Saturday, August 11, 2007

Get Off My Lawn, Part IX

I am getting really tired of ripping on Hasso Hering.

No, really. I am, I swear.

I guess I'll just have to redouble my efforts, or maybe eat a granola bar, or something.

His latest is just, well, dishonest:

The campaign for Measure 49 has begun, and if the start is any indication, you are in for a pile of baloney.

In Corvallis, the League of Women Voters calls Measure 49 the “legislative answer to the massive problems created by Measure 37.”

Massive problems? Where? When?

The idea now is to scare us about Measure 37’s effects.

Since I am tired of this, here: Hering is lying by omission. To be honest, he needs to provide the worst examples of M37 excess he can find, and if those aren't massive problems, then he wins. I know it would take some digging (one might call it "journalism" or "research"), but apparently that's too much for Hasso. Either that, or he's really against land-use laws, which, given his psuedo-libertarian status, doesn't really surprise me. In either case, the guy needs to be honest, more honest than he is being here.

The second thing Hering could do provide an honest look at what would happen without land-use laws. I'm not holding my breath on that one.

On the Reading

A list of books I have read in 2007:

Irish on the Inside, Tom Hayden

On Truth, Harry Frankfurt

The Way We Argue Now: A Study in the Cultures of Theory, Amanda Anderson (yet to finish)

The Dispossessed, Ursula K. Le Guin (for the third or fourth time)

The End of Utopia, Russell Jacoby

The Last Intellectual, Russel Jacoby (yet to finish)

Kiss My Tiara, Susan Jane Gilman

Iran Awakening, Shirin Ebadi

Full Frontal Feminism, Jessica Valenti.

How the Irish Became White, Noel Ignatiev.

Books I have acquired and not touched:

Rhetorical Grammar, Martha Kolln

Environment and Society, Charles L. Harper

I think there have been a few more, but these are the ones I remember at the moment.

Also, writing them down makes me realize how many there are. I often feel like I don't read that much, but seeing this list makes me feel a lot better about what I do read. I know, I know - it doesn't compare to many people, but who cares?

I had also considered doing reviews on the blog for some of the books on this list, but I realize now that reading with a review in mind and reading for pleasure and comprehension are two different (perhaps three different) things for me. Sorry!

Finally, see the two books I've yet to open? By far and away the most academic of the books I've obtained (I found them on campus in a discarded pile). I don't think that's a coincidence. The Jacoby books and the Anderson book are also pretty dense, but so were Irish on the Inside and How the Irish Became White, so I don't think that I'm avoiding dense books, just academic ones. That college still has such an effect on my reading says something about college, I think, or at least my experience with it. I was a pretty voracious reader of books before college; now, I tend towards blog posts and news articles. I've also found that the reading schedule in college totally wrecked my reading comprehension. I need far more time to properly absorb material I've read.

Please feel free to leave a list of books you've read in 2007, or even just over the summer, in the comments. I would be really interested in seeing that. Thanks.

UPDATE: I also read Remembering Tomorrow: From the SDS to Life After Capitalism, by Michael Albert.

A Very Strange Story

A short while back, some Democrats joined with Republicans in the Senate to pass a bill that essentially legalizes warrantless wiretapping of U.S. citizens. This really pissed off the liberal blogosphere, and with good reason. At the time, lots of bloggers were really confused as to why the Dems would do something so obviously stupid.

Well, the New York Times has a story out this morning that purports to explain it....except that it doesn't, not really:

WASHINGTON, Aug. 10 — At a closed-door briefing in mid-July, senior intelligence officials startled lawmakers with some troubling news. American eavesdroppers were collecting just 25 percent of the foreign-based communications they had been receiving a few months earlier.

Congress needed to act quickly, intelligence officials said, to repair a dangerous situation.

You would think that I would have excerpted the part where the reporter explains why the number of intercepted communications had dropped so much, since surely that would be important, right? I mean, the obvious reason for the decrease would be a variety of court cases and laws that "hindered" the national intelligence apparatus from doig their job.

I didn't excerpt that paragraph because I couldn't find it. It's not in the story. I mean, there is this:

A ruling a month or two later — the judge who made it and its exact timing are not clear — restricted the government’s ability to intercept foreign-to-foreign communications passing through telecommunication “switches” on American soil.

The security agency was newly required to seek warrants to monitor at least some of those phone calls and e-mail messages. As a result, the ability to intercept foreign-based communications “kept getting ratcheted down,” said a senior intelligence official who insisted on anonymity because the account involved classified material. “ We were to a point where we were not effectively operating.”

Mr. McConnell, lead negotiator for the administration in lobbying for the bill, said in an interview that the court’s restrictions had made his job much more difficult.

“It was crazy, because I’m sitting here signing out warrants on known Al Qaeda operatives that are killing Americans, doing foreign communications,” he said. “And the only reason I’m signing that warrant is because it touches the U.S. communications infrastructure. That’s what we fixed.”

But that's just bullshit. There's no reason a warrant is unnecessary there. McConnell does a good job normalizing the idea that warrants are unnecessary, but I'm not buying. It is not, in fact, crazy to sign warrants that deal with Al-Qaeda. It was, until fairly recently, standard procedure, and it worked. Warrants did not cause September 11, which is what McConnell is very subtly implying here.

For that matter, it's not like anyone was asking that this information be made public anyway - all that the lawsuits did was require that the Bush Administration go through an existing secret court, the FISA court, which hardly ever turned down warrant applications anyway.

In fact, for many people, cutting down the number of intercepted communications is in and of itself a good thing, since trust for McConnell, Gonzales, and the like is pretty low. Let me make that clearer: Many people, myself included, have so little trust for them that we consider limiting their power more important than intercepting communications willy-nilly.

While the NYT does ask McConnell and Co. why communications were down, it doesn't actually examine the answer he gave. That's just bad reporting - but it's par for the course these days.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Another Dose of Digby

She is - perhaps by far - the smartest political analyst in the liberal blogosphere for my money. In the last several years, I've basically never seen her make a mistake. Hell, at this point I don't know if she even has critics, and all the big names in the liberal blogosphere have critics. Anyway, this struck my eye:

Hey, you can't really blame people overseas for thinking this way. I doubt that anyone overseas has been any more impressed with their commitment to democracy than I have since they launched it directly after stealing an election at home and telling everyone who raised the slightest protest to go cheney themselves. There may be people in the world less credible on the issue of democracy, but I can't think of any who have made such a fetish of insisting that other countries do as they say but not as they do.

Furthermore, the Bush administration has such a reputation for lying and incompetence, the smart bet is to do exactly the opposite of what they prescribe in any situation. You can't go wrong assuming that if they want something it's for self-serving reasons and that if they get what they want, they will screw it up so badly that even if it were well-intentioned it would come out badly anyway.


This is going to be a big problem for the US for a long time to come. People may recognize that Bush and Cheney are somewhat unique cases, but they also know that the bipartisan political establishment pretty much backed everything he did. It makes it very hard to argue that anyone else will be substantially different.


