Monday, August 31, 2015

Is This Really How We Want Our Society To Be?

Who could possibly have predicted that girls would complain about sharing a locker room with a boy?  Why, everyone, of course, except for those who are so open-minded that their brains have fallen out:
Students staged a walk-out even though a transgender student at Hillsboro High School has decided to drop out of P.E. class and quit changing in the girl's locker room. It is an issue that educators across the country are dealing with...

Close to 200 students used their right of free speech to express both displeasure and support of Lila Perry. She is a transgender student, who until recently, has been changing for P.E. class in the girls bathroom even though she is still physically male.

Jeff Childs, a parent of two school age children, drove from farming to have his voice heard on a Hillsboro street corner. "I feel these girls have a right to their own privacy. Without the privacy they have nothing."
I don't know if there's really a psychological condition that causes people to think they're the wrong sex, or not.  I believe, however, that we shouldn't force everyone else to have to deal with that person's particular demons.  I'm not sure that would be a healthy society.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Does Truth Even Matter Anymore?

Someone I knew liked a post on Facebook, and since it came across my feed I thought I'd go take a look.  Here's what I saw:
That prompted me to ask a simple question:  did Morgan Freeman really say that?  Here's the exchange that ensued:
Why put Freeman's face on a quote if you're not trying to use Freeman's reputation to add weight to the quote?  We all know that's why his picture is there.  Hiding behind the "no quotation marks" defense is exceedingly weak.

You might imagine that later comments resorted to calling me names for daring to question this, and you'd be right.

BTW, I can find no evidence (admittedly from just a couple of web searches) that Freeman ever said what is attributed to him (even without quote marks) above.

If You Can't Get Rid Of This Teacher....

First off, I want to point out that this guy has been teaching 5 years less than I have but makes 50% more money than I do.  Seriously, 50% more.  And it's not because he's everyone's idea of the perfect teacher:
An elementary school teacher who was late to school at least 46 times this past school year and 65 times the year before will be able to keep his job, a state arbitrator has ruled.

The city school district had sought to terminate Roosevelt Elementary School math teacher Arnold Anderson as a result of his years of chronic tardiness.

Anderson told The Associated Press on Friday that breakfast is to blame for his tardiness.

"I have a bad habit of eating breakfast in the morning, and I lost track of time," he said...

While the state-appointed arbitrator slammed the teacher's flimsy excuses and found that “there is no doubt the district has proven conduct unbecoming,” the teacher will be allowed to return to the classroom in January, albeit only after serving an unpaid suspension until then. Anderson earns about $90,000 per year with 14 years of experience...

In Anderson’s case, the arbitrator said the district failed to provide the teacher with due process by providing him with a formal notice of inefficiency or by giving him 90 days to correct his failings.
Holy crap, are you kidding me?  No one told him at any time in the last two school years that he was supposed to be on time to work?

Teachers unions like to point out that administrators should be documenting, documenting, documenting, and then, when there's enough documentation, it might be OK to fire a teacher.  IF no administrator warned the guy in the last two years, then yes, they screwed up.  Does that excuse this teacher's behavior, though?  Does it justify his keeping a $90,000-a-year job?  Is "conduct unbecoming a professional teacher", repeatedly and over an extended period of time, not enough to get fired?  Sometimes I wonder what, besides self satisfaction, I get from having high personal standards.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

This Doesn't Happen Often

It's too early on a Saturday morning.

I'm going to a hot yoga class pretty soon--and the only way I could convince myself to get up so early to go there (it's not far from my school) is to commit to going in to work to set up the math (stats) lab.  I removed all the computers at the end of last school year and now all the tables and chairs are stacked against the walls.  It's not going to set itself up....

I'd never go in to work on a Saturday to do something like this, but since I'll already be in the area anyway due to yoga, it won't be so bad.

Update, 8/30/15:  I fired up Pandora on my computer and got the math lab set up.  I sent an email asking the principal for a few dollars--and 14 more computers so I can have one per student instead of one per pair.  Then  I got to work adding upcoming assignments to our student information system and to my web site.  By the time I left my principal had already responded to my email--I could go buy the little things I needed and get reimbursed by our comptroller, but we'll have to see about the computers :)

Friday, August 28, 2015

Spoiling The Dumplings

Yesterday I gave a Chapter 1 test in two of my classes.  A lot of it was Algebra 2 review but there was a little new material in it.  Finished grading them this morning.  Grades were posted online before lunch today.

Gave quizzes to three classes today.  Since there were only quizzes they didn't take long to grade, but they were all graded with scores posted online by the end of the school day.

I feel like a grading rock star today!  I can't stand when my own instructors make me wait several days for the results of a test, so I don't put my own students through that.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Made My Day

Today, right after 6th period, a student I didn't know from Adam came into my room and asked if he could ask me some questions about West Point.  I had a meeting to get to but we still spent a few minutes.  I asked his reasons for considering West Point, gave him some things to consider, and then had to go to my meeting.

But I just love that.  It does my heart good to know that there are still kids out there today who consider our service academies.

At Least Pretend There's A Drought

If I've had to let my front and back lawns die because I'm not allowed to water them as much as is needed to keep them alive in this heat, then perhaps you shouldn't be having your taxpayer-provided, gas guzzling, global-warming-creating SUV washed a few times a week:
Despite living in one of the most car-centric and image-conscious cities in the world, many Los Angeles drivers have cut their carwashes during the crippling drought.

Not so for the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.

The majority of the supervisors wash their take-home cars two or three times a week, service records show, and actually washed them more frequently after Gov. Jerry Brown ordered a 25 percent cut in urban water use. As the county’s washes continue to consume tap water, some other local governments have pledged to skip washes for months or are using recirculated water...

