Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Student Teacher Assymetry

Recent news stories describe an incident in West Virginia where Jared Marcum, a 14 year old student, was ordered by a teacher to remove (or turn inside out) an NRA T-shirt with a picture of a gun on it. The student refused and ended up being arrested for (among other things) "disrupting the educational process." The dress code rules for the school do not prohibit pictures of weapons, the student is back in school wearing the shirt, lots of other students apparently are wearing them too as a token of support. Which raises an obvious question. 

If, as the school now seems to concede, the shirt did not violate any school rules, the teacher's order was a violation of the student's rights under the First Amendment as currently interpreted by the courts. It follows that any disruption resulting from the incident—apparently other students cheered Marcum when he was led out of the cafeteria—was the fault of the teacher who gave an order he was not entitled to give. Yet, for some reason, there has been no talk of arresting the teacher for committing the offense that was the basis for arresting the student.

All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others.


At 11:29 AM, April 24, 2013, Blogger jimbino said...

Assuming the school is public, the teacher's behavior would form the basis of a Sec 1983 "under color of state law" action, in which the school could be held responsible for failure to train teachers to respect civil rights.

It's best not to criminalize everything.

At 11:42 AM, April 24, 2013, Blogger Tibor said...

Maybe this is not related enough to the post...but still:

I have just learned about the existence of Sudbury and Montessori type of schools. Could I know what your opinion of those schools is? Thank you.

Both seem like a good concept for me. I think most children are naturally curious, but hate it as much as adults do when someone is trying to use force to make them do (learn) something. My personal experience with the conventional school system is exactly along those lines.

And a friend of mine told me an interesting thing recently (but it is a quote of someone else I think): "What was the last time you came up with anything original or smart when forced to sit in one place for a given time without being able to talk to your colleagues and without being able to take a walk or get a refreshment somewhere?" I think that one sentence summarizes a lot of what is wrong with conventional schooling.

At 12:07 PM, April 24, 2013, Blogger chriscal12 said...

This reminds me of something that happened at my junior high school.

One of my friends had brought a cap gun to a school dance and was shooting it in the woods behind the gym. It's hard to imagine today, but this was a few years before Columbine, so when the vice principal caught him with it, he only confiscated the toy gun and sent my friend on his way. A bit later when another administrator found out, things began to escalate. My friend was eventually expelled.

As his expulsion proceedings were known around the school, one of our mutual friends decided to wear a custom T shirt that read "I have a cap gun, expel me." as a bit of provocative solidarity.

Needless to say, the principal made him turn the shirt inside out. When my friend complained along First Amendment lines, the principal's position seemed to be that students didn't have anything like free speech rights at school. My friend didn't push the issue too hard.

At 2:12 PM, April 24, 2013, Blogger David Friedman said...

To Tibor:

Our kids were in a Sudbury model school for some years. The model has two elements: Freedom and democracy. Freedom I approve of. Democracy is more of a mixed bag. In theory there are no required courses, but if a student does not become skilled at small group politics he is at the mercy of those who do.

Eventually the school changed in ways we and another family found disturbing. When we raised our concerns, both families were pushed out of the school. We switched to home unschooling--the freedom part--and are happy with the results. You can find a number of my past posts on the subject by searching the blog for "unschooling."

We've had less experience with Montessori schools, but some. They vary a good deal, and I don't think any are as free as what we prefer. Unschooling as we did it meant letting our kids control their own time, with no curriculum, no required lessons or books.

At 2:15 PM, April 24, 2013, Blogger The Dark Lord said...

teacher should be made to wear same shirt for a week ...

At 2:31 PM, April 24, 2013, Blogger Tibor said...

David: Thanks. Can I ask what the issues were, what changed in the school? I was also concerned about "democracy in the classroom" a bit when i read about it. I will definitely read your posts about unschooling. It is a very new idea to me and I am a bit skeptical about how appliable it is in general to every child, but I also find it very likeable, so I would like to find out more about it.

At 2:37 PM, April 24, 2013, Blogger David Friedman said...


