November Diary
What is Derb doing in Russia?


John Derbyshire

This has at least given us intimate familiarity with the interior of Russian automobiles. One feature that has caught my eye is on the car radio. There’s a little screen showing which channel you’re tuned to, just as there is on my wife’s late-model Camry back home. Our drivers mostly seem to favor oldies stations (which, by the way, have an interesting Soviet-era-residue twist: lots of 1940s/1950s American jazz), and as we are listening to a song, the name of the song and performer marquee-scroll across the screen!

Technologically I’m always behind the curve, so possibly this is a thing you can get in the States, too; but I have never seen it before.

Or is it perhaps a Russian innovation? When I was a kid, people worried about the Missile Gap. Should we start worrying about an Oldies Identification Gap?

All shall have prizes. Perhaps in obedience to one of those biases Kahneman discovered, this month’s diary has ended up being all about our Russia trip. To redress the balance a little, here’s an item from before we left, nothing to do with Russia at all.

My modest middle-middle-class suburb has a high school, and the high school has a student newspaper. The front-page headline story in the November issue concerns a new “floor-grade policy” the school has just adopted. The story explains:

Starting this year, 50 is the lowest score a teacher can put on a student’s report card, even if no homework is completed during the semester and every test result is a zero. Advocates of the more generous policy that makes 50 the minimum failing grade a student can receive say it is intended to give weaker students a better chance of passing.

So a student can now do absolutely no work whatsoever and his report-card grade cannot be lower than 50 percent. (50 percent of . . . what?)

After researching the education chapter for We Are Doomed, I am familiar with the fact that for sheer gibbering, grass-eating, banana-in-the-ear lunacy, there is no area of public policy better stocked than education, but this “floor-grade policy” (I thought) beats all.

Then I met a friend who teaches high school in New York City. Indignantly, I told him about our floor-grade policy.

“Oh, sure,” he said. “In the city it’s 55 percent.”


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