Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Where Have I Been ...?

It's amazing how quickly time can pass when you're busy with work and life. As a blogger, I like to maintian a pretty consistent presence for people checking in at A Teacher's View, and I don't like more than 4-5 days to go by without a post. So .... where have I been? Oh, between Spring Break and administering the PSAT-10 to nearly 850 students, it's been an interesting couple weeks. Here are some issues and ideas that I've been meaning to write about:

I spent a few wonderful days in my hometown, a sleepy little river town outside St. Louis, known as Alton, IL. Over Spring Break, I took my kids back to visit my parents in Godfrey, and then we also did some exploring of what is one of the most interesting towns in the United States.

I've also been doing quite a bit of reading, both fiction and non-fiction. As I noted in an early post, I've been interested in learning more about the ideas and foundations of conservatism as a political ideology. So, that has led me into such pivotal works as the iconic Russell Kirk's A Conservative Mind and modern writer/thinker Yuval Levin's The Great Debate. And, I was forced to return to the library too soon a wonderful little coming-of-age story set in 1970's Maine called Setting Free the Kites by Alex George. I was quite enthralled with the story, but it was overdue and on request, so I've shifted my attention to a bit of post-modern historical narrative from the inimicable writer Robert Coover who has drawn my attention back to the Mississippi River of my youth by offering up the book Huck Out West.

There are of course other things on my mind, and hopefully I will find some time soon to write about them.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Campus Middle School & the Challenge School win at state Math Counts

For those who worry about the state of American students' math skills, they can rest assured that our nation's top students have truly mind-blowing talents of computation and logic. The spring is the time of competitive math for a group of talented kids known as mathletes, and the top national competition for middle school kids is MATHCOUNTS. Late March is when most of the state championships are held, and in Colorado two schools in the noted Cherry Creek school district continue to dominate the Math Counts world. Here is a link to my coverage of Colorado's Math Counts State Championships.

The Countdown Round is where the mathletes prove their skills and amaze the crowds, and this year’s competition did not disappoint. In Countdown, the top ten individual students are called to the stage where they go head-to-head in lightning fast math challenges. Imagine having only forty-five seconds to solve questions like “If a, b and c are positive integers such that a + b + c = 7, what is the least possible value of a! + b! + c!?” Well, some of the mathletes answer these questions in less than five seconds. This year, after working through the top seven students, the final came down to the Challenge School’s Grace Zheng and Brandon Dong trying to take down number one seed Rahul Thomas of Campus. Challenge student Brandon Dong who won first prize at the Denver Metro chapter humbly attributed their success to the fact that “Austen isn’t competing anymore.” That’s reference to two-time state champion Austen Mazenko, now a freshman at Cherry Creek High School. Mazenko, alongside another former state champion Andrew Ying, has returned to help coach the Campus Middle School math team. That mentoring component is another special quality of Math Counts, as numerous high school and even college students coach teams and assist as proctors and judges at the tournaments.

For up and coming mathletes, there is no better place to refine their skills than MATHCOUNTS. Competition is a prime motivator for sharpening skills, and schools/parents who'd like to see their kids math skills develop exponentially should consider cultivating a program and math team. One of the best resources for these kids is a website and curriculum known as The Art of Problem Solving. Participation in AoPS is a must for any high achieving math student and mathlete.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

"The Wire" creator David Simon on the future of news ...

While I only watched two seasons of the groundbreaking crime drama The Wire, I can fully appreciate the depth and significance of the show. What I didn't know about was the depth and significance of its creator, David Simon. Prior to becoming the writer of one of HBO's first genre-changing shows, David Simon began his career as a crime reporter for the Baltimore Sun. Undoubtedly, the gritty nature of crime reporting honed his skills of insight and expression around the darkest of our social issues including the drug war and race. Since finishing his run as a television writer of one of last decade's most watched and talked about shows, Simon has become a prominent voice in the social media world of cultural and socio-political blogging. And, this month Simon will be in Denver to receive the Denver Press Club's Damon Runyon Award. In anticipation of that career moment, the Denver Post's John Wenzel recently sat down with Simon to discuss his career and his thoughts on the ever-fascinating world of journalism, news, and info-tainment in 2016/17. I really appreciated his thoughts on the future of news, looking in the rearview mirror at how journalism somewhat missed the challenges and opportunities posed by an on-line world.

Cable succeeded — and is now threatened by some of the same forces, including streaming and people pulling the plug — because of its subscription model. Look to the cable model for what journalism should have been doing in the 1980s and ’90s, particularly in the ’90s as we were coming online. Not every station can be self-sustaining. Not everybody wants C-SPAN, The Weather Channel or The Cooking Channel. It’s effectively like that with a daily, general-interest newspaper. Everybody got it for different reasons: the metro section, the classified section. The model was such that the things people found essential — like sports or stock tables — sustained things like covering the zoning board. What would have happened if, at the point which you were going online, you were offered what the cable companies were offering? By basically synthesizing the visual information world under one bill, they were able to offer content and sustain the stuff that wasn’t all that popular. On a small scale, that’s what happened to me at HBO, because I was in same tent as “The Sopranos,” and I was basically the metro section.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Spring Cleaning for the Soul

Spring has sprung. The spring equinox has passed, the days are getting longer, and the winter chill is starting to thaw. Many schools are off for a week of Spring Break, and that's providing kids and families with the chance to re-charge and rejuvenate, whether they hang around for a stay-cation with long lazy mornings and cleaning out the basement or they head off for a week in Aruba. It's also the time for a little re-charging of our personal and professional lives and choices. To that end, around this time of year each spring, my AP English Lang class does a brief, non-AP unit about life and how to live it. The foundational text is a wonderful little fable by Paulo Coehlo called The Alchemist, and the unit draws in a variety of supplemental pieces designed to generate reflection from the kids on how they feel about the life they are choosing to live.

One question I ask them is whether they are "sitting on their ticket." By that I mean are they procrastinating and putting off the things they really want to do. The metaphor is a reference to beautiful anecdote from the twentieth-century American sage, Robert Fulghum, who many of us know as the author of the book/essay All I Need to Know about Life I Learned in Kindergarten. In one of Fulghum's many essays from another book, he tells a humorous story about a young woman he encountered years ago who was stuck at the airport because she was sitting on her ticket. That moment and phrase became a metaphor and guiding principle for Fulghum to always remind himself to get on with what he really wants to do with his life. 

