A calling ...

"We are called to be architects of the future, not its victims."

"Make the world work for 100% of humanity in the shortest possible time through spontaneous cooperation without ecological offense or the disadvantage of anyone."

- Buckminster Fuller

Monday, January 31, 2011

Illegal immigration enforcement program takes heavy toll on Hispanic populations

Illegal immigration enforcement program takes heavy toll on Hispanic populations

Below is my response to the above article. The comments remind me of the tone an tenor of all the articles I read at the National Archives while researching the causes of the Internment of Japanese Americans during World War II.

I wonder how my little SP is doing. She scored 600 (a perfect score) on her Reading SOL; her father was in deportation procedures because he had been charged with DWI. She cried every day on the playground and shared her experiences of going to the local food bank with me. Her description of being held high overhead by her father as they crossed a river into the United States was compelling, especially coming from such a young writer. Having gone to the Art of Gaman Exhibition at the Renwick over the weekend, I was reminded of people who endure great suffering with dignity and grace. To abandon these children seems shortsighted, at best.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Pulling the plug

This morning, after carefully considering how video games and TV can affect a child's brain, based on the brain science described by Dr. Carla Hannaford, PhD. in Smart Moves, I blocked Joe's favorite website. Earlier in the week, after yet another marathon electronics session, I had Joe make a "Non-Electronics List" of things he can do that do not involve electronics. Based on what I'm observing and what I'm reading about brain science, these games are addictive, generating dopamine and adrenaline in the child's brain.  Dr. Hannaford describes a condition she calls SOSOH (Stressed Out Survival-Oriented Humans), and explains how electronics contribute to this syndrome, along with a whole host of other factors. Joe was exhibiting a number of symptoms described by Dr. Hannaford. Thus, I intervened. I told Joe that he might hate me now but will thank later.

Reflection and Commentary on News from the Network, Vol. 4, No. 4

The Just Third Way: News from the Network, Vol. 4, No. 4

It has been over 30 years since I read How to Read a Book, by Mortimer Adler. Just as Michael Greaney and people in his network are now doing, I should reread it, since I tend to agree with Adler's assessment that it takes a minimum of three readings before a book (of substance) is truly understood. I seem to remember having done that long ago, but my memory needs refreshing, so I will add it to my pile. My father had recommended the book while I was in high school, and I recall it having had a strong influence on my awakening curiosity.

At Georgetown University, I remember one of my English professors criticizing another of my professors: "Dr. Slakey is dyslexic," the other professor warned. The point of our conference, I seem to remember, was politely but pointedly to somehow warn me that I needed to increase my reading rate. Dr. Slakey, one of my intellectual heroes, enjoyed teaching students how to perform highly detailed textual analysis; my other professor, I think, was suggesting that an overzealous attention to detail, a habit I had learned from Dr. Slakey, was hurting my grades.  Not that I cared.

Dr. Slakey was extremely fond of Cardinal Newman, who wrote in The Discipline of Mind:
I consider, then, that the position of our minds, as far as they are uncultivated, towards intellectual objects,—I mean of our minds, before they have been disciplined and formed by the action of our reason upon them,—is analogous to that of a blind man towards the objects of vision, at the moment when eyes are for the first time given to him by the skill of the operator. (http://www.newmanreader.org/works/idea/article9.html)
Cardinal Newman, who is most famous for The Idea of a University, rigorously examined the purposes of an education, which is a central question I have as an educator.  The disciplines and habits of Dr. Slakey and other thinkers were somewhat overwhelming. Until my senior year, I felt like the blind man who can suddenly see but needs to learn how to differentiate color, texture, dimension, contrast, etc.  My rate increased, along with better comprehension, but only after the nerve cells in my brain, through practice, practice, and more practice, more fully myelinated.

After working with non-verbal middle school students last week, and reflecting on a chapter in Smart Moves, entitled "What goes wrong",  I made some connections between the highly autistic and highly academic, both of whom can be highly resistant to change.  For the non-verbal, highly autistic, any bit of external stimulation can quickly overload them.  Beautiful S scratches and strikes out when asked to identify words, pictures, objects, and numbers -- she appears almost perfectly formed, except for her ocular lock; her hands clutch but don't release, wring constantly, and cover her face.  I wonder what went wrong. For the highly academic, which Michael Greaney complains about in his blog post (see link above), overloaded with details, their chosen paradigm offers a safe haven, status, and wealth.  Why would someone with tenure risk questioning their deepest underlying assumptions?  Carla Hannaford, PhD., identifies stress as the root cause of most learning difficulties.  Instead of ADHD and other popular labels, Hannaford suggests a new label, SOSOH (Stressed Out Survival-Oriented Humans).  Stress is a common factor for both the highly autistic and highly academic and everyone in between.

