Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Free Browser: Firefox 1.5 is out

Highly recommended. Go get the latest copy. It's as good as it gets for browsing.

Human activity levels dictated by genetics?

Here's an article about a study of the degree of activity a person exercises. It suggests a genetic predisposition that may be so hard-wired as to make it very difficult to change. Something for parents and teachers to think about before assuming someone hasn't tried enough. Click the link to read the whole press release.

OHSU Study Reveals Each Persons' Activity Level Appears Intrinsic, Possibly Tied To Genetics (November 14, 2005)

Research helps explain why active people will likely remain active and why couch potatoes will likely remain couch potatoes

WASHINGTON, DC - Research conducted by scientists at the Oregon National Primate Research Center at Oregon Health & Science University reveals that a person's level of activity is likely an intrinsic property of that individual. This means personal decisions to become more active for the purpose of losing weight may take more of a conscious effort than traditionally thought for certain people. The research is being presented during the Society for Neuroscience meeting in Washington, D.C., Nov. 12-16. It is one of the largest and most respected meetings of neuroscientists in the world.

"Previous research has revealed that increased physical activity can decrease the risk of obesity, coronary heart disease, respiratory disease, metabolic diseases like diabetes, anxiety, depression, breast cancer and colon cancer," said Elinor Sullivan, an OHSU graduate student conducting research at the Oregon National Primate Research Center. "Based on the wealth of benefits provided by regular exercise, doctors have often recommended that patients increase their level of physical activity. However, currently the factors that regulate an individual's average daily activity level, and the brain systems involved in regulating activity are not well understood. It is likely that these factors affect how easy it is for individuals to substantially increase activity through voluntarily exercise, and whether some people can more easily increase their activity than others."

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

BOE Orientation

Tonight Superintendent Bruce Silva held an orientation meeting for all new Board of Education members. Principal Lou DeLoreto joined us as well.

Briefly, I asked about changing the system of weighed voting to one person - one vote. This census-based algorithm is dictated by State Statute not by the school board. Personally I find it insulting and although I've been reassured that weighed voting rarely swings a vote one way or another I think that it contributes to a degree of cynicism about local representation that is corrosive. I plan to speak to every state politician that will listen to eliminate this statute. Until this is changed, we'll have to hold our noses and live with it.

I asked about the possibility of increasing the number of student (non-voting) Board of Education members from one to three where one student from each town would be a representative. This is within the power of the Board and I'll work through the appropriate channels to have this added to a coming agenda.

I also asked about the possibility of holding at least one BOE meeting in Ashford and Willington. My feeling is that both towns deserve an opportunity to share real face time with the Board and to simply offer elderly and local citizens a good faith chance to participate. This is another candidate agenda item I will work to address.

I suggested that BOE agenda items allow for some public participation time. Today the public can only speak at the end of a meeting - something I found oppressive when attending as a public citizen. In a discussion, I learned that the BOE has NO true obligation to offer any public discussion time. The Region 19 Board almost always does but along the tradition lines of offering time at the end of the meeting. My thought is that we need to experiment a little with this over time.

Everything I've heard from both Bruce and Lou over the past four months leads me to believe that Region 19 is very well run and thoughtful and caring toward our kids. I want to make sure everyone hears that.

When I was running I listened to various complains and suburban legends about EO Smith and I'm still listening. I have every intention of reporting back to you in this blog the closest thing to truth I can find about these issues.

As many of you know, the issue of fair opportunity is much discussed. Today Bruce and Lou made it clear in no uncertain terms that every student in the building is just another individual. The town that student comes from has zero bearing on their treatment by teachers, coaches, administrators, and so on to the degree that something like that can be observed.

I believe them, the citizens from Ashford should consider this true and any tall story to the contrary just another tall story until you receive a memo stating otherwise.

States abstain from federal sex ed money

I wonder if CT accepts federal sex education dollars? If it does what's the obligation involved and where's the money go?

From the article;

Tuesday, November 29, 2005
States abstain from federal sex ed money
Maine has stepped out of the collection line of states getting federal money to help subsidize sex education, joining California and Pennsylvania in saying, “No, thanks.”
Citing a potential conflict with a 2002 state law that mandates teaching teenagers everything from self-restraint to contraception, Maine declined about $160,000 in federal money for fiscal 2006.
Maine would have had to pitch in about $120,000 had it accepted the federal money, and it would have had to focus sex education programs financed by the money on abstinence exclusively.
- click on the title to read the article

Monday, November 28, 2005

Society's new whipping group; kids and parents

In a meandering article called Kids Gone Wild, talk show host Judith Warner pushes every hot button issue on the minds of talk radio Americans.

