Posted By: Keiva Declining Standards, part 2 - 01/23/02 07:09 PM
This restarts the 100-post thread found at

Posted By: of troy Re: Declining Standards, part 2 - 01/23/02 07:50 PM
Thanks CK-- for making my point.. I am proof that educational failures and poor home life are a handicap, but one that you can overcome.. if you want to.

i left home age 17-- with bruises around my neck, left by my mother as she made a sincere effort to throttle me to death.. (hey its old new, and I'm long over it.. )

my education still has deficiencies, and i still don't have the discipline i see in others who had-- what ever their other handicaps, parents who were able to provide emotionally for their children.

but starting at 18 (or in my case 17, when i was emancipated) its my problem. i can't blame my parents for ever.. at some point, i had to say, i want more.. and i had to go out and get it.

there are plenty of people who had it tough, tougher than me.. yeah, i started out behind many, since at 17 i was an emotional wreck.. but i didn't compound the problem by using drugs, or abdicating responsibility..

I didn't get to college till i was almost 40.. but i got there.. i didn't in may ways "grow up" till i was close to the same age.. i spent 20 years of my life undoing my childhood, and redoing my life to meet my needs.. lots of other people where spending those 20 years building careers, and i am 20 years behind the curve in some ways..

some people use a poor childhood as an excuse all their lives.. they never move on.. the rest of the horses might be back in the barn, and I'm still out on the track, just heading for the straight away.. but I'm in the race!

Posted By: maverick Re: Declining Standards, part 2 - 01/23/02 11:56 PM
good on yah, Helen - you obviously had enough fighting spirit to not crack under the pressure and your spirit is clear to everyone here.

Does ontongeny recapitulate phylogeny in schools? Or is phylogeny an independent variable? Hmmm?

yeahbut! is that there ontongeny anything like a childhood exposure to the Goonshow, CK?

Posted By: Capital Kiwi Re: Declining Standards, part 2 - 01/27/02 12:26 AM
is that there ontongeny anything like a childhood exposure to the Goonshow, CK?

Let's just say that when I was young we didn't have the Internet and the Goon Show was just about the closest thing I could find to unbridled mania. Come to think of it, the Goon Show may still be the closest thing there is to unbridled mania ...

Posted By: maverick Re: yingtogeny - 01/27/02 05:24 PM
True! I have watched with surprise and pleasure as my 15 y/o daughter discovered the Goons completely independently for herself over the past 6 months - she dissolves into complete giggles at the inspired lunacy, and my son can quote amazingly accurately in all the daft voices. Min.. is that you..?

I had an exceptional English teacher in the fourth form (no, it wasn't at St Michael's!), who tried to teach us a lot of things about language, and really kindled my interest in it beyond the obvious.

He was an exceptional man, passionate about English but unfortunately also about religion, because he later completely lost the plot and became an Anglican minister. He liked boys (and I DON'T mean that in any salacious way) and tried to get them to think. Part of his approach within the context of studying English was to dissect humour, to try to demonstrate why some wordplay-related things were funny and others went down like a lead balloon. Enter The Goonshow. It's chocka with just about every humorous linguistic device known to mankind. He played excerpts from a number of shows one day and we were to discuss them.

Three of us in the classroom (of some 30 boys) were ROTF almost from the first moments. This was two boys (myself and Jim Mora, now a well-known broadcaster in New Zealand whose commentaries are usually absolutely hilarious) plus said Mr Evans. The rest of the class was more-or-less po-faced. Didn't get the joke at all. Oh, they twitched from time to time, but they just weren't open to that kind of zany play-on-top-of-wordplay. Even at that age they were seriously serious and morbidly career-focussed.

At this point I should point out that the majority of those humourless little twerps went on to become "big men" in Zildish society - doctors, lawyers, teachers, dentists, accountants, a few businessmen and now, one judge. You can tell what a bundle of laughs our class reunions are. I avoid 'em like the plague!

Gawd help us all!

Posted By: belMarduk Re: "Ooo look, 'e's fallen in de water!" - 01/28/02 12:55 AM
Sorry to go off on a tangent...Cap...Fourth form? Is that like my fourth grade (when you are some 9 years old)?

Posted By: Max Quordlepleen . - 01/28/02 01:05 AM
Yeah! Wot 'e said.

Posted By: Bingley Re: "Ooo look, 'e's fallen in de water!" - 01/29/02 05:11 AM
I've only ever heard one or two Goon shows, and I must admit I didn't take to them for much the same reason as I've never taken to Donald Duck -- I find it too difficult to understand what the silly voices are saying to worry about whether what they're saying is funny.

