Saturday, March 31, 2012

Republicans On Education: Let's Create A Double Bind

Sausage and propaganda seem to be opposites.  No one wants to see sausage made but the end result is tasty.  On the other hand, seeing propaganda come together fascinates me, but seeing the end result scares me to death.

That's why watching the Republican efforts to diminish public education produces some gut wrenching ambivalence.  I don't want to watch it happen, but I can't help myself.

Let's begin locally.  In South Dakota, Reverend Hickey invokes President Obama to claim that Republican Governor Daugaard's version of education reform must happen:
As the SDEA announces plans to take HB1234 to the voters this November, I remember listening to President Obama's State of the Union address last month thinking…. sounds like he would have voted for HB1234 in a heartbeat.
After quoting Obama's State of the Union Speech, Hickey writes,
Obama said, instead of "defending the status quo, let's offer schools a deal"… 1. Incentives to attract and keep good teachers. (Applause.) 2. Reward the best teachers. (Applause.) 3. Grant schools flexibility. (Applause.) 4. Boot the bad teachers. (Applause.)
It's almost spooky how closely those comments parallel HB1234. Furthermore, he acknowledges tight budgets have forced states to cut teacher funding. Yet the narrative here in SD is that the funding was cut because Republicans hate teachers.
Chamber of Commerce Republican David Owen joins Hickey, the social conservative extraordinaire, in praising the Obamagaard plan.  Owen claims, "the governor deserves credit for trying to bring some reform to education that matches it up with things that succeed in the economy elsewhere . . . .” Owen goes on to condescendingly observe that teachers "are very, very upset at these reforms.”  Apparently he doesn't believe teachers are capable of understanding him if he uses adverbs like "genuinely," "intensely," "passionately,"or "profoundly."  Perhaps Mr. Owen doesn't believe teachers can be genuine, intense, or passionate, but I digress.

Meanwhile, at the national level, Jeff Bryant notes  there is "growing evidence that the Obama administration's education policies will be a target of the right wing."  He points out,
Now that ideas for education policy that were conceived primarily by right wing think tanks -- standards, NCLB, high-stakes testing -- are firmly in place, thanks in part to the cooperation of Democrats, they are now the exact points Republicans are using to attack Democrats.
I wish that Republicans were undergoing a true conversion, but on this Saturday evening prior to Holy Week, the Republicans tactics bring to mind James 3:10-12,
10Out of the same mouth proceedeth blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not so to be.
11Doth a fountain send forth at the same place sweet water and bitter?
12Can the fig tree, my brethren, bear olive berries? either a vine, figs? so can no fountain both yield salt water and fresh.

Hoping The Avengers Assemble!

I guess it's going to be a video posting Saturday,   This May will be double the geek fun,  In addition to Free Comic Book Day, The Avengers will be released.  I'm looking forward to seeing a movie based on my favorite comic book franchise, but I am a bit worried.  So are these guys.

A Saturday Morning Movie: HB 1234: Teaching in a Time of Colorlessness

I know I can't compete with blockbusters like The Hunger Games, so I tried the art house approach.  I hope everyone except Governor Daugaard enjoys HB 1234: Teaching in a Time of Colorlessness.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Quotation Of The Day: Money Edition

From this Salon article,
And as we serve money, we find that money wants the same thing from us: to push everyone it beguiles in the same direction. Money never seems to be interested in strengthening regulatory agencies, for example, but always in subverting them, in making them miss the danger signs in coal mines and in derivatives trading and in deep-sea oil wells. You can have a shot at being part of the 1 percent, money tells us, only if you are first committed to making the 1 percent stronger, to defending their piles in some new and imaginative way, to rationalizing and burnishing their glory, to exempting them from regulation or taxation, to bowing down as they pass, and to believing in your heart that their touch will heal scrofula.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

A Tough Week For American Art

Adrienne Rich passed away on Tuesday.

Earl Scruggs passed away yesterday.  These songs may not be his best but they do bring back some happy memories of my youth.  Everyone probably has heard this one.

You gotta be as old as dirt to remember Petticoat Junction.  This is a Flatt and Scruggs version of the show's theme.  The TV version was sung by Curt Massey

Schools Monitor Tweeting Students More Than CIA Monitors Tweeting Employees

The Answer Sheet blog reports that Austin Carrol, a senior at Garret High School in Garrett Indiana, was expelled for using foul language in a tweet.  Garret High School tracks student's tweets.
A high school in Indiana that tracks students’ tweets made through the school’s computer system — even if it is done from a teen’s home — expelled a senior close to graduation for what it said was a message with foul language. . . .
The senior was quoted as saying that he had tweeted a message with a four-letter word from home on his personal Twitter account. The principal of the school was quoted as saying that the school’s computer system can track tweets whenever a student logs into it no matter where the student is working from.
I'm sure I don't have the whole story, but the fact that swearing in a tweet can lead to expulsion frightens me.  So does the fact that a school actively tracks kids' tweets.

The previous story ventures into the bizarre in light of the following, The Daily Beast reports,
The Twitter feed belonging to Lynnae Williams at first glance looks like most Twitter feeds. There are tweets about what she is reading (Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Madame Bovary); tweets about politics (leans toward the Occupy movement); and tweets about food (tuna casserole, carrot-cake muffins).
But on closer inspection, the feed features something rare for Twitter and even the Internet: detailed disclosures about the CIA. On Tuesday for example, Williams tweeted, “The #Farm is #CIA's training center near #Williamsburg, Virginia. I think it's the Kisevalter Center or something.”
In other tweets, Williams, who in 2009 spent nearly four months training to be a CIA spy, details her own experiences with CIA case officers, psychiatrists, and the special security division of the agency that serves as the CIA’s police force. In short, Williams since late February has been disclosing details of her brief CIA career in 140 characters or less.
Apparently the CIA monitors its former employees less than Garret High School monitors its students.  It's unclear what the CIA will do to Williams if she swears in a tweet.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Health Care Reform Irony

David Frum sardonically points out,
As we all know, a healthcare mandate is tantamount to the extinction of economic freedom. Yet the Heritage Foundation's 2012 index of economic freedom in the world ranks mandate-loving Singapore the second-freest country on earth. The United States drags along in embarrassing 10th place, behind 6th place Canada—which relies of course on a single-payer government healthcare monopoly.
Singapore's mandate doesn't keep its rich folk from hoarding a larger percentage of wealth than rich folk in the United States.  Singapore has the second largest rich-poor gap; the US is ranked third.

