Thursday, January 31, 2019
My son, Kalman, is a talented four-year-old. He can write his name. He knows his letters along with their sounds and can put them together into words. He possesses a growing list of basic words that he can recognize on sight. In essence, he fully grasps the theory of reading. Does this mean that he can read? It should be obvious that the answer is no, but to defend that position requires some work.
If we are to define reading as a set of facts to be memorized and repeated on a test then one would be hard-pressed to deny that Kalman can read. If Kalman was not preparing for kindergarten but was instead facing the prospect of being held back in first grade on account of his reading ability, I would be tempted to make the case to his teacher that, when properly coaxed, Kalman can perform acts of reading.
What Kalman lacks is the focus to be able to string words together into sentences, paragraphs, and eventually the first book that he will one day read on his own. I imagine that, as he gets older, he will gain a longer attention span. This, combined with an expanding list of sight words, will create a virtuous cycle in which he becomes more comfortable reading. His reading successes will increase his self-esteem when it comes to reading and allow him to focus longer on his reading, making him an effective reader.
There is no simple way to jump-start this process. I read with him every night and we make a game out of him pointing out words on the page. We talk about the story and the characters and Kalman knows that I love books almost as much as I love him. Because these exercises are at the center of a healthy parent/child relationship, Kalman does not see this as a chore forced upon him. On the contrary, this is his special time with his Abba. God willing, this exercise will continue for years to come with Kalman slowly taking over the reading and perhaps start reading to his younger brother Mackie. In the meantime, progress will be slow because there is no particular thing that I can teach him to suddenly make him a better reader. All I can do is create an environment for "happy accidents" to occur. This is essentially what my mother did with me and I credit her with teaching me how to read more than any of my teachers.
If reading is only a small part theory and is mostly the ability to focus, then evaluating reading skills becomes very problematic. Schools present the twin problems in that their settings are artificial and can be distracting to students. At the same time, it is possible that students, when pressured, will demonstrate skills in short bursts to satisfy requirements even as they will not be able to apply those abilities in the real world.
With reading, it is clear that being able to do it a little is of minimal value. Either you are honestly comfortable reading for extended periods of time without having someone standing over your shoulder to coax and threaten you or you are not really literate. This is a source of much of the trouble in our educational system. Once students reach the fourth grade, they need to truly be comfortable readers and not simply able to demonstrate certain basic skills when it is demanded of them. Without this, a student is doomed to float through English just passing but not actually learning anything in a way that is meaningful. Hence, despite modernity's claim to have eradicated illiteracy, we live in a world of functionally illiterate adults.
This has implications well outside the realm of reading. Consider that our entire K-12 education system is built around being able to master information just well enough to pass a test in the near future without any regard to whether the student has truly mastered the skills to apply what they have learned. This may explain why most people forget the vast majority of what they learned in school. Perhaps students would benefit if education was restructured so that schools had fewer requirements, but demanded a greater level of mastery in order to pass. For example, what if, in order to pass high school math you did not have to go past algebra but needed to be able to get an A on it.
The lesson that I would want Kalman to take from his experience learning to read is that no matter how smart, IQ wise, he is, he will always lose out to people who may lack his IQ but are able to focus. If Kalman could exchange several IQ points for better focus, he would probably be reading by now.
Kalman is a moderately intelligent little boy, who has four physicians in his immediate biological family. He has been raised surrounded by books and by parents who actively read. He is precisely what you would expect from such a child raised in such circumstances. I have high hopes for him. He is smart enough that I am confident that he can succeed in any field he chooses. Thankfully, he is not a genius. If he were, he might be tempted to believe that it is possible for him to accomplish something worthwhile without hard work. Success is built on a willingness to move ahead day after day even when no tangible progress can be seen. If that is going to happen, it helps to have some love in your corner.
Monday, January 7, 2019
The author acknowledges that March leaders like Linda Sarsour is a supporter of BDS but accepts that one can do so without being an anti-Semite. I agree with her up to a point. It is possible to hold views and support policies that are seen as harmful to particular groups without being guilty of bigotry. That being said, I find it useful to employ a two-strike rule. You are allowed the one issue but then you have to be really cautious.
