Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Amy Goodman On Saying Goodbye

In a wonderful interview by Laura Flanders of Amy Goodman, Goodman talks about the five things that are important to do when saying goodbye to a dying loved one.

1. Thank you

2. I forgive you

3. Please forgive me

4. I love you

5. Goodbye

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Hosing Mother Earth

Last week ended in the disastrous Copenhagen Summit where Obama in a dramatic, last minute effort to salvage an international climate agreement not only failed but reinforced the perception that is is no more in touch with the international community than George W. Bush was.

On PBS, Ray Suarez ends his summary of the talks by implying that only the big countries need negotiate climate change controls - that too many voices only result in chaos.

And yet, the drama of all of these political machinations seem hollow after listening to Fareed Zakaria interview Nathan Myhrvold.

The first order of business is to start the cooling process so that the island nations aren't sacrificed, so that Africa does not become a wasteland, and so that the cold weather species survive.

The second order of business is to reduce the carbon in the atmosphere by making it useful.

None of this requires much more than an investment in technology and imagination. The Obama administration needs to get on it and stop the grandstanding. Our kids need a planet to live on after graduation.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Kill the Bill, The Liberal View

There is a lot of disinformation about why a Liberal might want to kill the health care bill. We are told the democrats must pass it or be embarrassed. In that case let us embarrass ourselves.

There is no doubt in my mind that the passage of this bill is a toxic recipe for fiscal and political carnage. American workers can hardly afford to spend their income on junk insurance provided by ruthless and unrelentingly greedy insurers. There will be no swift or compassionate regulators to correct inequities.

And it is clear that a nation challenged by runaway unemployment and diminishing wages will be even harder pressed to afford quality education funding. This bill is a cynical gaming of the system and the wholesale plunder of the incomes of every American with an income.

The obstinate buffoonery of what passes as the Republican party in Washington only compounds the matter and obfuscates the fact that Liberals want to kill the bill to get it right not to gut it.

But getting it right means that the Obama administration needs to stop treating Liberals as if they are insignificant and inconsequential. Krugman says Liberals projected their values onto Obama who was an obvious conservative.
There’s a lot of dismay/rage on the left over Obama, a number of cries that he isn’t the man progressives thought they were voting for.

But that says more about the complainers than it does about Obama himself. If you actually paid attention to the substance of what he was saying during the primary, you realized that

(a) There wasn’t a lot of difference among the major Democratic contenders
(b) To the extent that there was a difference, Obama was the least progressive

Actually, my problem is not that I mistook Obama for a Liberal or Progressive but that I believed what he said. And now I know that his rhetoric is as empty as the cost controls in the health care legislation.

Jame Hamsher in writes the ten reasons this bill must be killed;

1. Forces you to pay up to 8% of your income to private insurance corporations - whether you want to or not

2. If you refuse to buy the insurance, you'll have to pay penalties of up to 2% of your annual income to the IRS.

3. Many will be forced to buy poor-quality insurance they can't afford to use, with $11,900 in annual out-of-pocket expenses over and above their annual premiums

4. Massive restriction on a woman's right to choose, designed to trigger a challenge to Roe v. Wade in the Supreme Court

5. Paid for by taxes on the middle class insurance plan you have right now through your employer, causing them to cut back benefits and increase co-pays

6. Many of the taxes to pay for the bill start now, but most Americans won't see any benefits - like an end to discrimination against those with preexisting conditions - until 2014 when the program begins.

7. Allows insurance companies to charge people who are older 300% more than others

8. Grants monopolies to drug companies that will keep generic versions of expensive biotech drugs from ever coming to market.

9. No re-importation of prescription drugs, which would save consumers $100 billion over 10 years

10. The cost of medical care will continue to rise, and insurance premiums for a family of four will rise an average of $1,000 a year - meaning in 10 years, your family's insurance premium will be $10,000 more annually than it is right now.

The link provides documentation of the claims.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Kill the Bill, Start a New Party

Last night I listened to Democracy Now's Amy Goodman interview environmentalist Sunita Nurain in a brilliant conversation that begins to crystallize some things about the Obama administration that are disconcerting.

Both Goodman and Narain grope to understand why Obama, from whom so much was expected, is failing in leadership quality on the order of George W. Bush. Narain describes Obama's improvement in terms that if Bush was a kindergärtner then Obama is no more than a first grader in terms of climate change policy.

Narain's most brilliant prose is in the phrase that the world's problems "are all in small stories". That describes the issues in the United States as well.

As we triangulate Obama policy across other issues we find the same pattern.

Marcy Wheeler at FireDogLake warns us of the dire consequences that will result in the passage of the Lieberman emasculated Health Bill [please follow the link to the entire argument - it is compelling and important]:
I believe that if the Senate health care bill passes as Joe Lieberman has demanded it–with no Medicare buy-in or public option–it will be a significant step further on our road to neo-feudalism. As such, I find it far too dangerous to our democracy to pass–even if it gives millions (perhaps unaffordable) subsidies for health care.

20% of your labor belongs to Aetna

Consider, first of all, this fact. The bill, if it became law, would legally require a portion of Americans to pay more than 20% of the fruits of their labor to a private corporation in exchange for 70% of their health care costs.

Consider a family of 4 making $66,150–a family at 300% of the poverty level and therefore, hypothetically, at least, “subsidized.” That family would be expected to pay $6482.70 (in today’s dollars) for premiums–or $540 a month. But that family could be required to pay $7973 out of pocket for copays and so on. So if that family had a significant–but not catastrophic–medical event, it would be asked to pay its insurer almost 22% of its income to cover health care. Several months ago, I showed why this was a recipe for continued medical bankruptcy (though the numbers have changed somewhat). But here’s another way to think about it. Senate Democrats are requiring middle class families to give the proceeds of over a month of their work to a private corporation–one allowed to make 15% or maybe even 25% profit on the proceeds of their labor.

It’s one thing to require a citizen to pay taxes–to pay into the commons. It’s another thing to require taxpayers to pay a private corporation, and to have up to 25% of that go to paying for luxuries like private jets and gyms for the company CEOs.

It’s the same kind of deal peasants made under feudalism: some proportion of their labor in exchange for protection (in this case, from bankruptcy from health problems, though the bill doesn’t actually require the private corporations to deliver that much protection).In this case, the federal government becomes an appendage to do collections for the corporations.

Mind you, not only will citizens be required to pay private corporations. But middle class citizens may be required to pay more to these private corporations than they pay in federal and state taxes. Using these numbers, this middle class family of four will pay roughly 15% in federal, state, and social security taxes. This family will pay around $10,015 for their share of the commons–paying for defense, roads, some policing, and their social safety net share. That’s 15% of their income. They will, at a minimum, be asked to pay 9.8% of their income to the insurance company. And if they have a significant medical event, they’ll pay 22%–far, far more than they’ll pay into the commons. So it’s bad enough that this bill would require citizens to pay a tithe to a corporation. It’s far worse when you consider that some citizens would pay more in their corporate tithe than they would to the commons.

And, finally, while the Senate bill does not accord these corporate CEOs a droit de seigneur–the right to a woman’s virginity the night of her marriage–if Ben Nelson (and Bart Stupak) get their way, it would make a distinction in this entire compact for how the property of a woman’s womb shall be treated.

Single payer for the benefit of corporations

And for those who promise we’ll go back and fix this later, once we achieve universal health care, understand what will have happened in the meantime. The idea, of course, is to establish some means to get people single payer coverage (before Lieberman, this would have been through a public option or Medicare buy-in) and, over time, expand it.

In fact, this bill will move toward single payer, too–though not the kind we want. For the large number of people who live in a place where there is limited competition, this bill will require them to get health care through the oligopoly or monopoly provider. It’ll work great for the provider: they will be able to dictate rates. But the Senate bill allows these blossoming single payer providers to keep up to 25% of the benefit in profits and marketing costs, and pass little of that benefit onto citizens. If we make private corporations our single payer, how are we going to convince them to cede control when we ask them to let the government be the single payer?

