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.

Unknown Artist: Tim Minchin

Slightly blue, but good for you:

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Bagging the American Dream

As I examine the shouting match of Tea-Bagger arguments, complaints, and assertions across he internet and Twitter, it occurs to me that America has unwittingly perfected the teaching of ignorance more effectively than the teaching of knowledge.

It is frightening that large populations of the American public are so willingly persuaded by the political and religious carnival barkers whose only lectern is a talk show on radio or television. If we are to believe that nationalized test scores reflect the skills of American children to read and write (and I don't) then we would have to admit that Sesame Street and children's programming was wholesale failure when it comes to helping children with the three 'R's.

A letter responding to an opinion piece in the New York Times written by Timothy Egan called Working Class Zero caught my attention. Mary Romeo responded to Timothy's confusion as to why so many Americans advocate things that adversely affect them.
Neither of my parents graduated from high school. My father went to work at 12 to support help support his mothers and sisters after his father died — he worked on a milk truck and sold chewing gum at the subway stations in East Harlem — and, during the depression, my teenage mother was for a short time the sole support of her parents and three younger siblings. All four of my grandparents had been immigrants, and all four died before age 60.

In the nineteen fifties, my uncles became union members. My mother, an office worker, benefited from ILGWU contracts at the department store at which she was employed. All had good hourly wages, benefits and retirement pensions and, as a result, my sister, cousins and I grew up in decent surroundings and attended college, and our parents had comfortable, if not affluent retirements. I have graduate and professional degrees from an ivy league college. We all became middle class.

Despite their lack of education, my parents and their siblings never engaged in the ignorant, delusional and hate-filled behavior that I have witnessed among right-wing working class protestors over the past few months. They were not civil rights activists — theirs was the wrong generation for that — but they were not racists, either. African-Americans worked side by side with them in the transit, sanitation, police, carpenters, longshoremen’s and other unions, and my family respected that work and those fellow Americans by whom it was performed. Nor were my parents, aunts and uncles deluded as to their best interests. They also knew, as my mother often told me, that “The Republicans were for the rich people; we’re poor, and we vote Democrat.” They knew those who were on their side, and those who were not.

I have witnessed the ecnomic decline of people like my parents with horror and dismay. Even more troubling has been the descent of such working Americans into an ignorance that my parents never knew — a decline abetted and encouraged by the Republican Party. There appear to be no progressive organizations in our era that can harness the anger and despair of the working class so as to help rather than harm these good people. Instead, we have crazy talk show hosts, corrupt politician, and the cynical corporate interests that finance them.

Were it not for unions and other progressive movements, my parents’ generation would have never climbed out of the numbing poverty that killed my grandparents, and my own generation would not be enjoying those middle-class benefits that we now have. Who will rescue the working-class this time around? President Obama is trying, but the forces of reaction and greed bar his way, and there is no organizational structure — no working class movement — to help the poor save themselves.

It is a heart-breaking, frustrating situation. Last Saturday, I watched working-class America march itself into perdition.

— Mary Romeo
My parents too never graduated high school. My mother an atheist with only an elementary school education. My father a Catholic who as a teen joined the Marines to fight in WWII and worked in a factory all his life. Yet no one in my family was ever brain-washed into believing the kinds of nonsensical fictions that pass for facts that can be debated.

It is as if a psychiatric ward of severely brain damaged individuals were set loose upon society and we are too polite to suggest treatment. And not only do we fail to treat them, we invite them into our town halls so that they can guide our civics!

The media has become a powerful teaching tool for this population. What's troubling is why the same medium is so ineffective with teaching kids reading, math, and critical thinking skills.

A Rachel Maddow interview with Frank Schaeffer offers some clues;

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Civil Majority Speaks

Last night I attended the Ashford Democratic Town Committee meeting. I'm an active member and I'm running again for the Region 19 Board of Education so there are always details about getting elected that need to be understood.

But at tonight's meeting I had asked if anyone was interested in drafting a letter of support for the public option. I had passed along a liberal critique [smirking chimp article] of Obama's political progress - a scathing commentary.

