Wednesday, January 17, 2007

The Lowest Form of Logic

Apparently "argument by analogy is the lowest form of logic." At least Peter Campbell of Transform Education thinks so.

Apparently he didn't like my "sinking ship" analogy, and responded with his own crazy analogy about giving comfortable shoes to child workers, but I will get to that in a minute. Let's back up a bit though, to this analogy as an argument thing.

You see I compared his argument in a post entitled "What if KIPP Worked?", to letting everyone on a sinking ship drown because you can't save everybody... an all or none mentality.

I would like to apologize for insulting my readers (all three of you) intelligence. You see it was obviously my limited intelligence led me to believe that analogies were appropriate in responding to a post that used analogies. See I got confused, and thought that when peter compared education and KIPP schools to "world hunger", that responding with a comparison would be appropriate. Of course, maybe I misinterpreted this paragraph:

Imagine if we said the same thing about world hunger. Maybe we we have to throw up our hands and say, "We can't beat world hunger." Maybe we have to face the facts and say, "Hunger will always be with us, so we just to have to make the best of it." Maybe we have to admit that current solutions are not as great as they claim to be, but -- because not all children end up starving to death -- then that is enough.

Maybe it wasn't an analogy and he just went off topic for a bit. Oh well, I have learned my lesson.


Now, where were we? Oh that's right, Peter responded to my sinking ship post. A bit of history first.

Peter originally said:

We accept, in full self-fulfilling prophecy mode, that these problems can never be solved. We accept that the best we can do is make something intolerable a little more tolerable. The question is, tolerable for whom?

For all the kids that are not "lucky" enough to get a place at KIPP, it is not tolerable. For all the kids that do make it into KIPP but are not able to endure the 10-hour days and two hours of homework every night and who eventually drop out or are "counseled out," it is not tolerable. And even for those kids who do make it into KIPP and make it out of KIPP, their "success" is not tolerable because it comes at a price, a price that is too high to pay.

Ryan responded with:

So because school choice might harm others in some nebulous way, it should be withdrawn? And "success" in sneer quotes? Is this writer suggesting that said students are faking it, or that their academic achievements are somehow counterfeit?

Look, school integration is a worthy endeavor. But even assuming that KIPP is somehow unconstitutional, you had better be willing to see that all guilty parties are held to account. Including the parents who are responsible for sending their children there.

I jumped on the bandwagon with:

Does this mean that all schools have to be integrated? No. It may very well but I wanted to add one more point. It's very hard to shake the feeling that there are some who truly wish for equality... equality of failure. I have used the argument in the past, but I will use it again. These are the sort of people who would let everyone drown on a sinking ship, because they couldn't save everybody. To them it's not about excellence, it's about equivalence. They have already given up on success, and now they just want to drag everyone down to the lowest level.

Peter then responded to me on my blog, his blog, and over at Edspresso. (He wanted to make sure that we read it)

OK, now we are up to date.

Now since he posted on my blog, I think that entitles me to quote him in his entirety, so I will just go paragraph by paragraph. (My comments in blue)

The sinking ship analogy is a good one. It would seem that this is precicsely what I am supporting, i.e., it's best that everyone on the ship drown rather than saving a few.

But this is, of course, absurd. And argument by analogy is the lowest form of logic.

We already covered this... he started it. Not me.

But I'll offer my own argument by analogy.

Like dude, you already did... but go on. Let's see what you got.

Imagine we are in early 20th century America. There are no child labor laws. It is a common sight to see 10-year-olds working in factories for next to nothing. Along comes a reform movement that provides comfortable shoes for the children. They can now stand at their assembly line positions for 8 hours at a stretch and feel considerably less pain. Many people are relieved by this intervention. At last, they say, we have done something to help these poor children.

Providing comfortable shoes doesn't undo the injustice of children working in these conditions. Providing questionable schooling for an infinitesimally small population of poor black and Hispanic children doesn't undo the injustice of segregation.

