Monday, February 19, 2018

Free Speech for Me But Not for Thee

I've been busy. That's my excuse. Back in October of last year, Charles Murray, spoke - that is, he tried to speak - at the University of Michigan. I started to write about it sometime in December. Here is what I wrote:

Yes, I should have posted this a while ago, like when the Detroit Free Press first reported it. But I kept having to do other things, so it languished. Others reported on it though. And the more I read about it, the worse it got. After reading all four of the reports, it seems to me that the original report in the Detroit Free Press was intended to minimize the disruptions caused by the junior fascists at U of M. They didn't debate Charles Murray. They harassed him and disrupted his talk. The anti-intellectual nitwits tried to shout him down. They put themselves in charge as the thought police. I doubt that a single one of them have ever read a single word he's written. Yet, based on the words of others who also wouldn't face him in a debate, decided that nobody had the right to hear what he had to say.
We know, based on stories of conservative speakers being denied the same rights as speakers from the liberal/progressive echo chamber on university campuses, that this sort of thing has become common. There are different rules for those who bow to and agree with the campus power structure - a structure which includes students and faculty - and those who don't.

Conservative speakers like Ben Shapiro and Ann Coulter are labeled as "divisive." They are "provocateurs." They engage in "hate speech." This means that they are in disagreement with current campus orthodoxy. And that must NOT be allowed! So they and the student groups who sponsor them are subject to different, more onerous rules. University administrators are all for free speech, or so they tell us - but! There is always a "but" that only applies to people like Shapiro and Coulter and others who are divisive, provocateurs, and promote hate speech. Campus fascists have redefined certain words in order to excuse their own fascism and fear of contrary opinions. It also conveniently let the rioters and disrupters off the hook. It's not their fault. How can they possibly take responsibility for their actions when they were provoked by a provocateur? Curse those Coulters and Shapiros for making peaceful, human rights respecting young adults into masked thugs!

No one who deviates from the orthodoxy can be tolerated.
A speech at Portland State University by James Damore, author of the infamous Google memo, was interrupted on Saturday night when activists reportedly smashed the sound system.
The former Google engineer is currently suing the Silicon Valley giant for firing him over the controversial ten page memo about gender diversity and the difficulty conservatives face at the company.The event was organized by student and journalist Andy Ngo, and his student group the Freethinkers. In response, the university organized multiple events to counter their panel.Live tweeting the event, Ngo reported that activists had staged a walkout before “smashing” the sound system, causing the microphones to not work for approximately ten minutes.
It wasn't enough for the university to offer multiple counter events, they also allowed student fascists to disrupt Damore's talk. But at least the disrupters at Portland and at U of M weren't "divisive." And nobody who destroyed the sound system at Portland State University was engaging in hate speech. And surely there were no provocateurs amongst the disrupters at either event.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Government Shutdown

Yes, I know, we are supposed to panic because the government was forced to shut down because our Congress couldn't come to an agreement over DACA. Of course it's Trump's fault. This kind of thing never happened under any previous president. Well, almost never.

Truthfully, I'd be more upset if my local 7-11 or Taco Bell shut down. I'd be hysterical if my favorite books store were to close. I know we are supposed to worry about the thousands of government workers who will not be paid, and the government functions that will not be performed. There are necessary services that the government provides, but if a shut down can provoke hysteria, maybe the government has grown too big and has taken over too many functions.

Just a thought.

I bet congressional paychecks will continue to be delivered, showdown or not, and even during the apocalypse.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Why I Quit Teaching

I haven't quit teaching yet, but I'm getting close. When I began teaching and for many years after, I could see no point to quitting. Even though there were frustrating times, there were also rewarding times. I told people that one day at the end the students would come in and find me slumped over my desk. They would have to decide whether or not to call anyone to haul my body away.

Things have changed since then, mostly for the worse. And it continues to get worse every year. I can relate to David Solway's reasons for quitting. I don't know if I can make it to 30 years to get my full pension. I'm close, but it might be worth it to save what's left of my sanity and self-respect to step away from the classroom and maintain a lower standard of living.

To put it bluntly, the administration is venal and unscrupulous.  Faculty is compromised and reprobate.  The student body is a haven for ineptitude.  Regrettably, the exceptions – for they do exist – cannot redress the balance.  What is perhaps most troubling is that the more reputable faculties and disciplines – math, physics, engineering, astronomy, medicine, law – are gradually but inexorably being eroded by the "social justice" meme and subject to extraneous cultural forces that are political in nature.  Even here, gender and race rather than scholarly accomplishment and talent are starting to predominate in hiring protocols.  These departments are slowly coming to be governed not by the principles of classical propriety, but by agendas alien to their mandates – agendas whose function is to promote the collectivity over the individual; so-called "human rights" over human excellence; and equality, however unearned, over freedom, however precious.  As a result, even among the purer disciplines, meritocracy will surrender to mediocrity.


