Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Saving Money: Starbury One Sneakers

Enigmatic NBA Knicks star Stephon Marbury is endorsing [for free] a high-quality, low-cost sneaker.

Parents should be doing back-flips that some athlete, any athlete has finally exercised some social responsibility in teen product marketing. Marbury deserves a humanitarian award for returning sanity to the sneaker department.

Based on early sales reports, the sneakers are flying off the shelves in stores attempting to stock them.

Can You Spare A Dime?

An opinion piece [more fact than opinion] in today's New York Times is a wake-up call to everyone working in the Private sector and needs to be a wake-up call to everyone working on tax dollars. Income is dropping for the under-65 years of age working population.

To me there's no mystery involved. The tax myth that giving tax breaks to corporations and the rich will somehow enrich us all is empirically false. Taxes continue to rise, government has ballooned, and parents and children are taking the hardest hits.

Downward Mobility from the New York Times Opinion section.

If you’re still harboring the notion that the economy is “good,” prepare to be disabused.

Even the best number from yesterday’s Census Bureau report for 2005 is bad news for most Americans. It shows that median income rose 1.1 percent last year, to $46,326, the first increase since it peaked in 1999. But the entire increase is attributable to the 23 million households headed by someone over age 65. So the gain is likely from investment income and Social Security, not wages and salaries.

For the other 91 million households, the median dropped, by half a percent, or $275. Incomes for the under-65 crowd were hurt by a decline in wages and salaries among full-time working men for the second year in a row, and among full-time working women for the third straight year. In all, median income for the under-65 group was $2,000 lower in 2005 than in 2001, when the last recession bottomed out.

Despite the Bush-era expansion, the number of Americans living in poverty in 2005 — 37 million — was the same as in 2004. This is the first time the number has not risen since 2000. But the share of the population now in poverty — 12.6 percent — is still higher than at the trough of the last recession, when it was 11.7 percent. And among the poor, 43 percent were living below half the poverty line in 2005 — $7,800 for a family of three. That’s the highest percentage of people in “deep poverty” since the government started keeping track of those numbers in 1975.

As for the uninsured, their ranks grew in 2005 by 1.3 million people, to a record 46.6 million, or 15.9 percent. That’s also worse than the recession year 2001, reflecting the rising costs of health coverage and a dearth of initiatives to help families and companies cope with the burden. For the first time since 1998, the percentage of uninsured children increased in 2005.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Say What? The Leetspeak Rosetta Stone

Microsoft has published a parent's guide to Leetspeak. Leetspeak is an online vernacular used in chatrooms, in online messaging, and other electronic communication mediums to obfuscate or enhance messages [depending on how you look at it]. The link takes you to the full text.

Leetspeak: A parent's primer to computer slang, Understand how your kids communicate online by Microsoft Security at Home

Leetspeak, or leet for short, is a specific type of computer slang in which a user replaces regular letters with other keyboard characters to form words phonetically. Though it was originally used by computer hackers and online gamers ("leet" is a vernacular form of "elite"), leet has moved into the Internet mainstream. Your kids might use it online for fun, and you might even have seen a word or two used by your own friends and associates online.

Leet words can be expressed in hundreds of ways, using different substitutions and combinations. Nearly all characters are formed as phonemes and symbols, so with a bit of practice leet can be fairly easy to translate. However, leet is not a formal or regional dialect; any given word can be interpreted differently by different groups of people. The following serves as a brief (and by no means definitive) introduction to leetspeak.

Gender Learning Bias in Schools

I must admit that this study raises some very interesting questions about teaching and learning.

He Taught, She Taught - Gender May Matter - Study: Kids Benefit From Same-Sex Teachers by BEN FELLER, Associated Press:

Dee's study is based on a nationally representative survey of nearly 25,000 eighth-graders that was conducted by the Education Department in 1988. Though dated, the survey is the most comprehensive look at students in middle school, when gender gaps emerge, Dee said.

He examined test scores as well as self-reported perceptions by teachers and students.

Dee found that having a female teacher instead of a male teacher raised the achievement of girls and lowered that of boys in science, social studies and English.

Looked at the other way, when a man led the class, boys did better and girls did worse.

The study found switching up teachers actually could narrow achievement gaps between boys and girls, but one gender would gain at the expense of the other.

Dee also contends that gender influences attitudes.

For example, with a female teacher, boys were more likely to be seen as disruptive. Girls were less likely to be considered inattentive or disorderly.

In a class taught by a man, girls were more likely to say the subject was not useful for their future. They were less likely to look forward to the class or to ask questions.


As you can see, female teachers finding boys disruptive may explain the increase in boys being labeled special education students given that 80% of the teaching profession is women. The study also adds fuel to the fires of one-upsmanship for grades and so on in highly competitive communities.

But what's puzzling about this article are the following assertions by Reg Weaver, president of the National Education Association.

"Students benefit by having exposure to teachers who look like them, who can identify with their culture ... but this is just one variable among many," Weaver said.

Dee said his research raises valid questions. Should teachers get more training about the learning styles of boys and girls? Should they be taught to combat biases in what they expect of boys and girls?

In the nature-nurture debate, he said, teacher gender belongs.
I am not aware of any study that asserts teachers who look like their students improve educational outcomes. The article offers no basis for this claim.

Monday, August 28, 2006

The Lewis Carroll Patent Racket

'Now the cleverest thing of the sort that I ever did,' he went on after a pause, 'was inventing a new pudding during the meat-course.'

'In time to have it cooked for the next course?' said Alice. 'Well, not the NEXT course,' the Knight said in a slow thoughtful tone: 'no, certainly not the next COURSE.'

'Then it would have to be the next day. I suppose you wouldn't have two pudding-courses in one dinner?'

'Well, not the NEXT day,' the Knight repeated as before: 'not the next DAY. In fact,' he went on, holding his head down, and his voice getting lower and lower, 'I don't believe that pudding ever WAS cooked! In fact, I don't believe that pudding ever WILL be cooked! And yet it was a very clever pudding to invent.'

'What did you mean it to be made of?' Alice asked, hoping to cheer him up, for the poor Knight seemed quite low-spirited about it.

'It began with blotting paper,' the Knight answered with a groan.

'That wouldn't be very nice, I'm afraid -- '

'Not very nice ALONE,' he interrupted, quite eagerly: 'but you've no idea what a difference it makes mixing it with other things -- such as gunpowder and sealing-wax. And here I must leave you.' They had just come to the end of the wood.

Alice could only look puzzled: she was thinking of the pudding.

- Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass


In my many years as a software engineer I have had the misfortune of bearing witness to a United States Patent system that increasingly has less to do with protecting true intellectual property and has more and more become the first refuge of scoundrels.

The software revolution is largely responsible. The volume of requests for patents has overwhelmed everyone's ability to distinguish merit of such award. The system is broken and easily corrupted by overwhelming financial powerbrokers who manipulate and distort the marketplace. The patent process today may as well be a government sanctioned criminal enterprise.

As an educator and innovator who has always offered ideas into the public domain for discussion, refinement, and enrichment by any audience that will listen I recoil in horror more and more often as patents are awarded for ever more dubious reasons. So with all that in mind, here's the news story that makes me recoil once again;

Who invented e-learning computing? by AP, CNN
Every day, millions of students taking online college courses act in much the same way as their bricks-and-mortar counterparts. After logging on, they move from course to course and do things like submit work in virtual drop boxes and view posted grades -- all from a program running on a PC.

It may seem self-evident that virtual classrooms should closely resemble real ones. But a major education software company contends it wasn't always so obvious. And now, in a move that has shaken up the e-learning community, Blackboard Inc. has been awarded a patent establishing its claims to some of the basic features of the software that powers online education.

The patent, awarded to the Washington, D.C.-based company in January but announced last month, has prompted an angry backlash from the academic computing community, which is fighting back in techie fashion -- through online petitions and in a sprawling Wikipedia entry that helps make its case.

Critics say the patent claims nothing less than Blackboard's ownership of the very idea of e-learning. If allowed to stand, they say, it could quash the cooperation between academia and the private sector that has characterized e-learning for years and explains why virtual classrooms are so much better than they used to be.

