Saturday, October 9, 2010

Rainbow Reocrds - Shelter From the Storm

The coolest spot in town:

Rainbow Records 714 S Northwest Hwy, Barrington, IL 60010-4620

Rated 5.0 out of 5.0

Shelter from the storm - Sep 30, 2010

A wonderland by day - enormous collection of quirky and vintage vinyl and classic CDs. Best of all, John Thominet, the proprietor has an encyclopedic knowledge of recordings, artists, labels, producers, the works, and enjoys practicing the lost are of conversation with his bevy of loyal regulars while making first time browsers feel warmly welcomed.

When you buy something really special, John's eyes light up, and he will tap your album to his heart -- and then he'll tell you a related story you've never before heard.

A very hands on, user-friendly, fun place, where time sits suspended, and civility rules.

Urban dictionary definitions - Barrington

These will provide real insight.

Show me the money, honey:

An upper-class town outside of Chicago, IL where the average cost of a home is 700,000 dollars. A beautiful Northwest suburb with about 20,000 people. You will find plenty of banks and starbucks in the downtown area and plenty of high schoolers driving new BMW's, Range Rovers, or Mercedes.

"Dude you live in Barrington?"


"Dude, you're rich!"

Rubbing crass class in the face of the peasants

(Bah-ring-ton)(usually with an aristocratic accent and an accompanying eyeroll) a town in Illinois populated by an abnormally large amount of rich people who lack social skills to realize others don't have the same wealth and priveledges. Many people there gossip and stab you in the back, more than you would typically expect in a high school. 5 suicides have occurred in the past 2 years.

"Since the economy tanked, I can only go to Italy for 1 week this year! Boo hoo!"

"I've never been out of the country before..."

"Oh, I'm sorry, you must not live in Barrington."

Apparently, it makes it to the 'hood

a black kid who thinks he's white

Be proud of why you are...don't be a Barrington.

As they outgrow high school, the don't, really

to sleep with a younger female work colleague

hey bro, did you barrington her? you lucky dawg.

But, tell us what you really think, don't be afraid to hold back

pronounced Baaarrrrriiinnnnggggtttttooooonnnnnnn, a bunch of rich pricks who are [too] stuck up [their] own asshole to give a fuck about one another.

barrington people are bitches

One of the locals (high school kid, I imagine) checks in:

we live there. its pretty sweet. there are some pretty gay kids down the street... smoking all the time. our neighbor went to jail for giving kids alcohol... but what can we say... we love the town.

d1: do u want to go to barrington?

d2: barrington is awesome

This is pretty insightful. It happens, sadly, it happens.

To be underage, drink or smoke way to much then drive and crash. Usually resulting in death.

Joey: You hear that Brian pulled a Barrington last night?

Kelly: Was he drunk or high?

Joey: Both, its Barrington.

Another local perspective, I do believe:

The name comes from a small town next to chicago where they're are pleanty of barringtons.
It means a strait person who only thinks they are gay but really like people of the opposite sex.

Fred says hes gay but i saw him checkin out chicks at the mall, he's such a barrington.

In my late 30's, I caddied at Sunset Ridge Country Club. In the final round of the men's club championship, I was following the match, when a lady member of the club whom I had never before met asked me if I was from Barrington. I answered affirmatively.

She then asked, "Is it true that all the women in Barrington think that Coo-king and Fuc-king are cities in China?" I burst out laughing, almost couldn't breath. Too damn funny.

The legend lives on.

And there are others. Jeez, what's in a name, would a rose by any other smell less sweet?

In Rhode Island:

a small town in rhode island that is also the wealthiest. full of rich kids where the student parking lot is 4 times bigger than the teachers. on the water and every house is at least a half a million. huge party town and has the best school system in the state. similar to laguna beach and east greenwich. recently voted the sixth best town in the United States by CNN/

those barrington kids, they have everyting.

More about that Rhode Island Barrington, which sounds quite a lot like the Illinois one:

Small town in Rhode Island. Pretty rich and there's lots of drugs. The "image" is a preppy kid who's really snobby and belongs to the country club. Tan, teeny bikini. It isn't all true though, there are a lot of cool kids in Barrington. the snotty ones are annoying, and give the town a really bad name. The high test scores and at-least-half-a-million-dollar houses don't help much either. Everyones close or on the water, but that's because we're so damn small! There's a hell of a lot of gossip, drama, and Abercrombie, but don't forget Juicy Couture, Coach, Louie Vuitton, Free People, Seven Jeans, and (yes) Hot Topic.
The school system is very rich. They all got new computers, and a basketball court that, when made "wrong," was ripped up and remade. The middle school, to keep up scores, makes everyone stay after if you miss homework. They say you will come if, "your parents love you as much as we do." *gag*

"Why is everyone in the ER giving me bad looks?"

