Thursday, March 23, 2017

We Look Smaller in Boston

Posted By on Thu, Mar 23, 2017 at 7:00 PM

  • Courtesy of
Students attending a Boston public school have another world map, the Peters projection map, next to the one most of us are used to looking at.
Boston’s public schools began phasing in the lesser-known Peters projection, which cuts the US, Britain and the rest of Europe down to size. Teachers put contrasting maps of the world side by side and let the students study them.
If you haven't seen it before, take a look at the Peters projection map at the top of the post. The U.S. and Europe are pretty much the same size as they are on the Mercator map we're used to seeing, but some of the other land masses get a whole lot bigger. South America is now twice as large as Europe instead of the same size, and Africa is far larger as well. The map has a more accurate north-south arrangement, with the U.S. and Europe farther to the north instead of occupying the middle area. (Fun fact: in the standard Mercator map, Germany is pretty much dead center, except in the maps where the U.S. is moved to the central spot.)

History is written by the winners, and they get to draw the maps as well, putting themselves in the center of the world and shrinking everyone else down to size. The Peters projection map is a more proportional, less Eurocentric approximation of what the spherical world should look like when it's flattened out on piece of paper. Boston public schools are doing a little something to put the world back into its proper balance.
In an age of “fake news” and “alternative facts”, city authorities are confident their new map offers something closer to the geographical truth than that of traditional school maps, and hope it can serve an example to schools across the nation and even the world.
A map with the Mercator proportions and orientation, the one we're used to, is below.

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Wednesday, March 22, 2017

On the Theory and Practice of Bullshitting

Posted By on Wed, Mar 22, 2017 at 2:00 PM

  • Courtesy of big stock
Bullshit has become such a pervasive form of political speech in the Trump world, it deserves attention as a specific rhetorical style. Most of us use the word to mean something is incorrect: "That's bullshit!" The first time I heard the term "bullshit artist" was in the 1971 film, Carnal Knowledge, where two college students, played by Jack Nicholson and Art Garfunkel, used it as a semi-complimentary exclamation after some amazing thing the other one said, the rough equivalent of "No way, dude!" But since American philosopher Harry Frankfurt published a short book, On Bullshit, in 2005, the term has been used to refer to a specific form of speech.

The staid and proper Fareed Zakaria talked about Frankfurt's book and about Trump as "bullshit artist" on CNN in August, 2016, during the heat of the presidential campaign and again a few days ago. They're both reasonably short and worth a listen.

Zakaria quotes Frankfurt's book to distinguish between lying and bullshitting. “Telling a lie," Frankfurt writes, "is an act with a sharp focus. It is designed to insert a particular falsehood at a specific point." Bullshit, on the other hand, "is neither on the side of the true nor on the side of the false . . . [It] has spacious opportunities for improvisation, color and imaginative play. This is less a matter of craft than of art.” Frankfurt concludes that "bullshit is a greater enemy of the truth than lies are.”

Trump is a legendary bullshit artist—he's been indulging in it throughout his adult life — who piles heaping helpings of narcissism and pathology on top. Our own Doug Ducey is a lower level practitioner, but skilled nonetheless. We see him practice his art regularly when he adopts the mantle of "friend of education." He never tires of complimenting himself for pushing Prop 123, without acknowledging that it resulted in schools getting a portion of what the state owed them by law, and mostly from the schools' own money, the state land trust fund, not the state budget. That makes him less antagonistic to public education than many of his Republican colleagues, but a friend of public education? Hardly. And he's in danger of doing himself injury as he pounds himself on the back for "supporting teachers" by adding a few hundred dollars to their yearly salaries. Both assertions are half true, half false and all bullshit.

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Friday, March 17, 2017

The Asterisk in Ducey's Plan to Fund All-Day Kindergarten in 'Lowest-Income Schools'

Posted By on Fri, Mar 17, 2017 at 3:30 PM

  • Courtesy of
Need another reason to be wary of Ducey's promises? Here's one: his all-day kindergarten funding pledge. It's not quite what he said it is.

Here's what Ducey said in his 2017 State of the State address:
"My budget gives the lowest-income schools dollars to start or expand full-day kindergarten."
Note the word "schools" in the phrase "lowest-income schools." Apparently that's not what Ducey meant. He meant "lowest-income charter schools," but if the school is inside a district, that's not enough. The whole district has to qualify as "lowest income" or No Money For You.

