Saturday, April 28, 2007

Julie Amero, Michael Skakel, Hillary Bargar-Strackbein, and Imus

The Courant ran an article about Michael Skakel requesting a new trial.
It has been 31 years since 15-year-old Martha Moxley was bludgeoned to death in the gated Greenwich community of Belle Haven, where she lived diagonally across the street from the Skakel mansion. It has been almost five years since Skakel was convicted of killing her, based largely on the testimony of a teen classmate-turned-heroin addict who came forward more than 20 years after the murder to claim Skakel once said, "I'm going to get away with murder; I'm a Kennedy."

In seven days of hearings before Karazin that concluded Wednesday, Skakel's lawyers, Hope Seeley and Hubert Santos, marshaled evidence of:

A man who claims his two "out-of-control" friends, one of them obsessed with Martha, remained in Belle Haven the night of the killing and later boasted of achieving their fantasy of "going caveman" on a girl. All three men, including the tale's originator-Gitano "Tony" Bryant -invoked their right against self-incrimination during sworn depositions and did not testify during the hearing. Bryant's mother, Barbara, in voluntary discussions with Skakel investigators, said her then 14-year-old son was in Belle Haven that night, and told her his friends, Adolph Hasbrouck and Burton Tinsley, remained behind in Belle Haven after he returned home to New York.

Documents withheld from the defense team during Skakel's 2002 trial that could have shown a jury how seriously investigators considered suspects other than Skakel, including his older brother, Thomas.

A book deal by lead inspector Frank Garr, formalized after the verdict but informally agreed upon with investigative reporter Len Levitt, in 1999. Seeley and Santos said the deal compromised the integrity of the prosecution, and Garr's work on the defense team's claims of newly discovered evidence.

Three former classmates of Skakel's at the controversial Elan School in Maine who dispute the claims by Gregory Coleman that he heard Skakel say he would get away with murder because he's a Kennedy. (Skakel is the nephew of Ethel Skakel Kennedy and the slain presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy.) One, John Simpson, said he challenged Coleman's claim the night he made it, and that in reply, Coleman told him Skakel did not answer one way or another but merely grinned.
The last time I commented on a trial where the defense was denied important evidence is the Juile Amero trial that is globally recognized as this century's most outrageous witch-hunt.

The Skakel trial may be this century's worst rich-hunt.

During the Skakel trial, Judge Hillary Strackbein was a juvenile court prosecutor, Hillary Bargar (sometimes Barger in the media). At the time she was widely quoted regarding Michael Skakel's juvenile status at the time of the crime. Less-widely reported is her role as reported here.
In Court Wednesday, Michael Skakel's attorney, Michael Sherman, told Judge Maureen Dennis he did not want to have a full hearing on the matter and later said he had "complete faith" in Goldberg's integrity.

But outside court, he said he was concerned about what he called the prosecution's "stampede to uncover negative information about Michael Skakel."

"I'm concerned about some manner of unbridled prosecutorial efforts to convict Michael Skakel," he said.

Sherman said no juvenile records were found because Skakel was never arrested as a juvenile.

"He has never had a juvenile record _ never did," Sherman said.

Juvenile records are routinely checked by both prosecutors and defense attorneys in all cases as part of trial preparation.

"There was absolutely no impropriety here," said Hillary Bargar, the juvenile prosecutor who requested the records.
I am not so sure. The more I have learned about Connecticut's scales of justice overbearingly tipped toward the prosecution, the more I believe this man was railroaded.

The road to political success in Connecticut and this country is in mining hate. For well over thirty years I would commute to work and listen to one radio talk show hate monger after another bash liberals. But their secondary target was rich people. And Michael Skakel is as distasteful a rich man as they come. The fact that he was related to the Kennedys who during the Bush administration's descent into political dementia were also objects of hate speech from the talk-radio genre.

Skakel's baggage, bad timing, and the unbridled ambition of prosecutors makes this case yet another prime suspect as an American injustice. The media pundits spent weeks of denial that the Virginia Tech shooter in fact had a motive that was no crazier than the radio talk show hosts'. The shooter hated rich people with the same conviction that neo-cons hate the Kennedys, liberals, and Hollywood political activists.

The more I read about the Skakel trial, the more I believe he may be an innocent man as much a victim of the same hate cultivated by an enterprising media, dog-eat-justice prosecutorial court system, and a public conditioned to rationalize and exorcise their own hate on high-profile celebrities.

He deserves another trial with all the evidence on the table and the public needs to seriously begin to question whether the courts of Connecticut dispense justice or simply mete out blind punishment. The prosecutors of this country can make the same boast that they are "getting away with murder" by milking the public intolerance for innocence as Michael Skakel is accused of saying while under the influence of addictive drugs.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

The Lucifer Effect

American Prospect offers The Democracy of Evil by Sasha Abramsky.
In 1971, when Zimbardo was a young psychology professor at Stanford University, he presided over a psychology experiment exploring what happened when normal students were immersed in two distinct roles: One group of students were to be prison guards -- in a makeshift prison set up in the basement of the psychology lab -- and the other group were to be prisoners.

The experiment, peopled by well-adjusted, paid volunteers, was to last for two weeks. Within days, however, told they had to control the prison and provided with virtually no oversight by Zimbardo (in his role as prison superintendant), the bulk of the guards had begun engaging in startlingly sadistic, humiliation-based behavior -- dragging prisoners around naked and with bags over their heads, forcing them to do press ups while others sat on their backs, taking away their bedding, locking them up in dark closets overnight, even sexually humiliating them. Several of the inmates had experienced nervous collapse in response to their conditions of confinement. So extreme had those conditions become, that, at the urging of Christine Maslach -- herself a psychologist and also Zimbardo's future wife -- on day five the researchers decided to bring the project to a premature close.

Both groups, in turned out, had rapidly ceased to think of their identities as simply acting roles in a psychology experiment, and had internally absorbed the new power dynamics set in play in the basement. "Fight them! Resist violently! The time has come for violent revolution!" one brutalized, exhausted prisoner shouted out, his 1960s-politics seeping through into his new role. A guard reported enjoying "harassing the prisoners at 2.30am. It pleased my sadistic senses."

In a way, the guards' capacity to inflict pain wasn't a surprise. Nearly a decade earlier, trying to see whether the conditions of blind obedience that had allowed Nazi atrocities to occur could be replicated in democratic America, a Yale psychiatrist named Stanley Milgram had designed an experiment intended to measure how far people would go in electric-shocking others as part of a learning project. Panels of experts beforehand had predicted almost none of the volunteers would follow orders to shock people up to a top level of 450 volts. In the event, it turned out huge numbers of people, when following the orders of authority figures, would do precisely this. Orders, it turned out, in certain situations easily overrode moral qualms.

While Milgram and Zimbardo are often studied together in academic settings, Zimbardo's study is the one that has crossed over into the popular culture. The Stanford Prison Experiment is almost certainly the most well-known, oft-quoted psychology experiment ever conducted. The Pentagon has interrogators watch its grainy black and white video footage; a rock band is named after it; numerous films and documentaries have added to its iconic allure.

In essence, it recreated a Lord of the Flies scenario: Put good, intelligent people into a terrible situation in which the broader social and moral codes cease to apply, and the great majority of those good people will end up engaging in extraordinary acts of brutality. They will, quite simply, cease to respond as morally cognizant human beings.

Zimbardo has been haunted by the implications of his research for close to four decades. While he has given hundreds of interviews over the years, written numerous papers and articles about his findings, and set up one of the world's busiest websites to educate new generations of students on what happened in Stanford in 1971, he has always shied away from writing a book on the topic. It was, he sometimes claimed, simply too painful for him to re-immerse himself so as to be able to write a full-length book. And so, the meticulous notebooks he and the experimentees wrote in during that awful week were kept boxed away; the video footage and Ampex audio recordings reaped from bugs placed in "inmates" cells were released only in dribs and drabs; and the "debriefing" documents filled in by guards and prisoners in the wake of the project's conclusion were filed away for future use.
The same people who enable Bush, Cheney, Rice, and co the ability to create a barrel for evil in Iraq, enable their cronies to do for public schools what Abu Ghraib did for military prisons.

