Thursday, February 08, 2007

Take your hat off, when you’re talking to me and be there when I feed the blog*

As it was so aptly, and anonymously, suggested in the comments section, this blog is getting moldy. I can assure you that my lack of production isn’t because I’ve taken up some nefarious activities such as joining the Roman Cultural Society.

I recognize that a blog must be fed regularly if it is to remain healthy and vibrant. But I decided early on that I would not tide BFS over by stuffing it with junk food or tossing it tiny morsels unfit for consumption. If I lacked the resources to serve BFS a hearty and satisfying offering, then it would just have to go hungry. And here, the food analogy thankfully comes to a close.

It would be a shame, however, to see BFS whither away from malnutrition (the analogy returns), so I will offer you a little something to chew on until something more substantial can be prepared.

I was chatting with an old friend last night. He is a fellow at the Morgue Institute, a privately-funded think tank that was founded on the campus of Quincy College in the late 80s. We discussed the last BFS post on education and intelligence. He suggested an analogy that I found quite apt despite the fact that it didn’t have anything to do with nutrition or sustenance.

His analogy compared intelligence with athleticism. Both require training to maximize their potential, but that potential is also limited by our innate abilities, or lack thereof.

For example, I could have spent every minute that I devoted as a youth to collecting Wizard of Oz memorabilia and instead spent that time at the Nelson Center and I still wouldn’t have risen to the level of the incomparable Brian Boitano.

So if it is foolish to train every child for a career in professional sports, and I think that we can agree that it is, is it not also foolish to send each child down an educational path designed to go through college and into a white collar career?

That’s not to say that education can’t be beneficial to every child, but that there is a point where the complexity of the subject matter surpasses some people’s ability to comprehend it. There’s a reason I haven’t pursued my doctorate in molecular immunology and it’s not because I’m not drawn to their lifestyle, what with the bling and the Benjamins and what not. I’m simply not smart enough to grasp the intricacies of fungal toxins.

Or am I selling myself short? If I had grown up idolizing Dr. Janko Nikolich-Zugich instead of Judy Garland**, would my passion for antigen/antibody interaction have propelled me to the upper echelons of scholarship in the field of biology? Or would my dreams of Nobel prizes been crushed under a pile of incomprehensible physicochemical properties?

I guess we’ll never know for sure. I’ve often thought that the only thing that stood between me and a lucrative career as a physician was that I have a lousy memory. I could probably hack med school, but it would take me twice the allowed time to graduate. And no one wants to see a doctor who’s slow on the take.

But what about you? Do you believe that your mind is infinitely capable of deciphering even the most complex of subjects? Or have you come to concede some cognitive shortcomings? Your thoughtful and lengthy comments will help to keep BFS from going hungry.

*Tanya Donelly’s all right!

**I’m not sure why the idolization of Judy Garland is funny. It just is. If you don’t believe me, check out the movie After Hours sometime.


Paul Frehley said...

This blog was savory yet nutritious.

Great analogy by your friend. Couldn't agree more.

And while I am in the mood to agree, I concur that doctors would be fry cooks without that one special gift. The reverence that this society gives to doctors and judges baffles me. Both professions certainly have their share of boobs.

Nice to have you back.

nancy said...

OK, I'm going to have "Feed the Trees" in my head all day.

Now on to the issue at hand. Not to throw my weight around, but I was fortunate enough to be able to consult with the Illinois Community College Board's Director of Career and Technical Education over breakfast this morning. He certainly believes strongly in post-secondary education, but shed some very interesting light on the plight AND potential of the under-performing high school student.

Back in my high school days, "Vo-Pros", as they were known, didn't garner a whole lot of respect from the more mainstream students. Thanks to career and technical education courses more widely available at community colleges, those narrow-minded attitudes towards non-bachelor's degree education are beginning to change.

My source, let's call him Rock Robster, explains how a lot of kids who don't perform well in math at the high school level are able to excel at applying those very same concepts in technical education classes.The same is true for the sciences. What doesn't make sense as an obscure text book example, takes on a whole new meaning when applied directly to specific training.

It was explained to me how programs in allied health fields can allow a student to receive certification in specific areas of training, procure a very well-paying job (better than many entry level bachelor's - requiring positions) and while they are earning this livable wage, continue their education until receiving a bachelor's degree.