What changed, at least as I interpreted it, was a staff member getting effective control over the school's internal judicial process and using it in various ways to push the school, and the behavior of students and staff, in the way she wished.

So far as unschooling, I don't know if it works for all kids. I think it worked for ours. People associated with the original Sudbury Valley School who have written about it seem to think it works for a wide range of kids, but they may have a somewhat biased view.

At 4:27 PM, April 24, 2013, Anonymous Rebecca Friedman said...


I don't remember very well, since I was five when I left, but the original school I attended was a Montessori school. I remember liking it a lot - though I gather that, had I continued, it would have gotten a lot less free. I do have reason to suspect things I did there were a significant help in my later learning, however - among other things, I have very clear memories (over 18 years!) of a toy that was a cube of ten brass beads on a side, semi-fused together, so you could see each bead but they wouldn't come apart. I think there may also have been ones that were just lines and just squares. It was a wonderful tool for understanding the concept of multiplication. ("This is ten. This is a hundred. This is a thousand..." And you could count and see that a thousand was ten hundreds - ten hundred-squares, stacked neatly together. Beautiful thing.) The reason I think it had an effect is not just that I can remember it so clearly these 18 years later, but that watching my own thought processes for basic math - I understand it in a very spatial way, which I'm not sure most people (even in my own family!) do. Normally I understand things the way my family does.

So that is my, admittedly limited, evidence for believing the Montessori schools have something. Then again - the second Montessori school I went to (we moved away from the good one) was pretty awful. (We left when they taught me something false, Mom complained - it involved soil composition, she's a geologist, so she noticed - and they didn't care.) So it's definitely not all Montessori schools.

I'd be happy to expand more on the Sudbury schools if you're curious, but this is already a fairly long post. Short form: not only are small democracies vulnerable to cliques, but a smart adult will pretty much always be able to outargue a smart kid - even a smart kid who, for a kid, is very good at arguing. So if you put them down in the same democracy, then unless the kids are willing to be (from their own points of view) unreasonable, the kids' voices will not matter. A committee with one adult and four kids on it (not a random choice) is dominated by the adult - so long as the adult is willing and able to sound reasonable.

At 9:28 AM, April 25, 2013, Blogger windwheel said...

'the teacher's order was a violation of the student's rights under the First Amendment as currently interpreted by the courts'
Not true. It could be iff certain other things were the case AND the teacher in question was stupid or ill advised or lost his head on the witness stand.

Dave-Bork-was-against-contraception- Friedman is extraordinarily stupid when it comes to the Law. Why? He's not a Utilitarian. So what is he?
Henry Adams wept that his Edumication just fucked him up something chronic. He guessed like mebbe mathematical engineers could have got him that Edumication (the humour is the Prussians were busy ignoring their Menger or Jevons about the same time our Henry tries out for Prussian Grammar School.)
What the fuck is wrong with you guys?
This is a man in his late Sixties or Seventies writing rubbish and getting the facts embarrassingly wrong. You love him, but... what?... by Student/Teacher asymmetry have to prove you are stupider and more ignorant yet?
How can that possibly work in the world of Wikipedia and Yahoo answers?
My Dad's got Alzheimers. I got no problem cleaning shit of his bed. But,coz I'm stupid (i.e. an Economist) I unknowingly let him talk shite about the Law and that stuff got me a ticket back to Blighty.
Wouldn't have happened if I'd worshipped Coase by way of Binmore.
Friedman- pere et fils, the former so chillingly repudiated by Maggie Thatcher one wonders at the Oedipal audacity of the latter's comment on her death- just thought they were too good for Maths- a Freshwater delusion- or rolling up their sleeves to do... what?... Roy Cohn stuff.
Hey, I loved u guys- we were crewmates on the ARGo.
Yet as
The lost Hylas
I write
Scarce was I weaned from Business School
When lost to the Naiads of the Typing Pool
Weep for me, heroes of the Argo's crew!
Weep for Hylas who was once as you.