The patent is "is antithetical to the way that academia makes progress," said Michael Feldstein, assistant director of the State University of New York's online learning network and one of the bloggers who has criticized the company.

Blackboard, which recently became the dominant company in the field by acquiring rival WebCT, says the critics misunderstand what the patent claims. But the company does say it must protect its $100 million investment in the technology. The day the patent was announced, Blackboard sued rival Desire2Learn for infringement and is seeking royalties.

"It just wouldn't be a level playing field if someone could come onto the scene tomorrow, copy everything that Blackboard and WebCT have done and call it their own," said Blackboard general counsel Matthew Small.

Actually the lawyer is wrong on a number of counts. First he presumes that companies working in this domain for years have copied or even heard of his client.

But beyond that, unless someone is selling warez - that is a carbon-copy product re-engineered from his client's original work - the claim seems to be that all innovation in virtual education somehow belongs to his client.

The article continues;

Blackboard's patent doesn't refer to any device or even specific software code. Rather, it describes the basic framework of an LMS. In short, Blackboard says what it invented isn't learning tools like drop boxes, but the idea of putting such tools together in one big, scalable system across a university.

"Our developers sat down and said 'college IT departments are having a lot of trouble managing all these disparate Web sites from each class. How can we turn this into one computer program that manages all of the classes?"' Small said. "That was a leap."

Critics say it was a tiny hop at most.


In software engineering there are numerous methodologies [as there are in education] to implement logic and organizational process. Now, if Blackboard is saying that the traditional public school process can only be implemented exclusively by their software then I think the patent office is perpetuating a fraudulent claim.

Software engineering routinely is used to re-implement existing business and social processes. The perfunctory and bureaucratic legacy of assigning homework, grades, reports and so on can hardly be considered invention or original thought. The fact that disparate software programs would converge to make a coherent whole of several processes is not compelling either - this swiss-army knife metaphor is nothing new.

If this company's technology suite were worthwhile the marketplace is the place to prove that point, not the patent office. And as a critic, let me say I disagree that the so-called innovation was a "leap".

The idea of converging small software tools is the very basis of UNIX, an operating system common to Universities that established the idea that small tools and processes could be added to each other to create a greater whole.

The ubiquitous nature of the Windows operating sytem which combines spreadsheets, word processors, and so on is another example of "e-Learning" convergence. In my opinion, the patent and claim are absurd.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

The Quality Teacher Scam

Earlier this week, the Courant [see title link] reported that, "Federal officials have ordered Connecticut to bolster efforts to assure that schools in the state's poorest cities get the same kind of high quality teachers that schools in wealthier towns have."

This is the perpetual case of the blind and incompetent bureaucrats mandating yet more ridiculous remedies on public schools. Every educated person knows that the quality teacher badges handed out in suburban schools are largely feel-good consolation prizes that go to school teachers in communities where perfect children get excellent scores on the oh-so-important state and federal tests that in turn make suburban parents feel oh-so-good about how much smarter their children are than adjoining towns whose real estate values are a tad - harrump! - low-ah.

And so we add yet another tempest in a school teapot to the mix of existing educational obfuscation known as school accountability. There is no doubt in my mind that before too long state officials will be recognizing quality teachers in urban schools with a stampede of awards, salutes, certificates of appreciation, and so on. and I say this not because these teachers don't already deserve that respect but because there isn't a snowball's chance in hell the the feds or the state can force anyone in any profession into indentured labor somewhere else.

As readers of this blog know, the quality of teachers is not THE PROBLEM. No, it isn't. An editorial in the New York Times also recognises some of the pandering and half-hearted initiative, "Congress needs to grasp the obvious, which is that the quality of the teacher corps is more crucial to school reform than anything else. The original law required states to provide highly qualified teachers in core subject areas by this year. But the Education Department simply failed to enforce the rule, partly because of back-channel interference by lawmakers who talked like ardent reformers while covering up for state officials clinging to the bad old status quo.

Four years later, the national teacher corps is still in a shambles. Until Congress changes that, everything else will amount to little more than tinkering at the margins.
"

The trouble is that this shocking admission too is an inadequate indictment of the system.

The federal government has legislated an addiction to high-stakes testing that amounts to a systematic and corrosive corruption of the very tenets of good teaching. And all of the current metrics applied to "quality teaching" in fact have nothing to do with quality and everything to do with conformity and compliance to teaching to tests. In conversations I've had with out-of-district, wealthy community teachers I've been told precisely what those administrations require of teachers.

When a wealthy town receives test scores from a previous year the score is expected to be bested the next year. A wealthy community may have their students testing at a very, very high level and yet during the summer teachers in these schools may receive teaching materials that address finer and finer granularites of the test's nuances. in far too much of Connecticut every higher test scores have become a myopic and obsessive objective of educational content and delivery. The community is not rewarded with smarter or intellectually healthier kids but these results justify real estate values to the satisfaction of a status symbol conscious community.

Advocates of NCLB reform are wrong. A moratorium on NCLB legislation must be advocated immediately and NCLB needs to eventually be repealed. The belief that high-stakes testing is educational research is just as silly as believing charter schools employing low-wage teachers will somehow out-perform public schools defies all logic. The American public has got to stop the brain-rot that NCLB represents.

NCLB is creating a market for "teachers" who are little more that memorization and test-taking coaches. Teachers whose ability to stimulate imagination, play, and student-centric learning are rapidly being driven out of the system. America's great educational strength has never been in producing automatons but in producing non-conformists, rebels, risk-takers, and underdogs. sanitizing the quality of our teachers and students will not help us compete globally, it will ensure our demise.

The best thing citizens can do for our kids is to issue this Congress a pink slip.

From the Courant, Feds Demand Teacher Equity by ROBERT A. FRAHM, Courant Staff Writer:;
Teacher quality is a key element of the No Child Left Behind Act, the 4-year-old school reform law that is the centerpiece of President Bush's educational agenda. The law, which calls for a broad expansion of school testing and a shake-up of schools that fail to make adequate progress, requires states to ensure that all teachers are "highly qualified."

That means that all teachers - aside from having at least a bachelor's degree and state certification - must demonstrate competence in the academic subjects they teach as measured by passing a test, holding an appropriate college major or undergoing a school district review, for instance.

In documents supplied to the federal government, Connecticut reported that all but 3 percent of the state's public school teachers meet the "highly qualified" standard. However, the figures also show that nearly 7 percent of teachers in the state's poorest cities fail to meet the standard, compared with slightly less than 2 percent in wealthier towns.

From the New York Times editorial, Exploding the Charter School Myth;
A federal study showing that fourth graders in charter schools score worse in reading and math than their public school counterparts should cause some soul-searching in Congress. Too many lawmakers seem to believe that the only thing wrong with American education is the public school system, and that converting lagging schools to charter schools would cause them to magically improve.

New Improved Region 19 Weblog!

Well, I spent many hours converting this weblog from Google's older technology to the newer look, feel, and administration. I hope everyone likes it. I'm trying to keep the site topical, interesting, and vital to everyone involved.

Unfortunately a casualty of the conversion is unintentional and unfortunate. My post titles used to link to the exact article that the post refers to. The links did not survive the conversion. Those of you who have followed this know that I have never plagurized or posted unattributable material. My apologies for any material that's been orphaned such that the source is not obvious.

Please contact me if the archives require further information. I have contacted Google about the issue and maybe it will get fixed. For researchers who need exact sources please search the source site that is almost always cited in the actual post.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Biggest Donor to Katrina Relief? No Surprise Here: Kids!

U.S. School Kids Donate More to Katrina Relief Than Most Big Corporations, August 23, 2006, Maddy Sauer Reports:
School children across the United States have raised more money for Katrina relief efforts than many major U.S. corporations, according to a non-profit group, RandomKid, which has tracked donations by children.