Let's review:  Singapore with a health insurance mandate lets the rich keep more of their money and has more economic freedom than the US.  I'm confused; I thought Republicans were for allowing those at the top of the economic ladder the freedom to concentrate wealth.

Quotation of the Day: Ain't That America Edition

From this Conor Friedersdorf post,
Put simply, Americans want all the freedom of a market-based health insurance system, all the security of a system heavily regulated by government, and the option to put off purchasing this guaranteed insurance until it's needed. And all for no more than they're paying now. It seems whoever is in power will be doomed to disappoint.
I think this Friedersdorf analysis applies to nearly every issue confronting the United States today.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Update: Candidates Or Procrastinators?

I guess the answer is procrastinators.  The Secretary of State's website shows that Democrats Bernie Hunhoff and Charlie Gross have filed petitions, joining Republicans Mike Stevens and Thomas Bixler as candidates for the South Dakota House of Representatives from District 18.

No Democrats filed to run against incumbent Republican Jean Hunhoff.  Ten other districts have only one candidate for the South Dakota State Senate.  Joining District 18 as a one party district are Districts 1, 5, 8. 15. 23. 27. 28. 29, and 32.

UPDATE:  The Secretary of State's office now has added Republicans Thomas D. Stotz and Matt Stone to the District 18 candidtate list (10:30 am 3/28/12).  That gives the Republican 5 total candidates.  I guess I will have to change my voter registration from I to R for a bit.

Candidates Or Procrastinators?

It's the last day to file Primary Election nominating petitions with the Secretary of State's office. Last Friday, the Yankton Press & Dakotan reported,
On the legislative end, incumbent Sen. Jean Hunhoff (R-Yankton) is the only candidate for the District 18 Senate race.
For the two District 18 House seats, House Minority Leader Bernie Hunhoff (D-Yankton) announced Thursday that he will seek re-election.
Two Republicans also told the Press & Dakotan Thursday that they are seeking House seats.
Yankton attorney and former Yankton School Board member Michael Stevens said he filed his petition Thursday.
Thomas D. Stotz, treasurer of the Yankton County Republicans and a chiropractic physician, also announced his candidacy
Two quick observations:  First, are the local Democrats really that weak that they can't field a candidate for state senate?  Second, gotta love procrastinators.  As of this morning, Representative Bernie Hunhoff and Thomas Stotz have not yet filed.  Thomas Bixler, however,  has filed as a Republican candidate for the South Dakota House of Representatives.

Monday, March 26, 2012

On Santorum And Swearing

Oops, the family man said a naughty word

The Daily Beast's "Cheat Sheet" reports,
Following a Wisconsin speech in which the Rick Santorum called his opponent Mitt Romney the “worst Republican in the country to put up against Barack Obama,” The New York Times's Jeff Zeleny tweeted, “I ask Santorum if Romney is ‘worst Republican’ to run. He says: ‘Quit distorting my words It’s bullshit.’ He says he was talking about health care.” Santorum defended his actions of Fox & Friends Monday, insisting, “If you haven’t cursed out a New York Times reporter during the course of the campaign, you’re not really a real Republican.”
Politico reports,
Zeleny defended his question to the presidential hopeful earlier on Monday to CBS’s Charlie Rose – who himself characterized Santorum’s comments as “a little bit profane” — saying he had simply been “asking for clarification.”
Zeleny sounds a bit too much like the kid who tattled to the teacher because someone said a bad word on the playground.  I would be happy to give him examples of being completely profane if he wants.

I hope this little exchange doesn't provoke Santorum to start limiting access to only Fox News.  I'd rather hear him engage challenging questions even if he swears at a reporter than see him fawned over by syncophants.  That would be bullshit.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

United We Stand?

William Saletan reviews Jonathan Haidt's The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion.

Saletan summarizes Haidt's recommendations:

Our task, then, is to organize society so that reason and intuition interact in healthy ways. Haidt’s research suggests several broad guidelines. First, we need to help citizens develop sympathetic relationships so that they seek to understand one another instead of using reason to parry opposing views. Second, we need to create time for contemplation. Research shows that two minutes of reflection on a good argument can change a person’s mind. Third, we need to break up our ideological segregation. From 1976 to 2008, the proportion of Americans living in highly partisan counties increased from 27 percent to 48 percent. The Internet exacerbates this problem by helping each user find evidence that supports his views.
In short, people have to talk to people they don't like, live next door to people who frequently disagree with them, and listen before they speak.  How will the Internet survive?
Snark aside, Haidt's observations require serious consideration.  

I briefly discuss a Haidt New York Times briefly here.  Dr. Blanchard analyzes a Reason article here.

Sunday Morning Talk Goes Local

I love it when local and national politics converge.  I produced my own Sunday morning gab fest to celebrate.

Update:  The letter to the editor can be found here.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

People And Prices: Following The People Equals Following The Money

The Atlantic is doing a series of articles developing the thesis that prices are people.  So far, the authors have been silent on the question of whether it's better to view people as prices or as corporations.

Stephen J. Rose points out that most people spend less on necessities than their parents or grandparents did.
Advances in technology and education have created massive productivity gains, which have made things cheaper and easier to obtain. Consider necessities like food and clothing, which gobbled up 42% of our spending in 1947. Six decades later—even in the face of exorbitant spending on frivolities like high-end coffee and designer clothes—food and clothing accounted for only 16% of spending.
Derek Thompson ups the ante a bit arguing that people are price destiny.

