The Ancient God Who Rules High School

by lifelonglearner1 min read5th Apr 2017113 comments


EducationMolochGoodhart's Law
Personal Blog
113 comments, sorted by Highlighting new comments since Today at 12:33 AM
New Comment
Some comments are truncated due to high volume. (⌘F to expand all)Change truncation settings

Sleep is also an interesting example of pathologies in American high schools. Why do they start so insanely early though every teacher knows that first period is a waste of time and every parent knows what happens to teenagers' circadian rhythms? The answers always seem to come down to the incentives: high school isn't actually about learning but is more about daycare and sports and the convenience of organized groups like teachers or parents, and when push comes to shove, the latter win.

5Dagon4yBeware false dichotomies. It can provide a different set of things to some stakeholders, without totally eliminating the value to others.
0lifelonglearner4yAgreed. I think that Hanlon's Razor ['s_razor] also does an adequate job of explaining apparent suboptimalities. In general, it seems that most things just are, with no real effort on either side to make things bad or good, with our status quo merely being the aggregate results of lots of people attempting to do their thing.
3Dagon4yThat's absolutely not what I meant to convey. Most things are the result of a mix of different definitions of "good", with plenty of effort on all sides toward their needs/wants (aka their definition of "goodness"). This conflict, however, is not zero-sum. There are plenty of behaviors that bring more value to some stakeholders than it costs the others. School as learning is good for some, school as daycare is good for a different some, school as training to societal conformity good for a different subset. Both because the time can be spent doing all three, and because there's overlap in some of these subsets, the result is that we get all three AT THE SAME TIME, not that we have to pick exactly one and prevent the rest.
0lifelonglearner4yAh, okay. My bad for misinterpreting you above.
3eternal_neophyte4yIt's also about learning discipline. Building the habit of showing up somewhere every day on time, well-dressed and well-groomed is valuable.
1Lumifer4yI think this value is overrated. Necessary for a clerk. Less necessary if you don't expect to be one.
1Dagon4yWell over half of people who don't expect to ever have an clerk-like job (including office clerks as well as retail clerks) are wrong. More importantly, this discipline is helpful in almost all jobs. It may be overrated by some, but you're underrating it here.
0Lumifer4yI should have prefaced that by "Conditional on high IQ". If your IQ is 80, that's a really useful habit. If your IQ is 140, not that much. Note that being able to focus and apply yourself is a highly useful skill for everyone, but that's not quite what we are talking about here.
1Dagon4yConfirmed that application and focus is a somewhat different thing (though related, in my case at least), and we're talking more about conformance to imposed schedules and external expectations of monitorable behavior. Disagree that it's not useful at IQ 140. It's a lower proportion of success than for someone closer to the mean, but still a nice still to have and removes some barriers to establishing one's talents. Also, I'm comfortable with not having significant accommodation for distant outliers. Actually, for such people, the habits and skills of not getting killed by one's "peers' is pretty important. High school sucks for those it's not evolved/equilibriated for, but it's temporary.
4Lumifer4ySure and that is perfectly compatible with being overrated :-) The situation is not symmetric. I really want to accommodate far-right-tail outliers. They are what moves your science/tech/society forwards.
0Dagon4yI think we're going to disagree a bit here on what 'accomodate' means here. I want to mold and control the far-right-tail outliers (as well as the middle hump) so they are more likely to move science/tech/society forward in ways that I like.
0Lumifer4yWell, everyone does X-/ The interesting question is what happens when you find out you can't. Double down on suppression or relinquish control?
1Dagon4yI wrote that too quickly. Forcing geniuses to learn to operate when the less-gifted are in positions of power is good for the geniuses AND good for society (though incredibly frustrating for all participants). It doesn't really fit on a "suppression vs relinquish control" axis. Relatedly, I don't believe it's possible to identify the top 1/2 of 1% all that well, and even if we did, there's so much individual variation that we wouldn't be able to predict what differences we should accommodate vs allowing/forcing the student to figure out how to (appear to) comply.
