Category Archives: Education

Is Blood Ever Blue? Science Teachers Want to Know!

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According to one of the leading experts on the human circulatory system, blood flowing through veins is blue.

I’m not going to mention any names. All I’ll say is this: A person I know visited a major research center last year and saw a demonstration of organ removal and some other experimental stuff. A person also visiting asked the famous high-level researcher doing this work if blood was ever blue. What he said was not recorded in detail, but it was very much like this statement I found on the Internet:

… human blood is red as soon as it is oxygenated. Blue blood flows through veins back to the heart and lungs…..
[source: Some Guy on Yahoo Answers]

My friend was disturbed by this, as s/he had been teaching high school students for years that blood is not blue. Her understanding of the situation was that people thought blood was blue because standard anatomical drawings and models depict arteries as red and veins as blue, and because if you look at your veins they are blue. Obviously veins are not clear, but if you don’t think that out you might assume that you were seeing blue blood.

Continue reading Is Blood Ever Blue? Science Teachers Want to Know!


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Fundy Christians, MAGAjerks, Proud Boys, School and Library Board Members, Ban-Burning Books

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I use the word “burning” metaphorically. But it might as well be literal. If you ban a list of books in a system of libraries, the libraries have a bunch of recycling to do, and eventually … to the county incinerator go the books.

Book Man
In fact, I give you no truck, no room, no wiggle-space, if you even look at a book funny, because that is how it starts. I am champion of the books, all the books, and I am not alone, not by a long shot.

Here is a recent, disturbing, but typical example. Christians in Boundary County, Idaho, mobbed the local public library board, demanding the removal of a large number of books, including Gender Queer: A Memoir* by Maria Kobabe**, a book the library did not actually have.

These thugs intimidated the administrator of the libaries, Kimber Glidden, into resignation, in which she noted:

“My experience and skill set made me a good fit to help the district move toward a more current and relevant business model and to implement updated policy and best practices. However nothing in my background could have prepared me for the political atmosphere of extremism, militant Christian fundamentalism, intimidation tactics, and threatening behavior currently being employed in the community.”

Gidden told reporters at Route Fifty that “If [this] was really about banning books, we’d have to have the books.” Food for thought. They don’t care about the books, they only care about being bullies, and intimidating people who love books, and the kids the books are there for.

In another case, MAGA-Republicans and Fundy-Christians took over the Lafayette, Louisiana library last year and this happened:

  • The library board rejected a grant to fund a program about voting rights, saying it was too left wing.
  • A display about Pride Month was cancelled, and today library displays are forbidden about any distinctive group — even French Cajun culture, of which Lafayette is the unofficial capital.
  • And this summer, when a popular librarian, Cara Chance, ignored that order and put up a display that included queer teen romance books, the board tried to fire her.

The actual police showed up at the Granbury High library in Granbury Texas to investigate a complaint made by book-burning-fundies last May. Five books were subsequently removed from the library shelves. The removal of these books was targeted harassmement of Trans students and other non-heteronormative-binary people by the school admins. This sort of thing has caused loss of life among school children. Even in relatively liberal Minnesota suburbs, a school board member went out of his way to indicate his discomfort with non-heteronormative school children, as noted in this LTE written by Yours Truly:

Plymouth Sun Sailor, Aug 11, 2022.

Locally, where the Jay Hesby problem recently emerged, we have an open seat on the Wayzata School District board. Hesby is one of a few candidates running. Sheila Prior, an active member of the school community especially interested in reading education, is also running, and she is by a gazillion miles my choice for the upcoming special election. (Feel free to visit her web site and donate ten bucks or more to this great cause. I just did!)

I gets scarier. Recently in the Reno Nevada area, suited up members of the “Proud Boys” (I call them Cucked Children) actually entered a library to disrupt a children story time because they did not like the book that was being read. They did the same thing near San Francisco, South Bend, Indiana, and Woodland California. There was violence. Over books. At events involving children. Derek Chauvin got extra time on his murder sentence because he carried out violence in the presence of children. For christakes.


Notes:
-* Links to books on Amazon help support this blog, see note below
-** From the publisher:

2020 ALA Alex Award Winner
2020 Stonewall — Israel Fishman Non-fiction Award Honor Book

In 2014, Maia Kobabe, who uses e/em/eir pronouns, thought that a comic of reading statistics would be the last autobiographical comic e would ever write. At the time, it was the only thing e felt comfortable with strangers knowing about em. Then e created Gender Queer. Maia’s intensely cathartic autobiography charts eir journey of self-identity, which includes the mortification and confusion of adolescent crushes, grappling with how to come out to family and society, bonding with friends over erotic gay fan fiction, and facing the trauma and fundamental violation of pap smears. Started as a way to explain to eir family what it means to be nonbinary and asexual, Gender Queer is more than a personal story: It is a useful and touching guide on gender identity—what it means and how to think about it—for advocates, friends, and humans everywhere.

