environment?

Take a look at the Core Knowledge promotional literature, and it’s all bold talk: not that more content knowledge aids comprehension, but that content knowledge is essential to comprehension.

I’ve likewise tweeted about this with Dan Willingham:

Me: Of course, taken to its logical conclusion, this would mean that reading doesn’t enable knowledge acquisition.

Willingham: if you have *most* of the requisite knowledge you can and will fill in the rest. reading gets harder and harder. . . ..as your knowledge drops, and the likelihood that you’ll quit goes up.

Me: The higher the cog ability, the higher ability to infer, fill in blanks.

Willingham: sooo. . . hi i.q. might be better at inference. everyone infers, everyone is better w/ knowledge than w/out it. yes?

So Willingham acknowledges that IQ matters, but that as knowledge and IQ level drops, engagement is harder to maintain because inference is harder to achieve. No argument there, but contrast that with his bold talk here in this video, Teaching content is teaching reading, with the blanket statements “Comprehension requires prior knowledge”, and attempts to prove that “If you can read, you can learn anything” are truisms that ignore content knowledge. No equivocation, no caveats about IQ and inference.

So the pattern: Big claims, pooh-poohing of reading as a skill that in and of itself transfers knowledge. If challenged, they backpedal, admitting that reading enables content acquisition and pointing to statements of their own acknowledging the role reading plays in acquiring knowledge.

And then they go back to declaring content knowledge essential—not useful, not a means of aiding engagement, not important for the lower half of the ability spectrum. No. Essential. Can’t teach reading without it. All kids “deserve” the same content-rich curriculum that “children of privilege” get not from schools, but from their parents and that knowledge-drenched environment.

And of course, they aren’t wrong about the value of content knowledge. I acknowledge and agree with the surface logic of their argument: kids will probably read more readily, with more comprehension, if they have more background knowledge about the text. But as Daniel Willingham concedes, engagement is essential as well—arguably more so than content knowledge. And if you notice, the “reader’s workshop” that Pondiscio argues is “insufficient” for reading success focuses heavily on engagement:

A lesson might be “good readers stay involved in a story by predicting” or “good readers make a picture in their mind while they read.” ..Then the children are sent off to practice the skill independently or in small groups, choosing from various “high-interest” books at their individual, “just-right” reading level. [Schools often have posters saying] “Good readers visualize the story in their minds.” “Good readers ask questions.” “Good readers predict what will happen next.”

But Pondiscio doesn’t credit these attempts to create engagement, or even mention engagement’s link to reading comprehension. Yet surely, these teachers are simply trying to teach kids the value of engagement. I’m not convinced Pondiscio should be declaring content knowledge the more important.

Because while Core Knowledge and the content folks have lots of enthusiasm, they don’t really have lots of research on their product, as Core Knowledge representatives (q6) acknowledge. And what research I’ve found never offers any data on how black or Hispanic kids do.

Dan Willingham sure seemed to be citing research lately, in an article asking if we are underestimating our youngest learners, citing a recent study says that we can teach young children knowledge-rich topics like natural selection. He asks “whether we do students a disservice if we are too quick to dismiss content as ‘developmentally inappropriate,'” because look at what amazing things kids can learn with a good curriculum and confidence in their abilities!

Of course, a brief perusal of the study reveals that the student populations were over 70% white, with blacks and Hispanics less than 10% total. Raise your hand if you’re stunned that Willingham doesn’t mention this tiny little factoid. I wasn’t.

Notice in that study that a good number of kids didn’t learn what they were taught in the first place, and then a number of them forgot it quickly. Which raises a question I ask frequently on this blog: what if kids don’t remember what they’re taught? What if the information doesn’t make it to semantic memory (bottom third of essay). What evidence do the curriculum folks have that the kids will remember “content” if they are taught it in a particular sequence? (Note: this essay was too long to bring up Grant Wiggins’s takedown of E. D. Hirsch, but I strongly recommend it and hope to return to it again.)

Like reformers, curriculum folk are free to push the bold talk, because few people want to raise the obvious point: if content knowledge is essential, instead of helpful, to reading comprehension, then no one could ever have learned anything.