Another bit of sagely advice that I share with my students comes from a guest spot on Oprah. It's been a few years now, but many of you may recall the story of a man named Randy Pausch who became known for his Last Lecture. The lecture from the Carnegie Mellon professor who was dying of pancreatic cancer became a viral hit on YouTube.com as well as a best-selling book. It was a bit of advice and a few principles for how to life your life and achieve your childhood dreams, and it was based on the simple idea that if "you live your life correctly, the dreams will come to you." Here's the clip from Pausch's appearance on the Oprah Winfrey Show:

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Norway has the happiest people - And the key is the bureaucracy

So, the other day I met with a family from Denmark because they are relocating to the United States, and they were in the country looking at schools. When I mentioned that story at the dinner table later that night my daughter said, "Why?! No, tell them to go back. They already live in the happy place." Her reaction was somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but it reflected a genuine sentiment in contemporary America that things are better elsewhere. And everyone knows that the Danes are the happiest people on earth. That is until this year when they were edged out by the country of Norway. According to the recent "World Happiness Report," the country of Norway beats Denmark for the happiest people. What I found really interesting was the reasoning - it may be the bureaucracy that is the key to happiness. Of course, it's not the bureacracy in the negative American sense with all the implications of incompetence at the DMV and the cushy government salaries drawn from the tax dollars of the hardworking common man. It's instead a trust in the standard institutions of society that provide stability and "a sense of the common good." In reality, it's the stressors of daily life around safety, health, and well-being that cause the most anxiety among people. If those are removed by a basic trust and understanding that the police serve and protect, that the schools provide a respectable education, and that the family won't be bankrupted by medical bills, then it's easy to understand why Norgwegian countries with a strong sense of community and a stable social welfare system produces happiness among their people. As Norway resident and comedian Harald Eia explains,

“The answer to why Norwegians are happy — it’s a bit boring — it’s well functioning institutions,” explained Norwegian comedian Harald Eia. “The schools, health care, police, all the bureaucracy treat people with respect and that trickles down and makes us happy, makes us trust each other, makes us feel a part of the whole community. So it’s very boring: bureaucrats are the secret to our happiness.”

Sunday, March 19, 2017

CO's Conservatives need to stand up to Libertarians on Roads

Personal responsibility is one of the central tenets of conservatism, and it has been foundational thinking for conservatives since the days of Edmund Burke and Russell Kirk. The problem for American conservatives in the twenty-first century is that the GOP and its brand of "Republicanism" has an agenda and ideology, but it's not really what could be called conservative. Nowhere is this disconnect between party and philosophy more apparent than in Colorado, where the state legislature is trying to fill its potholes by filling a serious gap in revenue and budgetary responsibility. As the Denver Post recently opined, Republican "Sen. Kevin Grantham is a statesman standing up for transportation." His bipartisan bill to raise transportation funds by simply asking taxpayers to approve a one-cent/dollar increase in state sales tax for twenty years is the epitome of personal responsibility and legislative leadership. Yet, among the loud and rigidly unproductive Libertarian voices in Colorado, the very idea of even asking taxpayers for the money is being squashed. No one typifies this lack of personal responsibility more than the head think-tanker at the Independence Institute, Jon Caldera. While Caldera recently used a rather absurd analogy about taxes and date rape to assert that the important part of Colorado's constitution is that the government must simply "ask" for the tax revenue rather than just take it, he contradicts his own position by opposing the simple opportunity for Grantham and the legislature to ask taxpayers. It's as if he is violating his standard tenet that only liberals don't trust voters to choose for themselves. Now, Caldera and other "free market libertarians" are crying foul at the very idea that the government ask for money. Instead, Caldera and his echo chamber have floated their own idea of fiscal irresponsibility with a bill that seeks to find transportation funding in an already stripped down state budget. These not-even-conservative thinkers have crafted a bill with the (in their mind clever but actually crass) title "Fix Our Damn Roads. When people like Caldera craft legislative ideas around the idea of revenue and government budgets, you can be certain that the idea of personal responsibility will be tossed aside in exchange for their standard position that no new tax revenue could possibly be necessary or amenable to the people of Colorado. It was conservative thinker Edmund Burke who articulated the most important principal of the government's fiscal responsibility in that "The revenue of the state is the state." Failure to have simply pragmatic discussion of that idea is the reason that Coloradans so rarely find conservative principles in the decisions of their Republican leaders. However, there is hope if people like Sen. Grantham can stave off the Tea Party attacks of his bill and his leadership.

Oh, and for a great tongue-in-cheek response to the silly FODR bill, look no further than the recent editorial from Aurora-Sentinel editor Dave Perry who asks Caldera and people who naively endorse his ideas to "Pay your damn share if you want your damn Colorado roads fixed."

New to Jazz? Just follow Bret Saunders

I've been getting my jazz on lately, and my world is infinitely better for it. However, it's tough to come into the jazz world later in life because the vocabulary and the players and the rules are just off-center from what so many of us know. So, it can be helpful to have a guide if you want to immerse yourself in the world of jazz beyond the classics that we all know and love. Certainly, I can listen to my Pandora.com "Cool Jazz" station every day and continually go back to classics like "Take Five" by Dave Brubeck or "My Favorite Things" by John Coletraneor even a sublime but less well-known jazz re-telling of a contemporary song like "Dear Prudence" from the Brad Meldhau Trio. But if you want to stay up on who's doing what in the present jazz circuit, then look no further than Denver's own KBCO host Bret Saunders. Saunders regularly writes for the Denver Post as well, and last weekend he offered a great write-up on "the best of jazz so far this year."

The trio Harriet Tubman has collaborated with trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith on a bracing set of tracks titled “Araminta” (Sunnyside Records). These smoldering, brief pieces of state-of-the-art funk and rock are the ideal showcase for Smith’s ageless post-Miles horn, Brandon Ross’ massive guitar sound, Melvin Gibbs’ more-thunderous-than-Thundercat bass, and the exhilarating drum fills of JT Lewis. The chemistry of these artists, brought on by decades of collective wisdom, is ideal, and the level of communication is at a very high level. The effect of “Araminta” is that of a splash of cold water to the face of current jazz music, and in the first three months of 2017, I haven’t enjoyed any new recording as much.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Jack Kerouac Turns 95 Today

"The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, the ones who are desirous of everything at the same time, who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn, like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars, and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop, and everybody goes "Awww."

With that beautiful, rambling, labrynthine piece of poetic syntax, the Beat Generation writer Jack Kerouac won my heart and blew my mind, just as he did for millions of others longing for a little something more and a little something different in their art and in their lives. The darling, the godfather, the voice of the Beats and the Hippies and even the punks would have turned 95 today, and sixty years after the publication of On the Road, the world is celebrating the man who turned us all on to a new way of thinking as we went in search of old Dean Moriarty.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Buffy Turns 20

I don't know if it is "the greatest show in the history of television," but among pop culture fans and critics there should be little doubt that Buffy the Vampire Slayer - Joss Whedon's brilliant piece of 90s post-feminist storytelling - is an iconic bit of film-making with archetypes, unique dialogue, and narrative arcs that changed and defined television and pop culture for a generation. Few shows are so influential that they literally spawn a portmanteau word to describe their impact - as in The Buffyverse - and become a topic of such sholarly commentary that they are worthy of collegiate investigation and review. Today is the twentieth anniversary of the premiere Buffy on the independent WB Network, and the celebration has led to a treasure trove of writing that should satiate Buffy fans for weeks ... or at least the weekend.

Two great pieces for new members to the "Scooby Gang" to start on come from a great pop culture news gatherer The Guardian - writer Lucy Managan explains how Buffy represents "the thrilling birth of TV as art" and none other than the man Giles himself shares insight and a nostalgic explanation of how Buffy became "a feminist parable for everyone." At a time when the rise of women's issues are facing some of the greatest challenges in decades, it's worth re-visiting and reviewing how a young and reluctant female warrior set a tone of empowerment and inspired both passion and empathy.

