Sunday, August 31, 2014

Even This Liberal Columnist Knows That The "Rape Culture" Stuff Is Bunk

Now anybody sending a daughter off to college these days would be well-advised to hire a professional referee to give her the final instruction boxers get before the bell: “Protect yourself at all times.” That said, isn't it odd that with violent crime rates dropping sharply everywhere, sexual assaults are supposedly metastasizing on campus?

Supposedly, one in five women college students gets sexually assaulted. Never mind that if one in five Starbucks customers got molested, the chain would soon go out of business. It follows that nobody outside the Task Force really believes those numbers. Alarming statistics are manufactured by including in the definition of “sexual assault” things like trying to steal a kiss or patting a girl on the fanny – ill-advised and boorish, but not normally a crime.

This is not to make light of real sexual crimes. Quite the opposite. Those should be prosecuted in real courts by law enforcement professionals. It's an imperfect system, but these faculty tribunals are a joke.  link
His point about Starbucks is true, and here's another:  if, say, high school counselors actually believed that statistic, couldn't they be considered accessories for pushing so many women to go to college?  If nothing else, how could they sleep at night knowing they were sending one in five girls to such an environment?

It's a bad number that won't go away, just like the "women make xxx cents for every dollar a man makes".  It serves someone's political need.  This is the politics of lying, and it doesn't seem to matter who gets hurt in the process.

Why Do People Make Things Up To Get Worried About, And Possibly Ruin Lives In The Process?

A book whose story takes place 900 years in the future, and the author (a teacher) was taken by police for a psychiatric evaluation?  What is this, Salem, Massachusetts?
A Maryland middle school teacher was placed on leave — and taken by police for an “emergency” psychiatric evaluation — because he wrote two novels set 900 years in the future about school massacres.

A police search for guns and bombs found nothing. (Not even a slice of pizza chewed into the shape of a gun?!) But police will guard the middle school until the nonexistent danger is past.
The sane mind spins at the insanity.

Update, 9/2/14:  The more we learn, the more it looks like the school and law enforcement people in this case are drooling, blathering idiots:
"The residence of the teacher in Wicomico County was searched by personnel,” Phillips said, with no weapons found. “A further check of Maryland State Police databases also proved to be negative as to any weapons registered to him. McLaw was suspended by the Dorchester County Board of Education pending an investigation and is no longer in the area. He is currently at a location known to law enforcement and does not currently have the ability to travel anywhere.”

I've tried to reach the sheriff, so far unsuccessfully, to learn whether McLaw's "inability to travel anywhere" means that he is under arrest. It is somewhat amazing that local news reports on this case don't make clear whether McLaw is under arrest, and if so, on what charge. It is equally astonishing that the reporters on this story don't seem to have used the words "First Amendment" in their questioning of law-enforcement officials, and also astonishing they don't question the Soviet-sounding practice of ordering an apparently sane person who has been deemed unacceptable by state authorities to undergo a psychological evaluation.
Orwell was just talking about the Soviet Union, you know.  He was giving us a warning.   "[D]oes not currently have the ability to travel anywhere"?  Holy crap.

And let's keep in mind that the two paragraphs I just quoted are from The Atlantic, which is not known for  Heritage Foundation-style leanings.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Why California Needs A Part-Time Legislature

Perhaps if there was less time for them to meet, they'd pass necessary laws instead of having plenty of time to spend on stupid and inconveniencing laws like this:
The state Senate on Friday gave final legislative approval to a measure that would phase out single-use plastic bags in supermarkets, pharmacies and convenience stores as part of an effort to rid beaches and streets of litter.

The measure, which now goes to Gov. Jerry Brown for consideration, would allow stores to charge customers 10 cents to provide paper or reusable plastic bags as an alternative to single-use bags.
"Single-use"? Who says so? Why can't people who don't reuse them just put them in their recycling bin?  Why do we have to ban something that's useful?  (Ans:  because liberals like compulsion.  It's who they are, it's what they do.)

I wonder if anyone's considered the water that will be necessary to wash all the reusable bags we're supposed to use now.

Friday, August 29, 2014

A Clean Classroom Is A Happy Classroom

Today one of our custodians told me how easy my room was to clean this summer, how easy it was to wax and polish the floors, because my room was already so clean anyway.

I don't know what goes on in some rooms.  Some people must drag furniture across the floors day and night, their floors look so bad.  Some people allow students to wipe the mud off the bottoms of their shoes using the bookracks under the seat of the desk in front of them.  I've seen the piles of dirt  and/or mud (on those couple days a year around here when it's wet), and it's gross.

I do keep a pretty neat and clean room.  In fact, every custodian who's ever taken care of my room--at all three schools at which I've taught--has made it a point to thank me for making their job easier.  They tell me about having to pick up trash off the floors....

I don't do it for the compliments, I do it because I don't want to teach in a pig sty.  But I'm glad it's clean enough for them to notice, and I'm glad it makes their job easier at no real cost to anyone else.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Is This Really The Kind Of Society In Which We Want To Live?

When one class of people has more protection under the law, when one group of people is automatically assumed by law to be a suspect class, there lie problems:
In the rush to advance legislation to combat sexual assault on college campuses, California lawmakers have cast aside the due process rights of the accused. As a result, more college men could find themselves unfairly branded as rapists.

On Monday, the California Assembly overwhelmingly passed S.B. 967, a bill that would apply a uniform definition of sexual consent to all colleges and universities that receive state funds.