But contra Pondiscio, empty buckets do burst into flames. People do learn without “essential” content knowledge. Even people from less than privileged backgrounds.

Here’s the hard part, the part too many flinch from: Smart people can learn this way. All anyone has ever needed to acquire knowledge is the desire and the intellect. For much of history educated people had to be smart and interested.

In recent years, we’ve done a great job at extending the reach of education into the less smart and less interested. But the Great Unspoken Truth of all education policy and reform, be it progressive, critical pedagogy, “reform” or curricular, is that we don’t know how to educate the not-smart and not-interested.


The Encyclopedia of Ed

It’s so weird. I thought I saw Old Andrew or Andrew Old or whoever publish a guide to the key posts on his site. Which gave me the idea. And now I can’t find it. Perhaps I hallucinated.

Anyway, for whatever reason, I thought it might be nice to categorize my essays by topic. So I did. Originally one big post. Then one big page, since I thought I might update the encyclopedia as time goes on. Then four pages, which Elegant Grunge, the theme of which I’m quite fond, wanted to put at the top of the page. I think I’ve convinced Grunge otherwise.

As I say in the intro:

Every so often I run across a forum conversation, in which one poster says “Hey, I remember reading a teacher who talks about HBD stuff” or “What’s the blog of that teacher who writes about IQ?” The answer always comes in a minute or two, and the answer is never not me. Like Michael Clayton, I ‘ve made a niche for myself. (I miss Sidney.)

So I’m the HBD teacher. But I write about a lot of stuff. Fox (sigh), not hedgehog. Occasionally, fans of one aspect of my work realize they were playing one of the blind men, with me as the camel. “Um, what? This awesome math teacher thinks immigration is bad for education?” (well, I might have made up the adjective.)

Hence the Encyclopedia, from Controversial to Universal.

They are on the sidebar. But what the heck, you’re here, so:

Part I: Things Voldemortean

Part II: The Players

Part III: Teaching

Part IV: Miscellany, Movies and Me


200,000 Views in 20 Months

I remember reading once that an extravert sees a star fall and says, “Wow, a falling star!” while an introvert sees the same star and says, “Wow, I am watching a falling star!”

So it’s not that my blog hit 200,000 page views, but my discovery of this milestone that matters.

200000views

Here’s the growth by month and other time units (click to enlarge):

avgmonthdayviews

My blog really took off in June 2012, which I associate with my starting Twitter, coupled with my growing readership among Steve Sailer fans. I had 7100 views in May of 2012. Cut those off, and I averaged about 12.5K views per month from June 2012 to August 2013. For this year alone, I’ve averaged 15.5K views per month through August.

This seems to me like a tremendous amount of activity from someone who has only 354 Twitter followers, although these followers are an influential crew, many of whom have many thousands of followers. My essays do not routinely see more than a few comments, although my regular commenters always have interesting things to say.

But I have no one to compare my activity to. I used to be able to use Quantcast for other wordpress bloggers, but something has changed at Quantcast and I’m too lazy to try and figure it out.

So I will just say again that I am stunned, truly, at these numbers, even if some of them are search spiders—are they still called that?

Primary referrers (click to enlarge): topreferrers200000

First of all–Thanks, Steve! My referrers are very much on the HBD side of things. I don’t believe that hbdchick or Chateau heartiste has ever discussed one of my posts directly, but I’m on their blogrolls and get a huge amount of traffic. Thanks to both of them, too. Full disclosure: I can’t understand a single thing that hbdchick says (science is above my head), Roissy is a shocker to the unprepared. Discover Magazine links are from Razib Khan, Taki Magazine and VDare links are from John Derbyshire—thanks to both of them, too.

Joanne Jacobs is the only major education blogger who hits my top referrer list–thanks, Joanne! (The rest of the sites mentioned are where my pieces are linked in to the comments, not blogger referrals. About 25% of those are me citing my own pieces, the rest are other commenters.)

So if you look at my referrals, it looks like my work doesn’t get discussed or read much out of HBD circles.