Everywhere was thickly strewn but lightly handled metaphor. While the vampires stood for all they have ever stood for – rebellion, subversion, predation and sexuality – Buffy, by virtue of her slayer status, was the perennial outsider, a walking (“in stylish yet affordable boots”) embodiment of teenage alienation. Individual episodes dramatised particular adolescent fears. In Witch, a domineering mother literally takes over her daughter’s life via a bodyswitch. In Family, timid Tara is nearly taken out of college by her father and brothers who aver that their demonic heritage means all the women in their family become evil when they reach adulthood – it turns out to be a myth perpetrated by the men of the family down the generations to keep the women passive. And when Buffy sleeps with her ensouled-vampire boyfriend, he turns into a different person overnight and rejects her the next morning. In his case it was because of a gypsy curse that de-souls him, but teenage girls everywhere nodded sagely, sighed, and wished they too could simply stake their first loves through the heart. At the end of season two, Buffy “comes out” as a slayer to her mother, who asks her if there is any way she could stop being one and throws her out when she says she can’t. In later series, the gay subtext is made text via a relationship between Willow and Tara, still one of the most positive, remarkable-in-its-unremarkability and, alas, rare depictions of young lesbian love around.

My daughter will turn twelve soon, and she already knows that her Buffy education begins this summer when we break into Season One. Being a theater girl, she has already seen the legendary musical episode, and she is familiar with many of the characters. But as she heads deep into middle school, it's time she comes to understand the role of The Slayer.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Adult School - Raising 35-year-olds

What do you need to know to be an adult? Is the quadratic equation necessary info, or is it more important to understand how to cook, budget, and get car insurance? These questions are time-honored standards for society and the older generations to ask of young people as they enter the earning years. As the Millennial generation starts getting into its late 20s and early 30s, the word on the street is that this much fawned over and over-parented group lacks the basic life skills to make it on their own. Of course, as I've noted, this sort of criticism is generally made of all younger generations. However, now it appears as if an industry is developing to teach these emerging adults the basics of life. It's amusingly becoming known as "Adulting School."

They tend to be millennials and women. Lindsay Rowe Scala, 32, said she is trying to figure out how to save for the future and pay off school debt. "In job interviews, they're always asking 'Where do you want to see yourself in five years?' " she said. "And I never know how to answer that because I'm always thinking on how to survive today and next week and what's coming up." Holly Swyers, an associate professor of anthropology at Lake Forest College who has researched adulthood, said this stress goes back generations. She said part of the problem is that classes that teach life skills, like home economics, aren't emphasized and there is no dedicated place to learn adult skills.
When I first read of this, I was reminded of a phrase I heard recently in a professional development presentation around the idea of supporting students' affective needs, or "social emotional growth." While schools are - and should be - predominantly focused on curricular areas of academic and/or career-oriented content and skills, the educators should also work on cultivating life skills such as interpersonal relationships, executive functioning, learning culture, and self-awareness. In talking about these skills and understanding that are beyond concepts such as US history and algebra, a presenter noted that we are in the job of "creating 35-year-olds." In other words, we are preparing kids to become productive adults. And doing so includes more than simple academics.

This idea reminds me of a popular book that circulated my community in the past year or so - How to Raise an Adult by Julie Hythcott-Haims.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

30 Years Ago "That Kiss" happened with the release of Some Kind of Wonderful

John Hughes is undoubtedly the sage of teen films, and his short spectacular run of teen movies in the mid-1980s set the standard for teen cinema and "dramadies" for decades to come. Everyone knows the classics like Sixteen Candles, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, and The Breakfast Club. But an equally endearing film that wasn't huge at the box office but developed an appropriate cult following in re-runs is Hughes' last film, Some Kind of Wonderful. The bittersweet comedy of Keith, Watts, and Ms. Amanda Jones turns 30 this week. And this classic story of romance and friendship endures decades later.

This month marks the 30th anniversaries of both the release of “Some Kind of Wonderful,” the last teen movie written by the genres’ 1980s svengali John Hughes, and the relationship between the film’s director Howard Deutch and star Lea Thompson, who met on set and began dating around the time of the “Wonderful” premiere. Unfairly branded as a gender-reversal retread of “Pretty in Pink,” a Hughes/Deutch collaboration from the year before, “Some Kind of Wonderful” was not a box office hit upon its release at the end of February 1987. Yet it endures as a late-arrival classic that holds its own among its better known Hughes siblings from the era, like “The Breakfast Club” and “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.” Recent fair-minded portraits of young people and the uncertain boundaries of friendship and love — “Juno,” “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” “The Edge of Seventeen” — can legitimately be called its nieces and nephews.
And, who could forget "that kiss":

Monday, February 27, 2017

Colorado must fix TABOR law on revenue/spending

The state budgets of both Illinois and Colorado - my two homes in the past 15 years - are rather screwed up, albeit in very different ways and for very different reasons. Basically, revenue doesn't match spending obligations and basic government responsibilities, and the laws and legislators of both states are so hamstrung as to be an almost Gordian knot of ideological absurdity. In Colorado, the issue has come to a head, as state transportation and education budgets are strained to the limit even as the state's economy is roaring and population is booming. Residents of the Rocky Mountain state can blame this inconsistency on a 25-year-old constitutional amendment known as TABOR, or the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights. It was a law pushed through by a small group of anti-government zealots and sold to somewhat naive voters who simply wanted the right to vote on any tax increases. That "right" in itself is understandable. It's the correlary garbage of the law (that most voters never read or understood) that has caused such problems in a state that should be in much better shape. Now, as the law turns a quarter century, and the current crop of "yeoman legislators" seek to fill potholes and classrooms, the state is reflecting on the mess. This weekend the Denver Post pulled together some great pieces of commentary and analysis as food for thought, and tomorrow they will host a public forum on the issue. The most concise and accurate analysis of the problems comes from writer Tim Hoover who is asking legislators and voters to "Break antiquated tax policy of TABOR." Here's the problem in a nutshell:

Worse, though, TABOR has imposed a formula on state government that guarantees it will never be able to keep up with rising costs. TABOR says state revenue may only grow by the rate of inflation plus population every year. So if inflation is 2 percent and population grows by 2 percent, revenue can grow 4 percent. Any revenue collected above that limit must be rebated to taxpayers. This sounds like something based on economic policy. It isn’t. TABOR uses the Consumer Price Index as the guide to inflation, meaning that it measures increases in prices for clothing, food, plane tickets, toasters and so on. These are all consumer goods, not goods purchased by government. The state buys road construction, school teachers, college classrooms, public safety and other goods and services consumers don’t. The way government buys things is really not much different from how businesses buy things. Someone who owns a construction company might look at the price of lumber, bricks and construction workers. They wouldn’t try to gauge their costs based on the prices of shoes, cottage cheese and basketballs. Just as government does, businesses look at costs in their sector of the economy.
In effect, the people of Colorado could fix this problem quite easily. Re-write TABOR so that voters still have to approve any tax increases .... and scrap every other part of the law and its nonsense formulas. The tax approval is the one thing CO voters agree on, and many concede that they voted for it based on only that idea. In fact, many I've talked to admit they thought that was the only thing the law did. That limited knowledge is, in effect, the problem with democracy. But that's OK - the beauty of our republic is that our government and our laws can always be changed. It's just a question of whether people have the will to do so.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

