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Monday, June 30, 2008

Teaching Open-mindedness

The New York Times in an op-ed piece called Your Brain Lies to You By Sam Wang and Sandra Aamodt raise some interesting points about presenting data to individuals who may have their minds made up.
In one study, a group of Stanford students was exposed repeatedly to an unsubstantiated claim taken from a Web site that Coca-Cola is an effective paint thinner. Students who read the statement five times were nearly one-third more likely than those who read it only twice to attribute it to Consumer Reports (rather than The National Enquirer, their other choice), giving it a gloss of credibility.

Adding to this innate tendency to mold information we recall is the way our brains fit facts into established mental frameworks. We tend to remember news that accords with our worldview, and discount statements that contradict it.

In another Stanford study, 48 students, half of whom said they favored capital punishment and half of whom said they opposed it, were presented with two pieces of evidence, one supporting and one contradicting the claim that capital punishment deters crime. Both groups were more convinced by the evidence that supported their initial position.

Psychologists have suggested that legends propagate by striking an emotional chord. In the same way, ideas can spread by emotional selection, rather than by their factual merits, encouraging the persistence of falsehoods about Coke — or about a presidential candidate.

Journalists and campaign workers may think they are acting to counter misinformation by pointing out that it is not true. But by repeating a false rumor, they may inadvertently make it stronger. In its concerted effort to “stop the smears,” the Obama campaign may want to keep this in mind. Rather than emphasize that Mr. Obama is not a Muslim, for instance, it may be more effective to stress that he embraced Christianity as a young man.

Consumers of news, for their part, are prone to selectively accept and remember statements that reinforce beliefs they already hold. In a replication of the study of students’ impressions of evidence about the death penalty, researchers found that even when subjects were given a specific instruction to be objective, they were still inclined to reject evidence that disagreed with their beliefs.

In the same study, however, when subjects were asked to imagine their reaction if the evidence had pointed to the opposite conclusion, they were more open-minded to information that contradicted their beliefs. Apparently, it pays for consumers of controversial news to take a moment and consider that the opposite interpretation may be true.

In 1919, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes of the Supreme Court wrote that “the best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market.” Holmes erroneously assumed that ideas are more likely to spread if they are honest. Our brains do not naturally obey this admirable dictum, but by better understanding the mechanisms of memory perhaps we can move closer to Holmes’s ideal.
I can't help but come away with the impression that social studies classes should take this to heart and create more exercises in which students with strongly held convictions be asked to advocate the opposite side of the coin occasionally rather than just debate in the comfort zone of their own preconceptions.

Re: Educrats

An op-ed piece by D. Dowd Muska appeared in The Chronicle on Saturday called Educrat. Muska speaks for a growing number of taxpayers in questioning the enormous costs of public education.
The numbers on spending are stunning. Several years ago, a legislative investigation found that between 1981 and 2001, Connecticut’s government-school expenditures, adjusted for inflation, more than doubled. Enrollment growth was less than 10 percent.

The teacher-student ratio in Nutmeg State government schools is lower than the national average. The share of non-instructional staff in the system is high -- 13 percentage points above average. And with educrat earnings and benefits in the exosphere, spending per student ranks near the top. (Only New Jersey and New York spend more.)

It’s likely that many “do it for the children” activists aren’t aware of these figures. A recent opinion survey discovered that Americans have little understanding of how much revenue funds government-run schools. The average answer to pollsters’ query about per-pupil spending in respondents’ local districts was $4,231 -- less than half the accurate sum. In addition, respondents underestimated average teacher salaries in their states by over $14,000.

Researchers William Howell and Martin R. West concluded: “Americans think that far less is being spent on the nation’s public schools than is actually the case. The vast majority of the public thinks we spend amounts that can only be described as minuscule, and almost 96 percent of the public underestimate either per-pupil spending in their districts or teacher salaries in their states.”

On the rare occasions when Connecticut’s educrat lobby concedes that taxpayer support of its empire is vast, we’re told such spending is the cause of the state’s high-performing students.

