Thursday, March 28, 2013

Old McDonald Had a Farm and Some Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria in His Chicken

IN NEWS YOU PROBABLY IGNORED—which means the lives of all your loved ones are now in danger—scientists in Britain and Denmark recently discovered a link between antibiotics used in animal feed and new strains of antibiotic resistant bacteria.

You may have heard this part already: They’ve been doing a lot of testing in Europe recently, after horse meat showed up in numerous products, such as products labeled “beef lasagna.” Secret ingredient: Secretariat.

In any case, you are probably asking yourselves right now, as you sit down for a tasty breakfast, lunch or dinner: “Is it safe to eat this sausage patty or hamburger?”

We could explain the science behind this sordid tale. But let’s be honest. You are probably too busy to take time out of your day to read a long story involving complex science terminology—and a certain author is too slothful to offer in-depth analysis.

Anyway, who cares about that? What matters is that cows are trying to kill you.

Don't laugh. He plans to kill you.

Why haven’t we been warned about these bovine assassins? Not to mention killer flies? Do some research people! Four years ago we were warned when another study found that flies were transferring drug-resistant bacteria to humans. How you ask? You don’t want to know.

You do? Then let scientists bear the bad news:
“Flies are well-known vectors of disease and have been implicated in the spread of various viral and bacterial infections affecting humans, including enteric fever, cholera, salmonellosis, campylobacteriosis and shigellosis…”

… And, blah, blah, blah. Okay, that was Dr. Jay Graham, speaking. His report explains that he and other scientists collected chicken poop and flies and compared the genes of the bacteria…oh, hell…the key takeaway is this:
“Our study found similarities in the antibiotic-resistant bacteria in both the flies and poultry litter we sampled. The evidence is another example of the risks associated with the inadequate treatment of animal wastes.”

How is this happening—right under our noses—right there on our dinner plates? Damn! Get away from here you flies.

Let’s keep it simple. Old McDonald has some chickens, “with a cluck, cluck, here…” He feeds the chickens, low levels of antibiotics so they don’t get sick, or if they do, they feel better. “With a cluck, cluck, there…” Sometimes these antibiotics make the chickens grow faster. (Feel free to bust out with an “E-I-E-I-O” whenever the mood strikes you.) So Old McDonald makes more money and buys Mrs. Old McDonald a shiny new tractor.

Meanwhile, the chickens (cows, pigs, etc.) take dumps in the barnyard.

Unfortunately, the animals have been fed so many antibiotics that various forms of bacteria—forms with names much too long to include here—have developed resistance to antibiotics humans use to protect themselves from killer infections. In other words: you eat meat from the cow Old McDonald sold to the slaughterhouse and the cow gets his revenge by trying to kill you. Or: the fly lands in the pile of chicken crap and walks around for a while and gets his tennis shoes all dirty and disgusting and then flies over to where you are having your pancakes.

You are probably asking yourself at this point, “What can I do to protect my loved ones and what can we as a society do to defend ourselves from dangerous farmyard denizens, not to mention deadly insect aerial attack?”

The U. S. government, in the guise of the Food and Drug Administration might step in, and in a way they have tried. But you know what the Tea Party types like to say: Government is always the problem, never the solution. Free enterprise and antibiotic resistant bacteria! Not to mention those profits! And lobbyists for big farmers’ groups and drug manufacturers all agree. If you limit antibiotic use on the farm, what you really want to do is unplug Granny Chicken. So, what’s a politician supposed to do? Turn down a fat campaign contribution? According to David A. Kessler, writing in the New York Times today, there’s lots of money to be made here, and where money is involved, maybe public safety will come…how might one say this…second.

Kessler notes that drug manufacturers sold 30,000,000 pounds of antibiotics for livestock last year alone. That represents 80% of their business. He adds:
“We have more than enough scientific evidence to justify curbing the rampant use of antibiotics for livestock, yet the food and drug industries are not only fighting proposed legislation to reduce these practices, they also oppose collecting the data. Unfortunately, the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, as well as the F.D.A., is aiding and abetting them.”

Well, what are you going to do? That’s how it goes in Congress these days. Nothing ever gets done and our elected officials have an approval rating about as low as the approval rating we accord drug-resistant bacteria.

Just because there are growing signs of significant dangers from antibiotic-resistant bacteria coming in from around the world—you might think drug companies and giant agribusinesses should be more careful and take a hit to the bottom line if necessary.

And…you’d be dreaming.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Loveland Students Make Good: Part Two

AS LOYAL READERS OF MY BLOG already know (and I mean, of course, both of them), I decided to do a post or two about what former students are currently doing in their lives. I keep in touch with as many as I can.

Sometimes I visit them in jail...

Ha, ha. No, seriously, when I hear people say, “What’s wrong with young people today?” I think to myself, “Nothing.”

I should also note that some of my former students no longer classify as “young.”

So here’s Part Two.

Wes Greiwe said he wasn’t sure I’d want to include him because he hadn’t been doing that much since he graduated; but I must disagree. The year I had Mr. Greiwe in class he was one of my favorite students. Wes did in school what all of us should do every day. He made the absolute most of his talents.

I hate it when people say: “He gave 110%.” So, I will say that Wes gave 100% effort every day and that’s the highest any of us can go. 

He explained in a note what he’s doing as a grown up person:
I still have a great work ethic…I know I used to bore my teachers and other kids in class always talking about old cars. I’m involved with old cars more than ever now. I restored my 1968 Chevy Corvair and I’m heavily involved in two local car clubs and hold office in both. I love to volunteer and I do a lot of work with Big Brothers Big Sisters. I have a 16-year-old little brother that I’ve been matched with for over 2 years.

I love this picture Wes sent (he’s at left) and I’m willing to say if Mr. G. can help mold this young man, he’s going to turn out just fine.

Wes Greiwe and his little brother.
His Corvair looks like new!

My memory of Brian Pope is of a funny young man who didn’t necessarily have the best grades. I didn’t either as a youth, so I always believed every kid had untapped talents and tried to bring them out. I think Mr. Pope liked school about as much as I did in seventh grade—which wasn’t very much. So, maybe one time he got in trouble in my class.

