Thursday, May 31, 2012

How Are High School Policy Debaters Like Terrorists?

Next year high school policy debaters across the country will be debating: Resolved: The United States federal government should substantially increase its transportation infrastructure investment in the United States.  Like all high school students, they will be using the Internet to research.  Unlike most, they may garner some interest from the Department of Homeland Security.  According to this Lifehacker post,
The US Department of Homeland Security has released a list of the keywords and phrases the agency monitors online to find potential threats. Obviously posting "Al Queda" and "dirty bomb" online will get the government to start looking at you real closely, but "pork" and other oddly normal words are also on the list.
Given that high school policy debaters are a curious lot, I expect them to use all of the terms that the department's Analysts Desktop Binder lists under it Infrastructure Security section.  Further, most affirmative plans will be met with a argument that will claim that enacting the plan will cause extinction or nuclear war.  The story follows the format of a DirectTV commercial so closely that I'm convinced the creator of this series was a policy debater.

Next fall, students will probably make Department of Homeland security analysts earn their pay as debaters type in "infrastructure," "collapse," "airplane," and "extinction."

Insult Of The Day: John Thune As Veep Edition

Ed Kilgore illustrates that it's important to leave readers with a vivid image and use action verbs.  First, he points to NRO's soporific praise.
It probably didn’t help that Costa’s case for Thune wasn’t exactly stirring: He’s “lanky and telegenic.” He’s “the son of a school-teacher and the grandson of a hardware store owner.” His state is sorta kinda near the Rust Belt battleground area. He’s a “devout Christian.” His wife isn’t entirely opposed to his going onto the ticket. He’s friends with Mitch McConnell. How much excitement can you stand?
Kilgore than goes on to deliver an elegant and effective put down:
Some say Romney is so confident of victory that he’s looking for the “best qualified to be president” hopeful, which is what every nominee since Andrew Jackson has claimed he was looking for. Others say he’s terrified of the Palin precedent, and/or doesn’t want to make the Veepship a test of strength among the GOP’s various factions, and thus prefers someone as anodyne as possible. Either way, Thune, who probably does not leave an impression on his own bed when he arises in the morning, might fill the bill. But I’ll save reading the next profile of the man until a moment when I can use and afford a nap. [emphasis mine]
Kilgore, who actually gets paid for blogging, probably has a reason for not asking an obvious question, but the question has been bothering me, so I'll ask it: when did being "lanky" become a quality that made one "best qualified to be president"?

Some Stolen Musings About Mastery

Hugh MacLeod is upset with people "fixa­ted on the desi­red RESULT, that they have lost all genuine, inte­llec­tual inte­rest in the actual STEPS that will actually get them there."

According to MacLeod,
The Wall Street ex-fratboy who moves West to Sili­con Valley, not because he gives a damn about tech or inno­va­tion, but because he can smell the gravy. The pain­ter who doesn’t have a sin­gle inte­res­ting idea in his pea-size brain, but just knows he wants a big show in a famous New York Gallery ASAP. The small-town knuc­klehead who moves to Los Ange­les “to become famous”. The guy who signs his life away to a large com­pany because he ima­gi­nes it must be fun to have a big office in a tall building.
They say they are result-focused, when in rea­lity, all they are is reward-focused.
They have no inte­rest in tin­ke­ring with something, eight hours a day, day-in-day-out for deca­des, pur­suing an idea, achei­ving mas­tery. They just want the magic wand. They just want the “bacon”.
MacLeod's analysis applies to corporate ed reformers and political appointees like Melody Schopp who want to give students and teachers and students the "gift" of a testing regime that punishes excellence.

MacLeod also allows one to answer the perennial question about whether education is an art or a science.  At the Core Knowledge Blog, Robert Pondiscio points to a Dan Willingham video in which Willingham asserts "teaching is neither art nor science, but 'somewhere in between.'"

MacLeod's observation allows for an even cleaner answer: it doesn't matter!  The real question is how does one get students to seek and appreciate mastery.  At an Ignite event, MacLeod asserted,
. . . I can honestly say MASTERY is more satisf­ying than money. If you’re up for it, yes, MASTERY MATTERS MORE THAN SUCCESS.
19. And it’s por­ta­ble. It tra­vels with you, whe­re­ver you go. No land­lord, No boss, no sud­den relo­ca­tion, no reces­sion, no Wall Street analyst can take it away. It’s something that truly belongs to you, for always.
20. So when a kid asks me for career advice these days, I tell her, “Don’t worry about money, don’t worry about suc­cess. Worry about Mas­tery– that is something pre­cious you can actually con­trol. And yes, if you’ve achie­ved mas­tery, you’re more likely to be suc­cess­ful and pros­pe­rous, any­way.” Again, MASTERY MATTERS MORE THAN SUCCESS. So go for it. . . .

Justin Bieber Hears And Delivers Words Of Wisdom

I feel a bit cheap posting this, but I need to improve my readership among the all important 'tween girl demographic.

The Answer Sheet blog reports that Ellen DeGeneres conducted a high school graduation ceremony for Justin Bieber.  Bieber earned his GED earlier this year.

The post provides a transcript of the DeGeneres's comments.  The best part of the speech occurs when DeGeneres compares herself to the pop sensation:
You’re only 18 and you are already an international superstar. When I was 18 my biggest accomplishment was drinking a whole bottle of boysenberry syrup from the International House of Pancakes.
The post does not transcribe the most important part of the ceremony.  Bieber thanks a business that all graduates keep profitable in this testing for the sake of testing era: Bieber thanks "Ticonderoga pencils number 2 and number 3."  If a teen pop singer whom many believe guilty of vapid lyrics understands that education is being reduced to commercialism and filling in the bubbles, it seems odd that education bureaucrats can't arrive at the same conclusion and stop foisting foolish policies on students.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Plains Pops: Political Anger Edition

This morning Bob Mercer expressed his continued wonderment about "[a]ll of this anger — and it is truly anger — about Gov. Dennis Daugaard making five endorsements in Republican legislative primaries."

Next fall my students will be responding to this visual writing prompt that John T. Spencer created.