Like you eluded to in the previous post, Dan, many bachelor's degrees leave people in no better position to perform a specific job than someone not holding that degree. That's not the case with career and technical education degrees where students are trained for specific jobs. As Rock Robster said, most non-MD jobs at hospitals are career and technical fields, such as nursing and x-ray technicians, just to name a few. They tend to be more flexible jobs, probably because the training is virtually completed before hand.

I'm not trying to be a big commercial for these programs, but to me, it's very encouraging that they exist for the non-traditional, under-performing students. Certainly there will always be students who are bachelor's, master's and phD bound and who will fill the vacancies in the workforce requiring those degrees. I think it's good to have an answer for those students who maybe really don't have the potential or requisite learning capacity for those degrees. We don't have to write them off as unteachable.

Dan B (no, not Bennett, think harder) said...

Speaking of Judy Garland, there is an exciting and popular new group on Yahoo called THE JUDY GARLAND EXPERIENCE. It has ultra rare files, amazing photo's, lively discussions, and more! The only thing missing is you. Please check it out.

Tammy said...


I really enjoy your blog as it is extremely witty and it urges me look up words in the dictionary that I have NEVER heard... seems strange considering I live with Springfield's biggest trivia geek (and I mean that with the upmost love & admiration).

But one has to can someone who references Judy Garland and Brian Boitano in a single post make fun of James Blunt?!?!?

BlogFreeSpringfield said...


Judy Garland and Brian Boitano are national treasures. James Blunt is a sick, sick man.

Thanks for commenting,

PS I really don't have any opinion either way about Judy and Brian. But I do despise James with every fiber of my being.

Dave H said...

In the words of the immortal Judge Schmales..."the world needs ditch diggers too"

nancy said...

Immortal, indeed. Rest in peace, Ted Knight.

BlogFreeSpringfield said...


This Rock Robster, he is wise.

Because of the reasons you mentioned, I think that community colleges are going to big part of the solution to the skyrocketing costs of a university education. More kids will get their associates, begin their careers, and then if they decide they need a bachelor's degree, they'll seek the rest of their credits through online courses. In my experience, online classes are no substitute for a classroom seminar, but they are a far more economical one.

a lot of kids who don't perform well in math at the high school level are able to excel at applying those very same concepts in technical education classes

This brings up an interesting point. I've been reading a book, which is geared towards advertising and PR, that sets forth principles on how to construct messages that stick with people, rather than going in one ear and out the other.
The authors mention that the reason students in some countries do better in math than they do in the U.S. is because their teachers present the material in context of a relatable subject, such as a particular profession, as they do in technical schools.

Thanks for commenting,

The Abstract Prosaic said...

Dave H stole my line.

Laura said...

The points being made here resonate with me because of a continuing problem i've been facing in my professional capacity. I work in software development, and the product we are currently building represents a significant shift in our software development practices because the power to develop has been put into the hands of the business analysts. We aren't writing traditional programming code in a traditional programming language, and wouldn't know how to anyway. But we've been given tools that allow us to build and configure the software with visual workflows, shapes, and design surfaces that write the code behind the scenes. Blah blah blah, I know.

The point of this is that, there are three of us who have become extremely adept at this development. And it's a powerful thing, to both understand the business and be able to realize it in the development code. Normally there are the business people and the techincal people, resulting in an on-going battle of communication and translation to implement the business into the technology.

The three of us, though, have been getting knocked by management because other business analysts on the staff are not as proficient at it as we are. The powers that be feel this is because we are unwilling to train, mentor, and teach these people 'how to do it'. God forbid, anyone acknowledge that maybe we do have some special skills, talents, or smarts that enable us to master this type of work whereas others just can't. The prevailing assumption is that anyone should be able to do what we do, that one body replaces another body seemlessly. That's insulting, frankly, but also a dangerous way of thinking. Now I'm being held accountable for the success of others who may truly just be incapable of success in this line of work. Essentially, the job changed, and some get it while others don't.

To which I say, 'don't kid yourself judge, you're an incredible slouch.'

BlogFreeSpringfield said...


