Saturday, December 20, 2014

Via Quartz: An open letter to America from a public school teacher

Dear America,

I’m sorry. You entrusted me with your children, and I have failed them. Please know that I had the best of intentions. I didn’t want to leave a child behind. I wanted to help them win this race to the top. You asked me to test them, and I tested them. I gave them choices: A, B, C, D, and sometimes even E. I didn’t just test them though; I spent hours showing them how to test, and I prepared them for that by quizzing them. My quizzes and tests were rigorous, too, just like you asked.

I have to be honest with you, though: my heart wasn’t in it at first. I had this ridiculous idea that art and music and drama and activity breaks would help my students grow. Maybe it was all those years of allowing my students to be creative. To think, I once had my English class produce a full-length play with original music and student-designed sets. I wasted weeks and weeks on that frivolous project. Sure, my students enjoyed it then, and okay, many of them still e-mail me and tell me that was the highlight of their high school experience, but I know now that if I had only had them sit in rows and practice for the ACT, if I had only given them short passages and had them tell me which of the five choices best described the author’s tone, they’d be so much more fulfilled in their lives.

After all, what did they really learn? How to access their imaginations? Developing original thoughts? Teamwork? I may as well have taught them how to file for unemployment.

Last year, our school district did away with our arts education classes. I was stunned along with the other misguided “professionals” with whom I taught. That was before I came to the stark realization that painting and sculpting and drawing might be nice hobbies to have, but they’re certainly not going to help adolescents as they compete for the jobs of the future. Do we really want a bunch of flaky artist-types distracting us? The art teacher is a barista at Starbucks now, which at least allows her to use valuable skills and restore middle-class security. And she makes a great latte.

Some people want to blame parents for the failure of American students to achieve. If parents would only spend more time engaged in enrichment activities with their kids like reading to them or taking them to museums or on nature hikes. Parents are busy though; I don’t think I really took time to consider how busy they are. We must also remember that it’s not a parent’s job to teach their children. That’s why they pay us.

Some parents are like I was and have this notion that they have a responsibility to be their child’s first teacher. One actually asked me why we spent so many days on test prep activities and why there wasn’t a program in our school to help foster her daughter’s love of music.

I told her what our superintendent told us: If we don’t teach them how to test properly, how do we expect them to perform well on the test? And just because our school doesn’t have band or orchestra any more, that doesn’t stop her daughter from taking lessons after school. I then directed her to our district website that assures all parents that we are preparing their children for the technology-driven world of the 21st century and beyond.

That’s why we moved many of our classes online. Kids love computers, and as with many innovative schools, ours allows students to take classes on their own through a program called Edgenuity. Why burden teachers with teaching skills and concepts that students can easily learn online? The learning modules guide students through lessons at their own pace while keeping them subdued and compliant. As our leaders in the White House have told us, students are empowered by “individualized learning and rich, digital content.” While the initial investment was costly, our school was able to reduce the teaching staff by four teachers. What a great lesson in economics for our students.

Despite all of these innovations; despite increased enrollment in advanced placement classes; despite electives like Algebra II and Earth Science; despite replacing our library with a computer lab; despite the timed readings, standardized lesson plans, and healthier lunches, our students are still ranked below Russia. We are failing them. I am failing them.

I have a plan though. Yes, it is a little selfish. As you requested, in the coming years, my pay will be tied directly to my students’ achievement. Since we measure this achievement through standardized testing, my goal will be to spend every minute of every class teaching to the test. Some lessons, of course, will be on the proper use of a #2 pencil for efficient circle darkening. With a nationalized curriculum, so much of the guesswork will be taken out. It won’t be the most exciting or “fun” class for my students, but what they fail to understand is that education is all about job security and competing in a global marketplace. Why else would we send our kids to school?

This is a standardized, multiple-choice world. I know that now.

Michael Mau

This post originally appeared at McSweeney’s.

