A Voice of Reason: Sane Views for a Crazy World

February 28, 2007

Putting the Pieces Together: Jigsaw Methodology

Filed under: children,Education,General,life long learning,Teaching — avoiceofreason @ 11:42 pm

Ever have a day in the classroom where the students were engaged, involved and demonstrated clear signs of learning?  I did today, and I used one of the best Constructivist tools in the book, Jigsaw learning.

What is it?  Jigsaw learning is where a student becomes an expert at a piece of a large concept.  Other students are becoming experts at the other pieces of the puzzle at the same time.  Then they are able to put the individual pieces together to construct a whole picture.

How is “Jigsawing” Done?  As mentioned individuals are working within a team of three or four other learners on an individual component of a larger concept.  This is going on throughout the classroom.  After time is allowed for students to gather information, form inquiries, and develop a base understanding, they collaborate with the other students who learned the same piece from the different teams.  You have now created a group of experts of part of a concept. 

These experts go back to their main group and share their findings.  Each of the members now are fully versed as the combined energies of five learners has created stronger learning, deeper understanding, and formation of stronger inquiry skills.

When all is done the experts can serve as a panel for the rest of the learners to question in case any areas are still unclear. 

Assessment:  The amount of notes, questions, and time on task generated by this method is startling.  I try to use this method frequently, as well as all methodologies.  Today, the amount of learning, notetaking, and expressions of higher level though processes being demonstrated awed me.  I challenge all educators to use this method that powerfully combines inquiry, research, constructivism, and collaboration for learners.

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Does 2007 War Debate Sound a Lot Like 1993’s

Filed under: Congress,Draft,Iraq,National Guard,Politics,War Protest — avoiceofreason @ 10:51 pm

Oak Leaf posted two interesting pieces at Polipundit.com

 Oak Leaf is understandably concerned about the increasing pressures put upon the National Guard.

Probably the dissent of GOP lawmakers was 90% making life difficult for then President Clinton and 10% other factors.

Probably the dissent of Democrats today is 99% making life difficult for the President and appealing to their own base.

The comment about Oak being upset about the NG being overtaxed is relevant, and does show a glaring weakness in the laudable goal of an all volunteer military – spoken from one who gladly volunteered. These numbers are startling:
WWII 12% of the population involved in the military
Korea Information not available
Vietnam 2% of the population involved in the military
Iraq/Afghanistan 0.5% of the population involved.

Population growth aside, these numbers are noteworthy.

To replies that the regular military forces need to be enlarged, the question is “How”. At the current time re-enlistment bonuses and other benefits are high, but obviously many are not viewing – understandably – as being worth the risk.

Is a renewal of conscription the only viable option to the cries of increasing the size of the military?

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Towards Constructivism – A Key Towards Life-Long Learning

Filed under: children,Education,General,life long learning,Teaching — avoiceofreason @ 4:18 am

Abraham Lincoln spoke these words at Gettysburg, “The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.” 

Thankfully, his words are long remembered, and within an educational context his wisdom went beyond his political domain, and is being seen to be an effective tool for teachers to promote student learning.

When you think about school, whether you are a child or an adult as you read, ask yourself, “What do I remember”?  You are likely to remember the things you did, rather than the words which were spoken to you, or which you read.  This is not to say that literacy is not important, it is  the bridge which holds all of the academic subjects, particularly within the humanities, together.   What is being said, is that when a person constructs new understandings, they are abler to readily make links between previously disconnected thoughts.

Consider this analogy.  A person is building a house.  The floors are linked inexorably to the walls which frame the house, and each builds on the other to increase the stability of the whole structure.  It is the same with learning.  As learner’s come to new understandings they construct links to previous things grasped in abstract terms, which now have relevance within their own framework of learning.  This also allows for student growth into new and unexplored areas. 

