Remedial Education for All

A few years ago, the school district where I teach became enamored with a book called The One Thing by real estate mogul Gary Keller. Keller argued that, rather than spreading out effort over many different objectives, the secret to success was to identify and focus on the one thing that mattered most for achieving your goal. Taken with this insight, our superintendent asked every principal in the district to determine the “One Thing” that would be the unifying focus of their campus efforts. When teachers returned from summer break that year, we learned about this new initiative and the specific cause that our principal had selected for us to rally around.

Our high school wasn’t going to focus on helping students develop better problem-solving skills, increasing student engagement, or even on aligning our curriculums more closely to the demands of standardized tests. In fact, we weren’t going to focus on anything that would be relevant to the majority of our students. Our One Thing was to improve the educational outcomes of our “critical students”—the lowest achieving five percent who had not passed standardized tests and were most at risk of not graduating. In a school with over 2,000 students, we were told that improving the scores of our bottom 100 was what mattered most.

While a bit more blunt than is typical, this was only stating a hidden reality of which most educators were already aware. Public education, today, is far more concerned with raising the grades and test scores of its lowest achieving students than with pushing all students towards a higher standard. Of course, schools would love everyone to learn more and they are eager to highlight any academic achievement that they can use to create the illusion of educational excellence. But in a world of finite resources, the priorities are quite clear. Whenever a school has to choose, they will sacrifice the benefit of the many to focus on the least successful few.

Many would argue that this is how it should be—that schools should embrace the Rawlsian ethic and direct the majority of their attention to supporting the least advantaged, whose environments or talents make them less likely to become successful students. Such sentiments are particularly common in education, where I’ve often heard teachers make the case that: Good students don’t really need you. They will do well no matter what. The students who really need you are the ones who don’t care about school. As progressive as this sounds, it speaks to a culture that does not actually believe that the subjects they teach matter.

Considering the needs of each student, why should so much emphasis be placed on teaching algebra to a high school student who still can’t multiply single-digit numbers in his head. By high school, most “critical students” are years behind their peers. They often don’t know the difference between a democracy and a dictatorship, where China is relative to Australia, or that “I” is supposed to be capitalized. Barring an enormous and unlikely investment of energy, they will not enter a field that requires academic competency. This is not to say that motivated students should not have access to remediation. But the vast majority of critical students would benefit far more from getting work experience in a specific trade than from prolonging this painful educational charade. It seems foolish for a teacher to pay less attention to students who are likely to need higher-level academic skills in their future, so that he can pull uninterested students aside to quiz them on the parts of the cell.

By contrast, most other students need to be challenged to go beyond superficial task work. But, the higher-order skills that high schools should be focused on developing require a level of attention, rigor, and skilled feedback that remediation-focused teachers are not able to offer. Consequently, the majority of high school graduates today are not adequately prepared. A 2010 report revealed that of the 23 member universities in the California State University system, all of which demand a college-preparatory curriculum completed with at least a B average, “68 percent of the 50,000 entering freshmen at CSU campuses require remediation in English/language arts, math, or both.” And if these same standards were applied by the California Community Colleges, “their remediation rates would exceed 80 percent.”

The report (which comes from the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education and the Southern Regional Education Board) goes on to argue that most other states would have similar findings. Indeed, according to former professor and United States Assistant Secretary of Education, Chester E. Finn Jr.:

For years now, the College Board, the American College Testing program, and, more recently, the National Assessment of Educational Progress have supplied data indicating that the percentage of 12th graders (or 12th-grade test-takers) who are truly ready for college coursework is somewhere below 40.

None of this is likely to surprise Americans. According to 2018 Gallup polls, only three percent of Americans thought high school graduates were “very well prepared for college” and only five percent thought they were “very well prepared for work.” Most people sense that our education system is falling short, yet we struggle to identify many of the most obvious causes and their solutions. Most notably, by placing a disproportionate emphasis on the education of less capable students, schools downgrade the education of everyone else. Teachers lower their standards and their role shifts from academic and developmental experts to that of activity-organizers. Mainstream students skate by without ever cultivating a capacity for logical analysis, synthesis, written argument, or any of the competencies that will be most valuable after high school. Even Advanced Placement courses are often forced to lower their standards, as many parents realize that the mainstream track is inadequate and decide to push their kids into classes they aren’t prepared for.