No matter what a new administration does, the single most important rhetorical tool they must employ is Bush bashing. And I mean that seriously. Our credibility around the world is moribund until the US government repudiates George W. Cheney.

There's a radicalness to her critique of the U.S. political system in there, and that radical critique - which is of the structural (as opposed to people-based) nature of the problems in Washington, D.C. - didn't really exist in the mainstream before the liberal blogosphere came along.

The big liberal bloggers and their hordes of commenters, co-bloggers and readers want to love America so bad, but the more they've learned, the more they - as an overly broad generalization - realize how deep and nasty the structural problems are.

It's enough to make my cynical black heart laugh.

Hometown Insanity, Comment Edition

Well, the first post I did on the LCSD School Board and Robinson now has 10+ comments. That is by far the most of any post of mine. Interesting.

I want to highlight one comment that just came in:

Anonymous said...

This mess is going to set education in Lebanon back by years. It is highly unlikely that Dr. Robinson will be able to return to effective leadership and what talented administrator will want to walk into this disaster? The district will get an ineffectual trainee at best and this is a very big, very serious job. My only hope it that principals and teachers, in a leadership vacuum, will pull together at some level and produce some good education.

Rick Alexander, of course, is just a destructive force. He put his own kids through private parochial school. He does not believe in public education and is making it his personal mission to use politics to impede success of Lebanon's regular schools so that even more students will be driven out. This guy is bent on destroying the school system so he manages to get himself elected to a local school board. It is just bizarre.

I'm not so sure the first point holds - the district might still be able to find someone with some amount of talent, but that person will be a tool as far as the school board is concerned. Unless, of course, Alexander disappears. I will agree with one thing: The board and the teacher's union have done such a good job conflating hatred of the small schools initiative with their hatred of Jim Robinson's management style that they've all but guaranteed that a) any innovation will be from the bottom up, which could be a good thing, except b) any innovation will be easily crushed with a reference to the recent history of the district. No one is going to want to propose anything remotely forward-thinking in that environment unless they get the blessing of Alexander and the Lebanon Education Association. Which brings me to point #2...

The suggestion that Alexander got himself elected to the school board for the purpose of destroying the public school system is not at all bizarre. In fact, it has been a pretty common M.O. for conservative operatives of all kinds for years. The Republican Party, and by extension the people they appoint - and I am deadly serious about this - do not believe that government can be a force for good, and they are intent on proving it through a combination of mismanagement and a predisposition towards lining the pockets of their supporters at a huge cost to the general public. They the proceed to point to the programs they've just destroyed and use it as evidence for their claim that government needs to go. What Alexander is doing seems very much the same thing to me; it's slash-and-burn politics that, if successful, leaves the instigator as the only person left standing in a large pile of wreckage. In this case it will be Alexander and maybe the LEA, and since Alexander is an idiot, I don't consider that a particularly good thing.

What gets me is everyone else is apparently so blinded by their anger at Robinson's authoritarian style they don't see the possibility that Alexander could be worse.

However, I will say that I think essentially removing the top level of day-to-day administrative oversight may or may not be a good thing. The School Board cannot effectively replace Robinson in that capacity, as much as they may try (and it will be a disaster if they do). Micromanagement by one person is nothing compared to micromanagement by the likes of an entire board, especially one that contains Alexander (and especially given that micromanagement is very explicitly not what the board is there to do). On the other hand, it could actually serve to leave people with more freedom to innovate at the school or classroom level - under the radar, so to speak. Unfortunately, that could go either way, and in any case getting support for innovation in the future is a dicey proposition.

I would not want to be a parent with a kid in that district right now.

Does anyone know for sure if Alexander's kids went to a private school? If so, which one? Was it in Lebanon?

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Get Off My Lawn, Part VIII

This is a short one:

A Portland city commissioner has proposed restrictions on the sale of cans of spray paint. Buyers would have to produce ID, and stores would have to keep track. And on the slippery slope toward the 21st century police state, we slide down another notch.


What towns need are not new regulations on the sale of spray paint. What towns need is the gumption to get tough with one or two taggers who are caught, as an example to all the others. How tough? As tough as need be to stop this particular wrong. More nighttime neighborhood patrols, more arrests, and longer jail terms — that might do the trick.

1. In the first paragraph, Hering apparently deplores the slippery slope towards the police state. In the third paragraph he encourages bringing the hammer down on taggers. I'm confused....wait! I get it! Hasso thinks he's libertarian! This explains a lot. However, it doesn't explain the annoying disparity on display here.

2. This editorial isn't really surprising. Power - violence on the part of the State - is what Hasso seems to understand and countenance. I would prefer to see someone ask these questions: Why do people create graffiti in the first place? Is graffiti art? Can we delineate cases where graffiti causes damage (when it's on works of art, historical buildings, etc.) and when it doesn't (on the back of a dumpster or on an abandoned building or on the side of a train car)? Metaphorically taking a kid out back and beating their ass with a paddle isn't going to solve anything. I really wish Hering would realize that the rest of the world is not like him.

3. Of course, the proposal by the Portland City Commissioner is stupid. He's thinking with his cock been well socialized by U.S. culture into thinking, just like Hering, that state-sponsored violence is actually a solution and not a problem.

Shared Post Trends

Looking at my shared posts, apparently what I feel is important to share are posts containing horrifying stories about women who are being mistreated at the hands of the state, usually after being mistreated at the hands of sexist assholes males.

Given that the shared items list is meant to be a snapshot of what my daily reading is like, I'd say it's fairly accurate, and it may provide y'all with a shred of insight into why I am the way I am.

Has anyone noticed this, or any other trends with the shared items? Are there blogs I always share posts from?

Please leave a comment if you've noticed something.

The Stupid, It Burns

Via Afro-netizen, an NYT story about paying students to take and perform well on standardized tests:

Roland G. Fryer, a 30-year-old Harvard economist known for his study of racial inequality in schools, is back in New York to again promote a big idea: Pay students cash for high scores on standardized tests and their performance might improve. And he has captured the attention of Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein and Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg.

I have nothing to say besides that this is the stupidest thing I've ever heard, and it's wrong to boot. Blech all around.

Talk about just applying capitalist values to everything.

There Is At Least One Good Dennis

From the liveblogging thread over at Americablog:

6:55: Joe: ENDA issues - what do you see as a hurdle to getting it done.
Kucinich commends Barney Frank for leading on the legislation. The issue of employment non-discrimination affects everyone; there should be no reason to discriminate. The same kind of hurdles are faced in marriage equality issues as well. One plus one, when you're talking about gay couples currently equals zero under the law.

Summary: long pregnant pause before he starts to speak. He says we need a president to understand love in the deepest sense. He couldn't imagine meeting the love of my life and being told that you cannot be married. That would be devastating. He's ready to be the person that transforms this nation and reconnects us with the deepest truths there are.

