Friday, December 30, 2011

Corporate sponsorships and the Easter Bunny are dangerous to students

In a time when school budgets are getting slashed and extra curricular programs are being slowly destroyed it would make sense to reach out to the business community for a little support.  You know, make connections, build relationships, open opportunities for students, provide some revenue enhancements…..

Wait a minute.  Revenue enhancement?  Do you mean corporate sponsorships at a school?  HOW DARE WE EXPOSE LITTLE JOHNNY TO A COCA-COLA LOGO!

In a recent study by the National Education Policy Center, it was stated that corporate sponsorships limited a student’s ability to engage in critical thinking.  In the brief it explains that Johnny’s value judgments will be corrupted by the one place advertising is not common (which is untrue) and that simply marketing a product sends a message that the school is willing to sell out aspects of higher level thinking to promote a consumer culture that doesn’t want you to think.  Basically the mission of the school is to educate and the mission of the corporation is to enhance their profit margin, and the two missions conflict. 

There are two problems with this hypothesis.  First is the idea that children are somehow exempt from marketing when they step on a school campus.  Never mind that every textbook, pencil, and many school posters show corporate names and logos (Scholastic or Pearson or Prentice Hall), the students themselves are the most influential billboards for corporations.  It is not a coincidence that the most marketed to demographic is the American teenager since in just takes one opinion leader to create a trend that could involve thousands of potential customers.  That kind of marketing has been around for decades and there hasn’t been much movement towards clamping down on that aspect of consumerism.  

The second problem is the continued perception that schools are somehow spineless to create contracts with corporations that benefit students.  If the school’s fundamental concern is education then why not create a sponsorship policy that reflects that?  Demand that the contract reflect opportunities for kids that goes beyond money for advertisements.  Some school districts are doing that now and colleges have been doing it for a long time.  And while some corporations might try and play hard ball, insisting that the marketing has to be this way or that, the school always has a real neat option.  No.  But if the corporation is smart and realizes that hundreds or thousands of potential customers (and employees) are there, they’ll work with a school district to create a plan that benefits everyone. 

In the end the main reason why many tear into corporate sponsorships is political.  School boards are made up of people that often show political bias in decision making.  The lone negative vote when Santa Rosa dealt with sponsorships was going to vote “no” regardless of the benefit to the schools.  Wal-Mart could cure cancer, solve the national deficit, and film a better ending to the X-Files and that vote would have still been “no”.  So much for common sense public policy.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Avoiding the Terrible Teacher

I hit more “Read Later” buttons for Instapaper on Cool Cat Teacher’s blog than any other.  Take away the fact that she works towards integrating technology and what you have is a woman who could probably be considered one of the more competent Master Teachers to anyone that cares to listen.  Ms. Vicki Davis (Cool Cat’s real name) has the gift of taking something intricate and complex (like teaching), and simplifying it down to its basic thought.  In the whole edublogsphere her words could be considered downright profound because teachers often miss the more basic ideas of running a classroom.

It was Cool’s post on the Terrible Teacher that got me today.  In it she describes the ten things that a teacher does that could classify them as “terrible”, ranging from monotonous instruction to teachers who take cell phone calls in class.  They ten things are simple in theory but I find that I observe them time and again in my own setting, and it is a clear sign that teachers are still a big part of the problem.  In the past couple of weeks I’ve seen a teacher instruct from behind a desk, a teacher take cell phone calls during class, and I was told by a student that multiple teachers regularly say that they hate their job.  All of that enrages me because it not only hurts the kids of those teachers, it kills the image of the profession. 

Check and see if you do any of Vicki’s Terrible Teacher Ten.  If you find yourself straying into any of the categories, change it.  Yes, it really is that simple.    

Friday, December 23, 2011

Um, next time gift me some real estate.....please..

I have to be honest.  I completely forget about gifts from students at Christmas time.

But when they show up I get a really big smile because it's kinda one of those time honored traditions that is a one of the perks of being a teacher.  You know, the apple on the desk kind of thing that shows some appreciation from either the student or the parent of the student (who knows).

Unless you live in Alabama, where if you are an illegal immigrant giving a gift to a teacher, apparently both can be charged with high crimes and executed on New Years Eve.  Yes the season of giving has been toned down in the Heart of Dixie because some in the legislature feel like teachers should be equal to lawmakers; even though teachers have no political power, make less money, have worse health benefits, and don't get the opportunity to sleep around with college aged interns.  The state of Alabama has instead listed the acceptable gifts for the teaching profession

1) Fruit baskets, homemade cookies, etc.
2) Christmas ornaments of little intrinsic value
3) Coffee mugs filled with candy or of a holiday nature.
4) Any item that the teacher may use to assist him/her in performing his or her functions as a teacher, such as notebooks, school supplies, etc.
5) CDs or books of a nominal value, scarves, etc.
Maybe "homemade cookies" needs to be looked at with more scrutiny, because in Mendocino County all homemade products have the potential of making you see monkeys on ceiling.  Christmas ornaments of "little intrinsic value" is interesting.  "Any item assist a teacher in his/her....functions".  Well, I use a laptop more than any other item.  That would really help.  "Books of nominal value" sounds good.  But since this law is supposed to discourage gift cards it means that my Amazon card or Mendocino Book Company gift certificate might be in Jeopardy.  And why the hell are books and scarves in the same category?  I find it funny that teachers and students are being put in the same relationship as politicians and lobbyists.  Ok, I don't find it funny.  Instead I find that gives me more validation on why I will probably never visit Alabama, and why the North won the Civil War.  Any state that makes a law this stupid doesn't deserve its own historical social status.

This year less than five percent of my students left me a gift.  The most gifted items were homemade goods (I have yet to see monkeys) and little nick-nacks.  I have to admit that my favorite was a gift certificate for the local book shop, which clearly shows that I'm a nerdy teacher because I also teach sons and daughters of winemakers.  I'll let you think about that for a second.

I have yet to see an attempt by a student to buy off grades, even during the holiday season.  This isn't to say that I haven't tried.  Being an Economics teacher I regularly remind students that I can be bought for the right price.  Since I would probably be fired and my reputation tarnished for life, and I would need to be comfortable for a long time, I tell students that somewhere in the tens-of-millions range would be appropriate for whatever grade they deem fit.  They scoff at the number and call me unreasonable.  From now on I can say "Hey, you can always move to Alabama."

Merry Xmas

I really didn't know an appropriate title for this post other than Merry Christmas, partially because apparently it's not politically correct to say "Merry Christmas" any more.  Seems like those of other faiths or none (or my infinitely sensitive Jedi faith) are routinely offended by a day that is supposed to celebrate the birth of a carpenter (that most don't care about) instead of celebrating what most Americans should be celebrating; buying useless gifts for people that will probably return them and dreading family get-togethers.  So if the title happens to offend you this holiday season, just wait until you open your gifts from Wal-Mart.

I'm in the midst of the yearly Christmas Road Tour, coming this morning from Ashland, Oregon.  We'll be heading back home via Chico to visit more family, briefly hang out with our beautiful cats at home, and then hoof it out again for more family.  Since I just got out of school two days ago and have been basically driving ever since, I could use a day to do, well, nothing.

The end of school brought a smile to my face when about half the students that came to me with Short Term Independent Study contracts chose instead to delay their trip until Finals were complete.  That makes me happy.  Very happy.  They instead participated in Mock Congress, were very involved, got the Finals review, and completed the Final with a much better chance of success than if they were to have left for a month and taken it upon return.  Those that left?  Well, I can't say that I'm very optimistic about not only the end of Government, but also the beginning weeks of Economics that they will miss.  One out of the half dozen has remained in contact via the Internet.  One.  And she's trying her ass off to keep up while being out of the country.  I totally admire that.

I had my first Finals cheat this year.  Initially I thought it was a phone but it ended up being a cheat sheet.  How to did I deal with it?  I stepped to a corner of the classroom and asked the student if cheating was taking place.  After initially denying the allegation, a confession was made and the student retrieved the paper.  I calmly went back to the desk and allowed the student to finish the Final.  Afterwards I told the student that the Final would be scored a zero.  You might ask "Why have the student Finish?  Why not make the consequence immediate?"  With the Final about a quarter over I had to ask myself if I wanted the incident to be a complete distraction to the other 30 students.  The measure was taken for the good of the class and the minor debate about whether or not a zero on the Final was "fair" was done when class was over.  I think it was the right move.

I have two and a half weeks off, which really aren't weeks off of basketball (which resumes in a week) and are not timed very well with my wife's school district (which returns in a week).  Maybe I'll catch up on some blogging.

By the way, our basketball team is 10-2.  Kinda cool.

