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Tuesday, October 18, 2011

We Need To Moneyball This Thing


Scientist have been sciencing education for years, yet there still seems to be a myriad of unanswered questions, answers that are abused by those with an agenda, and queries that have not been adequately pondered. Before we can begin to discuss the answers to any of these questions, we must decide on a common goal. The main issues seems to be educators and political leaders desire a different product from education and we use one instrument to measure both.

I'm not sure what these are, but I don't think they will test well.

Since Thomas Jefferson said that democracy needed an educated populace to function, it has been the goal of free public education to produce well informed citizens/white, male land-owners able to make intelligent decisions about how to best govern the country. The conflict arises when we are being measured by government entities that don't seem particularly interested in good citizenship. Our students are pitted against students from all over the world, and I am willing wager that Chinese and Finnish schools are not overly interested in producing U.S. citizens. I am forced to conclude that we are supposed to be produce engines, not for Ford trucks, but for the economy.

"We love the electoral college!"

We need to Moneyball education. Teachers need to realize we are not be asked to create fine young people, life-long learners, or model citizens. We deal in human capitol. Our client is corporate America, and they demand good workers. Not drones and automata, but workers that will help them turn a profit.

Now before you chuck your iPad across the room (into the appropriately cushioned iPad chucking area) and start calling me an idiot, I would like to suggest that this is not a bad thing. Wealth is an accurate gauge of success. Our puritanical forefathers thought wealth indicate God's grace, which is exactly right if by grace you mean intelligence, ingenuity, and endurance. Given the nature and history of this country we would have to figure "park effect." When such things as parent education and social class, gender, and psychological makeup are factored out we should be able to figure how much value a person has. Insurance companies do it all the time.

Once we figure each students value to society, then society should pay back a certain percentage, say 60%. So if Microsoft hires one of our graduates then that school should get a signing bonus equal to 60% of the profit that human will produce. (I'm not entirely sure what to do if the product becomes a burden on society.)
"One data processor please."

This goal would also align with student desires. Very few of them desire knowledge for knowledge's sake. They go to school so that they can get a job. This is so import that it often has to be spelled out J-O-B. We need to all agree on a goal. The reason Moneyball worked for Oakland is because they were able to shift their focus to the real goal which was getting on base. Education should be producing money-makers, and schools should be judged based upon how much wealth their students produce above expectations.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Allegory, Symbolism, and Metaphor in Invasion of the Body Snatchers




Alien seed pods have taken root in lovely Santa Mira, California, the fictional suburban paradise that is the setting for Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Dr. Miles Bennell has just returned to town, and is surprised to find his patients suffering from a hysteria that leads them to believe that their close family has been replaced by something. He later finds out that they weren't hysterical at all, and there is not "a human being left in Santa Mira." There are many theories about what the pod people symbolize, but whatever your specific idea might be, it is clear that Invasion of the Body Snatchers is an allegory for the homogenization of American society. There are several incidents that would suggest that this dehumanizing homogeny is an allegory for the threat world domination by communism.

Immediately upon entering town Dr. Bennell nearly runs over Jimmy Grimaldi, who is running in terror from his mother. Screeching to a halt Miles jumps out to question Mrs. Grimaldi. She claims that Jimmy doesn't want to go to school. Also of interest is the Grimaldi vegetable stand that in less than a month has fallen into disarray. He asked if her husband was sick and she replied, "We gave the stand up; too much work." Those who criticize communism believe that this is a natural consequence. If citizens can not have the fruits (vegetables) of your labor, then why would people even bother working?

Later we find out that their labors have been redirected toward growing alien pods to distribute throughout Southern California. Any ambition they had to keep their road side stand open had been redirected to supporting the global domination of the pod people, or state. This seems to be the case with most of the citizens because later that night when Miles goes to a club with his girl Becky they find it deserted and devoid of music. It is just a well because they are quickly pulled away by an urgent telephone call from Jack, a writer. We find out that Jack has a "blank" corpse lying on his pool table. This is our first encounter with a preformed duplicate, and it is interesting that it is an artist that is being taken over. Toward the end of the movie our protagonist are briefly encourage by the faint sounds of an opera singer. They are certain that it means that there are still others like them. Of course, if we are taking from each according to his ability and giving to each according to his need, then the arts would seem to be superfluous since it does nothing to enhance the wealth of the state (increase the production of pods)

Production began when "a seed took root in a farmer's field."  This image drawn by the town psychiatrist brings to mind soviet propaganda promoting communal farms. And just like those farms a little coercion was required to get everyone go along with the program.
"We like farming. Yes we do. We like farming, how 'bout you?"

