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

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Food dyes’ favor fades as possible links to hyperactivity emerge - The Washington Post

Food dyes’ favor fades as possible links to hyperactivity emerge - The Washington Post

ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) is considered to be an epigenetic condition, which means that some people may be more genetically predisposed than others, but that the condition may be expressed, primarily, when triggered by environmental factors. Diet is often investigated as a major contributing factor to ADHD. Any teacher or parent who has seen the "off the wall" response of children to sugary drinks can understand the concern about any ingredients that are potential triggers.

The above article in the Washington Post reports on a recent study that suggests a link between food additives and ADHD. Scientists cited in the article have urged caution, because a number of important factors not accounted for in the study may have skewed the data, including Socio-Eeconomic Status, gender, and dietary habits. Recently, I read about the distinction between studies that show causation and correlation, and skeptical scientists are suggesting that the link needs to be investigated further. Unfortunately, the author of the article did not describe how the study was constructed, which makes it difficult to come to any firm scientific conclusions. However, everybody probably needs to pay closer attention to our dietary inputs.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

A radical alternative to nuclear reactors | KurzweilAI

A radical alternative to nuclear reactors | KurzweilAI

I've been thinking along the same lines for years. The idea of sending a flotilla of satellites to harvest solar energy outside Earth's atmosphere has always made sense to me. The engineering challenge is to transmit the energy to earth safely. Maybe something good will come out of the recent nuclear disaster in Japan.

Good, bad, and ugly - I've got the real story about education

Recently, there was a reporter reportedly snooping around a school where I was subbing. In all likelihood, the reporter was brought into functioning classrooms, probably taught by master teachers, very unlike the Kindergarten class for which I happened to accept a half day job. I got the real story. My first clue that something was very wrong was the lack of sub-plans, the work table completely covered with clutter, and signs of disorder on nearly every surface. My next clue came when the teacher who I was covering for straggled in 16 minutes late for a meeting, and when somebody came to get her, she replied, "oh, were we supposed to meet?" Soon, I picked up the phone, where someone else, likely the Principal, was looking for her. Clear signs of disciplinary actions were everywhere.

As I searched in vain for sub-plans, none were written, I noticed handwritten notes referring to observations of weak transitions. I went next door to check with her team, and saw a room that was spotless, where the teacher was giving clear instructions to her Instructional Assistant (IA). The other teacher had not gotten a set of plans via email, which is often the custom in close-knit teams, and was kind enough to help me look. She noticed the teacher's weekly literacy plans amid the clutter of the table, along with the book -- they lacked sufficient detail, but I knew the IA would be in. There was no schedule, so I knew that I would be relying heavily on the IA. The teacher delayed going to her next meeting, and spent a few minutes explaining her plans, which sounded reasonable enough, in general, but it was evident that the teacher had not thought out all of the details. She jotted down the day's schedule on a whiteboard.

When the IA eventually showed up, I learned that the IA was actually a licensed teacher, who had recently completed her student teaching, and had only recently accepted the IA position. Reading did not follow a Daily 5 model or a Reading Workshop model (Fountas and Pinnell) which are common, Writing Workshop did not follow Lucy Caulkins, and there was little apparent structure to the math program. I saw no reading specialist, no math specialist, no LD specialist, and here was a group of students who did no reading during reading, and little math during math. Little wonder, students did not even have the basics of left-to-right directionality! The math center activities did not seem to follow any standard of learning. I wish I could publicly thank the school where I launched a Kindergarten class earlier this year, because I got all the support that this teacher obviously lacked, but I can't.

Oddly, a volunteer kept commenting about what a great teacher I was, probably because I held students to the expectation that when I said, "freeze and squeeze," the children would "freeze and squeeze," or maybe because I handled a book with no words, Tommie De Paola's Pancakes for breakfast, which I pulled off with grace, using turn-and-whisper procedures! (Disaster avoided, as the Principal slipped into the classroom, and paused to observe). While the purpose why the book was used was to do an author study, the books had not been charted, and the common features and differences had not been identified, so the students had no model to which they could refer in independent centers.

