Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Something Krugman Forgot to Mention

Paul Krugman explains children's health issues to opponents in A Socialist Plot.
And conservative opposition to giving every child in this country access to health care is, in a fundamental sense, un-American.

Here's what I mean: The great majority of Americans believe that everyone is entitled to a chance to make the most of his or her life. Even conservatives usually claim to believe that. For example, N. Gregory Mankiw, the former chairman of the Bush Council of Economic Advisers, contrasts the position of liberals, who he says believe in equality of outcomes, with that of conservatives, who he says believe that the goal of policy should be "to give everyone the same shot and not be surprised or concerned when outcomes differ wildly."

But a child who doesn't receive adequate health care, like a child who doesn't receive an adequate education, doesn't have the same shot - he or she doesn't have the same chances in life as children who get both these things.

And insurance is crucial to receiving adequate health care. President Bush may think that lacking insurance is no problem - "I mean, people have access to health care in America. After all, you just go to an emergency room" - but the reality is that the nine million children in America who don't have health insurance often have unmet medical or dental needs, don't have a regular place for medical care, and frequently have to delay care because of cost.

Now, the public understands the importance of health insurance, even if Mr. Bush doesn't. According to a recent New York Times/CBS News poll, an amazing 94 percent of the public regards the fact that many children in America lack health insurance as either a "serious" or a "very serious" problem.

So how can conservatives defend the indefensible, and oppose giving children the health care they need? By trying the old welfare queen in her Cadillac strategy (albeit without the racial innuendo that made it so effective when Reagan used it). That is, to divert public sympathy from people who really need help, they're trying to change the subject to the supposedly undeserving recipients of government aid. Hence the emphasis on the evils of "middle-class welfare."

Proponents of an expansion of children's health care have, as they should, responded to this strategy with facts and figures. Congressional Budget Office estimates show that S-chip expansion would, in fact, primarily benefit those who need it most: the great majority of children receiving coverage under an expanded program would otherwise have been uninsured.

But the more fundamental response should be, so what?
A sublime by-product of insuring every child might also be that healthier students cost less to educate. Today schools absorb enormous costs for special needs that are more rightfully health issues and not education issues per se.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Conversion to Ubuntu

I'm a bit behind in the blog because I'm eating my own dogfood. The One Laptop per Child (OLPC) initiative is about to bust loose this year. Asus is releasing a low-cost, suped-up OLPC model that is going to start a tidal wave of activity. It is being sold at a $350 price point for a higher end model. I'll being talking a lot more about the revolutionary technologies this initiative is going to produce.

But more to the point I needed a laptop for work (my work needs are slightly more rigorous than the OLPC baseline) and I've been putting it off. Sunday a very tempting ad got me stoked to finally make a purchase but when I got to the store the sales-guy told me to reconsider the brand - the store was getting lots of returned merchandise related to it. So I shelled out an extra fifty and picked up a Toshiba that I'm right now converting from whatever Microsoft thing is on it to Ubuntu. Total cost for an industrial strength laptop these days ($600 ~ $700); within a month, a student worthy laptop will be $250 - $500 - every American student should be issued a new one every four grades or so. There's no excuse (and I mean none) that kids in Africa and South America will be computing while our students are held hostage to blackboard lectures. Schools need to budget for and instrument our teachers and classrooms with this stuff.

As for my progress - so far - so good. More later.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

The So-Called Achievement Gap is Closing - Fast

It's true. You don't need No Child Left Behind laws, extensive testing schemes, or US Department of Education payoffs to see this is true. A simple article in the New York Times explains it all, Iraq War Brings Drop in Black Enlistees by Sarah Abruzzese.
The sharpest decline in black recruitment has been experienced by the Army, which has the most troops deployed in Iraq; black recruits dropped to 13 percent of the Army’s total in 2006 from 23 percent in 2001. In the Marines, with the second-largest force in Iraq, the share of black recruits decreased to 8 percent from 12 percent in the same period. There were also declines in the Navy and the Air Force, though not as great as those in the two other services.

The commander of the Army’s recruitment efforts, Maj. Gen. Thomas P. Bostick, himself a black graduate of West Point, said there were several reasons for the change, including a healthy job market competing for youths but also African-Americans’ disapproval of the war. General Bostick said parents and educators who had recommended the military in the past might be less inclined to do so today.

