Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Teacher Pay

I teach in an upscale area and often joke about how poor I am (e.g., I drive the cheapest model car currently for sale in the US). Mostly it's just shtick--while not the wealthiest person on the planet (or even on my street), I'm quite satisfied with my financial lot in life. By the way, the hot tub should be here by Christmas :-)

Today a student asked how much I earn. After explaining that many people in our society consider that a very personal and therefore rude question to ask, I told him that since my pay (or at least my district's pay scale) is a matter of public record, I'd tell him--and I did. Some thought that seemed low, some thought it was high, some Goldilockses thought it was just right. A few asked what I thought of it. Not wanting to ruin my shtick at all I explained about hourly pay, saying that if I worked only my contractually-mandated hours I'd be making a certain number of dollars per hour; but when you factor in all the work teachers do outside of school, the pay per hour seems much more moderate.

Then I read this post over at the Edwonks,which begins ominously thusly:

Should a teacher with a mini fridge or coffee pot in his or her classroom be required to pay for the electricity that is used?
I liked one of the comments, and since it ties in with what I wrote above, I'll reproduce the comment here:

Sure, it's fair! As long as teachers can charge the school system for the time they spend outside school hours on lesson plans, grading papers, planning, reading professional literature, and other endeavors directed related to their jobs.

I have a refrigerator and a microwave in my classroom. They make it possible for me have lunch at my desk and work right through my 30-minute lunch period. I could do that half hour of work at home, though, and charge the school accordingly.

If teachers worked ONLY the hours they're paid to work, the entire educational system of the United States would fall apart. If teachers bought absolutely no materials or supplies with their own money, many classes would be lacking.

Teaching is among the most valuable professions in the world, but it is not among the most valued. Charging teachers for the use of electricity while doing their job is the height of absurdity.

So do you, the reader, want to know how much I make? Look here to see my district's pay scale. The raw numbers probably don't help because I don't have instant access to a site that will allow you to compare the pay to the cost of living, but at least you can see if you'd make more in *my* district ;-)

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Gifted Education

This entire excerpt comes from this speech, given March 7, 2000. I offer it here without commentary except to point out that it focuses on educational/curricular content.


A Classic, Different Education

In the field of gifted education, there are two terms: gifted, and education. In recent decades, our work has focused intensely on what it means to be gifted, but less intensely on what it means to be educated.

And yet, it is being educated that is the goal. Being gifted is not the goal; it is the condition that makes high education possible.

For personal and national reasons, we want gifted children to become learned adults, with the knowledge and capacity of mind to enjoy rewarding lives and to guide the country through a rapidly shifting and possibly perilous future.

This requires a different education, not the same education had by all, with different emphases.
A true gifted education would be appropriate for and designed specifically for gifted students. As such, much of it would be wrong-highly inappropriate-for other students, who would be swamped and miserable in such an environment.

And some of this different education for children of the very highest ability is not attainable, at all, to other students, however hard they may work. Consider that highly gifted students sometimes reach levels of mathematics in middle school that most students never reach, even in high school or college. A middle school student who makes an 800 on the SAT is doing something that very few students can do, regardless of age or effort.

The kind of high mathematical mind and instant intuitive understanding that gifted math students demonstrate can not be taught. It is an internal function of their abilities. It is already visible when they are still in the early elementary grades, and it calls for a full educational response from us. As a society, we owe every child-not excluding the gifted child-an education that fits. And if we do not exclude gifted kids from the dream of education, they will go places that are unknown in the normal context.

We are perfectly comfortable with this standard of achievement in the athletic arena.

Content matters. If curriculum is to be a profound engagement with the world, it is essential that it really be the world with which one is engaged. To waste critical education hours on content that is thin, shallow, common knowledge, or false is a tragedy. The words of A Nation at Risk, the report of the 1983 U.S. Department of Education's National Commission on Excellence in Education, are still relevant:

History is not kind to idlers. The time is long past when America's destiny was assured simply by an abundance of natural resources and inexhaustible human enthusiasm, and by our relative isolation from the malignant problems of older civilizations. The world is indeed one global village. We live among determined, well-educated, and strongly motivated competitors.

Curriculum for gifted children must focus on quality content. Even though the affective domain is crucial and must be involved, the affective domain is not its own curriculum. There are more magnificent truths to learn about the world than we could ever have time to learn, and so our curriculum should be designed to maximize class time for high educational goals.

It is appalling that American colleges are offering junk courses such as "Vampires: The Undead" (University of Pennsylvania) and "The Biology of ER" (Purdue University). Other prominent schools have courses on juggling, witchcraft and UFOs. There are junk courses and junk units. I remember a high school teacher who assigned his gifted history class a research paper on the Bermuda Triangle.

If a paper on ER or the Bermuda Triangle does not constitute profound engagement with the world, what does? Listen to the words of James Gallagher, in the winter 2000 edition of GCQ; the title of his article is "Unthinkable Thoughts: Education of Gifted Students":

The critiques leveled against the triviality and irrelevance of some of our "differentiated" programs for gifted students need to be taken seriously. General education teachers and teachers of gifted students both need models of differentiated units that stress advanced content and mastery of thinking processes, such as those developed by VanTassel-Baska (1997) in science and Gallagher and Stepien (1998) in social studies to help them challenge their students.

Gallagher adds,

This does not mean that there should not also be continued attention given to special efforts at enhancing creativity, problem solving, problem-based learning, and the like, but that the mastery of these skills has to relate to significant and relevant content in order to be meaningful and useful to the student.

What questions should we ask when we choose significant and relevant content:

1. Is it knowledge? Does the lesson teach anything that is actually knowledge? Will the students know something afterward that they do not know now? Would it be regarded as knowledge by others? One way of testing this question is to ask, Could a student's answer be wrong? If the answer is no, then there may not be enough knowledge in the lesson. Not all activities teach!

2. Is it academically necessary? Much knowledge is prerequisite for advanced study. Algebra is valuable in its own right, but it is also a requirement for subsequent mathematics and science. Traditional grammar, the orthodontia of the mind, enables students to use language correctly in every other context. Foreign language is more necessary than ever. A Latin-based vocabulary is essential to all English-speaking students who pursue advanced academics.

These thoughts remind us that we must beware of educational trends, such as the suppression of ability grouping or the dogma that schools should not teach grammar or vocabulary. American education is just now emerging from its whole language winter, and little peeps of language study are beginning to be heard in the land.

3. Will it educate THESE students? Does the lesson contain things that these students do not know? Will it change the state of their education? Will they feel that they have learned something? If the lesson involves review, remember the statistic that some students require thirty or more repetitions in order to learn, average students require ten to fifteen repetitions, and gifted students require zero to three repetitions.

4. Is it global? In a rapidly increasing global environment, students need as much knowledge as possible that connects them with the rest of the world. Is what we propose to teach global--known as knowledge around the world? Are there references to it in the culture? Will students encounter it when they travel? Will they find it in a museum? By this standard, mathematics, science, world history, and foreign language have great meaning to students.

5. Is it at international grade level? Forget the categories and stereotypes we use to age-grade our content in the United States. Are we writing a curriculum that the rest of the world teaches a year or two earlier? Do we have a valid reason for waiting? Are we underestimating what students can learn?

Let's take another look at results from the 1998 TIMSS Report: On the math/science test, the general math scores of our students were lower than those of fourteen other countries. The advanced math scores were lower than eleven other countries. The general science scores were lower than those of eleven other countries. In physics, the U.S. students were last. The TIMSS report noted that our 11th grade curriculum is regarded, internationally as 9th grade level. When the TIMSS Report came out, Peter Rosenstein wrote, in NAGC Communique:

In recent weeks, Microsoft and other high-tech companies have asked Congress to lift visa restrictions on foreign nationals to permit them to work for U.S. companies because they cannot find qualified American students to fill the positions.

Under the effects of Horace Mann's grade level notion, we have succumbed to the idea that big words are high school or college level, and yet earlier authors routinely used them in children's animal books, which with no ill effect have continued to enthrall children of all ages ever since. Age-graded vocabulary is an illusion. Very young children routinely learn the species names of the dinosaurs, and any little child who can say and understand San Francisco Forty-Niner or Tyrannosaurus Rex can say and understand the word serene. Let's compare our curricula to international grade level.

6. Is it enlightening? Does the lesson enlighten students' minds with truths about honor, justice, fairness, democracy, multiculturalism, equality, or a altruism? Will it increase their sympathy? Will it ennoble their tolerance? Books such as The Narrative of Frederick Douglas or Martin Luther King's Why We Can't Wait have the powerful combination of being written by some of history's most famous individuals, being brilliant accounts of important events, and being enlightening stories that infuse readers with a sense of universal human value.

7. Is it counter-ignorant? Will studying the lesson protect students from fraud, deceit, or swindle? Will it refute popular myths and stereotypes? Our culture is rife with commercial distortions of science and history. The so-called Bermuda Triangle was made up by a hack author in a fiction article for Argosy men's magazine. Carl Sagan tells us that the British crop circles were a hoax by Doug Bower and Dave Chorley, two blokes from Southampton, who in 1991 announced they had
been making crop figures for fifteen years.

It is good if our curriculum protects students from mercenary authors who exploit youthful credulity by presenting science fiction as science.

8. Is it permanent? Will it still be valid when the students grow up? Will they be able to help their children learn it? There are many things to learn that are only temporarily true, and some of them must be taught, but there are others that will be valid for as long as the students live.

There is a popular notion that knowledge is accumulating so rapidly and becoming obsolete so immediately that it is bootless for gifted students to spend time memorizing facts. We must not be lulled by this simplification. It is still possible today to spend one's educational life in the disciplined study of permanent knowledge. Students who concentrate on world and national history, foreign language, geography, mathematics, science, grammar, vocabulary, and famous literature and poetry will benefit from it all of their lives.

9. Does it require a teacher? We want to use our talents where they are most needed. When it comes to educating gifted students, we should ask, Is the content really a necessary use of school time? Is this something that students would probably learn on their own? Is it soft or popular content that the world will teach them anyway? Or is it the kind of content where the students really need us?

It is one of our greatest experiences, as educators, to teach the motivational content of our subjects--the great stories, the beauties. It is the special opportunity for grammar teachers to show students why grammar is beautiful and fun, and it is the special privilege of the calculus teacher to show why calculus is exciting. If we do not do these things, there is no one left in society to do it. When we write curriculum, we must think long and hard about its motivational content, and write it in motivational words that will communicate with both students and colleagues.

So Is This Story Real Or Not?

Members of a US anti-war group are taken hostage in Iraq. Al Jazeera has footage.

Oh, and what were they doing in Iraq? LOOKING FOR EVIDENCE OF US ATROCITIES! But is this kidnapping real or staged?

If it's real, the irony is just too tasty. Let's look at the possibilities.

1. They get beheaded. Bummer. US soldiers have done some bad things, but we haven't beheaded anyone and shown the world on tv or the internet. The anti-Bush hostages, in their farewell video addresses, complain about how little President Bush has done to free them.

2. A ransom (which facilitates and funds more terrorism) is paid to the kidnappers and the hostages are freed. They then recognize where the real evil in this situation lies.

3. A ransom (which facilitates and funds more terrorism) is paid to the kidnappers and the hostages are freed. They then go back to pointing out that the US in general, and President Bush in particular, are the fount of all evil in the world.

4. Due to a tip by locals, the hostages are freed by US and/or Iraqi forces. They then recognize where the real evil in this situation lies.

5. Due to a tip by locals, the hostages are freed by US and/or Iraqi forces. They then go back to pointing out that the US in general, and President Bush in particular, are the fount of all evil in the world.

I'm sure there are other scenarios, but these seem the most likely to me.

Or it could all be staged. Time will tell.

I'm still wondering about the Zarqawi "death". Several people said it's "highly unlikely" that Zarqawi was actually killed when the house was surrounded and the inhabitants blew themselves up, but no one has said anything definitive. We have DNA samples from his relatives--how long do these tests take to tell us for sure one way or the other? The silence on this issue bothers me. Is it possible I missed the definite "we didn't get him" announcement? Or has that story just disappeared?

Church, State, and Schools

It's the Christmas season again, and no doubt the zealots will soon be out trying to wipe any trace of the holiday from our schools. I guess I can accept that (but not understand why) someone might be offended by a creche in the office, but I have no doubt we'll be reading about "no Christmas trees, no decorations except snowmen (funny if it came from Arizona), and no menorahs, either". It's like some people refuse to accept that there is a secular holiday also known as Christmas. As I said to some folks at school yesterday, unless someone can show me where in the Bible it mentions that the Christ child was born under a pine tree and wrapped in swaddling...garland, there can be no objection to the religious content of the decorations we put up. The tree is a small, lighted one with fiber optic strands which change color at the ends--very religious, no? And if someone wants to put up a full size tree, I recommended there be no angels, 'wise men'-looking decorations, stars, or anything else on it that might give the slightest ammunition to an anti-religious zealot.

Coincidentally, there is a law with a (slightly) related component working its way through the Congress. Go to this Library of Congress web site to get this information about prayer at specific schools:


National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2006
(Engrossed Amendment as Agreed to by Senate)


    (a) In General- The superintendent of a service academy may have in effect such policy as the superintendent considers appropriate with respect to the offering of a voluntary, nondenominational prayer at an otherwise authorized activity of the academy, subject to the United States Constitution and such limitations as the Secretary of Defense may prescribe.
    (b) Service Academies- For purposes of this section, the term `service academy' means any of the following:
      (1) The United States Military Academy.
      (2) The United States Naval Academy.
      (3) The United States Air Force Academy.

As I said, the law in question is still working its way through the Congress. I hope this section stays when it passes, and I state here my total amazement and shame that something so simple and unobtrusive has to be enshrined in law to protect it.

Monday, November 28, 2005

I Resigned From My Union Today

Using the information on this page as a template, I mailed my resignation to my union(s) today.

The die is cast.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Urban Legends (Dem Talking Points) About The War

This article shreds the myths about this war. They are:

Urban Legend: The Bush Administration in general, and the Vice President and his office in particular, pressured the Central Intelligence Agency to exaggerate evidence that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction.

Urban Legend: The President and his administration intentionally misled the country into war with Iraq—and the “16 words” that appeared in the 2003 State of the Union are the best proof of it. In the words of Senator Ted Kennedy, “The gross abuse of intelligence was on full display in the President’s State of the Union…when he spoke the now infamous 16 words: ‘The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.’… As we all now know, that allegation was false….”

Urban Legend: Helping democracy take root in Iraq was a postwar rationalization by the Bush administration; it was an argument that was not made prior to going to war. In the words of a November 13, 2003 New York Times editorial, “The White House recently began shifting its case for the Iraq war from the embarrassing unconventional weapons issue to the lofty vision of creating an exemplary democracy in Iraq.”

Urban Legend: Saddam Hussein posed no threat. In the words of former Senator Max Cleland, “Iraq was no threat. We now know that. There are no weapons of mass destruction, no nuclear weapons programs, no ties to al-Qaeda. We now know that.”

Urban Legend: There were no links between al-Qaeda and Iraq.

Urban Legend: President Bush and his administration wrongly tried to link Iraq and Saddam Hussein to the September 11 attacks. “President Bush should apologize to the American people” for this “plainly dishonest” effort, insists a New York Times editorial.

Urban Legend: President Bush has shown an “arrogant disrespect” for the United Nations on Iraq, according to Senator Ted Kennedy.

Urban Legend: The President launched a “unilateral attack on Iraq,” to use the words of former Vermont Governor Howard Dean.

Urban Legend: Flights out of the country for members of the bin Laden family were allowed before national airspace reopened on September 13, 2001; there was political intervention to facilitate the departure of the bin Laden family from America; and the FBI did not properly screen them before their departure.

Read the article for fantastic rebuttals to each of these points.

And just for good measure, here's an article showing the multiple flip-flops the NY Times has made on Iraq policy. Changing its mind so many times--it's no wonder they supported Kerry for President!

Update: Oh look, here's more good stuff--in this case, an article studying reports of civilian casualties in Iraq. Want a sample? I knew you did!

What is the source for these numbers? The most comprehensive study of civilian casualties is available from a group opposed to the Coalition intervention in Iraq called Iraq Body Count. This summer, the Iraq Body Count project published an analysis of casualties in the Iraq War that must be admired for its meticulous documentation.

This study reports 24,865 civilian deaths in the first two years of the Iraq War, an apparent ringing endorsement of the "Iraq in chaos" position. But a curious statistical anomaly jumps right off page one: over 81% of the civilian casualties are men. Even stranger, over 90% of civilian casualties are adults in a country with a disproportionate percentage of the population under 18 (44.5%).

Schools, Laptops, and the ACLU

Well, this is odd. My feet aren't cold.

Why is that odd, you might ask? Because after reading this post, you too will wonder if Hell hasn't frozen over.

You see, this one Los Angeles Times article hits three--count 'em, three--of my favorite topics: free education, computers in school, and the ACLU. And hold on to your hats, cowboys--much like a stopped clock that's right twice a day, the ACLU is on the correct side of this issue.

"Blasphemer! Sell out!" I can hear you screaming, but you'd be wrong. The ACLU has adopted a position here that I have long advocated and have written about on this blog.

So let's summarize this article, shall we? Fullerton School District in Orange County is urging parents to buy each student a $1500 laptop, to be used both at home and at school. Some can't afford to, and some don't want to. Parents who don't want to buy a laptop can transfer their students to other schools that do not participate in this laptop experiment. The ACLU is considering suing the district on the grounds that this program amounts to an illegal fee under the California constitution as well as several state court rulings (Hartzell v. Connell, a state supreme court ruling, being the foundation of the case), and is discriminatory.

Here are some chosen quotes from the LA Times article, to give you a flavor of the issue:

An Orange County school district's efforts to integrate technology into students' lives by urging families to purchase laptop computers is creating a furor among parents who say the pricey obligation is segregating their children into the haves and have-nots. [This segregation is why such "fees" are illegal in California--Darren]
"That's not pocket change for anybody," said Tina Maldonado, a stay-at-home mother with two children attending Rolling Hills Elementary School. "We could buy the computers, but I don't think we should have to. A public school education is supposed to be free."
The American Civil Liberties Union said this month that it's considering filing a lawsuit against the Fullerton School District, arguing that it is violating the state's constitutional guarantee to provide a free education, and is creating a two-tiered learning environment.
School officials say that all Fullerton students receive the free education guaranteed to them by the state constitution and call the laptops an optional "enrichment."
No child is denied a laptop if the family can't afford one, said Supt. Cameron McCune. But McCune has also been confronted by families who can afford a laptop but choose not to buy one. Their children, he said, can transfer to classrooms not in the laptop pilot program — and that may require transferring to a different school.
"If the reason to roll out this … program is that laptops in the hands of every single student will improve teaching and learning, it is silly," said Stanford University education professor emeritus Larry Cuban, author of "Teachers and Machines: Classroom Use of Technology Since 1920." "No body of evidence supports that." [I share Cubans thoughts in this post--Darren]
Sandra Dingess said that she and her husband couldn't afford laptops for their four children who attend Fisler, but were wary of disclosing private financial details in filling out the required paperwork. Instead, they negotiated a deal with the district: Their eighth-grader will stay at Fisler and borrow a laptop while the three others transferred to schools where laptops aren't used.
I hope the school district loses big and has to cough up a lot of money. It's the only way to stop this kind of abuse.

And I hope administrators in my district, and at my school in particular, are paying attention.

Update: Oh, here's why my feet aren't cold. A quick visit to the ACLU's website reveals that they just got lucky in the case above. Look at this one:

ORANGE, CA -- Four civil rights groups today [9/27/2005] filed a motion on behalf of a racially and ethnically diverse group of parents who support the Capistrano Unified School District's (CUSD) ability to consider race to avoid segregated schools when drawing up new boundaries for attendance.

"School districts like CUSD should have the flexibility, when drawing attendance boundaries, to consider race for the purposes of promoting integration and avoiding segregation," said Hector O. Villagra, director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California's Orange County office and a participant in today's legal action. [emphasis mine--Darren]

There are plenty of other ones listed.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Which Is Funnier...

...the two singers in this lip-synch video from China, or the kid in the background ignoring the whole thing while sitting at a computer?

Problems at Private Schools

Readers of this blog know that even though I'm a public school teacher, I'm not necessarily a fan of public schools. I am, however, a fan of universal public education, which is why I support vouchers.

But where would these vouchers be spent? At Darren's fictitious All-American High School, where the mascot is an eagle and the school colors are red, white, and blue? Hopefully :-) But until such schools are created, the largest alternative to public schools remains the religious schools.

But what's going on there?

Here in Sacramento, an all-girls Catholic school fired a teacher because she volunteered at Planned Parenthood. The teacher threatened suit, the school settled, and neither will disclose the amount of money changing hands. The teacher will not return.

Incidentally, the mother and daughter who used to counsel people outside the Planned Parenthood clinic, the ones who recognized this new teacher and reported her activities to school officials? They're banned from campus, too, for supposedly making negative public statements about the school. I've only heard the mother and daughter once and they weren't being inflammatory at all, but I haven't heard the totality of their statements.

Then there's this story about a Catholic school that fired a teacher for being pregnant and unmarried. The author's point seems to be that if the teacher had gotten an abortion, no one would be the wiser; also, such firing represents discrimination against women because men cannot get pregnant. Then, towards the end of the article, she changes direction and makes it a "society doesn't seem to value fathers" piece. I don't know.

We had another case here in Sacramento about three years ago. A woman sent her kindergartener daughter to a parochial school, and the daughter was going to be expelled because the mother worked at a local strip club. The school had offered to help the mother find alternate work, but when she didn't, the school was going to follow through. Mom eventually did quit, the church helped mom get a new job, and the daugher stayed at the school....for a few days. Mom got a job at a local radio station, but also posed for Playboy. The pastor in charge of the school let the daughter finish up her last week of school, then booted her.

Dang, and the worst issues we have at the public schools are teachers sleeping with students, teachers who impose their political beliefs on students as part of their grade, and superintendents who steal a million from the district (I've discussed all of these in previous posts). Choose your poison.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Gifts For Teachers

In Alief, teachers can accept gifts worth up to $300 in rules set by the University Interscholastic League.

I joke about wanting a trip to the Bahamas, especially since I work in a school in an upscale neighborhood, but I'd be horrified if someone actually got me one. I usually get the same types of gifts now that I used to get when I worked in less ritzy neighborhoods--candy, Starbucks gift cards, a poinsettia, Christmas ornaments, things like that. Getting a "haul" would be nice, but it's not what I'm about as a teacher. I appreciate the generosity shown by anyone who brings me a gift. Sincere appreciation has a wonder all its own.

I can't imagine what was going on in that district that required the rule that I quoted above. Read about limits on teacher gifts here.

Interesting Judgement Call

Should a teacher be able to require students, as part of the correct answer on a quiz, to denigrate the President?

I think this goes a bit beyond the First Amendment. I share my views all the time but my students are never required to share them--especially as part of their grade.

Read the story here. Figures that it would happen in a little university town.

I Think The Thieves Are Right In This Case

Here's an interesting case for the social historians.

So one guy steals a couple hundred thousand dollars from a school district, and his gay partner (the former superintendent) steals a cool million. The supe cuts a plea bargain that says that he'll testify against others in the case (over $11 million is missing). The first guy says oh no, we're a couple and I want to assert spousal privilege. They have been partners for 33 years, and have been registered domestic partners since 2002.

Put simply, our system of law does not require spouses to testify against each other, or parents and children against each other. The confidentiality protected by these laws is similar to doctor-patient or attorney-client privilege.

So should a gay person have to testify against his partner? Ignore for a moment the fact that it was part of the supe's plea bargain. Among the rights of marriage that gays seek, should this legal spousal privilege be one of them?

I don't see how it can't be.

Am I Right To Be More Than A Little Perturbed Here?

Last Thursday, a week before Thanksgiving, I got a frantic call from my son's mother. "Do you have school tomorrow?" "Yes, of course. Why?" "Because he says he doesn't." Hmmmm. Nine year old boy says there's no school on Friday. "Can you go check the marquee at the school?" Since the school is at the end of my street, I walked down there and checked. The last thing mentioned on the marquee was the day off for Veteran's Day, the previous Friday.

I went online and checked the district's calendar. Sure enough, there it was--elementary schools were out on the 18th for a teacher work day. And yes, I'm sure we were given the school calendar back when school started in August. But am I right to be more than a little perturbed here at the lack of a reminder?

A neighbor who lives across the street from the school, and who is heavily involved at the school, told me that he heard about the day off from a bus driver. Does this sound right? He also told me that next week, the week after Thanksgiving, is an entire week of minimum days due to parent-teacher conferences. That is definitely not on the school calendar. Am I right to be more than a little perturbed here at the lack of communication?

Several weeks ago I got a call in my classroom--my son's school had called and needed to speak with me. So I tried to call back immediately and could not navigate their voice mail system to talk to a real person. I went down to the office at my own school, knowing our secretaries are no strangers to this system--and they couldn't, either. So I sent three emails to the school--one to the principal, one to the secretary, and one to the school's generic email address--hoping that at least one person in the office would see an email and respond. It's weeks later, and I'm still waiting. Over an hour later I was able to get through on the phone and was told that their phone system sometimes has the problems I encountered. Now, I can't blame the principal for messed up phones at any given time, but am I right to be more than a little perturbed here that I couldn't establish contact with anyone at that school at all for over an hour? that they didn't even answer emails?

Given these three incidents (school called, no school on the 18th, minimum days next week) I sent an email to the principal outlining my concerns. Am I right to be more than a little perturbed that she didn't respond to me last Friday (during her school's teacher work day)?

I know what I have to do. I have to go there and talk face to face. It's a tight rope to walk, being a teacher in the district and also a parent. You have to be careful which hat you wear in such meetings. But I'll do it, because there's a serious communication problem at that school. I wonder how many parents don't know about the minimum days next week, and haven't taken any steps to ensure their kids are supervised once school gets out.

Am I right to be more than a little perturbed here?

Update: The information about next week's minimum days is up on the marquee today. But it wasn't there on the last day of school last week, when parents could see it. I'm not even sure it was there Friday.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Slight Change To The Comments

I've had a couple complaints about the word verification feature I activated on this blog--the letter string you had to type before your comment would be accepted. Some found this an annoyance, and I can agree with that position. But it accomplished what I wanted it to do, namely stopping comment spam in its tracks.

But now I've encountered a new issue. I write a few posts a day on average, which means it only takes a few days to have gone through a dozen or more posts. Since I'm sure only a few readers check this blog on a regular basis, it's possible, indeed probable, that I'm missing comments. And what is the point of having comments on my blog if I don't read them?

So I've switched to moderated comments and turned off word verification. Any new comments go to a page that I can access (and you *know* I'll access it several times a day!), where they're grouped by post title. This will ensure I don't miss any new comments while at the same time keeping my blog comments spam-free.

We'll see how this method works out. I hope it works to everyone's satisfaction.

Anti-NCLB Lawsuit Thrown Out

How much of my NEA dues money was spent on that losing proposition?

From comes this story:

WASHINGTON (AP) -- A judge threw out a lawsuit Wednesday that sought to block the No Child Left Behind law, President Bush's signature education policy.

The National Education Association and school districts in three states had argued that schools should not have to comply with requirements that were not paid for by the federal government.

Chief U.S. District Judge Bernard A. Friedman, based in eastern Michigan, said, "Congress has appropriated significant funding" and has the power to require states to set educational standards in exchange for federal money.

Now, can we please quit whining about a reasonable law and focus on something more related to my pay and working conditions, like the Windfall Elimination Provision?

Update: Quit whining and focus on pay and working conditions? Nope. Appeal. How much more dues money will be spent on the losing battle fighting this just yet maligned law?

Update #2: EIA has this on what an NEA attorney said about NCLB two years ago. Apparently, NEA kept spending money chasing this ghost anyway, and will continue to do so.

Give Thanks For What, Genocide of Native Americans?

Somehow, I don't think the journalism professor who wrote this piece is a political conservative. In fact, based on his writing here, I'm quite sure he's part of the "Hate America First" crowd. And they're lefties.

We should get rid of Thanksgiving and instead atone for "genocide" committed centuries ago? I'll think about that as I head over to the nearest Indian Casino, about 20 min from my house.

Update: Here is the only known contemporary account of the first Thanksgiving. It comes from a letter dated 1621 from Edward Winslow. This page includes Winslow's account as well as William Bradford's comments written about 20 years later.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Fighting In School

"The notion that you can somehow defeat violence by submitting to it is simply a flight from fact. As I have said, it is only possible to people who have money and guns between themselves and reality."
--attributed to George Orwell

Yesterday I was talking to a man who is pretty involved at my son's school. We were talking about the school principal and he relayed the following story.

He and she were talking about fighting, and he said that if his son were attacked, he'd expect the boy to defend himself. She replied that the boy would be suspended or perhaps expelled if he did; rather, he should curl up on the ground in a ball and hope someone else runs to get help.

I have no reason to doubt the veracity of this story.

Dear gawd, when did common sense leave our schools? In exactly what year did we decide that, in instances of fighting, we'd completely take leave of our senses and begin to perform internal inspections of our belly buttons?

I've had several conversations about fighting with one of my vice principals. He said that he does not want to get involved in making value judgements concerning fights because there's too much "he said, she said" involved. To him, both the initiator and the victim were fighting and they get the same punishment of a few days' worth of suspension. He acknowledges that if he were the victim, he'd defend himself and accept the suspension. Why anyone would "accept" an unjust punishment is far beyond me.

I think we hold our students in school to a higher standard than we do adults in public. Self defense is a legitimate and very real defense in the adult legal world. Yet, my son's principal expects students to curl up on the ground in a ball and my own school's administration expects students to just turn the other cheek (I thought religion had to be kept out of schools!) and walk away. Neither of those actions is realistic, and neither serves to prevent fighting. Both serve to treat a victim as a scofflaw.

I don't want to hear about lawsuits from parents who say their kid was treated worse because he supposedly started a fight when he really didn't. I'm tired of these lawsuits. Perhaps Orwell's quote above applies equally well to lawsuits. They aren't going to go away if you keep giving in to them. Stand up to a few and people will see how useless they are. And you'd have the added benefit that people would actually be able to respect the school's rules and the application of those rules, rather than the current situation of seeing stupid rules and having a school district try to defend those stupid rules.

Incidentally, this man also told me that a child who brought a small pair of nail clippers to school had them confiscated and his/her parents were called and asked to come retrieve the "weapon" immediately. Stupidity. Scissors and pencils, tools ubiquitous in our classrooms, are much more easily used as weapons than a pair of freakin' nail clippers. Again I ask, when did we take leave of our senses? "I'm going to fight you by poking you with these nail clippers! Take that!" Such a child shouldn't be suspended for fighting with a weapon, but for being too stupid to attend even the public schools.

But we have to treat everyone equally, victim and aggressor alike. Amazing.

My Favorite Quotes

I keep a list of quotes I find valuable, entertaining, or just plain funny. Having nothing else to post right now, I'll post the few quotes I've collected:

Geniuses are justifiably contemptuous of the opinions of their inferiors.
--Jubal Harshaw, in Robert Heinlein’s Stranger In A Strange Land

There are too many mistakes to be made in the world to make the same mistake twice.

“The more complex the mind, the greater the need for the simplicity of play.”
--Captain Kirk, Star Trek

“When the facts contradict your expectations, believe the facts.”
--attributed to Sherlock Holmes

“Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”
--Yoda, Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace

"We must respect the other fellow's religion, but only in the same sense and to the extent that we respect the theory that his wife is beautiful and his children smart."
--Henry L. Mencken

“The less consistent your means are with your goal, the less effective your efforts shall be.”
--Michael Lopez, from the Welcome to Highered Intelligence! weblog

"One cannot judge the value of an opinion simply by the amount of courage that is required in holding it."
--attributed to George Orwell

“Hope is all you have left when you’re tired of being afraid.”

"When you believe you have the moral high ground, you can do some terrible things."
--Mark Rudd, former member of the terrorist group Weather Underground

“Context is often the first victim of activism.”

“The natural lesson might even apply to politics; if the parasites win, the parasites and the host will both die.”
--from the Classical Values weblog, 12/6/2004

“The two main instruments by which truth reaches politics are votes and markets, which is why political Utopians instinctively dislike both.”
-- Charles Moore, from a 4/6/2005 article in the UK’s Weekly Telegraph

“Consensus is the absence of leadership.”
--Margaret Thatcher

“A Bavarian is a cross between a man and an Austrian.”
-- Otto von Bismarck

"The notion that you can somehow defeat violence by submitting to it is simply a flight from fact. As I have said, it is only possible to people who have money and guns between themselves and reality."
--attributed to George Orwell

"A civilization that feels guilty for everything it is and does will lack the energy and conviction to defend itself."
--French writer Jean Francois Revel

“Warriors are essential; pacifists are a luxury.”
--Mike Rosen, AM 850 KOA radio host

Monday, November 21, 2005

NY Times Article On Education

Here are some interesting quotes from this New York Times article called Why the United States Should Look to Japan for Better Schools:

Lurking behind these test scores, however, are two profoundly important and closely intertwined topics that the United States has yet to even approach: how teachers are trained and how they teach what they teach.

Ah, someone's starting to get the picture.
The book has spawned growing interest in the Japanese teacher-development strategy in which teachers work cooperatively and intensively to improve their methods. This process, known as "lesson study," allows teachers to revise and refine lessons that are then shared with others, sometimes through video and sometimes at conventions. In addition to helping novices, this system builds a publicly accessible body of knowledge about what works in the classroom.

The lesson-study groups focus on refining methods that improve student understanding. In doing so, the groups go step by step, laying out successful strategies for teaching specific lessons. This reflects the Japanese view that successful teaching is the product of intensive teacher development and self-scrutiny. In America, by contrast, novice teachers are often presumed competent on Day One.
Can't argue with that. Sounds smart. In business we called that "Best Practices". And we can often thank ed schools for this:

We also tend to believe that educational change would happen overnight--if only we could find the right formula. This often leaves us prey to fads that put schools on the wrong track.

So how do we fix this problem? Yes, that's the big question.

What Did Congress Know, And When Did They Know It?

I do not know the political leanings, if any, of, which is somehow related to the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania. But this is what they have to say about the pre-war intelligence leading up to the Iraq War, as well as the "Bush lied" story.

Update: And here's what John Kerry said on March 20, 2003--from his own web site! Apparently he had been so thoroughly hoodwinked by Bush, Cheney, Rove, et. al., that he actually seemed coherent for a moment!

Thursday, March 20, 2003

WASHINGTON, DC – Senator John Kerry issued the following statement in response to the commencement of military strikes in Iraq:

“It appears that with the deadline for exile come and gone, Saddam Hussein has chosen to make military force the ultimate weapons inspections enforcement mechanism. If so, the only exit strategy is victory, this is our common mission and the world’s cause. We're in this together. We want to complete the mission while safeguarding our troops, avoiding innocent civilian casualties, disarming Saddam Hussein and engaging the community of nations to rebuild Iraq.”

But only for a moment.

Update #2: Victor Davis Hanson sets the left straight, again, on Saddam's links to international terror, on the pre-Bush bipartisan belief in his danger to peace, and on the results of removing him and the Taliban from power.

Did *You* Know That Michelle Malkin Is A Politically-Conservative Asian Woman?

I offer this post, especially its last paragraph, without comment.

My Teacher, Like, Sucks!

I'm usually a big supporter of my students and realize that they have egos, views, and opinions that are forming as the kids grow into adulthood. But that doesn't mean I can't agree with this post at Number 2 Pencil (see blogroll at left) completely!

Demographics Aren't Destiny

Joanne Jacobs (see blogroll at left) has written a book about the success of Downtown College Prep in San Jose, CA. Let's tune in to what she has to say in a recent San Jose Mercury News story:

I've spent nearly five years reporting and writing a book on Downtown College Prep, a San Jose charter high school that recruits students who have done poorly in middle school and prepares them for college. Ninety percent of students are Latino, 61 percent qualify for a free lunch and 38 percent are classified as English learners; half their parents have an elementary education and an additional third didn't get past high school....

Effective schools make student achievement the school's top priority. The principal and teachers define plans to improve teaching and set measurable goals for exceeding API targets.

At these schools, reading, writing and math curricula are designed to teach the state's academic standards; teaching is consistent within grades and from grade to grade. Teachers don't close the classroom door and do their own thing.

Principals manage instructional improvement with district support. High-scoring schools tend to be in districts that set clear expectations and evaluate principals based on student achievement.

At high-scoring schools, principals and teachers use data on student performance to fine-tune teaching, target help to students who are falling behind and identify teachers who need to improve....

But the high-fliers don't spend more money than schools with similar students and much weaker results, points out (Stanford Researcher) Kirst. ``These are not high-spending schools by national or state standards.''

Parent involvement programs, strong discipline policies and collaboration and training opportunities for teachers had some benefit, but not nearly the impact of prioritizing achievement, implementing a coherent, standards-based curriculum, using data to improve teaching and providing adequate teaching resources.

Truth to power.

I Was Ahead Of My Time

When I once used satire to propose a sex room on a high school campus, little did I know how prescient that "modest proposal" would be.

Manassas school officials weren't as laid back. The students -- eight in all -- were quickly identified and suspended, and the matter prompted the small school system to confront an issue many adults would rather not face: in this case, two girls and three boys engaging in oral sex or intercourse on school property while three other boys watched, according to sources familiar with what happened.

They just sat there and watched? At school? And the others continued? Ewwwwwwwwwwwww!

Distributed Computing Project

I participated in the SETI@Home project, and this one seems at least as worthwhile. Via Instapundit:

TORONTO, Nov. 21, 2005 (The Canadian Press delivered by Newstex) -- A massive project is harnessing the power of tens of thousands of personal computers around the world in a bid to winnow out potential drugs to more effectively fight the global scourge of AIDS.

A virtual supercomputer grid, created by IBM (NYSE:IBM) will allow individuals and businesses to donate down-time on their personal computers via a secure website. The idle PCs will be used to run millions of computations in the search for chemical compounds that could eventually provide more effective HIV therapies, the company was to announce Monday.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Let's Hope

This breaking news comes from the Jerusalem Post (hat tip: Little Green Footballs). I'm always wary of early reports of big news because so often they're wrong. Let's hope this one is right:

At least one Arab television media outlet reported that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the head of the al-Qaida in Iraq, was killed in Iraq on Sunday afternoon when eight terrorists blew themselves up in the in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul.

The unconfirmed report claimed that the explosions occurred after coalition forces surrounded the house in which al-Zarqawi was hiding.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Who said this?

"We have trouble in the classrooms, we are putting in new text books. Nothing wrong with new books but we are spending more time on them than the Bible; it is drifting to the back of the classroom. We cannot tolerate this in American education. The Bible's morals are pure, its examples are captivating and noble."

Go here to find out which right-wing ideologue (hehe) said this.

Email Time Capsule

Talk about a blast from the past! Send yourself an email 1 year, 5 years, 10 years, or even 20 years in the future. But you have to do it before November 30th.

This site says that Forbes stole what they've been doing for years. And with their time capsule, you can choose a specific date to have your email delivered.

Thanksgiving "Break"

Today is the first of 9 consecutive days in which I do not have to go to work. You'd think life would be grand, huh? Well, let's see about this 'not working' business.

I won't be working while I'm grading the three classes' worth of trigonometry tests I brought home.

I won't be working while I'm grading the one class of algebra quizzes I brought home. Fortunately, the quizzes from my other algebra class got graded yesterday.

I won't be working while I'm crafting up to a dozen letters of recommendation for former students.

I won't be working while I'm doing some evaluation work (at no pay, of course--it's 'professional development') for the Commission on Teacher Credentialing.

No, I get all this 'free time' off work to sit on my butt, watch Oprah, and eat bon-bons. Because that's all teachers do during these breaks, isn't it?

Yesterday's House Vote (not) To Remove Our Forces From Iraq

403-3. That was the roll call vote on a simple resolution put forth by Republicans in the face of Democrat calls recently to bring our forces home, or to create a specific timetable to bring them home. This resolution was simple:
"It is the sense of the House of Representatives that the deployment of United States forces in Iraq be terminated immediately."

It was put-up-or-shut-up time for the Democrats. They didn't put up. Too bad they won't shut up, either. Here's a little about Nancy Pelosi:

Top Democrats attacked the GOP tactic. Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said the Republicans "engaged in an act of deception that undermines any shred of dignity that might be left in this Republican Congress." She called Hunter's resolution "a political stunt" and "a disservice to our country and to our men and women in uniform."
Uh huh. She represents a city that just voted not to want military recruiters in any of its schools, and she's worried about a Republican disservice to our men and women in uniform? Sorry, I'm not buying those crocodile tears.

Here's another comment about that same minority leader:

[Y]ou'd have to be a fool to believe there are only three Democrats in the House who support the language of the resolution offered last night to bring the troops home immediately. At the top of the list is Nancy Pelosi who, instead of voting her conscience and representing her constituents, decided to play victim and accuse Republicans of "politicizing the war" - something she's been doing non-stop for more than two years now.
Hypocrisy is a wonderful thing, my lovely Democrats.

Wanting to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq doesn't make you a coward. What does make you a coward is when you truly believe we should get our troops out of Iraq immediately, you have a chance to vote for doing exactly that, and you choose not to because you fear the political consequences of being on record revealing your position to the public.
By now everyone has heard the name of Jack Murtha, the retired Marine Congressman who proposed that we pull out of Iraq immediately. Here's the best line I've read about him:

It seems to me that Rep. Murtha, retired Marine colonel, pulled the pin on the grenade of the Democrats' Iraq policy, but he forgot to throw it.

You should read the whole post here. It's wildly interesting.

And then there's this quote from a fellow blogger here in Sacramento:

When I would smart off to my dad as a kid he would say* to me "just be sure not to let your alligator mouth overload your hummingbird ass."

Looks like the Murtha and the rest of the Democrats let that happen to them today. The Republicans in the House called the Dems bluff and put forth a resolution based on Murtha's own comments and resolution, calling for the immediate withdrawal of our troops. The measure was defeated by a vote of 403-3.

Update: And then there's this from Mark Steyn:

I know what Bush believes: He thought Saddam should go in 2002 and today he's glad he's gone, as am I. I know what, say, Michael Moore believes: He wanted to leave Saddam in power in 2002, and today he thinks the "insurgents" are the Iraqi version of America's Minutemen. But what do Rockefeller and Reid and Kerry believe deep down? That voting for the war seemed the politically expedient thing to do in 2002 but that they've since done the math and figured that pandering to the crowd is where the big bucks are? If Bush is the new Hitler, these small hollow men are the equivalent of those grubby little Nazis whose whining defense was, "I was only obeying orders. I didn't really mean all that strutting tough-guy stuff." And, before they huff, "How dare you question my patriotism?", well, yes, I am questioning your patriotism -- because you're failing to meet the challenge of the times. Thanks to you, Iraq is a quagmire -- not in the Sunni Triangle, where U.S. armed forces are confident and effective, but on the home front, where soft-spined national legislators have turned the war into one almighty Linguini Triangle.

I love his style.

Color Me Surprised

From this RealClearPolitics piece:


The District of Columbia cell of the Communist Party USA has been revealed as holding a monthly luncheon in the cafeteria of the National Education Association (NEA), without the sponsorship but not with the disapproval of the huge, politically powerful schoolteachers union.

The Communist meetings were reported by Chris Peterson in the Washington City Paper edition of Nov. 11-17. A lawyer attending the September meeting bolted from the cafeteria when he learned a reporter was present.

"We had no knowledge of this," NEA spokeswoman Denise Cardinal told this column, "because the NEA does not screen the patrons of our cafeteria or listen in on conversations. It's open to the public."

Here's the full Washington City Paper article. The part about the cafeteria was only one sentence. This article, about a communist cell (their word, not mine) that operates openly in Washington, DC, is moderately disturbing. Here's a sample:

Barry Weinstein, 49, co-chair of the Frederick Douglass Club, has heeded Webb’s call. When I first contacted him, Weinstein cited concern that he’d end up being “red-baited by this article.” Yet when it comes time to meet, Weinstein shows up with a white T-shirt with a red hammer-and-sickle logo and “CPUSA” printed on it. “Look at me—don’t call me a terrorist, and don’t call me less than an American,” he says. “I’m as American as you can get, as patriotic as anyone. Even more so!”

A public-elementary-school teacher in Fairfax County, Weinstein says he has been lavished with presents from his students’ parents, including gift certificates for one of the swank shopping malls at Tysons Corner. With careful explanation to those parents, he has passed the gifts on to charities.

On one level, he thinks communism can be explained only with old stories of labor fights. “Man, to understand communism in America today, you’ve got to go back to the Haymarket Martyrs,” he says. The Haymarket Martyrs were seven anarchists arrested in 1886 after a bomb went off at a Chicago strike supporting the eight-hour workday, resulting in the deaths of eight police officers and four civilians; against the pleadings of organized labor, the anarchists were executed. But when I ask how a distant reference explains the scene today, Weinstein is brought up short.

“You’re right,” he declares, stumped. “I’ve got to think about that. I’ve got an interest in [clarity] as an educator....What I’m trying to do is make this understandable to our [socio-economic] classes today.”

In California, it's illegal for a teacher to be a communist or to advocate communism to students. I'm not sure whether I'm glad this guy isn't in California or if I wish he were so he could be fired.

Friday, November 18, 2005

The Golden State

This report discusses the state Legislative Analyst's view of California's economic outlook, which is apparently good in the short term. Then there's this information from the Tax Foundation:

  • California's tax system ranks 38th in being "business friendly"
  • "California's taxes on small businesses higher than virtually every other state"
  • "For taxpayers earning between $43,500 and $307,050 only Montana (which has no sales tax) has a higher [income tax] rate," which means a lot of middle class folks are paying very high taxes
  • "Corporations looking to relocate, or even establish, a business in the West may shy away from California, as the state's 8.84% flat rate is the highest corporate tax rate in the West. Nationally, only 10 other states have a higher top corporate tax rate than California."
  • "California's state and local sales tax rate ranges from 7.25% to 8.75%. Excluding local option sales taxes, California's statutory rate of 7.25% is the highest in the country. The sales tax affects not only consumers, but businesses as well."
And certain leading liberals want to tax the rich more to pay for universal pre-school, among other things. When there's no more rich people left to move to Las Vegas or Incline Village, who will pay for all this socialism?

Thursday, November 17, 2005

If You're Wondering What To Get Me For Christmas....

First off, let me state that chocolate is proof positive that God exists. Nothing that good could happen from mere happenstance.

Second, mixing chocolate with anything usually is a bad idea. Let the chocolate flavor remain unadulterated.

However, there are exceptions. And these might be some exceptions. Earl Grey? Green tea? Hmmmm....

$100 Laptops For All The Children of the World

Just what is the purpose of this project?

A cheap laptop boasting wireless network access and a hand-crank to provide electricity are expected to start shipping in February or March to help extend technology to school-aged children worldwide.

The machines are to sell for $100, slightly less than its cost. The aim is to have governments or donors buy them and give full ownership to the children.

"These robust, versatile machines will enable children to become more active in their own learning," U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan told reporters.

I don't understand how giving a hand-cranked laptop to some kid in the bush of the Serengeti, or in the mountains of Laos, or wherever the heck these are supposed to go, is going to help anyone. The article specifically mentions Brazil, Thailand, Nigeria, and Egypt. Just who is going to put up all these wireless nodes so that the bedouin kids in Egypt, or the Brazilians in the rain forest, can surf the web and catch up on the latest happenings on Lost?

I hope I'm wrong, but I don't see how this benefits anyone to any great degree. I view it as akin to the proposal a few years ago (guess which city!) to give every homeless person his/her own shopping cart. Certainly the money spent on shopping carts could be better spent on the homeless, and certainly the money spent on these educational toys/fads, and the infrastructure needed to support them, could be better spent on the same kids these computers purport to help.

Interesting Punishment

And what, exactly, is wrong with this?

There's definitely some psychology at work here, but it's hardly abuse.

Update: and why am I so horrified by this punishment? Is it because this was done by a principal, as opposed to a parent, as was the case in the first example? I'd be distressed even if the child had stolen the money, so that's not why this particular situation frosts me so much.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Thanksgiving Break

My school district starts school around the 20th of August, far earlier than the post-Labor Day starts I remember from childhood. We get out after the 2nd week of June, about a week later than what I remember from childhood. What's up with that?

In days of yore (that's before 'colonial times') (and that's an inside joke) we only got the Thursday and Friday of Thanksgiving week off school. My current district gives us the entire week off--next week. It's hard to believe that next week is Thanksgiving.

Why, you ask? Well, here in Northern California, the average high temperature has been about 75 degrees this week. And as I look out my window I see nothing but blue sky.

Usually in mid-November it's crisp here in the capital city. But except for a day or two of rain several weeks ago it's been very mild here. Only the long shadows give any hint that it's not the end of September.

I'm not complaining. I like the fact that I get all next week off! But it certainly doesn't seem so close to Thanksgiving.

Monday, November 14, 2005

An Exceptional Quote

Here's a quote I just read on another blog:

It's OK to be charitable with your own money. It's not so virtuous to be generous with other people's money.

This quote applies equally well to government and to the CTA, despite the topic's being neither of those two areas.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

A Psychiatrist Discusses "Bush Derangement Syndrome"

You lefties won't admit that you have it, so this clinical discussion won't do anything to help you. The rest of us--we sit back and read this and say, "Yes, that's clearly what's going on here."

Saturday, November 12, 2005

It's About Time

In a move worthy of recognition and praise, the US Justice Department has given Southern Illinois University a week before DoJ files suit against them for discriminating against white men (and presumably Asians) in the awarding of certain fellowships. That's right, there are certain programs that are reserved for non-whites.

Back in the Bakke days, we called that "reverse discrimination". And reverse discrimination is still discrimination, and it's usually wrong.

"The University has engaged in a pattern or practice of intentional discrimination against whites, non-preferred minorities and males,'' says a Justice Department letter sent to the university last week and obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times.
I'm going to assume that "non-preferred minorities" means Asian, because we all know that Asians are minorities until education/school performance is concerned, and then they're whiter than the whitest white man.

I must admit that I'm somewhat interested in the "why" of this case? Why SIU? and why now? Are there really no programs at more attention-grabbing schools that are doing the same thing? What exactly prompted this suit? Is this the only such suit, or are there more on the way for other schools?

I long for the day when race-based preferences are gone in all public dealings. The Civil Rights Act was passed before I was born, yet Justice O'Connor believes it'll be another 25 years before we can do away with affirmative action programs that cannot be justified by the words of that very act. I'll be retired by then. Imagine, a law that takes a lifetime before it's enforced.

LaShawn Barber (people who read conservative blogs should already know about her) has a few comments about such race-based preferences, quoting Title VI of the Civil Rights Act:
No person in the United States shall, on the ground of race, color, or national origin, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance....

I have to ask: how can that be misunderstood? And how does it justify the Supreme Court decision in the Grutter case (University of Michigan)? Barber continues with her own words:
Skin color-based scholarship programs in public universities can’t be defended legally or morally. If blacks advocate skin color preferences because they’re afraid of getting left behind socially, educationally, and economically, they need to improve performance and generate opportunities for themselves rather than using public funds to “level the playing field,” which is nothing more than a moronic baseball analogy that didn’t make sense 40 years ago and makes less sense now.
I think she gets it.

Interestingly enough, it's well known now that women outnumber men at American universities. And black women outnumber black men by 2:1. I wonder how it would go over if universities started having outreach programs and scholarships just for men. You think skin color is identifying, sex is even more clearly so! Bring in the men! I should have a scholarship waiting for me somewhere by virtue of my having a penis. Makes about as much sense as having a scholarship waiting for me somewhere by virtue of having more pigmented skin or a specific type of last name.

Outreach is one thing. Recruiting is another. "Celebrating diversity" is another. But when we're talking about schools that receive federal dollars, they should, at a minimum, be required to follow federal law. These types of scholarships have to go. These types of preferences have to go. And it should take 25 more days to make it happen, not O'Connor's 25 years.

I'll close with more of Barber's words:

Most “mainstream” blacks don’t see anything wrong with skin color distinctions in public hiring and admissions as long as blacks are the ones receiving the benefits of discrimination. It’s called human nature. Back in the day when government skin color distinctions harmed blacks, they called it what it was: repugnant.

Hear hear.

Yet Another Vow

I've been leaning a lot to the politics lately, and not so much to the education. My next post will be about education. No matter what.

The President's Veteran's Day Speech

I'm not going to type much in this post. Mostly I'm going to provide links. Feel free to surf at your leisure.

Here's my one-over-the-world summary of where we're going with these links:

1. Why we got into this war
2. No, the President didn't lie to get us into this war
3. The Duelfer Report, which says there were intelligence failures but not lies or manipulations
4. Our good friends on the left, telling the Big Lie often enough and loud enough that 2 1/2 years later, we're still addressing it so that it doesn't become conventional wisdom
5. Dissent and limited war

1. This war started on October 31, 1998, when President Clinton signed The Iraq Liberation Act, making Iraqi regime change the stated policy of the United States. His press release is here. On December 16th, 1998, President Clinton held a press conference explaining why he'd just ordered the bombing of Iraq:

Earlier today, I ordered America's armed forces to strike military and security targets in Iraq. They are joined by British forces. Their mission is to attack Iraq's nuclear, chemical and biological weapons programs and its military capacity to threaten its neighbors....
The international community had little doubt then, and I have no doubt today, that left unchecked, Saddam Hussein will use these terrible weapons again.

2. There is no evidence at all that the President lied to take us into war. Even if you include those few words in the State of the Union Address, and assume they refer to Joe Wilson and not, as the British repeatedly said, to other attempts (the President said "Africa", not "Niger", and Wilson's report actually concluded there had been attempts by Saddam), this "Bush lied" story has no evidence.

3. And the Duelfer Report? What's that? It's the report, submitted to Congress in September 2004, the aim of which was to determine if anyone lied and where Saddam's weapons program went. You can read the entire lengthy report here but I recommend scrolling down to "Key Findings", among which you'll find these tidbits:

Saddam’s primary goal from 1991 to 2003 was to have UN sanctions lifted, while maintaining the security of the Regime. He sought to balance the need to cooperate with UN inspections—to gain support for lifting sanctions—with his intention to preserve Iraq’s intellectual capital for WMD with a minimum of foreign intrusiveness and loss of face. Indeed, this remained the goal to the end of the Regime, as the starting of any WMD program, conspicuous or otherwise, risked undoing the progress achieved in eroding sanctions and jeopardizing a political end to the embargo and international monitoring.

The introduction of the Oil-For-Food program (OFF) in late 1996 was a key turning point for the Regime. OFF rescued Baghdad’s economy from a terminal decline created by sanctions. The Regime quickly came to see that OFF could be corrupted to acquire foreign exchange both to further undermine sanctions and to provide the means to enhance dual-use infrastructure and potential WMD-related development.

Saddam wanted to recreate Iraq’s WMD capability—which was essentially destroyed in 1991—after sanctions were removed and Iraq’s economy stabilized, but probably with a different mix of capabilities to that which previously existed. Saddam aspired to develop a nuclear capability—in an incremental fashion, irrespective of international pressure and the resulting economic risks—but he intended to focus on ballistic missile and tactical chemical warfare (CW) capabilities.

The former Regime had no formal written strategy or plan for the revival of WMD after sanctions. Neither was there an identifiable group of WMD policy makers or planners separate from Saddam. Instead, his lieutenants understood WMD revival was his goal from their long association with Saddam and his infrequent, but firm, verbal comments and directions to them.

It's apparent that Saddam intended to restart his program as soon as he could. Yes, our intelligence said that he still had the weapons. Yes, many weapons-related items
that had not been reported to the UN were found after the invasion. Yes, there's material that had been "secured" by the UN that was missing after the war. That should be enough to show that everyone involved acted in good faith.

4. So why are so many Senators and Congressmen now saying they were "misled" on the war, when they had the same briefings and much the same intelligence as the President? How can Pelosi, Boxer, Kerry, Gore, et. al., now claim the President lied when, shortly before he became President, they believed the very same intelligence that President Bush used to take us to war? How many times must we watch the clips from the Sunday morning talk shows, read the quotes archived online, before our friends on the left admit that their icons in the Congress are lying now for political gain? Why do they do it? Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit (see blogroll at left) has as good an explanation as anybody:
I think it's jealousy. Bush-hatred has become all-consuming among a large section of the Democratic Party, and they can't stand the thought of anything that reflects well on him, even if it's good for the country, and if it's something that was their idea originally.

Again, here's the Washington Post, hardly a mouthpiece for the Administration:
The administration's overarching point is true: Intelligence agencies overwhelmingly believed that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, and very few members of Congress from either party were skeptical about this belief before the war began in 2003. Indeed, top lawmakers in both parties were emphatic and certain in their public statements.
Perhaps our friends on the left, those who believe President Bush is so dumb, are willing to have us believe that he fooled them. Would that make them dumber than the President? That would be an interesting plank to campaign on.

5. So where does that leave us? Often, it leaves us with the left lying through its teeth, and squealing like stuck pigs when they're called on it. How dare you question our patriotism, they ask? Well, it's easy to question it when you ignore what you said and believed a few years ago and now say the exact opposite, just because you think you can score a few political points against the President. What follows here is a good post from Glenn Reynolds about that, and a lengthy essay from TigerHawk on dissent during limited war. TigerHawks's essay is among the best I've read on the subject, and it jibes nicely with what I wrote in comments to this post.

Here is a representative sample from Glenn's post:

This bit of hatemail, though, seems to carry the flavor best:

Did you ever really think you'd be the kind of person who would be calling dissenters from a right-wing, gay-bashing, anti-evolution, incompetent war-making administration "unpatriotic"?

I'm not sure where evolution or gay rights come into this (I've "dissented" on those points myself, after all), but I think this illustrates that the "Bush lied" issue has more to do with anti-Bush sentiment than with anything having to do with the merits of the war.

But it's not "dissent" that's unpatriotic, something I've been at pains to note in the past. It's putting one's own political positions first, even if doing so encourages our enemies, as this sort of talk is sure to do. And that's what I think is going on with the sudden surge of "Bush Lied" stuff from Congressional democrats.

Of course, outrage over questioning of patriotism is kind of one-sided. You can say that Bush and Cheney started the war with a bunch of lies to enrich their buddies at Halliburton, and that their supporters are all a bunch of chickenhawks on the White House payroll. But that's different because -- because Bush is anti-evolution, and doesn't support gay marriage! Or something.

And TigerHawk hit the ball out of the park with this essay, sampled below:

Meanwhile, supporters of the war sometimes charge -- as the president did today -- that dissent hurts the morale of our soldiers and gives aid and comfort to the enemy.

Even if this is true, or only sometimes true, the charge in and of itself does not dispose of the morality of dissent because it leaves no room for principled public discussion of the propriety of the war or the effectiveness of its prosecution. Our democracy requires room for anti-war dissent, even if the price is aid and comfort to the enemy.

Assuming, arguendo, that anti-war dissent does give aid and comfort to the enemy (I discuss why this must be so later in the post), are there types of dissent that more efficiently balance the benefit (robust public debate about a topic as momentous as the war) with the costs (the sending of signals that embolden the enemy and demoralize our own soldiers) than other types? If so, are these more efficient methods or arguments of dissent more moral or legitimate than methods or arguments that do little to advance the debate but do relatively more damage to the American war effort? These are the questions that interest me....

Dissenters often (but not always) claim that they “support the troops.” Fairly or not, one often gets the impression that many of them do not really like soldiers and claim that they support them only as a political tactic, to avoid the backlash that followed the anti-war protests during Vietnam. Be that as it may, since our soldiers are fighting for the expressed purpose of preventing the enemy from achieving its victory conditions, it seems to me obvious that one cannot both advocate withdrawal and “support the troops,” at least in this superficial sense. “Supporting the troops” means nothing if it does not mean supporting their principal and motivating endeavor, which is to kill the enemy or otherwise deprive it of its capacity to fight. Advocates of early withdrawal do not “support the troops,” at least as long as most of the troops in question believe in their mission, which seems to be the case even today. Moreover, certain forms of dissent quite explicitly undermine the troops. For example, activists who seek to obstruct military recruitment raise the chances that any given soldier will have a longer tour in the Iraq theater. Preventing the replacement of a soldier is precisely the opposite of "supporting the troops".

The new meme should be, "Lefties lied, Truth cried." Or something more poetic than that.

Update: From this blog we get commentary I agree with, so I'll sample a few choice quotes here:

Left unexplained - how the Democrats' unrelenting focus on the use of pre-war intelligence is going to substitute for a plan to resolve the situation in Iraq. Was it really only two weeks ago that Harry Reid forced the Senate into a closed session to discuss that?

Perhaps Sen. Reid was simply intending to commemorate the second anniversary of the leak of the strategy memo explaining how the Democrats could politicize the Senate Intelligence Committee hearings for maximum benefit.

This political posturing by the Dems is understandable - their party is pretty well united around the desire to have a mulligan on the decision to go to war against Iraq....

And my point is what? Bush did what he believed in, Democrats chose to vote expediently rather than lead, and here we are. Three years later Bush is still doing what he believes in, and Democrats are still looking to evade the Iraq issue.

Update #2: This, from the San Antonio Express-News. It's yet another list of quotes from prominent Democrats about Saddam's weapons of mass destruction. In this day of the internet and LexisNexis, you cannot hide.

Friday, November 11, 2005

A Pittance of Time, A Song For Veteran's Day

From an email list of which I am a member:

From a Canadian songwriter, about the sacrifices marked by November 11th

Video is 6.5M but well worth the download

On November 11, 1999 Terry Kelly was in a Shoppers Drug Mart store in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. At 10:55 AM an announcement came over the store's PA asking customers who would still be on the premises at 11:00 AM to give two minutes of silence in respect to the veterans who have sacrificed so much for us.

Terry was impressed with the store's leadership role in adopting the Legion's "two minutes of silence" initiative. He felt that the store's contribution of educating the public to the importance of remembering was commendable.

When eleven o'clock arrived on that day, an announcement was again made asking for the "two minutes of silence" to commence. All customers, with the exception of a man who was accompanied by his young child, showed their respect.

Terry's anger towards the father for trying to engage the store's clerk in conversation and for setting a bad example for his child was later channeled into a beautiful piece of work called, "A Pittance of Time". Terry later recorded "A Pittance of Time" and included it on his full-length music CD, "The Power of the Dream".

In the interest of creating a greater awareness of the sacrifices that have been made and are still being made on our behalf, "A Pittance of Time" has been adapted to the French language and titled "C'est si peu de temps". Music videos for both audio tracks were also produced in support of the campaign.

Watch the video

Update, Veteran's Day 2009: The links above are no longer active, so here's the YouTube link.