April is National Poetry Month 2014 — are you ready?

March 27, 2014

If you ask me, we don’t have enough poetry in our lives.

In bygone times, newspapers carried poems almost daily.  Magazines carried poems in every issue, but today you find fewer poems published in fewer magazines — can you name the periodical publication in which you last saw a poem that caught your eye, or heart?

National Poetry Month poster for 2006

National Poetry Month poster for 2006. Click image for a larger, more inspirational view.

Rhyme and meter power their way into our minds.  Teachers who use poetry find lessons stick longer with students.

Shouldn’t we use a lot more?

Since 1996, several groups including the Academy of American Poets have celebrated National Poetry Month in April.  There are posters,and of course April is a month with several poems to its creditPaul Revere’s Ride, The Concord Hymn, To a Lady with a Guitar, An April Day, The Waste Land, and several poems just about April as a month.

It’s a good time to beef up our poetry tool boxes, if we are managers of organizations, or teachers, or parents, or human.

Poetry lovers gave thought to how to do that, and there are many good recommendations out there.  For example, from Poetry.org, 30 activities for National Poetry Month 2014:

30 Ways to Celebrate

Celebrate Poem in Your Pocket Day
The idea is simple: select a poem you love, carry it with you, then share it with co-workers, family, and friends.
Read a book of poetry
“Poetry is a response to the daily necessity of getting the world right.”
Memorize a poem
“Getting a poem or prose passage truly ‘by heart’ implies getting it by mind and memory and understanding and delight.”
Revisit a poem
“America is a country of second acts, so today, why not brush the dust off these classics and give them a fresh read?”
Put poetry in an unexpected place
“Books should be brought to the doorstep like electricity, or like milk in England: they should be considered utilities.”
Bring a poem to your place of worship
“We define poetry as the unofficial view of being, and bringing the art of language in contact with your spiritual practices can deepen both.”
Attend a poetry reading
“Readings have been occurring for decades around the world in universities, bookstores, cafes, corner pubs, and coffeehouses.”
Play Exquisite Corpse
“Each participant is unaware of what the others have written, thus producing a surprising—sometimes absurd—yet often beautiful poem.”
Read a poem at an open mic
“It’s a great way to meet other writers in your area and find out about your local writing community.”
Support literary organizations
“Many national and local literary organizations offer programs that reach out to the general public to broaden the recognition of poets and their work.”
Listen on your commute
“Often, hearing an author read their own work can clarify questions surrounding their work’s tone.”
Subscribe to a literary magazine
“Full of surprising and challenging poetry, short fiction, interviews, and reviews, literary journals are at the forefront of contemporary poetry.”
Start a notebook on Poets.org
“Poets.org lets users build their own personal portable online commonplace book out of the materials on our site.”
Put a poem in a letter
“It’s always a treat to get a letter, but finding a poem in the envelope makes the experience extra special.”
Watch a poetry movie
“What better time than National Poetry Month to gather some friends, watch a poetry-related movie, and perhaps discuss some of the poet’s work after the film?”

.