"Oh, they hate everyone from Barrington, say we're all alcoholics in nice cars."

"aren't we?"

Is this irony rolling over with laughter in his coffin, or is this straight from the horse's mouth?

A very nice town in Rhode Island. Teens here come from wealthy families and are smart, and the poster children for being perfect. People in other areas n RI wish they are like the kids of Barrington. Best town in RI, best schools, best everything. Everything is better in Barrington.

Teen 1: Where do you live in RI?

Teen 2: Barrington

Teen 1: So are you a bunch of wealthy snobs?

Teen 2: No, we are wealthy citizens.

And one in New Jersey too. New Jersey, who would have thunk it? Well, let's just say that the Jersey Barrington and the other two Barringtons are worlds apart in their values.

A small town in south jersey with a population of about 5000 to 8000. Known for kids extremely good at sports and guys that have really big dicks. kids here go to haddon heights high school and are really fast.

Damien: yo is that kid from barrington cause he's really good at sports and really fast too.

Jane: yeah he is. you should see his dick too.

It's always good to get two sources for the purposes of verification:

A small town in New Jersey in which kids go to Haddon Heights High School. There the kids are known for having good hands(meaning they can catch) and giant penises. Only the best are from Barrington. Also, Barrington is known for having extremely fast white kids.

Matt: Hey look how good Shane is at catching the football.

Jeff: You should see his penis.

Bob: Of course, he's from Barrington.

I wouldn't have fit in Barrington, New Jersey, either.

Friday, October 8, 2010

My little town - merit pay & Horses

Looked at suicides in Greenland and Barrington, Illinois in my last post.

Some more about Barrington, ILL: 7th wealthiest zip code in the country among areas with populations of 20,000 or more.

Got a flavor of that back when my folks were doing house-hunting up here back in the summer of 1964. Dad had accepted a job in the math department working for Grace Wandke, the math department head, with whom he had met while doing post-graduate work at Purdue. At that time, Barrington (a unit school district - which means the high school and the grade school teacher salaries were on the same scale) had a merit pay system. Dad came here for the same base salary he was making at Streator Community High School. Very shortly he learned what "merit pay" meant, back in the day. "Merit pay" meant that when his department head told him to take lunch supervision duty, he had to do. "Merit pay" meant that when told to take study hall, he had to. In Streator, where he had been involved in unionizing the teachers back in the early 50's, lunch supervision and study hall had been negotiated to be extra duties, above and beyond teaching, and therefore, duties for which compensation was paid. But the teachers here did not have a union then. And they had all been admonished to not talk amongst each other about what salaries they made.

Mom returned from one of the house-hunting adventures and related this story to us. They had been driving deliberately around Barrington looking at houses for sale, when one of the local children called out, "Get a horse." Mom that it was the funniest thing. I didn't, for in that moment of her story-telling, I realized we were going to be poor. Because the point of most things is not lost on children. Mom tells the story of how, after we bought a house and got settled, when our family used to go out in the car to drive somewhere, I would hide on the floor in the back seat. The shame of it, oh, the shame.

One day after we'd lived here more than a year, I asked my friend, fellow caddie, and freshman basketball teammate George Harris, "What's wrong with the way I dress?" Clearly, he must have said something to make me ask. I had been talking with Becky Harlan, one of the only girls shorter than I was when I posed the question. George, bless him, answered honestly. "Ganzer, look at you. You wear tie hush puppies shoes, white socks, you button your top shirt button, your shirt collars don't have buttons, and your pants are funny."

George is the only high school friend I've had any regular contact with over the years. And I really did appreciate his honesty, because a quick survey of the situation revealed that the "dress code" amongst the cool guys consisted of: burgundy penny loafers, dark colored wool socks, tight-fitting Levi jeans -black, burgundy or light blue, that ended about six inches above the ankle, and button down collar shirts always of a single color - pink, light blue or yellow. Yes, I saw it all, and knew that I had to go to my savings account and make a big withdrawal, in order that I should be able to dress the part.

