The Making of a Mole Hill

The paper of record for the largest urban center in Alaska had as the major front page story (click to link to the first of the three) for three days running a feature about how a purported pregnant Meth head was helped back on to the straight and narrow by an innovative nursing program.

Of course, as the story runs its course one discovers that the young lady is still abusing drugs, is really not caring for the child much of the day, and is not on the street only because she has her hooks in her high school boyfriend (who she dumped apparently for an abusive guy who was also a dog-beater, and a guy some years her senior who managed to knock her up.)

The denizens of the paddock see this as a feel good story (Praise Jesus!) though these are the same folk who bad mouth “libtards” over “welfare”. But I want to talk not about morons who dot the Alaskan landscape, but about the fact that the paper of record is pandering to this crowd by running an atrociously written heart-string plucker above the fold on the front page.

I commented on just the most obvious of the problems with the story, and was immediately savaged by the maroon army, which could not distinguish between criticism of the writer (Boots), her editors, and her publisher, and the young lady who was featured in the story. And this is where the bald tire meet the pot-holed road. It is the pack mentality that we see, whether in the followers of this saccharine tale, or in the sycophants of the local “liberal” harpy. There is no room for analytical thinking among today’s social networks; if you do not subscribe to the party line you are a “troll” and subject to what amounts to virtual stoning.

Yes,  it was very clear that Boots was not engaging in “journalism”; she was playing fast and loose with the facts for the purposes of, well, a cynic would say selling newspapers, wouldn’t he? And, to be fair, there were quite a few people who approved of my comments, even one who had the temerity to post that I was right in raising my concerns, but the overwhelming voice of the ADN readership agreed that I am a nosy troll.

Well, I suppose I might be a nosy troll, but that does not really have much to do at all with the fact that the writing in this story is terrible and certainly there is no place on the front page of a newspaper for this kind of writing (it certainly is not news, and calling it journalism would be a slap in the face to real journalists everywhere.)

And more importantly, while the local paper is running this burlesque show (full half page photo of her actually delivering, while the folk in the Valley are trying to keep Sherman Alexie books out of the hands of teenagers) it’s not like there is no news to report. The local District of 50,000 students has no Superintendent, is in budgetary crisis (as is the State, whose legislature soon convenes), and is graduating students who can’t read and write, while the Mayor is playing fast and loose with public transit and developers, the cops won’t talk about real community policing (no car, no coverage), and if you say marijuana three times someone’s head nearby will explode.  Not to mention we need data on Medicaid expansion, specifics on the viability of various income tax regimes, and the scoop on why BigOil has not jumped up to help Alaska’s bottom line, now that the projections of the glorious returns on putting BigOil in charge of tax policy have rung hollow.

But wait, there’s more!

The humorous bit is that right on the heels of this rolling feature, the ADN actually did a rather comprehensive story on a small CAP plane that flew into a downtown office building. No massaging of information, all possible sources pursued, no outrageous claims or appeals to sentiment.  Of course, the comments from the ADN peanut gallery include attacks on the paper by the well known “liberal” harpy, Shannyn Moore who shrieked,

Sick. Sickest story by people who forgot who Alaskans are. Even if Kate wasn’t the finest attorney in Alaska she wouldn’t deserve this ambush. You have to get up early to make her day harder than her husband already did. But, hey. You actually made her day worse than a suicide by plane into her place of work. My guess is the Alaska Press Club will give an award. That’s about all they are good for.

And, of course, given the fact that Moore apparently considers herself a journalist (so many Alaska are delusional, regardless of purported political perspective) her remarks are at best sophomoric,  but then, that’s what she does best (I have remarked on this in the past, e. g.  http://opinion.alaskapolicy.net/pardonme/?p=374 and http://opinion.alaskapolicy.net/pardonme/?p=226 ).

Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.


 

Comment thread

Merwyn Ambrose How about a news story, as in what happened to this girl’s father? Is he still alive and if so why does the young lady indicate she was raised by her aunt? If her aunt did raise her, how much money was she paid to raise the child? Did this girl graduate high school, and if not, why not? What has this girl been doing since 2012, and what was the reaction of her family members? The father of the girl’s child has been her boyfriend for years; is he the same person who she says she escaped from? Why should this girl be allowed to keep a baby when she clearly is incapable of caring for herself? How much drugs and alcohol was she doing when the child was conceived and is it likely the child will suffer from that abuse? How is it that the girl became pregnant in the first place?

Jill Neff Ummmm. Sex?

Juanita Hernandez Guerrero Why can’t people like you just be happy for others???

Danielle Marie Because there are questions you’re asking that are absolutely nobody’s business. She became pregnant the same way everyone does, obviously. The rest of your questions have zero bearing on this story, or your life, and don’t need to be asked by or answered to the general public. Mind your business and just be happy someone is helping this girl to become a responsible mother. If she’s not on drugs now there’s no reason to take that baby away or to ask any other questions. Sheesh. Nosey.