I didn't understand a word of what you wrote in the first paragraph, but I think I caught your point in the second. Intelligence isn't a commodity that can be traded to enrich the lives of others; specialized intelligence even more so. The teacher-student model of learning is a two-way street and the responsibility for success doesn't lie solely with the teacher.

Thanks for commenting,

nancy said...


You didn't mention whether you tried to mentor your coworkers and they just didn't get it, or you didn't try because it's not your job to make them understand these complicated concepts. I think in a competitive workforce, either is acceptable. You shouldn't be asked to make yourself less of a valuable commodity by leveling the playing field with coworkers.

But I think it's entirely different when we're talking about educating children. Here, efforts must be made by teachers and administration (not classmates, as your example would relate to)to offer assistance to those students who may not be as quick to the draw. I agree with Dan that teachers can't do it all. I know I spend an awful lot of time reviewing homework and studying for tests with my kids, and I'm happy to do that. But there are many children who don't receive that help at home. I can think of at least three commenters here who will say " That's the breaks. That's the cards they were dealt". I have close friends who have a child that struggles mightily at school. His older brother and younger sister are both very, very bright and excellent students, and he's just not. Despite his parents spending extra time with him, he is still in need of extra help from the school, in terms of remedial education. It makes me grateful, that at least so far, my children don't struggle that way. But I know that that could change at any time, and it wouldn't be improper to ask the school to pay attention to these students' problems and try to help. That doesn't mean that you will necessarily ever get that child up to the level of others his age, but you can help him reach his own potential.

Geez Dan, I'm starting to get a little jaded here at BFS. I'm sure there's some devil's advocacy at play here, but there doesn't seem to be a whole lotta love out there for blacks, Muslims, the homeless and dumb kids.

Laura said...


I think you need to be careful in your generalizations at the end of your post. Admittedly, I don't have a lot of love for gang thugs, terrorists, and those who could but refuse to help themselves. Yes, there are blacks, Muslims, homeless and dumb kids that fall into those categories (as well as there are whites, Westerners, home-full's(?) and smart kids that fall into those categories also). I think you've gone a little overboard in suggesting that the discourse here has been general prejudice or disdain toward all these groups as a whole.

nancy said...

I need to be careful about MY generalizations????? Holy crap!!!!
Every contentious subject on this blog has been wrought with generalizations from commenters.(Muslims=terroists, blacks=criminals looking for a payout after playing race card, Homeless=lazy addicted criminals) Dan, can you write something about gay rights so we can watch people NOT generalize about them? Please?
It's uncomfortable when the generalizations are directed toward ourselves.

I am not going to apologize for expressing my opinion about the cynicism I see quite often. Spouting off about those not given the same opportunities as you and blaming them for not starting out on the same playing field is nothing but classism and elitism. Because Oprah was able to overcome her meager beginnings does not mean every child with a similar upbringing will be able to do that. Believing that only lets people go to sleep at night, content that they are not judging or classifying groups of people. These broad generalizations are not only occuring here certainly, although I know that's what I implied. I find these attitudes much more prevalent on other blogs. That I will apologize for, Dan. I was talking in general terms about most times where a person's true opinion is heard, not just this blog, which I thoroughly enjoy. It doesn't mean I don't stoke the flames a little myself. I love the challenge.

It's disheartening to me that there seem to be general feelings of "Not my problem. They did it to themselves. It's all about me and how other people's problems make ME feel." Many of us seem to forget the support, and yes, hand outs we received growing up, such as the charity of the Catholic church providing us with a free education (back in the day). I liken it to a newborn baby who is born very sick. Is that the fault of the baby, who should be written off as sickly and underdeveloped and not given any special treatment? Or should special care and provisions be made to try to help that baby be as healthy and productive as it possibly can be especially since it had absolutely no say in how it's life would be from birth?

That said, rarely does anyone agree with what I say here, so I know mine are not popular opinions. But I will continue to have my opinions and raise my kids to have open minds and open hearts and to understand that not everyone has it as good as they do, weren't lucky enough to have been born white with married parents who would do anything for them, with an extended family that would never let them be homeless even if they did have the nerve to have an addiction, who were blessed with brains that serve them very well and a faith that is widely accepted where they live. I take credit for none of that. I just think how lucky we are and I don't feel inclined to cast judgment on anyone who has not been afforded those same things. If the same is true of any of the rest of you, great.

