Federal and State Mandates Constrain “Creativity in the Classroom”

(p. A11) Mrs. DeVos sees choice as a means to the end of promoting educational innovation–including within traditional public schools. “Instead of focusing on systems and buildings, we should be focused on individual students,” she says. That means encouraging young people “to pursue their curiosity and their interests, and being OK with wherever that takes them–not trying to conform them into a path that everybody has to take.”
What stands in the way? “I think a real robust defense of the status quo is the biggest impediment,” Mrs. DeVos says. She doesn’t mention teachers unions until I raise the subject, whereupon she observes: “I think that they have done a good job in continuing to advocate for their members, but I think it’s a focus more around the needs of adults” rather than students.
Many of the adults are frustrated, too. Recently I met a veteran middle-school teacher who said his creativity in the classroom has been increasingly constrained by federal and state mandates on curriculum and testing. Another teacher I know, who wants to start a charter, complains that “it is getting harder and harder to work for the idiots in traditional schools.”
That sounds familiar to Mrs. DeVos. “I do hear sentiments from many teachers like that,” she says, “and particularly from many teachers that are really effective and creative themselves. I’ve also heard from many teachers who have stopped teaching because they feel like they can’t really be free to do their best, because they’re either subtly or not subtly criticized by peers who might not be as effective as they are–or by administrators who don’t want to see them sort of excelling and upsetting the apple cart within whatever system they’re in.”
She continues: “I talked to a bunch of teachers that had left teaching that had been Teachers of the Year in their states or their counties or whatever. I recall one of the teachers said he just felt so beaten down after being told repeatedly to have his class keep it down–that they were having too much fun, and the kids were too engaged. Well, what kind of a message is that?”

For the full interview, see:
James Taranto, interviewer. “THE WEEKEND INTERVIEW with Betsey DeVos; The Teachers Union’s Public Enemy No. 1.” The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Sept. 2, 2017): A11.
(Note: the online version of the interview has the date Sept. 1, 2017, and has the title “THE WEEKEND INTERVIEW; The Teachers Union’s Public Enemy No. 1.”)

Rate of Inflation Is Still a “Mystery” to Economists

(p. A2) CLEVELAND–Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellen on Tuesday [Sept. 26, 2017] defended the central bank’s projection for a gradual path of rate increases over the next few years despite the past few months of unexpectedly low inflation.
. . .
Inflation, under the Fed’s preferred measure, has undershot the central bank’s 2% target for much of the past five years. Although Ms. Yellen said she expects inflation to gradually move up to the target, she acknowledged the uncertainty surrounding that prediction.
. . .
“How should policy be formulated in the face of such significant uncertainties? In my view, it strengthens the case for a gradual pace of adjustments,” Ms. Yellen told a National Association for Business Economics conference in Cleveland.
. . .
Still, the Fed’s understanding of inflation is “imperfect,” she said, calling the shortfall in inflation “a mystery.” “We recognize that something more persistent may be responsible for the current undershooting.”

For the full story, see:
David Harrison. “Yellen Firm on Rates; Inflation a ‘Mystery’.” The Wall Street Journal (Weds., Sept. 27, 2017): A2.
(Note: ellipses, and bracketed date, added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date Sept. 26, 2017, and has the title “Yellen Defends Fed Rate-Rise Plan Despite ‘Mystery’ of Low Inflation.”)

“The Tabula Rasa of the American Dream”

(p. 22) The four Keats siblings, John and George, sister Fanny, and a third brother, “star crossed” Tom, dead of tuberculosis at 19, were all well schooled in the World of Pains. The orphaned children of a shiftless stable hand, they survived on the miserly dole of a tea merchant appointed their guardian. “The lives of these orphans,” Gigante remarks, “do have the makings of fairy tale.” John trained in medicine before taking up the far riskier profession of poetry; reviews of his ambitious long poem “Endymion” were so harsh that Byron cruelly joked he was “snuffed out by an article.” George limped along as a clerk in various mercantile firms, dreaming of something more ¬≠adventurous.
Gigante has had the clever idea of telling the stories of John and George as parallel lives, a dual biography of brothers.
. . .
In her view, George’s departure to America with his young wife, Georgiana, was “an imaginative leap across 4,000 miles onto the tabula rasa of the American dream.” And yet, nothing — nothing, that is, beyond his famous brother — distinguishes George from thousands of other immigrants who joined in the Western migration during the tough years following the French Revolution, when it became painfully clear that possibilities for advancement in class-stratified Great Britain were severely curtailed.
. . .
The land of opportunity was also the land of crushing disappointment. On his second trip to America, after blowing his inheritance on a dubious investment with his elegant friend and neighbor Audubon, and retreating from the bleak prairies to more civilized Louisville, George finally completed his sawmill. (He would have been wiser to invest in Audubon’s pictures of otters and buzzards than a crackpot steamboat scheme.) After a few years of profit, when he built a columned mansion equipped with slaves near the center of town, George lost it all again in the Panic of 1837.

