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Sunday, June 26, 2016

On the Dangers of Diversity

From Tao:

Lets consider how the concept of identity politics has made it almost impossible to make any sort of progress on controlling crime, limiting illegal immigration or eliminating violence. If we said things such as "People should comply with the police," we end up with a litany from various groups on why such a thing would not happen. If we say "People should obey the laws," we have countless politicians and plaintiffs telling us they will not. The Progressive desire to serve all parts based on a subjective order of "fairness" has resulted in a system that is falling apart because the key structural elements are being ignored and in some cases, such as certain Constitutional rights, in danger of being removed completely.

Consider a Ferris wheel. While the cars that carry passengers may be shiny and colorful, the integrity of the structure of the device is what makes it possible for all to ride. If we sad only the people in the green cars get cotton candy, the others are not well served. If we try to make some cars go faster for the sake of benefiting one group, the other groups are stranded. If we remove central parts of the device, the entire machine crashes to the ground. Our nation and its Constitutional structure are the Ferris wheel. Various groups have a chance to ride the wheel, but they have to do so at the same pace as everyone else. To select winners and losers, which is what Progressives seek to do, damages the very mechanisms that make the device or nation function.

When we are distracted by the colors and noise that fill our society, we forget the core values that override every other manmade "right". When we allow ourselves to be distracted by fringe issues that serve only a few, we ignore those key elements that provide us with strength. Government exists to provide security first. That means protecting and maintaining our sovereignty. Open borders and loose standards on immigration does not do that. It is a European experiment that has failed and it will fail here as well. At one point in history this nation was truly a melting pot. While we kept family heritage, all Americans shared the same language and goals. Now we're a fruit salad where the bananas and strawberries gang up against the grapes and apples. Everyone wants to be at the front of the line and everyone wants to impose their culture as an overlay on our own.

We have become blinded by too many colors and the idea that different and new are always better. To quote my Mom "we've thrown out the baby with the bath water" on some sort of wrongheaded quest for newest chattering toy instead of seeking value in what we hold in our hands.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Thought Police

I came across this meme and it made me think about how guarded we have all become on how we speak about issues and events. While I do think we should be considerate and respectful of others, it seems that progressives would prefer that we not express any ideas contrary to theirs. The penalty now can be as mild as a write up or as serious as firing and civil penalties. How did we reach this point where a diversity of ideas was more scandalous than promiscuity, dishonesty or murder? Every few years I reread "1984" and I'm always struck by how easily the population accepts whatever they are told to believe. Bombarded by screencast images, the population rarely deviates from the narrow patterns assigned by the powers that be. And even the higher castes are not immune to censure if they fail to give public voice to the same song. "We are at war with Eurasia, we have always been at war with Eurasia." How long will be before academia and media have conspired to scrub all diversity of ideas from our midst? If you look at the art from totalitarian regimes there are all the same-realistic, nationalistic, bland and vapid admiration to a cult of personality. Is this what Americans really want?

Friday, June 03, 2016

The End of the Year

So yet another year has ended. It's been a very difficult year for me. I had to deal with some of the most arrogant and belligerent students in my career. While there are some I will miss and that I wish the best in life, I was so beaten down by the negative experiences that I didn't follow through with some of my own traditions. I didn't give my seniors graduation cards, small gift cards and contacts for me. A part of me regrets this, but in a way it allows me to release this year and all it's bad experiences.

I'm getting closer to retirement. I can see it around the corner, but it's not close enough to really plan anything other than work and more work. I find myself ridding my classroom and files of 15 years of lesson plans and promotions. My room is cleaner than it's ever been at checkout. It is as if I won't be coming plans, maybe premonition. I don't know.

I find myself somewhat dreading the next year. Whispers have it that there is yet again "something new" in special ed and all signs point to a situation where they get rid of the AVLS classes and put seriously disabled kids in regular classes for the case of agenda over education. We're also under new mandates to monitor G/T students in our classes. With reports for G/T, ESL, 504 and SpEd students you have to feel for the poor average kids who are getting shortchanged because nobody wants to admit that sometimes placing students with like abilities together helps them achieve.

I also find myself surprisingly relieved that I'm not fielding both AP Art History and AP Studio classes next year. At first I was mad at what I saw as an end run committed by the new teacher who wants to be able to select which students she gets to teach. And I was angry at the prospect of having three Art 1 classes, at the expense of 30 painting students who won't get in a painting class next Fall because of the fear of not having Art 1 open to all. The truth of the matter is our school is grossly understaffed and we need another teacher. We've been told there's no money-a legacy from the prior Superintendent who I'm almost sure was on the take-we had enough to hire three more assistant superintendents at Admin for $150K a pop. Priorities.

Sunday, April 03, 2016

Permanent vs. Transient

I've been looking at our society for awhile now-admittedly from a political point of view. But in the larger scale of things it appears that we are not so much warring about political views as we are over the larger scale of permanence versus transience. This war can be easily demonstrated by looking at marriage, housing, employment and other elements.

Marriage has been under fire for awhile now. Earlier and more primitive societies saw the value in permanent relationships, approved of by tribes, families and society as being beneficial as a means to solidify the nature of the culture. It's not that people didn't circumvent the institution of marriage, but more that they sought to establish rules of marriage outside the norm. We saw this with polygamous marriage, with the acceptance of harems and concubines as well as our modern day discussion of same sex marriage. It is interesting that even in the most liberal societies, the official "blessing" of marriage comes not from a house of faith, but from the state. As a result, marriage as an institution has changed from a moral imperative to a social imperative.

The true irony is the institution itself is also under assault, if you will, from those who actively choose not to participate. Many people avoid marriage and even within celebrity circles the action of marriage is either more of a media event if a marriage is broached at all. While many will say the break down of the institution of marriage is harmless, can anyone truly disregard the problems of single mothers raising children in poverty? While most social conservatives oppose same sex marriage on religious grounds, which is their right, if it is the state conferring the marriage upon a couple, perhaps for the stabilization of society it is better to have permanent same sex marriages rather than a transient relationship. I don't claim to be the arbiter of what people think, but I see less harm to society and the individual from a long term permanent official relationship than a string of temporary transient relationships that sometimes result in children who are not supported in the ways children require.

Housing is another area where this permanent vs. transient idea comes into play. Many people choose to avoid the constrictions of buying a home because it would mean they would assume the costs of maintaining a home. Even in this era of rapid increase in real estate, there are people who do not want the aggravation or responsibility of home ownership. If you drive by apartment complexes, you will notice that most of the cars are newer and more expensive than your average middle income housing development. The same folks who avoid ownership in housing frequently do so with transportation as well. It's much less expensive to lease a car on a month to month basis, you never really pay off the debt. Instead one new car is replaced with another. This points to certain internal need to have a facade of affluence even when none is in evidence.

This is further carried out with people who buy homes to the outermost limit of their credit and then partially fill the house with rented furniture. I live near a very expensive housing development. In the special area of the development, homes start in the million dollar range which is high for north Texas. A friend of mine owns a cleaning company which serves many of these homes. She has seen that the ground floors of these house are filled with luxurious, impressive furniture-all with rental stickers. Quite often the bedrooms, especially for the kids, are mattresses on the floor and clothes in plastic laundry baskets. So even though these folks attempt to attain the perception of affluence, they resort to doing so in ways that are transient. It is not unheard of for folks in this affluent area to simply abandon their houses rather than going through the public shame of bankruptcy. So it appears that the need to give the appearance of wealth is more important than doing the heavy lifting and self discipline and denial and allows wealth to develop.

Even in employment, people seem to believe or have been taught that they deserve more than their talents or education merit. This has created a strange sort of situation where uneducated people with connections (think anyone on TMZ who isn't a performer) can get a better paying job than people who have actually gone to college, done hard work and represented themselves in a responsible way. I am not a Sanders supporter, but I understand the bitterness of so many young adults out of college because my children are in that age range. All of them work very hard, some with multiple jobs. They do what they are told, do the best they can and yet see no real traction in terms of economics or promotion. Instead upper jobs are filled by outsiders who haven't been in the company and who haven't been patient after a manager asked them to just wait for raises, etc.

An example of this is one son who works for a well known bike company. He has sold $1.2 MILLION in high end bikes over the last three years. Yet his most recent raise was fifty cents an hour. His salary doesn't even pass five percent of what he has sold. Yet others in the same company who are friends and acquaintances make more. My oldest son has a degree in history and his job pays $12 an hour. My daughter works two jobs, one at a well known national bank, another at a national retail chain. As long as this generation continues to see older people line their pockets and refuse to promote them, the disaffection and disgust will grow.

This is not to say that this generation doesn't share the blame. Many of them bought into the college recruiters false assertions that they should "invest in themselves" buy attending costly private schools and racking up hundreds of thousands of dollars of college loan debt. Part of this is the issue of pushing the myth that "everyone should go to college" and part of this has to do with the method of helicopter parenting that has led these kids to believe they should be given a safety net for every problem. Of course that goes back to a system of education that is far more interested in controlling outcomes than in education. But then again, they have been raised to believe that there will be unlimited do overs and that good effort trumps good outcomes. Again that lack of dedication to a job or task is the debate over permanence (staying on a job and doing the job) goes up against transience (feigning boredom or simply giving up).

It used to be that someone would train for a job and hold that job moving up the chain for 30 years. Perhaps that model is and was unrealistic. But we currently have companies whose employment needs rise and sink with the tides. This creates a type of cultural anxiety where people feel they cannot count on the future and therefore do not shape their lives for the future. We can see this in the number of educated, employed people who choose not to have children. My own children have said that they don't feel confident enough in the future to have children. Why purchase a home if you will only lose it five years later? Why buy a car when you can abuse a rental and get a new one in two years? Why bother to maintain, develop, or hold onto anything or anyone in this society if the entire culture underlay can be ripped apart on a whim? Are you a permanent person or a transient one? I think it's something people need to consider.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Adventures in Politics

I decided that since I am so disappointed and distressed over our sad choices in this next elections, that I would become more knowledgable and more active in politics in my area. So after the primary I went to the precinct meeting. There I met a few others who were similarly curious and we all became delegates to the senatorial convention.

Today I went to that convention, learning many things. First of all delegates select the nominees, not the voters. Not yet anyway. And since none of the delegates at my precinct and precious few from others in the area have Trump delegates in spite of fairly large numbers of votes, we know that either Trump voters are interested in the full range of politics OR that Trump voters are not by and large Republicans. The agenda included approving a slate of supplementary rules as well as a slate of delegates to the State Convention in May. Everything was hunky dory until Rule 16.

Rule 16 says that in order to be a delegate to a State convention, you have to file an application and turn it in. The applications were online and even mailed to the homes of senatorial delegates weeks before the convention. There was plenty of time to turn in these one page applications. But, like their children, these alleged adults fiddled around and lost the papers, ultimately didn't turn them in on time. So instead of asking for time to do it today, they wanted all applications eliminated as a deciding factor in who gets to go to State.

But that's not the whole story. Early on I had been reading how Trump supporters were going to try to get enough delegates just to get the Rules changed for the national convention so that he could be named the nominee with a plurality of the delegates rather than the majority of the delegates. That being the goal, Trump delegates wanted to pack delegations at every level to get their planks in the platform passed. I reasoned this out on my own, but at lunch I asked my precinct chair-a lady who's been around party politics since Reagan-if I was truly seeing that kind of attempted takeover. She nodded solemnly and said not only that, but the same tactics were being used in senatorial districts across the state. If they can get Trump delegates at the senatorial level, they can push their platform and delegates at state and end up having rules shaped to confirm The Donald's nominations without so much as a whimper.

More such shenanigans went on as various precincts tried to remove some delegates in order to replaced them with alternates that held more Trumptastic views than the rest of the crowd. This event-although at times tedious-was an education in itself. I wish I could go to State, but I have to give an AP exam that day.

Thursday, March 03, 2016

Future World?

I am pretty analytical about my politics.
I like to make choices for a reason.
I don't understand how people can latch onto someone who lobs insults and innuendo like snowballs. I know politics is a full contact sport, but I honestly do not understand the popularity of someone like Donald Trump. Or, for that matter, Hillary Clinton.

They are both too old.
They are both products of a different age and carry the biases of those times for good or ill.
They are both thin skinned and vindictive.
They are both vengeful-something Hillary has shown her whole life and something Trump alludes to in his speeches.
Both have legal troubles-Hillary for violation of our nation's security, Trump for fraud.

Honest to God folks, don't we deserve better than this?

Wednesday, January 06, 2016

I Am Not a Teacher/I Am a Person Who Teaches

This is an important step. I must move away from being a "Teacher" as an identity. For too long I have put my job before my health, my sanity, my talents and even my family. This is the way the system is set up. It used to be that there was a clear division between one's work life and home life. Education, as practiced today, isn't like that anymore.

Oh sure, you'll have those trolls who chortle "but you have summers off." Define "off." In the past five summers I have attended five AP Summer Institutes, written curriculum twice, attended twenty "trade days"(which are a special torture I will explain later...), taken repetitive and often meaningless professional development (Bring your best lesson plan ad infinitum) which all are spaced just far enough apart to make taking a college course, a vacation or even getting my house clean an impossibility. I don't know of a single teacher who thinks of summer as "off" time. It's catch up on cleaning, fix the bathroom, paint the baby's room or even mow the lawn time. It's time when we get to do or have to do all the things normal people do on weekends during the school year while we're frantically grading into the wee hours hoping to make the gradebook deadline.

I have to learn to be a Person first. I can't just keep being a Teacher Creature who exists on test data, IEP's and has so little time to be an individual that I have no hobbies and few friends. This has to end. I cannot continue on this path. Please don't get me wrong, it's not that I dislike teaching, but like some sort of aggressive mold, teaching has taken over my life sucking out any time from reading or painting or drawing or just taking a walk in the park. I have stories that make me smile. Like the girl who showed up today from U of Arkansas who told me that she was a Graphic Design major. We laughed because she was a mess when she was in my painting class. I celebrate that there are kids out there, some that I may never know about, who chose art and design as a career. But for every story like that there are so many others with kids who don't care, parents who live to crush the spirit of teachers and administrators far more interested in data than people.

I don't know how anyone does this for thirty years. I honestly don't know how I have done it for seventeen years. I didn't plan on staying so long. And unfortunately because of my age, I find I have to stay a few more years just to have some sort of money rolling in during what is laughably called retirement. I've seen retirement. Oh sure there are those who travel to exotic lands, sampling life by the wine glass. But far more often, especially with teachers pensions, I've seen the type of retirement where 80 year old retirees feel compelled to sub three days a week. I don't want to be doing that at 80 or 70 or even 65. I'll work as a Walmart Greeter before I do that.

It would be nice to think that teaching was some sort of shadowy modern version of "Good Bye Mr. Chips", but instead it seems to be a world that is trapped in meaningless trends hinging on test scores and special populations. In the workroom, we older teachers spend some time worrying about the future. We also discuss the past. I have watered down my lessons three different times. As more special populations are parachuted into general education classes, the regular students suffer from neglect and I fear the backlash will be horrible to behold. I look at my five year old grandson, so eager to read and do math and then I look at the tortuous methods they've concocted to teach these concepts which I fear will mess him up as New Math did me fifty years ago. What are we doing? When did teaching become facilitation rather than caring? When did scripting replace common sense? When did administrators become so wobbly that they fear even the most idiotic demands from parents?

This can't end well. But it will end. Education is a very trend conscious endeavor. I've lived through New Math, Open Classroom, Self Contained, Departmentalized, Whole Language and more fashion statements all with their own little zippy promises of higher test scores. In reality, like it or not, some things are better learned by rote.  The alphabet, the multiplication tables, the names of states and such can be learned by heart and probably should be. But the current trend is that rote learning is bad and that it is better for a student to stumble through a hundred other possible solutions before finding an answer. I've never liked estimates. I never believed them. Any contractor who gave me an estimate always ended up costing twice as much. Between this unstable method of answering questions and the electronic distractions of tablets and phones, I fear the next generation will grow up illiterate. And where will that leave us.

I suppose that's why I still teach. Someone has to care about things like deadlines and absolutes and quality. I don't like the philosophy that complete is good enough. I hate it that people, including adults, think all limits and deadlines are more like suggestions than requirements. Sometimes you have to do what you're told to do when you're told to do it. That we currently have a nation where that's not the case for everyone explains why schools are in such disarray. And why I must become a person who teaches instead of a teacher.