Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Grading Betsy DeVos

It seems relatively easy to be cast into uncertainty in regards to any and all American political machinations as of late but I plan on focusing specifically on the problems with our current Secretary of Education Betsy, both real and imagined.  This confusion is especially true as quite a few 'politicians' would have trouble understanding that proceeding sentence (it has too many syllables perhaps?) and label the author an elitist simply based on vocabulary, sentence structure and the fact that there were no glaring typos - something the current administration is laughably bad at avoiding.  More likely it would simply be ignored as it was not a simple bullet point list, which, unlikely as it might be, could be appreciated by Henry David Thoreau ("Our life is frittered away by detail... simplify, simplify."*) Or even worse it wouldn't be read at all beyond the title and it would be roundly criticized, mischaracterized, argued using straw men, then ignored once the next problem arises in, judging by current tempo, about twenty minutes.

*"Please don't associate my name with those cretins.  Also, did you not read any of my works about civil disobedience you idiot?", what I imagine Thoreau might say to this inference.  After, of course, the whole "Oh my god I’m not dead anymore and what the fuck is a cell phone and did someone build a parking lot on my fucking pond?  I swear to crap this country sucks now."  Guess all that time transcending or whatever didn’t stop him speaking like a longshoreman when angry.

Besides the fast and loose method of dealing with the truth, the terrifying manner in which we find ourselves concerning the fourth estate, we are at a cultural war between rational thought and anti-intellectualism.  Thrust in the middle of this fiasco is an entirely pleasant woman who simply wants to change our education system in the manner she thinks will help children.

Her complete lack of experience, her lack of knowledge beyond the narrow scope of causes she champions is entirely glossed over in an era when being an actual expert is derided.  She lacks knowledge concerning; education; differentiation and special needs (IDEA); guns in schools (wait, what if the bears have guns, how do we deal with them then?); classroom experience; the laws around education; and countless (boxless if we are using common core math) other important topics that should concern someone running the department.

Millions of citizens have emailed and multiple thousands have called senators over the hearing for DeVos.  Phone lines have been overloaded with calls.  This is both amazing and disheartening.  Amazing in that people who opposed to a bad choice took time out of their day to fight politically, something the nation has been sorely lacking for time due to what I can only assume is long standing apathy from consistent failure and painful realities of being an American in the modern age of obstructionism and partisan politics.  Disheartening in that only two senators dissented in the face of this unprecedented outpouring of concern.

When we look at the amount of push back concerning DeVos it is curious in comparison to other nominations for executive departments.  People who have, in their recent past, been actively opposed, in legal battle with, or defy the modis operandi of the very department they are nominated to helm.  It is placing wolves as shepherds.  These departments are meant to help and defend American’s against predatory practices.  The EPA is meant to protect us against businesses and individuals who would circumvent laws and morality to pollute our environment doing us irreparable harm.  Placing a proponent of dirty energy who sued (by sued I mean sued thirteen times) the very agency he is now beholden to uphold in charge of this agency is exceptionally damaging.  By the way he sued the EPA thirteen times.  Now, it could be argued that bringing law suits against the agency does not mean he finds the EPA to be bad institution he simply wants to take legal action as is his right and without looking into his lawsuits and simply claiming the number as evidence is sloppy.  I’ll just leave this here for arguments sake.  While job creation is important dirty energy is not creating jobs at the same pace as green energy.  It’s being phased out.  It’s a last gasp and it is terribly important that those giants of industry, as they crumble, don’t crash around us and threaten to further damage our environment.

But this follows a trend of nominations.  The first Secretary of Labor nomination was Andrew Puzder, who ultimately, thank goodness, decided to walk away from the nomination.  Nominating a man in charge of fast food chains to look out for workers’ rights is to turn a blind eye to the predatory behavior of the franchise models and the exploitation of the unskilled minimum wage workers.  Predatory also aptly applies to Steven Mnuchin who has already been confirmed as Secretary of Labor. A man whose company “[used] potentially illegal tactics to foreclose on as many as 80,000 California homes.”  80,000 illegal foreclosures.  Do we really want a man who illegally helped removed a small city’s population from their homes in this position?

It only seems logical to assume there is glaringly evil – and I mean glaringly mustache twirling, dastardly kind of evil - trend to nominate people who essentially hate the safeguards their agency in is charge of enforcing and creating.  This is beyond fucking terrifying.  Remember Flint Michigan still doesn’t have clean water.  Good luck having that fixed any time soon.  Imagine not having water for a few days, this has been going on since April.. April 2014…  twenty fucking fourteen!  DAPL is still fighting on sovereign Native American soil to place an unwanted oil pipeline through their territory.  Oil pipelines have a long, storied history of their contents someone how seeping into the ground and groundwater through breakages or seepages.
Here’s a few entirely unrelated links…

Pipeline Spill
Oil spill undiscosed
Does big oil care
Oil and gas well inspections


Unlike many of the nomination Betsy does not seem evil.  She seems quaint in comparison.  While some of the other nominees do have the experience and knowledge that Betsy lacks they combine that knowledge with hauntingly awful ideology.  But there are some trends that appear.  One trend seems to be with these nominations to highlight those who are not simply unfit but antagonistic to the very core of the department.  Also these individuals, who work for the executive branch of the government, are advocating having the federal government less involved in state affairs.  What does this have to do with Betsy DeVos?  It all boils down to school choice.

The aim of school choice is the ability to give parents and children choice in where they can go to school.  It’s intent is to give parents the ability to bring their child to another school be it private, religious, public or charter school.  In effect some politicians (while Republicans are the majority or those who want school choice the idea of supporting charter schools as a viable alternative to public schools is often a democrat’s rally cry) want to move the money bookmarked for each child to the school chosen by the family.  They want schools to compete and the best (the strongest) schools will grow stronger and the worst (the weakest) will be shuttered.  It’s the social Darwinism of education.  While this might be an effective policy in that good schools will get better and bad schools will close the reality is likely very, very different.

Part of the reason why schools are good or bad isn’t necessarily due to policy or the strength of the teachers and administration (I am in no way impugning teachers or policy but at a macro scale there is another metric that is far mightier).  It’s money.  Funding is derived from the state government, the local government and the federal government.  The state accepts federal funds (usually with strings attached which is why most states decided to accept common core as their mandate) and mixes that with funds from sales and income taxes.  At this point all schools are essentially equal.  The districts use property taxes to fund schools.  Higher property taxes correlates to more dollars feeding local schools.  This creates desirable communities for wealthier parents.  These higher performing desirable schools have more money to perpetuate this cycle.  Meanwhile inner city schools have less funding, they can barely keep up with infrastructure.  They start falling behind on items like federally mandated paraprofessionals, cutting arts programs, after school programs, and teachers begin to abandon the system.  It’s the opposite cycle.  Then testing comes into play with how federal and state funds are split.  Higher performing schools get more funds while other schools are penalized.  School in order to get those dollars they need simply to limp along alter how they teach so that they are focusing more on testing and less on holistic education.  The cycle perpetuates.  Parents move to better neighborhoods.