Spencer's accurate realization that American voters are driven by anger made me want to go a bit deeper.  There's the obvious exhibitions of beneficial, if not righteous, anger that both sides of the political spectrum will both claim.

One is enjoined, however, to sin not when angry; perhaps because one should avoid the foolishness that perpetual anger may lead to.
In the real world, unfortunately, one can't give the Donald this response

So one will have to be satisfied with this response:

Quotation Of The Day: Recovering Lifehacker Edition

An important reminder from this Lifehacker post contending that one should simplify one's life and discover and act on what's important:
You are very important, but only to certain people. Make sure you identify them correctly.
Why do I check my inbox, twitter feed, smartphone notifications, and blog stats like a crack fiend? Because I really like feeling important. I like getting messages instantly because their manufactured urgency makes me feel like my attention is a hot commodity clamored for by thronging masses. And it's true: my attention is a hot commodity. But not to 95% of the people behind those dings and pings. They don't really care about me or my attention at all, other than as a means to their own ends. If I emailed them back right now, or two hours from now, tomorrow, never — it very well might make no real difference in the big picture. You know who does care about my attention? My wife. My friends (and not the Facebook variety). The family members I don't call often enough. To them, I actually am important. Why not act accordingly?
I'm not saying you should just blow off your communication-related obligations at will, but being omni-available in "real time" should not be your default if you can help it. Let's be honest: The consequences of ignoring or deferring incoming messages until you're ready to review them are abstract and vastly overestimated, while the consequences of being that asshole who keeps checking his iPhone at dinner are very real. Yes, certain people should have the authority to interrupt you at will. But do consider this possibility: if the people to whom you've extended this privilege invoke it primarily via "things that ding," your priorities may be seriously [f**ked]. [Bold and real profanity in original]
Read the whole thing; it's worth one's time.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Reverend Hickey And Larry Kurtz Bait Or When Did Timber Lake, South Dakota Become The Wall Street Of Legal Sharks?

Or why is Georgia apparently better at taking on usurers than South Dakota?

From Legal, this Bryan Cohen article in its entirety.
Georgia Attorney General Samuel Olens announced on Friday that he has successfully urged several payday lenders that claim to be owned and operated by Native Americans to stop making loans in Georgia.
Payday Financial LLC, Green Billow LLC and Western Sky Financial LLC will stop making payday loans in Georgia. The companies allegedly made illegal payday loans in Georgia through their websites, despite the fact that Georgia law specifically prohibits making payday loans, including making payday loans to residents of Georgia through the internet.
The companies allegedly offered payday loans of $300 to $2,525 to consumers throughout the nation, through websites and by advertising on television.
"When it comes to payday lending in Georgia, there is no gray area," Olens said. "It is unquestionably illegal in any form. We will not stand for unscrupulous, out-of-state lenders taking advantage of Georgia consumers by skirting our laws."
Attorneys for Martin A. Webb, the operator of Payday Financial LLC and several related businesses in Timber Lake, S.D., claim that the companies are exempt from law in Georgia as a result of tribal, or sovereign, immunity. The businesses claim to operate within the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation and to be completely member owned by the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe. Olens' office said that if a company conducts business in Georgia, the laws of Georgia apply.

Monday, May 28, 2012

I Let A Guy From The Religious Right Get Under My Skin

When I read Cory's post about a tea party PAC sending out pink flyers accusing Republican state senate candidate Gene Abdallah of "voting to give graphic sexual materials to children at school," I was unfazed.  Similar flyers get sent out during every election, and I had not had my coffee. After all the flyers weren't lilac, and they didn't accuse Abdallah's spouse being an active thespian.

Besides Conor Friedersdorf has recently pointed out that many on the far right "persist in believing, without apparent evidence, that there is a strategic benefit to allying with Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, Rep. Allen West, and others on the right who accuse their political opponents of being demonic, treasonous, moronic Communist sluts. . .,"  so I also felt a bit of relief.  According to the excerpts Cory published, Abdullah apparently has not sold his soul to the Devil, and he possesses, at the very least, average intelligence.

In the comments, however, self-alleged Christian conservative Ed Randazzo writes,
And I thought you liberals were all about tolerance and free speech. If you’re gonna climb in the ring you better be able to take a few punches.
In the original post, Cory ably demonstrates that flyer is at best an obfuscation, at worst a lie.  In the comments, Troy Jones adds credence to Cory's analysis.

Those who want to skip over my Bible-banging can jump down 4 paragraphs.

First, this reminder keeps me running to the mirror to make sure I don't have any logs in my eye while I'm looking for mote:
Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’ (Matthew 7:22-23)
For the situation at hand, Exodus 20:16 has a useful reminder:  "Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour"

Also, there's this passage in I Corinthians 10:
All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful; all things are lawful for me, but not all things edify. Let no one seek his own, but each one the other’s well-being.
It's doubtful one seeks to edify another when one accuses someone of allowing "classroom instruction with . . . graphic and detailed sexual materials."

As far as being conservative, Michael Fumento, a person who worked for Ronald Reagan and wrote for Bill Buckley, recently wrote:
As a conservative, I disagree with the political opinions of liberals. But to me, a verbal assault indicates insecurity and weakness on the part of the assaulter, as in “Is that the best they can do?” This playground bullying – the name-calling, the screaming, the horrible accusations – all are intended to stifle debate, the very lifeblood of a democracy.
He goes on to point out:
Incivility is hardly the domain of the new right. American society grows ever coarser. But this is cold comfort. Conservative ideology demands civility of conservatives; demands, yes, self-policing. Let others act as they will, bearing evidence of the shallowness of their positions. It also demands respect for official offices, such as the presidency. When our guy is in office, you give him that modicum of respect – and when your guy is in office, we do the same. The other party is to be referred to as “the loyal opposition,” not with words the FCC forbids on the air.
In short, he pink flyer, while it may contain a few punches, is neither Christian nor conservative.

I don't know if Ed will get over here to read this.  He is "a nationally syndicated author" and "has been a conservative activist and consultant for over 30 years,"  so he's probably really busy.  If he does and decides to respond, I hope he doesn't resort to "the Devil can cite scripture for his own purpose"; a person with his qualifications should be able to be more original.  Besides, the words come from Shakespeare not the Bible.