Friday, December 16, 2011


Taking kids on regular field trips is exhausting for me.  I worry like a mother and watch like a hawk.  As mellow as some people tell me to be I always come back to the fact that I’m responsible for someone’s child and that my job could very well be on the line if something goes horribly wrong.

Now take that feeling and start multiplying it, because that’s where I’m at tonight.  I’m doing my annual basketball overnight tournament trip to Napa…….well the tournament is in Napa while we stay in Fairfield.  It’s stressful and contains little in the realm of sleep.  Mix teenagers loaded up on junk all packed into little rooms and the recipe that comes out can be, interesting. 

I’m always considering taking students on weeklong excursions, either with some travel organization or creating something that I can do to go to Washington D.C.   The problem is that I can’t possible see myself enjoying the time because I would constantly be concerned about someone else’s child.  And not to sound like a crotchety old man but manners are not high on the priority list these days when dealing with many kids.  That means either I need to constantly remind them what good manners are about or enact consequences when the rules are blatantly broken.  It’s work.  A lot of work.

But at the moment I have a rare pause in my responsibilities.  A group of parents came down and everyone went their separate ways for dinner, which is a good and a bad thing.  Coaches probably know what I mean when I say “went their separate ways”  and that’s never a great thing for a team sport.  But it gives me a breather to blog and check out the Net.  What I really want to do is sleep.  I’m flat ass blasted tired.  But I’ve got a couple of hours yet to make sure that all the kids are accounted for and down for the night, even with the plethora of parents here at the hotel.

They are, after all, my responsibility.    

Sunday, December 11, 2011

A tad bit greedy

Know what I’ve noticed about colleges over the last few years?  They have a nasty habit of accepting students who are clearly not ready to attend their campus.  As acceptance letters role in I’m noticing that students with “decent” grades are being selected by by private colleges and major out-of-state institutions.  Sure, maybe entire body of work is worthy of consideration (sports, community service, making really spiffy Homecoming floats) but when colleges bitch that students are not prepared for college-level work and then saddle them with tens-of-thousands of dollars in debt, part of the problem must be the process at which students are selected.

I’m also noticing that Advanced Placement courses may not be holding as much weight in the selection process as I’m watching students that decided to forgo AP classes their Senior year get into the same colleges as those that decided to push themselves.  Granted, the AP students will be better prepared for college level work, but it sends the message that doing the extra leg work doesn’t necessarily equate to earning a spot in a great institution.  Hell, a student that got a D in a college prep Economics class and still got enrolled in a good out-of-state-institution.  Kind of hard to send the “not ready” message to colleges if all they seem to care about is the tuition. 

Saturday, December 10, 2011


December is an interesting month. 

College applications are usually finished by now, so many of my more proficient Seniors are more focused.  The end of the semester is also only a few weeks away, and that ends up making everyone stand up a little straighter and listen.  But along with the increased engagement comes a myriad of other challenges as Winter makes its appearance. 

In what can only be called unprecedented, eight students came to me last week with a Short Term Independent Study form.  Two were going somewhere for an increased vacation (one actually said “Disneyland”) and six were head to Mexico, all looking to miss 2-3 weeks total one either side of Winter Break.  At this point I’m fairly exasperated with family members that pull kids for month long vacations, and that’s where Edmodo has come in handy.  Students must have the organizational fortitude to stay with the class and be prepared to take the quizzes and Finals upon return.  The problem is that almost none of them do and that creates a line of F’s that create more problems down the road.  I’ve talked to the counselors about it and they are just as frustrated.  After everyone and the Easter Bunny telling them that it’s a bad idea, the parents are putting their foot down and saying “I don’t care what you say, they are going”.  This is why I tell all of my Short Term Independent Study students that most of my kids that leave for that length of time fail the course.  They nod of course and I rarely hear from their parents.  The one time I heard from the parent was a mother that went off the hook when I refused to assign packet work.  Afterward she yanked the kid out of class, put her on permanent Independent Study and that’s the last I heard of her.  So much for educational priorities.

The good news is that those students in my classroom are starting to create some excellent work.  Government Mock Congress bills look really nice with students branching out in much more thoughtful directions than the usual lowering of the drinking age, and legalizing marijuana.  This year includes bills about doctor-assisted suicide, requiring schools to have solar panels for football lights, creating stronger laws against the ownership of exotic pets, and the taxation of ammunition.  My Economics students are creating solutions to economic problems in and around Ukiah.  It’s called the Ukiah Economic Development Project and it has replaced my old Economics Expo project where students created a business plan.  Instead students must answer the question “What can we do to make Ukiah a more desirable place”?  They then create an entire online report (paperless) around the problem, the solution, and a description of the town.  Students are working on local employment, increasing tourism, what to do with vacant buildings, and the economic impacts of banning plastic bags.  I’m really proud of the effort because the students must relate the problem to the economic concept of scarcity.  The group that is dealing in the plastic bags originally did so for environmental reasons but are now really pushing themselves by addressing scarcity and positive/negative externalities to all parties involved. 

Week-and-a-half left as I prep for Finals and ready the team for a tough tournament in Napa.  Christmas vacation, and all the driving that comes with it, is just around the corner.      

Coaching Situations

Yeah, yeah, yeah.  Talking basketball on my blog isn’t the safest thing these days.  Out of all the things I’ve ever discussed on this thing, basketball has gotten me in more trouble than anything else.  Funny how that works. 

Certain things have made me reflect on basketball, again.  One is the forced resignation of Maria Carrillo High School girls’ coach Steve Azevedo.  I didn’t know Steve personally but I gathered he was a coach of the old school order; mentally, physically, and emotionally demanding.  Well, it looks like the old guard of coaches is being forced to change their ways or risk the wrath of parents who are angry that their darlings are not getting the playing time.  Parents of players actually hired an attorney to look into whether they had a case against the girls basketball coach, prompting Azevedo to leave his position and prepare a response to the allegations. 

It’s a sad situation.  I’ve dealt with these things in the past and it’s often a cross between weak coaching and weak administration.  There’s been times when I’ve probably been too much of an aggressive blowhard and there have been times when certain admirations have capitulated to parents that have nothing better to do hunt for coaches.  Thankfully things have changed over the last few years.  Since I took the JV position, I’ve become much more in tune with teaching basketball than simply “coaching” it.  I’ve also mellowed in terms of letting things that are being said bother me; I’m basically at a point at which I think I’m a pretty good coach and confident in my abilities.  But I think proactive parent relationships are a big, big help.  Parents who have kids coming into my program already know that I’m intense, demanding, and require things like dedication, hard work, and a shirt-and-tie on game days.  I also have a parent meeting early in the year in which I explain that I’m loud, direct, and will constantly push their child.  I tell them that I will never talk about playing time and team management, but that everything else is totally transparent and that without them we can’t be a successful program.  I think we have established an excellent core of parents who really go the extra mile on driving kids, staffing the snack shack, and just attending every single game.  It’s made the last six years pretty dog-gone enjoyable. 

I think the main reason I’m having so much fun is because at this point in my life I can live without basketball.  I know, it sounds weird.  But I’m very content with my job as a teacher now and basketball is just as important as APUSH or Comp Gov or Econ.  If one goes by the wayside, I still have a massively fulfilling job working with kids.  Winning is fun (and lord knows I detest losing) but the whole thing is learning.  And that’s pretty cool.   

Saturday in Willits

Well it’s that time of year.  On the second weekend of December for the last eleven years I’ve spent this Saturday in Willits, playing a game early in the morning and then again in the evening.  I don’t bother taking the 30 minute drive down the hill back home because it forces me to find wifi and sit and do homework, unless I blog. 

I’m currently in what could be considered the typical Mendocino coffee house hangout.  Counter-cultural feel with “organic” stuff on the menu that is fairly overpriced, ok taste wise, and wholly unreliable.  Right now I’m trying to down an organic chocolate milkshake which tastes more like a protein shake and is the consistency of  cough syrup.  I won’t be posting this at the coffee place because the “free wifi” (the reason I came here) is out.  It would have been nice to have known this before I spent $6.50 on a chocolate shake.  At least the Ray Charles in the background is nice.  And the people (like most in mellow Mendo hangouts) are really nice.

We won our first game last night and our morning game, which puts us in the championship game at 7:30 tonight.  It’s nice to also hear that the varsity Wildcats are playing championship ball in Healdsburg tonight as well.  Hopefully we can bring some hardware home for the school this weekend!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

#Occupy Davis pepper spray incident only half the story

I am intrigued by a post on Darren’s blog about the events that occurred at U.C. Davis before the now infamous pepper spray incident.  In a clip from the Rush Limbaugh-of-the-Left’s Democracy Now, a Davis student admitted to surrounding the police officers and insisting that they were not going to be able to leave unless they went through the students. 


Last night I ran into a collection of my former students that now attend U.C. Davis and I asked them if they had any reaction to the pepper spray incident.  I figured that they might be wrapped up in the whole revolutionary ferver of the event and would provide some insight in the thought process of the students.  Boy was I wrong.  The students had attended the rallies to see what they were about and were very not very sympathetic to the pepper sprayed students.  My former kids stated that around 800 students surrounded the police officers and told them that they were not going to leave the protest unless they went through the students.  My former students also said that the police had warned the kids for a real long time and had the pepper spray out for over twenty minutes before the small clip that has gone viral occurred. 

I’m not going to justify the police reaction at Davis, but many in the media are comparing the incident to the fire hoses used on civil rights protesters in the 1960’s.  The analogy is grossly false and the Occupy protestors are again seeming more like spoiled brats than the next generation of civil revolutionaries.        

Saturday, November 26, 2011

National Anthem in Espanol in Ukiah. Updated 11/26

I have to admit, when I heard Nuestro Himno play on the loudspeaker on Friday at Ukiah High School, I grinned.  The smile on my face was because I knew the Spanish rendition of the Star Spangled Banner was going to rangle teachers and students at the high school.  Sure enough, a couple of teachers were not amused and a few students went storming to the admin building to express their displeasure at the song being sung in Spanish.  My students?  Well my students class that listened to the rendition were laughing because the copy of the song sucked.  I mean, seriously, the song sounded like it came off of a transistor radio broadcasting A.M. radio in the Seventies. 
Apparently it caught the attention of the Santa Rosa Press Democrat, because by lunch it was common knowledge that the Democrat had called the school district wondering why groups of students were so against the National Anthem in Spanish.  Sure enough, the Press Demo has an article out explaining that the issue wasn’t that big of a deal.  A few people were offended, some complained, and the whole thing was highly exaggerated.  Thank God for Thanksgiving Break. 
Since it is nearly impossible to literally translate anything in a foreign language from its original context, much less Francis Scott Key’s description of the bombing of Fort McHenry, I figured I’d show you the literal translation of the Spanish version.
“It's sunrise. Do you see by the light of the dawn
What we proudly hailed last nightfall?
Its stars, its stripes
yesterday streamed
above fierce combat
a symbol of victory
the glory of battle, the march toward liberty.
Throughout the night, they proclaimed: "We will defend it!"
Tell me! Does its starry beauty still wave
above the land of the free,
the sacred flag?
Verse 2
Its stars, its stripes,
Liberty, we are the same.
We are brothers in our anthem.
In fierce combat, a symbol of victory
the glory of battle,
(My people fight on)
the march toward liberty.
(The time has come to break the chains.)
Throughout the night they proclaimed: "We will defend it!"
Tell me! Does its starry beauty still wave
above the land of the free,
the sacred flag?
Sure, it’s not word-for-word.  But if we have people singing the praises of the United States through its national anthem, even if it slightly off, isn’t that a good thing?  Doesn’t it make sense that out of all the days that Spanish speaking students stand for the National Anthem in English, that one day we introduce it in a different language?  What’s the problem with respecting the United States in any language? 
Again I’ll have to admit that the song was too long (it was getting close to Jimmy time) and that the quality totally lacking.  But you’re going to have a hard time convincing me that it wouldn’t be a good thing that the Star Spangled Banner be spoken in every language around the planet.  Defending the Stars and Strips, in any language, is pretty damn cool. 

Updated 11/26

More interesting reports of anthem and pledge cases that should anger citizens a hell of a lot more than singing our National Anthem in Spanish.  Huffington Post has two cases that are outragous.  One involves a teacher in Texas requiring students to recite the Mexican National Anthem, and another where an idiotic federal judge in San Francisco said that a principal in Morgan Hill, California was correct in telling students to remove their American flag shirts on Cinco de Mayo.  Both of those issues have far more serious repercussions.  Oh, and props to the state of Michigan for a logical law requiring pledges.  The law requires that a U.S. flag be in every classroom and that the pledge be repeated every day.  But it also states that students are not compelled to participate, as reinforced by the United States Supreme Court.  Look at that; true values of patriotism and individual liberty on clear display!      

When animals attack

Woke up Thanksgiving morning to my house egged and a dead fish on my doorstep.  No, I’m not trying to create an allusion to something.  I actually had eggs and fish on my house. 

It was the first time in five years that I’ve had problems with students and eggs.  The eggs weren’t that big of a deal.  In a small town, if you piss the wrong person off and everyone knows where you live, it’s a potential problem.  The main issue was the dead fish.  It sorta freaked my wife’s family out.  Even enough to where we called the police and filed a formal report. 

My guess is that it was former students back from college that partook in the activities, and my guess is that they were drunk.  We have some evidence collected and I rattled off names of potential suspects, but not expecting much to come out of it.  The police officer was a former student at the school and actually expressed shock that my house got nailed.  It happens but the officer said that my reputation didn’t seem like one that got the attention of those that throw eggs.  Of course, one student that feels wronged can change that.

Does it really bother me?  Not in the slightest.  A small power washing and a couple of games of football to ease the mind and it impacted nobody’s holiday.  And I’m pretty damn secure in my teaching to start to let doubt seep in this far into my career.  Oh, and the fact that for every negative thing that happens, I get a many more of these:

Good CommentsA current student tagged me in a Facebook post about my AP U.S. History class, and then a former student responded about the value of the Free Response Question essays we did in class.  I smiled big to say the least.

That, and I had free fish fillets for Thanksgiving  that went excellent with a light Pinot Noir!   

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving

Not a holiday full of useless gifts, Hallmark cards, and the constant pressure to be cheerful simply because it is a holiday; Thanksgiving rank number one on my list for what a holiday is really supposed to be about. 

So here’s a Happy Thanksgiving to all out there in the blogosphere.  Hopefully you are hanging out with family, eating, drinking, and being merry.  Talk, reminisce, and laugh.  Ah, now that’s a holiday worth having.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

My conflicting attitudes about #Occupy


Like many, I was fairly sickened by the use of pepper spray on the protestors at U.C. Davis, and the bizarre overreaction of force last week at U.C. Berkeley.  Actually, sickened might not be the word because I’m not that surprised about either incident and the reaction it is invoking in the media.  Maybe I’m more strongly concerned than sickened.  I don’t know.  It’s like I want to support the overall message that the Occupy is trying to convey, but at the same time I think this generation is getting a dose of something that it wasn’t taught when it was younger.  A dose of reality. 

And this is where I’ve become more and more conflicted with the Movement.  I think Fareed Zakaria said it best when he stated that the Occupy Movement was about social mobility.  The concern is that the ability to progress upward in class status is starting to erode in society and the Movement is drawing attention to that, albeit rather poorly.  The research shows that they have a huge point.  Social mobility has become really difficult since the 1980’s, as the ladder has been clogged with debt, false promises of equality, and a lack of genuine work ethic.  Has Wall Street exacerbated the problem?  Sure.  But by no means is Downtown Manhattan the primary force behind this problem of moving up in America.  In fact, I think the main problem is the protestors, and that’s why you might hear a whole lot about Berkeley and Davis in the press, but main-street America is strangely silent.

One of the most interesting comments of the Oakland march to the Port was from a longshoreman who declined to give his name.  He said, “How in the hell does a person who hasn’t worked a day in his life call for a strike?”  It’s a good question, and I think it’s more indicative of the attitude of most Americans towards the Occupy protestors.  Yes, Americans agree that the build-up of economic inequality is hurting the country.  However it becomes very hard to get behind protestors with a $1,000 worth of tattoos on their body, who carry a $500 iPhone, and demand that their student loans be forgiven.  The quizzical look from Main Street might hide the realization that parents put their children into this entitlement mode; where it’s a right to have an education, a MacBook Pro, and drive a Prius to the latest Occupy movement in the middle a blue collar business district.  Yesterday one of my former students announced that people that shopped at malls were selling out to Corporate America.  Yet her Facebook photo looked straight out of a Macy’s catalog, and included plenty of indications of an upper-middle class upbringing that included plenty of help.  There’s nothing wrong with that, except that hard working mainstream society doesn’t look too kindly at people demonstrating about how hard live is when they haven’t really worked that hard. 

So I continue to watch with interest while letting kids form their own opinions and holding back from commenting on Facebook posts from former students.  I can’t really blame them for the occasional “fuck the police” and “mic check” and “We are the 99%”.  They are, after all, still teenagers.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Long, long week

The first week of November is one of my longest weeks of the year.  It’s the beginning of student panic for the first semester, the beginning of the student exodus for Thanksgiving and Christmas vacations, and the true beginning of basketball.

-Everyone is sick.  It seems like the flu bug has hit early this year with more than usual cases of pneumonia and lots of days absent by students.  This is also the time when the term “sick” comes to test with how much the students really want their education.  There is “I can’t come to school because I’m really sick” sick.  And there’s “I don’t feel well” sick, which can happen multiple days a week for Seniors.  It’s starting to happen now. 

-The best in class are starting to pull away from the average, and those that haven’t figured out that I’m serious on accountability have realized that a failing grade is upon the horizon.  I’ve told classes that if they need help they can contact me in a variety of ways for that help, but usually the contact comes from a counselor.  It’s also the time of year where parents call the counselor to have the counselor explain to the parent why the student isn’t succeeding.  I have some parents that e-mail me regularly, but not one parent has called, and hardly a handful of students have came to me for help.  Note to parents; the counselor has not spent one day in my class and has little clue while your kid is flaking failing in class. 

-What’s really the point of having vacation week when parents continue to pull out kids for longer periods of time?  This week I signed a half dozen short term independent study contracts that had students spending extra weeks on either side of Thanksgiving Break.  Some have already warned me that the same will occur at Christmas.  Fine.  Better enjoy studying online.

-This is one of the longer weeks of the school year for me.  After school is practice until 7:30, then at least an hour meeting with the coaching staff to discuss rosters, and I’m home around 9:15 every night.  And try-outs always seem harder than other practices because you are dealing with variables that aren’t in regular practices, and by the Junior Varsity level it is becomes very evident who doesn’t have the passion for basketball in their belly.  It’s a different style of dedication.  Then there are the kids that just aren’t athletic enough for competitive basketball but have the passion to play it.  That’s the hard one.  That’s the one you look at and wonder which could handle a season of tough competition, little playing time, and still be a good teammate.  Well, I have until Wednesday for final cuts.

Go ahead and check out for my students’ projects about Ukiah Economic Development.  Comment if you like.  It’s something I created to replace Economics Expo (a business plan simulation).  I figure that with all the brain power in the classroom, why not have it benefit the town?  So give it a look and report back to me if you can.

Wall Street Journal says teachers are overpaid

I don’t get the Wall Street Journal delivered any more.  I used to be a daily reader of the WSJ until Rupert Murdock took the rag over and nearly every op-ed column sounded like a running stock ticker of GOP blabbery.  I’m also not at all surprised that a recent article published by the Journal takes shot at teachers by stating that comparable skill sets show that teachers are drastically overpaid.  Interesting.  And this is coming from the same newspaper that constantly demands merit pay (otherwise known as a pay increase) for the teaching profession.  Too bad the Wall Street Journal goes Governor Kasich on teachers and seems to forget the fundamental principles of Economics. 

First of all, I’m don’t regularly go on teacher pay tangents.  Do I think I’m underpaid?  Yes.  Drastically.  Not really.  Do I have it better than a lot of people?  Absolutely.  But if we’re being serious about whether or not teachers have an economic value to society then we better be realistic about looking at the true value of a teacher, and not all that fluffy stuff either.

“Good teachers are crucial to a strong economy and a healthy civil society, and they should be paid at a level commensurate with their skills.”

I always enjoy the critical teacher articles that start off “teachers are crucial to society…”, then tell the reader that they are actually not that crucial.  A statement that says that teachers are necessary to a “strong economy and a healthy civil society” already creates an assumption that society values teachers.  If this is true, the skill set that teachers have are in fact valuable enough to warrant a high wage.  And before you come up with the excuse that “anyone could be a teacher”, note that teacher turnover is atrocious in public schools, and even worse in private sector education.  Take Teach for America.  Coming from the best universities is not keeping teachers in the classroom.  Teach for America will happily say that a high number of teachers stay in the education profession.  What they fail to mention is that is almost never the classroom.  They go where the real money is in education.

“Public school teachers do receive salaries 19.3% lower than similarly-educated private workers, according to our analysis of Census Bureau data. “

And as the article states, it isn’t in teaching.  While still having to take on the same debt load as a private sector worker, a fresh teacher from California will not only have less pay to start with (around $34,000), but also need to deal with living in a state with a high cost-of-living.  And forget about teachers living in the city.  That kind of salary makes it impossible for a teacher to live in San Francisco or New York City.  On top of that, public school teachers also has a cap on the maximum wage increases.  At my school, I will never make over $70,000, while a comparable skill set in the private sector has six-figure salaries, stock options, and doesn’t have to pay for supplies for their work.   

…….a majority of public school teachers were education majors in college, and more than two in three received their highest degree (typically a master's) in an education-related field.

Education is widely regarded by researchers and college students alike as one of the easiest fields of study, and one that features substantially higher average grades than most other college majors. On objective tests of cognitive ability such as the SAT, ACT, GRE (Graduate Record Examination) and Armed Forces Qualification Test, teachers score only around the 40th percentile of college graduates.

This is a juvenile argument often brought about by arrogant, insecure people that think they work harder than everyone at everything.  Here’s the deal; I’ll bomb the Math portion of the SAT and GRE.  So probably would most elementary teachers and secondary teachers that don’t teach math.  Oh, and so would many college teachers.  Give us time to study and we’ll do fine.  I dare a Physics major to take an AP Comparative Politics exam.  Right now.  How about an Advanced Placement U.S. History exam?  In fact, how about those Physics students sit down and get testing on Special Education requirements regarding 504’s, IEP’s, and Manifestation Determinations.  That’s a pretty damn important skill set to have.  Good teachers know their shit.  I don’t worry about knowing Calculus as the measure of making me a good teacher.   By the way, I graduate with a History Degree, and so did all my colleagues.  You know what graduates with Master’s in Education degrees?  Administrators who make a lot more than I do.

“………..fringe benefits push teacher compensation well ahead of comparable employees in the private economy.  

……data on paid leave for teachers count vacation days only during the school year, omitting summer and long holiday breaks. A valid pay comparison should include this extra time off, in which teachers can enjoy longer vacations or earn additional income.”

Teachers do have more secure retirement than private sector employees, and I would consider that the trade-off society decided to make when government capped wages at $70,000 a year and refused to allow public teachers to take back payments made to Social Security when they worked in jobs that did not involve public education. 

And I don’t even bother to argue the point of my “longer vacations” any more.  First of all, they aren’t vacations if it involves professional development, lesson planning, taking courses (and paying for courses) required by government mandate, and working another job to make ends meet.  And I’ll make a deal with the WSJ.  I’ll even let you count the summer weekdays as vacation, if you incorporate numbers that show the actual working hours of teachers.  I’m one of hell of a productive, efficient deal.

“ In short, combining salaries, fringe benefits and job security, we have calculated that public school teachers receive around 52% more in average compensation than they could earn in the private sector.”

Then something is wrong here.  If public sector workers have mammoth fringe benefits, higher salaries, and fantastic job security, then why does the profession have an average turnover rate of 50% within five years?  That’s an insane rate for a job with such glorious job wages.

I’ll happily amend the Wall Street Journal’s argument to say that there are bad teachers that are very overpaid, administrators that don’t work towards firing bad teachers, and not enough collaboration between teachers, administrators, district officials, and politicians towards making education more productive and efficient.  But this articles article is just plain bad economics.      

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Student “Debt Trap” is often self imposed.

In the summer before my Senior year in high school I was sitting in my mother’s living room in San Jose discussing my future.  She was going to give me some help to get through college but she insisted that I had a plan.  I told her that I planned to be a history teacher.  She wasn’t unsupportive, but not entirely thrilled either.  See, my mother went from being a housewife and retail clerk at Mervyns' to getting a Master’s in International Business and making six figures at Toshiba and Hitachi.  Along the way she worked in Intel and AMD just as the computer revolution was taking off in the 1980’s.  She made this statement as we sat at the table. 

“Well, you can teach and not make a whole lot of money, and constantly take your work home with you.  Or you can work in Silicon Valley in Computer Science, make a ton of money, and not take your job home with you.”

I chose the former and pretty strongly.  I could have made it in the Computer Age.  I was programming in 8th grade and was a computer nerd long before computer nerds became popular.  But I wanted to teach.  I was passionate about it.  That statement by my mother was the last time she questioned my future.  It was also made clear that I would get a set amount every month, that I had to be enrolled in school and doing well, and that I was cut off once I got my degree. 

I have student loan debt.  I walked out of college with about $25,000 in debt, which is higher than it should be because I took my sweet ass time getting out of junior college.  I picked a profession that was in demand (teaching) but a subject that was not (Social Studies).  I knew this to be true before I got into college and worked with kids to build up a resume; I coached, worked in church youth groups, and become extremely knowledgeable about my subject matter.  I was passionate about History but actually majored in Social Science; meaning I had to pass groups of classes in Government, Economics, and Sociology as well as History.  Why did I change my emphasis?  Simple, it made me more marketable.  I immediately began looking for jobs as soon as I graduated from college.  I substitute taught, continued to coach, and in the summer I worked in a clothing factory hauling boxes.  I applied to nearly every position from little Hayfork to West Sacramento to Santa Rosa and points in between. 