At our meeting, James Boster authored a letter that the committee by an overwhelming majority voted to send Rep. Joe Courtney, Christopher Dodd, Joe Lieberman, Nancy Pelosi, and others.

It is an letter of unequivocal support for Joe Courtney's work on health insurance reform and the inclusion of a public option in any bill to be considered.

I am both proud and humbled to be living in a community where the thinly veiled hate speech of a loud and intimidating minority is answered by an unwavering commitment by dedicated, tax-paying citizens to ensuring that Washington hears the convictions of a civil majority.

It is about time for all people of like-minded devotion to solving the health care reform crisis to speak out civilly and without compromise - pass comprehensive healthcare legislation with a public option that ensures cost containment and quality assurances.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Algebra of Health Care

Obama's wish list for Health Care governance was an exercise in good algebra and, quite frankly, a relief.

THIS IS WHAT I VOTED FOR.

Like the vast majority of Americans, I want health care to provide a universal safety net of care for every citizen. Schools cannot remedy children's poor health care or no health care care at all. Obama's plan as outlined will remove one of the key poverty related handicaps many students face. And that's a key to reducing family stress and personal insecurity in so many lives.

But something that critics fail to realize is that for such a plan to work, we cannot afford to cherry pick elements that are politically popular and dispose of the rest. Obama's plan recognizes the importance of algebraic planning.

Preventative medicine can balance the cost of reactionary and remedial treatment. That saves money.

Regulating insurance to eliminate health care caps and refusing service due to existing conditions yields a surprising by-product. That is that malpractice lawsuit awards will be reduced in scope because the victim of unanticipated circumstances will not need to worry about proper life-long care to the degree that they do today. The regulation will help balance the drivers of expensive settlements.

And critics (including MSM pundits whose shows are financed by drug companies) have been trashing the public option of a government insurance plan as a leftist concoction. This back-handed slander of the political left thinly veils the agenda in play.

The public option is first and foremost a government program. But so is the post office and FedEx makes a tidy profit nonetheless.

But aside from the non-profit nature of the exercise, there is gold in the details. The public option will for the first time establish a baseline set of standards for consumer protections. And that is key. This will eliminate the fine print gotchas that so dictates our current frustrations with health care. That alone eliminates needless bureaucracy and delayed payments as well as reduces the care-givers paperwork.

The whole is better than the parts as far as I can tell. Thinking parents will support this with enthusiasm. Healthier kids and peers mean fewer headaches for parents and fewer head-cases in schools.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Jim Greer in a Nutshell

I spent a little time researching Florida GOP chairman, Jim Greer's complains and background. What I found is something that is quite different from the controversy that is being played out in the Main Stream Media. That is, the media has fallen for the bait - a series of absurd and unsubstantiated allegations about President Obama's address to school-children on Tuesday.

By taking Greer's charges at face value, the national media has been duplicitous in aiding and abetting in a GOP campaign to push the buttons of the most fragile sociopaths in America. Some of these people are parents as well as myopic paranoids. By the time the "controversy" has been identified as a lesson plan line item contributed by a teacher to the Department of Education as a suggested classroom topic, the broader lynch mob had saddled up and were in full gallop.

A Marc Murphy editorial cartoon perfectly captured the debate:

I'm with Stupid cartoon

It is Barack Obama's turn to offer America's schoolchildren a Horatio Alger meme to live by.

So, it came as a shock to the Obama administration that they would be attacked on this front given the severity of the wars, healthcare reform, and the economy. In fact it came as a low blow primarily because it was an attempt to pre-empt Obama altogether as if he were not the President and as if he were a messenger rather than an author. And it came as a low blow because Obama's education policy is a rehash and escalation of the same old Bush policies that have produced a thirty percent dropout rate from American high schools.