This was news to me until someone sent me a story by Michael Hernandez, an intern at Arizona Public Media (Let's hear it for the future of journalism!): All-Day Kindergarten Funding Out of Reach for Tucson's Public Schools. For Ducey's funding pledge to kick in, 90 percent of your students qualify have to qualify for free or reduced lunch. If you're a charter school, it's just that simple—90 percent on free/reduced lunch, and you get the money. But a whole district has to meet that number to qualify. So TUSD doesn't qualify, or Flowing Wells. Even Sunnyside with 86 percent of its students on free/reduced lunch doesn't make the cut.

According to the article, no Pima County school district will get a penny from the program, but ten charters in the county qualify.

Even in this rare instance where Ducey puts together a plan that favors low-income schools, he makes sure charter schools get more than their share of the proceeds.

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Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Mark Hamill Uses Twitter Force Against the Trump Death Star

Posted By on Wed, Mar 15, 2017 at 5:00 PM

  • Courtesy of
This is too good to pass up. Kevin Eck, recently hired staffer for Betsy DeVos' Education Department, was unhappy with Mark Hamill, aka Luke Skywalker, for his criticism of Trump. So in November Eck tweeted:

Now that Eck is at the Dept. of Ed, Hamill decided it was time to reply.
Eck is one of three recent Education Department hires who have been condemned for racist tweets, like this one.

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Tuesday, March 14, 2017

'Give More Money to Schools in High-Rent Areas' Lisa Graham Keegan Says (Or Almost Says)

Posted By on Tue, Mar 14, 2017 at 10:56 AM

Lisa Graham Keegan is the bluebird of "education reform" happiness. Keegan, former state legislator who sponsored Arizona's original charter school bill (and got it passed by threatening Democrats that a voucher bill was coming next if the charter bill failed), then the Superintendent of Public Instruction who got charter schools rolling (and budgeted as little as possible for charter school oversight to make sure the "invisible hand of the marketplace" could work its magic), isn't one of those privatization proponents who spends all her time talking about "failing government schools" and abysmal standardized test scores. She'd rather write, as she did in a recent op ed in the Capitol Times, that you can find excellent schools everywhere.
These models of excellence can be found in charters, traditional district schools, and district magnet schools. They’re in likely and unlikely places: affluent areas and low-income communities, rural, suburban, and urban.
Isn't that nice? Yes it is. And I have to say, I agree with her wholeheartedly — up to this point, anyway. Unfortunately, though, her sunny depiction of educational excellence is a soft-sell setup for her real point: that we should give more money to the schools she defines as "excellent," a definition that just happens to favor district and charter schools with lots of kids from high-income families.

Keegan, who has played a major role as an educational advisor to both former governor Jan Brewer and current governor Doug Ducey, is pushing Ducey's "results-based funding model" which awards "excellent" schools with more money. She and Ducey maintain that successful schools deserve to be rewarded for their success.

The reward system ignores a few education-related points. First, in most European and Asian school systems—the ones that eat our schools for lunch, "education reformers" never tire of reminding us—extra money is funneled into schools where student performance is low to cover the cost of improving the quality of the schools, not into schools where students are already doing well. Second, the Keegan/Brewer/Ducey definition of "excellence" leans heavily on standardized test scores, and, as virtually every reasonable study indicates, in the U.S. and around the world, test scores rise as family income rises.

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Monday, March 13, 2017

T.H.R.E.A.T. Watch: Why Does Trump Call the Press 'Vrag Naroda'?

Posted By on Mon, Mar 13, 2017 at 3:13 PM


"Vrag naroda" is Russian for "Enemy of the People." I didn't pull the phrase from some online English-to-Russian translation engine. It is, or was, a much used term in the Soviet Union to describe people who the leadership believed were dangerous and were sent away to some distant prison camp, or executed. Until Stalin died, anyway. Nikita Khrushchev, when he came to power, decided to tone down the rhetoric a bit, because he thought Enemy of the People "eliminated the possibility of any kind of ideological fight."

Trump apparently disagrees with Krushchev. He thinks Enemy of the People is an excellent term to use against people, like journalists, who state facts or espouse views he finds objectionable.

A few weeks ago when I wrote about the literary antecedent of Trump's use of the phrase—Ibsen's play, An Enemy of the People—I was being too clever by half. It's true that Ibsen uses the term ironically to refer to people who try to tell the truth—journalists, scientists, whistleblowers—and are condemned for their efforts by the powers that be, just like Trump is doing. But really, that was an English major/English teacher showing off. Far more important is the Soviet Russia reference, given the Trump campaign and administration's many ties to Russia. Trump, I'm certain, didn't pull the phrase out of thin air, any more than the use of the word "purge" to describe the ousting of people suspected of loyalty to Obama from positions of influence is a coincidence. It's a chilling reminder of the close philosophical, ideological and personal connections between the people surrounding Trump and Russia.

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Thursday, March 9, 2017

TUSD Still Needs a New Boss

Posted By on Thu, Mar 9, 2017 at 2:27 PM

TUSD Governing Board Members Michael Hicks and Mark Stegeman are optimistic about choosing an interim superintendent within a week or two. - DANYELLE KHMARA
  • Danyelle Khmara
  • TUSD Governing Board Members Michael Hicks and Mark Stegeman are optimistic about choosing an interim superintendent within a week or two.

People hoping to see an interim superintendent appointed at Tucson Unified School District’s Tuesday board meeting were disappointed.

The TUSD Governing Board accepted former superintendent H.T. Sánchez’s resignation at their Feb. 28 meeting, after board Member Rachael Sedgwick added a last-minute agenda item two weeks prior that threatened to terminate his contract.

The board announced at the March 7 meeting that they’re postponing the appointment of an interim superintendent. They’re actively narrowing down their choices and are hoping to resolve the matter in the next week or two, said Board President Michael Hicks.

Board Member Mark Stegeman seconded Hicks’ statement.

“I’m personally optimistic that we’re headed towards a good outcome,” he said.

Sedgwick has said she’s looking for a superintendent that can raise enrollment numbers, standardized test scores, AP scores and graduation rates, as well as maintain strong ties with community leaders and businesses.

Sánchez had some community leaders in his support group, such as CEO and President of the Tucson Metro Chamber Mike Varney and Mayor Jonathan Rothschild.

Student test scores fell drastically under his leadership, as they did statewide during the same four years, according to the Arizona Auditor General’s Spending Report. But graduation rates saw an increase and continued to exceed the state average.

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Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Grandmas, the Declaration of Independence and Cursive

Posted By on Wed, Mar 8, 2017 at 8:34 AM

  • Courtesy of wikimedia
Did you know grandmas can't print? Did you know you can only read the Declaration of Independence in the original historical version? Yeah, neither did I.

I don't give much of a damn whether or not schools teach cursive. If it's a choice between cursive or recess time, I say go with recess. If it's cursive or a has-nothing-to-do-with-teaching-to-the-test project, I say go with the project. But if there's time enough and it doesn't cut out anything valuable, sure, why not? Teach cursive if you want.

But I hate ridiculous, sounds-like-common-sense con jobs trying to justify anything, teaching cursive or otherwise. That's what this post is about.

I read an article about the revival of cursive in the classroom. Arizona is now requiring cursive instruction, which is part of a national movement, so it's news. I've heard arguments that cursive instruction encourages some kind of higher level thinking, but so do any number of other educational activities, so that's a silly argument. But not as silly, as ridiculous, as logic-challenged, as maddening, as the arguments in this article.

One cursive proponent says, if children know cursive, they can read a letter from grandma. Sounds logical, right? Grandma sends a birthday card or a postcard from Italy, and the poor little grandchild looks at it, turns to mommy in tears and says, "I (choke) can't read what grandma wrote (sob)." My question is, how stupid is grandma—or grandpa, to make this less sexist (though the article doesn't mention him)? Didn't everyone in that generation learn to print? That's what I do when I send birthday cards or any other written communication to my grand children. I print, so they can read it. For the younger one, I write in all caps, since that's all she writes and reads at this point. That's being, I don't know, thoughtful. Considerate. Loving. My cursive is such a miserable scrawl even I have trouble reading it sometimes, so if I wrote cursive, I'd have to slow down anyway to make it legible. It would take as much effort as simply printing, so they can read it.

But if you don't think about it, you might say, yeah, that makes sense, let's teach kids cursive so they can read grandma's letters.

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Frida: Portraits by Nickolas Muray

Tucson Botanical Gardens and Etherton Gallery are collaborating to bring the photography show Frida: Portraits by Nickolas… More

@ Tucson Botanical Gardens Oct. 10-May 31, 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. 2150 N. Alvernon Way.

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