Monday, April 29, 2013

Career Paths for High School Students

Great things are on the horizon - and already happening - for career and technical education, as many states are starting to break from the bachelor-degrees-for-all focus and instead offering students the option of career training at the high school level.  From the old days of shop class, schools have come a long way in offering skilled training.  In Denver, the rise of the culinary arts is transforming high schools like Standley Lake High School which was recently profiled by Kevin Simpson of the Denver Post.  No doubt, the Food Network has renewed interest in the culinary arts, and that publicity has turned the job of chef into a bit of a glamorous career option.  In a rising culinary mecca like Denver, that is good news for students who are looking to develop solid career options.  One of the new angles in what used to simply be called "home ec" is the establishment of the ProStart program "which is a national program that offers curriculum, competitions and industry mentors through the Colorado Restaurant Association Education Foundation."  The ProStart program has taken the culinary arts into the classroom with great results for aspiring chefs.  Of course, the culinary arts is simply one field where students can make great use of time in high school to get started on careers.  More states are committing to developing career pathways for students in fields such as nursing, technology, and business.  Writing for EdWeek, Stephen Sawchuck profiles the growth of career classes in states such as Illinois that heeded the warning in 2011 from a Harvard study expressing concern about students not served by the strict college focus so prominent in high schools these days.  By focusing on developing education-business partnerships, schools like Wheeling High School in the Chicago suburbs are offering teenagers the sort of training and career paths that were once reserved for college internships and two-year associate degree programs.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

The Reagan Myth

Fifty years ago, Ronald Reagan famously quipped, "I didn't leave the Democratic Party; it left me."

In 2013, while the Grand Old Party high fives efforts to stifle background checks legislation in Congress as solace for the empty feeling of losing the last two presidential elections, many people are beginning to argue that Reagan's quote could now be applied to the Republican Party.  The latest salvo comes from Washington Post writer Jennifer Rubin who says "Tear Down this Icon: Why the GOP Has to Get Over Ronald Reagan."  It's a rather moderate position and analysis, at least in the eyes of moderates in and out of the party who lament the government's seeming inability to get anything done these days.

The legacy of Ronald Reagan should be open to debate - as should any president's.  Yet, with the near messianic devotion some Republicans place upon the Reagan years, it's actually quite apt to review the facts on the 1980s.  The primary issue is one of nostalgia and looking at the past without the benefit of context.  One of the first people to adequately address the disconnect is political journalist Will Bunch who warned the Republicans in 2010 to Tear Down this Myth: The Right Wing Myth of Ronald Reagan.  Bunch's analysis is certainly written with bias, but his arguments are not entirely invalid.  The Reagan years were not the Golden Age, and the Reagan tax cuts are not the only thing anyone needs to know about fiscal policy and strong economic times.

Clearly, the world and the economy did not simply change with the election of Reagan in 1980 and the passage of the 1981 and 1983 tax cuts.  The national and international economy is so much more complicated than that.  For one, there is a monumental and not replicable difference between dropping marginal taxes rate from a stratospheric high of 80% to 30%.  The effect is bound to be dramatic - though other factors also played equally significant roles in reviving the stagnant 1970s economy.  The lesson for Republicans comes from the law of diminishing returns.  Just as effective tax rates have a ceiling, they also have a floor.  And dropping rates by 6 or 8 percentage points will not have the same effect as dropping them nearly 50%.  They may even do more damage, as seen by the exploding deficit and debt under Reagan, Bush II, and Obama.

A more palatable source for Republicans should be (but probably isn't for the true believers) former Reagan domestic advisor Bruce Bartlett.  Bartlett is considered by many to be a primary architect of "Reaganomics," but he has valid criticism of the current GOP and the revisionism regarding the Reagan agenda and legacy.  Bartlett outlined the reality in The New American Economy: The Failure of Reaganomics and a New Way Forward.  Obviously, it was never simply about supply side tax cuts.  The economy turned around in the 1980s, though not really until Reagan's second term.  And the economic rebound had as much to do with the basic end of inflation and the dropping of interest rates engineered by Paul Volcker as it did with taxes.  Other factors in the 1980's economic boom had to do with new oil discoveries in Mexico and the North Sea that effectively busted OPEC and basically "fueled" the boom.

Ronald Reagan was a great president, no doubt.  But much of the current Republican message is based on myth and misinformation.  And the GOP would do as well to understand Reagan the moderate deal-maker who raised taxes eleven times during his presidency.