This special deluxe hardcover edition of Gender Queer features a brand-new cover, exclusive art and sketches, a foreword from ND Stevenson, Lumberjanes writer and creator of She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, and an afterword from Maia Kobabe.


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Turns out you can buy less misery

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Over the last year and a half, the Democratic White House and Congress carried out an amazingly successful experiment in small scale personal guaranteed income, with the expanded Child Tax Credit and similar programs. Democratic Governor Walz in Minnesota has been trying to do something similar.

Minnesota Extremist Republicans have not only fought tooth and nail the famous “Walz Checks,” they also left billions of dollars in federal money on the table, a huge state surplus that could be used to fund education, give money back to families, and do other good things, for one reason only: to have a bigger and better hissy fit than otherwise possible.

Demand the extremist Republicans running the Minnesota Senate either do their jobs or step aside. Then, even if they do (they won’t) vote them out in November.

Vote #DFL. For example, these candidates.


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The Irony of Henry Adams: The most misunderstood quote evah!

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Pertaining to a recent mass mailing from offspring’s high school, in the name of the principal, filled with routine business. At the end of the missive was this quote:

A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.

What does this quote mean to you? If you don’t know its context, you may be in for a surprise.

You see this quote all the time on K-12 educational material as a header, footer, slogan, logo, inspirational message, and so on. It obviously means something good about teachers. Maybe something good about education. The quote is by Henry Adams and comes from his book “The Education of Henry Adams” which sounds an awful lot like a title for a porn movie. Since this is a book, first circulated in 1907, about education it must be the case that this quote refers to the positive power of educators back then, and presumably, now. Right? Certainly that is the meaning that is usually attributed to it.

A Google search of

“A teacher affects eternity”

… yields 56,000 hits, many of which are examples of the term’s use as an inspirational maxim in one or another dialog about education. So clearly people are in tune with the positive message of Henry Adam’s sentence.

A Google search of

“A teacher affects eternity” -adams

… (thus leaving off a direct reference to Henry with the minus sign in front of ‘adams’) yields about 26 thousand hits and I’ll wager almost every one represents the use of the quote as a positive maxim in the dialog about education. One teacher uses the phrase as the title for a web site on teaching.

Via Google I find the phrase tweeted on Twitter, and checking directly with Twitter, we find a gazillion recent instances over the last few weeks. I estimate that approximately four times an hour someone tweets “A teacher affects eternity” and sometimes gives the rest of the quote, sometimes mentions it’s Henry Adams’. But they always seem to mean it to be a nice thing to say about teachers and about how important they are.

You can buy note cards or posters with the phrase, and if you know any teachers, ask them how many pillows embroidered with the phrase or a version of it they have been given. Or shadow boxes or little signs held by teddy bears. Which they give to the teacher as a way of saying that they like teachers.

The book* The Education of Henry Adams is a complex work that I will not try to characterize, but at least in part I take it as a literary act of cynicism. Adams speaks of himself in third person and by the time we get to the quote in question he is discussing Henry’s first nine months as an Assistant Professor in History at Harvard.

For the next nine months the Assistant Professor had no time to waste on comforts or amusements. He exhausted all his strength in trying to keep one day ahead of his duties. Often the stint ran on, till night and sleep ran short. He could not stop to think whether he were doing the work rightly. He could not get it done to please him, rightly or wrongly, for he never could satisfy himself what to do.

Henry thinks of himself as inadequate, not up to the job, apparently.

But part of the problem was with Harvard itself, and its inattention to quality education.

The fault he had found with Harvard College as an undergraduate must have been more or less just, for the college was making a great effort to meet these self-criticisms, and had elected President Eliot in 1869 to carry out its reforms. Professor Gurney was one of the leading reformers, and had tried his hand on his own department of History. The two full Professors of History — Torrey and Gurney, charming men both — could not cover the ground. Between Gurney’s classical courses and Torrey’s modern ones, lay a gap of a thousand years, which Adams was expected to fill. The students had already elected courses numbered 1, 2, and 3, without knowing what was to be taught or who was to teach. If their new professor had asked what idea was in their minds, they must have replied that nothing at all was in their minds, since their professor had nothing in his, and down to the moment he took his chair and looked his scholars in the face, he had given, as far as he could remember, an hour, more or less, to the Middle Ages.

In other words, the History Department at Harvard was a mess, a chain of rusty links of which Henry himself was the weakest. Henry Adams does not think the teachers at Harvard were doing what needed to be done, the system of education was not doing what was required, and the students were probably being damaged more than assisted by participating in this system. And this worried him.

Not that his ignorance troubled him! He knew enough to be ignorant. His course had led him through oceans of ignorance; he had tumbled from one ocean into another till he had learned to swim; but even to him education was a serious thing. A parent gives life, but as parent, gives no more. A murderer takes life, but his deed stops there.

