Round and Round We Go

I thought I would continue to try and have a substantive conversation with Dr. Bishop regarding her presentation to our legislative delegation, which as you can see from the note at the very bottom (chronology is bottom up – see below for some shortcuts) piqued my curiosity when I saw it referenced in a State Senator’s newsletter.  I have appended the conversation save the last reply from her, which, because that reply removed the markup, made following the back and forth (more) difficult. Her last reply was,

Dear Mr. Grover,
Thank you for your thorough feedback. 
I hope you have a nice holiday.
Cheers,
Deena Bishop

Apparently she now has me confused with a blue Sesame St character (OK, maybe that’s not all that unusual…) But will she respond to my questions or concerns? I think that is as likely as her setting up a meeting, don’t you?

There were a total of 6 notes. Click here for my initial e-mail. Click here for Dr. Bishop’s reply to that note (the second in the string). My comments on Dr. Bichop’s note (the third note) can be found here. I interlineated my comments to her reply, so her reply and my comments appear at the top in one message, here. My writing appears in Times New Roman, Dr. Bishop’s in Helvetica.


To:        Dr. Deena Bishop
From:    Marc Grober

On 12/14/17 2:42 PM, Bishop_Deena wrote:

Hi Mr. Grober,

Hello Deena – answers interlineated below…

You and I must meet.

Actually, we need not meet, though if you wish to meet I can certainly accommodate that. However, I don’t see you as taking steps to that end, do I, so I will assume that is just polite puffing? which you can dispense with as many people find it confusing. On the off chance you are serious you know where to reach me.

I do not think that we are necessarily that distant 
on our desired outcomes for the education of students...
the details in our respective areas have some differences.

I don’t know that we have shared our “desired outcomes for the education of students”, nor am I sure what our “respective areas” are, let alone what you think the differences in those areas might be. Perhaps you could explain?

I do agree with some of your thoughts on preschool and 
the universal access that Oklahoma has tackled.

Actually, I don’t think I shared any ideas on pre-school, though I inquired as to whether you promoted Oklahoma’s position on pre-school to the legislators, a question you seem not to have answered.

Many of their preschools are funded outside of the 
k-12 system, even to private entities.

I am unaware of the sources for your claims. Perhaps you could share them?

On the other hand, there is ample documentation of the success Oklahoma had with funding public pre-school (see, http://sde.ok.gov/sde/files/ok.gov.sde/sde/Legislative%20Briefing%20PreK%20Program.pdf for State fact sheet), both in the press:
http://hechingerreport.org/why-oklahomas-public-preschools-are-some-of-the-best-in-the-country/
https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2013/02/14/is-oklahoma-the-right-model-for-universal-pre-k/
https://eyeonearlyeducation.com/2016/02/18/universal-pre-k-in-oklahoma-a-national-model/
http://newsok.com/article/5550751
https://www.cbsnews.com/news/oklahoma-offers-pre-k-model-for-nation/
https://www.pbs.org/newshour/show/seeing-success-conservative-oklahoma-banks-on-universal-preschool

and in the literature:
https://www.crocus.georgetown.edu/publications
[shared as I was not sure whether this aspect of education had been broached as an area of Board interest and as we were including the Board in our conversation, they should have some familiarity with the topic – though I am not suggesting that they did not have a background in this already]

I think this is a good thing.

I see private education below the endowed post-secondary level (perhaps with certain very elite exceptions such as Phillips Andover, Exeter, etc) as suffering from poorer staffing than public schools because they pay less, provide no workplace guarantees, etc. and my experience with private schools in Alaska underscores my impressions. What data do you have that suggest that private entities manage education well?

 ASD does not have to be solely responsible for 
all preschool education. 

Perhaps not (though see my caveat above), however, by the time you impose the constraints necessary to ensure that the provision of services are comparable, you have rendered the private entity much more expensive (less affordable, I think you’d put it) and operating at a disadvantageous scale 😉

Partnerships, to me, is the key to solving this 
community concern.

Partnerships can be successful when the partners bring something to the table. You have yet to suggest what that might be.

If I can offer a lower overhead and the private 
owner agrees to pass this onto the customer, perhaps 
more folks can afford quality preschool?

Which essentially ignores the likelihood that the private operator is providing an unacceptably poor program, or the cost would be in excess of what ASD could provide.

Unused educational space is there, parents are 
looking for quality preschools they can afford, 
and empirical evidence supports early learning benefits.

Again, you seem to have ignored the fact that there might be lots of demands for space in ASD schools, but for the fact that ASD has been shedding anything that suggests it might be outside its mission statement. You also seem to have dismissed any possibility that class size could be reduced if ASD moved people out of positions carrying water for the administration, to actually teaching.

Additionally the closest reading of the literature to date suggests that the benefits of Pre-K dissipate if instruction in K-3 doesn’t maintain the pace the child experienced in Pre-K, which commends, of course, smaller elementary class sizes, AND an argument to legislators to fund Pre-K (which I will note, again, you appear NOT to have made).

On the NAEP front---2015 data is actually quite recent 
as NAEP is only given every other year to randomly 
selected students in randomly selected schools across 
the state and nation. We do not get individual student 
or school results for the NAEP. And, to be honest, 
PEAKS results mirror AYP results more than either 
of these assessments mirrored the SBA test of yesteryear. 
My argument with the delegation was that we get 
it...we get that the standards have changed and we 
are addressing this. It was not a self-congratulatory 
action. It was intended more for transparent accountability 
on my part. No excuses here.

I am not going to duel about the specifics of NAEP testing – that is all of record for anyone to see. Nor am I going to argue about the significance of AYP testing on its own or vis-a-vis the NAEP, as that is also a matter of broad discussion in the literature as I said before, and I am sure you have provided the Board with an extensive bibliography on same. My point was that the Education Next piece was of little value; a better demonstration would have been State longitudinal data, and even that is of attenuated value because it is really not comparable to Alaska Urban data as many have been at pains to point out to the likes of the ideologues at Alaska Policy Forum and their fellow travelers.