0Galap4yI think you're right that the top 1/2 of 1% are much more varied and idiosyncratic than the norm, because they are all going to be gifted in very unique and divergent ways. However, honestly I think the best way to utilize them (and remove tremendous frustration on both their part and the part of people who would manage them) is treat them like a black box; tell them, "ok, go off and act as you would by default. We'll make sure no one will bother you. Sink or swim on your own, though. Try to find something interesting. Good luck. Some of them may not produce all that much of use, but it's no big loss since they're only a fraction of a fraction of a percent of the population. And some of them will find and create very unique and interesting things, things that only they could find and create. And that more than offsets the losses from the ones that by chance don't work out.
0Lumifer4yWhen I wrote "I want to accommodate" I meant "create conditions where they would be productive and effective" -- it wasn't really about command-and-control. Again, sure, but no one is suggesting building some sort of a refuge for the gifted (Galt's Gulch?) where they could be spared the ravages of the dumb normie society. The are forced to learn in any case. The whole "show up neatly groomed and dressed" thing is teaching kids to emit particular social signals, it's just that these signals are more suited (heh) for some situations (e.g. you're applying for a sales clerk position at Macy's) and less suited for others. If you are looking to hire a programmer and the candidate shows up in a fancy business suit (while showing all signs of being comfortable in it) with a carefully attended-to hairdo, I don't think those signals would be well-received.
1niceguyanon4yI don't think that the "show up neatly groomed and dressed" thing is teaching kids to emit particular social signals that is less suitable to a programmer coming to an interview. Both scenarios are about conforming to social norms and for students that happens to be literally neatly groomed/dressed, which for the programmer means no business suit. It's just more useful to use the phrase neatly groomed/dressed than socially appropriate because for most things socially appropriate is neatly groomed/dressed. Being socially appropriate is not overrated conditional on IQ – you have already established that the programmer (presumably your high IQ example) is aware of the dangers of coming in like a weirdo in a business suit to an interview. Why wouldn't the younger version of this person also want to not look like a weirdo to their peers while in school?
0Lumifer4yI think you are talking about a more sophisticated version ("being socially appropriate") and in the context of schools teaching kids its' considerably more basic (e.g. for boys "get a short, neat haircut, no one will hire if you look like a hippy").
0Dagon4yIt's been a long time since I was in high school (disclosure: I barely passed many classes, and was not in competition for a prestigious university, though I did manage to get 20 AP credits and aced the math SAT), but I don't recall that the version of "groomed and dressed" then was a particularly different requirement than my current employment as a principal engineer at a large tech company. Showing up on time for appointments remains rather important. Behaving compatibly with a range of others likewise. Truly bad grooming is, in fact, a hindrance. Formal coiffure and sartorial prowess isn't particularly helpful, but is less of a hindrance than aggressively-casual (stained sweats and flip-flops). If it was "show up acceptably groomed and dressed, and with a base level of politeness in behavior to people around you", would you be happier with the description?
0Lumifer4yI don't dispute that being able to meet middle-class social norms of dress and grooming is helpful. What I said is that I think it's overrated (conditional on high IQ). Looking like everyone else is useful but not that useful.
1ZankerH4yI'd argue that this is not the case, since the vast majority of people who don't expect to be "clerks" still end up in similar positions.
0Galap4yHave any stats on that? (note I'm not trying to be that annoying guy who asks for statistics to try and win an argument if the other party fails to produce them; I really want to see info on people's expected vs actual employment outcomes)
0Lumifer4ySee my answer to Dagon [].
0eternal_neophyte4yThere's a relationship between having regular habits and mental health, I believe. I can't prove it off the top of my head but you'll find similar ideas if you look into writing about for example keeping clean living-spaces, getting into the habit of dressing well, etc. and it aligns with my personal experiences. It seems to me the chief benefit is that forcing yourself to go through with things that aren't fun but which are necessary for living above the level of an animal acts like acid to the narcissistic patterns of thought that provoke people to convince themselves that they're too good for discipline.
0Lumifer4yAt the extremes, yes. If your habits are very very regular and you are very very attached to them, you might have OCD :-P That line of thought is well expressed in early Protestantism -- see e.g. the Puritans.
