LA Times story puts education establishment on the spot — but is it libel???

August 19, 2010

I almost feel sorry for teachers, being as they are in a profession that is often so much maligned.

While certainly poor teachers who eat up taxpayer dollars do a disservice to their students, inflicting irreparable harm on young minds, stunting their intellectual growth forever, all teachers, most, we hope, are not poor in their abilities.

But there is a lot of mediocrity out there.

Some will tell you it’s the relatively low pay they receive in relation to their required years of education, but that is not much of a defense for individual mediocre teachers. If you already are a teacher and you are mediocre, more pay will not improve you and if you are mediocre, you were when you began. But, hey, most of us just do the best we can at our professions, regardless of however other folks might rate us.

But what brought all this to mind was an article I just read in the LA Times in a series it’s doing on teachers in the LA school district. I’m not sure whether to be proud of the paper for doing a civic duty by exposing the system, calling the school authorities to task for not really measuring teacher performance and just passing them along to quick tenure, or appalled at what seems like a possible case of libel.

The Times has taken it upon itself to do some kind of statistical analysis of teacher performance it calls a value added rating system or something like that. I don’t really care about that gobbledygook, but the idea is that it purports to show how year after year poor teachers get poor results and good teachers get good results, but the district ignores, according to the Times, these facts and basically just does the old Lake Woebegone thing and rates nearly all teachers above average.

The shocking thing to me is that it actually named an individual math teacher and compared him to another named individual math teacher in the same school and said one’s students consistently year after year started out ahead of the game and by the time the year was over were behind whereas the opposite was true in the other teacher’s class.

First I am wondering about the validity of the Times’ analytical methods.

But assuming they are valid, I am wondering about another factor brought out in the story. Most, if not all, the students are Hispanic. The teacher with the better results has an Hispanic surname. The one who lags behind is a Mr., Smith — actually both their full names are given. And that was the shock.

Now, as a former working journalist, I’m usually pretty hard core about naming names when things are in the public domain. And I have pretty much always thought that truth is the best defense against libel.

But taking the last point first, I can only hope for the reporters’ sake that what they have come up with is the truth.

And as far as naming names, that is a service to students and their parents and potential students and parents. And it does put the teachers and school officials on the spot, forcing them to face up to a problem.

The teacher exposed as a poor performer was confronted by the Times and was quoted as responding in what seemed to me with a contrite answer, saying basically he would try to do better. The guy was 63 and had begun teaching in 1996, the article said. Sounds like he made a career change — sometimes things don’t work out as you might have hoped ; oh well, he can retire soon.

I would encourage you to call up the LA Times on line — I can’t do one of those fancy links here but just Google: Who’s teaching LA’s kids, LA Times, Aug. 14. They’re doing an ongoing series of stories, as I understand it.

I found it curious that the good teacher who is described as relating well to his students had the Hispanic name, while the other guy with the Anglo name was described as not doing well in captivating the young minds. I mean that sounds almost like someone is trying to or inadvertently making a case for separate but equal, you know, the old segregated schools.

Then again, maybe the Times is on to something and is putting the entrenched establishment on the spot.

It’s important stuff. A mind is a terrible thing to waste.

P.s.

I can only hope none of my former teachers read this, but while it is often said that people often have that one teacher who made the positive difference, I can’t recall any. As I said, there is a lot of mediocrity out there. That is not to say that I did not have any competent teachers.

