What Is a Good School?

A good school, for me, is the one where kids who love reading, who love learning, who enjoy accumulating new knowledge are in the majority. As a result, nobody can say, “Ha ha, look at this freak, he likes to read books. Let’s beat him up!” because there isn’t anyone like this at this school. The teachers there don’t have to spend any time or energy on getting the “ha ha, let’s beat him up” kids to stay in place and listen to the material, so they can introduce more material and study it more in depth.

We are all former smart kids here on the blog. Honestly, isn’t this the definition of the good school that we’d all die to attend back in the past? A place where we could just be ourselves with our stacks of favorite books and our nerdy hobbies? Where it wouldn’t be a mark of losership to be us but would be the norm?

What else can a good school possibly be? A place with a huge new gym and tons of the shiniest gadgets? A bunch of teachers who have some really uncommon, life-changing pedagogy [that doesn’t exist, by the way]? A different way to teach school subjects that is unknown to everybody else? When you were a kid, would you choose the school I described above or the gadgets and PhD-holding pedagoguess?

When I say I had a great class this semester, what can I possibly be referring to if not the students who were there to make it great? Same me, same material, same pedagogy would produce a completely different result with different students. A school doesn’t make students good. Students make a school good.

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12 thoughts on “What Is a Good School?”

  1. I am eternally grateful for having the kind of experience you describe at Yeshiva University. I doubt that the majority of the school was like that, maybe just the kids who took weird useless classes like analytical philosophy and Latin just for the fun of it. A person who continues to affect how I teach is R. Shalom Carmy. The main point of going to his classes was to be able to sit down in his group sessions at lunch and bait him into talking about anything. Carmy is the kind of genius that one is unlikely to be able to interact with outside of a liberal arts college.

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      1. I had a school experience like this too. The school had its own little mini-admission system, and pretty much drained all the other schools in the city of their brightest students. It was attached to a local university, and our classes were taught by university staff, and we had a fair bit of gadgetry investment from various companies – so it’s not always an either-or.

        Still, the main memory of the place is exactly as you say – just feeling baseline normal for a change, rather than being some oddball freak. Made more friends in my three years there than I did during my whole life prior.

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  2. It is all very good, but it sounds very much as an implementation of the caste system… Not perfectly selfperpetauting, but mostly self-perpetuating. Because most kids are not fit for this kind of an ideal school, for all kinds of reasons.

    In my own quite proletarian school (when I was a kid, not where i am working now) there was a very clear correlation between parents’ educational background and how well their kids were doing at school. And for purely selfish reasons I wish I attended a school dominated by the kids like me. (I also wish I was born in a different country… does it mean everyone should support open borders?) But this would mean some schools would be complete shitholes.

    I also have some suspicions about assuming that having a nerd-dominated school would somehow prevent bullying and other phenomena of this sort… Education does not automatically make anyone a good person. Believing that it does is a typical mistake of post-soviet intelligentsia (and I guess a universal mistake of intelligentsia everywhere).

    This is actually an issue related to liberalism – does the consumerist desire of an individual to provide the best possible school experience for one’s kids trump common good (which should better be addressed by trying to improve the worse than average schools). In the North American context – one should uncouple the school financing from property taxes.

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    1. I find appeals to the “public good” to be highly open-ended, useful for defending anything. Living in Southern California, not only am I geographically closer to children in Tijuana, Mexico but let us acknowledge that they are also far more unfortunate than the vast majority of the disadvantaged children here in the United States. Clearly, it would be for the “public good” if I decided to use my tax dollars to help children in Tijuana instead of giving it to the American government. At a more practical level, it would be absurd to say that I am obligated to help the Tijuana children to the extent that I would fail to give my children the best education I can until the Tijuana children became equal. Why do disadvantaged children in the United States have a greater claim on my resources?

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      1. Let’s not overcomplicate this discussion by invoking children from other countries.
        As long as we are limiting ourselves to the same country, the issue is essentially the same as in the case of the taxes: as long as ANY social programs are financed through the taxes, someone would insist that others should not have claim on one’s resources and tat one should be given the opportunity to spend that money on one’s own children.
        Or let’s even forget about social programs: let’s say I do not want to finance the military and rather use the freed-up money for my children’s education… But no, someone somewhere decided that military is “common good” enough…

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    2. While a nerd-dominated school won’t prevent bullying, it will however make nerdiness a protective factor rather than a vulnerability. I’ve been to such a school, and I saw multiple nerds of the poor-social-skills, trouble-at-home type be seen as middling popular by their classmates – hell, I was one of them as well.

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    3. The plan is to take kids who are the best at their current schools and put them in a place where many of them will suddenly be clearly much worse than everybody else. Imagine what that does to a kid who’s entering puberty. Going from being the superstar at your current place to a total loser elsewhere. This is simply cruel.

      And for what? What is the great intended benefit here either than assuaging the consciences of some clueless rich folks?

      Of course, cognitive inequality comes from the family. Of course. But trying to rearrange kids like puzzle pieces is not a way to address this. It should be addressed from the side of the parents. The only thing that will help the kids in the shit schools who can’t read at age 15 – and I personally know such kids – on a massage level is if the parents start changing. You can move a kid from a family where nobody reads into the library of Congress and lock him up there. And he still won’t read. Because physical location doesn’t have an impact.

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      1. I completely agree about the cruelty of this, don’t get me wrong. In my previous comment, I was answering to valter07’s claims that “nerd schools” aren’t places where nerds will have lower chances of being bullied for being nerds but comment threading glitched. What I didn’t make obvious is precisely what you said – that the superstar of one school might end up barely scraping by at another.

        By the way, in the US, are students assigned to public highschools mostly based on geographic location? The Stuyvesant system is how almost every public highschool where I live works, and many public middle schools as well (primary schools are assigned by location, and if a student goes to a middle school attached to a primary school they’ll usually have a guaranteed spot, but if they want to go to a middle school attached to a highschool they’ll need to pass an exam, and then another exam when they go to highschool).

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        1. Sorry, I did not make myself clear enough. Of course in a nerd-dominated school the nerds will have lower chance to be bullied specifically for being nerds. They will be bullied for something else. Because desire to bully (maybe “desire” is not the right word, let’s use it a shortcut for all kinds of personal and family-related reasons) and
          being smart are two perpendicular dimensions and one does not negate another. I had another nerd friend at school who was also my neighbor from upstairs. His father was a research associate with a Ph.D. and a violent alcoholic. The kid ended up the one being bullied by everybody, much worse than I ever was, but with changes in some minor details he could as well become a bully… Once he was through the university, he got quite good at delivering subtle verbal abuse to those he considered beneath him, intellectually…
          I also admit that bullying in a nerd school would likely be less physical and more psychological… I do not know… maybe in the long run it is better to be bullied by a dumb physical bully than by a smart sociopath genuinely interested in psychology…
          Think of the other post on this blog, on psychological manipulation on social media. These are the nerds who are developing all those manipulation algorithms…

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  3. I have studied practically all my life in good classes in normal schools. In Ukraine in elementary school my class was smaller than usual, and it was the first year in which “4 years material in 3 in the strongest class” was implemented at my school. I remember my grandmother preparing me for the entrance exam. Reading wasn’t a problem but one had to practice words’ definitions. For instance, children were asked to define “a car” as “a means of transportation.” 🙂

    Then in Israel I went to a normal junior school for two years (grades 7-9 at ages ~ 12-15) and then to another special class in high school which accepted students with 85+ average.

    Reagrding bullying since valter07 started this discussion, I was at first a little in the first grade by a girl who quickly became my best friend. 🙂
    I am sure that in a worse class I would’ve a good chance of being bullied more.
    In Israel I haven’t seen any bullying at all neither to me nor to anyone else.

    // I do not know… maybe in the long run it is better to be bullied by a dumb physical bully than by a smart sociopath genuinely interested in psychology…

    Tell that to a boy I knew in Ukraine who suffered a brain concussion (not from our classmates from that selected class).

    Anyway, regardless of bullying, it’s better to enjoy studying in a good class enjoying mental stimulation and with good discipline preventing bullying at least during lessons and also in front of teachers in general.

    // it sounds very much as an implementation of the caste system… Not perfectly selfperpetauting, but mostly self-perpetuating.

    In short, good schools rock. I studied there, want my (hopefully) future kids to study there and do not see how my physical presence would’ve helped bad students at all. It would’ve made school less pleasant for me and made no difference for them. What is the idea? That I would have functioned as a free private tutor for them? That they would look at my great grades (and mouse-quiet behavior) and be inspired? 🙂

    // nobody can say, “Ha ha, look at this freak, he likes to read books. Let’s beat him up!”

    I have never heard anyone saying this neither in Ukraine nor in Israel. Has anybody here heard such sentiments expressed?

    Anyway, I would look at such people with utmost contempt and not care a whit what such creatures think about me.
    Obviously, would also call for adult help to stop any bullying.

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