Take a poem out to lunch
Adding a poem to lunch puts some poetry in your day and gives you something great to read while you eat.”
Put a poem on the pavement
“Go one step beyond hopscotch squares and write a poem in chalk on your sidewalk.”
Recite a poem to family and friends
“You can use holidays or birthdays as an opportunity to celebrate with a poem that is dear to you, or one that reminds you of the season.”
Organize a poetry reading
“When looking for a venue, consider your local library, coffee shop, bookstore, art gallery, bar or performance space.”
Promote public support for poetry
“Every year, Congress decides how much money will be given to the National Endowment for the Arts to be distributed all across America.”
Start a poetry reading group
“Select books that would engage discussion and not intimidate the reader new to poetry.”
Read interviews and literary criticism
“Reading reviews can also be a helpful exercise and lend direction to your future reading.”
Buy a book of poems for your library
“Many libraries have undergone or are facing severe cuts in funding. These cuts are often made manifest on library shelves.”
Start a commonplace book
“Since the Renaissance, devoted readers have been copying their favorite poems and quotations into notebooks to form their own personal anthologies called commonplace books.”
Integrate poetry with technology
“Many email programs allow you to create personalized signatures that are automatically added to the end of every email you send.”
Ask the Post Office for more poet stamps
“To be eligible, suggested poets must have been deceased for at least ten years and must be American or of American descent.”
Sign up for a poetry class or workshop
“Colleges and arts centers often make individual courses in literature and writing available to the general public.”
Subscribe to our free newsletter
“Short and to the point, the Poets.org Update, our electronic newsletter, will keep you informed on Academy news and events.”
Write a letter to a poet
“Let the poets who you are reading know that you appreciate their work by sending them a letter.”
Visit a poetry landmark
“Visiting physical spaces associated with a favorite writer is a memorable way to pay homage to their life and work.”

How will you use National Poetry Month in your classroom, teachers?  And by “teachers, ” I mean you, math teachers, social studies teachers, phys ed teachers, biology and chemistry teachers.  You don’t use poetry?  No wonder America lags in those subjects . . .

What’s do you remember about your teachers’ use of poetry in learning?

What’s your favorite poem?

More:


If a student values education, he will overcome much

November 13, 2013

But, really: See what some students put up with, just to learn?

We usually had enough chairs in Dallas.  Usually.

Those kids don’t have any.


Wisdom, a checklist about students’ use of technology

August 18, 2013

Cheat Sheet:  What do you want kids to do with technology?  By Bill Ferriter

Cheat Sheet: What do you want kids to do with technology? By Bill Ferriter The Tempered Radical blog.williamferriter.com @plugusin

“Technology is a tool, not a learning outcome,” Bill Ferriter says.  He’s right, of course.

Tip of the old scrub brush to April Niemela@AprilJNiemela.

More, generally:


History of America, or art in America, or American art, or . . .

July 9, 2013

Brilliant piece from Grant Snider — history teachers, this should be a poster in your classroom, no?  Art teachers?

Grant Snider's

Grant Snider’s “American Art, exploring a country through its paintings”

In the course of a junior-level, high school U.S. history class, students should experience each of these works, and many others.  This is one whimsical way to work with serious and uplifting material, no?

Mr. Snider has a short essay — inspiring — and the information on each of the works he portrays, at the Modern Art site (I’ve added links below, here).

Since that formative vacation, the art museum is always one my of first stops in visiting a new city. In the comic above, I’ve curated my ideal collection of 20th-century American art. Here’s a list of works in order of appearance:

Jasper Johns, “Flag”

Edward Hopper,Morning Sun

Ellsworth Kelly, “Red Blue Green”

Wayne Thiebaud, “Refrigerator Pie”

Grant Wood, “Young Corn”

Roy Lichtenstein, “Whaam!”

Stuart Davis, “Colonial Cubism”

Andy Warhol, “Campbell’s Soup Cans”

George Bellows, “Dempsey and Firpo”

Jackson Pollock, “Autumn Rhythm”

Georgia O’Keeffe, “Sky Above Clouds III”

What are your favorite American art works, and what do they portray or demonstrate that you like?

More:


Quote of the moment: Neil Gaiman, on what keeps civilization from barbarism

February 19, 2013

Found it on Facebook.

Neil Gaiman:

Libraries are the thin red line between civilization and barbarism.

Looking for the citation of where Gaiman wrote that; probably here.  Gaiman is a contemporary British author of short stories and other works.

No credit line appears for the photo of the library, nor for the design of the quote on the photo.

Tip of the old scrub brush to Jean Detjen.

