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Who is responsible for learning?

By Legal Eagle

One of the hard things about teaching is that there is only so much you can do. You can try to lead students to information, but in the end, it’s up to them how much of that information they choose to take in, and final responsibility for performance in exams, tests or essays rests with the student. This is why good teaching is also hard to judge. If a student does badly in a test, it is not necessarily because the teacher was bad. Some responsibility must rest with the student too.

The reason I am discussing this is because The Age reported today that an 18-year-old woman and her mother were suing Geelong Grammar because it failed to assist her in her quest to study Law at the University of Sydney:

Rose Ashton-Weir, 18, alleges Geelong Grammar gave her inadequate academic support, particularly in maths.

Seeking compensation in the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal, she said her final secondary school score was too low to study law at the University of Sydney.

Of her time at Geelong Grammar, she said: ”I didn’t ever feel I was getting the support I needed to really excel.”

Ms Ashton-Weir boarded at the school in 2008 and 2009 but finished her secondary studies at a TAFE college in Sydney. She is in the first year of a double degree in arts and sciences at the University of Sydney.

Her mother, Elizabeth Weir, is also suing the school for lost income and other expenses.

She said she gave up her chocolate fortune cookie business – which she had expected to make $450,000 over three years – because her daughter moved from Geelong to live with her in New South Wales.

She is also seeking compensation for $39,000 in rent paid when they moved to another house in Sydney.

Earlier this week, Ms Weir said the school had known her daughter was gifted and had scored highly in an intelligence test, but struggled in maths.

Yesterday, Ms Ashton-Weir told the tribunal a teacher at Geelong Grammar had criticised her for using words that were too long, which had left her confused and had made her doubt her ability to write essays. She became ”quite distressed” when her English marks began to fall.

Darren Ferrari, representing Geelong Grammar, said Ms Ashton-Weir could have studied law at several other universities. ”You could have done law at Deakin University by correspondence,” he said.

There’s a mix of different issues in these cases, as I’ve said before in a post on a similar case some years ago. I do feel some sympathy towards the parent. If she has shelled out a bucket-load of money for her daughter to get a good education, it’s understandable that she would want to demand certain standards of the school.  On the other hand, if the child does not do her work or does not turn up to classes, that is her own choice. She has to take some responsibility for her own academic success. And let us be clear, just because you pay for an educational service does not mean that you are entitled to good marks. As I commented in that earlier post, there are a few things which concern me about this kind of case:

  • It suggests that it is the school’s fault alone if the child has not done well. To recycle a well-known proverb, “You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink”. The child also has to put in effort of his own.
  • Teachers are caught between wanting to give an accurate view of a child’s potential, and the potential for crushing a child’s ego. As a friend was explaining, school reports in this State increasingly tend towards brevity and giving scant information about a child’s progress.
  • Some parents have unrealistic expectations about the extent to which their child can improve academically. It may be that the best outcome which could have been reached is for a D student to become a C student.
  • If a class does badly, it does not mean that the teacher is bad. It may mean that the class is a particularly difficult one, or there are a high proportion of students with learning difficulties, or students who are socially disadvantaged. This is the problem I have with “grading teachers”. If you judge the quality of teachers on the achievements of students, it will depend in part on the aptitude of the students, and so it is not a fair judgment.
  • Should teachers have given [one] student attention over and above the attention which they gave other students who were not struggling? If so, doesn’t this mean that the more accomplished members of the class are being neglected and in a sense, being “punished” for being smart?

The first thing I thought with regard to this particular young woman is that she needs to be told The Horse Story. The moral of The Horse Story is this: sometimes it looks like it’s a disaster when you don’t get what you want, but in the end it can be the best possible thing for you, and you end up doing something that is better for you than what you wanted. Just keep on persisting (and ‘wait and see’ before you decide it’s all a disaster). I am an exemplar of this. While I did get into an Arts/Law degree at the university of my choice, I did not get Articles with a law firm first time around and ended up working with the Victorian Court of Appeal as a researcher instead. If that had not happened, I would not have met my husband, I would not have met a variety of excellent friends and I would not have worked for a Judge for a number of years. As it happens, I did get Articles in the end (and in fact shared an office with Darren, the barrister mentioned above — he’s still a friend of mine — he blogs here).

I know a number of people who didn’t get into Law first time around, but they studied other courses in an effort to attain marks which would enable them to transfer. And they managed to do so successfully. Why is this woman spending her time bringing a legal action, and not spending her time studying hard in her Arts/Science degree so that she can transfer into Law if that is her ultimate goal in life? (It’s almost exam time right now at my university, and surely at hers too. She should be concentrating on swotting rather than appearing in VCAT). If you want something, you should damn well work for it (yes, my Protestant work ethic is showing, even though I’m not religious). Show some resilience, girl. You aren’t going to get very far if you just complain the instant you don’t get what you want rather than working for it.

Which brings me to my second point: it seems to me that this young woman has a massive sense of entitlement. From the way in which the newspaper article tells it, it almost seems to me that she was asserting that she should have gotten into Law just because she’s clever and she’s got a high IQ. If so, I’ve got news for you, honey. A lot of people are clever, but that doesn’t give them an entitlement to do Law. You’ve got to work for it, and even then, you might not succeed. In this young woman’s defence, it can be hard to adjust to this hard truth if you’re very clever, you’ve never had to work hard before and you’ve never failed to achieve what you set out to achieve before. Maybe she’s also the kind of person who has always been told that she’s brilliant and that she’s entitled to special treatment? While I wasn’t in that category, I confess that at my Australian high school, I never had to study to do well, and it was only when I got to my English high school that I learned how to work, and developed organised study habits. It was a bit of a shock to the system to learn how to work, but it was good for me. I’ve described the process I went through in this post, and I concluded that post with comments I still endorse:

The truth of the matter is, that to achieve results, one has to work hard and do “boring” stuff. It seems to be unpopular these days to emphasise this. Everything has to be “interesting” and palatable for easily-bored students. But once you get out into the real world, there’s lots of boring stuff. Just because you’re a lawyer doesn’t mean that you can escape this: in fact, it may mean you resign yourself to a life of boring stuff (discovery, due diligence etc). And one is constantly judged in the real world – who gets pay rises, who doesn’t etc. The best way of preparing children for the real world is to let them know that life isn’t always interesting, and native intelligence or talent alone does not get you anywhere without practice and hard work.

There’s an irony, too, that this young woman is suing for loss of a chance to obtain a law degree. I wonder if this case will leave her more or less starry eyed about the legal system? I am glad that I studied Law, as it happens. I genuinely enjoy it, and being a lawyer is very empowering…but if she does eventually get into law, and into the legal profession, I wonder if she will be disappointed?

Update

Danielle McCreddin writes on this case at Club Troppo. Like me, she thinks that it might have been a bad idea to litigate this one; but points out other cases where litigation might be appropriate.

103 Comments

  1. conrad
    Posted May 17, 2012 at 8:11 pm | Permalink

    I can just imagine the disclaimers parents are going to have to sign in case they actually win this case. “This school is only called a school as that is a simple term to use. Anything your child happens to learn here is simply incidental, and if they happen to be able to use this for their own benefit then this is neither here nor there for the school. In addition, if for some reason they do a government test, then in no way will the school be held responsible for the the things that we never guaranteed to teach them…”

    I think these horse stories occur really often incidentally — A number of times I have missed out on a job, only to take something else that turned out to be far better.

  2. Don Aitkin
    Posted May 17, 2012 at 8:29 pm | Permalink

    I think you’ve set this out very well, and I agree with nearly all of it. It was not Geelong Grammar’s role to get her into Sydney Uni’s law course, but to prepare her for life and her aspirations. That does not mean that she has a case against the school if her aspirations were not met, for all the reasons you have given.

  3. Moz
    Posted May 17, 2012 at 8:43 pm | Permalink

    A Confucian response might be to apply the arse-kicking that Geelong failed to.

    Also, I can see where the kid gets it from. Assuming that the child is actually a willing participant in this particular experiment.

  4. Posted May 17, 2012 at 11:28 pm | Permalink

    Well, given she /could/ have got into law at Deakin, she wasn’t precluded from doing law if it was that important to her.