This is, perhaps, best seen in the effects of American special education policies. Over the past few decades, schools have embraced practices of inclusion (also known as mainstreaming) which prioritize keeping students with disabilities in regular classes as much as possible. As of 2016, 60 percent of students with disabilities spent 80 percent of their day or more in “mainstream” classes. A number of studies point to the benefits of inclusion on special education students, but there is considerably less research about the effects of inclusion on the rest of the class. What evidence there is indicates that mainstreaming students with disabilities tends to decrease the time teachers spend on instruction, while increasing the time spent on classroom management and the likelihood that teachers will change professions. Such negative consequences are consistent with my own experience. Even more, they are obvious when you consider the practical implications of special education policies.

In America today, nearly every mainstream class features a number of special education students who have their own Individualized Education Plan (IEP) and/or their own 504 plan (designed to support students with disabilities). Despite their differing legal origins, the tangible effects of IEPs and 504s are basically the same. Both are legal documents that require teachers to individualize a student’s educational experience and provide additional support beyond what is typical. This support comes either in the form of accommodations, which require teachers to change how they present information to the student, or modifications, which require teachers to change what they teach altogether. Common accommodations include offering extended time on assignments, reducing the number of answer choices on assignments, shortening assignments, offering breaks, frequent checks for understanding, preferential seating, and providing class notes to the student. Common modifications include creating different test questions, making alternate assignments, and grading based on a different standard.

Any of these adjustments can be necessary to meet a specific student's needs. For example, a dyslexic student will need more time and support on reading assignments. Often, such students can succeed academically with a little understanding and adaptation from their teachers. Still, many students with disabilities are far more demanding. Too often, the accommodations and modifications we expect from teachers are unrealistic and show no concern for the broader learning environment.

Teachers often have anywhere from five to 10 IEP and 504 students in any given class and as many as seven classes each day. They struggle to keep track of each student’s modifications and accommodations, to document how they met each requirement, and to ensure that each is provided subtly enough that other students won’t notice. All the while, staff meetings and school emails constantly remind teachers to do everything possible to help struggling students pass. Every incentive seems to pull their attention away from developing high quality instruction and challenging the class at large. Eventually the dams break. Overwhelmed teachers decide that rather than trying to remember which students get fill-in-the-blank notes, they will give them to all students. Rather than remembering who gets extended time, they’ll accept everyone’s late work without penalty, and the entire class will move at a slower pace so that assignments don’t stack up on those who have more time. Rather than creating a separate study guide for their accommodation students, they give all students a sneak-peek study guide that lists exactly what is on the test.

Still, many students, “mainstream” and not, will have failing grades near the end of the grading period, and few teacher sins elicit as much grief as a “high” failure rate. So, teachers learn to fill courses with easy completion grades and to spend the last week of any grading period pestering students to turn in missing work. Mainstream students come to expect all of these allowances. Thus, any teacher intent on maintaining higher standards will have to do so against the grain of a campus culture in which students have never taken their own notes or had tests with essay and short-answer sections. To stay sane, most teachers succumb to the pressure and begin making a succession of compromises. This can be quite devastating, as illustrated by the comments of a former teacher who was a beta-reader for my upcoming book:

Reading from your education experience made me revisit my own, which was mostly an enjoyable nostalgia until your 504/IEP section gave me minor PTSD! … This was definitely one of the things that drove me out. Keeping up was too much and lowering my standards was too defeating.

Despite all these costs, there is reason to suspect that many struggling 504/IEP students would be better served outside the mainstream classroom. In one recent study, Lynn Fuchs et al took 203 students with disabilities who were behind in fourth grade math and placed them into one of two groups. The first group received targeted special education techniques outside the mainstream class. The other group stayed in a regular classroom environment, with accommodations. These interventions remained in place for three years. In each year, the group who received specialized intervention, rather than inclusive instruction, tended to show “significantly stronger learning and markedly smaller post-intervention achievement gaps.”

But that is not even the most significant implication of this study. While students with specialized intervention didn’t fall as far behind as their peers in inclusive instruction, the size of the achievement gap still grew for students of both groups. That is, over the course of three years, from fourth to sixth grade, the gap between these struggling students and their classmates grew even larger, regardless of the type of instruction students received. One can only assume that these gaps would grow even wider and more discouraging as students continued their educational careers.

None of this is surprising when you consider the vast differences in many students' home lives. The unfortunate reality is that ability and upbringing really do matter. Even the best teachers usually won’t make a dent against a home environment that does not value education. This is not to suggest that schools should ignore the needs of students who are less talented, have harder home lives, or come from less academic pedigrees. Indeed, it is necessary and wonderful that teachers are passionate about trying to reach such students. But we can’t expect teachers to reliably compensate for large voids. Even more, we can’t stunt the development of all students in the name of this naive pursuit.