There is more to prices than employment figures, of course. Productivity and technology matter. Scarcity matters. Demand matters. But labor is such an important cost that at the broadest level, it can appear almost determinative.
Across the economy we can see that items that require fewer and fewer American workers per completion (think: socks) get cheaper, while services that can't find similar ways to replace American workers (think: health care, education, government) don't get cheaper at all. In fact, they often get more expensive.
In a second article, Thompson makes another comparison
Human-work costs money, and the more human-workers you need to complete a task, the harder it is to make that task cheap. Hand-stitched bags are more expensive than robot-stitched bags. If you own a closet full of purses, you're way ahead of me on this observation.
 Thompson also adds a little nuance to his earlier argument about the labor intensive service sector.
Yep, prices are people. "Baked into the price of everything we buy is the rising cost of advertising, accounting, legal services, insurance, real estate, consulting, and the like -- jobs performed by the high-wage workers of our modern economy," Rose elaborates.
From the stuff getting expensive the fastest, like hospital stays and elite college tuition, to the prices that are falling the fastest relative to wages, like television and freeze-dried prepared foods, we are paying for people -- just as we always have. The big idea here is that prices follow workers.
In short, accountants, lawyers, real estate agents, and insurance agents drive up the cost of everything. So do teachers and nurses.  Yet, no one seems to express outrage about the costs the other professions add to goods and services. On the other hand, a local woman getting a haircut next to me has no compunction uttering "those damned teachers have too much already."

I doubt that the other professions that Thompson lists add more to the economy than educators.  I'm not an economist, but as a simple thought experiment, I suggest imagining the country with 50% fewer real estate agents or 50% fewer insurance agents.  I'm sure there would be a negative impact, but I suspect the damage would be limited.  Now imagine the country with 50% fewer teachers and professors.  I expect that the economic impact would be cataclysmic, especially if one takes in the long term impacts.

Thompson seems to want to take his series in another direction, he writes,
As the economy leans more heavily on certain low-productivity sectors like health care to soak up workers from a growing population and recovering economy, health care will almost certainly become more expensive. But what if we solve the health care cost crisis? This is the trend we're going to pick up in the next installment of the Prices Are People series: If we make sectors like health care and education cheaper, where will the people go? 
I'm pretty sure the answer won't be real estate or insurance.

Occupy The DOE

Valerie Strauss reports that Occupy movement has inspired some to create an Occupy the DOE next week.
A group of activists is planning a four-day protest event starting next week called “Occupy the DOE in D.C.” that is aimed at alerting the Obama administration to growing unhappiness with its education reform policies.
The event includes seminars, led by professors, activists and others, as well as marches and speeches that together are designed to express opposition to the education policies of President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan, which critics say have, among other things, increased the importance of high-stakes tests and promoted charter schools at the expense of traditional public schools.
Unlike some other Occupy protests, the organizers of this one got the required permits to stage all of the planned events.
I tend to become skeptical of teachers who brag about getting their lesson plans done on time.  I also worry about the fact that the Occupy Movement has more iterations than television's CSI and NCIS franchises combined.  However, the group's goals seem very sound.

  •       ALL high stakes testing and punitive policies that label schools, punish students, and close public community schools
  •       ALL high stakes testing that ties teacher evaluations, pay, and job security to high stakes test results
  •       Corporate interventions in public education and education policy.
  •       Corporate run for-profit charter schools that divert public funds away from public schools
  •       Mandates requiring teachers to use corporate approved, scripted programs that sublimate and negate authentic and meaningful learning experiences imparted by varied and rich curricula
Re-reading this list, it seems that South Dakota teachers can sum them up in one sentence: repeal HB 1234.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Visual Proof That Jesus Wrote The Constitution And Obama Is The Anti-Christ

Well not really, but every post should have a catchy title.

Over at The Madville Times, Cory covered the whole Rick Santorum-went-to-church-and-a-pastor-told-everyone-who-isn't-a-conservative-Republican-to-leave-the-United States-controversy.  In the comments, I made the following observation:
I have trouble with the whole idea that the U.S. is somehow a new Israel unique among nations as if blessed by a second covenant. I think that view . . . colors [many right wing Christians'] view of [American] history. Try as I might, I can’t find that doctrine in the Bible.
Rep. Steve Hickey asked "who is saying the US is a new Israel?"

I gave this long-winded response.
I’ll answer your question in two ways. First, nearly every neocon who uses the term American exceptionalism expects his or her listeners to see America as the “city set upon a hill” and therefore uniquely blessed by God. That unique blessing makes the US immune to the pitfalls of other nations. That is a de facto covenant but one not found in any scripture.
I would also contend that American civil religion–the idea that the founding documents are somehow blessed by God has crept from the public square to the pulpits and pews more than it should have. The mix of civil religion, conservative politics, and bad readings of the Bible produced the doctrines that again hint at a unique covenant between the US and God
If only I had known then what I know now.  I have a name, John McNaughton, and I get to illustrate that cliches may have truth; in this instance the cliche will be a picture is worth a thousand words.  Mr. McNaughton is the painter responsible for this bit of schlock.

If the painting itself doesn't imply that Jesus gave the United States the Constitution from on high, then the artist's contention that the U.S. Constitution was "inspired of God and written by God fearing patriotic Americans" certainly does.  McNaughton has created this site to explain all of the hidden symbols inherent in his painting.  People who love satire may read alternate, and somewhat more accurate descriptions here.

McNaughton has a new work available.  I don't have an art major, but based on his previous piece I think he's claiming that Obama is the anti-Christ.

I'm glad McNaughton didn't add the little boy to the second painting.  The poor kid would have burned his hand.  It makes me feel sad when kids hurt themselves.  Of course, paintings like McNaughton's frighten me.  So does the fact that someone may have paid for one of them.

