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Thread: In America, Nerds are Unpopular Because Schools are Prisons

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    Default In America, Nerds are Unpopular Because Schools are Prisons

    In Disrupting Class, Clayton Christensen characterizes schools as having two badly conflicting missions: education and day care.

    Paul Graham's assessment is far more grim, and likely more accurate:


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    Quote Originally Posted by DHBernstein View Post
    In Disrupting Class, Clayton Christensen characterizes schools as having two badly conflicting missions: education and day care.

    Paul Graham's assessment is far more grim, and likely more accurate:

    Hi Dave. OK, but what do you think? It sounds like you'd like to have a discussion, and this could be interesting, but I'm not sure what to respond to...

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    The educational and custodial components of schools don't necessarily have to be in conflict. To be sure, there are cost implications of bringing students together: for instance, material and supply cost, technology and other equipment cost, building cost, utility cost, transportation cost (on the order of 10-15% of the total per pupil expenditure, I'm roughly estimating). In some cases, teacher cost will be higher with building-based on-site education if class sizes aren't optimized. Against the school custodial costs, it's necessary to account for home or other custodial costs in a non-custodial model.

    That said, there are of course many times when it's educationally effective to have students interacting together in one location. And when that interaction isn't needed, students can be working independently or with others online.

    I'd be interested to know what others think about specifically when and how education and custody are truly in conflict for learning, cost, and other reasons versus when and how they are more or less in line.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Kim Reichelt View Post
    Hi Dave. OK, but what do you think? It sounds like you'd like to have a discussion, and this could be interesting, but I'm not sure what to respond to...
    I posted this article because, though nearly a decade old, it captures a dimension of dysfunctionality that I had not previously recognized. Previous posts here have identified serious fundamental deficiencies in our educational system. I continue to believe that addressing these is necessary, but no longer believe that will be sufficient.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach View Post
    I'd be interested to know what others think about specifically when and how education and custody are truly in conflict for learning, cost, and other reasons versus when and how they are more or less in line.
    Neurological research shows that optimal learning for teenagers would start much later in the day, would never involve lectures exceeding 10 minutes in duration, and would be conducted while students were in motion. Learning is optimized by linking instruction to each student's active interests, and by continuously challenging each student in a range centered on his or her current skill levels - triggering the dopamine reward system. Retention is maximized by continuous testing, as opposed to lecture-lecture-lecture-lecture-lecture-cram-cram-cram-test.

    Taking Graham's observations into account, I suspect these techniques would only produce large-scale improvements if students were explicitly competing for academic achievement - including credit for teaching others - rather than popularity.

    In a Clarke-level example of technical prescience, Orson Scott Card seems to have gotten it right with Ender's Game.

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    Is there a reason that the model you laid out wouldn't work on a school campus along the lines of how education is currently configured?

    Not clear which part of Ender's Game to which you refer--the initial living quarters were pretty much a nest of bullies, if I recall correctly. However, once the candidates were narrowed down, the battle training school depended pretty heavily on the students/cadets being in close proximity.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach View Post
    Is there a reason that the model you laid out wouldn't work on a school campus along the lines of how education is currently configured?
    The question to which I responded was "how education and custody are truly in conflict". As to the physical plant, I suspect that significant internal changes would be required (e.g. far fewer lectures, much more physical activity) - but I've not given this much thought.

    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach View Post
    Not clear which part of Ender's Game to which you refer--the initial living quarters were pretty much a nest of bullies, if I recall correctly. However, once the candidates were narrowed down, the battle training school depended pretty heavily on the students/cadets being in close proximity.
    I was thinking of the Mind Fantasy Game, and the continuously physical aspect of the Battle Room.

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    Let me try asking this a current way. I'm calling the current model "custodial" in that students are in the custody of paid educators. I don't see why the educational model that you've outlined wouldn't work in a custodial setting. A differently configured school building is still a school building.

    FWIW, the alternative to a custodial model that I could imagine is one where students are in the custody of their parents and/or alone (essentially, this is not far off of the college model).

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach View Post
    Let me try asking this a current way. I'm calling the current model "custodial" in that students are in the custody of paid educators. I don't see why the educational model that you've outlined wouldn't work in a custodial setting. A differently configured school building is still a school building.
    So there'd be no problem with teenage students starting at, say, 11 am each day and continuing through 7 pm?

    Dave

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    I didn't say there'd be no problem with 11a-7p. But I've advocated elsewhere for later start times for older students. There may be other studies, but one that I'm aware of (and that the School Committee looked at a few years back) was based on some work in MN. Here's an interesting quote from the study:

    Quote Originally Posted by University of Minnesota College of Education + Human Development
    For example, initially Edina parents were concerned about the effect of later starts on such logistical issues as busing, athletics, and child care for younger students. But at the end of the first year of implementation, 92 percent of respondents on a survey for Edina high school parents indicated that they preferred the later start times.
    Would 11a-7p be workable? Perhaps. Sports and other co-curricular activities might take place before 11a, for instance. No idea whether a change as dramatic as 11a is necessary, though. Perhaps 9a gets most of the benefit?

