What do Students Learn from Seeing Live Theater?

October 13, 2014


Along with Collin Hitt, Anne Kraybill, and Cari Bogulski, I have a new study coming out Wednesday in Education Next on what students learn from seeing live theater.  We randomly assigned school groups to receive free tickets to see performances of Hamlet or A Christmas Carol at TheatreSquared, an award-winning professional theater.  We then collected measures on a variety of outcomes from students several weeks later in their classrooms.

We also compare what students learn from seeing live theater to what they learn from being assigned to read or watch movies of those same works.  Do students learn the same things from reading or watching a movie of Hamlet that they get out of seeing it performed live?

This is the first randomized experiment of what students learn from seeing live theater, so check it out when it is released on Wednesday.

What did we learn in this week’s episode of College Football Denny?

October 12, 2014

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

So Denny what did you make of college football this week?

Arkansas and Texas are the guys in the PG movie that everyone is reallllly hoping it will happen for. They need to be the guy in the rated R movie.

You are right Denny. Baylor after all has claws and teeth, and they killed the bunny in the 4th quarter when they really needed it.

**puff puff**

What else?

The Egg Bowl is looking like an elimination round for the playoff. Whoda thunk it? Even if it isn’t both of those teams deserve a medal for punking the Aggies. Have I ever mentioned how loathsome those….

Many times Denny- but don’t forget there is another elimination round coming next week….

Ah yes Notre Dame travels to Tallahassee to take on Florida State.

What do you make of that game Denny?

Hmpphf, the Seminoles should be distracted, but the Irish have to change planes in Atlanta. I’ll take the Seminoles.

I’m looking for a little Irish magic in that one Denny. You of course remember the 1993 game…

Absolutely…and also what Boston College did to them the following week!

Now Denny- what have I told you about hating on the Domers?

**puff puff**

I don’t hate the Domers, I just don’t like a team having their own network.

Yes Denny well then what about the Longhorn Network?

Well now see here, that, that’s different….

And the blatant CBS SEC homer-ism? Yesterday they claimed that 7 SEC teams controlled their own destiny for the playoff, but that the winner of the Baylor-TCU game would “need help.”


And some of those teams were from the lowly SEC EAST….

Outrageous! You are right-there has never been media bias to match that. Fill me up would you?

Certainly. I haven’t been able to muster any interest in the Big 10 lately, but what about out West Denny?

Don’t sleep on Michigan State and the Buckeyes. Out west, Oregon is not dead yet…UCLA is getting close…Arizona finally lost despite a rally to USC.

See you next week Denny?

**puff** @sip@ **puff**

Count on it.






Nominated for the Al Copeland Award: Thomas J. Barratt

October 9, 2014

Advertising is the bogeyman of the Left.  It makes you desire things you never wanted.  It confuses wants and needs.  It brainwashes you to make you believe things that you otherwise would not.  In short, advertising, in this view, turns you into a slave.  By hijacking your preferences, advertising turns you into the instrument of other people’s interests.

But this negative view of advertising is mistaken in two ways.  First, it denies that you are ultimately responsible for your own thoughts and actions.  No advertising can convince you to believe or do something unless you choose to believe or do that.  You are free to ignore or disbelieve advertising, so advertising can never turn you into a slave.

Second, all communication — whether it is called advertising or not — is attempting to convince you to believe or do something.  Even warning you that advertising is trying to brainwash you is itself an effort to convince you of something.  How is that message any more pure than dirty advertising?  In fact, what would innocent, non-coercive communication look like?  Even art is a form of communication that is attempting to convince its audience of something.  So if advertising is evil I have no idea what good would be.

I love advertising.  I love it because it is a form of communication that is more self-conscious of its efforts to convince others and therefore tends to be more accountable for its success or failure in doing so.  That accountability tends to make it more engaging, meaningful, and beautiful.  If advertising isn’t these things, it fails in its effort to be persuasive.

Let’s take for example the McDonalds ad at the top of this post.  That ad manages to tell an entire story in just 30 seconds.  And it’s a really good story.  It captures the anxiety of a first kiss as beautifully as the Odyssey captures the longing to return home.  The moment when the boy realizes that her request for “no onions” on the burger means that she wants him to kiss her is as universal and essential to the human experience as anything I have seen in a museum.

Yes, I understand that McDonalds is just trying to get me to buy its products.  Everyone understands that.  But they are also providing me with useful information.  They are telling me that McDonalds is a cheap and easy place to stop on a date in case you are hungry.  And most importantly, they are telling me that McDonalds will make my burger to order so that I can enjoy their product and still kiss without onion-breath.  So, the ad provides me with useful information.  But because it seeks to be persuasive, the ad is also compelling in its story-telling, engages its audience in a meaningful way, and is beautiful to watch.