OK... this analogy is good. I like it, except that it doesn't at all relate to the idea that KIPP schools are bad because they don't help everybody. Instead, it almost seems to me to be an analogy to what our current public school system does. They use constructivism, inquiry learning, and feel good teaching methods, and to make poor minority students feel better about themselves in a system that nothing more than a factory (a very inefficient factory). Instead, using your factory analogy. Kipp's schools are like giving some of the poor children a chance to leave the factory and go to school (OK, I know KIPP is a school so its not technically an analogy, but you get the point). Of course, not all the kids are saved from the factory, but maybe when people see these kids excelling in the school, they will pass child labor laws.

Did you see that. I took it... turned it around 180 degrees, made it my own, and turned it on its originator.

We can't make "improving segregated schools" our goal. If we do this, we accept as a fait accompli that segregation is an immutable reality. The Brown decision said it is NOT an immutable reality. We must work to honor the legacy of that decision.

Now see what he did. He slipped the "segregation" issue in there, to throw me off. I am now presented with a false dilemma. Either I want to improve segregated schools or I don't want to improve segregated schools, either way I have accepted the inevitably of "segregation". Of course, perhaps by improving segregated schools we could desegregate them. If KIPP and Achievement First schools continue to excel, how long will it be before middle class white parents start jockeying to get their kids into them. Perhaps it will happen, perhaps it won't but if you had a choice between a successful segregated school, or a failing integrated one, what would you choose?

Does this mean that all schools have to be integrated? No. It may very well be that urban schools that are TRULY on the level of their suburban counterparts (as far as educational quality goes) can accept their segregated status. But, as I said, I fear the consequences of this level of acceptance, of this kind of abdication of a vision. We will accept our separation from each other. We will very seldom encounter each other. Of course, we see each other on television – in movies and in sit-coms and on the news. And, based on my experience of others on television, I know that most Asians are very quiet and work in laundries, that women on crime shows have large breasts and wear short skirts and tend to over-react when under pressure, that young black men are very angry and sing a lot about bitches and hos, that Muslims wear scarves over their heads and carry Kalashnikov machine guns, and that white men are smart and usually in charge.

The only place where people can go and share common space inside non-commercial venues is a public school. (Channel 1 tried to change that, but – fortunately – it recently reported financial problems and looks like it’s going to be gone forever. Good riddance.) In our society today, public schools are the only place where we have a chance to see and talk to people who are not exactly like us, maybe even get to know them a bit. For those of us who have already graduated from public high schools, it’s too late. There is really no other place to go.

Obviously he lives in a different America than I do. My work center is a diverse mix of people from different regions, of different races, of different ethnic backgrounds, and of different genders. I know this might not be representative of all places in the country, but to say that public schools are the only place to be in an ethnically diverse environment is a slight exaggeration.

Look, I know. It’s not like there was a time when this did happen, back in the good old days when people of different racial, ethnic, religious, and social backgrounds got together and held hands and inter-related. Rich people have always stayed around rich people, whites have pretty much always stuck to whites, blacks to blacks, etc., etc. And, of course, this is the case today. And it was certainly not the case with public schools either, certainly not before Brown v. Board, and certainly not today. A large number of suburban and rural schools are virtually devoid of any kind of diversity, whether economic, racial, ethnic, or religious.

In acknowledging this, we should not conclude that since most public schools are devoid of diversity, we should give up on the vision that diversity entails. Rather, it’s a reminder that we have to fight for what little diversity there is, where people of different backgrounds can share common space. It’s also a reminder that we have our work cut out for us to extend the democratic commons, to find new ways for diversity to be nurtured or, at the very least, to be experienced on a more substantive basis beyond merely passing each other at the food court.

To tell the truth, the post has now mutated from a debate to a sermon, but I will attempt to respond. Of course diversity is to be valued, but most diversity champions only see race. At the same time they decry the use of race as an indicator of a person's worth, they use race as a measure of diversity, but that's beside the point.

Peter in his original post states that "And even for those kids who do make it into KIPP and make it out of KIPP, their "success" is not tolerable because it comes at a price, a price that is too high to pay."

I would argue that the minority students in KIPP programs are way more likely to attend college, get white collar jobs, to integrate into "white" society. By doing this, they will bring diversity to the universities they attend and they will bring different experiences to their future workplaces.

Of course if I could wave my magic wand and make all schools as successful as the KIPP schools, I would, but that's not the world we live in. Instead, I take comfort that at least some students can benefit from the KIPP schools. Perhaps Peter's energies would be better spend raging at the public schools that fail poor minority students instead of spending time hating on the all to few schools that actually do some good.

