1 More For Mom

Remember these dudes?

Happy Birthday Mom

Happy Birthday Mom!

Here's some Ella for ya...


The Difference Between Liberals And Conservatives: It's A Brain Thing

Teachers Teach. Students Learn (If They Choose To)

From a NYT article. Students are being asked to attend, and sometimes lead the parent/teacher conference. I don't think I have written much about conferences, but I have always allowed and encouraged my students to attend for exactly the reason this mom mentions in the following statement:
“My daughter is learning that the teacher is not responsible for her learning. Cierra knows that she is responsible for her own success.”
I know some of you are going to find that simple, wrong, or simply wrong, but its very right; teachers do the teaching, students do the learning. To put the responsibility for a student's learning onto the teacher is just backwards. That's of course what NCLB does though; it puts all of the responsibility for student outcomes on someone other than the student. A student takes a test, and a teacher gets graded. Sounds kind of backwards, no?

Kudos to Cierra's mom for raising a child to be responsible for her actions and outcomes. We definitely do not need more folks out there who think they can get bailed out by someone else.


Let's Kill Some Words!

Sherman Dorn is a brilliant professor and editor. He likes to do some debunking now and again. Here he debunks a few of my favorites:
Zombie jargon for the end of 2008

As this incredibly horrid, wonderful, and plain odd year limps to a close, we should say goodbye to terms that are long past their usefulness. (Snark warning: It's the end of a year, and this is one of the rare times that I will actively make fun of bad ideas.) In my view, the following terms are zombie jargon, terms that by all accounts should be dead but somehow are still walking around. Are your brains being eaten by any of them?
* Speaking of brains, let's start out with brain-based learning. All learning is brain-based, but neuropsychology is not sufficiently advanced for anyone to say with certainty what instructional methods are tied to what happens in our brains. This is too often connected with pseudoscience and used to sell various products and programs.

* Let's move from brains to classrooms: sage-on-the-stage vs. guide-on-the-side. If you can figure out a classroom where there is either no structure at all or children don't have their own ideas, please go visit a real one. Until then, please don't bother me with false dichotomies. All good teachers have some structure in the classroom. All good teachers work with the fact that students are human beings with their own motives, moods, and so forth.

* But the fact that students are different is sometimes reified into categories with little research support, such as learning styles. My educational psychology colleagues tell me that there is no research support for claims that a particular student will inherently learn better in some presumed "mode," let alone support for the constructs of various proposed modes. And it's a good thing, too: if some of us truly were verbal or kinesthetic learners rather than being able to absorb visual information, the roads would be much more dangerous than they already are.

* Along the lines of learning styles is multiple intelligence, which is Howard Gardner's assay of our internal baloney meter. If you've paid money to read one of his books on the topic, you failed the test. In his defense, I know that he developed the term in trying to address the king of all zombie jargon in education, intelligence. But I'm not sure if it makes problems any better if you multiply them.

* But let's move from psychology to policy pablum. If you hear policymakers talk about world class standards, make sure to run as fast as you can before they open up your skull. I don't know if my children and their peers need to meet standards that would work in Quito, Buenos Aires, Accra, or Beijing, but I'd settle for their meeting MIT standards, Oberlin standards, and UC Irvine standards, and for their being able to make friends and work with peers from Quito, Buenos Aires, Accra, or Beijing.

* And now that we are in the 21st century, can we stop talking about terms such as 21st century skills as if being able to read and knowing a bit of science, math, and history are somehow obsolete?

* While all of the terms listed above should have been dead a few years ago, I want to add another one that's freshly dead (or should be): data-driven decision-making [TFT's personal favorite term to deride]. This is not an argument against using data to make decisions but against using the term "data-driven decision-making" to avoid talking about hard decisions: what should we be teaching children, who has priority on resources, is a teacher or principle thinking that their job is working hard instead of teaching, etc. It is a term used by technocrat wannabes, the ones who would have talked about zero-based budgeting in the 1960s or time-and-motion studies in the 1920s.