He goes on to say that the pods have eliminated "desire, ambition, and faith." Both ambition and faith are the traditional victims of communism, and it is unlikely that out of all the qualities the writers could have chosen, that these two made the list accidentally. Karl Marx referred religion as the "opiate of the masses," but later adherents to communism instituted state atheism. The Agrarian Reform Law enacted in 1945 in Albania banned the practice of religion. A year later all Roman Catholic clergy were forcibly removed from the country.

Whether the filmmakers intended to or not, the political climate of the Red Scare and McCarthyism was bound to seep into the production of this film. They have gone on record to say they were just commenting on the blandness and homogeneity of Americans, but in the rhetorically charged atmosphere of the 1950s viewers were bound to see this film as an allegory for current events. However, the film still resonates today because we must always safe guard our individual freedoms. The attacks on 9/11 rekindle the debate over the balance of freedom and safety, and without constant vigilance "you're next, you're next, you're next."

Thursday, October 06, 2011

White Flight? Affluent Fluidity

Three districts in the state of Missouri failed to meet standards.  St. Louis Public, Riverview Gardens and now Kansas City have lost accreditation, and according to state law students from those districts can attend other schools. This morning on the radio a spokesman for the Missouri Education Reform Council stated that he favored open enrollment. After my initial throat scorching scream, I reconsidered and still thought it was a horrible idea.


The exact quote that set me off was this:


“I’d ask that you think of the plight of these students and parents that are kind of trapped by their zip code 
into these unaccredited or so-called failing schools, and hopefully a solution can be found for that," Knodell said.


Trapped? Such an obvious pathos move conjuring images of students peering at education through locked bars or snared in a net dangling just above a pile of textbooks. I thought, "This is a man that has less support for his ideas than my students do for their sagging pants."


Knodell is Joe Knodell. On Joe's linkedin page I learned that, well I learned absolutely nothing. Joe is a lobbyist with no prior jobs or interests.


I did learn a little about his rhetorical skill at the Columbia Business Times. Apparently he doesn't like to waste time with facts and figures. He merely states that unless you are an intellectually stunted recluse, then you already know them, and they must support his point of view. 


"I could list the statistics that show Missouri lags behind in student achievement and how the United States stacks up against other developed countries in math and science — but these facts have been in front of us and in the media for quite some time." Columbia Business Times


As a supporter of anecdotal evidence Joe would also like you to know that teachers are slackers.



Oh so now we know that he was a former superintendent, but I am even more concerned now with his rhetorical style.


When a pitcher is "cruising" we are happy. It means that he is being successful without struggle. Even cruise control in a car is designed to take over the mundane task of moving one's foot from the accelerator to the brake and back again, a task that though vital probably uses more computing cycles than necessary. If a teach has become so good at their job that the lower level tasks have become automatic then we should applaud those teachers. We have developed muscle memory. The repetitive tasks of our profession are now second nature.


Joe Knodell must be right, however, because he was a superintendent, and most superintendents I know spend a majority of their time observing all of the teachers in their district. I am sure he has extensive data to back up what appears to be a poorly fleshed out anecdote.


Joe lobbies on behalf of  Missouri Education Reform Council, which as far as I can tell is a blog. MERC doesn't even think they are that much. From their own "about" link we learn that, "The Missouri Education Roundatable Council’s mission is to promote improvement in Missouri’s K-12 educational system, including increasing performance, accountability and transparency." 


It's as if they took the mission statement formula and created that sentence.


[name of organization] + [linking verb and positive infinitive]+
[parallel structure of catch-phrases and jargon]=Our Mission


And they even got the name of the organization wrong. From the time of their creation to the time they wrote their mission the word "reform" changed to "roundtable."


From this same website we learn that Joe's curriculum vitae includes a litany of rural schools that come no closer to St. Louis, or any of the unaccredited schools, than Poplar Bluff.


Concerned educators, students and citizens will be happy to know that Joe bases his decisions "on what is best for the student, and what will further their educational goals." As a reformer this is a distinct break from the stated goal of most educators.  Perhaps that is the reason MERC recently changed to a roundtable instead of a reform.


I am going to ask for a seat at this table because just from a logic and logistical point of view I don't see how open enrollment would help anyone that isn't part of the entitled class. If we are in this for the students as Joe says then we should consider that some students won't have access to open enrollment because trap was designed by our whole society and its economic structure and not by a bunch of teachers on "cruise control." These students will be left behind in economically depressed districts with nearly empty classrooms and a disheartened and unappreciated staff.


White flight (affluent fluidity, in our post-racial era) is not reform. It is a return to the lunacy of the Topeka school board, racially motivated tracking, and classic classism.