Their Gorgon hair and Harpy nails
& fish for eyes & skin-like scales
Caused all they tease, save me, to fear them.
My Hercules, then, was Coase's Theorem

'No mine and thine doth Beauty know
'But as Helen breeds in Allan Poe!'
Thus Chicago- my Greece and Rome
Till Nereid airs wrecked my home

Prince! If two Schools you rule, one Salt, one Freshwater
To a Salmacis your son, your Salamis a daughter

P.S. Tell Friedman when he is wrong on the facts and explain why his reasoning, though appearing facile and meretricious, might and probably is, no such thing.
I fucking love my Dad.I just didn't know how fucking smart he was- and being smart about the Law or laws really is just Dad's way of being Mom without embarrassing you- fuck! Dad didn't mind cleaning shit off his bed- in a way, he knew I, not the servant was doing it- but the fucker still tried to feed me the rubbish he cooked coz Mom was away looking after my sister.
Fuck this, fuck you- you're all racist cunts. As am I obviously. Theodore Frankl and Milton Friedman- at one time they seemed able to inject Meaning back into Life. As a matter of fact, Milton's big policy prescription is equal to Islamic or Aquninian or Mussar Banking.

Anyroad, people, stop sucking the cock of sycophancy- don't be drones, there is honey here- in what is best of Rose, Milton & their filial son David- but the flowers from which you can gather pollen to return to that nest are FACTS, STUFF OUT THERE, not my own senile shite, nor David Friedman's, Landsburg emulating, faltering and deeply unflattering imitation of himself.
You are good people. Be good.

At 9:54 AM, April 25, 2013, Anonymous Nationcrafting said...

Mr Friedman,

Following Rebecca's comments, I got sidetracked into reading about your unschooling experiments. How wonderful! It's such a delight to see the evidence of the benefits of mental stimulus rather than coercion.

Also just spent 10 minutes putting together a 3D model of Rebecca's 10x10x10 cube. Of course, in a virtual space, you can then turn that 10x10x10 cube into a line of cubes too 10x(10x10x10), then a square of cubes, then a cube of cubes, etc. A great way to explain the concept indeed.

Question: I was wondering what kind of schooling you had given Patri. He's gotten very good at taking apart established paradigms, and comes up with very good narratives and mindsets to make his case.

Did you unschool Patri too, or send him to a Montessori school?

At 11:10 AM, April 25, 2013, Blogger Tibor said...

Rebecca: Thanks a lot for sharing your experience. I would actually be very interested in the expanded version of your Sudbury story :)

Also, what is so special about a group of 4 kids and 1 adult?

The multiplication toy seems interesting. I have pretty much just an abstract notion of any number above five or so and I think most people do. Actually I have a picture of 60 in my mind, because I remmember working in my father's company, refurbishing used computers for sale (cleaning, putting in the right components and so) and 60 computers took me 8 hours to do and I piled them up so then I ended up with looking at number 60. That was when I was 12 or so. So I imagine you have similar pictures in your head, but not just for 60 :)

Generally this idea of surrounding kids with interesting things and letting them pick something themselves seems very good to me. As far as I can tell, I learned very little in the conventional school (before college, where I am studying what interests me though). My maths teacher even made me hate what then I thought was mathematics (and what now I see as memorizing alghoritms) for a while and it was almost a coincidence that I actually ended up doing it. However, we had a lot of history books at home (my mother is a teacher of history and czech language at a primary school) and I picked those books because they had interesting pictures and ended up learning quite a lot especially about ancient Rome and Greece (now much more than my mother knows about those topics) since my parents noticed the interest and bought me more books about it. When I was 12 I knew the whole Illiad and Oddysey by heart, albeit not the verses, just the story (I actually read it as a semi-comic book - with pictures and then bits of full text - but the story was the same as in the real Homer's work). However I don't know almost any czech history from cca 8th to 14th century even though we went through that a couple of times at school and we had to memorize all the dates and names of dukes and kings.

At 11:34 AM, April 25, 2013, Blogger windwheel said...

