A Voice of Reason: Sane Views for a Crazy World

August 7, 2013

Quote of the Day

Filed under: Uncategorized — avoiceofreason @ 4:59 pm
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The Yankees passed on Willie Mays because of race.  Imagine the ’51 outfield of Mays, Mantle and Dimaggio.  Racism is not only morally evil it’s bad business.  Roger Kahn “The Era”

(I like to imagine the M&M&M boys Mantle, Mays and Maris)

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Student Learning Among Minorities Flatlines

The WSJ had an interesting article about how the NAEP is reporting smaller gain for minority elementary students since President Obama has gone about dismantling some of the key provisions (the stick in the carrot/stick) of NCLB.  The article is interesting in its information and the data is not surprising that NAEP scores have diminished since many waivers have been granted.

Some may not like the source. That is fine.  My own experiences in education number nearly 30 years with many of them as a public/private school teacher, administrator, and now college professor.  Having participated in legislative sessions, written research which has become policy in China, participated in numerous regional, national and international research projects, and seeing children in a different way than I did as a teacher/administrator, but now as an observer, perhaps my bona fides carry some weight.

In dismantling NCLB a part of the President’s plan was to engage key constituent groups, most notably teacher unions who understandably were against many of the accountability programs.  Another part was to highlight differences for his brand of educational change the DOE offered in Race to the Top.

First – not that it is important – I am not inclined positively towards much of NCLB and it is matched in my ambivalence to  RTP.  I’m equally less than optimistic about the Common Core Standards (the latest silver bullet).  This has come after a great amount of research (much of it published in academe) my own experiences as a classroom teacher, administrator and college professor of teacher education.

I also want to add that when I taught I was very successful.  My students achieved particularly well in state tests before and after NCLB implementation.  This was true when I worked in a rather poorly funded parochial school comprised mostly of middle class and economically disadvantaged students who benefited from scholarships as well as when I worked in an upper middle-class predominantly White school system.  I also was able to work in a school system which was rather diverse with a high number of minority students with many both White and minority receiving free/reduced lunch where our test scores were rising when I was a building level administrator.

I am however horrified at the lack of basic skill sets which many elementary, middle and high school students demonstrate (I see this frequently when I go into the field to observe teacher candidates).  This sentiment sometimes turns to derision when I see what is passing off as education to those who enter college.  I am not one to mince words with those who aspire to be teachers since there is no point to it.  I let them know if they can’t pass entry level classes, can’t do basic research, hand in assignments, show up for class and field placements on time and write with proper conventions of language “they have no business entering the teaching profession”.  This sometimes brings a retort that “I love working with kids”.  My thought is “that’s nice” (translation = I don’t care).  However,  I recommend if they still wish to be a professional teacher they work on their skill sets or consider changing majors.  There is no point in being nice when giving this kind of news.  Just stick to the facts of their skill sets at that time and tell them what it will cost (count the cost are my words to them) to succeed.  Of course those students who are willing to work typically do become successful.  It is my experience that most really do not wish to fill in their own educational gaps and go on with their life.  Life is or should be a self-pruning tree.

The bottom line is always results.  This is true in education, sports or business.  BIll Parcells stated after directing the Giants to a Super Bowl win “you are your record”.  The record of education is mixed at best, but not getting better.

However, I offer a very different view regarding why this overall decline in education as well as ability to think occurs.  The elephant in the room which politicians and most policy wonks disregard is that research shows definitively in the Coleman Reports of the 60’s as well as the Monahan Reports of a few years later, and repeatedly in studies offered by many credible researchers that less than 10% of the sum of learning which occurs in a child (5-18) is due to circumstances in the school.  The overwhelming inputs are related to socioeconomic  factors and in particular input from peers and family.

