Young Abraham Lincoln Gets an Education

As everyone knows, Abraham Lincoln was a very well educated young man.  He became exceptionally fluent in literature and history early in childhood.  This was due to the amount of tax dollars the government spent on public education.  Federal programs, also, allowed computer technology, multicultural activities, and paid teacher trainings to bless young Lincoln with the massive support structure necessary for anyone to learn anything.  Thank goodness there weren’t any budget cuts to threaten the funding for Lincoln’s many years in elementary school!  Otherwise, he may not have become such a great leader, and we may never have won World War II! 

Next week: How Joining a Union Made Socrates a Better Teacher

 

Note: for the satire challenged, the truth is that Lincoln, like many great people of years past, had very little formal schooling at all, and educated himself by reading serious classics on his own.  Without taxpayer-funded schools or unions!   This joke was inspired by this post.

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The Educational Rapture

From the Holy Book of Teacheriah, an Epistle to the Unionians, chapter 5, verses 5-10:

5  And in that great and last day, there shall be a famine of public-sector budgets in the land, and the houses of learning shall be in mighty want;

6  And there shall arise many great heroes, like unto the saints of old, who shall go forth armed with self righteous power to do battle with the Anti-Nice, that fiend who fails to respond to demands for funding, and his legion of dragons, the Fiscally Conservative Beast;

7  But lo, and verily, those Holy Activists, clothed with authority by virtue of their indignation, shall cleanse the lepers and raise the dead, and they shall multiply the few scant dollars in the treasury to become many millions, that thus the ancient bureaucracy may continue to thrive;

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School Budget Limerick

Every semester, I have to fill out a form for my part-time night job at UNLV to advise them of my availability for the next semester.  The form has a box at the bottom for comments.  A while ago, I randomly filled it in with “I like pie,” an inside joke my daughter and I had (responding to any such request for feedback with the bland statement, “I like pie”). 

The semester after that, I filled it in with a tough clue from a crossword puzzle I was working on, asking for help.  The department secretary emailed me later that day with the answer. 

Since then, I’ve tried to put increasingly silly things there.  For the last two semesters, I’ve used that space to compose brief medieval legends about Sir Huston, a crusading itinerant knight who sets out on quests against illiteracy and substandard compositional skills at the behest of the royal goddesses of Castle English (my supervisors, of course–a little sucking up never hurt). 

But as I turned in my current form today, I wanted, for some reason, to write a limerick.  As my goal with these random scribblings is to amuse, I thought a poem about our budget crisis might be cute.  Thus, this:

There once was a teacher named Jamie
Who said, “This is fun, and they pay me!”
Then the government said,
“Work for much less instead.”
He replied, “Oh, your jokes, they just slay me!”

 

Let’s Not Tell Students the Sky Is Falling

Two Saturdays ago the following letter of mine appeared in the Las Vegas Review-Journal.  In the ongoing budget kerfuffle, I worry that the rhetoric of some of my teacher colleagues has crossed the line into irresponsible territory.  Frankly, even the insinuation that money is the biggest factor in student achievement is bothersome.  Yes, there are things we need funding for, but why haven’t we gotten this fired up over the epidemic of failure in our schools? 

Astute readers will recognize that this letter canibalizes part of a post I put up here about a month ago. 

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As a fellow English teacher, I appreciated Elizabeth Strehl’s Wednesday letter in defense of education spending, but I can’t condone her statement that, “If the proposed budget cuts to education happen, our schools and therefore our children may never recover.”

Perhaps such education advocates are exaggerating to emphasize their point, but can’t these academic Chicken Littles see the danger of their hyperbole? If these budget cuts do pass, what message have we now sent to our students? Might young people pick up on the idea that their fate has been sealed and that further work is pointless? Might the economic situation be used by some as an excuse for failure?

Lobbying for schools is noble, but I hope the fatalism so prominent in this conversation won’t turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy.

To all students out there: The ultimate force in your academic achievement isn’t the money coming from politicians, it’s the effort that comes from you. Don’t take our concern over the budget the wrong way. No matter what happens, we believe in you. Your future will always be yours to control.

Education Activism and Unintended Consequences

I sent the following as a letter to the Las Vegas Review-Journal a week ago.  Apparently, they didn’t want to run it, so here it is:

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There has been much sound and fury of late from well-meaning Nevadans regarding Governor Sandoval’s proposed budget cuts to education, but in their zeal they may have set up a tragedy.

Many of my fellow teachers and parents have been saying that these budget cuts would prove disastrous to education in Nevada. Dire predictions of doom and gloom abound that, should the budget cuts materialize, Nevada students would be condemned to eternal ignorance.

Perhaps they’re exaggerating to emphasize their point, but can’t these academic Jeremiahs see the danger of their hyperbole? If these budget cuts do pass, what message has this community now sent to our students? Might young people pick up on the idea that their fate has been sealed, and that further effort is hopeless? Might the economic situation, at the very least, be used by some as an excuse for failure?