I’m sure it was never more than that.

He sent me a kind message recently when I asked if former students would like to be included in this kind of post: “Anything for you…It would be an honor, sir! My fondest memories during what could’ve been the toughest part of my childhood were in your classroom. I’m glad you played a role in molding me into the man I am today (including my times spent in the hallway in ‘time out’).”

How, then, is Bryan doing these days? He’s doing great. On Facebook, under “About,” he has a heading called “Keepin’ it Real.” Under that he has: “Integrity. Character. Truth.” I’d call that an excellent standard for living.

I was checking out his photos and saw he worked for Habitat for Humanity down in New Orleans. For a regular job, he fixes helicopters and...flies them. Not bad, Mr. Pope, your talents are clear.

Bryan Pope delivers a bride and groom to the ceremony.


I'm sure you all recognize Bryan.


Gerri Sroka, center rear.

Gerri Sroka was a bubbling fountain of enthusiasm when I had her in my history class. She was a caring, kind individual and from what I can tell she should be perfect for her present tasks in life. Having completed the nursing program at Galen College of Nursing, where she received her Associates Degree, she went on to earn a Bachelors of Science at Grand Canyon University and did a few online courses along the way. She is now a health professional, working as a registered nurse at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Clifton, Ohio.

It’s tough work, she says, but she knows she makes a difference.

She works the night shift on a medical/surgical/detox unit as one of the RN leaders for detox patients. In her spare time she works at Midwest Cheer Elite coaching special needs teams. She’s been involved with that for seven years now.

(I will not mention that Gerri, below, makes me envious because she is still thin.)



Kelly Harris, looking quite dapper.
Michele in yellow, once a star student of mine.

Let’s just say I had Kelly Harris in class a long time ago. (Michele Bigham Harris, his lovely wife is also a former student; but she must be like thirty years younger, or something.)

Kelly wasn’t stacking up A’s and B’s when I met him—but he was one of those guys you could tell could grow into something good and he did.

Here’s how he remembers life in junior high (Loveland became a middle school in 1991, I think) and what he has been doing more recently:
As a junior high student I was pathetic! I did poorly in school, I quit sports, I was always told I day dreamed all the time, even from you! (Later found out ADHD). I barely passed both years. I was the smallest male or female in my grade. I was extremely introverted.

I didn’t come out of my shell until about 17 years old then it was “GAME ON!!!!”
I have no idea how and when it happened or why but something clicked at one point because I can answer almost every question on Jeopardy, I have been self-taught in LEAN manufacturing and World Class manufacturing methods. I have owned 5 different businesses, all did well. I currently own a roofing company and am starting up a hunting and fishing website.
Oh and can we put on your blog I am huge 2nd Amendment supporter????? Just kidding I know, I know, it’s your blog.

Kelly also had a guiding hand in starting up the Miller Brewery in Trenton, Ohio. Well, I think you can tell, Kelly has worked hard and done well and I will keep sending him postings on Facebook until I convince him that Barack Obama is the best president ever.

That might take some time.

Kelly and daughter Morgan spending some quality time together in the woods.
Okay, I'm cheating here. This is Morgan Harris.
(I was never so lucky as to have her in class.)
She's a five-year survivor of cancer,
which means she's tougher than a platoon of Navy Seals.
Throw in a few ninjas and marines. Still tougher!!!

Stephanie Jacob was one of the true unfortunates in Loveland Middle School history—having been stuck in my classes two years in a row. (In a bizarre turn of events, I was shifted out of my seventh grade position before the start of my final year in teaching and moved up to eighth grade.) I remember occasionally reminding Stephanie to push herself; because I knew she had wonderful talents. Her writing, for example, impressed me.

Her cheerful personality was a bonus and in two years of working with Stephanie I don’t think I ever saw her in a bad mood.

What is this young lady up to at present? She explains:
I am now studying Nursing at the University of Cincinnati, although I am switching to Good Samaritan College of Nursing next year. I’m excited to get out of school and start helping people! I had you for 7th and 8th grade (the year you retired). I remember on your last day how we all made a tunnel and chanted your name as you ran through it and left your classroom for the last time. You were the first teacher going through school that I felt treated us like young adults instead of little kids.

Stephanie was easy to treat like a young adult—and I’m willing to bet she’ll be a success as an adult adult, too.

Stephanie thinking:
"What kind of vegetable is this?"

Ms. Jacobs and a certain young man.
They look like a nice young couple.

One of the pleasures of teaching so long in the same place was that you were able to see how many former students turned out—and sometimes have their children come into your class a generation later. This was the case when Toni Gardner showed up on my roster in 2006.

Something about her seemed familiar.

Pleasant demeanor. Yes. Open, frank look. Yes, I’d seen it before. That smile, that hair…and what I later found Toni had…that hard-work ethic.

Angie Baxter Gardner, former student
at the time of this picture;
future student, Toni Gardner, in lap.

Just as I suspected, her mother was a former student (we won’t say from how far back), Angie Baxter Gardner, a star in my class during an era when I wore polyester pants. Angie was super-dependable, even as a teen, and more than one teacher used her to babysit his or her children.

So, you know Angie had to be cool.

Toni was like a Mini-Me version of Mom, but with plenty of character of her own. It was a pleasure to have her in class every day and she filled me in on what she’s up to of late:
I’ve been working at Dewey’s pizza in harpers point for almost 2 years as a hostess, and I’ve recently started to manage and serve a little too, even though I’m not suppose to till I’m 19 but I’ll be 19 in may so almost there. I also have been going to the University of Cincinnati without a major as of right now but I have been applying to nursing schools including Christ college of nursing at Christ hospital and Good Samaritan college at the hospital. I will be working as a day camp counselor this summer along with Dewey's and helping my mom with her conceal and carry classes. Ill actually be taking my conceal and carry on the 6th of April! Really pumped for that!

In other words, two classy ladies—now packing heat.

Toni in show choir at LHS.
Standing one row higher, to the left (in the picture) of the young man at center.

The Gardner Ladies.