Here's the thing about high school, at least the high school I went to, or maybe it's just about high school kids. In that moment of atomic insight, I made a vow to myself, that one day, when I was done with high school, I would dress however I wanted, I would not let myself be ruled by the fashion dictates of "the in crowd."

But, of course, that was not a decision I was neither strong enough nor brave enough to make in the face of my peers and contemporaries. And if there is one thing that THIS high school kid wanted to do, it was to fit in. To fit in here. In Barrington.

Get a horse.

Hell, we GOT a horse. My sister has dreamed horses since she was in the womb. And my father tried to do one pretty nice "big thing" for all of his children. For me, it was the gift of his time. First born sons have that advantage. He'd walk me around the block talking mathematics to me, he'd talk about positive numbers, and negative numbers. At least this is the story he told me. And then the day I asked him, "But dad, isn't zero a number too?" he decided we didn't need to talk about numbers any more.

But when we moved here, to horse country, my folks decided that my sister Gay should be able to have a horse, PROVIDED ... that dad could ride it. She was so excited. Dad tells the story that, had it been Gay's decision, they would have bought ever horse they looked at, on the spot. Nope. Dad made her wait, he had his principles, and he was not going to back down here. Besides, he well knew that horses could be dangerous animals. Then they found Sputnik. That was the horse for Gay, and for dad too, because Sputnik was smart enough to know how much my sister would love him, and care for him, and how important it was that he make the decision as easy as possible. I think Sputnik was 8 when we bought him, and 32 when he had to be put down. I swear, the last five years of his life were lived on my sister's love alone.

Sometimes, love alone is enough.

And then, other times, not even love can get through.

The first Barrington High School suicide I remember might not count, because the young man had graduated and gone to college. He returned, early to the front lawn of the high school in the fall and shot himself there. He had been the president of the National Honor Society and Captain of the Golf team, and was a very attractive young man. Heather W., my then girl friend told me about it. She and he had been classmates. I didn't know enough then. I asked myself, "What kind of statement is that?" I didn't understand how the fog of depression can surround you, overtake you, overpower you, to do its ultimate bidding.

Another suicide I became aware of involved the son of one of the members I sometimes caddied for at the Jack Nicklaus gated community & private country club. The man always seemed distant, barely bearing the loss a few years later. It was a hanging. The family sold the house, and bought another one, some gated community, same private country club.

I'm 59 years old now. Have attended none of my high school reunions. Didn't even attend the 10th when I had for all outward appearances a very successful career. Nor the 25th for which I had let my hair grow long for about two years, because dammit, I might not have then had a job, or money, or a wife, or home, but by God, I had my hair. Well, at least I considered that one. But I didn't go. Because there is something, something that makes me either afraid or ashamed, or both.

These demons too must one day be faced.

Or not.

After our first year here, dad got an offer to teach mathematics and coach wrestling at Waukegan High School. The story is told that I was the only one to say, "No. Please. I don't want to move again." And this sealed the deal. We would stay. Other times, perhaps kids go from the specific to the general in the blink of an eye. And maybe that is why they seemed trapped, with only one way out.

Sometimes, not even love can get through.

In my little town
I grew up believ--ing
God keeps his eye on us all
And he used to lean upon me
As I pledged allegiance to the wall
Lord I recall
My little town

Coming home after school
Flying my bike past the gates
Of the factories
My mom doing the laundry
Hanging our shirts
In the dirty breeze

And after it rains
There's a rainbow
And all of the colors are black
It's not that the colors aren't there
It's just imagin-ation they lack
Everything's the same

Back in my little town
Nothing but the dead and dying
Back in my little town
Nothing but the dead and dying
Back in my little town

In my little town
I never meant nothin'
I was just my fathers son
Saving my money
Dreaming of glory
Twitching like a finger
On the trigger of a gun
Leaving nothing but the dead and dying
Back in my little town
Repeat and fade:
Nothing but the dead and dying
Back in my little town

Suicides - in Greenland & in Barrington, Illiiois

This article about suicide in Greenland by Al-Jazeera blogger Nazanine Moshiri caught my eye

Greenland has the ignominious title of being the suicide capital of the world. On the largest island that isn't a continent, and the least densely populated dependent country in the world, the government says 1 in 5 people have tried to kill themselves, while other research claims 1 in 4.