The SOSOH condition, as described by Dr. Hannaford, a trained neurobiologist, provides a convenient lens for viewing problems in education today. As Michael Greaney noted, my father was meeting with leaders from a system of teaching colleges in Connecticut earlier this week; I assume that his purpose was to discuss the formation of Justice University, and to discuss their involvement in developing a curriculum for teaching justice in conjunction with developing the schools for the Harris Neck project. My strong recommendation would be that anyone developing curriculum for the new Harris Neck school district carefully review Dr. Hannaford's book Smart Moves, to systematically reduce stress in the learning environment.

There are numerous causes of the SOSOH condition.  Dr. Hannaford focuses on neurobiological factors and mismatched curriculum design factors.  Ruby Payne, in The Culture of Poverty, poignantly describes external barriers to learning.  I would add historical economic and social justice factors to the mix.  If the people who are designing the institutions of Harris Neck take into account the design factors my father wants to contribute, they can remove a major cause of SOSOH for their students.

An alliance with the Max Weissman's Great Books Academy would add rigor, infrastructure, and resources to the educational component.  With deep rooted anxiety about the direction of education in America, it makes sense to reconsider the purposes of education, and the future of the children who will be educated.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Another Great Brain Gym Video

Brain Gym, developed by Paul and Gail Dennison, is a set of simple but coordinated movements designed to wake up and integrate areas throughout the brain and body involved in learning.   In Smart Moves, by Carla Hannaford, PhD., which I'm reading for a second time, Ms. Hannaford offers testimonial and explains some of the science behind Brain Gym.  A trained neurobiologist, Hannaford explains how, when a brain is functioning properly, different areas of the brain and the areas of the body involved in movement network together in an integrated system; she also explains in detail how, when these networks are disrupted, difficulties in learning can arise. After working with severely autistic children today, and working with other special education students, and having worked with all ages of children, K-12, I'm becoming increasingly curious about the role of the body in learning.  Smart Moves provides a touchstone for classification, identification of root causes, and prescriptions for solving learning difficulties.

YouTube - BrainGym

I'm currently enjoying Smart Moves, by Carla Hannaford, PhD. This video offers a great demonstration of some of the Brain Gym movements, as described in Smart Moves.

National science test scores disappoint

National science test scores disappoint

Here's what I posted today in response to the above article:

We don't teach scientific inquiry. We teach facts to be memorized for the purposes of performing on tests. A hands on approach, where the process of asking questions, making observations, analyzing data, offering possible explanations, and asking questions about the explanations takes more time than our pacing guides would allow to do well. Higher level thinking skills, which are what are being assessed, sadly are not the focus of instruction for a number of reasons.

Foremost, there is little consensus about the goals of science instruction, i.e., what do we as a nation want students to be able to do?

Also, instructional methods are wildly inconsistent. Where are the agreed upon best practices? What are the best kits for conducting experiments? Are our science kits outdated? How are teams setting up experiments, sharing resources, and celebrating the scientific process?

Anybody can see, we need a better system.

A Few Observations:

Recently, I was in a 6th grade class subbing for a special education teacher where there was a mix of inclusion and pull out.  The demographics  in the class were highly skewed to the economically disadvantaged end of the spectrum.  Thus, there was unusually great pressure for teachers to teach to the SOL.  In the two days I spent with the class, virtually the entire time was spent in paper and pencil examinations.  I found myself growing angry as I observed students initially struggle and quickly quit trying to analyze reading questions that many adults would have difficulty answering.  When the testing data is collected, after the entire class bombed, (and not just the special education students), how will the data drive instruction? How will the teachers be evaluated?

The lead teacher was highly experienced, highly organized, highly energetic, and highly respected by her students.  The shared reading experience of Hatchet, by Gary Paulsen, I observed, and process of asking and answering discussion questions about important passages in the text was masterful.  Yet, as I gathered other observations, I found myself wondering, what is the percentage of teacher talk versus student talk in that classroom?

