While congress plays petty politics we let our manufacturing base die, but there is hope…

October 1, 2013

What we need is a president and a congress who work at returning manufacturing, the producing of things, things needed, to the United States of America, everything from socks we wear to giant pieces of equipment.

But wrapped up in petty politics (such as shutting down the government as a political blackmail blame game) we have let all that slip by for decades now and what we have is high unemployment, too many low-wage jobs, and maybe a few generations who see no point in learning anything at school, especially the basics, such as English and reading and writing, along with math and science — all needed for good jobs in manufacturing these days.

And we need a return to vocational education, with major industries funding it perhaps. But of course it needs to be up to date. But even there the old time shop classes have value. I mean it all starts there with the basics of the basics.

But even home ec and its sewing instruction could be helpful in the textile industry — and remember when mom actually sewed your clothes or repaired them? Well no, probably not, unless you were born in the baby boom generation or before. Yeah, I know, where home ec or whatever they now call it is still offered young men take it too (good).

Not everyone wants to or even can work in hands-on stuff, but a whole lot do and a whole lot should.

We have sold our soul to globalization and the international conglomerates who run to where the cheapest labor is.

But some of that labor is not as cheap as it once was. And there are those fuel/shipping costs, and concerns of quality and safety, and even government stability outside our borders (we seem to be in a little trouble ourselves at the moment).

But from time to time there are reports that give me hope. I often have wondered whatever happened to our textile industry. Then I read something positive in this New York Times piece, the link to which appears at the end of this blog post.

The Global economy is good I suppose, but we need to be part of it.

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/30/business/a-wave-of-sewing-jobs-as-orders-pile-up-at-us-factories.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

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Watching my granddaughter graduate was worth the heat of the night…

June 2, 2013

Even if I did have to stand out in the hot evening sun for upwards of an hour or more and then sit out in the thankfully dissipating heat as the sun went down for another hour or more, it was worth it. I’m referring to my attendance at the high school graduation ceremony of my granddaughter.

Somehow I feel as if it was a major milestone in my own life. I only wish that my other half, who has departed this world, could have been there with me. I mean it really began with us in a way, didn’t it?

Certainly it was bigger than my own high school graduation. I did not even attend the ceremony then, and that was my fault. I collected my diploma the next day. I had a poor attitude, to say the least (I did have an excuse. I was recovering from the measles. But it was going around and the school authorities had told my parents I could attend — my bad, as they say these days).

Thankfully, my granddaughter has a good attitude. She has worked hard and done well in high school and from all reports had a lot of fun in the process, so good for her. The way it should be. She’s preparing to attend the local community college in her area and then transfer to a four-year college. Right now she plans to go into nursing.

From all the reports I got, her studies were a lot more rigorous than mine, but saying that does not do justice to the high school she attended. From what I gather it is a top school.

Back when I graduated, in 1967, the main requirement to graduate at the high school I attended was to show up. Like Woody Allen said, “half of life is just showing up”.  I’ve used that before. But I like it and find it so true. But that’s only half. There is a more demanding second half to all that.

I would be remiss not to mention how she benefited from the support of her parents, and I am stressing the moral support and encouragement. I have not been with my granddaughter for long stretches of time all these years but I do know that from the beginning she was self-motivated, and I’ll get back to that. But even for those who are self-motivated, encouragement on the home front can make the difference. There are those unfortunate children who grow up in homes where the attitude toward education is indifferent. That was not the case for her.

But my late wife and I noticed this girl’s self-determination from an early age. I recall just before she entered kindergarten (she had already attended pre-school) she was visiting us and my wife was trying to help her on with a belt to an outfit. But this little girl wanted to do it herself. And I think that is her way. People like that tend to be successful, I think.

And today I thought back with sadness that my wife could not attend her own graduation. You see, we got married and that interrupted her schooling. But a few short years later she completed her requirements at night school. And let me tell you, people who do it that way have to demonstrate a lot more knowledge and skills than many of us who did it the more standard way. I now wished I would have encouraged her to see if she could have attended a graduation ceremony. She deserved it.

Seeing the enthusiasm of those graduates the other night and the enthusiasm of their parents and grandparents and loved ones and friends made me realize that all that pomp  and circumstance is important (and to be fair and accurate, this ceremony was a little shorter on, but not bereft of, pomp and circumstance than ones I‘ve seen back in the old days).

Sure, in the long run there are no guarantees to success through life and a graduation ceremony in and of itself does not equal education, but it is nonetheless an important element.

It allows the graduate to feel she or he is being recognized for an accomplishment and encourages the graduate to press on for more accomplishments, and it shows respect to the institution attended and education in general. We can hardly expect to maintain a top education system without respect to the institution of or whole concept of education itself.

And whose idea was it to show up early and wait in the sun anyhow?