But the outcomes of Connecticut’s government schools aren’t as stellar as defenders of the status quo would have us believe. Skeptics cite Nutmeg State students’ performance on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). The test, first given in 1969, is a rigorous examination of elementary students’ competency in core subjects.

Connecticut’s NAEP scores are unimpressive. In 2007, 53 percent of the state’s eighth graders were “proficient” in writing. A mere 37 percent were proficient in reading. And only 35 percent were proficient in math.

Those figures don’t quite jibe with the far-less-demanding Connecticut Mastery Test (CMT), which unlike the NAEP, is not overseen by a bipartisan panel of experts from across the nation, but by the state’s Department of Education. CMT scores show that those same eighth graders are doing terrific: 83 percent proficiency in writing, 76 percent in reading, and 81 percent in math.

A 2006 analysis by the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation found that the quality of Connecticut’s academic standards was pathetic -- only seven states did a worse job setting criteria for command of basic subjects. (Connecticut’s math and English standards both received grades of “F.”)
I had not realized the disconnect between public perception of the economics and the reality.

Muska gets the economic arguments right though I would argue that the metrics of student success are wrong-headed and indicative of a degenerative pedagogy driven by the madness of the federal Department of Education.

Be that as it may, Muska's economic arguments should be be taken seriously at face value. Education salaries increases are a runaway windfall for the public school employees. The argument that teachers would be much more comfortable in the private sector is a fraudulent argument in an age where the average American worker gets a 0 - 2% raise, faces continuous threats of layoff and outsourcing, and so on.

Teachers and government employees need to recognize that their salary increases are not entitlements but paid for by taxpayers who have not fared well for the past ten years or so.

Monday, June 16, 2008

The Spring Art Show

I had the opportunity to visit the EO Smith Art show last Tuesday evening and it is a big hit.

Paintings, drawing, ceramics, jewelry and computer art are featured by dozens of young craftsmen and artists and the work is fabulous.

Anne Lorch, Tammy Glaeser, and Steve Marks-Hamilton deserve a virtual round of applause for both inspiring and guiding these students.

Anne is retiring and will be fondly remembered by all.

As I was making the rounds however, I was informed by her peers that Tammy Glaeser, our newest art faculty member, had made a very good impression for her contributions in computer art, painting, and fresh ideas.

Jailing Our Children

Sunday's Courant features a great opinion piece called Criminalizing Kids by Abby Anderson. While many states are reconsidering treating kids like adults, others allow tasering of even elementary school students. Connecticut having jailed its black minority population is now mining the next judicially impotent population - children.

NCLB coupled with the advent of a laissez-faire, zero tolerance for inalienable rights police state is parading children through the court system with a gusto Anne Frank fans will immediately recognize.

From the article:
Schools have strong incentives to jettison "problem children" and few incentives to help them. Their low test scores decrease federal funding. Their behavior means that teachers have to spend more time helping children develop socially and less time drilling for standardized tests.

Children can be removed from classrooms through arrest, suspension or expulsion. More than 3 million children are suspended or expelled from U.S. public schools every year. During the 2006-2007 school year,Connecticut children missed 152,850 school days — 418 years — because of suspensions and expulsions. Kids who aren't in school can't keep up academically. Suspension and expulsion are, therefore, predictors of school failure and of eventual incarceration. Most suspensions and expulsions are not for violent behavior, but for school policy violations such as truancy. (Yes, the punishment for truancy is being made to stay home.)

Children of color, boys and students in urban districts are at greater risk of suspension, expulsion, arrest or dropping out. In the nation's largest urban school districts, fewer than half of students graduate. A report by Johns Hopkins University labeled 9 percent of the schools in Connecticut "dropout factories" because they had a yearly promotion rate of 60 percent or worse between 2004 and 2006. That spells devastation for those communities.

High school graduates make far more money than peers who don't complete 12th grade. Higher educational attainment is associated with better health by a number of measures. And graduation means a sharply decreased likelihood of ever ending up in prison, where more than two-thirds of inmates lack a high school diploma.
Contrast the zeal for prosecuting children with the apathy that Dennis Kucinich's impeachment resolution has received and it is obvious that America cares little or nothing for justice but secretly enjoys inflicting pain compliance techniques to anyone of any age who might not click their heels to the plutocracy.

I have no doubt the no tolerance pleasure principle will not go quietly back into the neo-con madhouse that spawned it.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Sleep and School Start Times

A new study suggests that teens who sleep later, sleep more. Science Daily in, High School Students With A Delayed School Start Time Sleep Longer, Report Less Daytime Sleepiness, reports:
The study, authored by Zaw W. Htwe, MD, of Norwalk Hospital's Sleep Disorders Center in Norwalk, Conn., focused on 259 high school students who completed the condensed School Sleep Habits Questionnaire. Prior to the delay, students reported sleeping a mean of 422 minutes (7.03 hours) per school night, with a mean bed-time of 10:52 p.m. and a mean wake-up time as 6:12 a.m.

According to the results, after a 40-minute delay in the school start time from 7:35 a.m. to 8:15 a.m., students slept significantly longer on school nights. Total sleep time on school nights increased 33 minutes, which was due mainly to a later rise time. These changes were consistent across all age groups. Students' bedtime on school nights was marginally later, and weekend night sleep time decreased slightly. More students reported "no problem" with sleepiness after the schedule change.

"Following a 40-minute delay in start time, the students utilized 83 percent of the extra time for sleep. This increase in sleep time came as a result of being able to 'sleep in' to 6:53 a.m., with little delay in their reported school night bedtime. This study demonstrates that students given the opportunity to sleep longer, will, rather than extend their wake activities on school nights," said Mary B. O'Malley, MD, PhD, corresponding author of the study.

It is recommended that adolescents get nine hours of nightly sleep.
Many schools already start school later during high-stakes, high-stress test days to improve scores.

But treating studies like this to jimmy test scores diminishes the importance of the findings. Kids who need rest can do better at school with later openings.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

American Public Schools and the Needham Question

I read a fascinating article the other day that documented the work of Joseph Needham who studied and wrote about something that interested him all his life; why, in the middle of the 15th century, did Chinese civilization suddenly cease its superior progress?
Needham never fully worked out why China’s inventiveness dried up. Other academics have made their own suggestions: the stultifying pursuit of bureaucratic rank in the Middle Kingdom and the absence of a mercantile class to foster competition and self-improvement; the sheer size of China compared with the smaller states of Europe whose fierce rivalries fostered technological competition; its totalitarianism.

With its unreformed one-party system, its rote-learning in schools and state control of big businesses, “new China” is hardly a haven for innovative thinking. Yet the Chinese continue to fret about the Needham question. A Communist Party chief of a middle school in central China recently said that it deserved deep thought and that the answer lay in an education system that fails to emphasise improving “character”. A former government minister also referred to Needham’s lament that China had produced no idea or invention of global impact for more than 500 years. Its contribution henceforth, the official said, should be “harmony”.
In the United States we have a shrinking middle-class, a government hell-bent on becoming more and more totalitarian every day, and finally a school system driven by rote-memorization, stultifying state-control, and an intolerance of creativity from teacher or student.

The signs all point to trouble. Does anyone care?

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

40 Years of Neo-Con Court Appointments and Now THIS

This story comes with a hat tip to a fellow Julie Group member. After forty years of ultra-conservative packing of courts which has resulted in Lady Justice wearing the scales of Justice like a dunce cap instead of a metric of fine balance of law, comes this nugget.

