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Friday, March 29, 2013

Going Big - Bowie over Jordan

The big debate in basketball circles these days is whether or not LeBron James deserves to be ranked alongside the all time greats, particularly Michael Jordan.  James is showing that he is one of the greatest players of all time.  His statistics are tremendous - big numbers in all of the major categories.  On paper and in action LeBron James is clearly an all time great.  He's one of the few players who is a top scorer as well as a natural passer.  Because he's 6'8" and 240lbs, he's also a true rebounder and capable of rebounding in traffic amongst the sequoias of the NBA.  Now, in his 10th season, James has over 20,000 points for his career, and at age 28 may eventually rewrite the record book before he's finished.

The comparisons to Jordan are justified.  What has been resurrected because of all of this chatter is the fact that Michael Jordan was the 3rd pick of the draft.  LeBron James was the first pick of the draft after his senior year in high school.  Rumor has it that he would have been the first pick after his junior year were such things allowed.  Why was Michael Jordan the third pick?  Who could have possibly been considered superior to him?  Looking at the 1984 draft, we see this: 1) Hakeem Olajuwon 2) Sam Bowie 3) Michael Jordan.

Sam Bowie?

One of the questions in NBA lore has been 'What were the Portland Trail Blazers thinking taking Bowie over Jordan?  Sam Bowie has become a punch line - on the list of Biggest Draft Mistakes Ever Made.

It turns out that this is one of the greatest examples of 20/20 hindsight in sports.  Bowie was a talented, smart and capable seven footer - a rare commodity even in today's wholly international game.  He was also chronically injured.  This documentary clears up all the misconceptions surrounding the pick.  I remember Bowie when he was with the New Jersey Nets, and he could play - he was a double double threat every night and had legitimate size and skill.  What actually happened to Sam Bowie is complex and interesting, as is the analysis of the decision making process behind the pick.  Trail Blazer management used solid decision making skills, caution, good information - and it still blew up in their faces.  Here is what happened over 30 years ago - the explanation behind a seemingly ridiculous decision:

Thursday, March 21, 2013

A Former Student Visits

A former student came by today, and we had a wonderful discussion.  LW was a frustrating case for me when she was in 9th grade English - she was different from the other students.  She wanted to draw all the time, and she was a supremely talented artist - I could see why she wanted to create art instead of do cookie cutter education.  I didn't know it at the time, but she is Exhibit A as to how the school paradigm does NOT work for many students.

We talked about her time at the High School, how it was frustrating.  She recognized the fraudulence of the system as a young person.  I was surprised to hear her explain how she understood, as a 13 year old, that the politicians were lying through their teeth.  I ashamedly admit, I didn't notice fully until I was in my early 30's, and actually started paying attention to the words.  We discussed the limits and the inherent propaganda in the school system, race in America, double standards and the social hoops that have to be jumped through to move up the ladder in our country today.

I recommended a few things to her - she's now in her early 20's and needs to make a living.  I will do what I can to help there, but intellectually I volunteered the merits of the following:

1)  The Ultimate History Lesson:  John Taylor Gatto is interviewed for five hours and he gives you a lesson you'll never forget.  Gatto researched the origins of school in America, and what he found was a miserable story about control and the purveyors of minority wealth and power coming up with a system to maintain a stranglehold on 'the masses'.  The 'elect', in Calvin's terms, deserve to rule The Herd, and they can scientifically prove it.  The interviewer, Richard Grove, had pages of questions and notes in preparation for the interview and wound up using none of it as an electrifying gallop through history and philosophy ensued.  The discussion is framed in the history of school, and Gatto's 30 years experience as a public school teacher in NYC.  This is truly a feast for the intellect and deserves multiple viewings.

2)  Ask yourself - who are the 'favored races'?   When you look at Darwin's book, who is he speaking about when he places that on the title?  LW correctly pinned down that racism in America is often not who or what one thinks it is.  Racism is managed, massaged, and used to divide regular folk.  These fights and divisions cause rifts that the Power Elite use to divert energy and attention away from them.  "The Other" is the enemy, it can't possibly be the people at the top who dictate policy...