For the full review, see:
CHRISTOPHER BENFEY. “Ode to Siblings.” The New York Times Book Review (Sunday, October 16, 2011): 22.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the review has the date OCT. 14, 2011, and has the title “A Keats Brother on the American Frontier.”)

The book under review, is:
Gigante, Denise. The Keats Brothers: The Life of John and George. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2011.

More Cures If Local Physicians Can Conduct Clinical Trials

(p. A17) The good news is that technology innovations are moving us toward modern clinical trial designs. Electronic health records, now common in U.S. medical practices, allow physicians to collect timely and detailed data that could be used for exploring ways of bringing clinical research directly to patients. Those records are becoming the technological building blocks of a new research model based on real-world evidence, which aims to provide insights regarding the usage and potential benefits or risks of a drug by analyzing patient data collected as part of routine delivery of care.
Real-world evidence captures the experience of real-world patients, who are generally more diverse than the selective cohorts enrolled in clinical trials. Additionally, real-world data from electronic health records may be used after a drug’s approval to answer important questions about its use. Researchers can, for example, search through anonymized data from patients taking a specific cancer drug to see whether those with a certain tumor mutation respond better or worse than other patients. Such information could help doctors personalize therapies based on the patient’s genomic makeup.
Moving clinical research to a doctor’s office, the point of routine care, may also address the difficulties patients and doctors face with off-label drugs. If local physicians can participate in conducting real-world randomized clinical trials in their own practices, new uses of approved drugs could be carefully studied, potentially generating evidence supporting approval of a new use. Real-world clinical trials could also limit disruptions to patients’ lives by reducing the need for long-distance travel.

For the full commentary, see:
Amy Abernethy and Sean Khozin. “Clinical Drug Trials May Be Coming to Your Doctor’s Office; Electronic medical records make possible a new research model based on real-world evidence.” The Wall Street Journal (Weds., Sept. 13, 2017): A17.
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Sept. 12, 2017.)

“The Oppressive Communality” of Open Floor Plans

(p. D1) These days, people are taking another look at developing basements or attics as getaway bonus spaces to ensure family peace. As the idea of the open-plan home–the combination kitchen, living and dining room that’s long dominated residential layouts–has aged, it’s revealed its flaws. When parents are relentlessly texting children all day and then corralling the whole family into a single living space all night, there’s no escaping each other, and nerves can fray.
. . .
(p. D2) The oppressive communality of the open plan has fueled the backlash, as has constant connectedness. Jen Altman, a child family psychologist of 17 years, sees the pendulum beginning to swing away from helicopter parenting. These days, she hears parents howl versions of “I just need 10 minutes to myself.”
“I’ve always thought that aloneness and separation are as vital to development as attachment and connection,” said Dr. Altman, who practices in Ho-Ho-Kus, N.J.
. . .
“It’s hard to get away from the open plan because of the way we live,” she said. “It’s the space where everyone congregates–meals are prepared, kids do their homework.” But she found herself seeking respite in the detached room–“sort of an at-home getaway,” she said. Though bright bands of colored paint ring the walls, “the space never reads ‘playroom,'” she said, thanks to a floor of black rocks and shells, and a muted Oriental rug. After Ms. Vidal moved in her beloved midcentury Heywood Wakefield vanity, her design books and mementos made the space hers.
“It’s a bit of separation from being on top of one another,” she said of the room. “It helps me focus.”

For the full story, see:
Elizabeth Anne Hartman. “Hideaway We Go.” The Wall Street Journal (Sat., Aug. 19, 2017): D1-D2.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date Aug. 17, 2017, and has the title “The Open-Floor-Plan Backlash: How Family Members Are Escaping Each Other.”)