One of the most important tools that learners have at their disposal is the science of inquiry.  The ability to ask simple why questions allows for people to come to an understanding of underlying causes and builds bridges to unforseen outcomes.  Too often in today’s schools learning is formulaic with little time spent on inquiry and metacognitive practices.  Lack of time is often given as a risen, but is this really the case. 

Consider and perhaps try the following activity for an experience into inquiry based – constructivist learning. 

1) Take a piece of paper and write down a topic upon which you may have a certain amount of knowledge.  2) Now fold the paper into quarters and write the following:

What I know                  What I Feel

Questions I have         Related Areas to Explore

3) Fill in the boxes – and you can use bullets.

4) Write a few sentences in each box to express your thoughts clearly.

Hopefully, you will find that as you write new ideas are coming to your mind.  Your mind is constructing possible connections.  This has been shown to be a key in understanding how people learn by Lev Vygotsky.  This simple constructivist activity can be used in almost any situation of life.  I have used this when framing an understanding of my household budget, when discussing opportunities my career may offer, writing essays towards a doctoral degree.  I even have my sixth grade students use this regularly as a form of review and assessment.

Religion in the Public Life of a Society

Filed under: Christianity,Church,Politics,Religion — avoiceofreason @ 2:28 am

I found this post  by Angela Winters, on Booker Rising, a blog of moderate Black Voices, and am posting my comments to it here. 

In praise of religion in the sense of it being a relationship with God, however one sees that relationship, it “generally” has a positive relationship to the estate of all members of a society. This “general” trend is seen as early as in the Codes of Hamurabbi, whom claimed much like Moses did in the same era, to have received them from God.

Most religions that form the basis of a civilization have the tendancy of providing redress to wrongs done to the more vulnerable members of that society. Within the United States, a religious context has often in its best moments provided relief to those most opressed. However, the tradition of the US is to mention God in the abstract, and to utilize the moral codes found within the Judeo-Christian ethic, also found within most of the world’s major religions as a framework for law and social policy.

Religion in this sense does add to our Republic in a positive light, and typically has:
1- served a secular purpose
2- neither advanced nor inhibited a particular religion.
3- does not excessively tangle government with religion.

This does not mean that politicians will not make use of religion and any views attached with it to their advantage.  However, the opposite can be said to be true.  Consider the shameful treatment of Governor Al Smith when he ran for President in 1928.  It was alleged that his Catholicism would ruin the nation.  Hence, the politician who designed most of the better policies of The New Deal, prior to FDR, was destroyed by Hoover. 

Religious bigotry and bias are unwelcome in a free society.  However, bias against religion, and the refusal to recognize the social benefit it typically serves society is also bigotry.

February 27, 2007

Dick Morris: McCain’s Campaign Has Collapsed

Filed under: Politics — avoiceofreason @ 11:24 pm

Dick Morris reports that the McCain Campaign is in dire shape.

While this is regrettable, as I have often stated the many reasons for considering John McCain as a candidate for President, it is not unexpected.  Among McCain’s problems are his lack of money, he has only $500,000 on hand, and as Morris reminds us all, “That’s barely enough to run for Congress”.

The other part is that McCain doesn’t seem to be the same maverick who was willing to buck the system and obtain crossover votes.  This was noted on Sunday’s Meet the Press by NYT op ed columnist Maureen Dowd.  McCain has lost the edge he had when he was daring Party officials to cross him and his rising stem of popular sentiment.  That independent streak may have cost him the nomination in 2000, but might have lead him to a popular vote victory in the national bid.  McCain has also put all his political eggs into the “Surge”.  The problem is, if it works he may not get enough credit, and if it fails he will get a good deal of criticism. 