Hertzberg On Obama/Warren

Rick Hertzberg is a favorite of mine. I almost always agree with him (being a liberal atheist and all), and I have posted many pieces by Rick here on TFT. I post this one because, even though I agree with it, I disagree. "Pastor"(scare quotes!)Warren should not have been invited.
Three Strikes (Strike Two: Pastor Rick)

Obama’s choice of Rick Warren to deliver the invocation at his Inauguration has produced anger and/or hurt feelings in many liberal and/or gay precincts. It’s hard to say this without sounding condescending, but I understand these feelings and sympathize with them.

Warren turns out to be somewhat worse than I thought he was back when, a few months ago, I rashly likened him to Henry Ward Beecher. I hadn’t fully appreciated that he contends Jews and atheists are automatically hellbound, for example. Or that he has declared assassination admissible when used against “evildoers,” such as the president of Iran. Or that, while he says gays are welcome to attend services at his Saddleback megachurch, he doesn’t let them (closet cases excepted, presumably) become members. (He doesn’t let heterosexuals who are living together in “sin” join, either.)

Nevertheless, the invitation to Warren looks to me like another of Obama’s brilliant chess moves.[emphasis mine; this is the part I agree with]

Warren, first of all, is much, much less of a jerk than, say, Pat Robertson or James Dodson. He is polite and civil to people who are polite and civil to him, even people who (like Obama) disagree with him on subjects like whether or not abortion and same-sex marriage should be illegal. He recognizes that global warming, environmental degradation, gross economic inequality, and poverty are actual problems, not just excuses for godless liberals to impose big government programs. He does not go on television to fleece the faithful with “prayer requests.”

The President-elect is doing what he has said he would do from the beginning: he is reaching across lines of identity and ideology. Remember those wonderful lines from the 2004 keynote? “We worship an awesome God in the blue states… and, yes, we have some gay friends in the red states.” (I don’t worship any gods, whether awesome or lame, but when Obama said this I didn’t feel in the least slighted.) In the case of the Warren invitation, the reaching across is neither more nor less than an expression of inclusion and respect in the context of a ritual of the American civic religion. It is not an offer to surrender or compromise some principle. It is not a preemptive concession in some arcane negotiation. If anything, it suggests that when and if he does negotiate with the Christianist right, he will negotiate from strength, not weakness.

The Warren invitation should make it politically easier for Obama to change federal policies in an equal-rights direction where gays and lesbians are concerned, much as retaining Robert Gates at the Pentagon will make it politically easier for him to manage a withdrawal from Iraq. What the Warren invitation does is to show evangelicals that when (and if, but let’s hope there won’t be any ifs) Obama scraps “don’t ask, don’t tell,” starts providing federal support for contraception, and undoes the international “gag rule” on abortion counseling, he’s doing these things out of his sense of the general good, not lobbing ordnance in a culture war.

Warren supported Proposition 8, the California anti-same-sex-marriage initiative. Worse, he likens same-sex marriage to marriage between siblings, marriage between an adult and a child, and polygamy. But, according to beliefnet.com, he also says that he regards divorce as a much bigger threat than gay marriage—“a no-brainer,” he says. Also, he appears to be open to, maybe even supportive of, civil unions—something that Obama, and organized gaydom, ought to put to the test.

Warren has said that he has lots of gay friends. That’s easy to make fun of, but it’s not meaningless. In Gus Van Sant’s terrific film “Milk,” Sean Penn’s Harvey Milk helps defeat a 1978 anti-gay California proposition by rallying large numbers of gays to come out of the closet and make themselves known to friends, family, and co-workers. People who have gay friends have a hard time hating gay people. Eventually they have a hard time hating gayness itself.

Although Obama did a little better among evangelicals than did the last couple of Democratic nominees, the organized evangelical movement is never going to support him. But either it can oppose him passionately, contemptuously, and across the board, or it can oppose him respectfully, selectively, and without zeal, cooperating with him in some areas. Obama’s Warren gesture should nudge some non-negligible number of evangelicals in the second direction. It might even help cool their social-issue fervor.