The Edge of Seventeen - a smart, poignant teen film

For those of us in Generation X who were raised by the wisdom and insight of Mr. John Hughes and his often funny but always poignant 80s teen films, there is hope for the genre. If you grew up commiserating with Andy, Claire, John, Andrew, and Allison in The Breakfast Club, and you haven't had a chance to see writer/director Kelly Freemon Craig's film The Edge of Seventeen with Hailee Steinfeld, then you owe it to yourself to reserve an evening soon for this film. Our family recently sat down togther to spend time with the endearing yet neurotic Nadine as she struggles to make sense of her life and come to grips with things beyond her control ... like when your best and only friend starts dating your brother.

K Freemon Craig has crafted a raw and authentic story that is funny, poignant, innocent, and upifting all at the same time. In doing so, she has captured the same magic of authenticity to the teen experience that endeared Hughes' characters to us thirty years ago. That's some pretty high praise to be sure, and one film does not make a career, but I am impressed with the film's honesty in a portrayal of teen drama that engages without pandering, and informs without exaggerating. Like so many of us, Nadine is faced with emotional challenges that we can't fathom other people even beginning to understand. And Craig has embedded some sharp, honest, and direct lessons about the teen experience. The teen dramedy is a time-honored genre that too often falls short in deliving entertainment and a message in a balanced way. That's not the case with #Edgeof17 which may be "the best teen film in years."

The formats for expressing it may have changed—diary to Facebook post, notes passed in class to anxious text messages—but teen angst remains mostly the same. That’s a fact evidenced beautifully in the entirely winning new teen dramedy The Edge of Seventeen, a funny, perceptive, and deceptively deep look at a high-school junior’s very bad couple of weeks. (Opening November 18.) The film, from promising writer-director Kelly Fremon Craig, traverses familiar teen territory: an impossible crush, a prickly-lovable teacher-mentor, a mom who just doesn’t understand. But Craig’s script, and her subtly artful direction, favor the minor chords of these old melodies, digging under the obvious jokes to examine what animates them. The Edge of Seventeen, for all its sprightly verve and wit, may be the best map of teen depression I’ve seen in a long time.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Matt Lewis and the Burkean, Kirk-ean story of Conservatism

"I'm a man without a party." 

That revelation was shared with me this weekend by an acquaintance, as we waxed philosophic about the political events of recent weeks. The President-elect's mystifying war with the media had left that former free-market Republican feeling as if he didn't recognize the political party of his youth. "I voted for Evan McMullen" he explained. It's not an uncommon feeling for many conservatives, though the reality is that many in the party no longer even understand what it means to be conservative. While that in and of itself is not necessarily a problem, it can be for those who are feeling "conservative, but not Republican."

I've been thinking a lot about political ideology in recent weeks, especially as the Republican Party continues to deal with the rift in its identity. For moderates like me, the GOP has been an unwelcome place for at least a few decades, and the Reagan Democrats have been left with little choice but to become independents. In realilty, the definitions of liberal/progressive and conservative have blurred in relation to political party, and as a student of political history, I am bothered by the appropriation of the terms. Maybe I shouldn't be. But language matters to me, and I challenge the current herd of Republicans who tout conservatism as their belief system when they don't really know or represent what that means. 

For that reason, I am really enjoying Matt Lewis' timely and thoughtful examination of politics and party, Too Dumb to Fail: How the GOP Betrayed the Reagan Revolution to Win Elections ... Lewis is definitely one of the rising stars in conservative commentary, and his well-researched history and analysis of conservatism and its relationship to the GOP is insightful to say the least. It's quite a sad development that "a majority of registered GOP voters don't even know what the acronym stands for," and most have never heard of Edmund Burke or Russell Kirk. Perhaps they don't care, and maybe that knowledge doesn't matter. Still, knowledge and education matter for those who think critically about their world. And, like the work of George Will and David Frum before him, Lewis has some important conclusions about the state of conservatism and the Republican Party.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Compulsory National Service

Went to a debate tournament this week - and had the most ridiculous argument about the idea of "compulsive national service." Is it a good idea? Uh .... no. Not even close to a good idea.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Debate Class and our partisan divide

I love Speech & Debate, and I have no doubt that it's one of the best classes/programs in all of public education for preparing students for college, careers, and life. In fact, if I could recommend one class that every student should take, it's probably debate (though that is an issue never worth arguing about). Fortunately for me and my kids, I work at a high school with one of the top programs in the country, and it has always been a given that my kids would be in Speech & Debate. In fact, when I went on my first debate trip to a great tournament at George Mason University, I returned home to tell my wife and kids that our children "are taking debate." So, I had an interesting thought when I recently mentioned to a friend that I was joining our debate team on a trip to the annual national tournament at U-Cal-Berkely. So, my very Republican friend asked me, "Are there any conservatives in speech and debate?"

That got me to thinking:  Could debate class be the key to easing our partisan divide?

Clearly, the question was a loaded one because the asker tends to believe in stereotypes about public education. And, of course, the tournament in question is being held in one of the premier bastions of liberalism. It didn't help that Berkeley made news last week for being so absurdly anti-free speech. Actually, the school itself wasn't - but that's another story. And the point is really this - debate class is not about Democrats vs Republicans, and it's not about liberals vs. conservatives. It's simply about pro vs con or aff vs neg. In debate fields of competition, the teams are always either "affirming" (aff) or "negating" (neg) a resolution. And teams must always prepare and argue both sides because they don't know their side until they enter the room.

Kids who participate in Speech and Debate are often the most well-informed citizens one issues of public policy. Whether they are debating the value of US-China relations or whether the US should increase its engagement with Cuba, these kids tend to geek out on being smart while competing to be the most informed and effective speaker in the room. It's not about politics and ideology, and it's certainly not about political parties. It's about winning an academic competition. Granted, I don't know if speakers and debaters actually become more tolerant and accomodating of opposing views. But they are certainly aware of all pertinent sides, issues, and details.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Where are the Conservatives in the GOP?

It seems everything is completely up for grabs when it comes to politics and legislating and civics these days, and many are feeling like down is up and we're through the looking glass. There was a time when we had two leading ideologies and two political parties, and they worked the basics of government out through a system of checks and balances and negotiation. Now, with the ascension of "President Bannon," many moderate voters and pragmatic Americans are wondering just what the heck has happened to the Republic. For me, one sadly mystifying comment came from Speaker of the House Paul Ryan this week in an interview with Judy Woodruff. In downplaying the obviously troubling relationship that Paul Ryan has, and will continue to have with the White House, the Speaker said of Steve Bannon, "We are different kinds of conservatives."