In a recent CBS News telephone poll, 83 percent of the blacks surveyed said the United States should have stayed out of Iraq; only 14 percent said it had done the right thing in taking military action. Whites, by contrast, were closely divided: 48 percent said military action had been right, and 46 percent said the United States should have stayed out. The poll was conducted Aug. 8-12 with 1,214 adults nationwide and had a margin of sampling error of plus or minus three percentage points.

The poll numbers show up in the daily hardships of recruiters trained by Sgt. First Class Abdul-Malik Muhammad, based in Birmingham, Ala. “With blacks, there is not really a great support for the war,” Sergeant Muhammad said, recalling one prospective recruit who was told by his parents that they would sever all ties with him if he enlisted.

There were few such warnings half a century ago, when, as a trailblazer in equal opportunity employment, the military offered a chance for education and training. “You could go right off the street and into the military and make something of yourself,” said Ronald Walters, director of the African American Leadership Institute at the University of Maryland.

One vocal opponent of the war, the Rev. Raphael G. Warnock, senior pastor of the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, said, “I still think that in many ways the armed forces is unfortunately one of the few viable options for young people growing up in inner cities who may lack resources for college and have few other opportunities for upward mobility.”

But for others, times have changed. Joining up is not even part of the discussion for high school students who attend Bethel A.M.E. Church in Baltimore, said the Rev. Dana Ashton, who works with young people. Students within her congregation go to college.

Friday, August 24, 2007

The Department of Education's Student Loan Connection

I'm catching up on a backlog of bookmarks I pick up off the various newsfeeds. A few months go, the Washington Post reported on the revolving door between private sector loan officials and the US Department of Education. Is it any wonder the sending a student to college is like offering them up to indentured servitude for life?

From: Warnings On Student Lenders Unheeded, Bush Aides Derailed New Rules in 2001 by Amit R. Paley, Washington Post Staff Writer, Tuesday, May 1, 2007
"The Department of Education has been run as a wholly owned subsidiary of the loan industry under this administration," said Barmak Nassirian, a longtime advocate for industry reform at the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers. "They are running the federal loan program for the profit of their friends and not for the benefit of students and taxpayers."

Chad Colby, a department spokesman, said he was not aware of the 2001 proposal but noted that a task force was created last week to consider new rules. The department also defended its hiring of loan industry veterans, saying their expertise was invaluable, and pointed to a 2005 decision by the Government Accountability Office to remove federal student financial aid from a list of "high-risk" programs.

"The U.S. Department of Education takes its role as steward of federal financial aid very seriously," Education Secretary Margaret Spellings, who took office in 2005, said in a statement last week.

No one has been charged with any crime in the investigations led by the New York state attorney general's office and other agencies, but in recent weeks there have been a series of revelations about conflicts of interest and financial links among universities, lenders and government officials. Some Bush administration appointees have said they were unaware of the extent of these controversial practices.

But the 2001 policy draft shows that Education Department officials knew of the issue and that at least some saw a need to act. In addition, some industry executives had sought guidelines on what would qualify as prohibited payments, or "inducements," from lenders to financial aid directors, according to current and former department officials. Several of them spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.

"We have been asked to provide guidance on whether certain practices of [private] lenders and guaranty agencies are considered to be prohibited inducements," according to the 2001 draft obtained by The Washington Post. "We are particularly concerned with allegations that some lenders and guaranty agencies have attempted to hide or disguise an impermissible offer."

Such allegations began to draw increasing attention from the department as early as 1999, according to officials.

Although investigators have found several cases in which lenders made payments to schools that steered business their way, it has not been established that those practices violate federal prohibitions on quid pro quo arrangements. The 2001 proposal addressed that challenge by saying the department would presume that a violation has occurred if a lender offers "something of value" to a school at which it has at least 20 percent of the school's loan volume.

The draft policy, known as "subregulatory guidance," was outlined in a letter by John Reeves, a Clinton-era appointee who served as general manager in a unit of the Office of Federal Student Aid and stayed on for part of the Bush administration. The office's chief operating officer, Greg Woods, another Clinton-era appointee, briefed industry groups on the proposal, according to two people who met with him. But Bush appointees quashed the rules.