It’s too bad I failed to keep better notes on all of my students and all of the great work they did. I’ll mention two young ladies together here and then tell you about them separately and we’ll see what two former star students are up to right now. I had Cam Catalfu in class in 2001 and Andrea Dubell in 2006.

They don’t know each other. But what fantastic work they both did. I used to ask every student to do one project per quarter, or four for the year. You could pick skits, or do creative writing, or art or make models or movies or write poems. Cam did four highly creative projects, that I know, and earned four perfect 100’s. I wish I remembered what they were all about; but trust me, her talents were clear. Andrea was the same kind of quality student. I know she did one amazing project involved puppets…but can’t remember exactly how it was set up. 

Andrea had real character, too. (Cam was the same.)

Both young ladies made the job of a teacher almost embarrassingly easy. So, what are they both up to now?

Let’s check with Cam first:  She attended Wittenberg University first, where she majored in East Asian Studies, then earned a Masters in Japanese Studies at Michigan. Naturally, she decided to put her education to work and it was off to Japan she went. Today she’s living and in Mizunami, Japan. She’s an assistant language instructor and having a great time.

It turns out that Andrea and Cam have something else in common:  an abiding interest in languages. Andrea is currently studying French at Ohio University (and we commend her for her wisdom in choosing to attend that bastion of learning nestled beside the beautiful Hocking River). Last year she was fortunate enough to take a bit of time and travel to France.

Since Ms. Dubell is still in college we cannot know where she is headed five or ten or thirty years from now. Wherever it is, it’s assuredly good. 

At Hikone Castle:  Cam's the one in red hair in case you didn't guess.

My experience was that everything Cam did
was creative and unique.
Andrea Dubell (second from left) in France.

Andrea is also a skilled photographer:  Fort St. Andre, France.

Since teachers hope to aid students along the path to success, it seems fitting to end with this photo (below), taken by Andrea on her trip to France.

The path in life is open. You can go almost any way. 

For teachers, it can be reassuring to know most of your students are going to find their own path; and they are going to do just fine.



Sunday, March 24, 2013

Loveland Students Make Good: Part One

IT HIT ME RECENTLY, that if I was going to keep doing my blog about teaching, I should say more about former students. I still keep in touch with as many as I can, as many of my peers in the profession like to do. We go into teaching, after all, because we hope we can help young people develop their talents and succeed in life. It’s fun to see that almost all of them do.

The idea for this post came to me when Mark Brotherton sent me a message via Facebook. He admitted he wasn’t always the hardest-working student—and I reminded him I wasn’t much of a student either when I was young. But here’s what stood out. Mark thanked me for what I had done and mentioned how proud he was to have raised three fine sons.

I thought that said all that needed to be said of any father and the kind of man Mr. Brotherton had become.

Mark still looks as thin as he did  more than 30 years ago.
(I wish I could say the same.)

Lindsay Elizabeth just happened to “friend” me on Facebook while I was working on this idea; so she gets included quick. She’s an art teacher now and doesn’t use her last name on Facebook; so I won’t use it either. I will mention that I had her in class, probably in seventh grade, in 1995 or 1996.

She was “funny and hard-working” according to brief notes I kept about students, a practice I started  around that time. (I wish I had kept better records in the early years because teachers do forget.) Now she’s making a difference in her own inimitable way. Having Lindsay in class (and the same was true of her brother and sister) made my job easier, but I appreciate her saying that I had something to do with inspiring her to go into the profession. 

The note (below) says a lot about how much teachers like Lindsay make an impact on young minds.


Lindsay Elizabeth (left) demonstrates
her way with kids.



Jonathan Davis.

Jonathan Davis (above) was in my seventh bell class my final year of teaching. What I noticed was that any time a question of right and wrong came up (as such questions often do in discussing human history), I knew Mr. Davis would take a strong stand for the right.

He also helped me get a young veteran, named Seth Judy, to come to school and talk about the time he spent in combat in Iraq. (It might not look like it from this picture—since he looks kind of like Satan—but Jonathan has the sort of strong Christian values I admire…even though I’m pretty much a non-church goer myself.) 

I figure Mr. D., now attending Bob Jones College, is going to leave a positive mark on the world once he’s out of school.

Proof that Jonathan isn't just painting himself in college.
He's in the foreground, with glasses,
behind the student with a green shirt.

Deana Callahan a few years back.

Deana Callahan Wilisch (pictured above) found herself seated in my class in 1982. Now she’s a proud mother determined to raise her three daughters right: Kelsey, 15, Jessica, 11, and Kenzie, 9. Anyone who can raise good kids has my respect. I used to ask students to do 1000-word interviews with someone over the age of sixty (sounded old to me back then). Deana did a great report on her grandfather and I still remember how hard he said he had to work as a boy. 

You can kind of tell from the picture, Deana was a nice young lady to have in class, and she was kind not to kill me, even when I kept calling her “Deanna.”

And I’m still sorry that boy pulled her bra strap.


Deana and her girls, with husband.


Trinity Campbell with mom and dad.
Daughter of Davin and Jilian Partin Campbell.

Jilian with the ball. Mr. Miller trailing behind.
And who is that guy in blue shorts playing defense?

Jilian Campbell (seen above and once feared on hardwoods all over Cincinnati when she played under the name “Partin”) was in my history class in 2000. I thought at that time, and still think today, that she was one of the hardest-working kids I ever saw come through my door.

Jilian wrote to tell me what she’s been up to:
Davin is my husband, Trinity is my daughter and she’s 19 months old. I am a family support specialist at The Next Door’s Freedom Recovery Community, a non-profit serving women and their children overcoming addiction here in Nashville. We are permanent housing for up to 20 families with on-site supportive services. I came to this job in November after working 3 years at juvenile court as a probation officer.
I’m assuming (safely, I think), that Jilian is working hard at her new job.


The Vargo sisters:  Mandi, left, Abby, middle (I think I had her in class, too,
and Molly right (I believe she had Mr. Sharpless).
I often mix up sets of brothers and sisters in my mind. Curses!
Matt Vargo was also cool.

Mandi Vargo (pictured above), was another student in my class who stood out because she always wanted to do right. Hard worker. Lively and enthusiastic.

