Friday, September 18, 2020

Polishing A Turd

From the Washington Post:

Trump pressed his case Thursday that U.S. schools are indoctrinating children with a left-wing agenda hostile to the nation’s Founding Fathers, describing efforts to educate students about racism and slavery as an insult to the country’s lofty founding principles.

Trump, speaking before original copies of the Constitution and Declaration of Independence at the National Archives, characterized demonstrations against racial injustice as “left-wing rioting and mayhem” that “are the direct result of decades of left-wing indoctrination in our schools. It’s gone on far too long.”

The federal government has no power over the curriculum taught in local schools. Nonetheless, Trump said he would create a national commission to promote a “pro-American curriculum that celebrates the truth about our nation’s great history,” which he said would encourage educators to teach students about the “miracle of American history.”

Trump is calling the panel the “1776 Commission,” in what appeared to be a barb at the New York Times’s 1619 Project. The project, whose creator won a Pulitzer Prize for its lead essay, is a collection of articles and essays that argue that the nation’s true founding year is 1619, the year enslaved Africans were brought to the shores of what would become the United States. Trump said Thursday the 1619 Project wrongly teaches that the United States was founded on principles of “oppression, not freedom.”

As the article notes, the federal government by law has no role in dictating curriculum to local school districts. The most they can do is cut funding to federal grants, which would take an act of Congress. But that’s not really the point.

Trump and the white supremacists want to keep teaching the fan fiction that Columbus “discovered” America — it was here the whole time, and populated by advanced civilizations in North and South America while Europeans were still living in trees — and that the Pilgrims and other English settlers brought democracy and white bread to the savages when in fact they brought witch trials and the clap. They want to bring back a “Gone With the Wind” geniality to the genocide of slavery, whose legacy still stands as the original sin of this nation. They want to make immigrants the scapegoat for all of our nation’s ills, which is ironic in the supreme since the folks raising the fear of undocumented immigrants are more than likely the descendants of immigrants who were subjected to racism and bigotry when they arrived.

Trump wants to put the best face on four hundred years of human intervention and colonialism and make it part of the public education that White people saved the world by invading every place they could find, stealing the land and its resources and then getting all pissed off because the indigenous people and the people they subjected to slavery aren’t getting down on their knees and thanking them.

Trump calls teaching the reality of this nation’s history “anti-American.”  But it’s the most American thing we can teach.

Thursday, July 16, 2020

The Big Eight

Miami-Dade County Public Schools lays out what has to happen before school can open at the school sites on August 24. From the Miami Herald:

The topic was brought up six hours into Wednesday’s School Board meeting. The criteria were the result of a closed-door meeting held Tuesday with medical and public health experts as well as Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez. That meeting also may have violated Florida’s Government in the Sunshine Law.

“The No. 1 question on everyone’s mind is are we going to reopen schools,” said Superintendent Alberto Carvalho, who introduced the criteria. “We want to do the right thing.”

The eight criteria are:

▪ A sustained COVID-19 positivity rate of less than 10%, trending toward 5%, for 14 days. Miami-Dade County is currently over 30%; one month ago, that figure was 6%.

▪ A steady reduction in number of individuals hospitalized.

▪ A sustained reduction in ICU bed occupancy.

▪ A continuous reduced viral burden for 14 days with a decrease of virus-positive individuals.

▪ An increase in viral specific COVID-19 test availability with decreased wait time.

▪ A turnaround time for test results less than 48 hours.

▪ An increase in quantity and quality of contract tracing.

▪ Ensuring vaccinations for school-aged children. Carvalho said many parents who would’ve taken children for regular immunizations have not done so. He said the district is launching an awareness campaign.

“Based on where we are today, we don’t meet the criteria,” Carvalho said. “It is difficult to predict where we’ll be on Aug. 24.”

School officials had hoped to begin the 2020-21 school year in the school house five days a week, with mandatory masks and social distancing. The plan approved by School Board members July 1 called for smaller class sizes and classrooms in larger spaces, like cafeterias, gyms and media centers. It also allowed the school district to pivot to fully online learning or a hybrid model of in-person and online distance learning depending on data related to the coronavirus pandemic.

Miami-Dade County continues to be the epicenter of the outbreak. The county is still in Phase 1 as the state reported 10,000 new cases Wednesday, surpassing a total of 300,000 cases.

School officials had said previously that physical schooling was only possible if the county entered Phase 2.

Miami-Dade is the fourth-largest school district in the country, with over 340,000 students and over 40,000 employees. The way things are going, with a little more than five weeks to go before August 24, the chances the county will enter Phase 2 are slim.

The state is ramping up funding to the schools to prepare for remote learning, but the process takes time to get the funding in place and the materials delivered in time to start classes, remote or otherwise. As Hank Tester of CBS4 reports, time is ticking away.

MIAMI (CBSMiami) – The clock keeps ticking to figure out how the school year will begin in South Florida.

In Miami-Dade, the district is asking families to go online by Wednesday to declare their preference for August, which includes full on-campus learning, something virtual or a combination.

No campuses will reopen though unless the county is in Phase 2 of its reopening plan.

In Broward, four options remain on the table, though the superintendent is on record saying he sees no path to schools fully reopening in five weeks.

The governor is now changing how sees the school situation in South Florida.

“I’m not gonna dictate how everything goes… Miami is different,” said Gov. Ron DeSantis at a press conference at Jackson Memorial Hospital. “I’ve told the commissioner of education to work with these districts. Understand, we have a very diverse state. The response here is just gonna be different than other parts of the state.”

Teachers like Josh Paolino are waiting for the outcome of the Miami-Dade County Public School’s survey so they can begin planning.

“You need time to design the curriculum based on whatever model we have. Are we going to teach physically? Are we going to have a hybrid online?” he said.