The sadistic dependency of public schools on high-stress testing is no less an invitation to the teaching profession to find their inner sadist than it is for prison guards.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

IQ and Wealth

New Scientist Tech is running an article called Smarter people are no better off by Roxanne Khamsi. It confirms something many of us already know.
On the surface, people with higher intelligence scores also had greater wealth. The median net worth for people with an IQ of 120 was almost $128,000 compared with $58,000 for those with an IQ of 100.

But when Zagorsky controlled for other factors – such as divorce, years spent in school, type of work and inheritance – he found no link between IQ and net worth. In fact, people with a slightly above-average IQ of 105 , had an average net worth higher than those who were just a bit smarter, with a score of 110.

Cultural trump

People who had divorced once had about $9600 less wealth on average than their never-divorced counterparts. And those who smoked heavily had an $11,000 reduction in net worth. These external factors – rather than IQ – could explain the differences in wealth, Zagorsky suggests.

"IQ is clearly overwhelmed or trumped by the cultural imperative to consume," says economist Richard Wolff at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, US. "People with higher IQs are acutely aware of all the goods and services that they can consume," he says.

Wolff believes that smart people often have high expectations for what they deserve. "It’s a notion of 'That's what I'm entitled to as an American – that's what I get for working hard.'" He notes that wages of American workers increased steadily, in real terms, from the 1820s to the 1970s, and people in the US expect their standard of living to constantly improve. However, the buying power of US wages has recently declined.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

James Hillman's Acorn Theory

James Hillman's book, The Soul's code is worth revisiting. From an interview with Scott London at the time of its publication, Hillman speaks to the idea of a soul's destiny.
As you read it, try to justify the NCLB obsession with conformity, test-taking, and the ruthless disfigurement of individual children to meet standardized profiles.
London: In The Soul's Code, you talk about something called the "acorn theory." What is that?

Hillman: Well, it's more of a myth than a theory. It's Plato's myth that you come into the world with a destiny, although he uses the word paradigma, or paradigm, instead of destiny. The acorn theory says that there is an individual image that belongs to your soul.

The same myth can be found in the kabbalah. The Mormon's have it. The West Africans have it. The Hindus and the Buddhists have it in different ways — they tie it more to reincarnation and karma, but you still come into the world with a particular destiny. Native Americans have it very strongly. So all these cultures all over the world have this basic understanding of human existence. Only American psychology doesn't have it.

London: In our culture we tend to think of calling in terms of "vocation" or "career."

Hillman: Yes, but calling can refer not only to ways of doing — meaning work — but also to ways of being. Take being a friend. Goethe said that his friend Eckermann was born for friendship. Aristotle made friendship one of the great virtues. In his book on ethics, three or four chapters are on friendship. In the past, friendship was a huge thing. But it's hard for us to think of friendship as a calling, because it's not a vocation.

London: Motherhood is another example that comes to mind. Mothers are still expected to have a vocation above and beyond being a mother.

Hillman: Right, it's not enough just to be a mother. It's not only the social pressure on mothers by certain kinds of feminism and other sources. There is also economic pressure on them. It's a terrible cruelty of predatory capitalism: both parents now have to work. A family has to have two incomes in order to buy the things that are desirable in our culture. So the degradation of motherhood — the sense that motherhood isn't itself a calling — also arises from economic pressure.

London: What implications do your ideas have for parents?

Hillman: I think what I'm saying should relieve them hugely and make them want to pay more attention to their child, this peculiar stranger who has landed in their midst. Instead of saying, "This is my child," they must ask, "Who is this child who happens to be mine?" Then they will gain a lot more respect for the child and try to keep an eye open for instances where the kid's destiny might show itself — like in a resistance to school, for example, or a strange set of symptoms one year, or an obsession with one thing or another. Maybe something very important is going on there that the parents didn't see before.

London: Symptoms are so often seen as weaknesses.

Hillman: Right, so they set up some sort of medical or psychotherapeutic program to get rid of them, when the symptoms may be the most crucial part of the kid. There are many stories in my book that illustrate this.

London: How much resistance do you encounter to your idea that we chose our parents?

Hillman: Well, it annoys a lot of people who hate their parents, or whose parents were cruel and deserted them or abused them. But it's amazing how, when you ponder that idea for a little bit, it can free you of a lot of blame and resentment and fixation on your parents.

London: I got into a lengthy discussion about your book with a friend of mine who is the mother of a six-year-old. While she subscribes to your idea that her daughter has a unique potential, perhaps even a "code," she is wary of what that means in practice. She fears that it might saddle the child with a lot of expectations.

Hillman: That's a very intelligent mother. I think the worst atmosphere for a six-year-old is one in which there are no expectations whatsoever. That is, it's worse for the child to grow up in a vacuum where "whatever you do is alright, I'm sure you'll succeed." That is a statement of disinterest. It says, "I really have no fantasies for you at all."

A mother should have some fantasy about her child's future. It will increase her interest in the child, for one thing. To turn the fantasy into a program to make the child fly an airplane across the country, for example, isn't the point. That's the fulfillment of the parent's own dreams. That's different. Having a fantasy — which the child will either seek to fulfill or rebel against furiously — at least gives a child some expectation to meet or reject.

London: What about the idea of giving children tests to find out their aptitudes?

Hillman: Aptitude can show calling, but it isn't the only indicator. Ineptitude or dysfunction may reveal calling more than talent, curiously enough. Or there can be a very slow formation of character.

London: What is the first step toward understanding one's calling?

Hillman: It's important to ask yourself, "How am I useful to others? What do people want from me?" That may very well reveal what you are here for.

Suppose that throughout your childhood you were good with numbers. Other kids used to copy your homework. You figured store discounts faster than your parents. People came to you for help with such things. So you took accounting and eventually became a tax auditor for the IRS. What an embarrassing job, right? You feel you should be writing poetry or doing aviation mechanics or whatever. But then you realize that tax collecting can be a calling too. When you look into the archetypal nature of taxation, you realize that all civilizations have had taxation of one sort or another. Some of the earliest Egyptian writing is about tax collecting — the scribe recording what was paid and what wasn't paid.

So when you consider the archetypal, historical, and cultural background of whatever you do, it gives you a sense that your occupation can be a calling and not just a job.

London: What do you think of traditional techniques for revealing the soul's code, such as the wise woman who reads palms, or the village elders whose job it is to look at a child and see that child's destiny? Would it be helpful to revive these traditions?

Hillman: First of all, I don't think you can revive traditions on purpose. Second of all, I think those traditions are going on underground. Many people will tell you about some astrologer who said this or that to them, or some teacher. So it's very widespread in the subculture.

What I try to point out is the role an ordinary person can have in seeing the child's destiny. You have to have a feeling for the child. It's almost an erotic thing, like the filmmaker Elia Kazan's stories of how his teacher "took to him." She said to him, "When you were only twelve, you stood near my desk one morning and the light from the window fell across your head and features and illuminated the expression on your face. The thought came to me of the great possibilities there in your development." She saw his beauty. Now that, you see, is something different from just going to the wise woman.

London: In The Soul's Code, you tell a similar story about Truman Capote.

Hillman: In Capote's case, his teacher responded to his crazy fantasies. He was a difficult boy who threw temper tantrums in which he would lie on the floor and kick, who refused to go to class, who combed his hair all the time — an impossible kid. She responded to his absurdities with equal absurdities. She took to him. Teachers today can't take to a child. It will be called manipulation, or seduction, or pedophilia.

London: Or preferential treatment.

Hillman: Right. James Baldwin is another example. He attended a little Harlem schoolhouse of fifty kids. Conditions were appalling. His teacher was a Midwestern white woman. And yet they clicked.

You see, we don't need to get back to the wise woman in the village. We need to get back to trusting our emotional rapport with children, to seeing a child's beauty and singling that child out. That's how the mentor system works — you're caught up in the fantasy of another person. Your imagination and their come together.

Monday, April 23, 2007

More Fraud in NCLB

Saturday, the Washington Post reported in Key Initiative Of 'No Child' Under Federal Investigation Officials Profited From Reading First Program by Amit R. Paley that education is big business and a business that's more than happy to play politics with our kid's lives.

The Justice Department is conducting a probe of a $6 billion reading initiative at the center of President Bush's No Child Left Behind law, another blow to a program besieged by allegations of financial conflicts of interest and cronyism, people familiar with the matter said yesterday.

The disclosure came as a congressional hearing revealed how people implementing the $1 billion-a-year Reading First program made at least $1 million off textbooks and tests toward which the federal government steered states.

