Crossing the Rubicon

Caesar Crossing the Rubicon by Fouquet

Caesar Crossing the Rubicon – Fouquet

It would seem that my claim — that you are entitled to adhere to any philosophy you wish as long as your conduct does not endanger me, and that we have come to the point where, whatever your philosophy argues, it will most likely endanger me if it is not evidence based and it informs your behavior –has disturbed the force.

We have a land full of fundamentalist wingnuts, yes, but perhaps the more dangerous population are the new-agers involved in what I can only suggest is neo-spiritualism (turn about is fair play, I think, as these folk argue that Dawkins et al are neo-atheists.) Unfortunately, these otherwise clever folk offer the likes of Ken Ham steerage when he talks about science being a faith and the value of religion. This is the heavy cavalry in the 21st century attack on “freethinkers” and their calls to arms are that religion not only has great social benefit, but may reflect ultimate truth. And the more comprehensive the argument that there is no demonstrable validity to either claim, the more virulent the attack. The Sarewitzs of the world are more dangerous because they present as plausible the logically inadequate and inconsistent as acceptable to the scientific mind, they provide religious nonsense with a stamp of modern approval and somehow suggest that Eastern religion and quantum mechanics are coming together to form a new cosmic understanding. Om mani padme humbug.

vinegar tasters

The Vinegar Tasters.

The problem, as I attempted to put it in the first paragraph, is that we no longer have the time or space to allow people to do moronic things. Trusting in magic in a closed system with a lit fuse is not acceptable policy. Now, I have to admit that the pendular argument has something to offer, and while I am horrified by the constant attempts to analogize science to philosophy the physics of harmonic motion (periodic motion where the restoring force is directly proportional to the displacement) do offer some food for thought. Is Q’uranic patience, Dao-ist acceptance, best practice?  Shall we smile, fools on the hill, as the lemmings throw themselves off the cliff, until the wheel turns? I don’t know if I am equipped for dung heap sitting, certainly not without substantially more meditation. And of what use is the argument for an evidence based ethic, if we are condemned to suffer the slings an arrows of outrageous harmonics.

Faith comes with no guarantee. But, as Taleb reminds us, neither does evidence. However, it is the irrational leap into likely disaster with paper bags over our heads that worries me. I have no problem with enlightened codes of behavior, whatever their purported sources, but if you believe that the world will be magically cleansed by an old white dude and his circumcised son, we are going to have problems (and I mean, you and me, as well as globally.)


Blankenbicker, Adam. “Why I Don’t Believe in Science…and Students Shouldn’t Either.” Sci-Ed, September 2, 2013. Accessed February 20, 2014.
Coyne, Jerry A. “No Faith in Science.” Slate, November 14, 2013. Accessed November 29, 2013.
Herman, Joan L., Ellen Osmundson, and Ronald Dietel. Benchmark Assessment for Improved Learning. An AACC Policy Brief. Assessment and Accountability Comprehensive Center, 2010.
Taleb, Nassim Nicholas. The Black Swan the Impact of the Highly Improbable. New York, NY: Random House, 2005.


Travels with Elstun

One of the problems facing anyone trying to discuss much of anything about education is the question of just what education is.  As I have suggested elsewhere,  while I have a very clear idea of what education is, your very clear vision may be different,  and we have yet to even get to those who have little or no vision.   But how, I have been pondering, might someone explain what education might mean to someone who might not have been the beneficiary of an education? And it was at that point that I had a delightful bit of travel (without ever leaving my seat) that seemed, in part, to answer that very question. And I thought I would share that with you.

Exploring Star Hill

Snapshot by Elstun Lauesen

We start in Juneau, exploring Star Hill, and there come across an oddly painted building with an even odder plaque.  It states (in antiquish uncial-like font),

vocatus atque non vocatus deus aderit

which translates in Latin to, “Called or not called, God will be there.” What is the source of this curious statement? It turns out that this text is copied from a famous doorway in Kusnacht, Switzerland.  Carl Jung, the 20th Century psychologist, had the Latin carved in to the stone above the door of his house in Kusnacht.

