Tuesday, September 30, 2014

You're Not the First Person to Notice the Environment

Erica Schoenberger:

Here’s what I’m trying to help the kids understand. We’ve been making messes for a very long while and we have known pretty much all along that we were doing so. The histories of our mess-making really matter. Getting at the details lets you see how a trajectory was constructed piece by piece, opening up some possibilities and forclosing others. Further: We may have very good intentions as individuals, but the options we have available to choose among are structured by larger, impersonal forces. Huge collective investments have supported and promoted all those unfortunate individual decisions and have made it hard for people to make good choices. To me, this suggests that huge collective investments in support of good decisions are needed. If a capitalist system must grow to survive, let’s grow toward, not away from, the world we want.

One interesting aspect of Jennifer's research on the history of coal mining on the River Devon, is that when you look at the documentary evidence, environmental concerns are raised from the very beginning of planning, starting with correspondence between John Erskine and his engineers around the turn of the 18th century.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

PTU Leadership Fails to Turn Out the Vote

I've never fully understood the mind of the Providence Teachers Union, and I especially don't know anything about the state of the leadership and politics post-Steve Smith. I will simply point out that in the 1,900 member union, the vote a new proposed contract was 182 yes, 611 no.

That's for an in-person vote held in Providence Monday evening, so low turnout isn't that surprising, but less than 10% voting yes is pretty weak. One would suspect that new teachers in particular didn't show up, and probably a lot of people who might have held their noses and voted yes if pressed just didn't feel like hanging around until the meeting or driving back into town.

I suspect that a not very different contract will eventually be passed with better marketing and perhaps a few veiled threats, or maybe just waiting for Taveras to leave.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Kindergarten Benchmarks!

Let's do a little international benchmarking on the subject of curricular outcomes in Kindergarten.

Common Core:

Compose and decompose numbers from 11 to 19 into ten ones and some further ones, e.g., by using objects or drawings, and record each composition or decomposition by a drawing or equation (e.g., 18 = 10 +8); understand that these numbers are composed of ten ones and one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, or nine ones.

Let's start with Finland, grades 1-2 core contents, numbers and calculations.  The relevant points are:

* properties of numbers: comparison, classification, ordering, using concrete means to break down and assmeble numbers
* principle on which the decimal system is based
* addition and subtraction, and connections between calculations, using natural numbers
* use of different ways and means of calculating: blocks and decimal tools, continuum, mental calculation, using pencil and paper
* investigating the number of various alternatives

South Korea's 2007 kindergarten (age 3-7, according to Wikipedia) curriculum includes: developing basic mathematical abilities, developing a sense for numbers, counting surrounding objects to number 10, experiencing additions and subtractions with concrete objects.

Of all possible mathematics standards, are Common Core the most prescriptive?  No.  Are they more prescriptive and "rigorous" than the mandated national curricula of the high performing countries we are supposedly trying to emulate?  Yes.

One can argue that Common Core's level of specificity and rigor is right and all the other countries are wrong, but we should be clear that that's the real claim.

Finland: http://www.oph.fi/download/47672_core_curricula_basic_education_3.pdf
South Korea: http://ncm.gu.se/media/kursplaner/andralander/koreaforskola.pdf

Pessimism, Cynicism, Pessimism, Cynicism, Pessimism... Optimism! Disappointment.

This is my pattern leading up to major political and sporting events. The Scottish independence referendum was no exception. It combines the bad features of both optimism and pessimism with none of the benefits of either.

Apparently my intuition while living in Scotland for a year (there just wasn't the groundswell of passion necessary for such a momentous break) was correct and -- suprisingly! -- the last minute media and social media hype was wrong.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Stirling Skaters are Breaking for "Yes" on Scottish Independence


Given that we spend far too much on overly long, loud, and insubstantial political campaigns in the US, it was a bit difficult to get a gut-level feel for the progress toward tomorrow's Scottish independence referendum during my year there. For example, campaigning for the party nomination for Lieutenant Governor of Rhode Island -- a post truly devoid of power or responsibility -- is more visible in my neighborhood here (e.g., signs) than the independence vote was around Stirling when I left a month ago.

Not that there's anything wrong with that, but as an American I just kept thinking "If this is such a big deal, where are all the damn signs?"

Similarly, as far as I could see, I was the first person to slap a Yes sticker on his skateboard at the Stirling skatepark, and none of my mates there seemed very interested in discussing the matter. So about the only timely data point I can offer on the story is that on Facebook, the Stirling skate community has broken hard toward the Yes side in the past week. My intuition all year was that there just didn't seem to be the level of enthusiasm for Yes (e.g., can't even be arsed to stick up a wee sign) that would be necessary for such a momentous break. Now, it seems like there is real, late breaking momentum.

