A Shrewdness of Apes

An Okie teacher banished to the Midwest. "Education is not the filling a bucket but the lighting of a fire."-- William Butler Yeats

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Of coffeepots and kings...

A Sour Apple Grimace to the Grinches behind this idea. In yet another show of disdain for teachers, the St. Paul, Minnesota school district is now expecting teachers to pay a fee for having electrical devices such as refrigerators, microwaves, or hotpots in their classrooms:
In announcing the policy last week, interim Superintendent Lou Kanavati described the $25 per appliance annual fee as one in a series of steps to save money. He said the district's energy costs this year could exceed $6 million -- far more than the $3.6 million officials budgeted for.

For now, the district is asking for voluntary payment, and there are no immediate plans to enforce the fee. People who pay it will get a sticker to affix to their appliance.

Still, teachers, counselors and other St. Paul school employees say they're outraged. Mary Cathryn Ricker, president of the local teachers union, said complaints are rolling in.

"I've been universally hearing from members who are frustrated at the least and insulted at the most," Ricker said. "They say, `We bring papers home to grade and we don't charge the district for electricity at home."'

Kenosha, Wisconsin has gone one better:
The school board in Kenosha, Wis., went much further, adopting a policy banning microwaves, coffee pots and food making appliances in classrooms.

Once again, had the nimrods who came up with this idea walked a mile in our shoes, they would realize that teachers have bladders the size of a competitive eater’s stomach and thirsts the size of Saturn (these two things may be related). Why? Because we are alleged “professionals” who are not allowed to go to the bathroom when the urge strikes, nor are we able to go grab a drink for our parched throats or wander to a coffeepot to tank up on life-giving caffeine whenever we feel the need. Who else in the working world (especially the white collar one) endures such conditions? This is why we have coffeepots (or in my case a hotpot for tea) and fridges. And don’t even start me on the fact that the compressor in the nearest pop machine in my building (a mere quarter mile from my room) has been frozen into a block of ice since last March, despite a plethora of pleas to fix the dadgum thing.

Then there’s our 20 minute lunch period. If we don’t bring in our food, we have to go to the cafeteria, which means we have to cut in line ahead of the students if we have a hope of actually being able to eat. And then there’s the fact that about 90% of the calories in a school lunch come from starches and fat (As stated on this school district’s food services info page: “Students, however, need more calories than do adults. The teenage boy has the greatest caloric need of any human being. The meal is designed for growing students; it may provide excess calories for adults.” Duh.) Not the type of diet for a person in a high-stress position.

**Update: The Education Wonks also have a post on this topic at their place.

Emerson said, "A man often pays dear for a small frugality." The authorities in these school districts hope to save about $100,000. What price good will?

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

An 8-year-old, misunderstanding the law, and a lot of damn gall

Why is Arizona on our minds so much lately? Here’s this gem from an incident in Phoenix on November 19:
She threw a temper tantrum. She ran into the street and was almost hit by a car. And she later reportedly kicked another student during an emotional outburst.

Authorities say that it was an 8-year-old girl's out-of-control behavior that led a Phoenix police officer and school staff members to handcuff her, restrain her feet and force her to take prescribed medication - all in front of a classroom full of third-graders.

That's the scenario parents and police painted Friday night at Lakeview Elementary, where Washington Elementary School District administrators held a meeting to address the concerns of about 100 parents, many of whom were enraged.

If this was the sum total of the story, it would just be a tragedy. But wait! There’s more, and here’s where it gets completely off the chain (emphasis mine):

Early Tuesday, the girl's mother called police, saying she could not control her child. Phoenix police Officer William Buividas, 22, responded and handcuffed the girl with permission from her mother, police spokeswoman Sgt. Lauri Williams said.

Then the mother, escorted by Buividas, took her child to school near Peoria and 30th avenues in Phoenix, where students in the girl's third-grade class witnessed the handcuffing.

"She was handcuffed, and she was screaming," said Cole Buxbaum, 8, a third-grade classmate.

The children were later told by school staff members not to tell their parents, according to parents and their children.

This child was so out of control that a police officer handcuffed her, with her parent’s permission. So what does the mom decide? Let’s dump her off on the school! They take her to school, still enraged, and turn her loose on an unsuspecting classroom! She then has to be restrained again!

How many people agree that this woman has the right to disrupt the educations of the thirty other kids in the classroom? She could already not control her child that day—and I’m not being unsympathetic to the fact that the child may have severe behavioral issues—but she loses me when she considers a schoolroom to be a time out room for her own personal convenience. Then there's the fact that administrators felt it necessary to restrain this screaming, kicking dervish in front of the rest her classmates. And don’t think that the parents of the other children in the padded cell classroom didn’t protest the insanity:

Bewildered parents questioned why the girl was allowed to come to school and then remain in a classroom where children were trying to learn.

A later column on this same situation included the following claims:

The school officials were merely trying to follow the law. Because of a 1975 court decision that gives public school students the right to a hearing before being suspended, it has become difficult to justify the removal of a disruptive student from the classroom.