Paolino is part of a group of teachers who want to make clear that “changing from online to a hybrid or schoolhouse model is not simply a matter of flipping a switch” because that “type of planning work we do changes under each model.”

“We have been told there are three possible models: in-home, a hybrid, which still needs discussion… and we have the full online model, which we are in much more favor of,” he said.

Online is favored because teachers are familiar with it and because of the health concerns – not only for kids, but for their own ranks.

“Nationwide 1/4 of all teachers have some type of underlying conditions that may affect their health when it comes to COVID,” Paolino said.

Josh brings up a great point: everyone is talking about taking care of the children, and that is a high priority, no question, but what about the employees that are in the high-risk category for Covid-19? Can the District cover the medical costs of teachers and support staff who get sick from the virus because of having to work in the schools? (Full disclosure: Josh rents a room in my house.)

The District has some huge hurdles to overcome, not the least is the clustasrophic way that the state and federal governments have dealt with the pandemic and the unconscionable attitude that it’s more important to get the economy going and schools open at the expense of the health and lives of the people who keep it running.  In short, it is true that the state is suffering mightily from the economic collapse, but it’s also hard to make money from dead people.

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Epicenter

We’re it.

From Local 10 News in Miami:

MIAMI-DADE COUNTY, Fla. – A group of Miami-area medical experts joined Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez on a Zoom news conference Monday morning and made clear that South Florida is in a dire position when it comes to the spread of COVID-19.

“Miami is now the epicenter for the virus,” said Lilian M. Abbo, M.D., an infectious diseases specialist at the University of Miami Health System and the Chief of Infection Prevention for Jackson Health System. “What we were seeing in Wuhan [China] five months ago, we’re now seeing here.”

The experts were speaking minutes after Florida announced 12,624 new cases of COVID-19 — a day after Florida set a record for any state with 15,300 new cases.

The experts stressed the need to restrict large gatherings of people in indoor spaces, and Gimenez said the biggest thing that needs to be done is residents following the safety guidelines.

“The reason [for the spike] is us. There’s no Boogeyman. The reason is us,” he said. “We have to change our behavior. The no. 1 reason is our behavior.”

We are a little over a month away from the public school reopening day. Miami-Dade County Public Schools are bracing themselves for not reopening on August 24. So what are the authorities at the county level in Miami doing? Waiting to see if it gets worse.

Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez said Monday he wants to see if existing restaurant restrictions, an ongoing 10 p.m. curfew and a countywide mask order help stabilize the county’s alarming COVID numbers before forcing more businesses to close.

Gimenez is under pressure on both sides, with cities and restaurant groups criticizing last week’s ban on indoor dining and Miami-Dade seeing much more coronavirus spread and hospitalizations than when the county mayor ordered all nonessential businesses to close in March.

“We’re not there yet. But everything is on the table. I don’t think anyone on this call wants to take that drastic step,” Gimenez said at a Monday morning online press conference with local doctors advising him on Miami-Dade’s COVID plan. “If we simply follow the rules, and keep our masks on and keep our distance, wash our hands, that we’ve opened can be done in a relatively safe way. … Right now, I don’t have any intention of going further.”

Meanwhile, Gov. DeSantis says everything is just rosy. Others disagree.

Stay home. Stay alive.

Monday, July 13, 2020

Question of the Day

Can Trump cut funding to public schools to punish them for not going along with his Covid-19 super-spreading?

Short Answer: No.

Long(er) Answer: Neither the president nor the U.S. Department of Education can rescind funding to public schools.  There are a few reasons for this.  First, the USDOE does not directly fund local schools.  The department is prohibited by federal law from doing that.  (Nor can they directly dictate what is or isn’t taught in the classroom.)  What the USDOE does control is grant funding, but it takes an act of Congress to both send the money out for grant opportunities for such things as magnet schools, Title I education for poor children, and IDEA – the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, a part of the civil rights acts passed in 1964 — and other funding above and beyond what school districts get from their state and local tax revenues.  Those federal programs are managed by the states, and the budgets for those programs were passed in the last Congress.  It would require another act to take the money back, and in most cases, it’s already been included in the 2020-2021 fiscal year budgets at the state and local level.

In short, it’s all about the money.  That seems to be the only language both Trump and Ms. DeVos understand, and they think by threatening the flow of dollars they can somehow convince the 17,000+ local school districts into following their guidelines about dealing with Covid-19.  Except they don’t have any guidelines.

So it’s all bullshit.  It would be easy to ignore, except children are going to die.

Thursday, July 9, 2020

Harsh Reality

Trump is threatening to cut off funding to schools that do not fully re-open, virus or not.

Trump on Wednesday intensified his demand that schools fully reopen this fall, slamming the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, pressuring it to loosen guidance and threatening to cut funding for schools that do not open.

The CDC was already planning to issue new guidelines for schools in the coming days. But Vice President Pence on Wednesday explicitly tied the effort to Trump’s ire.

“The president said today we just don’t want the guidance to be too tough,” Pence told reporters. “And that’s the reason next week the CDC is going to be issuing a new set of tools.”

Pence, speaking at a briefing of the White House coronavirus task force, was replying to a question about the CDC’s recommendation that students be kept six feet apart to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.

School officials across the country have concluded they cannot fully reopen while following that guidance, because classrooms are too small to accommodate all students with the recommended distancing.

Just so you know, the president — whoever he/she is — cannot just “cut off funding.”  Neither the Department of Education nor the OMB can do that.  The only power the USDOE holds over local public schools is the ability to not reimburse school districts for the expenditures they have made on behalf of federal grants that were already funded by Congress.  So what Trump said — surprise! — is bullshit.

