Blackadder’s Lair

The home of many a cunning plan

Four Commencements and a Video

So people keep writing me asking what I think about the whole Obama commencement thing. I’m flattered. My opinion, in brief, is that I think Notre Dame’s having him was a mistake, basically for the reasons Rick has laid out here, but I think that the reaction to the invite has been over the top and out of proportion to the issue involved. The sheer passion on both sides of the debate suggests, to me at least, that the controversy is really a proxy for some deeper political disagreements among Catholics. And as Forrest Gump was wont to say, that’s all I have to say about that.

Anyway, the whole matter got me reminiscing about the various commencements I’ve attended over the years.

Leaving aside minor events, the first commencement I attended was my graduation from college. Nobel Prize winning physicist Steven Weinberg was the chosen speaker, and chose to make the focus of his remarks the need for additional research funding for his department, and the advisability of the state adopting an income tax in order to make that happen. The speech also contained the line “When you tell people you went to Texas, no one will care how the football team is doing . . . at least not if they are an adult.” This got a sizable boo from the audience. Continue reading

March 28, 2009 Posted by | Education, Politics | Leave a comment

D.C. Kids Ask Obama to Save School Choice

February 26, 2009 Posted by | Education | 1 Comment


Almost every weekday, 14-year-old Tiffany Adams rises before 6 a.m. in the Newark, New Jersey, home she shares with her grandmother and sisters. She dons her school uniform and catches two New Jersey Transit buses across the city, arriving at Christ the King Preparatory School, a Catholic high school that opened in September 2007, at 8. Most days she goes to the standard ninth-grade classes: algebra, Spanish, Western Civ. By all accounts, she excels at them. She is ranked first in her class. Her favorite subject is math, she says, “because it challenges me.”

But five school days a month, Adams skips the uniform and dons business attire. On those days, after a morning assembly, she bypasses the classrooms and hops instead into a van bound for Essex County College. There Adams works in the human resources department from 9:30 a.m. to 5:15 p.m. or so, scheduling résumé appointments, doing clerical work, and generally keeping the place functioning. Far from being a distraction, this opportunity to work while going to school is what drew Adams to Christ the King in the first place. “I thought it would be a good school for me to learn about business,” she says. “I would like to be an entrepreneur.” Continue reading

August 5, 2008 Posted by | Education | 1 Comment

Boys are Better (and Worse) at Math Than Girls

Girls and boys have roughly the same average scores on state math tests, but boys more often excelled or failed, researchers reported.

The fresh research adds to the debate about gender difference in aptitude for mathematics, including efforts to explain the relative scarcity of women among professors of science, math and engineering.

In the 1970s and 1980s, studies regularly found that high- school boys tended to outperform girls. But a number of recent studies have found little difference.

The latest study, in this week’s journal Science, examined scores from seven million students who took statewide mathematics tests from grades two through 11 in 10 states between 2005 and 2007.

The researchers, from the University of Wisconsin and the University of California, Berkeley, didn’t find a significant overall difference between girls’ and boys’ scores. But the study also found that boys’ scores were more variable than those of girls. More boys scored extremely well — or extremely poorly — than girls, who were more likely to earn scores closer to the average for all students.

Continue reading

July 30, 2008 Posted by | Education, Equality, Media, Statistics | Leave a comment

What is Intelligent Design Theory?

It seems to me that there are at least four different ways we might characterize Intelligent Design theory.

1. As an alternative to Evolution. On this view ID folks would bear more or less the same relationship to Evolutionary biologists as Copernicans did to Aristotelian astronomers in the Sixteenth century.

The problem with this characterization is that Intelligent Design theory of itself seems too vague and minimalistic to constitute a real alternative to evolution. All ID folks will say is that life on this planet is a result (at least in part) of some intelligent force or being(s). They deliberately will not say what the nature of this force is (God? aliens? time-travelers?), nor do they have much as a group to say about how this force accomplished its task (was it done ex nihilo? did it happen instantaneously or over time, and if so how much time? was it done directly or via some mechanism, and if the latter, what is the mechanism?) Some ID advocates are willing to accept large swaths of evolutionary theory (Michael Behe, for example, is willing to accept the common ancestry of all living things) others aren’t. Without saying more, it’s hard to see why ID theory couldn’t even be compatible with Evolution. Continue reading

July 21, 2008 Posted by | Education, Evolution, Philosophy, Science | 3 Comments

The Surprising Origin of America’s Public Schools

As in many other countries, public education in the United States began at the instigation of churches. For a long time, schooling was openly religious. In the 1820s, in New York and in other states, legislators became concerned that many students were receiving the wrong type of education. It was not that children were going uneducated – in 1821, about 93 percent of New York’s school age youths were already attending private schools. As expressed in legislative debates, the fear was that students educated in private Catholic schools would learn the wrong values and end up becoming criminals. If Protestant schools could be made less expensive through government subsidies, the legislators reasoned, some Catholics would transfer their children there, thus saving them from a life of crime. Continue reading

February 23, 2008 Posted by | Education, History | 3 Comments