Sunday, July 31, 2011

Let's Kick Some Bad Cliches To The Curb

Or we could throw them under the bus.

The Madville Times and Dakota Today have been doing yeoman work to illustrate the vapid nature of the family budget cliche.

Equally ubiquitous and perhaps more useless, "we've got to stop kicking the can down the road" must disappear from our public discourse.

Instead, let's ask these three questions posed by Megan McArdle.
Which of these things shall we cut?  How shall we build a coalition to pass those cuts, and stick to them in the face of what is bound to be fierce and ugly resistance from those who the programs benefit?  And when we have decided that we can cut no further, what taxes will we raise to pay for what's left?
The focus group tested "kicking the can down the road" has allowed only one side of the political spectrum to dominate the argument.  I won't dignify what's happening by calling it a debate. The cliche doesn't allow for the third question at all.  Most importantly, the cliche dangerously oversimplifies a complex situation.

McArdle even includes this helpful chart to show how money is spent.


It should be clear to all but the most extreme partisan on either side that the solutions to the current mess will be painful and that both sides must kill a few of their own "zombie sacred cows."  The results of the current debate that has focused on "kicking the can" will probably result in the middle class being kicked in the groin.

I'm just guessing, but I expect if Americans were allowed to have a civil discussion based on McArdle's chart and questions, the budget cuts would be far different than the ones Americans will see over the next few years

Plains Pops: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly, The Ambivalent

The Good:  This Nicholas Kristoff column about evangelical intellectual John Stott.  Kirstoff points out some of Jerry Falwell's notable foolish and bombastic sound bites, and then notes,
Partly because of such self-righteousness, the entire evangelical movement often has been pilloried among progressives as reactionary, myopic, anti-intellectual and, if anything, immoral.
Yet that casual dismissal is profoundly unfair of the movement as a whole. It reflects a kind of reverse intolerance, sometimes a reverse bigotry, directed at tens of millions of people who have actually become increasingly engaged in issues of global poverty and justice.
Kristoff notes a bothersome strain of anti-intellectualism within contemporary evangelical circles.
Centuries ago, serious religious study was extraordinarily demanding and rigorous; in contrast, anyone could declare himself a scientist and go in the business of, say, alchemy. These days, it’s the reverse. A Ph.D. in chemistry is a rigorous degree, while a preacher can explain the Bible on television without mastering Hebrew or Greek — or even showing interest in the nuances of the original texts.
Those self-appointed evangelical leaders come across as hypocrites, monetizing Jesus rather than emulating him. Some seem homophobic, and many who claim to be “pro-life” seem little concerned with human life post-uterus. Those are the preachers who won headlines and disdain.
It is Kristoff's conclusion, however, that get's to the crux of the matter.  Divisivness for it's own sake harms those least able to care for themselves.
But in reporting on poverty, disease and oppression, I’ve seen so many others. Evangelicals are disproportionately likely to donate 10 percent of their incomes to charities, mostly church-related. More important, go to the front lines, at home or abroad, in the battles against hunger, malaria, prison rape, obstetric fistula, human trafficking or genocide, and some of the bravest people you meet are evangelical Christians (or conservative Catholics, similar in many ways) who truly live their faith.
I’m not particularly religious myself, but I stand in awe of those I’ve seen risking their lives in this way — and it sickens me to see that faith mocked at New York cocktail parties.
Why does all this matter?
Because religious people and secular people alike do fantastic work on humanitarian issues — but they often don’t work together because of mutual suspicions. If we could bridge this “God gulf,” we would make far more progress on the world’s ills.
And that would be, well, a godsend.
I won't hold my breath, but I would hope that some of South Dakota's fundamentalist bloggers give Kristoff's column a gracious response.

The Bad: (HT @corahei) A Philadelphia English teacher admits to helping students cheat "because she worried their self-esteem was crushed by taking tests they were in no way academically prepared for."

The article reveals the teacher's touching justification:
 "I never went to any student who didn't call me to help them cheat," said the teacher. "But if somebody asked me a question, I wasn't willing to say, 'Just do your best.' They were my students, and I wanted to be there for them."
I don't believe that one should ever condone cheating, but I would respect teachers who would give all students all of the answers as a form of civil disobedience.  Civil disobedience also has consequences that this anonymous teacher seems unwilling to accept.  This situation seems to be educational romanticism run amok.

The Ugly:  The Debt Ceiling Debacle.  'Nuff said.

The Ambivalent:  This BookTV program about Back to Our Future: How the 1980s Explain the World We Live in Now--Our Culture, Our Politics, Our Everything.  I've watched it twice, and am intrigued, doubtful but disconcerted.  The BookTV blurb states,
David Sirota argues that the social and political mores of the 1980s have set the stage for what the author deems is today's militaristic and narcissistic America.  Mr. Sirota examines the political and cultural landscape of the decade, ranging from the policies of the Reagan administration to the popular entertainment and mass marketing campaigns that marked the time.  David Sirota presents his thoughts at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
 After listening it seems to me that a logical conclusion would be that all of the John Wayne movies that had the cavalry riding to the rescue had liberal undertones.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

I Question My Fellow Teachers' Wisdom Again

I thought that NEA acted unwisely when they endorsed President Obama nearly 18 months before the 2012 election.

Today, I'm wondering if SDEA isn't making an equally unwise decision by beginning an initiative drive to increase South Dakota's sales tax by one percent.

This Nathan Johnson post makes a strong case that South Dakota's tax system is unfair and that the proposed sales tax increase to fund K-12 education and Medicaid is a bad idea.
South Dakota’s tax system is currently structured so that is not even close to the reality. In fact, South Dakota turns that expectation on its head.
According to a 2009 study by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP), the poorest 20 percent of non-elderly taxpayers in the state contributed 11 percent of their income to the state’s sales, excise and property taxes in 2007. The top 1 percent of that same category of taxpayers — those making $423,000 or more — contributed 1.9 percent.
Today, Bob Mercer adds another reason to doubt that the proposal's wisdom.
If the initiative does pass, the Legislature isn’t bound to follow any of the directives within the new law. The Legislature can change any of it. So there is absolutely no guarantee that the $175 million will go solely to Medicaid and K-12 schools.
Today's Argus Leader implies that the Legislature's ability to appropriate the sales tax increase will have a few limits.
However, it would not completely tie the Legislature's hands when the state is struggling. Each of the past two years, the Legislature has changed state law so that lawmakers did not have to increase per-student funding at the same rate as inflation.
The measure would not prohibit the Legislature from doing that again if revenues either shrink or grow more slowly than inflation. However, the relief would be temporary, as the measure would require lawmakers in subsequent years to make back payments for education when state revenues bounce back faster than inflation.
There's nothing in the article that indicates that the Legislature can't change the payback provision at its pleasure.

The notion that one can trick out-of-state pheasant hunters, Wall Drug visitors, and Mt. Rushmore gawkers to fund necessary programs by charging them an extra penny sales tax is tempting.  Unfortunately, yielding to temptation usually provides temporary pleasure and long lasting negative consequences.  We all have our favorite examples:  that fruit in the garden, the handful of Cheetos that turned into a meal of two family sized bags, and that little credit card spree that took six years to pay off.  In this case, the damage done to those least able to pay, the furthering a terrible tax structure, and the uncertainty that the funds will actually be used for the indicated purpose make this temptation's consequences more onerous than most.

