Thursday, May 28, 2009
Friday, May 22, 2009
With "listening tours" replacing "speaking engagements" as the most sophisticated method of gaining recognition and popularity, US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is keeping in vogue.
Duncan, who stands around 6ft 5, gave a brief speech and answered student questions at the San Francisco School Alliance Luncheon at the San Francisco Palace Hotel on Friday.
Our new educator-in chief has an competent and reassuring aura, although his rhetoric lacks the inspirational quality that brings crowds to their feet cheering. He spoke apparently extemporaneously in his address to the assembled educator and his answers to students’ questions.
Duncan, who played professional basketball in Australia after finishing his American education, spoke sternly about the state of the California educational system. “I ask you, is California going to lead the race to the top or are you going to lead the retreat?” he said.
The recent failure of budget measures designed to bail California out of the state budget crisis will mean deep cuts and layoffs for education. In fact, according to an informational video at the luncheon, California ranks #1 in the nation in prison spending and #49 in public school spending.
“Rahm Emanuel has a great quote: ‘Never waste a good crisis,’ ” Duncan said. “California must use this crisis to drive the kind of change we need.”
The secretary ticked off some of the major challenges facing the California education system, including the achievement gap, dropout rates, and dumbed-down standards.
“Too many states are lying to children,” he said, emphasizing that fulfillment of the current “standards” is not an indication of true readiness for higher education. However, Duncan warned against simply adding more standards to the list. “Higher standards doesn’t mean more standards,” he said. “Fewer, higher, clearer standards, I think, make a lot of sense.”
Duncan also took the opportunity to offer his opinion on reform of No Child Left Behind, the Bush-era education policy that made public school funding dependent upon test scores. He said NCLB was sometimes too quick to label schools as failures: “It’s demoralizing, and it’s wrong.”
The secretary endeavored to end his remarks on an inspirational note. “We’ve lacked the political courage and will to do right by our children,” he said. “I challenge you all to find that courage and political will.”
Duncan fielded questions from San Francisco high school students about financial aid, SAT preparation, AP classes, and undocumented immigrant students. He answered most of them quite thoroughly. “I have two questions, but they’re quick,” one student said. “First: Who wins the pickup games - President Obama or you?” Duncan replied, “What’s the second question?”
San Francisco Superintendent Carlos Garcia also made remarks at the luncheon. A fiery and dynamic speaker with a passion for social justice, Garcia, when talking about the achievement gap, went so far as to say that the school system “unfortunately has some elements of institutional racism.” He recalled how because he started school speaking only Spanish, he was placed in classes for mentally and developmentally disabled students.
“Acceptance of the achievement gap is unacceptable,” he said. “It’s time to shut up and start doing.”
Wednesday, May 13, 2009
Filling in bubbles on a sheet of paper rarely sparks the flow of any creative juices, but there was something inspiring about hearing my normally fairly intelligent teacher say, “Look at the name in Section 1 on the front page of your answer document. If your name is not there, please raise your hand” for the eighth time.
The vast amounts of unstructured time fostered a certain awareness of my surroundings I guarantee I never would have had if iPods were allowed.
Here for your pleasure (or disdain) are some intricately detailed and thoroughly ordinary moments as recorded (and embellished) by myself and a few of my classmates.
She was blonde. She sat propped against the wall, legs crossed casually. Her hair was swept into an elegant bun, a few locks tumbling down to brush her tanned shoulders, which were hidden by her aged and well-loved black jacket. Her laptop keys clicked as she glanced around the room, recording her world.
Her lips moved silently to the song only she could hear. Bent over her sketches, she turned her head this way and that, trying to find new eyes. The pearls sat in her ears next to the white earphone. She began to sketch.
Her feet tapped against the ground to the rhythm of the music in her head. Her hand supported her chin thoughtfully as she glanced over her shoulder. Her legs formed artfully acute angles to the ground until she stretched them. She sighed, disturbed by the topic of her book. (The book was Hitler and the Nazis.)
He was watching them. His flip-flops tapped on the ground at uneven intervals. Impatiently. When they glanced up at him, he quickly turned and pretended he had been opening a packet of trail mix the whole time. His eyes snapped to the teacher. And he began watching again.
She sat sideways in her chair, nonchalantly cracking another bite off her half-eaten apple. She jotten down a few notes, one hand steadying her paper and the other on her pen. Her teeth held the apple firmly in place, her eyes daring it to fall. It didn’t. She slid her phone from her pocket and began to text.
Her legs were crossed unconcernedly, her flip-flop dangling absentmindedly from her toes. Her hand went repeatedly to smooth her hair. Flipping it over her shoulder, she made a witty comment. She kept raising her voice, laughing louder than needed, waiting for them to turn their heads.
Sitting in the chair, she stared up at the ceiling. Casually looking around the classroom, her eyes always darting back to the clock. Her expression was bored. But as the toxic Sharpie smell spread throughout the classroom and reached her nose, she snapped alert. Her eyes, idle no longer, swept the room for the source and the culprit.
He stood up, sliding between the chairs blocking his path. He wasn’t needed, so he slid back down, waiting. When she tossed his essay on the desk in front of him, he took a look and smiled ruefully. His friend grabbed the report, glanced at the grade and threw him an apologetic look. He shrugged, a self-conscious smile still playing on his lips, and turned back to his thoughts.
The flowers on the table lay wilting, forlorn, trailing into the white icing on the cake. Her head, covered by the hood of her green jacket, rested on her arm. Every so often, without looking up, she would slide her hand to the left to sneak a fingerful of icing.
And the bell rang.
Note: This article is based upon factual events, but does not strictly adhere to the constraints of reality. Any resemblance of characters to actual persons is almost entirely accidental (except in maybe a few cases). But if you think you’re in this article: hey! That’s pretty cool.