The law is being pitched as a way to ensure the safety of college students. But instead of merely making sure that all accusations of rape are treated seriously, it creates a standard that stacks the deck against the accused.
For those of you for whom this type of information is important, the author is a woman--not that that matters to reasonable people without an agenda.

Update:  Stupid, unfair, and unconstitutional rules which are applied mostly against men will disappear almost overnight if they start being applied against women:
On June 9, 2014, the female student in question was visiting with friends in UO’s Carson Hall dormitory. According to the student, looking out of the dormitory window, she spotted a male and female student walking together (she did not know either of them) and shouted “I hit it first” at them in jest. The female of the couple responded with two profanities and the couple reported the student’s comment to the Resident Assistant of the dorm. The Resident Assistant located the student and insisted that she apologize to the couple for her remark. The student readily obliged.

That did not end the matter, however. On June 13, the student was shocked to receive a “Notice of Allegation” letter charging her with five separate conduct violations for her four-word joke. In addition to dubious allegations of violating the residence hall’s noise and guest policies, UO charged the student with “[h]arassment,” “disruption,” and “[d]isorderly conduct.” After being presented with these outrageous and unconstitutional charges, the student contacted FIRE.

FIRE wrote to UO President Michael Gottfredson on August 1, demanding that the charges against the student be dropped. FIRE also called on UO to revise its unconstitutional speech codes—in particular, the harassment policy under which it charged the student. That policy contains unconstitutionally broad and vague prohibitions on “[u]nreasonable insults,” “gestures,” and  “abusive words” that may cause “emotional distress” to others, subjecting UO students to punishment for any expression deemed subjectively distressing. FIRE’s letter explained that Oregon courts have struck down state harassment laws containing similar prohibitions.
If you're going to support the "disparate impact" argument regarding race and education, law enforcement, etc, you can't look away when there's a disparate impact against a group or class just because you don't want to see them as victims.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Tech In Schools

Anyone but a "true believer" could have told you this was going to fail, and fail spectacularly:
In a surprising reversal, L.A. Unified Superintendent John Deasy has abruptly halted the district's billion-dollar technology program, which aimed to put an iPad into the hands of every student and teacher by the end of, yes, this year.

It's a rare retreat for the headstrong superintendent intent on getting the tablets into classrooms as soon as humanly possible. But it comes after more than a year of negative news stories – everything from LAUSD students "hacking" devices to the incomplete iPAD-friendly software to an allegedly chummy bidding process in which Deasy gave Apple and Pearson, the software company, a leg up
It gets better:
The practical part is to give children some practice in the months leading up to California's big switch in testing, when some students, this spring, will begin taking their standardized tests on computers, not on paper. Loads of students won't do well if they don't know their way around a computer.

The idealistic part is to narrow the very real digital divide that separates poor and working-class Los Angeles children from middle-class and rich kids.
If you think giving a teenager an iPad is going to bridge any gap at all, you're just nuts.  Or a true believer, but I repeat myself.

Here's the climax:
"My responsibility is to lift kids out of poverty," says Deasy. "They have the right to technology."
That's not his responsibility, and kids don't have a right to technology.  Kids are entitled to a decent education, which they obviously aren't going to get in a district run by someone who thinks fixing social issues takes priority over the 3 R's.

The LAUSD board should fire him immediately for not even knowing what his job is.  That they don't tells you all you need to know about LAUSD in particular and public education in general.

Best and Worst Majors If You Want To Make A Buck

In which fields are graduates often underemployed, and in which fields are employment prospects good?

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

#WarOnWomen? Not Quite.

It's three mothers who have formed a new non-profit to ensure due process rights for those in the crazed sexual environment of higher education:
She and two other mothers who say their sons were falsely accused of sexual misconduct recently formed a national nonprofit organization called Families Advocating for Campus Equality to provide a support system for other families going through what they experienced and to bring awareness to what they call a “lack of fair and balanced safeguards within campus hearings.”

“When this happened to Caleb in 2010, I thought we were the only ones,” she said. “We felt very isolated. You feel afraid a lot. It’s very traumatic.”

Their goal is to ensure fairness and due process for all parties involved in allegations of sexual misconduct on college campuses. The group also hopes to help change the ways campuses respond to sexual assaults. When the issue of sexual misconduct on college campuses is addressed, rights of the accused are hardly, if ever, mentioned, said Warner Seefeld, who is president of the group.
Caleb was never even charged with a crime but was still kicked out of college.  How does that remotely seem reasonable?  Is this what feminism has become?  Because if it is, I want nothing more to do with it.

Anxiety, and Section 504

Talk at the lunchroom table recently has revolved around the latest fad in 504 Plans, and that's anxiety.

But let's back up for people who don't know what a 504 Plan is.

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 was designed to help kids with physical issues.  Apparently there were some rather inflexible teachers back in those days, teachers who wouldn't accommodate a child's physical issues.  Section 504 requires schools to make accommodations, such as:
  • allowing a student with low blood sugar to eat a candy bar, even if food isn't allowed in class
  • giving an exceptionally obese student more time to get to class, especially if he/she has to walk across campus
  • cutting slack on assignments related to color for the kid who's colorblind
  • getting large-print books for a student who's near-blind
The following comes from a pamphlet put out by the Office of Civil Rights:
Section 504 defines an individual with a disability as a person with a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. Major life activities include caring for one’s self, walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, working, performing manual tasks and learning.

Some examples of impairments that may substantially limit major life activities include: HIV/AIDS, blindness or low vision, cancer, deafness, diabetes, heart disease, intellectual disabilities and mental illness.
You get the idea.  Pretty common-sense, right?  Well, the problem with Section 504 is that there's one clause in it that, like the Commerce Clause in the US Constitution, has been blown and stretched out of its original meaning to essentially become a catch-all for any additional bennie a parent can get for a child, and that's "and specific learning disabilities."

You might think that ends it, but let's look at the definition of "physical or mental impairment" that requires accommodation under Section 504:
(A) any physiological disorder or condition, cosmetic disfigurement, or anatomical loss affecting one or more of the following body systems: neurological; musculoskeletal; special sense organs; respiratory; including speech organs; cardiovascular; reproductive; digestive; genito-urinary; hermetic and lymphatic; skin; or endocrine; or
(B) any mental or psychological disorder, such as mental retardation, organic brain syndrome, emotional or mental illness, and specific learning disabilities.
You can see that Section 504 is designed to accommodate certain specific disabilities, and I assert that "specific learning disabilities" was understood when it was written to mean disabilities more like dyslexia and less like "oppositional-defiance disorder" or "anxiety".

If a parent wants special consideration for his/her kid, all he/she has to do is get a doctor to say that the child has some "condition" and the world of 504 accommodations opens up for them.  For the longest time, ADD/ADHD was the prize; if you could get that diagnosis you could ask for the sun, the moon, and some unicorn farts for your kid and the schools pretty much gave it to you (actually, administration promised it all and the teachers have to make it happen).  Get a diagnosis, any diagnosis, and your kid gets a leg up on all the other kids.  Bonus!  Of course not every parent and/or student abuses Section 504, but abuse is common enough that I haven't met a teacher yet who doesn't get at least a little frustrated when a new 504 Plan hits their mailbox.

So back to the lunchtime conversation.  Several of us have noticed that, over the past few years, we're getting more and more students in class with 504 Plans.  Furthermore, ADD/ADHD, the former gold standard in diagnoses, is starting to go out of favor.  The up-and-coming diagnosis is, you guessed it, anxiety.

I myself am noticing this trend, as I've put three students in the past four days in tears.  And I'm not even trying!  Ask someone a question they can't answer, anxiety!  Ask someone to focus on their schoolwork, anxiety!  Look at a kid the wrong way, anxiety!

And it's not like I'm known as Mr. Mean, either.  In general I have very good rapport with students, and being less than two weeks into the school year so far it's not like I'm tired of kids, don't like kids, or any other excuse someone could come up with.  I'm just flummoxed!

I was discussing a recent "event" with one of our school counselors today.  We view things pretty much the opposite of each other but we agreed on this:  kids are getting this diagnosis and we have to deal with it.  I don't want "I need to go talk to my counselor!" to be a get-out-of-class-free card, and she doesn't want kids who genuinely need to talk to be denied.

There must be some median between "There there, baby" and "Suck it up, Buttercup."  I hope we find it, because 504 Plans have been around for a long time and they're not going away.

Personally, I lean more to the way of thinking that says we should teach the kids effective ways to deal with their own anxiety and not expect someone else to fix it for them all the time, but that's just me.  I'm Mr. Mean.

UpdateHere's some related humor.

Monday, August 25, 2014

If You Can't Beat 'Em, Play Dirty

Can anyone come up with a similar situation in which it was Republicans acting like this?
The indictment of Texas Gov. Rick Perry on August 15, 2014 has drawn criticism from pundits, politicians and papers all over the country. Some Democrats have disavowed the indictment, going as far as to claim that launching courtroom attacks against their opponents in the GOP is just not how Democrats operate.

But is that the case? Or have Democrats shown a disturbing pattern of using courtrooms to go after Republicans who pose a threat to them?

The following eight cases suggest that Democrats will wield ethics complaints and courtrooms as weapons against Republicans at strategic moments.
Let's not forget "let's keep recounting votes until we get the result we want", a la Christine Gregoire's 3 counts until they finally found enough votes in the trunk of someone's car in Seattle to put her over the top against Gino Rossi.  Let's not forget other electoral shenanigans, such as illegally allowing Frank Lautenberg on the ballot to replace Robert Torricelli when he had to resign.  And these are recent ones off the top of my head, there are plenty more from history.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

How Many Education Consultants and Charlatans Does This Guy Want To Put Out Of Work?

What is the key to better education for kids?  This guy has what seems to be a fairly obvious answer:
Hattie says there’s far too much focus on things that will do little to improve student success — such as reducing class size, focusing on transformational ideas and leadership, advocating for discovery or inquiry-based learning, and labelling kids with learning disabilities and learning styles — and not nearly enough time and money spent on the one thing that matters: raising the level of teacher expertise.
The more I learn about other teachers, the more I come to believe that.
Perhaps his least popular finding is that reducing class sizes enhances student achievement, but not by much. “It does have an effect,” Hattie says. “The problem is it’s very small"...

Educational research also doesn’t support the notion of classifying kids with various disorders or learning styles, Hattie says. “It’s pop psychology rubbish that’s perpetuated in our system ... It’s absolutely almost criminal how we classify kids and label.”

Teachers certainly need to understand each child and to use all kinds of strategies to reach each one, but labelling the kids doesn’t help, Hattie says. “That’s great he’s got that learning style, but let’s give him some other ones, because when that one doesn’t work, what is he going to do?"
To that I can only add a loud and thunderous "hear hear!"
Hattie is also leery about Alberta Education’s recent fixation on discovery or constructivist learning, where the teacher is a facilitator and even elementary-aged students fixate on project and group work, with little or no focus on memorizing math facts and word sounds.

The evidence shows this inquiry-based learning model has limited success, Hattie says. “I would seriously wonder why you would take on something that we know is below average.”
I feel the same about Common Core, both the math standards themselves as well as the almost-explicitly-required pedagogy that goes with them.
Hattie isn’t a big fan of a massive curriculum rewrite either. “All those people who want to spend hours and money on curriculum change, it’s not going to make a difference.”
Curriculum itself usually isn't the biggest problem when it comes to adverse educational outcomes.
Excellence abounds here, he says. “One of my messages, particularly to the politicians, is: ‘Don’t look outside, don’t look to Finland, don’t look around the world. It’s here in Alberta right now.’ ”

The real job, Hattie says, is having school principals get into the classrooms, figure out which teachers are having success and which are not, then working with the ones who need it.
Again, hear hear!

This article definitely speaks truth to me.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Are You Surprised By This Entirely Predictable, and Predicted, Result?

If so, you're not very bright, and you weren't paying attention when those of us who understand even the slightest bit about economics were telling you this would happen.  You let your slobbering support for an untested man as president overwhelm any reason and common sense you may have had, and now the country will suffer under the weight of your socialist dystopia.  Here's just one more example:
Add the Affordable Care Act – or, specifically, the big-business Cubs’ response to it – to the causes behind Tuesday night’s tarp fiasco and rare successful protest by the San Francisco Giants.

The staffing issues that hamstrung the grounds crew Tuesday during a mad dash with the tarp under a sudden rainstorm were created in part by a wide-ranging reorganization last winter of game-day personnel, job descriptions and work limits designed to keep the seasonal workers – including much of the grounds crew – under 130 hours per month, according to numerous sources with direct knowledge.

That’s the full-time worker definition under “Obamacare,” which requires employer-provided healthcare benefits for “big businesses” such as a major league team.
You refuse to believe that people, and organizations, respond both to incentives and disincentives.  You choose to believe, in the absence of any evidence, that if you add just the right amount of pixie dust and ground unicorn horn to the current mix that everyone will live happily ever after.  And when it doesn't work you complain that those who were right sabotaged you, that people just didn't try hard enough to implement your ideas, that maybe just a little more pixie dust will do the trick.

I may be over here on the side of the road drinking my Slurpee, to paraphrase your Lightbringer Obama, but I'm smart enough to know that you can't wish the car out of the ditch.  I also know that digging isn't going to get it out of the ditch, but that is what you keep trying.

Will you please, just once, ditch your left-wing, authoritarian, top-driven, rose-colored views of how things should work and join the rest of us here in reality?  It's an open invitation.

Update, 8/25/14Here's another set of examples:
Institutions say complying with the Affordable Care Act has caused them to pass on some costs to employees, according to a new survey from the College and University Professional Association for Human Resources.

Since the act began to take effect, some 20 percent of institutions have made changes to benefits in an effort to control associated costs, the survey says. About the same percentage of colleges are considering making changes, or making further changes, in the year ahead. Of those institutions that have made changes so far, 41 percent have increased employees’ share of premium costs...

The new health care law as it relates to higher education made headlines last year, when scores of colleges and universities began to limit adjuncts’ hours so as to minimize their number of full-time employees. Under the act, large employers must offer health care coverage to employees working 30 hours or more per week.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Service Academy Attendees

Due to recent graduations and a resignation, the school at which I teach only has one former student still attending a service academy--and that young man is a squid!

That should change by this time next year, though.  I have one current and former student who wants to go to West Point, one current and former student who wants to attend Navy (and be another squid), and there's one I met today who wants to go to the Air Force Academy.

A triple header would be nice :)

How Much Lower Can We Go

Survivor, the Bachelor, Big Brother, and other brain-rotting television shows--you'd think we've gone about as far as we could go, but now look what's coming:
If you thought Dating Naked, VH1’s boner-poppin’, trolltastic reality series where contestants do just that—and whose participant, Jesse Nizewitz, is suing the network for $10 million for showing a brief flash of her unpixelated crotch while she play-wrestled with a random nude dude on the beach (really)—was the lowest of the low, well, think again.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you: Sex Box.

On Thursday afternoon, The Hollywood Reporter reported that WE tv, a subsidiary of AMC Networks, has ordered the dating show Sex Box to series, picking up nine hour-long episodes. It will debut sometime in 2015. The show is an American adaptation of the UK Channel 4 series of the same name that sought to “reclaim sex from pornography” (their words) by having couples step into a giant box erected on the set, have sex inside of it, and then emerge for a post-coital chat about their seven minutes in heaven—or hell—with a panel of sexperts.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Special Ed Kids Digging Through Trash

Legitimate?  Or tempest in a teapot?
A Southern California school district has apologized to parents of special education students who were outraged to learn their children had been sorting trash as a school activity.

Jurupa Unified Superintendent Elliot Duchon made the apology at a heated meeting Monday night. He also said the activity — which was part of a functional skills program at Patriot High School to teach students general life skills like budgeting and purchasing groceries — had been suspended, the Press-Enterprise reported Wednesday...

"It is disgusting," said Carmen Wells, who complained after learning her autistic son was digging through trash on his first day as a high school freshman.
We have a similar program at our school.  We have special blue recycling cans in our classrooms, and we only put paper and plastic bottles in them.  Periodically some of our special needs students will come around and empty out the cans.  They take care of getting those items to recycling and, to be honest, I have no idea what they do with the money--but I'm pretty sure their class spends it on extras.

I can understand being a little upset if kids are digging through garbage to look for the recyclables; the difference at our school is that they're collecting the recyclables that we've already segregated.  Now that I read this story, though, I wonder, is that difference so great?

Finding a Silver Lining

We're over a week into school now and some of my students still don't have textbooks.  Why?  Because so many students than ever before are taking the higher level courses that we've run out textbooks to give them.  Our textbook clerk has ordered more, and they're trickling in.

I guess it's a good sign that so many students are taking pre-calculus and statistics.

You know me, ever the optimist, always looking for that silver lining :)

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Tie My Hands Even More

To begin with, I may send one or two students to the office in a school year.  I teach upper-level math classes, well beyond the minimum needed to graduate and even above the minimum needed for admission to most 4-year universities, so the vast majority of my students are college-bound.  To be honest, such students are not near as likely to be troublesome in class as would, say, a senior in an Algebra 1 class.  Such a statement could conceivably enrage certain types of people, but most who have ever spent more than a week in a classroom know that what I'm saying is not only reasonable, but factual.

It just is.

But whatever classes I teach, I want to know that I can remove students who are disruptive or blatantly defiant.  Do I really need to explain or justify why it has to be that way?  Or can we just accept it as clearly as we accept breathing air and gravity?  Because anyone who isn't convinced of the veracity of the statement a priori probably isn't going to change his or her mind; we would call such a person a "true believer" in whatever failed ideology or pedagogy to which they cling.

There are things my teachers did to me and/or my classmates that were considered eminently reasonable then but border on child abuse and lawsuits today.  That we can't do so many of those things today is, in some cases, probably a good thing, but in other cases all that's happened is that teachers' hands have been tied and students allowed to run a bit more wild.

And it's going to get worse as this trend picks up steam:
One reason for the suspension, according to Hernandez, was what’s commonly referred to as “willful defiance.” One of many justifications California teachers can invoke to banish wayward students from classrooms, the practice has drawn scrutiny from educators, civil rights advocates and legislators who say it is overused.

Adding to the growing backlash is a resuscitated Assembly Bill 420, by Assemblyman Roger Dickinson, D-Sacramento, that would ban expulsions based on willful defiance and prohibit willful defiance suspensions for the youngest California students, those in kindergarten through third grade...

California’s education code lists dozens of reasons to suspend or expel students. Among them are instances where a student “disrupted school activities or otherwise willfully defied the valid authority” of teachers and administrators. Statistics from the state’s Department of Education show that willful defiance was listed as a reason in 43 percent of the 609,776 suspensions handed down in the 2012-13 academic year.

That isn’t to say it is the sole factor spurring those suspensions. Administrators often list willful defiance as one in a universe of related infractions. Hernandez’s principal said the student was punished only after a pattern of misbehavior that administrators tried unsuccessfully to correct. Principal Bruce Bivins refrained from getting into specifics but said the case was more complex than a student talking back to a teacher...
Of course, racial disparity is the reason given for watering down the issue of willful defiance.  And from there we go on to "institutionalized racism" or "unconscious bias".  Isn't it more likely that a teacher would have a conscious bias against crappy behavior rather than a mythical bias against people because of their skin color?  NEA and AFT, are your unions really so full of bigots?

Turns out the unions, left-wing and progressive as they are, aren't too ready to kick their members' hornet nest to score some liberal bona fides:
California’s two teachers’ unions, the California Teachers Association and the California Federation of Teachers, have adopted neutral positions on Dickinson’s bill.

“We share with the author of the bill a concern that in some school districts there may be patterns of disparate treatment of certain students, and such practices must end wherever they exist,” said Fred Glass, a spokesman for the teachers federation, but “the teacher has a responsibility for the education of all her students, and if one student consistently prevents students from learning, there has to be a remedy available.”
I'll agree that you can't fix the problem until you identify the underlying cause.  The difficulty, though, is that those who push these silly so-called fixes refuse to admit, or even to consider, what is obviously the underlying cause, and that cause is a culture amongst certain groups in this country, a culture in which people don't value education, don't respect authority, and don't consider anyone other than oneself.

You want to see that culture in action?  Turn on the news in the morning and watch the prior evening's events in Ferguson, MO.

Cost of College Textbooks

Next Monday begins my next master's level course, linear optimization.  Of course I had to purchase the textbook.

Turns out that the textbook was written by my instructor--at least I know it'll be referenced in class!  I received it today:  more of a spiral-bound notebook than a textbook, and only 163 pages.

The cost?  Under $30, including UPS delivery.  I am not complaining!

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Excitement In Class Today

A hummingbird flew into class today.

Kinda made me realize why humans are apex predators, as that hummingbird wasn't so bright.  It couldn't find its way outside!  Even when we turned off the lights and closed the curtains, it couldn't find its way to the door.  It would fly in the general vicinity but it wouldn't drop low and go out the door.

It stayed in the room for about an hour.  Once in awhile it would land on something up near the ceiling, but only for a moment or so.  Then it would be flying and squeaking again. 

And trying to feed from the motion detector probably didn't yield the best meal.

When class ended I closed and locked the door and went to the staff lounge.  When I came back for the next period the bird had given up; it was on the floor, too tired to fly anymore.  It even hid under a shelf!  I don't know my students' names yet, but one girl went over and gently picked it up--it was too tired to resist.  She took it outside and placed it well into a planted area where it would be safe until it rested enough to fly again.

All in all it was a fun experience, certainly better than when a full-sized bird or a wasp flies in.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Problems Like This Were Entirely Predictable, and Predicted

And even then, situations like this arise:
When 13-year-old Rachel Pepe returns to her New Jersey middle school after summer break this year, it will be her first time attending school as a girl — something Rachel’s mom, Angela Peters, says is causing a dustup with school administrators.

"He was going to school last year as Brian," Peters, who could not be reached by Yahoo Health, told the Asbury Park Press. She added that her child had developed stress-related seizures, depression, and panic attacks, explaining, “She would get off the bus and just cry. Then she would go to sleep for 17 or 20 hours and refuse to go back there.”

Now, Peters claims, since informing Thorne Middle School in Port Monmouth, New Jersey, about Rachel’s transition, school officials told her that Rachel had to return in September as Brian or not return at all. And while Peters offered up the option of Rachel using the nurse’s bathroom instead of the girls’ bathroom, she claims that that request was denied and Rachel would be forced to use boys’ bathroom if she attended school. In the interview with the newspaper, Peters also said she was told that Rachel’s presence would upset the school’s boy-girl ratio and that standardized tests would require her to use her legal name and gender.

As a result, Peters is asking for monetary aid from the Middletown Township Public School District in order to send Rachel to an alternative private school more prepared to deal with transgender issues...
Who's right--the kid and mom? the district? both? neither? Heck if I know.

The "boy-girl ratio" excuse sounds like complete and total crap to me, though.

Best Star Trek Movie EVER

First, read the background to this new CBS-approved, crowdfunded fan movie:
The third installment in the recently rebooted Star Trek movie franchise hasn’t shot a frame of film yet, but work is well underway on another Trek feature, made possible by the enthusiasm (and funds) of dedicated Trekkies. Star Trek: Axana (sic) is the brainchild of writer/producer/star/fanboy Alec Peters. The 90-minute, crowdfunded production (due out in 2015) will at long last, reveal the full story behind the pivotal Battle of Axanar, an event initially referenced in a season 3 episode of the original series, “Whom Gods Destroy.”

As non-Abrams, non-Vulcan-goes-kablooey continuity goes, the planet Axanar served as the battleground for a pivotal clash between the Federation and the Klingons. It was here that Starfleet captain Garth of Izar (played by Peters himself) achieved a victory that served as the inspiration for generations of deep-space cowboys that followed him, including one James T. Kirk. Told through the testimony of several Axanar veterans, as well as recreations of key moments from the battle, the movie is shaping up to be one of the most ambitious fan-made films around.  It’s also one of the few that’s been officially sanctioned by the franchise’s overlords at CBS; Peters has said that he secured permission from the network to move forward, with the understanding that he wouldn’t attempt to profit personally from the production.
Go read the whole thing so you understand what's going on in the 20-minute prelude/teaser:

Don't remember the original series episode Whom Gods Destroy?  Read about it here, and note which character shows up.

Two words:  freakin' awesome.

Yes, Children Should Memorize The Multiplication Tables

I've always thought that it worked something like this, so it's nice to have the fine folks at Stanford backing me up:
When it comes to adding up it's experience that counts, scientists have found.

Research carried out on elementary school-age children has revealed that drilling children on simple addition and multiplication may pay off.

According to the results, as children's brains develop remembering sums helps them add up faster.

'Experience really does matter,' said Dr Kathy Mann Koepke of the National Institutes of Health, which funded the research.

Healthy children start making that switch between counting to what's called fact retrieval when they're eight to nine-years-old, when they're still working on fundamental addition and subtraction.

How well children make that shift to memory-based problem-solving is known to predict their ultimate math achievement.

Those who fall behind 'are impairing or slowing down their math learning later on,' Mann Koepke said...

But that's not the whole story.

Next, Menon's team put 20 adolescents and 20 adults into the MRI machines and gave them the same simple addition problems. It turns out that adults don't use their memory-crunching hippocampus in the same way. Instead of using a lot of effort, retrieving six plus four equals 10 from long-term storage was almost automatic, Menon said.

In other words, over time the brain became increasingly efficient at retrieving facts. Think of it like a bumpy, grassy field, NIH's Mann Koepke explained.

Walk over the same spot enough and a smooth, grass-free path forms, making it easier to get from start to end.

If your brain doesn't have to work as hard on simple maths, it has more working memory free to process the teacher's brand-new lesson on more complex math.

'The study provides new evidence that this experience with math actually changes the hippocampal patterns, or the connections. They become more stable with skill development,' she said.

'So learning your addition and multiplication tables and having them in rote memory helps.'
This seems perfectly reasonable to anyone except extreme fuzzies and certain members of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.  As I've said for years, it's not "drill and kill", it's "drill and skill".

Sunday, August 17, 2014

How We Learn

In some of the courses I've taught I've allowed students to take a note sheet into the final exam.  I'm not convinced that knowing and understanding math is the same thing as memorizing formulas and equations--and let's be honest, a kid who doesn't know any more about a topic than what they wrote on their note sheet isn't going to ace the test anyway.  But that isn't the point of this post.

My rule for the note sheets was that students must write everything; no cutting/pasting, no typing, no photocopying, only writing by hand.  Anyone who can type well knows that you can type something while simultaneously holding a completely unrelated conversation with someone, but it's significantly harder to do that while writing.  Consequently, I developed the belief that there's something at work in the writing process, something that activates the brain, that isn't present in the typing process.  That's why I always required students to write their notes instead of typing them, I've believed it's better for the learning process.

Turns out I might have been on to something:
A study titled The Pen is Mightier Than the Keyboard backs the idea that students learn more when they write in longhand rather than taking notes on a laptop.
The study found that, because the hand can’t possibly keep up with the speaker’s words, the writer must rephrase what was said in his or her own words, which in turn processes the information at a deeper level.
I wonder if that study took shorthand into account. Do schools even teach shorthand anymore? Am I one of the few remaining people who possesses that archaic skill?

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Very Nice Tribute

Sometimes it's cool being a teacher:
When Nancy Flexer opened the door to her classroom near the end of her final school year this past spring, all 41 years of her career as a beloved first-grade teacher in Nashville came to life right in front of her.

With the help of Kid President and the creative group Soul Pancake, Cole Elementary School in Tennessee surprised Flexer with a memorable and emotional retirement party featuring former students of all ages, dating back to the first class she taught in the 1973-74 school year. A video of the event shows an overwhelmed Flexer being moved to tears as she hears former students who are now adults tell her how much she affected their lives.

"I'm one of the luckiest people in this world," Flexer told "I remember I opened the door to the classroom thinking no one was in there, and it was wall-to-wall people and banners and everything. It was the coolest thing that could've ever happened in my life. How many times do we really realize the lives we've touched, the manner in which we've touched them, and that these are memories that stay with them for life?"

Worse Than I Thought

That first week back to work clearly took more out of me than I'd thought.

After work several of us went to a nearby watering hole for "7th period", and then I came home.  I could barely stay awake as I read the most recent issue of The Economist, and by 9 the eyes wouldn't stay open.

I guess I have a rough life :-)

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Who Gets The Role

Two years ago this was me, your intrepid blogger, in front of part of what's left of a 1700-year-old statue of the Roman emperor Constantine I (the Great).

Look at his eyes and tell me what actor should get the role when his bio pic is made!

First Day With Students

It went rather smoothly, truth be told.

I spent hours trying to utilize some of the features of our student information system, but in the end those hours were wasted.  I went back to my old web page, which I updated in a matter of minutes instead of wasted hours.  The bad news is that our district is switching vendors and we won't be able to use those web sites any longer after next May--I hope they just migrate them to the new system instead of making us transfer all our links, documents, etc.

My next master's course, discrete optimization, starts in a week.  When it rains, it pours!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014


It may sound weird, but the first day for our students is tomorrow.  I actually like the idea of kids' coming to school for only two days and then having a weekend, it's like dipping your foot into the pool before diving in.

I spend the first two days on introducing myself, my philosophy of teaching, and generally how I run things in class--letting the students know what they can expect.

In the past I've usually just talked.  It's not necessarily a bad thing, especially at the beginning of school when most actually seem to listen and take notes (I teach mostly high achieving students), but I thought that this year I'd make it a little more fun for all of us.  I saw on a colleague's Facebook page that someone suggested using internet memes when discussing classroom rules and the like, and upon reading that I took the ball and ran with it.  This is the site I used, and here are a couple I made:

I made about 2 dozen, covering all sorts of classroom-related topics.

There's Still Some Army In Me

My son was a stereotypical teenage boy.  He didn't move very fast.  If we needed to leave for school I'd have to hustle him along on many mornings.

When he called me on Sunday he said something like, "I know where you got some of your sayings.  I'm already sick of hearing 'move with a purpose!' here."  I'm sure he could hear me smiling through the phone as I said, "See?  See?!"

Some things just never leave you, I guess.  I wonder what other army-isms I still use....

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

CTA Is Envisioning My Dream, Their Nightmare

This cannot happen soon enough for my taste:
Courtesy of Mike Antonucci, we get to peek behind the curtain at an internal California Teachers Association document which has been “declassified.” “Not if, but when: Living in a world without Fair Share…” is a 23-page pdf in which the largest state teachers union in the country envisions the future.

The communiqué starts off with basic demographic data, then launches into a history of “fair share” – the union’s right to collect dues from every public school teacher in the state whether or not they join the union. In other words, “fair share” is really “forced share"...

So it would seem that during National Employee Freedom Week which runs through this Saturday, there is cause for optimism. A recent poll conducted by Google Consumer Surveys found that nearly 29 percent of union members nationwide responded that they were interested in leaving their union if given the opportunity. A similar poll found that nearly 83 percent of the American public believes that union members should have the right to choose.

As such, maybe one day soon we will see that, unlike the Hotel California, union members can check out and leave their union behind.
Who wrote this?
Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues.
CTEN's web site is here.

Robin Williams

I'm probably going to catch hate-mail for this one.

Are people really so saddened by his death?  All these tributes and RIP's and things--how many of these people said his name or even thought about him once in the last year?  I mean, I loved Mork and Mindy as much as the next guy, but so much of reading today seems over the top.

I've always wondered this, wondered if I were somehow the only person missing this mass-empathy gene, when the morning radio talk show hosts started discussing the same thing.  For the first time I realized I'm not the only one who feels this way.

Of course I'm not saying we should celebrate his death or anything, but all this wailing and gnashing of teeth?  Readers of this blog know I'm a Star Trek fan, and when Shatner goes, I'm sure I'll think something like, "There goes the Captain.  That sucks."  And that'll be the end of it.  When Queen Elizabeth goes, it will probably slightly bum me out for a few hours.  I'll be sad watching her family mourn at her funeral.  And that'll be it.

And those are two people about whom I've thought and talked a lot about in life. 

I don't understand all this garment-rending.  It's not that I'm insensitive (I don't think!) but I just don't understand how anyone could get that worked up over a person with whom they have no immediate connection.


Painfully Ineffective

Some of the training we had today was far less effective than it could have been.

It's not that the idea was bad; in fact, it was what our faculty had asked for at the end of last school year. We wanted some practical training on the software we are supposed to use. I think all of us had used our student information system before so the lion's share of our training today was to be on Schoology (skoo-ology), a "content delivery" software. You can put links, put assignments, have students turn in assignments, have online components of assignments, have social media-like discussion fora/forums, etc, on Schoology. It's the new best thing.

To give us an overview, two large-screen tv's were set up in our library. A Schoology person was on video from New York, giving an overview of the functionality of the software; his picture took up a small window at the top of the tv while he pointed out things on the Schoology web site with a Madden-like telestrator. At least, that was how it was supposed to work out.

Before the meeting they'd set everything up and tested it. When it came time for the meeting, though, it all fell apart.

It took several long minutes to figure out why our two screens were blank--no demonstrator, no view of the web site. Black screens. Also, the audio on the tv's was somehow out of synch, so no one could understand anything until one of the tv audios was unplugged. That made it hard to watch one tv and listen to the other (try it some time, it's disconcerting), and turning up the volume on the remaining tv such that the people in the back of the library could hear meant the listening quality wasn't optimal. But somehow we muddled through it.

In the afternoon we had part two. We were split into two groups so that one group at a time could fit into one of our computer labs--the smaller venue would make it easier to hear the upturned volume on only one tv. We also had two district tech services people with us, only to find out later they were actually "teachers on special assignment". Our New Yorker started his more detailed presentation but after a few minutes I interrupted and said, "I can't be the only one who can't understand a word he's saying, can I?" and the room erupted in agreement. All I was hearing was that nasally "waw waw waw" sound from the Peanuts cartoons, others described it as "robot speak" or "underwater". The Tech Services folks then listened to him and tried to translate to us what he was saying based on what they were seeing on the TV. That devolved to silliness and one teacher asked one of our tech services "teachers on special assignment" to just give us her best shot at training. It was her first day on the job but she acquitted herself well.

These technical problems do not bode well for me because this year I will be the coordinator for at least some of the testing that will go on at school, and all of our testing is done online--including the Smarter Balanced assessments, the government-mandated tests supposedly aligned with the Common Core standards.

Who makes Excedrin?  I probably should buy some of their stock.


It's too early. Do I really have to go back to work today?

I want to go back to bed!

Monday, August 11, 2014

Walking The Walk

Ah, the hypocrisy:
“If you’re a person of color hoping to get hired by a political campaign, here’s the ugly truth: You’ll probably get paid less than your white counterparts, if you’re even hired at all. . . . For example, African-American staffers on Democratic campaigns were paid 70 cents for each dollar their white counterparts made. For Hispanic staffers in Democratic campaigns, the figure was 68 cents on the dollar.”

I Go Back To Work Today

Training at the district office today, meetings tomorrow, getting the classroom ready on Wednesday--and kids show up on Thursday.  Already.

This was a pleasant read, something good to keep in mind.  Caring relationships and rapport matter in education.  They just do.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

My First Phone Call

So far I think I've sent one postcard from Alaska as well as two lengthy letters in the 5 days I've been back, and I've received at least 4 short letters from my son in Basic Training.  In the name of efficiency they were addressed to "Dad and Mom" and I was required to turn them over to mom at my earliest convenience :-)

If I understand correctly, they were allowed to take their cell phones with them but are only allowed access to them for 15 min on Sundays.  Today was my day to get the phone call.

He's enjoying Basic.  He describes it at "hell" but I can tell he's enjoying the challenge.  He rattled on about so many things, but the end of the "dad" time allotment came quickly and the call ended as abruptly as it started.

I'm glad he's doing well.  I remember those feelings of accomplishment, doing things I'd never even dreamed of.

When I was in Alaska I picked up two pieces of packaged jerky for him, one with reindeer meat and the other with caribou.  I picked up a small bubble-envelope at Walmart tonight and as soon as I have a letter composed I'll send him one of the jerkies as well as a couple chocolate-peanut butter granola bars.  He says the food is Elephant Bar quality, which I find hard to believe for an army mess, but at least he's not starving! 

He's growing up.

Saturday, August 09, 2014

The Itinerary

Start in Whittier, AK

Hubbard Glacier

Icy Strait Point/Hoonah, AK

Juneau, AK

Tracy Arm/Sawyer Glacier

Skagway, AK

Ketchikan, AK

end in Vancouver, BC

Friday, August 08, 2014


Could I agree with Ryan any more than I already do?

(scroll to 1:23 to get to the point if you don't want to watch the whole video)


I live in view of the Sierra Nevada mountains.  I've lived up against the Rocky Mountains.  I've traveled through the Alps.  I know mountains.

And they seem so big in Alaska.  Everything in nature seems so big there.  And so beautiful.  Nature itself seems so vast.  Majestic is the word that comes to mind.

Water streaming down a mountain.

 That boat is dwarfed.

 About 2 miles from Hubbard Glacier, which would tower over the ship.

Carnival Miracle coming out of Tracy Arm.

 Sawyer Glacier in Tracy Arm.

 An alpine lake above Skagway.

The route of the train out of Skagway.