I recently spoke with a friend of mine—a second grade teacher with over 30 years of experience. Right now, about a third of the students in her class have not been inside a classroom since March of 2020, while the rest attended school in-person for most of last year. Try as teachers might, six-year-olds are just not well-equipped to learn online. Thus, my friend’s class is made up of students at vastly different levels. Those who attended school or had a support system that facilitated learning at home are prepared for a second-grade curriculum. But they are not getting one. As directed, this teacher has turned her second grade class into a review of first grade. Rather than identify and separate students to provide instruction based on their present need, her school has determined that all students should be taught at the lowest common denominator.

As calls for equality of outcome gain steam and schools make plans to reduce educational gaps that have been exacerbated by 18 months of virtual learning, we’d do well to remember the predictable costs of pretending we can make everything fair. Mass education will never be a perfect fit for everyone. Schools have to identify the competencies and attitudes that are most valuable and optimize in a way that brings the most possible students to high, yet reachable standards. When high school students fall too far behind and decide they aren’t interested in catching up, they should be able to pursue a vocational track that pushes them to develop other meaningful skills. These students will be far more likely to apply themselves if we give them relevant options like work apprenticeships, trade programs, and so on.

At its core, this is about maintaining the integrity of the learning environment. Too many in education today have no sense of the value that certain skills and habits of mind can have in people’s lives (or that these are the skills of which a high school diploma is supposed to indicate mastery). Education, to them, is just a prop to be given out in hopes of advancing a person's social positioning. They are willing to compromise standards at every turn in order to manufacture achievements that society has predetermined as "good." But in the process, they devalue those outcomes and the surrounding educational culture.

Consequently, earning a high school diploma is no longer evidence of attaining any baseline level of scholastic competency. It means nothing. This makes the college degree seem even more important because it is the first actual means to academic distinction. To meet the growing demand, colleges have made themselves more accessible to unprepared students while also becoming far more expensive. Rather than democratizing education, the futile attempt to offset every inequity has helped create an enormous pay wall. Students now have to go into debt in order to develop skills they would have once developed in high school.

When we prioritize the least successful students over their more well-prepared peers, we invariably lower standards for all students. Educators focus on gaming the system to produce "high" grades and graduation rates and in the process, everyone loses sight of why learning matters in the first place. Schools only work when teachers believe in the value of their lessons and students feel responsible for their own learning. In the absence of those vital components, everyone is less likely to succeed.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

To make mattes even worse (in NYC for example), the powers that be want to do away with advanced math, and also make admission to STEM schools based on racial quotas.


The drive for equality of outcome in education harms virtually every child in K-12, regardless of ability. The smartest quickly become bored with classes in which they are mismatched by ability, because they are asked to learn at a snail’s pace. Those in the middling range are similarly disenfranchised, but have the added disadvantage that when they fail to grasp a key concept, the teacher has little time to devote to middling pupil, as the majority of any classroom teacher’s time is likely to be eaten up by the four or five pupils who need the most help.

But by far the worst experience is reserved for the child who the ‘inclusion’ model is supposed to help. It verges on daily trauma. Imagine if you were one of those kids who struggled in every class. Wouldn’t you feel singled out, stigmatised and embarrassed by being one of those kids for which the teacher had to devote a major portion of their time, constantly checking to see whether you were following along, and often having to pause the class and explain in the frequent case of you struggling to keep up? Whatever the stigma of being placed in a special education class or specialised environment, surely it is less than always being the one who always holds the class back.

And as the article Remedial Education for All plainly shows, kids who receive specialist education outside of mainstream classes clearly do better than those who are subject to the baleful influence of misguided inclusion practices. This article is personal to me. My brother is dyslexic. He has a high IQ, has a Bachelors in Management Science (Sc.) and a Masters in Computing. He has worked in highly cognitive jobs including as an actuarial technician specialising in the then burgeoning field of computer modelling risk, before finally fulfilling a personal calling to become a chef, training at the Savoy, and cooking for everyone from Hollywood ‘A’ listers to royalty.

But much of what he achieved in his early career simply wouldn’t have been possible if he had been subject to the inclusion model for those with special needs. He was lucky enough to have a teacher as a mother, so his dyslexia was caught early- my mother noticed quite quickly the emerging gap between his verbal ability and other areas. Although the British Education system at the time wasn’t fully geared for Special Needs, my mother was able to get help from the Dyslexia Society in getting him diagnosed. As a result, he benefitted from countless one-to-one hours outside mainstream classes with a qualified Special Needs specialist, a rarity in those days, as well as my mother’s help.