If your intent was to demonstrate that we are between a rock and a hard spot, you frankly failed as that was not the message that was passed on. If your intent was to differentiate between the urban performance and rural performance, again, you seem to have failed. And I would have thought it would have been a great opportunity for you to share your correspondence to NAEP decrying their failure to include Anchorage in their Urban assessments, and I take it that in this too, you failed. Of course, failing is the only way we really learn, though I don’t know too many employers who see it that way…

The SAT/ACT scores were presented in a Fast Facts 
sheet for ASD, available to all stakeholders. 
I did not present personally on this topic. I have 
included the data in the fast facts in this email.

So, this was simply more second hand hash. In as much as it was expected that scores on SAT and ACT would drop across Alaska takers as State requirements forced more who would otherwise NOT take the tests to take them, it would have seemed appropriate if talking about school performance to trot out such data as it is some of the on;y data that compares apples and apples we have. SInce I have not seen the presentation I can’t really comment on how it was targeted, of course, but I do have to wonder why real data on such a measure was not included on any discussion of legislative priorities for the District. Perhaps, should you make that presentation available, I could comment further?

I do have each school's national percentile score 
and will request these data also be available on 
the Data Dashboard as you have a good point 
in that they are not easily accessible.

Please advise when the data is available.

As long as we are talking about data, I should note that I had been trying to have a conversation with ASD about concussion, TBI, and sports, and had been told (2 years ago) that a committee would be formed (I even received an invite) to look into this matter (action supposedly delayed due to staffing). The staffing issue was resolved months ago, but apparently the new staff member chooses not to respond to correspondence.

In the meantime, conversations with a Board member about the data pertinent to the Middle College suggested that the member had asked for data, and yet months have passed and the member seems to be as unable to obtain data from ASD as I am, though I don’t want to put words in the members mouth…

And it seems when schools jumped on DIBELS, their successes with that tool were ignored when ASD moved to AIMSweb. Now I am hearing rumors that AIMSweb is no longer required, thereby foregoing critical data. Is there an ASD white paper on the history of probe adoption and implementation at the district which includes a section on the current tools, their relationship, if any, to prior tools, and the analysis behind any changes?

Thanks again for your thoughtful responses. They do make me step back and think.

I thought that was the entire purpose of conversation (and the reason I was black-balled from ever working at the District, lol).

Tell me, when a student complains that a teacher is spending so much time lecturing students on how to use technology the teacher  wants to use to teach that he isn’t effectively teaching the underlying lesson, what does that tell you about what is (or is not) appropriate Ed Tech?  Don’t be a tool; use the tool 😉

A Shifty Solstice, a Yumpin’ Yule, and a Scandolous Saturnalia to you and yours,

Marc

—–Original Message—–

From: Marc Grober [mailto:marc@interak.com] Sent: Thursday, December 14, 2017 11:33 AM
To: School Board <SchoolBoard@asdk12.org>
Subject: Re: Questions from the Trenches

 

Dear Dr. Bishop,

Thank you for your interim response.

I fully understand the issues with most State AYP assessments as compared to the NAEP, as I clearly noted. I don’t understand why anyone would rely on an out of date Education Next article to address this point when it has been the subject of extensive academic discussion for some time, especially because of the nature of the NAEP as opposed to that of most AYP assessments vis-a-vis the scope of the assessment.

“Yikes!”, is not an argument in any company I know. It is an exclamation of horrified amazement, used here because the Senator apparently came away with the impression that confirmation by way of an out of date article in a political journal that an assessment abandoned by the State years ago found some agreement with long standing NAEP results, that Alaska students are far from proficiency, was a basis for self-congratulation.

More importantly, the message apparently received by the Senator seemed to be missing a longitudinal analysis with respect to the testing Alaska has done. In other words, to be blunt, had someone simply compared findings of proficiency from State AYP testing with that afforded by NAEP testing annually for the last decade that would have very simply evidenced the gap, and done that without confusing anyone. Let’s just say that I am intrigued by the fact that the Senator didn’t share the graphic your staff prepared with respect to such an analysis; can you tell us where we can find it? I certainly agree that it is high time to recognize that the State is a long way away from being able to demonstrate adequate long term proficiency on basal standards; the problem is demonstrating to legislators that increasing revenues will change that, and that NAEP testing pressnts an appropriate standard. Those bits seem to be missing, not to mention the fact that the NAEP mysteriously failed to include Anchorage in its urban testing results, and a discussion of why that might have been, and whether NAEP is going to correct that oversight.

In sum, I would have expected any such presentation to cover the challenges presented by the State’s approach to education, and the marginal successes the local District can show despite those State-wide issues. Perhaps the easiest way to get to the bottom of what you did present is to make your presentation public on the ASD web?

As to private pre-school use of ASD facilities: a) If you rent such facilities for less than the market value you are indeed wasting ASD assets, no matter your inventive approach to finance.  b) Scalable is not synonymous with affordable, this does not present an viable argument that the private sector can provide appropriate instruction at a lower cost (which seems to be what your argument is intended to imply), and ASD could always actually reduce the size of Kindergarten classes if ASD chooses to spend money on teachers, instead of on activities, administrators, special projects, and unused curricular materials.  c) The community has been busy hemorrhaging services to meet budget constraints for two decades. Did you suggest to the legislators that, as in places like ultra-conservative Oklahoma, it is high time that Alaska offered free universal pre-school, and that in light of the State budget restrictions on communities like Anchorage, it is grossly unfair to expect such communities to subsidize pre-school themselves? Apparently the Senator missed that bit too.

I am pleased, however, that this is just something your highly paid staff is investigating, and hope, like some of the bizarre schemes floated by your predecessor, this idea gets short shrift. I would suggest (AGAIN) that the District roll out the Budget Review Team system; I think that would go a long way to affording the District “community resources” as far as appropriate ways to spend educational revenues.

