Thursday, July 31, 2008

Got Justice?

Scientific American recently ran a piece called Who Will Die? Computer Predicts Which Death Row Inmates Will Be Executed

New system finds that education level is more of a factor than race or severity of crime by Larry Greenemeier.
The major thesis and finding of the computer analysis is:
Capital punishment is legal in 36 states, but that does not necessarily mean all of the condemned will be executed. Some will languish behind bars for life and others may actually be exonerated and set free. Now researchers say they have built a computer system that can predict with 92 percent accuracy which death row inmates are most likely to be executed, a development they hope will lead to a fairer appeals process.

According to the system, the death row inmates most likely to be executed are those with the lowest levels of education. The researchers, from Texas A&M University–Texarkana and Loyola University New Orleans, report in the International Journal of Law and Information Technology, that neither the severity of the crime nor race—the latter of which is often cited as a key factor in convictions—are reliable forecasters of a prisoner's fate.

The system consists of 18 computer processors designed to analyze data the way that a human brain does—by studying one set of data and comparing it with another data set to find similarities and differences. In this case, researchers fed the system information about 1,000 death row prisoners, including their sex, age, race, highest year of school completed, the state in which they were incarcerated, and whether they were ultimately executed or spared. Once the system had established patterns (of traits most prevalent among the executed) from this initial pool, the researchers fed it similar information about 300 more prisoners (leaving out whether they had lived or died). The system, using logic it had developed from the first set of data, correctly predicted the outcome for 276 (92 percent) of the prisoners.

The system's success "has serious implications concerning the fairness of the justice system," says Stamos Karamouzis, dean of Regis University's School of Computer and Information Sciences in Denver, who led the 2006–07 study when he was a professor of computer and information sciences at Texas A&M. "People against the death penalty use the results of this work by pointing out that the nature of the crime has nothing to do with whether you're executed or not."
The article drifts off topic which is too bad because this is a truly disturbing pattern.

What it can mean is that prisoners are intellectually incapable of defending themselves from a system looking for easy sacrificial victims. And by easy we're talking about those who are easily fooled by the tricks of a system that preys on their logical and cognitive vulnerability.

Given the accuracy of the projections, it is not hard to imagine who is being added to the death list. Take a class roster from the failing schools, tally the number of projected criminals based on population and do some math. Today's inner city dropouts are dead (predominantly) men dropping out of schools happy to see them go so that the standardized test scores look good.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Punishing Students for Comparison Loan Shopping

The NYTimes reports that students who comparison shop may be getting punished with higher student loan interest rates.
How did it come to pass that 18-year-olds were vulnerable to paying more because they shopped around? To answer that question, and develop strategies for credit score damage control, you need to know a bit more about the worlds of student debt and credit score algorithms.

Borrowers took out $17.1 billion in private sector loans in the 2006-7 school year, according to preliminary College Board figures. Part of what makes private loans different from other student loans is that rates can range wildly, by several percentage points, even with one lender.

To quote a rate, lenders check an applicant’s credit history. And every time a shopper asks a lender for a rate quote, it can show up as another inquiry on a credit report.

Lots of inquiries send the wrong signals to the formulas that create the popular FICO credit score that Fair Isaac administers, namely that borrowers may be applying for multiple loans because they’re financially troubled and potentially going bankrupt.

While Fair Isaac has mined years of data to determine that people making a bunch of mortgage and auto loan applications over a short period are almost always innocently shopping for a loan, it hasn’t declared student loan shoppers similarly safe.

One reason is that the company doesn’t have a big pile of private student loan data to mine. These loans are relatively new, and not many people shopped around for the best rate before the student loan scandals erupted.

So, in theory, how much could credit scores fall when people shop for loans? Fair Isaac says that each inquiry will generally not cause more than a five-point drop, though it may be more for a student with a short credit history.

Lenders generally check credit reports with only one of the three main credit bureaus. If a lender examines only one such report, an applicant avoids damage on the other two bureaus’ records. Then again, if all the lenders check with the same credit bureau, the damage may be especially high there.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Brian Eno, David Byrne, Free MP3s, WOOT!

Here's the link to sign up for the free songs.

Can Gambling Studies Teach Us Something About Education Metrics?

A recent study [Why play a losing game? Study uncovers why low-income people buy lottery tickets] as to why the poor gamble so much comes to some interesting conclusions.
A new Carnegie Mellon University study sheds light on the reasons why low-income lottery players eagerly invest in a product that provides poor returns.

In the study, published in the July issue of the Journal of Behavioral Decision Making, participants who were made to feel subjectively poor bought nearly twice as many lottery tickets as a comparison group that was made to feel subjectively more affluent. The Carnegie Mellon findings point to poverty's central role in people's decisions to buy lottery tickets.

"Some poor people see playing the lottery as their best opportunity for improving their financial situations, albeit wrongly so," said the study's lead author Emily Haisley, a doctoral student in the Department of Organizational Behavior and Theory at Carnegie Mellon's Tepper School of Business. "The hope of getting out of poverty encourages people to continue to buy tickets, even though their chances of stumbling upon a life-changing windfall are nearly impossibly slim and buying lottery tickets in fact exacerbates the very poverty that purchasers are hoping to escape."

The researchers influenced participants' perceptions of their relative wealth — or lack thereof — by having them complete a survey on their opinions of the city of Pittsburgh that included an item on annual income. The group made to feel poor was asked to provide its income on a scale that began at "less than $100,000" and went upward from there in $100,000 increments, ensuring that most respondents would be in the lowest income category. The group made to feel subjectively wealthier was asked to report income on a scale that began with "less than $10,000" and increased in $10,000 increments, leading most respondents to be in a middle or upper tier.

Participants, who were recruited at Pittsburgh's Greyhound Bus terminal, were paid $5 for completing the survey and given the opportunity to buy as many as five scratch-off lottery tickets. The experimental group purchased an average of 1.27 lottery tickets, compared with 0.67 tickets bought by the members of the control group.

A second experiment reported in the paper found that indirectly reminding participants that, while different income groups face unequal outcomes in education, jobs and housing, everyone has equal chances of winning the lottery induced an increase in the number of lottery tickets purchased. The group given this reminder purchased 1.31 tickets, compared with 0.54 for the group not given such a reminder.
It seems to me that an unexpected consequence of NCLB's metrics (aside from being bogus) is that they label schools as failures. Instead of creating a perspective of the school within a context of the norm.

Secondly, students in poor school districts might score better if they were encouraged to study because their IQ indicated they were far more normal within the school population than any other signals in their lives might lead them to believe.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Academic Referencing of Material

I just discovered a free software tool that plugs into the browser and helps students collect, manage, and cite research sources.

For those of you who aren't parents or who haven't yet gone through the chaos of having little Johnny or Jane in agony over their research papers and their sources, this tool is sure to be a necessity.

It is called Zotero. It is a download that plugs into the browser and it was developed by George Mason University.

Beautiful. See the video tour here.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Are Four Day School Weeks Inevitable?

The rising cost of fuel and food are forcing many communities across the country to consider and adopt four day school weeks to save money and resources.

In this Reuters article entitled Schools eye four-day week to cut fuel costs by Rebekah Kebede we get a glimpse of an imminent future.
Facing a crippling increase in fuel costs, some rural U.S. schools are mulling a solution born of the '70s oil crisis: a four-day week.

Cutting out one day of school has been the key to preserving educational programs and staff in parts of Kentucky, New Mexico and Minnesota, outweighing some parents' concerns about finding day-care for the day off.

"For rural school districts where buses may travel 100 miles round-trip each day, there certainly are transportation savings worth considering," said Marc Egan, the director of federal affairs at the National School Boards Association.

Egan said about 100 schools in as many as 16 states have already moved to a four-day school week, many to save money on transportation, heating and cooling.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Free 3-D Modeling Software

Caligari, makers of TrueSpace, are giving their product away. Free software, free instructional videos and so on. They were bought out by Microsoft and apparently this is a goodwill gesture and a welcome one at that.

For art instructors worldwide this is great news. And for School 2.0 advocates this is an opportunity to create virtual school environments.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

What Ever Happened to Nim Chimpsky?

This interview with Elizabeth Hess, author of Nim Chimpsky, The Chimp Who Would Be Human is absolutely fascinating reading. It is a follow-up on one of the most tragic stories I have ever come across, a chimp who was taught sign-language and eventually abandoned to the fate of a lab rat.
Natasha Mitchell: And still talks that way today, years later.

Elizabeth Hess: Years later, yes.

Natasha Mitchell: He even got to a point where he drank beer and smoked.

Elizabeth Hess: Yes, it was the 70s so you know it wasn't uncommon for Columbia students to be hanging around at night smoking pot, and Nim loved pot and eventually developed his own sign for give me a joint. You know chimps have the same vices that we have. Nim started the day for his entire life with a cup of coffee and as he grew older was often grumpy if he didn't get it.

Natasha Mitchell: Elizabeth Hess it's hard to believe then that this was in fact a scientific project. So what was the training regime going on for Nim in the middle of all this?

Elizabeth Hess: Terrace felt initially that he was going to have a lot more control in the Lafarge house than he had and Nim was sort of socialised to be the centre of attention and indeed he was and you know they are great entertainers. I mean by the time he was two months he was scaling the walls and hanging on the chandelier.

Natasha Mitchell: In all this he was going to school every day. What was the regime and what sort of progress did he make?

Elizabeth Hess: Well in the beginning all the Lafarges went and they themselves took a course in American sign language and there were meetings to determine which word Nim would learn that week and there was a criteria, he would have to use the word spontaneously five times, three people had to witness it before the world was actually put on his vocabulary list. After he was about two or three months old he started picking up words very rapidly.

Natasha Mitchell: But there was still a lot of anxiety wasn't there about the scientific rigor of the project because for a start they were trying to control for all the chaos in the domestic home of the Lafarges and things got very tense there. But also the question was, was Nim really learning sign language in a way a human child learns language?

Elizabeth Hess: Yes.

Natasha Mitchell: And comprehends what they are actually articulating?

Elizabeth Hess: Well yes, how do you prove what a chimp is doing and why, and how do you know whether Nim has learned a word of whether Nim is imitating a word. And one might ask how do children learn, I mean when a child says his or her first word is it because they are mimicking the word Dad-dah or is it because they are looking at their father and think that's the person's name. So Terrace set up an artificial classroom at Columbia University where Nim was expected to go in and take off his coat and hang it up on a little hook and sit down at a desk and do some work.

Natasha Mitchell: Which Nim didn't enjoy very much at all.

Elizabeth Hess: Plan B was a disaster. Nim became anxious and upset and wild and at one point they actually had a punishment box that had no windows for a time out period. And of course this is something they would not do to a human being but they thought they could do it to Nim because he was a chimp. And it's sort of one of the first sort of breakdowns in the philosophy and ideology of project Nim.

Natasha Mitchell: Yes, they said too human for a cage, too wild for a house at one point. Domestic chaos reigned in the Lafarges, things really fell apart there and Nim was transferred to a grand mansion on massive grounds in New York City, really nothing short of a surreal scene that you paint in the book, because not only was there Nim, the sort of man of the palace all these people students, scientists, recruited to Project Nim came to live with him in this place.

Elizabeth Hess: Dellafield was this 21 room Georgian mansion on the Hudson River and there were ponds and there were rose gardens and it has been empty for a number of years because Columbia University couldn't really figure out what to do with it and it was incredible.

Natasha Mitchell: Nim developed some extraordinary relationships in that house, he even appeared on Sesame Street in that time.

Elizabeth Hess: He did and Terrace was projecting this extraordinary success, Nim's vocabulary was growing week by week. Within a year he had a vocabulary of 75 to 100 words and at that point they started to get some deaf people involved in the project which was quite critical because Nim had not been around any natural signers, so at Dellafield the project took on a whole culture of its own.

Natasha Mitchell: Things progressed but then things also started to get out of control and this was an experience common to many of the chimps, I gather, housed with regular families. As chimps got a little bit older things really started to go pear-shaped. What happened to Nim?

Elizabeth Hess: I think Terrace realised that Project Nim was not only taking over his life but ruining it. There was a certain point where Terrace decided that he had more than enough data to prove that Nim had learned language and Nim, you know I think he had 20,000 combinations of signs documented and recorded from Nim, he was combining his signs, he was using words in a way that initially Terrace really believed was not unlike the way humans used language and the way children learn language. And I think he felt well I've got more than enough data, it's too hard taking care of this chimp and he called an end to the project.

Natasha Mitchell: He really shocked people, didn't he, because he published a paper in Science a year after that, or in 1979, where he ultimately reported on the project as being a failure, really all a load of bollocks and Nim had just been mimicking, not speaking.

Elizabeth Hess: He had also really boasted his success all over the media and no one was prepared for him to say not only was Nim not using language but all of the other researchers in this field have also been hoodwinked, not just me, they are all fools, none of these chimps are using language, they are all mimics.

Natasha Mitchell: It became dubbed the 'clever hands phenomena' didn't it?

Elizabeth Hess: Exactly and for those people are in the field who had these ongoing projects they lost their funding virtually immediately.

Natasha Mitchell: His conclusion was crucial though wasn't it, because in effect if he'd declared the project a success he would have undermined the use of chimps as experimental subjects across the board, across science, because he would have been suggesting that chimps are sentient, intelligent beings, very much so, capable of communicating consciously with humans using a human language.

Elizabeth Hess: That's absolutely true and I think initially Terrace had no idea how radical the concept was, simply to take a research animal out of the cage, out of the laboratory and into the human family. And now it's really conclusive, not only chimpanzees are sentient but all kinds of animals are talking to each other that we never admitted had any language at all until the last decade. But I think for Terrace, I think he felt going further in to the mind of the chimpanzee, which ultimately he would have had to do with Project Nim, was not a direction he wanted to go in.

Natasha Mitchell: Now Nim had never spent time with other chimps or even communicated with then before so life back in a primate centre in Oklahoma was altogether new. And in 1982 he was sold off along with his brothers to a New York University Medical Research Laboratory LEMSIP, using chimps for hepatitis research. All hell broke loose when the story leaked with red hot media coverage, a Boston attorney even claimed that allowing this to happen to Nim was like selling Bambi for dog food. And the new researchers had never seen a chimp like Nim.