(HT Andrew Sullivan and Wonkette)

How Schools Will Determine Merit Pay Under HB 1234

Ok time to determine who gets the bonus.   What about Mrs. Smith?
 My apologies to Mssrs. Becker, Pietz, and Welch for using them to make a point when they all indicated that they did not support merit pay.  (Photo taken by Kelly Hertz for this Press & Dakotan story)

I Continue To Be Convinced That Voting For President Will Be A Waste Of Time

Conor Friedersdorf reminds us that President Obama's record on civil liberties is spotty at best; in fact, it can probably be described as deplorable.
As political scientist Jonathan Bernstein put it:
What will the 2012 Democratic Party platform say about civil liberties? What will it say about the U.S. government's lethal attacks on citizens overseas? About Gitmo and military tribunals? About drone wars? And, perhaps a more important question: Will Democratic activists push the party to keep and perhaps strengthen its platform -- and if so, will the Obama campaign push back?
It's an uncomfortable choice: either betray your principles and accept the Bush-Cheney-Obama approach to the War on Terror, or else highlight in a minor way how your standard-bearer has betrayed the principles on which he ran and adopted so many of the policies he once criticized. . . .
Meanwhile, Mitt Romney continues to get checks from Bain Capital, a company that profits from helping the Chinese government do a better job of destroying any civil liberties its citizens might try to keep.

The New York Times reported today that Bain Capital, the private equity firm started by GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney, owns a Chinese company, Uniview, that supplies highly advanced surveillance equipment to the Chinese government. China’s authoritarian rulers are using the equipment to create an “omniscient monitoring system” throughout the country, according to a Human Rights Watch researcher quoted by the Times. “When it comes to surveillance, China is pretty upfront about its totalitarian ambitions,” said Nicholas Bequelin.
To realize those totalitarian ambitions, China’s authorities, with Bain Capital’s help, are expanding the country’s already vast network of surveillance cameras. The city of Chongqing is spending $4.2 billion for a network of 500,000 cameras, Guangdong Province is installing a million cameras, and Beijing is planning to put cameras in all entertainment venues, the Times reported.
The authorities use these cameras, along with Internet monitoring and cellphone surveillance, to monitor as much of the entire population as possible. But they are particularly interested in keeping a permanent eye on democracy advocates, intellectuals, religious figures and other people they deem dangerous. For example, police used a surveillance camera to record a human rights lawyer named Li Tiantian entering a hotel with men other than her boyfriend, then taunted her about her sex life and threatened to show the tape to her boyfriend. “The scale of intrusion into people’s private lives is unprecedented,” Li told the Times. “Now when I walk on the street, I feel so vulnerable, like the police are watching me all the time.”
I suppose a difference exists between the two men; the former considers civil liberties the source of an easily broken political promise whereas the other sees them as a marketing ploy.  Both positions demean the Presidency.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Signs Of The Times

Many South Dakota communities will hold school board elections in early April.  We Hate Teachers Yankton Chapter (WHTY) We the People Yankton (WTPY) is holding a candidate forum tonight.

Several candidates have declined the invitation to attend.  It's unknown if advertising for the event, which includes several hand painted signs that evoke images of a friendly ransom note, had anything to do with their decision.  I suspect, however, that this sign may have had something to do with the candidates' decision.

I do give We're The Group That Hired A Guy Who Brags That He Wants To Eliminate Public Education (WTGTHAGWBTHWTEPE) WPTY credit  for showing some school spirit and using red, one of the school colors, in their advertising.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

A Bold Proposal That Wasn't

With the subtly of a WWE tag team, Argus Leader editor Patrick Lalley and K-12 beat reporter Josh Verges suggest that schools should eliminate sports. Lalley blusters into the ring first, asserting that high school extra-curricular sports are "killing us" by "distracting us from the vicious creep of intellectual mediocrity that will be our undoing."  The personal pronouns apparently refer to all Americans.

Today, Verges tags himself in to report that "[t]he state’s 152 districts combined spent a total of $38.2 million on co-curriculars and $515 million on instruction – a 1-to-13.5 ratio.  According to Argus Leader math, "[t]hat’s $309 per K-12 student and $46 per South Dakota resident."

The idea that South Dakotans pay $46 each for something that Lalley admits "knit us together in ways we scarcely comprehend" and "gives us identity and a social framework" is a weak finishing move, totally unworthy of the Lalley's opening bluster.  One can hear sarcasm dripping from the Lalley's keyboard keys as he types the words "identity" and "social framework," but the analysis, sardonic though it may be, is still accurate.

In fact as an effort designed to "fundamentally change how we view public education" and "rethink the [education] debate  Lalley's suggestion reminds one of a recycled Hulk Hogan "Whatcha gonna do when Hulkamania runs wild on you" rather than a Jonathan Coachman Sports Center report.

Let's start with the simple stuff first.  Neither Lalley nor Verges offers any proof that eliminating high school sports will help students learn more. 

Neither proves that schools will have more money to develop academic programs if they eliminate sports.  In fact, If public schools save $309 per student by cutting extra-curriculars, the legislature will cut $309 per pupil from the state aid formula.

Further, Lalley maintains that these club sports will be conducted "without the bureaucracy that now surrounds high school activities."  He may be right; the South Dakota High School Activities Association will no longer exist.  Instead, there will be a basketball association, a football association,a volleyball association, a wrestling association along with the same soccer, baseball, and hockey associations that currently exist.

Let's get to some inconvenient facts.

Students view what happens in the classroom as an interruption from the major activities of their day: texting, Facebooking, socializing, and working a minimum wage job to pay for a crappy car.

Students will expend the same effort, if not more, on club sports that they currently spend on co-curricular activities.

Eliminating sports will lead to the elimination of other extra-curriculars like music and debate.  The former has been shown to help develop math skills; the latter helps develop critical thinking.

Eliminating sports will do nothing to change the testing for the sake of testing focus that Pierre has adopted from Washington.

I suspect that Lalley and Verges proposal will have at least two bold effects.  Small towns will find ways to close down "public schools" and create education development commissions that fund private schools with sports programs.  Larger communities will see parochial or private schools proliferate while public schools die.

Lalley correctly asserts a successful future depends on the ability to think critically.  Unfortunately his proposal doesn't exemplify critical thought.  Focusing on way to change the culture so that it values education instead of devalues it would be a good place to start.

A Question For Economists

Tyler Cowen is an economist.  I don't pretend to know much about economics except to say that most people who claim to follow Adam Smith haven't really read Adam Smith, especially his moral philosophy.  I also know that someone called economics the dismal science, but it's not really a science.