The reason this matters, though, is the power it gives the health care corporations. We can’t ditch Halliburton or Blackwater because they have become the sole primary contractor providing precisely the services they do. And so, like it or not, we’re dependent on them. And if we were to try to exercise oversight over them, we’d ultimately face the reality that we have no leverage over them, so we’d have to accept whatever they chose to provide. This bill gives the health care industry the leverage we’ve already given Halliburton and Blackwater.

Howard Dean's arguments are equally compelling:

And we find the same pattern in education policy where Arne Duncan's Race to the Top is an educational cure that is worse than any disease education may have.

It is time to begin looking for alternatives to this train wreck of a presidency. For Liberals, progressives, and Libertarians the empty Republican party vessel may be worth retrofitting into a party that incorporates the best candidates and ideas of such a coalition to contend in 2010 and 2012 with Presdential, Senatorial and House candidates worth voting for.

It looks as though Schools Matter is making the same case.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Betrayal of a Nation

Obama seems to be using a page from the Bush family playbook. When George W. stole the 2000 election, he governed as though he had won a landslide victory. the only thing that mattered was the exercise of unrestrained power in the single-minded pursuit of a personal, not national, agenda.

An article in Salon magazine by Glenn Greenwald called White House as helpless victim on health-care calls into question whether Obama's administration is just the next all too familiar such runaway political machine.
Of all the posts I wrote this year, the one that produced the most vociferious email backlash -- easily -- was this one from August, which examined substantial evidence showing that, contrary to Obama's occasional public statements in support of a public option, the White House clearly intended from the start that the final health care reform bill would contain no such provision and was actively and privately participating in efforts to shape a final bill without it. From the start, assuaging the health insurance and pharmaceutical industries was a central preoccupation of the White House -- hence the deal negotiated in strict secrecy with Pharma to ban bulk price negotiations and drug reimportation, a blatant violation of both Obama's campaign positions on those issues and his promise to conduct all negotiations out in the open (on C-SPAN). Indeed, Democrats led the way yesterday in killing drug re-importation, which they endlessly claimed to support back when they couldn't pass it. The administration wants not only to prevent industry money from funding an anti-health-care-reform campaign, but also wants to ensure that the Democratic Party -- rather than the GOP -- will continue to be the prime recipient of industry largesse.

As was painfully predictable all along, the final bill will not have any form of public option, nor will it include the wildly popular expansion of Medicare coverage. Obama supporters are eager to depict the White House as nothing more than a helpless victim in all of this -- the President so deeply wanted a more progressive bill but was sadly thwarted in his noble efforts by those inhumane, corrupt Congressional "centrists." Right. The evidence was overwhelming from the start that the White House was not only indifferent, but opposed, to the provisions most important to progressives. The administration is getting the bill which they, more or less, wanted from the start -- the one that is a huge boon to the health insurance and pharmaceutical industry. And kudos to Russ Feingold for saying so:

Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.), among the most vocal supporters of the public option, said it would be unfair to blame Lieberman for its apparent demise. Feingold said that responsibility ultimately rests with President Barack Obama and he could have insisted on a higher standard for the legislation.

"This bill appears to be legislation that the president wanted in the first place, so I don’t think focusing it on Lieberman really hits the truth," said Feingold. "I think they could have been higher. I certainly think a stronger bill would have been better in every respect."

Let's repeat that: "This bill appears to be legislation that the president wanted in the first place." Indeed it does. There are rational, practical reasons why that might be so. If you're interested in preserving and expanding political power, then, all other things being equal, it's better to have the pharmaceutical and health insurance industry on your side than opposed to you. Or perhaps they calculated from the start that this was the best bill they could get. The wisdom of that rationale can be debated, but depicting Obama as the impotent progressive victim here of recalcitrant, corrupt centrists is really too much to bear.

In short, Liberals specifically and Democrats in general are being played for rubes and fools while those who have driven the country into bankruptcy continue to fiddle away in Washington with no regard for the people who worked so hard to elect them.

For educators, this is a clue that the policies coming out of Washington will be sugar-coated with platitudes about "what's good for kids" but are raising eyebrows in the progressive education community [Diane Ravitch, EDWeek, Bridging Differences - Race to Nowhere:].
I don't know about you, but I am getting sick of the rhetoric of the Race to the Top, as it implies the very opposite of "equal educational opportunity." But "equal educational opportunity" is so...yesterday, so now we shall all "race to the top," to see who can get there first. Who can privatize the most schools? Who can close the most public schools? Which district can replace the most public schools with charter schools? Who can compel their teachers to focus intently on those pesky math and reading test scores? Who can boot out the most teachers whose students didn't get higher scores than last year? Who seriously believes that this combination of policies will produce better education?

We try not to be New York City-centric, but so much is happening in this city that it is hard not to see it as a bellwether. After all, NYC not only was a faithful representation of No Child Left Behind, but it is now outfitting itself to be a faithful representation of the Race to the Top. This is not a hard transition because NLCB and the Race to the Top are really the same, except that President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan's "Race" has nearly $5 billion as a lure to persuade states to climb aboard the express train to privatization.

In the past few days, Chancellor Joel Klein has announced that he is closing nearly two dozen public schools. Some of these schools are the anchor in their communities; some have long histories as gateways for immigrant children. In recent years, the Department of Education decided that it does not like large high schools, so it has been closing them down and sending their lowest-performing students to other large high schools, which then have lower scores and more disciplinary incidents. Some of the large high schools were beyond saving, but most could have been improved by a thoughtful plan of action, including smaller classes, better supervision, and the kinds of resources that hedge-fund managers pour into "their" charter schools. Unfortunately the data-driven MBAs at central headquarters know nothing about instruction and curriculum or about any strategies that might improve a school. They have no school-improvement strategy. What they know best is how to shut down schools, and in this they will find funding and encouragement from the Obama administration.

As soon as the central administration decides to close a school, it is a fait accompli. New York City has a rubber-stamp "board" of 13, with a majority appointed by the mayor, serving at his pleasure; it approves every executive decision, with only a single dissenting vote (the heroic Patrick Sullivan, a public school parent). Public hearings are pro forma; no decision is ever reversed. Parents and teachers may protest 'til the cows come home, and they can't change a thing. Their school will be closed, the low-performing students will be dispersed, and either new small schools or charter schools will take over their building. Some of the schools that will close are, funnily enough, small schools that were opened by Bloomberg and Klein only a few years ago.

Does anyone believe that this sorry game of musical chairs will improve education? Does anyone in Washington or at central headquarters grasp the pointlessness of the disruption needlessly inflicted on students, families, teachers, principals, and communities in the name of "reform"? Do these people have no shame?

Shame is for those who have the audacity to feel shamed. Obama seemingly has none.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Virtue of Blogging

I've been a long-time blogger and advocate of blogging at least at the high school level. so it comes as no surprise to me that the virtues of blogging are getting recognized by the scientific community.

In a recent article in Scientific American entitled Blogging -- It's Good for You by Jessica Wapner the therapeutic value of blogging is explored.
Self-medication may be the reason the blogosphere has taken off. Scientists (and writers) have long known about the therapeutic benefits of writing about personal experiences, thoughts and feelings. But besides serving as a stress-coping mechanism, expressive writing produces many physiological benefits. Research shows that it improves memory and sleep, boosts immune cell activity and reduces viral load in AIDS patients, and even speeds healing after surgery. A study in the February issue of the Oncologist reports that cancer patients who engaged in expressive writing just before treatment felt markedly better, mentally and physically, as compared with patients who did not.

Scientists now hope to explore the neurological underpinnings at play, especially considering the explosion of blogs. According to Alice Flaherty, a neuroscientist at Harvard University and Massachusetts General Hospital, the placebo theory of suffering is one window through which to view blogging. As social creatures, humans have a range of pain-related behaviors, such as complaining, which acts as a “placebo for getting satisfied,” Flaherty says. Blogging about stressful experiences might work similarly.

Flaherty, who studies conditions such as hypergraphia (an uncontrollable urge to write) and writer’s block, also looks to disease models to explain the drive behind this mode of communication. For example, people with mania often talk too much. “We believe something in the brain’s limbic system is boosting their desire to communicate,” Flaherty explains. Located mainly in the midbrain, the limbic system controls our drives, whether they are related to food, sex, appetite, or problem solving. “You know that drives are involved [in blogging] because a lot of people do it compulsively,” Flaherty notes. Also, blogging might trigger dopamine release, similar to stimulants like music, running and looking at art.

And recently, the New York Times in an article called M.I.T. Taking Student Blogs to Nth Degree by Tamar Lewin reported that MIT and many other prestigious undergrad and graduate schools are embracing blogging.
Dozens of colleges — including Amherst, Bates, Carleton, Colby, Vassar, Wellesley and Yale — are embracing student blogs on their Web sites, seeing them as a powerful marketing tool for high school students, who these days are less interested in official messages and statistics than in first-hand narratives and direct interaction with current students.

But so far, none of the blogs match the interactivity and creativity of those of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where they are posted prominently on the admissions homepage, along with hundreds of responses from prospective applicants — all unedited.

Not every admissions office has been so ready to welcome uncensored student writing.

“A lot of people in admissions have not been eager for bloggers, mostly based on fears that we can’t control what people are saying,” said Jess Lord, dean of admissions at Haverford College, which posted student bloggers’ accounts of their summer activities this year, and plans to add bloggers this spring to help admitted students hear about campus life. “We’re learning, slowly, that this is how the world works, especially for high school students.”

M.I.T.’s bloggers, who are paid $10 an hour for up to four hours a week, offer thoughts on anything that might interest a prospective student. Some offer advice on the application process and the institute’s intense workload; others write about quirkier topics, like warm apple pie topped with bacon and hot caramel sauce, falling down the stairs or trying to set a world record in the game of Mattress Dominos.

Posting untouched student writing — and comments reacting to that writing — does carry some risks. Boring, sloppily written posts do nothing to burnish an institutional image, college admissions officials say, and there is always the possibility of an inflammatory or wildly negative posting.

The MIT Bloggers page link.

A college blogger site called CollegeBlender aggregates the blogs of college students from around the world.

Friday, December 11, 2009

The Balloon Boy Presidency

I just finished watching President Obama's Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech. I don't know that I've ever witnessed a sadder event that didn't involve human tragedy.

In accepting the prize, Obama compellingly argued that he neither deserved it nor understood it nor felt any obligation to its earthly intention. For the months leading up to his election, we shared Obama's campaign of HOPE and believed his rhetoric to signify a significant political intellect.

In Oslo, Obama's speech could have been delivered by the Orwellian errand boy, George W. Bush. Obama's message justified and romanticized war as our only comforting peace. His references to mankind extended no further than the borders of the United States and his historical context for action was no broader than the experience of an entitled black man empowered through his vicarious associations with actual civil rights activists.

This year's award of the Nobel Peace Prize is a hoax no grander than that of the balloon boy whose family's dream was to live life on a reality show. Obama too wants us to believe that the war he wages affects the television reality where humans observe the world instead of engaging in it. Obama's idea of Peace is getting re-elected and not giving the perception of being weak.

Like the boy who was never in the balloon, Obama was never in the movement that elected him. Tonight the Obama that was hiding in the barn in Kansas arrived like a Jerzy Kosinski character walking into a situation that he had no context for being in. The Peace Prize could have just as well been given to a General or Comedian or a barnyard animal.

His speech was awkward and disturbing. I felt as though I was watching the wrong channel or that maybe a conservative group had invented an anti-YES men and had fooled the audience.

The air of HOPE has leaked out of Obama's balloon. He tells us WAR is PEACE, that insurance companies can tax citizens, and that we are Racing to the Top for education.

This is not the man I voted for and he's not the man the Nobel Peace Prize committee thought he was.

What we are left with is yet another empty suit.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Refining Educational Terror One School District at a Time

About a month ago, I wrote a satiric entry called Why Torture Doesn't Work at Guantanamo but Works in Public Schools.

Today I received a comment to this entry that transcends and legitimizes the assertions of the original post (OP).
The Hillsborough County, Fla., public school district has introduced a ninth-grade "reading" course that actually is an SAT-prep course that grades high school freshmen on their ability to improve on SAT practice tests.

Not only does this strike me as highly unusual, but the grading scheme makes little sense.

Children must score higher on each practice to get an A. If they score high and repeat that but don't improve it, they get a B. No matter how high their score, if the score drops next time around, they get a C.

Thus, my straight-A daughter, who is taking challenging courses and has always scored highest in reading-related subjects, is flirting with a C grade that will affect her grade point average. I am curious as to whether other public school districts are doing something similar.

The theme of this should be familiar. It is the punishment the Greek Gods bestowed upon Tantalus whose name is the origin of the English word tantalize.

The punishment is described in the Homer's Odyssey, Book of the Dead [Robert Fagles translation].
And I saw Tantalus too, bearing endless torture.
He stood erect in a pool as the water lapped -
parched, he tried to drink he tried to drink, but he could not reach the surface.
no, time and again, the old man stooped, craving a sip,
time and again the water vanished, swallowed down,
laying bear the caked black earth at his feet -
some spirit drank it dry. And over his head
leafy trees from high aloft,
pomegranates and pears, and apples glowing red,
succulent figs and olives swelling sleek and dark,
but as soon as the old man would strain to clutch them fast
a gust would toss them up to the lowering black clouds.

And so as educators who know better continue to eternally raise expectations like the fruit above Tantalus' head and remove the access to recess, art, phys.ed. and all the things children crave more than the next test, we need to ask ourselves what we've become and why our educational policy reads like a recipe book for torture written by the gods.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

There Is No Future [God Save the Teen]

Detroit, this nation's urban crisis epicenter, just got it's NAEP test results back. Here's what Marisa Schultz of the Detroit news reports about the test results.

"These numbers are only slightly better than what one would expect by chance as if the kids had never gone to school and simply guessed at the answers," said Michael Casserly, executive director of the Washington-based Council of the Great City Schools, which represents large urban school districts. "These numbers ... are shocking and appalling and should not be allowed to stand."

The test results are so concerning to the welfare of Detroit that Casserly flew to the city to brief the media, along with DPS Emergency Financial Manager Robert Bobb, ahead of their release. Unless the community takes action to fix these urgent academic problems, "this city has no future," he said.

"Only a complete overhaul of this school system and how students are taught should be permitted at this point, because the results ... signal a complete failure of the grown-ups who have been in charge of the schools in the past," Casserly said during an interview with The Detroit News.

The test scores, Bobb said during a press conference Tuesday morning, further demonstrates the district faces an "an academic emergency" and needs an overhaul of its academic plan. And while Bobb indicated the scores were an indication of a systemwide failure, it was clear he placed much of the responsibility at the feet of the Detroit School Board.

These results are no surprise to me nor to anyone who teaches in Michigan. The kids whose answers are so wrong as to defy random guessing are no more ill equipped to handle math than the politicians and bureaucrats whose knowledge of educational reform is equally blissfully wrong. To be surprised is nothing more than an admission of ignorance or malicious indifference.

The test scores are a measure of poverty, despair, and urban decay - nothing education can magically remedy.

The adults will point fingers, spend money, huff and puff about higher standards and accountability and raising expectations - they'll provide all the easy rhetorical excrementation that the public loves to shower in. What they won't do is ask the right questions, examine the science, or actually solve any problems. This is all a well-known and familiar soap-opera that's played out in Connecticut for most of my life.

The so-called reform advocated for schools these days is largely a moronic exercise that raises drop-out rates, reduces teaching to a pet training rigor, and further entrenches public schools in losing and self-immolating education testing strategies.

The Obama administration's Race to the Top is a bigger fraud than Bush's No Child Left Behind disaster largely because it will involve flushing billions of dollars and what remains of the American taxpayer's goodwill toward education away for a pocketful of lint.

The urban crisis has obfuscated the educational needs of this nation thoroughly. We no longer care about learning or educational veracity. We are caught in a vortex of trying to solve the issues of poverty with the wallpaper of testing our children into intellectual submission. And the result is an educational cancer that is dragging the best schools into the gutter while the worst schools are abandoned faster than passengers fleeing the Titanic.

The public school system may never recover from the Obama administration and the country will regret the loss assuming its smart enough to notice.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Your Brain on Jazz

An older article in Science Daily called This Is Your Brain On Jazz: Researchers Use MRI To Study Spontaneity, Creativity caught my attention for a number of reasons.

The article provides a layman's interpretation of how the creative act affects the operation of the brain.
The scientists found that a region of the brain known as the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, a broad portion of the front of the brain that extends to the sides, showed a slowdown in activity during improvisation. This area has been linked to planned actions and self-censoring, such as carefully deciding what words you might say at a job interview. Shutting down this area could lead to lowered inhibitions, Limb suggests.

The researchers also saw increased activity in the medial prefrontal cortex, which sits in the center of the brain’s frontal lobe. This area has been linked with self-expression and activities that convey individuality, such as telling a story about yourself.

“Jazz is often described as being an extremely individualistic art form. You can figure out which jazz musician is playing because one person’s improvisation sounds only like him or her,” says Limb. “What we think is happening is when you’re telling your own musical story, you’re shutting down impulses that might impede the flow of novel ideas.”

Limb notes that this type of brain activity may also be present during other types of improvisational behavior that are integral parts of life for artists and non-artists alike. For example, he notes, people are continually improvising words in conversations and improvising solutions to problems on the spot. “Without this type of creativity, humans wouldn’t have advanced as a species. It’s an integral part of who we are,” Limb says.

He and Braun plan to use similar techniques to see whether the improvisational brain activity they identified matches that in other types of artists, such as poets or visual artists, as well as non-artists asked to improvise.

The study is published in the Feb. 27 issue of the journal Public Library of Science (PLoS) One.

What's interesting here is that the very thing that enables the creative juices to flow are the very thing that we in this society must consciously attempt to suppress.

In school, in job interviews, and in the presence of individuals who interpret everything literally, a creative or intelligent individual must be on guard. These days an over-active imagination gets even elementary schoolchildren in trouble. Pictures of guns in art class, fictional stories about murder, or free-association dialogs can and are misinterpreted these days of sure evidence that the individual who drew, imagined, or exercised the speech is crazy, dangerous, or deranged.

For artists this is nothing new. An artist who turns off inhibitions must be high or psychologically imbalanced. Yet, we are told, this is the essential feature of creativity.

So, whenever I hear about the government or parents, or some degree-certified expert assert that creativity can and should be taught I'm amused. Public schools are dangerous places for teachers and students to be creative.

And even businesses who claim to recruit out-of-the-box employees would fire one on the spot because they don't fit the ever-fearful, careerist, don't-rock-the-boat lemmings.

Creativity is a lonely exercise and best practiced in private unless you're in a niche like jazz that celebrates with appreciation the altered state that art demands. And the gifted student must learn early to hide their gift because it can be misunderstood or snuffed out by institutions that have no use for the one that sticks out or fails standardized memorization tests.

The education industrial complex (EIC) has some tried and true formulas. Household income = superior intelligence = entitlement to superior EIC destination that confers official diplomas of intelligence. It's a closed society and the creative need not apply.

Friday, November 20, 2009

The Breadth of Intelligence - Raw and Cooked

I've previously posted about Nim Chimpsky and his fate. The same issues of intelligence on language-enabled gorillas is once again coming to the forefront.

A Gorilla named Koko adopts a kitten for a pet. This video is extremely moving and raises many questions about intelligence.

On another end of the spectrum, IBM announced significant progress toward creating a computer system that simulates and emulates the brain’s abilities for sensation, perception, action, interaction and cognition, while rivaling the brain’s low power and energy consumption and compact size.
Scientists, at IBM Research - Almaden, in collaboration with colleagues from Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, have performed the first near real-time cortical simulation of the brain that exceeds the scale of a cat cortex and contains 1 billion spiking neurons and 10 trillion individual learning synapses.

Additionally, in collaboration with researchers from Stanford University, IBM scientists have developed an algorithm that exploits the Blue Gene® supercomputing architecture in order to noninvasively measure and map the connections between all cortical and sub-cortical locations within the human brain using magnetic resonance diffusion weighted imaging. Mapping the wiring diagram of the brain is crucial to untangling its vast communication network and understanding how it represents and processes information.

These advancements will provide a unique workbench for exploring the computational dynamics of the brain, and stand to move the team closer to its goal of building a compact, low-power synaptronic chip using nanotechnology and advances in phase change memory and magnetic tunnel junctions. The team’s work stands to break the mold of conventional von Neumann computing, in order to meet the system requirements of the instrumented and interconnected world of tomorrow.

As the amount of digital data that we create continues to grow massively and the world becomes more instrumented and interconnected, there is a need for new kinds of computing systems – imbued with a new intelligence that can spot hard-to-find patterns in vastly varied kinds of data, both digital and sensory; analyze and integrate information real-time in a context-dependent way; and deal with the ambiguity found in complex, real-world environments.

In short, the technological singularity is precisely advancing as predicted by Ray Kurzweil. A computer intelligence is now as smart as a cat.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

School is not an Option

This weekend an unholy trio of Arne Duncan, Newt Gingrich, and Al Sharpton were doing the talk show circuits and were being interviewed on Meet the Press. There Arne Duncan proclaimed, Race to the Top
Unfortunately, what Duncan and his cohorts are promoting is a federal extortion scheme that extends the terror tactics of No Child Left Behind into the Obama administration's growing list of education campaign lies and distortions.

When Duncan refers to 48 states coming together he is lying because this "coming together" is coerced, the rhetotic Orwellian. Later in the broadcast we learn how these 48 states are being held virtual hostages to this triumvirate's misguided mission:
Funding Discussion

Driving this dystopic public education genocide are a perfect storm of malicious and disingenuous forces. This includes technology plutocrats who thinly disguise their education marketeering and consumer conditioning ambitions as philanthropy and their doctored educational studies as factual proof of education gaps and Chicken Little global competitive collapse.

Obama compounds the problem with his urban folk myth that schools are failing, 'bad' teachers are ubiquitous, the yearly ever-higher standards are never high enough, and so on. He ran on this steaming bucket of pseudo-scientific nonsense and has surrounded himself with the political
opportunists who want to capitalize on Obama's myopic hubris.

The Race to the Top is little more than a race to pick the pockets of the taxpayer before anyone asks what the smell is and where the money went.

The formulation of this policy and its administration is brought to us by the same Clinton administration hacks who dismantled welfare with little more than cosmetic changes in tone. The phrase Welfare Queen is now teacher. The destination remains the same. Put them out on the street.

At the service level, the Race to the Top is all about race politics. The demonization of public schools and teachers as the cause of poverty, violence, and ignorance is a popular theme that never gets old with the urban, ultra-conservative, get tough audience.

The Race to the Top continues to entangle and strangle suburban schools in the rhetoric and paradox of a standardized test fueled cottage industry that manufactures achievement gaps between wildly different and unique children. It is a cash cow that keeps on giving (Ask any taxpayer).

The sum of all of this is the continued degradation of educational quality in America. As our taxes are squandered on federal programs that make no sense, have no destination, and tolerate no criticism or opt-out, schools remain toxic and tragic hostages to both Republican and Democratic madmen whose unrelenting shared belligerence is killing this country.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Why Torture Doesn't Work at Guantanamo but Works in Public School

There are a number of analogies that are appearing in debates about the torture of terrorists that have an unsettling and uncanny resemblances to current educational practice myth. The irony is that there is endless hand-wringing about the use of torture techniques against terrorists and little if any when these same techniques are sanitized and repackaged as educational motivators.