But doesn’t mean that it won’t have an impact on the school systems. From a teacher here in Miami via Facebook:

So apparently the federal government wants us all back in the classroom no matter what, so the guidelines that the CDC has put out (having students and teachers being six feet apart) will likely be watered down to fit an election agenda. There is not enough data on how much transmission can occur from kids (although due to increased lung capacity, kids in middle school and up likely have a higher ability to do so than smaller kids) but until we have a 14 day period where there isn’t an increase in cases locally, I do NOT feel safe going back in a brick and mortar setting. While distance learning is not the same and has its notable cons, my health and those of my colleagues are not being adequately considered by this administration. Please,if you don’t work in a classroom…don’t post here. You want to insert yourself into the convo? Then get a teaching certificate.

Ironically, the Florida Department of Education is pouring money into grant programs to provide schools with funds to do remote learning and to provide for infrastructure support to make the schools safe.

There’s another harsh reality: the toll on the mental state of people who have been isolated by the necessary precautions taken to prevent the spread of the virus. I’m thinking of people in retirement facilities who cannot be visited by relatives or who have been left behind by the toll.  Via my sister on Facebook:

The other group suffering from Covid are the grieving and depressed survivors of the covid death of a loved one who is then left in loneliness and isolation. Giving up on life. “Nothing to live for. Can’t see my family. The isolation is so painful and so depressing!”

But the harshest reality of all of this could have been prevented or allayed or brought swiftly under control were this country not being run by a sociopath and his fawning minions who care more about their political future or fear a midnight tweet from him. When it’s all over, they have to be held accountable.

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Damn The Virus, Full Speed Ahead

Cases of Covid-19 are soaring in Florida, but that’s not going to stop Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis and his minions from doing his piety to Trump by demanding that public schools reopen in the fall.

Florida’s top school official issued a sweeping executive order Monday requiring all schools in the state to reopen their buildings for in-person instruction for the coming school year, even as coronavirus cases in the state continued to rise.

Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran, a Republican and former speaker of the Florida House of Representatives, issued the order, which states that “school districts and charter school governing boards must provide the full array of services that are required by law so that families who wish to educate their children in a brick and mortar school full time have the opportunity to do so.”

Many districts, including the Miami-Dade school system, have proposed offering multiple options for schooling, including hybrid models that would incorporate online and in-person learning. The order requires schools to offer full-time instruction “at least” five days a week for families who desire it.

The order leaves room for local health officials to override it. Miami-Dade Superintendent Alberto M. Carvalho called the order “fair and measured.”

The announcement comes the same day President Trump tweeted, “SCHOOLS MUST OPEN IN THE FALL!!!” In a later tweet, he said those hesitating to reopen schools amid a global pandemic were politically motivated: “Corrupt Joe Biden and the Democrats don’t want to open schools in the Fall for political reasons, not for health reasons! They think it will help them in November. Wrong, the people get it!”

So basically Mr. Corcoran made a lot of noise and then basically said go ahead and do what you want. For the record, we will. Despite the talk from Tallahassee, the Florida Department of Education is making millions of dollars available to public and charter schools to provide for remote learning and, if the schools choose to re-open for face-to-face learning, money to purchase personal protective equipment (PPE) and all the accoutrements that go along with enforcing CDC guidelines for social distancing.

What it all comes down to is that the Republican governors are realizing that against all prudent advice they re-opened bars, restaurants, and other businesses only to have the infection rate soar and they have to deal with it all over again.

The pandemic map of the United States burned bright red Monday, with the number of new coronavirus infections during the first six days of July nearing 300,000 as more states and cities moved to reimpose shutdown orders.

After an Independence Day weekend that attracted large crowds to fireworks displays and produced scenes of Americans drinking and partying without masks, health officials warned of hospitals running out of space and infection spreading rampantly. The United States is “still knee deep in the first wave” of the pandemic, Anthony S. Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said Monday

Fauci noted that while Europe managed to drive infections down — and now is dealing with little blips as it reopens — U.S. communities “never came down to baseline and now are surging back up,” he said in an interview conducted on Twitter and Facebook with his boss, National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins.

Despite President Trump’s claim that 99 percent of covid-19 cases are “harmless,” Arizona and Nevada have reported their highest numbers of coronavirus-related hospitalizations in recent days. The seven-day averages in 12 states hit new highs, with the biggest increases in West Virginia, Tennessee and Montana. The country’s rolling seven-day average of daily new cases hit a record high Monday — the 28th record-setting day in a row.

But we were told it would all “disappear.”

Sunday, April 5, 2020

Sunday Reading

A Letter to My Students — George Saunders in The New Yorker shares his thoughts with the students he won’t be seeing again this school year.

Jeez, what a hard and depressing and scary time. So much suffering and anxiety everywhere. (I saw this bee happily buzzing around a flower yesterday and felt like, Moron! If you only knew!) But it also occurs to me that this is when the world needs our eyes and ears and minds. This has never happened before here (at least not since 1918). We are (and especially you are) the generation that is going to have to help us make sense of this and recover afterward. What new forms might you invent, to fictionalize an event like this, where all of the drama is happening in private, essentially? Are you keeping records of the e-mails and texts you’re getting, the thoughts you’re having, the way your hearts and minds are reacting to this strange new way of living? It’s all important. Fifty years from now, people the age you are now won’t believe this ever happened (or will do the sort of eye roll we all do when someone tells us something about some crazy thing that happened in 1970.) What will convince that future kid is what you are able to write about this, and what you’re able to write about it will depend on how much sharp attention you are paying now, and what records you keep.

Also, I think, with how open you can keep your heart. I’m trying to practice feeling something like, “Ah, so this is happening now,” or “Hmm, so this, too, is part of life on Earth. Did not know that, universe. Thanks so much, stinker.”

And then I real quick try to pretend that I didn’t just call the universe a “stinker.”

I did a piece once where I went to live incognito in a homeless camp in Fresno for a week. Very intense, but the best thing I heard in there was from this older guy from Guatemala, who was always saying, “Everything is always keep changing.” Truer words were never spoken. It’s only when we expect solidity—non-change—that we get taken by surprise. (And we always expect solidity, no matter how well we know better.)

Well, this is all sounding a little preachy, and let me confess that I’m not taking my own advice. At all. It’s all happening so fast. Paula has what we are hoping is just a bad cold, and I am doing a lot of inept caregiving. Our dogs can feel that something weird is going on. (“No walk? AGAIN?!”) But I guess what I’m trying to say is that the world is like a sleeping tiger and we tend to live our lives there on its back. (We’re much smaller than the tiger, obviously. We’re like Barbies and Kens on the back of a tiger.) And now and then that tiger wakes up. And that is terrifying. Sometimes it wakes up and someone we love dies. Or someone breaks our heart. Or there’s a pandemic. But this is far from the first time that tiger has come awake. He/she has been doing it since the beginning of time and will never stop doing it. And always there have been writers to observe it and (later) make some sort of sense of it, or at least bear witness to it. It’s good for the world for a writer to bear witness, and it’s good for the writer, too. Especially if she can bear witness with love and humor and, despite it all, some fondness for the world, just as it is manifesting, warts and all.

All of this is to say: there’s still work to be done, and now more than ever.

There’s a beautiful story about the Russian poet Anna Akhmatova. Her son was arrested during the Stalinist purges. One day, she was standing outside the prison with hundreds of other women in similar situations. It’s Russian-cold and they have to go there every day, wait for hours in this big open yard, then get the answer that, today and every day, there will be no news. But every day they keep coming back. A woman, recognizing her as the famous poet, says, “Poet, can you write this?” And Akhmatova thinks about it a second and goes: “Yes.”

I wish you all the best during this crazy period. Someday soon, things will be back to some sort of normal, and it will be easier to be happy again. I believe this and I hope it for each one of you. I look forward to seeing you all again and working with you. And even, in time, with sufficient P.P.E., giving you a handshake or hug.

Please feel free to e-mail anytime, for any reason.

George

Author’s note: I wrote this letter quickly and sent it out. Later I was able to find the actual Akhmatova quote, from her poem “Requiem”:

In the terrible years of the Yezhov terror I spent seventeen months waiting in line outside the prison in Leningrad. One day somebody in the crowd identified me. Standing behind me was a woman, with lips blue from the cold, who had, of course, never heard me called by name before. Now she started out of the torpor common to us all and asked me in a whisper (everyone whispered there):

“Can you describe this?”

And I said: “I can.”

Then something like a smile passed fleetingly over what had once been her face.

That last line is, maybe, the real point of the anecdote—Akhmatova’s confidence gave this unknown and tormented woman some measure of comfort.

Doonesbury — Restoration hardware.

Sunday, February 23, 2020

Sunday Reading

My Semester with the Snowflakes — James Hatch, a 52-year-old veteran, goes to college and learns.

In May of 2019, I was accepted to the Eli Whitney student program at Yale University. At 52, I am the oldest freshman in the class of 2023. Before I was accepted, I didn’t really know what to expect. I had seen the infamous YouTube video of students screaming at a faculty member. I had seen the news stories regarding the admissions scandal and that Yale was included in that unfortunate business. I had also heard the students at Yale referred to as “snowflakes” in various social media dumpsters and occasionally I’d seen references to Ivy League students as snowflakes in a few news sources.

I should give a bit of background information. I was an unimpressive and difficult student in public schools. I joined the military at 17 and spent close to 26 years in the US Navy. I was assigned for 22 of those years to Naval Special Warfare Commands. I went through SEAL training twice, quit the first time and barely made it the second time. I did multiple deployments and was wounded in combat in 2009 on a mission to rescue an American hostage.

Every single day I went to work with much better humans than myself. I was brought to a higher level of existence because the standards were high and one needed to earn their slot, their membership in the unit. This wasn’t a one-time deal. Every time you showed up for work, you needed to prove your worth.

The vetting process is difficult and the percentage of those who try out for special operations units and make it through the screening is very low.

In an odd parallel, I feel, in spite of my short time here, the same about Yale.

After receiving my acceptance email and returning to consciousness, I decided to move to Connecticut and do my best in this new environment. Many people have asked me why I want to attend college at 52, and why at an Ivy League institution like Yale? I could have easily stayed in Virginia and attended a community college close to my home. Well, based on my upbringing in the military, I associated a difficult vetting process with quality and opportunity. I was correct in that guess. More importantly, I simply want to be a better human being. I feel like getting a world-class education at an amazing institution like Yale will help me reach that goal. Are there other places to get a great education? Of course, but I chose Yale.

My first class of the semester was absolutely terrifying. I don’t know if it was for the kids in my class, but it damn sure was for me. It was a literature seminar with the amazing Sterling Professor of Comparative Literature, Professor David Quint. He is an amazing human in that he has dedicated his life to literature, and he knows what he is talking about. The discussion was centered around the Iliad. I had read a bit of the Iliad in the middle part of my military career and decidedly didn’t get it. Listening to Professor Quint demonstrated exactly how much I didn’t “get it.” The other students looked like children to me. Hell, they are children, but when they speak, and some of them speak English as their second language, they sound like very well-spoken adults. My Navy issued graduate degree in cussing wasn’t going to help me out here. These young students had a good grasp of the literature and although they lacked much experience to bounce it off of, they were certainly “all in” on trying to figure out its underlying meaning.

At one point I said, “Hey, I’m just an old guy sitting here with a bunch of smart people, but I think….” And they all smiled, some of them nervously because I was essentially an alien. I was an old dude with tattoos all over his arms and a Dutch Shepherd service dog, brandishing a subdued American flag patch on her harness, sitting next to me. Professor Quint later approached me and said, “Hey, don’t downplay your intelligence. You are smart as well.”

I thought, I’ve got him fooled! Turns out I didn’t fool him at all when I turned in my first paper, but that is another story for another time.

After a few classes, I started to get to know some of my classmates. Each of them is a compelling human who, in spite of their youth, are quite serious about getting things done.

One young woman made a very big impact on me. She approached me after class one day and said, “I am really glad I can be here at Yale and be in class with you. My grandfather came to Yale and when WWII started, he left for the Navy and flew planes in the Pacific theater. After he came home, he came back to Yale, but he couldn’t finish. He locked himself in his room and drank and eventually had to leave, so I feel like I am helping him finish here at Yale and I’m doing it with a veteran, you.”

I was surprised and quite emotional. Exceptionally emotional. She went on: “I can send you a photo of him!” and I told her I would love one. That evening she sent me this photo of her grandfather.

I used to read stories about men like him and they are heroes to me. Clearly her grandfather is a hero to her as well, and she is going to make him quite proud. This connection with a WWII vet through his amazing granddaughter is a gift. One of many I receive on an almost daily basis in this amazing institution. I think it’s worth taking a moment here and acknowledging that this thing we now call “PTSD” has always been around. Some of us veterans escape it while others, like me and likely this gent in the airplane, felt the sting of it.

One day in another lit class, I brought up a book I’d read a long time ago called “Taxi Driver Wisdom” by Risa Mickenberg, Joanne Dugan and Brian Lee Hughes.

After that class a couple of the students approached me and explained that their dads were cabbies when they first came to the United States, and that their fathers had told them that the things they sometimes heard from people in their cabs were amazing.

Think about that for a second. These students are first generation Americans. Their fathers immigrated to this country and started out by being taxi drivers. Now, their children are attending Yale University. I’m a patriotic man and those are the stories that help me understand how, in spite of the seemingly endless stream of negativity surrounding it, the American Dream is still alive and kicking. It makes my heart sing every time I see those kids.

Let me address this “snowflake” thing. According to the Urban Dictionary, a “snowflake” is a “term for someone that thinks they are unique and special, but really are not. It gained popularity after the movie Fight Club from the quote ‘You are not special. You’re not a beautiful and unique snowflake. You’re the same decaying organic matter as everything else.’ ”

I hear the term occasionally from buddies of mine who I love. They say things like, “How are things up there with the liberal snowflakes?”

Let me assure you, I have not met one kid who fits that description. None of the kids I’ve met seem to think that they are “special” any more than any other 18–22-year-old. These kids work their asses off. I have asked a couple of them to help me with my writing. One young woman volunteered to help me by proof-reading my “prose” and, for the record, I believe she will be the President someday. I recently listened while one of my closer pals, a kid from Portland, Oregon, talked to me about the beauty of this insane mathematics problem set he is working on. There is a young man in our group who grew up in Alaska working on fishing boats from a young age and who plays the cello. There is an exceptional young woman from Chicago who wrote a piece for the Yale Daily News expressing the importance of public demonstrations in light of a recent police shooting. She and I are polar opposites. I am the “patriarchy” at first glance, and she is a young black woman who is keen on public protests. Not the type of soul I generally find myself in conversation with. We come from different worlds and yet we both read classic works with open hearts and minds.

We recently met with a prominent writer from a think tank who is researching the state of the humanities in the university setting. There were four of us students: two young men, the young woman from Chicago, and me, the old guy. As the younger students started to express their thoughts, the young woman (truly a unicorn of a human) used the word “safe space” and it hit me forcefully. I come from a place where when I hear that term, I roll my eyes into the back of my vacant skull and laugh from the bottom of my potbelly. This time, I was literally in shock. It hit me that what I thought a “safe space” meant, was not accurate. This young woman, the one who used the phrase, isn’t scared of anything. She is a life-force of goodness and strength. She doesn’t need anyone to provide a comfortable environment for her. What she meant by “safe space” was that she was happy to be in an environment where difficult subjects can be discussed openly, without the risk of disrespect or harsh judgment. This works both ways. What I mean is, this young woman was comfortable, in this university setting, wrestling with things like the Aristotelian idea of some humans being born as “natural slaves.” She was quite comfortable in that space. The question was, how comfortable was the 52-year-old white guy in that discussion? Did it make me uncomfortable? Yes. I’m grateful for the discomfort. Thinking about things I don’t understand or have, for most of my life, written off, is a good thing.

Being uncomfortable is KEY in this world of ours. Not altogether different from the world of special operations, where the work needs to be done, regardless of weather or personal feelings. The climate in this educational institution is one where most students understand that there HAS to be a place where people can assault ideas openly and discuss them vigorously and respectfully in order to improve the state of humanity. I’ll call that a “safe space” and I’m glad those places exist.

Here in the “Directed Studies” program, instead of “tuning in” to our favorite self-confirming “news” source, we are given a timeless text with heavy ideas and then we throw them out on the floor and discuss them with people who have, as I mentioned earlier, made these works and their meaning, their vocation.

In my opinion, the real snowflakes are the people who are afraid of that situation. The poor souls who never take the opportunity to discuss ideas in a group of people who will very likely respectfully disagree with them. I challenge any of you hyper-opinionated zealots out there to actually sit down with a group of people who disagree with you and be open to having your mind changed. I’m not talking about submitting your deeply held beliefs to your twitter/facebook/instagram feeds for agreement from those who “follow” you. That unreal “safe space” where the accountability for one’s words is essentially null. I have sure had my mind changed here at Yale. To me there is no dishonor in being wrong and learning. There is dishonor in willful ignorance and there is dishonor in disrespect.

On Veteran’s Day, there was a great scene on Cross Campus. A bunch of American flags had been placed there and I stopped on my morning walk to class and took photos of my dog in front of them and sent them to my friends. Later at some point during the day, a young student placed a glove with red paint on it on one of the flags as she wanted to demonstrate her displeasure with something…I’m not quite sure what.

That same afternoon, some of my fellow students from “Directed Studies,” after a lecture, gave me this:

It is a card thanking me for my service to our nation. I was humbled and amazed.

These hardworking kids are very kind and thoughtful. A far cry from the picture that is often painted of them.

One of my professors, a Professor of Philosophy, told me once “a good leader is a bridge builder.” Professor David Charles is a man who has been teaching bright young people, and some slow and old ones like me, the most difficult subject for me, at Oxford and now Yale. He’s been doing this for over 30 years. He is extremely humble and very kind, in addition to being brilliant. I’m motivated by his words and I want to build bridges and lead, in some small way, a new conversation where we stop pointing out the perceived differences in each other, or this group vs that group, and start pointing out similarities. We don’t need more condescending friction in humanity. We need less. One step in the direction of less societal friction is to seek commonalities. Another step, and one that is sorely needed, is respect.

Now before you think I’m preaching, please know that I come from a place where I was distinctly the opposite of this ideal. I looked for reasons to disregard the opinions of those I didn’t respect. I discounted the ideas of people I felt like hadn’t earned the right to share what was in their mind. Particularly when it came to national security issues, I felt that if you hadn’t taken a gun into combat, I didn’t give a damn what your opinion was.

I’d like to count this as my first brick in attempting to build a bridge between the people here at Yale and those like me before I arrived here. We need everyone who gives a damn about this American experiment to contribute and make it succeed. We humans have much more in common than we have different. Thanks Yale, for helping me to become an aspiring bridge-builder at the age of 52.

In our welcome speech at the beginning of this semester, with all of us Freshman sitting in Woolsey Hall, me sitting next to another veteran, one who’d served in the 82nd Airborne, President Salovey said:

“There is so much we do not know. Let us embrace, together, our humility — our willingness to admit what we have yet to discover. After all, if you knew all the answers, you would not need Yale. And if humanity knew all the answers, the world would not need Yale.”

Now back to that bridge. I need to figure out how to actually build one. Good thing I’ve found a place where I can get help. If this place is peopled by “snowflakes” I’m proudly one of them. I’m a snowflake with a purple heart.

Peace.

HT to CLW.

Doonesbury — More twit tweets.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Political History

The New York Times examined high school history textbooks produced by the same publisher with the same authors credited, but used in two different states: Texas and California.  The differences are noticeable.

Hundreds of differences — some subtle, others extensive — emerged in a New York Times analysis of eight commonly used American history textbooks in California and Texas, two of the nation’s largest markets.

In a country that cannot come to a consensus on fundamental questions — how restricted capitalism should be, whether immigrants are a burden or a boon, to what extent the legacy of slavery continues to shape American life — textbook publishers are caught in the middle. On these questions and others, classroom materials are not only shaded by politics, but are also helping to shape a generation of future voters.

Conservatives have fought for schools to promote patriotism, highlight the influence of Christianity and celebrate the founding fathers. In a September speech, President Trump warned against a “radical left” that wants to “erase American history, crush religious liberty, indoctrinate our students with left-wing ideology.”

The left has pushed for students to encounter history more from the ground up than from the top down, with a focus on the experiences of marginalized groups such as enslaved people, women and Native Americans.

The books The Times analyzed were published in 2016 or later and have been widely adopted for eighth and 11th graders, though publishers declined to share sales figures. Each text has editions for Texas and California, among other states, customized to satisfy policymakers with different priorities.

“At the end of the day, it’s a political process,” said Jesús F. de la Teja, an emeritus professor of history at Texas State University who has worked for the state of Texas and for publishers in reviewing standards and textbooks.

The differences between state editions can be traced back to several sources: state social studies standards; state laws; and feedback from panels of appointees that huddle, in Sacramento and Austin hotel conference rooms, to review drafts.

Requests from textbook review panels, submitted in painstaking detail to publishers, show the sometimes granular ways that ideology can influence the writing of history.

A California panel asked the publisher McGraw-Hill to avoid the use of the word “massacre” when describing 19th-century Native American attacks on white people. A Texas panel asked Pearson to point out the number of clergy who signed the Declaration of Independence, and to state that the nation’s founders were inspired by the Protestant Great Awakening.

All the members of the California panel were educators selected by the State Board of Education, whose members were appointed by former Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democrat. The Texas panel, appointed by the Republican-dominated State Board of Education, was made up of educators, parents, business representatives and a Christian pastor and politician.

McGraw-Hill, the publisher whose annotated Bill of Rights appears differently in the two states, said it had created the additional wording on the Second Amendment and gun control for the California textbook. A national version of the pages is similar to the Texas edition, which does not call attention to gun rights, the company said in a written statement.

Pearson, the publisher whose Texas textbook raises questions about the quality of Harlem Renaissance literature, said such language “adds more depth and nuance.”

Critical language about nonwhite cultural movements also appears in a Texas book from McGraw-Hill. It is partly a result of debates, in 2010, between conservative and liberal members of the Texas Board of Education over whether state standards should mention cultural movements like hip-hop and country music. Their compromise was to ask teachers and textbook publishers to address “both the positive and negative impacts” of artistic movements.

Texas struck that requirement in 2018, but its most recent textbooks, published in 2016, will reflect it for years to come.