A clue to the mystery of this sneak attack reveals that it was politically pre-meditated and wholly disingenuous. An anonymous poster to a Florida newspaper covering this story discovered a subtle political plagarism:
Anonymous said:
Two quotes complaining about the President giving the speech to schoolchildren: "The Department of Education should not be producing paid political advertising for the president, it should be helping us to produce smarter students," . . .."And the president should be doing more about education than saying, 'Lights, camera, action.'" And a second quotation, referring to the speech to school children as: "the arrogance of power," and that the White House should not be "using precious dollars for campaigns" when "we are struggling for every silly dime we can get" for education. The first quote is atributable to Rep. Richard Gephardt, then the Democratic majority leader in the House of Representatives. The second is from Patricia Schroeder, then a Democratic member of Congress from Colorado. Both were made as part of a Democratic complaint against President George HW Bush speaking to schoolchildren in 1991. How positively hypocritical huh? Funny and humorous to say the least.
posted on: 9/5/2009 8:27:36 PM

The problem is that Greer never acknowledges that he's throwing the words of Gephardt and Schroeder into the faces of an unsuspecting media, nation, and political base. In a single act of political bloodsport, Greer makes a fool of the media by brazenly manipulating and humiliating the commentators like Anderson Cooper, Chris Matthews, and even Fox News.

And how must the Republican base feel as he uses them as unwitting rubes repeating Democratic objections to a Republican presentation over a decade ago? Nor does Greer ever demonstrate the intellectual capacity to have authored this language. This was scripted with outside assistance.

In other words, the Obama administration was sucker punched with the unwitting aid of a MSM that craves these petty political food fights. And American schoolchildren are dragged into it as window-dressing and sympathetic "victims".

You might be wondering why Gephardt and Schroeder objected to Bush's speech. The Palm Beach Post blog documents Reagan and Bush's act:
By all accounts nobody called Bush a socialist or organized a boycott, and The Associated Press’s coverage of the speech appeared to be a neutral description of what the president had said, according to a Nexis search.

On the other hand, a story the next day in The Washington Post dwelt on the theme that the speech had been arranged in such a way to make the president look good:

The White House turned a Northwest Washington junior high classroom into a television studio and its students into props yesterday as President Bush delivered a live television address to America’s schoolchildren, the latest administration effort to demonstrate the president’s interest in domestic issues.

The administration had even more control over the highly telegenic speech — carried live from Alice Deal Junior High School by Public Broadcasting Service and Cable News Network — than it does over most presidential events.

Unlike most presidential addresses, such as last Friday’s arms control speech from the Oval Office, yesterday’s was handled not by the television networks but by a private firm paid by the U.S. Department of Education, administration officials said. The White House selected the camera angles and decided which pictures would be sent out, officials said.

The students in Cynthia Mostoller’s eighth-grade American history class said they were advised to wear soft-soled shoes so they did not make too much noise. They were told to pay attention to the president as he perched on a stool in front of Room 112’s blackboard, not the teleprompters in the back of the room from which he read his text.


Greer is a piece of work. But the story doesn't end there.

Greer himself has addressed school children and he did so mercilessly. Scott Maxwell of the Orlando Sentinel gives us a whiff of Greer's own educational screeds:
There once was a political operative who loved to tell crowds he had a simple way of explaining to children the difference between Republicans and Democrats.

"Republicans get up and go to work," he would tell his son. "Democrats get up and go down to the mailbox to get their checks."

This man not only talked to his son about Republican values, he went into public-school classrooms and talked about them as well.

That man is Jim Greer — the same Jim Greer who, as chairman of the Republican Party of Florida, just threw a nationwide hissy fit, claiming that the classroom is no place for politics and Barack Obama's "indoctrination."

One Seminole County mother, Barbara Wells, remembers the day Greer spoke to her son's sixth-grade class. "My son said he made some sort of Hillary Clinton joke," she recalled.

But you know what? Wells didn't pitch a fit.

She didn't call up the local TV station to scream about Republican indoctrination.

Instead, she advised her son: "Whatever you are told in life, remember there are two sides to every story."

In fact, Wells didn't even think much about Greer's foray into her son's classroom until she saw him on TV complaining about Obama.

There's no longer any question: Greer is a hypocrite.

What remains to be seen, however, is whether mainstream Republicans in Florida will allow him to drag them deeper into the divisive and irrational fringes of their party.

Mainstream conservatives, after all, are being left behind.

While they want to talk about real issues, like out-of-control spending, they are forced to watch their state "leader" make a buffoon out of himself in the national spotlight. This just two weeks after a former House speaker was allowed to rack up $170,000 in GOP credit-card bills on Greer's watch.