Uh, actually, Paul .... no. Neither you nor Steve Bannon is a conservative.

To paraphrase one of the best burns in contemporary political discourse, I'd offer this to Speaker Ryan:  "I knew conservatism. Conservatism was my friend. You, sir, are no conservative."

Conservatism as a political ideology was established during the Age of Reason to oppose radical change which threatened the stability of society through a challenge to its institutions and foundations. Edmund Burke was a primary voice of that establishment, and true conservatives will approach volatile political issues with a sense of prudence and Burkean evaluation. In the contemporary age, one of the most stable and erudite voices of conservatism is scholar and critic George Will, and if contemporary Americans are truly interested in understanding how conservatism should function today, they need look no furthur than Will's profound, succinct, and insightful treatise Statecraft as Soulcraft. 

In ''Statecraft as Soulcraft,'' his first book-length work, Mr. Will laments the lack of genuine conservatives in American politics and shows how the best conservative thought is lost even on the most conservative President in decades. ''I will do many things for my country,'' writes Mr. Will, ''but I will not pretend that the careers of, say, Ronald Reagan and Franklin Roosevelt involve serious philosophical differences.'' Conservatives like Mr. Reagan attack ''big government,'' but Mr. Will is more concerned with the reluctance of modern government to cultivate the moral character of its citizens. He faults conservatives for agreeing with liberals that the ''inner life'' of citizens - our ''sentiments, manners and moral opinions'' -is none of the government's business. Mr. Will insists that ''statecraft is soulcraft.'' Government cannot be neutral on major moral issues and shouldn't try. ''Just as all education is moral education because learning conditions conduct, much legislation is moral legislation because it conditions the action and the thought of the nation in broad and important spheres of life.''

Having grown up in a very Republican household in a pretty Democratic county, but rather conservative region, my early political education came with the Reagan Revolution. That time was when I first began to investigate what politics and political parties really meant. In my life I have pretty much explored all the schools of thought. Interestingly, I have to argue that the early 1980s might be the last time the Republican Party was actually conservative. After that time, the GOP became a party of a certain ideology and positions, but it was not a platform that I easily identify as conservative. No, instead, I would just say that the GOP is simply a party of "Republicanism."  And, I'm not the only one to suspect and expose this weird dichotomy that has led to a real crisis in American political thought.

People like Ross Douthat have some solid ideas about the GOP and conservatism which he outlined in his book Grand New Party: How the Republican PartyHowever, while some may argue that the 2016 election actually signified the return of the working class to the GOP, I could hardly stomach the idea that Douthat supports the current regime and its approach. Another rising political pundit named Matt Lewis has some valuable insight in his book Too Dumb to Fail: How the GOP went from the party of Reagan to the Party of Trump. However, neither of these really get at the true spirit of conservatism the way someone like George Will does. One astute thinker who might be on the right track is someone like David Frum who wrote Comeback: Conservatism that Can Win Again. Yet even a great thinker like Frum is still too far removed from the true spirit of conservatism when he gets hung up on tax rates and supply side thinking. 

So, who has some thoughts on the spirit of conservatism that can match up with the Burkean roots and the succinct insight of George Will and his application of conservatism to contemporary America? Well, after George I like to look to a great contemporary writer and thinker by the name of Rod Dreher.  Dreher, a writer and editor who has worked for the National Review and Weekly Standard and is now the editor and chief blogger for The American Conservative, is a pragmatic and thoughtful conservative who doesn't let his politics mess with his ideology and vice versa. While Dreher's conservatism is a bit heavy on the religious side at times, I don't think I've enjoyed another conservative treatise since Will's Statecraft more than I did Dreher's Crunch Cons: How Birkenstocked Burkeans, Gun-Loving Organic Farmers [and more] Can Save America. 

In Crunchy Cons, Dreher reports on the amazing depth and scope of this phenomenon, which is redefining the taxonomy of America’s political and cultural landscape. At a time when the Republican party, and the conservative movement in general, is bitterly divided over what it means to be a conservative, Dreher introduces us to people who are pioneering a way back to the future by reclaiming what’s best in conservatism—people who believe that being a truly committed conservative today means protecting the environment, standing against the depredations of big business, returning to traditional religion, and living out conservative godfather Russell Kirk’s teaching that the family is the institution most necessary to preserve.

The sad reality is that conservatism doesn't even really mean anything anymore, especially in light of the electoral fiasco of November. And, I have little faith in Paul Ryan or Mitch McConnell to lead the country back to the Right. But perhaps if a few individuals do some reading and thinking and start acting locally, we might have some hope for a return to reason a few years from now.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Patriots Win another Super Bowl ... in mystifying way - Spy-gate, Part II?

OK, I'm gonna say it - I am not a Pats fan. That wasn't always the case. I liked the Pats growing up, and for some strange reason I was a big Pats fan during the Drew Bledsoe seasons. And, I will concede that Tom Brady is one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time. No doubt. If I were putting together a team, either in a fantasy league or for real, I would always choose Tom Brady if possible. And I would never bet against him.

That said, I am not happy about this "historic comeback to win Super Bowl LI."

It all seems a little odd to me. Let's not forget that Bill Belicheck and Tom Brady and little boy McD have all been proven to be cheaters in the game of football. It goes all the way back to that unexpected upset of the Rams in 2001 - after which the first rumors of Spy-gate surfaced. While those accusations were never fully validated, the same nefarious actions from Josh McDaniels a decade later in Denver pretty much assured that the suspicion of corruption was at the very least reasonable.

In this game against the Falcolns, the legendary Tom Brady could not seem to hit a receiver in the first half. His inept overthrows and flubbed passes were so noticeable as to be almost a joke. The Pats were down 28-3 in a game that appeared to be a potential blowout. And then, as if by magic, the Patriots went in to the locker room for an extended halftime, and they came out by picking apart the Falcolns defense like they knew their every move. And, of course, then the Falcolns' dynamite flawless offense with "kid mastermind" Kyle Shanahan completely and nonsensically stalled out and were shut down by the Pats seemingly inept defense - it was almost like the Pats knew which plays were coming.

What magic potion did Brady drink at halftime? What insightful film did they unearth in that locker room?

Yep, the Pats are a great team, a true dynasty. And truly Brady is a legendary quarterback.

But legends are generally a bit detached from reality. Is this Spy-gate, Part Deux?

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Far too many "College-educated" kids can't write

As I've noted many times before, teachers are pretty good at assigning writing but not so much at teaching kids how to do it. Especially at the high school level and especially in content areas other than English class, too many teachers assign and grade essays and reports without ever teaching kids how to write for their class. It's as if educators believe that the skills of reading and writing are solely the English teachers' domain - they're not. Reading and writing are learning skills; they are academic skills. They are not just the language arts domain. And, currently, too many kids are graduating high school and college with very limited writing and reasoning skills. That concern and warning comes most recently from education researcher and writer Marc Tucker who opines in EdWeek.org "Our Students Can't Write Very Well - It's No Mystery Why."

