Governor Perry Vetoes SB 1440

Link Fixed

That’s the bill that would have made CPS immune from following the Bill of Rights and basically declared open season on families everywhere and placed all of our children at risk of the extreme (and they are extreme) dangers of the Texas foster care system.

More here.

See also Grits for Breakfast

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Effort vs Talent

In August of ’06, Scientific American published this article on how we think and how experts are made:

“Teachers in sports, music, and other fields tend to believe that talent matters and that they know it when they see it. In fact, they appear to be confusing ability with precocity. There is usually no way to tell, from a recital alone, whether a young violinist’s extraordinary performance stems from innate ability or from years of Suzuki-style training. The preponderance of psychological evidence indicates that experts are made, not born. In fact, it takes approximately a decade of heavy labor to master any field.”

Which all reminds me of this quote from Terry Pratchett’s Wee Free Men:

“…if you trust in yourself…”
“…and believe in your dreams…”
“…and follow your star…”
“…you’ll still get beaten by people who spent their time working
hard and learning things and weren’t so lazy.”

There is more there. How do experts think? How do they store, process, and pull up what they know? What goes into the making of an expert? And how do we measure expertise?

Without a demonstrably immense superiority in skill over the novice, there can be no true experts, only laypeople with imposing credentials. Such, alas, are all too common. Rigorous studies in the past two decades have shown that professional stock pickers invest no more successfully than amateurs, that noted connoisseurs distinguish wines hardly better than yokels, and that highly credentialed psychiatric therapists help patients no more than colleagues with less advanced degrees. And even when expertise undoubtedly exists–as in, say, teaching or business management–it is often hard to measure, let alone explain.

Chess, however, provides a measurable standard, so that’s what researchers looked at- chess champions. How did they get to be chess champions?

In one series of studies the players were blindfolded. The researcher posited that the players must have a near photographic image of the board and pieces, but he learned that this wasn’t true. What they had was a general idea of the pieces in relation to each other, and this idea was more abstract than concrete. The chess-master doesn’t have to remember details “because he can reconstruct any particular detail whenever he wishes by tapping a well-organized system of connections.”

Which of course reminded me of Charlotte Mason’s principle that “Education is the Science of Relations.” What researchers learned is that “the expert relies not so much on an intrinsically stronger power of analysis as on a store of structured knowledge.”

In order to have a store of structured knowledge, of course, we have to fill the store-room. Charlotte Mason also addressed this when she said that children ought to have a wide and generous curriculum.. She complained that many educators of her day believed that it is “more important that a child should think than that he should know. My contention is rather that he cannot know without having thought; and also that he cannot think without an abundant, varied, and regular supply of the material of knowledge.”

Experts, it seems, don’t really know more than the rest of us- they organize their information in connecting parts and are better able to pull up those chunks of information. But it takes time and work to build up that knowledge base:

The one thing that all expertise theorists agree on is that it takes enormous effort to build these structures in the mind. Simon coined a psychological law of his own, the 10-year rule, which states that it takes approximately a decade of heavy labor to master any field. Even child prodigies, such as Gauss in mathematics, Mozart in music and Bobby Fischer in chess, must have made an equivalent effort, perhaps by starting earlier and working harder than others.

What it takes is somewhat informed effort,
Or, as one scientist explained in the S.A. article:

…what matters is not experience per se but “effortful study,” which entails continually tackling challenges that lie just beyond one’s competence. That is why it is possible for enthusiasts to spend tens of thousands of hours playing chess or golf or a musical instrument without ever advancing beyond the amateur level and why a properly trained student can overtake them in a relatively short time.

Emphasis mine again. Whatever you or your children are reading or doing, kicking it up a notch so it’s just a little harder. And then kick it up again. And then again. We (by which I mean me) tend to reject that. We not only want to do things the easy, lazy way, we want to find some way to reinvent that as the more virtuous way. This shows that we are ‘relaxed,’ not driven, rigid, or ‘A-type.

Even the novice engages in effortful study at first, which is why beginners so often improve rapidly in playing golf, say, or in driving a car. But having reached an acceptable performance–for instance, keeping up with one’s golf buddies or passing a driver’s exam–most people relax. Their performance then becomes automatic and therefore impervious to further improvement. In contrast, experts-in-training keep the lid of their mind’s box open all the time, so that they can inspect, criticize and augment its contents and thereby approach the standard set by leaders in their fields.

Are we (meaning me) allowing ourselves (meaning myself) to be ‘impervious to further improvement?’ When we put it that way it sounds a little less noble, doesn’t it? I should so much prefer to believe that I just have no talent for playing an instrument, for housecleaning or for math than to believe, as the researchers suggest, that:

motivation appears to be a more important factor than innate ability in the development of expertise.

I’m not sure I completely agree with that, but I suspect there’s more truth to it than I find comfortable.
It’s also true that the better we are at something initially, the more we like it and try it again:

success builds on success, because each accomplishment can strengthen a child’s motivation. A 1999 study of professional soccer players from several countries showed that they were much more likely than the general population to have been born at a time of year that would have dictated their enrollment in youth soccer leagues at ages older than the average.