There are different reasons on the elementary school level. Yes, the students come in with fewer skills than they once had. I'm not allowed to teach phonetically so there is no chance for many of them to improve. The paperwork requirements have become ridiculous and do very little toward actually improving students' literacy and math skills.

Perhaps I'll go into greater detail in a future post, but I see a new generation of barely literate, social justice warriors being created.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Dependence

My smart board went out today.

It was working fine. The kids were doing the math I had posted on it. We were about to go over the math, when - it went dark.

I tried turning it back on. I felt around in the back in case there was a secret reboot button. Then I went across the hall to get the teacher who's used one at another for years. She had no luck. So I did the only thing I could do; I crawled under my desk, curled up into a fetal position, and whimpered softly - until students tried to talk me out. Then I covered my ears and began howling.

Well, not really. Actually I got out my teacher's edition and used a marker and white board to teach the lesson. It took a minute though. I have quickly become used to using the smart board. I have my math and English Language Arts lessons ready to go every day on that board. It took a minute to change my thoughts back to pencil and white board. It wasn't automatic. I'm a victim of technology. I depend on it to be there. I've been seduced.

The tech guys fixed it later that morning. It was a blown fuse, and various devices were off line in all of the rooms on my side of the hallway depending on where they were plugged in in the classroom.

But then -

The Think Central website went down while our students were supposed to be taking their weekly online reading test. Our Title person made copies of the tests for the entire grade level and the students took them with their pencils rather than on their laptops. They adjusted well.

Now I've got paper tests I have to grade. Online, Think Central automatically grades them for us.

Oh, the humanity!

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Immigrants and Sanitation

Telling the truth is now a punishable offense in some parts of the United States. At least it is in Hamtramck, one of two tiny cities nestled in the bosom of Detroit, Michigan. Hamtramck councilman, Ian Perrotta found that out the hard way after making comments that although may have been truthful, were found to be insulting. From the Detroit Free Press:

Earlier this month, Perrotta had told WWJ 950 AM there was an issue with trash and some immigrants. About 44% of Hamtramck residents are immigrants, the highest percentage of any city in Michigan. Many are from Yemen or Bangladesh. 
"There is an issue with trash in Hamtramck,” Perrotta told the radio station. “I think some of it comes from the fact that some of our immigrant population comes from areas where regular trash collection and sanitation is not available, or not a priority.”
“The previous iterations of the immigrant population were more Europeans who maybe came from places that had similar methods of sanitation,” Perrotta said to WWJ. “The current wave of immigrants is primarily from Yemen and Bangladesh.”

Uh-oh!

Nobody bothered to assess whether or not Perrotta's theory was valid. He said things that some community members didn't like. He also had the temerity to suggest that Western culture carried a bit of an advantage over the cultures of Bangladesh and Yemen. We know that's a huge no-no.

A resolution introduced by Councilman Miah read: "Councilman Perrotta’s bigoted comments relied upon and furthered harmful and hurtful stereotypes about European and Western cultural superiority over many of the immigrant cultures represented by members of this Council and the broader community."
It said: "Councilman Perrotta’s bigoted comments brought disrepute upon this body, held up members of this community and the city itself for ridicule and scorn, are demonstrably false, and have no place in civil public discourse."
All cultures are equal, right? It's bigoted to even think that Western culture is superior to others. It's also forbidden to ask why so many people immigrate to the US from other cultures if US culture is equal to the one they left.

Maybe I'm just slow, but I'm still waiting for the demonstration of the falseness of Perrotta's comments, which must be false since I assume, a majority of the Hamtramck city council and Hamtramck residents agree that it's false. If that doesn't make it "demonstrably false" I don't know what does. 

However, according to this article about cleaning up Bangladesh's slums: 

Gazipur has an estimated population of 3.5 million living in 329 square kilometers. Currently, Gazipur has weak legislation or no formal garbage management system to deal with the huge amount of rubbish and garbage produced by industries and households. The area lacks a waste disposal site to cope with the 150 tonnes of rubbish produced daily. No garbage management system operates to clear away household or community waste. Failure to regularly clean outside drains results in the overflow of fluid, making pathways slippery and difficult to move on. Disease from contaminated water is common and particularly acute during the rainy season. Common affilications include diarrhea, respiratory infections such as coughs and colds, skin diseases, and infections impacting the kidneys and liver.
“We used to throw garbage here and there, in a nearby puddle. As a result, the whole locality had a stench, and was full of mosquitoes and flies. A neighbor of ours, Kusum Ali — 9 to 10 members of his family were continual diarrhea patients throughout the year,” said Rokeya Begum from Dakshin Tetultola.
Yes, they are trying to improve things, but that doesn't change the fact that sanitation services in Bangladesh are not quite as efficient as those in the United States. Hamtramck council members are shutting down the truth.

Meanwhile, in war-torn Yemen, the poorest country in the Middle East:

Hardly a paragon of waste management before the war, Sanaa was at least able to separate out the most dangerous materials from the 10-million-ton hill thanks to a nearby treatment plant.
No longer. The facility was bombed by a Saudi-led military coalition battling the armed Houthi movement which controls the capital in June of last year and again last December.
Now vast stinking pools created in part by untreated medical waste accumulate at the pile’s base, threatening to contaminate the water supply for the parched city which experts have long predicted will be the first capital to use up all its water.
Nope, nothing here that might suggest that Yemen's waste management is any different than that of any big US city. CAIR (unindicted co-conspirators in the Holy Land Foundation terrorist financing trial), of course, jumped right in. There are some truths that they will not tolerate and are "demonstrably false" because they say so. No actual demonstration is necessary.

Lesson: be careful what you say. Some people find comforting lies more satisfying than an unpleasant truth.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Why 2,000 Detroit 9th-graders just got free cell phones

Yes, it's true. 2,000 Detroit ninth graders were given free cell phones from Sprint. Why? To improve their education of course.

According to the article, the poverty rate in the Detroit School District is about 80%. Also, according to the article, some students have phones, including iphones. Some students at first refused the phones until they got a look at them. They must be might fancy phones. Not as fancy as an iphone, but they do have a "hot spot", so as we are reminded more than once, students can now do their homework.

Maybe it's because I've been losing my critical thinking faculties over the years, but I don't see the connection. Khan Academy or not, why would teachers in a district with an 80% poverty rate give homework that requires internet access? Especially if these poverty-stricken students only have iphones and can't access the web?

Oh, they're going to close the "digital divide." Students might not be able to read, but they will have internet access in order to do their homework. And we know they will pay attention to the caveats:

The phones come with some sober advice about using the device responsibly, contained in a set of information given to each student. Don't use it in class, unless the teacher says it's OK or there's an emergency, they're told.
Don't use it to bully or be mean to anyone. Don't use it while driving. Don't share personal information online like Social Security numbers, addresses or phone numbers.
And speaking of sharing, the students are told to be cautious when sharing and posting information online.
"Remember, the Internet does not forget!" 
The Internet might not forget, but students might forget to do their homework after spending their evenings on social media.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Our New Promethean Boards

The Promethean boards were installed in our rooms last week. Today we were given a few hours training on them.

I haven't yet touched the board in my room. I wasn't sure if it was ready and I had no idea what it could do our how to do the things it could do. Besides, I've seen them at other schools in the past, and we've had a portable one for years. While they looked interesting, and there were technologically advanced things I watched teachers do on them, they seemed kind of cumbersome. They were interesting, but not really impressive.

But after our training today - Wow! They've made some major technological advances in the past few years, and these babies rock! They are giant touch screens. They are monster-sized tablets. They are computer monitors. They are computers in their own right with thousands of available educational lessons and apps. You can also download things from your classroom computer or your phone onto your Promethean board. Students can work on it from their district-supplied laptops.

Teachers can use them to create and give lessons and tests, show static and moving displays, play educational videos, and probably do lots more stuff that I'm not even aware of yet because I just learned about them today, and we only spent 2 1/2 hours at the workshop.

My new Promethean board is bright, and shiny, and new, and computerized, and I can't wait to get back into my classroom to begin exploring all the  things this baby can do. And all those things I've been saying over the years eschewing classroom technology because it hasn't ever and it won't ever enhance student achievement - forget it all. I've changed my mind. These are the greatest educational tool since avocado toast.

Hmm, that was not just a mixed metaphor, it was a mixed-up metaphor. What I meant was, due to the incredible "cool" factor of the Promethean board, I want to be wrong. I want this computerized behemoth to actually lead to greater student achievement. That would make my life and the lives of my students so much easier and more pleasant.

I know that students will be much more engaged because we all become much more engaged looking at a computer screen than we do looking at paper.

However . . .

I also know that this will be another educational boondoggle. Nobody would ever try and convince us that putting a young athlete in front of a computer to play Madden NFL will improve his football skills. That only comes form lots of hard work in the gym and on the field. That's how academic achievement works too. Pick up that pencil. Apply it to the paper. Get those hand and arm muscles moving and sending messages to the brain.

When that pencil wears out, get another one. Make sure there are stacks of paper. Work hard.

Remaining hypnotized in front of a computer screen is still not the way and never will be the way students learn. Will the educational establishment ever learn that lesson?