And here’s the tragedy, especially amongst the neurodiverse and the dyslexic, many can be high functioning in terms of cognitive abilities. There are strong suspicions that both Albert Einstein and Leonardo Da Vinci were dyslexic. Many have looked at the behaviours and obsessions of Isaac Newton and Nikola Tesla and wondered whether they may have had autism spectrum disorders. Much of Einstein’s early educational life tallies with the experiences of a kid today being educated today in the inclusive model- despite showing early promise, the effect of his dyslexia on his reading and writing skills probably acted as a barrier to learning in other areas. With specialist one-to-one help early on, or even better a special school, he probably would have bloomed a lot earlier, and likely wouldn’t have spent a year disillusioned with science.

Perhaps the worst aspect of the idea that 'schools should embrace the Rawlsian ethic and direct the majority of their attention to supporting the least advantaged, whose environments or talents make them less likely to become successful students. Such sentiments are particularly common in education, where I’ve often heard teachers make the case that: Good students don’t really need you. They will do well no matter what.’ is the effect this has on the broader society.

For a start it simply isn’t true. There is ample evidence to suggest that, although there are always those who possess hidden potential who fall through the cracks in conventional education, there is likely to be substantial portion of ability which, if not stimulated and cultivated during the right periods during cognitive development, is forever lost. There is some debate whether this lost potential is more due to negative factors associated with lower socio-economic status or more because of the absence of positive factors, but the fact remains that we learn better when we are young and although the claim that those who fail to learn a second language by 11 years old will never match a native speakers has been somewhat discredited, early learners do possess an advantage and there can be little doubt that a failure to utilise one’s full learning potential in these early formative years will have a profound influence later in life.

Some have gone as far to dub this phenomenon Lost Einstein’s. In the main, the research looks at how lower socio-economic status creates a barrier to becoming an innovator or inventor. Doubtless socio-economics are a factor, as a Swedish Sibling Adoption study shows, adoption to more advantageous environments can lead to just over 7 points of IQ gained, from large socio-economic jumps. Interestingly, there is also evidence that the gains may be more social than economic, given that minor downward shifts in socio-economic status to what are generally more stable family home environments also result in IQ gains. The greater parental engagement which comes from a two parent home may well be important, as could other factors like the proven positive influence of engaged fathers on IQ or more benign peer groups.

But consider another hypothesis. What if in addition to the socio-economics of cognitive development there is second factor at play in the dearth of innovation and invention in the bottom 90% of the population, by birth income? Simply put, the more affluent can buy access to better peer groups and selective schools, more geared to their child’s abilities special needs and limitations. Kids with more severe learning disabilities are far more likely to be enrolled in highly specialised schools, and those with less severe problems are far more likely to get the specialised one-to-one help, and out of class support that they need to overcome their difficulties.

Overall, private schools are far more likely to stream, separate and segregate by individual need and ability, for the simple reason that their ability to extract fees in highly dependent upon their ability to achieve high academic test results. Crucially, education works better in circumstances where abilities are most closely matched within a class, for the simple reason that the teacher doesn’t have to pitch down to the four or five students who are struggling most, and even if they do (because there will always be some range in ability), the course content being covered twice is far more likely to be of benefit to everyone else in the class. What we are really talking about is specialism of education, through the often inscrutable mechanisms of the market.

In many areas of endeavour very high IQ really isn’t that critical. Your statistical chances of being either a commercially successful creative or a successful entrepreneur really doesn’t increase at all beyond 115 to 120 IQ points, and there are a plethora of examples of both creative and entrepreneurial success for people with far more modest IQs. High IQ does however govern the magnitude of success. Starting with modest success with normal intelligence, each 12 to 13 points adds an extra zero to total net worth of the average entrepreneur for that band. By the time we reach billionaire average IQ reaches 152.

This makes sense. In order to be successful as an entrepreneur, one doesn’t necessarily need to reinvent the wheel. Often those who set-up businesses have simply noticed that quality or service is generally substandard within a given area. It’s a great way to generate a lifestyle business, or in areas more difficult to replicate a modest millionaire living standard. But generally, higher value success tends to involve a USP (unique selling point) which in many cases means innovation, a patent and more often than not a very high IQ. This would explain the strong link between high socio-economics and patents- it’s not just about resources or development- but also has a great deal to do with being matched with a peer group and high knowledge learning experience which allows high functioning individuals to make the most of their intellectual gifts. Innovation tends to make entrepreneurial success far more lucrative and those with wealthy parents who can afford an educational experience tailor made for the gifted, tend to see the dividend returned in the innovative success of their children.