For parents, this indicates that one of the best ways to help children love learning is to give them small successes in the beginning of their study, whether that is in cooking, reading, math, music, sports, or spelling. Charlotte Mason addressed this, too, saying that lessons should be short, and that they should be ended on a successful note- with a math problem the child will be sure to get right, for instance.

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Road Trip!!

We are going out of town for the weekend, yes, with Blynken and Nod in tow, poor lads, although they are currently pretending to be excited about it.
We leave later today, which means we’re packing now, because we couldn’t pack yesterday because we had three families over for a meeting and Strider came too. This means we cleaned house all day, and for a brief period we had 31 people in the house, but then the Equuschick and the Tea Chemist (who wished to bake a birthday cake for a friend) retreated to the quiet and solitude of the Equuschick’s house so we only had 29.=)
The meeting broke up around 10:30, the last guests left closer to midnight (well, except for Strider and the little boys), and the dishwasher repair man is here this morning. Life is good.

Where are we going? We are going down south to a BIG singing/Bible study- usually there are about a hundred or more people there in one family’s basement, which makes our 31 look trifling. We’re meeting a blog friend there, too, which we are excited about.

We’ll stay with friends and then go back in the morning for an all day volleyball tournament. They have three professional volleyball courts and throw a big bash with grilled hotdogs and burgers (others bring side-dishes), and people from all over put together their own teams. You can be cutthroat or just play for fun, it’s up to the individual team captains. “Our” team, on which only Strider, the HM, the BOY, Shasta, and the FYG are playing from our family, are The Killer Bunnies. Strider drew our own killer bunnies (this won’t be funny unless you know the game), and gentle Jenny used iron on transfer program Strider bought and ironed them the team t-shirts. The Tea-Chemist cannot play because of an injured shoulder. The HM is bringing home butcher’s coats for the HG, Pip, and Jenny and they are going to be the Mad Scientist Cheerleaders who created the Killer Bunnies in the lab.=)

THEN, after a long, fun, but exhausting day, we are spending the night again, going to church with our friends the next day, seeing other old friends (one of the recent college grads is from there), and generally hanging out and being bums, although I will need to look for something special for Blynken to do for Sunday.

On Monday we are going with all those friends to a museum, and Blynken tells me he has ALWAYS wanted to go to a zooomeum. I wondered if he understood the difference between a zoo and a museum, and he said yes, he knows all about zoomeums because he saw them on television and they have bones.

So… as you read this… we are probably in the midst of singing already. As I write this, the easy part of my packing is done- one skirt, three shirts, and what was once nicely known as ‘changes of linen,’ and we don’t mean sheets.

The complicated part- which books to choose, which books to leave, that is yet to come. Because I can’t travel to the grocery store without a book or two, just in case. And I can’t go away for the weekend with fewer than ten books, or at least, I have never given any indication that this possible.

Posted in Books, Who We Are | Leave a comment

California and Prop 13

(Update below)

Last week I was told by a public school supporter from California that California Public schools are terrible and have gone downhill badly over the years. I asked why that was, and was told it was because Prop 13 meant there was was no funding for anything in the CA public schools.

I doubted it, but I just shrugged, and the conversation went on to something else. I wasn’t looking to refute it- I had actually already forgotten the comment, but Wednesday is my day to read Polipundit, and this caught my eye:

The claim that Proposition 13 crippled California’s revenue stream also doesn’t hold up. Because assessments can be raised to current values when property changes hands, property-tax revenue went from $6.4 billion in 1980–81 to $43 billion in 2006–07. That’s a nearly 600 percent increase, which is far higher than the combined rate of population growth and inflation over the same period. In fact, property-tax revenue went up at a slightly higher rate than overall state revenue. Krugman’s assertion that Proposition 13 amounts to a budgetary “straitjacket” is further undercut by the latest Tax Foundation data, which rank California 19th (out of all 50 states) in property taxes as a percentage of total state taxes.

In case you’re wondering, no, I won’t be passing that on to the person who told me that failed California schools were the result of the deficit in funding created by Prop 13. That, I am sure, would be pointless. If I’d know this at the time it might have been useful, but then again, probably not.
Even though there wasn’t an argument (because I usually don’t argue with this person), this is running through my head:

Backward, o backward
turn time in thy flight
I have now have found of my argument last night!

From the comments a few more facts about how much California really spends on education:

I don’t know that California spends so little on education. Per Proposition 98 ( California schools are mandated to get at least 40% of the state’s overall budget. This shows up in the governor’s budget (see and look for Proposition 98 spending in the budget). Around 75% of the total in 2008 was spent on K-12 education, meaning that about 30% of the entire state budget was spent on K-12 education. This equated to about $35 billion. Furthermore, California continues to pass almost every education-related bond measure that is put on the ballot. One wonders, if almost half the state’s entire budget isn’t enough, then what would be?

Posted in economics, education, government, public school | Leave a comment


If you look carefully at the pregnancy ticker on the sidebar, you will note that it proudly proclaims that The Equuschick’s baby has now reached the two pound mark.

She finds this amusing, because according to the ultrasound little Pinocchio was at the two pound mark almost two weeks ago.

These guessestimates provide so much food for thought and entertainment. (Mostly entertainment, in they cynical Equuschick’s opinion.)

Speaking of food, sourdough bread is all well and good but one wonders why The Equuschick made it in a kitchen without air conditioning when the humidity was 97 degrees.

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