The ACT/SAT data should be easily accessibly via the portion of ASD’s web site addressing assessment, and for someone who has argued that decisions will be data driven, it is confusing at the least to have to ask to see what was provided to legislators. Unless, like the release of a new iphone, there is some benefit to keeping close wraps on such presentations, it would sem that the best policy is to develop and public the presentation, and then use that as a basis for discussion with legislators or whomever, as opposed to engaging in apologetics about what you believe actually happened. Thank you for your reply. It is unfortunate that so many of your staff are not as responsive.

Marc

On 12/13/17 7:45 PM, Bishop_Deena wrote:

Hi Mr. Grober,

Thank you for your feedback.  I want to clarify a 
few items you mentioned now and will get back 
with you on others, once I can locate the data.

1. Preschool---In this area, ASD is looking 
to broaden the opportunities for preschool 
in our community. We are presently using grant 
money to provide pre-schools in some of our 
schools. However, this does not meet 
all needs as presently there remain families 
who cannot afford quality preschools. 

At this same time, ASD understands that 
having preschools wrapped into our overall 
k-12 programs is not scalable (not affordable). 
In our effort to increase the readiness for 
kindergarten learning and not wanting to 
increase our costs, we are looking at innovative 
ways to increase the access to preschool. 
We partner with private preschools presently for 
training. Given some schools' space availability, 
we are investigating the idea of partnering 
with private preschools to offer programs in schools 
for students from low income families. We are 
essentially not looking to "give away assets," 
rather use the assets we have to bring value to 
our community. I realize nothing is free, 
nothing is being given away. We are in talks 
to see how we may rent space to offer a service 
that is needed by the community---this would 
support the private sector as well. These ideas 
are working in other cities, so the investigation 
was an effort to be innovative with the empty 
spaces in some schools.

2. The Education Next map URL you shared demonstrates 
the grade on STANDARDS, not assessments. The results 
of assessments are used to communicate the delta 
between the NAEP and individual state's assessment 
results in an effort to define rigor.  While Alaska 
has much to improve, the idea shared with the 
Senator was that we have standards that are of 
higher rigor than before. While our coefficient 
is still negative, it is closer than many states' 
results for which their state assessments found 
more students proficient than NAEP found. Again, 
Alaska's score is much closer, meaning we are 
more accurately reporting and that our standards 
are coming closer to the overall national expectation for 
student success. I did not share this to communicate 
we are doing well on these new standards. That 
would be untrue. In fact, I shared the poor PEAKS 
results for ASD in this presentation to show we have 
significant improvement to make.

I shared the map to demonstrate that the rigor of 
standards in Alaska changed, and we did step things 
up. Moreover, the ASD Board expects me, the superintendent, 
to foster our culture and actions to meet the higher 
standards. I am not sure about your "yikes" argument. 
Are you unhappy that we acknowledge the challenge? 

3. I will get the ACT and SAT information for you. 
It is shared directly with the District.

Thanks again for your feedback.

Cheers,
Deena

Dr. Deena M. Bishop
Superintendent, Anchorage School District
5530 E. Northern Lights Blvd.
Anchorage, AK 99504
Office Phone (907) 742-4312
 
Educating All Students for Success in Life

—–Original Message—–

From: Marc Grober
Sent: Wednesday, December 13, 2017 5:18 PM
To: School Board
Subject: Questions from the Trenches

Dear Anchorage School Board and Superintendent,

I was rather dismayed recently to receive a newsletter from Senator Gardner which featured the following statements:

Tuesday, the Anchorage School District (ASD) and School Board presented their 2018 legislative priorities to Anchorage legislators, highlighting advancements in education, cost-efficiency measures, and difficulties their organizations currently face. I sensed a lot of optimism from the district, conviction that they are moving in the right direction, and genuine pride from the new superintendent, Deena Bishop.

Over the last five years, Alaska has gone from 48th in academic rigor to 13th in the nation, SAT and ACT scores have risen city-wide (and are now well above average nationally), graduation rates have increased in nearly every demographic, and student attendance – a focus in every school – is up across the district. I’m also excited that ASD is beginning to offer space inside their schools at a below-market rate for private pre-K programs. This will provide increased access to pre-K at an affordable rate – a great incentive for parents to start their kids in their neighborhood school before Kindergarten, resulting in the need for fewer resources once they enter the public school system.

I wrote to the Senator inquiring as to the basis for these claims, and I am somewhat distressed at the results of my queries and hope that you can provide specifics as to what the Senator was actually referencing. First off, I had to ask myself about Education Next (the Senator said the claims were based on this link http://educationnext.org/state-standards-map-2016/).

Education Next “is a scholarly journal published by the Hoover Institution” [http://rightweb.irc-online.org/profile/hoover_institution/ Hoover has been a mainstay of the Republican Party for decades, serving as a virtual revolving door for high-level GOP figures and apparatchiks, including many who served in the George W. Bush administration] which does not spare its own elbows in describing itself like this: “In the stormy seas of school reform, this journal will steer a steady course, presenting the facts as best they can be determined, giving voice (without fear or favor) to worthy research, sound ideas, and responsible arguments. Bold change is needed in American K-12 education, but Education Next partakes of no program, campaign, or ideology. It goes where the evidence points.”

This publication did a story in the Summer of 2016 (yes, a year and a half ago) in which they presented an interactive map that compared State AYP test results with NAEP test results. Of course, everyone in education has understood for years that very few states had AYP results comparable to NAEP proficiency. That map, produced a year and a half ago, is the map that the Senator was apparently referred to by the District. Yikes!

“Rigor” is defined in the map’s fine print: “This number shows for a given state in 2015 the difference in the percentage of students who were labeled proficient on the state exam and NAEP (National Assessment for Educational Progress). A negative number indicates that more students were identified as proficient on the state exam than were identified as proficient on NAEP”

The piece that references the map can be found here: http://educationnext.org/after-common-core-states-set-rigorous-standards/

Is this something for ASD to crow about. Absolutely not. As I wrote to the Senator:

“Education Next’s use of “rigor” means that if Alaska lists only 30% of its students as proficient on its exam, and its performance on NAEP reflects the same thing, then the lack of gap is regarded as effective rigor.

