Sunday, August 28, 2011

Daily Kos: Don’t ask schools to fix society’s problems

Daily Kos: Don’t ask schools to fix society’s problems

Please look at the comments and notice what people focus on in my commentary.

new poem: in the middle of a full-moon summer night

in the middle of a full-moon summer night

“That’s my heart yonder, he told the horse. It always was.”
No Country for Old Men, Cormac McCarthy

you woke up under the weight of me
watching you sleep hoping you would wake
without my nudging you or saying your name

you stretched and clenched your eyes tight
sighing through a half-grin What?
and slipping your leg under the sheet against me

Let’s go for a walk. It’s a full moon and cool
i said this to you and felt my body tense excited
and you froze your stretch and opened your eyes

Give me a second was all you said into the darkness
striped by moonlight coming through the blinds
then before sitting up What time is it any way?

and soon we were outside in a full white moon
It’s cool for summer tonight you said there beside me
Let’s take off our shoes, walk barefoot I said looking up

we lay our shoes abandoned at the side of the road
We’ll come back by, they'll be fine here and we walked
under a celestial spotlight no other word between us

and then i felt you even closer as your hand slipped into mine
holding me down to earth and thinking of returning home
where I would wash your feet before slipping back to bed

walkers of a moonlit summer night cooler than most
spooning through the edge of night into morning’s rising sun
with the tops of my feet pressed up against the soles of yours

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Poverty and Education in SC and the US

Op-Eds in The State:

Don’t ask schools to fix society’s problems

And The Greenville News:

Shift educational reform strategies

As children across South Carolina re-enter our schools across the state, two recent reports on childhood well-being are worth considering—the State of America’s Children 2011 Report (Children’s Defense Fund) and Kid’s Count 2011 (Annie E. Casey Foundation).

Both reports identify the growing fact of poverty in the lives of children across the U.S., a plight on the lives of children that disproportionately and increasingly impacts children of color. Low birth weight, infant mortality, child death rate, high school graduation, home conditions for children, access to health care, and a number of conditions associated with the socio-economic status of the child’s home are highlighted in the reports, resulting in a bleak picture for children in the richest country in the history of the world.

The Kid’s Count 2011 report also reveals that SC ranks 45th in the country in child well-being—with low birth weight, children living in poverty, and percent of children in single-parent families increasing across our state since 2000.

While the data are alarming, particularly during an economic downturn that has depleted social services and education funding for several years, the reports also help highlight our misguided education reform policies across the state and the nation.

The overwhelming body of research shows that student achievement in schools is most strongly tied to the home conditions of those children, trumping significantly the quality of the school, the standards of the state, or the quality of the teacher. Research from Hirsch for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and from Hanushek [1] identify teacher impact on measurable student achievement as being only about 13-17%.

As well, David Berliner has identified six out-of-school factors that parallel the recent reports on childhood well-being: “(1) low birth-weight and non-genetic prenatal influences on children; (2) inadequate medical, dental, and vision care, often a result of inadequate or no medical insurance; (3) food insecurity; (4) environmental pollutants; (5) family relations and family stress; and (6) neighborhood characteristics.”

From the evidence we currently have on childhood poverty and measurable student outcomes, we must shift significantly our education reform strategies in SC and the U.S.

First, we must acknowledge, as Traubdid in 2000, “The idea that school, by itself, cannot cure poverty is hardly astonishing, but it is amazing how much of our political discourse is implicitly predicated on the notion that it can,” and as Martin Luther King Jr. did in 1967: “We are likely to find that the problems of housing and education, instead of preceding the elimination of poverty, will themselves be affected if poverty is first abolished.”

In short, SC must begin to implement social policies that address the six out-of-school factors noted by Berliner and identified in the two reports about childhood well-being as a foundational step that allows education reform to work.

Once we confront the fact that schools alone cannot eradicate poverty—that school outcomes are primarily a reflection of social inequity and not school quality—we must implement education reform that addresses the ways in which our schools currently perpetuate social inequities through school practices—including the following:

• Confront and end deficit views of learning broadly and of children living in poverty narrowly. Programs such as those offered by Ruby Payne must be rejected for their baseless claims and we must re-imagine how we view poverty—particularly in terms of it resulting from social dynamics and not from the people trapped in the condition.

• Reduce and eventually eliminate our test culture in schools. Standardized testing, such as the SAT, remains biased by social class, gender, and race. The continued use of testing to label and stratify children can only perpetuate, not erase, inequity.

• End tracking and gate-keeping policies that block children from rich course offerings.

• End the tradition of assigning the most experienced and well-qualified teachers to the elite students. Children coming from poverty, ELL students, and children of color have the least experienced and un- or under-qualified teachers compared to their affluent peers.

• Re-imagine public school and college funding that makes college accessible to any student willing and capable, as many European countries do.