In math, students were being tested on multi-step problems involving estimation and problem solving.  I only saw how the special education students did, but what I saw initially was a classroom of students who lacked the strategies and stamina to work through these kinds of problems.  Many seemed to have mastered traditional addition and multiplication algorithms, but none were good at breaking down these problems into parts, and choosing math operations appropriately to solve multi-step problems, i.e., algebraic thinking. Furthermore, none were skilled estimators.  The frustration was palpable as I observed students begin marking answers randomly.  Afterwards, an IA modeled each problem step-by-step while I sat amongst students making sure all were taking notes and holding each of them accountable for every step.  I was happy to see struggling learners light up as patterns and logic were modeled for them.  Between the IA and me, we managed to keep all the students engaged and keep the process somewhat enjoyable.

On the second day, I worked for a full day alone with a student named O, testing.  On the math assessment, O was observing me for cues, watching my facial expressions, watching my eyes, listening to the tone of my voice, wanting help I couldn't give him.  What amazed me was the way O kept working the problems, writing down numbers and erasing them multiple times, testing various operations, asking me to re-read the questions over and over, and eventually finding an answer that was close to his answer choice.  One problem that stumped O involved estimation and addition of three numbers written to the thousandths place.  When he eventually used a back-end estimation strategy, he solved the problem.  I kept asking him, "do you want to tap out?"  Eventually, he did on a few of the questions where he had no idea where to start.  Since O had been absent on the previous day of testing and it was near the end of the grading period, O had spent an entire day testing.  I was proud of how O kept refusing to "tap out".

O was stumped by one problem that involved simple calculations because he could not figure out how to set up the problem, and perhaps more importantly, because he wasn't a skilled estimator:  10 items were purchased at $16.95 per each; if the tax rate was 4.5%, about how much total tax was charged?  While O figured out that he could use an estimate of $17.00 and eventually realized that 10 items would cost about $170.00, he didn't think of an estimate of 5% as being half of 10%, which would have enabled him to easily solve the problem in his head.  He eventually guessed correctly.  I wish I had had the time to explain to him the mental math strategy afterwards, but time expired.  He would have gotten it.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Test-Taking Cements Knowledge Better Than Studying, Researchers Say - NYTimes.com

Test-Taking Cements Knowledge Better Than Studying, Researchers Say - NYTimes.com

An interesting comment by Howard Gardner, suggesting that the results of the study "throw down the gauntlet to those progressive educators, myself included." I suspect that the process of testing may have somehow stirred emotion and the brain's reticular activating system (RAS) better than other learning procedures used in the study.

The RAS must be activated before new synaptic connections can be made. It would be interesting to learn more about the study participants and how the study was constructed before coming to too many conclusions. Anyone who has ever witnessed a Black Belt Test, or has played team sports, or performed in a school play understands how a certain amount of pressure can bring out the best in people. Strictly rational/logical thinking doesn't exactly excite most people, but a challenge often does.

My concern is when testing is used as a blunt instrument or when too much is read into the results, whether positive or negative.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

What happens when mom unplugs teens for 6 months?

What happens when mom unplugs teens for 6 months?

My son Joe needs to read this article. I'm sure he'll laugh and say that I'm evil.

The Charlie Parker songbook sounds interesting.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Word Work, Reading, Writing, and Listening to Reading

Recent Observations: I recently worked with groups of high school ESL (English as a Second Language) and 5th grade special education students who needed extra support with sound / letter correspondence. i.e. phonics.  Both groups were English Language Learners (ELL). In working with these different age groups of ELL, I noticed a pattern of missed visual / auditory cues including word endings and within-word consonants.  Vowel patterns were particularly troublesome for the high school students. Latin cognates were strengths for both groups, as both groups relied heavily on background knowledge.  Miscues in the high school group seemed to occur frequently when students defaulted to Spanish vowel sounds as they sounded out words in their unfamiliarity with visual / auditory English vowel patterns.

In speaking with the chairman of the high school's ESL department, I observed that students would benefit from guided reading groups and independent centers format. When he asked what kind of independent centers, I recommended word study and independent reading.  I should have included writing and listening centers as well.  I also advocated that independent center resources be shared department wide, because I know that developing a "balanced literacy framework" is a monumental undertaking. To what extent does miscue analysis (i.e., DRA2, QRI, etc.) factor into high school literacy assessments and guide instruction?  The chairman agreed that high school ESL students needed extra help with phonemic awareness, but he indicated that his hands were tied because the department first needed to prepare students for a standardized ESL leveling test.