A couple other wee points:

  • It is a weird thing to decide with what may be a 51/49% split. I'm in favor of Scottish independence, but it does seem like if ever there was a vote that required some level of supermajority (say, 60%), leaving the UK would be it.
  • Not knowing much about the internal politics of the UK, I figured there would be some sense of kinship, alliance, and/or coordination between the non-English states in the union. There isn't. It is all about England. Nobody gives a shit about Wales or Northern Ireland. If Wales wanted to be independent, they should have won a few battles against Edward I.
  • In general, I agree with Charlie Stross:

    In the long term I favour a Europe—indeed, a world—of much smaller states. I don't just favour breaking up the UK; I favour breaking up the United States, India, and China. Break up the Westphalian system. We live today in a world dominated by two types of group entity; the nation-states with defined borders and treaty obligations that emerged after the end of the 30 Years War, and the transnational corporate entities which thrive atop the free trade framework provided by the treaty organizations binding those Westphalian states together.

  • I anticipated Paul Krugman's criticism of the Yes campaign. Independence without control over your currency is not only a terrible idea, but it skewed the terms of the debate, with the pro-independence people arguing all year in favor of giving England a stranglehold on their economy. It did a lot to dampen my interest and enthusiasm for the whole campaign.
  • In general, at early on and from our limited perspective, more educated people seemed to be more pro-independence, while working class and low-income people seemed more dubious, which was confusing and not what you'd presume.
  • Finally, 16 year olds can vote in this referendum. Cool!

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Something to Look Forward To

John Gruber:

When the prices of the steel and (especially) gold Apple Watches are announced, I expect the tech press to have the biggest collective shit fit in the history of Apple-versus-the-standard-tech-industry shit fits.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Gist Losing Her Base?

Lonnie Barham:

Though many of us, especially education administrators, saw Gist’s appointment a few years ago as a sign of progress in a state whose education system has historically been a failure, those same administrators now see her simply for what she has apparently become – just another political hack who is holding a very important office that now seems destined for further failure.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

You're Not Going to Win as a Anti-Teacher Progressive

First off, congratulations to Aaron Regunberg of the Providence Student Union for winning (the Democratic nomination for) Gordon Fox's old state house seat, easily beating the executive director of Teach For America-Rhode Island in a straight-up ed reform showdown.

In other news, Rhode Island's own Anthony Cuomo in a sundress, Gina Raimondo, beat Angel Taveras and Clay Pell for the gubernatorial nomination, with 42 percent of the vote. This is, of course, a blow to teachers and public education and to the, uh, prestige of the teachers unions, who backed Pell and split the progressive/labor vote.

This whole situation was doomed as of February, 2011, when Taveras decided to fire all the teachers in Providence. Yes, he was just kidding, and all politically savvy grown-ups are supposed to understand that, but you know what, fuck you too Angel. The unions compromise their own interests too often as it is to support winners. Sometimes in the long run it is more important to punish your backstabbing should-be-friends than your enemies.

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

The Answer Is Always Teach Less History

I avoided reading in the NY Times magazine about billg's new idea, the Big History Project, for as long as I could, but I gave in today, achieving some kind of symmetry by reading while watching the Apple Watch rollout.

First off, it is nice to see Gates moving onto a new shiny thing.

After a fairly superficial overview of the course, the most annoying thing is that it is primarily presented as a history course, when it is science and the history of technology. Perhaps everybody would prefer it to be an interdisciplinary course, or even better the cross-course theme of an interdisciplinary school for a year. Gates complains about the difficulty of doing multi-disciplinary courses in our high schools. Perhaps after funding the creation of schools in Providence designed from the ground up for such work almost 15 years ago his foundation might have lifted a finger to suggest that they ought not to be closed abruptly.

This effort does share an underlying flaw with the Common Core: a lack of interest in defining the disciplines and their roles. What is English/Language Arts? The Common Core does not say. If Big History is a combination of science and history, what are science and history? If you had to choose between replacing Earth Science or World History with Big History, why would you choose the history requirement? If the history of technology is part of history, does that mean history is a STEM field?

I do feel like this may be a somewhat indirect way for Gates to address what everyone knows is the real Big Problem today: climate change. It is a techno-centric, market-oriented view of history, but it certainly seems to funnel discussion in the end toward global warming, in the least tree-hugging way possible. I assume I'm not the only one to have noticed this and the right will fold Big History into their Common Core freakout.

Friday, September 05, 2014

"history was made by real people who were having a bad day"

Nicola Griffith:

Saints are not nice people. I don’t think they can afford to be sweet as pie or they wouldn’t become famous. You don’t get to be a saint without being famous. So I had to figure out: How would a woman from (the seventh century) and those circumstances become famous?

To do that I had to build this world and put this child inside and grow her, basically, as if she was in a terrarium, and just see what happened. Every time she got to do something that was impossible in those times, I would have to start again and every time she did something that was just too nice, I would have to back up.

I swear there's a great Paul Goodman quote along the lines of the post title, but I've never been able to find it.