Sunday, September 30, 2007

Shock and Law

The hate crime being perpetrated in Guilford against Nathan Fisher is incredibly simple to deconstruct once you begin to sort out the sequence of events and eliminate the one-sided treatment of Fisher by both WTNH and the print media in New Haven.

First, by visiting the Guilford High School web site, you can access the Student/Parent handbook. The make-up homework section reads as follows;
MAKEUP
WORK: ACADEMIC
All makeup work is the responsibility of the student. Arrangements should be made with individual teachers, however the teacher and the student are mutually responsible for communicating what work needs to be completed. Work missed because of an unverified absence or "cut" may not be made up for credit.
All absences from school must be verified by a parental telephone call or note. Students will have at least one day to make up missed assignments or to prepare for tests, quizzes, and projects for each verified absence. (Tests, quizzes, and major projects may require multiple days.) This deadline can be extended if mutually agreed upon by both the teacher and the student.
Numerous reports, blogs and commentary fail to get this simple fact straight. Nathan Fisher had no responsibility to bring the make-up work to anyone. He broke no rules or protocol. None.

As we know from a previous post, the summer reading list that all other students chose from was simply a recommended list. Nate was kind enough to offer make-up choices that could be quickly finished (say, over the Labor Day weekend)so as not to punish the new student for a missed assignment she had no knowledge of.

In a comics blog called The Beat, the mother of this teen claims to give us the facts and all of the quotes from the mother originate in her correspondences there.

The mother tells us "Her brand new English teacher asked her to stay after class so he could give her an assignment to read over the labor day long weekend"... "on the second day of school". It is important to note this because on the following Tuesday, the THIRD day of school, our mom who expects immediate gratification claims her complaint falls on deaf ears. My guess is that the THIRD day of school's morning after a long holiday weekend is chaotically hectic. The mother claims she "was brushed off" by the school.

But we're getting ahead of ourselves here. Sequentially, the next set of claims concern the "discovery" of the book assignment. This event has two different explanations but first let's talk about what most kids do when they bring homework home.

If my teens come home with a book my wife and I both know it. We ask, "Do you have any homework" and reading always yields a set of moans that means they have something to do and we find out what it is.

Privately, this is what the teen says happened in her household as well. Comments left here previously claim, "The girl showed her parents the book, her mom didn't "discover" it. I know. I heard her telling people."

But that's not mom's story. Mom claims she "discovers" the book on Saturday because her daughter, having been warned that the book contained mature themes decides that sharing these mature themes with her younger siblings is the thing to do. Mom claims to be shocked, "So I said to the group of children - “what’s so funny you guys!” So the kids reply - We are laughing at the reading assignment from her teacher - “The two kids are doing it” - So I said - Give me that!"

This ambiguity is striking because if the daughter told the parents about her homework assignment and showed it to them as the daughter claims, the parents had numerous ways to resolve the issue.

First, "I don't want you reading this book."

Second, notify the teacher why you object. Guilford's high school web site offers an email complaint line, phone numbers where messages can be left, and the student/Parent handbook describes the complaint process; 1. notify the school then, if not satisfied, 2. notify the district, 3. superintendent 4. Board of Education.

What is doubly disingenuous about the mother's account is the inclusion of the younger children in the claim. It's a surefire tear-jerker. But if they knew about the book's contents and allowed it to happen then shame on them.

One also has to wonder if the family "picnic" she refers to was a meeting with the family relative who is a "police detective in another town". If so, it may indicate a deliberate deception. The dad, later interviewed by the New Haven Register, seems like a seething character needing sedation or and anger counselor and this is days later.

If this book was the topic of discussion at the family picnic one can imagine dad being fit to be tied. The decision to escalate the book incident to a police matter had to be a consideration on Saturday. But, let's face it, complaining about a book is not enough. The family would have to think of an angle to make this teacher pay. It takes no stretch of the imagination to speculate that someone said, "Hey, what if the guy is a pervert - we could fix him good if that were the case." Indeed.

The mother, in disclosing the "facts" is careful to point out such details. "Why would this teacher think my 13 year old would want to read this! I could not imagine what this teacher had in mind with my daughter by giving her this comic. I was fearful that I knew what might be on his mind!" She says this in reference to first seeing "the fluffy blue bunny page" on Saturday.

In other words, the mother believes the teacher has made an untoward advance on her daughter because of a dialog a fluffy blue bunny character in a book has. Let's assume she really believes her own imaginings. One would think that she would not only say, "you aren't reading this book" but "AND we're changing teachers on Tuesday". Nothing of the sort happens.

Nor does either parent research the book or author. Nor do they ask their daughter why she might have chosen the book. The mother offers a lame explanation that her daughter thought it was about shooting pool which makes no sense at all. The book is obviously not a book about playing pool and cracking the book randomly would yield this information.

The mother also goes to great lengths to frame the idea that "I showed the school and the resource officer what was given to my daughter and they were very surprised, this is not part of the allowed reading material for teachers to give." Yet as you can see the curriculum is rich with sophisticated reading material and teachers and students negotiate appropriate assignments.

What transpires on Tuesday can have many contexts. The mother's explanation cleverly sidesteps the seething anger of a father who even most recently swears to see to it that Nathan Fisher "never teaches again" and threatens Fisher with legal action.

At face value, one has to wonder if, during the family picnic, it was decided to frame Fisher as a sexual predator. The family police insider could easily call in some favors and set the stage. Or, mom, knowing that this insider was in her back pocket could play a handful of Aces and Jokers.

In other words, the school and its administration would be hit with such an immediate and unrelenting bursts of claims and counter-claims that Nate Fisher would be unemployed and legal jail-bait before anyone could react - a shock and awe offensive.

Tuesday morning.

Mom claims, "when I went to the police and the school, we were not on a witch-hunt - we weren’t out to get anyone fired and we were really hoping this was all a big mistake. We thought possibly that maybe some kid stuck this in his classroom as a joke and that happened to be the one she picked up thinking it was about playing pool."

Really? Why would she think so. Her daughter chose the book and told her parents so. Here the explantions start to unravel. The mother first claims "One book was about shooting pool, or so she thought - This would be Eightball (issue #22)." Her claim is implausible. She knew and admits to what she knew about her daughter's choice yet claims she hoped it was all a big mistake. What field of magic would intervene?

In actuality, we know from dad's media exposure that they had and have every intention of not only getting Fisher fired but claiming sexual deviancy in his actions and threatening lawsuits on these claims.

Her revised explanation of this same event claims, "on Tuesday morning I called the school and requested to speak with someone about it. I was brushed off. Apparently, the administration felt that I was what almost everyone who doesn’t have the facts think I am, a crazy overprotective mother who has a religious or other agenda.

At this point, I spoke with family members, one of which is a police detective in another town in CT. He, and all of my family members advised me to bring the matter to the attention of the police department. I went there Tuesday morning, and they referred me to the school resource officer, who is a police officer who is stationed at the high school."

This second explanation contradicts the first. Seeking immediate gratification, she claims getting brushed off in a phone call on one of the most hectic and busy days of the school year. She leaves no message?

And, she claims that she immediately calls all family members on Tuesday morning and they insist this (what?) is a police matter. Why are the police needed to switch homework assignments or switch teachers? And why, if she believes the teacher is a predator, allow her daughter to go back to class? Again, this is implausible and inconsistent.

After that (same morning) she drives to the school. "I went there Tuesday morning, and they referred me to the school resource officer, who is a police officer who is stationed at the high school.

I showed the comic, and asked for advice on what I should do. He immediately brought me to see the principal, and an investigation was started through the school administration."

Her actions are frantic, calculated, she touches all the bases required to set the teacher up if that is an intention and touches none of the procedures needed for due process. The steps she describes are almost orchestrated for dramatic effect and plausible deniability. She has set all the wheels in motion to frame the teacher yet never says, "I don't want my daughter reading this book and I want her class reassigned."

Her daughter attends class that day and the mother says, "She told him that she really thought it was disgusting and inappropriate and he said yes, I told you it might be a little bit mature." The mother offers no more of the conversation. Did Fisher apologize? What happened?

She describes her reaction, "Well when I heard this, I was really disgusted. What can I assume in this day and age was this teachers motives?? I put her back in the car and I went back down to the school. I asked to see the principal again and I told him what was said to her after class."

Disgusted by what? What motive could be implied except something manufactured? Why didn't mom go and talk to Fisher after class with her daughter?

Could the answer be that the whole thing was staged? Choreographed using insider information to deny Fisher due process, the ability to understand or respond to the unspoken concerns of the parents, or to defend his integrity due to an overload of the due process by aggressive, disingenuous police activity instigated not by any real crime but by family connection?

Is it possible that the family has suffered stock market or hedge fund losses and created a perfect storm scenario for a civil suit to restore lost assets?