I’m especially inclined to see this as a real possibility after my very interesting and enjoyable recent visit to Covenant College, in Lookout Mountain, Georgia, just across the Tennessee border from Chattanooga. Covenant is no Bob Jones University—dancing is permitted, the dress code is relaxed, and check out the school Drama Association’s latest production!—but it is a stronghold of evangelical Christianity. (Motto: “In All Things Christ Pre-Eminent”.) Judging from a show of hands I asked for, the people who came to my talk all pretty much unanimously believe in a personal God who has opinions about which human sexual practices are naughty, and which are nice. Be that as it may, I liked them all—students, faculty, and the college president, Niel Nielson—very much. They were polite, serious, gracious, and un-self-righteous. I don’t know how typical the students I talked with were, but they were eager to discuss every question from “Is there a God?” to “At what point does the moral value of a human fetus exceed that of a live chimpanzee?” I got the impression that many of them are embarrassed by the likes of Dobson, Robertson, and Sarah Palin, and have no wish to be lumped in with them. Several volunteered to me that they had voted for Obama. Many more seemed fascinated by him and glad that he views them as citizens of the same country that he is going to be President of. When we discussed gay issues, it seemed clear to me that they were earnestly struggling with the contradiction between, on the one hand, the Bible’s supposed anti-gay fulminations and, on the other hand, their own increasingly inescapable knowledge that (a) being gay is not a “lifestyle choice” and (b) there is no danger of gays “recruiting” straights, let alone recruiting so many that the human race dwindles into nonexistence.

These students live in a bubble, and they know it. But then, people like me live in a bubble, too, and, on the whole, we don’t know it. From my angle, of course, our bubble looks bigger and better. Theirs: a constricted, six-thousand-year-old world ruled by an incorrigibly small-minded God, the secrets of which are to be found in a black-bound anthology of unreliably translated old tribal stories, poems, directives, and tracts. Ours: an unimaginably immense, unimaginably ancient universe ruled by no one, the wonders and beauties of which are continually being revealed to us through our senses and our minds. The more frank and friendly conversation there is between the two bubbles, the better. (Don’t take my word for it— take Melissa Etheridge’s.)

Being the opening act at Obama’s Inauguration will give Warren a boost within the evangelical world, at the expense of the real baddies (or the real worsies). It will have a calming effect on evangelicals. The rest of us—liberals, gays, secularists, unorthodox Jews, non-Christianist Christians—ought to stay calm, too. We can settle for the rest of the ceremony, including Obama’s address and Joseph Lowery’s benediction. To say nothing of the substantive changes the Obama Administration will bring.

Cartoon Fun: Middle East Edition

Happy New Year Cartoon Fun

Bob Reich: Just A Little Tenderness

Bob's call for decency:
Thoughts on the End of a Hell of a Year

The biggest thing to happen to me this year was the birth of my first grandchild, a little girl named Ella. I know this kind of thing happens all the time and frankly I get bored with people who go all gushy about the birth of kids or grandkids.

I’m bringing Ella up not so much because she’s special -- of course she is -- but because she was born right in the middle of the worst economic downturn in my lifetime and probably yours, and maybe even hers. Ella came with a crash.

Like almost everyone else, I’ve lost a big chunk of my savings this year. And the house I bought here in Berkeley at the very top of the housing boom is probably worth a lot less than I paid for it. I’m not too worried about my job because I have tenure here at the University of California, although maybe I should worry because the state is technically bankrupt. Still, I'm one of the lucky ones.

Yet all of this seems somehow beside the point, relative to Ella.

Having kids or grandkids expands your focus and also your time horizon. You pay a bit less attention to what the Dow is likely to do over the next quarter and more to the underlying wealth of the nation. By that I don't mean just its gross domestic product but also its gross domestic decency, if there were such a measure: The quality of our public schools and of our atmosphere, the extent of our openness and generosity toward one another, our national promise of opportunity to all. You find yourself less interested in the gossip surrounding Bernie Madoff or Rod Blagojevich than in the larger questions they raise about private greed and public morality.

Alright, maybe I am going all gushy. The point is, it's the Ellas of the world we're fighting for. This Mini-Depression is causing a lot of pain, to be sure, but it will be over in a year or three. Yet what kind of economy will we have on the other side? Will we have a more just society?