A Connecticut judge is doing for law enforcement what Reagan, Bush, and Bush have done for the courts - dumb them down to near moronic states of competence. From the New York Times, METRO NEWS BRIEFS: CONNECTICUT; Judge Rules That Police Can Bar High I.Q. Scores:
In a ruling made public on Tuesday, Judge Peter C. Dorsey of the United States District Court in New Haven agreed that the plaintiff, Robert Jordan, was denied an opportunity to interview for a police job because of his high test scores. But he said that that did not mean Mr. Jordan was a victim of discrimination.

Judge Dorsey ruled that Mr. Jordan was not denied equal protection because the city of New London applied the same standard to everyone: anyone who scored too high was rejected.

Mr. Jordan, 48, who has a bachelor's degree in literature and is an officer with the State Department of Corrections, said he was considering an appeal. ''I was eliminated on the basis of my intellectual makeup,'' he said. ''It's the same as discrimination on the basis of gender or religion or race.''
Maybe this is just another good excuse to stop raising standards in high school. Instead of creating Jackass home videos, the Darwinian-challenged drop-outs of tomorrow will be issued tasers, badges, fast cars, and a license to kill, menace, and trample the Constitution because hiring intelligent officers is bad for business.

Monday, June 02, 2008

64-Bit Wireless Atheros Using Ubuntu 8.04 LTS

I finally got back to attempting to get the wireless capability working on my Toshiba A215-54747 64-bit Turion laptop equipped with Atheros wireless. The following instructions build on the shoulders of others whose recommendations were gleened from Ubuntu's own forums.

My value add will be to introduce as much clarity to the process as I can to what worked for me.

Prerequisites (silly as some may seem):
The Toshiba has a built-in toggle switch mid-way under the front edge of lighting that enables wireless. You can tell its activated when an orange LED is lit just under the edge of the front of the unit. Make sure its on.
You will need to have a wired internet connection to update the system and to download wireless application necessities. Connect your laptop until wireless installation is completed.
Many instructions talk about the Atheros Hardware access Layer (HAL) driver found under System->Hardware Drivers. It can be disabled or enabled. If enabled it will simply say Not in use after we're done.


Let's be sure that the system is up-to-date. Open up a command line terminal (application-> Accessories -> Terminal) and type:

sudo apt-get install build-essential
In that same Terminal window type: ifconfig

You will get a series of lines about network devices.

The important line we are looking for looks like: eth0 Link encap:Ethernet HWaddr nn:nn:nn:nn:nn:nn

The hexadecimal numbers in the nn:nn:nn:nn:nn:nn sequence are the MAC address for your wireless card. Write this down and put it to one side.
In the same terminal window type: pwd

This will show you your home directory - something like home/your_name

This is where we will move all our downloaded software.

Make sure your browser preferences send downloads to your desktop.
Now we will prevent the default driver from intercepting our desired driver. In the Terminal window type exactly:

echo "blacklist ath_pci" | sudo tee -a /etc/modprobe.d/blacklist

Close your terminal window.

Download the following to your desktop (so we can see that we have the right stuff).
Open firefox and go to:

http://blakecmartin.googlepages.com/ar5007eg-64-0.2.tar.gz

You will be asked to save the file so do so.



Go to:

http://ndiswrapper.sourceforge.net

Click on Downloads and download the latest stable version of the product.
Close your browser. You should now see two tar files on your desktop.

On the main Ubuntu menu click Places->Home which will open up your home directory. Drag and drop both tar files there.
Open another Terminal window. You will be in your home directory. We will now install the 64-bit wireless driver and the application.

Type exactly:

tar xvf ar5007eg-*.tar.gz

then:

tar xvf ndiswrapper-1.53.tar.gz

In both these commands the file names must match the file names of the tar files you downloaded.
Finally, type:

sudo aptitude update

sudo aptitude install linux-headers-$(uname -r) build-essential

sudo apt-get install ndisgtk


Install the wireless driver:
On the Ubuntu menu, click System->Administration->Windows Wireless Drivers

Her you will click Install New Driver and navigate to the ar5007eg-64-0.2/ar5007eg directory that holds the net5211.inf file. Click on the .inf file.
In the terminal type:

sudo gedit /etc/network/interfaces

Once in the file add the following line:

pre-up/sbin/ifconfig wlan0 hw ether nn:nn:nn:nn:nn:nn

where the nn:nn:nn:nn:nn:nn sequence is the MAC address you captured from your machine at the very beginning of these instructions. Save the file.

