Category Archives: Education

On public education teachers

It has nothing to do with lazy, incompetent teachers who received tenure and cannot be fired. … From what I have seen over the years, many young teachers who are not cut out for teaching quickly discover that and move to other work. Others are encouraged by administrators to leave education, while others are removed before they can do more damage. Few incompetents receive tenure in Missouri and most of those are as a result of administrators not doing their jobs.

This whole piece is really nicely done.

Although I must note, it does contain a serious logical flaw: Our legislators as products of public schools? Pshhhyeah, as if!


I weep for thee papers

Tonight at 11: The government is actually paying your child's teacher a SALARY. Our I-Team reporters find out WHY.

The image above, from the local paper’s website, pisses me off. But seeing the following list of “headlines” in the “Lifestyle” section of the same site made me cry. And laugh:

  • Dog left in back of truck at Mass. mall dies
  • Anchorage police: Please don’t tase the bears
  • Military dog comes home from Iraq traumatized
  • Shot-at Ohio dog bites caregivers
  • Puppy tossed from moving van rescued in Ohio

Really? Four of your top five “lifestyle” news stories involve dogs? Incredibly bad things happening to dogs? That’s where we’re at now?

Continue reading I weep for thee papers

Congregations of 1000 different deities

From far away, this is how it looks: There is a country out there where tens of millions of white Christians, voting freely, select as their leader a black man of modest origin, the son of a Muslim. There is a place on Earth — call it America — where such a thing happens...
             —New York Times, Nov. 5, 2008

For the purpose of clarity and reigned-in expectations — and to curtail sudden outbursts of tears — I’ve tried not to think about this much until now. But the outside-the-issues symbolism and significance of Obama’s victory are of an earth-shaking nature whose possibility I dismissed just four — even two — years ago. The irony that it took Bushian debauchery to open the door tempers my shock and satisfaction only slightly. If Bush wasted our precious time in climate and energy advances, the least he could do was inadvertently accelerate the healing of an awful scar from our history.

As a young kid I naively assumed racism and homophobia would be obsolete like Xerox by the time I was an adult. “All these people will soon be old, and the evidence in front of their face will change them,” I thought. Alas, adulthood arrived with bad news. Silly kid. Hadn’t realized as a child how views are passed on. Hadn’t understood how limited exposure –> limited understanding –> unlimited fear.

“Rosa sat, so Martin could walk
Martin walked, so Obama could run
Obama ran, so our children could fly”

                                            –Heard all around us

Racism will still fester, hate will still find fuel. But new recruits will require even greater cognitive dissonance to sign on when every day an object of their superficial hate shows competence and compassion in the White House. Ignorance always “ain’t never seen that before” — until it has.

So waking up today to see a big chunk chopped off this Original Sin gave me a feeling of unburdened weightlessness. OMG, indeed!
To see the looks in people’s eyes at the polls yesterday — black people in particular — as they tasted that the unimaginable could happen. To see others participating for the first time, after years of resignation to the notion that there is no place for them in this fixed process. (On that note: the margin between McCain and Obama in Missouri at this moment is about a third of the number of Missouri votes given to Nader. Who says their vote doesn’t matter?)

“…The world’s view of an Obama presidency presents a paradox. His election embodies what many consider unique about the United States — yet America’s sense of its own specialness, of its destiny and mission, has driven it astray, they say. They want Mr. Obama, the beneficiary and exemplar of American exceptionalism, to act like everyone else, only better, to shift American policy and somehow to project both humility and leadership…”

To see reactions around the world and know that the U.S. will once again hold both sides of its mythical role as inspirational example and empire of unreachable expectations.

But back to the symbolism: Obama’s heritage and path is the logical landing point of the “American dream.”

Not a dream of WASPs, connected bankers, and “keep the pot with the privileged” set, but of a globalized gene pool stirred by whoever dreams of making it here.

Not a dream that anybody who just wants it really really hard can be a millionaire and not pay taxes because, of course, taxes destroy the American dream, but rather a dream that cognitively understands how reaping the benefits of residence within a society necessitates shared sacrifice and responsibility to keep that very society afloat.

Not a dream that any old “Joe Sixpack” can become President by sweatin’ and shootin’ and talkin’ football under a POW flag, but the dream that any old smart, thoughtful-yet-engaging human can reason his way to the role of inspirational President and policy mover, regardless of what he or she (still working on “she”) looks like, regardless of what category and stereotypes we assign to that look.

On the relevance of ill-defined, touchy-feely “inspiration:” There is something to it, oh yes there is. Humans are often stupid, we know this. Yet we love them (Us!) still. So there are two possible responses to our “condition”: Resignation to its inevitable futility is one. Trying to nudge the needle for good is the other. So when an Obama comes along and inspires people who had given up, it matters. When it’s someone like that making a gesture so small (yet so big) as telling parents it’s up to you to be there for your kids, to take them away from the TV — to give the seed a bit of water so that the education system that later receives them has a fighting chance to help them grow … THAT is nudging the needle.

If parenting, poverty, education and greed are at the root of what ails us, simply letting these rot will do no one service. Small gestures in transformational packages will matter.

“… There is another paradox about the world’s view of the election of Mr. Obama: many who are quick to condemn the United States for its racist past and now congratulate it for a milestone fail to acknowledge the same problem in their own societies, and so do not see how this election could offer them any lessons about themselves…”

Foreigners so often expect more from the U.S. than they do from their own insular societies precisely because the U.S. is supposed to be the land of openness and equal opportunity. It’s a shame that other nations too often don’t expect the same from their own cultures, but there’s no harm in expecting the U.S. to strive to be better. It’s better for us and, ultimately, better for them. Expectation comes with being the state in the captain’s chair.

