Sunday, December 30, 2007

The OSBA is a Gold Mine of Bad Press

From an old story announcing the original passage of the antic-censorship law, this is amazingly stupid:

Opponents of the bill, such as the Oregon School Boards Association, said that students aren't capable of responsibly editing a newspaper. They said even professional journalists are subject to the editorial control of publishers and owners.

It's so stupid, in fact, that between this and the OSBA quotes in the DH's story, I'm beginning to wonder if the press is intentionally making the OSBA look bad on this based on the OSBA's position. (Well, not really - but the possibility did cross my mind.)

Also, I would think that a Publications Advisor is a good stand-in for a publisher. And in theory, owners do not have editorial control (and publishers are usually not involved in the day-to-day decisions regarding editorial content anyway). This quote suggests the OSBA somehow thinks otherwise.

Wow, the OSBA is shooting itself in the foot. "[S]tudents aren't capable of responsibly editing a newspaper" is.... well, it's so dumb as to be beyond words. Who does the OSBA think actually edits the HS newspapers around the state? Administrators? Specially trained hamsters? The Intarwebs?

Lord, the OSBA needs some better P.R.

DH: New State Law Protects High School Journalism Programs From Censorship

I'd heard this was coming down the pike, but I'd not paid close enough attention to get the details. From the story, it sounds like the new law is going in effect around the first of the year, with school boards changing their policies to match some time in the upcoming year. (On the other hand, the text of the law makes it sound like it went into effect at the beginning of the 2007-2008 academic year.)

I think this is a good development. I've never seen a conflict over censorship in a high school up close, but I've heard enough horror stories to think this is necessary.

As usual, there were some specifics from the article on which I wanted to comment.

OSBA spokeswoman Shannon Priem, whose organization opposed the bill, said the school board association likely will recommend districts put disclaimers on student-produced media.

The disclaimers will say to parents and others, “Don’t blame us for things you disagree with,” Priem said. “Realize we couldn’t do anything about it.”

This is stretching the truth - the law (go here for the text) is pretty clear that the usual rules apply: No inciting others to riot, no libelous statements, no violations of the law, etc. Within those constraints - which have been around for a long time - students are free to print what they want. Furthermore, "nothing" implies the only thing school administrations could have done would have been to censor the paper. Did Priem ever consider suggesting that administrators and school boards actually work with newspapers instead of defaulting to an "us vs. them" position? Apparently not.

Sadly, that is not the only gaffe from the OSBA:

OSBA objected to the bill in part because most school districts are involved in the production of student media, either by paying staff members’ salaries or funding the publications outright.

“The thing is, this is not a newspaper,” Priem said. “This is money that’s being funded by us, the taxpayer. ... It’s a tax-supported program.”

This is interesting - one hopes it's simply a poor choice of words on the part of Priem. Not a newspaper? Try telling that to the students who produce it. That line is certainly not going to endear her (or the OSBA) to students working in publications all over the state.

Furthermore, the implication here is that newspapers have to be funded with private money (like advertising, which many HS newspapers use to cover part of their expenses) to count, which makes no sense whatsoever. Good media theory says that the act of journalism is what makes one a journalist. By extension, I would think the same holds true of a newspaper: Does it fulfill the commonly understood functions of a newspaper? If yes, then it's almost certainly a newspaper.

OSU's Frank Ragulsky says something pretty smart:

Frank Ragulsky, director of student media at Oregon State University, said the law better defines the role schools ought to play.

“I think what it does is it places the educational part on the school, which is to inform students that they can’t be irresponsible,” he said.

“And I think it makes clear for administrators, principals, school districts and advisers the roles that they have in helping students learn their rights and responsibilities.”

Placing Ragulsky's comment (a comment I am not touching with a ten foot pole given the Baro's recent history of avoiding any and all responsibility for their actions) next to Priem's further makes Priem look the fool - Ragulsky is pushing for schools to teach responsibility. How could Priem or the OSBA possibly oppose that, you ask?

My conclusion? Teaching students to be responsible means giving them the power to fuck up, sometimes in monumental ways. There's no avoiding that - nor should there be. If the school administrations have any responsibility, it's to ameliorate the damage that occurs when students do make mistakes, and to - as Ragulsky suggests - help students learn about rights and responsibilities.

Mistakes can be fantastic opportunities for learning. Why does the OSBA sound so nervous about this?

Note: The Student Press Law Center sounds like a great resource. Check it out.

Anne Bishop's Pillars of the World Trilogy

I finished the trilogy - Pillars of the World, Shadows and Light and The House of Gaian - earlier tonight, and I loved it.

I'm not going to try and write a review, as it's become painfully obvious I have no idea how, but there are a few things I wanted to say.

1. The trilogy, somehow, reminded me of Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series (of which I read the the first eight or nine books). I'm not sure why.

2. The series was somehow simultaneously really compelling and totally boring - I felt like I knew what the end would be fairly early on, and I turned out to be right.

3. Anne Bishop's writing in the trilogy was very smooth. Probably the reason for the first part of #2.

4. It's feminist in a way that I didn't see as militant or overly ideological. This amused me and made me happy.

Uuuhh.... that's it, I think.

Anyone out there ever read these? Leave a comment or drop me a line...

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Summary: Hering Still Unable to Tell the Truth

Two recent editorials in the DH remind me that Hering is still struggling with honesty.

Hering on the EPA/California dustup:

Then last Wednesday, the federal Environmental Protection Agency denied the California waiver request, provoking cries of outrage from California officials and others including Oregon Governor Kulongoski.

But the EPA made the right decision. Automobiles are an international business, and the United States is better off with a uniform national standard on how car engines have to be built. It’s the federal government that should be in charge of setting standards that apply equally in all the states.

He sure does love him some law and order - especially when he can hide behind that as justification to ignore the needs of the environment. This doesn't pass the laugh test.

Or, as commenter Publicus put it: "Isn't it curious how conservatives are all for states' rights until a state does something they don't like?"

Hering advocates for the "Fair Tax" - a 23% national sales tax:

Such a proposal exists. It’s called the Fair Tax, fittingly enough. It boils down to a national sales tax collected at the point of final sale. Instead of exemptions for basics, it includes a plan to send every American a check once a year to compensate for taxing those items.

Beyond that, we all would pay at the same rate whenever we bought anything. The backers say a rate of 23 percent of sales would equal what the government gets from the income and payroll tax.

The Fair Tax proposal has been destroyed so many times I'm not going to bother (but see here for one example). It's snake oil: It sounds good at first glance (or so I am told - I thought it was poppycock from day one) but is incredibly regressive and would almost certainly cause immense economic misery. Is it any wonder that Hering and a bunch of rich white guys advocate for it?

Grover Norquist advocates for the Fair Tax. That should tell you all you need to know. He was, for the record, the guy who said he wants to shrink government "down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub."

Note: I am aware that I probably give Hering a (very small) boost in web traffic since I tend to link to his editorials often. This does not bother me.

Still Amazed at How the Awesomeness of Apophenia; Or, the "Get Into College or Die" Crowd Strikes Again

This was great.

Specifically, this passage:

What Pew's data shows is that online participation correlates with offline participation. They are not able to show causality (and they do not try to claim that they can), but such a correlation still contradicts the ever-present myth that online activities cause a decline in offline activities. Of course, don't misread this correlation in the opposite direction either. In other words, you cannot say that if you get a group of teens involved online, they will also get involved offline. Meshing these findings with my own qualitative observations, I have a sneaking suspicion that what Pew's data is pointing to is that the hyper-motivated and/or overly scheduled teens from middle/upper class communities are extremely engaged offline and use online technologies to socialize with their friends in the interstitial times and that this cohort's content creation is primarily to support friendships rather than create for creation sake. This also makes sense because teens who have more free time tend to have less restrictions and tend to prefer offline encounters with friends to online ones. [emphasis added]

The Dumbing Down of Music [the downside of MP3s]

Seen at both BoingBoing and Slashdot (but really a Rolling Stone article), I have to offer a qualified disagreement with Cory Doctorow on this one.

Rolling Stone:

Just as cds supplanted vinyl and cassettes, MP3 and other digital-music formats are quickly replacing CDs as the most popular way to listen to music. That means more conven- ience but worse sound. To create an MP3, a computer samples the music on a CD and compresses it into a smaller file by excluding the musical information that the human ear is less likely to notice. Much of the information left out is at the very high and low ends, which is why some MP3s sound flat. Cavallo says that MP3s don't reproduce reverb well, and the lack of high-end detail makes them sound brittle. Without enough low end, he says, "you don't get the punch anymore. It decreases the punch of the kick drum and how the speaker gets pushed when the guitarist plays a power chord."

