Monday, June 30, 2014

Supreme Court

No, I haven't read the rulings and I don't know all of the details, but I am truly disgusted at the Supreme Court's recent rulings in regard to women's health care.

1) The elimination of the buffer zones around clinics.  The Supreme Court has its own buffer zone.  These clinics have been the target of significant amounts of violence, including murder.  Police have been unable to keep staff and visitors to the clinics safe.  The buffer zones were workable help.  Surely the protesters are still allowed to protest, but there is no guarantee in the first amendment that people have to listen.  Nor should the physical safety of the staff and visitors be so blatantly threatened.  Buffer zones exist in other circumstances as well.  This was a bad decision.

2) Hobby Lobby and contraceptives.  I don't want employers to be deciding on women's health care.  Period.  As Ruth Bader Ginsburg has said, this is a very slippery slope.  Additional questions:  So, is it now legal to ask potential employers what their personal beliefs on birth control are?  Will they be required to disclose to applicants that their insurance policies are incomplete?  

"Still, according to studies from Columbia University and New York University, closely held corporations employed 52 percent of the American workforce and accounted for slightly more than half -- 51 percent -- of economic output from the private sector." 

In other words, over half of the American workforce could be affected by this decision.  

I am disgusted. 

Addendum:  I am still disgusted, but I also need to add that I am alarmed at how rapidly this "narrow" decision has widened.  There are supposedly 149 cases already pending that the lower courts will be allowed to use this ruling to determine.  These cases encompass not only the birth control methods objected to in the Hobby Lobby case, but additional methods and even ALL types of birth control.  This could be a major disaster for women.

Monday, June 23, 2014


I used to think I understood cyberbullying, but until these two incidences happened, I don't think I did.  I wondered why a person couldn't just block out the bullies and concentrate on all of the good things and the other support that they got.

But I have discovered that it is harder than I expected.  The first incident in which I was targeted was a discussion forum and consisted of quite a few ad hominem attacks on the views that I posted.  The problem is that I LIKE to look at things through the views of others and so I gave some credence to the attacker's views, even though I disagreed with them.  This made the personal attacks from the bully more painful than if I had just been able to dismiss him as a crank.  I had some respect for his intellect and knowledge.

This is the same thing that hurt me so much with the second attack, too.  I was commenting on the thread of someone whom I greatly respect.  I share his views on a lot of things.  But, for reasons I don't completely understand, he felt I was commenting inappropriately.  His original post was a bit vague and I was commenting on my perception of that vague post.  His attack was very personal, and, I felt, completely uncalled for.  I suppose my comments did reach beyond understanding the exact situation he was in the midst of.  But, given that there were few details and that general philosophical points are frequently argued, I didn't feel I was out of line - I just felt I was supporting my own views.  He, obviously, felt differently, essentially telling me to shut up when I knew nothing about the situation.  So, I did.

But I still feel the sting of his rebuke.  I wish I didn't respect him so much.  It would be easier to just dismiss the whole incident.

So, now I understand a bit more about cyber-bullying.  These incidences, both of them, are relatively insignificant in the grand scheme of cyber-bullying.  But they happened to ME, so I now understand.  I wish I could say I understood cyber-bullying before this, but I don't think I really did.  And I probably don't even now, because I am an older adult, I have enough personal resources to retain my self-image, and I have the life experience to know that "this, too, shall pass". 

But it is a wake-up call for me to pay attention to how it can start and to try to stop it - both with myself and with others. 

Friday, June 13, 2014

Gifted Kids Have It Easy (Academically)

You think gifted kids have it easy - they don't have to work hard to get good grades; the teachers love them. Yes, gifted kids have it easy.

Too easy.

You think it is great to not have to work hard to get good grades?  So, while you are learning good work habits, how to study, how to fight off distractions, and how to recover from errors and mistakes, the gifted kid never has to deal with most of those problems.  And that IS the problem.  Why shouldn't GT kids have to work hard?  Why shouldn't they have to work as hard as the rest of the kids?  We don't give other kids a pass when the going gets hard - we support them in their struggles.  Why not make the gifted kids work hard, too?

Yes, all kids need a chance to get interested in things and follow their interests, but ALL kids, gifted kids included, need to know that sometimes learning something is HARD.  Sometimes it isn't especially fun.  Sometimes you make MISTAKES.  Sometimes you feel DISCOURAGED.  It isn't the end of the world and they can get through all of those things. 

No, teachers don't actually love all of the gifted kids.  GTs make them feel strangely uneasy.  The teachers know that they aren't really teaching some of the GT kids very much.  They learn the lesson too quickly and then the teacher has to think up something for the GT kid to do while the rest of the kids are still working.  They may be ready to go on to a new part of the lesson, but that would spoil the motivation s/he planned to present for the other kids, make other kids jealous, and get everyone out of sync.  They could work on something related to the topic, but there aren't any materials for that and, besides, the teacher doesn't really know how to teach anything about that, so the GT kid would just be working on her/his own.  So, usually, the GT kid just gets to read quietly while the others finish.  That is common enough that the other kids aren't jealous of the opportunity and the teacher doesn't have to find something else for them to do.  Anyway, reading is a good activity, isn't it?  It's easy.