I also hope he honestly says he's part of the religious right;  that term is far more accurate than Christian conservative.

Finally, if he does accuse me of being "demonic, treasonous, moronic Communist" or liberal, New Age, freedom hating, he should add "slut."  If he does, my wife will giggle and I love hearing her laugh.

Politics As Cult: Literature, Song, And Cognitive Dissonance

This post even has a Star Trek reference.

NPR reports on a "Mirror Mirror" political landscape.  Using research from Dartmouth College political scientist Brendan Nyhan and Georgia State University's Jason Reifler, Shankar Vedantam reports,
When pollsters ask Republicans and Democrats whether the president can do anything about high gas prices, the answers reflect the usual partisan divisions in the country. About two-thirds of Republicans say the president can do something about high gas prices, and about two-thirds of Democrats say he can't.
But six years ago, with a Republican president in the White House, the numbers were reversed: Three-fourths of Democrats said President Bush could do something about high gas prices, while the majority of Republicans said gas prices were clearly outside the president's control.
The article goes on:
"Last time it was Republicans who were against a flip-flopping, out-of-touch elitist from Massachusetts, and now it's Democrats," Nyhan said.
Nyhan also contrasted the outrage in 2004 among Democrats who felt that Bush was politicizing the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks for political gain, and the outrage today among Republicans who feel the Obama re-election campaign is exploiting the killing of Osama bin Laden.
"The whole political landscape has flipped," Nyhan said.
That condition should sound familiar, especially if the partisans believe they have always held those views.  Orwell noted the situation in his classic 1984:
At this moment, for example, in 1984 (if it was 1984), Oceania was at war with Eurasia and in alliance with Eastasia. In no public or private utterance was it ever admitted that the three powers had at any time been grouped along different lines. Actually, as Winston well knew, it was only four years since Oceania had been at war with Eastasia and in alliance with Eurasia. But that was merely a piece of furtive knowledge, which he happened to possess because his memory was not satisfactorily under control. Officially the change of partners had never happened. Oceania was at war with Eurasia: therefore Oceania had always been at war with Eurasia. The enemy of the moment always represented absolute evil, and it followed that any past or future agreement with him was impossible. (1.3.16)
These divisions produce some humorous dichotomies.  For example, The Nation has declared this Loretta Lynn song its number one Memorial Day song.

I haven't seen any polling, but I'd bet Mitt Romney's $10,000 that those on the other end of the political spectrum view this Loretta Lynn song as much more appropriate for Memorial Day.

Country music choice is a correlation not a causation, however.  The NPR article continues,
. . . partisans reject facts because they produce cognitive dissonance — the psychological experience of having to hold inconsistent ideas in one's head. When Democrats hear the argument that the president can do something about high gas prices, that produces dissonance because it clashes with the loyalties these voters feel toward Obama. The same thing happens when Republicans hear that Obama cannot be held responsible for high gas prices — the information challenges their dislike of the president.
Nyhan and Reifler hypothesized that partisans reject such information not because they're against the facts, but because it's painful.
Rejecting facts because they painfully challenge preconceived beliefs turns partisans from members of a political party into members of a cult.

How People Think And How To Think About School

A thought provoking look at how people think and create and what schools do to them.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Quotation Of The Day: Teachers And Baseball Managers Edition

Detroit Tigers manager Jim Leyland compares baseball managers and teachers.  Leyland shows a better grasp of education than politicians and policymakers.
"Things I always get a kick out of ... you win 95 games as a manager and all of a sudden you are not going well, (then) you are a dummy. Now (fans think) you need a different manager, a different hitting coach, a different pitching coach," he said. "That is usually not the answer. We are not doing anything different than we did last year."
"If people knew the amount of time that Jeff Jones (Detroit's pitching coach) and Lloyd McClendon (Tigers hitting coach) put in, it would be mind-boggling to them. It's not different than a teacher in school. I teach you all day long. Here's the test. (I) can't take it for you."
The difference, of course, is that Leyland gets to choose who plays for him, and he's judged on 162 regular season games not a single test.

(I should be more charitable to Leyland but his Tigers beat the Twins on Friday and Saturday.)

A Post Wherein I Try To Be Both Spiritual And Weird

It's Sunday morning.  I should be meditating on beautiful passages like Psalm 8:
Psalm 8
For the director of music. According to gittith. A psalm of David.
1 Lord, our Lord,
    how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory
    in the heavens.
2 Through the praise of children and infants
    you have established a stronghold against your enemies,
    to silence the foe and the avenger.
3 When I consider your heavens,
    the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
    which you have set in place,
4 what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
    human beings that you care for them?
5 You have made them a little lower than the angels
    and crowned them with glory and honor.
6 You made them rulers over the works of your hands;
    you put everything under their feet:
7 all flocks and herds,
    and the animals of the wild,
8 the birds in the sky,
    and the fish in the sea,
    all that swim the paths of the seas.
9 Lord, our Lord,
    how majestic is your name in all the earth!
 Instead I'm watching YouTube videos like this one.

In my defense the people who made the video come a conclusion similar to the psalmist's.  They just don't express it as beautifully.

Reading And Food Go Together . . .

As long as one doesn't leave greasy fingerprints on the pages.

I mused about attempts to reduce the amount of literature students read here.  The practical folk behind this ludicrous alleged reform contend that fiction has little practical value.  Darya Pino STEM person who is also a foodie disagrees. She writes:
The power of language to whisk us away to other worlds, times and even into other people’s minds never ceases to astound me.
Fiction can often give me a better glimpse into a culture than even visiting, since the amount of time and exploration required to really get a sense for the mindset and lifestyle of the people who live there is substantial.
Some might argue that getting "a better glimpse into a culture" or getting a sense of others "mindset and lifestyle" still has no personal practical benefit. Pino adds one more more benefit that applies to everyone; reading fiction made her a better cook.
For instance, it’s impossible for me to read Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, which I’ve done several times, without craving Spanish tapas and red wine for the better part of a month (this is also why Spanish food is one of my absolute favorite cuisines). The Last Chinese Chef had me exploring obscure alleyways in Chinatown in search of the best dumplings and peking duck, and before reading it I would have said Chinese food wasn’t really my jam.
Midnight’s Children, the meta-award winning book by Salman Rushdie, forever changed the way I think and feel about Indian food. Spices and heat permeate the characters and events in Midnight’s Children, which is one of the literary tools Rushdie uses to portray his native culture. My obsession with Indian food lasted for months as I read this and other works by Rushdie, since I couldn’t stop reading him after finishing the first.
One need not read the highbrow literature Pino lists here.  Robert Parker's Spenser cooks in nearly title.