The simple white wooden crosses that dot the landscape are a stark reminder that many of those people have succeeded.

Most of the victims are teenagers, more than half of them boys aged 15 to 19.

"It's difficult to verbalise how [the Inuit people] feel, they find it hard to explain why they are sad, or angry. They keep it inside them and carry it around for a long time. That's one of the explanations for the suicide.

"But also, that they aren't being offered therapy or psychological help...

Some also blame the rapid modernisation of this traditional Inuit community for what's happening. Greenland became a part of the Kingdom of Denmark in 1953.

Note: 89% of Greenland's population is Inuit Indian.

The Danes brought with them the infamous G60 policy – when many Inuit communities were resettled in soviet style apartment blocks. Fishing and hunting people who had lived off the land for thousands of years were plunged into a town life they could not adapt to. More than half a century on, the deep social problems created by that doomed policy still exist today.

Some connect the alcoholism that came in this period to the high suicide rate. The dark winters have been dismissed as a reason for suicide, as the rates actually seem to be higher during the summer, when you have the midnight sun and people can't sleep.

There is no doubt that there is more awareness of the issue, and more government campaigns as well as a special suicide prevention helpline. That is why experts are baffled and extremely concerned about a recent rise in suicides, 42 so far in 2010, which is around one death a week.

About a year ago, Slate published an article about Greenland's suicides:

Greenland is the country with the world's highest suicide rate. The rate here is 24 times that seen in the United States. Even Japan—a nation with a well-documented suicide epidemic—has an annual rate of only about 51 people per 100,000 inhabitants. Greenland's is 100 per 100,000.

... the majority of Greenlanders who kill themselves are teenagers and young adults. (In most other countries, the elderly dominate suicide statistics.) Young men here are especially prone to an early exit and account for more than half of all suicides, although the girls hold their own. In a 2008 survey, one in four young women in Greenland admitted to trying to kill herself.

Slate notes that suicide is a relatively recent phenomenon:

... for the first half of the 20th century, Greenlanders lived much as they had for the previous 4,000 years: They hunted and fished, clustering in small, remote villages that hug the rocky coastline. They also boasted a suicide rate among the world's lowest. One Danish analysis found that from 1900 to 1930, Greenland had an annual suicide rate of just 0.3 people per 100,000. And "as late as 1960 there was still the occasional year when there were no recorded suicides by Greenlanders," reports Jack Hicks, a Canadian expert on suicide in the arctic region.

One reason for Greenland's high suicide rate is that people are particularly proficient at the act, employing methods that leave little chance for survival. Shootings and hangings account for 91 percent of male suicides and 70 percent of female suicides. (Almost every Greenland home has at least one rifle for the annual caribou and musk-ox hunts. Of course, any rope, fishing net, or electric cord can be fashioned into a noose, which in the Greenlandic language is called "our Lord's lasso.")

Peter Bjerregaard from Denmark's National Institute of Public Health has noted that while Greenland's suicide problem began in 1970, almost all the deaths involved people born after 1950—the same year that Greenland began its transformation from remote colony to welfare state, as the Danes resettled residents to give them modern services and tuberculosis inoculations. Hicks, the Canadian researcher, said the correlation is present in other Inuit societies as well.

"It happened first in Alaska, then Greenland, and finally in Canada's Eastern Arctic," he told me. "It's not the people who were coerced into the communities as adults who began to exhibit elevated rates of suicidal behavior—it was their children, the first generation to grow up in the towns."


... most people kill themselves in summer, according to a trio of Scandinavian and U.S. scientists who analyzed Greenland's mortality data from 1968 to 2002.

The researchers theorize that the brief and bright summer sun disrupts winter sleep cycles, alters serotonin levels, and causes some Greenlanders to snap, especially those in the far north, where the sun stays above the horizon for weeks on end.

"It's sort of impulsive self-violence that is different from the melancholic winter suicides, which are more associated with [seasonal affective disorder] and depression," said Daniel F. Kripke of California's Scripps Clinic Sleep Center, one of the researchers.

Neither article speculated that this might have an impact on how these young people might view the future of their world, an a life that was stolen from them circa 1950, as incredibly bleak:

Scientists in Greenland have told Al Jazeera that an ice sheet that covers 80 per cent of the territory is shrinking much faster than expected.

In recent months, unusually large chunks of ice have broken off its glaciers - one of them four times the size of the US city of Manhattan. Some experts are worried this increasing rate of melting could raise sea levels across the globe.