Then the idea of school choice comes in.  The argument is that parents should be free to choose schools and have a larger array of options.  On its face this is a wonderful idea.  Poor families who cannot move to desirable school systems could perhaps move their child out of poorly funded areas and give their child a better chance for success.  One question which immediately comes to mind is what happens to schools in inner cities or poor neighborhoods if all the children simply leave?  Another is the logistical nightmare regarding the sudden influx of millions cramming into better schools.  Obviously, the schools should be able to reject certain students, especially if they aren’t from the district of the parents paying into the system?  So then, if that’s true, not all the students can get in.  Choice is then narrowed and the students are competing for the school not the other way around.  Some students will make it out while other will not.  Yes, you may have choice but necessarily not the ability to get in.  In the end choice means nothing.  Could school choice possible work?  Yes?  Can it work without nitty gritty details, amazing legislative work and careful planning?  Zero boxes… sorry, I mean no chance.

Competition is not always better in this case we develop a zero sum game.  That’s essentially the system we already have.  For one school to benefit (get more funding) the other must get less.  So we can predict the success of school through game theory.  This of course is fucking maddening because it can look like this**:

M_{F}={\frac  {W_{O}+3W_{F}}{W_{O}+3W_{F}+2W_{O}+0W_{F}}}={\frac  {W_{O}+3W_{F}}{3W_{O}+3W_{F}}}

**Okay, maybe that is part game theory called battle of the sexes (postulated by Russel Crowe maybe?) but it still applies, kinda, but more than likely the formula for schools would be way more complicated.

So then we come to a decision are we treating schools like the economy and allow a free unregulated method for competition of funding, prestige, rating, and resources (this being teachers and students which one would assume have different values on their abilities both innate and learned) or do we regulate more tightly.

Is this about kids or is it about money?  Is this just some fucked up economic model to be exploited?  If so we shouldn’t let the administration populated with wall street villains hoist their pick upon us.  That’s damning in it of itself.  Look at the system for incarceration and how bad it became under privatization.  As an aside if group of politician think the best way to run the country is more privatization because the government can’t be trusted to run things correctly why are we letting those same politicians make choices?  Shouldn’t we stop paying them?   This obviously is not a real argument but simply one to highlight to hypocrisy and foolishness of privatization as simply passing along the problem.

Another solution is the probably unpopular but likely empathetic choice of the diverting funding into the failing schools that need more help instead of penalizing them.  If it’s broken simply fix it.  Bring those schools on par with the others in the nation.  Why have these schools compete when they aren’t on a level playing field.  That’s part of the premise of school choice: competition.  The weak fall and the strong survive.  Will this help all kids or will it simply divert funds from public and follow students to parochial and private schools.  Several politicians would like to see the money ear marked per child follow them to the appropriate school.  Troubling here would be that through choice American’s would be funding religious schools, private schools, or charter schools that don’t need to meet the same rigid standards as public schools.

So perhaps instead of figuring out ways to move people away from failing schools – which is the intent of school choice – we fix the failing schools.  But that’s just theory it isn’t like anyone has actually done that.  Well unless you count Finland because Finland totally did that.  They completely changed how they ran schools.

“There are no mandated standardized tests in Finland, apart from one exam at the end of students’ senior year in high school. There are no rankings, no comparisons or competition between students, schools or regions.”***

This lack of competition is decidedly an unamerican cultural trend.  It may very well be something that is helpful to education.  However, don’t think that removing competition means removing work or challenge.  It shouldn’t.  Finland also treats it’s teachers markedly different and enables then to teach in manner they deem most effective.  Imagine that the person who deals with the students directly, who has educated him or herself through countless years of schooling to do just that, is treated with the level of respect they earned through hard work and experience.  The teachers are trusted to do what is best for the children.

Here are two links about Finnish schools:
What Americans keep ignoring about Finland school success
***Why are Finland's schools succesful

Let’s ignore Finland for a moment.  Let’s even ignore school choice which is the only ideology we seem to know about from Betsy DeVos.  Let’s look at her first visit to a school that actually let her arrive.  For some reason schools’ have been hesitant or outright belligerent to Secretary DeVos.  I can only hope there is enough self awareness among Betsy and her cadre to understand that reaction.
She finally visited a school in the D.C. area (Jefferson Academy) and was able to spend the day watching teachers interact with their class.  While Betsy had praise for the school and the teachers it was comingled with sharp criticism in regards to them in what she terms receive mode.

Here is the quote in full:

“I visited a school on Friday and met with some wonderful, genuine, sincere teachers who pour their heart and soul into their classrooms and their students and our conversation was not long enough to draw out of them what is limiting them from being even more success from what they are currently. But I can tell the attitude is more of a ‘receive mode.’ They’re waiting to be told what they have to do, and that’s not going to bring success to an individual child. You have to have teachers who are empowered to facilitate great teaching.” ~ Secretary Betsy DeVos

Now it’s entirely possible Secretary DeVos is correct in her assessment.  More likely she is simply wrong as Jefferson Academy is “one of the fastest-improving schools in the city’s public school system.”****  It is also likely that DeVos, who has likely never gone into a classroom and observed before, is simply taking an opportunity to build a support system for her views.  If she states that the teachers here are in support mode and aren’t creating success she is developing a narrative that fits her goals.  That she is creating a narrative without any substance is what truly ties Secretary DeVos to this administration.  Perhaps she’ll mandate curriculum to include alternative facts or false narratives.
But I’m not an educator.  It might seem hypocritical to admonish her for something I have roughly the same amount of experience regarding.

Fortunately Jefferson Academy responded through a series of tweets (see below).  I really do hope that reliance on tweets to get messages, propaganda, and political views across is scoured from the earth sooner rather than later.  However, it’s nice to see the passion and counterargument from the school.

“This is what Sec. DeVos said about our teachers after her visit. Needless to say, we're about to take her to school...

“First, the secretary visited the classroom of Ashley Shepherd and Britany Locher, a dynamic co-teaching team that differentiates for the...

“needs of students ranging from a first grade level to an eighth grade level in reading. They build amazing relationships with students and..

“maintain a positive classroom environment focused on rigorous content, humor, and love. They aren't waiting to be told what to do.

“Then she saw Latisha Trent in action. Ms. Trent has been at Jefferson for 3 years, and each year her students grow MULTIPLE grade levels...

“in Math. EVERY student realizes his or her maximum potential in Ms. Trent's room. She isn't waiting to be told what to do.

“Then the Sec. met Band teacher Jessica Harris, who has built our Music program from the ground up. Ms. Harris pours her heart into her work.

“Ms. Harris is patient, kind, relentless, and reflective. She is everything you want in a teacher. She isn't waiting to be told what to do.

“Morgan Markbreiter was there as well. Ms. MB has unleashed the passion of countless students through her Video Game Design course. MB also..

“runs our INCREDIBLE after-school program, which provides FREE tutoring and enrichment to our kids. She isn't waiting to be told what to do.

“JA teachers are not in a "receive mode." Unless you mean we "receive" students at a 2nd grade level and move them to an 8th grade level.

Here are two links on the visit:
****DeVos criticized teachers at a DC school she visited and they are not having it
Public school fires back after betsy DeVos criticizes it's teachers


If you still believe Secretary DeVos is a good pick you are allowed to have that opinion.  But I hope you remember that not all opinions are created equal.  You certainly have the choice to make this opinion.  But maybe not the ability to make an informed one.  Now go and hug a teacher and tell them everything is going to be okay.  They likely need it.