    Given the notions behind this action, the potential for Private Schools to feel more threatened in general, and the number of Old Boys/Girls who love their old school tie and are now at the bar or even on the bench ….. (and … on the throne probably!) … taking on Geelong Grammar and the Old BoysGirls legal network is “courageous” as Sir Humphrey would say.

  5. Tim
    Posted May 18, 2012 at 12:53 am | Permalink

    Educational malpractice would be like governmental malpractice: a disaster; a hindrance to education and good government. There are reasons why educators have immunity. And I think you have identified them well. Why get bogged, in each case, in the quagmire of causation, when we know from the start that causation cannot be adequately proven?

  6. Posted May 18, 2012 at 4:03 am | Permalink

    My only concern is the little detail about the student being told to use simpler words. I had the same thing done to me, and I soon worked out that the problem was due to me being smarter than my teachers.

    I don’t know how to fix this, but the statistical information in Superfreakonomics about teachers being less able now than a generation ago is very disturbing, if only because it tells against education authorities as monopsony employers.

  7. Liz
    Posted May 18, 2012 at 5:06 am | Permalink

    While I doubt the merits of her case, it sounds like she could be undiagnosed ADHD. It is very common for girls to remain undiagnosed and the description of her as intelligent plus disorganised plus failing at school (“could do better”) is a pretty typical picture.

  8. conrad
    Posted May 18, 2012 at 5:07 am | Permalink

    but the statistical information in Superfreakonomics about teachers being less able now than a generation ago is very disturbing.

    Teachers make less difference to the average student than most people imagine at most levels (c.f., getting good scores) — as long as the curriculum is good (including textbooks), then at most levels, you don’t need to be especially smart to be a teacher. This is one reason why we’ve gone from exceptionally smart teachers (i.e. when smart women couldn’t get other jobs easily) to fairly average ones (you can get into teaching with a very low TER) and it hasn’t made much difference. If you look at intelligence scores and the Flynn effect, then whilst the peak was in the late 80s, the small decline hasn’t been dramatic, and I certainly wouldn’t put it down to the proficiency of teachers. In my book, the main difference between teachers at early levels at least is the ability to identify and deal with kids with disorders — but many of these kids could be identified with simple testing and dealt with outside the classroom by other groups if there were the resources.

  9. Tim
    Posted May 18, 2012 at 7:30 am | Permalink

    I think the problem has to be fixed paradigmatically at the antepenultimate educational level where epistemological causation bears no demonstrable relationship to a student’s double-blind placebo-controlled performance.

  10. kvd
    Posted May 18, 2012 at 8:19 am | Permalink

    paradigmatically

    I wanted to see if that was a word, so I checked a dictionary (for paradigmatic) and got:Of or relating to the set of substitutional or oppositional relationships a linguistic unit has with other units, such as the relationship between (n) in not and other sounds that could be substituted for it in the same context, like (t) and (p). Together with the set of syntagmatic relations, paradigmatic relations describe the identity of a linguistic unit in a given language.

    Which is, like, totally awesome, but not as fully sick as Tim’s.

  11. T
    Posted May 18, 2012 at 9:16 am | Permalink

    While I agree that learning is ultimately up to students, that doesn’t mean teachers don’t have immense power to facilitate and change just what students feel like they’re able to do. I didn’t get into law at Sydney (and in retrospect I’m immensely grateful – I love it here at Newcastle, and everyone I know who went to Sydney is miserable) and that in large part is because of the lack of work I did in Maths in year 12.

    That’s partly on me, and it reflects how I respond to particular situations. But you also have to look at the situation – I was in a class with four boys who vehemently disliked my presence there, and did their best to drive anything ‘girly’ (like this girl) away. Yes, I found it hard to deal with rape/miscarriage/dead baby jokes and didn’t work as hard, and that does say something about me. It also says something about my teacher, who didn’t do a single things to stop that behaviour, but just laughed along or pretended he didn’t hear.

  12. AJ
    Posted May 18, 2012 at 11:12 am | Permalink

    As I understand it UAC scores are a rank, not a mark. Maybe schools could give everyone A’s but they can’t make it so everyone is in the top 1%.

  13. Posted May 18, 2012 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

    T’s story is a reminder that a lot of kids have a terrible time at school, and working out when (or even whether) to hold the school responsible for things like bullying is very difficult.

    I’m thinking in particular of the news stories (once again incomplete, as here) emerging in the US about gay and lesbian kids driven to suicide.

    There are a million spiky issues buried in this case.

  14. Mel
    Posted May 18, 2012 at 4:15 pm | Permalink

    SL@6:

    “I don’t know how to fix this, but the statistical information in Superfreakonomics about teachers being less able now than a generation ago is very disturbing, if only because it tells against education authorities as monopsony employers.”

    I’m not sure that’s the real problem.

  15. Fleeced
    Posted May 18, 2012 at 4:23 pm | Permalink

    The Horse Story thing reminds me of Conan O’Brien’s Dartmouth commencement address.

  16. Moz
    Posted May 18, 2012 at 5:07 pm | Permalink

    Mel, I think it is a real problem. Students today are quite able to look at teaching and say “low status, low pay, high probability of being blamed for situations outside their control, difficult customers, no thanks”. A generation or two ago those students were saying “girls can’t do law, or medicine, or engineering, but I’m really bright so it’s either nursing or teaching… I’ll be a teacher”.

    Social change leads things like employment because of the time between deciding and doing. For my grandmother it was nursing because the alternative was being a “land girl” until her husband got back from the war (or not). For her children there were more options, and they could go to *university*. For my generation you could be one of the freaky females doing engineering, or one of the “today we do breast exams, girls if you please” medical students. These days women can graduate in silviculture *and* find a job in their field. What that means is that women now have a lot more options, so there are fewer really bright people pushed into dumb choices by factors outside their control.

  17. Mel
    Posted May 18, 2012 at 6:46 pm | Permalink

    Moz:

    None of that supports SL’s monopsyny point. I think SL is trying to shoehorn education into the libertarian paradigm but it simply doesn’t fit. If it did, Finland wouldn’t be the best performing western country.

  18. Posted May 18, 2012 at 7:05 pm | Permalink

    You can get around the monopsony problem by doing things other than raising pay rates (although I’ll allow for cultural differences and suggest that paying teachers a lot more would probably help a fair bit in the US).

    The basic thing to remember in any Scandinavian country is the low tolerance for badly behaved kids, and the ethnic homogeneity.

    On the whole, though, as I said @17, there is almost certainly more to both this case and the issues it raises. No-one here has addressed the point LE flagged about people perceiving that if they pay enough for a positional good (like education), it will automatically be excellent.

  19. Posted May 18, 2012 at 7:53 pm | Permalink

    people perceiving that if they pay enough for a positional good (like education), it will automatically be excellent.

    Is it how much they’re paying, or what they’re being told by those who are selling, that causes that perception?

  20. Posted May 18, 2012 at 8:40 pm | Permalink

    M@21 One reason why Australian schools are (on average) notably better than British ones is Australian schools have much more competition. (The UK having inspectors seems to have little discernible positive effect.)

    Scandinavian examples of welfare/service delivery tell you what is possible in strongly culturally homogeneous societies that are “Protestant” (strong work-ethic, future directed, duty-driven, rule-following and promise-reliable).

    The disaster of indigenous policy in Australia shows what happens when huge cultural gaps exist.

  21. Mel
    Posted May 18, 2012 at 8:53 pm | Permalink

    I have no problem with paying higher taxes, so I don’t mind paying teachers more. The problem of poor teacher quality may also have something to do with the poor status of teachers in Oz and maybe in Anglo countries generally. The reports on Finland say that Finnish teachers are both well paid and well respected.

    As to homogeneity, I see no evidence that Oz schools with large proportions of Jews, Indians, Chinese, Vietnamese etc students are suffering.

    I think what upsets libertarians and conservatives is how the comparative performance of different education systems undermines their ideological shibboleths. Within a liberatarian paradigm you simply cannot explain how the statist, highly unionised etc Finnish system does so well without resorting to strong form exceptionalist arguments.

  22. Mel
    Posted May 18, 2012 at 9:02 pm | Permalink

    L@24:

    “M@21 One reason why Australian schools are (on average) notably better than British ones is Australian schools have much more competition.”

    Actually the absence of competition is one of the key features of the Finnish system.