One of views which plagues more progressive educators is the emphasis on skills over knowledge. It’s deeply rooted in the erroneous postmodern belief that there is no such things as objective knowledge. What this fallacious thinking overlooks is that, whilst current scientific knowledge is necessarily imperfect and only lasts as long as it takes for someone to come along and generate a theory which better fits the observable empirical evidence, the process generally only works one way, with theories gradually becoming less imperfect over time, unless culture, politics or most especially ideology intervenes to pollute the process.

In layman’s terms, the progressive educator asks, is it really necessarily for kids in elementary school to spend hundreds of hours in the spot drill learning of multiplication tables, when they can just use a calculator? Or why bother committing a small encyclopedia of knowledge when kids can just Google it? With Maths, it is vital to commit the basic building blocks of knowledge to long-term memory, because you have to instantly know what 6 times 8 equals, without even thinking about it, if you are to have any hope of ever accomplishing more complex Maths, for the simple reason that often sums and products are embedded within a question. It’s called Cognitive Load Theory and it’s the best scientific theory as to how our brains learn and perform complex tasks. Simply put, unless by the time you are a young adult you have a vast store of basic knowledge committed to long-term memory, the fact that working memory is puny means that you will always fail at any cognitively complex task.

What makes matter worse is that many teachers and educational theorists suffer from what can only be described as an intelligence-rooted blindness. Many would have found those frequent, two minute recitations of multiplication tables interspersed throughout the day, mind-numbingly boring. The probably nursed resentment for the tedium of having to laboriously go over the basics of grammar and sentence structure again and again and again. What they didn’t understand, and what their resulting prejudices against rote learning fail to take into account, is that for a sizeable portion of their classmates those repetitious rote drills were entirely necessary for them to achieve a degree of functional literacy and numeracy.

Statistics on this subject are misleading. Because what constituted illiteracy and innumeracy in the 1950s is a world apart from the looser and looser standards which have been applied over time. As the requirement of hundreds of hours of drill recitation and memorisation of the basic building blocks has gradually been eroded, so to has the rate of functional rate of illiteracy and innumeracy inexorably risen. In many areas parents should be given far clearer expectations as to their responsibility to contribute to the education of their child, but this one area where the burden of responsibility falls entirely on the school- although it is hardly fair to blame secondary schools for structural failings in course curricula at the elementary level.

With the internet the problem is even more significant. There is vast store of high quality well-curated knowledge out there. But it is almost impossible to access unless you know exactly what questions to ask or how to phrase your questions. Those who have a large store of existing knowledge are necessarily better armed to extract higher value and more useful knowledge from the internet, and are also far more likely to have developed the rights habits and mental discipline to identify key salient points to absorb, assimilate and add to their existing knowledge schema.

With a parental fixation on test results, a peer group which is well-matched in terms of innate ability and a private school which is by necessity forced to optimise results, what all this translates to is a massive advantage for the very smart who, by accident of birth, manage to find themselves in the rarefied conditions of selective educational environment which spoon feeds them a steady stream of high quality knowledge. The smart kids from a poorer or middling background should count themselves very lucky if they happen, by chance, to find themselves in Magnet schools- and only then if the school is set-up to operate selectively. Most amongst the 90% who attend public schools in America and happen to be smart are not so fortunate. Many will find they have hidden depths a discover a metier, but it unlikely to be the same one for which they were ideally suited at birth, for the simple reason that they will have forever lost a sizeable chunk of their optimum potential- through the simple mechanism of not being placed in classes with students close to their ability, or by lacking the benefits of a high volume of high quality knowledge being force fed to them as children.

One of the most unfortunate aspects of education over the past seventy years is that as soon as there is push to increase creativity in schools, it is almost inevitable that standards will decline by almost every measure, including creativity. There is strong liberal bias which believes that creativity arises from the freedom to explore and play in education. Quite the reverse, most writers only become commercially successful because they are able to offer their readers access to their vast stores of highly specialised knowledge, which offers the reader a curated window to a world with which they are largely unfamiliar. Whether we are discussing the macabre fascination of the crime thriller, the rapidly expanding field of non-fiction or journalism itself, the dollars tend to accumulate in the hands of writers who have thoroughly researched their subject matter, and conscientious work to expand their knowledge.

