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Archive for August, 2013

Bag It

So, I know my mind works a little differently.  I was fixing up my coffee at the coffee bar in Panera Bread.  Somebody behind me ordered a French baguette.  The only thing I could think of was…

And Francois begot Maurice.  Maurice begot Andre’….

Sometimes it is lonely in here.

 

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Categories: Oddities

School is Out

Just finished reading an ebook – actually, more of a long essay, but the price is right – by Ron Harrington, a retired Oklahoma school teacher.  It is called, “Instead of School.

While people in my end of the political pool tend to be against the public school system – and rabidly so! – Harrington goes quite a bit beyond that.  He comes out strongly against schools of any kind – public, private, religious.

His reasoning is very sound.  I will explain it in my own way.

Imagine to yourself going to visit friends with teenage children.  You sit at their table, parents and two or three teenagers.  You marvel at how adult these kids are, how mature, well-behaved, polite, and engaged.  You remember them as screaming toddlers, obviously long in the past.  You wish there were more kids like these sitting in front of you.

A normal reaction, because most of our experience with kids is not in small groups, it is with large groups.  You have seen them in schools and sporting events.  You have seen a dozen or more cruising the mall together, amongst other groups of a dozen.  You have shared movie theaters and pizza parlors with them.  They are all misbehaved, shouting, shoving, causing damage, snatching merchandise off the shelves, throwing popcorn at the screen.  It is all very horrid and nothing like your friends’ teenagers, with whom you enjoyed a lovely evening.

But the truth, as ever, is sad, because those wonderful teenagers would likely be – and probably sometimes are – exactly the same as the mall kids, when they are hangin’  with their homies (if I got that phrase right).  The social dynamics of children are such that they egg each other on, constantly, whipping each other up and daring each other to higher and higher flights of youthful abandon.  In a Rebel-without-a-cause manner, they most respect the most disrespectful.  They create and inhabit a world of chaos, seemingly without a choice.

This is something we all really know, both in our heads and in our hearts.  Yet, we insist on gathering kids together in large groups – not for a couple of hours at the mall, but for seven hours a day, five days a week – and then try to teach them things.  This is full and complete madness.  The kids persist in being kids and very little learning actually happens.

When you have buildings full of hundreds of kids, control is not an option.  From the point of student safety and staff liability, control will always have to be the first priority.  And the long-held holy grail of individualized instruction to meet the needs of the individual student, will always fall afoul of both the need to control and the need to measure results.  For more on this, read Harrington.

He is quite clear that, while private and religious schools tend to do a better job at educating children – more selective with fewer restrictions – that they do, in the end, suffer from the same problems and, as a consequence, are not able to educate children to their true abilities.

Here is a thought for you:  set the Way-Back Machine to colonial America.  Or Europe during the same period.  Where in any of this period do you ever see large groups of children together with only a couple of adults in charge?  Or even without adults?  Pretty much never.  When not at home, kids are out with their family.  Maybe they are out with a couple of neighbor kids.  Mostly, when not at home, they are in church or helping their parents shop or attending festivals.  In all these cases, except playing with neighbors, they are with large swaths of adults and distinctly in the minority.  If I am to believe Mark Twain, the only time they are likely to get in trouble is when playing with other kids – or in school, because Twain saw the beginning of the school revolution.

I mention all that because, if you talk about doing away with public schools or just schools, one of the first arguments you will hear is about socialization.  It seems, one of the only lessons that is taught well in schools is the supposed value of schools to society.  Children need to be taught, we are told, to socialize with other children.

Why?

Why is socializing with children a required life skill?  Where did we get this idea?  Why teach a savage how to act with other savages?  Isn’t the point of childhood to learn how to be an adult?  Today, all kids really worry about is how to get along with other kids, trying to fit in, trying to be cool.  Screw the textbook!  I need those new jeans!  And all of what they do and truly care about becomes useless to them the day after graduation.  If they graduate.

Harrington’s solution, which he details brilliantly, is to return to the time-honored tradition, used throughout the history of civilization, of tutorial.  That is, mostly self-study, with a tutor meeting the student one-on-one a couple of hours a week.  Certainly, modern technology should be able to improve on the Lincoln-reading-by-candlelight model by quite a bit.  Real individual education at a fraction of the cost, in an atmosphere that actually rewards learning.

Yes, kids will still have the opportunity to meet with other kids in groups: sports, scouts, 4H, church.  But they would also have the opportunity to meet with adults.  A girl wants to learn how to quilt, she joins a quilting group, learning the skills in a cross-generational manner and, in the process, learning how to socialize with adults – a far more useful life-skill.  Apprenticeship would probably come back into vogue, a great way to learn a career and an even better way to learn that you don’t want that career, before you have years invested in training.