In fact, had the Lakeview school authorities refused to allow the child, who had already been handcuffed by the police officer, access to the classroom, they could have been charged with disobeying federal law. The mother could have then sued and likely would have won a hefty settlement.

Undoubtedly, the unruly girl interfered with the other children's right to learn. However, the Supreme Court ruled in Tinker v. Des Moines Independent School District (1969) that children in public schools have free expression rights under the First Amendment.

The court sided with teenagers who had worn black armbands in their public schools in 1965 to protest the Vietnam conflict. Several ensuing rulings have further protected what could be described as a student's right to act and dress outrageously in our public schools….

The incident was unavoidable. The school had to allow the obviously upset girl to attend school that day because her mother had insisted upon it. The lady was within her rights.

The problem here is that the school district has refused to make a stand in the face of insanity. Whoever believes that the 1975 case, Goss , et al. v. Lopez, et al. prevents students from being suspended for dangerous behavior has obviously not read the case (emphasis mine):

“The Due Process Clause will not shield [a student] from suspensions properly imposed, but it disserves both his interest and the interest of the State if his suspension is in fact unwarranted…. There need be no delay between the time "notice" is given and the time of the hearing. In the great majority of cases the disciplinarian may informally discuss the alleged misconduct with the student minutes after it has occurred. We hold only that, in being given an opportunity to explain his version of the facts at this discussion, the student first be told what he is accused of doing and what the basis of the accusation is. Since the hearing may occur almost immediately following the misconduct, it follows that as a general rule notice and hearing should precede removal of the student from school. We agree with the District Court, however, that there are recurring situations in which prior notice and hearing cannot be insisted upon. Students whose presence poses a continuing danger to persons or property or an ongoing threat of disrupting the academic process may be immediately removed from school. In such cases, the necessary notice and rudimentary hearing should follow as soon as practicable, as the District Court indicated.

Likewise, the Tinker case certainly does not shelter the behavior the girl engaged in as “free speech.” What idiocy! All that would be required is that the girl and/or her guardian be informed about why she would merit a consequence such as suspension. She and her mother do not have to agree or be happy about it.

It appears that this school district has given up in the fight to ensure that its non-disabled students have the right to a free, fair, and appropriate education in the least restrictive environment possible. They have allowed this parent to use a place of learning as her own private dumping ground. This child should never have been allowed in the door, just as we should never allow students who are under the influence to sit in our classrooms and possibly hurt themselves or others. Had they shown some backbone, there wouldn’t be any discussion about forcibly restraining this girl in front of her classmates or of forcing her to take her prescription. The principal and the school psychologist would not be suspended right now.

Shame on the mother. Shame on school officials.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Unleash the naivete! NAEP scores, state tests results differ

An article in a recent edition of the New York Times has exposed the fact that students are doing much better on state-administered tests of reading and mathematics than on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, otherwise known as the NAEP. In Tennessee, there was a differential of 68 percentile rankings between the Tennessee tests and the NAEP.

A quick review —and if you know this already, just hum a few verses of Jim Croce’s Working at the Car Wash Blues, a paean to underachievers everywhere, while we sketch in the main facts. To continue: under NCLB, states are allowed to use their own tests to demonstrate proficiency as required by the law, although they are also required to participate in NAEP. By 2014, each state is required to have ONE HUNNERT PERCENT of the young ‘uns testing at proficient or better.

In Mississippi, 89 percent of fourth graders performed at or above proficiency on state reading tests, while only 18 percent of fourth graders demonstrated proficiency on the federal test. Oklahoma, North Carolina, Alabama, Georgia, Alaska, Texas and more than a dozen other states all showed students doing far better on their own reading and math tests than on the federal one.

Say It Ain’t So, Joe!

As noted by the Times, let’s remember that practically every student must take the state tests, while NAEP is given to just a few students, and there are apparently no carrots used to bribe induce the students to actually try on NAEP.

Not all states were willing to play chicken with the federal government, however:

“G. Gage Kingsbury, director of research at the Northwest Evaluation Association, a nonprofit group that administers tests in 1,500 districts nationwide, said states that set their proficiency standards before No Child Left Behind became law had tended to set them high.

"The idea back then was that we needed to be competitive with nations like Hong Kong and Singapore," he said. "But our research shows that since N.C.L.B. took effect, states have set lower standards."

Not all have set the bar low. In South Carolina, Missouri, Wyoming and Maine, state results tracked closely with the federal exam.”

Well, let me tell you, that if push comes to that inevitable shove, SC, MO and all the others will wise up and lower their standards, too. I’d like to be able to sugarcoat this, but there is no way. Missouri set proficient as above grade level way back before NCLB, and with having to test every kid who’s been in the country five minutes or with those with myriad disabilities, you can’t be surprised.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Professional development horror stories, part 2

A commenter on my previous post about staff development suggested that we start a colaborative blog for teachers to post our "professional development horror stories." I'd give this person props, but their name is in Kanji or Han symbols, so I'm just going to call him or her "Ronin."

This seems like something that could be a laugh riot.

Here's my offer to you: You give me the stories, and I'll give em their very own post. Then we can all commiserate together.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Carnival of Education #42

There's so much to see in the Edublogging world. Where to begin? How does one navigate?

Easy! Go over to the Education Wonks and get the lowdown, all in one place!

Happy Thanksgiving! If you are traveling, drive safely.

Keeping body and soul together at Thanksgiving

Like so many others, we’re getting ready to uncircle the SUVs and head off to my parents’ for Thanksgiving. The warmth. The fellowship. The football. The lapsing into my native accent. The fun of trying to entertain three kids strapped into hard plastic car seats until the blood pools in their buttocks but who remain nonetheless within pinching, shoving and poking range. Through bitter experience, I can confide that the only thing that drowns out the sound of “Maaa—aaaaaaaaaaaaa!!!!!”s while one is trying to hurtle down the highway, by the way, is the Clash. How apropos.

But one tradition will be missing this year. No Taco Tico!

Bertie Wooster had the lure of the peerless Anatole’s Supreme de Foie Gras au Champagne or Niege aux Perles des Alpes to keep luring him back into Aunt Agatha’s clutches. We had Taco Tico, a delightful fast food joint guaranteed to stop the braying of the emptiest stomach after a wearying journey. It was tasty, it was cheap, and it was open Thanksgiving Day. Perfect.

See, every year, we are told that dinner will be at 3, and every year we know that that’s just a pile of giblets. Time and schedules have a mythic, hazy quality in my mother’s universe, particularly with my dad around, who merely knows that the kitchen is where the coffee pot is. How many times as a child was I incredibly late somewhere until I learned to tell my mom the appointment was an hour earlier? The first Thanksgiving we traveled back to the old homestead from our new city, I tried to warn my then-fiance to join me in partaking of the tangy, greasy goodness of a double beef enchilada with extra sauce, but he was sure I was foolishly taking up prime space reserved for turkey and nobly refused. Three hours later, he was ready to gnaw the cabinetry around my parents’ tv while the turkey was still tartare. Next year we were not so adverse to a little caloric insurance before presenting ourselves at the doorway of the parental manse, now were we, honey?

And thus every year. But no more. Taco Tico has closed up shop to the gnashing of teeth of this side of the clan Cornelius. Hasta la vista, Taco Tico. We knew ye well. You shall be long lamented. I have no idea what we will do now.

Maybe the Coney I-Lander will be open.

One can only dream.

Green Bean Casserole Recipe

No Down Home Thanksgiving feast would be complete without Green Bean Casserole. To keep my brother from calling incessantly again NEXT year asking for the recipe, here it is (it ain’t rocket science, Bubba). It may be lowbrow, but it says “home.” Well, it doesn’t really speak, because that would be weird….

4 cans French style green beans
2 cans cream of mushroom soup
1 can milk
2 cans sliced water chestnuts, sliced further into slivers
12 oz shiitake mushrooms, sliced
1 large container French-fried onions
12 oz shredded sharp cheddar cheese
fresh ground pepper, to taste
Jane’s Crazy Mixed Up Salt, to taste

In a skillet, saute the mushrooms quickly in 2 teaspoons of butter. In a Corningware bowl, combine the green beans, mushrooms, water chestnuts, soup, and milk. Mix together. Mix in half the cheese and half the French fried onions. Salt and pepper to taste. Place in a 350 degree oven until bubbly. Place the rest of the French fried onions on top of the casserole, and cover with the rest of the cheese. Resume baking until cheese melts. Enjoy!

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

As long as he's not named Tom (or KennyBoy or Scooter or Jack)

With a tummy full of yummy Mongolian mare's milk, about to jet off to work off those calories clearing yet more brush on what must be the most overgrown ranch in Crawford, President Bush gives a turkey a pardon.

Easy there, fella.

Professional development that develops glacially

It may just be the time of year, but I have been really frustrated with some of the staff development this year. We were given the task of reading a book on the racial achievement gap over the summer. I did this, even though this book was annoyingly condescending toward teachers in several spots. We then were supposed to meet about once a month to discuss ways of closing the achievement gap. This is ironic, given that our school has been commended for having a smaller gap than most of the schools in our area, but I still say that ANY gap is unacceptable.

But here's the problem. It is now almost December. We will not meet again for two months. And so far, all we've talked about is what our school is like.

For hours.

News flash: we have a mixture of socio-economic groups, a mixture of races, a mixture of kids requiring special services, and a mixture of academic abilities. We aren't rich, we aren't poor. We aren't all future Rhodes scholars or doctors' kids, but we aren't all going to be drop-outs, either.

Unfortunately, I am about to scream. Hours of meetings so we can role play and fishbowl about stuff we already knew. We have played cutesy "getting to know you" games and listen to truly abysmal poems read to us by one of the presenters. My heartstrings have been tugged into Gordian knots. We have dodged an attempt to dump a heaping load of guilt on those of us who have a family and/or who do not spend at least $2000 of our own money on our classrooms (gee, last year I spent $1999-- just missed it!). I must admit I suppressed a giggle when one of the GOB district administrators talked interminably about how he is an "oppressor." Noooooo. Really?

How to say this with a modicum of tact? The school year will be half over before we meet again, and we have yet to discuss ONE concrete strategy to begin to address this serious educational problem. I am beginning to think we are paying a bunch of money to a group of people who do not have any suggestions. I don't expect miracles, and I don't expect this problem to disappear overnight, but don't waste my time, please-- I'm up to my neck, already. Given the hours we've put into this, I was hoping for a little insight, at least.

At a minimum, keep the treacly vers libre to yourselves, please.

Ever felt like this? Vent! I feel better already.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Controversial subject matter at the risk of your job

From this article at educationnews.org:
Ed Youngblood, a 37-year teaching veteran, said he was forced to quit or be fired last week after showing an R-rated movie in his British literature class.... He resigned last Wednesday after complaints over his screening of the 1998 movie "Elizabeth" prompted an investigation....

Youngblood did not follow procedure by using unapproved materials in a class without first gaining permission from the school. Two weeks ago he showed the movie, which carries an R-rating for violence and sexuality, to a class of seniors.... Monday, Gwinnett County Public Schools spokeswoman Sloan Roach said that Youngblood chose to resign when told that an investigation had begun. Youngblood says he was given five minutes to choose between resignation and dismissal.

He said he was told those were his options because a precedent had been set at the school. In 2002, two special education teachers were forced to resign for showing the comedy "History of the World Part I" in class.

... Support is gaining at the school for Youngblood, who retired at the end of the 2004-2005 school year and taught part-time this year.

There is a real risk in showing mature material in one's classroom. My students are constantly talking about this movie or that movie that would perfectly illustrate a point about which we are talking. They then want me to show that movie. My answer is no.

Number one, I do not show videos in my classes. In my school, history teachers have the "joking?" rep of showing movies instead of teaching. If kids want to watch movies, they can do that at home-- and obviously, they have, or they wouldn't bring these films up. I do sometimes use movies for examples when I am teaching, but I simply refer to the scene in question-- I don't spend three days showing a movie.

Number two, I started a women's studies class this year, and whoa! did the stuff hit the fan by ultrauberconservatives on the faculty and the school board who thought I would be teaching man-bashing, bra-burning, and the braiding of armpit-hair, among other things which I do not even want to contemplate. Visions of femi-nazis obviously danced through the heads of Dittoheads some people, although I have received nothing but support from the principal (who suggested this, BTW). But I was called in to the superintendent's office to explain what I was planning to teach, exactly, to signify that I understood the policy for teaching controversial subject matter, and so on. Crikey! All I wanted to do is help young men and women understand the role that gender has played in society... I am actually quite moderate, politically, as anyone who has read this blog can see.

But my point is, you have to be careful about being misunderstood when discussing anything in class.

Having said this, I do find it a bit disingenuous that parents who in no way monitor what their kids are seeing at home squawk over PG movies being shown at school, or R-rated movies to 18-year-old seniors. I mean, I get way more embarassed by some of the gyrations and outfits of the drill team at pep rallies than by some of the material in films that most of my students have seen.

I once walked into my class as it was being used during my planning period by special education teachers teaching an "IEP class." They were showing the movie "Love and Basketball." I nearly had a seizure over the language before I could get out of there. I thought about how my 9th grade English teacher had a habit of deliberately getting behind in the filmstrip of "Romeo and Juliet" so that Romeo's naked butt would flash by on the screen in a nanosecond. She would have stopped breathing over what I saw in ten seconds.

The schools must meet standards that are much higher than that maintained in the general community. This is a matter of practicality, if not of common sense. Nonetheless, I smell a set-up in the "resignation" of Ed Youngblood.

Monday, November 14, 2005

The burden of proof and IEPs

Today the Supreme Court handed down a decision in the case of Brian Schaffer et al. v Jerry Weast, which turned on the question on who bore the burden of proof when an IEP was disputed (see the full story here).Young Mr. Schaffer allegedly suffers from learning diabilities and speech and language impairments. Although first at a private school, in 1998 he apparently began attending a public school. The Schaffers disagreed with the IEP because their experts claimed that he needed a self-contained program. When he was "mainstreamed," the parents claimed that the classes were too big. They were offered placement at another school, which they refused. They then placed him in another private school and sued the school district to pay the tuition for their son.

Sandra Day O'Connor, writing for the 6 person majority, states that the burden of proof must remain where it traditionally lies-- upon the plaintiff. Further, according to syllabus available on the Duke Law School Supreme Court Online website,

"[IDEA] does not support petitioners' conclusion, in effect, that every IEP should be assumed to be invalid until the school district demonstrates that it is not. Petitioners' most plausible argument-- that ordinary fairness dictates that a litigant not have the burden of establishing facts peculiarly within the knowledge of his adversary, United States v. New York, N.H. and HR. Co., 355 U. S. 253, 256, n. 5-- fails because IDEA gives parents a number of procedural protections that ensure that they are not left without a realistic chance to access evidence or without an expert to match the government."

Lawyers for Montgomery County Public Schools had also argued that placing the burden of proof on the school districts would give parents more incentive to fight the school system. The strategy is obvious: more money would be diverted from other students' educations in order to keep parents from keeping school districts tied up in litigation forever.

Most parents of students with IEPs are wonderful people who are trying to get help for their kids. But there is a lack of a sense of fairness and community when it comes to some of the parents with whom I have attended IEP meetings. They do not care how much money is drained from the schools, as long as their outlandish demands are met.

There is a very finite source of funding for public education in this country. The kids who so easily get left out in the cold are the ones in the middle, the majority, and ironically the ones who will be the main body of workers and taxpayers in the future. Also not considered are the students whose disabilities are not so allegedly "extreme"-- these kids also have resources transferred away from them in favor of these few exceptional cases. Their education is shortchanged and underfunded as school districts are bled dry by people expecting public schools to pay for their children's private school tuition. It is irresponsible not to question the efficacy of the expenditure of these moneys. How much general good is generated by these expenses? How is "fairness" achieved in this manner?

Edited ending: IEPs should be viewed as an honest attempt to help a student, not as a quick way to make a buck at the expense of every other student.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

It Came From Outer Space-- or Arizona-- well, same diff

Well, we knew it was coming. The puerile governor of Missouri, whom I like to call “The Boy King,” has jumped in on the game of “Me too!” being played out in Red states and is now proposing legislating the 65% Plan., which of course was first dreamed up by a group called First Class Education (more on this later).

As reported in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

Only 112 of Missouri's 524 school districts meet the 65 percent benchmark now. …Yet some of those local districts have some of the highest test scores in the state. And some get only 3 percent to 7 percent of their money from the state.

In a news conference, Blunt proposed putting his plan before voters statewide in November 2006. At first Blunt called for a constitutional amendment. Later he said that while it is important to get the issue on the ballot, he would support a change in state law if that's what legislators prefer.

"This year we face a challenging budget environment," Blunt said. "We need to ensure those dollars we provide for schools benefit students."

Blunt calls the idea "Our Students First - First Class Education for Missouri."

Jeez, The Boy King can't even cover his tracks well enough to use a different name from that of the original group behind this idea.

When asked about the plan, one Missouri superintendent noted, "Our district gets only 5 percent in state funds, and the state is interested in telling us how to spend all the funds."

Then there’s this observation:

…A spokesman for the Missouri School Boards' Association, said the governor's proposal defines classroom instruction narrowly. For instance, food service, counselors and buses are not included.

"The implication of this proposal seems to be all these other things are somehow wasteful and unimportant and that couldn't be farther from the truth, Just because it is not directly spent in the classroom doesn't mean that it does not affect and help kids with their education."

[The spokesman] said the school boards' association opposes the governor's proposal because it takes control away from local boards.

Blunt said boards will still have the ability to decide spending in the classroom. He said that 35 percent should be enough to cover overhead - administration, libraries, staff development, transportation, food and utility costs.

Libraries??? Libraries are “overhead,” and football is “instruction”???? And has anyone informed The Boy King about how much utility costs have risen lately (which he would know if he wasn’t busy selling himself to the highest bidder using corporate donors’ planes to fly hither and yon without being accountable to state taxpayers)?

I am STUNNED that alleged conservatives would betray their states’ rights roots on the question of local control of schools. To me, a bedrock conservative principle has always seemed to be “It’s my money, so I should get to decide how to spend it.” Agree with that or not, but it is local taxes that provide the funding for schools. The federal government and the state governments want to have their unfunded mandates and get praised for them too.

Then there's this bit from an archly funny piece in the Marshall, Missouri local paper:

"Since Blunt's "initiative" is actually a copy of the plan being pushed in all 50 states by a Washington, D.C.-based group known as First Class Education, let's look at a few things about that organization....

First Class Education hopes to get the issue on the 2006 ballot in up to 10 states, including Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Michigan, Ohio and Oklahoma, and raise at least $10 million to fund the effort. Add Missouri to that list of states.

"Stateline.org obtained a First Class Education memo circulated among Republican lawmakers in several states that lists 'political benefits' by putting the 65 percent proposal on the ballot. The memo, first published by the Austin American-Statesman last month, says the proposal will 'create tremendous tension' within state education unions by pitting administrators against teachers and will divert spending on other political goals of the 'education establishment.'"

Although it is listed by some as being based in Washington, DC, the Arizona Republic states in an October 20 article that Randy Pullen, a Republican from Scottsdale, AZ, was behind much of the strategy, with funding from Patrick Byrne, chief executive of overstock.com.

It seems so ridiculously simple. That's what makes it scary.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Thank You to All Veterans

My father and my uncle were in the Navy during World War II. My other uncle was in the Navy during the Korean War. My cousin was in the Coast Guard. We landlocked prairie types seem to really like the water.

I want to thank all those who have served or who are serving our country for their willingness to sacrifice on my behalf. All of our freedoms are, in the beginning, dependent upon you.

Update: Edwonk has a lovely post about Veterans Day over at his place, and he and MamacitaG include a copy of one of my favorite poems regarding the consequences of war, "In Flanders' Fields." I read this to my students every year when we talk about Armistice Day, which is what Veterans Day used to be called.

Pat Robertson thinks God is a two-year-old.

Always reliable for a quote to provoke jaw-dropping and forehead-slapping, Pat Robertson has come through again. Here's a snippet from yesterday's The 700 Club:

"To the good citizens of Dover, if there is a disaster in your area, don’t turn to God, because you just rejected him from your city.”

Yes, that is EXACTLY how the Almighty behaves, even if you could construe people using the intelligence with which God gifted us as being insulting to the Divine. What's next? Is a pox going to be called down? How medieval.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Sic Semper Stulti: the strange intersection of Topeka and Dover

Waayall, (as my grandpa would say) little girl, they gone and done it.

As explained here at the British newspaper The Independent,

The Kansas Board of Education voted 6-4 to adopt a new series of standards for the science curriculum taught in schools. Tuesday's vote will redefine "science" to say that it is no longer limited to the search for natural explanations of phenomena; in short, science no longer means scientific.

Kansas Board of Education chairman Dr. (sic!) Steve Abrams has been quoted as saying,”We can have an opportunity to have critical analysis of evolution. Prior, it was taught as dogma.” See, there you go mixing religious words with highfalutin' science words. Further causing cur-like cringing among intelligent Yanks everywhere wherever we can find them, the article as includes this bit of info to our cousins across the Pond (emphasis mine):

Critics of this theory say it is little more than a repackaged version of Creationism, which the Supreme Court decided in 1987 was a religious belief that could not be taught alongside evolution. While this ruling stands, current polls that suggest that up to 45 per cent of Americans believe that God made mankind in its current form at some point within the last 10,000.years.

Gaak! I hope our British friends are just engaging in a jolly bit of hyperbole, but I fear that I am kidding myself. (I mean, why do you think teachers are tired all the time? Because they know how much empty space there is to fill in so many heads.) But all is not lost, as the Kansas City Star notes:

The standards won’t go into effect until the 2007 school year. By then the school board could look dramatically different if moderates are successful in unseating conservatives in the November 2006 elections, both sides say. That could make the new standards moot, and start the whole debate over again. Both sides say the controversy has been too heated, and the implications for science, religion and education too great, for any easy solution.

The board’s conservative majority says it’s merely injecting criticism of what it calls a blindly accepted theory, and allowing students to decide for themselves. And they have their supporters. Polls indicate most Kansans have doubts about evolution and don’t dismiss the idea of teaching alternatives. Other states like Ohio and schools in Georgia and Pennsylvania have joined the debate as well.

Yes, this has happened before in Kansas, back in 1999, the last time they tried to Talibanize science education. Meanwhile, all the way across the continent, the Dover, PA school board is currently being sued over a policy they adopted in October of 2004 that required 9th graders to hear the following statement on intelligent design to be read aloud in science classes:

The Pennsylvania Academic Standards require students to learn about Darwin’s theory of evolution and eventually to take a standardized test of which evolution is a part.

Because Darwin’s theory is a theory, it continues to be tested as new evidence is discovered. The theory is not a fact. Gaps in the theory exist for which there is no evidence. A theory is defined as a well-tested explanation that unifies a broad range of observations.

Intelligent design is an explanation of the origin of life that differs from Darwin’s view. The reference book, “Of Pandas and People,” is available for students who might be interested in gaining an understanding of what intelligent design actually involves.

With respect to any theory, students are encouraged to keep an open mind. The school leaves the discussion of the origins of life to individual students and their families. As a standards-driven district, class instruction focuses upon preparing students to achieve proficiency on standards-based assessments.

And in what I believe to be proof of the Divine’s sense of humor, we have this little coincidence: yesterday, the Dover school board was resoundingly swept out of office. The eight Republicans who crafted this piece of voodoo were all replaced by Democrats. All of ‘em.

There’s a warning there, Kansas. Thus always to those who fear reason!

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Troubled Teen+Easy Gun Access+School= another tragedy

We are all reeling today after a 15-year-old freshman opened fire at Campbell County Comprehensive High School in Tennessee yesterday, killing Assistant Principal Ken Bruce (pictured immediately to the left) and seriously wounding Principal Gary Seale (pictured above left) and Assistant Principal Jim Pierce (pictured above right). Principal Seale apparently had the strength to make it to the intercom after being wounded and call the school into lockdown after being wounded. Mr. Seale and Mr. Pierce are hospitalized in serious condition at the time of this post. An unnamed teacher also helped disarm the murderer.

Assistant Principal Ken Bruce, a retired Lt. Colonel in the Army, passed away soon after reaching the hospital. May God watch over him and his family and friends in this time of grief and pain.

This incident is the third episode of gun-related violence in Tennessee schools this year. A Stewart County bus driver was shot and killed on her route in March, allegedly by a 15-year-old who is awaiting trial. A boy was shot in the leg while in a middle school restroom in Jefferson County in August, and the ensuing investigation revealed a plot to kill a teacher at Maury Middle School. Two students were sentenced to be in the custody of juvenile authorities until they turn 19, and another student found to be an accessory is having his sentencing held open pending his performance at a different school.

For more information, click here.

Ahnuld's Judgment Day (but I bet he'll be back)

Well, I just want to send a great big hooray out to my pals Mr. C and Polski3 and the EdWonk and all my other California teaching colleagues. It appears that the Guvernator did not prevail in his attempt to mess around with teacher tenure, among other things. And yes, the idea that we can never be fired is a crock of compost, anyway, as Jarrod Williamson commented on my last post on this topic.

Even if it was just to get back at an unpopular politician, the voters did the right thing, and I'll take it!

Intelligent design and intelligent debate, part deux (or Deus)

Ahhhh, Kansas. God bless 'em. And I'm sure they would appreciate that sentiment, since a majority of their state school board has once again turned back the clock to 1950... BCE.

Back in August, when I was a total newbie, I put forth this post about the debate over evicerating the teaching of evolution in science classes. I've gone back in and emphasized some points that are still resonant or just plain funny, in a world-weary kind of way:

Well, today there is this headline in the newspaper that caught my eye: President endorses teaching intelligent design. Quoth Mr. Bush: "I think that part of education is to expose people to different schools of thought."

Y'don't say! Can I hold you to that? Because I'm all about open, civil, intelligent discourse-- I just wasn't sure that many of the people Mr. Bush is courting with this pronouncement cherished the same goal.

The article goes on to say that the State Board of Education in Kansas-- always a bellwether in cutting edge educational thinking-- "is considering changes to encourage the teaching of intelligent design in Kansas schools, and Christian conservatives are pushing for similar changes in other school districts across the country." Luckily, not everyone in Kansas is so ready to acquiesce in this. In the words of Leonard Krishtalka, who directs the Natural History Museum at the University of Kansas, intelligent design is "creationism in a cheap tuxedo," trying to sneak into the Ball under false pretenses.

Faith and reason: complementary attitudes in the search for truth, or implacable adversaries? My faith is so important to me that the last thing I want is a teacher attempting the tightrope walk of explaining it in science class. Although my own personal belief is that God's existence is proven by the wonders of natural laws that tick along in complexity, this is just that-- a very personal religious belief which I would never share in class. Now, do I mention religion in my history classes? Yes. I have to, since religion informs behavior throughout history. How can a teacher explain current challenges facing American society without discussing certain religious beliefs and how they influence human behavior? But do I tell students that they personally have to ascribe to the beliefs that I have to explain? Absolutely not. And when I do have students who have legitimate questions about their beliefs, I gently but firmly suggest that this is a discussion they should have with their parents or guardians or religious leaders, if they've got them. Period.

But this is more of a case of "damned if you do, damned if you don't"-- literally. One of the things alleged "conservatives" constantly decry is schools invading the prerogatives of parents, as with the teaching of sex ed, because it violates their religious beliefs. "This should be taught in the home!" it is cried. (Agreed! I would love to not have to teach this topic, but from what I've experienced, a majority of parents don't. My own parents were so embarassed by the thought of talking about this with me that they sent me to a class. My father can be reduced to stuttering incoherence by the mere word "menstruation.") I find it interesting that the people who are most concerned about schools usurping the role of parents don't see the hypocrisy of having schools teach religious doctrine. Further, many of the people who promote the teaching of creationism in schools also spend a majority of their time denigrating in the most vicious terms the intelligence, industry, capability and intentions of teachers in general when it comes to teaching supposedly "basic" topics like reading and writing. And now they want people they consider to be evil, or even worse, numbskulls, teaching religious beliefs, with their millions of interpretations, as science?

My Beloved Offspring are occasionally taught things with which I do not agree. That doesn't mean that I will demand that the teacher conform the day's lesson to my beliefs. That means that, as a parent, I pay attention to what MBO are studying, and then we discuss our beliefs in our home. I also do not send said offspring to sally forth into class the next day and argue the point with the teacher. It is my responsibility as a parent to attend to my children's religious education as a part of our home life.

Another problem is this: many people who denounce the separation of religious teachings from schools only want THEIR religion taught, to the exclusion of viewpoints which conflict with their beliefs. Hmm, how should be handle this conundrum? Obviously, a show of hands won't work, because if democratic principles applied in religion, we would all still be placing offerings before altars to Jupiter-- Christians were once greatly outnumbered by those who adhered to the Roman state religion, and that was before Christianity was divided up into dozens of denominations with competing dogma. Judaism as a minority religion worked so well against the same Roman juggernaut that the Jews were expelled from Palestine for a millenia or two. If those examples are too remote for you, we can look at the modern example of the former Yugoslavia, or northern Ireland as cautionary tales of what happens when religions struggle for supremacy. Once we start injecting religious interpretation into schools, the next big problem, is: Whose interpretation? The Roman Catholic one? The Baptist one? The Jewish one? The Lutheran one (would that be Missouri Synod or Evangelical)? The Hindu one? Even people within denominations and religions do not agree with each other on matters of doctrine.

Let's just say that Mr. Bush gets his way on this one. Many people of faith aren't going to be satisfied with intelligent design, either, since some believe that Adam was created from clay and divine breath (or, if we interpret that etymologically, as "inspiration"), and that he and his male descendants are missing a rib under his armpit (Shall we teach that in anatomy?) Intelligent design fudges on this issue, to say the least. Religious people, beware! Intelligent design is still the injection of a small part of an overall religious interpretation with which only a minority of you would agree. It is also highly presumptuous that the only religious beliefs which should be promoted in our schools are Christian beliefs.

Another article about this story on the 'net contained the following quote: John G. West, an executive with the Discovery Institute, a Seattle-based think tank supporting intelligent design, issued a written statement welcoming Bush's remarks. "President Bush is to be commended for defending free speech on evolution, and supporting the right of students to hear about different scientific views about evolution," he said. But does any one else see the irony of this championing of free speech in this context?

The concept of intelligent design is a Trojan horse for adding religious content with which you probably disagree to schools' already overburdened curricular load. Speaking of Trojan horses, I know of several teachers who have been challenged for teaching Greek mythology, since the stories once served a religious purpose-- suddenly, then the cry from the religious right is that we are teaching religion in the schools! Apparently some schools of thought ought not to be subjects for exposition, freedom of speech be damned. Perhaps we should make sure not to teach FALSE religions.

Okay. Which ones were those, again?

More on this coming above.

Friday, November 04, 2005

My word in Lights Redux....

One of my friends had a hard time finding my post that was highlighted a couple of weeks ago on the Education Wonks, so I've copied it here. If you've already read it, then skip it. The original questions was posed by Greek Shadow: "When will all the paperwork bullshit end?" Then Graycie talked about how she makes kids and instruction her first priority, followed by parents, then paperwork. Polski3 then talked about mandates from the new discipline plan at the jr. high at which he teaches, and EdWonk gave some info about the creator of this system. Then I said:

I am afraid it all goes back to the fact that what teaching actually entails is a mystery to most parents, and, sadly, many administrators. People think that because they went to school, they know what teachers do. That's like saying that because I've been operated upon, I know what surgeons do (which, from my last surgery, is apparently to tell your patient that an infected incision was "actually worthy of an A minus," which once again proves my point that non-teachers don't understand teaching).

The Greek chorus of politicians and administrators and parents chants that they want instruction to students to be the first consideration, then layer on the bureaucracy.

My students and I were having a conversation in US history class about outsourcing the other day. We talked about the role technology has played in making outsourcing possible.

I looked at the computer on my desk as I spoke. When I began teaching in this district, we didn't even have a phone or intercom help button in our rooms. If there was an emergency, you had to have a trusted student run downstairs to the office and get someone (after the first emergency, I had to amend the instructions to include, "Stand there and loudly yell for help until an administrator actually comes with you right then.")

Then we all were "given" computers as long as we agreed to take 12 classes on various pieces of software and pass assessments on them-- classes after school or before school on our own time, unpaid, BTW (Can you say, "Job security for the technology diva?").

Once computers were on everyone's desk, our school district went online, and grading and progress reports and email to parents became de rigeur. But you can't enter grades from home, and although we are supposed to check our email frequently during the day, we teachers are given a time limit for how many minutes each day you leave the email on-- exceed it, and you are cut off, even if you are waiting for an urgent response from an administrator or counselor. You are not supposed to be online during instructional time, and could be fired for doing so, but the community is told that the internet is used as a tool by the teacher during the school day- say, to show students the answer to a student question or whatnot.

Parents can set up the system so that every time a new grade is entered for their child, they are emailed, which can lead to about 20 emails a day from parents, all of which have to be answered. I had one parent who checked her daughter's grade 897 times between October through the end of May. I am not making this up-- the counselor and I had a bet on it.

Yes, we teachers are supposed to stay off the computer, which means no grading or answering the zillion parent emails-- unless there is a "situation," then the principal comes over the intercom to tell all teachers to drop what they are doing to check their emails immediately for a special announcement, right in the middle of instructional time. Oh, and don't tell the kids what the email was about, although they have all watched you go over and read it.

We were told that technology would make our teaching lives easier. All I see is that it's actually caused me to spend exponentially more time on non-instructional tasks. This is not the fault of the technology. It is the fault of the restrictions placed upon our use of technology by administration.

At least I don't have to turn in lesson plans detailing the district, state and essential curriculum standards I cover and how this relates to testing blahblahblah every week. It could be worse.

And the funny thing is, I just got a new iMac today after making another deal with the diva because my old machine kept freezing up. I got another 30- some hours of training to sit through in order to be able to do my original job-- teaching.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Hurry! Hurry! Get your red-hot Carnival of Education #39

right here at Get On the Bus. Thanks, Scott, for doing the honors!

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