What bothered me the most about this Kindergarten classroom was the clear lack of modeling of everything from behavior to vital academic habits of mind, and at such a vital transitional period. The children and the IA did not know what to do because the classroom lacked procedures, although the IA's student teaching experience was clearly evident. For students just entering school, my only hope is that the damage caused by this teacher is not permanent.
Pancakes for Breakfast Cover

A day previously, I had subbed in a self-contained Learning Disabled (LD) class, where I found another work space completely filled with clutter. That teacher was obviously overwhelmed, despite working past 10pm every night, and had student work mixed in with VGLA evidence, cluttered with IAP information. Again, another weak set of plans with little detail. I sorted the pile of paperwork, because it bothered me so much! The young teacher desperately needs a filing system. On a far more hopeful note, the young lady is being mentored currently by a Nationally Board certified teacher, who recently accepted a position as the school's Reading Specialist. The Master Teacher pushed in and provided a summarizing lesson that provided guidance, while engaging learners.

I recently picked up a job for a 2nd grade class where the original teacher had given the school one week's notice in October. Here, the new teacher was doing everything right. The Literacy Center Rotations where changed by rotating a wheel, anchored in the center with a thumbtack, which had the center choices, with literacy groups arranged around the wheel. Specialists and IA's were coming in and out of the room constantly. The center choices had clear procedures, and the students worked independently. The class was using Daily 5 structures, including read to self, listen to reading, writing about reading, and word work. The math games we played were based on Math Investigations, and the children had played them before, so most knew what to do. Math was happening in that classroom. What I saw in that classroom was collaborative teaching at its best!

More recently, I accepted another job in a different 2nd grade classroom where the teacher is a recent Teacher of the Year award winner. Her classroom library had a dot color-coded system. Her second graders were some of the most independent 2nd graders that I have ever encountered, because classroom procedures were so well understood and the room and every activity was so well organized! Her centers were set up either as portable kits, with materials and instructions in thin plastic tubs, or in more traditional station setups.

My goal in attending a Master of Education program is to develop a teacher in a box model, similar to what I've observed in the best classrooms.

Harris Neck Video by Guy Stevenson - Fact Fantasy

The new text-to-voice robots are rather amazing! This whimsical short by Guy Stevenson features Harris Neck, a real project, although the negotiations are far from completed, and President Obama has not publicly endorsed it. Certainly, an injustice was done to descendants of slaves, including the ancestors of Michelle Obama, through a misuse of the powers of eminent domain, which is why Harris Neck can become a demonstration project for Capital Homesteading principles.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Behaviorism & Positive Reinforcement Study

Behaviorism and Positive Reinforcement

Daniel Kurland
Psych 231
Dr. ***

March 21, 2011

What is Behaviorism?

                Behaviorism, also known as Learning Theory, involves a “step by step” process by which enduring habits are formed. (Berger, 39) The case of how one father attempts to stop his child’s tantrum in a store by giving him candy offers a great illustration of the predictive value of behaviorism, plus the appeal of a revision called Social Learning Theory (Bandura).

Operant Conditioning and Reinforcement?

            Operant conditioning explains that animals are likely to repeat behaviors that lead to pleasure and avoid behaviors that lead to pain (Skinner). (Berger, 39) Negative reinforcement teaches a child what to avoid, eg., placing a hand on a hot stove leads to pain. Often, negative attention becomes its own reward, which is why behaviorists prefer the term negative reinforcement instead of punishment. (Berger, 39) Positive reinforcement can be used to teach children social norms such as we do not throw tantrums in stores.

The Predictive Value of Behaviorism:

            The father, Bill, uses positive reinforcement in a way that only encourages negative behavior. Jess learns that throwing a tantrum is a great way to get candy! Winning! The theory predicts that, since Jess receives a pleasurable response for negative behavior, he is likely to repeat the behavior the next time he is in the store. Bill might habitually offer, in advance, a cookie in exchange for a promise of good behavior, which might encourage more effective compliance, but what would be the underlying message, that manipulation works? An overreliance on “positive reinforcement” tools by overly controlling parents can weaken a child’s sense of his own self efficacy (Bandura). (Berger, 43) Instead, Bill might model patience while habitually engaging his child in more shared experiences.


Berger, K. S. (2008). The developing person through the lifespan. New York: Worth.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Letter To Steve Ballmer, CEO of Microsoft

Steve Ballmer, CEO
Microsoft Corporation
Entertainment and Devices Division
One Microsoft Way
Redmond, Washington 98052-7329

Re: Service Request #SRX11460391021ID

March 19, 2011

Dear Mr. Balmer:

Since you are the CEO of Microsoft, I thought you might want to know why my family’s Xbox Live experience has been such a total nightmare, and why, begrudgingly, my wife is still planning to repurchase a new Xbox console for my son’s birthday. After discovering that our Xbox 360 console was permanently banned for “violations of terms of use” and I sought a reasonable explanation, Xbox Live representatives have repeatedly insinuated that somebody in my family must have illegally modified our console, used pirated software, or posted pornography in a public forum. However, no one in my household has ever actually used the Xbox Live service, nor have we violated a single one of Xbox Live’s terms of service.