So what does all this have to do with Barrington Illinois, the village where I live?

In the past three years, six Barrington Consolidated High School students have committed suicide. With an enrollment of about 3,000 students, that is the equivalent of about 67 suicides per 100,000 population. And that might very well be something the school board would want to take seriously.

Julianna, my dentist, chalked it up to a bunch of spoiled rich kids with too much time on their hands. I beg to differ.

One needs to be very depressed to contemplate suicide. Very depressed. Their life must appear hopeless, their future bleak, and this hopelessness and bleakness looms emminently on the horizon.

This I know, for I once tried suicide, in those woods that I now so love to walk, with a knife to cut my jugular. The knife was dull, and more likely, there was enough of a spark, enough of a hope, that I couldn't go through with it. That was 1986. Later, and not all that long ago, really, I contemplated suicide by train - standing in the tracks to be run down. But I decided that was an unfair thing to do to the engineer.

Damn, but I've come a long way in the past three years, since I dropped off my manic-high chair like an anchor tossed from a ship.

Until you've been swallowed up in that suffocating black fog that works to convince you that the only solution is to end it all, you do not have the right to sit in judgment. Your are not part of the peer group. And you ought to get down on your knees and offer sincere prayers of thankfulness to the One who made you, and allowed you to find circumstances in your life that permitted you to ward off that evil that can permeate you mind, body, and soul.

Grant me compassion oh Lord, above all else
And humility, that I not dare to judge
That I not forget my own foibles
That I strive to give comfort at all times to those in discomfort
And thank You, for the many gifts you have given me
For drawing me back from the edge
When I looked into the abyss
And saw no other way out.

While you can, tell the people you love that you love them

Found out on Tuesday that my own life-saving in-sane asylum will be packing it up and moving on come the end of January, 2011. To be in-sane, as the The Last Hippie in America, the stand--up comic Jimmie Wiggins long ago told me, is to stand inside the circle of sanity.

I've spent hours at Rainbow Records here in town; hours spent venting, hours spent learning, hours spent talking and sharing with store-owner John Thominet, who coached my son, Adam James his first year in the major-minors little league system here.

At the store now, the Tuesday regulars always talk Chicago Bears football. They're all passionate about it. Me, I don't really get worked up about any sports any more. The grandest sports season of all for me was 1992, when I whiled the summer away watching Adam James play baseball for John; playing catch with him between innings of the games, practice pitching (badly) to him in the back yard.

Here's a Kodak moment from that 1992 season: I'm pitching to my 3' 10" son when out of the blue, I lose all control One pitch goes over his head. He blinks in shocked disbelief. The next pitch goes behind his back. Deliberately sets down the bat, turns to me, and says "nice" making an okay signal with his right hand, "pitch" making another okay signal with his left hand, his eyes opening wider in sarcastic sardonism. A greater put down than this, no man hath known. Yeah verily, in that moment, I fully understood, that my boy would grow to be a man; able to dish it out with delicious irony and wit, free form put down, stand-up improv, the kind of thing that guys just do -- fully cognizant on a gut level of all the not-so-nuanced subtleties that say, "Hey bozo, you messed up. Get some competence. Throw the damn ball across the plate already." But, unlike the father, the son can do it in two words, plus visuals. Hot damn! A succinct one.

But back to the record store. Corporate takeover. The wine store next door wanted to expand their operations, and knocking down the wall between the two businesses was their choice. The mall owner, seeing bigger bucks, offered to let John relocate down to what had formerly been the animal grooming shop. Jeez, Lew-eez! As if John was born a rube? No way, so John made a counter offer, and they compromised. John got an lease extension to the end of January, so the store will be in full operation for Christmas holidays. After that, John's going out to New Jersey, to be with his wife Jennifer.

I cannot begin to tell how much I will miss this man, who has put up with my nonsense, called me on my nonsense, endorsed me in some of my nonsense, and has never judged me, except to say, "I'm glad I don't have to carry that load that you've got on your shoulder."

His store is one of those treasures, a neighborhood enterprise that people of a certain persuasion find, and just keep coming back to, to linger, to listen, to browse, to be, to just kick it back, knowing that they are respected because they are part of that insane community of humanity that has compassion, that renders caring, kindness, snark and sarcasm, as the situation dictates -- he said Come on Come in I'll give you shelter from the storm.