Saturday English Teacher Weirdness: School Year Prep Edition

Although I've been posting about the debt ceiling and potential default debacle over the past few days, I haven't forgotten that I need to get ready for another school year.  The past few days have given me a few things to think about.

First,  the following statement that author and educator Alfie Kohn made in an Answer Sheet blog interview troubles me.
You can't "motivate" people other than yourself. You can make them do certain things by bribing or threatening them, but you can't make them want to do it. In fact, the more you rely on extrinsic inducements like merit pay or grades, the less interest they're likely to have in doing those things.
I've long believed the statement to be fact.  The problem is act on knowledge that stands in stark contrast to a school, community, and probably national culture that treats grades or other incentives as panaceas.

Next, I think I'll use this Mark White Psychology Today post and its concluding paragraph in my discussion of Polonius's "to thine own self be true" speech in Hamlet.
Before you decide to "be yourself," spend some time thinking about who that is, and decide whether you are living up to your best idea of who you should be—and work on it if you're not. Once you do that, you'll be ready to show that "you" to other people, and you'll do it in the spirit of honesty and authenticity. . . .
For the record, I tell students Polonius reveals that he is an inauthentic windbag when he rattles off his cliches to his son Laertes.

Further, these lines from Seth Godin's re-post about brand mythology should keep me busy in mythology class.
Myths allow us to project ourselves into their stories, to imagine interactions that never took place, to take what's important to us and live it out through the myth.

There are dozens, if not hundreds of entertainment mythological brands. James Bond and Barbie, for example.
But it goes far behond that.
There's clearly a Google mythology and a Starbucks one was well. We feel differently about brands like these than we do about, say Maxwell House or Random House.
Why do Santa and Ronald McDonald have a mythology but not Dave at Wendy's or the Burger King?
Finally, I have to find a way to use this video to answer students who will tell me "Today, I don't feel like doing anything."


I think I'll tell them we can take the day off if they can be more creative Bruno Mars.

Update:  I use Star Wars: A New Hope to conclude mythology.   I would be remiss if I did not offer the following option to some of my artistically inclined students.  A print guide is here.  (HT IO9.com)

Friday, July 29, 2011

A Messy Conspiracy Theory Thriller

I hate conspiracy theories.  See this reply on a Madville Times comment thread.  My distaste for theories like about Freemasons or the Illuminati notwithstanding,  I think we may be living in the middle of a dangerous conspiracy.

Earlier today, David Frum tweeted.
Why doesn't new Boehner bill just require Obama to resign in favor of a Republican before 2nd debt ceiling increase? Tidier.
Frum is both sardonic and correct.  Too much of this seems to be an effort to defeat Obama by manufacturing a constitutional crisis.  In fact, House Republicans be lining up a second crisis if the debt ceiling debacle fails to produce their desired result because the 14th Amendment will allow Obama to raise the debt ceiling without congressional approval.

In the Washington Monthly, Paul Glastris reports
There is more and more talk, especially among House Democrats, that if no compromise can be reached on the debt ceiling by August 2nd, Obama should assert his power under the 14th Amendment to raise the ceiling himself by executive order. Bill Clinton helped pave the way for this resurgent interest in the “constitutional option” by saying, in an interview with Joe Conason last week, that if he were in Obama’s shoes he’d do so “without hesitation.
Philosopher Ronald Dworkin writes in the New York Review of Books
Some Republicans have declared that if the president does accept the constitutional argument, and acts without their consent, they will try to impeach him. That would take only a majority of the House, which the Republicans control. Impeachment would be a tragedy because, even though the Democratic Senate would certainly refuse to convict, the process would waste a huge amount of the president’s time at a crucial and difficult moment of our history. But surely even the Tea Party representatives can understand that they would make fools of themselves by declaring that a president is guilty of “a high crime or misdemeanor” whenever he interprets the Constitution in a way they believe wrong, particularly when a substantial number of the nation’s lawyers agree with him.
I'm less sanguine than Dworkin about what the Tea Party will "understand."  In short, I expect either default or impeachment.  The biggest conspiracy may be that Tea Partiers are secretly enjoying the chaos they are creating. 

Literature And Politics Mix: Edmund Ross and Everyman

I suppose the current House of Representative membership would consider Profiles in Courage a leftist tract because it lists John F. Kennedy as the author.  In the current political climate, everyone might be better served if Theodore Sorensen, the man most responsible for the book, had his name on the cover.

The profile I remember most is the one about Edmund G. Ross.  Ross famously cast the vote that allowed President Andrew Johnson to remain in office.  Ross know the ramifications of his vote.
Later in life he wrote of the vote, “I almost literally looked down into my open grave.  Friendships, position, fortune, everything that makes life desirable to an ambitious man were about to be swept away by the breath of my mouth, perhaps forever.  It is not strange that my answer was carried waveringly over the air and failed to reach the limits of the audience, or that repetition was called for by distant Senators on the opposite side of the Chamber."
He immediately faced vitriolic attacks.  I do have to admire the style that American writing has lost.
After the vote, Kansas Supreme Court Justice L.D. Bailey sent a telegram to Ross, "the rope with which Judas Iscariot hanged himself is lost, but Jim Lane’s pistol is at your service."  A Kansas newspaper editorial read, “On Saturday last Edmund G. Ross, United States Senator from Kansas, sold himself, and betrayed his constituents; stultified his own record, basely lied to his friends, shamefully violated his solemn pledge and to the utmost of his poor ability signed the death warrant of his country’s liberty.  This act was done deliberately, because the traitor, like Benedict Arnold, loved money better than he did principle, friends, honor, and his country, all combined.  Poor, pitiful, shriveled wretch, with a soul so small that a little pelf would outweigh all things else that dignify or ennoble manhood.”
Ross was far from perfect; in fact, he was something of a political scoundrel. Still he did the right thing for the country in the face of radical opposition.

I don't expect Representative Kristi Noem to emulate Ross and do the right thing to prevent default.  My doubts don't spring from the fact that she was named one of the 50 Most Beautiful people in Washington.  I doubt her ability to do the right thing because of these two explanatory paragraphs.
Last fall’s campaign, in which she defeated Democratic incumbent and 50 Most Beautiful People alumna Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, was rife with images of Noem with gently mussed hair near a bale of hay or leaning against a fence post in the pasture.
Noem quickly became a star in Washington, having been asked by House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and his advisers to join the GOP leadership team before even getting into town.
 In short, Noem used her looks to get elected and get a leadership position for which she had not proven herself.  That cynical use of one's physical features reminds me of the allegory Everyman.  In the play, Beauty, as a character, tells Everyman, "Here at your will be we all ready. / What will ye that we should do?"  At the conclusion of the play, Beauty leaves Everyman at the sight of the grave. 
Beauty.
What—into this grave! Alas! Woe is me!(795)
Everyman.
Yea, there shall ye consume utterly.
Beauty.
And what,—must I smother here?
Everyman.
Yea, by my faith, and never more appear! In this world we shall live no more at all, But in heaven before the highest lord of all.(800)
Beauty.
I cross out all this! Adieu, by Saint John! I take “my tap in my lap” and am gone.
Everyman.
What, Beauty!—whither go ye ?
Beauty.
Peace! I am deaf, I look not behind me, Not if thou wouldest give me all the gold in thy chest.(805)
[Beauty goes, followed by the others, as they speak in turn.
At the sight of a her political open grave, I expect Noem will follow Beauty's example and leave ordinary citizens to deal with the ramifications of default.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Falling Union Membership Connected To Wage Inequality