Under Xbox Live’s zero-tolerance policy, no detailed information about why a console has been permanently banned is made available to even your most highly qualified professionals. This policy has left your agents and me in the dark. While several of your people have shown some empathy, I have been led to wonder why so many of your customer service agents seem so eerily robotic. Despite my every effort to persuade my son to please choose a different gaming system, he has continued to insist on getting a new Xbox 360 console for his birthday. Groan! Consequently, my wife decided to make one final effort to resolve our conundrum by contacting customer service. By chance, my wife happened to reach an agent who I know is human, with 99.9% certainty, Paula Finley.

            If grey areas are the domain of executive function, then how Microsoft and Target rectify my family’s Xbox Live conundrum represents a test of their respective executive functions. Granted, Microsoft and Target may be under no legal obligation to resolve our complaint, according to their terms and policies. Regardless, I am curious to see how senior level Microsoft and Target executives respond once presented with the facts.

I ask that you please consider reviewing our complaint. First, I want to point out that, through her troubleshooting efforts, Paula helped us discover that our console has two different serial numbers, one on the back, and one under the faceplate, a clear indication that our box had been illegally modified. Previously, nobody had been able to determine specifically why our console was banned. After we established that our box had been illegally modified, and my wife explained to Paula our timeline of events, Microsoft’s official stance on our service request quickly changed from unhelpfulness to cooperation. Microsoft representatives indicated that they now believe, with a high degree of confidence, that my wife purchased an illegally modified console from Target.

Having established that Target sold us an illegally modified console, our Xbox Live nightmare has only continued. After more than one your representatives assured us that Microsoft would be willing to work with Target to resolve our legitimate complaint, my wife was told that she needed to contact Target first.

My wife spoke to the store manager at Target’s Springfield Mall location, who informed her that the store level is not authorized to handle any returns past 90 days. After being directed to Guest Relations, my wife explained to Kathryn, last name not provided, that we had purchased an illegally modified unit at Target on November 8, 2009, but only discovered the problem upon unsuccessfully attempting to log on to Xbox Live in January, 2011. Kathryn explained that Target’s policy is clear regarding electronics – all returned electronic items are sent directly back to the manufacturer and are never re-shelved. Furthermore, Kathryn declared that Xbox must have sent the store a modified unit, and that Target was under no obligation to help us because our console was outside of Target’s 90 day return policy.

After my wife was told by Kathryn that we needed to work directly with the manufacturer, she called Guest Relations a second time and spoke to Kenneth. Kenneth’s supervisor, Michelle, instructed Kenneth to explain to my wife that, regardless of anything we might say, “Target is not responsible for any item purchased past 90 days.” Furthermore, Kenneth relayed his supervisor’s blatantly unhelpful message that Target would not, under any circumstances, contact Microsoft on our behalf. After all of the time and aggravation we have gone through over the past few months, would Microsoft even consider issuing a credit for my son’s new XBox?

Very truly yours,

Daniel Kurland

Cc:       Target Corporation:
Gregg W. Steinhafel, CEO and President
Troy H. Risch, Executive VP, Stores

Sunday, March 13, 2011

New Threats to Freedom Contest, $5,000 Prize

Response to Michael Goodwin’s Loss of the Freedom - Scholarship Contest

In New Threats To Freedom, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Michael Goodwin identifies “the loss of the freedom to fail” as a root cause of a “crisis in education,” but the problems Goodman cites are merely symptoms of a deeper problem. Goodwin cites “social promotion” in education as leading to a nation where “nobody rises above, nobody strives, nobody creates, nobody builds, nobody tinkers, nobody invents.” While there is considerable evidence of a “crisis in education,” and while Goodman has identified disturbing trends, his analysis remains in-the-box, and ignores a historical trend that is poised to shake and rattle the field of education to its core: the acceleration of technological change, and the changing relationship of people to technology.

I suspect that a 20th century educational paradigm, combined with the false premise that “data drives instruction,” has led to panic among educational leaders, who have devised curricula that is failing to prepare students for 21st century challenges. In my recent application essay to a program to earn a Master of Education in Special Education, I cited futurist, and pioneer in Artificial Intelligence, Ray Kurzweil:

At the dawn of the 21st century, Ray Kurzweil is warning that change is now accelerating. Kurzweil argues that computer technology is poised to uproot traditional roles in surprising ways over the next two decades.

I also cited Jane M. Healy, Ph.d., who noted in her best-selling book, Endangered Minds, population-wide declines in basic skills and increasing numbers of students in special education programs, which have led to the “dumbed down tests” cited by Goodman. In a nation that spends over $10,000 per student annually, the stakeholders, the American taxpayers, are demanding results. In response, educational leaders have gone to great lengths to create the appearance that test scores are on the rise. Data-driven instruction has led to a classic bubble, like the housing crisis or the banking crisis, where numbers were artificially inflated for years through accounting tricks. What if Kurzweil is correct and the evolution of robots such as Watson and Adam is leading to a world where even knowledge workers like Goodman’s grandchildren might need that social net he complains about?

In my recent essay, I cited a talk given by Dr. Louis Fein, nearly half a century ago:

In 1967, at a conference in Berkeley, California, Louis Fein, an engineer and Ph.d. from Brown University, posed essentially the same question: how should curricula change in a “rapidly and radically changing society?”

As Dr. Louis Fein suggested in 1967, and Cardinal John H. Newman had suggested a hundred years previously, perhaps we need to look at whether schools are preparing students with the habits of mind and learning disciplines needed for the 21st century, or whether students are being force-fed a production line mindset. If the 21st century demands a nation where more people rise above, create, build, strive, tinker, and invent, perhaps we need to revisit the goals of education.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Moraes on TV - Charlie Sheen fired from "Two and a Half Men" [Updated]

Moraes on TV - Charlie Sheen fired from "Two and a Half Men" [Updated]

As I commented on Washingtonpost.com:
Something is very wrong when someone as delusional and vapid as Charlie Sheen makes millions per episode. Because this story has been repeated so many times on media outlets that I follow, I have been sucked in like so many witnesses of this car crash.
Yesterday, as a requirement of Psychology 231, I watched "Super Size Me," an expose of the mass-marketing strategies of McDonald's restaurants, and a case-study of the health risks associated with a fast food diet. Morgan Spurlock, who directed and acted in the movie, embarked on a 30 day McDonald's diet, using himself as a human guinea pig. For 30 days, Spurlock ate only what he could find on McDonald's menu for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and limited his movement to a hypothetical average person's daily movement. The movie was, admittedly, made in support of litigation against McDonald's. It accused the company of negligence, and pointed the finger at the company's marketing machine for causing an epidemic of obesity in the US. Last night, my son Joseph acted as if he was going to hurl when we served him homemade vegetable beef soup -- he loves Chicken McNuggets. How can parents and educators compete with the bombardment of toxic messages coming from the media? How exactly does taking a barrage of multiple choice tests prepare students for evaluating everything they watch, listen to, or read?

Degrees and Dollars - NYTimes.com

Degrees and Dollars - NYTimes.com

     Today, I interviewed with a local university and school system hoping to get accepted into a one year accelerated program to earn a Master of Education degree in K-12 Special Education. The interview seemed to go reasonably well -- I don't think I said anything that would kill my chances, and remembered to pause before responding. Afterwards I was required to provide a 20 minute writing sample. Although I spent the first ten minutes planning and ran out of time, my guess is that the purpose of the sample was to confirm that I wrote the essay which I submitted last week, and to confirm my ability to think on my feet. Getting established in education has been like running the gauntlet. I'm now taking a Psychology 231 online, and am preparing to take a literacy test involving reading and writing, as if I'm starting completely over. Entering this program is a tough sell at home considering I won't be generating income and will be going deeper into debt over the next year. Now I have a whole other reason to be concerned.

     "Degrees and Dollars," an article in the New York Times written by Paul Krugman, highlights trends I discussed in the essay I submitted last week, which I posted on Poetic License a couple of posts ago. According to Krugman, the most at-risk workers, those most vulnerable to job losses from globalization and technological change today, are middle-class "white collar workers!" Perhaps educational leaders need to reconsider the mission of education as simply another cog in the job-preparation assembly line. How prepared are educational leaders for accelerating social and economic change?