Different River

”You can never step in the same river twice.” –Heraclitus

May 13, 2008

The Crucible in Florida

Filed under: — Different River @ 4:00 pm

I’d thought this sort of thing went out with the Salem witch trials, but I guess not:

Fla. Teacher Accused Of Wizardry
Man Made Toothpick Vanish In Class

POSTED: 10:15 pm EDT May 5, 2008
UPDATED: 12:39 pm EDT May 7, 2008

LAND ‘O LAKES, Fla. — A substitute teacher in Pasco County has lost his job after being accused of wizardry.

Teacher Jim Piculas does a magic trick where a toothpick disappears and then reappears.

Piculas recently did the 30-second trick in front of a classroom at Rushe Middle School in Land ‘O Lakes.

Piculas said he then got a call from the supervisor of teachers, saying he’d been accused of wizardry.

“I get a call the middle of the day from head of supervisor of substitute teachers. He says, ‘Jim, we have a huge issue, you can’t take any more assignments you need to come in right away,’” he said.

Piculas said he did not know of any other accusations that would have led to the action.

The teacher said he is concerned that the incident may prevent him from getting future jobs.

Well, of course the teacher should be concerned that the incident may prevent him from getting future jobs.

I’m more concerned that about the intelligence of the people running the school system that supposed to be teaching the next generation.

November 1, 2006

Why isn’t Kerry “stuck in Iraq”?

Filed under: — Different River @ 10:57 am

In case you’ve haven’t heard the news for the last 24 hours, John Kerry’s been at it again. Campaigning at Pasadena City College for the Phil Angelides, Democratic candidate for Governor of California, John Kerry said:

“You know education, if you make the most of it, you study hard, you do your homework and you make an effort to be smart, you can do well. And if you don’t, you get stuck in Iraq.”

The clear implication of this is that if your in the military, it’s because you were too lazy or stupid to “do well.”

Kerry is “defending” himself in classic Kerry style, saying, “I’m sick and tired of these despicable Republican attacks.” It’s a despicable attack on Kerry indeed, to quote Kerry’s own words. Kerry is also defending himself on the grounds that he was not referring to the troops, but to President Bush — as claiming that Bush is stuck in Iraq because he didn’t study hard is some sort of a reasonable argument against the war.

It’s especially disingenuous because Kerry arguably didn’t study as hard as Bush — as this blog documented, Kerry and Bush both went to college at Yale, and Kerry’s Yale grades were worse than Bush’s.

The real scandal is that Kerry — perhaps like many liberals — thinks is a reasonable thing to say that “study[ing] hard, do[ing] your homework, … be[ing] smart” is somehow the opposite of being in the military. It’s as if the joining military is a punishment for doing poorly in school.

If that was ever true, it isn’t now. The military rejects people who don’t do well in school. It’s virtually impossible to enlist without a high school diploma, or with bad grades, or if you’ve gotten into trouble with the law. It’s hard to get promted to the senior enlisted ranks without a college degree — and the military will send you to college to get one. You can’t become an officer without a college degree, and you almost can’t get promoted beyond major without a master’s desgree, and you certainly can’t get promoted to General or Admiral without a master’s degree. Most Generals/Admirals have two masters degrees, and a substantial percentage have a doctorate.

I teach economics to senior military officers. They are studying for a master’s degree. For some it is their second. Not one of them is a “classroom dud” — they do all the readings, they work hard, they show up to class with good questions, they write well, and they are clearly interested in learning, even if at the beginning of the term they weren’t sure what economics had to do with their jobs. (They know now!) One of my fellow instructors is an Army Colonel with a master’s degree in management and Ph.D. in operations research (that’s a field of math, for you Kerry people!). I know a Marine Lieutenant General with an Ed.D and four (!) master’s degrees. I was once in a training session with a Marine Lieutenant Colonel who was a lawyer — he not only had a J.D. (the regular law degree), but an L.L.M., indicating a level of education higher than probably 90% of lawyers.

Study hard, John Kerry. You aren’t good enough to get “stuck in Iraq.”

UPDATE: (11/1/06 4:00pm) Matt Drudge has this picture posted on his web site. I think this tells us what the troops think of all this:

UPDATE: (11/2/06 2:05am) The guys in the picture above are from the 1st Brigade Combat Team of the 34th Infantry Division (1/34th BCT), a unit of the Minnesota Army National Guard.

September 21, 2006

Public School Arson

Filed under: — Different River @ 4:57 pm

If you are a public school teacher and you start a fire in your classroom, in front of the children in your class, filling your classroom with smoke your students have to breathe — and do this not once, but twice — what one factor might prevent you from being charged with a crime?

a) It was an accident.
b) You were insane at the time.
c) The main fuel for the fire was an American flag.

If you picked (c), you’re right!

A Stuart [Kentucky] Middle School teacher won’t be arrested for burning two American flags in his classroom because authorities said his students were not put at enough risk to warrant charges.

“On two occasions, teacher set fire to combustible material (flag), allowing material to burn in garbage can and on desk, then left the classroom filled with students in an attempt to find water to put the fire out,” the investigation concluded.

Holden burned a flag in two classes, one with 30 students and another with 24 students.

The flags were about 18 inches by 12 inches with wooden poles. He lighted the cloth on each flag while holding it over a small metal trashcan, according to investigation documents.

Holden told school officials that he had wet paper towels surrounding the trashcan on his desk, but several students told investigators that Holden had to leave the classroom to get more water to put out the fire.

As part of the fire department’s investigation, arson detectives questioned several of Holden’s students, and school officials provided detectives written statements of what they saw.

One student told investigators that smoke from the fire made students cough.

“It was smokey (sic), cause I’m like allergic to smoke and the whole room was full of smoke and like I was coughing, a lot of people was coughing,” the student said in a transcribed statement in the file.

Asked whether the fire was frightening, the student replied: “Not really. I just thought he could have dropped the flag and could have, you know, made the whole classroom on fire.”

May 23, 2006

Dismantle the Military!

Filed under: — Different River @ 5:03 pm

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors is considering banning Junior ROTC from San Francisco high schools because they think the military is “discriminatory.” And oh, yes, for one other reason as well:

Supporters such as [sophmore student Timothy] Twyman say the program helps students develop self-confidence and prepare for the working world, while opponents counter that it’s just an easy way for the military to get a foothold in public schools and encourage teens to enlist after they graduate.

Oh, really? I’d never have guessed that the purpose of JROTC is to recruit! Imagine that! And the real scandal is, the Pentagon hides that information, by posting it on their web site:

Although JROTC is not considered a recruiting tool, defense officials say about 40 percent of high school graduates with more than 2 years in the program end up with some military affiliation or continue with community service. They may enlist on active duty or in a reserve component, or enter an officer precommissioning program.

And one Supervisor has an even more, um, interesting reason for wanted to get rid fo JROTC:

In February, Supervisor Gerardo Sandoval appeared on Fox’s “Hannity and Colmes” show and said, “The United States should not have a military. All in all, we would be in much, much, much better shape.”

If Supervisor Sandoval thinks life would be better in a country without a military, perhaps he should move to one. I would recommend Somalia. Since they don’t have amilitary, it must be much more peaceful there … right?

(Hat tip: Thanks to reader “Bruce” for sending me the article link.)

April 4, 2006

What Kind of Lesson Does This Teach?

Filed under: — Different River @ 6:14 pm

What kind of lesson does this teach?

Students at Shaw Heights Middle School [in Westminster, Colorado] are no longer allowed to wear anything that’s patriotic, including camouflage pants, because they have become a political symbol for a version of patriotism.
Myla Shepherd, the principal, said that tensions over the immigration issue were apparent when more than 20 students came to school wearing camouflage jackets and pants, apparently to show what they call their patriotism and American pride.

“We started seeing name calling,” Shepherd said. “Safety is my first concern so I’m going to do things to keep us from getting to a point where anybody is hurt or being suspended for fighting.”

So the lesson taught by the school is: if you threaten and name-call, you get what you want. In other words, threats and intimidation have the respect of those in authority. Peaceful statements expressed silently on clothing do not.

So if you want to get your message across, don’t express your opinion peacefully and respectfully. Just threaten the safety of anyone who disagrees with you. That’s the more appropriate approach, according to the Principal Myla Shepherd.

