Thursday, December 29, 2005

Comments on Clearwater Beach

Beautiful views here. With the Outback Bowl being played across the bay in Tampa in a few days, the college hotties are out in force! Oh, and the beach is spectacular. The sand is like powdered silk, not gritty at all. I'm bringing some back home :-)

I'll post some pictures when I get home.

One thing I'll say that surprised me--there sure are a lot of Confederate flags for sale on towels, boogie boards, etc here. I don't have a problem with that, just that it surprised me to see that flag so frequently.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

No More Blogging Today

I'm off to Florida in a few hours to attend a Coins In The Classroom conference put on by the American Numismatic Association. Anyone can use coins to teach history, geography, even language, but algebra and trigonometry? I'm curious :-) Even I have found only two direct applications of Algebra 1 skills to coins, and I've put a lot of thought into this over the years.

Anyone want to know what they are? OK, I'll tell you.

1. Subtracting negative numbers (How old is this coin minted circa 240 BC?)

2. 2-step algebraic equation (What year was this Saudi coin minted, given that they use the 356-day-long year of the AH calendar instead of the AD calendar?)

I'm open to other ideas, and if I learn any at this conference I'll be sure to pass them on.

Math Professor Solves Decades-Old Problem

Interesting article. I wonder if there was a mistake--did he really solve it in only 120 words? My favorite part of the entire article is this quote:

"Philosophically, the reason research in math matters is that by pursuing math ideas that are deep and interesting for their own sake, you will get real-world applications in the future," Hofmann said.

"It is like making investments."

When I decide to indulge my students when they whine, "When are we ever gonna have to use this?", sometimes I point to my "When are we ever gonna have to use this" poster which lists dozens of jobs and the math knowledge necessary for those jobs. Other times I tell them about the laser--a device that had no practical application when it was invented in the 50s but now allows us to correct eyesight and listen to music.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Library Liar Loses Libido

By now you've heard the story.

College students requests a book by Mao. College student reports being visited by agents of the Department of Homeland Security, who tell him that the book is on a watchlist of some sort. Newspapers pick up the story and report it mucho pronto without bothering to check any facts. College student's story has so many holes in it that it falls apart.

When confronted with the evidence, college student admits he made the whole thing up--and cries.

Here are some great articles on the topic: (comments 5 and 9 especially)

First there was fake hate crimes on campuses (done in order to draw attention to hate crimes on campuses), and now this. It must really tick off the left that reality doesn't live up to their paranoia.

My Kidnappers Are Not Criminals

This is worse than Stockholm Syndrome.

Another Reason Not To "Appreciate" The UN

NEW YORK, Dec. 23 (UPI) -- Up to about a third of the $590 million U.N. fund spent for the Indian Ocean tsunami relief may have gone to pay for overhead.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

All You Socialists Out There...

Read this about France's titanic debt. This is what you want for America? If not, how do you expect the government (read, the citizens) to pay for all the social programs you want while at the same time avoiding the European problem, as modeled here by France?

Another Collection of Links

This first piece is a lefty whine-fest about not doing enough to take care of the poor: Why won't Americans sacrifice a little for a just society? Well, I don't know. Let's ask the darlings of the left, those sexy socialists of the Champs Elysee, the French?! Oh, given their recent riots, maybe not.

Tying right in, a prominent leftie is tired of living in the bluest of the blue areas of the country, the Bay Area of Northern California. Why? It's too expensive! Go read about the tears being shed for him.

And gets two links today. The first discusses how 2005 ranks in terms of bad years for Presidents. The second is about the NY transit workers' strike, and the bankruptcy (both moral and financial) of their union. Did you know that the average transit worker in New York makes more money than I do? Granted, New York City is an expensive place to live, but how many of them live in the city anyway? How many of them have college degrees? How many of them do something besides drive around in circles all day? Hmmmm.

I've got plenty of original posts in the pipeline, for those of you who come here to read my, shall we say, unique take on things. But with the son at mom's now and dad's having several dozen quizzes to grade, now isn't the time for writing my own. Enjoy the remainder of your Christmas day!

And thank you for coming here to RightOnTheLeftCoast. I appreciate your visits.

Merry Christmas... all my readers!

Saturday, December 24, 2005

CTA Rebate Check

I got my CTA rebate check today along with a letter outlining the percentages of dues refunded to me. These percentages astound; I'll quote the first few lines of the letter:

Enclosed is our check representing the rebate of 2005-06 agency fees not related to collective bargaining and employment conditions.

As noted in our prior letter, the rebate percentages are:


In addition, 100% of the temporary CTA $60 dues increase for 2005-06, (sic) has been included in the rebate. (boldface in original)

So what they're saying is that that NEA spends 49% of its money on expenses not related to collective bargaining and employment conditions, and CTA and my local union each spend over a third of their money on such expenses. Understanding that the union rags (which I will no longer receive) contribute a small part to such expenses, I'm still amazed at how much they're spending on things not directly related to Darren's pay and working conditions.

As it stands right now, there's only one political issue that I can think of that NEA and CTA should be spending money on--and that's because it relates directly to my pay and working conditions. Any efforts they expend on repealing the Windfall Elimination Provision in Social Security law are reasonable to me. But somehow I don't think NEA is spending 49% of its money on that. They're too busy trying to fight the No Child Left Behind Act while simultaneously hiding behind "the children" the law actually helps. I've identified before the odd issues on which the unions have spent money. John Kerry for President, anyone?

You members of those unions, look at the figures above. If you think you're getting your political money's worth from those unions, look how much of *your* money they're spending. Roughly 40% of your dues money is going into the hands of politicians and lobbyists, much of it for things (gay marriage, for example, which I support but don't want my money spent promoting) completely unrelated to your pay and working conditions.

On a related note, I encourage all NEA members to go here and read EIA's report on the NEA. It's well-researched and quite illuminating.

Joe Thomas, are you out there? Can you defend these figures?

Friday, December 23, 2005

Mini Blogger-Con

Met up with a fellow California edublogger today, Polski of Polski3's View From Here. He and his family are in the Capital City visiting relatives and we chatted for a couple hours. His sons played with my sons-well, my son and our dog--and all had an enjoyable time.

It's always nice to put a face to a name. Polski, thanks for coming over! And let's work on that California Edublogger lunch for next summer. Maybe we can get Joanne to pick up the tab, now that she's rolling in riches from her book!