In other words, all those important people in your life: Your mom, a person who kills you, and so on, have only limited effects on you as a person. But, according to Henry Adams,

A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.

OMG. That sounds like bad news. The system of education sucks, the professors suck, the students are getting the shaft, and this will affect the students for their whole lives, and through them society in general, and the course of history itself. Bad teaching, Henry Adams is telling us, ruinz everything for everybody!

But this is not what people think is happening, is it?

A teacher is expected to teach truth, and may perhaps flatter himself that he does so, if he stops with the alphabet or the multiplication table, as a mother teaches truth by making her child eat with a spoon; but morals are quite another truth and philosophy is more complex still. A teacher must either treat history as a catalogue, a record, a romance, or as an evolution; and whether he affirms or denies evolution, he falls into all the burning faggots of the pit. He makes of his scholars either priests or atheists, plutocrats or socialists, judges or anarchists, almost in spite of himself. In essence incoherent and immoral, history had either to be taught as such — or falsified.

From here Adams goes on to an interesting discussion that misunderstands (modern) evolution, and very rightly laments the thorn that the Middle Ages is in the side of western civilization. And in that discussion he reiterates that while all this is interesting stuff, it is not what is taught to the students. Because the teachers, really, don’t have a clue as to how to interpret the material they are responsible to cover or how to convey it to their pupils.

Here is Henry Adam’s famous quote translated into modern parlance:

Be careful. The system of education is inadequate, and a half baked attempt to educate is dangerous. A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell how badly fucked up everything will be when he is done with it.

I had always seen the quote as what most people seem to see to as: The nice phrase you embroider on the pillow and give to your favorite teacher. My friend Josh Borowicz, who happens to be an historian and a Henry Adams scholar, pointed this interesting irony out to me. Knowing this is likely to affect me for an eternity. And a half.

You can read the full text of The Education of Henry Adams here.


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Imma let you get that training in the trades, but also … get your liberal arts degree!

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This is the new mantra: “Not every kid has to get a college degree. It is a great idea to get training in the trades.” This is wrong. Everyone should get college level liberal arts education, and for most, in the form of a degree. And of course, the trades, variously defined, is a very good place to be. Our society should make the choice to do both the common expectation, and affordable.

To be clear, that “liberal arts degree” might be an AA, a BA, or a BS, depending on your particular situation. And you shouldn’t have to pay for it, or at least, not much. Or it might be something equivalent to a degree, and it might be obtained in any of number of different ways. But for the most part, when educators speak of the “liberal arts” we mean the classes one takes for an associates degree or to meet the distribution requirements for a bachelor’s degree. For some students, a good chunk of this can happen in high school.

This idea that a college education is only for some is a pernicious falsehood. The premises of the statement are largely incorrect, and it is the same kind of civilization ending policy that gave us Trump and McConnell. Maybe not everyone needs a college degree, but in fact, that is the status quo already. About 39% of Americans ever get a four year degree or higher. About 66% get some college. So, the number of Americans (and we are typical of industrialized countries) who get at least a portion of a liberal arts program may be about half, depending on how one counts. So, why are we speaking of “you don’t really need a college degree” like this is a new strategy that is going to save us from something? The truth is, the fact that so many Americans are not more liberal-arts educated than they are is a problem we need to address and fix, not one that we need to exasperate with platitudes.

Anyone can benefit from liberal arts learning. At a societal level, this is how a generation makes that transition from adolescence to thoughtful adults prepared to contribute in this complex world. The mantra in question tells us to separate our youth into two categories. One includes those what will be richly endowed with knowledge and ability sufficient to contribute to our various national conversations, to understand the law, history, civics, science, literature, language, arts, enough to have a meaningfully enhanced appreciation of the world around them. The others might achieve this state of contribution, or not, and if so, achieve it without the same resources and help everyone else gets, because we told them no, this is not for you.

Indeed, people may be excused in this educationally bifurcated future for assuming those in the trades have a lesser grasp of these important things, maybe even a lesser right to contribute to the conversation, a diminished right to be heard and, why not, no real claim to the voting franchise.

(Have you ever had the sense that a person “in the trades” who also has a high level of post secondary education has done something subversive? Well, that feeling is real because the subversion is often real.)

There is a window of time, of two to four years, when a person is both ready and available to engage in this liberal arts project. There is variation in when a student is mature in learning and can thus engage in this kind of education. Ask any experienced high school or intro college teacher. Variation among high school juniors, for example, in how well they do in a particular advanced subject is not explained by their native intelligence, but rather, by their stage of maturity with respect to learning. The high school junior who just does not grasp AP biology might be a biology wiz as a college frosh, and from there, be your next Nobel Prize in Biology recipient. (Oh, and there really needs to be a Nobel prize in biology, by the way.)