Update: I just noted that Peter's various responses varied slightly. To be fair I need to respond to the end of his post at his website.

One more problem with the sinking ship analogy. Nothing can be done to save a sinking ship. The only thing that can be done is to try and save as many people as possible from drowning.

That is true. Nothing can be done to save a sinking ship, but we can learn from it and see why it sunk. Was it a design flaw, could we have built it stronger? Was there enough life rafts? Could the passengers of the ship have flown instead?

Social justice is not a sinking ship. There is a lot we can do to bring it about. To call it a sinking ship is more than just inaccurate. It is immoral. It means we are abdicating. It means we are giving up.

When the phrase "social justice" gets brought up, my first instinct is to tune out, but this argument is the easiest to rebut.

I never said "Social justice" was a sinking ship. I said that the public education system for poor and minority students is a "sinking ship".


Saving a handful of kids is to accept this inaccurate and immoral analogy. Saving a handful is to give up.

So eloquent. There is no way I can compete with this line. After all Peter has a B.A. from Princeton and a M.A. from New York University. All I have is a High School diploma, a beer gut, and a smart mouth. I suppose the best way to counter is with some much simpler language.

Hating KIPP because they are successful is fucked up!


Anonymous said...

Thanks for reminding me that an ivy league education is overrated.

You have performed what most of your friends would call a "smackdown."

Peter Campbell said...

I would also say that an Ivy League education is overrated. Vastly!

How many kids enter KIPP in the 5th grade? How many of those same kids graduate in 8th grade? Can you tell me that?

According to the data I've seen, the trend is that a large number of kids enter KIPP in the 5th grade, but a smaller number of the same kids actually make it through to the end.

So KIPP is successful? Successful for whom? Yes, successful for the few who made it through the gauntlet. But what about those that didn't make it? They certainly aren't KIPP's problem. In fact, they aren't anyone's problem. They are collateral damage. But if statistical trends hold out, those that didn't make it will likely drop out of school. And if they drop out of school, there's a strong correlation between low-poverty minority kids, the lack of a high school diploma, and prison. The one thing that most prison inmates have in commmon? Most of them did not graduate from high school.

Parentalcation said...

I seriously doubt that the students who drop out of KIPP end up on the street. I would imagine that most (if not all) of them find their way back to the normal public schools.

Of course KIPP is demanding. It attempts to cram 8 years of education into 3 years.

While I defend KIPP's right to teach as they see fit, it wouldn't be my choice as a model for public schools.

Schools could do a lot more with less time if they stopped with all the education mumbo jumbo and used a bit more direct instruction.

The point is not whether KIPP is hard and some kids don't make it through, it's about advocating against parents choices to send their kids to those schools.

Why hate on KIPP, since their regimented demanding program is never going to supplant public schools. They are doing something, and they are doing it for the very underperfoming groups that need the most help.

Peter Campbell said...

Dude - let me use simple words so you might get it this time:

1) KIPP focuses on raising the test scores of a very, very, very small number of low-income minority kids.

2) KIPP is celebrated by the media and by people like you for doing this.

3) Simply raising test scores is not the same as providing a high-quality education. I know. I taught SAT test prep strategies for The Princeton Review. I taught rich kids how to ace the verbal portion of the SAT. These strategies work. Princeton Review guarantees that your scores will go up or they will give you your money back.

4) KIPP gives the illusion that they are doing something to help low-income minority kids. By hyping the achievement of the small number of students who can survive the grueling 10-hour days, classes on Saturday, and an extra month in the summmer, they claim, "Poverty is no excuse." In so doing, they undermine the efforts of people like me who argue that poverty is not an excuse, it'a a reality that shapes who kids are and what kids can be. Don't believe me? Ask the kids who get chewed up and spat out by KIPP. You say "I seriously doubt that the students who drop out of KIPP end up on the street. I would imagine that most (if not all) of them find their way back to the normal public schools." Oh, yeah? Prove it. Show me the data that tracks where these kids go.

In 2005 in Orlando, high schools transferred 1,201 teenagers to the GED; 315 actually enrolled and 135 earned a diploma. That leaves 886 teenagers unaccounted for. What happened to them?