  • nearly 70 percent of Americans said they believed that people are ruder now than they were 20 or 30 years ago, and that children are among the worst offenders
  • Children have always been considered, basically, savages
  • what seems to have changed recently, according to childrearing experts, is parental behavior
  • The pressure to do well is up. The demand to do good is down, way down, particularly if it's the kind of do-gooding that doesn't show up on a college application
  • Once upon a time, parenting was largely about training children to take their proper place in their community, which, in large measure, meant learning to play by the rules and cooperate
  • Rude behavior, particularly toward adults, was something for which children had to be chastised, even punished. That has also now changed
  • Parenting today is also largely about training children to compete - in school and on the soccer field - and the kinds of attributes they need to be competitive are precisely those that help break down society's civility
  • "We're insane about achievement," he said. "Schoolwork is up 50 percent since 1981, and we're so obsessed with our kids getting into the right school, getting the right grades, we let a lot of things slide. Kids don't do chores at home anymore because there isn't time."
  • Educators feel helpless... -snip- More than half said they ended up being soft on discipline "because they can't count on parents or schools to support them."
  • "Parents are out of control," he said. "We always want to blame the kids, but if there's something wrong with their incivility, it's the way their parents model for them."
  • "These kids are so extremely stressed from the academic load they're carrying and how cloistered they are and how they have to live under the watchful eye of their parents," Dr. Mogel said. "They have no kid space."
  • Stop blaming the children, they said. Stop focusing on the surface level of behavior and start curing instead the social, educational and parental ills that feed it.
  • and on and on
Yes, Warner's article is a litany of reasons society needs to be upset with children, parents, laws that protect children, teachers and adults, and so on. The fact that most of complaints and remedies in the article are self-contradictory is of no consequence - Warner is not writing to solve problems, she writing to aggravate the sleeping American lynch mob.

A corollary talk media screed is that American itself is uncivil these days. On CSpan you can hear one politician after another lamenting the good old days when you could just bash liberals, the poor, welfare moms, feminists, unemployed black men, flouride in drinking water, atheists, the ACLU, Democratic budget surpluses, and extended drum solos.

What's missing in all these arguments, of course, is a whole truth. After all, there's a little bit of truth in all these complaints. And the talk media has trained American kids to point the finger at schools, schools to point the finger at parents, and parents point to society, and society to kids. Everybody is a loser in this chase your favorite boogeyman game.

It keeps everybody complaining about everybody else instead of the truly rude. And it villifies our children in ways that justify a return to a military draft that exposes these kids to extermination. Already, military recruiting is targeting children as young as fifteen years old to enlist in programs that obligate them to military service after graduation from high school and military training during high school summers.

I want the talk media to discuss that issue. And while they're at it, here's what I think is rude;

  • A government controlled exclusively by one party who acheived that power with lies, theft, subversion, dirty tricks, and -gasp- 30 years of RUDE media behavior toward anyone who disageed with them (I wonder if there's a connection there?)
  • An American public so gullable that every new lie that's uttered by the ruling party becomes a trance-like mantra (Why wouldn't kids respect their dazed elders?)
  • A two-party political system in which the ruling party treats the national treasure like a slush fund for every greedy, whimsical, or demented expenditure imaginable (these so-called 'rude' kids are being handed the bill - is it any wonder little Johnny and Jane America aren't smiling?)
  • A set of government bureaucracies who are accountable to no one yet dictate expensive mandates to local communities who cannot afford their -cough- visions
  • A national Education department that complains about national student math scores yet mandates the comparison of incongruous student test results and declares those results 'proof' of failing schools (these 'rude' kids and teachers know they're being used as social engineering guinea pigs). In the (sigh!) old days this was called bad math or "it don't add up".
  • The intellectual pestilence of religious fanaticism here and abroad
  • The uneasy quenching of thirst at a restaurant away from home knowing that environmental protection is an oxymoron these days (kids teeth are rotting because the flouride's gone but who knows what is being poured into those bottomless cups of cola)
  • The bashing of ghetto youth for using slang while thousands of unintelligible foreigners are insourced to replace American workers
  • The promotion of incompetent individuals to positions of national importance based on cronyism, political kick-back, mutually assured complicity, and other unscrupulous activity
  • and so on

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Free Computer Anti-Virus Software

In an article called "Two More Ways to Fight Viruses, for Free" in the Washington Post, Sunday, November 27, 2005; Page F07, Rob Pegoraro reviews two freeware anti-virus products.