Graphophonic Cueing (decoding / orthography) was a strength for the 5th graders, who used a Fountas and Pinnell based word study format.  Everyone knew the routines as they are done school-wide and across grade levels. The list of words in the 5th grade group included all multisyllabic words; all had highlighted 10 words from a list of about 18 that they wanted to learn.  They copied their 10 words onto home and school student 3x5 cards which I checked for accuracy.  Look, Say, Cover, Write, Check routines supported the self correction of within-word visual miscues (i.e., spelling errors).  A manilla folder cut into three flaps provides a framework for word work.  Working one-on-one during recess, I observed a student use the SAY component to untangle visual miscues independently (I still needed to prompt the student to check his work).

Semantic Cueing (meaning) was a weakness for the 5th graders relative to the high school students; however, 5th grade word study routines included support for "thinking about thinking" (metacognition).  While high school ELL students relied heavily on Latin cognates (semantic cueing), a lack of phonemic awareness visibly frustrated a group of high school students (ESL levels 1 and 2) as we used a shared reading procedure to read a non-fiction selection about Barack Obama.  The 5th grade group used their lists of 10 self-selected words to write sentences.  Homophones tricked all of the 5th graders. Perhaps an over-reliance on auditory cues had led to overconfidence; none of the 5th graders independently consulted the dictionary; none were automatic with guide words; none were quick in appropriately choosing from a selection of multiple meanings.  In word solving, the high school group seemed quicker to consult a bilingual dictionary; they were quicker to share Latin cognate connections among friends; the older students seemed far more reliant on semantic cueing than 5th graders.

Syntactic Cueing (grammatical structure) is a key component of writing and reading sentences, and students who are constantly answering true / false or multiple choice questions cannot possibly be properly developing a sense of what looks and sounds right.  The choices are simply far too limiting.  When I asked 5th graders to read their sentences aloud (privately), in reading aloud they could hear when their sentences did not sound quite right; auditory cueing supported a recognition of proper syntax (proper word order) and self correction in their writing.  In 6-traits writing, often a key component of Writing Workshop, guided and independent practice with the trait of sentence fluency can help students develop an ear for the language; this, in turn, supports self-correction and syntactic cueing.

Writing Workshop was a major omission from my original recommendation to the department chairman.  I showed a movie about Nazi Germany called Swing Kids to a "higher group" (ESL levels 3 and 4) .  I was instructed to tell students to take notes because they would be writing an essay about the movie. From prior experience showing classroom movies, I knew there were two major pitfalls to be avoided in showing a movie:  first, a lack of learner engagement; second, a lack of structure.  I was warned about major potential discipline problems, but I did not experience any discipline problems.  Since I provided a framework for taking notes and prompted reflection in natural intervals (based on the basic literary elements of character, setting, and plot, and beginning, middle, and end), students were prompted to think about characters and their problems, notice details about the setting, make predictions, and find personal connections at regular intervals. In Writing Workshop, students use the writing cycle to plan, draft, revise, edit, and publish; they work both on self-selected topics and teacher-selected topics.  Students could work independently on essays during a Writing Workshop rotation while the teacher addresses individual needs in a small group instructional format. Literacy Center Rotations would involve a change in the way high schools do business. 

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Recommended Children's Books that Teach Values

Recommended Children's Books that Teach Values

Today, I will reread an article from The Great Books Academy entitled, "What is a School," by Jacques Barzun. I will reread it again and again until I have a better sense to which I agree and disagree so that I can fully participate. Barzun states that the purpose of a school is to "remove ignorance." While I cannot say that I agree with Barzun's prescriptions for removing ignorance, I cannot disagree with his choice of guiding questions for the discussion:

[T]he first of our concerns is How does a teacher teach? Next, How does the learner do his part? Followed by, What should be taught? Then, How to test the knowledge acquired? Next, Who should run the school? followed by, What role for the parents? And lastly, What should go into teacher training?
Decisions about how to teach need to be based on what we know about how learners learn, i.e., best practices. One thing is certain, an engaged learner learns faster and more effectively than someone who is not engaged.

Questions about a learner's responsibility involve a question of a learner's values, which leads to important decisions about values. Do schools have a responsibility to teach values? Or, is it the parents job?

What should be taught and who should teach it involves cultural values, but how does a pluralistic society decide upon its core curriculum? Traditions and the political climate are inescapable factors driving decisions about what ought to be taught.

Other key factors involve fundamental shifts in the relationship between people and their environment.  In a 1967 article entitled, The Root Curriculum, the author, a Stanford engineer, made a case for restructuring education based on learning disciplines appropriate to where society is going, as opposed to tradition alone.

I've been pondering how to develop a new genre (or is it an old genre?) that involves rewriting traditional literature in new settings to teach values. That's how I found the website that I posted here today. I'll be looking to compile lists of these kinds of websites and materials as a starting place. I'll be working on the rules of genre. Once I learn the rules, I should be able to teach children or anyone else how to write them. If the purpose of the school is to remove ignorance, one of the first things from which ignorance needs to be removed is the extent to which values drive instructional decisions. Learners must become fluent in our society's values.  Values are to the lighthouse, as learners are to the mighty Missouri when it ironically ordered the lighthouse to yield. What better way to engage learners in a conversation about values than to have them write and draw and act them out?

For me, reading has always been about the conversation.  Just as T.S. Eliot created modern poetry in response to Dante and a modern world tone-deaf to classical traditions; just as Dante created new literature in response to Boethius, Augustine, John, Paul, Vergil, and Homer, and in response to the current events of his day; even young readers can be introduced to the notion of a chain of conversation and fashion their own responses.  I hope to begin working with a professional illustrator as this future writing project gathers momentum.

I am so happy to have returned home and found that I received an unsolicited comment on my Blog.  Mr. Wong kindly provided a link to the full text of Barzun's article, "What Is A School?" To answer Mr. Wong's question, sometimes I use a reading strategy analogous to a grazing cow.  I post as I chew the cud. Last night, I skimmed and scanned Part I of the article provided by the Great Books Academy.  Tonight I'm grazing again, reading and responding as I go.  Last night, as I read Barzun, I had fundamental disagreements with specific prescriptions based on my experience "in the field" and prior academic readings.  For example, Barzun's statements about phonics do not take into account excellent research about developmental stages and the three cueing systems upon which the balanced literacy framework was developed; moreover, I've witnessed how Kindergarten students initially connect the idea of letters to their names (whole word) and uppercase letters to the first letter in their name.  Whole to part phonics: how children learn to read and spell, by H. Dombey and M. Moustafa, provides a more nuanced view of phonics than Barzun, in my opinion.  When I read the analogy Barzun used to describe what teaching is and what teaching is not, however, I was hooked on the analytical framework Barzun provided.  His questions provide an excellent starting point.

Too often young learners are subjected to what Jerome Bruner, in The Culture of Education, called "the thousand images"; like the traveler in an unfamiliar land asking for directions, as described by Barzun, children are too often fast fed a diet of decontextualized information; not surprisingly, many American children "get lost" or become disengaged and refuse to submit to institutional torture.  Effective teaching involves what Robert Marzano calls, "building background knowledge."  According to recent studies in brain science, "synapses that wire together fire together" and "too fast doesn't last" (the source of the brain science quotes are from Dr. Norman Doidge, as cited in an earlier post).  Thus, the traveler who is provided guidance (i.e., background knowledge) as opposed to raw data alone is more likely to find his destination.  Speaking of destinations, learning is a journey and the destination is as much a matter of cultural values as it is a matter of changing relationships.  A quality education enables learners to make connections, which exponentially increase the velocity of thought.

We will graze again.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior - WSJ.com

Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior - WSJ.com
While I agree with Amy Chau that parents, more than anybody else, must set high academic and cultural expectations for their children, and agree that the performance of children reflects on parenting, unlike Amy Chau I believe that excessive parental pressure and control can ultimately be counterproductive. Given America's high percentage of two-working-parent households, few parents have the energy to micromanage every waking moment of their children's lives; even fewer can afford private classical music lessons. With the limited hours parents have left to spend with children, few parents want those few remaining hours to be a constant state of World War III. Plus, many American parents believe that the participation of their children in sports is as important as their participation in music or other programs, based on traditions that go back as far as Ancient Greece. Moreover, unless children learn how to think and decide for themselves, young adults can put themselves in dangerous situations when suddenly liberated from parental controls.