I’m due to be done paying off my debt in about three years.  I pay about $250 a month.  In the beginning I sacrificed other things to afford that payment.  I say all of this because I’m noticing that the student debt issue is becoming front and center in the economic debt raging right now (paywall).  My personal opinion is that it is partly the fault of the student and the parents.  Here are some brief thoughts and then I would appreciate your comments.

-College has become too expensive.  If there is a system that needs a serious audit, it’s the college system.  States need to take over the system and find out where to cut done costs.  First place to look it upper management, who make an insane amount of money working for the government.

-College professors have become lazy.  Sure, Math and Science are hard.  But innovation isn’t simply in a lecture hall with 300 other students and a professor’s assistant conducting a droning speech.  So much focus has been on primary and secondary institutions.  How about a look at post?

-Kids don’t go to college to prepare for society.  Sorry, but almost 90% of kids that go to universities from my school don’t go to prepare for the future.  They go to party, to please their family, and to follow friends.  Right now about a dozen former students are accruing student debt while getting drunk on a street corner in Isla Vista in Santa Barbara.  Think most went to SB for their fantastic International Studies programs? 

-Those that are passionate about learning something usually go to expensive liberal arts colleges.  Creative learners are spending massive amounts of money going to Smith or Sarah Lawrence with no idea what they will do in life.  You might say, “they don’t need to know at this point”, and I’ll respond by saying that they better not protest about no jobs being available when they graduate with a degree in Philosophy and eighty grand in school debt.  Congrats, you have a degree from Sarah Lawrence!  And now you can play the banjo in front of the 12th Street BART Station in Oakland while spending nights cursing Wall Street for not gifting you a job. 

And a note to (relating to the above Time article) Lyndsey, who managed to accrue $170,000 in debt while graduating with Honors at NYU.  When did it become apparent that your debt load was becoming the size of a small house?  Where you seriously working towards becoming employed while at NYU, or where you just “going to college”?       

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Rain. Cold. Basketball.

Yeah, this week was better than last.  The simple fact that Winter has appeared in her full glory is enough to make me smile.  I love the rain.  It’s a sign that many things are now upon us; basketball, hot tea, Thanksgiving (my favorite holiday), and days of simple hibernation in a warm house with cats purring on your lap.

The week began with Halloween.  I dressed up as I always do; as the Angry Monk.  I have a simple monks outfit with a rope cord belt and make really biting comments towards student outfits.  It’s really great for a laugh.  I have to admit that my main target is the females that think Halloween has somehow become an Erotic Holiday.  I stand outside my classroom and in a thick Irish accent I give out lectures on self-respect.   Eventually word gets around that a crazy teacher is yelling lectures on morality against public nudity and some students don’t come the direction of F-Building.  That’s fine.  Parents might want to monitor their 15 year old child that looks like an ad for Victoria’s Secret.  It’s an embarrassment and they aren’t even my kids.

Ever get that feeling when an idea pops up and then the river of positive thinking just flows on a paper that’s not nearly long enough to contain it?  Yeah, I’ve had that feeling twice about my Advanced Placement classes this week.  It’s made me really excited about the potential of high level thinkers.   You know what you really need to do with intelligent students?  Let them be intelligent.  Reinforcing reading with lectures equals a student that’s not being allowed open up their full potential.  I’m making more realizations that A) Students need to be more responsible for basic information, and B) I need to provide the structure to make them innovate and expand their universe.  Think of it like a mix of traditional and Montessori style, sort of.

Here something that was reinforced this week.  Teachers are part of the education problem.  Two things were made abundantly clear; some teachers have cashed it in and need to be fired, and no, not everything should be part of a collaborative process.  We manage our classrooms.  Managing a school or a district is totally different.  If you want to try it, go for it. 

Basketball starts up officially on Monday.  From now until early March I will be owned by a large round, orange ball and a gym full of kids with really squeaky shoes.  I’ve now been doing this basketball thing for about 23 years; coaching it for almost 20.  I’ll be the first to admit that it is a joy and a curse all at the same time, and those that have coached will probably admit to it.  It’s a blast to coach kids and see immediate improvement.  Think teaching is fun?  How about watching an assessment twice a week that the kids love to do.  But it owns my life.  Holidays don’t really exist much because games surround them.  I’m now responsible for the lives of twelve young men, and that becomes really interesting when we do overnighters.  Oh well.  If the sport of basketball treats these kids like it’s treated me, a combination of pure ecstasy and sweet misery, then it’s totally worth it. 

Dear Week: Go Away……love, Me

Two weeks ago I took a slurp of coffee after a three hour sleep night and got hit by the feeling of my heart doing a backflip.  The arrhythmia caused me to be lightheaded for a short amount of time (in the middle of class mind you) and scared the living shit out of me.  Those that read this blog know that I had heart issues three years ago that were looked at extensively and ruled fine.  I’m not nearly as freaked out as I was back then.  But still, it ain’t fun. 

This had a negative affect on my teaching last week.  I played it calm and safe, spending much of my time worried and monitoring my body early on, then crashing because I was so worried later in the week.  By Friday I felt better but exhausted.  This created an environment that was lower energy and a lot lecture, only I was so stressed about my health that on Tuesday I was making mistakes left and right.   My APUSH lecture was full of missed dates and semi-accurate information.  How did I know?  Well, when you have a well read AP class, they will tell you that you are off.

One good thing that occurs when you have a rough week is when you realize that you can’t possible teach like that for any reasonable length of time.  I’ve already had my nose in my lesson plans finding tweaks to make the week work better.  Engagement will be up next week.  Count on it.

It wasn’t just me this week either.  Teachers had the flu, pneumonia, deaths in the family, and a variety of those things in life we just can’t really prepare for.   One of the messages in our faculty meeting was to care for each other.  This week was a rough one and needs to just be done. 

One very bright spot occurred on Friday afternoon.  I did my usual Friday night announcing of the JV football game last week.  But instead of working in the classroom, I grabbed an article on Basketball Practice outlines and headed out to the football bleachers.  It was beautiful weather and the bleachers were nearly empty with an hour before kickoff.  Then my boss showed up.  What occurred over the next 40 minutes was thought provoking and exciting.  Questions, ideas, and concerns were exchanged in a manner that reminded me that really good conversations usually don’t take place in crowds of people.  Sometimes good ideas just come about in the bleachers.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Merit Pay for attendance

I got this from Joanne Jacobs (check the Blog Roll).

At Wendell High School, teachers will receive merit bonuses based on the percentage of parents who show up for the conferences.

Teacher bonuses, which will be distributed for the first time in 2012, can be based on a variety of factors, such as test scores and average daily attendance rates. Both district and state goals must be met.

Wendell Superintendent Greg Lowe said his district decided to base teacher bonuses on parent participation in high school conferences because it’s been a problem in the past.

So it looks like it’s time for to start offering extra credit for kids that get their parents to show up in Idaho.

I’m trying to figure out how this would be measured in my case.  So in my Advanced Placement courses I’ll probably get near or over 50% attendance, while I’ll only get about 20% attendance (at the most) for my college prep courses, and I’ve had none show up when I taught Introductory level courses for struggling learners.  Hmmmmm…..

Economists call this a perverse incentive.  It will be another example to slap on the counter of why experienced teachers don’t want to teach classes with struggling learners.  On top of the fact that Intro level classes have more discipline issues, less support, increased likelihood of Second Language Learners (therefore, more scrutiny), and increased risk of personal loss (IEP implementation), now you throw in the radical idea of basing a person’s pay on whether or not a parent who might not be living up to their end of the education bargain will take a seat in your classroom. 

Thank God my wife and I decided against moving to Idaho

Coaching profanity

Profanity has no place at all in sports.  Respectable coaches never use profanity and those that do are simply reverting back to some semblance of egotistical Neanderthalism where male dominance can never be disputed.  Players don’t respect coaches that use profanity and never find motivation in swearing tirades that more-often-than-not tear down a kid’s precious self-esteem. 

Ok, now that the politically correct answer is complete, and I’m done smirking at it, the reality can be discussed.  Nobody should be spewing f-bombs left and right, but this idea that Shawn Abel should lose his job coaching football because he went ranting at half-time in the locker room is a tad bit ridiculous.  For those not in the know, Abel was recorded by a player and his comments were put up on YouTube for the world to witness.  The fake outrage is nauseating.  People are condemning the coach for damaging the frail sensibilities of high school students, as if he called them the worst names in the universe while talking bad about their mom.  Most of the complaints are coming from people who can’t believe someone would use that kind of language in an educational setting. 

Reality is that most athletes will tell you that they have heard this before.  Coaches sometimes use profanity because it further emphasizes a point; and no it doesn’t mean the coach is either bad or uneducated.  I don’t condone using profanity because of two reasons.  First, the political climate is so idiotic about being “correct” that every little thing that you say is analyzed.  Second, I felt like when I did use profanity during my younger years that it wasn’t effective in promoting my message.  That’s not to say it doesn’t work for someone else, it just doesn’t really work with me.  So I work really hard not to use swearing as a way to convey my message; although I have to admit that I might whisper a couple to things on the sideline when I’m away from everyone. 

I think profanity has become too much of a big deal overall in society today.  Those faux offended care so much about what words are being used that they fail to actually listen to the message.  And while Coach Abel might have been wise to tone it down a touch, there has to be something else to the situation because profanity in high school locker rooms should shock, well, nobody.  In fact it is often ignored and occasionally rewarded.  I just got done watching Prayer for a Perfect Season, an HBO documentary about Kevin Boyle’s 2010-11 basketball team at St. Elizabeth High School in New Jersey.  In the documentary you hear Coach Boyle swear at practice, in the locker room, and absolutely go Eddie Murphy style on the sideline and in game huddles (right in front of fans).  And you know what the coach from St. Liz gets for using profanity?  A $125,000 pay raise, a car and a new home in Florida (all paid for), and the distinction of being 2011 Naismith High School Coach of the Year. 

Now that’s profane.        

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Not easy teaching gay

The Los Angeles Times is not the only one to report it.  Looks like the new California law that requires teaching Gay, Lesbian, Bi-Sexual, and Transgender studies in the classroom is meeting some resistance, and not because teachers are anti-homosexuality either.

“…..teachers and administrators are flummoxed about how to carry out a new law requiring California public schools to teach all students — from kindergartners to 12th graders — about lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans in history classes.
……Educators across the state don't have much time to figure it out. In January, they're expected to begin teaching about LGBT Americans under California's landmark law, the first of its kind in the nation.”

I addressed this back in July when the law first made headlines and I’ll say it again; this is politically correct crap.  Lower primary grade teachers are right to be concerned about teaching sexuality with kids and secondary history teachers are right to ignore this law and teach history.  When history involving gays and lesbians is important (Stonewall, Reagan’s treatment), then it gets included.  Otherwise, why give it so much thought?  By the way, I’m not speaking from a Grace “homosexuality is a destructive lifestyle” Callaway perspective either.  She’s clearly an idiot.  I’m just saying, if you want particular historical items addressed in the California Standards, put them in there.  Or, let the historians decide what’s important. 

Oh, and I’m still waiting for that transgender historical figure that I should include in my history class.  I asked for it in July and have received no response.  

Because Art and Music don’t pay da bills, that’s why

I really appreciate what Art, Music, and Foreign Language bring to the table in terms of a complete education.  It addresses needs to the soul and in some instances can create things often seem other-worldly and beautiful.

And with the exception of some foreign languages, it is fairly worthless in terms of income.

So California is passing AB 1330, a law that has Artists, Musicians, and language junkies enraged.  According to the San Jose Merc:

A new law that enacts a seemingly small change, allowing students to count one vocational class as credit toward graduation, has both supporters and detractors predicting a major shift in high school education.

Backers depict AB 1330 as a start toward teaching students job-market skills, through courses such as keyboarding, medical assisting and metal shop. The law goes into effect for the 2012-13 school year.

So what we are doing here is adjusting the requirements to graduate high school to actually mean something to students that don’t see relevancy in “college prep” liberal arts classes like art and music.  While these teachers might be right in being concerned with funding for arts and music, I think it is quite disgusting the amount of arrogance shown by some that assume being “educated” means you need to take German, ceramics, and learn how to play the trombone.  The state has shown no doors for those that won’t go or graduate from college (you know, the other 75% of the population) and that needs to change, now.  The demand for workers is out there, but we are continuing to show students the areas of demand. 

And don’t get me wrong.  Students should be guided into learning Spanish if they live in California because it makes you more marketable.  But we continue to push this idea of “do what you love” without being honest about the job prospects of those about to enter the work force.  Theater Arts are fantastic, but it is one of the worst paying degrees over the lifetime of the degree holder.  And check this out by Fareed Zakaria in Time Magazine:

    “Perhaps the most crucial measure of our ability to compete in a global economy is our educational attainment, especially in science, math and engineering……In 2004 only 6% of U.S. degrees were awarded in engineering, half the average for rich countries. In Japan it’s 20%, and in Germany it’s 16%. In 2008–09 there were more psychology majors than engineering majors in America and more fitness-studies majors than physical-sciences majors.”

I’m not against Art, Music, and Foreign Language, but we need a serious reality check if we are truly going to meet the needs of those simply graduating from high school.   Often these are the same teachers that complain that students are “dumped” into their classes because there is nowhere to put them.  Well, now we can bring relevance to their high school day and when they come to Art class, it’ll be because they want to be there. 

Fury, and a retest?

The last AP U.S. History test was a disaster.  The highest grade was in the low 80s and the class average was a cool 66% percent, with absolutely no chance for damn A.  Not even close.  This test should have had a ten percent higher rate.  It was pre-Revolutionary War through the ratification of the Constitution for Christ sake.  Some of these questions had information that was not only from the textbook, Hippocampus, and my notes (that we go over in class and online), but should have come from the good old 8th grade history class (Shot Heard Around the World?  Hello?). 

After investigating some students notes two things are evident.  First, many students are simply not taking the time to read.  And second, those that are reading are not taking the time to take notes from that reading.  Both of those things are absolutely necessary for students to succeed in class.  Unfortunately some students fail to do these things which creates an immediate drop in quiz and test scores.  If you were excellent in standard U.S. History and only read, you’ll struggle to get a B in APUSH.  That’s what many of my students are finding out.

That’s another interesting note; only half my students in APUSH are actually from the 10th grade AP European History course.  That’s a good thing and a bad thing.  When asked, prior AP students said that they could only take so many AP courses and that Math and Science took priority over APUSH, which by-the-way has a reputation of being very difficult.  I have no problem with that.  Life is about making decisions and priorities need to be set.  But the interesting part is the number of kids who are taking AP classes for the first time or are taking an Advanced Placement Social Studies class for the first time.  It can seem quite overwhelming for someone to jump from something so focused on easy, standardized test questions to a mammoth course that requires extensive knowledge and analytical skills.

I’ll keep working on them of course.  But sense report cards come out Monday I’m expecting my class to continue to shrink.  One transferred out of the school last week and I’m looking at two not being very satisfied with their grades and possibly leaving fairly soon.  That’s what happens with open enrollment. 

Breaking News: Missouri finds Facebook creates pervert/pedophile teachers. UPDATED 10/23

In a move that will surely end inappropriate relationships between criminal teachers and under-aged students, the State of Missouri took the totally logical step of banning any kind of “social relationship” of the Internet kind.  Named “The Amy Hestir Student Protection Act”, the law has a very interesting passage that contains the following:
 Teachers cannot establish, maintain, or use a work-related website unless it is available to school administrators and the child's legal custodian, physical custodian, or legal guardian. Teachers also cannot have a nonwork-related website that allows exclusive access with a current or former student.
Whoa.  I would be so illegal in Missouri.  Not only do I have students and former students as “friends” on Facebook, I have a domain name and website, plus my Edmodo account that the administration has no access to.  Ouch. 
The law was named for Amy Hestir, a girl who was molested by a teacher in Junior High School.  While I can’t imagine what Amy went through, I’d like to note that Amy is now 40, and the incident took place before the Internet was a public entity.  And Facebook, MySpace, and the idea of social networking was somewhere in the ether waiting to pop into the head of  an unborn Tom Anderson.  Yet the State of Missouri seems to think that having the same professional relationship online is somehow different than in person.  Hey, are there any KIPP schools in Missouri?  If so, doesn’t this sort of kill the idea of teachers giving students their cell phone numbers, because we all know that it can lead to inappropriate relationships…right KIPP?
Hopefully you could sense the dripping sarcasm in the first paragraph, because this stipulation of the Hestir Student Protection Act is pretty simply bad law.  In fact, the law is incredible anti-teacher, as if the profession has reached some kind of ugly status of pervert.  It’s another example of society not having the respect for education that is necessary for success.  There are over seven million teachers in the United States and a couple of bad apples do not represent educators’ ability to keep professional relationships with the students they teach.  But Missouri has decided to take the easy way out by trying to dictate the lives of educators who might want to use every tool possible to be a good teacher.  Hell, who needs to punish the criminals when we can simply attempt to leash everyone. 
And how does the state of Missouri enforce this law?  If my Facebook is private, the public isn’t going to have any idea who my friends are, that is of course if the Missouri state government is going to hire China-esque online watchdogs to hunt for inappropriate student-teacher contact.  And what of sites like Edmodo?  Those are designed for education, but are controlled by the teacher.  Are those illegal?  And “former students”?  Seriously?  So I can’t have online contact with a former student (who could be in their 30’s) on the off chance that I might have an inappropriate relationship?  I wonder who will be the first one to march up to the federal courthouse in Kansas City with a letter that says “Hey Missouri, mind your own fucking business”, and then proceed to use the Constitution completely destroy the word “former”.
In a time when government needs to do more to support teachers, Missouri has jumped on the bandwagon to vilify them.  It’s just another example of society not taking the education of children seriously. 

Updated 10/23
Apparently the law that originally had online contact banned has now been adjusted to let school districts develop their own protocols in dealing with teacher-student online relations.  The Kansas City Star reported that Governor Jay Nixon signed the new bill on Friday.  This doesn't necessarily change much, since nothing in the law prevents school districts from banning all online contact.  Expect lawsuits, only now expect a lot of them.   

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Missing higher thinking

I miss college. 

This week allowed for plenty of higher thinking for my students, but relegated my position to facilitator since I’m not interested in engaging into political debates with 17 year olds.  It’s really good for them.  But for the old teacher that enjoyed the stimulating political debates, it creates an ache to go back to the academic environment that pushed my thinking and writing.  Alas, I’m confined to discussing the occasional political issue on Twitter.  Not that it’s bad or anything, but nothing really beats being in the room with people who are engaging each other in the art of conversation. 

I mentioned a couple of months ago that I want to eventually gain a Masters Degree, preferably in subjects I’m very passionate about (History, Poli Sci, maybe Ed Tech).  But I’m looking at the financial cost/benefit of doing so and it looks fairly impossible.  If schools really want teachers with advanced degrees (and not this ‘buy your Masters of Ed’ crap) then the amount of pay sure doesn’t show it.  My school district offers something like an extra $700 a year for a Master’s Degree, and I believe $1,000 a year for a PhD.  That’s a joke.  That means if I spend the $20,000 it would cost to get a Master’s Degree, I wouldn’t even break even by the time I’m retired.  I’d be doing it for my own satisfaction, only I can’t justify spending that kind of dough on a piece of paper that says I’m supposedly smarter than the next guy.  I can just watch and follow along with Yale or Stanford’s open courses and bada-bing, I gain knowledge at no financial cost.  Not that it helps my finances though, because I can advance my skill set as far as I want and the school district isn’t going to do much to compensate me for it. 

Oh well.  Guess I’m going to have to continue my journey of self-study with my books, my Kindle, and the Internet. 

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Here’s the problem with “Social Justice”, UPDATED 10/18

According to Wikipedia:
Social justice generally refers to the idea of creating a society or institution that is based on the principles of equality and solidarity, that understands and values human rights, and that recognizes the dignity of every human being…..Social justice is based on the concepts of human rights and equality and involves a greater degree of economic egalitarianism through progressive taxation, income redistribution, or even property redistribution.
There is a misunderstood idea that only “Progressives” believe in principles of equality and values associated with human rights.  That social justice can only be promoted by those that are actively engaged in trying to rob Peter to pay Paul, whether it is by regulation, taxation, or some combination of policies that target groups of people that have become economically successful.  This is factually incorrect.  In fact throughout history nothing has brought forth more egalitarianism than the ideals of the free market.  While the rage of the anti-corporatists is felt in the United States, we need to remember that places like China, Brazil, and India have actually established stronger economic equality, and maybe even the seeds of strong democratic movements.  Are there winners and losers?  Sure there are, just like there are winners and losers in every economic and political system.  But which system has done better for a greater number of people?  Seriously, take a long historical look. 
I bring this up because of this article by an “ed activist” that insists that social justice be taught in the classroom because it is empirically correct, and it is not the classical “conservative” doctrine that is regularly taught in education.  In fact, he goes so far as to basically blame political conservatism for just about every negative thing to ever happen in history, including quite possibly the creation of Rebecca Black.  It bothers me that this person brings their politics into a classroom, politics that are so tuned to the plight that Zinn or Marx or Chomsky bring up that the overall perspective of history is lost.  His perception is that kids already have a skewed vision of history (most do) and that it is his job to pick and choose what is right and what is wrong.  Now, most logical historians can agree that there are absolute wrongs in things like the American slave trade, the Holocaust, and the lack of equal rights throughout history.  Question; why do we have to prove to kids that those events are wrong?  If we show kids primary source evidence, and we do our jobs to create critical thinking human beings, then doesn’t it compute that kids will come to that sane conclusion on their own? 
Then we move on to harder questions.  I would disagree with the blog post author that Columbus is an easy point for a genocidal maniac, or that the atomic bomb was murder, or that the Equal Rights Amendment was necessary.  I think students need to research that and come to conclusions themselves.  That way when complex political and economic issues are presented, the real social justice comes in the form of intelligent citizens, not from people that insist that their political spectrum is more intelligent than everybody else’s. 

Update 10/18:
You can check out this guy's response to this blog post here.  Look, it's obvious that the guy is passionate, but the guy is not passionate about kids and that's the number one thing to teaching.  You eat your agenda and teach critical thinkers, and if someone decides to follow a path that is opposite of your own political beliefs you are happy that they found something that THEY are passionate about.  I'm not about to get into a flame war with an activist because (as you notice) compromise doesn't exist, the other opinion must be wrong, and nothing should get in the way of fighting the power.  Note; this was Tea Party speak for the last two years.  So read up and enjoy.  I respect opinions and don't judge people because they believe in Marx or Smith or capitalism or socialism or some arrogant notion that their method of social justice is absolutely correct.       

Yes I teach about #Occupy. No, it is not earthshattering. Calm down.

It started with a simple question on the #sschat feed on Twitter from a teacher in Washington D.C.

I think we at #sschat should be just as fired up about #OccupyWallStreet & #Occupy in general as we were about Osama Bin Laden. Why quiet?

I mentioned that at this point it was really unknown if the Occupy Movement was going to become more than just another disgruntled “I’m pissed off at the world” protest.  It was at that point that a New Jersey teacher at the Occupy Wall Street protest chimed in and railed me for not supporting the movement of the 99%.  He blasted me that the movement was a moral imperative and he compared it to the Arab Spring, slavery, and the Civil Rights Movement.  When I mentioned that I was teaching the Occupy protests from a neutral position, he called me out for supporting evil and then told me he wept for my students.  Believe it or not I did not get that offended because I’ve heard the rantings of activism many times.  People get so wrapped up in what they believe that anything less is considered flat wrong.  That’s what an activist does, and that’s why it takes one hell of a cause for me to become an activist in anything. 

For those that are wondering what history thinks about the Occupy Movement, history will tell you later whether or not it matters.  History has a funny way of doing that.  It’s not my job to tell my students that the Occupy Movement is on par with slavery because it’s not.  It’s not my job to tell students that Occupy is on par with the Civil Rights Movement because it’s not.  History hasn’t decided yet.  And far be it for me to tell any 17 year old kids that Occupy is a just cause, or that the protests are simple outrage at nothing in particular.  My job is beyond simple activism for a simple agenda.  My activism is developing critical thinkers.  My activism is presenting as much information as possible and if the kids are passionate about Occupy they will join in and affect change.  If they aren’t, they’ll ignore it.  Last week we looked at a PBS Newshour focus story on unemployment, and then turned right around and watched man-on-the-street interviews of Occupy Wall Street protesters.  Kids were interested not only in the protest, but the economics behind it.  And while we do talk about the increasing income inequality, the current economic crisis is much more complex than that.  In Government class we talk about populism and the growth of large movements, and how policy is connected to economics. 

The closest thing the Occupy Movement relates to seems to be, oddly enough, the Tea Party Movement.  Both are angry at economic conditions, both blame government policies that they say enhance the bad conditions, and both contain mostly middle class, affluent people.  Neither is bad, neither is good, and eventually both will be history.  How much either matters is yet to be determined.   

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Negative Interaction

“What’s your name again?”

“Mr. Silva-Brown.  I teach Gov/Econ and AP Social Studies.”

“Oh right!  I’ve heard of you.”

“Which Government teacher do you have?”

“Oh I don’t have one.  I’m on Independent Study.”

“So….do you mind if I ask you how that’s working out?”

“Oh I love it!  I don’t have to wake up in the morning and everything!”

“That’s why you got on Independent Study?”

“Yeah.  I don’t do well waking up in the morning.  I mean, I get all cranky and stuff.  Plus I don’t focus because I’m on my phone all the time and I’m so into the social thing that school just doesn’t do it for me.”


“I still come to my electives though.  I mean, I like those.  I don’t like regular classes so why show up?  So I’m more on a hybrid Independent Study.”