Over $10 million was raised by school kids through bake sales, lemonade stands, car washes and other fundraisers, according to RandomKid. That's more than almost every major U.S. corporation gave. More than wealthy oil and petrochemical companies, such as Chevron and ConocoPhillips. It's more than what AT&T and Verizon gave combined. And it's more than major brand name corporations like GE and Coca-Cola gave.

Only five U.S. corporations gave more than what was raised by the school kids, according to recently released report by the Foundation Center, a non-profit organization that has tracked Katrina relief donations.

Among the country's top corporate donors to Katrina relief, Wal-Mart is number one at $17 million, followed by Federal Home Loan Bank of Cincinnati ($15 million), Exxon ($13 million) and Freddie Mac and BP Amoco (just over $10 million each), according to the Foundation Center.
RandonKid's website is here and they sell some very cool T-Shirts. They also have a link where schools can report what they've done for Katrina relief.

The Board had the pleasure of watching a very moving presentation by a group of EO Smith faculty, parents and teens who went down and worked hard to help clean up. Locally, Dave McCombe and others have made trips down offering sweat, hard work, and goodwill.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Enough is Enough, Theologically Correct Dogma Belongs in Church Not Schools

The New York Times is reporting a new, theologically-influenced, social-engineering experiment for the poor [and the rest of us].
Evolutionary biology has vanished from the list of acceptable fields of study for recipients of a federal education grant for low-income college students.
Yeah. It seems how this happened is a bigger mystery than certain Bible stories but there you have it. I've said this before but just to clear my infuriation with this let's say it together, "This government administration has gone too far!"

My suspicion is that I'm preaching to the choir but everyone and anyone who cares about the integrity of schools has got to get involved in changing the political nonsense and witchcraft that is dominating our institutional framework.

Many people say it is out of control but we all know that's a lie. It is all too in control of fanatics, lunatics, and political operatives who don't give a damn about the consequences of their actions for this country - every single one of us will pay dearly for the insipid stupidity of our elected officials.

Work to change it.

From Evolution Major Vanishes From Approved Federal List by CORNELIA DEAN, New York Times
Scientists who knew about the omission also said they found the clerical explanation unconvincing, given the furor over challenges by the religious right to the teaching of evolution in public schools. “It’s just awfully coincidental,” said Steven W. Rissing, an evolutionary biologist at Ohio State University.

Jeremy Gunn, who directs the Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief at the American Civil Liberties Union, said that if the change was not immediately reversed “we will certainly pursue this.”

Dr. Rissing said removing evolutionary biology from the list of acceptable majors would discourage students who needed the grants from pursuing the field, at a time when studies of how genes act and evolve are producing valuable insights into human health.

“This is not just some kind of nicety,” he said. “We are doing a terrible disservice to our students if this is yet another example of making sure science doesn’t offend anyone.”

Dr. Krauss of Case Western said he did not know what practical issues would arise from the omission of evolutionary biology from the list, given that students would still be eligible for grants if they declared a major in something else — biology, say.

“I am sure an enterprising student or program director could find a way to put themselves in another slot,” he said. “But why should they have to do that?”

Mr. Nassirian said he was not so sure. “Candidly, I don’t think most administrators know enough about this program” to help students overcome the apparent objection to evolutionary biology, he said. Undergraduates would be even less knowledgeable about the issue, he added.

Dr. Krauss said: “Removing that one major is not going to make the nation stupid, but if this really was removed, specifically removed, then I see it as part of a pattern to put ideology over knowledge. And, especially in the Department of Education, that should be abhorred.”

Thank God for the ACLU but in my opinion the Federal Department of Education needs a housecleaning starting at the top.

Advice for Young and Old Artists

I grew up learning to read from comic books as much as anything school had to offer [I know this sounds like blasphemy for a Board of Education member - ah, well life adds perspectives]. One of my favorite artists was Wally Wood.

In tooling around the internet looking for inspiring subject matter for this blog I came upon this gem, Wally Wood's 22 Panels That Always Work. This is a legendary insiders set of comic panel templates that every self-respecting comics artist defaults to when in doubt. Students should note that these panels translate nicely to theater and film as well. The link this post points to will offer full sized copies of these panels for free non-commercial use.



But this link is more than that. Joel Johnson who bought the templates also investigated their origin and received a response from Wood's assistant Larry Hama. Here's just a taste of great advice that could just as well apply to like activity involving homework, art, sport or employment. [Nota Bene; he's not advocating plagiarism.]

The "22 Panels" never existed as a collected single piece during Woody's lifetime. Another ex-Wood assistant, Paul Kirchner had saved three Xeroxed sheets of the panels that would comprise the compilation. I don't believe that Woody put the examples together as a teaching aid for his assistants, but rather as a reminder to himself. He was always trying to kick himself to put less labor into the work! He had a framed motto on the wall, "Never draw anything you can copy, never copy anything you can trace, never trace anything you can cut out and paste up." He hung the sheets with the panels on the wall of his studio to constantly remind himself to stop what he called noodling."

Enjoy Joel's website. This is a very interesting set of insights into the mechanics of art and story narrative.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Forgotten, But Not Gone; Paul Freundlich Remembers Education

Today I asked documentary filmaker Paul Freundlich to contribute a blog entry on education and he graciously offered an op-ed piece he had already been working on.

FORGOTTEN, BUT NOT GONE

The ‘60s generation, the Baby Boom, has come in for its share of criticism, yet the issues it has struggled with have produced important learnings, many of which have been obscured or forgotten.

Take our education system. At the end of the ‘60s, I made a feature length documentary film about black education, “Questions Instead of Answers.” The US Department of Education, Carnegie and the Ford Foundation had backed the best minds among black educators to develop Upward Bound. A new generation of African-Americans finally were getting a wider opportunity to attend colleges and universities, yet the public education that had prepared them was woefully inadequate.

At the program I filmed the Thirteen College Curriculum Project. Education was dissected, sliced and diced: Start with where students are, train teachers to build on student experience and engage them in the disciplines that could systematize and sophisticate their natural curiosity.

For example, a sociology class began with the experience of the black family that every one of the students had experienced, and led them to directly confront the theories of leading social scientists – let the chips fall where they may.

English class began with theatrical but lively demonstrations of what goes on in the street. Not such a big jump to the gangs that prowled Renaissance Italy in Shakespeare’s plays. A physics class accepted the premise that you can’t survive crossing an urban street without intuitively understanding mass and velocity. In a math class, one boy explained his ability to derive rapid answers to problems was based on running numbers.

In each case, the students were hooked, helped to understand there was a relationship of what they already knew to disciplined learning. The classrooms of the Thirteen College Curriculum Program were radical laboratories in which both students and teachers were prepared to go forth, multiply, and add to the store of educated youth in our society.

Tens of thousands of students learned within that program and had more productive lives as a result. But experiential learning isn’t just for poorly educated youth of color. Every one of the lessons learned could be adapted and applied to any students, any classrooms, at any level, anywhere.

Enthusiasm for learning starts with the natural curiosity children have about the world. Granted that conditions have changed so that TV and electronic games provide seductive diversions, but the internet is an amazing tool. Grappling with the challenges of our times just means cutting to the chase of different questions and using different tools.

If we recognize that an informed, concerned citizenry is critical to a healthy and civil society, the questions for our classrooms become obvious: Why are there vast differences between wealth and poverty? What does America have to offer the world, and why are we both admired and resented? Is it better to have cheaper goods or higher wages? How can we calculate the impact of global warming? What is the difference between competition and striving for excellence? How do choices about diet and exercise affect long-term health and immediate self-esteem? Is this a land of opportunity for everyone, or are there likely limits based on race, class and heredity? How do we connect with the past of our parents, and can we imagine a future fit for our own children?

Bringing that sense of engagement into the classroom at every level from pre-school to secondary school is a goal far more important to achieve than rote memorization and raising standardized test scores. We learn to walk and talk because there is a natural inclination towards competence; a natural curiosity to take the next step, but never disconnected to the steps before we crawl, we walk, we run.