Elizabeth Hess: Yes, I mean Nim -- here in this research lab were these...cages that are like the size of large refrigerators, hang from the ceiling with individual chimps in them and the technicians who take care of them walk below them and you know Nim and the other chimps are signing to them, they want a cigarette, they want a drink, they want attention, they want to talk, they want to communicate. And the technicians went to the head of LEMSIP and said, there's something strange about these chimps they are trying to communicate with us. They used sign language with each other, you know the chimps that signed, that gave birth, they taught their offspring some signs.

Natasha Mitchell: Where does Nim Chimpsky's story end. He got out of the experimental lab -- where did he live out the rest of his life?

Elizabeth Hess: Well eventually a very prominent animal activist named Cleveland Amory, who became fascinated with the case, purchased him and brought him to a multi-species sanctuary in Murchison, Texas. Ultimately they got a friend for Nim who was an ex-circus chimp named Sally Jones, who was smaller than Nim and they were inseparable. Sally actually died before him and Nim grieved very intensely for Sally and she was replaced by three chimps and that was a very wise move because Nim then had a little family. But Nim was waiting for his breakfast snack one morning in Texas then he signed to the caretaker who was on her way to the kitchen to bring him some cantelope and in fact she recalls that he signed the word hurry, by the time she came back with the fruit he was lying in his cage and he had had a massive heart attack and he was rushed to the hospital and he actually died on his way to the hospital.
This is obviously a short excerpt from a longer interview that is absolutely compelling. Please do read the entire piece.

Monday, July 21, 2008

There's a Lot of Ways to Get It Wrong

The Courant is applauding this year's CT Mastery Test results in an editorial laced with misunderstanding and ignorance. They share the delusion of educators and administrators who prop up and profit handsomely from the high-stakes, high-stress testing industry.

What else can they do? Like all-good compliant enablers they buy and perpetuate the unsubstantiated and unsubstantiable assertions of an education community dedicated to blind ignorance and unlimited profit. Called "Learning to Improve" - no, I'm not making that up -the editorial dutifully and patronizingly congratulates the system.
Higher scores on the annual Connecticut Academic Performance Test — in some cases increasing by double digits — are an indication that multiple efforts to boost student achievement are paying off.

Statewide, the percentage of high school sophomores meeting state goals increased in three out of the four subjects — math, science, reading and writing — over 2007. Only reading scores stayed the same. White, black and Hispanic students all showed gains.

Hartford students, among the lowest-performing in the state, made impressive strides in the percentages achieving "proficiency" or better — although that designation is still a level below state goals.

Although the trend is heartening, the gap between the scores of white students and minorities, and between low-income communities and affluent ones, persists. So must the strategies that are showing promise.
Yeah, presumably they are waiting for that utopian moment of intellectual singularity when all students rich or poor, formerly smart or challenged all get precisely the same score thus proving that the "gap" could be overcome.

That moment of intellectual mediocrity is apparently something the schools are striving for, the two-faced graduate, half Alfred E. Neumann and half-genius in everyman, a marching, compliant, ready-for-industry, test-proven, interchangeable widget that we can finally be proud of.

I know, you get teary eyed just thinking about it.

The blatant, obvious, in-your-face-fact that the schools are being blighted by this war of test scores is of little consequence. Like Iraq, the murder, mayhem, chaos, and ubiquitous corruption are a small price to pay for the opportunity to show -cough- progress.

And in a fitting tribute to the absurd, the Courant takes an opportunity to celebrate schools that taught nothing more nor improved their students an iota but managed to find a way to make the test a more palatable poison.
Improvements made in Canton, whose sophomores now rank among the top in the state, should be a model for all districts. One innovation was to spread out the testing schedule so that students took only one of the nine CAPT test segments per day rather than trying to cram them all into five days. Special education students were particularly helped by this change, according to Principal Gary Gula.

That's got to have every school principal in the state saying, "Why didn't I think of that?"
Yes sir. And now that innovation will be used in the next round to some even more progress toward the illusion of teaching kids something - usually an illiterate state employee's idea of what's important.

No, not coffee breaks or not answering the phone! Something that can be tested like -um- "You're having crumpets with the Oneupsman family, do you use a salad fork or a dinner fork?"