Which brings me to the end of the year. I wish you not just a happy and prosperous new year. On that score, 2009 may be something of a bummer. I wish you and your kids and grandkids, and Ella, something more -- a decent, generous, and humane future.
I don't know if Bob ever reads this blog, but if he does, if you do, Bob, thanks.


Posse Comitatus: Repealed (apparently)

This is a bit scary because we are nearing the conditions necessary:
Report argues for domestic police role for military

by Jay McDonough

The Posse Comitatus Act was passed in 1878, just after the end of the Reconstruction following the Civil War, and prohibited the federal government from using the military for domestic law enforcement purposes except in very rare cases. Per Wikipedia, the Act was a political concession to Southern states, withdrawing the Union military forces that policed ex-Confederate states during the Reconstruction.

A couple months ago, the Department of Defense announced it was assigning a full-time Army unit to be on call to facilitate military cooperation with the Department of Homeland Security in the event of another terrorist attack.

A report in the Army Times last month first brought the domestic deployment to light. The Army's 3rd Infantry Division 1st Brigade Combat Team became the first unit assigned permanently to Northern Command.

According to the Army Times report, the Team would be on-call to respond in the event of a natural disaster or terror attack anywhere in the country, or they could be used to "help with civil unrest and crowd control." (Link)
This clearly raises issues with respect to the Posse Comitatus Act, but even more troubling are recent reports a U.S. Army War College professor has written a report asserting military intervention would be required in a number of domestic scenarios.
The author warns potential causes for such civil unrest could include another terrorist attack, "unforeseen economic collapse, loss of functioning political and legal order, purposeful domestic resistance or insurgency, pervasive public health emergencies, and catastrophic natural and human disasters." The situation could deteriorate to the point where military intervention was required, he argues.
The author of the report notes the proposals are his alone and don't represent U.S. policy, but it's also certain the report has been read throughout the Defense Department. But economic collapse? Loss of functioning political order? Purposeful domestic resistance? That's one terrifying slippery slope. And not in keeping with American values.

Yglesias: STFU!

I love Matt. He's smart and says what he thinks. He has a post up about "personnel quality" that you should read; the comments are the best part. As usual, MY's readers tear him a new one due to his penchant for siding with the union busters and the blame-the-teachers folks. Here is the post:
By Request: Personnel Quality

I liked NS’s other question too:
Why is “finding better teachers” such a preoccupation among self-described education reformers? Of course, we’d have a better education system if our teachers were better. We’d also have a better military if our soldiers were better and a better health care system if our doctors and nurses were better. Why is education the only policy area where “find better people” is treated as a workable solution?
With regard to soldiers, I would reject the premise. In the aftermath of the Vietnam War there was a very low level of interest in joining the United States military and consequently in order to maintain the required overall force size it was necessary to make recruiting standards quite low and to be pretty lax about who you would keep on. The rebuilding of the quality of the personnel employed by the military over the course of the 1980s and 1990s is one of the great prides of the officers who were involved. And when the Iraq War was leading to a personnel crunch and moves toward diluting recruiting standards there was, rightly, a great deal of hand-wringing over it. Concern about personnel quality is also one of, if not the, main reason why the military brass is generally very hostile to the idea of conscription and this is also why we’ve encouraged our NATO allies to abolish conscript and build smaller, higher-quality, more professionalized forces.

Quality of personnel should always be a concern across public services. Some cities, for example, have trouble offering police officers salaries that are as high as what’s offered in neighboring suburbs. This tends to lead to problems with the quality of the staff available to urban police departments which, in turn, makes it more difficult to keep crime under control.

With regard to teachers, though, it’s worth trying to be more specific since the debate has focused on a couple of particular points. In the United States, we tend to require teachers to do a lot of preemptive qualifying in terms of getting themselves certified. And then after a few years of teaching, they become eligible for tenure status. But we do have some fairly extensive experience with teachers going into the classroom without traditional certification. And the evidence suggests that such teachers are basically just as effective as the teachers who do have the traditional certification. The evidence also suggests that while teachers tend to get a lot more effective after their first couple of years of experience, they don’t get more and more and more effective as further time passes. Thus, the general shape of the teacher quality reform proposals is to (a) relax the preemptive screening so as to make it easier for anyone with a college degree to get into the classroom, (b) make the tenure decision more strictly tied to student achievement, and then (c) take advantage whatever increase in your potential labor force step (a) has given you to make it possible to in step (b) dump the bottom X% of the worst-performing teachers. To all of this I would be strongly inclined to add (d) start paying people more to further increase the size of the labor pool and make step (c) all the more effective.