However, when you look at my outbound clicks, it’s a different story, supported by my most clicked images (not the same as my most linked images, which I didn’t include). From this aspect, it’s clear I’m read by a number of teachers who use my work.

Then there’s my aforementioned twitter follower list, which, small as it is, is filled with teachers, education policy wonks, both think tanks and professors, and education reporters—not people who routinely follow, say, Steve Sailer (although Steve, too, is followed by journalists and writers, of course). I assume they are reading my work? I’m not a devout tweeter, and use it primarily to send out my essays and responses to other education writing. I’m sure they don’t all agree with me, but clearly the education world at large, not just teachers, notices my existence. While I have no idea how to get twitter referrer stats, it’s Twitter that drives a lot of my ed world traffic. I get a lot of deeply appreciated retweet support from Charles Murray, David Pinsen, HBD Bibliography, and Paul Bruno (and there’s a “one of these things just doesn’t belong there” joke in that list somewhere), and if there’s a way to get a complete list to thank, I don’t know how. But thanks to everyone who retweets my work.

I apparently get mentioned on Facebook, but I don’t know how to find these mentions. Thanks to those of you who post about me.

But here’s the weird thing—the other thing that is clear from my referrer stats is that I get a whole lot of search engine traffic. WordPress gives me the most common searches:

topsearches200000

Many people are looking for me, and find me. Whoohoo. It’s also clear that my pedagogy posts get a lot of reuse; this makes me very happy. But this is about 5500 posts, which is a long way from the over 30,000 hits I’ve gotten from search engines in the same time period (January 1, 2012 to now). What’s up with that?

I notice this a lot on a daily basis—I’ll be having a big day, based solely on search engine hits. But my blog is not even remotely SEO friendly. It’s clear that people are finding my work for various reasons, but I don’t know who or how.

Back in early May, I listed my most popular essays; you can compare them to the list below.

I remember the first time, back in the 90s, I read a list of the Best Selling Albums of all time and noticing that the list was a combination of recent hits and solid performers over time. I don’t think The Eagles ever had the best selling album in any given year, but Greatest Hits Volume I and Hotel California are well-represented among the top 30 albums. Of course, a musician can have a huge album that is also big over time (just ask Michael Jackson or Fleetwood Mac).

Anyway, that’s the analogy I see in my own essays. Some of them are huge at one point in time, then fall off. Others never had huge numbers, but are solid performers over time. I linked in some performance history—Escaping Poverty and Why Chris Hays Failes were very big by the end of last year, but neither have seen much action lately. The math teaching posts on my list, on the other hand, see unspectacular but solid numbers every month. The true puzzler is my #1 essay, still, Algebra and the Pointlessness of the Whole Damn Thing. It gets a huge amount of action, but I never see anyone mention it. Maybe so many people linked it in that the numbers are just google keeping up with its indexing.

I’m sure more knowledgeable people can explain some of this. I look forward to it.

Anyway. For the past year, this blog has so far exceeded my wildest dreams that I’m starting to think I need to upgrade my goals. Thanks, as always, for reading.

Title Written

Views
Algebra and the Pointlessness of The Whole Damn Thing

08/12
5,896
Philip Dick, Preschool and Schrödinger’s Cat

04/13

5,408
Teacher Quality Pseudofacts, Part II

01/12

4,101
The Dark Enlightenment and Me 08/12

4,025
The myth of “they weren’t ever taught….”

07/12 3,966
Escaping Poverty

10/12 3,919
Homework and grades.