Rather than upset just the Party apparatus, McCain has also done much to alienate the hard Right of the GOP, which includes many of the primary voters.  McCain’s positions in favor of campaign fincance reform, global warming, illegal aliens, and his softness on the Bush tax cuts, among other positions make him one of the more reviled candidates.  Supporting one of these issues would be problematic, but McCain has lent support to four.  Since that is one more strike than is allowed by baseball, I hardly think that the base of the GOP – who can often be compared to umpires in particularly bad moods, are likely to say anything other than “Yer out!”  McCain’s consistent pro-life position, and the fact that he is a genuine hero,  are not enough to stem the tirade of the harder right elements of the GOP.  Even McCain’s consistently pro-life stance won’t help him much with the base, and nobody wants to talk too much about Iraq – other than McCain.  Seemingly, the only candidates that will satisfy the hard right are impossibilities like Duncan Hunter and Tom Tancredo – whom no one other than the most ardent Conservatives and those outside their own districts even know.  The hard base does not like McCain, and despite the alleged numbers of Evangelicals among them, they do not forgive and forget.  Then again, the ultra right of the GOP would likely not like “The Gipper” doubtless finding some fault with him.

However, the biggest threat to McCain’s loss of “The Maverick” is Rudy.  Simply put, Mr. Mayor is Conservative enough for Centrists and Independents.  Although they are not too far separated by age, Rudy looks young, and McCain looks tired, very tired.  Even the Senator’s  website, with the myriad of black and white photos, makes him look old.  Rudy also threatens McCain’s largest asset, Independent Centrist voters, who are likely not comfortable with many of the Democrat’s positions – and the perception of cutting and running.  Centrists are also not too upset by Rudy’s moderate – liberal – conservative stands on abortion, gay rights, and gun control.  What they see in Rudy is a law and order person, who can run a bubbling cauldron.    While Giulliani is vulnerable on the right flank, he is more vulnerable from Romney and Huckabee than from McCain. Even while McCain polls well against Democrats, he may be marginalized as “That old guy who is for the surge”. 

If McCain is marginalized so early on it will be a sad day not only for the GOP, some of whom’s members wouldn’t recognize a statesman if Abraham Lincoln were to address them, but mostly for this country.  I say this even though I wouldn’t vote for him if he were in the primary.  I’m a Rudy guy.

Majority in Poll Favor Deadline For Iraq Pullout

Filed under: Politics — avoiceofreason @ 10:11 pm

The Washington Post reported this today:

With Congress preparing for renewed debate over President Bush’s Iraq policies, a majority of Americans now support setting a deadline for withdrawing U.S. forces from the war-torn nation and support putting new conditions on the military that could limit the number of personnel available for duty there, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

Opposition to Bush’s plan to send an additional 21,500 troops to Iraq remained strong. Two in three Americans registered their disapproval, with 56 percent saying they strongly object. The House recently passed a nonbinding resolution opposing the new deployments, but Republicans have blocked consideration of such a measure in the Senate.

It is amazing how the Congress gave General Petraeus a 100% vote of confidence, and are now protesting the plan that he asked to use through the summer to try and turn the corner in Iraq.  What the Democratic Party and Leadership need to do is to either fund or defund and not spend countless hours on resolutions that are more closely aligned to an angry student shooting a spitball at an unpopular teacher, rather than meaningful legislation.

Senate Democrats, led by Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl M. Levin (Mich.) and Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joseph R. Biden Jr. (Del.), are preparing another resolution that would have the effect of taking away the authority Bush was granted in 2002 to go to war. The measure would seek to have virtually all combat forces withdrawn from Iraq by the end of March 2008.

What the Democratic Party needs to do is to up or down vote funding or defunding.  The other thing that they may wish to consider is the effect this may have of boomeranging upon them from their own left base, which wants defunding, and centrists who probably will not appreciate seeing the prosecution of the insurgency/counterinsurgency as a political football.  Another key element is that Senator Lieberman (I) has restated his discontent with the Democrat’s proposals, and may start to caucas with GOP lawmakers rather than with Dems.

The Post-ABC poll found that 53 percent of Americans favored setting a deadline for troop withdrawals. Among those who favored a deadline, 24 percent said they would like to see U.S. forces out within six months and 21 percent called for the withdrawals to be completed within a year. The rest of those who supported a timetable said they do not support withdrawing all troops until at least a year from now.