  23. Posted May 18, 2012 at 9:06 pm | Permalink

    I find it interesting that SL@22 referred to education as a ‘positional good’. I suspect that a libertarian solution would result in education being treated purely as a positional good to the complete detriment of both the quality of the education and the broader public good that drove the public funding of education in the first place.

  24. Jolly
    Posted May 18, 2012 at 9:57 pm | Permalink

    Children (through lack of life experiences) have very few coping skills to deal with school problems. Unless they are closely monitored by both parents and teachers, children can have negative experiences in schools and the associated learning problems.

    Teachers these days are over-burdened with not only teaching their specialist subjects but also teaching subjects they are not amply trained to do so. On top of this, they have heaps of administrative workload to put-up with on a daily basis. Thus to expect that every child’s every wish and issue (class of 25 children) will be closely catered for is an unreasonable expectation. Schools and teachers are only made effective by the degree of close cooperation between schools and homes. (There are heaps of research findings that substantiate this).

    It must never be forgotten that the most effective and loving care-givers are parents. Children who come from caring, loving, and stable homes have greater success in schools. This has nothing to do with parents’ wealth or the lack of it. Parents who manage stable homes also have a tendency to keep a close, cordial relationship with their children’s teachers. Problems are nipped in the bud through constant and effective communication. It has nothing to do with private or public schools. Parent’s relationship and opinion of teachers has an enormous influence on the child’s relationship with teachers. Parents who dislike schools often manage to implant such attitudes (unintentionally) in their children. Parents who genuinely value education, have children exhibiting the same value. Students who outperform and excel in their academics are often students from homes that place a high premium on education. Parents who are obsessed with sports often are blessed with students who outperform in sports. It is rather easy to relinquish parental care and duty by paying exorbitant fees (private schools) and then believing that all will be well.

    It must also be stated that ‘teacher quality is directly proportional to student performance’. This is also a fact that has been thoroughly researched and proven. However, the close cooperation between school and home cannot be understated; it is a sure recipe for student long term success, both emotionally and academically.

    Home is the sacred place where the seeds are sown. School is the environment that provides the tools for learning and thoughts for intellectual growth. One cannot exist successfully without the other. It is certainly a symbiotic relationship.

  25. Posted May 18, 2012 at 10:09 pm | Permalink

    M@25

    well-paid and well-respected

    Such things are just easier to arrange and sustain in a culturally homogeneous society.

    large proportions Jews, Indians … are suffering

    Apart from the oddness of counting Australian schools both ways (we have one of the most competitive school systems in the West) the point is not about the student body, but about the wider society. The sronger the level of social agreement and the better the lines of communication, the easier it is to make centralised systems work (i.e. the more culturally homogeneous a country is, provided it is so in the right way). There is no mystery here. The mystery is when people take things out of their social context and think they are infinitely transferrable.

    As it happens, Australia scores at Scandinavian levels in lots of social indicators while doing things quite differently. Good for us, but bad for mindlessly citing Scandinavian examples as what-will-work-everywhere.

    For example, the introduction of state schooling in Oz was all about the Protestant establishment suppressing Catholicism. Not exactly the dynamic at work in Scandinavia.

    It is quite conspicuous that liberal economics has flourished in culurally diverse societies (UK, Danubian Monarchy, US). Hardly surprising, that folk have variant preferences is a stark reality of life in such societies. More centralised approaches flourish in more culturally homogeneous societies (Scandinavia) or places where the narrative is all is about imposing elite preferences on others (Prussia-Germany).

  26. Posted May 18, 2012 at 10:11 pm | Permalink

    Sorry about the erratic grammar, doing this on an iPad at Malta airport.

  27. Posted May 18, 2012 at 10:32 pm | Permalink

    Lorenzo, I’ll go in and fix :)

    [UPDATE: FIXED -- I think!]

  28. Posted May 18, 2012 at 10:41 pm | Permalink

    I believe I fixed it.

    M@26 Ecnomic inequality is pehaps the most mportant single issue in US education outcmes–the US actually does quite a good job of edcating students if you take the demographics they are woking with into account. Again, cultural homogeneity discourages high levels of income dispersion.

    Also, the relevant competition is not elite private schools (the UK and US both have them) but mass access to non-government schools (which Australia has but the UK and most of the US does not, hence the level of homeschooling in the US).

    The Atlantic piece you linked to is all about te effects of cultural homogeneity–that bit about acccountability being what is left after responsibility is taken out, for example. While I cited the disaster of indigenous policy in the US to make the point that cultural distance matters for policy–especially its effect on lines and ease of communication.

  29. Posted May 18, 2012 at 10:45 pm | Permalink

    My business partner has just pointed out that the Finnish climate might also be relevant–how long they are at school, which hours, what distractions, etc. Worth considering.

  30. Posted May 19, 2012 at 1:19 am | Permalink

    Your rabbi’s horse story bears an incredible resemblance to a Chinese story which is remembered in a Chinese set-phrase 塞翁失马 焉知非福 or (phonetically) “sàiwēngshīmǎ, yān zhī fēi fú”.

    The story dates from a collection of Taoist writings dating from about 139BCE.

  31. Peter Warwick
    Posted May 19, 2012 at 9:29 am | Permalink

    Jolly@28. I think you have nailed it.

    There is nothing quite like coming from a well established, stable, loving, caring, and peaceful home, where parents are actively engaged with their children and their education. You simply cannot buy this.

    Unfortunately, many modern parents have farmed out the responsibility of providing a stable household, and think money can buy the solution for a dysfunctional child.

    Children of a disrupted, dysfunctional (and sometimes violent) home are at a somewhat disadvantage, and I think the research show this.

    I attended a private school in Brisbane, and while I enjoyed it, I would not send my children to a private school, although in some locations we have been, there is insufficient choice.

    I now live and work in Papua New Guinea, and the state education system here is in almost total collapse.

  32. Mel
    Posted May 19, 2012 at 9:45 am | Permalink

    Lorenzo @30:

    “Sorry about the erratic grammar, doing this on an iPad at Malta airport.”

    Good God man, enjoy your holiday and forget the internetz :)

  33. Posted May 19, 2012 at 11:52 am | Permalink

    LE @ 35: whilst there are stories which seem to spring up almost spontaneously in every culture, I’m reasonably sure in this case the Chinese have priority. The source is just too coherent and too old and the story too, well, Daoist.

  34. conrad
    Posted May 19, 2012 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

    “Quite often when a school is marketing themselves to a parent, they portray themselves as miracle workers who will transform the students’ life.”

    It would be interesting to know to what extent that this is true for this particular school — I imagine that the demand for parents to get their kids into a school like Geelong Grammar is so high that they really wouldn’t to do that.

    Looking at their web-site: http://www.ggs.vic.edu.au/ it doesn’t seem too over the top at all (at least compared to the university hyperbole I’m familiar with).

  35. conrad
    Posted May 19, 2012 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

    sorry “wouldn’t need to do that”

  36. Posted May 19, 2012 at 4:25 pm | Permalink

    With a private school such as Geelong Grammar, what you are buying is the seat next to your child’s–someone who won’t disrupt their learning and and might be useful to know later in life. Hyperbole is hardly necessary to sell that.

    This silly suit is actually trashing the main advantages of the daughter going to Geelong Grammar in the first place.

    M@38 Thanks, but I’m addicted :)

  37. Posted May 19, 2012 at 6:30 pm | Permalink

    “She is in the first year of a double degree in arts and sciences at the University of Sydney.”

    Reminds me of a blowup about a girl who didn’t get into some poncy college at some poncy- wait, it’s probably the place SkepticL did her studies! Anyway, it was in the UK, and she felt discriminated against by one of the Oxbloods because she had brilliant marks but they didn’t let her into medicine after a series of probing interviews. It was a national scandal, circa 2001-2.

    And the wash up? She went to Harvard to do business. Thank eff she didn’t become a doctor then.

    ..It was Magdalen College, I still remember the name…

  38. Posted May 19, 2012 at 9:55 pm | Permalink

    Lorenzo

    With limited exceptions, I think the bit about the connexions for later life is vastly overrated in popular opinion. I know Melbourne people will always ask where you went to school, but that’s not really such a Sydney thing and anyway a Melbourne school (even GG) would not loom so large or be particularly useful.

    When you first graduate, though, where you went to law school might count for something.

