Fiesta de Tejas! call for blog posts

May 31, 2007

Carnaval au Texas, 1951 movie posterThe Juneteenth edition of Fiesta de Tejas! could use a few more posts about Texas history, Texas culture, Texas food, Texas travel, Texas dinosaurs, Texas wildflowers, Texas music (heck, we’re in the middle of the Kerrville Folk Festival, aren’t we?), and other things Texas.  Nominations are due today, for publication Saturday, June 2.  You may submit posts here.

And, truth be told, I’d like to see more nominations about the Texas Lege.  Oh, there are plenty out there; I’d like to see what you want to show off, or what you think others ought to see.  It was a banner year for Molly-Ivinsesque commentary on the legislature.  Sadly, Molly died last fall.  If you’ve seen someone channeling Molly Ivins’ ghost in commentary on the Texas Lege and the Crash of Craddick, point it out!

Blog Carnival submission form - fiesta de tejas!

You may also use the button above to nominate posts — how much easier can it get!  Fiesta de Tejas! the Texas history blog carnival, is comin’!


Voting for cancer, against prevention

May 31, 2007

Yeah, it was a bit tacky of Merck to create a campaign to get government officials to require inoculations against human papilloma viruses that cause cancer — but, people!, we’re talking about preventing cancer here.

The Texas legislature voted for cancer, overturning Gov. Rick Perry’s ill-considered good idea to require vaccinations for school kids in Texas. In a state with top-notch anti-cancer research at M. D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston and UT’s Southwest Medical Center in Dallas, it was an odd, odd thing to witness.

The debates are skewed by a general distrust and dislike of big pharmaceutical companies, and by the religious right’s view that it’s better that a young mother die of cancer than she should get even the faintest idea that might in only the most perverse mind promote pre-marital sex. Still, we shouldn’t fall victim to voodoo science claims against vaccines.

Are my views, tempered by years of work promoting public health and fighting disease, clear enough for you?

Owlhaven wins popularity contests among mothers who read blogs, and it often is tender and touching — hey, I read it from time to time. But recently Mary, Owlhaven’s author, fell victim to a propaganda campaign from Judicial Watch, a far-right-wing bunch that campaigns against the U.S. justice system and generally makes a conservative-gratuitous-poke-in-the-butt out of itself. Judicial Watch claims to have some secrets from having filed a Freedom of Information Act Request with FDA to get Merck’s reports to FDA of adverse events known about Gardasil, Merck’s proprietary anti-cancer vaccine.

I responded, of course — but my response didn’t show on Owlhaven’s comments. Blackballed? Spam filtered due to the number or length of links? I can’t tell. Mary said she emptied the spam filter without checking. So, I repost my response, below the fold, for your benefit. Read the rest of this entry »


Who is reporting from National History Day?

May 30, 2007

Are you planning to be at the National History Day festivities in Maryland, June 10 through 14?

Did any of your kids put an entry into the National History Day Contest?

It may not be a national spelling bee, but I hope it gets some news coverage. If nothing else, go check out the collections of lesson plans and resources that come out of this competition.


Playing with maps

May 30, 2007

Okay, geography teachers — you’ve got a whole summer to figure out how to make geography fun and the most rewarding class your kids will take next year.

By then, Delta and Dawn the whales will be out of the Sacramento River (heck, they’re probably under the Golden Gate as I write this), so this map from the Sacramento Bee won’t be anything of great interest.  I found it via Google Maps Mania, though — and that site promises to provide a barrage of wonderful and bizarre maps.  Surely there will be other maps.  How about this post about street views of major cities?  If you have a live internet connection and a projector, you can show this stuff in real time.

Or, if you’re studying global warming, you can use this map to show what disappears if the ocean rises 1 meter, or 14 meters (from the post, “50 Things You Can Do With Google Maps“) Especially if your city is near the ocean, you can have your kids print these maps out and write a story about what it’s like to watch the ocean take back the land they grew up with.  (I wish the map would allow one to drop the level of the ocean, too — a lot more what ifs, and a lot more opportunities to discuss things like the migration of humans to America 37,000 years ago . . .)

I really liked this one:  What’s on the other side of the world?  In my childhood, more than once we set out to dig a hole to China.  Of course, had we gone straight through the Earth, we’d probably have found the Indian Ocean.   It’s a silly application — just the sort of thing that gets a class talking about and playing with maps, looking at the globe, and making the associations that qualify as “critical thinking” at test time.

If you can’t make a warmup, discussion or project out of the materials you find at that site, you need a Margarita (if you’re in Texas; perhaps a beer if you’re in Ontario, Canada).

Go have fun.


Utah to get vouchers over objections of people?

May 30, 2007

Only in America can a state get what it votes against, maybe.