"We were like, 'No, we're not going to drop a bomb on the lending community with these wacko ideas,' " said Jeffrey R. Andrade, a senior Education Department official at the time who now works for a loan company.

Reeves declined to be interviewed yesterday; Woods died after leaving the government.

Not everyone agrees that the rules would have had a significant impact.

"People who wanted to work around the rules would have found loopholes, unfortunately," said John Dean, special counsel to the Consumer Bankers Association, which represents lenders and took no position on the proposal.

But Andrade, a former deputy assistant secretary in the Office of Postsecondary Education, said the 2001 proposal was "very draconian," so much so that half the schools in the country would have been found in violation of the policy. The department decided to encourage the financial aid community to draft its own voluntary standards, an effort that ultimately collapsed.

It wasn't long before the department's inspector general issued the first of several reports criticizing a lack of oversight from the agency's Office of Federal Student Aid. A 2003 report to Sally L. Stroup, then assistant secretary for postsecondary education and a former lending agency executive, said the office "has never performed reviews of lenders for the specific purpose of reviewing compliance" with federal anti-inducement rules.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Tim Page Remembers Ashford and a Sixties Education

In a warm, funny, and beautifully written reexamination of childhood, Tim Page, an nationally recognized music and culture critic, talks about growing up with Asperger's syndrome. Read Personal History: Parallel Play for the sheer joy of it. Here's a tasty snip;

The class work, hardly less humiliating, was at least more private. If I wasn’t deeply interested in a subject, I couldn’t concentrate on it at all—those dreadful algebra classes, those Bunsen burners, the mystifying and now deservedly extinct slide rule! Late in each semester, when it became obvious to me that I had no idea what I was supposed to have learned, I’d attend some makeup classes and try desperately to pay attention. As the teacher rattled on, I would grind my teeth, twirl the tops of my socks around my index finger—once I poked myself repeatedly through my pocket with a pin—anything to keep my mind engaged. But it was impossible: a leaf would fall outside the open window, or I’d notice the pattern of the veins on a girl’s hand, or a shout from the playground would trigger a set of irresistible associations that carried me back to another day.

And then the dream was ruptured by the sound of a bell; the class was irrevocably over, and I knew no more about quadratic equations or beryllium than I did an hour before. Failure was now assured, and the countdown began to the Dies Irae, when my report card would land me in trouble again, for my father was incredulous that a boy who blithely recited the names and dates of the United States’ Presidents and their wives couldn’t manage to pass elementary math and science. I grew enormously fond of my father in later life, but he terrified me then. He lived until 2005, long enough to recognize, through my diagnosis, some of the problems that had vexed him throughout his own career and, better yet, to know and delight in my three children, to whom he showed a serene gentleness.

My grades, always disastrous, only worsened as I grew older and more was expected of me. Nevertheless, by the age of twelve I was able to storm through idiosyncratic renditions of most of the easier Chopin pieces and of the simpler passages in his larger works. That was also the year that I finished my first novel—fifty pages of it, filled with a narrative invention that I’ve never been able to recapture. The manuscript was lost long ago, but I do recall that I killed off my central character, a cat, by having him eat “badly prepared fish.” I am still in possession of a school report on “Making a Living in the Amazon,” which we had been required to work on for a week. My contribution read, in its entirety, “In the dense, rainy, rain forest, it is hard to make a living. One way is fishing in the river that is from a mile wide to a 100 miles wide. Brazil nut collecting is another way. You can gather manioc. You are very limited as to what to do for a living in the Amazon rain forest.”

By way of comparison, here is the beginning of a twenty-five-hundred-word story that I wrote the same month, typing it on my father’s gray oversized IBM electric in a single evening:

Nobody knew why the rain had not stopped. The weather report had said four in ten for light showers in the early morning. But here it was: 5 o’clock. And it was pouring.

There was nothing to stop Lady Lieg from leaving the library. She had all the equipment, a fold-up umbrella, galoshes, etcetera and so on. But there was this book on Alla Nazimova that just begged to be taken. How could she resist it?


How indeed? In no way am I making a case that I possessed any innate talent for fiction (although it took a certain prescience to hypothesize a biography of Nazimova some thirty years before Gavin Lambert’s volume was published). But, amid the usual obfuscating data, there are flashes of verisimilitude and understanding, all of which was new to me. By then, I had discovered Maugham, and Hemingway, and Camus, and had begun to trace in literature some emotional pathways that would fulfill me infinitely more than the road map of a Connecticut town.

Oddly, the book that helped pull me into the human race was Emily Post’s “Etiquette,” which I had picked up in a moment of early-teen hippie scorn, fully intending to mock what I was sure would be an “uncool” justification of bourgeois rules and regulations. Instead, the book offered clearly stated reasons for courtesy, gentility, and scrupulousness—reasons that I could respect, understand, and implement. It suggested ways to inaugurate conversations without launching into a lecture, reminded me of the importance of listening as well as speaking, and convinced me that manners, properly understood, existed to make other people feel comfortable, rather than (as I had suspected) to demonstrate the practitioner’s social superiority. I revelled in Post’s guidance and absorbed her lessons. And, typically, I took them too far: even today, I would never dream of addressing a teen-age busboy in a small-town diner as anything other than “sir.”

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Education, Democrat, and Black Myths

Janks Morton was interviewed on C-Span's Q & A program this evening. He is a documentary filmmaker responsible for "What Black Men Think". He explodes the imprinted hubris that saturates and stifles the American dialog about black culture and racial progress.

For example he randomly asks groups of black teens, "Are there are more blacks in college or jail?" Almost to a person they respond with the politically imprinted answer, "In jail." Of course the answer is wrong and he offers the real numbers but the response he received is what Stephen Colbert refers to as "truthiness". Most people believe there are more black men in jail than in college.

This documentary is far richer than I can describe here and deserves serious consideration by anyone interested in changing the game because it shatters the knee-jerk stupidity of how Americans perceive black men. But his contribution is more important than even that. Morton demonstrates that a greater truth is possible to discover.

I also watched the Democratic Presidential debate and could not help but be disappointed with the volume of knee-jerk platitudes expressed on too many issues. On education - what to do with NCLB - only Bill Richardson had the courage to give the best answer - "SCRAP IT!". Far too many candidates pledged to "reform NCLB" which is Washington weasel words for BUSINESS AS USUAL. That is unacceptable.

Democrats can no longer bloviate the platitudes of the past. Only Clinton was thinking out of the democratic playbook thimble. She said, "We can't continue to run schools like we did when I was in school. Things have changed. We need to bring technology and innovation to the classroom."

YES. THANK YOU GOD! At least two candidates get it or at least some of it.

Teachers are not, by and large, underpaid. That is bullshit.

Smaller class sizes are not necessarily better than larger class sizes except in very specific contexts.

More spending is not the answer to better education.

Schools cannot fail and teachers in poor schools are not inferior teachers. Teachers and their competence is not the problem.

The system either needs to be overhauled top to bottom -OR- we need to end public school education in favor of something else. The system is the problem - not the kids, not the parents, not the teachers, not the pay.

END NCLB NOW!



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Thursday, August 16, 2007

Grading the Newshour on NCLB Reporting

This week the PBS Newshour aired three segments on No Child Left Behind (NCLB) by John Merrow. I was put off by the first two segments - School Districts Find Loopholes in No Child Left Behind and Failing San Diego Schools Work to Meet Standards. I was ready to really rip the series.

What I didn't like about the first two segments was that NCLB was being compared to a track and field event and that the metrics of NCLB were being ambiguously implemented and that a true metric is constant and consistent. The first two segments never questioned the validity of NCLB in the first place.

Merrow debated whether or not states were cheating on NCLB metrics, or not counting students thanks to loopholes, and to fix or not fix NCLB.

For those of us who see NCLB as a fool's errand in the first place none of these arguments matter. There is no such thing as a failing school unless the law invents such a thing. Nonsensical metric comparisons of cosmically co-incidental groups of students from one test cycle to the next is equally absurd - to cheat at it is a surrealistic thing to do.

And how does one fix a law that is as loony a domestic endeavor as expecting a military solution to create democracy in the Middle East. What do these people plan to do - put a smiley face on the child abuse that NCLB is?

