Lying Liars and Their Lying Liar Friends

If you were near a media outlet today, aside from listening to the non-story that someone named Herman Cain may have, or have not-at one time, or another, said things that could be construed quite possibly as, but not physically as, sexual harassment, you probably also saw this story: Global Warming Skeptic finds he believes in Global Warming–or some variation thereof.

And here we go again. The left has gotten so good about lying, not just to those of us who don’t believe them, but to themselves, that they’ve convinced themselves of several blatant falsehoods here: 1) Muller, the gent in question, is no AGW skeptic. In fact, he’s quite the opposite-a true believer. and 2) His research, spurious at best, does not reveal what the media is reporting it reveals.

Normally, we could say–“OK. Case closed. The guy’s a lying hacker or a hacking liar or some combination thereof. But since this is the left and since their willing accomplices have propagated the myth for so long, people are determined to believe it. People want to believe they are living in the most difficult, most important, most serious time–hubris, you know? It’s kind of sad that it has to come to this. But facts are facts: One can no longer accept anything “scientific” on global warming unless it comes from skeptics. What’s that tell you about the nature of science. The only guy who makes any sense at all on the non-skeptic side is Bjorn Lomborg. He’s saying essentially, “we think AGW is happening. There’s some evidence there. But there isn’t the kind of evidence that should make us alter our way of life–and, in fact, we can adapt to warming. History tells us that warming periods are far better for people. So, let’s learn about that rather than decry it.” But the left won’t even listen to him.

If you need another reason to vote Barack Obama out of office–the AGW argument is a pretty good one. And quite frankly, it’s a reason to avoid Mitt Romney, too. That guy is Obama-lite. I’m not a big Rick Perry fan, but on AGW he’s right: Ain’t happening–and if it is, let’s adapt.

Cautionary Progress

For the first time in my professional career, I’ve written an e-mail to the superintendent. I’ve worked through about half a dozen superintendents in my career and this is the first time I’ve ever written to one I worked for. But, he was sincere in his belief.

His response to me was a little bit under the radar and tepid. He’s not committing to what I talked about in the post below. But he is committing to something. I’m loathe to quote him here or name him because that gets into a murky area that I wish not to tread. Suffice to say that his words in the e-mail were not as focused as his words to me personally–a true politician. The only difference here is that he is a good one. He’s not going to be easy to dismiss as the other ones were. He is, however, obviously not committing to rising above “everybody teach the way we tell you to…”

Sigh. Alas.

But, baby steps, right? You start small and you go to the next level and see where it goes. At some point, you rise above the pettiness and you go forward. The question is, will the bosses understand? I dunno. I don’t pretend to.

What I do know is that the fight is only worth so much. It’s time to consider a change–not out of the classroom, just with a different focus. I’m not sure where that goes, but I feel pretty good about the search at this point. NCLB is still the schlock I thought it was–it’s still simply an attempt to get kids to all be the same, all in the same way, all on the same page. There’s a level of it that’s insidious–it’s really nothing more than the idea that everyone should rise to the same level and do the same work in the same way. That’s what NCLB is–it doesn’t allow for individuality, it doesn’t allow for people to find their own voice, seek their own level, work their own research and follow their own passions. That’s the shame of it. In the end, that’s the death-knell of it.

But, we’re better than we were last year. We’re better than we were even 6 months ago. We’ll see what the future holds. In the end, I’ve got to do what I know is right for my students. Let’s hope that’s what the administrators see, too. I have my doubts–but I also have some hope.

Onward.

From NCLB to HLTS

My former student, Trevor-from way back there in the 90’s–thanks for commenting, Trev–and it is great to hear from you–makes some excellent points. But here’s the important thing:

The clouds lifted when today, I was sent to a presentation at our district office by the latest educational consultant hired by the fourth superintendent in 15 years. I was a skeptic. I thought, “yep–another person with a Ph.D. telling us how we should teach to the test.” And Dennis Parker sort of was that–and much more.

Parker was engaging, focused and interesting as well as collegial–and it was all about higher level thinking skills (hlts). “You have to understand that the CST (California Standards Test) is actually pretty sophisticated and includes a lot of higher level thinking skills. Part of the problem, though, is that we think of the test all wrong. We think data drives instruction and it really shouldn’t do that at all,” Parker said.

Light shined. Angels sang. Stars shone brighter. I pushed back a little bit–with our superintendent right there in the room–I said, “You realize, don’t you Dr. Parker, that our administrators have asked us to ignore a lot of what you are talking about here today. We’re told we should all be collaborating and teaching the same material the same way all together…”

Parker didn’t flinch. “I know that has been happening. The problem is that isn’t going to change test scores. What will change test scores is getting student buy-in, forming relationships with your kids, getting to know them and teaching them so that they care about the instruction,” he said.

It was a breath of fresh air in what has been a stale and musty room for some five years. I don’t know how revolutionary it will be and I honestly don’t know if our administration will listen. Our principal has simply been sounding the same note for so many years that he’s now, as my colleague Chris says, experiencing diminishing returns. That is, our test scores went up when we focused harder on them because we focused harder on them. It’s hard to focus harder, though, so now–the scores won’t see exponential climbs. We went up one point last year and we may well go down a point or two this year. Nothing will remarkably change until we see the way we’re teaching and kids see the way they’re learning.

It’s called metacognition. It is the idea that the kids will think about what they’re thinking and learning. They’ll get a chance to experience why they need to learn something. There were a number of gems in what Parker talked about, but the one that simply struck me the most was the context: He made it clear–and the superintendent agreed and backed him–that a simple collaboration model bent on common assessments and all being in the same place at the same time–will do nothing all that revolutionary. I could have cried, I was so happy to hear it.

At the break, the superintendent and I spoke personally. He assured me that change was coming and that it would look like this–like teaching higher order thinking skills and focusing, for English teacher, on reading comprehension and writing–not on common formative assessments. Again, I was so happy I could have cried.

Back about two years ago, our principal sent a group of us–including myself, my pal Shawn, our AP at the time, Ray and some others, up to Westlake High School in Westlake Village. The idea was to see how they had made such gains and why they were doing so well. What we discovered there was that while the teachers did indeed collaborate, there was nothing mandated about keeping teachers on exactly the same page, same teaching, same style, same assessments. What was there was professional accountability among educators who cared about what they do. We sat with the principal who said, “the administrators have to back the teachers, even if it means challenging the district on certain things. That’s how you get professional buy-in.” We took that back to our principal–and he ignored it. Said it wouldn’t work at our school.

Let’s hope he doesn’t do that now.

Where Bush Really Went Wrong.

Long neglected and I suppose, losing readers. I am very sorry. It has been nearly a two story-a-day set of weeks and I’ve just been left behind. OK, well, I’m lazy…

Let is cut to chases. I have to report that the state of public education sucks. I know you’re shocked. It’s gotten worse where I teach where the push is in favor of raising test scores (as usual) and in creating commonality across the board. What they really seem to want is that we all teach the same stuff the same way–and there’s really no gut check to see if the stuff that’s being taught is the right stuff. It’s infuriating. Administrative mediocrity from the highest levels pretending they’ve cornered the market on what makes students do their best work–except that what they’ve really cornered is how to create absurdly disconnected multiple choice tests and “data streams.” Ugly. Awful.

Speaking of gut checks, it has caused me to do my own. I’m busy enough as a freelance writer that it has given me pause as to whether or not I want to continue in such a bizarre atmosphere. Even the Feds are getting rid of NCLB. God Bless him, I liked President Bush for a number of reasons, but his ignorant and dangerous intervention into the education systems in this country has become a nuclear nightmare.

The bottom line? High school students are being forced to do menial tasks, rote memorization and standardized curricula while being allowed to ignore synthesis and evaluation, clear and effective writing and thinking for themselves. They know it, too. And they’re bored to tears with it.

I’m sitting here past 10:30 PM boiling myself into a petty little rage, too. Everything I loved about education, everything I cared about in teaching high school from the ability to spend time on worthwhile and engaging presentations and writing assignments to delving into difficult literature and spending time thinking about it, digging into meaning and searching for original thinking about it–all of it is largely gone, killed off by a drive for sameness, equality and yes, mediocrity.

In the end, NCLB is not conservative in any way. It mandates sameness and forces equality. It doesn’t allow for individual achievement in any significant way. It ignores unique and original student work in favor of standardized multiple choice answers and its highest goal is a collective and elusive number score, which no one fully understands. Ask an administrator what it means to have a high number in their API score and they’ll tell you simplistically, “it means that the school is academically prepared and has rigorous college preparatory classes.” Then ask the colleges if they agree and you’ll hear a resounding, “NO!”