Believe it or not, this is an highly edited version of my original response. I stand by what I say here, but welcome criticsms and generalizations about me, as that is how I learn and sometimes dare to change my mind.

monkey boy said...

Laura is right. I have yet to see anyone write a blanket statement indicting an entire race, or class. However, that is obviously Nancy's interpretation.

On a related note, that is what scares me about the media's ability to influence an individual's beliefs. Seemingly it doesn't matter what the overall content of an article is, it is the way it is presented that influences.

And some are more gullible than others.

Laura said...

I don't think anyone who has participated in this discussion ever said anything remotely close to the generalizations you included in your last post, about Muslims or blacks or the homeless, unless i am not reading the same blog you are. I know I didn't take any of those positions, and, just in case anyone thinks that I am the commenter to which you referred, I don't want to be characterized as that person.

In fact I think that you are the one invoking those stereotypes by taking any opinion slightly contrary to yours and turning it into an extreme stereotype or prejudice by responding to it as though it represents the extreme anti-position to yours. Sure, it's easier to score points and win arguments, and probably makes for better reading, if before you engage in the debate, you move the stance or positions of other participants further to the right than they ever were originally. It's effective in that you make your position look like sheer common sense. But it's not fair. There are lots of people, myself included, commenting from a middle ground, who stand in the middle of the aisle and can see valid points on both sides of the debate.

Someone who is not entirely with you isn't automatically entirely against you either, and doesn't deserve to have their stance manipulated in the quest to win the argument. It may become more of a challenge to respond to the not-so-blatantly offensive comments that you prefer to take on, but that's when the debate gets good, and opinions truly can be swayed by a persuasive, thought-provoking argument that moves them from the middle.

You say you aren't inclined to cast judgements on others, but the truth is you cast lots of judgement every time you participate in this blog - maybe not against Muslims, homeless, and black people, but certainly against other people who comment here. We all do. It's the nature of the commentary - you're sharing your judgement of a particular issue, and in the process, like it or not, you are judging those who don't agree with you. And because you are a good writer, rest assured it comes through loud and clear in your responses.

Believe it or not, lots of us are trying to raise our kids to have open minds and open hearts. Even those of us who don't agree with absolutely every liberal position we've seen here.

If anyone still remembers the topic at hand, I actually agree that no student deserves to get written off, and certainly no young student deserves blame for their lack of success in the classroom. I was merely responding to Dan's original post wondering if some people may simply lack the capability to excel in the traditional classroom (or in my example, in a specific line of work). I guess that's why I feel like my position was distorted - nothing I wrote suggested not 'a whole lotta love' for dumb kids. But that's what I got saddled with in your reply to my post.

brunettechicagogal said...

Nancy: I'm with you on much of what you say. I'm not indicting Dan's blog, but I do agree that the sentiment you express in this statement: "It's disheartening to me that there seem to be general feelings of 'Not my problem. They did it to themselves. It's all about me and how other people's problems make ME feel'" does seem to prevail and not just in the blogosphere." Those of us whose skin is white are especially privileged in the United States in ways that many of us are loathe to acknowledge (there's a great article on this called "Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack" by Peggy McIntosh) for if we do, we stand to lose the power we have within this society.

To elaborate on those who apply the "it's not my problem" sentiment to education, they are extremely short-sighted. People don't realize the extent of the social costs (both financial and otherwise) of those among us who do not graduate from high school. This link sums it up quite well:

paul frehley said...

I looked back over all the responses in this blog and couldn't find "it is not my problem" either literally or figuratively.

For a bunch of privileged, well-educated, literate people there sure is a lot of miscommunication.....or is it generalization.

BlogFreeSpringfield said...

I won’t attempt to speak for others or try to determine what’s in their heart, but I will try to explain why I thought this was a worthy subject for discussion.

First off, I made a point of saying that everyone can benefit from an education and everyone deserves an education. Second, I didn’t mention race or class because I don’t believe those are determining factors in intelligence. I agree that an inner city black kid whose dad is absent and whose mom works three jobs to provide for him isn’t going to have the opportunities that most of us had. But that wasn’t meant to be the point of discussion.