And writing is by no means an outlier in the creative fields. A disproportionately large percentage of successful music artists know how to play at least one instrument, and many play several. A music degree may only be useful for teaching music, but a large proportion of music artists know how to write sheet music, and many have spent hundreds of hours learning how utilise the best sound recording software. You may find your dreams of music stardom never materialise or that playing lead violin in your local orchestra doesn’t pay very well, but earning $6,000 for a weekends work as a set musician to successful artists several times a year may help to soften the blow, and if all else there is always the option of private tuition, teaching music to the children of the affluent.

In almost every instance the desire to liberate education as a means to engender creativity falls flat its face and only leads to declining standards. We know this because over a decade ago in the UK, those educated in the 1950s were asked to complete current exam papers, whilst kids making ready to sit their national exams at 16 were asked to try to complete the exams set in the fifties. The older generation passed with flying colours, even managing to obtain passes in subjects like French- which they hadn’t used for decades- whilst kids from the current generation were simply unable to tackle the more difficult subject matter found in areas like Maths. Meanwhile those countries which have stuck most closely to the traditional teacher-led model of education and innovated along the way, have managed to outpace progressive education by a long mile:

In the debate over charter versus public school, and heavily disputed claims about the physical infrastructure of education, nuance has been lost in the search for understanding why so many aspects of K-12 education produce less than ideal outcomes, which are often disastrous in societal terms. If there is an extent to which the high performing charters do outperform their more successful public counterparts, especially when one considers the socio-economics of child intakes (with many higher performing public schools drawing their children from higher income neighbourhoods with better educated parents), it is because choice in the marketplace tends to lend itself automatically to tailor made solutions to individual children.

A school which specialises in kids with dyslexia or neurodiversity is necessarily going to be better at equipping these kids for later life than kids unfortunate enough to be lumped in with the general educational model, through inclusion policies. Similarly, the smaller class sizes which should be a feature of schools catering to acute behaviour kids, are more ideal for tackling behavioural problems head-on, and out of class resources are vital in this regard, especially in relation to male mentoring for boys (boxing is a common fixture of the more successful programs aimed at averting pupil referral units in the UK).

Above all, there needs to a major shift in K-12 education towards the vocational at 14. IN any demographic which is not extremely high performing, there are likely to be at least 50% of the population who won’t do well academically. Quite apart from the fact that it’s inhumane and dehumanising to arbitrarily designate children as failures, simply because they fail in one single dimension of human value.

Ultimately, it is this hurtful truth which pushes more compassionate educators to focus solely on increasing the outcomes of the most underperforming students, to the detriment of all other students. Their motives may be pure, but the outcomes are catastrophic. Positive change in America’s failed public education system can only be achieved by far more radical reforms.

All the economic evidence tends to suggest that people flourish most and are most happy when there is the maximum amount of difference in any cultivated innate ability, but where people have the maximum number of dimensions across which to discover their true forte. Heterodox economics produces rich professional sportsmen, musical divas, peerless writers and scientists who can cure cancer, it helps mathematicians and physicists unlock the key to the universe, and aids climate engineers in their search for innovations which will solve climate change.

But to judge every child on the basis of the single criteria of academics, and to then enforce a form of blank slate equality of outcome by investing everything in those who don’t do well, is in the first case cruel and the second instance insanely wasteful. For the lack of vocational training during the all important teen years, many of these kids could have found themselves in dignified jobs, providing vital and specialised work for society, as trade professionals- instead they are let to rot at the bottom of society, feeling like failures because of their educational experiences and their lack of vocation.

In general the key to successful reform is specialisation, whether we are discussing the gifted, those with special needs or those who struggle academically- whether this is achieved through planning or the market is a distraction to the truth that it desperately needs to happen. There is however one areas where choice must be introduced, if we ever want to resuscitate social mobility in society.

Simply put, we need to offer committed parents with relatively well-behaved kids to opt into schools with a like-minded community of parents and children. It is what the wealthy are able to buy with their money to the massive advantage of their kids- to not offer the same choice to parents further down the economic spectrum goes against the best instincts of both egalitarianism and meritocracy.

When concentrated, committed parents and well-behaved kids can achieve outcomes which excel even the most prestigious private schools. With their seemingly miraculous results they overturn everything we thought we knew about the baleful effects of economic disadvantage and completely refute the worst stereotypes surrounding race. The concentration of parental commitment achieves wonders, whilst its dilution to the individual level almost completely nullifies its beneficial effects. The simple, awful truth is that you can do everything right- make sure your kids does their half-an-hour of consolidation homework every evening and listen to them read to you every night when they go to bed- but unless every parent of every child in your kids class does the same, your child’s future educational outcomes will always be held hostage to the lowest common denominator in the class.

