Saturday Assorted Links

1. Lasers Reveal a Maya Civilization So Dense It Blew Experts’ Minds.

“Not far from the sites tourists already know, like the towering temples of the ancient city of Tikal, laser technology has uncovered about 60,000 homes, palaces, tombs and even highways in the humid lowlands.

The findings suggested an ancient society of such density and interconnectedness that even the most experienced archaeologists were surprised.”

Decidedly not a shithole civilization.

“The total population at that time was once estimated to be a few million. . . . But in light of the new lidar data, she said it could now be closer to 10 million.

‘To have such a large number of people living at such a high level for such a long period of time, it really proves the fact that these people were highly developed, and also quite environmentally conscientious.'”

Absent the United Fruit Company and the CIA, the Mayans’ ancestors would be a lot better off today.

2. First Do No Harm, Health Care Waste in Washington State.

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3. The shocking thing about D.C.’s schools scandal — and why it has national significance.

“. . . schools were essentially juicing the books to make it seem like they were graduating more students. Scams included phony “credit recovery” programs, failing to count all students, and, as the District just found out, letting kids graduate without the qualifications required for a diploma.”

And on Michelle Rhee, the darling of right wing business mad “reformers”:

“. . . the produce-or-else testing culture that she fostered — tying portions of some evaluations to growth in scores and securing commitments from principals to hit numerical targets — created a climate of fear, in the view of many school employees.

It also coincided with evidence of cheating on annual city tests.

A climate of fear in a school has never been known to produce much of anything useful.”

4. Ethiopia’s regime flirts with letting dissidents speak without locking them up. Incremental progress.

5. Letter of Recommendation: Rodney Dangerfield.

“Imagine having no talent. Imagine being no good at all at something and doing it anyway.”

6. How Building Codes & Taxes Shape Regional Architecture.

“Ever noticed how the bricks on newer British buildings are bigger, or stopped to appreciate hand-stenciled wallpaper, or enjoyed a sip from a fancy hollow-stemmed glass? If so, you may well be admiring a product of regulation and taxes as much aesthetic tastes. From basic materials to entire architectural styles, building codes and taxation strategies have had huge historical impacts on the built world as we know it.”

Add that to the ever burgeoning list of things I did not know. I’m sure DAByrnes did though.

“Dutch canal houses are another classic example of how rules and regulations can shape structures. Taxed on their canal frontage rather than height or depth, these buildings grew in tall and thin. In turn, this typology evolved narrower staircases, necessitating exterior hoist systems to move furniture and goods into and out of upper floors.”

Summer Reading and Thinking

What I’m reading. Janesville by Amy Goldstein. What happens to a place when a majority of people work for an automaker that closes shop? When people used to earn $28/hour with some overtime and now make somewhere between $0 and $16/hour. Here’s a part of the answer:

     “In the shadows of town, hundreds of teenagers are becoming victims of a domino effect. These are kids whose parents used to scrape by on jobs at Burger King or Target or the Gas Mart. Now their parents are competing with the unemployed autoworkers who used to look down on these jobs but now are grasping at any job they can find. So, as middle-class families have been tumbling downhill, working-class families have been tumbling into poverty. And as this down-into-poverty domino effect happens, some parents are turning to drinking or drugs. Some are leaving their kids behind while they go looking for work out of town. Some are just unable to keep up the rent. So with a parent or on their own, a growing crop of teenagers is surfing the couches at  friends’ and relatives’ places—or spending nights in out-of–the-way spots in cars or on the street.”

Robert Putnam on Janesville,

“Reflecting on the state of the white working class, J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy focuses on cultural decay and the individual, whereas Amy Goldstein’s Janesville emphasizes economic collapse and the community.  To understand how we have gotten to America’s current malaise, both are essential reading.”

On deck. In the hole.

Shifting to thinking, I’m thinking about how artists talk about becoming artists and the implications of that for parents, teachers, and coaches. How do parents, teachers, and coaches cultivate true artistry or other specialized forms of expertise in young people? Specialized expertise that might enable them to independently make a living in the new economy. My thoughts are still in the subconscious primordial ooze phase, but I trust they’ll settle in some sort of coherent pattern sometime soon.

In short, here’s what I don’t hear artists say, “I took this really great class in school.” Instead, musicians for example, almost always say, “My parents were always playing the coolest music.” The word I keep returning to is “milieu” or social environment. In this data obsessed age, we’re utterly lacking in sophistication when it comes to the cumulative effective of the environments young people inhabit. Granted, formal schooling, think Juilliard for example, can contribute to artistic excellence, but meaningful learning is mostly the result of osmosis outside of school.

How do some families, in the way they live day-to-day, foster specialized expertise in children almost by accident, whether in the arts, academics, cooking, design, computers, or athletics? What can educators learn from those families to reinvent formal academic settings? What might “osmosis-based” schools look like? Schools where students watch adults actively engaged in learning and get seriously caught up in the fun.

 

Why Teaching in the United States is Exhausting

Lower secondary (middle school) teachers spend 26.8 of their 44.8 hours directly engaged with students in classrooms. Among developed countries, that’s the most instructional time in the world. In other developed countries, teachers average 19.3 hours of instructional time out of 38.3 total hours.

In the U.S., the challenge is how to reduce the quantity of instructional time in the interest of improved quality of teaching and learning.

The data is here.

This weekend, be nice to your mother and a teacher or two.

Weekend Reading

There will be a quiz on Monday.

  1. The chaos of urban school reform.
  2. Life-long learners versus life-long test takers.
  3. Grade anxiety and felony burglary at the University of Kentucky. What do you propose as punishment?
  4. Can science help marathoners break the 2-hour limit? Truly excellent breakdown. Fav sentence, “Basically, in the marathon, there are a lot more pipes that can burst than, say, in a mile or a 5K.” The attempt is in Italy Saturday morning at 5:45a, tonight at 8:45p PDT, 11:45p, EDT. I do not expect to see a sub two hour marathon in my lifetime; however, I do hope to break two hours in my first stand-alone 10k in ages tomorrow morn.
  5. The real reason Clinton lost. Prediction: Alison will disagree. Vehemently.

The American Dream Quantified

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From “The American Dream Quantified, At Last”

This graphic is worth several thousands of words. Among other things, it explains why parents are increasingly anxious about their children’s futures and why education policy makers are fixated on economic competitiveness often at the expense of “the whole child”.

For the record, my dad made about 10x more than me.

Why School Funding Matters

In reference to the recent post, “Numbers to Ponder“, a loyal reader, okay my older brother, wrote:

This is an absolutely mind-boggling situation to me. Given my complete lack of experience / knowledge regarding school levies I must ask “What suggestions can one with your experience / knowledge make in a scenario such as this one?” It appears to me that asking for a school levy in the Bethel School District would be a totally futile pursuit.

At the end of our the district tour, I asked the superintendent what polling was showing and whether he thought voters would approve the bond. I was surprised by his honest assessment that it was going to be very difficult. Seemingly resigned to a negative outcome, he referenced a neighboring district that passed their bond on the tenth try. I followed up by asking if there was a Plan B. There is not, which may mean the gap in educational opportunity will continue to widen in Western Washington State.

In the US, the fact that we fund public schools largely through property taxes means communities with larger, more expensive homes generate more funds for schools than those with smaller, less expensive ones. Property tax based funding makes a mockery of one of the things we most like to believe about ourselves, that there’s equal opportunity. How can there be equal opportunity if there’s not equal educational opportunity?

More specifically, how can we expect Bethel students to achieve at the same level as others in Washington State when they lose class time walking from distant portables to the main buildings to use bathrooms or change classes, and when they lose class time to floods and unsafe plumbing and electrical problems, and when they don’t have as many books to choose among or computers to use, and when their teachers come and go? Not to mention rodents and unsafe athletic facilities.

During the tour I was reminded of a poignant documentary from about 20 years ago about your home state, O-H-I-O. That Public Broadcasting System film detailed the extreme differences between the most wealthy and poor districts/schools in the state. I read some follow up articles about the backlash it caused and several new schools were built in response.

In fact, activist groups in several states have succeeded in legally challenging the school funding status quo. Many of those states now pool the bulk of their property tax revenues and then distribute them in a more uniform manner. If we truly value equal opportunity, that’s a step in the right direction. But it’s an incomplete step because privileged families will always supplement what their children’s schools have available so that their children maintain a relative advantage.

Among other ways, our daughters schools, like a lot of 0thers, did this by holding fund-raising auctions for parents. They provided dinner, had local businesses—often owned by the students’ families—volunteer gifts, and then auctioned them off. I recall a plain looking chocolate cake going for $500. And an auctioneer that asked, “Who’d like to give $100 to the library so that we can order more books?!” A majority of people’s hands shot up.

Or maybe I didn’t hear him correctly, maybe he said, “Who wants their children to remain a leg up in the race of life?”

Why So Many Teachers Quit

That’s the title of this LA Times Op-Ed. I purposely haven’t read it so that you can compare Rizga’s reasoning and mine.

Conventional wisdom is that teachers quit because of the modest compensation, but every teacher enters the profession knowing that.

I hypothesize a lot quit because they fail to master classroom management. Absent positive relationships, classroom life is a complete drag. Also, nothing is more stressful than never truly having students’ attention. And absent attention, respect is elusive. Absent mutual respect, joy is inconceivable. What do those who struggle most with classroom management have in common? They usually aren’t comfortable with their authority.

That’s not all. When some teachers conclude they can’t teach as creatively as they want due to over standardization, they leave.

Another variable is true for everyone at whatever their workplace and for everyone in life more generally, teachers want to be appreciated. Teaching is among the most challenging and selfless endeavors a person can undertake, but no teacher that I know is perfectly intrinsically motivated. New teachers can master classroom management and commit long hours to crafting the most creative lessons possible, but if no one—students, families, colleagues, administrators, the “public”—ever truly acknowledges their efforts and demonstrates a modicum of appreciation, their enthusiasm inevitably wanes.

I suspect a significant proportion of teachers quit because of some combination of these three things.

How to fix it? Empower those teachers in each school that are most skilled in the art of classroom management to mentor those just starting out. Refuse to teach to standardized tests. Continually repeat that teaching excellence takes many forms. Show and tell teachers that you appreciate their efforts.