"That sounds like a criminal enterprise to me," said Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.), chairman of the House education committee, which held a five-hour investigative hearing. "You don't get to override the law," he angrily told a panel of Reading First officials. "But the fact of the matter is that you did."

The Education Department's inspector general, John P. Higgins Jr., said he has made several referrals to the Justice Department about the five-year-old program, which provides grants to improve reading for children in kindergarten through third grade.

Higgins declined to offer more specifics, but Christopher J. Doherty, former director of Reading First, said in an interview that he was questioned by Justice officials in November. The civil division of the U.S. attorney's office for the District, which can bring criminal charges, is reviewing the matter.

Doherty, one of the two Education Department employees who oversaw the initiative, acknowledged yesterday that his wife had worked for a decade as a paid consultant for a reading program, Direct Instruction, that investigators said he improperly tried to force schools to use. He repeatedly failed to disclose the conflict on financial disclosure forms.

"I'm very proud of this program and my role in this program," Doherty said in the interview. "I think it's been implemented in accordance with the law."

The management of Reading First has come under attacks from members of both parties. Federal investigators say program officials improperly forced states to use certain tests and textbooks created by those officials.

One official, Roland H. Good III, said his company made $1.3 million off a reading test, known as DIBELS, that was endorsed by a Reading First evaluation panel he sat on. Good, who owns half the company, Dynamic Measurement Group, told the committee that he donated royalties from the product to the University of Oregon, where he is an associate professor.

Two former University of Oregon researchers on the panel, Edward J. Kame'enui and Deborah C. Simmons, said they received about $150,000 in royalties last year for a program that is now packaged with DIBELS. They testified that they received smaller royalties in previous years for the program, Scott Foresman Early Reading Intervention, and did not know it was being sold with DIBELS.
I doubt this news surprises anyone. On Wednesday evening Bill Moyers will expose how the media were intimidated by the Bush administration and corporate agents called "patriotism police".

The ham-fisted dictatorial atmosphere under which Bush ruled this country for almost five years was clear to many of us. We knew
The disgraceful press reaction to Colin Powell's presentation at the United Nations seems like something out of Monty Python, with one key British report cited by Powell being nothing more than a student's thesis, downloaded from the Web - with the student later threatening to charge U.S. officials with "plagiarism."

Phil Donahue recalls that he was told he could not feature war dissenters alone on his MSNBC talk show and always had to have "two conservatives for every liberal." Moyers resurrects a leaked NBC memo about Donahue's firing that claimed he "presents a difficult public face for NBC in a time of war. At the same time our competitors are waving the flag at every opportunity."

Moyers also throws some stats around: In the year before the invasion William Safire (who predicted a "quick war" with Iraqis cheering their liberators) wrote "a total of 27 opinion pieces fanning the sparks of war." The Washington Post carried at least 140 front-page stories in that same period making the administration's case for attack. In the six months leading to the invasion the Post would "editorialize in favor of the war at least 27 times."

Of the 414 Iraq stories broadcast on NBC, ABC and CBS nightly news in the six months before the war, almost all could be traced back to sources solely in the White House, Pentagon or State Dept., Moyers tells Russert, who offers no coherent reply.

The war happens to represent the most deadly, misguided, criminal, and wrong behavior by this administration but my contention is that this philosophy, behavior and political impetus was used to sell NCLB as well..

NCLB, like Bush's vendetta with Saddam in Iraq, is a fraud. It is pseudo-science intended to appease tax-payers, shut up educators, and seed political contribution kick-backs of one kind or another from education publishing houses.

Sadly, Ted Kennedy, a man I admire, has been snookered into thinking this program has merit. The sugar-coated platitudes deserve our aspirations. The program itself needs to be ended before Bush does for our children's career what he's done for Rich Little's.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Global Warming Teach-In this Week at EO

What! A teach-in! Aren't those illegal? Don't tell Margaret Spellings or Steven Colbert.

This week, EO Smith is having a Global Warming Teach-In. Here's the schedule and if you have an interest there is probably still some room to participate or attend. See the EO Smith website for contact information.

    Calendar of Events

    Monday, 4/23

    Theme: What Is Global

    C and D periods Colin Bennett
    of Clean Water Action in Hartford will present An Inconvenient
    . Bennett is one of a group of specially selected environmental
    leaders selected by former Vice President Al Gore to give his "Inconvenient
    Truth" presentation to groups around the country. (sponsor Gary

    G period EO Smith alumni
    Jessica Walker, currently employed by Raytheon Polar Services Company
    in support of the National Science Foundation (NSF) Office of Polar
    Programs, will present on Antarctic Mapping and the Climate Change
    . (sponsor Kathy Ryan-Gidman)

    H period Lyn Miller-Lachmann
    will be talking about her Eco-Thriller Dirt Cheap

    (sponsor Anderson). In addition, faculty member Jon Swanson will be
    presenting a talk called Climate Change: Impact on Coral Reefs
    (sponsor Swanson)

    Tuesday, 4/24

    Theme: How Might Global
    Warming Affect Connecticut?

    B period Chris Cadiz will
    be showing two videos from the Journey to Planet Earth
    Series, hosted by Matt Damon. The first video is titled State
    of the Planet
    ; the second is titled Future Conditional.
    (sponsor Cadiz)

    C Period Alternative
    Transportation: One Person's Effort and Savings

    (talk by faculty member Armand Saccomano)—I hope to inspire students
    by illustrating the difference just one person can make by simply riding
    a bicycle to EO Smith. I will describe the environmental, financial,
    and personal benefits that performing an enjoyable activity can bring.
    (sponsor Saccomanno)

    F period Professor Ken
    Noll from the University of Connecticut’s department of Molecular
    and Cell Biology will be presenting 2nd and 3rd
    lunch on The Pros and Cons of Ethanol As An Alternative Fuel.
    (sponsor Grunko)

    E and G periods Professor
    Robert Thorson from the University of Connecticut’s department of
    Ecology and Evolutionary Biology will be presenting the talk Connecticut
    Climate Change: Past and Future
    . (sponsor Pirrie)

    Wednesday, 4/25

    Theme: Is Global Warming
    Caused By Humans?

    C period Brian Grosjean
    of Northeast Generation Services will present a talk called Utilities:
    Part of the Climate Solution
    (sponsor Pirrie)

    D period Professor Laurence
    Gould from the University of Hartford’s Physics Department will be
    presenting Remarks on “An Inconvenient

    Truth” and Related Issues
    (sponsor Green)

    F Period there will be
    a talk given 2nd and 3rd lunch by local Mansfield
    resident Don Hoyle on Living in a Fossil Fuel Free Home (sponsor

    G period Professor Gould
    and Professor Anji Seth from the University of Connecticut’s Department
    of Geology will present opposing viewpoints on the topic Is Human
    Activity the Primary Cause of Global Warming?

    H period there will be a forum to examine the
    majority and minority viewpoints entitled Human Activity and Global
    Warming: A Panel Discussion
    , with professors Gould and Seth, in
    addition to Emeritus Professor Howard Hayden, University of Connecticut
    Department of Physics, and faculty member /Emeritus Professor Gary Bent
    University of Connecticut Department of Physics (sponsor Green)

    Thursday, 4/26

    Theme: What Can Our
    Institutions Do?

    B period Connecticut State
    Representatives Denise Merrill and Brian Hurlburt will be speaking on
    Action on Climate Change by the State of Connecticut
    (sponsor Stone)

    D and F periods University
    of Connecticut Professor William T. Alpert, Director of the Center for
    Economic Education, will be speaking on The Economics of Climate
    . This will be two separate topic presentations, either of
    which can be attended; the second presentation will be during 1st
    and 2nd lunches (sponsor O’Connor)

    F period engineer Brian
    Grosjean from Northeast Utilities will be presenting on what utilities
    in Connecticut are doing to reduce greenhouse gases. (sponsor Pirrie)

    E and H periods we are
    hoping either U. S. representative Joseph Courtney or U. S. Representative
    John Larson will be speaking on a federal response to the issue of climate

    H period there will be
    a re-showing of the Journey to Planet Earth Series, hosted
    by Matt Damon. The first video is titled State of the Planet;
    the second is titled Future Conditional. (sponsor Cadiz)

    Friday, 4/27

    Theme: What Can
    We Do?

    C and D periods John Seager,
    president of Population Connection (formerly known as Zero Population
    Growth) will present on Population and the Climate Connection.
    (sponsor Paruolo)

    E period faculty member
    Paul Murray will present a talk titled Walden III (sponsor Murray)

    G period will be devoted
    to student performances on the topic of global warming; events to be
    announced (sponsor Abercrombie)

    H period there will be
    a tree planting ceremony out on the school grounds (sponsor Vo-Ag Department(?))

    In addition for Friday,
    there will be a “Solutions Fair”, to be set up in a suitable location,
    with local and national business leaders and activists setting up exhibits,
    booths and interactive displays that offer ideas on how to actively
    combat climate change. The following is a list of activities already

    • Demonstration of
      a diesel car converted to run on vegetable oil (Santasierre)

    • Demonstrations of
      miniature fuel cell cars from the United States Department of Energy

    • Fluorescent Bulb
      sale with sign-up for clean energy electricity option (Walton)

    • E. O. Smith’s
      own Cool-It team, with plans for reducing E. O. Smith’s “carbon
      footprint” (Bent/Cadiz)

    • Demonstration of
      biodiesel as an alternative fuel (Pirrie)

    • Table with ideas
      from Population Connection (Paruolo)

    • Booth with information
      on the role of buying locally in fighting climate change (Pirrie)

    • Bicycles from Scott’s

Other potential ideas include
recycling, solar panels, a booth or table sponsored by ConnPIRG, and
a booth or table sponsored by a local geothermal company.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Weekend Video

These people grew up without NCLB and still have a little fire in the belly.

I Want You To Be Offended - I Make No Apology

I skim volumes of information streams and picked up an older but pertinent adaptation of a Salman Rushdie presentation that celebrates the act of being offended. To say that the essay is refreshing is far too pithy a sentiment. This is important stuff - critical for democracy and humanity to persevere.
The idea that any kind of free society can be constructed in which people will never be offended or insulted is absurd. So too is the notion that people should have the right to call on the law to defend them against being offended or insulted. A fundamental decision needs to be made: do we want to live in a free society or not? Democracy is not a tea party where people sit around making polite conversation. In democracies people get extremely upset with each other. They argue vehemently against each other’s positions. (But they don’t shoot.)

At Cambridge University I was taught a laudable method of argument: you never personalise, but you have absolutely no respect for people’s opinions. You are never rude to the person, but you can be savagely rude about what the person thinks. That seems to me a crucial distinction: people must be protected from discrimination by virtue of their race, but you cannot ring-fence their ideas. The moment you say that any idea system is sacred, whether it’s a religious belief system or a secular ideology, the moment you declare a set of ideas to be immune from criticism, satire, derision, or contempt, freedom of thought becomes impossible.
If we cannot have open discourse about the ideas by which we live, then we are straitjacketing ourselves. This is the starting-point of the Enlightenment.

It does matter. People have the fundamental right to take an argument to the point where somebody is offended by what they say. It’s no trick to support the free speech of somebody you agree with or to whose opinion you are indifferent. The defence of free speech begins at the point when people say something you can’t stand. If you can’t defend their right to say it, then you don’t believe in free speech. You only believe in free speech as long as it doesn’t get up your nose. But free speech does get up people’s noses.
This was written to protest a British legislation that would allow one religious group to silence another. I mention this because the internet has had a number of incidents to which ham-fisted authorities are attempting to pass laws that criminalize speech that is offensive enough to get up somebody's nose.

For intelligent people nothing in life is more satisfying than the contention of passionate ideas. The intellectual arena is transcendent yet the attendance of thin-skinned individuals in this arena can trigger recriminations that the ideas being discussed are somehow inappropriate, tainted, or illegal. And let's be clear, we are not talking about speech that advocates harmful activity, we are talking about ideas that challenge other ideas.

Today, the anti-intellectuals simply have to accuse someone of being a troll, of being offensive, or of being too strong-willed (a "bully") and discussions can end, reputations slandered, and individuals ostracized as if they are criminals or dangerous no matter how legitimate the conversation may be.

There is an effort that is proposing a blogger's code of conduct that I largely support. But I also support those who have the courage to intelligently ignore the code as well.

Putting our ideas on the line is a sacred act, the breath of God, a spark of humanity that can power our species forward or differently. We can't afford imposed silence, muzzles, or false witness.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Corraling School Crises

I am an ardent advocate of adding technology to our schools and I spend countless hours on a soapbox saying so at every opportunity.

I happen to love the stuff that Google has done with email, the embedded Writely program, shared calendars and spreadsheets and the branding they make available. Of course, getting our school up to speed is one of the most frustrating exercises in Ludditism you can imagine.

Nonetheless, months ago I tried to partner EO Smith up with Google repeatedly to no avail.

During that period I sent Google a number of, what I believed were patentable, ideas that I hoped would whet their appetite. I never heard a word back.

Given the Virginia Tech tragedy let me explain something I proposed then that still needs formalization. When I look at Malls and bars and see the inexpensive deployment of flat video screens I imagined that schools could be outfitted with a similar deployment that conformed to potential lock-down perimeters.

During normal school days these could become video presentation centers akin to digital bulletin boards allowing teachers to experiment with flash class group learning techniques. However, during a crisis they could become interactive status monitors dispensing critical information to individuals trapped within perimeters.

The devices need to be smart enough to offer two-way commandeering with a centralized entitlement policy service that could grant exclusive use to certain agents. In a classroom, the teacher. In an emergency the teacher, students, and authorities in wireless fashion and assuming discretionary target destinations.

On a campus of 100 buildings, those not under siege in situations like Virginia Tech's would be able to establish safety corridors that applied police to the correct locations and identified safe haven to those who were unsure.

If Google isn't interested maybe someone else is. It's still a good idea.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

NCLB Metrics Conform to the Laws of Quantum Physics

For all of the emphasis educational leaders and the business community put on math, science, and accountability there is no discernible link between the rhetoric and reality.

For example, if one compares the progress of an individual student with that same student's progress a few years later, one is measuring individual progress. But what educators do is measure random groups of students at a single grade level, ignoring the disparate individualities and carefully compare the two results declaring that a school has passed or failed.

Of course the absurdity of the metric must not confuse you. Scientists studying quantum physics are closing in on this missing piece of anti-logic matter used by educators to make political profit of these numbers. After all, schools are all about data driven testing and as you know data can and does come from just about anywhere so why be wasteful when the whole point is school accountability and plausible deniability for throwing greater sums of money at schools.

This article at assures us that the anti-logic matter used in NCLB calculations, in fact, have a credible scientific basis.
There's only one way to describe the experiment performed by physicist Anton Zeilinger and his colleagues: it's unreal, dude.

Measuring the quantum properties of pairs of light particles (photons) pumped out by a laser has convinced Zeilinger that "we have to give up the idea of realism to a far greater extent than most physicists believe today."

By realism, he means the idea that objects have specific features and properties —that a ball is red, that a book contains the works of Shakespeare, or that an electron has a particular spin.

For everyday objects, such realism isn't a problem. But for objects governed by the laws of quantum mechanics, like photons and electrons, it may make no sense to think of them as having well defined characteristics. Instead, what we see may depend on how we look.
Get the idea? Substitute the phrase "laws of NCLB metrics" for the "laws of quantum mechanics" and you begin to understand why politicians are so in love with the idea - reality is of no consequence whether you're of sound mind or not. Furthermore, the article goes on to say;
Truly weird

If the quantum world is not realistic in this sense, then how does it behave? Zeilinger says that some of the alternative non-realist possibilities are truly weird. For example, it may make no sense to imagine what would happen if we had made a different measurement from the one we chose to make. "We do this all the time in daily life," says Zeilinger — for example, imagining what would have happened if you had tried to cross the road when a truck was coming. If the world around us behaved in the same way as a quantum system, then it would be meaningless even to imagine that alternative situation, because there would be no way of defining what you mean by the road, the truck, or even you.

Another possibility is that in a non-realistic quantum world present actions can affect the past, as though choosing to read a letter or not could determine what it says.

Zeilinger hopes that his work will stimulate others to test such possibilities. "Our paper is not the end of the road," he says. "But we have a little more evidence that the world is really strange."

Those of us who serve on school boards understand. I don't need any stinking scientific proof to believe that reality, especially in reference to schools and accountability, has no basis in reality. From now on when I don't understand the logic of NCLB, I'll just pretend it's quantum physics.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007


From the outset I must confess that I had zero hope that the hiring of Mark McQuillan as Connecticut's Education Commissioner would be good for education. I am therefore not disappointed when I read Priority: Scores Gap by Robert Frahm from yesterday's Courant.

He "says holding schools accountable for progress will be a top priority.

In addition to an exit exam, McQuillan also is considering ideas such as tighter monitoring of local districts' performance and a longer school day and school year for struggling schools."

No wonder. The article goes on to say...

In Massachusetts, McQuillan was a key figure in efforts to improve schools under the demands of the No Child Left Behind Act, a 5-year-old federal law that relies heavily on testing and calls for a shake-up of schools that fail to make sufficient progress.

McQuillan said Connecticut should monitor schools that fail to progress under the federal law "and find ways to intervene and support and insist upon changes," including monitoring curriculum and school budgets.

One promising strategy, he said, is to lengthen the school day and school year in low-performing schools. "It's a battle against time. . . . You have [only] 185 days in a school year, six hours a day. It's a large hurdle to overcome."

Connecticut desperately needs relief from the failing Cargo Cult logic of NCLB and its proponents. But stupid is as stupid does and when something in the federal government fails then the the response is predictable as a new day. Throw more money at it, market it harder, and drown the victims in even more waste product.

Thankfully, I am not a student and my kids are almost out of this system. I am convinced that education is the one place where Bush's policies have succeeded. In six short years, Bush and his enablers have managed to destroy the public school system in this country and that was always the intent of NCLB. If McQuillan is the answer then I can't imagine what the question is.

The goals of education that matter to me are that every student be respected as an individual, that they learn to learn, and that they have the freedom to learn according to their own biological calling. And, today, the public schools in America practice nothing of the sort. We are told bluntly that the only thing that matters is conformity to ever more testing and more test preparation and more of the same failing pedagogy.

Governor Rell justifies this social engineering experiment on public school children by spending more and more and more on education. We need to stop throwing money on the NCLB bonfire and re-examine what delivering quality education means.

We don't need high school exit tests, we need elementary school interventions at third, fourth, and fifth grade that ensure our kids are lifelong readers. The same goes for math. High school is not a safety net for remedial reading, it is far too late.

And minority proponents of NCLB who sell their children's souls to the false prophets who sell them magic elixirs such as NCLB can no longer complain being victims of someone else's misguided intentions. Advocating a renewal of NCLB sentences your children and schools to another generation of failure.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

And So It Goes

Another mass murder, this time in Virginia, has taken the lives of over thirty people. No one knows why.

The President comforted those who were most traumatically affected, those gun owners nervously cradling their weapons or hiding them assuming yet another national -cough- dialog about weapons regulation. The networks will soon release a flood of administration counselors to instruct the nation that guns don't kill, people do and that if everyone had the right to carry concealed weapons then the outcome might have been much different.

We must also not forget that school discipline is failing according to these sources. Boy students will no doubt be put on yet a higher dosage of drugs should they draw a war scene in art class, pull Janey's hair, or act like a boy in an educational institution that demands head-bowed passivity and conformity.

Parents too will get an earful of how awful they are - a menace to society if you ask gun owners and yet another good reason we should all arm ourselves.

Last night, PBS aired a film about the Occupation of Iraq and lamented that the nation is generally apathetic about what soldiers are going through. Considering the decades recriminations that followed Vietnam, I am not at all surprised.

President Bush celebrated the day by reading something sent from the Iraqi government whoever they are. Bush read a statement from the Iraqi Prime Minister who apparently is presenting the findings of Iraq's own 9/11 commission report that asserts that in fact 9/11 was connected to Iraq and that the only way to avoid Iraqi from flying to the United States to sort out their differences is for Congress to submit yet another blank check to President Bush to "support our troops" and grease the creaky wheels of democratization in Iraq.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Crimes of the Commons

Young bloggers are speaking out about America as a Nation of Wimps and an older corporate executive laments the absence of leadership.

Lee Iacocca writes
"Am I the only guy in this country who's fed up with what's happening? Where the hell is our outrage? We should be screaming bloody murder. We've got a gang of clueless bozos steering our ship of state right over a cliff, we've got corporate gangsters stealing us blind, and we can't even clean up after a hurricane much less build a hybrid car. But instead of getting mad, everyone sits around and nods their heads when the politicians say, "Stay the course."

Stay the course? You've got to be kidding. This is America, not the damned Titanic. I'll give you a sound bite: Throw the bums out!

You might think I'm getting senile, that I've gone off my rocker, and maybe I have. But someone has to speak up. I hardly recognize this country anymore. The President of the United States is given a free pass to ignore the Constitution, tap our phones, and lead us to war on a pack of lies. Congress responds to record deficits by passing a huge tax cut for the wealthy (thanks, but I don't need it). The most famous business leaders are not the innovators but the guys in handcuffs. While we're fiddling in Iraq, the Middle East is burning and nobody seems to know what to do. And the press is waving pom-poms instead of asking hard questions. That's not the promise of America my parents and yours traveled across the ocean for. I've had enough. How about you?

I'll go a step further. You can't call yourself a patriot if you're not outraged. This is a fight I'm ready and willing to have.

My friends tell me to calm down. They say, "Lee, you're eighty-two years old. Leave the rage to the young people." I'd love to—as soon as I can pry them away from their iPods for five seconds and get them to pay attention. I'm going to speak up because it's my patriotic duty. I think people will listen to me. They say I have a reputation as a straight shooter. So I'll tell you how I see it, and it's not pretty, but at least it's real. I'm hoping to strike a nerve in those young folks who say they don't vote because they don't trust politicians to represent their interests. Hey, America, wake up. These guys work for us.

Who Are These Guys, Anyway?

Why are we in this mess? How did we end up with this crowd in Washington? Well, we voted for them—or at least some of us did. But I'll tell you what we didn't do. We didn't agree to suspend the Constitution. We didn't agree to stop asking questions or demanding answers. Some of us are sick and tired of people who call free speech treason. Where I come from that's a dictatorship, not a democracy.

And don't tell me it's all the fault of right-wing Republicans or liberal Democrats. That's an intellectually lazy argument, and it's part of the reason we're in this stew. We're not just a nation of factions. We're a people. We share common principles and ideals. And we rise and fall together.

Where are the voices of leaders who can inspire us to action and make us stand taller? What happened to the strong and resolute party of Lincoln? What happened to the courageous, populist party of FDR and Truman? There was a time in this country when the voices of great leaders lifted us up and made us want to do better. Where have all the leaders gone?"

A young blogger, Steve Olsen writes
"When did we decide to allow the police to smash into private homes without knocking and identifying themselves? Recently, in the suburb I live in, a special police force dressed in black Nazi style uniforms busted into a suburban home without warning and dragged a school teacher out of her house with an automatic weapon at the back of her head. They forced her to the ground, handcuffed her, and hauled her away while her neighbors watched. They did it without a warrant and without consequence. Why? A misunderstanding. That is precisely why we need checks in place, to avoid misunderstandings and abuses. The police chief said, “When we realized it was a mistake, we all had a good laugh.” If a group of unidentified men dragged his wife away at gunpoint, I wonder if he would still think it was funny.

When did we decide it was okay to strip search an old lady at the airport because the pin in her hip set off the metal detector? When did we decide it was too risky to take a cup of coffee on an airplane? When did we decide it was reasonable to make a nursing mother drink her own breast milk to prove she wasn’t a terrorist? When we impose such extreme levels of security, haven’t the terrorists already won? Haven’t we willingly given our freedom to the government and the terrorists in the name of security?

When did we decide it was okay for policemen in combat boots with German Shepherds to patrol High School hallways?

When did we decide to allow routine police roadblocks? Why weren’t we outraged?

When did we decide it was too dangerous for our children to ride their bikes to school?

When did we decide it was okay for the government to seize property without a trial, without due process, at the whim of a government agency?

When did we decide that our government had a right to the fluids inside our own bodies? Or a right to the very breath in our lungs? When did we decide that it was the accused’s responsibility to prove they hadn’t been breaking the law? When did we decide that drug testing High School students was reasonable? Hell, why is it reasonable to drug test anyone – ever? Why would anybody, for any reason, have the right to invade your body without your permission?