Stupidest person in existence, ostensibly, Tibor Mach is doing what? parodying himself? Fuck, I thought 'the Following' was silly.

David Friedman- Listen- don't be a cunt.
You don't understand the Law. You are too stupid to understand Bork on Griswold. Don't rely on your memory. You are shit. You know nothing.
Also, you don't know from Economics. Not Landsburg- look what I can do wid dem Slutsky Indifference coorves- but fucking well specified incentive compatible models- so, Dave, what you know from?
I read your shite.
You're shite.
But, I guess, you were brought up that way.
You write well. Not well enough you tortoise of but a meretricious rub.

At 12:27 PM, April 25, 2013, Blogger David Friedman said...

Re Patri:

My first marriage broke up shortly after Patri was born, so his schooling was in the hands of his mother. Once he was old enough he spent summers with me and my second (and current) wife, so we had some influence, but not over the formal schooling.

At 12:34 PM, April 25, 2013, Blogger windwheel said...

Stupidest person in existence, ostensibly, Tibor Mach is doing what? parodying himself? Fuck, I thought 'the Following' was silly.

David Friedman- Listen- don't be a cunt.
You don't understand the Law. You are too stupid to understand Bork on Griswold. Don't rely on your memory. You are shit. You know nothing.
Also, you don't know from Economics. Not Landsburg- look what I can do wid dem Slutsky Indifference coorves- but fucking well specified incentive compatible models- so, Dave, what you know from?
I read your shite.
You're shite.
But, I guess, you were brought up that way.
You write well. Not well enough you tortoise of but a meretricious rub.

At 12:39 PM, April 25, 2013, Blogger windwheel said...

David Friedman-I have interacted with you to show that you consider libel against you by me to be inconsequential.
My book, clearly, can't attract any adverse action on your behalf- you lying, paedophile, cunt.

At 3:15 PM, April 25, 2013, Anonymous Rebecca Friedman said...


Cool! I've never tried to recreate the cube myself, though I think I would if I had kids. I do think it was useful.

Tibor Mach,

Oh, yes. For example, I have a very clear notion of six in my head. It's a line three - beads, round things, whatever, the mental image isn't that specific - long by two across. I can turn it at right angles in my head, and I can examine how at once it is three twos and two threes. My concept of nine is a line made of three threes, though I can easily shift it around in my head into a square three-by-three... anyway. That's what I mean about an odd spacial way of looking at things. I don't know it came from that toy, but it seems like a reasonable guess.

Four kids and one adult, IIRC, was how JC functioned... though it's possible there were only four of us total? It's been nearly ten years. JC = Judicial Committee, or some very similar name. The school's... internal court system, you might say. It was one of the place where the problems showed up.

The problems... Please keep in mind, as you read this, that this is only one side of a story, being given some nine years after the fact, by a girl who was, at best, a young teenager when the events in question occurred. I may have misinterpreted things, there were definitely a lot of things I didn't understand. My attempts to make sense of them in hindsight may or may not be accurate.

Now then.

The problem, essentially, was one of motivation and ability. As much as I would like to believe that a smart kid can outargue an adult - and as much as it may be true if the adult is stupid - if the adult is smart, it just isn't going to happen regularly if at all. And when you've got a lot of kids who are all used to following adults, and listening to adults, and doing what adults say, and they don't have any very fixed opinions of their own - then any adult in the group will pretty much automatically take control, unless the adult is trying hard not to.

Part of the problem with the Sudbury model, at least as my school practiced it, was that I don't think it took account of that. Judicial Committee had the job of hearing complaints, deciding whether the defendant was guilty or innocent, and handing down a punishment. As I recall, everyone's vote counted equally, and it was deliberately slanted so that the kids significantly outnumbered the adult... which didn't fix anything, because the kids did what the adult said. When you're trying to determine whether so-and-so did thus-and-such, this other person says s/he did, and you don't know whom to believe, especially if you don't know much about other evidence, where to look for it, innocent-until-proven-guilty, etc. … then it's very easy to look to the adult for help. Because the adult is an adult. S/he must know, right?