Religious Jokes

I think I mentioned it before, but some of my favorite jokes are religious and racial jokes (Richard Pryor, RIP). That's not because I'm a racist or religionist or any other -ist, but because it's ok to recognize differences, even laugh about them, and not get our panties in a bunch about them.

We opened gifts a little early at my dad's house, and among my gifts was the now-traditional Page-A-Day calendar. I love using those tear-off pages for notes--makes me feel like I'm not wasting paper! Anyway, 2006's is a Jon Stewart calendar (hey Ronnie, isn't it ironic, don't'cha think?). I don't have cable so I seldom get to see Stewart's show, but I know him to be as much a leftie as he is witty! So I turned in the calendar to see what day of the year my birthday falls on (it's Tuesday), and lo and behold the Stewartism for that day is entitled "The Best of Middle East Humor":

A priest, a rabbi, and an imam walk into a bar. All are offended by what they see.

If that doesn't have you on the floor in stitches, well--well, something bad!

For my favorite religious joke of all time, see this post.

AP Courses

Joanne (see blogroll at left) links to a story stating that the College Board will soon expect high school teachers of AP (advanced placement) courses to prove that they are offering college-level work. Apparently there are concerns that too many students are being offered AP courses that are AP in name only--their content has been watered down. According to the article she linked to:

Teachers and administrators will have to perform annual self-audits and submit
materials, including syllabi, to the College Board.

I think filling in a matrix showing how many people take a class, how many take the AP exam, and what scores they get should be sufficient. But at my school, parents have been pushing to "grant greater access" to AP courses. If you have more "not quite AP" students taking the classes you'd expect lower grades on the AP exam. But that could look to the College Board that you're watering down the curriculum.

But self-audits and syllabi? Those seem fairly easy to fudge as well. What's the solution for ensuring that AP courses, for which students can get college credit, are genuinely rigorous?

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Of Dress Codes and Kilts

I'm usually a big fan of dress codes. Someone needs to teach students what is and is not appropriate public attire, and unlike, say, character education, enforcing a dress code does not require teachers to teach less math or English in order to teach about appropriate clothing. Just send the kid to the office and on we go with sine curves, or diagramming sentences, or whatever.

Yeah, like they diagram sentences in English class anymore.

Anyway, published standards of dress, in accordance with community standards and equitably enforced, strike me as reasonable. However, this story is one of those that is just over the top. The boy wore a kilt to a dance and got sent home? Why? Honestly, I could see if he wore a skirt--that would most likely violate community standards and would probably be intended to be disrespectful towards the event. But a kilt? He even wore a shirt and tie with it!

The whole "demonstrating disrespect for all Scots" argument against the principal is weak. I'm so sick of this multi-culti crap. Hell, I'm part Scot and if the principal thinks a kilt makes the kid look like a clown, I'm not going to take personal umbrage. The question is not whether the principal thinks a kilt makes a boy look like a clown, it's whether or not he can and should reasonably deny boys the option of wearing a kilt.

At my school we have a club--Caledonian Club, perhaps? I forget the name--and the boys wear kilts on Fridays. It's not as common this year as last, but I still think it's great. Harmless. Fun. Respectful. And yes, I hope they're wearing something under it.

Update, 1/10/06 7:39 pm: situation resolved.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Carnival of Education

These collections of education posts have been occurring for almost a year now and I don't know if I've linked to even one of them. My mistake--I should have been. Here's the most recent, guest hosted for EducationWonks (see blogroll at left).

Governor Schwarzenegger Finally Gets Someone To Suck Up To Him

The governor has taken a beating lately, politically speaking. Yeah, like any of you girlie men (or women) could give him a real beating! Anyway, the folks in his hometown of Graz, Austria, wanted to pile on a bit. He gave it right back to them--and now has the mayor of Graz kissing his butt.

(all the links should be registration-free)

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Interesting Links

This article tells about a woman forced to resign from UC Davis--yet still holds a position there that pays $205,000. Just so you know, I'd have to work for 4 years to make the money that she makes by not working for 1 year. Talk about a sweetheart deal. Oh, did I mention that she had threatened to sue for discrimination (guess what kind!), but has dropped the threat because of the sinecure? (free registration may be required)

In this post, Joanne (see blogroll at left) talks about one school district's novel idea for retaining teachers by helping them afford housing. Yes, it's in the expensive Silicon Valley.

Kimberly at Number 2 Pencil (see blogroll at left) gets two links today. In the first one she mentions His Mighty Rotundness, Reg Weaver, Grand High Poobah of the National Education Association (of which I am no longer a member), who thinks schools should focus more on inputs (class size, technology, certified teachers) than outputs (student achievement, test scores). The second post shows the perils of being too honest on a personal blog.

Hope you find these postings as interesting as I have. Now my son and I are off to exchange a clock I bought as a gift (the backlight doesn't work) and get some lunch. Have a nice afternoon--I sure will!

Update, 12/21 4:12 pm: We went to Reno for the night instead. Does it get any better than Circus Circus for kids?

Monday, December 19, 2005

At Least He Didn't Kill His Teachers, Part Two

Way to go, mom.

An elementary school teacher whose 11-year-old son twice brought a loaded handgun to school faces felony child endangerment charges.

Linnea C. Holdren, 43, and her son were both suspended from Hunlock Creek Elementary School, and the boy faces an expulsion hearing later this month, officials said.

According to a police affidavit, Holdren told officers who offered to give her a gun lock: "I can't lock up his guns. They belong to him, and he has a right to use them whenever he wants to use them."

Evaluating the "Disposition" Of Prospective Teachers

The Fordham Foundation has more on the disturbing trend at ed schools of evaluating the so-called "disposition" of teacher candidates.

Let's be clear on the goal here: to weed out people of a conservative bent. Someone doesn't believe that all cultures are equally worthy? Outta there. Someone doesn't support affirmative action or believe in "white privilege" or thinks Stanley Williams should have been executed? Doesn't have the proper disposition to be a teacher.

The entire essay is a good one. Here's the summary:

The standards of the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Excellence (NCATE) are of critical import for America's future teaching corps and for K-12 education in general and will wield disproportionate influence for decades to come. Over the past fifteen years, 25 states have outsourced the approval of teacher preparation programs to NCATE by adopting or adapting its standards as their own; the other 25 have various "partnerships" with the organization. Which makes it all the more disturbing that central to these standards is the call for teachers to possess certain "dispositions" such as particular attitudes toward "social justice." As Professor William Damon of Stanford University explains in Fordham's latest Fwd: Arresting Insights in Education, NCATE's framing of the "dispositions" issue has given education schools "unbounded power over what candidates may think and do." This is leading to (understandable) charges of ideological arm-twisting and Orwellian mind-control. A must-read for state policy makers and others, who might reconsider whether being accredited by NCATE is evidence of quality or something far more sinister.

Here are some important points.

The only protection against the risks of such manipulation is to set limits on the standards of assessment that are used to evaluate teaching candidates. Principles for doing so include:

  1. It is acceptable to assess skills, knowledge, and understandings that are imparted in training and derive from the established knowledge base of education. For example, an aspiring math teacher needs to know math and have the skill to communicate it to novices, all of which can be learned and tested. Such knowledge and skill may be examined.
  2. It is not acceptable to assess particular attitudes and beliefs related to social/political ideologies. For example, a candidate’s belief systems regarding economic redistribution, the politics of multi-culturalism, the implications of religious faith and its expression, whom we should vote for in the next election, or even whether all our national wildernesses should be turned into golf courses, are none of an assessor’s business. General beliefs directly related to the candidate’s capacity and motivation to teach are appropriate to examine: for example, Teach for America quite reasonably questions its candidates about whether or not they truly believe that all children can learn. But when such questioning wanders into the realm of social/political ideology, it is out of bounds.
  3. It is acceptable to assess personal characteristics that are essential to the job of teaching, including character virtues such as honesty, responsibility, and diligence. Assessments of such should be based on definitive behavioral evidence of the presence or lack of the virtue in question. For example, if the candidate has demonstrated a predilection towards dishonesty by plagiarizing his or her own assignments and lying about it, this would be a legitimate part of the candidate’s assessment record.
  4. It is not acceptable to assess personal characteristics that have only a speculative relationship with teaching ability. For example, some candidates are temperamentally shy while others are gregarious, and likely a case could be made for the advantages of one or the other in classrooms or tutorials with students. But (as far as I know) there is no evidence to support such claims, and therefore there is no valid reason to discriminate among candidates on this basis. Where personal characteristics are concerned, only those that affect job performance and ethical comportment in a direct and unequivocal way should be considered, and objective evidence of the characteristics in question must be used.

This seems eminently reasonable to me.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Media Bias

There's a new study out from UCLA, and with only a few surprises, it shows what conservatives have been saying for years--there's a definite liberal bias in mainstream news media.

The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer comes out as most balanced. I'm not surprised.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

"Peaceful" Vigil At Stanley's Execution

I haven't addressed Stanley's death on this blog, and I'd rather not now. But here's a link to one man's story about the protests. Granola-eating tree-hugging fascists will not like his take. Remember my story about how the peaceful lefties treated me at the Day of Action Rally in May. I'm reminded of this quote.

I'm not so worried about linking to the foul language as much as I am about linking to a picture of one of Stanley's victims, who had been shotgunned in the face.

Thanks to the student who emailed me the link.

More From The Union Bosses

The fine, upstanding citizens that head major public employee unions are now threatening the California Chamber of Commerce because of its support of Prop 75, the "Paycheck Protection Initiative" that lost 53-47 last month. Apparently, the peace-loving union bosses believe that extorted money is their birthright. If they truly thought their political ideals were so wonderful that all union members would support them, they'd have nothing to fear from having to get members' permission to use dues money for political purposes. Even better, they'd stop spending dues money on political purposes at all (except those directly related to pay and working conditions) and would set up a fund into which union members could voluntarily contribute.

Insane idea, I know.

Two Christmases

I have several readers who have let me know that they are devout Christians. I count myself as a believer, although admittedly not the best Christian in practice. But neither of these facts shields the "Christmas Police" from my taking a swipe at them.

Here's my take on Christmas:

Everything Linus said in A Charlie Brown Christmas is true. It's also incomplete. Just as the Catholic Church co-opted a pagan solstice holiday and established Christmas in December (when weather conditions mentioned in the Gospels would indicate Spring), so has a secular holiday risen around the religious one. The religious holiday is the celebration of the birth of the Messiah and is represented by manger-scene animals, a bright star, angels, trumpets, etc. The secular holiday and its traditions are drawn from the religious (today's gifts deriving from the gifts of the Three Wise Men from the East), but the symbology of a decorated evergreen tree, snowmen, and a fat guy who lives at the North Pole are about as far from the religious as one can get. Accordingly, when I brought Christmas decorations with which to decorate our faculty lounge, I brought only decorations of the secular variety--didn't want to create any turmoil amongst people who sometimes seem to have nothing better to do than to complain about something.

There are two Christmases, one religious and the other secular.

To picket outside Wal*Mart because they don't mention the word Christmas in their advertisements doesn't sound to me like something Jesus would do. He didn't try to force himself or his beliefs on people; in fact, he let people come to him. To complain about the White House's Christmas card, which didn't use the word 'Christmas' but did have a quote from the Book of Isaiah that took up about a third of a page of the card, is more than a little penny-ante.

Don't force your religion on others. Don't force your religious practices and observances on others. In fact, practice your religion in a closet (Matthew 6:6). To do otherwise is reminiscent of the Pharisees, and we aren't supposed to think too highly of the Pharisees.

Now do not take my words above and then, with a note of triumphalism, ask how I can sanction government recognition of anything religious. I see no reason why government has to pretend that religion doesn't exist. We have Eid al-Fitr, Hannukah, and Christmas stamps, for instance, and fortunately there aren't throngs screaming about those. There is nothing contradictory about what was written above and what I said in this post. Having to view a lighted angel in a city park is not having someone's religion forced on you in the way that being accosted outside Wal*Mart by picketers is.

What prompted this post? This story. Wal*Mart just can't please anyone. First it was the teachers unions (on the left), now its the Christian zealots (on the right).

More Class Acts From Teacher's Union Members

Via EIA (see blogroll at left) comes this story about a cantankerous school board meeting in cheerful Oakland, California. You can get the tone of the op-ed piece from these two excerpts:

We want to respect our teachers and support them. But when they use such juvenile tactics, it is hard to take them seriously.

It's time for the leaders of the teachers union to grow up, tone down the theatrics and work with the administration to find the best solutions to the myriad problems facing the district.

Well, teachers? If we're going to act like a blue collar rabble, we should expect to be treated like a blue collar rabble. Want to be treated like professionals? At least act the part.

At Least He Didn't Kill His Teachers, Too,2933,179024,00.html

He killed his dad because he was afraid dad would find out about his bad grades.

CTA, What A Class Act

I just received a packet from the American Arbitration Association, informing me that they will be the arbiters for CTA's determination of exactly how much of my union dues should be returned to me as not being directly related to collective bargaining and representation--in other words, how much money CTA spent on politics and other things. Of course, not being a lawyer and not speaking lawyerese, I have no idea what information is contained in this packet or how I'm supposed to use it.

I've been able to determine that there will be some hearings that I can attend in which CTA will present its best case for keeping as much of my money as possible. I've heard war stories about these hearings--how CTA does its best to obfuscate, how only attorneys can understand what they're talking about and how CTA is represented by several staff attorneys while I will not be, how they don't fully open their books, etc. Oh, and CTA pays the arbiters. Think they'll choose (and pay) the same arbiters next year if things don't go their way?

Here are the dates of the arbitration hearings:

January 23-24, 10 am, CTA offices in Burlingame (SF Bay Area)
January 25-26, 30-31, Feb 1-2, 10 am, CTA Community Outreach Center in Los Angeles
February 6-9, 10 am, CTA offices in Burlingame

Do I have to attend all such hearings, all hearings in one location, or just one day of hearings? Any guesses what days of the week these hearings will be held on? (Check your calendars, but don't be surprised). I guess I'm supposed to take "personal necessity time" off of school to drive 3 hrs to be strong-armed by some union attorneys on their own turf.

What a class act. I'm more disgusted than surprised. And if anyone's gone through this or has knowledge of what goes on (EIA, I'm counting on you here!), please leave comments.

Lawsuit against UC

Sparked by a former California congressman who felt victimized, a class-action lawsuit was filed Wednesday in Yolo County challenging a state law that allows undocumented immigrants to pay resident tuition fees at public colleges.

The actual problem behind this lawsuit is that illegal immigrants can pay resident tuition fees while out-of-state students, genuine red-blooded American citizens, pay out-of-state tuition, which is significantly higher.

Here again, we're asking the courts to play the role of the legislature. I'll grant that out-of-staters can have a legitimate beef about having to pay a higher tuition than someone who lives in the state illegally, but is it against the law for the legislature to create this situation? Yes, it's against federal law for the people to be here, but must it be against state law for them to go to school, or to pay in-state tuition?

Suits against the state shouldn't be for issues that are unfair, they should be for issues that are unlawful. Some things that are unfair are also unlawful, violating equal protection laws or due process or First Amendment rights, etc. But I doubt that in-state and out-of-state tuition is an unlawful concept, and since the legislature created it, shouldn't the legislature be able to identify who pays one amount and who pays another?

I'm counting on my readers to help me make up my mind on this, but I'm actually leaning towards the legislature on this one. This is an area that is clearly in the legal realm of the legislature to direct, and it has done so. Is there a legal argument here, or just a fairness argument? If it's just fairness, I'm sticking with the current law.

Environmentalism I Can Get Behind

Yes, the crazies in San Francisco are at it again. But at least this idea is relatively benign. In fact, given the cramped quarters in that particular city, it might be a pretty good idea.

Actually, I did something similar once. When I bought my first condominium, rather than putting up a cut or a fake tree I bought a pine tree in a 5-gallon bucket and brought it home. I transfered it to a nice large pot, decorated it a bit, and it served as my Christmas tree that year. After Christmas I moved the pot out onto my patio/deck, where the tree stayed and grew, ever so slightly, for the next couple years.

When I moved I brought the tree with me. However, I didn't have anywhere to plant it and my dad's backyard looked like it needed a tree in one spot. Problem solved. When we pulled the tree out of the pot I realized why the tree hadn't grown so much--there was no more room in there for the roots to spread. It was like there was this thin coating of dirt over a mass of roots.

We planted the tree in 1997. It grew quickly, and now it's well over 20 feet tall now. All indications are that it's very happy in its new home.

Update: The link above no longer works. Try this one.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Thank-You Notes

It's that time of year again. As I've told you before, I teach in a rather upscale area, and it's not uncommon at my school for teachers to get an almost-obscene number of cards and gifts. I'm sure everyone accepts them with an overabundance of genuine gratitude and humility. I certainly do.

I don't know about other teachers--and I certainly don't ask!--but I always write thank you cards and bring them to school the first day after Christmas Break ends. Yes, I take note of each gift I receive and write each student a thank you card. I do give the cards to students during class, when everyone's working independently, but I certainly don't make a major production of it. In fact, I do it in as unassuming a manner as possible, at least as unassuming as one can be whilst walking around a classroom giving envelopes to certain students.

In years past the response to such cards has been interesting. Students seem surprised to get them. Is this a lost art? Am I violating some taboo or something? I don't know. But I do it, and I'll continue to do it. Gratitude is nice, but recognizing generosity is even better.

I didn't always do this. My parents always taught me to say "thank you", of course, but it was West Point that instilled in me the necessity of sending thank you notes. We were taught to do so, and even taught a format for writing such notes! It sounds very clinical but the results speak for themselves. Students seem genuinely pleased to be recognized personally this way. And maybe I'm teaching them something besides math as well. What do they call that in ed school, "modeling appropriate behavior"?

Yes, I know that it was probably the parents who bought and/or wrapped the gifts, but it was the students who gave them to me. They're the ones whose names are on the cards, and they're the ones I address the thank-you cards to.

I received a Christmas card from a student today. There was a personal note in it. Tucked in between "Happy Santa Day" and "Have a great break" was the comment, "You are such an awesome teacher...." Is there anything more a teacher could ask for than the appreciation of his students? What better gift could I hope to receive?

12/15/1791 Bill of Rights Ratified

The Bill of Rights is one of the most important, and yet most misunderstood, sections of American law today. To me the words are crystal clear, yet time (and some strange legal and mental gymnastics) have created coal where the diamond used to be. Yes, I exaggerate some there, for the Bill of Rights is still of such preeminent worth, still of such beauty, that's it's worth killing for and dying for, if need be.

The Bill of Rights represents what is good in America.

Once a year I read the entire Constitution, just to "recenter" myself, so to speak, to restore my faith in our republican form of government. It doesn't take too long--I highly recommend it. If you can't spare the time to read the founding document of our nation, which can be found here, try reading just the Bill of Rights, found here. Read only what's written, not what you think or know to be the case today, and marvel at the clarity.

Then read this article, which I don't entirely agree with, but I link to here just to give credit to a journalist who knows a (very) little history about the Bill of Rights.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Have You Heard Of The Barrett Report?

Me either.

By all accounts, the 400-page Barrett report is a bombshell, capable possibly of wiping out Hillary Rodham Clinton's presidential prospects. At the very least, it would bring to public attention a scandal that would make the Valerie Plame affair vanish into comical insignificance.

Read about it here.

Solar Power in California? Who'd'a Thunk It?

There's so much sunlight here in California. Not as much in foggy San Francisco as there is here in the Central Valley, where we probably get over 300 days of sun a year, but plenty of sunlight falls on this state. In fact, plenty of sunlight falls on most of the states in the far west, at least those below the 45th parallel.

Solar cells? Solar panels? I know the technology isn't very mature, but how much more mature is it than it was 20 years ago? Have we progressed far in 20 years? I'm thinking "no". There is a definite chicken-or-egg issue here, just like with Governor Arnold's hydrogen fuel cell car initiative--there aren't solar panels everywhere because they're expensive to make, and because they're expensive to make no one installs them. What we need is something to jumpstart the solar panel industry, get economies of scale going that would significantly reduce the difficulties (and hence cost) of producing these items. Make 'em cheap, and you create a market for them.

This is one area where I can see government influence actually being of benefit. I hope that this story isn't just a flash in the pan.

Update, 12/19 9:41 am: Can I call them or what?

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Collaboration Time

Our district tried something this year that, on its surface, sounds pretty smart. We added several minutes of instructional time to four school days a week and the students leave 75 minutes early one day a week. That remaining 75 minutes (it was all done within the limits of our contract, no legal issues there) was designated as "collaboration time", a time for teachers to "collaborate." You know, because we need to "collaborate."

What are we supposed to do during this collaboration time? No one is quite sure. And it's been, in the words of an officer I knew at West Point, a goatscrew.

Like I said, it sounds like a good idea. Teachers in other countries have plenty of time during their working days to collaborate amongst themselves. We've clamored for such time, and here it was, given to us. And the first thing we did at my site was start complaining about it.

It's been screwed up at all levels. The district mandated certain "cans" and "cannots" as far as spending this time went. As that made its way down to our school site, more structure was imposed on this time. Two days a month this time is set aside for academic departments to collaborate, and two days a month is allocated to schoolwide stuff.

My department isn't the most--how shall I put it delicately--"collaboration ready" group on the planet. Many of our teachers still subscribe to the "anything I want to do when the door is closed" mentality, and few acknowledge that the state standards, adopted by our district years ago, should have any bearing at all on their teaching. As a result, we have a hard time agreeing what direction to take when, for instance, we're requested to develop common assessments--every Geometry class takes the same test for Chapter 2 or the same final exam, for instance. It gets worse the higher up we go in classes, when some want a "common assessment" to cover material that they themselves teach but that is not part of the standards, "But it should be!"

We also have several teachers in our department who teach in other departments, so they aren't always available to collaborate with us during collaboration time! How are we supposed to collaborate?

I think what's happened here is that the district wanted to give us time but wanted to make sure we weren't wasting it, so they stuck some requirements on us. Same with my school administration. By the time it got to us teachers, it appeared to be a mandate that "you will work together and accomplish something, anything, good." I don't think you can compel people to work collaboratively, and neither can you expect people who aren't ready to collaborate to be pleased when they are in fact compelled to.

And I was just hoping to have some time to meet with others to learn more effective ways to teach the Ambiguous Case of the Law of Sines, for example. Or complex numbers in polar form. Or any other of the topics that my students struggle with each year. I was working on the assumption that perhaps my own instruction could be improved if I had time available to discuss these things with other teachers. But I don't. Because when my department gets together, we spend vast quantities of time complaining about standardized testing and state standards and NCLB and other things over which we have no control, and then try to function as a group because that's what we've been instructed to do. I can't just grab another teacher and compare notes on how best to teach the Normal Form of the Equation of a Line.

This week I get to learn how to use PowerPoint. Again. Should I make a slideshow (yes, of course I already know how) explaining my extreme disappointment in the implementation of this so-called collaboration time?

It's more like collab-bore-ation time.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Thick Envelope From CTA

I received a rather thick envelope from CTA today. In it was a not-very-friendly letter acknowledging my status as an agency fee payer, as well as a membership form in case I have a change of heart!

I'll post more about this at a later date but wanted everyone to know that it's official. Fellow California teachers, it's your union, not mine.

My Alma Mater Scores Yet Another Rhodes Scholarship

If you look at the list of schools with the highest numbers of Rhodes Scholarships awarded, one should stand out--the US Military Academy, with a student body between 2000 and 4400 over the last several decades, is high up on the list. It's a distinction the Academy is quite proud of, and I share that pride with the institution.

Go here to read about three stellar cadets--one who recently was awarded a Rhodes, and two others who were awarded Marshalls. Pictures are included in the article.

Congratulations to these three members of the Long Gray Line, and to the institution that prepared them so well for their advanced studies. Our army will be stronger when these men take to the field.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

The Real Lives of Students

I just got home from a Christmas concert at a church about a half an hour from my house. It's the third year in a row that I've been and I have to say that this was the best one yet. The entire first half, before the intermission, was Bach's Magnificat. Bach was amazing--his music is so moving that I have no doubt he could stir emotions in the dead.

I first went two years ago at the invitation of one of my students; her family was heavily involved in the music program at the church, and she was in the choir for the Christmas performance. I enjoyed it so much that when I saw her last year I asked that she let me know when the concert would be. I have her younger sister this year, and one of the first things I said to her this school year was to please make sure I know when the Christmas concert was going to be held. Apparently there's an even younger sibling I get to look forward to having in class in a few years! They have such beautiful voices.

I usually enjoy seeing students outside of school. I don't just mean at a football game or something, because that's a school function. I like seeing them in their own environments, whether that be at their place of work, at the ceremony getting their Eagle Scout awards (I've had more than one), at the mall while shopping, or while performing in a very formal concert. In those environments I'm still Mr. M, but there's much less of the artificial student/teacher wall that is so necessary for the functioning of a school.

When they laugh, it's for real--they're not just laughing at my bad jokes because they think they should. When they smile, the smiles are genuine. It's easier for me to see the person that is the student. And I like that.

It's even better when they come back to visit after going away to college.

The Beatitudes For Educators

For a little combination post consisting of religion and education, go here. It's short, it's funny, and it's satire. Please do not take it seriously.

Update, 8/13/13:  The link above is no longer active.  Try this one.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

The Ultimate War Simulation For The Personal Computer

After all these years, I still love playing Sid Meiers' Gettysburg. If you haven't played it, you should. Perhaps you, too, will make a trek to the actual battlefield after playing the game a few hundred times.

But that's a game about a battle that happened over 140 years ago. Read this post on what a realistic modern-day wargame would look like.

Men's Right To Choose

This post is about abortion.

Full disclosure: at a point in my distant past a woman aborted a child of mine. She didn't tell me about it for 10 years. I still feel the loss.

I don't approve of abortion. Roe v. Wade was wrongly decided, and hopefully will someday take its place next to Plessy v. Ferguson (separate but equal schools) and Bowers v. Hardwick (sexual privacy) as cases that were undone by far superior decisions.

This is not a topic I usually address on this blog, but I've read two articles on the topic recently and thought I'd share them. And I'm going to share them because our current laws regarding abortion, a woman's so-called right to choose, and support for children remain among the last overtly biased laws on our nation's books. They're clearly biased against men.

I'm sure my friends on the left will stand with me in this case because bias against anyone is wrong. Right? Especially if that bias is caused by something (skin color, physical handicaps, etc) over which the oppressed has no control because it is a natural condition. And bias against women (76 cents to a dollar!) must stop. What about the bias against men?

I've never accepted the pro-abortion's crowd that "It's my body and I can do with it what I want." No, you can't, at least not legally. You can't put illegal drugs in it. In most jurisdictions you can't sell it for sex. So no, you can't do whatever you want with it.

It's your choice? What about men's choices? If a woman wants to have an abortion but the man doesn't want her to, she can have the abortion, and he has no say in it. If the woman wants to keep the child but the man wants nothing to do with it, she bears the child, he is legally compelled to pay child support for at least 18 years, and he has no say in it. In both cases the woman has all the say and the man has none. There's no justice here. There's no appeal, because it's the law itself that separates men from the justice they deserve.

The articles I've read recently come from The Huffington Post and the LA Times, neither known for being a hotbed of conservative thought. These two articles are actually written from a feminist perspective and yet they call into question our current injustices with regards to men.

Here are a few quotes from the first:

In fact, we actively try to mitigate the effects of physical differences even though it comes at enormous costs to the rest of society -- particularly small business owners. Likewise, we reject social assignment based on other physical characteristics such as skin tone, most notably. And many progressives (including myself) think it absurd that only a pair of individuals who have the opposite sex organs should be able to enter the social and economic contract of a marriage with all the rights (and responsibilities) attendant to that contract.

The key to my argument is separating out the costs and risks of pregnancy from the issue of the child as joint property -- for lack of a better word. If you believe that a fetus is only a woman’s and part of her body, then the argument stops there. But then shouldn’t paternal obligations be abrogated too (other than compensating the woman for the “tort” he has inflicted by inseminating her -- i.e. perhaps paying for the cost of an abortion and associated pain and suffering)? From the point of view of the potential “father,” what distinction is there between his responsibilities to a bunch of cells when it is in the uterus to it when it is born if all the material “stuff” that created that child is donated, if you will, by the mother save half of the instruction manual (i.e. DNA)? The answer may be that he engaged in contract with the woman when he engaged in intercourse. Perfectly reasonable is to say that sex is not a contract, in which case, pregnancy should be non-binding on the father, no? (But can the same be said for sex within the marriage contract?) Again, if it all boils down to the fact that “it’s a woman’s body” then let’s have a real discussion of what can and can’t be expected of fathers.

Here are some quotes from the second:

But even though I was raised believing in the inviolability of a woman's right to choose, the older I get, the more I wonder if this idea of choice is being fairly applied.

Since we're throwing around radical ideas about abortion rights, let me raise this question: If abortion is to remain legal and relatively unrestricted — and I believe it should — why shouldn't men have the right during at least the first trimester of pregnancy to terminate their legal and financial rights and responsibilities to the child?

As Conley laments, the law does not currently allow for men to protect the futures of the fetuses they help create. What he doesn't mention — indeed, no one ever seems to — is the degree to which men also cannot protect their own futures. The way the law is now, a man who gets a woman pregnant is not only powerless to force her to terminate the pregnancy, he also has a complete legal obligation to support that child for at least 18 years.

In other words, although women are able to take control of their futures by choosing from at least a small range of options — abortion, adoption or keeping the child — a man can be forced to be a father to a child he never wanted and cannot financially support. I even know of cases in which the woman absolves the man of responsibility, only to have the courts demand payment anyway. That takes the notion of "choice" very far from anything resembling equality.

I realize I've just alienated feminists (among whose ranks I generally count myself) as well as pro-lifers, neither of whom are always above platitudes such as "You should have kept your pants on." But that reasoning is by now as reductive as suggesting that a rape victim "asked for it." Yes, people often act irresponsibly and yes, abortion should be avoided whenever possible. But just as women should not be punished for choosing to terminate a pregnancy, men should not be punished when those women choose not to.

Salient points. I wonder if they'll be resolved in my lifetime. There is a cry for justice that must be answered.

Update, 2/11/06: Here's an interesting story. Woman gives baby up for adoption after leaving the state to have the child--tells baby's father (who has Parkinson's Disease) that the baby was stillborn. She told him a year later.

Friday, December 09, 2005

'Dyke' Isn't A Derogatory Term

In 2003 the lesbian biker group Dykes on Bikes applied for a trademark of their name. They were turned down by the US Patent and Trademark Office in 2004 because the term was vulgar and disparaging. They appealed, and in 2005 were turned down again.

Enter the City of San Francisco, which urged the USPTO to reconsider. Let's see if I understand the priorities of San Franciscans:
1. Don't allow the USS Hornet, a floating freakin' museum, to dock in the city because it's an instrument of war and the flower-power citizens of Baghdad-By-The-Bay don't support Bush's war against the peace-loving peoples blah blah blah.
2. Don't allow military recruiters to walk on the campuses of the city's schools, lest the impressionable young minds of students be polluted with the right-wing jingoistic hysteria of the blah blah blah.
3. Convince the US government that 'dyke' isn't a derogatory term.

Got it. I understand now. Good that they have their priorities in order.

So what happened yesterday? The USPTO reversed itself and, after a 30-day waiting period, is expected to approve the trademark for Dykes on Bikes.

It's official. According to the US government, the word 'dyke' isn't derogatory. Let the fun begin.

Update, 9/25/06: But wait, there's more! I received an email today pointing me to this update on the case. As I type this, #16 is the final event in the "prosecution history" and the opposition was dismissed. If I hear more on this topic, I'll update you here!

Free Speech at Universities

This is the first time I've seen a story about a university's punishing a student for passing out anti-Bush literature!

And what about being punished for what's put on private blogs? Hmmmmmmmm.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Scientific Intellectual. Not To Mention Good-Looking.

You're a scientific intellectual.

What Sort of Intellectual Are You?
brought to you by Quizilla

Interesting View on the Solomon Amendment Case

For years they have favored using federal power to force universities to do certain things that some schools would rather not do. An institution that accepts federal funds, for example, may not discriminate on the basis of race. Title IX, beloved by feminists, compels colleges getting such aid to offer equal opportunity for female students in sports and other activities -- with the feds defining what constitutes "equal opportunity."

Suppose a school disagrees with these mandates? It will get no sympathy from liberal groups, which invariably reply: Cry me a river. When you accept public subsidies, they announce, you must defer to the public's sense of fairness and equity. If you want to do things your own way, do them with your own money.

But in a case heard by the Supreme Court on Tuesday, it appears that the liberal affection for assertive government has a limit. A law known as the Solomon Amendment requires universities getting federal funds to grant access to recruiters for the military on the same terms as recruiters for any other employer.

You can see where this article is going. Read the whole thing here. For background, read this post.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

NEA, World Government, and Socialism


This article is a very valuable document showing the goals of the NEA nearly 70 years ago in 1932. This is about the time that William Z. Foster wrote Toward Soviet America and the Humanists wrote their First Manifesto. It should be read and kept as a clear understanding of the subversive plans the NEA had for using America's schools. Many people think of these goals as recent. This article should serve to set them straight.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

FAIR v. Rumsfeld--Supremes Hear Arguments About the Solomon Amendment

Three of my favorite topics, all in one post: schools (albeit of the higher education variety), the military, and law.

Today the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case of FAIR v. Rumsfeld.

Put succinctly, in 1996 (who was President then?) Congress passed a law (known as the Solomon Amendment) that required universities to grant military recruiters access to students on campus. After the 9/11/2001 terrorist attacks, the requirement was strengthened to granting access "equal in scope and quality" to that which is granted to other potential employers. In other words, you can't compel military recruiters to recruit from the closet (do you get the pun???!!!) whilst letting all other potential employers have access to the Student Union Building during a Job Fair. Schools must allow recruiters on campus or risk losing all federal dollars. Imagine--can't accept federal student loans, research dollars, anything! The post-9/11 addition to the law made compliance more strenuous as well--if even one sub-component of a university (say, the School of Law) doesn't grant access to military recruiters, the whole university could lose federal funds.

Using the Congressionally-mandated military barring of homosexuals as a pretext (now do you get the pun in the last paragraph?), several law schools formed an alliance (FAIR) and filed suit against, who else, Donald Rumsfeld. The claim is that the schools' 1st Amendment freedom of association is being denied by compelling them to associate with people (military recruiters) they don't like. The Third Circuit Court ruled in their favor last year, and the government appealed. The US Supreme Court heard the case today.

My thoughts:

1. The military discriminates against all sorts of people. It discriminates against the young and the not-quite-as-young; the army recently increased the maximum age of new recruits to 39, for example. Given height/weight standards that military members have to meet, the military discriminates against the fat. It discriminates against the handicapped--you can't enlist if you're missing certain body parts (including that one, guys). FAIR's choosing to rest its case on the exclusion of gays from the military (mandated by Congress) and the don't-ask-don't-tell policy (promulgated by which President?) seems disingenuous at best.

2. The US Solicitor General, arguing for the Solomon Amendment and seeking to have the 3rd Circuit's ruling overturned, focused his argument on Congress' spending power. No one is forcing these schools to take federal money. Don't want to allow recruiting? Don't take the federal money.

3. An even stronger case for the US would have been the Congress' power to raise an army. This power is granted in Article I of the Constitution. It seems clear to me that the power to raise an army includes the power to recruit citizens to join that army; Congress, then, is being generous by enforcing that granted authority by only withholding money from schools that do not allow recruiting. If Congress truly wanted to invoke its enumerated powers here, it could legitimately make the penalties much more severe.

This clearly isn't a 1st Amendment "freedom of association" case. The school doesn't have to agree with the recruiters in order to allow them access to students. Additionally, the law doesn't prohibit the students from protesting the recruiters on campus (although they'd be worthless f***s if they did). I'm hoping that the Supremes smack the 3rd Circuit pretty hard with this case.

The Volokh Conspiracy, a top-notch lawblog, has more information, especially in the comments.

Greatest Movie Line Of All Time

Courtesy of a student of mine:

College Admissions Essay

Students, want to learn how to write an essay that will get you into that Tier 1 School? Read the article below:

Imaginary Friends
How to write a diversity essay.
By Peter W. Wood

Universal Preschool

Rob Reiner, who is still a meathead after all these years, wants to tax rich people to pay for universal pre-school here in California. Think the CTA will have anything to say about this? Think they'll want credentialed teachers to run these preschools? Think these teachers will be compelled to cough up CTA dues?

I sense a racket here.

Oh, and this article in the SF Chronicle says that universal preschool would be a universally bad idea for California.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Student Fees Paying For Porn

The few times I'm directed to Mike Adams' columns are a genuine treat. This time is no exception, and in this column he takes on Carnegie Mellon University for showing XXX movies--paid for with mandatory student fees!--in a campus auditorium.

Great (Biased) Quote About Liberals

Found this comment about liberals on this LittleGreenFootballs post:

So... the law's only worthwhile when it serves liberal aims. If it doesn't, then all the little Uncle Joes are perfectly fine with death and violence as means to get their way. Always remember with liberals: The democratic process is only a means to power over their fellow man. When it's not the most effective way, well, by any means necessary.

Hard to refute....

Want to see an obvious case of Bush Derangement Syndrome? Go read.

Where's PETA? This Is An Outrage!

A junior high student body has voted to make its mascot the 'Mummycats'. Why, you ask? Because a dead cat was found in the school and is remarkably well preserved.

I'm sure that someone will protest this, even though I'm equally sure that the cat doesn't mind. Because it's dead. See a picture of the original Mummycat here.

Armey's Axioms

A great post by former House Majority Leader Dick Armey on how the Republican Party is losing its way. Included in the post are "Armey's Axioms," which I found highly entertaining.

Steyn on Lieberman

Not all Democrats disgust me. Joe Lieberman, despite his little tryst with Al Gore, seems to put country ahead of personal gain and politics. He's a patriot. He puts America first. Other Democrats should watch how that's done because too many have forgotten.

Is there a Mark Steyn fan club? If so, I'm joining. Read this piece--which starts with Lieberman, takes a short detour to swipe John Kerry, and finishes with why it was necessary to invade Iraq.

And while you're reading it, imagine it with a slightly high-English accent. Steyn is even better to listen to than he is to read.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Gay Student Suspended For Making Out At School

Those who know me know that I'm no supporter of PDA (that's public displays of affection) at school. I find some of it silly--the boy who "drops his girlfriend off" at each class, and kisses her when they depart. I usually don't say anything about such displays because they're minor and relatively inoffensive. But when two people are going at it in the halls, "lick[ing] each other’s tonsils and ears in public, like dogs do", in the parlance of one literary genius, I will insist that they stop. It's apparent that some teenagers (and adults, too, judging from what I sometimes see at the mall) are not yet able to differentiate between appropriate and inappropriate public behavior.

So what to do when two lesbians make out at school? First off, Mr. or Ms. Administrator, if you don't stop the heteros, you'd better not stop the homos. Otherwise, you've got a lawsuit in the making.

So if the principal in this case is singling out the lesbians whilst letting the heteros continue to go at it, obviously the disparate treatment needs to be addressed, perhaps legally. But I get a different impression when I read the New York Times' story about the lawsuit. The Times' opening paragraph is:

In a case involving a California high school girl who was openly gay at school, a federal judge has ruled that the girl, Charlene Nguon, may proceed with a lawsuit charging that her privacy rights were violated when the principal called her mother and disclosed that she is gay.
So we're back to the privacy of teenagers. This is a topic I apparently just don't get. The girl has a privacy right not to have her parents know about behavior in which she's participating in public places??? That sounds shockingly like this situation at Penn (read it, it's funny).

The girl can make out in public with her girlfriend, and when she's suspended for it (rightly or wrongly), it's wrong for the principal to tell her mother who the girl was making out with? Let's come up with some other examples. "Your child was caught smoking pot in a car with four other students. Want to know who they are? Sorry, can't tell you!" "Your child was involved in a fight at school today. Want to know who with? Sorry, can't tell you!" I'm not saying that being a lesbian violates rules, but being involved in excessive PDA should violate some rules. And for the sake of this post, let's leave this particular story now and get more general. Also, in this more general case, let's assume that PDA is against the rules and such rules are enforced equitably.

In both this case and the Penn case mentioned above, it was a lack of discretion on the part of the participants which led to the supposed violation of privacy. I just don't understand this "privacy of teenagers" stuff. Again, help me understand the rules that schools have to play by:

1. Can't tell the parents the reason their daughter was suspended (kissing another girl at school, creating a disturbance). BTW, this points out why *all* PDA needs to addressed at schools, so there's no discrimination lawsuits.

2. Here in California, we can't tell the parents if a child chooses to leave school to go get an abortion.

3. As a teacher, I can't give a 17-yr-old with a headache an aspirin. They might get Reyes Syndrome and die.

So we trust teenagers to make some medical decisions for themselves (abortions) but not others (aspirin), and we don't trust them to drink alcohol. We must keep secrets from their parents, but expect the parents to be responsible for them and their actions. And we help the children keep secrets from their parents. Wow!

And I'm forced to agree with the comment about the topic posted on this blog:

One, I can't believe how people are so willing to put the burden on the school (as if they don't have enough to do), and how so quickly the case of someone making out during school morphs into a civil rights issue.

Charges of discrimination imply that kids have a right to make out in a public school. Sheesh. Couldn't we make learning any more difficult?

Two, we need more school policies on the matter? Is there no discretion left in public education, or does everything have to be a minsterial act, approved by board mtg?

Third, be careful of demonizing faceless parents and creating standards whereby their rights are diminished, lest you be the next parent who is not entitled to know what their child is doing.

I know, someone's going to bring up the tired old story "my friend told his parents and they threw him outta the house and burned what belongings he left behind and...." Anecdotal. And I refer you to the last line in the comment excerpted above.

If we want to hold parents responsible for their children, the school should not be keeping secrets from the parents. Nor should the school help the child keep secrets from the parents! This type of situation, my dear readers, is what happens when you trust government more than you trust parents.

And it's going to get worse.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Cussing at Teachers

I found this story entertaining enough that I'll quote it in its entirety here:

In My Day, I Would've Been Fined $1 Million

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Bad words are costing Hartford Public and Bulkeley high schoolers $103 each.

Police officers assigned to the schools have fined about two dozen students for cursing in a new program to curtail unruly behavior. The joint
effort by school and police officials targets students who swear while defying teachers and administrators.

"We're sending a message to the parents and to the teachers," said Sandy Cruz-Serrano, senior adviser to Superintendent of Schools Robert Henry. "We are trying to bring back order to the schools."

Parents are required to pay the fines if the students cannot.

"Our heads are spinning with that," said Sam Saylor, president of the district Parent Teacher Organization. "The kids are really indecent with their swearing and they're swearing at teachers. This is their way of curtailing it — making the parents pay."

Keila Ayala, 17, a Hartford Public sophomore, said she was ticketed for shouting an expletive in an officer's face while handcuffed for taking a swing
at him.

"It'll stop me from swearing," she said. "Well, it won't stop me from swearing, but I won't cuss at the teachers."

George Sugai, who teaches school discipline at UConn's Neag School of Education, is skeptical of the effort. "Research says that punishing kids
doesn't teach them the right way to act," he said.

But Hartford Police Officer Roger Pearl said the program is working. "Before, the kids were swearing all the time. It went from many incidents to
almost nothing," he said. "It's quiet in the halls."

Thursday, December 01, 2005

I'm Dying

I started feeling lousy after lunch today, and by the time I got home from school I felt like death warmed over (and not very warm, either). I was on the couch for a couple of hours before I could even stand again. I have hopes of feeling well enough to work tomorrow!

I did drag myself into my library, however, to post this picture. A student gave it to me yesterday and gave me permission to post it here. Having no artistic abilities of my own (of any kind), I am always in awe of those who do.

Thank you, Loni!

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%).