More:


Darrell’s corollaries of education + technology: No good work goes unpunished, most opportunities missed

January 27, 2013

Aristotle, and his pupil Alexander

Does this 19th century engraving show the perfect learning situation? Alexander had no iPhone, no laptop; Aristotle used no PowerPoint, no grading machines, not even a chalkboard. Have we come a long way, or is this a measure of how far we’ve fallen? “Aristotle and his pupil, Alexander (c. 340 BCE)” (original source?)

David Warlick‘s blog serves up a lot of stuff to make teachers think (cynically, I wonder whether education administrators can be shoved into thinking at all . . . but I digress).

David Warlick

David Warlick, in a taxi in Shanghai, probably off at some education conference or other.

Recently he pondered his own son’s use of several different kinds of media at once.  In a longer discussion that would be worth your while, someone asked, “Has the nature of information influenced the emerging ‘appropriate technologies’ like the digital learning object called an iBook?”  David responded:

My knee-jerk response is, “Not nearly enough.” This current push toward digital textbooks, urged on by our Secretary of Education, concerns me. I worry that we’re engaged in a race to modernize schooling, rather than a sober and thoughtful imagining and designing of learning materials and practices that are more relevant to today’s learners (ourselves include), today’s information landscape and a future that has lost the comforts of certainty, but become rich with wondrous opportunities.

What I enjoyed, though, about my experience in publishing an iBook was learning to hack some features into the book that were not part of Apples general instructions for using their publishing tool. This is the ultimate opportunity of digital learning objects and environments, that they can be hacked into new and better learning experiences by information artisans who see what’s there and what it can become.

In a cynical mood, I commented on an earlier statement Warlick made, about how technology has changed the education landscape:

“… we live in a time of no unanswered questions.”

BUT:

1.  The internet and especially portable devices have exponentially increased the probability that difficult questions will be answered incorrectly.

2.  For teachers, no longer is it possible to ask a simple, factual question as a teaser to get students to search for the answer, and thereby learn something deeper along the way.  Portable computer devices present one more non-print medium in which education appears to be abdicating its duties, and the war.  (We missed radio, film, television, recorded television, and desk-top computing; now we’re missing portable devices.)

English: Cropped picture of Jaime Escalante

Legendary AP calculus teacher Jaime Escalante; pencil, paper, chalkboard and chalk, maybe a slide rule, made up his technology kit. Photo: Wikipedia

3.  No question goes unanswered, but what is really rare is a question that is worth answering; even more rare, that good question that can be answered well from free internet sources.

Darrell’s Education Technology Corollary:  When administrators and policy makers tell educators (especially teachers) they wish to utilize “new technology,” they mean they want new ways to figure out ways to fire teachers, because they don’t have a clue how technology can be used in education, nor have they thought broadly enough about what education is.

Darrell’s Education Technology Corollary Corollary: When a teacher effectively uses technology in a classroom, it will be at the teacher’s instigation, the teacher’s expense, and administrators will get revenge on the teacher for having done so.

I’ve wondered whether I wasn’t too cynical; David offered a solid response.

A couple of weeks later, my cynicism is growing.  I’m warning you, teachers, you adopt new technologies at your risk, often — especially in some school districts like Dallas ISD.

It’s a caution only.  Teachers, being teachers, will continue to push the envelopes, as Fionna Larcom related at Warlick’s blog.  Good on ‘em.  One out of 500,000 will get accolades outside the education system, like Jaime Escalante did.  Many others will face reprimand.

But if education is to improve, this experimentation by teachers must continue.  So teachers slog on, under-appreciated and often opposed in their attempts to fix things.

Someday a school system will figure out how to unlock teachers’ creativity, knowledge and skills.  Not soon enough.

Teacher in primary school in northern Laos

Teacher in primary school in northern Laos.  Photo: Wikipedia

(Can someone explain to me how Warlick’s blog, with much better stuff than I do here, gets fewer hits?  Teachers, not enough of you are reading broadly enough.)

More, not necessarily the opinion of this blog:


Banned Books Week! Are you with the banned, in 2012?

October 4, 2012

It’s almost gone, and I haven’t even posted on it yet:  Happy Banned Books Week!