Thousands of Florida teenagers are disappearing from the rolls. In 2005, the number of failing students transferred to the GED rose from 11,615 to 17,144.

When calculating their graduation rates, Florida schools remove all students who are transferred to GED programs from their rolls. "If they're totally withdrawn from here, then they're not going to count against us. So in essence, they then improved our graduation rate if they withdraw . . ." says Karen Wilson, principal of Evans High School in Orlando. Evans' graduation rate has improved. In the last year it was calculated, Evans referred 271 failing students into GED programs, thus taking them off its own rolls. That same year, its graduation rate rose from 61 percent to 66 percent, enough to satisfy state and federal requirements. But at the same time, the actual number of diplomas handed out fell from 412 to 354. In two years, Evans has transferred 440 students into GED programs. In that same time, only 14 enrolled.

5) Programs like KIPP make inner-city segregated schools appear to "work." We should not celebrate any program that makes the horror of these schools seem any better, especially when schools like KIPP actually do NOT benefit the majority of low-income minority kids AND do NOT benefit a significant percentage of students who are "lucky" enough to attend KIPP. These programs are illusory, feel-good, Horatio Alger narratives run amok. They contribute to the phenomenon of low-income minorities believing the racist shit about their inabilty to achieve. The few students who graduate from KIPP can gloat, "I did it. Why can't you?" But this should not be taken as a rhetorical question. It should really be asked: why CAN'T the majority of low-income minority students achieve at the level of their affluent peers? KIPP would have us believe that (1) students don't try hard enough and (2) teachers don't teach well enough. KIPP says that all we have to do is force kids to try hard and make teachers teach better and all will be well. By implication, KIPP says that absolutely NOTHING needs to be done about the social and economic disparities that exist in low-income communities. Just make 'em go to schoool longer and we won't have to worry about all that social justice crap.

Parentalcation said...

1. true
2. true
3. false
4. KIPP is a middle school not a high school. The sort of parents that would even enroll their kids in KIPP are probably not the sort of parents who are going to let their 7th graders quit going to school.
5. false. KIPP schools do not make inner-city segregrated schools appear to work, they make KIPP schools appear to work.
5. (part 2) the very definition of low-income communities implies their will be social and economic disparities. Unless we adopt socialism, there will always be disparities, its the natural byproduct of society. What you really want to address in the lack of opportunity for kids of low-income to pull themselves out of the low-income communities and integrate themselves into middle-class society (which KIPP graduates often do).
5.(part 3)you did that social justice thing again...

p.s. as my newfound nemisis, I look forward to debating you in the future. As we appear to be close to beating this issue to death, you may have the last word out of fairness.

p.s. Ivy League east coasters shouldn't use the phrase "dude", it just ain't natural.

Peter Campbell said...

Dude - I was calling people "dude" back in 1982. I am nothing if not someone who can say "dude" with complete abandon.

Um, how is #3 false? I didn't work for the Princeton Review? Princeton Review doesn't guarantee that scores will go up or your money back? Help me out here.

KIPP started as a middle school model, but they now have high schools and elementary schools. See the KIPP web site for details.

If you're going to be my nemesis, you're going to have to do a lot better than coming up with arguments like this:

"The sort of parents that would even enroll their kids in KIPP are probably not the sort of parents who are going to let their 7th graders quit going to school."

Probably? Well, let's look at the facts, shall we? According to 2005-2006 school data, KIPP Bridge College Preparatory in Oakland had 35 African-American boys in 5th grade, but only 8 of these kids remained in 8th grade. Despite whatever the intentions of the parents, 27 out of 35 kids -- about 77% -- did not make it.

Disparities are the natural by-product of society? Wow. So I suppose women not being allowed to vote prior to the 19th amendment was the natural by-product of society? African-Americans not being considered people prior to the 14th amendment was the natural by-product of society? Dude, this is silly. Then again, I suppose you don't understand this "social justice thing."

rightwingprof said...

"Simply raising test scores is not the same as providing a high-quality education. I know. I taught SAT test prep strategies for The Princeton Review. I taught rich kids how to ace the verbal portion of the SAT. These strategies work."

No, you know no such thing. There is no way to know if scores are raised because students have greater knowledge or whether scores are raised because of so-called test-taking strategies. And this is something one can never know or ascertain.