Utah’s Attorney General Mark Shurtleff’s opinion would require the Utah State Board of Education to implement school vouchers now, even though the state legislature did not intend the implementation now, and even though the people may reject the plan for vouchers in a November election.

According to the Shurtleff’s opinion, vouchers would have to be implemented despite the state’s rejection of them.  The Deseret Morning News tried to explain the mess.

Complicating affairs is a “technical amendment” passed by the legislature after the original voucher authorization legislation, to correct problems in the first bill.  The referendum is on the first bill; the amendment was billed as a “clean-up” bill fixing technical problems with the first bill.  But the attorney general now says that the amendment can stand alone, and consequently the law would require the Board to implement a law they oppose, even if the people reject the law.

So, of course, the courts may be asked to parse out the truth and the law.

If you’re not confused yet, stick around.   Mark Twain famously said no man’s life, limb, nor property is safe so long as the legislature is in session.  Utah’s corollary is that nothing is safe even after the legislature goes home.


Looking up to Finland

May 30, 2007

Commenter Bernarda sent a link to a Washington Post story by Robert Kaiser about Finland, a nation who redesigned its education system with rather dramatic, beneficial results. Among other things, the Finns treat teachers as valuable members of society, with high pay, great support, and heavy training.

Finland is a leading example of the northern European view that a successful, competitive society should provide basic social services to all its citizens at affordable prices or at no cost at all. This isn’t controversial in Finland; it is taken for granted. For a patriotic American like me, the Finns present a difficult challenge: If we Americans are so rich and so smart, why can’t we treat our citizens as well as the Finns do?

Why not? Why can’t we treat our citizens as well as the Finns? Their system boosts their economy and leads to great social progress — which part of that do we not want?


121st Carnival of Education — School’s out, part I

May 30, 2007

The Education Wonks hosts (host?) the 121sth Carnival of Education — including a nice referral to my post on the voucher wars in Utah.

Franklin HS in Seattle, WA -- Natl Reg of Hist Places

School’s out in much of the nation, and won’t last much longer in the rest (except for full-year schools). It’s a good time to reflect on what worked, what didn’t, and what to change for next year. I was especially intrigued to learn that Mr. Teacher of Learn Me Good teaches in Dallas — close by, somewhere. One wonders how an alternative certification sneaked through the human resources shredder of the Dallas ISD to get a job, and one hopes it may show a trend; and then one wonders why DISD doesn’t pay more attention to the obvious success of the guy and go back to that alternative certification well. (HR departments in Texas school districts have reputations that they really don’t like alternative certification, even when the teachers work out well; one more indication that we don’t know what the heck we’re doing in education. My experience suggests the reputation is well-earned.) [See comment on alternative certification by Mr. Teacher, below.]

There is much, much more in the carnival. The Carnival of Education is an outstanding example of what blog carnivals can be — useful packages of information, summaries of the field they cover. Spread the word.


Encore Quote of the Moment: Sherman, on war

May 29, 2007

“There is many a boy here today who looks on war as all glory, but, boys, it is all hell.” – Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman,

from an address to the graduating class of the Michigan Military Academy, June 19, 1879, known as his “War is hell” speech (Wikipedia entry on Sherman).
(Query: Does anyone have an electronic link to the full text of Sherman’s address that day? Or, do you know where it might be found, even in hard copy?)

David Parker quoted the prayer out of Mark Twain’s disturbing story, “The War Prayer.Go there for a discussion on what Twain meant, and just how much opposed to war he was.

For a deeper context, and a Jeff Danziger cartoon that will make you stand up and think, see the original post of this quote.


West High best in Utah

May 28, 2007

West High School, Salt Lake City, Utah

Main entrance to West High School, Salt Lake City, Utah. Wikipedia image

I coulda told you that. It’s my mother’s high school. (Class of ’32)

(My old school, Pleasant Grove High, didn’t make the list.)


Call for posts, for 3rd Fiesta de Tejas!

May 28, 2007

The 3rd Fiesta de Tejas! will arrive on June 2, five days from today.

If you blog about Texas, or if you read blogs about Texas, please submit the best posts you wrote or the best posts you read, to share with others.   The best way to submit is through the Blog Carnival entry form:  http://blogcarnival.com/bc/submit_1298.html.

The carnival still needs a logo, and we can use some great art (with permission to publish).  Mostly, we need your contributions.

Texas history, Texas music, Texas culture, Texas geography, Texas food — send it along.

(Please feel free to copy this post and put it on your blog.  The more the merrier.)


Blog Carnival submission form - fiesta de tejas!



Bogus science palace puts blot on Memorial Day remembrances

May 27, 2007

There’s not much to add, beyond the three-quarters of a hundred entries in the one time Ken Ham’s Creation Museum blog carnival, hosted at Pharyngula by P. Z. Myers.