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Nutritional Transparency

There is mounting evidence that early childhood nutrition has a much to do with test scores as anything parents or teachers teach. This study, The Impact of Nutrition during Early Childhood on Education among Guatemalan Adults explains some recent findings.
Our results indicate significantly positive, and fairly substantial, effects of the nutritional
intervention a quarter century later. These include: increased grade attainment by women via increased likelihood of completion of primary school and some secondary school; speedier grade progression by women; higher scores on reading comprehension tests for both men and women; and higher scores on nonverbal cognitive tests for both men and women. Thus we provide solid evidence that at least one type of preschool intervention—improved nutrition—conveys longterm benefits that do not fade away over time in a developing country context. The results suggest that anti-poverty interventions that include improving the nutrition of preschool children
may have more substantial and persistent effects than are commonly recognized. Further, the evidence that early nutrition has an effect on subsequent educational attainments underscores the value of a lifecycle approach to schooling that includes the preschool period (Cunha et al. 2005).

Rather than spending money on more standardized tests we should insist early childhood nutrition programs that ensure sound minds and bodies and we need to insist on transparency in school meal programs so that students all use the cafeteria in exactly the same manner without obvious class differences.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Exterminating Individuality

The saddest story on the internet in recent weeks is yet another Texas brainstorm. In School Board: Boy Can't Go To School With Long Hair by Elizabeth Scarborough, we learn that an elementary school somewhere in Texas has an asinine policy about kid's hair length.

But there's an Indian boy who doesn't want his hair cut "because it tells me how long I've been here". For those of you unfamiliar with Joseph Campbell or the Jungian ideas about a priori myth tales, this boy, assuming he wasn't coached into making such a statement may be making one of the most soulful comments any of us have ever heard.

In fact I'll go so far as to say it is religious in the sense that it may represent a purity of spiritual understanding about himself that the school board is ignorant of. One would think that in Texas, the state that loves lecturing the nation about religious rights and prayer in school is denying this child's manifestation of prayer because the sky will fall if a young child has long hair in school.

These people wouldn't recognize God if he kicked them in the ass.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

The Home Invasion Invitation

Today the Forth Amendment was eliminated from the Bill of Rights.

The Forth Amendment is metaphorically referred to when an American believes that their "home is their castle". And despite the subprime mortgage meltdown this amendment applies to every home and not just property.

Today that is little more than homily and signals yet another desecration of the flag and country by the political powers that be.

For schools the elimination of this Bill of Rights amendment to the Constitution creates a bit of a crisis for social studies teachers.

Do all of the amendments after the Forth now get renumbered? If they do a lot of textbooks need revising.

And can anyone claiming to be an authority now walk through your home uninvited? And what rights exist for homeowners who attempt to protect themselves from such ambiguous home invasions? For parents this will be particularly troubling when you find invaders in the home searching your screaming children's room. Fear not, it's all in the name of political expedience.

It's another sad day for what's left of America but what's new?

Monday, July 07, 2008

The Crack in the Cosmic Cage

A few months ago, an excellent article in the New York Times discussed fear in children. Called Joy of Fright: Old Chillers That Should Scare (but Not Terrorize) the Kids, Wendell Jamieson observed the effect of 1940' fright films on his son Dean.
So for the last several weeks he and I have watched a series of clever horror movies from the 1940s, including a few exciting recent releases. I’m happy to report success. Dean has learned to allow his imagination to frighten him, and he doesn’t seem any the worse for wear.

As a bonus he has also learned some lessons about cinema. He can now tell, almost instantly, when a character appears who was created solely for the purpose of being killed. And he has even learned some lessons about life, like this one: When you are alone with the bad guy, and he is pouring you a drink, and he asks if anyone knows that you came to meet him, you always answer: “Yes, yes. Everyone knows! I told everyone I know that I was coming! Totally.”
Unfortunately the monsters that exist in today's world are far more frightful than those of a healthy active imagination.

Dozens of articles warn or complain of helicopter parents who oversee every movement a child or teen might make. And parents do so not because they are intolerant of their children but because society has become so. Parents come in a multiplicity of archetypes these days but one category distinguishes those who hover.

The Wobegon sect insist on creating and maintaining social class differences. They advocate entitlement and hover to insulate and ensure every social advantage. They are often by-products or principals in the education system. One can sit in just about any academic awards ceremony at any school in the country and note, scorecard fashion that those who are considered worthy of awards are related to those who work within the school system. Education in America has manufactured an education entitlement caste, self-insulated, and self-insulating.

The Jedi sect hover for other reasons. The vampires, witches, and monsters of this world have become institutionalized, unmerciful, ruthless, and far more depraved than any child or young adult can cope with.

The collapsing U.S. economy demonstrates how coarse and vulgar the unwitting are treated in today's society. People are duped into becoming credit slaves, enjoying short-term gain for a lifetime of obligatory servitude.

Young adults are seen as armies of victims waiting to be exploited by creditors, politicians, and educational paper mills. The insatiable desire evoked by these monsters is no longer the sexual fantasy of being swept away by a stranger. Today, the cultivated desire is consumption, immediate gratification, and extreme, accelerated thrill.

