Sunday, April 30, 2017

Trump Compromises ability to "Respect the Office"

The United States of America has long been a complicated place in terms of its dueling ideologies and political parties, and there is little doubt that the intensity of the differences have been magnified in recent years. Yet Americans have generally been able to disagree about candidates and administrations while still respecting the institutions of society and government, most especially the Presidency. The historical expectation has been that Americans "Respect the office, not the man." But that condition and agreement has changed with the election of the Ivanka's dad. Simply put, the current occupant of the office of POTUS does not respect the very office he holds. And if the man in the Oval Office cannot hold himself to a standard of decency, then Americans cannot simply agree to respect the office while he is in it.

That issue came to a head today on a CNN panel as a group of pundits and commentators discussed the rally that he held in Pennsylvania in opposition to the tradition of the White House Correspondents dinner: The sharp exchange began when Democratic strategist Paul Begala unleashed a withering attack on the President, calling him both a "moral midget" and "needy little baby."  It is simply not possible for many Americans to condone or accept the embarrassingly deplorable behavior of the current occupant simply because he holds the office. He has shamed the office with his behavior, and that has sadly changed the percpetion that America and the world has for what was once reverentially called the Highest Office in the Land.

The man who disagrees with Paul Begala says "We owe this man ... respect," and he could not be more wrong. That man has dishonored the office of the Presidency at nearly every chance he gets, and as a man he deserves no respect because he is not even a man. As countless critics have pointed out - both liberal and conservative - he has said and done things that no sitting President has or should have the gall to do. There is an expectation of restraint and tact and reserve and maturity and poise that must come with the Presidency, and that man has sneered and spit upon all of  that tradition. I'm saddened to say shame on him, and I'm disappointed in anyone who seeks to excuse or justify or accept such indecent and un-Presidential behavior. For me, this is not about politics or ideology - it's about character. And the current occupant simply has none.

Of course, this view is simply my opinion, and I may clearly take "things" more seriously than many. In that way, it's worth noting the views of people who supported him before and still do. Former newsman Greg Dobbs of Evergreen, CO, recently explored the supporter world, and he summed up his findings in a piece for the Denver Post: What My Conservative Friends say about Donald Trump 100 Days after the Election. Dobbs offers some valuable insight into reasoning for Trump support, and while it saddens me, I do accept that these are reasoned positions. They simply don't ground themselves in the same values I do.

I asked everyone the same questions. The first one was: Are you just as enthusiastic now as you were on Election Day? The answer across the board was yes, with a few caveats. Like this one: “In my mind I didn’t vote for Donald Trump, I voted for Mike Pence — a man of character — and I voted against Hillary Clinton.” Another qualified her answer this way: “We didn’t vote for him because we loved him. We didn’t want Hillary.” Another put it bluntly: “It was as much (maybe more) about not giving the Left another four years as it was Trump.”Others were purely positive. One said, “Trump has surrounded himself with experienced business people and I think a perspective on what is going on not only in the United States but worldwide. I think it’s also encouraging that he questions so many things.” Another explained that he’s “getting more accustomed to Trump every day.”

Anthony Bourdain returns with new Parts Unknown

Well, no one can accuse Anthony Bourdain or CNN from shying away from the controversial issue of immigration and culture in the post-2016 election era. The inveterate traveler, foodie, chef, and verbal essayist Anthony Bourdain returned tonight with a new season of his signature food & culture show Parts Unknown, and he delved right to the heart of the immigration and American culture debate with a show about Latino and Mexican culture in the city of Los Angeles. I truly enjoy the show for its meditative voice-over essays of the places and people Bourdain visits, and I revel in the beautiful cinematography that captures the spirit a place through its cuisine.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Homework, "Doing School," & Success in Life

"How are they going to succeed in real life if they can't complete homework?"

Good question. Or is it?

For as long as I've been in education - and that includes being a student - I've heard the argument that the discipline of doing homework, being prepared for class, and knowing how to meet demands are all essential to being successful in adulthood. But the older I become the less certain I am of that platitude. Certainly there is a correlation between students with good grades and adults with successful lives. However, I have an increasingly difficult time squaring that logic as absolute, and I become increasingly frustrated when we as a society write off kids who don't get homework done or meet the often mundane academic expectations of many classes.

In reality, there are numerous kids who very competently handle "real life" even as teenagers, though that may mean choosing jobs and family responsibilities over worksheets and textbooks. Young people with highly developed social-emotional traits or technical skills may have as many opportunities for a successful adulthood as ones who are good at studying, listening to lectures, and filling in bubbles. The saddest aspect of our contemporary education system is that it is so institutionalized that it cannot begin to recognize the myopic definition it has developed for success and student achievement.

Additionally, schools have only just begun to scrutinize the challenging question of whether they are teachers of content or teachers of skills. And if they are teachers of skills, then what exactly are the skills for a successful life? I've known many students who are late or absent from class, and rarely have their "homework" completed, but who are considered the most dependable employees at their jobs and will work harder for minimum wage than they will for a diploma. That can be insulting to people focused on academia. Often the problem is that a teacher's "real world" and a student's reality of that real world are vastly different. 

So, I think we must be careful in writing kids off simply because they aren't adept at "doing school," and I think our outcomes as a society will improve when we acknowledge that academic skills are only one component of a successful character.

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.