The third segment featuring America's best teachers saved Merrow from a scornful review. In this segment, we hear the voices of our brightest minds telling America that NCLB is a scandalous and pernicious cancer to our educational system. While there remains a pollyanna segment of the teaching population who want to "fix it", it is clear that it is Spellings and the Department of Education who are using NCLB as a "hawkish" partisan blunt instrument to do for America's schools what the Bush administration has done for New Orleans, the National Guard, and our infrastructure - destroy it!

Fixing symptoms will not cure the system. Turning every kid into a uniforn square is not who we are. We need a return to American educational values - children and learning first and a celebration of every child's uniqueness.

END NCLB NOW!




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Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Physics, Math, Science Videos

I owe reddit a hat tip on this one; JEE TV. This site bubbled up with wonderful videos done by teachers for science classes. Each video is a tutorial or demonstration of a math or scientific principle.

Very nice stuff.

Here's the linky.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Jill Bolte Taylor, Art, and the Right Hemisphere

As art emerges as one of the most necessary of curriculum subjects, schools are dropping art courses to finance the NCLB bunko scheme.

Inkling magazine interviewed Jill Bolte Taylor who knows a lot about thinking with the right side of the brain.
When I lost my left hemisphere I lost all of the normal “in the box” thinking. When we think about shifts in the brain it is inadequate to focus on the loss because with every loss there is a gain. As a society we do not focus on what someone has gained in the absence of something they have lost. When I lost the ability to define, organize and categorize information, I gained the ability to be intuitive and creative. In the absence of the left mind and its dominating inhibition, I gained a completely uninhibited right mind which processes information in a completely unique way when compared to the left mind.

East and West

A few months ago Le Figaro (via the Economist) reported how Chinese language teachers from China were being prepped for French students.
The French newspaper, Le Figaro, reports this morning how three French cities are either using or preparing to use a "survival kit" for Chinese language teachers, most of whom are Chinese-born or Chinese nationals, and who are "going through Hell" as they struggle to keep order, to quote one education boss from the city of Rennes. Numbers of French pupils applying to study Chinese rose by 30% this year, and nationally 20,000 teenagers will be embarking on their first steps with putonghua this autumn.

Top piece of advice in the survival kits? Guidance on how European adolescents differ from those in Asia. "Your class will be filled with pupils of differing ability: appearing to be the best will be a source of shame to them, and they think exploring how far they can push an adult is funny," the French guide suggests.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Lute Advocates Return of Military Draft

Whenever the politicians want to bury a story, they bury it on Friday.

"I think it makes sense to certainly consider it," Army Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute said in an interview with National Public Radio's "All Things Considered."
For young people who have been taking their options for granted, this should be a wake-up call.

Missing Children Screensaver

Here's great idea being reported by CNN.
The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children has launched a 21st century take on milk carton advertising: a downloadable computer screensaver that flips through photographs of missing kids.

Developed in partnership with a private software company, Global Software Applications, the rotating screens display a missing child's picture and profile, tailored according to the region of the United States where the computer user is located.

Ron Koning, Global Software's vice president, hopes the screensaver will be used everywhere from police stations to office buildings and "any area with high traffic," he said. "Where it will catch the most eyes."

The company provides public access Internet kiosks, and has been working with NCMEC to display photos on its own machines in hotels, resorts, and Internet cafes since 2005.
Get it here.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Alternatives to Military Service

At Tuesday's Board of Education meeting, we passed an update of the language for the school policy regarding the release of student information to military recruiters.

I questioned whether or not this language should have also applied to civic service alternatives like Peace Corp, Americorp, or whatever programs may fall out from the presidential debate rhetoric. Many candidates favor civic service alternatives to the military options.

Surprisingly, Bruce Silva mentioned that he had never received a request from any civic service alternative program to recruit high school graduates. What a shame.

It seems to me that our Congressmen should insist that student records submitted to any one agency be submitted to all so that the student has a balanced look at what options life has to offer in serving one's country.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Poison Pill Cultures and Diversity's Wake

In the past few months the evidence is mounting that unbridled immigration and the infusion of what I will call
poison pill cultures
is in the process of irreparably harming Western culture and democracies.

First, let's define what a poison pill culture is. By citing a poison pill culture, I refer to members of a given community who refuse to accept, acknowledge, or constructively participate in the cultural mainstream that they have embedded themselves into. In some cases, these groups multiply their numbers and political power by leveraging the free speech, security, goodwill of a given community to their advantage while undermining that very community to harm it.