If I read this Cowen sentence correctly, he apparently doesn't believe that economics is dismal either.
If there were a new invention as important as the toilet, shareholders would not and could not appropriate most of the gains.
Given that fewer people are controlling wealth, I can't believe that shareholders "could not appropriate most of the gains."  I have an easier time believing that aliens will abduct me tonight than I do that shareholders would not try to appropriate any and all gains.

Because summarizing and responding to a book,  Cowen doesn't take the time to warrant this assertion.  I would like someone to provide a warrant for me.  Please leave a cogent explanation in the comments.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Of The Political Sacred And Profane

John Haidt contends that people are a bit more irrational than most economists or optimists suggest. Writing in the New York Times, he asserts,
Self-interest, political scientists have found, is a surprisingly weak predictor of people’s views on specific issues. Parents of children in public school are not more supportive of government aid to schools than other citizens. People without health insurance are not more likely to favor government-provided health insurance than are people who are fully insured.
Despite what you might have learned in Economics 101, people aren’t always selfish. In politics, they’re more often groupish. When people feel that a group they value — be it racial, religious, regional or ideological — is under attack, they rally to its defense, even at some cost to themselves. We evolved to be tribal, and politics is a competition among coalitions of tribes.
The key to understanding tribal behavior is not money, it’s sacredness. The great trick that humans developed at some point in the last few hundred thousand years is the ability to circle around a tree, rock, ancestor, flag, book or god, and then treat that thing as sacred. People who worship the same idol can trust one another, work as a team and prevail over less cohesive groups. So if you want to understand politics, and especially our divisive culture wars, you must follow the sacredness.
I know Haidt is correct about parents and their support from schools. Haidt's analysis also makes sense of the idea that teachers are now among the hated folk in America.
I also believe he's correct about the sacred motivating people.  The belief frightens me. If people rally around the sacred, they do so to fight against the profane.  That fact means the "us" are holy while the "them" are evil.
The U.S. may have Christian roots, but it seems that most people have forgotten the injunction to love one's enemies.
43Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy.
44But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;
45That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.
46For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same?
47And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so?
48Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.
People who believe that the sacred involves perfectly loving one's neighbor can't avoid the "us" and "them."  All one needs for proof is to count the number of Baptist churches in any given community.  Each church likely represents a different conference, convention, or confession.  Given that politics generally seems more concerned about crushing political enemies than loving one's neighbor, viewing the political as sacred seems frightening and dangerous.

The Sioux Falls Argus Leader Channels Weird Al Yankovic and Mighty Mouse

It even brings to mind ABC's Wide World of Sports.

I know that newspapers have it tough, even a Gannett publication that dominates an entire state might have to watch the bottom line and think up new ways to attract readers.  Even with that caveat, this Argus Leader commercial seems a bit over the top.

I eagerly await John Hult telling me about drama of everyday life, but hasn't that been done albeit with the addition of the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat?

Now that I think about it, the challenging of assumptions about right and wrong has been done too.   At least we've been told that everything we know is wrong.

I guess the biggest problem with the ad is Hult's assertion that reading the paper will keep readers safe.  We don't need no stinkin' newspaper. Hult has nothing on Mighty Mouse.

Update:  Maybe it's just me, but I wonder if the Argus powers that be decided to chose Hult as spokesperson because he evokes memories of the character Animal from Lou Grant.

Monday, March 19, 2012

My Youth Keeps Slipping Away

Saturday mornings used to be musical: The Monkees, The Archies, Josie and the Pussycats.  Ok it was all bad, but in the days of fewer than three channels on the plains, it sometimes passed for entertainment before the important stuff like The Herculoids came on. (I may be getting my cartoon history mixed up.  Insert whatever sci-fi replacement you wish.)

This morning I find the news that one of the inspirations for one of the musical cartoon characters has passed away.
Josie DeCarlo, the inspi­ra­tion for singer-guitarist Josie McCoy of the 1970 Hanna-Barbera TV cartoon series "Josie and the Pussy­cats" and its suc­ces­sors, has died in her sleep. Her age was not imme­di­ately available. 
Yeah, the animation is bad and the music is pure bubble gum pop, but I was young.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

The Single Best Thing I've Read About Education Reform This Year

Ronald Willit lists 14 things that are wrong with education.  Teachers and teachers unions make the list; however, he also gets to some other major problems that are equally, if not more, damaging.  My three favorites:
A corporate testing and textbook oligopoly, producing testing that bypasses genuine learning; now suspect of even rigging some testing to assure failures, to sustain the demand for tests and scoring.
Politicized state boards of education as a byproduct of the mashup of No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, and ideology, leaving even educationally aware departments caught between the U.S. Department of Education, state legislatures, and limited dollar resources and information to assert better strategies.
The political right wing’s sworn enemies of public education.

Quotation Of The Day: Serious Reading Edition

From this post on Tablet,
“If you consider reading simply a pastime, stop reading. Watch movies: They are less demanding on your schedule, tend to have considerably more nudity, and are generally easier to bring up in conversation. Let the faculties of your mind previously dedicated to parsing text commit themselves instead to better, more needful uses, like mastering Angry Birds. Let reading go gently into the good night and take its place alongside archery and woodcarving in the pantheon of pastimes past, previously popular and currently the domain of the few and the carefully trained.
“But if you’re serious about reading—or, for that matter, about your education—see to it attentively. Revisit Homer and read your way through human history. Don’t stop until you hit Kafka. Or, better yet, don’t stop until you see the entire vista of our culture spread before you and feel yourself every bit a part of it.
Liel Leibovitz may spend too much time reading to know Angry Birds is passe; the young'uns tell me that Fruit Ninja is the new time waster of choice. (It speaks poorly of our culture that Fruit Ninja might be passe before I finish writing this post.)He may also overstate his case, but that hyperbole may be necessary to get people's attention.  Reading the classics is an essential part of education even if pop culture wants us to think otherwise.

