Small Wonder

Reading exceptional historian Jon Zimmerman’s latest, Small Wonder: The Little Red School house in History and Memory, and found the following quotes:

“Some of our children are paupers and some are millionaires in educational opportunity. An American public school at the moment may connote anything from an unheated, dilapidated one-room shack, closed without further notice, to a 200-room palace whose frescoed walls, swimming pool, and air-conditioned interior a Roman emperor might envy.” –Journalist Eunice Barnard (p.102)

James Agee on a new white school in Alabama in the late 1930s: “A recently built, windowy, ‘healthfully’ red brick and white-trimmed structure which perfectly exemplifies the American genius for sterility, unimagination and general gutlessness in meeting any opporunity for ‘reform’ or ‘improvement.'” (p.107)

work and life

Read this essay last night before bed and it got me thinking. Most of the novels I’ve read lately don’t speak to the experience of work; it’s peripheral, something that happens in a paragraph at the beginning of the chapter, something that barely frames the terms of each character’s existence. Schuessler cites a novelist who claims that “work has become central to many people’s self conception.” I think this is nonsense. For most Americans work has become a place to earn a check while you keep your soul safely protected far from the degrading, crushing stupidity of all too many jobs.

Yet work is central to who we are in our house. The decisions we’ve made about where to work or what to do with the time when we’re not together as a family…we’ve tried to be doing something meaningful, some set of tasks that actually matters. Yeah, teaching and social work, it’s often deck chairs on the Titanic, but the struggle is important, and there are successes along the way. Work shouldn’t be something where you forget who you are for seven or eight hours a day. I know there’s a counterargument here — such work is a luxury of the upper middle-class — but it’s not impossible to carve out a decent life without immense amounts of disposable income, so the choice to do what’s right (as opposed to what’s easy, thanks Albus) isn’t as inconceivable as some would believe.

Bill Maher

Not a huge fan of Huffington Post — have the phone app and read it occasionally — but Bill Maher’s comedic piece on firing teachers works pretty well. While there’s some objectionable content, his summary of the American response to the Rhode Island teacher firings is spot on:

But isn’t it convenient that once again it turns out that the problem isn’t us, and the fix is something that doesn’t require us to change our behavior or spend any money. It’s so simple: Fire the bad teachers, hire good ones from some undisclosed location, and hey, while we’re at it let’s cut taxes more. It’s the kind of comprehensive educational solution that could only come from a completely ignorant people.

I also love that he cites Whitney Houston, whose line about children being the future (Sexual Chocolate), I’ve explicitly banned my students from using. Which seems silly but before I started mentioning it, I’d get three to four essays a semester where students knowingly or unknowingly referred to this song.

Philly Law

A law in Philadelphia:

if your umbrella breaks for any reason, you must drop it immediately, regardless of your location, and walk away.

No matter where you are in the city after a rainstorm, there’s an umbrella laying in the street, on the sidewalk, on the hood of a car. Everywhere.

Common Core Standards

So this was coming for awhile and there will be critics from states from both ends: too low compared to ours says Massachusetts, too intrusive says Texas. My only thought upon reading the Times article was who was involved (and explicitly thanked in the introduction to the document):

…the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers set the common-standards initiative in motion last year. They convened panels of English and math experts from the College Board and A.C.T., and from Achieve Inc., a group with years of experience working to upgrade graduation standards.

Hmmm…cue sarcastic, nicotine-soaked voice: I guess these were the only folks who know anything about standards. The document is here and is now open for a whole three weeks of review.

great moments in dumb rock history

Re-discovering the wicked awesome records from the J. Geils Band lately. One favorite moment from Blow Your Face Out:


Peter Wolf hollers “Do it to it in Detroit City, let me hear you” and the band starts hammering, with Seth Justman starts pounding the piano, Magic Dick plays a wild harmonica solo. Then Peter Wolf says “Baby, baby…baby don’t leave me” and the Detroit crowd goes wild knowing it’s Motown, it’s their song, it’s their city…

update: KKC looked at me this AM as we’re listening and asks “why is that man looking for love? Why can’t he find it?”

Every education blogger

in the country will have something to say about yesterday’s article in the New York Times on Teacher Preparation. Like most folks I was annoyed.

My biggest issue with the essay was that there was no sense that the purpose of education remains contested. Defined here, teaching is about improving test scores, something you can measure. You can easily judge whether or not teachers can improve scores. But such an approach ignores all of the structural factors that shape student lives and assumes that they are irrelevant if teachers could just teach better. And it ignores the things I want teachers to demonstrate to children, including my own:

humility: the ability to fail and keep trying

curiosity: the desire to keep learning

creativity: the willingness to try lots of different approaches to problems

I’m not sure these can be quantified, although I’m sure there’s someone out there trying.

Trash again

It looks like the trash bill is going to go before council. I’m thinking I’m going to write to the Mayor and say:

Listen, I’ll happily pay the bill when you can demonstrate that the slumlord all-stars who own half of the homes on my block, whose home addresses range from Lower Merion to Gladwyen, who have nearly defaulted on several of their properties, have paid their bill.

The Mayor understands, even banks on, the folks who do the right thing while failing to address why so many neighborhoods continue to fall apart. Landlords get a pass, year after year.

Five year old describes urban renewal

I was talking to my son about a conversation the Cedar Park Neighbors are sponsoring, a conversation designed to elicit community thoughts on what Baltimore Avenue might look like in the future. I mentioned it to him because it’s been politicized, as some folks apparently felt threatened by the potential of a process where stakeholders might discuss the future of the Avenue. It’s hard to explain fifty years of class struggle and racial politics, but before I could begin, my son declared:

“Dad, it’s pretty easy: first, you rebuild the houses. Then, you get some people to move in.”

further evidence of why five-year olds rule. Reminded me of this recent essay at the NYRB about children’s imaginations and their moral development.