Lobbying for schools is noble, but hopefully the fatalism so prominent in this conversation won’t turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Relative Savings

Ever thrifty, but especially so during these recent recession years, my wife and I have paid attention to a variety of TV shows, classes, and web sites offering advice for reducing utility and grocery bills.  You’ve seen them–they promise to give you secret tips to cut yours bills in half, or some such thing.

However, we quickly became fairly jaded on any such concept after finding, time and again, that the amazing savings, the rock bottom level of spending that these clever tips and skills could offer, this budget boon due to paring away frivolity to a bare bones lifestyle and/or one devoted to cutting corners…still resulted in expenses that exceeded what we were already spending. 

Honestly, some of the items we ran across made claims such as, “With our revolutionary approach to budgeting and bills, we can cut your grocery costs all the way down to a mere, skeletal $1000 a month!”  I don’t think I’m revealing anything terribly personal by confessing that the Huston family spends significantly less than that on our monthly groceries as it is.  The big, scary question here, of course, is, if there’s a market for telling people how to get their grocery bills down to $1000 a month, how much are they spending now

But what this implies about our society’s idea of thrift, and what constitutes cutting back in our eyes, is far scarier still.  I’m reminded of the old Simpsons episode where Homer abuses his company’s medical insurance so he can get some hair restoring tonic.  When his boss, Mr. Burns, finds out about how Homer had bilked him, Burns cries out in frustration, “Blast his hide to Hades!  And I was going to buy that ivory back scratcher!” 

Alas, the recession: fewer ivory back scratchers for America.

Huston For Superintendent

Last week, the Clark County School District superintendent announced that he’ll be leaving over the summer. As the school board starts searching for a replacement, I’d like to throw my hat in the ring. Below is a list of ideas that I like. I plan to be at their meeting on Thursday, April 8, at 4 PM, to discuss my interest with them. I’d appreciate anybody’s support!

These are only ideas, not laws set in stone. These tentative suggestions are meant to illustrate my priorities and values as an educational leader. Ideas would be discussed with the public and school district legal counsel, and may need to be enacted more or less strictly in practice.

  1. All decisions about finances and policies should be made with this motto in mind: “Academic achievement above all.”

  2. Frequently and regularly conference with every principal in the district about their needs, ideas, and concerns. Be open and available to all faculty, parents, and the community. Have an open door policy, and engage the community in person and through media more often. Public schools are community schools, and everyone’s input will be valued.

  3. Reduce non-teaching personnel throughout the school district: eliminate “regions” and regional superintendents, “teachers on special assignment,” and non-academic departments such as “Equity and Diversity Education.” These and many other examples of bureaucratic pork do nothing to improve students’ education.

  4. Reduce and/or eliminate programs that encourage ongoing student failure, in terms of lowered expectations or unreasonable credit retrieval: social promotion, 50% minimum grades, certificates of attendance, and block scheduling, which will also save the school district millions of dollars.

  5. Reduce number and frequency of physical mailings from school district to homes; vast and expensive waste will be ended here.

  6. Aggressively find and eliminate waste and abuse in the free and reduced lunch program.

  7. Consider ending year round schedules in elementary schools, as another cost-saving measure.

  8. Expand an emphasis on basic literacy and arithmetic in elementary grades. Consider re-instituting tracking of students based on achievement, to better modify instruction for individual student needs.

  9. Under no circumstances will funding for arts and sports programs be cut.

  10. Another cost-saving measure: all school district materials will be printed in English only.

  11. Require every campus to survey their community about dress codes and standard school attire.

  12. Strictly enforce discipline and attendance regulations; end the “revolving door” of discipline and endless truancy allowances.

  13. Empower teachers to conduct more effective disciplinary action against disruptive students, such as immediately placing them in an in-house suspension or placing them on RPC.

  14. Make it easier for campus administrators to discipline or fire grossly incompetent teachers; likewise, advocate for reform of current licensing standards and alternative licensing to attract experienced professionals to teaching.

  15. End all emphasis and pressure on teachers to utilize “learning styles,” multicultural education, cooperative education, and any other educational trend that is not supported by research as being consistently beneficial to learning.

  16. End any doctoring of disciplinary and other statistical numbers to the school district and public; stop pressuring and punishing administrators and teachers for “excessively” high discipline rates. Secrecy is out; transparency is in.

  17. Assertively involve parents in the education of nonproficient students: at all grade levels, after each grading period, nonproficient students will be required to attend conferences with their teachers and parents to determine the causes of student failure and to make definite resolutions to fix them. There will be no “grading of parents,” but as appropriate, these meetings may lead to voluntary parenting classes or seminars, such as many campuses already sponsor.