Ben

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Batman is the villain

“Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.” ~ Nietzsche
“… except for Batman because he’s fucking awesome” ~ me

Batman is the turned up to eleven American version of Sherlock Holmes.  He keeps the keen detective skills ditches the posh bookish possibly autistic nature then adds ninja powers, a rampant disregard for collateral damage, enough weapons to give proponents of the military industrial complex joyous priapism’s, and baffling amounts of paranoia.  He is the American ideal of justice.  A ‘stay the hell off my lawn’ approach to vigilantism that gloriously pelvic thrusts in the face of normal judicial procedure.  And we applaud him.  Also, and more importantly to my point, he’s pants-shittingly insane.

The problem
You might say “Batman is awesome and he defeats evil villains” and this is undeniably true.  But that’s not the debate.  “What’s the debate?” you might helpfully ask.  It’s that Bruce Wayne should have never been Batman.  Not because Batman isn’t awesome it’s because he is the least effective measure for helping.

He could use his money for a better cause
Bill Gates was more than likely was an insufferable bastard who ruined people’s lives in order to claim dominance in the marketplace.  Now that he’s retired he’s spending his fortune to fight crime as night as a hooded figure.  Wait no.  He’s trying to fucking end malaria.  He’s donating his money to the better of mankind.  Like a sane and moral person might do.

Look at Manoj Bhargava, the Billionaire CEO for five hour energy.  He’s pledging 99% of his wealth to charity (that still leaves him with over 10 million dollars) and he’s funding important research into solving world threatening problems like drought, energy problems, and healthcare.  He makes me feel like a dick and I routinely give to charity and donate blood to the Red Cross.

These guys are making a difference to millions of people with philanthropy not face punching.  Yes they do lose on that fact that face punching looks way better on film.

In Batman Begins Ra's Al Ghul admits that he uses economics as a weapon and Bruce’s parents were the bulwark against corruption and degradation.  Then Bruce runs away from his problems and his beloved city starts dying.  We see the sharp contrast in the city after the Wayne’s stop being the protector of the city.  Instead of fixing this he pursues a personal vendetta and punches people.

He didn’t work out his issues
Batman is not a sane person.  No sane person thinks the solution to fighting crime is dressing up like a leather daddy crossed with a furry.  Furries like bats right?  Maybe… I don’t know.  I’m not messing up my browsing history with that question I already get enough weird ad placements.

Or that whole one rule he refuses to break.  Does he really think his no killing rule is the only line that keeps him away from the bad guys?  That’s irresponsibly stupid.  If a criminal mastermind consistently evades the law, constantly breaks out of jail, kills people for fun and generally commits heinous crimes maybe you could revise that idea.

Also obviously no one dies from the whole property damage and explosions caused by the batmobile.  But that’s off panel/screen/out of view so that’s okay.  It’s like changing the channel when those feed the hungry kids in Africa commercial comes on.  It’s still happening but you’d don’t see it.
Then there is the whole young sidekick thing.  No one seems to have an issue with this?  If a rich dude wandered around town with a young boy and dressed him like mini me version and they weren’t related... even Xenu’s lawyers couldn’t protect you from the court of public opinion.

He beats up people with crushing mental problems
Arkham Asylum is the home for criminal insane.  Not the criminally maladjusted the insane.  And Batman’s method for dealing with this?  Punching them in the face and growling “I am the night!”  Maybe, just maybe, it might behoove him to pay for proper psychiatric care and try to separate these lunatics from other crazy people instead of amassing his army of villains in one locations.  Nothing bad can happen when you put a whole bunch of vengeful and determined people in the same space with a similar driving goal.  Good thinking bats. When the flash is better at dealing with crazy people maybe you should hang up the cowl.

Trust problems
For a guy who ends up having a squad of sidekicks he sure has a trust issue.  He seems to have no problem installing a surveillance state.  It’s totally normal for a guy to have a super computer full of notes on everyone and plans how to defeat his justice friends just in case?  No, that might be bad thing and come back to bite you in the ass?  You mean rampant paranoia has drawbacks?  Maybe I should get rid of my tinfoil hat collection.

I wonder if there any other circumstances where his lack of trust affected plans to help the city?  Oh like the time he defunded a project that could have helped create plentiful energy but could create a terrible weapon but inexplicably left that item around just in case for someone to exploit.  Nah.

In conclusion
Batman is great fiction but a terrible human being.  Also if he's such a good detective why the hell is his other go to move yelling where is she?  And why the hell if he was a ninja did his fighting skills consist of haymakers and grunting in The Dark knight Rises?  But hey at least they never used CGI for his suit.

Ben

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

The Problem with Football

On any given Sunday I’ll be downstairs playing video games where every few moments or so I’ll be distracted by loud screams emanating from upstairs.  It could be a guttural “yes”, perhaps followed by a gleeful laugh of indulgently gloating over a rival team, or a sharp “no” aimed at the television.  These verbal assaults are loud enough to cause inanimate objects to violently shudder or to cower in a corner weeping.  My wife is yelling at the television.  The dog, harried, has long since come downstairs to, in comparison, the soothing sounds of my video game slaughter.  Football has invaded my once calm household and my wife is yelling atavistically in an empty room.  I shrug, trying to ignore the cacophony, and indulge in my guilty pleasure of video game carnage.

There was a time, not too many years ago, when I was that frothing idiot spilling beer excitedly over touchdowns and spectacular plays while Adi watched me with no comprehension of football’s grasp.  The few years I spent in Philadelphia I temporarily converted to the city’s religion, the Eagles.  As it was Philadelphia the city loved their team loudly proclaiming their superiority and starting fights but they also turned on a dime over the players.  No one laid into Donovan louder than his own fans it seemed.  Eventually, sometime after moving back to New England, I stopped rooting for the Eagles after they hired Michael Vick.  This drew some confusion from other football fans.  They inquired as to the issue.  I said plainly I didn’t want to root for a team who hired a man who killed so many dogs.  They stated, correctly, that he had done his time.  I agreed but I didn’t want to root for the asshole.  Just because he spent time in jail doesn’t negate his actions.  They still happened.  It was not tabula rasa, those dogs still suffered and died.  They’d argue with no regard for my viewpoint (that I like dogs and people who aren’t jerks more than football) that I should get over it and root for my team.  And thus I uncovered some of the problems with football.  Football fans are dicks.

Football fans are great apologists.  As long as it’s their guy.  Teams are filled with so many rapists, violent spousal abusers, homophobes, bullies, child beaters, cheaters, liars, and unrepentant assholes you can easily fill a fantasy football team filled with convicted felons.  It would probably be a solid team.

So we have a bunch of football fans who forgive the atrocities of their players, this is not terribly uncommon form how we often treat actors and pop singers.  Maybe the league might take notice and stand above such pettiness.  Or not, probably not.  The NFL has a simple tactic.  Ignore it as long as possible and outwait the critics.  They seem to focus more angrily at enforcing players to make a certain amount of contractual appearances to the media than have players stop hurting people.  I am aware that being great at football does not automatically qualify a person to be a well-rounded role model but it would be nice to try.