She got into education by way of a program called “Teach for America.” Today she does chemistry and physics for a Louisiana charter school. Most students come from poor homes, 93% qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, and almost all are minorities. So Mandi has to work a little harder to help—and that is what she does. She sent me a great email recently and described the course she’s been on for the last four years. “I realized early into that first year [in the classroom] that, not only did I have a knack for teaching, I truly enjoyed it.”

Mandi explained how she goes about her business:
Being a tiny white woman from the North who looks about the age of my students on a good day does not garner much respect based on physicality. I however, have (and have always had) one of the most productive and well behaved classrooms on campus. Why? Because I treat my kids like young adults, I allow them to earn freedoms by showing me that I can trust them, and I never ever bullshit them…Despite race, religion, income, or education level, every person craves respect and that can go a long way in the classroom and in building skills and confidence for life after high school.

If that isn’t what a teacher should be thinking, I’m dreaming. Mandi added, “Give me 4 walls and some kids and I promise you, learning will happen.”


Mandi, lower left. I think this is in her school.


Katelyn Altieri.

I remember having Katelyn (seen above, left) in class for several reasons. Not that she talked much—oh, no, no, not Katelyn. Mums the word with Katelyn.

Okay: Seriously, Ms. Altieri had a wonderful sense of humor and students who could make me laugh always made my job enjoyable. I also remember the day she did an oral book report on Night, Elie Weisel’s classic account of survival in a Nazi concentration when he was a teen. When Katelyn started telling about the book she wasn't smiling.

She was crying.

Now she sends me an instant message and tells me she’s a student “at northern Kentucky university for BFA Musical theatre. I was in the Main Stage show Legally Blonde. I was Galena (a delta nu) I am highly active in a sorority called Theta Phi Alpha, which is the singing sorority.”

I told her I thought she’d make a real contribution in years to come. She responded:
I’m trying my best. I really wanna head to New York when i graduate and audition like crazy and then have my own academy where kids can come and learn everything they need to know about musical theatre. dance singing. construction. costumes. all that jazz and put on a show too! and yes sir i did [read Night]. to this day i still love that book.

Brian Gorman.


Brian Gorman walked into my class a decade ago—and what I noticed as the year went by was his work kept improving. I always believed that was the mark any of us ought to be aiming for. A nice young man, always. Now, he’s working at Disney World down in Orlando. Based on his photo, I believe he’s dating Cinderella. (Brian above, left.)

On Facebook he describes himself: “I am currently fulfilling one of my biggest dreams. With the help and support of my family and friends, I moved down to Orlando, Florida to continue work with Walt Disney World as a lifeguard. I love my job and I love to make people happy. I couldn’t ask for anything else at the moment!”

You can kind of tell why he was a good young man to have in class just by reading that statement.


Wait a minute! That's Bryan but not Cinderella!!!
(This could be an episode on "Cheaters.")

Phil McDaniel.

I had Phil McDaniel for American history back in 1999. You never had a dull moment with Mr. McDaniel around. He liked history and he had a quip for every occasion. He was musically inclined, as well, and later joined the United States Marines. 

The Marines let him play with guns (see above).

Looking for something to add about Phil, I checked his “favorite quotes” section on Facebook and had to smile. As always, when I had the young man in class, I got a laugh. One favorite of Phil’s choices: 

“I’m gonna pistol whip the next one who says shenanigans.” 

(And, yes, Phil, like an old teacher, I corrected the spelling on that last word. Phil can be seen below. I’m sure you recognize him in red.)







Thursday, March 21, 2013

Pigs in the River: How Rupert Murdoch Got His Foot in the Classroom Door




HERE’S YOUR RIDDLE FOR THE DAY: What do Rupert Murdoch and dead pigs  in a river have to do with American education?

First, the pigs. No, not Murdoch. The real pigs.

If you don’t follow news out of China you may not have heard that 13,000 animal carcasses have been found recently floating in the river that supplies the drinking water to the city of Shanghai. Hard to believe,  that’s the good news.

In recent years, with China’s industry and trading influence booming, a hybrid communist-capitalist economy has taken shape. The result has been to combine the worst excesses of capitalist greed with the many forms of communist oppression. Chinese leaders apply their iron grip to squeeze billions out of the system for themselves and their families. Yet, while there may be no limits to rapacity and greed—even among leaders of a nominally communist nation—the environment has its limits. Spreading air and water pollution, and now thousands of rotting pigs, have forced officials to take action. This past December seventeen business people were sentenced to jail, including one for life, after they were found guilty of slaughtering and selling meat from more than 77,000 diseased pigs.

That’s why pigs in the river represent a sort of progress. Some shady operation was clearly dumping evidence.

Considering how hard communist authorities work to stifle dissent, including monitoring the internet, it was hard for reporters to ascertain the truth. At least one official suggested that—well—what can you do? The pigs had died during an unusual cold spat of winter weather. Bloggers skilled in circumventing the web censorship picked up the story and noted that weather had been typical for that time of year and that place in China, and started to investigate.

One humorist wondered if the pigs were part of some mass porcine suicide pact.

SO, WHAT DOES ANY OF THIS HAVE TO DO with Mr. Murdoch? The point is this:  that many business people will stop at nothing when it comes to piling up large stacks of dollars. Here, then, we turn to dear Rupert Murdoch, owner of News Corporation, a man whose career proves that point at every turning.

When you think of Mr. Murdoch you are probably not saying to yourself, “This is the very fellow I would most trust to save America’s schools.” Still, here he is, one foot already firmly inside the schoolhouse door. Few Americans paid the slightest attention at the time—but two years ago Murdoch forked out $360 million to gain a controlling interest in Wireless Generation, a major player in the sale of education-related technology.

What exactly led our favorite billionaire to jump into the field of American education? Let’s go to the News Corporation website and allow him to explain:
“When it comes to K through 12 education, we see a $500 billion sector in the U.S. alone that is waiting desperately to be transformed by big breakthroughs that extend the reach of great teaching,” said News Corporation Chairman and CEO, Rupert Murdoch. “Wireless Generation is at the forefront of individualized, technology-based learning that is poised to revolutionize public education for a new generation of students.”

