Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Another Reason to Hate Republicans

Mitt Romney was on TV the other day. He was talking about the auto companies. (Mitt should know something about them, his dad ran American Motors and was governor or Michigan)( I owned an AMC car when I was young. It got great gas mileage and the front seat went all the way back. A great feature when you were young and into parking with girls.) Mitt feels that GM and the rest should be allowed to go bankrupt. The reason he thinks they should is that it would allow them to get rid of legacy costs. To Mitt legacy costs include real estate and pension costs.

If you live in a town such as Lansing this is going to be awful. What Mitt's plan does is it means that all these people in your community with GM pensions are going to make less. It also means that all of the GM plants that have closed or been torn down in Lansing can be abandoned. GM will not be responsible for paying taxes and probably not responsible for cleaning up the brown fields they have left behind. The net effect of Mitt's plan is to shift many social welfare costs from corporate America to the government. Of course when the government steps in and says that they should help people or local government Mitt will yell "socialism".

I am not sure where Mitt thinks this will all end up. I am sure it will make real estate cheaper, which will be good for people with Mitt's kind of money. It will probably also lower the wages of servants. All in all a win-win for Mitt.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Civil War

For some reason I have lately become interested in the Civil War. I have read a bunch of books about the revolutionary war over the years but I was never that interested in the Civil War. It seemed something only southerners were interested in. Years ago I had read a book on John Brown by Arthur Penn Warren. I did this after I visited Harper's Ferry. A few months ago I picked up another book at the Strand on John Brown. This one is by David S. Reynolds. This led me to reading some Walt Whitman and then going to a lecture on him at the Tenement Museum where I bought a biography of Whitman.

Yesterday in the Times on line I saw a review of "The Grapes of Wrath". The reason this movie is getting press at this time is that people are drawing parallels between today and The Great Depression. Many commentators are saying that Barack Obama is going to need to be the next FDR. But Obama really understands who he needs to be. Obama is reading about Lincoln not FDR.

What the Republicans have done to this country is create a social situation more like what existed before the Civil War. The levels of rumors and false stories that surrounded John Brown and Abraham Lincoln in the southern press is not that different than listening to Limbaugh and Hannity and reading some of the blogs from the right wing. These people are going nuts with all of the awful things they say are going to happen. Karl Rove and company have created an us vs them mentality in this country. This has led to incidents such as the group of 3rd and 4th graders in Idaho chanting assassinate Obama. Or the white kids beating up a black teenager in Staten Island while chanting Obama. These are similar to the ruffians that existed on the Missouri Kansas border in the 1850's.

Obama is right to think that he needs to lower this type of partisan howling. This country can not thrive as long as this continues. Lincoln was elected on a platform of compromise and inclusion. Unfortunately it didn't work. The south became increasing set in their thinking. Lincoln was unable to change them and eventually this led to a war. Lets hope the politicians in Idaho or Texas or Louisiana decide that it is time to work together before we have a civil war of some sort.

* Limbaugh spell checks OK but not yet Obama.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Friday Stuff

The paper today had an article about how much money the DoE was spending on accountability software. These types of initiatives have a tendency to become their own self fulfilling bureaucracies sucking up huge amounts of money for increasingly less useful results.

I was talking about atomic radius today and a kid asked what the abbreviation "pm" meant when speaking of atomic radius. I did not know the answer but I asked if anyone had access to the internet on their phone. One kid pulled out his Sidekick and looked up pm (it means picometers). I mention this because apparently cell phones have a use. My current school works on a don't ask don't tell policy with almost no bad consequences.

If I want to talk about Bill Clinton I will discover that the name does not get a red line under it. Apparently the spell checker built into Windows XP or Blogger or wherever it is is comfortable with Bill Clinton. If I type in Barack Obama I see red lines under both names. I wonder how long it takes spell checkers to catch up with the world.

I see my old school got its second straight F. This has to do with two things, the moron who used to be principal and the fact that it is a zero tolerance schools. Almost all zero tolerance schools close down within four years of becoming zero tolerance. You could look it up.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Joel Klein for Secretary of Education !

I am not anti Joel Klein. I think he has tried to change a system that is certainly broken. I think in some ways he has focused on the correct thing. Good teachers make a good system. He has failed more than he has succeeded and this is his fault not Randy Weingarten's.

Joel comes from the law world. Big law firms manage large groups of creative people. They are not that different than education. Joel is trying to learn some of the lessons from this world. He supports performance bonuses. Of course performance bonuses in the law world can be hundreds of thousands of dollars, not ten thousand. If he thinks teachers are motivated by ten thousand dollars he is wrong.

In the law world if you really want an employee you wine and dine him/her until you convince him/her to work for you. In the ed. world you offer them a cellophane wrapped "danish" and a bad cup of coffee. You then have them sign a sheet of paper saying they were there so that you can get your money back for the snacks. Finally you tell the applicant you want to hire them but first there are a few hundred hoops they have to jump through. In the end you don't hire the black kid from Columbia University who grew up in a single parent household. Instead you hire the guy with the thick accent who hates American kids but has all the right credentials because he took the test so many times he had memorized all the questions.

Ultimately what hurt Joel Klein is that he became fixated on being able to develop a quantifiable way to measure teacher performance. Joel has spent millions of dollars creating computer systems to do this. I am not really against these types of systems. I think that they often give you a good view of what is happening in a big organization. But, when you use these types of systems as your main evaluation tool you just create a group of managers who are good at manipulating the system. You also become tempted to cheat the system yourself to show how wonderful you are doing.

The feds finally proposed a plan that says all states must determine graduation statistics based on how many kids enter 9th grade vs how many graduate 12th grade in 4 or 5 years. Isn't it amazing that this was not the way it was always done.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Elementary Mis-Education

I am a high school science teacher. My ability to teach science is based to some extent on how much math kids know when they come to me. I also need kids who can read and analyze word problems. I think this is important work because I believe that we need to create a population with the ability to read and analyze complex issues. If we don't we risk creating an electorate that believes that Saddam Hussein attacked the World Trade Center.

Last week my wife went to a staff development day on math for 3rd grade teachers. The word problem was:

If Jane has 24 feet of fence and she wants to build an enclosure for her dogs what are the dimensions of a rectangle she can build with the largest amount of square feet.

The teachers not only could not do this problem, but when my wife said that two sides had to add up to 12 they couldn't follow why that was true. This means that these teachers are not smart enough to teach 3rd grade students. The reason they are not smart enough is that the education schools allowed them through. How can some one get a college degree and not be able to solve this problem by some method. My method might be very sophisticate. But these teachers should have some approach to solving this problem.

The nice thing about a depression is that it gives us the opportunity to recruit smart people to education. It is vital that we do this. We can not have kids coming through elementary school without learning any math or science. We can not afford this.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Is it a new day?

It is Wednesday and I can't help feel that it is a new world. I have to say though that even though 40% of my students think he will not be alive 4 years from now no one seems to want to talk about it on television. My students are not alone in feeling this way. "Yes we can" until someone takes it away from you.

I received this email today from someone I know.

Comments from an Irish-American friend in Chicago:

They started rounding up the white women this morning for “reeducational meetings”. Initially there were calls of death to whitey but first they want to make sure they nationalize the malt liquor industry as well as pork rinds and chitterlins. Once the basic supplies are ensured who knows what will happen.

I am vaguely beginning to feel what it must mean to be a Jew.

Surprisingly no looting or riots yet

This type of anger existed when Kennedy was president. People cheered in a country club outside Dallas when they announced Kennedy was dead. We have made it past race but not hate. People hate Obama in very extreme ways. They make race jokes, but I think they hate the concept of government being for people.

I really want to believe in happy endings. Maybe we have one.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Killing Trees

One of my favorite magazines at this time is Atlantic. I usually read almost all of the articles. This included a very long article this month by Andrew Sullivan on blogging. Of course I would never had read an article this long if the author had written it on his blog. Sullivan correctly states that blogs are meant to be short.

One of the gadgets I have lusted after is an electronic book reader (either a Kindle or a Sony reader, though I think the Sony reader has real advantages). The reason I want this gadget is that it seems cool to carry one around with a lot of books and magazines. In addition I wouldn't have to keep building book shelves. I also would do my part for ecology, not just the trees but also the trucks delivering books, the oil used in ink and the ability to get a book immediately.

Aside from the money the reason I don't get an e book reader is that if I check the last 6 books I have read to see if they are available as e books I usually find at best 1 book is available and usually none are. E books have not caught up with my reading habits. (I like to think this is because I am too smart for the e book world, but actually even some of my pop books don't show up.)

Today I was on the bus reading The Atlantic and thinking about reading this magazine on my ebook reader. I could do this. Then I realized that this would cause a large problem. My house is filled with half read magazines. Most of them have one or two articles that I intend to read. I feel guilty about not reading them, but after about six months I will go through the house and throw away all of the magazines I have not gotten too. A few weeks ago I threw away all of the July and August Magazines in my house. By doing this I no longer feel guilty about not getting to that amazing article on "The neurological implications of the sex drive in flat worms". If I had a Kindle I could save these magazines for ever. It is only a small amount of memory in the Kindle, but it is a large amount of guilt in my wetware.

Monday, November 3, 2008

I'm Not Dead Yet!

When I started writing this blog I was sitting in the "Rubber Room" with 8 hours to kill each day. I thought it would pass an hour by, but then I discovered that writing is actually difficult. It some times took hours to write. This year I have been teaching a class so I have had less time. In addition working with kids has made me happier so I don't have as many grouchy things to say. Grouchy is always easier to write than hope.

Today I have hope because I think that there are huge numbers of people in the world who are going to feel a weight lifted from them after Obama wins. It is John Kennedy all over again world wide. Of course 40% of the kids in my school feel he will not be alive 4 years from now. But hope causes a lot of things to change, even before legislation catches up with it.

My sister voted early in Florida. Early voting means that you take a paper ballot an fill out the circles next to who you are voting for. You do this at a table surrounded by curtains so that your ballot is secret. You then take it over to another machine where a poll worker helps you feed it into the scanner. Of course at this point the poll worker gets to look at your ballot. When my sister said that she did not fell that this was right the poll worker said that she should be proud of who she voted for and not want to hide it. Gee, voting irregularities in Florida, who would have thought this would happen.