According to an IO9.com post,
a new study points to the drop in union numbers to explain the growing wage inequality over the last 35 years. From 1973 to 2007, wage inequality increased 40% among men and 50% among women, while at the same time union participation dropped from 34% to 8% for the former, and 16% to 6% for the latter.
The post anticipates a key argument.
At this juncture, it's very easy to start yelling about correlation and causation, but researchers Bruce Western of Harvard University and Jake Rosenfeld of University of Washington think they can actually drill down, and ascribe this change to a multitude of factors, including falling union membership. By analyzing differences within labor groups and between them, the researchers found that the union decline was linked to as much as a third of the wage inequality for men, and a fifth for women.
The post notes that major league sports leagues seem to be the only social institutions with successful or well-received unions.  This fact illustrates that unions do not necessarily reward mediocrity at the expense of greatness.  Baseball, football, and basketball superstars earn tremendous sums of money, but average players are still adequately compensated.  Contrast that with the rest of the current economic system that allows a few to become obscenely rich while the average worker has seen wages stagnate since the 1970s.

IO9 also reports,
The paper will be published in the American Sociological Review in August, at which point you'll be able to find it here. Until then, there are a few more details here.
By the way, why do I read about studies like this on a site that covers comic books, science fiction, and weird science, but not other media.

Related Update:


Plains Pops: Debt Ceiling Debacle Sum Up

From Megan McArdle at The Atlantic,
What Wall Street, and the ratings agencies are worried about is not whether we can pay--we can--but whether we will.  A lot of Republicans seem to think that we can secure our AAA rating by showing the agencies--and the markets--that we've made serious cuts.  But if you achieve this end by holding the debt ceiling hostage, what you're really demonstrating is not a tough-minded commitment to entitlement reform, but a political system so broken that it has trouble taking even simple, obvious steps to keep the fiscal engine running.  Our AAA is not at risk because our current fiscal path is unsustainable, but because ratings agencies know what many GOP freshman and party activists apparently do not: that doing the unpopular things required to get the budget in balance is going to require both parties to hold hands and jump together.  Otherwise, whoever forces through their unpopular plan (huge tax increases/massive spending cuts) is going to get trounced at the next elections by an opposition party promising to undo whatever it is the party in charge has just done.
My reading of what the ratings agencies have said is that if the GOP somehow manages to force the Democrats to do everything their way, this will not secure our AAA; it will guarantee that we lose it, because it will show that we are currently unable to make the ugly bipartisan compromises that long-term budget balance requires, and raises the risk that sometime in the not-very-distant future, the other party will retaliate by threatening default.  That's what Wall Street cares about.  Not saving social security. Not lower spending.  They just care about getting enough consensus to keep the checks flowing.
From Annie Lowery in Slate
So we might not have a great term for what we have inaccurately termed the big "default" after Aug. 2. But we know its risk: a recession. And we know how we got here: idiots.
From The New York Times,
Not least, a downgrade would be a blow to American credibility and prestige, made all the worse for coming so shortly after the made-in-America global financial crisis. As a correspondent for the German newspaper Die Welt wrote a few days ago, “Out of the American 21st-century crisis could come the downfall of the dominant power of the 20th century.” That may be overheated. But no one can shrug it off. The markets and the rest of the world are worried, and they should be. We all should be.
From Doyle McManus in The Los Angeles Times,
In the short run, brinkmanship has worked for the House Republicans. Their single-minded stubbornness has forced both the White House and the Democratic-controlled Senate to bend in their direction.

But brinkmanship always carries the risk of actually going over the cliff. If the impasse over the debt ceiling causes economic chaos, Boehner and his party will get much of the blame. Already, polls suggest that this debate has been a "negative sum" game for its protagonists: Obama and both parties in Congress have all fallen in public esteem.

The debate has also changed at least one aspect of the way Washington does business. Raising the debt ceiling was once a routine piece of fiscal management, but now, for many in the GOP, it's become a matter of principle, and an indispensable point of leverage too. No matter what happens between now and Aug. 2, we are likely to find ourselves back at the brink again all too soon.
From USA Today,
Republicans in Congress deserve credit for forcing spending cuts. Democrats initially showed little or no interest. But GOP rigidity has pushed the United States to the brink of a self-inflicted crisis that risks great harm to the nation, and that is unconscionable.
Finally, Clive Crook in The Atlantic
In a column for the FT, I confess that I am having second thoughts about America's long-term prospects. Hitherto an optimist about the country and its future--a militant anti-declinist--I am increasingly dismayed by the chronic incapacity in Washington. It's not just the debt-ceiling impasse, though heaven knows that is bad enough...
There's really nothing to add.

Superman Reinvented Himself; Congresspeople Probably Will Stay The Same

Grant Morrison talks about the motivation for his changes to the Superman mythos.
For the first chapter, I went back to Action Comics #1 — I've always seen it nostalgically. But when I read it again, I thought about how it must have seemed in 1938. Nothing like it had ever been done before, even the narrative and the types of editing were so advanced that they had no idea what was happening. It was like MTV with the fast cut. That completely rewired me as to what Superman was all about. In the original, he's this brash young champion of the oppressed.
He doesn't care about the law, he's all about justice. If the law gets in his way, then he'll break the law quite happily. That really informed what we're doing now. The hero that worked in the Depression was the champion of the poor, and that could work again in our current context. I was bringing him back to those roots, a Superman who can be hurt, who can be messed up, who can bleed. He struggles to do what he does, but at the same time, he's not a figure of the law, he's not a patriot or a dad figure. It's taking him back to the idea of just having superpowers and a t-shirt and jeans.
Between now and August 2, I expect some Congressperson to take to the floor to denounce Morrison for turning Superman into a Marxist.  After all only a Marxist would be "a brash young champion of the oppressed" or a champion of the poor."  In this "current context," Congress doesn't seem to want to do anything else, so they might as well revive the Kefauver comic book hearings.

On second thought, some congresspeople may be too busy.  ThinkProgress reports,
Speaking on conservative radio host Laura Ingraham’s show this morning, Boehner agreed that failing to raise the limit before the deadline would be devastating, and said the “chaos” plan won’t work when asked by Ingraham what’s motivating the recalcitrant Republicans:
BOEHNER: Well, first they want more. And my goodness, I want more too. And secondly, a lot of them believe that if we get past August the second and we have enough chaos, we could force the Senate and the White House to accept a balanced budget amendment. I’m not sure that that — I don’t think that that strategy works. Because I think the closer we get to August the second, frankly, the less leverage we have vis a vis our colleagues in the Senate and the White House.[emphasis in original]
Boehner should remind the members of his caucus that they're neither poor nor oppressed, so Superman won't come save them.  The worst part of this situation is that Superman is fictional, so no one is going to save the rest of us from their stupidity.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Why Schools Don't Ask Students To Analyze: A Minor Musing

John Spencer recently tweeted, "Students are rarely asked to analyze the political, social and business systems shaping their tech experience."  He's absolutely right.  Further, it's a situation that's morally indefensible.