Posted By: belMarduk Re: "Ooo look, 'e's fallen in de water!" - 02/03/02 12:59 AM
Ah, so that would be like our "secondary four" then. You have primary school (grades 1 to 6) then sec one to five. You are 14-15 in sec 4.

(you never really say the whole word, just 'sec')

Thanks for the clarification gents.

In UK, as, apparently, in Zild, we have recently adopted the Year n system, year 1 being when you first start and going on to year 12 (or something!) As a rule of thumb, you can work out the age of the children in any given year by adding 5 to it (e.g., year 9 is inhabited by 9 5=14 year-olds)

Posted By: AnnaStrophic % - 02/12/02 04:23 PM
I've always been confused by new math, Rhuby.

Posted By: RhubarbCommando Re: % - 02/13/02 01:34 PM
But then, I was always confused by the old maths, too, AnnaS

Except when it came to sdding up my pocket money, of course)

Posted By: doc_comfort sdding - 02/14/02 05:14 AM
I've always been confused by new English, Rhuby.

Posted By: RhubarbCommando Re: sdding - 02/14/02 07:12 PM
Yes, well - I get confused by the keys on keyboards! (but not on sdding machines )

Posted By: stales Re: "Ooo look, 'e's fallen in de water!" - 02/18/02 02:12 AM
stales' first post in Schools....

My younger son and I go nuts over Python - wife and elder son regard us (and the screen) with blank looks and usually find something else to do.

A mate of mine cannot laugh at parody of any sort - he can't see anything funny in imitation. He does have a good sense of humour otherwise.

Funny how some funny things aren't funny to all.


I never found Python remotely humorous in HS. There were a lot of smart guys who loved it and would recite line after line for hours by heart. It's not that I didn't understand the humor. I just didn't think it was funny.

Completely by accident, I was listening to the Cheeseshop skit on record. I had an uncontrollable fit of laughter. Amongst the funniest things I've ever heard and I at times when others might be inclined to shout "where's the beef," will often mutter "not much of a cheeseshop, is it?" or "well, it's certainly uncontaminated by XYZ." But the reference is usually lost on the audience.


Posted By: TheFallibleFiend Re: Declining Standards, part 2 - 02/21/02 05:59 PM

There are people who seriously claim that our school standards are not declining - that all the hullabaloo is really a plot to undermine public education.

For an interesting personal account with an education system outside the US, read Maxim Gorky's recollections of conversations with Chekhov at http://www.imagi-nation.com/moonstruck/clsc6w4.html - Note that Chekhov feels shame that teachers make so little money and have to be timid and dress so shabbily. It's really a worthwhile read.

I do think that comparatively speaking, most of my foreign friends have been better educated than most of my american born friends. OTOH, the process of getting over here from over there is often highly selective.

One of my very best friends is Greek and we discuss education often. He's a bright guy, trained in computer science as I am, but his major interest is in history. He reads ancient Greek as well as modern. I shared with him my view that education is distinct from schooling. Schooling, I insist is roughly what gets done to you, while education is what you do for yourself. Education and Schooling interfere with each other, sometimes constructively and sometimes destructively. Long before I had read of Mark Twain's experience, I had come to the conclusion that one of the primary responsibilities of a person who wanted to learn was to avoid letting his schooling interfere with his education. Schools (and public institutions of 'education') concentrate on schooling and confuse their mission as one of education.

However, my friend, who attended college and a few years of K-12 in the US and the rest in Greece, disagrees. He doubts my observation is a fact. And, if it is a fact, it is pecular to the US and he asserts that in Greece (and possibly the rest of Europe) schooling is much closer to what I would consider an education.

I understand well that others will consider my distinction to be contrived or perhaps cavilling. But in my mind it's what distinguishes understanding from a sterile collection of facts and rules. For a sample of the distinction I'm trying to make, I refer interested parties to the passage in Werner Heisenberg's "Uncertainty and Beyond" in which he discusses a conversation he had with other boys while they were on a hike. It's the dialog, the hashing back and forth, that differentiates. Sometimes it's an inner dialog, and that might be sufficient for some people at some times, but also it's the exterior dialog, the conversation with others, outside the classroom, outside the pressure, the asking for knowing's sake alone that plants the seed, that sparks the flint, that entices the novitiate to tread her first intrepid step onto her chosen path despite the scarcity of breadcrumbs.