My point was that as a simple matter of biology, intellect varies and treating everyone as if they are equal in this regard does a disservice to them.

I’ll use myself as an example.

Math is not my strong suit. In high school I took only two years of math, the minimum required. Now let’s say my father was an MIT alum and he used his influence to get me accepted despite my lack of aptitude or prerequisites. I would have struggled greatly to keep up with my classmates, most likely would have flunked out, and possibly been turned off from formal education for the rest of my life. That doesn’t make me a dumb kid, although I may have felt like one.

I think that a similar scenario is common in schools everywhere when we send the kids down the same scholastic path assuming that they are all capable of learning the same material at the same speed. I understand that when you are educating children in mass you can’t tailor a curriculum to each individual child. But I do think that when we are trying to figure out what’s wrong with schools the answer isn’t automatically lack of money, bad teachers, or irresponsible parents.

I was hoping that the discussion would focus on you answer to this question:

Do you believe - regardless of race, class, or sexual orientation – that people possess varying degrees of intellect and that that will affect how well they do in school?

Thanks for commenting,

Paco said...

Having read the two initial posts on this subject, and the myriad of comments posted to date, I have several thoughts here. Therefore, this comment may be somewhat disjointed, so bear with me.

Examining the issue at hand, it seems to me that this breaks down to a "nature vs nurture" discussion. Do people have innate and disparate capacities for intelligence, or are people's capability for learning equal, but limited by the circumstances of their environment? If one examines the issue from this perspective, socio-economic issues certainly have a place in the discussion, as the counterpoint to the "intellect as a simple matter of biology" argument. Personally, I do think that each individual has a unique capacity for intellect and learning. That being said, a person's environment can influence their ability to achieve that capacity. Two people of similar motivation and intellects will achieve to different levels based on the resources and opportunities available to them.

Notice I used the word motivation in the paragraph above. This is because learning is not a passive endeavor. Rather it requires active participation on the part of the student. Therefore, the student (once they reach a certain age) is not completely free of blame if they fail to achieve. The student has to want to learn, otherwise no inate capacity for intellect, no special teaching attention, no amount of learning resources will allow the student to reach their potential.

Now for a teacher's perspective. My wife, a teacher, believes schools are addressing the issue of varying learning levels. As part of the interview process, schools often ask how the teacher plans to provide the necessary attention to struggling students while keeping the advanced students engaged. Furthermore, the practice of dividing the classroom into groups of like learning levels for a particular subject is common. This allows each group to receive teaching commensurate with their capacity to learn.

Ultimately, the issue of inborn versus environmentally developed intellect is difficult to prove, and may never be resolved. The only way to determine intellect is to evaluate what is actually learned. Unfortunately, this often differs greatly from what could potentially be learned. So, like other nature versus nurture issues, the debate must continue.

nancy said...

Well, you've all certainly put me in my place ( thanks for having my back, brunettechicagogal). I had no idea how stupid the mainstream media was making me. Thanks for the heads up.

I never said I don't cast judgments on anyone. I said I don't feel inclined to cast judgments on others who haven't been afforded the same opportunities that I have, and then criticize them for their lot in life. Will I judge the opinions of well-educated people? Sure. There's a huge difference in judging entire groups of people based on stereotypes and cliches and judging people, or more accurately the opinions of people, who CHOOSE to express their very well-articulated thoughts in a public forum. I think you leave yourself open to that scrutiny.

The reaction to my post suprises me a bit. I value the give-and-take and diverse opinions here on this blog. It would be kind of boring if everyone agreed all the time. (I guess, take me out of the equation and everybody would!)I welcome the criticisms about what I say because I understand that that's how this works here: I freely post my opinions. I am putting myself out there and I have a responsibility to listen to the reaction. I don't feel attacked by the responses, and yes, some of the responses to me have been much more direct and pointed than I have ever dealt out. And readers always know without a doubt you're talking about me since I'm usually the only one on my side. (I hope this isn't beginning to sound like a pity party. I don't feel bad at all.) However, this is at least the second time that I've been cautioned to back off of what I'm trying to say,at the risk of offending someone. Believe me, I have been offended here many, many times, but have never issued a warning to "Be careful" that I'm starting to offend someone else. I'm getting a real feeling of "How dare she?" here, but if I am so off-base, why the hyper-defensiveness? Why the comments like "just in case anyone thinks that I am the commenter to which you referred, I don't want to be characterized as that person." You and I don't get to say we don't want to be characterized a certain way in this format. Your writing characterizes you, like it or not.