There are some things that make it crystal clear to me how far away our value system is from one in which people are allowed and even encouraged to give freely of themselves, especially when it comes to love.

I am also talking about, of course, the fact that Kucinich gets laughed at by people for not being "serious" enough, what with his talk of a 'Department of Peace' and his talk about love and whatnot.

There is nothing more serious than love.

Big Al

Get Off My Lawn, Part VII

I knew the second I saw the headline on the latest Hering masterpiece that I was going to be annoyed.

It's not really a good way to begin a Thursday:

As if reading from the same script, Al Gore and Newsweek dwelled on exactly the same point this week: Scientists and others who question the consensus on global warming are all part of a propaganda campaign funded by polluters, namely the fossil-fuel industry.

Maybe that's because a) Gore has been talking about global climate change nonstop for years; b) for once Newsweek noted - and on its cover no less - that the vast majority of scientists agree that global climate change is real; and c) because it's been pretty conclusively proven true - the fossil fuel industry has been throwing propaganda out there for years to try and disprove global warming.

It should be painfully obvious that this does not equal reading from the same script, unless that script happens to be reality.

Oh, poor Hasso. It must be tough simultaneously thinking that you're smarter than everyone else and then having so many people disagree with you. I can't wait until you retire to watch FOX News and complain constantly....only without an audience.

Moving on:

Gore knows propaganda when he sees it. He is a well-practiced propagandist himself.

In Singapore this week, he repeated the Newsweek report that the industry “deniers” offered $10,000 to scientists raising questions about the prevailing view on global-warming science. He called that a “bounty.”

When scientists get money for studies that reach conclusions in which Gore believes, he presumably does not call it a bounty. More likely he calls that a government research grant.

I can't decide if Hering really believes there is no difference between getting funding to study something and getting money to reach a predetermined conclusion. First of all, funding for scientific research is given out before the research happens, whereas the $10,000 bounty that Gore is referring to is given out upon delivery of results. Second, actual funding is not or should not be contingent on the results, but on good methodology (if anything) whereas this bounty is completely dependent on whether or not the science matches up with preconceived notions. (Check out the comment below the editorial by greenie; it makes this point rather well.)

I should clarify that the process that Hering describes occurs all the time; it's just that I think it happens mostly in his beloved private sector. Well, there and in military research.

Furthermore, he is either massively cynical - which is possible - or he is completely butchering the integrity of the scientific method. I like the scientific method (even though I have my own criticism of it), so the latter possibility tends to make me angry. As for the former, even if Hering is that cynical, an honest person would have noted the difference between the way the scientific method is supposed to work and what he thinks happens. Instead, the result is to suggest that the entire process of research is merely some process of buying data friendly to your pet cause. That's not a good thing.

Finally, there is this little bit:

Supporting someone who honestly, without falsifying or making up the data, supports your point of view is hardly immoral or wrong, is it? How else can a legitimate industry try to defend itself when it’s under attack, especially when it’s under attack from the likes of Gore?

Hasso is really starting to piss me off. This is mischaracterizing what's going on to such a degree that he is either an idiot or lying. Or both.

Again, Hering apparently has no idea how science is supposed to work - here he mistakes it for some sort of patronage system. He also adds that a caveat that, if he was honest, would force him to admit his whole editorial is garbage: "without falsifying or making up the data".

Turns out that much of the work that's been produced recently that is against the existence of global climate change is either falsified or made up. In other words, it's junk science.

I will continue to say this until I turn blue: Hasso Hering is a dishonest hack who needs to be pulled from the editorial page. Instead of informing his readers about major issues of the day and providing the context and analysis that only an editorial can, he is actually making people who read his editorials dumber. That's quite an accomplishment.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

There Are No Words

Go Read Digby, and follow the links.


The Very Definition of the Modern Establishment

I am talking, of course, about OSU Political Science Department Chair Bill Lunch.

From the recent Portland Tribune article on Steve Novick, who has entered the Democratic Primary in the hopes of challenging Gordon Smith:

“He’s taken a series of positions over a long period of time that – take your pick – are either highly advanced or on the left edge of the Democratic Party,” says Bill Lunch, a political science professor at Oregon State University. “In the city of Portland, those positions aren’t bad ones to have. But if you have to run statewide … in Medford and Burns as well as in Portland … by the time you get to rural Oregon, he’s not a terribly attractive candidate to a lot of voters.”

Oregon and national Democrats realized they needed to find a more establishment candidate, and they’ve found that in Merkley, Lunch says. “Unless the Democratic establishment is enormously inept, it’s very, very likely that Merkley will be the (Democratic) nominee,” he says.

Sometimes I wonder if there is a person underneath the jovial, bearded, walking political science establishment named Bill Lunch. I've never really seen him express an opinion that's out of the mainstream, especially in public. Even in the class I took from him he treated politics like a he-said, she-said game, always careful to never place himself in danger of holding anything but a moderate opinion.

Lunch's second quote is pretty despicable, if you ask me. It suggests that Merkley has a right to win based on his Establishment credentials. I don't know much about Merkley or Novick, but that's just not cool.

h/t Blue Oregon.

The State is Control

From the NYT - I get an email digest - comes a court ruling that makes very little sense to me:

A federal appeals court ruled yesterday that patients with terminal illnesses do not have a constitutional right to use medicines that have not yet won regulatory approval.

I suspect this was maybe the case for some time between the 1950s and early 1980s, but if I remember my history right, it was AIDS activists that first convinced the government and pharmaceutical companies to use drugs on terminal patients that hadn't been through the full approval process yet. And yet AIDS is mentioned nowhere in the story, so I could be wrong - or the story could be ignoring something important. I could go either way.

On the other hand, I'm pretty firm in my belief that this is a bad ruling. For example:

Judge Thomas B. Griffith, writing for the majority, said a right to experimental drugs was not deeply rooted in the nation’s history and tradition. Judge Griffith said the right of self-defense “cannot justify creating a constitutional right to assume any level of risk without regard to the scientific and medical judgment expressed through the clinical testing process.”

In a dissent, Judge Judith W. Rogers wrote that it was “startling” that the “right to try to save one’s life is left out in the cold,” not protected by the due process clause of the Constitution, “despite its textual anchor in the right to life.”

Frank Burroughs, the founder of the Abigail Alliance, said his group was “dumbfounded that most of the justices tragically missed the merits of the case.” Mr. Burroughs vowed to appeal to the Supreme Court.

Yeah. I'm not buying Griffiths' argument, not without something to back it up. This smells suspiciously like a case of someone using the Constitution when it's convenient...let me see what the Internet has to say:

Yup. Griffith is a Federalist Society member, and those folks are well-known hacks who use atrocious legal reasoning to mask their let's-all-return-to-the-1950s opinions.

Again thinking of AIDS drugs clinical trials, it was determined then that the possibility of saving someone's life - especially when they are terminally ill and can choose to take the experimental drug with full knowledge of the consequences - outweighs both the need for profit on the part of drug companies and the possibility that the drug is not safe. It does not, in mind, necessarily put the company at risk of either losing profit or losing face. Furthermore, this argument is bullshit:

He and others say that if drugs were made available after only preliminary testing, drug companies would have little incentive to conduct full clinical trials to determine if a drug really works.

This makes no sense when applied to terminally ill patients. The vast majority of drug profits come from folks who are not terminally ill. This only makes sense if drug companies are really that greedy....aha. Fuckers.

At any rate, I wonder if this will affect AIDS patients in addition to other terminally ill patients.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Changing Assumptions

I really hope that this signals a shift in orthodox economic thinking:

Poor enough people will accept risk in the downward direction rather than smoothing consumption, so they buy lots of lottery tickets. They also commit more crime, so they can have at least some joyous times, and they take lots of "stupid" chances. Yet the poor are not irrational or necessarily dysfunctional in terms of procedural rationality, but rather they are optimizing given constraints.

It seems to me that for a long time, there's been a very mainstream assumption that poor people are just rich people without the money.

It's a stupid assumption, as the above quote makes clear. They may all be human, but the decisionmaking process is very different based on one's location in the capitalist hierarchy.

There's been a corollary assumption that people without money who do things like gamble or commit crime are behaving irrationally precisely because it's irrational for someone with lots of money to engage in those behaviors. As Cowen is arguing, it's not necessarily irrational at all.

Any good lefty could have would have told you that a long, long time ago for free. I just hope that this shift in thinking becomes more prevalent. It would help a lot.

Seriously. This is part of a big problem with economists and modern universities curriculum. The better understanding of people you have, the better these spacy economic models are going to be. Take more humanities classes, people. They do have some value.

Found via Ezra Klein.

Shame is Not a Good Thing, People

I was about to go get some lunch when I ran across this BB post. It led here:

BANGKOK, Thailand - Thai police officers who break rules will be forced to wear hot pink armbands featuring "Hello Kitty," the Japanese icon of cute, as a mark of shame, a senior officer said Monday.


"Simple warnings no longer work. This new twist is expected to make them feel guilt and shame and prevent them from repeating the offense, no matter how minor," said Pongpat, acting chief of the Crime Suppression Division in Bangkok.

"(Hello) Kitty is a cute icon for young girls. It's not something macho police officers want covering their biceps," Pongpat said.

Fantastic. There are so many things wrong with this I'm not even going to try and unpack it. Instead, I'm going to have a sandwhich.

A Downside of Mandatory Arrest Laws

Again from the NYT, I column about the consequences of mandatory arrest laws:

What the laws did not take into account was that eventually the victims of violence would come to realize that if they called the police, their abuser would certainly be arrested. And over the years, it turns out, that realization seems to have led victims to contact the police less.

The mandatory arrest laws were intended to impose a cost on abusers. But because of psychological, emotional and financial ties that often keep victims loyal to their abusers, the cost of arrest is easily transferred from abusers to victims. Victims want protection, but they do not always want to see their partners put behind bars.

In some cases, victims may favor an arrest, but fear that their abusers will be quickly released. And many victims may avoid calling the police for fear that they, too, will be arrested for physically defending themselves. The possibility of such “dual arrests” is most worrisome for victims who have children at home.

Oops. Then again, I don't think this will be much of a surprise to many of the feminist women I know. How about this:

But in states with mandatory arrest laws, the homicides are about 50 percent higher today than they are in states without the laws.

Damn. Problem.

I'm thinking that maybe this whole "mandatory" anything when it comes to law enforcement is a bad idea.

I'm also remembering that since police officers and military folks tend to be 50% more abusive than anyone else, maybe there's a far deeper problem here.

I Blame The Patriarchy.

One Small Step for Decency

Via the New York Times, a judge is forcing the city of New York to release, albeit in a redacted fashion, lots of documents on the spying the NYPD did on protest groups that were protesting the 2004 Republican Convention.

Needless to say, this is good news, though it's pretty clear that the folks in question should have never been arrested and the NYPD and NYC should be suffering some pretty serious sanctions for this behavior.

Is that going to happen? Oh hell no - this is America, baby! Can't have people in giant Bush costumes walking the streets of NY. That might disrupt the old white men's country club reunion, or whatever:

The city had largely based its bid for nondisclosure on the need to protect those identities and methods, and argued that the public might misinterpret the documents or the news media sensationalize them. But the civil liberties lawyers insisted that the documents — even without the sensitive materials — were needed to show in court that the police had overstepped legal boundaries in arresting, detaining and fingerprinting hundreds of people instead of handing out summonses for minor offenses.

The order was the latest development in the long-running case, which posed thorny questions about the free speech rights of protesters and the means used by law enforcement officials to maintain public order.

That they are "thorny questions" is a nice way of saying "the police and the city arbitrarily decided to mass-arrest anyone in the wrong place at the wrong time, and then hold them in inhospitable conditions for days, and then try to claim it was all legal and necessary on the grounds that the protesters were 'dangerous'."

I guess it does depend on what you mean by dangerous. Were they dangerous to public perception? Sure. Dangerous to anyone's actual safety? Hardly. But that the new America for you - once police departments realized they could bust protesters illegally and then cage them for indefinite periods without any real consequences, the new "tactics" spread like wildfire across departments all over the country.


Monday, August 6, 2007

Hometown Insanity, Part Two (School Board Meeting Edition)

I am in shock.

I went to a Lebanon Community School District School Board meeting tonight.

I have never seen something so pathetic in my life, and that includes me and how much I fawn over my cats.

Four of the five members have been on the board for more than a year, yet they don't follow the established rules governing how the committee runs (in this case, Roberts' Rules of Order). They are barely functional.

What's worse is that I can't decide if they don't follow the rules because they don't like them or because they - with the exception of the chair and maybe one other member - don't actually understand how they work. I'm leaning towards the latter because there were at least two instances in which the board members - and Rick Alexander in particular - got himself so tangled up in motions and amendments that he effectively prevented himself from getting what he wanted until someone, usually the chair, bailed him out by explaining what his options were and what the consequences would be.

I was on a budgeting board at OSU and a media oversight board that both used, ostensibly, RRO. I hated them - I think they really limit discussion and aren't near as adaptable as their proponents do - but at least I understood them by, I don't know, the time I needed to use them.

I only stayed at the meeting for two major agenda items, and on both of them the Board stumbled around like drunken children. The Chair, Sherrie Sprenger, was acting like a mother to the board, shepherding and herding them towards where they wanted to go even when it was clear that she would have preferred they do something different. I guess that makes her practically the only professionally-behaving person on the board.

Well, her and Chris Fisher, but he didn't have much to say aside from some passioned pleas to follow the rule of law. It's a sad day when his cries to follow established procedure end up on the other side of the teachers in the audience. They really should know better.

If I had done that during my second year on either of the committees I served on, I would been the laughingstock of everyone in the room, especially on the media committee. We at least knew that a board has to deal with one motion at a time, rather than introduce several conflicting motions at once and then try to resolve the tangled web.

Why did I even go in the first place? See here.

What happened at the meeting? Two things of note: there was an agenda item regarding finding an interim replacement for Superintendent Jim Robinson, and there was an agenda item regarding finding someone to do an outside performance review of Robinson (ostensibly, the reason they placed him on indefinite paid administrative leave in the first place).

The Interim Superintendent

When I read in the paper that the Board would be looking for an interim person to fill Robinson's position, I immediately thought of his underling, Assistant Superintendent Steve Kelley. Normally, in a position like this, one would simply let the next guy down the line step in for the duration. The reasoning is pretty simple: absent any outstanding reason (the assistant being part of the problem is the one that comes to mind), the assistant is the one who knows the position best and has the necessary skills and knowledge to effectively run the place while the boss is gone.

The second thing I think of is the fact that if you're not just going to appoint the immediately most qualified person, you'd better have some kind of rationale for appointing someone - which usually means a public search with some halfway decent criteria.

In the case of the LCSD School Board, I could not have been more wrong. Instead of even talking about the process, Rick Alexander immediately put forth a motion to "appoint" Ken Ray, who is the current Principal of Lebanon High School, interim Superintendent.

He didn't even ask that man first. He didn't even ask him first. Unless, of course, he had talked to him beforehand and this was all a sham deal. Possible, but I want to have more respect for Ray than that.

Instead, we got motions and seconds and amendments and some painful discussion. Chris Fisher pointed to some policies that suggested that Steve Kelley takes over automatically in the "absence" of the Superintendent, but Sprenger pointed out that there is also a provision in district policy that allows for an appointed interim in the case that the permanent person holding the position is unavailable. They argued over that for a bit, and then someone - I think Sprenger - pointed out that they needed to ask Ken Ray first, and maybe, just maybe, they could amend the motion from "appointing" to "entering into a conversation with Ken Ray about the possibility of his accepting the position of interim Superintendent."

Like I said, it was pathetic. Worst comedy show I've ever seen, let me tell you. No subtlety in the writing - just a direct, brute appeal to power.

Ken Ray happened to be in the audience, which was not surprising, as it had been in the newspaper that one of the board members wanted to ask him to step in while Robinson is gone. Sherrie Sprenger asked him very directly if he would be interested in talking about the possibility of wearing two hats; he responded with some platitudes about being honored and then said yes.

The motion to ask Ray to attend an executive session (meaning closed to the public) meeting in which they would discuss the terms of his hiring passed 3-2, with Sprenger and Fisher voting against. It was predictable.

Personally, I am a little shocked that a) no one asked Steve Kelley to step in, b) they asked Ken Ray so quickly, and c) there was no sense of process or procedure or even a vague, weak attempt to actually look for someone qualified. I think I'm too used to semi-professional, liberal bureaucracies (those of Oregon State) that try to follow the rules. If a board had tried to pull this at OSU - call a special meeting when the victim is out of town caring for his sick mother, then proceed to suspend him indefinitely, then proceed to hand-select a replacement - there would have been outrage.

Instead, there were dozens of people in audience that cheered and clapped when the motion passed. Many of them were teachers. On the one hand, that was somewhat unprofessional. On the other, the fact that so many people were that upset at Robinson suggests that there is a very real basis for their anger. I will try and return to that at near the end of this (very long) post.

The External Performance Review

The sad, sad shenanigans continued with the next agenda item. When they broached the subject, the board did so in such a poor fashion that I wasn't able to figure out what they were talking about for more than 10 minutes into the discussion, once they had got themselves so tangled in motions and amendments that Sprenger once again had to step in and explain what was going on - and this time it was to the audience as well as the board.

When they finally got things tangled out, here is what happened, at least as far as I could tell: Chair Sprenger wanted to simply start talking about the process they would use to select someone. Alexander (and by extension Shimmin and Wineteer) wanted to select someone on the spot, someone they had already researched. This time, the lack of process and procedure almost got them in very, very hot water.

I should note that at the beginning of the meeting, Alexander noted the name of a law firm that he had in mind. He was very insistent that it be placed on the agenda. I was never clear if he didn't actually know that the topic - finding an outside review person - was already on the agenda (copies of which the audience had, btw), or whether he actually wanted the name of his chosen law firm to be physically on the agenda. Either option suggests he's not very bright.

Shimmin first asked to talk a bit about one potential candidate she had talked to. She listed the woman's accolades, but noted that she wasn't "proposing a candidate."

Two second later, Alexander motioned to approve her as the outside performance review person. Sprenger asked - and this was a good insight on her part - if the person in question, Kathy Beck (I think) was part of the law firm Alexander had talked about earlier.

Lo and behold, it was the same. Funny how that sort of stuff works. I should also note that Sprenger had compiled several names and firms of what she thought were potential candidates, but she didn't want to talk about them until they had a handle on the process they were going to use.

During the discussion on Alexander's motion, Chris Fisher pleaded again to follow some sort of decent process - you know, an open search for the most qualified candidate. He also pointed out that any money they spent on this would not be spent on students, a point that NO ONE APPEARED TO CARE ABOUT, teachers included (again suggesting that there is an immense amount of anger in the district over Robinson's behavior and policies). Alexander and Shimmin appeared to have made up their minds already, so they objected, obviously wanting to get their way.

Finally, and I am very thankful of this, Donna Chastain, who is an employee of the LCSD, pointed out that any time they spent more than $5,000 on something like this, they have to have an open, competitive process involving written bids. Any more than $150,000, she said, and they have to give out a Request For Proposal, or RFP. That, she pointed out, is state law. Furthermore, she said, the typical process for something like this takes 60-90 days, which means that unless the School Board opts to make an end run around the rules, Robinson will be on paid administrative leave for a minimum of several months. That's a lot of money.

As far as I know - because this is about where I left - the Board tabled any decisionmaking and instead proposed to meet Thursday in a working group to try and figure out how to proceed. It's possible that something happened after I left, but I really, really hope not.

There was one other agenda item that I wanted to stay for, but as it was near the end of the agenda and I was already frustrated, I decided to leave.

The agenda item? "School Board Ethics."

Just thinking about it blows my mind, as most of those folks have absolutely no standing to talk about ethics after their little stunt the previous Monday.

Analysis (of a sort)

So what were some of the consequences of the two agenda items? What did I learn from watching the board for a few hours?'s so tempting to write some version of "how not to behave," but I won't.

I learned that as far as I can tell, Rick Alexander is a hack who, as I suggested before, really just cares about power. He certainly doesn't care about the students of the district. His complete lack of respect and understanding of the rules and procedure is apparently a feature for him, and not a bug. I also learned that he, or the audience, felt no need to be consistent. They were upset when Bo Yates was relieved of one of his two positions, but felt there was no problem in appointing Ken Ray to simultaneously be Superintendent and Principal of LHS. At the least, people were thinking about it and never said anything. At worst, they didn't even realize how inconsistent those two positions are. At this point, I suspect it was the latter, given how little ethics or principles of any kind have gotten in the way of people's desire to get their way.

I learned that Mrs. Shimmin is in way over her head.

I learned that Mr. Wineteer wasn't very talkative.

I learned that Chris Fisher desperately wants everyone to slow down and become the deliberative body the school board is designed to be, or at least he wants to make sure that the board follows existing policies, procedures, and state law. It's a sad day when that makes one an outcast and a minority, but that's where he was.

It's also interesting that the classic conservative argument of the "rule of law" is being touted by the board moderate, and completely ignored by the people who seem to be political conservatives. And by interesting, of course, I mean pathetic. I'm all for breaking unjust laws (see MLK's Letters from a Birmingham Jail), but I don't think that a law requiring and fair and open process when spending tens of thousands of dollars is all that unjust. Inconvenient, yes. Unjust? Please.

And I learned that Sherrie Sprenger is desperately holding on, afraid that if she bails on this disaster that it will only get worse. She is also do a very good job behaving as a professional, neutral chair in the face of ignorant absurdity. I felt a lot of compassion for her and Chris Fisher, as they were trying to slow down the lynch mob with very little public support.

There was one moment when I sort of confused. One agenda item was celebrating a woman who has organized and provided 11,000 meals for students this summer with only four other volunteers. She got a standing ovation from the crowd, which is pretty awesome. However, I realized that the only reason she got such attention is that the crowd was there to see Robinson get hammered. In essence, the crowd was there for blood and out of anger, yet they applauded like mad when something very, very positive came up.

At first, I thought that was very strange and very inconsistent. Now I think the crowd doesn't see it as inconsistent at all, since they view Robinson as a harm to the students. Nevertheless, it sticks in my mind that what brought them to the meeting was not the amazing accomplishments of this woman (who may have been blind, I couldn't tell) but their anger at their own Superintendent. Without that, there would have been 15 people in the audience instead of several hundred.

What else?

Oh yes - the best line of the night, especially from my perspective, was Rick Alexander saying "I don't understand the...process." I laughed out loud, because what I heard was someone admitting they were totally clueless....and totally unqualified to be on the board. I may have some blind spot thing going on here, but I keep coming back to his level of support among teachers - if it's not widespread, it's pretty deep, especially among long-time teachers in the district - and how that signals an incredible amount of anger at Jim Robinson. I have to admit that this is also changing my perspective on this whole thing.

The more I think about it, the more compassion I feel for the angry teachers. From what I have heard from teachers and other knowledgeable sources, Robinson does have a very abrasive personality and did force the academy system down LHS's throat. For those reasons, I think the anger is justified. Saying "that's just his personality" does not excuse such poor behavior. As a result, I am beginning to think the anger from the parents and teachers is pretty legitimate; I have admit, also, that until tonight I tended to write it off to Alexander's meddling and normal district politics. Given the turnout and behavior of the crowd, I need to reconsider that assumption.

Despite that, I stand by my original position that the behavior of the teachers and the three board members - Alexander, Wineteer, and Shimmin - is disgraceful. It's taking time and energy away from the needs of students; it's not addressing substantial issues brought up by the presence of the small-schools system (of which I think there are many); the process that's being used is pretty much brute force and raw power, which, while probably typical of Lebanon, is doing a lot towards making the LCSD something to be laughed at, as well as setting a piss-poor example for the otherwise very intelligent students that are paying attention to this disaster of local government in action; and finally, I think it's case where the means are going to result in a very ugly end that no one wanted or foresaw (except maybe Sprenger and Fisher).

I should also point out that bringing in the academy system in the first place sounds like a somewhat desperate and innovative attempt on the Superintendent to try and improve a school with high dropout rates and low grades. His application of the system may have stunk, but at least he was trying - and trying something that's on the cutting edge of K-12 education. And by some metrics, the system appears to be working.

Maybe that's the problem. Maybe Lebanon just couldn't handle some as a substantive change in education policy. If so, shame on them.

So, what happens next? The whole sordid affair plays out, one agonizingly incompetent meeting at a time, and in the end, I think Robinson might actually leave the district. He might reform his ways, and the academy system might get jettisoned, or he might prevail in this fight largely due to the incompetence of the folks attacking him. At this point, I'm not going to predict an outcome. Too many things could happen between now and then.

One thing remains certain: Anger - even justified anger - has not, thus far, led to anything but stupid, unproductive behavior. Maybe it's time the School Board sits down and remembers they are a deliberative body tasked with doing the best they can for the students in their district - and maybe it's time the teachers realized that once the Rick Alexander monster succeeds in getting rid of Jim Robinson, it's only going to turn on them.

And maybe - but I doubt it - the parents and community members who haven't yet joined the rabid lynch mob will step in and restore some sanity the board.

They want to get rid of Robinson? Fine. Just don't destroy the district in the quest to do it.

Competitive Breeding

Over at Feministing, a link to an NPR story about wealthy mothers who have lots of kids:

Given the incredibly high cost of raising children these days -- with housing, child care, camps, clothing, and college tuition -- big families are apparently now a status symbol.
The funny thing is that I'm pretty sure having lots of kids was a status symbol in lots and lots of indigenous cultures for a long time, since having kids was a way to ensure one had enough labor on hand to provide for the family - and therefore not starve. Here, the motivation appears to be ex-career women who need a competitive outlet.

We have come so very far, haven't we? It's almost like we've been socially regressing in these last, I don't know, six years.

Jurgen Habermas, a German philosopher, who once wrote that he fears that humanity is in trouble because while we've accumulated massive amounts of technical knowledge (I think he called it technical-rational) about how the world works, we're real short on other knowledge, what I would call wisdom. (Wisdom being primarily concerned with how we ought to live.)
Gaining the sort of knowledge that leads to wisdom requires, I think, a means-based outlook and a heavy emphasis on process. The United States has neither.

Thoughts on Subbing, Part III

(Note: I suck at HTML and formatting in general, even with a WYSIWYG setup like blogger uses. I am sorry. I might edit the formatting of this piece in the future, but that might just make it worse.)

In the first two posts, I talked a bit about the character of the high school I subbed at - small town, small schools/academy setup, etc. In this post, somewhat inspired by recent events in the district, I want to comment on the academy system more generally.

Specifically, I have been thinking about the fact that the district superintendent just got placed on indefinite paid administrative leave by folks who have spent a lot of time either bashing the academy system or getting their support from folks who bash the academy system. While those folks who voted to send the Superintendent to mow his lawn did not say it was because of the academy system directly, it is hard to believe that the biggest controversy of the last several years has nothing to do with it.

From the setup, it appears I am about to defend said system, but I'm not sure. I want to lay out the pros and cons as I see them, and see what happens.

*Puts on policy wonk hat.*

Pros (and these are the pros as I see them, not as how they are touted by supporters of the idea; the same goes for the cons):

  • Increased attendance, decreased tardies - or at least the potential for this. In some parts of the school, it appeared that tardies and unexcused absences were down; in others, they had stayed the same or risen. From what I saw, the biggest gains were made due to the diligence of one person, not the academy system; even given that, I think the academy system helps here, since it allowed the person in question to be responsible for 300-400 students instead of 1400, which allowed her to be much more effective. The fact that she was extremely thorough and diligent also helped - I saw staff in other parts of the school who were much more lax about following the rule of law, and the result, based on what I was told by one teacher, was that those areas of the school that didn't enforce the rules so tightly had absence and tardy rates that weren't going down.
  • Staff get to know students better, since they are more-or-less reduced to dealing with a small portion of the overall student body rather than the full 1400 people. This allows for more personalized attention with a decreased chance for students to fall through the proverbial cracks. Anecdotally, this was backed up - several teachers I talked to said that the number of students dropping out in their academy had decreased since the previous year. Furthermore, these teachers implicitly credited the fact that they were all working as a team more than they had before the implementation of the academy system, and could therefore more easily track students who were in trouble.
  • Location - physically placing each academy in a separate part of the school allows for decreased time between classes, which has a myriad of social consequences, but also affects tardies and presumably skipping, even if to a small degree. It also, theoretically, allows for greater cohesion among students who share an academy. I am not sure if I saw this, or if I saw cohesion based on shared interests or previously formed friendships or social groups.
  • Greater opportunities for a cohesive curriculum across departments and/or opportunities for team teaching. I saw the former in spades in at least one academy, and in another there was an amazing team-taught class. The possibility to make the curriculum comprehensive and coherent at the academy level is, for me, one of the biggest selling points of this system. I never experienced anything like that until college, when I would end with classes that complimented each other. While I think it's less obvious to students in high school, I certainly think the ability to coordinate is greater - and the fact that it can be conscious coordination, even to the point of telling students what's happening, is very useful.
  • Greater diversity of class offerings. This is pretty interesting, since it also relies on the fact that the academy system requires more teachers - meaning that it's not really the academy part that results in more classes but the increased number of classes being taught. So I'd call it a semi-pro. One thing, though - it is certainly true; word has it there is going to be Sociology and Anthropology/Archeology taught there next year, two things I'd never expect to if only they could add a Critical Thinking/Philosophy class...
So those are a few pros. I am sure there are more, but given my limited experience, that's probably enough. So, on to the negatives.

  • Gender. This is the big one for me. I know that high school can be a harsh and dangerous place, one where gender roles are enforced with such ruthless efficiency as to give the Mafia or the military pause, but still. I think the academy system really exacerbated the way students experienced gender, especially when it came to the different ways that people presented masculinity and femininity. For instance, one academy was very male-dominated (85-90% male); are those students going to leave high school with the same ideas about gender, sexuality, and women that they would have in a school that didn't have this kind of artificial segregation? I doubt it. Furthermore, I got the sense that life for women in that system was pretty difficult. Many of them showed signs of having adapted to being more masculine, and while some of them seemed to relish in their newfound freedom, for others it came across as a nasty set of behavior guidelines.
In another academy, women were pretty dominant, and I noticed that the males were far more flexible in their presentation of gender, i.e. suggestions that they were anything but hypermasculine weren't met with grunts and raised fists. My point is actually one I can crib from a teacher at the school who tried to talk to their students about where they learn about things like love and relationships: Look who they are learning these things from. It's not anything like a representative sample of their peers - heck, it's not even as representative as it was pre-academy.

And this has larger ramifications than gender; many of these students are going to graduate with much narrower view of the possibility of human personalities than they should. Students seem to have developed a dominant view for what people should be like based on what academy they are in; I think this sort of stereotyping is a very bad thing, as it actually reinforces larger stereotypes (in this case nerd, hick, 'emo fag', etc.) by not placing students face-to-face with people who can shatter those stereotypes.
  • Class Stratification - Part of the stereotyping is, of course, stereotyping people's intelligence. This, too, has negative consequences, especially for those students who start believing they are dumber than they are. Also, if I remember correctly there was an incredibly large difference across academies in rates of college attendance; it seemed to track almost perfectly with the presence of females in the academy (more females, more college-bound students).
One of my pet peeves about this kind of system is that it essentially asks 14-year-olds to pick a career path, something that I think is the worst kind of stupid (it reinforces existing class inequality and stratification - how many people just want to do what their parents do or only have exposure to what their parents do at that age, especially males?). Most people don't know what they want to do for their entire life at that age, and as far as I know, most people change professional careers multiple times (to say nothing of college majors). Therefore, asking students to pick something like this so early is criminal in my mind. I know my own experience with electives - Journalism & Newspaper, Chemistry up through the AP class, the entire Electronics series, and four years of German - could not have taken place today, as three of those series are in different academies and German has been eliminated entirely. Put frankly, high school is not a time to pick a career. It is a time to learn, grow, experiment, and dabble (just like college, I might add). Life skills are far more important than career skills at this point.

This is one objection I've never heard proponents of an academy system really respond to; sure, the goal is to get college attendance rates and academic difficulty equal across all academies, but there are larger structural forces working against that, and there is a giant disparity present at the moment in this area, especially where I was.
  • Increased Anonymity Outside Your Academy - a teacher pointed out to me that there are now hundreds of students who can waltz into his area of the school, wreak havoc, and leave, and he would have no idea who they were. The point, of course, is that with increased awareness of and time spent with those students in your academy come less knowledge of the student body as a whole. Relatively minor, maybe, but still worth noting.
  • Increased resource requirements - all of a sudden there are multiple offices with multiple policies, not to mention three of almost every department. From an NEA article:
But like most good education reforms, this one can be done well or badly. “Small schools can be great, but they do take more resources,” says Oakland, California, math teacher Jack Gerson. His big high school was chopped into three small ones. “Now we have three principals, three attendance clerks, three offices,” says Gerson, and yet Oakland is slashing its school budget.
Like giving schools more resources is a bad thing. I understand that it's not likely to happen, not even under a Democratic Administration, but let's be clear: School funding needs to be increased by at least 100%, regardless of policy. Nevertheless, I am counting it as con since it's likely to force districts to stretch their resources even thinner.
Honestly? On the whole, I'm not a fan of the academy system, at least no in its current iteration. I also ran across something that I think could easily happen where I worked, and maybe already is (it would especially true if resource allocation is unequal for any length of time):

Valerie Lee, a University of Michigan professor and co-author of a new book about five big-school conversions, cautions that the phenomenon is still so new it's hard to draw hard conclusions about its value.

One troubling finding, Lee said, was that social stratification at all five schools increased, with the motivated students with good grades gravitating toward one or two of the smaller units, and unmotivated students to others.

"The students and teachers all recognized that there was one subunit where all the loser kids were," Lee said. "We had kids say: 'We know we're losers, and here we are all together in the loser academy.' "

That is a big deal.

More from the NEA article:
Many cities are imposing small schools from the top down, but success depends on giving teachers a leading role, says journalism teacher Stan Karp, who led a small school in Patterson, New Jersey, and now works on a state taskforce writing guidelines for small, urban high schools. “Where the rubber meets the road is in the teacher teams. They’re on the front lines,” he says. “They need support and autonomy.” [emphasis mine]

That’s why it’s important for Association members to be proactive when a small school conversion is in the works, says Smith. “The union needs to call people together and move out front. Have a discussion with members and talk about the pros and the potential challenges. This needs to be done with us, not to us.”
If they are not talking about the LCSD, they should be. I'm getting hints that part of the problem was in fact the top-down administering of this shift, and that the resentment it caused has never been dealt with. Do you hear that?

“They need support and autonomy.”

That is perhaps the single most important thing that I can say about teachers and teaching in the short term. Yes, there are horrible teachers out there, but everyone suffers when the hammer comes down on innovation. Heck, everyone suffers when the hammers comes down and there's a memo attached to it that results in massive changes to the school. Changes of this magnitude are very, very hard, if not impossible, to do from above, and it takes an extremely delicate touch and, ultimately, the support of teachers. From what I hear, Jim Robinson had - and has - neither.


One reason I wrote this post is to reiterate larger point about the ongoing disaster that is the LCSD. I have tried to provide, as substantially as possible, some of the ups and downs of the current system.

I have never seen anyone else do this, either in the paper or at a school board meeting. I am positive the district personnel are talking about the pros and results of the system, since they implemented it. However, I would expect the system's detractors to have SOME sort of evidence (after four years) to support their claims. I have seen or heard none, so I think it's out up or shut up time - and it should be clear by now that I think there is plenty of evidenced that academy system is far from perfect. It's just that the detractors don't seem to be even trying to make legitimate arguments in support of their points. (Yes, I am aware that my insistence on things like 'evidence' and 'coherent arguments' provide proof of my pretentiousness.)

Along those same lines, I went to the effort to try and organize my observations because I think it's something that both proponents of the small schools system and perhaps more importantly, the teachers and staff who work within the system, need to do. If there was one overriding thing I heard about the academy system, it was that it wasn't perfect - and therefore needed tweaking. I believe the people best suited to do that tweaking are, at least in part, the teachers on the ground. (Along with that, of course, I believe the students who are affected need to have a very big and very meaningful part in any sort of discussion.) I wasn't aware of any organized effort to initiate the sort of bottom-up, informal evaluation I am thinking about. For that matter, I didn't see any evidence of any sort of evaluation, though I am sure there is SOME kind of evaluation process in place. What I did hear was a lot of very information and anecdotal information, most of it pretty insightful and very relevant. I just didn't see it going anywhere.

(Note: Whether or not any of my comments and observations are worth anything is for the reader to decide. I will only say that I feel very strongly about the gendered aspects of the academy system, and indeed high school in general. The policy wonk/numbers game stuff is probably best left to people who believe in it more strongly than I do, but since it is a common metric for measuring this sort of thing, it's included.)

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Good Writing

Via BZ, an essay that appeared in the Forest Grove paper. I'm just going to reprint the whole thing - I think it's that good. There is a second essay to read if you click the link, but for me, this one takes it.

Is there such a thing as the American Dream?

Searching for a dream that has yet to come true at times seems foolish. In the eyes of a hard-working man, there is no such thing as a dream.

How do you expect to dream when your body’s too exhausted to dream? We don’t live for a dream, but a reality. Dreams don’t pay bills but hard work does. At least that’s how it’s sometimes seen through my father’s eyes. Sixteen years in this land of opportunity and yet he hasn’t witnessed a so-called “American Dream.” There’s not a day that goes by where he doesn’t worry about not having to pay the bills. Day after day of working is endless when you’re supporting a family of six.

Coming to the United States as an immigrant, you’re faced with many difficult decisions. You choose whether coming here will create a safe environment for your family to grow up in. Will I be able to make it here? Is this really a decision I can handle? Is America really what its all made up to be? Is it worth it? These are a flurry of questions you ask yourself while attempting to cross the border.

Crossing the border is just one of the many struggles we face in this country. From other peoples eyes it’s seen as our most difficult struggle. What about finding a home? Getting a job? Getting around? Do you really think these things are handed to us? Not to mention the fact that in every society you’ll find racism.

Growing up in Mexico was hard on my father. He dropped out of second grade because his parents couldn’t afford to keep him in school. Do you know how bad that makes him feel having dropped out of school because of poverty, something that wasn’t uncommon in the part of Mexico where he grew up? Quitting school and working wasn’t his choice.

He was seven years old, taking care of cows from six in the morning to eight at night. Then when he turned thirteen he began working in construction. Moving heavy bricks and mixing cement, doesn’t seem hard but moving the bricks by hand was hard. Scrapes all over his back, fingers bleeding, body aching, working his fingers to the bone. Working from six in the morning to eight. All for some measly 60 pesos a day. Sometimes there would be no work and all they would have to eat was tortillas with salt, or with pumpkin seeds. One shirt and one pair of jeans is what they had to live with. No underwear or socks.

When he made the decision to cross the border at 17, it took him three attempts to get here. He didn’t come here for a dream he came here for the reality, which was to make the money to support his family. It was harder than he imagined. There was a huge difference between working here and working in Mexico. Here he had to be at work at a certain time, and was kept on a tight leash. Having a man breathing over your shoulder, rushing you to work, cussing at you in a foreign language being fired at times for no reason and having no one to communicate with — where’s the dream in that? He had blisters upon blisters, bruises as dark as black paint. The abuse he faced was fierce. How can you dream when the pain of a hard days work puts you to sleep? The scars he has are proof of what he’s been through.

A dream to him is to win the lottery, and for the world to be at peace. That’s a dream. The success of his children is just something he’s grateful to see. Having my brothers and I leave our footsteps in history is something he would want to see. He just wants to show everyone that we are the same and have the same abilities.

There’s no sweeter joy than to see the success of an immigrant race making it in a foreign country, from being no one to being someone important. A dream he wants to see is equality, but to him there is no so-called “American Dream.”

The way I see things are: you have to pave your own path, climb your own ladder to be someone in life. My father and I believe you can’t build a foundation off a dream, but a willingness to strive and to be someone.

The “American Dream” to us means nothing.

— Fermin Lopez, a student at Forest Grove High School, lives in Cornelius.

UPDATE: The oddly ironic thing is that part of me thinks Fermin is describing the classic American dream in that last paragraph, right before he disses it. Look at this sentence:

The way I see things are: you have to pave your own path, climb your own ladder to be someone in life.

Compared to the American Dream:

The American Dream is the idea held by many in the United States that through hard work, courage and determination one could achieve prosperity.

What's the difference? This raises the question of what Fermin thinks the dream is, or is not. I wonder if he thinks there is a racial component or racial filter?

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