I wrote an essay some five or six years ago in which I chronicle from a self-centered and largely uninformed perspective a few highlights of my own schooling. It's a bit hokey at parts, self-congratulatory, and probably a bit more mean-spirited than what I would write today. Still, it will serve as an introduction, and provide context to explain, without pardon, my predilection for expressing eccentric opinions.

For those who prefer the short version to meandering, sesquipedalian tripe, it can be summarized by saying that the bad teachers are seriously crappy and deserve to be horse-whipped and dipped in boiling acid, while the good teachers should be put on pedestals and worshipped as gods.

So here's my own footnote to The Conversation.


I was pretty pleased with education in DoDDs
schools and pretty annoyed by the experiences
in the civilian schools. I never thought the
DoDDs schools were all that much into telling
us what to do and when. My recollection is
I had more freedom there and less harrassment
than any other place.

I never cared for most of my teachers. I had
a few really good ones and a lot of crappy
ones. I did, however, later come to realize
that some of the ones I didn't like all that
much were really pretty good, but I wasn't
smart enough to figure that out till it was
too late.

In fact, I had some really sorry teachers and
thanks to them I have a lasting loathing and
general mistrust for teachers in general--
but the great ones, well ... it's hard to
put into words what I feel about them. A single
word perhaps - cherish?

I attended numerous schools. My parents moved
around and I went to several in different
places. I came from Louisville, KY
originally. Then we moved to New Hampshire.
The teachers treated me like I was retarded.
I couldn't do anything. All I can remember
really (besides getting beaten up,
humiliated, and continually rebuked)
is that I was always - ALWAYS -
unhappy. I failed the second grade. In 3rd,
whenever they did math, they would take me
out of class and walk me to the other end of
the building to take math with the first
graders. At the time I really hated this, but
it might have been for the best in the long
run. By the 4th grade, we had moved back to
KY and I had begun to teach myself the
rudiments of algebra. Those early teachers -
well, they didn't seem to really understand
what they were teaching, even in retrospect.
But the thing I really hated about them was
the fact that they were liars. They
brainwashed you into not protecting yourself.
"If someone tries to fight, don't do it. Come
get us." Well, I did, and then they promptly
did nothing. I was getting beaten up every
single day in school until one day I brought
a knife in and shoved it in a guy's face. The
beatings stopped. I was still miserable. I
began to eradicate every nuance of 'southern
speak' from my habits of speech. It was bad
enough that the kids at school were making
fun of me without the teachers giving me 'the
tone' every time I opened my mouth.

My first really good teacher was Mr. Devine
in the 5th grade. He mostly just gave us SRAs
and these block thingies with papers kinda
like SRAs. Each paper had 3 views of an
object constructed from the blocks and you
had to make the object. I loved it. I was in
the advanced reading group already. I tested
at 12th grade reading level. I began to
realize I wasn't so stupid after all.

Mrs. Clarke, 7th grade math. When I took her
class, I thought I only learned 2 things:
canceling fractions and something else I've
forgotten. Later, I realized the gift she
gave me. Every morning, first thing, we would
do math drills. As a result I've never met
anyone who could do simple math quicker than
I could. Interesting sidenote: once in an
assembler (computer science) class, there
were only two 100s on the test. Both were
from people who didn't use calculators!

Mrs Rich, 8th grade math. Let me start on
algebra with two other kids in the back of
the room. We were 'together' in the back of
the room, but we never talked to each other
and we each worked independently. Went
through the whole book by myself. Worked at
my own pace. This was great.

Mr. Dewitt, 9th grade geometry. Taught the
class without a book. (They were locked in
storage just a few miles from the school!!)
Was really off the wall. If we didn't want to
work on a day, he would cancel class and
we'd talk about anything we wanted. But we
were all pretty highly motivated and
interested. He was also very accepting of
novel approaches to problems. No. That's an
understatement. Actually he was very
encouraging of them.

Mr. Sipes from 9th to 12th grade in h.s.:
algebra II, computer math, trig, analytic
geometry, calculus. This guy was just plain
great. Interesting, intelligent, very
patient. Really tried to get in your mind and
understand how you were thinking...didn't
just say, "Well, you're wrong." but would
help you understand exactly where you went
off track. Patient, PATIENT man.

Mr. Hockensmith, 10th and 11th grade...latin
I and II. "Bis dat qui cito dat." (He gives
twice who gives quickly.) "Qui docet,
discet." (He who teaches learns.) Another
amazing teacher. Very gruff sounding man, but
a regular softie. He really had a knack for
bringing everything together. Frankly, I
could do English, but I never really
understood my own language's grammar till I studied
Latin under him. He talked about History,
Culture, Latin in a way that brought things
to life for me. I don't remember much from
those years - vocabulary, grammar, history,
unused and long forgotten, but I still like
reciting sometimes, vestigial memories,
"Nox erat, et terris animalia
somnus habebat." (It was night and sleep
possessed the animals of the forest -- From
Vergil's Aeneiad) and "Quo usque tandem
abutere Catalina patienta nostra?" (How long,
Cataline, will you continue to try our
patience? From Cicero's orations against

Mrs. Speck, 12th grade honors reading (a 6 wk
course). She let us read just about anything
we wanted to. There were three lists. You
hadda pick two books from each list to read
through the course. You could pick all six
books from the last list, if you wanted, but
then you couldn't go back to the easier
lists. If you wanted to read something that
wasn't on the lists, you could tell her and
she would tell you which list it would apply
to. Before this class it didn't much occur to
me that I would actually like reading stuff
that wasn't either science or science

Mrs. Schlinker - here's one I didn't
appreciate until it was far too late. Old
school. Very old school. But she made us
think about what we were saying - not just
what we thought we were saying, but what we
were actually saying. If there's one teacher
I could go back and apologize to for having
been a jackass, she's the one.

Coming out of high school, my father sat me
down at the table and told me to give up any
hope of going to college. There was just no
way this was going to happen. I would have to
get a job instead. Meanwhile I earned a
presidential and a congressional appointment
to West Point. I went for a short while and
then decided I didn't care for the military.
Left, came back to Louisville and got a
master's at the local engineering school.

My degree was in Engineering Math and Computer
Science but I lazed around and studied lots of
things and didn't concentrate only on neural
nets and the like, but also on philosophy, sociology,
history, psychology. I was interested in
everything. Won a few awards throughout my
school career: first place latin translation,
first place latin poetry, second place in a
debate contest and 2nd in a poetry contest,
6th highest score in the state on the national
math exam, distinguished student award in college.

I'm moderately amused by my earliest recollections
from school when it was very clear the teachers
considered me a mentally retarded trouble-maker.
Fortunately, I eventually had some outstanding
teachers, most of whom I've listed above.

Every hope I had that I could succeed, I owe
to these gems. Some people are bedecked in
rubies and topaz and saphire, gold chains or
silver bracelets. Everywhere I go I too am
adorned, not around my neck or wrist or
crown, but around my soul, by precious jewels
bearing names like Mrs. Rich and Mr. Sipes and
Mr. Devine.


Posted By: maverick Re: Declining Standards, part 2 - 02/22/02 11:12 AM
That’s a very moving personal account, and a salutary reminder of the difference a special teacher can make to a young mind. Thanks for sharing those thoughts.

fwiw, I agree with your general premise about the difference between schooling and education in a way - but perhaps it all boils down to the vital requirement of motivation. And as you rightly say, a sensitive mentor can help you light your own spark for subjects that might elude you otherwise.

Posted By: jmh Re: Declining Standards, part 2 - 02/24/02 12:26 AM
>the difference between schooling and education

I tend to think that the first is done to you, the second you do to yourself. As Mav says, if you are motivated at school you read around the subject, ask questions and sometimes disagree with the teachers, then you start to get an education. At times the process of getting through school (with the volume of work, tests, homework etc) seems to close doors to real learning meaning that it has to be deferred to a time when you can reflect.

Some years after leaving school I spoke to one teacher who I had so liked at school. She admitted that in my first year of science and her first year of teaching (she was really a physics teacher but had to teach all three at school) she was only a few pages ahead of us in the biology text book and was terrified that we might ask a difficult question. In some ways it was her own interest in learning about the subject for herself that inspired us. She didn't have to be an infallible pedagogue, just a fellow learner. It worked for me.

Posted By: Capital Kiwi Re: Declining Standards, part 2 - 02/27/02 05:12 PM
I remember my first tenative steps into the new math. After about the third I stepped into a whole number and failed to resurface for nearly 20 years. It's easy enough to look around for someone to blame, and by hokey (sorry, Selwyn, wherever you are) I had a prime candidate in my Form 2 (Year 8) teacher.

In those days, teachers were often expected to teach in subjects for which they were neither qualified nor suited. Poor Mr Bodkin (and no, he wasn't a prick!) had to teach new maths. Talking to him years later (you reminded me of this, Jo), it transpired that he'd failed math at school and had sworn and declared that he would never teach the subject. But needs must.