I will miss you John. But I will always carry in my heart as treasure the hours you gave to me of your time, your honesty, your integrity, you.

I love you John. Thanks for all of it. Here's my prayer:

Oh Lord, please grant
That there be Karma on this earth
So that the good that Your good ones do
Shall feed them in their hour of hunger
Shall shelter them from the storms
Shall bind them safely unto their own
That they always know their own,
And their own shall know thee.

A flick I just gotta see

There's been a lot of buzz lately about Davis Guggenheim's latest documentary Waiting For Superman. Colin Covert of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune viewed the film and then reviewed it. Covert makes some perceptive points:

The story line resembles melodrama, with clear-cut villains (teachers' unions), heroes (including the inspiring Harlem educator Geoffrey Canada and Bill Gates) and a clear moral (charter schools are the silver bullet). The truth is rarely that, well, convenient.

Seems fair enough. But then this:

The film begins with an assessment of our public schools' heartbreakingly poor international ranking and graduation rate. The system is failing to deliver world-class instruction to most students, and poor, urban and minority children fare worst of all.

Full disclosure: My father was the state of Illinois outstanding High School Mathematics Teacher of the year circa 1982. My brother-in-law was a U.S. Presidential award winning High School Chemistry teacher. My nephew is doing graduate work at Washington State University and intends to become a teacher. I taught (albeit adult ed) for more than 10 years. My son teaches (catechism and Tae-Kwon Do). Two of my state of Washington cousins are teachers. My aunt taught grade school children for many years. I have listened to the conversations of teachers all my life. Here's a promise: there are some very good ones out there, and they care ... a lot.

Bob Somersby at the Daily Howler has long been posting about education matters like a man on a mission. Somersby has done some disaggregation which reveals a far more important (and inconvenient) truth:

when it comes to education, our country is at least Three Americas. To help people like [the New York Times' Gail] Collins and Guggenheim grasp the shape of our brutal history, let’s look at some truly ugly data. Let’s look at the way those test scores look when they are “disaggregated.”

This has been normal procedure in examining American test scores for lo, the past many years—except among a range of high-profile hacks, who haven’t quite learned how to do it.

How did American 15-year-old students score in science literacy on the 2006 PISA? In the list of scores we offer below, you see the overall American score—and you see the U.S. performance broken down into the scores of our three major student groups. Warning! When you look at these data, you are visiting centuries of brutal history—and you’re looking at recent immigration policy. Because that may not produce a pretty sight, people like Guggenheim hand you prettier, simpler tales. They pretend that our teachers unions created our PISA scores.

Brutal history, and recent policies, largely explain that PISA score—the score which embarrassed the horse’s ass O’Hehir at Salon, the score which led the horse’s ass Guggenheim to make his deeply unintelligent film. When you look at these “disaggregated” test scores, you’re looking at the actual shape of America’s actual educational challenges. (For links to all data, see below.) And no, the realities reflected in these scores were not invented by America’s teachers, or by their infernal unions:

Combined science literacy scale, PISA, 2006:
Finland 563
Canada 534
Japan 531
New Zealand 530
Australia 527
Netherlands 525
[United States, white students: 523]
Korea, Republic of 522
Germany 516
United Kingdom 515
Czech Republic 513
Switzerland 512
Austria 511
Belgium 510
Ireland 508
Hungary 504
Sweden 503
OECD average: 500
Poland 498
Denmark 496
France 495
Iceland 491
United States 489
Slovak Republic 488
Spain 488
Norway 487
Luxembourg 486
Italy 475
Portugal 474
Greece 473
[United States, Hispanic students: 439]
Turkey 424
Mexico 410
[United States, black students: 409]

Gaze on the shape of your nation’s history! White students scored fairly high, despite the drag of a certain sub-group; if they were a separate nation, they would have finished seventh out of thirty developed nations. And how about a hand for our teachers? This score was achieved despite the drag of a sub-population whose parents and ministers tell them not to believe the things they hear in science class! (This just in: Finland doesn’t have a “creation museum” where children are taken to see cave men living with the dinosaurs. Finland doesn’t have a major state whose school board is working hard to muck up the nation’s textbooks.)

There is also much more poverty among the American white student population than can be found in Finland. Within parts of that white student population, there are pockets of endemic poverty and low literacy which simply don’t exist in that far-off, middle-class land.