* This is a very artificial measure and it would be more appropriate to suggest that the metric might reflect reliability or validity of the NAEP or local measure, as opposed to rigor,

* Our coefficient is a negative number, which still shows our measure as being more “lenient” than the NAEP.

* This is at best a measure of our curriculum and testing regime, which so many want to see abandoned.

* Perhaps most importantly, the data employed are data on assessments THAT HAVE BEEN ABANDONED. In other words, anything Alaska could do to claim that State assessments were now consistent with NAEP assessments were dumped with the adoption of PEAKS.

Nothing to crow about here… So please explain why this was even trotted out to the Senator?

What about the relative performance on SAT and ACT? The Senator said that the data was provided by the testing corporations, but of course the data was not provided to the Senator, it was provided in some form, subject to certain conditions and limitations to the district. I looked at the District’s assessment web pages and could find nothing specific offering a link to the data in question. Where can the public find the data that the District is supposedly relying upon?

Lastly, how can we afford to rent out space to the public at lower than market value to provide services that the District could arguably do better? I failed to notice the sign at the time. You know, the one that said, “ASD giving away assets – sign up here!” I am a vocal supporter of public education, but it seems that ASD simply wants to fuel the fires of the Alaska Policy Forum and their ilk. What exactly is the cash loss ASD is suffering from the reduced rentals of these resources, and where is the policy analysis that finds that this giveaway is more important, for example, than providing reduced cost rentals to adult literacy programs, critical to student success, or parenting classes for that matter? Are the discounts available to any enterprise, or just for for-profits? Since we killed community schools largely on the rental loss to ASD, why not bring community schools back if ASD has so much money? Oh, wait! What about ASD offering a District wide Pre-K?

I really look forward to your reply, though based on your prior track record, I understand that answering difficult questions from the community has not been a focus of this administration.

Sincerely,

Marc

 

 

Can We Nooksack the Inupiaq?

While celebrating Columbus (https://www.thenation.com/article/the-invention-of-christopher-columbus-american-hero/) is as ludicrous as basing jurisprudence on Story’s Commentaries (https://global.oup.com/academic/product/inventing-a-christian-america-9780190230975), jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire is perhaps just as silly. Pushing tribal politics until we all look like Nooksackis (https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/18/magazine/who-decides-who-counts-as-native-american.html) is perhaps a quantum too far.

One has to ask, who exactly are Alaska’s second peoples? There is some discussion as to whether Inupiaq (and their cousins to the East) are Alaska’s second or third peoples coming as they did rather later – some 20000 years after the first descendants of the Altaians made it from Asia (see for a general discussion http://www.pnas.org./content/113/23/6380.full), and of course, as there was no Alaska at the time, a broadening of the target brings to mind that there is evidence that Europeans made it to North America at least by 1500 ya – why not before the Inupiaq? And, of course, the purported lack of archeological evidence of humans in the Americas prior to 30000 ya is NOT evidence that there were NOT peoples here at the time. Lions and tigers and bears – don’t tell me we may have to drop someone’s cap N!?!?!?!?!

Every attempt at argument over who was there first ends up in finger-pointing and blood-letting and is, at its core, a version of “me, mine, and more”. We came down out of the trees just several hundred thousand years ago, and have been torturing each other since. We appear to have all come from what we now call Africa. The time that has passed since then is just the blink of an eye.

The Thin Men

I think attenuated may be the right word. Disconnected seems too binary, and it’s not so much an on and off thing. It’s more like fading out. That’s what old people do, you know; they kind of fade out, and pretty quick, they’re gone.
I have been trying to find the right words, on and off, for some time. It is a slippery slope there. I suppose one could even suggest treacherous, at the risk of being melodramatic.
I am struck (stuck?) with attenuated. It conveys the very real sense that one’s connection is narrowing, thinning to an impossible dimension that is not sustainable.
There is, of course, the sense that one’s impact on the rest of the world is gone. No one seems to listen; no one seems to hear. You seem always in someone’s way as if you are indeed invisible.
But there is also the feeling of becoming further and further removed. Fading away is as close as I can describe it. Things become less meaningful, unimportant, trivial even. You can easily see events without you. You don’t seem to be involved, and frankly that doesn’t seem a big deal.
Unfortunately or otherwise, those prone to depression are likely to react poorly to these perceptions and may start feeling an accelerated pull. The tension of the attenuation becoming just too great, there is a rising urge to just let go.
Imagine that you are bungie jumping, and at some point it occurs to you that the cord no longer has the capacity to return.

A Very American Tradition

Perhaps the oldest and most time-honored American political tradition is the laying on of propaganda, a very catholic (spreading truth, as it were) endeavor (Harper) for a democratic republic with a “wall”. The term “propaganda”  was not employed to describe the practices of 18th century America, which saw the broad use (or more appropriately, abuse) of the  pamphlet and the newspaper (Parkinson), which between them likely moved more manure than any hundred colonial farmers.

While it is seen as “good fun” on the “Left” to ridicule the “Right”‘s delusional love affair with a past that never existed (from Washington’s fledgling theocratic state to the libertarian utopia captured by Norman Rockwell), those doing the fiercest poking seem also to hearken back to an halcyon era of gentle discourse, where rational discussion charted the future of a free people. But, such daydreams are as fatuous as the revisionist histories of America’s culture warriors.

Our very own “Declaration” of independence is little more than a propagandistic screed (Hansen; Armitage; Jefferson) while the great art of “Common Sense” (Paine) is the rhetoric that so skillfully manipulates the reader.  The truth is that nothing was too low for the political strategists of our past. At the turn of the 18th century dueling over reputation was still to be seen (though largely illegal) while, based on the perceived reception of English common law, truth was no defense in suit for libel or slander (Kluft). Tar the man and kill the policy was the order of the day. Weinberg, in reviewing Burns’ “Infamous Scribblers”, gives us pause to ponder the fact that modern media warfare is not far removed from the rough and tumble of our brutal beginnings.