Of course, you know all the reasons that this can never be allowed to happen.  There are teachers unions and party politics and subsidized day-care for working parents.  There is the whole equal access to education thing.  There is the phony heroics and idolatry of high school sports.  There is the school as the de facto town square thing.  And socialization.  Don’t forget socialization.

In the end, the schools were only ever good at one thing: training a couple of generations of factory workers.  Absent the overt need for highly-regimented workers, the schools lose most of their arguments.  Meanwhile, year after year, kids are living through a hellish Lord of the Flies environment, which gives them very little in the way of life skills and from which some of them never fully recover.  It out and out wastes over a decade of their lives.

Yet we all grew up with it.  It all seems normal to us.  How do we solve the agonizing problem of the schools when people, at most, think they are simply being badly run and are not the cause of the problem in the first place.

I am not seeing a solution here, but I think I am going to widen my criticism of public schools to a criticism of schools in general, as opposed to actual education.  Maybe we should make Lord of the Flies required reading.

Oh.  Wait.

 

Categories: Pet Peeves, Trends

A Slow Summer

I was going to write something else – and may still after this – but as I checked my email and websites and logged into WordPress, I was once again reminded of something:  The Hamptons suck!

Bandwidth, that is.

I imagine this is a common refrain for anyone who lives in a seasonal tourist area, but it is a fact that our population out here swells amazingly in the summer, especially on the weekends, and to a somewhat lesser amount during Spring and Autumn weekends.  The puts a strain on resources – roads, utilities, stores, restaurants – during the tourist season that otherwise doesn’t exist.  Nobody wants to build more resources for minimal return.

So too the cable and phone companies.  From their perspective, there is simply little to be gained by building out their infrastructure out here for just a handful of days of use.  So, during the weekend, the internet is slow.  Cell phone calls are garbled and dropped.  It is enough to make one question the wisdom of working in The Cloud.

I guess I should look into what a satellite connection would cost, though I doubt it would be worth it – again, because we are only talking a handful of days.  Maybe I should just use Judo and find a place to go in Manhattan on the weekends, where I can “borrow” somebody’s wI-fi.

Or…  I could stage a festival of hopelessly self-indulgent and expensive art somewhere in Brookhaven Town and never be bothered out here again.

 

 

Categories: Pet Peeves

Loring Revisited

In the late Seventies, I was stationed at Loring AFB in extreme northern Maine.  Canada was ten miles east AND ten miles north.  It ceased being an Air Force Base around twenty years ago and the locals have since struggled to find productive uses for the property.  They must have had a few successes.

Recently, I was able to spend a few minutes looking at satellite images, courtesy of Google Maps.  It seems most of what I knew, the buildings around which my life revolved, are gone now.

All of the octopus barracks buildings have been leveled, along with the mess hall and the post office underneath.  Gone is my office, though Dock 22 next door, where we stored our water trucks and hose carts, still stands.  All of the housing area, where married friends and coworkers lived, flattened.  All of the pump houses for the flightline fuel system are gone, along with the control pits, though I see a couple of large above-ground tanks next to a building that might represent a replacement hydrant system.  At the bulk storage area, the tanks are all standing, though probably rusting, while the office building, pump houses, fillstands, bottom loaders, and piping are all gone.  My only regular haunts that are still there are the base theater – which I have no idea what has happened to it – and the NCO (actually, all ranks) Club, which I believe is a local restaurant.

But the biggest change with Loring turns out to be my old friend Nick.  Here he is today:

 

Categories: Oddities

Password Protection

Not having an original thought in my head of late, I will simply copy the letter below from The Consent Chronicle, in the hopes that more people might see it.

For a dozen years, the FBI and NSA have spied on Americans and shredded the Constitution. They say the Patriot Act “authorizes” their abuses. That means…

If you repeal the Patriot Act, they have NO authorization!

This is increasingly urgent, because their snooping is only getting worse…

– The feds are demanding web firms hand over master encryption keys that shield my private Internet activities (http://shar.es/kR364)
– and they even want my passwords! (http://shar.es/kRHgV)

Hacking into my private data and communications is THE SAME THING as going through my possessions and papers without a court-issued search warrant… BRAZENLY stomping on the Fourth Amendment.

But even if the Fourth Amendment never existed, this activity is IMMORAL…
– It’s immoral to force Internet companies to break privacy agreements with customers
– A State that spies on its own people creates a culture of fear and self-censorship

I DO NOT CONSENT to this morally bankrupt behavior!

Rein in snoops like the FBI and NSA. Cut-off funding for their programs that violate the Fourth Amendment.

And REPEAL the Patriot Act!