How many multiple choice tests to college students take? I know there are some–but they don’t make up the bulk of how a student learns. Writing, thinking, producing work, research and authentic experiences are at the heart of college educations. Not multiple choice tests.

We are circling the drain in education and here’s the worst part: parents are watching it and allowing it to happen. Education is under the burden of teacher’s unions and poor administrative decisions, state funding, bureaucratic idiocy and all the rest of it. But none of that matters, honestly. The worst part of education today is that political correctness won. It won so completely, that the “conservative” President implemented a plan that seeks to make every student go to college by making every student the same. Celebrations of diversity–the liberal mantra–are gone, except in name. Whatever your skin color, race, creed, size, shape–all will learn the same way. All will learn the same thing. All will produce the same work. All will go to college–even though they’re not prepared.

That’s what NCLB has done.

And that’s why it is way past time to sound the alarm.

Fill ‘er up.

Deadlines, writing and grading have filled my days. It’s a good thing and I’m happy about it. So-no whining here.

Better still that tomorrow is Friday and I eagerly await the end of the work day and into a quiet, relaxed Friday night with my family and another weekend. It’s not that the weeks are bad-not at all. It’s just that the weekends are better.

I’ve been given the daunting task of teaching the adult Sunday school class this Sunday morning and I tremble with trepidation. It’s harder than writing and way harder than teaching teenagers. Adults–who come by choice. I wonder if Pastor Craig ever feels that. I’ve been friends with him for lo these 18 years and I think I know the answer to that. He is a faithful man and a prayerful one-but I don’t think he gets nervous while speaking or teaching. Not anymore.

We’re just about to finish the Crucible. This will be year 15 of my teaching it and I still love it. I think it’s one of the greatest pieces of literature I teach. That’s not to say it’s the greatest piece of literature—but I think what it reveals about human nature is stark and beautiful and dangerous and powerful.

I sometimes think it gets lost on the kids–or at least some of them and I can’t help that. I slow it down and explain it, but there is real nuance in the story that takes effort to dig into, like any good read. I just remember being 16 and thinking, “huh? What? Why do I care again?” It’s lost on youth, as it should be. But do you give up because of that? Dunno. A serious question, though. Spare me the testing and silliness. I just want to know if we should wait to seriously educate kids until they’re 20. Or even 30, like Aristotle said. But then, how could they learn to sit in cubicles and do jobs? Oh. Right.

The problem with a campaign year is that everything turns to politics–as the above paragraph proves. I think I’m going to try to post this weekend and avoid the subject all together.

Maybe.

Onward.

Rethinking 9-9-9

Jason sent me a link to a youtube video and I watched it. That video, combined with this post in response to mine at a Powerline post, really got me thinking:

Right now there are dozens of hidden taxes, sin taxes, tax loopholes. It’s so complex, even tax lawyers can’t seem to figure it out half the time.

Under the 999 plan, all we are really doing is getting rid of those hidden taxes and bringing them out in the open. So you will have to pay 9% more in sales taxes on everything you buy. But you will also pay 9% less in hidden taxes. So really, the tax rate isn’t changing.

The 999 plan also gets rid of the uncountable loopholes in current tax law.

The gentleman who posted that, a Mr. Turner, along with the youtube video set the wheels in motion. I think I am leaning more toward Herman Cain’s plan. I don’t know if he will be the nominee–many I know say no. But then, stranger things have happened. We shall see.

Point is this: I don’t think the 9-9-9 plan is as bad as I originally thought it was. With all the hidden fees and other stuff that we pay, it may actually be a breath of fresh air. But of course, Congress still has to deal with it.

Not a bad day in terms of amount of work. I’m still a story behind, but I can catch up I think and I’ll get on that story tomorrow. Mostly, it’s a busy week both at school and at home. I have a number of things to catch up on and need to do that relatively soon. I’m ready for a change, I think and I’m not sure yet how I am going to go about that. I need to shake up what I am teaching and maybe get my foot into another set of classes, change the framework I’m so used to. That too is a process. All is change, I guess.

It’s a Monday, gentles. Not much more to report. No witty repartee, I am afraid. I bid you goodnight.

Onward.

9-9-9?

Deadlines and lots of ’em. Piled up on me this weekend and it left the blog in the dirt, as they say. To put it more simply, allow me to say it like so: Writing that generates paychecks comes first. So far, this writing doesn’t do that. After all, would you pay to read what I write here? I mean in its current fashion? Thought not. So, there.

So, here’s my thing: Only recently have I fully understood how we Americans are taxed, which is to say-progressively. This means that whatever your “tax bracket,” say it’s 25 percent, that doesn’t mean that the Feds take 25 percent of your pay. It means that 25 percent is the highest amount they take with the breakdown working like this: the first 17,000 is taxed at 10 percent. From 17K to 69K is taxed at 15 percent and so on. So, if I’m in the 28 percent bracket, essentially–only the last 10K I earn is actually taxed at 28 percent. Overall, the Feds take about 9 percent of my money–a little less–in taxes. This, of course, doesn’t include FICA, state taxes, sales tax, etc.

Mind you, I still think we have to start the conversation with the premise that taxation is redistribution. Doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have them, but let’s be honest about what they are. Yes, I realize that roads need to be paved and all that and many Libertarians will say, “let the private sector do it.” OK-but at some point, it’s simply more expedient to say-“here’s our community, here’s what we collectively want–roads in this case–and here’s what they cost to build. How much of that should each of us who use roads pay?” Fair enough.

This is why Mr. Cain’s 9-9-9 plan doesn’t quite come out in the wash. In the end, those of us in the middle class-and even the lower class-will end up paying more money in taxes than we currently do. This is not to say the plan doesn’t have some merit. It certainly does and I still like the guy for a lot of different reasons not the least of which is that he’s willing to turn the whole thing around and make it more “fair.” But I don’t think that an effective tax hike on the middle and lower class and an effective tax reduction for the wealthy is necessarily how to fix the problem. Forget the matter of equality–what it will invariably do in its current form is create a serious and very real class structure and even class envy problem in this country.

Certainly, if I am missing something, I’d like to know about it. But before you write and tell me, “if your tax bracket is 25 percent, then the Feds take 25 percent of your income,” do your homework. No, they don’t. We have a progressive and graduated tax system in the U.S., not a flat or regressive one.

Again, I’m not arguing for Cain’s plan. I am arguing against it, but I am open to it if some slight changes are made. I worry about Congress’s ability to take it and say, “great plan. Let’s make it 11-11-11 or 15-15-15…” or whatever. I think it could work if for no other reason than it is transparent. Transparency is vital–don’t believe me? See Barack Obama’s healthcare plan. Done in the dark, people. Agree or disagree with it–it wasn’t done in public and out in the open as the President promised. Result? No one likes it because it was drawn up by politicians and they don’t have to live it.

OK. Enough. Onward to sleep. Perchance to dream.

Hot Soup

Hot. Friggin’ hot. Super hot. Africa hot. It was 98 degrees in Camarillo. Yes, I know for my AZ readers, you scoff. “98 you say? Why, I could wear a sweater when it’s 98…” Yeah, I know. But we delicate Californians with our taxes and our bankruptcy and our whackos aren’t used to it. Well, except when we are.

Happens every year, this weather does. Call it Indian Summer, except that it lasts a while longer. Off and on, it can hit any time of year though rarely does it actually occur in the summer. My friend Tom Sheaffer is fond of saying, in July out here on the coast, you need a jacket. In December, you don’t. Some truth to that, sometimes. Except when there’s not.

I’m sure Al Gore is collecting the data to prove that it’s the hottest October on record or whatever hyperbole he’s dreaming up next. I’ve begun to feel sorry for old Al, which is a sign that he’s reached pathetic status. Even we conservatives feel bad for him. He’s got no one left to swear to. Tipper left him. His kids seem not terribly fond of him and he’s kind of….well, an anachronism, only a very recent one. He belongs in the 90’s and nowhere else.

Busy schedule this week and early next. I like it that way, of course. Keeps me off the streets and single-minded. I just submitted an interview I did with Sally Struthers and that was a great deal of fun. She’s as spunky as ever and she’s playing Ms. Hannigan in Annie here in the Conejo Valley. We talked about her theater career and her kids she takes in and her love of acting. Good time.

I was thinking today about our family vacation up to Oregon and Northern California and I miss it. It was a grand and fun trip with a lot of memories and I want to go back. Now would be OK.