Oh, well, it was worth it.


How could administrators endanger college accreditation? Just what is their job?

February 15, 2012

BLOGGER’S NOTE: This might seem like a local letter-to-the-editor kind of piece, but I think it points to a universal problem with administrators and bureaucrats.

———

So I read in my local newspaper (online) this morning that our community college is in danger of losing its accreditation, meaning that coursework units completed there would not count as transferable to four-year institutions (or any others).

As the late Amy Winehouse might have put it: “what kind of f..kry is this?!”

Exactly how does this kind of thing happen? I mean with all the six-figure-salary administrators out there, and they can’t make sure things are up to par? What exactly are they being paid for?

I suspect this all may be some kind of bureaucratic foul-up or nonsense, in which the education being offered is not really substandard, but all the right forms and reports have not been filled out correctly. Don’t know. The story I read did not explain in any depth. Something about lack of an overall plan and a questionable method of assessing student achievement.

But it brings to mind No Child Left Behind and all that political/bureaucratic crap.

What we need is for schools to offer education and students to do their part, along with help and support from their parents with a minimum of administrative/bureaucratic gobbledygook.

One also wonders how a school board, made up of locally-elected citizens, could allow something like this to happen. The story did indicate that the danger of losing accreditation has been known for several years.

As you might have perceived, I have a thing about administrators. Of course they are at best or least a necessary evil. There has to be someone to run the show and coordinate things, and essentially be of service to the faculty and students — but I suspect there are far too many of them. People gravitate toward this job in the education field because this is where the money is. And this is where far too much money goes in education — not into the classroom.

This is the kind of thing that gives public education a black eye.

P.s.

I attended this local community college and learned a lot there and have no complaints or at least could not find anything wrong with it at the time. Like I say, it is probably more bureaucratic nonsense than anything else, but quite distressing nonetheless.


Sometimes I think I am a conservative, just not a reactionary one…

October 31, 2011

I think I was approaching middle age when New York Times columnist, and conservative, Ross Douthat was born, but that boy seems to have some pretty good insights and observations on politics.

Within the column to which I will provide a link, I think he makes some pretty good points — not that I necessarily agree with it all, but he does present some things worth pondering.

He has already gone on record in another and recent column proclaiming that no matter what is said  by pundits– even by him — between now and the 2012 Republican convention, Mitt Romney is the inevitable candidate. And now he offers that Romney may reach beyond is moneyed background and do good for the common man.

He attempts to point out some flaws of liberalism and even the extreme of his own conservatism.

And if I understand what he is implying, ironically Romney could be the GOP’s answer to FDR (although I may have misunderstood — but you can read the column for yourself).

I appreciate what he and others are saying about the bloated public sector. While I confess to being, in part,  plain jealous, I have always wondered why those in local public employment, something I am more familiar with, feel it is their right to have better pay and pensions than most in the private sector and even the right to goof off on the job. I should not condemn all public workers, but I have witnessed enough and read about enough to know there is an overall prevailing attitude. And I do know that the pensions just got too cushy. And one reason is that public workers form a large voting block and the politicians know that and the public has been apathetic until the Great Recession hit, and besides many of us thought we too might get a government job one day.

I do want to say that I appreciate the help I have received from public employees, such as, and not limited to, those who work for Social Security. But that does not force me to overlook waste and abuse where it is. I think the requirements for public employment should be fairly rigorous (as far as it is necessary to fit the job) and public workers should be paid well, and have reasonable job security — with some trade-off of slightly lower pay but better security than in the private sector, as it was once intended to be.

In public education there needs to be more going into teaching than the bloated administration. I read a story in an Alabama newspaper about a law there that was enacted to allow experienced classroom teachers to collect retirement but keep on working and drawing a salary. Trouble was when it was investigated, they found out that most of those receiving the double benefit were administrators.

I’m going a little off the subject, but I believe one of the reasons, or in fact, the reason, for bloated administration in public education is that local school districts have come to depend upon state and federal aid and in so doing must make tons of documentation and grant proposals for those programs. In my mind local districts, or counties, should tax more for public education and then they would have more control and need fewer administrators and the local voters through their locally-elected school boards would have more control over how their tax dollars were spent. In addition, aid from state and federal governments ought to come in the form of block grants without so many strings attached that require so much administrative work.

I have cited this example before, but when I heard someone else cite it independently of me, I knew I was not just imagining things or misinterpreting. It goes like this:

When I was in high school we had two administrators, the principal, a kindly old man we hardly ever saw and did who knows what in his office and the more highly visible vice principal whose main job seemed to be to walk the halls to see if boys had their shirts tucked in and girls’ dresses were not too short (a ruler was even used sometimes) and to peek into the restroom to see that no one was smoking — a highly-paid and educated man and this was his job. But at least we had only two administrators. About five years after high school I returned as a local newspaper reporter. The school enrollment had not significantly changed and now there were a half dozen administrators — principals and vice principals. For a time frame here, I graduated in 1967. A lot of federal programs had been enacted during Johnson’s Great Society.