You are welcome to use your own judgement about these things but I present the information to let everyone know that it's there. For anyone on a budget it probably makes sense to give it a try.

Selections from the article;


For several years, two Czech software developers have offered free versions of their anti-virus programs to home users. These no-charge downloads don't offer every feature provided by McAfee Inc. and Symantec Corp., the two security developers whose programs come pre-installed on most Windows PCs. But when put to the same tests as software from the Big Two, they did the job almost as well and with less fuss.

Both of these freebies -- Avast 4 Home Edition, from Prague's Alwil Software, and AVG Free Edition, from Brno-based Grisoft Inc. -- can be installed only on home computers that aren't put to any business or commercial use. (Income from sales to businesses and organizations covers the cost of this exercise in Internet charity.)

These two programs share a few welcome traits. Both are relatively small downloads -- almost 10 megabytes for Avast, just under 15 for AVG -- that tout compatibility with systems as old as Windows 95. And both automatically download updates every day and allow quick manual updates.

AVG's interface is in general far cleaner than Avast's, putting all the relevant controls and status indicators in one window.

Neither program's screening was quite as far-reaching as that offered by competitors -- for example, Avast and AVG allowed me to preview a .zip archive containing a virus using Windows XP's Compressed Files tool, while Symantec and McAfee's software denied all access to that .zip file.

Also, neither Avast nor AVG will stop spyware that you choose to download and install on your own -- each pronounced a freebie, spyware-riddled download as safe. So you'll still need a separate anti-spyware utility such as Microsoft's free Anti-Spyware for Windows 2000 and XP.

But if you define an anti-virus utility's job as ensuring that no virus sent your way can run on your computer (as opposed to also ensuring that no virus can even land on your computer), these two programs were just as capable as their pricier competitors. And while I've gotten more reader reports than I can count of PCs immobilized by malfunctioning Symantec and McAfee software, I've yet to hear of such trouble with Avast or AVG.

Whichever virus scanner you use, make sure you keep one other active -- the one that came pre-installed at birth: your brain.

Even the most rigorously updated security software can miss a just-created program that hasn't been entered into virus databases, but any reasonably aware human should still be able to spot a con job when it arrives.

Be as skeptical and smart about strange files as you would any other strange solicitation, and you won't have to rely on somebody else's software as your only line of defense.

The urls are AVG and Avast.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Quality Control, Growing Teachers, and Xenophobia

A most interesting New York Times Editorial post on improving education. Well worth clicking on the link for the full text. Here's an appetizer;

Why the United States Should Look to Japan for Better Schools

Published: November 21, 2005


The No Child Left Behind Act, passed four years ago, was supposed to put this problem on the national agenda. Instead, the country has gotten bogged down in a squabble about a part of the law that requires annual testing in the early grades to ensure that the states are closing the achievement gap. The testing debate heated up last month when national math and reading scores showed dismal performance across the board.

Lurking behind these test scores, however, are two profoundly important and closely intertwined topics that the United States has yet to even approach: how teachers are trained and how they teach what they teach. These issues get a great deal of attention in high-performing systems abroad - especially in Japan, which stands light years ahead of us in international comparisons.

Americans tend to roll their eyes when researchers raise the Japanese comparison. The most common response is that Japanese culture is "nothing like ours." Nevertheless, the Japanese system has features that could be fruitfully imitated here, as the education reformers James Stigler and James Hiebert pointed out in their book "The Teaching Gap," published in 1999.

The book has spawned growing interest in the Japanese teacher-development strategy in which teachers work cooperatively and intensively to improve their methods. This process, known as "lesson study," allows teachers to revise and refine lessons that are then shared with others, sometimes through video and sometimes at conventions. In addition to helping novices, this system builds a publicly accessible body of knowledge about what works in the classroom.

The lesson-study groups focus on refining methods that improve student understanding. In doing so, the groups go step by step, laying out successful strategies for teaching specific lessons. This reflects the Japanese view that successful teaching is the product of intensive teacher development and self-scrutiny. In America, by contrast, novice teachers are often presumed competent on Day One. They have few opportunities in their careers to watch successful colleagues in action. We also tend to believe that educational change would happen overnight - if only we could find the right formula. This often leaves us prey to fads that put schools on the wrong track.