  18. Require schools to counsel habitually truant and disruptive secondary school students to enroll in alternative placements such as virtual high school, distance learning, adult education, etc. This will reduce discipline problems on campuses and will redirect school resources to those who want to learn.

  19. Actively encourage community organizations and businesses to reward successful students, especially through promotions, discounts, and in offering good students employment; CCSD will officially recognize and endorse such organizations and businesses to encourage the community to patronize them.

  20. Sell unnecessary facilities and materials. Does the superintendent’s office have a big leather chair and a huge oak desk? If so, they’ll both be on Craigslist by the end of my first day.

  21. I will perform my duties as superintendent for the same salary I make as a teacher, with no added perks or bonuses. This alone will save the school district hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.

Anyone who thinks I lack sufficient financial background for this position should know that I am raising a family with five children only on my teacher’s salary (my wife is a stay-at-home mom). If I can make that work, I can make the school district’s budget work!

 

How To Raise Up A Family To The Lord

515Q9YXJX5L__SL500_AA240_I just saw that Gene R. Cook’s Raising Up a Family To the Lord must be out of print: Amazon.com only has marketplace copies, Barnes and Noble doesn’t list it at all, and even Deseret Book’s Web site only offers an audio tape and a couple of translations. 

That’s too bad, because it is far and away the best book about parenting that I’ve ever read.  Cook, a general authority in the LDS Church, wrote the most specific, organized, detailed, inspiring, and practical family guide ever set down on paper.  What most especially impresses me is that he published this book two years before the church’s famous Proclamation on the Family.  Talk about prophetic!  Actually, Elder Cook’s book is the best manual for implementing and living the Proclamation that anyone could ever ask for.  That’s why it’s so tragic that it seems to have fallen by the wayside.  It should be in every home.  Couples should study it regularly.  I’d love to see it become popular, or even come back into print. 

As it is, some of those used copies at Amazon are going for as low as three dollars.  It’s worth a million times that. 

I used my notes below as the text for a lesson once when I was elders quorun president, and got a few laughs because the notes are so long.  Yes, Elder Cook covers all his bases, and does so in exacting detail.  But don’t get the idea that these notes are exhaustive–they don’t convey the wonderful spirit of his dozens of personal stories that carry the testimony of his principles into our hearts.  Not much of what he writes could be considered “commandments,” anyway: mostly ideas for us to adapt and use in our own circumstances. 

Still, any family, of any faith or none at all, would benefit greatly by working these ideas into their home life over time.  I’ll say that the more any family resembles the ideal outlined by Elder Cook, the more happy and healthy they’ll be. 

Please forgive the inconsistent spacing in my notes:

 

Raising Up A Family To The Lord

by Gene R. Cook

 

* See outline of basic priorities on pp. 13-16.

 

I. Most important things: instill habits of personal prayer and scripture study in children by modeling them

as a family; also, convey spiritual values to children through daily living in the home.

          A. Do not rely on church programs to mold children– they merely support the home.

          B. Involve children in home teaching responsibilities; expose them to faithful models (“second

witnesses”) in church.

                    1. “Family duties” to encourage include:

                              a. Weekly family home evening.

                             b. Family and individual prayers twice daily

                             c. Bless food at each meal.

                             d. Make time for family activities.

                             e. Family scripture study

                             f. Have mealtime discussions

                             g. Discuss gospel while working together.

                             h. Use special holidays and occasions to teach the gospel

                              i. Teach tithing and offerings by example.

                              j. Teach the gospel through bedtime stories.

                             k. Hold private interviews.

          C. Teach children these doctrines BEFORE they turn eight:

                    1. Repentance

                    2. Faith in Christ

                    3. Baptism

                    4. Gift of the Holy Ghost

                    5. Pray and “walk uprightly before the Lord”

                    6. Observe the Sabbath Day

                   7. Labor in faithfulness and not be idle or greedy

                   8. Seek for the riches of eternity

 

II. Teach Your Family By The Spirit

          A. Pray with children as soon as there is trouble

          B. How to invite the spirit:

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More On (Moron?) Staff Development Days

An excerpt from an email I sent to some school district administrators earlier today:

 

Perhaps the best idea I have for tightening the belt around here is to drastically streamline our staff development days. 

 

In a ninth season episode of The Simpsons entitled, “Lost Our Lisa,” the children feel sorry for their teachers, because the kids get to have fun on a day off while the teachers have to be “cooped up at school” on a staff development day.  The scene then cuts to a close-up of the principal mumbling to a bored-looking teacher, “Well, here we go again,” after which the camera pulls back to reveal the staff of the school on a roller coaster at an amusement park.  The joke is on the writers, though: their irony turns out to be quite realistic.