Now, of course the 10% that occurs within classroom is important and we want strong teachers in all schools.  I am happy to report where I have worked the past few years our teacher candidates score very high on their PLT (Principles of Learning and Teaching) and the Content scores as well as their field placements.  This has been verified by our accreditation bodies (state, regional and national).  Yet, we do not give these graduates magic wands when they matriculate into their field.  This is partly due to the self-pruning tree I and my colleagues have employed in our Teacher Education Program.

Any who want to improve education need to realize that one can’t throw money to a problem or just measuring over and over does not improve results – which is the course the Feds and most states are taking.  Human achievement is rarely substantively changed by the State unless the normal conditions are so egregious that they violate basic human rights and dignity.

Changes in academic achievement occur when children have strong learning skills, inquiry skills and love of learning modeled by those closest to them.  This means by mothers and fathers and others whom they ideally come into contact with every day.  Strong families and strong communities mean strong schools.  The exception to this are residential educational facilities which by and large do exemplary work in educating severely disadvantaged youngsters, but a key element is the moral support of adults within that facility.   It doesn’t take a village to raise a child; it takes a family.  People may want to brush this off as moralistic clap-trap, but the numbers don’t lie.

Children need parents not mere DNA contributors, which is often the case in families in this nation today.  Everyone knows this to be true.

Of course there are many who will want to argue about the causes of poor families, which is an important conversation to have.  However, this does not change the bottom line – the “only” thing that ever matters – that as a group until families in their daily lives reach some level of commitment to their children education for the society will never occur.  The same can be said about any other interaction of youngsters in society.  Education results are just a mirror of society – and this society as a whole is failing.

August 2, 2013

Will MLB Play Hardball or Pitch Out in Recent Scandal?

Filed under: Uncategorized — avoiceofreason @ 6:38 pm
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Following in one of the myriad of articles about A-Rod and his possible ban from baseball.

http://www.boston.com/sports/baseball/2013/07/31/mlb-tells-union-which-players-plans-suspend/L4OwBAPJtcT7bL21WQb7GM/story.html

Here’s the summary:

  1. Word around the MLB camp-fire is that unless A-Rod caves in and undergoes a lengthy (200 game is the number rumored) suspension he may be banned for life.
  2. There is a possibility that he will be suspended from life which would keep him eligible for Hall of Fame.
  3. A-Rod was involved in recruiting other players for enhanced drugs (14) many of whom would face lengthy suspensions (most 50 days as 1st time violators)

The bottom line is that these players including MIL OF Braun violated well known rules regarding performance enhancing drugs.  There is a big difference between working within the game – the spit ball of lore comes to mind.  The use of performance enhancement drugs does as much much damage as the Black Sox Scandal of 1919 and Pete Rose betting on baseball games while he was a manager. 

It’s really time that baseball take the needed measure of doing what was done to those others who ruined the honesty of the game, ban them for life – no reprieve. The same should be done to juicers Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and yes, Barry Bonds.  They should have their records removed from the history books.  Thankfully the HOF committee has seen fit to keep this troika of cheaters well down in the ballot, but that doesn’t go far enough.

Roger Maris “earned” his record of 61 HR’s even with eight extra games and despite his taciturn nature is a credit to the game.  The same can be said for Hank Aaron who was basically scandal free in his career.  True it is believed that he used “greenies” pep pills but to compare the stimulant effect to what has gone on since the late 90’s is just stupidity.

Here’s the solution to avoid arbitrary enforcement.  Use of performance and body enhancing drugs is a lifetime ban on the first offense.  The players know the rules and while this deprives them of an income it does nothing else.  Today, countless everyday life people face harsh penalties for drug use, DWI etc.  By making the sport clean, as Landis did in 1920 – and yes he had his faults which were legion, the game was put above-board.

I could care less if a person using drugs whether they are narcotics or performance enhancement drugs in their personal life.  However, when baseball gives a slap on the wrist compared to the “millions” that the players gain by breaking the rules – the temptation is too much for many of them.  Ban them and be done with it. 