There are two other things that set this country apart from its high-performing peers abroad. One is the American sense that teaching is a skill that people come by naturally. We also have a curriculum that varies widely by region. The countries that are leaving us behind in math and science decide at the national level what students should learn and when. The schools are typically overseen by ministries of education that spend a great deal of time on what might be called educational quality control.


Faced with lagging test scores and pressure from the federal government, some school officials have embraced the dangerous but all-too-common view that millions of children are incapable of high-level learning. This would be seen as heresy in Japan. But it is fundamental to the American system, which was designed in the 19th century to provide rigorous education for only about a fifth of the students, while channeling the rest into farm and factory jobs that no longer exist.

The United States will need a radically different mind set to catch up with high-performing competitors. For starters we will need to focus as never before on the process through which teachers are taught to teach. We will also need to drop the arrogance and xenophobia that have blinded us to successful models developed abroad.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Basic Cable TV station changes

Is anyone else upset that CSPAN2, paid for by tax dollars has been removed from basic cable TV access by Charter Communications? It's as though we're subsidizing extended cable viewers with a presumably publicly funded channel that nobody can get to without paying extra.

It's like a poll tax for citizens. I complained to Charter and finally reached a 'supervisor' who said that the towns in the area chose to drop CSPAN2. I have my doubts.

The FCC phone number is 1-888-Call FCC if you're interested into why cable companies can get away with this double billing of the taxpayer.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Furthermore, call a moratorium on NCLB

The double-talk coming out of the Education Department in Washington amounts to this, No Child Left Behind is not working correctly so they're tinkering.

In business, if I sell the customer a ticket to NY and the train arrives in Boston instead that means something is very wrong. I don't know of too many businesses that then turn around and charge the customer again for a ticket from Boston to New York and get away with it (and we might wind up in Montreal!).

Today, NCLB is passing the cost of this flawed mandate AND THE TINKERING onto every one of us. We are being asked to pay over and over for more nonsensical and empirically failing policy.

Our kids are being jerked around. Our schools and teachers are being jerked around. Hard working parents are stressed and stretched to all kinds of crazy limits to get their children into the right programs and Washington wants to play cop because some idiot in Washington gave them a badge.

What's more. In admitting that it isn't working, are they assuming responsibility for the wrongful harm they've done to schools, administrators and teachers caught in this educational quagmire? IMO, somebody should look into it.

And, before more damage is done, this program should be sent to a corner for a timeout until somebody figures out what should be measured and what to do with those results. Today we are condemning schools and ram-rodding expensive educational program changes based on psuedo-science.

Our teachers know better what our students need and the local community knows as well. The inside the beltwaty crowd should experiment on their own kids, not ours.

Pull the plug on the federal Education Department

Margaret Spellings and her cohorts are at it again. They've managed to subvert the No Child Left Behind act into a draconian witch-hunt complete with good guys and bad guys - measuring the wrong stuff, itimidating and bullying parents, schools and taxpayers with ever more ridiculous demands and tweaks, and so on. Let's start making it clear to every politician you meet to pull the plug. Enough with this costly nonsense.

States redefine student progress
Education Department to allow changes in performance measurement

Friday, November 18, 2005; Posted: 10:06 a.m. EST (15:06 GMT)

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Tinkering again with enforcement of the No Child Left Behind education law, the government plans to let some states fundamentally change how they measure yearly student progress.

In an experiment that's been months in the making, up to 10 states will be allowed to measure not just how students are performing, but how that performance is changing over time.

Currently, schools are judged based only on how today's students compare to last year's students in math and reading -- such as fourth-graders in 2005 versus fourth-graders in 2004.

Many state leaders don't like the current system of comparing two different years of kids because it doesn't recognize changes in the population or growth by individual students.

Education Secretary Margaret Spellings was announcing the "growth model" policy on Friday to a gathering of state school chiefs in Richmond, Virginia, The Associated Press learned.

In the fine print of the article is buried the fact that all this new data will cost taxpayers a fortune and IMHO is worthless.

I want to introduce a growth formula to Ms Spellings - Grow goodwill in education by going away. The pocketbooks of taxpayers will grow when you go and we will all thank you and, if it makes the parting quicker, we'll give you a plaque.

