Sunday, April 29, 2012

Philly foodie attraction

I’ve decided that every city needs to have a Reading Terminal Market.  For those that have not had the pleasure, Reading Terminal Market is the ultimate food court minus the corporatism of Subway, Burger King, and Sabarro.  It combines the shiekness of a Sonoma County farmer’s market with the busy hustle and bustle of a Middle Eastern bazaar.  Food is everywhere, and we are talking good food.  Meat is being sliced off the bone, stews are simmering right in front of you; the entire place screams gastronomic ecstasy.  And while there is plenty happening and people might seem rushed, everyone seems to be enjoying the tastes that Reading has to offer.  It’s beautiful.  And yes, I ate there.

I’m about to dive into Tyler Cowen’s An Economist Gets Lunch, an economists’ look at the culture of food using basic theorems familiar to the armchair economics snob.  I know that part of his argument is that the ideals behind “locavores” (doing everything locally) is less efficient than many think.  However if local farmers can get away from their price screwy, free range, organic attitudes, and actually think of their consumers a little more, we might be able to put a Reading Terminal Market in every town.  And no, the food in Philly’s culinary getaway is not all specialized or intentionally ethnically diverse.  It’s good food, with plenty of pizza, pulled pork sandwiches, and burgers for everyone. 

So what about it locavores?  Interested in finding a central location to bring delicious, reasonably priced food to the masses?

Back from #EdCampSS

Travelling for business on a weekend trip is a rush.  It’s an odd combination of excitement and exhaustion.  Between waking up on Thursday morning and going to bed on Monday night, I totaled less than 18 hours of sleep on my journey to the City of Brotherly Love.  It really didn’t hurt me until late Saturday night when I couldn’t manage the late meeting of Social Studies tweeps from around the country at a local watering hole.  I was too spent.

The idea of EdCamp is that you have no prepared sessions at all when you arrive.  Then sessions go up a board that are directed by whoever is there; teachers, professors, ed tech professionals, software developers, any interested parties.  Then the unconference (as edcamps are named) visitors vote with their feet and attend a session for a little over an hour.  The difference with this edcamp was that it was entirely created by and mostly attended by Social Science teachers.  And I mean Social Science teachers from all over the place; different ages, backgrounds, teaching styles, beer drinking preferences.  But we all had these things in common:

-We were not satisfied with the current state of professional development.

-We felt that collaboration is the ultimate method of making our profession better.

-We want to prepare ourselves and our students for the next generation of learning.

-We are passionate about kids and learning and making a positive contribution to society.

Though not totally about technology, almost all the sessions are somehow geared towards engaging students through the use of all sorts of hardware, software, or Internet goodies.  Presentations are conducted using this technology so the whole presentation is not a lecture, it’s an engaging experience.  Everyone in the room has an iPad, laptop, or a netbook, and everyone is constantly on it.  Twitter backchannelling is active and strongly encouraged.  People share thoughts online while in the same room or in other rooms.  You get comments from other sessions while you are in your own.  Don’t like the current one?  Leave and go to another.  It’s encouraged.  I started one of my hours in a session about developing podcasts.  I wasn’t interested, announced on Twitter that I wanted to talk Gov/Econ in a separate room, and spent the rest of the hour talking curriculum ideas with an AP Comparative Government teacher.  It’s that kind of cool thing.

I can’t even begin to share what I gained because the amount of stuff; ideas, pedagogy, technology, is all overflowing in my brain, on Google Docs, and on my Instapaper account.  I have to take time to sort through and organize the information, then more time to get the information into my teaching schema.  Then I’ll share it with compadres and another collaboration sensation will begin. 

Even if I have to pay for it, I’m going to try and figure out how to make a yearly trek out for EdCamp Social Studies.  It not only provides me with new and interesting ideas, it shifts my paradigms of teaching to different realities that are shown to work.  Talking about teaching U.S. History thematically is one thing.  Having Diana Laufenberg show you how it works, then show you her support structure and the results brings it from someone’s thought cloud to my reality.  I want to go beyond trying it.  I want to make it work because it’s good.  I want to make it work because it’s good teaching. 

And that’s what Ed Camp Social Studies was really about.  Good teaching. 

Saturday, April 28, 2012

If you’re not cheating, you’re not trying….

So I’ll make a generalization from my eleven years of teaching; some of the most academically intelligent students are some of the biggest cheaters.  That’s right.  Out of all the classes I’ve taught, nothing comes close to students with something to lose trying to maneuver the system for a slight advantage.  And it actually makes sense when you think about it.  Those kids that don’t really want to be there anyway don’t feel the need to cheat.  Those that feel that their grades mean something are more inclined to take the risk. 

I rarely have a problem with cheating anyway.  The first time results in a zero on the assignments and I have yet to have needed to come up with a second offense consequence.  Well, Sequoia High School in Redwood City, California has a pretty simple rule for Honors level classes; cheat and you are back down the ladder.  That kind of zero tolerance system has annoyed the Berghouse family, who apparently had a child that cheated in an Honors English class.  The child was sent down to college prep English, something that the Berghouses certainly could stand for.  So naturally they sued the school district.  Oh, and the parents signed a sheet acknowledging the consequence at the beginning of the year.  And the parents fully admit that the kid cheated.  But none of that matters because the school is obviously in the wrong for having rules and following them. 

The hope is that the school holds firm and that the judge basically demands that the parents pay the school for wasting resources on this idiotic lawsuit.   

Ole!

A good coach is just as important as a good teacher.  Actually, a good coach IS a good teacher, except that the coach is teaching much more in the realm of life skills that can make a greater impact than the teacher that is teaching those subjects that students don’t really care about; in my case Math, Science, and anything having to do with Performing Arts. 

I usually don’t write about too many coaching issues in Northern California because rarely is any situation as clear as the fishwrap presents.  Newspapers love anything with controversy and coaching because it is guaranteed to get views and comments from crazy parents that insist on having “the inside scoop.”  I write today about the current situation at Miramonte High School in Orinda, California because it is the ultimate example of why coaching is rarely about being a good teacher.  As Kevin McCarthy puts it, the Matador varsity basketball coach (Dave Brown) was fired for doing his job.  In this case the very successful coach (who instituted among other things, a community service program) looks to have been sacked because he didn’t give enough playing time to the principal’s son, who apparently had rode the pine one to many times.  

Ouch.  This situation has “ugly” written all over it, and further justifies the need for someone to start figuring out why coaching jobs in wealthville involve a revolving door.  Coaching in Orinda (the location of Miramonte High) is no walk in the park.  The town could be one of the richest areas in Northern California and the community is well known for California Shakespeare Theater, outstanding Water Polo teams, and the distinction of being able to posse up enough grief to run basketball coach after basketball coach out of town.     The man who steps into Coach Brown’s (the other one) former position is probably going to have plenty of talent.  However of the specter of some bored parent is going to be forever standing over the athletic program at Miramonte.  So will the principle, calmly tapping the coach on the shoulder reminding him that his son’s playing time is a contractual obligation. 

Monday, April 23, 2012

Waaaaaaaaaaaambulence

“Are you going to call the "waaaaaambulance" or just embrace your life and do the best with what you have?

Don't let those who are biding their time with one foot in the summer put one of your feet in the grave. It isn't worth it. You do your best and stay focused. Do what is important. Hold students accountable. Find a way to have fun. Keep your wits about you and know that this too shall pass... very soon.

When someone else is sorry in their work performance, that doesn't give you an excuse to be sub par. Another teacher might go to work today in a dirty shirt, but does that make you want to don one too? Goodness no. Then why, when we see a teacher biding their time with their feet up on the desk showing a movie, do we use that as an excuse to do the same thing? You're noble. You care about teaching or you wouldn't be reading this right now. No one can take away your nobility but you can give it away yourself. Keep the nobility and the purpose in your classroom and teach until the last bell rings with a great attitude.”

The edublogosphere is alight with tales of the Dog Days of April, when conversations revolve around testing, Prom, tired educators, apprehensive administrators, disgruntled Seniors, and retiree/teachers that constantly talk like they have one foot out the door.  Leave it to Vicki Davis to reign us back in.

It’s funny that as an economist I’m constantly talking about “choice” with my students.  We all have choices in life.  As Vicki stated the choice to focus on something more meaningful than downer conversation is vitally important.  The recent pattern has been to come to school is a good mood, eat lunch amongst conversation of bedlam and horror, and end the day wondering what the hell had happened.  The “woe is me” talk is insanely thick right now with plenty of people darting out the door faster than Tupac at the Red Bluff Roundup. 

I have a job to do, and I enjoy it and I’m good at it.  The last bell is a long way off.  

Saturday, April 21, 2012

May the odds ever pull you away from this movie

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I was Haymitch minus drink in my hand while I watched The Hunger Games.  I was slouched in my seat, occasionally popping up because my arm would fall asleep or I was half hoping that Jennifer Lawrence would go Mystique on all the Games’ contestants and then join Magneto in some alternate reality.  Unfortunately just like the book, that never happened.
I only read Hunger Games about three weeks ago, and that means I took my Spring Break and read all three books.  The first book was good, the second book had good parts, the third book was ‘meh’, and the last five chapters were bordering on “Arnold Schwarzenegger in Running Man was better.”  It was bad.  I was happy to hear that the movie seemed much better so my wife and I had an 2 1/2 hour date to the movie theater on Thursday to check it out.
It’s fairly boring.  It’s too long.  It’s The Running Man meets The Truman Show meets Mortal Kombat Junior Edition.  Like my colleague said, “It’s teenagers killing each other.”  Only the book is edgier and scenes in the movie that show the arena production are simple and average.  I mean the whole movie is just….fine.  Jennifer Lawrence is fine.  Woody Harrelson is good.  Elizabeth Banks is good but underused.  Stanley Tucci was fine.  The young male leads all needed to be less pretty, or they needed to die in the first few minutes of the movie, because they were unrealistic and thirteen year old prep school nerdy.  Every time I saw those boys in the forest I started getting antsy for Jesse Ventura to show up and announce that he didn’t have time to bleed.  That’s a man that Jennifer Lawrence could go for.
Oh, and a note for Wes Bentley (Seneca Crane). 
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That’s Richard Dawson (Running Man) and Ed Harris (Truman Show).  Both had tremendous spark as show directors of malevolent games.  Neither was the star of the movie, yet you always looked forward to them on the screen because they had presence and weren’t always saying “Push the button and do something.”  Bentley’s role as Crane just wandered here and there in his Sharpie beard with little real point except to shudder when the President came into the room. 
So watch Hunger Games in the theater, or don’t.  You really won’t be missing a whole lot except for the real cool Prometheus trailer.  But you can save the $8 ticket and watch that online.

Do it for the kids….and pay more.

I’m still trying to figure out why I have to pay for a teaching credential every five years.  As if the initial payment, the thousands of dollars of education, and the money spent on keeping myself educated isn’t enough, now the State of California has recommended that the cost of a credential rise from $55 to $70.  The 27% increase isn’t going to necessarily break my bank (one less ballpark beer dammit), but we are talking about an institution who does very little except push paper.  Seriously.  I don’t even get checked for professional development hours anymore, although I do enough in six months to easy satisfy what California requires.   

The legislative analyst gave a very logical reason for the hike in teacher credentialing fees; because it hasn’t risen since 1999.  That’s an idiotic excuse of course and a perfect fit for a government that has idiots like Doug LaMalfa balking at raising taxes while sucking down over $4 million in federal subsidies.  I don’t see much argument from fiscal Conservatives that this government fee goes up when less and less teachers are getting into the workforce.  Not much of an incentive.

Which brings to this chart.

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The State of California is not getting a lot of new teachers into the profession.  Credentials issued in 2010-11 were down nearly 7% from the year prior, and credentials issued since 2005 has shrunk by one-third.  That’s San Diego Padres scary when you realize that the population has not dropped at all and funding for the profession has been cut drastically.  So much for the eighth largest economy in the world caring about the next generation.

Instead of fixing the incentive problem for teaching (which is less about pay than you think) some will point towards the two classic “reforms” within education. 