The most recent evidence of the phenomenon can be measured in Britain. In an article called, "4,000 PEOPLE A WEEK TRYING TO LEAVE UK" by Michael Knapp, Home Affairs Editor of the Daily Mail, a dangerous phenomenon is brewing.
The country’s biggest foreign visa consultancy firm has revealed that applications have soared in the last seven months by 80 per cent to almost 4,000 a week. Ten years ago the figure was just 300 a week.
Why?
“They’re saying ‘I can’t put my children into the right school, but if I move abroad I can’. Most people are very patriotic and don’t want to leave. They’re almost terrified about it. But they say they just have to.

“It’s a shame people at the top don’t recognize they’re not doing enough to retain highly skilled workers in this country. A lot of them are quite young, and they’re not idle. They just can’t see a future for themselves in this country. They want to get married and settle down and buy homes, but they can’t see it happening here.

“And time and time again they are saying to us they don’t want to be seen as racist because they are quitting because of immigration. We tell them of course they’re not.”
Sound familiar? There's more.

A few weeks ago, Bill Moyers Journal interviewed Bruce Bawer on the battle of fundamentalist extremes.
BILL MOYERS: Do you think Europe is committing cultural suicide?

BRUCE BAWER: At the moment it's hard to deny that it is, yeah.

BILL MOYERS By refusing to do what?

BRUCE BAWER: By refusing to embrace and stand up for their own democratic values.

BILL MOYERS: You describe so well the values of democracy, pluralism, tolerance and sexual equality that took root in modern Europe. Why aren't they powerful enough to absorb and assimilate and mitigate these tribal customs?

BRUCE BAWER:I think that for one, I think that European leaders in many cases have lost confidence in the values of their own society. They've placed multi-culturism above democracy and freedom.

BILL MOYERS What do you mean by multi-culturism?

BRUCE BAWER:I mean an attitude that all cultures are equal, or value systems are equal — that we should respect other value systems and not judge them by our own value system. Now if you're talking about a value system that is patriarchal and undemocratic and hostile to human rights, then you've got a problem.
I do not believe this is bigotry or racism at work per se. What is becoming increasingly clear is that geography has played an important part in shaping cultural differences and the reality principle that maintained the balance was [and is] unified geographies - nations, states, neighborhoods where mutual understandings are exercised casually.

However, with the advent of globalization and the weakening of national allegiances we are witnessing the unwelcome or unwitting infusion of hostile cultures into the spaces of benign or unsuspecting cultures. And the result is no melting pot of happy endings.

A comprehensive and profoundly disturbing study is reported by Michael Jonas in the Boston Globe, "The downside of diversity - A Harvard political scientist finds that diversity hurts civic life. What happens when a liberal scholar unearths an inconvenient truth?"
Putnam is the nation's premier guru of civic engagement. After studying civic life in Italy in the 1970s and 1980s, Putnam turned his attention to the US, publishing an influential journal article on civic engagement in 1995 that he expanded five years later into the best-selling "Bowling Alone." The book sounded a national wake-up call on what Putnam called a sharp drop in civic connections among Americans. It won him audiences with presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, and made him one of the country's best known social scientists.

Putnam claims the US has experienced a pronounced decline in "social capital," a term he helped popularize. Social capital refers to the social networks -- whether friendships or religious congregations or neighborhood associations -- that he says are key indicators of civic well-being. When social capital is high, says Putnam, communities are better places to live. Neighborhoods are safer; people are healthier; and more citizens vote.

The results of his new study come from a survey Putnam directed among residents in 41 US communities, including Boston. Residents were sorted into the four principal categories used by the US Census: black, white, Hispanic, and Asian. They were asked how much they trusted their neighbors and those of each racial category, and questioned about a long list of civic attitudes and practices, including their views on local government, their involvement in community projects, and their friendships. What emerged in more diverse communities was a bleak picture of civic desolation, affecting everything from political engagement to the state of social ties.
This article is worth reading whole.

The diversity debate is getting hotter and our public schools are the front lines of many of the battles. Cultural and political suicide is not an option.



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Monday, August 06, 2007

Art as an Educational Battlefield

Two Arts education researchers are revisiting some conclusions that have been obfuscated since the study was released in 2000. In a New York Times article called "Book Tackles Old Debate: Role of Art in Schools" the article summarizes the work of Ellen Winner and Lois Hetland of Project Zero.

“When kids take a lot of art, they don’t improve in their core subject areas,” she said in an interview. “We simply found no evidence of that.”

When students who take art also generally do well in school, Ms. Winner and her co- researchers say, this may be because academically strong schools tend to have strong arts programs, or because families who value academic achievement also value achievement in the arts.

“You cannot conclude that because they’re taking art, they’re doing well in school,” Ms. Winner said. “There’s just no way to conclude anything about causality.”

In campaigning for keeping arts education, some educators say, advocates need to form more realistic arguments.

“Not everything has a practical utility, but maybe it’s experientially valuable,” said Elliot Eisner, a professor emeritus of education at Stanford University. “Learning through the arts promotes the idea that there is more than one solution to a problem, or more than one answer to a question.”

Edward Pauly, the director of research and evaluation at the Wallace Foundation, which finances arts education, said that the arts can promote experiences of empathy and tolerance. “There is no substitute for listening to jazz, seeing ‘Death of a Salesman’ performed, reading ‘To Kill a Mockingbird,’ seeing the Vietnam War Memorial,” he said. “Those powerful experiences only come about through the arts.”

Still, such reasoning may not be sufficient to keep arts education alive in public schools. “That’s not the kind of argument that gets a lot of traction in a high-stakes testing environment,” said Douglas J. Dempster, dean of the College of Fine Arts at the University of Texas, Austin.

In a time when President Bush’s “No Child Left Behind” policy emphasizes test results, the arts do not easily lend themselves to quantifiable measurements.

Art classes are often the first thing to be jettisoned from a crowded curriculum. As a result, Ms. Winner said, it is understandable that some arts advocates hew to the academic argument to keep the arts in the curriculum. “The arts are totally threatened in our schools,” she said. “Arts advocates don’t even think about whether they’re accurate — they latch onto these claims.”

“I am an arts advocate,” she added. “I just want to make plausible arguments for the arts.”

In other words, these authors fall into an education as business trap that is self-reinforcing within the system.

How are they jumping to wrong conclusions? Easy. By comparing art to the standardized curriculum they are bound by expectations and comparisons that no longer make sense in an information society operating a warp speed.

Art is no longer a silly nice to have offering. In fact, Daniel H. Pink argues in A Whole New Mind that a Master of Fine Arts degree is this generations equivalent of an MBA.
For nearly a century, western society in general, and American society in particular, has been dominated by a form of thinking and an approach to life that is narrowly reductive and deeply analytical. Ours has been the age of the “knowledge worker,” the well-educated manipulator of information and deployer of expertise. But that is changing. Thanks to an array of forces—material abundance that is deepening our nonmaterial yearnings, globalization that is shipping white-collar work overseas, and powerful technologies that are eliminating certain kinds of work altogether—we are entering a new age. It is an age animated by a different form of thinking and a new approach to life—one that prizes aptitudes that I call “high concept” and “high touch.” High concept involves 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. High touch involves the ability to empathize with others, to understand the subtleties of human interaction, to find joy in one’s self and to elicit it in others, and to stretch beyond the quotidian in pursuit of purpose and meaning.

As it happens, there’s a convenient metaphor that encapsulates the change I’m describing—and it’s right inside your head. Your brain is divided into two hemispheres. The left hemisphere is sequential, textual, and analytical. The right hemisphere is simultaneous, contextual, and synthetic. Of course, we enlist both halves of our brains for even the simplest tasks. And the respective traits of the two hemispheres have often been caricatured well beyond what the science actually reveals. But the legitimate scientific differences between the two hemispheres of the brain do yield a powerful metaphor for interpreting our present and guiding our future. Today, the defining skills of the previous era—the metaphorically “left brain” capabilities that powered the Information Age—are necessary but no longer sufficient. And the capabilities we once disdained or thought frivolous—the metaphorically “right brain” qualities of inventiveness, empathy, joyfulness, and meaning—increasingly will determine who flourishes and who flounders. For individuals, families, and organizations, professional success and personal fulfillment now require a whole new mind. ”
Connecticut public schools have got to stop being the new Alabama of educational obstinacy and begin reinventing how our students are taught.

That starts with Arts as the new central paradigm for curriculum design.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

The History of Political Plunder

Where NCL fits in the topology of bamboozles the American public have empowered.

The NCLB plan followed the playbook that a power and money hungry segment of the Republican party had used successfully in previous campaigns. In the eighties, under Reagan/Bush FDIC savings accounts were undermined by overloading the FDIC system. In those days people of every economic stripe were encouraged to save and were rewarded with a 5-5.5% interest rate on savings. Neil Bush and the Silverado scandal ended the era of individual saving in America. Today, few families save more than they spend.

In the early nineties, the same power brokers undermined Hillary Clinton's campaign to reorganize the health and insurance landscape. High rollers in the medical profession sold their souls to private insurance schemes that today have made paupers out of patients and line assembly technicians out of doctors.

About the time of the 2000 election, the same techniques were used to subvert the need for inexpensive prescription drugs. This time the elderly were targeted to participate in a government-sponsored pyramid scheme that allowed geriatric prescriptions to set an inflated market value that would be subsidized with tax dollars. The drug companies and power brokers would be allowed to loot at will under the guise of a prescription drug plan. Meanwhile, the general public who didn't work for the government (49% of the population) were fleeced because no free market mechanism exists to encourage lower drug prices. More poor families with children, more stressed economic conditions for working folk, and an evaporating medical insurance pool. Nor were the elderly well-served. Bilked into believing the rest of society would pay for their free ride, many were soon shocked into the submission of realizing they themselves were plankton for the drug money sharks greasing the wheels of the Bush administration.

And the most massive shift of tax payer money into private coffers ever, the manufactured Iraq war. By now over a trillion dollars of taxpayer money has been displaced into war-bucks slush funds that grease the political wheels to keep sending billions. The rich can never be rich enough while there are dollars on the table to be had for the taking. The life of loss and limb is no more significant to these people than the plight of families without health coverage, affordable prescriptions, or savings washed away. Pennies for society, billions for military interests whose private armies swell overseas and even at home - democracy itself has become a question rather than an answer.

This history of bait and switch economics brings us to NCLB. By all accounting a small potatoes swindle. The velvet glove of promising to finance shady faith-based education programs using tax-payer money quieted the wheels that money would grease. The teacher's union heads were easily bought off with the idea that the curriculum would be fixed so that teachers would have little more than train kids like dogs - "Sit, Jonny. Now, read Gambler Bill's Book of Bushy Virtues. That's a good boy. Now take this test and goodbye forever. Next!" The money sink tying all together were the testing companies - largely arms of large publishing houses would would reinforce these empty educational platitudes through their own monopoly of media outlets.

But with NCLB, a funny thing happened on the way to continuous plunder. Kids aren't being served. Great teachers were drummed out of the business for not treating kids like parrots. Our corporations are in crisis because graduates can memorize but are paralyzed if they have to think.

NCLB may be the first and only such bunko scheme that is reversible. Taxpayers need not shed a tear for "the little children" though tears are worth shedding. NCLB is an unnecessary and deleterious government program that needs to be ended now.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

If You're Going to Twitter, Do It in Public

There's a website called Twitter that is doing something very wacky and creative. It asks people what they're doing right now and then just streams out the results and it is fascinating in a very strange way.

As I was poking around on their site I noticed that communities could twitter as well. Here a fire department logs what it's doing, uh, right now. Now I happen to think that's pretty cool.

Imagine a school twittering throughout the day and sending their twitters to an rss feed that is updating a portal on their website? That would be very interesting to see snapshots of activity in the whole school over a period of time.

But wait a minute. Could teachers also create a class twitter? I mean with students offering ideas during a class about what's being learned? My head hurts thinking how cool a virtual gestalt session in an interesting classroom might get.

I better stop now. I'm feeling a twitter coming on.

Social Networks of Care

I have just discovered a service called Caring Bridge. This is a free website provider that offers websites to those who have fallen ill or are in dire circumstances.

It allows these individuals to share progress reports with friends, family, and outsiders. A very nice idea.

Certainly, students who are suffering from one calamity or another should be encouraged to take advantage advantage of opportunities like this to maintain contact with both close friends and concerned classmates.

Cartoons (click to site of ownership):