It occurred to me tonight to wonder…

We don’t pay doctors to rate their patients on how healthy they are, praising the healthiest, and kicking out the sickest patients, in order to motivate patients to be healthy.

We don’t pay salespeople to rate their customers on how good they are at getting deals on services and merchandise, in order to motivate them to get good deals.

We don’t pay programmers or engineers to rate their clients on how well their requirements were fulfilled by the work of the programmers and engineers, and kick out the clients who did not successfully get their requirements fulfilled.

We don’t pay lawyers to rate their customers as to how well their lawsuits went, awarding distinctions to the winners and heaping ignominy on the losers.

We don’t pay *any professional* to rate their customers on how successfully the customers achieved the aims they are paying the professional to help them achieve, praising the customers who successfully achieved their aims, and shaming or rejecting the customers who do not achieve those aims.

Except teachers.

It’s a downright medieval* system, isn’t it? Just ludicrous! “I’m going to pay you to praise or blame me according to how well I achieve the aims I am paying you to help me achieve.” But we take it for granted in education, and if a teacher objects to it, doesn’t want to make it all about the grades, he’s considered some new age hippie freak who wants to dumb down the system for everyone.

Of course, for children in the K-12 system, they’re paying the teachers only very indirectly (via their parents and/or taxes) and have little say in anything that happens to them, so it’s a little less surprising in those cases; but it’s true even in colleges and universities.

I was talking tonight with my wife about how our twins’ kindergarten teacher, who’s one of the few teachers they will ever have who will not be required to grade them, doesn’t perceive the big differences we see in our kids’ abilities in different areas. To us one is really good at reading, the other’s really good at art, that kind of thing — but the teacher, in conferences, revealed that the kids don’t actually display those differences so much in class. In kindergarten, everyone is assumed to be capable of everything, and everyone does everything, in their own way, with or without some help here and there. Everybody learns everything.

We were regretful that it is not going to stay that way for much longer. The focus will turn from helping kids learn to sorting out the successes from the failures. If they’re lucky, they’ll happen to be good at being “successes” and manage to learn things anyway, for all the wrong reasons.

Still, I hope our society grows out of this someday.

* and not in a good way

The Great God Bird

I love this song.

In the delta sun,
down in Arkanasas,
it’s the Great God Bird with its altar-call

and the sewing machine
the industrial god
on the great bayou where they saw it fall
it’s the Great God Bird down in Arkansas

And the hunters beware,
or the fishers fall
and Paradise might close, from its safe flight flawed,
it’s the Great God Bird through it all

And the waters beware
lest they see it fall
and Paradise might laugh when at last it falls

and the sewing machine
the industrial god
it’s the Great God Bird with its altar-call
yes, it’s the Great God Bird with its altar-call
Yes, it’s the Great God Bird through it all…

It’s by Sufjan Stevens, who became very big at my alma mater, Calvin College, but long, long after my time there. This particular song was written for NPR, and accompanied a story about the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker, which may or may not be extinct, but which is supposed to be so large and striking that it provokes an exclamation of “Great God!”

The mp3 is available from

I haven’t actually heard any of Stevens’ other work, and I’m kind of reluctant to, because I love this song so much I am pretty sure I’d find anything else he did disappointing in comparison.

There’s nothing new here, I just happened to listen to the song.

Rudy Giuliani Apparently Would Expect To Wield Dictatorial Powers As President

Glenn Greenwald – Salon

Over the weekend, it was revealed by National Review’s Ramesh Ponnuru that Rudy Giuliani believes that, as President, he would have the power to imprison American citizens without any sort of review of any kind, and Giuliani stated he hoped to exercise that power only “infrequently” (Mitt Romney said he’d have to convene a team of “smart lawyers” before he could answer). That Giuliani expressly believes that, as President, he can exercise (and apparently intends to exercise, though just “infrequently”) one of the most tyrannical and un-American powers there is received notice only in the blogosphere, but not in any national media outlets.

McCain approached Kerry About Joining His 2004 Ticket?

So says Kerry in an interview at MyDD :: Direct Democracy for People-Powered Politics, addressing a previous report at

That makes McCain’s subsequent puppy-dog devotion to the cause of George Bush (whose campaign had so viciously attacked McCain in the primaries), and his pandering to all the extremist elements of Bush’s base, even more pathetic and sad.

Especially because it has all reduced McCain to a laughingstock. There’s little trace today of the respect people had just a few years ago for McCain as a man of independence and integrity.

I wonder how far those negotiations got, and what caused McCain to back away and start on the downward spiral he’s in today?