“By the way, you seek the enigmatic oracle Vocatus atque non vocatus deus aderit in vain in Delphi: it is cut in stone over the door of my house in Kusnacht near Zurich and otherwise found in Erasmus’s collection of Adagia (XVIth cent.). [Jung had acquired a copy of the 1563 edition of Erasmus’s Collectaneas adagiorum, a compilation of analects from classical authors, when he was 19 years old.] It is a Delphic oracle though. It says: yes, the god will be on the spot, but in what form and to what purpose? I have put the inscription there to remind my patients and myself: Timor dei initium sapiente [“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”] Here another not less important road begins, not the approach to “Christianity” but to God himself and this seems to be the ultimate question.” (1975: 611) From, and see also

And we are off to 16th century Rotterdam to look into the Adagio of Erasmus. The “proverb” and anecdote that struck Jung can be seen here (though the edition is not the same. )  As Aniela Jaffe notes, “It is the answer the Delphic Oracle gave the Lacedemonians when they were planning a war against Athens” (1979: 136) confirming that the God will be with the Lacedemonians.  And, it quotes the Odes of Quintus Horatius Flaccus (Horace) so off to Imperial Rome we go. And there we find Horace telling us in Book 2, Ode 18:

Proud Tantalus, and Pelops,
his son, he holds fast, and whether he’s summoned,
or whether he’s not, he lends
an ear, and frees the poor man, his labours done.

But what has this to do with the Oracle? It would seem that Horace was offering a play on the words of the Oracle! Off to Thucydides’ Greece to chat with the Oracle? Well perhaps by way of 21st Century Boston, where we catch up with J. Kates, who clarifies all in a humorous though cautionary tale well worth the reading (and the trip!)


Photo borrowed from (sources unknown).

 The panel on that doorway is just another ironic cast (yes, it is a bad pun, but I am going to continue to use it…)  The plaque of course is not iron, but what is ironic is that anyone,  having read Horace’s Ode condemning vain riches, would be so clueless as to carve the source of Horace’s skewering on their lintel,  let let alone nail it in in brass (now that is ironic) to their door.

“Does any of this have anything to do with education?”, you might well inquire. My point in traipsing through time and space was to demonstrate that as a direct result of my education I undertook that journey.  An “explore” is a lifelong journey, teaming curiosity with discipline, which enriches each life so engaged, and those touching them.

Unique experience?  I think not.  Recently the careful consideration of a Bosch painting produced  this rendered transcription and this Buttiful Music  (details here and here .)


Jung, C.G. (1975) Letters: 1951-1961, ed. G. Adler, A. Jaffe, and R.F.C. Hull, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, vol. 2.
Croix, G. E. M. de ste. The Class Struggle in the Ancient Greek World. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1981.

Kiss My Annotated Bibliography

APA_StyleI recently had a tutee complain bitterly about an teacher marking down papers because the papers did not comply with the instructors perspective on a particular style manual. It is not the first time for pompous declarations on all manner of style issues, and this time,  I though I would follow through and pose the question presented to the style experts at the APA.

Dear Style Experts, There is a small war going on at universities over how students are supposed to format “annotated bibliographies” using APA 6th Ed. Style, and students are getting caught in the cross-fire over assignments that will never see the light of day. Whether or not some Instructors may have missed their connection entirely, there is, nevertheless, a substantial basis for teaching students how to properly format documents for academic purposes, and I suppose the best way to bail the poor students out of their dilemma solution is to ask the experts to make things clear (which is, after all, your stated purpose.)

To which I received the following wonderful response:

The APA Publication Manual doesn’t specify requirements for annotated bibliographies, for the simple reason that they are not used in APA Style. In fact, APA Style does not use bibliographies of any sort (as noted at This is not just a quibble about vocabulary. A reference list has only one purpose: to provide the sources cited by the author. Bibliographies also provide sources, but they may include more, such as suggested reading, background reading not cited in the paper, and commentary on the sources. None of those things are included, or can be included, in an APA Style reference list. Instructors control their own curricula, and they may have valid pedagogical reasons for wanting students to produce an annotated bibliography. However, it is the instructor’s responsibility to fully inform students about the required format for the assignment. It’s an unfortunate fact that not all instructors are diligent in fulfilling this responsibility. Nevertheless, it is not within the scope of APA Style to instruct students on how best to violate APA Style. Hope this helps,

So, dear instructor, perhaps you had best reconsider?