In the ‘60s, educational theory and practice responded brilliantly to the challenge of equal opportunity, yet we have forgotten the roots of that triumph. The result is an educational disaster that affects our whole society. The pioneering classrooms I filmed insisted there was a connection to the experience of the learners. They built on that towards the competence and citizenship we need as badly today.

Paul Freundlich is President of the Fair Trade Foundation, and has made more than 25 film and video documentaries around the world.

Thank you, Paul. Paul is also author of Deus Ex Machina.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Blinded by the Bling, No Way Jose.

A few weeks ago, I posted an Englehart cartoon and some of his web comments pertaining to an incident in the Hartford Public School system. Since then the teacher is being reprimanded by losing thirty days of pay. Englehart has also changed his tune.
Englehart cartoon showing teacher as caveman

Englehart explains in his weblog;

"A few weeks ago when the confrontation between teacher Robert Williams and 13-year-old student Jose Velez happened, I automatically took the teacher's side for many reasons I'm not going into.

I was mistaken. Williams is a menace. I doubt that he can be rehabilitated, but I suppose anything is possible. He should be running a survivalist boot camp instead of teaching in the Hartford school system.

Young Jose is not happy with the outcome, but he did all that he could do within the system and he got a valuable education. He learned, David-like, that it's easier to slay a giant Goliath than it is to get a Hartford teacher fired.

So for today, I drew the cartoon I should have drawn weeks ago. It's always rewarding to use irony and ridicule in a cartoon and I do like to draw cavemen.

I feel better now. Fortunately, I learn from my mistakes. Who said there are no second acts in America? Actually, I think it was a depressed alcoholic writer who didn't get a second act.
"

Today, a Courant Editorial called "Teacher's Punishment" states, "It wasn't the all-out firing that 13-year-old Jose Velez sought. But the Hartford school district's decision to slap teacher Robert Williams with a 30-day suspension without pay for humiliating Jose in front of his classmates because Jose pierced his eyebrow and wears an earring was harsh enough. Mr. Williams also agreed to apologize to the boy.

Perhaps most beneficial, Mr. Williams will have to undergo diversity and sensitivity training and his conduct will be closely scrutinized when he returns to work.

Mr. Williams conceded that in May he singled the boy out while lecturing his mathematics class at Quirk Middle School on the impressions that appearances create.
" and closes with, "Humiliating a student is not a good motivational technique. With any luck, monitoring and sensitivity training will bring Mr. Williams around."

In my opinion they still have it wrong. The other day, Rick Green of the Courant lamented the FACT that only one out of fifty of Hartford's middle school kids can read. Is Rick Green being culturally insensitive to the fact that the cultural norm in Hartford is illiteracy and that pointing out that Hartford's kids can't read is humiliating?

Oh, wait for it,... no, that's okay. You see, in my lifetime I have heard all the smiley-face stories about how we are going to leave no children behind and we're going to end poverty in our lifetimes and all that happy talk. And WE STILL HAVE DENSE POCKETS OF ILLITERACY, POVERTY, and CULTURAL WASTELANDS in this country and nobody, NOBODY gives a got damn about it. No sir.

We salute all the hamster dance routines that come out of Washington and the Departments of Education in our states that are supposed to cure our schools of these things but its all an expensive ruse to continue to do nothing.

Let some teacher, any teacher, stand up and tell a kid which way might be up and he'll get slapped down, forced to undergo "sensitivity training" as though this were Maoist China and the teacher were subverting the government's will to keep these people poor, ignorant, and blissfully occupied with bling, body deformation, and self-destructive identities.

Out here in the sticks, we have kids who want to wear bling too. But when they show up to play a basketball game that bling gets put away. The kid is here to play a sport that has rules. No bling is a rule. No exceptions.

No teacher in any public school in this country should have to ever see bling. Because when a kid shows up for school there are some rules. No bling is a rule. No exceptions.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Wellness or Swellness

Today, the New York Times magazine brings us an interesting article about the veracity of the national drive toward healthier kids. The question being, Is there any evidence that these improved school lunch programs will, in fact, work?

From: The School-Lunch Test by LISA BELKIN, Published: August 20, 2006. [The bolded sentence is my annotation of the piece.]

By any health measure, today’s children are in crisis. Seventeen percent of American children are overweight, and increasing numbers of children are developing high blood pressure, high cholesterol and Type 2 diabetes, which, until a few years ago, was a condition seen almost only in adults. The obesity rate of adolescents has tripled since 1980 and shows no sign of slowing down. Today’s children have the dubious honor of belonging to the first cohort in history that may have a lower life expectancy than their parents. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has predicted that 30 to 40 percent of today’s children will have diabetes in their lifetimes if current trends continue.

The only good news is that as these stark statistics have piled up, so have the resources being spent to improve school food. Throw a dart at a map and you will find a school district scrambling to fill its students with things that are low fat and high fiber.

In rural Arkansas, a program known as HOPE (Healthy Options for People through Extension) seeks to make nutrition a part of the math, science and reading curriculums. At the Promise Academy in Harlem, all meals served in the cafeteria are cooked from scratch, and the menu (heavily subsidized by private donations) now includes dishes like turkey lasagna with a side of fresh zucchini. In Santa Monica, Calif., there is a salad bar at every school in the district, with produce brought in from the local farmer’s market. At Grady High School, outside Atlanta, the student body president, a vegetarian, persuaded the company that runs the cafeteria to provide tofu stir fry, veggie burgers and hummus. In Irvington, N.Y., a group of committed parents established No Junk Food Week last March, where all unhealthy food was removed from the cafeteria and replaced with offerings from a local chef called Sushi Mike and donations from a nearby Trader Joe’s. At the Hatch Elementary School in Half Moon Bay, Calif., children learn songs like “Dirt Made My Lunch” and then taste fruits and vegetables they have grown in their own garden.

School lunch (and actually, breakfast, because schools that provide free and reduced-cost lunches must also provide breakfast) is now a most popular cause. Any number of groups, from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and Kaiser Permanente (they both underwrite many of the above programs) to the William J. Clinton Foundation (it brokered an agreement among soft-drink manufacturers to stop selling soda in elementary and middle schools) have gotten in on the act.

But there is one big shadow over all this healthy enthusiasm: no one can prove that it works. For all the menus being defatted, salad bars made organic and vending machines being banned, no one can prove that changes in school lunches will make our children lose weight. True, studies show that students who exercise more and have healthier diets learn better and fidget less, and that alone would be a worthwhile goal. But if the main reason for overhauling the cafeteria is to reverse the epidemic of obesity and the lifelong health problems that result, then shouldn’t we be able to prove we are doing what we set out to do?

The smattering of controlled prevention studies in the scientific literature have decidedly mixed findings. “There just isn’t definitive proof,” says Benjamin Caballero, the principal investigator on the largest study, of 1,704 students over three years in the 1990’s, which showed no change in the body-mass index of those whose schools had spent $20 million changing their menus, exercise programs and nutritional education. A second study, of more than 5,000 students undertaken at about the same time, came to similar conclusions. “There are a few smaller studies with more promising results,” Caballero went on to say, “but right now we can’t scientifically say that all the things that should work — by that I mean improving diet, classroom nutrition education, physical activity, parental involvement — actually do work.”

This is a long article well-worth the time to read because the theory of cost and effect is once again the question.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Cold Waters

In Friday's Courant, Rick Green expressed his outrage at the state of Connecticut's urban school performance.

He writes,
Among 50 third graders from Milner School in Hartford, a single boy reached the state goal for reading on mastery test scores released the other day.

More than half of all third graders in Hartford and New Haven lack basic reading skills. Not even this newspaper thinks this is worthy of a front page story anymore: Poor kids failing, folks. Nothing new here.

I don't hear politicians talking about this. I hear nothing. It's nauseating.

We have a school where one student out of 50 is on par. Four miles away - in a neighborhood near my home in West Hartford - it's five out of six third graders who reach mastery goals at Bugbee School.

If a child can't read by third grade, can anyone honestly ask why we need a special "gun court" to handle the teenagers who shoot each other?

It isn't the teachers. It isn't the wasted money. It isn't the teenage parents and the joblessness and everything else that comes with poverty.