The U.S. has always been the very embodiment of the Hobbesian dilemma: affluence and stability come with moderation of individual freedoms. Yet our media has been telling us we can have our cake and eat it too for so long that the very idea has percolated into our poor excuse for beer: “Tastes great, less filling” (Miller). The predominant science of the 20th century is not physics, medicine, chemistry, or economics; it’s social psychology, the key to effective “advertising”, advertising being the methods by which attitudes of any population can be manipulated.

Our most staid organic political repartee, the Federalist and Anti-Federalist Papers, were composed anonymously. But this was not your kid’s Anonymous. By employing the allusion that was inherent in the use of a pseudonym (taken, itself, from an almost universal educational canon) the propounding pops  placed the discourse about our second attempt at sovereignty in a larger context (Richard 39), offering a sense of gravitas, or not (Klarman).

It may have been this sense of erudition that eventually gave rise to the extension of the Jeffersonian educational ideal to the unwashed (Notes on the State of Virginia 268-275); train the hoi polloi in “the canon”, and they too could be responsible participants in the republic! Et voilá, the great divide between those capable of ruling and those in need of rule is closed.

Many, like myself, are still enamored of the prospects of “education”. Even the kid with his finger in the dyke made some contribution, after all. But it is a losing battle where, the lower the socio-economic class the greater the spawning, and teachers (nominally, let alone good teachers) can’t compete with family and media when it comes to drama, comedy, time allotted, impact, etc. Indeed, we have moved rather aggressively to the point where the academy has been purchased by ideologues (Mayer 172).

The other two great divides are: a) the epistemological application of the Heisenberg uncertainty principle (there is either truth or process), and, b) the Gordian Knot of Sophism (Rhetoric and Dialectic deconstructed). The first, shorthand for the grand battle of the absolute versus the relative, Plato versus Aristotle, is what plays out all over our country between the religious right and everyone else (once the “truth” is grasped, very little persuasion is necessary). The latter is the essence of the interactions between the “inner chimp” and the Homo sapiens forebrain and likely should have been the real focus of this essay.

It belongs to Rhetoric to discover the real and apparent means of persuasion, just as it belongs to Dialectic to discover the real and apparent syllogism. For what makes the sophist is not the faculty but the moral purpose. But there is a difference: in Rhetoric, one who acts in accordance with sound argument, and one who acts in accordance with moral purpose, are both called rhetoricians; but in Dialectic it is the moral purpose that makes the sophist, the dialectician being one whose arguments rest, not on moral purpose but on the faculty (Aristotle). Your English teacher would have started off this essay with Aristotle’s remarks, but then, you didn’t listen to your English teacher back then either, did you?

Of course, any time one begins considering social upheaval (as in an attempted change in social structure via the rise of a lower caste or class) historically it is cotemporal with mob violence. Whether you wish to talk about Spartacus or Luther, the attack on authority results in general conflagration. We have moved, in an era of truthiness (Colbert) and alternative facts (Todd), to a place where all authority is “equal”, so all versions of “reality” are legitimate.  We no longer have a common frame of reference, nor a common sense of what is authoritative.

We are, in a  real sense, faced with the thr”E” alternatives to the Existing Quandary Underlying Angst Tortured Existentialists: Education (Where do you want to go today), Exclusion (Just Us), or Exhortation (MadAve).  We have seen that Education is not up to the challenge…   Exclusion (the tribal primal directive) works just fine until all the oligarchs become bombastic bullies (it’s what happens when the elite defining “philosopher kings” are disparu, as can be seen in the current Administration).  What we are left with, and what many on “the left” are now arguing, is the adoption of the sound bite magical libertarian mystery show; time to sell the “progressive” brand using the same kind of MadAve tools that the Scaifs and Kochs successfully used in the past, and were employed most recently to make the Maroon Tide believe that Donald Trump is Their Savior.

To put that in blunter terms, the question is put, “Shall we murder to stem the flow of murderers?” Perhaps the first and maybe least fortunate response to such a poser would be that in as much as 997 of any 1000 people likely would not be worth saving one way or the other,  if you are not going to put them down at birth, don’t waste the money to feed them. But let’s delicately back away from that moment of honesty and search for an historical example of a successful upstart taking on hegemony without becoming same. Stickier and stickier…

Nor is, “They will seize what’s yours”, a real barn-burner because the truth is, nothing I have is really mine. Yeah, we do a great deal of pretending about PROPERTY in this country, but is there really anyone who does not realize that it is largely a delusion (well, THEY are included in that 997). Thank you, for thinking of US, but no thanks. Yes, let the Maroon Tide dissolve my bones on the wretched strand, but playing the Devil’s fiddle, as Faust well knew, comes at a price I am not interested in paying.

No, without a common frame of reference, the task is to simply make noise, as no real communication will take place…  The message, as it were, is the rumble… and rumble we must for a better world, because until the fundie right decamps their separate universe, or education turns a corner it has yet to even espy, the best we can do is let people know we are alive and well.


Armitage, David. “The Declaration of Independence and International Law.” The William and Mary Quarterly, vol. 59, no. 1, 2002, pp. 39–64. JSTOR, doi:10.2307/3491637.

Burns, Eric. Infamous Scribblers: The Founding Fathers and the Rowdy Beginnings of American Journalism. PublicAffairs, 2007.

Colbert, Stephen. The Word – Truthiness. 2005. www.cc.com, http://www.cc.com/video-clips/63ite2/the-colbert-report-the-word—truthiness.

Hansen, Ali. “The Declaration as Propaganda.” Digication, 12 Mar. 2017, https://bu.digication.com/ahansen/The_Declaration_as_Propaganda.

Harper, Douglas. “Propaganda.” Online Etymology Dictionary, http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=propaganda. Accessed 12 Apr. 2017.

Jefferson, Thomas. Notes on the State of Virginia. University of Virginia Library, Virgo, 710304, http://search.lib.virginia.edu/catalog/uva-lib:710304. Accessed 18 Apr. 2017.