    More generally

    The problem here is expectations – that’s what the hype (and the price!) builds up.

    It’s a bit rich for counsel for GG to say “You could always have gone to Deakin” in those circumstances – even if the legal reasons for putting that question (not, of course, really a question at all) are clear enough.

    Expectations and expectation damages are the world of contract. Surely GG is promising something? [one might think]

    But that’s the thing. Like many providers of services, GG will say (probably successfully) that it is not literally promising any result at all, even while it relies on perceptions of its capacity to deliver something to exercise its attractive power.

    It’s not so different from the real estate agent who talks up the price to get the listing. (Or the lawyer who talks up the case, for that matter.)

    Wilder is the mother’s claim for the foregone chocolate biscuit fortune and the rent incurred. As a practitioner I have encountered any number of such cases where claims for damages seem to lump in all sorts of things that have gone wrong after a turning point in life which is blamed on others. Sometimes there is something in it but this sort of thing is very difficult to make good.

  39. John H.
    Posted May 20, 2012 at 6:55 am | Permalink

    Finland’s success is especially intriguing because Finnish schools assign less homework and engage children in more creative play.

    The above is from Mel’s Link. Only 2 weeks ago I saw an interview with a child development specialist(neurologist) who sadly told how they had to introduce programs to teach children how to play. 2 months ago I saw a Ted Talk about a series of studies which consistently showed that if you want novel thinking to emerge the offering of rewards can actually hinder the performance. This is counter intuitive but then you think about nerds playing with computers in garages and hey presto we’re gonna change the world …. .

    My business partner has just pointed out that the Finnish climate might also be relevant–how long they are at school, which hours, what distractions, etc. Worth considering.

    Reminds me of why I used to think Seasonal Affective Disorder remained so prevalent in northern Europe: depression induces critical thinking but over the winter it is not long enough to induce cognitive deficits. So what do you do when snowbound: find something thinking wise to kill the winter before you kill yourself. Oh and yes, a recent study claimed because of light and cold northern Europeans are born with bigger brains and eyes than us mere mortals.

    The human brain has a rather elaborate cooling network, it may be the case the even slight rises in temperature over time have significant impacts on cognitive performance.

  40. Posted May 20, 2012 at 5:31 pm | Permalink

    M@45 Networking advantages have been declining for a long time. I once worked with a fellow who was a graduate of Melbourne Grammar and had hated the place. He went to a reunion and came back very happy; the economic reforms he had supported had left the chinless wonders who had made his life a misery high and dry.

    Folk often missed the class struggle within the Liberal Party. The dries tended to be middle class types who wanted reward for effort, the wets tended to be upper class types who wanted their connection networks and expensive lawyers to continue to advantage folk like them.

  41. Ern007
    Posted May 21, 2012 at 5:42 am | Permalink

    Having been at GGS (albeit many moons ago), I’m surprised that such a suit has arisen.

    The ethos of the school was (in both my time and when my children were there) that the only thing that one need compete with was oneself; and, further, that hard work never hurt anyone. The school does not have an academic requirement for entry: however, it does provide a large number of scholarships for children who are deemed worthy of such awards (most of whom would not otherwise have had the opportunity of attending, I was one such.).

    I find the underlying assumption in this matter (as reported) that any school is/was solely responsible for any child’s failure to achieve her/his “aspiration” to be offensive. As someone once said “For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more”. ( I prefer the language of the KJB to that of JFK)

  42. peter jones
    Posted May 21, 2012 at 6:43 am | Permalink

    As a teacher near the end of my teaching career, I and my colleagues just cracked up over this story. Three points I’d like to make though: one is to just bemoan this ludicrous litigation culture we have taken on from the USA and has made all our lives a misery. I have had to scarp so many activities I did with my students because of it, like overseas trips to Viet Nam and India, let alone camping weekends.
    Two – I totally endorse the comment, when one way closes, another opens, as it happened to me too when I didn’t get to the uni of my choice. I often tell my students this when they get in a state over their future.
    Three – how to judge teaching ? The current reward good teachers approach is sheer rubbish. Education is an unpredictable mix of factors: ranging from an inspiring teacher who loves kids; teenage hormones; socio-economic factors and whether home encourages learning; the peer group kids get into at High School; and factors beyond our control like parents divorcing and fights over custody with the children bounced between different homes and horrid step parents.

  43. derrida derider
    Posted May 21, 2012 at 9:34 am | Permalink

    So many kids never get anything like an even break from the day they are born. Why the hell should some middle class scion be able to just buy a good education? Why should anyone HAVE to buy it?

    I am a raving socialist when it comes to education because inequality of opportunity is not only deeply unfair, it is deeply inefficient (a mind being a terrible thing to waste and all that).

  44. Posted May 21, 2012 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

    DD@51 Because the choice is buying it surreptitiously by buying expensive houses in good areas with good government schools (which often have a good school price premium built in) or doing it openly where families even living in poorer areas can make alternative choices.

    Anyone who thinks government schooling equalises schooling does not have enough experience of actual government schools.

  45. Posted May 21, 2012 at 3:32 pm | Permalink

    DD@51 And, btw, do you also propose to ban private tutoring? Trying to maximise the general quality of schooling should be the goal, so there is at least some “levelling up”, not pursuing the will-o-the-wisp of equality.

  46. Mel
    Posted May 21, 2012 at 6:23 pm | Permalink

    I agree with DD @51. I like the idea of adjusting year 12 scores so that kids from poor schools get a top up while kids from the elite schools get a score reduction. I would then mandate that all universities must use the adjusted scores when awarding uni places. This would have the twin effect of introducing greater equity into the system while also discouraging the middle class drift into private schooling. Let’s face it, public schooling is doomed without the more capable and engaged middle classes having a stake in it.

    I would also ban private schools.

    L@52

    ” Anyone who thinks government schooling equalises schooling does not have enough experience of actual government schools.”

    Finland etc…

    And before you start babbling about Scandinavian exceptionalism let’s not forget you declaring your admiration for the Hong Kong “let’s-put-grandma-in-a-cage” welfare system :)

  47. Mel
    Posted May 21, 2012 at 6:30 pm | Permalink

    test

  48. Posted May 21, 2012 at 7:03 pm | Permalink

    Just saw your ‘test’ comment, Mel, which alerted me to the fact that you’d been spaminated.

    I then managed to get locked out of my own bloody blog!

    Apologies for the delay…

  49. Jolly
    Posted May 21, 2012 at 7:55 pm | Permalink

    How about following the Malaysian (Mahathir’s) system of allocating students from the villages (Malay/Muslims) as first priority to uni entrance and side lining all others, eh?. Then years down the lane when it actually came to professional competences the Malaysians (both Malays and non-Malays) shunned the “positively discriminated” former students and went looking for foreign trained Malaysians who were denied by the government (under the pretext of “social redistribution of wealth & opportunities”). What a laugh. I came to know of this only when I was seconded to do some research work over in Kuala Lumpur.

    Some amongst us (Aussies) are keen to destroy anything that they cannot or don’t want to have (eg. private edu.). Social redistribution is DANGEROUS! Water will always find its own level. Cream will always rise to the top. Private schools and public schools have never been the criteria to judge students’ final outcomes. Socioeconomics has never kept down or propped up individuals with talent. Abolish private schools and our edu system will simply collapse. It’s simple economics. I am happy for the wealthy and some middle class parents to pay exorbitant fees for private schooling. This relives the pressure on our overburdened public schools. To keep whingeing about private education is an indication of our ignorance re the workings of our public education system. What we should be calling for are smaller class sizes, more competently trained teachers, more incentives for Physics and Chemistry teachers, etc. Science is on the decline both in schools and at the tertiary level. We simply cannot allow this sad decline to continue if we are to prosper as a truly developed nation.

  50. Mel
    Posted May 21, 2012 at 8:18 pm | Permalink

    J@57:

    “Socioeconomics has never kept down or propped up individuals with talent. ”

    Snigger. If you truly believed that then your later call for smaller class sizes etc would be redundant.

    “I am happy for the wealthy and some middle class parents to pay exorbitant fees for private schooling. This relives the pressure on our overburden public schools.”

    Bollocks. Private schools allow the middle class to flee the public system and allow it to rot (unless they are into enlightened self interest). The top performing western country according to the PISA rankings is Finland, which has a miniscule private school system.