The recent emergence of China as a global power doesn't change the reality that the Western core values of freedom and justice are at the heart of American power. Historically, dictatorships have tended to inhibit human creativity. American innovation and justice created opportunities which once made America the envy of the world and brought Amy Chau's parents and millions of other immigrant families to America.  The values Amy Chau calls "Chinese" are more accurately "immigrant" values, and are consistent with America's Horatio Alger mythology and values of thrift, hard work, and sobriety.

Speaking of Chinese teaching methods, I recently had the opportunity to observe two classes in a school which has a Chinese Immersion program.  In a 4th grade GT class, the teacher started out using a hundreds chart to lead children in counting by fives in Chinese; then the teacher drew a clock face on the white board so that children would connect the words and number to a clock; the pacing of the lesson was brilliant, and accelerated as children grew increasingly comfortable.  In a 5th grade class, the teacher used a Chinese song  to the tune of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star to create memory pegs for Chinese symbols and words.  I observed zero belittling being done in the lesson, yet American students were fully engaged, excited to be learning how to speak, read, and write in Chinese.  I suspect that not all Chinese instruction is as dictatorial as what Amy Chau seems to be advocating.

In the 5th grade class, I taught a session called Habits of Mind.  The Habit of the Day was called Managing Impulsivity.  Students were tasked with drawing pictures and words as evidence of reflection.  On the white board, I wrote a quote by Charlotte Bronte:  "Think twice before you leap."  I used the character of Odysseus of Ithica, from The Odyssey, one of the oldest stories in Western literature, as an exemplar for this habit.  To make it interesting, I related the story of Odysseus and the Cyclops.

Odysseus and his men arrived at the island of the Cyclops and came upon a cave wherein they found a cache of food.  As Odysseus and his men began feasting, Polyphemus, a giant one-eyed cyclops, arrived with his sheep and rolled a large stone to close off the entrance of the cave.  Polyphemus then plucked two of Odysseus' men and casually ate them.  Realizing that he would need the giant to move the stone, instead of attacking the giant in a rage, Odysseus devised a clever escape plan.

Odysseus patiently plied Polyphemus with wine and music.  When the giant, who had decided that Odysseus was a good fellow, asked what his name was, Odysseus replied, "my name is Nobody."  Eventually, Polyphemus drifted asleep.  Odysseus and his men sharpened a log, heated it over the fire, and used it blind the cyclops.  Polyphemus screamed in agony.  When his brothers asked what was wrong, Polyphemus cried, "Nobody is hurting me; Nobody is blinding me," leading them to conclude that Polyphemus must be delusional.  Odysseus had his men tie three sheep together at a time and climb underneath.  In the morning when Polyphemus let out his sheep to pasture, he couldn't feel Odysseus and his men escaping.

Unfortunately for Odysseus, he forgot to heed the habit of mind, "think twice before you leap."  As he was leaving the island, Odysseus boasted, "let everyone know that it was Odysseus of Ithica who blinded the cyclops!"   In doing so, Odysseus enraged Poseiden.  Polyphemus happened to be the son of the God of the Sea, and Odysseus needed to travel home to Ithica by sea.  I noted that all of the trials and tribulations suffered by Odysseus over a ten year period in The Odyssey resulted from that one impulsive act.

Afterwards, several children asked me to write the name of the book on the board.  They did so because they were genuinely interested, not because anybody was forcing them to become interested in the classics.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Kathleen Parker - Leave Twain alone

Kathleen Parker - Leave Twain alone

Mark Twain is arguably America's greatest author. His ear for regional dialects rings true and his character portraits are realistic, i.e., true to the setting and his experience. Rather than censor the master's work, why not use his original language and his characters to launch discussions about values and ways of life, which is what the author intended. Sanitizing the language of Mark Twain doesn't change the facts. His words reflect a historical ugliness in America that Twain fully intended to expose to ridicule.  Twain would be happy that today people view the n-word negatively, but furious about censorship.  Jim is a heroic figure.  The contrast between society's words and Jim's heroic actions only strengthens Mark Twain's social commentary.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011



On April 15, 2011, The Coalition for Capital Homesteading will hold its annual demonstration in front of the Federal Reserve. Why the Fed?