But the need to have good people doing important public services is by no means unique to teaching and it certainly applies to the military.
And my favorite comment by a MY reader:
Skeptic Says:
December 30th, 2008 at 1:43 pm

I’m sorry, that’s just utterly utterly dumb. Stupid. Pathetic.

You want good education, lower your classroom size. That means more teachers, smaller classes. Invest in your students. Invest in resources for the school - music programs, athletic, drama, shop, computers, you name it. Establish a rock solid basic curriculum and then enrich it with lots of electives. Monitor your students performance and then establish streams or programs to encourage and support the brilliant, provide remedial help for those who did a bit of a boost in certain areas, and a low end stream. Identify and remove the disruptive. All of this takes money, patience and a genuine investment. Not something that Americans have a lot of interest in these days.

Much easier to simply go for the crack fix. I mean the quick fix.

Oh, and I certainly do love the ‘break the teachers union’. Yeah, because that’s certainly going to encourage quality teachers.
Now go read it.

Update: I just checked back and Skeptic has another comment. Who is this Skeptic? I like....
Skeptic Says:
December 30th, 2008 at 6:28 pm

Yeah, that’s it. It’s all about bad teachers. Get rid of the bad teachers, and the system will magically right itself and we’ll all be rubbing each other off in happy teddy bear land. Good for you, hope that works out for you all.

Yes, political correctness is at fault. People who are good at math and science just get sick of being told that the N*gg*r word is unacceptable and that you can’t sexually harass the prettier girl students.

Now, I don’t know if my educational experience is similar to most Americans. But here goes.

I went to elementary school, grades 1 through 6, a different teacher in year. Six teachers over six years.

Then I went to Junior High, a curriculum of 6 courses per year, with a different teacher specializing in the different subjects - math, history, etc. There was overlap, different teachers taught multiple classes, but I figure I was exposed to a minimum of 6 to 12 teachers, over three years and 18 courses.

High school, three more years, but increasing numbers of elective courses to choose from. Say 12 to 18 teachers.

All in all, I figure twelve years of schooling had me exposed for substantial periods to 24 to 36 teachers.

Were some of them awful? Sure, I remember a math teacher in high school who couldn’t find his ass with a flashlight. I remember a horiffic elementary school teacher who would pull kids pants down and spank them savagely in front of the class. Of the 24 to 36 I’d have said maybe 4 or 5 were truly terrible. Roughly 15% say, give or take.

That seems to be about average for the population. You look at any trade and the bottom fifteen per cent tend to be major league screw ups.

Were there good teachers? Yep. Not all of them. I remember a couple of really brilliant university professor level high school english teachers, a great biology teacher, a really sweet elementary school teacher. Maybe 4 or 5.

And the rest? Solidly unexceptional.

Now, let me make a few points. Were there bad teachers? Sure there were. But they were the exception, the minority, and for the most part, I was exposed to enough different teachers, we all were, that a few screw ups didn’t really affect the quality of our education. We as students could transcend them. It would have been nice to have been rid of them, but on the other hand, if they hadn’t been there, I don’t think it would have made much difference.

Simply put getting rid of all the bad teachers probably isn’t going to make all that big a difference. There likely aren’t all that many of them, no more than 15% to 20% say, and students are exposed to enough different teachers that any handicap they leave can likely be overcome. Purging the system produces at best incremental benefits rather than transformation.

What about getting better teachers? Well, like I said, there were four or five brilliant teachers and they made a real difference in my life. My education would have been so much better if there’d been eight or ten or a dozen brilliant teachers. Sure.

But on the other hand, my brother, with different skills and interests went through the same schooling and many of the same teachers that I did. Some of the ones I found brilliant made no impact on him, or he even disliked them. He found others to be gifted.