    “How about following the Malaysian (Mahathier’s) system of allocating students from the villages (Malay/Muslims) as first priority to unis entrance and side lining all others, eh?”

    Malaysia is a thoroughly corrupt and racist country that discriminates against non-Malays. This is no more relevant to the discussion than your apparent inability to use paragraphs.

  51. Posted May 21, 2012 at 8:23 pm | Permalink

    M@54 I like the Hong Kong labour market system, I am not aware of having anything to say about the Hong Kong welfare system.

    If you abolish private schools;
    (1) that reduces spending per student;
    (2) it makes students the prisoners of local demographics and local monopoly schools who have no reason to care;
    (3) increases the advantage for those willing to pay for private tutoring.
    Monopoly schooling is generally about controlling belief, not improving education.

    As for Finland, it is a country of 5.4m people who are 90% Finnish and 5% Swedish, of course they can deliver good government schooling if they put their mind to it.

    One of the big divides in social policy is between those who see the state as sitting “over the top” of private interests and those who see government provision as something that will be “gamed” just like anything else that delivers benefits.

    In a small, essentially monocultural society, almost everyone is playing the same “game” and communication networks are dense and effective. We gave up the Scandinavian option when the Irish arrived, let alone the Southern Europeans, Eastern Europeans, East Asians, South Asians … Suggesting cultural diversity has no consequences is just daft.

    As far as I am aware, the highest paid teachers are in Switzerland, where schools (and school spending) are controlled by local communes (which can be as small as a few hundred people; 10,000 is a large one–those communication networks again). This leads to highly paid, but easily fired, teachers. Just try and introduce such a system here and watch the education unions (who have long since decided that mass mediocrity maximises their revenue) scream.

  52. John H.
    Posted May 21, 2012 at 8:28 pm | Permalink

    Science is on the decline both in schools and at the tertiary level. We simply cannot allow this sad decline to continue if we are to prosper as a truly developed nation.

    The incredible thing is that there is now increasing data to support the contention that the Flynn Effect has reversed in a number of nations including Australia; where the reversal may have begun even by the late 1980′s. This is a very paradoxical, I had previously thought the decline in the slope was a statistical inevitability but the reversal is much more worrying.

    Today there was a news article about declining educational standards even amongst our top students. Now that is very worrying, I had hoped the decline was more in the middling, low end, but if we’re seeing declines in the best, that suggests a potentially serious and widespread problem.

    It isn’t about teachers or the content so much, the trend appears widespread with varying strategies being adopted across nations. So I am wary of the usual explanations.

    It could be something simple, like obesity. If you look at some studies on childhood obesity and the physiological effects you begin to realise that across whole populations these effects will be manifest in a variety of standard measures. Over a decade ago a study documented how obese middle aged women had brains that had aged at average 10 years older than the controls. That is consistent with literature and it again highlights why obesity is a serious issue.

    A study released two days ago in the news stated that in the rat model used a very high fructose diet combined with DHA insufficiency was enough to induce performance deficits in 6 weeks. Only last week I was looking at correlations between sugar excess and neurodegeneration, there is a striking relationship. Various studies indicate widespread DHA insufficiency and far too much sugar. The two combined might even constitute up to 20% if not more of the teenage population.

    Sorry for the rant, little carried away there but just looking for different angle…

  53. Posted May 21, 2012 at 8:55 pm | Permalink

    Continuing my previous point, if you want an example of the importance of dense communication networks (including strong reciprocity), consider micro-credit, invented by Jonathan Swift (yes, the author of Gulliver’s Travels).

  54. Mel
    Posted May 21, 2012 at 9:14 pm | Permalink

    John H @60:

    Yes I’ve read about the link between obesity and intelligence. Dammit, I’m going to have to give up the grilled cheese sandwiches.

  55. John H.
    Posted May 21, 2012 at 9:21 pm | Permalink

    Mel,

    I did some digging around. Guess what else Finland excels at: Public Health. Our govt under Tony Abbott as Health Minister would not ban trans fat but banned RU486!. We know trans fat is an industrial product that is is absolute shit for the body. Meanwhile, Finland long ago instituted a huge Diabetes Type 2 Prevention Program. See:

    Public health ‘good practice’ – the case of Finland
    http://www.fmc.ch/uploads/tx_userzsarchiv/Allin_engl_def.pdf

  56. Posted May 22, 2012 at 4:50 pm | Permalink

    Here’s something to put country approach comparisons in perspective. Swedes and Finns do better in the US than they do in Sweden or Finland. But every ethnic/cultural group does better in the US than they do back home, that is why they (continue to) migrate there. But they come from such a diversity of backgrounds, it affects the averages and (even more) the dispersion in the US.

    Any system that can produce motivated teachers who can communicate effectively with parents and teachers who are committed to (or at least, not functionally antipathetic to) education is a good system and will produce good results. Research suggests that the biggest single factor in affecting school performance (once student demographics are taken into account) is the principal. But that rather goes back to the previous point. As do studies suggesting the small, highly localised, private schools in the developing world can do significantly better than government schools.

  57. Posted May 23, 2012 at 10:10 am | Permalink

    Great post, and great comments too. There’s another interesting discussion on legal challenges to educational institutoins (tertiary in Canada) here

  58. Mel
    Posted May 23, 2012 at 11:27 am | Permalink

    L@59:

    “If you abolish private schools;
    (1) that reduces spending per student;
    (2) it makes students the prisoners of local demographics and local monopoly schools who have no reason to care;
    (3) increases the advantage for those willing to pay for private tutoring.
    Monopoly schooling is generally about controlling belief, not improving education.”

    All of this applies in Finland but it has made their education system the most successful in the western world.

    Nonetheless I take your point about homogeneous populations.

  59. Posted May 23, 2012 at 2:57 pm | Permalink

    M@66 (1) Would not apply in Finland if they never had much of a private school system (or it was nationalised a while ago). I was referring to the extra private spending on private schools (fees, etc) in Australia.

    It would also have the effect of makiing government spending on education in Oz even more regressive than it already is, though the current regressiveness is mainly due to spending on higher education.

    Besides, abolishing private schools is a political non-starter in Oz anyway.

  60. Mel
    Posted May 23, 2012 at 3:39 pm | Permalink

    L@67:

    “Besides, abolishing private schools is a political non-starter in Oz anyway.”

    Very true. Private education would have to be destroyed slowly and indirectly. We could start by making elite private schooling less attractive by reserving a certain proportion of uni places for the bottom two SES quartile schools or something else along similar lines.

    I think seeing kids from the Plymouth Brethren religious sect leave their Castlemaine compound two weeks ago was the final straw for me re private schooling. I’m not looking forward to local madrassas either.

  61. Posted May 23, 2012 at 7:37 pm | Permalink

    M@68 I am curious how one example somehow destroys the case for private schooling but no amount of appalling cases destroys the case for public schooling.

    I remember hearing the Bishop of Wangaratta comment that everytime he opened another low cost Anglican school the local government high school immediately began to improve. Needless to say, he did not regard this as a discouraging factor.

    I guess, given my business, I am much more aware of how variable schools are within the government system than most folk.

  62. Posted May 23, 2012 at 7:38 pm | Permalink

    M@68 As for madrasses, one reason why I am not keen on government schooling is that, if the regulator was not so compromised by also running schools, it would be freer to be tougher on schools generally.

  63. Mel
    Posted May 23, 2012 at 7:54 pm | Permalink

    L@69:

    “M@68 I am curious how one example somehow destroys the case for private schooling but no amount of appalling cases destroys the case for public schooling.”

    I was engaging in hyperbole, hence the use of the expression “the final straw”. Other reasons for abolishing private schools include encouraging a more homogeneous society with its attendant benefits, some of which you’ve already outlined.

    L@70:

    “M@68 As for madrasses, one reason why I am not keen on government schooling is that, if the regulator was not so compromised by also running schools, it would be freer to be tougher on schools generally.”

    I’m not sure this has been a problem in Finland. In fact, I’m rather certain no such problem has arisen.

  64. Posted May 23, 2012 at 9:04 pm | Permalink

    M@71 Schools do not have the power to make societies homogeneous. This was the idea behind American public schooling; if it worked, American schools should be the best in the world. A lot of places in the US, government schools have effective monopolies; the results are not encouraging. Finland does tell us interesting things about schooling, but having a government monopoly is not the distinctive thing.

