Skepfeeds-The Best Skeptical blogs of the day

The Education of Vox Popoli Part…aah whatever!

Posted in Skepdude by Skepdude on May 20, 2009

I don’t dislike Vox Day. Even though we’ve had disagreements in the past, I respect his right to express his opinion, and occasionally I even agree with a thing or two he says. But, like a clock, he will throw out gems of ridiculousness that beg to be questioned. His latest is called “Idiots at the chalkboard“, a catchy title I must say. He links to a news item called “Aspiring school teachers fail in math“, of which he quotes the following:

According to state education officials, nearly three-quarters of the people who took the state elementary school teacher’s licensing exam this year failed the new math section.The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education released the results Tuesday. They say that only 27 percent of the more than 600 candidates who took the test passed.

To most people reading this news, this would mean that many of the aspiring teachers were not up to par to become teachers and consequently they failed. But not to Vox. To him this actually has a deep meaning about the ones who did pass, and have passed in the past, and went on to become actual, not aspiring, teachers. As per Vox:

Remember this the next time someone asks you about your credentials to homeschool your children. In my opinion, the mere fact of not being mentally sub-normal trumps a degree from a paper-selling institution that hands them out to everyone with a pulse and the requisite cash.

So the fact that 73% of aspiring teachers were rejected because they were not up to par means that homeschooling is just as good an alternative? That not being “mentally sub-normal” makes you just as good as the 27% who passed? How? How does one jump from one to the other? What does the fact that 73% were sub-par have to say about the 27% that passed? Normally nothing, and this was brought to Vox’s attention by a commenter who said:


I don’t think this reflects badly on teachers. It says that only 27% of the people who took the licensing exam passed. Meaning that the rest didn’t meet the high standards of the public schools and never became teachers.

Now if it said that 90% passed than it would mean the standards are too low.

A very sensible observation indeed, but Vox disagreed ( I assume the commenter VD stands for Vox Day, if not the following discussion does not apply to Vox):

You’re missing the point. First, many states have no such standards and permit all of them to teach. Second, the simplicity of the test shows that the “high standards” are extremely low; it’s not credible to suggest that the quarter who passed are significantly smarter than the large majority who failed. Especially since we already know from SAT data that the average education major is of below-average intelligence.

First, no, he’s not missing the point, you simply never made that point, big difference there. Second, this particular news item is about the state of Massachusetts, thus it cannot be held as representative of other states. Just because the aspiring applicants in Massachusetts are of an apparently very low quality, does not imply the same is true for other states, and such generalization cannot be supported by the evidence presented here. All this shows is that there is a problem in Massachusetts, in fact that is what the executive director of the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents thinks:

Tom Scott, executive director of the Massachusetts Association of School Superintendents , said “The high failure rate puts a shining light on a deficiency in teacher-prep programs.”

So, is there a problem with the teacher-prep programs in Massachusetts? These test results seem to answer that question quite clearly: yes there is. What does that have to say about homeschooling? Absolutely nothing, but according to Vox : “the mere fact of not being mentally sub-normal trumps a degree from a paper-selling institution“, but isn’t most of the populace, by definition, mentally normal? So unless Vox is saying that somehow,  most of Massachusetts’ mentally sub-normal residents want to become teachers, shouldn’t we expect most of the applicants to have passed, by virtue of being representative of the populace as a whole, which is comprised of mostly mentally normal individuals?

Think of if this way. If you follow American Idol, think of all the hopefuls that are ridiculed by the judges during audition week. These are aspiring Idols, who are below par and do not pass the test, just like the aspiring teachers who failed the test. What do the failing Idols tell us about the Idols that make it to Hollywood? Absolutely nothing, except that the ones who made it are better than the ones who didn’t. Vox’s argument applied here implies that those of us who sing in the shower, and don’t even have enough talents or confidence to go and audition for Idol (the equivalents of the home schooling parents) are just as good as the folks that got the yellow sheet and went on to Hollywood, which is absurd.

There will be exceptions, some people really are educated and knowledgeable enough to home school their kids, but most people do not know enough about all the sciences and the arts to do an adequate job. Saying that because there is such a high degree of failure in aspiring teachers means that anyone can home-school, since the ones that passed cannot be much better than the ones that failed, is nonsensical. The fact that 10 fail does not have anything to say about the 1 that succeeds, except that he was better than the 10, but one cannot infer how much better he is simply based on how bad the other 10 performed. Does Vox have a crystal ball?


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