The Education Department should be retired immediately. It is a hoax and a failure that continues to cost money and disseminate unwanted mandates, policy tinkering, and plain stupidity across the countryside.

Shut it down.

Not your parent's Shakespeare

I wonder what parents and teachers will make of this.

It could be the future of Shakespeare.

Dot mobile, a British mobile phone service aimed at students, says it plans to condense classic works of literature into SMS text messages. The company claims the service will be a valuable resource for studying for exams.

Academic purists will be horrified. Hamlet's famous query, "To be or not to be, that is the question," becomes "2b? Nt2b? ???"

John Milton's epic poem "Paradise Lost" begins "devl kikd outa hevn coz jelus of jesus&strts war." ("The devil is kicked out of heaven because he is jealous of Jesus and starts a war.")

Some may dismiss the summaries as cheat notes for the attention-deficit generation, but John Sutherland, a University College London English professor who consulted on the project, said they could act as a useful memory aid.

"The educational opportunities it offers are immense," said Sutherland, who chaired the judging panel for this year's Booker Prize for fiction.

Sutherland said the compressed nature of text messages allowed them to "fillet out the important elements in a plot."

Got Ideas?

Here's a union that is using internet technology to find the best new ideas that will improve the country:

We're looking for fresh, new ideas for a better America. Do you have a common-sense idea that will improve the day-to-day lives of everyday Americans? Or an opinion on how working families can succeed in the new global economy?

You have until December 5, 2005, to submit your idea and to weigh in. A panel of judges will select the top 21 ideas. All of America will be able to vote on the finalists, and on February 1, one person will win $100,000—runners up receive $50,000 each.

This is a nice opportunity for teachers at EO Smith as well as the elementary and middle schools to have a creative, brainstorming class and submit their best ideas.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Saving Money: Black Friday sneak peeks

This New York Times article (Shop-Till-You-Drop Specials, Revealed Here First) gives everyone an opportunity to identify money-saving deals on the Friday after Thanksgiving by using some online resources. For parents with children of any age, these sites can save you time and money.

There are now at least three Web sites dedicated to digging up Black Friday sales secrets, creating a fierce competition to post the ads first. It is so heated, in fact, that all three sites stamp the circulars with bright electronic watermarks to discourage rivals from stealing a scoop.

The renegade sites, whose popularity is growing, highlight how much the Web is shifting the balance of power in retailing from companies to consumers. Big national chains used to control discounts carefully, and shoppers were lucky to stumble into a sale at a store or receive an e-mail message promising free shipping. Today, however, online forums encourage strangers to exchange hard-to-find online coupon codes, and they offer instructions on how to combine rebates with one-day sales to cut retail prices in half.

Go here, here, or here. Good luck.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Ashford Democrats send the State a message

At the recent Democratic Town Committee meeting, State House Representative Mike Cardin updated the committee on legislative news from the State Capitol - emminent domain, identity theft, and more. However, the conversation soon turned to job creation and tax relief for small towns.

A recent Face the State program discussed CT's economy in unflattering terms.

...a new study warns that other states are growing much faster, and Connecticut is losing ground, in many key areas that affect business development and job creation.

The legislature should pay urgent heed to this discussion. The issue of tax relief for small town Connecticut is not far behind in importance.

Massachsetts is facing a similar situation and here is what Romney recently suggested,

Underlining the challenge, Romney said leaders of one technology firm in Massachusetts anticipated that 90 percent of its skilled labor would be in Asia in 10 years. He also pointed to statistics that show the United States graduating only 4,400 mathematics and science PhDs each year compared with 24,900 math and science PhDs for greater Asia.

"China and India have a population a multiple of ours. They have natural resources. There is no reason they can't emerge as the superpower. The only way we can preserve that role for ourselves is through innovation. It's erroneous that we do high-level work here and send low-level work abroad. When our market is no longer the largest market in the world, the idea that we're going to be innovating and they're going to be copying is erroneous," Romney said.

In response to the looming crisis, Romney pointed to some specific problems and proposed some remedies. He said we must close the educational achievement gap between racial groups in the United States. "The education gap is the civil rights issue of our age." He also said all U.S. students must raise their standing compared with students in other industrialized countries. According to one study, U. S. students rank 25th out of 41 industrial nations. "Fewer and fewer are performing at the top level," he said.

He suggested paying teachers a $5,000 bonus for teaching Advanced Placement courses, as well as giving the top third of teachers a $5,000 bonus. He also suggested a bonus for teachers that teach in troubled school districts. Romney also favored giving secondary school students laptop computers.