White kids did pretty well on the PISA, despite the drag of certain sub-groups. But when it comes to literacy and education, alas! On average, black kids and Hispanic kids form two additional Americas. (On average. Many black and Hispanic kids do extremely well.) Centuries of brutal history went into forming one of these “Other Americas.” A very un-Finnish immigration policy has gone into forming the other. Whatever one thinks of our immigration practices, they have presented a major new challenge to American schools in the past thirty years. Such challenges simply don’t exist in the schools which comprise Finland’s “ideal educational system.” (Thus spake Brian Williams.)

It’s painful to look at data like those; this largely explains why no one does. But there is an upside to disaggregation. If we look at our PISA scores in this form, we might find ourselves asking a smarter series of questions about the challenges facing our schools.

Back to Covert's review:

"Waiting for Superman" follows five appealing students and their families as they sweat out the lottery process that may let them enter desirable charter schools, where days are longer, vacations are shorter, standards are higher and tutors are available. A staff self-selection process has weeded out unqualified teachers who would be all but impossible to dismiss from a district school, given the staff's tenure protection.

Okay, so, once a "bad" teacher is tenured, they are protected forever, right?

Well ... maybe not so right. In the Washington Post, Rick Ayers, a former high school teacher, founder of Communication Arts and Sciences small school at Berkeley High School, and currently adjunct professor in teacher education at the University of San Francisco writes:

*Waiting for Superman decries tenure as a drag on teacher improvement.
Tenured teachers cannot be fired without due process and a good reason: they can’t be fired because the boss wants to hire his cousin, or because the teacher is gay (or black or…), or because they take an unpopular position on a public issue outside of school.

A recent survey found that most principals agreed that they had the authority to fire a teacher if they needed to take such action. It is interesting to note that when teachers are evaluated through a union-sanctioned peer process, more teachers are put into retraining programs and dismissed than through administration-only review programs. Overwhelmingly teachers want students to have outstanding and positive experiences in schools.

Which paints an entirely different picture - in this formation, tenure is not an oly-oly-ox-in free card for incompetent teachers.

Covert suggests the portrayal of charter schools in WFS is too positive, noting that:

Charters -- there are more than 5,000 nationwide -- are independent public schools that operate outside the restrictions of existing teachers' contracts. They also often receive substantial private philanthropic support that their under-resourced peers must envy.

Some charter schools -- the top 20 percent -- deliver superior academic results, and they are the film's focus. The fact that most charters fare no better than regular public schools, or do worse, is only glancingly mentioned. According to 2009's federally funded National Assessment of Educational Progress, 37 percent of charter schools had smaller gains in math scores than regular public schools. Seventeen percent of charter schools had superior gains. Forty-six percent had no significant difference. This does not strike me as a formula for excellence.

Somehow, 17% becomes the top 20%, an illustration of borderline numerical innumeracy that can be forgiven, but not overlooked.

And what about those evil teacher unions (of which my father was chief negotiator for many years; in "the year of the strike" at his high school, he was head of the math department as well as negotiator. At the end of that school year, a new math department head was appointed, which would not even make the list of the top 100 worst things that ever happened to my father, and might well make the list of the top 20 best things)?

Most of the nations where students outperform ours also have teachers' unions. They also have a system that separates students by ability and inclination, their students are less ethnically diverse, and they have fewer children living in poverty.

And, in conclusion:

Reforming our educational system to better serve students and society is a vital challenge. If "Waiting for 'Superman'" gets people fired up about it, so much the better. But this should be where the debate starts, not where it ends.

But alas, alack, getting people fired up about "the educational problems" of America, and getting them to do something about these problems, are two entirely different things.

Krugman doth despair

The New York Times' Paul Krugman continues to tell many unvarnished truths. From today's column:

... right now, by any rational calculation, would be an especially good time to improve the nation’s infrastructure. We have the need: our roads, our rail lines, our water and sewer systems are antiquated and increasingly inadequate. We have the resources: a million-and-a-half construction workers are sitting idle, and putting them to work would help the economy as a whole recover from its slump. And the price is right: with interest rates on federal debt at near-record lows, there has never been a better time to borrow for long-term investment.

But American politics these days is anything but rational. Republicans bitterly opposed even the modest infrastructure spending contained in the Obama stimulus plan.