 

From the presentation by a company selling “edutainment” software that we neither need nor could afford, to the breakout sessions with no leader or coherent goal, to the condescending silliness at the start and end of the day, Tuesday’s staff development was a laughingstock failure.  I don’t say this to indict any certain individuals responsible for its planning, but when we face budget shortfalls and a lack of student achievement, it’s almost criminal to continue having these inservice days with the philosophy that they’re for “entertainment” and “team building.” 

 

In the interest of the quality of the education that we provide, I need to suggest that we radically alter staff development days in the district.  Shouldn’t staff development days be devoted to reviewing effective teaching strategies and curricula, and letting departments communicate with each other about immediate concerns specific to their campus and department?  Not to mention, letting teachers have some extra planning time?  What else could a staff development day legitimately be for? 

 

Budget cuts have to be made, and isn’t it reasonable to start with the catered lunches, silly technology-heavy presentations, pointless professional guest speakers, and trophies that cluttered up this most recent staff day? 

 

 

 

It’s Not The Money, Stupid…

The Clark County School District is facing a budget crisis; after having cut $130 million from its budget for this year, we now find ourselves having to cut even more for next year.  Some details are here

Schools are having emergency meetings with parents in the community to discuss ideas for cuts, and my school had such a meeting among its staff last week, as I’m sure many other schools have.  Everybody’s worried about salaries, perks, and even job security itself.

Let’s set a few things straight:

First, there is plenty of money out there for what we need.  There always has been and always will be.  It’s not a matter of needing more money, it’s a matter of better investing what we have.  It does not cost hundreds of millions of dollars to provide textbooks and necessary supplies.  Besides (the curmudgeon hastened to add), there is absolutely no relationship between education spending and academic achievement

But what about technology?  Doesn’t that cost a lot?  Yes, but that might as well be where we make some cuts, too, since…wait for it…students with greater access to computers statistically do worse academically than others

All this brouhaha reminds me of a letter that I had in the Las Vegas Review-Journal on July 11, 2007:

 

Here’s a shocking thought from a teacher: Raising our salaries won’t improve anything.

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School Budget Priorities And A Satirical Analogy

So my school’s budget for this year was cut by six figures.  Other schools had even more cut than we did.  This trickles down to my English department, among other ways, in the form of getting far less paper for copies than we have had in the past, which was pretty meager to begin with.

Meanwhile, one of the several videos that every school district employee was forced to watch this week featured a custom built, three foot tall remote control bus with multiple moving accessories.  It helped to teach us, seriously, how not to get hit by a bus.  They can afford to waste our time with this kind of thing, but we can’t afford paper?! 

I responded to this outrageous farce on our school’s email bulletin board in my typical idiom: satire. 

 

In this election year, I know we’re all worried about our constant need to fill up on that supply that we need to function, especially since it’s getting much harder finacially to do so. Therefore, I want to offer this plan for our future…my Paper Plan.

 

 

First, we need to unlock our leaders’ stockpile. It’s time to dip into the Strategic Paper Reserve.

 

 

Second, we have no choice but to engage in offshore drilling. Studies have shown that areas off the coast of Florida are rich in crude paper, and we need to get to it before China does. We also need to start getting paper from our federal lands in Alaska. The caribou will just have to adapt; the Alaskan Paper Pipeline will be able to alleviate our shrinking paper supply as soon as 2025.

 

 

Third, we need to wean ourselves from our dependence on foreign paper. The terrorists in PPEC have had us on a leash long enough. Besides, they’re all in bed with the corporate fat cats in Big Paper who are getting rich off our desperation to have fuel for our copy machines to run smoothly.

 

 

Fourth, we need to find a new resource to replace paper completely. Research into alternatives like solar paper and wind turbine paper are promising, but we have to admit that hydroelectric paper just won’t work. It ends up either getting too soggy to use, or catches on fire.

 

 

Fifth, copy machines need to become more fuel efficient. Japanese engineers have perfected a smaller, hybrid model that combines a sheet of paper with creamed corn to get more material printed on each page. It’s the wave of the future. Sorry, but those cool Sport Utility Copy Machines are no longer in style.

 

Don’t forget to make sure the wheels on your copy machines are inflated properly. That alone could save us thousands of sheets of paper a year.

 

Regarding those several mandatory videos that each employee is subjected to (what a great use of our time as we try to prepare for teaching new students–and haven’t we been told by countless administrators that showing people videos is not an effective method of teaching?  Why use it to teach us something then?), the subjects covered included the following:

 

Anything that you say that any student chooses to feel offended by is an “aversive intervention” and will get you sued and fired (after endless paperwork), try not to spread disease by coming into contact with, quote, “blood and semen” (I swear I am not making this up), and, apparently, according to our intensive trainings this week, you’re actually not supposed to sleep with students.  Huh.  Well, glad they cleared that up.  No doubt that some pedophile saw that and cheerfully changed his mind.

 

Your tax dollars at work.