(HT Core Knowledge Blog)

A Few Minor Musings About Work And Time

In Animal Farm, Boxer, the symbol of the working class, lives by the mantra "I will work harder."  If current Americans aren't working harder, they are at least working longer.  Working harder got Boxer sent to the knackers.  Working longer costs workers time with family and small bits of sanity.  The extra time may cost businesses money.  Writing at AlterNet, Sara Robinson contends,
It’s a heresy now (good luck convincing your boss of what I’m about to say), but every hour you work over 40 hours a week is making you less effective and productive over both the short and the long haul. And it may sound weird, but it’s true: the single easiest, fastest thing your company can do to boost its output and profits -- starting right now, today -- is to get everybody off the 55-hour-a-week treadmill, and back onto a 40-hour footing.
Robinson points out,
The Business Roundtable study found that after just eight 60-hour weeks, the fall-off in productivity is so marked that the average team would have actually gotten just as much done and been better off if they’d just stuck to a 40-hour week all along. And at 70- or 80-hour weeks, the fall-off happens even faster: at 80 hours, the break-even point is reached in just three weeks.
And finally: these death marches take a longer-term productivity toll as well. Once the crisis has passed and that 60-hour-a-week team gets to go back to its regular 40, it can take several more weeks before the burnout begins to lift enough for them to resume their typical productivity level. So, for a while, you’ll get significantly less than a full 40 out of them.
None of this is supposed to matter to me. Many believe that teachers don't work a 40 hour week.  This Answer Sheet post confirms that fact; teachers work a 53 hour week.
A new report from Scholastic and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, called Primary Sources: America’s Teachers on the Teaching Profession, finally quantifies just how hard teachers work: 10 hours and 40 minutes a day on average. That’s a 53-hour work week! . . . .
The 7.5 hours in the classroom are just the starting point. On average, teachers are at school an additional 90 minutes beyond the school day for mentoring, providing after-school help for students, attending staff meetings and collaborating with peers. Teachers then spend another 95 minutes at home grading, preparing classroom activities, and doing other job-related tasks. The workday is even longer for teachers who advise extracurricular clubs and coach sports —11 hours and 20 minutes, on average. . . .
In the moments I spend committing philosophy without a licence, I have wondered why time is considered such a cheap commodity whereas capital is valuable.  Politicians get elected campaigning against raising the minimum wage and for cutting taxes on capital gains.  In short, they're saying capital which can be lost and regained is more important than time which is a finite commodity.

I think I'm lucky.  There are many days when my work enriches.  Arguing about the big questions that literature explores or the policy and value questions that debate resolutions ask students to consider makes most days worthwhile. That being said, there are days when work drains more from me than it gives.  If I feel that drain, I have to wonder how much other jobs take from workers, leaving them only a paycheck.

Maybe the fact that demanding more than 40 hours of workers' time per week will cost capital can change the equation and cause employers and politicians to reward workers more fairly.  I doubt it, but it may help workers keep more of their time and enrich themselves in ways that money can't buy.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

On Being Displaced: Pop Culture Edition

Today, I saw for the first time the video for Toby Keith's country hit "Red Solo Cup." I don't get out much during November, December, January,and February.

The song is no better or no worse than any other pop country song currently getting airplay.  It's also no better and worse than any other pop rock or hip hop song currently getting airplay.

What struck me as ass backwards in the video (please note I chose the phrase carefully) is the fact that CMT has chosen to bleep the word "testicles" as in "you don't have a pair of testicles"; therefore, you have no courage.  A friend of mine coined the phrase testicular fortitude to express the same point.

I would accept that CMT is protecting its young viewers from coarse language, but the network does not censor Keith's declamation that Fannie Mae can kiss his ass.

I have been known to curse the white wallpaper blue, so the language doesn't really bother me one way or the other, but I really want to know when the word "testicles" became bleep worthy in contexts where "kiss my ass" is not.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Learn 'Em That They Can Be Wrong

I hate the self-esteem pop psychology that masks itself as profound pedagogy.  I also hate the fact that students plan their academic schedules around GPA rather than academic needs or desires.  I believe the easiest way to solve both problems is to mandate that America's Lake Woebegone students, the ones who are above average in every subject on every day, be given at least two "Cs" on their report cards every year, starting in kindergarten.

There may be a small light at the end of the tunnel.  The Answer Sheet blog reports on academic studies that conclude that teaching a student that failure is necessary may help them learn.  One of the studies authors concludes,
“We focused on a widespread cultural belief that equates academic success with a high level of competence and failure with intellectual inferiority. By being obsessed with success, students are afraid to fail, so they are reluctant to take difficult steps to master new material. Acknowledging that difficulty is a crucial part of learning could stop a vicious circle in which difficulty creates feelings of incompetence that in turn disrupts learning.” [emphasis mine]
In other words, if schools and parents create a culture that says some things may be difficult to learn, students may actually learn more..Unfortunately, the study was conducted in France, so I doubt the findings will gain much traction.  Taking an idea from France might hurt Americans self-esteem.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

How Many South Dakotans Argee With These Views?

Andrew Sullivan posted this clip.  He claims the right has gone "ape-shit" over this clip.  I suspect the editor did some creative cutting, but still I have heard similar statments in South Dakota.  Actually, the title of the post may be a bit misleading.  I'm not sure I want to know how many South Dakotans espouse views like the ones in this clip.

Quotations Of The Day: War On Teachers Edition

All three qotations come from this Answer Sheet post.

First, those who find solace in the fact that others share their plight can be comforted by this little nugget.
Attacks on teachers have occurred in the midst of a broad-based attack on the bargaining rights and benefits of all public workers — but even by that standard, teachers have been singled out.
I don't take much comfort in the fact that teacher hate is widespread.  In fact, I find the fact that there is a wide spread group of teacher haters like those populating the ranks of We The People Yankton quite disconcerting.