But, no one will start teaching students to analyze those systems or anything else for that matter anytime soon.  One can see a major reason for this unfortunate fact in the debt ceiling fiasco that illustrates the partisan chasm that turns every discussion about politics, society, and the economy into an shouting match.

This situation has prompted a desire to unleash my "Weird L K.ankovic" side and do a little Hamlet parody to further illustrate the point.
To teach analysis; ay, there's the rub,
For ending sleep and dreams will give good to some
When they have seen imperfections of their home soil,
But it does give us pause. A lost respect
That makes a calamity to teach the young to analyze life.
For which teachers, who shall bear the whips and scorns in time,
Th' politician's wrong, the business leader's contumely
The helicopter mom's short sighted love, the law's delay,
The insolent principal's office, and the spurns
That they who demand systematic merit pay now make
When they themselves need paychecks for their own sake
To avoid a bare larder?  Who would lessons prepare
To urge the light given by an examined life,
But that the dread of nothing after professional death,
The job as Walmart Greeter from whose post
No one has ever returned puzzles the will,
And makes us continue the ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of.
Now that that's out of the way, I've got to start thinking about questions I can ask about Hamlet, detective novels, and myths to make students think about the political, social, and economic systems shaping their experiences including but not limited to tech.

Another Modest Proposal: Create A Multiparty System

This Steve Benen post on the House Democratic and Republican Whips getting their troops in line makes the U.S. House of Representatives sound a bit too much like a lower house in a parliamentary system.  Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer "has been whipping against the Boehner bill very hard" while Speaker Boehner apparently "told his caucus this morning, “Get your ass in line.”

So we will be left with a situation that has the Republican House pass a debt ceiling bill that won't pass the Democratic Senate or be signed by a Democratic President.  Meanwhile, a Democratic Senate will pass a debt ceiling bill that won't pass the Republican House.

If Congress is going to act like a parliament, then the U.S. needs to change its two-party system to a multiparty system.  In the current situation, a multiparty system would keep the Tea Party tail from wagging the Republican dog.  A multiparty system also might allow for more libertarian and liberal alliances to slow down the assault on civil liberties.

I may be guilty of what Paul Krugman has taken to calling the "cult of centrism."  Jim Hightower has written There's Nothing in the Middle of the Road but Yellow Stripes and Dead Armadillos: A Work of Political Subversion.  I have a faint memory of  Dick Armey uttering the latter sentiment as well. 

In an act of presumption, I'm going to disagree with a a Nobel Laureate and beloved populist and conservative icons.  All seem to believe that one ought to avoid the center of the road and drive on the shoulder of the road or the ditch.  Driving on gravel roads has taught me that the ridge on the shoulder frequently pulls drivers into the ditch and the ditch is filled with rabid skunks and rattlesnakes.

Krugman is right when he asserts that the current system provides "no penalty for extremism; no way for most voters, who get their information on the fly rather than doing careful study of the issues, to understand what’s really going on."  A multiparty system might not have strict penalties for extremism, but it would also provide no rewards.  It would allow voters to drive rather than deal with dead or dangerous wildlife.

Plains Pops: Classroom Changes Edition

I'm ambivalent about the changes covered in these articles and editorials, but each article points to interesting experimentation.

Sunday's Argus Leader covers rural schools that will be doing some innovative staffing and engaging in project based learning.  On Monday, the Argus Leader editorializes in favor of the plan but issues the following warning.
But it's a plan that needs to be watched carefully - and the results must be measured before deciding whether this is the right kind of innovation. While it's true that you can find almost anything online, you can also find bad information, poor sourcing and less-than-excellent research.
Students must learn not only how to find information, but how to filter it.That's important in the real world as well as the classroom.
But can the new system do that?
Today, Andrew Sullivan points to a Clive Thompson article about the Khan Academy.  As tempted as I am to do a Star Trek allusion, the Khan Academy is a bit more pedestrian; it uses YouTube lessons.

As I said earlier, I'm ambivalent about these changes.  Education needs to change. It certainly needs to change its use of testing.  One goes to a doctor to get a test to diagnose not evaluate.  Education needs to use testing in the same way.

It needs to get more personal and offer more student options. Many of the reforms highlighted in these articles do that.

On the other hand, many of these reforms seem to be based on the idea that anyone can teach and that students can educate themselves.  I'm not sure reforms that remove good teachers from the situation will work.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

South Dakota Leads And Follows In The Wrong Way

A new report shows that South Dakota made deep cuts to its budget despite having a greater percentage of its budget available in reserve funds than most other states.

The Center on Policy and Budget Priorities has analyzed 2011-2012 state budgets and determined that the cuts are deep and long lasting.
Of the 47 states with newly enacted budgets, 38 or more states are making deep, identifiable cuts in K-12 education, higher education, health care, or other key areas in their budgets for fiscal year 2012.
Further, CPBP has determined "the vast majority of states (37 of 44 states for which data are available) plan to spend less on services in 2012 than they spent in 2008 – in some cases, much less."

In the "this is not exactly news department," the study found
At least 23 states have made identifiable cuts in support for public schools. In many cases, these cuts undermine school finance systems that are intended to reduce disparities between high-wealth and low-wealth school districts, so the largest impacts may be felt in communities that are least able to compensate for the loss of funds from their own resources.
The report reminds South Dakotan that "South Dakota cut K-12 education by 6.4 percent, next year, an amount equal to $416 per student, and 8.8 percent in 2013."

Further, ". . . 25 states have made large, identifiable cuts in funding for state colleges and universities, with direct impacts on students."  Again, CPBP reminds us that South Dakota joined that trend.
South Dakota cut higher education (and most other agencies) by 10 percent. The Board of Regents voted to raise tuition by 6.9 percent, or $490 per student, on average. The tuition increase covers only part of the loss of state funding, and each university has to determine how it will make up for the remaining loss of funds.
Of course, everyone in South Dakota remembers that "South Dakota cut Medicaid funding by 6.6 percent. This includes an average provider rate cut of 7 percent, which may cause some doctors to stop taking new patients or to drop existing patients."  Whereas, a majority of states cut education, the report shows that fewer that half of the states cut health care.  According to CPBP, "[a]t least 20 states have made deep, identifiable cuts in health care that will reduce access to care for low-income children, seniors, families and people with disabilities."

South Dakota, however, was one of only "a handful of states [that] held onto substantial reserve funds they have drawn on to avoid some cuts to public services. Specifically, six states that faced shortfalls for fiscal year 2012 entered their budget deliberations this past spring with rainy day funds equaling about 5 percent of fiscal year 2011 spending."   South Dakota has reserves equal to 11% of the 2012 budget according to the report.

In short, South Dakota's governor and legislature cut deeper than they had to.  Further, as Bernie Hunhoff reminds readers in a Yankton Press & Dakotan letter, these leaders are attempting to give corporations a tax break.  Hunhoff writes,
Another wrong-headed policy is the notion that we should rebate some of the contractor’s excise tax (which otherwise goes to the general fund for schools and health care) to big corporations who plan projects of $5 million and above, at the discretion of the governor’s office. It would replace a current program that was revealed to be a boondoggle before being terminated by the legislature in 2010 because it cost too much.