In Science magazine, in an article entitled Torture Can't Provide Good Information, Argues NeuroScientist, many of the assertions presented can be easily transformed from terror to education narratives. For example, nueroscientist Shane O'Mera asserts;

...the idea that repeatedly inducing shock, stress, anxiety, disorientation and lack of control is more effective than standard interrogatory techniques in making suspects reveal information. Information retrieved from memory in this way is assumed to be reliable and veridical, as suspects will be motivated to end the interrogation by revealing this information. No supporting data for this model are provided; in fact, the model is utterly unsupported by scientific evidence.

Now, for the most part we don't shock children but everything else that's described is pretty much our national model of teaching to the test. Teachers will be absolutely and ruthlessly evaluated by test scores and students must cough up the answers under stress, anxiety, lack of control, and so on.

Is NCLB wrong! Given that Arne Duncan and his plutocratic supporters are all about teaching science on a globally competitive basis, we have to believe that this interrogation science is wrong. Maybe when we torture terrorists we need to first give them Ritalin like we do with boys in elementary and middle school. If this prescription works for school reformers then surely it will work with terrorist suspects whose fashion sense is still gray pajamas - tops and bottoms!

Science blog goes on to say.
"Given our current cognitive neurobiological knowledge, it is unlikely that coercive interrogations involving extreme stress will facilitate release of truthful information from long term memory," concludes Professor O'Mara. "On the contrary, these techniques cause severe, repeated and prolonged stress, which compromises brain tissue supporting both memory and decision making."

Compromise brain tissue! It's hard to believe the military is falling for such sissy arguments. In education, we all KNOW that raising the bar higher may cause a little stress but the best remedy for that is, well, to raise the bar higher. We're not asking students to memorize facts forever, just pass tests. And forget about decision-making, that's what parents are for. If it's a good enough, common sense recipe for education, why should we spare the standardized testing techniques on terrorists? Absurd.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Board Of Education Campaign Errata

The Ashford Democrats have sent a mailer around that contains a piece of information that is untrue.

Under my credentials the claim is made that I was a"teacher of the year". I never was a teacher of the year nor have I personally made such a claim.

The error is simply a matter of campaign literature that went without a thorough proof-reading. I take full responsibility.

My guess is that in a conversation I said that I "taught high school for one year" was later transcribed that I had been a teacher OF the year.

So, I ask forgiveness of those who may believe this is intentional deceit - certainly I'm not perfect and believing any politician is lying is understandable.

For those who are more understanding of the situation I want to reassure them that I would have loved to be a Teacher of the Year - it's a noble honor and something a lot harder to achieve than running for office and getting elected.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Shamelessly Flogging Public Education

Thomas Friedman's latest op-ed piece called The New Untouchables seems synchronized to reinforce the disinformation being propagated nationwide by Business and Industry Associations across the country.

Friedman's thesis is summarized by someone he quotes;
“Our education failure is the largest contributing factor to the decline of the American worker’s global competitiveness, particularly at the middle and bottom ranges,” argued Martin, a former global executive with PepsiCo and Kraft Europe and now an international investor.

Along the way Friedman intimates that there's some truth in the idea that "our struggling public schools — was actually a critical, but unspoken, reason for the Great Recession."

And if that weren't enough, Friedman claims;
"A Washington lawyer friend recently told me about layoffs at his firm. I asked him who was getting axed. He said it was interesting: lawyers who were used to just showing up and having work handed to them were the first to go because with the bursting of the credit bubble, that flow of work just isn’t there. But those who have the ability to imagine new services, new opportunities and new ways to recruit work were being retained. They are the new untouchables.

That is the key to understanding our full education challenge today. Those who are waiting for this recession to end so someone can again hand them work could have a long wait. Those with the imagination to make themselves untouchables — to invent smarter ways to do old jobs, energy-saving ways to provide new services, new ways to attract old customers or new ways to combine existing technologies — will thrive. Therefore, we not only need a higher percentage of our kids graduating from high school and college — more education — but we need more of them with the right education."

Friedman's intellectual sin is in his editorial hypocrisy and absence of even the effort to present proof for his assertions. In lecturing his readers about the virtues of imagination and critical thinking, and the dangers of just showing up, Friedman exercises no critical examination of the tired and dreary lies about education that are lorem ipsum filler for such knee-jerk and pedestrian "observations".

What this column represents is a false entanglement of many complex and nuanced social issues, all of which are claimed to the causal effect of [American public] education. If he were a student, his paper would fail based on faulty logic. Let's examine his ideas.

First, is education responsible for the "the decline of the American worker’s global competitiveness". Friedman gleefully assumes so. He ignores cheap labor, international job piracy, indiscriminate business practices in foreign labor markets, child, slave, and prison labor, totalitarian working conditions, subsistence living conditions, ecological and social malfeasance, and so on. None of that seems to matter to Friedman.

Friedman's concept of the New Untouchable is a blend of Ayn Rand super-global-person and self-sufficient, perpetually sustaining futurist.

Yet everyone with a brain and an ounce of real world work experience knows that TF's claim that the people "who have the ability to imagine new services, new opportunities and new ways to recruit work were being retained" is wholesale fiction. The people being retained are often refereed to as sheeple - docile, compliant, safe players clinging to safe jobs by their fingernails - the go-along gang.

The finest reflection of what corporation value in workers is already codified and ruthlessly enforced as public school curricula. No Child Left Behind has everything to do with absolute compliance of students, teachers, administrators, and parents. Deviate or perish.

Go to any corporate function where the authority figures ask for questions about policy, goals, or corporate objectives. The only hands raised are to ask the Pollyanna questions.

"Is it okay if we jump higher than you ask?"

Will the cafeteria be open for those of us who work weekends?

It is not the educated, intelligent, or creative who are usually retained - it is the clever, devious, ingrown, and ruthless who do. Confusing one for the other is an disservice to the former and undeserved by the latter.

Friedman's untouchables don't exist except as a romantic, fictional entity who, if they existed, would be first fired, last hired, and marginalized. Not even IBM promotes the concept of "Think" anymore.

And Friedman libels those who are unemployed by characterizing the victims of down-sizing and economic deflation as worthless slackers waiting for work to be handed to them.

Education is not responsible for the shared greed, duplicity, and brazen criminal behavior that saturates the corporate world today. It is just an easy target. like a magician redirecting the attention of the audience, Friedman and his cohorts want America to punish the innocent yet again while the lying thieves make a back-door escape scot-free.

Friday, October 23, 2009

The CBIA's Anti-Education Agenda

Today's Courant carries yet another in the endless litany of Connecticut Business and Industry Association's assault on education practice. No doubt they have a right to their own opinions. Sadly, these opinions are are profoundly ignorant of what education is, can be, and should be.

Today, it was John Rathgeber's turn to lip synch the propaganda that the CBIA has been repeating during good business times, bad business times, while they were irrationally exuberant, after they nearly melted down the entire financial system of global banking, and so on, Whatever ails society is education's responsibility and fault!

Some Rathberger quotes...
Connecticut is at risk of losing its advantage, as other states and countries are more effectively dealing with the demands of a global, knowledge-based economy. If we are to maintain our state's competitiveness and vitality, our education system must measure up.

If we are to keep pace, much of the burden — and opportunity — rests with our schools. We need to train today's students for tomorrow's jobs.

From preschool to high school and to our public universities, Connecticut must demand more for its investment in education by strengthening the curriculum and graduation requirements for all students — making certain they enter the workforce with the professional and technical skills they need.

The achievement gap between our high-performing schools and those that serve predominantly low-income and minority students must be eliminated.

Connecticut must strengthen its education system to anticipate and respond to employers' needs while emphasizing lifelong learning. That means more collaboration, greater coordination, better aligned curriculum and stronger awareness of the expectations of each level of education. It means parents, teachers and communities, businesses and nonprofits, every segment of our society coming together to ensure our progress.

It also means making postsecondary education an expectation for more of our young people, regardless of where they live or their family's income. Only then can we truly ensure today's youth a secure future, no matter which of the yet-to-be-invented jobs they may find themselves doing.

Never does Rathgeber offer a single piece of evidence to substantiate any of his claims. That would require research, an open-mind, and a wholesale turnabout in opinion. In fact it is this lack of veracity in the CBIA and their national counterparts claims that may be the reason that Connecticut and America's businesses are melting down.

