Monday, January 31, 2005

The Quarter Folder

Here's what you get for $5. Posted by Hello

What A Disappointment!

I'm glad I didn't take my son to the release of the California quarter. What a disappointment!

Last week I could find no information about the release of the quarter. There was nothing on the US Mint web site, nothing on the state's Welcome to California web site, nothing on the Governor's or First Lady's web sites. It took two calls to Washington, DC to find out that the release ceremony would be from noon to 2 pm in the courtyard of the California State History Museum. Nothing on their web site, either.

I slept in an extra hour this morning, lounged around for awhile, then drove to the light rail station and took the train downtown. I figured that at $1.50 each way, I'd probably be saving parking money and I'd definitely be saving the stress of finding a parking place. When I got to the museum at about 10:45 there was already a line a few dozen people long. I took my place in it and waited.

While in the line I heard that the official, invitation-only release ceremony was taking place from 11-noon. Both the Governor and the First Lady were supposedly there, as well as Mint Director Henrietta Holsman Fore. That really perturbed me: the man who proclaims himself to be The People's Governor had "the people" wait outside (fortunately it's a beautiful day) during the official ceremony and then he took off! When they let us into the courtyard, all that was there was a long table staffed by Wells Fargo Bank employees, selling rolls of California quarters for $10 each (limit 5 until 2pm, limit 10 after 2pm) and illustrated folders with the new quarter for $5 (limit 5 until 2pm, with proceeds going to the Museum). There was no mint director, no governor, no ceremony for us--not even a freakin' oversized cardboard California quarter that we could get our pictures taken next to!!! The only "celebrity" I saw was some mascot, an eagle dressed in Colonial garb with a 3-cornered hat. Oh, and there was a US Mint security officer there, too.

I waited in line for over an hour to buy quarters that I could get at the bank. The People's Governor released a quarter celebrating the great state of California, while the people of that great state waited outside. If I'm lucky, maybe I'll see some of the release ceremony tonight on the 5:00 news.

I expected more.

Update (3:37pm): The video of the official release ceremony can be seen at . We of the unwashed masses weren't even allowed into this room after the ceremony was over! To say I'm disappointed would be a tremendous understatement.

Sunday, January 30, 2005

Iraqi Elections

A disgusting American celebrity (you probably know who he is) once compared the insurgents/terrorists in Iraq to the Minutemen of the American Revolution. I wonder if his mind changed at all when earlier this week, al-Zarqawi specifically identified democracy in Iraq as an evil principle, a principle against the rule of God. This celebrity was wrong. Zarqawi and his ilk have nothing in common with the Minutemen, who operated in the open, targeted only the British Army (as opposed to civilians), and operated under the rules of war of that time. They fought for freedom and independence, the very antithesis of what the terrorists fight for. Again, Zarqawi's own words: "We have declared a fierce war on this evil principle of democracy." "Democracy is also based on the right to choose your religion, and that is against the rule of God." Minuteman indeed.

To compare the "al-Qaeda in Iraq" (their term, not mine) terrorists to the Minutemen is to slander those colonists who fought for our country's independence. A better analogy would be to compare the terrorists to the KKK, or to those who burned Mississippi during the Civil Rights Era. They were on the wrong side of history, as are Zarqawi and his people. They fought to oppress others, as do Zarqawi and his people. They terrorized innocents, as do Zarqawi and his people.

They will face judgement, either here or in the hereafter, as will Zarqawi and his people.

Yet, despite the KKK and Mississippi Burning and George Wallace, and despite fire hoses and police dogs, the drive for civil rights in America continued because it was the right thing to do. I salute those who took the difficult stands--like the Little Rock Nine--to further a just cause. And today I salute those brave Iraqis who, like their Afghan brethren a few months ago, stand up to the threats of violence and are voting in their first free elections in half a century.

That's right, there haven't been free elections in Iraq since our Civil Rights Era. Want to know what Iraq was like for 35 of those years? Read this--from an Iraqi who's no friend of President Bush:

So whether you supported the invasion or not, whether you like George Bush or not, whether you think the war was all about oil and profits for Halliburton or not, let's all admire and support those Iraqis who, braving threats and intimidation, cast their ballots in this historic election. Let's recognize that this election is only a beginning, not an end, and not throw up our hands in surrender when all isn't puppies and teddy bears afterward. Let's hope they succeed at building a peaceful, properous nation.