0eternal_neophyte4yDoes the fact that Puritans said it make it wrong?
0Lumifer4yThe Puritans were very concerned with saving souls from eternal damnation. What are you very concerned with?
0eternal_neophyte4ySaving my own psyche from limited damnation.
0Lumifer4ySure. But why do you think this generalizes?
0eternal_neophyte4yBecause I've seen the relationship between irregular lifestyle and depression in other people around me in my life. If there is research on the topic that you know about or some contrary observations you want to forward then feel free. But at this point this seems like this conversation is heading towards "well can you prove that" territory. And in short, no I cannot prove it.
0Lumifer4yAnd which way the causality arrow points? In any case, I'm trying to say that there is a difference between saying "Orderly life helps some people I know manage their mental state" (which is a statement about some people you know) and "There's a relationship between having regular habits and mental health" (which is a statement about how the world works).
0eternal_neophyte4yThere's a difference, but induction isn't black magic. It's conceivable that it it can point both ways simultaneously. What is in a person's power to alter is their actual behaviour.
0Lumifer4yThe typical mind fallacy isn't black magic either.
2eternal_neophyte4yAnd what is it other than the atypical mind fallacy if one regards himself as too far above the level of the plebes who work as clerks to subject himself to a schedule, unless he has some strong concrete evidence that basically compels him to acknowledge his own brilliance? If John von Neumann or Paul Erdos woke up at 2 PM and argued that their brains worked better at night, I'd be inclined to take them seriously. If someone without anything to show for their irregular lifestyle nevertheless believed that keeping a schedule would damage their progress, that would be a delusion.
0Lumifer4yIt's interesting how we started with and ended with A fair bit of distance between the two, don't you think?
2eternal_neophyte4yNo, I don't agree. Rergarding yourself as superior to plebs and therefore as above routine is at least weak evidence for narcissism. In combination with absence of clear evidence for the idea that you are in fact superior, it would be strong evidence for narcissism.
1Lumifer4yActually, there is no need for any evidence of general superiority. All you need is evidence that the disordered lifestyle works for you -- regardless of your brilliance or dimness -- and that would be quite sufficient.
0eternal_neophyte4yIn the types of cases that I was referring to, where irregular lifestyle coincides with depression, that evidence too would be unavailable.
0Lumifer4yWhy so? If you assert -- as I think you do -- that ordered lifestyle helps, that implies that you can get evidence what kind of lifestyle helps and, presumably, the same evidence could point in a different direction.
0eternal_neophyte4yBecause if you're depressed then your disordered lifestyle is not in fact working for you. Someone for who depression has become the water they swim in might fail to see it that way but depression isn't the default state of mind for a human being.
0Lumifer4yBut isn't the situation symmetric? I can say "if you're depressed then your disciplined lifestyle is not in fact working for you" and that would have the same validity.
0eternal_neophyte4yYes that would be correct; and I can imagine how this could be the case for somebody like a very high-powered lawyer that wakes up at 4 AM, goes to bed at midnight and shows up to work dressed for success every day; but still feels the whole thing to be hollow and meaningless. Regularity/schedule/discipline may be necessary without being sufficient.
0Lumifer4yOK, so if the situation is symmetric, why do you believe that disciplined life helps (some) people, but are unwilling to believe that disordered life also helps (some) people?
0eternal_neophyte4yI'm not unwilling to believe that a disordered life helps some people. I'm saying that, as an individual, each one of us has to be very careful into letting ourselves believe we are one of those people in the absence of strong counter-evidence; because the ( admittedly intuitively assessed on my part ) prior probability of that being the case is not great.
0Lumifer4ySo basically you have a strong prior that disciplined life is considerably more helpful than disorganized one. I assume it's based on your own experience and the experience of other people in your circle. That's all fine. What I am doubtful about is how much does that generalize. "Induction" is not a good answer because it's applicable to absolutely anything.
0eternal_neophyte4yA prior probability is generalized by nature.
2username24yBecause if they didn't the students' sleep cycles would shift further and people like you would be complaining that the new first period (former second period) is a waste of time. So what happens to them. I believe they tend to stay up late and be extremely night shifted. Wouldn't starting school late only make the problem worse?