ADD 1:

I just read over some letters to the editor in the LA Times, and some teachers commended the paper for its story(ies), but several others objected, especially to the part where teachers were accused by name as being poor performers. I have to say even though I once worked as a journalist I would object too. What makes the writers at that newspaper qualified to judge teachers or even understand the statistics and material they supposedly uncovered? That does not mean I don’t think they should report about the subject, since there is an ongoing concern over whether our children are getting a proper and effective education, but it seems that the Times has moved into character assassination. One teacher asked in a letter what the Times staffers would think if their own performance was rated in public — noting the fall in the newspaper’s circulation. Another teacher said that there are two kinds of teaching. In one you teach to the test (teachers are now pressured into doing that). In the other, teachers actually try to give their students knowledge about a subject. There is a difference, I think. I, the writer of this blog, have often witnessed in school students who can pass tests but know little and seem to have little critical thinking skills. When I was taking Spanish, I noticed that while some students always aced the written quizzes, they could not compose a Spanish sentence on their own or ad lib dialogue. In math, I was often slow at the mechanics of the whole thing, but I usually knew what was called for in word problems. I will say, however, if you have really learned a subject, you should probably be able to pass standardized tests but also be able to go beyond the testing game.


We all know how government works, so why send Blago to jail? But really he probably should be sent there…

August 18, 2010

Legislation and probably political appointments are bought and sold all the time and no one goes to jail — it’s called lobbying, it’s called political contributions, it’s called contributions by corporations, whom our current Supreme Court treats as individual human beings and whose money donations are called “free speech”.

But you should have good sense and probably good legal advice so there is no identifiable quid pro quo — I pay you this and you do this. It’s okay if it is clearly implied, though, because you have the out that the donation may have seemed to be a payment for a specific action but that was mere coincidence, it was just in general support of a candidate or in the name of good government.

And that may be why a Chicago jury failed to convict — but was hung instead — obliviously crooked, from his own statements, former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich on corruption charges, to include trying to sell the vacant U.S. Senate seat created by the election of Barack Obama as president.

Well, actually since I began writing this and was interrupted by my real job, I have read that actually the jury did almost convict him of a long list of corruption counts. But one hold-out juror, a retired woman, refused to go along. She reportedly thought it was all just “political talk” no actual crime.

But back to the premise that everyone knows nearly everything is corrupt anyway, to include maybe that hold-out juror, if I have interpreted it right in my quick read, that was basically what Scott Turrow wrote in a column in the New York Times today.

Blagojevich was convicted, though, on one count of lying to federal officials, which I understand is punishable by up to five years in prison. That is a catch-all that the federal government has nailed a lot of folks on, to include Martha Stewart.

That has always seemed kind of chicken sh.. To me. I mean people lie to the cops all the time (you should not do that — you should tell the truth or say nothing). People even commit perjury in the courtroom and then are convicted of the originally charged crime, but seldom are charged or convicted of perjury, except in federal cases. It’s kind of like Al Capone murdering so many people and doing so much bootlegging and other crime and probably never having a real job but being sent to prison for not paying his income taxes.

But, there I go again, going off point. The point is, according to Turrow, that one or more jurors, well I guess now, just one, probably were (was) swayed by the hypocrisy of campaign finance laws that let the clever get away with bribery, but sometimes nail the ham handed.

We all know or tacitly accept that much in government is crooked, so why do we single out some and not all?

One story I read did say that one juror said the jury had voted 11-1 for conviction on the selling-the-Senate-seat charge. It only takes one hold out.

One legal pundit said the prosecution failed to clearly show that the selling and buying actually took place or that there was actually any actual offer to sell. I don’t know; I didn’t hear the trial.

As I understand it, the government is going to try it again.

If the case can be made, Blagojevich should go to jail (and he may on that one count anyway), if for no other reason than he is so annoying and his ridiculous hair do.

But it does seem inconsistent to allow so much bribery to go on unfettered when we all know what it is.

 


Free speech rights should not protect funeral protestors…

August 17, 2010

No one is a more strident supporter of free speech than me (okay, I) but sometimes law enforcement or the courts, I would think, need to use their legal discretion.

A bereaved family is holding a funeral for their fallen son (or daughter) who was a member of the military and has died in a combat zone.

Protestors from something called the Westboro Baptist Church picket the funeral and yell insults and carry signs that say things such as: “thank God for dead soldiers”.

That is appalling of course. But the courts hold that it is free speech under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, thus such behavior cannot be barred.

Nonsense! I say.

Or to paraphrase Charles Dickens: If that be the law, then I say the law is an ass.