That’s the lesson being taught in our public schools. And also that patriotism is wrong, or at least something to be kept in the closet. (Literally, since we’re talking about clothes here!)

I wonder what principle of the education establishment would be violated if they taught that name-calling is wrong, that threatening violence is wrong, that one should respect those with other points of view, and that everyone has the right to peacefully express opinions on the issues of the day. Never mind the view that American democracy might be a good thing — that’s been verboten in American schools for a long time.

March 15, 2006

Tell it Slowly

Filed under: — Different River @ 3:16 pm

There’s a class of jokes that goes something like this:

A: Want to hear a great [INSERT ETHNIC GROUP] joke?
B: OK, but realize I’m a [MEMBER OF ETHNIC GROUP].
A: That’s OK, I’ll tell it slowly.

For some reason I thought of that when I witness the following exchange on a discussion e-mail list for historians:

The question:

I’ll be teaching a section on the Constitution for middle school teachers in a 2006 Teaching American History Summer Project. A lot of the undergrads enrolled in my classes are teachers in training & I’ve co-directed an NEH summer seminar for high school teachers, but this will be my first time working particularly with middle school teachers. Does anyone have advice? I think I should offer the participants materials that will make sense to them & (in at least some cases) that can be used by their own students.

One response:

As a former middle school teacher, I suggest you organize the information very clearly, provide plenty of written handouts of the information, provide brief excerpts of primary sources for them to use, and suggest ways to present the information other than simply giving notes.

In other words, “Tell it slowly.”

Any middle school teachers reading this should pelase direct their wrath to the “former middle school teacher” above, not to me….

March 2, 2006

Be Wear the Spelling Chequer

Filed under: — Different River @ 2:46 pm

Law.com reports:

In an opening brief to San Francisco’s 1st District Court of Appeal, a search-and-replace command by [Santa Cruz lawyer] Dudley inexplicably inserted the words “sea sponge” instead of the legal term “sua sponte,” which is Latin for “on its own motion.”

“Spell check did not have sua sponte in it,” said Dudley, who, not noticing the error, shipped the brief to court.

That left the justices reading — and probably laughing at — such classic statements as: “An appropriate instruction limiting the judge’s criminal liability in such a prosecution must be given sea sponge explaining that certain acts or omissions by themselves are not sufficient to support a conviction.”

And: “It is well settled that a trial court must instruct sea sponge on any defense, including a mistake of fact defense.”

The sneaky “sea sponge” popped up at least five times.

Dudley said he didn’t notice the mistake in People v. Danser, A107853, until his client — William Danser, a former Santa Clara County Superior Court judge seeking reversal of his conviction for fixing traffic tickets — called for an explanation.

Well, this is what you get when you (a) rely too heavily on a spelling checker, and (b) are a lawyer with a former judge as a client. He can fix spelling as well as he can “fix” traffic tickets, I suppose.

This little gem comes from law professor Glenn Reynolds (“Instapundit”), who introduces it by saying, “I frequently warn my students about overreliance on spellcheckers. Here’s a good object lesson.”

I think it’s time to reprise this famous poem:

Eye Halve a Spelling Chequer

Eye halve a spelling chequer
It came with my pea sea
It plainly marques four my revue
Miss steaks eye kin knot sea.

Eye strike a quay and type a word
And weight four it two say
Weather eye am wrong oar write
It shows me strait a weigh.

As soon as a mist ache is maid
It nose bee fore two long
And eye can put the error rite
Its really ever wrong.

Eye have run this poem threw it
I am shore your pleased two no
Its letter perfect in it’s weigh
My chequer tolled me sew.

(Sauce unknown)

January 5, 2006

Artistic Intelligence

Filed under: — Different River @ 3:08 am

Ever heard of “artistic intelligence”? When I was in middle school, where self-esteem is more important than knowledge or ability, the teachers used to tell us that there were all sorts of “intelligence,” and maybe people who weren’t good at math or writing or science or history had more “artistic intelligence” to make up for it.

I wonder if this is what they were talking about:

An artist who chained his legs together to draw a picture of the image hopped 12 hours through the desert after realizing he lost the key and couldn’t unlock the restraints, authorities said Wednesday.