That defines the opening of that window: ready to learn in all the ways one normally would be. The closing of the window (and this is of course an oversimplification) comes later, when the individual is beyond the introductory level in their education, working on a major, or graduate work. Or maybe they are starting up a business and are fully occupied with that, unable to be taking two night courses. Or family matters, or some other thing. Very few people are set up to take two or three courses at a time for a couple of years at any arbitrary point in their lives. This tends to happen only during that window, in that age range.

(As an aside: I did not go to college. I got a college degree on my merits, graduated in the top of my class of 10,000 at the University of the State of New York Regents College, then went on to get my MA and PhD. So I’m very highly educated, but not traditionally so. At a later time, I was a principle in a program at the University of Minnesota to support adults who were decidedly past that window of maturity and opportunity, to get their as yet unfinished degree. I served variously on the board of advisers, as a faculty advisor, a student general advisor, and director of admissions. In that capacity I was among a handful of people across the country actively supporting and working in favor of non traditional education. I say this here and now so that you, dear reader, understand that I appreciate non traditional approaches as much as anyone, fully embrace them, and I demand that non traditional approaches be part of any education system.)

For most, this window typically opens any time during the first year of Highs School (rare) and it can run as late as the last year of college (rare). For most people, this two or three year period happens somewhere between the start of the third year in high school and the end of the second year in college, and that is also when the “lower division,” or “liberal arts” courses, in both advanced high school (AP, etc.) and intro college, are most available to everyone.

Go into a trade, fine. Tell your kid into going into a trade, fine. Make sure to tell everyone in ear shot that this is what everyone should do after your careful study of education and society’s professional and avocational needs. Fine! The trades are where many, maybe most, people should be, and this should be a good way to go. And there should be more unionization, and more respect for the people that actually make civilization work.

But going into the trades should not sentence someone to a significantly reduced general education. At present, we don’t sacrifice high school for the trades, though there is a move to do that. What I’m suggesting here is that we embrace the basic liberal arts as part of our paid for and well attended to expectation for most people, regardless of the direction they have chosen, including trades, professional training, a military career, business, or any other thing.

But training in a trade with no liberal arts education produces a high proportion of adults who are not really ready to help us as much as they could in this whole civilization thing, and who effectively then become a burden on our system of government and politics. Thomas Jefferson pointed out that the ability of the people to self govern is closely linked to education. It is generally understood that public opinion is often simply wrong on the facts or easily manipulated by nefarious actors, and it is also understood that these effects are a product of differential education as much as anything else. (There are multiple factors, of course.) An education system that sorts out our children is a burden caused by policy intentionally and intentionally promoted, promulgated to produce a large angry, aka “populist,” middle and working class voting base that for the most part comply with the wishes of those who push for this policy.

Part of this is, of course, keeping college expensive, and using tax based funding to support private colleges that are generally out of reach of regular people. The 1%ers, the 10%ers, and the wanabee-%ers, strategize to make good education (at all levels K through PhD) deferentially available for the rich, mainly through private offerings, and to keep public education inadequate and use as little public money for it as possible.

The “go into a trade, it is the thing to do now” trope is simply more of this, and it is exactly what the Koch Brothers want you to say, think, and embrace.

Everyone deserves the opportunity to get that basic liberal arts education.

A few years ago I was tasked by the University of Minnesota to visit a giant military base where we expected thousands of troops standing down from the front lines in the Middle East to return for redeployment or homecoming. My job was to make contact with soon-to-be veterans or reservists who needed to fill out their education to obtain a BA/BS, certificate, or maybe a Masters.

It turns out that the large number of military personnel expected went to a different base, and only special forces soldiers arrived at my location.

Several had MAs. More commonly, though, they had PhDs or were working on their PhD. Most of the MA-only holders planned some sort of further graduate education, including law. Not a single one had only a bachelors degree or less. Not one.

Guess what folks. The most intense trade of them all may well be that of professional soldier. The top echelon of professional soldiers go way beyond a handful of liberal arts classes. This is not an accident, it is by design. It is also paid for.

Just like Medicare, this is a micro example of a way of doing things that is very very good but that we do not do. But we should.

Go into the trades. Meanwhile, society owes you a BA (or AA or similar). Good for you, good for all of us.


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Children of Covid

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In Minnesota, our surge peaked just before Thanksgiving. Then it unpeaked and went higher. Then is started to go down a little, then Xmas, and it unpeaked again and is probably going to go higher by the weekend. Just in time for the New Years resurgence, which would result in a peak-on-top-of-peak happening about January 8th.

But, that peak will be nothing compared to the Superpeak that will pile on top of that one, because Omicron will sweep through the region. Expect the biggest peak ever to pretty much coincide with the month of January.

And this is really going to mess up school in January. World epidemic expert Michael Osterholm was recently asked what should happen in schools. He was essentially unable to answer because the question is so ridiculous, framed as it is as a request for options. There are no options. He did say, “We may think we are done with Covid, but Covid is not done with us.”