If you have difficulty saving the file go to the /etc/network directory and change the permissions on the interfaces file using chmod to let you write to the file.
Disconnect the hard wire internet connecton. Restart the system.
After the restart, on the Ubuntu menu, locate the internet connection micro-icon (a set of bars or repeating terminals) and set it to wireless.
This worked beautifully in my experience.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

When Times Get Tough, The Tough Get Weird

The title of this entry is a Dr. Hunter S. Thompson quote but it applies to an article in today's Courant called, High School Doesn't Have To Take Four Years by Lewis M. Andrews.

The argument Andrews makes is based on Leon Botstein's argument:
Botstein's original case for early graduation was based on academic and social concerns, not fiscal issues. With a rigid structure inherited from the 1830s, he argued that the "traditional high school is an out-of-date strategy and system" that accommodates neither fast nor slow learners, leads to boredom and even delinquency, ignores the relative physiological maturity of modern adolescents and fails to take advantage of new learning technologies.

But today we can add to Botstein's list of reasons the tax savings that could flow from providing high school students with incentives to voluntarily graduate early. Consider:

With per-pupil costs for high school ranging from a low of $9,000 in distressed cities like Bridgeport to nearly $18,000 in wealthier suburbs, the Yankee Institute did a study in 2007 ("Free College for High School Students," available at www.yankeeinstitute.org) showing how much each Connecticut town could save by paying its students to graduate in three years.

Using the latest available census and per-pupil expenditure data from the Connecticut Department of Education, the Institute found that if just 25 percent of all the state's secondary students received a full, two-year community college scholarship (or $5,000 cash equivalent) for finishing high school early, more than $58 million would be left over annually to reduce property taxes.

Like most other states, Connecticut sets high school graduation requirements in terms of courses met, not years attended, and towns as diverse as Middletown, West Hartford and Westport already have written policies on early graduation, although none yet offer an incentive.

-snip-

Unfortunately, the political price for enacting most dual-enrollment programs has been the creation of a redundant payment system. Municipalities still include money in their high school budgets to pay for the places of students who have skipped their senior year and gone to college with the funding provided by taxpayers. For property taxpayers to benefit, the school budget must reflect the reduced cost when a student has either graduated early or, if still technically enrolled in high school while taking a full college course load, is no longer receiving district services. A school will not realize any saving until a large enough number of students skip senior year to allow for a reduction in classes.

True, some school districts might initially resist rewarding early graduation because of the state's Education Cost Sharing program, which supplements education budgets in distressed cities on a per student basis. The fear would be that graduating a substantial numbers of students early could mean a loss of revenue from the state. Prosperous towns get little ECS money, but might worry about damaging popular athletic programs, if some students left after three years.

In fact, Connecticut education statutes give school boards considerable flexibility in offering credit for outside learning. A senior could theoretically move on to the first year of college while remaining technically enrolled in high school at no instructional cost and even participate in sports programs — much the way home-schooled students are currently entitled to participate.

While the national education debate focuses on such contentious issues as vouchers and national testing standards, a simple policy of incentivizing Connecticut high school students to effectively graduate early could expand educational opportunity, combat classroom boredom and help the most disadvantaged afford at least two years of college — all the while providing tax relief to hard-pressed homeowners.
What I find fascinating about almost all the education arguments that are heatedly discussed in the public forums of the Main Stream Media is that the discussions virtually never involve the argument that something might be good for the students except as a co-incidental by-product of a let's save money argument.

Here, the argument that the "traditional high school is an out-of-date strategy and system" that accommodates neither fast nor slow learners, leads to boredom and even delinquency, ignores the relative physiological maturity of modern adolescents and fails to take advantage of new learning technologies." is entirely accurate yet it is not until real estate prices in wealthy suburbs are threatened that anyone from the Department of Education on down uses it.