The phase-response curve of the circadian rhythm to light shifts with age, with the equilibrium position of the wake point latest in the late teens and earliest in early childhood and old age.

2bogus4yAs long as the "insanely early" hours do not involve starting school before dawn, this is a non-issue. Anyone can adjust their circadian rhythm by just going to sleep earlier, and/or by napping throughout the day in order to compensate for any sleep deficits; we should be raising awareness about these solutions among students. Simply starting school later would not have substantial effects in the long run, anymore than, say, changing to DST, or moving to a different timezone would.

Anyone can adjust their circadian rhythm by just going to sleep earlier, and/or by napping throughout the day in order to compensate for any sleep deficits; we should be raising awareness about these solutions among students.

No, they can't. Students do nap during the day (that's part of the problem!), and they can try but fail to just go to bed earlier. That's why they don't go to bed. If your claims were true, there would never be any problem and the experiments in changing school times would never show any benefit. There is a problem and the experiments do show benefits. You are just offering folk psychology speculation and fake willpower solutions which don't work. People are not ghosts in the machine, they are the machine, and 'just go to bed earlier' doesn't do anything about the zeitgebers and biology of the thing.

moving to a different timezone would.

Do you see why this comparison doesn't work?

2bogus4yThat's not solid proof []. What's relevant is whether different school times can possibly affect things in the longer run, well after the effects of the transition itself are over. "Folk psychology speculation" is a good way to describe the assumption that some teenagers are just "night owls" and cannot possibly manage to retrain their sleep cycle. "Just going to bed earlier" encompasses making reasonable efforts that might also involve changing these environmental cues and zeitgebers. Of course if your evening routine involves drinking strong coffee, "just going to bed earlier" might not work very well. The solution is to change that habit.
7Lumifer4ySo, remind me, why does the West have that obesity epidemic going on? Clearly, "the solution is to change the habit" so why isn't it working?
0bogus4yWell, a simple conjecture is that many obese people in the West care more about their obesity being "accepted" in a way that's fully open and free of "unwanted discrimination", than about losing weight in the first place. (Many of them are also not too happy about being made aware of the clearly negative effect of being obese on their own health.) Such attitudes of entitlement seem to be a rather pervasive problem in contemporary Western culture.
3drethelin4ythis is why we need downvotes

"Anyone can just do x" is an insane and unrealistic way to frame solutions to a problem. Like saying "to stop the obesity epidemic we just need to tell people they have to eat less and exercise more." or "we should tell people to save more money for retirement" the fact that you can frame a solution in simple terms does not in fact make it a non-issue.

also for much of the year in America going to school DOES in fact involve getting up well before dawn.

0CellBioGuy4yI for one had to get up at 5 AM and do homework until midnight most weekdays.
0bogus4yWell, if by 'obesity epidemic' you mean "people complaining about how fat they are" (by analogy with the complaint about school starting too early), then yes, that's exactly what should happen. Start exercising, reduce your intake of highly-processed foods/drinks, and you'll be losing weight. Part of being rational involves being willing to shoulder responsibility for things that are quite easily under your direct control.
1Elo4yIs it? Source of more information? Or do you have extended reasoning for that idea? Edit: did you mean agency?
0drethelin4yPart of being rational involves not trying the same thing over and over that doesn't work. Giving people the factually correct, simple advice that you believe does not work.
1Good_Burning_Plastic4yWait... DST makes sunrises and sunsets later by civil clocks, so I would expect its effects to be quite the opposite of starting school later (and pretty similar to those of starting schools earlier). Did you mean to say something like "abolishing DST" instead, or am I missing something?
1Good_Burning_Plastic4yNo, the circadian rhythm doesn't work that way. Perhaps you don't notice because your chronotype is earlier than your lifestyle required so you never had much trouble falling asleep even when going to bed relatively early, but people with later chronotypes if they go to bed earlier will just take more time to fall asleep.
2bogus4yEveryone has trouble falling asleep when they're going to bed earlier than usual, at first. If you keep at it and are consistent about avoiding things like bright artificial lights, high general arousal, strong drugs like coffee and other adverse environmental cues later in the day, you'll fall asleep and your "chronotype" will shift back as intended.
2gjm4ySo how about some actual evidence for these claims? I mean, the medical profession has terms like "advanced sleep phase disorder" and "delayed sleep phase disorder" and "non-24-hour sleep-wake disorder" and seems to take the view that "just go to bed later/earlier/regularly and it'll sort itself out" is not a helpful response. Now, obviously, those are just doctors; what do they know? But it might be helpful to know how it is you know that they're wrong. Or, when you say "Anyone can ...", is it possible that you don't actually mean anyone?
4bogus4yI don't think this follows from what you said earlier. "Advanced sleep phase disorder" and "delayed sleep phase disorder" are indeed taken seriously as genuine problems, but they're invariably 'treated' with lifestyle interventions, such as (in the 'delayed' case) avoiding bright/artificial light late in the day, and (conversely) letting sunlight into the bedroom some time before you're scheduled to wake up. Sometimes these interventions are also aided by taking melatonin (or a comparable supplement), but come on, this is hardly a "medical treatment" in the usual sense!
0Brillyant4yIt is?
5fubarobfusco4yIn many towns in the US, high school sports (especially football) are not just a recreational activity for students, but rather a major social event for the whole community.