He was, quite literally, usually on the same page as us in the textbook. Every time he thought he'd be able to get ahead of us, he'd strike something he couldn't work out easily himself. By the time he'd managed to get it together, there we were, on the same page as him again. Well, at least, many other children in my class were. I never really got past the introductory chapter, the one with no numbers in it.

I got onto much better terms with math later in high school, although it was too late to pass the external exams, which I had to redo once I'd left school. The trick was, I found, not to think about the big picture at all, but to learn the little picture by rote. Still kinda works for me today.

But I don't blame Mr Bodkin, and I never did. It was pretty obvious to me, even then, that I was never going to be a mathematician. When I met him at a school reunion many years later, he was in his 80s, and still feeling very guilty about the bad job he thought he'd done at teaching maths in 1965 and 1966. I think that the group of us who were talking to him managed to alleviate some of that guilt. None of us had anything but respect for him. He was a good teacher - he just had one bad subject!

Posted By: Keiva Re: Declining Standards -- bible translation - 02/28/02 04:53 PM
As the New International Version of the bible is updated as Today's New International Version, changes include:
---"tunic" is changed to "shirt"
---"with child" is changed to "pregnant"
---"God does not judge by external appearance" becomes "God does not show favoritism"

Ah the [former] poetry of language!

How do our ladies feel about the change of
What is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him? You made him a little lower than the angels; you crowned him with glory and honor.
What are mere mortals that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them? You made them a little lower than the angels; You crowned them with glory and honor.

Posted By: Rouspeteur Re: Declining Standards, part 2 - 03/07/02 10:58 PM
At times the process of getting through school (with the volume of work, tests, homework etc) seems to close doors to real learning meaning that it has to be deferred to a time when you can reflect.

I heartily agree with you. When I was an undergrad I avoided arts courses because I did not want to have to give the professor's opinion back him (or her). In three years I took a two-semester course in music apreciation (A+) and one semester each of Greek history and Roman History in order to meet the degree requirements. I couldn't afford to have a low mark in an arts course affect my average and I just didn't have time. All of my electives ended up being in physics and math so I could get on with a career.

It was only after I finished all of my schooling that I was able to even start pursuing other interests. In 22 years, when I am ready to retire, I can then go and get the Classics degree I always wanted without having to worry that I woun't be able to get a job with it!

Posted By: Rouspeteur Re: Declining Standards, part 2 - 03/07/02 11:17 PM
I too think that standards are declining, but I think it is a concern common to many cultures.

I remember a conversation I had with my fellow students when I was in Montréal. There were about eight of us, half French and half English. They were concerned about the declining standards of education in general and French in particular. They noted that universities were starting to have French proficiency exams for their francophone students. They were surprised to learn that a lot of English universities are doing the same thing for the same reason. The universities do not believe in the product they recieve from high schools any more.

We would prefer to put our children in a private school, but there isn't a French one where we live. Luckily though, there is a French Catholic Public school about 10 miles away that they will be able to go to. Because we are in a predominately English area, the school will function more like a private school because there is a lot of parental involvement. The nuns teach the children respect and expect them to work hard.

Posted By: jmh Re: Declining Standards, part 2 - 03/08/02 11:56 PM
>In 22 years, when I am ready to retire, I can then go and get the Classics degree I always wanted without having to worry that I woun't be able to get a job with it!

It is always possible to get a job with an arts degree. You must know the story of two friends walking down the street. One mentions that he met a friend who had gone away to study an arts course years ago. "What did you say to him?", said one friend. "Oh, just a Big Mac and a large fries," said the other.- Apologies for the old joke!

Posted By: Max Quordlepleen . - 03/09/02 12:20 AM
Posted By: Angel Re: Declining Standards, part 2 - 03/09/02 01:46 AM
In a similiar vein, I guess that USns probably don't refer to a BA as a Bugger All.

No, I think that's Burger all here.

Posted By: Capital Kiwi Re: Declining Standards, part 2 - 03/17/02 07:36 PM
You're all full of it. Big Macs and large fries are served up by former Cobol programmers. Unless they're sweeping the floors, of course!

Posted By: belligerentyouth Re: Declining Standards, part 2 - 03/29/02 12:29 AM
> A sensitive mentor can help you light your own spark for subjects that might elude you otherwise.


Posted By: consuelo Re: Declining Standards, part 2 - 03/30/02 07:10 PM
Thank you for that link, byou. I found it to be a very intelligent, well thought out essay. Food for thought, indeed.

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