Second, a quick reminder that working people injure only themselves if they fight among themselves.
There is another more insidious consequence of the attack on teaching. Every time you undermine the job security, working conditions, and wages of one group of workers, it makes it easier for employers to undermine them for all workers. This is why, during the Depression, many unemployed people organized in support of workers on strike, even though anybody with a job in that era was relatively privileged. They believed in the concept of solidarity — the idea that working people could only progress if they did so together, and if one group of workers improved their conditions, it would ultimately improve conditions for all.
 Unsurprisingly, the source of all the hate is a green-eyed monster, no not jealousy, that other one: money.
There are huge profits to be made in the testing industry, in educational technologies that replace teachers, and in constructing and managing charter schools, so it is not hard to see why some people in the corporate world would benefit from attacking public education and teachers unions.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Encyclopedia Britannica And Bob Dylan

In light of the fact that Mily Cyrus will participate in a Bob Dylan Tribute album, it seems only right to have use a classic sung by Dylan himself to introduce the fact that Encyclopedia Britannica will no longer publish hard copies of the encyclopedia.

After 244 years, the Encyclopaedia Britannica is going out of print.
Those coolly authoritative, gold-lettered reference books that were once sold door-to-door by a fleet of traveling salesmen and displayed as proud fixtures in American homes will be discontinued, company executives said.
In an acknowledgment of the realities of the digital age — and of competition from the Web site Wikipedia — Encyclopaedia Britannica will focus primarily on its online encyclopedias and educational curriculum for schools. The last print version is the 32-volume 2010 edition, which weighs 129 pounds and includes new entries on global warming and the Human Genome Project.
“It’s a rite of passage in this new era,” Jorge Cauz, the president of Encyclopaedia Britannica Inc., a company based in Chicago, said in an interview. “Some people will feel sad about it and nostalgic about it. But we have a better tool now. The Web site is continuously updated, it’s much more expansive and it has multimedia.” . . . .
Since it was started 11 years ago, Wikipedia has moved a long way toward replacing the authority of experts with the wisdom of the crowds. The site is now written and edited by tens of thousands of contributors around the world, and it has been gradually accepted as a largely accurate and comprehensive source, even by many scholars and academics
Wikipedia also regularly meets the 21st-century mandate of providing instantly updated material. And it has nearly four million articles in English, including some on pop culture topics that would not be considered worthy of a mention in the Encyclopaedia Britannica.
My family could not afford the Britannica set, but my father made sure we had a set of encyclopedias in the house. I guess I'm to blame as much as anyone; I can't remember the last time I went to an encyclopedia instead of the Web.  Still it's sad to know, "[o]nly 8,000 sets of the 2010 edition have been sold, and the remaining 4,000 have been stored in a warehouse until they are bought."

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Please Let This Be A Pop Culture Nightmare That I Can Wake Up From

From this CNN article,
A compilation album commemorating the 50th anniversary of the human rights organization Amnesty International features some musicians you might expect: activist artists like Sting, Elvis Costello and the Dave Matthews Band. But it's the singers you wouldn't expect who are causing the biggest stir: namely, Miley Cyrus and Ke$ha.
Even more surprising? The pop princesses join 80 or so fellow musicians in offering their renditions of classic tunes by the venerable Bob Dylan.
The idea of Miley Cyrus singing Dylan frightens me.  Please let the nightmare end soon.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Quotation Of The Day: The Beginning Of The End Of Public Education Edition

Diane Ravitch gives Arne Duncan a failing grade and concludes,
We will someday view this era as one in which the nation turned its back on its public schools, its children, and its educators. We will wonder why so many journalists and policymakers rejected the nation’s obligation to support public education as a social responsibility and accepted the unrealistic, unsustainable promises of entrepreneurs and billionaires. And we will, with sorrow and regret, think of this as an era when an obsession with testing and data obliterated any concept or definition of good education. Some perhaps may recall this as a time when the nation forgot that education has a greater purpose than preparing our children to compete in the global economy. 
I hope that Dr. Ravitch is correct that the nation will regret it's decision.  If so, citizens may attempt to rebuild public schools.  On the other hand,  many people, including the local residents who have employed Paul Dorr, will cheer that demise not matter the long term consequences.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Damn, Man! I'm The Governor: A Short, Short Film About South Dakota Education Policy

I've always wanted to direct a movie that mixed genres.  This is as close as I'm going to get.  It's part politcal thriller, and since it has a Mr. Spock like character, it's part science fiction.

I think the cartoon character accurately capture's Governor Daugaard's speech patterns.  I will admit, that the Governor has a certain youthful appeal that I couldn't get the actor to portray.  I would, of course, like to give special thanks to New Jersey Governor Chris Christie for providing me with accuarate governor speak.


Saturday, March 10, 2012

Chris Christie Makes All Fat Angry Men Look Bad

I can empathize with New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. I also have too much tonnage around my middle, and I have been known to have moments that make the Incredible Hulk look serene, but the good Governor needs to chill a bitl.  From this New York Daily News article,
Chris Christie called a Navy veteran an "idiot" at a New Jersey town hall meeting Thursday after they locked horns over the governor’s plan to merge two public universities.
The veteran, William Brown, a law school student at Rutgers-Camden, was speaking out against the governor's plan to merge his school with Rowan University when he became the target of a signature Christie rant.
The article continues,

Eventually, Brown was escorted from the meeting by police.
"Let me tell you something, after you graduate from law school, you conduct yourself like that in a courtroom, your rear end is going to be thrown in jail, idiot," Christie shouted as Brown was led away.
He then turned to the mostly sympathetic crowd and added, "You know, I tried to be patient with the guy. Every time I tried to answer, he started yelling over me again. Damn, man, I'm governor, could you just shut up for a second?"
The attitude "Damn, man, I'm the governor" works in South Dakota when a Governor wants to push through anti-teacher legislation, but the phrase shouldn't be used to insult a former Navy SEAL  Even in South Dakota, it sounds a lot like a the starting quarterback who just got caught cheating on test and then asks the teacher "Do you know who I am?

I really would like to look Governor Christie in the eye and say "Damn, man you're making all of us fat guys look bad."

Friday, March 9, 2012

Quotation Of The Day: Education Privatization Edition

From this Deborah Meier post,
Meanwhile, back at the ranch we face this absurd takeover of our public life—almost overnight—by a bunch of smart folks who see education much as Willie Sutton did when asked why he robbed banks: "That's where the money is." It has other plusses (ideological biases, generosity, etc., which attract some), but if it were a fiscal loser (as Edison Schools thought when it pulled back 20 or so years ago) it would not have the political allies now driving it. I've been so used to trying to persuade powerful people that we can't base good schooling on simple tools of "measurement" that I forgot that they truly don't care.
I had counted on the real Right Wing to stop national curriculum, national testing, and other such nonsense, but even they seem to have come to terms with the power of the State when it comes to such minor details, . . . .