HT: LIfehacker

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Yes, I Have No Life . . .

School's out; it's a Saturday night during a holiday weekend, and I'm sitting at home.

That being said, this adaptation of The Avengers is funny.  It also makes me think that I should find ways to incorporate creating a silent film into my mythology class.

Quotation Of The Day: The Power Of Stories Edition

I argued for the importance of literature herethis fascinating article in Psychology Today further explains why stories are important. The key quotation:
But in four decades in the movie business, I've come to see that stories are not only for the big screen, Shakespearean plays, and John Grisham novels. I've come to see that they are far more than entertainment. They are the most effective form of human communication, more powerful than any other way of packaging information. And telling purposeful stories is certainly the most efficient means of persuasion in everyday life, the most effective way of translating ideas into action, whether you're green-lighting a $90 million film project, motivating employees to meet an important deadline, or getting your kids through a crisis.
PowerPoint presentations may be powered by state-of-the-art technology. But reams of data rarely engage people to move them to action. Stories, on the other hand, are state-of-the-heart technology—they connect us to others. They provide emotional transportation, moving people to take action on your cause because they can very quickly come to psychologically identify with the characters in a narrative or share an experience—courtesy of the images evoked in the telling
Equally important, they turn the audience/listeners into viral advocates of the proposition, whether in life or in business, by paying the story—not just the information—forward.

Friday, May 25, 2012

I Had To Hear It To Believe It. . .

So I made this video, but I'm not sure that I believe it now.

Earlier today, I came across this Troy Jones post and accompanying Bob Ellis comments at Dakota War College. I re-read the post and comments.  The comments made little sense in relation to the post, so I decided I needed to hear the exchange.

I've never met Jones, but he and I have debated in the comments at The Madville Times. I agree with him on the death penalty, and I think he takes good stands on civil liberties.  He's spectacularly wrong on HB 1234, and we'd probably disagree on military spending.  I don't believe the U.S government should take 45 percent of GDP like Sweden does, but 16 percent seems low.  Whatever our disagreements, he has always been respectful and made cogent points.

To the best of my memory, I've never met or engaged in any online conversations with Ellis.

Here's a video that sums up the post and comments.  If anyone can made sense of it, please explain in the comments.

Plains Pops:Totally Random Updates Edition

Romney has released his education plan.  At first blush, it's indistinguishable from Obama's and Bush's. In related news,  Hollywood is apparently ready to give Rocky treatment to charter schools.

Jeff Barth reacts to comments about his video: “I don't care if you don't like [the video]. I don't care if you don't like me. I think it's kind of fun.”  The Dakota War College praises Barth's sincerity.  I still doubt that ironic hipster deconstructionists (IHDs) constitute a major South Dakota voting block.  Heck, I'm unconvinced there's enough of them to fill all of the tables at a Starbucks.

As further proof that Hell is experiencing a cold front, the aforementioned Dakota War College expresses unease at Governor Eddie Haskell's Dennis Daugaard's endorsements in South Dakota's Republican primaries. More importantly, the Madville Times points to Republican legislative candidates running against Daugaard's destructive education measure, HB 1234.

Finally, here's another reading trifecta.  Reporter and blogger Bob Mercer recommends Watergate: A Novel. NPR Books points to 15 summer reads recommended by Indie booksellers, and IO9 takes science fiction fans back to the  1960s.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Hell Has Frozen Over: America Is Philosophical (At Least This Week)

In The Chronicle of Higher Education Carlin Romano asks "Is America Philosophical?"  The obvious answer is "hell no!"  Even Romano acknowledges:
Tocqueville, that touchstone for all synoptic thinking about America, thought the peculiar attitude of its residents toward philosophy so obvious that he began the second volume of Democracy in America by noting it: ''I think that in no country in the civilized world is less attention paid to philosophy than in the United States. The Americans have no philosophical school of their own, and they care but little for all the schools into which Europe is divided."
In the four days since the article was published, however, I've had to change my mind.  Andrew Sullivan takes Leo Strauss to task. Ross Douthat discusses Christianity's influence on secular liberalism in The New York Times.  Big time blogger Noah Millman responds to Douthat, and another big time blogger Daniel Larison responds to Millman.

All of this give and take could be written off.  The proof comes from Professor Mark White, a guy who has a professional life I envy.  White has authored a book on Kantian ethics that can be purchased from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and that bastion of the common philosophical shopper Walmart.

I'm happy for Professor White, but a bit put off as well.  The next time I walk the local megastore's aisles looking for deodorant, socks, or a 10 pound bag of cheese puffs, I will have to ask myself if my using the self checkout is an act that treats the clerk as a means rather than an end unto herself. I will also have to decide if I actually want to create a universal maxim about the purchasing of obscenely large bags of snack foods.

A Minor Musing: South Dakota Politics Campaign Ad Edition

I have no idea what Jeff Barth is trying to do with his new campaign ad.  BuzzFeed calls the ad kooky.  My guesses about his goals for the ad, in no particular order, are
  1. Earn an interview with either Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert.
  2. Shore up his hick credentials.
  3. Do an empirical study to definitively ascertain whether it's true that there's no such thing as bad publicity.
  4. Deliberately lose the primary election to Matt Varilek.
  5. Make everyone think he's from South Carolina.
  6. Make it impossible for him to win against Kristi Noem should he win the primary
People who get paid to discuss campaign ads have a more scholarly view.  The Huffington Post reports:
Mother Jones reporter Tim Murphy has hailed it on Twitter as "the campaign ad we've been waiting for," while MSNBC's Jamil Smith questions whether we should view this as sarcasm or,more likely,as a profound and absurd deconstruction of the art of the political campaign ad.
I appreciate country living and plain speaking more than most.  I love irony.  Anyone who discusses the south end of a north bound horse and calls politicians horses' asses has my attention.  I just doubt the video will help him, so I hope he had fun doing it.