So what makes a teacher really really good for students is a highly subjective thing between the teacher and the student. It’s not like there’s some external board of education monitor who ranks the quality of a teacher. It’s the ability to reach out to students, and all teachers and students are different. It’s possible that even some of the horrific ones were able to make a big positive difference to some students.

But assume we could find some objective method to winkle out the diamonds. Sure. How do we find these diamonds and how do we keep them? More importantly, how do we keep them?

Human nature being what it is, people want two things: Money and security. There’s probably other ways to phrase it, but there you go. We like to talk about investments in stocks and bonds and land and crap like that. But skills are investments, time is an investment, a career is an investment.
A person has maybe 20 to 40 years of working life in them, and they’d like a decent standard of living and a decent retirement. The job, the career, is an investment in both the personal present and in the future, in living, in raising kids, in sickness and health, in retirement. People with options, with skill and talent, choose their careers as investments.

They want a good wage, they want to be able to make a nice living. Maybe there are other thing involved, they may not require top dollar. But on the other hand, they don’t want poverty. And they want some assurance of stability. You go to school invest four years in an education degree, you want some reasonable undertaking that you’re going to be able to recoup that investment, some likelihood that the investment over time will enable you to buy a home, raise a family, have vacations, etc. Sometimes people are prepared to trade a bit of one for a bit more of the other. More money less security is a good deal if you’re young and have options. Less money but more security is a better deal if you’re in an unstable environment. One or the other is not a good deal. Some combination is preferable. And the best is reasonably good provisions for both.

So what’s the idiots reform package - Teachers are overpaid. Uh huh. Okay, drop the compensation, or keep it stable, that will attract people like flies. Teachers have too much security, let’s make it easier to be rid of them and let’s abandon all hope of long term security. Yes, let’s make teachers vulnerable to termination from incompetent or arbitrary administrators, school board officials, angry parents, etc. Let’s strip collective bargaining and union protection rights, and have them stand like peons in the system.

Well, listen up. That sort of model isn’t going to attract the best and brightest. The best and brightest, being bestest and brightly usually have other options, or are motivated to seek out other options. And they pretty much will. Remember, the average lifespan of a teacher is five years. Most teachers leave the profession after five years. That’s a pretty high attrition rate, they’re already voting with their feet. Someone with options, they’ll go and look for a better investment.

So who does take that crap deal? The opposite of the best and brightest. The average, the dull, the plodding, the ones with fewer or no other options.

Way to go. Well meaning idiocy once again improves the American school system.


If Only...

Sunday Cartoon Fun: War Crimes Edition

Sunday Cartoon Fun: Death Edition

Delaney Bramlett: R.I.P.

Rock songwriter Delaney Bramlett dies in LA at 69

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Singer-songwriter-producer Delaney Bramlett, who penned such classic rock songs as "Let it Rain" and worked with musicians George Harrison and Eric Clapton, has died. He was 69.

Bramlett died Saturday shortly before 5 a.m. at UCLA Ronald Reagan Medical Center in Los Angeles as a result of complications from gallbladder surgery, his wife Susan Lanier-Bramlett said.

Born in Mississippi, Bramlett enjoyed a career in the music business that spanned 50 years. With his then-wife Bonnie Lynn, he created the Southern blues-rock band Delaney & Bonnie & Friends. The group opened for Blind Faith, which featured British guitarist Clapton, in 1969.

He is perhaps best known for standards such as "Superstar," co-written with Leon Russell, which was recorded by Usher, Luther Vandross, Bette Midler, The Carpenters and most recently, Sonic Youth, in a version featured on the Grammy-nominated soundtrack of the movie "Juno."

He co-wrote "Let it Rain" with Clapton, who also recorded it, and "Never Ending Song of Love," which was recorded by more than 100 artists including Ray Charles, George Jones, Tammy Wynette, Patty Loveless and Dwight Yoakam.

During his career, he performed, co-wrote or recorded with stars such as Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, John Lennon, Dave Mason, Billy Preston, the Everly Brothers and Mac Davis. He also produced artists including Etta James and Elvin Bishop.

He recently released an album, "A New Kind of Blues," on independent label Magnolia Gold Records.

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