I am strong and unflinching advocate that television and media need to offer adult themes for adults and that open forums offer free speech even when the speech offends. Unfortunately, open forums are intolerant of ideas that challenge the status quo. Censorship killed the Charlie Rose forums. Talking Points Memo for all its sanctimonious "truth"-telling is intolerant of unflinching liberal viewpoints. The New York Times closed their forums when its vocal readership pointed out their hypocrisies.

By diminishing of free speech through the privatization of the most democratic communication channels, children and teens cannot learn how the system truly works, how it takes advantage of people, and how it neutralizes citizenship. By controlling free speech, critical thought is eliminated except to argue manufactured talking points.

Frank Rich at the New York Times laments our descent as he provides a film review of Wall-E.
Humanity is not dead in “Wall-E,” but it is in peril. The world’s population cruises the heavens ceaselessly on a mammoth luxury spaceship that it boarded in the early 22nd century after the planet became uninhabitable. For government, there is a global corporation called Buy N Large, which keeps the public wired to umpteenth-generation iPods and addicted to a diet of supersized liquefied fast food and instantly obsolete products. The people are too bloated to walk — they float around on motorized Barcaloungers — but they are happy shoppers. A billboard on the moon heralds a Buy N Large outlet mall “coming soon,” not far from that spot where back in the day of “Hello, Dolly!” idealistic Americans once placed a flag.

And yet these rabid consumers, like us, are haunted by what paradise might have been lost. How can they reclaim what matters? How can Earth be recolonized? These questions are rarely spoken in “Wall-E,” but are omnipresent, like half-forgotten dreams. In this movie, a fleeting green memory of the extinct miracle of photosynthesis is as dazzling and elusive as the emerald city of Oz.

One of the great things about art, including popular art, is that it can hit audiences at a profound level beyond words. That includes children. The kids at “Wall-E” were never restless, despite the movie’s often melancholy mood and few belly laughs. They seemed to instinctually understand what “Wall-E” was saying; they didn’t pepper their chaperones with questions along the way. At the end they clapped their small hands. What they applauded was not some banal cartoonish triumph of good over evil but a gentle, if unmistakable, summons to remake the world before time runs out.

You have to wonder what these same kids make of the political show their parents watch on TV at home. The fierce urgency of now that drives “Wall-E” and its yearning for change is absent in both the Barack Obama and McCain campaigns these days.
Jedi parents who hover, hover because of the comprehensive dangers our society has amassed against individuals, the free-thinkers, and the sacred.

The life-blood of freedom is free-speech yet the message of Wall-E could be construed as disruptive of school activity and censored and punished. In Sunday's Courant, Frank D. Lomonte enumerates the assault on free speech of students in Reaching To Stifle Students.
In one recent case, lawyers for Connecticut's Region 10 school district, serving Burlington and Harwinton, actually convinced the Second Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals that Avery Doninger, then a Lewis S. Mills High School junior, could be punished for using a blog — created on a home computer on personal time — to encourage the public to lobby school administrators to overturn a decision that threatened a student-organized concert. Although the student regrettably used a coarse word to refer to the administrators, it was not the mild expletive that decided her fate; it was the fact that, in the court's view, Doninger "disrupted" school by escalating the concert dispute to involve the public.

What a miserable civics lesson for a 17-year-old who, as even the school conceded, was an otherwise exemplary student. Asking public officials to take precious time out of their day to actually answer calls and e-mails from parents who question their management of the school is such a "disruption" that it justifies suspending the First Amendment. In what country?

Thankfully, this bizarre and frightening view of our Constitution remains an aberration.

A U.S. District Court in Pennsylvania recently rejected the same argument that prevailed in Connecticut, wisely observing that — if students misbehave online in ways that violate the rights of others — that's a private matter with private remedies.

Why should we be concerned for the "rights" of a student to call the principal a bad name? Because court decisions can live on forever, and they can be misapplied in mischievous ways.

What about the student who learns that the coach has been molesting female students — a scandal that undoubtedly would provoke a "disruptive" level of discussion at school? Many principals refuse to let students publish such "adult" matter in the school newspaper — and now, if the radical expansionists get their way, the principal can constitutionally add: "If I catch you talking to anyone about this — anywhere, any time — you're expelled."

In a landmark 1963 case, the Supreme Court said elegantly that "First Amendment freedoms need breathing space to survive." Today, thanks to decisions like Morse, too many courts are affording the breathing space to the censor — especially when that censor is a school. They're willing to let schools punish innocent conduct for fear of second-guessing the principal's authority.

Well, principals who abuse their disciplinary authority need second-guessing. And if schools want to put court-approved muzzles on our kids, then we'd better speak for them — loud and clear.
To be muzzled is to be a slave to the political hucksters who run the schools, the government bureaucracies, and the above-the-law corporations who shamelessly will take advantage of every individual weakness a child, young-adult, or unwitting adult may have.