Solution A:  Charter schools.  That way we can pick and select the best students, get fantastic scores, and maybe even get a visit from the County Superintendent of Schools when he/she isn’t wandering the halls of the County Schools office making sure pictures are straight.

Solution B:  Sal Khan.  Students will excel when plopped down in front of a computer and “interacting” with Khan’s smooth tones.  They might even get an education between updating their Facebook status, figuring out how to Pin an Algebra formula to their phone, and taking Instagram photos making pouty faces like Snooki from Jersey Shore. 

Oh well.  I guess I’ll fork over the extra $15 every five years so someone at the California Teacher Credentialing office can tell me they don’t take phone calls.  Like I have a choice.

So, yeah…

I’ve been off this week dealing with the funeral of my ex-student and a shower of what seems to be constant bad news.  This occasionally happens; one bad thing compounds into another, and another, AND ANOTHER, until every little negative thing seems to make every day that much more tiring.  I’m using this weekend to sit in the sun, shake it off, and come back school Monday on a better note. 

That’s not to say that the class instruction has been bad.  While ever behind, my AP U.S. History class was very engaged with Civil Rights speeches (they were quite shocked at Malcolm) and my Economics classes have been looking at case studies involving employment around the country.  Those that are here are doing well.

So we return to our regularly scheduled program this week.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Accidents

I was in Rogue Valley Mall in Medford, Oregon when I took a peek at Facebook and saw a post that might have been related to the death of a former student.  At the time the connection was too distant.  I was with family and it just sat in the back of my brain and then moved on because one doesn’t really expect something so tragic to happen. 

It did happen.

That evening I popped onto my laptop to find Facebook alight with messages of shock and condolences to the friends and family of my former student and his girlfriend.  On top of that, one of my current students was also involved in the accident near Mt. Shasta and had survived.  I called members of the administration immediately to notify them that it had happened and then tried to get as much information as I could from students online without prying.  And I watched the responses pour in on the news feed.  It was gut-wrenching.  I visited the my current student on the way home from Medford; my only intent was to check to see if she was doing ok and maybe make her laugh a little.  She’d been through a very traumatic experience and I thought a little humor might take her mind off of it, even if only for a few seconds.  I think the visit did a little good, and it did me good to know that she was ok.

This whole experience has been tough to deal with.  I’ve had former students pass away before, although none quite had that little connection that made the relationship close.  This was a kid that would joke every day about giving me a big hug while calling me “Papa Bear”.  He was a goof-ball, but the kind of goof ball that really did make a lot of people laugh.  My last interaction with him was at a Subway restaurant in Ukiah about two months ago.  He was walking to work, saw me through the window, and made the effort to come in and chit-chat.  I’ll miss him.

I’m also concerned about the living.  Those that survived the crash.  Those that were with him on the trip.  Those that were his close friends and acquaintances.  Dealing with 18 year olds in this sort of situation is very, very difficult.  Giving students support and space while trying to keep them focused on some level of academics is an interesting balancing act.  Those directly involved have all the time in the world.  However I think part of life is learning that there is a time when you have to keep going with life, although that’s not easy to explain to a teenager, or anyone that’s gone through tragedy. 

Tomorrow I attend the funeral.  It will be very well attended by former and current students as the boyfriend and girlfriend had strong relationships on campus.  There is not a whole lot worse than seeing kids in genuine pain.  It’s going to be rough.          

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Jesus is not a homophobe, unless he visits Ohio.

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So if I’m reading the story correctly, the principal of Waynesville High School in Ohio has deemed this t-shirt as inappropriate and threatened to suspend him if he wore it again.

I don’t know.  I seem to remember a Supreme Court case that said that student Constitutional rights don’t stop at the front porch of the school. 

Maverick Couch sued the school district claiming that his First Amendment rights were violated.  Good. 

High schools should really be a place where students are allowed to practice their Constitutional rights, not a place where they are constrained by idiotic ideology. 

Rick Santorum sounds like an idiot

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It’s becoming harder and harder to admit that I’m a Republican.  I still have the believes that government is not the answer for all human ills and that personal responsibility trumps the constant use of government safety nets.  But this party has turned into the political party of supporting ignorant, white, Southerners that detest anything new, agnostic, or educated. 

Take for instance the idiotic statements by Rick Santorum; who has succeed in becoming the Vladimir Zhirinovsky of American politics with his recent statements about California universities.

“…..seven or eight of the California system of universities — don’t even teach an American history course. It’s not even available to be taught.”

Having good knowledge of California’s university system, I’m happy to tell the former Senator from Pennsylvania that U.S. History is a required course at California’s colleges, with a specific emphasis at the University level.  Part of the reason I push AP U.S. History is because those students entering the U.C. system can get a required course out of the way when they pass the AP U.S. History exam, something I dare Mr. Santorum to take right now.

Sunday, April 01, 2012

In Vino Veritas

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While living in rural Northern California can be challenging, it most definitely has its benefits.  I live on the very northern border of “wine country”.  Now, if you were to ask a pretentious Napafite whether or not Ukiah is Wine Country, they would say no.  However Redwood Valley (a small valley just north of Ukiah) is the northern-most reaches of the wine growing region of Northern California.  Therefore many consider Ukiah still in Wine Country.  This means we can be at a winery in about five minutes.  We are 10 minutes from dozens of wineries, and within one hour we can be at hundreds of different makers of the vino.

That doesn’t mean I enjoy drinking Wine Country prices.  Here’s the thing about wine; with the exception of sparkling (it is not called “champagne” if it isn’t from France), you can get an excellent bottle of wine for under $20.  Sure, there are many excellent wines that are very expensive.  But is the level of “excellent” really worth the extra $30, $50, $100 for a bottle?  No.  We enjoyed a bottle of Artemis from Stag’s Leap with family recently and it was decadent.  But we can’t bring ourselves to pay the $50 decadent price that goes with it.  My wife and I pride ourselves on shopping cheap for our juice and we pretty much refuse to pay high prices unless we go on a special trip to a new region, such as our anniversary trip to Washington.  Our primary sources are the basic supermarkets where you can get multiple bottles for 10% off; Safeway six and Lucky four bottles. 

So I’m here to present to you the standard drinking fare at Coach Brown’s house.  Something to quench the thirst of a vino lover who also enjoys maintaining some semblance of a bank account. 

Whites:

My wife and I enjoy white wines more in the summer, either sipping on the patio or enjoying with spicy food.  We like our chardonnays fairly buttery and oaky, with something that lingers on the palate that might be a little heavier than standard.  Bogle’s chardonnay has been very good lately, and if you can snag some 2008  or 2009 vintages I would do that right now.  More recent vintages of Wente (Morning Fog) have been very tasty, as have recent vintages of (believe it or not) Columbia Crest Two Vines; the later of which is dirt cheap at the supermarket.  We used to be fans of Meridian Santa Barbara chard, but recent vintages have become to sharp and acidic.  Right now the standard fare is Camelot chardonnay, a slightly oaky wine with a nice smooth finish. 

For more spicy foods we enjoy an occasional sauvignon blanc or a nice riesling.  Beringer has a nice sav blanc lately, and if you can find a 2008 Chateau St. Michelle, snag it.  The best riesling I’ve ever had is less than $10 and it’s from Pacific Rim.  The basic is the best but it is fairly hard to find.  I recommend that you go to Pacific Rim’s website and use the store locator because, yes, it is that good.   No Pacific Rim?  I’d go for the Columbia Crest Two Vines.  A little sweet, but lite enough not to taste overly syrupy.

Reds:

Yes, we are picky, picky, picky about our red wine.  My wife and I are borderline cabernet snobs, almost to the point of annoying family members.  Here’s the first tip; Napa Valley cabernets are not only horridly overpriced, they are often extremely overrated.  Don’t let the whole name game draw you in with a cute little “Napa Valley” on the label.  There are excellent wines for over half the price from Sonoma County and even better ones from Washington State.

The year on the label does matter.  Some years are just better than others in terms of conditions, blending, and handling of the grapes.  For instance, if you are looking at any wines from Mendocino County (including Anderson Valley) that are from 2008, be careful.  That was the summer of the massive fires and wineries everywhere had to deal with grapes with “smoke taint”.  Some wineries pulled it off and created fabulous depth in blending in the smoked grapes (Phillip”s Hill had an excellent cab), while others basically created new inferior labels for the bad wine. Just be careful.

Chateau St. Michelle had some excellent wines from 2008-2009 from their Indian Wells appellation.  In fact, a lot of Chateau St. Michelle wine is a good place to start for novice cab fans.  Keeping with Washington wines, if you happen upon a white label that simple says “Steak” or “House”, that’s from the Magnificent Wine Company.  If you are looking for a very full red then spend the cheap bucks and nail down the House (cheaper) or Steak (little more).  Want a little more mellow cab blend?  Try the Hogue Genesis label.  The cheap price hides the fact that the wine is actually very well made and smooth enough on the palette not to offend casual drinkers.   

Good cabs also tend to get a little more expensive as you go along.  If you are looking for a special bottle, don’t automatically hit up the top shelf at Safeway.  Head to BevMo and pick up something for $20-$30 that will do nicely.  I would recommend Buehler from Napa from almost any vintage year.  It is consistently good.  Rodney Strong has some good wines from Alexander Valley, and some of the little more pricey Simi wines (also Alexander Valley) can bring serious bang for the buck.  If you are fortunate to have top Washington wines around you (like BevMo), hit up L’Ecole, Woodward Canyon, and Tamarack (especially Firehouse Red).  You might hear a lot of good things about the Seven Hills label but I’ve had a couple of bottles and yet to have found one that is excellent.

Couple of other nice reds include Petite Syrah from Bogle, the H3 Merlot from Columbia Crest, and for earthy Pinot Noir go with Kenwood.  My wife and I try and stay away from fruity Pinots.

Bubbles:

Ok.  So if you are actually being sparkling wine for some occasion it is usually worth plunking down some cash.  Seriously, why buy half-ass sparkling wine?  Whip out the wallet.  Still, most of these are only about $20, and may actually be less if found at Safeway. 

Want something simple yet elegant?  Go with the Gloria Ferrer Blanc De Noirs or the Roederer Estate Brut.  Both are excellent wines at a very reasonable price.  Plus Gloria is bound in Spanish tradition and Roederer is bound in French tradition, so you can even look like you are that much more sophisticated.  If you really want to fork out the bucks so that sugar mama considers nuptuals, upgrade to the Gloria Ferrer Carneros Cuvee, the Roederer Estate L’Ermitage, or the Scharffenberger Cremant.  Both the L’Ermitage and Carneros Cuvee will get you going with serious wine drinkers.  The Cremant will taste expensive and will be a price point a step down from the other two. 

Remember that wine is a part of the experience of food.  Don’t give in to the pretentiousness of sipping vino and just enjoy it.        

Still wonder why teachers have union protection?

I’m pretty liberal about who I friend on Facebook.  I have relatives, former students, current students, high school friends, teachers, and even the principal as followers on the world famous social media device.  That means that I take no questionable risk when posting on Facebook; nothing could be used against me in regards to my current and future employment.

Not that my Facebook is anyone’s business.

Kimberly Hester, a teacher’s aide in Michigan, was fired because she refused to grant the principal at her school her Facebook password. 

“…we will assume the worst and act accordingly.”

Wow.  Interesting method of dealing with employees.  Trample on their dignity by assuming the worst about them and then fire them without cause.  Remind me not to work for that kind of school district.

Barring something illegal it truly is none of the employer’s business what happens during off work hours.  Yes, that includes teachers.  For some reason it has become acceptable for administrations to cow-tow to social pressures that their teachers be beyond moral perfection; no drinking, pornography, swearing, excessive skin, excessive weight, loud music, incorrect political views…..who knows where it all ends.

It ends with the law, and responsible Internet etiquette from professional educators.  Here’s a tip; make sure that you don’t take pictures of your drugged out, half-naked experience at Burning Man and post them on Facebook.  Not only will you be laughed at for spending hundreds of dollars to get dirty on the Playa, you might just get fired.