For those who don’t know, the following are entirely or mostly true, as far as I know:

1) 1 In X P-12 teachers will be out with Covid in January.

2) 1 in Y P-12 teachers will be unable to go to work because their daycare shuts down because of Covid in January.

(X and Y are unknown but the ratio is not insignificant.)

3) Same for administrators and students, at various levels.

4) There are no substitutes. That is not the beginning of a sentence where the next word is “for” like “there are no substitutes for good study habits.” There are no substitutes, as in substitute teachers. Short term subs are gone, long term subs were hired up as teachers long ago.

5) There are very few, if any, new teachers coming in to replace those who retired, went crazy and ran away, or died, during this pandemic. Our society has shoved its problems up the nether regions of teachers for long enough, Covid is the last straw, only an idiot would become a teacher these days, and most possible teachers are not idiots. Maybe they will go be truck drivers. So, there is probably a rapidly growing systemic shortage of teachers going on independently of Covid, made worse by Covid.

By mid January we are going to be herding the kids who show up to school into large rooms where cameras controlled by Covid-riddled deans working from home will watch them during the school day, after which they will be picked up by their parents because whatever is left of the school bus system is going to collapse again.

Now’s your chance, Children of Covid! You don’t need no education!


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Yes, CRT is being taught in our schools, if this is CRT:

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Everyone knows that CRT, aka, Critical Race Theory, is a law school or graduate level subject that is not taught in American K-12 classrooms. More precisely, and I quote Wikipedia, “Critical race theory (CRT) is a body of legal scholarship and an academic movement of civil-rights scholars and activists who seek to examine the intersection of race and law in the United States and to challenge mainstream American liberal approaches to racial justice.”

Everyone also knows that when Right Wing Goons, Contaminants, and Bloody Insurrectionists talk about CRT they are not actually talking about the law school class. They are using CRT to refer to things that are actually being taught in KL-12 schools, that they don’t want taught there. Continue reading Yes, CRT is being taught in our schools, if this is CRT:


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We’ll Always Have Dover

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Lewis Black, the gruff comedian, has a shtick about evolution. At one point he intones that he carries a fossil with him, and when he runs into a creationist, he holds this trilobite up, pointing it at them, and yells (he’s always yelling), “Fossil!” Then, if they still don’t get it, he throws it over their head.

I do exactly the same thing, but instead of just any creationist, I target public school administrators who are soft on science, and instead of a fossil I just yell, “Dover!”

Nobody wants to get Dovered.

Dover was the US Federal court decision that found that science class can not teach religion, that creationism is a form of religion, affirmed that so called creation science is just another form of creationism, and specifically determined that “Intelligent Design” is just more creationism.

Dover is to the teaching of evolutionary biology what Rove v. Wade is to reproductive rights, plus or minus. Plus, in the sense that Dover may well be an even more solid decision (though not at SCOUTS, never got to SCOTUS because it was so solid). Minus in the sense that it restricts an activity that can still go on at low level if we are not careful.

The point is, the 15th anniversary of the Dover decision is coming up. The National Center for Science Education, under the directorship of my friend Genie Scott, coordinated the Dover win, and has produced “Rembering Kitzmiller v Dover” for your perusal. For a deepre dive, see Laura Lebo’s book The Devil in Dover: An Insider’s Story of Dogma V. Darwin in Small-town America.

“cdesign proponentsists” = smoking gun

^^ look it up ^^^


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K-12 On Line Learning: Not Easy, Not Better, but Survivable.

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This is one of those posts I write to show people later when they get something wrong, something that lots of people get wrong, over and over again. Thus the post so I don’t have to repeat myself or, worse, allow someone to be wrong on the Internet without comment.

First, let us clearly establish that there are many ways to learn, and many ways to teach. Let us further establish that when I, or any other educator, uses the word “teach” it does not ever imply a student sitting there and getting taught at. It is just that there are people who are professional educators, and when they are doing the job they do, the applicable verb is “to teach” and they are called a “teacher.” I digress, but that is just because one in ten readers will be thinking thoughts that needed to be addressed by that comment.

One way to teach and learn in in a classroom. Another way is with distance learning materials, which in the old days were usually sent by mail, but these days are accessed on line. Another way is in an on line classroom setting of some sort. In class teaching and learning is replaced today, in many instances, by a mixture of these two, owing to the Covid-19 Pandemic. (If you are reading this in the far future, we are having a huge pandemic, you may not have heard about it, but it started in 2020, which in the old system, was a number referring to the year.)

Here are the two things that I want to address, that people often get wrong. Usually it is Republicans who get this wrong (“Republcian” was at one time a political party in the US, for those of you in the future) because they hate education and therefore are blindingly stupid about it.

1) All you have to do to create an on line learning system that will work perfectly well is to throw a bunch of lectures, and handouts that teachers are using, on the internet, and it will pretty much take care of itself. This is cheaper, requiring fewer tax dollars, and teachers if they really cared would just do that and then kill themselves and go away. It is easy.