Drug testing of this sort is not a violation of life or liberty.  It has no punishment other than exclusion from a job due to violation of rules. The same needs to be said though of “all” members of society, particularly those who are in the “elite” class.  Firm application of sanctions sends messages that justice is equal and should in reality be blind far more often than current practice to mitigating circumstances. 

A-Rod – the other three players, and numerous others with Braun at nearly the top of the list deserve the special status afforded to Rose, Gandil, Cicotte, Shoeless Joe, Williams, Risberg, Felsch, Buck Williams, and McMullen.  Ban them for life as a very real lesson that the game is greater than any one or small group of players.

I am not saying he is a saint, but I remember when the Jeter/A-Rod comparison started.  I was laughed at by many when I said Jeter was by far the better player because of the Rings on his fingers and who he was and what he meant to the team.  I was right.  Baseball needs more players like Jeter who epitomize what is good about the game and what “can” be good about society.  Hard work, self sacrifice and a commitment to excellence are all models – and it may sound corny – which baseball can emulate to society at large. 

Baseball has been at its best when it has been ahead of the curve – Jackie Robinson in ’47 (which was way too late) is an example as well as rightfully pausing when Dr. King was murdered in 68 along with some teams and many players offering the same sign of respect to Senator Kennedy later in that horrible year of 1968. 

Equity and integrity at times must take precedence over the concept of “the free pass” which is “never” to be confused with Mercy as that trait requires another losing what is most dear for the good of another.  It’s time for MLB to play hardball with these guys and to not “pitch around” this issue.

August 1, 2013

Baseball – My Tenuous Cord with this Culture

Filed under: Uncategorized — avoiceofreason @ 6:59 am
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It’s funny how a phrase that resonated with me years ago when I was serving in the military and shortly thereafter and became a song has become so insipid sounding to me.   Beyond that all Americans (other than those naturalized) are Americans by mere mistakes of birth – or if you will a Providence (which is my term of choice).

I’m not going to go on a diatribe here, it’s too late and my reasons for a lack of affinity are so great they could make a laundry list.   The past few years I’ve done a large amount of soul searching through personal financial hardships – of which I don’t blame anyone and this has caused me to perhaps become more reflective and focused upon other perhaps more spiritual aspects of my life.  However, I will give a very short list of what I feel has caused my lack of affinity.

  1. A series of wars fought since WW II which have led me to come to the opinion that the Americans are citizens of the most warlike and violent country on the planet and could contend with a long list of “bad guys of history”.(BTW I am a veteran of the Airborne).
  2. A cultural disconnect I suffer with most citizens.  In my perspective most institutions either by design or effect have one purpose – to kill insightful self dialogue leading to real dialogue and I feel this is influenced by the popular culture and by the State.
  3. The sense of a growing rise in the power of the State – which I strongly believe and could opine about is linked to the first point.  Nations which become militaristic always lose their own self identification other than by brute force.  This is true whether it is by force of arms or force of governance run rampant.

I have somewhat retreated into something comfortable and familiar – baseball.  I’ve been reading some books, viewing some games, looking at old documentaries (along with other pursuits trust me) and came to a startling revelation the other day whilst listening to the National Anthem.  The only thing that makes me feel connected to this country and culture is baseball.

In a way that may be sad, but it is really how I have felt.  I no longer care about my citizenship in the United States.  I feel those who do are self-important and if you look at the behaviors which can be viewed from a political left, right, or center, in the end one really should ask of what are you proud.

Even hearing the National Anthem doesn’t move me so much anymore.  It has become more the ritual of the song that I enjoy, not the words at all – and God forbid if some “Proud to be an American twit” is waiting for the flyover while it is played. True I still can get a lump in my throat by hearing “To the Colors”, but that is different.  I always found that a sad song of reflection about sacrifice to a community.

As far as  baseball songs – give me Take me out to the ballgame anytime.  When I hear that I feel connected to something that “may” pass as American.

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