Widgets The Good Place (Michael L. Umphrey on gardening, teaching, and writing)

"Peace is not an absence of war; it is a virtue, a state of mind, a disposition for benevolence, confidence, justice. - Benedict Spinoza."

A sense of place
     Making the world our home

Last winter I turned off the lights late one winter and leaned on the open window in my study, leaned on the sill a little into the night, gazing for a long moment out at snow falling through cottonwoods along Mission Creek and snow falling on my winter garden. Snowflakes on my cheek felt like pricks of life.

A kind of knowing has been handed down to me through American culture from Puritans who saw the material world related to the spiritual world in such a way that any moment correctly observed and understood contains all moments.

When, as Puritans, they encountered the New England coast, they did not see stones shaped by geologic forces over millions of years or waves rising and falling according to laws of physics that stretched backward and forward through infinity without change. What they did see was a stage upon which a cosmic drama of sin and redemption was enacted in every moment. They saw in all of it a provident God whose story gave time a beginning and an end, extending moment by moment in unimaginably vast patterns that both repeated and unfolded more fully.

In learning to see their own lives as stories, types within the unfolding plan, they became skilled metaphorical thinkers, adept at seeing in quite different details the same patterns, which were revelatory of the underlying truth from which existence unfolded. Their own grand errand to the wilderness was also the Israelites’ journey through wilderness toward the promised land.

Every event and aspect of nature was at once itself and a remembrancer of more. History was not chronology but an intelligible order in which prophets had discerned and described both past and future. The smallest of stories resonated without end.

Later, such ones as Thoreau, Emerson, Melville and Hawthorne separated the Puritan’s metaphorical facility from faith in the God of the Bible, making symbols that suggested transcendence. This worked for a while. It still felt that every time and place might somehow be an instance of every other time and place. One could still see eternity in a grain of sand.

But then, in a moment, it vanished.

The cosmos was empty and dead. In “The Snow Man” Wallace Stevens said that to face the meaningless arrangements and rearrangements of patterns that make up modernity, “one must have a mind of winter.” Only then can one behold “nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.”

It’s true that few of us really do have minds of winter. The covers of best sellers are graced with images of Egyptian pyramids or South American temples or Stonehenge. People keep looking beyond cold nothing.

Still, an awareness of nothing has creeped into our schools and offices. What does it matter which building in which edge city reached by which highway one goes to through morning gridlock to ride the same elevator to the same hallway to the same room filled with purplish gray fabric-covered cubicles, personalized with photocopied jokes?

In such places, the contemporary concern with “sense of place” emerged.

I think that the longing for a sense of place has grown from a longing for meaning, which is in part a longing for a way of being understood and loved, as a way of being together. Many of us no longer have a sense of living among all our grandmothers and grandfathers and all our children and grandchildren, some not yet born--and yet we are not ready to completely inhabit the cold empty sense that all we have been amounts to only the melting and shattering of vibrating bits.

The longing for a sense of place is, I think, a longing for the cosmos at the scale of home. It’s a longing for meaning and connections that prove that we are alive and that we matter. It’s a powerful longing. It leads people to crave drugs, to join gangs, to get pregnant, to prepare speeches and workshops. . .

Just before I opened the window to look out through silences of falling snow, I had been reading an argument by a theoretical physicist that time is an illusion created by the way our consciousness organizes perceptual data. As I watched the night, a thick swirl of heavy snowflakes catching the yellow light of the streetlights across the creek, where in the near distance I saw two cars moving, slowly as it seemed to me, through whatever night they were to encounter.

I knew that the empty spaces between protons and electrons were a million billion times larger than the particles themselves, I knew that the solidity of the birch window sill was an illusion created in part by force fields within which electrons and protons danced, and I knew that nobody knew what the forces fields were, and that the electrons themselves were made of even smaller particles, emerging from waves of a not-nothing that was prior to energy and flooding the universe with being.

My two-year old grandson toddled to my knee and tugged on my trousers. “Can I see?”

I lifted him to my window on the night. Yes. Here a little and there a little. Yes.