Contemplations on Attempts to Amend Alaska’s Constitution

Jack Balkin, in his text “Living Originalism”, suggests that the US Constitution provides an opportunity for the public to daily redeem itself, to reconnect and re-establish our commitment to a way of life despite ever changing circumstances, to pursue a more perfect union. He goes on to say,

The Constitution is an intergenerational project of politics, and the generations of We the People are the participants in the project. The Constitution contains commitments that We the People have only partially lived up to, promises that have yet to be fulfilled, and it is the task of each generation to do its part, however great or small, to help fulfill them nd to achieve a more perfect union in its own day. The participants in the project will argue among themselves about how to continue the project; they will make mistakes and commit injustices, but this by itself does not detract from the point of the enterprise. As the Talmud says, we are not required to complete the great Work, but neither are we free to refrain from it.”

If you read the proceedings of the Alaska Constitutional Convention (click here to listen here to Senator Gardner reading from the archives) you can still hear the same sentiments echoing off the chamber walls as our Founders strove to improve on what they found, so as to adopt a Constitution for their day:

“I believe we should take direct steps to maintain a free public education not encroached upon by any quarter. I think it might be well to bring out in the argument for the direct or indirect benefit of public funds for education is the matter that is now being faced in Europe and in particular in the Netherlands where they have what is called the form of educational pacification, where the government is splitting the tax dollar among some 500 different church groups providing for a parochial school benefit on an indirect basis, and in a community where there is maybe 500 school children there will be as high as seven or eight small schools scattered out throughout the community, not providing for the fullest benefit in the educational field as far as having a good complete centralized program. I think that sectarianism segregation in our educational system is bad for the children. I do not deny the right of people to have their own schools. However, I think that we should always look to the interest of the founders of our nation when they brought about the separation of church and state.” Jack Coghill Floor speech quoted in full with cite below.

Constitutions are, as Jefferson might suggest, sacred not so much for their text as for the compact they represent, our oath that as a society we will strive for the common good.  That sense of responsibility is in fact the reason that there are among us those who signed our Constitution who have argued that no matter what else, the power to amend our Constitution should never be used in such a way as to rend asunder that which the Constitution has brought together (see quotes of Jack Coghill, Sr. and Vic Fischer, below.) Unfortunately, the Alaska Senate is engaged in just such a consideration this session.

Let there be no doubt that Joint Resolution 9 is not about rectifying historical faux pas,  nor is it about rectifying an “old mistake”. But the underlying purpose, as distressing as that is, almost pales before the grief that this resolution is intended to bring to the people of this State. For this is in a very real sense a cynical ploy; an effort to do just what we should never do.  This is an effort to drive a wedge through the heart of Alaska.  This is designed to promote the most vitriolic clash in Alaska’s history, to rend our very soul in twain, and is is being done, believe it or not, in the name of Alaskan youth.  For shame.

There are Alaska Senators who believe that they should use the Constitution as a political weapon, a device with which to promote their political agenda, not because it is in the best interests of all, but because they think they can get one over on someone else and get their way. In a 1996 article for the Atlantic Monthly about Jefferson and about the true nature of America’s “civil religion” (a far cry from the Protestant intolerance informing the positions of many in Juneau today), O’Brien states, “In an address at Michigan State University on May 5, 1995, President Bil Clinton warned right wing militias not to attempt to ‘appropriate our sacred symbols for paranoid purposes..” And that it is what we face today.

But the Alaska Legislature does not represent the interests of some Alaskans.  It represents the interests of ALL Alaskans, and I have to ask the Legislature, in all sincerity, if they truly believe the horrific politicization of education that this resolution would unleash is going to benefit Alaska.

We do not live in a democracy.  Indeed our founding fathers were terrified of democracy as well they should be, schooled as they were in Greek Philosophy. Instead they fashioned a republic specifically designed to prevent demagoguery. Specially fashioned to insure that popular passion would not result in momentary advantage.  In order words, to protect us from what the Legislature is here asked to unleash.

We understand now that JR9 is about holding hostage the students of this State for the purpose of promoting a highly polarizing effort to divert public funds to private purposes, among those purposes, religious education.  It is about opening Alaska media to millions of dollars of
outside advertising intended to destroy public employee unions and public education. It is about the Texification of Alaskan education.