When did we decide to give 10 year prison sentences to adolescents for having sex? Was it before or after we decided to put them in jail for smoking cigarettes and drinking beer? If my memory serves me correctly, when I was a teenager, almost everyone I knew either was doing it or wanted to do it. Why did we make what is biological and natural, criminal?

When did we decide it is too risky for 20-year-olds to drink but reasonable for them to kill and die overseas? Does that make sense to anyone?

We’ve justified every one of these injustices by claiming that it was necessary to preserve health and safety. I say bullsh!t. What is the point in being a safe slave?"

In yet another entry called How the Public School System Crushes Souls Steve Olson writes
"People are too quick to criticize parents, teachers, administrators, and students. The failure of government education isn’t theirs alone. It’s every American’s fault because we continue to allow the unrestrained growth of government schooling. Haven’t we learned anything from our own experiences in government schools?

At the end of this post, I will list some books on this subject, followed by a list of links about this subject. But before that, I will share some thoughts and stories that expose the American K-12 meat grinder.

The Girl Who Sat in a Bathroom Stall for a Year

My wife is a beautiful, capable, intelligent, self-confident, ambitious, entrepreneurial woman. She had all these qualities as a child as well. During her senior year of high school, she spent her lunch hour hiding in a bathroom stall. She didn’t eat lunch for a year. Why? Because no one sat with her in the lunchroom and sitting alone in a bathroom stall ashamed and frightened was better than public humiliation. Don’t think that she is an isolated case, she isn’t. I just stumbled across this last week.

For a significant percentage of kids in our government school system, survival is the only goal. Based on my experience, I’d guess 10 to 20% of government school students suffer from severe psychological and emotional abuse. Smaller percentages suffer physical and sexual abuse.

My wife and I both describe our years in the government school system as a prison sentence. My wife kept a running countdown of days left in government school, like chicken scratches in a prison cell.

I asked her to write a blog post about her experiences with government education, but she won’t do it because thinking about it is too painful and depressing. She describes it with one simple word – horrible.

My wife and I were in the same grade and attended the same Jr. and Sr. High in Bloomington Minnesota from 1981 – 1987. We didn’t know each other when we were students. During our school years I had no idea she existed. She was ‘a nobody’.

I would have been ‘a nobody’ too, but I decided after 18 months inside that I wasn’t going to allow the public education caste system to brand me ‘a nobody’ and I became a highly visible renegade burnout. She knew about me. In her yearbook she wrote “biggest dirtball druggie in the whole school” next to my picture. She said the only time I communicated with her during those six years was when I bumped into her in the hall and growled at her like an animal.

Now before you jump to the conclusion that we were in a rotten school in a poor school district and had screwed up parents, let me set the record straight. During the 1980s, Minnesota had the #1 or #2 educational system in the US (they still do). Within Minnesota, Bloomington was one of the top two school districts in the state. The schools we attended (Olson Jr. High and Jefferson Sr. High) were the best schools in the district. So our example comes from the best of the best of the best government schools in the United States. We both came from Beaver Cleaver families, with adequate income, no divorce, abuse, or family violence.

My wife and I have talked about our negative experiences for eighteen years and neither of us believes we learned anything of value within the system. Everything worth knowing we learned outside of school.

I used to skip school and sit in the public library and read all day. I have an insatiable desire to learn but I couldn’t learn in school. The political, social, and sexual tension in school was too distracting.

I was born with this intense desire to learn and grow, but sometime in the second grade, school became an obstacle to learning. I felt thwarted at every turn by fellow students, teachers, and meaningless assignments. It’s hard to learn when you are constantly afraid of having your head flushed in the toilet."
The self immolation of the American Dream is in full bore. As government continues to poison our public schools with programs such as NCLB which claim to hold schools accountable but, in reality, simply obfuscate the bankrupt malfeasance of government America will continue to rot from within, from the empty shoulders down.

And in the comments responding to these entries you will hear the voices of young Americans who will not be kind to their tormentors. Teachers who keep silent about the crimes of NCLB will see their pensions jeopardized when the generations it led to the gas chambers of global warming, a jobless society, and fiscal chaos responds in kind. The writing is on the wall assuming the parties responsible can read it.

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Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Class and Race

In a Washington Monthy article called Invisible Men - Race is no longer the unacknowledged dividing line in America. Class is. - by Richard D. Kahlenberg, the author explains how race dialogs are proxies for discussions on social class.
In his slender new book, The Trouble With Diversity, Michaels writes, “Although no remark is more common in American public life than the observation that we don’t like to talk about race, no remark ... is more false.” He explains, “[I]n fact, we love to talk about race. And, in the university, not only do we talk about it; we write books and articles about it, we teach and take classes about it, and we arrange our admissions policies in order to take it into account.”

Subscribe Online & Save 33%We don’t use class as a proxy for race, Michaels says; we use race as a proxy for class. Indeed, we talk incessantly about race in part, he argues, to avoid talking about class.

Affirmative action in college admissions is a perfect example of what Michaels is talking about. A 2004 Century Foundation study by the researchers Anthony Carnevale and Stephen Rose found that racial affirmative action at 146 of the nation’s most selective colleges and universities ensured that three times as many African American and Latino students got in than would have based on grades and test scores alone. By contrast, while virtually every university will tell you that they also give a preference to low-income students who overcome obstacles, Carnevale and Rose found that economically disadvantaged applicants receive no boost in admissions. Former Princeton President William Bowen’s study of selective institutions came to the same conclusion. Most (though not all) of those universities that pursue class-based affirmative action do so because they are banned from using race. They are less interested in aiding poor students per se than in trying indirectly to produce racial diversity.

As a result, while selective colleges and universities have made some significant (though still insufficient) strides in diversity by race, poor kids are virtually absent on their campuses. Michaels cites Carnevale and Rose’s finding that at the institutions studied, just 3 percent of students came from the lowest socioeconomic quarter of the population, while 74 percent came from the richest quarter—a 1:25 ratio. These disparities have moved a few higher education leaders—Princeton’s Bowen, former Harvard President Lawrence Summers, and Amherst President Anthony Marx, for example—to call for socioeconomic affirmative action. The primary focus in higher education, however, remains on race.

Consider the reaction to a recent report that the University of California at Los Angeles had admitted a freshman class that was just 2 percent African American. Appropriately, the story received heavy press coverage. A commission was formed, and action plans were detailed to address the problem. For black students to be underrepresented by a factor of six (blacks constitute about 12 percent of the U.S. population) was rightly considered unacceptable. But according to Carnevale’s research, poor children are underrepresented by a factor of eight—and not just on one campus, but at selective colleges nationwide. Where is the outrage about that?

Some accept class inequality at universities as a manifestation of merit discrepancies. David Brooks claims that “the rich don’t exploit the poor, they just outcompete them.” Michaels bitingly replies: “And if outcompeting people means tying their ankles together and loading them down with extra weight while hiring yourself the most expensive coaches and the best practice facilities, [Brooks is] right.”

Consider another area of controversy—one now before the U.S. Supreme Court: the issue of school integration in elementary and secondary education. The social science research has long found that if a school wants to boost academic achievement, getting the right economic mix is vital. Racial integration boosted black test scores in places like Charlotte, North Carolina, but not in places like Boston, Massachusetts, because in Charlotte, blacks went to school with middle-class whites, and in Boston they went to school with poor and working-class whites. The research is clear: blacks don’t necessarily do better when they sit next to whites, but poor kids do better in middle-class schools, where they are surrounded by peers who have big dreams and plan to go to college, parents who monitor and volunteer at the school, and good teachers with high expectations.

Nevertheless, school integration is usually seen as an issue of race, not class, even after most districts have been released from court-ordered desegregation plans addressing the vestiges of past segregation. Hundreds of districts use race as a factor in student assignment; only about forty look at socioeconomic status. And, as with affirmative action in higher education, much of the interest in income integration in those districts is that it will produce a racial dividend in a way that the courts consider perfectly legal.

Finally, consider the Bush administration’s outrageous response to Hurricane Katrina. Most commentators emphasized the race of the New Orleans residents who were left behind. Cornel West, for example, declared, “Let’s be honest, we live in one of the bleakest moments in the history of black people in this nation.” He went on to describe conditions in the Superdome, where many of the homeless residents were temporarily housed, as “a living hell for black people.” But Michaels rejects the “George Bush doesn’t care about black people” theory, pointing out that “Nobody doubts that George Bush cares about Condoleezza Rice.” Instead the lesson is, Michaels says, that Bush doesn’t care about poor people—or at least doesn’t care about poverty. Michaels writes, “We like blaming racism, but the truth is that there weren’t too many rich black people left behind when everybody who could get out of New Orleans did so.”