It's that I can't find any outrage. News that we have a school where just one precious boy gets our seal of education approval slips by us like dirty water down the drain.

No child left behind? This is every child but one left behind.

When I called former Education Commissioner Theodore Sergi, who cares deeply about urban schools, he told me I'm oversimplifying things. I wonder what the last dozen years have been all about.

Nothing, if you look at Milner.

I was here when former Superintendent of Schools T. Josiha Haig grew so frustrated over the schools that he camped out in front of city hall. I was sucked in by a for-profit company that hoodwinked folks into thinking it could run city schools.

One night in 1996 I saw a parent so mad he poured a pitcher of ice water on a board of education member. Months later I sat in the state Capitol as legislators patted themselves on the back when they "took over" city schools.

I listened, and believed, when a superintendent of schools promised we will never be last again. I spent months in classrooms watching teachers pour themselves into the lives of their children.

Where are we now? Our education commissioner jumps to the superintendent's job in Greenwich, because it's "a microcosm" of Connecticut. Meanwhile, 800 Hartford third-graders read below basic skill levels.

When was the last time you heard Jodi Rell talk about this?

Well, I have news for Rick. I've been listening to this nonsense for more like forty years and the political theatrics change but the problem remains.

Tonight on C-Span American Perspectives I watched a panel of Black concerned citizens discuss the crisis of male black Americans drown in the system. Some of the comments included the assertion that all of America's systems are failing this community, that the churches have become ineffective and too engaged in politics, and that special education labeling is disproportionate to black males as young as pre-school.

All too true and a moral travesty.

If they're looking for new ideas that's what the School 2.0 posts are all about.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Leveraging Resources

This past week, the Board met and approved the paperwork that will fund and continue the process of rehabilitating the Reynolds School on Depot Rd in Storrs for some alternative education programs that we believe will help the district educate and graduate a higher percentage of our eligible population.

Now, some of the cost of the work on this school will be assumed by the State based on applicable formulations. One of the questions I had about this evoked an interesting response.

Anyone paying attention to our national deficit, the tax burden on state residents, and the need for additional infrastructure might ask the same question I asked. That is, given the potential to leverage this new school for other civic activity, is there money available from Homeland Security, Civil Defense, or elsewhere to supplement the state's education construction money?

After all, in the wake of Katrina, hurricanes in Texas and Florida, and so on, these civic buildings could be hardened to include state of the art communications systems that students would benefit from exercising during school time and police, fire, and others could use for command and control in emergencies.

I mean, isn't this a nice way to leverage tax dollars efficiently? No such luck. The State would reduce the education reimbursements should other funds be located.

In other words, the local communities who might want to be pro-active on homeland security, emergency preparedness and so on need to fund it out of their own pockets OR secure funding as a separate [cost-sharing] project.

It's basically against the law to save taxpayers money by attempting to leverage infrastructure.

Anybody else want to scream?

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Sad News

I received this email today from Bruce Silva, our superintendent.

This email is written to inform you that we have experienced a loss in the E.O. Smith Community. Last night, business teacher James Allard passed away unexpectedly. Jim was a beloved teacher to a large numbers of students over the years. His business law classes where extremely popular and always over-enrolled. Among the faculty, Jim was greatly appreciated for his wonderful sense of humor and uncanny ability to sing in a manner that made you think you were listening to “Johnny Mathis.” He will be greatly missed by everyone in the E.O. Smith Community. Funeral arrangements will be aired on Channel 17 once they become available.

Bruce


Update:

Calling hours for Jim Allard will be held Thursday, 8/17 from 5-8 at Potter’s Funeral Home. The service will be held at St. Thomas Aquinas Chapel, 46 North Eagleville Road, Storrs on Friday, 8/18 at 10:30. Burial will be next to the church at Storrs Cemetery and lunch will be served at St. Thomas Student Center following the burial.

FYI, Laurie and Jim’s family are requesting that in lieu of flowers, they would prefer that donations may be made to:

James Allard Scholarship Fund/E. O. Smith School Bank

Edwin O. Smith High School

1235 Storrs Road

Storrs, CT 06268

Here is the link to the obituary from Potter’s web page:

Free Brain Teasers Book

Here's a nice way to spend what's left of summer. Exercise some math and problem solving skills.

This link let's you download an early version of a puzzles and problems book. Enjoy.

Monday, August 14, 2006

The New Ivy League

I've been updating the site lately to add some more sophisticated content like RSS Feeds and so on. Sadly, Microsoft's Internet Explorer mangles the site. Do yourself a favor and just download Firefox here. I've spent far too much time trying to satisfy Microsoft in my life and i have to say I no longer care at all about their products and saying so makes me feel good.


The Newsweek Kaplan College Guide has identified a new set of schools all vying for Ivy League status. New England entries include Boston College, Bowdoin, Colby, Colgate, NYU, Olin College of Engineering, RPI, University of Rochester, Skidmore, and Tufts.

Read the article to get more information.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Saving Parents Money: School Shopping Guide

I found a timely article in the Mercury News that I'm sure will help many local parents get some ideas about Back-to-School supplies [click the link for more].

9. Help your school while you shop. If your school participates in a program like eScrip and Schoolpop, you can shop for supplies from a participating merchant who gives a percentage to your school.

On buying clothes:

# Remember: You don’t have to do it all before school starts.
Spreading your shopping out over the first few weeks of the school year is smart. It gives your student time to check out what his peers are wearing and to make any necessary wardrobe adjustments during later shopping trips. And it gives you the opportunity to take advantage of the sales.



Teacher's Advice:

Parting Advice from Our Teachers

The key to helping your child succeed is not something you can buy at your local office supplies store, says Nikki Salvatico, Pennsylvania’s 2005 Teacher of the Year. It’s time – time spent reading stories, rhymes, poems and plays with your children. And it's being a role model for the behavior you want to see in your child.

"Many parents stop reading to their child once their child begins to read," she said. "Children learn through modeling and reading fluency must be modeled. A child must hear the reader’s voice in order to understand fluency. Reading should sound like speaking.

"Parents spending time with their children – modeling reading, writing daily – is priceless. When children see a parent reading the newspaper, a magazine, a good book or writing a letter, a paper, a report for work, they then can connect why they are learning the things they are in school," she said.

Your grandparents might have brought an apple to the teacher on the first day of school. Jane Ann Robertson, Arizona's 2004 Teacher of the Year, has an alternative, more timely suggestion:

"If you really want to make a good impression on the first day of school, add a packet of stickers or a ream of colored copy paper for your child’s new teacher."


These articles are full of good advice - TAKE ADVANTAGE OF IT.

Tags: funding, save money, back-to-school, culture, education

Friday, August 11, 2006

What It Means To Be An American

Today I want to talk about caring. We are bombarded by magnetic ribbons and bumper stickers that assert cutesy answers about what a "real' American is. Most commonly we are told to "Support our Troops" and that usually means "Keep your Mouth Shut", "Don't criticize the President", and "Eat Propaganda and Die".

As a critic of the Bush administration I get the message and let's be honest, those are the subliminal messages involved. But I see my responsibility as a public servant to include ensuring the system of democracy, opportunity, and rights works.

And I have to say that I'm ashamed of politicians like Joe Lieberman and Rob Simmons who serve on Armed Forces Congressional committees. They claim to care and have superior insider knowledge about military affairs and the power to ensure that the funds allocated are appropriated dispersed and expended.

Many years ago, mothers protesting the lack of funding for public education would advocate cutting the military budget and they chanted, "Let the Navy hold a bakesale for their next naval vessel like we have to do to supply our schools!"

Well, military budgets have never been higher. The amount of fraud involved just in the private sectors of these budgets is conservatively estimated at four billion dollars per year and reports of military contractors using bundles of hundred dollar bills to play football with in Iraq have a veracity.

And Tuesday, I had a conversation with a legislative aid who asked the same question I've been asking, "If Lieberman and Simmons sit on the very committees that regulate the armed services then why do they act surprised when the Groton Sub Base was targeted for extinction, when our troops in Afghanistan and Iraq are being supplied with inferior equipment, and so on?"