Merwyn Ambrose lol, this was front page of my newspaper, and the focus of the story was this young lady whose history is only partially recounted so that the story makes feature reading. What any newspaper reader would want to know (you should find your dime novels at the library) is why this young lady is in the circumstances she is, and what we might learn from the circumstances. Moreover, since we are likely going to have to support this young lady for some time, and she feels that she wants to share her story, questions about whether she has any certainty about paternity, as well as questions as to the financial support she is already receiving from the father (if really known) are certainly germane.

Ian Demello It’s part one of a multiple part story, I’m sure in the near future your nosey ass will get all the details!

Merwyn Ambrose I am gratified you are worried about my ass, Ian. Unfortunately, I am not sanguine regarding your anticipation. In the meantime, I am glad that you are one of very few supporter of Medicaid Expansion on the Kenai smile emoticon

Merwyn Ambrose Jill Neff implant? IUD? Or do the good folk of the KPBSD feel that sex ed is inappropriate for KCH students wink emoticon

Danielle Marie The questions about how much her aunt was paid is irrelevant. So is the question about if or why she might not have graduated high school. And asking about her family members reactions. Irrelevant and unnecessary questions that don’t need to be answere…See More

Merwyn Ambrose ahhhh…. feel good stories are not front page news, and in my paper it appears as front page news, so all the questions are germane. Especially in Alaska where a significant portion of the population is very exercised about Medicaid Expansion, lol. Frankly, the author of the story fails in any way to address how her society so failed her that she abused the fetus she is carrying.

Becky Westbrook Are you kidding me? So what if she did drugs in the past. I know many moms who have had rough lives that managed to turn their lives around despite their circumstances & overcame their obstacles & cleaned up their acts. They became wonderful working strong mothers. I have no doubts this young lady can do what what many choose not too. She’s already making those changes & frankly unless you’ve walked in her shoes get off your high horse & stop judging.

Danielle Marie I don’t see it as abuse of the fetus if she started the addiction prior to conception then quit the drugs after discovering her pregnancy.

Gina Whitlock Because it’s not her life path we are judging it’s how we are helping her as a community fix it for the better!

Ian Demello Mariahs mother died when she was a toddler, her aunt took her and her brother in without thinking twice about it! Her loving aunt, whom Mariah refers to as “mommy” was paid nothing for doing what a good mother should do! Mariah may have had issues during the start of her pregnancy, but thanks for a loving and supportive family and nurse, she was able to turn her life around for her and her perfectly healthy baby girl!

when did Jesus step off his throne and hand it to you to allow you to judge the actions of others?!?! Don’t be an ignorant judgmental ass if you don’t know the person your asking all of these personal questions about…

Shawna Leann Williams You’re such a troll.

Merwyn Ambrose rofl, this was a news story in my local paper, on the front page no less. If indeed the child was an orphan, then the aunt should have received funds from the State which could have made the difference between a child who did no how to avoid getting pregnant and abusing a fetus for 5 months and someone who did not need medicaid to “turn her life around”. I don;t know who the fuck “Jesus” is nor what anyone’s throne has to do with Meth abusers, but if this young lady did not want to be the subject of inquiry, she should not have allowed herself to become a poster child for why we need broader Medicaid services.

p.s. a supportive nurse is going to do little about what this young lady did to her fetus… that is more about the values she learned from her aunt, don’t you think?

Merwyn Ambrose Danielle Marie in fact, the article makes it clear that she did not decide to cease Meth until sometime after she discovered she was pregnant, she felt the baby kick. In fact, it would appear she was abusing Meth and alcohol for the first two trimesters. As a result there is a reasonably possibility that the child will be developmentally delayed, not to mention more dire consequences.

Merwyn Ambrose And the story is a bit confusing in that it seems to suggest that this young lady was raised by her aunt in Kenai, but that she was living out of a suitcase in Kenai, and then came to Anchorage to escape an “abusive boyfriend” but was able to manage an apartment in Anchorage, though she could not manage that in Kenai. But when she discovered she was preggers, then went to live with her aunt in Anchorage. I am missing out on how the family provided supports for this girl from high school graduation on….

Raven T Stewman I think Merwyn is asking right questions for a front page story.

Patti Stands Usually sex is the leading cause of babies and why dose it matter how much the aunt was “paid” obviously she stopped doing meth when she found out she was pregnant and yes I’m some cases drug addicts can clean up and be fabulous parents

Patti Stands And meth is something u can’t just quit cold turkey it could’ve killed them both I think your just a nosey ignorant human and that’s sad

Craig Miller Hewitt Seems odd to shout down somebody for making positive changes. Especially during the time of year when you should possibly give a crap. Bad form.