Dissent across the globe is being reduced to a silent scream whose avenues of expression are being systematically eliminated. Jedi parents know this all too well. If they hover, it is to protect their children from an all-too blood-thirsty world.

The crack in the Cosmic Cage is not an accident.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Guess Who's Tampering with the 2008 Presidential Election?

My, my, my. The dirty tricks never end. For Independence Day Margaret Spellings has announced which States will enjoy relaxed NCLB protocols. Of the seventeen states that applied, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, and Ohio were -cough- chosen.

Given the electoral importance of these states, one cannot help but wonder aloud how tax money that pays for federal bureaucracies can be so cynically and shamelessly targeted toward the unethical influencing of federal election sentiments.

The Department of Education has been and continues to be out of control as myopic and partisan organization that seemingly has no accountability to anyone. By manipulating the NCLB program, it now seeks to eliminate voter dissatisfaction with education policy in precisely the states that can electorally swing the election.

This deserves a federal investigation for tampering with public funds and trust.


A Victim of Child Abuse Speaks

Political Satirist Barry Crimmins has posted a powerful blog entry that discusses what a victim of child abuse feels about punishing the perpetrator. In his own words:
Unfortunately the ominously shadowy Alito either doesn't care or knows nothing about what looms over child rape victims or he'd stop carrying polluted water for neo-cons and use his power to help shape a less oppressive and less brutal society. Child abuse thrives when authoritarians rule -- authoritarians like Samuel Alito. Abused kids are already freaked out enough without having bloodthirsty men in robes boohooing their inability to take a life for an eye. Alito has inveighed against compassion at every turn but now we're supposed to believe that this pro-torture reactionary is thinking first of children? To employ a term Sanctimonious Sam despises, spare me.

Many people are so overwhelmed by the thought of child abuse that they'll do just about anything to change the subject when it is mentioned. The most common device these subject-switchers utilize is the ultimate decree. They'll say, "I think if someone gets caught abusing a kid, they should be rounded up and killed! Case closed!" Once you proclaim that you're in favor of executing pedophiles, what else is there to say? You have advocated sweeping them under the ultimate rug and that's that. Problem solved. The problem, that is, of having to discuss child abuse.

Pronouncements of lynch mobsters notwithstanding, I wouldn't have wanted my rapist put out of his own misery and into mine. I started life without blood on my hands and I aim to keep it that way. Had the man who raped me on numerous occasions not died in prison while serving his third term for sexually abusing very young boys, I might have gone to see him. My personal revenge would have been to show him that I did not become what I resisted, that I hadn't grown into a cruel and heartless man. I would have told him that he inflicted a burden upon me that almost killed me, and not just when I was nearly asphyxiated during his savage assaults. I'd have told him of the encumbrance I dragged along with me for decades that, through hard work, I had managed to lighten. In short, I would tell him that although he inflicted a lot of pain upon me, he had not succeeded in ruining me. Then I would tell him that I was sorry that he had such a miserable and wasted life. Finally, I would ask him why he thought he had ended up doing the things he did. Maybe I would have discovered some context for the man, even if I had to sort it out of the manipulative lies for which pedophiles are deservedly notorious.

I couldn't do any of this because by the time I figured out who had raped me, he was dead. The news of his demise did not cheer me. I just thought of the end of his awful life in a cruddy jail cell and wondered what led to such a waste. At least I didn't miss my chance to confront him because he had been killed in my name.

People who support executing rapists of children fail to consider a crucial issue-- the age of the victims. The victim in one of the cases the Supreme Court examined was eight years old when she was raped. That would make her twelve or thirteen right now. She has enough of a challenge in front of her without having the state presuming it should kill on her behalf. When I finally dealt with the horrors of my childhood, I had enough brutality to reconcile without adding an execution to the list. Unlike the poor child in the aforementioned case, the perpetrator of the crimes against me was not a member of my family. I can't imagine what it would be like to have to deal with having had one of my parents' siblings killed to settle a score for me. I can imagine that such a state action could cause a very large schism in a family, a schism that (to one extent or another) would trace back to the victim. This would place yet another burden on the child -- in large part because adults wanted to make a grandstand play that would help distract everyone from considering how such a crime might have been prevented in the first place. Sorry we left you alone with that evil man but to make up for it, we had him killed!

Almost everyone wants to avoid this subject and who can blame them? Breaking silence about child abuse is so damned disquieting. When, as an adult, I began dealing with what happened to me, I talked to close friends about it. A very few were just great and couldn't have been kinder. Numerous others had the same question for me. They'd ask, "Are are you talking to anyone about this?"

I'd think, "Yeah, I thought I was talking to you. But clearly you believe I should only speak to people who are paid $150 an hour to hear about this shit. I guess you don't understand that it's tough for me to trust strangers -- particularly strangers who sit there and only say 'hmm' every 15 or twenty minutes. It can be kind of nerve-wracking. After you do that, it could be kind of nice to speak to a trusted friend."