Courts and police have some discretion when interpreting and enforcing laws.

It seems to me anyone doing something so reprehensible and inhumane and insulting to human dignity and feeling is guilty of something — at the minimum, disturbing the peace, perhaps assault (even if not physical), invasion of privacy, trespass, disorderly conduct, and so on.

A judge in Missourri held that a law banning such protests would also hinder counter protestors (presumably, members of the bereaved family). Talk about tortured logic and lack of common sense and just maybe analyzing something too deeply.

I see no defense, to include free speech protections, for such abhorrent behavior as to picket and menace a funeral by taunting and insulting the bereaved family members and the memory of the deceased.

To paraphrase again: If the law says otherwise, the law is an ass and should in this instance be disregarded.

P.s.

I do agree that no one should under the law and constitution be arrested for actual speech — it’s the behavior to which I refer.

P.s. P.s.

The idiot hate group Westboro Baptist Church (not affiliated with other Baptist churches) also harasses gays and adherents to other religions — they are in a sense home-grown terrorists.

 


Taliban’s stoning murder is what we are supporting when we deal with them…

August 16, 2010

I was already against capital punishment, legal murder, justified on the basis that somehow two wrongs make a right, but I find the news of the stoning death of a young couple for an improper sexual relationship or whatever they called it, particularly heinous and gruesome. It was said a crowd of at least 150 watched. It was done at the direction of the Taliban. And to think that we expend thousands of our own soldiers’ lives and our treasure over there when of course we know the end result is that once we leave they will revert, if they ever left it,  to this kind of uncivilized behavior, because of course the Taliban will likely resume control of the whole nation.

The western world used to be in to this kind of thing, and it is biblical — he who has not sinned cast the first stone — but except for some jurisdictions in the U.S. and I guess elsewhere, most of that is gone. Executions in the U.S. I think are almost just as macabre, in that doctors are called in to make sure the person to be executed is healthy enough to be put to death — and I don’t know what I find more offensive, someone being hanged, shot by a firing squad, zapped and fried in an electric chair, choked to death in a chamber of gas, or subjected to a deadly injection.

And it’s not that I feel sorry for someone who has committed a heinous crime — I just feel bad for humanity.

And then there is the real problem that has come to light. We have discovered through DNA testing that many a person innocent of the particular crime they are being put to death for are innocent. No doubt a lot of innocent people have been put to death — of course many of those people were probably guilty of other crimes, and who knows? maybe even capital crimes.

But even if you are for capital punishment, surely you can’t call yourself civilized and be for death by stoning.

But our nation has taken upon itself the task of nation building and it tried to make deals with the Taliban and pays them off, even as our soldiers are killed. So the U.S. is in effect supporting death by stoning when it deals with the Taliban. And this notion that Al Qaeda has essentially been removed from Afghanistan is nonsense. The Taliban is Al Qaeda. Islamic extremists are Islamic extremists.

And I am no more comfortable with Christian extremists than I am with Islamic extremists, really.

I believe that all kinds of religious extremists threaten civilize society. Right now, though, the biggest push seems to be by Islamic extremists.

We’re all waiting for the so-called Islamic or Muslim moderates, who repudiate ancient methods such as stoning to death, to speak up, but we’re not holding our breath.

I belive in God or some kind of higher power — some forms of so-called organized religion worry me, though.

When I hear some of the rhetoric coming from Christian fundamentalists I sometimes wonder how they would act if they ever got in charge in the U.S. I’m not so sure you would be able to distinguish their actions from those of the Taliban.

While I pity innocent people in Afghanistan and Iraq and the whole Islamic world who just simply want to go about their business and live their lives in peace but who are subjected to the cruel intolerance of their religious leaders and the thugs who work in religion’s name, I do not think it is the business of the United States to change things for them, nor am I sure they want our help, and I am relatively sure it is all so terribly impractical.

P.s.

