It's Hard To Bite Your Tongue

Have I told you about my neighbors? They are a lovely, inter-racial couple with 4 little boys, all living in a 2-bedroom condo. The dad is a pastor, or something. He is the white one. Mom, whose sole responsibility seems to be to home-school the children, is a lovely woman. She is black. The boys are well behaved, sweet, smart, and love to make guns out of sticks.

The boys play in front of my place. They often throw things and hit my window. It hasn't broken yet, but surely it will. They also like to play with The Frustrated Son, but he is getting a little too old for the little guys. He still goes out and plays with them occasionally. He comes home to tell me the outrageous religious nonsense that spews from the innocent mouths of these little, brainwashed boys.

The oldest boy came to the door yesterday asking to play. TFS was not here, but we chatted for a moment. I asked him if he was excited about Obama's inauguration (thinking he would be excited, being half-black and tolerant). He said not really, but his mom was. He said his dad wanted McCain because Obama voted to kill babies.


What to say? This poor little guy, who is home-schooled and steeped in religious nonsense, has to navigate his mother's support for Obama against his father's support for McCain, knowing--erroneously--Obama is a baby-killer, and mom likes him! Talk about confusion!

My dilemma was this: do I tell him his dad is wrong? Do I try to validate the possibility that dad could be right, but given reality, he's probably wrong? Do I say "always listen to your mother!"?

I chose to tell him that his dad was wrong, that there was already a law about that, and Obama didn't vote to kill babies. The kid said I was wrong, but Obama will be a good president. What a confused little dude.

I face this kind of decision/dilemma a lot. When I hear someone say something wrong, or unprovable, I feel the need to clarify. This gets me in trouble. Maybe I should just shut-up?

Hertzberg On Chris Matthews

Speech writers gotta stick together, I guess. I think Rick is basically right here; Matthews is no right-wingnut, and to lump him in with them is wrong. I liked Matthews when he was writing for the Chronicle, and I liked Hardball, until Olbermann and Maddow came along. I find myself liking Matthews again, especially after his evisceration of Bush's farewell.
Foul Tip

I recently labeled a couple of items “Strike One” (an apologia for Obama’s playing Inaugural footsie with Rick Warren) and “Strike Two” (a kind-of endorsement of Caroline Kennedy for senator from New York). “Strike Three” was going to be another senatorial endorsement: Chris Matthews for senator from Pennsylvania. He’s been a dear friend of mine for thirty years, and, as someone who knows him now and knew him when, I was going to vouch for him. He’d have made a great senator—brave, imaginative, funny, fiery, and inquisitive. And, yes, liberal.

Speaking of which, a few liberal bloggers have lumped Chris in with thugs like O’Reilly, Hannity, and Beck, which is absurd. Most of the hostility, I’m convinced, is left over from the Lewinsky era, when even I thought that Chris had temporarily misplaced his bearings. Some of it is owing to his less than totally efficient internal censor, and some to his puppyish habit of saying things like “You’re a great American!” to people like Tom DeLay. C’mon, people, he says that stuff to everybody. Media Matters, one of the most useful sites on the Web, has been weirdly, mercilessly one-sided when it comes to monitoring Matthews. Chris talks almost nonstop on TV for five and a half hours a week. He sprays first-draft opinions like a dropped firehose. It’s easy to cherry-pick silly or ill-considered or factually flawed things he’s said.

But no one on television has been a tougher critic of the Iraq war or a tougher questioner of the war’s backers. No one made more finely minced mincemeat of Republican spinners during the Presidential campaign. The new, watchable, liberal MSNBC lineup, with Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow, was built around Chris. He was there first. He’s the leadoff man.

Over the holidays, Chris decided he’s sticking to television. Bad news for those who, like me, think he’d be a tonic for the Senate. But good news for those who, also like me, can’t get enough of “Hardball.” It’s comfort food for the politically ravenous.


Friday Cartoon Fun: Really. Friday. Not Thursday.

Sorry if I confused you with the Friday Cartoon Fun on a Thursday--wishfull thinking on my part, I guess.

Here's your consolation prize:


Is This Too Close?

I hope this is real, and I hope the principal has a nice dinner too! These boys are awesome!

From Hilzoy's Blog To Obama's Ears

Some Facts For Obama To Consider

by hilzoy

(1) According to Article II, Section 3 of the Constitution, the President "shall take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed".

(2) According to Article VI of the Constitution, "This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land".

(3) The United States is a party to the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

(4) As Dahlia Lithwick reminds us, the Convention Against Torture not only prohibits torture, it imposes a set of affirmative obligations on its parties. Specifically, Article 6 states:
"Upon being satisfied, after an examination of information available to it, that the circumstances so warrant, any State Party in whose territory a person alleged to have committed any offence referred to in article 4 [ed.: acts of torture] is present shall take him into custody or take other legal measures to ensure his presence. The custody and other legal measures shall be as provided in the law of that State but may be continued only for such time as is necessary to enable any criminal or extradition proceedings to be instituted.
2. Such State shall immediately make a preliminary inquiry into the facts."
Article 7:
1. The State Party in the territory under whose jurisdiction a person alleged to have committed any offence referred to in article 4 is found shall in the cases contemplated in article 5, if it does not extradite him, submit the case to its competent authorities for the purpose of prosecution.
And Article 12:
"Each State Party shall ensure that its competent authorities proceed to a prompt and impartial investigation, wherever there is reasonable ground to believe that an act of torture has been committed in any territory under its jurisdiction."
(5) None of the Objections entered by the United States at the time of ratification seem to affect the affirmative obligation to investigate and prosecute cases in which there is reasonable ground to believe that an act of torture has been committed.

It seems to me that these facts imply that if Barack Obama, or his administration, believe that there are reasonable grounds to believe that members of the Bush administration have committed torture, then they are legally obligated to investigate; and that if that investigation shows that acts of torture were committed, to submit those cases for prosecution, if the officials who committed or sanctioned those acts are found on US territory. If they are on the territory of some other party to the Convention, then it has that obligation. Under the Convention, as I read it, this is not discretionary. And under the Constitution, obeying the laws, which include treaties, is not discretionary either.


Another bit of the Convention Against Torture is relevant to the question whether we should construct a new legal system to deal with Guantanamo detainees. Article 15:
Each State Party shall ensure that any statement which is established to have been made as a result of torture shall not be invoked as evidence in any proceedings, except against a person accused of torture as evidence that the statement was made.
Whatever Obama decides to do about the fact that detainees were tortured, admitting claims they made as a result of torture as evidence is not an option.

Williamyard On The Economy's Near Certain Death

From williamyard at TNR:
What happens if the economy deteriorates even more? I know that not all of what happens will be bad, even remotely so.

Christmas last my girlfriend knitted her father a sweater. Do you think he would have preferred receiving one costing ten times as much that she bought at Macys? Of course not.

Will conservative-minded folks grit their teeth when, after months on the unemployment line, they take a government job? Yeah, they'll hate it until they get the first paycheck.

Will students promised a comfy private universtiy education collapse and die when finances force them to attend state colleges or--gasp!--community colleges? Not likely, especially when they discover the high motivation levels, racial and class diversity, and real-world practicality among the "inferior" school's teachers, fellow students, and curricula, a refreshing (and valuable) change from their Olde Prep School.

Will the idea of cutting driving costs in half by carpooling finally strike millions of commuters like a bolt out of the blue? (Tell it to the planet's ecosystem. Preach it, brother!)

Will two or even three generations of adults from the same family chafe at having to live under the same roof because they can no longer afford separate homes? Sure, at least at first. Here's hoping they'll relearn the art of telling stories, of sharing meals, of helping with homework and chores, of learning and sharing home repair tasks, of holding the hands of the sick. Of dying at home, among loved ones, instead of in a hospice or nursing home or ICU.

Will the thousands of urban residents now raising chickens in their back yards realize how much better truly fresh eggs taste than the ones carted in to the local Safeway? You betcha.

Will people become more self-reliant, more stoic, more frugal, more clear-eyed, more sober (literally and figuratively), less consuming, less avaricious, less silly? Will they discover that they don't need an iPhone (or any cell phone, actually) to be happy, that the nearest branch library contains more wonderful books than they could possibly read in the rest of their days, that walking down a country road is free, that singing in a choir is free, that an inner tube on almost any summer river in America beats most overseas vacations, that potlucks at the community center cost no more than feeding oneself?

Yeah, plenty of people will suffer, are suffering. Go help them. Meanwhile, can we all pledge to, um, STFU?
Good points! Think of it as a necessary adjustment. If you don't starve first!

Friday Cartoon Fun: The Shoe Departs

Friday Cartoon Fun: Cheney Retirement Edition


Don't Believe Everything You Read!

Don't let them fool you. NCLB is bullshit, and here is some proof. You have to learn to read the reports on gains very carefully. I am hopeful people are starting to realize that NCLB and blaming teachers is not a direction we should be going:
TESTING SPELLINGS! Spellings’ factual claims are correct. But there’s a key flaw in her logic

Contradiction: Sorrowful, ain’t it? On its front page, the New York Times presents this striking report, by Dexter Filkins, about the education of girls in Afghanistan. But alas! On its op-ed page, the paper presents this typical mess, by a famous American scribe whose “education” has been vastly squandered.

In her last four grafs, Maureen Dowd types her latest novel. Please note: There’s no evidence, anywhere in her column, suggesting that her novel is true. Who knows? Maybe Dowd “had a feeling” this day, like Margaret Carlson before her. Perhaps just a thrill up the leg?

Sorrowful, ain’t it? Girls in one country risk death to learn. In another land, scribes play the fool.

TESTING SPELLINGS: Margaret Spellings made several important claims in yesterday’s “Dear Arne” letter (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 1/13/09). The letter appeared in the form of a column on the Washington Post’s op-ed page. The outgoing education secretary’s claims included these:
* On the national level, “Test scores in reading and math have reached record highs.”
* As superintendent of schools in Chicago, Obama nominee Arne Duncan “achieved results for Chicago’s schoolchildren.”
* On the national level, those record-high test scores have occurred because of No Child Left Behind. Spellings’ claim was clearly implied in this fuller statement: “Is it [No Child Left Behind] working? Yes. Test scores in reading and math have reached record highs.”
Those were three of Spellings’ major claims; we thought it might be worth checking their accuracy. Let’s start with the good news involved in those national test scores:

National test scores: On the national level, have test scores in reading and math reached record highs? We assume that Spellings refers to test scores produced as part of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), a competent, largely non-politicized federal program known as “The Nation’s Report Card.” (For the NAEP web site, click here.) Here’s the good news: In both reading and math, NAEP test scores in 2007 were higher than ever before. That’s true for students as a whole; it’s also true for whites, for blacks and for Hispanics when these groups are considered separately. (These are the most recent NAEP scores. The next set of tests will be given this year.) This is true in both reading and math, at both grade levels tested (grades 4 and 8.) And so, according to results from the NAEP, Spellings’ first claim is factually accurate. Test scores in both reading and math have reached record highs. (But hold on. There will be a catch.)

Duncan’s big shoulders: How about Spellings’ second claim—the claim that Duncan “achieved results for Chicago’s schoolchildren.” Here the logic starts to get murky (more below)—but NAEP test scores have, in fact, gone up in Chicago in the years since Duncan became superintendent in June 2001. Chicago happens to be one of ten cities studied by NAEP as part of its “Trial Urban District Assessment.” And sure enough: The city’s test scores have gone up in both reading and math, in both grade levels tested, since Duncan became the main man.

So far, it’s just as Spellings said and implied: National test scores have risen in recent years, to “record highs” in both reading and math. Scores in Chicago did go up in the years of Duncan’s tenure. And we think the NAEP is more reliable (more competent, less politicized) than the typical state-run, statewide testing program. But this brings us back to Spellings’ third major claim—and to the large problem with her logic. In her column, Spellings clearly implied that those record-high test scores were the fruit of No Child Left Behind. But, whatever one thinks of that national program, this claim is an obvious stretch. Whatever one thinks of that national program, Spellings’ logic falls apart when she makes this self-glorying claim:

The fruit of No Child Left Behind: What’s the problem with Spellings’ claim? Just this: National test scores were already rising to “record highs” in the years before No Child Left Behind; essentially, the nation’s students have been producing “record scores” ever since NAEP began gathering data in 1971! (No Child Left Behind became law in 2001.) That is important good news, of course—but it undermines Spellings’ implied claim, the claim that last year’s “record-high” scores were the fruit of No Child Left Behind. For one example, click down to page ten of the current NAEP “Reading Report Card” to see “scale scores” for the nation’s fourth-graders, going back to 1992. (Headline: “Most racial/ethnic groups show improvement.”) You will see that reading scores were improving for whites, for blacks and for Hispanics in the ten years before the 2002 tests—the first tests after No Child Left Behind became law. There is no sign of any special score bump in the years since NCLB became law. Scores had been rising before the act passed. Scores continued to rise after that, at roughly similar rates.

(Somewhat similarly, it’s hard to identify unusual score gains associated with Duncan’s tenure in Chicago. We don’t attempt, in any way, to denigrate his work in that city. But scores were rising in other big cities, as in the nation as a whole, during the period when he was in charge. We look forward, eagerly, to Duncan’s tenure as Ed Sec. But we should proceed with care when we seem to attribute authorship to score gains—or to score drops, for that matter.)

Spellings made some important claims in her column; we thought those claims were worth examining. For our money, the lady misbehaves—politicizes the nation’s schools—with her implied claim about the effects of No Child Left Behind. (We’d suggest that she be asked to spend a few moments standing alone in the corner. She’ll have to exit the Oval Office, of course, before she can serve this term.) We don’t offer this as a judgment about the various parts of No Child Left behind; indeed, we think some parts of the act are constructive. We offer this as a rebuke to those who would politicize such important matters.

But what about Spellings’ other claim—that murky claim about “teaching to [sic] grade level?” Addressing Duncan, Spellings spoke for the nation’s parents: “They recognize, as do you and President-elect Obama, that when we raise expectations, we achieve results.”

When we raise expectations, we achieve results. That’s a very familiar claim. But what does it actually mean?

Bush Official: We Tortured!

From Jonathan Turley:
With congressional Democrats and the Obama campaign struggling to avoid the investigation and prosecution of torture, a Bush official just made it a bit more difficult. Susan J. Crawford has publicly admitted that they did engage in clear torture at Guantanamo Bay.
So, can we get some war crimes trials, please?

KIPP Brooklyn Unionize

Charters have a dualism about them. On one hand they have the power to do things differently (and possibly better, or not) and they also have a reputation for being very selective (which can be good or bad). As we now see, KIPP teachers are unionizing. They say it is for the students, and I don't doubt it, but really its because they fear for their jobs like the rest of the teaching world!
KIPP Teachers Organize

Filed under: Charter School by Leo Casey @ 1:43 pm

In a ground-breaking development, the teachers of KIPP AMP Charter School in Brooklyn today informed their co-principals that they were organizing themselves into a union and seeking official recognition from the state Public Employees Relations Board.

A super-majority of the KIPP AMP teaching faculty has signed authorization cards with the United Federation of Teachers, well in excess of the threshold needed for official recognition under state labor law for public employees.
In a letter delivered to co-principals Jeff Li and Melissa Perry this morning, the teachers said that they had decided to unionize in order to secure teacher voice and respect for the work of teachers in their school. We want “to ensure that the [KIPP] motto of ‘team and family’ is realized in the form of mutual respect and validation for the work that is done [by teachers] each day,” they wrote.

The letter stressed that the decision to organize was directly connected to the teachers’ commitment to their students. “[A] strong and committed staff,” the teachers wrote, “is the first step to student achievement.” Unionization, the teachers believe, will help create the conditions for recruiting and retaining such a staff.

“We organized to make sure teachers had a voice, and could speak their minds on educational matters without fearing for their job,” says KIPP AMP teacher Luisa Bonifacio.

“For us,” KIPP AMP teacher Emily Fernandez explains, “unionization is ultimately all about student achievement, and the ability of teachers to best serve students at this crucial middle school time in their education.”

KIPP AMP teachers believe that the high staff turnover at the school has harmed their efforts to build a positive and consistent school culture for their students. “There is a need to make the teacher position more sustainable,” says Bonifacio, “so that teachers don’t burn out, but are able to make a long-term commitment to the students and the school.”

KIPP AMP teacher Leila Chakravarty makes a powerful case that organizing a union is necessary to “build a sustainable community in our school” and address the problem of teacher turnover. “Because as KIPP teachers we are so invested in our kids and form such close bonds with them, because we are always available to our students by telephone and email and spend ten hours every day with them, it is so vital and important that they feel they can count on us, and we will continue to be there. When they become close to a teacher who is gone in three months because she has burnt out, it undermines the trust we are working so hard to build.”

The teachers at KIPP AMP have received strong support for their organizing efforts from the parents and families at the school.

At the same time as the KIPP AMP teachers informed their principal of their decision to organize, UFT President Randi Weingarten reached out to KIPP co-founder and New York City Superintendent Dave Levin, informing him of the developments at the school and of the UFT’s intention to enter into collective bargaining at another New York City KIPP school, KIPP Infinity Charter School, where the teaching staff are members of the UFT.

Weingarten told Levin that the KIPP teachers and the UFT want to work cooperatively with KIPP to ensure that its New York City schools provide the very best education for their students and families. She asked KIPP to recognize the unionization of the KIPP AMP teachers immediately so that this work could begin without delay.

“KIPP teachers want what all good teachers want — the respect, the support and the tools necessary to do the best possible job of educating their students,” Weingarten said. “Organizing into a union of educational professionals will give them the collective voice and support to make that happen.”

“We know that teacher turnover is a major concern across the charter school movement,” Weingarten noted. “The unionization of KIPP’s New York City schools provides a unique opportunity to create a model of sustainable teacher recruitment, development and retention.”

Since the original KIPP Academy Charter School is a conversion charter school with UFT representation, educators at three of the four KIPP schools in New York City will now be members of the UFT.


Remember When Sarah Palin Said She Could See Russia?

Well, she can, if she ever goes to Little Diomede island. But, she has never been there. Here is the CNN report you wish you saw then:

Teachers Get Sicker Than You!

This is happening here in California as well. In fact, after a couple surgeries and some extra sick days to recover, after losing lots of money to being out of work during recovery, my principal decided I was abusing sick leave. When I die, will that also be abuse of my sick leave?
DOE Lays Down the Law to Microbes and Broken Bones

Filed under: Education by Ron Isaac @ 4:22 pm

If you are an appointed teacher and get sick, the contract allows you to be absent from school for a total of 10 days during the school year. If you have days in your “bank” of unused sick days accumulated from past years, you may take those days off for verifiable illness beyond those 10 days. There is also a provision for “borrowing” sick days if necessary. Of course nobody should apply for any benefit under false pretenses.

This “sick day” allowance is realistic and makes common sense. It is fair though not generous.

Research has shown that adults who work with children have a far greater than average exposure to common infections. It has been statistically demonstrated that they are even more at risk than are doctors, nurses and hospital workers. Many schools are overheated and poorly ventilated in winter because windows can’t be opened and the furnace is on full blast.

Kids often cough and sneeze openly while jammed in narrow hallways during change of classes or are confined in the close quarters of a trailer or classroom. A percentage of these kids may come from countries from which there is added risk of proliferation of disease because poverty and the lack of available quality medical care may have precluded children from being properly immunized.

Good people get sick or hurt. It is not “unprofessional” or insubordinate to get the flu or to require surgery. And it is not for the principal to judge whether a person claiming sickness is sick enough to be absent.

But some principals are now sending letters to staff members warning them of the consequences of future absence after those educators have been out 5 or 6 days over many months. The letters are not for file, but they are outrageously provocative. Principals have been known to give “U” ratings for poor attendance based on a few extra days during which the staff member was critically ill.

Grim statistics indicate that these ratings are among the most difficult to overturn regardless of the merits of the case and even if the educator has no history of attendance abuse. The rating can threaten their livelihood, or at least cost them significant income because of frozen salary steps or ineligibility for per session employment.

By showing callousness, some principals feel they are simply fulfilling the DOE’s implicit mandate for being a strong leader who makes tough decisions.

Our contracts are legal documents and the hard-fought rights and protections that are built into them are integral to the dignity of our workplace. There can be no consent to their abrogation.

Passivity and acquiescence are inexcusable. If they are adopted as optional responses, then countless other clauses of the contract will eventually be targeted. In some schools, certain rules for programming and other areas are already being eroded by lack of enforcement.

It is imperative that the school chapter thwart any principal who tries to create contractual “loop holes” where there are none. If you indulge in appeasement, then those “loop holes” will eventually rip our contractual garment to shreds.

It takes inordinate courage to assert basic freedoms under the Klein era. But it is absolutely vital to the survival and prestige of our profession for us to stand firm and never give in to brute intimidation.

Is your staff united? Do they stick together against invidious attempts to divide and conquer? Do they practice a “one for all/all for one” philosophy? Some individuals may, for either idealistic or cynical reasons, choose to “go it alone” and work out a secret personalized deal to advance themselves even at the expense of their professional colleagues. That danger must be met head-on.

Never seek conflict. Always pursue harmony in all your dealings at school. Be a force for conciliation and partnership. But if you are forced to fight, then do so with all the tenacity and cunning that your collective discernment and passion demands.

Your school is the home front. That is where your defense begins. The whole union will fight with you as you fight for yourselves.


ObamaTube: The Not-Obama Version

Obama needs me! And you!

Bernie Sanders Is My Hero!

From TPM:
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) has written to the Smithsonian raising questions about the caption that sits beneath its new portrait of George W. Bush. The current wording of the caption states that Bush's term was marked by "the attacks on September 11, 2001, that led to wars in Afghanistan and Iraq." Sanders, bless his heart, points out that the 9/11 attacks -- all together, now -- had nothing to do with the Iraq war.

From Sanders' letter to Martin Sullivan, director of the National Portrait Gallery in Washington:
When President Bush and Vice President Cheney misled our country into the war in Iraq, they certainly cited the attacks on September 11, along with the equally specious claim that Iraq possessed vast arsenals of weapons of mass destruction. The notion, however, that 9/11 and Iraq were linked, or that one "led to" the other, has been widely and authoritatively debunked ... Might I suggest that a reconsideration of the explanatory text next to the portrait of President Bush is in order[?]
Over at The Edge of The American West, Ari has a post up about this. First he praises Bernie, then he says this:
Still, I wonder: is it unreasonable to suggest, as the Smithsonian’s captions does, that the attacks of September 11 led, albeit indirectly, to the conflict in Iraq? Put another way, it seems clear that there was no substantive link between the 9/11 attackers and Saddam Hussein. But fabricated ties between the two nevertheless formed an important part of President Bush’s spurious case for war. The caption, then, seems right enough (strictly speaking, at least) to pass muster, even if the impulse that Sanders apparently sees lurking behind it merits a stout challenge.
I responded to him no, no, no. Seems that anything that preceded Iraq could be fabricated to tie into anything. Go Bernie!

Update: The caption will be changed!

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