The evidence is now so compelling as to be irrefutable. A significant number of outstanding schools outperforming expectations by every measure:


Let’s Face Reality. Government education has never been about the needs of your child.
Phase One was Horace Mann and the “common school.” The idea was for Transcendentalists to sideswipe the Puritans and force Irish kids to study the Protestant Bible.
Phase Two at the turn of the 20th century was to turn out nice conformable factory workers.
Phase Three after World War II was to turn out nice middle-class kids.
Phase Four was busing and integration.
Phase Five is No Child Left Behind, now amped up with the “equity” agenda.

Never has government education cared a thing about the needs of your kid. It’s always been about the ruling class and its plan for your kid.

But this is what you would expect. Either the ruling class is indulging its conceit and its need for meaning with your money. Or it is dishing out loot and plunder to its supporters.

Obviously, parents need to put a stop to this, in their interest and the interest of their children. But it will not be easy. Not at all.


A part of the problem can be laid at the feet of vested interests- in this case Teachers Unions and the universities. They are quite happy still churning out a large portion of the population only fit for obsolete clerical and office worker jobs, because they don’t want to have to pivot towards vocational training towards the end of K-12.

There is case to be made that the German approach of pushing 70% of kids towards vocational training is perhaps a bit high, because they are, of course, an export surplus economy. But at a bare minimum the figure is 60%, which would force a large portion of community colleges and non-competitive schools, to adapt themselves into trade and technical schools offering kids access to much shorter courses to help them find well-paid work in the real economy. This is something they really don’t want to do!

The focus on creativity is a real fool’s errand. Cognitive non-repetitive work is only valuable because of its ability to scale and that is always going to place restraints on the scale of employment in the market. Cognitive repetitive work is going the way of the dodo- other than the hand-holding of high value customer service- most of it is going to be automated away in the next ten to twenty years.

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What a post…even by your usual standards. Your comment is every bit the equal, at minimum, to the OP…

I hear @claire might be looking…


Yes, I was thinking about writing something to submit, but I really want to come up with something unique and original as a subject matter. I was thinking about writing about the Observer effect in Race- possibly opening with Robert Frost.

It’s my contention that, regardless of whether you think that race has some validity in biology or believe that it is pure social construction, the fact of having race in the room as a consideration turns all policy decisions into an absolute disaster. Often it is well-intentioned policies gone wrong which cause such harms, but the politics of race also block the option box as to far as which decisions can be made and which can not.

A good example of this relates to the fact that many are unwilling to tell Black parents exactly what they need for their kids to succeed. If one were to categorise what adds to academic outcomes on the home front, then checking they’ve done their consolidation homework and half-an-hour reading, then listening to them read each night for a few years would probably account for over 80% of positive disparity by socio-economic background- but the catch is that every parent in the school has to do the same- all the test prep and enrichment activities in the world aren’t going to amount to more than a 10% increase in results. If only people were honest about this- but most in power don’t want to be seen to be criticising some parents in their parenting or failing to the acknowledge the very rare occurrence of shift-work getting in the way of such provisions.

The lack of honesty is staggering. I thought I might broaden the image of race being a one hundred foot wall to progress in America and liken it to a tall fence in the UK. Although Meghan Markle might assert that ‘racism is different’ in the UK by almost every empirical metric we seem to be doing better in this regard. For us, it’s mostly class. A polished English accent with a hint of deadpan humour is just as valuable if you are a QC or merchant banker as it is if you are a concierge or sommelier.

Funnily enough I knew a guy at university whose father had been working class but went to a service school to develop things like elocution and professional distance. He was a chauffeur and earned over £50K a year, and this was nearly thirty year ago. A Richmond address- very upper middle class.

In another example, I was looking at racism from the point of view of discrimination in employment, and found that where the strongest actual racism remains is in relation to customer facing roles. So bosses were making discriminatory hiring decisions because, contrary to the evidence, they drastically overestimated just how much of their customer base was racist- so the perception of racism was causing actual racism.

Anyway, one of the clips I cam across was a girl from an elite university getting distraught because to her it seemed perverse that the way she presented her ideas could be just as important as their quality. It seems to me we are giving our kids a very naive view of the world.

