Thursday, November 29, 2007

The Black KKK and Burying Black Boys

The following except is from Taylor's death a grim reminder for us all by Jason Whitlock. IMO, it deserves a Pulitzer Prize for journalism.

Do yourself a favor and read the entire piece.
Rather than whine about white folks' insensitivity or reserve a special place of sorrow for rich athletes, we'd be better served mustering the kind of outrage and courage it took in the 1950s and 1960s to stop the white KKK from hanging black men from trees.

But we don't want to deal with ourselves. We take great joy in prescribing medicine to cure the hate in other people's hearts. Meanwhile, our self-hatred, on full display for the world to see, remains untreated, undiagnosed and unrepentant.

Our self-hatred has been set to music and reinforced by a pervasive culture that promotes a crab-in-barrel mentality.

You're damn straight I blame hip hop for playing a role in the genocide of American black men. When your leading causes of death and dysfunction are murder, ignorance and incarceration, there's no reason to give a free pass to a culture that celebrates murder, ignorance and incarceration.

Of course there are other catalysts, but until we recapture the minds of black youth, convince them that it's not OK to "super man dat ho" and end any and every dispute by "cocking on your bitch," nothing will change.

Does a Soulja Boy want an education?

HBO did a fascinating documentary on Little Rock Central High School, the Arkansas school that required the National Guard so that nine black kids could attend in the 1950s. Fifty years later, the school is one of the nation's best in terms of funding and educational opportunities. It's 60 percent black and located in a poor black community.

Watch the documentary and ask yourself why nine poor kids in the '50s risked their lives to get a good education and a thousand poor black kids today ignore the opportunity that is served to them on a platter.

Blame drugs, blame Ronald Reagan, blame George Bush, blame it on the rain or whatever. There's only one group of people who can change the rotten, anti-education, pro-violence culture our kids have adopted. We have to do it.

According to reports, Sean Taylor had difficulty breaking free from the unsavory characters he associated with during his youth.

The "keepin' it real" mantra of hip hop is in direct defiance to evolution. There's always someone ready to tell you you're selling out if you move away from the immature and dangerous activities you used to do, you're selling out if you speak proper English, embrace education, dress like a grown man, do anything mainstream.

The Black KKK is enforcing the same crippling standards as its parent organization. It wants to keep black men in their place — uneducated, outside the mainstream and six feet deep.

In all likelihood, the Black Klan and its mentality buried Sean Taylor, and any black man or boy reading this could be next.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Monday, November 26, 2007

Unknown Artist: Desiree' Bassett

A few years ago, I went to an Ashford School talent show that featured an unidentified guitarist playing guitar back stage. Most in the audience assumed it was a teacher or maybe Tony Horn, a fine blues guitarist who also lives in Ashford.

From the darkened stage, the guitarist played various classic rock riffs as though they were written by or for the artist - flawless, precise, and with feeling. The artist turned out to be then Ashford middle-school pupil, Desiree' Bassett.

Today's Courant informs us that she has a new CD in the making. 'A Local Legend,' She Can Play The Guitar by Shawn Beals is a great read. Enjoy.
Desiree' started playing the guitar when she was 3. She played her first full-size guitar at 5, and she won a talent competition when she was 12. At 14, she played side stage at Ozzfest in Hartford. Now she's 15, and has captured the attention of rock music legends Rik Emmett, Dicky Betts and Joe Satriani.

Related links

Desiree' Bassett On MySpace

Desiree' has four major endorsements and is working on an album with her band, Desiree' & the Time Machine. Her producer is bass player Doug Wimbish from Living Colour. Desiree' is only the second person ever to sit in and play with Living Colour. The other? Carlos Santana.

Desiree', a 10th-grader at E.O. Smith High School in Storrs, practices every day for several hours, sometimes as many as eight. She has three shows scheduled in December and recently completed a very secret recording project in Arizona. "Somehow I manage to balance it all out and get it done," Desiree' said.

"With honors," added her father, Dan Bassett, who was watching her practice.

Bassett manages his daughter, books her shows and plans all of her trips. He and Desiree' actually learned to play on the same guitar, which Bassett bought in the 1980s.