And finally, please believe me, I have no delusions that I have ever scored points or won arguments here ever.

nancy said...


Thanks for bringing the discussion back around. You make a lot of excellent points.

Laura said...

Paco took my next line of comment and stated it much more articulately than I will. But, when I was a psychology student at Quincy, we talked quite a bit about the relative influences of heredity vs. environment. A common analogy to illustrate this point likens each of us to a rubberband. Our DNA determines the flexibility and adaptability of each of our rubberbands, and sets our natural limits, but how far we actually stretch it, is in large part determined by our environment and our opportunities. So I concur, there are varying levels of intellect, but that is only half of the equation in someone's ultimate chance to achieve.

Nancy, I wasn't cautioning you to be careful because I was offended by your remarks. I was cautioning you to be careful because I think you are misrepresenting the comments that I and other people have made here, and that is certainly not your right. My writing characterizes me and I'll stand by what I've said, but your opinions of my stances certainly don't characterize me or give you the right to throw classist or elitest labels on me.

You seem to really belabor the point that no one ever agrees with you here, that everyone is of like mind except you. I didn't take it as a pity party, but I think these comments reinforce my point. I see lots of varying opinions on this blog, lots of different degrees of agreement or disagreement. You seem to put everyone as solidly in one camp or the other, with you as the lone camper on your side. I simply don't see it that way. The views expressed here just aren't as extreme as you portray them, and that's why I take exception to the way you classify some of my opinions. Just because I don't completely agree with you doesn't mean I completely disagree with you either, but it seems you won't have it any other way.

nancy said...

My sincere and heartfelt apologies that I have misrepresented anyone's personal beliefs here. I am extremely passionate about these issues and perhaps I get carried away. I still enjoy the debate very much, but if it has gotten to the point where feelings get hurt and people feel like they're being attacked, then the benefits of the discussion are completely lost and that's not what I want to participate in. It's counterproductive. The argument has become a dissection of the words we choose to use instead of the ideas we're trying to convey. If the opinions of others here have indeed been expressed to be middle-of-the-road, then I admittedly have missed that. But one does not need to be middle-of-the-road or left to have my respect. I consider this blog in particular to be a demanding workout of my brain and I DO learn from others here. I don't want to ruin the experience for everyone else by overextending myself. So, I'm sorry.

Yellowdog said...

"Cant we all just get along"?

Laura said...

Actually I'm pretty sure we all do get along, which is the beauty of debating intelligent people who are passionate about issues and can present their positions so eloquently and persuasively. I, too, depend on BFS for intellectual discussions otherwise sorely lacking in my life, and I hope nothing I've written here has ever been taken as a personal attack. And if it has, I'm sorry too.

M.B. said...


Write about the Red-Hat Society again. We all do not seem to have a problem bashing them.

Anonymous said...

As an out-of-towner watching this argument from afar, I have to say that the communication breakdown occurred between posters nancy and laura.

Here is what I see – and I’ll use quotes as to not misrepresent anyone’s words.

nancy said:
Geez Dan, I'm starting to get a little jaded here at BFS. I'm sure there's some devil's advocacy at play here, but there doesn't seem to be a whole lotta love out there for blacks, Muslims, the homeless and dumb kids.

To which laura replied:
I think you need to be careful in your generalizations at the end of your post. Admittedly, I don't have a lot of love for gang thugs, terrorists, and those who could but refuse to help themselves. Yes, there are blacks, Muslims, homeless and dumb kids that fall into those categories (as well as there are whites, Westerners, home-full's(?) and smart kids that fall into those categories also). I think you've gone a little overboard in suggesting that the discourse here has been general prejudice or disdain toward all these groups as a whole.

Was the post from nancy flippant and possibly facetious? Perhaps . . . but nowhere does she “suggest” that anyone was advocating a “general prejudice or disdain toward all these groups (by “groups” one can assume that poster laura was referring back to blacks, Muslims, homeless and dumb kids) as a whole.”

After that, all Heck broke loose . . .