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Preempting Propaganda: Part I

Governor Daugaard will undoubtedly defend his horrendous merit pay and testing law that now faces a referendum effort.  If he follows the current Republican Governors' playbook, he will vehemently assert that those circulating petitions are "defending the status quo" or supporting the existing state of affairs which is less grand than it was in the halycon days of 1971.

A status quo does not magically spring up. Education policy is set by the governor and the legislature. Republicans have created South Dakota's education status quo.

Since 1971, South Dakota has had two Democrats serve as governor.  They both served in the 1970s.  Since 1980, Republicans have occupied the governor's mansion.  Since 1971, Democrats have had control of the House of Representatives from 1973-1976 and 1993-1994.

At the federal level, one must remember that testing became a good in and of itself when President George W. Bush, a Republican, implemented No Child Left Behind.

Governor Daugaard has not disavowed any of his predecessors; he is continuing increasing the testing regime put in place by a Republican.  In short his bill continues a status quo that he claims is failing.  (For now, we'll leave aside that little bit of propaganda that is asserted as fact but lacks evidence.)

Language matters and Daugaard should be held responsible for his Orwellian rhetoric as well as his disastrous legislation.

Related:  Dr. Newquist has a great post on how education used to deal with logical fallacies here.

Moms Say It Best

I tend toward the sardonic, satiric, and angry.  Mom's tend to go for the heartstrings.  This Pam Fedders letter to the editor shows that moms sometimes do know best.
As I watched my fourth-grade daughter put her recorder away in her backpack, excited about an anticipated “music challenge” the next day in music, I listened to the results of the Feb. 28 opt-out vote. When we heard the results, she looked at me and asked, “They won’t take away music will they?” Without thinking, I replied that anything is possible, because they can’t take away something that affects a core area like Reading, for instance. She looked at me seriously and said, “They already have, they already took away our librarian.”

What a sad reflection on our community’s decision to not financially support our public education system adequately, even when it will not increase the majority of peoples’ current tax burden. Our community had the opportunity to demonstrate to state leaders that we care about education, and we failed!

I have been a resident of the Yankton community for more than 35 years and have never been more disillusioned and embarrassed to be a part of community with such selfish short-sightedness and lack of vision for the future. Worse yet, is that people are proud of “beating the Chamber, Yankton Area Progressive Growth and some of our state leaders” — as if it was some sort of competition or game! While Yankton School District has always been one of the leaders in the state in academics, fine arts, and athletics, our community’s vote and negative press has made us the laughing stock.

Never once growing up in Yankton did I have anything but pride for being from Yankton and graduating from Yankton High School; unfortunately, that’s now changed. I have to try to explain to my children why there is inadequate support to maintain our school system, yet they should be proud to live and be a part of Yankton, a community that feels it’s more important to put a few more pennies in their pockets than invest in our children, our future. That’s a tough sell!
 Now, since I am cynical, I will put on my bookmaker hat.  I put the over/under of commenters on Press & Dakotan comment boards telling her to leave town if she's so ashamed at 3.  Those comments will be posted before noon today.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Daugaard's Assualt On Teachers Part Of Republican Governors' Strategy

The Republican Governors' Conference must have assigned a group project.  Writing in The Answer Sheet blog, Diane Ravitch shows how Governor Daugaard's merit pay, continuing contract, and testing proposals seem to have been plagiarized.
Gov. Jindal is in a race to the bottom with other Republican governors to see who can move fastest to destroy the underpinnings of public education and to instill fear in the hearts of teachers. It’s hard to say which of them is worst: Jindal, Scott Walker of Wisconsin, Mitch Daniels of Indiana, Rick Scott of Florida, John Kasich of Ohio, or .... There are so many contenders for the title, it’s hard to name them all.

They all seem to be working from the same playbook: Remove any professionalism and sense of security from teachers; expand privatization as rapidly as possible, through charters and vouchers; intensify reliance on high-stakes tests to evaluate teachers and schools; tighten the regulations on public schools while deregulating the privately managed charter schools. Keep up the attack on many fronts, to confuse the supporters of public education.

The governors appear to be working from the ALEC playbook, ALEC (or the American Legislative Exchange Council) being an organization that shapes model legislation for very conservative state legislators.

Using the right coded language is a very important part of the assault on public education: Call it “reform.” Say that its critics are “defenders of the status quo,” even though the status quo is 10 years of federally mandated high-stakes testing and school closings. If possible, throw mud at the defenders of public education and say that they only have “adult interests” at heart, while the pseudo-reformers — the rich and powerful —are acting only in the interests of children.

Soon after I spoke, Jindal’s newly selected State Superintendent John White had a conference call with reporters to challenge what I said, which was odd because he was not present and did not hear what I said. He had no substantive response to my research review showing that charters, vouchers, and merit pay don’t produce better education. He had no substantive response to my critique of the vagaries of value-added evaluation of teachers. Instead, he pointed to the New Orleans model as a paradigm of “reform,” meaning, I suppose, the benefits of closing down public schools, turning the children over to private management, breaking the teachers’ union, and hiring inexperienced, uncertified teachers.
Ravitch's comments do prompt a few sardonic questions.

1. Did the Governor come up with his "I'm a lobbyist for the students" line by himself or did the other Republican governors help him with his homework?

2. Dr. Ravitch puts Governor Daugaard in the too many to mention category. Does that mean he's not in the top 20% of Republican governors and won't get merit pay?

3. Was there a special session about ignoring evidence or are these governors just winging their responses?

4. Is the Governor hoping to create a South Dakota miracle or a South Dakota model of reform? (I hope he remembers that the Texas miracle was based on a lie and that the data do no not support a New Orleans model or Michelle Rhee type reforms, but then again, I'm a hopeless romantic.  I still hope my students will use the study guide to remember the names of Greek gods and heroes.)