For those who need their irony, "absurd deconstruction", kookiness, or fiddle music:

Tony Martinet Resigns: South Dakota Debate Loses

Josh Verges gives an objective take on Tony Martinet's decision to leave Lincoln High School and return to Colorado. I'm not a reporter, so I don't have have to be objective.

Tony coached Sioux Falls Lincoln "debate team powerhouse" with skill and passion that few can match.  He replaced Kim Maass, a South Dakota forensics legend, and elegantly dealt with the baggage, both positive and negative, that comes with that sort of situation.  Because he developed great competitors, Tony made every other debater and extemper in South Dakota better. Coaching against Tony frequently made me feel as if the only things I had to offer were the nostalgia of a faded Mr. Rogers sweater and a good head of hair.

Verges mentions that Tony testified against HB 1234.  I don't know what role, if any, the legislation or South Dakota's political climate played in Tony's decision.  I do know that Tony is young, enthusiastic, talented, and intelligent; he has the qualities every teacher needs, and South Dakota is worse off because he's leaving.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Maybe We Shouldn't Study War So Much

While discussing Romney's foreign policy team, Colin Powell gave the following sound advice:
"Look at the world. There is no pure competitor of the United States of America.  All the problems we talk about in Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran ... they count about 700 million people in a world of seven billion. What are the rest of them doing? They're increasing their economies, they're building wealth, they're educating their kids, they're building their infrastructure. That's what we need to be doing."
A little Louis Armstrong might help make the point.

When Film Does Bad Things To Great Literature

After seeing this trailer for The Great Gatsby,

I have one thought that gives me comfort.  It won't be as bad as this Demi Moore retelling of The Scarlet Letter.

Quotation Of The Day; Comics And Social Issues Edition

I know.  I know.  Any post about comics and social relevancy is supposed to deal with the fact that DC has announced that a major character will reveal he's gay.  Speculation has run amok.  If one is a Marvel die hard, one should blog about Northstar's impending same-sex nuptials.

I probably should make a few serious remarks abut these events, but I also remember how badly Marvel mishandled Rawhide Kid's exit from the closet; I'm taking a wait and see attitude.

Besides, it's early in the morning and I haven't had my coffee.   Therefore, this Hannibal Tabu "analysis" about Ben Grimm's impolitic language seems a good way to start the day.
Most of "Avengers vs. X-Men" #4 was just "whatever," but there's one piece worth noting" Ben Grimm said to Namor, "I don't even care what's goin' on ... I just like punchin' you in your stupid fish face." While some may have concerns about this clear slur against pesco-Americans, some others would just consider it built up enmity over Namor trying to give his best friend's wife the business. Had Grimm not used another pesco-American slur in another "AvX" title this week ("Hey Fishpaste!") it might have been easy to write off, but certainly the Anti-De-fishmation League will have something to say about this!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Plains Pops: Evil And Happiness And Irony Edition

Google, who along with Apple and Microsoft may be the true "Axis of Evil," has a chief happiness officer.  Chade-Meng Tan, helped develop "a course called 'Search Inside Yourself,' designed to help Googlers improve their emotional intelligence and mindfulness, making them happier and more productive employees, and better bosses. Ultimately, his goal is to make the world in general a happier place for everyone."

Second, two of myfavorite supervillains were supposed to be "one-offs."  First, Captain America's nemesis Red Skull:
Though Red Skull is one of Captain America's earliest and most well-known enemies, he originally wasn't supposed to show up again after his first appearance. But as the fan base grew, the character was brought back into the story. Later issues revealed that the original Red Skull was a fake, and introduced the true villain, eventually shown to be Johann Schmidt. According to Marvel's page on the character, the modern version of Red Skull didn't show up until Tales of Suspense #66 in 1965. 
The most shocking character on IO9's list is the Joker:
The mad archvillain we all know and love was originally going to be killed off shortly after his debut=. At the end of the Joker's second appearance in Batman #2, he would have died after accidentally stabbing himself. Whitney Ellsworth, a DC editor, thought the Joker was too good a character to let die, so he had another panel drawn to show that the villain was still alive.
Thiid, I'll grant that Governor Daugaard may not be evil, but the testing ├╝ber alles regime that he will usher in if HB 1234 stands will destroy student happiness and obliterate what's left of the state's teachers' morale.  The good Governor is also acting like a supervillain in his efforts to consolidate his power by endorsing legislative candidates in the primary election, an act that Joel Rosenthal, a former chairman of the South Dakota Republican Party, said . . .is unusual  . . . ."  One of the candidates that Daugaard endorsed sees himself as part of a “big team.”  Is it a coincidence that the Red Skull and the Joker also had teams of minions to help them enact their plans for conquest?

Let's review.  The conglomerate that violates users' privacy hired a person who seeks to make everyone happy.  Supervillains who were supposed to exist for only an issue or two have survived for decades, and a governor who has a reputation for being a good guy is recruiting people to help him enact a plan that will harm students worse than Google or the Joker would ever dream of.

A Minor Musing That Reveals Me To Be Heartless And Cynical

I'm not sure what to make of this William D.Cohan article about Steven Ridley, a former investment banker.  I guess I'm a heartless ass, but I have no sympathy when Cohen writes:
He then explained why he was so unhappy. “Like everyone there, I worked my ass to the bone, working mind-numbingly boring work,” he continued. “15 hour days were a minimum, 16-17 were normal, 20+ were frequent and once or twice a month there would be the dreaded all-nighter. I worked around 2 out of every 4 weekends in some form. I was never free, I always had my blackberry with me, and thus I could never truly detach myself from the job.”
What about the perks, the lavish lifestyle? “These are the objective facts, contrary to what any ’baller’ wants to tell you,” writes Ridley. “The only models were Excel models, the only bottles were Coca Cola, which I drank a lot of to stay awake.”
Ridley after all made enough money "to pursue his passion for singing."

