Religion: Rule Changer

Since I posted about religion earlier, I might as well do it again.

The back-story is infamous at this point; Catholic priests have raped children, and the current Pope knew it then and knows it now.

This is from The Independent :
Imagine I discovered there was a paedophile ring running our crèche, and the Editor issued a stern order that it should be investigated internally with "the strictest secrecy". Imagine he merely shuffled the paedophiles to work in another crèche at another newspaper, and I agreed, and made the kids sign a pledge of secrecy. We would both – rightly – go to prison. Yet because the word "religion" is whispered, the rules change. Suddenly, otherwise good people who wouldn't dream of covering up a paedophile ring in their workplace think it would be an insult to them to follow one wherever it leads in their Church. They would find this behaviour unthinkable without the irrational barrier of faith standing between them and reality.

Yes, I understand some people feel sad when they see a figure they were taught as a child to revere – whether Prophet or Pope – being subjected to rational examination, or mockery, or criminal investigation. But everyone has ideas they hold precious. Only you, the religious, demand to be protected from debate or scrutiny that might discomfort you. The fact you believe an invisible supernatural being approves of – or even commands – your behaviour doesn't mean it deserves more respect, or sensitive handling. It means it deserves less. If you base your behaviour on such a preposterous fantasy, you should expect to be checked by criticism and mockery. You need it.

If you can't bear to hear your religious figures criticised – if you think Ratzinger is somehow above the law, or Mohamed should be defended with an axe – a sane society should have only one sentence for you. Tell it to the judge.

Money Is Infertile

On Usury. By Tom Hodgkinson

BOTH on an individual and a national scale, debt imprisons. By taking out a loan, I am committing myself to years of interest repayments, and therefore to years of wage slavery. And the UK has been borrowing like crazy since 1694 when the Bank of England was invented. This means that we are locked into high taxation to pay for three hundred years of wars and other costly and generally disastrous State enterprises.

This state of affairs, though, is not inevitable and did not exist in the Middle Ages. Before the Reformation, charging interest on loans—usury— was considered sinful by the church. There are repeated injunctions against it in the Bible. The philosopher of choice was Aristotle, who had also written against usury. For Aristotle, money, unlike, say, an apple tree, was infertile, and could not produce more of itself. Therefore usury sets up an imbalance: someone's got to pay, and it is generally the poor. The Latin phrase which echoed around in people's heads was: fenus pecuniae, funus est animae, meaning: "usurious profit from money is the death of the soul."

Everything changed in the Reformation when Calvin, a friend of the Fuggers banking family, lifted the ban on usury, thus opening up a new way for the rich to steal from the poor. Today, we see the popular suspicion of usury returning with our renewed hatred of the bankers. And in a new scam, usury has been half banned: the banks no longer pay out interest on our savings with them, but they still charge 12.9% when they lend to us! This is monstrously unjust and this is why I call for a simple boycott on the banks: it's time to investigate new systems.

Tom Hodgkinson is editor of the Idler, www.idler.co.uk

I Am An Atheist Jew, Like My 13-Year-Old Son: Huh?

I went to a bar mitzvah today. I had to. I reacted viscerally. Let me explain.

Those of you who are regular readers are probably aware of my atheism. What you may not know is my Jewish history.

I was created by a "Jewish" father and a "Christian" mother. Apparently--I don't remember--we had a Christmas tree for the first couple years of my life. My dad (whose mother emigrated from Russia in 1910--she's the little girl in the picture) couldn't stand it, so it ended. From then on, again apparently, my family was Jewish. Mom did not convert, mainly because we were not religious. At all. Never went to temple. As a child my mother and her family were not religious either. Neither my dad, my brother nor I were bar mitzvahed. It was just a religious thing anyway, and who really believes a 13-year-old becomes a man by reading some Torah?

The Frustrated Family were just a bunch of cultural Jews, with a shiksa as our leader. Indeed, in my large extended family (those are 2 parents and their children in the picture--all of whose descendants have Seder together in L.A., where most of them live) my goyishe mother was considered the glue that holds the family together. That's how it was most of my life. Now that she has moved, she is merely a participant, like me.

I went to Jewish summer camps as a kid, was a counselor, and as a young adult I ran a few. That was my Jewish identity. The cultural Jew. The non-religious Jew. To some Jews, I would be considered a bad Jew; or worse, some might call me a self-hating Jew (I have been so accused). I love chopped liver and corned beef sandwiches. I felt connected to all my ancestors who were killed, sent away and harassed for millenniums. To be a Jew, in my mind, was to be part of a culture. We were a people, not a religion.

Summer camp was all about culture. We did the prayer before the meal, but we did it "Dixie" style, because praying is stoopid. Jews praying seemed to be marginally important compared to the things Jews in my life stood for: equality, fairness, intellectual curiosity, and social justice. The religious thing just never struck me.

The most important thing I got from being an "affiliated" Jew were friendships that last to this day. I was connected to a high-quality group of people. That is all good, and I want that for my son.

My son will be 13 in June. His mother (we are not together--haven't been since his birth) wanted him to go to Hebrew school. Her other 2 kids, now grown, did not. I think she deferred to her goyishe ex-husband and didn't think much about her, and subsequently her kids', Jewishness. It wasn't a big thing for her.

But with our son, possibly because her other son is lately feeling his Jewishness, she wanted it.

I was therefore confronted with a tough issue; I am an atheist. I become more atheist every day, it seems.

When she told me she wanted our son to go to Hebrew school, at the temple where I had run the camp, I decided not to make much of it. The kid wanted it, she wanted it, and I know my influence on our son is such that a little religious nonsense would not make him believe in fairies (or god). Besides, the cantor was an old rocker and we were friendly (we collaborated when I was camp director). I figured everything would be fine.

On the day we went to temple to talk with the rabbi about enrolling the kid in Jew school I had one question. After her schpiel, I asked if I could speak to the rabbi alone. I asked her, in private, if she tells the students the Torah/bible/old testament is the word of god, or just a bunch of stories. She convinced me she was not going to suck the empiricism out of the kid, so I said fine. So I told his mother, go for it! But I won't pay.

So the kid has been going for a couple years and this is his bar mitzvah year. He goes to the bima in August. Today was his good friend's bar mitzvah, and my first in a long, long time.

As I sat there, alone in the back, listening and watching, I felt horrible. I was tense. I nodded my head in disagreement, like Justice Alito. I watched the grown ups, with their talit, daven and close their eyes. I watchhed them gently leave their seat to go tell others to pick the prayer book up off the floor (there are no pews, just folding chairs). I watched the gay rabbi and the transgendered rabbinic assistant do their jew/rabbi thing, all the time saying things to myself like:
This is so obviously full of shit. Men hold the torah!

Why is the rabbi touching the kid's head? Is he channeling Jesus?

Don't put the prayer book on the ground, but let anyone go to the bima!? Even women and homos?!
I am not a homophobe. I am not sexist. I thought these things because if traditions can be jettisoned in the name of equality, why can't the whole kit and caboodle be jettisoned in the name of sanity?

I listened to the rabbi and the bar mitzvah boy talk about god. I know this kid. He has never mentioned god. Nor has my son, except to tell me his atheism is kept quiet at temple because there are some true believers there.

And here is where the visceral nature of everything comes into focus. My son, who by his own admission is an atheist, is being required to maintain a mountain of religious nonsense to please his mother (also not religious--but very "spiritual") and to not make himself uncomfortable in the presence of these true believers--folks who might label him a bad Jew. I cannot countenance that. But, what choice do I have?

Fortunately my kid is hip to all the crap. He knows the only reason to keep going is because of the friends he has made and will keep, and the work he has put in. It is not about religion for him. It is about fun and feeling the satisfaction of accomplishing something after putting in a lot of work. He makes me very proud.

As soon as it was over I left. I love the family. I love the bar mitzvah boy, who has spent many nights here with my son. They are best friends.

My strong reaction tells me how hard it will be at my own kid's bar mitzvah. I will have to go up on the bima with him. I will have to listen to him artfully interpret the Torah portion so as not to compromise his integrity and at the same time not offend anyone. He can do it. But why?

I am an old curmudgeon. He is young and full of life. I need to watch myself as we near the culmination of this Jewish silliness.

The Other Achievement Gap

From Kevin Riley at Leader Talk:

Here's a gap that's deep and growing deeper by the day:

It starts in schools that struggle to keep pace. For whatever reason. Maybe it is the leadership, maybe it's the teachers, maybe it's the kids or the parents or the books or the pedagogy or the water or the facilities or the lack of light. In the end, it doesn't matter. Because schools that don't keep pace with AYP have to circle the wagons and teach harder. More reading. More math. Then more reading still. More math still.

And while reading and math crowd out the rest of the curriculum-- as schools eliminate science and social studies and the arts and physical education to make way for more focussed/rigorous/aligned instruction in basic skills (aka "test prep")-- something big goes missing:

Creative thinking, innovation, critical thinking, problem solving, application, play, self-discovery. Joy. Learning.

...the skills our kids need to compete for jobs. For economic growth. For America. For global survival.



Thursday Bonus Cartoon Fun: Easy As 1-2-3 Edition

Thursday Cartoon Fun: Texas Board Of Education Edition

Good Questions For Duncan And Obama

From GFBrandenburg:
If you could look Duncan & Obama in the eyes and ask direct questions, what would you ask?

Marion Brady on EDDRA2 asked, ” If you could look Duncan & Obama in the eyes and ask direct questions, what would you ask?”

Personally, I would try to work up the nerve to ask something like this:

* What in hell do you think you are doing?

* You both went to the ultra-progressive Lab school in Chicago. No weeks and weeks of standardized testing for you. No stultifying, restrictive test-prep curriculum for you, no cutting out art, music, history, science, PE, and so on. Lots of freedom for teachers to teach what they thought was important, regardless of what standardized test mfgrs and textbook publishers thought. Lots of sports, extracurricular activities, and so on. With the sports, the school day probably was quite long. And Mr. President, your kids go to Sidwell Friends, where the situation is similar, and tuition is around $30K per year. What actually gets to the classroom for educating kids in DC public schools is – in my estimation (people differ) – about 1/2 to 1/3 of that. Why on earth do you think that underprivileged kids in the ghettoes, reservations, and so on need anything less than what you, or your kids, got?

* Can you name ANY nation that is systematically pulling down and destroying its public schools and turning them over to private corporations, demonizing its teachers, advocating that the most needy kids get taught by the least-experienced teachers, and testing and retesting its students with idiotic multiple-choice tests the way we are doing in the US and the way that you continue to advocate?

* Did you know that we DON’T have a shortage of US-born, US-trained graduates in STEM fields? What we have, instead, is a shortage or real-life, decent-paying career opportunities for them.

* Did you know that essentially none of the dire predictions of “A Nation at Risk” have come true? (Recall, it was written when you two were in your teens.)

* With a straight face, can you give us any research basis for any of the “reforms” (more like “Deforms”) you and Paige and Spellings and Bush2 are or have been advocating?

* Why are you acting like such Republicans? (Alternative form: Doesn’t it bother you that free-market republicans (and their ilk) who are opposed to public education are so pleased with your platform in education?)

* I voted for you, Obama. But given that you are acting like Bush3 in education, I am beginning to wish I had voted for Nader or someone similar, as a protest vote. Or were part of a well-organized Left.

* Have you no shame? Linda Darling-Hammond or Diane Ravitch should be running the dep’t of ed, not you, Arne. In all of your years in Chicago, despite all your PR, you have NOT changed things.

* It’s the economy, stupid. As long as we have the deep, and deepening gaps we have in the US between the super rich and the poor, we are going to have really serious problems educating the poor.

That’s for starters, and that’s my rant for this week.


Richard Feynman On Jiggling Atoms

I love Richard Feynman. You should watch all the videos in the series (just click the video to go to YouTube). In this video, though the whole thing is fun and shows Feynman's extraordinary ability to make things understandable, it's the last 12 seconds that I want you to listen to. It's about education and testing. And it takes him a couple seconds to sum it up. So pay attention at 6:54.

Wednesday Cartoon Fun: Time Machine Edition


Out Of School Factors

A public comment from Diane's newest at Bridging Differences:
tauna said:

All propaganda has a grain of truth in it, otherwise it would not be so successful. No doubt there are a small minority of incompetent teachers who should not be in the classroom. But molding the perception that bad teachers are the primary reason for the low achievement of poor and minority students is a gross and irresponsible distortion of the truth.

Such a narrative serves to divert national attention away from social and economic policy changes that are desperately needed to help these children. I do not mean to diminish the importance of quality teaching and quality schools. It's part of the needed mix. I believe the number one IN SCHOOL factor affecting academic achievement is the quality of the classroom teacher. It's critical. However, when it comes to factors impacting academic achievement, especially the achievement of our nation's most disadvantaged students, we know that circumstances outside the classroom over which educators have no control dwarf what takes place in the classroom.

Until our nation's leaders stop using our public schools and teachers as the national scapegoat for poverty and societal ills, until social and economic injustices are confronted and ameliorated directly, we will see little change in achieving a more just and equitable society for all of our nation's children. Can we please stop pretending?

Edudaddy pronounces that public education is failing, that this is beyond any doubt. Baloney. That false assumption lies at the very foundation of decades of misguided and destructive education "reforms".

It is quite amazing that America's public schools do as well as they do given decades of unrelenting, multi-pronged attacks, given the wildly unreasonable demands placed upon them, given the unprecedented challenges they face, given that reforms have served to literally manufacture failure and undermine public educatioin rather than strengthen and support it (consider the absurdity of NCLB's AYP requirements)

As Professor Stephen Krashen notes, US schools with few children living in poverty, less than 25 percent, outscore children in nearly all other countries in math and science. American children only score below the international average when 75 percent or more of the students in a school live in poverty. The US has the highest level of childhood poverty of all industrialized countries (25%, compared to Denmark's 2%).

Are incompetent teachers responsible for this?

When it comes to the shameful and hypocrisy-laden national narrative about America's public schools, the guiding principle has been to believe the very worst about them and accept any claim made about them as fact as long as it is bad.

And where has this merciless blame and punish game gotten us? Does the profound disrespect demonstrated toward our nation's teachers serve children well?

But remember, ed reform has been about tearing down, not building up.

Edudaddy, if you accept that public education is failing, consider that it is not teachers nor a well-informed public who have engineered more than twenty years of failed reforms - reforms that have done precious little for poor children while simultaneously undermining public education itself and diverting billions of taxpayer dollars into private hands.

On Rewards

I have never been a fan of rewards for much of anything, especially in education. Motivation needs to be intrinsic, not extrinsic. I don't give stickers, check marks or cute pencils. I don't bribe my students. I excite them and make learning fun and interesting and powerful. Everyone likes power!

I was thinking about this as I saw a headline at HuffPo: Tim Kaine: Those Who Back Reform Will Be Rewarded. I didn't bother reading it, but it's about health insurance reform (not health CARE reform, btw).

Then we have RTTT (race to the top) which, as its premise, is a reward structure based on flimsy-to-erroneous evidence about schools, students, teachers and the rest. RTTT basically makes states and districts 'Do what we (the DOE) want and get a reward, whether what we want works or not.'

Of course we have the bankers who are rewarding themselves for fucking up the economy--with our money.

Can we please get away from rewarding people to motivate them? All it does is make us more disparate, angry, depressed, and individual--to the detriment of society. Rewards should be bestowed, not expected.

For some discussion of rewards for education outcomes, look here, here and here.

Grammar Issues At EEP

Above is a screengrab from the Education Equality Project. Not only is the FACT statement not really true, it is grammatically incorrect!  Who should we fire?


"They Are Traffickers In Anarchy"

Ron Isaac on the reformers:
Why are these “reformers” so consumed and driven to destroy the ancestral grandeur of the teaching profession? Why do they lustfully thrust daggers through the institutions that nurtured educators?

They chalk it up to “integrity.” Well, bully for them. And I don’t buy it. Do you?

When the “reformers” come gunning for the treasure of our earned mastery and pride, (not to mention our meal tickets), I say they need to be stopped in their tracks. (Historically, partisans in occupied lands knew the feeling.)

And what is their “integrity” anyway?

They do indeed possess (as well as being possessed by) integrity in the sense that these “reformers” are true to their convictions, have evolved their ideas and given their all to enact them. They have done this consistently and without equivocation.

But if we mean it to mean honor and moral integrity, then they are utterly bereft of it. We witness the ruin and waste they have spread and the vile aloofness they show to innocent educators whose tears and disillusionment they provoke. With arrogance and ignorance they view it as collateral damage that goes with the territory.

They get their jollies from the liquidation of dreams. They are traffickers in anarchy. It is a filthy business and the soul of integrity will never be its broker or partner.

Monday Bonus Cartoon Fun: Why Schools Fail Edition

Monday Cartoon Fun: Do Piggies Bounce? Edition

Mike Rose On RTTT: It's Just So Disheartening

Mike Rose questions RTTT:
Race to the Top of What?, Part II

The results of the first round of competition for Race to the Top funds came in last week, and my home state of California wasn’t one of the lucky 16. This failure has caused much consternation. After all, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan paid special attention to California, and Governor Schwarzenegger and the legislature engaged in serious political wrangling to clear the way: we removed our cap on charter schools and removed the firewall between teacher evaluation and student test scores. Secretary Duncan praised these moves. Yet we didn’t make the cut. Some states that didn’t go as far (like New York and Kentucky) were among the early winners. God knows how the decision was made, though that will be revealed in April – presumably not April 1. So California policy makers are trying to decipher the tea leaves to gear up for the next competition.

It was interesting to read the commentaries that followed the decision. Lots of puzzling and head-scratching – both in California and elsewhere – and some finger pointing: mostly at teachers unions and recalcitrant districts that didn’t sign onto the state’s plan. But I didn’t read any commentaries that raised more basic questions.

I don’t for minute want to deny that California (as do the other states) desperately needs the money. And I wish we were still eligible. But this whole “race” business, this fevered competition pitting state against state is public policy madness, a pretty unenlightened way to think about the public good.

Hardly anyone in the mainstream media is pointing out that Race to the Top itself is flawed policy filled with contradiction. The Department of Education stresses the importance of “research-based” and “data-driven” education policy. Yet so much of what it champions – and has been promulgating through the carrot of Race to the Top dollars – is not built on a solid research base. Take charter schools, which the Department characterizes as “engines of innovation.” A number of research studies demonstrates the kind of variability one finds in many public school districts: there’s some good charters, some bad ones, and lots that fall in between. (See Jeffrey Henig’s wonderful Spin Cycle for a balanced summary.)

Or consider the politically popular proposal to link teacher evaluation to student test scores. Again, the research complicates this seemingly straightforward move. As I’ve pointed out in previous blogs, research from a number of sources (including an economist on the President’s Council of Economic Advisors) raises doubts about both the technical aspects as well as the practical outcomes of evaluating teachers through student scores.

Another discordant feature of Race to the Top (and of NCLB before it) is the way it stresses the importance of good teaching while disparaging, even insulting, the current teaching force. The initiative embodies a terribly reductive model of teacher motivation and development, a one-dimensional, punitive one: teachers don’t try hard enough and the way we’ll make them try harder is to tie their professional awards to test scores.

Hand-in-glove with the above is the absence in Race to the Top language of much deep, on-the-ground knowledge of classrooms, of teaching and learning. The thin understanding of the act of teaching and the teaching profession is a case in point.

So, no wonder the results of the Department’s March 4th announcement are confusing. You’ve got a contradictory, flawed policy embodied in a high-prize competition. The Department of Education noted that the decisions were based on a complex point system. Perhaps it will be released in April. That release might clarify the confusion about the awards. Or it might reveal an elaborate machinery of compliance. And remember, it was an elaborate and contradictory machinery of a different sort that characterized NCLB.

Bottom Line: It’s just so disheartening. School boards are faced with further reducing the number of days in school or closing schools to make their budgets. Teachers are getting laid off. Tuition rates are going up in colleges, and colleges are cutting classes. And here we are with our local policy makers arranging and rearranging the bits and pieces of reform around an uncertain racetrack, getting ready for one more sprint to the top.

Teaching Is A Craft

I have said that I think teaching is less science and more art (craft). The snippet below is not about that specifically, but it relates.  Teachers learn to teach by teaching.  Remember student teachers?  I can't help but agree with what follows:
For those of us that like drastic solutions and saltational mutations, one way to fix the perpetual crises (existential, and otherwise) that colleges and universities seem to find themselves in would be this: get out the axe. Axe the business school, axe all the engineering programs, axe the professional programs, axe even (hard as it is to say) the fine arts programs. So no more accounting majors and no more civil engineering majors, no more masters of public health, and no more dance majors, or creative writing majors, or bassoonists, either.

The thing most of those programs have in common is that they’re crafts—things better learned by doing than by sitting and discussing the doing.
h/t 3QD

Quote Of The Day II: Adam Ash

Rupert Murdoch is a Godzilla-sized propaganda shunt in the shape of a dildo jammed up the interior of humanity, pumping in a daily dose of the trance-inducing drug BOFTRAP -- bend over for the rich and powerful.
--Adam Ash

Quote Of The Day: Alan Grayson

From Alan Grayson for Congress:
"I look forward to an honest debate with Governor Palin on the issues, in the unlikely event that she ever learns anything about them..."

A Blueprint For More Nonsense

Blueprint for Reform

On the first page, in the second sentence paragraph of the Blueprint For Reform, there is a bit of erroneousness. The claim that America was once the most educated nation in the world is true. But we still are. Those other countries we like to compare ourselves to don't report ALL scores like we do. We report everything; they report only scores of those headed for college. That puts us lower on any list, but it is also meaningless.

Statistics can be used to prove or disprove anything, especially when statistics are presented in a vacuum, as Arne did here. In fact there is not one reference for any statement made citing "research." I think education research is pretty much useless. Until we understand the brain, completely, we will not make any progress on "how kids learn" or "how one should teach." What students need can be figured out by a marginally smart person charged with educating a group of kids. It's an art. It ain't science.

How many Americans go overseas to study? Surely not as many as come here from overseas to study. This phenomenon, known as getting an education, seems to attract lots of foreigners to America because of our superior universities. How does Arne explain that? He doesn't. He doesn't even mention it. None of the reformers do because it would pillory their stance that American education is in decline.

Look, America is in decline. The whole lot of us, and it's not due to bad teachers. It's all politics and money.

If you have a kid in public school, and you think his or her teacher is worthy, write a quick letter to the superintendent (and give copies to the principal and teacher!) saying how great the teacher is. Teachers never get positive feedback, and they need it now more than ever.

Arne Duncan Talks (Though He Is Hard To Understand)

Here is Arne Duncan, your Secretary of Education, trying to sound intelligent and informed as he and Obama roll out the new ESEA/NCLB/WTF. He says we need to spend money to become tops in the world (we are) and close the bottom 5% of schools.

Teacher Accountability: What Should It Mean?

From Valerie Strauss:

"Teacher accountability" is one of the central themes of President Obama’s new vision for the post-No Child Left Behind era, and that two-word term, unfortunately, has come to mean something it shouldn’t.

Today in the world of education the phrase has come to mean how well a teacher’s students perform on standardized tests. If the students do well, the teacher is considered excellent. If the students haven’t done well, the teacher is not excellent.

Here are just a few of the problems with this scheme:

If we had a test, standardized or not, that really was a complete measure of a teacher’s performance -- or a student’s, for that matter -- it would be hard to argue against its use.

But let’s be clear: We don’t. Our standardized tests are rudimentary assessments, still. They are nowhere near sophisticated enough -- if indeed any single test can be -- to be used as a real measure of performance.



Detroit Teachers To March On Washington

Detroit Schools March on Washington


Sunday Bonus Cartoon Fun: Out Of Whack Edition

Sunday Cartoon Fun: Accountability Edition

San Francisco Values?

From sfist:
The San Francisco Appeals court has ruled that "Under God" is not a prayer when used in the Pledge of Allegiance. In 2002, the court declared that the phrase was unconstitutional. The new 2-1 ruling from the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals states it is a "recognition of our founders' political philosophy that a power greater than the government gives the people their inalienable rights [...] Thus, the pledge is an endorsement of our form of government, not of religion or any particular sect."

In a separate 3-0 ruling, the "In God We Trust" was also found to be non-religious; the motto is patriotic and ceremonial.
The world is going to hell!

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