Saturday, December 28, 2013

2013 in Books

Here is my year end list, as part of the bloghop from http://johnwiswell.blogspot.com/

Nonfiction

The Wealth and Poverty of Nations by David Landes.

Technically I read this at the very end of last year. It stands as a counter-point to Jared Diamond’s theories but suffers a little from ‘aren’t I smart’ syndrome.

Naked Economics by Charles Wheelan.

A basic primer to economic theory and terms, I decided this year to begin seriously studying economics. This text was a nice introduction.

The Ten-Day M.B.A by Steven Silbiger.

Pure nonsense, even for basic definitions. The edition had almost nothing on ethics, and came out before the recession…

Invisible Hands by Kim Phillips-Fein.

A more historical approach to economics, charting the developments in the US economy from FDR to Reagan. Fascinating, worthwhile read.

How Markets Fail by John Cassidy.

Another great economic history, dealing beyond the US with economists and research that defines modern economics. I would highly reccomend.

Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail ’72 by Hunter S. Thompson.

My focus shifted towards politics. This was the first longer work by Thompson I’d read, and I was surprised by the coherence, given his reputation. The story of talking football with Nixon was worth it alone.

Empire by Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri.

I began reading this work on the theory and logic of empire way back in 2006, I think. Took me long enough to finish it – of interest to those who wonder if the US is an empire.

Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs by Harold Abelson and Gerald Jay Sussman with Julie Sussman

Not light reading – using LISP this gives a theoretical, and at times philosophical account of programing, but also has exercises and review problems.

The Unwinding by George Packer

“And the Award for Most Underrated Book of the Year goes to this great work, which chronicles decades of social and economic unravelling in this country through novelesque narration and stories.” So I wrote before it justly was awarded the National Book Award for Nonfiction.

Phenomenology of the Mind by GWF Hegel

The last book I had to read for St. John’s Reading List of the great books of  the Western World. I didn’t like Hegel going in, and I didn’t like him coming out, but I certainly respected him more. Not all of his ideas are terrible.

Fiction

A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens.

I don’t really like Dickens for his repetitiveness (a young boy on the down and outs makes good: Nicholas Nickleby, Oliver Twist, David Copperfield, Great Expectations). I was glad for the change, and that the story went by quickly.

A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter Miller.

Recommended from a friend, this was a solid piece of innovative sci-fi, with deeper themes on human culture and civilization I often ruminate on.

Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison.

My pick for National Novel Reading Month, I was slightly disappointed with Ellison’s story. Potentially if I hadn’t read the forward I’d have enjoyed it more.

The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway.

Recipient of this year’s Best Last Line Award, I didn’t know what I was expecting when I got into the book, but whatever it was I got out I sort of liked it. My previous comparison was The Old Man and the Sea, and I think this may be better.

Spring Awakening by Frank Wedekind.

This was a pleasant surprise, although I found the quality of the writing to be less than I expected, I got more out of the reading than I expected. To explain: the themes and plot were so well developed that the language almost felt in the way.

The Great Enigma by Tomas Transtromer

Transtromer won the Nobel in 2011, and his small output of Scandinavian poetry shows incredible attention to tone and feeling. Nice for anyone with a poetic interest.

Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs

Oh, the racism. Tarzan was far more of a gentleman than I’d expected, however.

Le Mort D’Arthur by Sir Thomas Malory, ed. R.M. Lumiansky

Puzzling, this work that mashes together a number of different tales and traditions. Certain quests seemed quite repetitive, while others I typically don’t associate with Arthur (Tristan and Isolde, for example.) Also: needs more Merlin.

Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe

Blegch. A ‘classic’ I’d been meaning to read, but didn’t want to. In retrospect it was a waste of time to read, only of value for the historian any more.

Five Plays by Lope de Vega

Revenge and romance mix in these works of the Spanish Golden Age. De Vega was prolific, and these represent the best he had to offer, which is worrisome. All in all, though, they aren’t poorly written.

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

Quite possibly the first piece of fiction I’ve read of this century. Not a bad choice to start with, as a sort of soft sci-fi approach to very dark themes. Certainly worth a read.

Death and the King’s Horseman by Wole Soyinka

A tremendous work by the Nobel winning Nigerian author, that has interested me in finding more of his plays. There seems to be some scholarly debate as to what his themes and messages are, which rather than being a drawback, is positive endorsement for the richness it provides.