We’re celebrating this week from September 30 to October 6 — you’ve got two more days.

Can you identify each of these banned books?

Courtesy of Bookman’s, a book store in Arizona.

A two-minute video produced by Bookmans, an Arizona bookstore, is helping launch a national read-out from banned and challenged books that is being held on YouTube in conjunction with Banned Books Week, the national celebration of the freedom to read (Sept. 30-Oct. 6). The video presents Bookmans’ customers and staff urging people “to turn on the light” by celebrating freedom of expression. With light bulbs burning brightly above their heads, each of them reads a single line from a banned or challenged book that testifies to the importance of reading, books and freedom of speech. “It is a wonderfully creative and inspiring video,” said American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression President Chris Finan. “We hope all supporters of Banned Books Week will use social media to share it with their friends and the rest of the world, giving a big boost to this year’s read-out.” More than 800 people posted videos on YouTube during Banned Books Week last year. More information about the read-out, including updated criteria and submission information, is available here.

Which are your favorite Banned Books?

News and More:


“Smart” can be learned, and practiced — but probably not born

October 5, 2011

“I just can’t learn — my memory just doesn’t work.”  Third time today I heard that excuse.

It’s not true.  A lot of what we do in education is based more on tradition than any kind of research — school in the winter, start in the morning, quit in the afternoon, 30 kids sitting at desks in rows, testing for mastery, bells to change shifts classes — but here’s something we do know:  Practice brings mastery; practice makes perfect, more than talent does.

This is an encore post from 2007:

Every teacher needs to get familiar with the work of Carol Dweck. She’s a Stanford psychologist who is advising the Blackburn Rovers from England’s Premier League, on how to win, and how to develop winning ways.

Your students need you to have this stuff.

A 60-year-old academic psychologist might seem an unlikely sports motivation guru. But Dweck’s expertise—and her recent book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success—bear directly on the sort of problem facing the Rovers. Through more than three decades of systematic research, she has been figuring out answers to why some people achieve their potential while equally talented others don’t—why some become Muhammad Ali and others Mike Tyson. The key, she found, isn’t ability; it’s whether you look at ability as something inherent that needs to be demonstrated or as something that can be developed.

What’s more, Dweck has shown that people can learn to adopt the latter belief and make dramatic strides in performance. These days, she’s sought out wherever motivation and achievement matter, from education and parenting to business management and personal development. [emphasis added]

I can’t do justice to Dweck’s work. See this story in Stanford Magazine.

Still true. In short, kids, you can learn the material, and you can learn to learn better — with practice.

Are you practicing?

More, and fun resources: 


Quote of the moment: David Brooks, books vs. internet

July 12, 2010

Wisdom comes in keen insights:

These different cultures foster different types of learning. The great essayist Joseph Epstein once distinguished between being well informed, being hip and being cultivated. The Internet helps you become well informed — knowledgeable about current events, the latest controversies and important trends. The Internet also helps you become hip — to learn about what’s going on, as Epstein writes, “in those lively waters outside the boring mainstream.”

But the literary world is still better at helping you become cultivated, mastering significant things of lasting import. To learn these sorts of things, you have to defer to greater minds than your own. You have to take the time to immerse yourself in a great writer’s world. You have to respect the authority of the teacher.

Right now, the literary world is better at encouraging this kind of identity. The Internet culture may produce better conversationalists, but the literary culture still produces better students.

It’s better at distinguishing the important from the unimportant, and making the important more prestigious.

David Brooks, “The Medium is the Medium,” New York Times, July 9, 2010, page A23


Race to the Top: What’s a good job for a great bubble-guesser?

June 22, 2010

Education issues suffered here at the Bathtub over the past several months.  Confession:  I don’t like to write while angry, and thinking about education generally gets me there quickly.  When I write in anger, I like to sit on the stuff and edit when I’m cooled down.  But when I get back to edit, I get angry again.