**NOTE - For a bit of commentary regarding charges of "revisionism" and myth about the presidency of George W. Bush - in the midst of his presidential library dedication - consider checking out and cross referencing Alex Seitz-Wald's criticism "How to Debunk George W. Bush's Attempts at Revisionism" published in Salon.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Swearing News Anchor Fired - Gains a Fan Base

Getting fired may be the best thing that ever happened to A.J. Clemente.

Clemente was fired for swearing on the air last week, and has since become a bit of a celebrity as many people have come to his defense for what is generally being seen as a mistake.  Granted, using the "f-word" to express frustration while cameras are rolling is not simply excusable.  Apparently, Clemente was literally on his rookie broadcast, anchoring the first show of his very short career, and while he waited to be introduced by his co-anchor, he was stumbling over lines and cursed, unaware that his microphone was on and live.

Now, that is a certainly embarrassing and not remotely professional mistake.  And, this is a young man who wants to be a broadcaster - a news anchor.  So he clearly should be held to a high standard, and this sort of slip is quite egregious.  However, the fall-out from his slip of the tongue was rather harsh.  Clemente was suspended initially and then outright fired after the clip of his error went viral on the Internet.  That seems to be a bit of an over-reaction from the network, and probably represents some pretty prudish and small-minded studio execs.

Swearing is obviously much more prominent than it was even twenty years ago.  And there's really no excuse or justification for it in the public square.  And, this kid is a bit ... uncouth ... to be sure.  As a teacher I occasionally encounter situations where students let the "f-bomb" slip in class and they're not even aware of it.  This usually becomes quite the teachable moment, as I warn them about such language becoming so natural that they lose awareness of situation.  And, they may some day swear in a job interview without knowing it, and never understand why they didn't get the job or a call back.  This is, of course, quite different from a student who knowingly and willingly cusses in class or the hallway.  That can, justifiably, be a disciplinary situation.

Alas, the firing has seemed to work in A.J.'s favor, as he has parlayed his ignominy into guests spots on the Today Show and the Late Show with David Letterman.  Clemente is apparently hoping the waves of support for him will generate interest from the Holy Grail of male broadcasters, ESPN.  While I doubt that will come to pass, I hope somebody picks up the kid.  While he certainly didn't seem smooth in his first delivery on the air, I'd rather see him fail on genuine lack of skill, rather than a silly mistake.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Adam Shepard & One Year Lived

"Everything has been figured out except how to live."

I don't know where I first encountered that quote, but it puts a lot in perspective for me as a teacher, as a parent, as a citizen, and as a human being.  Much of the job of character education tends to fall on English teachers, especially in high school, and I have used a variety of personal journey stories throughout the years to engage my students in their own.  Many of my recommendations are the usual suspects of personal growth, but occasionally I encounter a new voice offering penned ponder-ings of a thoughtful life.

That is the story of Adam Shepard whose new book One Year Lived will be available in a paper and e-book format on April 22.  One Year Lived is a narrative account of Adam's year-long trip around the world when he "mustered cattle, scuba dived, volunteered with children, grew a mullet, fought bulls, made love on a beach," and countless other experiences on his way to "living the dream," or, in the words of Henry David Thoreau "living the life he has imagined" so that when he "comes to die" he doesn't discovere that "he had not lived."  Adam's journey over the course of a year was centered on a blend of "leisure, volunteerism, and enrichment."  Catch the video below of Adam bullfighting in Nicaragua:

For as long as I've been teaching, I've encouraged my students to get out of this country.  Having lived abroad, teaching English, for five years, I highly recommend as much of a taste of the expat life as you can achieve.  Whether it's a dream vacation or a semester abroad, experiencing the world beyond our comfort zone is integral to personal growth.  And books like Adam Shepard's are sometimes the perfect travel agent for getting us up and on to what comes next in our lives.  Learn more about Adam Shepard and his fascinating life on his websites One Year Lived as well as his motivational speaking site, Shepard Speaks.

As a bonus, Adam Shepard has agreed to provide a free copy of the book to readers of A Teacher's View.  All you need to do is re-post or tweet this page, and send me a copy of the link.  I will email you a copy of One Year Lived in pdf. format, or you can request a link to Adam's page to download the e-book in one of three formats (epub or mobi for Kindle).  And, while you're at it, take a few moments and comment below on the one place you would love to visit and why.  (Forgive me - I'm an English teacher :-) ).  The offer for the free book is only good through Wednesday, April 24, so make sure to re-post or tweet this out as soon as you've finished reading.

In a world of uncertainty and disillusionment, Adam Shepard is a fascinating young man who offers an intriguing look at life beyond the suburbs.  His first book Scratch Beginnings: Me, $25, and the Search for the American Dream was an inspired attempt to challenge the conventional wisdom about life at the fringes chronicled in Barbara Ehrenreich's best seller Nickeled and Dimed.  Adam Shepard's self-published response was featured in the New York Times, the Christian Science Monitor, the Atlantic, as well as the Today Show, Fox News, CNN, and even 20/20.  Certainly, this is an inspired young writer with a strong message about how we live our lives.

Top 10 Most Important Lessons in Life

John Lennon wisely told us, "Life is what happens while you're busy making other plans."  The question, then, is how to keep perspective on what is important while you're worrying about other things that really, probably aren't.  To a question originally posted on Quora, pastor and former police officer Justin Freeman offers a list of "The Top 10 Things We Should be Informed about in Life."

Here's what we should keep in mind:

  1. Realize that nobody cares, and if they do, you shouldn't care that they care.
  2. Some rule-breakers will break Lesson #1.
  3. Spend your life with the rule-breakers.
  4. Money is cheap.
  5. Money is expensive.
  6. Learn the ancient art of rhetoric.
  7. You are responsible to everyone, but you are responsible for yourself.
  8. Learn to see reality in terms of systems.
  9. Account for the threat of "black swan" events.
  10. You both need and don't need other people.
  11. Always give more than is required of you.

A little advice and help along the way is never a bad idea.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Are Relationships the Most Important "Skill" for Success

As my seniors wind up their high school careers and my juniors prepare for AP exams, college applications, and school leadership, my English classroom often becomes a place more overly centered on character education than it is earlier in the year.  Specifically, I am engaging them in reading, writing, and thinking, but the subject is as much themselves as it is the text.  For example, while my seniors work their way through Daniel Pink's A Whole New Mind, we discuss their "emotional intelligence" and encourage them to cultivate empathy as much as literacy.  It seems there is much support for this approach, as revealed by Emily Smith for The Atlantic this month with her article "Relationships are More Important than Ambition."  What do you think?  Are they?

Friday, April 12, 2013

Is Merit a Myth in America - Does Education Truly Provide Opportunity?

Americans have long told themselves that the American Dream is about being able to rise in society based solely on merit - though many realists have long disdained this as myth.  Education writer and critic Marc Tucker challenges the myth of merit and "education as the great equalizer."  While the situation is complicated, he exposes serious issues:

In the mid-60s, James Coleman, in an iconic U.S. Government report, Equality of Educational Opportunity, said that the biggest influence on student achievement was not anything having to do with the schools they attended, but rather the socio-economic status of their parents.  No doubt this is partly because wealthy communities can easily raise enough money for their public schools to buy the best teachers, facilities, materials and school administrators.

But that may leave out the most important variable, the socio-economic status of the other students in the school.  Take for example, the conditions in a typical low-income, mostly minority community: expectations for all students are low, students get As for doing mediocre work, the curriculum is not challenging, classrooms are constantly disrupted, teachers have a hard time maintaining order, students who strive for academic excellence are ostracized by their peers and few go to college.  In a wealthy school district serving mostly students from well-to-do families, all is reversed: expectations are high, classroom discipline is not a problem, students are paying attention in class; they have to work for their As and are not ostracized by their peers for doing well in their classes.  The curriculum is challenging and designed to put all students on a track that will get a great majority of them into selective colleges.  

Certainly, merit is significant in American society, and there is no arguing the ability of high quality education to increase opportunity for success.  Yet, the "American Dream" has much to answer for when there is clearly not "equality opportunity and access" to high quality education.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Liberal Arts Education Valued by Employers

Again, amidst the STEM push and the anti-education critics of the liberal arts, new surveys reveal employers do value a liberal arts education, even recommending it for students.  In a piece for EdWeek,  Caralee Adams summarizes the information and offers a great defense of the liberal arts.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Child Obesity & Health Issues are Environment Issues

In a great piece of analysis for Salon Magazine, Tara Haelle uncovers three significant health studies which indicate that childhood obesity is mostly related to the environment in which kids live, as opposed to issues of genetics or exercise habits.  Notably, environments that emphasize low quality foods contribute to weight and health issues despite a kid's exercise and visual media habits.