    Ultimately, Wayland opted not to pursue a change in start times (ES starting earlier, MS/HS starting later) because other districts in the Dual County League weren't interested enough in making a similar change to allow sports schedules to synch up. One could argue that sports shouldn't be the tail wagging the educational dog, but if part of the objective here is to tailor learning to students abilities, motivations, and needs in order to arrive at the best outcomes, co-curricular activities need to be part of the conversation.

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    Quote Originally Posted by DHBernstein View Post
    In Disrupting Class, Clayton Christensen characterizes schools as having two badly conflicting missions: education and day care.

    Paul Graham's assessment is far more grim, and likely more accurate:

    I wonder a bit about this quote from the first Graham piece (disclaimer--I only read part of the first of his two lengthy missives):

    Quote Originally Posted by Paul Graham
    I know a lot of people who were nerds in school, and they all tell the same story: there is a strong correlation between being smart and being a nerd, and an even stronger inverse correlation between being a nerd and being popular.
    It's a critical quote, as the key aspects of the rest of his argument appear to more or less derive from it.

    In the spirit of "evidence is not the plural of anecdote" (if I'm not mistaken, that quote is attributed to Reid Lyon, formerly of NICHD and a key contributor to Reading First), I'd be interested in data looking at the smart/nerd correlation. Smart is easy enough to measure, but how about "nerd?" Does nerd mean unpopular? Awkward? Smart? If the latter, I'd expect a fairly high correlation. Otherwise, I'm not so sure.

    Granted, this is only one anecdote (and therefore not evidence), but I attended this year's WHS senior awards night. Many talented students received awards for academics, athletics, arts, and more. But only one student received a standing ovation--the valedictorian. Now, standing Os don't necessarily mean popularity as much as they might mean respect, but it was a telling (and positive) moment.

    Note that Graham turns on his own argument when he writes:

    Quote Originally Posted by Paul Graham
    In the schools I went to, being smart just didn't matter much. Kids didn't admire it or despise it. All other things being equal, they would have preferred to be on the smart side of average rather than the dumb side, but intelligence counted far less than, say, physical appearance, charisma, or athletic ability.
    So, which is it? Do smarts equate to nerdiness (as Graham initially asserts)? Or don't they, as he pivots in practically the same breath?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach View Post

    Would 11a-7p be workable? Perhaps. Sports and other co-curricular activities might take place before 11a, for instance. No idea whether a change as dramatic as 11a is necessary, though. Perhaps 9a gets most of the benefit?
    Waking teens up at 7 am for sports and other activities is not the same as letting them sleep till 10 am.

    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach View Post
    Ultimately, Wayland opted not to pursue a change in start times (ES starting earlier, MS/HS starting later) because other districts in the Dual County League weren't interested enough in making a similar change to allow sports schedules to synch up. One could argue that sports shouldn't be the tail wagging the educational dog, but if part of the objective here is to tailor learning to students abilities, motivations, and needs in order to arrive at the best outcomes, co-curricular activities need to be part of the conversation.
    "Part of the conversation" is quite a bit different than "Preventing any progress".

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    Dave, do you have a link to the research you're referencing with respect to sleep and start times? I'd be interested to know what it says about the benefits/"optimality" of different times: 7a, 8a, 9a, 10a, 11a, ...

    As for what Wayland might do, I'd love to see our new Superintendent pursue the idea again.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach View Post
    I didn't say there'd be no problem with 11a-7p. But I've advocated elsewhere for later start times for older students. There may be other studies, but one that I'm aware of (and that the School Committee looked at a few years back) was based on some work in MN. Here's an interesting quote from the study:
    Two key quotes from that study:

    1. "From the onset of puberty until late teen years, the brain chemical melatonin, which is responsible for sleepiness, is secreted from approximately 11 p.m. until approximately 8 a.m., nine hours later. This secretion is based on human circadian rhythms and is rather fixed. In other words, typical youth are not able to fall asleep much before 11 p.m. and their brains will remain in sleep mode until about 8 a.m., regardless of what time they go to bed."
    2. "With classes in most high schools in the United States starting at around 7:15 a.m., high school students tend to rise at about 5:45 or 6 a.m. in order to get ready and catch the bus."


    If teen student brains will remain in sleep mode until about 8 am and students must typically rise 90 minutes before arriving at school, then 9:30 am would be the earliest start time one might contemplate. Taking into account variations in sleep patterns (not all students will fall asleep by 11 pm) and morning logistics, 10:30 am would be more appropriate.

    While the Edina parents and teachers evidently saw educational benefits, delaying high school start times from 7:20 am to 8:30 am was still optimizing for day care over education.

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    Without an "effectiveness curve" for wake time, there's no evidence that 8:30am is an optimization of custody over education. If 8:30am represents a 60% educational improvement over 7:30am, for instance (and that's purely a made-up number), then it might be fairer to call it a gain with a partial compromise for custody (which has a real big-picture value). And, it may be that 8:30am allows for valuable co-curricular benefits. If that's not late enough, maybe 9:00 (which "sacrifices" only 30 minutes of sleep mode--perhaps that's not too significant a compromise) or 9:30am is the best balance of the various factors. In such a case, education and custody may not be badly conflicting, but rather, only slightly at odds with one another.

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