A Dance of Death and A Dream Play by August Strindberg

Strindberg’s plays are nearly as unlikeable as his main character in ‘Dance of Death’. Of course that’s the point. ‘A Dream Play’ is certainly better, but still of limited interest to theater aficionados.

The Jungle by Upton Sinclair

The last forty pages or so just kill any life the work had. Likewise I felt a strong connection to a friend’s complaint about authors just being unfair to their characters.

Pedro Paramo by Juan Rulfo

An unexpected read, insisted on by a friend, this work of magical realism shows the dark side of magic. Absolutely mesmerizing, potentially required reading.

The Yellow Heart by Pablo Neruda

Neruda’s poems take a turn for the jaundiced and bitter, with a sickly element of sweetness. Late-life and degenerate at times, probably not the best starting point for one encountering his work for the first time.

Life is a Dream by Calderon La Barca

Another Spanish Golden Age play. A classic of waking and dreaming and big questions about life, interesting on the page writing that I can only imagine would be diminished on the stage.

Eagle or Sun? by Octavio Paz

A remarkable collection, unlike anything I’d ever encountered in poetry. Stylistically it’s prose poems that at times feel like short stories. Highly recommended.

A Tale of Two Gardens by Octavio Paz

Following off my interest in ‘Eagle or Sun?’ I found this work, almost necessarily, to be not as good, but the collection, dealing exclusively with India, shows Paz’s deep enrichment in the culture.

Poet in New York by Federico Garcia Lorca

Lorca was a fitting capstone to my year-long exploration of Spanish-language literature. Lorca’s dark, perceptive study on New York after the Great Depression should be considered one of the masterpieces of twentieth century poetry.

Betrayal by Harold Pinter

As dark as would be expected, all the more disturbing due to its banality without being glib or pretentiously juxtaposed. This was my first encounter with Pinter, and I’d like to read more.

Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut

Long overdue, I’d read Vonnegut’s short stories previously. I was stilled surprised by just how personal and “meta” the work was, without veering off into affectation, helped largely by the extraordinary.

A Dance to the Music of Time, First Movement by Anthony Powell

My first-ever book on tape (although that’s now anachronistic). Powell peculiarly tells a life only through social interactions, with us having to piece together his job, love life, and other matters from these encounters. I want to know what happens in the next three movements.

Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret by Judy Blume

For some unknowable reason this work was included in Time Magazine’s 100 Best Novels. Fine, I suppose, for YA.

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson

My second Thompson encounter this year, I’d seen the movie beforehand, and was surprised by how little of the book it covered. The style, accompanied by Steadman’s crucial illustrations, makes me think this will be read well into the next century.

Selected Poems by Yevgeny Yevtushenko

Picked up on a whim, Yevtushenko was a ‘loyal oppositionist’ of the Soviets. As such his work walks a thin line between denouncing the society while still feeling nostalgic for his home town in Siberia.

Graphic Novels/Comics

Miracleman: The Golden Years by Neil Gaiman and Mark Buckingham.

Gaiman’s incredible premise, inherited by Alan Moore who wrote the character before Gaiman picked him up, deals with what might actually happen if there were gods on earth. Dystopian? Hard to say.

Six Graphic Novels by Lynd Ward.

Along with two Europeans, Ward helped invent the graphic novel in the early 1900s with woodblock prints and wordless stories. Stylistically borrowing from the art deco cubism of the era, most of these works are gorgeous tragedies.

The Smithsonian Collection of Newspaper Comics.

A comprehensive guide to American newspaper comics in the first half of the century, featuring beautiful full-page Krazy Kat and Little Nemo, amongst many others. Worthwhile to anyone with an interest in comics, visual media, or illustration.

Batman: Haunted Knight and The Long Halloween by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale

Over a vacation I riffled through a friend’s Batman collection. These two works I found to be amongst the more interesting, in terms of story and character development.

Batman: Year One by Frank Miller and David Mazzuchelli

Not a bad telling of his origin, but doesn’t live up to Miller’s ‘The Dark Knight Returns’.

Batman: Dark Victory by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale

This continues with the earlier Loeb work, and likewise is somewhat interesting. The particular rogues gallery I found to be intriguing, if the plot was pure Agatha Christie.

Top Five

The Unwinding
Pedro Paramo
Eagle or Sun?
Spring Awakening
Miracleman: The Golden Years

Friday, December 20, 2013

Google Doodle Crossword Answers

This was bugging me that I couldn't find this anywhere. Here you go, internet.


Monday, December 16, 2013

My Most Important Movies From…

From my sister’s blog (http://feedmeacat.blogspot.com/2013/11/my-most-important-movies-from.html) a neat concept: The most important film every fifth year of your life. As the rules are a little unclear, I’m going to go ahead and do the most important movie in my life that was released that year.

Age 5 (1991): Hook. This was my first serious Disney movie. There was death and sadness and it wasn’t animated! It must’ve been one of the first movies I saw in theaters, at that. Rufio was the antithesis of everything I thought was good at that age – the fact he could be tragic was new to me.



Special guest star: Glenn Close! As a pirate. Also gets my vote as scariest scene.


Age 10 (1996): James and the Giant Peach. …And the first Disney movie I felt too old for. I was very conflicted about wanting to like it, and liking certain parts of the film, but overall thinking it was lame. Also the spider was disturbing since she wasn’t disturbing.



Special guest star: Pete Postlethwaite! Forget the voice actors.


Age 15 (2001): Moulin Rouge! What. The. Hell. Is. Going. On. I didn’t know a movie could do that. And the songs! Why the hell is Nirvana playing in the 1800s? This was one of the first films I saw that I started to think was in a different class – something more.



Special guest star: John Leguizamo! As Toulouse Lautrec, who I already was interested in at a young age.


Age 20 (2006): V for Vendetta. Didn’t you just want to take to the streets? I had hated the Bush administration since day one. It was such a relief to see my concern mirrored in the media, beyond reading Boondocks in the papers. I didn’t feel like a lonely voice railing helplessly.



Special guest star: Ben Miles! From my favorite British sitcom, Coupling.


Age 25 (2011): Midnight in Paris. The experience of seeing this film is what so struck me. I went with a friend whom I was visiting in Portland to a small private theater, where you could buy drinks and dinner while watching the movie from a small patio table set up in the preserved historic theater. The whole thing was so ‘hip’ and 2011 – and the movie was a perfect fit.




Special guest star: Adrien Brody! As Salvador Dali, one of my favorite artists as a kid (along with Lautrec.) 


Maybe I'll update this in three years. Until then...

Monday, December 9, 2013

How About a Medium-Sized Government?

In an age of anorexia and obesity, the middle ground remains the healthiest. It’s true for the human body and it’s true for our government.

Liberals and conservatives can agree, privacy is important. Neither wants the NSA snooping on them.

Conservatives and liberals can agree, toes don’t belong in meat. Neither wants a total lack of government.

Both sides are too fearful of the other. A website, reformgovernmentsurveillance.com, has recently been launched, with tech giants AOL, Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Microsoft, Twitter and Yahoo banding together to take a stand against government’s role in internet spying and data collection.

Free-market types should like this. Hippies should like this.

Conservatives are afraid of government being too big, and so they go to extremes in the opposite direction, trying to “gut” programs. But certain social safety nets are important, and as the GOP is increasingly over 50, if someone tried to get rid of their government-provided Medicare and Medicaid the furor it would cause shows that government, by definition, is there to provide services.

Liberals are afraid of government being too small, often finding it difficult to cut back where and when needed. But waste, bureaucracy, and spiraling costs are all negatives, often cited as the worst elements of their opposition’s administrations; ask a liberal about Reagan’s White House and hear the scathing remarks about ‘out of control spending on wasteful projects’.

Extremes aren’t useful, most of the time. That’s the difference between ideology and reason. Ideology tends to the extreme, whereas reason can see the other side of the issue, and the benefit in compromise. The polarization on Congress is due to extremes in ideology. The following chart makes that divide pretty clear:



We may not end the debate on many of their differences today, but we should be prioritizing an end to the debate of big government versus small. Neither, in ideological extremes, is healthy. Middle ground, admittedly, is hard. Compromise, often, leaves both parties somewhat dissatisfied. It requires a balance to keep the government where it should be: eating the right things to keep up energy, and shedding pounds through exercise. We can run a small debt, but not starve ourselves to weakness. We can add departments and programs, so long as 'Big Brother' isn’t an indication of obesity.


Hopefully this new website, and what it represents, will be a check to that. Big Brother needs a diet right about now: lay off the secrets. Can the tech firms be the physician that gets them healthy again?

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Four Schools: Section One

Maybe a year ago I thought about writing up my experiences in the four schools I've worked in: a public school, a charter school, a school abroad, and a private school.

This is a very rough draft of the first section, on public schools. Who knows. Maybe some day I can whip it all together into a book.

Note - the next posts on the blog are not likely to be part of this series. I'll add them as I get to them. Also, feedback is kindly appreciated.


The Public School:
Dad Works at the Factory

Part One

I was five years out of high school when I began teaching it. Over the summers I’d had some practice, taken on an internship the year before, and was now getting my Masters.

The best part of my Graduate program was that it required a full year of student teaching. From August to June I’d be co-teaching and running my own classes at a typical public school, with some 1,000 students. For reference, it was one of the largest high schools in Vermont.

Previously I’d been nestled amongst the green hills of that state, nourished by the rich yolk of seminars, parties, lectures, and girlfriends within a protective college shell. I’d never interacted with the townsfolk and knew nothing about their lives. Besides working at the College, I wasn’t sure what else people in the town even did to make ends meet.

My college bubble didn’t pop, like soap, but deflated, like gum. A class was taught senior year by the headmaster and dean of the high school I’d be working at, fittingly titled ‘Classroom Teaching: Theory into Practice’. Gone were the theorists, Piaget, Dewey and Freire. We instead spoke of realities. What do you do, as an elementary teacher, when you read ‘The Owl and the Pussycat’ and they can’t stop laughing at ‘pussy’? What happens if, as a high school teacher, one of them tries to knife you? The idea was to ease the transition from college debutante to rookie teacher.

No one is a great teacher their first year. Your beginner year of teaching is when you make mistakes, are shocked by students’ abilities, disillusioned by their vulgarity, and moved by their sincerity. From this point on in your life you will be remembered. Perhaps you’ll be the one they hated, or the one who came through when no other teacher would. It’s a heavy weight, an emotional triage, and, while all this touchy-feely stuff is going on, you’re also supposed to make sure they know who Ferdinand Magellan is.

History was my subject, world history my specialty. I’ve noticed, wherever I go, that this usually peters out around World War One. Content is a serious difficulty for history teachers. Why, you could ask, learn content at all? The Internet has now made content knowledge so accessible, on a student’s phone, that if a student wants to know what became of Louis XIV they can find it out, in less than 20 seconds. This is one of the many questions that aren’t seriously asked, why still learn content? These are the sorts of questions I was thinking on, as well as the more pedestrian, such as why the copier seemingly hated me.

Most of us weren’t raised in Vermont (I wasn’t), but most Americans did go to public school. That’s where my teaching experience started. It was the 2008/09 school year, and none of us knew the recession was here to stay. In light of the economic downfall tens of thousands of teachers were laid off, and public schools were hurting. But this precariousness in public education was nothing new.



Part Two
The sturdy Oak, it was the tree
That saved his royal majesty.

Peter denies
His Lord and cries.

Queen Esther comes in royal state,
To save the Jews from dismal fate.

The above are from The New England Primer, published as the first school textbook in the Colonies, in the 1680s. But the Puritans and their ilk aren’t the originators. After all, the Spanish were in Florida, the Southwest and California nearly a century before the Primer was printed, and Native Americans could get a basic Christian education in the missions.

Perhaps it’s not surprising that, as a history teacher, I started looking at the story of public schooling. Beyond these early progenitors, though, education didn’t take off until the 1840s. The federal government played little role in education, so states differed widely in their support for public education, as opposed to the well-established private schools. The force behind this change was Horace Mann, Secretary of Education, who worked to ensure all Americans had the ‘three Rs’ of Reading, Writing and Reckoning.

America, industrially, was beginning to flourish by this time. The rise of this industrialism would determine Mann’s innovations in the States. Here the factory model begins to infiltrate education. When we regard, sentimentally, the one-room school house, with children of all ages learning from the kindly teacher in the front of the room, we are thinking to what Mann began to erase. The new idea, fundamentally industrial, was that we begin educating kids by age, with first graders being separated from sixth graders and so on. Sir Ken Robinson, a contemporary educationalist, has identified how Mann’s changes still apply today:

“We still educate children by batches. We put them through the system by age group. Why do we do that? Why is there this assumption that the most important thing kids have in common is how old they are? It’s like the most important thing about them is their date of manufacture.”

But, as Robinson continues, we all know of cases where different students excel and different subjects at different ages. Boys, typically, don’t take to math until later than girls, for example. Reading, multiplication tables, analytical writing – these are skills that we all develop at different ages. Sure, there are broad trends, you’re not likely to be doing complex multiplication in kindergarten. But some do. And some do in eighth grade. And maybe that’s okay.

What Mann set in motion was a process of standardizing education. It’s a concept that would cycle back periodically throughout our history. It arose with the industrial revolution because that was the concept that the industrial world prized. When Karl Marx complained about the factory system he griped that it took away autonomy. (His communist cures, of course, were inadequate to deal with the very real problem he identified.) This lack of individualism that factories in the industrial revolution created was passed on to the schools that were designed like factories.

The process of implementing this was a long time coming. The Civil War disrupted things, as a start. Frontier states had to develop solid boundaries before tackling systematic education. But once unified, the nation’s schooling would start to have problems.


Part Three

There’s around 99,000 public schools in the U.S. The problem is numerical. Those schools serve over 50 million students. It ends up averaging to some 507 students per school. The student-teacher ratio stands around 15:1. But these are national averages – most schools do not have 507 students and classrooms capped at 15 students.

Why is this? The reason is population, which is not evenly distributed. Wyoming has 366 public schools serving 88,000 students. As such they average 240 students per school, not surprising for a sparsely populated state, with large distances between towns. New York City, by contrast, with a dense population, has 1,700 schools, serving 1.1 million students – averaging 647 students per school.

That’s a lot of people to keep track of. Public schooling was designed to promote basic literacy and competence. Idealistically it’s designed to make good citizens. Being a good citizen not only means knowing how to vote, but also how to work, how to raise a healthy family, and how to improve the quality of life in America. That’s why the federal government is involved.

The big shift came in 1965. That year a law was passed called ‘The Elementary and Secondary Education Act’ (ESEA) during Lyndon Johnson’s “War on Poverty”. The reason for this development was due to shifting historical factors. Between the turn of the century and 1965 something totally distinct from education had taken place, which would radically alter education: World War One.

Modern war required modern soldiers, but who were they? Bayonets take less training than an airplane to use. Intelligence was the problem – cannon fodder farmers weren’t good enough anymore. Alfred Binet applied the principle of quantifying things, assigning a number to measure accurately, to psychology and intelligence, while a professor at Stanford, Lewis Terman, popularized it. The Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scale is more commonly known as an IQ test. The SAT really is the child of Binet. One of its first applications was being given to soldiers in WWI, to determine readiness for modern warfare. The descendants of that test are obsessed over by parents and students worldwide. Binet never intended any of this. Terman, however certainly did. But Terman’s goal of standardized testing was more in line with eugenic purposes, a grave reminder of the danger of assigning a person a number.

The SAT had been around since the 1920s before Johnson’s ESEA law made such tests a cornerstone of our education system. In the 1920s Progressive education was hitting its peak, not coincidentally perhaps. Progressive education focused on the individual student, and the role of exploration and democracy in the classroom. American philosopher John Dewey had been the biggest name in the movement. But there were others, Italian Maria Montessori, and Austrian Rudolf Steiner, most notably. What they have in common is active engagement, instead of passive learning. Not surprisingly this was antithetical to the rising dominance of standardization in the post-war years. With the Cold War on, and a concern for competition, individualism was on the decline. Just as war had provided an impetus to creating standardization, so too it would continue to fight it after another World War, three decades later.

Conservatism of the McCarthy stripe was skeptical of individualism, and aberration. At the same time an anti-Progressive work, ‘Why Johnny Can’t Read’ was published in 1955. This work had a solid intention, to teach kids to read with use of phonics. However, at the time, Progressive elementary schools were using context reading, and so it stood as a criticism of their system. It’s no surprise then than Johnson passed a law with standardization as a cornerstone of education.

Public schools today are now under No Child Left Behind, passed in 2001. This is the most significant update of the ESEA, and education generally, since 1965.


Part Four

Vermont, small as it is, is divided in two parts. The leaf-peeping, syrup-tapping, Ben and Jerry’s creating north, known as the Northern Kingdom, and the South. I was in the South, and it basically felt like an extension of Western Massachusetts, or upstate New York. Albany was closer than Burlington. Southern Vermont, unlike the Northern Kingdom, once attempted to industrialize. The ubiquitous cows are not so ubiquitous down there. There are Wal-Marts and chain stores, and poverty.

Still, according to the numbers, agriculture and related industries make up a third of the town’s economy. It’s a rural setting; a Winter’s Bone atmosphere soaks the back roads (although meth hasn’t blighted the town as far as I know). Fittingly, amongst the foliage, Robert Frost is buried on a hill. It is a mix of modern strip and New England charm, rural town and developed settlement. Excepting the cities, it represents what most kids in America will experience in high school. Approximately 65 million teens will live in this, with nothing better to do on a Friday night than bum cigarettes, think of James Dean and Eminem, and get drunk.

Mount Anthony Union High School has about 1,000 students, their mascot is the Patriots, and their colors are red, white, and blue. Mount Anthony has been ahead of the curve with education reform, in large part due to their population: a solid portion of the students and their families, are simply getting by.

For example, they built a dentist’s office on-site. “If a kid has a toothache, how can you expect them to focus on a test in class?” asks MAUHS Principal Sue Maguire. Once a week a dentist comes in, looks at the teeth of kids whose family can’t afford such attention, and continues to help alleviate the effects of poverty on schooling.

Educational statistics are often debated counter-argued, and misinterpreted. A classic example was the supposed connection between classical music and intelligence in young children. This was an inflation of a study that suggested listening to classical music right before a test on spatial relations improved performance. From this, “Baby Mozart” TM.

However, studies have consistently confirmed, over decades, that poverty is the greatest factor on educational performance. Most basically, poverty leads to increased absenteeism and dropouts. If a child of 13 is also the primary care-provider for their siblings, school becomes far less important. Development is also delayed disproportionately in poor children, just as learning disabilities increase.

Bennington, Vermont, has a poverty level around 25% of the population. For under-fives that increases to around 40% for male children, and stays around 25% for females. 67% of this poverty is represented by single-female households. Bennington is not unique. The national figures show that under-18 around 22% of students in the U.S. live in poverty.

Increasingly the demarcation between poverty and ‘just getting by’ is blurring. Middle class is defined as around $50,000 for annual income, maybe less in semi-rural Vermont. (Although for the Northeast the median hovers a little above that at $53,000.) The average male income, almost $10,000 more than female, stands at $39,400 in the town I first taught.

But there was more to it than numbers. It was an obvious condition of the student’s lives, with kids wearing the same shirt to class every day. Not that every kid fell into this category. Many, indeed likely most, were doing fine, no different from the city and suburban kids in other towns and states.


Part Five

No Child Left Behind was bipartisan. Ted Kennedy and John Boehner both supported the bill.

It’s been more than a decade since the law was passed, and we can start to study the data of what exactly has come of this major shift. Many students have gripes (nothing new) as do teachers and parents. But anecdote is less reliable than what we can measure, and since measurement is the main point of the law, there should be clear data answering whether students are doing better by NCLB or not.

First off, many teachers and administrators scoffed at the goals. 100% proficiency sounds admirable, but if you gave every kid in the US a test to write their name, some would still screw it up. 100% is not achievable. So a decade later, it’s not surprising that nearly half of American schools haven’t reached the law’s proficiency goals, 48%. The number should strike us as high, though.

Reading stayed the same in 8th and 12th graders. The disparity between blacks and whites, well-off and poor, these remained too. NCLB hasn’t addressed the problem. It made teachers focus on the test and, as testing hours increased per year, diminished active learning hours.

According to a 2012 study by the National Center for Fair and Open Testing this led to a serious problem:

“Then there is the cheating epidemic that has erupted across the nation. In Atlanta, where cheating was confirmed in 44 public schools, involving 178 teachers and principals, a Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) report described a culture of “fear, intimidation and retaliation spread throughout the district” (GBI, 2011). As 2011 came to a close, Georgia investigators released another report documenting widespread cheating on tests in Dougherty Country, 200 miles south of Atlanta. They found evidence of cheating in each of the county’s 11 schools and similar evidence of teachers coerced into correcting students’ wrong answers. The report cited three main causes of the cheating. Reason number one: “Pressure to meet adequate yearly progress under the No Child Left Behind Act.””

Furthermore “According to published reports, incidents of cheating in the past three years have been confirmed in 30 states and the District of Columbia” raising alarming questions about the nature of this new testing environment’s effects on communities.

A broad social observation could argue that the reason we didn’t reach 100% was due to the recession – and since the U.S. doesn’t fund/prioritize education in amounts comparable to other developed countries – the cuts that resulted in the lackluster results. But to suggest this merely confirm that NCLB is nowhere near as important as economic factors in determining success, not some matrix of standardized tests and incentives.

The students entering college now are the recipients of this poor education. Our youth vote.

Is it surprising then, with such a failed policy doing a decade’s worth of damage, that colleges and universities have seen a rise of 28-40% of undergrads take a remedial course? Or that the gaps black and white are still apparent, with 42% of black students needing remediation compared to 31% of white? If the tests are so standard, these socio-economic factors wouldn’t have an effect, would they?


Part Six

Student teaching is not easy. You are basically apprenticing – seeing if the career choice you picked is what you wanted it to be. It’s the first time you have adult powers in the classroom setting.

Back at the college, there were only a few in my graduate program – six or seven. It was the fall of 2008. Being as it was Vermont there was a lot of celebrating when Obama was elected. For prospective teachers, though, there seemed to be more menacing clouds rolling in over the green mountains. As grad students we were all wondering if we’d have jobs next fall. Looking over my old reflections and work from the time, I find a consistent theme in writing. From my official portfolio, ‘First Student Profile’:

“‘I can't stand you and I can't stand this class.’

“Lyndsey has proved to be one of my most difficult students.

“When the Dean and I pressed her for details none were forthcoming. She seemed convinced that she was going to fail, but why she thought so was unclear.

“From my perspective the reasons were obvious: she didn't do work, would walk out of class (when she showed up) and was, in general I thought, a disrespectful and rude kid.

“However, I was prepared to work with her and get her back on track, which is why I had arranged this meeting with Dave the Dean in the first place. That, and because the last interaction we'd shared was her screaming at me and storming out of the computer lab…

“… This case has been vital to my understanding of teaching in that with some students their performance is a combination of external and internal pressures. Sometimes as a teacher, you have to recognize your limitations and allow other forces to work with you in tandem to help the student succeed. In this case Lyndsey's success, while mild, required a combination of patience on my part with greater parental and administrative pressures, and finally her own self-discipline to get done what needed to be done.

Looking back, Lyndsey was a typical kid, and I wouldn’t blink my eyes at her conduct now.  I now work almost exclusively with difficult cases.  Hers was an early and important lesson. But beyond the frequent bouts of confusion, frustration, and enjoyment, I ended the portfolio with the following:

“As regards where I may be teaching next year my net has been cast wide. The areas and schools that need teachers are many and distributed across the country. I may find myself working in Washington, or Washington D.C. This seeming complacency is not due to a lack of interest in where I teach – there are certain places I have ruled out – but instead stems from an acknowledgment that strong teachers are needed almost everywhere.

“Similarly I have not ruled out working in a public, private, or charter school. Depending on the vacancies and areas any of these positions could be beneficial to the community. I am attempting, in as much as I have learned from my practicum experience, to be flexible, patient, and dedicated to wherever I end up, and whomever I end up working with.”


Sure enough my path through education across the next five years would encompass all that and more. I left Mt. Anthony with recommendations in my pocket, a year of classroom experience under my belt, and a Masters in Teaching in hand, ready to take on the impersonal system of America’s public schools. 

Sunday, November 24, 2013

A Classic Logic Puzzle: Who Owns The Fish?

There are five houses in a row and in five different colors.

In each house lives a person from a different country.

Each person drinks a certain drink, plays a certain sport, and keeps a certain pet.

No two people drink the same drink, play the same sport, or keep the same pet.

1.      The Brit lives in a red house
2.      The Swede keeps dogs
3.      The Dane drinks tea
4.      The green house is on the left of the white house
5.      The green house owner drinks coffee
6.      The person who plays polo rears birds
7.      The owner of the yellow house plays hockey
8.      The man living in the house in the center drinks milk
9.      The Norwegian lives in the first house
10.  The man who plays baseball lives next to the man who keeps cats
11.  The man who keeps horses lives next to the one who plays hockey
12.  The man who plays billiards drinks beer
13.  The German plays soccer
14.  The Norwegian lives next to the blue house
15.  The man who plays baseball has a neighbor who drinks water.

So to solve this on you own, don’t read further. Otherwise, follow along below.


First draw five boxes in a row, to represent the houses.
Then put down the basic stuff we know without other information. This includes 8, 9, and by deduction from 9, 14.
Next we know from 4 and 5, that the furthest right house must be the white house with the green to its left. It can’t be shifted over any, due to the prohibition of the middle house drinking milk.

Now we can figure out the next two colors from 1. Since the Norwegian lives in the first house, it can’t be red, and is yellow by default.
We can now, knowing the yellow house, complete 7 and 11, since 11 can apply to only one house. 
This is the tricky step. Based upon a couple of clues we need to do some guesswork. We know the Swede can only live in one of two places, and the Dane can only live in one of two places, based on 2, 3, and 13.

If we consider further clues 12 and 15, then it is a pretty safe bet that the Dane lives in the blue. You can of course reverse this, but in the next step you’ll find logical inconsistencies. We now need to figure out which is German and Swedish.
 Like the last step, we can make a choice. If we say the Swede is in the green house, we run into problems in the next step with clue 12. If we assume the contrary, we are presented with no difficulties.

We can plug in 12, and 15 now safely.


By default, clue 6 must be the middle house, and we can safely say from 15 that the Dane plays baseball.
Clues 10, and for dramatic flair, 2 (which we could’ve done earlier) can now be figured out.



Finally we have our answer:

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Declaration of Interdependence

Back in 1970 Howard Zinn, an American historian, proposed the need for a 'Declaration of Interdependence'. You can see Matt Damon reciting the speech here: http://vimeo.com/48834336
The speech addresses the following:
  • That the wrong people are in jail, and that the wrong people are out of jail
  • That the wrong people are in power, and the the wrong people are out of power
  • That the wealth in the world is distributed in such a way as to not require small reform, but as to require a drastic reallocation of wealth
  • Civil disobedience is not our problem, our problem is civil obedience
  • History abounds with examples of obedience leading to horror, under the pretense of the rule of law
  • The rule of law is the darling of the leaders, and the plague of the people, which should be a clue to its real purpose
  • We have to transcend national boundaries in our thinking
  • Seemingly disparate world leaders have more in common with each other than they do with us. They continually work on securing their own ends, namely power
  • As such we need to get back to the aims and spirit of the Declaration of Independence. This spirit is resistance to illegitimate authority, especially emphasizing the right to abolish government
  • To preserve this spirit will require going outside the law, to redistribute wealth, to put those in jail who need to be there, and take those out who do not
  • People in all countries need the spirit of disobedience to the state. Therefore we need a Declaration of Interdependence

So I got to thinking about what this would say, given the need to address the dilemmas of our time. 
It was incredible how little of the language I had to change from the original document, written over 230 years ago.

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of humanity requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all people are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Us, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown, that we are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right ourselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.--Such has been the patient sufferance of the common people, and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present world leaders is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over our collective humanity. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.
They have refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
They have forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation plutocratic Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, have utterly neglected to attend to them.
They have refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only. 
They have passed legislation at places unusual, secret, and distant without knowledge of the governed, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures. 
They have dissolved legitimate governments repeatedly, for opposing with firmness their invasions on the rights of the people.
They have refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the people remaining in the meantime exposed to all the dangers of theft from without, and abuse within.
They have endeavored to prevent the population from freedom of movement; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations.
They have obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Just Representation.
They have made Judges dependent on their alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.
They have erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass us, and eat our substance.
They have kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies and carried out surveillance upon their own people without the Consent of the people.
They have affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.
They have combined with others to subject us to an illegitimate authority foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving their Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:
For Maintaining large numbers of corporate criminals among us:
For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of all countries:
For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:
For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent: 
For depriving us in some cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:
For abolishing the free System of Laws, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render the people powerless and to serve fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into all parts of the globe:
For taking away our Freedoms, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:
For suspending our rights to Privacy, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.
They have abdicated Government, by declaring us out of  their Protection while waging War against us.
They have plundered our seas, ravaged our land, burnt our resources, and destroyed our environment. 
They are at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to complete the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Heads of any civilized nation.
They have constrained our fellow Citizens to expatriate and become criminals to preserve our Fundamental Rights, to become separated from friends and Kin, or to fall themselves at the Tyrant’s hands. 
In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. These Leaders whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, are unfit to be the ruler of a free people.
Nor have We been wanting in attentions to the Tyrants of other nations. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our means of habitation here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. These leaders too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Revolution, and hold them, as we hold the rest of civilization, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.
We, therefore, the Representatives of the united peoples of earth, in General Congress, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People, solemnly publish and declare, That these Nations are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to proclaimed Plutocratic Leaders in any State, and that all political connection between them and these Oppressors, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.