I wrote this for my high school friends as a treatment of game theory and Moloch in the American high school system. It's not typical LW-fare (the concepts like tragedy of the commons and Goodhart's Law are pretty basic), so I didn't post it directly.

A few observations.

Good schools have competition-culture. Bad schools have fields of fucks which are entirely barren. Hint: you want to be in a good school.

When you have a scarce resource (e.g. spots in a Prestigious University), merit-based competition for it (even if the merit is the ability to function well while sleep-deprived) is not a bad solution. Consider other solutions, e.g. money or power or random chance. Do you think you like them more?

It is true that not everyone can be Exceptional. Some people will end up being peasants. Do you think it will... (read more)

4Jacob Falkovich4yIronically, this actually happens in schools all over the US. Guidance councilors at high schools are measured (there's Goodhart's Law again) by the college acceptance rate of their students. Thus, they have a strong incentive to direct the students who ask them about college choice to lower ranked colleges that are easier to get into. I have a lot of friends from Prestigious U's, and a huge number of them told me that their councilor tried to dissuade them from applying to the college they ended up graduating from.
1Lumifer4yA classic case of selection bias, isn't it? :-) But as far as I know, the common practice for a high school senior is to have one or two "reach" schools (say, a couple of Ivies), one or two "safety" schools (say, the local state college), and the rest being reasonably well matched to the SAT/GPA/general cuteness.
0lifelonglearner4yI agree that a competition-based school is far and away better than what could potentially pass off as education. That being said, I do think that we could do better. When it comes to competing for spots at a Prestigious University, I think that nudge-like solutions like limiting the amount of schools someone can apply to, seem fairly sensible and could help reduce the amount of public commons being burned. I also think that it'd be crushing to tell people who aren't doing well that they're not doing well, but I also think that this is different from confronting reality. You want to people to dream high, but you also want them to calibrate their expectations to how the world is, yes? I can imagine there are more tactful ways to help people rescale their expectations, e.g. getting them both calibrated/inspired by looking at really Exceptional people.
0Lumifer4yI don't see any public commons being burned. I a see a competition, a normal plain-vanilla competition which will have winners and losers. This is not a common-good project which requires joint effort, this is a contest with the number of gold medals being quite limited and silver/bronze medals being not plentiful either. To agree to not compete looks to me like Olympic runners agreeing to not run too fast because then they won't huff and puff that much.
3bogus4yMany, perhaps most competitions do in fact waste resources - it's only under rather strict conditions that they can lead to globally-optimal outcomes, and the competitions we see in schools and sports do not satisfy these conditions. You can in fact view the banning of performance-enhancing drugs in the Olympics as a gentleman's agreement among Olympian runners that they're not going to "run too fast".
0Lumifer4yCompared to what? By that logic capitalism with its constant competition is highly wasteful. Surely a system where a wise man (or a wise Latina) just tells you what to do is going to work better... right? No, I don't think so, because by the same argument you can ban any training. It's not a gentlemen's agreement, anyway, it's a rule imposed from above by governing bodies which are mostly interested in selling the performance for money.
2bogus4yCapitalism does not really involve more "competition" than is inherent in human nature anyway. What it does WRT competition is precisely to try and ensure that it leads to favorable outcomes, largely by making property rights more well-defined and more easily protected. ('Tragedy of the commons' scenarios result from competing over an exhaustible 'commons' for which neither property rights nor customary access rules are defined.) You might be assuming that professional athletes are not collectively "interested" in having their performance be popular when it gets sold for money. The opposite is very much the case. Yes, much of the appeal of sports is in its "fair contest" aspects - we would not be happy with a "pure entertainment" surrogate where the outcome of every contest was actually pre-determined in advance! But of course every sport has its rules.
0Lumifer4ySo does then socialism of the Soviet variety involve considerably less? I am not sure of the point you're making.