Trevor Corneliusien, 26, tightly wrapped and locked a long, thick chain around his bare ankles Tuesday while camping in an abandoned mine shaft about five miles north of Baker, San Bernardino County sheriff’s Deputy Ryan Ford said.

“It took him over 12 hours because he had to hop through boulders and sand,” Ford said. “He did put on his shoes before hopping.”

The artist, who is from the area, often sketched images inside mines in the Southwest. He had finished his drawing Tuesday when he realized he didn’t have the key.

Corneliusien finally made it to a gas station and called the sheriff’s department, which sent paramedics and deputies with bolt cutters. His legs were bruised but he was otherwise in good health, Ford said.

The artist did not have a listed phone number and could not be reached for comment.

And the drawing?

“He brought it down with him,” Ford said. “It was a pretty good depiction of how a chain would look wrapped around your legs.”

Se, he was a good artist! And he was able to rescue the drawing!

Of course, if he only had normal intelligence, he would have just wrapped the chain and not used a lock in the first place — but that would have comprimised his “artistic integrity”!

January 4, 2006

The Benefits of Higher Education

Filed under: — Different River @ 8:48 pm

Dr. Romy reflects on the benefits of having a Ph.D.

June 9, 2005

Freedom of Choice?

Filed under: — Different River @ 8:23 pm

Milton Friedman on education, in the Wall Street Journal.

June 8, 2005

Censorship in the Public Schools

Filed under: — Different River @ 10:00 pm

As I was just saying a few minutes ago, freedom of speech is supposed to be one of the hallmarks of American society. Another one is supposed to be freedom of religion, which has two faced: The government should not foist religion on you (the “no establishment” clause of the First Amendment), and the government should not prohibit you from exercising your religion (the “free exercise” clause). It should also not prohibit you from talking about your religion (the “freedom of speech” clause.

All of these are in trouble in the public schools.

First, Law Professor Eugene Volokh of UCLA reports that Cathy Summa, Principal of Karns Elementary School in Knox County, Tennessee, sent a letter home to parents “reminding” them that students are not allowed to read or discuss the Bible during recess. She did this after interrupting a group of ourth-graders with Bibles, ordering them to put the Bibles away, and singling one of those students out for a special “warning.” Some parents are suing in federal court. (Also linked by Clayton Cramer.)

Second, Instructor Michael Shefchik of Victor Valley Community College in Victorville, California gave a student a failing grade (49 out of 100 possible points) on a paper written in an English class, because she she mentioned the G-word. The approved topic for the paper: “Religion and Its Place within the Government.” (No doubt if she had mentioned the “F-word” instead of the “G-word” that would have been well within the bounds of her freedom of speech. These days, you have to keep track of which letters of the alphabet are permitted!) The student’s case is being taken up by the American Center for Law and Justice, a civil-rights organization which is sort of like what the ACLU would be if it supported the free-exercise clause as well as the no-establishment clause.

June 2, 2005

Politics in the Classroom

Filed under: — Different River @ 6:02 pm

Conservatives, especially in and around academia, have long alleged that the overwhelming predominance of liberals in academia has led to widespread discrimination against liberals, both in hiring and tenure, and in grading of students. There have been numerous documented cases of the latter, but each has been dismissed as “isolated” by liberals defenders of the status quo.

However, now it’s official. If you are in a School of Education studying to be a teacher, you will be graded on your “disposition,” which is defined by your “beliefs and attitudes related … to social justice.

‘Disposition’ Emerges as Issue at Brooklyn College

BY JACOB GERSHMAN – Staff Reporter of the Sun
May 31, 2005

Brooklyn College’s School of Education has begun to base evaluations of aspiring teachers in part on their commitment to social justice, raising fears that the college is screening students for their political views.

The School of Education at the CUNY campus initiated last fall a new method of judging teacher candidates based on their “dispositions,” a vogue in teacher training across the country that focuses on evaluating teachers’ values, apart from their classroom performance.

Critics such as [History Professor Robert David] Johnson say the dangers of the assessment policy became immediately apparent in the fall semester when several students filed complaints against an instructor who they said discriminated against them because of their political beliefs and “denounced white people as the oppressors.”

Classroom clashes between the assistant professor, Priya Parmar, and one outspoken student led a sympathetic colleague of the instructor to conduct an informal investigation of the dispositions of the student, who the colleague said exhibited “aggressive and bullying behavior toward his professor.” That student and another one were subsequently accused by the dean of the education school of plagiarism and were given lower grades as a result.

And no, it’s not just “isolated” at Brooklyn College. It’s the official policy of the agency that accredits teacher training programs. That means, if a school doesn’t grade according to political view — and guarantee that the views preferred are those of the accrediting agency — they can lose their accreditation.

Driving the new policies at the college and similar ones at other education schools is a mandate set forth by the largest accrediting agency of teacher education programs in America, the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education. That 51-year-old agency, composed of 33 professional associations, says it accredits 600 colleges of education – about half the country’s total. Thirty-nine states have adopted or adapted the council’s standards as their own, according to the agency.

In 2000 the council introduced new standards for accrediting education schools. Those standards incorporated the concept of dispositions, which the agency maintains ought to be measured, to sort out teachers who are likeliest to be successful. In a glossary, the council says dispositions “are guided by beliefs and attitudes related to values such as caring, fairness, honesty, responsibility, and social justice.”

To drive home the notion that education schools ought to evaluate teacher candidates on such parameters as attitude toward social justice, the council issued a revision of its accrediting policies in 2002 in a Board of Examiners Update. It encouraged schools to tailor their assessments of dispositions to the schools’ guiding principles, which are known in the field as “conceptual frameworks.” The council’s policies say that if an education school “has described its vision for teacher preparation as ‘Teachers as agents of change’ and has indicated that a commitment to social justice is one disposition it expects of teachers who can become agents of change, then it is expected that unit assessments include some measure of a candidate’s commitment to social justice.”

Brooklyn College’s School of Education, which is the only academic unit at the college with the status of school, is among dozens of education schools across the country that incorporate the notion of “social justice” in their guiding principles. At Brooklyn, “social justice” is one of the four main principles in its conceptual framework. The school’s conceptual framework states that it develops in its students “a deeper understanding of the quest for social justice.” In its explanation of that mission, the school states: “We educate teacher candidates and other school personnel about issues of social injustice such as institutionalized racism, sexism, classism, and heterosexism.”

It is not a stretch that a student known to believe in some religions — say, a traditional version of Christianity or Judaism — would automatically be presumed to be “heterosexist” if he or she doesn’t explicitly denounce a belief in Leviticus 18:22.

Since you need a degree or certificate from an accredited school of education to teach in the public schools in most states, this is equivalent to barring people from teaching in the public schools if they are of the wrong religion.

Where is the ACLU when you need them?

May 17, 2005

Massachusetts Considers Banning Bad Report Cards

Filed under: — Different River @ 7:21 pm

Legislation proposed in the Massachusetts Senate and House would, if passed, ban bad report cards, group projects, and quite possibly difficult exams. The law would apply to all private and public schools in the state. Whether it would include colleges and universities probably depends on how Massachusetts law defines “school.”

This sounds like either some sort of a joke, or a class president’s campaign promise come true. But it’s neither. Here’s the full text of the proposed law:

An Act relative to threats in schools

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives in General Court assembled, and by the authority of the same, as follows:

Chapter 7 of the General Laws is hereby amended by inserting after section 37N the following section:—

Section 37O. Whoever, in any public or private school in the Commonwealth, produces alone or in concert with another or others, a document by any means, containing the name or names of fellow student [sic] or school personnel or both which would thereby cause anxiety, unrest, fear or personal discomfort to any person or groups of persons shall be punished by imprisonment in a jail or house of correction for not more than 2 ½ years or by a fine of not more than $5,000 or by both such fine and imprisonment in a jail or house of correction.

(Emphasis added.)

Now, the plain meaning of this would include, for example, any document containing a teacher’s name (“school personnel”) which cause “anxiety” “to any person.” That would include, obvliously, a difficult test with the teacher’s name on it. (“Calculus — Final Exam — Mr. Smith” at the top of the page.) Surely a difficult exam would cause anxiety to some students.