In region 19, teachers have a classroom phone that they can be called on and email addresses to be contacted off-hours with. Why didn't the police allow the school investigation to complete before strong arming the administration to laying out an ultimatum with Fisher that amounts to little more than institutional blackmail and a fate of personal humiliation for Fisher?

If I were a heads-up insurance fraud investigator I would look at a case like this and salivate at the opportunity to question witnesses, examine phone records, time-date stamps, family relationships, due process violations, and so on. Fisher never knew what hit him nor did the school but we're much closer to knowing that now and it isn't pretty.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

The Revenge of the Blue Bunny Campaign

Nathan Fisher has committed no crime. Yet, we find out today that he resigned under duress (see the comments of Imprint of Fear). According to a source within the JulieGroup, the choice is reserved for teachers who are perceived to be sex offenders. There's a laissez-faire nod and wink from the teachers unions that this is okay. Or, at least it was prior to the internet age.

The Nate Fisher case has broken the pattern. You see, Nate Fisher is not a sex offender. In fact, after hours of reading it becomes clear that Nate Fisher is a rock-star in the world of high school English teachers. I have yet to read or hear a bad word said about this guy by anyone who's been exposed to him for more than a few days.

Teacher popularity ratings never impress me but the students at Guilford were sticking up for this guy before they were silenced. And what they were saying about Nate would make his parents proud.

Nate was being set up by extremely disingenuous parties and I'll blog on some possible reasons tomorrow. Nor could Nate have known he was being put in double-jeopardy by resigning.

If yelling "Fire!" in a packed theater is not protected free speech then pronouncing a fellow citizen a sexual predator, pervert, or deviant is not either. This is hate speech and a hate crime. This is worse than calling a black - nigger, a jew a kike, or a chinese citizen a koolie.

Yet Nate Fisher has been called these things because of strongly worded suggestions from the accuser's family. A family who includes a conspiring police detective.

We need to know who filed the criminal complaint against Nathan Fisher. The family claims it wasn't one of them. Yet the rabid stalking of Nate Fisher continues in blog after blog.

We know what happens to people accused of these crimes. They fall victim to depression - they may commit suicide, they may be entrapped by out-of-control, self-appointed morality police who invent ah-ha scenarios to flog them even more, or maybe he's just jailed and found hanging from the cell one day - oops!

We know too well what false allegations can mean. Yes we do.

Nate Fisher has committed no crime nor was his judgment suspect. Tomorrow we'll talk about this parental exploit more.

But today, we need to insist that Nate Fisher's resignation is rejected not only because it is systematic extortion of his reputation but because the school did not have the facts that we're beginning to compile.

To this end and to the proposition that teenagers have an inalienable right to free speech I'm proposing a children's campaign to start immediately. Let's model it after the 'V' is for Vendetta fictional social protest.

This is an open letter to Daniel Clowes offer to open source the Blue Bunny and allow graphics novel artists and writers invent T-shirt designs that promote the rehiring of Nate Fisher or the free speech of teenagers (see Avery Doniger). We need to have students across the country wear these shirts to school until Nate is rehired.

Furthermore, I am asking Halloween mask companies to likewise produce Blue Bunny masks to endorse free speech for all teens. Let's make this conviction unanimous across the country.

Oh, I almost forgot. Open source Blue Bunny as long as the proceeds go to the Julie Amero Defense Fund, Avery Doninger Defense Fund, ACLU, Nathan Fisher defense team, Anti-Defamation League or other legal defense fund.

This can happen if you want it to.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

The Imprint of Fear

This country is failing our teachers and the national dialog about schools sounds as though its been scripted by Fox TV News.

Nathan Fisher resigned because he's a rookie easily intimidated by loudmouths to whom a fearful Board and administration cower with resignation. The lawyers advising school boards are near worthless clerks who earn their money by changing the grammar of school policy manuals every few years without the aid of an automated find/replace function key (cha-ching!) but they will tell everyone in listening distance not to say a word. Don't speak. Board members can't converse via email. No. Shut up and be scared like everyone else.

Some Educators simply sleep-walk through the nightmare of Bush America.

Elaine Cunningham's blog is the most affecting testament to how pathetically treated teachers are in this country. They talk about fear of teaching the subjects they love. Of having to rename famous art so as to slip in some culture. Fear, stress, and anxiety that they might easily be the next Nate Fisher.
One of my high school English teachers was a young woman, probably just out of college. I wasn't happy with everything she did--such as leaving my test scores out of the bell curve--but I appreciated the fact that she tried to expose us to new ideas and forms of expression. One evening she invited several girls from the class over for homemade root beer, an interesting apple cobbler with peanut butter in the biscuit topping, and recorded folk music. I remember Odetta in particular, and I remember privately acknowledging that even though I didn't understand or even particularly enjoy the music--bluesy folk was a bit too far outside my experience at the time--it was undeniably powerful. Since this teacher knew I liked to read, she lent me books from her own library. I zipped through War and Peace and asked for other Russian writers. She happily handed me a collection of Chekov short stories.

One of these tales puzzled and troubled me. The narrator was a young sailor who, along with a grizzled, dissolute old wretch, drew the lucky straw for the two peepholes into a passenger cabin belonging to a pair of newlyweds. As they watched, an older, powerful-looking man entered the room. There was an argument between him and the bridegroom, but after a while the young man left the room. As the older man advanced on the horror-struck young bride, the old sailor bid the younger peeking tom to come away, as there were some things unfit even for the likes of them.

I had a general idea, of course, but I wasn't quite sure what was going on in this story, and why. So after class, I handed the book to the teacher and told her I was missing the subtext. She leafed through the story. Her face began to flame. She closed the book and quietly said, "I shouldn't have given you this. It was a mistake. I'm very sorry."

Much later, it occurred to me that if I'd brought that story to the attention of the school administration and made a sufficient fuss, she very likely would have lost her job. And let me tell you, it's fairly easy to make a fuss among Seventh-day Adventists. My mother taught in the local two-room school house for years, but as I recall, there was some concern about her losing her job when complaints were sent to the school board and the church conference about the pendant watch she wore. Strict Adventists didn't wear jewelry at the time. (Not sure if this is still the case.) Watches were fine, even pins were considered okay, but absolutely NO rings (including wedding rings), necklaces, or ear rings. This was Worldliness. It was a transgression of scriptural admonition to--and I'm paraphrasing from memory here--"Let not your adornment be gold and silver, but a meek and quiet spirit." (Come to think of it, I suspect that the complaints might have had as much to do with the lack of meek and quiet as it did the presence of gold....) The thing is, Mom can't wear watches. She puts them on, they stop. She takes them off, they'll start up again. No one knows why. She needed some way to carry a timepiece, especially during outdoor recess, so she wore a simple pendant watch along with her other "ornament:" a whistle on a chain. (And FWIW, no one bitched about the whistle.)
The comments Elaine received on her additional observations I will only blockquote in snippets and I'll defer to Elaine's blog for author references.
One of the reasons I've never given teaching in the public school system serious consideration is because of how politicized the administrative landscape is. As a result, you get kneejerk reactions when parents threaten legal action.
I was once caught in a similar situation. A parent believed that I had made a sexual advance towards a student (some rumor was circulated somehow). (this was a private school) and I was forced to apologize to each class I taught, with the principal looking on to ensure I did it. If I hadn't apologized I would have been fired (I tried to resist, but I as in my first year of teaching) and it wouldn't have done any good anyway. I was never told the student's name no even really told the situation in which I had said the thing (I had no memory of it), or what I said.
it's not worth the risk. In fact, I read a projection somewhere that by 2020 or so there will be virtually no male elementary-school teachers. That's sad, because it's probably one of the things that will contribute to long-term societal collapse. But it's just not worth the risk.
But it's cases like this that make me rethink my career goals. I'm a teacher who thinks outside of the box, and more and more, that kind of thinking just lands you into trouble. So I have to ask myself, is it worth it? Does my passion for teaching outweigh the restrictions placed on public (and some private) school teachers?
I know nothing about this story, or the graphic novel in question, but it made me think of a couple that tried to bully my mother into sending one of her eight year old students to a school for retarded children for saying the word condom in class. (Mum had reacted by telling her that word was unfit for school and the girl didn't say it again. The couple's daughter however kept repeating it despite reprimands.)
it seems like the local media have already made up their mind that the teacher was a predator, and don't seem real interested in digging further.
Please take the time to visit this site - I'm just scratching the surface.
Why are we allowing our teachers to be treated like criminals first and human beings as an afterthought.