From the news reports, apparently the stoned-to-death young couple were defiant to the end and said they loved each other. Once upon a time the idea of marrying for love rather than just a practical arrangmement for the families concerned was not considered right or not usually considered at all even here in the west, I have read. I won’t argue the merits of that here, but I do think that in terms of social tolerance and  less violent methods in law, the west offers the better way, even though we have much violence nonetheless. And I am digressing here and not making much sense. I’m just trying to say, and please excuse the terrible and almost unintended pun, but the Taliban and its ilk would pull us all back into the stone age.

P.s. P.s.

There are devastating floods in Pakistan and other areas of that region and the U.S. is supplying aid. That is the right thing to do — whether it is appreciated or not.


My emotions are mixed over illegal immigration….

August 15, 2010

I have mixed emotions about the whole illegal immigrant debate.

And from the onset, I want to say that the current debate is essentially about Mexicans (and possibly some other Hispanics from our own Western Hemisphere, coming over the border to take our jobs and avail themselves of our social programs paid for by legal taxpaying citizens, but then again also many or most of those illegals via their withholding in their pay checks).

On the one hand, I have written many times that the oft-cited truism that illegals perform the work regular Americans (usually that means white folks in the context of the discussions) is nonsense — it is a myth.

The fact is that if you ask older people (of whom I guess I am part of the group at 61 — but you should ask others who are older) legal white folks (and of course legal black folks and all other kinds of  folks who are in this country, the good old US of A, legally) have done all kinds of work — dishwashers, maids, fruit and vegetable pickers, farm labor crewmen (and crew women), nannies, and the whole gamut.

In general, when any kind of work is available, the jobs are taken up by anyone, regardless of ethnic or even immigration status, who is willing and able to perform the tasks.

As I recall from my reading and from what my own folks told me, Mexican labor in the U.S. got its start primarily during World War II  when there was a shortage of manpower due to so many men (and some women) being in the military. At that time we had the Bracero program by which unaccompanied men came over the border to do farm work.

That got the ball rolling, and they have been coming over ever since, even though the Bracero program was discontinued. These days they bring their families.

I think that most of these people are hard workers and are far superior to those able-bodied loafers who may well be here legally, but by way of fraud draw on the government social system.

But among any group, illegals included, there are those who prefer to get something for nothing or who rationalize that since they have a hard time finding work, or steady or high paying enough work, or have other problems, that society owes them its support.

But let’s don’t throw the baby out with the bath water. The fact that some people prefer to live off the sweat of others is just that, a fact of life. It’s one of the reasons I have never been drawn to the idea of communes.

But back to the subject of the blog post. On the one hand, I think border security needs to be enforced and I think legal citizens should get first crack at jobs, and furthermore, I think many who now draw on our social programs via fraud should make themselves available for work many of the illgals do now, although it is doubtful employers would want to hire the lazy louts, but maybe the lazy louts would change their ways it if meant survival because their gravy train would come to an end if welfare regulations were enforced. And that reminds me. Once upon a time my late wife worked for a time as a food stamp eligibility worker. When she first began the job, she actually went out and made house calls and saw what was up. But that aspect was soon cut out of the job. And I think you can see that is why people who should not be getting government help get it — there’s little to no oversight.

And at the risk of going off the subject, as I often do, I believe one of the biggest rip-offs of hard-working tax-paying folks is the program called Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC).

There are whole generations of welfare multi-baby producing moms who draw AFDC and turn it over to non working guys and there is little to no enforcement against this.

Again, back to the subject.

Regardless of what I have just written, the fact is there is a demand for labor, even in this Great Recession. Mexicans perform one heck of a lot of that labor and they do it quite well.

Case in point: For most of the past 15 years, primarily Mexicans have been loading and unloading trucks that I have driven, saving me the work, and making it possible to get down the road and make money (such as it is).

I don’t know which ones are legal (and probably most of them are) and which ones are not. And you know? I don’t really care. And you know? I think a lot of employers don’t rally care. They just want the job done.