—. The Unanimous Declaration of the Thirteen United States of America. 1776.

Klarman, Michael J. The Framers’ Coup: The Making of the United States Constitution. Oxford University Press, 2016.

Kluft, David. “The Death Of Alexander Hamilton And The Birth Of The American Free Press.” Trademark and Copyright Law, 1 July 2016, http://www.trademarkandcopyrightlawblog.com/2016/07/the-death-of-alexander-hamilton-and-the-birth-of-the-american-free-press/.

Mayer, Jane. Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, 2017.

Miller, Carl. “Beer and Television: Perfectly Tuned In.” Beer History, 2002, http://www.beerhistory.com/library/holdings/beer_commercials.shtml.

Nizkor. “Fallacy: Appeal to Authority.” Nizkor Project, 2012, http://www.nizkor.org/features/fallacies/appeal-to-authority.html.

Paine, Thomas. “Common Sense.” Project Gutenberg, 14 Feb. 1776, https://www.gutenberg.org/files/147/147-h/147-h.htm.

Parkinson, Robert G. Print, the Press, and the American Revolution. Aug. 2015. americanhistory.oxfordre.com, http://americanhistory.oxfordre.com/view/10.1093/acrefore/9780199329175.001.0001/acrefore-9780199329175-e-9.

Richard, Carl J. The Founders and the Classics: Greece, Rome, and the American Enlightenment. Harvard University Press, 1995.

Todd, Chuck. “Conway: Press Secretary Gave ‘Alternative Facts.’” Meet The Press, NBC News, 22 Jan. 2017, http://www.nbcnews.com/meet-the-press/video/conway-press-secretary-gave-alternative-facts-860142147643.

Weinberg, Steve. “Infamous Scribblers by Eric Burns.” Houston Chronicle, 19 Mar. 2006, http://www.chron.com/entertainment/books/article/Infamous-Scribblers-by-Eric-Burns-1870445.php.

 

When is Insurance for Dependents a Bad Idea?

In a recent social media discussion about the adoption of Alaska HB23, “Creating a fund in the Department of Public Safety; providing for payment of certain medical insurance premiums for surviving dependents of certain peace officers or firefighters who die in the line of duty; relating to contributions from permanent fund dividends to the peace officer and firefighter survivors’ fund; and providing for an effective date”, Andy Holman (past Anchorage Education Association President and presently Anchorage School Board Member) stated, “Way too long coming.” While I am typically a fan of Representative Andrew Josephson (the bill’s primary sponsor), this bill was and will continue to prove to be, a mistake.

The Bureau of Labor Statistic’s “Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries” tells us that there are as many job related teacher deaths as there are job related fire department deaths [OK, I will come clean about the appropriate consideration of the BLS data below]. Does that mean that Andrew will soon be fast-tracking a similar bill for teachers? Somehow I think not.

One can dramatize the situation as much as one wishes, but where there are as many occupational fatalities among teachers as among firefighters, the actuarial impact on their families is THE SAME. In fact, in many schools teachers DO walk towards the fire, as it were, but I don’t think we should be ensuring health care coverage because of the nature of the job someone is doing (even if we misperceive the dangers inherent in that job because we are emotionally involved), but because it is the right thing to do.

But we should back up a bit and ask first why this was necessary, or more importantly, whether there was some way to avoid the unforeseen consequences presented by the bill, while still providing health care for the families of deceased firefighters and cops. And that means answering the question, “Why is it that legislators supposed that firefighters could not provide for medical insurance premiums for an eligible surviving spouse or dependent child through an IRA, life insurance, or related instrument?” And if such options were available (and they were), instead of carving exceptions into state law, wouldn’t it have made more sense to transition state medical care to health trusts, and allow the health trust to provide such services until the covered parties are otherwise eligible?

All persons covered under this bill would already be entitled to COBRA  (which, at a cost no more than 105% of the existing premium, provides for continuation of coverage on the occurrence of a qualifying event, like death of the policyholder).  All employees through whom coverage would be realized through this bill are also provided or offered life insurance. The longest that COBRA (or alternative program) would have to be paid for would be 18 years, the time it would take an infant to reach majority (26 if we want to look at current insurance “standards” for parental coverage). A rational response to this situation might well be to provide adequate life insurance or similar instrument that would cover COBRA (technically COBRA today only runs 18 or 36 months) or alternative.  The cost for such insurance would be about $50/month. Yes, I said $50/mo.

The demonstration above gives rise to the possibility that some are seeking to “double-dip” based on milking an emotive response. How is it “double-dipping”? The covered employee class already negotiates for a salary and benefits based on their “heroic” status (walking towards the fire, as it is argued). Stripped bear of the chest beating, we are really talking about a way to avoid asking the employer for an additional $50/month, or more to the point, moving part of the employment cost away from the employer directly (but as we might expect, this will have an indirect effect on dollars available for other purposes, and the current situation, where the Senate Majority is unwilling to adequately fund education in the State, is just one example). So the fireman gets paid on the basis of his heroism, and then we also provide additional remuneration (off the books, as it were, on the same basis), while denying that benefit to every other public employee.

The fact of the matter is that whatever the reason for the loss of the employee’s life, it will result in the loss of medical benefits for their dependents, and that will present a family crisis to a family already in crisis. No responsible family member would leave his or her family in such a precarious position, so we really have to assume that all such persons are already implementing a solution such as described above. The issue, then, is not really providing the tools for coverage, but providing additional benefits to one occupation, not provided to another occupation on the basis of something other than risk of occupational fatality for that occupation. That, to be blunt, is an emotional response that carves exceptions with unforeseen consequences and promotes making non-data driven decisions.

An emotive response should have nothing to do with the need to make sure that the families of anyone who dies on the job retain their health insurance until otherwise covered. By emotive response I am referencing the perception that someone deserves something “extra” because of the perceived nature of the risk, despite whatever the stats might reveal about the actual risk, the actual risk being determine actuarially. As noted, public safety personnel negotiate compensation on the basis of the risk they experience (one of the reasons people argue about the fact that the job is less risky than people like you believe) – and we should not promote this “double dipping”  while the employee could provide for family coverage on the employee’s death.

