Florida Gets New Ed Head But As Conservative Con Jobs Go, Not So New

19 07 2011

JJ’s note: this was drafted last month when I was pretty hot about it, so I set it aside to cool off. Well, I did cool off about THIS but only because everything else has me even hotter now! (At least it kept me from blogging the Casey Anthony debacle as yet another Florida shame.)

So I just reread it and it’s not wrong or incomplete, just pissy. To get it out of the draft file and make room for new and bigger outrage, here it is:

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What a discouraging “choice” . . .

After bullying his way into our state’s governorship with $70 million he bilked from taxpayers, corporate fraudster Rick Scott quickly forced out Florida’s education commissioner (who himself was no prize — he’d come to what used to be called public service from a for-profit testing company, to put even more misplaced emphasis on said testing to dominate the lives of teachers and kids.)

Yesterday Scott got what he wanted, yet another weapon in his grand scheme to destroy our common wealth, an even more direct dismantler of public education, a career-long panderer to corporate interests in education sold with soothing sounds of concern for kids and schools: Read the rest of this entry »

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What’s in a Name? Can You Hum a Few Bars?

16 07 2011

Remember Beetleness and Daffodility?

. . .sorting and naming the natural world is a universal, deep-seated and fundamental human activity, one we cannot afford to lose because it is essential to understanding the living world, and our place in it.

THIS PROFUSION OF HUMMINGBIRDS is from the book “Kunstformen der Natur,” by Ernst Haeckel, 1900. The names of the birds, like Topaza pella, or crimson topaz (third from top), and Sparganura sappho, or red-tailed comet (with forked tail), seem as lush and elaborate as their coloration.

THIS PROFUSION OF HUMMINGBIRDS is from the book “Kunstformen der Natur,” by Ernst Haeckel, 1900. The names of the birds, like Topaza pella, or crimson topaz (third from top), and Sparganura sappho, or red-tailed comet (with forked tail), seem as lush and elaborate as their coloration.

Taxonomy in my mind is power of story, more art than science. It means making meaning from human cognition and emotion, which regardless of how and whether we distinguish between them, together constitute the whole of our reality.

So I think (and feel) that taxonomy can’t be defined solely in terms of the “natural” world, as beauty apart from human thinking and feeling. Read the rest of this entry »





Happy Home With Littlies in One Southern Suburb

25 05 2011

. . .a headline you can read as both a noun phrase — a happy home — and as a personal description of the subject’s state of mind — the author is happy being home. She’s “happy (to be) home.”

Just a little writer’s dalliance. 😉

An Open Letter to Door-to-Door Salesmen

Let’s talk about the issues that we’re facing here. First, it’s between the hours of 1pm and 4pm, which are prime naptime for babies, toddlers, and preschoolers. When you walk up and pound on my front door, which is just a few feet away from my baby’s crib, it’s gonna piss me off. . .

And I don’t blame you for not knowing; by your age and gender I am guessing you have never spent time as an in-home caregiver for two children under the age of four.

We talk so much about parenting and educating older kids now, and how the current state of society and the economy affects all that. So I was delighted for a change of perspective, to see this young mommy’s power of story. The author is our dear family friend IRL, a writer/editor/teacher and fulltime liver of an exquisitely examined and recounted life.

I don’t blame you for seeing me as an easy mark. Suburban, nice home, decent car, cares about family and safety. But when you interpret my stay-at-home status as an indicator of affluence, that’s where you go off course. In the current economy, I might be the least likely person on my block to make an unplanned purchase.

For one thing, I am still living in my house, which means I haven’t foreclosed, which means that I am making mortgage payments based on an inflated home value that was in place when we made the home purchase four years ago.

Secondly, I do not have a full time job, which is why I am home and you see my car parked in the driveway. . . Read the rest of this entry »





Old Ideas Won’t Win the Day

5 04 2011

Ben, the problem you have is that JJ is smarter than you. She is miles smarter than you, me and the next six people combined. JJ develops ideas and new thinking about life and education as she experiences them. You fall back on shopworn phrases — being taxed is having your money stolen, there’s nothing wrong with vouchers going to religious schools, JJ’s tone is elitist, etc. And you hide behind religion and deny its importance as it supports your argument.

The sad part of all of this is that JJ is not the one being injured. She’s a strong woman, capable of thinking about what you write without getting upset about it.

The people being injured are those who are stuck on the treadmill with you, rehashing old ideas which were never very good and have soured with time.

And those liberals, like me, who agree with you. At least in part. I think, once I get past the tax bluster and the vehement anti-public school rhetoric, you have a few points to make. And they will never make it into anything like a productive discussion. They are weighed down to the point of sinking under the old notions, the ones that are all about taking the tack that ends up supporting your politics, right or wrong. These ideas are not about learning and changing and growth. They are about making sure the other political wing is demonized.

Me? I’m a bleeding-heart liberal born and raised to value unions and everything government does to help those in need. I vote Democratic.

And yet I have wondered why teachers weren’t protesting in the streets until their rights and income were on the line. Public school has sucked for a very long time. Teachers complain about it as much as anyone. And yet. . .

I don’t see the same fights you do. I don’t see people still not acknowledging that charter schools are public school. Just as I don’t see homeschoolers contending that virtual schools will be the end of homeschooling as we know it. Maybe I don’t move in the right circles.

What I see are very wealthy people manipulating our system of government to get their way. Over and over again. Among their preferences, like you, is that they pay as little in taxes as possible. Now, they don’t spout off about theft. They hide behind the old chestnut that tax money in their hands will trickle down and all will prosper.  And they have the lobbyists and the clout and our collective taxes decrease along with the government’s ability to function properly.

Maybe some of them hope to starve the beast. You know that line. The impression I get is that they just don’t care. It isn’t changing anything in their life if my child doesn’t have access to a quality public school. At least in the short run. And that’s as far as they seem to look. Or they feel they will be safe, no matter what. Let them eat cake!

Try really seeing that middle class people and working people and poor people are constantly set against one another and feeding into that fight is just as wrong as starting it in the first place. Urging people to vote against their own interests, to battle over scraps, to encourage anger instead of  “doing unto others” as JJ advises, this is only helping those wealthy members of our society who are happy to fund the fight and pick up all the pieces while everyone is distracted.

We can do better than this. It will be very hard work and we may even need some help from an “elitist” or two. But we can do better.





Woe is me, Wobegon is gone . . .

10 03 2011

In a dramatic reversal of the Lake “Woe-Begone” Effect, in which all the kids are above average, we now labor under the Lake Woe-Is-Me Effect, in which all the kids are failing . . .


Sec of Ed Arne Duncan: 82 Percent of Schools Could Be ‘Failing’ This Year

Yes, JJ knows the correct spelling and is playing with words to make a point:

[Garrison] Keillor says the town’s name comes from a fictional old Indian word meaning “the place where we waited all day in the rain [for you].” Keillor explains, “Wobegon” sounded Indian to me and Minnesota is full of Indian names. They mask the ethnic heritage of the town, which I wanted to do, since it was half Norwegian, half German.”

The English word “woebegone” is defined as “affected with woe” and can also mean “shabby, derelict or run down.”

A point that reminds her of Minnesota’s many-minnie quaint confusions again . . .





JJ Spending This Week With Economist Jeffrey Sachs

22 02 2011

Free! — no admission, registration, tuition. Materials not included and I may need to buy a book or two, maybe not. We’ll see.

It only took a cup of coffee, some battery power and less than ten minutes to get started with a world class professor (see his vita at end of post):

“Both [parties] are completely unrealistic . . . what’s happening in this country? . . .Both parties are financed by wealthy people . . . everyone caters to the top. . .
American influence is waning, American infrastructure is crumbling . . .except if you’re rich and you have a lot of money to invest, you’re investing in China. . . our politics is SO ODD right now, because it’s driven just by the very top. . .pure propaganda [of] Big Oil . . . food prices are at all-time highs, there’s instability all over the world. . .energy crises, food crises, do we talk about any of that in our country? Absolutely not.”

‎Next I found a short profession of his thoughts on education. Real education, not schooling: education to help our kids learn about the real world IN the real world, to “Think Big”, to experience and understand what’s being systematically twisted and lied about for the basest motives, in our textbooks and classrooms and broadcasts, even in the hallowed halls of the capitol buildings and courthouses we built to express and effect our American Dreams. So what does the Doctor order? Unschool them in the real world and encourage every opportunity for them to get out in it and unschool themselves:

“The irony is not that we are at an abyss that is unavoidable . . .it’s almost the opposite. We’ve unlocked the ability to promote economic development in all parts of the world. We have at our hand, the ability to end extreme poverty. We have before us either already existing or within reach, technologies . . .the question is whether we can BRING KNOWLEDGE TO BEAR on these solutions and then Read the rest of this entry »





If I Had A Robot, Would I Hammer in the Morning?

10 02 2011

You can tell the robot is happy from its glowing eyes and smile of satisfaction.

Giving this its own post: a tool is itself morally neutral until used by a human, be it for good or ill. That goes for hammers and guns, oil rigs and printing presses, yes, and technology — so far including robots. Ethical import is of, by and for us as people, not our tools.

The difference with robots is that we’re not confident we haven’t outsmarted ourselves and created a tool that perhaps one day will out-human us.

In the race to build computers that can think like humans, the proving ground is the Turing Test—an annual battle between the world’s most advanced artificial-intelligence programs and ordinary people. The objective? To find out whether a computer can act “more human” than a person.

In his own quest to beat the machines, the author discovers that the march of technology isn’t just changing how we live, it’s raising new questions about what it means to be human.

It’s a good story, full of quotes like “Just be yourself . . .seems to me like a somewhat naive overconfidence in human instincts” and “It’s an odd twist: Read the rest of this entry »