My friend Will Fitzhugh points out that high school students are rarely required to read entire works of fiction and are almost never asked to read entire works of non-fiction.  I know of no good writers who are not also good readers. More directly to the point, high school students are hardly ever asked to write anything of significant length.  Why not?  Because in this age of accountability, they are not tested on their writing ability.  By which I mean that they are not asked to submit to the testing authorities 10- or 15- or 20-page papers in which they are expected to present a thesis and defend it, analyze something complicated from multiple points of view and draw a reasoned conclusion, or put together a short story in which characters are developed in some depth and insights are revealed.
Writing is a craft.  Like any other craft, it is learned only by doing it, over and over and over, at increasing levels of challenge, under the watchful eye of an expert.  How on earth are our students to learn to write if we do not ask them to write, and write a lot, and write well?  The reason, of course, that they are not asked to write much is because their ability to write a substantial paper is not tested.  And why, in this age of accountability, when we judge teachers by how well their students do on the test, would we expect their students to write well when we do not test their ability to write a good paper, 10 to 20 pages in length. Our own research tells us that a large fraction of community college professors do not assign writing to their students because their students cannot write and the professors do not consider themselves to be writing teachers. It is no wonder that employers like us find it so hard to find candidates with serviceable writing skills.  
Special thanks to Joanne Jacobs for the link to this post.

I believe a great many educators across all content areas could benefit from programs like The National Writing Project and the Colorado Writing Project.

Monday, January 30, 2017

New novel "Class" takes on education, parenting, and values

White guilt. White privilege. Support for liberal values and public education goes head-to-head with the competitive world of social class and egalitarianism in the new social satire Class by writer Lucinda Rosenfeld. This new novel joins the ranks of novels exploring the complicated world of "competitive parenting" amidst the public-private school dichotomy in New York City. I'm only a few chapters in at this point, but I am enjoying Rosenfeld's enthusiastic and insightful spotlight on the challenge of doing what's "best for our kids" while also holding political views and values that are often much easier to hold in the abstract than in practice.

For idealistic forty-something Karen Kipple, it isn't enough that she works full-time in the non-profit sector, aiding an organization that helps hungry children from disadvantaged homes. She's also determined to live her personal life in accordance with her ideals. This means sending her daughter, Ruby, to an integrated public school in their Brooklyn neighborhood.

But when a troubled student from a nearby housing project begins bullying children in Ruby's class, the distant social and economic issues Karen has always claimed to care about so passionately feel uncomfortably close to home. As the situation at school escalates, Karen can't help but wonder whether her do-gooder husband takes himself and his causes more seriously than her work and Ruby's wellbeing.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Jazz comes alive in Denver

Let's face it, La La Land was just an acknowledgment of what many in the arts community have known for at least a few years now - Jazz is as cool as it has ever been, and it's a great time to be a jazz fan. While the big cities on the coasts, and of course Chicago and New Orleans, have plenty of spots to see the big names as well as the up and comers playing great jazz daily, the heartland in the shadow of the Rockies is another jazz-centric locale as "Denver sits in on (another) rebirth of Jazz."

Once a pariah of youth culture, jazz is enjoying a resurgence with a hip slice of millennial fans and musicians near and far. As venues like Dazzle Jazz and the Meadowlark open their stages to informal jazz jam sessions every week, acts like BadBadNotGood and bassist Thundercat (who plays the Bluebird Theater next month) have leveraged their cross-generational appeal into top billing at rock rooms and massive music festivals. At Dazzle Jazz, the de facto epicenter of Denver’s jazz scene, that young blood runs backstage, too. The venue’s 23-year-old marketing manager,  Mike Zubrinic, works alongside its 25-year-old music director, Michael Schreier, who began booking the venue after completing his master’s degree in jazz studies from the University of Northern Colorado a little over a year ago. Schreier said Dazzle not only caters to an “increased appreciation for jazz in youth,” but thanks to its internet presence, might also be partially responsible for it. As is common practice for businesses on social media, Dazzle targets a young demographic in its online advertising for acts like The Bad Plus and Danny McCaslin, bands Schreier described as “rabbit holes” into the genre’s deep expanse.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Almost Anyone but Betsy DeVos for Secretary of Education

We can certainly expect to be occasionally baffled, disappointed, and somewhat dismayed by many actions and decisions of the President-elect over the next four years - and it will be exhausting and fruitless to vociferously oppose and reject them all. However, the one that most educators, parents, and voters should be able to agree on is this:  Betsy DeVos should not be the Secretary of Education.

On two critically important areas of responsibility for the Secretary of Education — protecting the rights of all students, particularly the most vulnerable students, and on accountability — time after time Mrs. DeVos failed her test. She reflexively offered to devolve all decision-making to the states, even in the face of experience that shows this would lead to poor student outcomes and potentially more youth at risk and left behind.

To that end, I am encouraging people to contact their GOP reps and let them know we expect that they will reject the nomination of Betsy DeVos. This is not about political party nor about ideology. I would gladly support numerous "education reform voices" who would appeal to Republicans and who have the knowledge and experience to lead discussions and education policy. Some great voices could be people like Michael Petrilli of the Fordham Institute or Jay P. Greene of the University of Arkansas or Rick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute. Or, how about former Colorado state Senator Michael Johnston? Senator Lamar Alexander would also be great. We could and should support people who have knowledge and experience with public education.

We should reject and oppose Betsy DeVos because she is, quite simply, clueless about education and education policy.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Are We Failing Our Boys? How can we truly "Man up"?

"The three most destructive words that every boy hears when he's young is when he's told to be a man."

As an educator and a father of a boy and girl, I am worried about our boys, our young men. The "mask of masculinity" which has effectively feminized basic human values such as empathy seems to be entrenched and gaining ground in contemporary American society. And it has led more than one parent I know to ask "What are we doing to help our boys?" From the way they talk to each other to the way they talk about females, the contemporary young "man" may well be in a state of crisis. And that issue is the source of an important and timely documentary called "The Mask You Live In," which is produced by the Representation Project.

"As a society, how are we failing our boys?"

Monday, January 23, 2017

Do You Believe in Magic

I love magic. And, what I love most about it is that I believe in magic. From the time I was a kid, I could watch magicians and illusionists and contortionists and the like for hours, and it never got boring. These days, it's an amazing time to be a fan of magic because there are people pushing the limits of belief and imagination like never before. The man at the top of the pyramid in my mind is the incredible Mr. David Blaine. Blaine showed up on the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon recently, and with some seemingly simple card trips he blew the minds of Jimmy and the Roots. Of course, I was a little upset with myself when I ran across it because it led to an evening just watching David Blaine clips on YouTube.com. The coolest thing for me is the idea that David calls it magic but really just explains that he is committed to making the impossible possible. And that is just fine with me.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Trip to the Library

My reading is all over the place, which is really a reflection of my mind and interest level in general. Whenever I read a book review that is interesting, I'll request the book. Depending on the order they come in, that can make for some eclectic reading time. It's usually a blend of novels and non-fiction, and I am truly not a committed literature guy despite my role as an English teacher. And, of course, I occasionally pick up some featured books and "staff picks."  I probably finish about thirty percent of what I actually check out of the library or buy on Amazon. After a recent trip to the library and book store, here are the books on my shelf that I'm currently bouncing around with.