While the people may want this, there is little likelihood this gets out of the Senate, although more than a few GOP lawmakers are unhappy about the situation in Iraq, who isn’t, it is unlikely that even Senator Hegel would break ranks from the President’s position so soon into the surge.  This will become more of an issue if the surge is non-effective by August, but until then this poll has little tooth to it.

Some Democrats have called for cutting off money for the war. The Post-ABC News poll found that 46 percent of Americans supported restricting funding while a bare majority, 51 percent, opposed doing so.

I would want to look at the internals of this poll, as this number does not seem to add up to what other pollsters have said, which has been showing nearly 60% are opposed to defunding the troops.  While this is the step that should be taken, if the Democrats in Congress want to withdraw, doing so could be political suicide.  Were the sentiments about defunding this close, it is a sure thing that the Dems would defund.  I suspect this part of the poll was either phrased poorly or had a bad sampling pool.

 There was clear support, however, for the kinds of conditions proposed by Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.), who wants to establish requirements for the training and resting of military units that would have the effect of limiting the number of troops available to send to Iraq.

Murtha’s plan has drawn fire in the House, including from some of his Democratic colleagues, after it was announced on a liberal Web site. The Post-ABC News poll, which did not associate the plan with Murtha, found that 58 percent of Americans said they support such new rules. Even some Americans, 21 percent, who supported the president’s troop increase said they would favor rules for training and resting troops.

Rep. Murtha’s plan has solid merit.  This was posted, bravely by “Oak Leaf” and Polipundit.com, and he was crucified for daring to agree with Congressman Murtha.  Troops do need time to refit and retrain.  This is particularly true in the all volunteer military forces, which have much less manpower to draw upon than in previous wars where conscription was used.

 Also, the type of warfare, which our armed forces have not been trained, nor is it within our doctrine, find themselves engage within, has a geometric rate of causing troops to revitalize themselves.  I for one would love to see the TOE reports for each unit, and Rep. Murtha’s refitting and retraining goals make sense, but, would likely be used, and this appears rather obvious, to deny the commanders the assets they need to complete their operational missions.

 Early indications are the surge is having a positive effect on day to day operational conditions within Baghdad.  This combined with more direct involvement by Iraqi security forces, and redrawn rules of engagement may yield a high level of success.  Sadly, the way this issue is being used as a political football, will the smiles which will abound if that occurs be a result of the mission’s success or failure be due the results in the case of success, or the ability to wipe a political opponents nose in something unpleasant to smell.

Tax Dollars to Spend for Sex Change Operation

Filed under: Education,Gay Rights,Politics — avoiceofreason @ 5:36 am

From Britt Hume’s Political Grapevine A family court judge in Manhattan is set to order taxpayers to fund a $20,000 sex change operation for a 21-year-old man. The New York Post reports Judge Sheldon Rand will rule the man suffers from a gender identity disorder and that surgery is the recognized treatment. The man’s legal battle began before he was 18 — when he was cared for by the city’s Children’s Services administration.Manhattan city lawyers say the man has not complied with previous treatment recommendations and does not have stable housing or employment. The city plans to appeal the judge’s ruling after it comes out later this week.

When you thought you had heard everything then you hear this.  I’m trying – really hard – to be open minded about this, but it’s not working.  However, I can relate an interesting anecdote which is related.

A friend of mine is an Assistant Principal at a high school, also in NY.  A while back a substitute teacher was called in, and when they arrived, the arrival rose more than a few eyebrows.  Dressed in pumps, fashionable clothes, complete with earrings and makeup, “she” arrived.  However, she was named “Mr.” S****** .    Needless to say the students at that High School had an interesting day. 