“We are raising our children in a world that is vastly different than it was 40 or 50 years ago,” says Yoni Freedhoff, an obesity doctor and assistant professor of medicine at the University of Ottawa. “Childhood obesity is a disease of the environment. It’s a natural consequence of normal kids with normal genes being raised in unhealthy, abnormal environments.”
“This is a lot more complicated than ‘eat less, exercise more,’” Freedhoff says. “If weight management or childhood obesity prevention and treatment were intuitive, we’d have a lot of skinny kids running around.” Freedhoff himself is developing a program for families that focuses on “redrafting” kids’ and families’ environments, starting with more home cooking. “Every parent would die for their child, but most won’t cook for their children on a consistent basis with whole ingredients,” he says.
But Freedhoff also says the problem of increasing childhood obesity cannot be tackled by parents alone. He suggests starting with changes within school boards, sports teams, PTAs and others who already care about kids. “What I’m amazed by is the constant use of fast food to pacify children and reward children—there is no event too small for candy or fast food.” There are many places communities could start: making school lunches healthier, ditching vending machines and access to fast food inside schools, not celebrating sports wins at fast food joints, and ending the use of candy or fast food as rewards, such as “pizza days” and other unhealthy food-themed school events, to name a few. “People don’t appreciate that parents are around children a minority of their days,” he says, so it really will take a village to turn back the clock in terms of kids’ environments. “If we had a time machine, it would be the world’s best weight-loss program,” Freedhoff says. “It’s the world that has changed, not people.”
This is a very treatable problem that is un-recognized by far too many parents and educators.  It's time to end the downplaying of food quality and environment in the health of children.  Teachers must stop thinking "food parties" and candy rewards are no big deal.  They are a significant factor in the health of our children.

Abusive Coaching is Not OK - Stop Defending Rutgers Bully Mike Rice

The question Americans should be asking themselves - especially coaches, teacher, and parents - is whether disgraced Rutgers coach Mike Rice's behavior is more disturbing than the comments of people who actually defend him and abusive coaching.  When the story and video first surfaced, the initial reactions were shock and outrage.  Coach Rice's behavior was so far beyond the pale that it seemed unfathomable that he hadn't been fired immediately and even investigated by authorities for potential assault charges.  I simply couldn't believe that an adult who calls himself "a coach" could be so cruel and literally out of control in his interactions with players.  Nor could anyone I spoke with, including men who played and coached football.

Yet, it didn't take long for the conversation to veer into even more disturbing territory when people made clear that opposition to abusive coaching wasn't the consensus view.  On Fox News, Eric Bolling opened the discussion by saying the firing of Rice symbolized the decline of America because of the "wussification of American men."  Fox commentator Sean Hannity echoed this mentality when he declared that he was "yelled at by coaches" and he "turned out OK."  But let's be clear: if someone thinks the abuse by Coach Rice is any way acceptable, he absolutely did not "turn out OK."  It seems most disturbing for these comments - always from men - to be made by people who are fathers.  Jon Stewart reacted with sharp criticism - and his trademark wit - to Hannity's defense.  Of course, any comments between Stewart and Hannity will be politicized, but Stewart's most significant point is that this should be beyond party or ideology.  There is simply no reason to defend this man.

Now Slate Magazine editor David Plotz has weighed in with a troubling defense of Coach Rice under the even more disturbing title "I Loved My Abusive Basketball Coach."  At this point, the discussion must shift to the basic psychology behind victims of abuse who learn to react by defending the abuser and blaming themselves.  This is not in any way "OK."  While many former athletes will defend strict coaches and teachers as being necessary to instill discipline and bring out the best in some kids, the line between strictness and abuse should be roundly clear to everyone.  Coach Rice is so far past the line of acceptable behavior, he can't even see it anymore.  Neither can those who defend him.  Po Bronson's recent book Top Dog explained the situation whereby lower performing athletes will actually respond to stricter practice as a way of "bringing out their best" when they lack the will to do it themselves.  But he's not talking about abuse.  Coach Rice's behavior was never about coaching - it was about control and anger and abuse.

Clearly, there are problems in the world of athletics that have nothing to do with the sport.  These are the heart of issues that lead to books like Why Johnny Hates Sport and the need for movements like the Power of Positive Coaching.  We are losing our way as human beings if we do not respond to the behavior of Coach Rice with serious disapproval.

Monday, April 8, 2013

In Defense of Liberal Arts - It's Not All About Jobs Skills

In the push for all things STEM in order to keep America competitive and provide jobs, many small minded education critics have been down on the liberal arts to the point of declaring the study of literature, art, philosophy, and culture "useless" if if doesn't "help someone find a job."  The latest politician to rant about this is North Carolina governor Pat McCrory who whined to Bill Bennett - a Ph.D. in philosophy - that "If you want to take gender studies that’s fine, go to a private school and take it. But I don’t want to subsidize that if that’s not going to get someone a job.”   Basically, McCrory is making economics and finance the end-all-be-all of any educational venture - at least one funded in part by taxes.