He pointed to some educational achievements in Massachusetts, where fourth graders ranked first in the country in math and English. He also noted that Massachusetts students ranking in the top fourth of their class can attend state institutions tuition-free under a scholarship program he supported.

"I want to make sure that Massachusetts remains competitive." Speaking of the nation, he said, "I want the center of technology and innovation to remain here. I am overwhelmingly optimistic about our ability to rise to the occasion."

Connecticut needs to wake up.

I also want to thank Mike for sending a warm congratulations letter on my election to Region 19. I hope not to let anyone down.

About that Special Education Ruling...

A few days ago, the Supreme Court ruled that it is the parents and not the school district that has the burden of proof that a student's Individualized Education Plan is inadequate.

A New York Times article (Special Education Ruling's Effects Unclear by Elissa Gootman,
published: November 17, 2005) instructs us what it means to states;

Essentially, states fall into three categories on disputes over individualized education plans. One group includes Texas, Virginia and Maryland, where the Supreme Court upheld what has been in practice. The second group includes New Jersey and New York, where the burden of proof shifts to the parents. In the third group, states including Alabama and Connecticut have regulations or statutes that place the burden of proof on school districts.

It goes on to talk about Connecticut specifically;

In Connecticut, because of a regulation placing the burden of proof on school districts, officials say they expect virtually no changes because of the Supreme Court ruling.

"We think that as of right now, unless the federal government tells us otherwise, we can continue to do as we have done with our system," Attorney General Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut said. "We believe that our regulation embodies a valid state policy that articulates our belief that school boards are in a better position to muster the facts and expertise in any contest with ordinary parents."

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Barack Obama talks about raising daughters

In this overlooked address to the National Women's Law Center, we are reminded about some unspoken issues that go hand in hand with education. Here's a couple of brief quotes. Click the title for the original text.

The social contract between Americans and their government - the bargain that says if you're willing to work hard for your country then your country will make it easier for you to get ahead and raise a family - was made for a time when most women stayed home with the kids and most workers stayed with one company for their entire lives.

But even though this time is long past - even though the vast majority of women with children today are working, including single mothers - we still have social policies designed around the old model of the male breadwinner.

And so women still earn 76% of what men do. They receive less in health benefits, less in pensions, less in Social Security. They receive little help for the rising cost of child care. They make up 71% of all Medicaid beneficiaries, and a full two-thirds of all the Americans who lost their health care this year. When women go on maternity leave, America is the only country in the industrialized world to let them go unpaid. When their children become sick and are sent home from school, many mothers are forced to choose between caring for their child and keeping their job.

In short, when it comes to making your way in a twenty-first century economy, our daughters still do not have the same opportunities as our sons.

The Administration's answer to this would only exacerbate the problem for women. The idea here is to give everyone one big refund on their government - divvy it up into some tax breaks, hand them out, and encourage everyone to use their share to go buy their own health care, their own retirement plan, their own unemployment insurance, education, and so forth.

But for the single mom who's already making less than her male counterpart - the mom who had to go without a paycheck for three months when her daughter was born, who's now facing skyrocketing child care costs and an employer who doesn't provide health care coverage for part-time work - for this mom, getting a few hundred bucks off the next tax bill won't solve the problem, will it?

In Washington, they call this the Ownership Society. But in our past there has been another term for it - Social Darwinism, every man and woman for him or herself. It allows us to say to those whose health care or tuition may rise faster than they can afford - tough luck. It allows us to say to the women who lose their jobs when they have to care for a sick child - life isn't fair. It let's us say to the child born into poverty - pull yourself up by your bootstraps

But there is a problem. It won't work. It ignores our history. Our economic dominance has depended on individual initiative and belief in the free market; but it has also depended on our sense of mutual regard for each other, the idea that everybody has a stake in the country, that we're all in it together and everybody's got a shot at opportunity

And so if we're serious about this opportunity, if we truly value families and don't think it's right to penalize parenting, then we need to start acting like it. We need to update the social contract in this country to include the realities faced by working women.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Jimmy Carter on local autonomy and fiscal responsibility:

If you read only one editorial piece this week make it the LA Times pice by Jimmy Carter. He speaks eloquently for all of us who are concerned with the health and choices our country is making.

This isn't the real America
By Jimmy Carter

"IN RECENT YEARS, I have become increasingly concerned by a host of radical government policies that now threaten many basic principles espoused by all previous administrations, Democratic and Republican.