The governor’s staff told the Press & Dakotan that 80 percent or more of the new rebates will go to wind and ethanol programs. They say that now because wind and ethanol has popular support, but nothing in the state law guarantees that and it’s unlikely to occur. TransCanada Pipeline, a major competitor to wind and ethanol, has been one of the beneficiaries in the past.

This newest tax give-away program might cost even more than the one we killed in 2010, and it comes at a time when the general fund is already strapped from the recession.
Hunhoff even offers a main street solution:
. . . let’s end the contractor’s excise altogether and then the state’s coffers will grow even more.

Let’s end the tax for farmers who build a machine shed or barn. Let’s end it for the family-owned car dealership under construction north of Yankton.     Let’s end it for the two women who tore down an old building on Howard’s main street and built a new coffee shop and eatery. Let’s rebate it for the entrepreneurs who restored the old bank building on Vermillion’s Main Street into a fine steakhouse.

Let’s end it for every businessman and farmer. But let’s not let government pick winners and losers. If big projects get a rebate, Main Street should qualify for the same. Everyone should be treated alike when it comes to taxation.

We all know that raising well-educated and healthy children is the best investment a government can make in economic development and the future. We’ve cut those priorities in recent years, and no community knows it better than Yankton, where we’re now seeking charitable contributions for extra-curriculars.

So if the administration wants to write rebate checks to big companies, it should find an appropriate funding source. Don’t take even more resources away from schools and our poorest families.
I don't know what the impact Hunhoff's proposal would have, but I doubt we'll get to debate its pros and cons, the CPBP report reminds us that South Dakota's legislative leaders and governor seem to want to lead only when it will hurt the average citizen and award corporations

Last Weeks Good Bookstore News Is Now Bad Bookstore News

According to Forbes, the Books-A-Million effort to buy 30 Borders stores including the one in Rapid City has fallen through.
Bookstore chain Books-A-Million Inc. says its last-minute talks to buy the leases and assets of 30 Borders bookstores out of bankruptcy have fallen through.
Borders Group Inc. ( BGP - news - people ), which filed for bankruptcy protection in February, received court approval last week to liquidate its 399 stores. The chain said at the time it was talking to Books-A-Million ( BAMM - news - people ) about buying 30 store leases and inventory.
But Books-A-Million said Tuesday those talks were unsuccessful.
A group led by liquidation firms Hilco Merchant Resources and Gordon Brothers Group are now holding going-out-of-business stores at all Borders stores.

Yet Another Education Quotation Of The Day

From educator and author Marion Brady in an Answer Sheet guest post,
Here’s the problem I think deserves billboard-level attention: Kids can’t be taught to think better using tests that can’t measure how well they think.
The logic should be obvious. What gets tested gets taught. Complex thinking skills — skills essential to survival—can’t be tested, so they don’t get taught. That failure doesn’t simply rise to the level of a problem. It’s unethical.
This quotation seems extremely appropriate on a day when the Argus Leader reports that South Dakota Department of Education announced that it will not release test results as scheduled.
The Department of Education had planned to get results to the schools by last Friday and make them public today. But Mary Stadick-Smith, the deputy education secretary, cited issues with the system for the delay of the release.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Ignorance Is Bliss, I Guess

From a USA Today article,
The faith factor in the 2012 presidential race is pretty fuzzy. Not only do most Americans fail to identify President Barack Obama as Christian, three in four don't know Mitt Romney is a Mormon, according to a new survey.
That report is good news if one believes that one's religion or lack of religion shouldn't matter.  However a candidate's faith seems to matter; the article goes on to say,
And that matters, says Robert Jones, director of the Public Religion Research Institute which did the survey in partnership with Religion News Service. The survey, released Monday also found perceptions of a candidate's religion -- right or wrong -- matter to potential voter support.
Jones says:
Religion is one of the lenses people use to decide whether they can identify with a candidate. For all the talk about Romney's so-called Mormon problem, it can't be looming that large for him right now.
A bigger problem is that 48% Americans say Obama's religion -- whatever it is -- is somewhat or very different than their own. They are much less likely to support his candidacy."
Among the findings:
  • 40% of Americans don't know Obama's religion; 38% correctly call him Christian, 18% continue to wrongly identify him as Muslim; 4% says he's not religious.
  • 40% correctly identify Romney as Mormon; 46% don't know, 11% call him some form of Christian (1% Muslim, 1% not religious, 1% never heard of him) despite despite saturating media on the matter in the 2008 primariesT
  • 72% say Mormons hold religious beliefs that are somewhat or very different from their own.
  • 56% of the public says it is very important or somewhat important for a presidential candidate to have strong religious beliefs regardless of whether those beliefs are the same as their own.
 There are plenty of candidates who are new on the scene; people can be forgiven for not knowing about their religious beliefs or their stands on political issues.  Romney, however, ran in 2008 and Obama has been in the public eye either as candidate or president for nearly six years.  Not knowing about their religious affiliations smacks of willful ignorance and hints that voters also won't know their stands on issues.  Given the problems facing the country, willful ignorance, however blissful it may be, is dangerous.

Why Political Problems Resist Common Sense Solutions

Duncan Watts concludes,
As it turns out, the key is common sense itself. Common sense is exquisitely adapted to handling the kind of complexity that arises in everyday situations, such as how to behave at work versus in front of your children versus in the pub with your mates. And because it works so well in these situations, we're inclined to trust it.
But situations involving corporations, cultures, markets, nations and global institutions exhibit a very different kind of complexity. Large-scale social problems necessarily involve anticipating or managing the behaviour of many individuals in diverse contexts over extended periods of time. Under these circumstances, the ability that Lazarsfeld highlighted of common sense to rationalise equally one behaviour and also its opposite causes us to commit all manner of prediction errors.
Yet because of the way we learn from experiences - even ones that are never repeated - the failings of common sense reasoning are rarely apparent to us. Rather, they manifest simply as "things we didn't know at the time" but which seem obvious in hindsight.
The paradox of common sense, then, is that even as it helps us make sense of the world, it can actively undermine our ability to understand it.
In short, common sense works in common situations but not in complex ones.  It also seems that common sense plays into people's preconceived notions in a way that makes people more stubborn.  In that way common sense may be part of the fabric that allows people to resist facts as Chris Mooney has documented.

Duncan's analysis indicates that one should be as skeptical of appeals to common sense as one is of facts used outside of context.

Debt Ceiling And Default Silver Lining: Language Use

The Economist gives readers some alliteration:
It is because the vast majority of Republicans, driven on by the wilder-eyed members of their party and the cacophony of conservative media, are clinging to the position that not a single cent of deficit reduction must come from a higher tax take.
Note the repeated hard C in cacophony, conservative, and clinging.  Not also that the author repeats the T sound at the end of cent, deficit, and must and the beginning of tax and take.

Steve Benen points to this @jamescrabtree tweet 
Frm a friend in Asia: "I can summarise the mood of Asian central bankers to the US debt imbroglio in two words: Resigned incredulity."
Appropriately, "resigned incredulity" also applies to parents watching the more bizarre actions of their teenage children or sports fans hearing a report that Bret Farve may come back from one more season.