This myopic view of education seems to align with the rampant anti-intellectualism that's becoming common among the financial elite - and which it should be said aligns mostly with the Republican Party.  The other side of the argument is the validity of the liberal arts and education beyond just jobs skills, and that point is well made by Meghan Florian in a piece for The Chronicle titled Notes From an Employed Philosopher.  Florian turns the tables of McCrory who called out the "academic elites" by rightfully accusing him of being an economic elite.  For, in one reading of McCrory's narrow world, rich (white) kids get to pursue a liberal arts education at private school, while poor kids turn to the trades.

The argument is, of course, more complicated than that.  Nonetheless, Florian's point is well made.  And McGrory could learn a little from the liberal arts, as well as from people like Daniel Pink who argues for a more right brain creative world in his groundbreaking book A Whole New Mind.  In reality, it's not just about basic job skills of math, science, and welding.  It's about growth as human beings.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Plumbing, Nursing, & Technical Jobs on the Rise

Despite the mass rush to college to major in "I don't know yet," the economy is clear on what will be immediately needed in the near future.  Topping the list are jobs in the highly skilled services industry - jobs like nursing, plumbing, electrical work, and technical systems.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Ken Jennings and the Triumph of Geek-ness

Ken Jennings represents the ultimate ascendence of "geeks" into American popular culture.  In a great feature for Yahoo News, Kevin Lincoln profiles the legendary Jeopardy! champion who has since parlayed his trivia prowess into a one-man industry of knowledge.  Jennings is simply that know-it-all type of person who was fascinated by knowledge.  He's probably the kid who was not necessarily "nerdy" but always seemed to be reading something - whether it was a cereal box or sections of the text book that hadn't been assigned.

The identity of a "geek" was an interesting point of discussion in AP Language and Composition classes a couple years ago when students were asked on the exam to consider Leonid Fridman's essay which developed the argument "America Needs Its Nerds."  Fridman was making a case against the pervasive anti-intellectualism in America.  He noted:

There is something very wrong with the system of values in a society that has only derogatory terms like nerd and geek for the intellectually curious and academically serious. A geek, according to Webster’s New World Dictionary, is a street performer who shocks the public by biting off heads of live chickens. It is a telling fact about our language and our culture that someone dedicated to pursuit of knowledge is compared to a freak biting the head off a live chicken 

The true dominance of geeks and nerds became a moot point of discussion years ago with the success of people like Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg.  It was clear at that point that geeks had won.  However, Gates and Zuckerberg were all about business, and Ken Jennings is basically all about fun.  He finds knowledge fun, and he's crafted a nice little "business" out of that hobby.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Fund College Via Donations on AngelDorm

As college costs grow beyond the average American's ability to pay, creative financing for higher education is poised to become the next big thing in education and finance.  What it will look like remains to be seen, but you can bet it will be on-line.  One organization that is out front on the creative financing is AngelDorm, a website designed to help students fund their education through donations via social media.  According to the press info:

With students actually create an online "dorm" that becomes their fundraising hub for receiving contributions for their college tuition, fees, books and campus housing.  They then can use their social media sites to share their dorm to raise money from potential doners. It's perfect for friends and family to donate to the student's education. Plus, the money goes directly to the university, so no need to worry. It's great for gift giving at birthdays, high school graduations, weddings, baby showers etc.

With student debt nearing $1 trillion and becoming the fastest growing sector of personal debt, there is growing pressure on families already struggling to pay mortgages and other loans. From 2000 to 2010, tuition soared 33 percent while private college loans rose by 592 percent over that same span.

Angeldorm aims to reach everyone in the student's family tree – not just parents but also brings aunts, uncles, siblings and cousins into an expanding circle that reaches friends, neighbors, religious congregations, civic groups, clubs, employers, coaches, teachers, fraternities, sororities – anyone who might wish to give something more than warm wishes to college kids who need a financial lift. The student can also elect to tell their story to a broader audience of people they do not know personally but who might find their story compelling. The Angeldorm system will follow the crowdsource model that has made meaningful changes in political campaign funding by turning small donations from the American middle class into political heavyweights.

The Model: Getting Ahead, Giving Back. Angeldorm enables donor contributions in amounts that middle class people can manage: The Halo ($25 to $49); Tassel ($50 to $150); Wings ($150 to $250); and Angel ($250 plus). Angeldorm has built a seamless and credible records system to accurately track donations, fees for credit card transactions and a flat $2.75 per transaction fee to support the network with a sustainable financial model.  Fidelity Investments, one of the largest college plan providers, offers Angeldorm students professionally managed tax-advantaged 529 accounts to facilitate setting up a plan, but students can also use any provider of their choice.

Who knows where this is going next?  As parents and students consider their options for the future, their most important asset will be information and access.  AngelDorm looks to be worth checking out.