Those we honor on Memorial Day fought, and died, to preserve Ken Ham’s right to believe any fool thing he wants to believe.  That’s part of the ironic beauty of our Constitution and those who fight to defend it.

Having a right to believe any fool thing, and promoting fool ideas with $27 million given by people who expected one to tell the truth, are probably separate, different things.


Memorial Day 2007 – Fly your flag May 28

May 27, 2007

You may fly your flag the entire weekend.  Flag at half-staff at Fort McCoy

Memorial Day, traditionally observed on May 30, now observed the last Monday in May, is a day to honor fallen veterans of wars. Traditionally, family members visit the cemetery where loved ones are interred and leave flowers on the grave.

On Memorial Day itself, flags on poles or masts should be flown at half-staff from sunrise to noon.  At noon, flags should be raised to full-staff position.

When posting a flag at half-staff, the flag should be raised to the full-staff position first, with vigor, then slowly lowered to half-staff; when retiring a flag posted at half-staff, it should be raised to the full staff position first, with vigor, and then be slowly lowered.

Read the rest of this entry »


Historical fiction: Churchill and Fleming, and antibiotics

May 26, 2007

Is this old dead duck still circulating?

The story is that a poor farm kid in England Scotland saves a rich kid from drowning, and the rich family offers to pay for college for the poor kid. The poor kid goes to college, and later makes a great discovery, and that discovery later saves the life of a member of the rich family, who goes on to save the world.

In various forms I’ve seen this story, that a member of the Churchill family, or Winston Churchill himself, was saved by a member of the Fleming family, or Sir Alexander Fleming himself (the discoverer of penicillin). Then, years later Churchill has a deadly infection, but his life is saved by Fleming’s discovery.Churchill in Tunisia, 1943, visiting New Zealand's 2nd Division, with Bernard Freyberg, known as Tiny

It’s a great story, actually, but it is fabrication from start to finish, laced with famous names, our natural ignorance of some parts of history, and our desire for such coincidences to be true. It’s such a great story that the wrong, hoax version still circulates even after it is so easy to learn that the story is wrong.

The Churchill Centre, in England, has a denial that should be embarrassing to Americans and Christians — they point out it was distributed in the 1950s by churches here.

The story apparently originated in Worship Programs for Juniors, by Alice A. Bays and Elizabeth Jones Oakberg, published ca. 1950 by an American religious house, in a chapter entitled “The Power of Kindness.”

Here are several ways to tell the story is false: Read the rest of this entry »


Listen to your teachers . . . you politicians

May 26, 2007

Long-time friend John Florez erupts at the Deseret News in Salt Lake City from time to time.  Back on April 2, when the Utah legislature was still wrestling with vouchers, a budget surplus and a vastly underfunded education system, Florez had some gentle advice to policymakers everywhere:  “Policy makers must heed teachers’ views.”

      Politicians ought to listen to what the teachers think is needed to improve education. For starters, they want smaller class sizes and an environment that gives them the opportunity to do the most important thing: challenge and motivate students to learn. One wrote that after 30 years of teaching he has “…discouraged … nieces and nephews from taking up the career. What a shame when there is so much possible with all these young minds.” Another wrote that her school had a student teacher quit halfway through, frustrated because the students wouldn’t work; phoning parents resulted in getting an earful, and the principal made little effort to back her up.
The following year, the school had an opening so they phoned her “…to see if she wouldn’t try again at our school.” The reply: “Thank you, if I ever came back it would be there, but never. I have a job now with great opportunities to grow and a great working environment.”

But, John — would better working conditions really help pass the standardized tests?

Some principals and administrators of which I am aware haven’t found the sign yet, but would put it up if they had it:

The daily floggings of staff will continue until morale improves!

They wouldn’t mean it as the joke it was originally intended; or even if they did, the staff would know differently.


Girls and technology: Girl Scouts on the ‘net

May 26, 2007

Here, try this brain teaser.

Girl Scouts of America can be found on the web; some of the stuff at this “Go Tech” site could be useful in the classroom. The design appears to encourage girls to pursue the use of technology, and to open them up to possibilities for careers where women are badly needed, but too seldom go. That becomes clear with this .pdf, 14-page guide for parents, It’s Her Future: Encourage a Girl in Math, Science and Technology.

I wish more organizations would put up sites for kids to use to learn. I’d love to see some interactive sites with great depth on several topics: Geography map skills, navigation, European explorers in the 15th through 20th centuries, market fluctuations for commodities and securities (for economics), Native Americans from 1500 through the 21st century, westward expansion of European colonists in America, time lines of history, great battles, etc., etc. etc.

We are missing the boat when it comes to using computers as tools for learning. Like unicorns and centaurs standing on the dock as Noah sailed away, education as a whole institution and educators individually are missing the boat (with a few notable exceptions — pitifully few).

Where is the Boy Scout site with games and material for the boys?


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