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Education Letters

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Early Learning

Aviva Rutkin writes that by the age of 3 children from affluent families have heard some 30 million more words than their impoverished counterparts (29 November 2014, p 14).

The article goes on to discuss the consequences of this disadvantage in terms of brain development. But has anyone thought to ask how and why this relative deprivation occurs in the first place?

The article seems to take such a state of affairs as a given. But if it is as serious a disadvantage as the article suggests, surely the root cause needs to be addressed, not merely responding to the consequences on a post-hoc basis?

Sex Ed

(comments on article which said: "hardcore porn is increasingly mainstream. To any parent who worries that porn in the classroom would lead to it becoming normalised, I would say this: too late."

Honestly I would think that once they are old enough to be actively looking for it online it's pretty simple to sit down and show them a short clip and say the following. "See how the positions that they are using are more likely to get the camera a good angle than they are to be fun? Yeah, this is fake. Everything about it is fake. Don't fall for it like a chump."

sex ed should be more than a single afternoon where they separate the boys and girls and then hand out deodorant at the end. There should be plenty of time to discuss how to have safe, consensual sex(and how to talk to your partner about what you both like/want) and discuss the biology of everything. Ideally you'd address the topic several times as kids develop reviewing old information and adding more as they get older.

The irony is that the most vocal critics of porn who claim it encourages violence against women don't have anything in mind to replace it with. They just have hideously ignorant, one-sided expectations for behavior. They argue as if porn is filling boys' head with the wrong ideas, and I'm all like, "Why the fark do you think there's room to fill in the first place?"

When I was in my teens through my twenties I wanted to learn how to treat women. I ruined several relationships because I had no farking clue what I was doing, and while I'm happily married now my mistakes bother me to this day. Access to porn wasn't the root of the problem; ignorance was. If it's not porn it's rom-coms or dramas or anything else with a lot to say about love, most of it dangerously unrealistic -- but porn is the problem? It's surprising just how little useful information there is out there, even in the age of the Internet. The loudest voices are generally bitter, men who'll give you pick-up tips that border on a date rape how-to manual or tell you to treat women like shiat because they deserve it, and women with unreasonable and often hypocritical expectations about what they want. Finally I met someone who trusted my heart was in the right place and was willing to be extraordinarily patient as I learned the ropes.

The second-most important part about sex education is how not to get someone pregnant.

Geez can't they just teach the girls to be nice to us?


I work as a plagiarism officer specifically for non-EU students.

First, a high number of cases in a particular university is probably to be welcomed; it can indicate a better detection rate, where a low number suggests the opposite. Second, as you say, bespoke essays for coursework are now the greatest obstacle to detection. However, this can be overcome by keeping a store of students’ examination scripts, which offer a picture of their basic cognitive and linguistic levels. These have already been judged for their depth of analysis, and can also be checked for grammatical features (ellipsis, apposition, collocation, participles, etc, as well as the various mistakes of less experienced writers).

This data can be quite individual; schoolteachers can usually recognise a pupil’s work even without the name. There is often a difference between this and the profile of the suspected ghost-written assignment.

Allowance must be made for spellcheckers and proofreading where that is permitted, and for the care a student can devote to coursework. Beyond a certain point, however, a case for plagiarism can be made.

Sir, The increase in cheating at our universities is a consequence of the change in teaching style. When I was at university 40 years ago I had at least three hours a week with my supervisors, often in very small groups. As a result they knew me, and my writing style, well — there would have been no chance of presenting someone else’s work as my own.

Students today sometimes get barely this much contact time in a whole term. It is hardly surprising that the university does not know them and can be taken in by those using the essay-writing services.

Sir, One case I came across was that of a student whose native language was not English. Working adjacent to a very British companion, he wrote in his report the words “what spiffing theory all this analysis is”.

Sir, The story was often told of the American student who handed in an essay bought as being “B” grade only to have it returned by his tutor with the comment: “I am delighted to give this essay the ‘A’ I thought it deserved when I wrote it 20 years ago.”

IQ Tests

Someone better hurry in here to say that a high IQ doesn't actually mean the same thing as being intelligent. Also, to explain that their own score the last time they took the IQ test (high 140s, although they don't remember the exact number because it's totally not important or even worth bringing up, really) would most likely have been much higher had they not been out drinking all night right before taking it. And that they've never been a good test-taker, anyway, which ironically is actually a sign of even higher intelligence because truly high-IQ people don't do well when they're pigeon-holed into standardized tests. Which is really the big problem with IQ tests and why they never bring up their high 140s score at all, because really you can't measure anything worth measuring with one single test. You need a variety of indicators, a look at the entire package, which is why even though some people might brag about a high 140s score that's just as pointless as being impressed by a score of 162. Sad, really, this obsession with numbers.

Show your work

Clearly I'm much more intelligent than the people who make up these tests because they're the ones with the wrong answers.