Apparently, this is a thing …

June 30, 2012

In 1991, the National Football League, like the missionaries of yore, landed on the continent of Europe in an attempt to preach the gospel of real football … not some sport where you run after a ball for an hour-and-a-half and act like you just saved the pope’s family from terrorists at Nakatomi Plaza every time you are the last person to touch the ball before it accidentally ends up in a net, and no, not the football that requires 9 credit hours of acting classes so that you can sell a dive to the refs who are only slightly more credible sometimes than professional wrestling refs.  No, real football, where men risk their their health and sanity for a few thousand non-guaranteed Euros.  NFL Europe lasted in various guises until 2007, by which time someone realized that the Amsterdam Admirals getting beat by the Frankfort Galaxy was taking valuable television time away from seeing their buddies fined 10 euros for touching off a soccer riot that killed 25 people, let alone some third tier U16 soccer game between Kyrgyzstan and Malawi.  In the end, the unwashed heathens rejected American football.

Heck, even the Canadian Football League tried to expand into America!  It caused problems when the guy spiked the ball after running a hundred yards, not realizing the endzone was still ten yards further, but hey!  The people of Sacramento and Las Vegas and Shreveport and Baltimore couldn’t be choosers … sure, it was Molson instead of Miller, and they had to learn what the hell a rouge was, and why teams got points for it, but beggars can’t be choosers.  Still the Candians were told to get back to the other side of 54-40, and to take their whacked out version of football with them.  Sometimes, you just can’t preach to the converted.

So now with the economy in the dumps, when the cowards are reeling in their money to protect it, the time is ripe to expand American football again.  Surely, out there, there must be some nation with some repressed bloodlust just waiting to tune in and see gown men giving each other concussions that will one day cost them their lives for a few thousand dollars.

Enter:  NFL – India

No, that’s not a typo or a joke.  Actually, it is the Elite Football League of India, which is actually a misnomer, because it will include teams in Pakistan and Sri Lanka (with an expansion franchise apparently already being lined up in Bangladesh NOIAMNOT DRUNK!)

That’s right, forget the damn Olymipcs, the real international action this year will be between the Pune Marathas and the Colombo Lions (I mean, really, every baseball league on Earth has a “Giants” because the New York Giants used to be an elite franchise … THE EFFIN’ LIONS ARE NEVER GOOD, TRY AGAIN!) match up for the Hundred Yard War.

And what is the deal with the Kolkata Vipers.  If you are going snake theme … and you want some consonance, wouldn’t the Kolkata Cobras be a lot more menacing?

Now, I know what you are thinking … surely no one who actually knows anything about football would get involved with this.  However, some of the principal investors include 2x MVP and all around nice guy Kurt Warner.  Former QB and analyst extraordinaire Ron Jaworski , and Hall-of-Famers Michael Irvin and Michael Dikta are also throwing money in.

So, according to the clock on the website, in a little over 45 days, the season will kick off, and this time when the Peshawar Wolfpack and the Delhi Defenders clash, it will be on a gridiron, not on the battlefield.

Best of luck!  Perhaps one day the Kathmandu Yeti and Kabul Spies (early 1980s text computer game reference, thankyou) can field some teams

Who am I to question the wisdom of the United States government?

June 29, 2012

Becoming a U.S, citizen isn’t necessarily the hardest thing on Earth, nor is it the easiest.  For some time it has been recognized that certain people trying to get into the country are more desirous.  For example, if you a an investor, and you are interested in investing money here, you can apply for a fast tracked EB-5 visa to get into the country.  Are you a foreigner with special skills that the nation might need?  You can apply for the H-1B, which allows you to stay for up to 5 years (very big in high tech and engineering these days).

Then there is the O-1, the so called “genius” visa.  According  to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service, this visa is reserved for ” individual who possesses extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business, or athletics, or who has a demonstrated record of extraordinary achievement in the motion picture or television industry and has been recognized nationally or internationally for those achievements.”   The O-1A is reserved for people that have won awards “like the Nobel Prize”, and the 0-1B is for people who have won “like an Academy Award”.  These are examples, not necessarily criteria.  But these are the visas that people like Stephen Hawking or Cherlize Theron.

Which is why people are scratching their heads about how Shera Bechard landed one of these.

You are probably now looking through the list of recent Nobel Laureates, Emmy and Oscar winners … not ringing a bell …

You might check under “Miss November” … the apparently major international award that Miss Bechard has won to qualify her to rub shoulders with the creme de la creme.

I guess on the one hand, while simply removing one’s clothing may or may not qualify as an “extraordinary talent” to all, aparently the government of the United States feels that it qualifies.

I mean, at the end of the day, I’d be happier having this woman in the country than James Cameron to film Titanic.  One results in creating a work of art that can be beautiful.  The other is an overrated film about a spoiled rotton rich girl refusing to let go of her one night stand after being married to the father of her children.

Just read the title of the post.

Moment of silence of an influential figure in education

June 28, 2012

Michael Sokolski passed away earlier this month.