If you watched the follies from the Texas State Soviet of Education over social studies standards, you might understand some of my anger.  I’m fortunate in some ways that my students don’t track the news more closely — they tended to miss the Soviet’s gutting of Hispanic history from Texas history standards, and so they didn’t get angry.  More than 85% of my students are Hispanic, many related to the Texas heroes dropped from the standards because they were brown (“What’s Hispanic Heritage Month for, anyway?” the Soviet probably wondered.)

Test bubbling, from TweenTeacher

Power of Bubbling -- for a scary story, click on the image and go read it at TweenTeacher

Plus, time for thinking about these issues evaporated during the school year.   Summer isn’t much better, though a bunch of us had eight great days with members of the history department at UT-Arlington focusing on the Gilded Age, Progressive Era, Age of Imperialism . . . even though reminded every day that the Texas Soviet doesn’t want us to teach that period as it is recorded in the history books.  (No, there are not plans for a translation into Texas Soviet Speak, at least not soon.  Teachers will have to make do.)

In one of our (too) many testing/oath-signing sessions this spring, a colleague cynically wondered what would be a good job for a kid who does well on the tests, a kid who has “demonstrated mastery of bubble-guessing.”

Bubble-guessing.  Wow.  Is that an apt description for what many schools teach these days!

I have a few days to put up the periscope and see what is going on out there.  A couple of things I’ve noticed, that you may want to follow:

Yong Zhao noticed that the Race to the Top criteria shouldn’t be etched in stone, and that small changes result in different winners. He’s actually more critical than that — he’s not just saying that the criteria can change.  He’s saying the criteria are lousy.

Education has a new god: data. It is believed to have the power to save American education and thus everything in education must be about data—collect more data about our children, evaluate teachers and administrators based on data, and reward and punish schools using data.

Sound familiar?

Zhao points to serious analyses of the Race to the Top applications and rejections which show, among other things, Pennsylvania was penalized for focusing on early childhood education, instead of collecting data.

Why was it we got into this swamp in the first place, and where did all these alligators come from?

Go read Zhao’s analysis, and maybe cruise around his blog.  It’s worth your while.  He’s a professor at Michigan State — University Distinguished Professor of Education.  (One thing you should read there:  Zhao’s slides from a recent speech.  E-mail the link to your principal.  Somebody find a YouTube version of that speech, please.)  [Checker Finn, do you ever get over to this backwater?  Zhao's on to something.  Zhao's on to a lot of things.]

Race to the Top is the worst thing the Obama administration has done, in my opinion.  It is aimed, or mis-aimed to give us a nation of bubble-guessers.  My guess is that aim is unintentional.  But the road to hell, or a Republican majority . . .

While we’re looking around, pay some attention to David Warlick’s 2¢ worth.  That’s where I found the links to Zhao.

Warlick has a couple of points worth pondering today:  First, has the technology train left the station, and so it’s no longer acceptable for teachers to use old tools?  He’s got a rant on trying to figure out if we’re teaching the “right stuff”:

I could have shared some of these new ideas with her, but it would not have helped.  The last time I helped my daughter prepare for a test, it was 8th grade and the unit test on the Civil War.  When she walked into that classroom, she could talk about and write about the reasons for the war, what the North and the South wanted to achieve, the advantages that the North held and those of the South, as well as their disadvantages.  She could tell you who won and who lost and why.

She made a 52 on the test because she couldn’t give the dates of the major battles of the war.

One of our mantras in the old Transportation Consulting Group at Ernst & Young was to understand that “You’re always ready to fight the last war.”  For what we were doing, generally we had to change the technology for each assignment.

That’s doubly true in education, in social studies, I think.  I constantly remind myself that my students don’t need the same things I got in high school.  We shouldn’t equip students to fight the last war, but instead prepare them to understand they need to get ready for the next one.

And what about your tags?  Warlick wonders. No answers, but good wonderings.