Because I think advertising is wrongly disparaged, I am nominating Thomas J. Barratt for the Al Copeland Award.  Barratt is known as the father of modern advertising.  He married into the  A&F Pears’ soap company in 1865.  As Wikipedia describes it:

Under his leadership the company instituted a systematic method of advertising its distinctive soap, in which slogans and memorable images were combined. His slogan “Good morning. Have you used Pears’ soap?” was famous in its day. It continued to be a well known catch phrase well into the twentieth century.

Barratt was keen to equate Pears with quality and high culture through his campaign methods. He acquired works of art to use in the advertisements, most famously John Everett Millais’ painting Bubbles, which he turned into an advertisement by adding a bar of Pears soap in the foreground. Millais was said to be unhappy about the alteration, but could do nothing since Barratt had acquired the copyright. Barratt followed this with a series of adverts inspired by Millais’ painting, portraying cute children in idealised middle-class homes, associating Pears with social aspiration and domestic comfort….

Barratt was not a systematic theorist of marketing, but introduced a number of ideas that were widely circulated. He was keen to define a strong brand image for Pears while also emphasising his products ubiquity with saturation campaigns. He was also aware of the need for constant reinvention, stating in 1907 that “tastes change, fashions change and the advertiser has to change with them. An idea that was effective a generation ago would fall flat, stale, and unprofitable if presented to the public today. Not that the idea of today is always better than the older idea, but it is different – it hits the present taste.”

Barratt was not only a genius and innovator because he was the first to develop advertising practices that are common today, but because he recognized the connection between art and advertising.  They are both engaging, meaningful, and beautiful forms of communication.  Both are trying to convince you to believe or do something.  And one does not sully the other.  If Andy Warhol can turn a can of soup into art, I can’t see why Barratt couldn’t turn a work of art, like the painting “Bubbles“, into an advertisement.  Unlike Warhol, Barratt actually owned the rights for the image he used.

So, whenever you hear someone rant about the evils of advertising, just think about how much free entertainment, useful information, and beautiful images you get to experience from advertising.  Think about how much the human condition is improved by plentiful and free advertising that everyone gets to enjoy.  And rest assured that advertising is no more an effort to brainwash you than an Andy Warhol painting or the blowhard ranting about advertising.

I know Al Copeland recognized the art of advertising.  That’s why he had New Orleans jazz/blues legend Dr. John sing in his early commercials.  And that’s why Thomas J. Barratt is worthy of The Al.

Nominations Solicited for the 2014 Al Copeland Humanitarian Award

October 8, 2014

It is time once again for us to solicit nominations for the Al Copeland Humanitarian Award.  The criteria of the Al Copeland Humanitarian Award can be summarized by quoting our original blog post in which we sang the praises of Al Copeland and all that he did for humanity:

Al Copeland may not have done the most to benefit humanity, but he certainly did more than many people who receive such awards.  Chicago gave Bill Ayers their Citizen of the Year award in 1997.  And the Nobel Peace Prize has too often gone to a motley crew including unrepentant terrorist, Yassir Arafat, and fictional autobiography writer, Rigoberta Menchu.   Local humanitarian awards tend to go to hack politicians or community activists.  From all these award recipients you might think that a humanitarian was someone who stopped throwing bombs… or who you hoped would picket, tax, regulate, or imprison someone else.

Al Copeland never threatened to bomb, picket, tax, regulate, or imprison anyone.  By that standard alone he would be much more of a humanitarian.  But Al Copeland did even more — he gave us spicy chicken.

Last year’s winner of “The Al” was Weird Al Yankovic.  Weird Al won over an impressive set of nominees, including Penn and Teller, Kickstarter, and Bill Knudsen. In selecting Weird Al as the winner I explained:

Like Al Copeland, Weird Al may not have changed the world, but he has certainly improved the human condition.  He’s done so by making us laugh at the the absurdity of many who think highly of themselves.

In the previous year the winner of “The Al” was George P. Mitchell, a pioneer in the use of fracking to obtain more, cheap and clean natural gas. Mitchell won over a group of other worthy nominees:  Banksy, Ransom E. Olds, Stan Honey, and Alfred Fielding and Marc Chavannes.

In 2011 “The Al” went to Earle Haas, the inventor of the modern tampon.  Thanks to Anna for nominating him and recognizing that advances in equal opportunity for women had as much or more to do with entrepreneurs than government mandates.  Haas beat his fellow nominees:  Charles Montesquieu, the political philosopher, David Einhorn, the short-seller, and Steve Wynn, the casino mogul.