4bogus4ySoviet socialism involved more wasteful competition than modern free-market ('capitalist') economies, by far. Much of that competition played out in the political arena, through the handing out of all sorts of special privileges and permits as "prizes" to be won. I'm not sure what a social system that involved "considerably less" competition might actually look like. Neo-cameralism of the Moldbuggian variety is often said to have some (rather minor) benefits in reduced social competition, but the costs are rather uncertain and potentially quite high.[1] [1] (I actually think it might have a useful role to play, but only for the narrow use case of transition from weak authoritarian government like what you see in most of the non-Western world, to something like modern liberal democracy.)
0Lumifer4yCitation needed. This looks plain false to me. In any case, we started with you saying competition is wasteful. So what are the alternatives?
0bogus4yI've tried to outline feasible options for the issues in the OP elsewhere in the comment thread. Anyway, 'we started' with you saying competition among high-school students has to be desirable and non-wasteful, precisely because it is a competition. My point was just that this is not quite correct.
0Lumifer4ySigh. Bullshit. Quote me, please. It's only a few comments upthread and you already can't distinguish between me and a straw monster living inside your mind.
0lifelonglearner4ySurely we can agree that competition usually leads to local maxima and not Pareto-optimal outcomes? As a student myself, I'm noticing this general system and trying to point how things don't seem to be very good. I think that if we want to do better, acknowledging how incentives are set up is important.
0Lumifer4yIn reality? No, we can't. By the way, there was a fellow named Coase who had something to say [] about Pareto efficiency...
0lifelonglearner4yCoase's Theorem is new to me (I'm not well-versed in econ or game theory), thanks for the link. The thing I'm trying to point at is that there definitely seem to be ways to make incremental improvements in lots of systems which would be Pareto improvements. I think that is agreeable? EX: Starting school later would likely be generally helpful for most students.
2Lumifer4yReal-life systems generally have multiple agents with different incentives and different amounts of power. Usually, if a system works in particular way it's because this particular way benefits someone with power (often, at the expense of someone without power). Real-life systems also tend to be quite complex with many relationships not visible on a cursory glance -- what looks like a Pareto improvement to you might look like an attack on an established right to someone else. This is not to say that existing systems can't be improved. But there are reasons why they are what they are and unless you understand these reasons and have enough power to apply to leverage points, talking about incremental Pareto improvements is not likely to lead to anything.
0lifelonglearner4yThanks; that helps clear things up, and it improves my view of things.
0Dagon4ySomething that benefits "most students" to the detriment of some students and other participants (parents, teachers, etc) is NOT what pareto-efficient means. Starting school later means some mix of less total school, more school days, or ending school later, none of which have obvious unanimous support.
0lifelonglearner4yGiven that there's lots of factors here, I don't disagree with the technical point you're making about my misuse of terminology above.
2MrMind4yDo Ivy League schools actually provide for better education or it's just signalling and status? In the former case, "better education" is a scarce resource because having it for everyone would be more beneficial that having it only for some, as is for example the case of Olympic medals. In the second case, there's no common being burned but there's a suboptimal equilibrium caused by Moloch, which could be seen as a cost opportunity being too high (a sort of negative common not being consumed?)
0Lumifer4yBoth (defining "education" as "various consequences of attending this college").
0Dagon4yBoth, as well as forced socialization with an impressive peer group. But Lumifer has this one right - both are scarce resources, and this particular mix of the two is a scarce resource, but it's not being burned because it's not a commons. They are successfully accepting only those they think will do well there and improve the environment for each other. It's a plain old competition, and I've seen no evidence of suboptimality. Are there other highly-competitive endeavors which you think are optimal? You mention Olympic medals - I've known some Olympic hopefuls, but they burned out or were injured before making the team. That's not pleasant, but it's not suboptimal, it's what has to happen in order to identify the best performers.
1bogus4yWhat's being burned here is not the benefits of being accepted to an Ivy. It's the wasteful effort involved in, e.g. the marginal hours of intensive preparation on the SAT, that will affect the final score by a handful of points at best. (No one denies that some amount of test prep can be very useful for anyone, both academically and in terms of improving the test outcome!) To a first approximation, the positive payoff of the former is exactly offset, in expectation, by the negatives of the latter.
0Lumifer4yYep. Basically, the "waste" of competition is the price you pay to acquire information about performance.