If you are keeping all those bobbing carcasses in mind you will not be surprised to notice that Murdoch mentioned “$500 billion” first instead of “students.”

In fact, if you want to know what News Corporation might do if it ever came down to putting kids ahead of dollars, or dollars ahead of kids, simply Google: “Millie Dowler.”

That’s the overarching danger as corporations extend their reach into American classrooms. We know, where profits are concerned, that they won’t hesitate to dump dead pigs in the academic river. Fox News, of course, will assure us this business push into education is certain to work out just fine. The evidence shows otherwise. We already know about corporations’ crooked practices at for-profit colleges. We’ve seen the shady charter schools they found, too.

What else should we expect? We’re talking $500 billion in government spending; and no business person worth his or her bank account wouldn’t want to get a healthy slice of all that cash.

The question then is:  will the companies truly care about kids first, or will their motivation be profit? The testing industry, bloated by a decade of standardized testing, is already worth an estimated $1.7 billion annually. It’s only to be expected, then, when companies like Pearson spend millions to lobby politicians and keep those mandated tests on coming. It doesn’t bother anyone at testing companies to know that scores on the SAT have tumbled in the last ten years at the very time when public schools have been forced to focus on such testing. It doesn’t bother them to know that last fall 232 Texas school districts joined in denouncing a growing reliance on high-stakes testing, either. Dollars do come first.

Children are a distant second.

Now, Murdoch brings his ruthless methods to the field of education. Amplify, a new division of News Corporation, hopes to expand its presence into every U. S. classroom. The company already markets curriculum materials. Recently, Joel I. Klein, former chancellor of the New York City schools and now chief executive of Amplify, announced that the company “will not sell just its curriculum on existing tablets, but will also offer the Amplify Tablet, its own 10-inch Android tablet designed for K-12 schoolchildren.” According to the New York Times the new tablet has a sleek touch screen. If a child’s attention wanders a voice prompts them: “Eyes on the teacher.” (It might be cool if Amplify recorded Bill O'Reilly at his snarling best to scare all those inattentive pupils.)

As Klein explains, the tablet is designed “so that schools can provide each student with one to take home each night.” There’s a huge learning opportunity he claims, if we get kids excited about educational games. “We understand technology and we understand education,” Klein told reporters. “A lot of people who understand technology don’t understand education.”

Unfortunately, what Klein and Murdoch really understand is how to pile up profits. You don’t pay $360 million for a controlling interest in an education-related company or offer the head of your education division a munificent salary (Klein earns $4.5 million) unless you expect a healthy return on your investment.

In recent months, Amplify has been hard at work field-testing the tablet in hundreds of schools. They even donated tablets to the poorest students and schools—which if you watch Fox News, you know only encourages all those “moochers” and “takers” who comprise the loathsome “47%.” But not to worry! Capitalism will triumph in the end. A loaded device, with advice on care and usage, will soon go on sale, for $299, along with a two-year subscription, $99 annually. “A higher-end Amplify Tablet Plus, for students who do not have wireless access at home comes with a 4G data plan and costs $349.”

Here’s the final irony.

How will schools afford all this new technology? Simple, says Klein. “Amplify estimates that many school districts could use grants from the Department of Education’s Race to the Top program, which brings technology and personalized learning to schools.”

That’s right. You read this correctly. Rupert Murdoch wants some of President Obama’s stimulus money! The old coot has made a pact with the Devil!

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Tenth Anniversary of the Start of the Iraq War

WHAT HAVE WE FORGOTTEN ON THIS TENTH ANNIVERSARY of the start of the Iraq War?

In the year leading up to the invasion support for war had been building. In his State of the Union Address in January 2002,  President George W. Bush first mentioned the “Axis of Evil” and we were warned that Saddam Hussein possessed stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons. Condoleezza Rice hinted that inaction meant mushroom clouds in our future.

Remember?

For Fiscal Year 2001 the U. S. Defense Department budget was $291.1 billion. In the eight years to follow that figure would balloon to $515.4 billion.

(The federal budget deficit for Fiscal Year 2009 turned out to be $1.4 billion; and that budget was in place before Barack Obama took office.) 

Harder to remember, too:  In the days just before war began, Tim Russert asked Vice President Dick Cheney if he felt the American people would support a long and bloody conflict. Cheney, who managed to win five draft deferments during the Vietnam War, responded: “I really do believe we’ll be greeted as liberators.”

Bad call.

At the same time, Paul Wolfowitz, a leading neoconservative thinker, assured all who would listen that the war would cost the United States next to nothing. Expenses would be paid out of revenues from Iraqi oil sales.

Another bad call.

ON MARCH 19, 2003, U. S. FORCES launched the attack on Iraq, the only member of the “Axis of Evil” that had no credible nuclear weapons development program at that time. In years to come North Korea would develop real weapons of mass destruction. Iran would inch closer and closer as U. S. leaders looked the wrong way.

For all the good it did to invade Iraq we might as well have invaded the Tuvalu Islands.

Our troops did their job. Our leaders turned out to be clueless.

The hubris in Washington, a decade ago, was astonishing. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld overruled generals who asked for a larger force to carry out the mission. Rumsfeld’s press spokesmen explained: “We’re going to stand up an interim Iraqi government, hand power over to them, and get out of there in three to four months. All but twenty-five thousand soldiers will be out by the beginning of September.” 

Bad call, really bad call.

At first, all went well, as U. S. ground forces smashed their way through enemy defenses. President George W. Bush’s approval ratings soared to 70%. On May 1 Mr. Bush felt sure enough of success to personally land a jet on the deck of the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln. With the infamous “Mission Accomplished” banner hanging behind him as backdrop, he assured the American people: “Major combat operations in Iraq have ended.”

Worst call of all—and the consequences were terrible.

In the weeks to follow the neoconservatives who led us to war could do little more than watch in amazement as Iraq descended into chaos. In his book, The Assassin’s Gate, George Packer describes the results:
[Government buildings] had been looted down to the wiring and pipes; even the urinals had been unbolted from the bathroom walls…University classrooms and libraries across [Baghdad] and across the country were trashed and plundered, thousands of books and computers stolen, windows lifted from window frames, desks left lying in twisted heaps amid the dust and broken glass…The Iraqi state had collapsed, and there was nothing to take its place.