Publishers are eager to please state policymakers of both parties, during a challenging time for the business. Schools are transitioning to digital materials. And with the ease of internet research, many teachers say they prefer to curate their own primary-source materials online.

This isn’t surprising in the least.  History is written by the majority in power, so if you’re living in a state where the legislature is dominated by white Christian men, you’re not going to learn a lot about other people, and even if you do, it’s going to be colored, shall we say, by the view of the majority.  And even if that isn’t the case at the level of the states’ Department of Education, the history itself and how it is viewed by the culture and the region will have an influence.  Thus, the Civil War is viewed from the Union states as a battle against traitors to the United States, and the Confederates, who refer to it as The War of Northern Aggression, and was their attempt to preserve their economic viability and identity; slavery had nothing to do with it.

Such retelling and reshaping in the classroom isn’t limited to just history.  Textbooks in art and theatre history are rife with a tilt toward Western art and performance, giving a cursory glance at the impact and deep traditions of the thousands of years of rich traditions in Asia, India, and even Native America.  There’s not a lot of overt political influence in writing theatre history, but the natural tribalism and ethnocentrism that we all have makes it hard for a student in Evansville, Indiana, to learn that there’s more to theatre than Shakespeare and Tennessee Williams.

Is there a solution to this tilt of history being fed to our high schools in the several states?  Yes.  It’s teachers who will use the textbooks not as the source but as a reference and encourage their students to challenge the preconceived ideas, be they liberal or conservative.  Simply put, use their brains and their natural curiosity to add the dimensions that reflect more than just what’s written in a state-issued, state-sanctioned and compromised version of history and life.  That’s what education is supposed to do in the first place.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

One Of Our Fifty…

I’ve lived in New Mexico — twice, actually — so this story is nothing new to me or anyone who’s lived there, but I thought it was interesting that it has become a somewhat national story.

A New Mexico man applying for a marriage license in Washington, D.C., this month had his state driver’s license rejected as a form of identification because a clerk and her supervisor believed New Mexico was a foreign country.

Gavin Clarkson, a Las Cruces, N.M., resident, said he was at the District of Columbia Marriage Bureau on Nov. 20 applying for a license to wed his then-fiancée when their nuptial plans hit a brief snag. The clerk told him he would need an international passport on the apparent belief that he wasn’t a U.S. citizen.

“She thought New Mexico was a foreign country,” he said of the clerk as quoted by the Las Cruces Sun-News. “All the couples behind us waiting in line were laughing.”

Clarkson was a recent candidate for New Mexico secretary of state and is a member of the Choctaw Nation. He said he protested the clerk’s decision to her supervisor, who also failed to recognize New Mexico as a state.

“You know you are from flyover country when you are applying for a marriage license, give them your New Mexico driver’s license, and they come back and say ‘my supervisor says we cannot accept international driver’s licenses. Do you have a New Mexico passport?’ ” Clarkson tweeted.

This happens so often that New Mexico, the magazine put out by the state’s tourism office, has a regular feature, “One of Our 50 Is Missing,” regaling readers with tales of people in other places mistaking New Mexico for a foreign country.  As a matter of record, it’s the fifth-largest state in area and it’s been a state since 1912, coming into the union before Arizona.

Just to make sure the word gets out, the state’s license plates confirm that the Land of Enchantment is one of ours.

However, given the state of education — don’t they teach geography any more? — and the fear of Others put into the mind by the foolish and the weak in this country, I’m pretty sure that the magazine and the Missing 50 will have plenty of stories to tell for a long time.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

School’s Out

Today is the last day of classes here for the public schools here in Miami-Dade County.  I hope all the students have a good summer, and I want to thank all the teachers and staff at the schools of the fourth-largest district in the country for their hard work.  It is paying off.

For those of us in the administration downtown, it’s been good to see the results, not just in test scores, but in high graduation rates and the number of students going on to college or career choices.

We’ll be here all summer getting things ready for 2018-2019.

Monday, April 9, 2018

Friday, April 6, 2018

Lesson Plan

Teaching is hard enough in a good school environment with good facilities and decent pay and administrative support.  Teaching requires supreme dedication, training, and devotion and it should be treated by our society as one of the most important — and therefore highly-paid — professions.  And yet, as we do with other public service officials — police, fire, and first responders — we treat them like they are little more than servants.

So when you have places such as Oklahoma and Kentucky where teachers, including those with advanced degrees, are working two other jobs just to keep up with subsistence living, it’s no wonder that they are unifying and making their voices heard.

Charles P. Pierce:

I have mentioned often that my father worked as a teacher and administrator in the Worcester public schools in Massachusetts for 35 years. He gave up an attempt at law school to do it. His sister once told me he’d said that, after what he’d been through in World War II, he wanted to be around kids the rest of his life. Which is why I’m somewhat ferocious about attacks on the idea of public education, one of the glories of American civilization. These include the attacks on it leveled by what are popularly known as education “reformers.”

Anyway, what’s going on around the country right now is remarkable evidence of the power of the idea of public education, and of the dedication of the people who work in the institution. Beginning in West Virginia, and now catching fire in Oklahoma and Kentucky, public-school teachers have dug in. They are tired, they say, of being the punching-bags of everyone from tax-cut-drunk state governments to come-and-go dilettantes like Campbell Brown. They are tired, they say, of buying school supplies out of their own salaries, some of which haven’t been raised in decades. They are tired of teaching out of obsolete textbooks that are falling apart faster than are the lessons contained therein. They are tired of hearing about how lazy they are, and how easy they have it, and how there’s always money for stadia and tax breaks, but never enough for copy paper and colored pencils.