For example, you can support legal discrimination against without being a racist as long as you make a point of acknowledging that blacks have good grounds to be suspicious of you and therefore you make an effort to find ways to be helpful in other areas, say police brutality. A person who does not go through such a mental process, whether or not they actually are racist, demonstrates that black concerns are not a high priority to the extent that he does not care whether he is thought of as a racist. As such, the black community is justified in treating that person as a racist. (This is distinct from calling out someone as a racist, which is usually counter-productive when it comes to actually combating racists as opposed to virtue-signaling.)
Similarly, I am willing to grant anti-Zionists the benefit of the doubt as long as they bend over backward to make sure they are not associated with those who make the jump from anti-Zionism to blatant classical anti-Semitism. One thinks of the example of Alice Walker and her "discovery" that the source of Israel's crimes is the Talmud. Of greater concern than, whatever bone-headed comments might have been made behind closed doors, is the fact that the Women's March leadership does not see it as a priority that Jews do not see them as anti-Semitic despite being willing to wade into "controversial" territory such as BDS. They believe that they will not pay a price for such inattention and the terrifying thing is that they might be right.
This brings us to the Reverend Louis Farrakhan, who has provided security for Women's March events despite being a rabid anti-Semite. One might think that it would be a simple thing to cut ties with the man. (It is not like he even identifies as a woman.) The fact that the Women's March leadership has been willing to hold on to Farrakhan, despite paying a heavy price for it to the point of putting the entire movement at risk, indicates that black nationalism, even when it turns to anti-Semitism, is not simply an allied movement but a critical aspect of the Woman's March's real purpose.
Podolsky attempts to empathize with those sympathetic to Farrakhan. She quotes Adam Serwer:
Having acknowledged the good that the Nation of Islam does in black communities (in essence the old "but they are nice to their mothers"), Podolsky attempts to Pontius Pilate the left from any responsibility for Farrakhan arguing that he is really a conservative with a "touching faith in unregulated capitalism despite what it never did for his people."
To be clear, I am skeptical as to how pro-market Farrakhan really is. In my experience, what liberals mean by "unregulated markets" is anything to the right of Elizabeth Warren. If you think that banks and hospitals are capitalism run amok, you are either incredibly ignorant or mendacious. What I find interesting here is how Podolsky is unable to appreciate the relationship between the Farrakhan she likes, who helps lower crime in black neighborhoods, and the Farrakhan who might not actually be a sworn enemy of capitalism. So instead of relying on government police, with its record of violence against blacks that is anything but history, Farrakhan has the Fruit of Islam operate as a private security force that helps clean up neighborhoods as well as helping out the Women's March. Even most libertarians struggle with the idea of private police. If Farrakhan has already gotten over that hump, should it surprise anyone that he is open to private enterprise in a wide variety of spheres of life?
Somehow capitalism is supposed to be to blame for what is wrong in black society. Ignoring the issue of police brutality and how the government repeatably fails the black community, the whole point of the Women's March was supposed to about opposing a government problem. If we can turn Trump once again into a crooked sexist real-estate developer and reality-tv host that would be a victory. Trump only became a problem when he entered the government.
Should this convince anyone to not participate in the March? Podolsky has clearly made her bed and is willing to lie in it. She assumes that intersectional politics rooted in a desire to keep capitalism in check will help the unfortunate. She, therefore, is willing to give the benefit of the doubt to opponents of Israel and anti-Semites. Maybe she is right. Hopefully, she will at least march with a guilty conscience.
Thursday, January 3, 2019
One of the frustrating things about trying to make the case for not sending my kids to school is that defenders of conventional education operate as if the burden of proof is not completely on them. Instead, they turn around and make unicorn arguments premised on assuming that schools actually do what they are supposed to. I am then challenged to explain how my admittedly flawed alternatives can possibly compete with their ideal system. The key to reading Caplan is to not whether you find his figures convincing. Rather, it is to recognize that it is even possible to seriously question the value of conventional schooling. The moment you find Caplan even vaguely plausible then a crushing moral burden has been placed on defenders of education. Either they produce evidence to justify spending billions on education (the kind of evidence that would convince people to throw similar kinds of money on pharmaceuticals) or they must step aside and allow for the separation of education and state.