Hey look! Hippies are back. But they’re lazier and possibly even smellier. Kind of fun, don’t you think? A nice distraction from the fact that our country is imploding and the people in charge don’t seem to know what to do about it, so they’ve manufactured a group of smelly hippies to got and protest. When they’re asked what they want, generally they don’t know. But free stuff would be good. And they seem to all agree that they shouldn’t have to work in order to make 100K a year. Reasonable, yes?

Look at that. I went and got all political without meaning to. I should have some fun food and wine news soon. I was pretty happy with the way this piece turned out, if you’d care to read.

Onward.

World Shaking

Back from the brink. Wow. That was dark. I’m glad it was short lived and that I willed myself out of it with the help of my family. I do have a history of sinking below the line at times, but that was lower than usual. Good to go. Realized the error of my ways, packed off the last remnants of the nastiness and shipped it out the door yesterday. Onward–and all that.

Steve Jobs changed my life. He changed yours, too-but you may or may not be aware of it.

I use a pretty limited suite of software products. I’m a writer and not much of a gamer. I don’t use my computer to do calculations for the most part (though occasionally, I do) and I don’t use it to download the latest and greatest powerware from this or that hip new producer. I write-and frankly, I use Microsoft’s word. I could and did use a PC for a long time, but switched to Macs because I was more comfortable with them and because I’m Steve Jobs’ prototypical end-user. I don’t care how it works–I care that it works and I care that it works most of the time.

Jason posted a more detailed view of Mr. Jobs and his world-shaking ways and he nails a lot of the technical stuff and too many writers to count have written fine profiles. I have nothing new to add. But I am saddened at his passing and I think his simple answers, given mostly in his 2005 Stanford speech, are really quite profound and true. You’re going to spend a lot of time at work, so do what you love. If you knew you were going to die soon, what would you do? Do that. And so on. Jobs may well have been a genius, I don’t know. I’m not qualified to say. But if genius is measured by the will to take a small company and turn it into a lifestyle while simultaneously changing the way the world looks at music, books, films, literature, communication and publishing among other things–then he was a genius. The graphic user interface was Jobs. The personal computer as personal statement was Jobs. The advent of 3D animation and the world standard as to how it is being done is Jobs.

When I was a kid, we bought vinyl records and when we liked songs, we’d plug our stereos into our cassette players and make compilation tapes. This was an artform, or so we thought, that would at times take days to produce. Picking the song, playing it and making sure it didn’t get to the next song on the record before you pushed pause on the cassette player-then removing the first record and putting on the second one and so on. It was an act that was given proper due in the movie High Fidelity, which is worth watching because it’s funny if nothing else. But yes, that’s what we did–spent days making tapes. No cd’s or ipods, music wasn’t really a personal experience. It was a shared experience. Whether the change is good or bad, I’ll let you decide. I think it’s good.

Well.
Thomas Edison? Yeah. Henry Ford? Most certainly. Steve Jobs? Absolutely.

Dark and Portentous must this day prove…

Dark days go down and the rain that is about to fall is a welcome reminder that sometimes, one’s own mood can match the color of the day. The substitute of emotion for reason has, at times, been my enemy and it is so today and tonight. I am aware that it should pass and I know that it is not right to allow pathos to occupy the space of logos. Nevertheless, it does happen…

Maybe it’s the gray funk of clouds, I don’t know. It could be that the juxtaposition of two stories–one celebrating a long and happy life together, a marriage of 72 years, and the other a humbling conversation with a man diagnosed with ALS–or Lou Gehrig’s disease who is seeking to leave a legacy of goodness. It may be the fact that I’m burning the candle at both ends and it could be that I’m afraid. Just afraid.

Sometimes, it’s enough to know that it is occurring, that it goes way beyond a visit from “the black dog” and that it is not even something I can comfortably joke about. I feel like so many of my students, an entitled generation who believe in their right never to be uncomfortable, never to be hassled or challenged. I may have inadvertently caught their illness and allowed myself to drown in the feeling of self-imposed, self-marinating,even—pity.

But if it is true, then I must be the one who can break out of it. I must be the one who can simply shake off the chains I seem to have forged. And to that goal, I must pledge myself–except it’s not as easy as it once was. I find myself violating the first rule of holes: stop digging.

Still-let’s see what tomorrow brings. Let’s see if I can jump over this particular feeling of ruination and rise up. After all–what goes down, must come up….

Right?

Onward.