With scenes of widespread looting filling our television screens every night, reporters asked Secretary Rumsfeld if all the chaos concerned him. Rumsfeld responded gruffly, but with a twinkle in his eye:  “Stuff happens, and it’s untidy, and freedom’s untidy, and free people are free to make mistakes and commit crimes and do bad things.”  

Untidy—and bloody—and bad things, indeed. 

On July 2, 2003 President Bush responded to a query during a news conference in his inimitable fashion: “There are some who feel like that the conditions are such [in Iraq] that they can attack us there. My answer is bring them on.” 

At almost that exact moment, Jeffrey Wershow, a member of the Florida National Guard, was providing security for civilian advisers meeting with Iraqis on the campus of Baghdad University. He removed his helmet in the heat and entered the cafeteria to buy a ginger ale. A student pulled out a pistol, shot him in the head, and vanished into a crowd.

Untidy, yes.

Evidence built all that summer that the mission was not yet accomplished. On August 29, a car bomb outside the holiest Shiite mosque in Najaf killed a hundred innocent bystanders. Secular fighting spread, with Sunnis and Shiites slaughtering each other and a million Kurds added to the toxic mix. The death toll conntinued to rise. By 2008 the World Health Organization would estimate that 100,000 Iraqis had died violent deaths since the start of the war.

(The death toll might be twice as high.)

Invading Iraq turned out to be tough business for our troops.

On September 7 President Bush asked Congress to authorize $87 billion in extra war-related spending.  
(Republicans weren’t the least bit worried in 2003 about all this extra spending.)

That fall and winter car-bombs and “improvised explosive devices” (IEDs) killed and wounded hundreds of U. S. soldiers. Not to worry said Rumsfeld. Such attacks were the work of a “few dead-enders.” Very bad call again.

On November 8, an IED, made from two 130-mm. artillery shells, exploded beside a Humvee. Seated on the right-hand passenger side, Private Kurt Frosheiser took a jagged metal splinter almost two inches long in the temple, just under the rim of his Kevlar helmet. By the end of the year 486 Americans, including Kurt Frosheiser, had died in Iraq.

The “the dead-enders” were still full of fight.

A new year dawned but the situation spiraled downward. No weapons of mass destruction were found, as we should all remember. Meanwhile, Moqtada al-Sadr and his Shiite militia, the Mahdi Army, spread terror through large swaths of the country and launched hundreds of attacks against Coalition Forces. Hard again to remember:  We did have limited support from other nations. In 2004, nothing seemed to go right. A subsidiary of Northrop Grumman won a contract for $48 million dollars, to train 22 battalions of Iraqi soldiers.

They trained six and then half of the new soldiers deserted.

On March 31, 2004 four private security contractors working for Blackwater International were killed in Fallujah and their charred corpses hung up on a bridge for the entire world to see. Donna Zovko saw the gruesome pictures on cable television news and learned that same day that one of the victims was Jerry Zovko, her son. A Marine division was ordered to surround the city and the fighting intensified. In April 140 Americans were killed and 1,215 wounded. During a firefight in Fallujah, a Marine rifleman spoke of seeing an Iraqi race across an empty street. He and his buddies opened fire but the insurgent did a somersault and disappeared down an alley. “Just missed him,” the surprised Marine explained to a reporter. “Kind of [a] crafty move,” he added with respect.

The killing continued and we were not treated as liberators, and the week before Christmas 2004 a suicide bomber walked into a mess hall at a U. S. base in Mosul and blew himself to bits. Twenty-two Americans died in the blast and dozens were wounded.

Oceans of blood, sweat, and tears were poured into the desert sands and wasted. On January 26, 2005 a U. S. chopper crashed in a sandstorm, killing all 31 men aboard. One of the dead was Navy medic John House. Days before, via videophone, he had seen his newborn son for the first time. On June 23 a U. S. convoy passing through Fallujah (by then theoretically under U. S. control) was hit by a suicide car bomber. The blast killed one driver and several Marines riding in the back of his truck, including Ramona Valdez, 20, and two other females. The three had been on duty at a nearby roadblock, searching Iraqi females as needed.

On August 3 an armored troop carrier ran over a huge IED “2 km. s. of Haditha” as the military reported. The blast was so strong it flipped the 25-ton vehicle upside down like a garbage can lid and killed fourteen U. S. Marines inside. All of the dead were in their twenties, except Chris Dyer, the youngest at 19. Dyer had been a top student at Princeton High School in Cincinnati, Ohio, but enlisted in the Marines shortly after he graduated. Before heading to Iraq he reassured his father. “Don’t worry, dad,” he insisted. “I’m coming home.” 

But the young man was wrong.

At his funeral one of his teachers recalled that Dyer studied German for five years and played viola in the concert band. Talking with reporters afterwards Dyer’s father exclaimed sadly, “What a wonderful son he was.”

WE WERE LOSING ALL KINDS OF WONDERFUL SONS AND WONDERFUL DAUGHTERS, and still we could’t end the violence—not in 2005, not in 2006, either. It eventually became necessary to dispatch more troops to Iraq in 2007, the famous “surge,” or what the White House called the “New Way Forward.” David Finkel, in his masterful book, The Good Soldiers, wrote of that period:  “more and more roadside bombs were exploding now that the surge was under way, killing soldiers, taking off arms, taking off legs, causing concussions, exploding ear drums, leaving some soldiers angry and others vomiting and others in sudden tears.”  

Sgt. Michael Emory was shot in the back of the head during that fifth bloody spring of the war. Emory would end up in an army hospital, diapered and facing years of rehabilitation. A few days later Sgt. Jared Stevens was luckier by far, when a bullet “grazed his lip, butterflying it open from one side to the other.” Emory and Stevens were just two of 32,000 Americans wounded during this conflict.“We’re still at the beginning of this offensive,” President Bush explained to reporters at a press conference on June 30, 2007, “but we’re seeing some hopeful signs.” 

Meanwhile, U. S. servicemen and women were doing multiple tours of duty and for them the hopeful signs were harder to see.

Sgt. Adam Schumann, considered one of the best soldiers in his battalion, came home a broken man after his third tour in Iraq in 2007, more than a thousand days in a combat zone by his reckoning. Like many he had trouble forgetting the horrors he had witnessed and found himself tormented by thoughts of suicide. Studies later suggested that 1 in 5 veterans of the Iraq War suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

On September 4 the blast of another IED, just one of tens of thousands, this time on the dusty streets of Rustamiyah, cost an American soldier both legs. Three members of his unit were killed. A fifth, Duncan Crookston, “lost both legs and an arm and most of his other arm” and suffered burns over what was left of his body. He lost his ears. He lost his nose. He lost his eyelids and lips. The young man would undergo thirty operations in coming months to save his life but would die nevertheless.

That same week, in a private meeting with the Prime Minister of Australia, Mr. Bush was asked how the war was going.

We’re kicking ass,” he responded.

Relative stability was finally achieved in Iraq—with most observers crediting the “surge.” But the costs continued rising. In March 2008, the total number of U. S. dead passed 4,000. The numbers kept climbing, slowly, but surely, through 2009 and 2010. Specialist David Emanuel Hickman, from North Carolina, is the last member of United States forces listed as killed in action in Iraq. He died in Baghdad in the blast of another IED on November 14, 2011.

The final costs of the war, according to a study done for Brown University are estimated to be at least $2.2 trillion.

NO WEAPONS OF MASS DESTRUCTION WERE EVER FOUND.


IEDs in Iraq killed and maimed thousands of American troops.

Monday, March 4, 2013

How Many Reformers Does it Take to Really Fix a School?

IF YOU’RE AN AMERICAN TEACHER it’s likely you’ve noticed a depressing trend. Deep into a second decade of all-out school reform, or third, depending on who's counting, we’re still going nowhere fast.

“Backward” doesn’t count.

School reformers seem baffled; but baffled school reformers don’t stay baffled long. When one reform plan doesn’t work they conjure up another plan. They’re school reformers for god sakes. That’s just what they do.

Perhaps we need to look at schools like automobiles to grasp why it is we’re not speeding down the intellectual Interstate like the reformers say we must. Imagine that there are three autos, all broken down alongside I-10, in the Arizona desert. The drivers are three real teachers. Each has been carrying five passengers, five students. One car is a new Lexus LX 570. The second is a 2006 Honda Civic. The third is a battered 1972 Chevrolet Impala.

None of them will run.

A bus load of school reformers heading for a convention in Las Vegas sees them stranded by the side of the road and screeches to a halt. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan climbs out to survey the dire situation. Other famous passengers include Michael R. Bloomberg, mayor of New York, and Joel I. Klein, his one-time school chancellor. (Klein got worn out after trying for eight years to fix the city schools. Now he’s back in the cozy corporate world, earning millions, giving Rupert Murdoch legal and education-related advice.) Michelle Rhee is a passenger, too, and there are all kinds of politicians and lobbyists and sales persons for big testing companies filling the seats. Sadly, none of them knows a pile of shit from a spark plug when it comes to car repairs.

What could possibly go wrong
when Rupert Murdoch, left, and Joel I. Klein, right,
go to work to fix America's public schools?

Duncan is first to suggest a solution to the problem of the three stalled-out cars. “We are going to paint the Impala red to make it run.”

“We will call this plan ‘Race to the Garage.’ We will offer states $4.35 billion in federal aid if they agree to paint all their cars red.” A call is made, and at great expense, apparatus is brought out to the desert, and the car is painted red. It still won’t run.

Arne scratches his head.

Arne will point the way.
And, no, Duncan never actually taught.

Michelle Rhee pipes up next. Even the other reformers roll their eyes. After hours spent together on the bus they realize this lady’s favorite topic is herself and her second favorite is Michelle Rhee.

“I say we make these drivers apply for new licenses.” she sneers. “If you had better drivers the cars would surely run. I once taught for three years. So I know everything there could possibly be to know about saving children. These drivers must be terrible. Every child deserves an excellent driver. I am thinking... someone pretty much like me.” 

“Yeah,” Mr. Galt agrees. He was behind the wheel of the Civic until it died and he has thirty-three years of experience in the classroom. “Paved roads don’t matter…or guard rails…or laws against drunk driving…or bridges.”

Rhee misses the veteran’s sarcasm. Galt continues: “Or turn signals…or windshields. Hell...not even wheels.”

Suddenly, Rhee suspects she’s being mocked and shoots Galt a look.
Rhee now cashes in on her three years as a classroom teacher.
Trust us:  She doesn't offer free advice.

No matter, because Mayor Bloomberg is quick to agree with Rhee. “The problem in U. S. education is that we hire drivers from the bottom 20% of their graduating college classes—and not of the best schools.”

 The Harvard-educated billionaire informs everyone that the driver of the Honda will have to go. Another call goes out and a graduate of Teach for America is brought to the desert. The young professional gets behind the wheel and tries twice to start the engine. When it won’t turn over, the Teach for American kid exclaims, “Well, I only signed up for two tries. My work is done, my resume is padded.” The car she arrived in is still idling by the side of the Interstate and she jumps back in, saying to the driver, “Take me to the nearest law school, and step on it. I never planned to make a career in education anyway.”

Joel I. Klein, who never taught a single solitary minute in his life, offers up another plan. Of course he does. “I have a plan! And my plan is sure to fix the problem. We grade the cars. Then parents can choose the best cars for their children and all mechanical problems will go away. He gives the Impala an ‘F’ and the Honda gets a ‘D+.’ The Lexus gets a ‘B’ because it went a hundred yards farther down the highway before its engine coughed and died. Klein slaps bumper stickers with grades on all three cars.

They still don’t run. 

A Tea Party governor speaks up. It’s John Kasich. (Kasich knows all about schools because he used to be an investment banker.) “We are going to require drivers in failing cars to take tests,” he explains to his reforming buddies, “and prove they know their subject matter. We are also going to give that third grader in the back of the Impala a reading test. If they fail—we will fire the driver and hold the kid back. In Ohio this will be known as the ‘Third Grade Reading Guarantee.’ I will be the hero who saved the Ohio schools and maybe get some fat campaign contributions from lobbyists!”

The three drivers mutter darkly and the third grader stares at the governor in disbelief. Kasich hands the driver of the Impala and the kid the requisite tests and tells them to sit in the shade, if they can find any, maybe behind the stalled-out vehicles.

Kasich decides it’s too warm outside for him and jumps back on the air-conditioned bus. It’s hot and heading for 100° as the sun climbs high in the noon sky. The teacher and the student wipe their sweating brows and finish up their tests.

Sadly, when they’re done, the cars still don’t run.

Charles and David Koch are next to have a say. They’re not school reformers at all; but they love to lobby politicians. They want states to pay for vouchers, allowing more kids to go to private schools, and want corporations to take over whatever public schools manage to stay alive. The brothers hand out five-figure checks to lawmakers and governors seated on the bus. Naturally, Kasich and Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin get their share. The brothers can afford to spread around a little extra cash. Each has a personal fortune of $31 billion and now—money dispensed—they expect some action.

Walker agrees to take union protection away from all the drivers in his state. Calls are made to lawmakers back home and the necessary law (already written by a shadowy “non-partisan group” called the American Legislative Exchange Council, which the Koch brothers just so happen to fund) is enacted quickly. The drivers are ordered to get back behind the wheel and crank the engines or they’ll be terminated.

Regardless, none of the cars comes close to starting. 

The Koch brothers don’t really care about education, generally, or the children stranded in the desert, specifically. They hate unions—because unions usually back Democrats for political office—and what the Koch brothers really care about is political power. And taxes. Those boys loathe paying taxes on their personal fortunes.

Taxes make them mad.

Their wealth has actually increased since 2011.
They can afford to buy a few politicians.
A representative of Pearson Education offers up yet another plan. “What we need are more standardized tests, which my company will be happy to provide for a small fee, just a few million dollars, every year, from every state. We test students in all subjects and grades and maybe charge for scoliosis testing.” She opens a large briefcase filled with tests and all fifteen kids are ordered to get to work again. They complete this new set of tests and turn them in and the Pearson representative hails the next passing auto and climbs inside. She’s taking the tests to the nearest testing center for grading. “I’ll send you the bill,” she calls out cheerfully to Mr. Duncan. Then she’s gone.

Tired of all the delays—not to mention the failures—the various reformers fall to arguing. One insists that if they added new technology to the Impala it would run. Technology, he insists, will save us. A second says the problem with the cars comes down to owners’ manuals. What is needed is a Common Core Standards Owners’ Manual, the same for every car in our great land. A third expert says, no, we need charter garages. If we park a car that doesn’t run in a charter garage it’s sure to start right up—or something.

It’s now a donnybrook and bold plans are flying in all directions.

Suddenly, Rhee exclaims: “I’m late for a speech I’m supposed to give about the future of American education, during which I will hint that I am the savior everyone must follow. I can’t miss out on this. I’m being paid a $50,000 fee.” She jumps back on the bus.  

“I’m a brilliant billionaire,” Bloomberg reminds the others. “Surely no one can expect a man as important as me to stand here in the desert and cook my mega-brain.” He climbs aboard the bus. All the politicians and lobbyists and testing company execs follow and off they go.  

“Good luck, kids,” a former Texas governor named George W. Bush shouts from an open rear window. “No Child Left Behind!”

Bloomberg might try teaching;
we know he's more than smart enough.


THE THREE TEACHERS AND THEIR FIFTEEN STUDENTS watch as the bus disappears into a glorious red and orange and yellow Arizona sunset. They’re on their own again. Ms. Beasley, the driver of the Lexus, turns to face the others. “The key to moving forward in any car or any school,” she says, “comes down to just one word.

“That is: ‘motive.’”

“Like ‘motivation?’” asks Wanda, one of Beasley’s better students. 

“Yes,” Ms. Beasley agrees. “If we expect to get out of this desert it doesn’t make an ounce of difference what color the cars might be or what kind of garage we’re going to park in once we arrive. We’re going to have to put our backs into it and shove.”  

Rick, a high school senior who had been riding in the Civic, immediately grasps her point. “The key part of ‘automotive,’ is not ‘auto,’ but ‘motive.’ The car can’t move without some source of motive power.”  

“Looks like we’re going to have to do some sweating if we expect to move these cars along,” says Shaquille, who was riding in the Impala. “If we expect to get anywhere in education we, as students, are going to have to push.”

“Teachers must push, too,” Ms. Beasley notes. 

They all look off down the highway. Only twelve miles to go to Tucson and it isn’t going to be getting any easier. Still, even Carlos, a first grader, has the proper attitude. “Well, I guess we better start,” he says and prepares to put his fifty pounds of muscle to work. 

He thinks a moment, though, and adds:  “It would have been nice if all those people on that bus had stuck around to help.”

The three drivers give each other knowing looks. Then all the teachers and all the students lean in together and do their part.


FELLOW TEACHERS:  IF YOU AGREE THIS ANALOGY IS ACCURATE PLEASE SPREAD IT TO COLLEAGUES AND FRIENDS.

TIME TO STAND UP TO THE INEPT REFORMERS WHO ARE SO BUSY RUINING AMERICAN EDUCATION TODAY.


P. S. Answer to the title question: NONE.


ADDENDUM:  Several of my administrator friends have read this post; to be fair, I should include a principal who comes looking for the missing teachers and students and gives one of the cars a tow.

In the real world, we should also keep in mind that not ALL teachers and not ALL students are really anxious to push. Again, motivation becomes the key.


The key in education is always motive power.
School reformers don't get it. They think the key is some new plan.


******

If you liked this post, you might like my book about teaching, Two Legs Suffice, now available on Amazon.

Or contact me at vilejjv@yahoo.com and I can probably send you a copy direct, a little more cheaply. My book is meant to be a defense of all good teachers and a clear explanation of what good teachers can do, and what they cannot do.

Two Legs Suffice is also about what students, parents and others involved in education must do if we want to truly enhance learning.