, we are life forms after all, so conflict and weakness will happen. But study of history, collection of data, and the practice of thought and earnestness can reduce the frequency of our follies. All our issues will not be resolved in my lifetime, but somehow a lifetime feels better spent when we’re inching toward the goal.

Denominations of a thousand different deities
Congregations, endless carnivals of gaiety
Why should I fear? Why should I cling on to anything?
It’s not how long long I live but how beautiful it is

And I saw crying, there was turmoil in the marketplace
I saw economies perpetuate the next arms race
And I felt helpless: there was nothing I could do or say
And then I noticed there’s a change that’s coming over me:
Tapping into the aeon
Tapping into the aeon

Myriad experiences of billions of humans
Recorded in the memory the compassion of their gods
Beauty defined by disfigurement and symmetry
Re-evaluate their history, reassess their symbols

And I saw crying, there was turmoil in the marketplace
I saw economies perpetuate the next arms race
And I felt helpless: there was nothing I could do or say
And then I noticed there’s a change that’s coming over me:
Tapping into the aeon
Tapping into the aeon

Balance of the ecosystem, self-reliance beckons us
Windmills and waterfalls, strawberries and lily ponds
When skyscrapers no longer block the Sun’s meridian
When we awake to the whisper of the voice

Tapping into the aeon

–“Aeon,” Killing Joke

‘It was my understanding there would be no math’

My next class in International Relations is an online class, on research methods … and statistics. As a tree-hugging, coffee-sipping, global-pondering, word-loving cynical idealist hermit, I tested out of any collegiate math requirements in high school. I knew I’d be exploring the traditional liberal arts in college and didn’t want any math getting in the way of other electives. (Though truthfully, I see mathematics as an essential component connecting and enhancing humanities and science … as crucial a component as any other for compiling a holistic view of this planet and its bizarre inhabitants.)

My last math-class memory is a vague recollection of always feeling a chapter behind in high school Calculus (well, a real mathematician would surely call it pre-Calc). The concepts and their real-world application were cool, but crunching them and figuring out how one would crunch them if one had a clue was not. It usually took me until after each test was returned to finally “see” it.

So to my brain’s detriment, I left numbers to people who were much better with them, trusting them to feed me good data to support my oh-so-worldly theories of How It Should Be. Maybe read “Innumeracy” every once in a while to keep me honest. Amusingly, taking German classes, with its systematic grammar and compounds, helped fill the void in that part of my brain for a little while.

But since then those neurons have gotten really sticky. I’m a perfect candidate for a “one math exercise a day” routine, if I could only start it. Now comes this requisite research and stats course, before I get into the issue-specific areas of International Relations.

*sigh*  Good for me. Dammit.

Back in the saddle

“The past lives on, in your front room
The poor still weak, the rich still rule
History lives in, the books at home
The books at home:

It’s not made by great men, it’s not made by great men
It’s not made by great men, it’s not made by great men…”

–“Not Great Men,” Gang of Four

So after years of sitting on the pot, I finally decided to shit. Or, enroll in graduate classes, anyway.

Free tuition has been a perk of my job dangled before me since the moment I accumulated a year of service, but it took me another year and scheduling to decide how to use it. A master’s in English lit. — one of my true loves — wasn’t available. A master’s in my “professional field” — communications, or PR, or marketing *shudder* — was available but frankly one of the most boring-sounding expenditures I could imagine for my time.

But we do have a great program in international relations — including one that is a global barnstormer earned through five terms at each of our overseas campuses. Obviously my full-time job won’t allow for the global tour, but the domestic-based program, I’ve finally decided, is too much to pass up.

This Crazy System of Civilized Societies
It’s right up my alley: a mix of international affairs, foreign policy, and action/decision-making in the now — all shaped by the lessons of history. So I signed up.

Good move, already. It’s quickly eating up much of my spare reading (and writing, dammit!) time, of course, but I’m engrossed. My first class is a great bunch of people who come from Kenya, Nigeria, Montreal, Ukraine, Thailand and, heh, Boeing. A lot of different people, with a lot of different aspirations, all hoping to get an intimate understanding of the norms and unspoken patterns of diplomacy and the international system that each country uses to interact with the rest. People wanting to gain a foothold to work in international relief organizations, or to help their government back home, or to help raise awareness or change policy here.

Me, I like world affairs, I love the interaction of cultures, and I’m enchanted by history and all of its strange turns and what-ifs. You have the record of human activity over time — all due to, in the IR context, a combination of international norms for how states influence each other, plus each nation’s domestic culture/prevailing opinion, and/or the personal whims of unnervingly powerful individuals through whom “God” apparently administers His demented will.

That human part is what really enamors me (Or the God part, through His human proxy, if you must). Sure, if my job collapsed, or the country elected another Fred Thompson, or some other shift made me need a new career elsewhere, I could see attempting to somehow flip this degree into a new job. But I shamelessly love to learn and study (It’s kind of pathological how comfortable I felt, right away, back in the classroom). And it’s this long, on-going history of human behavior and interaction that really piques my interest. Talking it over with similarly interested, fellow dorks in the first class leaves me pretty sure that I’m gonna love this.

Now commence mock-and-pointing.