Mind you, it was never something I was explicitly taught. That people always look at your graphs and bullet points and often skip dense text. That the way you pitch an idea to a boss is just as important as the idea. So, if I’m pitching to a buyer and I can’t work out 12% of 20,000, do I really think they are going to have the confidence to sign a deal to buy from me? A lot of it is simply watching what successful people do and then imitating them.

Another thing I was thinking about including was how the political ethos of socio-economics affects promotions. If you’ve grown up in the blue class (and are more likely to be Black or Brown) then you are more likely to place a premium on growing the business, raising morale as means to boosting productivity and are probably all about loyalty. But if you’re born into the professional management class (which I wasn’t), then somewhere along the way you’ve probably learned fairly early on that most businesses are like lifeboats- senior bosses need to know that you’re willing to throw someone off the boat, to prevent it capsizing. The dark mystic art of IRL social networks, if you will.

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Yup, it’s time Geary wrote an article.


Are teacher’s unions and college administrators/professors the main reason vocational education has been de-emphasized in recent decades? I don’t think this is true; I’d like to see evidence to support this assertion.

Of course, he already is writing articles, they’re just posted in the comments instead of being featured on the front page. Personally, I think that comment sections should be used for dialogue about ideas contained in the article instead of serving as a platform for extended monologues which may be only loosely related to the original topic. Without commenting on the quality of these monologues, I think it’s poor form to post “responses” that equal or exceed the length of the original article. In my view, they belong in the “Ideas” section of Quillette Circle.

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I don’t know if you subscribe to Bari Weiss. There are also only so many hours in a day, so there’s always that. But she has a “back to school” series this week. Today’s was on homeschooling. I found it interesting, but I’m also coming at it from a beginner level.

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There’s something to that, although I hesitate to comment because it could be seen as an attack. I respect and admire Geary’s writing but indeed the point of a comment is not to write a parallel essay but to comment on the one before us. It’s very good that Geary now has his own substack. Still, your remark would be somewhat obviated if Geary was writing articles ‘officially’.

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Our family grew up wealthy-ish in the Rust Belt, with white collar manager dad and stay at home mom. We were outliers due to my dad’s profession — the steel industry — even though he had a degree in engineering from a prestigious university.

In short, anything that smacked of “labor” was shunned and ridiculed. Vocational technical classes were for kids who couldn’t read, or belonged in jail, or whose parents were janitors or service technicians. Some shop classes were aligned to architecture and did therefore “pass” as legit courses, but still resulted in limited opportunity for momentum.

Looking back I am appalled at how classist we were in the 70s and early 80s. In our family we were raised to work with our hands, that any job had dignity, but we were oddballs. Extrapolated across many towns and cities, it’s not surprising at all that vocational and trade schooling has always denoted low intelligence and lack of ability.


I see where everyone is coming from and can appreciate the sentiments, however I have to disagree.

I, like everyone here at the QC, have just come to expect that after every posting there will be a article worthy post from Geary within the first several comments. Its true I sometimes skim these responses, but then that its also true of the original articles.

Sliding down past his posts is extremely easy. Meanwhile often though I take the time to read them. Sometimes I skim, sometimes I ignore, sometimes I comment. And sometimes his response gets more attention than the original essay. Either way, it adds a lot of value to the dollars I donate and yet takes up very little of my time when I feel like skimming.

While I am sympathetic to the idea that they should stand alone in their own section of the QC, I don’t think that there is so much dialogue being had post-schism that any value is being lost. The engagement is most welcome.


Indeed, there’s no one harmed past the two seconds it might take to scroll past, still Artie is right – it’s simply that it’s not what’s expected. Me, when I get to one of Geary’s essays I sorta have to change gears – however worthy the essay might be, it’s like going to a hotdog stand and being served a seven course meal – simply not what’s expected however delicious it might be. Fact is I read everything Geary writes with pleasure, still the original point remains. There’s a guy on Areo who does the same thing and I find myself just skimming his posts due to their length. Time for Geary to write an official article tho.


The thing is some of us miss out from one of the most interesting contributors we are fortunate enough to have access to. As someone with the attention span of a fruit fly, I do tend to scroll past lengthy content as a habit so a more condensed form of commenting really works for me. But as an outlier attention wise don’t go changin’ just on my account…


There’s home schooling, which is exploding in the US, including now in urban settings. It’s not just conservative Christians and hippies any more:


You mean, @Geary_Johansen2020 is not writing articles already, disguised as comments? :sweat_smile: :wink:


That’s right, the comments sections should be a hot dog stand. :grin: