Archive for April 5th, 2007

In Baghdad, official control over the news is getting tighter. Journalists used to walk freely into the city’s hospitals and the morgue to keep count of the day’s dead and wounded. Now the hospitals have been declared off-limits and morgue officials turn away reporters who aren’t accompanied by a Coalition escort. Iraqi police refer reporters’ questions to American forces; the Americans refer them back to the Iraqis.” reports Newsweek this week.

So the war to bring democracy to Iraq (because democracy is what the people of Iraq really wanted all along) has created a condition where the press is relegated to being locked out of hospitals and morgues by Coalition (the great coded euphemism meaning United States) forces (forget about the handful of British forces and the few more from several other countries). Some demonstration of democracy, eh! Cover-up the facts by not allowing accurate or truthful reporting of events, atrocities, or what have you as an expression of freedom carries with it an arrogance of power that speaks better to Fascism than it does to freely elected democratic governments.

What is Bush afraid of? That reporters might actually report the growing number of casualties and deaths in the streets of Baghdad and elsewhere in Iraq? What must the real numbers look like? But, then the administration tells us the lie that the current surge strategy is working in parts of Baghdad. So, it probably isn’t working in other parts, yes? And, then, I was under the impression that Iraq is much larger than merely the city of Baghdad. I don’t think I am mistaken on that one. What is the truth about the surge in the parts of Baghdad and the rest of Iraq where we must assume the policy isn’t working?

Censorship has no place in democratic institutions. While I would not advocate irresponsible journalism such as reporting troop movements or attack plans prior to execution, to report real numbers of casualties and deaths gives no aid and comfort to the enemy. Quite the contrary, what it does is point to the utter failure of the administration strategy (a word Bush loves to slur) in the prosecution of this botched war.

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Study Says Tools Don’t Raise Scores
This report from the Washingtonpost.com

Educational software, a $2 billion-a-year industry that has become the darling of school systems across the country, has no significant impact on student performance, according to a study by the U.S. Department of Education.

The long-awaited report amounts to a rebuke of educational technology, a business whose growth has been spurred by schools desperate for ways to meet the testing mandates of President Bush’s No Child Left Behind law.

Oh my, another chink in the armor of NCLB. I am not surprised. Technology is worthy of many things–a teacher it is not! Without technology this blog would not be possible, critical exploration of deep space, research into drug development, and so much more would simply not be possible. But, sitting a child in front of a computer to do drill and kill is no different than handing the same child a worksheet. It numbs the brain. It kills curiosity.

Not too very long ago my then 6 year old grandson was visiting me from his home in Phoenix. Because he was missing a couple of days of school, his 1st grade teacher supplied him with multiple worksheet assignments. He balked at doing this homework. When I asked him why he said, “Poppa, it is really stupid work. I know how to do it all so it is just a waste of my time–time I could be spending with you and grandma.” Aside from the fact that he will grow up to be a diplomat, his analysis was right on. In fact, it was a waste of his time. If a 6-year-old child knows this and can articulate his knowing this well something tells me the DOE did not have to pay for an expensive study.

We have known for some time that drill and skill worksheets don’t work at any age for any topic. What does work is to engage children as curious, inquiring learners. It is a grand Deweyan myth but he could have said this, “If you want kids to learn about volume and container size, send them out to the sandbox with different size buckets and have them play in the sand. Then come back to the classroom and discuss what they did in the sandbox.” Learning through experience works. It engages kids in ways that involve their natural curiosity so that what is learned is retained. Beating them over the head with drivel simply gets lost as the children get lost in the process.

But NCLB pushes notions of basic skills for reading and math. Curiously, nothing is ever said about what one does with the skills acquired. What are the real world applications of having a set of skills that one has not been able to internalize because they hold no interest.

If technology is to be effective as a classroom tool then it must be seen as interactive, messy, and authentic. Not some pre-programmed worksheet model that crushes children in the process.

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BBC NEWS | UK | Education | Tests ‘stopping children playing’

Five-year-olds are being prevented from engaging in traditional play as they are under too much pressure from the national tests, teachers have warned.

With lessons geared towards assessment, children are bored from the moment they begin formal schooling, the Association of Teachers and Lecturers warned.

What is this world coming to? British kids at 5-years of age are already bored with school from the moment they begin formal education. The sad fact is that school policy in Britain and the United States violate the most important maxim of teaching: TO DO NO HARM TO CHILDREN!

Children need to play, need to get their hands dirty, need to explore the world they live in on their terms with guidance from adults that are well educated and understand the relationship of play to learning. To metaphorically strap children to their seats at age 5 is to literally beat curiosity out of them, to make them passive and, in doing so, dull their minds so that an entire generation of children will be lost to intellectual pursuits. This is an egregious breech of faith with younger people, a retreat from adult responsibility to educate our children to be productive citizens of the world. To bore and not to challenge is frightening; a reminder of Orwell’s conception of his future from the point of view of the 1950’s when he wrote 1984. The world, in Orwell’s terms was turned on its head–Peace is War, Love is Hate and so on–so that life no longer made sense.

What will happen to these 5-year-old children as they reach adulthood in a mere 13 years? Will they be so deprived of curiosity, of the ability to think for themselves, of the ability to form responsible opinions, that they will understand the world in Orwellian terms? It is a truly upside down world we inhabit today.

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I don’t generally comment on conservative sites, not because they get it wrong but because there is little room for discourse between us. That being said, I thought I would raise a few issues contained in the Townhall.com diatribe regarding higher education.

Townhall.com::The Shame of Higher Education::By Walter E. Williams

Williams writes, in part, An ethnic studies
professor, at Cal State Northridge and Pasadena City College, teaches
that “the role of students and teachers in ethnic studies is to comfort
the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.”
So my question is simply this. In the Tanach, what Christians refer to as the Old Testament, the admonition to care for the widow, orphan, and stranger occurs numerous times. Does Williams suggest that this bit of ethical wisdom is useless, that one has no obligation to take care of the afflicted. When one afflicts the comfortable does that not simply mean that one should make others aware of their ethical obligation deeply embedded in the monotheistic traditions of the West? Maybe I am missing something here.

He goes on to report: UC Santa Barbara’s
School of Education e-mailed its faculty asking them to consider
classroom options concerning the Iraq War, suggesting they excuse
students from class to attend anti-war events and give them extra
credit to write about it.

When Williams references the “School of Education” what or who exactly is he referencing? The school does not send out e-mails. That is sort of like receiving a memo From the Desk Of… I don’t know about you, but I never knew of a desk that could write a memo. By not revealing the author of the memo, Williams is committing the cardinal sin of concealment of factual information that is important to his point. Furthermore, it is important for students to attend events, anti-war or otherwise, and to think critically about those events. Apparently Williams could benefit from that kind of critical thinking himself.

Further, Williams reports: An English professor at
Montclair State University in New Jersey tells his students,
“Conservatism champions racism, exploitation and imperialist war.”
Here the quote is taken out of context. The context is important here. For example, I can envision the quote in the following context: Given the above quote, critically respond to the charge made by the author in light of…and so on. By not revealing the context of the quote Williams fails to give his reader adequate information from which to form a reasoned judgment.

But, isn’t this the tactic of the radical right? To shout out charges without substantiation with the intent of persuading an audience that there is no other approach, no other way of thinking. No need to go into depth when a sound bite will suffice. No need to pursue the facts when charges are what stick in the reader’s mind.

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