But teachers? Look, if you want to reward public safety personnel for being “heroes”  that is fine (though remember, you are also doing that when they negotiate for pay), but I (and thousands of others) think that teachers are heroes too. If you really want to extend benefits based on heroism, your policy should be based on actual risk, and the actual risk is far from your perceptions of the risk.

When comparing US schools to Finnish, the difference, again and again, comes back to Disrespect that the population holds for teachers, and the ramification of that disrespect eventually “blossoms”. In addressing teacher victimization, the American Psychological Association states:

According to the U.S. Department of Education, from 2011-12 , approximately:

  • 20% of public school teachers reported being verbally abused.
  • 10% reported being physically threatened.
  • 5% reported being physically attacked in schools.

From 1997-2001 1.3 million nonfatal crimes (including 473,000 violent crimes) were committed against America’s teachers.

Yes,  the fatal injury rate is actually some 5 times greater for firefighters than for teachers (the rate for firefighters is 4 per 100,000 full-time equivalent workers) but the rate for firefighters is still a third of that for bus drivers! The point I am trying to make is that actuarially the fatal injury rate for firemen is actually lower than many other possible public employee sectors, so to single out a sector with a lower rate for extra benefits is emotional and not data driven, and as such would also arguably inappropriate public policy.  It would make more sense, I suppose, to use the occupational fatality rate as a multiplier to address public subsidy for COBRA or some such.

I think instead of this law, which is a mistake, the families should have clearly identified the cost of life insurance necessary for COBRA for 18 (or 26) years and negotiated for that. In the alternative, the legislature should have made the coverage available to everyone, which is to say, instead of me, me, we should be talking about us us 😉 And, of course, instead of trying to kill the health trusts functioning so well in this State, the State should be promoting the expansion and networking of such trusts. At that point we have coherent policy that meets the long range needs of Alaska residents. What we have now is a poor knee-jerk emotional response to what is really a non-problem, and legislation that really does need to be adopted as been sidelined instead.

 

MOC’d ACCOMODATIONS

In our post-abusive all-inclusive society, it appears that we may have neglected to address the needs of a specific demographic that is now crying out in need.  Yes, I am talking about the MOC’d, the Morbidly Obese Challenged. You see these people every day. They are the ones who have no trouble sitting in chairs, manage to walk through doors (even two at a time in some cases), and have clothes not covered with crumbs. Yes, you may have stopped your snickering, and you may have ceased talking about these people behind their backs, but do you really know how they suffer.

It is high time we had a frank discussion of some of the typical accommodations that are necessary to make the MOC’d feel part of the group, and to get the ball rolling I am going to talk about the three “ph”s: Food, Fat, and Physicality.

Go to any corporate training program anywhere in the country and you will find, of course, a table laden with the carbohydrates most of us need to stay bulked up (let’s face it, it’s not easy to keep yourself morbidly obese if you have to manage that without the help of biological assistance).  While we are accustomed to the constant movement of our compatriots back and forth to the table, and to the constant chomping, crunching, grinding and general snorfling that accompany this tide of bodies, the MOC’s are seriously disturbed by the sound and fury of our social mandate.  What to do? I really think this can be addressed through technology! Assistive devices can provide audio filtering, as well as narrow visual focus and directional cues for when the MOC person is tempted to look away from the presenter.

We all know, of course, that fat (we call it blubber in our marine cousins) provides an effective thermal barrier to environmental temperatures, and that we require constant cooling to address the insulating layers we proudly bear. Unfortunately, our MOC’d colleagues become agitated when asked to deal with a 5 knot breeze in the conference room, or with 55F temperatures.  Here again, I see no great challenge as the problem is quickly solved with a few extra articles of clothing, and as a side benefit, the parka offers lots of pockets! I almost wish I could wear one!

More problematic is that MOC’d persons take offense at the perceived intrusions into their “personal space” they claim by the rest of us. They get all purple in the face if our butts bump them, go pale if our boobs hit them, and start screaming if their materials are nudged on to the floor because they were not adequately anchored. Many would simply argue that the best thing to do is find the little snowflakes a “safe place” at the back of the class where they can stay. We know, however, that such arrangements are inappropriate – separate but equal is no longer the law! But I believe there IS a solution.  Some of you may have heard about Bubble Football!

That’s the key! All we need to do is provide the MOC with a bubble suit! In fact, we could laminate the bubble with solar panel material and use that to power the audio and video accommodations. Additional, the bubble would also likely alleviate the need for additional clothing, so it would become an all-in-one wholly self-contained accommodation.

Yes, this IS a Brave New World, and thankfully, we are really well equipped to deal with it.

Lachrymose Limericks – Melancholy in Five Lines and Two Rhymes

Prompted by my friend Mary’s limwrick’d thoughts on Siegfried’s fragility (like Achille’s heel, absurd in and of itself), I thought of Adam’s Marvin and Milne’s Eeyore sitting at the fire, under the stars, opining in verse lachrymose on their fate…  It is not a pretty sight, risible as it might be.

Lachrymose isn’t a sweet,
Nor does it come from a teat,
It comes of a blight,
Which results in a plight,
As can be seen in my life’s receipt.

Doomed said the witch to the pot,
Doomed said the king to the sot,
What’s in a name,
Is ever the same,
It’s why Abe, John and Martin got shot.

Sisyphus murdered his guests,
He saw them as no more than pests,
While Camus saw his fate,
As absurdly first rate,
No one came to the fellow’s inquest.

Sad though you think I may be,
I am sure that you don’t really see,
That your salty tears,
And implacable fears,
Are the thinnest reflection of me.