On the other hand, this conclusion resonates:
. . . . Wall Street is no longer a fun -- or necessarily lucrative -- place to work.
And guess what? This is the best news to come around in a generation. Now, instead of being sucked into Wall Street by default or after digesting a fantasy about fame and untold riches, maybe our best and brightest graduates will pursue their passions. If they do, we will all be better off.
I wish I had Cohan's confidence, but I suspect that greed and "he who dies with the most toys wins" mentality is so entrenched in the American psyche that future Ridleys will just look for the next "get rich fast" career and the cycle will repeat itself.

In addition to being heartless, I must be cynical.

Plains Pops: Reading Trifecta Edition

First, from my blog reading, three interesting posts from Rod Dreher:
  1. A conservative teacher discusses how poverty effects student.
  2. A post based on a comment about the poverty article.
  3. The humanities as a way of knowing.
Second, the first three books pulled from my to be read pile:
  1. Hell is Empty (Finished)
  2. Hedy's Folly: The Life and Breakthrough Inventions of Hedy Lamarr, the Most Beautiful Woman in the World
  3. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking will be my first Nook book.  I started but stuff got in the way, so I'm going to restart.
Thrid, a bleg for books to add to the list:
  1. An overlooked classic
  2. A coach's book
  3. A young adult novel that's not The Hunger Games, gotta keep up with the young'uns

Monday, May 21, 2012

Quotation Of The Day: Innovation Edition

From this Chris Trimble post on The Harvard Business Review:
". . . any breakthrough innovation. . . requires special teams that are custom-built from scratch. When building such a team, be sure to:
  • Start hiring by asking What skills do we need?, not Who do we know? or Who is available?
  • Create custom titles and job descriptions, tailored to the task at hand.
  • Deliberately shift the power structure, as the task at hand requires.
Breakthrough innovation is not just about ideas. It's about getting unfamiliar work done, and unfamiliar work requires unfamiliar teams."
I would like to work in a place that apples these principles.

My Candidate To Replace Melody Schopp And Arne Duncan

Sir Ken Robinson lays out a great vision for lifelong earning and survives a tough interview committee.  He even does mean Elvis "Thank you very much."

It's sad and frightening that every South Dakota policy maker will ignore him.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

A Minor Musing About Attacks On Teaching Literature

Diane Ravitch asks why David Coleman dislikes fiction.  She admits that she doesn't know why Coleman, "a member of the writing team for the Common Core State Standards in English Language Arts/Literacy," would speak disparagingly about literature or why the Common Core Standards will reduce the amount of literature that high school students will read.

Perhaps Coleman agrees with Joel Stein who suggests that too many adults read young adult novels. Perhaps he worries that young girls will become depressed if they  read too much dystopian fiction.  He may agree with Tim Parks who asserts that readers don't need the intensification of self that novels provide.  He may have had an English teacher who made him angry by asking him to find too many symbols.

Because he peppers his little essay with the phrase "college and career," I suspect, however, that he agrees with Thomas Jefferson who infamously claims,
“A great obstacle to good education is the inordinate passion prevalent for novels, and the time lost in that reading which should be instructively employed. When this poison infects the mind, it destroys its tone and revolts it against wholesome reading. Reason and fact, plain and unadorned, are rejected. Nothing can engage attention unless dressed in all the figments of fancy, and nothing so bedecked comes amiss. The result is a bloated imagination, sickly judgment, and disgust towards all the real businesses of life."
This objection has several flaws.  First, those who suggest that elementary and secondary education exists only to prepare students for a career come perilously close to asserting that students exist only to do the work of their employers, so they do not exist as end to themselves.  One does not have to be Kant to understand the moral risk of seeing human beings primarily as means to profit others.

Second, focus on what Jefferson calls "all the real business of life" or being college and career ready in Coleman's case leads to missing the gorilla because one is too focused on watching the bouncing ball. For those unfamiliar with the experiment, this YouTube video illustrates the problem. In this case, the bouncing ball serves as a metaphor for test scores.

Finally, a comment on Ravitch's post reminds all of us that fiction is a necessary tool in any effort to speak truth to power:

“…A good writer is the watch-dog of society. His job is to satirize its silliness, to attack its injustices, to stigmatize its faults. And this is the reason that in America neither society or government is very fond of writers.”
~ John Steinbeck
One hopes Coleman is merely too focused on test scores.  That mistake is forgivable; believing that human beings should be treated as a means to end or attempting to limit efforts to expose injustice is not.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Tweet Of The Century

This Stuff Made Me Smile

Wear sunscreen and never give up

Scroll down to see an obscure super hero break dance.

The Amazing Fact Generator.

This post about dance music, especially the conclusion:

In younger days, I proudly flew the rockist flag. Yet after several years as a newspaper critic, my defenses wore down. I learned not to get so uptight about music that is often a means rather than an end in itself. It occurred to me that one reason I might not respond favorably to contemporary club/dance/electronica music is because I don’t like to dance and I don’t like clubs filled with people who do. It’s not meant for me — just as Lady Gaga is not meant for me and Justin Bieber is not meant for me.
More than that, I realized that time has a funny way with music. Appalachian mountain music was meant to be danced to. Today we call it “traditional,” with all the connotations of staidness that such a label brings to mind.
We don’t yet call “Last Dance” “traditional music,” but who knows what kind kind of taxonomical tricks the next 100 years will have in store:

Finally, something about Andy Grammer's "Fine By Me"reminds me of Billy Joel's "Uptown Girl" which reminded me of one of my favorite songs "We Didn't Start The Fire."

Plains Pops: Random Saturday Morning Essay Questions

Answer the following complete sentences or original  color crayon artwork

Question 1: Is the following observation accurate?  Why or why not?  Use concrete examples to support the answer.
Question 2:  Which is more odious: a billionaire "withdrew his U.S. citizenship to save on taxes" or two senators who write legislation that specifically targets him and upends the rule of law by  putting" the burden of proof on individuals rather than the state"?  Read this post if you need more background information.  Once again provide concrete details to support your assertions.