Charles Lester Sounds like the girl in Vegas that ran everyone over

Rian Fletcher Merwyn, what is your shoe size ? Have you eaten bread today ? What’s your grandfathers middle name? At what point did you decide to be a gigantic cunt? These are all important questions

Nicole Leigh Katelnikoff-Anderson @Merwyn.. Nuff said….

Nicole Leigh Katelnikoff-Anderson’s photo.

Janet Wambolt Winder It

Merwyn Ambrose The reason, as can be seen from a number of the comments above, that modern educational standards attempt to focus on close reading is that many Americans appear incapable of close reading. By way of example, the article (as I noted above) does not indicate that she quit meth when she discovered she was pregnant. The article does indicate that a trimester later, she vowed she would stop using. In fact, the article does not indicate that she in fact stopped using, nor does it provide any information about assistance in quitting, so we are left to ponder whether Mariah is or is not an addict (indeed, for all we know she quit cold turkey, lol.)

So, once again we see the author of the article scattering all manner of bits of history before us intended as part of her rhetorical devices (the purpose of the piece is to move the audience, not to inform the audience), yet providing no coherent history. In sum, Ms. Boots is engaged in emotional chumming. Apparently, from the schooling of her fans present here, quite successfully, lol.

Why the Elephant Appeals to Blind Men

elephantYet another Anchorage Daily News puff piece about Anchorage School District performance produced reader comments prominently featuring the usual suspects on the Distant Right engaged in the obligatory Gnashing of Teeth.  The problem here, as is so often the case, is that folk like David Boyle and Bob Griffin see a piece of the problem, and thereupon assume that they see the whole picture clearly, and therefore can provide a simple and comprehensive solution.  Unfortunately, more often than not, they are just benighted Fellows of the  IBMC (Indostani Blind Men’s Club, see below).

Despite the howling “on the left” the data available appear to make it very clear that Alaska, like most states, was overstating student performance and that new testing regiments are now consistent with the kind of results that were produced by NAEP testing (I have posted before about the Brookings’ discussion of the comparison between typical AYP testing regimes and the NAEP, so will not go into that again save to say that the NAEP is a more comprehensive regime). The result is that we are finally seeing that broadly speaking only a third of our students are really proficient (that is to say, have basic skill mastery) in core subjects.

Yet, as we know, virtually all Alaskan educational institutions identify a letter grade of “C” as representing student mastery (a copy of the Anchorage School District grading system is appended below) and ASD has been increasing graduation (and therefore GPA). There is clearly a gap, and the gap is not a testing artifact nor is it illusory.

Unfortunately, the Fellows of the IBMC want to throw the baby out with the bath water. They are argue that all and sundry have failed, and the only solution is to put education in the hands of parents (who arguably are the real culprits here). Their arguments are the direct result of their (some would claim intentional)  failure to appreciate the complexity of the problems the educational system faces.  They are devotees of the silver bullet, and as I am perhaps overly fond of saying, there is no silver bullet to address out educational woes.

As anyone with a knowledge of high school physics will acknowledge,  just because you can demonstrate that light behaves as a particle,  does not mean that it does not also behave like a wave.  Yes, we have a gap, but if you want to meet the elephant in the room,  you have to become acquainted with something beyond its hind quarters.  Teachers face twice as many students as they could possibly cope with, presenting an educational and socio-economic continuum that we know are critical obstructions to effective instruction. We also face a cadre of parents who dispute the value of education, see education as valuable only through individual ROI (return on investment), and convey their disdain for schools, teachers, and the educated to their children. Of course, we also have inept administrators coupled with a deplorable lack of educational leadership.

I would also argue that we suffer from an appalling number of incompetent teachers, but there are a couple of problems with such a claim: 1) no one can agree on what education is, let alone how it is to be delivered and it is difficult to argue that an educator is not doing their job if you can’t objectively quantify that job, and 2) even if we were to try to seize on some metric, there are so many possibly variable that any rubric would on its face be meaningless (and that of course includes the suggestions that anyone could intelligently employ standardized testing to assess teacher effectiveness).  No, I don’t think that lets teachers off the hook.  Peer review is an excellent start to generating some common language and perception regarding instruction; in other words, teachers need to lead the way, and they clearly are not.

But despite all the problems, it seems that everyone wants to point the finger at someone else! And as noted, since there is ample “fault” to go around, as long as they have their blinders on they feel satisfied that they have the answer. The elephant is the age old foil of the hubris involved.