 

– so it begins –

John Henry Will Not Save Me

The premise I found most disturbing in reading Whitehead’s “John Henry Days” was the List, the super-secret roll of press junketeers who are called on to crank out media fill.  It still haunts me. And every time I read some crap by some little wet behind the ears twit I have to take a moment and breathe, and ponder how that kid came to that juncture in their life. I want to find fault, lots and lots of fault, in someone, anyone, for filling our bitstreams with arrant juvenile nonsense, but the entire enterprise sometimes appears as Kabuki, a media dance, richly stylized, engaged in for the purpose of exploring the cultural themes on which the dance is constructed. If only.
 
Perhaps we should not blame those who are giving the kids a chance, nor chastise them for leaving it to their consumers to differentiate content (which we consumers so often are wholly unable to do, which doesn’t not offer much in the way of counter-pressure, does it?) Maybe I am just suffering, as so many antique cranks do, from a surfeit of papers graded – I suppose it is possible that when you wield a red pen, all the world looks like a hackneyed essay.
 
And why blame the kids, when we have “senior correspondents” and “seasoned experts” who are incorrigible in their myopic provincialism, grotesque in their wild posturing, and intemperate in their broken prose.

Mysteries Are Meant to Be Worshipped

A friend recently argued that mysteries are meant to be solved, not worshiped,

Fritz Kropfreiter Protozoans move along gradients, the most pervasive of which is food. The rational, self-aware mind also moves along a gradient (call it truth, understanding, knowledge or meaning) not with some metaphysical goal in mind but simply to chase the (currently) unattainable why. Mysteries are not meant to be worshiped but solved.

I have to disagree (on a basis other than the fact that this is way too “meta” for me).

No, it’s specifically not that I think that worship of anything is a good idea, nor do I think the mumbo-jumbo that passes for 21st Century spiritualism is any better. I am talking about why we create “mythos”, as opposed to simply seeing what we don’t understand as something we don’t understand. Yes, I think this was what was on Fritz’s mind, but the fly in the ointment is our initial perspective, our frame of reference. We create a “limbic universe”, and then fashion tools (mythos) to address it.

Karen Armstrong, in The Case for God, spends a good deal of time arguing mythos (here is a precis), and dozens of bloggers wrestle with the concept on a regular basis (here is just one example). But no matter which way one looks at the “battle” over mythos, it is, at its core, a duel over the fictive, an argument over whether we can effectively populate the universe with ghosts of our own emotional and juvenile angst.

Understanding the delusional nature of mythos does not mean that one seeks to undermine every ecstatic experience, every transcendental moment; it only means that one understands that the source of that moment is not part and parcel of some arcane knowledge-infused alien. Indeed, the “wow factor” increases dramatically when we cease and desist from writing ourselves into some magical yarn from which the universe is woven. We don’t need 20th Century revivals of medieval; mystery plays to grasp our place in the world (at least some few of us don’t, the rest, well I suppose the rest go to church).

So, mystery, the invented fluid in which Homo sapiens comes to understand the numinous, is specifically fashioned to be the focus of ritual.  It is the life-blood of every religious action, from the killing of the bull, to the taking of communion.


Armstrong, Karen. The Case for God. New York: Anchor Books, 2010.

Save Us This Day, From Edumacators

I could not resist purchasing this (rewritten Third Edition addressing the dramatic changes in education since 1950) in no small part because I was laughing so hard at UAA Instructors advising students not to use Wikipedia in composing answers to short answer/identification questions on take home finals (as if they were going to find usable answers in the horrendous texts employed, or the equally useless lecture notes afforded to the students ). The book was waiting for me on the UAA Consortium Library cast-offs cart for the stated price of $.25 and, as I said, I could not (would not) resist.

From quoting Commager, “No other people ever demanded so much of education as have the American. None other was ever served so well by its schools and educators” (93), the book moves to more realistic appraisals of the issues education in the U.S. face.

No agency but the school can provide the systemic, disciplined intellectual training required. This is, and always has been, the primary, indispensable funtion of the school. The nation is betrayed if the school shirks this responsbility or subordinates it to any other aim, however worthy in itself. The school exists to provide intellectual training, in every field of activity where systematic thinking is an important component of success * * * [but]  [a]n increasing number of public schools administrators and educational theorists today refuse to define the purposes of the school in terms of intellectual training or of recognized disciplines of science and scholarship (103, misciting Bestor, the cite for which can be found below ).

And Bestor’s take?  Well….

An inkling of what the educators mean ·when they propose to bring the great issues of public life down tb the level of what they call the “real-life problems of youth” is afforded by an elaborate report on The SchoolJ and National Security, which the Illinois Curriculum Program has recently published. The first task of the social studies, according to the d1apter devoted to them, is to “reduce the tensions and meet the needs of children and youth.” There are some starry-eyed promises about developing “a constructively critical attitude toward foreign policy” among pupils who, of. course, are not to be burdened with any useless knowledge of history or geography or foreign languages. And when the report gets down to specific classroom work, it solemnly sug­gests that the schools can serve the nation in its present, hour of peril by asking its students to “make studies of how the last war affected the dating pattern in our culture.”

But perhaps the best way to approach the book is its review in Educational Leadership via Lewis Carroll.

One who seeks definitive answers to educational problems may he disap­pointed in this book. One who seeks an organized departure point for thinking through many of the issues of secondary education will find this source very help­ful. Unlike the discussion of curriculum in Alice in Wonderland, this text deals with Modern Secondary Education in a realistic, straightforward, practical man­ner. And, as the Gryphon said in a very decided tone to Alice, “That’s enough about lessons.”

Maybe we have something to learn from Alexander and Saylor?


Alexander, William M., and J. Galen Saylor. Modern Secondary Education: Basic Principles and Practices. New York: Rinehart, 1959.
Bestor Jr., Arthur E. “Anti-Intellectualism in the Schools.” New Republic 128, no. 3 (January 19, 1953): 11. http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=pwh&AN=14557231&site=pov-live.
Bishop, Leslee. “Significant Books: Modern Secondary Education.” Educational Leadership 17, no. 4 (January 1960): 257–258. Accessed May 2, 2017. http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/jan60/vol17/num04/toc.aspx.