I call on all Alaska Senators to uphold that redemption offered by our Constitution, and acknowledge that the Alaska Constitution, that organ of unification, must not be used as a means of shattering the public trust or confidence in its public institutions.




Balkin, J.M. Living Originalism. Harvard University Press, 2011. 75
O’Brien, Conor Cruise. “Thomas Jefferson: Radical and Racist.” Atlantic Monthly, 1996. Accessed March 27, 2013.

‘But in his opinion, some of the more than 20 amendments have been political in nature, and unnecessary. “It’s not that the Constitution is a holy document. It’s that it has proven very effective.”‘

‘ “My inclination is to leave it alone,” Coghill says. “It’s a real simple and well put together document.”’—in-you-can-vote-for-a/article_012327eb-76e8-5a72-9b5d-2ec4b55c146d.html

“COGHILL: Speaking in defense of my proposed amendment, I would first like to say I am very prone to the problem of putting any religious persecution into the Constitutional Convention or among the delegates. It would be the same thing as me trying to convince Mr. Ralph Rivers of the principles of the Republican party, and he in turn of the party he belongs to. I don’t believe that is the problem at all. I think that they certainly have a right, a private right or a religious right, or a parochial right under our constitution to have schools. However, I believe that the way our government was set up 175 years ago, that the founders felt that public education was necessary to bring about a form of educating the whole child for civic benefit through a division of point of the home taking a certain part of the child, the church taking a certain part of this education, and the government or state through public schools taking the other part. I adhere to that principle, and I might say that I am the president of the Association of Alaska School Boards and one of the formers of that twelve-point program we developed in Anchorage last October. I think that the problem could probably be well misconstrued here as to the motive and intent. However, I feel that the intent of public education is primarily a state function and does not belong to any private or any one particular group, whether they are in the minority or the majority. I believe we should take direct steps to maintain a free public education not encroached upon by any quarter. I think it might be well to bring out in the argument for the direct or indirect benefit of public funds for education is the matter that is now being faced in Europe and in particular in the Netherlands where they have what is called the form of educational pacification, where the government is splitting the tax dollar among some 500 different church groups providing for a parochial school benefit on an indirect basis, and in a community where there is maybe 500 school children there will be as high as seven or eight small schools scattered out throughout the community, not providing for the fullest benefit in the educational field as far as having a good complete centralized program. I think that sectarianism segregation in our educational system is bad for the children. I do not deny the right of people to have their own schools. However, I think that we should always look to the interest of the founders of our nation when they brought about the separation of church and state. The problem was brought, and it was brought about by Thomas Jefferson quite well when he said, “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free in the state of civilization, it expects something that never shall be”. Therefore out of his deliberations with John Madison they brought about a form of free public education starting in Virginia, and it has come forward ever since under the intent of having the tax dollar only brought to the public educational system. I know there have been many law cases on it, Supreme Court rulings and what not, and I think that the matter still is divided as far as the general public is concerned, as between the sects of religion and not on the principle of preserving the free public education as an instrument of the state.”      From the Minutes of the 48th Day of the Alaska Constitutional Convention Accessed at

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Simple is as simple does….

There has beena good deal of tooth grinding about the current ASD budget gap,  some of the ideological rants, some well intentioned efforts to focus the public eye on various issues. An example of the latter can be seen at ElectronicBonsai , David Block’s Blog. Tip o’ the hat to David in that he  is generally accurate, but his conclusion unfortunately is not – there is no “simple” answer to ASD’s budget woes, in no small part because it is, at its base, a political problem and our politicians are doing a Tastes Great/Less Filling on us, and we continue to drink the slop.

Certainly bringing back the BRT system would increase community involvement in the budget on a more granular level.  In fact, I served on BRTs during every cycle since they were implemented by Carol’s predecessor and we in fact help cut millions from ASD’s budget (mostly mission creep, as opposed to waste.) But any number cruncher will likely tell you that while the BRT system will give the community a better sense of what is in the budget, it is fairly obvious where cuts can be made, and we are likely not going to go there…..