Posted by Michael L Umphrey
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2009 Michael L. Umphrey

Non Fiction for High School
     Reading List

Bessinger, H. G.  Friday Night Lights
Burroughs, Augusten Running With Scissors:  A Memoir
Capote, Truman In Cold Blood
Crafts, Hannah &
Henry Louis Gates Jr.  The Bondwoman’s Narrative
Didion, Joan A Year of Magical Thinking
Dillard, Annie Pilgrim at Tinker Creek
Doig, Ivan This House of Sky
Douglass, Frederick A Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass
Fadiman, Anne The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down
Fuller, Alexandra Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight:  An African Childhood
Gilbert, Elizabeth Eat Pray Love
Goldberg, Natalie The Long Quiet Highway: Waking Up in America
Grisham, John The Innocent Man
Hemmingway, Ernest A Moveable Feast
Hooks, Bell Bone Black: A Childhood Memoir
Karr, Mary The Liar’s Club
Katz, Jon Katz on Dogs
Kidder, Tracy Mountains Beyond Mountains
King, Stephen On Writing
Larson, Eric Isaac’s Storm
The Devil in White City
McCourt, Frank Angela’s Ashes
Teacher Man
Moehringer, J.R.  The Tender Bar
Mortenson, Greg Three Cups of Tea
Nafisi, Azar Reading Lolita in Tehran
Nazer, Mende Slave
O’Brien, Tim If I Die in a Combat Zone, Box Me Up and Send Me Home
Sebold, Alice Lucky
Steinbeck, John Travels with Charley
Stewart, Rory The Places in Between
Tammet, Daniel Born on a Blue Day—(Asperger’s)
Thoreau, Henry David Walden
Truss, Lynne Eats, Shoots and Leaves (Grammar)
Walls, Jeanette The Glass Castle:  A Memoir
Wolff, Tobias This Boy’s Life

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2009 Michael L. Umphrey

Critical thinking?
     Or "the laws of life"?

What do young people, facing what they face, most need to learn?

Quickly, someone will answer, “critical thinking!”

If “critical thinking” means paying attention to evidence and reason, I’m all for it.

But if it means, as it so often does, a haughty sense of superiority to received wisdom, well, then I think it’s something of a superstition, part of the unquestioned folklore of a frustrated tribe of intellectuals who wish they were taken more seriously than they are. For them, the world would be a better place if it ran more like a graduate seminar, where those with a gift for verbal performances were the stars. But life is not like that.

Life is full of character tests where we must not just speak but act, and in situations where we can never have all the data. Often, simple goodness and obedience to principles ends up being far more efficacious than the ability to split hairs and see through arguments. One who sees through everything may end by seeing nothing.

As the man said, being intelligent is like having four-wheel-drive. It just means you get stuck in more remote places.

To live intelligently, the best tools are often traditional bits of wisdom encoded in time-tested proverbs and folk sayings, like these (most adapted from John Templeton’s Laws of Life):

The law of the harvest: you reap what you sow. Also expressed as “What goes around comes around” and “As ye judge ye shall be judged.”

It is better to love than to be loved.
Success is a journey, not a destination.
Enthusiasm is contagious (and nothing important is achieved without enthusiasm).
The borrower is a servant to the lender.
We find what we look for (good or evil).
Every ending is a beginning.
The way to fix bad things is to create good things.
Love is stronger than everything else.
You can’t solve a problem at the same level as the problem. You need to get above it.
The truth will make you free.
To find gold you need to search where the gold is.
Habit is the best servant, the worst master.
People are punished by their sins not for them.
Make yourself necessary and the world will feed you.
Luck favors the prepared.
Defeat isn’t bitter if you don’t swallow it.

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2009 Michael L. Umphrey

This is madness!
     From an NCTE report by Kathleen Blake Yancey

. . .A second story of composing begins in the spring of 2008, when a high school student on Facebook decides that testtaking could be more fun for him, for other test-takers, and for the test-scorers. And the test? Advanced Placement—AP English, AP history, AP psychology, AP calculus . . . all AP tests. The idea was basically simple: get students to write the “iconic phrase” THIS IS SPARTA from the movie 300, in capital letters, anywhere on the test, and then cross it out with one line. Because the rules of the test stipulate that students can cross out mistakes and cannot be penalized 6 Writing in the 21st Century . A Report from NCTE for doing so, none of the test-takers could be penalized. In addition, “bonus points” were available if students also wrote THIS IS MADNESS elsewhere on the test. And write they did.

