Sunday, November 25, 2007

Photos from New York

This is of course one of the so-called needles of Nefertiti. A total misnomer by my way of thinking in that it is a monument to Ramses. Which one I cannot say though it has a sort of interesting formula for the text calling him "Horus the bull" at the beginning of each column of text. I found this in Central Park and at first thought it looked like it was a cement replica but, low and behold it's granite. Upon discovering that it was the real thing I was a little distressed at first because the first face you can see in the little area where it was put up has most of the inscription worn off of it. I feared that it had suffered all that damage by being moved from the nice protective desert to the acid rain of the east-coast of the US. Turns out however that it had been too worn to read on that side since the time it was first placed in NewYork apparently as a sort of gift from an Egyptian government official during the late 1800s. I played a few tricks with photoshop to make the inscription more legible but, I'm not sure that in this size version of the picture you can see that on this side of the obelisk the writing is almost perfectly intact.

This is a huge wooden mask we saw in the American Museum of Natural History. It was a pretty cool mask but I thought I liked it most for the fact that one of the names for it was the "Fun Mask." It's the sort of thing that starts a chain reaction of thought through Peter Murphy's cabaret version of "Fun Time" to the discovery of one of the coolest things I've seen in a while: Special Peter Surprise If only Keegan were here to share the joy of this one.

This here is a photo by Jed of a pond in Central Park. Isn't it lovely?

My obligatory picture of the Statue of Liberty. The smog you see is all quite real. Here I imagine her not so much as welcoming new people to a free country as waving good-bye to all of us as a society for deserting her as a principle.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

The Issue of School Choice

I am frankly very disappointed in the vibe I’m getting that Utah voters are turning around and deciding to revoke implementation of the voucher system. If you are planning to vote on this issue I think that the first thing you should do is read HB 174. It has come to my attention that there are people on both sides of this issue who are promulgating exceptionally nasty and deceptive misinformation in order to lure people their respective ways. I’ve heard that the media debate is surprisingly intense. I’m sure you already know that this is a huge experiment that the rest of the country is watching closely and people in other states have been contributing lots of money to weigh in for which ever side they support.

As for trying to make some kind of fair or insightful argument for why I think you should vote for it… I cannot at the moment do a very good job. As I look at this bill and consider all of my experience working in schools this whole thing looks like a no-brainer to me. I cannot find one honestly good substantial reason for the general citizen to vote against this voucher system. The way I see it is that it boils down to exactly one issue. What do you imagine the role of a school is? If you think schools should be maximizing learning you must maximize the potential for choice. If you think schools should function to control and regulate the behavior of young people so they pop out regressed towards the mean in everything they do, then vote to support the hegemony of public schooling. If you honestly believe in the fact that humans are all unique individuals with unique sets of talents and weaknesses then it should be plain to you that all of these people have different educational needs. No single model of school can meet the needs of everyone. It is not logically feasible. It is a road to assuring mediocrity, which as I translate it means wasted human potential. But, some honestly believe that is what our society needs. We need to put everyone together all the time, at every level, and for every academic task. If we do this, then everyone will suck together and no one will be able to point and say, “Hey it’s not fair, those black kids are doing better than those Hispanic kids!” (I'm going to refrain from my diatribe about race and the obfuscation of cultural relativism.)

Many are trying to put the impression across that the only flavor of private school is the blazer and tie prep school. This is very, super, friggin’, wicked wrong, the place I work being an extreme example. It is also a perfect example of another reason people need to be able to have choice in where they send their kids for school. Some kids have special learning needs. There are many kinds of such needs. The popular thing these days is to try and force every classroom teacher to learn how to work with and provide what’s needed for all of these needs. This is unreasonable. Just as trying to force the same learning situation on every bloody student makes them mediocre, doing this to teachers makes them mediocre in what they can provide for your kids. I have realized in my own development as a teacher that I have the potential of going from absolutely brilliant to bumbling moron in about 7 minutes, the time it takes for the periods to change and for me to get another batch of kids with completely different learning needs. (These days this is more like seven minutes for me to get into my lesson for the day. Different rant for a different day.) Private schools have a power that the public schools tend not to have: specialization and sometimes specialization in providing services for students with special needs.

Part of the magic secret here is something that I think is going to become my slogan or mantra or catch phrase or something: learning is voluntary. You cannot force someone to learn. You can encourage and provide opportunities. You can even encourage to the point of torture but, ultimately learning is an act of will. As much as possible I suggest letting individual students and their families exercise that will, especially when it comes to something that influences a person’s life and happiness as much as their education does.

So… it’s up to some of you folks. What’s more important: maximizing human potential or universal conformity?

Forgive me if certain parts seem kind of hysterical or confusing, I'm famished and not functioning very well. Also I want to point out, this is open for debate. If you think I'm wrong and have some argument that you think is convincing post it up here by all means. Be forwarned that I will gladly listen, discuss, and refute where appropriate.