A bad report card — which would typically include the names of the student and that students teacher(s) — would also cause “anxiety, unrest or fear,” perhaps of parental reactions, and even “personal discomfort” in a student who wanted to do better, even if that student has no fear of parental reactions. (Remember, the law says “anxiety, unrest, fear or personal discomfort.” The “or” means that only one of those four elements must be present for a document ot violate the law.)

Indeed, even a good report card or a test with a high score could “cause … personal discomfort” to students who got lower grades or scores.

When I was in high school and tried out for a play, the results were announced by posting a list of called-back (and then casted) students on the door of the drama teacher’s classroom. One of my most anxious moments in high school was reading that list to see if my name was on it. That was a document containing “names of fellow students” and it produced anxiety, that would be illegal. (Only such a “document” would be illegal, mind you — if the drama teacher memorized the cast and read it out loud to the students that would be legal regardless of how much anxiety were produced.) After all, as Zero Intelligence points out, “The law states that if any person feels anxious because of a document with names on it the list writer is a criminal. It does not even go so far as to restrict the victim pool to people who are actually on the list.” In the case of casting school plays, the greatest axiety would be to those not on the list!

Zero Intelligence also points out that this law could ban group projects and teachers’ performance reviews. But there’s an easy way around that last one — just give all teachers immediate tenure upon hiring, or review the performance only of tenured teachers. Those teachers’ pay and continued employment is not at all related to their performance reviews (if any), so they would have nothing to be anxious about. (In public schools anyway. But the law applies to private schools also, so this law would force private schools to either eliminate performance reviews, or make the reviews unrelated to pay or continued employment.)

Now, you might argue that whoever wrote the law didn’t mean that. You might even argue that based on the title, which is not normally considered part of a law (as far as I know). But in that case, I would respond that whoever wrote the law needs to re-take some course in a relevant subject, like English composition, and learn the meaning of words like “any” and “person” and “cause” and maybe even “document.” And that the four (so far) legislators who have signed on as co-sponsors need to re-take some course in “reading comprehension.”

Keep in mind, by the way, that these legislators are elected by the people of Massachusetts, which includes most of the faculty, staff, and many students of some of our nation’s most prestigious institutions of higher learning, such as Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Fitchburg State College.

Zero Intelligence has links to the legislators, in case you want to contact them. I wonder if you should do so in writing. Would it do any good? ;-)

May 15, 2005

Libraries without Books?

Filed under: — Different River @ 3:21 pm

The New York Times reports that:

HOUSTON, May 13 – Students attending the University of Texas at Austin will find something missing from the undergraduate library this fall.


By mid-July, the university says, almost all of the library’s 90,000 volumes will be dispersed to other university collections to clear space for a 24-hour electronic information commons, a fast-spreading phenomenon that is transforming research and study on campuses around the country.

“In this information-seeking America, I can’t think of anyone who would elect to build a books-only library,” said Fred Heath, vice provost of the University of Texas Libraries in Austin.

No, but there is a big difference between a “books-only library” and a “no-books library.” I’m as big a fan of online information as you’ll find anywhere (especially online journal articles), but the fact is, unless and until they scan in and make available online every book ever published, there will still be a legitimate need for books in libraries, and therefore a real loss of information if you get rid of books.

And even if they do that, there is still some sort of loss. Sure, scanned books might have searchable text (like the scanned journals in the JSTOR collection, and that would be a gain, and you could retrieve any scanned book you want (without worrying if someone else has checked it out) which would also be a gain. But sometimes it’s just easier to flip the pages of a book and “see what’s there” if you don’t know what words to search on, and sometimes it’s nice to browse the stacks and see what other books are available on the same or related subjects, which you might not have thought to search for. (When I was an undergraduate, a professor told me they had once considered closing the stacks in the university library to undergraduates — they’d have staff retrieve whatever books you asked for, but not let undergrads browse the stacks. They rejected the idea in part because they thought the ability to browse the stacks was valuable from an educational and research point of view.)

But even so, we’re a very long way from having every old book scanned in, and they are already moving the books out.

I think this is part of a larger trend, which is the devaluation of any piece of information that was published more than a few years ago. This is not a good trend.

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