The much bemoaned achievement gap is primarily a reflection of the social equity gap in SC and across the U.S. To continue to suggest that schools cause inequity or can achieve Utopian accomplishments such as eradicating poverty is as fruitless as our cultural implication that poverty is the product of those living in poverty, and not the conditions being tolerated by the powerful who control the U.S.

No child chose the conditions of her or his home, and to ask children living lives in poverty just to work harder is a cruel and unfair request, particularly when it comes from adults living lives of privilege and affluence.

Social reform addressing the lives of children is educational reform.

[1] Hanushek, E. (2010, December). The economic value of higher teacher quality. Working paper 56. Washington, DC: Calder, The Urban Institute.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Daily Kos: Childhood Well-Being: A Mirror of the American Character

Daily Kos: Childhood Well-Being: A Mirror of the American Character

New Critical Essays on Kurt Vonnegut: paperback edition

New Critical Essays on Kurt Vonnegut
Edited by David Simmons

"Together the essays stand as an introduction to rereading Vonnegut, demonstrating that his canon may be worth reexamining. Secret lovers of Vonnegut (and sci-fi) will use this book to defend their affections for an artist whose pop fame and pop forms dismay some critics. And one can almost imagine Vonnegut's crooked smile at essays that seek to reserve a place in high-toned literary debates for his works."--Choice
  “This collection offers a timely re-engagement with one of the most enigmatic, deceptive, and misunderstood of American authors…Through a comprehensive interrogation of Vonnegut’s early and late novels, his short stories, and his relationship to predecessors such as Hemingway and his ‘post-9/11 heirs’ such as Cormac McCarthy, Don DeLillo, and Ian McEwan, the contributing scholars establish beyond question the continuing relevance and necessity of reading Vonnegut.”—Will Kaufman, Professor of American Literature and Culture, University of Central Lancashire and author of The Comedian as Confidence Man

“Whether describing the uniquely warm personal relationship many literary critics shared with Vonnegut (Todd Davis), exploring the evolution of a feminist vision in his work (Susan E. Farrell), bringing fresh insights into the function of science fiction elements in his novels (Lorna Jowett), or detailing Vonnegut’s ambiguous but important relationship to other writers such as Hemingway (Lawrence Broer), these one dozen essays offer convincing arguments that Vonnegut should, and will, remain a canonical American writer—at least until we humans manage to destroy the world.”-- William Rodney Allen, author of Understanding Kurt Vonnegut

Kurt Vonnegut's darkly comic work became a symbol for the counterculture of a generation. From his debut novel, Player Piano (1951) through seminal 1960's novels such as Cat's Cradle (1963) and Slaughterhouse-Five (1969) up to the recent success of A Man Without A Country (2005), Vonnegut's writing has remained commercially popular, offering a satirical yet optimistic outlook on modern life. Though many fellow writers admired Vonnegut-Gore Vidal famously suggesting that "Kurt was never dull" -the academic establishment has tended to retain a degree of scepticism concerning the validity of his work. This dynamic collection aims to re-evaluate Vonnegut's position as an integral part of the American post-war canon of literature.

                         978-0-230-12097-6 || 250 Pages || $28.00 PB || September 2011

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Friday, August 12, 2011


Kurt continues to tweet, wisely:
Kurt Vonnegut

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Daily Kos: Banning Books the American Way

Daily Kos: Banning Books the American Way

Scholarly writing: Not for profit

As of today, I have published 10 books and co-authored two others. For many people in both my academic and personal lives, that I have published books sparks several responses that include surprise (my cycling friends often have no concept of me as an academic/writer), genuine respect, and most of all a bit of personal dread about the task of writing a book mixed with a common question about how much money do I make off these books. . .

If you are a scholar/academic reading this, you are likely to know where this is going. . .

So I am into my second Neil Gaiman novel of the summer, Anansi Boys (another brilliant work that followed my reading American Gods), and near the middle of this novel, the character Daisy is fleshed out, including this passage about her parents, a pair of academics: "They moved from university to university across Britain: he taught computer science while his wife wrote books that nobody wanted to read about international corporate hegemonies. . ."

I smiled and backed up to re-read this when I came across it. . .and now notice "monies" in "hegemonies". . .

So, many years ago when my daughter was younger she would see me working and ask with a serious amount of scorn, "Are you writing another book?" And I would confirm to which she would always add, "Not gonna make any money on this one either"—not a question, just a statement of fact. . .

New poem: Tarame (mere mortal)

Tarame (mere mortal)

Tarame was by all accounts a mere mortal
no faerie or shapeshifter or vampire or god

no urge to throw on a cape and cowl
and toss himself around like Batman

instead he carved beneath a magnifying glass
tiny sculptures of frail people from matchsticks

and set them afoot in gardens he tended himself
along the window sills of the house where he lived

so between him and the world (and possible Netherworld)
grew garden parties where his creation watched the sea

and counted the days by sunrise sunset and the tide
because mere mortals need make believe to believe

Sunday, August 7, 2011