But not all digital-music files are created equal. Levitin says that most people find MP3s ripped at a rate above 224 kbps virtually indistinguishable from CDs. (iTunes sells music as either 128 or 256 kbps AAC files — AAC is slightly superior to MP3 at an equivalent bit rate. Amazon sells MP3s at 256 kbps.) Still, "it's like going to the Louvre and instead of the Mona Lisa there's a 10-megapixel image of it," he says. "I always want to listen to music the way the artists wanted me to hear it. I wouldn't look at a Kandinsky painting with sunglasses on."

Producers also now alter the way they mix albums to compensate for the limitations of MP3 sound. "You have to be aware of how people will hear music, and pretty much everyone is listening to MP3," says producer Butch Vig, a member of Garbage and the producer of Nirvana's Never- mind. "Some of the effects get lost. So you sometimes have to over-exaggerate things." Other producers believe that intensely compressed CDs make for better MP3s, since the loudness of the music will compensate for the flatness of the digital format.

Doctorow's comment on the shift:

"Designing for that, as opposed to lamenting it -- is a damned good and realistic thing to do."

In a sense, he's right, of course; people should design for the technology that's available, and the sooner the better.

On the other hand, I think the shift is indeed for the worse - and when digital music technology allows for a more complex and greater range of sound, are we going to engineer audio for that?

I hope so, but I am skeptical. And in any case, the shift to dynamic range compression, wherein everything becomes loud, is not a good one. I hope that goes away too.

In the meantime, can someone please send me a record player and a few thousand albums on vinyl so I can do some research on this very pressing topic?

The Bush Administration's Top Ten Dumbest Legal Arguments of the Year

From Slate.... how in the world did we let this happen?

My favorite:

8. The vice president's office is not a part of the executive branch.

We also learned in July that over the repeated objections of the National Archives, Vice President Dick Cheney exempted his office from Executive Order 12958, designed to safeguard classified national security information. In declining such oversight in 2004, Cheney advanced the astounding legal proposition that the Office of the Vice President is not an "entity within the executive branch" and hence is not subject to presidential executive orders. When, in January 2007, the Information Security Oversight Office asked Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to resolve the dispute, Cheney recommended the executive order be amended to abolish the Information Security Oversight Office altogether. In a new interview with Mike Isikoff at Newsweek, the director of the ISOO stated that his fight with Cheney's office was a "contributing" factor in his decision to quit after 34 years.

Go read the rest. Then call me and we'll drink until the pain goes away.

Movie Review: The Kingdom (Ideological Spoiler Alert)

I just finished (as in the credits are still rolling) watching The Kingdom.

The Kingdom is a Syriana-like exploration of the relationship between Saudi Arabia and the United States, except with a focus on terrorism instead of oil.

It's also a very good movie.

Since I interpret movies through a filter that allows forces me to look for and analyze the underlying values and ideology present (the "message," as it were), I am going to approach talking about The Kingdom in those terms.

In regards to the larger conflict between the so-called West and (and now I'm talking about reality, not the film), the simplest description is often literally "us" vs. "them." No distinctions are made, especially when referring to "them," and it is supposed to be understood that "they" are bad and should be subordinate to "us."

I absolutely despise this formulation of things. It's shallow, factually inept and dangerous. It allows for easy dehumanizing of others, making it easier to hate and kill other human beings. The fact that I feel compelled to point out that this is a bad thing does not make me optimistic about the world.

A slightly more complex understanding of allows for the existence of factions on both sides - and the more complex the understanding gets, the more realistic it gets, as it allows for each individual or group involved to become more three-dimensional, more realistic, by acknowledging the agency of the Other (at and some point, of course, the Other disappears and becomes us). And while I'm skeptical our understanding of anything ever approaches reality (thus outing myself as at least a little Platonic), it can get pretty darn close.

Anyway, back to the movie. The Kingdom tries very hard to place itself on the nuanced end of the spectrum, and it does a pretty good job.

The plot is pretty straightforward: Someone executes a complicated terror attack on American civilians living in Saudi Arabia. The FBI wants to investigate (as American civilians living abroad are the domain of the FBI); the Saudis say no, they don't want to show weakness by having American officials involved. One enterprising agent (Ronald Fleury, played by Jamie Foxx with a great deal of intensity held in check) cuts a deal with the Saudi Ambassador and he and three others get to go investigate.

Take that scenario, add a tremendous amount of political and cultural context, and away the movie goes.

Over an hour later - I don't want to give away too much - and we get a resolution, of sorts (another sign of a nuanced piece of fiction, be it on the page or the screen: you get the sense that the characters will continue living after you stop watching).

The two major questions I had as the end of the movie approached:

1) What stance would it take on the actual geopolitical situation in the Middle East? Would it revert back to an us-vs.-them shooter, or would it let the complexities of reality stand? (Reality, of course, undermines the idea that shooting people will ever lead to any kind of peace.)

2) What would the characters (especially the Westerners, who are ultimately the protagonists) learn from their experience? Where would they stand on the issue of shooting first vs. doing police work, an issue held in tension throughout the movie? (This question, of course, is very closely related to #1 as many people will draw the movie's message from the characters.)

The Kingdom answered the questions in what I thought was a pretty clever way: It had characters on both sides (a Saudi boy and Foxx) indicate that what they had learned was that it was necessary was to 'kill them all'. I hope that American audiences will understand the argument behind that moment: That 'killing them all' is the province of the most violent sect of Wahhabism, and not only is it radically different than most of Islam, it needs to be rejected as a method by America as well.

In its own way, I think The Kingdom rejects the premise of the War on Terror, though its very subtle promotion of American diplomacy is, of course, ultimately problematic as well...

U.S. Senate Candidate Steve Novick

I have not been following this race as much as I should have, I feel, but the more I hear the more I like Novick. From this profile (via Blue Oregon):

A 44-year-old attorney (he was the lead counsel on the Love Canal case), with a long track record as a liberal activist in Oregon state politics, Novick delivers a straight shot of idealism. “I was raised to believe that we can’t tolerate a society that only works for white people, rich people, or straight people,” he says to the gathering. “We should only accept a society that works for everyone.”

That's impressive for a Democrat... and a helluva lot better than Gordon Smith.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Fantastic Letter in the Democrat-Herald

My family points me to this letter on the topic of Native American mascots in schools - and particularly Lebanon. The author, Bob Zybach of Foster, Oregon, also responds to LHS student Miranda Gestrin's Young Voices column on the same topic.


As contrast, the Indian “chief” used to represent Lebanon teams is a “Native American” that apparently represents all native non-white male warring people in North America prior to the use of automobiles (ca. 1890s). How does that possibly “honor” an entire continent of thousands of tribes and nations and millions of people? The women, children, and elderly? The peacemakers among them?

Lebanon was populated by Santiam Kalapuya and Santiam Molalla during early Oregon history. Neither nation owned or used horses, or developed any particular reputation as “warriors.” They were known as peaceful people with no history of warfare or horse ownership. They wore waterproof woven cedar caps, not feathers, on their heads.

Kalapuyans were largely agrarian, raising vast amounts of labor-intensive camas, white acorns, and tarweed seed every year. Molallan men were known as highly successful elk hunters (they had dogs, but no horses), and Molallan women harvested mountain huckleberries and beargrass for trade in the summer. The so-called “Warrior” is more representative of South Dakota or Arizona, perhaps, and for a very brief period of time.

Exactly - the Lebanon mascot is not a historical representation of a specific Native American. It's a representation of what some white people thought would be a good mascot. That is a large part of why it's offensive and insulting. It's just not true. Claiming that one's intent is pure doesn't change that fact.

That was the big thing I wanted to highlight from the letter, but there was one other thing Zybach says that is worth noting:

Do any of the teachers or administrators at Lebanon High School even know the basic history of their community or of Oregon?

I have no idea how many teachers know the history of Lebanon or of Oregon. What I do know is that there's no real place in the high school curriculum for this sort of hyperlocal knowledge, and I think that gap is a holdover from a time when people learned about local history from other sources - the church, the family, etc. That is no longer the case, and I think a class, or even a section in a class, on the history of Lebanon and the local area (especially the Native tribes who once used this land) would be incredibly useful, and if done right, incredibly interesting.

Paging Mr. Winters....

Whiskey Fire on the Connection Between Troops and Liberty

Hint: There is none, crazed howls from my gun-toting extended cousins notwithstanding.

Nothing the American military is currently doing abroad has any bearing whatsoever upon the degree of liberty enjoyed by any American citizen. To suggest otherwise is absurd. Had we not invaded Iraq, would any American be any less "free," any less capable of dissent, free expression, the vote, fucking around on YouTube, whatever?


And it is no insult to the troops to suggest this. American liberty does not, practically, theoretically, or philosophically, depend upon American armed force. There are no foreign powers capable of threatening essential American liberties -- yes, there are assorted maniacs and thugs, but, well, we are under no threat of invasion.

To be blunt. I owe to no member of the American armed forces any gratitude for the exercise of my liberties as an American citizen. I respect their service but I am not in their debt in any regard. In particular, this exercise of American armed intervention in Iraq is in fact anti-democratic and injurious to American liberty, and for that reason should never have been undertaken, and needs to end.

Mmm.... the sweet smell of angry blogger in the morning. It's one I am quite familiar with.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

A Response to LT's "Movies and Education II" Post

I agree with LT that we're likely to end up in the same place, though I feel like I've been a bit misunderstood. So, some clarifications.

1. LT says:

RW takes issue with our statement that we should push our students to achieve as much as possible to get as much education as possible.

RW wants to take the view that students should be free to decide whether they want to learn or not, whether they want to go to college or not, whether they want a particular kind of job.

Yes... with qualifications. While I do think that it's a good idea for people to achieve as much as possible and get as much education (defining 'education' as something almost completely different than 'schooling'), I don't think simply telling people - students - that's what they should do is a good idea, for the simple reason that telling people what to do, even with the best of intentions, is not as good as encouraging people to discover for themselves what to do.

It might seem like a small distinction, but I think it has substantial ramifications. I always react far better when given an option as to what to do (thus retaining my sense of agency, my ability to control my own life) than simply being told exactly what I should do. I have noticed that the students I worked with are much the same way - suggesting that much of their resistance to schoolwork is not the work per se, but the lack of control they have over their own lives.

A compromise, given the nature of the education system: That students are free to have substantial choice over their own learning within some broad parameters (language arts has to stay language arts, etc). Yes, I know this runs up against state and federal standards. The standards suck.

2. Anyway, LT says this:

We do believe, however, that there is some level of reading, writing, math, and reasoning skills that all adults should obtain if they are able because these are gateway skills to virtually all jobs that produce a living wage. We think that RW probably would agree on that point as well.

And LT is right. I agree.

3. LT says:

Unlike RW, we do not think that there are students who voluntarily choose not to be educated. Instead, we think that unsuccessful students see the value of education, want to be educated, but do not believe that they can be successful in education. Given that we view this as the cause of failure, we advocate for pushing students, not letting them to choose to fail.

Maybe this is a quibble, but I want to raise that distinction again between education and schooling. I think schools - especially high schools - are not set up to deal with the whole range of people they are responsible for. As a result, lots of students don't get much in the way of education while in school. The two - the school and the student - do not see eye to eye, sometimes in some very fundamental ways (and we can debate why this is, where it comes from, and how to deal with it, but that's another post).

I guess I say the above because I see this: That students (most of them, anyway; some of them actually seem to think that learning and intelligence are bad things) want to learn and want to be learned human beings, but do not understand school as a place where that's possible.

Yeah.. LT and I are ending up in the same place, all right; we're just using different words to get there.

Though I do think there are many students who do not see the value of education - and in fact do not see the value of being in school at all. This was a huge shock to me, and I tended to respond by asking students to tell me what the point of school was as far as they knew. Some of them claimed there was no point - which is different than not knowing the point. They actively claimed that education - not school, education - was a bad thing. That was hard to swallow.

So on that point I suspect LT and I differ. I think those students have internalized a very anti-intellectual message that is floating around America (and has been for a long time, really).

Anyway, this post feels too long, so I'm stopping here. Plus, I am unhappy with the writing and revising it doesn't seem to be getting me anywhere.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Tasered While Black

A new blog actually called Tasered While Black, found via Automatic Preference.

Check out this one in particular:

November 29, 2007 TROTWOOD, Ohio -- The FBI is investigating after a Trotwood police officer used a Taser on a pregnant woman. Trotwood Public Safety Director Michael Etter said the incident happened on Nov. 18. He said the woman arrived at the police department asking to give up custody of her 1-year-old son. Etter said an officer spoke with the woman as she held onto the child outside the police department. "(He) attempted to obtain information on both the mother and the child, at which time the mother refused to give any information and became very agitated," Etter said.

Surveillance video from the police department shows the woman trying to leave with the child. The officer then grabs her coat in an effort to get her to stop.

Etter said the officer was doing what he thought was in the best interest of the boy.

The video shows the woman struggling with the officer, who then takes the child from her and gives the boy to another officer. The first officer then forces the woman down on her stomach, and he then uses a Taser on her neck.

Tasers should be outlawed. Better to err on the side of safety than on the side of control.

Lebanon Truth on Education Leads to The Big Questions

Of all the things LT has written, this is my favorite (beating out even this):

Can we change how the world views those who are educated and those who are not? No, even if we thought it was the right thing to do, we lack that power. But what we can do is tell these kids the same things that African-Americans told their kids. It isn't fair, but it is the only game in town. So we expect you to fight every inch of the way and educate yourselves to your utmost ability, every day, every way. And then we expect you to go out into that big, wonderful, scary, unfair world, make something of yourselves, whether you do it here or thousands of miles from here. But don't you ever be ashamed of where you came from. And don't you ever forget what you owe to this community. And don't you ever think that you don't have to pay it forward. [emphasis added]

1. I disagree with that first sentence, just a bit - not only can we change how the world views education, we ought to and need to. It's just that it's a much larger, and longer, struggle.

One thing we can do is teach others about the injustices of the world and allow their own moral compasses to guide their responses.

2. The above paragraph also reminds me of this top ten pet peeve regarding education: "The widespread belief among middle class parents that their child must get into a well known college or they won't be as successful in life."

While I think that's related to the perspective illustrated by LT's paragraph, I - and I cannot stress this enough - do not think the two are synonymous. In other words, LT's exhortation - to engage with the world - does not require attending college.

Also, and perhaps more importantly, it raises the question of how we define 'successful'. I've struggled with that for years, especially in relation to my peers (both defining myself against them and watching how we each define it for ourselves). A friend of mine passed on what turned out to be what I consider a very important definition a few years ago. He said that rather than ask people what they were doing for work, or if they had kids, or how much money they made, or if they went to college - all traditional measures of success - that what was important was whether or not they were happy - and I don't mean on a superficial, false-consciousness sort of level. I mean happiness in the Classic Greek Philosopher/Dead White Guy sense, happiness as the result of achieving one's definition of the good life.

This definition of happiness allows for the inclusion of a much greater part of the whole of the human experience (and it allows each person to define it for themselves, which I think is absolutely essential, messy as though it may be on the societal level). I think it's important that people - including those who happen to be students - are not saddled with a definition of happiness that is impossible to live up to (like going to college or making millions of dollars). Doing so is a recipe for unhappiness, frankly (see the rapidly increasing number of housing foreclosures and missed credit card payments).

All this, of course, is another way of saying that the process, the means, the road you take on the way to your destination - all of these are as important, if not more important, than the destination itself. Lord knows that what was important for me was not the degree in my hand (it's sitting on my bookshelf between texts gathering dust) but what I'd just spent the last five years doing (which determined who I am in no small part).

Note: Careful readers will note that I very rarely come straight out and tell people what to think/do. It just feels wrong. In this case, I will make an exception:

Anyone who is hell-bent on seeing their children succeed by any definition would do well to remember that.

3. LT's paragraph also raises the questions of what obligations we (teachers, parents, adults in general) should be placing on students. This is a very touchy question for me, since I have a pretty intense dislike of obligating others for any reason (obligating others being set in opposition to freely assuming responsibility). In fact, that might be one of the reasons I always had trouble try to enforce any sort of "make students do their work" rule or guideline when subbing: While I can endeavor to help a student see the consequences and benefits of doing/not doing their work, I cannot (and have/had no desire to) make students do anything.

However, as long as obligating others is a factor, then we could do worse than asking students to actively engage with the world around them.

It feels like there is more to say about this, but it's not coming at the moment, so I'm just going to throw this out there.

Monday, December 24, 2007

The Civic Literacy Quiz

From way back in early December, from a comment left on my blog by commenter Bernstein, comes this Civic Literacy test that Americans supposedly do so bad at.

I took the test and scored something like 46/60, for a score of 77%. I'd be more upset with myself if I thought the test was any good. It's not.

The last dozen questions or so were on the topic of the free market and economics. They were silly, with some of them being false.

But then again, I'm not surprised. Look at the mission statement of the organization that puts on the quiz:

The Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ISI) was founded in 1953 to further in successive generations of American college youth a better understanding of the economic, political, and ethical values that sustain a free and humane society.

Crap like that - and yes, it is crap - sets off all sorts of alarm bells in my head, because "free society" is often claimed to be synonymous with capitalism. (And how can a society that permits the death penalty be called 'humane'?)

Too bad the result of capitalism is most certainly not democracy. In fact, the two are just about polar opposites when it comes to values and ideology. I know it's been fashionable to rhetorically equate the two recently, but seriously.

A sample question (not chosen at random):

50) Free markets typically secure more economic prosperity than government’s centralized planning because:

Can you spot the assumption? Hint: It's the word 'more'. The questions implies an empirical claim, but provides no evidence and instead treats it like fact. And no, shouting "Soviet Union" does not count as evidence... unless you were looking for a Magical Communist Pony.

How about this one:

51) Which of the following is the best measure of production or output of an economy?

When the answer is Gross Domestic Product, I know I'm in the presence of wishful thinking. GDP is the commonly accepted answer to this question, it's true, but Robert Kennedy shredded that notion a long time ago:

The gross national product includes air pollution and advertising for cigarettes and ambulances to clear our highways of carnage. It counts special locks for our doors and jails for the people who break them. GNP includes the destruction of the redwoods and the death of Lake Superior. It grows with the production of napalm, and missiles and nuclear warheads... it does not allow for the health of our families, the quality of their education, or the joy of their play. It is indifferent to the decency of our factories and the safety of our streets alike. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, or the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. It measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile.

Basically, the latter part of the test gets at how well you believe the dominant ideology of the United States, not how informed you are. There's a substantial difference.

Heck, the first part of the quiz contains a bunch of questions that are completely irrelevant to modern life, even if we include knowledge of history as a causal factor as relevant knowledge.

Recent News Stories about the LCSD, PIE, Sand Ridge, etc.

I've been lax (read: working almost full time during the last few weeks of my job) in posting about Lebanon news stories and events lately, so I'm just going to do a summary post of all the recent stuff. Commentary, of course, is included at no extra charge...

1. Sand Ridge Administrator not licensed with state

I don't really feel the need to comment a lot on this, besides to note that this sort of thing should be beyond the pale, and arguably grounds for dismissal. Or, at the least, grounds for not inviting the nice Mr. Jackson back as an administrator for Sand Ridge after this year.

And don't give me any "he didn't know" crap. He was supposedly the principal of the school last year, and he surely had a hand in hiring at least one administrator for a PIE school - both of which mean he knew better.

Then there is the Lance Ferrarro issue:

Lance Ferraro, a teacher at Sand Ridge last year, said Jackson has ignored his requests for forms required by the state of Michigan.

Ferraro returned to Michigan early this summer to care for his father who suffers from heart problems and mother who has lost both breasts to cancer.

That crosses the line from uncaring and sloppy to mean - and unprofessional (no matter Jackson's reasoning). If I'm a PIE parent.... or teacher.... I'm wondering how this happened and whether or not I'm going to face the same problem in the future.

2. Superindent Briefs Chamber of Commerce on Lebanon Education

Based on this story, I think the presentation that was given was probably pretty good. At the least, Robinson, Kelley and Zarate are trying to get the LCSD to change the way education happens in Lebanon to be more in line with the realities of the world. The fact that people seem to be interested in shooting the messenger because they don't like the message (or the style in which it's being delivered) is not good.

Kelley says it perfectly:

“We're not measuring the right things in the classroom,” Kelley told the chamber. “It's not right to stuff their heads with facts. We've got to start teaching processes.”

Amen to that. Big changes are coming down the pike in education, and Robinson and Co. are doing their best to adapt and adopt national trends and changing policy orientations to the local environment. Sometimes they are not successful, it's true - but they are trying, and rather than sabotage their efforts, I think it would be far more useful to collaborate. To steer the ship to a new course rather than sink it, in other words.

3. Lebanon blogs target charter school chairman

I thought I'd have something to say as soon as this story came out, what with it being sort of about this blog and all. I was a little surprised when I didn't.

I do have a few things to say now, however.

Put simply, I think this story should never have run. I failed to see that, as written, the story was newsworthy.

Given the subject matter, the DH could have taken two angles: Either a) that Jackson's disciplinary history was newsworthy in and of itself, in which case there was little to no reason to mention the blogs at all; or b) that the fact that said history was reported on two local blogs was newsworthy. If the latter, then the focus should have been on the blogs' revealing of the history - and the blogs certainly should have been named and/or quoted and/or linked to in the story.

So which one is it? For me, the answer is, oddly enough, tied up in the issue of anonymous sources - and Hasso Hering's stated dislike of anonymous bloggers.

Given that the headline accuses "Lebanon" bloggers of going after Jackson (which, from my perspective, is false, since I am not blogging from Lebanon - and while the reporter knows that, I know she does not always write headlines), I'd say the answer is obviously (b), that the supposed justification for the story is the take of Rhetorical Wasteland and LT. But if that's the case, how did Jennifer Moody not end up even naming the two blogs listed in the headline?

My guess is simple: Someone - probably Hering - edited any mention of the blog names or URLs out of the story. It fits too well with his calling anonymous bloggers 'cowards'.

In other words, good journalism practices (in this case, naming the sources/justifications for the story) ran square up against Hering's dislike of anonymous bloggers... and his dislike won out, to journalism's loss.

I don't blame Jennifer Moody, the story's author, for any of this; I know she possesses all the relevant information (my blog name, etc.).

I think the DH needs an ombudsperson/public editor - and yes, I am available.

Full disclosure: Moody contacted me about the story and I essentially declined to comment on the record. If that led to the way the story turned out, I am sorry... but I don't think that had anything to do with it. Surely LT was contacted and had something to say.

Spending Christmas Eve Worshipping Danah Boyd

So. Freaking. Smart.

Today's youth have information at their fingertips, but they are constantly being told that this information is inherently flawed and that they should not use it.

Wikipedia certainly has its flaws, but it's not evil. In fact, it's an ideal site for learning how to interpret information. Consider California History Standard 11.1.2 where students are supposed to learn about the cultural dynamics behind the American Revolution. The view from the American and British history textbooks is quite different, yet, the English Wikipedia entry has to resolve these two perspectives. Right now, teachers say that what's in the textbook is right and what's in Wikipedia is wrong. Imagine, instead, if teachers helped students understand why these two differed. Imagine a culture where information is collectively valued, but youth are taught the skills for interpreting it and evaluating it rather than simply being told that everything in the information ecology that they inhabit is "bad" simply because it's not in traditionally vetted sources.

This is a personal pet peeve of mine because if educators would shift their thinking about Wikipedia, so much critical thinking could take place. The key value of Wikipedia is its transparency. You can understand how a page is constructed, who is invested, what their other investments are. You can see when people disagree about content and how, in the discussion, the disagreement was resolved. None of our traditional print media makes such information available.

Somewhere, Paulo Freire is smiling; Boyd just took apart the banking model of education (the idea that the human brain is a simple storage unit for lists of facts that the teacher is responsible for transmitting) in a very accessible way. Furthermore, Boyd obviously values critical thinking, something Freire is also a bit of a fan of.

I need to re-read The Pedagogy of the Oppressed.

But only after I finishe Anne Bishop's Pillars of the World series - it is fantastic.

The Value of Inefficiency in Social Networking Technology

I have to say that Danah Boyd is rapidly becoming a must-read for me, if for no other reason than the fact that she's addressing things no one else is.

Boyd (who writes under them name zephoria at her blog apophenia):

In the physical world, architects and city planners often build inefficiencies into the system for a reason. I remember a talk by Manuel Castells where he spoke of forcing people to stand on line at regular intervals in public places, even when the activity could be made more efficient through technology. He viewed these kinds of inefficiencies as critical to the well-being of society because they provided a context for people to interact with strangers and, thus, build connections that glued the city together. This worked especially well when people could collectively complain about the people in charge - it provided a reason for social solidarity. (Think about the social solidarity built in NY when there's a brownout or a transit strike.) Physical architects must constantly struggle with maximizing efficiency versus providing room for inefficiencies because of the social good that comes from them.

I have a sneaking suspicion that tech architects never even think about the possibility of creating inefficiencies to enhance social good, but I'm not sure. Since many of you mysterious readers are passionate about social technology, let me ask you. What examples of intentional (or unintentional) inefficiencies do you see in social tech? How do users respond to these?

One of the commenters on the post gets at something good:

the inefficeincy is the social contact.

That suggests that our metric - efficiency - is insufficient for what we're trying to use it for, that it cannot take into account certain things (in this case social contact). I think this is right. It's another example of starting to measure too many things with the measuring stick of technology.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

An Australian Beatles Cover Band (The Beatnix) Covering Stairway to Heaven...

..... words fail me.

Found here.

A WGA Writer on Why He Writes

I'll watch almost anything. I always have. While other kids were out playing tag, tossing around the ball, and getting laid, I was glued to the TV. I liked it all, but sitcoms were my main drug. At least until I discovered actual drugs and then sitcoms and drugs were my drugs. I watched everything from Father Knows Best to WKRP in Cincinnati. The only time I would stop watching was when my mother would make me come upstairs for dinner. And then, so I wouldn't miss a word, I would prop up my audiocassette player against the TV and hit record. After dinner I would race down, lie on the couch, close my eyes, and listen to what I had missed. Only having the audio, I would be forced to block the scenes, design the swing sets, choose the camera angles, and edit the show in my head.

Funny stuff.


So..... I will no longer be substitute teaching when school resumes.

I got another job. (Email me if you want to know what it is.)

What does this mean?

Less posting about Lebanon, probably, because I won't be there all the time. In fact, given that the new job is full time, it might very well mean less posting, period.

That's all. I just thought you should know.


Posting will be light over the next several days.


I suppose there's a chance I'll go blog wild, but I doubt it.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

The Human Cost of Our Insurance Industry

The family is suing:

Nataline had been battling leukemia and received a bone marrow transplant from her brother. She developed a complication that caused her liver to fail.

Doctors at UCLA determined she needed a transplant and sent a letter to Cigna Corp.’s Cigna HealthCare on Dec. 11. The Philadelphia-based health insurance company denied payment for the transplant, saying the procedure was experimental and outside the scope of coverage.

The insurer reversed the decision Thursday as about 150 teenagers and nurses rallied outside of its office. But Nataline died hours later.

That the doctor even needs to send a letter to the insurance company to ask is wrong - and yes, I know it's common.

It suggests that the priority is not health care but profits.

Again, I know this is not necessarily news. But it's still bullshit.

On Notice

I despise Christmas shopping.

That is all.

Friday, December 21, 2007

The World's Strangest Connection

I just discovered that David Krumholtz, who played Bernard (the head elf) in The Santa Clause, has been in a very eclectic mix of works over the years:

Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay (2008) (post-production) .... Goldstein

Serenity (2005) .... Mr. Universe

"Numb3rs" .... Charlie Eppes / ... (72 episodes, 2005-2007)

Superbad (2007) .... Benji Austin

Tenacious D in The Pick of Destiny (2006) (uncredited) .... Frat Boy 2

There's a bunch more, but this guy seems to have a great career going. I should pay more attention to him.

Also: There is a movie named "Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay" coming out. This could be great.

Assessing Research on Student Evaluations

This is a really useful article.

I found this point particularly convincing:

Are ratings affected by situational variables?

The research says that ratings are robust and not greatly affected by situational variables. But we must keep in mind that generalizations are not absolute statements. There will always be some variations. For example, we know that required, large-enrollment, out-of-major courses in the physical sciences get lower average ratings than elective, upper-level, major courses in virtually all other disciplines. Does this mean that teaching quality varies? Not necessarily. What it does show is that effective teaching and learning may be harder to achieve under certain sets of conditions. There is a critical principle for evaluation practice embedded here: to be fair, comparisons of faculty teaching performance based on ratings should use sufficient amounts of data from similar situations. It would be grossly unfair to compare the ratings of an experienced professor teaching a graduate seminar of ten students to the one-time ratings of a new instructor teaching an entry-level, required course with an enrollment of 300.

To me, this suggests the obvious: That large lectures are not as successful as small classes.

Also obviously, this comes down to a funding issue.


Thursday, December 20, 2007

Strike Life

As part of the WGA strike, a couple of folks teamed up and produced some web-only shorts about the strike under the name Strike Life. I've only watched one (but the rest are all loading as I type this), and since it was fracking hilarious, I thought I'd point you in that general direction.

For the record, I saw "Problem Solved."

More Books

Some further book recommendations I have received via email or through conversation (thanks everybody!), as well as a few I've dug up on my own:

The Einstein Intersection - Samuel Delany

Triton - Samuel Delany

Dhalgren - Samuel Delany

Nova - Samuel Delany

Johnny Mnemonic - William Gibson

Pattern Recognition - William Gibson

Spook Country - William Gibson

The Difference Engine - William Gibson

Fragile Things - Neil Gaiman

Life of Pi - Yann Martel

Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden

Misfortune - Wesley Stace

The Ivy Tree - Mary Stewart

A Rare Piece on Religion

Update: Outgoing links removed for, well, reasons that I may or may not explain later.

Longtime readers (and friends) will know that I don't normally post about religion except to laugh at the hypocrisy and flat-out evil that comes from the Religious Right.

Well, this time I'm posting in a much more compassionate light.

From (of all places) Confessions of a College Call Girl (NOT SAFE FOR WORK OR SCHOOL!), a post that gets at the intersection of spirituality and religion:

As many of you have noted, I am not a perfect person. I have made mistakes, over and over again. And sometimes the only way to get back up after you’ve fallen so far is to rely on something bigger than yourself, to pull your head out of your ass and notice that there even IS anything bigger than yourself. And it’s awfully sincere, but when I went looking for God, I found a whole big world out there that saved me from myself. Whether it’s the love of friends and family, the talent that comes and faithfully offers me the right word, the potential for kindness between people, or the ability to tell a story that comforts others. These things can be holy too.

I will never again call myself a Christian; never spend another Christmas with my head bowed in worship, never walk back into the red-brick building where love so often ferments into hate. But this year I approach happiness. And in those creeping moments when I walk down the street and look to the tops of the buildings that skim an endless skyline, when joy unexpectedly fills up my lungs like crisp winter air, until even my blood is sweetly singing. Then I am feeling God.

The whole thing is pretty intense.

P.S. This really reminds me of Robert Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land.

Jon Armstrong on Dooce and Mental Health

For readers of Dooce, I highly recommend this post by Blurbomat author and Dooce husband Jon Armstrong. He write about his wife's battle with depression and how they both have learned to deal with it.

This bit comes across as having been learned the hard way:

To the people out there who denigrate mental health awareness and treatment, I say this: You aren’t helping. You are making it worse. Stop being an arrogant know-it-all. You aren’t right. You are wrong. If someone tells you they need help, your opinion means less than that of professionals. Stop being ignorant. Stop being obstinate. Stop insisting that your loved one, partner, child or co-worker “get over it”. They won’t get over it until you let it go and encourage them to seek help. There are many different approaches and ways to treat mental diseases and conditions. The first step is letting go. You could probably use some time talking it out yourself.

I cannot stress enough how correct I think Jon is. I've seen plenty of people suggest (both politely and not-so-politely) that someone just "get over it" when it's screamingly obvious that there's something very real that needs to be worked through.

Sadly, some of those times have been at work - and for me, that means teachers and students.

Update: I'm going to be even more specific; I see this happen with teachers who also happen to be coaches, or those with a military background. And while I think it comes from a place of wanting students to be self-sufficient and take responsibility for their own well-being, that makes it no less damaging or dangerous - it's certainly not a good way to go about achieving those goals.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007


I have been compiling a list of books I want to read for a few years now. While I've gotten to a fair chunk of said list (all the books that are bolded near the bottom have been read, purchased, started or some combination of the above), the growth rate is much higher than the completion rate.

Below is the entire list; you should note there's no distinction between fact or fiction (or anything else).

In the last few months, I have read more for fun (i.e. fiction) than in a long time - probably since before college. I'm a much different person now, and I get both more and different things from reading.

One thing I've found myself feeling as a result of reading the books am I is hope for the possibility of change. This is both extremely gratifying and extremely surprising.

UPDATE: Of course I have also read plenty of books not on this list - including a big chunk from a friend who has made his personal library available to me. Considering his personal library is probably 1000+ books, this will take some time...

Feel free - encouraged, even - to leave your wanted book lists in comments.... and to talk about what you get out of reading. Or, perhaps, to give me suggestions.

Thanks in advance.


A Thousand Plateaus - Deleuze & Guattari

The Stars My Destination/Tiger Tiger – Alfred Bester

Demolished Man – Alfred Bester

Stand on Zanzibar – John Brunner

Teaching Community – bell hooks

Sex on the Brain – Deborah Blum

Uprooting Racism - Paul Kivel

Refusing to be a Man: Essays on Sex and Justice - John Stoltenberg

Racial Formation in the United States - Michael Omi and Howard Winant

Zines – Stephen Duncombe

Velocities – Stephen Dobbins

Man of Reason – Genevieve Lloyd

Being and Time – Martin Heidegger

The Moral Equivalent of War – William James

The Death of Nature – Carolyn Merchant

Metaphors We Live By – George Lakoff and Mark Johnson (UO)

Geography of Nowhere: The Rise And Decline of America's Man-Made Landscape - Kunstler

Freakonomics – Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner

Stigma - Erving Goffman

Cinderella’s Big Score – Maria Raha (Women of the Punk and Indie Underground)

Lipstick Traces – Greil Marcus

Mystery Trains – Greil Marcus

The Society of Spectacle – Guy Debord

The Revolution of Everyday Life – Raul Vaneigem

The Failures of Integration - Sheryll Cashin

Baltasar and Blimunda - Jose Saramago

Off Center: The Republican Revolution and the Erosion of American Democracy -
Jacob S. Hacker and Paul Pierson (for AK)

Access All Areas – Ninjalicious (also Infiltration zine)

Russell Jacoby - The Last Intellectuals: American Culture in the Age of Academe

Russell Jacoby - The End of Utopia: Politics and Culture in an Age of Apathy

Themepunks - Cory Doctorow

Eastern Standard Tribe – Cory Doctorow

Unembedded - Ghaith Abdul-Ahad, Kael Alford, Thorne Anderson and Rita Leistner

Sundown Towns: a Hidden Dimension of Racism in America - James Loewen

The Fibromyalgia Story: Medical Authority And Women's Worlds Of Pain - Kristin K. Barker

Rhetorical Occasions: Essays on Humans and the Humanities – Michael Berube

The Republican War on Science, by Chris Mooney

The Singularity is Near, by Ray Kurzweil

A Thousand Years of Nonlinear History – Manuel DeLanda

Dog Days – Ana Marie Cox

Inclusive Pluralism – Naomi Zack

Letters from Young Activists: Today’s Rebels Speak Out - Edited by Dan Berger, Chesa Boudin, and Kenyon Farrow

Do You Suck as Well as Fuck? Totally Sexed Up Tales of J. Edgar Hoover's America – Ken Ichigawa

Neuromancer – William Gibson

Self-Made Man – Norah Vincent

Revealing Male Bodies - Nancy Tuana (Editor), William Cowling (Editor), Maurice Hamington (Editor), Greg Johnson (Editor), Terrance Macmullen (Editor)

Doorway into Summer – Robert Heinlein

Isaac Asimov: The Complete Stories, Vol. 1

James Wolcott: The Catsitters

Inventing the University - David Bartholomae

Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town - Cory Doctorow

The City of Joy - Dominique Lapierre

Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over for Bush – Eric Boehlert

Sun of Suns – Karl Schroeder

Ghost Brigade – John Scalzi

Old Man's War – John Scalzi

Learning to Labor - by Paul Willis

Forty Signs of Rain, Fifty Degrees Below, Pacific Edge and Sixty Days and Counting – Kim Stanley Robinson

Radio On: A Listener's Diary (Paperback) by Sarah Vowell

Paul LaFargue, The Right to Be Lazy

Trapeze Collective; Do It Yourself, Pluto Press

Learning to Drive: And Other Life Stories - Katha Pollitt

Rudy Rucker's new novel Postsingular

Charlie Stross's - Halting State

Shock Value: A Tasteful Book About Bad Taste - by John Waters

The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism - Naomi Klein

Dude, You're A Fag: Masculinity and Sexuality in High School – C.J. Pascoe

Norman Mailer - Miami and the Siege of Chicago and Armies of the Night and The Executioner's Song

What Are Journalists For? by Jay Rosen

IQ: A Smart History of a Failed Idea (Hardcover) by Stephen Murdoch
Interface – Neal Stephenson

Attack of the 50-Foot Mikhaela! Cartoons by Mikhaela B. Reid

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? - Philip K. Dick.

David Graeber, Malagasy folktakes

Wastelands: Stories of the Apocalypse - (Anthology) John Joseph Adams

Robert Anton Wilson – Schrodinger's Cat

Ursula K. LeGuin – Left Hand of Darkness

Alfred Bester – Demolished Man

Alfred Bester – Stars My Destination

Alfred Bester – Virtual Unrealities

John(?) Brunner – Stand on Zanzibar

Ourspace – Christine Harold

Soldier of Sidon – Gene Wolfe

Soldier of Arete – Gene Wolfe

Soldier in the Mist – Gene Wolfe

Latro in the Mist – Gene Wolfe

Stardust – Neil Gaiman

American Gods – Neil Gaiman

Neverwhere- Nail Gaiman

The Dance of Gods – Mayer Brenner

Public Works, DMZ comics, Brian Wood

Transmetropolitan Vols. 1-10 (Transmetropolitan Collections) – Warren Ellis

Dave Eggers - A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genuis

Foundation, Foundation and Empire, Second Foundation – Isaac Asimov

Democracy Defended – Gerry Mackie

Out of the Sea and Into the Fire: Latin American-US Immigration
in the Global Age - Kari Lydersen

Savage Inequalities – Jonathan Kozol

The Way We Argue Now : A Study in the Cultures of Theory - Amanda Anderson

What’s Liberal About the Liberal Arts? Classroom Politics and “Bias” in Higher Education – Michael Berube

Crashing the Gate – Markos Moulitsas Zuniga & Jerome Armstrong

One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Days of the Dead – Agnes Bushnell

The Fifth Sacred Thing – Starhawk

Magic Journey – John Nichols

The Postman – David Brin

Neal Stephenson – Snow Crash

How Soccer Explains the World: An Unlikely Theory of Globalization – Franklin Foer

Feminist Epistemology – Sharyn Clough

Fences and Windows – Naomi Klein

Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs – Chuck Klosterman

Collapse – Jared Diamond

The Years of Rice and Salt – Kim Stanley Robinson

Jay Matthews' Top Ten Concerns About Education

Found somewhere (don't remember where anymore turns out it was here), this interview with longtime Washington Post education reporter Jay Matthews. I was particularly interested in the seventh question:

7) What do you see as the top ten concerns in education? What are the biggest concerns in the Washington Circle?

My concerns or Washington's? I will go with mine:

1. Low standards and expectations in low-income schools.

2. Very inadequate teacher training in our education schools.

3. Failure to challenge average students in nearly all high
schools with AP and IB courses.

4. Corrupt and change-adverse bureaucracies in big city districts.

5. A tendency to judge schools by how many low income kids they
have, the more there are the worse the school in the public

6. A widespread feeling on the part of teachers, because of their
inherent humanity, that it is wrong to put a child in a
challenging situation where they may fail, when that risk of
failure is just what they need to learn and grow.

7. The widespread belief among middle class parents that their
child must get into a well known college or they won't be as
successful in life.

8. A failure to realize that inner city and rural schools need to
give students more time to learn, and should have longer school
days and school years.

9. A failure to realize that the best schools--like the KIPP
charter schools in the inner cities---are small and run by
well-recruited and trained principals who have the power to
hire all their teachers, and quickly fire the ones that do not
work out.

10. The resistance to the expansion of charter schools in most
school district offices.

How many apply to Lebanon?

Offhand, I'd say 1, 2, 3, 7 and 8.

Any takers?

The Ultimate Hot Button

I'm sure most people have seen the Easy Button available from Staples....

I want a button that looks exactly the same but says Justice on it.


I did some - not very much, it turns out it was surprisingly easy - legwork and found something interesting; I found Rick Alexander and Josh Wineteer's filing papers, the ones for their school board positions that were filed with Linn County.

The section for education is titled "Educational Background" and has space for "complete school name," "last grade level completed," "Diploma/Degree/Certificate" and "Course of Study (optional)."

Rick's application was typed, and the education section had one entry, which I am quoting verbatim (had I a scanner I'd actually post the documents): "Prescott High School."

That's it. No grade level completed, no diploma received, no course of study, and no location or town attached, the despite the request for "complete school name."

Someone pointed out at one point that they'd heard of Rick attending HS in Arizona. Maybe that's what Prescott refers to.... but I did a few searches and there are lots of Prescott High Schools in Arizona, so there's no way to verify anything.

My point is that there's nothing really of use in that section, and I think it's a disservice to the community to decline to fill it out. Certainly it's not required, but one would think that if one is filing to sit on a #%@%@$! School Board, one would be interested in talking about education - including one's own.


So, Josh. This one is, perhaps, better - or at least more humorous telling.

Under "Complete Name of School Attended" he wrote - and I am not joking - "HIGH SCHOOL." Just like that, in all caps. No information as to what high school.

Under the "Diploma/Degree/Certificate" section he wrote "GRADE" and then added, in tiny text in the corner, "DEPLOMA."

I don't know what a DEPLOMA is, but I got a diploma when I graduated from HIGH SCHOOL.


He also lists having attended LBCC for Political Science and Economics. That's pretty cool (and I not being snarky in the slightest). There was no degree listed, though he did list it as grade 13.

So what does this all mean?

That depends - I am far more concerned about the fact that neither was comprehensive with their filing applications than I am about their respective levels of education (which I still don't really know).

This is not meant to disparage either Rick or Josh; again, I am of the opinion that it's possible, in theory, to be a great school board member without an advanced degree. But the disrespect (a spelling error in this context seems particularly egregious) that both showed for the application seems a problem.

Can Small Schools Be Succesful in Lebanon?

I had the chance to talk to a former teacher today (former to me, former to Lebanon, or former to teaching, you say? Sorry - not telling).

He had a lot to say about the academy system, but he made one point that stuck with me and I thought I'd share:

Small schools work best (and only, perhaps?) where students, teachers, and parents have a choice whether or not to use them. In a place like Lebanon, where there is only one high school, where students are forced to attend a school that utilizes a particular model of learning, there will be rebellion... and failure.

Look at it this way: Just as students have different learning styles (and parents have different preferences for their children; lord, even I am intimately familiar with this one in some painful ways), different school models work better for different students.

I have to admit that this feels incredibly obvious in hindsight, which makes me feel dumb as a rock.

Oh well.

In any case, I asked if he thought an academy system could ever work in Lebanon. He was skeptical, and suggested that the only possibility would be to build the schools separately - to create one from scratch, in other words, which would allow the most possible choice (he also suggested that adding multiple charter schools would be beneficial or perhaps simply inevitable), not to convert and have a mixed campus.

Maybe pessimistic would be a better word than skeptical.

Interestingly, he framed his argument within the discourse of "differentiated learning" and "school choice," both of which seem to be big buzzwords in education in the last decade.

Do I agree with this argument? Well..... at the moment, I'm feeling like it's particularly compelling. Certainly the point about needing even more buy-in when creating a single, closed system seems right. But I want to resist buying into the whole argument, because doing so requires.... what, exactly?

I think it requires that I stop believing in the current academy system, and I think I'm resisting that.


You can tell this is a free-form stream of (barely coherent) consciousness, but that's how it goes, I suppose.


Monday, December 17, 2007

Publications Students Kick Ass

That is all.

Seeing The Blow

Last Saturday, after swinging by the ever more upscale bourgeoisie Portland International Airport to pick up a friend, I found myself at the Doug Fir Lounge for a show.

This was planned, of course - said friend wanted to go, and who am I to disagree to a visit to the wonderfully retro Doug Fir/Jupiter Hotel? (Where it's rumored that the item found on your pillow is not a mint but a condom - hilarious!)

We were there to see The Blow, an act that's been around for most of the decade in one form or another ( she was formerly Get the Hell Out of the Way of the Volcano).

While The Blow is normally the nom de plume of Khaela Maricich alone, her latest work has been a pop-oriented collaboration with Jona Brechtolt. The result - as evidenced by the show - was absolutely & entrancingly stunning.

I should have known something was up when, following the equipment takedown from the previous band (local metal-ish group named Swan Island), there was nothing but a mic and stand set up on the stage. I guessed that it would be one woman with a guitar.

I was wrong - she came out with nothing but a bottle of water in her hands. She set it down, stood in front of the mic for a second, then, without any announcement or music except the beat of her two fingers tapping the mic, she began to sing "True Affection," the song she would later close the show with.

I was instantly hooked - I knew right away that I was going to love the show.

A side note: I saw The Blow way back in 2002 or 2003 at Eugene's W.O.W. Hall with just her voice and a guitar, and she was the first person I'd ever complimented after a show. There was something I found compelling, even then.

Between songs, Maricich would stop and talk to the audience, throwing up a monologue that seemed part planned and part spontaneous. She led the audience through a twisted tale of the inner landscape of her head, her learning about love and life, her motivation for songwriting and her therapist's advice. It was amazing - every song was a step in her road to finding love, covering the mistakes she made along the way and the happy ending.

At the end of the show, she sang "Parentheses" about her partner, Michelle, who was working the sound (each song was sung to a pre-made track of dance/pop stuff). Then she sang "True Affection" again, this time with music.

I can't describe how engaging she was as a performer - she took me (and, I suspect, the rest of the audience) out of our heads and into hers for over an hour.

Her work was incredibly self-aware and postmodern, witty with a brutal honesty, and from a place so DIY that doing it any other way would be impossible to fathom. She managed to craft a coherent performance that spoke (to me, at least) to the anxieties of finding love in a world filled with anomie.

I'd had a relatively stressful week for a variety of reasons, and along with a fabulous dinner on Friday, the show did a great job of letting me relax and let a bunch of stuff go (albeit temporarily, it turns out).

If you're ever in Portland and you see that The Blow is playing (and you don't mind being a bit introspective), grab a ticket. It's a moving experience.

Oh, and she is one hell of a dancer. Go figure.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

There's A New Blog in Town

The new blog is titled "Improved Education for Lebanon," with the author going by the handle "Improved Education" or "IE."

Though I may disagree with the material posted over there already, I'm always interested in a new voice joining the discussion. Now let's see if they last longer than Lebanon's Real Truth, which made it all of two posts.

Oh.... as to why I disagree with IE already, um, there is this:

It is my belief that when Lebanon hires a top-notch superintendent, one Rick, Josh and Debi respect and who respects them, they will be relieved to collaborate and hand over any reins they are holding.

I think IE gives Rick too much credit. Rick wants a yes man, not a superintendent.

Also, that line "hand over any reins they are holding" is really interesting to me. What reins are Rick, Josh and Debi holding that they would hand over to someone else? Isn't IE suggesting that the Terrible Trio are being a bit unprofessional here? Or perhaps that they are actively working to undercut their own superintendent? Doesn't sound all that ethical to me - but this is IE's characterization, so who knows.

Regardless, I hope IE sticks around. The more voices the better.

A Dour Prediction

From Digby - and I should say that I agree with the plausability of this prediction. It's not a happy one, but I think there's a disturbingly large likelihood of it coming true:

What Atrios says here is absolutely true. A Democratic president, no matter who it is, is going to pay for the Republicans' sins. But it won't be just because the Republicans and Blue Dogs in congress suddenly "realize" they have co-equal power. I predict that the right wing noise machine will shout far and wide that the election was stolen (probably with the help of "illegal aliens.") The new president will not be allowed to weed out even one right wing plant anywhere in the executive branch without being accused of politicizing it. There will be no executive privilege as the courts rediscover their "responsibilities." Scientists and experts will all be accused of being shills for the liberal special interests. The president will be accused of violating Americans' civil liberties and destroying the constitution. There will be widespread accusations of fraud and corruption and non-stop investigations.

In other words the Republicans are going to accuse the Democratic president of everything we know the Bush administration did.

A less charitable interpretation of her prediction is a bit of goalpost shifting... or simply bringing up the possibility so that people will recognize it when (and if) it happens.

Did You Know: Predicting Future Statistics - Youtube Video

Update: A reader writes in with this nifty little site, which has more information on the video.

I am usually pretty skeptical of predictions about the future that sound impossible, especially regarding technology (I am less skeptical of those predictions that deal with human population demographics).

This video makes plenty of both. I really liked it except for the stuff between the five and six minute marks.

It was found via this DH article on a presentation the LCSD D.O. staff gave to the Lebanon Chamber of Commerce. Smart - now if someone would just show it to teachers and students, I'd be happier.

In a nutshell, I think the video suggests that what students should be focusing on is not so much the retention of facts, but the acquisition and mastery of skills like creative thinking, problem solving, how to collaborate effectively and how to communicate information across multiple media platforms.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

A Bit on Knocked Up

This gets at why I don't like what I've seen of the movie:

Meghan O’Rourke tackles the stereotype of women in comedies, especially romantic comedies, as joy killers, after Katherine Heigl got pissed on in the media for telling the truth about how Knocked Up fed off the standard trope of men as fun-loving (if irresponsible) and women as responsible but tedious and boring. It was hard not to be defensive of Knocked Up, and not just because it was so funny, but also because Apatow at least tried to show the parallels between men’s fears and women’s fears about adulthood. He grasped that women do have inner lives, but he just failed to write the female characters with the same understanding he brought to the male characters. He showed a glimmer of understanding that the endless rotation of work in a woman’s life is not necessarily something that women want but have embraced because they feel they don’t have a choice, whereas most movies and shows and commercials that position the men as boisterous children and women as disapproving authority figures seem to think that women are mysterious non-human creatures who get off on being fundamentally unlikeable.

An Anecdote about Editors and Technology

From a reader who wishes to remain anonymous:

The last journalism conference I went to was at PSU and it was for editors only. One of the workshops was on journalism and technology, and there was a guy from a Redmond, Wash. paper who was leading it and told his audience that his newspaper's entertainment guide now had its own MySpace page and it was getting a lot of comments, critiques, blah, blah, and that it was really reaching the younger audiences.

A balding, middle aged guy shot his hand up: "What's myspace?"

Every balding, middle-aged male editor (yes it's a stereotype but it was a true one at this conference!) shared the same question. This was less than two years ago.

It's going to take a new generation to make switch to technology-based journalism. And that's... going to take awhile.

Sidebar: That conference WAS odd though because the stereotypical "editor" was there and when I walked in it felt like... I was a complete outsider, or the person that should've been getting them their coffee. One of those things you'll never forget.

This reminds me of the new comment system instituted at the Albany Democrat-Herald, Lebanon Express, and Corvallis Gazette-Times: It would have been neat in 2002. Too bad it's almost 2008.

This conversation started as a result of this post.

"Recent Comments" Section Added + RSS Reader Notes

At the request of a reader, I've copied LT and added a section that notes the most recent comments. It's on the top of the sidebar to the right.

Also, y'all should get an RSS reader like Bloglines or Google Reader (which requires a Gmail account), or for Mac users, Vienna - they will allow you to subscribe to comments as well as blog posts, thereby eliminating the need to constantly visit the blog's URL to check for new posts.

The Rise and Fall of TV Journalism

I wish I had the time (or the caffeine) to add some commentary....

As is, just check out this video... it' s a great bit of satire.

Found via Notes From a Teacher: Mark on Media, a great sight for keeping up with emerging trends in journalism.

Also found at Adrian Monck's place.

Forest Grove News-Times Column on Anonymous Online Speech

via bz, kind of a funny story....

“Truthful” was part of an on-line exchange concerning the U.S. role as global policeman, part of which has been reprinted on these pages.

In response to a comment by Alana Graham, “Truthful” said he/she couldn’t use his/her real name because of “liberals.”

Liberals (a category which apparently includes me) “have a venomous side that makes them seek you out to personally harass you.” The liberals will label you a bigot or “anti-this or anti-that,” go after your job, send “protesters in front of your residence or work,” according to “Truthful.”

Wow. If us liberals were that organ
ized, we’d all be debating how to elect Vice President Edwards to the Oval Office.

Sorry “Truthful,” but the real reason you don’t use your name is that you’re a chicken.

I think Truthful was playing the martyr in this case.

That said, it's good to see the columnist defending the ability of people to leave unsigned comments on the newspaper's web site. It's a practice that I support.

On the other hand, the suggestion that it's only cowardice that causes people to choose to leave unsigned comments is, um, not correct.

John Schrag should check out some of the comments made at LCSD Board meetings and online news stories about same.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Consumerism and Commercialism in Schools

I wholly agree with this post; just go read it (also, it explains why I despise Channel One.)

An excerpt:

My concerns with the commercialization of childhood have to do with the damage done to kids by socializing them to be not only consumers, but consumerist, to define themselves and others by what the clothes they wear, the cache of their cell phone, the bag they carry, the gaming system they have, the sneakers they own, and/or their MP3 player, instead of their talents, interests, behaviors, and insights.

Before reading Juliet Schor’s Born to Buy, I thought this made them shallow and spoiled. I thought it created disturbing parameters of social exclusion. I thought it made a lot of work for parents. I thought it was used to promote lousy brands that harm kids rather than help them. All true.

But reading Schor showed me three things that made me go crazy:

1. that involvement in consumer culture actually causes emotional and mental health problems for children - depression, anxiety, low-self-esteem, psychosomatic problems.

2. that advertisers explicitly use techniques that undermine parental and teacher authority, to ally themselves with children. The adults in your life are controlling morons, but fruit by the foot understands you. Think about the consequences of this — sure, brand loyalty, but more broadly, if your parents are clueless dorks why should a child look to them for guidance or insight? Why should they share their most deeply held concerns? If teachers are oppressive and stupid, then, by implication, so is school. Not good.

3. that marketing, the vehicle that pulls children into consumer culture most directly is everywhere. Parents make the mistake of thinking that our children experience the advertising that they experienced. Not even close. Take the advertising you knew, up it’s emotional pull by adding insights from neuromarketing and ethnographic market research, put it on steroids, and then insert it everywhere from schools, to church, to friendships, to media, to conversations with “friends” in chat rooms, to youth clubs, to public effing space. Yes, yes, I’ve said this before.

I have encountered #2 all of these in spades at LHS. It's incredibly depressing.

Like I said, read.

My God, Hasso - Just Stop Now, Please (aka Bad Editorial Writing 101, pt. 2)

A commenter at the DH gets to this before I did, so I'm just going to quote them rather than do the legwork.

Hering, in regards to the grandmother of Gabriel Allred's willingness to adopt him:

It is a tribute to her grandmotherliness that she’s eager to take him and bring him up.

Hering a mere five lines later:

People who care for a child are eager to take him in and willing to raise him and make sacrifices for him — that ought to count at least as much as biological relations by blood, or even more. (hh)

Commenter John Puma:

" The editor writes himself into a corner. He first concedes that Gabriel's grandmother is "eager to take him and bring him up" but a few words later suggests she does not fit his criterion of worthy parent who must be "eager to take him in and willing to raise him and make sacrifices for him." If that eagerness "ought to count at least as much as biological relations by blood, or even more" then ALSO being a blood relation should seal the decision, in favor of the grandmother.

Seriously - does Hering not run his editorials by anyone before printing them? WTF?

PIE Asks LCSD to Rush Negotiations Over Contract Renewal

Update: In response to the first commenter, as far as I know the LCSD has not agreed to direct negotiations. That said, I would not be surprised if they end up occurring based on the possibility of Debi supporting them. But thus far, nothing has been decided that I know of.

This was in the DH today.

As a rule, I really like the stories Jennifer Moody writes on the Lebanon School Board.

This one, however, I have one tiny - minor, really - quibble about.... and even then it's not really her doing.

What is it?

Well, the entire basis for the story is the fact that PIE wants to meet with the LCSD School Board as soon as possible - before the next scheduled School Board meeting, in fact. Multiple people are quoted in the story as being critical of Chair Sprenger's inclination to wait. This comment is particularly great (that would be sarcasm, people) since it adds absolutely nothing to the discussion:

Braunberger criticized the decision, writing, “Why is it so hard for the Lebanon board to sit down with the PIE board and start the discussions? There is already an existing charter in place that could be used as a starting point. Come on people this is not that complicated.”

It does, however, illustrate something that's not present in the story (and this is where my quibble with Moody comes in):

Simply put, there is no reason given in the story to explain why the PIE Board is being so insistent on immediate negotiations (and doing so in such a hostile manner, like it's their right or something). None whatsoever.

I understand that a large part of the reason for this is due to the fact that no one from PIE ever actually gives anything resembling a reason for the rush, but still. Moody could have either asked Jackson or Braunberger (or Alexander) about the need to rush things, or she could have noted the lack of reason in the story.

But why doesn't anyone from PIE ever give a reason? I don't know, not for sure - but I suspect there are a few possible reasons:

1) The longer the wait the less likely PIE is to get what it wants. Pushing through the immediate and unconditional renewal was a victory, and following it up by hurrying the district through negotiations is likely going to limit the changes that are made to the charter, something that is in line with PIE's desire to avoid accountability and oversight (never mind that the changes will be necessary to bring PIE in to compliance with the law).

2) PIE might want to hold the negotiations over Christmas break, during a time when people don't have as much energy or attention to devote to the subject as they might normally. This is definitely related to #1, as it's another way for PIE to slip under the radar and get what they want. It's also very un-Christian of them (but then again, so is just about everything else they've done thus far).

I should say as well that I cannot think of one good reason to rush the negotiations. The only thing that comes close is the 90-day requirement present in state, but I would very surprised if a) the negotiations take 60 days, or b) there is no provision in state law to extend the time period.

Like I said above, I generally like Jennifer Moody's coverage - but in this case, I just wish she would have noted the lack of given reason in the story, that's all. I think that piece of context is both important and very telling.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.