Facebook users “flocked” to join the group Everybody Write “THIS IS SPARTA!” in fact over 30,000 students. And the readers of these exams enjoyed several laughs, which was the intent. According to Erica Jacobs, who teaches at Oakton High School in Virginia, AP readers participated in the joke in several ways, including exchanging notes with each other about the crossed-out lines, posting a sign proclaiming “THIS IS SPARTA” on a reader table, and beginning the last day by announcing, “This is Sparta!” (par. 9) And what were they laughing at? Two examples from AP history exams:

  • As the country slid deeper into the Depression, it became clear that drastic change was needed in order to save the American banking system. Fortunately, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, after taking office, immediately declared “THIS IS MADNESS!” and established a four-day banking holiday.
  • After the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, John Wilkes Booth cried, “THIS IS SPARTA” before jumping from the balcony.

Now what’s interesting to me about this event is fourfold. One is that these students understand the power of networking, which they used for a collective self-sponsoring activity, in this case a kind of smart-mob action. When you have a cause, you can organize thousands of people on very short notice—and millions when you have more time. Teenagers understand this in ways that many adults do not, and what’s as important, they understand how to make it happen.

Two is that the students didn’t stop with Facebook and AP. They went to Wikipedia, where they posted the line THIS IS SPARTA at one point on the entry for the College Board, and THIS IS MADNESS at another point on the same entry. Both those lines stayed on Wikipedia for at least a month, when they were later taken down: contrary to popular belief, Wikipedia is monitored. But these students understand how to contribute to Wikipedia. They understand both the reach and the impact of networking. They understand circulation of messages—from a Facebook group to high school and college teachers to a site that rivals encyclopedias in comprehensiveness and exceeds them in timeliness and that offers opportunities for all of us literally to make knowledge.

Three is that the students understood the new audiences of twenty-first century composing—colleagues across the country and faceless AP graders alike. They understood one audience—the testing system—and knew how to play it. Several of the students were concerned enough not to want their scores to be negatively affected, as they revealed on another site where college advisers answer questions (—and those queries were removed, too!—but these students—and there were thousands and thousands of them—were quite simply bored enough to take the chance. Put differently, they refused to write to a teacher-as-examiner exclusively; they wrote as well to live teachers who might be amused at the juxtaposition between a serious claim about John Wilkes Booth and THIS IS SPARTA. Put differently still, they wanted not a testing reader, but a human one.

Four, we can imagine the ways we might channel this energy for a cause more serious, for a purpose more worthy. In other words, these students know how to compose, and they know how to organize, and they know audience. How can we build on all that knowledge? How can we help them connect it to larger issues?

Kathleen Blake Yancey

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2009 Michael L. Umphrey

21st Century Skills
     Are video games adequately preparing our students for life in a post-apocalyptic world?

Are Violent Video Games Adequately Preparing Children For The Apocalypse?

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2009 Michael L. Umphrey

What do today’s students need to learn?
     A relevant education responds to real problems

I’m trying to get clear for myself and my little tribe what young people facing today’s world most need to learn.

These, I think, are the main challenges they face:

The threat of of a modern “slave empire”--the ongoing escape by vast, nationless business enterprises from the reach of national law, leading to an increasingly pervasive manipulation of public opinion and public policy by a ”superclass” of bipartisan elites who control the major multinationals. Particularly troubling is growing influence of these corporations on schools.

The ignorance of American voters at a time when the rule of law is in steep decline, being replaced by modern democracy--i.e. rule by a majority and rule by public opinion. Most national political campaigns are now organized on principles of demagoguery--i.e. lying for power.

The erosion of liberty as demagogues buy votes while peddling programs that appear to be benefits but that also create permanent dependency. Many citizens’ salaries, retirement benefits, health care coverage, and housing are entangled in government policy, making them easily manipulated through fear campaigns. For the most part, the promises will not be kept. Witness the indifference to social security by both parties in the last presidential campaign, despite the looming train wreck as boomers retire. Instead, both parties competed by making even more lavish promises, which there is no money to fund.

A superficial understanding of human nature related to an excessive “presentism.” Unprepared by education to understand the “Greek” mind, the “Roman” mind, the “Jewish” mind, or the “Christian” mind represented in our rich historical and literary heritage, many of today’s citizens are regrettably provincial without the breadth or depth of knowledge that vitalizes dialogue with those outside their own “neighborhood,” without the past’s endless resources that so often trigger innovative responses to trouble.

Dissipation in a relentless commercial culture that leaves many unable to focus on long and difficult tasks, unable to pay complete attention to anything, and unable to make intelligent plans or discipline the self to move toward goals. To often, teachers are being urged to imitate or become adjuncts to that commercial culture.