Question 3:  Why can Sweden achieve the following but the United States can't?
But Sweden has made a turnaround since then, and by European standards today it's the picture of economic health: 7.5% unemployment last year, inflation below 2%, and GDP growth of 4.4%. The government's tax take has hovered at 45% of GDP for years, roughly in line with spending, and Swedish benefits remain comprehensive and guaranteed. Once again, Swedes appear to have figured out something the rest of Europe hasn't: Having their welfare state and paying for it too.
Question 4:  When I told one of my students, a junior girl, that Donna Summer had died, the young lady had no idea who Summer was or what songs she sang. Does that fact mean if live in a cultural hinterland?

Friday, May 18, 2012

Quotation Of The Day: Teaching And Technology Edition

From Paul Thomas, a former teacher and an associate professor of education at Furman University, who has written 12 books about public educational methods, in this New York Times article:
“Teaching is a human experience. Technology is a distraction when we need literacy, numeracy and critical thinking.”

A Question About Educational Research

Writing in the New York Times "The Stone," Gary Gutting asks an important question:
But how reliable is even the best work on the effects of teaching?  How, for example, does it compare with the best work by biochemists on the effects of light on plant growth? Since humans are much more complex than plants and biochemists have far more refined techniques for studying plants, we may well expect the biochemical work to be far more reliable.  For making informed decisions about public policy, though, we need to have a more precise sense of how large the difference in reliability is. Is there any work on the effectiveness of teaching that is solidly enough established to support major policy decisions?
He answers in the negative, noting:
Without a strong track record of experiments leading to successful predictions, there is seldom a basis for taking social scientific results as definitive.  Jim Manzi, in his recent book, “Uncontrolled,” offers a careful and informed survey of the problems of research in the social sciences and concludes that “nonexperimental social science is not capable of making useful, reliable and nonobvious predictions for the effects of most proposed policy interventions.”
Gutting causes me to wonder how many educational reform policies have been based on unreliable research?

Thursday, May 17, 2012

What Did I Do Wrong This Time?

I think Hippocrates was a genius for formulating the principle: "First, do no harm."  I try to avoid harming my students, but like all mortals,"the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do."

That fact makes this Jessica Hagy post on Forbes so disconcerting; she lists nine dangerous things schools teach, one hopes unwittingly.  I'm guilty of two of the sins.  Hagy writes and graphs,
The people in charge have all the answers.That’s why they are so wealthy and happy and healthy and powerful—ask any teacher.

I try to avoid this one, but I continually fight the urge answer students' questions.  I know it's a dangerous vanity, but I have an uncontrollable desire to show that I know more than Wikipedia.

I modify the second sin:
There is a very clear, single path to success. It’s called college. Everyone can join the top 1% if they do well enough in school and ignore the basic math problem inherent in that idea.

I urge most of my students to go to college and get out of South Dakota.  I have no illusions about their joining the 1%, but I do tell them the good paying jobs are elsewhere.  Given that a sense of place may be an essential part of human fulfillment, I may be doing them a disservice. 

Finally, I disagree that schools are alone in perpetuating this lie; in fact,I fight against this attitude daily,  but I lose.
The purpose of your education is your future career.  And so you will be taught to be a good worker. You have to teach yourself how to be something more.

Today was the last workday of the school year.  I need to take some naps and start thinking about next year.  What did I do wrong this time and how much harm did I cause seems to be a good place to start.

Plains Pops: Pleonasms Edition

Mental Floss lists 9 common phrases that are longer than they need to be.  Two strike close to home.  The first will change NFL broadcasters vocabulary forever: "frozen tundra" is redundant.
3. Frozen tundra. “Tundra” comes from the Russian word for Arctic steppes, and tundra is generally characterized by permafrost, frozen subsoil. Technically, there is non-frozen Alpine tundra, so-called from lack of vegetation, not temperature. Still, the vast majority of tundra is frozen. So, whether you’re talking about northern Siberia or poking fun at North Dakotan winters, this phrase is generally redundant.
The second truly breaks my heart; I take great joy telling students that the quiz will cause "weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth."  Alas,
4. Gnashing of teeth. This one is a symbol of frustration and suffering. But “to gnash” already means “to grind one’s teeth” and has meant that since the fifteenth century. If the only thing you can gnash is teeth, this little turn of phrase is pitch-perfect pleonasm.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Sad Work Facts

I ended the school year feeling as tired as I can ever remember feeling.  According to this Business Insider slide show, I'm not alone.  American workers are probably among the most tired in the world.  The most frustrating takes from the article:

The average American gets 90 minutes less sleep than they should, and the number of sleep disorders has skyrocketed in recent years. 
If current trends continue, Americans will be spending as much time at their jobs in 2100 as they did back in 1920, when regulations were put into place to protect workers.
83 percent of employees report going to work sick because they're afraid they'll be punished for missing.
36 percent of Americans don't plan to use all of their vacation days.
The U.S. is one of few countries that doesn't legally require workers to take time off. By contrast, countries like France and England require workers to take 30 days of vacation 
24 percent of employees work six or more extra hours per week without pay.
 I wonder if the corporations that are people get as tired as human workers.

On Baseball And Teaching

Stephen Hurley compares baseball and teaching.  He makes five excellent comparisons; my personal favorite is his third:
To be a fan of the game requires a commitment that is just not required in other sports. Professional baseball teams play pretty well every day during the regular season. If you’re going to follow a team, it requires daily attention. This also means that whatever goes wrong (or right) on one day can be easily reversed 24 hours later.
As a lifelong baseball fan, I have always appreciated that sense of renewal, and it springs eternal on every baseball season's opening day and on every first day of school.

I want to add two other comparisons to his list.

Baseball specializes.  The designated hitter doesn't come in the game as a relief pitcher.  Shortstops rarely don the tools of ignorance and catch.  Likewise, a high school history teacher probably shouldn't teach kindergarten.

Baseball has some idiosyncrasies that participants in other sports mock.  For example, baseball is the only sport in which the defense controls the ball, and it's the only sport that has managers and coaches wear players' uniforms.  Other professions also seem to see teachers as a little weird, adults trapped in permanent adolescence because they spend their entire day with students and still wonder what's going to happen in study hall.