A fact in all of this, I think, is that most of us realize that individual employers and employer groups may say they don’t knowingly or actively recruit illegal labor, but the opposite is true. Another fact is that the government is somewhat split on the matter, with the end result being that while there are some show raids of workplaces, in many instances the authorities turn a blind eye — I mean that has to be the case. If you and I know illegals are working here and where they are working, then the authorities have to know — so just go out and get them.

And that reminds me of an incident many long years ago. And I warn any faithful readers of my blog with a long-term memory that I may be repeating myself here, but here goes:

As a young man I was working for a farmer who grew sugar beets and beans. My job was to move sprinkler pipes in the fields. There were some Mexican illegals working on that place.

One day I was by myself out in the middle of a sugar beet field. I saw a Border Patrol vehicle pull up out on the public roadway adjacent to that field, and this was some 700 miles or more north of the border (and this was back in the early 70s, so I can‘t say immigration does not do some enforcement and they have been doing it for a long time). Anyway, a tall and fairly rotund man got out wearing what looked like one of those Southern sheriff hats, the kind of which the wearers of usually say: “you in a heap a trouble boy”. He walked way out into that field. At the time he came up to me I was bent over a water valve. I may have looked like a wetback (excuse the term), wearing an old felt hat with brim turned down, and my skin is somewhat dark. But when I raised up, he seemed to recognize the fact that I am not Mexican. He said to me: “you got any Mexican boys working here?”. I answered: “I don’t know” (and if anyone wants to arrest me for lying to a public official, maybe I did not know until after the fact, maybe).

I was also told by a Mexican kid, born and raised in the USA, that the Border Patrol raided his home across the street in a little enclave that was at that time my then home community’s only Mexican town (just a few modest cabins)and pushed folks around, no warrant presented (I’m told immigration does not need one — don’t know).

Fast forward to the present:

As I left a grocery distribution center in Southern California the other day in my 18-wheeler, the older Mexican security gentleman (whom I assumed to be a U.S. citizen) jokingly (I think) asked me if I had any “lumpers” (unloaders) in my trailer.

He further said: “They’ve been going somewhere … I think Oregon and Washington — they’re staying away from Arizona”.

By the way, by saying what he said, he made a tacit admission that illegals were working there. In this case, the grocery warehouse management has an out. The lumpers work for a separate outfit that is an independent contractor.

And so it goes.

P.s.

I have no understanding of the process of becoming a  U.S. citizen, having been born here. I don’t know why it takes so long and why some groups have an easier time of it and why some do not.

I’m currently thinking that it would be impossible logistically to simply kick out all the illegals and that the process of splitting up families is detestable and immoral.

Bureaucracy-hindered amnesty programs are inefficient and are simply a tool for blood-sucking opportunists to make money off of government programs, and they also simply draw in more illegals.

I’m thinking that anyone who can show he or she has a job, and perhaps a reasonable history of employment here, should be granted a green card and a quick path to citizenship.

If people come here to be productive and tax-paying members of society, why do we want to discourage them? There is strength in numbers.

We should go after those who are non-productive by choice and who are a tremendous drain on society, regardless of whether they are legal or not.

Non-productive illegals should be deported. Non-productive by choice legals should have their government meal tickets cut off. Hungry people tend to get motivated. No, they won’t just turn to crime. Criminals tend to commit crimes, regardless of the economic conditions. At times of desperation good people might resort to crime for survival, but we should continue our social programs for those folks (all of us but for the grace of God and the economy could find ourselves in that number).


So just how long is a computer update supposed to take? And troubles with Sony VIO and AT&T sim card…

August 14, 2010

I just need to get his off my chest and while the computer will let me.

I had ample time — well at least enough — to blog Yesterday (Friday) but my computer would not let me. Just as I got the thing warmed up it quit functioning and then told me not to power off, that it was updating 1 of 2 — well how long does it take to update 1 of 2? I mean I kept the thing on — me not using it — for at least eight hours. Most of that time I was driving an 18-wheeler down the highway.  I had started to use it when I was waiting on the unload of my truck, which took about three hours. When I finally got to my last stop, marking the end of the day, it was still in my sleeper updating away. In frustration I turned it off — sometimes it won’t even let me do that.

