I Don’t Want to Write Bestsellers. I Want to Write Evergreens.

I’m currently re-reading The Bestseller Code by Jodie Archer and Matthew L. Jockers. Such a thought-provoking book. It reveals things about reader behavior few others discuss—and which some people refuse to believe despite the evidence. Maybe that’s why only computer algorithms could dig up those truths.

The book is also a failure.

It promised a system for predicting which manuscripts would become New York Times bestsellers with 80% accuracy. But it doesn’t deliver. It hints at which features predict a bestselling manuscript—to be fair, the hints are strong—but it falls short of giving an editor the tools to make the predictions at 80% accuracy themselves. It teases the reader about the ‘code’ without sharing it.

The book never made it to the NYT bestseller list itself. Over five years after publication, acquiring editors don’t use the system to evaluate manuscripts. This book has fallen into obscurity. It didn’t deliver on its promise.

It’s a failure, yes, but it has much to teach .

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History Curricula Aren’t Cheat Codes for Changing Other People’s Worldviews

Many people talk about changing history curricula, especially in grade schools, to instill their preferred worldview in the population. This has been a thing for as long as mass education/schooling has been around, though the temperature of the debates is currently higher-than-average.

Does changing history curricula actually change students’ worldviews? A little, but not nearly as much as proponents think it does.

Most of you have been in a grade school history class. Did it always interest you? Do you remember all the history facts the class covered? Did you uncritically absorb your teacher’s point of view with no resistance, not even resistance confined to your own mind?

I’m going to go out on a limb and claim that the answers to all those questions are ‘no.’

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Can Anyone Know That They Are Free of ‘Co-Morbidities’?

In the United States, as well as some other parts of the world, it’s now common to see/hear comments about how it’s time to ‘open up,’ that covid is only dangerous for people who are ‘immunocompromised’ or ‘have co-morbidities,’ that individuals should ‘choose their risk level’ and that any group larger than a household—such as a workplace, or a government—isn’t responsible for keeping its people safe from the virus.

I miss the days of ‘my mask protects you, your mask protects me’ public service announcements. There was a time, earlier in the pandemic, when many more people (including many public health authorities) felt a public responsibility to take care of each other. Not to say ‘I’m safe and it’s okay for me to put you at risk because freedom.’

You know who’s had the most freedom during the pandemic? People in societies with zero-Covid policies. With strong border controls and the infrastructure to smash outbreaks, people can go about their lives WITHOUT covid risk. When people in power put the onus on individuals to ‘manage’ our covid risk, they are taking away MY freedom.

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What Admissions System Would I Choose for a High School?

Aceadmiral’s comment from last week’s post made me wonder: what admissions system would I design for Lowell?

I’m NOT the one who should make this decision. I’m not a Lowell alum, I’ve never worked at Lowell, I’ve never shared a household with a Lowell student. Heck, nobody elected me to the school board. True, I attended a public high school in San Francisco, but that means I might be a troll. Rivalries between different public high schools exist, and there’s a risk I may want to trash Lowell.

But since there’s zero chance I’ll influence this, there’s no harm in me putting out this thought experiment: what if current Lowell students controlled admissions?

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How Can Changing Admissions Ruin a School?

Lowell High School’s admissions policy based on ‘academic merit’ has been a school-board level political issue for as long as I can remember (and I attended public schools in San Francisco from elementary school through high school). In recent years, now that Lowell has finally replaced ‘academic merit’ admissions with a lottery system, it’s become national chatter, or at least I find people outside of the San Francisco Bay Area writing commentaries.

I won’t discuss the legal issues (if you’re interested, you can learn about that here), or even the racial politics. I’m going to discuss: how does changing admissions affect the quality of education?

I’ve run into many comments like ‘the school board ruined Lowell’ just because of the admissions change. Not because they changed teachers. Not because they changed the curriculum. Just ‘admissions based on academic merit’ -> ‘admissions by lottery.’

How can changing admissions criteria ruin a school?

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