HT@John T Spencer

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Quotation Of The Day: Today I Really Like Google Edition

Marissa Mayer, Goggle's "vice president of local, maps, and location services—and the driving force behind more than a hundred of Google’s products and services, including search, news, gmail, earth, books, and toolbar" just made my school year seem worthwhile.  In a Daily Beast interview, she asserts,
"One of the more interesting things they’ve found is that programming aptitude and excellence is more tied to verbal SAT scores than to math SAT scores,” she explained. “Beyond basic mathematical aptitude, the difference between good programmers and great programmers is verbal ability.”
Clarity of expression is something Mayer prizes so dearly that she uses it as a litmus test when evaluating new ideas. Disruptive technology should solve big problems and have widespread applications, but it should also be easy to understand. “I think about my mom,” she told Brown. “She’s very smart. She’s a little intimidated by technology. So when a new idea comes up, I think, ‘How would I explain it to her?’”

South Dakota Department Of Education And Other Ed. Reformers Ready To Ignore Voters And Facts?

In this excellent post, Grant Wiggins observes,
Why it makes me mad. All this makes me deeply angry.  These policies will drive good people out of education and undercut the accountability movement. But this kind of policy-making is more than stupid and Kafkaesque; it is immoral. It is immoral to demand of others what we are unwilling to do to ourselves, whether we cite Kant’s Categorical Imperative or the Golden Rule. And no one, absolutely no one, promulgating this policy is willing to havethemselves be held similarly accountable. Who would? Who would willingly hold themselves accountable for measures that involve arcane math, no formative feedback en route, unreliable data, and admit no counter-evidence? Shame on the hypocrites proposing this; shame on the policy wonks who cheerfully overlook the flaws in order to grind their political axes; shame on all of us for not rising up in protest.  [Emphasis in original]
Bob Mercer reminds South Dakotans that they have another reason to be angry.  The South Dakota Department of Education (SDDOE) apparently plans to move ahead even if HB 1234, the legislation that will link teachers' evaluations to students' test results, is referred.
The petition drive to refer House Bill 1234 to a statewide vote is steaming along, with a June 18 deadeline for submitting the signatures. If Secretary of State Jason Gant determines there are sufficient valid signatures of registered South Dakota voters – at least 15,855 are necessary — the legislation would be on hold until after the results ae known from the Nov. 6 general election. The legislation wouldn’t become law until July 1 at the earliest if the petition drive falls short. All of which calls for the question to be asked: Why did the state Department of Education proceed already in naming the members of three of the panels created in the legislation? Those are the teacher evaluation work group, the principal evaluation work group and the local teacher reward plan advisory council. Do the voters not matter?
Ignoring voters may be a new twist, but education bureaucrats seem to frequently ignore inconvenient facts.  Wiggins writes,
. . .the ugly truth is that current and proposed uses for the approach are not ready for prime time on psychometric grounds. Worse, policy-makers (and, yes, some enemies of public education) are foisting these flawed approaches on us with seeming disregard for margin of error and the invalidity of shifting the purpose of the test – an old story in education.
Wiggins offers a solution that might also solve some of the burnout sources I mention here.
The solution requires us to learn from athletics: utterly transparent and valid measures, timely and frequent results, the ability to challenge judgments made, many diverse measurements over time, teacher-coach ‘ownership’ of the rules and systems, and tiered leagues (e.g. Division I, II, III) in which we have reasonable expectations and good incentives to make genuine improvement over time.

Monday, May 14, 2012

An Example Of The Need To Be A Lifelong Learner?

This David Montgomery tweet shows that some problems never go away.

My students have the same problems.  They probably don't resolve them as well as Mr. Montgomery does, but they don't limit their thesis on longer essays, and they often haven't studied enough to have enough support for their answers on essay tests.

Quotation Of The Day: The Free Market Is Not Really Free

From this quotation on this Tumblr:
The idea that if economic life is detached from all moral considerations and left to operate by its own laws all will be well is simply an abdication of human responsibility. It is the handing over of human life to the pagan goddess of fortune.
Lesslie Newbigin, Truth to Tell: The Gospel as Public Truth p77

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Thanks Mom

This Andrew Sullivan post about women and prayer brought to mind this old Southern gospel song that my parents frequently played on some old scratched vinyl records.
Mother Plainsmen is still alive and well and praying for her sons, daughters-in-law, and grandkids  because she knows we need all the help we can get.  Thanks Mom.

Avenging Burnout

John T. Spencer takes on the issue of teacher burnout,

In each case, teachers didn't have the permission to fail. They didn't have the chance to be open with people about their own fears. Change requires humility. Humility requires vulnerability. And Superman, for all his greatness, doesn't exude vulnerability.
Burnout isn't about eating right and exercising well. It's about a loss of passion and purpose. It's about losing one's identity. If we want to fix the issue of burnout, we need a better story; one with a deeper theme than passing the test, a more vulnerable protagonist than Superman, a community of trusted relationships and a setting of authenticity.

Spencer expresses the pathos of burnout better than I can, but he invokes Superman, and the comic book geek in me sees the need to use the latest comic book blockbuster to point out a couple of other reasons that teachers burnout.

First, teachers are isolated from other professionals during most of their careers, a problem this trailer highlights

It's not just the Avengers who need to come together; most creative types seem to have that need.  In an Atlantic interview with Richard Florida, Jonah Lehrer asserts,
I just find it slightly ironic that even the researchers inventing all these wonderful tools that allow us to interact remotely, such as email and Skype and Facetime, still organize themselves into local clusters. They know that they need to constantly interact in person, . . . [italics in original]
The following trailer backs up Spencer's point about humility and admitting failures and faults; Stark freely admits fault.  The clip also illustrates several problems teachers seem to have, the reluctance to engage in tough talk, celebrate individual teachers' gifts, and unleash a little anger at politicians who denigrate the profession.  It probably wouldn't hurt to be able to smirk at ourselves a bit either.

Teachers do themselves a disservice when they don't face down the political foes with tough talk.  Too often the "for the children" lines preclude using using a few well-chosen fighting words. Political endorsements that take place two years before an election make it difficult to issue credible threats to politicians who pursue policies that harm schools.