Overall our public education system in this nation has gone downhill. One of the reasons may be a great upheaval in society (to include the fact that the broken home is the norm — my own children were almost outcasts because they had a real mom and dad at home), to include changes in work ethic, attitudes toward intellectualism, the misguided notion that everyone should go to college, programs that seem to offer more to the supposed process of education than the actual education itself — fancy programs titles and grant applications and high paid administrators cannot match up to willing students and able teachers and supportive parents (and taxpayers).

Sometimes I think I just might be a conservative — but Lord please don’t let me be an ignorant reactionary one who blames everything on homosexuals, illegal immigrants, nasty liberals, Islamic terrorists, and atheists, oh, and Hawaiians.

But back to that Douthat column. If you have not already, read it and see what you get out of it:

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/30/opinion/sunday/douthat-what-tax-dollars-cant-buy.html


High school administrators get cold feet over ‘In Cold Blood’…

September 26, 2011

If high school students are not ready for Truman Capote’s “In Cold Blood”, then what are they ready for?

I write this in reaction to a story I just read in the LA Times online site that said administrators at Glendale High School turned down a request by English teachers to put the book on the reading list. The story was brief, with no real explanation of the ban.

I  saw the movie “In Cold Blood”, then much later, during a hospital stay, I read the book — much better than the movie.

To me it was far more than a murder story (a true story at that); it was a bit of Americana. It was a slice of American culture. It was literature in the best sense.

I think the news story about the ban said the book was thought to be a little too macabre.

I suppose it was macabre (but only briefly), but we’re talking about high school students, who these days see and hear (and do) about everything under the sun, and much of it for no purpose whatsoever.

Although the novel is about the true story of the murder of a Kansas farm family by two mentally unstable ex-cons, it is also about much more. It’s about good and evil. It’s about a way of life out on the great plains amid the wheat fields that a lot of high school students would not otherwise have a clue about. It is a true story. And that is another reason to read it. It’s a true account, albeit the interpretation of the author, based on interviews, written in the form of a novel. That provides another element to discover for the young mind — life as literature.

Not having “In Cold Blood” on their reading list won’t destroy the students’ education. And they could discover it and read it on their own — and that is where one really starts an education.

P.s.

Sometimes I am not terribly original. I think I used that same opening or lead (as we used to say in newspaper writing) for another post I did on book banning. Guess I was just thinking the same thing. Here we go again.


Standardized test cheating scandal may point to wrong goal in education…

July 7, 2011

People will drop all sense of right and wrong and ethics and morals when it comes to money or promotion or just keeping their job.

I mean if it is true that in Atlanta, Ga. that as many as 178 teachers and principals in the public schools there took part in what is billed at the largest school cheating scandal in history, that seems to prove what I just contended in the first paragraph.

A state investigative report, apparently prompted by investigative reporting by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution newspaper, charged that they erased wrong answers by students replacing them with correct answers. It also implicated former Atlanta schools superintendent Beverly Hall in the scandal. Her legal counsel, however, says she denies the charges.

It is sad indeed that professional educators would think it more important to cheat and thus get unjustly rewarded for higher tests scores via monetary bonuses than to concentrate on actually teaching. And they did get bonuses.

There is no excuse for their actions, except that maybe they felt their whole livelihoods were in jeopardy. And I suspect some soothed their consciences by rationalizing that it was a way to strike back at the test-is-everything no child left behind approach.

I think the whole emphasis on simply improving standardized tests scores misses the point. And I think the pressure should be more on the students to learn than the teachers to worry whether everyone gets a high score.

We all know — and it is painful to us all or many of us — that some people are just smarter than others. The idea that everyone should get a good grade is kind of silly, kind of like Garrison Keillor’s mythical Lake Woebegone where “all the kids are above average”.

But it is vital that the knowledge be offered. It is vital that teachers be of the highest quality and that they themselves have mastered the subjects they teach.

Done right, teachers will likely see many of their charges surpass them in their own areas of expertise, and they will be proud of this I am sure.

While it is true that some people are better able to pass on their knowledge, each teacher has his or own teaching style and some students may take to it and others not as much.

But this emphasis on teaching to a standardized test is nonsense in that it narrowly focuses on how to get right answers but does not ensure that students really understand what they are doing. In my own life I have often seen people who seem to be good at standardized problems on tests but fall apart when they have to do something original or think out of the standardized box.

I’m not particularly the math type, but I love language. When I was taking Spanish I noticed that some students could ace the tests which were often fill in the blanks and the like, but could not come up with an original sentence on their own.