We need to get the effin' politicians out of the schools. Schools in America need to be treated like embassies bestowing diplomatic immunity from all the bullies and special interest lunatics who have turned learning into an exercise of walking on eggshells. We need to restore America's schools by allowing teachers to teach with passion and integrity - NEO-CON THEORISTS BE DAMNED.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

EightBall #22 - Like Pearls Before Swine

The suggested reading list for Guilford High School is available on the internet here. It is a list of authors that the English Department is expected to have familiarity with. You will notice that, given the number of authors and the number of books written by just these people, every student theoretically could have read a different book from anyone else.

Mr Fisher's assignment of a single book to Suzie Cheesecake was in no way unusual or untoward - she was being treated just like every other student in Guilford. In order to assign a summer reading book she alone missed, she was asked to stay after class and pick a book and she was told that the book, though highly recommended, contained mature content. But it could be quickly read, catching the new girl up to the rest of the class. She could have declined and read something else.

Later her mother claims the girl thought the book was about "shooting pool" presumably pool with mature content.

Mr. Fisher, contrary to Main Stream Media reports violated no rules. The official list of authors was suggested not exclusive. He trusted that the student having been forewarned that mature content would be encountered implicitly was willing to accept the material and process it appropriately.

Had the girl chosen Allan Ginsberg instead, mom might have objected to Ginsberg's enthusiasm for carefree, gay living. Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian would introduce the girl to page after page of one nihilistic depravity after another.

As the Rosanna Rosanna Danna Saturday Night Live character used to say, "If it isn't one thing, it's another." Citizens will note NO OTHER GUILFORD HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT freaked out from their summer reading choice. NONE.

The book, Suzy Cheesecake chose is called Eightball #22 or Ice Haven by Dan Clowes.

Kevin Sampsell's review includes this description of the material:
Clowes has taken on the challenge of detailing the dark underbelly of a small American town named Ice Haven. Although the cover advertises "29 stories in full color," each story actually serves as a succinct chapter in what eventually reveals itself as a graphic masterpiece.

Starting with a walking tour of the town by disgruntled poet Random Wilder, the story scatters into various subplots, each one weighed down by its own malaise. We meet Mrs. Wentz, the mundane grandmother whose poetry appears in the local newspaper; her granddaughter Vida, who becomes obsessed with Wilder; a grade-school kid whose heroes are famous criminals Leopold and Loeb; a little boy in love with his stepsister; and numerous others. Clowes' drawings are crisp and straddle the line between realistic and cartoonish. In the past, many of Clowes' simplest frames were still disturbed by odd touches in the background (a pregnant woman smoking, obscene bathroom graffiti); but now, he seems to have embraced a more stringent brand of minimalism (frames of people silently pondering their fate). In one slight digression, Clowes seems to imitate the style of The Flintstones, while telling the origin of a deep hole in the woods. In the following story/chapter, the crime-infatuated child tells Charles, a quiet kid with a flair for Nietzsche-like spouting, about killing another boy "because he was a fag and a retard." It's sort of an anti-Charles Schulz moment, where the act of pulling a football away from an impending kick is simply the precursor to other tortures.

But it's not just the kids who are cold here. When a married pair of investigators come to town to investigate the boy's disappearance, there is a palpable strain on their marriage, especially when the wife's underwear and barrette show up in other people's homes. Random Wilder's poetry is also a constant source of bitterness, even turning inward when he decides his work is "nothing but shit" and tries flushing his notebooks down the toilet.

Surprisingly, most of this tale ends on a positive note and the issue even wraps up with a sort of epilogue by a helpful comic book critic named Harry Naybors (I like the way that Clowes always manages to have direct, sometimes negative references to the comic world in every Eightball). Clowes' art has always been funny, haunting, and appealing, but his storytelling, although sometimes done obscurely, is the reason he remains in the upper rankings of any visual artist today.
Is this appealing to any salacious cravings? How about Mike Lukich's review in PopMatters;
Collecting Eightball #22 (originally published in 2001) in a lovely little hardcover edition, Ice Haven focuses on the titular town and an ensemble cast of its residents. When a young boy named David disappears mysteriously, the citizens of Ice Haven are galvanized and the relationships between the characters begin to slowly unveil themselves through a series of well-constructed vignettes that are tempered with both anxiety and humor.

The cast is quite rich and diverse, but Clowes focuses more on a select few, including the frustrated and unappreciated middle-aged poet Random Wilder, who acts as the narrator of sorts; the lonely, lovesick Violet; Mr. and Mrs. Ames, a husband and wife detective team, who are called in to investigate David's disappearance but end up investigating nothing more than their own disintegrating marriage; and the philosophical young Charles, who's precocious observations are offset by the secret love he beholds for his teenage stepsister.

There are some parallels that can be drawn to both the television series Twin Peaks and the film Magnolia here. Both feature large casts of quirky characters going through their own private dramas, all of which are connected in some way. The tone here, however, is considerably less dark than either, and much of this is due to the artwork.

Clowes' current method of graphic storytelling employs the use of short one or two page strips, which he compiles and serializes to reveal a much larger narrative. It's an interesting, economic, and almost modular approach, and the use of these abbreviated segments, which could easily stand on their own as individual strips, allows Clowes to sidestep unnecessary segues between scenes. This actually creates the sense that there is more going on than what is shown on the page. His drawing style has also become more refined in recent years. The Charles Shultz-like simplicity in many of the strips creates an air of innocence visually even as the characters are being brutally honest about their bitterness, loneliness, jealousy, and sexual longings. In Clowes' hands, the image of a boy peeping through a hole in the wall to leer at a girl in the shower is turned into something sweet and affecting.

-snip-

Ice Haven is one of Clowes' best and perhaps his most accessible story to date. There is a warmth and sense of optimism present that acts as a nice counterpoint to the harsh although not entirely unsympathetic light that Clowes shines on his characters. He reveals the quiet, complex, beautiful, and downright messy nature of humanity with a keen eye, a sharp pen, and an even sharper wit. The comics medium is privileged to have a storyteller of Clowes' caliber, and we're damn lucky that he loves us so much to keep putting out these wonderful books.
Wow! Pornography doesn't get much edgier than this.

And the book is recommended as challenging reading in this High School English teacher's guide, Making the Journey, Third Edition.

Contrary to popular education myth, school boards do not read every book cover to cover. We don't. Teachers are expected to challenge students to achieve proficiency, maturity, and good taste in culture and art. As a Board member I fully expect and encourage lively, thoughtful educational experiences. And I fully expect someone will get angry about one thing or another. We've hired excellent and professional administrators who -thank god- are graet at maintaining a healthy educational balance.

The books read in high school are largely adult content. That doesn't make them obscene, inappropriate or in any way nefarious. As Gunnard Nelson used to quote, Many are called, few are chosen.

Nathan Fisher's resignation must be rejected and he needs to be reinstated with full back pay due to the temporary insanity of a small town in Connecticut.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Manufacturing Predators - One Teacher at a Time

The real crime in Guilford is the conspiracy to destroy an English teacher's life.
The real crime in Guilford is making kids feel dirty for reading.
The real crime in Guilford is making kids hate reading near their parents.
The real crime in Guilford is that a teacher was intimidated into resigning.
The real crime in Guilford is that the person who has lost his life, reputation and good-fortune is still being hunted by predators.

Mom let the cat out of the bag... a comment posted by annoyedparent at THEBEAT says,
I can related to the way you must have felt to think that you 13 yro daughter’s teacher is some kind of predator, you must have been scared. Felt the need to protect you kids, I get it. I know that I am often very protective of my own middle school age daughter, but you crossed the line.

I don’t know for sure but from what I can tell in the news and this thread, I don’t think this teacher was a threat to your girl and you going to the police was over the line. You made what is already a difficult job, teaching, just too much for someone… and they threw in the towel.

Shame on you.

How hard would it have been to at least talk to the guy?

And I feel bad for your girl, at a new school, everyone hates her because her parents flew off the handle and got a popular teacher fired, oh and I forgot to mention that she is 13 …er 14 Isn’t that an age where she would be looking for approval from her peers?
Yeah. This isn't about a graphic novel folks, this is about a parent who was rebuffed by school officials and conveniently escalated that rejection into a concern that this teacher might be a "predator" because she had no proof that he wasn't.

In my book, a false accusation that can destroy a person is a hate crime as pernicious and nefarious as the parade of ethnic, racial, and religious bigotries already recognized. This case is no different and needs to be investigated by the Feds.

Public schools are endowed by the citizens of this country with a sacred trust that they will act in the best interests of children entrusted to them. Implicit in that trust relationship is the understanding that the act of learning is an everyday exercise in heroicism by both teacher and student. Learning takes both people into unknown territories No one is perfect and no one is expected to be. And learning is sometimes a cold, unexpected awakening into adulthood.

All public schools must imprint the idea in students that students have a right to say, no. No to things that upset them. No to things beyond their maturity level. But they have an obligation to try and they have an obligation to keep up to the best of their ability.