Too easy.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Is American Education Broken? School Financing Is.

Look at banks.  If they need a new building or need new equipment for their staff, they get it.  Look at insurance companies.  Yes, those huge new, beautiful buildings.  Look at schools.  Even the fairly new one have trailers alongside the classrooms.  Some of the older ones have significant structural problems. 

I am a sub, so I see a lot of different schools.  One of the places I sub at is a fairly new school - with 3 double wide mobile classrooms outside of it.  Another of these fairly new schools has 2 double wide trailers and more classes per grade level than they can accommodate, even with classes of 32 and more.  But at least some of the classrooms in the newer schools are spacious. 

I also subbed in a new high school.  There were 40 kids in the AP Calc class I taught. 

Not so with many of the older school classrooms.  One classroom was so crowded that there was no way I could get to every child's desk.  Another classroom had kids sharing desks, because they couldn't fit any more in the room. 

These crowded classrooms are fire hazards.  The mobile classrooms have other problems - security as children go to special classes or the restroom without teacher accompaniment.

I am no expert on school finances, but I asked why all these new schools were built with too few classrooms, even the day they opened.  The teachers said that that was as much as the school board thought the public would support as a bond issue for building these much needed new schools.  They were probably correct and therein lies part of the problem.  Does your bank ask you if they should build a new branch facility?  Does your insurance company have to hold a public referendum to build a new headquarters? 

The way American schools are financed almost guarantees inequities.  Most schools are dependent on property taxes and voter approval.  So, school districts in wealthier areas almost by definition have more money to spend.  Of course, the buildings don't tell the whole story - just the beginning part of it. 

Friday, June 06, 2014

Re: Five Reasons Kids Should Still Learn Cursive Writing

RE: Five Reasons Kids Should Still Learn Cursive Writing

The article lists 5 reasons why the author thinks kids should still learn cursive writing.  Here are my thoughts about those reasons.

It isn't happening. With all the pressure to cut out everything that isn't tested, cursive writing has already fallen by the wayside. 

1) Signatures are required.

Yes, sometimes signatures are required, but given the vast differences in penmanship, even before cursive writing instruction fell into less favor, I am not sure just how a signature is defined.  Most people can fake it, anyway.  Turn your first capital letter into a squiggle and then just keep on going. Close enough. 

2) Good for mind - It is good for fine motor skills and you learn things better when you write them out physically.  

There are MANY wonderful activities that will help with fine motor skills - art class, constructions in math class, origami, to name a few.  Personally, I agree that writing things out physically (i.e., not on the computer) helps with retention, but I use printing for my notes. I am not sure that there is a significant difference between the two in this respect.  I would be interested in more data about this.

3) Children won't be able to read original historical documents, like the Declaration of Independence. 

I can read cursive; I have never read the original documents. We don't worry about being able to read original books in Latin or Aztec or Egyptian.  I think it is great that people who are interested in this can learn it.  I am not sure it is a necessary skill for everyone.

4) Some people need it.

Yes, some people can only read and/or write cursive.  I would venture to guess that this number is VERY, vanishingly small.  Some people need glasses. Create a font that looks like cursive - have person change all other typefaces to this font. 

5) People like the way it looks. 

Yes, cursive can be beautiful.  It is an art form.  Teach it in art class and let those who love it explore further.  People also like the way flowers look. Flower arranging isn't required.

I like cursive, but I am not sure that it is essential, with all of the other calls on children's time.  I am especially wary of the way it is currently taught.  As a sub, I see SO MANY students with horribly uncomfortable ways of holding their pencils/pens.  If teachers aren't teaching students how to grip their pencils properly when they are teaching them to print, how can we hope to teach proper penmanship.  I do occasionally have classes that are given penmanship lessons, but I see a lot of improper penmanship nonetheless.  In addition to the bad pencil grip, the most common problem is forming the letters in the wrong way - starting in the wrong place, mostly. 

My younger daughter had a terrible pencil grip when she first started writing.  She would grip the pencil overhand, with the thumb bracing one side of the pencil and the fingers cascading up the other side.  Her handwriting was laborious, but legible.  Her teacher was reluctant to break her of the habit, fearing that she would begin to dislike writing, but I was afraid that if she let it continue, she would never switch to a more comfortable grip.  We did make her switch to a more standard grip, which she got used to after a short time.  

If teachers are going to teach handwriting, they have to be able to monitor the students, for both pencil grip and proper letter formation.  If they aren't willing/able to do this (and from what I can see they don't have time for this - big classes, too many other demands), then cursive writing is just a time-wasting activity.