    Finland is effectively a monoculture (to the extent of being culturally Lutheran and effectvely nothing else). An issue which arises because countries are culturally diverse is not “solved” by looking at a country where such problems do not arise in the first place.

  65. Mel
    Posted May 23, 2012 at 9:21 pm | Permalink

    L@72:

    “M@71 Schools do not have the power to make societies homogeneous. This was the idea behind American public schooling; if it worked, American schools should be the best in the world. ”

    It can’t work with high immigration which is something I also oppose. Also note that Australia has much higher intermarriage across ethnic lines and much less geographic separation than the US.

    Given compulsory public schooling, low immigration and the mandatory consumption of beer and lamb chops at bbq’s on Australia Day, I’m sure we could achieve something close to Nordic Oneness within 5 or 6 generations.

  66. conrad
    Posted May 24, 2012 at 4:17 am | Permalink

    “Any system that can produce motivated teachers who can communicate effectively with parents and teachers who are committed to (or at least, not functionally antipathetic to) education is a good system and will produce good results. ”

    I doubt this is true. Results across even very similar areas (like Australian states) can differ markedly, but it’s hard to see why the average teacher does. If you teach rubbish, it doesn’t matter how well you do it.

    “Research suggests that the biggest single factor in affecting school performance (once student demographics are taken into account) is the principal.”

    Really? I’m willing to bet demographics of the students/parents is more important. Of course, I imagine this is somewhat circular (good schools/parents presumably attract and keep good staff).

  67. Julie Thomas
    Posted May 24, 2012 at 6:10 am | Permalink

    Mel The Stanford-Binet and the WAIS are respected IQ tests and are very useful in certain circumstances; I did spend a year, as PhD candidate, administering IQ tests for a Clinical Neuropsychologist.

    IQ tests predict school achievement well, but are not good at predicting life success – you need other qualities – read Malcolm Gladwell’s book, The Story of Success.

    The use of IQ tests in psychology is for legal and clinical reasons. Not for deciding whether people are more or less valuable.

    I meant to say that IQ as the measure of man and his value or worth, is a useless and nasty quest, it began, as I said, as an attempt to explain why white men seemed to be so much smarter than women and every other race that had been discovered. And I remember reading one really old paper that ‘proved’ that women’s brains were made of a‘softer substance’ than male brains.

    These men were attempting to prove the conservative idea that the difference between rich and poor was ‘natural’ and the success of the rich was due to their natural superiority in intelligence. This led to the eugenics movement.

    The fact that ‘races’ score differently on a test developed by western people, is meaningless as an explanation for why different groups of people have developed different cultures. If we think that high IQ is what led to the superiority of European culture, then clearly the best way to raise our IQ it is to breed with Chinese, who have the highest IQ of all ‘races’.

    You say Aborigines have low iQ’s. I say, bullshit! I have read most the Flynn and Jenson stuff (and that idiot Charles Murray). The complete data set that this opinion is based on is one study done back in the early1900’s. One study,and the IQ figure they provided for the aborigines is 60. Good grief, that is simply unbelievable because an IQ of 60 is the same as a Down Syndrome person.

    Now just think about Bennelong; the first aboriginal person to hang out with white people. He learned to speak English in a few months, he learned to mingle with British aristocracy, to use the manners of the day and to figure out that his people were stuffed and then he turned to the comfort of alcohol to blot out the pain he felt seeing the inevitable destruction of his culture.

    That doesn’t sound like an IQ of 60 to me.

    There are other problems with the Jenson and co data, and as I remember their last paper was critiqued and debunked for lots of reasons by 3 different sets of academics working in the area. One anomaly I remember that the critics pointed out was a huge difference between the results of Irish IQ – low of course – and English IQ’s – high of course and yet these people are the same ‘race’.

    IQ is not the key to understanding human progress; it’s not that easy; there are other abilities we have that interact with intelligence to determine success or failure.

    I did have all the links to the most recent Jenson et all and the replies but lost all my bookmarks when I took vista off and put xp back on my puter.

  68. Julie Thomas
    Posted May 24, 2012 at 6:33 am | Permalink

    I said “The fact that ‘races’ score differently on a test developed by western people, is meaningless as an explanation for why different groups of people have developed different cultures. If we think that high IQ is what led to the superiority of European culture, then clearly the best way to raise our IQ it is to breed with Chinese, who have the highest IQ of all ‘races’.”

    And now I read it, it’s not very clear. I meant to say that if the European is better than the Aboriginal culture, because Europeans are more Intelligent, then Asian culture must be better than ours because Asians have a higher “IQ” than Europeans.

    And really I’m all in favour of using Asian knowledge. I think that the yin yang concept is one of the most useful that humans have come up with. But I also think that the Aborigines had some wonderful ideas also, that we could use if we respected them for their achievements rather than pitying or castigating them for their failure to live up to our idea of intelligent behaviour.

  69. conrad
    Posted May 24, 2012 at 11:42 am | Permalink

    “IQ tests predict school achievement well, but are not good at predicting life success”

    That’s not true depending on how you want to define success. Try finding a bunch of kids with verbal IQs of 70 and see how well they do. I’ve had to deal with this type of group before, and the only people that believe the above are in the land of delusion. No-one want’s to believe this, but life isn’t fair. Alternatively, things are much more variable at the high end of the scale. Lots of smart people do SFA with their talents.

    “You say Aborigines have low iQ’s. I say, bullshit!”

    Again, this just isn’t reality. Of course they have low IQs on average — tell me a group that grows up in poverty, has significant and widespread problems with drugs that cause brain damage (alcohol, petrol sniffing etc.), has problems with schooling etc. that doesn’t.

  70. Posted May 24, 2012 at 2:36 pm | Permalink

    C@74 Content takes one into a whole extra set of considerations. I also take “given the demographics” as read. On State differences, I think you may underestimate how different systems can support or undermine good teaching.

    On the importance of principals, you do not seem to have read what I wrote and you quoted, as I explicitly said “given student demographics”. Absolute results are not interesting in assessing school performance, it is where you end up given where you start that is the true measure.

    M@73 Yes, stopping significant infllows does make it much easier to create a homogeneous culture over time.

    A bigger problem is considerable parental distrust of government schooling; if you really want to rehabilitate public schooling that is what needs to be addressed, otherwise the drift to private schools will continue. (And by “addressed” I do not mean treated as stupid, irrational, etc.)

  71. Mel
    Posted May 24, 2012 at 3:37 pm | Permalink

    JT @75:

    Bennelong may have been a genius but this tells us absolutely nothing about the average for the group to which he belongs.

    The Flynn effect demonstrates IQ is to some extent malleable and I suspect the poor circumstances of indigenous life are in part a result of low IQ but also a significant suppressor of IQ. It’s the classic vicious cycle.

  72. Mel
    Posted May 24, 2012 at 3:54 pm | Permalink

    L@78:

    “A bigger problem is considerable parental distrust of government schooling …”

    I’m not sure there is any *inherent* distrust in public schooling, instead there is the understanding that the elite private schools can pick and chose students, expel disruptive kids and that they have vastly superior resources at their disposal. Banning private schools from expelling students (ie throwing the trash onto the public sector) and requiring the elite schools to reserve 25% or thereabouts of enrolments for low SES kids would be a great way to start evening the playing field. Moreover, if teacher unions are as obstructive as you say I would also support smacking them down. The kids must come first.

  73. conrad
    Posted May 24, 2012 at 5:37 pm | Permalink

    “otherwise the drift to private schools will continue.”

    Actually, unlike Mel above, I think there is essentially no evidence to show that the proportion of private schools makes much difference to anything — so the drift is mainly a political question. If you look at the report by ACER which can be found linked from this website : http://www.acer.edu.au/ozpisa/pisa-australia/ then what it shows is that once you correct for SES, there’s very little difference between public and private schools. In my books, a lot of what private schools are doing (not all) is increasing marks via strategies that are not necessarily leading to kids learning more. A lot of that would be easy to solve — the government simply needs to set exams that are not conducive to rote memorization, but when they have done that in VIC at least, they get massive complaints from the private schools (they did it with religion a few years ago). So this is really just government corruption than no-one thinks about too much.