It is easy for the CBIA to want to get into the affairs of education but what are their qualifications for doing so? If they are so sure of what businesses need then why not list those qualifications and where the businesses who he claims needs them are so that the tens of millions of us who are searching for work can apply?

The truth is that the bromides the CBIA is advocating are whole cloth fiction.

There is not a shred of credible evidence that CT is falling behind, above, around anyone.

And the fact of the matter is that job titles and responsibilities are changing so fast and furiously that a student entering college with one idea about a job may leave college only to find that job is obsolete for one reason or another.

Schools are not where we should train anyone for jobs, businesses have to hire smart, fungible, confident people to keep up and change with the times.

And the knee-jerk, obligatory "We need higher expectations, standards, blah, blah, blah" AND "we need cheaper, unionized, and disposable teachers who are all "great" teachers" rhetoric has been disproven over and over and over. If Rathgeber read this blog he'd see study after study refuting such claims.

The best thing the CBIA can do for education is to go out of business. It is a prime example of an enterprise that ignores factual data, repeats the same mistakes repeatedly, and doesn't learn.

The late Dr. Gerald Bracey wrote Nine Myths About Public Schools recently. It's worth reading. Here are some highlights that refute Rathgeber's assertions.

4. The United States is losing its competitive edge. China and India ARE Rising. As economies collapsed all around it, China's economy grew a remarkable 7% last year. On just humanitarian grounds, we should not wish China and India to remain poor forever, but the more they grow the more money they have to buy stuff from us. As China and India prosper, we prosper. The World Economic Forum and the Institute for Management Development have consistently ranked the U. S. economy as the most competitive in the world. Education is only one part of multi-factor systems in rankings. WEF is especially keen on innovation. Our obsession with testing makes testing a great instrument for destroying creativity.

5 The U. S. has a shortage of scientists, mathematicians and engineers. This was a myth started oddly enough by the National Science Foundation in the 1980s in a study with assumptions so absurd the study was never published, but the myth lingers on. In fact, Hal Salzman of the Urban Institute and Lindsay Lowell of Georgetown University found that we have three newly minted scientists and engineers who are permanent residents or native citizens for every newly minted job. Within 2 years, 65% of them were no longer in scientific or engineering fields. That proportion might have fallen during the current debacle when people are more likely to hang on to a job even if they hate it. An article in the September 18 Wall Street Journal reported that before the economy collapsed, 30% of the graduates of MIT--MIT--headed directly into finance.

7 The fastest growing jobs are all high-tech and require postsecondary education. "Postsecondary education" is a weasel word. A majority of the fastest growing jobs do, in fact, require some kind of postsecondary training. But, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, they account for very few jobs. It's the Walmarts and Macdonald's of America that generate the jobs. According to the BLS, the job of retail sales accounts for more jobs than the top ten fastest growing jobs combined.

8 Test scores are related to economic competitiveness. We do well on international comparisons of reading, pretty good on one international comparison of math and science, and not so good on another math/science comparison. But these comparisons are based on the countries' average scores and average scores don't mean much. The Organization for Economic Cooperating and Development, the producer of the math science comparison in which we do worst has pointed out that in science the U. S. has 25% of all the highest scoring students in the entire world, at least the world as defined by the 60 countries that participate in the tests. Finland might have the highest scores, but that only gives them 2,000 warm bodies compared to the U. S. figure of 67,000. It's the high scorers who are most likely to become leaders and innovators. Only four nations have a higher proportion of researchers per 1000 fulltime employees, Sweden, Finland, New Zealand and Japan. Only Finland is much above the U. S.

Consider Japan, the economic juggernaut of the 1980's. It kids score well on tests and people made a causal link between scores and Japan's economy. But Japan's economy has been in the doldrums for almost a whole generation. Its kids still ace tests.

9 Education itself produces jobs. President Obama and Secretary of Education Duncan have both linked any economic recovery to school improvement. This is nonsense. There are parts of India where thousands of educated people compete for a single relatively low-level white-collar job. Some of you might recall that in the 1970's many sociologists and commentators worried that America was becoming TOO educated, that they would be bored by the work available.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009


I got the following email from Nicole Waicunus and it's worth sharing:

Caitie Parmelee is a senior this year and she is working with Gabriel bol-Deng, from Ariang, Sudan. One of the “Lost Boys,” Gabriel has returned to his village, Ariang, and has decided to dedicate his life to helping his friends and family. He is in the process of building a school for the children of Ariang and he has finished his documentary, “Rebuilding Hope.” The premiere of this film will take place here, at E.O. Smith on Friday, November 6th at 6:30pm. Many of the seniors are helping Caitie to make this event a success for Gabriel. We hope that you will join us in celebrating the progress that has been made and the promise of the finished school and education for the children of Ariang.


Helping Offer Primary Education for Sudan

You are invited to the Premiere of

Friday, November 6, 2009 E. O. Smith Atrium/ Auditorium 6:30 - 10: 00 p.m. Tickets: $5

Friday, October 16, 2009

Kristof, Democrats, and Schools

New York Times op-ed columnist Nicholas D. Kristof wrote an opinion piece called, Democrats and Schools in which largely blames Teachers, union protection, and specifically 'bad' teachers for the real and imagined woes of public education.

And Education Secretary Duncan and President Obama are using teachers and teacher unions as their version of welfare queens. By ripping a page out of the Clinton playbook that reformed welfare in the nineties, Obama hopes to break the back of teacher's unions after Bush failed. Kristof opines:
Good schools constitute a far more potent weapon against poverty than welfare, food stamps or housing subsidies. Yet, cowed by teachers’ unions, Democrats have too often resisted reform and stood by as generations of disadvantaged children have been cemented into an underclass by third-rate schools.

President Obama and his education secretary, Arne Duncan, are trying to change that — and one test for the Democrats will be whether they embrace administration reforms that teachers’ unions are already sniping at.

It’s difficult to improve failing schools when you can’t create alternatives such as charter schools and can’t remove inept or abusive teachers. In New York City, for example, unions ordinarily prevent teachers from being dismissed for incompetence — so the schools must pay failed teachers their full salaries to sit year after year doing nothing in centers called “rubber rooms.”

But Kristof fails to do the homework required to understand the problems in education. In fact he makes assertions that are wholly false in his arguments to indict teachers as a primary culprit for so-called failing schools.

Kristof claims,
A devastating article in The New Yorker by Steven Brill examined how New York City tried to dismiss a fifth-grade teacher for failing to correct student work, follow the curriculum, manage the class or even fill out report cards.

The "devastaing article" makes the claim that,
Test scores and graduation rates have improved since Bloomberg and Klein took over, but when the law giving the mayor control expired, on July 1st, some Democrats in the State Senate balked at renewing it, complaining that it gave the mayor “dictatorial” power, as Bill Perkins, a state senator from Manhattan, put it. Nevertheless, by August the senators had relented and voted to renew mayoral control.

On the same day of Kriftof's op-ed piece, the New York Times in a piece called, U.S. Math Tests Find Scant Gains Across New York by Jennifer Medina fond the article's assertion to be fiction.
“What this amounts to is a fraud,” said Diane Ravitch, an education historian who has been one of the most vocal critics of both the state exams and Mr. Klein. “This is a documentation of persistent dumbing down by the State Education Department and lying to the public.”

Ravitch is responding to the disparity between bloomberg and Klein's assertions that plutocratic, dictatorial powers over education have raised student competencies in reading and math.

The second assertion Kristof makes is based on yet another dubious claim. Kristof:
Research has underscored that what matters most in education — more than class size or spending or anything — is access to good teachers. A study found that if black students had four straight years of teachers from the top 25 percent of most effective teachers, the black-white testing gap would vanish in four years.

The study he refers to is Identifying Effective Teachers Using Performance on the Job by the Hamilton Foundation.

So let's take a look at what it says.

1.) Teacher certification is irrelevant>
To put it simply, teachers vary considerably in the extent to which they promote student learning, but whether a teacher is certified or not is largely irrelevant to predicting his or her effectiveness.