Watch my presentation or I’ll shoot this dog . . .

May 20, 2010

National Lampoon once ran a cover of a nice, spotted mutt, tongue out, looking sideways at a pistol pointing at its head.  There was a sort of a caption:  “If you don’t buy this magazine, we’ll kill this dog.”

That’s one way to try to boost circulation!  I first saw the magazine on the rack in a small pharmacy in Colorado Springs, across the street from Colorado College, between rounds of the Colorado College Invitational Debate Tournament.  Being short of cash and in sore need of eye drops, I looked at the magazine but put it back on the rack.  The woman at the cash register watched me carefully.  When I got to the register, she said, “You know, they’ll do it, too!  They’re just the sort of people who will kill that poor dog!”

(I imagine that woman has led Colorado Springs’ dramatic move to the right in politics.)

The publishers got that woman’s attention, didn’t they?

Cartoon by Mark Goetz, on the failure to heed Edward Tufte

Comes an article in The Scientist, “Pimp your PowerPoint.” It’s a news story based on a book by Michael Alley.

In the middle of the 19th century blackboards were all the rage. According to Pennsylvania State University engineering communication professor Michael Alley, it was common for universities and research institutions to proudly advertise that they had the only slate writing board in a 100-mile radius. Scientific lectures became more engaging than they’d ever been.

More than 150 years later, there’s still room for improvement. “People are not anywhere close to tapping the potential that a PowerPoint presentation offers,” Alley says. “We have a tool that can do an incredible amount, and people just waste it.” Who hasn’t been lulled into a somnolent state by some well-intentioned scientist presenting his research to a captive audience by reading a seemingly endless stream of bullet points?

Any media, done well, can be wonderful.  P. Z. Myers’ paean to Prof. Snider and his color chalk artworks reminds us that even a chalkboard can be a place of art, in the eye and hands of someone who gives thought to the work and practices the skills necessary to communicate well.  Looking around my classroom today, I note that better than half the whiteboard space features paper maps held to the board with magnets (which the kids like to steal).

Sometimes a flipchart is all you have, and sometimes a flipchart is all you really need — again, with thought to the ideas to be presented and a bit of polishing of the skills.

The piece in The Scientist relates useful ideas to help somebody who wants to make a better, less sleep-inducing, communicative PowerPoint (or better, maybe, KeyNote) presentation.

Unplug, think, and write
According to Galloway, using PowerPoint to make a great presentation starts with powering down the laptops and writing out an outline on index cards or a legal pad. “People have to shut off their computer and go away as they’re writing their PowerPoint presentation,” he says.

Establish your assertion
Alley says that he starts planning each slide by writing down a single sentence stating the idea he wants the audience to take away. “You have defined what it is you need to support that statement,” he says. “That’s where it starts.” Alley adds that the sentence should only take one or two lines, should consist of only 8–14 words, and should appear in 28-point font when inserted in the final PowerPoint presentation.

Assemble the visual evidence
Let the assertion sentence for each slide guide your decision as to which visuals should accompany it. Use “explanatory images”—not decorative or descriptive images—to support each assertion, says Joanna Garner, assistant professor of psychology at Pennsylvania State University. When describing the context or methods of your research, photos and movies are ideal pieces of evidence; when presenting your results, elements like graphs, tables, or charts (appropriately highlighted to emphasize key points) will do the trick.

Read more: Pimp your PowerPoint – The Scientist – Magazine of the Life Sciences http://www.the-scientist.com/templates/trackable/display/article1.jsp?type=article&o_url=article/display/57186&id=57186#ixzz0oSXiXCT6

Two things you gotta have first:  Something to say, and a desire to say it well.

Resources:

The Craft of Scientific Presentations: Critical Steps to Succeed and Critical Errors to Avoid, by Michael Alley, Springer-Verlag, Berlin, 2003. $39.95.

