One More From This Book


Here's a quote about ability (and pushing people to realize their ability) that I'm really loving from the book I'm reading:

"Our best educational experiences were ones in which adults insisted we could do better when in fact we COULD do better; our worst educational experiences were ones in which adults insisted we could do better when in fact we COULD NOT do better."

- Charles Murray, Real Education: Four Simple Truths for Bringing America's Schools Back to Reality (page 45)

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College Libraries


At work the other day, we had a gift exchange as part of our prize for hitting a group project objective. We all made requests, and got the things we asked for (all on the company, to a limit), but the exchange idea was still pretty cool. I had a huge list of books to pick from, and the one that my gift-giver selected for me was "Real Education: Four Simple Truths for Bringing America's Schools Back to Reality", by Charles Murray (2008).

(As an aside, I just started it today, so the two-part post I'm working on about paying teachers more hasn't been influenced by this book. Part 2 is almost done, just needs the finishing touches).

So far, I'm loving it. And there are a lot of times that I've found myself agreeing with what he is saying, or even remembering having those thoughts myself. I'll write more about it when I finish, but I did find this one passage interesting enough to write about now:

He argues that "A brick-and-mortar campus is increasingly obsolete". One of the reasons a traditional campus used to make sense was that they provided an economically feasible way to feature a robust academic library. But now, with the internet (especially Google Books and Google Scholar), the importance of a large physical library is lessened. Murray says that "Libraries will still be a selling point for colleges, but as a place for students to study in pleasant surroundings".

When I read this, I was immediately reminded of two things. First, that in my four years at UCLA, I NEVER used a library for research. Or for checking out books. I used a study room in one library ONCE, because I was meeting some classmates who were already there. The only other times I set foot in the library was to look around - once before signing my Statement of Intent to Register, and once when my sister came to visit.

Second, there were only three reason I EVER heard friends, residents, or classmates give for going to the library - a quiet place to study, to nap between classes, or to grab a book on reserve (aka, their classroom textbook that they chose to check out, rather than purchase). I also know of people who would use the library for internet access when they didn't otherwise have it for whatever reason.

In four years here, I NEVER knew of somebody using a library to do research. I'm not saying that nobody does, but at least as far as my social/academic network is concerned, Murray was spot on.

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Pay Our Teachers More, Part 1


A lot of people suggest this as a way to fix our schools. A lot of other people counter it by bringing up the "fact" (which I haven't verified, hence the quotes) that the US already spends more money per student than any other developed nation, and we are one of the worst academically. Throwing more money at the problem, these people say, isn't going to help.

I say yes and no. We do need to pay our teachers more, but I don't say this in the vain hope that if we throw enough money at education, it will magically fix itself. That's not going to happen. And I know that we can't necessarily afford to suddenly raise teacher salaries across the board - such money doesn't just exist. We need to get it from somewhere. My vote is to lower the pay of administrators, both at the site level and the district level.

This isn't just some idealistic thought - it's backed up by economics.

Before jumping right into education, let's just look at why people in general take the jobs they do. People take the jobs that give them the best combination of personal and financial satisfaction out of all jobs available to them. How important each of these two are varies from person to person, but they are the two big things at play. So when somebody moves to a new job, they are doing so because the gains in personal satisfaction outweigh the losses in financial satisfaction, or vice versa. Ideally, both go up, but so long as there is a net gain, people will at least consider the change, and a big enough net gain will almost guarantee it.

(Side note: Obviously, if you were let go from your old job, your new one may be a step down in both categories, but the new job you take is likely the one that gives you the best combination of those factors.)

Key point: People take jobs to maximize their personal and financial satisfactions (in some combination, which varies by person).

So, how does this tie into education, and why does it mean we should pay teachers more and admins less?