What's important is that high schools are out-moded but largely because of government policies that treat children like prisoners of war in a battle between neo-con iron-fist tactics and sensible and humane education theory.

A front page story in the same issue of the Courant examines the code of silence among the medical profession when it comes to charges of pedophilia against a professional peer. Entitled Reardon Victim Goes Public, Blasts St. Francis Hospital it describes the nod-and-wink collusion:
There are much higher stakes than money here — like truth, accountability and healing. That's why I'm handing in my John Doe card today. Too much of the money, unfortunately, goes to the lawyers.

"This," one of them told me, testily, referring to their legal assault on St. Francis, "does not concern you."

What a coincidence. St. Francis Hospital has been taking the same dismissive tone for years. I know what the lawyer meant; I'm not the one who filed the sworn statement. But my mother, now 75, may well be the lawyers' winning Powerball number because her testimony could elevate the 100 or so lawsuits already filed against the hospital into a monster payout.

Going public with my story, I hope, will mean substantially more than money for all the victims ignored or discredited for so many years — all those afraid to speak up or whose stories were rejected, sadly, by parents too horrified and shamed to admit they delivered their child to a pedophile.

The deluge of child pornography discovered last year behind a false wall in the basement of Reardon's former home on Griswold Drive in West Hartford isn't the only evidence to corroborate the horrors of the past four decades. Among the hidden reels of film and boxes of slides, West Hartford police also discovered a manila envelope, in a brown cardboard box, containing incriminating documents that, until a month ago, I did not know existed.

My name is on those documents.

They include: the sworn complaint filed by my mother, Marcia Hunt of Wethersfield, detailing the afternoon Reardon photographed me and another boy; a formal letter to Reardon from Joseph S. Sadowski, then a St. Francis neurosurgeon and chairman of the Hartford County Medical Association's Ethics and Deportment Committee, who handled the complaint; an undated "memorandum" from Sadowski summarizing the complaint in greater detail; Reardon's 15-page rebuttal; and, finally, a terse statement from my mother's attorney, the renowned Hartford criminal lawyer James N. Egan, saying criminal charges would not be filed.

A boy's word against a prominent physician would have had no chance in court in 1970. Sadowski, who died in 2001, assured my mother Reardon would be stopped. My mother trusted Sadowski. He was her doctor, a respected neurosurgeon who had operated on her back recently. She told him what happened to me as she sat in his office adjacent to the hospital at 1000 Asylum Ave. during a follow-up visit after her surgery. He's the one who suggested she file a complaint with the ethics committee.

Sadowski was a prominent, powerful physician at the hospital and within the Hartford medical community. My mother believed she had taken the ultimate action — until 1979, the medical association was the top agency governing physicians.

Only in 1993, after multiple complaints against Reardon prompted state health department hearings, did we realize the hospital's chief of endocrinology and growth-study mastermind had gone unchecked for decades.

We were devastated. But without the documentation of our complaint, what could we do? How do you avoid losing when you know you can't win?
Professional educators in this country are in a similar predicament today. Complaints about NCLB are largely ignored because too many in the education profession play the collusion game with the demented but all-powerful Bush administration.

Our high school students and taxpayers are being mis-served but money isn't why. It is this country's children who bear the brunt of this society's conditioned reflex to distrust the schools by blaming them for all of society's ills.

Schools need to change, yes... a thousand times yes but because it is right, because the system is dysfunctional as nothing more than a test dispenser, because our children are being intellectually and psychologically maimed by it.

Our political system is broken when today, just as years ago with the medical profession, educators can ignore good practice and continue to cover up the cancer that is NCLB because it's easy... no one will know... it will never happen again... it will go away on its own...

When I think about wasted money I think about the profession I care about turning its back on the facts, on the children, and on their own integrity.

Cartoons (click to site of ownership):