[Edu-sig] Business in Education
kirby.urner at gmail.com
Wed Sep 27 19:19:25 CEST 2006
So Arthur, in thinking more about your well-founded suspicion of the
profit motive, when it comes to curriculum writing and standard
setting (test making), I'm thinking we should go over in what ways the
public schools, pre college, are already subject to commercial
You may suppose I'm about to launch on another anti-TI tirade (but
you'd be wrong; plus I just bought one for my daughter, the same kind
"Mr. Bright uses" (an excellent teacher)). More, I'm drawing from
personal experience with McGraw-Hill, Avenue of the Americas (28th
floor, desk jockey under Nola Hague, peer-to-peer with Ray Simon, who
got me the post).
It was all about Texas and California, the states with the biggest
school-aged populations. Mass publishers had to jump through their
hoops, our kiss good bye any real chance for profit for hungry
investors. Just pandering to the baby states (like New Hampshire)
made *no* economic sense.
So what's happened is Californians and Texans have realized their
economic clout with New York publishing and have decided to politicize
around that fact. I know less about the situation in Texas (let
others tell that story), but California is pretty obviously laid out
on the table over on Math-Teach. It'll be really easy to do the
The story Californians now tell themselves is: we were going down the
sewer, mathematically, but now scores are on the rise and all because
of a new State Standard championed by our Education Pope, one Wayne
Bishop over at CalState (a competent teacher I'm sure -- I use some of
his linear algebra thinking in Gnu Math as a matter of fact).
Now that Wayne is Pope, we're hearing a lot more about Saxon and
Singapore, as the two flagship tree-killer textbook series that Our
Nation must embrace. And yes, their ambitions are National, what with
the Department of Education obligated by law to pass judgement on
textbook offerings, thereby giving Our Friends the Big Publishers in
New York, access to the levers of power at the federal level (a known
quantity high ground).
Get the Ed Department to sign off on Everyday Math, and you've got
your gravy train for the next fifteen years minimum (but good doobie
bureaucrats need job security too, so stamp it with "more study
What has all this to do with Python? Precious little, which is of
course my point.
Textbook publishing is profitable because at the K-12 level, it's all
about rehashing. Colleges pioneer and explore (or used to), but K-12
never changes, or, if it does, hardly moves at all in Mathematics.
The pictures get more ethnically diverse, the sidebars more
loquacious, the binders stronger, the books heavier and more
expensive. These are the only dimensions we care about. Math
Content, meantime, remains Plain Vanilla Pablum, i.e. nothing serious,
until we weed 'em and feed 'em (Calculus Mountain to weed 'em).
So has our Python Nation any hope at all of propagating to more than
homeschoolers and forlorn little one roomers on Shoshone Rez in
someplace godforsaken? We beed to recruit too, after all, if our
ethnicity is to survive.
Not according to conventional radar (which the math-teach subscribers
all deem me to be "under"). With New York holding Congress in
hammerlock, and pesky politicos yammering "fuzzy" and "new new",
screaming to high heaven to legislate Math from On High (the only way
religious fanatics know to get anything), Python, open source, GNU,
Linux, Ruby, tupuloid, Sims, Alan Kay, $100 laptop, are all doomed
from ever impacting any mainstream child in one of our mainstream
all-American public school K-12 classrooms, ad infinitum and ad
nauseum (a little Kay goes a long way, I agree, but he's still
powerful good medicine).
Obviously there's something wrong with this overly pessimistic model,
as we already know from personal experience, if dealing with teenagers
personally (as I do, daily), that the above memepool is hardly
esoteric. A lot of kids already know about this stuff, because
they're *all* homeschoolers when they come home, and keep learning
through the balance of their day (even sleep can be educational).
They're out of school and smack dab in the middle of that Commercial
Sector you're always so suspicious about (having worked in it for many
years, our first meeting being in your home town's Financial
And smack dab in the middle of the out-of-school Commercial Sector, is
the breakfast cereal industry. Cheerios, Cheerios, Cornflakes & Grape
Nuts, one of the most feared Capitol Hill lobbies in the history of
our planet. They own Saturday Morning, a cartoon festival and clown
show, puppets galore, and long the Fortune 100 focus for discovering
Cartoons have snakes. Cartoons have pirates. So what candle do the
print media Publishers hold, when it comes to comparing old dead
language lead, flat-on-a-page XY somnambulisms, next to the
EyeCandyLand of XYZ television? Nada, right?
So I guess this is the truce I'm seeing emerging between us. You're
wanting to marshal the troops to defend the Sanctity and Purity of
Ivory Tower Virginity, to keep it free from that down and dirty
Profit Motive (at least in any tainted sense -- high grades still
All along, you've been supposing my Fuller School credential meant I
was duty-bound to try to get passed you and your forces, as I tried
for the End Zone of Academic Respectability.
You wanted me to check my funny-looking pyrate hat at the door, be a
good compromiser, give a little, in the interests of mutual
respectability. Then we could join forces and champion Python
together, on the same side of high walls (with Microsoft at bay
But how it turns out is more like this: I'm happy to leave you to
that battle, and hope you keep winning it (need troops? just ask).
But I'm content to leave Academia to its textbook fixations and focus
on Saturday Morning, where my market researchers have "lazy fare" to
just experiment and play with little kids' minds, beyond any
oppressive scrutiny and control of those "too old for cartoons"
fuddydud college professors (except maybe the semioticians -- they
watch us agog (or "agrog" as the case may be)).
You keep Academics respectable (I support you in that), and meanwhile
I'll do like me Pyrate Captain taught me: engage in all out
psychological warfare on the fringe, where few dare venture, and even
fewer make it back.
Python Nation is lucky to have recruited someone like me. Kids really
love it when I "Talk Like a Pyrate" [sm]. Yar! [sm] 
Portland "Open Source Capital" Oregon
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