The obvious retort to Michaels’s line of thinking—and to the entire race vs. class debate—is: Why not address both? Discrimination and deprivation, and prejudice and poverty, are distinct ills, and all need to be fought. Pitting race against class is a false choice, noted Alan Wolfe in Slate magazine: “Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society, the highpoint of postwar liberalism, featured both a Civil Rights Act and a War on Poverty.” On one level, Wolfe’s criticism is obviously true. There is absolutely no conflict between enforcing antidiscrimination laws and fighting poverty—they are complementary and mutually reinforcing efforts. Likewise, on the school integration issue, one can favor socioeconomic integration to raise academic achievement and also favor explicit measures for racial integration to further the role of the public schools in fostering tolerance and social cohesion.

But as Michaels points out, many of those who say we need to simultaneously address race and class never get around to the class piece of the bargain. For example, when its affirmative action program was under attack, the University of Michigan made a big point of saying that it was concerned about both racial and economic diversity. But while it kept meticulous records of racial diversity, it hasn’t even had benchmarks in place for measuring economic diversity. As Michaels notes, “[C]lass has always seemed a little like the odd man out in the race/gender/class trinity.”

Moreover, Michaels charges, many wealthy people support affirmative action by race to avoid deeper issues of class. They want to contain the debate to the question of “what color skin the rich kids should have.” At Harvard, Michaels notes, almost 90 percent of students come from the top economic half of the population, and almost three quarters from the top fifth. If Harvard were to aggressively use class-based affirmative action, more than half of the students would lose out. “It’s no wonder that rich white kids and their parents aren’t complaining about diversity,” Michaels concludes.

Similarly, Michaels argues that conservatives prefer the debate to be over race and identity—rather than class and inequality—because the policy solutions are much cheaper. Corporate America, in particular, has embraced diversity, he says, because “the obligations of diversity (being nice to each other)” are far easier to address than “the obligations of equality (giving up our money).” Even class inequality is now discussed as an issue of “classism” rather than deprivation. He explains, “Classism is what you’re a victim of not because you’re poor but because people aren’t nice to you because you’re poor.” But Michaels argues that the deeper problem is not “classism”—that poor kids are “made to feel uncomfortable on the campuses of Duke, Northwestern, and Harvard”—but that most low-income students “have never set foot on these campuses or on any other.” He writes, “So for thirty years, while the gap between rich and poor has grown larger, we’ve been urged to respect people’s identities—as if the problem of poverty would be solved if we just appreciated the poor.”
One of the more fascinating institutional mechanisms to promote inequality is the identification of "special needs" students. It is yet another layer of classism that supersedes even the rich and poor divide separating Americans.

The truth of the matter is that all children in America are special and deserve their own Individualized Education Plans (IEP) but these are reserved only for a special class of student, the handicapped or disabled or popularly diseased. And for this class of student no expense is too great to somehow even the educational playing field.

Yet, severely poor children are no more responsible for their plight than the handicapped child. No special programs are showered on these children, no IEPs are developed to level the playing field. The underclass must be kept under.

More and more this underclass is creeping into the former middle-class populations. As our national and State debts rise to drown us, we may begin to recognize class distinctions much more sharply and wish we had acted to remedy the situation long before it became a crisis.

But that would require foresight and courage and that "vision thing" that remains America's most pressing national disability.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

The Cutting the Education Budget Anti-pattern

At a budget meeting last week, I suggested that when town officials come to Board of Education meetings, they should look upstream at the fixed costs in every budget and address the Teacher's Union with the same resolve to control the cost of education.

And the context for this is that over 70% of all education budget money goes to salaries, benefits, and the like. Of the remaining 30%, there's busing, maintenance, heat, electricity, supplies, and so on. The table scraps that remain fund actual student-centric programs. Extracurricular activities, field trips, and all of the stuff that might distinguish and vital high school from a teenager holding pen.

It should go without saying that I am NOT attacking teachers nor questioning their effectiveness or whatnot. I'm simply pointing out that the really big budget numbers are generated by the annual, automatic 4.5% pay and benefit increases. I wrote about this last year as The Accountability-of-Education Anti-Pattern.

No sooner had I made the recommendation than an official from one of the towns declared, as if to give the Pledge of Allegiance, "teachers work hard for their money!", 'somebody in the family is a teacher', blah, blah, blah. I could feel a Greek chorus of teachers yell, "Hurrah!" as if this were a Monty Python segment.

The truth of the matter is that teachers do work hard. But under NCLB they aren't working smarter. Nor are curriculums keeping pace with the changing world. When discussing the incorporation of technology into the classroom with a teacher, one gets the impression you are asking them to fly without a plane.

And under NCLB the teachers and their unions have abdicated all professional responsibility for their profession to a federal bureaucracy hell-bent on destroying the quality of public education. And this leaves children at risk and defenseless and unwitting pawns in the Department of Education's evil mandate

In Connecticut teacher's pay is significant, the benefits package outstanding, and their contracts far exceed the fiscal reality of the community. If altruism ever existed in teaching or government service, one would be hard-pressed to prove it based on the windfall contract details.

As long as we don't constrain the sky-rocketing cost of salaries and benefits, school budgets will continue hurt children the most while teachers sit with Cheshire Cat smiles in the back of the room content that there is nothing any tax-payer can cut that will slow the gravy train down.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

The National Epidemic - Intellectual Bankruptcy

It seems that news cycle after news cycle are punctuated by stories of dishonesty. A few weeks ago, the New York Times reported An Unwelcome Discovery by Jeneen Interlandi, the story of a research scientist who faked medical research results that reaped millions of dollars in funding in addition to prestige and power.
Rockey, who delivered a statement to the court on behalf of the N.I.H., said that lost grant money was not the only, or even the most significant, cost incurred. “Science is incremental,” she said, explaining that most scientific advances build on what came before. “When there’s a break in the chain, all the links that follow that break can be compromised.” Moreover, she said, fraud as extensive as Poehlman’s would inevitably lead to further erosion of the public’s trust in science. Poehlman’s sentence, she said, should send a clear message to the scientific community and the public at large that fraud would not be tolerated.

The sentencing judge was William Sessions, the same judge to whom Poehlman denied all allegations of misconduct at the injunction hearings four years earlier. He told Poehlman to stand and receive his sentence: one year and one day in federal prison, followed by two years of probation.

“When scientists use their skill and their intelligence and their sophistication and their position of trust to do something which puts people at risk, that is extraordinarily serious,” the judge said. “In one way, this is a final lesson that you are offering.”
And then, more recently, a Slate article by Dahlia Lithwick entitled Justice's Holy Hires details
Monica Goodling had a problem. As senior counsel to Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales and Justice Department liaison to the White House, she no longer seemed to know what the truth was. She also must have been increasingly unclear about who her superiors were. This didn't used to be a problem for Goodling. Everything was once very certain: Her boss's truth was always the same as God's truth. Her boss was always either God or one of His staffers.

Last week, through counsel, Goodling again refused to testify about her role in the firings of several U.S. attorneys for what appear to be partisan reasons. Asserting her Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination, she somehow thought she might be on the hook for criminal obstruction. Then on Friday, she resigned, giving no reason.

A 1995 graduate of Messiah College, an evangelical Christian school, and a 1999 graduate of Pat Robertson's Regent University Law School, Goodling is an improbable character for a political scandal. Her chief claim to professional fame appears to have been loyalty to the president and to the process of reshaping the Justice Department in his image (and, thus, His image). A former career official there told The Washington Post that Goodling "forced many very talented career people out of main Justice so she could replace them with junior people that were either loyal to the administration or would score her some points." And as she rose at Justice, a former classmate said, Goodling "developed a very positive reputation for people coming from Christian schools into Washington looking for employment in government, always ready to offer encouragement and be a sounding board."
Much of the fraud and dishonesty that we read about comes directly from the rotting fish head of our own government. Under Bush we learn that government scientists who claim global warming evidence are silenced and marginalized, CIA intelligence officers who told the truth are slandered as liars and fools, military Generals who advocate withdrawal from Iraq are uninvited to the conversation, and on and on.