A lot of football players end up penniless after they forget to change their spending habits after retiring.  It might behoove them to act a certain way so they can work afterwards.  I can deal with assholes, T.O. was a massive asshole.  But when he was on the Eagles he was my asshole (that sounds so much worse now that I’ve read that back).  But seriously stop being such merciless shitheads.  It will be awfully hard to become a spokesperson for  a company after sending unwanted pictures of your dick to random people… no… never mind.  Those wranglers look great I guess.

Not all the players are jerks mind you but there sure seems to be a bunch of them.  But that’s only part of the system.  Fortunately owners and coaches are above all that.  It’s not like they’d permit racism or ignore public outcry and keep a deeply offensive name for a football team.  Okay so maybe they might.  But it’s really expensive to change logos and print new items.  It’s not like the NFL teams are constantly updating their stores and fans are buying new version of jerseys… okay maybe they are.  The Redskins could make a positive spin by changing their name.  They could hold a contest for the new team name.  Gather a whole bunch of good press.  Hell, they could donate a whole bunch of money to Native American causes after raising money.  But fuck that, this is America and we like our football.

But that’s just one guy.  He might be alone.  Well, how about a revered football guy like Mike Ditka.  Yeah, he’s totally racist, maybe like racist light (only 46 calories but still filled with all that bitter hate you love) but still way more than acceptable.  Maybe it’s just me but espousing racism seems like a bad idea when there are walking human slabs of muscle who have been training to demolish other walking slabs of muscle walking around who might take umbrage at your unkind words.  These are very big dudes who get paid and rewarded to violently ram into other big dudes.  Did you know they are coming out with a new police procedural drama coming to a station near you?  It’s called “Mike Ditka Casual Racist.”

These guys are all jerks but they’re getting paid a whole bunch of money.  It’s not anyone’s fault that they often end up with nothing right?  Except for the whole concussion and brain damage thing.  Linemen, on average, are around 300 pounds (the internet told me this so it may be true) and this 300 pounds wants to make you stop in your tracks like the go to jail card in monopoly.  Do no pass go, do not collect 200 dollars, go straight to fucking pain town with a side order of memory loss, internal trauma, shortened lifespan, and a host of other problems.  But they only get so often and not always to the head.  Maybe like once a game.  No, more?  Okay maybe like three times.  No?  Well why don’t you just tell me Virgnia tech study I found on the internet?

“Football players were struck in the head 30 to 50 times per game and regularly endured blows similar to those experienced in car crashes, according to a Virginia Tech study that fitted players' helmets with the same kinds of sensors that trigger auto air bags.”

Oh, that seems like a lot.  Also that whole car crash thing sounds pretty bad.  I wonder what they estimate the tackling force might be?  What’s that internet?  Oh it‘s only “1600 pounds of tackling force”.  That seems only moderately life threatening.

Thank goodness these same practices don’t permeate sports at a younger level like high school.  It would way worse for developing brains to absorb that kind of repeated trauma.  Or high schools could totally drop the ball.  Even when good coaches and trainers take care of their of their charges we still have a bunch of kids who cover up their injuries to continue playing as they fear they’ll lose their spot.  It’s not like getting a second concussion during a certain time period after your first could kill you.  Actually it can and it does.  Concussions are some scary shit and medical science still isn’t all that great about it.  We’re making progress as this issue is gaining more support but we are in the dark ages compared to other fields.

Okay so it’s really dangerous, especially for our youth athletes, it’s steeped in racism and violence but hey it teaches unity and how to be a team player.  Nothing else is bad about football.  Well there is the whole cheerleaders who are treated like shit.  These ladies are paid barely anything for the privilege of wiggling seductively on the field.  But there seems to be some change on the horizon for that due to some recent law suits.

But why do these scandals keep popping up and sliding out of our memory?  Young men are dying or shortening their lives in football leagues but little is done.  Maybe we shouldn’t allow football to expand outside the states.  But hey, what’s more American as of late than that all permeating sense of apathy?  Maybe America deserves the sport.

Ben

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/01/30/nfl-criminals-seattle-seahawsks-earl-thomas_n_6579402.html
http://www.thrillist.com/entertainment/chicago/mike-ditka-chicago-bears-quotes
http://www.popularmechanics.com/adventure/sports/a2954/4212171/
http://www.inreview.com/archive/topic/14556.html
http://www.npr.org/blogs/health/2013/01/31/170764982/are-nfl-football-hits-getting-harder-and-more-dangerous

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

How to Fix Bad Movies: The Expendables

Every time you pay to see a bad movie you embolden horrible people to make soulless explosions and kick puppies.  There may be salvation (with or without Terminators) in  that if we stop buying tickets to bad movies Hollywood will eventually stop making them, maybe, I hope.  But for now we’ll deal with awful movies of transforming robots trying desperately to make me hate everything around me.  I think the series has devolved into CGI robots flipping me off but I’m no longer sure through my rage soaked vision.  Sometimes I get so angry my eyesight gets a bit hazy like in video game when your character gets too much damage.  I think Michael Bay either hates people or is just doing this on a dare.  Either way fuck that guy.

And you the audience is to blame, well, partially.  The whole international audience thing isn’t helping.  But when studios take a chance on a project that’s a bit out of the ordinary, one the internet clamors for, we tend to just not go.  Scott Pilgrim which was a film that is as anti-transformers as you can get without being an indie film about deep feelings and stuff performed poorly.  The internet screams and rallies and demands geeky tradition but the denizens of the dark corners aren’t shelling out money for the tickets to the right films.

Also, for some reason, sequels starting becoming more popular than the original film in terms of ticket sales.  There used to be predicable model of diminishing returns for films.  It’s the reason that even with diminishing quality (see Pirates of the Caribbean and Austin Powers) franchises still grow in quantity of sales.

But if we can’t stop bad movies and we can’t stop awful sequels we can at least bitch about it on the internet and propose better versions.  Here is one of mine.  Man, I am so good at segues.

The Expendables
From all reports Expendables 3 was awful and I refuse to give it money.  Even the morbid curiosity of seeing ancient creaking behemoths spout pithy one liners while pretending to relive the glory days can’t bring me to the theater.

So how would I fix this?  First I’d kill some people, and not the way the second film did which is totally cheating.  For those that didn’t see “Expendable 2: The Next Paycheck” they introduced a new guy you were supposed to like with the sole intention of having the bad guy kill them to motivate Stallone to exact revenge.  I understand why he did it and I appreciate at least some of the effort but I just didn’t care about this guy.  We as an audience didn't have much affinity for the new guy and felt less when he died.  Cliffhangar has a much more impactful death in the first few minutes that I actually cared about.   You’d think Sly would remember that.

The Expendable films aren’t that great to begin with anyway.  The first one felt detached - Stallone let his crew risk their lives because he had a crush on a lady he hardly knew.  The second one was a bit more fun but already felt bloated with cast.  But the third one overcrowds things even more and we don't really give a shit.

So how do we make this cynical Millennial audience care (are Millennials cynical, I’m not sure anymore)?