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Thursday, December 18, 2014

Via Informed Comment / Juan Cole: 10 Ways America Is the World's Most Corrupt Nation

International rankings that castigate Afghanistan and some other poor countries as hopelessly “corrupt” always imply that the United States is not corrupt.
But as VOA reports :

While it is true that you don’t typically have to bribe your postman to deliver the mail in the U.S., in many key ways America’s political and financial practices make it in absolute terms far more corrupt than the usual global South suspects. After all, the U.S. economy is worth over $16 trillion a year, so in our corruption a lot more money changes hands. Here are 10 reasons the U.S. is the most corrupt nation in the world.  

1. Instead of having short, publicly-funded political campaigns with limited and/or free advertising (as a number of Western European countries do), the U.S. has long political campaigns in which candidates are dunned big bucks for advertising. They are therefore forced to spend much of their time fundraising, which is to say, seeking bribes. All American politicians are basically on the take, though many are honorable people. They are forced into it by the system. House Majority leader John Boehner has actually just handed out cash on the floor of the House from the tobacco industry to other representatives.

Soon after French President Nicolas Sarkozy was defeated in 2012, French police went into his private residence searching for an alleged $50,000 in illicit campaign contributions from the L’Oreale heiress. I thought to myself, seriously? $50,000 in a presidential campaign? Our presidential campaigns cost a billion dollars each! $50,000 is a rounding error, not a basis for police action. Why George W. Bush took millions from arms manufacturers and then ginned up a war for them, and the police haven’t been anywhere near his house.

American politicians don’t represent “the people.” With a few honorable exceptions, they represent the the 1 percent. American democracy is being corrupted out of existence.

2. That politicians can be bribed to reduce regulation of industries like banking (what is called “regulatory capture”) means that they will be so bribed. Billions were spent and 3,000 lobbyists employed by bankers to remove cumbersome rules in the early 2000s—meaning political corruption enabled financial corruption (in some cases legalizing it!) Without regulations and government auditing, the financial sector went wild and engaged in corrupt practices that caused the 2008 crash. Too bad the poor Afghans can’t just legislate their corruption out of existence by regularizing it, the way Wall Street did.

3.That the chief villains of the 2008 meltdown (from which 90 percent of Americans have not recovered) have not been prosecuted is itself a form of corruption.

4.The U.S. military budget is bloated and enormous, bigger than the military budgets of the next twelve major countries. What isn’t usually understood is that perhaps half of it is spent on outsourced services, not on the military. It is corporate welfare on a cosmic scale. I’ve seen with my own eyes how officers in the military get out and then form companies to sell things to their former colleagues still on the inside.

5. The U.S. has a vast gulag of 2.2 million prisoners in jail and penitentiary. There is an increasing tendency for prisons to be privatized, and this tendency is corrupting the system. It is wrong for people to profit from putting and keeping human beings behind bars. This troubling trend is made all the more troubling by the move to give extra-long sentences for minor crimes, to deny parole and to imprison people for life for crimes like three small thefts.

6.The rich are well placed to bribe our politicians to reduce taxes on the rich. This and other government policies has produced a situation where 400 American billionaires are worth $2 trillion, as much as the bottom 150 million Americans. That kind of wealth inequality hasn’t been seen in the U.S. since the age of the robber barons in the nineteenth century. Both eras are marked by extreme corruption.

7.The National Security Agency’s domestic spying is a form of corruption in itself, and lends itself to corruption. With some 4 million government employees and private contractors engaged in this surveillance, it is highly likely that various forms of insider trading and other corrupt practices are being committed. If you knew who Warren Buffett and George Soros were calling every day, that alone could make you a killing. The American political class wouldn’t be defending this indefensible invasion of citizens’ privacy so vigorously if someone somewhere weren’t making money on it.

8.As for insider trading, it turns out Congress undid much of the law it hastily passed forbidding members, rather belatedly, from engaging in insider trading (buying and selling stock based on their privileged knowledge of future government policy). That this practice only became an issue recently is another sign of how corrupt the system is.

9. Asset forfeiture in the ‘drug war’ is corrupting police departments and the judiciary.

10.Money and corruption have seeped so far into our media system that people can with a straight face assert that scientists aren’t sure human carbon emissions are causing global warming. Fox News is among the more corrupt institutions in American society, purveying outright lies for the benefit of the billionaire class. But even our relatively progressive president talks about exploiting all sources of energy, as though hydrocarbons weren’t poisoning the earth.

Even Qatar, whose economy is based on natural gas, freely admits the challenge of human-induced climate change. American politicians like Jim Inhofe are openly ridiculed when they travel to Europe for their know-nothingism on climate.

So don’t tell the Philippines or the other victims of American corruption how corrupt they are for taking a few petty bribes. Americans are not seen as corrupt because we only deal in the big denominations. Steal $2 trillion and you aren’t corrupt, you’re respectable.

Juan Cole is a professor of history at the University of Michigan and maintains the blog Informed Comment

"ENTRE RIOS" - a urbanização de São Paulo

São Paulo: The Most Underrated City in the World

Via Dailly Kos: Cartoon: Bush reflux

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Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Via Addicting Info / FB: Analysis: Over Half of All Statements Made on Fox News Are False


A new analysis by PunditFact found that of every statement made by a Fox News host or guest, over half of them were flat-out false. What’s more, only a measly 8% could be considered completely “true.”
In other words, a fancy review of hundreds of hours of video confirmed what many who watch Fox News with any regularity already know: Fox News lies. A lot. Like all the time.
Which isn’t to say that exposing Fox News’ irresponsible journalism isn’t an admirable goal. Despite its blatant spin doctoring, Fox still captivates a large portion of the news watching audience. On a near nightly basis, Fox News programs like “The O’Reilly Factor” and “The Kelly File” crush the competition. Given what we know about how poorly Fox informs its viewers, that paints a pretty grim picture for the millions who consume it without question.

JMG Quote Of The Day - Barack Obama

"There's no black male my age who's a professional who hasn't come out of a restaurant and is waiting for their car and somebody didn't hand them their car keys. It's one thing for me to be mistaken for a waiter at a gala. It's another thing for my son to be mistaken for a robber and to be handcuffed, or worse, if he happens to be walking down the street and is dressed the way teenagers dress." - Barack Obama, in a People interview that hits the newsstands on Friday.

Reposted from Joe Jervis

Via Bernie Sanders / FB:

Via oin the Coffee Party Movement / FB:

Monday, December 15, 2014

Via Robert Reich / FB:

A political alliance among the bottom 99 percent to un-rig the economy and make it work for most is being hobbled by four major divide-and-conquer strategies:

1. Convince the white working class it’s falling behind because African Americans are taking their tax dollars for welfare.

2. Convince the middle and working class that immigrants, especially undocumented ones, are taking their jobs.

3. Convince African-Americans their biggest problem is the brutality of white police officers.

4. Convince socially-conservative Americans that the proponents of gay marriage, abortion, and gun control are destroying the country.

The way to overcome these divide-and-conquer strategies is to show the bottom 99 percent they’re fighting over a smaller and smaller slice of a pie that’s going mainly to the top; reveal to poor Americans that economic conditions lie at the root of many of their social problems; and show conservative Americans how the right is using the social agenda to distract them from this larger reality.

Via UN Wire: Climate talks bring deal on country-level emissions plans

Climate talks bring deal on country-level emissions plans
The United Nations climate talks reached agreement on issues such as defining obligations of rich and poor countries but left the bigger issue of how to slow down climate change to be tacked by delegates at the Paris talks in 2015. Defining rich-poor obligations was "a very important breakthrough," said UN climate chief Christiana Figueres. Reuters (12/14), Reuters (12/15), Inter Press Service (12/14)

Sunday, December 14, 2014

What if I Told You?

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