Asian kid at Irvington, wants to get into a high competition school in the US, needs to differentiate.

Strongly suspect that legally changing his name to 'Yacouba Aboubacar', listing French as a language on his application, checking 'African American' instead of 'Asian', and writing an admissions essay about the challenges of having an African name in a high-pressure academic environment would, dollar for dollar (name change fees might be close to a single sat prep class fee) be a better investment of resources than just about anything else he can do.

Hi... (read more)

2bogus4yYou may not like the admission bias in the Ivies (I do not, either - the discrimination against Asians is of course especially damning, since Asians do not even share the putative "White man's burden" of their ancestors having wronged minority ethnicities in the past, that's often invoked - however dubiously - as a moral justification for "affirmative action"), but the amount of "Yacouba Aboubacar's" being admitted in any given year is so low in practice that this does not measurably affect the arms race we're talking about here. Even doubling or trebling the number of admission spots at each Ivy would not change things much!
0RedMan4yExactly, you gotta differentiate. How hard is it really to build a fusor like the Taylor Wilson kid the article references did as a teen? Just have a hook, make the news, and you'll be golden. You can't just be a smarty pants, you have to be a smarty pants and an 'oh isn't that interesting'. When you're in a terrible game with a perverse incentive structure...either play to win or don't play. If his blog took anonymous comments, I'd suggest starting an 'Irvington community college' with the kids who didn't want to go to low prestige schools, passing the hat in that community could pay real dividends and in a generation, it might become one of those high prestige schools...I mean, if that kid is average for his high school...
3lifelonglearner4yHey, author of the article here. I actually think it'd be probably net-positive if we had people trying to go lots of different routes to differentiate themselves. This seems like the sort of positive competition that leads to good externalities. (There's an example somewhere where Luke and Scott got into an arms race for writing good articles...) Anyway, I'm interpreting the above to say that...students at Irvington should go to community college, which will have net benefits in the long run? Not 100% sure I'm parsing the second half of your third paragraph.
0RedMan4yThank you for the reply. I'll rephrase. I assess that the following statements are true, please correct me if I am wrong: -Based on your writing samples, you personally are probably capable of handling the academic workload at a high prestige college. -You are typical in terms of ability in comparison to your peer group -Race and geographic location may be working against you and your peers in your admissions process -You and your peers will find yourselves scattered to the four winds attending less prestigious universities that you're not particularly happy with. In light of the above, I suggest that you should look into founding (or taking over, I don't know what the community college landscape looks like where you are) a community college explicitly to serve the interests of members of your community affected by the above truths. You have the most important ingredient for a successful college, which is to say, you have a cohort of motivated learners. From a business and legal standpoint, founding such an institution is an attainable objective. You are right next door to a lot of companies that need talented people, these companies could be persuaded to invest in infrastructure for churning out a future talent pool. You have enough money in Fremont (pass the hat, do a lottery, it's there) to rent property, hire instructors, pay for subscriptions to professional journals, and probably build a lab or two. If you're not going to get the 'big name', stay local, work within your own community, and build something better.
3bogus4yIt's not clear how founding a new college would solve the underlying issue here, which is a demand for educational prestige. There's plenty of community colleges in the US anyway and most of them are not that bad, the issue is that they're not perceived as 'prestigious' compared to e.g. the Ivy League.
0RedMan4yThe prestige the ivies have in the eyes of the families of Irvington is misplaced. Anything to promote that community's pride in itself, rather than investment in a declining institution, is probably a win. Winning within the rules is obviously taking a toll, the prize isn't really worth it, so exit is an option, and in my opinion, it isn't a bad one.
2lifelonglearner4yI would actually put myself in the top 95 percentile of people at my school in terms of cognitive ability and general awareness. This may impact your analysis. I would say that the sort of "staring at the system and trying to optimize" attitude I have is fairly uncommon, and it's often hard to get my peers to do the same. (Hence part of the motivation for writing this essay that tries to be appealing to the high school demographic.) Also, there have been efforts [] locally to try and stir up the college scene. I'm also a little skeptical of the whole plan, as this sounds good in theory, and I'd expect that many things can go wrong. (There seems to be lots of things in the whole causal chain that need to go right). I'd also not trust myself at this point to run anything of the sort. (Having the relevant experience seems very useful for such an endeavor.)
0bogus4yThat's beautiful. We need a "Dunning–Kruger quote of the month []" thread for this sort of stuff!
6arundelo4yWe need downvotes for this sort of stuff. ^ Edit: By which I mean bogus's comment, which does nothing beyond insulting lifelonglearner. Also, I'd guess quite a few commenters on this website are in the 95th percentile of (say) IQ at their school.
4gjm4yStrongly agree: bogus's comment was stupid and well out of order. Yes, Dunning & Kruger found that some incompetent people think they're good. That doesn't mean that everyone who thinks they're good is incompetent. I bet lifelonglearner is absolutely right about being in the top 5% in his school. (Perhaps bogus is just saying "hahahaha, he said "top 5 percentile" where he should have said "95th percentile" but sorry, that too is stupid; lifelonglearner's words were perfectly clear as they were.)
0lifelonglearner4yYikes! Edited the above comment to more properly reflect things.
5Dagon4yIgnore that comment. If you want, post whatever evidence you have of your ranking in your school, but don't feel pressured to do so. Internally, to yourself, I'd recommend an outside view of this number - your ranking on various dimensions (intelligence, scholastic achievements, etc.) and what evidence you have to support or disconfirm those beliefs. Top 5 percent is incredibly easy to believe on this site. But you should double-check often. You should also be aware that top few percent on one of these dimensions doesn't make you particularly special by itself. There are roughly 15 million high-school students in the US alone, so 750,000 5-percenters.
0lifelonglearner4ySeems good. I don't really feel like add'l validation would be useful here, so I'm fine leaving the claim as-is. Thanks for the general note about epistemic hygiene.

The kid says that school is competitive, and that's bad--why can't they all agree to work less hard (presumably so they can have more time to play video games)? "Getting students to accept the reality that they might just not go to the best schools is good, I guess. But unless it also comes with the rallying call of engaging in a full-on socialist revolution, it doesn’t really deal with the whole issue."

This kid is the straw man conservatives present of socialism--the idea that the purpose of labor unions and socialism isn't to have a decent wag... (read more)

5Galap4yThere's a difference between 'working hard' and actually inhumane conditions, which, while I did not experience them in high school, seem to pop up by default in a lot of situations. So I wouldn't be really surprised if it happened in some high schools, because there isn't much defending against it there. So yeah the labor unions having the goal of 'not having to work hard' is a protection against a very serious and insidious problem.
1Viliam4yThe situations like: "Hey, I am not telling you to work so hard that you will damage your health. You would never hear me saying something like that; that's a horrible strawman. Actually, please sign these papers that you were specifically instructed to take great care about your health, so that you can't sue me if anything happens. Thank you! Now I want to remind you that if you get outcompeted by people who are less careful about damaging their health (which I officially know nothing about, because I prefer not to care about such details and only look at the outcomes), you may get fired. It's your choice, though, and I take no responsibility."
1bogus4yI'm not sure that there is a consistent "straw man" in a way that's relevant to this post. You might as well say: "See, this kid neatly disproves the other straw man conservatives present of socialism--the idea that the purpose of labor unions and socialism isn't to have decent workloads and working conditions, but just plain greed." Six of one, half a dozen of the other...
0lifelonglearner4yHello, I'm the kid. I think the quote is taken out of context: To be clear, I don't actually think that socialism is a good solution (I didn't list it as an actually feasible solution), and it was meant to be humorous.
1PhilGoetz4ySorry. I've been reading English literary journals and lit theory books for the past year, and the default assumption is always that the reader is a Marxist.

Interesting blogpost, but I think the problems you point to are fundamentally unsolvable as long as people keep competing for what are perceived as "prestigious" colleges. The closest thing to a partial solution is to improve the baseline of a good education by expanding things like MOOC's and open educational resources. (Even this would only help to the extent that it reduces the disutility of going to a "bad" college, or potentially of skipping traditional college ed altogether. We don't even know what makes some colleges "more prestigious" than others; to the best of our knowledge, it's simply a matter of luck and/or self-reinforcing popularity contests.)