Presentation Zen Design: Simple Design Principles and Techniques to Enhance Your Presentations, by Garr Reynolds, New Riders Publishing, 2010. $31.49.

slide:ology, by Nancy Duarte, O’Reilly Media, Sebastopol, Calif., 2008. $34.99. (She’s got a blog, too.)

The Visual Display of Quantitative Information, by Edward Tufte, Graphics Press, Cheshire, Conn., 1983. $40.00.


Kicking U.S. butt even when we’re trying to study their language

May 10, 2010

Who gets the most out of this exchange?

“This country doesn’t value teachers, and that upsets me,” she said. “Teachers don’t earn much, and this country worships making money. In China, teachers don’t earn a lot either, but it’s a very honorable career.”

Ms. Zheng said she spent time clearing up misconceptions about China.

“I want students to know that Chinese people are not crazy,” she said. For instance, one of her students, referring to China’s one-child-per-family population planning policy, asked whether the authorities would kill one of the babies if a Chinese couple were to have twins.

Some students were astonished to learn that Chinese people used cellphones, she said. Others thought Hong Kong was the capital.

Barry Beauchamp, the Lawton superintendent, said he was thrilled to have Ms. Zheng and two other Chinese instructors working in the district. But he said he believed that the guest teachers were learning the most from the cultural exchange.

“Guest Teaching Chinese and Learning America,”  Sam Dillon, New York Times, May 9, 2010, page A14.


What’s gone wrong in Washington?

February 22, 2010

Lincoln, image by Derek Bacon for The Economist (2010)

Image by Derek Bacon, copyright The Economist 2010

Barack Obama announced his candidacy for president in Springfield, Illinois, on ground often trod by Abraham Lincoln.  As did Teddy Roosevelt, Obama studies Lincoln’s life and career, and presidency.  We know he devoured Team of Rivals, Doris Kearn Goodwin’s detailed history of Lincoln’s high-powered cabinet, all of who came to respect his leadership, and most to call him friend.

The Economist scores with another astonishing graphic for the cover of the print edition covering the week of February 18 — Lincoln’s exasperation apparent (image at right).

Is that all?

Again I lament not having an AP government class at the moment.  What an opening for discussion we have in Washington follies of the moment.  The story accompanying the graphic, plus an editorial that takes the Milquetoast way out — ‘Obama needs to try harder’ – poses questions we do need to explore, and which would be great in an AP classroom.

ACCORDING to Paul Krugman, the winner of a Nobel prize for economics and a columnist for the New York Times, modern America is much like 18th-century Poland. On his telling, Poland was rendered largely ungovernable by the parliament’s requirement for unanimity, and disappeared as a country for more than a century. James Fallows, after several years in China as a writer for the Atlantic Monthly, wrote on his return that he found in America a vital and self-renewing culture that attracts the world’s talent and “a governing system that increasingly looks like a joke”. Tom Friedman, another columnist for the New York Times, reported from the annual World Economic Forum in Davos last month that he had never before heard people abroad talking about “political instability” in America. But these days he did.

The growing idea among influential pundits that America is “ungovernable” is being driven in large part by Barack Obama’s failure so far to pass some of the main laws he wants to. And it is, indeed, a puzzle. Here, after all, is a president who only just over a year ago won a handsome mandate: 53% of the popular vote and big majorities in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. He bounded into office with a mountainous agenda, including plans to overhaul America’s health-care system and cut its greenhouse emissions. He seemed until quite recently to be doing reasonably well. In a folksy December interview with Oprah Winfrey he awarded himself “a good, solid B-plus”.

Is America now ungovernable?  What are the limits of a federal system, and have the states capitulated too much power to Washington?  Is anything else feasible with our economy in the mess it’s in?

I can imagine a discussion of the limits of the Articles of Confederation to start, noting the requirement of unanimity from the states to do anything major — and how that hamstrung the growth of America until George Washington pushed Alexander Hamilton and James Madison to change things.  Washington’s goals were only partly noble, to see a new, unified nation.  That unified nation he saw as necessary to open settlement of the Ohio Valley, where Washington had several thousand acres of land he couldn’t sell until settlers moved in.