And parents can respectfully say no as well.

But just because you say no does not make the material or the idea or the conversation obscene, criminal, or untoward per se.

From the Ten Commandments;
16 You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour.


From the Police Code of Ethics;
I will never act officiously or permit personal feelings, prejudices, animosities, or friendships to influence my decisions. With no compromise for crime and with relentless prosecution of criminals, I will enforce the law courteously and appropriately without fear or favor, malice or ill-will, never employing unnecessary force or violence, and never accepting gratuities.
If the police in Guilford due to stealthy or well-known manipulation of police resources have helped stage a scenario that this teacher is somehow under suspicion of being a sexual predator based solely on hysterical imaginings then they need to be held accountable. Pursuing criminals is one thing. Manufacturing criminal intent from systematic manipulation of the process is another.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Teacher Lynching In Guilford

Teaching in Connecticut is a dangerous profession. A teacher in Guilford, a Mr. Fisher, whose name was outed by people arguing his resignation and the circumstances that led to that resignation is the subject of a fiery debate.

In a comics forum called THE BEAT, in an article called Facts emerge in fired teacher/EIGHTBALL case the mother of a 9th grade English class student "explains THE FACTS":
Just so the facts are correct I will post the chain of events leading to the police getting involved and starting an investigation.

My daughter received the comic on the Friday before the long Labor Day weekend.

I discovered it Saturday and on Tuesday morning I called the school and requested to speak with someone about it. I was brushed off. Apparently, the administration felt that I was what almost everyone who doesn’t have the facts think I am, a crazy overprotective mother who has a religious or other agenda.

At this point, I spoke with family members, one of which is a police detective in another town in CT. He, and all of my family members advised me to bring the matter to the attention of the police department. I went there Tuesday morning, and they referred me to the school resource officer, who is a police officer who is stationed at the high school.

I showed the comic, and asked for advice on what I should do. He immediately brought me to see the principal, and an investigation was started through the school administration.

Without my knowledge, the police department also initiated an investigation.

In turn this led to the teacher eventually resigning.

That is the chain of events in the order in which they happened. I am not defending myself or my actions. I did what I felt necessary.

Everyone is entitled to their opinions, and it does not upset that some people think that I acted irrationally. Most of you, after hearing the facts, believe I acted correctly. Hindsight is 20/20, I had no knowledge of who Daniel Clowes was, or what he is written, I just took what I saw for face value, and took steps to protect my daughter.

I will never know what this teacher’s intentions were, and no one does other than himself. I hope that it was an honest mistake, an incredible irresponsible one, but trusting that everyone has good intentions isn’t realistic.

One look at the the news will tell you that there are some pretty sick individuals out there, and half of them are at some time in there lives responsible for other peoples children. One cannot assume 100% of the time people have the best interest of your children in mind.

I was pretty disappointed that the teacher resigned, because I was willing to hear what his intentions were, and would have considered them.

When we first brought this to the attention of the police and the administration, we stressed that we did not have all the facts, and quite possibly my daughter received this without the teachers knowledge, or that quite possibly, our daughter was not telling the complete truth. We asked that both the administration and the police look into this matter with the utmost scrutiny before making any judgment. Apparently, when confronted by the administration, the teacher collaborated the story that my daughter told, therefor implicating himself.

It is an unfortunate string of events that has led to this media frenzy.

I must stress to you, I am not against the genre that Daniel Clowes writes. I am not against mature reading material used in the course of teaching. I a not opposed to nudity, violence, written or depicted, when it is used as a learning tool. Novels, magizines, newspapers, movies, music, and video games all depict images of violence and mature contect and I believe they all have there place in society.

What I am against is this type of reading material given in private without the knowledge of the school board or any other person in a position of authority to a young adult who is very impressionable and who trusts that their teacher has their best interest in mind.

- Danielle
Let's see. A mom whose daughter managed to ignore her required summer reading "discovers" that her daughter was given a make-up assignment that was a graphic novel involving some unexpected and possibly uncomfortable, complex sexual allusions (just like most adult fiction that students in high school read, dramatize, and are expected to begin dealing with because they are ubiquitous in religious and cultural contexts). And if you'll excuse me for introducing an even more shocking concept - students in high school are being groomed for adulthood among other things.

Nothing about the book is particularly shocking. The stuff on television, the internet, in the social circles of teens is exponentially more sexually sophisticated than silly bunny dialog that these parents wet their pants over.

The real crime is the systematic torture of this teacher and the whisper campaign of false accusations and innuendo of perverse intentions that were perpetrated not only by the accusers but as the mother confesses, independently by the family's ingrown police connections.

Another blogger in the same comments section writes,
I am also the mother of a daughter at Guilford High School. I appreciate the teacher’s effort to encourage teens to get interested in reading by using material that would appeal to them. We don’t know the circumestances or conversations that lead to Mr. Fisher choosing this specific item to give the girl to read. We have heard that she did nto complete her summer readign assignment, so he gave her this comic book to do so. It sounds to me like she does not enjoy reading and through some conversation, Fisher may have found out she liked the movie based on another of the author’s books, so he thought this was a good tool to inspire a love of reading in her. Maybe he shold have asked her parents if it would be ok first, as it was borderline objectionable in content, but I think his motives were what great teachers are made of. I can’t believe he would lose his career over this. It’s obvious that people are afraid of the dad - he is intimidating people into submission.


So this is about small town CT intimidation, eh? It doesn't seem to be a secret.

Yet, this teacher thanks to compounded innuendo is being treated as a pervert because the content of a book he tried to get a student hooked on reading had words describing sex in it! That's right, the student who didn't do her summer readings was counseled as to what she liked in movies and interests and was handed a book.

A mom who couldn't intimidate the school found a willing police officer who could. Let's examine these statements again,
I just took what I saw for face value, and took steps to protect my daughter.

I will never know what this teacher’s intentions were, and no one does other than himself. I hope that it was an honest mistake, an incredible irresponsible one, but trusting that everyone has good intentions isn’t realistic.
Huh?
Look, if you don't like a book then pick another, no? How does being upset with the content of a book suddenly become an issue of a teacher's intentions? HOW?

In my opinion, this is a malicious character assassination of the teacher. Since when does honest disagreement on curriculum issues become blood sport. Accusing anyone of sexual misconduct is this decades form of lynching - it is nothing less.

In my opinion, the FBI should investigate the behavior of the police in this incident as profoundly suspicious and I hope this teacher seeks legal remedy. His reputation is destroyed for caring that a student learns to read.

As a Board member we are eternally grateful that teachers stay late, engage students in challenging objectives, and care. The day that schools, teacher's unions, and citizens allow our teachers to be used as pinatas for every sick speculation of disgruntled interests then American public education will die. Hint: That last sentence is to remind the teacher's unions that maybe they should wake up.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Jonathan Kozol's NCLB Fast

In the Huffington Post, Jonathan Kozol explains why he's fasting. I encourage you to read the entire column. In part;
The poisonous essence of this law lies in the mania of obsessive testing it has forced upon our nation's schools and, in the case of underfunded, overcrowded inner-city schools, the miserable drill-and-kill curriculum of robotic "teaching to the test" it has imposed on teachers, the best of whom are fleeing from these schools because they know that this debased curriculum would never have been tolerated in the good suburban schools that they, themselves, attended.

The justification for this law was the presumptuous and ignorant determination by the White House that our urban schools are, for the most part, staffed by mediocre drones who will suddenly become terrific teachers if we place a sword of terror just above their heads and threaten them with penalties if they do not pump their students' scores by using proto-military methods of instruction -- scripted texts and hand-held timers -- that will rescue them from doing any thinking of their own. There are some mediocre teachers in our schools (there are mediocre lawyers, mediocre senators, and mediocre presidents as well), but hopelessly dull and unimaginative teachers do not suddenly turn into classroom wizards under a regimen that transforms their classrooms into test-prep factories.

The real effect of No Child Left Behind is to drive away the tens of thousands of exciting and high-spirited, superbly educated teachers whom our urban districts struggle to attract into these schools. There are more remarkable young teachers like this coming into inner-city education than at any time I've seen in more than 40 years. The challenge isn't to recruit them; it's to keep them. But 50 percent of the glowing young idealists I have been recruiting from the nation's most respected colleges and universities are throwing up their hands and giving up their jobs within three years.

When I ask them why they've grown demoralized, they routinely tell me it's the feeling of continual anxiety, the sense of being in a kind of "state of siege," as well as the pressure to conform to teaching methods that drain every bit of joy out of the hours that their children spend with them in school.

"I didn't study all these years," a highly principled and effective first-grade teacher told me -- she had studied literature and anthropology in college while also having been immersed in education courses -- "in order to turn black babies into mindless little robots, denied the normal breadth of learning, all the arts and sciences, all the joy in reading literary classics, all the spontaneity and power to ask interesting questions, that kids are getting in the middle-class white systems."

At a moment when black and Hispanic students are more segregated than at any time since 1968 (in the typical inner-city school I visit, out of an enrollment that may range from 800 to 4,000 students, there are seldom more than five or six white children), NCLB adds yet another factor of division between children of minorities and those in the mainstream of society. In good suburban classrooms, children master the essential skills not from terror but from exhilaration, inspired in them by their teachers, in the act of learning in itself. They're also given critical capacities that they will need if they're to succeed in college and to function as discerning citizens who have the power to interrogate reality. They learn to ask the questions that will shape the nation's future, while inner-city kids are being trained to give prescripted answers and to acquiesce in their subordinate position in society.

In the wake of the calamitous Supreme Court ruling in the end of June that prohibited not only state-enforced but even voluntary programs of school integration, No Child Left Behind -- unless it is dramatically transformed -- will drive an even deeper wedge between two utterly divided sectors of American society. This, then, is the reason I've been fasting, taking only small amounts of mostly liquid foods each day, and, when I have stomach pains, other forms of nourishment at times, a stipulation that my doctor has insisted on in order to avert the risk of doing longterm damage to my heart. Twenty-nine pounds lighter than I was when I began, I've been dreaming about big delicious dinners.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Miracle Cure or Fish Story?

In recent weeks,the benefits of daily doses of fish oil are making scientific headlines.

In Britain a recent study indicates:
The results showed the number of children achieving the national average in this year's Standard Assessment Tests had increased beyond expectation.

During the year-long trial 26 pupils sitting their SATs at Toft Hill Primary School in Bishop Auckland, County Durham, received a daily dose of the fish oil supplements.

In English, 68 per cent of them were expected to achieve the national average.

But after taking part in the trial 92 per cent met the required standard.

In maths, teachers expected 78 per cent of pupils would make the grade.

In fact 92 per cent attained the national average.
And in a Men's Healtharticle called, The Government's Big Fish Story, Sabrina Rubin Erdely reports;
There are three types of omega-3s: DHA and EPA, found in fish and marine algae (which is where the fish get them), and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which is found in plants, seeds, and nuts. All three have health benefits, but those attributed to DHA and EPA have sparked renewed interest in recent years. Studies show that this tag team may not only reduce a person's risk of heart disease and stroke but also possibly help prevent ailments as diverse as arthritis, Alzheimer's disease, asthma, autoimmune disorders, and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder--and those are just the A's. Researchers are now exploring if these multifunctional fats can, among other things, ward off cancer and even make prison inmates less violent. It's enough to make omega-3 geeks downright giddy.

"Omega-3s are fantastic!" says Jing X. Kang, M.D., Ph.D., a Harvard University researcher who made the news by genetically engineering pigs to produce omega-3s in their meat. "Not just for your heart but also for brain function, immunity function, women's health, children's health--I'm amazed at how important they are."
The article goes on to advise interested consumers as what to look for in a product;
Pick the Perfect Fish-Oil Supplement

Purity

When Consumerlab.com tested 41 fish-oil supplements, none was found to contain unsafe levels of mercury, PCBs, or dioxins. One explanation is that many brands are now molecularly distilled to remove any possible contaminants.

Dosage

Ignore the total milligrams (mg) of fish oil, and focus instead on the combined eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). You want a supplement that contains at least 500 mg per dose or serving. If you're on blood thinners, talk to your doctor about the best dosage.

Form

Your choice is basically capsules or a liquid. They're equally effective at delivering omega-3s to your bloodstream, so go with the form you think you'll take on a daily basis.

Fish Burp

Some people experience this as their stomachs dissolve the fish-oil capsule. Beat the burp by buying enteric-coated capsules or freezing regular capsules. Either strategy will cause the fish oil to be released in your intestine instead, says William Harris, Ph.D., a professor of medicine and biomedical sciences at the University of South Dakota.

Ratio

The ratio of EPA to DHA used in research varies, but most supplements are made with a 3:2 split. This translates to 300 mg EPA and 200 mg DHA in a 500 mg supplement.

Source

Any fish oil will do, be it from mackerel or menhaden, salmon or sardines. Supplements made from algae oil contain only DHA, and those made from flaxseed oil have alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), only a little of which can be converted into EPA and DHA by your body.

Antioxidants

Once inside your body, omega-3s can quickly lose their power due to oxidation. Look for vitamin E, a.k.a. tocopherol, an antioxidant that can neutralize free radicals.

Friday, September 21, 2007

George Carlin on Education

The raw truth. Watch at your own risk. I did mention this is George Carlin. (Hat tip: alternet)

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Dying to Teach the Lessons of Life

I have rarely read a greater act of courage or of a grander gift.

Randy Pausch is dying of cancer. In part, this is the Pittsburgh Post Gazette's online report of his final lecture.
When he was a boy, Dr. Pausch said, he had a concrete set of dreams: He wanted to experience the weightlessness of zero gravity; he wanted to play football in the NFL; he wanted to write an article for the World Book Encyclopedia ("You can tell the nerds early on," he joked); he wanted to be Captain Kirk from "Star Trek"; and he wanted to work for the Disney Co.

In the end, he got to tackle all of them, he said -- even if his football accomplishments fell somewhere short of the NFL.

In his 10 years at Carnegie Mellon, Dr. Pausch helped found the Entertainment Technology Center, which one video game executive yesterday called the premier institution in the world for training students in video game and other interactive technology.

He also established an annual virtual reality contest that has become a campuswide sensation, and helped start the Alice program, an animation-based curriculum for teaching high school and college students how to have fun while learning computer programming.

It was the virtual reality work, in which participants wear a headset that puts them in an artificial digital environment, that earned him and his Carnegie Mellon students a chance to go on the U.S. Air Force plane known as the "vomit comet," which creates moments of weightlessness, and which the students promised to model with VR technology.

And even though his football career ended in high school, he said, he probably learned more from that experience than all the other childhood goals he did achieve.

Among other things, he learned the value of the coach yelling at him for his mistakes, because an assistant coach told him after one particularly brutal practice: "When you're screwing up and nobody's saying anything to you anymore, that means they've given up on you."

While he didn't get to be Captain Kirk, actor William Shatner, who played Kirk, did visit him at Carnegie Mellon in recent years.

"It's cool to meet your boyhood idol," Dr. Pausch said. "It's even cooler when he comes to you to see what you're doing in your lab."

And he got the chance to write the World Book's article on virtual reality.

Known for his flamboyance and showmanship as a teacher and mentor, Dr. Pausch talked Disney officials into letting him work on sabbatical at the company, helping design such virtual reality rides as the Magic Carpet and Pirates of the Caribbean.

More recently, he got the chance to intern with Electronic Arts, the video game company, and that relationship prompted the firm to give Carnegie Mellon the right to use its famous Sims animated characters as part of the Alice curriculum.

Near the end of his talk yesterday, Dr. Pausch surprised his wife, Jai, with a cake for her birthday on Monday, and persuaded the audience to sing for her. She managed to choke back her tears long enough to blow out the single candle on top.

To honor his life and career, Electronic Arts announced it was setting up a scholarship fund for deserving female computer science majors at Carnegie Mellon.

And the school itself said it would put his name on the footbridge that will connect the new Gates Computer Sciences Building and the Purnell Center for the Arts, symbolizing the way he linked those disciplines.
Randy's Home Page is here.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

DECA and Neomillenial Learning Styles

I am an obvious advocate of more technologically fit secondary education and EO Smith has a long way to go. This is not so much that we are behind but that the draconian government mandates like NCLB are reducing all public education to little more than time-consuming dross.

Despite the efforts of Washington and Hartford to accelerate the death spiral of mediocrity that public schools are being suckered into, I want to report a light at the end of the tunnel that isn't yet just another glistening, steaming idea being delivered from the Department of Education.

EO Smith has transformed their website into something that is going to blossom into a very special community portal in the coming years. Give it a look-see here.

But equally exciting is an announcement that came from this evening's DECA swearing in of officers ceremony. EO Smith's DECA organization has added a complementary website of their own! Check it out here.

Wow! Now we need to get the rest of the school contributing their own special interest pages. This is fantastic stuff. Technology involvement is a key multiplier in a world begging for technological competence.

Let me cite a recent study called, Students’ ‘Evolving’ Use of Technology, as reported by insidehighered.com.
The authors of the study, which surveyed 27,864 students at 103 two- and four-year colleges and universities, note that most undergraduates today are “digital natives” who have grown up immersed in technology in some form. But the “millennials” aren’t necessarily ready to cast off the yoke of human interaction and learn solely within virtual 3-D environments wired directly to the brain. The study finds “themes of skepticism and moderation alongside enthusiasm,” such that 59 percent preferred a “moderate rather than extensive use of IT in courses.”