Of course disaster has always brought out some authors' poetic sides.  Consider this famous passage which, with its description of economic turmoil, seems appropriate.
1And I saw when the Lamb opened one of the seals, and I heard, as it were the noise of thunder, one of the four beasts saying, Come and see.
 2And I saw, and behold a white horse: and he that sat on him had a bow; and a crown was given unto him: and he went forth conquering, and to conquer.
 3And when he had opened the second seal, I heard the second beast say, Come and see.
 4And there went out another horse that was red: and power was given to him that sat thereon to take peace from the earth, and that they should kill one another: and there was given unto him a great sword.
 5And when he had opened the third seal, I heard the third beast say, Come and see. And I beheld, and lo a black horse; and he that sat on him had a pair of balances in his hand.
 6And I heard a voice in the midst of the four beasts say, A measure of wheat for a penny, and three measures of barley for a penny; and see thou hurt not the oil and the wine.
 7And when he had opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth beast say, Come and see.
 8And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him. And power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with hunger, and with death, and with the beasts of the earth.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

If The Tea Party Is Serious, . . . .

They should let Republicans raise the debt limit, but most sane people are telling them that.  I'm not going to waste a post repeating something they won't listen to.

If they're really serious about shrinking the intrusive nature of government, this Wall Street Journal article gives them a place to start putting their indignation to righteous use.

Gary Fields and John Emshwiller, the article's authors, quote an America Bar Association report that asserts
"the amount of individual citizen behavior now potentially subject to federal criminal control has increased in astonishing proportions in the last few decades."
Among the federal laws are injunctions that mandate that
"Unauthorized use of the Smokey Bear image could land an offender in prison. So can unauthorized use of the slogan "Give a Hoot, Don't Pollute."
Who does the federal government think it is?  Even Disney doesn't go that far.

On a far more serious note, federal laws ignore long accepted safeguards.
Some of these new federal statutes don't require prosecutors to prove criminal intent, eroding a bedrock principle in English and American law. The absence of this provision, known as mens rea, makes prosecution easier, critics argue.
A study last year by the Heritage Foundation and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers analyzed scores of proposed and enacted new laws for nonviolent crimes in the 109th Congress of 2005 and 2006. It found of the 36 new crimes created, a quarter had no mens rea requirement and nearly 40% more had only a "weak" one.
One of the results is an alarming rise in the federal prison population.
With the growing number of federal crimes, the number of people sentenced to federal prison has risen nearly threefold over the past 30 years to 83,000 annually. The U.S. population grew only about 36% in that period. The total federal prison population, over 200,000, grew more than eightfold—twice the growth rate of the state prison population, now at 2 million, according the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics.
Tougher federal drug laws account for about 30% of people sentenced, a decline from over 40% two decades ago. The proportion of people sentenced for most other crimes, such as firearms possession, fraud and other non-violent offenses, has doubled in the past 20 years.
Maintaining prisons is far from cheap
In 2006, $68,747,203,000 was spent on corrections. "The average annual operating cost per state inmate in 2001 was $22,650, or $62.05 per day; among facilities operated by the Federal Bureau of Prisons, it was $22,632 per inmate, or $62.01 per day."
Housing the approximately 500,000 people in jail awaiting trial who cannot afford bail costs $9 billion a year. Most jail inmates are petty, nonviolent offenders. Twenty years ago most nonviolent defendants were released on their own recognizance (trusted to show up at trial). Now most are given bail, and most pay a bail bondsman to afford it. 62% of local jail inmates are awaiting trial.
I realize that changing some of these federal laws will not have a major effect on the deficit, but there should be some savings.  Something tells me that the Tea Party won't do much about protecting  citizens from this form of government overreach.  I guess I'll stick to drinking Diet Dew.

A Minor Musing: Sunday Morning Coming Down

I've always found the Kris Kristofferson lyrics to "Sunday Morning Coming Down" a poignant expression of pain.  The gravelly voices of either Kris Kristofferson or Johnny Cash lent authenticity to poignancy.
On a Sunday morning sidewalk,
I'm wishing, Lord, that I was stoned.
'Cause there's something in a Sunday
That makes a body feel alone.
And there's nothing short a' dying
That's half as lonesome as the sound
Of the sleeping city sidewalk
And Sunday morning coming down.

In the park I saw a daddy
With a laughing little girl that he was swinging.
And I stopped beside a Sunday school
And listened to the songs they were singing.
Then I headed down the street,
And somewhere far away a lonely bell was ringing,
And it echoed through the canyon
Like the disappearing dreams of yesterday.
This morning, this essay reminded me that faith needs to be presented authentically.  The author concludes,
Despite all the affected teenage rebellion, I continued to call myself a Christian into my early twenties. When I finally stopped, it wasn’t because being a believer made me uncool or outdated or freakish. It was because being a Christian no longer meant anything. It was a label to slap on my Facebook page, next to my music preferences. The gospel became just another product someone was trying to sell me, and a paltry one at that because the church isn’t Viacom: it doesn’t have a Department of Brand Strategy and Planning. Staying relevant in late consumer capitalism requires highly sophisticated resources and the willingness to tailor your values to whatever your audience wants. In trying to compete in this market, the church has forfeited the one advantage it had in the game to attract disillusioned youth: authenticity. When it comes to intransigent values, the profit-driven world has zilch to offer. If Christian leaders weren’t so ashamed of those unvarnished values, they might have something more attractive than anything on today’s bleak moral market. In the meantime, they’ve lost one more kid to the competition.
While I was reading the essay, I had the misfortune to hear the following on ESPN.


Hearing that "prayer," reminded me of this passage from Luke 18.
9And he spake this parable unto certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others:
 10Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican.
 11The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican.
 12I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess.
 13And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner.
 14I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.
I wish that the pastor would have remembered that many watching of television or sitting in the stands may be hunting for jobs or have friends or families hunting for jobs.  It might have been good to remind everyone that II Corinthians 12 says,

 9And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
 10Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ's sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.
I think I'll be thankful that I can listen to Johnny and Kris.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Quotations Of The Day: Libya Edition

From an LA Times article "Pentagon mulls NATO request for more U.S. drones in Libya campaign"

Referring to the war's progress the article states
"It's getting more difficult to find stuff to blow up," said a senior NATO officer.
The article leaves the explanation for the alleged difficulty for the last paragraph.
Since the NATO bombing campaign began in March, it has damaged or destroyed about 570 Libyan military bases, bunkers and other unspecified "facilities"; 355 air-defense missiles; more than 500 tanks and other armored vehicles; and an estimated 860 ammunition dumps, according to statistics released by NATO.
 Finally, I love this explanation about the difficulty of removing Moammar Kadafi from power.
 "We can't get rid of this man by throwing eggs at him," Aujali said. (Ali Aujali,is the Libyan rebels' envoy in Washington)
 

Still More Saturday Morning Nostalgia: What Could Go Wrong? Edition

Something about this news report and headline from the Los Angeles Times frightens me.
A unique El Dorado fundraiser: dropping golf balls from helicopter
July 23, 2011 |  7:38 am
These are tough times, and schools are coming up with fundraisers to raise money for their sports teams. Placentia El Dorado has come up with an interesting way to raise funds for the football program.
On July 31st at Black Gold Golf Club, a helicopter will drop golf balls over the 18th hole, and the first three balls in the hole are winners, with $1,000 going to first, $500 to second and $250 to third.
It takes $10 to enter for one golf ball. Information: johnandkimg@roadrunner.com.
Also, former Bell High athletes are holding a charity golf tournament on Aug. 19 at Rio Hondo Golf Club to raise $20,000 for the boys' and girls' teams at Bell.
 Because I am "a person of a certain age," a wordy euphemism for old, I think I'm remembering this classic WKRP in Cincinnati episode.