(Continued, this seems to be too long...!)

At 3:16 PM, April 25, 2013, Anonymous Rebecca Friedman said...

(cont. from above)

And if what the adult does, instead of trying to teach you about other evidence and innocent-until-proven-guilty, is say “Well, someone's lying. It's probably the defendant” - well, how are you supposed to know any better? If that's what the all-wise adult says?

So what was intended as a democracy, where students are primarily responsible for judging other students – where students, in a very real way, take the law into their own hands – fell right back into being a whatever-the-adults-say. Even when, in some cases, it was known that injustice was being done. It got particularly bad when you had charges such as “intimidation,” which everyone knew was Very Bad but was very... not solid, very hard to prove. Especially in foggy cases like that one, what actually happened was that whoever the adult sided with, won.

The general meetings, where Changes to Rules were voted on, went the same way. Kids could almost never overrule adults. Even with something that we really didn't want – like doing chores – we knew that They Were Right, and They Had Good Reasons, and They Knew Better. The adults were the source of truth, and no one was quite willing to argue they knew better than the adults. Maybe the problem there was interest, maybe it was ability. I only tried a couple times – I believed in the adults! But I wasn't able to do it. In hindsight, I can only remember... that A) it's hard to argue with people you're used to viewing as a Source of Truth, and B) that my mind didn't work as clearly as it does now.

So that meant that what you basically had was a benevolent dictatorship by adults. This was great until they stopped being benevolent. Going into details on how that happened is probably unnecessary – it was very much the specific details of the specific people. What is more important is that, for whatever reason, the self-governance of the kids that was supposed to happen didn't, and couldn't. There is an inherent problem in saying “These people are the source of truth and you should believe everything they tell you about math and wolves and Spanish, but when it comes to who did what to whom or what the rules should be, you're supposed to think for yourselves.” It doesn't work. And it didn't work. And that – to my mind – was the fundamental problem with that model.

At 9:25 AM, April 26, 2013, Anonymous Jim Hodge said...

I agree and would argue that Freedom is often times less than free. It hard work.

At 11:24 AM, April 26, 2013, Blogger Kim Mosley said...

I don't think this is as simple as a freedom of speech issue. Subjecting a kid to what she may see as violence does interfere with the educational process. And it does create for some an "unsafe" environment. As a dean, I asked an office to take down a poster of Clint Eastwood pointing a gun in the direction where a student would stand. Some of the students came from neighborhoods saddened by the effects of guns. A school is supposed to be an haven from their life of fear and violence.

At 1:24 PM, April 26, 2013, Blogger Tibor said...

Rebecca: Thanks a lot. It definitely helps me to make an informed opinion of these schools. There are probably no Sudbury schools in the Czech republic yet and I am probably not even going to have kids in the next 5 years or so, but we are trying to form a some sort of an organization of PhD students and professionals with some friends that would make talks to students of secondary schools - about the subjects we do and love and we got to love not because but in spite of traditional schooling. I hope it could help some people see what some sciences and arts are really about (especially maths needs that I think, but I am biased :) ) and that they might perhaps like it. And I think this "teach yourself and teach yourself what you find interesting" philosophy is something we could talk about as well.

I hope the schools will be open minded enough to let us talk to their students though. We are going to try private secondary schools first, because probably our chances of being allowed to speak are highest there.

At 4:13 PM, April 26, 2013, Anonymous Rebecca Friedman said...

Tibor Mach,

Good luck! That does indeed sound like a very good thing to do.

At 12:02 PM, April 28, 2013, Blogger Don said...

Kim Mosley: a picture of Clint Eastwood with a gun or an NRA t-shirt only creates an "unsafe environment" for people who are severely messed up, mentally deranged, or totally devoid of self-esteem. The world should not be remade to protect people from speech.

You were a dean? Color me shocked (not).

Good grief. This is why parents turn to home-schooling or un-schooling.


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