This country needs a healthy two-party system with smart debate.

But there's nothing healthy or smart about Greer's claim that the president's pep talk about succeeding in school was really an attempt to "indoctrinate America's children to his socialist agenda."

Presidents have been talking to schoolchildren ever since we've had schools.

Now, what about that GOP credit card debt? The debt that Greer likes to dismiss as no big deal - that debt. Let's just call it junket debt.

Well, that debt may have to do with GOP presidential campaign spending habits. In an article in the Miami Herald's NakedPolitics called, No room on the Palin plane, Greer charters his own, we get some insight into Greer's relationship with the Palin -cough- team.
Determined not to be left out of the party, RPOF Chairman Jim Greer flew a chartered plane to Sarah Palin's events in Clearwater and Southwest Florida today.
You see, Greer first realized that the Katie Couric interviews were political poison.
Greer told the NYT that: “I think the Katie Couric interview shows that she needs to be briefed more on certain aspects. She continues to be viewed very positively by the base of the party, but she needs to demonstrate that she’s got the knowledge and ability to be president should the need arise.”

Flash forward to a hockey arena in Estero, Florida, near Naples, where Greer just finished speaking to the crowd gathered to see Palin and he's now singing the praises of the Alaska governor. He called her "dynamic'' and said she understands what working Americans are going through "She makes more decisions in one day than Sens Obama and Biden make in a whole year."

RPOF spokesman Erin VanSickle doesn't want us making too much of this. "Lots of folks understandably want to travel with Governor Palin, and Chairman Greer is participating in her Florida events as part of the pre-program,'' VanSickle responded to an email.
Greer was treated like a leper by McCain and Palin and learned his lesson. A costly lesson for GOP donors but a lesson nonetheless.

On the day Sarah palin became dynamic day, the Republicans had a new spokesperson willing to say anything to ride with the big boys. Is it surprising that such a willing student would not be chosen for this act of political cowardice?

I'm not shocked.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Literacy Like the Greeks

As a well-known opponent to No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and high-stress, high-stakes testing this report by Clive Thomson of Wired Magazine called Clive Thompson on the New Literacy is a refreshing point of view.
Lunsford is a professor of writing and rhetoric at Stanford University, where she has organized a mammoth project called the Stanford Study of Writing to scrutinize college students' prose. From 2001 to 2006, she collected 14,672 student writing samples—everything from in-class assignments, formal essays, and journal entries to emails, blog posts, and chat sessions. Her conclusions are stirring.

"I think we're in the midst of a literacy revolution the likes of which we haven't seen since Greek civilization," she says. For Lunsford, technology isn't killing our ability to write. It's reviving it—and pushing our literacy in bold new directions.

The first thing she found is that young people today write far more than any generation before them. That's because so much socializing takes place online, and it almost always involves text. Of all the writing that the Stanford students did, a stunning 38 percent of it took place out of the classroom—life writing, as Lunsford calls it. Those Twitter updates and lists of 25 things about yourself add up.

It's almost hard to remember how big a paradigm shift this is. Before the Internet came along, most Americans never wrote anything, ever, that wasn't a school assignment. Unless they got a job that required producing text (like in law, advertising, or media), they'd leave school and virtually never construct a paragraph again.

But is this explosion of prose good, on a technical level? Yes. Lunsford's team found that the students were remarkably adept at what rhetoricians call kairos—assessing their audience and adapting their tone and technique to best get their point across. The modern world of online writing, particularly in chat and on discussion threads, is conversational and public, which makes it closer to the Greek tradition of argument than the asynchronous letter and essay writing of 50 years ago.

The fact that students today almost always write for an audience (something virtually no one in my generation did) gives them a different sense of what constitutes good writing. In interviews, they defined good prose as something that had an effect on the world. For them, writing is about persuading and organizing and debating, even if it's over something as quotidian as what movie to go see. The Stanford students were almost always less enthusiastic about their in-class writing because it had no audience but the professor: It didn't serve any purpose other than to get them a grade. As for those texting short-forms and smileys defiling serious academic writing? Another myth. When Lunsford examined the work of first-year students, she didn't find a single example of texting speak in an academic paper.