2.) If we suspend reality and speculatively project the idea that minority students studying under the very best teachers for four continuous years will close the achievement gap measured by high-stakes, high-stress testing methodologies.
While certification status was not very helpful in predicting teacher impacts on student performance, teachers’ rankings during their first two years of teaching does provide a lot of information about their likely impact during their third year. The average student assigned to a teacher who was in the bottom quartile during his or her first two years lost on average 5 percentile points relative to students with similar baseline scores and demographics. In contrast, the average student assigned to a top-quartile teacher gained 5 percentile points relative to students with similar baseline scores and demographics. Therefore, the average difference between being assigned a top-quartile or a bottom-quartile teacher is 10 percentile points.

Moving up (or down) 10 percentile points in one year is a massive impact. For some perspective, the black-white achievement gap nationally is roughly 34 percentile points. Therefore, if the effects were to accumulate, having a top-quartile teacher rather than a bottom-quartile
teacher four years in a row would be enough to close the black-white test score gap.

Kristof never bothers to think about what the study implies and that is that if we can identify the very best teachers in the country, force them to teach in the most challenging schools in the country for four consecutive years AND subject the rest of the country's schools to less than the best teachers that we, AS A COUNTRY, would finally close the "education gap".

I would like somebody to explain why this is remotely possible, desirable, or a worthwhile pursuit. It should be noted that the Hamilton Project pretty much is the same -cough- think-tank that created the Clinton welfare reform program in the nineties and is a thinly veiled neo-con social policy venue.

Monday, October 12, 2009

School Under Siege For Singing Obama Song

The New York Post is reporting that a class of students who were visited by an Obama biographer and who sang an Obama song with him are at the center of yet another Tea-bag manufactured crisis.

From Protester sights on song kids by Associated Press:
Conservative groups plan to rally tomorrow [October 11, 2009]near a New Jersey school where students performed a song celebrating President Barack Obama.

The planned rally has school district officials planning to beef up security at the B. Bernice Young School in Burlington Township, which houses kindergartners through second-graders.

The song drew national attention last month after a video of the performance was posted on YouTube. Conservatives say it shows how schoolchildren are being indoctrinated to idolize Obama, allegations school officials have denied.


Citing concerns for the safety of students and staff, Superintendent Christopher Manno has asked organizers to reconsider the protest because classes will be held that day. Manno said protesters will not be allowed on school property and additional district staffers will be on hand.
Here's the video:

Ooooooooooooooo... scary!

Friday, October 09, 2009

"At some point, people in positions of power need to protect the public"

The video that surfaced recently of a school policeman assaulting a learning disabled teenager because his shirt wasn't tucked in has cost the officer his job. And for most observers that's the end of the story.

But that set of events exposes the dysfunction of the school system in general. Starting during the Reagan administration, educational reform consisted in the escalation of war rhetoric as a remedy of what was wrong with schools. With the fall of the iron curtain and the retirement of military personnel looking to dip into the public coffers yet again, school reform encouraged the introduction of police and military into the administration of schools - usually urban schools.

And so, the segregated school experiment was allowed to continue with a new and revitalized passion; urban schools could be regimented in such a way as to pacify the unruly masses attending those institutions with boot camp discipline, metal detectors, drug sniffing dogs, educational black-ops, and so on. You can never be too tough.

And just as the night follows the day, what America succeeded in creating was an ever more violent school environment. Tough became the petri dish for tougher and that self-fulfilling stupid loop continues unabated today.

But after 911, tough went exponential. The country became more forgiving of violence from law-enforcement to the extent that cover-ups for law-enforcers committing crimes are standard practice.

In Chicago, the intersection of rogue policeman being used in the most delicate institution played out.

You see, the policeman who assaulted the student had a history of violence. that violence s documented in this follow-up Chicago Tribune story; Dolton cop in beating case has troubling history.
A Dolton cop caught on camera allegedly breaking a 15-year-old special needs student's nose for failing to tuck in his shirt has a troubling history that includes killing a man in a case of disputed self-defense.

The officer is now in an Indiana jail on an unrelated rape charge.
The video in that link shows multiple school teachers or administrators who seem to accept such treatment of students akin to waiting for apiece of toast to pop. No one asks what is going on. No one calls 911. No one seems to care if the kid lives or dies.

None of this is surprising. There is no way for schools to know the quality of police officers being assigned to schools. The practice of police cover-up is so pervasive and accepted that in this case an officer with a profoundly violent incident in his past (shooting a man 24 times) and a rape allegation just weeks ago is allowed to treat a dress code violation as if the teen were an armed robber.

Yes, at some point people in positions of power need to protect the public. Who will watch the watchers and how do we keep sociopaths with badges under control?

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Why Art Matters

The New York Times has published a very interesting article called, How Nonsense Sharpens the Intellect by Benedict Carey.

The article discusses scientific speculation that people exposed to disruptive information are capable of recognizing a broader range of patterns when problem-solving. The author uses the term nonsense to describe disruptive information and then uses many examples of art to illustrate the theory.

As far as I can tell, the use of the term nonsense is, well, nonsense. It seems to me that this theory is reinforcing the idea that exposure to art broadens the mind in ways that schools and the public care little about (probably because you can't test it ad nausea).
In the most recent paper, published last month, Dr. Proulx and Dr. Heine described having 20 college students read an absurd short story based on “The Country Doctor,” by Franz Kafka. The doctor of the title has to make a house call on a boy with a terrible toothache. He makes the journey and finds that the boy has no teeth at all. The horses who have pulled his carriage begin to act up; the boy’s family becomes annoyed; then the doctor discovers the boy has teeth after all. And so on. The story is urgent, vivid and nonsensical — Kafkaesque.

After the story, the students studied a series of 45 strings of 6 to 9 letters, like “X, M, X, R, T, V.” They later took a test on the letter strings, choosing those they thought they had seen before from a list of 60 such strings. In fact the letters were related, in a very subtle way, with some more likely to appear before or after others.

The test is a standard measure of what researchers call implicit learning: knowledge gained without awareness. The students had no idea what patterns their brain was sensing or how well they were performing.

But perform they did. They chose about 30 percent more of the letter strings, and were almost twice as accurate in their choices, than a comparison group of 20 students who had read a different short story, a coherent one.

“The fact that the group who read the absurd story identified more letter strings suggests that they were more motivated to look for patterns than the others,” Dr. Heine said. “And the fact that they were more accurate means, we think, that they’re forming new patterns they wouldn’t be able to form otherwise.”

Brain-imaging studies of people evaluating anomalies, or working out unsettling dilemmas, show that activity in an area called the anterior cingulate cortex spikes significantly. The more activation is recorded, the greater the motivation or ability to seek and correct errors in the real world, a recent study suggests. “The idea that we may be able to increase that motivation,” said Dr. Inzlicht, a co-author, “is very much worth investigating.”

Researchers familiar with the new work say it would be premature to incorporate film shorts by David Lynch, say, or compositions by John Cage into school curriculums. For one thing, no one knows whether exposure to the absurd can help people with explicit learning, like memorizing French. For another, studies have found that people in the grip of the uncanny tend to see patterns where none exist — becoming more prone to conspiracy theories, for example. The urge for order satisfies itself, it seems, regardless of the quality of the evidence.

Still, the new research supports what many experimental artists, habitual travelers and other novel seekers have always insisted: at least some of the time, disorientation begets creative thinking.
The author's conclusions are an intellectual cop-out. A broader teaching of art is neither premature nor radical nor is it a touchy-feely appeasement.

The study of art and the participation in art exercises broadens the mind in significant and important ways and experiments like those described in this argument are beginning to quantify and formalize just how.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Unknown American Heroes: Rep. Alan Grayson

This is the first of a new series of posts that celebrate critical thinkers with chutzpah. We need more of these people. make sure he gets your support.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Global Competitiveness Narrative

Just a few days ago, the Obama administration advocated more time in school as a remedy for public school's mythical failure to create a globally competitive workforce.