    There is also evidence out there showing that the teacher effect (or more correctly the classroom effect), is also not very thrilling, but no-one likes to believe this either — initial studies found reasonable effect sizes, but once your control things properly (i.e., use twins), you don’t find great effects at all, although the really good studies have not been done in a wide enough domain to say this across the board, so I’m still willing to believe poor teachers teaching stuff they don’t know at high levels (e.g., maths and science) is a problem.

    So in my books there are really two big effects: One is curriculum (which can be huge), and the second is SES (which really conglomerates a number of quite disparate variables). Most of the other things people worry about, which are generally the economic variables thought of by economists (e.g., vouchers etc.) don’t make much difference.

  74. Julie Thomas
    Posted May 25, 2012 at 6:13 am | Permalink

    Oh of course Conrad; it depends on how you define success; what’s your point. Mine is that this society sucks because it only values material success, and certain conservative values such as ‘intelligence’ – although nobody knows – scientifically – what intelligence is but amazingly we all ‘know’ in our minds who is intelligent and that’s such an objective judgement eh?
    Of course people who are well below average – below 70 – will need to be looked after but who knows how they got that way? Anoxia at birth, brain damage during childhood? There are many reasons not to assume that this level of low IQ is ‘natural’, that is. that any of those ancestral humans who left Africa had an IQ that low. I think it is fair to assume that they all were intelligent people.
    I know very well life isn’t fair; it’s happened to me – high IQ but stupid in so many ways that make a difference to success in this society. But, the foundation of human progress is to make life fair. The desire that I think we all have as children is to make things fair – and that is the way to progress – to keep trying to make it fair for all.
    It is obvious – to me lol anyway – that concentrating resources on the ‘upper’ end of the IQ distribution with the idea that benefits will trickle down or that the ordinary will be pulled upward when those at the top move even higher.
    Have you read Malcolm Gladwell’s “The Story of Success’? It is clear that although IQ is important but now something that needs to be emphasized. There are other factors that are just as important as IQ in achievement and if we valued and taught those skills, we might really increase our ‘intelligence’ rather than our IQ.

    Re Bennelong; it would have been remarkable if the first aborigine that was kidnapped by white people just happened to be a genius. It is more rational to assume that they were very intelligent people by the requirements of their society and were intelligent enough to have been partners in the settlement of Australia rather than be regarded as stupid people with a rubbish culture. For sure that does a lot for the development of intelligence.

  75. Julie Thomas
    Posted May 25, 2012 at 6:17 am | Permalink

    oops there I go again demonstrating the stupid/impulsiveness that is still one of my characteristic behaviours; they used to call it ‘going off half-cocked’.

    It was Mel who said about Bennelong being a genius.

  76. Posted May 25, 2012 at 7:03 am | Permalink

    May I add that the 4 practising criminal barristers that I have met, all went to the same crap govt schools that I did, and 3 of them lived over their parents fish and chip shop in a country town. true.

    some guesses – the Complainant mother really put the girl at GGS to spite the divorced father re Fee$, and GGS’s next brochure will have muted claims.

    complainant girl will now see legal system at first hand and choose Other Occupation.

    An observation: the old saying ‘there is an Old Etonian in every gaol in the world’ could be explained by many of the comments above.

    Thanks everybody for my completion of another unit of Education By Internet.

  77. conrad
    Posted May 25, 2012 at 7:08 am | Permalink

    “Oh of course Conrad; it depends on how you define success; what’s your point”

    A far greater proportion of people who have low IQs have shitty lives than people who have high IQs, almost anyway you might like to define it (eg., health, happiness, life expectancy, etc.). Of course, some people have weird definitions, and I don’t think they’re worth arguing with on things like this.

    “It is more rational to assume that they were very intelligent people by the requirements of their society ”

    Actually, I think they were probably fairly average people because I don’t think there is much genetic variation between human groups in terms of higher cognitive processing, and most groups at that stage didn’t have universal education etc., so most groups would have been fairly average.

  78. Julie Thomas
    Posted May 25, 2012 at 7:57 am | Permalink

    Conrad, I’m thinking incommensurable? – we are too far apart in the fundamental assumptions we hold about life the universe and everything and the topic is too ‘big’.
    I suspect that we could agree given more time to tinker with the words and concepts we are using and to find common ground on the semantics of the problem.

    If you are interested in the ‘latest’ research and ideas about high IQ from one of the highest IQ’s in the world who is a sort of a libertarian but mostly a ‘polymath’ physicist; check out this bloke’s blog.

    http://infoproc.blogspot.com.au/2011/12/finding-next-einstein.html#disqus_thread

    The pages I linked to are a selection of his posts on ‘brain power’ and the first one has a huge comment section where you will see the elites of the ‘IQ is god’ type people, discuss the latest research in this area.

    The most interesting part I find is the way the east asians are outraged by the ‘discrimination’ they believe they are experienceing in the US.

    It is o

  79. Julie Thomas
    Posted May 25, 2012 at 7:59 am | Permalink

    I will learn to use this laptop with my sausage fingers. Never mind the rest of my comment; wasn’t important anyway. lol

  80. conrad
    Posted May 25, 2012 at 9:24 am | Permalink

    I’m well aware of what IQ is and isn’t, and most of the debates about experts are worthless (since expertise and IQ are different things). So talking about Feynman and what his IQ is or isn’t based on his ability to do physics is essentially worthless in my books. In fact, I think the whole higher end of the IQ scale (as in 130+) isn’t very useful.

    Alternatively, the bottom end is very useful, because you can basically use it to identify things like kids that will have crappy lives. You can also use it categorize them into groups. For example, I’m interested in literacy. If you get a kid that can’t read that has a verbal IQ of 70, there’s very little you can do (I’ve tried!). Alternatively, if you get a kid with a verbal IQ of 120 that can’t read, there is a lot you can do. So running the same thing on both groups would be a waste of time — you need to tailor what you do to the specific group. I personally wouldn’t waste my time with kids with really low IQs, because I know I wouldn’t get anywhere with any current methods I’m aware of.

    As it happens, I don’t really care about racial stuff, although the most recent genetic stuff being done in other areas suggests to me that if you really wanted to find differences between racial groups you could, and you could do it right now if you knew how with extant data (I could if I was motivated). In particular, there are now a number of known genetics markers of short-term memory, which is a factor that underlies some tasks on all common IQ tests, so you could
    a) Determine that the markers for good/bad STM are general across different racial groups. If this is true then you could then
    b) Look to see whether the proportion of the good/bad markers differs across different racial groups. If it is, then you have identified a few genetic correlates of IQ that differ across groups.

    No-one in this area has bothered to do this, presumably because it’s basically a waste of time unless if you are interested in memory but not racial grouping. No doubt someone will sooner or later though.

  81. John H.
    Posted May 25, 2012 at 5:54 pm | Permalink

    So talking about Feynman and what his IQ is or isn’t based on his ability to do physics is essentially worthless in my books. In fact, I think the whole higher end of the IQ scale (as in 130+) isn’t very useful.

    The Feynman IQ is a bit of a con, I fell for it myself until I read his IQ score was lowered because of very poor verbal scores.

    My understanding is that IQ is good in the middle of the distribution and becomes weaker the further you move towards the tail.

  82. John H.
    Posted May 25, 2012 at 6:00 pm | Permalink

    If it is, then you have identified a few genetic correlates of IQ that differ across groups.

    I can’t reference this but a recent analysis(last month) claimed that most of the purported genetic associations were bunkum. Reminds me of what I read last night ….

    http://www.sciencecodex.com/knowing_genetic_makeup_may_not_significantly_improve_disease_risk_prediction-92164

    Knowing genetic makeup may not significantly improve disease risk prediction

    But, for each of these disease models, researchers calculated that the increase in risk prediction sensitivity—when considering the potential interplay between various genetic and environmental factors—would only be between 1% and 3% at best.

    “Overall, our findings suggest that the potential complexity of genetic and environmental factors related to disease will have to be understood on a much larger scale than initially expected to be useful for risk prediction. The road to efficient genetic risk prediction, if it exists, is likely to be long,” said Aschard.

  83. Posted May 26, 2012 at 12:35 am | Permalink

    M@80 Clearly you have no idea of the breadth of the private school system, which is way larger than “elite” private schools.

    C@81 Yes, the range of quality of schools is fairly similar in private and public systems. However, there is a question about whether there is a competitive effect (i.e. the mean is raised even if the dispersion is similar).