The fraud trickles down to all of us eventually. Under Bush the Labor Department helps dilute unemployment benefits while producing lies of omission in unemployment statistics for the high-tech industries. High-tech job piracy is almost as lucrative an enterprise as drug smuggling.

And we lie to ourselves, taxpayers, and our children that hard work pays off, that learning science and math is important and will lead to a good job, or that a college degree will ensure a degree of future success. The truth and merit of any of it is circumstantial and co-incidental these days.

Today, automated human resources programs filter applications for employment to select only the most inexpensive labor compromising the free market for high-tech talent. Complain? The job will be withdrawn and resubmitted with a different title until the lowest common denominator can be achieved. Complain? The job will be outsourced or awarded to an offshore entity who observes no American labor regulations. Complain? Who listens to the sour-grape diatribe of an unemployed worker?

Today, high-tech employment is a sophisticated form of racketeering. Layer upon layer of corporate shell game and automated obfuscation contribute to the starvation and strangulation of a generation of American high-tech workers who enriched the world with software, computers and modern communications conveniences that were unimaginable even a few short years ago. Global corporations plunder the goodwill of the American people while embarking them on a career death march to fiscal uncertainty, social stress, and individual hardship.

We have the technology to track unemployment and under-employment regardless of benefit status. Let's get accurate numbers. And we have laws intended to protect workers from unfair labor practices - let's start enforcing them. And we have a national interest in ensuring that everyone doing business in this country plays by our rules not simply self(often foreign)serving exercises designed to exploit our "free" market.

Honesty and transparency benefit the restoration of truth and integrity to our national self-esteem. Education and hard-work cannot overcome government sponsored, unfair employment shenanigans. Intelligent policy can.

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Friday, April 06, 2007

The Student Loan Scandal Broadens

The New York Times is reporting in Federal Official in Student Loans Held Loan Stock by Jonathan D. Glater and Karen W. Arenson that numerous University officials realized windfall profits on student loan stock speculation.
A senior official at the federal Education Department sold more than $100,000 in shares in a student loan company even as he was helping oversee lenders in the federal student loan program.

The official, Matteo Fontana, now general manager in a unit of the Office of Federal Student Aid, was identified yesterday from government documents as a stakeholder in the parent company of Student Loan Xpress who sold shares in 2003.

His involvement with the company emerged a day after a widening investigation into the student loan industry revealed that three senior financial aid officials at Columbia University, the University of Texas at Austin and the University of Southern California had also sold shares at the same time.

The stock sales raise questions of conflicts of interest on the part of university officials charged with giving students advice on financial aid and loans and a government official who helped oversee the industry.

The Education Department said late yesterday that Secretary Margaret Spellings had just been briefed on Mr. Fontana and that the department was taking the matter “very seriously.”

“We are providing the department’s inspector general all relevant documents regarding this matter,” Samara Yudof, a spokeswoman, said in a statement. Officials declined to answer questions about the stock transaction.

The government documents, filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission, show that Mr. Fontana sold 10,500 shares in the company in 2003, when they were valued at around $10 a share. He came to the department in 2002 and at the time of the sale was in a slightly more junior position than now, overseeing lenders in the student loan program.

Mr. Fontana did not return calls, and it was not clear what he had originally paid for his shares. At least two of the three university financial aid directors originally paid about $1 a share.

Student Loan Xpress is currently owned by the financial services company CIT Group. C. Curtis Ritter, a spokesman for CIT, declined to answer questions about Mr. Fontana’s dealings with the company.

CIT Group Inc. also has a top university official on its board: John R. Ryan, the chancellor of the State University of New York, which has 64 campuses and more than 400,000 students.

In a telephone interview yesterday, Chancellor Ryan said he believed strongly that there was no conflict between his positions as SUNY’s chancellor and as a CIT director, a post that paid him nearly $150,000 in cash, stock and stock options. He earns $340,000 from SUNY.

As the Education Department responded to questions about Mr. Fontana’s stock ownership, the University of Texas and the University of Southern California followed Columbia’s lead and suspended their financial aid directors pending the outcome of internal investigations into the officials’ relationship with Student Loan Xpress. Columbia also removed the loan company from its spot on the university’s preferred lending list.

All three universities had given Student Loan Xpress a spot on the lists. Students generally rely on the lists for seeking a loan rather than shopping for the best terms.

Mr. Fontana’s participation in the stock sale, which was first reported by the New America Foundation, a Washington policy institute that has focused on student loan issues, caught the attention of lawmakers already looking into the student loan industry.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Radical New Theory on Learning

An Australian University study has come up with an interesting and important new set of claims about how people best retain information. It contends that teaching techniques that require reading along to the same spoken context is detrimental to learning. Here's some of the longer article by Anna Patty of the Sydney Morning Herald:
Pioneered at the University of NSW, the research shows the human brain processes and retains more information if it is digested in either its verbal or written form, but not both at the same time.

It also questions the wisdom of centuries-old habits, such as reading along with Bible passages, at the same time they are being read aloud in church. More of the passages would be understood and retained, the researchers suggest, if heard or read separately.

The findings show there are limits on the brain's capacity to process and retain information in short-term memory.

John Sweller, from the university's faculty of education, developed the "cognitive load theory".

"The use of the PowerPoint presentation has been a disaster," Professor Sweller said. "It should be ditched."

"It is effective to speak to a diagram, because it presents information in a different form. But it is not effective to speak the same words that are written, because it is putting too much load on the mind and decreases your ability to understand what is being presented."

The findings that challenge common teaching methods suggest that instead of asking students to solve problems on their own, teachers helped students more if they presented already solved problems.

"Looking at an already solved problem reduces the working memory load and allows you to learn. It means the next time you come across a problem like that, you have a better chance at solving it," Professor Sweller said.

The working memory was only effective in juggling two or three tasks at the same time, retaining them for a few seconds. When too many mental tasks were taken on some things were forgotten.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

I'll Know It When I See It

I've been frantically getting my art ready for my art show at the Willimantic Food Co-Op which spans the month of April. I signed up last year and I haven't shown any work since like 1982 or so.

I can't say that I'm nervous but there is an excitement about putting your stuff out into the public domain. I delivered a dozen pieces Monday and they were up today and look great. They just fill up the Cafe space beautifully and I checked it all out because I happen to really believe that two or three of the pieces are significant.

Monday I spontaneously put together an poster spontaneously to advertise with and today I put together an information sheet.

Now, Monday night I took a couple of copies of the poster to the Mansfield Community Center to stick up somewhere. So I gave it to the people at the desk and they said that they have a magazine turnstile that they'd stick it into if approved!

I kind of rolled my eyes and shook my head, "Okay." What can you do. And you already know what's coming so before we get there let me back up a bit.

Months ago I also submitted a request to the Mansfield Community Center to arrange a show there as well and thereafter I got back a strange little email saying they wanted to see some samples to be sure I wasn't going to display "macaroni" art.

I submitted a few jpegs of stuff I had laying around to prove my art wasn't made of macaroni. All the while, in the back of my mind, I was thinking about creating the best damned macaroni sculpture the world has ever seen (my wife is Italian, I'm sure we can do this).

Nothing happened for a long time and then last month the Community Center suddenly wanted a portfolio probably because of this.

I hope this doesn't sound judgmental but by now I'm thinking to myself, "Geee-zeus Ker-rye-st, how many freakin' artists can there be in the area - they must be trying to drive us out!" I'm fifty-odd years old, serve on the school board, exercise every day, and they think I'm making this stuff up. My brain was speechless.

But I had bigger fish to fry because the Co-Op show was closing in fast.

So Monday night, after handing them my poster I took some consolation in the fact that I could PROVE I was an artist. "See this poster - well take that - that ain't macaroni!"

So tonight the phone rings and I'm hoping it's a new contract but instead it's the Community Center desk-person.

We can't put your poster in the community room.

Um, why?

You're out of the area.

What area?

Oh, your show is in Willimantic and the Community Center services Storrs and Mansfield.

But I'm a member, I'm from Ashford...

Yes, but the show is in Willimantic...

Could you please give the poster to the Art evaluation committee? They asked to see my work and this is a great opportunity for them to see it.

Um, okay, but they are used to getting the art delivered to them.

You can't make it up.