Of course, good teaching is always going to be crucial, as is the mastering of formal academic prose. But it's also becoming clear that online media are pushing literacy into cool directions.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Retardation as Political Loitering

I had to look up the origin of the word retarded to be sure I wasn't misconceptualizing the latest shameful Republican high jinx.

It's accurate. The latest Republican high jinx are retarded. It's intellectual loitering. Obstruction of civility and common decency. RETARDED.

President Obama will be addressing American school children in a televised event on September 8th. The most intelligent news coverage of this I could find comes from Yahoo News: Obama goes back to school
Last month, in an interview with 11-year-old student reporter Damon Weaver, the president announced his big back-to-school plan:

"I'm going to be making a big speech to young people all across the country about the importance of education; about the importance of staying in school; how we want to improve our education system and why it’s so important for the country. So I hope everybody tunes in."

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan sent a letter to the nation's principals, inviting schools to watch the speech and included suggested classroom activities. But Jim Greer, the chairman of the Republican Party of Florida, came out swinging against the planned speech. An excerpt from his statement:

"The address scheduled for September 8, 2009, does not allow for healthy debate on the President's agenda, but rather obligates the youngest children in our public school system to agree with our President's initiatives or be ostracized by their teachers and classmates."

NBC spoke with Katie Gordon, a spokeswoman for the Florida Republican Party, who said the party's "beef" is with the accompanying lesson plans. The guide for pre-K through grade 6 suggests questions students think about during the speech, such as "What is the President trying to tell me? What is the President asking me to do?"

The plan for grades 7-12 includes a "guided discussion," with suggested topics: "What resonated with you from President Obama's speech? What is President Obama inspiring you to do?"

The Cato Institute, a public-policy research foundation, issued a press release entitled "Hey Obama, Leave Those Kids Alone," criticizing the "troubling buzzwords" in the lesson plans:

"It's one thing for a president to encourage all kids to work hard and stay in school – that's a reasonable use of the bully pulpit. It's another thing entirely, however, to have the U.S. Department of Education send detailed instructions to public schools nationwide on how to glorify the president and the presidency, and push them to drive social change."

Across the blogosphere, comments covered the spectrum, from critical to supportive, and from one student, a little anger:

"I sent my children to school to be educated NOT indoctrinated." — justamom

"The fact that people want to keep their kids from hearing the President of the United States encourage them to do well in school shows a true level of ignorance." — Firefey

"As an [sic] 9th grade student, I'd like to say that 1. I'm not sure why everyone is so scared that we'll all be brainwashed by the President ... 2. My school is one that is not allowing us to watch the speech, and quite frankly, I'm pissed." — Willbw

Both Presidents George Bush and Ronald Reagan both gave speeches aimed specifically at students that were nationally televised. In 1989, Bush delivered a televised anti-drug speech, and Reagan's 1986 commencement speech and Q&A session was "beamed over public television into 171 school districts," according to the L.A. Times.

It's worth noting that schools are, encouraged, not required, to air the speech. The Houston Chronicle reports that one Dallas school district is leaving the decision to individual teachers. Susan Dacus, spokeswoman for the Wylie school district, says parents who don't want their children to see it can opt out.
The original article is much richer than my fair use excerpt, please do read it.

So... it takes a village of idiots to spin this into a conspiracy and because the Florida Republicans have nothing better to do they eagerly accept that challenge.

According to these people, listening to the President of the United States for fifteen minutes is going to turn punch-drunk from testing school populations into card carrying socialists who will demand higher taxes and intelligent conversation at the dinner table.

Easily frightened lemmings will have none of it. No, the Florida Republicans want to edit Obama's remarks before he says them because these mind-readers already know he's going to say the wrong things. The kids might even like somebody in office who doesn't treat them like nobodies.

As far as I can tell, this is just thinly veiled, hate motivated, nonsense. Obstructionist - retarded. We have to stop pandering to this stuff as if there's something to think about. There isn't a nano-spec of fact or even believable fiction in any of these absurd objections - just media noise. A tempest in an intellectual thimble.