The villain, once upon a time, was agreed upon to be the student.  Lazy and shiftless, they were sifted and then beaten into an acceptable shape. Hopefully we have a more sophisticate understanding of minors today than hundreds of years ago. But I think it only fair to acknowledge, as I think most teachers will agree, that students today evidence two major educational deficits that are not of their making.  First, they are not developing their ability to memorize.  For decades, educational reformers have argued against “rote” learning,  but in doing so, have also abandoned memorization, a pillar upon which all classical education relied. We have seen the same kind of results in the whole language and Chicago Math debacles, where an interest in increasing the depth and breadth of instruction essentially resulted practically speaking in the abandonment of effective instruction for almost a generation of students

A second culprit is the shadow of intentional forgetting (both in the technical sense and in a broader lay sense). While many students will demonstrate mastery of a skill, within weeks access to that skill will seem to have disappeared. Many curricular programs have sought to address such problems by including cumulative review in instruction, but this becomes a huge uphill battle, and that battle is inevitably lost in May of every year.  Proposed solutions run the gamut from “turn off the gaming station and take away the smart phone” to implementing a parade of tortures for the child on his way to Paradise Island.  Despite all we do, high school Math students spend some 40% of instructional time relearning what they supposedly had mastered the year before, and they do that without ever having an inling of why.

No silver bullets anywhere, but we do have to understand that if we want our children to learn what we have placed before them, they have to be embedded in an environment that supports their learning.  In fact, we are so busy bickering that we have largely lost sight of this.  No, standardized tests and regular probes don’t hurt the student any more than asking them to learn how to use a pencil.  Increasing homework, where the student is doing the work wrong and developing an antipathy for the work, the teacher and education, is not going to be helpful at all. Attacking teachers, haplessly paid to keep their fingers stuck in the dyke, does nothing to address their training, their resources, or the ridiculous demands made of them.

If you want to see  “the trouble with education” quit groping the elephant and take a look in a mirror.


The Blind Men and the Elephant

It was six men of Indostan, To learning much inclined, Who went to see the Elephant, (Though all of them were blind) That each by observation, Might satisfy his mind.

The First approached the Elephant, And happening to fall Against his broad and sturdy side, At once began to brawl: “God bless me but the Elephant Is very like a wall.”

The Second, feeling of the tusk,Cried, “Ho! What have we here So very round and smooth and sharp? To me ’tis mighty clear This wonder of an Elephant Is very like a spear!”

The Third approached the animal, And happening to take The squirming trunk within his hands,Thus boldly up and spake: “I see,” quoth he, “The Elephant Is very like a snake!”

The Fourth reached out an eager hand, And felt around the knee, “What most this wondrous beast is like Is mighty plain,” quoth he; ” ‘Tis clear enough the Elephant Is very like a tree!”

The Fifth, who chanced to touch the ear, Said: “E’en the blindest man Can tell what this resembles most; Deny the fact who can, This marvel of an Elephant Is very like a fan!”

The Sixth no sooner had begun About the beast to grope, Than, seizing on the swinging tail That fell within his scope, “I see,” quoth he, “the Elephant is very like a rope!”

And so these men of Indostan Disputed loud and long, Each of his own opinion Exceeding stiff and strong, Though each was partly in the right, And all were in the wrong!

by John Godfrey Saxe (1816-1887)


Grading System
“A’’ This mark indicates the student has done work in quality and quantity far in excess of the standards set forth for a satisfactory grade in the course.
“B’’ This mark indicates that the student is doing work in quality and quantity above the standards set forth for a passing grade in the course.
“C’’ This mark is a satisfactory passing grade. It indicates that the student is acquiring the necessary information to proceed in the subject. He/she is meeting the standards set for a passing grade in the course.
“D” This mark indicates that the student is not effectively mastering the work assigned but has sufficient understanding of the subject to justify the opinion that more growth will result from advancement than from repetition of the course.
“F’’ Insufficient progress in the subject to merit granting of credit in the course.
“WF ’’ Student has been withdrawn from the course “failing.’’
“J’’ Audit— Principal approval is required. Indicates a student is auditing a course for his/her benefit. This does not count towards credit for graduation and must be approved prior to the 10th day of the course. Students are still required to complete course work.

Anchorage School District 2014–15 High School Program of Studies pg ix

Breveille

Screen Shot 2015-12-08 at 10.13.55 AMI have a history of getting attached to toasters…. except the last one. It was a white thing that had been “designed” by someone who thought kitchens should be white and should converse with their patrons. We never bonded. And it turned out to be a quitter anyways.

Am I somehow at fault for failing to provide a safe place for it? Did I fail to maintain a supportive and fulfilling environment? Was I simply too demanding? Let me answer by suggesting it was tossed in the bin, upside down, and then covered with coffee grounds and gristle (not to suggest any animosity, but that is what happens to things I have no use for.)

The new toaster (a Breville, from an Australian manufacturer battling with US firm Cuisinart for my attention on my local vendor’s appliance shelving)  sitting as it does on the counter just overlooking the bin, seems unfazed. I suppose I would expect no less from something from Oz.

This morning the toast was just fine.  No conversation expected or exchanged. I think we will get along just fine….