Saturday, January 29, 2005

Computer Games and Education

Gettysburg, Then and Now. Posted by Hello

Every once in awhile I hear how computers are the wave of the future in education. Edison thought that movie projectors were going to be the wave of the future, and while movies are now integrated into American education, Edison would no doubt recognize in today's classrooms the key features of classrooms in his day--a teacher and teacher's desk, a board at the front of class (now a whiteboard, then a blackboard), and rows of students.

Given my conservative views, I'm inclined to believe that a hundred years from now, classrooms will still look pretty much the same. Sure, there will be yet-unthought-of technologies in the classrooms, but I envision a teacher, some form of presentation board, and rows of students. As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be....

Yet I'm no Luddite. I'm all for integrating appropriate technologies into the classroom. Where some people make a mistake, though, is in believing that the technology is the end unto itself, that it's there for its own sake, and not merely as a tool to help students learn. As an example, what's the point of having an internet connection in every classroom? If it's not somehow advancing the curriculum, it doesn't need to be there.

What about educational games? My son has had several over the years. He's had math games, spelling games, reading games, in addition to the game games. Do games like Carmen Sandiego, the Jumpstart series, Oregon Trail, and the like truly advance education? Can they?

I've addressed this topic before, on an education maillist of which I am a member. Here's what I wrote on the subject just over a year ago. Afterwards I'll update you. From December 2003:

I'll admit that *some* games *can* have *some*
educational value.

For instance, my great-great-great-grandfather was
drafted into the Union Army, into a Pennsylvania
regiment, during the Civil War. I visited the
Gettysburg battlefield when I was 12. I graduated
from West Point, and (while there) studied the Civil War in general
and the Gettysburg battle in particular. I even own
the Ken Burns documentary on the Civil War.

None of that was enough to interest me all that much
in Gettysburg.

However, enter the computer game Sid Meier's
Gettysburg! (Note: don't settle for any
other--they're all cheap imitations! Sid Meier is the
guru for simulation games, so get the best). Fight
any of the battles of that campaign, or even let the
computer create some "speculative" battles to test
your own generalship! *That* got me interested in
Civil War tactics and in Gettysburg in particular. In
fact, the game is so detailed that I have looked at
pictures in books and been able to identify specific
buildings and locations--all because of the game!

I let my 7-yr-old son fight the battles. Like me,
he'll choose either side, depending on the particular
fight. He's quite good, at least for being 7, and has
asked many questions about that battle, that war, and
the times.

I even bought the dvd movie Gettysburg and we watched
it together. I'll admit, though, that he was much
more interested in it during the battle scenes.

Anyway, we're planning a trip to Gettysburg this
summer. I'll take my school laptop and put the game
on it. Imagine looking at the game, seeing Little
Round Top and the surrounding environs--while standing
on Little Round Top! I think such a trip will be more
important to him at 8 than it was to me at 12.

So there's my one anecdote in support of computer
gaming. Of course, the moral of the story: now that
my son and I are interested, thanks to the game, the
REAL learning can begin!

As you can see from the picture at the top of this post, we went. I did take the laptop and we did sit on Little Round Top and we did compare what we were actually seeing to the terrain map in the game. We did see the Lutheran Seminary, the entrance to the Evergreen Cemetery (from which Cemetery Hill and Cemetery Ridge get their names), the copse of trees at the High Water Mark/the Angle, and so much more. We saw "the rebel sharpshooter position" in the Devil's Den, the field across which Pickett's Charge took place, and the spot on which President Lincoln gave the Gettysburg Address.

The game sparked the interest, and then the real learning did begin.

Friday, January 28, 2005

Missing School

Next Monday in downtown Sacramento, the California State Quarter will be released into circulation. The Director of the US Mint is scheduled to be on hand--she attends all the releases--and the Governor and/or his wife are scheduled to appear. Being an avid coin collector, I'm taking the day off school to participate in this civic celebration.

Should I take my 3rd grade son with me?

I emailed his teacher and asked if he'd miss math or English if I picked him up at 11 am. It's not that other subjects are unimportant, but these two are foundational; the other academic subjects depend on them. Anyway, I told her what the event was and asked for her input. And boy did I get it.

He'd miss math. He hasn't done well on his last two math assessments--let's just say he hasn't done well at all, judging by her comments. My reply was short and sweet, that he'd stay in school that day.

From some people I know there will be howls. There's more to education than just school! What a great opportunity he's missing, once in a lifetime! He'd learn so much more at an event like this than he would in a couple hours of being in a classroom!

All those thoughts swirled in my head after I sent my reply. Perhaps I'd made the wrong decision. I certainly made one that I honestly didn't want to make. But part of my responsibility as a parent is to set an example about the importance of education, and taking him out of school under these circumstances would not be sending the message I want my son to learn. There are always events that, individually, could be a justification for removing a student from school; there are social, cultural, family, and community events, any one of which might be a valuable learning experience. However, an aggregate of time spent in a classroom with a qualified teacher has a value all its own. Barring illness, he needs to be in class right now.

I'd like for him to be there with me on Monday, but more than that, I'd like for him to know his multiplication tables.

I'll give him a new California quarter when I get home.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

I'm Not The Only One

Compare this letter, published in the Februrary 2005 NEA Today, with the one I sent (which became the 2nd posting on this blog):

NEA Republicans

As a veteran teacher and a Republican, I'm happy to finally be recognized within my own professional association for the very first time. ("What Now?" January). But to ask Republican NEA members to change our party from within is pompous, to say the least.

If we wanted to be Democrats, we could. We don't.

I suggest that in the future you respectfully consider that one-third of the educators in our nation are Republicans. Stop ignoring us.

I also suggest that you promote diversity within NEA by inviting Republicans into leadership positions. It's astonishing that tolerance for diversity is not practiced within NEA itself.
Lisa Disbrow of Richmond, California, I salute you! You said it better than I did.

Merit Pay

I wrote the following for the May 2000 issue of my union newsletter, but given Governor Schwarzenegger's recent comments it's rather timely.


We've all heard about the concept of merit pay. In fact, there are some pretty strong voices on either side of the "do we or don't we" debate. What's wrong with the idea? Well, there's not as much wrong with it as some would have you believe.

On its face merit pay seems like a good idea--reward good teachers. Look a little deeper and you might get concerned. You might even hear some of the arguments against merit pay: present teachers can't control what students have or have not learned in the past, students should not be able to dictate a teacher's pay, etc. Look even deeper and you may find something sinister, and for these ideas I borrow from the CTA President's column in the December 1999 California Educator magazine: "it insults teachers and ignores the real causes for students' difficulties in measuring up," "it will deflect pressure for a real increase in teacher salaries," it would cause teachers "to refuse basic math and special education classes," and it "will hurt teacher morale and promote subservience to administration." In fact, the CTA President even goes on to say, "I hope not one teacher or one association in California will even contemplate any merit pay proposal."

I grant that certain simple ideas of merit pay have irreparable flaws. Merit pay based solely on administrators' recommendations is not a good idea. Merit pay based solely on student performance on standardized tests is not a good idea--in fact, it's illegal. But isn't there some way we could objectively identify those outstanding teachers who are working wonders for students, and reward those teachers? Just as a starting point for discussion, what if we looked at student improvement over the course of a school year instead of just student grade-level performance?

I'm concerned that as professionals we seem to feel we cannot be objectively evaluated. Additionally, I worry that we seem to feel that we're not at all responsible for student learning. If we have no impact at all, then perhaps we truly do deserve the slings and arrows that have come our way of late. But if we do have an impact, then let's work together to find out how to identify the best among us, learn from these people, and ensure they're rewarded for their work!

Again I quote the CTA President: "Does anyone really believe that any single classroom teacher is actually responsible for how well or poorly these children do on a standardized test?" Such cynicism is not worthy of the $53 a month we pay to CTA. We deserve better.

Joanne has more on merit pay on her blog at

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Personal Responsibility

Tort reform is an issue that usually makes people's eyes glaze over. In fact, I'll bet that a healthy percentage of average readers wouldn't make it to the end of my first sentence! But I saw an article today that infuriated me.

Here are the details in a nutshell, from the AFP news service:

"The appellate panel in New York on Tuesday reversed a lower court decision that dismissed the suit claiming McDonald's used deceptive advertising to trick consumers into eating unhealthy food.

"The suit is on behalf of two New York teen-agers (sic) who said they ate at McDonald's three to five times a week for years (emphasis mine), and blame the company for obesity, diabetes, coronary disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and other ailments."

If ever there were a frivolous lawsuit, this is it. Then again, McDonald's lost a "frivolous" lawsuit when a woman spilled her own coffee onto her lap.

For every right there is a responsibility. The plaintiffs have a right to sue, but they have a concurrent responsibility to exercise that right reasonably. They have failed.

Their obesity and related health problems are McDonald's fault? I'm sure that when they were not eating 3-5 meals a week at McDonald's they were eating tofu and wheat grass. The restaurant's advertisements are misleading? Except maybe for their salads, McD's advertises taste and "style" rather than health. There's a reason it's called junk food.

Whose fault is it these teenagers are fat? Their own. And while I'm at it, let's look at some parental responsibility. Why were your kids eating fast food 3-5 times a week? What were you doing as your kids got larger and larger, to the point of developing health problems? What the heck were you thinking?

Can you imagine the lawsuit if a McDonald's manager refused to serve the kids because of their weight? What exactly is McDonald's supposed to do in this situation? Suit if they do, suit if they don't. It's lose-lose.

There are two societal problems here. The first is too many people in our society do not accept responsibility for themselves--someone else is always at fault. The second is our litigiousness, especially if the sued has deep pockets; sometimes we call this "greed". Neither speaks well for our society. Juries that grant awards in such cases only reinforce these problems.

If McDonald's did in fact fail to follow the law and provide the necessary health information about its products, it should be sanctioned. See, McDonald's has a responsibility to obey the law. Even if such negligence is proven, I cannot see it responsible for the health problems of two fat kids. That link is just too tenuous.

When the President speaks of tort reform, the party of the trial lawyers gets all atwitter--imagine if they couldn't make millions off such suits anymore. This case is a poster child for the need for tort reform, as well as a mirror for some of what is wrong in our country.

Here's What the School Board Decided

"With scores of protesting employees, parents and students looking on, the San Juan Unified School District board passed a preliminary budget Tuesday night that would eliminate $19.8 million in programs, including counseling, athletics and librarians."

I never considered counselors and librarians to be "dessert". They're about as "entree" as it gets.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Thank You, Readers

It's hard to describe how incredibly rewarding it is to know that others are reading and responding to what I write here. Thank you for your contributions and input thus far--and keep coming back!

What Are Schools For? Part II

Given the financial situation in our district, we should consider all options when cuts have to be made, and extra-curricular athletics must be part of that calculus. However, the fact that the schools would no longer provide opportunities for athletic competition (outside of PE class) doesn't mean that the students would no longer have such opportunities. Think of all the Pop Warner football leagues, Little League, martial arts programs, Golden Gloves boxing, gymnastics programs, and local swim teams that exist. In colder climates you can add hockey to that list, and no doubt there are others that I didn't mention. Opportunities abound not only in local Park and Recreation Districts, but in private settings as well.

Our district must decide what is entree and what is dessert. If the budget situation demands that we do without dessert, then do so we must. I cannot imagine why a school would do without an English teacher, a math teacher, a science teacher, or a history teacher--and all the different courses they teach the students--and not consider cutting programs in which only a minority of students participate, and which are often available elsewhere.

Or primary mission must be academic.

I leave it to others to decide if all the cuts necessary can be made in areas that do not directly affect students. If that can be done my analysis becomes unnecessary, as student needs take precedence over administrative bureaucracy. If cuts must affect students, though, then we must prioritize all of our student programs, academic and otherwise, and start cutting from the bottom of the list.

What I've proposed is a practical solution, not an ideal one. I don't like it, and this isn't the way it's supposed to be, but this is how it is.

Monday, January 24, 2005

What Are Schools For? Part I

The district in which I work is facing a shortfall of upwards of $18 million next year. Serious cuts will have to be made to balance the books. Discussions center around layoffs (the current number is 142), closing/consolidating smaller schools, deleting jobs (counselors, nurses, vice principals, etc), and even the most sacred cow of them all--extracurricular athletics.

This last topic was the subject of lunchtime discussion today. At the heart of this topic is the question, what are schools for?

If you poll random people with this question you get several answers. Having done this in the past, I'll share with you the most common answers:

1. to teach students (master a body of knowledge)
2. to prepare students for life
3. to prepare students for college
4. to prepare students for the workforce
5. to help each student reach his/her potential
6. to instill a love of learning
7. to make good citizens for our country

Of course, the actual answer is probably a little bit of each of the above. While we can argue over the percentage of time and effort each of those answers would merit at an ideal school, certainly schools exist for all these reasons and more.

So when beans have to be counted and cuts have to be made, should we consider cutting athletic programs?

In today's discussion I took the side of cutting athletics. A fellow math teacher took the opposing view. I'll try to summarize her points here:

1. not every student feels success in a classroom,
2. school should nurture the whole child,
3. athletics is sometimes the only hook that gets certain kids to school, and
4. athletics plays a large role in the college aplication process.

Given these views, she asserted that athletics should be spared and that the district should cut non-school-site-related activities (e.g., administrative overhead) only.

I can argue with none of those four points yet draw a different conclusion.

In a district our size, $18 million is a huge sum of money. Deep, painful cuts will have to be made, and I don't know if $18 million can be cut from the district office(s) and still leave a viable district (as opposed to a collection of schools). We must prioritize our programs because cuts will have to be made. By definition, extra-curricular activities, those above and beyond the school's curriculum, should at least face the axe. But given her points above, how could we possibly cut athletics?

To be continued....

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Letter to the CTA

After reading the article in the link, I sent the following letter to the California Teachers Association. The curt reply I got was, essentially, "Yeah, right."


"California Atty. Gen. Bill Lockyer said Monday that school districts have no right telling parents their children are leaving campus to receive confidential medical treatment."

"In his opinion, the attorney general said schools must “notify both students and their parents that students are allowed to be excused from school for confidential medical appointments without parental consent.” Lockyer went on to say that any school district that does not comply would 'undermine the purposes and intent of the medical emancipation statutes.'"

Here is an issue for CTA to stand up against. Either we believe that parents are responsible for their children, or the state is. There is no middle ground here.

CTA *must* take a stand and have this law overturned, putting decisions about minors back in the hands of parents. It amazes me that school officials cannot give an aspirin to a student for fear of lawsuit, but can allow a student to leave campus to, among other things, get an abortion.

Letter to the NEA

I sent this letter to the editor of the NEA Today earlier this month. I'll repost it here since I don't expect to see it in their Letters section.


In the "What Now?" article in the January 2005 NEATODAY, our organization's leadership shows once again how they just don't get it. Three different quotes show this:

1) "NEA Republicans need to become very active in the GOP to change"
2) "NEA recommended 22 Republican hopefuls for the US House and Senate 'out of a total of 298 candidates'..."
3) "NEA Republicans, who comprise one-third of the Associaton (NEA) membership, need to become more active in the GOP..."

Perhaps NEA Republicans need to become more active in the NEA and help turn it from being little more than a shill for the Democrat Party.

Thank you again, Reg Weaver and the rest of the NEA leadership, for being so partisan, for putting all our eggs in the Democrat basket, that teachers can effectively be ignored by the Administration for another 4 years. Why should the Bush Administration listen to an organization that opposes its every move?

And lastly, quit carping about the NCLB Act. Despite it's few small flaws, it's shining a beacon of light on underperforming and nonperforming schools. For too long those schools, and the disproportionately minority students they served, were ignored by the government, by NEA, by everyone, while their students didn't learn. This law compels us to look at those children--those we claim we want to help the most--and find ways to teach them. I agreed with a quote of Reg Weaver's from another article in the same issue: "It's time to change the focus from defining the problem to doing something about it." That's exactly what NCLB does.


This is my first post. Accordingly, I'll let you know a little about me--where I'm coming from, what I do, and why I created this blog.

"Who am I? Why am I here?" If you recognize that quote and got a kick out of it, you're just the type of reader I'm looking for!** I'm Darren, your friendly host. Currently I teach high school math at a nice suburban Sacramento high school. Prior to teaching high school I taught 6 years in junior highs, worked as a production/manufacturing manager in a few Silicon Valley startups, and served as a lieutenant in the Army. I'm a 1987 West Point graduate.

I teach. In California. Yes, I'm a member of the California Teachers Association. I'm also a registered Republican and hold fairly conservative political beliefs--although you'll find I hold fairly independent social views. Still, using the political colors so in vogue these days, I'm "red awash in a sea of blue", especially where I work.

When did red, the color of communism, start being associated with Republicans, anyway? Sheesh!

I often feel like a voice in the wilderness. Because of that I've created this blog--on which I'll periodically share anecdotes, give opinion and/or commentary, and provide links to articles or other interesting blogs. I'll write about education, I'll write about politics and current events, I'll write about what educators say about politics and current events!

I hope you'll be intellectually satisfied by what you read, even if you disagree.

**The quote is from Admiral Stockdale, Ross Perot's vice presidential running mate, at the beginning of a candidate debate. He came across as a fool. In fact, I've heard Admiral Stockdale speak in person and have read articles he's authored. He's a brilliant man. Unfortunately, he was a much better admiral than a vice presidential candidate, given our television-oriented culture.