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November 2003

Ellen Goodman, dopey Liberal supreme, laments that no one in this year's field of Democratic presidential candidates is making her feel all warm and gooey inside. And hey, if they aren't making her, Ellen Goodman, feel better what good are they? And then there's this:

On the other hand, I also know that when liberals start talking about the American people as "them" instead of "us," they're done for.

Amen, and let's hope so.

Why I love the Internet, part 3689: I'm having a discussion and at one point I trot out the famous line, "Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue." Quite a line. But I pause and think, who said that? I don't remember, the other person doesn't, my Bartlett's isn't handy, so it's time to Google it. Here, listed in order from the complete set of hits Google brings up, are the candidates:

Mathew Arnold? (Kathleen Parker, columnist for Jewish World Review.) Also voted for by Peter Kreeft, writing for the Catholic Educator's Resoruce Center.

(Francois) La Rochefoucauld? (Writing for Freedom House, Elliott Abrams, former Reagan Administration semi-biggie.) (Don't know who Frank La R. is? See here.) Also cited by noted author and music critic Terry Teachout.

Oscar Wilde? (It would make sense; many of the great lines that aren't Shakespeare turn out to be his.) (Greg Ferguson, letter writer to Willamette Week.)

Ambrose Bierce? (Evan Wolfson, writing for MSNBC.)

(George) Bernard Shaw? (Perhaps as a joke, by Judith Martin aka "Miss Manners.")

Montaigne? (No author given.)

Based on number of cites, La Rochefoucauld wins. And now that I see it, he's the one who I believe I saw the quote attributed to, way back when.

But who knows? Maybe this is why all the librarians and anti-tech busybodies are warning us that you can't trust what you read on the Net.

But how would anybody have found all the possible authors in 0.46 seconds without the Net?

UPDATE: found my copy of Bartlett's. It gives the honor to La Rochefoucauld. He predates all the other nominees except for Montaigne, so the others are apparently quoting La R. without citing him. (And the guy suggesting Montaigne probably just had his Renaissance French essayists confused.)

Over the past couple of weeks I read School of Dreams: Making the Grade at a Top American HIgh School by Edward Humes. I read it becauses it was discussed very enthusiastically by a reviewer for the Washington Post I like but who often seems too picky.

It's an interesting book; I liked it, but not as much as the reviewer. The author loses focus. For instance, he gratuitously insults Ann Coulter as a "radical right blowhard". (More accurate is "conservative provocatuer.") He bemoans AP tests--studying for them allegedly sucks all of the joy out of learning. And he repeatedly implies that parents are in league with Satan, especially those parents who push their kids to achieve academically. (Granted, a few of them do seem nuts, but he makes absolutely no effort to present their viewpoint.)

But the book is interesting for at least three reasons.

1. It's about Whitney High School in Cerritos, CA. Whitney students have SAT scores higher than New Trier High School near Chicago, higher than North Carolina Math and Science, and on a par with the very best private schools in the country. Near the end, the author presents a couple of tables showing how well a student with a particular PSAT score typically does on the AP US History and English tests. Whitney students with a given PSAT score do substantially better than similar students natiionally.

So it was interesting to read about the ways Whitney does things. Two, in particular, struck me. The guidance counselors--as in many public schools--are both swamped and isolated. Whitney increased the number of counselors but helped pay for them by insisting that the counselors all teach part time. Second, Whitney teaches students in all the grades 7 through 12. Consider the trees that have died to print research "proving" that junior high kids--now middle school kids--must be prevented from mingling with high schoolers. Whitney finds--at least for a select group of smart kids--the opposite is true.

2. There are a couple of lovely examples of "there is no free lunch." The AP English teacher complains bitterly that for kids with such high aptitudes and high achievement, they write poorly. Is it from lack of effort? No. Does it stem, perhaps, from kids being non-native English speakers? Double no. The teacher notes that they read quite difficult works of literature just fine. She believes it stems from . . . group work. Even by the twelfth grade, even at a place like Whitney, the students have had so little experience writing something for which they are individually responsible that they simply haven't had much practice writing.

Another example concerned Whitney's admission test. Originally it was written by Whitney's teachers. It was rather idiosyncratic and quirky, just like the teachers were. But quirky tests could not be tolerated: too subjective, too prone to the teachers' abusing their authority. So Whitney duly replaced their unique, home-cooked test with an objective test from a nationally-recognized vendor. Who sold the test to private test-prep academies near Whitney. Which resultied in some students getting the test in advance, thereby creating, as one can well imagine, a horrible mess.

3. Last, there were interesting miscellaneous tidbits about education in the 21st century.

--The Whitney kids believe four is the magic number: four hours sleep, four caffe lattes, and 4.0.

--Whitney's college counselors meet with Yale's admissions staff (pp. 334-35):

. . . the Whitney visitors asked about one of their top students who had been rejected. The admissions officer pulled out a page from the thick application packet, a multiple-choice form filled out by the young man's counselor. He pointed to one question concerning the student's leadership ability. It had been checked "good."

"That put him out of the running right there," the admissions officer said. "You didn't mark 'excellent.'"

--And as always, good teaching is hard to do but easy to recognize (pp. 17-18):

Agrums pulls out two pencil drawings, both of them of a boy's face and head. The first is ludicrously bad, misshapen, out of proportion, the eyes buglike. The effort at capturing the human form would have to be improved tenfold just to look good enough to be called cartoonish. The other work is a beautifully crafted and shaded portrait, almost photographic in its attention to detail . . . The kids are suitably amused and impressed, perceiving that Agrums is offering them a typical teacherly object lesson: a bad student's and a good student's work, probably a tardy talker without a clue versus an attentive right-brain star. . . .

"How many of you would like to draw like this?"

Some hands rise limply, but most of the kids appear dubious. They are quite certain that, even if they behave, their work will always look more like the tardy talker's misshapen boy than superstar's work of art. . . . And so the kids are less than hopeful when looking at the two sketches. One seventh grader mutters, "I'll never draw like that."

Agrums looks at him. "That's just what the boy who drew this said," she answers, holdiing up the superstar picture. Then she taps the misshapen portrait. "Right before he drew this."

The kids are astonished, as the art teacher knew they would be. They always are. "The same person did both?" someone asks.

Agrums nods. "Before and after, one in the first week of the semester and one in the last. I promise you, all of you will amaze yourselves here. You are going to blow yourselves away, because I am going to teach you how to draw like you never thought you could. Now, who's here to learn how to draw?"

This time, all of the hands go up.

The LA Times reports that

Also surprised are many other high school seniors who, despite strong grades and SAT scores above 1400, are rejected by Berkeley or UCLA, the University of California's top two campuses.

These schools have grown both more selective and more unpredictable in recent years, as applications have surged and factors besides grades and test scores have been given more weight in admissions than before.

It seems to me the UC schools should do something similar to what Chapel Hill did five years ago. On its Web site it had a table posted. SAT ranges of about 50 points were the rows; ranges of high school class ranks were the columns. In each cell were the number of applicants with that combination and the number Chapel Hill admitted. For instance, if a student had an SAT score down to about 1200 but was in the top 10% of his class, he was virtually a lock to be admitted. Hundreds and hundreds of students such students applied and about a handful were rejected. (I remember thinking that maybe they had committed major felonies.)

I don't doubt that Berkeley and UCLA are tougher. And I don't doubt that any such table for them might need another dimension or two, such as type of high school, to be useful. Still, it seems they could do themselves a favor and the students one, too, by presenting some notion of the odds a student has of being accepted.

But--alas--maybe there would be problems, political or otherwise, of doing this. Last time I looked, Chapel Hill no longer seemed to make such a table available.