    Classroom effect is not teacher effect. As I understand it, in the range of c15 to c35 there is very little effect from class size (i.e. small enough can improve things significantly, large enough can make things significantly worse; in the middle, it does not matter much). As I understand it, there are US studies which suggest teacher effects can be large.

    SES matters a lot, but the measure of education success must be examined with such effects taken into account.

  84. conrad
    Posted May 26, 2012 at 10:09 am | Permalink

    “I can’t reference this but a recent analysis(last month) claimed that most of the purported genetic associations were bunkum. ”

    There’s nothing wrong with the associations people find apart from the rather common Type I errors which can be cleared via replication. The problem is that the associations are essentially impossible to understand for almost all things that are even slightly complicated.

    “Classroom effect is not teacher effect.”

    What I mean by classroom effect is the conglomeration of things often ascribed to a teacher in a classroom but arn’t actually due to the teacher (this is an Ed. Psych term). This could be class size, it could be whether management doesn’t work in certain areas, it could be whether the room has air-conditioning etc. . I agree that actual number of pupils in classrooms with certain bounds doesn’t make much difference.

    “As I understand it, there are US studies which suggest teacher effects can be large.”

    Of the relatively small number of studies which have been really well done (i.e., twin studies), the size of the effects found have always been small. In something I’m interested in — early reading development — often results that are not even significant have been found.

    The areas where I’ll conceded large effects are likely to occur are in things like later mathematics achievement. However, this is because in the US (and Aus is getting like this) you are comparing people who understand maths really well to people teaching because few people good at maths want to be teachers and so they simply get anyone to do it, including those who don’t know maths well. One this note, it’s no surprise in the Teach For America program, you find positive effects of the kids going into this teaching maths but negative effects in other areas. Basically, what’s happening is kids are getting teachers that understand maths, and this beats experience, but in other areas, experience beats high academic aptitudes without experience.

  85. Mel
    Posted May 26, 2012 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

    L@92:

    “M@80 Clearly you have no idea of the breadth of the private school system, which is way larger than “elite” private schools.”

    Don’t be silly, of course I’m aware of the non-elite private schools eg Steiner, Catholic etc.. They are a different kettle of fish and my argument doesn’t reference them.

  86. Posted May 26, 2012 at 2:28 pm | Permalink

    M@94 Ah, the Humpty-Dumpty theory of meaning (words mean whatever I say). But the growth in private schooling as been particularly strong at the non-elite end.

    C@93 Hence also your interest in curriculum. The research you cite raises interesting questions about the Finnish success.

  87. Mel
    Posted May 26, 2012 at 4:22 pm | Permalink

    Lorenzo @95: Her’s what I said at @80 once again:

    “Banning private schools from expelling students (ie throwing the trash onto the public sector) and requiring the elite schools to reserve 25% or thereabouts of enrolments for low SES kids would be a great way to start evening the playing field.”

    Even your average hamster has the comprehension skills needed to understand that in the above sentence I’m distinguishing between all private schools and that portion of private schools that are elite.

    Now behave yourself lest I send my pet parrot over to your place to crap on your automobile ;)

  88. conrad
    Posted May 26, 2012 at 6:54 pm | Permalink

    “The research you cite raises interesting questions about the Finnish success.”

    At least for early literacy (and reasonable carry-over effects into later life for those with problems), this is vastly easier in Finnish than English. This is because Finnish has a very regular othography (no cough, bough, dough, …), pretty simple phonology (no string, triumphst, ..), and is stress regular (no content in books that makes you content). All of these make it ridiculously easy to learn and not surprisingly you get far less problems. This means that if Finland could only do as well as an English speaking country, this means the English speaking country has actually done better. No-one ever mentions this when they do comparisons but it is entirely obvious to anyone that knows about cognitive processing in literacy (most education people seem to be curiously ignorant of most of this — this is off topic, but that includes the ACER people that make the shitty Naplan.)

    This leaves differenes in maths, which was chugging along pretty well in Australia until relatively recently. So if you can explain the recently emerging differences, then you basically have Australia=Finland. Given that private schools, multiculturalism, and many other things existing in Aus 20 years ago when we still did maths well, I doubt they are responsible for much of the differences people argue about these days.

  89. Posted May 26, 2012 at 8:15 pm | Permalink

    It is a long way from Geelong to Finland but maybe Cookie Mother should have sent her daughter there and saved the scary grammar school fees – The Guardian, 2005:
    ‘Since the OECD’s first major education study, in 2000, Finland, with a population of five million, has led the world in literacy.

    ‘We were not astounded by that result,’ said Jouni Valijarvi, professor of education research at Jyvaskyla University, ‘because we have a tradition of reading and using libraries. It dates back to Christianity’s arrival in Finland 400 years ago. Priests used to test couples’ literacy. Those who could not read from the Bible were denied marriage licences.’

    The 317 pupils at the school – a building without corridors, designed around a spiral staircase and an open-plan cafeteria – are from a cross-section of Finnish inner-city families, with few from ethnic minorities. Those with special needs belong to ordinary classes but also have three teachers of their own.’

  90. Mel
    Posted May 26, 2012 at 10:51 pm | Permalink

    @97Conrad

    Yeah Conrad, I think most folk who have investigated the cross country comparisons know about the phonetic nature of Finnish, however this doesn’t explain the maths and science results. English is an idiotic language and it should be reformed along phonetic lines. The Queen should get onto this ASAP.

    It is a pity Anne failed to read your link ;)

  91. Posted May 26, 2012 at 10:52 pm | Permalink

    M@96 While elite public schools select out by being bloody-minded in expelling students and being in areas low SES cannot afford to live in. In other words, they use exactly the same selection strategies as elite private schools (except the higher entry free is capitalised into housing prices). This is why any idea that abolishing private schools equalises educational opportunities generates a hollow laugh from yours truly.

    Also, elite private schools do typically run scholarship programs.

    C@97

    most education people seem curiously ignorant of most of this

    Ah, such charming naivete.

    I put limited stock in the effects of multiculturalism per se, because the Catholic-Protestant divide was enough to produce most of the effects of diversity. It was a a case of more so rather than new territory.

    But it seems very clear to me that the three public policy models (Scandinavian, Rhineland, Anglo or social democrat/corporatist/liberal) are rational responses to the different social patterns (Protestant homogeneity, Catholic social hegemony, ethnic and religious diversity respectively) and commentary that exults the Scandinavian model as a sign of their moral superiority over us poor Anglos sets my teeth on edge.

  92. conrad
    Posted May 27, 2012 at 9:19 am | Permalink

    “and commentary that exults the Scandinavian model as a sign of their moral superiority over us poor Anglos sets my teeth on edge.”

    I agree. And just to make things worse, the same people never say that the Shanghai or HK model of learning is superior to the Anglo model, even though the PISA results speak for themselves and there are in fact lots of good points about the HK system (I don’t know much about Shanghai, and I wouldn’t trust any results out of anywhere in China except HK).

    “I think most folk who have investigated the cross country comparisons know about the phonetic nature of Finnish”

    Tell that to ACER or the OECD reporters!

    “however this doesn’t explain the maths and science results”

    Since most of the deteriation is actually quite recent, I think there are (a) possibly cultural changes in what people think of maths/science; (b) changes in both the early learning and the later curriculum that were bad (notably for later maths, the introduction of graphical calculators), and for early learning — “the I love learning crowd” beat the “if you don’t do a pile of repetitious maths things you won’t good visual-spatial skills and you will be slow to understand inequalities etc.”. This latter one is of course big in East Asian countries, and funnily enough they have better visual-spatial skills; and (c) too many kids taking the easy subjects because they know they can still get good marks if they do this in latter years.

  93. Mel
    Posted May 27, 2012 at 10:19 am | Permalink

    L@100:

    “This is why any idea that abolishing private schools equalises educational opportunities generates a hollow laugh from yours truly.”

    Given your top hat and facial growth, your hollow laugh must look very sinister ;) But on a more serious note, I understand it is much more complicated than simply banning private schools. But I would ban them anyway.

  94. Posted December 25, 2012 at 1:42 am | Permalink

    I like teaching but I hate learning…Well With limited exceptions, I think the bit about the connexions for later life is vastly overrated in popular opinion…

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