Last year, when the Tea Party Movement emerged in the national media, there was a demonstration at the Mall where a series of speakers railed on and on that the Federal Reserve is a corrupt institution that needs to be abolished. Anger at the Fed was at a fever pitch in Washington following a bailout for billionaires. A few blocks away, the Coalition for Capital Homesteading was quietly holding its annual demonstration in front of the Federal Reserve, with several members dressed up in Abraham Lincoln costumes. Why Lincoln stovepipe hats?
Click on the link above for a detailed explanation of why the Fed and why the Lincoln stovepipe hats. Rather than abolishing the Federal Reserve, the Coalition for Capital Homesteading hopes to redefine its mission and unleash its existing powers to grow the economy in non-inflationary ways in accordance with principles of economic and social justice. The Coalition hopes to pass the Capital Homestead Act on the 150th anniversary of Lincoln's Homestead Act of 1861. The buzz from this year's April 15th event is generating an interesting convergence of talent.
Perhaps the main goal of Poetic License (my blog) is to generate conversation, to be provocative and to encourage responses from readers in a light-hearted way. Through the web of connections that I hope to tap into, develop, and extend this year, I'm also hoping to unlock opportunities to do meaningful work for the rest of my life.

Through my father, who has developed world class connections in over 50 years as a soldier of justice in what he calls "the Happy Revolution," I was introduced to Dr. Lawrence Kohlberg, who invited me to a conference at Harvard University on School Climate and Governance in the mid 1980's. At age 23, I simply wasn't ready to follow up on the opportunity to collaborate with a world class intellectual; hopefully my attitudes as a representative of a famous employee-owned company did not thoroughly disappoint Dr. Kohlberg to the point of despair. Dr. Kohlberg invited me to stay in his home, where I met Dr. Ann Gilligan, who was famously refuting the basis of Dr. Kohlberg's thesis about Moral Stages based on the population sample of Kohlberg's original research: like Piaget, Kohlberg had only included boys in his original study, and Dr. Gilligan argued that girls might think differently than boys. Here I was at Harvard University conversing with Harvard professors, Principals and teachers of inner city schools from New York and Boston, and street children from Columbia (the country) regarding the nitty gritty process of teaching students through the use of moral dilemmas and student-led judicial proceedings. At 23, sadly, I was more interested in celebrating my 5.0 Mustang with its fat tires and kick-ass sound system, which I had paid for in its entirety with my first bonus check as an employee-owner. Moreover, I had arrived at Dr. Kohlberg's house well after midnight, because I had gone West instead of East on the New York State Through Way, and I never was able to catch up on the reading.

24 years later, having come full circle, having become a teacher, my father has recently opened up an opportunity to engage in dialog with Max Weissman, a co-founder along with Mortimer Adler of The Great Books Academy. As I prepare my application for a Master's in Education program at a local university, my father is in conversations with a world famous children's illustrator, with hopes of developing a curriculum for Justice University in collaboration with the Great Books Academy and an association of teacher's colleges located in the Northeast. While breaking bread on New Year's Day, a few of us were joking somewhat seriously about developing cartoons to communicate ideas of social and economic justice to children. No alcohol was involved, I promise. My lighthearted banter was inspired by animated conversations I've been having with my son Joe about The Far Side cartoons by Gary Larsen. The genius of Gary Larsen is how he communicates big ideas using simple line drawings and a powerful caption. Not to throw religion into the mix, but Jesus employed a similar strategy.

Tonight, my dad and I were talking about the possibility of developing a new genre of children's books, based on old favorites. Hopefully, these discussions might lead to a collaboration with my father's new illustrator friend on a major project down South.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Parental Controls

During the holidays, I noticed that my 12 year old son was spending an inordinate amount of time on the internet playing a computer game.  Given that executive function doesn't fully develop in the brain until about age 25 (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A52687-2005Jan31.html), my wife and I agreed to install parental controls on our computers.  We installed limits on the number of hours and times of day.  As I explained to Joe, who has been trying to renegotiate ever since, parents sometimes make decisions for children when children are unable to make proper decisions for themselves.

As a parent and a teacher, my goal has always been to help children learn how to evaluate their choices and make smart decisions.  I used Excel to create a bar graph that compared the amount and percentages of time that he was spending on various activities.  In the discussion that followed, I learned that it wasn't that Joe lacked goals, but that his goals seemed inappropriate to me.  I learned that he was methodically implementing a plan to become world class in a computer game (I'm too embarrassed to say which one).  To help Joe process the new time restrictions, I used open-ended questions such as, what do you feel would be an appropriate use of your time?