So, they have walked out, and they’re raising their voices the way they never have before, and in those places where conservative governors and state legislatures have been using them as convenient scapegoats for the underfunding of public education in the first place. Like, say, Oklahoma. From NewsOK.com:

The thousands of teachers at the Capitol on Monday rallied on the south steps, marched around the building and went inside to talk to lawmakers. Now, education advocates hope for another large crowd on Tuesday. Abigail Woodhead, who teaches at Celia Clinton Elementary School in Tulsa, said she is determined to see the rally continue. “My fear is that it’s going to fade after today, and I refuse to let that happen,” Woodhead said on the first day of the rally…Woodhead wore a hooded sweatshirt with her school name on the front. On the back, it read: “If it is to be, it’s up to me” — something Woodhead strives to instill in her students. “When I had to talk to my precious third graders and break this down for them in kid language, it kind of came down to that,” she said. “Guys, we’re standing up for you. We’re a part of a movement right now.” Woodhead attended Monday’s rally with a co-worker and said they both planned on being there “as long as it takes.”

Meanwhile, in Kentucky, the teachers have taken to inconveniencing not only the state legislature, but also Matt Bevin, one of America’s least-excusable governors. They have many of the same issues as the teachers in Oklahoma, but they also are angry that, as is the case of many public employees around the country, their pensions have been underfunded and/or looted. From The Louisville Courier-Journal:

“We are fed up,” said Stephanie Winkler, president of the Kentucky Education Association. If (lawmakers) don’t pass a budget that protects the public services of Kentucky, if they don’t pass a budget that provides adequate funding for the public schools of the Commonwealth, then we’re going to vote them out,” Winkler said. Monday’s events began with a march that shut down Capitol Avenue as sign-waving teachers estimated in the thousands moved up the broad boulevard toward the statehouse. Side streets were jammed, and Frankfort’s two exchanges off Interstate 64 were briefly clogged as people poured into town.

The promise of taking out anger at the polls is a sign that this movement is as savvy as the other ones that have sprung up recently in reaction to the election of this particular president* and the party that has chosen to sustain him. It is always nice to have a defined goal, to know where the next immediate finish line is.

Our first instinct, both individually and as a nation, should be to teach the children.  To raise them to a higher standard than where we came from, to give them what they need not just to compete for a good job but to become a better person than the people that raised them.  Education is the silver bullet that cures the ills of poverty, distrust, paranoia, and raises us up.  I am sure there are studies and hard-core evidence that proves that the more money that is spent on education at all levels, the lower the crime rate, the higher the potential for productivity in the workplace and in the home, and fewer people falling by the wayside and becoming a drain on both resources and optimism about our future.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

A Simpler Solution

Miami-Dade County Public Schools is looking at an innovative way of making life more affordable for their teachers.

Miami Herald:

Amid a wide gap between modest teacher salaries and Miami’s high housing prices, the county has a new plan: build apartments on school property and let faculty live there.

A preliminary proposal includes constructing a new mid-rise middle school in the luxe Brickell area for Southside Elementary, with a floor devoted to residential units, and several more reserved for parking and the classrooms on top. If that goes well, Miami-Dade wants a full-fledged housing complex next to Phillis Wheatley Elementary, with as many as 300 apartments going up on the campus just north of downtown.

“It’s an exciting idea,” said Michael Liu, Miami-Dade’s housing director. “Land is at a premium in Miami-Dade County. It’s difficult to come by, especially in the urban core.”

Though preliminary, the joint effort by Miami-Dade’s school system and housing department has momentum.

[…]

The concept would add Miami to a scattering of cities across the country where schools are using their own real estate to provide more affordable housing to their workforces. As the largest employer in Miami-Dade, the school system has long cited housing prices as a top recruiting hurdle.

When Apartment List last year matched teacher salaries with rents in 50 of the country’s largest real estate markets, Miami ranked 47th; only New York, Seattle and San Francisco had larger gaps. With a first-year teacher earning about $42,000 and raises coming slowly, Apartment List found even established teachers could expect to spend as much as two-thirds of their incomes on a two-bedroom apartment in Miami.

“When you look at teacher salaries, it’s just impossible for them to get into the housing market,” said Ned Murray, associate director of Florida International University’s Metropolitan Center, which studies the gap between income and housing in Miami. Using school property to create housing for the school system’s workforce “is a good idea, because land is such a difficult piece of the puzzle.”

Rather than come up with some housing plan that basically makes the school system the teachers’ landlord — which has some unpleasant connotations for some people — here’s a simple solution:  pay the teachers more.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Starving For Success

Speaking of toadies (see below), Lesley Stahl’s “60 Minutes” interview with Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos revealed that she doesn’t know jack about public education other than the best way to make a school better is to take away all its funding and give it to some fly-by-night charter operation.

STAHL: Why take away money from that school that’s not working — to bring them up to a level where they are, that school is working?

DEVOS: Well, we should be funding and investing in students, not in school, school buildings, not in institutions, not in systems.

STAHL: Okay. But what about the kids who are back at the school that’s not working? What about those kids?

DEVOS: Well, in places where there have been, where there is, a lot of choice that’s been introduced, Florida, for example, the studies show that when there’s a large number of students that opt to go to a different school or different schools, the traditional public schools actually, the results get better, as well.

STAHL: Now, has that happened in Michigan? We’re in Michigan. This is your home state.

DEVOS: Yes, well, there’s lots of great options and choices for students here.

STAHL: Have the public schools in Michigan gotten better?

DEVOS: I don’t know. Overall, I,  I can’t say overall that they have all gotten better.

STAHL: The whole state is not doing well.

Interesting that Ms. DeVos would cite Florida as a shining example of how her alleged ideas work; the state is cutting funding again in the counties that need it the most, and the successes of the public schools have been achieved in spite of the best efforts of the legislature to screw them over.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Wednesday, January 10, 2018