This was not how I wanted to end my week, and this conversation occurred thirteen hours into my work day and three hours before I would leave campus.  Even though I shouldn’t be bothered by this after eleven years, it still makes me bristle.  And it made the parent next to me also bristle, and while I didn’t say anything, the parent made a comment about whether or not the kid felt ready to enter the real world for a job.  The question was never answered.

To get into Independent Study a student needs a “legitimate” reason that goes through the counseling department and I believe might contain one administrator.  I can’t see the group simply giving away Independent Study for a “I can’t get up” excuse, so that leads me to the conclusion that the student or the parent or both lied.  And it is a scary thought to think that a parent would actually capitulate to social media and teenage hi-jinks instead of trying to prepare this kid to be successful in all of society.  What you enjoy in life is all that is worth doing; Homecoming, Shop, Arts, Theater, Choir, Band, Facebook, SMS, football games.  That other stuff that disciplines you for the future, you know, accountability, is crap.  This is the perverse nature of Independent Study, a program that I’ve lost about ten Seniors to this year. 

I have a solution for students that are in Independent Study, including those that are in the totally idiotic “hybrid” Independent Study.  Don’t give them a diploma.  Since the education they are getting in Independent Study is not even close to the education they can get by actually being at school, why present substandard students with a  full standard diploma?  Present them with a Certificate of Completion with a notation that the student did not fulfill their total educational requirements but will graduate at 18 because society allows it.  I think that’s a great idea.  Then I think employers in town should ask to see the diploma of a potential hire, because God knows that the last thing an employer needs is a person that can’t get to work or stay off their phone while on the job.  A real diploma means at the very least a student is disciplined enough to show up.

In the meantime as long as we have cop out programs like Independent Study, I’m pretty much going to ignore anyone putting the blame on classroom teachers for not providing a rigorous education.    

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Sometimes it needs to be said

Curmudgeon has a little conversation with the rest of society about the state of Education.  It’s biting, off color, and completely and totally necessary reading about how passionate teachers are about changing the way things are going in the profession.  But don’t expect the pollyanish, faddy solutions to the problem.  Curmudgeon is more concerned about actually solving the problem to make education work, not making people feel all fluffy with useless banter.

By the way, I’m hiring both Curmudgeon and the great Mamacita to lead my movement for Education reform.  Only after you address their primary concerns about Education will you get real reform in the system.  Everything else is just weak filler.  

Steve Jobs owns you.


I have to admit that I was slightly sad that Steve Jobs died.  I mean, he was one of those inventors that I grew up with in the rise of the generation of the computer and the Internet.  It’s been Jobs versus Bill Gates for decades with one or the other seemingly looking for one-upmanship in computing, peripherals, and software.  It seemed like the end of a pretty marvelous era.  Then I closed my laptop and went to in to help my wife with dinner.  I didn’t weep.  I didn’t “RIP Steve Jobs” on Facebook, and I didn’t contribute to the multitude of tweets that made it seem like Gandhi had just passed into the next life. 

Steve Jobs won.  That’s pretty much the only way you can describe what happened to Apple since the mid-1990’s and the near collapse of the company…to right now.  Steve Jobs managed a corporation not only by creating innovative products, but by marketing the company to near perfection to a group of people that believe that Apple is somehow the antithesis of a corporate entity.  It is the company that perfectly caters to David Brook’s famous Bobo;  a combination of  bourgeois and bohemian.  The fairly new upper-middle class that combines the liberal idealism of the 1960’s with the self-centered attitudes of the 1980’s.  Apple is the icon of the post-materialist; a company that is more than the money.  It is an experience, a lifestyle, a symbol of what a company can be to a new and vibrant age of information and optimism.  And Steve Jobs crafted that image very, very well. 

It’s funny because I think that Apple users seem to forget that Jobs was really at the forefront of running the corporate side of the company for a long time.  It was Jobs that was out there reassuring shareholders at meetings.  It was Jobs that was out there insisting iTunes was going to prevent Internet piracy to protect digital copyright.  It was Jobs who instituted Digital Rights Management on music, refused to let go of his coding to open source networks, and would often get on Twitter and e-mail to blast critics of this product.  It was Steve Jobs that approved for Foxconn to manufacture the iPhone, and it was Jobs that had to deal with public relations problems around the multitudes of suicides at the factory in China.  Tasks by-the-way that were off-shored to an international location depriving American workers of employment.  In short, Steve Jobs and Apple were just as corporate as Microsoft, General Motors, Exxon, and Alcoa; only Jobs knew how to market to a public that was starving for a positive corporate image. 

In a few weeks I’ll wander into my AT&T Store and retire my iPhone 3G for a brand spanking new iPhone 4GS.  I’ll do so knowing full well that Apple will be making a profit from the fact that I am purchasing something I desire.  I’ll also know that I will receive major satisfaction from this good, just like I’ve received satisfaction from Bill Gates, Howard Schultz, Larry Page, Sergey Brin, Henry Ford, and J.D. Rockefeller.  Know what Steve Jobs had in common with those six corporatists?

A whole hell of a lot.  

Tuesday, October 04, 2011


No other way to say it; summer’s over.  The air conditioning has been permanently turned to off, as have the sprinklers.  The patio furniture is tucked in the shed and chill of the morning makes for longer showers.  Yep, it looks like Fall is upon us.

That means Homecoming, again.  I tried to be nice about Homecoming this year, I really did!  But last week the half dozen, half asleep students who were working on floats, backdrops, and skits were only a taste of what was to come.  On Monday a full three quarters of my students were exhausted from staying up until three or four in the morning to work on the parade float.  Today that exhaustion was only tempered by a dress up day as pirates and cowboys, except for my fifth period class who was out of it because of the energy expended during the day.  I’m watching grades plummet, and I fully expect some Advanced Placement students to make an exit when Progress Reports come out in two weeks.  It’s unfortunate.  When I asked kids about how they can justify staying out until 3 a.m. on a school night, almost all of them said their parents make Homecoming Week the exception to the rule.  Well, ok.  We’ll see what happens when that exception takes a toll this week, and next week.  Then all the sugar, energy drinks, lack of sleep, and heavy Friday/Saturday partying catch up and you have days of sick kids who get further behind.  Yeah, as usual, this is going to be ugly. 

You’d figure I’d be more accepting of it as I have aged.  But the reverse has been happening, and more and more of my colleague tire of the yearly event that ruins a good two to three weeks.  With all the pressure teachers are under to perform, how can we constantly justify such a massive distraction?  And yes, Homecoming has been pared down in terms of events.  But it hasn’t changed the fact that this school still takes a large vacation from academics in October.  And no matter how fun it is, it makes teaching a whole lot harder.   

Sunday, October 02, 2011

The Bless You Controversy

Back in the day, when students came home saying they got into trouble the parents would usually ask “what did you do wrong.”  Now when kids come home from schools not only are parents narrowing their eyes toward the teachers, some are actively looking at tearing down educators because their own boring, pathetic lives are tremendously unsatisfying. 

This brings us to the current controversy at Will C. Wood High School in Vacaville, California, about 90 minutes south of Ukiah.  The story goes that teacher Steve Cuckovich was conducting a test in class when  he ended up having to discipline his freshman students for repeatedly disrupting class by responding to sneezes with an overenthusiastic chorus of "Bless you."  The sneezer would then thank each giver of the blessing individually.  It was obvious that the students were distracting the class.  Even students within the class admitted that when they were interviewed.  Apparently the teacher then gave a small history lesson on the use of “bless you” in relation to sneezing and then the whole shebang spiraled right out of control.

Without really talking to the teacher or the principal, a parent of one of the students called the local Fox News affiliate, who instead of conducting some semblance of journalism, parked outside of Will C. Wood High and treated the issue like Jesus himself was being crucified by the school.  The issue went viral and the faith in public education in Vacaville went down the toilet because of some bored parent had nothing better to do than believe their teenage kid.  In actuality the problem was a class of adolescents being a pain in the butt.  Every teacher has had one of these group issues at one time or another.  Someone coughs and then the entire class goes on a coughing spree.  Someone’s phone starts to ring and the class hums or clears their throats in unison to protect the technology violator.  With freshmen it is more common, although there is no excuse at all for it to happen during a test.  25 points off?  Not a chance.  Distractions during an exam are an automatic zero on the exam and that is made plain and simple from the very beginning of class.

This is the kind of stuff that steers the best and brightest away from teaching.  It isn’t the pay or the long hours, it’s the fact that society has a problem with respecting education.  Obama can repeal No Child, and Brian Williams can hold a hundred town halls.  But nothing will change until parents have faith that educators are professionals.  This should have been a non-issue that was turned into a viral mess because a bored parent gained more traction than the teachers and administrators at Will C. Wood High School.  There is something seriously wrong with that.