208. Knots: R. D. Laing

I tend to find that the best education books are business books. There is a certain bluntness in speaking of widgets and organizational structures that appeals to me at just the point when I’m going to tear off a head during a scheduling meeting.

The problem, of course, is that education and business are two different things. Few businesses run on a model where the supplier backs up a truck and dumps a heap of materials of various levels of quality on the loading dock, and then expects near identical product of high quality to be shipped at the end of the day. Under NCLB and our own morality and ideals, we can’t reject defective kids.

So, the business model has its limits.

Still, management books and systems do help. A cursory glance of the Toyota Way shows a precursor to the Standards Based Grading model currently being touted in our district.

It is, though, economic theory that most gives me context when looking at scheduling, teaching assignments and the like. Recently, the work of David Ricardo and his theory of Comparative Advantage had me thinking. Here is a case study, adapted for education:

At David Ricardo Middle School, both Bob and Sally teach Science and Math. Because of the teaming system old DRMS embraces, students have one or the other teacher for both subjects. Every year, when the scores come out, Bob is shown to be the better teacher in both subjects. In economic terms, his class has an absolute advantage in Science and Math instruction. His Science instruction is by far better than Sally’s, while his Math scores indicate only a slight-but-clear edge.

When DRMS gets a new principal, she looks at the numbers and decides to departmentalize. All students, she decides, will have Bob for Science and Sally for Math. It is, she tells the school board, best for all students.

Now, all students get excellent Science instruction. Scores have gone up. The gap has been closed. In Math, the overall scores for the school have dipped, settling in at where only Sally’s students had been. It is not a huge dip, but noticeable.

Did the principal make the right choice?

This was inspired by Comparative Advantage, but the case study loses some of its edge when you think about the fact that kids won’t all have an all around excellent academic experience. We all know that mediocre teacher. When scanning the lists on move-up day, we know which teachers are sending kids prepared, and which are less so. If only you could clone Teacher Bob.

But Ricardo’s original theory, dealing with developed nations and trade policy, was set up so that it was a win-win situation for all. Although one party might have an absolute advantage, the trading brought a certain efficiency that still made that party gain in the transaction.  Everyone gained.

In this case, the students who would have had just Bob gain nothing by having Sally for math. They, in fact, lose. If you are a parent of one of the kids who would have had just Teacher Bob, you are clearly angry at the principal. Your child has to suffer for the good of Sally’s students.

Within the limits of this scenario, though, the principal made the right decision for all students. he will, no doubt, balm his conscious by providing some mentoring or professional development, but that’s not going to help the first crop of students under the new plan.

Of course, a microeconomic look at Ricardo can poke holes, especially when the human element is put into it–perhaps the workers in his scenario did not find personal satisfaction in making that other product?  And, in our situation, Sally might have been a more pleasant person while Bob got results from being a rageaholic.  From a kid’s perspective, logic often goes out the window.  But economics and data still, for the most part, guide us to the right choice.

If only poetry was so logical.  Wait, it can be.

Let me say for the record that it is unclear to me if the poem below is, indeed, “Knots”. It is from the book Knots. But I don’t have a copy of Laing’s work in front of me, and the internet, for all of its worth, is often full of holes and easy answers when time is short.

Let them follow the logic.  Perhaps only give them each of the three sections at a time.  What is Laing getting at?  Can they even follow the logic?  It will, guarenteed, wake up the math kids sitting in the center-middle and the jailhouse lawyers in the back row.   Then, roll out the next section and compare.

Laing is a therapist who rallied against therapy, of sorts.  That’s a simplification of his life.  Then he wrote the book “Knots” with the temperament of a rebellious scientist.  An interesting post about the book can be found here.  Logical kids will love it so much that they will either embrace it or throw the book across the room–get a second copy.  Those who profess to love moon-spoon-June poetry, not so much.

R.D. Laing

They are playing a game. They are playing at not
playing a game. If I show them I see they are, I
shall break the rules and they will punish me.
I must play their game, of not seeing I see the game.

it hurts Jack
to think
that Jill thinks he is hurting her
by (him) being hurt
to think
that she thinks he is hurting her
by making her feel guilty
at hurting him
by (her) thinking
that he is hurting her
by (his) being hurt
to think
that she thinks he is hurting her
by the fact that

da capo sine fine

They play a play. They do not play
on plays of a play. If I show it that I see, they are, I
break the guidelines and they punish me. I
must play their play, from not seeing me see the play.

it hurts Jack,
in order to think
that Jill thinks, it it to be hurt,
through (it) be hurt
to think
it hurt that it thinks, it,
by forming their feeling guiltily
at hurting it
through (it) thinking
that it hurts it
that through (seins) it are hurt
for thinking
that she thinks, it, hurt them
by the fact the

dacapo Sinusgeldstrafe

They play a play. They do not
play on plays of a play. If I show it that I see, they are,
break I the korrekturlinien and they punish me.
I must play their play, from seeing I do not see the play.

it hurts Jack,
in order to think
that Jill thinks, it to be hurt it,
through (it) is hurt,
in order to think
that it that it thinks, hurt it,
by forming guiltily its feeling
at hurting it
by (it) thinking
that it hurts it
that by (seins) it for thinking
that it thinks,
hurt it it
by the fact

dacapo sine fine


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