Saturday Morning Shakespeare, Pop Culture, And A Little Politics . . . .

One video combines them all.


(HT Big Boy Blogger Andrew Sullivan)

Friday, July 22, 2011

South Dakota Lottery And Corporate Taxes

I found this chart from a David Cay Johnnston Reuters column disconcerting.

It shows that South Dakota is one of 11 states that generates more income from lotteries that corporate taxes.  Given that lotteries take money from those who believe they are poor and are not a stable source of income, this fact seems to be terrible public policy.

More on Dishonoring God: Rick Perry Edition

Apparently Rick Perry like Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, and Rick Santorum is hearing God's call.  Apparently, I'm in a minority in believing that this claim constitutes hubris. In The Daily Beast, Michelle Cottle writes,
Better still, Perry’s assertion that he has been “called” also sends a signal that the governor is not unnaturally fixated on this whole presidential dream. He’s running because he sees it as God’s will, not because he needs an ego boost or a purpose in life. He is not, God forbid, personally ambitious—like say, the cold-blooded meritocrat currently inhabiting the White House or a certain flip-floppish ex-governor frantic to hold onto his front-runner status.
You could see Perry pushing this message in another quote to come out of his interview: “I’ll be real honest with you,” he told the Register. “I don’t wake up in the morning—never did and still don’t today—and say, ‘Gee, I want to be president of the United States.’”. . .
For many Americans, however, Perry’s professed ambivalence will be as irresistible as ice cream on a hot day. It is an enduring political irony that, despite being a nation of strivers, Americans find naked ambition distasteful. Especially in presidential candidates, visible hunger can be a turnoff, an indication that the pol in question is too desperate for the job, too power-hungry, or just plain needy.
 Reading between the lines, it seems that the claiming God's call is not only hubris, it's an effort to hide one's pride.  I always thought that God created humans to serve him; apparently, certain politicians believe God exists to serve their political advantage

Are Private Soldiers A Good Idea?

Wired Magazine reports that the United States State Department is hiring over 5,000 private military contractors, less charitably known as mercenaries, to work in Iraq.  Further, it seems as if the State Department is less than forthcoming about the details.
By January 2012, the State Department will do something it’s never done before: command a mercenary army the size of a heavy combat brigade. That’s the plan to provide security for its diplomats in Iraq once the U.S. military withdraws. And no one outside State knows anything more, as the department has gone to war with its independent government watchdog to keep its plan a secret.
I may be a bit paranoid, but the idea that a department of a government can set up its own military is disconcerting.  The fact that bureaucrats are keeping details secret is even worse.  Wired reports that such fears may have merit, especially given the history that private contractors have in Iraq.
This isn’t an idle concern or a typical bureaucratic tussle. The State Department has hired private security for its diplomats in war zones for the better part of a decade. Poor control of them caused one of the biggest debacles of the Iraq war: the September 2007 shooting incident in Nisour Square, where Blackwater guards killed 17 Iraqi civilians. Now roughly double those guards from the forces on duty now, and you’ll understand the scope of what State is planning once the U.S. military withdraws from Iraq at the end of this year.

“They have no experience running a private army,” says Ramzy Mardini, an analyst at the Institute for the Study of War who just returned from a weeks-long trip to Iraq. “I don’t think the State Department even has a good sense of what it’s taking on. The U.S. military is concerned about it as well.”
 Finally, I realize Libya, Pakistan, and Somalia illustrate that few political leaders believe that the Constitution's restrictions should be followed, but is this "brigade" pass Constitutional muster?

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Bookstore Update: Good News

I have some fond memories of limited time spent in Rapid City's Borders so this tweet by @sarahw that indicates that Books-A-Million will purchase the Rapid City store is welcome news.  She tweets that following stores are among the 30 that the chain wishes to purchase.
"287 (Eugene OR) 340 (Concord NH) 369 (Rapid City SD) 372 (Hagerstown MD) 394 (West Lebanon NH) 436 (Gresham OR) 442 (Scranton PA)"

Update:  I rushed and used my phone for this post, so I'm going to flesh out a few details.  @Sarahw is Sarah Weinman, a news editor for Publishers Marketplace.  She was covering the bankruptcy proceedings and live tweeted the information.

Teachers As Professionals: Conclusions Drawn From Stuff I Wish I Had Written

A long time ago, Robert Littell used the sentiment that "a professional is someone who thinks that if something is worth doing, it's worth doing well; an amateur is someone who things that if something is worth doing, it's worth badly" as an epigraph to his novel The Amateur.

Yesterday, a Howard Gardner piece in the Washington Post expanded that definition a bit.  Gardner writes,
A professional is a certified expert who is afforded prestige and autonomy in return for performing at a high level, which includes making complex and disinterested judgments under conditions of uncertainty. Professionals deserve to live comfortably, but they do not enter the ranks of a profession in order obtain wealth or power; they do it out of a calling to serve. Be it law, medicine, auditing, education or science, the expectation is the same: professionals should work hard to gain the requisite credentials, behave ethically as well as legally, and when they err, should take responsibility for their error and try to learn from it.
Seth Godin adds another element to the definition:  "the professional asks questions... What's next? How to improve? What's this worth? Why is this happening?"

The current political climate allows teachers to be condemned for their errors but it doesn't allow them to ask questions, nor does it afford them prestige and autonomy.  That combination of factors has caused educator Vicki Davis to observe,
Doctors take an oath to “do no harm”; and yet with education, we’ve created a scenario where we’re asking teachers to do harm because we’re missing the big picture as a nation.
When empowered in my own classroom to follow research-based best practices in lieu of testing, I have fallen in love with teaching again. This is what I want for every student and teacher in the country I love: freedom. Freedom to teach, and freedom to make learning come alive for a generation that I am afraid will one day accuse us of educational malpractice.
Gardner points out that the idea that the size of one's bank account is the measure of professionalism as one culprit.
I would be na├»ve if I did not admit that this picture of professionals is not as vivid today as it was in 1950 or even 1980. The reasons for the decline of the professional are complex, but certainly the hegemony of market thinking is the dominant factor. If one thinks of professionals simply as individuals thrust into a market place, subject to supply and demand, and seeking to accumulate as many financial and other resources as possible, then they are indistinguishable from individuals who are not by definition professionals—such as business people or artists or athletes.
John Spencer has alluded to one other problem.  Spencer tweets that his version of reform "wouldn't confuse unity with uniformity or standards with standardization."  At a practical level, Spencer wants "more nuance and paradox" and "[s]hared values, shared vision, shared strategies of what work, transparency and honesty? Yes! Lock-step lesson planning? No."