One of my pet peeves is that children waste too much daylight, and I explained that I restricted usage after 4pm to encourage him to go outside after he finishes his homework.  To provide a replacement activity, I purchased a batting tee to go with his new batting/pitching net.  Hopefully, Joe will become as addicted to improving his batting swing and throwing motion as he has become to scoring points on his video / computer games.  Joe's withdrawal pains are painful to watch, and he communicates the extent of his suffering so well, but when the Spring baseball season approaches, hopefully, Joe will to enjoy the benefits of a level swing.

As I often explain to Joe, sometimes its more important for me to be a dad than to be a friend.  Maybe he'll understand what I'm talking about in another 12 years.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

After a long and uncertain journey, rookie wide receiver Anthony Armstrong is a bright spot for the Washington Redskins

After a long and uncertain journey, rookie wide receiver Anthony Armstrong is a bright spot for the Washington Redskins

This story is what I love about sports. Success on the field is all about a person's heart. A 4.29 40 time doesn't hurt!

17 National Debt Statistics Which Prove That We Have Sold Our Children And Grandchildren Into Perpetual Debt Slavery | Mario Kenny ™

17 National Debt Statistics Which Prove That We Have Sold Our Children And Grandchildren Into Perpetual Debt Slavery | Mario Kenny ™

At what point does it make sense to file for national bankruptcy? What would be the effect of a national bankruptcy filing? Our national debt numbers are staggering and point to some obvious conclusions. First, it seems increasingly unlikely that all of this debt will ever be repaid. Second, a massive reorganization in our banking system is inevitable.

A liquidation of national assets would be impractical, given that the US has such a strong military and such a large cache of apocalyptic weaponry. What nation would dare attempt to force the American people to liquidate all of our assets? China?

In bankruptcy and reorganization filings, which is to where these numbers appear to be pointing, generally what happens is that a judge forces debtors to assess how much income they can generate, what assets can be liquidated, what costs can be eliminated, and the court helps decides who stands first in line for repayment. Debtors are forced to assess why they are spending more than they are earning.

A think-tank based in Arlington, Virginia called the Center For Economic and Social Justice (CESJ) believes the solution to the problem of why the American people are spending more than we earn, and how to correct the growing imbalance, is right under our noses. John F. Kennedy, whose vision and leadership led Americans to be the first nation to plant our flag on the moon, orated: "a rising tide lifts all ships."

The rising tide that lifted Americans to the moon in my lifetime was an economy fueled by technological innovations which made it possible for Americans to do more with less. The ships were ordinary Americans, who were lifted as a whole to become the richest, most inclusive people the world has ever known. If technological innovation, or what Buckminster Fuller characterized as the design science revolution, was the engine driving the rising tide, credit and our banking system provided the rocket fuel. Our banking system enabled any property owner that could demonstrate sufficient cash flow and a feasible business plan to get the credit needed to fuel economic growth. CESJ has a plan for reorganizing our banking system to once again fuel the rising tide that lifts all ships.

How many Americans feel the tide is rising? A reflection of a sinking tide, President Barack Obama cancelled NASA's Constellation Program, the cornerstone of our manned space program. Today, we have Ph.D rocket scientists, who just completed designs for the Ares rockets, living out of their cars.  I know this because I recently spoke to a friend who was directly affected by the cancellation of the Constellation Program.

Here's a really scary thought. With so many rocket scientists currently unemployed, which nation has the greatest demand for rocket scientists? Consider the following article about the strategic weakness in China's military: rocket engines! (http://www.globalsecurity.org/wmd/library/report/crs/98-485.htm) Which nation has the greatest capacity to buy up strategic industries?  You guessed it, China.

The Capital Homestead Act, which CESJ hopes to pass in 2012 on the 150th anniversary of the passage of Lincoln's Homestead Act, offers the kind of disruptive technology that can be as powerful as the fulcrum of Archimedes. Archimedes said, if I had a lever long enough, I could move the world.

The Capital Homestead Act can be a socio-economic lever. If anyone thinks that the passage of the Capital Homestead Act should not be our nation's number one legislative priority in 2011, consider the hundreds of unemployed rocket scientists from the Constellation Program and everything they know.  Now is the time to invest in strategic industries in innovative, non-inflationary ways, in ways that create owners out of non-owners without making non-owners out of owners.