The school handled it well.  They assigned the per diem teacher to office work, and immediately called the superintendent, who contacted some board members.  Obviously, the teacher was not recalled.  It seems that the way this school handled the situation was a good move.  Another school was victimized by the same person, and was escorted off the building.  They were sued and “Mr. S******* was awarded a large settlement by the school, which decided it didn’t wish to fight this out in court.

I still haven’t thought of a good reason for tax dollars to go for a sex change operation.

Arnie Backs McCain

Filed under: Politics — avoiceofreason @ 5:10 am

I was reading this post at Liberatas 01 talking about “The Governator’s” backing of Senator McCain.

Much of the conversation that the Governor and the Senator had was concerning global warming.  This is an issue that some ideologues, of the extreme Right of the GOP will not even admit may be a possibility.  Beyond the known fact that pollution has negative impacts on standards of living should be enough, but some of these clowns honestly believe that any idea which has the tinge of “liberalism” – what’s so liberal about “conserving” our planet, is to be decried. 

Although at this point I am supporting former NYC Mayor Giuliani, I believe that Senator McCain is an important figure not merely because of the boldness he stakes to be his own voice in politics, but also because of the civility his dealings in politics have always embodied.  Senator McCain’s willingness to tackle tough issues head on, and sometimes that means to go to a more Centrist position, make him as well as the former mayor, and the Governor of California, anathema to many of the hard right bend within the GOP.

 The trait that all three of these leaders demonstrate is compassion about people.  Again, it is high time the hard right realize that the perception they give off about the GOP is that it doesn’t care about people.  One can be Conservative socially or fiscally, and understand that there is room for synthesis within the political process.  Another trait that these three share is an ability to form consensus and work across the aisle.  This has been done many times by Senator McCain, and Mr. Giuliani effectively governed one of the most liberal cities in the nation.  Governor Schwarzanager, beyond being married to a Kennedy, and I will confess that seeing Senator Kennedy stand with a Republican as he claimed victory was a thrilling moment for this person who respects all people who offer public service, has taken on both the left and the right in California.  Despite some rocky roads, he has set the state in a good direction, and this is reflected by the level of support he enjoys.

Libertas correctly states, “Any Republican trying to smear these men or to undermine their campaign runs the risk of conceding the race to the Democrats before it’s even underway.”  The time is now for the GOP to be that Big Tent where kow-towing to the “Party line” is not required.  We are the party of Lincoln, and should remember his model.  Lincoln’s cabinet was filled with his most vocal opponents.  He did not want just to hear the words of “Yes men”, but wanted a true dialogue to guide this nation.

 This is a recipe for success, if only reason prevails.  Sadly, there is no guarantee of that ever happening.

Giuliani Looking Like GOP’s Best Hope

Filed under: Politics — avoiceofreason @ 4:45 am

Real Clear Politics has released a poll which shows that America’s Mayor is favored by all of the candidates in the Democratic Party field.  Mr. Giuliani’s aggregate lead over Senator’s Clinton and Obama and former Senator Edwards range from 4% to 5%.  The only outlier seems to be Zogby’s poll which has Senator Obama with a 6% edge over the former mayor of NYC.

Senator McCain also is faring well against the Democratic contenders with Obama nudging out the Arizona Senator by 0.2% and with former Senator Edwards lagging 2.3% behind.   All of these trends must be troubling for the Arizona Senator, who is also trailing behind Mayor Giuliani.

The worst news seems to be for Mitt Romney who is being clobbered by all three Democratic candidates.  While Romney may score high marks with some elements of the base, the former Massachusetts Governor trails from a range of 11% , 16% and 18%.  I would suspect that Romney’s campaign, which is not eliciting much excitement, may not make it in a viable state to the primaries.

The Governator Speaks! You’d Better Listen!

Filed under: Politics — avoiceofreason @ 3:44 am

Schwarzenegger: ‘Politics Is About Compromise’

The “Governator” came out and spoke about the deep rifts in the political spectrum today.

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger accused Washington leaders Monday of divisiveness and partisanship, chiding them to learn the lessons of his state and start to cooperate.

“Politics is about compromise. It is about give-and-take. Doesn’t anyone here in Washington remember that chapter from their civics book?” the Republican governor said in a speech to the National Press Club.

“How come Republicans and Democrats out here don’t schmooze with each other?” he asked in prepared remarks.

You can’t catch a socially transmitted disease by sitting down with people who hold ideas different from yours,” said Schwarzenegger, a moderate who has frequently split from his party.

This is the other reason that the Governor, other than his citizenship, would never be elected to any national office in the Republican Party.  The GOP base has a hard right stance, which makes it difficult for any person with moderate or progressive views to be taken seriously as a leader.  Yet, Schwarzenegger has managed to do reasonably well in California.  However, California, like New York, is an area where most hard right Conservatives do not fare as well.  Politics have come a long way since the day of Reagan, and Reagan was as much of a pragmatist as he was a Conservative.  Reagan knew the importance of cobbling deals in the back room after a day of debate.  It is said that one of “The Gippers” best buddies was Tip O’Neill, who was about as establishment New Deal Democrat as they came.  Both of these leaders were able to come to synthesis on many issues.  This is typically a good thing in governance, and reflects the pragmatism of Americans at large.  As a culture we have a healthy amount of skepticism towards ideologues.

Schwarzenegger, in town for a National Governors Association meeting, has urged setting timelines for bringing troops home from Iraq, an approach favored by many congressional Democrats. Without mentioning either party by name, he implicitly criticized the approach of both parties during Congress’ recent debates on the Iraq war.

“What is the point of stirring up bitterness over nonbinding resolutions? What is the point of each side preventing the other side from conducting a vote?” he asked. “The point, of course, is political advantage. It’s certainly not to the people’s advantage.”

Majority Democrats in the House and Senate have advanced nonbinding resolutions to oppose President Bush’s troop increase plan for Iraq. The resolution passed the House this month, but failed to reach a vote in the Senate when Republicans blocked an end to debate.

The people do benefit when positive legislation is promoted by Congress.  Consider NCLB, which has problems, but also has changed the landscape of public education.  Many of the results of NCLB after its first five years are positive, with indications of increased student achievement already being shown.  What is most encouraging about the gains are that the greatest rate of positive change has been among minorities and low income, urban students.  This was the area which had the greatest need.

The problem with the hard Conservatives, is that many people who are everyday Americans are very comfortable, and have no desire to turn the clock back on programs from The New Deal and The Great Society.  I am amazed when some ultra Conservatives talk about being desirous of social balancing as if that is a negative quality.  The concept of justice and egalitarianism are hallmarks of the founding documents of this country.

One of the problems that many centrists face is the balkanization from the left, which is probably more extreme within ranks of the Democratic Party than the Republican Party.  Within the Democratic Party there is no room for social conservatives but fiscal progressives.  There is certainly no room for social progressives with Hawkish foreign policy views.  The real possibility of Senator Lieberman switching over to the Republican Party is a warning bell to moderate Democrats who, according to Mort Kondrache, “May have won the election over Iraq, only to lose it back if Lieberman switches.”  There is no more any room for statesman such as Scoop Jackson, Daniel Partrick Monyhan, Sam Nunn, and even the greatest three Democratic Presidents, Roosevelt, Kennedy, and Truman would be pushed out by the far left position of the base.

 What has happened to a society where landmark legislation such as The Great Society with its emphasis on attempting to redress the inequalities which are inherently joined with poverty.  Being poor is not usually a choice, it is at the source a case of being born in within the circumstances, and while education and hard work are the best ways out of poverty, the deck was stacked, and still is in many of these circumstances.

 Kudos to the Governator.  Although he is a bit more liberal even than myself, and I have been labeled more than once as a RINO, his speaking on the need for a social and civil discourse are a positive addition to the political forum.

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