How does the current set of impasses affect business?  Consider any small business, or big business, which offers health care plans to its employees.  Health reform is stalled — a Blue Cross affiliate in California raised rates by nearly 40%.  Health care is the one section of the economy where growth — meaning costs — grew through the depths of our financial difficulties in 2008 and 2009.  The need should be clear, but there are blocks to getting anything done about fixing the system.

Or consider international affairs.  Pentagon analysts worry about governmental instability created by the effects of global warming — drought, weather disaster, shifting crop yields (up in a few places, dramatically down where a few billion people live).  Thieves stole e-mails from the scientists studying the issue, and subsequent propaganda based on the theft alone has stalled climate talks, worldwide, giving a huge economic advantage to China and India.

What should be the role of government regulation for clean air?  Is the Clean Air Act sufficient? (Texas initiated suit against the federal government last week, claiming that the science behind reducing air pollution is wrong, a suit given as a gift to Texas’s major industries, some of which depend on the ability to dump garbage in the air with impunity.)

Is the problem more organically rooted in our inability to defeat incumbents in Congress? 2010 is a Census year — we count Americans to see how many representatives there should be for each state in the House of Represtentatives.  The bitter redistricting fights will come in state legislatures next year.  Can we save the system when politicians design seats more to secure a safe majority for their own party, rather than to see that every American is adequately represented?

What about media?  Traditionally newspapers, aided by television, played the watchdog role on Washington politicians.  Americans aren’t reading newspapers much, anymore.  News holes shrink, and serious reporting on issues goes away.  Can an open democracy survive without healthy newspapers?  And if not, who can do what about it?

Go to The Economist and check out the stories (better if you’re a subscriber — the stories usually go away for non-paying browsers after a few days).  What can you do with them in the classroom?

What do you think?  What’s gone wrong in Washington?


What if we actually encouraged students to use technology?

February 12, 2010

This is the headline that roped me in, at The New York Times: “Wi-Fi Turns Rowdy Bus into Rolling Study Hall.”

And a short excerpt:

But on this chilly morning, as bus No. 92 rolls down a mountain highway just before dawn, high school students are quiet, typing on laptops.

Morning routines have been like this since the fall, when school officials mounted a mobile Internet router to bus No. 92’s sheet-metal frame, enabling students to surf the Web. The students call it the Internet Bus, and what began as a high-tech experiment has had an old-fashioned — and unexpected — result. Wi-Fi access has transformed what was often a boisterous bus ride into a rolling study hall, and behavioral problems have virtually disappeared.

What would your bus drivers say?

(File under “If you teach them, they will learn — and behavior problems will fade away.”)

Don’t miss the end of the article:

A ride through mountains on a drizzly afternoon can be unpredictable, even on the Internet Bus. Through the windows on the left, inky clouds suddenly parted above a ridge, revealing an arc of incandescent color.

“Dude, there’s a rainbow!” shouted Morghan Sonderer, a ninth grader.

A dozen students looked up from their laptops and cellphones, abandoning technology to stare in wonder at the eastern sky.

“It’s following us!” Morghan exclaimed.

“We’re being stalked by a rainbow!” Jerod said.

More:


5 things to teach – Life lessons your supervisor doesn’t want to see on your lesson plans

February 6, 2010

It’s too short to excerpt — so here’s the whole thing.

Over at The Elementary Educator, I found this list, “Five Things You Should Teach Your Students This Week (None of which are likely to be on your standards):

This week, teach your students:

1.  To understand themselves as learners (a.k.a. metacognition)

2.  That intelligence is not innate; effort matters

3.  Compassion

4.  The excitement of creating real things for real audiences

5.  The joy of exercise, play, and healthy living

Another reminder that not all things that count can be counted.

The Elementary Educator carries interesting stuff.  You may wish to check it out.


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