There has to be some bench mark. So tests have to be used. But teaching to the test and, worse yet, rewarding educators simply for coming up with higher test scores is counter productive, especially when some feel compelled to cheat by changing their own students’ answers.

I do have to say, however, if top-level education were being offered at any given school, it would seem to follow that an abundance of comparatively high scores would be the result. But it should go without saying that cheating ruins the whole thing, but apparently in some educators’ minds the scores and not the learning was the goal.

There is nothing wrong, however, in preparing students in the methods of taking a test. But again, when how to take a test becomes more important than actually learning a subject, something must be wrong.

A more accurate picture of student achievement might be rendered on more individually creative tests than the standardized model but such tests would be difficult to administer and grade on a mass basis, I suppose.

It’s hard to believe that someone who would go into education would stoop to falsifying test results. It’s sad.

It is also sad to hear stories about parents who actually encourage their own children to cheat. To them the scores are all important. I guess they feel they get you into the better colleges and give you more status and more money.

Passing the test has surpassed actual learning as the paramount goal.

If we as a society think we are smart to immediately pass go and get rich, we may eventually find ourselves at last not so smart and not so rich.

India and China value learning (and they like money too).

P.s.

The tenure of former Washington D.C. schools chief Michelle Rhee, who carried on the  hard-charging, change-minded get rid of underperforming teachers and principals — under performance based on test scores of the students — was marred by charges or suspicions of cheating by some teachers and principals, the implication being she somehow knew about and/or encouraged it.


What a novel idea, young people should make a decision early on which way they want to go, academic or vocational…

February 3, 2011

So now some brilliant minds at Harvard have done a study and have come to the conclusion that college is not for everyone and that young people need to decide at middle school (junior high) whether they want (or can) be college bound or vocational bound, the European model as it were.

Pardon the sarcasm, but why did it take a study and what took them so long?

The hard fact in life is that everyone, except those who can enjoy a hefty inheritance, and it would need to be huge, needs a trade in order to do their part in life and get their share of tokens we call wages, money.  And by using the word “trade” I am using that term broadly. Some may eventually wind up in a trade that uses words and ideas and some may use a wrench or pliers or hammer (as examples).

That seems to run counter to the notion touted by the Obama administration and others that everyone should be able to, and in fact, go to college.

Maybe what they really mean, or should mean, is that regardless of what your trade is, in this 21st century, you have to be smarter, know more math and science, be more versed in modern technology, along with being worldly and well versed in the liberal arts.

While having basically a two-track system, academic and vocational, is an old idea or methodology, it could be improved upon with something like a third track, which would be a blend of academics and vocational training.

But the bottom line is that we, in the USA, spend too much time in school going over the same thing and we pass our children on from grade to grade, more often than not, with little to no future planning.

And I think it is a scandal, especially here in California where I live, that our education dollars are eaten up by the fact we have to provide remedial education at the college level. What has everyone been doing all this time? Lack of focus becomes expensive.

Many of us, myself included, find ourselves in college and even in mid life (at 61 I wish I was still there) trying to figure out what we really want or can do for a living. Freedom to contemplate can be nice, but can we really afford it?

(Let me clarify; I am not in college now, that was the past. I spend most of my days out on the road as a long-haul truck driver. Sure glad I got that college education.)

Yes, while I think it is nice we have so much freedom in this society not locking ourselves into a particular trade, I do not think it is always terribly practical. And I think we can and should maintain as much freedom or flexibility, as possible or practicable. No one should be forever tied to a single trade, but on the other hand, one does have a responsibility to one’s self, one’s family, and society as a whole to be productive in order to share in the benefits of society.

There is some concern by some that tracking students into vocational training will return us to the old ways where minorities were shunted into shop class and away from academics. Well, no one should be forced (except by lack of God-given ability) away from academics based on skin color or ethnic or social background, that should go without saying. On the other hand, solid training in usable vocational skills could go a long way towards solving the chronic unemployment problems (overall economic conditions not always withstanding).

But as the saying goes, you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink the water. As a journalist (in my former life), I once did a story about a vocational class at a high school where the students were taught carpentry and other construction skills. These were American white bread kids, not so-called minorities. Teenagers will be teenagers, but these kids seemed to lack much interest, and the teacher said as much to me.

No system is perfect. Germany is often lauded for its two-track academic and vocational approach. But a German school principal, visiting America, once told me that even there they have problems. He said that a lot of children who are supposed to be young academics are not up to the challenge or lack motivation. And we know that there is unemployment in Germany and there is hooliganism.

But I am glad that an old idea has resurfaced and could be spruced up to fit the modern times.

P.s.

The story that inspired this post is at:

http://news.yahoo.com/s/yblog_thelookout/20110202/us_yblog_thelookout/study-says-college-isnt-for-everyone