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas had his cars washed more frequently than any of the others, according to the documents obtained under the state public records law. In 2014, Ridley-Thomas had one of his Chrysler 300 Limited sedans washed an average of 2.7 times per week. After the mandate in April, workers washed it 3.1 times per week...

Two other supervisors — Michael Antonovich and Don Knabe — both wash their take-home SUVs about two times a week, and both increased the frequency of washes after Brown’s April mandate (he first declared a state of emergency in January 2014).
Reader and long-time friend MikeAT sent the link to me and had this to say:
I don’t know what is the biggest hypocrisy, the fact these libs in the middle of a drought have their taxpayer provided vehicles washed or the fact some get SUVs....
And some people want even more government, which means an even bigger and more powerful political class--even more people more equal than others.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

If You Strike Me Down

If President Obama can be said to have created any legacy at all, it's been his invigoration of the Republican Party.

If it makes you lefties feel good to think we don't like him because he's black, I encourage you to keep thinking that way.  Don't stop believin', lefties.  Your simplistic arguments--that only you in your own echo chamber believe--make me smile.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

I've Missed That

Today I went to my first hot yoga class in well over a year and a half.  I came away with two lessons.  First, I've lost all the bendiness I ever had from my previous practice.  There were muscles and tendons that wouldn't stretch at all, and others strained to do what I wanted.  I have much work to do.  And second, I really enjoy hot yoga--I'd forgotten how much.

Now I'm home, feeding the dog and me, and then hitting the books for my current master's class:  Problem Solving In History.  I'm hoping to learn how to multiply with Roman numerals.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Summer Vacation Is Officially Over For Me

I've been back to work for over 2 weeks now, and have had students for over a week and a half, but what really signals the end of my break is the start of the new semester of my master's program.  Six down, four to go!

Remember When The "Free Speech Movement" Was Centered On College Campuses?

How quaint those days must seem now, with stories like this one out of Rutgers bombarding us on an almost-daily basis:
Rutgers University students, you are being watched.

That appears to be the message a web page would like the campus community to absorb. The web page is maintained by the Bias Prevention & Education Committee, which chillingly warns students that there is “no such thing as free speech,” and to “think before you speak.” From the web page:
Since 1992, the Bias Prevention Committee has monitored the New Brunswick/Piscataway campus for bias incidents and has provided bias prevention education to staff, students, and faculty.…

However, the university administration seems to be backing off some of the committee’s claims. When Campus Reform first reported the existence of the web page last week, it looked like this. By Monday, it looked like this. The difference? The university removed the assertion that there is no such thing as free speech.

I suppose this means that administrators recently reviewed the page, and stand by the rest of its claims.
Thank God for FIRE, though it's a shame they're needed at all.

Black Students--A Juxtaposition

The top two posts on Joanne's blog today were both about black students in America:
Study: White teachers expect less of blacks
Non-black teachers have lower expectations for black students than black teachers, concludes a recent study.

“We cannot determine whether the black teachers are too optimistic, the non-black teachers are too pessimistic, or some combination of the two,” writes researcher Seth Gershenson. But it’s likely that teachers’ expectations “shape student outcomes.”
New Orleans improves — with black teachers
Today,  54 percent of NOLA teachers and 58 percent of RSD school leaders are black, writes Stewart. Blacks make up 59 percent of the city’s population.

“Great black school leaders and educators are working hard in a new system with many hopeful new possibilities,” he concludes. This time, growth of the black middle class is linked to “academic results for poor black children.”
What struck me was this:
When schools reopened (after Hurricane Katrina), the Recovery School District required that teacher candidates pass a basic skills test. “One third of the returning teachers failed that test,” writes Stewart.
Just out of curiousity, what races were those teachers?  Has anyone done a study asking what portion of New Orleans' students' improvement can be attributed to getting rid of bad teachers, as opposed to having black teachers?  The bottom line is that students are doing better, but the statistician in me wants to know if the title is correct or not.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Evaluating the Effectiveness of Teachers

Here's one person's opinion.  Note to lefties--you can't disagree since it comes from Nate Silvers' blog :-)
Is evaluating teachers an exact science? Many people — including many teachers and their unions — believe current methods are often too subjective and open to abuse and misinterpretation. But new tools for measuring teacher effectiveness have become more sophisticated in recent years, and several large-scale studies in New York, Los Angeles and North Carolina have given those tools more credibility. A new study released on Monday furthers their legitimacy; and as the science of grading teachers advances, it could push for further adoption of these tools.

This evolving science of teacher evaluation was recently thrust into public controversy when, in 2012, nine students sued the state of California, claiming its refusal to fire bad teachers was harming disadvantaged students. To claim that certain teachers were unambiguously bad, and that the state was responsible, the plaintiffs relied on relatively new measures of teacher effectiveness. In that case, Vergara v. California, several top-notch economists testified for each side as expert witnesses, arguing the merits of these complex statistics. In June 2014, the judge ruled that California’s teacher-tenure protections were unconstitutional, a victory for the plaintiffs. Gov. Jerry Brown is appealing, and a similar case has begun in New York state.

But the economists on both sides of the Vergara case are still engaged in cordial debate. On one side is Raj Chetty of Harvard University, John Friedman of Brown University and Jonah Rockoff of Columbia University — hereafter referred to as “CFR” — who authored two influential papers published last year in the American Economic Review; Chetty testified for the plaintiffs in the case. On the other side is Jesse Rothstein, of the University of California at Berkeley, who published a critique of CFR’s methods and supported the state in the Vergara case.

On Monday, to come full circle, the CFR researchers published a reply to Rothstein’s criticisms.
Very interesting stuff.  I've long thought that truly effective teachers don't fear this kind of evaluation.

Saturday, August 22, 2015


In this post I've added video from Iceland.

I've received the pictures discussed in this post and have now hung them up:

They came out flawless. The colors, the details--so vivid. (Go to the link above to see the actual photos, the aluminum prints are just as good.)  You can't see it in these pictures because of the lighting, but those pictures on aluminum are beautiful.

Friday, August 21, 2015

What Affects Student Achievement?

Here's what one researcher has found:
Just for giggles, compare direct instruction to cooperative learning, computer-assisted learning, inquiry-based learning, individualized instruction, problem-based learning, and various and sundry other recent fads.  I need to look at what the first few on the list mean and try to employ them.

Hat tip to Joanne for the link.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

FINALLY! Someone Else Says It!

I've said this for years:
If there is anything in education on which everyone agrees, it’s the vital importance of “critical thinking,” writes Alexander Nazaryan in Newsweek. However, before students can think, they need to learn. Call it “uncritical thinking,” the “unquestioning reception and retention of facts.”
Hear hear! If I've said it once I've said it a zillion times:  You can’t think critically if you don’t have a base of information to think critically about.  As I wrote in my comment at the link above:
Kids should learn their multiplication tables, for example; of course, understanding that multiplying is repeated addition, and knowing how to read and use place value, are important in that task, but they need to memorize them. Period. American students should know the names of the 50 states. Period.

Yes, there’s much memorization to be done.

If you’ve ever only been fed a steady diet of political views from one political party, you can’t really think critically about the other side because you don’t know about the other side.

You must *know* some stuff before you can analyze that stuff. In all honesty I can’t see how that idea can even be questioned.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Mad Max Scenario

I don't know when it became fashionable for people to drive their children to high school instead of having them ride their bikes, but some time between 1983 (when I graduated high school) and 2003 (when I started teaching at my current high school) it definitely happened.  Combine that with all the students who drive to school and you have a mess.  Both before and after school, the street in front of school resembles something out of a Mad Max movie.  It's bedlam.  It's dangerous.

Yesterday before school there was a motorcycle officer or two in front of school--and a fender-bender happened right in front of him.  After school yesterday I think there were as many as 5 officers out there, with a similar presence both before and after school today.  I don't know how much longer they'll keep this up but it was smooth as silk when I left campus this afternoon.

I wonder how many citations they wrote.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Declining Applications

I always post how our three major service academies always rank very high in evaluations of US universities and colleges, this post being the most recent.  Today I learn that two of them have declining numbers of applications--in other words, it seems fewer people want to attend them:

#14, US Naval Academy
Even with the drop in applications, the 2013 applicant pool is still one of the largest the Academy has seen in the last five years.
#2, US Air Force Academy
Like the Naval Academy, the Air Force has one of the lowest acceptance rates in the country at 15.4% in 2013. However, application numbers were down by a hefty 21.51%. 
Good job for avoiding this list, West Point!

Progressive Means Never Having to Say That You Think

In the name of somehow being "progressive", too many people in California are willing to bite their nose to spite their face.

Several years ago, during the Bush Administration, there was a big brouhaha about federal funding for using aborted fetal tissue (stem cells) for medical research.  Those bad, bad Republicans didn't want to allow it, didn't want "the fruit of the poisoned tree", that the crazies here in California had to show them who's who and what's what.  Why, we'll just have the taxpayers here in California pay for fetal stem cell research!  They got an initiative on the ballot and we all know there are enough crazies here in California to get it to pass.  Cost:  $6 billion.  To this day I've yet to read about 1 cent in benefit from that expenditure--and Alzheimer's and Parkinson's still exist.

Another fine example is California's "bullet train", which is now planned to go from Fresno to nowhere whereas it was originally scheduled to to from the SF Bay Area to Southern California.  It doesn't matter that there's only one of these trains on the entire planet that turns a profit (Southern France), darn it they're green and they're cool and we gots to have one!  In 2008 the wonderfully progressive citizens of California voted for $10 billion in bonds, which would be bad enough except that the estimated cost of the system is now somewhere between $60 billion and $100 billion.  No one except Governor Brown really expects this to be anything other that a pork trough, and Brown may even be faking it.

In 2012 the fruits and nuts and California decided that "greenergy" is the future, and the future is tomorrow!  Yet another initiative allowed to raise corporate income tax rates in order to fund clean energy initiatives.  We're taxing profits of those evil corporations, so it's really like free money, right?  Woo hoo, let's spend those billions!  Well, how's that working out, you might ask?  About as well as the projects I listed above--and this according to the AP, a liberal-friendly news source if ever there was one:
The AP reported that three years after voters passed Proposition 39, money is trickling in at a slower-than-anticipated rate, and more than half of the $297 million given to schools so far has gone to consultants and energy auditors. The board created to oversee the project and submit annual progress reports to the Legislature has never met.

Voters in 2012 approved the Clean Energy Jobs Act by a large margin, closing a tax loophole for multistate corporations. The Legislature decided to send half the money to fund clean energy projects in schools, promising to generate more than 11,000 jobs each year.

Instead, only 1,700 jobs have been created in three years, raising concerns about whether the money is accomplishing what voters were promised.
I wonder if California isn't doomed. As the Instapundit always says, "Something that can't go on forever, won't."  And we really can't afford stupidity like this, throwing good money after bad, but we're going to try.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Just Kill The Dang Trees Already

Houston ISD is getting rid of textbooks and will issue laptops to all students:
Walk through an HISD high school, and you’ll notice something missing.

The state’s largest school system is joining a growing group of districts nationwide that are phasing out a classroom staple: hard-copy textbooks.

This coming school year, for the first time, all HISD high school students will receive laptops, and the district bought only digital materials for math and social studies classes. HISD scrapped printed science books in high schools last year and plans to do the same with English books in the next cycle. The new model: electronic text with features like hyperlinks, videos and interactive maps.

The digital shift reflects Superintendent Terry Grier’s push to modernize instruction amid stagnating student test scores. The millions saved from not buying books can help fund the technology and online resources that can be updated more easily, but a tougher challenge remains: ensuring that educators and students adapt.

“I’m absolutely convinced that no paper textbooks is the way to go,” Grier said in a recent interview. 

“It’s called a digital transformation. And every teacher is to make that transformation.”
There are so many things wrong with doing this.  Non-teachers can figure out the most obvious, let me tell you what we teachers consider in addition:
  • Looking at screens for a long time is much harder than looking at books.  Reading on a screen is more difficult than reading a book.
  • Screens use a color of light that is known to screw up your circadian rhythms.  That means that it's harder to fall and stay asleep if you study near bedtime.  (It's also why you shouldn't "play" on your phone shortly before bed.)
  • It's often easier to find something in a book that it is to find it in a file or online.  Many times we'll remember what the page looked like, if it was on the left or right side, etc, when we try to find something.
  • Studying is easier with a book than with a computer.
  • Much harder to highlight using computers! (more appropriate for college textbooks than high school textbooks, though)
  • What else are they doing on those laptops?
  • Is the infrastructure strong enough to support the laptops?  (How often does the power go out?  How often does the internet go out?  How often does the wireless go out?  Can the district handle all those kids logged on at once?) 
  • Do I have stable desks, and carpeting?
  • How am I, the teacher, supposed to handle a kid who forgot to charge his laptop, and it goes out during the quiz?
  • How will the district/schools handle those kids who just cannot be trusted on computers?  (Yes, they exist, and sometimes they find a way to access porn sites and send hundreds of pictures to the school secretary's printer.  Just saying.)
What did I miss, teachers?

Of course, not all the news is bad.  Of course having the most up-to-date information is a plus, especially in history or science class.  But how often does algebra change?  Or Romeo and Juliet?  Of course having graphics and animations can clarify instruction.

Now don't go thinking for a minute that I'm a Luddite.  Look how long I've been writing this blog, for example.  Consider that I'm one of the go-to guys on campus for teachers who have problems with our student information system (attendance, grades, discipline, parent contacts, etc.).  I actually like our student information system and am a big fan of how it simplifies many of my administrative tasks.  At home I have a computer, a tablet, and a smartphone.  And I know how to use them, and I know which one is the appropriate tool to use for a given task.

So I'm no Luddite.  I just don't see how the costs in any way outweigh the benefits in this Houston project.  I could be wrong, it may turn out to be wonderful.  And if it does, I hope someone will call my attention to the glowing newspaper articles about it.  In the meantime, I'm cynical.

A Worthwhile Class, or Not?

I've heard of worse ones:
The latest chatter about Game of Thrones is whether Jon Snow, a favorite character of the critically acclaimed and controversial HBO fantasy series, was really bumped off at the end of last season, or if he might somehow live again, join the ranks of zombies or merge his soul with that of Ghost, his albino dire wolf sidekick, of sorts.

Students at the University of California, Berkeley, can’t get caught up in all that right now. They’re busy looking back on what went into the show’s five seasons of intense plotting, intrigue and mayhem that culminated with Snow’s (apparent) death.

Summer Session courses such as this one, says instructor Justin Vaccaro, draw students with their seemingly light fare and their subjects’ hit status. And he’s got 27 students, a record for any of the summer classes he has taught since 2011.
Doesn't sound impressive yet, until you get to this part of the article:
For six weeks, shades are drawn and lights dimmed as students explore questions about what Game of Thrones may be saying about democracy, climate change, comparisons or contrasts of medieval battles and today’s warfare and torture, corruption of the American Dream, global havoc, and how human bodies – especially those of women, the disabled or poor – both possess, and yield to, power.  link
If done well this could be an exceptional course.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

The Apple Fell Far From The Tree

Education Intelligence Agency has the story about the legacy of Doc Buchanan:
All over the state, local unions formed and affiliated with the California Teachers Association or the California Federation of Teachers. But Clovis was unique among all but the very smallest of districts. It never had a union, and still does not, almost 40 years later.

Buchanan was opposed to unions, but he was apparently alone with the knowledge of turning them back. A colleague recalls Buchanan saying, “you need to serve your teachers and serve them so well that the trust is high, and they don’t feel they need a union.”

There has never been a group of workers who said to themselves, “We’re well paid, our working conditions are excellent, we’re treated with respect and our opinions matter… Let’s get a union in here!” Districts or charter schools faced with a union organizing drive should first look to their own practices and philosophies before worrying about what the union is up to.
I once worked for Buchanan's son.  He was not his father's son.  He was clueless, he was divisive, he was incompetent, and he might very well have been a criminal (I believe, but don't have evidence).  I mentioned him in this post--he was the arrogant, and entirely wrong, superintendent.

The amateur psychologist in me says he couldn't handle living in the shadow of his father.

As Long As It's A History Class

My guess is it will become an "advocacy" class, with the goal of turning students into social justice warriors.  But that's just my guess:
This fall, San Francisco’s Ruth Asawa School of the Arts will be offering one of the country’s first high school history courses dedicated to the LGBT movement.

“LGBT Studies” will “look at the legalization of same-sex marriage, the U.S. military’s ‘don’t ask don’t tell’ policy and the history of major events such as the Stonewall Riot.”
Will this be a high school version of an "aggrieved victim studies" major at universities?
The course will be coupled with another class on ethnic studies, which will explore minority groups in the Unites States, such as African Americans, Chinese Americans, Japanese Americans and Native Americans, Schlax said.
I hope these courses are in addition to more standard history courses, and not in place of.  Then again, it serves the interests of certain people to continue to divide us.  Will this course teach hatred and resentment like the classes in Tucson did?  I guess we'll find out.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

What's The Problem In This Story?

Kids are being kept from going to college by clueless education bureaucrats:
A last-minute decision by California education leaders cost scores of students around the state — including at least a dozen in San Francisco — a final chance to graduate from high school and go to a four-year college this fall.

The students haven’t passed a test that they can’t take anymore.

They were accepted to four-year colleges earlier this year, but first needed to pass the California High School Exit Exam to get a diploma. The problem? The state no longer offers the Exit Exam.
What's the real problem in this story?  The real problem is that the exit exam in California is given to sophomores, the majority of which pass it the first time.  You can see what's covered on the test, and download practice questions, here.

How is it that a student who hasn't passed that most basic test can get accepted into a university?  That is the real problem in this story.

My Teacher Web Page

For years our district has used some service with which we could create and maintain our teacher web pages.  Last year, however, we were told that that contract was not being renewed and we'd have to move all the stuff on our web pages, information and links and papers and all that, to one of two new platforms that our district has chosen.

No, our district tech folks wouldn't migrate the data over for us.

I don't want to attend hours of instruction to learn how to set up a new web site.  I've chosen which of the two platforms I want to use, why can't the district tech folks give me summary sheet of commands, functionality, etc., so I can focus only on those capabilities I need?

Sometimes they're very frustrating.

Friday, August 14, 2015

The Worst Luck

From the Army Times:
Forty Ranger students and four Ranger instructors were taken to the hospital Wednesday after they were hit by lightning during training. The students were learning lightning protection protocols at the time of the incident.
Reminds me of this video:

"I'm the only one in this room that I know of professional enough to carry this Glock .40..."

In both cases, Homer Simpson says it best:  doh!

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Last Class

School started in my district today.

Those children who started kindergarten today are special to me--they're my last class.  If all goes to plan, when they're done with school, I'm done with school.  When they graduate, I retire.

I don't know them yet but I already feel a kinship with them.  They're my graduating class, just as much as '83 was :-)


A couple days ago I wrote a post that was essentially about teachers who indoctrinate students.

I have some West Point posters hanging in my classroom--I'm proud of my alma mater.  I have pennants from each of our service academies hanging in my classroom.  At the back of the classroom I have pictures of President Reagan, President Bush, and Queen Elizabeth II, all people whom I admire.  Also hanging on the walls are comics that have mathematical content, and various and sundry quotations on educational and motivational topics (e.g., "I can teach it to you, but I cannot learn it for you" and "Algebra:  the intensive study of the last three letters of the alphabet").  Everything I have on the walls is a "pro" thing.

I was stunned today when I walked into a classroom and, hanging right next to the door, is a poster showing gravestones, with the text "You can't be all that you can be if you're dead."  The remaining text made it clear that it was, in fact, an anti-military poster.  Imagine my horror at seeing something so offensive!  To try to convey that horror to lefties:  imagine how you'd feel if, upon walking into a classroom, you saw one of those aborted/dismembered fetus posters that some pro-life protesters display.

I'm sickened by this poster.  How vile do you have to be to put such a thing on the wall of a classroom?  If I thought such a person could be reached by logic, I'd point out that the military, like the police, is a part of government, and this particular teacher is of the political persuasion that "wants more government than Darren does".  But this person isn't going to be persuaded by any logic, fact, or reason.

I've mentioned Jonathan Haidt lately; in this post I show my scores on his "moral foundations" quiz.  I'm not sure if that poster hit me in the loyalty, authority, or purity foundation (which includes what you hold sacred), but hit me it did.  Haidt's book has given me some knowledge and some vocabulary to describe not only what I'm feeling, but why, but it doesn't help me overcome my disgust.

Update:  it looks like what I saw today was a variation of the picture in this 10-year-old blog post.  Based on the comments, I'm not the only person who finds the poster's sentiment to be "off-putting."

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Trigger Warnings

If you're not strong enough to handle an opinion with which you disagree, perhaps you're not strong enough to attend college.  Seriously, let's quit pretending that "safe spaces", "microaggressions", "trigger warnings", and other molly-coddling experiences have any justification or usefulness among real adults.

I just finished a book by (self-described uber-liberal) Jonathan Haidt, and he's one of the co-authors of this article:
Something strange is happening at America’s colleges and universities. A movement is arising, undirected and driven largely by students, to scrub campuses clean of words, ideas, and subjects that might cause discomfort or give offense. Last December, Jeannie Suk wrote in an online article for The New Yorker about law students asking her fellow professors at Harvard not to teach rape law—or, in one case, even use the word violate (as in “that violates the law”) lest it cause students distress. In February, Laura Kipnis, a professor at Northwestern University, wrote an essay in The Chronicle of Higher Education describing a new campus politics of sexual paranoia—and was then subjected to a long investigation after students who were offended by the article and by a tweet she’d sent filed Title IX complaints against her. In June, a professor protecting himself with a pseudonym wrote an essay for Vox describing how gingerly he now has to teach. “I’m a Liberal Professor, and My Liberal Students Terrify Me,” the headline said. A number of popular comedians, including Chris Rock, have stopped performing on college campuses (see Caitlin Flanagan’s article in this month’s issue). Jerry Seinfeld and Bill Maher have publicly condemned the oversensitivity of college students, saying too many of them can’t take a joke.

Two terms have risen quickly from obscurity into common campus parlance. Microaggressions are small actions or word choices that seem on their face to have no malicious intent but that are thought of as a kind of violence nonetheless. For example, by some campus guidelines, it is a microaggression to ask an Asian American or Latino American “Where were you born?,” because this implies that he or she is not a real American. Trigger warnings are alerts that professors are expected to issue if something in a course might cause a strong emotional response. For example, some students have called for warnings that Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart describes racial violence and that F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby portrays misogyny and physical abuse, so that students who have been previously victimized by racism or domestic violence can choose to avoid these works, which they believe might “trigger” a recurrence of past trauma.

Some recent campus actions border on the surreal.
Sidebar quotes from the article--which you'll note is from The Atlantic, hardly a conservative publication:
According to the most-basic tenets of psychology, helping people with anxiety disorders avoid the things they fear is misguided.

What are we doing to our students if we encourage them to develop extra-thin skin just before they leave the cocoon of adult protection?

The new climate is slowly being institutionalized, and is affecting what can be said in the classroom, even as a basis for discussion or debate.
I'll state this outright--this isn't being done by conservatives. Liberals, this is all your doing. Get your act together.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Is It A Teacher's Place To Turn Students Into "Agents of Change"?

When it doesn't impede instruction I feel free to share ideas with students.  It's not uncommon at all to be asked what I think, and knowing that my views are not "mainstream California" views it probably does no harm for students to hear them.  If I can challenge a few assumptions, then so much the better.  It's all that "critical thinking" that we expect students to do, but without giving them a wide base of information from which to draw!

But teachers who think they should turn their students into "agents of change" or some similar term, that seems a bridge too far for me.  Should teachers be requiring students to write letters to legislators or executives  about specific proposals?  In most cases I'd probably say no.  Teaching kids that they should work for change in their communities--why, exactly?  You may think the community needs changing, plenty may not.

I don't have a problem with sharing facts, opinion, or commentary with students.  I do, however, have a problem with forcing it on them.

And that's what I saw when I read Larry Sand's article at
With the election season in full swing, expect a tide of union-led anti-reform, anti-choice and anti-Republican politicking in our kids’ classrooms.

“I watched the GOP presidential debate because my students are counting on me” is the title of a piece posted on the National Education Association website by “guest writer” Tom McLaughlin, a high school drama teacher from Council Bluffs, IA. He claims that “…in addition to this debate, I had an obligation to watch future debates, take notes, and share the truth. I have a responsibility to do that for my students"...

Obviously McLaughlin never intended to report on the debate, but rather to deliver a diatribe infused with standard teacher union talking points against any and all who favor reform and dare have an “R” after their names...

Many teachers now take their cue from the likes of National Education Association Executive Director John Stocks who, at the recent NEA convention, told his flock that teachers need to become “social justice warriors.”

Silly me, all along I thought teachers were there to teach.
Teaching is one thing, indoctrinating is another.

Full disclosure: Larry Sand is President of the California Teachers Empowerment Network, a non-partisan organization of California teachers which provides reliable and balanced information and peer support for teachers who may adopt different views than their peers, especially as regards union membership. I am on the board of directors of CTEN.


When I'm healthy--unlike now, when I'm 5 weeks into a bout with bronchitis--I hop on my elliptical trainer each morning for 20 minutes before leaving for work.  I have to do something so I can say I exercise.

One of the difficulties, though, is that it's boring.  So I started listening to the radio.  But since my exercise time includes 6 o'clock, much time on the radio is spent in commercials and new show change-over.  Boring.

I tried reading.  Smithsonian Magazine has large enough print that it's not all that difficult to read while moving, but it is difficult to focus on the reading.  I was talking about this at work one day a couple years ago and a colleague asked if I'd considered audiobooks.  I had not, at least not until that moment.

I now love, the Amazon site that sells audiobooks.  The program I'm on costs me $15/month, and for that $15 I get one "point".  I can buy a book for that point, even if the book costs more than $15.  Not bad.

I started with math and science books, but listening to such texts without having handy access to charts, pictures, and graphs (they're available, but certainly not handy) makes the experience less than ideal.  The plan came together when I switched to narrative books--in my case, history, social science, and now even fiction.

To give you the smallest peek into my mind, here are the audiobooks I've bought from Audible:

John Adams, by David McCullough
Longitude, by Dava Sobel
Augustus, by Anthony Everitt
The Plantagenets, by Dan Jones
A History of the World in 6 Glasses, by Tom Standage
Civilization, by Niall Ferguson
The Golden Ratio, by Mario Livio (I made it most of the way through this)
Moment of Battle, by Williamson Murray and James Lacey
Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue, by John McWhorter
After America, by Mark Steyn
Catch22, by Joseph Heller (I only made it half-way through this one)
Unbroken, by Laura Hillenbrand
The Big Three In Economics, by Mark Skousen
The Ugly Renaissance, by Alexander Lee
The Ghost Map, by Steven Johnson
The Martian, by Andy Weir
The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion, by Jonathan Haidt
Popular Economics, by John Tamny
Armada, by Ernest Cline
(I have no idea in what order my Kindle Fire organized these for me!)

Based on what's worked best for me, I've decided that my running time should be more "entertainment time" than "learning time" when it comes to books.  I'm not up to hitting the elliptical right now but tonight I finished The Righteous Mind and just started The Armada (narrated by Wil Wheaton).  Perhaps I can convert some driving time to "learning time".

Monday, August 10, 2015

Hurt Feelings

Some law school applicant said he was owed an apology.  Here's the (IMHO very measured) response:
To sum up, if you decide to publish an article, and your article gives rise to a response or responses taking issue with your ideas, that is cause for genuine pride and congratulations, as most ideas are never even noticed. But, if instead, your reaction to such responses is to claim that you have been injured (i.e., your feelings are hurt because you have become aware that others see the world differently from you), then it seems to me that your purported injury is not meaningful or cognizable. If mere hurt feelings were a recognized injury, then no one could possibly disagree with anyone else, and all intellectual inquiry, in law and in other fields, would be at an end. You do see that, right? At a time when free speech is in decline all over the world, when free speech is threatened by government monitoring, by ever expanding legal liability, and by criminals who respond with violence to speech with which they disagree, are you sure you are on the right side of this issue? Exactly whose side are you on?
Much more measured than my "f@#! you" would have been.  Referring to the wussie as a "social justice warrior" was just good enough.

First Day Back

Professional Development day today.  Another day of it tomorrow.  On Wednesday we have the day to get our classrooms ready, and Thursday the kids show up.

If nothing else, I'll be busy Wednesday!

Today, though, we were supposed to start creating "curriculum maps" for our courses.  What is a curriculum map, you ask?  What does it include?  Well, looking at such documents from different schools around the state I'd have to say a curriculum map is whatever you want it to be, and includes whatever you want to include on it.  It's another waste of time, except perhaps to give to a rookie so they know how long to spend on certain topics--which means it's kinda sorta like a souped-up pacing guide, which was the document to have just a couple years ago.

We're getting new books this year for the courses I teach.  I know, I know, "the book isn't the curriculum", but it's got to be more than just a problem set, too.  In theory we pay for books in which the topics to be learned are already organized into a logical sequence other words, the book kind of is a major part of the curriculum.  How do we do curriculum guides when we don't have the books we're supposed to pilot this year?  Just do them for the current book, of course, and then cut/paste when we get the new books!

BTW, we don't "pilot" textbooks in my district anymore.  That would require too much organization.  No, we'll get some books for a couple months late in the school year and we'll do a "mini-pilot" or something.  We don't use them for a year, do a thorough evaluation of them, and compare them to the other books under consideration.  No, we half-ass it.

Getting fired up already.  I'm ba-a-a-a-a-a-a-ack!

Sunday, August 09, 2015

I Didn't Sleep Well Last Night. Or Much At All.

I doubt my one mojito is the culprit.  More than likely it's the knowledge that I go back to work tomorrow--and I still have bronchitis from my Europe trip.  Ugh.

Does anyone else have that subconscious dread of going back to school?

Friday, August 07, 2015

Professional Development

Teachers, have you ever had any professional development that was genuinely worth the time or money spent on it?  Me, either:
The 50 largest school districts in America collectively spend $8 billion a year on professional development for teachers. What are they getting out of it? Bupkis.

That’s according to a new study titled The Mirage by the nonprofit TNTP, formerly The New Teacher Project, which interviewed 10,000 teachers and 100 administrators in three large districts and one charter school network over two years. It got the $8 billion figure by extrapolating out from the $18,000 average spent per teacher in the districts it studied.

Here’s what they found:

“most teachers do not appear to improve substantially from year to year”

“no evidence that any particular kind or amount of professional development consistently helps teachers improve”
Not the most scientific extrapolation cost-wise, but the findings comport with my own experiences.

Thursday, August 06, 2015

America's Top Colleges

The top 50, according to Forbes:

US Air Force Academy, #34
US Naval Academy, #27
US Military Academy, #9

Aren't you glad it's this way?  Aren't you happy that your federal military academies are recognized as such high-quality academic institutions?  Isn't it satisfying that these schools are recognized as being so good year after year?

Wednesday, August 05, 2015

Liberal Utopia

Gay-friendly?  Check.
Cosmopolitan?  Check.
Diverse?  Check.
Rent control?  Check.
Mass transit?  Check.
Liberal almost to the point of being fascist?  Check.

San Francisco sounds like liberal utopia, but who actually lives there?  Who can afford to live there?  Well, Business Insider tells us who can't afford to live there:
Housing in San Francisco is expensive.

So expensive, in fact, the city's schools can't hire enough teachers because the cost of living is so onerous.

According to a report from KTVU in San Francisco, the city's school district needs to find 51 more teachers in the 2 weeks before school starts, but is having trouble hiring due to the high cost of living.
This won't be a problem for long.  People with families can't afford to live in San Francisco; this story may be old but there's no reason to believe it's not still true:
There are an estimated 120,000 dogs in San Francisco, according to the city's Animal Care and Control department. There are anywhere from 108,000 to 113,000 children, according to U.S. census figures from 2000 and 2005. 
Anyway, no one wants a long commute, especially on public transit and especially when they're forced to for economic reasons.

Shangri-La has become Paradise Lost.

Update:  here's some more recent information:
Just 13.4 percent of San Francisco's 805,235 residents are younger than 18, the smallest percentage of any major city in the country. By contrast, San Jose's percentage of children is 24.8 percent, Oakland's is 21.3 percent, Boston's is 16.8 percent and Seattle's is 15.4 percent, according to Brian Cheu, director of community development for the Mayor's Office of Housing. Even Manhattan is composed of roughly 15 percent children, according to Dan Kelly, director of planning for San Francisco's Human Services Agency.
Eventually the teacher shortage problem will solve itself. They won't need any teachers in San Francisco.

Evaluating Teachers Via "Value Added"

I was a fan of "value added measure" back in the late 1990s, then the evidence seemed to turn away from its validity.  A little more esoteric use of statistics and VAM is back in the game:
Is evaluating teachers an exact science? Many people — including many teachers and their unions — believe current methods are often too subjective and open to abuse and misinterpretation. But new tools for measuring teacher effectiveness have become more sophisticated in recent years, and several large-scale studies in New York, Los Angeles and North Carolina have given those tools more credibility. A new study released on Monday furthers their legitimacy; and as the science of grading teachers advances, it could push for further adoption of these tools...

 But the economists on both sides of the Vergara case are still engaged in cordial debate. On one side is Raj Chetty of Harvard University, John Friedman of Brown University and Jonah Rockoff of Columbia University — hereafter referred to as “CFR” — who authored two influential papers published last year in the American Economic Review; Chetty testified for the plaintiffs in the case. On the other side is Jesse Rothstein, of the University of California at Berkeley, who published a critique of CFR’s methods and supported the state in the Vergara case.

On Monday, to come full circle, the CFR researchers published a reply to Rothstein’s criticisms.

At the center of this debate are evaluation models that try to isolate the educational value added by individual teachers, as measured by their students’ standardized-test scores relative to what one would expect given those students’ prior scores. The hard part, as Friedman says, is to “make sure that when you rate a teacher, that you actually rate what the teacher has done, and not whether they had a bunch of very poor or very rich students.”
I draw your attention to the source of the excerpt above.  Very interesting.

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

A Lot Of What Is Wrong With Public Education Is In These Two Articles

Student’s stunning plea: Why did NYC let me graduate high school?
I don’t like receiving what I would call a handout, but that’s what happened.

New York City gave me a ­diploma I didn’t deserve.
Teacher on why she passed student who ‘begged’ to fail
The Queens teacher who passed a high school student practically begging to be failed made a stunning admission Sunday — she did it because of the “tremendous amount of pressure” to just graduate kids.

William Cullen Bryant High School instructor Andrea McHale copped to the move the same day that The Post published a front-page essay by guilt-ridden teen Melissa Mejia lamenting how she received a passing grade in the teacher’s government class — even though she rarely showed up, didn’t turn in homework, and missed the final.

A minimum passing grade of 65 allowed her to graduate.

“It was not an ideal situation,” McHale acknowledged to The Post at her Queens home. “If we don’t meet our academic goals, we are deemed failures as teachers. There is a tremendous amount of pressure on us as teachers.”

“I thought it was in her best interest and the school’s best interest to pass her.”

My Morality

I'm reading a book called The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided By Politics And Religion. The author, an admitted liberal, set out to determine how people think about morality. He identified 5 different "moral foundations" and after much study posited that liberals base their morality on 2 of the foundations and conservatives base theirs on all 5 (this is partly why liberals and conservatives don't understand each other). I went to a web site he was involved with,, and took one of the surveys to see which foundations I base my morals on, and I'm not at all surprised at the results. My results match up pretty well with those of other conservatives.

Monday, August 03, 2015

It's Hard To Believe, But...

...I go back to work a week from today.  School starts for the kids three days later, on Thursday.

It's too darned early to be starting school, especially in California in a classroom without effective air conditioning.


The anniversaries of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings are coming up, and that means we're going to have to hear from the leftist revisionists again. 

Let's not.  Let's hear from someone with some sense instead.  And let's hear from this one, too.

Update, 8/6/16:  The video isn't at that link anymore.  Until I can find a direct link, you can view it here instead.

Sunday, August 02, 2015

When Progressive Fantasies Hit Reality

Remember this god of the Left from just a few months ago?  He's no longer a god, he's an avatar:
The Seattle CEO who reaped a publicity bonanza when he boosted the salaries of his employees to a minimum of $70,000 a year says he has fallen on hard times.

Dan Price, 31, tells the New York Times that things have gotten so bad he’s been forced to rent out his house.

Only three months ago Price was generating headlines—and accusations of being a socialist -- when he announced the new salary minimum for all 120 employees at his Gravity Payments credit card processing firm. Price said he was doing it, and slashing his $1 million pay package to pay for it, to address the wealth gap.

“I’m working as hard as I ever worked to make it work,” he told the Times in a video that shows him sitting on a plastic bucket in the garage of his house. “I’m renting out my house right now to try and make ends meet myself.”

The Times article said Price’s decision ended up costing him a few customers and two of his “most valued” employees, who quit after newer employees ended up with bigger salary hikes than older ones.

“He gave raises to people who have the least skills and are the least equipped to do the job, and the ones who were taking on the most didn’t get much of a bump,” Gravity financial manager Maisey McMaster, 26, told the paper.

She said when she talked to Price about it, he treated her as if she was being selfish and only thinking about herself...
To paraphrase an old saying: You may not care about reality, but reality cares about you.

Saturday, August 01, 2015

Like The Phoenix

I have a new computer.  Sort of.

I ended up taking my computer to Best Buy.  What they told me explains many happenings of late--yes, I had some malware on my computer, but the big problem was that my hard drive was starting to die.  Fortunately I backed up the data a few days before I took the computer in.

They put in a new 1 TB hard drive for me, and despite the impending total collapse they were able to mirror the old drive onto the new one.  All my programs, all my stuff, it's right where it was!  Then they cleaned the malware off the new drive.

OK, so I'm $265 poorer, but now it's all like nothing ever happened.  And I have lots more hard drive space to boot.