The "are you talking to anyone" people were a bargain compared to the lynch mob advocates, particularly for me. I'm hampered by prejudice because I oppose the death penalty for anyone. Even if I were to be murdered, I would not want my killer executed. You can't kill someone without making someone else into a killer. I cannot see how anyone could ever justify that.

Even if I supported the death penalty, I wouldn't want child rapists killed simply because they were once children themselves. In all likelihood they were abused children. While most victims of childhood sexual assaults don't grow up to become pedophiles, the vast majority of pedophiles were sexually abused as children. Who knows what would have happened to me if I had been raped a few more times, or a few years later, and had been tricked into believing I'd been acting on my own initiative? Would my social contract have been completely voided? I can't say. Life gets pretty damned nuanced when you can consider yourself a lucky childhood rape survivor.
I encourage everyone to read the entire piece by following the link. In a world of flotsom and jetsom, the courage and wisdom of this piece deserves and demands your attention if only for a moment.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

More Doctored NCLB Studies

The Thomas B Fordham Institute recently released a report entitled High Achieving Students in the Era of NCLB that wanders off based on a political agenda and an astonishing misreading of data to advocate modifying NCLB to serve high-end learners, excellence, and the ever-panderific "we need to challenge students even more" meme. The lack of anything more than anecdotal evidence never deters the hyperbole of the political agenda this report is selling.

Considering the number of professional educators responsible for this anal-retentive masterpiece, one would have assumed that somebody bothered to proof-read and correct some of the more psychedelic assertions being made in the report.

For example, Finn describes the reason that poor, Hispanic, and Afro-American students who scored well on the eighth-grade 2005 math NAEP as being "luck" rather than because they shared an educated households profile when growing up like their other academic peers.

This report is yet more bad science from an educational establishment grown corrupt and unaccountable for education's entrepreneurial fraud known as NCLB.

The Institute's neocon-driven report distorts the public dialogue about NCLB with the intention of selling the public a newer, more expensive NCLB scheme.

The premise of the entire report is based on blindly accepting and naively interpreting NCLB test results as being meaningful measures of intellectual progress by students rather than say a measure of students and teachers becoming far more accomplished at drilling for and taking tests.

On page 5 of the report a number of inaccurate portrayed visual representations of the data are used to proclaim "No Child Left Behind (NCLB) is working precisely as designed". If you examine the data more carefully you'll note that not only doesn't NCLB do what its supposed to do but it statistically shows that it adds virtually no value to the system at all.

In these figures, if we ignore the initial ramp up to high stress testing mandated by NCLB we can see that both the 10th percentile and the 90th percentile are virtually flat-lining from 2002 until 2007. What marginal "achievement" is made is within the scope of statistical error given the sample size. Figure A, a (bad) graph of NAEP scores during the NCLB years indicates that between 2002 and 2007, the 10th percentile of students added 4 points and the 90th percentile added 4 points where 263 is the high score.

The report leads us to believe that this 2 point gap reduction between high and low learners over 5 years is both significant and worth the millions of wasted dollars, millions of wasted hours on high-stakes testing regiment, and chaotic devastation of arts programs that have followed in the wake of NCLB. And to add insult to injury we're expected to believe that this microscopic improvement in test taking skills will make these kids more competitive in the global marketplace.

Indubitably, this marginal result also negates the thesis of the study that high end learners are being short-changed by the drain of resources now consuming the test score improvement "gains" of our lowest achievers. What is more precisely documented in the details is the bankruptcy of NCLB and the retardation of education dedicated to all students.

Worse still is the assertion in a section called Amending NCLB that a majority of teachers "favors a proposal to amending it to add another mandate". Left unsaid is that teachers are never asked anywhere in the study whether or not NCLB should be eliminated. By selectively co-ercing respondents to amend NCLB or not amend NCLB the study falsely claims that teachers have no other opinions of the law.

And, to be clear, this neo-con education manifesto is manufacturing and promoting more expensive mandates to be added to NCLB. Once they deliver the federal mandate they intend to blame liberals for the expense.

Why education philanthropies continue to fund bad science is sinful. That these studies are largely political sado-pedagogical exercises is more saddening.

The report insists NCLB is narrowing the irrelevant gaps used by educators and bureaucrats to fund their wacko education schemes. Yet the high-achiever that they define under NCLB is the same high-achiever that existed before NCLB, accountability bunko-schemes, and the cruel bigotry of neo-con high-expectations rhetoric. Yes, high-achievers are the white children of the educated well-to-do who are great reading and math standardized test-takers.

Surprised? If you are you must be an education major or graduate of an American university with a teaching degree. That population never seems to get their own professional studies performed and interpreted accurately.

Math and science is not just challenging to students these days.