What did he do that might make someone build a monument to him for service to education?

He is the inventor of and founder of Scantron.

Yeah,  I am both under and overwhelmed too.

He did lead an interesting life … born in Poland, mother killed early in WWII, and was a tank driver with Polish forces.  He moved to the US in the 1960s, and founded Scantron in 1972.

On one hand, his method of automated test grading allowed for fairly objective and anonymous grading of tests.  On the downside, it made standardized test easy, and while standardized testing existed before Scantron, it exploded  as a result of being able to make tests cheap and easy to grade.

As with many inventions, you take the good with the bad.

Where do we go from here?

June 28, 2012

The Supreme Court has, surprisingly, upheld the Obamacare plan.

Frankly, I have been against this because I feel that it is an unwarranted imposition on extremely personal liberties, even if at its heart there was an attempt to help people.  There are two things that I worry about.

1.  We have created a slippery slope.  That’s actually a lie, we are already well on the slippery slope.  At least since the 1960s, the federal government has become a bully pulpit for pushing agendas.  Mind you, some of those things were needed (civil rights).  Unfortunately, the same forces that begat the federal government getting more involved in enforcing civil rights opened a flood gate to the federal government getting a lot more involved in pushing things around.  It started with innocent enough things (raise your drinking age to 18, or lose federal highway funds).  But it worked both ways … NCLB worked the same way (submit to federal testing and control mandates or lose funding).  20 years ago, the thought of the federal government controlling public schools would have been unthinkable.  Today it is a reality.

I am gratefully concerned where this will lead.  Today the law reads that pre-existing conditions will not be a concern.  Will that be the same in 20 years?  What happens when (as several insurance companies today require), to manage costs the government requires mandatory annual exams?  Most people would find that laughable, but 30 years ago the thought of the United States government running health insurance would have been laughable.  Now, it is a reality.

Some folks might say that I am taking this to ridiculous ends,  That may be true, I can’t claim to know the future, but I worry that our federal government has a history of doing some pretty repugnant things.

2.  If you thought politics was polarized now, you ain’t seen nothing yet.

On the one hand, overturning the provisions would have been a defeat for the Obama administration.  On the other hand, this action is going to completely galvanize the opposition now that they have gone from mad to incensed angry.  There were a number of independent voters who were against this plan, and in an election year where I think a lot of folks are voting between “the lesser of two evils”, I wonder how that will effect the overall play of independent voters.

Worse than that, it is going to result, I suspect, in a whole new round of hard core right wing extremist candidates who are gong to be elected and charged with one guarantee:  gut the insurance plan.  This is what happened last time with the debt ceiling.  Mind you, I approve of finally doing something to get our debt under control, but making it a single item voter issue, and one that leaves the Congress with very little room to negotiate.  I am worried that instead of gridlock getting better, it will be the same or worse.

I hope I am wrong about all of this … but I lost faith in our government a long time ago, and I don’t have hope that our government will be bale to work this out and function properly for the greater benefit of the people.

Science: a girl’s thing (I guess?)

June 27, 2012

Please look at this.  Make sure you are seated and that your eyeballs are firmly secure in your skull.

Normally, backassery like this would be a product of some division of the U.S. government or Hollywood that thinks it knows everything about everything and in fact knows very little about next to nothing.  However this time, it is the European Commission that can take the blame for this non-attempt to recruit women into the sciences.  Note to the U.S. government:  don’t do this!

In fairness, the goal was certainly a good one, but the follow through was just horrible to the point of sexism.  I expect better from the continent that gave us Lise Meitner and Marie Curie!  Also in fairness when there was enough flack received over this, the Commission had the ad pulled.

That said, it is interesting to note that Europe seems to have the same problem that the US does:  we could use a lot more women getting involved in the physical sciences (women now account for over half the degrees granted in the biological sciences in the U.S, but are far, far underrepresented in chemistry, physics, and geology).

To place the female issue aside for a moment, the United States has a problem of getting anyone involved in science.  We live in a fairly anti-intellectual era (more about that in a future post) and as a teacher, there is a very difficult balance to maintain:  you want to get students involved and engaged and interested, but at the same time:  science is a lot of difficult work that involves a lot of high level thinking skills.  There are a lot more people who have the interest but lack the work ethic or skills.  The hard part about being a teacher is having to tell a student that despite their interest, that they need to work on some very basic skills.

I had a student this year who demonstrated exceptional interest.  He was also, sadly, lazy to an extreme.  He did well enough in the first semester of my non-accelerated class for seniors (he was a junior who had dropped down from the accelerated classes because  of poor grades).  Second semester, he did not do as well.  He informed me that he fully intended to take AP Physics.  We looked at his math grades.  He had no grade higher than a “B” (freshman year), and had gotten “D”s through advanced algebra and trig.  He intended to take pre-calc over the summer and then calc as a senior.  He had taken our engineering classes and earned “D”s in both classes, and his teacher confirmed that he was the only student to score that low, and that it was laziness.

His request was denied, and his parents filed a letter requesting to override the decisions of the department chairs (the math department chair also denied this entry into AP calc).  The parents argued that “shouldn’t kids be able to pursue their interests?”  The parents have a point, but when it comes to AP tests, the department chairs have to be cautious about who they let in, because the rate at which students pass the AP tests has become a measure of the success of the school as a whole … so any student who looks like they aren’t going to cut it can cost future students in terms of the standing of the school in the eyes of universities who are deciding to accept students.  To make matters worse, you may be familiar with the U.S. News & World Report annual ranking of high schools (this ranking is not a very good system of ranking).  The ranking is based almost purely on a formula related to AP tests.  Because it has become a big deal nationally (even though it is a terrible system), the schools are now under even more pressure than ever to get AP scores up while recruiting more students who can assuredly pass the test into their ranks.

Another example of how schools have had a gun put to their head to do more stupid things that aren’t related to sound educational ideas.

Biology 101: The Loch Ness Monster disproves evolution

June 25, 2012

Since I cannot confirm this, I will open by saying this had better be some sick joke.

Eternity Christian Academy, a Christian fundamentalist school in Louisiana, has adopted a textbook for “accelerated Christian education in biology” that attempts to argue two important points about biology that most of us have not learned:

1.  The existence of the Loch Ness Monster is an accepted fact since there have been eyewitness accounts, pictures, and a sonar contact.  Note:  there is no established evidence that this thing is real, and there are quite a few people who have admitted fabricating stories and pictures.

2.  The established existence of the Loch Ness Monster establishes that dinosaurs exist today, and that means evolution is false.

So, who cares!  This is a private school which receives to tax payer money … if people want to go there and learn these things, that is their business.

Except … Louisiana allows for public school vouchers.  So, any students who want to get out of their public schools can opt to go here on the tax payers’ dime.  That means that this curriculum is in fact being funded by tax payers.

I have argued earlier why allowing government more power in education is a phenomenal mistake.  Here, you have the opposite, government writing the check and walking away entirely, throwing the kids into a situation that can be damaging to their overall education.

When people hear about the ideas of charter schools, they tend to get really excited:  they think all public schools are vile (even though mist could not cite a single bit of meaningful evidence that their local school is poor), and the thought of sending kids to a school where the kids wear uniforms and sit up straight, and get kicked out for the slightest infraction (just like when they were kids and school were better), and teachers making less money to save the tax payers, and teachers finally teaching what the public wants instead of everything having some twisted political agenda … it all sounds good.

What they don’t sometimes realize is that many of the charter school companies are fundamentalist Christian.  That is not absolutely true, but especially in the South, these companies and local churches are getting on a role as more and more states allow parents to cheaply pull a kid out of the public school to get (I will say it) an often inferior education, fully paid by the tax payers, and without one iota of accountability.  It is a right wing extremist’s wet dream!

I don’t want to paint with too broad a brush.  I have spoken to teachers in Florida that have described this starting to happen.  It totally stems from an extremist fundamentalist agenda to close (as they see it) liberal indoctrination centers that present material (quoting the principal from Eternity Christian Academy) “that confuses students”.

As an educator, it is dead wrong.  It is ethically wrong, and unfortunately in a highly charged political environment, few people are willing to listen to reason.  As bad as things are in Illinois, I am glad we have not started walking this path yet.

(University of) Virginia is for business majors

June 21, 2012

In case you haven’t been reading, the nonsense that has been plaguing American public high schools is apparently now spreading to its public universities.  The University of Virginia has now lost its chancellor, and the resignations look to continue.

Why?  The chancellor refused to give in to interests from the Board, several of whom appear to have been taking their marching orders from the College of Business.  Among the things that she was not willing to concede are apparently:

1.  Cutting programs that were showing no return for the university (Classics and German were specifically cited).  This despite a report that shows that these departments tend to run cost neutral or make a profit vs. engineering and medicine which operate at net losses.

2.  An unwillingness to open an online center for granting degrees.  Note:  she was not opposed to online classes, but was opposed to turning the University of Virginia into an online diploma mill.

To get a gist of this, try this sad piece from Fox News.  It basically explains that the top schools are “too selective” and are doing a disservice to the state tax payers by refusing to get with it and be … less selective.  The author specifically calls out MIT and Stanford as flirting with online work, but refusing to work within “the public interests”.  At the bottom of the article, you will note that this guy is a professor at the University of Maryland School of Business.

On the one hand, I hope that the ridiculousness of these arguments will bring into focus the real problem:  Schools are not businesses.  Schools should not be run like businesses.  Business models should not be applied to schools beyond small reasonable means.

If anything, the argument could be made that there are too many universities and colleges out there.  I would accept that argument!  I hate to descend into political demagoguery, but here seems to be an attempt by extremists to gain political control of the universities: they will teach only what we want, only how we want, and that will allow us to control the students.

This is nothing brand new, as almost a year ago, I blogged about the University of Texas system thinking of taking the same asinine steps in the name of business savvy.

This economy had better start turning around soon to prevent short sighted folks like this from taking control of the entirety of education.