Libby Quaid reports in More school: Obama would curtail summer vacation
Obama and Duncan say kids in the United States need more school because kids in other nations have more school.

"Young people in other countries are going to school 25, 30 percent longer than our students here," Duncan told the AP. "I want to just level the playing field."

While it is true that kids in many other countries have more school days, it's not true they all spend more time in school.

Kids in the U.S. spend more hours in school (1,146 instructional hours per year) than do kids in the Asian countries that persistently outscore the U.S. on math and science tests — Singapore (903), Taiwan (1,050), Japan (1,005) and Hong Kong (1,013). That is despite the fact that Taiwan, Japan and Hong Kong have longer school years (190 to 201 days) than does the U.S. (180 days).

As a Democrat, I'm ashamed that Duncan is leading this charge. The article goes on to perpetrate even more misinformation and false claims including the assertion that studies show more time is effective.

In contrast, Larry Cuban in an article entitled The Perennial Reform: Fixing School Time appearing in Phi Delta Kappa International exposes the truer problem:
If the evidence suggests that, at best, a longer school year or day or restructured schedules do not seem to make the key difference in student achievement, then I need to ask: What problem are reformers trying to solve by adding more school time?

The short answer is that for the past quarter century -- A Nation at Risk (1983) is a suitable marker -- policy elites have redefined a national economic problem into an educational problem. Since the late 1970s, influential civic, business, and media leaders have sold Americans the story that lousy schools are the reason why inflation surged, unemployment remained high, incomes seldom rose, and cheaper and better foreign products flooded U.S. stores. Public schools have failed to produce a strong, post-industrial labor force, thus leading to a weaker, less competitive U.S. economy. U.S. policy elites have used lagging scores on international tests as telling evidence that schools graduate less knowledgeable, less skilled high school graduates -- especially those from minority and poor schools who will be heavily represented in the mid-21st century workforce -- than competitor nations with lower-paid workforces who produce high-quality products.

Microsoft founder Bill Gates made the same point about U.S. high schools.

In district after district across the country, wealthy white kids are taught Algebra II, while low-income minority kids are taught how to balance a checkbook. This is an economic disaster. In the international competition to have the best supply of workers who can communicate clearly, analyze information, and solve complex problems, the United States is falling behind. We have one of the highest high school dropout rates in the industrialized world.15

And here, in a nutshell, is the second reason why those highly touted reforms aimed at lengthening the school year and instructional day have disappointed policy makers. By blaming schools, contemporary civic and business elites have reduced the multiple goals Americans expect of their public schools to a single one: prepare youths to work in a globally competitive economy. This has been a mistake because Americans historically have expected more from their public schools. Let me explore the geography of this error.

For nearly three decades, influential groups have called for higher academic standards, accountability for student outcomes, more homework, more testing, and, of course, more time in school. Many of their recommendations have been adopted. By 2008, U.S. schools had a federally driven system of state-designed standards anchored in increased testing, results-driven accountability, and demands for students to spend more time in school. After all, reformers reasoned, the students of foreign competitors were attending school more days in the year and longer hours each day, even on weekends, and their test scores ranked them higher than the U.S.

Even though this simplistic causal reasoning has been questioned many times by researchers who examined education and work performance in Japan, Korea, Singapore, Germany, and other nations, "common sense" observations by powerful elites swept away such questions. So the U.S.'s declining global economic competitiveness had been spun into a time-in-school problem.

But convincing evidence drawn from research that more time in school would lead to a stronger economy, less inequalities in family income, and that elusive edge in global competitiveness -- much less a higher rank in international tests -- remains missing in action.

The Obama Department of Education is a prime example of a road to hell paved with good intentions.

What some studies have shown is that poor, urban minority students who don't have access to summer learning activities that follow through on the inertia of school learning during the existing school year fall behind academically. And anecdotal evidence would suggest that the intensity of being poor in unsafe, anti-intellectual situations is more compelling a life experience than, say, reading a book.

To misinterpret this finding with a multi-million dollar initiative to increase already stressed education resources and budgets is madness.

Obama's propensity to accept without question the No Child Left Behind legislation, the reactionary bromides of urban pseudo-educators who insist on draconian more-harder-higher-louder solutions, and the continued intellectually-suicidal dependency on high-stress, high stakes testing is a political sin and an embarassment to Democrats who expected "change".

Obama has lost my confidence in education policy.

Monday, September 28, 2009

The Totalitarian Impulse

The massive and, IMO, unethical exercise of force without provocation against University of Pittsburgh students is an indictment of the worthlessness of our mythological Constitutional rights.

The following video is inexplicable:

A student is "arrested" by thirty to forty fully armored, militia and forced to pose on her knees for a trophy photograph as if these ever-vigilant soldiers had captured Osama Bin Laden.

It is pointless to complain about such behavior. The militia is immune from criticism or accountability. The silliness of the slaps on the wrist reprimands only embolden these thugs to push the envelope further the next time.

The G20 militia exercises need to be understood for what they are and that is training exercises that use unwilling college students as crash-test dummies for the latest technological advances in civilian warfare. Like so many of our military campaigns, this is child's play.

Demonize an urban civilian population as anarchists and socialists and then practice your best baseball swings on their bodies. Enjoy it. Take pictures as if they were illiterate teenagers in countries too poor not to be considered terrorist states. It's a reality show for the sado-masochism that has become our modus operandi.

There is no excuse for any American city to become a theater of war. There is something sociopathically wrong with a government response that cannot distinguish between civilian protest of an event and urban warfare. There are plenty of techniques for crowd control that don't result in confrontation and state-sponsored police brutality.

The overwhelming show of force tactic is an act of war not social management. To apply Colin Powell's shock and awe military intimidation schemes into the hearts and minds of American citizens is an exercise in creating further distrust of government.

And this government has already drifted far and wide of what used to be a democracy that ensured the Constitutional rights of citizens to exercise those rights.

The question of what happened to America is more than an academic musing. Restore this country or stop lying to our children that there's something left of it worth being proud of.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Two University of Pittsburgh Students Spank Sean Hannity

Talk show blithering idiots: dime a dozen

Hate speech: ubiquitous

Intelligent beat down: priceless

Science is Real

They Might Be Giants, a rock band who's been around for a long time are releasing a new set of children's songs that clarify the differences between science and belief systems.

This is the best thing I've heard in years and I hope parent groups embrace this as part of heir children's collection of music.

Monday, September 21, 2009

What's So Funny About Peace, Love, and Education?

Paul Freundlich and I are long suffering fellow Knick fans as well as observers of the education process in America. Paul has contributed work in this space before.

He has just re-released a film called Questions Not Answers on YouTube. He introduces the work:
If you have some time and want a real blast from the past, I've posted my 1969 film, "Questions Instead of Answers," on YouTube. It tells the story of an extraordinary black education program developed by the folks who launched Upward Bound in the '60s - a team of black educators who realized that African American youth had been badly prepared for the educational opportunities that were opening. In the process they rewrote the curriculum and redefined the relationship between teachers and students in a program that changed the lives of thousands of students attending thirteen, mostly southern black colleges.

It has been a matter of both amazement and sadness that the brilliant methodology they developed didn't rewrite public and private education in this country - not only for people of color, as the fully realized program applies to anyone with a spark of curiosity. And it's not that the program was a secret. The Institute for Services to Education,was funded by the US Department of Education, Ford and Carnegie. Elias Blake, who was President of ISE, went on to be President of Clark College, then headed a national task force out of Howard University.

The film was originally over an hour and is now in seven sections, each 8-10 minutes long.

I just finished watching it and found it to illuminate the seeds of an alternative educational universe that was snuffed out by a society that made a wrong turn and have continued a descent into educational malfeasance.

Paul and I and a few others aren't done yet. Part of saving education is not the dysfunctional "reform" that's marketed today but a return to sanity - that every child is unique and has a right to be without being judged by their deviation from the norm. In a society dumbed down by test-taking idiots, we need critical thinkers, geniuses, rebels, and malcontents.

Paul's film reminds us how to get there.