On the other hand, David’s use of the term “infiltrated” with respect to federal education programs is unfortunate. As David Teal suggested (repeatedly, as it were, on LegTV) the State would have implemented the same programs as the Federal government offered financial incentives to pursue, so while an easy target for whiners, there is not much to complain of there.  However, we should note that ASD has never fully complied with many policies that bring in Federal funds,  but has always continued to receive those funds while they are afforded substantial room to move inside grant scoping parameters. But grants come with overhead and, as David correctly notes, run dry. One might even argue that Alaska School Districts should look at running their base functions off the base student allocation to avoid the boom and bust cycles that Ms. Comeau used to her advantage over the past decade to erode teacher compensation.  But as most everyone will agree, that would be virtually impossible.

Books, though, could be cut with a bold turn into the headwinds of the 21st Century.  But while we’ve wasted millions on technology that really won’t help, we have spent little on technology that could help.  And while Mr. Steele, while a Board member, actually suggested that turning the Tech BRT into a standing District body might produce long term benefit, that idea was quickly snuffed when it became apparent that the BRT  was not going to be led about quietly….  But even the savings that could be realized from appropriate technological policy won’t make a dent in the hole artificially created by our leading lights.

If one looks at budget expenses over time you see that adjusted for inflation what goes in to the classroom has not changed much over a decade, while overall spending has risen sharply. And most of that rise is attributable to low cost bonds pushed by the current and past administration for construction and administrative costs (which go far beyond just a few extra ineffective unit administrators.) In other words, the folk who are complaining most about the current cost of education are largely responsible for the cost sectors that they are whimpering about.  And in the meantime, what most of Anchorage seems to forget is that most of us make no net payment for any State or local service.  Let’s say that again: “most of Anchorage seems to forget is that most of us make no net payment for any State or local service.” The “taxes” that David references are offset by payments from the State to the populace, so from an accountancy perspective, we are being paid to pay our taxes and cry pitiably should anyone suggest that we actually reach into our pocket for a sous more.

We have made our bed and now it is time to lie in it. At the local level we have a fractured and polarized community, and we elect to the Board far right ideologues (who simply want to shut down public education and public employee unions) like Don Smith and centrist nodders who purport to be in support of public education and then give the nod to whatever looniness central administration runs up the flagpole (like Jeff Friedman who thought it was just fine that ASD should violate State law with respect to teacher credentials.)  The current crop is so ineffective that none of them have apparently demanded that staff publish the working documents used to develop the scandalous e-mail that went out referencing a change from 6 to 7 periods, though the public asked the Board to make that information public 3 weeks ago.  We have municipal administration that believes it can run roughshod over the community because it has an extra vote in the Assembly and we have a State government that is controlled by people who are approaching delusional.

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BSA Funding by year

In a very real sense, the source of our problems is the focus of our problems; we have so poorly managed public education that we have failed to produce what public education is intended to produced, an literate and informed public that can parse logic and rhetoric to engage in critical thinking for the purpose of making rational decisions.  In fact many are trying now to gut our Constitution so that the State will fund “schools” that promote instruction in the supernatural while they applaud Mr. Ham and Creationism!  Is that the fault of teachers? Well,  far be it from me to argue that we don’t have more than a few rotten apples in the barrel, but that even the best teacher faces an impossible task with the odds we have stacked against them. But while Evaluation under The Danielson Group will require teachers to spend more time in peer review, reflection and lesson planning, they will be provided less time to do that, increasing class sizes (though class size should be halved), and reduced respect and compensation.

The rational response to all this might be to follow the age old advice to put the shovel down and back away from the hole,  but that is not likely.  What we are going to do is get very angry and scream our way into a few extra bucks, which in the long run will not in any way address the issues underlying our problems. The “simple” fact of the matter was well framed when Senator Dunleavy recently inquired of Superintendent Paramo regarding SJR9. Paramo ducked the question. And that is what our big school districts are all doing about State funding,  they are all ducking. They use State politics to batter teacher negotiations. They throw up their hands and say, “It is out of our control!” instead of saying, “We are shutting this fiasco down because this entire discussion is ludicrous.”  It is high time for local school districts to choose,  because we all know that otherwise the choice is made for them, and that choice results in lots of people employed doing little more than babysit.