Interlude—A second-grader asks: “Is it true that Patrick had an operation that made him not ticklish?”
In all our years of truth-squadding, it may have been the best question we’d ever heard anyone ask.
We liked the formal presentation. (“Is it true that...” rather than “Did...”) And we liked one youngster’s instinctive search for the truth.
In this instance, a 7-year-old was fact-checking her older brother, a junior in high school. Out in the living room, he had made an implausible claim to protect himself against group attack from four marauding girls, ages 7 years down to 20 months.
Unconvinced by his assertion, his sister brought her question to their mother, who sat at the adult Thanksgiving table.
“No,” her mother said. Another fact check completed!
We were pleased by the instincts put on display in this instance. Two mornings later, we came face to face with our society’s reigning culture, the culture of adult elites.
A letter appeared in the New York Times, written by an expert from Harvard. As we scanned the letter, we sadly remarked:
Truly, script never sleeps:
LETTER TO THE NEW YORK TIMES (11/30/13): The problem with Common Core is not coddled kids; it is high-stakes testing. And the anxiety that kids feel is not from their parents but rather from their teachers, who fear for their jobs.Truly, script never sleeps.
We can have high academic standards without high anxiety. In Finland, which is the best performing education system in the world, the first high-stakes test that kids take is the high school matriculation exam, which they have between two and four years to prepare for—their choice—and can retake if they are not satisfied with the results. Kids are assessed continuously in class, and get feedback that urges them to do better, but it is not high stakes. Grades are played down.
If we want Common Core to succeed, we have to dial back the high-stakes testing...
Is Finland is the world’s best performing system? The letter came from Cambridge, Mass. Recalling some of the data we’d posted on Tuesday, we wondered why the writer didn’t designate his own state as the world’s top system:
Average scores, 2011 TIMSSFor all TIMSS data, click here.
Grade 8 math, all students
(United States 509)
Grade 8 science, all students
(United States 525)
Especially given the challenges it faces relative to Finland, why isn’t Massachusetts the top performing system? Beyond that, what makes Finland a higher performer than South Korea, which routinely outscores it?
For the most part, we’d say the answer is this:
Script makes Finland best!
Finland is the world’s top performer! The script gets repeated, again and again, in news reports and op-ed columns—even in featured letters from experts. Among adult journalists and experts, that’s the way our intellectual culture actually works.
(In the letter, the writer adopts a second standard approach. Declaring Finland the world’s greatest system, he selects an educational practice of which he approves. He then attributes Finland’s greatness to that particular practice.)
Finland is the world’s top performer! We only wished that second-grader had come to us two days earlier:
“Is it true that Finland is the highest-performing educational system in the world?”
“Not exactly, no,” we would have said. As we continued to muse, we wondered if some journalist—perhaps some letters editor—will ever pose that simple question in the course of his or her work.
One day later, we got our answer. Reading on-line, we spotted the New York Times list of the year’s best non-fiction books. The Times included a widely ballyhooed tome:
THE SMARTEST KIDS IN THE WORLD: And How They Got That Way. By Amanda Ripley. (Simon & Schuster, $28.) A look at countries that are outeducating us—Finland, South Korea, Poland—through the eyes of American high school students abroad.One week earlier, the Washington Post had included that same book on its own list of the year’s best. In the Post, the synopsis went something like this:
THE SMARTEST KIDS IN THE WORLD: And How They Got That WayDoes Poland have better test scores than ours? We’d have to say no, not exactly. Unless you’re typing from script! (Examples below.)
By Amanda Ripley (Simon & Schuster)
Following American students as they attend foreign school systems with better test scores than ours, the author leads us into classrooms full of surprises in Finland, Poland and South Korea.
Is The Smartest Kids in the World one of the year’s best books? Remember, we’re talking non-fiction.
Right on page one, the book begins with a sneering claim about the way education reporting has always tended to be “well, kind of soft.” Such reporting has tended to be “brimming with good intentions but not too much evidence,” Amanda Ripley loftily laments.
On page 2, the book’s factual groaners get started. On that page, Ripley makes the largest (and least disguised) misstatement in the history of books. As she does, she offers an obviously bogus story about why she wrote her book.
The scams continue from there, along with a tremendous amount of overall cluelessness. (Ripley has very little background in education.) In truth, you’ll rarely see a book which is more larded with scams, misstatements, omissions and comical groaners.
That said, the book does follow prevailing script! And under current rules of the game, if a book performs that service, all manner of scam is permitted.
“Is it true that Patrick had an operation that made him not ticklish?”
No, his mother said.
A second-grader had asked for the truth. When she gets older, she may see that experts in the world of elites prefer to defer to the script.
Tomorrow: Outscoring Finland, part 3
Poland outscores the U.S.: In 2011, Poland participated in the TIMSS (Grade 4 only). These are the scores which emerged:
Average scores, 2011 TIMSSIn The Smartest Kids in the World, Ripley uses results from the 2007 TIMSS to declare that Minnesota is a world-class performer in math. She doesn’t tell you that Massachusetts outscored miraculous Finland on the 2011 TIMSS, by a rather substantial margin.
Grade 4 math, all students
United States 541
Grade 4 science, all students
United States 544
As we noted last Tuesday, five other states, including Minnesota, outscored Finland in math that year, out of nine states in all. These facts don’t appear in that book, one of the best of the year.
Ripley doesn’t include Poland’s scores from that, the most recent TIMSS session. That’s how the modern “journalist” works when typing from script.
Typing from script, and thereby producing The Most Lauded Book in the World!