These include the rudimentary American commitment to peace, economic and social justice, civil liberties, our environment and human rights.

Also endangered are our historic commitments to providing citizens with truthful information, treating dissenting voices and beliefs with respect, state and local autonomy and fiscal responsibility."

Carter goes on to mention national issues but this is a clarion call to regional activists and administrators to begin investigating ways to restore local control away from a federal administration gone mad.

We need no more federal education mandates.

The same politicians who lost the war on poverty and drugs, who botched education reform, fiscal responsibility, FEMA and Homeland Security and so on need to shut up and get out of the driver's seat or hand everyone a travel sickness bag. We've seen and heard enough to know we can do better locally. They should have never been promoted and they are an embarassment to children who are taught to depend on government for fair and effective policy.

We all know they won't willfully go away so it is the responsibility of students, teachers, parents, and citizens to remind them of what we expect and we should settle for nothing less than the finest example of democacy, justice, and hope we can offer each other and the world as a nation.

If kids and parents are going to be deafened by lectures from politicians about accountability and responsibility then turnabout is fair play.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

The Tech-tonic Report, what do you think?

Here's a report that discusses technology in the lives of children. It is dedicated to the memory of Fred Rodgers and Neil Postman and is good reading.

Click the title to read it. These are the three points it talks about:

"1. Our children face a daunting technological frontier of irreversible changes in human biology and the world's ecology. They need a radically different kind of technology education to make wise choices in such a future.

2. Children's lives are increasingly filled with screen time rather than real time with nature, caring adults, the arts, and hands-on work and play. Yet only real relationships, not virtual ones, will inspire and prepare them to protect the Earth and all that lives on it.

3. There is scant evidence of long-term benefits—and growing indications of harm—from the high-tech life style and education aggressively promoted by government and business. It is time for concerted citizen action to reclaim childhood for children."

Saving Money: OpenOffice software

OpenOffice is an industry strength software office suite of tools that includes a word processor, spreadsheet, graphics tool and more. It is free for agreeing to the licensing terms.

Click on the title of this post to go there. For families who cannot afford expensive vendor packages or who have reservatons about the investment, this is the way to go. Microsoft Word products can easily be imported. I use this at home.

An especially nice feature is that you can export PDF documents that are far less prone to have embedded virues. One of my pet peeves has always been that I am leery of opening Microsoft Word email attachments from institutional sources (like school) because they can be infected (giving me headaches). PDF attachments carry far less risk.

I would like to see all Region 19 schools give this package a fair evaluation and consider a wholesale migration away from the costly vendor software the schools now pay for to this standard.

Free training videos are available at;

Today, there is considerable impetus by industry to move in this direction;


"OpenDocument format gathers steam
By Martin LaMonica, CNET
Published on ZDNet News: November 10, 2005, 4:00 AM PT

Big guns in the software industry are massing behind OpenDocument as government customers show more interest in alternatives to Microsoft's desktop software.

IBM and Sun Microsystems convened a meeting in Armonk, N.Y., on Friday to discuss how to boost adoption of the standardized document format for office applications. The ODF Summit brought together representatives from a handful of industry groups and from at least 13 technology companies, including Oracle, Google and Novell.

That stepped-up commitment from major companies comes amid signs that states are showing interest in OpenDocument. Massachusetts in September decided to standardize on OpenDocument for some state agencies.

James Gallt, the associate director for the National Association of State Chief Information Officers, said Wednesday that there are a number of other state agencies are exploring the use of the document format standard.

"It's more grassroots, starting small and working its way through individual states and agencies," Gallt said, but did not specify which governments were looking into it.

Those state customers are seeking alternatives to Microsoft Office, while the technology providers are looking to loosen Microsoft's grip on the desktop marketplace, said Stephen O'Grady, an analyst at RedMonk. Those factors are what are fueling the growing momentum for OpenDocument, he said."

The article goes on to present some pros and cons for making such a move.

America's Being Left Behind

In a New York Times article titled: Are U.S. Innovators Losing Their Competitive Edge? by Timothy L. O'Brien published: onNovember 13, 2005, we are being warned about what is happening to our country as a result of the current administration of this country.