We start with the crew on a mission and things go nicely.  They are imbued with the invincible nature of being action stars.  But then they have a close call but not too close as it’s still the first act.  Maybe they talk about disbanding or being more careful or losing a step.  Something just to tip off maybe they aren’t invincible.  They fly home smoking, drinking, and talking about chest hair or something manly.  Arriving at the office they find it to be a smoldering rubble pile.  There is a lone knife stuck in the ground (this knife is important).  We see Mickey Rourke’s hat blow by in the wind.  If it’s R (which it should be bloodless violence is just a cartoon and again removes us from any manner of reality) we see his bloody arm sticking out.  Bam, we have investment.  Now we have set that shit can go wrong.

One by one the crew is picked off either killed, captured, imprisoned, set up, or hospitalized.  Have a car chase.  Jet Li has a martial arts fight because the man is a fucking martial arts legend and having him shoot someone instead of kicking them to oblivion is just insulting.  Don't kill the whole crew of expendables (now the name actually makes sense) but kill at least two or more.  Make it feel like they are in real danger.  Stallone and Statham are forced to get help.  Keep them on the run.  They recruit some people but they aren’t happy about it.  The new guys try to impress them and we care that they are constantly being compared to the others.  No one can pop and lock like Terry Crews and exclaim “woo!” you fucking imposter.  Go to your room and think about what you’ve done.

So they “investigate” the bad guy and find a few things about him/her.  Remember this is an Expendables movie so investigating is either done via shooting or extremely quick, albeit manly, exposition.  They find out where this mystery villain will be and plan on crashing the party.  But it’s a trap.  Statham is captured, Stallone wounded, and we get the big reveal of the villain.  It’s the son of Eric Robert’s bad guy from first movie.  That knife buried in the building was like the one that killed his father.

We get a person with acting ability to deliver his bad guy speech about ruining Statham and crew.  He is going to bury his name, his friends, everything.  He wants him to suffer, death is too convenient.  So now they have to stage a rescue operation.  The new guys make up a plan while a weak Stallone advises as he convalesces.   The new guys storm the bad guy’s lair while one of them stays behind and monitors from afar.  Stallone calls the shots from his bedside.  The dude staying behind ends up being a traitor and Stallone in his weakened state has to fight him.  Generally when we have ridiculous mismatches there needs to be some malady afflicting the hero to make the fight seem less ridiculous.  An old knee injury, being shot, et cetera.  Otherwise its like Mohammed Ali versus your kindergarten teacher who took a few martial arts classes once.  The new guys are ambushed and they have to fight for their life.  The big bad guy finding out his mole is dead plans on going to find Stallone.  Statham, freshly rescued, and the newbies go to find him.  The race to the final confrontation.  We should have some convenient event make it so that only Statham gets to Stallone.  The new guys have to deal with the other bad guys or a pile of ninjas, like a whole undulating mass of them, or just a bunch of angry bad guys with gun.  Stallone should sacrifice himself for Statham.  Statham then has the final showdown, a knife fight.  The bad guy dies and life his father takes the knife and then is shot repeatedly by a dying Stallone.  They have a nice funeral for Stallone and Statham tosses in the hat with the expendables symbol on it.  Roll credits.

Or just have a shitty pg-13 nonsense that makes no sense and is seemingly designed to insult the audience.  Test groups would probably hate that Stallone is dead or insert him punching his fist through the coffin giving a thumbs up as he is lowered into the ground.  I can only hope there isn’t an Expendables 4: Old Men and Pointless Explosions.

Ben

Friday, July 18, 2014

What the hell is a thought leader or why LinkedIn is bullshit

For some reason I can’t stop reading articles on LinkedIn pulse.  I know that most of these articles have no practical advice for me, for varying reasons, and yet I still keep reading them.  When I do find something it simply ratifies something I already knew.  I have yet to find anything new or useful.  I’m sure it’s out there but for now, at least for me, LinkedIn is inundated with utter garbage, self-promotion, and shockingly unaware narcissism.  It is certainly a worthwhile platform that I think has a lot of potential and merit (I’ll get into that later) but it’s wasted by people who really would rather stroke their own egos than actually help anyone.

Curious about my useless addiction and whether most articles were in fact useless I started skimming them one day to see which ones really made my inner voice call bullshit.  Here are some of the articles in no particular order.

Take a walk
https://www.linkedin.com/today/post/article/20140619060956-3376027-take-a-walk?trk=mp-details-rc

"A successful business is marked with one [characteristic] – happy employees. So all you need to do to have a successful business, is to keep your employees happy."

I couldn’t even make it past the opening lines.  Forget the spelling error in the first sentence (hence my use of brackets and spelling it correctly, you’re welcome), or the useless comma in the second sentence, this opening make me want shake the writer.  A successful business is one that makes money.  A good business is one that does this and keeps employees happy.  A great business does that and helps the world as well.  While employee happiness is noble and I think business leaders have a moral obligation to create said happiness it is not the main metric for a successful business.

Smarter Than the Boss?
https://www.linkedin.com/today/post/article/20140618131354-168885727-smarter-than-the-boss

"The demonstration of superior intellect, skill, (and I would include beauty) is, as a rule, a very rash thing to do in most company environments. We can say that mediocrity is always safe ground. Nothing in this world excites envy such as discernment, intellect and real talent."

Again this is bullshit.  What gets you in trouble is embarrassing people, making more work for others, disagreeing, and other maladies.  A manager might want to keep you down if you are star but just doing enough is stupid.  It makes you miserable.  You become toxic.  Toxic people fuck up the environment and culture.  If you aren't performing (mediocre, right?) and not enough people like you, you are gone.  And who says being smart means you are better suited for the bosses position.  The oversimplification here is staggering and annoying.  Also its predicated on a boss sabotaging a smart employee.  Plenty of bosses love smart employees because they make you look good.  Maybe the boss is sabotaging you because you are annoying and you act like you are better than you are.  A dash of humility isn’t a bad thing.

If I Were 22: Advice From a 25 Year Old, Relationships Matter
https://www.linkedin.com/today/post/article/20140529174336-45714856-if-i-were-22-advice-from-a-25-year-old-relationships-matter?trk=mp-details-rr-rmpost

I'm not even pulling any quotes.  Even the author calls out the bullshit.  You can't give advice if you have no experience.  The article is mostly a poorly veiled this is about me not about the subject train wreck.  This is an abuse of the forum simply to get a name out there, to have published.  Also if anyone is really foolish enough to take advice from a twenty five year old on a business network might want to think twice about their judgment.

Potential - Why It's Over-Hyped
https://www.linkedin.com/today/post/article/20140617171513-6114632-potential-why-it-s-over-hyped

This article talks about studies without even providing a link.  It’s a Fox News mentality of suggesting something enough times by the end you might think it’s true without actually providing things like evidence.  It says nothing and it rests entirely on opinion while being veiled as factual.  It talks about promoting based on potential not on results.  It ignores things like what potential means, if the employee would be great but hasn't proven himself then let them and you'll have those results, dumbass.  They get an attempt without having the promotion secured and if they are successful they earn their promotion.  If not then they’ll have learned a valuable lesson and hopefully it was handled with tact so they can comfortably stay at the company and maybe later they will be ready for that promotion.

The Dreaded Performance Appraisal
https://www.linkedin.com/today/post/article/20140617171537-69019475-the-dreaded-performance-appraisal

"I’ve never held a management position, but a topic of interest to me is the employee appraisal system"

I've never written for LinkedIn before but a topic of interest is idiots who do.  You have no authority to speak on this.  Everything after that opening sentence is colored by this admission.  If I speak on great management techniques I can't start by saying I'm not a manager but I've been managed.  It is staggering stupid.

But let’s move away from making fun of people who post things on the internet for a moment (though that is one of the primary functions of the internet now).  I actually not long agao found an article that I appreciated greatly.  It was about the method in which you might fire someone.  I’ve been on both sides of this having fired someone and having been fired.  It is ugly exchange on either side and I think the article gave a great glimpse on the experience.  It should never be easy to fire someone.  There is some failure on the company, and the manager, for this to happen.  The company hired this person over others.  The manager has a responsibility to this person to train and better them.  When the time comes for someone to be fired it should be handled with decorum.  Often the person is no longer happy at the role and this firing can be like a weight lifted of their shoulders but still this person now no longer has gainful employment, no more money coming in.  Maybe it was their fault entirely and you tried desperately to put them on track.  But as human beings we owe another person some empathy.  When I had to fire someone I was sick the whole week.  I was ill leading up to it and sick the day after.  I made sure to do so in a manner where they didn’t feel like they were a failure.  I wanted them to be optimistic.  It’s a scary world when you suddenly find yourself without a job.

https://www.linkedin.com/today/post/article/20140708141009-6053047-should-firing-people-always-be-difficult

But here is what I would write if I were to post to LinkedIn.  I would talk about failure.  Everyone seems content to talk about success.  But it’s hard to copy success, it has to be, otherwise there wouldn’t be so many smart hard working people out there struggling to get by.  Failure, once known, is a lot easier to avoid.  Telling people about mistake they might not foresee is extremely helpful.  Much more helpful than articles guessing about what the next disruption model might be, or what some random VC thinks.  I’d talk about the bullshit I saw and endured but shouldn’t have.  I’d talk about those moments I can see with the extreme clarity of hindsight than set certain events in motion.    I’d talk about my experiences and I wouldn’t say write about ten ways to deal with a bad boss.  Those articles assume too much to be useful.  People’s work experience is too disparate.  I can’t think of any advice that could really apply to every work experience I’ve had.  This is another reason why I can’t stand people applying rigid structures to a company’s strategy.  While I am in agreement than a company or corporation shouldn’t be treated like an individual when it comes to law it is very much a living breathing thing.

If I did write articles in the manner of other writers here is what I would title them:

  • How to deal with nepotism
  • How to avoid killing your coworker
  • The art of transferring
  • How to deal with sabotage
  • How to seek a new job quietly
  • I may be saying this but what I really mean is this, and fuck you


Let me dole out some real advice like I promised at the beginning of the post.  Lots of people talk about your posture at the desk, and that’s great advice, but not too many people talk about talking you shoes off.  Yes, this might seem ewwy but trust me slipping off your shoes for a little bit in the cube can help your feet.
When you walk and don't look up you look vulnerable and weak - sadly office life can be like the jungle and some asshole with a douche complex will start picking on you.  Yes, the office is an extension of high school and yes walking in a certain way will cue up the bullies.

Front load your work.  I cannot overstate how helpful this is.  It has helped me avoid fire drills for years.  My busslhit detector goes crazy on Friday when some asshole casually wanders over to my desk at a few minutes before close to lay down a request.  Document your work and do it early.  You cannot stop others people being stupid but you can mitigate the effects of their stupidity.  Fire drills are caused by laziness, idiocy and bad process - two of these are preventable.  If you pursue work quickly and diligently so you have time when the inevitable compounding of stupidity happens you'll be happier.  Yes I will “happily” pull the information again in a totally unrelated time period to satisfy your mood swing.
Some situations are lose/lose.  There are bosses you can't please.  There are situations that are just unfair and you can't fix.  There are times when you are blamed for things you can't control.  This is bullshit but as a normal person who isn't the executive or the man/woman you are not even close to immune to bad or unfair situations.

Don't obsess over the unfair situations, or anything else for that matter.   Fix what you can and try to have a pleasant work life split.  This is easier said than done but at least try to actively pursue the goal.  It can be really easy to lose sight of this.

If you are leadership remember the business will be there tomorrow, even if you leave stupid people in charge they likely won't blow stuff up.  If you aren't leadership the numbers your crunching seem important but they probably aren't.  Fire drills seem really important in the moment but much less so a month later

And now, most importantly here is my list of office sins:

  • Don't cook fish or stinky food in the kitchen
  • Clean the fridge you jerk
  • Respect the personal bubble.  Seriously you are so close you are almost kissing me
  • Never send emails or follow up fifteen minutes before work close or later
  • Understand when to reply all, and not abusing the email CC
  • You work in a professional environment, certain shit doesn't fly.  Don't swear.  Don't make questionable jokes.
  • Don't dress like a hobo
  • Don't look at questionable content (and yes, I have direct second hand knowledge of this)
  • Don't bring politics into the work place
  • Block your damn social media profile.  People will Facebook stalk you, Facebook is built for stalking which is kind of creepy in it of itself.
  • Be good to your colleagues.  Don't bad mouth them, maybe they are going through some nonsense, maybe they have roadblocks you don't
  • Smile every once and a while, especially if you have resting bitch face.
  • Don't exclude people.
  • Check in on the new guy, we all know onboarding sucks.
  • Don't be negative/toxic/complain too much.  And don't join in on it otherwise you'll be associated.


I think that’s most of it.  If you have any other office sins or actual useful advice that LinkedIn doesn’t I’d love to hear some.

Ben

Thursday, June 26, 2014

The Problem with Neckbeards

The internet is awash in useless terminology, silly memes, bad information, and lots of naked people slapping genitals.  In regards to terminology once term gave me some pause: the neckbeard.  It is a cruel and malicious term, much like the anonymous denizens of comments section who fling it about, but it had resonance.

So what is a neckbeard?  It is not simply a socially awkward male; it is a subset of that distinction.  Let’s be honest, it seems there is a large percentage of people who are or were (myself included) socially awkward males.  For you grammar jerks out there I was formerly a socially awkward male.  For you really uptight grammar jerks the former part refers to my social awkwardness.

Being a socially awkward male can range from endearing or savable to full on kill it with fire.  Neckbeards fall a wee bit closer to the later part.  The term comes from those who grow facial hair usually just along the chin line to give definition to the area and to hide jowels.  It’s like the baggy jeans of your face.  It is fooling anyone and it is not a good look.  But hey, it’s your body and body shaming is bad.  They stereotypical look of a neckbeard is white, overweight, not great skin, patchy hair along the jaw line, and trilbies or fedoras.  I do not know the difference between those two hats.  From that it seems like an overweight nerdy hipster.  This is partially right.  Both are snotty and think they know better than you.  Again we are talking stereotypes here.  There are plenty of people who fall into either category who are not snotty or repellent.

A major distinction is that the hipster likes things (not always ironically) while the neckbeard seems to be filled with misplaced impotent rage.  Nothing is really likeable.  They find fault in everything.  They are malcontents.  They are not necessarily wrong all the time.  I’m not a ray of fucking sunshine all the time but I try to be cheery now and again.  I’d be an insufferable bastard otherwise.  Even with my penchant for complaining and moodiness I really do like socializing.

When I was in high school however I was teetering on the edge of being a neckbeard.  I was overweight, not drastically but certainly enough to be made fun of.  I did at times attempt to remedy this when I was younger and make some progress.  But doritos and laziness usually won out.  But hey I was an idiot teenager like well just about every teenager that has existed.  I was socially inept.  I kept myself on the sidelines because it was easier to critique the popular kids.  I could call them fake or insincere and feel justified in being better somehow.  I wasn’t.  I was simply hiding from things.  I was hiding from the potential of being awkward in front of people.  I was hiding from being judged.  I was being an idiot and being afraid.  But I didn’t quite realize it yet.  That’s okay.

One thing that upsets me about neckbeards, and younger me, is the unrealistic hating of others.  They are not as talented as me I might say to myself.  It is impossible to tell if I was more talented if I didn’t try and prove it.  I didn’t really push myself to write or perform like I wanted to do.  But in my mind I knew I was better.  I wrote, but I rarely showed it off, never wanted criticism.  Failure was viewed as someon not understanding not me simply not being good enough and learning from it.  I could have been a better writer had I simply had a thicker skin.  But so many arguments I could create to avoid responsibility, failure, or trying hard.  They wouldn’t understand.  They would hate it because I wasn’t popular.  I was simply making excuses for my fear.  I was getting angry at people who didn’t deserve it.  Yeah, maybe the people who made fun of me deserve some grief but in a weird sense I deserved the teasing.  Now, I would never advocate for the teasing of kids.  Bullying is much worse I think than people realize.  It has destroyed lives, caused suicides, violent retaliations, and years of mental anguish.  With the internet the speed at which you can humiliate someone has increased.  I was picked on a lot when I was younger.  People are cruel.  I realize many of things now I could have done to have stopped it in its tracks.  Posture is a big thing.  If you walk shoulders slumped like a victim you are inviting assholes to target you.  Yes, people shouldn’t be assholes but making a change to avoid bullies is smart.

Kids are cruel and don’t always empathize with the feelings of those they hurt.  It takes time to understand how your actions affect others.  Kids initially take glee from seeing another kid run away crying.  It can be funny to them.  An adult, a normal one, should feel anguish at causing that reaction.

But neckbeards are bullies in a sense.  They are hopelessly negative.  They drag everything down.  They criticize simply to criticize.  They bring toxic negativity.  Hugs alone will no fix the problem; it might help though.  Yes, I was a bit of a debbie downer.  I wasn't listening to the cure and wearing all black but I was often an unpleasant dick.

So neckbeards are social inept and they blame other people for their problems.  They have a distorted view of themselves and those around them.  It’s rather unhealthy.  I am not proud of having some of those qualities as younger me.  I am very proud that I am not like as an adult.  Yes I complain, a lot, but not about Wendy ignoring me and being in love with that jerk who is such an asshole.  I complain about the rape of the middle class, ineffective management, and the environment.  Things I care about.  I also write this and post publicly for people to comment on.  I do scary things every once in a while to make sure I don’t pull back to the sidelines where things are safe but boring.

Here’s the creepy part about neckbeards, how they deal with women.  Now men oftentimes view women as a collection of parts designed for sexual release.  This is generally agreed upon as being rude and misogynistic.  Neckbeards have this weird fetish with women and wonderful but stupid beings.  They love them from afar.  They craft a wonderful love story.  If only she would notice me and realize how I awesome I am instead of stupid Joey and his blazingly white smile.  Fuck Joey and his magnificent hair.  They create an impossible image.  They make here into somehitng unreal.  Something the real person cannot live up to.  Then they grow jealous.  Jealous of the woman they dare not approach.

There are the neckbeards who don’t lurk in the shadows.  Those are the guys who call all women m’lady.  Like its fucking charming and saying that causes a woman to drop her panties and mount an unattractive man.  If I’m nice to her she’ll bang me.  Then they get mad for not getting the girl.  News flash you are not taking into consideration her feeling or opinions.

For the record I never said m’lady.  I was an idiot with women for a while but most men are idiots with women for various reasons.

But the neckbeard really just needs to grow the fuck up.  But life is rough for an overweight kid, perhaps with acne, asthma and all the various complexes that come with it.  Hell, they might be idiots on top of that.  Being fat, nerdy and stupid is like the bully trifecta.  It is their responsibility to come to their sense but some help not hurt.  I’m not saying go out and fuck a neckbeard to help their self-esteem but maybe a nice hello and how are you interaction might do wonders.  Society has wounded these poor bastards and they have adapted horribly to it.  It might not be a bad idea to be a little extra nice to them.  Unless, of course, you are a hot woman in which case I advise you to simply smile politely and leave or completely ninja vanish.  They will miscue a pleasant interaction for affection and a nerd crush of that magnitude is an ugly and volatile thing.
But seriously shave that fucking thing off you look ridiculous.

Ben

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Common Core, New Math and the Confusing State of Education

After hearing people bitch about Common Core and New Math I decided upon some web research into the matter.  Looking up the actual policy pages for Common Core I came up with no clear picture of what the hell it was.  It was pointlessly abstruse and said absolutely nothing.  It tries to state that things will be stringent and simple and uphold students to a higher level so they can compete globally.  Specifically there is mention of competition economically in global level.  This is fine but these are skills we teaching to elementary school kids.  I do believe it is important to provide a base of knowledge, skills and most importantly teach methods of thought so that year by year children can increase said proficiencies until they graduate with the hope of being prepared for the real world.  My problem is to strong disconnect with what is stated, its mission plan, and the actions taken.  I remember my sister in law calling my wife while her daughter cried because no one in the household knew what the hell monkey letters were.  There was no explanation.  Nothing on the internet explained it.  My wife, an educator, started blankly as she held the phone.  The fuck are monkey letters?  Apparently it’s when the letters dip below the line. Lower case y’s, j’s, g’s and so on.  Awesome.  Let’s add some stupid phrases that lump stuff together for no apparent reason and confuse the fuck out of the kids.  Oh and not tell the parents.  That will help.

Shifts in academic policy are fine.  I am all for change.  But when change happens there needs to be a proper plan to inform those affected.  Also this new math is awful.  I’ve read the defense of it.  I understand the point but it’s still stupid.  Those unaware of new math I’ll give you an example.  Take 23 and 54.  Increase 23 to a manageable, easier, number.  Say 25.  That’s 2.  Draw a box around 2.  Now increase 25 to the next easy number.  30.  That’s five.  Draw a box.  Now increase to 50.  Draw a box around the 20.  Now increase by 4.  Draw another fucking box.  Add 2, 5, 20 and 4.  It’s 31.  Not wad that paper into a ball and throw it far, far away, wrap your arms tightly around yourself and pretend it never happened.  There is also the line approach.  Which is drawing lines to see difference.  Yes, these are actual methods, that do actually work.  The question is do they work better?  Do they work faster?  And most importantly do they create a process of thought that is better.  By process of thought I mean does this teach critical thinking or proper problem solving skills that will enable a person to use similar methods of thought to conquer other problems.  I’m rather sure the answer is no.  Best of all if a child learns the older math, answers correctly they still score low.  Why?  Because they need to show their work.  This is an old adage from math I always had to deal with and something I agree with (but not in the case).  But they have to show the work the way the curriculum demands with boxes and lines.