Nursing Unions “Keep Aides from Encroaching on Their Turf”

(p. B2) There are a few reasons long-term care is such a bad job. “Most people see it as glorified babysitting,” said Robert Espinoza, vice president for policy at PHI, an advocacy group for personal care workers that also develops advanced training curriculums to improve the quality of the work force.
The fact that most workers are immigrant women does not help the occupation’s status. Occupational rules that reserve even simple tasks for nurses, like delivering an insulin shot or even putting drops into a patient’s eye, also act as a barrier against providing care workers with better training.
. . .
. . . there are the powerful nursing unions, ready to fight tooth and nail to keep aides from encroaching on their turf. Carol Raphael, former chief executive of the Visiting Nurse Service of New York, the largest home health agency in the United States, told Professor Osterman that when the association tried to expand the role of home-care aides, the “nurses went bonkers.”

For the full commentary, see:
Porter, Eduardo. “ECONOMIC SCENE; Rethinking Home Health Care as a Path to the Middle Class.” The New York Times (Weds., AUG. 30, 2017): B1-B2.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date AUG. 29, 2017, and has the title “ECONOMIC SCENE; Home Health Care: Shouldn’t It Be Work Worth Doing?”)

Monkeys Want More Information

(p. 13) In his book “The Compass of Pleasure,” the Johns Hopkins neurobiologist David J. Linden explicates the workings of these regions, known collectively as the reward system, elegantly drawing on sources ranging from personal experience to studies of brain activity to experiments with molecules and genes. . . ,
. . . the biggest surprise, and the one most relevant to current debates, is a “revolutionary” experiment Linden discusses near the end of his book. Researchers at the National Institutes of Health gave thirsty monkeys the option of looking at either of two visual symbols. No matter which they moved their eyes to, a few seconds later the monkeys would receive a random amount of water. But looking at one of the symbols caused the animals to receive an extra cue that indicated how big the reward would be. The monkeys learned to prefer that symbol, which differed from the other only by providing a tiny amount of information they did not already have. And the same dopamine neurons that initially fired only in anticipation of water quickly learned to fire as soon as the information-providing symbol became visible. “The monkeys (and presumably humans as well) are getting a pleasure buzz from the information itself,” Linden writes.

For the full review, see:
CHRISTOPHER F. CHABRIS. “Think Again.” The New York Times Book Review (Sunday, October 16, 2011): 12-13.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the review has the date OCT. 14, 2011, and has the title “Is the Brain Good at What It Does?”)

The book under review, is:
Linden, David J. The Compass of Pleasure: How Our Brains Make Fatty Foods, Orgasm, Exercise, Marijuana, Generosity, Vodka, Learning, and Gambling Feel So Good. New York: Viking Adult, 2011.

Soviets Expelled Math Innovator from High School, When He Denied That Dostoyevsky Was Pro-Communist

(p. A12) Vladimir Voevodsky, formerly a gifted but restless student who flunked out of college out of boredom before emerging as one of the most brilliant and revolutionary mathematicians of his generation, died on Sept. 30 [2017] at his home in Princeton, N.J. He was 51.
. . .
Vladimir was kicked out of high school three times, once for disagreeing with his teacher’s assertion that Dostoyevsky, who died in 1881, was pro-Communist. He was also kicked out of Moscow University after failing academically, having stopped attending classes that he considered a waste of time.
. . .
How do mathematicians know that something they prove is actually true?
This question became urgent for him as mathematicians were discovering — sometimes decades after publication — that proof after proof, including one of his own, had critical flaws.
Mathematical arguments had gotten so complicated, he realized, that other mathematicians rarely checked them in detail. And his stellar reputation only made the problem worse: Everyone assumed that his proofs must be right.
Dr. Voevodsky realized that human brains could not keep up with the ever-increasing complexity of mathematics. Computers were the only solution. So he embarked on an enormous project to create proof-checking software so powerful and convenient that mathematicians could someday use it as part of their ordinary work and create a library of rock-solid mathematical knowledge that anyone in the world could access.
Computer scientists had worked on the problem for decades, but it was territory only a few mathematicians had ever ventured into. “Among mathematicians, computer proof verification was almost a forbidden subject,” Dr. Voevodsky wrote.
The problem was that these systems were extraordinarily cumbersome. Checking a single theorem could require a decade of work, because the computer essentially had to be taught all of the mathematics a proof was built on, in agonizing, inhuman detail. Ordinary mathematicians intent on expanding the borders of the field could not possibly devote that kind of effort to checking their proofs.
Somehow, computers and humans needed to be taught to think alike.
Dr. Voevodsky developed a stunningly bold plan for how to do so: He reformulated mathematics from its very foundation, giving it a new “constitution,” as Dr. Hales put it. Mathematics so reformulated would be far friendlier to computers and allow mathematicians to talk to computers in a language that was much closer to how mathematicians ordinarily think.
Today, Dr. Voevodsky declared in 2014, “computer verification of proofs, and of mathematical reasoning in general, looks completely practical.”

For the full obituary, see:
JULIE REHMEYER. “Vladimir Voevodsky, Dropout Turned Revolutionary Mathematician, Dies at 51.” The New York Times (Sat., OCT. 7, 2017): A12.
(Note: ellipses, and bracketed year, added.)
(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date OCT. 6, 2017, and has the title “Vladimir Voevodsky, Revolutionary Mathematician, Dies at 51.”)

“The Regulations Are Absurd”

(p. A6) CIUDAD del ESTE, Paraguay–This remote South American country, long known for contraband traffickers and a 35-year dictatorship, is now becoming something else: a manufacturing hub.
Paraguay has attracted scores of foreign factories since 2013, as predominantly Brazilian companies respond to new incentives by flocking to this gritty border city to make everything from toys to motor scooters for export.
Koumei SA, a family-run Brazilian light-fixtures company, is typical. Its owners moved the plant and about 150 jobs here last year, saying they were fed up with Brazil’s high taxes and complicated labor rules.
“It’s just easier here,” said Seijii Abe, who directs the company with his father.
. . .
Brazil ranked 123rd out of 190 in the World Bank’s 2017 survey on ease of doing business, right behind Uganda and Egypt. Companies there say they are bedeviled by rules that smother entrepreneurial impetus. They point to labor regulations that make hiring and firing difficult, high energy bills, a legal system that encourages employee lawsuits and taxes of up to 35% on imported goods.
“The regulations are absurd,” said Jo√£o Carlos Komuchena, owner of Kompar SA, a company which makes small plastic bottles used for packing soy sauce and other products that moved to Paraguay from Brazil last year. “We need to wake up in Brazil; there is a lot of prejudice against business.”

For the full story, see:
Jeffrey T. Lewis. “Businesses Flee Brazil Rules for Paraguay.” The Wall Street Journal (Mon., Aug. 28, 2017): A6.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date Aug. 26, 2017, and has the title “Brazil’s Woes Multiply as Manufacturers Move to Paraguay.”)

The Ship that Held the Antikythera Mechanism Was Greek, Not Roman

(p. A12) A bronze statue’s orphaned arm. A corroded disc adorned with a bull. Preserved wooden planks. These are among the latest treasures that date back to the dawn of the Roman Empire, discovered amid the ruins of the Antikythera shipwreck, a sunken bounty off the coast of a tiny island in Greece.
. . .
For decades people referred to it as a Roman shipwreck, like in Jacques Cousteau’s documentary “Diving for Roman Plunder,” but the team’s findings since 2012 — such as a chemical analysis of lead on the ship’s equipment that trace it back to northern Greece and the personal possessions they found with Greek names etched on them — are changing that narrative, Dr. Foley said. “It’s starting to look an awful lot like a Greek-built, Greek-crewed ship, not a Roman-Italian vessel.”

For the full story, see:
NICHOLAS ST. FLEUR. “A Bronze Arm Points to More Treasure Below.” The New York Times (Sat., OCT. 7, 2017): A12.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date OCT. 5, 2017, and has the title “Bronze Arm Found in Famous Shipwreck Points to More Treasure Below.”)

Those with Full Bladders Are More Financially Prudent

(p. 12) The “your brain, warts and more warts” genre is well represented by the new book “Brain Bugs: How the Brain’s Flaws Shape Our Lives,” by Dean Buonomano, a neuroscientist at U.C.L.A.
. . .
. . . researchers have reported that subjects with full bladders exercised more self-control in a completely unrelated realm (financial decisions) than subjects who had been permitted to relieve themselves first — a finding that earned them this year’s Ig Nobel Prize in medicine, awarded annually to unusual or ridiculous-seeming scientific research.

For the full review, see:
CHRISTOPHER F. CHABRIS. “Think Again.” The New York Times Book Review (Sunday, October 16, 2011): 12-13.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the review has the date OCT. 14, 2011, and has the title “Is the Brain Good at What It Does?”)

The book under review, is:
Buonomano, Dean. Brain Bugs: How the Brain’s Flaws Shape Our Lives. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2011.