2) On line learning is at least as good as in class learning for everybody, so why don’t we just do it all the time? The Teachers Union, probably, and Libtards in the city that are trying to get our kids into public schools so they can be indoctrinated in things like the arts and literature. Everything people really need to learn can be put on line in a few lectures.

The main fallacy with this first point, I think, is that turning classroom learning into something on line is either very simply, or even, less work than what teachers were doing before. The proof that this is not true is that every single teacher doing their jobs right now is spending about twice the amount of time doing this than they were doing thier work the old way. Much of that time is because this is new, so each of these courses had to be, in large part, redesigned to be on line. It takes a couple of years for a teacher, or a small staff of teachers, to get a new course deployed, and up to speed. If all the courses are going through this transition, that is a disaster. If on line teaching keeps going for three or four years (which it won’t at this level, but if it did, hypothetically) teachers would be able to settle back into something more doable. It is not know if this will take more or less time, or be more or less difficult, than in class teaching, once all the courses are redesigned and run through the paces a couple of times.

So, to summarize that point, the idea that this is somehow easier than what was being done before is absurd. Insisting that it is, well that would be an ignorant ass-hat thing to say. Insulting, and you look like a moron. So maybe don’t do that.

The second, closely related point, is that somehow we can magically assume that all online teaching is as good as or better than classroom teaching. This is not true for so many reasons that I don’t have time to go into it, but the number one piece of evidence is the roughly doubling of class failure rates in many schools that were already stretched too thin on resources. Some schools aren’t seeing this, but before you adduce that as evidence of your rightness, investigate further. The school districts that are not being hammered with high failure rates right now are doing some amazing things. I live in one of the top public school districts in the country. The district is taking direct action to make sure that every family has goo internet, even going so far as to hand out better wireless connectors. Every kid has had an iPad in this district for a while now, so that part of it was already covered. And so on. Everybody is working harder, so point 1 is obvious here, but some of that work is in order to avoid point 2 from being manifest here. But it is being manifest in other districts.

So, there, now you don’t have to be wrong about this any more. That is all.


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Racial inequity in teacher evaluation leads to racial inequity in education

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This is an oversimplification but it is true and part of the problem: There is a great deal of racial inequity in our school system. Put another way, kids of color get screwed over by our school system. One way to help with this is to increase diversity in the teaching and administrative staff of schools. However, the pipeline of incoming teachers and administrators is very white. Why? There are a number of reasons, and probably a lot of unknown unknowns. But one factor is bias against teachers of color. We see this bias all the time. A friend of mine called me up two years ago about this. Have you heard anything about Mr. X (a particular teacher in our school)? No, I haven’t, I said. I’ve heard from five people that he is a bad teacher, but my kid is in his class now and he is hands down the best teacher she has had. I wonder why people say that, I asked. I was wondering, she said, if it is because he’s black. He’s the only black teacher in the school. Were those parents complaining about him white? Ya. OK then.

Anecdotes are not evidence. But put together enough anecdotes and you get culture.

Anyhow, a recent study demonstrates that Black teachers might be discriminated against through a Catch-22 effect, whereby variation in performance across teachers is context dependent in a way that privileges White teachers and screws over Black teachers. The study is here. The abstract of the study says:

“Racial gaps in teacher performance ratings have emerged nationwide across newly implemented educator evaluation systems. Using Chicago Public Schools data, we quantify the magnitude of the race gap in teachers’ classroom observation scores, examine its determinants, and describe the potential implications for teacher diversity. Between-school differences explain most of the race gap and within-school classroom-level differences—poverty, incoming achievement, and prior-year misconduct of a teacher’s students—explain the remainder of the race gap. Teachers’ value-added scores explain none of the race gap. Leveraging within-teacher variation in the teacher–evaluator race match, we find that racial mismatch does not influence observation scores. Adjusting observation scores for classroom and school context will generate more equitable ratings of teacher performance and mitigate potential adverse consequences for teacher diversity.”

The press release includes this quote from one of the study’s authors:

“Our findings indicate that these classroom observation scores do not equitably compare the performance of teachers who taught in very different classroom and school settings,” said Steinberg, an associate professor of education policy at George Mason University. “The race gap in teacher scores does not reflect real differences in teacher performance.”

“Left unadjusted, these scores may lead to disproportionate and incorrect identification of Black teachers for remediation and dismissal, and may have serious implications for the diversity of the teacher workforce,” Steinberg said. “Our study, which focused on Chicago, raises questions about how classroom observation scores are being analyzed and used by school leaders across the United States. School leaders everywhere need to account for the potential impact of school and classroom factors on teacher scores.”

This picture shows two really important things. Frse, these bell curves overlap enough to tell us that small biases could make the difference. That’s the one on the upper left. Then the other graphs show how when we consider all the factors, the distribution of scores showing “racial” differences are explained by other factors.