A near collapse of the culture of marriage among large portions of the population, leaving many children growing up in unstable and fatherless households. This has led to large increases of “at risk” behaviors by both boys and girls in those populations.

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2009 Michael L. Umphrey

Getting back to reality
     A focus on community

The Real Work
by Wendell Berry

It may be that when we no longer know what to do
we have come to our real work,

and that when we no longer know which way to go
we have come to our real journey.

The mind that is not baffled is not employed.

The impeded stream is the one that sings.

Plato gave us a vivid portrait unreal work in his “Allegory of the Cave,” where people are kept busy dealing with shadows cast on the wall, unaware of what caused the shadows and not even dreaming of a world where the sun was shining.

We’ve all been at meetings where the world-that-is seemed awfully cave-like, buzzwords and fads flickering like so many shadows and phantoms. We are besieged by unreality.

Maybe you’ve also noticed something else that Wendell Berry pointed out – while we’ve avoided jousting with windmills, we’ve been invaded by the darn things: great rotating mechanisms whirling and clanging around us, blocking the horizon and filling up our hours greasing their wheels and ducking their blades.

A few years ago I stopped in at a meeting of grant coordinators in Oregon where I’d been invited to talk and sat and listened for an hour or so. I hadn’t been around schools for some years and was struck by the sense that I had left exactly that conversation ten years earlier and walked back in and all the same points were being made. It was like the world outside didn’t exist.

Such experiences of unreality that trigger our soul-deep hunger for the real. And we know something of reality. All of us have experienced those moments when we know in our guts and feel in our minds that this – this is the real world. Reading to a daughter, meeting an old friend, finding a passage in a book that resolves a long-standing confusion, breaking out of trees into an alpine meadow – these are the moments when our hunger for reality is satisfied.

We know why Archimedes yelled “Eureka!” and ran naked down the street, though we’re more likely to just turn the page, oblivious to all but what the words evoke. Such moments in our own learning histories should guide our teaching. If such moments are rare in our classrooms (or schools or lives), then we’ve lost our way.

We need to make them more common by making them more deliberate.

To make them more deliberate, we might consider that Archimedes’ “eureka moment” followed hard inquiry into a difficult problem: how to determine the amount of silver the goldsmith might have hidden in the king’s crown. As he stepped into his bath and watched the displaced water rise, the solution hit him instantly. “Eureka” is perfect tense of the Greek word heuriskein, “to find.” But he noticed it only because his mind was engaged in his task.

For students, school is more likely to lead to “eureka” moments when at least part of the day focuses on forming authentic questions and pursuing original research. I’m not talking Google here. I’m talking the world outside the window.

Kate Campbell, a sophomore in Corvallis, Montana, researched the role that adversity had played in the lives of community members. She created a video segment on “adversity” for their community heritage evening in the spring. One of the stories was about a fire that destroyed the Corvallis school on January 15, 1930. “In a matter of minutes,” Kate said, “It forced two hundred grammar students and ninety-six high school students out into the bitter snow, where fifteen below zero winds were blowing. It was one of the coldest days that winter.” As 200 community members listened, Kate told some of their own stories back to them, reminding them that they had gotten through hard times in the past by being a community rather than trying to go it alone.

On the screen, Mabel Popham, now elderly, described the fire: “I had gotten a new coat for Christmas – that was in 1929 and the beginning of the depression – and I couldn’t stop to pick up my coat. Everybody just got out. That was the main thing, to escape the fire. And everybody did get out, everyone was safe, but everybody lost their coats that they got for Christmas, which was kind of traumatic at that time because it was the beginning of the Depression.”

Kate studied how the community responded. She wrote, “Buildings such as the Masonic Temple, a school in a neighboring town, and various churches were offered to house school children in need of a warm place to learn. Many people freely gave time, talents, and money to help out wherever and whenever they were needed. The network of support that developed because of a community disaster became vital as the Depression worsened.”

A few months after Kate’s gift of scholarship to her community, Corvallis’s middle school caught fire and burned to the ground. People in town had just heard from one of their children how their parents and grandparents had handled similar trouble, and they knew instantly how they should act.

Kate was doing real work. She was doing real writing--gathering information that hasn’t yet been gathered and put into words and uploaded on the Web.

Every community is a web of stories. When student writers focus on the community itself: the defining events and persons of the past, its relationship to the natural environment, its place in national and world events, its current challenges or its future prospects, students can pursue solid academic work in ways that create and strengthen relationships.

This is important. Part of what we know about adolescents is that they are trying to construct an identity, and they are doing this work on the threshold between family and the larger society. Substantial research indicates that when the various adult groups that surround teenagers – parents, teachers, employers, church leaders, community leaders – send coherent messages about the things worth wanting and the right ways to get them, most teens make the transition from youth to adulthood quite smoothly, without the wrenching mistakes that we hear so much about.

A focus on community – community as the subject of research, community as a teaching resource, and community as a set of practices – can provide the integrating vision we need.

Not to mention the reality. Towns and neighborhoods are real. Too much of what goes on at school is too distant and too abstract to engage adolescents. Study after study going back at least two decades has found that over half of secondary students make no consistent effort to learn anything in school. Student disengagement is epidemic.

At bottom, the problem is that many young people do not understand the story of their lives as having any meaningful connection with school. That is, school does not seem real to them.

Though it is easy to miss amid the billion dollar roar of NCLB, the good news is that we are in the midst of what Jeremy Rifkin has called the most significant grassroots revolution in education since the progressive reforms after World War I. Laboring under many flags – community--centered teaching, service learning, civic-education, place-based instruction, character education – people all over the country are rediscovering America, exploring ways that schools can help build or rebuild relationships between young people and their communities by establishing projects that get the young and old working together.

What does it take to build community? What does it take to sustain community? These are powerfully integrating questions, about which every academic discipline and every community member has insight to share. They are essential questions. Really.

I’ve been using “community” in quite an expansive way. What I mean by it is simply that secular state of grace where we do not – cannot – earn everything we get. We don’t earn the beautiful streets and peaceful parks, the free schools, the library card, the chance to join a volleyball league, the safe water, the brief chats with old friends in the aisle of the grocery store, or the passer-by stopping when our car breaks down.

In a good town, people understand this self-sustained state of grace and teach it to their children. Schools can do their part in that teaching while taking seriously the ideals of scholarship. The key is to organize young people to research their communities and to give their gifts of scholarship back to those communities, in the form of web pages, heritage evenings, podcast, YouTube videos, and, of course, books.

A glance at the headlines makes it clear that we are surrounded by challenges. A good school for adolescents would be one in which grownups took these real issues as the stuff of education, and accompanied young people in learning expeditions on quests to better understand the social, historical, environmental, political, economic and moral forces in at work in the places they live.

Young people face the real troubles of life with elders who share their plight. They build the council fires, which are also beacon fires, and think together. As school classes are organized into research teams, working with community members and organizations to form questions and make answers, community ceases being a buzz word in a mission statement and becomes a way of life.

Young people are drawn to the adventure. They wake up and join the conversation, excited by the power of the real.

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2009 Michael L. Umphrey

The writing teacher: speech to my students
     Delivered at the Montana Heritage Project's Youth Heritage Festival

Never has it mattered so profoundly what an individual thinks. The world is shaped by the responses of government and business to the desires of citizens and consumers. Therefore, young people have a responsibility to think well. Education is the most important work in the world.

You think that it doesn’t much matter what you think. After all, you’re just one small person in a vast and noisy world that’s ruled by transnational corporate empires that even vast government bureaucracies obey. Your little world of private desires and hidden fears doesn’t matter. Nobody notices and nobody cares.

But you are wrong. What you think matters profoundly.

One way you can tell how much it matters what you think is to observe the money and ingenuity powerful groups use to influence what you think. I’m sure you’ve noticed that you are surrounded and bombarded with messages, often purchased at enormous expense and designed with spectacular artistry. Television, movies, music, and the internet, not to mention textbooks, teachers, and speakers such as myself send messages your way in a steady stream.

If it didn’t matter what you thought, then the princes of the earth would just ignore you. But they don’t. They not only yell and whisper at you, they also study you intently. They listen. They make strategic plans based on what you want. In more and more ways, the vast interconnected systems of modern society study what you think, shaping and reshaping themselves based on what they can figure out about the secrets of your heart.

They do this in many ways, some obvious and others quite subtle. Polls are obvious. More subtle may be that Best Buy Reward Zone card or that Barnes & Nobles Readers Advantage card that allows merchants to monitor what you buy, and how often, and in what quantities. You are being studied. When you enter a store, where do you go first, where do you linger longest, and what do you ultimately buy? Stores are rearranged, some sections growing and others dwindling away, based partly on what you ignore and what you like. The world changes by tracing the flow of your pennies.