The 2010  winner of  “The Al” was Wim Nottroth, the man who resisted Rotterdam police efforts to destroy a mural that read “Thou Shall Not Kill” following the murder of Theo van Gogh by an Islamic extremist.  He beat out  The Most Interesting Man in the World, the fictional spokesman for Dos Equis and model of masculine virtue, Stan Honey, the inventor of the yellow first down line in TV football broadcasts, Herbert Dow, the founder of Dow Chemical and subverter of a German chemicals cartel, and Marion Donovan and Victor Mills, the developers of the disposable diaper.

And the 2009 winner of “The Al” was  Debrilla M. Ratchford, who significantly improved the human condition by inventing the rollerbag.  She beat out Steve Henson, who gave us ranch dressing,  Fasi Zaka, who ridiculed the Taliban,  Ralph Teetor, who invented cruise control, and Mary Quant, who popularized the miniskirt.

Nominations can be submitted by emailing a draft of a blog post advocating for your nominee.  If I like it, I will post it with your name attached.  Remember that the basic criteria is that we are looking for someone who significantly improved the human condition even if they made a profit in doing so.  Helping yourself does not nullify helping others.  And, like Al Copeland, nominees need not be perfect or widely recognized people.

Jim Blew to take Students First helm

October 8, 2014

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Congratulations to choice movement veteran Jim Blew for taking on the leadership of Students First.

Jim is both brilliant and delightfully direct in his delivery. My favorite Jim story came from shortly after he left the Alliance for School Choice. Our state team was meeting and we were discussing some situation. There was something that needed saying hanging in the air, so I simply blurted it out. Clint Bolick, Zack Dawes and Scott Jensen all looked a bit surprised, so I explained:

Hey, look, Jim’s not here anymore. Someone has to take up the slack!

Great hire for SF and good luck Jim!


San Dimas SAT Scores Rule! Errrrr…at least compared to Texas!

October 7, 2014

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

So usually every other week or so there is a new story about how Texas has once again drop kicked California in one way or another. It would start to get boring if it weren’t just so delightful for some of us, complete with great info-graphics like:


Oh and this one:

And of course the editorial cartoonists have joined in the fun:

But at long last, the SURFER STRIKES BACK in the news today from the Dallas Morning News that Texas SAT scores have hit a 22 year low. Worse still, California, long a smear on the bottom of the Texas boot, has comparable student demographics and participation rates but better scores!

So cheer up gnarly surfer dude! Texas may have a top business climate, population and economic growth, etc. but they have in recent years displayed a complacency regarding K-12 reform that has allowed even California to overtake them.





Wake Up America- College Football > NFL

October 5, 2014

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Wow…what a week in college football, and an opportune time to note would should be obvious: 32 teams running the same offense and the same defense is relatively boring compared to the grand chaotic mess of college football. Yes the athletes are the creme de la creme, but they are all pretty close to doing the same stuff they have been doing for decades.

Huge upsets this week. Undefeated but unranked Arizona beats Number 2 Oregon on the road with their anti-Super Duck kryptonite: huge. Ole Miss beats Bama- seismic. TCU knocks off Oklahoma-they can’t do that to our pledges, only we can do that to our pledges. Arizona State knocks off USC with a 50 yard bomb as time expires while USC players stand around in the end zone and watch it happen-


Hilarious. Mississippi State finally bursts the bubble of Texas A&M after they pull countless 4th quarter comebacks in the SEC: priceless.

Now before someone takes to the comments section to note just how awful my beloved Longhorns have been this year, let me note that I am painfully aware of just how awful my beloved Longhorns have been this year. That’s just part of the deal. The Longhorns were terrible when I was an undergraduate, wandered between awful and decent in the 1990s, finally got it done in 2005, declined thereafter and have hit rock bottom this year. Being a long-term college football fan is similar to reading about the rise and fall of empires in history books- it just takes longer and is far more visceral.

Oh, and you may have heard that there is going to be a 4 team playoff this year, thanks to this guy:

My Longhorns are in a purgatory, but it doesn’t matter- college football itself is great. The Arizona Cardinals are undefeated and my fantasy NFL team the Psychopaths are 3-1, and that is nice, but I’m most thankful that it is less than 9 million degrees in the shade outside and college football is rolling. Wake up America- the greatest show on turf is taking place outside of your local NFL stadium.

P.S.- I neglected the big upsets in my neighboring state to the north, as Utah State defeated previously unbeaten and ranked BYU, and Utah beat previously undefeated and highly ranked UCLA.





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