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February 2004

Lost in Translation is out on DVD. I saw it when it was in the theaters with my wife and two daughters. I and my older daughter liked it a lot. My wife didn't like it and my younger daughter judged it "maybe the most boring movie I have ever seen."

My explanation for the widely different evaluations is this: the movie is about a middle-aged man (Bill Murray) who meets a 20-something woman (Scarlett Johannson) in Tokyo; I'm the only member of my family who is a middle-aged man and my older daughter is closest in age to the 20-something woman.

Bill Murray was great; I hope he wins the Oscar.

Two great posts about education (both via Joanne Jacobs). First, anger. Furious, righteous anger; the eloquent cry of an Old Testament prophet. Martin Haberman, U. of Wisconsin, Milwaukee:
Fourteen million diverse children in poverty represent the overwhelming majority of the miseducated. The seven million in urban poverty, disproportionately represented by children of color, attend school in the 120 largest school districts. Every one of these districts is a failing school system in which greater size correlates positively with greater failure. Every miseducated child represents a personal tragedy. Each will have a lifelong struggle to ever have a job that pays enough to live in a safe neighborhood, have adequate health insurance, send their own children to better schools than they went to, or have a decent retirement. In most cases their lives are limited to dead end jobs, or wasted away in street violence or prison. Living in the midst of the most prosperous nation on earth, the miseducated will live shorter lives characterized by greater stress and limited life options. Miseducation is, in effect, a sentence of death carried out daily over a lifetime. It is the most powerful example I know of cruel and unusual punishment and it is exacted on children innocent of any crime. Most Americans avoid the personal tragedy aspect of this massive miseducation by not sending their own children to school in these failing urban districts. This includes a majority of the teachers who work in them! In effect, those with options cope with miseducation as a personal tragedy by fleeing the major urban districts in order to protect their loved ones from the contamination of miseducation. While flight can appear to be a successful strategy for coping with miseducation as a personal tragedy it does not address the question of how miseducating other people’s children on this massive scale affects the survival of the total society. Every three years the number of dropouts and pushouts adds up to a city bigger than Chicago. For how long can a society continue to create cities the size of Chicago every three years filled with “no hopers” and still survive as either a free or a prosperous nation?
. . . .
Since WWII. the federal government has given over a billion dollars to schools and colleges of education to improve the teacher workforce with nothing to show for it. These grants go directly into the pockets of education faculty and university administrators of research who pursue lucrative careers getting even more federal grants which benefit nothing and no one but themselves. I recently examined the vita of one of my friends, an education faculty member with a record of app. 60 grants which he claims totals over 180 million dollars. Nothing he has ever done can be seen in the practice of any college of education, including his own, or in any teacher practices in the schools. No one ever examines whether these grants achieve their stated purposes. There is zero accountability for the PI or anyone else supported by these grants. It is the process of getting the grants rather than any assessment of what the grants’ have accomplished which is rewarded with future grants. Vitas list how many grants have been received not what they have accomplished. Where there is zero accountability there is less than zero accomplished; that is, there are negative effects such as the exploitation of failing school districts and teachers’ and childrens’ time for the generation of misleading “findings”. Teacher educators do not offer programs based on data. Like schoolfolk, their programs reflect custom, tradition and the convenience of faculty. We in teacher education quack about the need for making policy based on evidence but we act in ways which are not only baseless but frequently in contradition to the evidence. For example, as we speak, the folks in Las Vegas and in several other urban school districts are hiring new teachers with signing bonuses in the hope of getting better teachers who will stay. This is an example of policy based on delusion not fact.
Because the mind reels and the heart breaks after even a little of that, second: humor. Zoe Heller, an English lady now living in New York City, tries to find a good school for her four-year-old.
The next step, you learn, is to have your child's IQ tested by one of the child psychologists on the school's approved list. You spend hours phoning around acquaintances in the psychiatric world to find out which of the child psychologists on the list is considered to be most sympathetic and friendly. You have become far more invested in this process than you ever planned to. Having settled on a shrink, you decide that your boyfriend should take your child to the IQ test because he is more laidback and won't upset the child with his own palpable anxiety the way that you will. They go off together one Tuesday morning and you sit palely by the phone until your boyfriend calls to let you know that she has entered the shrink's office without protest. "The eagle has landed," he whispers.
. . . .
After three weeks, a letter comes announcing that your daughter is considered smart enough to go through to the next round. You resist the temptation to break out champagne and buy her a lot of sweeties. Now you have to fill out another, longer application form, full of questions like, "What are your child's particular skills and talents?" And "How would you, as a parent, like to be involved with our school?" You write that you and your "partner" wish to be very, very involved in the school - that you would like to come in on weekends and scrub floors. Knowing that the school puts a high premium on "diversity", you try to persuade your boyfriend to pretend that he is an Iranian Jew. He's very tanned, you tell him, and it's not as if they're going to ask to see his passport. But your boyfriend steadfastly refuses.