Our neighbors Xian and Yuhong came to the U.S. in the early 1990's to study at Southern Illinois University. Yuhong speaks of how impressive US highways were then, and how unimpressive they have become. The two of them returned to China to visit during the 2008 Olympics. The contrast between the Chinese "vision thing" and the American was stark.

... We are no longer the nation that used to amaze the world with its visionary projects. We have become, instead, a nation whose politicians seem to compete over who can show the least vision, the least concern about the future and the greatest willingness to pander to short-term, narrow-minded selfishness.

As a nation, we continue to amaze the world with our destructive military projects. The price being paid by the politicians showing "the least vision, the least concern about the future, and the greatest willingness to pander to short-term narrow-minded selfishness" seems to be election, or re-election, as was amply parodied in the Simpson's episode, Trash of the Titans.

By refusing to pay for essential investment, politicians are both perpetuating unemployment and sacrificing long-run growth. And why not? After all, this seems to be a winning electoral strategy. All vision of a better future seems to have been lost, replaced with a refusal to look beyond the narrowest, most shortsighted notion of self-interest.

Say "good night" Kruggers.

I wish I could say something optimistic at this point. But at least for now, I don’t see any light at the end of this tunnel.

Good night.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Living in denial about what the U.S. has become

George Friedman, founder and CEO of Stratfor, has recently written a new book, The Next Decade, which is being offered as part of a promotion for membership to Stratfor.

While I take issue with some of what Dr. Friedman writes (about how we got there the U.S. as accidental imperialists, and about the impossibility of letting it go - the broken pottery rule of the imperialists), in the main, his two framing concepts (premises) are indisputable:

The book is framed by two concepts. The first is the idea that the United States is an unintended empire of vast power, deeply interlocked with the affairs of most of the world. It is not a question of whether Americans want this empire; it is impossible to let go. The question is what to do with it. Like a child you did not expect and may not have welcomed, it is still your responsibility.

I'd take issue with including Reagan as an exemplar of the Machiavellian Presidency, at least during his latter years in office when he was clearly in the throes of Alzheimers.

The second concept is what I call the Machiavellian Presidency. I consider three presidents exemplary: Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt and Reagan. Each possessed a deep moral core. Each fully understood the uses of power, lying and violating the Constitution and human rights to achieve the respective moral necessities of the abolition of slavery, the destruction of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan, and the destruction of the Soviet Union. When we recall that Roosevelt allied with Stalin to defeat Hitler, we capture the Machiavellian President.

While Friedman may well be correct that the president can preserve the republic while managing the empire, my empirical studies suggest that Presidents have taken ever more power unto themselves and are incurably inept at choosing advisers to counsel them wisely. This might not have to be the case, but it has most assuredly been so since I've been alive.

The United States has stumbled into empire. It now faces the crisis of Rome that the empire will annihilate the republic. I argue that of all the institutions of our Constitution, it is the president who can preserve the republic while managing the empire. I also argue that the greatest threat to the republic is living in denial about what the United States has become. The issue, then, is how to manage the unintended and unwanted in the next decade.

But with Friedman's conclusion "that the greatest threat to the republic is living in denial about what the United States has become" there is no argument.

Time's a-wastin. Better start doing something about this.

And bringing these ideas into the mainstream conversation about who we are is an absolutely minimum required first step.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

From whence its title derives

About half way through his densely layered Tree of Smoke - A Novel, author Denis Johnson rewards the reader with this:
On the last page, another note in the colonel's hand:

Tree of Smoke-(pillar of smoke, pillar of fire) the "guiding light" of a sincere goal for the function of intelligence-restoring intelligence-gathering as the main function of intelligence operations, rather than to provide rationalizations for policy. Because if we don't the next step is for career-minded power-mad cynical jaded bureaucrats to use intelligence to influence policy. The final step is to create fictions and serve them to our policy-makers in order to control the direction of government. ALSO-"Tree of Smoke"-note similarity to mushroom cloud. HAH!

Then the typewriter again, Voss:

One might hypothesize a step beyond the final one. Consider the possibility that a coterie or insulated group might elect to create fictions independent of the leadership's intuition of its own needs. And might serve these fictions to the enemy in order to influence choices.

Imagine that, the CIA being used to provide rationalizations for policy. Sounds vaguely familiar. Power-mad cynical jaded bureaucrats using intelligence to influence polilcy; again, fancy that. To control the direction of the government! Portents of the present situation.

How long, has this been going on?