Peter Campbell said...

You're absolutely right, rightwingprof. There is no way whatsoever that The Princeton Review, a publicly-traded company with a market cap of $145 million, can have any clue that its test-taking strategies have anything to do at all with students getting higher scores on the SAT. I'm sure that they, along with their Board of Directors and all their stock-holders, simply leave it to chance that the company and its services might have something to do with the success of students on the SAT.

Just to be clear: there is no chance of Princeton Review contributing to students having "greater knowledge" because Princeton Review is not in the business of increasing or improving knowledge. It is in the business of increasing and improving test scores. As I said, I should know. I worked for them. I taught students how to raise their scores. I taught them nothing else. Put simply, there was nothing else to teach.

rightwingprof said...

"There is no way whatsoever that The Princeton Review, a publicly-traded company with a market cap of $145 million, can have any clue that its test-taking strategies have anything to do at all with students getting higher scores on the SAT."

You didn't do well in argumentation, did you? Your statement does not support your position given that (as you point out) the PR is a business, and it is in their best interest for people to believe that doing endless exercises -- as opposed to actually learning the material -- improves test scores.

Princeton has never produced an empirical study that supports the position you defend. Neither has anyone else -- and there's a reason for that.

So let's move beyond your poor grasp of argumentation to research. In order to do such a study, one needs a control group and an experimental group, both with the same knowledge of the material, and (assuming that test-taking strategies have a statistically significant effect) the same test-taking strategies. There's your first problem, since the only way you can determine if the two groups have the same knowledge is by testing them -- and you have no way of knowing if the results are due to knowledge or strategy.

There's no way to know one way or another, you see. It would be like trying to do empirical research to support (or disprove) the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis. It's a classic chicken and egg situation.

Understand, I have no problem with testing, and I certainly have no problem with teaching test-taking strategies (though whole classes devoted to such strategies are, at best, silly, and at worst, cheat the academic institution since if they do what they claim, the test will misrepresent the student's knowledge). But please don't try to claim that we "know" that such strategies have any significant effect, when there is no way we can know any such thing.

CrypticLife said...

I don't have time for a long comment, but I'll address a couple of things.

1) I don't think the phrase "lowest form of logic" makes any sense. It is logic, or it is not.

2) I also worked for TPR. The first strategy used to improve test scores for most on the math sections of the SAT is to do fewer questions (specifically, to know how many you should attempt). This would clearly indicate it's not teaching additional material that's helping them. It's knowing where the easy, medium, and difficult questions are -- in short, test-taking strategy. Of course they haven't published studies like this. They're in a business, why give these things to their competitors? The only study TPR has an interest in publishing is that paying for their course leads to improved success on the SAT.

Another way TPR might know is through comparison to other systems, particularly those taught in public schools (where the emphasis does tend to be on merely learning the material -- and which, frankly, are pitiful for SAT prep).

Your assertion that the groups need to be the same is erroneous, and if it were true would invalidate nearly every study that did not use near-clones. At least, from a research perspective. Random samples are specifically created in order to account for potential differences between individuals. If you're saying we cannot "know" from a philosophical epistemological viewpoint, you're right, but entirely impractical. I know there's no such thing as zombies. Care to take me through the scientific approach for this, or tell me how I'm completely unjustified saying I know this?

Of course, TPR also teaches material and espouses the viewpoint that their strategies help. Peter, you can't seriously claim you taught your students "nothing else". You taught them vocabulary in connection with analogies and reading comprehension, did you not? Certainly, you had them do practice tests and went over them (practice tests which quite literally ARE the material)?

I'm curious, rightwingprof, what you think the SAT tests, actually? Given your stance, the only legitimate answer you can make is that it tests your ability to do well on the SAT. Colleges can only make the same assumption. Does ability to do well on the SAT, then, equal a good education?

Socrates said...

So I'm only about a year or so late to this party but I was intrigued when I stumbled upon this exchange today. It appears that Mr. Campbell was not satisfied with the flogging you gave him, as he came back for some more from me a year later. Mr. Campbell may be an Ivy League grad, but like our current president, his education neither made him able to carry on a rational debate, nor did it prevent him from becoming a monumental jackass.

Here's my debate with him: