Tuesday, May 24, 2005

PLAYING IS LEARNING

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Odds Stacked Against Pleasure Reading says a headline in the Washington Post today. The article is about students and parents complaining about school reading assignments for advanced students. They claim it is killing the joy of reading.

They are right.

The reason people read books is to kill time, entertain the mind, learn something new and to collect reference points so one can sound cultured in a conversation. In past times, people read things that were topical for themselves. There were fads such as Sir Walter Scott's medieval sagas that caused a rage for all things chivalric that changed architecture, music and fashion. People read his books because they were exiting and fun. They talked about these books excitedly in parlors and in schools. Dickens was wildly popular. Literally, his books stopped business and traffic as everyone rushed to discover the latest developments in his chronicles. All of this was topical and uninhibited.

Take the same books and force people to read these archaic stories and the eyes glaze over and the reader's interest collapses. I vividly remember reading books. They were private and they were mine and better than all that, I could warp them to my own woof! Seriously, I altered all the stories I read, some of them very significantly. For example, if the proteganist was a boy he would become a girl. Or a minor character that I liked would become a major character. Or I would alter whole sections or even the end of the book or discard 90% of it and completely redo the entire project to suit myself. This mental tinkering was not only fun but was creative and necessary to the enjoyment of the book.

This made it nearly impossible for me to participate in proper book rehashing sessions. I can deconstruct a book ruthlessly and if a work doesn't inspire me, I can tear it apart easily. But this is cold blooded work. When I hate an article or a book I rip it to shreds on various levels.
"I haven't read a book for pleasure in about three years," said Sachar, 18. "If I do, it's in the summer, and I might only get through one book because I'm so sick of trying to read. It's not fun anymore."

Allowing students some choice in what they read and helping them understand the content is a difficult balance to strike for today's teachers, educators say.
The dead hand of the academic at work here. I must confess, I love medieval books and read them for fun. The Icelandic sagas or old Mittlehoch deutsch minnesaenger, I read this for fun. I have a huge library of ancient books. No one tells me how to think about these books and nothing would please me more than sitting in a leather chair with a cool beer, fire in the grate, feet up, chatting with a group of interested people about the intricate trellis of Songs of the Rose. Well! No one is grading me or punishing me for spouting off so it is fun!

Why do academics kill fun?

This is the fundamental question.
Allowing students to pick their own books is more than a democratic reading experiment. Studies show that reading achievement is significantly improved when students have an opportunity to choose from a selection of interesting texts rather than being dictated to.
Here lies the key. "Dictated to". No living creature likes dictators. The natural urge is to resist or rebel. The liberal revolution was supposed to be all about freeing the mind. But stubbornly, humans try to chain it up. The urge to microcontrol minds is irresistible. I know, my teachers tried it in vain on me. They could stymie me but not stop me.

Fun. This concept of play being important to the human mind needs to be explored more. Let's look at sports. One sees jr baseball teams and basketball leagues and so on all over the place but when you look at the majors you see something astonishing: most of the very top players, the very best, came off of the "streets" and usually are former street urchins who played with other street urchins. Watching these people play, one sees immediately that they are having fun. It is all a blast to them as they move effortlessly and gracefully along, not a puppet on strings but free humans! Why do children in the Dominican Republic playing with broken sticks and empty tin cans make the top baseball players? They have few rules, no umps and they hit anything and everything and run everywhere, laughing, no adults in attendance!

I used to live in the inner city in NYC. Every day, children took over the basketball courts and played. Not as teams, really, but pairs for slightly more, all under one basket, no dribbling back and forth, they just jostled for the ball so they could pop it into the basket and the score that mattered was how niftily or with what level of cool one did the dump. Then the watchers would yell compliments and high five each other and the player who did the best mid air choreography would be the winner. There never were any umps or adults stopping the action with whistles and instructions.

When these same kids end up in colleges playing for schools that don't like them much, one can see the sullen anger build up. The play is less chaotic but less fun, too. By the time the ruthless winnowing process is over, the survivors play with grim determination because this makes them very rich but the joy of the game usually is lost.

Rules are good but too much control can be bad. This yin/yang tension is where creativity happens. The reason why novels are getting less and less well written is because the reader is tired and the writer is frantic.

Monday, May 23, 2005

PROTECTING GAY STUDENTS BY LOCKING THEM IN A CLOSET

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Bakersfield, California, has been the butt of LA jokes for all my life. I used to drive through Bakersfield all the time, commuting from UC, Berkeley, to the U of A in Tucson. This is where I heard Janis Joplin popped herself off. A desolate truck stop restroom where the radio was blaring, no less. Bakersfield was a place kids escaped. But it seems things have certainly changed over the years!
Student journalists sued their Bakersfield high school district Thursday in an effort to keep the school's principal from censoring student newspaper articles on homosexuality.

The suit, filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, requests an emergency order to allow the paper to publish the stories in The Kernal's year-end May 27 issue.
I sued my highschool. I love it when students take the bull by the horns. This takes real honest bravery. Bravo.
East Bakersfield High School Principal John Gibson said he blocked publication because he is worried about violence on campus.

"It's not about gay and lesbians. It's about student safety," he said.

Paramo, however, said the principal's decision "regrettably sends the unmistakable message that school officials would rather students keep closeted about their sexual orientation."
Paramo is correct. I remember high school. At no point in time did anyone protect gay students. Au contrair. The administration often led the attacks.
The articles include photos and interviews with gay students discussing their sexual orientation. The reporters obtained written permission from those they interviewed and from the parents of those who were minors.

"No incident in the past led us to believe that those students, who are already open about their sexual orientation, had anything to worry about," Paramo, 18, told reporters Thursday at the ACLU's Los Angeles office.

The plaintiffs include 18-year-old senior Janet Rangle, who was interviewed along with her mother for the paper. She said when she came out as a lesbian, students were either supportive or didn't care.


Gibson's decision "made me feel like I was back where I was -- in the closet again, hiding," Rangle said.
This isn't a newspaper attacking gay students nor is it like the Christian leaders threatening gay students, it isn't Dobson trying to legislate against gay rights. It isn't...we all know what it isn't! Moreover, the students know the principal isn't protecting the gay students. If he were so concerned about gay students being attacked, he should go to the potential attackers and tell them in no uncertain terms they better watch their step or else...bang. Into jail they go!

We have seen this all our lives. The potential victims being told to wear a burkha and hide at home because angry, scared males want to attack us. No way. No way is this going to happen in America.

Oh, and if Newsweek or CBS or any news media wants real reporters and real editors who really know when to stand up and speak out and can talk back at officious jerks, there are several graduates coming out of Bakersfield high who are ready to rock and roll.

Bring 'em on!

Sunday, May 22, 2005

*HILLARY IN TROY

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Yesterday, Renssalaer Institute hosted Hillary Clinton as their commencement speaker. I was picking up my son to go work on this house when I saw a tiny group of just four Young Republicans demonstrating against her. I swear, the camera will go along from now on, this missed photo opportunity was too funny.

These young males who refuse to fight in Iraq but hang out at home, stuffing their faces, were all very fat. One was drinking beers and bellowing. They were very rowdy and rather rude but mostly pasty faced and smug. This reminds one that we can't get enough soldiers to die in war anymore. During the Vietnam war many a right wing Republican student would make a big too doo about being patriotic but if one asked them to sign up...poof.

As expected, Hillary was on target:
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton warned some of the next generation of scientists who graduated Saturday from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute that the Bush administration forces science to serve a political agenda on energy.
Advertisement

As a handful of college Republicans protested outside ceremonies on Harkness Field, the senator told more than 1,000 graduates that Bush officials pressured government researchers to manipulate or suppress findings in areas like global warming and mercury pollution.
"This betrayal of the scientific tradition could have long-term, lasting consequences," Clinton said. "There are a lot of powerful interests that don't want to change the way they produce or use energy."
RPI is a techie school. Many of the graduates are foreign. The hollowing out of research is bad. The "powerful interests" she mentions we all know well what they are! Culture of Life News is very pleased to hear her talk about this. It is most important that the young people stepping out into the greater world see clearly what is at stake.
One of the many foreign students who graduated was Marija Kuzmanovic, who drew praise from RPI President Shirley Jackson for raising social awareness on campus by getting concessions to provide coffee from worker-based cooperatives in Central America and Africa. The cooperatives ensure more proceeds go to workers rather than distributors.
The President of RPI is a sanctimoneous two faced critter. The workers at RPI like in so many other universities and colleges is not unionized. At all. And the administration will pull and trick and do anything to insure the workers there toil for next to nothing, the graduate students do the professor's work with virtually no pay and the professors stay divided and weak. The school can be very vicious in this quest and the worker turn over rate at the lower levels is ferocious. More than one person has left because they just couldn't take the toxic atmosphere anymore.

This is why the President of RPI wanted to flatter herself by giving a taunting reward to a student who did pretty much nothing to change the school itself. When I went to a university, I sued them regularily over student/worker rights issues not to mention leafletting and making speeches and sit ins. Of course, no awards for me! Quite the contrary.

For this is what it is all about: doing pretend nice things while making real things worse. This is why nothing much is getting done as far as worker's rights are concerned. Left by the technocrats and the ruling class to fend for themselves, they are outgunned and out thought.

There happens to be students at RPI working for the right of unionization. They weren't cited for rewards.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

More On SAT Writing Tests

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It seems that Culture of Life News isn't the only ones desiring more writing in schools. In the NYT Op Ed section is a piece by a businessman, Brent Staples. He is a regular editor to the NYT so we do wonder after reading him, why doesn't he do the editorials instead of say, Brooks, who is totally insane or Teirney who is downright evil. Why is the NYT hiding this writer under a basket? I can't say.
Companies once covered for poor writers by surrounding them with people who could translate their thoughts onto paper. But this strategy has proved less practical in the bottom-line-driven information age, which requires more high-quality writing from more categories of employees than ever before. Instead of covering for nonwriters, companies are increasingly looking for ways to screen them out at the door.

This was clearly the subtext message of a report released last year by the National Commission on Writing, a panel of educators convened by the College Board. At the heart of the report - titled "Writing: A Ticket to Work ... or a Ticket Out" - is an eye-opening assessment of corporate attitudes about writing, surveying members of the Business Roundtable, an association of chief executives from the nation's leading corporations.

The findings, though given a positive gloss, were not encouraging. About a third of the companies reported that only one-third or fewer of their employees knew how to write clearly and concisely. The companies expressed a fair degree of dissatisfaction with the writing produced by recent college graduates - even though many were blue-chip companies that get the pick of the litter.

I would venture to say one third of the writers on the NYT editorial page can't write clearly or concisely. Certainly, pointing out irrelevant obvious things while ignoring important things takes a dubious skill, but the childish level of some of the NYT editorial sections leaves us scratching our heads. Forget businessmen being annoyed, we are annoyed! This bothers us even more. We remember the good old days when everyone had secretaries and since women were not allowed above that position no matter how talented or educated, the men had the women do virtually all the writing. "Blah blah blah," the man would say and then the secretary would write a normal letter with the appropriate whatevers and insert the blah blah blah in the proper place with the proper spelling. Few businessmen wrote even memos.

Having worked in corporate America back in the Dark Ages, I assure you the boss, when he wanted to dash off a memo, called in the secretary. Now, the owners want even the upper management to be able to write memos. Even then, the bosses try to fob it off to others who are not trained to do this thus the annoying office chaos. So they want this fixed and fixed, now.

Hiring secretaries and paying them isn't an option. Heh.

So they want the schools to teach writing. We are happy about this. Literacy is a good thing, all around. The more, the better, we say. But then, Donald Trump will have to learn to write his own "you are fired" red slips, won't he?

Kultur Krieg: Kids vs Rush

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Click here for Rush parody site

Courtesy of 1/2 Kracked Kup, comes this story:
Rush Limbaugh said on his nationally syndicated radio show that Evanston Township High School students "don't know anything about World War II" and "they've probably never heard the name Adolf Hitler" because they're so focused on a multicultural curriculum.

Some Evanston kids want to show Limbaugh what they know. They want to debate him on American history.


Of course, the Great Debator, drug addict Rush refused to back his bluster with actually showing up and debating these students. We wonder if he is angry because they might not know about his personal hero, Hitler?
Limbaugh's comments came after he read a Christian Science Monitor article Tuesday that profiled global studies courses required at ETHS. Limbaugh railed against multicultural education generally and singled out the North Shore school.

"What multiculturalists is, is balkanizing this country," Limbaugh said Tuesday. "People are coming here from various parts of the world and they're bringing their cultures with them and the multiculturalists are saying 'your culture is better than the American culture. The American culture is discriminatory, it's racist, sexist, bigot, homophobic.' "

What is the "American culture" anyway? Jazz? Yes. Who created jazz? Why those dark skinned people who were brutally discriminated against for many years. Great jazz musicians were not allowed in through the front doors of the hotels they played at and were not allowed to sleep there, either, for example. In Europe, especially France, they were treated like human beings which is probably why Rush hates France above all other nations.

How about basketball? White only leagues until the Civil Rights Act skewered that. Homosexuals? Well, the "red staters" have a particular and vicious hatred of all gays and goes out of the way to deny them basic civil rights and scream day and night about this matter so I would say a good hunk of America is very homophobic even as gays in the WH ride this wave of hate to great power and Bush kisses his Saudi friends and rubs bald men's heads we see tons of homophobia in America.

Sexist? When I first started fighting for my basic civil rights I was called every name in the book and literally spat upon unlike the mythical "protestors spitting on well trained soldiers who know how to kill people" stories. People spat on me because I was a woman and they erroneously thought I couldn't fight. A bad choice, by the way. I know several forms of combat.

American culture spread because of feminists like Isadora Duncan threw away her corset and danced barefoot and Louis Armstrong kept playing for white audiences even as they abused him in private and gay designers and artists and actors and writers and composers worked day after day entertaining and dressing us and fixing our cities so they were vibrant and beautiful.

Not to mention all the women, minorities, gays and everyone dying for America even as America rejected them again and again, even today, rejecting gays when they want to be patriots! It is still illegal to be in the military and gay!
In 2003, ETHS won an excellence in international education award from the Asia Society and the Goldman Sachs Foundation. ETHS offers seven languages, including Japanese and Hebrew, and has several clubs with an international flavor, including Model United Nations and Amnesty International. Students and staff also point out that the school requires yearlong courses in U.S. history and Western civilization.

"It's funny to me that someone would say we don't know about World War II -- we live in a large Jewish community," said Jane Biliter, a senior. Each year, the school hosts activities for Holocaust Remembrance Week. "Until 10th grade, all we did was U.S. and European history. It's just so false that what he says is funny."

The students are not only right, Rush is right in the wrong way. Feh on him. We applaud the Evanston Schools for this program. May more schools imitate this.

Dissecting Live Dogs

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I thought that it would be just really a good experience if they could see the digestive system in the living animal," Biology teacher Doug Bierregaard said.

Red America loves to pretend they are hyper moral and hyper religious. Yet they say and do things that makes one marvel at them--how can they stand themselves?

This news out of Gunnison, Utah, home to some of the most "strict" religiousness in America leaves one speechless. This is the sector in our country that objects to teaching Darwin because the children might figure out we are descended from monkeys. Perhaps this is wrong. Some of us skipped the monkey part altogether, it seems. Straight from red in tooth and claw Nature comes this classroom experience:
Biology teacher Doug Bjerregaard, who is a substitute teacher at Gunnison Valley High School, wanted his students to see how the digestive system of a dog worked.

Bjerregaard made arrangements for his students to be a part of a dissection of a dog that was still alive.
The dog was still alive, but the teacher said it was sedated before the dissection began.
With the students watching, the sedated dog's digestive system was removed.
"It just makes me sick and I don't think this should go on anywhere and nobody's learning from it," student Sierra Sears said.
The teacher said the lesson would allow students to see the organs actually working.

The Principal of this school "assures" parents this dog was going to be killed anyway so why not do this thing to it first before putting down the trusting animal.

Old Yeller, roll over.

Sounds like Frist who used to experiment on cats he illegally got from the adoption agencies, lying to them about his intents, would be overjoyed with this teacher and his brutal methods. What are the childern learning from this "lesson". "Dismemberment of living things is OK if you plan to kill them anyway"? Or how about "If you think this is gross, visit a factory for butchering cows and watch them skin the poor things alive"? Or "This is your stomach at work, gross, isn't it?"

The mind reels.

I am all for forcing children to watch the death of animals we plan to eat. As a vegetarian, this process upsets me anyway so why hide it from us, the ugly truth about our diets. We think videos of dying cows should appear right after every McDonald's advertisements on TV.

This still doesn't excuse this sadistic biology lesson. The fact the poor dog was going to be killed anyway doesn't change things. Utah, after all, is the place where they had a lottery to see who would win the right to shoot criminals dead. A brutal, Christian state.

Friday, May 06, 2005

A Writing Tutorial Ad Tells It All

While researching the series of stories about computers in the classroom, I came across
this intriguing ad:


ad

In the student testimonials were these two:

"In the English course I am taking this year we haven't had many opportunities to write essays, so it was a good exercise keeping me practiced over the summer… It will definitely help me in the future." :

"The school year is stressful enough. It is nice to work on our weaknesses without the added weight of grades."


What did this obviously intelligent student complaining about no essay writing do in "English Class"? "Keep me praticed" is bad writing. This student definitely needs essay writing skill improvement. And the only way to do this is to write and rewrite and review and then listen to critics...which is exactly what this online summer session does! Via computers! At home! Amazing. And students attest it works wonders and pleases them.

So why don't they do this all the time?

This is the burning question. Sure, it is tons of fun to sit around talking about books and poems and such like. I created or joined clubs in high school and college which did this...for fun. Any good class should have intrested students who join such clubs to discuss what they are reading. But the class itself should be devoted, especially in high school, to learning how to write about these things. This means a minimum of one essay a week.

Teachers hate grading essays. I used to make money moonlighting for them doing exactly this. It was fun work for me because I would copy down the funnier sections and then use it in the Daily Bandersnatch, our off campus newsletter at the time. Ha ha. My specialty was philosophy/language classes. It was appalling work, actually. I can understand why some professors hated doing this work, it would possibly drive them to drink...oops. They did drink with me. Another beer, bartender!

On line it is easy to read and critique essays. I also note the on line tutoring is done in a group...over many time zones and several nations. This extends horizons and makes maximum use of student/teacher time. Time really becomes and Einsteinian reality.

So why don't we do this all the time already?

This is the burning question, one that will burn brighter as school costs/school failures torment us all. Any questions, class?

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Computers in the Classroom

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The Culture of Life News admits to being rather geeky in outlook. We love computers, especially really good (and perhaps expensive) computers. The better the computer and the better the interface the happier we all are. We look forward to improvement in computer technology, speed of processing, programming break throughs, all of it. The more the better, we say.

But there is a legion of naysayers. They point to the dismal, sad way computers are used in school. Always, the schools vote to use the cheapest systems available. If a child is computer savvy and lives with really up to date systems, using the dinosaurs at school, far from being educational is painful if not utterly infuriating. As my son would say, "Just DO it already, sheesh". Teeth grinding. Nightmarish.

As universities mandate computers, for example, Renssalear Polytech required laptops for all students, the kids would sit in class and multitask. Namely, talk to each other via on line chat systems. My own spawnlings do this all the time. They get bored if they can't do this. Sometimes, they even put up chat for the professor. A good teacher responds.

But this is way out on the outer edge of techyland.

http://www.csmonitor.com/2003/1014/p20s02-lecl.html">An aquaintance of mine going way back, Todd Oppenheimer, wrote a book a few years ago which tears apart the use of computers in school comparing them to passive systems like movies or TV or other visual aids. This is possible only if one views computers in schools as limited, passive machines feeding information to children and not much else. This ignores the real power of computing: the active interface which extends powers tremendously if used aggressively.

According to the Christian Science Monitor: Mr. Oppenheimer's conclusion: Putting computers in classrooms has been almost entirely wasteful, and the rush to keep schools up-to-date with the latest technology has been largely pointless.

"At this early stage of the personal computer's history, the technology is far too complex and error prone to be smoothly integrated into most classrooms," Oppenheimer writes. "While the technology business is creatively frantic, financially strapped public schools cannot afford to keep up with the innovations."

Of course, this is not the first time US schools have been seduced by new technology, Oppenheimer points out. He summarizes the history of technological innovations in American schools and explains how each (TV among them) has been hailed as education's savior.

And yet, despite technology's lack of success in US classrooms, many Americans still prefer to invest in computers rather than in teachers, Oppenheimer charges.


My son's geek buddies in high school loved doing this. Sometimes they got caught...hacking. Hacking is the dark side of the force. It developed its own community. Its own culture and language. The "error prone" part of computing is disappearing as programmers improve the language tools and the electronic interface changes due to improved chip design and energy travel details are ironed out. But even in the old, "error" prone days, the geeky computer hacker kids that were previously despised by other children far from being deterred by the errors, they reveled in them! At home they would chat online about what happened and solutions or even suggestions for MAKING IT WORSE. For you see, in the 3,000 year old battle of the kids vs the teachers, this was a wonderful tool to run circles around a teacher. I wish I had that.

Teachers often drove me nuts. You can't interrupt them, that is rude and makes a class unruly yet one also wishes the class would take a hike, too. Obviously, many kids are profoundly disinterested in school or learning. So instead of leaping ahead, lights turning on, the class room run by the dictator/teacher is an onerous place to be endured and ditched as quickly as possible.

This really irritated me because I loved to learn stuff. Anything. Just give it over, OK? Instead, the most boring, tedious way to share information, all due to the fact that it was archaic and habitual, passed on generation to generation nearly unchanged since ancient Rome!---when out there, in the other world, there exists an exciting system that has everything, nearly everything!--right there, including contacting humans from far away of like mind....the joy, the sheer joy of the net....way back when we had it only for college kids I started to haunt the net and met...boyfriends who were geek freaks! Precious souls, all! Sigh.

In today's edition of Space.com:

Recently, I’ve seen a bumper sticker that states, “If you can read this, thank a teacher.” Each year the first full week in May is Teacher Appreciation Week. There’s more than 3 million teachers in elementary, middle and high school classrooms teaching about 46 million children how to read, write, calculate, conduct experiments, observe the universe, and grow up to be good citizens. That’s a lot of people to thank, but thanks are not enough.

By 2012, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts that we will need about 18% more teachers than are in the classroom now. The BLS notes that “Currently, many school districts have difficulty hiring qualified teachers in some subject areas—mathematics, science (especially chemistry and physics), bilingual education, and foreign languages.” Teaching is a growth industry, but will schools be able to attract people to the profession? In particular, will schools be able to attract those trained in mathematics and physical sciences?


Ouch. So many things wrong, I don't know where to start. Did any of the readers of this blog learn to read IN SCHOOL? I certainly did not. Nor did any of my brothers or sisters. Mom taught us and we taught each other in turn. When I learned, I couldn't wait to enlighten my littler brothers and sister. My mother was yelled at for teaching my eldest sister (super computer geek today) to read so she didn't teach my older brother and was reprimanded by the teacher because "he was refusing to learn how to read" so she taught him, too. And gave up listening to teachers.

I was reading as a three year old so books and I became friends long before teachers and I became alienated advesaries.

I taught my children how to read. At home. No "system" was required. We read books. Lots and lots of books. Together. My daughter even told her teacher in school she couldn't read simply because she wanted to read with someone and not alone!

When we began to use computers at home all the time as various systems came out that were useable, we found that our interaction with each other increased. When the internet (thank you, Gore!) became available at home, as my kids left home, we were never far apart thanks to the internet. I know my kids communicate all the time every day via the net. Just like this community here on line talks, every day. We love this. And the quality of writing?

WOW!!! I know my speed of writing and ability to frame an article has shot up thanks to interacting on the net. I have learned so much because we tell each other about mistakes, errors, unreasonable conclusions, all the pitfalls of writing are immediately critiqued and the feedback loop is very intense. I love this!

Every day is a lesson.

The article above goes to the usual canards: we need more "teachers" and they need better salaries (yeah, like I can pay another $5000 in property taxes each year?) and computers are OK but can't teach like the old fashioned classroom dicators I fondly do not want to remember? Yeah, you know, I have learned so much about many things thanks not only to computers but interacting with intelligent people AS AN EQUAL. When this happens, you are not resentful or angry or imposed upon and learning is a cup of tea. For two.

In a sane system, all students learn from computer programs...like physics, really easy to do. The "teacher" can cover many students over great distances via computer. The kids would have to learn to log on and frame questions using the human languages they use and this helps develop and extend the critical writing abilities. Use it or lose it.

The ability to write improves as one uses it to write and the thing most American students seldom do is...write. I taught my kids how to write. They had to write things all the time. I insisted on it. Now they are good writers. Nothing magical. But what gave this all a big boost was the internet. Today, the illiterate scratchings I used to see all the time are clearing up! People in general write better than ten years ago. Seriously better.

Today, on CNN, is an article about test cheating thanks to the stupid "Leave No Child Behind Act" which terrorizes teachers and the system into desperate measures to pass through children who are profoundly disinterested in learning anything, just so they get more tax money and can keep getting pay checks!

The Houston district began an internal investigation four months ago after finding unexplained jumps in scores and statistical irregularities on standardized tests at 23 schools, Saavedra said.

Two months into the investigation, Saavedra announced the district had identified two teachers at an elementary school who assisted students on the state exam. The district has recommended those teachers be fired, and has demoted the school's principal.


Kids hate tests. So do most sane creatures. Not all do, of course. "99 percentile" kids, those who are at the top, love tests. It is a break in a normally hideously boring day. I once had a teacher tell me, "If you don't do this, I will give you a test". I said, "That's great! I accept the challenge!" I was so happy. After three punishment tests, he decided to surrender.

In closing, there is the debate about teaching evolution which, as usual, centers in Kansas. "What is the matter with Kansas" indeed! I think Kansas is brain dead. I went to Kansas University for one summer and outside of the campus enclave, it was an intellectual desert. Some people want to kill off all knowledge and being dictator types feel they can do this by muzzling teachers. Of course, any sane, enterprising student can go around this feeble barrier but they don't care. They simply want to have the schoolroom dictator spout complete nonsense and force kids to parrot it back.

This teaches nothing but how to be stupid. Not that anyone cares. What they want are automatic responses to see if the propaganda or social controls work. "How many fingers to you see, Mr. Smith Jr," says O'Brien waving his hand, glaring. The cage of rats squeaking in terror and hunger is nearby.

More:
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to see the cartoon better: Tole's homepage

Note how even the cartoonist thinks we will use the most archaic form of writing on the SAT tests! Why not use cuniform? Or illustrate it like the monks did in the Middle Ages?

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

The Hart/Rudman Security Report and Education

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Frontline...PBS news documentary about SAT secrets

The NYT ran a recent letter from the former Senators concerning our security and they wisely point out the neccessity of improving educational standards:

"Americans are living off the economic and security benefits of the last three generations' investment in science and education, but we are now consuming our capital.

"Our systems of basic scientific research and education are in crisis, while other countries are redoubling their efforts.

"In the next quarter century, we will likely see ourselves surpassed, and in relative decline, unless we make a conscious national commitment to maintain our edge."


Bill Gates wants to import Chinese and Indian computer experts because they get trained over there and he doesn't like American ones (too uppity?). Hart and Rudman think this is a bad thing and they want improvements at home, instead.

Well, the SAT system has decided to make reforms and look at the ruckus these small changes are making:

A professional organization representing 60,000 teachers of English criticized the new essay portion of the SAT as a poor predictor of how well students will perform in college and expressed concern that it could encourage mediocre, formulaic writing.

The report by the National Council of Teachers of English comes as half a million students prepare to take the SAT this weekend. The standardized test, part of the entrance requirements for many colleges, was expanded this year to include a writing and essay section in response to criticism from leading educators, including the president of the University of California, that it was too narrow in scope and discriminated against minority students.


Upon rereading the article what strikes me is how little sense it all makes.

The College Board, which owns the SAT, attacked the report as "elitist." College Board spokeswoman Chiara Coletti noted that six of seven members of the task force are college professors rather than high school English teachers.

"It is very condescending," Coletti said, arguing that the new SAT will help focus attention on writing skills in the "many classrooms in this country where very little writing is taught."


First, it seems that college professors are attacking the SAT essay section? Huh? Why is that? I remember college. I took the SAT three days after arriving in America and not using the English language for a year. I got a near perfect score. If you scored high, you didn't have to take the huge remedial English writing classes. Out of curiosity, I went to some of them with a friend. "Why don't they teach these courses in high school?" I stupidly asked.

Welllll..because the classes were not divided up between the college bound and the ones who didn't want to read at all except if a gun was put to their heads. So the compromise was to have everyone do minimal work.

I wrote essays constantly in German in Germany. When I came home, I was a writing fanatic. It was fun to do. I found the SAT questions to be bizarre. Even the contextual parts were minimal. Being able to write clearly is a skill that can and should be judged and it is easy to grade.

Which brings me back to computers. The SAT should be taken on a computer. It should involve seeking information skills, utilizing information and integrating information in a proper, university style format. In other words, you prove you know how to write a short paper complete with footnotes and citations. This can easily be taught in school.

Literature: we waste a great deal of time in high school on teaching people how to read novels and poems. Up until recently humans wrote and read novels and poems FOR FUN. It was a leisure activity. Not work. Still is, in my books. Using old poems and novels as windows into the past is good only if you are trying to understand society and history and as a person who avoided taking courses in these things when younger, I assure everyone, you can pick up an amazing amount of information all by yourself by using history books and pictures while reading books written long ago.

Now you know why no college will hire me. Ahem.

All SAT tests should be conducted on computers and can be easily supervised and judging the materials can be easily done: YOU SEND THE RESULTS TO THE SCHOOLS. In other words, let the universities and colleges look directly at the materials and decide if it is up to their standards or if the student is someone they want! Wow. Talk about simple. No grades. No hoop jumping. No filtering.

This will force highschools into a new way of functioning. The whole point of our pointless childish activities there was to teach us how to produce stuff colleges want and need. Yet high schools, nearly universally, refuse to do this. They won't make kids write. Too much work for everyone. Much easier to grade those "a/b/c/d" multiple choice questions.

Multiple choice, when I was in school in Germany, didn't exist there at all. You had to write down the formulas and calculate the answers, no shots in the dark guessing. You had to write, not choose answers. It worked.

I won't see this happen here in my lifetime because everyone, absolutely everyone in the system from first grade on upwards is addicted to this easy, destructive methodology. Writing is fun. I do it every day without effort. Pratice makes perfect. Before computers, it was much harder. Correcting my errors is now a breeze so I take the plunge and write...onwards! Upwards! To the barricades!

The pen is mightier than the multiple choice.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

The NYT Puzzles About Schools and How to Fix Them

school
http://www.midnightsociety.com/web/abandoned/
"Are Our High Schools Obsolete?" asks the NYT.

Easy. They have been "obsolete" for a long, long time. I remember when I won a scholarship to go to school in Germany. Back then, the kids went to school six days a week and had much fewer days off than American kids. No long summer vacation for them!

I was a top student in America, took college courses on the side while in high school, played in not one but two orchestras, chorus and track team. I thought I was top of the top. I wasn't an exchange student, I was a full, for real Gymasium student!

Then reality hit: I was so behind everyone. They wrote essays every week. We did one about twice a year in America. I loved writing (as readers of this blog can see) but this took me by surprise. In every course I was a million miles behind. Took a lot of patient turoring from amused fellow students to catch up. When I came home, I began to agitate for changes in the system, alarmed at how far behind we Americans were. You probably know, not one of my suggestions was implimented.

The easiest one to do is the hardest: get rid of summer vacation!

Impossible. So we slag along. I used computers for my kids so they could learn during the summer. Then they had to endure two months of "review" as the more sluggard students had to repeat 50% of what they "learned" the previous year. This brainless school schedule left over from the farming past continues to destroy any attempts as fixing what is wrong with our schools.

Bill Gates evidently wants smaller classrooms. I believe we need multi age one room school houses where the teacher is the be all and end all. I like this letter in the NYT:

To the Editor:

Thomas L. Friedman argues, following John Hagel III and John Seely Brown, that "comparative advantage today is moving faster than ever from structural factors, like natural resources, to how quickly a country builds its distinctive talents for innovation and entrepreneurship - the only sustainable edge."

In other words, students and others need to be brought up to speed regarding technological advances, or we will be overtaken by other countries that are educating their citizens more rapidly than we are.

Having worked on computer-aided instruction for a number of years, I can attest to the typical response of educators when I suggest that my program might help students learn and retain knowledge more proficiently than the traditional approach: total silence.

It does not bode well.

William Vaughan Jr.
Chebeague Island, Me.
April 29, 2005


As my previous article notes, kids interface with computers with amazing speed and learn astonishingly fast using this wonderful tool.

Many adults have trouble understanding this. They think, computers will make kids antisocial. Yet I watch "geeky" kids with their computers. They talk animatedly, they share both verbally and in writing, sending messages or visiting forums and such, a complex interaction on several levels at once, their eyes alive with excitement. Where, oh where is the sullen, difficult, angry student? I see them not, at least, not when they are messing around with their computers.

And they don't just goof off. They mess with the coding, they mess with web sites, they seek information. My son was the font of information about ancient Norse Gods and Goddesses, just for example, thanks to his devotion to some of the games he plays.

The concept that people will learn what they want to learn is hard to learn, isn't it?

Punitive Patriotism

flag
http://www.theodora.com/flags/new8/flag_burning_1.html

While trowling about the web with my little net I picked up this fish from New Jersey:

A movie from Indymedia made by some high school students who wanted proof of their home room teacher violating the law trying to force students to stand and salute the flag. This video also shows a teacher unable to project authority. He seems to be a skinhead teacher who barks orders. Imagining the school is a military facility, I presume.

It also shows what a farce the enforcement of patriotism is. Our leaders right down the line in the GOP are shirkers who mouthed patriotic platitudes while running away from their obligations which seems to be what they are still doing. After 9/11 everyone was supposed to be super patriotic. Evidently this has fallen to the wayside. This is why super patriots aren't signing up to fight for "democracy" anymore. Even the biggest flag wavers are flag waverers when it comes to doing the right thing for the right wing.

Screaming at students is easy. Fighting with unarmed kids is a snap. Fighting in Iraq when the "students" can kill you is a whole different kettle of fish.

I remember very vividly when the Supreme Court ruled we no longer had to salute the flag. I decided it was a farce for the same reasons I think it is a farce today. My homeroom teacher screamed at me. He threw a trash can at me. I kicked it back. He hit my desk and I told him to hit me. He turned very red. He screamed that if we were in communist Russia I would have been hauled off and tortured. "What is freedom?" I asked him. He stood there, mute at last.

"It is the freedom to salute or not salute the flag," I informed him. That ended it. After a week, the school agreed to give me an "A" in history and let me out of the class for good. Best "A" I ever earned.

Computers Interface With Kids Better Than Teachers

kid
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/4498511.stm

When my son went into special ed when he was only three years old he had trouble communicating with humans. The school had an Apple computer, this is many years ago. He spent about five minutes with it and bonded. It was astonishing watching this "learning disabled" child glom onto the computer and merge. He just...did things with it. The teachers who were supposedto instruct him ended up asking him for assistance with their own computers. This amused and amazed me.

Seems I am not the only one to think that maybe computers are different from all other forms of learning.

From the BBC in India:
Teach-yourself computing for kids

By Mark Rickards

Today is an important day for one Indian boy, nine-year-old Narput Singh. Something new is arriving in his remote village of Varna in the dusty, dry state of Rajasthan.

Something he has never had a chance to see before - it is a computer.

The digital divide seems at its greatest in India. On one side you have some of the most advanced work in IT taking place in cities like Bangalore or Delhi.

On the other you have children who have little or no access to new technology and live in conditions where clean water and electricity are still luxuries.


Please remember that the Indians are now a very formidable challenge for Americans in the field of programming and running computer systems.

Sugata was able to make some important but controversial observations.

"Groups of children given adequate digital resources can meet the objectives of primary education on their own - most of the objectives."

Teaching themselves

In the thousands of small villages across the length and breadth of India, this clearly has enormous implications. If the schools cannot provide access to both computers and trained teachers, then perhaps Sugata's approach could work.

The Hole in the Wall project is to leave a computer in their village, and it will be up to Narput Singh and his friends to work out how to use it.

The moment the box is open, the children swarm around it. They've never even seen the packaging before and some of them are rubbing bits of polystyrene on their arms, even trying a bite of it. Sugata gives a short talk before letting them loose.

"Who can ride a bicycle?" he asks. Forty hands shoot up.

"And who taught you?" There is some confusion and shaking of heads.

"No-one taught you," he says. "It's a skill you can learn on your own."

He turns to the computer behind him. "And the computer is like a bicycle."


I want to cry. This is so very simple. It is exactly how I feel about computers. As an older person, I struggle to learn. Lucky me, my kids are here to save me from my own timidity. My son says, "Hey, just do anything. Even if it crashes the computer." Certainly he wizzes along merrily while I drive like a senior citizen. Periodically, I have to flag the kids down for help.

But Sugata has noticed a pattern emerging after the first initial chaos. "You find that the noise level begins to come down, and from somewhere a leader appears.

"Often his face is not visible in the crowd, but he is controlling the mouse because suddenly you see the mouse begin to move in an orderly fashion.

"And then suddenly a lot of children's voices will say 'Oh, that pointer can be moved!' And then you see the first click, which - believe it or not - happens within the first three minutes."

Narput Singh has the mouse and takes control. And within three minutes he has clicked and, to his surprise and pleasure, inadvertently opened a game. He doesn't distinguish between educational games and those that are just for fun, and he is soon learning English words through a painting game with colours to fill in.

Whilst he is picking up the use of the computer directly, others around him are absorbing what he does.


With no adults giving cautions or commands it takes three minutes for children to begin nonrandom interfacing with the computer. Scary. I have watched children including my very own refuse learning in school. What really eats at them is the "lecture" method. They already are online and in control with computers and to slog along with someone can be painful. As I interface with the internet I feel the same rising anger. "You just don't get it, do you, here, let me show you," I want to shout. Heh. I do shout.

"We know that in nine months the entire group of children in a village would have reached approximately the level of an office secretary, which means they know dragging and dropping files, they know downloading, they can play video and audio and they can surf the internet".

Not everyone is enthralled with Sugata's results. Tom Standage, technology editor of the Economist, is sceptical of such projects. He points out that Bill Gates chose not to drop computers across the developing world as part of aid packages, preferring to concentrate on medicines and other more practical help for poor communities.


One wants to shake Gates awake. Here he is, pretending to be the cutting edge of the computer revolution and he can't see his own mountain he stands on. He does know he wants those Indian computer programmers. He complained to Bush just this last week about the immigration restrictions.

"The internet is the future," says one elder, "and our children have dreams."

Time will show whether the dreams are turned to dust in the desert, or whether the computer can make a lasting difference to these children's lives.


Hellfire, yes! I know that computers unlocked my son's inner genius. I know of an army of Asberger kids who are productive adults thanks to computers. Bill Gates, one glaring example. I know that my computer interfacing is most important. I love my computers and want better ones all the time, who cares about cars, I want the best computers available. To say that I adore them is an understatement. My kids make their livings off of computers. And they are very aware of the challenge of everyone else learning about this great tool. It puzzles me that computers are used so poorly in American schools. Just let the kids go with them. Some will do stupid things and some will do smart things.

That is life. Just like they learn to drive and some use this skill to flip cars into ditches and die.

Video of "violent" child

Thanks to Jesus' General, here is the video

My take: the child is acting out but is remarkably quiet. Her most violent act was to push away an unsympathetic teacher. You can hear the other white staffers talking about the child as if she were a dog or something. I was really outraged by this video.

The only time the child was loud was when two adult police officers, one a woman, both white, grabbed her and twisted her arms. Up until then, she was sitting utterly still in a chair and was totally quiet! This is rank child abuse. I hope she wins her case. I wish she could find some great hearted teacher. This video made me very sad and unhappy.

It reminded me of our kindergarden. We had Korean, Chinese, Jamacian, Haitian, Anglo Saxon, Eastern European, American black children. We were very international. Our teachers were equally varied.

Rats.

I wish I was this child's lawyer....

Welcome to the Culture of Life Education News page

This is an ongoing series about our school system and what to do about it and why nothing real is ever done and how public education is under fire from many fronts.