The most glorious day of the year!

March 31, 2008

Today is a day unlike the other days of the year ….. and for all the good reasons.

It was a little warmer today, with a light persistent drizzle and a sheet of low lying grey clouds.

Couldn’t have been happier.

Today is the one day of the year when hope is renewed, all is fresh in the world, and the start of a new journey begins.

That’s right folks, Opening Day!

The words of no incantation have ever been as magic in what they represent. As John Fogerty said in his song Centerfield:

Well beat the drum, and hold the phone, the sun came out today. We’re born again, there’s new grass on the field.”

Today was our first day back to school from Spring Break, yet especially with the students who were baseball fans, there was not the usual doldrums of returning to school. There just is something different about life when you know the game of baseball has returned, even if you can’t actually see any of the games (being a school teacher, you almost never see opening day because you are in the middle of your early afternoon class at first pitch). Yet, you don’t need to actually see it. You know in your heart that it is there, and that there is something right with the world around you. Somehow while the flowers prepare to blossom and baby animals come out of hibernation, there is another very human sense of renewal in the return of baseball.

Opening Day turned out to be a mixed bag. Mark Buehrle pitched awful, but my White Sox managed to come back and make it a game before the ump absolutely hosed them, perhaps costing them the game. 10-8 loss to Cleveland after putting the Cy Young award winner, C C Sabathia on the ropes. Baseball may be great, but like life, it is not always fair.

In typical Cubs fashion, as White Sox Township prepares to celebrate the “Century of Despair” for the Chicago Cubs, the not-so-Lovable Losers managed to come back and tie it in the bottom of the ninth after their golden boy, Kerry Wood, gave up three runs in the top of the ninth, only to see the Brewers come back and win it in extra innings, sending many drunk yuppies into the streets of Wrigleyville depressed.

Ah, baseball. It is so good to have you back.

Another NCLB consequence no one thought about

March 31, 2008

A very interesting tidbit out of the Christian Science Monitor ……. with No Child Left Behind starting to take apart schools, districts find themselves in desperate need of administrators with the vision and commitment to take a failing school and turn things around. This means getting in the face of teachers, increasingly facing down school boards and parents who don’t want to see changes. Being a superintendent can be a really tough job! As the article notes the average tenure of a superintendent today is 18 months in a non-suburban setting and 3 years in a suburban setting …… hardly the time needed to take the wheel and change course.

At the same time everyone is desperate to make changes, there are in fact very few people with the certification to become superintendents, and even fewer with the willingness to do it. This is what they call in economics, a buyers market. Since administrators are not unionized, they can privately negotiate their contract with the school district, and as the article explains, this is more and more starting to cost school a great deal more money than they are willing to shell out, but that they are finding little choice.

The article cites a Georgia school district that is at hte end of the rope …. they are about to lose accredidation. In comes the former superintendent of Pittsburgh who was one of the few willing to consider the job ….. provided he gets $250,000 personal salary, a $2 million budget for consultants, a lincoln town car, a driver, and money to hire a personal body guard, since there have been problems down in that neck of the woods.

Some people think that teachers unions hold schools hostage (and sometimes they do)…… but the administrators are starting to get into the game as well because they are in even higher demand than teachers, and unlike teachers who often times cannot negotiate for themselves, these administrators can hold out because in the end they know they will get what they want because the federal government has a gun to the school district’s head.

The articles also notes that school districts which are predominantly minority, and are holding out for minority candidates to lead them, are increasingly in ever more dire straights because fewer and fewer minority candidates are available. As you might guess, because of issues with the percent of the population in poverty and such, schools with larger minority populations are the very districts that tend to be in greater need of someone to come in and turn things around.

So the question is: with the ability to make such lavish demands just as the economy isn’t doing good, why aren’t more and more people rushing to enter school administration. There is a good reason (which the article notes, and I believe to be factual).

First off, superintendents have very long work schedules ….. a good teacher easily works 50-60 hours a week, excluding extra curricular activities (which can easily bring things up to a total closer to 70). Superintendents can see 80 hour work weeks with batting an eyelash. And unlike teachers who get the satisfaction of working with students, this job sees little of that. These meetings involve working with budget specialists, irate parents, coordinating with local bigwigs over use of facilities, coordinating with police if there are problems that require their services, working in the never boring world of labor management, including regular meetings with the one or more unions representing your workers …. then there is the school board (note: politics, politics, politics) who will make demands of you to do things that you often times may not want to do, often times may know will be counter productive, but you do because you hope that the Board will learn the error of their ways, or you hold out to use that as leverage to get something don later …… besides, refusal means you are fired and they bring in someone who will do as they want. You have to work with lawyers and other administrators all of the time. And, if your district needs to be doing any building, there are engineers and architects to deal with ….. not to mention contractors.

Oh …. and then there is the need to keep a positive public persona by keeping yourself both visible and charming. When something goes south, you have to have the answer, even if you don’t. And at all times, you have to assure the public that everything is being done to keep the students best interests in mind, and that improvement is always going forward, even when school board politics, unions, and parents may be, in your opinion, moving to thwart your vision of improvement.

I’m sure this was not an intention of the NCLB legislation, but, borrowing from the article, the era of the diva superintendents is here.

Move Review: Cloverfield

March 29, 2008

Yeah, I know, this is two months late …. I still have Christmas presents I have to send out. Sue me! I’m stuck at the library because I locked myself out of my house. Of course there will be spoilers. don’t blame me if you read on and haven’t seen the film, and realize I’ve given it away.

It’s a great film, if somewhat not what anyone would expect. First off, it is a monster movie in the tradition of the monster being more like Gojira or King Kong vs. say Dracula of Frankenstein. Beyond that, to call this a “monster movie” would be like saying that “Star Wars” was a western; more or less, in name only.

Ostensibly, hte film is shot almost entirely on a hand held camcorder, and profiles some twentysomethings in New York as they race for their lives through the city to escape a really big mo-fo monster tearing through Manhattan. To borrow from Hitchcock, the monster is a McGuffin, which is to say that while the monster pushes the action, in some ways it is the least important part of the film. The story clearly centers on the cast as they are running for their lives and trying to survive.

The film could have been made with virtually any disaster (bombs planted throughout the city, rising flood water, meteor shower, a volcano rising from under Manhattan (oops … tried that already in L.A, aand it didn’t work), etc. The monster just adds a twist on the plot. In fact, the film is largely more a straight forward drama than it would be a work of science fiction.

There is really only one grotesque moment in the film, and even that is left mostly to the imagination. The big monster in fact sheds off smaller monsters which, should they bite you, cause you to start behaving as if you have contracted hemorragic (sp?) fever, killing you rather shortly. This is not actually shown on screen, but is shown behind a hospital screen.

In the end, almost the entire cast dies, including the principal characters that are the center of this group of friends. It is hardly an uplifting, inspiring film. The most tragic moment occurs after the lead character’s brother is killed on a bridge when the monster attacks. The group finally takes shelter in a subway station, when the lead character gets a cell phone call ….. its his mother, and you wuickly realize that he has some really bad news to pass on.

Unlike Titanic, a vile film that goes out of your way to manipulate the audience with contrivences to make you care about the characters, and then reduces the loss of thousands to a punch line, this disaster-romance tells it like it is. The action (by action I msotly mean here the movement of hte plot) occurs so fast, that there is no time to manipulate the characters into situations that make you care any more or any less about them. Since the film is told as a flashback (a government review of the videotape discovered in “what used to be known as Central Park”), it is interspersed with video taken before the attack, and allows you to see that these people, placed into a surreal race for their life, are no tall too different from any of us. In a sense, that may be the message of the film: in your comfortable, day-to-day life, things can be very comforting and taken for granted; put yourself in a life-or-death situation, and things change. For most Americans, this we’re in the former group every day of our lives, but for a large percentage of the world’s population, every day can be more like the latter.

Why people like me shouldn’t be single

March 29, 2008

Second to last day of Spring Break, and I drop off my car for its routine maintenance …. figure I’ll go get breakfast, then catch a taxi ride home. I get home,realizing that my house keys are attached to the car keys at the dealership.

Thank goodness the Library is only a ten minute walk …. it gives me someplace to stay warm and productive.

Lady of the Rings?

March 9, 2008

It looks like Rhea may have rings! 

There may be preliminary evidence that Saturn’s moon Rhea has a primitive ring system.  Jupiter, Uranus, and Neptune have them to some extent …… now the first evidence that a satellite may have them (oh yeah ….. I think Saturn has some rings as well)!

Follow up and Clarification (Should Parents be Licensed?)

March 9, 2008

Just for the record, while I do think that it is a very good idea for parents who homeschool to take coursework that gives them a broader perspective on how to teach (a lot of what we do with students works as well one-on-one as well as with individuals, except maybe cooperative education, which as its name implies, requires at least a small group), I would not so much be in favor of some actual licensing of parents to teach their children (I hope all parents are teaching their children for goodness sakes, and not just the morals, ethics, etc …. I mean I would hope that a parent can teach a little of literature and science and history and writing and reading, etc. There’s certainly no room for licensing in that!

Besides, we are seeing the fallout of (and I am trying to take a positive, if not naive approach) a well intentioned piece of legislation trying to improve education. It simply does not work.

Should Parents be Licensed?

March 8, 2008

One of the more interesting and semi-ironic aspects of “No Child left Behind” legislation is that some teachers who were never pushed to continue their educations now have to. In fact, I never taught at an institution where you were not required to do so, though I know schools existed where teachers could sit back and watch the grass grow. Overall, this is one of the few good things out of NCLB.

Here’s the irony: NCLB is certainly a push for private schools and homeschooling. The legislation, as written, puts every public school on the clock to be listed as failing, since inevitably, each school is required to have 100% of its students (irrelevant of how recently they have learned english, no matter what their situation is in terms of being in drug treatment, no matter if they are in a severely bad psychological state of depression) pass a test (which is different in different states). Everyone in the know is aware that all public schools in the country will eventually earn a “failing” label. It is only a matter of “when”. Thus, the indirect message is: get your kids into a private school or homeschool them, as these are exempted from NCLB. None of them can ever fail.

In California, a case is moving through the courts which could eventually pave the way for parents who homeschool to receive mandatory training in education. Needless to say, the representatives of homeschoolers are pretty upset.     

I have a good friend and his wife who have been pretty vocal about homeschooling, and they will very soon need to make a decision as their wonderful little daughter (not so little any more) gets ready to enter the schooling years.I know there are a variety of reasons for homeschooling: some people live in an area with poor schools, or in communities where education is a far cry from a priority (as long as the football/basketball team wins, the school is #1, WHOO!). In other cases, the parents want to exercise the write to avoid any other adults from having any affect on their progeny. In other cases, there is no institution that will teach their religious faith, or they feel the schools would undermine that faith. Finally, some just don’t like the way their schools teach, and they feel that they can do a better job. Even as a public school teacher, I can’t argue with some of these positions. I have seen some students who were homeschooled and turned out to be outstanding. I have also seen the opposite. Is homeschooling good for some? yes. Is it good for all. No way. I am not anti-homeschooling.

The question is: should a parent who wishes to homeschool be required to take some level of course work? The answer is clear: yes.

Why? I think the real question is: why not? If someone places education at such a high level ….. such that they are willing to rotate their entire family around their child’s education in the home, I would think that they would not start off by saying “I know all there is to know, and don’t need to learn anymore.” I think if there is one thing education teaches anyone, it is not that they have learned so much, but rather it is that they can look themselves in the mirror and honestly say “I don’t know nearly as much as I think.” Why then would someone so pro-education be resistant to learning more?

Now, I could see that if the law required an undue burden (like potential homeschoolers are required to attend 50 credit hours of classes, earn a new degree, etc) that this is counterproductive, and an indirect way of trying to block homeschooling. That is certainly not a good thing. On the other hand, education has undergone a revolution in the past 15 years. While it has not reached everywhere, there are a great many methods of instruction that not al parents and teachers are aware of, and could learn that would make any educational experience better. I would say that resistance to that is also counterproductive.

I know there is a long standing legal aspect: to what extent does the state have the right to interfere in how a parent raises a child? Certainly vaccinations can be required to enter school. Certainly if the child is being abused, the state can step in, even if the parents believe that their abuse is part of how they raise their child. On the other hand, not educating a child could be considered a form of mild abuse, as you systematically cut off that individuals chances of being able to make choices about their future. In any event, this is a case I am hoping to follow a bit and see where it goes, though I suspect that it will end with the courts siding with parents.