02/12

3,648
The Gap in the GRE

01/12

3,292
Kashawn Campbell

08/12 2,791
Why Chris Hayes Fails

06/12 2,713
The Parental “Diversity” Dilemma

11/12 2,330
Why Most of the Low Income “Strivers” are White

03/13 2,072
Dan Meyer and the Gatekeepers

08/13 1,968
An Alternative College Admissions System

12/12 1,913
SAT Prep for the Ultra-Rich, And Everyone Else

08/12 1,910
Jason Richwine and Goring the Media’s Ox

05/12 1,803
What causes the achievement gap? The Voldemort View

01/12 1,611
An Asian Revelation

06/13 1,473
Binomial Multiplication and Factoring Trinomials with The Rectangle

09/12 1,347
Teaching Polynomials

03/12 1,314
Teaching Algebra, or Banging Your Head With a Whiteboard

05/12 1,196
College Admissions, Race, and Unintended Consequences

08/13 1,170
Who I Am as a Teacher

07/13 1,132
Modeling Linear Equations

01/12 1,125
Plague of the Middlebrow Pundits, Revisited: Walter Russell Mead

03/13 1,101

These are my works that have over 1000 views; pretty soon I might have to have a higher cutoff. (why won’t it do the spacing properly? Makes me crazy.)


In the Interim, Your Thoughts?

Sometimes the pauses between my essays isn’t confidence freeze, but actual busy-ness. Other times, I am just researching or mulling. This pause has been a combination of the above, plus I’ve been doing a lot of reading today, preparing for what I hope will be the next essay.

In the meantime, I thought I’d throw out the things I’m thinking about and see if anyone has any thoughts or links that might be interesting. Because even though I don’t always respond to my commenters, I read them and mull.

  • Why Private Schools are Dying Out—this is, in fact, what I’m working on a response to. If you routinely follow my blog, you can probably predict my response, but anyone just showing up, you may want to check out The Parental Diversity Dilemma, Why Charters Skim, and Why They Should Stop, Charter Hypocrisy, Diversity Dilemma in Action. If anyone has any links or interesting article about education reform in the early-mid 90s, I’d love to hear about them.
  • Teacher Intellectual Property–and here I don’t mean the Teachers Paying Teachers aspect, but the larger point—specifically, what is a teacher’s job?
  • Geometry topic sequencing and maybe something about this article. Yeah, I know that my non-teacher population is thrilled with this one. But I have been sequencing my geometry in what appears to be a unique way, and I want to talk about it. So if you have opinions on the fact that special right triangles and right triangle trig are actually forms of similar triangles and can all be taught in that sequence, let me know so I can at least say I’m not unique.
  • The current irritating eduformer meme arguing that school districts are “creaming by geography”, as a way of striking back at the charter school creaming charge.
  • My Philip K. Dick article, which is the first serious challenger to Algebra and the Pointlessness of the Whole Damn Thing as my most-read post, mentioned that I would leave my ideas for high school for later. I would like to get back to that, and figure if I put that desire down on blog, it might up the odds.

Not sure all of these will make it to a post, but those are my current mullings. If you have thoughts or any other questions/comments, put them in comments or if you want to email—is there not a link on the blog somewhere? I should check—my email is the blog name at gmail.

One other thing, sparked by Steve Sailer’s recent donations drive and my discovery that my US web audience is predominantly high income males without kids: would anyone be interested in a Donate button? I can promise only that I will spend the money on sushi, cheap student white board markers, and more expensive beer. Well, maybe pool some of it into a savings fund that will make me feel braver about taking the summer off, instead of working as I’m currently planning. Feel free to shout “HELL, NO!” in the comments; my feelings won’t be hurt. I’m more interested in the possibility that people are thinking gosh, if Ed would just post a link, I’d send cash.


No Jeans for Teachers? Seriously?

Teacher dress code means banning jeans.

Are you one of those people who thinks that these dress codes will “restore professionalism” and “instill respect” into teaching? I can’t remember the last time I saw a doctor who wasn’t in jeans or dockers. My dentist is an overdresser, it’s true, but her receptionist never moves beyond jeans. Casual Friday died the death in corporate America a decade or more ago; we dressed down every day of the week. Hell, lawyers don’t even wear suit and ties routinely unless they’re at court.

So spare me the pieties about teachers’ clothes. Many of us want to wear jeans, or shorts, or sweat pants. Unless there’s research proving that kids achieve better when their male teachers wear ties and the female ones wear dresses, then take a big cup of shut up. Curb the excesses, fine. No holes, no spaghetti straps, no tattoos, sure. But jeans? Please. The era of suit and ties is over—not just for teaching, but for the country. You want to bring it back, start with an occupation that pays in the six figures first.