3) Lastly, I brought up Albert Jay Nock's essay "Isaiah's Job".  LW noted that some of her friends have not 'woken up', as she did years ago.  They don't see the force, fraud and coercion that goes on in daily American life.  I noted that I surround myself with like minded people, but not everyone who I consider a friend sees it either.  The majority of my colleagues do not see things the way I do, and I suspect they find me funny or weird.  I know LW is seen that way by many, as it was already happening in high school when she was 15 years old.  Too bad.  So many things in our world today are backward.  I was late to wake up.  I shared that I was the garden variety liberal democrat public sector believer until my early to mid thirties.  I then flew to the 'other' side of the spectrum - the Establishment Conservative side of things, reading National Review and the Wall St. Journal with regularity.  Then, when I realized that these two sides were a managed conflict, and the ideas of freedom and libertarianism came through to me - it was a sudden awakening.  It was good to speak with a young, intellectually curious person.  What a joy!

Here is The Ultimate History Lesson, with John Taylor Gatto:

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

What Happens in School

We have now come full circle and are uselessly spinning our wheels.  In our English Department meeting today we practiced our new method given to us by the Educational Overlords of NY State.  Our students are to be the beneficiaries of 'reciprocal teaching' and 'fractal learning'.  I don't have any idea about what those terms mean either, but that's the method and we are to stick to it.  For the next month, we're to use in class what were, in the 1990's, called 'cooperative learning groups', where each group has a recorder, questioner, summarizer and predictor.  With our reading passages, this 'reciprocal learning' (or is it fractal learning) system is to be used and then we're to focus on summarization.  This is to be done for the next month.  Naturally, there is a test on the summaries in the beginning, and the same type of summary / exam at the end of the month to show progress.

To add to the litany of nonsense and student destruction, we have to do the SLO (Student Learning Objective) exams in mid to late May as well.  The amount of actual instruction, in the style the teacher is accustomed to, or good at, continues to dwindle.  We're putting our students through continual batteries of exams and experiments.  The students, in English classes only, all HS grades, are to be lab rats to see if this system 'works'.  I  will go out on a limb and say, in advance, that the results will be positive and spectacular.  What teacher is going to record a worsening of performance?  After the wonderful results roll in, then the bureaucrats and the educational foundations and corporate parasites roll in to shepherd the staff in 'training' for this one size fits all system that will cure the ills of a 'focus school' (read: failing) like mine.

The system being propagated is an old one.  This is the early 90's cooperative learning craze all over again.  In the public education sector, student centered learning and other pro student rhetoric is bandied about, but what choice do the students have?  This comes from on high, as do all of our systems and fads and orders, and the students routinely lose.  The staff despises this nonsense, as it has no intellectual underpinnings.  The 'research' that supposedly supports this stuff links to the authors' own research and is the same leftist, ineffective pseudo empowering babble from 40 years ago.  (How do I know this? Because in education school I had the Paulo Freire / John Dewey playbook thrown at me countless times).

Our young adults continually lose.  They see the forest from the trees on these matters, and quickly realize there is little of substance to be had, and react accordingly.  This, combined with endless testing, is sending the cratering public school system even further down.

Monday, March 18, 2013

The Big Name - Part 2

I was on record disliking the Carmelo Anthony trade - the Knicks went for the big name, some star power, and it has backfired.  The Knicks gave up young players on a winning team, and purchased a flawed scorer demanding a huge contract.  Carmelo Anthony was going to be a free agent at the end of the year, hence he would have been available nonetheless.  Anthony is a wonderfully efficient and effective scorer, but practically the entire rest of his game is flawed.

The Knicks started the season 18-5.  I remember hearing on ESPN talk radio (Michael Kay's show to be exact), about how silly the naysayers who were against the trade must feel.  "Where are you now?!" was the exact quote I had the displeasure of hearing while driving and listening to sports talk radio.  23 games into an 82 game season is hardly the time to declare a season a 'success' and put as fait accompli the trade's success.  (More evidence that the 'professionals' are as flawed as the rest of us).  As I type this, the Knicks are 38-26, meaning that since that start they are one game below .500, 20-21 to be exact.  Despite the injuries to Anthony and other members of the roster, the Knicks now look like a supremely flawed team.  Anthony is shooting 44% from the field, 38% from three point range, while taking 22 shots a night.  The problem with Carmelo Anthony as your team's "Big Star", or the "Face of the Franchise" is that he is a passive defender (at best), and for a man who was moved to the power forward spot, he doesn't rebound (he isn't in the top 20).  Gordon Hayward, a shooting guard for the Utah Jazz who you've never heard of, has more blocks than Carmelo Anthony.  Think about that for a minute.

The future does not look good.  The Knicks gave up a young core of players who were put together by a coach and a GM who were working in tandem and had a plan.  Anthony's name came up, and for whatever reason, the mantra in New York, especially on talk radio, became "if you have the chance to get Anthony, you take it".  Why? Perhaps NY Talk Radio is not the place to go to figure out which  trades to make, although it seems to now have an influence.  The Knicks had become a winning team, had a young core, a system that the players liked, a coach who was getting the job done - and then it was over.  The Knicks have had to since re-acquire Raymond Felton.  They had to get an inside presence in Tyson Chandler to shore up a nonexistent interior defense, and they picked up J.R. Smith in order to provide a spark off the bench.  The Anthony trade has been extremely costly.  For $20 plus million a year, the Knicks now "have Carmelo", but the result are barely better than what was before.  To add insult to injury, the Knicks got manhandled by the Nuggets, Anthony and Smith's former team.  Wilson Chandler, a smaller piece of what the Knicks gave up, has turned into a serious contributor to the franchise.  Gallinari's numbers are similar to Anthony's, except he scores 10 fewer points per game - at half the cost.

A Carmelo Anthony led team will not go too far.  One year during his time in Denver the Nuggets got past the first round - I see nothing much better than that for the foreseeable future of the Carmelo Era.  The huge contract will limit the moves they can make in order to improve, and they'll make the playoffs and therefore miss out on high draft picks.  They are reminiscent of the Atlanta Hawks of the Dominique Wilkins era - fun to watch at times, but never a real threat for an NBA championship.

As a Knicks fan, I have decided to add this to add to my suffering...

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Dumbing Us Down - Book Review

"We need less school, not more".  John Taylor Gatto.

Dumbing Us Down is one of John Taylor Gatto's older books.  It originally came out only a few years after he won Teacher of the Year Awards for New York State and New York City.  Oddly fascinating  that a Teacher of the Year would produce quotes like this: "School is a 12 year jail sentence where bad habits are the only curriculum truly learned.  I teach school and win awards doing it.  I should know."

Gatto collects five essays / speeches and collects them in one volume.  The most potent of the five is the first one, "The Seven Lesson Schoolteacher".  This essay is magnificent.  Gatto details the seven things that school actually teaches.  Probably because I work in a difficult environment, I spent the entire essay saying 'wow that's right' and 'that's exactly how it goes in my building'.  Gatto has a knack for stating what is rightly obvious, yet so politically incorrect that even a School Veteran such as myself might have missed it.  Gatto's work woke me up about six years ago - I spent a decade in the system, buying the shibboleths fed to me, believing in the system, before I found him.  

The Seven Lesson Schoolteacher

The most important of the essays, Gatto explains what school really teaches:
  1. Confusion - school is a mixture of mostly non - related topics, devoid of meaning, grouped under one roof.  A group of adults, not chosen by the student or the parent, administers jargon and superficiality for hours a day.  This is not the natural progression of things.
  2. Class Position - If you don't study and get good grades, you'll never find a good job.  Is this true?  Children are given a number and ranked, the classes are divided by ability and the 'good kids' get the good grades.  They are considered the smartest and will achieve.  So we are told.
  3. Indifference - "I teach children not to care too much about anything, even though they want to make it appear that they do."  "... the lesson of bells is that no work is worth finishing, so why care too deeply about anything?"  All the classes are of the same length, indifferent to the teacher, subject, passion, interest - what does it matter if after 40 minutes, it's time to get up and leave?
  4. Emotional Dependency - Rights do not exist in school (not even free speech - see the Tinker and Bethel cases), so students are dependent upon teachers and school officials for emotional underpinnings and support.  "By stars and red checks, smiles and frowns, prizes, honors, and disgraces, I teach kids to surrender their will to the predestinated chain of command."
  5. Intellectual Dependency - Students wait for the teacher to tell them what to do - the 'good' ones anyway.  The 'bad' students buck the trend, leave the herd, and therefore have 'issues'.  The teachers determine what the students must study and think about - whether it's based on fact or conjecture.  All is determined from the top down.  The current fad of 'student centered instruction' is laughably ironic - it is a command from above to teach in such a manner.
  6. Provisional Self Esteem - "Our world wouldn't survive a flood of confident people very long, so I teach that a kid's self respect should depend on expert opinion.  My kids are constantly evaluated and judged."  Progress reports, report cards, serial State Exams, GPA's - all determine ones value, and all come from the 'experts'.  None come from within.  Our consumer culture demands this.  How else do you get millions of people to buy stuff?  "Buy (product x) and you will feel happy!"  It's a sinister formula.
  7. One Can't Hide - There is no private time.  Mealtime is in a room with hundreds of other students.  Classes are watched, and wayward students who don't fit the paradigm get written up, overtly or covertly.  Perhaps the quiet child has 'issues' or is a 'loner'.  If  parent, god forbid, were to teach unsanctioned thoughts to the child, well, there is a way to combat that too - homework.  The more homework, the less chance there is for an independent or unruly idea to penetrate the shield of conformity.
The effect of twelve years of this conditioning is a negative one for most.  Many young people figure it out, some are simply unable to conform.  Some find that conformity is the path of least resistance.  I know that is what I figured out by the first grade.  The 'bad' kids did wayward things, and negative sanctions occurred.  I didn't want that.  Gatto lists the effects at the end of the essay.  I wish they weren't' true, but I see this every day: "They are mistrustful of intimacy like the children of divorce they really are (for we have divorced them from significant parental attention); they hate solitude, are cruel, materialistic, dependent, passive, violent, timid in the face of the unexpected, addicted to distraction.".  Interesting that Gatto wrote this in 1992 - years before the smartphone revolution.  If only he could see the gasoline poured on the fire with the introduction of these devices.


"The Psychopathic School" is the second best essay in the collection.  Gatto covers the effects of this historically radical idea of twelve years in forced schooling.  The students become incomplete people.  They have no grasp of history, unemotional and intellectually incurious.  The most damaging and dark result is the culture of consumption that is fostered by this.  As intellectual curiosity is stifled, the acquisition of 'things' becomes paramount, and when they are told that the purchase of a product will make them happy or better, they comply.  

At the end of The Ultimate History Lesson, Andrew Grove asks Gatto what he would like to end the interview with.  This quote of Gatto's hangs on the wall of my room: "Sensible people do not wish to be incomplete human beings."  When I see the lashing out, the profanity, the noise and the choice of wardrobe at my school - I think of this.  These are people stuck in an unnatural setting from age five, one that was resisted (sometimes with violence) until the late 1800's. After going through Gatto's work, one can't help but feel that he is right, we need less school, not more.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Current Affairs 3/8/13

"dems ? Do U have any thoughts on Obama's transition from a progressive academic humanist 2 a regressive corporate warlord?" - - John Cusack.

The above tweet came from a rare breed of person, a consistent Hollywood liberal. I posted on my Facebook page the link to the comment:

It is almost beyond one's imagination that there is a debate about this topic - should government officials be allowed to kill American citizens via drones without due process? I was discussing this with a young student who I tutor, and it was eye opening listening to this 11th grader have a better grasp of the Constitution and Human Rights than many adults. I stated that if the founders of the United States were alive today, they would be disgusted beyond belief. That an American 'citizen' would allow such a debate to take place would be unfathomable to a person like Benjamin Franklin or even a Statist like Alexander Hamilton. The founders were so wary of having a standing Army that they wished to rely on citizen militias in order to maintain freedom and a peaceful state of affairs.  See the Second Amendment for clarification.

Now here we are in the 'advanced' 2013 and the American people are so illiterate to the ways of freedom and the Bill of Rights (also basic human rights), that when a politician in the "party of peace", the Democrats, has a hold of the Executive Branch, such a horrid topic is a 'debate'.  I can only imagine if one of the Evil Republicans (a party to which I have no allegiance) were to profess such beliefs:  "It is possible, I suppose, to imagine an extraordinary circumstance in which it would be necessary and appropriate under the Constitution and applicable laws of the United States for the President to authorize the military to use lethal force within the territory of the United States."  This was the Attorney General's equivocating response to Sen. Rand Paul's query as to the rights of the President to wantonly kill an American on American soil.  Apparently is is appropriate, at times, to skip due process.

Think about what is happening.  "...nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law;..."  This is the text from the 5th amendment.  Our students, and it turns out, adults, know nothing of their basic rights via the Constitution.  However, I keep coming back to the same concept.  The Founders, flawed as they were, thought the Bill of Rights as superfluous.  It was assumed that people would understand what their basic human rights were as people on Earth with souls - endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights.  That means no piece of paper can either grant nor deny your basic rights.  Now we seem to look to the people with a "D" after their names, or an "R" for our handouts.  And if they decide to skip the whole trial thingy, so be it.  How a political party can vociferously state that "Health Care" is a right, while allowing there to be a debate that one's life is NOT a right?  How far are we going to fall?

After all, I guess, they are our Overlords, they have the Divine Right of Kings, and are infallible.  When they know it is time to kill - it is time to kill.  Due process be damned.  Shame on you for slavishly following and supporting this type of behavior simply because the person is wearing as suit and has a "D" for party affiliation.