Instead, students appear to segment different modes of communication for different purposes. E-mail, Web sites, message boards and Blackboard? Viable ways of connecting with professors and peers. Same for chat, instant messaging, Facebook and text messages? Not necessarily, the authors write, because students may “want to protect these tools’ personal nature.”

“They’re using social networking sites like crazy, but they don’t necessarily think those have a place in the classroom,” said Gail Salaway, one of the primary authors and a fellow at ECAR.

In short, as students become more and more connected to each other through various online mediums, they’re also becoming more untethered, with laptops and smart phones keeping them physically apart. As a result, the “emerging Web 2.0 paradigm” of “immersive environments” and dynamic information promise (or threaten?) to upend traditional pedagogies and even the way students learn, the authors conclude.

That could mean that some professors might have to play catch-up, according to the report, “The ECAR Study of Undergraduate Students and Information Technology, 2007″ — a sentiment also indicated by some of the students in answers to the survey’s open-ended questions.

How IT Affects Learning

The epigraph to the report’s sixth chapter, from a student’s written comments, goes a long way toward summarizing what the authors say is the place of technology in the college setting today: “IT is not a good substitute for good teaching. Good teachers are good with or without IT and students learn a great deal from them. Poor teachers are poor with or without IT and students learn little from them.”

Seventy percent of the students polled said information technology helps them do research, a finding that is not surprising in light of the continuing popularity of Google and Wikipedia among undergraduates (sometimes to the consternation of their professors). But that finding also encompasses online library research and article databases.

When it comes to engagement, however, responses are more mixed. About two-fifths of students said they were more engaged with courses that had IT components, while a fifth disagreed and the rest didn’t say either way.

So technology’s utility in the classroom comes down to how it is used. The question, then, is: How can educators adapt their teaching methods to emerging technologies? And should they?

Skeptics might point out that even students themselves are ambivalent when it comes to using the Internet and other digital tools for class, as the survey highlights. But the study’s introduction, written by Chris Dede of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, suggests what professors can expect from digital natives’ evolving modes of learning, what he calls “neomillennial learning styles.”

As new methods of interacting with information become more ubiquitous, he suggests, citing Second Life-type virtual immersion environments as an example, students will grow up with different expectations and preferences for acquiring knowledge and skills. The implication is less of an emphasis on the “sage on the stage” and a linear acquisition process focusing on a “single best source,” focusing instead on “active learning” that comes from synthesizing information from multiple types of media.

Noting that traditional ways of thinking and learning are undergoing a “sea change,” Dede encourages a fusion of new and old. But what form that will take, exactly, is not addressed directly in the report.

The problem with predicting the future of learning, suggests Toru Iiyoshi, a senior scholar at the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, is that some educators “are against the idea of technology itself transforming their teaching and student learning.” Rather than fit it in with their current methods, he said, they should take the opposite approach.

Encouraging them to “start thinking from different perspectives, how they can teach better or improve student learning is, I think, very important,” he said.

A College That Embraces IT

What does a learning environment that embraces new technologies look like? It’s not clear, but it might resemble a classroom at the Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering in Needham, Mass. The institution, which opened in 2002, found itself having to start from scratch in every way possible, including in its design of an information architecture. The person in charge of that project was Joanne Kossuth, the chief information officer and vice president for development at the college.

Kossuth, who helped implement the Educause study at Olin, said the college is somewhat unusual in that its engineering focus and small classes encourage innovation and collaboration among its students. Where some institutions have had to scramble to adapt to evolving technological needs, Olin did it all at once — from the ground up. The result is a much more integrated, forward-looking approach to IT.

The college has a 24/7 laptop loan program, which allows students to be in constant communication with each other and helps encourage them to work together on projects, so that “you’ll see students that go out and use things like Google Docs,” editing online in real time, she said.

Freshmen come in to the college already well acquainted with social networking and used to course management software, mainly because of its increasing use in high school, Kossuth said. They use a campus-hosted wiki to find rides. They work with administrators to improve software offerings. In other words, the students are at the cutting edge, while some faculty are working to catch up.

“I’m a firm believer that the students that are up and coming are the ones that are driving the adoption, because they’re coming with a set of expectations,” Kossuth explained.

Still, in this tech-savvy environment, some face-to-face interaction is still preferred. At the help desk, she said, proposals for chat and text messaging services met with skepticism because students preferred to e-mail or come in themselves. In general, the ECAR report found a number of negative comments about help desks’ effectiveness, suggesting their importance to a smooth IT operation.
I'm not going to stop pushing everyone at EO to prioritize innovation in curriculum and technological engagement.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

'Wicked' and Wheelchairs

My wife Kathy and I took in 'Wicked' this weekend at the Gershwin Theatre in Manhattan with her sister and some of her fellow Physical Therapist faculty members.

The musical, a prequel to the Wizard of Oz, truly requires a knowledge of the classic movie. Wicked is brilliantly written, clever, funny, and beautifully produced. Wicked explains the backstory of many of the Wizard of Oz characters, most specifically, the Wicked Witch of the East's (TWW) personal journey.

Lisa Brescia played Elphaba (TWW) and she was wonderful. Glinda, the Good Witch was played by Kendra Kassebaum with comedic aplomb and the interchange of these two opposite characters is worth the price of admission.

Glinda is not so much 'good' as popular and Elphaba is not so much 'wicked' as green. Elphaba's travails to deal with the prejudices and belligerence at school is the central theme and the show's hit song, Defying Gravity, is a lyrical masterpiece. This show will become a staple of the local theater production circuit because it speaks to students young and old.

The first Act is much stronger than the second, IMO - a minor matter of taste.

The most interesting observation about the show was debated by the Physical Therapists in our party. In a number called Dancing Through Life, Elphaba's wheelchair bound sister Nessarose attends a student dance. Within the number she dances in the wheelchair. In the production we saw, this wheelchair dance is fairly pathetic and pedestrian. The PTs considered this a flaw in the production. They insisted,
It's too bad they settled for just that. She [Nessarose] could have done so much more in a wheelchair!
Wicked is coming to Hartford soon. Let me know if Nessarose's dance number starts to shine.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Ubuntu (64-bit) on a Toshiba A215-S4747 Laptop

It took me a while but I did it!

A quick explanation; I bought a Toshiba Laptop with the intention of running Ubuntu on it. It came loaded with Vista whatever on it and I tried unsuccessfully to dual-boot Ubuntu on the machine. I'm sure I paid a price for Vista and I expected when I was told by the salesperson that the machine was dual-bootable that the claim included Linux offerings.

What followed was an education in marketing. By attempting to partition the 200GB drive using Vista, I had no luck installing Ubuntu (I tried many versions). I used the Vista help which tells you dual-booting is for Windows systems only. All of which made me sweat. Nor could I find a way to get rid of Vista!

(Long and short) I called Toshiba who gave me zero help and are, largely a waste of time on the phone and on their web site.

The store, Best Buy, was belligerent and wanted money to get rid of Vista. Not a happening proposition.

So I tried friends (Julie Group) and Slashdot and finally, through discovery, and nights of experimentation, I am up and running.

Here's the skinny:

Getting rid of Vista


The only thing that worked for me came from Slashdot.
You can use an existing XP installation CD to repartition the drive away from Vista without violating your EULA. You do this by booting from the XP CD and repartitioning the drive by deleting Vista (Toshiba's come with a backup Vista CD).

Don't install XP!

Now you have a clean hard drive with nothing more than Toshiba's small partition showing.


Installing Ubuntu 7.04 Feisty 64-bit:
My box is a Turion 64 x 2 Dual Core Mobile model so despite warnings of instability I chose to install the 64-bit version of Ubuntu.

Feisty will repartition your disk fine but at the very end of the installation the X-Windows fails. You will be confronted with a series of log file screens. After much experimentation I found out that you must click through all these to get to a command line prompt.

Again, after much experimentation, this is what works; at the command line type: sudo dpkg-reconfigure xserver-org . This will result in a series of questions.

Accepting most defaults will work fine. Two important exceptions are that your driver must be vesa and your screen resolution must be 1200 x 800 (chosen using the spacebar).

At the end of this you will return to a command prompt and type, startx . This will begin the installation of Ubuntu onto the drive. Once installed, reboot without the Ubuntu installation disk.


Important post-installation processing:

When Ubuntu boots from the hard drive, two alerts will scream at you. One is that updates are available and the second is that the screen driver is not working.

IGNORE THE SCREEN DRIVER ALERT! Activating it hoses the system and results in a black screen of death.

Instead, install all updates and reboot. The screen driver resolves itself automatically.

IT JUST WORKS!