Until the current ed reformers and self appointed pontificators learn that greed and unquestioning uniformity are problems not solutions, educators will not be treated as professionals; reformers will not get the results they claim they want, and students will not get the education that they need.

Captain America As Role Model

Mark White, a professor at the College of Staten Island in New York City, has published an opinion piece about Captain America's symbolic value in the San Diego Union Tribune.

White reminds us that patriotism is more than being "simplistic, flag-waving jingoist, toeing the line of whichever party happens to be in control in Washington at any given time."  I would add that patriotism is more than parroting the talking points that party leaders' memoranda, blogs, twitter feeds, or talk radio hosts, or cable news channels dictate.

White illustrates that Captain America represents a patriotism that emphasizes "principles over politics."  The professor reminds us that "[p]rinciples are timeless, the enduring ideals embedded in the foundational documents of our country, most importantly the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence."  White points out that these values include "freedom, equality, and justice."  White reminds readers
At its best, politics is grounded in principle, but all too often the principles get forgotten in favor of competing interests – which may be perfectly valid, of course, but which also cause us to lose sight of our shared values.
Perhaps more importantly, White points out that Captain America exhibits the virtues that Benjamin Franklin famously tried to live and George Washington embodied:  "honesty, courage, integrity, loyalty and humility."  I'm a little troubled about Steve Rogers, Captain America's not so secret identity, torture threats in recent issues of Secret Avengers, but as White points out
Captain America . . ., regardless of the varied political opinions of the writers who have chronicled his adventures over decades, he is consistently shown to exemplify these social values and individual virtues, the principles that unite us as Americans.
Given the space limitations editorial pages impose, I can understand why White didn't point out the dangers that spring from one political party assuming that it alone understands the principles embodied in America's founding document or that its members alone possess the virtues that Captain America embodies.

Captain America is nothing if not inclusive.  As a man who frequently leads the Avengers, he has welcomed reformed criminals, recovering alcoholics, mutants, space aliens. African Americans, Hispanics, foreign princes, and pagan gods to the group.  It's those actions as well as Captain America's 70 year history as a solo hero that allow White to conclude:
Captain America does not represent his country at any specific point in time or under any particular leadership. He does not deny the mistakes we have made throughout our short history, nor does he make excuses for them to provide political cover for one party or another. Instead, he consistently rises above politics, eschewing partisan divisions to symbolize the ideals that give America its unique identity: a country founded on, and governed by, enduring principles that all Americans can endorse and embrace.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

It's A Start But . . .

I'm not sure in media res is the right tool here.

A New York Times article about proposed standards for science curricula reports,

"One of the big goals, the committee said in a 282-page report, is "to ensure that by the end of 12th grade, all students have some appreciation of the beauty and wonder of science."

I love the desire to have students appreciate beauty and wonder.  Three obstacles stand in the way of that goal.

The first is that science writers use so much jargon that they wring the beauty out of science.

The second is that reading standards have made it impossible to recognize and appreciate language that appreciates beauty or expresses ideas beautifully.  It's difficult to appreciate anything if that thing is described in tech manual language.

Finally, if education's direction is to be set by roundtables dominated by insurance companies and securities traders, I'm not sure anyone in power is seeking to eliminate jargon and instill an appreciation of beauty.The language in my State Farm policies lack beauty and a sense of awe.

On the other hand, most heroic epics begin in the middle.  Maybe an heroic effort will be made and lead to success here.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Comic Books And Pulps Quotation Of The Day

From Edward Tenner's "Pulps: The Depression's Flowers Of Evil" in The Atlantic

"Economic crises are often breakthrough times for the graphic arts. Daguerreotypes were economical substitutes for portraits during the Panic of 1837, halftone-illustrated magazines came into their own in the Panic of 1893, and the Great Depression began the golden age of LIFE and other photo magazines.

There was also an underside of the 1930s, a netherworld from which Superman and other action heroes emerged only late in the decade. The pulp magazines weren't comic books, but illustrated action tales aimed at a male, white, working-class market that crossed over into the middle class. The genre dates from the 1880s, but the lurid covers reached their heights and depths in the Depression, wallowed in every kind of evil and shamelessly exploited gender, racial, and ethnic bias. . . .

I prefer to see the 1930s pulp covers as products of human adaptability and resilience. Pulp art and comic books were among the growth industries of the Depression era, when there seemed nothing to lose in letting the imagination run wild.

Doing One's Job Well Should Be Like Casting The First Stone

In other words, one should put one's house in order before telling others how to manage a household.  Yesterday on her Answer Sheet blog, Valerie Strauss made the following perceptive comments about President Obama's education commission that contains no educators.

"The president would have been better off talking to these people about job creation than education reform, not only because they aren’t the right people to be talking to about improving classroom dynamics, but also because employing the unemployed with kids has been shown to improve educational outcomes.

"It would certainly do more to help education than any of the high-stakes test-based reform policies that we have seen in the past decade, stretching over the administrations of president George W. Bush and Obama.

"There’s no reason not to believe that Obama personally has respect for teachers and the hard job that they have. The problem is that his policies don’t show it, and education roundtables with corporate leaders serve only to underscore that sad reality. America’s CEOs have enough problems keeping their own businesses running. They should leave education to educators."

Monday, July 18, 2011

Vacation Posting And Droid Limitations Announcment

For the next few days, I will be doing a lot of family stuff.  I am sans wireless and relying on my Android phone.  Please excuse formatting and other posting irregularities.

Capitalists Destroy Another Symbol Of Good

I don't think I'd have a problem with a food conglomerate's effort to profit from one of the great simple pleasures of life.

This game, however, takes making a profit too far.

I suppose I could just be bitter that my four year old nephew has won the last seven games.


Teachers Should Learn From Football Players

Given the continuing budget crises affecting the states and the nation, public education will face a few difficult years.  One can expect every state to lay off scores, if not hundreds, of teachers.

Sports Illustrated reports that the National Football League's Players Association (NFLPA) Executive Director DeMaurice Smith faced a similar situation with the National Football League (NFL) lockout.
From the moment he was elected executive director of the NFL Players Association in March 2009,  DeMaurice Smith always took the long view when it came to negotiations with the owners on a new collective bargaining agreement. Hope for the best, plan for the worst.
It's one of the reasons that slightly more than a year ago he received approval from the executive committee to secure insurance that would pay each player roughly $200,000 if there were no football in 2011.
Thankfully, it looks as if there will be football in 2011.  Since the situation seems a bit less optimistic for teachers,the National Education Association (NEA) and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) should undertake similar long term thinking and investigate buying similar "lay off" insurance for their members.

Let's be clear, I don't want a $200,000 policy.  According to Business Week, the average NFL salary in the National Football League is $1.9 million and the median salary is $770,000.  South Dakota teachers average somewhere between $40,000 and $45,000 per year.  A quick guess is that a comparable policy for South Dakota teachers would pay out about $8,000 to $10,000 to a laid off teacher.

I don't know what such policies cost or how one goes about getting them, but I thought that's why I pay dues.  I know I'd sooner have an insurance policy like NFL players have.  It would be far more valuable than that discount card that I've never used.