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Sunday, June 30, 2013

Year End Recap - 2012 - 2013

For the first time in my career, I was like most people - saddled with the heavy and unpleasant weight of 'I have to go to work tomorrow' every Sunday evening.  The 2012 - 2013 school year was a tough one, and not altogether pleasant.

Failures
My passing rate over the past 15 years has hovered around 80%.  I have prided myself and gained respect from students by not playing favorites or handing out freebies.  Students, contrary to fashionable opinion, prefer real accomplishments to cheap handouts.  This approach usually gets solid results.  I haven't figured out my passing percentage this year, nor will I.  The 4th period class, populated exclusively by students repeating freshman English, failed at about a 50% rate.  13 of the 29 students in pd. 8 failed freshman English.

What was strikingly different this year was the number of regular students who did poorly.  I had my best results from the period 2 class in terms of passing, but the class average was a 71.  My 'good' classes' GPA usually rolls in around the high 70's.  This was the first time I had large numbers of otherwise good students simply not do work.  There are always students who are no shows, or out of control in other ways.  These people never do any schoolwork and are passed up through to high school because of social promotion (it exists in case you were wondering).  Every class has a few, and they fail, and it's expected.  This time around, I had perfectly reasonable, otherwise mature girls fail 9th grade English.  I mention gender because the girls are always more mature and they 'get it' when it comes to the pragmatic necessities of school.

I had one perfectly and otherwise young woman do one homework assignment in the 3rd marking period, and NO homework during the 4th.  She also didn't hand in her project, a silly 3 page 'research' paper.  Why?  I have no idea.  When I asked her, she asked if I take late work, which I always do, then she said she'd email it to me.  That was a month ago, and now the school year is over.

Bureaucracy Run Amok
I work with the most religious people in the world.  They go to the Church of the State, and they sit in the first pew.  Here is the plan, and most teachers believe it: the State (NY in my case) is going to fix all that is wrong with the schools.  They are also going to hold teachers' feet to the fire.  How will they do this?  The Core Content State Standards will be adopted, and teachers will be measured by their Student Learning Objectives (SLO) scores and the APPR (Annual Professional Performance Review).  For the student, this means that the 'baseline' SLO exam in the fall will be compared to the results of the follow up SLO exam in the spring.  If the scores are better, then the student is smarter and the teacher is a good teacher.  Who makes up the exams?  That depends.  We were told we were going to create them, but none of our material made it on to the tests.  What are on the exams?  Different things.  In my case, the 9th graders had 5 days of instruction removed in order to take these exams, and the follow up exam was a copied and pasted old Regents exam.  This strategy was patently absurd and useless because my 9th graders will never take a Regents exam, as the PARCC exams are scheduled to replace them.  Here's the best part:  the baseline exam in the fall was totally different in every way from the follow up.  How can you measure and compare results from two wholly different exams?  Naturally, my 'performance' as an English teacher is tied to these scores.  No word yet as to what the Educational Overlords, the creators of this farce, will be judged by.

There is actually a better part.  The person who made up the Spring SLO 'follow up' exam makes over $140,000 a year.  Copying and pasting a Regents, about 5 minutes of work, apparently qualifies as high dollar 'work' these days.  When the Educational Establishment in your area weeps and wrings its hands crying poverty, check the salaries of these people first.

Anecdotes 

  • From September to June, my afternoon class arrived, breathless and yelling, eager to drop off their bags (sometimes the bags had books in them), and then run into the hallway to participate in varying kinds of activity: chasing, drama, fighting (real and play).
  • My administration talks openly and vociferously about having technology in the classroom.  It is referred to by high minded pedagogues as "the technology piece".  In 11 years in my school, I am still using a slate board with chalk.
  • I am convinced that Bill Cosby was right.  What good is a 'quality education' if no one wants it?
  • My students are masters at Temple Run, Subway Surfer, and other games on their devices.  They never seem to be able to send me an email, as they copy the address incorrectly, or don't know how to use email in general.  Facebook and text are used, but not email.  
  • Lastly, we had a young woman - a 9th grader - caught giving oral favors to some of the young men.  They used one of the unused rooms.  This lasted for about an hour.  The only thing that stopped it was that the security guards in the camera room noticed the 'lookout' in the hallway standing there for a long time.  Naturally, the girl was in school the next day as if nothing had happened.  We have gone from Zero Tolerance to Zero Intolerance.

Conclusion
The Public School edifice has become a carnival act.  The rhetoric thrown around by the media, the politicians and the time serving hacks within the system is so far removed from the reality that the two are wholly unrelated.  I predict big things from sites like this one and this one.  Georgia Tech is now offering a Masters Degree in Computer Science for under $7,000 - online.  This is the wave of the future, and the brick and mortar Houses of Foolishness are going to go down.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

A Letter to a Rare Breed - An Assistant Principal Who Cared

Dear Ms. S.,

Thank you for the note. I was pleased, in a fashion, when I heard you were retiring. With all of the rote, cookie cutter jargon based banter that is passing for 'education strategy' these days, I don't think someone of your caliber really fits in. I remember you as someone who was willing to think unsanctioned thoughts, who wouldn't limit herself to the official 3x5 card of approved opinions granted to us by our overlords. I feel I don't 'fit in' much anymore either, but I am (ahem) a little further away from retirement...

It's too bad you weren't able to stay here at the high school. I ran through the Chekhov's "The Bet" again, with decent results. "How Much Land Does a Man Need" (Tolstoy) went over well. Funny how the writers from that era got the job done, and allowed the kind of intellectual exploration that can't be quantified on a "SLO" or an "APPR". I think we're taking a turn for the worse with this latest round of 'reform'. The irony speaks for itself that I have to make copies of these stories as they are nowhere to be found on 'The List'.

Because I do 'The Odyssey' first, I'm thinking of tying in the parallels to the Arthurian legend / Myth that parallels the Greek paradigm, beginning with the Round Table of 12 Knights, the 12 main Greek gods, the 12 lost tribes of Israel, the 12 constellations - you get the idea. I have found in my readings of late that there is a school of thought that posits that the geography that Homer sets out is cockeyed, random and out of sorts because Odysseus' journey was around the Baltic Sea, Not the Meditteranean! The Holocene Climatic Optimum - much warmer temperatures - would have had the peoples from the story further North. Pretty interesting stuff. It would be nice of course to be able to discuss these things at work. Perhaps we can continue our discussions at a later time.

I feel you're yet another of your generation leaving what was once a proud and honorable profession, concerned most with leaving the younger generation with culturally rich underpinnings in addition to being able to think critically and independently. We are losing many of those people this year - the retirement list is long with quality instructional talent. Too bad you spent the last few years attempting to clean out the Augean Stables of cant and hypocrisy rather than being able to respond to your true calling of instructing the next group coming on through.

I enjoyed our short time working together, and I will always remember it.

Sincerely,

Mr. M.

Friday, June 14, 2013

There Are No Old Wise Men at the Top, Making Sure We Don't Do Something Really Dumb

"If you go to an authority, you don't always get the right answer" - Kary Mullis, Nobel Prize-winning American biochemist, author, and lecturer.

Here is an older TED talk by Kary Mullis.  It is an example of why The Establishment - in media, in education, in science, in politics - hates independent thinkers.  This is another feast of a speech for those who are independent minded.  I was raised by the Old Left, and we were constantly reminded, via bumper stickers and dinner conversations to "question authority".  Mullis begins the talk by explaining the wonderful era of the 16th century, particularly the age of discovery with Robert Boyle.  Back then they set up discussion groups that were purposely set up to discuss things that could be proven.  The adage "God is everywhere" to explain away the 'unexplainable' was disallowed in these places, and hard core scientific process (hypothesis => experimentation => conclusion => repetition) was the rule.

Mullis notes that the 'higher ups', the 'priests' were not part of the discussion.  This was intentional.  The   specter of 'authority', religious or otherwise, wasn't allowed to intervene with scientific discoveries that could be seen and explained.  Mullis notes how the system now is controlled by internecine politics and money.  He tells a hysterical story about how, as a child, he attempted to build a rocket so he could blast a frog into space.  It is this self driven independent discovery (his mother 'watched'  from an upstairs window) where groundbreaking scientific discoveries are made.

In the final ten minutes of this talk he really lets it fly.  He obliterates the Establishment on Global Warming, HIV / AIDS research and the Ozone Hoax.  It would be frighteningly easy to dismiss Mullis as a quack, an oddball, or the eternally effective title of "conspiracy theorist".  The problem with that tactic is that Mullis actually reads the work that the Establishment puts out on these topics.  I was intrigued that Mullis, a nobel laureate, would be so contrarian.  I found this: "Eventually, this burgeoning little group would expand to include more than 300 scientists and journalists who signed on to a short letter asserting that HIV science was deficient and needed a complete review by impartial people. One signer was Kary Mullis, a Nobel laureate who had discovered the PCR test for DNA. Mullis was like the grim reaper when it came to HIV. He was willing to take on anyone anywhere."

I was fascinated by that last sentence.  As high schoolers, we learn to grovel before authority and call those who speak unorthodox thoughts 'crazy'.  The fact that Mullis was on the rampage against the Thought Controllers was spectacular.  I have found it useful to look at the contrarian thinkers, analyze their work for myself, and see if they have a case.  As the world wide web continues to spread, the shibboleths begin to get disproven,  and the 'crazies' begin to make sense.  It's getting to the point that the Establishment has ramped up the propaganda to such a fever pitch, you have to look at people like Kary Mullis even more carefully.



Mullis and Peter Duesberg (Berkeley) refuse to bow down before the 'established thoughts'.  They pay for their transgressions before The Powers That Be, but they don't seem to care.  Good for them.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Americans Seem To Like Big Brother

I didn't choose the title because sales of George Orwell's 1984 have surged 6884% in the last 24 hours. I chose it because the people in America today seem calm, almost resigned about the fact that they are being watched, and their rights have been violated by the government that they fund.