To add insult to injury, Homeland Security funds are being used to accumulate data about potential terrorist targets. As Frank Rich and others have observed there is not a whit of common sense applied to this data. The Daily show visited a Roller Skating rink in Indiana deemed to be an equivalent terrorist target as the Brooklyn Bridge. In fact such accounting allowed Indiana to reap a lion's share of Homeland Security funding to protect petting zoos, roller skating rinks, and tag sales while big cities are starved to protect national monuments and infrastructure.

To come full circle, thanks to the insipid stupidity of our House and Congressional leaders, military families have been reduced to holding bake sales to adequately arm their sons and daughters. That's where this link will take you.

My thought is that instead of buying another magnetic ribbon you might want to order a pastry. These days schools aren't the only institution that begs for reform and funding.

Tags: funding, Rob Simmons, Lieberman, culture, education

Thursday, August 10, 2006

School 2.0: Between the Semesters

Let's follow up on yesterday's entry in which a New York Times columnist talks about the importance of housing and summer learning on children.

It seems to me that these observations point to an obvious remedy to help bridge the acheivement gap in school performance. That is to begin to create and enthusiastically fund summer programs that offer inner city poor students attending failing schools the opportunity to spend a few weeks every summer in a suburban educational setting.

If we cannot accomplish statewide housing integration then let us attempt to offer the poor children of our nation a fighting chance to enjoy healthy food, a rich learning and exploring environment, and some doors to learning perception that do not exist at home.

One of my hopes is that we begin a dialogue to create some course credits for high school students to work in the community as teachers, social workers, and volunteers to work with local youth to improve reading and so on. Given, the existing summer school programs across the state, it would be nice to offer supplementary programs to keep our urban kids on he right track.

The suburban high schoolers can grow from the experience, earn some money, and enrich our communities as a by-product. Hopefully, we begin to grow smarter kids everywhere, fewer future criminals, and maybe a few Einsteins.

This means, very explicitly, that destructive urban cultural influences will not be welcome or tolerated but that the natural cultural differences of the child will be nurtured and respected as the gift that helps make every child unique. Let's get these kids assimilated, engaged in discourse, and self-perpetuated as learners.

Let's stop bashing our schools and start solving the problem. The political scape-goating, denial, and opportunism of testing special interests has got to stop. We can overcome the problems we're aware of and the way to do it is to start with the obvious.

By next summer, let's get some summer learning programs established! Is anyone at the State Department of Education listening?


Tags: poverty, School 2.0, achievement gap, culture, education

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

School Isn't All That

Today's New York Times editorial confirms what most honest observers can figure out all by themselves. That is, that schools are not the major culprit when it comes to a child's learning and development process.

What's most interesting in this essay however is the assertion that summer school break is crucial to the continuity of learning development.

The link will take you to the full article but here's a peek at the arguments.

On Education: It Takes More Than Schools to Close Achievement Gap by DIANA JEAN SCHEMO

The No Child Left Behind law, enacted in 2002, took a stand on this issue. The law, one instance in which President Bush and Congressional Democrats worked together, rests on the premise that schools make the crucial difference. It holds a school alone responsible if the students — whatever social, economic, physical or intellectual handicaps they bring to their classrooms — fail to make sufficient progress every year.

Yet a growing body of research suggests that while schools can make a difference for individual students, the fabric of children’s lives outside of school can either nurture, or choke, what progress poor children do make academically.

At Johns Hopkins University, two sociologists, Doris Entwisle and Karl Alexander, collected a trove of data on Baltimore schoolchildren who began first grade in 1982. They found that contrary to expectations, children in poverty did largely make a year of progress for each year in school.

But poor children started out behind their peers, and the problems compounded when school ended for the summer. Then, middle-class children would read books, attend camp and return to school in September more advanced than when they left. But poorer children tended to stagnate. “The long summer break is especially hard for disadvantaged children,” Professor Alexander said. “Some school is good, and more is better.”

“Family really is important, and it’s very hard for schools to offset or compensate fully for family disadvantage,” he said.

In Chicago, a court order to empty public housing projects, which dispersed families and children into the suburbs, led to a rise in children’s academic achievement.

“The evidence is pretty clear that the better their housing, the better kids do on tests,” said Jack Jennings, president of the Center on Education Policy, a nonpartisan group.

In his 2004 book, “Class and Schools: Using Social, Economic and Educational Reform to Close the Black-White Achievement Gap,” Richard Rothstein, a former writer of this column, argues that reforms aimed at education alone are doomed to come up short, unless they are tied to changes in economic and social policies to lessen the gaps children face outside the classroom.

A lack of affordable housing makes poorer children more transient, and so more prone to switch schools midyear, losing progress. Higher rates of lead poisoning, asthma and inadequate pediatric care also fuel low achievement, along with something as basic as the lack of eyeglasses. Even the way middle- and lower-class parents read to their children is different, he writes, making learning more fun and creative for wealthier children.

“I would never say public schools can’t do better,” Mr. Rothstein said. “I’d say they can’t do much better,” unless lawmakers address the social ills caused by poverty.

FOR many children in America, public schools are not lacking. A 2001 international reading test put Americans ninth out of students in 35 nations. But only students in Sweden, the Netherlands and England had scores more than marginally higher than the United States average.

More important, the average score of the 58 percent of American students attending schools that were not predominantly poor surpassed that of Sweden, the top-scoring nation.


Tags: poverty, achievement gap, culture, education

Monday, August 07, 2006

First Person Shooter Religion

There's a new religious video game that's being released soon for the missionary crowd. As a recruiter for your religious faith your avatar goes out into the same virtual worlds that most gamers habitate and you attempt to convert the individuals you meet to become disciples of your religion.

The object of the game is that these pseudo-real people convert or suffer the consequences. Your disciple - should you choose to take the assignment - is appraently armed with little more than a Bible and an automatic weapon to get the conversion completed.

I mention this in passing because games like this will eventually contribute to a school tragedy somewhere in the United States or elsewhere. We are incapable of being shocked, awed, or even caring so do not misunderstand this as a liberal screed wondering what ever happened to common decency and humanity. We're over that.

This Comedy Central Daily Show news spoof features some footage and clever commentary on the game. You'll laugh until you cry.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

My Endorsements in Connecticut's August 8 Primary

I'm endorsing Ned Lamont for the Senate. Joe Lieberman's days of banality and empowerment of the Bush administration are over and not a second too soon.

I'm endorsing John DeStefano for Governor. I met him, listened to what he has to offer Connecticut, and I like what I hear.

But I reserve my greatest enthusiasm for Susan Eastwood who is running for the Connecticut 53rd District. I spent part of my morning at the Willington Transfer Station campigning for all these Democrats and the affection and respect voters have for Susan is heart-warming. One supporter said, "People just have no idea how effective Sue is." I'm hoping voters will have the opportunity by voting for her on August 8th.

Most importantly, VOTE!

Saturday, August 05, 2006

School 2.0: The Imagination Gap - Keeping the Poor Uneducated

Connecticut Public Television runs a show called Front and Center that aired this week featuring the topic of Connecticut's education gap. The show accurately defined the education gap as the difference of acheivement between suburban students and urban poor and minority students.

This gap isn't new and the courts, politicians, and education specialists have done virtually nothing to eliminate it. So I watched Front and Center with interest - expecting to be able to recommend it here as a shining beacon of innovative ideas. Sadly, I can recommend the show as a prime example of the kind of unimaginative, depressing, and deflating conversations that we've heard for over forty years.

Urban schools already get the lion's share of Stae Education funding, yet the minority voices advocate more money and more social programs as if this recipe has ever improved education in the past.

And the white voices say, "Let's take money off the table, tell us three things that we could do to improve education."

The resulting cacophony of incoherent prattling is deafening. And this primal absence of ideas, energy, and enthusiasm is precisely why no one wants to spend another dime on education programs. For far too many years, additional funding of education has resulted in the money being absorbed instantaneously in higher wages and benefits for employees of the school systems and zero educational progress, curriculum reform, or innovation.