Think about our current situation, and the people who become teachers. For the most part, a teacher could be paid more doing something in their field OTHER than teaching... so why do they teach? Remembering takeaway #3, there are only two real reasons a person would go into teaching, which won't pay as well as other jobs in their field:

1) The person loves teaching, and their personal satisfaction from doing it is worth the lower pay. These are generally GOOD teachers.
2) The person is unable to get a better-paying job in their field, so they settle for teaching, which is the best available to them. These are generally BAD teachers, and the ones responsible for the saying "Those that can, do. Those that can't, teach." I hate this quote because it completely discounts the first group, but it does apply to the second group.

There is, of course, a third group: Those who are unwilling to take a pay cut to teach. Some of these people wouldn't be good teachers; in fact, many probably wouldn't be. But some could have potential that is never realized, and there are definitely some in this group who would WANT to teach, but literally cannot afford the pay cut. These people, with their drive, have the potential to be really good. So how do we get them?

Imagine if the starting teacher salary was $200,000/year. This would attract everybody from groups 1 and 2, and those in group 3 that aren't currently paid that much. You would have SO MANY people applying for teaching jobs that you could handpick the very best. There would be no need to settle for the people who are settling for teaching (aka, most of group 2). I don't think this is a feasible number of course, but it does show something very important, which happens to be the first reason we should raise teacher salaries:

Higher teacher pay would attract more potential teachers, both good and bad. But more people for the same number of spots means you can handpick the very best.

In Part 2, I'll give another reason why teachers should be paid more - and why administrators should be paid less.

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Magic Bracelets!


While at home over the weekend, the following commercial came on:

Of course, the whole thing just screamed "SCAM" to me, and I scoffed at it. But then my mom says that she actually has something similar, and it seems to work for her (she has the EFX brand bracelet). One of her hospital coworkers had mentioned it, and my mom decided to try it.

I laughed, because it seemed ridiculous, but asked her about it. She said it feels just like wearing a bracelet (like a Livestrong band or something), but said that she has been sleeping better since using it. And not sleeping better as in some vague definition of it either - sleeping better, as in not waking up at 3am every morning like she has for the past few years.

That got me slightly intrigued, so my sister and I decided to recreate one of the demo tests, and do one of our own, to see what the deal was. Here's what we found:

First, we did a balance test. My sister (a cheerleader) stood on one foot, arms outstretched, and my mom pushed down on her arms. This caused her to lose balance on the side of the body with the foot up, as you would expect. Then my sister put on the bracelet, and repeated it - this time, she remained stable on her foot. Still skeptical, it was my turn.

So I started without the bracelet, and when my mom went to push on my arms, I fought to keep my balance, pushing up harder with my weak side, bending my knee slightly, etc. While I didn't lose balance the way my sister did, I was still pushed more to my weak side, despite my struggles. Then I put on the bracelet, and repeated it. To my surprise, I didn't need to struggle to keep balance, and I remained more stable than the first time. This shocked me.

(Side note: When I put it on, I didn't feel anything in particular. There's no humming or buzzing of the band, and there's no instantaneous change of feeling in the body. Which is why seeing a visible change in performance did actually shock me!)

We then tried it with a stretching drill. Standing up, feet together, we stretched down to see how far we could reach. My sister could touch her fingers to the ground, and I reached mid-shin. WITH the bracelet, however, my sister was touching her palms to the ground, and I could touch my ankles. That's good for about a 3-4 inch gain for us both. Just for the sake of completeness, I did it one more time after taking the bracelet off - back to touching mid-shin.

After reading a bit on the internet, I've found some people saying things like this really do work for them, and others saying it did nothing. Perhaps it is all placebo effect, but my sister and I were both skeptical before trying it, not thinking it would really do anything, so I'm not entirely convinced it's the placebo effect.

I'm also not entirely convinced that getting one would have any profound impact on me, but in testing it out, it did enough to at least get me curious. They're only $20-30 (depending on brand and where you buy it), which is cheap enough for me to justify getting one to test a bit more thoroughly.

Any thoughts?

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