My pop culture fix is currently provided pop culture writer Gavin Edwards' entertaining and informative look at contemporary America's favorite trickster-god:  The Tao of Bill Murray: Real-life Stories of Joy, Enlightenment, and Party Crashing.

In YA lit land where I browse both as a teacher and a father of two adolescents, I ran across a compelling title for a Gen Xer English teacher. Author Barbara Shoup had me with the title Looking for Jack Kerouac.

And for the strangest of reasons I picked up another well known book from the Gen X-chic lit genre: Sophie Kinsella's original pop culture hit Confessions of a Shopaholic.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Give PSAT, not PARCC, at High School

Thankfully and rightfully, parents and students in Colorado are increasingly discerning about the standardized tests administered in school. Relevance is the key, and that's where long-standing college admission assessments like PSAT, SAT, & ACT are superior to the PARCC test. Fortunately, we have some clear-thinking legislators who are attuned to this issue and are taking action. Nancy Todd from Senate District 28 has introduced a bill this session that will give schools choice in the state-mandated test for ninth graders.

This legislative session Todd is introducing a bill that would give districts more flexibility when it comes to testing ninth graders. Currently, Colorado high school freshmen are required to take the PARCC test in English language arts and math, but Todd wants to give districts the option of offering the PSAT, ACT Aspire or an equivalent test in lieu of the CMAS assessment.

Kudos and gracious thanks to Senator Todd. She's a legislator and advocate for kids who truly gets it.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Best Albums of my Youth

As a Gen Xer coming of age in the 70s & 80s (and probably still growing up a bit in the 90s), I was definitely impacted by the music of the age. It's no surprise to anyone who knows me that I consider REM to be the greatest American rock band, and musically they could do almost no wrong by me. Of course, we all have those albums (records, cassettes, and CDs) that define us and transport us back in time. On Facebook, it appears to be a thing to list our Top Ten from adolescence. Ranking always bothers me, and lists are always too limiting. But here are ten albums that rocked my youth:

  • REM - Life's Rich Pageant 
  • VIOLENT FEMMES - Violent Femmes
  • THE WHO - Who's Next
  • THE CLASH - London Calling
  • THE DOORS - Greatest Hits
  • THE POLICE - Zenyatta Mondata
  • U2 - War (& Under a Blood Red Sky)
  • SEX PISTOLS - Never Mind the Bollocks ...
  • NIRVANA - Nevermind

Monday, January 16, 2017

Deplorables are always "bad," Mr. Weiss - You sadly miss the point

The "basket of deplorables" comment will live on in infamy, as it probably should. It truly does reflect the completely aloof way that HRC and the Democrats waged a misguided Presidential campaign and irresponsibly turned the White House and the country over to potentially the most pathetic and risky person to ever occupy the Oval Office. However, the bigger mistake may be the misunderstanding that so many Trump voters - enthusiastic and reluctant alike - asign to the statement. This equally aloof and misguided view is nowhere better exemplified than in the sad piece of commentary published in the Wall Street Journal recently by a carpet salesman in Pittsburgh named Lou Weiss who strangely believes "The Deplorables Aren't So Bad, Once You Get to Know Us."

Actually, Mr. Weiss, the "deplorable" people in American society who are racist, prejudiced, mysoginistic, aggressive, violent, insulting, and threatening are, in fact, "so bad." That is the nature of the word deplorable. Deplorable words and behavior should always be exposed, criticized, and opposed in a civil society, and supporting any of those words or actions or attitudes is deplorable in itself. Sadly, after reading your piece of commentary, I don't believe that defense of bigoty is what you are arguing. Even sadder is that I don't believe you understand what you are trying to argue. Obvioulsy, Trump supporters who are not racist or hateful are also not deplorable, and HRC's mistake was not in the use of the word deplorable, but in foolishly assigning it to "half of his supporters."

That said, your subsequent criticism of progressive Democrats as an explanation of non-"deplorable" people at Big 10 games or frequenting Chick-fil-A or "working on your leaky faucet" is the worst form of elitism, as it manages to misunderstand both Trump supporters and Trump critics. Your claims contribute to stereotypes and bias based on jobs, socioeconomic status, and region, and your argument implies that values and morals are inherently part of a demographic when they may not be. By seeking to criticize bias and misundertanding, you sadly reflect it. Many supporters of HRC and critics of Donald Trump also support Michigan football, and watch American Sniper, and work in skilled labor like plumbing or nursing or mechanics. How sadly aloof you are to those realities. Truly, even many Trump supporters who work in the trades or are well-off attorneys in gated communities opposed the "deplorable" behavior so visible at Trump rallies by supporters and the candidate alike. And don't kid yourself - some of those people in the jobs you mention and frequenting the places you describe are potentially quite deplorable. Jobs do not equate to character or values or morals. And believing so is simply another example of prejudice.

Unless you are the type of person who went to the rallies and screamed hateful racist and mysoginistic threats, you should not identify with being "deplorable" or ask people to "get to know us." In attempting to educate the hipsters and Hamilton fans about how wrong they are about deplorables, you've only furthered the division, complicated the issues, and embarrassed yourself.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Will Shoder, David Foster Wallace, & the End of Irony

Just because it was on You Tube, I ran across this really well done video on irony and post-modernism. It was put together by some guy named Will Shoder, who isn't on Twitter as far as I can tell, but does have this Patreon page which he uses to support his work.

Standardized Test Companies should end time limits

My ninth-grade son took a Practice-ACT last weekend, and he did exceptionally well, as I would have expected for an advanced learner who aced AP Calculus as an eighth-grader. However, the feedback he gave about the experience simply reinforced my long-standing criticism of the tests such as ACT, SAT, PSAT, and of testing companies like College Board, ETS, & Pearson. Simply put, the time constraints on kids in these tests are completely arbitrary and create an inauthentic view of a student's intellectual and academic abilities.

My son finished the hour-long math section in roughly fifteen minutes and achieved a perfect score. Math at that level takes him almost no time to process. On the other hand, he felt the unnecessary pressure of finishing the 35-minute Reading section. He still did incredibly well on that section, but the ACT Reading section is truly an abomination in the world of literacy. It requires students to read four passages and answer 40 questions (10/per) in 35 minutes. That means averaging roughly eight-and-a-half minutes per passage. That is not reading. That is not literacy. That is not predictive of any applicable skill or intelligence ... other than the ability to do that test.

In a more reasonable environment, my son would have and should have been able to apply the extra 45-minutes from math to the reading section. The reverse may be true for students who can quickly read and answer questions on passages, but may need more than an hour for math. And, really who cares how long it takes to finish the tasks. We all remember taking the tests and hearing the dreaded "Stop, put your pencils down. You may not go back to that section or go forward to other sections." And, seriously, why not? Testing environments should allow the student the freedom to simply work on the whole test at their own pace and leisure.

As a coordinator for tests and testing accommodations, I am quite familiar with students who receive "extended time" on tests. They are required to apply for this privilege, and they must have some extensive documentation about a diagnosed "processing speed" disability or impairment to qualify. But there is no legitimate reason that all kids shouldn't be given extended time. If a kid finishes the tasks in one hour or seven, what's the difference if they can both solve the problems, exhibit the skills and knowledge, and accomplish the tasks.

Free the students. End ridiculous time constraints on standardized tests.

Writer-Mom "Experiments" with LSD

Well, this is certainly one of the weirder stories I've heard in a while. Even stanger, it's not just a story. Author Michael's Chabon's wife, Ayelet Waldman, has published a new memoir called A Really Good Day: How Microdosing made a Megadifference in my Mood, Marriage, and Life. Microdosing? That's a word? And a thing?

Ayelet Waldman would like you to know that she’s just a regular mom. Like you, she lives in her yoga pants, Instagrams her indulgent desserts, bickers with her husband and (four!) children: “I’m the woman standing behind you in Starbucks ordering the skinny vanilla latte, the one getting a mammogram in the room next to yours, the one digging through her too-full purse looking for her keys while you wait impatiently for her parking spot,” she writes in “A Really Good Day.”  But Waldman the everywoman is also Waldman the outlaw. She has not only taken LSD but has also written a book about it. “A Really Good Day” is a chronicle of her one-month search for emotional balance by taking small doses of a drug most people associate with Timothy Leary or CIA experiments [or hippies at a Dead concert or millenials dancing at raves of a Phish concert].

I'm not quite sure how to feel about this idea and story other than to say it makes me ... uneasy.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

GOP's "State Lines" Claim on Insurance Prices is Flawed

As the country braces for controversial changes to a controversial health care law, many American families are deeply concerned about the GOP making things worse and losing gains that have been made. Obviously, lowering health care costs is the primary and very necessary goal, and the "Affordable Care Act" has for the most part failed to accomplish that goal. And, there is simply no legitimate reason that health care and health insurance has to be so expensive - especially in a time of somewhat ridiculous revenue and profits for the health care industry. That said, the standard GOP call for "market reforms" and "consumer freedom" seem like rather naive and ambiguous plans and policies to alleviate the problems. I'm not going to disagree that "fixing health care requires the repeal of Obamacare," as argued by three Colorado congressmen.

And speaking of replacement plans, the narrative that Republicans have offered no plan to replace Obamacare is false. Republicans have introduced multiple alternative health care plans since 2010, and we encourage you to review them. The most recent replacement plan was offered by the Republican Study Committee, called the American Health Care Reform Act. The Empowering Patients First Act was a plan put forth in the 114th Congress by future Health and Human Services Secretary, Dr. Tom Price. Our Better Way Agenda also includes a blueprint for replacing Obamacare that is centered on more choices, lowers costs, and greater flexibility.

However, many of the claims and counterarguments and proposals by the GOP are simply ideological positions that have no proven benefit, and potentially troublesome effects. The biggest myth of GOP health care reform is the argument that allowing the purchase of policies across state lines will lower health care costs. Insurance prices are market-based, and companies will simply not sell a low-cost market policy to a higher cost market consumer. That's such basic business and economic knowledge that I wonder how GOP politicians and policy writers can continue to claim otherwise with a straight face. They are either ideologically naive, or they are simply lying. The question voters have failed to ask is why. As Bruce Japsen explains for Forbes magazine, "Selling Insurance Across State Lines Won't Lower Costs."

“Currently individual states can decide whether or not to allow insurers to sell plans from another state in their state,” the Center for Health & Economy wrote about Trump’s health plan earlier this year. “However, even where this is allowed, various barriers such as the difficulty of building a network and attracting enough customers to create a large enough risk pool make it unappealing to insurers to pursue this option.”

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Is the 401K Retirement a Lie?

I've been thinking about retirement lately as I approach the mid-century mark, and like too many members of Generation X who were hit hard by several downturns and recessions, I don't have a grand plan for reitirement income. As an educator who pays into a state pension, I will never draw from Social Security, and I have to hope that legislators in Colorado and Illinois do not gut the defined benefit plans I have paid into. The story of the "vanishing pension" plans has been the story of a generation that may not have the comfortable golden years that the Silent Generation and the Baby Boomers have enjoyed. A solution to the problem of weak or disappearing pensions and the unstable future of Social Security was the rise of the brilliant 401k plan that promised to allow people to control more of their own money and grow their own nest eggs. Sadly, it may all be based on false promises and naive ideological thinking. That's the warning from Bloomberg's Meghan McCardle who writes this week about "The 401K Problem We Refuse to Solve."

Was the 401(k) a tragic mistake? “The great lie is that the 401(k) was capable of replacing the old system of pensions,” former American Society of Pension Actuaries head Gerald Facciani told the Journal. “It was oversold." This is true. On the other hand, so was Social Security oversold. As was that good ol' defined benefit pension, so beloved of editorial writers, which was available to only a minority of workers when the 401(k) sprang into being. Nor were those pensions necessarily the generous perpetual incomes of popular imagining; autoworkers and public-sector employees got a great deal, but most people were not working for either the government or General Motors. They got smaller pensions -- sometimes much smaller, if their companies failed and dumped the pensions onto the government’s pension insurer.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Maggie Smith's Poem & the Loss of Innocence

It's not so often that poetry and poets make national news or even create a buzz among the non-literary population across the forums of social media. But 2016 was the type of year that could stir many in middle America to read, respond to, and promote a poem that captured a moment and articulated the emotions and confusion that are too often impossible to describe. National tragedies and tragedies of the human spirit are becoming all too common, and events like the Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando scream for someone to explain and clarify and offer an avenue for healing. And so it was that poet Maggie Smith "sat in a Starbucks and wrote a poem" that begins with the resigned melancholic observation "Life is short, though I keep this from my children." It became, in the words of Washington Post writer Nora Krug, "A Poem that Captured the Mood of 2016."

The poem is a heartfelt work that grapples with pain and injustice, with unfairness and disillusionment. “The world is at least/ fifty percent terrible, and that’s a conservative/ estimate,” it says. “For every bird there is a stone thrown at a bird./ For every loved child, a child broken, bagged,/ sunk in a lake. Life is short and the world/ is at least half terrible, and for every kind/ stranger, there is one who would break you.”Its subject is whether, when and how to talk to children about these hard realities. “I was troubled by the question of how we teach our kids about the world without lying to them — telling them that it’s all good — and telling them the truth without scaring them.” In the poem, the speaker takes on the role of a real estate agent: “I am trying/ to sell them the world. Any decent realtor,/ walking you through a real s***hole, chirps on/ about good bones: This place could be beautiful,/ right? You could make this place beautiful.”
Poetry is a bit of a conundrum for many, but often it rings true and clarifies, and that's the case with the full poem "Good Bones," which grapples with the delicate question of how we protect our children from the harsh realities of the world without hiding it to their detriment. It's a parenting question I first addressed here, and which many a critic has struggled to clarify. Neil Postman warned us that the increasingly technological and interconnected world we seek and have casually cultivated will ultimately lead to The Disappearance of Childhood, a societal invention that should be more cherished.