Charles Dodgson Explains American Educational Policy

Alice never could quite make out, in thinking it over afterwards, how it was that they began: all she remembers is, that they were running hand in hand, and the Queen went so fast that it was all she could do to keep up with her: and still the Queen kept crying ‘Faster! Faster!’ but Alice felt she could not go faster, though she had not breath left to say so.
The most curious part of the thing was, that the trees and the other things round them never changed their places at all: however fast they went, they never seemed to pass anything. ‘I wonder if all the things move along with us?’ thought poor puzzled Alice. And the Queen seemed to guess her thoughts, for she cried, ‘Faster! Don’t try to talk!’
Not that Alice had any idea of doing that. She felt as if she would never be able to talk again, she was getting so much out of breath: and still the Queen cried ‘Faster! Faster!’ and dragged her along. ‘Are we nearly there?’ Alice managed to pant out at last.
‘Nearly there!’ the Queen repeated. ‘Why, we passed it ten minutes ago! Faster!’ And they ran on for a time in silence, with the wind whistling in Alice’s ears, and almost blowing her hair off her head, she fancied.
‘Now! Now!’ cried the Queen. ‘Faster! Faster!’ And they went so fast that at last they seemed to skim through the air, hardly touching the ground with their feet, till suddenly, just as Alice was getting quite exhausted, they stopped, and she found herself sitting on the ground, breathless and giddy.
The Queen propped her up against a tree, and said kindly, ‘You may rest a little now.’
Alice looked round her in great surprise. ‘Why, I do believe we’ve been under this tree the whole time! Everything’s just as it was!’
‘Of course it is,’ said the Queen, ‘what would you have it?’
‘Well, in our country,’ said Alice, still panting a little, ‘you’d generally get to somewhere else—if you ran very fast for a long time, as we’ve been doing.’
‘A slow sort of country!’ said the Queen. ‘Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!’

-Charles Dodgson/Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass, Chapter 2

4th, 8th, and 12th Grade Reading NAEP Scale Scores Over Time:


12th Grade Reading NAEP Scale Scores by Race:


Graphs courtesy National Center for Education Statistics


10 thoughts on “Charles Dodgson Explains American Educational Policy

  1. I’m very curious about how you reconcile your sheer pessimism about education and parenting (which I basically share) with being a teacher and a father. I don’t have any kids yet, but what I learned about behavioral genetics in the past few years has deeply changed how I think about being a father. I wonder what it’d be like if I were a teacher.


    1. I don’t think we should be pessimistic, since who we are as teachers or parents matters a lot to kids or students, and their experience at school or home matters a lot to them; it just may not *change* them as much as we think it will.


      1. As a father, I think we make a difference, but more at the margins. I have to help them manage with the cards that they are dealt. One of three kids is above average in intelligence, but intellectually lazy, so I MAKE him do his own thinking for himself. The second struggles with ADD. I wasn’t his biological father, no one, I mean no one on the damn planet, would have the patience to ensure that he understood long division, fractions, and so on. Third is of average intelligence, but physically lazy and would rather play on a tablet all day than actually do something productive, so I MAKE him learn to deal with hard work. Thankfully, all three have been blessed with beauty, which sadly, matters, though less for boys than girls.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. Well, things can “matter” to us in at least two ways: they can make us happier or sadder when they happen, and they can change us in ways that affect both our own well-being in the future and the well-being of those with whom we interact. You seem to think parenting doesn’t matter much in the latter sense but matters much in the former. I agree (so does Bryan Caplan but not Amy Chua, see for example — but it’s still markedly less ambitious than what people traditionally expect from parents.


  2. In those 25 years the dropout rate went from about 25% to about 15%. The number graduating therefore increased about 13%–and that extra 13% contributing to these averages were assuredly not the brightest 13%. Yet, the scores held firm. Exclude the scores of that 13% and the numbers would go up.

    Your stats conceal the fact that we did make it to the next tree at least.

    I’m skeptical about the significance of averages anyway–except insofar as they reveal indirectly the condition of the elite. What matters is the intellectual elite–the path breakers.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s