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2009 Michael L. Umphrey

Books should change your life
     Reading to live

Archaic Torso of Apollo

by Ranier Marie Rilke

We cannot know his legendary head
with eyes like ripening fruit. And yet his torso
is still suffused with brilliance from inside
like a lamp, in which his gaze, now turned to low,

gleams in all its power. Otherwise
the curved breast could not dazzle you so, nor could
a smile run through the placid hips and thighs
to that dark center where procreation flared.

Otherwise this stone would seem defaced
beneath the translucent cascade of the shoulders
and would not glisten like a wild beast’s fur:

would not, from all the borders of itself,
burst like a star: for here there is no place
that does not see you. You must change your life.

You must change your life. That’s the message of the art most worth our time. A book that does not deliver that message to you--that at least some aspect of how you think and feel and therefore of who you are must now be different--was a book that wasted your time, the essence of your life.

I quit going to the book discussion group I started some years ago because the talk so often reminded me of the talk at a wine tasting party--attempts to display a sophisticated knowledge of things that matter not at all. What I wanted to talk about was what does this book compel me to think, and in what ways does it lead me to change my mind?

Such a view of what literature was for once had advocates in high places, but I don’t hear about it much in contemporary talk about literature and education.
Bruce Fleming writing in the Chronicle of Higher Education says that literature teachers are harming students by ignoring ways of reading that lead to such changes:

Reading literature can change their lives — and ours. The thing is, we don’t quite understand how this process works — nor will we ever understand. Certainly we can’t predict it past a certain point. That’s why reading literature can’t be a discipline. I, a straight white American male, can see myself in a black character or a female one, understand a point made by a dead Russian or a living Albanian, meditate on an abstract point made by an anonymous author. But that equally means that an X reader (say, black, gay, Albanian) need not read an X author (or character?) to get something from a work. Reading literature doesn’t require us to check our list of identifying adjectives to see if we’ll understand. Instead, we just have to dive in. Maybe we’ll sink, maybe we’ll swim. Nobody can tell beforehand.

In turning the teaching of literature into a professional discipline (dominated by idealogues who have came to view their work as transformational and then transgressive), we’ve lost the important thing:

The academic study of literature nowadays isn’t, by and large, about how literature can help students come to terms with love, and life, and death, and mistakes, and victories, and pettiness, and nobility of spirit, and the million other things that make us human and fill our lives. It’s, well, academic, about syllabi and hiring decisions, how works relate to each other, and how the author is oppressing whomever through the work.

Fleming has a good point. Unfortunately, nearly everyone has quit listening to what professors of English have to say about the teaching of literature. It no longer matters. At the secondary level, the National Council of Teachers of English has recently released a curriculum map in which reading literature has all but vanished from the high schools of their imagined future.

Of course, literature remains far too powerful to simply abandon. And its power makes it controversial--too controversial to be agreed upon in a national curriculum. It will return, I expect, when it is safe to restore it.

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2008 Michael L. Umphrey

The failures of NCLB are blamed on free markets?
     Strange times

Diane Ravitch has a silly post today on the relevance of the business model for the nation’s schools. “As the free market lies in shambles around us, bringing down with it many people’s life savings, I wonder if its advocates in the education arena will stop and reconsider whether they are importing free-market chaos and free-market punishments into the lives of children?”

It doesn’t ring true.

The banking crash is an illustration of the centralized collusion of big business and big government. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mae are Government Sponsored Enterprises and they functioned quite well at transmitting the will of some powerful congressmen into the banking industry, pushing for bad loans that provided political gain. Among Ravitch’s complaints is this: “And, of course, we must measure relentlessly, shaming and humiliating those teachers whose students are not constantly getting ever higher test scores. Test scores, I suppose, are the equivalent of a sales target or profit margins.” But of course, they are no such thing.

They are, rather, corrupted measures imposed by government bureaucrats through NCLB. They are more like the fantasy goals of soviet agriculture imposed by Stalin’s five year plans than they are the measures parents who were free to choose schools and schools that were free to serve a market would create.

We live in increasingly Orwellian times when the absurdities of centralized government are blamed on free markets.

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2008 Michael L. Umphrey

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