The screen looks great. The sound works. Internet connectivity required a hard-wire to the modem. Installing the wireless is a separate issue.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Rip Up the Curriculum!

Children's Laureate, Michael Rosen, on what's wrong with education (spot on, IMO):
“The Government thinks it terribly important that you set up these weird incentive schemes in classes, so you get ticks, smiley faces and certificates. This is about competitive stigmatising. They think it’s rewarding the children; in fact, it ends up punishing most of them.”

He is angry at the rigorous testing regime which has reduced his passion, literature, to a series of tick-box exercises. Take SATs, the exams now given to every child aged 7 and again at 11, forcing children to think like Gradgrind, solely about facts.

“If you look at the questions they ask about a story, they are all obsessed with telling the events of the story in the right order, understanding the chronology, logic and facts.

“This is why you write up scientific experiments, but it isn’t why you tell stories. They have completely misunderstood the purpose of narrative. We tell stories to engage people’s feelings . . . Unless you do that, there really isn’t much point. You might just as well do reports, you might just as well do the stuff that you do when you talk about the germination of plants or the metamorphosis of caterpillars.”

As the children get older, many schools say they don’t have time to read “whole” books.

“What is the point if you never learn about outcome? The reason why you read novels or stories is in great part because you want to see whether the baddie gets their comeuppance, whether the girl gets their boy, why their dad lied to them. It’s crucial to it.

“If all you do is just look at a page and then answer five questions about adjectives and clauses or whatever, it denies what any of us are in the business for. Any writer, ever, from Homer onwards.”

This “completely misleads teachers and children, and from them parents, that the way we respond to stories is about facts”. In doing so, it “curtails the emotional response”.

At the same time – and Rosen finds this a piquant absurdity – government ministers are calling for emotional literacy, or happiness lessons. Nothing to do with our children’s happiness, he said, only that of adults.

“All anxieties about children and youth are not about them at all, it’s about our anxieties about our future as adults,” he said.

“We’re busy screwing up and so we project all that on to children saying, ‘My God, the little beasts don’t say please any more’. ”

If you let Rosen talk, he quite rapidly takes an idea and runs away with it, expanding into radical reform of education, scrapping “backward” faith schools, rethinking the “19th-century” curriculum, letting children decide what they want to learn. It’s imaginative and possibly hopelessly left-wing.

Cosy it is not, but it acknowledges the maverick side of children that longs for freedom, not restraint – that is, the “Eddie” in us all.

“There is a yearning from adults that children just behave. If you summed up the total body of children’s books since they were invented about 400 years ago in two words, it [would be] ‘Be nice’.”

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Is Using Antibacterial Products Good For Healthy Kids?

A few weeks ago Scientific American ran this article that should cause some debate about these products.
Traditionally, people washed bacteria from their bodies and homes using soap and hot water, alcohol, chlorine bleach or hydrogen peroxide. These substances act nonspecifically, meaning they wipe out almost every type of microbe in sight—fungi, bacteria and some viruses—rather than singling out a particular variety.

Soap works by loosening and lifting dirt, oil and microbes from surfaces so they can be easily rinsed away with water, whereas general cleaners such as alcohol inflict sweeping damage to cells by demolishing key structures, then evaporate. "They do their job and are quickly dissipated into the environment," explains microbiologist Stuart Levy of Tufts University School of Medicine.

Unlike these traditional cleaners, antibacterial products leave surface residues, creating conditions that may foster the development of resistant bacteria, Levy notes. For example, after spraying and wiping an antibacterial cleaner over a kitchen counter, active chemicals linger behind and continue to kill bacteria, but not necessarily all of them.

When a bacterial population is placed under a stressor—such as an antibacterial chemical—a small subpopulation armed with special defense mechanisms can develop. These lineages survive and reproduce as their weaker relatives perish. "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger" is the governing maxim here, as antibacterial chemicals select for bacteria that endure their presence.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Write NASA a New Slogan

Wired Magazine has a contest going - why not have some fun and join in?
To summarize, NASA has a new administrator and they're looking for a new slogan to replace "Explore, Discover, Understand." So far they've come up with: "NASA explores for answers that power our future." We know you can do better. Please read Loretta's guidelines and thoughts behind the contest here before entering or casting your vote. Vote after the jump!

Friday, September 07, 2007

Avery Doninger and Free Speech

U.S. District Judge Mark Kravitz ruled that Regional School District #10 could punish Avery Doninger for what the judge agreed was "vulgar and[or] lewd" speech (the use of the term douch-bag). It won't last long.

A similar, highly prominent case (or non-case) involved an attempted suit by an author who didn't like a blog book review criticizing his book, Lifecode. The book review called the author "a classic crackpot" and the book review was written by a university professor Myers.

Thanks in part to an open letters to the author by retired law professor Peter Irons, the suit was quietly dropped in deafening silence. Mr. Irons is a retired law professor whose specialty is First Amendment Law.

In part he wrote this in defense of the book review;
On a substantive level, the complaint will never survive a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, for “failure to state a claim upon which relief can be based.” You allege defamation by Professor Myers on the sole basis of his characterization of the revised edition of your Lifecode book as the work of “a classic crackpot.” This was in the context of a fairly lengthy review of your book (following an earlier review of your book’s first version) that was not included or even referenced in Mr. Little’s complaint.

As Mr. Little should have known, by due diligence, Professor Myers’ characterization was protected opinion, not a false statement of fact. As such, it is immune from defamation actions. Mr. Little cited, in paragraph 21 of the complaint, a single case to support your action: McFadden v. U.S. Fidelity & Guarantee Co. (766 So.2d 20). I have carefully read this opinion, which has no precedential value in any state or federal court. The claim in Mr. Little’s complaint that in this case “[t]term ‘crackpot’ was considered as actionable as slander per se” in simply not true. This case was remanded by the Mississippi Court of Appeals to the trial court; no trial was held on this question and no subsequent opinion was issued.

More to the point, and a case Mr. Little should have discovered by due diligence, is an opinion of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in Dilworth v. Dudley et al., 75 F.3d 307 (7th Cir. 1996). For your edification, and that of Mr. Little as well, let me summarize and quote from this opinion, written by Chief Judge Richard Posner, one of the most highly respected federal appellate judges. The case involved a book by a mathematics professor at DePauw University, in which he characterized an article by an engineer and amateur mathematicians as the work of a “crank,” a term that is synonymous with “crackpot.” In upholding the district judge’s dismissal of this defamation case under Rule 12(b)(6), Judge Posner wrote that the term “crank” is an opinion and “is mere ‘rhetorical hyperbole.’ … To call a person a crank is basically just a colorful and insulting way of expressing disagreement with [the author’s] master idea, and it therefore belongs to the language of controversy rather than to the language of defamation.” In my opinion, Judge Scheindlin would be more impressed with Judge Posner’s opinion than in dictum from a Mississippi judge. Judge Posner, by the way, also wrote that terms like “scab,” “traitor,” “fake” and “phony” (far more pejorative than “crackpot”) “are incapable of defaming because they are mere hyperbole….” Judge Posner added, “By publishing your views you invite public criticism and rebuttal; you enter voluntarily in one of the submarkets of ideas and opinions and consent therefore to the rough competition of the marketplace.”
I am going to guess that the term douch-bag is also little more than hyperbole - protected speech.

And if the Doninger incident was not an opportunity to teach instead of an opportunity for reprisal then none exists. The idea that school administrators earning significant 6-digit incomes can't resolve a dispute about a concert is a clue to the region to take a harder look at what's going on in that school district.

As a citizen, former educator, and critical thinker, it appears that Avery Doninger was first abused by the school in significant, unconstitutional ways.

Connecticut's judicial branch of government needs a scrubbing. An independent citizen review needs to take a hard look at what is going on. Connecticut once one of this nation's finest courts and today the quality of rulings gives every impression that the courts have become a political whorehouse from the Supreme Court of the United States right down to the local levels.

The agenda of these new politically greased courts seems to be to deny students any right to speak out. This has little to do with freedom of speech or cyber-bullying or any such nonsense. This is about growing a docile citizenry that will not protest its own growing subjugation to forces that no American should ever genuflect to.

The same breath of God that informs our ears is the breath of God that children speak. The God that informed our Constitution called our rights inalienable.

What is the story of the money-changers in the Temple of the New Testament if not a child's eternal contribution to his culture. Who has the right to negate that today?

In James Hillman (THE DEPTH OF THE SOUL: JAMES HILLMAN’S VISION OF PSYCHOLOGY by Sanford L. Drob) we find out about growing souls and why a child's expression of oneself is sacred ground;
Soul, according to Hillman is most apt to emerge in those chaotic, "pathological", moments when we experience the disintegration of our beliefs, values, and security. For it is in such moments that that our imagery, emotions, desires and values are heightened and we have the fullest awareness of the psyche in its essential form. Here, Hillman provides us with a psychological application of the Kabbalistic act of Birur, the extrication of the inner divine self, the spark of divine light that lays hidden within the human personality. For Hillman, the very point of deconstructing our fixed ideas in psychology and elsewhere is to provide us with the conditions for the revelation of psyche itself.

Hillman says five more things about the nature of the soul: the soul (1) makes all meaning possible, (2) turns events into experiences, (3) involves a deepening of experience, (4) is communicated in love, and (5) has a special relation with death (Hillman, 1977, p. xvi, Hillman, 1976, pp. 44-47). For Hillman, as a result of these five characteristics, the soul is the "imaginative possibility of our nature", a possibility that is realized in reflective speculation, dream, image, and fantasy. Death is significant for soul because possibility (and hence imagination) derives from an existential recognition of one's finitude: what is finite can imagine possibilities, some of which will be realized, others of which (owing to death) will not (Hillman 1992, p. xvi, 1989, p. 21).

For Hillman, the ultimate psychological value, indeed the ultimate value in general, is a realization and deepening of the soul in its widest possible sense. Hillman's goal, which can be described as "mystical" amounts to a radical departure from not only the medical model of psychoanalysis but also from those humanistic models which, having rejected the metaphor of "cure," continue to entertain notions of self-improvement, self-actualization, well-being, understanding or enlightenment as goals for treatment or therapy (Moore, 1991). For Hillman the goal of psychology is the deepening of meaning and experience per se; any other goal, whether it be medical cure, humanistic self-actualization, or spiritual enlightenment, is bound to distract us from our primary human task as the bearers of meaning and significance. Hillman's views are almost quietistic, and they approach those strands within Jewish mysticism, particularly in Hasidism, where devekut, or cleaving to the God within, is the ultimate value. However, more generally, his view is one in which every arena of human endeavor is to be imbued with meaning and significance, and here is close to the Kabbalist's affirmation that all human acts provide an opportunity for the respiritualization and repair of the world.
If voices can be silenced then some will never speak before they die. Who has the right to deny that soul and who is to say who this world's chosen messengers can be? If the soul is a narrative then these are stories that must be realized in open speech.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Managing Drugs on Campus

The New York Times runs a glib blog called The Lege and today's passing entries included a very disturbing explanation for the behavior of musician Carter Albrecht before he was shot dead. From Seeking an Explanation for Acts of Violence by Mike Nizza;
The first reports on Mr. Albrecht’s death on Labor Day stuck to the details in the police report: He assaulted his girlfriend at her home, and then started banging violently on a neighbor’s door. The neighbor evidently tried to warn him and then send a warning shot through the top of the door. It hit Mr. Albrecht in the head, killing him and sparking criticism for Texas laws on protecting property.

The story that emerged later was much more complicated. This was no raging lunatic — his girlfriend said he had never came close to such behavior. Indeed, he is invariably described as “even-tempered and sometimes shy,” and that never changed with alcohol in the mix, friends said.

Earlier that night, he had about five drinks, according to his best friend. That would’ve rated as a normal night, except that he was also taking an anti-smoking drug called Chantix for about a week. Mr. Albrecht and his girlfriend, who was also on the drug, previously mentioned “crazy, insane, almost horrific dreams” while on the drug. More from Danny Balis, the friend:

Was it a combination of sleep deprivation, booze, and the stop-smoking pills that sent him off? It’s the only explanation i can even think of. What was described to me sounded like a walking black out. In my years of knowing him, and all the girls he dated, I have never once heard of him getting abusive or physical with them. It was not his character. Especially with the woman that I know for a fact he loved dearly.


“I really believe it was the drug,” Ryann Rathbone, his girlfriend, told The Dallas Morning News.
It seems to me that this sad episode is a learning opportunity.

With both High school and College campuses filled with students taking prescription drugs, it seems to me that drugs warning of odd behavioral side-effects should have mandatory monitoring by school officials so that any unusual episodes don't end as tragically as this one did.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Allergic to Change

At last night's Board of Education meeting we received a small, sarcophagus-like publication put out by the Connecticut State Department of Education. It was called The Condition of Education in Connecticut.

The cover shows (what else?) a chalkboard. Need I say more.

When you open it up, you'll find the obligatory bullshit that passes for educational wisdom once you brush off the mealy worms.

The mummified curriculum recommendations were mimeographed in Hartford.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Unknown Artist: Tadeusz Szlenkier, Tenor

Today, I met Tadeusz Szlenkier and had some wonderful conversations about art, song, post-modernism, and much more. And this was a rare treat for me because it is unusual for me to meet the artists I write about.

Tadeusz is a young, handsome, European Tenor who has decided to attend Yale and possesses a voice as rare as a hen's tooth.

He sings opera and popular songs that he enjoys and hopes to make opera more accessible to a wider audience. He is humble, profoundly talented, and a gentleman.

You can sample his songs here. He is releasing an album in the coming months and I believe he will quickly find an appreciative audience.

Enjoy. Tadeusz will not remain unknown for long.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Let's Celebrate Child Labor

Just before John Lennon was shot dead but not for good he insisted that "the next revolution will be a children's revolution".

To our eternal disgrace, Americans played along with the madness of George Bush and his merry band of bizarro advisors, relatives, and petroleum playmates. Today, education in America is an exercise in retarding the intellect of our children. Kids today envy pack mules who carry lesser loads for their taskmasters. Kids board busses with 20, 30, and 40 pounds of worthless crap strapped to their backs.

The indifferent public seems to think this builds character. But then the public thinks children aren't challenged enough either. By "challenged" we're not talking about growing up, growing a soul, growing an intellect, figuring out right from wrong, and so on. It usually means whether or not they passed a magic test to the satisfaction of the corporate bean counters who now have more say about curriculum than educators, administrators, or child psychologists.

The lessons of Abu Ghraib have not been lost on the courts either. The sado-masochism that works so effectively in Iraq is now being applied to our children. First we isolate them in classrooms where they are forced to memorize the Department of Education's Federal view of learning and in recent weeks we are told children have no freedom to criticize. So today children are muzzled as well as held hostage to Washington's perverts, fools, and deranged.

An excellent summary of the latest insult is recorded in the Courant By Arielle Levin Becker in Judge Rules On Student's Slur.
U.S. District Judge Mark Kravitz's ruling marked the court's first stance on a lawsuit that Doninger's mother, Lauren, filed against two officials in the Region 10 school district after Avery Doninger, then 16, was prohibited from seeking re-election as secretary for her class at Lewis S. Mills High School in May. Punishing Avery Doninger for the comment - she called school officials "douchbags" (sic) in her Internet blog - violated her right to free speech, the Doningers argued.

Friday's ruling didn't decide the case, but resolved a request by Doninger's attorney for an injunction to allow Avery Doninger to run for class secretary. Kravitz's ruling denying the request noted that Doninger had not shown "substantial likelihood" that she would succeed in challenging the constitutional validity of her punishment.

But Kravitz's ruling also foreshadowed a case involving far more than a misspelled insult posted on the Internet. It concerns what kind of expression schools can regulate, whether schools can sanction behavior outside school, and just what can be considered on- or off-campus in the Internet age.

"The whole issue of blogs and off-campus e-mails is coming to the fore. Courts themselves are kind of feeling their way along," Kravitz said in court Friday. "These are difficult issues."

Doninger's attorney, Jon L. Schoenhorn, warned that Kravitz's ruling has dangerous implications for students' speech. "Any student anywhere, in an e-mail or IM or blog, a letter to a friend, maybe orally in a conversation at McDonald's, who makes any kind of vulgar or offensive remark about the school or anyone in it, the school can track them down and take some action," he said.

Schoenhorn said he plans to appeal Friday's ruling.
This follows a similar case called "Bong Hits for Jesus".

The best way to cripple America's future is bound and gag our students. Kids cannot learn critical thinking if the government thought police round them up for speaking out. This is not to say that every utterance is truth. This is to say that the issue is not so much a Bill of Rights issue as a recognition that the youth of our society have a right to BECOME a citizen, a critical thinker, a non-comformist, or whatever they choose. This is the secret to America's success, the free exchange of all ideas and expressions.

Our children must be given more than a right to free speech, they must be required to nurture speech so that as adults they reach first for the pen and not the gun.

And speech is important to our progress as a civilization. Artists, writers, designers, CEOs and every calling in between requires a learned vision, a pushing of boundaries, a leap out of the insipid zones of comfort that stifle life.

"Free speech" as in freedom to speak is our most important tool for learning.

On this Labor Day, make a personal goal of helping rid our government of the vermin who now populate our courts and administrations. We don't want our kids growing up in a homegrown state of terror and mind control.

Cartoons (click to site of ownership):