This summer, Desiree' was featured in Guitar Player magazine, and her father said she is "a local legend down at the GC [Guitar Center in Manchester]."

"You should have seen my face when she came out in the July issue of Guitar Player magazine," Dan Bassett said. "I'm extremely lucky to be her dad."

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Betty Sternberg Gets It

Though she is not telling regular readers of this blog anything that we aren't already onboard for, the commentary in this Sunday's Courant is a breath of fresh air.
We need to direct our efforts toward policies that foster a fundamental shift in the way teachers and students interact, the way teachers and teachers interact and the way teachers and administrators interact. We need to fund mentors/teachers who signal to each youngster that they honor, value and profoundly support them. We need to fund programs that create school leaders (students, teachers and administrators) who collaborate and are, as Pink says, "animated by a different form of thinking ... (who have) the capacity to detect patterns and opportunities, to create artistic and emotional beauty, to craft a satisfying narrative and to combine seemingly unrelated ideas into something new."

We don't need more seat time and more tests. We need a fundamentally different structure to foster a different way of thinking.

In this context, I applaud the recommendation that seniors do a yearlong independent study with a teacher or mentor. I just think it isn't enough. Give students four years to do unique, independent work — increasing the amount and complexity each year — to ensure a new kind of interaction with a teacher/mentor and that "different form of thinking" in every high school grade.

Do require at least two years of world languages. But only after first requiring that world language instruction begin in the lower elementary grades when children are "wired" to learn it more easily.

I don't criticize the bulk of these proposals (increasing credits and adding five end-of-course tests) because they might be costly in terms of dollars or dropouts. It may very well be that what I envision — not a harder high school, but a better one — will be more expensive, with its emphasis on more one-on-one interaction between teachers and students and more creativity required of everyone. And I don't believe that students will drop out when much is expected of them that connects with their souls; they will expect much of themselves, and they will succeed.

I once interviewed one of Hartford's success stories, a young man who graduated from the Classical Magnet School and Connecticut College. He recounted with anger his lack of preparation compared with other college students who came from private schools. He told the story of a high school teacher who cared so little for his students that he asked them to fill out old, frayed work sheets as he read the newspaper. When I asked this young man what was the most important thing that could be done to address all the inequities he described, he said, "Hire teachers who care."

Erin Gruwell cared, and her students basked in that care. We should use her example as we transform our high schools into better places for learning.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The Policeman, the Politician, and the Drug War

On another blog, reporting from New Hampshire, John McCain was selling the same bromides that have been failing for almost forty years. Of course politicians who have shoveled truckloads of taxpayer money at Wars on Drugs and No Child Left Behind insist that success is just a few more dumpsters of money away.

They'll insist it's our fault - parents not supporting their kids, Americans not supporting troops, and so on - the endless loop of blame the little guy rhetoric. But in New Hampshire, someone changed the tune:

What Officer Jarvis said was this:
Jardis: I don't think that if someone gets caught with methamphetamine, we should be putting them in prison, period. We should be helping them. We should help people who are addicted to drugs, not spend $69 billion a year to put people in jail. If you arrest somebody, it does not solve the problem. You just said that there are drug cartels. There would not be drug cartels if we were to regulate drugs. In Switzerland they have public heroin clinics where people can go and get help with clean needles to come off drugs There's no doubt that drugs are dangerous, but our policy does not do anything to help people who are addicted. If you arrest a 16-year-old for possession of marijuana, and they get a criminal conviction, you can get over an addiction but you can never get over a conviction. They lose their funding to go to college, and no one could ever say that keeping a kid from going to college accomplishes something good. Not at all.
In Connecticut specifically, we are arresting and imprisoning more juveniles than ever before, destroying their lives, and creating an expensive and unproductive human warehouse of misery.

When's it going to stop?

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Cardinal Leap

An exciting piece of news about one of last year's outstanding EO Smith basketball players is making the rounds.

Rob Cardinal is attending UConn and tried out for the basketball team. Of over 60 walk-on players, he was one of four selected to make the team. Unfortunately his course of study by NCAA rules will disallow his participation.

Nonetheless the story is inspirational for this year's team which may be better than last year's was. It is nice to see Calhoun open the roster to some of Connecticut's more overlooked players.

At EO Smith, we know Rob is a talented basketball player and this bit of news is a nice reminder.

Best High School Website in the Country

I attended the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education Convention in Groton this past weekend and something became joyfully obvious, the EO Smith website may be the best in the country. It is an astonishingly rich resource for the entire community of towns it serves and every taxpayer, parent, student and interested other party should poke around a bit.

At the request of the Board and with the goodwill of administration, staff and teachers the website is brimming with information about activities in every facet of the school's cultural presence. Click on a domain such as parents, students, administration, or whatever and you enter a portal maintained and co-ordinated by those individuals - parents informing parents, staff promoting their achievements and interests and accomplishments.

For other schools looking for website models, we encourage you to explore ours. We believe this Web 2.0 model may just be a contender for highest quality in the country.

EO - check it out.

XXX Sesame Street - Sally and the Stranger

Parents may get tazed for exposing their children to the newly available DVDs of the earliest Sesame St videos. Virginia Hefferman of the New York Times warns
People on “Sesame Street” had limited possibilities and fixed identities, and (the best part) you weren’t expected to change much. The harshness of existence was a given, and no one was proposing that numbers and letters would lead you “out” of your inner city to Elysian suburbs. Instead, “Sesame Street” suggested that learning might merely make our days more bearable, more interesting, funnier. It encouraged us, above all, to be nice to our neighbors and to cultivate the safer pleasures that take the edge off — taking baths, eating cookies, reading. Don’t tell the kids.
Indeed. Don't tell the social engineering monsters at the Department of Education either - people may suddenly realize that thirty-odd years of brainwashing about the benfits of corporately controlled "education" initiatives are wholesale bullshit.

Parents of young people really do need to read this review and invest a few dollars in the DVD. Like Mister Rodgers, Sesame Street was the genuine article for a while.
According to an earnest warning on Volumes 1 and 2, “Sesame Street: Old School” is adults-only: “These early ‘Sesame Street’ episodes are intended for grown-ups, and may not suit the needs of today’s preschool child.”

Say what? At a recent all-ages home screening, a hush fell over the room. “What did they do to us?” asked one Gen-X mother of two, finally. The show rolled, and the sweet trauma came flooding back. What they did to us was hard-core. Man, was that scene rough. The masonry on the dingy brownstone at 123 Sesame Street, where the closeted Ernie and Bert shared a dismal basement apartment, was deteriorating. Cookie Monster was on a fast track to diabetes. Oscar’s depression was untreated. Prozacky Elmo didn’t exist.

Nothing in the children’s entertainment of today, candy-colored animation hopped up on computer tricks, can prepare young or old for this frightening glimpse of simpler times. Back then — as on the very first episode, which aired on PBS Nov. 10, 1969 — a pretty, lonely girl like Sally might find herself befriended by an older male stranger who held her hand and took her home. Granted, Gordon just wanted Sally to meet his wife and have some milk and cookies, but . . . well, he could have wanted anything. As it was, he fed her milk and cookies. The milk looks dangerously whole.

Live-action cows also charge the 1969 screen — cows eating common grass, not grain improved with hormones. Cows are milked by plain old farmers, who use their unsanitary hands and fill one bucket at a time. Elsewhere, two brothers risk concussion while whaling on each other with allergenic feather pillows. Overweight layabouts, lacking touch-screen iPods and headphones, jockey for airtime with their deafening transistor radios. And one of those radios plays a late-’60s news report — something about a “senior American official” and “two billion in credit over the next five years” — that conjures a bleak economic climate, with war debt and stagflation in the offing.

The old “Sesame Street” is not for the faint of heart, and certainly not for softies born since 1998, when the chipper “Elmo’s World” started. Anyone who considers bull markets normal, extracurricular activities sacrosanct and New York a tidy, governable place — well, the original “Sesame Street” might hurt your feelings.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Disempower the State DOE

I responded to this article, High School May Get Harder by Arielle Levin Becker and Rachel Gottlieb; Here it is.

The State Board of Education needs to be sued in a class action suit on behalf of children for malfeasance and cruel and unusual treatment of developing youth.

These recommendations are knee-jerk, reactionary sentiments that protect the special interest groups who continue to rob taxpayers of a fair mechanism of delivering education to the public.

These recommendations belong in the last century. Their roots can be found in Nazi Germany and modern day Guantanamo. This is the application of more and harder and louder until the students finally are broken into unquestioning automatons whose story of breakdown will continue to be ignored.

These curriculum recommendations belong in a society dedicated to the industrial revolution not the information age. By keeping our kids in an intellectual vacuum we assure the demise of democracy and prosperity in this country at exactly the time we need wild, free-thinking and innovative infusions of brain-power into the workforce.

This commission belongs in jail.

- krasicki

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Secret Service Memorization Tips

For students who want to add some spice to studying for tests they can always attempt to introduce some study techniques straight out of the secret agent handbook.

This site claims the techniques described work. Suggestions include;

Reverse Blinking
When you have a test in front of you, close your eyes and just blink them open for a millisecond while you stare at the center of the page. This burns the image of your test or list or chart or whatever you're looking at in your visual cortex. By keeping your eyes closed for a few more seconds, all your mental resources can stay focused on just that one image. Then you're subconscious takes over and begins to work out the answers while you move to blink the next page. This process was used to memorize faces in a room, documents, layouts of buildings, etc... Then, most of the details could later be extracted in deep hypnosis.
Deep Breathing [to relax]

Eliminating non-options
Take a thick black marker with you into a test. In a multi-choice test, black out the options that you know to be subterfuge. This gives your brain less load to consider and improves your chances if you are just going to guess.

Subliminal Learning for Vocabulary

Be Hungry
Hunger makes you alert. It may have something to do with our primitive hunter gatherer amygdala oblongata. If you are hungry, you brain processes information and cognitive demands much faster and more accurately.

Pick the Lowest Hanging Fruit First

and more.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

No Homework Over the Holidays!

I just sent a request to our Board and to the other region Boards to consider the following:

Can we add the No Homework over major Holidays policy recommendation on our agendas?

This obviously needs committee and Board airing but I'm wondering if we can take a straw vote before Thanksgiving so that the staff can rearrange assignment schedules. Secondly, I'd like to see this passed to the Primary school BOEs as well.

It would be a giant relief to dozens of families if holidays could be honored as holidays - time OFF! Period. This is really long overdue - it reduces stress, let's everyone chill out, eliminates last minute headaches and so on. It's the right thing to do.

Now, we might suggest that instead of homework, everyone read something interesting or watch an educational program but nothing official. And because we can't vote on it soon enough can we get the superintendents to "recommend" the practice until we can formalize something?

- Frank Krasicki

Thursday, November 08, 2007

What Does Web 3.0 Mean?

The following is an important video for the School 2.0 advocates because it defines the next framework that educators will need to learn and grow into. It is yet another reason standardized testing and the concept of self-centered intelligence metrics are obsolete, absurd, and increasingly a threat toward healthy, collaborative learners and workers. Enjoy.

Monday, November 05, 2007

I Miss Lever Voting Machines

They just felt so much more like flushing than filling in little toilet bowl ovals next to candidate's names. I dunno, something counter-intuitive about the whole thing.

On the eve of the election I can only offer you some sage advice about this year's most important issue; How to Detect Bullshit (By Scott Berkun)
The first rule of BS is to expect it. Fire detectors are designed to expect a fire at any moment: they’re not optimists. They fixate on the possibility of fires and that’s why they save lives. If you want to detect BS you have to swallow some cynicism, and add some internal doubt to everything you hear. Socrates, the father of western wisdom, based his philosophy around the recognition, and expectation, of ignorance. It’s far more dangerous to assume people know what they’re talking about, than it is to assume they don’t and let them prove you wrong. Be like Socrates: assume people are unaware of their own ignorance (including yourself) and politely, warmly, probe to sort out the difference.
And from the Onion;
Poll: Bullshit Is Most Important Issue For 2008 Voters

Sunday, November 04, 2007

What's in a Backpack?

This autumn numerous stories have been dedicated to the contents of backpacks and their surprising uses.

First we'll dispense with the security angles. The security conscious, are advocating transparent material for backpacks so that nothing nefarious can be carried around. Of course, privacy disappears as well.

Of course there's always someone trumping the last guy, so a Massachusetts company is selling bulletproof backpacks. Yeah, no utility belt yet but you never know.
It started with the Columbine shooting in 1999. Curran and Mike Pelonzi said that they watched and worried for their own children. They had the idea to hide bulletproof material inside a backpack. They call it defensive action.

"If the kid has a backpack next to them, or under the desk, they can pick it up, the straps act as a handle and it becomes a shield," Curran said.

It's much lighter than a 15-pound police vest. After three years of experimenting, the backpacks that were tested by an outside lab ranked threat level two. It stops an assortment of bullets, including 9-millimeter hollow point bullets.
Cool, huh.

But the best ideas come from those who actually care about kids (and Washington will do their best to stomp them out). Instead of filling backpacks with senseless homework, some schools send food home with kids! And you know what, the kids test scores go up like crazy!

I know, I know - it must be a scam. No federal program relentlessly and mercilessly punishing schools? How could -gulp- "feeding kids" be anything but a left-wing fraud?

Read the article and see if you can figure out the mystery.
Food For Kids seeks to provide nutritional support for children without turning them into "breadwinners." It is designed for children whose parents won't or can't access traditional food relief programs. In many cases, schools let parents know that food is being sent home so that children can concentrate better on homework and school work, but in others, the parents are not notified. Sadly, some parents will withhold food as a form of punishment or eat the food so children still go hungry, and some will even sell the food for drink or drugs. In the worst cases, students are fed at school at the end of the day because it isn't safe to send food home with them.

"We do not recommend sending notices home to all parents regarding the availability of the Food For Kids program because too many parents will sign up for any free program," reported Rhea. "We prefer that all teachers, counselors, school nurses, and office personnel be informed about the program and asked to refer students to the school coordinator if they suspect there is a lack of food at home. The coordinator will then talk to the student and determine if there is a need."

To meet the criteria for this backpack program, a student must have physical, educational, or emotional problems in school due to hunger at home. The physical signs students often exhibit are headaches, dizziness, stomach aches, weight loss, or low weight. Educational problems may include poor grades or falling grades, lack of concentration in class, and falling asleep in class. Typical emotional problems include being disruptive in class, low self-esteem, fighting, and stealing food.

Principal Bess Scott has seen the effect of hunger firsthand in the countenance of a beautiful, vibrant kindergartner who became quiet and sullen, and sometimes withdrawn, in the afternoon. "Even her face looked different," Scott observed. "Her teacher finally diagnosed the problem. She was storing chewed food in her cheeks to take home at night."

As her teacher developed a relationship with the child and her family, she learned that until the age of five the child had been homeless and had at times lived in a car. This child truly feared that there might not be food at home. Scott and her staff at McPhee Elementary often found food in the girl's locker that had been partially eaten or salvaged from another student or the trash. While they finally convinced her that food would be available to her at home, she reverted to that behavior when she was under stress.

Issues related to hunger are not unique at Scott's school. Because 85 percent of its students receive free and reduced lunches, it was invited to join in a backpack program sponsored by the Food Bank of Lincoln (Nebraska). McPhee is a Community Learning Center school with a very strong partnership with First Presbyterian Church, which supports the program with both labor and money. The food bank, the Lincoln Public Schools, and many partners supply the food. In the last school year, the food bank's backpack program came to the aid of more than 500 students in various local schools.

"Hunger is a significant issue in our relatively affluent community," explains Scott Young of the Food Bank of Lincoln. "During the 2006-2007 school year, 4,551 children, or 30.7 percent of our community's elementary-age children, participated in the free lunch program. Many of those children and their families are in need of food support."
OMG! IT'S NOT A SCAM!But is is a threat to dumb-ass federal mandates like NCLB. And the threat is growing...
The Arkansas Rice Depot and its president Laura Rhea realize that a family that can't afford food probably also can't afford personal grooming items. So, in addition to backpacks full of food, the organization provides "health kits" which include toothpaste, a toothbrush, soap, a comb, and often deodorant, shampoo and conditioner, fingernail clippers, and band-aids. The kits sometimes also contain a washcloth and towel or hand towel. These items are sealed in plastic bags and can easily be added to backpacks as needed.

"We have a children's disaster kit that includes a small stuffed animal, a coloring book and crayons or colored pencils, and a toy police car, ambulance, or fire truck all in a zip-lock bag," says Rhea. "These kits are given to children when a parent goes to jail, their house burns, or a parent goes to the hospital, or if a child and parent have to leave home quickly due to abuse."

There are kits with basic school supplies, and the organization gives out new blankets in the winter. Coordinators get to know students and usually discover when the gas is turned off and there is no heat or when a family is temporarily living in a tent, a car, or has only a space heater at home. Rhea remarks that students who can't sleep due to cold are as ill-prepared to reach their full potential in class as those who are hungry.

"When we discovered that more than 500 students in our Food For Kids schools were either pregnant or teen moms, we decided they needed special attention too," Rhea added. "We heard of students not eating properly during pregnancy and students dropping out of school because they couldn't handle school, a job, and a baby."
This country needs an expose about this stuff before it's too late.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

To Hell With Kids' Needs

Dan Brown, a Boston teacher explains NCLB's tradeoffs;
Battle Number One: Manolo arrived in my classroom determined to fight the world. His mother had died when he was in second grade and he had to repeat the year. However, Manolo took substantial steps when he began to write creative stories, favoring historical fiction in which he inserted himself into a famous event. His writing revealed great imagination and interest, but his spelling and mechanics remained poor, and state exams continued to label him a failure.

Battle Number Two: Sara entered my classroom leaps ahead of her peers. She wrote hilarious, irreverent poetry and had already mastered grade-level math. She fired off endless questions about current events. Sara was a dream student, hungry to be challenged. However, the administrators at my school discouraged creative lesson planning in order to cram in endless "drill-and-kill" packets of basic skills test-taking strategies.

Battle Number Three: Eddie was in his fourth year in fourth grade because of absences and test failures. It seemed impossible to get him engaged in class. However, he loved to draw and showed a remarkable, natural talent for perspective sketching. Tragically, my class was deprived of all arts in order to allot more time for standardized test preparation.

How could I help these children face their challenges? Every moment, I felt pulled in 26 directions, invariably drawn to the louder children who act out. And then there was the ever-looming Test.

Everyone involved in education policy claims to be on the side of students, yet I quickly learned that the needs of my students fell quite low on the school's priority list. Nearly six years into the No Child Left Behind era, American public schools have more money than ever, but students are still widely denied the most crucial tools for their success: individual attention and specialized support.

In a more rational, equitable system, Manolo would have access to small-group tutoring, Sara could flourish in a challenging, high-level classroom environment, and Eddie could explore his artistic inspiration in school. They would meet with guidance counselors (my school had a ratio of 550 students per counselor) and mentors. Knowing their school supported their individual needs would further engage these children.

However, the resources that my students badly needed were being spent elsewhere; the money was going into high-stakes testing.

We have entered a dangerous era in which the fad for education policy is to import statistics-driven paradigms from the business sphere. These mechanistic models are an ill fit in education, a wholly human institution. Testing may provide easy-to-crunch metrics, but it creates a negative, all-consuming test culture, and does not paint a comprehensive picture of students' abilities.

Under No Child Left Behind, schools, particularly in high-poverty areas, are under intense pressure to meet quotas on one-size-fits-all standardized tests. Prepping for the test and getting a well-rounded education are not the same thing, but there is not room in the school day for both tasks.

The suffocating squeeze that my students and I felt was not a case of a few rogue administrators misunderstanding the law, as Assistant Secretary of Education Doug Mesecar has said. A recent report by the Center of Education Policy discovered that 44 percent of schools have reduced instructional time in untested subjects (social studies, science, art and music, physical education, lunch, and/or recess).

It's not just the government trumpeting high-stakes testing as the way to get "accountability" from schools. The media have largely gone along for the ride as well, trumpeting minute shifts in test score graphs as headline-worthy successes or failures.

We have taken our eye off the ball on what is most important in schools - students' needs.
And I apologize for the extended quotation but it was required to maintain the integrity of the context.