I’m sure teachers are not exactly in love with this, they have to learn and enforce rules that seemingly make no sense.  But teaching is still a job and they have to abide by the rules no matter how stupid if they want to keep making a living.  I am increasingly reading more about teachers’ quitting over this.  A long experienced kindergarten teacher quit because of forced changes that had her preparing five year olds for a test.  Five year olds.  I deal with small kids at the dojo and I’m happy when they pay attention and ecstatic when they remember things.  She has to teach them to be ready for a test.

Administrators are probably pissed.  Not all administrators are soulless abominations that exist simply to torture others and enforce pointless policy.  And they have to learn these standards and get the teachers caught up and totally change how they track performance.  Oh good, even more reason to love professional development.  My version of professional development is going out with the team for drinks after work.

Students who don’t know any better don’t really care because they have no frame of reference.  But parents are most likely frothing at the mouth.  So why is it still happening?  Well because the people who implemented this are not those who have to deal with the fallout.  It is generally agreed upon that CCSS (Common Core State Standards) was dreamed up by The Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) and The National Governors Association (NGA).  The CCSSO is not a group of educators they are officials.  Wiki decribes them as such:

“a non-partisan non-profit organization of public officials who head departments of elementary and secondary education in the U.S. states, the District of Columbia, the Department of Defense Education Activity and five U.S. territories. CCSSO provides leadership, advocacy and technical assistance on major educational issues.”
Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Council_of_Chief_State_School_Officers

I’m not going to say they didn’t involve educators and learned scholars on the subject in crafting the curriculum, they did, however it seems they ran fast and loose with what they wanted from them as well as how they would go about implementing.  Meaning they paid very bright people to give a holistic idea and cherry picked parts of it.  I liken that to designing an archway then only building the parts of it they liked with no real insight as to why it was built in a particular fashion.  Maybe it will hold up or maybe the load above will come crashing down.  Hurray for keystones!

You can read Dr. Moats’ article here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/mark-bertin-md/when-will-we-ever-learn_b_4588033.html

So if an untrained eye can see that these standards and practices are out of whack why are so many states (45 states as well as the District of Columbia) irrationally following bad standards?  The answer it seems is federal money.  Not adopting Common Core costs states millions of dollars.  Indiana is one of the few states that initial bought in but is opting out now.

http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2014/03/25/indiana-becomes-first-state-to-drop-common-core-standards/

Here’s a quick reminder of the recent history of education and it has a lot to do with federal and state practices.  Each state is in charge of determining their own standards and curriculum.  All changes, improvements testing (with exception of the S.A.T.) was done by the state.  No federal programs really had traction.  This of course means there will be the best state for education and the worst state for education.  A lot of that has to with funding, how the people in the state want their taxes spent, and various infrastructures.  So as a parent if you cared about education it was best not to live in certain states or it was a good idea to send your kid to a private school.  The problem being this is not exactly beneficial to people with less money.  Less money means less options but that seems to be a constant in life in America.  Scholarships help but only for a small few and only for top performers.  So being an average student in a poor neighborhood in a state with poor national standings probably means a subpar education through no fault of the child.  But there have been programs to try and change this as well as wonderful people who make it their life mission to help educate everyone.

On the national level there has been pressure to change some of this.  I didn’t start with George W. but his No Child Left Behind program hinged on a resurgence of standardized testing.  Obama’s version Race To The Top also has standardized testing at its core.  There is a very big problem with standardized testing.  Testing on its own is not bad.  It’s great to have metrics and measurements to see progress.  It’s great to see where a student is next to others.  The problem comes back to money, or rather funding.  Test scores effect funding.  Administration wants that funding and puts pressure on educators to get scores up.  To get scores up curriculums must be changed to teach subjects covered by the test.  It’s called teaching to the test.  In doing so we have stripped freedom from the teachers to teach as they see fit to make sure the kids know the material for the test above all else.  Gone are the days when kids could be divvied up for special attention.  The kids who excelled in a subject could be grouped together so they would be challenged appropriately for their development speed and not bored.  The kids who are normal developmentally will be on their track and the kids who need more help (this doesn’t mean stupid) will have their own track designed to help them not make them feel like they are under water.  Now it seems we lump everyone together and teach the same.  People learn differently, at different paces and with different styles.  But teachers aren’t allowed to make that call as much.

Teachers are leaving the profession in droves.  I’m seeing countless articles about teachers’ quitting or writing open letters about testing in Kindergarten/the destruction of their profession.  In a sense this could save the states money as those with more seniority and bigger paychecks leave while fresh new recruits come in with smaller salaries.  But the dropout rate for teachers is very high especially first years.  And it’s only going up.  This is not cheap.  Any decent HR person will tell you a revolving door of employees is very expensive in time, training and more.

“CTAF’s findings are a clear indication that America’s teacher dropout problem is spiraling out of control.  Teacher attrition has grown by 50 percent over the past fifteen years.  The national teacher turnover rate has risen to 16.8 percent.  In urban schools it is over 20 percent, and, in some schools and districts, the teacher dropout rate is actually higher than the student dropout rate.  The pilot study shows:

  • The costs of teacher turnover are substantial.
  • At-risk schools spend scarce dollars on teacher turnover.
  • Teacher turnover undermines at-risk schools.
  • At-risk schools could recoup funds by investing in teacher retention.
  • Turnover costs can be identified, aggregated, and analyzed.
  • District data systems are not designed to control the costs of turnover.”


http://www.forbes.com/sites/erikkain/2011/03/08/high-teacher-turnover-rates-are-a-big-problem-for-americas-public-schools/

The funny thing about Common Core is that politicians on both sides hate it, for different reasons, and news organization report on differing reason why it’s awful.  But they agree.  Let that sink in.  Members of the Tea party and members of the Democratic Party agree on this.

A real big problem here is that to fix this we would need a massive overhaul.  And the industry has been having every few years a massive overhaul but never in the right direction.  Teaching and educating in general is in a tumult.  I think it’s time a better solution one that empowers the right people, namely those who actually work in the classroom, is put in place.  But that would be logical and politics it seems rarely uses logic.  But it’s okay, if we fail here it’s only dooming the next generation to failure.

Ben

http://www.theblaze.com/contributions/arne-duncan-youre-a-liar-common-core-will-destroy-american-education/
http://dianeravitch.net/2013/08/24/the-biggest-fallacy-of-the-common-core-standards-no-evidence/
http://www.slate.com/articles/double_x/doublex/2013/09/common_core_either_you_re_against_this_new_push_for_academic_standards_and.2.html
http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2014/01/18/everything-you-need-to-know-about-common-core-ravitch/?tid=pm_local_pop