This is not a vicious cycle of failure, it is a pernicious cycle of educational brain-death. All of the benefits of accountability measures that are promoted by bean-counters are little more than imaginary band-aids intended to obfuscate the reality that we've given up on universal public education. We pretend to care. We dance the hamster dance of concern about education gaps but we don't lift a finger to change the inflexible, obsolete, educational juggernaut that is killing the intellectual veracity of this country.

If there's anyone out there who wants to be bold, let's start a real conversation about improving education in this country.

1.) Nobody has a right to stay in school if they cannot or will not honor the rules of the school. I think schools have the right and obligation to the greater good of the school to remove criminally active youth, drug addicts, and psychologically unfit individuals. These individuals should be given a voucher to seek their education in schools dedicated to working with troubled populations. A quarantine of this nation's most troublesome individuals should not mean they can't work their way back.

2.) A student of parents who are identified by the school to be addicts, under extraordinary duress, or psychologically incapable of making sound decisions will be assigned a social worker/guidance counselor who will act as a responsible parent proxy for the parents in school matters. Every kid needs someone qualified to look out for their best interests.

3.) School districts will have the right and obligation to their respective populations to petition the governing body exempt themselves from federal or state mandates that either do not apply to their circumstances or are wasteful excesses of good intent. All populations do not need breakfast programs. All populations do not need NCLB screenings. The list of waste and unnecessary government regulation is endless.

4.) After 50 years of economic policies that advocated tax cuts for corporations to appease their appetite for profits, an corporate education tax must fully fund failing urban schools until they are no longer failing as determined by State and local formulas.

5.) Furthermore, no H-1B foreign worker can be imported nor can a job be exported in urban areas where failing schools exist. Corporations will be responsible for ensuring that failing school succeed and that their graduates are employed (if so desired by the graduate) before a corporation can reach for foreign employees. It is a national disgrace that corporations can use and abuse America's cities while neglecting America's urban youth.

6.) The right to bear arms must be suspended in failing school zones with the same severe penalties that drug dealing enjoys. An uneducated population loses the right to bear arms until that situation no longer exists.

7.) Union contracts guaranteeing job security become null and void in failing school districts. The event of a failing school becomes significant enough that the Board of Education that supervises that school or district is given extraordinary powers to immediately remedy the situation including the immediate dismissal of any school personnel, the suspensions of raises, and so on. The obligation of a union contract must ensure that their membership WILL deliver a successful product as defined by the union and the BOE.

That's a lot to consider for today. Here's one last quote to think about as well:

"I have come to the conclusion that for many years, we have been ill-served by a tired old coalition of Republicans and Democrats for whom re-election is more important than the courage demanded of conviction," Weicker said. "America needs a house cleaning in Washington on both sides and Lamont can be a part of that process."

- Lowell Weicker

Let me re-emphasize this part, "America needs a house cleaning in Washington on both sides". No truer words have ever been spoken about America.

Friday, August 04, 2006

The Meaning of Tolerance

Days ago, Mel Gibson was drunk, driving, and got stopped. During his arrest he made a number of comments deemed to be anti-semitic. He apologized but the fire-storm of controversy persists.

A Huffington Post blogger reprinted a letter that advocates tolerance of Gibson's drunken slurs. And in that letter I find the seeds of redemption for all of us who either say things under stress, altered circumstances, or to impress someone. In other words, this letter applies to all parents, administrators, teens, bloggers, activists, and humans. Each and every one of us uses bad judgement occasionally and say things that are neither meant to be taken seriously nor represent anything approaching a deeply held belief.

And I want to include it here because the meaning of tolerance has been so politically disfigured by the hyenas of intolence that the concept deserves reclamation as a holy and humane process to heal both accuser and accused. Tolerance by an offended party does not imply one condones the offense. It simply means that the offense does not rise to something anyone else, including ourselves, might not be guilty of in similar circumstances.

See if you agree:

A "Dear Ari" Letter

My comments here are not personal; I don't know you, and Mel Gibson is not a client. Rather, I'm writing about ideas. I read your letter urging the industry to take action "by professionally shunning Mel Gibson and refusing to work with him." I expect you will one day forgive him - at that moment, you'll see firsthand that words spoken in the heat of one situation don't always retain their meaning over time.

- snip-


After thirty years of predicting intent through assessing words and context, I can tell you if we start taking the things people say when very drunk or very high or very angry as their enduring truth, we're all going to have to reassess many relationships. Not long ago, one of my sons told me, "I hate you, Man!" I decided he didn't mean it. Under the Ari-rule, my forgiveness came too easy.


I recognize there is also some history in this situation. People had already speculated on Mel's views about Jews, so words he might choose could be clues to those views - as we've seen on the news. (Do the rhymes represent flippancy about anti-Semitism? No, but it's hard to tell what's in someone's heart, isn't it?) If one honors the larger context of Mel's words playing into a preconception some people had, then one must also honor the smaller context: This was crap he said while very drunk, while being arrested, while scared, upset, out of his mind. Is anybody really able to enter that mind and identify "the truth" within all the raw humanness?



You wrote that "alcoholism does not excuse anti-Semitism," which is obvious. Also true is that alcoholism cannot be used to prove anti-Semitism. You describe your position as "standing up against bigotry." I suggest that your position is bigotry, bigotry about alcoholism. And more than that, it's bigotry about humanness itself, for every one of us has said terrible things.


-snip-


When you do forgive Mel, you'll be in the good company of many Jewish leaders, and if you wonder why so many have been willing to forgive him, consider that Jews, having been profoundly victimized by intolerance, know the value of tolerance.

We all have our prejudices, our bigotry, and our zealotry. It's all in all of us. We're built of the same ingredients, just different recipes. Accepting that truth can help us feel compassion for Mel and his family, right now when they need it. But I understand you're still angry. I truly do. The whole thing will pass, and I'm sure you won't be going through your client list identifying the ones who've said hateful things, abusive things, racist things - and asking the industry to stop working with them too.

You're the one who boldly said "standing up against bigotry and racism is more important than money." It's a position that would be heroic - except for the hypocrisy. We all fall down. How quickly do we get up and make amends? That's what endures.

Gavin de Becker
Author of Bestselling Books about Violence and Words
Bar Mitzvah 1968, Graduated Hebrew School 1969
Never Been Really Drunk
Said Plenty of Regrettable Things When Sober



I would hope that public school curriculums can find room in all their courses to teach our kids how to forgive and make amends.

Tags: tolerance, curriculum, culture, education

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Are America's Schools Wimp Factories?

A couple of articles and blog entries are shockingly honest about the predicament of today's youth culture.

Months ago, the New York Times reported a phenomenon in Japan that talked about Japanese boys who refused to leave their rooms because they saw no future outside that domain. In Japan, families hire young girls to keep these shut-ins company.

Psychology Today's article articulates an old theme that adolescence is being denied and delayed.

A Nation of Wimps
Parents are going to ludicrous lengths to take the bumps out of life for their children. However, parental hyperconcern has the net effect of making kids more fragile; that may be why they're breaking down in record numbers.
By: Hara Estroff Marano

From Scrutiny to Anxiety... and Beyond

The 1990s witnessed a landmark reversal in the traditional patterns of psychopathology. While rates of depression rise with advancing age among people over 40, they're now increasing fastest among children, striking more children at younger and younger ages.

In his now-famous studies of how children's temperaments play out, Harvard psychologist Jerome Kagan has shown unequivocally that what creates anxious children is parents hovering and protecting them from stressful experiences. About 20 percent of babies are born with a high-strung temperament. They can be spotted even in the womb; they have fast heartbeats. Their nervous systems are innately programmed to be overexcitable in response to stimulation, constantly sending out false alarms about what is dangerous.

As infants and children this group experiences stress in situations most kids find unthreatening, and they may go through childhood and even adulthood fearful of unfamiliar people and events, withdrawn and shy. At school age they become cautious, quiet and introverted. Left to their own devices they grow up shrinking from social encounters. They lack confidence around others. They're easily influenced by others. They are sitting ducks for bullies. And they are on the path to depression.

While their innate reactivity seems to destine all these children for later anxiety disorders, things didn't turn out that way. Between a touchy temperament in infancy and persistence of anxiety stand two highly significant things: parents. Kagan found to his surprise that the development of anxiety was scarcely inevitable despite apparent genetic programming. At age 2, none of the overexcitable infants wound up fearful if their parents backed off from hovering and allowed the children to find some comfortable level of accommodation to the world on their own. Those parents who overprotected their children—directly observed by conducting interviews in the home—brought out the worst in them.

A small percentage of children seem almost invulnerable to anxiety from the start. But the overwhelming majority of kids are somewhere in between. For them, overparenting can program the nervous system to create lifelong vulnerability to anxiety and depression.

There is in these studies a lesson for all parents. Those who allow their kids to find a way to deal with life's day-to-day stresses by themselves are helping them develop resilience and coping strategies. "Children need to be gently encouraged to take risks and learn that nothing terrible happens," says Michael Liebowitz, clinical professor of psychiatry at Columbia University and head of the Anxiety Disorders Clinic at New York State Psychiatric Institute. "They need gradual exposure to find that the world is not dangerous. Having overprotective parents is a risk factor for anxiety disorders because children do not have opportunities to master their innate shyness and become more comfortable in the world." They never learn to dampen the pathways from perception to alarm reaction.

Hothouse parenting undermines children in other ways, too, says Anderegg. Being examined all the time makes children extremely self-conscious. As a result they get less communicative; scrutiny teaches them to bury their real feelings deeply. And most of all, self-consciousness removes the safety to be experimental and playful. "If every drawing is going to end up on your parents' refrigerator, you're not free to fool around, to goof up or make mistakes," says Anderegg.

Parental hovering is why so many teenagers are so ironic, he notes. It's a kind of detachment, "a way of hiding in plain sight. They just don't want to be exposed to any more scrutiny."

Parents are always so concerned about children having high self-esteem, he adds. "But when you cheat on their behalf to get them ahead of other children"—by pursuing accommodations and recommendations—you just completely corrode their sense of self. They feel 'I couldn't do this on my own.' It robs them of their own sense of efficacy." A child comes to think, "if I need every advantage I can get, then perhaps there is really something wrong with me." A slam-dunk for depression.

Virginia's Portmann feels the effects are even more pernicious; they weaken the whole fabric of society. He sees young people becoming weaker right before his eyes, more responsive to the herd, too eager to fit in—less assertive in the classroom, unwilling to disagree with their peers, afraid to question authority, more willing to conform to the expectations of those on the next rung of power above them.

While this article concentrates largely on parents being overprotective, clearly the continuous, systematic scrutiny of legislation like NCLB is a subtext. NCLB is nothing less that the institutionalized desire to make every kid the same uniform ideal humanoid. Please read the entire article, it is essential reading for all of us.

And on the DailyKos website, I found this great, introspective political diary entry by a person trying to rationalize the ubiquitous apathy of students,
The Middle Children of History (w/ poll)
by VoteHarder

[-snip-]

So here's a partial list of reasons my generation hasn't directly confronted Bush the way the `60s generation confronted LBJ and Nixon... feel free to pick and choose the ones you like.

[-snip-]

C. COLLEGE

1. College students nowadays have to pay more to attend major universities... so you pretty much HAVE to work if you're going to keep up with tuition/expenses. It's hard to work, go to school, AND be an activist. For most people, sleep > activism.

2. Some students view college activists as cliche and annoying, an invasion of their space... for some, this is rooted in the fact that we're superficial and used to being sheltered. Others have just been conditioned with a South Park conservative knee jerk hatred for people they suspect might hold liberal beliefs. These are the people who disturb me the most, because they're the ones whose ideals have been broken beyond all possibility of repair; these are the people glare at you and tear up the fliers you hand them. They are what I call "hostile apathetics" and they make up a sizable portion of the student population. What I really don't like about them is that they intimidate good people; a lot of activists in orgs I've been involved with don't like tabling because of the mean people who don't like getting handed fliers.

3. Some students are too busy to even listen, stemming from the fact that they are working 40 hours a week and holding down a full load of classes [...snip...]

4. The media insulates us from real world events, instead showing us shiny objects... so most young'uns know more about Paris Hilton than Darfur... again, we've been sheltered (see A1, A2). This is partly our fault, but the corporations get blame points for being such eager and greedy enablers... and for crafting the culture that perpetuates this dangerous bit of apathy.

5. [...snip...]

6. Kids have been conditioned so that they care more about grades and resumes than ideals and social justice. [...snip...]

7. Of the activism that does go on at elite campuses, a solid proportion [...snip...] are not willing to take risks. [...snip...]

8. It's hard to raise money. And to get anything done in America in 2006, you NEED money. [...snip...]

9. Some fine student activism DOES go on at college campuses, but it is often locally focused. [...snip...] The sad truth is that most people feel incredibly disempowered and timid when you ask them to do something about the jerks in D.C. They think it's crazy to even think of launching a direct attack on the status quo in filthy, detached, money-driven, arrogance-laden, faraway Washington. Which takes me to our next culprit...


What are we to make of all this? We preach democracy as a nation and yet our children are incapable of being anything more than passive, powerless consumers who trust no one because no one trusts them.

Today laws like NCLB enable and encourage schools and parents to embrace the political and educational strait-jacket of conformity. Individuality is not allowed in America - at least not in the school systems. Aren't schools responsible for creating informed, engaged citizens? If so, we're failing miserably, the evidence is piled high all around us like garbage bags lining the streets of New York City during a sanitation worker's strike.

But failure is the least of our worries. The American Dream is a uniquely personal call to each individual to reach for their bliss. If personal bliss is nothing more than mom and dad's recipe for success or strategy for beating the system, should school's remain nod and wink enablers of this phenomenon?

Years ago, Casey Stengel, manager of the Amazin' Mets - Amazin' because they found new ways to lose record numbers of games - sighed in frustration, "Doesn't anybody here know how to play this game?" Those of us concerned about a dying democracy at home are asking the same thing.

Tags: Psychology, depression, adolescence, NCLB, culture, education

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

School 2.0: More Art, Less NCLB

As a former Art teacher, I am never surprised by the accomplishments of art students. I had students who often had zero interest in other school subjects but would fall in love with both the work and lifestory of one artist or another. And that would spark interests in reading, language, math, and dozens of related issues that are intimitely personal and pragmatic - moreso than any "course" on these subjects can stimulate.

So last Friday, another study [largely ignored] was released that talks about the importance of art to children's learning. There's some real juicy information in this report. Check it out.

Art program may aid student literacy skills -study by Torrye Jones, Reuters

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A school-based art program appears to boost students' literacy skills, a study released by the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York said on Friday.

The study, now in its second year, found that students who participated in "Learning Through Art," which places artists in city schools to work with children, showed improvements in various literacy skills.

Researchers interviewed 605 third-graders, some who took part in the program and others who did not, about a painting, Arshile Gorky's "The Artist and His Mother," and a children's book, "Kira-Kira," by Cynthia Kadohata.

The findings showed that students in the program used more words to express themselves in interviews and did better in skills such as thorough description, hypothesizing, reasoning and multiple interpretations.

But "Learning Through Art" had no effect on students' English language arts standardized test scores, the study said.

"The arts can be used as a tool for teaching critical skills that are necessary to literacy, and to ignore their potential for that is to ignore very powerful tools for the classroom," said Jackie Delamatre, education program coordinator at the museum.


So, students do better at all the things we care about - "skills such as thorough description, hypothesizing, reasoning and multiple interpretations" - but not on standardized English test scores.

Maybe it's a clue!!!!!!


The right-wing education bloviators who keep insisting that standardized testing is worthwhile should read these reports once in a while. Either that or take a few art courses. The scores won't improve but the cost and stress sure will diminish.

Tags: School 2.0, art, reading, NCLB, interpretation, education

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