"A COMMITTEE of leading scientists, corporate executives and educators oversaw the drafting of the report, entitled "Rising Above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future." To spur American innovation, it recommends enhanced math and science education in grade school and high school, a more hospitable environment for scientific research and training at the college and graduate levels, an increase in federal funds for basic scientific research and a mix of tax incentives and other measures to foster high-paying jobs in groundbreaking industries. The report cites China and India among a number of economically promising countries that may be poised to usurp America's leadership in innovation and job growth.

"For the first time in generations, the nation's children could face poorer prospects than their parents and grandparents did," the report said. "We owe our current prosperity, security and good health to the investments of past generations, and we are obliged to renew those commitments.""

This is important information. Technology leadership is often measured in just a matter of weeks or months. This concern about the threats that China, India, and other even less friendly countries pose is very real in the software community that I work in and software is just one field of many in danger.

The article goes on to say,

"Mr. Flemings said that private and public capital was not being adequately funneled to the kinds of projects and people that foster invention. The study of science is not valued in enough homes, he observed, and science education in grade school and high school is sorely lacking.

But quantitative goals, he said, are not enough. Singapore posts high national scores in mathematics, he said, but does not have a reputation for churning out new inventions. In fact, he added, researchers from Singapore have studied school systems in America to try to glean the source of something ineffable and not really quantifiable: creativity.

"In addition to openness, tolerance is essential in an inventive modern society," a report sponsored by the Lemelson-M.I.T. Program said last year. "Creative people, whether artists or inventive engineers, are often nonconformists and rebels. Indeed, invention itself can be perceived as an act of rebellion against the status quo.""

Let's emphasize something important here. For all the phony rhetoric about American education falling behind the rest of the world, we find out over and over that that hasn't been true. The rest of the world is very good at administering perfunctory education but they look this way to figure out why it isn't working.

We know why. We have got to take back the education system from those who would turn our kids into test-taking-automotons and return it to the individual development of our children.

Instead of a Boston Tea Party, let's send these unnecessary tests to FEMA until they fill in the New Orleans low land. We have got to celebrate Yankee ingenuity all over again. This is not a time to politely debate nonsensical arguments, it's a time to free the schools of unnecessary testing and fraudulent school accountability exercises - it is killing the country.

[All bolded text is due to my editorial emphasis. The original article has none.]

Friday, November 11, 2005

Confessions from the campaign trail

I am, by far, not the greatest campaigner in town. Lots of the candidates canvassed the town with afternoon campaign walks.

I chose to camp out for a couple of weekends at the transfer station. The first Saturday was cold! But the weekend before the election was practically balmy.

But I must say, it feels dumb waving to people driving in and out of the transfer station. Don't get me wrong, it's a very effective way of getting attention. However, every once in a while I almost broke out in laughter. Every fourth or fifth vehicle would ineveitably be a rugged looking truck with two or three rugged looking construction workers looking equally burly.

I would stand there and think to myself, "Is it right to wave to these guys? Do I look like Curly Howard of the Three Stooges when I wave? Use the whole hand wave, not the half-hearted finger wave..." So a split second later, I found myself waving a manly wave. As the glare of sunlight moved across the windshield of the two-story pickup trunks, I could see the terrified faces of grown men cringe as if to say, "You really aren't going to make us wave back at you, are you?"

My head would, ever so slightly and excruciatingly slowly, nod up and down, "Oh, yeah." Rolling their eyes as if their mother's told them there would be days like this, they'd awkwardly wave back and make it look as if a bee were bothering them so as not to raise the suspicions of their drinking buddy.

Some people think the ancient arts of self-defense require years of sacrifice and physical training to bring out the warrior personna. Those of us who run for local office know better. When someone looks like they want to get tough - just give them the wave. Their body language will say it all, "No please, not that. Stop!"

One of the campaign experiments I exercised was to declare myself a Liberal Democrat in the campaign literature. I was curious and nervous that maybe voters would vote against a label than vote for the person.

Based on the empirical evidence, in Ashford, the bad-mouthing of the liberal label didn't work. IMO, that's a good thing.

I left Town Hall early on the night of the election, so I had to go to Town Hall Wednesday to get sworn in by Barbara Metsack. That evening was rainy and I found her office and she asked me how she could help me.

"I'm here to get sworn in."

"What office!?"

"Uh, Region 19." [Her eyes seemed to roll a bit as if to say, "A stray, always a stray."]

"Raise your right hand...."

Wow, I got elected!

I want to thank everyone who voted for me to help represent Ashford and the interests of education in the Region 19 School District in the State of Connecticut.