This next picture shows the different factors found to explain differences in scores sorted by “race.” Note that the teacher is not a cause of the explainable variation, statistically.

There is a lot more than that in this paper, but that’s the basic idea.


Steinberg, Matthew and Lauren Sartain. 2020. What Explains the Race Gap in Teacher Performance Ratings? Evidence From Chicago Public Schools. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis.


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Games in the Covid Era

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I’ve been thinking about games (mainly two person or more board games) as a great idea for gifts in this era of Covid. So, I asked my Facebook friends to suggest some, and that resulted in about 90 comments so far. I’m put many of them here. I skipped a few games because they are fairly common yet not classic, included the classics, and focused more on games I’ve only recently heard of. Pandemic, Arboretum Codenames are newish and great. I try to indicate if I’ve had personal experience with a game, or in some cases, if the recommendation comes from a recommender that I would automatically fully trust. I’ve included Amazon links* but note that in many cases there are multiple versions of a given game, and I’m only linking to one. You’ll want to look laterally at the alternative versions and see if you want a traditional Stratego or a Star Wars Stratego, for example. The deluxe versions of the “traditional games” I’m suggesting here are simply taken off 2020 lists of deluxe versions of games, so again, just a suggestion, not really a recommendation.

Traditional games that would make a great gift if you get a nice one

Chess is only fun for some people. I’ve noticed in my own personal life that people who like to play chess and who are good at it have a knack for making the people they beat feel bad. And, it takes a lot of work to learn to play it well. For this reason, chessphobia is common. Don’t get a chess set because you think you can get someone to play with you. But, if you know someone who likes chess, an upscale chess board such as this “Handmade Chess Set European Ambassador with 21 Inch Board and Hand Carved Chess Pieces WEGIEL” may be just the gift. Or, perhaps a Harry Potter Wizard Chess Set for the person who already has a nice chess set but not a Harry Potter chess set. Also consider the less stressful No Stress Chess.

Cribbage is one of the more fun and challenging card games, and it requires a Cribbage board. It is way underrated and worth the time it takes to learn it.

There was a time when everyone played Backgammon all the time. Maybe that time will come again. Get your Backgammon set now and get good at it so when the Return of Backgammon happens, you are ready.

Go is a classic game, and people who like it probably a have a set, but they might not have something fancy like the Brybelly Go Set with Reversible Bamboo Go Board.

Similarly, everybody has a Scrabble board, but the Scrabble enthusiast might need something like a Scrabble Deluxe Edition with Rotating Wooden Game Board.

Strategy board games.

I don’t know Tiny Epic Galaxies Blast Off! – A Game of Cosmic Combos but it comes recommended by a trusted friend. Same with Castles of Burgundy Strategy Game.

Stratego is one of my favorite games. It is from ancient days but modern humans seem to like it. The version I link to is absurdly priced, but it gives you a hook for your own search for a version you may like. There is a Star Wars version, and probably other versions as well. I like the traditional form just fine, and I also like games that when you put them away they fit on a bookshelf. (Most versions of Stratego do not do that.)

You’all against the game.

For these games, the players play against the house, as it were. This is an interesting break from the usual games where one person tries to win against all the other players.

One of the best games I’ve played recently, and recommended by my FB friends as well, is Pandemic. You are on a team trying to save the world from a rapidly spreading deadly disease (as if that would ever happen!). This is you against the pathogen, and in my experience, the pathogen usually wins, but it is fun anyway. Pandemic: The Cure is a version of this game that is somewhat simplified and uses a different randomization and play direction strategy. I’ve not played it but it has been recommended to me.

You must check out one or another version of this game: Codenames.

Design and Strategy games. This is a category of games I’m not too familiar with but may of my FB friends recommended.

Azul and the variant, Azul Summer Pavilion look fun. Blokus might be in this category as well.

Patchwork: Americana Edition seems to come in different forms, so look laterally in your search for variants.

The one game in this amorphous category that I do know is Arboretum. It is very hard to explain how this works, and frankly, you’ll do best by playing it a time or two, and even discussing strategy with your opponents the first time. Highly recommended, and I think it is new enough that it could make a good gift.

I’ll put the classic Mastermind Game : The Strategy Game of Codemaker vs. Codebreaker (Packaging May Vary) in this category as well. If we weren’t’ already committed to other plans for Huxley’s birthday, this is what I would get him.

Card-based strategy games.

Recommended by FB friends: Race for the Galaxy Card Game

Pegasus Spiele Fungi may be good practice before actually looking for wild mushroom.

Recommended by an actual game maker friend of mine: Lost Cities

Small, clever games that abuse animals.

Not really, but you get the picture. These are all good: Pass The Pigs, Taco Cat Goat Cheese Pizza, and Exploding Kittens.

Not easily categorized but recommended by the Game Master herself, Rachel:

The 7th Continent. Looks really good.


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Teachers: This one neat trick could save your life

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This is for all teachers, but only some of you will be able to do this. Depends on your topic. This may pertain mostly to biology teachers, maybe stats or math, but by extension, any science or empirical topic including history.

Never mind that the first thing bio students to know is about Hydrogen bonds, or that the first thing stats students need to know is basic probability theory. You already probably do some sort of introduction thing that gets the students oriented to your subject, with a “get to know you” component, etc.

Replace that with this. The first thing the students should encounter in your classroom is some sort of topic appropriate, level and age appropriate, encounter with pandemic reality. Many of your students are not taking this pandemic seriously. They’ve been hanging round mask-less and in close quarters with their friends all summer, maybe practicing on a team, whatever. They are not going to properly manage their own viral shed or the possibility of someone else’s pathogenic effluence. They are going to be gobbing all over each other, their desks, and you.

Now is the time to use your mad teaching skills to push at least some of your students in the direction of being more careful, and possibly, slowing the spread of the Covid-19 causing disease.

I know, I know, you are saying “we are doing distance learning, this does not matter.” But it does matter. The back to school outbreak is going to happen whether or not you, or your school, is doing distance learning, and your small part of the learning community overlaps with the rest of it. And, you never know when your college, HS administration, or school district is going to send the students back into your room. This is your chance. Take it.

Can’t think of an example of a lesson that would smart up your students, to enhance the behavioral part of their innate immune system? Don’t give me that! Of course you can, you are a great teacher! In face, once you’ve thought about it, I want to hear your ideas. Let’s get moving on this!


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Opening the schools, Plan B

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This should really be Plan A but no school district is going to adopt this plan until after just the right cute little kid or beloved teacher dies of Covid-19 on a news day with few other distractions. This plan pertains to High Schools only. Perhaps later we can extend a version of this to other grades.

Here’s the plan.

1) Admit there is a deadly pandemic and that we need to not feed the virus. Also recognize that a realistic estimate of when a vaccine starts to be available is during the school year after the upcoming one, and that it will take a year or so to fully deploy it in the US. The plan for starting school should not be, as it is now, “we’ll do this for the first week then… who knows?” The plan should be one that will flexible but outlined for a two or three year time range, because that is the time range over which this pandemic is going to play out.

2) Change the requirements for graduating from high school. Henceforth, students must meet the core* class requirements, and do not need to meet total credit requirements. All students who have met these requirements are graduated instantly. That would instantly reduce the number of students in the schools by a few percent.

4) Add one year to the high school plan. Call it “Covid-Extention-Year.” (Why? See below.)

3) Identify (mainly) Seniors and Juniors who have only a few core class requirements to finish. Spread those required classes over the next two years (some Seniors will thus be extending their school time into CEY). Many students in most schools will in this manner only have one class at a time, at most, with many semesters/quarters not having to attend school at all.

4) Restrict all other teaching to core requirements only. So, no electives. All teachers are switched to core requirements, all students are taking core requirements.

Suddenly, 3-4% of students would be gone. Within one semester, another 10-15% of students would be graduated, while another 20% of students would be committed to attending school for only one or two classes over about a year and a half. These first four changes simply thin out the herd gracefully and without killing anyone, as opposed to the current approach, which will thin out the herd the hard way.

5) Do as much distance learning as possible, but if classes are required…

6) Revise the one room schoolhouse model.

  • Students stay in one room.
  • Passing time and bathroom access is set up to minimize hallway contact.
  • Teachers move from room to room (teaching core classes only) and wear hazmat
  • Very few students in each room so when an infection pops up the total number of students removed from school is small. They can come back in a few weeks.
  • Since teachers are suited up they do not have to be quarantined when a student in their room tests positive.

It is essential to keep the teaching staff intact. There will be more needed than usual because several will be out sick for more time than usual. Classes, both distant and in person, should have smaller class size (for most classes, some distant learning classes may not need that). The one room schoolhouse method not only reduces infection, but serves another goal: Relationship building will be easier and more solid in mostly distance learning settings.

*Many schools use the term “core” to refer to a specific subset of academics. What I mean here is different, and includes more. Think of it this way: Look at a set of class records for a sample of seniors. Consider the total number of classes, and the types of classes, that make those students viable HS graduates, and cut out everything else. In other words, pare down. Most students manage to get what we think of as a full on high school degree with a few classes extra. Some students do everything in three years, and earn a year of college. This does not mean removing art or music. It means paring down the individual student’s total work, and probably, the full range of options.

By reducing the number of students and keeping the number of teachers the same, and simplifying the offerings, it is easier to have smaller one-room learning units. While distance learning is ongoing the one-room learning units are not necessary, but they are ready to go when the students and teachers are called back into the classroom. This might be after a vaccine is available, but is still being deployed, and the virus is in smaller numbers but still a threat, which one might estimate to be some time during the 2021-2022 school year.


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