The other day it told me it was updating 1 of  1. This took at least 9 hours and it still was not done. I turned it off eventually and later when I turned it back on again it told me it had failed to update. And I might add, I never asked for an update.

That time I just spoke of I called the place where I bought it — Best Buy — and asked them about the problem. The lady on the phone said she had no idea. She said I’d have to bring the computer in and let the “geeks” look at it. Adopting my mother’s style I told her: “well you aren’t any help”. Like I had time to bring the thing in.

Now don’t get me wrong. I got this computer as a Christmas gift and when it works — I love it!

Another thing I have a problem with from time to time is the sim card, which allows me to be mobile. I use a DSL line through my landline telephone service when I’m at home, and have had little to no problem with it.

I’m running a Sony VIO notebook computer. It can be quite fast and it can be quite slow at times. I’m also using a sim card from AT&T right now. Sometimes it works well, sometimes not so well, and sometimes not at all. I don’t find it terribly reliable.

When I was having trouble with my sim card I called AT&T and was on the phone with a guy for more than an hour. He had me take the thing apart and then cut me off. I later put it back together and then it really didn’t work. later I discovered I put it together backwards (there was really only two pieces).

As you can gather, I know little about the technology of computers. Mostly I just like to use them to write (to include my blogging) and to have access to the world wide web, especially the news.

Just wanted to get that off my chest after being deprived of the computer’s use for most of my free hours of the day.

P.s.

And If I can get this posted I know some wise a.. tech guy is going to say: “gee it seems to be working now”. And, yes, I guess it is — now  (for how long I don’t know) .

P.s. P.s.

And Happy Birthday to me — I turned 61 yesterday (the 13th).


Can you go back home again???

August 9, 2010

And what does the surviving spouse do now that everyone has paid their last respects, or as we did it, took part in a celebration of life for the dearly departed?

Everyone has gone home.

I was lucky to be able to take part in an already-planned dinner date with my now late wife’s brother and wife and one of her sisters, but now I am at home facing the reality that life is already different now.

I confess. I’m even talking to the ashes. Letting her know I am home and that my dinner hosts were gracious.

And I’m contemplating what it will be like going back to work out on the road — the difference being that while I was often away from her, I was always coming back home and, just as importantly, I had her to talk to frequently out there, thanks to the advent of cell phones. Coincidentally, she started in the cell phone business herself back in its infancy when we still called them car phones and stayed with it when we moved to those bulky bag phones and later when I witnessed big shot wannabes using cell phones loudly in public just to impress others — there were even fake cell phones you could buy to make yourself look important. Won’t work today — everyone has one, even little kids sometimes.

See? I’m going back in time. I still have that picture board we put up at the celebration of life and it makes me reminisce (and it sometimes makes me cry).

I told my wife’s sister’s first husband: “I wished we could go back in time and do it all over again.”

And this is a phenomenon I have read about before, but is so true: it seems it takes a death to bring families together — why can’t they be so when people are still alive? (Okay, I know, they don’t always get along, but people can work on that.)

I think back to when we bought our first home and had relatives over, mostly on my wife’s side — what a day it was! — and did we ever repeat it just like that? No, not that way. We should have done that about once a month or so if not more often.

And another thing: everyone has their own story and their own hopes and dreams and aspirations and their own unique set of personal circumstances, but for my money I wished I could have simply accepted that first home and that town — it was where I attended and graduated from high school — it was home.

We wandered for years desperately looking for something we could never find. That is not to say we did not have good times — we certainly did. But there was always that sense of longing for something we could not quite identify.

It was home and family. Not everyone is fortunate enough to have them, but we did , and they’re still there really.

They say “you can’t go home again.” For some people, maybe not. But if you have that desperate feeling of longing maybe you can.

I’d run to it if I were you……