The NSA has been collecting every bit of digital data that Americans create.  There is a huge facility that goes online this fall that will warehouse every bit of data that is created.  This is a gross violation of the 4th amendment:  "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."

What I have found equally disturbing is the lack of anger by regular folk.  Today at work (school), there was no discussion of it at all.  No one brought it up, mentioned it in any way, or had anything to say with regard to the Bill of Rights being nullified by the Federal Gov't.  I made a joke about being 'watched' yesterday, and today I decided to say nothing to see if anyone would say anything at all.  No luck, we were more focused on the High Stakes Testing Farce known as the NY State ELA Regents.

Perhaps the Great Online Petri Dish Known As Facebook would be alive with anger and comments about this.  After all, my politically inclined FB friends post when the Evil Republicans threaten to shave 0.1% off of proposed increases in the gargantuan federal budget.  They are quick to (rightfully) denigrate the horrors of the W Bush administration.  I assumed there would be posts by the electorate crying from the rooftops about this.  After all, this makes the warrantless wiretapping scandal during the Bush years look mild.  No such luck there either.  There were lots of posts about TV shows, cats, silly videos - one person even posted a picture of her bloody foot and noted how serious a runner she was.

I guess the way this happens is if you have a population that has been schooled and cowed into intellectual and moral submission.  The "Republicans" defended the surveillance of the Bush administration because he was one of "their guys".  Now we have an even more gross violation of civil and human rights, but we hear nothing from the "Democrats" because Pres. Obama is "their guy".

What these people don't realize is that George Orwell's 1984 and Aldous Huxley's Brave New World were written by consummate insiders.  They weren't just random guys who felt like writing dystopian fiction that day.  These authors, especially Huxley, were open about explaining what the Elite's plan for the Proles was going to look like.

It seems to me we are almost there.

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Here is a video of how mind control works.  Candidate Obama is correctly stating that the shredding of the Constitution for the sake of 'security' is unacceptable.  Interspersed in the video are the current statements of Pres. Obama now that the NSA is shown to be watching us all, at all times.  Getting millions of people to vote one way, then get them to say NOTHING when more egregious violations are committed - this is something out of a science fiction film.


Monday, June 3, 2013

Jason Kidd and Grant Hill Retire - 1994 Draft Class Complete

Jason Kidd and Grant Hill have both announced their retirements from the NBA.  This ends (unless Juwan Howard wants to be a triple backup for another season) the participation of the draft class of 1994.

Kidd and Hill were co-rookies of the year in their first years in the league.  Both came into the NBA and turned their respective franchises around.  Hill, in his rookie year, helped the Pistons to 8 more wins than the previous year.  By the 2nd year the Pistons were a 46 win playoff team, and his 3rd year they were a 54 win team.

Jason Kidd probably has the title of "Team Improver" locked up for all time.  The Dallas Mavericks (the MavWrecks at the time), became an instant playoff contender with the addition of Kidd.  The 13 win train wreck of a franchise won 36 games in his rookie year - almost singlehandedly by adding Kidd to the roster.

Where Kidd leaves his legacy as a winner is with his record with the New Jersey Nets franchise.  The ABA Nets had Dr. J and a winning reputation.  The NBA Nets were mostly a laughingstock.  No one went to the games in the Meadowlands swamp.  There were a few false starts:  The Chuck Daly / Drazen Petrovic / Derrick Coleman / Kenny Anderson Nets were noteworthy for about two seasons.  Petrovic's death and the retirement of Daly sent the franchise down the drain.  Upon Kidd's arrival in New Jersey (in a trade sending Stephon Marbury to the Suns) the team had six straight playoff appearances, two trips to the finals, and they dominated the Knicks - destroying them in almost every game.  I don't remember the numbers, but the Kidd led Nets had a long streak of wins vs. the Knicks in those years.

A statistical oddity about that draft.  Jason Kidd, a point guard, leads the draft in points scored, assists AND rebounds.  There is no surprise about his assist numbers - 12,091.  It's possible that a point guard would lead his draft in points (Kidd has 17,529) - there have been many high scoring point guards.  It is the rebounding that is the surprise.  8725 rebounds leads the draft - an absurdly high number for a guard.  None of the power forwards or centers in the draft equaled his rebounding output - a rare feat.  This was helped that there were no pure, hard edged power guys in the draft.  There were NO players who retired with a double digit rebounding average from the 1994 class, another statistical oddity that allowed Kidd's statistical dominance to prevail.

Both Hill (when healthy) and Kidd were triple double threats.  Look closely at Hill's numbers at the beginning of his career.  Injuries derailed what would have been a statistically LeBron James-esque career.  Here is what Grant Hill could do before he injured his ankle:




Here is one of the better Jason Kidd highlight videos - worth it just for the passing: