Quote for Discussion: Lies We Tell Kids

The conspiracy is so thorough that most kids who discover it do so only by discovering internal contradictions in what they’re told. It can be traumatic for the ones who wake up during the operation. Here’s what happened to Einstein:

   Through the reading of popular scientific books I soon reached the conviction that much in the stories of the Bible could not be true. The consequence was a positively fanatic freethinking coupled with the impression that youth is intentionally being deceived by the state through lies: it was a crushing impression. [2]

I remember that feeling. By 15 I was convinced the world was corrupt from end to end. That’s why movies like The Matrix have such resonance. Every kid grows up in a fake world. In a way it would be easier if the forces behind it were as clearly differentiated as a bunch of evil machines, and one could make a clean break just by taking a pill.

Paul Graham, from his essay Lies We Tell Kids.  The whole thing is worth reading.  Hat tip to Robin Hanson.


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  1. An idea to improve education in America: profit sharing for teachers.

    Suppose every teacher received a financial award for each student of theirs who graduates high school, gets an associate degree, bachelor’s degree, and graduate degree.  This would be applied to teachers who had taught their students at any level; if you had a kid in kindergarten who goes on to be a doctor, you’re getting bonuses at three levels.

    Benefits appear to me to be that teachers might have an incentive to do a better job; teachers would have an incentive to care about their students success in a holistic way, regardless of their performance on particular tests; teachers would have an incentive to make sure that not only their class but their entire school and school system was improved; high school graduation and achievement of advanced degrees both are absolute signs of economic advancement but are real world rather than test-based metrics for achievement.  Further, this incentive system would be difficult to cheat; it only succeeds when students succeed at all levels, outside the control of any one teacher and only one reward rank can be achieved with the direct help of anyone in the public school system.

    At this point, a totally undeveloped and unformed idea.  But I’m interested in anyone’s thoughts.

  2. but I agree with Robyn. Now, I do not get the sense that jay belongs to the “blame the teacher crowd” at all.

    I wonder who the hell would teach in the public system in Memphis if teachers were to get incentives for student performance. Would teachers get docked money if the kids went on to criminal activities?

    I think the issue is more complicated. You have increasing pressure on kids to be high performing in nice middle class suburban schools where getting less than an A can ruin your whole life and kids seem like little skinner rats being frog marched through appropriate “activities” all designed to get them into the right college. I imagine teachers are under pressure there (not saying they do either ) to keep grades inflated.

    Meanwhile, nobody really seems to care that the public school system in manner urban centers like Memphis is broken. Kids don’t graduate or they graduate functionally illiterate. They grow up in homes where nobody really cares about education, nobody reads. There is an area in Memphis that has a worse infant mortality rate than many third world countries.

    Nobody in the middle class cares because they don’t live in the same neighborhoods and don’t send their kids to the same schools. So the circle goes on.

    • RiaD on May 26, 2008 at 2:06 pm

    where i heard/read that children used to be treated as small adults until victorian times. there was little or no formal education (schools) that was mandatory for all children, no child centered holidays, no special foods/drinks for children. children of the upper classes were fostered out by age 7-8, in the lower classes children of 7-8 were apprenticed to their father or uncle, the girls helped at home with child care, laundry, cooking, gardening, etc.

    somewhere along the line someone(queen victoria?) decided children were too precios and tender to be subjected to the horrors of the real world. and thus the lies began….

    • kj on May 26, 2008 at 6:15 pm

    a thousand times no.  the idea could accelerate ‘teach to the test’ into ‘teach to the rich.’  flocks of would-be and current teachers flocking to cities and burbs and exburbs (is that what they’re called?) with the highest tax rates, best sidewalks and highest parental income to improve their own chances of upping their salaries.  

    which could leave the poorer districts where they’ve always found themselves… lacking, lacking, lacking.

    also agree with Robyn’s point… some colleges are state funded.

    also just flat disagree with the premise that: “Benefits appear to me to be that teachers might have an incentive to do a better job;…” (apologies for cutting the sentence here, this was the only point i wanted to address). Financial incentive, based on competition measured by a student’s future performance, to “do a better” job just doesn’t jive with the motivations for going into the profession by the teachers i’ve known. A living wage would be welcome, of course. But competition for the ‘best student’ doesn’t play a larger factor in motivating the teachers i’ve know.  much more complex motivational factors exist. but i’m not speaking from experience, just close observation.  

    • kj on May 26, 2008 at 6:16 pm

    look forward to these essays, Jay!  they never fail to stretch my thinking!  thank you.  

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