Now, if Obama addresses school children after someone whispers that a catastrophe is occurring and Obama does nothing, then I'll be angry.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

The Zero Rape Initiative

At Tuesday's Board meeting I attempted to introduce a concept that would ensure that regional autonomy would govern exactly who could have access to recruiting our students on the EO Smith campus and through school resources.

At issue was a revised edition of the region's equal access for recruiters policy. My contention was and continues to be that any school governed by an elected Board of Education has the right to set the local qualification for recruiters to be welcome to recruit.

At the top of my list of such qualifications is the insistence that any organization, university, or government agency be free of rape incidents for the past 12 months.

A vote was taken and the entire issue was voted down by everyone but myself.

The reason this even occurred to me is the story of LeVena Johnson's brutal death. David Love's story, LaVena Johnson: Raped and Murdered on a Military Base in Iraq bubbled up on my educational news radar.
The U.S. Army officially ruled her death a suicide, saying she shot herself in the head, case closed. But this is where the story begins.

Johnson's family knew something was wrong. They had talked to her on the phone a few days earlier, and she was in a great mood as usual, and was planning to come home for the holidays, earlier than expected.

Questions were raised when Johnson's family viewed her body. There were suspicious bruises, and while the military claimed that this right-handed soldier had shot herself in the head with an M-16 rifle, the gunshot wound was on the left side of her head.

But the truth began to make itself known when the family received the autopsy report and photos they had requested under the Freedom of Information Act:

The 5-foot tall, 100-pound woman had been struck in the face with a blunt instrument, probably a weapon. Her nose had been broken, and her teeth knocked back. There were bruises, teeth marks and scratches on the upper part of her body. Her back and right hand had been doused with a flammable liquid and set on fire. Her genital area was bruised and lacerated, and lye had been poured into her vagina. The debris found on her suggested her body had been dragged.

And despite all this mutilation, she was fully clothed when her body was found in the tent, with a blood trail leading to the tent.

Despite the overwhelming evidence, the Army has refused to investigate. Through an online petition, ColorofChange.org demanded an investigation by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.


I investigated a bit further. A PBS documentary called Rape in the Military added evidence of a pattern of neglect on the subject.
Since NOW first aired its investigation into rape and sexual assault in the military last year, the Pentagon has released new reports in which one-third of military women say they've been sexually harassed. And the number of women reporting assault and rape has essentially remained the same—even though the military says it has invested serious resources to combat the problem.


I don't believe LeVena Johnson committed suicide. Furthermore, the military needs to fix the chronic rape and cover-up problem.

No School Board in this country should allow any branch of the government or any institution access to their student body for recruitment unless they can attest they've had a previous rape-free twelve months. This policy allows everyone equal access under these conditions and it allows for unfortunate incidents to be followed by remedial prevention.

Such a policy safe-guards all schools from institutions where chronic rape occurs.

The argument that zero rape history doesn't exist is bogus. The government routinely legislates impossible goals for schools yet the suggestion that they "aim high", "hold themselves to a higher standard", or reorganize because they fail is greeted by political nervous breakdowns.

As a society a zero tolerance for rape policy makes as much sense as an intolerance for drugs, bullying, unhealthy food, and so on. Let's keep repeat offending institutions away from our kids until they clean up their acts.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Just Get Me Out Of Here

It seems that Florida has a reverse drop-out problem. It's smarter students have figured out that the best way to get out of high school and move on with one's life is to drop-out early and just pass a GED exam to get a diploma.

Not a bad idea considering the NCLB dumbing down of curriculum. But Florida isn't going to let their hostages off this easy. The Shawshank Redemption schemes will be ended soon (from Fla.to Stop Giving Diplomas for GED Students by AP):
Florida is changing its policy on youths who opt for a GED to finish high school in less than four years.

Until now, those looking for a shortcut could earn the same diploma as others. But Education Commissioner Eric Smith says that's not fair, or necessarily legal. Department of Education lawyers researching another issue could find no state law authorizing it.

So Smith has notified school districts that all who take the General Educational Development test must now receive a high school equivalency diploma, just like dropouts who later go through the GED process.

The GED exit option started in 1988.

Cartoons (click to site of ownership):